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Jessi Stensland - Adventures in Endurance Performance

4 Posts tagged with the off-road tag

Last weekend I raced XTERRA Portland, an off-road triathlon.  It was a day I'll never forget.


It was a gorgeous morning at Hagg Lake.  Bright blue skies, beautiful scenery, great energy.  A glorious day for the race.


Already warm by 9am, it promised to get warmer. The lake was the perfect temperature for a swim sans wetsuit, so I went au natural.   Although I love my Xterra Wetsuit, there was no need for it that day.  This pic tells all:





The lake swim was pristine and the bike course was a blast!  Mostly lush tree-covered single track, you could tell a lot of work had been done to clear the way on the trail for us.  There were sections that felt like we were racing through the Amazon.  It  was perfect.  Well, the course was perfect, whereas I definitely  made a  few mental notes where my mountain bike skills were lacking,  specifically on a few of  the steep little climbs, a few of which I had  to jump off and walk up.  I've been slacking on my gym work, and my  power was down.  On a positive note however, I was stoked with how I  handled the ruts on the trail. I'd crashed more than once on similar  terrain last year and they haven't gotten the best of me since,  thankfully!  Side note:  I absolutely LOVE mountain biking!!  I think I  would live on my mountain bike these days if I could haha!


I wasn't quite sure what place I was in during the race.  These days I'm more focused on the fun and my own performance on the course than where anyone else is.  By the time we hit the run it was hot but I felt pretty good and was just loving being out there.  I hadn't seen another girl on the course since early in the bike when Heather passed me.  At this point I was just focused on getting myself to the finish as fast as I could.


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The run course was a lollipop with two loops.  As I finished the second loop, volunteers were there to direct me toward the finish.  They said, "You can catch her!" and added, "She wasn't looking too good running up the hill [ahead.]" I didn't think twice as I was feeling the wrath of 2.5+ hrs out there already and just wanted to make it up the hill in the heat myself.  From there the course ran up a short hill in a tall grass field, as I reached the top where it curved around to the left I could see someone in the distance just over the grass, that looked like they were stopped on the course and bent over at the waist, most likely with hands on their knees.  I thought, "Wow, maybe she really wasn't feeling too good," and kept an eye on her, fully expecting to see her pop up and move forward toward the finish.  However next thing I knew I couldn't see her at all.  I looped around on the trail, reaching her within 10 seconds or so, and found her lying on the ground very close to unconscious...




I grabbed her hand and/or chin and asked her her name and she faintly replied, "Heather."  Her eyes were not focused on anything, her body, including her hand, was dead weight. I continued to talk to her but got no clear responses.  I debated whether to run for help or yell for help.  I couldn't leave, so I yelled, "HELP!!" hoping the aid station down the hill would hear me.  They weren't far but they wouldn't have been able to see me. I yelled to the next athlete running up the hill hoping he could transfer the message to the aid station, he wasn't hearing me.  Then I saw the race director, Rob Jackson, pull up in his truck on the road above us. I started to yell to the same athlete to get his attention.  I could tell there was some discussion, but then Rob kept walking with a big Gatorade container on his shoulder, toward the aid station, not toward us. I yelled to the athlete (I'd never yelled that much, nor for help, in my life!) that it was an emergency and to get Rob and himself here NOW.  This was all a matter of seconds I'd like to think.  They both ran over.  Rob then immediately went for help while I stayed with Heather, talking to her, hoping to maintain some level of awareness even if it looked like she had none.  I kept asking her to squeeze my hand, but got no response.  If she was letting out any sound it was more like a constant moan.  Athletes continued to come by, check on the situation, then head toward the finish which was only about a half mile away.  Rob returned with two others and ice packs.  We placed them in all the key places: under arms, crotch, head.  The three guys then carried her up toward the truck.  Knowing there was nothing I could do at that moment, I ran toward the finish.


At the finish I grabbed something to drink and chatted for a minute with Karen Oppenheimer who ended up crossing the finish line first.  I saw Rob and went over to make sure he knew he could put me to work as needed.  He directed me up toward where Heather was, getting ready to transport her to the hospital.  A small group of us continued to do what we could to care for her.  While others were checking her vitals I just kept talking to her, in the outside chance that would help her brain to latch onto something, and keep working.  Everyone stayed amazingly calm, knowing we were doing all we could do at that moment.  We stayed focused on her only signs of life:  checking to make sure she still had a pulse and whether she was breathing or not.  It was a far cry from how much life was in her just minutes before racing along the course.  Hard to recall now that I know Heather and how great she's doing, but I definitely remember moments where the thought of losing her seemed very real.  She was out.  I had never experienced anything like it in my 13 years in triathlon and it was hard to imagine her springing back to life from the state she was at that moment.


The ambulance arrived and Rob directed me to go with Heather to the hospital, knowing Heather was at the race alone and from out of town.  Still with race kit and race number on, I jumped in.  Over the course of a few hours at the hospital, as her body temp dropped to normal and she was rehydrated, it was amazing to see her come back to life.  When I could I kept talking to her.  Her eyes were open but unable to focus at first.  She could not talk for a long time.  Then, if you can imagine, slowly but surely she continued to increase her function.  Little nod, a little smile.  I had her husband Dave on the cell phone, giving him the play by play and getting info from him to the hospital staff about Heather.  When we knew Heather could hear what we were saying, but still couldn't move or speak, I put the phone up to her ear so Dave could talk to her and she had tears streaming down her face.  All great signs!!  My favorite moment was when I asked her to look at me.  I was standing to the side of the hospital bed.  "Heather look at me."  I repeated it again. She had yet to connect brain to motor function. She very slowly, millimeter by millimeter turned her eyes, and her head just a bit, and finally locked into my eyes, probably followed by a slight smile.  Yeah!!!  She continued to make small improvements over the next hour or two.  The next best moment for me was when she all of a sudden was Heather again.  Still lying on the bed, on her side, hands under her head cozy, she looked at me and said, "Who are you?" and I finally got to meet her!  Needless to say we had lots to talk about, including our mutual great friend, XTERRA Pro/Ambassador Brandyn Roark Gray, who we soon realized was the reason each of us were inspired to get into XTERRA racing in the first place.


Here's the one photo I have of the two of us as we were leaving the hospital later that day:






It was very apparent to me that my reaction and response on that day was due to a few key things.  One, I like to race, hard.  I'm super competitive with myself.  I like to take risks.  I like to experience new things, learn and improve.  But at the root of it all, is an appreciation and sheer joy of every minute I'm blessed to be able to live.  Not only live, but doing so healthy, happy and fit enough to do anything I want to do.   I was eating up every minute of that race, the sights, sounds, how I felt, where I knew I wanted to improve my bike skills, the fresh air, the volunteers' smiles and cheers.  Getting to the finish line is no more or less important than any one of those moments, and I couldn't have asked for more than I'd already gotten on that day.  At that point in the race, it was a whole new moment.  Nothing that came before or might come after it meant anything at that point.  Who's to say I was even going to get to the finish line?  Heather sure thought she was.  It was all about that moment.  By the grace of God I was still able to finish the race.  Bonus!


Two, after meeting with Rob Jackson, the race director, the day before the race and learning about his inspiration for putting the race on, I saw a bigger picture.  That he wasn't a full-time race director but simply wanted to bring this event to Portland to give back to the community.  That he had marketed and managed logistics for the race, including clearing trails for us to ride and run on and for the community to enjoy post-race.  That he didn't have a huge crew and was struggling to find volunteers for the event the next day (which ended up coming in droves after all.  Thank you!!!)  All of this lent itself to me knowing, in that instant that I came upon Heather, that I had to react, to help, without hesitation.  It was impossible not to.  I knew there was not going to be someone else coming along to the rescue immediately.  I saw the big picture, or the birds-eye view, versus the worms-eye view as my Aussie roommate likes to say.  It's a beautiful thing.


I'm stoked Heather is doing great, recovering well.  I spoke to her yesterday and we're already talking about where we might race together next for a rematch!  I look forward to getting back to Portland for another race and seeing what other adventures are in store.


A big thanks to XTERRA for inspiring life, nature, adventures, and the best of the mind, body and spirit.



4,895 Views 4 Comments Permalink Tags: triathlon, endurance, racing, triathlete, xterra, off-road, jessi_stensland, stensland, multisports

Venturing Off-Road

Posted by Jessi Stensland Apr 2, 2010

I would  have considered myself an off-road virgin…until last year.  For 10 years  I’d been racing triathlon on the road with the odd trail running race  mixed in. It was about two years ago that I started to get curious about  off-road multisport, went to watch a race and then borrowed a mountain  bike and did the 2007 XTERRA World Championships in Maui.  Still, 2008  passed by, and it wasn’t until January 2009 that I got my own mountain  bike, hopped into an extreme trail running race, did a 12-hour MTB race  on a 4-person team, and finally did an awesome off-road sprint triathlon  in a pristine park just outside of the craziness of Los Angeles, CA,  that I was fully hooked, almost immediately to the point of no return  (to the road!) More importantly, I’ve been inspired to inspire others to  venture with me and enliven their typical multisport experiences.


I  raced off-road more than I trained off-road in the beginning.  I  quickly realized I had to seek out new people and places for these new  adventures and in doing so, I ended up finding a whole new world, and I  love that I have so many more years to enjoy it!


I  continue to be amazed by the endless options I now have to enjoy  training, racing and challenge myself as a person and an athlete.  In  July last year I raced an on-road sprint triathlon near the ocean in  Carlsbad, CA, the following weekend I was up in the mountains in Big  Bear, CA racing an off-road duathlon and after that I did Muddy Buddy  Boulder with family on our vacation! In August I did the King of the  Rockies mountain bike race in Winterpark, CO and the SkirtChaser 5k in  Denver the same evening.  And in September I did an 8 mile trail run  called, Race to the Top of Mt. Baldy, just outside of Los Angeles, CA,  all uphill, with 4000’ of climbing up to the summit at 10000’.  The  terrain and views were absolutely heavenly and super hard all that the  same time.  I had no idea what I was in for, and I loved it!  That was  followed up that same month by an off-road duathlon (run-MTB-run) in  Comfort, TX and an on-road sprint triathlon in Connecticut for charity.  I’m having a blast meeting all types of people who love to do what I do  and seeing new parts of this beautiful planet we live on.


One  key thing that made my transition to off-road so easy and allows me to  be so diverse in my activities, is my performance training.  Before  sport-specfic training like swim, bike, run, I focus on training my body  to be athletic, powerful, injury resistant and therefore capable of  doing whatever my mind asks it to do.  This gives me the confidence in  myself and my body to jump into new challenges with two feet and without  worry of injury.  My key workouts (3-4 times per week for 60-90  minutes) include a joint focus on all the elements the body needs to get  the job done.  These include mobility, flexibility, stability,  strength, elasticity and cardio capacity followed up with sport-specific  drills for proper mechanics and movement efficiency.  Doing these  workouts makes me a better swimmer, cyclist and runner.  So with the  rest of the time I have, I go out an have a blast in my training any  which way I want. It all works together.  A body that moves well, is  more capable of coordinating movements in new sports, like mountain  biking and trail running for example.  Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t  made learning mountain bike skills a piece of cake!  I’ve taken quite a  few spills, but my body has handled it well and my progress has been  fast and fun.  The best part is my training on the trails, which tends  to include much more climbing, has transferred greatly to my power ON  the road.  It’s a win-win situation.


Props to the race  organizers committed to putting on these off-road races.  They put a lot  of passion, sweat and time into putting them on and often don’t see the  numbers of participants that their on-road attract.  I’m on a mission  to help them flourish and continue to be able to offer them!


Stay  tuned for more experiences, both on and off-road this year, along with  more of what I’ve learned and continue to learn.  If you haven’t gone  off-road yet, hope you’ll join me!

3,905 Views 3 Comments Permalink Tags: triathlon, performance, multisport, off-road, jessi_stensland

What a flippin' blast!  It's called California Multisport.  Friends of mine have set out to bring some new endurance event adventures to endurance athletes in So Cal.  After experiencing it myself I can tell ya, I'm on a mission to recruit (and inspire!) ya'll to come out and join me...mix things up from time to time...both on and off the road...with these (and other) excellent endurance experiences.



This one in the series was up in the mountains at Big Bear Lake which is an outdoor adventure playground just under a two hour drive from Los Angeles and San Diego.  The race start was a relaxing 11am...which makes it easy to get to the race from LA or SD on the same day.  Many thanks to Paul and Karen of Team Sole and the heart and soul of California Multisport who have opened their home up to me with open arms anytime I want to come play (and train my butt off) up in Big Bear. 


Also check out Open Air Big Bear for additional events throughout the year including snowshoe 5k/10k, mountain biking, multisport, paddling and a marathon.




It was a 9k trail run / 20k mountain bike / 4k trail run.


Big Bear sits at 7000ft altitude.  It might sound daunting, coming from sea level, to do a race at that  altitude. Luckily I'd spent a weekend up there just a few weeks before with some killer training sessions and found that I couldn't really tell where the challenge was coming from: the altitude, the efforts on the climbs, etc. It was just one big great challenge and I didn't feel like I necessarily 'felt' the altitude.


After a relaxing morning with good nutrition, I got to the race start with more than enough time to enjoy the music, do some great movement prep and get ready to race.


I started the race thinking "keep it easy." I've learned the hard way that its extremely easy to go too hard too soon at the start of running races.  I needed it to feel as effortless as possible for as long as possible.  Pretty quickly I found myself passing by all but 2 men in front of me, and kept asking myself, "Are you really going easy or does it just SEEM easy since its still the first mile?"  There's a big difference.  I settled into a pace that I felt good about, running my own race, not worrying about who was ahead or behind.  However, pretty quickly we hit the climb and that was the end of easy.  It was a steady uphill that took about 30 minute to reach the top.  I was happy to see the top AND the gorgeous Pacific Coast Trail that we then got to run on to decend all the way down to the finish.  I thrive on combining footwork, agility and speed to maneuver as efficiently as possible on the trail.  My speed seemed to get the best of me at one point however (on wide, flat section of the trail??) and I quickly found myself diving toward the ground.  Slammed my right knee and hip, and must've rolled a bit too...seeing as how dirty I was coming into transition.  Oh well.  Go fast, take chances.  Got right back up and forgot about it in a couple steps and made my way back to transition.  57 minutes...a LONG 9km!


Once again my speedy transitions helped out.  I came into T1 in third place, 30 seconds down from 2nd pIace, and left transition in second place (albeit ever so briefly!) Love that!


The bike was pretty straight forward.  There were 2 long climbs over the 1 hour and 20 minutes.  I got into  a rhythm and did my best to relax every bit of my body that I didn't need to get me up the hill, including my neck, shoulders and face.  I tried to maintain my posture and keep the pedals turning over smoothly.  It seemed to get hard at the end to maintain...all I wanted to do was round my back over and curl into a ball...but I did my best!  A few times I had to remind myself that I'd just ran hard for an hour prior to this so it was ok to feel not quite as flash as I would have had I just jumped on the MTB fresh.  I also kept reminding myself that everyone else was probably feeling the same way...I wasn't out there alone!  I pretty much rode solo the entire way.  I kept wondering when the killer Big Bear local mountain bikers would come flying by me, but...apparently I'd put enough time on them in the run that I never got to see them.  In the

last few minutes decending back to transition, adventure racer extraordinaire Addy Goodvibes blew by me.  Thought I might be able to re-pass him in the run...but no chance! 


In T2, the volunteers and Karen herself were awesome.  I was kind of confused when they told me I had to keep my helmet on for the run...but I went with it, and quickly forgot it was on.  I was trying too hard to pick up my knees and put one foot in front of another.  I was pretty fried and it never really got any easier.  Hitting the finish line, as usual, was awesome.  Those last 20 meters or so, as I've mentioned before are always the best!  This time though...there was a twist!  Sometime between our start and finish, ropes had been placed on the finishline scaffolding.  Just when I thought I was done...


We had to jimmy up a knotted rope to the top of the scaffolding, climb over and make our way down a giant net to the official finish.  HOW MUCH FUN IS THAT??!!  I was thankful for my upper body and core strength which made the challenge more fun than anything.  It proved to be quite a feat for some people...yet in the end everyone agreed it was such an awesome accomplishment to top off an already epic day! 


NOTE:  See photos worth 1000 words HERE.


In the end I ended up 1st among the women and 4th overall.  Got to pop my first bottle of champagne on the podium!  I did alright if I do say so less than 25 people got soaked haha.  And they hooked me up with, among other very first altimiter watch.  The first altimiter that has been made to fit a women's wrist:  The Highgear Axio Mini.  Adventure racing here I come?!




As I mentioned, I hope you'll keep an eye out for these off-the-beaten path type races...and join us for the fun!


Wanna race??

3,517 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: triathlon, mountain_biking, duathlon, mtb, off-road, jessi_stensland, jessi, stensland, multisports

It was a really hard, XTERRA-y kind of way. Its the kind of race you love to hate and probably hate to love! There's really nothing easy about it...but that's what we all sign up for right?


I had prepared for it as much as I could and was super excited to race, for a few reasons. One, I love to race. Two, I wanted a reality check against the pros. Three, I wanted to figure out at what level I REALLY wanted to be competing at this season and be able to go forward with my training and racing having nailed my performance goals down a bit more.


I'd crammed a bit of mountain biking in beforehand that increased my comfort level, competency and strength dramatically...though that's not saying much...against longtime mountain bikers that is! Still after a 2nd place in Cat 2 of the NORBA sanctioned Mountain States Cup MTB race the other day, I was content. However just as in ITU racing, where you've got the likes of Olympic gold medal swimmers and NCAA All-Americans, in XTERRA you've got World and National Champion mountain bikers. And when the swim takes 20 minutes and the bike between 1hr 30 to can see the challenge against these girls! That said, I'm stoked to get stronger and more skilled on the mountain bike. I know its going to take a lot of time in the saddle on the mountain. I'm loving it and think it will compliment my road biking a ton.


I've definitely been roughing it with my introduction to mountain biking. I think I've been out only ten days this year, five of those being races! And although its true that you do need to just get out there and ride in order to learn, a more efficient way would be to also commit to a mountain bike skills clinic or camp. I know they're all over the place and I'm working on getting to one. I'm also working on hitting up my friends for their expertise. I need to convince (coerce?) them to get out on a ride that's meant for skills and not just me trying to keep up with them!






The day before the race, we pre-rode a bit of the course. That only confirmed how hard the race would be. But glad we did it. Pre-ride is a new common word in my race vocabulary. As you can imagine with the intricacies and dynamic nature of mountain biking, it is extremely helpful, and often necessary, to know the course before you race it. On the other hand, pre-riding (or driving) a road bike course, although certainly useful to get familiar and visualize turns and the occasional advance shifting needed for a blind turn or climb, is not typically decisive for race day.



Since I hadn't planned to be gone from home for the entire 4 weeks leading up to the race, I had to do a bit of scrambling for gear. XTERRA Wetsuits overnighted me a Vortex to race in...THANK YOU! My friend Brandyn, oddly enough had brought me a race top of mine that I'd left in Maui at the 2007 XTERRA World Championships (things happen for a reason!) and she also had an extra race belt. Turns out Intense Cycles had organized to bring their Demo Truck to the race, so I had full support for my Spider FRO, which needed it, having been on the road, and trained and raced on over 4 weeks. I was SUPER thankful for that. I like to be very careful when it comes to the bike and keeping it dialed in for training and racing, both for injury prevention AND performance! My goggles were the only other missing link. The only ones I had with me were an old pair of Swedish goggles: those low-profile ones with no padding that lay perfectly within the eye socket. I've worn them for years in training, but ever since one of my first triathlons, Wildflower 1998, when I got smacked in the face and the goggles split my eyebrow open I've opted for more open-water and slap/kick friendly pairs. However, knowing this would not be a super aggressive start (swimming is the weak link for most XTERRA pros) I didn't go out of my way to find another pair, and wore them. More on that below...






Should I admit I hadn't done a swim workout since December? Not ideal, but I had other priorities in my training, many of which help my swim performance anyway. It worked out. I was still out with or ahead of the eventual top 2 finishers. The googles ended up working out fine, except for that they were so worn that I couldn't see well at all in them (and the course wasn't very sighting friendly but luckily the feet I was following stayed on course well.) There were a couple times I made a quick stop to clear them and even one time when, thinking of Chris McCormack who I've seen swim races without goggles at all, I pulled them up on my forehead to take a couple strokes without them to see if that would be better. It wasn't.



Of course that was the least of my worries. The bike and run were going to be the story of the day...






It wasn't super technical, but as a new mountain biker, my view is that there is a level of technical to all mountain biking terrain, save for a wide open fire road, which this hardly was. The hard part on this course was the super steep and soft climbs and decents. There were a few. Mostly in the first few miles of the 9 mile loop. Think: Escape from Alcatraz Sand Ladder - only having to run up it AFTER having climbed up a monster hill just as long and then running up even steeper stairs, pushing a 20+lb mountain bike up it. Then after a quick decent (oh why does it have to take so much less time to go down than up?) do the same thing on a similar climb. My calves were screaming. I was TRYING to get my effort into my glutes somehow and take the pressure off but it was really impossible with the angle of the hill and the soft sand and leaning over to push the bike up! That was something they weren't ready for. I'll remember next time. Ha...If there is one! The second loop was not as bad. That's been typical for me in every MTB race I've done so far. I think its the steep learning curve I'm experiencing...and maybe being more warmed into the bike ride. Hmmm.



As usual, on the second loop I was technically better. Meaning I got up the climbs farther by holding a straight line longer before I had to step off. At some points it really was just my overall fatigue, and not technical skill that caused me to step off. Mountain biking is killer, in a good way. I also tend to take chances more on the second loop in places where I know I won't kill myself if I gun it. Usually that little extra confidence and momentum works. There was one time however where I went for it, decending down a single track shoot with super soft sand and a bit of a turn at the bottom. I'd crashed the first loop. And crashed again on the second loop, only this time my quad completely cramped up! (I rarely have gotten cramps in my career. I think it was the dry air. Needed more hydration. I was super salty.) I felt like I couldn't move off the course, but also knew that if someone decended down the slope without seeing me, and nailed me while I was lying there, that impact would hurt worse than the cramp, so i pushed the bike out of the way and rolled over into the brush with it, off the trail. The cramp subsided and I went on. Fell off again shortly after because my chain had seized up. Looked pretty funny stuck in some bushes while other riders went by (asking if I was fine of course...) Whew. I'd had fun, but was ready to get off the bike and on to the run. I don't know what I was thinking...






Pretty much h-e-double hockey sticks. The course looked like it and felt like it! Monotone, treeless, rocky twisty turny, mostly uphill it seemed. There was hill after hill after steep hill to climb. (I've noticed that XTERRA races, triathlon and trail running, seem to break the what-goes-up-must-come-down rule.) My body was rebelling from imbalance of electrolytes and fluids so all the cells in my body seemed to be collectively saying, "Um, no." LOL. Much of the decending was steep, soft, rocky sand. None of it felt easy. The second loop was much harder than the first. Turned into a bit of a death march, run, walk thing. Dare I admit. I will say, I hadn't done much running other than my interval work, and I can see how I need to start incorporating some longer, stronger intervals in my training now that my body is dialed and ready to handle it. I'm excited to not have that run be so hard next time!



Cold water never felt so good at the finish.






XTERRA is legit. Nothing like road triathlon racing yet I know it will be super complimentary to my road performance, due to the strength, efficiency in cycling pedal strokes, and because I'm thinking everything else will seem like a piece of cake! Ok, I won't take it that far, but I'm curious to see the overlap.



While I decided I won't be running around the country competing on the entire XTERRA Cup Circuit until I bridge the gap to those stellar MTBers, I will definitely be mixing up my on and off-road racing this season. Lookin forward.



Hope you're also having a fantastic start to your own racing season!



905 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: triathlon, mountain_biking, xterra, off-road, jessi_stensland, jessi, stensland