Monday, December 9, 2013

XTERRA Off Road Half Marathon Race Report

Team ELM from left to right: Donna, Me, Emily, Niki, Kim, Trina

I am back from sunny Hawaii and in total shock going from bikini to boots in 6 hours.  OMG I didn't think it could get this cold on the Island!

My first trip to Hawaii was amazing and I fell head over heels in love with Kauai:)  Read on for my first annual XTERRA Oahu race report! 

XTERRA Oahu Off Road Half Marathon World Championships

 That was the most beautiful and scenic race I have EVER done- hands down!  Jungle paths, soaring valleys, epic ocean views and tropical terrain created the perfect backdrop for this challenging but very doable off road half marathon.

Traveling to the island of Oahu, Hawaii was easy with a 6 hour flight from Vancouver in the afternoon.  We stayed in downtown Waikiki and walked the 2 blocks from our hotel to the beach for a sunset dinner shortly after we arrived.  The temperature was beautiful.  Like a hot summer day at home, with a warm breeze and the sweet smell of flowers in the air.  Ahhhhh...

On Saturday, Team ELM met up at the race expo to pick up our race packages and sit in on a chat led by the great Canadian athlete, Lucy Smith.  Lucy won the XTERRA race in 2012 and spent some time sharing her tips for the race course which we gobbled up.  We met up with a few more Valley friends for a Canadian photo op!

Race eve Team ELM enjoyed dinner on the Hula Grill balcony overlooking the sunset on Waikiki beach...complete with surfers, sup'ers and outrigger paddlers:)  It was great to spend the evening with Team ELMs family and friends who traveled to Hawaii as 'support'!

Race morning and Team ELM hopped on the yellow school bus shuttle bus at 7am to head to the north east coast and race central at Kualoa Ranch.  We got our first glimpse at the 'real' Oahu as we traveled through suburbs, mountain passes, and farmland.  When we came back down to the coast we got our first view of the Kualoa mountains- steep, sharp edged and loaded with jungle foliage...right down to the sea.  Spectacular!

The race was well organized and it didn't feel like there were 2000 racers at race central.  The temperature was perfect- not too hot, not too humid and which a nice breeze blowing off the water.  It did heat up during the race but never more than a really hot day in the Comox Valley and I loved it.

The race began at 9:00am with the 950 Half Marathon racers taking off first.  The 10k and 5k races started a bit later.  After a beautiful and unique Hawaiian blessing we burst out of the gates, over the cattle guards and up up up into the hills on the first of many climbs.  The word for the day was 'pacing' and we all worked hard to hold back during the early miles of the race because we knew the heat could come back to haunt us later.  I had to keep checking in to make sure I didn't start 'racing' others who were passing me during the first 3rd of the run.  My goal was to finish strong and run my own race.  It meant I could settle in, run at a comfortable pace and enjoy the amazing views!

There were about 4 main climbs with the first right out of the gates- none of which came close to the hills we run at home in the trails of Cumberland or Forbidden.  Each lasted only 10-15 minutes and none were on extremely steep or technical terrain which made it seem much easier than the training runs we had done at home.  The first climb was on double track and then we turned onto a single track path for the first descent which meant a bit of a backlog at first.  But the single track quickly opened up to a big field where us downhill lovers could really open it up and make strides.  Yippee!

Back on the double track we made our way further up the valley towards the mountains.  After about 5k we crossed the Valley and ran back down the other side towards the ocean again...once we could see the race/start finish area the course split and the 10k runners headed back down to the finish.  We continued traversing along a beautiful single track trail for another km with views of the ocean and valley floor.  Then it was UP to the top of the mountain to complete the second half of the half marathon course!  Amazing ocean views from hundreds of feet up appeared throughout our twists and turns on the side of the mountain.  We ran by old movie props nestled in the jungle and covered with tropical vines which added to the magic.

For every hill we ran up, we were immediately rewarded with a fun fast downhill section as the course was continuously changing between up and down.  About 2/3s into the course the route became more exposed, the temperature climbed to hot and the trail veered steadily upward.  We knew this was coming and were mentally prepared for the BIG hill at mile 10.  Our pacing and preparation paid off because the hill did not seem daunting at all!  We had heard so much about it and planned to save something for it, that once we reached the hill we were all pleasantly surprised how un-epic it really was for us;)  It was mostly runnable, except for one very short section of near vertical and it was almost entirely on dirt road so there were no technical challenges.  

Once at the top it was all downhill from there with less than 3 miles until the finish!   Miles sound so much shorter than km's don't they?  My favourite section of the course was on the other side of this summit- with the only gnarly technical single track of the race.  It was a short muddy, rooty, single track trail complete with ropes;)  Everyone was walking and holding on for their lives but they kindly stepped aside when I called out to leap down the steep slip and slide.  FUN!  Unfortunately the rest of the team weren't so lucky and the racers around them didn't respond to their 'passing' calls so they were stuck in the mud with the walkers.  Not everyone has learned correct trail racing etiquette it seems!

For every tight single track section, however, there was another wide open path where you could find your own stride so passing wasn't too much of an issue overall.  After the short technical downhill we were back on the beautiful traversing valley trail once again - but this time we got to run all the way down to the finish line!  Breathtaking...near continuous downhill from the top of the mountain to the valley floor and sea level below.  That was the longest 2 miles of my life!  I remember seeing race central in the far distance when we got onto that last trail and thinking 'I can do this in under 2 hours!'  I had 12 minutes to go and I could see the finish line- no problem!  HA!  Every time we popped back out of the trees and I could see the finish it didn't look ANY closer.  That was a looooong stretch!  Thankfully it was mostly downhill because I would have been passed by WAY more strong finishers than I already was lol!  I had juice to pump hard on the downhills, but slowed to a crawl on the little inclines on that last stretch.  Tonnes of cheerleaders lined the homestretch and the words " Way to go ladies" made me realize I was being chased and I managed to find some bonus energy in my legs to sprint with her to the finish:)  

That was a hard finish!  I had pushed out every last bit of energy and left it all on the trail...probably a bit too early with about a mile left to go actually lol!  I was very happy with how my body performed based on what I was able to put into my training for this event - after a year filled with crazy illness and issues I was stoked to get to the start line and finish feeling my last race of the year feeling happy and strong!  We received print outs of our results at the finish line and I came in at 2hours 8 minutes, 8th in my category and ranked 37th woman in the world lol!   

After a few dizzy-omg I might barf-it's so hot- moments at the finish line, I was feeling great and converted back into coach/cheerleader on the sidelines.  It was so awesome to get to see each member of Team ELM (and our other Valley friends Cathy and John who both ended up on the podium in their categories!) come running down the homestretch and across the finish line.  Every one of them looked strong!  Team ELM rocked their race plans and finished feeling great:)  Yipppeee!

I can see this being an annual ELM event...I know I want to go back and get a PB now that I know the course intimately...did I mention it's in Hawaii??  Who's coming with me in 2014??

Much Aloha!

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