Racing Xterra Phillipines was a last minute decision. In 2014 I spectated and supported some friends on few different Xterra races in (UK, Switzerland, Maui in Hawaii) and I was keen to try these events myself – a triathlon of the normal swim, bike and run, but with leg two being on mountain bikes over rough terrain, instead of normal triathlon bikes on roads and run is also in trails with lots of obstacles. The distance in Philippines was 1,5km Swim – 32km MTB Bike – 9km Trail Run.
Having lost most of last season due to my injury, I finally got the chance to try these unique events out in Xterra Philippines on Sunday 8th February. I couldn’t have chosen a better race, hosted for the first time in the beautiful province of Albay, under the spectacular, and still active, Mayon volcano.
From the moment I touched down in Legaspi I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome and hospitality of the Xterra Philippines organisers and Sunrise events. The team’s strong passion for the sport is totally visible and made our experience remarkable.
I arrived a couple of days prior to the race, the main reason for which was to allow me to ride part of the bike course. As I am not a very experienced mountain biker, this was critical and I found the course quite challenging. It included deeper sand, volcano rocks, tree branches, grass fields, rivers crossing and natural jungle. I was very warmly accepted between the circles of fellow pro Xterra athletes, who have been racing in Xterra circuit for years, and received plenty of encouragement, advice and technical tips on what was a totally new world to me. On race day we had transport arranged for all of us staying in the Oriental hotel, which avoided the usual last minute stresses and enabled us to arrive at the transition area in plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming challenge.
The swim was held in the Lidong Riviera – a non-wetsuit swim which, being strong in the water, is my preferred format. The water temperature was pleasant, with only a slight current and mild waves. I was really looking forward to this leg – a distance of 1500 meters – as in the last few months I have been working hard on my swimming and was hoping for some improvement in times. The work paid off and I felt strong and powerful all the way with great feel for the water.
After approximately 500 m I managed to find my stride and swam in the pack with few Filipino elites and Dimity, the fellow Australian pro female triathlete. We came out of the water at around the same time, approximately 19:30.
After transitioning onto the bike I set off for the most challenging part of the race – the hilly and technical mountain bike leg.. During the first couple of km I was overtaken by last year’s Xterra Philippines female champion, Renata Boucher a friendly Swiss national. This wasn’t a surprise given my lack of experience in Xterra racing and still increasing fitness – the main drivers being my strong desire to race and also to test my new Colnago MC27, equipped with smaller 27,5 inch wheels. Last year I rode the standard 29 inch wheels, however not being a tall girl the smaller size fits me better and is easier for handling.
Back to the bike section. From the beginning to the end of the whole leg I felt what seemed uncannily like an asthma attack. I didn’t know whether it was to do with the lack of specific training for Xterra, the shorter race format, a lack of fitness or simply intolerance to humidity. However, given that from the day I arrived in the Philippines I had struggled for breath even just walking up the stairs, I know now that I had inflammation in my sinuses.
After a long descent with rocky volcano rock obstacles, I likely hit some rocks with my rear derailer – the gears on the back of the bike. For when I tried to change gears for the following uphill, my bike was locked into the highest gear, causing a strong resistance with every pedal stroke amidst loud noise. Not the ideal way to ride up mountains. With only the two gears on the front my options were limited! However, this is Xterra, things are meant to go wrong and you just have to deal with it.
I continued racing until, for the 3rd time, I passed a Filipino pro athlete, Joseph Lumagod, who I saw desperately sitting on the ground with his bike frame, wheel and tire all apart. As I was in 7th place at the time and thinking the 6th place girl was far ahead, I stopped to help Joseph out. After a few minutes I was back on the bike, trying my best and really enjoying the experience, however perhaps losing some ultra-competitive racing spirit. This was probably my first race ever I went to, when I didn’t have any concerns on my competition, but purely on myself. I still pushed all the way as hard as I could, however I wasn’t worried at all where I am terms of position.
The run was a 9km loop with a gradual incline in the first half and downhill in the second section. The uphill part was mostly inside the edges of dried out river through deep sand, lava rocks and several river crossings, which was lots of fun. To be honest, the tougher it was getting, the more enjoyable I found it.
I had lots of thoughts going through my mind. I was feeling fulfilled and content to be able to race again after last year’s injury. I actually had to pinch myself to realize that I was racing, doing what I love and back in my dream life.
Just before transition there were a few more interesting parts such as crossing rice plantations, small rivers and other obstacles; a beautiful course indeed.
After crossing the finish line in 7th place, in a time of 3:20:07, I found out the 6th place girl finished just less than one minute ahead of me, which naturally led me to question my decision to stop and help someone else. Well, I believe in karma and good things always come back to me.
And so it did. Just five days later, 13th February, I was racing in Hatta Endurance MTB race in the United Arab Emirates where I managed to win overall. I had a puncture, some technical issues and, guess what, I received an enormous help from bike mechanics at the race venue and fellow competitor who helped me with a stuck chain. Without outside help I wouldn’t be able to finish here myself, let alone win. That’s karma!I would like to thank my new main sponsor Global Jet, the company I used to work as a corporate flight attendant. Without this amazing support I wouldn’t be able to stop flying and train full time, travel all over the world to compete the best I can on international races.
Also I would like to give my appreciation to my sponsors who are enabling me to use the best equipment, nutrition, training facilities and bike service for my performance: Windwave, Colnago, Power Bar, Vision, BBB, Sailfish, Hampton pool, Sigma Sport and Wolfi’s Bike Shop in my winter training base – Dubai.
I am one really happy and lucky girl to be living the dream, dream of sport.