The Xterra Canadian Championships took place this past weekend in Canmore, Alberta, with two Sea to Sky athletes taking part.
Brandi Heisterman, a member of the national off-road triathlon team, placed 18th overall and fifth in the pro women's category with her time of 2:49:27.
Nanaimo's Melanie McQuaid, a four-time world Xterra champion, placed first in the event in 2:38:08, followed by Calgary's Danelle Kabush in 2:40:28 and Swiss racer Renata Bucher in 2:44:23.
John Blok placed 66th overall and was first in the men's 55 to 59 age group in 3:22:38, four minutes ahead of the next racer in his category. As a result he qualified to race at the championships in Maui at the end of October. It's the second year he'll race in the event.
"I just wanted another try at that and thought I might be able to stack up a little better the second time around," he said.
There were two spots available for worlds at Canmore, and Blok trained hard this year to be ready. Even so, the altitude did catch him off guard in the swim leg.
"On the run it didn't (affect me) but on the swim it definitely did," he said. "I generally breathe every third stroke, but I was breathing too fast to do that so there was a little bit of a panic on the swim."
The rain the night before was an advantage on the sometimes-technical course, as a lot of the other riders struggled on the wet roots, and Blok made up some of the time he lost on the swim and the last transition. However, until the run he was still sitting in third place.
"Luckily I've been running up Whistler Mountain to the Roundhouse every Wednesday morning and that really helped my run. There were only three guys in my category and two spots for Hawaii, and I beat both of them eventually on the run. I was also a little faster on the bike, but they had me beat on the swim and transitions so they both started on the run before I did."
Blok was ninth last year, and this year he's aiming for the top five at the world championships. "The next four guys ahead of me weren't very far ahead of me, so I think that's a possibility. Obviously a top three would be great, but it's not as likely in that event where there are so many strong competitors, and you have guys coming from around the world."
For Heisterman, the biggest challenge on Sunday was also the swim leg. The small lake and narrow start put her closer to other swimmers than she had experienced in previous races.
"I was actually quite trampled at the start," she laughed. "I've heard people say that they've been swum over, and now I know what it feels like. For the first 20 metres I thought I was fast, but two guys literally came over me, and it was pretty shocking. I was doing the breast stroke, and in a full panic attack where your whole body just shuts down. It takes a few minutes to recover."
Heisterman considered pulling out, but rallied and slipped into a comfortable rhythm. But by then the damage had been done and she was at the back of the pack, last out of the water among the 20 pro women, including six of the top off-road triathletes in the world.
She instantly felt better on the mountain bike leg, her strongest, but again her inexperience betrayed her.
"I absolutely pinned it, which wasn't very smart," she said. "I came out of the water last, and I was in third place by the first half of the first lap. I knew at that point that maybe I pushed it too hard, and sure enough over the next few laps on the hilly course I started to show it."
As a result she said she felt flat coming into the run, and wasn't able to make up ground. Although she's happy with her fifth place finish and share of the prize money, she also feels she could have done better.
"I've read Andre Agassi's book Open twice now — he's amazing and I'm a big tennis fan — but after this race I looked up a quote; 'A win doesn't feel as good as a loss feels bad.' And it's so true... You stew over it, wonder what went wrong and what you could do to change it."
Heisterman will be racing with Team Whistler in the RBC GranFondo Whistler this Saturday, and is considering a trip to the U.S. Xterra nationals later this month before the world championships in Hawaii — a tough event she's looking forward to.
Edmonton's Mike Vine, who won the two championship races in Whistler in 2010 and 2011, was first once again. He finished the course in 2:19:18, over five minutes faster than Branden Rakita of Colorado (2:24:29) and 10 minutes faster than Paul Tichelaar from Sherwood Park, Alberta (2:29:46).
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