Earlier this summer I went on a mini-road trip to Maryland with my little sister Toni. I was really excited for the trip because we don't get to travel together very often. Although we are both cyclists, the races we do are usually on the opposite ends of the spectrum. Toni is a roadie turned triathlete and I'm an endurance mountain bike racer. Her races consist of wetsuits and aero helmets and my races consist of thousands of calories and hours in the forest.
However, when my sister found an Xterra triathlon/duathlon in Maryland I was IN for the adventure. We could both race and I wouldn't have to worry about drowning. My coach Andy Applegate gave me a few running workouts and I was as ready as I would ever be.
We arrived at the Rocky Gap State Park to pre-ride the course the day before the race and the venue was already buzzing. Lots of racers were scoping out the swim area, the running course, etc. The race promoter and volunteers were all over the place answering questions about the transition area and I felt completely out of my element. Since I really didn't know what I was doing I didn't have any questions. I grabbed my bike, put on my cycling gear, and headed out to explore the one part of the race I was confident about....singletrack!!!
My pre-ride was less than optimal as I had two of my hardest crashes this season within five minutes of each other. Talk about a confidence buster. I spent the remainder of the night worried and nervous. Not only did I have huge bruises on both sides of my body, but my shoulder hurt and both of my pinky fingers wouldn't bend. Then there was the actual race. The duathlon consisted of a three-mile run, 14-mile bike and then another five-mile run. Like I said...many things to be nervous about. And did I mention that it was pouring rain all night? I fell asleep thinking about slippery rocks.
The next morning we woke up early. The race didn't start until 9 AM but Toni wanted to get there before 7 AM. I couldn't figure out why we needed to be there that early until we pulled into the race venue. The parking lot was already full and so was the transition area. Everywhere I looked racers were walking around in tri suits, wearing Xterra tattoos and adjusting their fuel belts. I felt like a fish out of water. There was nothing to do but pretend that I knew what I was doing. I took my El Mariachi Ti over to the transition area so that I could get a spot and spent a few minutes trying to figure out a good place. Would it be better to be by the entrance or the exit? I can get extremely indecisive when I'm nervous, so having the ability to choose where to put my bike wasn't a good thing. Finally I put it right in the middle and hoped that I would remember where it was. Then I realized that I also needed to put my cycling shoes by my bike. And once I did that I realized that I needed my gloves, helmet and sunglasses. I spent a lot of time going back and forth between the transition area and my car. Total Xterra rookie!
With an hour to go I decided to warm up but realized that I would have to do it in running shoes since my bike was in the transition area. I was so nervous that my warm-up was basically running between bathrooms until it was time to line up. It felt weird to stand at the start line without my bike and helmet...I felt almost naked. But once the promoter said "GO" I put my race face on and started running. It was probably the longest three miles of my life as the trail was incredibly rocky and rooty. People were actually crashing while on foot. I had no clue what I was doing but just kept my eyes straight ahead and jumped over as many rocks as possible. Sometimes I used trees to propel myself forward...I think I must have looked a little crazy out there.
I was the second female to enter the transition area but was quickly passed while putting on my cycling shoes. We had a mile-long paved road before entering singletrack and my goal was to be the first female heading into the woods. I put my head down and hammered and accomplished my goal. From that point forward I passed as many guys as I could and enjoyed the ride. All of my worries about the course disappeared and I had a blast. I knew that I couldn't be scared of the rocks, because fear slows you down and slowing down in rock gardens is never a good thing. It felt so good to be on my bike that I didn't want it to end.
All too soon I was putting my bike back in the transition area, double knotting my running shoes and heading back out. This was the part that I was most nervous for and I quickly realized that I had good reason. My legs felt like noodles and I had no clue how many minutes I had on my competition. I had to re-run the technical part of the trail from the morning and it was no less hard. However I was more mentally prepared for it and felt a little smoother.
Finally I hit the last mile and a volunteer told me to hit the gas. I started running faster and could hear him cheering for me which made me start sprinting. My speed lasted until I rounded the corner and was out of his sight. And then I almost passed out...
As always crossing the finish line was the best feeling ever. I pushed myself hard during the race and ended up finishing in first place. Competing in an Xterra duathlon forced me WAY out of my comfort zone but I think it's good to do that every now and then. I'm really happy that I was able to leave my fears and nervousness at the start line and push myself hard.
Afterwards everyone hung out for awards and shared stories about their races. I realized that I no longer felt like I didn't belong or know what I was doing. Regardless of the discipline, athletes all speak the same language after a race.