From nudist camps to edible Spunk - Xterra Germany and Denmark!
11th Sep 2016
2016 has been my most challenging Pro season so far, mostly for reasons outside of racing. So it was a relief and a joy to end the European Tour on a high note.
My penultimate event in late August was Xterra Germany (Zittau) - a race I've wanted to do for 3 years and never made it till now. I'm glad I got there this time - as it is an awesome race, now the longest established on the European Tour. Zittau is right on the border with Czech Republic and Poland, and some say the bike course possibly crosses into both countries!
It wasn't a perfectly ideal lead-up to the race, however, and a lesson in choosing travel buddies more wisely in future! While some people have no redeeming personality traits whatsoever, others are absolute stars, and I have to thank Stuart Mclaren for sorting out a lot of the sh** we encountered! We were stuck in Berlin airport together for 8 hours - not ideal when we'd both been up to catch flights at the crack of dawn, hoping to get to the venue and ride the course, and be putting our feet up with a beer (OK mine's a sparkling water!) by the time we actually rolled away in the hire car...
I tried to make the most of airport time by building my bike, exploring Berlin's canal system on it, doing all my foam roller exercises, even doing a meditation app on the smartphone! So coach, physio and sports psych were all happy, and I was still calm and sane :-)
Zittau was a lovely and quiet town, the swim venue was like a holiday park with camping, beach, ice creams and everything, and perfect weather to go with it :-)
On race day the water was warm enough to make the swim non-wetsuit; perfect I thought, and I exited the water with the lead pack. So far so good. The bike course starts with a long fire road climb, and I felt the payoff from my recent power training. Although unfortunately my legs were still slightly tired from recce-ing the course so close before the race (it was 1-lap, almost 40k and lots of climbing, so almost 3 hours to recce). But this meant some fun rocky descents and great singletrack through the woods. Definitely an event I want to come back to when I have another year of bike training behind me!
The run was great too - undulating through the woods and then around the lake. It is surely the only Xterra that passes through a nudist beach! Which can be quite disconcerting if you're not expecting this!! Not just sunbathing nudists either, but wandering around, taking an interest in the race, and in some cases cheering a bit too enthusiastically(!) It certainly spurred lots of us on to fast run splits ;) I passed a couple of girls on the run to finish 8th; as good as I could have done on the day. One place higher than I finished in last year's Xterra European Champs :-)
After Germany, there was only the final race of the European Tour to go - Xterra Denmark, my favourite country :-) Again, the travel was not a 100% smooth experience as I waited an age at the oversize luggage belt in Copenhagen for my bike, but it never arrived! This is always the biggest fear of any triathlete or cyclist! The info desk told me the bike was never put onto the flight in Heathrow, but would come on the next one. So the 5 hour wait for our shuttle bus to the race venue turned out to be a blessing in disguise! Hopefully my bike should make it by then. And in the meantime, I was off to the beach! Amazingly it was beach weather on this 1st of September, and the airport is within walking distance of Amager beach park. I had no swimwear in my hand luggage, but who cares, they're pretty liberal in Scandinavia :-)
So with the beach trek & swim, more foam rollering outside the terminal, and headspace (ticks from coach, physio and sports psych again!) another wait at the oversize luggage - thankfully my bike did arrive this time - it was time for the shuttle, and the 5 hours had passed before I knew it.
The Danish organisers really looked after us Pros at this event, which took the usual worry out of logistics. They laid on the shuttle bus from the airport, accommodation near the venue (all girls in one house, all boys in another house, much to some of the boys' disappointment!) and even bought us food for the first breakfast - as there were no shops that we could get to without a car, and without our bikes built up.
The island of Moen is a beautiful place, so quiet and remote and a place that really fits the spirit of Xterra adventure. I was lucky to share a room with Brigitta, and get to know her more on this trip. A great person as well as an outstanding competitor - she very much deserved to win this race, and with it the overall European Tour. Thanks Brigi and Renata for looking after me :-)
In contrast to Germany, the bike course was 2-laps of only 15km so it was a quick 1 hour to recce, leaving the legs fresh for race day. This was despite running an extra 4km on top of the run recce, as we accidentally followed flags for the "cliff run" - a 10k race the day before the triathlon.
We only did one swim practise, since to reach the sea we had to walk down the famous 500 steps - the longest staircase in Denmark! Our legs were actually shaking by the time we reached the bottom - and we'd have to run up these stairs twice, and down them once during the race! Despite the hilly run, everyone thought it would be a short, fast race, but that was before the torrential downpour of rain - which fell all night and all day, on the day of the race!
The hike down the steps to the start made the sea look foreboding, and waves were lapping directly against the cliffs - there was no longer any beach at the start! Once we reached the bottom of the steps there was no choice but to enter the sea. I prefer to get in last minute because I get cold, which is what happened while waiting to start...
So I was disappointed with my swim, a combination of a cold start, and not being used to choppy sea swimming with so much current and swell it was hard to navigate or to overtake anyone. But with the 500 steps, I moved up into 3rd place by the time we reached transition.
Onto the bike my legs felt great, but we realised the fast and dry bike course had deteriorated into a mudbath! It was hard to put any power down, even though I had a lot of power in my legs. It was more just a case of trying to stay upright. I was trying to keep Renata in sight, which I managed for all the climbs, but her skill is much greater than mine in the technical sections. At about 5k I crashed hard on a descent, winded myself and got tangled in some brambles. By the time I could get back on the bike, I never saw her again.
Once I had tuned in to the slipperiness of the mud, I actually do like riding in it and seemed to be staying upright more than most. But the climbs were the killer where there is no traction and everyone has to get off and push. I lost so much time on those, but in fact everyone was saying they took an hour longer than predicted on the bike section. Thankfully I had taken some extra gels!
Onto the run my legs still felt great - just as well with 1000 steps still to run! I loved this run - the cliffs on first lap and beach on the second lap. I was relieved there was no-one in sight either ahead or behind me when I reached the 500 steps up to the finish! There is no way you can sprint up these, so I was glad I didn't have to race head-to-head with anyone! I was happy to cross the line in 4th place and only a few minutes from the podium - my best result of the season. This moved me up to 7th in the European Tour, not quite the top 5 like last year, but I have to be satisfied given I couldn't do enough races to get the full score.
It was back to the girls' house for a shower in all my kit, trying to wash everything and get the bike in a state to be packed in the flight bag, before the airport shuttle arrived! I wished I could have stayed longer, as it was a lot of fun staying together, but I had an early flight on Monday morning and straight from the airport back to the office! Back to my normal life...
There was just one final errand to do before the flight - stock up on Danish wine gums - always a gift favourite for friends back home ;)
There are far too many people to thank for everything they have done this season, but I couldn't have got through 2016 season without -
Coach - Mark Pearce (IntelliTri)
Physio - Alex Drummond (Drummond Clinic)
Sport Psychologist - Andy Hill
Friends & bike advisors / mechanics - Mountain Trax
MTB coach - Tom Dowie
Thanks to you all, and of course my biggest supporter Simon :-)
Design © 2018 Louise Fox. Photography © Lukasz Warzecha