From The Hotseat, Bagging an Important Win at the 2006 Xterra Mountain Championships

There is no satisfaction like winning when you really, really, really need to.  It is like the greatest release when you cross that finish line knowing that you got what you came for and you performed under pressure.  I LOVE that feeling!  Not so much that I will seek to recreate that situation for myself – but it still feels good to get it done.  I had to win this weekend in Utah in order to have a shot at the overall series win.  Now I do, if I win in Tahoe the series title will be mine.  It is not a new situation by any means… I think I have been here, oh, EVERY time we have raced the series against each other.  But this weekend I won the final stop before the nationals convincingly and creating an exciting finish for the Xterra US Championships series is what Jamie and I are here to do. 

Utah was a big, fat win.  Second place, which was Jamie, was over four minutes behind.  What is really, really amazing to me is that this race was up high, most of the course was at about 7000 feet.  Remember the old Mel, convinced that she could not win at altitude?  She has left the building.  The new and improved Mountain Mel figures that with a little preparation, altitude might not actually be a factor.  I think that finally, after five years, might be getting close to figuring out altitude.  Is the fifth time going to be the charm?  Will Mel be crowned Queen of Altitude along with Queen of the US Points Series?  We will know on October 2nd.   

The last two weeks were all about preparing for a race in Utah which would give me the confidence that I could win on the slopes at Lake Tahoe.  I wanted the kind of race that says, “Mel is a climber and can win regardless of venue”.  It wasn’t about what other competitors thought of my chances to win, it was about what I thought.  I didn’t have the perfect 100% race like Maui, but for altitude it was a truly amazing race.  I didn’t get this done on my own.  I had some incredible experiences with some amazing people in Utah that I would like to share.  Utah is amazing.  It is the perfect altitude for athletes, the weather is awesome, the terrain for training is spectacular and the people are the so friendly, generous, hospitable and genuine.  I think I have made some friendships I would love to treasure for life.  My race experience in Utah will be a life experience I can carry forever.  In all the fun there were still some “dark days” on the way to my best race this season, so read on…..

I flew direct from the race in Milwaukee to Utah to start my preparation for the race 13 days out.  I flew into Salt Lake City brutally delayed and tried in vain to email my Utah host to let him know I was going to be late (imagine, Mel not on time!).  My host was Tom Telford and all I knew of him was that he was into triathlon, was a financial planner or something, was married (to one wife) and had two children.  So when I arrived at baggage claim and met my Utah tour guide and saw that half of the world’s most beautiful couple was stepping forward to shake my hand I was shocked.  OK, very cute guy, 15 years younger than expected, funny, well dressed… things were looking good.  We arrived to my homestay, which was a brand new, beautiful townhome owned by one of the most fun chicks I have ever spent two weeks with, Bonnie Bailey.  She had Sex and the City on DVD when I arrived and I knew immediately this was meant to be. 

Ok, I am so fortunate to have friends.  Tom gave me his pimpin Audi A6 for the week (but Liza, it has the bike racks!), found me a place to stay, organized some social outings, arranged for me to practice my public speaking in front of a friendly audience of future financial planners AND showed up for some training.  I later got to meet Liza, the second half of the worlds most beautiful couple who is the kind of person you want to be your best girlfriend and who was truly okay with the fact that her husband was rolling out a triathlon red carpet for me.  She's awesome.  Orbea arranged for my post-Milwaukee muddy mess of a bike to have a series of spa treatments at Contender Bicycles (thanks Shimano for all new cables and chains and brake pads etc…and Ryan, thanks so much for all your hard work!) and I got a road bike to train on while Alma was busy primping.  This is what I am talking about when you ask yourself, who is your team?  Not only to I have amazing sponsors like Orbea, Shimano, Profile, Saucony, and GU who all came up with some race day emergency replacements, but they also go the extra mile when I am away from home and need some help.  THANK YOU!!!  I managed to hit the Wednesday night crit which was super fun, did lots of outdoor pool swimming and by the weekend, headed out to Snowbasin Resort for some reconnaissance. 

So the advantage of coming early is that you get a lot of time to inspect the course.  The problem with a new venue is you really don’t know what the course is.  The Saturday before the race I was heading up what would be the first trail on the climb and ran into Dev, our Utah Xterra crewman, who busted out a GPS to show me what he was thinking.  That will give you an idea of the maze of trails available at Snowbasin.  Christie, I need my Suunto GPS hrm/watch!!!  So the first day I was out there, I rode what would be the bike course on race day.  Riding just one loop of the course I blew to the moon so badly I thought I was going to die.  I ran out of water after it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to finish. I suffered incredibly to ride that pace (keep in mind my race time was 1:40 which included 5 minutes from transition that I did not ride that day).  It was a very tough day.  The next day I headed back planning to ride two loops of the top section of the course.  Well, word on the street was they were thinking of changing things.  So I tried the XT option to see what that was like.  Blew to the moon again, did one loop instead of two, then decided to try what was suggested would be the run course.  I ended up tripping on nothing and flying straight into the dirt without even getting my hands out in front of me.  It was awful.  I had two of the hardest, most mentally draining and discouraging training days of my life. 

So Monday I went to yoga, swam for about 2 minutes and then watched a marathon of Sex and the City.  That night I went to my race day bike mechanics, the Biker’s Edge bike shop in Kaysville, to talk about racing Xterra and motivate our new recruits to the sport.  The fact that I was reaching into the depths for my own motivation at this point and starting to think unnecessary thoughts about the fact that I NEED to win the race in 6 days, it was so great to field some questions and feel the enthusiasm of some new people in the sport.  It further reinforced my love for what I am doing and I was so thankful to meet more amazing people in Utah. I think I got more out of it than anyone at the clinic!  There were lots of mountain bikers ready to challenge themselves with two sports they had done no training for and that is where is starts people, challenging yourself.  Thanks to the prerace magic Jake (and the Contender boys) did on my bike I had a mint run through the course.  Jake also came second overall in the XT race, with no swim or run training.  It pays to be a good cyclist…

So the race week went by quickly and before I knew it I was getting up at 6 am on Saturday morning to eat some Nature’s Path Optimum oatmeal and have coffee before heading to the race.  Of course, an episode of SITC was in order while I had my morning snacks.  I was at T2 at Snowbasin by 7:30 am, set up, threw some clothes on and rode down to the Pineview reservoir with enough time for a quick warmup and the race briefing.  Bang! The cannon went off and the race was on…. 

I started well, cut right to where the fast swimmers were going and found myself on Janae’s hip.  I rounded the first buoy with her feeling good when one of the pro men pushed me off her feet.  No problem, I thought, as I tucked in behind him, shortly before he blew to the moon and dropped off Janae.  Dang it!  So now I was swimming with him and Justin Thomas, and unfortunately, we were all equally matched.  No more really fast swimming, just Mel speed.  It was still a good swim and before I knew it I was running on sharp rocks, bruising my feet through transition and blasting down the highway towards the Wheeler Creek Trailhead second out of the water. 

It was COLD!  Kind of like the start of Tahoe cold with the shadows on that side of the mountain.  I think we were all shivering until about 15 minutes into the bike course when we were on sunnier trails.  So much for overheating and salt pills!  It actually turned into perfect race weather, not cold or hot but just right.  The trail climbs up steadily with short traverses all the way from 4800 feet at the reservoir to over 7700 feet at the top of the climb.  The truly bad part of the climb is actually the last 500 feet where it turns into loose, rocky, slow motion climbing –almost like the climb in Maui.  After you finish the climb you are treated to a super high speed, twisty descent back down to T2, which made it worth it to go all that way!  Funny story, I ate my last Espresso Love GU at the top of the course and in my relish to squeeze it, managed to get a lot of it on my gloves. Then it started to get sticky, and stick my fingers together.  It was getting sketchy descending without being able to pry my fingers off the bars and brake/shift… so the Michael Jackson one glove suddenly became all the rage as I frantically pulled my one glove off on the descent.  Don’t try this at home…eat the GU, don’t wear it. 

Out of T2 and onto the run we climbed up the steep mountain pitch to start some fun, rocky single track before descending down the steep road to the finish line.  Fun and fun! I was running smoothly but very cautiously on the descent since I knew I already had the race won.  It is a nice feeling to know you can mitigate all risks in the final miles of the race.  I think I enjoyed every minute of this race and not just because with every pedalstroke and footstep I was pulling away from the field.  It was one of the most gorgeous, picturesque venues for racing I have ever had the pleasure of racing at. Plus I could hear race fans cheering for me the whole way through the race which was incredibly motivating! 

So my new second home town has become Farmington, Utah and I can’t wait to go back.  I really want to thank Snowbasin Resort, the GOAL Foundation and the City of  Ogden for inviting us to come race in their amazing city.  I cannot wait to go back to this one!  Thanks to Tom, Liza, Bonnie, Zack, Jake and Ryan for all your contributions to this great day of mine.  Thank you to Saucony, Nature’s Path, Orbea, Sundog Eyewear, Shimano, Maxxis tires, Gu drinks and energy, Profile Design, Titec,  Fox Racing Shox, Aquaman Wetsuits, Limar helmets, Fizik Saddles, Speedo Canada, CycleOps/Powertap, Computrainer, Powercranks, Precor and Rider’s Cycles.  I absolutely LOVE what I do and you guys make that possible! 

Next stop, the WINDY CITY for some road triathlon action at the Accenture Triathlon… busting the Ordu out of the paddock for the weekend.  Hilarity should ensue….

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