XTERRA Richmond – another year of hot urban off road racing

Melanie is lured into the IV medical tent again after struggling with the 2007 edition of XTERRA Richmond…

Let me tell you, it hurts so much more when you are off form suffering than when you win and kill it. A LOT more. Despite two weeks of leaving every last bit of anything I had on the run course, I can say I went home with two of the second biggest paychecks on the day and two of my worst run performances in a number of years. The tradition of June Gloom continues where go off racing this time of year expecting some incredible days and leave with arms like a heroin addict and a lot of frustration. I am lucky that my swim and bike form is on track. In fact, I would say when it comes around it is going to be fricking amazing because given how I have been feeling, it is amazing I had the lead I did as the other girls would definitely have caught me. All of my whining about bad form would be more credible because I would have been much further back. Thanks so much to Neil and Patrick because my bad swims are now my good swims from last year and thanks to my boys, Palmer, Ross and Virge, the bad days on the bike are still pretty darn good. We don’t have very much depth in the XTERRA field but we have enough talent that a bad day is not a winning day. Part of the talent is Jenny Smith… I knew she was going to have a breakthrough with the mini swim this past weekend but it seems she is improving steadily this year. Watch for her by Tahoe! She busted up the top three taking third and Candy, who had stomach problems, took fourth in front of Amber Monforte.

The day started with the crazy swim in the James River. Lucky for us, there was a wave start so the women pretty much raced the swim/bike with pro men rather than age group men – more room on the course and less race interference. I never listen to the pre race briefing. I just envision Dave talking about swimming around the buoys and smartass Mel is pretty sure she knows how to swim around buoys. APPARENTLY NOT!!! I would describe the swim as an outline of Jughead’s head from the Archie comics. Weird and hard to navigate while swimming up and downstream, especially when 90% of the pro field had the swim totally wrong and was going the wrong way. I started awesome, coming into the first buoy in touch with the top group with Candy. As soon as we rounded the fourth of like, eight buoys, mayhem ensued. I was prodded by a kayaker, had my head punched out by Mike Vine who couldn’t get oriented to the buoy and kept slapping me on his downstream side, got run over by Luke Way and Candy who rounded the buoy in the wrong direction… you name it, it went sideways. I managed to stay alive, got going the right way and was out just behind Candy. Not too crappy.

Then I transitioned. Slowly. I was a bit disoriented, was clumsy and was kind of struggling to get my heart rate under control. I got on the bike, caught onto Candy and then a group of four of us went to the first piece of single track on Josiah’s wheel. I was blowing to the moon drafting. I snuck past Candy and ricocheted off every tree in that piece and slammed my rear wheel on something VERY hard out of the first drop. Ross was cheering for me there and I was praying for it to stay inflated. Maxxis rocks.. no problem!

I settled in to a pace but could feel a lactic acid rush take over my whole body on every effort. The course in Richmond is all about 10 second power climbs. You can only make time on the course by recovering quickly. It was not happening for me. I would climb a hill, be mad because it wasn’t that fast, descend as fast as I could and then climb again, only to be frustrated by my body. The one very positive note is that there were times where I felt I rode technically exceptionally. Those times were interspersed with times where I rode like I was distracted by a DVD player on my handlebars. Take the good with the bad I guess.

So I came off the bike feeling like I didn’t go as hard as I can go and thus, having pre run the course and decided it was certainly an honest 11km, I was going to run fast. Ross yelled at me 1%. 1% was all I had to improve over last week. We were optimistic that a week would make all the difference. Well, at 95 degrees, with my legs full of poison I went for it. I left it out there but at about 3 miles I was done. Done like dinner, stick a fork in me. I just focused on the road ahead, slowed to drink at aid stations and counted steps. One, two, three….. Yoiks. Jamie caught me at the river crossing section pretty much like last year and I just had nothing. When I got to the last kilometer the bridge over the river felt like it was vertical and three kilometers long. I never looked back, knowing that there was nothing I could do if anyone came anyways. Trudging into the finish, my head all swimmy, I was adamant I wasn’t keeling over. I was walking out of there! So I finished, careful not to put my head down like last week and started heaving. I was sick as can be. Off to the tent with my white face and dry heaving body, I am back in the MASH unit for like the millionth time at this race.

I don’t think I am bad in the heat. I rock in the heat at the end of the year. I think that I just overdid it coming out East and never came back. Heat is more tolerable when you are really fit and on form. I guess I am just a little bit off. June had some highlights with the Everest Award win, some great times with friends and some second place performances ensuring I can be a top overall athlete this year in the series.

But at the same time, June has had some lowlights because I don’t race for a result. Winning and not racing well is not as satisfying as being defeated when you have put together your best possible performance. At the end of it all, you will remember the fights you have had… everyone else will forget the results whether you win or not. If it is not personal then it is really not worth it. I race to test how close to my best swim/bike/run I can get. I am excited by the battle when I feel like I gave it my all in the end. I am proud of how hard I tried but unsatisfied with my preparation. These past few weeks I feel like I am fighting without an arsenal and that is what is disappointing. I had nothing in the mountain bike race in Pelham, I struggled in Alabama and in Richmond I detonated. Despite some great gains in my running things are not where they should be.

I am looking forward to the next block with some fun bike races. The one thing that is a salve to my frustration is the following: in the years that I have had difficulties racing well in June and July, I have won in Hawaii. In fact, most of the worst races of my entire career have been in June and the years I raced well at this time of year have spelled disaster for the final races of the year. I am so psyched for Conrad in scoring a hat trick as the ultimate “I’m back!” but be sure… the best way to find the best in Melanie is to apply pressure.

See you at the races!

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