Winning Under Pressure – Conquering Keystone!!

No victory is as satisfying as when you MUST win; all the pressure is on you to perform, and you are the target. This was the case this year at Keystone because if I didn’t win and tie up the points series, a win at Tahoe might not have meant an overall for me. Given that Jamie Whitmore has won this race for the past three years, convincingly, one would assume the odds were against me. The course is all above 9300 feet, peaking out at 11, 700 feet, the swim is very short, the bike is very short, and the run is very long. Looking at my resume, this wouldn’t look like a suited course for me. But for the past two weeks I have brushed that aside, moved in with my Saucony teammate Josiah Middaugh in Vail, Colorado, and made it my mission to win this race, with the kind of intensity I usually reserve for Hawaii. And it paid off! I led from mile two of the bike course and from there continued to put time on my competitors until I finished with three minutes at the finish. Particulary satisfying is the minute I put on Jamie on the run course and given that I have been passed on the run at the last two races in the final metres to lose by seconds this is significant! So, altitude schmaltitude, Tahoe will be mine!!! I am pretty excited, obviously, because this is a huge confidence boost for the US Finals in Lake Tahoe, at a measly 6700 feet. A lot of great stuff happened since our fun times in Crested Butte, so read on for the story…. So this altitude thing has obviously been a monkey on my back for a few years, and each year I try something new. This year I started using an oximeter with my Hypoxico tent, which allows me to determine the optimal altitude to sleep at. I think this has helped to fine tune my home altitude program. Coupled with that, I decided that actually going to higher altitude to train would not only allow me to see the course at Keystone more, but it would also pay off as a camp to boost my fitness for Lake Tahoe. I was invited by Josiah to join his family and our other teammate, Conrad Stoltz, for two weeks. It was absolutely awesome.

First off, I earned the nickname "Chisel" because I decided that 2 pounds off my butt was two less pounds to drag up the hill, so no treats for me. Conrad was the anti-chisel, and I could hear his heart fibrillate as he ate tons of sour cream, whole milk yogurt, whipping cream, ground meat, ice cream, desserts, cookies, whatever, the guy eats the most food ever, and it ain’t birdseed! Josiah was somewhere in between, he doesn’t need to chisel, but he really likes his chocolate, so Conrad encouraged him to eat it and I just made him feel guilty about it. Anyways, pretty funny, but the discipline worked and I shaved a couple pounds off and I am sure it didn’t hurt. But having said that, both my teammates did awesome with Conrad taking second and Josiah third, 6 seconds back, so it just goes to show individual preparation can differ so much.

We did some epic riding around Vail, and riding on Conrad and Josiah’s wheels, at over 50km/h down gnarly rocky descents really helped my technical riding. I don’t have fast descents at home, mostly just slow, balancing drop off technical, which helped me ride the "Wild Thing", but I needed work on the top of the Keystone course. Riding with the boys was the ticket. By the end of the two weeks I was cooking on the downhills, and was thankful I was riding a 100mm Fox RLT fork rather than the 80mm, because I needed the travel! Again, this training in Vail is also going to pay off for Tahoe, which is another course with a screaming downhill. All this beat my bike up a lot, so I have to thank the Pedal Power bike shop in Vail, particularly Dereck, for fixing it up more than once! Riding early also helped me to realize that I couldn’t ride my normal tire set up, and needed to go with a Maxxis UST Larson TT setup, which allowed me to ride those sharp rocks without fear of flatting.

I went down to Boulder two nights before the race to stay with Neil Henderson and his wife Jane at lower altitude to recover with more air and my Compex. So the day of the race, there was a huge rockslide on the I-70 connecting Boulder to Keystone which meant there was a traffic diversion at Idaho Springs, and the inevitable traffic jam resulted. Melissa Thomas was cool enough to phone and tell me that I was going to need extra time, but even leaving immediately, 45 minutes was a long time to sit in traffic on race morning! I arrived at the site shortly before 10:00am, with the race starting at 10:30, so the warm up was abbreviated, and my transition spot sucked. That was a small problem later in the race.

So I got all sorted and went down to the water, did a quick swim warm up, and got ready for the start. All I know is that every year I have tried to actually sprint the start, I have flipped on my back to do backstroke because I ran out of air, so this year I started slow. I was too slow to make the painfully close front group, but fast enough that I was all alone. Josiah joined me and I hopped on his feet to comfortably swim with him the rest of the way. Candy Angle caught us on the second lap, and the three of us exited the water together, with Jamie a very short distance behind (the swim is basically a formality, in a goose pond that you can almost walk the whole way around in the water, my time was 15:30 with a long run to transition!). I ran past Candy on the way to the transition area, but I also ran past my bike as I was pulling off my Ironman wetsuit! OOOPS..a crappy transition spot where I would NEVER choose to put my bike! Anyhow, this meant that Jamie beat me out of transition but I was right on her wheel.

I put my new 661 Nasty gloves on (the name just gets you psyched), drank some Endurance drink, tightened the ratchets on my Shimano shoes, basically chilled out letting Jamie lead us up to the climb. But when it went up, I started to push it. I jumped past her at the bottom, and then kept speeding up over every rise in the road to see how fast she would get on my wheel. I had a gap before the first piece of single track. At that point, the goal was to get out of sight, so for the next 1000 feet, I pushed hard. Well, as hard as you can go at 10,000 feet. It is funny, my heart rates were so low, and my legs were going at maximum. You just plain cannot go that hard at altitude, no matter how hard you try! Anyway, she was gone, and I was alone basically all the way up, and all the way down the climb, with maybe five men coming by me, and me passing two back on the downhill. I rode conservatively aggressive (if that makes any sense?) I was going for it, but not taking risks of flatting, so my lines were smooth, and the brakes were off.

I rode into T2 first, and as I ran out, it was Jimena Florit, our mountain bike Olympian, riding towards the transition area, with Jamie about 30 seconds behind her. I silently cheered for her having a good race, but I was focused on that run. All I thought about the whole way on the run was TURNOVER. Keep your legs going fast!!! I was wearing a beautiful new pair of Azura racing flats, and unfortunately I didn’t have the laces tight enough, so from the first kilometer they started rubbing a blister on both of my heels. It hurt, and it also gave me something else to think about besides my aching lungs.

The run in Keystone has an out and back section where you can see oncoming runners… I saw none of the men, but I saw all of the women from 4th to 10th, who were almost all together! I didn’t know if Jamie was gaining or not, and I didn’t need to know because I was going at maximum just to not be caught. I wasn’t, and in fact, I put a minute on her on that run!

So, happy day! Jamie and I are tied at 290 points with two wins and a second apiece in the series. Now I just need to finish in front of her to take the win overall. But that is a goal for later this year, as I am going to Canadian Tri Nationals and the LA Triathlon in the meantime to mix it up with the road chicks.

So thank you to Ingrid, Sullivan and Josiah Middaugh, who are the most amazing people! Thank you to Neil, Jane and Renee Henderson (they aren’t all Hendersons, but they are a family!), thank you to my coach Cliff English of Competitive Edge Training, who is responsible for a fast run at a ridiculous altitude, to my long time cycling coach Houshang Amiri at Pacificsport, for the good altitude plan, and to Ashley and Jackie Burt, for putting on the Crested Butte race which rocks and for being such good friends and supporters. Also thank you to my sponsors, in particular Saucony, Compex, Orbea, Powerbar, Shimano, Sundog Eyewear, Fox Racing Shocks, Profile, Kinesys, Maxxis, Ironman Wetsuits, 661, Hypoxico, and Computrainer. All of those mentioned are my equipment sponsors, and I used everything on this list to make this win happen!

Now to nurse the absolutely gross blisters on my heels to the point where I can put on a shoe again!

Melanie

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