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Do That Race: XTERRA Matterley and 3 Practical Tips

Life in medicine has been hotting up fairly nicely over 4th year, and as part of keeping my sanity, this year was focussed around keeping things new and interesting. The benefits of keeping up on sport, and intense physical activity are innumerable and it’s even shown to help with memory and retention of learning. So strapping on some rather muddier shoes than usual, we've decided to take on more trail runs, mountain triathlons and cross duathlons… So where do we begin?

Well, I want to start briefly with the idea that I think racing itself is a really hard thing to do. Last year I succumbed somewhat to the anxiety of putting yourself out there and getting that race experience in. Off the back of some quite severe injuries and a year off sport I felt quite inadequate as to where I had been prior and the social expectations of putting out good times. I am in a better place physically this year, but it still does come in as a problem mentally – and I think it’s one that many people face. Too often do I feel a pressure or an inadequacy to say that I only came 7th in a race for example but it’s not the case. Racing in triathlon is still you vs you, staying true to yourself and putting out a good performance on the day. Bite the bullet, sign up for an event, and give yourself the chance to do something special. If it doesn’t work, then at least you’re better equipped for next time!

So back to XTERRA. It was a blast! It was a long 3 hour drive up the morning of the race, and given a calf strain meaning I hadn’t run since Christmas (5-6 weeks), I had no pressure on it. Catching up with a client Emma and some friends at the start we went for a route recce and found realistically a wet, muddy, otherwise non-technical course that had become rather challenging with ruts, roots and off-camber slippy corners. Not a bad course for a first race but actually one that would be quite hard and muscular to lug an aluminium trail bike around.

Warmed up, racked and ready, and for me an easy start. Two lap first 5km run, and by the end of lap 1 I was in 7th, by the end of lap 2 I came in to transition in 3rd. A good run that I kept under control given the lack of running prior.

Four x 5km loops for the bike was a bit of a slog in the end. 22km of thick mud and 500m of elevation primarily centred in 3 solid climbs through the mud each lap. Laps 1 and 2 I held a strong pace. Knowing the bike would be tough, energy had been conserved on the run, and I held 4th place aiming to keep a nice consistent, smooth ride going. But even with the tactical approach I didn’t have the handling skills necessary for technical, muddy off camber forests, and ankle deep rutted tracks. Fatigue set in and come laps 3 and 4 I slipped back to 11th on the bike – purely overtaken by some technically superior and better equipped adversaries.

The final run was another 2 laps. We knew what was coming and a steep hill out of transition showed tired bodies ahead. A battle of attrition was on as to who could put themselves in the most pain. Cramping calves and quads given the lack of running I managed to shake it off after lap 1 and pick people off to finish in 7th. Five seconds behind 6th and 12 behind 5th.

End result: 1st in my age group, 2nd senior male, 7th including pro’s and all age groups.


But what did I take away? If I was to do it again what were the three key things I learnt? (the list is far longer but I three seems a suitable number to start).

1.       Know the course.

Route recce’s are pretty essential if you want to carry speed through the course. Plan out where you can recover, where you can take on some food, where you might be strong and confident, overtaking points and any areas to caution on the course. We went out as a group and it makes a really nice session of it. Help those around you, on technical sections you can try different lines and find what is most comfortable for you.

2.       Get some specs.

In my haste to get going I rushed on to the bike and only had my shades on the back of my head. Immediately mud spattered from the rider in front and on a course like the one we raced they were a pretty crucial piece of equipment. A good pair last a long time and my SWANS sunglasses fit the bill perfectly – I’d highly recommend.

3.       Pace it practically.

I said it to Emma prior, but the course really was going to be an energy drain for more so than a usual duathlon. Lugging the bike around the hilly and mud-plastered course was going to take it out of the legs and it would be all to easy to sit at 450 watts through the mud and blow yourself up early. Let the other riders have their excitement take their legs away. Start steady, finish strong and you’ll make up minutes on that second run. I definitely didn’t do it perfectly, but I had a much better second run compared to all other athletes out on course.


All in all I’d recommend just getting out and giving it a go. Challenge yourself to something different and see what happens (I almost guarantee it will be a fun day if you take it carefully and in the spirit of it). Let me know if you had any further things you learnt when doing a race for the first time and I hope this helps somewhat!

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