With four mountain bike rides under my belt, I was ready for my first taste of Xterra. If you’re wondering what an off-road triathlon tastes like, put dirt in your mouth. Yeah, it’s a lot like that. Dirt isn’t bad though. Think about all the animals that eat stuff with dirt on it. They’re fine, right?Anyways, I began my off-road career at the Xterra Real at Folsom Lake. That particular race is shorter than the standard Xterra (750m 16mi 3.5mi vs. 1.5k 30k 10k), but it was a great race nevertheless.
Here’s how it went down: Someone counted down from “10”, because counting down from “5” doesn’t create as much suspense. Then, it was go time – as you probably assumed. I got off to a quick start and was clear of the fray. Nearing the first turn, only two swimmers swam ahead and I briefly got onto the feet of the trailing athlete. I felt I could go faster, so I did, and moved into the second spot. Making the final turn, I thought, “Whoa, Erich, you could be first out of the water. That’s Blue Seventy’s slogan and M.O. and you’re wearing a Helix!” I finished strong, but it wasn’t enough to take the “First Out Of Water” title. Sorry, Blue Seventy, I failed you.However, I was first into transition and onto the bike. Yay for being good at putting things on quickly!
I didn’t get a chance to pre-ride the course, so I really had no idea what to expect. Heading onto the single-track, I wanted to go fast, but also didn’t want to do anything really dumb either; I never knew what the next turn had in store. Yeah yeah… so I was a bit conservative. I was passed shortly into the ride, but on the one longish climb that wasn’t long, I was right back at the leader’s wheel. Then we descended around or over rocks, roots, and tight corners and I never saw him again. Upon reaching a more open part of the course, I stepped on it, but went off course. Whoopsie daisy. While only off course briefly, I still lost two positions.
Continuing on, we rode through a meadow, crossed a thick, gloppy mud pit, and spent time sliding about in sand. Myself and several others dismounted, err rode as far as our balance would take us, and ran to firmer soil. I fumbled around other technical sections and slipped further down the leaderboard. On any incline, I would zip right up the wheel in front, but rarely passed. I felt I was better off observing the rider ahead and their chosen line. It was kind of like a mountain bike descending clinic!
Then we went out and did the said loop once more, where I got a bit muddier.
Then it was time for the run. Yay! I had no idea where I stood overall, so I went out in search of people to pass; which is kind of the point of a race. I felt good from the get-go and was rapidly gaining on anyone I saw. Then the arrows led us to the trails where hills, turns, gravel, and sand eagerly awaited our arrival. I must admit, running hard on trails is… well, hard. I tried to put my head down and push it, but when I did that, I missed a turn and went off-course. Again. Fortunately, a guy I had passed alerted me before I got too far along. I continued on as hard as I could and there were times where walking seemed like a faster means of movement vs. my attempted uphill “running.” With a kilometer to go, I got a glimpse of another athlete through the trees and pushed hard during the pass and then all the way to the line.
I moved up 9 positions on the run to get into the Top 10 Overall. For the run, like the swim, I had the second-fastest time. Had I not gone off-course though, the “Fastest Run Split” title would have been mine – the difference was 6″. So close to making my run shoe sponsor proud! Oh wait, I don’t have one…
Overall, the off-road experience was awesome and I’ll be on many more Xterra start-lines. It truly is a completely difference race; it’s punchy, requires 100% concentration, 100% of the time, and you get dirty! With a bit more time on my mountain bike, I’m confident I’ll be able to turn in better results in no time.
Some musings from race day:
- I averaged 6:51/mile splits! Seems so slow for a race!
- We were allowed to mount our bikes in transition. Seriously. Anywhere!
- Other Athletes knew I was a roadie triathlete, being that I showed up in a 3-ounce run flat.
- My mountain bike, an Orbea Alma 29’er with Rolf Prima Ralos CXCs, is ridiculously light! Other athletes were kind enough to pick it up and let me know how ignorant I am.