Thursday, 3 September 2015

Something new....Xterra European Championships

Ive been doing triathlon for about 24 years now and whilst I have taken part in off road quadrathlon (triathlon with kayak as the 4th discipline), I have never done a mountain bike triathlon with a cross country run. Having been to Hawaii (Ironman) twice and raced on Oahu too (ITU Worlds 2005) I had heard about Xterrra on the island of Maui and quite fancy going there one day so I thought I'd give Xterra England a shot just to see how I compare and what I need to do.
My brother Philip is a keen MTB'er and racks up more miles than some roadies but his swimming is negligible and lets face it, most people can put one foot in front of the other twice repeatedly so running he can do, and with that he decided to enter with me to race at the Vachery Estate in Surrey on August bank holiday weekend.
We drove down Saturday morning after Philip had driven most of the night to get here from Larne, and had planned to recce the course by bike and foot. We put the tents up on arrival, registered, and set out on the bike course leaving our chief supporter Ali to read her book in peace. The course was fairly dry and with a few little hills that required concentration to progress without coming to a complete standstill. There was quite a bit of technical focus with tight turns and lumps and bumps that meant speed was nigh on impossible to maintain but it was dryish and within my capabilities. Back at the tent Philip went for a kip while I headed out for the run lap recce. The course was good with one steep hill, a ditch to jump or traverse twice and a huge tree trunk to leap/clamber over and a bog to negotiate each lap. Simple really.
We had the race brief then a bit of a Q&A with the legendary Conrad "The Caveman" Stoltz, Ben Allen and Jacqui Slack then had dinner at the venue and headed off to bed for an early night, typical camping evening. Also typical camping is the rain, and it fell in buckets.
Race morning was more of a race afternoon so a lie in was on the cards then bike racking at 1030hrs ready for a 1210hrs start. The pro's went off at midday then all the 40-44 and below age groups 5 mins after, then us 45-49 upwards with the relays.
There seemed to be a bit of a jump start on the swim but I worked my through the group and seemed to be at the sharp end. I could only see one swimmer ahead who I guessed was Damo Littlewood of Tri-1st Birmingham. I didn't see the relay swimmer or another athlete in front but the results show I was out of the water 4th from my wave in 21:54. It felt easy and comfortable in my Xterra Vector Pro but Philip was working hard to finish the swim 5 minutes quicker than his anticipated time in 35mins and it was his first open water swim in his Xterra Vortex.


Out on the bike the course was completely different following the deluge we had overnight. Firm dry tracks were now muddy and slippery and despite lowering my tyre pressures i still struggled. Every 180 degree turn was a front end slide and there were a few crashes but still I was overtaking the age groups ahead at every overtaking opportunity on the narrow tracks. I really wanted to capitalise on my swim and go for the medals and a potential Maui slot. There was a bit of hill running when traction just wasn't there. I realised I need to run tubeless wheels with lower pressures and get proper tyres to suit the course. Its all a learning experience. Maybe I need a carbon bike too and not a 'cycle to work scheme' bike, hmm....there's a thought....
Philip focussing

Upright for a change

One thing I am fast at is transitions and I headed out for the 10km cross country course feeling good and confident I could run some folk down. The first lap was fairly swift and I overtook loads of people and managed a great leap over the ditch and tree and even managed to catch a few of the pro's.

Huge tree to leap over
Philip clambering

The second lap was slower as I caught a few people through the muddier sections and I have to admit to feeling tired going up the hill. I managed to catch Damo (last years 40-44 winner) on the run which lifted me a little but I knew he was suffering from an Achilles tendon issue. 
I had no idea where I finished and Ali went to get me a print out from the timing tent whilst I ate my body weight in chocolate brownie and flapjack. The look on her face said it all as she walked back. I was 4th....probably the worst position to be in. No medals at the Xterra European champs boohoo...gutted!  But this was all about testing myself and trying to determine what I needed to do to get to Maui.
Meanwhile, Philip was out running the course and managed to do fairly equal splits. He has decided that he likes Xterra triathlon and is going to be training for next year. Ive also decided I like Xterra too and quite fancy racing abroad but I need to improve on my technical riding skills and maybe need a new bike, N+1 springs to mind.
Time to start training again and look at bike bling.

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