You know those people who make XTERRA look easy? The ones who seem to always be on the top step of the podium and who sail through the toughest courses with a big smile on their face? Five-time XTERRA Age Group World Champ, Mimi Stockton, is one of 'em, and she just opened her season with the overall win at XTERRA Illinois Wilds.
We caught up with Mimi after the race to find out what she really thinks as she's slicing through the water or sweeping gracefully around the turns. And guess what? Turns out that XTERRA stars are just like us. Here's what she said...
Wildlife Prairie Park, home of XTERRA Illinois Wilds, is a gem. The race starts off in the smooth as glass Parkside Lake. After the half-mile swim, the mountain bike fun begins with two loops of fast, twisty singletrack. This course is ideal for the first time XTERRA athlete as there is almost no elevation gain and only a few technical sections. Yet it can be ridden fast and furious and that is what makes these trails so exhilarating for the experienced biker. After the 15 mile bike, it's on to the 4 mile run course on gentle, rolling terrain. It's optimal for the beginner, yet offers the chance to pick up some speed and time for those in the hunt for overall and age group awards. But the best part? You run by a field of bison and elk and then through the middle of the park zoo. You become so entranced by the birds and other creatures you forget you’re suffering. It’s a beautiful thing!
But this is what the race is like in dry conditions. Well, guess what? I was awoken in my little red caboose (yes, the park offers caboose lodging) by thunder, lightning and torrential downpour at 2:36 AM the morning of the race. There was no going back to sleep after that. The caboose was shaking and I was wide awake, watching the rain coming down in sheets. It was time to change the game plan. When I finally got out of bed at 6:30 AM it was still pouring, but remarkably, an hour later, the rain stopped and I zipped over to transition to set up my stuff. I knew the trails would be a mess and I was right. We were informed the bike course was going to be re-routed to avoid some slippery rock sections and was ultimately shortened by about two miles. This race was going to be fast and furious and there would be no room for error. One slip around a muddy corner and your race could be over; hit a wet root the wrong way and you could go flying over your handlebars. What went from a beginner-friendly mountain bike course quickly turned into a technical, slick as a skating rink track. Let the fun begin!
XTERRAs are always more than just smooth swimming, effortless mountain biking, and painless trail running. If the race were just those things, there’d be nothing to discuss, debate, review, complain and laugh about before, during, and after the race. It’s all the little things that happen, like fellow racer Kristen Wade making fun of my hair sticking out of my bathing cap while waiting for the gun to go off or getting smacked on the butt so hard during T1 that I screamed, or even wiping out on a slick bridge during the run.
And of course, there are all the crazy thoughts that go through your head during the race. As I was treading water in the lake, waiting for the gun to go off, I was thinking a number of things from, "I don't think I love the mint chocolate chip Clif Bar I just ate," to "Did I put enough spit in my goggles? Oh shoot, did I leave the sunroof open on my car?"
During the race, the voices in my head begin to shout. During the swim it was...
God, I feel awful ...No, you’re okay, find your rhythm…dammit, where is that first buoy…what is that slimy stuff sticking to my leg…this is way longer than 800 meters...why do I keep doing these races…this is the last time I’m racing…I’m serious…I’m definitely, absolutely not racing anymore. Stop it Mimi, just keep swimming…you’re doing fine…I’d rather be in my red caboose right now….okay, you’re almost there, hang on…50 more meters…faster, faster, faster.
Out of the water and into transition? “Go, go, go…shoes, helmet, camelback…go, go, go.”
During the bike, things are a bit more fun. After all, this is what I live for. I tell myself to go steady and take it easy around the turns, and then push, push, push!
Do not crash. Seriously Mimi, Do. Not. Crash. ... this is really fun, I love mountain biking ...I don't like it when anyone passes me ... no your legs aren't burning. It's all in your head. DO. NOT. CRASH.
During the run, I see a girl ahead of me and hope she's on the relay team. (Hooray, she is.) I wonder what my dog Penny is doing right now. I wipe out on the wet bridge and wonder if I'm bloody as well as covered in mud.
And then, thank goodness, the finish line is in sight. Come on Stockton, show me what you go. You are almost done, keep pushing. Wait, where's the finish? It better be around this bend. I see it, yes, I'm almost there, I'm almost done.
Of course the best part of every race is after the race. The nerves have vanished, everyone is relieved to be done, everyone loves sharing their respective stories. And everyone loves thinking about their next race - even if they swore up and down during the swim that this would definitely, absolutely be their last race!
We got lucky at XTERRA Illinois Wilds. Just as soon as the awards ceremony finished, the wind picked up, thunder boomed and the rain started again. Everyone ran for shelter or to their cars. And guess what? I did leave my sunroof open. XTERRA is always an adventure - always!