|Nice setting for a race! Swim and run route visible :)|
I have been meaning to try out the Xterra series for the last two seasons but the UK event always clashed with something else so this season I decided to make it happen. This event had been recommended to me by a few friends who really rated it and there are quite a few cool videos about so it seemed an obvious choice for an early season fitness test.
I travelled to Malta on the Friday morning, feeling healthy, fit and well rested but did not really know what to expect standard wise at the race. I thought I might be able to make the age group podium and that was a loose goal I had set myself, it was not a target race or a seasons goal but its good to have something to aim for. Friday afternoon I went for a nice swim in sea, it was clear, warm but choppy and I practised Australian exits and diving in to get past the waves. The excitement about the race started to build!
On Saturday morning I took a trip round the bike course with Mat Stephenson, another UK athlete taking part, there were also a load of athletes out doing the same. One of the things I loved about the event was the relaxed atmosphere before the race, no one seemed to be taking it too seriously and I had a good laugh with Mat on the way round. The course was tamer than I am used to in the Lakes but had plenty of technical interest, one longish climb over varied terrain, from wooded twist single track to rough gulleys and fast flat trail. I left the run recce out to save the legs but Mat assured me it was fairly challenging. My hotel was only 4km from the start in the town of Meiliha, another bonus that makes this race so accessible and easy. I felt really relaxed in the evening but excited to race. I think all the winter racing helped here, getting the pre race rituals dialled in, all those learning experiences help to settle things down. I knew what I had to do, did it and that just left turning up to race in the morning. Blair has really helped with this side of things, along with Chris Francis from Eleven Sprocket, its certainly an improvement from the faff, unfocused worry of last year.
|Evening stroll Meliha|
I knew I would not be super fast out of the water so just relaxed and found a rhythm, it was a 2 loop circuit with an Australian exit and short beach run halfway. I made steady progress though, overtaking and catching groups all the way from the first buoy and defiantly did not feel the swim had taken much out of me. No splits yet but I don't think it was a bad swim for me at all. Transition went smooth and it was time to go to work on the bike.
The bike starts off with a slight climb on bumpy, fairly technical terrain, you have to be efficient and pick a good line, hover over the saddle or stand up to smooth it out. I spent most of the first lap of the bike passing people, settling in and riding steady to pick things up on the second lap. I always felt I held back a bit but still made steady progress through the field, good signs that the time on the turbo over the winter was ready to be put use this season. Xterra allows drafting on the bike so it was interesting to ride in a group, take turns on the front and just try to hold wheels on climbs etc. It adds an interesting dimension to the race, again its a more social friendly style than the lone TT efforts of long distance races, I enjoyed this. The course was littered with water bottles, its bumpy, if you race bear this in mind! No bike issues for me though, I came into transition in one piece and feeling reasonably fresh considering.
Another smooth transition out onto the run, an 11km that can be broken down into a fast flat start, steep to draggy climb and a fast but technical downhill blast over 2 loops. I aimed to run as close to even splits as possible for the two loops. I hit a pace that felt maintainable but hurt, passing a 3 or 4 athletes on the first lap but one guy just blew past me, he ended up finishing 3rd in our age group and clearly was a superb runner. On lap 2 it started to bite but I still ran every step of the climb apart from a short step you had to climb over, that even split goal driving me on. I nailed the descent, it really started to hurt now and made up one more place before hitting the flat road to the finish. It was so nice to finish the race with no issues and such a smooth day. I could not have gone any faster and feel I paced it well. In the end I finished in 2hrs45mins, 3mins of the age group podium in 5th and 35th overall including the Pro field. Not a bad first effort at Xterra and I will certainly be racing more in the future with a bit more focus. I really need to get my swim time down to be competitive at these shorter races but it will come.
|The flat finsh|
Results link here
3 days off after the race and its now back to training, Blair has put a few sessions up on Training Peaks for me this week, no let up on the bike I see! Thanks as always to Zone3Wetsuits, TrecNutrition, LyonEquipment, CurranzHealth and ElevenSprocket for the support.