Recap: XTERRA West Championships - Las Vegas

Well after a looong road trip, I'm happy to say I'm back in beautiful (and WINTERY!?) Boulder. This past weekend I competed at the XTERRA West Championships over 21 kilometers. It was held at the scenic Lake Las Vegas resort. Having never been to Las Vegas before, Molly and I decided to make a road trip out of it. We visited many scenic and touristy spots both en route and on the way back, but that'd be an entirely different entry. So without further ado...

-Arrival-

Arrived @ Lake Las Vegas Resort

After much driving, we made it to Las Vegas around Noon on Saturday and immediately headed to the XTERRA venue. That Saturday, they were holding the Triathlon portion of the weekend's racing events. On my way towards packet pick up I stopped by the PowerBar tent. There I spoke to Richard Burgunder, a PowerBar rep that I had met the previous week at XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain. He gave me some helpful information about the course, as I wasn't going to be able to see much of it prior to racing. Next, I went over to look at the course map for myself. Despite it being relatively straight forward, I struggled to envision where the monster hills would be on it. I had been told that there would be some long climbs throughout and more so in the last 2-3 miles. Afterwards I headed to the car to change and see how much of the course I could get on.

Many of the triathletes were still competing, thus I made sure not to get in their way as I got in a cheeky view of the course. I ran 3 miles out and 3 miles back, added a few strides and called it a day. My impression from what little I saw told me it was going to be a hot & exposed race. There was virtually zero cover on the course. I figured hydration would be paramount for this race, perhaps more than any other one in my career.

Partial Panorama

We finally headed to our hotel, where I took a quick dip in the pool to losen up my legs. The rest of the afternoon & evening consisted of me lounging in the hotel room and hydrating. If you've ever run a race you deem important, you know the day and hours beforehand can be some of the longest and most laborious moments ever. I wasn't feeling nervous, instead I was quite anxious and eager to get the show going. I had no clue who I would face the next day and still had limited knowledge about the course. XTERRA races challenge you with their diverse terrains, locations and distances. Factor in the reality that XTERRA is quickly becoming a destination for mountain/ultra runners as well as track/road speedsters like myself, and you can easily see why XTERRA is quickly becoming a favorite battle ground for many.

-Race Morning-

BreakFAST of Champions

I woke up, for the one millionth time in my life, without the need of an alarm. Apparently I channel my inner Kramer (Seinfeld reference) before important events, because my body just knows! Rising at 6:15AM, I quickly jumped in the shower, gathered my kit and headed out the door. Breakfast consisted of a PowerBar Cookies n Cream ProteinPlus bar. Leaving the hotel at 7:15 meant I'd arrive with about an hour before the 8:30 start time.

Once we arrived, I gave my bag to Molly and headed out for a slow jog over the course. It wasn't even 8AM and the temperature had already soared above 65F. I was immediately thankful that I had hydrated well in advance. Jogging the first 2K of the course (which was all uphill) I started to visualize the race and formulate a series of race plans. I think it's always great to come into any race with a solid plan, while also being open and flexible to several different outcomes and scenarios.

Not knowing who I'd face, I decided to focus on myself, the course and my specific strengths vs weaknesses. I certainly didn't want to risk blowing up in the heat or over the big hills. Also despite being in Las Vegas, I didn't want to "gamble" on having the infamous "second wind" come to my rescue as it did the previous week in at XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain. Once back, I did a few strides, stretches, grabbed more fluids and started changing into my racing kit. GO TIME was now a little over 15 minutes away.

"Business Suit"

It's during this window (at least for me) that you start becoming an award winning psychologist as you start dissecting each and every possible competitor you see from head to toe. "Those are flashy shoes, I wonder if he's fast?", "That's a pretty sweet race kit, I wonder if he's legit or just posing". "Oh he's pretty tall/short, I think that could hurt/aid him on the downhills/uphills", etc.. etc.. the list goes on and on. 

No sooner are you in one thought before another random one pops in. Nerves or not, it happens to many of us right before a race. Heading towards the start, I saw a runner I hadn't seen at all before. He was suave & speedy looking. I wasn't sure if he'd just stepped out of a Runners World cover shoot, or if he'd just spent the last 2 months in some remote location prepping just for this race. Regardless, I was excited by the prospect/challenge and decided to keep an eye on him.

-Canon Blast-

My fellow competitors and I were sent off with the loud bang of a cannon. Despite the prior warning, it still caught me off guard and I was a bit slow off the line. "No worries", I thought, as we had 21 kilometers to sort out the places. Well someone apparently didn't tell that to Mr. Suave, as he bolted off the line as if he'd been the one shot out of the cannon! My GPS said I was running the 1st half mile at a 5:20/mile clip, and he already had 30+ seconds on me. I knew with the first 2+ kilometers being uphill, that the pace wouldn't be sustainable. I wisely backed off and told myself to be patient. He'd either go ahead and set a World's Best for a trail/off-road 21K or eventually pay the price and commit seppuku for foolishly going out like a sprinter (let it be noted that I'm in no way making fun of Mr. Suave as a person. He was a great guy & we hung out and spoke at length after the race. He also agreed that his tactics had been a bit poor).

Cannon Blast! 

I felt well within myself and decided to just hold my pace and not panic. This wasn't 100% easy, as I'm still new to XTERRA racing, where it seems most people start very fast in order to establish their position in the occasional narrow trails. Heading into the first mile, which consisted of a mix of rocky trail and loose sand, I realize I had the 1st place woman right behind me. While unnerving, I decided to bide my time. I had originally planned to make it a race of two halves. The first 10K or so I would run within myself and not risk blowing up. I would make sure not to spot the leader(s) too much ground, while hopefully marshelling my resources. The second 10K I would then either race to catch the leader(s) or push to establish my lead.

Neither of these scenarios would come into play. To my surprise and I must admit amusement, I came around a corner as we climbed even more within the 1st mile and saw our early and fearless leader. He had slowed down drastically! I immediately thought that he was either being coy and waiting for the pack, or he'd come down with a savage case of rigor mortis. Sadly for our brave front runner, it was the latter. Of course I didn't know this at the time, so I hesitantly passed him while towing the other runners along. I hadn't envisioned leading so early and wanted to make sure that I wasn't going to be a sacrificial lamb. We were still climbing while facing a stiff head wind, so I made sure to REALLY run within myself. For races this long, it's my opinion that no race is won int he first couple of miles but instead, many races are can foolishly be lost during the early stages.

For the next half mile to mile (yup, still uphill) I snuck as many -not so subtle- peeks behind me to see what was going on. I felt light, powerful and springy running up the hills, but didn't want to risk going too soon or letting the rush of leading the race cloud my judgement. Around the 2.25 - 2.50 mile mark I snuck one more peek behind me to see (A) had my lead grown & (B) what had happened to our early leader? It was around this point that I hit the first of many serious climbs. A climb that would reward me with a beautiful panoramic view of the resort, which I would've been able to enjoy had my heart not been trying to jump out of its home!

Along the desert(ed) course

That 2-3 minute climb, which unbeknownst to me, I would face in the latter stages of the race reminded me how quickly things can go from "cruisy" to "ouchy!". Fortunately for me, I was having a good day and I had learned the lessons taught by professor XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain the week before. I was better rested for this race, as well as more battle tested.

My lead continued to grow with each passing aid station, where I would occasionally steal a look back. Never before had I hydrated so much during a race. I think I drank once or twice last year at the XTERRA World Championships and have routinely done 20 mile runs in Boulder sans water. Still I wanted to be smart and cover all my bases. The last thing I wanted, was to have the wheels fall off with 5K to go, give up my lead and hitchhike back to the start.

Around the 12K and later 16K mark, the course wound and looped in such a way that both myself and 2nd place could clearly see each other. We were about as close as 50 meters or so, only we had a body of water and a few hundred meters of actual trail between us. These were the only times during the race where I had any idea as to the extent of my lead.

With the victory seemingly secured, I allowed myself to BRIEFLY envision coming down the chute and breaking the tape. This thought was quickly interrupted when a race marshal instructed me to climb a hill so shockingly steep and long, that I was convinced it had been placed there in the last minute as a prop. I quickly fired back, "No, no, I'm on my way to finish the 21K", while pointing at my bib. I had hoped that he had mistaken me for the 5K or 10K participants. Surely the XTERRA Gods wouldn't reward nearly 21 Kilometers of running by placing a diabolically steep hill this late in the race, and so steep that it required crampons, right?

Heading into another climb

Well our exchange quickly ended as I realized not only was he right, but this was THE hill that I had been told about. I had somehow either forgotten it or just assumed that I had already crested it earlier and simply not been bothered by it...wrong! As I started to climb I had one last thought, "I hope EVERYONE has to do this, not just me!". Why anyone else would get a free pass is beyond me, but such was the clouded judgement that accompanied 21 Kilometers of hilly and desert trails. Climbing the hill I focused on form and taking small but powerful steps. As if the hill's incline wasn't bad enough, there was a considerable amount of sand on it. This made the footing quite challenging and I focused on moving forward without smacking my face on the hill itself - yes, it was that steep! My GPS had that portion at approximately 25% grade.

I eventually made it to the top, which was a welcome sight as I couldn't see the top of it from the bottom. I snuck my last look back to see how much ground I had donated to 2nd place. Fortunately I still had a healthy lead, although I couldn't figure out if it was 1 minute or several. The last 2 miles or so was all flat and downhill. This allowed me to regain any ground I had lost on the mammoth climb, and I started hitting a pace of 4:30 - 5:00/mile all the way to the finish.

Victory + Course Record!

I could hear the announcer revving up the crowd for my arrival from as far out as a quarter mile. I decided to run hard and fast through the chute despite having an insurmountable lead. This would pay off, as I later found out that I had broken the previous course record by about 4 or 5 seconds, which was merely an extra bonus. I had come in to the race hoping for a win or at least top 3 (aka "Podium"). I wasn't aware of any course records. I feel I could've pushed harder if I had needed to, but was pleased to have a great experience and once again collect some much needed XTERRA Off-Road racing experience. This will all help later on this year if I do end up competing at the World Championships.

After crossing the line, I happily posed for a few pictures, answered a few questions and was greeted by Molly, who seemed even happier than I was about the victory. I changed into my Point6 compression socks and some dry gear and headed off for a bit of a cool down. Afterwards I hung out at the PowerBar booth, did a few Q&A with the other finishers and got ready for the award ceremony.

Atop the podium

For now, I'm back in Boulder and eagerly awaiting for Spring to arrive. It seems winter hasn't gotten the memo that we're almost a month into Spring! Next up, I'll possibly do a local trail half marathon in early May. After that, I'll head to Alabama for the XTERRA Southeast Championships. There I'll race the 20K and very much look forward to another positive learning experience.

Lastly I'd like to thank ALL of my sponsors for their support. Especially: RecoFiT, Plantiva and PowerBar's Richard Burgunder, who all outfitted me with the last minute essentials I needed before my competition. I'd also like to thank the XTERRA crew for putting on a great weekend of racing, both in Triathlon & Trail Running.

Thanks for stopping by & enjoy the gallery below. Till next time...