Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Surviving Xterra 2013

What is Xterra? For triathletes, it is the equivalent of the Ironman race, only mountain bikes and trail running is required. In short, it is the ultimate off-road triathlon race in the world; and for the 3rd straight year, Xterra Philippines will be held in Liloan, Cebu.

This year's race features a new venue for the swim & transition, a tough bike course and a brutal run route. Xterra is basically a mountain biker's dream race. It usually showcases tough climbs and technical downhills. Liloan has all of that and more. So it was never any doubt that the organizers will have any trouble mapping out a world-class Xterra course, despite the sudden change of venue.

Last year I joined the Xterra Individual Lite division. It was my first ever triathlon race so it made sense that I must join this year's race. But this time, doing the Individual Full category. I knew it was not going to be easy. I am not a very good mountain biker, I have a great fear of heights, and I still have my damaged left knee to deal with. So, why will I join Xterra? Because I love to challenge and test myself, and prove that anything is possible!

To be honest, my Xterra game plan was just to survive ... and hopefully make the cut-off times and get that finisher's medal. I knew that my bike split would be very slow and that I would have a hard time during the run. It's tough to get used to riding on single tracks, rocky technical downhills and steep climbs in just 3 weeks of preparation. Running on uneven terrain with so many sharp stones & loose rocks is not an easy thing to for a guy with bum knees & flat feet. But I will do this!!! I was determined to make the bike cut-off time at 12 noon and then survive the run under the scorching heat!

Race day came and the excitement, anticipation & expectations reached a fever pitch. You knew everyone was hyped and had game plans of their own. I knew the swim would be the least of my worries and true enough, almost everyone had very fast swim splits. But then it was time for the bike leg, and I was just glad I still had 4 hours and 20 minutes to finish the 2 loops before the 12 noon cut-off time. Just a few kilometers in and I had to dismount from my bike a few times whenever I came across difficult terrain. And pushing my bike up that steep ridge really drained me ... and this was all on the 1st bike loop! Then came the killer uphills, the single tracks and then the technical downhills! I lost count of the bikers overtaking me and kept hearing "Bike on your left" over and over again! Well, this was nothing new since I also experienced the same thing last year. I just kept looking at the time, endure cramps and kept catching my breath on the 2nd loop. I reached the transition area with 15 minutes to spare before the cut-off time! Whew!!! Then came the run. And boy was it HOT!!! Some water stations ran out of cold water and it was really very lonely since most of the participants either finished their race or were already about to finish their run. I was walking a lot, trying to endure the challenging terrain and the heat of the sun! There were times that I felt like giving up but there was nowhere else to go, nobody to talk to and nothing up ahead but just single track roads. I just had to keep moving. I reached the finish line in 6 hours 47 minutes and it was the most fulfilling race I had ever done ever!!! It really drained me, humbled me but I survived it! I AM AN XTERRA WARRIOR!!!

To all the mountain bikers & trail runners out there: I salute you! It's not easy to ride a mountain bike. The handling, the skill, the balance & the courage to tackle steep uphills and technical downhills is no joke! Running around uneven terrain, going up & down hills and trying to watch your step while maintaining the pace is also certainly no joke as well! These things take time, effort and lots of practice. After the race, I said to myself not to join Xterra anymore. But that was yesterday ... and am looking forward to surviving Xterra 2014!

Me & Doc Benj getting ready for the swim

Just out of T1, still fresh on the bike!
Local folks all around the route to cheer the participants.

Steep ridge where everyone had to push their bikes up!

Finishing up my 2nd bike loop.

Approaching the finish line!

Mission accomplished! I am an Xterra Warrior!