The First Woman, Ever, To Repeat As Xterra World Champion!!!

I have to say my second Worlds win was much better than the first. Aside from the fact I actually don’t remember finishing in 2003 (heat exhaustion and unconsciousness met me at the finish), this time was special because I had an entourage of family including my dad, Ross, his mom and our great friends Murray and Kirsten, a legion of fellow Canadian competitors and an amazing number of supporters congratulating me after the race. To be the first woman to repeat World Championship wins and to have so many people genuinely psyched for me is a feeling I truly cannot describe. It was unbelievable the amount of noise we Canadians made at the awards dinner for athletes on the podium, not just for me, Brent, Peter and Mike, but for all the Canadians who took top spots in their age groups. It was special to win during Xterra’s tenth birthday which meant an extra special party with fireworks and the biggest attendance on record. I had a fantastic race, rode an incredible bike split, and finished not even realizing there was someone coming for me. The race was definitely exciting…

While training for this event, I was treated to some of the crappiest Northwest weather you can imagine. A lot of cold and soggy days riding and running, which I like to think is a requirement for being tough on race day (since I have no option). Houshang had a solid cycling training plan that I stuck to the letter, and Cliff filled in lots of runs and swims to put the final shovelfuls in my training load for Worlds. Luckily, I had the group at Pacificsport training for Cancun to keep me motivated and in race mode. When I finished the load phase I took a couple days off to participate in my baby brother’s marriage (he, his baby Jack and his wife are so awesome) and then went home to pack up.

I ended up flying into the race on Wednesday, all training completed. This year we had a new host hotel, further down the beach in Makena at the Maui Prince. It was a cool vibe because the hotel is set apart from the rest of the resorts in Wailea, so it was like Planet Xterra. Pretty much all the guests were Xterra visitors and the hotel was over-run with athletes, tv crew, Xterra staff and media.

On Thursday I ran the run course and did the press conference, and unluckily ended up getting stung by a honey bee on the bottom of my foot. It is crazy how much a bee sting hurts and you always forget how bad it is but the worst was to come. My foot got incredibly itchy, and then it started to swell. I was starting to worry about whether my run shoes were going to fit! Trying to ignore my rising panic, I carried on as usual sorting out last minute interviews, equipment issues and training. I swam with Brent McMahon on Friday and had one of my fastest swims to date, which we attributed to my one big fat foot. I decided that my chubby foot would be an advantage in propulsion and stopped worrying about it.

So with all our clinics finished, the last bit of training completed, dinners eaten, recovery achieved, I went to sleep the night before the race feeling more confident about any race I had ever arrived to. I was good in Tahoe, but not as good as I was coming to Maui. I had improved because of the time I spent at altitude (see my training camp story to get an idea of what I was up to in Lake Tahoe). I wasn’t nervous because I felt I had done all the work, everything had gone incredibly well, and I couldn’t control bad luck. I could win and I did everything I could to make that happen. Happy dreams!

Race morning arrived and it was overcast. I wondered if it would lift and get super hot but instead the clouds lingered. It was windy and the ocean was gray with a lot of chop on the waves. It was going to be a much different race from the past. I parked my beautiful Orbea Alma carbon rocketship, put the Saucony Fastwitches in the passenger seat, grabbed my goggles and got body marked. Afterwards I went back for one last check that all was well in transition and watched as an Austrian walked across my stuff to say hello to someone and stepped on my only run PowerGel. Gel everywhere! He apologized and asked if he could give me another and I said no thanks, deciding at that moment that the squished gel was going to be the one too many that would make me cramp on the run, not faster, and off I cruised to the swim start.

I looked for all the fast guys, and they were towards the right so I followed them. I lined up beside Peter Reid and Mike Vine, thinking Peter was too fast, and Mike was a bit wiggly but maybe, just maybe, I could hang on as we swam into a beautiful rainbow. When the gun went off we were immediately buffeted by huge waves and it was really a challenge to stay on feet. At the first buoy I was in a huge pack of people, and had tons of feet to hold onto. I was slow out of the water and had to chase back on at the second lap. I felt much better on the second loop, and cruised on feet back to the beach. I wasn’t sure if my swim was good or not, but it didn’t cost me anything, so I felt very fresh running out with my bike. Later I would discover that it was a pretty good swim, somewhere around two and a half minutes slower than Brent McMahon, the fastest out of the water, so I was pleased to know that in such rough conditions I held it together.

So out on the bike I stuck to my own advice to try and finish a bottle by the first feed zone, and slowly let myself get up to speed. I felt like absolute crap on the paved section leading to the first climb, so I spun in a big gear, put gloves on, drank lots, and thought happy thoughts. By the time I hit the dirt my legs joined the party and I started going fast. I was feeling like I had a motor in my rear hub. I had a day where I could just keep pushing really hard. I rode the Maxxis UST Larson TT 2.0’s and felt like I was hugging the terrain while I was gliding just above it. The descent felt much less rough than in the past (probably thanks to riding Fox forks and a sweet carbon frame) and when we were riding the last traverse to the finish of the bike I had tons of power. I think that is thanks to some wicked core work with Jeremy Sheppard (thanks dude!). I posted the second fastest bike split to Shonny Vanlandingham, NORBA superstar and overall badass. I am sure that being waterlogged after her first mile swim ever and being faced with the task of passing numerous other athletes probably affected her split, but regardless, I’m psyched to have stayed within 2 minutes of her and my experience showed since I actually beat her if you count the transition. She took seventh overall in her first foray to Xterra, which is a scary and awesome result for her limited preparation.

The course had new challenges for us. Rain on the descent affected visibility because glasses got covered. There were big bowls of talcum powder red dirt, which blew up in clouds, eliminating all visibility. I think a few racers disappeared in some of the larger bowls of dirt, so if any one is missing a significant other I would suggest checking there. I was psyched that I was always riding with groups of men (always good to be staying with a group than dropping out of one) but that meant I couldn’t see many parts of the downhill. The dirt caked on many a drive train, and I heard plenty of problems during the day with everyone else’s bikes. Mine was a finely tuned Shimano race machine, not a miss-shift or even hesitation in my bike all day. It was perfect.

I blasted into transition, got the appropriate footwear and headgear replaced, and started charging out onto my last 10km to the finish. I had no idea how long this run would be. I expected that it might be a maximum of 45 minutes but I stood to be corrected. The run overlaps the bike course at the beginning, so I had a chance to see where I was in comparison to the chasing women. According to my watch, the nearest woman was at 6 minutes, but I was wrong.

Thinking you have such an insane lead plays weird tricks with your head. I was thinking "Be conservative! Don’t cramp, don’t sprain your ankle, don’t get dehydrated, don’t go too fast!" All of this is strange when you are at a major event where you want to just give it your all, but that lead made me think of all the tragic things that could happen and instead of continuing this "Kill them all by the largest possible margin" theme, I went into protection mode. I knew I had outrun Jamie by one minute in the past two races, and thinking she was the one chasing me six minutes back, I could run a minute slower than I could at full gas and still win by six minutes. However, there was the matter of Sybille.

I missed the fact that Sybille Matter was between Jamie and I, and she is a very fast runner. I didn’t see her riding in while I was running out. Because of the nature of the run, no one could tell me where anyone was. So while I was comfortably cruising this incredibly long run, Sybille was chasing me like a hungry cheetah. I remember thinking in the last three miles of the run, which was through heavy, loose, boiling hot sand, that I really was happy that I didn’t have to run too hard in that horrible terrain. Little did I know!!

So as I finally got to the last 400 meters of the run and saw Ross running over to encourage me for the last steps of the run, I got an inkling that maybe someone was chasing. He said to me "Don’t worry, no one is in sight, you have got this one!" I was thinking that of course no one was in sight, she is like six minutes behind me silly but as I did my celebratory high fives and blew kisses to the crowd, grabbing the tape in 3:07, Sybille stealthed across the line less than a minute behind. It was a breakthrough race for her where she earned the fastest run split in just under 52 minutes. Jamie finished 6:30 down for third.

For me, I became the first woman to repeat as World Champion in the sport of Xterra. Pretty flipping sweet!

I feel so good having earned back the title and my goal for 2006 is to be the first woman to defend her title. I finished 2005 as the strongest athlete and feel like it was only near the end of the season that I really figured out how to go fast. I am so hungry already to get back at it and come out next year swinging. In the meantime, I am in Kauai working on my tan and hanging out with my crew. My last event for the year will likely be Iceman in Traverse City, MI ( I need to do some cold races to figure out how to go fast in Tahoe) which is a new Xterra mountain bike point to point event.

Thanks go to Houshang Amiri and Cliff English, the brilliant coaching minds I have picked this season to find an training formula that works for me. Thank you to my Villacidro fan club! Thanks to all the people stopping by my website to send me good luck messages and encouragement! Thanks to 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.

Thank you for an incredible season, and here is looking towards a 2006 three-peat!

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