Nienke Oostra is a Sydney based veterinarian, who has qualified for the Xterra World Championships. With some great coaching help, and hard training, she is about to become the ‘bike racing triathlete’ that her coach told her she could be.
Xterra is an offroad triathlon consisting of a 1500m swim, 30km challenging mtbike and a 10km technical bush run. Xterra is held in 16 different countries, with qualifying spots available (generally top 2-3 in each age group) for the World Championships in each of these countries, on top of qualifying spots available on the US Tour.
I qualified at the Xterra NZ championships by coming 2nd in my age group. I have been very lucky to be doing this with my partner Ray Neill who qualified in NZ also. It has been great to have someone by my side who understands the pressures of racing, training and dealing with a full time job. More often than not down time is spent collapsed on the couch staring expressionless at the TV! Social activities have been limited to a post ride breakfast or the occasional dinner which has deadline, must be in bed before 9pm. Such is the life of a wannabe athlete!
The Worlds is said to be a mtbikers race so we couldn’t be better suited with our Olympian cyclist coach Matt Randall, who has turned us into, as he puts it, “Bike Racing Triathletes”.
The first three months of training was all about endurance with Yeppoon 70.3 Ironman in August as our goal race. This consisted mainly of long endurance rides and runs mixed with some higher intensity sessions. From then on the TT bike was locked up and the Mountain bike dusted off. Words like “unders and overs”, “FTP boosts”, “hill repeats” “mini bricks” and HARD HARD HARD were dominating our weekly program. Time to toughen up.
Matt believes strongly in using race intensity as routine training so when not working, weekends were spent travelling around competing in multisport and MT bike races such as the Nepean Odyssey, The Googong Multisport, the Convict, Huski, Wollombi Wild Ride and the Kowalski Classic.
In line with training harder I also started to race differently. I used to race fairly conservatively before Matt asked me why I was so worried about blowing up. He made me look at it this way, “if you push your body to its limits at least you will find out where your limits are and then you can improve on those limits.”
With the dream to get on the podium at the Worlds I needed to be able to be at the pointy end of the races here in Australia, if I wasn’t, I needed to train harder. With that attitude I started to race the 50km Mtbike races in a competitive way and surprised myself how long I could actually hurt for! Lining up at the start with already lactate filled legs from hours of training during the week, and having to follow a 2-3hrs race with a 10km run off the bike, made for sessions which were mentally toughening. I learned to embrace the pain! Can lactic acid be addictive I started to wonder…
With 2 weeks to go it was time to put it all together, a 1500 TT swim, 2hrs on the bike and a 10km hilly run on our so called Xterra Trial day.
We started our morning at the ABC pool for the swim. I am a bit of a cat in the water so I need all the help I can get, I therefore tried out my brand new Blue Seventy swim skin. I will never break any records so I was happy with my swim. We left the pool satisfied.
We chose Ourimbah for our bike/run set, it was a beautiful day and the tracks were nice and dry. This day was about simulating race day so the bike was set up with new race wheels, a water bottle filled with my race fuel and me kitted out in my trisuit… let me be clear that being a true Mtbiker at heart I am NOT a lycra lover… and I almost felt obliged to explain to the riders we run into why I looked like a roadie…
I felt great riding and there is nothing better than having a good day on the MTbike. I absolutely loved flowing down the trails, nailing the corners and being fearless down the drops. I am riding a Specialized S works dual suspension 29er, which I am crazily in love with at the moment. It just fits me perfectly. Unfortunately fun on the single track had to make way for some hard hill repeats to mimic the brutal Maui bike course with 1200m elevation over 30km. We chose a technical steep hill to do the 6 x 4min repeats HARD. This happened to be next to the Downhill course and you could see the downhillers looking at us lycra wearing freaks climbing up and down a nasty hill and wondering “what’s the fun in that?” Well I can confirm there was no fun! By repeat 3 my legs were absolutely burning, and by repeat 6 I had to keep myself motivated by saying “I am going to the World Champs and not some fun run… no pain no gain… if your legs aren’t burning you aren’t racing”, mixed in with the occasional swear word…
Back at the car the bikes were locked up, a quick change of shoes, a sip of water and then we were off on our final session of the day, a 10km hill run at race pace. Running in a MTbike paradise… if not before we were now definitely labelled as loons. The first 2km’s were straight up hill and with 2hrs of riding in the legs this was pretty hard! I started to feel good as the run progressed and flew home. I ran in my new Asics DS racers, and loved the shoes. They felt fast and light and after this run they became my pick of race shoe for the big event in two weeks time.
Absolutely exhausted we had finished our Xterra trial day and I couldn’t be happier with how it went with just one major note to self… I made my sports drink to strong which meant I had stomach cramps on the bike and therefore didn’t drink even half a bottle… this can be a fatal mistake on a hot humid day in Maui. All the equipment including our bodies survived the day well. Another week of solid training ahead of us, before travelling to where it will all unfold on the 28th of October.
Endurance racing is something you can never really predict, especially off road, so many things can go wrong and so many things have to go right. Competing against athletes with similar ability, similar training and the same hunger for the podium it often ends up depending on how you wake up on the day. Let it be a good a day.