Following a disappointing race in February at Challenge Wanaka I decided to make a couple of changes. First of which was to bring on Craig Kirkwood as coach, and secondly to focus on Xterra racing for 2018. I felt I had unfinished business at the Xterra World Champs and really wanted to target this race. Craig and I came up with a plan focused around performing well at this race and throughout the year I raced at Xterra NZ (2nd), Xterra Albay in the Philippines (3rd), and the Xterra European Champs in Germany (4th). These were all great stepping stones, giving me confidence that I was able to really RACE the best guys and that my training was building towards my end of year goal. Here’s a quick run down of how my day turned out…
The Xterra World Champs, held in Kapalua, Maui every year is one of the toughest Xterra’s in the world. There’s heat, big surf, a stacked elite field, and this year, a huge amount of mud. A usually relatively fast mountain bike and run course (although very hilly) turned into a mud fest, a constant battle between yourself and the mud to keep moving forward. We all knew that the day would be A LOT slower and harder than usual but I feel that most were caught out by just how brutal the day would be…
Lining up at DT Fleming Beach on race morning we were treated to rough conditions. The surf had been relatively calm throughout the week but as usual for Xterra, race day brought a big swell with some solid waves breaking right on the shore. The swim is an M pattern from right to left (which follows the general drift of water down the beach). I lined up on the right hand side to counter this and had a great start, definitely my best at a World Champs race. I was quick off the line and first out through the breaking waves, leading for the first hundred or so metres before a few swimmers came around me. I wasn’t concerned with this as I was able to get on their feet and find my rhythm. After the first out and back (750m) I was safely in the first group. Over the second lap the group split quite dramatically and bigger time gaps were forming. I felt ok but didn’t feel like I was able to really push to hold onto the top swimmers feet. I came out of the water in a group between 10th-15th, around 1.20 down on the lead swimmer and ready to get to work on the bike.
The key word for the bike is climbing. Straight away you are into your work, climbing from the beach. Because of the conditions, the race director decided to put us up old golf cart paths for the first climb so we didn’t have to climb up the muddy singletrack early. This was a very good decision and I was able to ride my way into the top 10 with Francois Carloni quickly. I felt decent early on but knew I had to save my matches for later on in the ride and the run. While I felt OK, I didn’t feel like I had the best legs and I wasn’t able to really push myself. I hovered around 8th-10th for the first two thirds of the ride, before losing quite a bit of time in the last 20-30 mins of the ride. Usually this part of the course is a strength of mine with tight twisting singletrack and pinchy climbs, but unfortunately I had to stop 5+ times ( I actually lost count) to clear mud from my derailleur and between my rear wheel and frame otherwise I could only ride in my smallest gear and my wheel would literally not turn.
The run was the same. So slippery that it was hard to stand up, let alone try and run on the twisty, steep and off-camber tracks, and a ‘flat’ feeling that I had all day. Early on I was in a tight battle for 11th-12th but I was able to pull away towards the top of the 5km climb. I pushed the downhill as much as I was able to, trying to make my way back into the top 10 but unfortunately the time gap was too big and I crossed the line in 11th.
Reflecting on the race I’m both proud and disappointed with the result. Proud because I felt I did all I could to get myself on the start line as best prepared as I could, and disappointed because I wasn’t able to put it together on the day. But that’s triathlon. You work all season for a few important days, and sometimes it goes your way, and others it doesn’t. All you can do is take the lessons (both positive and negative) and use them for the next race. So for now (after a few weeks off training to get married) it’s back to work, using the lessons learned to come back as a stronger, better prepared athlete.
Stay tuned for my 2019 race plans!