Xterra England – Report from Olivia Hetreed, Age Group Winner

shapeimage_3.pngFor the first time, the world-wide Xterra off road triathlon series comes to the UK, with the event held in Vachery, Surrey on 8th September. Olivia Hetreed, has been racing triathlon since her early forties and was the very first athlete to be coached by EverydayTraining when she approached Steven and Jo, as fellow TriLondon club mates, for advice. Olivia’s balanced outlook, consistent commitment to training and clear love for racing has seen her performances improved season on season, with a trophy cabinet now brimming with prizes. She has represented GB in numerous World and European Championships at Olympic distance, and has recently taken to Middle Distance racing with equally impressive results. During the “off” season Olivia likes to play off road…and stays in shape and fresh with mountain bike, trail running and duathlon races with funny names. This year, having elected to decline the invitation to pay a £200 entry fee to represent GB in the Worlds in Hyde park, Olivia spotted the Xterra race on her doorstep (Olivia’s policy on  her minor events selection is generally based around whether she can cycle or catch a train from her London) and signed up. She then went away on holiday. Here’s how it panned out, in her own words:

“Preamble: This is the first time Xterra has held a UK race in 9 years. The race is Olympic-ish in distance (1.5k/30k/10k) but the bike course is seriously off road and the run ditto. Having done the Human race offroad duathlons for the last couple of years I was very pleased to hear this race was coming to Vachery, near Guildford – where some Tri Londoners raced a regular tri a few weeks back.

Hard to fit in much mountain biking this summer and I have been away for most of the last month so my training was very light on cycling of any sort though I managed some hilly Italian running and a reasonable amount of swimming. The race organisers offered the chance to recce the course the day before, but I just couldn’t justify five or six hours to get there and back so turned up early on Sunday instead.

Race Day: A forecast of sunshine and showers turns out very accurate. I take the train from Waterloo and cycle along The Downs Link (disused railway line) ten miles from Guildford directly to the race venue – the bike course crosses the track – in lovely sunshine. 

Lots of time to register, rack and recce the first couple of kms of the bike course. Through woods, twisting single track, lots of ditches and roots – interesting… Meet up with Alan and Jamie and exchange good luck wishes.

As usual I am in the last wave, with all men and women under 25 and over 45 – there are very few women, far fewer than in a regular tri. A quick chat with Barbara from California establishes we are in different age groups so can genuinely wish each other luck! By now it is raining slightly and I am glad to be in a wet suit although the water is pleasantly warm. Swim start is lined up along a rope so a reasonable wide spread. I don’t hear any warnings and am completely taken by surprise by the start hooter. I haven’t started my watch but don’t want to miss the pack so off we go. Try to draft but there are some wandering swimmers ahead although the course could not be simpler: up the lake, across the top and back down again, with a few weedy patches. We start to catch the wave before on the way up and quite a few more on the way back. I get almost no advantage from my wetsuit, since I swim naturally high in the water (thanks to Paul Doyle, Tri London swim coach, for this insight), so I am trying to attack the catch more and kick down with the legs to counteract this. I find myself at the front of the second pack and try to bridge with another guy but don’t exactly make it though we do string out better. I feel like the swim was OK but my time is 29 mins. The word afterwards is that the swim was 200m over length. I am 6th on the swim (3rd age grouper) so perhaps that’s right: apart from 2 pro Fs (22.43 –swimming with the male pros) no female swam faster than 28 mins.

Run across field to transition, kit slightly damp but no real problem. Shove a bunch of gels down my suit and jump on the bike. (01.17)

Into the woods and glad to have recced at least this much. Perhaps the trickiest bit is crossing a series of broken duckboard bridges over a bog – slithery and unnerving. But will it carry on like this all the way?… No, after about 4km it heads across fields, then more woods, then fields and some tracks with occasional twisty wood sections. Constantly having to think but nothing really difficult. Crossing the Downs Link we carry our bikes, cyclo-cross style, over metal bars. Last section of wood before home is quite tricky with tired legs/brain, especially on the second loop. Ben Allen (Men’s leader) and a few other superfast guys come by on my first lap – Ah, so that’s how you do it – and gradually some other men but mostly I am going well and overtaking. Finished the 30km in 01.47.18, the 13th fastest Lady . Only 3 ladies (two of them Pro) rode under 1 hour 30.

T2, jam on shoes and cap, grab more gels and go. (1.14)

Out on the run across the field and back into the twisty woods. My legs feel absolutely dead and I am glad of the twists, ditches and lumps as at least this is slowing the rest down. There is a wide water-filled ditch and I chicken out and jump from a fallen tree, then a bog to scramble through. After ages we emerge from the woods and a sign says 1km – No, that can’t be true can it?!

Gradually get some life back in my legs and I start to feel much better on the second lap, although by now it is raining heavily and the tracks getting very slippery (at least I’m not still out on the bike). Again a mix of single track with ditches, logs etc and open country with longish grass and lots of muck spreading on the fields – nice! About 1 km from the end I trip on a root, fall flat on my face and bang my nose. Slightly surprised but not really hurt I am however plastered in mud: I look forward to the finish line photo [which IS a treat, Olivia!!] . The cheerful commentator confirms I am a muddy mess so I deal with it with baby wipes as best I can before getting the train home. Run time: 01:01:53 which looks very slow but again the fastest time from the F Pro ranks was 46.58. I held my 13th place to the finish. Total time: 03:20:42. Jacqui Slack, the World Champ, finished in 02:38.

shapeimage_2All kit in transition is soaking – pools of water on my towel. Luckily I put my dry clothes in a plastic bag so I can get changed and a nice man gives me a silver foil jacket to wear – crunchy and ridiculous but definitely helps me not to freeze before the sun comes out again for the Prize Giving.

Disappointed to find no others in my age group so my AG Champion status uncontested but I was also 3rd female over the age of 40, and 9th Lady in any of the age -groups.”

Olivia takes home another trophy for her cabinet, and more significantly an entry to World Champs in Maui, Hawaii! It’s a shame that work commitments and finances don’t allow an impromptu trip for that race next month, but now we know it’s a realistic prospect –  who knows for next year?


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