XTRI24: an epic report
Last month (starting On Friday 13th July…) an epic new triathlon event made its debut: XTRI24. Organised by EnduranceLife (www.endurancelife.com), this was a fully off-road iron(ish) distance event.
No stranger to challenging endurance events, Simon describes XTRI24 as “just about the toughest one day race you can find.” Here’s why…
XTRI24 or (X-Man), as it was originally named before Marvel Comics took a dislike to the use of their name. It was billed as the The First Fully Off-Road Iron Distance Triathlon with the strap line:
“So you thought Ironman was tough? To be an X-Man you have to be a real animal. The XTRI24 is for anyone that lives to push beyond accepted limits, break boundaries, and never, never, never gives up”
Well to be quite frank it lived up to everything they promised.
In the weeks leading up to the event I’d been a bit negative about the organisation. EnduranceLife have a reputation for running events that are a bit ‘out there’. I had heard good things about them and that’s why we all entered (there were 10 of us from Leeds). The cost was £315, very similar to an Ironman, but sadly the buzz and hype didn’t match up.
Despite this we carried on training and like all big races what seemed a long way away suddenly appeared right in front of us like a big elephant. We’d already done two recce rides of the South Downs way course on the bikes and on both occasions we had glorious weather. Unseasonably warm temperatures in March and the pre Jubilee heatwave in May. Both times also with a tailwind – East to West is not your normal UK prevailing wind. We mused then that we couldn’t be lucky for a third time and so it proved.
Forecasts in the weeks leading up to the event (ominously on Friday 13th for the superstitious), went from bad to worse. We hoped that they might be wrong but as race day dawned they were spot on.
At 6.15 pm the organizers transported us on a tourist train (100 rubber clad athletes being towed through Eastbourne looked like a fetish party about to happen. Thank goodness we weren’t in Brighton).
The Swim – 2.4 miles (shortened to approximately 1 mile)
As we stood on the beach serenaded by Morris dancers, we were faced with a forbidding sight. 1-2m swells and a 20mph head wind. Personally I was looking forward to the swim but I could tell many weren’t. As we lined up they had already taken the decision to shorten the swim to approximately a mile and for this I’m sure that most people were thankful. It was pretty rough out there.
Of course the consequence of exiting the water early was a longer run to T1. I’ve been doing a bit of barefoot running recently but I hadn’t planned on it for this race.
When I got to T1 there were 4-5 people already there so I must have had a good swim. Its funny but when you are in there and you can’t see any one else its easy to convince yourself that you are miles behind.
The Bike – 100 miles on the South Downs way (90% trail – very muddy)
Anyway our strategy was to ride as a group. We knew it was going to be a long night and with foul weather predicted this would provide extra safety in event of an accident and also some moral support for the early morning drop in morale.
The first couple of hours were good with high cloud and only a modest breeze. Three of us had joined up now and we got passed by the first few strong riders.
Heading up toward the first stop at Ditchling Beacon after 28 miles we saw lots of riders with punctures and it wasn’t long before I picked up one myself…just as the rain arrived. The flat was fixed quickly but the rain lasted longer.. about 6 hours longer. If you could imagine standing in a windswept field with someone firing a jet washer at you that would be pretty close. The already waterlogged trails made it very slippery and often our pace dropped because we couldn’t physically ride any faster. The wet chalky descents were treacherous and many riders took tumbles although thankfully none were serious; bruised ego more than bruised body.
The effect of the slower pace was that we got cold and by the time we reached the second checkpoint at Amberley Cricket Club we were all shivering well. Taking the water bottle tops off was almost impossible. Our quick pit stop was extended so that we could warm up and as one of our group had failing lights we waited until dawn arrived. By then the rain had subsided and we knew that an upcoming hill would warm us up. Our mutinous thoughts of quitting were soon quelled and we carried on.
After 50 miles the hills get less frequent and less severe apart from the nasty sharp climb of Butser Hill which came just after the 75mile check point. We were still well within the cut-offs at this stage although we hadn’t a clue about the other five members of our team who were behind us.
Whereas we had cycled Butser Hill in the drier conditions in March and May, we had to push the bikes this times. The grass was too slippery. After the summit we had the knowledge that it would get easier in the last 20 miles to Winchester. A re-route around Winchester Old Fort added in some welcome tarmac and we made good progress.
The cut off for the bike was 1.30pm at Winchester Cathedral. It looked like we’d arrive 90 minutes early but a couple of navigation errors and some pesky muddy trails at the end took an extra 30 minutes. So we arrived at 12.30.
T2 was hilarious. No changing tent. Just a pop up gazebo with a table for water and lots of people milling around. Tourists, Xmen, spectators. All of the athletes just seemed to strip off in public and no one else seemed particularly bothered. So much for nudity in transition.
As we set off on the run at 12.50 there was still no sign of our other team members but they still had 40 minutes.
The run didn’t start well for me. Firstly I was too slow to keep up with the others. Then I took a wrong turn which added about 600m. Not much but a bit of a downer. I trotted off through the town and eventually came to an arrow directing me under a railway bridge and up a long hill. I started upwards but didn’t see any more arrows. Was I going the right way? I asked some locals if they’d seen any other runners but they didn’t seem to understand the concept of running. I understood when I saw the cans of Special Brew in their hands.
Eventually I was caught by another runner and he confirmed that I was indeed on the right track. The first few miles were on tarmac and I started to get a bit bored. I like trail running but when we got onto the trails I wished we were back on the road. The paths were either – streams of water, swamps or just a long trench of mud about 6 inches wide and almost impossible to run along.
I ran mostly on my own and just focussed on getting to the next check point
#1 – 8 miles reached at 2.20pm
#2 – 15 miles, reached at 4.30 right at the cut off
#3 – 20 miles, reached at 5.50pm 10 minutes inside the cut off
As I set off to the finish I was told “only 8 miles to go” and the promptly told “your doing well, only 11 miles to go. Yikes, between 8 and 11 miles to go in 1hr 40. I hadn’t been running that well when I was fresh. So I set off.
Run downhill and on the flats, walk the hills, slide around on most if it. There were no mile markers at all anywhere on the run so apart from the checkpoints so it was difficult to work out how far I had left. As I reached the outskirts of Old Sarum (I could see the old Roman Fort in the distance), I asked a couple in their garden how far it was. Only about three miles. It was 7pm. So I had 30 minutes to cover three miles. It turned out later that loads of people had asked the same couple and all got the same response. What they didn’t know was that we actually had to do a big loop to the North. It wasn’t three miles at all, more like five and I felt every flipping step. With about three miles to go I was caught by the others in our group. We were just about the last men standing (and one woman, Fiona). We trotted, walked, slipped and grumbled on, never seeming to get any closer and with no encouragement from a sign to say “only one mile left”. One of our group rang his wife on the emergency phone to ask how far to go. It would have been a good idea except she didn’t know where she was and we didn’t know where we were so an argument ensued and we were none the wiser. It seems a silly idea now but then we’d had no sleep for the best part of 36 hours and we weren’t exactly thinking straight…or walking straight for that matter.
Anyway, finally the old fort of Old Sarum loomed into view. “This must be it” we thought but still we couldn’t see the finish. Eventually we rounded a corner spotted some flags tucked away in a car park and mustered a trot up to the finish. After 25 and a bit hours we had made it. I was the last but one finisher. All 10 of us finished (of 120 entrants, 99 started, 60 made it to the end, but only 45 before 7.30pm) but only one inside the cut off. We got a poxy T shirt, no Black Hoodie and no medal. Am I bothered. Not really. Arguably being out there for 25 hours is tougher than 17 hours but that’s not the point.
We entered as a group, we trained as a group and we pretty much finished as a group. I have a draw full of Ironman medals that I never look at and a bag full of old race T shirts that I use to clean my bike. They will end up in the bin soon. What I’ll never forget is the accomplishment of conquering some of the toughest conditions I have ever raced in (tougher than MDS, Norseman and Inferno), and the camaraderie and friendships forged through hardship and discomfort.
Did I enjoy the race? The concept is great and I feel a great sense of satisfaction now it’s done but quite honestly at 4am I wasn’t having that much fun.
Was it a good race? The concept is great but EnduranceLife need to take care of their customers. During the race most things were good but before hand the communication was shocking. For the money we paid I expected a lot more
Would I do this race again? No, but only because I have more challenges on my list than years left to do them
Would I recommend others to do this race? Definitely. Point-to-point, off road and overnight is the complete opposite of anything you’ve ever done before. Before you drop £300+ make sure you know what you are getting into. This is just about the toughest one day race you can find.