Xterra Maui was to be my first Xterra experience and I cannot rave enough about it and it’s refreshingly different atmosphere to the circus and hype of Ironman World Champs two weeks before.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Ironman but Xterra was a nice change of pace and I was excited to get a little ‘dirty’ in this off-road triathlon. Charlotte and I had the luxury of getting to Maui early and getting to relax and soak up the beautiful sunsets every night.
We were also lucky enough to meet and chat with Kahuna Dave, founder and race director of Xterra, who is just blast and is happy if he has a beer or two in hand! Dave is a BIG part of the Xterra experience.
A unique part of Xterra World Champs is that there is no training allowed on the race course. You see it when you’re racing, so its either completely new or you’re aiming to go off memory.
On the Wednesday before the race, they open up a practice course which gives you an ‘idea’ of what to expect, mainly some loose sharp lava rock of all shapes and sizes and the dreaded Kiawe thorns that play havoc to your tyres. I did as advised and changed my tyres after I had done my time on the practice course.
My first ride on the practice course and I was in good company with pro’s Dan Hugo, Tyler Butterfield and 3x reigning world champ Julie Dibens. To my surprise my descending skills were definitely up to par. I can thank my snowboarding and motocross days for that!
In race week they also have the “Paul Mitchell University” where there is some Q&A’s with some of the top Xterra pro’s. I got to ask three time (now four) Xterra World Champ Conrad Stoltz how to attack the descents. His advice which I got to put to good use was to look a long way forward, as on the loose stuff it takes longer to slow down and turn on, but if you’re looking far enough ahead you can hammer it… No brakes 🙂
Race day came and it was quite nice to wake up at 5:30 to eat breakfast and not the 3-4am wake-up call like Ironman mornings. I rocked up to transition at 7am. Yes Xterra World Champs starts at 9am. I think that is to make it a little tougher in the heat since the sun is up over Haleakala by then.
We took our bikes to transition the morning of the race so I got to do a TP Therapy rolling session and then a spin on the mountain bike before heading into Makena Beach Resort for the race. As I advise my athletes, I got to transition and body marking early, no queues, just nice and relaxed. I was out of transition at 7:05!
I had plenty of time to relax and eventually I did my regular 10 minute jog warm up and then got into my blue seventy swim skin to do a good swim warm up. It was only 8am so I still had an hour to kill. I swam out to the turn around buoy and back getting my arms loose and enjoying the underwater scenery of coral, fish and green turtles. Then I chilled on the beach with Charlotte before doing another short swim and heading over to the start and to watch the Hawaiian Warriors traditional dance which was very much like the Kiwi Hakka.
It’s a beach start and I expected the swim to be brutal like the Ironman World champs. I positioned myself 2nd line back which ended up being 3rd when the cannon blasted. I was fortunate enough to have an official beside me with his radio counting down the seconds till the start! I let the 2 guys in front get a little space before I dived in so not to cop some feet to the face.
I got a great start, had clean water, a hip to swim on and actually felt pretty good. I was surprised jumping out on the first lap for the 50m beach run portion to see a time of 10mins 20sec, I faded a little on the 2nd lap and got out amongst some pro women in 23 mins.
A little run up to T1 and I was running my mtn bike up the golf course to the mount area. There was about a mile section on the road before we went to dirt and I believe eventual female champ Shonny V flew by me here! As soon as you turn off the road you start climbing and climbing and this is where my lack of fitness really showed itself.
I always say to my athletes and anyone that listens. It’s not about stringing some weeks of volume together, its all about long term consistency of appropriate volumes and intensities that makes you a good athlete and also keeps your hard won motor skills in play. This was my first triathlon since Ironman World Champs in 2009 and with this last years focus on building two businesses, building a house and starting a family my training consistency took a major hit.
As I was climbing, I was getting passed consistently on an area that I’m typically strong at. I had to chuckle to myself and just enjoy it. After what seemed like eternity Heartbreak Hill was over and we got to do a little descending… With Conrads advice running through my head, I opened her up and let her roll. Giddy up, I passed a number of people back.
Then it was back to climbing and just slogging it out before hitting Ned’s Climb. I actually had a glimpse of hope here and felt better and got into a nice rhythm. This climb is hot and goes on forever, you look way up and see competitors still climbing which depending on how you feel can be soul crushing. Eventually you top out and are doing the descent known as the Plunge!
There were about 10 of us going into that and next thing I know I’m all by myself hauling down this mountain hoping I don’t hit, as Kahuna Dave calls them, “Land Mines” which are hidden volcano rocks the size of chickens.
With adrenaline pumping through the veins on the ride home I was cranking, and happy not to have been one of the numerous people I saw with shredded tyres from the lava rock and kiawe thorns and very happy to have stayed upright!
The run, after a complete shamozzle of a transition (forgot my gels and then dropped them) I was up the grass hill and onto the mile section of the road before hitting the dirt. Running felt pretty good and the course essentially goes up and up with some quad crushing downs and brutal ups before topping out to a long and loose rocky downhill back to sea level and a mile run along Big Beach which you get to choose where you run. I was advised by Xterra pro and Olympian Brent McMahon to run just in the water where the sand was the firmest and not worry about dodging the waves coming in. It worked and was much better going than the soft sand. After the beach you get to run through the really cool spooky forest before another short beach run on Black Sands Beach and then the treacherous ‘run’ across the lava rock around the headland back to Makena Beach and the finish.
At the finish you’re given an Xterra Survivor medal for just that. Surviving the Xterra World Champs course.
Xterra is a race that has to be experienced as does the Halloween party afterwards (I got into it a little ;).
I wasn’t as fit as I should have been for a world champs but what I did find was my mojo for racing again which is very exciting. I’m hooked on Xterra and will be back next year in competitive shape. This course is made for me.
Some take homes:
My swim! Im convinced you can go fast on so much less volume than what people are doing. Due to my travel schedule in the lead up I was lucky to swim 3 times per week. What I did do was 2k max distance sets with lots of 25, 50 and 100 meter repeats. With quality, pull buoy and paddles on short rests. Within these sets I focused heavily on form and specifically looking down and keeping body long, keeping turn over quick but making sure I had a good reach and strong catch. While the limited swim prep affected my overall fitness and 100% affected both my bike and run, it reminded me what can be done with keeping sessions and reps short and thus having the ability to lay down better form.
Would training need to change for Xterra vs on-road triathlon? Not really, as training for Olympic, 70.3 or Ironman will give you all the fitness you need. What you do need is to do at least one Mtn bike session per week for skills training. While the Xterra World Champs course is not technical in terms of single track, it is technical in terms of getting somewhat comfortable with the loose terrain. If your interested in checking Xterra out go to www.xterraplanet.com to see there world tour dates.
Keep tuned in while I blog about my ‘getting back to competitive race fitness’ with low volume while still focusing on business building and the new addition to the family early next year.
As a good friend, coach and athlete of mine Scott Jones says… Train with joy or not at all!