Still sleeping with a pillow between my legs. And still walking around with my tail between my legs for taking so darn long to put out this race report.
XTERRA was three weekends ago. That’s okay – race day continues to be etched in my memory bank.
It was a cool, gray morning. I was hoping that wouldn’t burn off until the run. I was one of the first few to get my arms and legs stenciled with those big block numbers. The smell of the ink was so potent, I was sure the volunteers would pick up a contact high.
My buddy, the Governor, looked at the triangle course (750 meters) with wide eyes. He’s not a swimmer. His reaction was a reminder of how far I’ve come in a year. It didn’t seem nearly as intimidating to me. Miracle of all miracles, I felt the most relaxed I’ve ever been before a race.
After a good 15-minute warm-up, I lined up on shore for the mass start of 190 triathletes. I managed to stick with the washing-machine churn for a little while. Then, for some inexplicable reason, I was off course to the right. It happened three times on that first leg. The pros mentioned there might be a current, but it had to be me. I was one of the only special ones off to the right. Got my work cut out for me again.
Since I wasn’t one of the last out of the water this year, it was great to have some company on the bike. Lots of company. I spotted Steve, a guy I met on the pre-ride the weekend before.
The race director took mercy on us, and removed the first hill out of the parking lot that spikes my HR. But we had a good mile detour up the road before the trails began – with a pit of sand the consistency of kitty litter.
On the long 600-foot, mile climb, I was better. I only had to step off once. I actually passed some people. When I approached the more technical portions of the course, the deep sand was intimidating. It was several inches thick and ran up the side of the trail. I could hear a guy coming up on my tail. I saw an opportunity to bail in the soft sand, thinking I’d give the guy some clearance to pass. I looked back and there he was down in the sand as well. “I didn’t want to cause a crash. I thought you were going to pass me.” I said. He laughed, “I didn’t want to cause a crash either.”
After that crash, my third of the day, my bike moaned like a lovesick moose every time I put on the brakes. My body was coated in sand like “a cinnamon donut” as my swim coach Beth Hibbard put it.
I had a nice fast transition. About a half mile into the race, I figured out why. I was still wearing my bike gloves. I brought my fuel belt with me: two bottles of Hammer Gel mixed with water. Thought I’d need it. Last year this 3.1-mile trail run felt like a trip through the Sahara. But I'm no camel. I wanted to drink when I wanted to drink.
When I reached the first of three tough plateaus, I saw a guy turn back to look at me. He started to run again. A little cat and mouse. Then he’d walk. When I got close to him, he started to run again. I thought ‘Boy, this guy really doesn’t want to get passed by a girl.’ The fourth time I came up on his heals, he turned around, and collapsed. His legs had cramped up on him. I stopped right in front of him and barked, “Open your mouth.” I squirted half a bottle of the Hammer mixture into his mouth. Now I know where the expression “birdie sips” comes from. He was like a baby bird, looking up to someone old enough to be his mom. He was 25. “Thank you!” he yelled as I trotted away.
At the bottom of the giant hill, I passed the high-school kids at the first water station. Half that cup of water went up my nose. Thanked them and tried to be cheerful about the two peaks ahead of us. I looked at my GPS, and could see we had done 1.9 miles. I mentioned it to the guy next me, “Oh, 1.8,” he acknowledged. “No, 1.9. Every tenth counts,” I joked.
Others must have heard us. Throughout the next treacherous climbs, guys kept asking me, “What does your GPS say now?”
You get into some kind of zone where the pain isn’t so bad and it dawns on you that you actually like racing. This is what hit me at the top of one of those peaks.
I could hear the music blaring from the finish line, and the race DJ welcoming in the finishers. Even though I’m not normally one for blaring my tunes, I found it very comforting that I could hear them from so far away. Soon it would my turn. Soon it would be over. And it would make a great post. (I hope.)