Traveling 7 hours while pulling a camper alone is one of the least exciting things about going to Pelham, Alabama. I try to go around the speed limit so that I am not just draining my gas tank, but also will not be driving all day long. Thankfully this was pretty much the only non-exciting this about this weekend!
After starting out, I finally arrived, three stops for gas, 1 meal, a bunch of snacks and 7 hours later. It wasn’t quite time to check in, so I went directly to the race site for packet pickup and to get a pre ride in on the new section that was added to the course for this year. I was going to be racing on my new-to-me bike, and I had only been riding it for about two weeks. I caught myself from face planting a couple times during my pre ride which lead me to be a little timid when the race started the next day. As always, dinner with friends the night before and it was off to bed for me to get a good nights sleep.
It was finally race day. I was super excited, nervous and scared all at the same time. Not only was I riding a new bike, but I was lucky enough to get a Xterra speedsuit delivered the day before so that I could try and shave off a little more time from my swim. As I was getting ready and setting my transition up I heard them come over the intercom saying that the water temperature had been read and here were the results: “Pros, no wet suits… Amateurs, wet suit legal.” My stomach took a twist. I didn’t know whether to be excited that I basically get my own personal flotation device or to be sad that now everyone was going to have a fast swim split. Either way I threw it to the back of my mind and got ready for my race.
Sitting in the water counting down till the gun goes off is one of the toughest times of the race for me. I am not the strongest swimmer so the whirlpool that happens at every start is not the most enjoyable. Once everyone started to break up I got into my own, slow, pace and just moved along through the water. When I finally got out of the water the burden on my back was lifted and I was tremendously excited to hit the bike course as hard as I could. I blasted down the road trying to pass as many people as I could so that I wouldn’t have to later on the course. Once we dove into the woods the race was on, passing people left and right, until I got stuck behind a group of five who did not care for me to get around them. I rang my bell as loud as I could calling out that there was a rider back lots. Every time someone in the pack would pull over to let me by the person right in front of me would go also and not move over. This was by far the most frustrating part of the race for me. Eventually he and I had passed the other 3 in the pack and started to slowly pull away. He finally realized that I also wanted to pass him and he let me go. I went flying through the woods dancing over every rock and root. I was trying to play it very safe because I was running low air pressure to deal with the exceptionally loose dirt and gravel sections but also not trying to blow out a tire or rim on the jagged rocks just waiting to destroy your rim, tire and day all together.
Photo Credit – Xterra
As I crossed the top of the ridge I passed someone in the age group just above me. We traded some excitement back and forth as we were about to drop into the coolest and most technical section of the course, Blood Rock. As we dropped in I was back on the bell and yelling that we were riding it. Lots of people decide to walk this section to not take the chance on crashing in it, but what’s the fun in that? Me and him blasted through it like it was nothing and went on down the crazy fast decent afterwards.
Photo Credit – Pax Tolosi
I finished out the bike course with the last my legs had, got my running shoes and belt on and headed out for the 6 mile trail run. Early on I already knew that this was going to be very tough for me. I had sweated out lots of fluids but also taken in enough that I knew I was plenty hydrated to make it through. It seemed that no matter what this bit of fatigue was due to travel or something else. I was hot but not overheating, I was plenty hydrated, my feet felt fine and stable I just didn’t seem to have the power left in my legs. I ended up passing one of my close rivals, Yaro Middaugh, early on in the first lap due to a cramp for him but it wasn’t enough to hold him off the rest of the race. All in all, I finished the race in 35th place overall, 1st in my age group, and beat 16 registered pros. It was not exactly the race I was hoping for but I did get better from last year so I can’t be too mad. The post race picnic is always filed with great friends, laughter and food. We sat around and talked for hours about all the other races this year and just about life in general. The family like comradery is something that I have never experienced in any other type of sport or racing that I have done. Everyone laughs and has a great time before and after the race with some strong and friendly competition during.
Sunday morning Marcus and I went back and forth whether we felt like racing in the trail runs or not. I felt that I made the trek all the way to Alabama I should at least get some races in. Marcus and I each signed up for a different race so that we didn’t have to go head to head like we did last year during the 10km. I got lined up for the 5km and as soon as the canon went off I knew that I was going to have tough competition. Between the start and where the race enters the trail I was being left by the first place runner and 3rd and I were heading down the road neck and neck. I already thought that he was going to keep pulling away and I was never going to see him again. As we got a few hundred yards into the trail I noticed that we were slowly gaining on him. I started to realize he was probably not a trail runner and why he left us on the road to begin with. By the time we got to the one mile mark all three of us were basically running together. We dropped into the horse trail where the trail gets rooty, steep and all around more technical. With each of the short but steep rolling hills I was able to pull just a little more away from the next two runners. By the time the hills were over and the trail was ending putting me into the picnic area I looked back and saw neither of them in sight. I started to realize that I might actually be able to win this. The Xterra biker comes in right beside me to lead me into the finish. As he is calling my number over the radio and how far I am out I can hear them announcing my name over the loud speaker. I started to realize that this could be the first time ever that I would get to hold the Xterra finishers banner over my head as the fastest person in the race. I got chills of excitement and kept picking up pace leading down the last pavement stretch before dropping back to the grass to make a final pass by the lake. I looked back one more time and saw no one in sight. I could not believe that this was going to happen. I came up through the finishing chute, grabbed the Xterra banner and felt some of the most excitement I ever have racing. There have been three moments during races that have stood out in my mind as some of my greatest achievements. This one winning the 5km, winning Xterra Knoxville in 2016 after passing the first place person less than a mile from the finish, and winning Xterra Whitewater in 2016 after taking the lead about half way through the bike and being able to hold off some VERY strong competition.
What I learned: Not everything falls into place as you plan it. I ended up having a rough time during the run for the triathlon but felt amazing the next day during the 5km. Just go with the flow and enjoy being out on the course with friends.