Do your friends tease you, that as any triathlete, you do not have good bike skills? Having a hard time finding good low key events? Having a hard time focusing on the run (I am sure, I am not the only one)? Or you’ve been in the sport for a few years and and looking for a new challenge without stepping up in distance? I have the answer for all that!!! Go tri off road!
On June 25th, I participated in my 7th Mine over Matter event. I do this race every year for the reasons named above and the quality of the event that Element Racing puts together is why I keep going back. Mine over Matter’s main hub is in the Kelso quarry, and this one is rarely open to the public. Actually, as of now, Mine over Matter race day is the only time that you can swim in the quarry’s waters. Tell me about feeling special! This year we had great, very warm, weather but every year you have a chance of getting wet and muddy, which makes off-road more interesting.
So let’s go through the event so I can convince it is awesome!
First, their website is easy to use with tons of useful information. Times and locations are clear, signing up is straightforward and hard to mess up. The race is Milton, Ontario at the Kelso conservation area, which is where I train on my mountain bike all the time. You are welcomed by volunteers in the parking lot, telling you where to park and directing you to the registration area. Under the tent, you receive a goodie bag with a hat and bunch of flyers telling you about other events in the area, your bike plate, your bib and your swim cap. Once you step out you receive your timing chip and you get all your information written all over your your legs and arms, you can get a temporary XTERRA tattoo there as well.
New this year, Mine over Matter was a part of the XTERRA PanAm Tour, which brought more pros to the race as well as larger age group crowd.
The transition area is right by the water and you can easily see the flow of it. Once you get all your stuff set up, the water is open for a swim warmup.
The swim is a simple 1km rectangle going around almost the whole quarry. The norm for an off-road triathlon is usually 1.5km so for the athlete who is glad to get out of the water like me, it’s a good thing. From the mass start of the first year (about 60 people), we went to four waves this year! Ok, it was Pro Men, Pro Women, Men and then Women, but still 4 different waves, leaving at different times.
On my part, I was happy with my swim even if was not yet exactly where I wanted to be, I was able to cut 1 minute from last year. I was able to stay with the main group until the second turn and didn’t add too many meters with bad sighting.
You always hear: “don’t try anything new on race day” and 99% of the time I follow that old advice. In the past I was using my mountain bike shoes, which I couldn’t put on the go and wasted precious time when I had to sit and fight with the buckle that always got stuck. This year I tried few things during race week to speed up the process and make my tri shoes work in the trails. The best combo was to put my road pedals on the mountain bike. I decided to go with it since the weather was really dry and I knew the course well. If I would encounter mud or dirt and step in it, it would have been challenging to re-clip because of a dirty cleat. Also walking through the trails with the road shoes is not easy, which I was not planning to do but had to anyways (I didn’t take into account that the riders in front of me could fall and I wouldn’t have the choice but to stop 3 times!). Re-clipping was also more challenging with just one side to work with. For my next race I want to try a better system or I will go back to my simple old way. Any ideas? Write them down in the comments below.
On to the bike course we go! The course consist of a 7km small loop and a larger 14km one. Most off road triathlon have a 30km bike course making this race a fast one. The 7km had most of the technical features but still with many places to pass. The 14km loop had a ski hill to go down, but for sure you had to go back up. In general the bike course is fast, specially this year because it was so dry, with plenty of place to pass and features to keep you entertained. The only drawback would be not enough tape or signage on some of the turns, I actually saw few riders going the wrong way.
Mountain bike is great by the way to improve your bike skills. You are constantly dealing with logs, roots, rocks and elevation change; forcing you to shift gears or your weight often to stay upright. The best part is that those skills are transferable to the road. The bike for me went smoothly and was able to pass some of the faster swimmers. Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoy climbing the ski hill so I got to pass other athletes (and we know that once we’re back at the top, this leg of the race is almost done.
Once you come back in the transition and grab your running gear, you head out on to the same route as the two bike loops. First in the grass, then up the hill, out of the quarry. The run loop is actually the small bike loop plus a lap around the quarry which makes it 9.5km. Once you are out of the quarry, the course is quite flat, but you don’t want to lose focus and start admiring your surroundings because it is full of tripping hazards. I did it in training couple weeks before and I also witnessed someone falling during the race. It was getting closer to lunch so I knew, it will be hot once we head out of the forest and around the quarry, and I wasn’t wrong. I think because I expected it, it didn’t feel that bad. I didn’t have the fastest run of the day ( I left that to the pros) but I was happy how I was able to keep a steady pace and actually accelerate towards the end.
When you’re approaching the finish line the music gets louder, people are cheering and that makes the final sprint is somewhat easier.
The post race meal was tasty. The waiting line was a bit long but it also became a good spot for race stories. And there were plenty of those. Depending your placing, you were eligible to get a spot at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui and/or at the 2017 ITU World Championship in Penticton BC.
For myself, was happy with my race. I didn’t taper much and the volume of my half Ironman training is piling up, but I was able to test new ideas and cross off few objectives. Fourth out of ten in a competitive race is something I can be happy with.
So better bike skills, change of pace, new challenge and different scenery, sounds good? You should try one! If you’re from Ontario, Element Racing still has one more race this summer: XTERRA Sleeping Giant on August 27th in Thunder Bay. Also if the triathlon sounds like too much right now, they are also offering different events such as duathlon and trail run. Too far? Look at your options on the XTERRA website or with your triathlon governing body. Not enough time to train before these events gets here? Join me next year because I will be back!