Xterra Malta was the opening event of my triathlon season.
The build up to the event had been what I felt was ‘good enough’ but there were still improvements to be made. The Scottish ‘Spring’ had made it a little difficult to keep my motivation and consistency at times leading up to the race.
Qualifying for the Xterra World Championships was my main goal. This meant an Age Group win would have to be on the cards. With only a small number of athletes in my 20-24 category there was a good chance it would be a tight race for the top spot.
The beach start meant that choosing a good start position was important to get the best line to the first turn buoy – front and centre for me. It did take me a couple hundred metres to get into a rhythm but managed to sit with a small group for the first loop and upon the ‘Australian exit’ run along the beach to start lap 2 I could see that I had dragged a group along behind me. The end of the second lap positions hadn’t really changed and I exited onto the Golden Bay sand with a few others for company.
The run to transition took us from the beach and up a steep set of steps to the main transition area. In a quest to find some marginal gains I opted to get out of my wetsuit before climbing the steps. Out onto the bike I had dropped a position thanks to trying to put on bike gloves with wet hands (with the very rough terrain they were highly recommended). Once I was out on the bike I focused on keeping the athletes ahead in sight and gradually worked on closing them down. I didn’t feel great to begin with and struggled to put down any considerable power on the climbs. Nearing the end of lap 1 I started to feel better, but then that’s where it went downhill...
On the final rough rocky section of the lap I heard the dreaded ‘sshhhhhhh’ of a pierced tyre. I was hoping that the tubeless sealant would do its thing and seal the puncture as I rolled along but the hole proved just too big to repair itself and the tyre went down. And down. And down some more! All this just 2km away from the end of the lap. I stopped to attempt my best patch-work on the hole but alas – no joy! So, after a few naughty words to myself I slowly made my way back to finish the lap - essentially just riding on the rim for 2km on far from smooth trails. Just as I neared the final straight of the lap I passed Gregg, who had been waiting for considerably longer than anticipated, and I said, “this is going to be a long lap”. Yes, I was considering riding 15km on the rim…not advised! Then a very kind spectator offered me a tube to (try) fix the flat. It worked, to an extent. I managed to get *almost* 5km into lap 2 of the bike where on yet another rough rocky descent… ‘sshhhhhhh!’ And that was that.
It was a long 5km walk/roll back to the transition area that took around 40minutes. I had company of a young athlete from Netherlands who also suffered the same issue on the same section. We rolled back the most direct route to transition with a fair bit of sliding around on the rocks but eventually we made it back.
As I rolled up to enter transition, popping a wheelie upon arrival, the marshals and spectators were cheering me on before realising the state of my rear tyre. I handed in my timing chip and asked if I could still do the run. I could. So, I racked my bike in the most relaxed T2 I’ve done and exited to head out and enjoy the wonderful views on the run course.
On the run route I was trying not to interfere with the slightly slower runners who were still officially in the race as we marched single file up the cliff edge towards the highest part of the course. Once you reached the top, it was a nice technical rocky descent to finish the lap looking down onto the bay where the swim took place. I ended the lap in 24mins and aimed to get round the second and final lap in near enough the same time. I managed lap 2 in 25mins and finished with a run split that would have given me a top 3 split for my age group.
I am now looking at entering another Xterra event later in the year to hopefully put together a full race and chase that Maui spot.
Next up will be the Highland Cross in June and then Ironman Barcelona in October. Who knows what else will be in between those, I’ll wait and see.
Thanks to Gregg for Malta race photographer and supporter duties.