This write up is from an event I did at the end of June. I contemplated publishing it, after re reading it I felt it had some good information for those who have not experienced an off road triathlon or trail run. Here’s my Xterra weekend experience.
As the second half of the season starts to unfold I found myself headed to Waco for a trail run and off road triathlon. XTERRA hosts a trail run and off road tri series that travels around to several Texas locations. I had my eye on a few of the events earlier in the year, but due to my IRONMAN training, they did not fit my schedule.
The purpose of the XTERRA weekend was twofold. First, I wanted to get a long training run done in a different location, and second I wanted to get race like experience with on my mountain bike. I was signed up for a 21k trail run on Saturday, and I was signed up for a “Sport”, equivalent to a “Sprint” non off road triathlon on Sunday. I will admit the trial run was going to be a bit more meaningful to me in respect to effort over the off road triathlon I was going to do the following day. My only goal for the off road triathlon was simply not to hurt myself on the mountain bike course.
On Saturday morning, the day of the race, I found myself waking up at 4 a.m. to drive to Waco from the DFW area. Taking less than an hour and a half, the drive wasn’t bad at all. I was afraid of sitting for an extended period of time before a race, but that ended up being a non factor. Race time was set for 8:10 a.m., and I was there with maybe 50 minutes to spare. I knew very little about the course. I had seen it on a map, but maps do not show roots, holes, rocks, etc. I knew we had about a 400 meter open area start before we got to the infamous Jacob’s Ladder.
As I warmed up for the race I noted the two younger Welsch sisters were lined up for the 21k. For those who are not familiar with these two girls, ages 13 and 11, they made national news last year for their running accomplishments. The older sister was the female overall winner in last year’s 21k XTERRA Cameron Park trail race. They also compete in multi sport events. I was glad to see them out there and wanted to see how they would handle the course.
The race director called all runners to the starting line and we were off. The two young girls took off like something was chasing them. They were easily running a low 5 minute pace until reaching the Jacob’s ladder. Jacob’s ladder is a cement stair case that goes pretty much straight up, for what feels like forever. It’s defiantly a quad killer, and the steps are not normal steps they are a good 6 inches taller than normal steps. They do not favor the shorter athletes.
I was the 4th or 5th person to the stairs. I tried running up the stairs grabbing onto the handrail. That run quickly turned into a fast power walk up the stairs. I made it to the top of the steps and onto the road which lead us to the trail. My recovery time wasn’t too bad. I was able to get into a stride fairly quickly. I grabbed a cup of water at the first aid station and poured it over my head before darting onto the trail.
The trail itself had a mix of everything. There were some nice steep climbs and descends along with your roots, rocks and holes. I wasn’t expecting the trail to be as technical as it was, but I was okay with it. The 21k was made up of two 6.5 mile loops. Part of the 21k trail would overlap the Sunday’s off road bike course. I enjoyed running the segment because it gave me a bit of an insight on what I should expect for the mountain bike portion of the off road triathlon.
I was able to get through the 21k course finishing 3rd overall. I ended up adding on another 10k before the morning was over completing a 31k for the day. My goal for Saturday was to get a long run in. I was more than happy with the trail and the run work I was able to get in. After all was said and done I ended up doing Jacob’s Ladder 4 times on Saturday, and ended up running it two more times on Sunday
The Sunday’s off road triathlon consisted of a 750 meter swim, 8 mile mountain bike, and 5k trail run. I got a good feel for the trail Saturday and I knew Sunday’s bike was going to be a bit of a challenge. A friend of mine told me to stay within myself on the course and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
Sunday morning came, and I set my gear up in their transition small modest area. Unlike the regular triathlons these XTERRA events have a much smaller turn out. Surprisingly there were more people signed up for the longer distance course than the shorter distance course. That didn’t bother me one bit, because it meant there would be less traffic on the bike trail.
This was an open water swim, with a single wave start in the Brazos’ river. I took a look at the buoys and felt the course looked long. I ended up coming out of the water and making my way into transition in 22 minutes. I wasn’t happy with the swim time, and chalked it off to a long swim course. As I approached the transition area all I could think about was surviving the bike leg.
When I signed up for this event I was certain they would take it easy on the beginner, the shorter distance event. Well, I ended up being completely off. We ended up riding the exact same bike course as the longer distance race. As I hopped on my bike I kept telling myself not to do anything out of my comfort zone. I took it real easy and unclipped fairly frequently. I walked and pushed my bike up and down several climbs I also unclipped for a few turns. I even went down one section with one leg clipped and one unclipped. As challenging as it was, in a weird twist, it was also plenty of fun. I’m sure that not falling off my bike had something to do with it.
The last mile and a half of the mountain bike course was pretty flat. I could feel my quads were fairly trashed from both the previous day’s trail running event, and the mountain bike ride I just endured. As I approached T2 I was relived and ecstatic about completing the bike ride without injury. There are times in your life when you get that care free, shot of adrenaline feeling. I somehow had that feeling in T2. I think it was the mental thought of getting off the bike and onto the trail run. My body was excited to get back to something it was comfortable with.
The last leg was a 5K trail run. Aside from pushing up Jacob’s Ladder the rest of the trail was a walk in the park. I felt like I was flying through the course as I passed several athletes along the way. Running the course the day before was a huge help. I did have one hiccup on the run. I took my eyes off the trail for a second to wipe some sweat off my forehead, and clipped my foot on a rock/root, who knows what it was. I all I know was that I bit it, and went down face first. I was fortunate to catch myself with my hands, and was able to quickly get back up to speed with no physical injuries. I will admit I was annoyed at myself for know better than to wipe my sweat before checking the trail up a head. I went the whole bike ride without falling and ended up falling on the run course, ha!
I ended up with the fastest 5k run of the dayl. I was 2 minutes faster than the next fastest time. At the end of the day I was glad I got the XTERRA off road experience under my belt. I walked away feeling better prepared for HHH Triple Threat race coming up at the end of August.
For those interested in doing an off road Triathlon for the first time, my advice is to scout the course ahead of time before you sign up. There are much easier ones out there. Get some rides in to know where your comfort level is. The more you ride the more comfortable you’ll become on the trail. Just like everything else, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
Thank you for reading this blog entry. As always feel free to email me any questions or comments you may have.