My 4th trip to the Philippines took me to the city of Danao in the region of Cebu. Xterra Philippines has been really good to me over the years seeing me win the past two editions of this iconic race in Albay. Having the race move location is great for all involved having the opportunity to see a new travel destination in the Philippines and giving the people of Danao an opportunity to host this World Tour triathlon event.
Sunrise Events once again put on a flawless event and their race organizers put together one of the most challenging racecourses I can remember competing on. The climate in Danao is enough to frighten the most hardened of endurance athletes, add to that impossibly steep mountains and a mountain bike leg over 40km and even the Pro field started shifting uncomfortably in their seats. After a few pre rides of the course the concerns grew, not only for us as the Pro field but the age groupers alike. The thermometer touched 40 degrees Celsius everyday with extreme humidity added to that. As the race drew nearer we opted to hide out in the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel rooms at the Coco-Palms Resort who played host to this years edition of Xterra Philippines.
Race day arrived and the forecast was much the same, we were in for a long and hot day. The race itself consisted of a single loop 1.5km swim in the calm waters right in front of the Coco-Palms Resort, which was very convenient for all athletes staying at the hotel. The mountain biking leg was two loops of a 20km lap with 750m elevation per lap giving a total of 40km with 1500m climbing! The usual winning time of a world tour Xterra event is roughly 2h20, the bike leg alone would take most athletes longer than this to complete including the majority of the professional field. Finally the run would happen at the hottest time of the day reducing most athletes pace to a slow walk at best, just putting one foot in front of the other seemed like a victory when trying to navigate steep lava rock climbs and loose rocky off camber descents.
The swim started out at the most leisurely pace I have ever experienced in a triathlon race. I think everyone knew what lay ahead and were pretty content to settle into a calmer start. Rounding the first buoy Sam Osborne, frustrated with the slow pace moved to the front and put in a surge, Ben Allen from Australia went with him but I missed the move and found myself in no mans land. With 350m to go I could still see the two athletes ahead of me and knew I had limited the losses to under a minute. My strength these days is on the bike and I was fairly comfortable I could close this gap within the first few kilometers. The MTB loop started with a couple of technical rocky descents with a high risk of puncturing, I took it conservatively but when the road opened ahead I had already more than halved the lead to the guys up front. I was feeling good despite the rising temperatures and decided to put an effort in and get across the gap as quickly as possible. I bridged up at about the 6km mark and began to feel in control of the race, the MTB loop had a one mile climb on a cement paved road with a gradient only barely ride-able even in the 50-tooth gear of a SRAM Eagle cassette!
Starting the second lap we were entering the 2nd hour of racing. I had estimated a 3h30 race time so I knew there was still a lot of racing ahead but I was now into my riding and looking forward to executing another solid lap time. Sam and I had now dropped Ben who unfortunately suffered a puncture shortly after which took the Aussie out of the running for the win. I suspected Sam was now feeling the heat so I opened the throttle a little to see if he could respond up one of the many loose steep climbs, a gap opened and I decided to go for it. In a head to head running race Sam has my number so I knew I had to damage his legs as much as possible before we started the run leg. From there I just kept the pace hard but within my limits, leading a race is always tricky as you can never get reliable splits to the athletes behind.
Finishing the 40km bike leg I could feel I had pushed pretty hard and the legs were a little shaky coming off the bike, I took it conservatively out of T2 and stopped at the first aid station to try and cool my body down and get some vital fluids in. I was convinced Sam would be within striking distance so I had to keep moving well if I wanted to come out on top. Had I known I had put 6minutes into the Kiwi on the second lap I may have taken it a little easier but there was no way of me knowing where he was on the course so I just kept pushing and making sure to refuel at every aid station. Perhaps growing up in South Africa and spending many of my school boy days out playing under the African sun had prepared me well for this day but whatever the reason I was not suffering from the heat as most of my fellow athletes were. If I am honest there was total carnage behind me, the gaps were huge with a few DNF’s and some Pro athletes literally vomiting on the side of the trails from heat exhaustion. The organizers were phenomenal with multiple aid stations offering ice-cold water to try and keep the athletes going. I walked through every aid station and up most of the climbs but still had the fastest run split to my surprise. The last two kilometers seemed to go on forever but knowing that I would be winning my 3rd straight Xterra Philippines Title kept me moving well and entering the finishing shoot I was so relieved to cross the line and collapse into an ice bath!
Thanks again to Sunrise Events and everyone involved in making this yet another extremely successful year of Xterra racing in the Philippines!
Until next year...
In one of the most hard fought battles I have ever been lucky enough to be a part of I sadly had to settle for second place against one of the sports best athletes in Richard Murray. Richard needs no introduction and since learning that he would be on the start line in Grabouw this year we all knew we had an incredibly tough task on our hands trying to match him. There is nothing I love more than a challenge and going into the race I was quietly confident that I could give Mr Murray a true run for his money.
The swim seemed to fly by and exiting the water I got a split of 48seconds to Richard. This was a little more time than I had expected to lose but heading into the mountain biking leg he was now in my back yard and I was determined for this not to be a one horse race. Back in 2013 when Richard won his first Xterra SA Championships he went up against the sports greats of Conrad Stoltz and Dan Hugo but somehow seemed to have all the answers even against the likes of these big names! Luckily for me this years course out in Grabouw started with a pretty brutal and unrelenting climb, half way up I got my first visual of Richard and by the top the 48second gap had all but disappeared. I entered the first descent in the lead and lent back to let the bike do the work. By the bottom I knew I had a problem... Richard was sitting comfortably on my wheel but I was having to nurse the bike around each corner. Looking down confirmed my suspicions, I had somehow managed to get a slow puncture on my rear tyre. Thankfully the tyre sealed itself so I decided to just keep pushing until I had to stop and inflate. On a steep climb I put in a big effort and finally got away from Richard. You have to give him massive credit for his ability to ride an MTB so well even with spending so little time each year on his Specialized Epic.
At about the 12km mark I looked back and Richard was out of sight. I figured I had built up roughly a 40second lead but I was now really struggling in the sandy single track with such a soft rear tyre. In hind sight I probably should have just kept riding as the gap was still opening but at the time I was convinced that I would be riding so much faster with a properly inflated tyre. I hoped off and filled the both tyres as my front had also seemed to lose some pressure. While inflating Richard blew by and got about 20seconds on me before I got going again. I got to work and felt a lot more confident on hard tyres. It took me a few kilometres to close the gap again and luckily I was able to regain the lead just before dropping into the infamous Rock Garden. I had a lot of confidence on this section as I have raced here so many times and exciting out the bottom Richard was once again out of sight. I put my head down and with only a few kilometres remaining did all I could to open the gap as much as possible before starting the run. I think we are all well aware of Richards running abilities and before the race I had said I would need at least 2minutes lead starting the run if I wanted a chance of beating him. As I left T2 I could hear the announcer welcoming him and the splits I was receiving didn't leave me warm and fuzzy inside. I had about a 30second lead and knew I was now in a world of hurt. Either way I was set on making him work for this title if he really wanted it as much as I did so I got to work and found my running legs pretty early on. The support out on course was awesome with many close friends and loved once screaming support and begging me to dig a little deeper, this always makes the suffering more bearable so thanks to all of those pulling for me out there.
It took Richard a lot longer than I had expected to catch me and once he did at about the 5km mark he didn't blow by me as expected. I got a lift from this and knew he must be hurting as much as I was. We started the long climb which comes midway in the run and by the top I could no longer hear his footsteps but did not dare look back. The decent from there is steep and loose and soon that famous Murray stride came up along side me. Physically my legs could not move any faster and by the bottom he had 10seconds over me. I will admit that my spirits were a little broken at this point and I realised for the first time that day that it may not be the fairy tail I had dreamed about. Richard still looked smooth and I was feeling rather wrecked, after a minute or two on the flats I found my rhythm again and Richard was still in sight. We only had 2km left to run so I dug deep and at one point was within 5seconds but never completely closed the gap again. Crossing the line i believe the final gap was 19seconds, probably the closest Xterra SA finish in history. I was and still am proud of my fight on the day despite coming so desperately close to defending my title. I loved having the opportunity of racing against Richard and I hope I get another shot in future! He certainly lifted my game and forced many around us to do the same. A shout out to Stuart Marais for being oh so close all day finishing up 3rd with a sub standard swim costing him the chances of joining the battle up front, although I am rather glad I only had one lunatic to deal with.
Now its time for a short rest before my international calendar begins next month with the Asia Pacific Tour kicking off in March. Thanks to all for supporting and following my journey! Much love. Brad
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
After a slightly delayed start to the 2017 Xterra season due to a late injury in 2016 from a mountain biking accident leaving me with a broken wrist I was very excited heading up to PE even with doubts about my current fitness levels. Training has been going well but with an extended rest period and not much high intensity work it was always going to be a little hit or miss on whether the body would respond well to the racing environment. Either way I was just happy to be back on a start line and content not to worry too much about the outcome.
The Xterra course in PE known best for its urban setting offers one of the most exciting bike courses I can remember racing on. The local mountain biking community has clearly invested in their local trails and we were lucky enough to be able to take advantage of their hard work. Xterra PE takes place in the heart of the city and the race kicks off with a 1500m swim off of Kings beach with perfect water temperatures and a steady swell testing even the most experienced athletes on their ability to deal with a few shore breaks.
With a somewhat average start I looked up and guessed I was in about 15th position but my swimming stroke felt good and soon I moved up through the pack into 4th position onto Stuart Marais toes. Stuart had recently raced the Ironman 70.3 in East London so I knew he was in good form and would provide my biggest competition on the day. Exiting the water, Theo Blignaut, Stuart and myself headed into T1 together about a minute behind the leader Keegan Cooke. Onto the bike I was now in my comfort zone and excited to make the most of this technical route. About 3km into the bike there was a small technical river crossing, Stuart dismounted but I was able to get over and made a small gap. We climbed up through the Baarkens Valley on twisty smooth flowing single track with small punchy climbs. I dug deep to the top end of the bike route knowing that once the course flattened out and got less technical Stuart would be able to begin closing the gap to me. As the leader its always difficult to know what’s happening behind you as no one can give you accurate splits on your competitors. The media crew was doing an awesome job capturing the race and they were able to feed me a few splits as and when they could but ultimately I just put my head down and kept pushing. On the last flat stretch along the railway lines of PE I got a split of 1 minute back to Stuart but once I exited T2 and saw Stu already racking his bike I knew the race was far from over. He is known for his running abilities and I am well aware that he is a more talented runner than myself. My hope was that the tough punchy ride had taken the sting out of his legs, which would allow me to hang on to the slender lead.
The run route took us back along Kings beach and then up into Happy Valley for two loops with a mixture of sandy climbs, loose descents and some flat fast running on tar roads. Having broken my wrist back in December running was the least effected element of my training so I had a fair amount of confidence that I would be able to run well. Onto the second loop in Happy Valley I could tell Stu was not closing the gap and if anything I had gained a few more seconds on him. Still I didn’t want to leave anything to chance so I kept digging until the final kilometer which took us back onto Kings Beach to enjoy the cool ocean breeze one last time before heading down my first finishing shoot of 2017 and to my surprise still in first position.
I really could not have asked for a better start to the season and I am incredibly excited for what is to come. The next big challenge is Xterra Grabouw, which is the South African National Championships where I will be attempting to defend my 2016 title. I have no illusions that its going to be war out there with so many talented South African triathletes vying for that top spot as well as a fair share of international professionals who have made the long trip out to take part in the biggest Xterra on the planet. No need to say the motivation levels are pretty high!
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Can't believe we are in February 2016 already! The time has just flown by with three races already under my belt this year. The harder you train the luckier you get apparently and luck has certainly been on my side these past few weeks. I took on potentially more than I could handle with 4 races in 5 weeks beginning with the Xterra SA Series in Buffelspoort on the 23rd January followed by Xterra PE the next Saturday and then the long haul over to the Philippines for the beginning of my Xterra Asian Tour Title defence. With just one weekend off I find myself once again in race week but this time with a little added pressure. I have yet to win our national title in South Africa, a race so close to our hearts and one I am determined to call my own. But before I get to ahead of myself lets take a quick look back at what I have been up to over these past few weeks.
XTERRA BUFFELSPOORT - 23rd January 2016
After a really solid training block over December/January - despite a small hiccup after a tumble in December which left me with a torn Teres Major (AKA rotator cuff muscle) I felt I was in great form and ready to take on this aggressive racing block I had planned for myself. Xterra Buffelspoort is always a really tough challenge with harsh terrain and a demanding course at altitude, add to it the great level of competition we have in SA and best you be firing on all cylinders come the 23rd if you wish to have a chance at victory.
I had a relatively mediocre start well below my own high standards and entered T1 over 2 minutes down from the up and coming ITU star Basson Engelbrecht. I somehow justified the time loss in my own head and convinced myself I would soon close the gap, regardless of whats happening in a race its so important to stay in that positive mindset. I soon made my way to second place but the gap to first was not closing as fast as I would have liked and after the first (and only) long climb on the bike I was a little concerned that I had still not gotten a visual on Engelbrecht up the road. I knew I was moving well and just kept making sure I was doing the small things correctly. This was Bassons first Xterra and although he is well versed in the triathlon world i takes some school fees before you can put an off-road race together successfully. Finally I made contact with the youngster and with a couple kilometres to go he made a small mistake in a rocky single track section and I took my opportunity to open the gap. I only had about 30-40seconds coming into T2 and I knew from his ITU background that his running would be really strong, it all depended on just how much energy he had expended out on the bike. I am not the fastest runner but I pride myself on my efficiency off the bike. I felt comfortable and pushed hard early on to try and get out of sight before we hit the long hard climb Xterra Buffelspoort is so infamous for. Once on the climb I had a few sneaky looks over my shoulder to try and get a handle on where Basson was but the trail behind was empty and I was surely pulling away now. The really hard part of most Xterra races is that final 30-40 minutes when your body feels like it is giving way beneath you, those who can learn to find strength in these moments are usually the ones who claim victory. My suspicions were confirmed when the lead motorbike caught up to me and gave me the split back to second place.
From the high point on the climb I was able to take the foot off the gas a bit and just allow my body to settle into a more comfortable pace knowing I had a busy racing schedule ahead of me and not wanting to do any more damage than was necessary to my body. Crossing the line I was really stoked to have my first win of 2016 and proud of the fact that I was able to defend my title from 2015.
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
XTERRA PORT ELIZABETH - 30th January2016
Onwards to PE and after a solid week of training and some confidence after winning the first race of the season I was on a high and ready to tackle this new race on the Xterra SA circuit. One of my favourite things about racing Xterra is the pre race build up and getting to learn new courses trying to gain every advantage you can over fellow competitors before that starting gun sounds. Having a new course which no one knew exactly what it entailed or demanded most athletes traveled out early in an attempt to gain maximum course knowledge. Ending my first lap I was really happy with the new route and really loved the fast and flowy 'urban' mountain bike leg. Lots of single track made it feel like an XC MTB Track and the short punchy climbs were perfect for my build and power to weight ratio. Word on the street once I arrived was that Stuart Marais was in town and had been spotted earlier that day out on course practicing. This was news to me as Stuart and I are daily training partners in Stellenbosch and I had no idea he would be toeing the line out in PE but regardless I was excited and knew Stu would put up a fierce battle come race day.
The swim was 2 laps of 750m with a pretty long beach run in-between due to ocean currents. Theo Blignaut took and early lead with myself and Stu settling into 2nd and 3rd. After the first loop we had lost about 10-15seconds but managed to make it up quickly on the beach run and the 3 of us entered lap 2 together. Theo led the lap again but this time Stu and I were able to hold on and the three of us exited the water together - Much happier with this swim over the previous weekend in JHB.
Onto the bike Stu went out really hard and forced a small gap, it took me a little by surprise but I responded quickly and closed the gap Theo just behind unable to do the same. Soon it became a two horse race and I knew if I wanted to win this one I had to get away on the bike and take advantage of my technical ability. Stu had raced Ironman SA 70.3 in EL the weekend prior so was definitely not at his best but I wasn't about to have any sympathy for the man and on the first big kicker I made my move and got clear. Once on my own I tried staying as focused as possible determined not to make any silly errors. The course flew past and shortly we were at the highest point on the lap turning for home. On a flatter tar section through town I looked back and estimated roughly a 30-40seconds back to Stu. I could see he was digging hard and one small error on my side would see him rejoin me at the head of the race. Thankfully I descended smoothly with little incident and approaching T2 got a split of 1minute. I convinced myself that this would be enough and pushed hard for home preparing for a fast run ahead. Entering T2 I made that dreaded error I was trying so hard to avoid. I had not taken a close look at the entry point coming off the bike and when coming into transition I accidentally went down the wrong shoot and could not find my shoes. For 20seconds I looked back and forth convinced that they should be in front of me but unable to spot them I was wasting precious time and could actually see Stu approaching out the corner of my eye, all that hard work wasted! Finally I got my bearings and located my PUMA FAAS 300Trail shoes sitting pretty one rack over from where I had been searching.
Finally onto the run I got a split of just 25seconds and the out and back on the beach confirmed this. 25 seconds looks incredibly small especially when it is Stuart chasing you. I put that out of my head and just focused on running as fast as I possibly could. My strategy was to force him to work really hard to close the gap and once he did to just sit on his pace and try to take it down to a sprint finish if I had the legs. Heading up Happy Valley I glanced back but there was no sight of him. Strategic?...Tired?... Bonking?... I didn't really care to be honest I just kept doing my job. Starting the second loop in Happy Valley I got another visual and although the gap wasn't massive it had certainly grown slightly since we started and I took big confidence from this. I surged to the top of the valley and danced back down the other side exiting out onto Kings beach and striding for home. Stuart will always get the best out of any competitor he takes on and I was incredibly proud to be able to have beaten him on the day. Xterra SA Champs in Grabouw will be a whole different beast but I am certainly entering it with the momentum firmly on my side. Take what you can get right!?
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
Photo Credit: Tobias Ginsberg
XTERRA PHILIPPINES - 7th February 2016
In what felt like the blink of an eye I was boarding an Emirates airliner headed for the Philippines. Xterra Philippines was my first World Tour Title in 2015 so I was really looking forward to defending my title in 2016. Admittedly I was not feeling my sharpest after two hard races and the prospect of two days of traveling ahead of me but thankfully the travel went by smoothly and soon I was landing in Legazpi, Albay feeling optimistic about the weekend ahead. Looking back now it really is all a blur, pre ride course Friday afternoon, Swim course Saturday morning, race registration, clean bike and prep, meet the pro's press conference, pre race dinner, sleep. 4am alarm and we were off to the start of my 3rd race in the past 15days, rather surreal but it was happening whether I liked it or not and with the likes of Ben Allen (AUS) and Brodie Gardner (AUS) it was sure to be another battle out there.
The Philippines can be incredibly hot and humid but to our relief it was cool and raining come race morning. The rain would provide its own challenges but ultimately it might have been what won me this race. Ben is an incredibly good swimmer and took an early lead which came as no surprise. I held on for a couple hundred meters but soon the bubbles thinned out and then disappeared all together. Exiting the water he had roughly a minute on me and I knew I had my work cut out if I want to make it 3 from 3 in 2016. Early on the bike I felt really bad and just battled for every pedal stroke unable to find a rhythm. I got a few opportunities to see Ben up the road but the gap remained at one minute and my morale was pretty low. As athletes we can sometimes throw the towel in to early and just say today isn't my day, I had two hard races in the body and when pushing hard felt so bad I just began to reason with myself that second place is not so bad. Its something I will have to work on in the future as once I saw the gap was closing my whole mindset changed. I finally closed the gap on the second long climb and we began the descent together both making a few errors on the way down due to the wet and slippery conditions. I could see Ben was struggling in these conditions and I made a mental note to push hard at my next opportunity. I tried to get away on the 3rd and final big climb of the day but Ben was to strong and sat comfortably on my wheel. At this stage I really didn't want it to come down to the run as I was feeling pretty fragile and not sure what was left in the body so I took a gamble and threw a little caution to the wind on the final technical descent. The gamble paid off and Ben made a mistake which ultimately gave me the win. Ben came down hard damaging his ribs and leg in the process. Coming into T2 I had roughly a minute on Ben which opened to a few more by the end of the run. I was happy with the form on the run and felt that even if I was pushed I certainly could have battled it out on that run course if need be but none the less was very grateful that I could coast home and get the Asian Pacific Xterra Tour off to a winning start. Defending my Title in the Philippines was an awesome experience, it really is a race like no other and one which the locals truly buy into. I cannot thank Sunrise Events enough for there generosity and professionalism which is second to none and I will most definitely be returning to Albay in 2017.
For now its onwards to Grabouw where the SA National Xterra Title is up for grabs.
If you are in town please come out on Saturday and lend your support, I will need all the help I can get!
Xterra Malaysia would play host to the final of the Asia Pacific Xterra Series. In 2015 this was a 5 race series visiting the Philippines, Saipan, Guam, Australia and finishing in Malaysia. Heading into Xterra Malaysia I had completed 3 of the 4 races with one win and two 2nd place positions. Ben Allen had completed all 4 races and with two victories thus far in the series he went into the weekends race with a two point lead and no doubt the favourite for the overall title. I was happy to be the under dog. The week leading into this race was less than ideal but I was prepared to take the risk and fly in late despite having no knowledge of this new course. Just 6days prior I was racing in the Reunion islands, I arrived home midday on Tuesday and flew out to Malaysia the following day only arriving at the race hotel in Langkawi late on Thursday evening. With little more than 24hours to play with before the race I opted for a less is more strategy and went out early on Friday morning to have a look at the opening kilometres of the bike route. Out of T2 we pretty much got sent up a wall, the steepest gradient I have ever attempted. In pre riding I was able to ride the whole climb but even after changing out my front ring for a 32 tooth I lost traction during the race and had to push the remainder of the climb as remounting was not an option.
Thankfully Ben had a similar racing/traveling schedule to myself, he had traveled in from the US and only arrived in Langkawi on Friday morning so the playing field was somewhat even. The race venue had moved location from 2014 where we raced in Putrajaya and we were now racing on the island of Langkawi. Malaysia is well known for its heat and humidity but Langkawi seemed to take it to the next level. Never in my life have I experienced such a testing climate and come race day I knew hydration management would ultimately determine who won on the day. Race morning I began hydrating as soon as I woke up. I finished 4 x 750ml bottles (A combination of Nuun and Osmo Pre-hydration) before the start at 7:15am, this may have been a little excessive but I am sure it played a huge role in my victory.
In early February I received a Facebook message in broken english from Yannick asking if I would like to take part in an Xterra he was organizing on the reunion Islands in April. I was thankful for his offer but embarrassingly had no idea where the Reunion Islands were. Before responding I did a quick search online and stumbled across some of the most beautiful images I had ever seen. I was hooked and determined to get myself to this start line. The dates worked out favorably and soon I had confirmed my entry and would be on my way to a new race venue.
2nd - 6:20 behind Ben Allen
Photo Credit: Rich Cruse Photography
Crossing the line 6 weeks ago in Grabouw at the SA Xterra National Championships I knew I had a hard road ahead of me and was doubtful to when I would be racing again. The chronic ITB syndrome in my right knee had progressively gotten worse with each race and once I had cooled down following my second place in South Africa I could barely put any weight onto my right leg such was the damage I had caused. The pain I was feeling was mainly just inflammation and my body doing all it can to immobilize the knee in an attempt to heal itself. I of course was being the stubborn athlete refusing to admit I had a serious problem and racing anyway despite many warning signs.