XTerra Triathlon 2013 in Moab

By Brian Latturner

For a few years now I have wanted to do a mountain bike race of some sort, plus I enjoy trail running, so after participating in last years XTerra Trail Run at Snowbasin, I decided that the XTerra Off-Road Triathlon would be a great adventure and experience.

I signed up early in the year for the June 8th full triathlon in Moab, Utah. I knew I had to make that commitment (pay the fee) early on in order to really motivate me. For some reason, once I pull the trigger and commit to something, it's far easier for me to give it my all.

My serious triathlon training began in late February, although I had been running pretty regularly prior to that. My first swim workout was on Feb. 22nd, giving me 3-1/2 months to prepare for the event.

Because it was still early in the year, bike training was tough to do. I couldn't do any off-road stuff, so I did as much in the canyons on paved road as I could. I wasn't overly worried about the bike or running portions of the race though. I felt confident from the start that I'd be able to get those portions of the race taken care of.

The swim, that was the event that concerned me the most, and for good reason. I'm not much of a swimmer now, but before my training, I was super horrible. Swimming 25 yards was all I could do in the beginning. My technique was horrible and I was worried from the get-go.

It wasn't until I was 5 weeks out from race day that I finally reached the point where I could swim 1500 yards non-stop. For weeks and weeks I did 100, 200, and a few 500 yard swims in the pool. Getting my form down was the big trick. Looking back, I should have begun my training a bit earlier and hired a coach or taken some swim lessons. I think it may have saved a little time, effort, embarrassment and disappointment.

I was able to ride and run the race course twice before the event even happened. The bike portion I knew was going to be tough on my body and bike. The road the bike portion of the race took place on was called "Steel Bender", and for a reason! It was a rocky, rugged, technical road with about 2400 vertical feet of climb total.......no cake walk.

My bike was a concern. Unlike most racers, I didn't have a high-end mountain bike, but rather a $600.00 hard-tailed roller. It didn't have the fat tubeless tires, or the better gear setup that in the end, I realized would have helped a lot. But, I wasn't up for buying a $2000.00 bike, as I just wasn't sure how much more bike racing I'd do. (My bike was fine for going easy, even in that rugged stuff)

So I trained and trained. Six days a week I was either swimming, running, and/or biking......many days I was doing both. I found that it was very hard to fit all that training into my schedule. 1-3 hours each day to swim, bike, or ride was a serious commitment in my opinion. But, I was committed and I did it.

As race day approached, I began feeling very confident about every aspect of the race. The swim caused me a little stress on a few occasions, but I worked through each period of worry.

With just 5 days to go before the race, I finally had the opportunity to try some open-water swimming in a wetsuit. I later learned that I needed more open-water training. That single training day left me feeling confident however that I'd be OK.

Race day came and I felt strong and ready to hit it hard and complete the course in 4-1/2 hours as I had hoped. We entered the water and I did some short warm-up swims. "2 minutes to start" the announcer said. I still felt good, got my goggles adjust and stood there focusing on what I had to do.

Then the final 10 second countdown came and we were off, and this is where this whole triathlon race thing got real tough!! Ha Ha Ha
I'm still embarrassed and bummed, but I had a panic attack right off the bat. I just couldn't break into a decent swim. I kept telling myself, "Brian, you can do this, relax and do it". But it wasn't happening, so I had a horrible swim. I never did break into a good swim until near the end of the 1500 meters and exited the water at the 47 minute mark, 12 minutes behind the 35 minutes I had thought I could do it in....which still would have been a bit slow. But I didn't drown or give up. I made it through the swim and was happy to jump on my bike a head up the hill.

I was going strong on the bike and was beginning to catch up and pass other full triathlon competitors. While the inefficient swim had taken a lot out of me, I felt strong on my bike and was doing great. I passed the first aid station that was 3-1/2 miles in and was going hard when suddenly, "BOOM!!!" and a quick "psssssssss". Flat tire! "Crap", I thought to myself. But I had an extra tube so I wasted no time getting that new tube in and began pumping, but nothing. It wasn't holding air! I thought it was the pump. Another competitor came by and quickly asked if I needed anything, I said my pump may be faulty, so he loaned me his and I said I'd give it back as I passed him later on the trail.

So I begun pumping with his pump, but no good. Still not taking air. Then another competitor, a nice lady, offered her CO2 air pump and I gave it a blast and discovered my new tube had a hole!! What a kick in the butt! I was screwed at that point and began contemplating running my bike the 11 miles I still had left. I sat their in disbelief that after all that training and work, I wasn't going to finish this thing.

Then along came another great sportsmen, and like the previous two, he offered help and had a tube. I put it on, and it held air!!!!!! After sitting for about 30 minutes, I was so happy at that point just to again have the opportunity to complete the race. I jumped on a took off. I was way behind nearly every other racer, but I didn't care, I was just thrilled to be rolling again.

The bike and tube held up and I finished the bike portion of the race and took off on my run. Temperatures had been hitting 100 degrees in Moab for a few days and did again that day. I was about 3-1/2 hours into the race and it was very hot. There were still runners on the trail, but most were on their second lap, and I was on my first. I kept going though and only cared about finishing, and I did. Crossed the finish line and the clock said 5:14 and some change. I was one of the last, but I didn't care. It was a rough day, but I got through it....I was happy.

All-in-all, I learned a few things about off-road triathlon racing. First, do as much open-water swim training as possible. Second, have a quality bike built for the trail you'll be riding. My bike held up fine for my training rides, but I think if I had a bike with a better gear setup, fat tires for absorbing some of the shock and rear suspension, I probably would have avoided the flat tire and did much better in that portion of the race. I should have at least tested that spare tube I had before the race.

I said after the race that I'd never do it again, not for any reason other than the huge time investment needed to train, but at the time of writing this article, I'm thinking about it for next year. Maybe if I start earlier, take some swim lessons, and get into a better bike, I can redeem myself and do the course in the 4-1/2 hours I wanted to. We'll see I guess.....