Friday, March 11, 2011

Xterra Philippines - Race Report

I had great reservations about going to Xterra Philippines; my principle goal this year is to qualify for Ironman Kona and get that monkey off my back, especially as I came so close last year. I've had foot tendon problems in my right ankle for the past few years and I also had Achilles Tendinitis in my left foot. The last thing I wanted was to aggravate them in an off road race.

However, not being the smartest guy in the world I entered anyway, bought a super fandango sexy bike (aka "Baby") the week before the race and set about trying to learn how to ride it.

My friend Lydia very kindly took me off-road a couple of times and gave me a crash course (literally) in what I needed to do. I did Xterra in Malaysia 2 years ago on Shilpa's "shopping" bike. I worked on the same principle, 2 practice rides and then the race. I came 2nd there and survived so Xterra Philippines would be my 6th mountain bike ride and the plan was to qualify again but most importantly not hurt myself.

Getting to Cebu was a pain, I had to fly via Singapore and it meant a 4am departure from the house. As it turned out it was all hassle free and I arrived in good shape. I met up with Disco Dave and Lydia the next day and headed out on the bus to the start/finish area to checkout the bike course and check the bikes into transition. It was an hour through nightmare traffic - not fun at all.

When we got there we headed out to where the course was (although it hadn't been marked yet which was annoying). We got lost within about 5 minutes and pretty much gave up. What we did do however was visit the "graveyard", this was an area near the finish where the course got seriously technical, somewhat dangerous and for any non-mountain bikers like me seriously scary. It was a loop of about 600m with a very steep descent at the start and a very steep ascent at the finish. We had to do it twice as the course was two laps.

What made it super scary was that it was a single track across what they called "crushed coral", think razorblade sharp volcanic looking rock and you're starting to get the picture. I didn't think anyone could ride down it and of course riding up the ascent was out of the question - or was it? My naivety showing through, the pros were riding it like it was a 3 lane hwy AND riding all the way up to the top - it seemed to defy logic and physics. Dave then demonstrated how to do it several times and Lydia was pretty damn impressive too. I on the other hand carried my bike down, across anything that represented danger (most of it) and up the other side. I did the graveyard twice and it was already aggravating my feet so I called it a day.

I was just about to head out for a run when I noticed something not quite right with the gears, upon closer inspection the outer gear cable housing had sheared. I had no spares and neither did the race mechanic duh!!! So in the searing heat it was a case of stripping it down, cutting the outer cable a little shorter and re threading the cable, a job made difficuly due to internal frame routing - not an easy job in a workshop with no pressure - but my biggest challenge was to keep the mechanic away from it, especially as he cut the end of the cable before I could stop him, after a few more snips in the re-threading process the cable was close to being useless. To cut a long story short, he got the message (eventually), left me to it and I managed to get the thing working again with about 1cm of cable spare!!!

The long ride back to town on the bus was abandoned (no bus) and we hitched a lift in the back of a pick up truck. As time had gotten away from us we hung out at the welcome dinner venue in our smelly kit. Having been to 100's of these things before I knew not to expect much and when I saw the cultural dancers outside you could hear an audible groan eminate from my lips. However I take it back, the show was magnificant, really really professional, about 80 dancers and quite honesty I would have paid to go an watch it. Very impressed. The lady Govoner was there and the local lady Senator who not only did the race but also qualified for Maui.

Race morning was another 4am start and we arrived at the venue in good time. First thing's first and I headed to the portaloos to have another "sit-down". You are not going to believe this but the organisers actually provided toilet attendants who directed you to vacant loos, handed you toilet paper as you went in and gave you hand sanitiser when you came out - HOW COOL IS THAT?

So, to the race, it was a deep water start and as is my want I warmed up for about 500m first and then positioned myself behind the pros. I figured others would be intimidated by them and within seconds they'd be long gone (I had no illusions about that) and the water ahead would be clear. The gun went and it was exactly as I predicted. The swim went great, on the second lap a couple of guys were drafting off me and later we switched and I drafted off them. As it turned out these were my two biggest rivals in my age-group.

SWIM - 1500m - 28mins36secs

I decided to put socks on in T1, I wouldn't dream of it in a normal triathlon but I didn't want to take any risks in an off-road race (also my bike shoes were new).

T1 - 1min27secs

The course wasn't too technical for the most part and when it was I just got off and ran. It was a two lap course and I soon caught loads of people (a reflection of my poor swimming skills not my magical MTB skills). I missed a couple of technical turns and sudden unexpected inclines but on the whole I thought I did OK. I improved measurably on the second lap - a steep learning curve!

BIKE - 32k - 1hr35mins13secs

Anything flat, uphill or extreme uphill I caught people due to my strong biking fitness. Downhill and technical sections I lost loads of course. I lost about 6 minutes to one of the guys in our age-group on the bike and finished right behind the other (these were the two guys I swam with).

T2 - 46secs

Then it was onto the run, I hadn't nailed myself on the bike as I would have done in a on-road tri so once running it felt pretty easy. As usual I picked up a high cadence and before I knew it was passing people left right and centre. The run was a hoot, hundreds of kids on the course waving flags of all nationalities (including one group with the Union Flag), they were really into it, BRILLIANT. About 3k into the run I saw Sam Gardner on his way to victory, a fellow Brit and an altogether nice guy.

We ran through a wild turkey farm, down super steep steps, across rickety pontoons and on long long bamboo bridges, it was soooo cool. I passed a couple of the women pros and then I saw him, the guy leading my age-group. He was running pretty well but judging by the speed I was catching him it wasn't going to be a fight to the death which I was pleased about. I went past and passed on some encouragement but at the same time dug deep just in case he got any silly ideas and tried to make a race of it.

We were then sent to the ocean with about 3k left, we had about 800m beach run and then had to wade through the ocean for about 150m along a sea wall - very cool (albeit the water looked decidedly rancid). As I ran along the beach I saw the leading amateur competitor ahead of me, I was confident he wasn't in my age-group and although chasing him down was a remote possibility I decided to cruise the last 2k to the finish.

RUN - 10k - 44mins21secs

I came across the line with a huge smile on my face and totally within myself, which is a nice change, generally at the end of a Olympic distance race I spend a good half an hour collapsed on the concrete about 3 steps over the finish line haha.

TOTAL TIME - 2:50:25 (1st 45-49, 2nd amateur, 10th overall)

I congratulated the guy that was 1st amateur, he was in the age-group below me, I checked my result and as I'd hoped I'd won my age-group. Massages had been laid on by the organisers so I went and grabbed one before any lines started forming - it was lovelly, just what the doctor ordered.

Disco Dave came in a little later followed by Lydia shortly afterwards. They checked their results and WOW, a dream come true, both of them had also won their age-groups and we were all going to the Xterra World Championships in Maui.

As Dave said, you couldn't have written a better script. This was truly a great weekend, the race didn't have the number of competitors that it deserved but I suspect that next year it will massively increase in numbers, if not sold out. The organisers didn't take any short cuts or cut costs that I could see and they are totally committed to the race for the long-term. There's a few things they need to get sorted out but nothing that detracted from a brilliant weekend.

If you ride a mountain bike (or like me, would like to be able to ride one), then I strongly recommend it next year. Xterra is the most fun you will ever have in a triathlon EVER.

Two weeks after this race I have Ironman 70.3 Singapore, I'd like to try to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas too. However, getting to the Ironman Worlds in Kona is my focus, so Singapore is a good tune up race and will enable me to judge where my training is currently.

I've dropped 10.5kg (23lbs) since Xmas, so all is on track there, only another 5kg to go. My Achiiles seems to be heeling despite Xterra and I'm enjoying the feeling of Ironman fitness again (albeit still a long way to go). I've started really ramping training up, 18+k swimming, 400+k biking and 80k+ running every week, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?! Haha

Together with my new tri bike (aka "Gladys") it's gonna be a fun ride (pun intended). Can I qualify for the three jewels of triathlon World Championships in one year? We shall see, one down and two to go.


Matty O said...

Great race report Simon. Simply awesome all across the board. You have to feel amazing having everything fall into place just right for you.

Crazy that you have only ridden MTB 6 times haha, talk about bragging rights over EVERYONE else haha.

Congrats again, that is an awesome accomplishment!

JohnP said...


Real men ride mountain bikes.

I laughed at the sock part :) Total tri-dork, love it haha!

I would love to do this one day. We have an offroad triathlon here in august, non-xtera, that I did last year. I did great on swim and bike but got hosed on the run cuz I didn't train. On the bright side, I look forward to crushing it this year, I'm looking fwd to it more than ironman lol

Glad to see you enjoyed yourself, considering you didn't do the knarly parts of the course that is an impressive performance. Practice up, you'll get the technical stuff in no time.
I'm hoping triathlon will give me the fitness I need to be a better mountain biker. I am the opposite of you, I got the mountain bike skill but need the better fitness lol

Azman said...

Truly inspirational! Dear, Simon. You're amazing. I feed on these kinds of stuff. It keeps me going. Your mojo, it's infectious.

Congratulations and all the best. Can't wait to read your Kona stories.

cheong said...

Congrats...and if u think u can, u can!

Simon said...

M, Thanks buddy, yes feeling good now everything coming together but then as we all know it generally does if we train!!! Haha

J, Thanks, yeah I loved it, really would like to spend more time enjoying the MTB.

A, Thanks buddy, glad you enjoyed it. Let's not get ahead of ourselves yet, I qualified for Xterra in MAui not Ironman in Kona - YET! A work in progress haha

C, Thanks, too right, thanks for the comment,spot on!

Perfectionist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Perfectionist said...

Well done Simon, I'm very proud of you :D

Simon said...

Thanks Richard, I really appreciate that.

yipwt said...

Congrats...and you won! Despite being a newbie at MTB...

Simon said...

Yeah beginners luch I guess haha. Thanks.