Looking back at the chain of events that led to my worst performance in five years at the XTERRA US Championships in Incline Village, NV leaves me shaking my head. I believe that luck is mostly a matter of preparation but despite careful planning and attention to detail I ended up sick on race day. This season has been frustrating to say the least. This picture says it all… read on for the story.
The past three weeks spent training at my friend Elise Fett’s house in Crystal Bay were incredible. I had some truly breakthrough workouts, learned the course better than I ever have and really enjoyed my time spent with her in her home. For the first two weeks the weather was beautiful and we enjoyed some beach time and chilly but refreshing dips in the lake. I had planned every day with minute detail, of course, everything was written in pencil because you never know how your body is going to respond. Having spent a month at elevation less than a month ago this trip was all about training gains as I quickly felt acclimated. This was hands down some of the best training I have been able to complete at altitude. Ross arrived for my last training weekend and enjoyed a snowy trip around the course so we knew what to expect when the weather got colder and he confirmed that my riding had really improved even since I had left. I was ready.
The last week to the race I spent resting and sharpening. Part of the plan was a two day trip to the Interbike trade show in Las Vegas. I decided that the stress of being at a show would be balanced by the ability to recover a little better at sea level so as long as I was careful about late nights and nutrition it was a good plan. I managed to enjoy the visit with sponsors at the show with minimal impact on my health.
I believe the show was the best thing I could have done. I really enjoyed having some face time with all of my principal sponsors. It is one thing to have phone conversations and exchange emails and another to sit down over dinner with them or have brief chats face to face. The whole trip just confirmed that each and every sponsor I have is really special and we really are a team. The overwhelming support for what I want to accomplish is incredible and I thank you all so much. A special thank you to all the people I saw at the show wishing me luck, you are all amazing! I have basically renewed every partnership of this season so we are all good to go in 2008 already… you can read the Sponsor section on my website now and nothing will change in 2008.
I had a chance to do a great treadmill workout on Wednesday (the treadmill in Incline Village was too slow to do any speedwork so this was an added bonus of the trip) and I got to a master’s workout with my friend Frank, at the Henderson pool, who made it all speed as well so everything was going according to plan. I was running and especially swimming really well. My swim is really coming on strong so I am excited about that!
Thursday we hopped on a short flight back to Reno and picked up a car at the rental agency. I guess I had the wrong expiry date in my Blue Chip profile for Thrifty for the last few days so my credit card kept getting declined! They can only enter the number once every 24 hours so as soon as it is declined (because of the expiry) then the card is essentially no good. Well, that was a total pain. I couldn’t figure it out, it was a huge scene and a bunch of hassle to pick up the car (and to return it the last two times since I had changed cars three times in three days!) so I was fully embarrassed and stressed when we left the agency in Reno.
Not far down the road we noticed how bad the car smelled. It was a noxious chemical odor and we had to drive with the windows open the whole way back to Incline. It didn’t even occur to me to go back to the car agency because of the episode with the stupid card. I joked that someone probably puked in the car and they just soaked it in Febreze to send it out again…. Well, not a joke. When I stowed the rear seats for us to head out on our bikes later that afternoon I found the puke splatters all over the back of the car. Gross. I guess a little air freshener rather than a cleaning was the strategy with the agency… and now you know where I am going with this story….
Friday and Saturday went by quickly. I got my last warmup workouts in, did my XTERRA University Clinic with Conrad, Seth and Candy and went to the Night of Champions dinner honoring the top amateurs of the season. That evening we did a once over to make sure my bike was ready to go and set out the equipment for the next day. Descente sent some great winter gear for me (the weather turned to winter the day before the race) and I made a plan for what I would wear on race day. I was SO confident… my weight is ideal, my power was the best I have seen and I knew the course like the back of my hand. All that was left to do was execute.
I woke the next morning with butterflies in my stomach. I had a tough time getting through a small breakfast and I made my coffee twice worried that the milk I had poured in was bad. I carried on with my normal routine and when it was time I saddled up to ride to the start.
Riding to the venue was flat with a tailwind so every time I do it I feel awesome. I didn’t ride too hard and did one small effort. My heart rate was a bit high but I figured it was because I was fresh. Before I knew it I was marked, in my wetsuit and plunging into the cold lake to warm up. I did a longer warmup than normal and that was the ticket. I felt awake and ready to go.
When the gun went off I went out casual. Every year I blow up in 50 m and this was not to be a repeat. My strategy was good because rounding the first buoy I was just getting up to speed and I could see I was with two other pro women at the front. One fellow in a sleeveless wetsuit was pounding the crap out of me so after I escaped him I ended up behind the two girls instead of passing them but it was a good place to be. We did the beach run together and swam out to the second lap. Coming into the shore I took a right line to run up the beach and they were on the left. Despite my shoes coming flying off in the run to transition I was in first, posting the fastest women’s swim time in my Profile by Aquaman wetsuit.
I chose to put on my longsleeve Descente jersey on the way to transition, threw on Descente Shelter gloves on the bike and wore toe booties. It was still pretty chilly that morning. On the road I was alternating too hot with freezing cold and I couldn’t close this tiny gap to the man in front of me, which would have been better because I could draft. I told myself that it usually took me a bit to come around so I just relaxed and tried to settle in.
As I rode up Tunnel Creek Road one after another, more and more athletes passed me. I have never been passed by so many people on the bike. There was nothing I could do to respond. I decided I was starting slower and would pick it up later. Later when I looked at my heartrates, going slow was sending my heartrate off the charts. As I reached the summit and rolled onto the Flume Trail reality started to set in. My stomach didn’t have butterflies, it was doing somersaults. I couldn’t drink my bottle, the Gu was making me sicker and I was becoming more and more nauseus until everything I was putting in was coming back up. It was terrible. Worse than that, my legs had NOTHING. I was going nowhere fast and it didn’t take long for Jenny, then Jamie and then Dara to pass me. I continued my catapult backwards the whole way on the bike, pausing briefly on the downhill to pass back a few people using the miracle of gravity but even on the flats I was getting passed back. It was horrible. Mentally finishing that bike ride was brutal. I knew I was losing the series and possibly even second place in the series. I knew that I was headed to another race at below potential. It was pretty tough. Given I had to finish the race to earn my overall in the series it never even occurred to me to drop out. Honestly, despite the fact I posted my slowest ever times in the fastest ever conditions, my performance was absolutely EVERYTHING I could muster on the day. That is cruelly satisfying.
The run only added insult to injury. I ran incredibly slow and couldn’t muster any sort of response when I was passed by Candy in the last kilometer. Nothing I could do. In fact, I think in 2002, the last time I ended up sick on race day at this exact race I was passed in the last kilometer as well. Lucky the run wasn’t longer because there was a lot further back to go. The only thing saving fifth was my swim. I crossed the line freezing cold despite the warm weather, dizzy and retching. The race will be memorable in how much it totally sucked for me.
So I ended up with fifth on the day, second in the series and a WHOLE lot of motivation to turn in a great performance on Maui. Could I have returned that car and avoided that day? Who knows if the car was even where I got the bug, although it is a pretty good place to start when trying to find the cause. Is that luck or improper preparation? You try to control everything you can and sometimes something you are not really in control of derails your best laid plans. Ross said in the winter that I was due for some bad “luck” given how well the last two seasons went so I guess I am riding it out. What is ironic is I was asked the question in my pre race interview: “How much of winning is luck?” This was alluding to last year when Jamie had a flat tire and I won the race. At that point I should have known that I was in for it because I said luck is 90% preparation and 10% the things you didn’t know you were supposed to take care of. All I know is that it all changes for the better in an instant if you stay focused and on track. I am not happy with my season so far but I admire Jamie for putting together the kind of year I was personally hoping for and totally capable of. It will be an awesome and memorable day on Maui this year.
The girls and guys 2007 Nationals Podium in Lake Tahoe, NV
So now I am homeward bound for three weeks of preparation before I leave for Hawaii. Here’s looking forward to a repeat of my swim performance and a whole new level of bike and run performances at Worlds.
Thanks so much to everyone in Tahoe for their support. This includes my friends, sponsors and all of my fellow competitors who recognized the day I had and offered some kind words to pick me up when I was feeling pretty down and pretty sick. There is nothing like being unable to perform at my potential to fuel some desire to get it done. I am not finished with this season yet!