Xterra World Championship 2013
The Xterra World Championship race was an amazing experience. Close to 800 athletes lined Fleming Beach in Maui at 9am on Sunday. I closed my eyes as the race was blessed by a Hawaiian elder and asked the spirits for speed and a safe race for myself and my teammates. After the blessing, the air become electric. All 800 athletes began clapping a slowly building rhythm, the news chopper flew in from behind and took position hovering over the water, jet skis circled into position, the gun blasted, and then everything disappeared into the steady rhythm of my own breath.
The swim was much deeper than the lagoon in Saipan, with views of probably 100 feet down. Luckily, the waves had simmered down to about 3 feet that morning, so it was an easy dive through the break to start my stroke. My adrenaline had me overexerting myself a bit in the beginning, but I quickly settled into a rhythm and tried to find a space where I wouldn’t be kicked or grabbed. I did get kicked in the face once and felt like I was pushing the feet of the guy in front of me for a while, but eventually I found a pocket. The swim course was an “M” shape this year, with a long first lap around two buoys, then a short beach run and back out around a last buoy. They also started in 3 waves spaced two minutes apart: pros, men, then women.
Out of the water, the crowd was going wild which really gave me a huge smile. I struggled a bit with my speed suit, but luckily found the twist-tie I attached to the zipper, got it down, and ran about 1000 meters uphill to T1. I was lucky enough to get a good spot in the transition area. In fact, I was the first bike after the section reserved for the pros at the top of the hill. This was nice because most, if not all, the pros were already out of the area. I saw my friends’ bikes still in the rack, so I knew I had a good swim.
The bike course was redesigned this year to add more single-track sections, and more hills. The climb was definitely brutal with the sun. Although they used to start the race 7am, they pushed it to 9am to draw a larger crowd, at the expense of higher temperatures for the racers. Coming from Saipan, this was actually a bit of an advantage for me because I’m used to riding in sweltering heat.
The course itself was a lot of loose, dusty, sandy, terrain with scattered rocks and roots. I had never been in a single-track race before, so I had to learn to deal with the traffic then and there. Getting out of the water early is critical due to the traffic on the course. If you got behind someone slow, it was a challenge to pass. This was especially difficult when I was climbing a hill just inches from the rider’s tire in front of me. If anyone stopped, fell, or decided to walk, everyone behind lost momentum and tensions got a little hot. If you didn’t screw up and stop, most people were pretty cordial, however, announcing their intent to pass on the left or right, and would yield to you if you were trying to do the same.
There were a few really steep descents which I managed to survive without too much trouble. At one point, however, I was riding down a steep section and had both my brakes locked but I still could not stop. In retrospect, I should have let off the brakes to gain traction again, but I was distracted by the throng of riders pushing from behind so I wasn’t thinking clearly. Skidding out of control, my front tire hit something and I was instantly flying ass first over my handlebars – a classic endo! Luckily, I wasn’t really hurt, though I lost both of my water bottles. At least I had been downing as much fluid as I could before the fall, so I didn’t get too dehydrated before the first aid station at Mile 6. I grabbed two new bottles at the aid station and kept climbing.
At about Mile 8, there is wide open fire road you can bomb at full speed. I was riding a hard-tail 29er, so I just stood up and tried to absorb all the chatter with my legs. You get a beautiful view of the ocean at that point, and I had a huge smile on my face as I got more and more speed. At one point, I just started yelling “YEEEEEOOOWWWWW!!!” Part way down, I saw Mieko dealing with a blown out tire, and she cheered my on as I flew by. The downhill was short-lived though, and I was quickly climbing again.
The bike course was actually less technical than the Saipan course; just tons of hot climbing. There were also plenty of tight switchbacks with sandy berms, which requires something of a balancing act up on a 29er. Plus, I was using a Sram XX1 1×11 drivetrain so I couldn’t just drop ten gears with a single click of a front derailleur. This was a problem when a steep downhill would hairpin turn into an uphill. I had to work my trigger-shifter 3 or 4 times to get back on my large cogs and hope I didn’t spin out or sink in the sand. I definitely crunched the gears, and all the dust in my chain just made things worse.
I was really glad to see T2 because my spine felt like it had been in a paint-shaker machine and I was running really hot. Finally off the bike, I popped a couple of electrolyte pills while putting my running shoes on, and tried to get a band-aid on the blister I had developed earlier in the week, but I couldn’t get it to stick. Giving up on the band-aid, I grabbed my hand-held water bottle loaded with almost boiling hot Accelerade and ran for the exit. I saw Wolf and Gezzel cheering me on out of T1 which gave me another boost of energy. I gave a big thumbs up and grin to the camera guy at the end of the transition, and he said I was the first one to do that. Honestly, I think I was smiling for the whole race though.
By the time I was running, the sun was high and I tried to stay in the shade as best as I could. On the first hill, I had to walk a bit because my heart rate and temperature felt pretty maxxed out and my legs felt like rubber. At the first aid station, they poured ice cold water down my back which was possibly the best feeling I’ve ever experienced. I don’t know why I hadn’t been doing that at the bike aid stations. I also got to ditch my hot accelerade, and replace it with ice and gatorade. Feeling reinvigorated, I downed a 2nd Surge caffeinated gel and got back into my stride. I baby-stepped up the hills, but was able to fly through the flatter and downhill sections.
Eventually, I cam out along a descending ridgeline and could see the Ritz Carlton, where the race would end. It was almost disappointing to know the race would be over soon, so I tried to savor those last few miles. The last bit of the run was along the beach before turning 100 meters uphill through the finish-line chute. I charged up the last section strong and crossed the line at 4:06.
Yes, you should do it
Overall, it was an amazing race with so much support and I will definitely be back next year! If you want to join, come out to qualify in Saipan which has one of the best courses anywhere due to the variety of terrain, beautiful beaches, and party atmosphere. Plus, you can usually find a homestay to get a taste of island hospitality. There is also the Tagaman road triathlon the following weekend. Check it out at SaipanSports.com. If you’re really addicted, you can do the Guam, Saipan, Philippines “Triple Crown” circuit.
- Local news coverage from the Saipan Tribune
- Check out my Photos from the Xterra World Championship 2013
- And here is an awesome Highlight Video of the Xterra World Championship 2013 produced by Xterra.