Deciding to do an XTERRA Triathlon was very last minute for me, the final decision came Wednesday August 19th, 3 days before the race, which took place, August 22nd. I saw a posting on Facebook saying they still had some spots left for the triathlon. A little back story, about a week before, I had started talking to a friend of mine, Russell, who has been doing them for a little over a year now and he’s always talked to me about how much fun these races are. Earlier this year he qualified for World Championships in Hawaii, so he as really gotten good at them. I sent him a text asking about when his race was and then he somehow he got to talking about the XTERRA Buffalo Creek in Wellington Lake, Colorado. I’m racing Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Austria, August 30th, so the race was only a 8 days apart. I wasn’t sure if my coach would be OK with me doing it, plus my priority other than finishing, was not to get hurt. I emailed the race director, Lance from Without Limits and he told me there was still a spot for me. I asked Christelle to see if she’d be OK with us going up there for the race, then coach, everyone was on board, so all of a sudden I had signed up for my first XTERRA triathlon. Wellington Lake is about a 2 hour drive south from the house. Originally we wanted to camp but I wasn’t quite sure we were going to be able to get a spot so we just decided to drive up the day of the race.
Driving the day of the race meant waking up at 3:45am and getting everything ready, we started driving to the XTERRA Buffalo Creek Triathlon at around 4:30am, since there was absolutely no traffic we got there just a little before 6:30am. Once there, I registered for the race and started getting everything ready. The first thing that stood out to me was that the number goes on the front of the bike, like so:
That’s not very “aero” I thought, but didn’t realize I wouldn’t be going that fast anyway so I guess that didn’t matter at all. Also, I didn’t pay attention to the distances, I thought it was going to be a 1200 meter swim, turned out to be every little bit of 1500 meters. Thought it was a 22 mile bike turned out to be 20, didn’t think much about this until I was suffering on the bike and was very glad that I didn’t have to bike an extra 2 miles. Then I thought it was just going to be a 5KM run, but it was actually a 5 mile run. All this, I found out when I got to the race, since I hadn’t researched the race much and just ended up deciding to do it spontaneously. I also found out Buffalo Creek is also supposed to be the longest XTERRA triathlon in the US apparently.
The location is absolutely gorgeous, pictures don’t do it justice. After setting everything up in transition, I got ready and headed to the start of the race. Warmed up for about 5 minutes before heading to the start line. The water was a perfect 64 degrees F or 18C. The Pros, Elites and age group athletes under 29 would go on the first wave. After they started, it was announced that my wave (30-44) would leave 3 minutes later. Don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but to me the minutes before the start of a race seem to always take forever. Lance, the announcer, said 30 seconds, people wished each other a good race and good luck and everything got really quiet.
As the horn went off, I wanted to be in front, as usual in the swim, so I kicked pretty hard, sprinted to get ahead and started sighting to make sure I wasn’t going off course. Christelle was able to get the perfect shot as I’m trying to make sure I’m swimming in a straight line towards the buoy.
There were 4 buoys in a straight line, the swim was basically an out and back swim. The swim was uneventful for the most part, I swam harder than any recent race though. Somehow I was still able to appreciate how beautiful the swim was, surrounded by mountains, perfect water temperature and a very clean swim all around. Once I passed the first buoy, I noticed that I had someone right next to me, he was on my left side so I couldn’t really tell what he was doing, as I breath to the right, and would only see him every time I would stick my head up to sight. One of us wasn’t swimming very straight, as sometimes we would be next to me and other times he was about 5 meters away. After the race, I looked at my GPS file and it didn’t seem I swam that crooked, plus I only swam about 40 meters over 1500, so I guess I was swimming a little straighter than him.
We swam next to each other pretty much the whole time, we came out of the water next to each other, as I ran to T1 someone asked for my number, I was so out of it that I didn’t respond. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because I couldn’t remember. The race was at 8800 feet or 2200 meters of elevation. I don’t think I had ever raced at this altitude before, so getting out of the water felt weird. Got to my bike, put my helmet, socks and shoes on, I was trying to tighten them but as I leaned down, I got so dizzy that I had to stop for a second, take a breath, hold on to the bike rack so I would fall backwards and relax. A couple of seconds went by and thankfully I felt better, grabbed my bike and headed out. I had heard of people feeling dizzy when coming out of the water, this had never happened to me until Saturday. Now I understand those people and I do feel for them, it’s not a fun feeling like you just had a full bottle of tequila.
While racing half and full Ironman triathlon distances, my goal is to keep my effort consistent throughout the race. XTERRA is so different, in the first kilometer of the bike my heart rate was already close to threshold, where it stayed for most of the race. Once I biked out of the parking area you get to the first long descend, it felt amazing. Although I got passed by a couple of people, I didn’t care, the gravel was very loose and I didn’t want to slide and fall. Being used to pumping my tires right before triathlons I put 30 lbs on both tires, which was not smart, my tires felt like they were sliding all over the place as they couldn’t get much traction. I didn’t want to stop to deflate the tires as I had no idea how much air I should take out and I didn’t have a pump in case I would let too much air out. Because of that I was a little more cautious and didn’t push the downhills. After you reach the bottom of the hill, the course takes you through a figure 8 loop, leaving you right at the bottom of the hill, so you have a nice 3 mile climb at the end. 60% of the course is single track, although it was very sandy the whole time. About 5 miles into the bike I came to this area where I had to get off the bike. I had no idea that I would lose ALL technical abilities on the bike, I barely was able to get over the first rock, which wasn’t hard and before falling I quickly un-clipped, got off the bike. Tried to carry it but it felt like it weighted 80lbs, shook my head, took a big breath in, put it over my shoulder and went over the remainder of the rocks. I think on a normal day I would have been able to find a line that would have gotten me across without having to get off the bike. I was breathing so hard and my legs were burning so much that all I wanted to do was to get across without falling. Once I was on the bike again, I was feeling a little better, still terrified every time my tires would dance around in the sand, but feeling better that I had passed the “technical” part of the race. As I started to descend, I got going pretty fast, twice or maybe even 3 times I completely rode past the turn. I was going so fast and the dirt was so loose that I couldn’t get any traction at all to turn. Every time I was thankful not to have someone else behind me so they didn’t think I was a complete dummy. The guys racing XTERRA are so good on the bike, a couple of people passed me going downhill and the control they had of their bikes was simply amazing. Made me want to just stop, get off the bike and watch as people flew down the trail. Surprisingly I hadn’t gotten passed by as many people as I do in regular triathlons, so I felt I was doing OK, until I got to the bottom of the hill. I knew that I only had 3 miles to go, but also that they were going to be the slowest 3 miles of the whole bike. The hill didn’t disappoint, it was steep, long and hard. At times I could see people in front of me, but even though it looked like they were within distance, it took me so long to get to were I had seen them last. Finally I started seeing cars parked and I knew I was getting close to the transition area. As I was getting close to T2, my legs were burning, my throat was so dry from breathing so hard and my HR was still in threshold, but I finally I had finished the bike.
You can see how happy I was to see T2, on the picture above. It was so nice to see Christelle waiting for me, but what made my day was that Emma, my oldest, was making sounds with a bell and cheering. It was the cutest thing!
As I got off the bike, even though my legs were tired, they felt OK. I put my running shoes, number and visor on and headed for the 5 mile run. I saw Christelle and the girls one more time, as I left T2, I was so excited I almost ran off course, completely missing the cones. They laughed at me, I smiled, but my smile didn’t last long. The run immediately goes up hill, “you have got to be kidding me” I thought. I just finished a very hard bike and the first thing we do is go straight uphill. I was going so slow, I think I would have gone faster by walking, but I didn’t want to walk, so just kept trying to raise my legs one in front of the other.
The run was very pretty, for the first 3 miles is single track, a little technical. After going uphill for what it seemed forever. It flattened out for a couple of steps and then it started to descend. I thought I would finally be able to make up some of the time by going downhill, but actually I was going just as slow going downhill. The downhill consisted in jumping down stairs or descending very technical parts with rocks. My body was certainly not used to that type of beating. I didn’t push myself too hard, just wanted to be safe. As I reached the last aid station, with 2 miles to go, the course merged with the main road. It was flat and wide, finally I was able to get a constant pace going. The run is a loop around the lake, you don’t really get to see the lake until you get to this point. Once here though, the view is amazing. You get to appreciate the lake, mountain in the background and the whole park area, which is beautiful. As I came down the finish line, I was so happy to be done. My heart rate was finally going to come down to a normal level. Saw the girls one last time, took the GoPro out and started to shoot as I ran through the finish line.
Overall, it was a great experience I was able to get 3rd in my age group Being on the podium for my first XTERRA race was very exciting.
Without Limits Productions puts together a great race, it was a lot of fun, although painful but it’s a completely different race than what I’m used to. I will do more of these for sure in the future. I’d like to thank my wife Christelle for her support and agreeing to come with me and the girls to the race with only a couple of days notice. Thank you as usual to Roka Sports for the awesome wetsuit, Newton Running, Tritats and Perky Jerky for the support. Last but not least thanks to my coach Eric Kenney from EK Endurance Coaching and of course to Russell Herbert for convincing me to try XTERRA Triathlon. Now I have 5 days to rest before Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria, see you soon!