So, it is rare to have someone lodge a complaint that the World Championship they just competed in was “too easy.” This past weekend marked my second time competing in a World Championship. My first World Championship was in the 470 with good friend and teammate Amanda Clark during her first and my first and only 470 Olympic Campaign. The regatta was held in Koper, Slovenia and when the “Bora” blew in (aka wind from the mountains) the race was on! The racing was hard, after all, it was the World Championships.
Fast forward 11 years and I found myself lining up for my second World Championships (not including the “Miami World Championship Races”) the ITU Cross World Championships this past weekend in Pelham, Alabama. I had done the prerequisite amount of internet googling/stalking to “know” my competition and had prepared as methodically as I could for the race since qualifying out of Xterra Miami in March. In a field that was to see 18 women in my 30-34 age group, I was hoping to place 10th and, in fact, even had a dream about it a few nights prior. I knew my swim was not the fastest, but average. I knew I had a strong bike (pretty much that’s all I ever have going for me in a triathlon) but would have to deal with traffic. I also knew (and have well documented) that I am not the fastest runner out there but was confident I could at a minimum run 8:30 min miles on the trail for the 6 miles required. This, of course, was barring any major incidents and all other items going as planned (does that ever happen?).
That being said, race morning I was feeling ok. Not awesome, but not terrible. In all my years of being an athlete, typically when I feel that way I end up having a pretty solid performance. I came out of the swim with a time almost to the second that I expected. I had a less than terrible transition and hopped on my bike for my favorite part of the day. I noticed coming out of the swim that friends and Florida mountain bike racers Beata Wronska (racing 35-39 and who was having a GREAT day it would turn out) and Melissa Scott (racing 40-44 and was also having a good day) were RIGHT behind me. Onto the bike I immediately got down to business. I knew if I wanted to do well on the bike split, I would have to take major risks on the descent to get up as much speed as possible. I began the climb up the mountain and was feeling ever so slightly flat but figured with no one in sight behind me (after passing Beata and Melissa and about 20 other women shortly after transition) I was in a good place. I figured also I was in a good place when I saw some familiar 30-34 age group names on kits as I passed them on the big climb (4 miles long with occasional 24% grade sections). I was ready to rip down that hill and was pretty happy with how my race was developing. That is, until, I heard friend and fellow MTB-er say “go Duffster go” and I realized that Beata was right behind me. Clearly, I had not been pulling away from anyone like I felt I had been. This was exciting and disappointing. Exciting because I knew that my friend was having a GREAT day of performance and disappointing because I knew I was not–my RPE was WAYYYY OFF. We summited the top of the climb together and I told her she was having a great day before taking off down the hill as I am a faster descender and knew I had to be even faster than usual if I wanted to stay ahead of all my fellow age group racers who I had passed early in the race as well. I “turned off the breaks” (ala Maja Wloszczowska) and headed down the mountain.
I was hauling–20-25mph is what my computer had me at for almost the entire descent. I pulled out of sight and hoped that was enough to keep me ahead. I got to “Blood Rock” (which I had pre decided I would not be riding in its entirety–I rode the first three drops and then dismounted for the really technical section) and had many spectators lined up to watch potential Blood Rock carnage.
I was not one they would be watching take on the obstacle and I hoped to run down it so fast that my rolling descent could continue with hardly any hesitation. Back on the bike and I again turned off the breaks and let ‘er rip again and back up to 20 mph. I was launching over obstacles and off drops and was getting more and more confident. So confident, in fact, that when I came across a 3 foot drop off a rock ledge I had encountered before on pre-rides (slowly and methodically descended down or walked on all pre rides) I decided that I was feeling so fast and so good I would try and launch off of it. Well….launch I did–over the handlebars. Apparently, I didn’t lift my front end quite enough to get past the obstacle, loaded up my shock, and flew super man style over my handlebars tucking and rolling onto my right side. My bike was one full level up from where I landed on the natural stairs after the drop. I felt like Ricky Bobby flying through the air….
I stood up, shook it off (as best I could) and tried to get back after it. I figure I lost at least a minute on my bike split from the crash. The crash didn’t only affect me on the remainder of the bike, but it hurt on my run. I came into transition still ahead of my friends Beata and Melissa and still ahead of the girls in my age group (somewhere in 8th place or so in my age group), but not far enough as I was caught by pretty much everyone when my body said “no” to running faster than 8:45 mm pace with a VERY bruised shoulder, hip, wrist, and knee. (my run also looked a little like Ricky Bobby’s after the crash–I was all over the place and, being in a tri suit was pretty much already in my underwear).
Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty. I crossed the line 12th in my age group and last Florida mountain biker….disappointing for sure, but lesson re-learned: World Championships are NOT easy.