I had heard the rumours that this Xterra Xonrupt bike course was from hell but after arriving in Xonrupt-Langemer Friday before the race, and riding the course with a few fellow British Xterra athletes, with whom I was sharing an amazing cottage with, I realised the rumours were facts, although they got the details wrong, it was the CLIMB out of hell! In my pre race run of the course in fairly dry conditions it was already tough imagining having to do the loop twice, and with the forecasted rain for Sunday afternoon, it would change the forestry course in a muddy, slippery, technically challenging, painstakingly long hard course! But I was up for it!
An afternoon start is still a bit strange for me, knowing when to eat and sleep and not faff around too much, so the plan was to sleep as long as possible, have a descent breakfast and maybe a bar or two if I get hungry. Making sure to hydrate with 32Gi try stay off of my legs. So I did just that and spent the morning hanging around with a fun group of housemates. When it was time to get going to the race venue as expected and forecasted, it started raining cats and dogs at 12noon just enough time to really mess up the course before our 14h00 race start! But as they say, you don’t get bad weather just soft athletes, so toughen up!
Luckily it is midsummer in France, so even though it was raining, it was quite humid and I didn’t once feel cold, thanks to an amazing INOV-8 Shell! Big blessing come in small packages!
I tried to keep focus and go through the motions of my prerace warm up with a good bike/run and swim warm up routine, not letting the rain and commotion of the buzzing transition distract me. I quickly checked my transition for the last time: GT Zaskar in mint condition √ INOV8 F-Lite195 racing red √ Rudy P Helmet and Glasses √ INOV8 Cap √ and my Compressport Calve socks on the legs √....DONE! Glancing over Lake Gerardmer, so tranquil, the drizzling rain and playing ducks, I couldn’t think that it would, in a few minutes, be turned into a brutal fight and turmoil with 500 athletes trying to reach the orange buoys in the fasted way they can.
Once again lining up alongside athlete like Olivier Marceau, Marion Lorblanchet and Renate Bucher to name a few was great, the vibe, the setting, and the weather (not so much) perfect! The only drawback was that the announcer only spoke French and the Pro’s did not this time, get a few metres head start in the swim, so when I re-evaluated my starting position I was front line, but smack bang in the middle of the 500 plus athletes, 80 percent of which were men, I quickly made a technical decision to move more to the left side, and surprisingly found myself next to Marion Lorblanchet, Carina Wasle and boy was that a smart move!!
What I could make out the announcer said 1 min to go, but then suddenly the gun went off right behind me, I got such a fright, I gave a girly yelp, and started swimming for my life! I got a really good line and open water for a few hundred metres; I kept on Marion’s feet and got into such a good rhythm, my arms and shoulders nice and flexible in my SAILFISH G-Range wetsuit, really loving that suit!! I excited the water alongside Marion, and tried to get through the transition ASAP, onto the slippery slide bike course. I followed closely behind Marion, but could see her pulling away slowly on the first climb already, but I kept on turning the gears up the first big climb. But then on a slight downhill muddy and rocky section, the unthinkable happened; I hit a rock quite hard and made a small dent in my superlight American Classic rim, which let the air out of my back wheel! First mechanical I have ever had in a big race! Luckily I had CO2 bombs with me and I quickly jumped off and tried to fill the tyre, but the seal of the rim had broken and the tyre was not seating properly. I watched 4 girls pass me by and prayed to God just to let me finish the race after coming all this way. From there I was on and off the bike, filling air and it leaking out, I was on my last CO2 bomb and thought it was game over, but I kept on riding with a flattish back wheel, hoping it would seal, 1min, 2min, 5min and suddenly my prayers were answered it didn’t totally flatten out and I was able to continue on!
But as anyone who’s had a flat in a race knows, you have this stupid paranoia the whole time of this flat tyre, and lose a lot of time wondering if it is flattening out again, I tried to keep focus! The course was so muddy and slippery in any way that the flat tire was maybe a bit of a blessing, you were jumping on and off of the bike a lot through the steep climbs and single track and once you got a rhythm just hoped the guy in front of you didn’t stop!
After a brutally long 2h44 of riding and 3h04 of racing I finished the bike route with no other thought than getting onto the run as soon as possible to try and lessen the damage done on the bike course, as I had lost quite a bit of time!
The spectators were great telling me I am in 6th position, but not seeming very positive that I would catch the girls out in front of me. Never the less I pushed my legs as hard as I could on the hilly, windy, muddy, but o so much fun run. I ran just to see how fast I can go and if I caught someone, great! I raced with the INOV8 F-Lite 195’s and they were as usual and expected GREAT! It gripped well in the mud, didn’t get too heavy from the mud and water just flowed out of it! Really the one piece of equipment that never fails!!
Then in the distance on the start of the second loop of the run, I saw the girl in 5th position, snuck up on her, passed and on the climb pushed to make a big enough impression for her not to catch me, and it worked! I ran the last of the run with enjoying the scenery and trail, soaking in the race vibe and great atmosphere! I ran over the line tired, wet and muddy but satisfied with a good comeback and race!
A sense of relief (for it was over), a sense of gratefulness (for God helping me finish), a sense of pride (for a good comeback), a sense of respect (for fellow athletes) all at once is a great feeling to have.
A top 5 finish and the experience in the bag!
Thank you to great sponsors, family and friends for your support; I really would not have the finances, will, and confidence to venture the world without you guys by my side!
Till the next race!