On Sunday, July 29th, I tackled my first ever off-road triathlon. XTERRA Wild Horse Creek is an event about 15 miles of Bozeman, Montana. It’s set in one of the most beautiful locations I’ve ever raced, Hyalite Canyon Reservoir in the Gallatin National Forest.
I’m going to be brutally honest here, I had very high expectations for myself entering this race. I was coming off PB’s in my two previous events, an Olympic distance triathlon at Rev3 Portland on July 8th and an Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Lake Stevens, Washington on July 15th. I think I was over confident because the distances at XTERRA WHC were considerably shorter than my two most recent races: 1200 yard open water swim, 16 mile mountain bike ride followed by a 6 mile trail run.
The swim consisted of two laps with a short on-shore transition between laps. I was right on pace with my first lap expectations, under 9 minutes. I figured I would be a little slower on my second lap and came out of the water in about 19 minutes. I was wearing my extremely comfortable Blueseventy Helix wetsuit and felt super in the water which was said to be in the low 60′s.
In addition to visualizing my swim technique, I usually have a running dialogue with myself during the first leg of any triathlon. It’s helps pass the time and keeps me focused. Sunday’s self talk was telling myself that the race starts on the bike, the race starts on the bike. Cycling is by far, my strongest discipline of the three sports. I would soon find out that swimming would be my strongest of the three sports that day.
I was pretty stoked about riding my brand new Litespeed Cohutta. The last time I rode a mountain bike of any kind was during my early teens. My local bike shot assembled it ten days earlier. I managed to ride it four times before the race, one of those days I crashed into a tree (SEE VIDEO). Despite my lack of experience and obviously poor handling skills, I felt good about my bike fitness. But I caution anyone attempting an off-road triathlon, there’s a big difference between road bike fitness and mountain bike fitness. My road bike fitness did little to help me maneuver over the many exposed tree roots, rocks, single track trails, loose gravel and elevation gain on Sunday. Boy, was that a reality check! I would also encourage everyone to pre-ride every XTERRA bike course they attempt before race day. Knowing what to expect will make a huge difference mentally as well as physically.
One of my favorite parts about the bike course was the descent, which we were able to do twice. I was having flashbacks to when I was a kids riding my BMX bike down trails and over jumps. I made up lots of time going downhill and started to feel like a real XTERRA triathlete. Oh, another tip for those riding their bike during an XTERRA, make sure your water bottle is secure. I lost mine within the first mile of the bike course. Luckily there were volunteers handing out water and sports drinks 4 miles later. I completed the two loop bike course in under 1:40 which I was told was good for a first-timer.
The run course was just as challenging if not more so. Normally I’ll wear my 9.0 ounce KSWISS Kwicky Blade Lights but I knew for this course I’d need something with more stability so I opted for the Konejo II. The Konejo is a 12 ounce shoe and even though it’s heavier it was the right choice on the day. Again, as a road triathlete, I’m conditioned to run on flat pavement for either 6.2 or 13.1 miles at a time. I did zero trail running or hill repeats leading up to this race and I paid for it dearly. I’m not too proud to admit that I walked on several occasions and even stopped more than once. Trail running and navigating on single track pathways is challenging and takes lots of practice. I was never able to get into a rhythm or maintain a steady pace. This too is a result of not knowing what to expect and not pre-running the course. I may have been low on nutrition but that’s no excuse, I got my butt kicked on the run.
After completing the first lap (3 miles), the negative self talk started to rear its ugly head. I was not thrilled about taking on the second lap but I’m not one to quit either so I pressed on. I believe my second lap was faster but only because I knew what to expect and because I got behind a couple of ladies and just followed their feet. I finished the 6 mile run in about an hour and 5 minutes. My overall time was 3 hours, 3 minutes which earned me 4th place in my age group, according to initial on-site results.
I want to give a big thank you to the volunteers and race organizers for putting on such a cool event. XTERRA is a must try for anyone considering a fun challenge and a memorable experience. I learned lots about myself both physically as well as mentally. I have a new-found respect for the skills and training needed to perform well at an off-road triathlon. I’m very glad I signed up for XTERRA Wild Horse Creek. I was also very proud to wear my XTERRA tattoo on race day (temporary tattoo) and was sad to scrub it off afterwards (Wednesday night).
This will not be my last XTERRA experience, oh no! I’m doing XTERRA Utah on September 22nd in Ogden and then I’m flying to Maui to participate in the XTERRA World Championship (lottery entry) in late October. And yes, I’m already looking ahead at next year’s schedule to see what I can sign up for then.
Video Below: Dave Erickson, XTERRA WHC Race Footage
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