Four. That is the number of times I have been second in the Xterra US National Pro Series. After how much I psyched myself up to turn that into a first here in Nevada at the US Championships it stings a little to settle for second. I go back to the day in Milwaukee where I got lost on the course to lose by 22 seconds, I think about the lack of preparation for the run in Richmond where I lost by 30 seconds and I think about the 35 seconds that made the difference between a fourth second place and my first win overall this weekend at the finals. Sport can be so amazingly exhilarating and so excruciatingly heartbreaking. The race in Lake Tahoe this year was probably one of our best battles yet, with Barb Lindquist, arguably one of the best female triathletes of all time, keeping us guessing all the way to the end of the race. Even though I am disappointed that I couldn’t have had just a little better day, Jamie had a fantastic day and forced me to find some new courage to try and turn things around for myself. I had a rough day in Tahoe, and turned what could have become a disaster into one of my better performances ever…. There needs to be some background on this race in Lake Tahoe for me to tell you just how cruel this venue has been to me, and how good the 2005 race was in comparison. The first time I came here was in 2001. I was second or third in the series and at that time the finals were worth double the points. I absolutely suffered. I went so far backwards on the bike and the run and ended up 11th, essentially relegating myself to sixth in the series. Strike one for me, and Jamie was second overall before she was even racing in the Pro series. 2002, I come into the race tied with Jamie for first in the series, catch the flu, go backwards in the run and end up 4th, Jamie won. 2003, Jamie has the series sewn up, I have a pretty good race, battling on the bike, but don’t run very well and take 2nd, but very distant about 5 minutes kind of second again to Jamie. 2004, Jamie again has the series sewn up, I come in 2nd, but am not even fighting on the bike, let alone the run, have a horrible day, and again am all of 5 minutes back to Jamie. So my track record on this course is not that great whereas Jamie has rocked it up. This is the ONLY course where I have not outsplit Jamie on the bike, and normally I am absolutely crushed here on the run. Maybe because she is sort of local and rides this course a lot? I have no idea, but I know I have some incredible bike form, which did not show again this year at this race.
The race false started with a cold, choppy, nauseating, confusing swim. It was so incredibly cold, and so rough that I felt like I was just windmilling my arms in front of my head to maintain buoyancy, not really swimming. Barb obviously lay the smackdown in those conditions. I was swimming with Candy and it made no difference whether I was on feet or not. I was just trying to move forward, I didn’t care about speed. So at the end of the swim I came out with Candy and in front of Jamie, which is a first. The past four years, Jamie has beaten me out of the water at this altitude. So it started promising. The problem was Barb had an insane lead out onto the bike, and it was all road to the top, and she was MOVING!
I don’t know what Candy was up to leaving transition, but I passed her pushing rather than riding her bike, and just started steady to try and warm up a bit. I was freaking freezing. Couldn’t feel my feet, teeth chattering, not able to drink kind of frozen. It was awful. I just felt so heavy and flat, and I kept looking back to see who was coming, and looking forward to see if Barb was coming back, but nothing. At the top of Tunnel Creek Road I heard I had taken almost two minutes, and so I figured maybe by the end of the Flume Trail I would catch her. Nope. By the end of the Flume Jamie caught me. I got on her wheel rounding the lake and tried to just stay with her, but when the course kicked up into the steep climbs my puffy frozen legs just would not go. Jamie was spinning really efficiently, and I just don’t ride like that. So when my power isn’t there, I am just getting crushed. I kept my head up to try and keep within sight, but over the top I couldn’t see her. That is when the feeling sorry for myself kicked in. I hadn’t caught Barb, I was dropped by Jamie, here we go again another terrible series finale for Mel.
I didn’t waste a lot of time thinking that way. I decided that I worked too hard to have a chance to win to just hand it over because things were not going well I told myself that since my legs hadn’t been working for the last two hours they obviously would be fresh for the run. I finally caught Barb on the downhill and went into transition with about a minute or so on her, but over a minute and a half deficit to Jamie. Quickly changing into my Saucony Fastwich running flats (bare feet and no blisters!), I blasted out of transition to try and see if I could save my own day. The cheering and excitement when I pulled back a minute in one lap was insane. I was almost panicking because I was thinking maybe I would run someone down for the first time in my life. I didn’t know what to do! On the second lap there is an out and back section where I couldn’t see Jamie on the first lap but on the second she was right there. I dug very deep to continue my pace, but I think Jamie saw me and found another gear as well. The gap came down a little, but not much on the second lap, and at the end the third fastest run split got me within 35 seconds of a Championships win, but still the title eludes me. Barb ran in just over a minute behind me to scare the pants off of us, but also to point out that if Jamie and I weren’t pushing each other the way we are, we wouldn’t have beaten Barb that day. With the longest swim ever, Jamie was faster than last year, as was I.
So in a total reversal of our normal strengths, Jamie beat me on the bike, and I outran her again by a minute (two better run splits, both at altitude, go figure?). The battle in Maui is going to be incredible. We may not have Barb, but a lot of European girls are at home brushing up for the Hawaiian Massacre on Maui. I couldn’t feel better about my fitness, only three weeks from Worlds, so we will just have to see if revenge will be mine. Jamie has taken three key wins this year by seconds, but I have also had three wins, and they were by minutes. I think it is my turn to win.
Thanks go out to Elise Fett, the architect in Crystal Bay who has hosted my Tahoe training camp. Also to Cliff English and Houshang Amiri, my coaches, and my sponsors, Saucony, Compex, Orbea, Powerbar, Sundog Eyewear, Shimano, Maxxis, Ironman Wetsuits, Profile Design, Fox Racing Shox, Kinesys, Hypoxico, Computrainer, Powercranks, Riders Cycles and Arq Hair Salon. Here’s hoping for World Title number two, in three weeks.