TreX Victorian Champs Race Report: Tommy Morwood
Over the past 10 years I’ve completed 127 triathlon events…. And still to this day, the most enjoyable and satisfying ones are: OFF ROAD!! Compared to your traditional triathlon, they are immensely more physical demanding, mentally challenging, but a LOT more fun, and extremely rewarding.
Now at first, the names can all be bit confusing. You have TreX Cross Triathlon, Dirty-Tri, Xterra… They are all the same sport: Off Road Triathlon. (Similar to ITU vs Ironman, it’s all triathlon, just different event organisers).
I’m planning to have a solid crack at the Cross-Tri (ITU) World Champs next year in Lake Crackenback… it’s not every day we get a world champs down under. So when the national off-road series was announced I excitedly planned my full season around the qualifying races.
For the TreX Victoria Champs run by Event Organisers In2Adventure, I made a 3-day weekend road trip down with another Off-Road enthusiast. Typical with off road events, when we arrived at the race, there was a chilled out vibe, not your regular high-tension triathlon environment. Everyone always comments about this: everyone’s so nice, supportive and keen to have fun!
As I walked around T1 during the setup chatting to people, I was not surprised at all to learn that about 50% of the field was doing an off-road tri for the first time. The guy next to me had borrowed a friend’s mountain bike, and was actually planning to ride it (or ANY MTB!) for the first time ever in just a few hours time.
Most off-road triathlons are like that though: with bike courses you can navigate without having to be a MTB expert. Don’t get me wrong, having off-road skills is a huge advantage and you will gain a massive amount of time on the competition, however the courses are designed to be able to be ridden by anyone. If you’re a triathlete with a good set of race legs, just jump on in and have some fun!
Having raced a dozen quality off road events in Australia, NZ, Canada & Hawaii, my expectations were high for the recent TreX Victorian Cross-Tri Champs. And of course, as always, the team from In2Adventure didn’t disappoint.
The swim for off road events is nearly always 2 x 750m laps with a small run in between laps. I’m not a brilliant swimmer, but I usually managed to hold my own and come out only a few minutes behind the leaders in my age group. For this TreX race I just cruised behind a decent pack. You need to conserve so much energy for the bike and run in these races.
Out of the water and there was a short run about 150m to T1. As usual, I lost a chunk of time here: I like to ride with a camel back, put on socks, shoes and gloves. Not everyone does, some just blast out like it’s an ITU sprint event.
Each to their own, however I’ve done too many MTB events where I’ve lost my drink bottle, so now I’m fully converted to a camel back. There’s no water on the bike course, you need to be fully self sufficient (that includes tubes, gas, and a chain breaker isn’t a bad idea either). It’s only a 30k bike, however your speed is rarely above 20kph once you hit the trails. So just like in a 70.3, most riders tape gels to their top tubes.
Out of T1 in 15th. Onto the bike and I was ready to let it rip. 3 x 10k laps. I love my mountain bike, and I love off road riding! At the very start, there is always a bit of a fire trail/road for a km or so, so that the riders can spread out. The guys I were out of the water next to all took off at an insanely fast speed and dropped me pretty quickly, however once we hit the single track I was in my element, and quickly reeled them back in (and then it felt pretty good to drop them haha).
Riding a MTB well is very different to your TT or road bike. In order to go fast, you need to learn proper technique. It’s not just leg power and fitness. It’s how your body is positioned and constantly shifting. How you grip the bars, where to look, how to corner, how to ride rocky terrain. When to shift gears, when to stand up. It’s much more physically demanding. Your cadence, speed and your power output is constantly changing. In a 10k loop, I must change gears well over 100 times.
I took the first lap quite slow and cautiously as I’d never ridden there before, however soon after the first lap I hooked up with three guys who were setting a really nice speed. They would drop me up the short sharp hills, but then I’d catch them on the downhill. And it went like that for nearly the entire second lap. Then when I was at the back of our little train the rider directly in front of (who had been riding really well to this point), all of a sudden managed a spectacular flip!
When you’re riding off road, expect to come off a few times. Most people do, however it’s nearly always harmless. You hit a bump the wrong way and fall over, but you’re only going 5km and its more embarrassing then anything else and frustrating as you lose momentum. However the flip in front of me was quite spectacular!
Of course, I stopped to see how he was. He lost a bit of skin, but seemed ok and told me to go on as he picked himself up, he’d be ok. The other two guys didn’t see what had happened, so I was off riding solo again.
I leant a good lesson over the next few k’s (yes I’m still learning… it never ends) – make sure all your parts are WELL tightened. My rear skewer came out twice and I had to stop and put it back in. Seems like such a basic no-brainer. I guess the rough surface must have just jiggled them loose. More lost time.
I was off the bike back in 8th place (you just count the bikes in T2 on your rack) – a lot further back then I wanted but I had plenty of energy left for what I knew was going to be an incredibly challenge run.
The team at TreX really like to make a statement on their runs. Forget your typical train run, they like to make it as exciting as possible. Up hills, down gullies, twists and turns through trees. It’s 10k of man vs nature!
If there’s a river, of course you don’t just run along it, you don’t even run across it, you run into it and then power for 50m knee deep. There were some huge logs up to your chest that needed scrambling over. There were fallen trees you had to hurdle. And at the end, there was a brutally steep hill that runs up the side of a dam. Best of all – two laps, so you get to do it all twice!
After conserving so much energy on the bike and run, I managed to run up into 4th place. Then on the very last hill I got really bad cramps and limped home for 6th. For the ITU world champs next year though, I’ll be moving up an age group, and in that group I managed 2nd, so I picked up points for a 2nd place finish in the team rankings.
The race might be Olympic distance, but it feels more like a 70.3. I’ll be training pretty hard this winter, I’ve got my eye on a podium at the world champs next year!