Xterra World Champs Hawaii Race Report by Pete Hepworth

I have been wanting to do the “worlds” for 15 years and have had several friends compete over the years with Lucinda Garnett and Mack Clarkson both getting medals in their age group. A few years ago I decided to get fit so I could have a crack when I had my 50th Birthday (yes mid-life crisis time). Celine and I did Xterra in the New Zealand South Island of Motatapu, a longer event in an amazing part of the world in Wanaka. Celine got her spot there while I finished 4th and missed out on the coveted spot. Tim and I then travelled to Rotorua in NZ to race the Xterra there in March. Again I finished 4th but this time I got a roll down spot to get my ticket for the Worlds.

Having trained for nearly 12 months with this goal in mind Celine and I both worked on our weakness to give us a shot at representing Australia at the worlds. For Celine it was getting her mountain bike skills up to scratch to take on the challenging course in Maui. For me, it was to get my swimming up to a level that I didn’t drown and be in a better group out of the water as this is so important when you hit the tight single track course. It’s so hard to get past volumes of riders out on course.

Come race day in Maui we had practised riding on the bike course, running the trails and swam at the beach. The bike course had been closed for a few days as the Island had been hit by a massive storm that blacked out all the resorts for 12 hours. As the land is on private property the course is only open for a few days a year so the event can use it. We knew we were going to be in for a super tough race after our recon ride, with temps in the low 30s and really high humidity. It was going to be important to pace properly for the whole race.

The ocean had been stormy all week with a thumping shore break that had a lot of people nervous about actually getting out past the waves. The bike course had 1100m of climbing in the 32km course, nothing too technical but challenging enough to give confident mountain bike riders an advantage over their road based triathlete buddies. The trail run followed the same single track that the bike leg covered in the first 5km, straight up a twisty climb. Thankfully most of the final 5km was downhill.

Come race day the weather was perfect, 31degrees light winds and blue skies. The Pro athlete’s went off in the first wave followed by 10 year age group waves. I was in the last male wave with all the female athletes starting 5min behind. Both Celine and I had solid swims. The swim course was an M shape with us coming back to the beach after 750m then heading out past the shore break to do another lap. You really had to get the timing right between sets to get to the sand without getting smashed into the beach.

The ride was a real test of endurance, hot and hilly, some 22% gradient climbs. I decided to hold back early on and push the final 10km of the ride just so I had some energy left for the run. Celine and I had been going up to Smiths Gully over winter and riding Mt Everard track and the Mt Jerusalem track to work on our climbing strength. It ended up being the perfect prep as we both had good legs up the climbs .

Having seen a few crashes and plenty of punctures I was careful about passing riders. Heading too far off the thin single track lines can be deadly by hitting rocks or huge tree roots. I had crashed riding the downhill track two days before the race so it took me a while to get my confidence up and to go full gas down the fast descents. I really love riding my Specialized Epic bike and had full confidence in my tyres and tyre pressure, 20psi tubeless set up on race day. The final 6km are very deceiving on the map. It looks like all downhill but there was a lot of twists and turns and short sharp pinches to absolutely crush your legs before the final run. I ended up taking a Camelbak with 2 litres of water and two water bottles on my bike filled with sports drink. There were 3 places to grab water bottles out on the bike course and I used all of them to drink and some to pour over me to cool off. I drank about 2.5 litres during the ride and had 6 gels.

My energy levels were good and I started the run feeling hot but ok. The run was pretty much 5km up on mainly single track trails with rocks and tree roots to catch you out if you were not concentrating. There were drink stations at every 2km which I was so happy for, one cup to wash down a gel and a cup or two of water over the head was the best feeling. Only problem was 50m past the drink station and you were dry and feeling the humid conditions. Heading for home we ran down a narrow and sometimes steep track along a ridge then across a dry river bed to hit the soft sand at DT Fleming beach. I saw my daughter Adele and asked how her Mum was going. She just said ok, not filling me with confidence. I asked my other daughter Elise with 200m to go if she had seen Celine and her response was the same. They really didn’t know how she was going or where she was in her age group.

Running up the finishing shoot, I was so pumped to have got through the course and felt I raced as well as I could. Swim went well, bike paced perfectly and had a solid nutrition plan that got me to the start of the run with good energy. Even though the first 3 km on the run was a real struggle up the steep pinches, I ran all but a few hundred meters of super steep tracks. I got one bad hammy cramp after tripping over a tree root on a steep downhill section, but apart from that, my run legs are slowing coming back after two years of consistent injuries.

When I crossed the finish line, I had my twins there waiting. They had taken pictures while we raced. It’s not a great spectator event as the course is all out in the jungle and sugar plantations. It was so cool having our girls there to share in the event. We waited for Celine to cross the finish line. She too was pumped to just get through the race, and to conquer her fear of off road mountain bike riding. When I asked how she thought she went in her age group, she thought she might have got a place but had no idea. She was actually more excited that she had ridden most of the course with ease and that she now felt like a real mountain bike rider!

We spent the next 15min reminiscing what we had experienced out on the course with our Nunawading Triathlon Club friend Andrew Noordoff. At the finish line they were printing finishing times for each competitor. I saw mine and was so happy with a top 20 finish in 17th position. My finish time was 3hours and 42 minutes. We got Celine’s times and she couldn’t read the faded print out. She said she thought she got 2nd. I took it from her and it read 1st in her category. We had a big family group hug, and all the emotion of doing such an epic event came spilling out in tears and laughter. To have our twin daughters there to see their Mum take a World title (2nd time they had seen it after her Duathlon World title in 2015) was very rewarding and we were happy to show them what hard work and dedication can bring.