Xterra France (Sarah Jepson)

For the 2017 season I decided to try something new in regards to the type of racing I would be doing. I’m not a huge fan of doing the same races each year, you can get caught in a rut always trying to beat last year’s time and miss out on the opportunity to race in a new place against new people and really test yourself not just physically but mentally with a new environment adding to the challenge.

So this year I decided to give cross-tri and aim for the Age Group World Championships in August in Canada. Cross-tri involves a 1500m swim, usually a shorter bike about 30km mountain bike and then a 10km trail run. In preparation for this I decided to enter an Xterra event, Xterra is the main brand for cross-tri with races across the world and a World Championships held in Maui in October. 

I had originally entered a new event for this year in Wales but at the start of the year this event was cancelled for administrative reasons so I had to find another. Always liking a road trip I decided on Xterra France in a place called Xonrupt, it fitted well with my calendar so the race was booked.

The closer the event got the more details I was finding out, Xterra France is known throughout the Xterra community as one of the hardest on the European race circuit. All athletes, pros and amateurs, are all off in one mass swim start, that’s 1000+ people all starting together!!! The bike course is the longest on the Xterra circuit, 41km split over two laps, with 600m of climbing per lap and then the run is slightly long as well coming in at 11km. My thinking was that this would be a great challenge both physically and mentally. 

Race weekend

Having travelled out a couple of days before the event it gave me a small opportunity to recce parts of the course so on Saturday morning I did one lap of the run with my husband and a small part of the bike. The run course really got me excited, it had technical descents and bit of singletrack through the forest. I completed the first climb and last decent on the bike both of which were muddy through the forest with plenty of rocks and off camber roots. The weather conditions had been wet since we arrived so it would be interesting to see how the course held up on Sunday after a full days racing on it. Xterra France is renowned for building wooden structures in the main arena and this year was no exception. They had built two large structures, the first was a quick climb to the top of a ramp and then a steep downhill over some moguls and into a tight, off camber turn.  The second was another uphill with an S turn and then a wicked run down and around a 45 degree banked U turn.  I decided to practice these on the Saturday as well. All was going well until my second attempt on the banked turn, I became slightly disoriented coming off and chose the wrong line and only realised when it was too late, I hit the wood hard with my left hip, luckily I was able to get up with nothing but a badly bruised hip and a bit of whiplash. 

Race day came and my start time was 1.30pm local time. In the morning there was a sprint event held over the same course. As expected the swim start felt like chaos with arms, legs and bodies everywhere. It was a simple course with two buoys to swim round at the furthest point. Being used to small swim waves it was quite the eye opener at the first buoy when I got struck directly under my chin by someone's foot, luckily I only bit down hard on my tongue and was able to swim on. The rest of the swim went reasonably well, with plenty of feet to swim on and only a couple more clips round the back of my head. I was pleased to hear on exiting the water I was 16th female. 

Onto the bike course, and what could best be described as long 'slog' - the main feature being mud, and plenty of it. The second of the two laps were hard and it was pleasing to hear after the event that it wasn't just me who got slower, both the winning male and female pros were over 9mins slower on the second lap. 

Into T2 and it had to be my slowest to date as I found someone else's bike in my spot so I had to do a bit of squashing just to fit mine in. Onto the run course, other than the whole of my legs wanting to cramp I was feeling good, maybe it was just being off the bike but it felt like I was racing again. I really had to concentrate on not letting my legs cramp, telling myself over and over again to be light and quick on my feet as I found putting force through them really brought the cramp on. Starting the second lap, I was told there was another women 20secs ahead so not knowing how quickly she was moving I set off with the goal of catching her. Within the 1st kilometre I had her in my sights and could tell I would catch her. The rest of the lap I was again trying to push on whilst holding off the cramp and felt towards the end I was running strong. Crossing the line, on what has to be the hardest race I've done, I finished in 28th overall and 3rd in age group, covered head to toe in mud but with a smile on my face. 

Having support from family and friends on home soil is always great but to have my husband by my side at every race is what makes it worthwhile. Not only does he help get me ready to race but the work he puts into my bikes is just phenomenal. Seeing the conditions destroy so many bikes during the race but for mine to work without fault clearly shows the meticulous detail he goes into and I’m not sure I would have finished the race without it. 

Xterra France