Oct 07

Race Report: XTerra Grand Rapids

On Sunday I raced my first ever XTerra Triathlon. An XTerra Tri is a triathlon that incorporates mountain biking and trail running instead the traditional road racing. I was on the fence about doing this race until Jennie found me a contest to win a free entry. Only two people (myself and one other) entered the contest and I ended up winning. I’ll take a free race any day!

I got to the race site about an hour before the race started – more than enough time to get setup. The race was fairly well organized which was sort of surprising based on the lack of information leading up to the race. One of the reasons I didn’t sign up earlier was because I was frustrated by the lack of communication by the RD so I was pleasantly surprised. It is definitely a different experience than a “regular” tri though but I knew to expect a more laid back experience.


The swim was pretty uneventful which is good. The swim start was in Deep Lake and was a floating swim start. This is my favorite kind of swim start and personally I think it is one of the safest ways to start a swim. Not only do you get a mini warmup in as you swim out to the start buoy, but it also allows athletes to establish a good position in the water and cuts down on washing machine effect.photo 2 (1)

The water temp was listed as 67* and that seemed about right. It was brisk when I first got in, but once I got moving, it warmed up. I suppose that could have just been all the athletes peeing though.

I was comfortable pretty much the entire swim. I didn’t seem to have a lot of umph though. I would try and pick up the pace and push it but would find myself subconsciously easing off for some reason.

Stats: 18:48 (21:14 including the run to transition). My Garmin measured the swim as 1700yards so a pretty accurate course.


My transitions were horrendous. For T1, I am including the run from the water to transition. It was a good 150-200 yard run with a nice climb up some “steps” to get there. I knew this going in and staged my shoes at the swim exit.

photo 3 (1)

The climb to transition was like a slap in the face. They weren’t regular steps either – they were a good foot tall each and spaced unevenly so it was hard to find a rhythm.

Once in transition, I stripped my shoes and wetsuit. I put on socks and my bike shoes. It was kind of a mess in transitions – for a couple reasons. First, it had started to rain so everything was getting wet and muddy. And second, MTB-ers don’t know how to rack their bikes. They all wanted to rack their bikes facing the same way. I tried explaining before the race the alternating strategy but no one cared. Well, when I got to transition, nearly all the bikes had been knocked off the rack. It looked like one or two riders pulled their bikes out and took out everyone else’s in the process.

Stats: 1:22. It could have been worse. Looking at the results someone spent 3:33 in transition… MattyO???


So apparently riding the bike twice in as many weeks and only being on the mountain bike twice this season is not adequate training. Go figure. I knew going in that the bike leg was going to be tough. Even though I enjoy it immensely, I’m not a strong mountain biker. If I spent more time at it, I’m sure I would improve but I just haven’t made the effort yet. Despite the lack of training, I set a slew of personal Strava PRs so go figure.

Yankee Springs is a fairly sandy trail but with the rain we have had (and had during the race) the sand was really tamed and it turned into thick batter like substance. I really enjoy the trail – more so than some of the more technical trails in the area. There are lots of roots and rocks – especially on the climbs/descents – which make it crucial to pay attention and find good lines. All it takes it hitting a root the wrong way on a climb to lose all momentum. It makes the bike ride almost as much mental as physical. Maybe this is something that gets easier the more you do it, but for me I really have to stay focused.

I managed to stay upright except for one minor crash. I just sunk into some sand more than expected and turned my bars too fast. The nice thing about MTB crashes (at least most of them) is that they are usually at a slow speed and of soft ground. As long as you don’t run into a tree (or fall off a bridge) they bruise the ego (on confidence) more than anything. I did have a few instance were I had to unclip to avoid falling over but managed to avoid crashing for the most part.

photo 2 (2)
My one battle scar from the race. Must have hit my crank during unclipping.

I did have one minor mechanical issue that could have been much worse. Early on, I sucked up a stick into my rear derailleur. Thankfully I wasn’t pedaling hard at that point and I just came to an abrupt stop. If I had been, I would have risked ripping off the derailleur ending my race. I got lucky.

Some things I learned on the bike. First off, I’ll need a Camelbak if I continue this sort of thing. Taking my hands off the handle bar to drink from a bottle is really just out of the question. I only managed to grab one quick sip at the beginning of the ride when we were still on the dirt road leading to the trail. Second, I need to learn how to push harder. When I had someone in front of or behind me, I was able to push the pace but as soon as I was by myself, I would drift back to casually riding. Having an experienced rider in front of me did help with finding a good line to ride though. And finally, I need to practice better technique. I rely too much on the brakes and really lose ground on the windy parts of the course to the riders who have better flow through everything.

If you are interested in what the course was like, check out this YouTube video of the larger loop: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tYjjk2_hH74. It is pretty cool to watch and I may use this during my trainer sessions this winter. The course looks a lot more open in the video because all the leaves are down.

Stats: 1:16:40 (11mph). The course ended up being 14 miles based on those stats. I had 12.7 on my Garmin but it must have been having GPS problems because I know the trail is at least 13 miles long.


T2 was just as miserable as T1. Again, the bikes on the rack were a mess. I think the racks were actually a bit too close together too. It was very tight trying to spin my bike around. Thankfully I had packed my running shoes in a bag so that even though everything else was wet, my shoes were dry. While they were dry, I forgot to loosen up the laces ahead of time so I had to fiddle with that.

How do you like that look of pain? My back was killing me and I was trying to get my sunglasses out of my pocket.

Stats: 1:36. How the heck was T2 slower than T1?


The run. Finally. I was really looking forward to the run in hopes of catching some of the people that passed me on the bike. As soon as I started running though, I had doubts that would happen. My legs were cooked and my back was sore from the bike. It took a solid mile for me to ease into a decent pace.

The run course was a mix of single track and two track with a stretch of pavement connecting the two. Whenever we hit the pavement, I would hammer as much as could but then would ease back a bit on the trails so that I could focus on my footing. The weird and fun thing about trail running is how alone it can feel. I would be running through the woods not being able hear or see anyone. Then we would pop out to the road and there were 3 or 4 people only 50 yards ahead of me. It makes for a very peaceful run.

We did two loops of the double track before heading back to the finish. At first I was very uncomfortable running on the trails, but by the end of it, I was really starting to get the hang of it and develop a feel for it. I was able to catch a handful of people on the run. Not as many as I had hoped but enough to make me happy. At the very least I managed to catch some 16 year old kid who was talking a big game at the swim start. It’s the little things.

I did almost get lost though. I made a wrong turn and about 25 yards in, I thought, “This doesn’t seem right.” Just as I was turning around the guy behind me (who I had actually just passed) alerted me that I was off course. You really do have to pay attention during these trail races or it is easy to get off course. The course was fairly well marked so I had no one but myself to blame.

Stats: 39:48 (7:58/mile) for 5 miles.

Final Results

I ended up finishing in 2:20:49 which I found out the next day was good enough for 3rd out of 9 in my age group and 26th out of 62 overall. I have to admit that I am a bit shocked based on how many people it felt like were passing me. It actually looks like the 30-34 AG was the second largest age group of the day as well (40-44 was the biggest as usual these days). I ended up being 13th out of the water which I guess accounts for the fact that there were plenty of faster cyclists behind to catch me.

Post Race

After I was done, I collected up all my gear and took off. It looked like they had a pretty good post race party, but I didn’t feel like sticking around for it. By the time the race was over the transition area was pretty much a mud pit.

photo 3 (2)
I’m glad that I didn’t have to put this muddy bike into the back of the car!

Overall the race was an absolute blast and I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, I would like to actually train for the race next time so that I could be more prepared.

Have you ever done an XTerra tri? Thought about doing an XTerra tri?

Permanent link to this article: http://www.ironmanbythirty.com/2013/10/07/race-report-xterra-grand-rapids


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  1. Mark in Ottawa

    Nice race review, Kevin! Seems like a lot of fun and a good way to cross train without burning out.

    How do you like your back rack? Which one did you end up getting?

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  2. Mark in Ottawa

    …Also, can you post a entry sometime about training and racing with a newborn in the house? I’m about to enter that phase in my life (in March) and would love a bit of info on what to look forward to, how you get around common obstacles, and what works (and doesn’t) when training with a baby in the house.

    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  3. Michael Mielock

    Great report Kevin. You looked stronger than most out there. I give you credit for doing the entire race. I only swam on a relay. But, I have to say that that run from the water to T1 was one of the most difficult experiences I have had in a tri.

  4. Scott

    Nice, I really want to do one of these. There is one here in Ohio. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    Scott recently posted..A New Love

  5. Matt Smith

    It sounds like you had fun, although it also sounds like Xterra races are a completely different animal with completely different people. The bikes being racked like that would have pissed me off! Way to go on a great race! I mean, you got third in your AG. That’s solid for being more of a road racer. Nice work. Your jeep looks sweet, and that rack on the back has got to be one your best investments. I love mine!!!
    Matt Smith recently posted..Ironman Louisville Race Report – Run

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