The Xterra World Championship off-road triathlon was held in Kapalua, Maui on October 29, 2017 and I was there to compete for my 5th time. For you readers who are not familiar with Xterra, it is off-road triathlon which means swimming that includes a mid-swim run across the beach, mountain biking, then trail running.
Xterra holds events around the country and around the world. These events tend to have a laid-back air about them yet are often very physically and mentally demanding because the venue is often challenging. World’s is no different.
The World’s ocean swim course consists of two triangles resulting in an “M” shape-going out into the big surf and swells, come in to the beach for a 10 yd run before heading back into the surf again. What this means is swimmers get to be pummeled 4 times-both on the way out and again on the two return trips to shore! Sometimes a swimmer can be lucky with good timing with the waves. This was not me this year.
Race morning the swells were big rising up far out then building on the way in. A few weeks before the event I had a dream about swimming in the big waves. During my dream I stood knee deep facing the waves, a big set was coming at me, I turned to run, but then a little voice said not to run away but to run toward. So, I did, diving under each cresting wave. Now actually in the swim facing such big waves, I did just that, dive through the low part of the wave. I felt their power as the wave energy moved over me as I held my “skate shape” to reduce my drag to avoid being pushed back to where I started. Popping up on the other side, looking up for the next big one, taking a few strokes toward the rising curl of water, diving under, hold skate, pop up and repeat. As the waves came I thought of my two friends Terry and Dave who both died this year after each outliving their cancer prognosis. Dave loved Xterra, and Terry was instrumental in improving my swim stroke and then some. I thought of them both having fun with me by sending me, all of us out here today the big surf- “You want an adventure and test of your strength Celeste, then here you go, we know you got this!”
And I did. I felt my confidence, my strength of body and mind, and my gratitude to be here doing this today. All these things crossed my mind as I stroked.
As I found myself rounding the first buoy in peace, I fell in with a young woman who kept smacking me in the head with her recovery arm. All the women started in the last wave, 5 minutes behind the men. As we caught up with them things got very congested. The group took the first buoy a little too wide, I was attempting to push my way back but the pack was a little to thick. I would have to settle in with a wide arc with everyone else out on the edge.
Finishing our first triangle, I was watching and sighting behind me to watch for waves that might pick me up and toss me down. I could feel the “suck back”, too deep to stand, so I kept stroking to hold my place and hoped to be able to surf in. Good news is the woman was no longer hitting me in the head. A little tumbling like a drunk to find the ground to stand up. Me and everyone around me was scrambling. But we made it, ran across the beach then dove back into the waves again. This time for me a bit calmer, less people, just as much skate shape. I did have to make a few adjustments with my stroke rate to keep from getting hung up in the waves or losing energy to fighting against the waves.
Coming in to shore to finish up the second triangle, I looked behind me again, felt the suck, then tried to body surf in, but I missed my chance. It was like being in an endless pool! But eventually my feet found the ground, shin deep so I just picked up my feet and ran before the next wave caught me.
It was a blast of a swim, the water not as clear as years past, but beautiful nonetheless. I felt I had the best swim of my life to this point! After many years of swimming, training, coaching it is all this experience that helps me have such great swims. To feel that confidence and sense awareness and aliveness!
I went on to the mountain bike, then the run. I had a great ride, amazing views from the trail! In hind sight I could have pushed it a little bit more, but I didn’t know that until the second part of the run. I felt a little to good on the run. Oh well, nothing I can do once it is over! Except learn from it, trust myself a little more, trust my training a little more.