XTERRA is an international race series and we are fortunate enough to have a small leg of the race here. As I have learned more about the races, I realize that we are early in the season for this off road triathlon series so while the amateurs get to race with the pros — the professionals use this as a training session and also an opportunity to get points on their world tour. It’s an amazing experience — one of those things that only Saipan has to offer where you can mingle with professional athletes because… there are only so many athletes that participate!
I have written about the trail before but I always feel like I never adequately describe the experience well. It’s definitely one of those things that you have to experience. I have found two videos that may help show the course though.
The first video is from 2012 made by Brad Ruszala, who is an athlete and friend.. and actually is currently one of the anchors on the nightly news here now!
The second is a promo video that I guess was made this year with three fellow athlete friends showing some parts of the course.
These videos are nice but… did not reflect the race conditions of the day! The night before the clouds had already rolled in and I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the pouring rain. We have not had bad rain (except for the rain bands the typhoon brought in) in almost 2 months so it’s been dry throughout everyone’s training season. I was hopeful that the rain may let up in the morning but that certainly was not Mother Nature’s plan.
We gathered down at the start line at American Memorial Park for registration and all ended up huddled beneath the tent, trying to keep ourselves warm and dry.
As you can see, it was pretty dark with the cloud cover too so the start was delayed since no one would have been able to see anything in the water.
There was a break in the clouds and people ran to check on their transition stations. Again for me, I was on a team and would be running (the last leg of the race) so I knew I would be waiting around for a few hours. I wanted to be there to cheer at the start though — who knew it would be so cold.
(Here are all the bikes lined up, ready to go. You just had to know that by the time you got to your running shoes, they’d be completely soaked.)
I had my rain jacket on and my umbrella out and we braved our way out to the beachfront as soon as the slivers of light started shining through.
The swim course is 1.5 km but this area of the waters are less protected so the current is stronger and sometimes unpredictable.
You can see the large triangle orange buoy in the distance and beyond that, the rain line rolling in over the horizon.
The swimmers jumped right in though. They swam two laps to get the distance and ran on the beach between each lap. After that, they ran up towards the transition area. Because the swim ends, bike start, run start, and finish line are all in the same area there was only one transition area.
I ran up towards the transition area with my swimmer and he tagged my team’s biker and he was off. You can kind of gauge how fast you are in the group by how many bikes there were left. (I was definitely the weak leg of this team!!)
The rain the poured on and off as the doctor side of me worried about seeing an ambulance come back with a bone sticking out ….. fortunately there were no injuries and people slowed down a lot on the muddy hills or just got off their bikes and pushed. There were a couple of people who flipped over their bikes though and plenty of scrapes and nicks.
Here’s a picture by Mark James, a photographer on island, of one of the pros coming in in the pouring rain.
He also caught this one of my biker out on the trail.
You can see the mud caked onto the wheels. I found out later that because it rained so much so quickly and we haven’t had rain in so long, muddy swimming pools appeared along the race course and sometimes it was mid-calf deep as you tried to push your way through.
As I waited for my biker, I changed out of my wet jacket and sandals into my running shoes and socks (which very quickly got wet again) and even sat in my car for awhile. The waiting is hard because you never know exactly when your biker is going to come in. It didn’t help that it was on and off cold and rainy and then sunny and bright. There weren’t that many teams so me and the handful of other runners tried to keep ourselves hydrated and stretched while we hung around in the transition area.
Before you know it, my biker came in and tagged me. Here I am, running off and turning on my GPS watch. You ran out of the transition area and then started the path. Having knowledge of the route really helps in this case since so much of the time you have to concentrate on your footing and can’t pay as much attention to the arrows.
(Picture taken off the XTERRA Saipan website of the trail)
The trail has a climb in elevation in the beginning that definitely slowed me down. While I do still run occasionally, scampering up a muddy hill is not something I have been exactly training for. I definitely felt it on the run uphill and had to slow down more than I thought I would to catch my breath. By the time I was on the run, there were longer stretches of sun which made for a wet, slippery ground that was exuding steam — humidity just oozing out of the earth. Lovely, right? Well, the good news was that I was already a sweaty mess so being covered in a few leaves and moss and mud didn’t make much of a difference.
The course ends with a run on the beach which is beautiful on a good day (but also a scorcher as the sun bounces off the white sand) so it was actually a relief to have some cloud cover on the beach. The tide was just right so there were some hard areas of sand that I could run on without sinking completely into the sand. Of course, it started pouring rain again as I finished the last few hundred meters on the beach and came across the finish line. It was a good feeling since after I reached the highest elevation point on the course, it really was quite a fun trail run and relatively relaxed beach run for me. (I guess I could have tried harder and pushed faster but there really wasn’t anyone around me and it was more important to me to enjoy the craziness that is this race!)
Here is a picture of my dirty muddy/sandy shoes and legs after the run.
I showered off and home and later that evening went to the award ceremony. There you finally get to relive the stories of the race which almost inevitably come from the bike portion. Today’s on and off heavy downpours definitely made the headlines but.. one story shined through!
This guy is a competitor from Japan who came down to compete. Apparently he had THREE flat tires during the course and then.. his whole tire came off completely. A friend who was doing the race for the first time said that despite passing this guy, he later RAN with his bike on his shoulder about 10 km (~6 miles) so he could continue racing. From there, he proceeded to pass many people (including me) on the run portion. I’m sure he would have turned in an amazing time if that had not happened. Here’s a picture someone took of him and his poor bike! He did end up still qualifying for the world championships (it’s not super hard here since there aren’t many people in each age group) but at the award ceremony, he was given a special prize for embodying the spirit of XTERRA Saipan.
I have heard that this leg of the race series is a must for some of the pros since it really is such a unique and fun race to do. It doesn’t hurt that there are so many people who are so supportive and cheerful doing the race and the small community makes it feel quite like racing on home territory. As always, very glad to be a part of this racing community and despite many people’s prodding — I will never do the full XTERRA race. The bike is unnecessarily terrifying to me!