Thursday, 7 April 2016

Xterra Malta Race Report

If you are looking for an early season triathlon opener, some sunshine, perfect racing temps and an awesome country to visit, look no further than Xterra Malta. Deidre, Nathan and the rest of the crew will make sure you are welcomed, well looked after and provide a challenging but fast course for racing.

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

Popeye's Village!

It was super nice to wake up on race morning and just take an easy 15min spin down to the race venue to get set up and sorted out. That friendly relaxed vibe was still present and I had left plenty of time to get ready. Auto pilot kicked in again and I knew I had nothing to worry about in transition. The bike was sorted, bolts tightened, everything in place and I had loads of time to get the wetsuit on ready to race. Unusually for me the water temp was ideal for a pre race swim warm up, a real novelty and not the sort of thing I would advise at Celtman or Norseman! I was pretty excited to be racing in my new Zone 3 Vanquish, redesigned and tweaked for this year, it feels unreal, so flexible and comfortable but super buoyant.

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
So a final assessment of my performance. Things could not have gone any smoother during the race, it feels good and shows winter work has paid off in this aspect, its even more important for longer races so all good. Without seeing the race splits its difficult to assess the 3 legs but I know I had a strong bike and a decent run, not enough to make the podium but 3mins down and 5mins to second is not a disaster, its important to remember the main goal is a faster race at Celtman and a good show at Oravaman so training is geared towards this. I am pretty sure last year I would have been a bit further back, I also know longer races are where I tend to shine, so its a good start to the season and always a good motivator to keep moving forward and bridge the gap. Slateman at the end of May will be telling.

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.


  1. Good to read a race report from an Xterra event. I've been looking at them over the past few years after doing the Durty triathlon in the Scottish borders (back when the long, hard,durty was available).

    1. Hey Don! Thanks, glad you enjoyed it and hopefully found it useful. I really enjoyed the Xterra format, sure you would too. Hopefully Xterra UK will be back next year, it's on the cards.

    2. Might do one of the Durty Triathlons this year, loved the Bowhill winter series although it was really tough! Catch up soon :)

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