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Xterra World Championships, by Susan Hayden

October 25th, 2011


Susan and Rhad getting in a little Xterra action and celebrating 20 years of marriage - to each other.
Susan and Rhad getting in a little Xterra action and celebrating 20 years of marriage - to each other.
Me and Susan about to check out the swim course the day before the race.

It just so happened that Xterra moved its 2011 World Championship course from the Wailea side of Maui to the Kapalua side, and selected the Ritz Carlton as their host hotel.  And it just so happened that Rhad and I booked our Anniversary trip in that same hotel – the one we honeymooned in 20 years ago – on the same weekend as the 2011 Xterra World Championships.  It was fate.  We had unknowingly arranged our anniversary trip to coincide with race day – a sure sign that I should attempt the race . . . right?

Coach jimmy (first Xterra World Champ - back when it was called Aquaterra) was helping a longtime pal, Lance Armstrong, get ready for the race so he had the scoop on the course from pre-rides and friends. This new course has been open many times for practice riding. The old course was on private property and there was almost zero chance to pre-ride it. This course has lots of climbing in the form of short steep stuff, lots of loose dirt, lots of slick sandy spots. Bonus: I got to have Coach at a race where he wasn’t working as an official, even if I had to share him with a more importanter client smile.

I loved the whole Xterra vibe, much smaller field (record 675 racers), much less bling attached to the event, old school in a lot of ways. Everyone is so much more laid back and chill than Ironman. There is a sense of feeling grateful attached to this event that I found quite refreshing. I rode the first 3 miles out/back on the bike course on Friday on single track that felt just like home. There is an old paved cart-path that is a hair steeper than Big Bertha in Tunica about .5 miles out of transition - first of many short steep climbs. Maui is the top of a submerged mountain, if you are standing on the beach every place else is uphill. The Ritz is built on this hill, if you drive up to Lobby level the hotel actually adds 6 more floors underneath the lobby to get down to the Xterra finish lawn/pool area. It’s another downhill to the beach of 20 vertical ft. So when you see the video and the Pros look slow running out of transition it is because they are running up a long, unending uphill…..3 miles of it pretty much.

Saturday I got up early and did a 1.5 out and back on the run course (13 min miles out, 7 min miles back) then I headed down to beach to meet Jimmy and pals for a practice swim. Jimmy scored me a great Aquasphere fast skin and Lance Armstrong gave me tips on how to work the Velcro tab. We headed out into the surf and I did my best to hang on Jimmy’s feet as I am a shark fraidy-cat. We stopped to play a bit and dive to the bottom (too deep for me, but Lance and Jimmy did), then headed back in. The boys took off and I was at max speed trying to hang on a pair of feet, hoping the toes I kept tickling weren’t somebody important - they were Jimmy’s. The rest of the boys were so fast they were playing in the surf by the time we got back in. Lance can swim - and I mean he can swim by ‘swimming’ standards. He’s FAST. Big thanks to Jimmy for not leaving me behind.

After our little swim I headed back to rest up for race day and watch some college football (which comes on in the morning here).

Typing this on my iPhone as i am too sore to do much else but imitate a slug and move one thumb as I listen to the ocean….

So another reason I love Xterra is the humane approach to a start time….transition opens at 7-8:30 am, one mass start at 9 am. Everyone is up, time for coffee and loitering about. It’s nice but also a little hard to be patient once I was ready to roll. I got setup early near a guy with my identical bike (nice and shiny and tuned up thanks to Matt Shriver - works for Trek and you would know him from Race Across the Sky 2010 as the uber fast young pro that pulled Lance along at the start of the race). I got our bikes confused early and thought someone had moved my stuff. Errgghh- don’t move my cheese!!

False alarm.

I strolled down to the beach, put on my fast skin and took a short swim to test out everything. The race started with a Hawaiin blessing (so cool) then a lineup on the beach. Rhad the Expert Sherpa took care of all my prerace stuff, gave me a good luck kiss and told me he would be on the beach to cheer for me on the brutal deep sand section. The swim was two, 750 meter loops counterclockwise with a 50 meter beach run between laps. The right to left wind and having a good Coach told me to line up to the far right so I was swept into the first buoy and not past it. The girl next to me said, “I don’t care what happens I just want to see Lance.”  At that moment he stood up out of the surf and her day was made. Little knots of men would cluster behind him, I guess hoping to catch his feet at the start. Good luck with that. I moved a little farther right. The cannon went off with no countdown. I walked into the surf and calmly waded in. My plan was to just chill the swim. I was quite nervous about getting passed by the entire race on the single track so chilling was good for my overall race (more energy later) and for my safety (less crazy dudes passing me on the tight sections).

The first buoy was a nightmare as all those people that didn’t line up to the right had to make right turns and squeeze around the turn buoy. They had a line of surfboards and people screaming to go around the buoy. There was panic and bobbing heads. It’s always panic and bobbing heads – doesn’t matter what race. I bobbed around until I had clear water and started swimming again. I felt good and was picking my way through the field. We hit the beach and I saw Rhad (yay!), then I calmly repeated the process with many fewer people at the turn buoy this time. I hit the arch feeling warmed up but not tired and made my way to transition. I was hoping for a 30 min swim and found out after the race I was 30:29…pretty happy about that.

My bike twin arrived just ahead of me so I found my steed with no problems. I kept telling myself I was just going for a little 18.3 mile ride with a couple hundred other people – can’t be worse than a 1400 person Leadville mass start. I got my Camelbak, got my gels, heard my man yelling for me – all good.


Go to and read up on the bike course. It’s got everything and they are right to say “bring your climbing legs and downhill courage.”  Unfortunately, I possess neither in any great supply.

The climb out of the resort to the single track was predictable . . . passed by hundreds of guys and a few young ladies (our age group was on our calves). The single track was the same, with me pulling over to let like 100 Australian guys pass.  Got a little too far over at one point and caught a bush, coming to a soft halt in the dirt. No biggie. Then there was climbing, and climbing, and climbing, some walking, some climbing, some more uphills, some short downhills and sandy turns, some fishtailing, some “I can’t believe I’ve only gone 5 miles,” more climbing UNTIL mile 6 when my age group parade began. I stopped counting at 7 watching my entire age group go by . . . surely I am dead last by now? I wasn’t foolish enough to think i could compete here so it wasn’t so much of a bummer as it was a reminder that I need to just focus on completing the event and then celebrate the finish. I did harbor secret desires of not being the absolute last person in my age group. It wasn’t looking good, I tell ya.

At mile 9 I inexplicably became part of the Baja 500 atop the red dirt roads of mountaintop East Maui agricultural back roads. Spectacular views of the coastline and giant plumes of red silt kicked up by the riders ahead as we descended for a couple miles down fast, rocky roads. I hit 26mph riding both brakes and glimpsed my rear wheel coming around into view on a couple deep sandy corners. I saw a couple riders go down but apart from looking incredibly filthy, they were fine. I do not have the cajones required for that type of Hail Mary descending. I was trying to ride as conservatively as possible knowing what the run was going to be like, However, there is a limit to how easy you can ride up a 20% grade, or how easy you push a bike up one. Calves, hamstrings and quads still get used over and over and over again. Burning my tiny book of matches one at a time . . .

I drank a full Camelbak of Gatorade, 2 water bottles and 4 e-gels, temps were fine - not too hot, nice breeze. Got to mile 14 and starting catching a few stragglers. By the final single track section I passed a girl in my age group (yay! One!) and rode into the resort suspecting I was a little dirty. This was confirmed by the comments and snickering going on at the dismount line. I wiped my mouth and felt grit on my teeth.

Wow, it looked like I was the last bike to arrive in transition. Yikes. But as I headed out on the run I saw many riders (mostly ladies) flying downhill into transition. Rhad was there to cheer me up and I was glad , even though you can’t tell on the video . . .

To date I’ve had one cramp during an athletic event - an inner thigh cramp at the end of a two person time trial. It lasted 20 seconds.

I set out on the 3 mile uphill run and even though I was tired I was holding my own and catching a few guys going real slow. There is a tiny 15 ft downhill before you leave the cart path for the wooded trails. The first downhill step resulted in an odd clenching feeling in my quad. What the hell is that??? Is that a cramp? It’s not going away. I will ignore it. I walked a few steps to duck under a tree across the trail (Xterra organization is full of lumberjacks cuz they love to lay trees across the trail). The cramp seemed to go away but then again we were going uphill again.

I was caught by a few ladies but was starting to get my run legs and we were running in a small group until we hit the second aid station atop a short descent. Three steps down both my left hamstring and quad cramped. I froze like a deer in headlights. I tried frantically to remember what Kevin said he does when he cramps. Standing perfectly still for a minute or so was my only line of defense. People ran by asking if I was okay. So nice. So frustrating. Wait, I appear to be able to move like a normal person. I slithered down the rest of the hill and turned to go uphill again. We ran uphill and ran uphill and walked uphill (me and everyone I could see ahead). I got to the mile 3 ass kicker and stopped at the aid station there to drink and take a gel. This is where I considered crawling. Unbeknownst to me I would get to do that later. I ran around the little lake and headed back down. No cramping and my legs were feeling good. We ran thru head high grass, trees, fields, dirt trails, old cart paths, someone’s yard, someone’s backyard, a river bank, an rock overhang, the jungle, some river beds, a plant nursery, a short dirt actual CLIMB using my hands to pull myself up (Mountain Mist style), a boulder climb, then we’d just appear out of the bushes onto a paved switchback, take a left into the bushes again and down a mountainside goat trail, under the highway, across a busy road, down a river bank, over dry riverbed, duck under trees and finally get spit out on the beach – 250 of the longest yards of my life. What an idiot, I ran right thru the deep sand with both calves cramping - looking back at pictures the smart people ran all the way down to the water and over firmer sand). Rhad was there yelling and I told him to get to the finish cuz I was going to cramp up if anyone looked sideways at me. He took off. I made it off the beach and only had the final hill to the finish. I seriously wasn’t sure I could make it. I ‘ran’ as best as I could because, well… everyone was looking at me. Left hammy! Left hammy!! I grabbed it and the Hawaiian high priest that blessed us that morning was calling out prayers to me to get me up the hill. I crept to the finish where I heard them announce it was my 20th wedding anniversary. Rhad was waiting for me taking lots of pictures. I looked like PigPen. Saw the finish clock and did not give a tiny rat’s ass what it said. 4:15. I will take it and have a big fruity alcoholic drink to celebrate with the love of my life.

I spent most of the hardest part of the race reminding myself how lucky I am that I can even have this opportunity and that I cannot and should not squander it because so so many friends do not have the chance to do what I get to do.

I am sore as bajeesus today - all over, particularly my abs and shoulders. I literally got beaten up yesterday.

It was so worth it. wink

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