Racing my First Xterra
Likemany other professional triathletes, my triathlon career began in another sport. I was a professional road and mountain bike cyclist when I competed in my first Xterra. I used my cycling motor to fuel the other two sports. My inspiration to make that transition in 2001 came from an event in Whistler, B.C.
It is no wonder I fell in love with triathlon. Whistler is arguably one of the best venues for an introduction to the sport. I was in Whistler in September 2000 to train for the upcoming road World Championships after I was chosen to compete with the national team. My plan was to do a marathon mountain bike event as part of my last training build to the World Championships in France. When I discovered the Xterra event there, I decided to try it. I had no idea how much that choice would impact my athletic career.
Many athletes that I raced with on the World Cup mountain bike circuit were familiar with Xterra. In fact, the Xterra race director also organized the World Cup mountain bike finals and a multiday mountain bike race in Hawaii that many of us had entered. Pro athletes like Ned Overend, Shari Kain and Lesley Tomlinson were making a splash in the Xterra ranks before I tried the sport. In the early days of Xterra, having good mountain bike skills was a strong weapon at Worlds against road triathletes, as evidenced by Ned Overend and Shari Kain’s World Championship titles.
Although I was a pro cyclist at the time I first tried Xterra, I wasn’t a complete novice in swimming and running. I had been on the swim team for a few years in high school and had tried to make it as a cross country runner in university before getting injured and taking up cycling. I had some tools for success in multisport but I hadn’t used them in some time. However, by no means did I have an excellent first race. My attention to detail was lacking and, as a result, some major errors in preparation and execution made for some race day hilarity.
My first ever open water swim was the day of the race. Since I did no open water swimming to prepare for the event, I was completely unaware that one would require a wetsuit. With no swim training for the race at all, and none in the open water, not only was I not really fit for 1,500 metres of swimming I also was at a distinct disadvantage having no buoyancy or protection in the very cold Lost Lake waters of September.
Once on the bike though, I was back in familiar territory. I had raced on the trails in Whistler for numerous high level mountain bike events. This was my opportunity to shine and I went for it. It felt incredible to be time trialling on the bike. Unlike in mountain bike racing, you are separated from your competitors, but still get the opportunity to measure your progress as you move through the field.
I had considerably more skill in the technical northwest single track than my competitors. I transitioned off the bike in that race with a healthy lead on second place. Part of my minimal race preparation was riding the run course the day before. Missing from my preparation was the knowledge that the loop I had seen was but one of two required. Imagine my dismay when I was pointed directly back uphill after my first lap number one knowing that I had nothing left in the tank. My lead quickly disappeared on the second lap number when three competitors, one after another, ran past me before the finish.
Regardless of the outcome, the entire race experience was inspiring and finishing on the podium was a massive bonus. The prize money for fourth place was $600. Given my perspective on prize winnings at the time, coming from women’s cycling, you would think I had won a fortune I was so excited. Triathlon was beckoning as the excitement, my apparent potential in the sport and the financial reward were pointing me in a new direction. After crashing in the first 800 m at the road Worlds in France that year, I booked a flight to Maui for the Xterra World Championship to see if my second World Championship race that season would be more successful. Ultimately I took second place in Maui and decided that triathlon was going to be my future.
Pro athletes get their start in a variety of ways. Some play hockey first, some swim and others might seem to have no athletic history at all. But they all share passion, a belief in themselves and a strong work ethic. I am grateful that I discovered Xterra in Whistler 13 years ago. It opened the door to a successful career as a professional athlete. The sport has led me to amazing friends, taught me powerful lessons and provided enriching experiences I’ll never forget.