Up until race morning I wasn’t nervous about this race. Quite unusual since I usually get sick to my stomach and have a sleepless night at least one day in advance of every race. But once I got in the car it hit me, this is the biggest Xterra event there is and I’ll be going up against 550 of the best Xterra athletes in the WORLD. Talk about pressure.
Ever since I played high school football I would always build up my opponents to mythical proportions in my mind and quite literally be scared, on the verge of hysteria , before every game. They are bigger than me, they are faster than me, and they are going to kick my ass are the kinds of thoughts that would go through my head. I kind of had that feeling again wondering if I am worthy of competing on such a grand stage but then I said to myself, “I bet they are intimidated of me just as much as I am of them.” Once I got to the race I saw Dean and his usual calm, Canadian demeanor helped settle me down and regain focus. I earned my spot to get here, dues have been paid, it’s time to go out and prove I belong.
As they gave the traditional Hawaiian blessing and played the National Anthem, I looked around and saw the skin suits of all the athletes issued by their national federation, Italy, Germany, Czech, Japan, Austria, Brazil, France, Spain, Canada. Wow, I’m now rocking with the best, representing my country. I could feel I was fighting back tears thinking how far I’ve come since my first race over a decade ago and what an honor it is to be here.
Once the race started it felt like everything went in fast forward. I was focused and in the zone just like every other Xterra race I did this year. I found some feet to swim behind and stayed behind them. Swimming in perfectly clear water you could see tropical fish swimming in the reef below. The swim felt great, but it was over before I knew it. Looking at my split I certainly didn’t swim that fast, it was just that the moment was over so quickly.
Then it was on to the bike. I am climbing great and passing an endless train of people on the lower slopes of Haleakala. Hardly anyone passed me on the climbs, but once I got to the descents, caution got the better of me and people were flying past me. The course is almost all Jeep track but with all the lava rock and dust, these are far from easy trails to ride. One mistake or unlucky break and you are crashing on a cruel surface or stopping by the side of the trail to fix a flat tire.
You hear of all the difficult sections of the course in the Xterra videos. Heartbreak Hill, Ned’s Hill, the Plunge, trails of difficulty built up to mythical stature. Each time I got to a point I would ask someone a question like, “was that Heartbreak Hill?”, and if they spoke English they would respond, “no, that was a couple miles ago.” Same thing happened with the Plunge. Each time I was thinking I was so caught up in the moment I completely missed it. Again, for the bike, it was over before I knew it. I was so in the moment, it just passed me by so quickly. I was wishing the course was longer and this moment, this feeling, would last forever.
Onto the run the legs are moving slow. The bike took it’s toll and the hills, sun and heat weren’t helping matters. Everyone around me is moving slowly too. It’s kind of funny because it is like racing in slow motion now. After 4 miles I’m averaging about 8 minute miles then we hit the first beach and the pace gets really slow. The last 3 miles are on sand and on big lava rocks. This section can break your will or your bones. To get my mind off the difficulty of the race I would talk to the other competitors. They would respond at length in Japanesse or German. Somehow I felt like I understood them. Either suffering is universal or the early stages of delirium were starting to set in.
I got to the finish line in about the time I estimated I could get to the finish line if I had a great race. Even though I never did this race before I hit all my target splits based on others I competed against who did this race before me.
People ask me if I won, and when I say no, they look disappointed. I didn’t win or anything, but I proved I belonged with the best athletes in the world. That means something to me. All the tears, sweat, blood, disappointment, money and broken bones it took to get here was worth it.
That's me at 10:10 in the video. :-)
I’ve competed in big races like National Championships before and nothing compares to this race. This race is special and an unforgettable experience. Everything from the difficulty of the course, to the high level of competitors, to the fact that everyone here loves racing Xterra, to the fact that it is located in a tropical paradise makes this race a unique event. I want to convince all my athletic friends to qualify for this race and do it with me next year. That would be so much fun and something to look forward to.