Ride Hard....Roll Fast

My adventures as a triathlete, Mountain Biker and aspiring bike racer.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Am I all set? Yeah, that's funny."

For those who have called, written, texted, etc. looking for my results at XTERRA Nationals, I apologize for not returning your efforts to get in touch. Bottom line, I came, I swam, I froze, and I DNF'ed.

To start from the beginning, I spent the month leading up to the race immersed in work. A combination of incredible growth of the program (a good thing) with an online malfunction during our registration week (a BAD thing) made for a lot of stress and time spent in the office during the weeks before my trip. Ergo, not a lot of time spent on the bike, run or in the pool. But I spent the weekend before leaving for Vegas with my Pedal Shop team at Wintergreen, and thanks to Dharma, Chris and Sellers, ended up getting in about 48 quality, challenging miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Was climbing well and legs felt good...apparently this "less training" thing was paying off in dividends at the end of the season! Some PRBs at the Claman's afterwards, and then it was home and off to Vegas the next morning.

Interbike rocked. Rode both Monday and Tuesday at Dirt Days, trying out every bike I could get my hands on. Got back to the hotel on Tuesday night only to find out that my mtn bike, which I had shipped the Friday before with GUARANTEED delivery for the following Friday, was lost somewhere in Idaho and was now scheduled to arrive the Monday AFTER the race. Hmm. That's not going to help me at all, especially since the bike is a critical part of my RACE! I then spent Wed-Fri cruising the trade show floor looking at more bikes, components, nutrition and apparel than one could possibly want to (seriously...try it). Made the rounds to a few of my favorite companies from Dirt Days trying to score a a sweet ride to take with me to Tahoe. Finally ended up sweet talking the Specialized folks who hooked me up with Garth, their roving demo guy, who was conveniently driving the truck of demo bikes to Tahoe! AWESOME! Back to enjoying Vegas...met some really cool people, made it to some sweet parties (including Sinclair, also attended by Mario Cipollini) and all in all enjoyed myself tremendously, despite the impending race-on-a-bike-I've-never-ridden.

On Friday, I hopped a puddle-jumper from Vegas to Reno with friend Scud and Bob Russel of XTERRA gear. Frank, Stacey and Vergil kindly picked me up from the airport and we made our way up, up, up the mountain to Incline Village. I watched the temperature gage continue to drop to a frigid 32 degrees. I started to get nervous...last weather.com report I had checked before I left VA had predicted temps in the 70s on race day. Yikes. Saturday morning I picked up my sweet new ride (Specialized Safire (http://www.cyclesurgery.com/ProductDetails/mcs/productID/1026579/groupID/1/categoryID/75/v/76c0ddc1-2a56-4dde-b55e-fb73da4eda9d1-2a56-4dde-b55e-fb73da4eda9d) and got in a 20 minute ride with the ODC (Old Dirty Core group). Climbing was a challenge as the 1600 ft change of altitude made it difficult to breath. But as Vergil mentioned, being out of breath here was just like being out of breath at home...except it happened sooner and was harder to recover from. Saturday night was the Dinner of Champions and I was humbled when I looked around the room and realized the group that I had come here to race against. Will Kelsay (pro) who had won Rocky Gap was crowned Mr. XTERRA, which was exciting. I give Scott Scudamore 2 years before he wins the title.

Race morning was, in a word, frigid. Now, yes....I'm a New England girl, skier...and should be used to cold weather. I don't know if it is the 10 years spent below the Mason-Dixon line, or the change in body type, but I get cold REALLY easily. Combined with Reynauds Disease (poor circulation to the extremeties), and I'm much happier in the Caribbean than the North Pole. Riding to the transition area in the morning, it was a brisk 30-32 degrees. As I set up my transition area, I had to laugh at myself. My transition clinics preach minimalism, bringing only what you NEED to your T1/T2. Looking down at my towel, I had two pairs of sneakers, socks, two hats, gloves, a camelback, two jerseys, arm warmers, long sleeve jersey and sunglasses. It looked like I had packed for two or three racers. But I had NO idea how warm or cold I'd be when I came out of the water, not to mention the temperature drop at the summit of the climb on the bike was probably 10 degrees.

I felt really good on my warm-up run and enjoyed the warmth...for the time being. 15 minutes were spent wriggling into my new Zoot Zenith, and since I didn't have a neoprene cap, I put on two swim caps, hoping to retain a little more heat. The sun finally came up and indeed, in the direct sunlight, it was warm. But in the shade or in the wind, it was COLD. The walk down to the water was all shaded...and I was freezing again by the time I dipped my toes in Lake Tahoe. I went for a quick warm-up swim, and honestly, the water did not feel THAT cold. Race day temp was probably 57, but no more than 58. Stood on the beach for the mass start with local stud Sarah Hanson and friend/client Stacey Torjak, nervous....but ready. The 90 second count down took forever, but when the cannon fired, I was gone. Dove in and found some open water almost immediately, only to realize that it was because I was behind everyone else. Hands and feet went numb (Reynaud's) almost immediately, but it wasn't painful. I felt like I was swimming fine for about the first 2-3 minutes...and then my lungs shut down. My face was freezing and I couldn't breath. I treaded water and tried to breast stroke (to at least move forward) and catch my breath, but it wasn't coming back. I looked in front of me and the pack just seemed to be inching away. Still, I couldn't catch my breath and suddenly, I felt my body chilled to the bone. It was really frightening and I actually started to cry (the first time of many that day). Note to future racers: crying only worsens your inability to breath.

Almost immediately I heard a familiar voice next to me...it was my good friend and training partner Vergil. I was shocked to see him, as Vergil has become a really fast swimmer and I expected him to be in the pack that was still inching further and further away. Vergil seemed to be having about as much fun in the water as I was, and also seemed to be having trouble breathing. Knowing how tough he's become, I wanted to see him rock this race...and that meant finishing the swim. We worked our way to the first of two turn buoys, talking each other through it and keeping each other from waving over the kayaks. Once to the buoy I actually felt better, but knew I needed to start putting my face in and truly swimming if I was going to make it through this leg. I returned to swimming freestyle and felt ok (but cold), and a swimmer in a red cap passed me. Convinced it was Vergil (and psyched that he was feeling better), I just kept putting one arm in front of the other...making my way slowly to the second turn buoy and then in towards shore. About halfway between the last buoy and the shore, I entered what had to be the COLDEST spot in the entire lake. So cold, it physically took my breath away...again. My inner core felt even colder at this point and looking back, it was probably the beginning of the end of my day. When I finally made it to shore (21 minutes to swim 1 loop - 750yds), Kahuna Dave asked me if I was ok. My feet felt like I was walking on glass shards, and I couldn't feel my fingers, but I really wanted to fight through it and finish. I had definitely had panic attacks in that water before, and had always been able to psychologically work through it. I figured it was probably just something that I needed to keep pushing though and then, just like with the panic attacks, I would hit my stride and the swim would be over before I knew it. So back into the water I went (this time it actually felt warm compared to the air...if that tells you how little my body had warmed up during the swim) and I again attempted to swim freestyle. My muscles still felt fresh...I wasn't panicking and desperately trying to swim strong. This time, though, it felt like I was constantly doing the fist drill (swimming with your hands balled in a fist), but at least I was moving forward, however slowly. At some point during the next 200 yards, I saw a swimmer pass me and realized I was now the LAST swimmer in the water. Now I know I'm not fast, but I've certainly never been the LAST swimmer. Normally, this would mess up my head, but I was so against quitting that I tried not to let it get to me. I actually heard myself say, "you've got to catch that group, or else the sharks are going to pick you off as the slow, sick one." Um....yeah. Guess my brain was getting a little chilly, too. About 200 yards out from the shore on my second lap, I felt my body shut even further down. I could no longer put my face in the water because I couldn't catch my breath fast enough. I tried to swim on my side (to keep my face out of the water), but became completely disoriented and couldn't figure out which direction the buoy was in. Flipped onto my back, and only made things worse. I tried swimming freestyle with my head out of the water, but couldn't feel my arms enough to know if I was even pulling any water. (I can only imagine what kind of entertainment I was for the guys in kayaks!). I started shivering, and then crying again, and then truly had to face the fact that I was done for the day. I thought about the effort and energy my body was putting into trying to stay warm, and knew that even if I did make it out of the swim, I was going to be in NO shape to climb up that mountain on my bike for 3 miles. I started looking around for a kayak or jet skier. Since I was the last swimmer in the water, they were already pretty close. The jet skier found me first, hauling aboard a sobbing, cold, pathetic version of myself that I hope never to see again. I got a ride back to shore and was met by Janet, President of XTERRA, who treated me like her own daughter; hugged me, calmed me down and stood with me for about 10 minutes saying nothing but encouraging words and making sure I was getting warm and not getting too down on myself. Considering I was not the only one to leave the water that day with a DNF, I was shocked at how much time she spent with me. THAT is something that would NEVER happen at a road tri. A few minutes later I saw Vergil, who had also suffered the effects of the cold water/altitude. While I was really sad to see him (knowing he, too, had had to DNF), I did feel a sense of relief that I wasn't in this alone...and that at the end of the day, someone else would know EXACTLY how I felt. Verg and I made the lonely march back to transition, gathered up our stuff and bundled up in as many layers as we could find. Spent the rest of the day cheering the rest of our friends across the finish line. Congrats to Eric, Frank, Frasketi, Rich and Scud for rising to the challenge and racing THEIR races. Special congrats to Stacey...in her first Nationals race, during her first year of true XTERRA racing, and crossing the finish line after the longest, toughest, most grueling athletic event of her life. I am so proud of her!

We partied like rock stars on Sunday night with the rest of the racers and XTERRA staff and at least wrapped up the day on a high note. I won't lie....the disappointment and frustration hurts like nothing else. It is difficult NOT to focus on the time, effort and money spent on training and traveling to Miami, Richmond and Rocky Gap to qualify for this race, or to race as many mountain bike races as I could all summer...or the sacrifices made along the way to ensure I was ready to join the other athletes in Incline Village. It is a situation I hope that I am never in again, but I know that if not for the support of the friends I had with me in Tahoe, I would not have had the strength to keep my chin up and move on in a positive direction. There is too much else good in my life to focus on ONE race on ONE day, even if it is a National Championship that I worked all year for. There IS always next year and if not...there is always another race. I have had to take solace in the fact that I EARNED a spot toeing that line in Tahoe...regardless of how I finished. Things happen and we all have bad days. To quote my favorite mountain biker, Sue Haywood, "I'm sure that in some way this makes me a better person. But, God, there's got to be another way I could have become a better person..."

The last day in Tahoe was spent with friends, hiking around Emerald Bay, discussing training trips and plans for the winter and next year and just enjoying each other's company and the beautiful views. After discussing it with my coach, I decided to not waste the fitness I had saved up, and tapered for Tahoe...and wrap up the season with one, final tri. So at the end of the month, I'll be packing up my gear and my tri bike and flying it to Tempe, AZ in hopes of ending the season on a high note. And no, I will NOT be using UPS :)

See all photos from the weekend: http://www.flickr.com/photos/96569096@N00/


  • At 6:18 PM, Blogger Peter Warner said…


    As they say, "What doesn't kill you, will only make you stronger!" I know you'll be back stronger than ever next year.

    Very happy to see you're eager to put the gloves back on and come out swinging! Enjoy it.

    Hope to see you soon.


    p.s. love the blog

  • At 7:10 AM, Blogger Tyler said…

    Hugs to you Jenn!!

    I am so sorry to hear about your race, I know how hard you worked all season and how much you were looking forward to this. I am glad that you had everyone there to give you support!

    Go to AZ and kick some ass out there. See you soon.

  • At 12:30 PM, Blogger Eric Sorensen said…

    Adversity reveals character. You showed your strength with how you have handled this disappointment. You WILL be a better person for it.


  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger Vergil said…


    You are an amazing person and you make everybody in your life a better person. I know it was a tough day, believe me, but everything happens for a reason!

    Have fun in AZ and kick some ass!


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