Xterra European Tour Finale!
10th Sep 2017
A crazy busy end of season ended for me with the two biggest races: Xterra Germany and Xterra Denmark! I was super happy to achieve my second best placing on the European Tour, only 2015 scored higher (the year I trained and raced full time!)
First up was Xterra Germany - my 3rd race in 3 weekends - and I was feeling pretty tired. There was also the extra challenge of driving a hire car from Prague to Zittau! Most people know I will avoid driving on the "wrong" side of the road wherever possible; this is only the second time I have done it! On the plus side mum was coming with me on an Xterra trip for the first time :-) We realised we have not done a holiday - just the two of us for 5 years!
We stayed in camping huts at Olbersdorfer See - a perfect location for the race, as well as lovely holiday destination by the lake. Our one error was not realising we needed to bring plates, cups, pans and so on for cooking! Somehow I imagined it would be like a youth hostel with a fully equipped kitchen! Luckily the campsite warden took pity on us and managed to find a pan and plates we could borrow!
I decided not to recce the whole course as I felt tired, and I hoped I could remember the bits I missed from last year! On race day I had a good start, exiting the swim with the front pack. The bike course then climbs for pretty much 1 hour so I tried to pace myself and not get carried away by chasing too hard! Conditions were muddy and slow in places, but at least I had good grip thanks to a new tyre sponsorship from Vittoria. The descents were slippery on wet rock, but I was happy to get down with no crashes; an improvement on last year!
Onto the run again my form was still unknown. I feel fitter with every race and I love this run course because it's relatively flat and fast. However I felt mentally too tired to push myself 100%, something I would regret at the finish! I was never sure of my position throughout the race, with spectators shouting different things; but I knew it was close as to whether I was inside my aim of the top 7 (top 7 get to stand on the podium for Gold races!)
I felt encouraged when I passed a couple of girls, but in the final km I was overtaken and didn't have the mental energy to respond. I sprinted past a couple of other girls in the final straight but they turned out to be from the sprint or relay races; not in my category!
Even at the finish I had no idea where I had placed, and only when seeing the results did I realise how close it had all been! Positions 5 - 8 were all within 1 minute after almost 3.5 hours of racing. I had finished 7th, so it meant mixed emotions. Slightly disappointed to be so close to the top 5 but not in it, but also relieved to have reached my goal of top 7 and a welcome bit of prize money.
My coach Mark has had the impossible task of trying to get me fit for this end of season - 4 races in 5 weeks - after missing the middle of season and then also being unable to run for 2 more months with a broken toe! So we've done as much training as sensibly possible, while also having to fit around me working and now caring for the new puppy!
After the tiredness in Germany though, we agreed a bit more rest was needed before the grand finale - 2 weeks later in Denmark.
I always look forward to visiting Copenhagen and seeing old friends from the time I used to live there. It was great to spend the night with friends and visit old haunts, before getting the shuttle to Moen the following day. The organisers generously booked 2 hire vehicles for us Pros, which we had to drive ourselves and therefore wait for the last person's flight to arrive! But luckily I got out of driving duty this time ;)
We also had houses booked for us close to the start, and Brigitta and I thought this meant a boys house and girls house like last year. But no! We were the only two girls sharing with the boys! But we had our own room, and it was a good way to meet different athletes who we haven't shared with before... even if some of them were excitable 20-year-old French boys! It was great staying with Brigitta - everyone knows her as the amazing athlete, but she is also a lovely and considerate girl and great company to share with! We laughed constantly over the boys antics, as well as pictures of our dogs! (Yes, they are like our children, we miss them when we are away racing, and have to get our partners to send us photo updates!!)
Xterra Denmark had a unique format where Pros had our own race on Saturday, while the AG races went on Sunday. This was a much better program where the course wasn't congested and both races had a lot more supporters!
Our course consisted of a 2 lap swim / 4 lap bike / 3 lap run - men and women together. I thought I was having a great swim, following a perfect draft that I could only just hold on to. I tried not to sight too much and risk losing those feet, and anyway, whenever I tried, the orange buoys were too hard to spot over the waves, and among orange swim caps and orange lifeguards. So I kept my head down and trusted the guy I was following - massive schoolgirl error! On the second lap I looked up and realised with horror we were right in the middle of the triangle of buoys! I genuinely felt I had ruined my race already. There was no choice but to swim back what looked like 400m to the missed buoy (it was probably only 100m but felt forever!). I felt like I was literally the last athlete out of the water, and I would be kicking myself for the rest of the race.
T1 involved running up the famous 500 steps, and at the top I was genuinely surprised to see still quite a lot of bikes. Unbelievably I was still about mid-field, so I tried to regain focus and at least get a good bike split! I loved 95% of the bike course - twists and turns on single-track, the RedBull wooden berm, a couple of long or undulating climbs - a bit like the local Gorrick MTB races that I train in over winter. But the other 5% I didn't like at all - short but super steep climbs which were impossible to get up - at least with my gearing and leg strength.
This meant dismounting and scrambling up several times per lap. Even though you only lose a few seconds each time, it all adds up, as well as the wasted energy getting on and off. A few of the slower swimmers passed me, although I am getting better at hanging on to every wheel, it was always one of these steep climbs where somebody got away! But I passed a few girls as well so my position stayed about the same. Again, I had no idea where I was throughout the race, and it would have been useful to have information screens or anyone shouting us this information!
Once on the run, there were no other women in sight, and it makes it harder to push on when you can't see anyone to chase! I was hoping for some flat and fast sections but it was pretty much relentless steep up-hills or downhills for the whole 10k.
The final loop was the hardest - as well as many 'normal' hills, this took us 500 steps down to the beach, and along 1km or so of loose pebbles and sand. The big surprise compared to last year was the high tide! This meant no beach at all for the last 100m, and a choice of traversing the cliff, or a second swim (or deep wade - it was impossible to see how deep the water was or what was underneath!) Then it was "just" 500 steps back up to the finish line!
My final position was 8th, I was disappointed with this and still kicking myself about the swim, although realistically it probably only cost me one place. The competition gets tougher every year, and even though I have got fitter with every race, so has everyone else! The good news was I had earned enough points to move up to 6th overall in the European Tour. The only time I've finished higher (4th) was in 2015 when I had a chance to "live the dream" and race full time.
For the last two years it has been more nightmares than dreams in "real life", but overall 2017 has been a successful race season with a win and a 2nd place that I would have never have predicted! Thanks to my coach Mark and Physio Pete helping me get the most out of less than ideal circumstances and still achieve something.
Now it's time for my end of season break, and the start of a new chapter. Hopefully 2018 will be a lucky one! 18 is my lucky number after all :-)
Design © 2017 Louise Fox. Photography © Lukasz Warzecha