XTERRA Greece 2024
May 04, 2024

XTERRA Greece 2024

If someone tells you that you will enjoy something, you have two options. One is to ignore them, normally because you do not value their opinion, or the words you are hearing from their mouth are not creating any green lights in your mental or gut circulatory. The second option is to pay attention, as what they are saying is causing reactions in the body that give you the feels that you like.

When Tom messaged me after he had raced XTERRA in Italy at the end for September 2023 and said I would love this format of race and that there was a race in April in Greece, I immediately went to the website and registered for the race. I then told Holly that we could make it into a great holiday. Two (endurance sports and marriage) of my favourite things in life combined, winning!

Aside from RAKMAN which I had done in March of 2023, the last time I had done triathlons was in my teen years as the sport was just being established in Dubai. Even since we set up InnerFight Endurance in 2013, I had not got to the start line of a triathlon as a competitor. I came close in 2016 having gone through all the training for a half Ironman but like it always does, if the purpose is not clear, the body pulls the handbrake and I pulled out 3 weeks before “injured.”

XTERRA is different. More pure I would say. It rewards talent, hard work and the mindset to have a crack and not worry about blowing up. Not that these skills are not key for traditional triathlon, but sadly the focus is more on “aero” gains, data and roll down world championship spots. There is little place or need for either in XTerra. The tree roots and thorns on the bike course along with the sharp rocks on the savage ascents on the run course are not a language that training peaks knows or would easily fit into a weekly TSS calculation.

I had a taster of what the noise was all about in this fast growing category of the sport in Oman just over a month before and loved it. (Report here) Knowing the differences in the course in Oman v the one here in Greece only excited me. As I said Oman was a taster, a chance to remember that in “transition 1” you put on bike shoes and not run shoes, basic admin but quite important.

1.5km swim in the beautiful bay of Voulagmeni (just 20 minutes outside of Athens, uber convenient) at a fresh 18 degrees unlocks your ticket to the surrounding landscapes of this postcard perfect part of the world. Landscapes that offer views for days, gradients of up to 20%, single track that will test if you spent enough time riding your mountain bike into trees as a kid, and climbs on the run course that I thanked the endless hours of trail running that I have put into my legs over the last decade.

The bike course is 30km and here in Greece this was two laps of the same route. Landing into Athens 2 days before the race with Tom and Holly, along with Dad coming over to watch the race, we were able to get out on the bike course on the Friday before Saturdays race and ensure we made notes of all the places that a spill over the handle bars was a legit threat, as well as the parts of the course where low gears were required.

A course recce is good, but of course on race day the intensity is turned up nicely. Getting out of the water about 20 seconds ahead of me, I managed to get over to Tom early on the bike. Honestly it was just like most other rides when we are “riding”. All in! 5km in on a lengthy climb Toms superior power to weight ratio saw him leave me, I was confident I would get back to him on the technical sections. That confidence dried up pretty quick as I realised my back tyre did not have as much air in it as it had at the start, nor would need for the rest of the course. I pulled over, stuck a plug in it and gave it some CPR with a CO2 cartridge. For sure a bit more air would have been nice but I was back on the course and trying to chase down the guys that had passed me during my technical stop. I saw Tom on one of the switch backs and asked him for some “gas” for my tyre only later to learn that he thought I was just having fun shouting at him as normal. Clearly we need to work on our communication.

It’s hard to put into words how much fun I had on the bike course. You are on the limit the whole time. From time to time thinking about pulling off the gas a bit to save the legs for the run and then in the next moment absolutely sending it. This is the type of racing I like. I knew 100% that if I did not have anything left in my legs for the run that I would at least have had the time of my life on the bike.

As I made my way through the town for my second lap I could feel that my back tyre was losing air. “Who cares?” I thought and continued to drive the pedals. As I reached the top of the “stairs” section, (yes you read that right, stairs, forced dismount and carry / push the bike up them.) Holly and Dad were there which was super nice. Dad making sure I was deep in the cave as he shouted “no weakness!” I made my way through another few KM of the course with my tyre getting worse, to the point where a guy behind me told me “your rear tyre is not in good shape.” This was my signal to stop ignoring it and get the hand pump out. Hand pumping my tyre 75 minutes into the bike leg was no easy task that is for sure. No surprise that the ride was a lot more controlled and therefore possibly quicker with the extra air. The last half of the second loop was somehow seemingly easy.

As I entered the race village area for transition 2 I saw Tom heading out on his run so gave him as much abuse as I could, felt a bit light headed and navigated around more technical parts of the bike course into transition. ”Start easy, finish hard” were the words bounding round my mind. Then the devil chips in “it’s only 9.4km you pathetic animal, have a crack from the start.” So I did. Haaaaa.

I had run the run course in October with Anasatasios, who along with his two brothers were the race organisers. Tom had met him in Italy at the bike wash. The reason for me being in Greece in October was to support Rob in Spartathalon. Yeah the endurance world is small, very beautiful and things happen for a reason. Long story short I knew that there were some super steep parts on the run course as well as some flat fast parts and some technical descents. Because I listened to the devil I had a full mayhem run plan now in my mind. Run hard on all the sections and when it is mayhem up, power hike hard. This is why sometimes having no race plan is the win. Often the devil in your mind knows things, it is just his delivery, timing and conflict with your initial weak plan that cause friction. Today his words made sense.

Just over 3 hours after the start horn had sounded I crossed the finish line, batteries depleted, smile huge. What a day, what a race. Incredible.

I used the word pure earlier. I want to revisit it. This race was pure in more than one way for me. It was pure in the way that it was racing for the love of sport, performance, mindset and all the other things that are in my DNA. Looking back things like my marathon in Milan 3 weeks prior, limited swim time (by choice) and a few other bits and pieces could have clouded this race, or provided me weak excuses. This race was about relaxing and having fun. To be here in Greece with Holly, Dad and Tom was just beautiful.

Tom was also racing for the bin, nothing else, and in doing so he finished 12th overall and 2nd in his age group. I somehow also managed to get a 3rd place age group and 18th overall which as Tom put it, “got us some podium pictures for the gram to inspire people.”

I spoke a lot in my Milan marathon write up about purpose. You could say my purpose there was deep compared to here, where the purpose was to have fun and go as hard as I could. I agree but disagree. To all intents it is easy to race hard for an emotional cause, it is easy to get fired up in those scenarios. However if we know we race better relaxed and when we are having fun, then why do more of us not race in this state. I am proud that Tom (I think) and I both managed to race that  way today and smile at the finish line.

On Monday Tom will be back at InnerFight with our team and clients doing what he loves, I will be relaxing for a few days with Holly and Dad, until I do the same the following Monday.

If endurance sports, racing and life in general are causing you some issues and anxiety why not find something that you feel purity in and go and put yourself nicely in the bin with it. It will give you a smile that looks super beautiful on that face of yours.

Smash Life.