Xterra Switzerland - More than just a race
3rd Jul 2016
This year's ETU European Championships was always pencilled in as my A race for the season, but it was about much more than just the race.
If anything this season had gone to plan, my aim would have been to make the top 10, having finished 11th in ETU last year. I didn't even look at the start list, and I knew not much had gone to plan, but still I couldn't give up on this aim! This year's event was combined with Xterra Switzerland, on a course that had suited me last year. Now the bike and run were longer, and had the potential to be pretty technical (muddy!) if the forecast of thunderstorms and rain came true.
But I wasn't worried about any of that - I will handle any course and conditions because the challenge is the same for everyone. The biggest challenge this year was getting to the start line fit to race at all...
If you have read my previous blogs you will know about the numerous setbacks since December, so I won't repeat those here. But after weeks of stress, physio and surgeon appointments and scans, I finally got the latest setback (my shoulder injury) under control, and in a state that I knew I could get through a 1500m swim. Finally I was confident, and relieved I would be able to race! But in my last run training session on camp in Switzerland, I managed to twist my ankle and tweak my quad. While I didn't think this was anything serious long term, I only had 3 days to get it right enough to race on...
Cue a 2 hour detour via France on the way to the Swiss venue, the only appointment we could find online with an English-speaking physio! It was not the same as seeing Alex at the Drummond Clinic but it was the best we could do. I put off recce-ing the course until the last minute (day before the race) to give everything as long as possible to settle down. Thankfully everything held together, another sigh of relief breathed.
But all those weeks (as well as months) of stress had been pretty draining. Normally I wake up on race morning excited to compete, but today I felt nothing but apprehension. Knowing I wouldn't be able to do myself justice on the swim, when I have actually worked really hard with coach Mark over the winter to improve. It hadn't been the best night sleep either, camping in a lightning storm and torrential rain, wondering how much more water our little tent could keep at bay. Wondering how my shoulder would survive the swim, and what was now going to be a tough and technical bike...
Thankfully Elite women had our own start, so hopefully it would be a bit less violent than the washing machine of a mass start! Normally I rely on the swim to get a good position, but today it was just a case of damage limitation. I felt like I spent the whole 1500m trying to protect my shoulder from being hit, and felt despondant coming out of the water so far down the field.
And even more downhearted when I realised it was now raining hard... I don't mind the mud but this makes visibility impossible! Do I take my bike glasses in T1 or not? I decided to try, as this is the only barrier to keep mud and grit out of my eyes, and more importantly - contact lenses. Such discomfort you can only understand if you have raced MTB wearing contacts in these conditions! Knowing your eyes will be scratched for several days afterwards. But it was impossible to see through fogged-up glasses, and I had no choice but to abandon them at the first aid station.
So now I'm resigned to the conditions, let's just get on with it. And so the mud fest began! I felt a bit happier when I started overtaking a few girls - the benefit of being further down on the swim I guess. It was pretty annoying when AG men started to catch us though (who'd started 4 mins later) While most were polite, you pull over for one guy and 3 more shout at you to pass, and you lose 20 seconds. Or they pass on the fire road and then mess up the singletrack and cause a queue, holding up us women 30 seconds or more on something we could have ridden! And there's always a minority of testosterone fuelled idiots who think their race is more important than yours, and simply barge you off the course if you don't move within one second! I will pull over as soon as there is space, but in the singletrack there is often none!
Unfortunately racing will never be 100% fair until women get our own separate race - especially as drafting is not allowed between sexes, but sometimes you can't tell who is male or female! This is what was so great in Sardinia last year for the Worlds, the rare occasion of having our own separate race.
But I digress. And actually the more this race went on, the more I got into it. All my winter muddy rides had a purpose after all, and I seemed to be doing better than most in the conditions! I passed more girls, and ironically some of those same AG guys that were so desperate to get past on the first lap ;) Now I was starting to enjoy myself! The best part for me was the final rocky section back to transition. Last year I messed up some of the climbs (in the dry) but this year managed everything without a foot down. Even the final descent that had 3 people either crashed or walking in front of me, but somehow I managed to pick a different line down, and by transition I was in 11th place. Perhaps that top 10 finish was possible after all?
I lost time in transition because I couldn't lift my bike onto the rack (why are they so ridiculously high?) But I was still feeling good, and knew I could run well... I just had to hope there were some women within catching distance!
I remembered all the hard sessions I've done with Mark - 10k worth of intervals at 10k race pace, tempo runs at altitude, hard runs off the bike... now it was time for all this to pay off! I was slightly concerned I hadn't eaten enough gels - as the bike course was 30 minutes longer than expected, and I stupidly didn't leave one in transition for the run. But I can't do anything about that now, just keep thinking the sooner I finish, the sooner there will be food!
And before I know it, I have caught the Italian Cibin on the climb. I have never beaten her before - surely she must be on her second lap? But no, Nico Lebrun is on the course shouting that I am now in the top 10 - "good job!"
In transition, Simon shouted that I'm only 1 minute behind the next lady, and by the second climb I had passed teammate Jessica as well. 9th. But I could hear another lady close behind - was Jess responding? No, instead French athlete Morgane came flying past, I knew she had not been too far behind off the bike. Unfortunately I could not match her pace, all I could do was think I have to hold on to 10th - I can't allow a repeat of last year when I got outsprinted on the line! I pushed on as hard as I could down the now treacherous descent, trying not to think about my ankle!
I didn't dare to look behind me until the final field - about 300m to go... and there was no-one there. Finally I knew I was going to make it and achieve the goal of a top 10 finish despite everything. I crossed the line, and all I wanted to do was look for Simon. He was hurrying over, arm in sling (a dislocated shoulder from his own bike crash!) he has done so much to help me get here... He was more emotional than I was and it was almost like our wedding day both of us trying not to cry! (He didn't manage!)
I have never been so covered in filth in my life, and never raced in such extreme conditions... Never been so eager to get into the warm showers still in my race clothes!! But it made all the sacrifices, the stress, the injury concerns, all the crying down the phone to various members of my team worthwhile!! This was about more than just a race but about getting something worthwhile from this whole season and whole year.
Design © 2018 Louise Fox. Photography © Lukasz Warzecha