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XTERRA Trail Running World Championship (21K) - Race Recap

Before we left for Maui on the 29th, I found myself feeling nervous and excited for my third-ever trail run. In the days leading up to the event, I ran on some of the course and experienced several extreme weather changes (from sun to heavy rainfall). Seeing how exhausting it was to jog/walk/hike on the course when it was in great conditions, my worries of the unknown started to build as the trail got wetter and muddier. 

The transition from road to trail racing has been a humbling experience for me. I find that I am good at it but not great. My endurance and resiliency has allowed me to experience some success within my age group at my last three events (Oak Mountain Alabama, Ogden Utah and recently in Maui) but I still have a lot of weaknesses when it comes to my skills and abilities. For example, I lose a lot in the downhill sections of trail running.

But what I lose in my lack of skills and experience I gain in my love a new challenge.... even when my heart is beating out of my chest and my legs are burning with lactic acid.

Considering that my first trail run was in early May, I’ve had to quickly learn how to shift my mindset and expectations. Trail running requires so much focus, strength, resiliency, endurance and suffering….and a fair bit of “hiking." My pace and overall time mean little to me compared to how far I ran, the elevation gained and what I learned (and had to overcome) to get to the finish line. 

Although I’m still new to this sport and learning as I go, I find that my body really does well running over rocks, roots, in mud, climbing up and down steep hills and jumping over obstacles. The uneven footing, quick reactions, undulating terrain and changing direction keeps me totally present and works well for my high cadence running style. Over the past few years, trying to improve my running speed/pace has become difficult as my risk for injury increases as I intentionally try to run harder on flat pavement. However, I've learned that I can get a similar (if not better) training response by running on hills and off-road. My heart rate goes up, I feel the lactic acid burning in my legs and I get the benefits of pounding, but in a different way than trying to force a faster propulsion on the track or flat roads. While hilly and off-road running doesn't always transfer to faster paces, it does help me build great resiliency, endurance and stamina - which really helps with long-distance running (especially off the bike). Plus, when I am not injured, I am more consistent with running which means I have more opportunities to improve my fitness - and running is more fun when I am not injured. 

Although I still enjoy and do road running (for triathlon), I am really happy that I found trail running this year (all thanks to Karel and his last minute idea to do an Xterra event). 

Two and One Day Out

On Thursday (two days out from the event), we had the most enjoyable 4.5 hour boat tour with Magic Mergman (I would highly recommend them for a boat tour!). We swam with sea turtles, snorkeled with lots of colorful fish and even saw a Whale tail in the distance. It was such a relaxing day filled with a lot of swimming in the ocean. When we arrived back to our condo, it was nearing 4pm. We used this day as an active recovery day so no structured exercise.

Plus we were both a bit sore from our training on Wednesday as that was more of a 'recon' day to see the course (Karel and I swam in the morning, he mountain biked and I ran mid day and then Karel ran in the evening). On Thursday evening I ordered pizza from Dollie's Pub and Cafe (Margherita pizza) - it was delicious. I always have pizza two nights out from a long distance event - it always hits the right spot in my belly. I went to bed early (as usual) and was asleep by 8:30pm. It's so easy to get to bed early when we are in Hawaii! 

On Friday (one day out), I went for a swim in the ocean with Karel. The conditions were not bad, even though there was talk that the swim would be cancelled due to increasing energy/wave height over the next 48 hours. Once we finished a "loop" of the swim course (no buoys, we just guesstimated with our watches) Karel went to the swim course tips meeting in the Ritz hotel and I went out for another loop. I ended up meeting a new friend (Amanda), who is a great swimmer and new to Xterra. We had a lot of fun swimming together and even took some time to check out the coral reef to look at some fishes. The water is clear but not as clear as in Kona by the pier. 

After swimming two loops of the course, I joined Karel and our friend Ross in the Ritz hot tub to loosen out my legs. I decided not to run on Friday and instead, used my swim as my pre-race warmup. If I had my bike with me, I probably would have rode as well but wasn't planning to run. Instead, I did a session of ECFIT mobility in the afternoon and enjoyed a nice plate of pasta in the condo while Karel attended the Xterra triathlon athlete welcome banquet with Ross. Karel was stocked to see that there were over 20 athletes racing the triathlon. He was happy to sit with them, speak Czech and meet some new friends. At this point (Friday evening) it was confirmed that the swim was cancelled for Sunday.

I went to bed early but had a little trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. I could feel my nerves as I counted down the hours until it was time to officially get up at 7am. 

Race morning
Although there is a lot to love with Xterra, the later start times are amazing. My event didn't start until 9:30am! I started my morning with my typical pre-workout/race snack of a cinnamon raisin bagel w/ peanut butter and jam and banana slices. I ate this around 7:45am and followed it up with a 20-minute ECFIT mobility session. I made sure to do at least 20 minutes of mobility every day during our trip to keep my body healthy on race week - especially after the looooong travel to an island in the middle of Pacific ocean. I also had a cup of coffee and glass of water. 

After my mobility session I did a run around our condo complex (~10 minutes) and then put on the rest of my gear (Naked Hydration band + 2 x 10 ounce Nathan hard flasks, each filled with 1 scoop Orange Skratch). I also brought with me a sleeve of Clif ginger chews and a gel just in case. I had Karel's mountain bike gloves (he had two pairs) to use for holding on to trees or if I feel on the trail. I decided no visor/hat but had my Roka sunglasses (with specific lenses for shaded conditions in the woods) and ON CloudUltra trail shoes. 

I jogged a few minutes to the race venue while Karel rode his mountain bike. It was very kind of Karel to spend his entire morning out cheering for me while he was also needing to prepare (and rest) for his event on Sunday. I realized that I arrived to the venue with plenty of time to spare so we went up to our friend's room (Ross) and hung out there until a little after 9am. I did a few more stretches and warming up before lining up to the start on the grass field around 9:20am. 

Although it rained much of the morning on Friday, it had dried up so I wasn't as nervous as I was before (when Karel rode on Tuesday it was super wet, slippery and muddy). 

Quick Stats

12.8 miles
2:04 total time
2316 feet elevation gain 
2nd age group (35-39)
11th overall female

Mile splits: 

I didn't wear a heart rate monitor but I could feel my heart beating in my chest from the first few steps of the run. I had studied the course (and ran on half of it) so I knew what was coming. The first 3 miles or so were mostly uphill with a few short downhill segments (which I found impossible to recover in). My breathing was heavy and my legs were burning. We started up hill on the grass, which turned into pavement before heading off road, then back on the road, through a tunnel and then on to the trail. The trail was clearly marked for us which was a good thing because it would have been really confusing as it felt like we were running in a jungle. There were a few pavement segments but nothing that would last more than a minute or two. The conditions were not super muddy but there were a few muddy spots where I had to be careful with my footing. I took my gloves off a few times and put them back on just to feel a bit more safe with the steep downhills. 

I did my first "hike" (aka power walk) for about 3 minutes up a steep hill. There were times when I was by myself and times when I was with other runners. It was tempting to walk when others were walking but it was also encouraging to run when others were walking. Everyone was really supportive and cheering each other on. I liked when I had people around me as I could watch their footing to know where to run, especially on the downhills. 

Although the next 4.3 miles were net downhill, there were still some punchy segments. And as if a 16-18% grade wasn't hard enough, the slippery mud and roots made it even tougher. Whereas in Ogden, Utah I could not wait for all the suffering to be over with, I was really enjoying myself and just focusing on one mile at a time. 

I had been practicing drinking from my flasks while running on the trail (this makes drinking while running on the pavement super easy now!) and I felt I did a good job drinking from my flasks within each mile. I kinda just listened to my body and drank when I felt like it was smart/safe to do so on the trail (primarily on the downhills). I also grabbed cold water from each aid station for sipping and cooling. 

Although I didn't have any low moments, I could feel like my legs were getting really tired. Sometimes they felt numb from all the pounding, climbing and downhill running. I didn't have any falls and only a few times I stepped in an awkward way but never hurt myself. The biggest struggle was side stitches which I seem to get when I trail run. I think a combo of my breathing pattern (and breathing heavy), run cadence and my rib cage often moving in a different direction than my pelvis as I try to keep myself upright, causes the side stiches. There were times when I needed to adjust my effort/breathing but the terrain wouldn't let me so it was interesting to try to figure out how to stay focused and still listen to my body. 


Karel was a ninja on the course - he was everywhere. It was so great to see him and to hear his cheers. 
The magic moment of the race was when I heard my watch ding at a mile split and I thought I was at mile 7. I looked at my watch and I was at mile 9 - winning! Because the course wasn't marked with mile markers (just arrows) I only used my watch for reference to know what mile I was at.

Nearing the end of the run, I passed a girl on an uphill who had passed me earlier on a downhill section. After around 9 miles, I felt my endurance was really kicking in as I was passing more people on the course (mostly guys).  The girl I passed was really great at running downhill and I just couldn't keep up with her. She passed me back soon after the duck pond on another downhill section. Nearing the last big climb, we had a fun section where we went around and over trees. Aside from this section, there wasn't a lot of technical aspects of this run but a lot of very steep and twisty up and downhills. 

After making my way to the pavement (this run course went through an old golf course so that is why there were several paved paths between the trails) I approached the very last climb which was on pavement. It was at least 18% grade. I walked for 3.5 minutes (.3 miles) of this final climb as everything was hurting. But I was power walking and still passing other people who were walking. I then saw two girls ahead of me - one of the girls was the one that passed me on the downhill and she was out of sight until this final climb. And then another girl that must have passed me near the beginning as I never saw her during the run. There were also a few guys as well. Karel saw me as I started the climb and gave me one last big cheer before he went to the finish. 

Once I got almost to the top of this nasty climb, I was committed to start running and to not look back. Oh did it hurt and I didn't want to start running but I knew this was my last chance to pass a few girls before the rocky downhill to the finish. For two minutes (.28 miles) I ran and it was so uncomfortable. I passed the girls and I just went for it. I didn't look back and couldn't really look back as I was making sure not to fall on the rocky trail as I ran as fast as I could to the beach. For the next 1/2 mile, I ran as hard as I could. I stumbled over the dry rocky creek and on to the beach. I took a look behind me and I could see one of the girls I passed on the hills in the distance and I tried to sprint of the sand. It was so hard and I felt like I couldn't find any firm sand by the water but I gave all I could. 

Karel was near the finish and cheered me in to the finish line. As soon as I reached the finish line my legs started shaking and I could hardly stand. It felt so good to fall to the ground as my legs were completely empty. Karel couldn't believe that I passed so many people in the closing miles but he was also confident in my endurance from so many years of long distance training and racing. 

I couldn't believe that I was 2nd in my age group and 11th overall female. There were a lot of very fast trail runners and it was inspiring to see the fitness and skills of these elite athletes. 

After the event I hobbled my way back to the condo, cleaned up and went back to the race venue for the awards ceremony. Karel relaxed while I spent a little time relaxing at the beach and enjoying the crashing waves at the ocean. Since we had confirmation that the swim was cancelled as a big storm was coming so Karel was mentally preparing himself for a challenging duathlon on Sunday. 

Although I didn't feel too sore on Saturday afternoon, my hamstrings, quads and calves were so sore on Sunday and Monday. Wow - trail running is hard....and so much fun! 

I'm already searching for my next race!