Suzie Snyder: Xterra Pan Am Champion
XTERRA PAN AM CHAMPIONSHIPS
September 17, 2016
As an athlete, there is nothing like a major injury to sideline you from doing what you love, which reminds you just how lucky you are to be healthy and able bodied! When my racing season came to an end in August of last year, I was just a few points behind the U.S. Pro Series leader, with U.S. Championships 6 weeks away and that one race set to decide the winner. I was devastated, but fortunately, I had healed enough to swim, pedal my bike and walk well enough to finish the event which would give me enough points to secure my second place standing in the series. It was hard to just let it slip away but sometimes you have to suck it up and do what you have to do.
The past year feels like an eternity ago, and yesterday at the same time. The eight months it took for my fractured pelvis to heal was the longest time I’ve ever had to take off from training and was very emotionally difficult. But to be healthy and fit one year later, and to go from just trying to finish the race to trying to win the race just feels so surreal.
I had a great week leading up to the race. I had begun my taper the previous week and had done the majority of my resting, so I was just sharpening up with some intensity and getting to know the race course again. My legs were starting to freshen up and come around from the last hard training block and I was thoroughly enjoying my time at the Weloth residence, catching up with Cindy, Art and the family I’d been homestaying with in Ogden for the past 5 years! *This is one of the reasons I love Xterra- I’ve made so many new friends through my travels and homestays! I introduced them to some of my favorite foods and recipes over the years, and this year I wowed them with my Mahi Mahi with Mango-avocado salsa over quinoa. MMMMmmmmm Good!
On Tuesday (of race week), I received a message from David DeSantis, an amazing man and Xterra warrior who has been battling cancer for the past several years. He has dedicated 2016 to raising money for The Challenged Athlete’s Foundation by racing 16 Xterras in 16 different countries! I’d gotten to know him a little bit over the course of the summer and have been so inspired by his selfless giving, courage and determination. Anyhow, he said he was recovering from a recent surgery and wouldn’t be able to race in Utah so he wanted me to race in his place, with my results determining the donations that his sponsors would make to the CAF…$500 for 1st place, $250 for 2nd and $100 for third. So of course I said YES, I was so honored and inspired that he chose me and my excitement level increased exponentially! I also decided that it was the least I could do to donate some of my prize money to the CAF, and got some of my sponsors on board with it as well.
So all week I was super excited, and then Saturday morning came and so did the nerves! I knew I was in a great place to win the series and the race overall, and I’d been wanting this win for SO many years. The closest I’ve ever come has been 2nd so to be that close is just a tease. I sort of had a strategy, though it was hard because I didn’t really know what to expect of the two women I felt were my strongest competitors. I had raced Julie at Beaver Creek, CO in July, where I had a terrible day, and the other, Lizzie I hadn’t seen since last April. I knew Julie was a strong swimmer, so I decided to stick with her in the water as long as I could and then try to pull away on the bike. A little to my surprise, I was able to swim with her pretty comfortably for the entire 1500m and then was first out of T1 onto the bike course. I tried to settle into my own rhythm and control my HR for that first rocky climb up Wheeler Canyon, but I always find it hard to get my HR down to where I know it’s sustainable for about 90 minutes and end up riding above LT for a good while. It probably wasn’t until after the first descent that I was able to keep my HR under LT, and I had been given a time split of about 90 seconds to Julie in second when I started the Sardine Peak climb. As I made my way up the switchbacks I was starting to feel some fatigue in the legs and a little bit of worry crept into my mind. I tried to stay in the moment and focused on the task at hand, and took on some more fluid and one last GU energy gel before descending to T2.
As I came through the last bit of singletrack, I had been given the same time split back to 2nd place: 90 seconds, and 2:00 to third. I knew I had to run hard because one of those girls was most likely Lizzie Orchard, who could easily make up that deficit. I didn’t have a terribly fast transition, but once I got my feet into my Altra’s and onto the run course I was focused on keeping my cadence up, eyes up and mindset on staying positive, focused and relaxed. That first mile up the Snowbasin ski resort is never easy- it gets steeper and rockier as you climb with terrible footing at the most difficult section. It’s easy to get down on yourself because you’re running so slowly that it’s tempting to just walk, but I knew that I had to keep my running rhythm so I just took short steps and tried to push myself up the hill little by little. For the next couple miles, I stayed focused on being relaxed and doing the best I could to keep the pace as high as I could. I was running scared, not knowing where anyone was behind me! The second big climb felt just as hard as the first and then my legs started to cramp and I had a hard time trusting my legs beneath me. Around mile 4 I knew it was the highest point and was mostly downhill to the finish so I tried to relax and open up the legs to let them take me downhill to the finish. I didn’t let up until the finish line was in sight because I had a hard time believing that I had held on to the lead and I was actually going to win this race. I got goosebumps as I entered the finish chute, with the announcer calling me in, the crowd cheering, and the tape mine for the taking. I was exhausted and exhilarated and so thankful that Chris was at the finish to catch me and hold me up!
My equipment and gear worked flawlessly; my Hyperthreads custom one piece tri suit is so comfortable it doesn’t irritate or distract me one bit from the race. I wore the Optic Nerve Vapors with Copper lenses on the bike because of the varying light, in and out from shade to bright sun, and then switched out to a fresh pair of Vapors with smoke lenses for the mostly open and bright run course. I love the Vapors for both cycling and running because they have a big wide lens so I don’t have any bright night sneak in above or below, great clarity, and they’re super light with rubber grippers on the nosepiece and ear pieces to hold them in place so they don’t bounce.
Nutrition: GU Energy gel
Running Shoes: Altra Superior
Wheels: Stans No Tubes Carbon Valor
Sunscreen: Planet Sun Hawaii
It turned out that I actually had almost 5 minutes to Lizzie in 2nd place starting the run, and am thankful that I didn’t know it because it made me run hard, which was good training for World Champs, where I certainly won’t have a 5 minute lead and will have to dig deep for the final 6 miles.
It was a special day to have taken the overall win, the Pan Am Tour Win and the US Champs win all with Chris, Spence (from HyperThreads) and Bill (from Optic Nerve) there to share it with me, and to have raised over $2,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation!