Wednesday, October 8, 2008

XTERRA Nationals - Day 4: Race Day!

Sunday - 10/5/08

It's too dark and cold to be doing this!

Liane and I left the condo for the transition area in the dark and 38 degree air temperature. We did NOT pack enough layers for that type of cold! We took a peek at the lake as we rode to the race and it was much calmer than the day before. This was good as the XTERRA people told us they would not be canceling the swim for us no matter how choppy it got.

We got to transition and picked out our spot on the racks. Then we had to go to bodymarking, which was horrible as it required removing layers and having bare skin exposed. The only neat thing was that we got the stamped numbers. I've always wanted to do a race where I got the cool stamped numbers! They gave us our swim caps, and we noticed we were missing our timing chips. Where were the timing chips? The race officials told us they don't use timing chips for this race. What?!? Are you kidding me? These are the national championships! I've been to tiny, local races that had timing chips. What was up with that? Liane's husband Nate asked them why, and they gave him the line "We've been doing it this way for 13 years and it's been fine." Ok...whatever.

Our spirits have not improved:

We decided to wait in the warmth of Liane and Nate's Grand Cherokee that had ass-warming seats. The sun came up and we watched the temperature gauge of the car sit stuck at 40 degrees. *sigh*...I did NOT want to get in the water! At about 8:15 AM we decided to walk back to transition to get our wetsuits. They were trying to squeeze another person on our bike rack. Sheesh people. This was the NATIONAL championships. A race you had to be invited to. You think by now people would know they need to get to transition on time!

The sun was finally up:

We put on our very cold wetsuits and started the quarter mile hike down to the water. The walk was so long we decided to leave shoes on the beach to wear for the run back. The water was 58 degrees, so technically it was warmer than the air. I didn't want to be in either of them. I donned my wetsuit and looked around to see if anyone else was wearing a sleeveless suit. I've swam in 55 degree water in this suit, and while it was unpleasant, I could still do it. I figured I'd let people think I was one of those snobby swimmer types that was anti-wetsuit. The truth is, I don't swim in very cold water that often, hence the sleeveless. Up until now it was fine for 99% of my races. Then again, my races aren't up north in the cold. Triathlon is a summer sport damnit!

Liane gets her hat on while I impersonate a choir singer:
We wandered down to the water and XTERRA TV cameras were everywhere. They had cameras on the beach, divers in the water, cameras on jetskis and boats, and even a helicopter overhead was filming everything. This was the first big-deal race I've ever done. Very strange to see so many cameras everywhere, like we were on a movie set.


The helicopter checking out the sunken boat:

About this time I figured it was time to think about the day. My training leading up to this race was less than ideal. A head cold, deadlines at work, an emergency at home, and training burnout all piled up into what turned into a 3 week taper. But then again, it was a very full year with IMAZ. This race wasn't planned for me until pretty late in the season. This was the national championship, and it wasn't like I was going to get points or win the thing. The only goal was to finish what was going to be a very tough race.

Liane and I got down to the water, and someone said, "30 seconds left." Was it too late for me to go back to the condo? Then the horn sounded. Oh shoot...I guess I'll go for a swim. I staggered over the rocks in the water and finally got my face in the frigid water. It was so cold! I tried to move my arms but it felt like I wasn't pulling any water. Yet I was getting closer to a buoy, so I must've been going somewhere. What was strange was the clarity of the lake. You could see the anchors for the white buoys on the floor. I decided that was too freaky to see, and just tried to get to the big yellow XTERRA buoy. I could see its tow line going down forever below us. I really don't like to have any comprehension of the depth of the water that I'm swimming in, so I quickly stopped looking at that. I slowly plodded along and got to the second buoy, then turned back for the shore. Finally I could see the lake floor appear below us, and drug myself out of the water to do the short beach "run" that XTERRA seems to love to incorporate. For me it was a beach stroll. Crap, I have to get back in and do another loop. I saw 17 some minutes on my watch, which was way slow, but I didn't care. I just wanted to get the second loop done and be done with the cold water.

Race start!

Heading out for my second loop:

Liane going for her second loop:

On the second loop I got stuck behind a guy in a jetski-type of wetsuit that swam like an ape, and I'm pretty sure I was stuck behind him at the Four Corners XTERRA in New Mexico. I got swam over by some huge guy, which ticked me off as there was a ton of open water. Seriously dude, there was no call for that. On top of that, a series of boat chop waves came rolling through, so I pulled up to wait for them to go by. That boat had better be rescuing some drowning person. Needless to say, I was swimming pissed. I drug myself out of the water and ran up the beach while a TV guy filmed my ankles. I saw 36:08 on my watch which was way slower than I wanted, but I was finally out of the water. I got to the picnic bench where we parked our shoes and took my wetsuit off, which filled with a ton of sand. I got my shoes on and started the quarter mile run to transition. I don't think I've ever been so cold. There I was, wet and cold and running half naked through Incline Village. The downside of having a purple TTG jersey is that my skin matches it perfectly when I get that cold.

Getting the dang wetsuit off:

Everything getting covered in sand:

Liane coming in from the swim:

I got to transition and looked at my watch, and it took 5 minutes alone just to get from the beach to my bike rack. My hands were so cold, which really made it difficult to do everything I needed to do in transition. I decided to put a windbreaker on, and my long gloves. Total time in transition was 9:05. I could have changed clothes in an Ironman in that time! Liane came running up to the bikes as I rolled out, so she was right behind me. I left transition and started the very cold bike ride up the road.
Starting the bike ride:
Liane starting her ride:

Elevation profile of the bike course. Lowest point is 5500 ft and highest is 8728 ft in elevation.

In some ways it was good that I had done the pre-ride of the course, as I could mentally break the course up into chunks. I knew how long all the climbs were and where the top of each climb was. I started the dreadful climb up Tunnel Creek Road and got pretty warm. At one spot I pulled off to take off my windbreaker and hit the bushes. Then it was back to the climb. I was hoping to make it to the Flume Trail before the pros came through, but I was about 100 yards away from that trail when they came ripping through. (For pics of the trails, see Day 2 below).

I enjoyed my ride on the Flume Trail, even though I froze. The Flume was still in the shade, and high in elevation, so the air was extremely cold. And all I was wearing were tri shorts and my TTG sleeveless tri top. A bunch of photographers and XTERRA TV folks were hiking down the trail, so I had to watch out for them. But I got to average over 10 mph in this section, so I figured I was buying back time. We had to be back to T2 by the 4.5 hr race time mark to be allowed to do the run. I got to the Marlett lake trail and started the climb again. My stomach was growling, so I took out a peanut trail bar to eat while I pushed my bike up the steepest parts of the hill. There was another gal there that was in the 20-24 age group, and we leap frogged back and forth. In a way it was nice having someone else out there to chat with. I was also climbing on the bike and riding more than I had during the pre-ride, so I was happy about that.

I reached the boulder garden of the Tahoe Rim Trail and started the descent down. My legs were so tired from the climbing that I got the "crazy legs" that make it difficult to stand up over obstacles. This was the only technical section of the trail, and it was only a few miles long. You don't realize how much effort it takes to ride over technical features until you're really tired from climbing for miles and miles.

I reached the end of the singletrack and was about to start the fast descent down the dirt road. I decided to make one more trip to the bushes and put on my windbreaker for the cold ride down. As I stood up to pick up my bike, my nose started in with a major nosebleed. And of course I didn't have any kleenex with me. Perfect! Full-fingered gloves came in handy here, and I pinched my nose shut and waited for it to stop. I'm guessing it was from the elevation and the dry mountain air. I needed to have both hands on the handlebars for the fast ride down, so I couldn't do anything but sit and wait for it to stop. The 20 year old girl rode by, but I figured I would catch up to her on the descent.

I got back on the bike when the nosebleed slowed down, and continued to sniff and wipe my nose with my glove as I rode. I had a feeling I had blood all over my face that made it look like I face planted, but I didn't care. I was finally heading down! I peadaled in the big ring and started flying past people on the downhill. I was going Mach Insanity down the mountain, and the dirt road was starting to dry out, making it a bit sketchy in spots. I got to the intersection of the road and another dirt road, and two trucks associated with the race were there, blocking the entire trail! I had to brake hard and go between the trucks to get by. I got back to T2 in 3:18 and headed to my rack spot. I had a small hand towel and a water bottle waiting for me there, so I washed the blood off my face and blew my nose. What a mess! I glanced over at my bike as I got my shoes on and saw blood splattered all over that. Guess I'll have to clean that later. T2 took me 2:06 and I was off to do the run course with a total race time of 4:07. I was 23 minutes ahead of the cutoff.

I left T2 with my race belt, fuel belt and arm warmers. The sun was going in between clouds, so I pulled on my armwarmers as I ran, but later took them off from getting warm. The course only covered a small area, but was a very twisty 2 loop course. It reminded me of the Fantasy Island trail in Tucson. I was running with the 20 year old girl again, and found out her name was Lorraine. We chatted as we ran and switched leads. The trail took us over lots of bridge and log crossings, and had short downhills followed by short uphills. Thankfully there were no major climbs. I heard someone yell through the woods, and it was Liane. She had made the cutoff too, and I was glad.

My first loop went pretty well, and I reached the start of the second loop. The officials were asking if I had a wristband, which I didn't. They gave me one and I started on my second loop. The second loop was pretty lonely compared to the first, and I started to get really tired. I just wanted to be done with the course. Every time I thought I was at a certain point of the course, I found out I was much further behind. There were so many twists and turns it was hard to remember where I was on the course. I wanted to get to the last log crossing, and it seemed to take miles. Finally I got to that log and headed to the finisher's chute, expecting no one to be there. I could already hear the awards being given out, but they had a second announcer at the finish line, holding down the fort there. She announced my name as I crossed the line at exactly the 5:27 mark. It was WAY later than I though it would have been, but I had finished. I headed straight to the food table and slammed down a bunch of grapes and brownie bites. I waited with Nate and Liane's mom for Liane to come through, and she was only 10 minutes behind me. We were both trashed.

This race was about as hard as any half Iron I had ever done. I finished 8 out of 10 in my age group, but my husband reminded me that I finished a race that people had to qualify for and be invited to. So given the high caliber of racers, I was glad to have finished a really tough course. Especially since the majority of this year was focused on IMAZ. Now I can take some time off to mentally refresh, and focus on XTERRA and off-road racing for next year.

We had heard rumors that the XTERRA national championships may be moving next year. The northwest and mountain regions are the ones that show up the most, with less representation from the regions that are further away. So I'm going to be keeping my eye on where they end up. If they return to Tahoe next year, I may attend as my husband Zac wasn't able to go with me this year. He really wanted to be there with me, so I told him "Well, I'll just have to qualify in 2009!" With a focus on off-road next year, I'll have a lot more chance to improve on my race times.

XTERRA Nationals - Day 3: Outhouse Races

Saturday - 10/4/08

The day before the XTERRA Nationals was the XTERRA Nevada race. This race was open to everyone and consisted of a 750 m swim, 32K bike, and 5K run. So they shared the bike course with the Nationals course, but had half the swim and run to do. That morning it was very stormy, and with the waves and chop on Lake Tahoe they canceled the swim! So racers did a duathlon instead.

At the expo, Liane found her future tri bike:
Since the weather was crappy, we opened up the Calendar of Events for the Tahoe area and found that the XTERRA Nationals weekend was competing against the World Championship Outhouse Races in Virgina City. Virginia City was on the same side of the lake we were on, so we hopped in the car and headed to the races.

Virginia City was an "old west" town that wasn't fake.
The coolest name for a saloon!

A small section of Main Street was blocked off for the outhouse races. The yellow one was named "The Urinator."
The "Flapper Crapper."
The outhouse races were hilarious! Everyone went all-out on the decorations. We only saw 5 outhouses, so Liane and I are thinking of switching sports and dominating the world outhouse racing scene.
We got back to Incline Village just in time to go to the pre-race meeting and the awards dinner for the regional championships. I had ended up first in points in my age group for the southwest region, so I had a jersey to pick up!
Sunset on Lake Tahoe:
Liane and I before the dinner:

We noticed a boat sinking in the lake:

Chowing down at the dinner:
One of the rare pictures of Nate (our personal paparrazi):
Liane caught this cool pic of my name really big on the screen:

The Southwest XTERRA regional champs:

My really cool jersey!
The awards dinner ended at 9 PM, which would usually be pretty late for triathletes, but our race didn't start until 9 AM. I think that's the mountain bike influence. Mountain bikers are notorious for partying hard, and don't want to get up early.
Liane and I went back to the condo and started packing our gear for tomorrow's race.

XTERRA Nationals - Day 2: Course Pre-Ride

Friday - 10/3/08

Friday morning I wandered around the course to check out the venue.

The geese were still asleep:

The beach where the swim start would be was right behind a resort:

One of the many bridge crossings on the run course:

Wonder if we'll be required to do situps during the run?

I picked up my rental bike (Nate and Liane would be arriving with my bike later that evening), and hit the course for a pre-ride around noon. I had made the bike reservation late in the week, so they only had a 14 inch and a 16 inch bike left. I went for the 14 as my Fisher hardtail is a 14, but discovered it was a WSD (women's specific design) Trek 4500, so the top tube was really short. I raised the seat as high as I could, and shoved the seat all the way back on the rails. Then I started the 21 mile bike.

Here is the map of the trails that I was following. The bike course starts on Tunnel Creek road and climbs for 4.5 miles. I almost turned around and headed back down. But I wanted to see the famous Flume Trail, so I plugged on.

Looking back on the start of the climb:
More climbing:
Me somewhere in the middle in the climb (the lake is getting smaller):
At the top of the first climb. Where was the shuttle and why wasn't I on it?

It took about an hour, but I finally reached the beginning of the Flume Trail and the singletrack. The Flume Trail is named for the wooden flumes that carried logs down the mountain during gold rush days. The wood from the old flumes is crumbling down the side of the mountain, and there are tens of thousands of nails falling down with them. Bikers have to watch out for the Flume Trail Nail that may be buried in the sand of the trail.

The Flume Trail is about 5 miles long, mostly flat, and skirts along the side of the mountain above Lake Tahoe. What was freaky was that it was open to 2-way traffic, and some corners are completely blind. I was hoping I wouldn't come up on a rider while skirting around an exposed edge of the trail.

This was the mandatory dismount area. Apparently landslides are a problem.

Quite fun to drag a bike over this:
If someone messed up, this is where they would fall:
Getting back into the woods:

One last little bridge to cross before the end of the Flume Trail:

After the Flume Trail, it was back on a dirt road that went around Marlett Lake. The wind was horrible in this area until I got back around behind the mountain.

Where they stocked the lake with fish:

The trees change color here. Strange.
One of the more scenic outhouses I've seen:
This part was called Hobart Road, and of course, started climbing again for several miles.
I reached the beginning of the Tahoe Rim Trail when my camera battery died. This was the flattest part of the trail:
The Tahoe Rim Trail climbed and climbed and climbed. Lake Tahoe was down around 6000 ft, and this trail topped out at 8728 ft. The weather was turning crappy with wind and clouds moving in. I had to do a lot of hike-a-bike up this steep trail. After I reached the top the trail went down for a little bit, then back up in a granite boulder section. After that, I was able to ride the rocky downhill section after that, and wanted to be DONE with this trail. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up going down a very sandy, steep hill. I saw a sign pointing to Red House, so I pulled out my map and realized I was going the opposite direction of the lake and needed to hike back UP the sandy hillside. Ugh. I finally made it back to Tunnel Creek Road and as I descended, could see rain moving across Lake Tahoe. I pulled into the driveway of the condos right as Nate and Liane arrived. We got the bikes unloaded, and the loaner bike loaded and turned in just before the 6 PM cutoff. The rain had moved in, so we went and got dinner at a different Mexican restaurant, which turned out to be much better than the first.