Last June, I boarded an early morning international flight from San Francisco to Prague. Five weeks later, in mid-August I boarded another early morning international flight from San Francisco to Vancouver, Canada. And three weeks after this, on September 11th of all days, I boarded the same early morning international flight that I took in June, to travel from San Francisco to Germany. Each of those mornings, after tip-toeing out the front door of my sleepy home to catch the Airporter Bus, my heart pounded wildly against my chest – beating only slightly within the bounds of a normal heart rate. Where is this 48-year old mother of two going? To the next Xterra!
I’ve got a craze let’s say, an incorrigible appetite to compete in the most exciting triathlon series on the planet. And alone I am not. From all corners of the United States, pro and amateur triathletes turn well earned rest days into long overseas flights, traveling to the next exotic location of the Xterra Global Tour. Beyond the Xterra finish lines lives a global community of off-road athletes who have turned an extraordinary multisport event into a lifestyle shared by families, friends, athletes, non-athletes and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Day to day, season to season, there will always be great runs, good hearty swims in open water or gnarly mountain bike rides in the wilds. Separately or together, none compare to the infamous Xterra race course. Four years and 18 Xterras later, I can attest to the incomparable course designs and the energy that ignites each race day. Add the allure of a southeast Asian beach run on the sands of Saipan, two laps around a medieval Czech castle upon completing the extraordinarily rugged Xterra Czech, or an Um Pa polka band energizing every stroke, pedal and stride at Xterra Germany, and you have the chance to be personally and culturally enlightened in a way only being there can behold.
Certain Xterra athletes have Tour favorites and return each year as a loyalist. Chris Shelley, a seasoned amateur won’t miss his annual trek to Xterra Saipan. “The people are an enormous part of the experience – at the hotel and wherever I went on the Island. The scenery is spectacular: from the top of mount Tapochau where you can virtually see the entire island from the grotto to bird rock. The empty beaches are accessible by trails that most of us would stroll by but never be aware of what lay at the end..The crystal clear waters are virtually always calm thanks to the reef surrounding Saipan, and the sea turtles abound. The very lush jungle settings with giant outcroppings of bamboo mixed in with the heat and humidity remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore! And I can’t forget all the artifacts from WWII. Hard to imagine that there were people fighting for their lives in this almost hostile environment wearing cumbersome hot gear. To think I was having a hard day wearing a little bit of spandex! Have you ever thought about what it might be like to do an Xterra through a zoo? Try Saipan. I was racing amongst chickens, pigs, wild turkeys, bulls, cows, wild dogs.”
Jamie Whitmore, the top female Xterra Pro made history with her debut at Xterra Czech, Xterra Netherlands, Xterra Germany – winning them all. “The Netherlands race is flat like a road triathlon but harder because it is on sand. The surrounding area is a boardwalk type atmosphere. It starts at 6pm so some people finish in the dark. The swim is crazy . . .in the ocean with huge swells. It is hard to see the buoys but FUN! The bike course includes a small section they call technical but it is a hike a bike section up a steep sandy pitch, then you descend down. This is where the mountain bikers separate from the roadies. The run is rolling . . .half on the beach and have on cement trails near the beach. It is one of the hardest races I have ever done. The only harder one is Xterra Germany! That swim was short and the easiest part of the race. The bike instantly begins climbing a very steep hill. Nothing technical about the bike leg, just steep hills and descents. It is a grueling and extra long bike course. The run is equally as hard and steep. This race is in a small town in the Black Forest. Lots of shopping and tourists. The neat thing about both races is the people. Everyone is friendly and they like to party at the pre and post race dinners.”
My own eastern European heritage and political fascination with the Czech Republic’s new freedom from Communism, drew me to Xterra Czech for my first experience on the Xterra Euro Tour. I can’t imagine traveling to a better place! Fields of wheat and mustard mixed with wheels of hay created the most stunning backdrop for this country’s historical castles, churches, and charming hamlets. Even during the race, from every vantage point there is a window into the ancient culture of the Czech Republic. In Hluboka nad Vlatanou, home of Xterra Czech, the race directors, Michal and Silvie, and everyone else working for Xterra Czech, reached out to their visitors with extraordinary friendliness and warmth. Each individual that I met, from the hotel receptionist, to the waiter at my favorite cappaccino cafe in town, to the man who opened the local swimming pool at 7:00 a.m. only for Xterra competitors, was open, warm, and super supportive of Xterra. The course was first class – the swim was unique by virtue of it being the Vltava River. Thanks to Jamie Whitmore’ brilliant discovery, I swam strategicallywith the current for most of the swim. The bike was long – very technical for the first 12-15K, then tremendous variability throughout the rest of the course. Summary: fast and flat riverside singletrack that switched quickly into shady rooty wooded technical with steep stream crossings, then onto long fireroad downhills, a lot of grassy bumpy singletack, meadows with pretty wildflowers, and finally after 33k, into town to T2. On the run, the distractions of Hluboka’s Castle, the view of the town and valley, and exotic wildflowers helped relieve the pain from a short but hilly course. All of the volunteers were enthusiastic and helpful, even though I didn’t understand anything they said.
Characteristic of Xterra culture – pros and amateurs mix and enjoy each other ! In fact my favorite aspect of being so far away from home is the “bonding” of all the Xterra people. Traveling to distant corners of the world simply sweetens the rugged Xterra experience and if nothing else provides a great excuse to see new lands, sweat with new friends, be apart of history in the making, experience an endorphin high international style (enjoying world renowned beer and wine while fireworks heighten the post race party), and make plans for future excursions. As the Xterra slogan says, “Live More!”