The Xterra National Championship is the culmination of the top Xterra athletes in the country (Pro, semi Pro and Amateur athletes). In order to qualify for a slot you need to have enough points earned by competing in any of the designated Xterra events around the country and the world. The National Championship race is also a qualifier for Xterra Worlds in Maui. For those of you who don’t know what Xterra races are, they are off road triathlons which usually consist of sprint or olympic distances. Take for instance the Championship race; it’s a 1 mile swim, 18 mile mountain bike on technical single track and a 6.2 mile trail run on technical single track, all in the beautiful mountains of northern Utah. Sounds like fun doesn’t it!!
I never really planned on going to Nationals this year. Even if I had qualified, I figured I wouldn’t be in good enough form to compete at that level. But I had a good season with a few strong finishes and some great training. All of which gave a boost of confidence that made me feel up to the task if the opportunity presented itself. When I found out I qualified I decided to register for the race. Xterra Nationals are held in Utah at Snowbasin resort. The swim’s at about 4,000 feet above sea level and when you are on the mountain bike you top off at 7,000 feet, while the run is around 6,000 feet. I knew racing at these elevations would be very difficult because I would have no time to acclimate to the altitude before the race. Plus, most of the racers I’d be competing against would be from Colorado, Utah, and California. Those guys have the advantage of being able to train at elevation, they’re animals! But what could I do? Ever since I started racing Xterra I’ve always wanted to go to Nationals and compete. Besides, I still had time to get in a few more races and training before I had to pack my bags. I started having second thoughts due to an injury to my IT band at the top of my left hip, which I sustained while racing a duathlon in Canonsburg MI. I had no idea how it happened; but it hurt to run. If I couldn’t run, why go? I already paid the entry fee and scheduled time off work. Everything was ready to go and now this! I decided to go anyway and if I couldn’t run I guess I’d have to DNF, besides I’d still be able to compete in the swim and the bike portions of the race. So I left for Utah with a bit of apprehension and excitement.
Two days before the race, while I was in the parking lot at Snowbasin resort getting ready to pre-ride the course, the excitement started to set in as I saw some of the Pro’s. I often wondered how they are able to do what they do, all that training and dedication. Some of them have full time jobs also. They are so unbelievably fast it’s almost like there super human! It was an awesome feeling knowing that I was about to participate in the same race as Stoltz, Hugo, Wealing, and even Lance Armstrong! While I was pre-riding the course, I wished that I had some of that super human strength, realizing I was going to suffer! 3,400 feet of elevation gain on the mountain bike alone! I started to mentally prepare myself for nothing but a suffer fest. So why do you do it? Someone might ask. I’d answer, “Because I love adventure. Because I’m ADHD and it’s my natural form of Ritalin. Or I’m crazy”.
Next thing I know it’s 39 degrees Saturday morning and I am standing at the swim start in my wetsuit along with almost 300 other top ranked Xterra athletes from around the world. I look up and the sight of the filming crew in the helicopter right above us confirmed that it’s time to get it on! The cannon breaks the silence with a blast signaling the start of the race! I positioned myself on the far left and was unscathed by the chaos of flailing arms and legs. I settled into a somewhat slower than expected pace. I tried pushing a little harder but started getting tired; damn altitude. I rounded the first buoy and started getting kicked and swam over in the bottle neck which the first turn was creating. The herd of swimmers finally thinned out and before I knew it, I was exiting the water. 31 minutes was something I wasn’t expecting. Oh well I thought, I’ll make up for lost time on the bike. The first mile and a half was on the road, a perfect warm-up before Wheeler Canyon. As I started the climb up the mountain, I felt somewhat okay, I started making up some lost ground. Wheeler Canyon trail is filled with gravel and large loose stones, so I had to concentrate and pick my line all while navigating around fellow racers. Finally I came to some sweet downhill. I absolutely love how my Fuji Outland 29er tears this stuff up so I decided to let it all hang out! I was able to pick off a few riders before we began our final climb to the top. I really don’t remember too much of this climb except for the fact that I got passed by a few more riders. I started getting irritated but I couldn’t push any harder. My body was saying no while I was saying yes; besides I had to save some for the run - that is if I could run. The last mile or so I pretty much rode alone until I broke through the trees at the top and began one of the most exciting downhill single track sections of my life. I pre-rode this section twice on Thursday so I knew it fairly well and felt comfortable attacking it with intensity. The fact that I love fast downhills and coupled with the fact that I’m in Utah racing the USA Championship event with the best of the best, pushed me to a whole new level. My exhausted body felt rejuvenated and I just let it all hang out. I passed 8 riders before I hit T2 and the next thing I knew, I racked my bike and threw my trail shoes on and was off racing again. I thought that the climbing was over now that I was off the bike, but right when I turned the corner out of transition, I was met with the mother of all climbs. I couldn’t even see the top. So I just looked at the shoes of the guy in front of me and dealt with the pain. About a mile in after the climb, the trail leveled out and I started pushing a little harder. Then I realized that my hip wasn’t hurting! It felt ok! A wave of excitement passed over me and I started picking off other runners. About three and a half miles in the excitement faded as a familiar feeling began to creep to my hip. My paced dropped considerably and I was passed by half a dozen racers or more. If my hip could only hold out for the next 3 miles, I thought. Well it just barely did as the last mile or so was downhill. I caught a few more runners and passed the finish line to a few hundred spectators cheering loudly! My emotions were in the sky despite the pain and I told myself that I finally did it. I finished a race I thought I’d never be able to compete in and or even finish! It was an unbelievable experience to rub shoulders with the best Xterra athletes in the world. I hope that I’ll be able to return next year.
I finished 128 out of 290 in the top 40 percent, 17 out of 30 in my age group. I thought I’d do better but I have no regrets!
I also want to give a shout out to the Xterra event coordinators for a job well done on all the free swag, food, music, drink, and friendly camaraderie. The Dinner of Champions the day before the race at Union Station was first class! Thanks to my fellow D2 Racing teammates. All the training, racing, and motivation sure did help. And most of all, I thank God for protecting me and giving me the opportunity to be able to praise his name while ripping up the single track!