By 5x XTERRA World Champ, Mimi Stockton
Oscar Wilde said that “Experience is simply the name we give to our mistakes.”
If that is the case, then I am very experienced, especially in XTERRA. Nothing in life is perfect and rarely does it go as planned. Life, like triathlon, is about preparing to do your best, and then quickly resorting to Plans B, C and D when Plan A goes off the deep end.
One of my biggest mistakes … er … experiences was in 2008 when I took unsolicited advice I shouldn’t have. I was in transition, prepping my gear, fiddling with my bike, nervous as all get out, when this guy comes up to me and says, “You totally do not need that bag with the spare tube and CO2 cartridge. It’s just going to add weight to your bike and there’s no way you’ll flat out on the course. Trust me.”
“Really? What if I flat? Then what?”
He immediately responded. “Seriously. You. Will. Not. Flat.”
Okay then! Off the bike came the bag, making my bike all of 1/8 lb. lighter. Phew - glad to be rid of that!
You already know where this story is heading, Yep, about six miles into the 14-mile bike, I noticed my back tire was losing air and losing it quickly. Panic started to set in. Oh please, oh please, tire sealant, do your magic!
At about mile seven, my tire was completely flat. There was going to be no more riding. I couldn’t believe it. I stood there dumbfounded as athletes passed me by. I’m sure a few people offered me a tube but I was so flabbergasted I couldn’t even answer. After several minutes I realized the predicament I was in. I was either going to have to find a tube and a CO2 cartridge or I’d have to hoof it back seven miles.
I eventually found a guy who offered me his spare tire and cartridge. Things were turning around. It only took me about 20 minutes to put in that tube (that’s what you get when you practice this only ONCE!), and then I was off. But by this time, I was mentally defeated. I eventually finished the race and ran into the guy whose advice I heedlessly took. I told him what happened, and he said, “Well that’s what you get for listening to a bozo like me.”
That was not the last piece of guidance, bit of information, or recommendation I have received throughout my racing career. I have, over the years, collected and stored these tidbits deep inside my medial temporal lobe and every now and then I recall one or two when I need a little laugh. Now I’m sharing some of my “favorite” advice with you.
Just to be clear, the rule when reading these is to do the opposite of whatever the tip advises. Keep your wits about you and remember that you are wiser than you think you are.
The Worst Tips About XTERRA Triathlon I’ve Received
Just wait to pack your Transition Bag until race morning! Yep, pre-dawn sprints from the clothesline in your basement to the triathlon bag in your bedroom result in a natural and refreshing adrenaline high. It’s loads of fun to be searching for that race belt at 6 AM, digging through closets and drawers in a complete frenzy. And those bike gloves? You desperately look outside and realize your dog has taken them and chewed them to pieces. What a fantastic, non-stressful way to start your race morning.
If you work out a lot, it doesn’t matter what you eat. That’s right, just supersize it and also add on that hot fudge sundae because you just worked out for two hours. Nutrients and calories be damned. You burn a ton of calories (or so you think) and therefore you have carte blanche to put whatever you please in your mouth. Yes, there is a reason athletes refer to food as “fuel” but you are a machine and your body runs perfectly fine on burgers and ice cream. Not to mention the fact you totally recover better with junk food. A whole sweet potato is better for you than French fries? Don’t buy it. Diet comes down to discipline and listening to your body. If your body is saying, "Eat peanut butter cup ice cream," then go for it, and you better crush that whole carton.
Train and race through the pain. It’ll undoubtedly make you stronger. In fact, your next race should be all about out-toughing the pain. When your legs are aching, create an even more painful picture in your head, like the dreadful image of your muscles ripping off the bone, so that the actual physical pain seems like nothing in comparison. Embrace the pain!
More is always better! More always equals better. You can never have too much gear (especially in transition—who knows when you’re going to need that lens cleaner for your sunglasses). You can never train too much (back to back to back to back threshold sessions makes you tough). You can never eat or drink too much (the more gels you can swallow the better). You can never race too much (five consecutive race weekends is awesome). You can never have too much of anything. You want to go overboard with everything. Whoever said less is more is just plain wrong.
Stick to your race plan NO MATTER WHAT. This one is a given. Why in the world would you ever change your race plan? You have a vision of how you want your race to go. You’re going to podium come hell or high water. You’re 100% capable of a superhuman race performance! It shouldn’t matter if the trails are insanely muddy or you wake up with a slight fever or it’s pouring rain. They say the best athletes know when it’s time to adjust their goals. Ridiculous. Only the delicate and fragile athletes heed this advice.
It’s okay to be lazy after a hard workout or race. More brilliant advice. As soon as you are done whipping through those trails, squashing everyone on Strava, go home, sit on that couch and turn on the TV. The longer you sit, the better. Forget about getting up and moving even a little bit to help with recovery (“sorry honey, I can’t walk the dog”), your muscles will be fine the next day. Just make sure to drink that beer to stay hydrated.
If you have a mental breakdown you should just quit the race. Only weak athletes have doubts and insecurities and the pros never do (that’s why they’re pros, duh). Do not allow yourself any such mental weaknesses. In other words, if you feel like quitting during the race, you really should. Just thinking about stopping means you need to psychologically go back to the drawing board, and probably pick a different sport, because XTERRA is only for those who embrace the “blood, sweat and tears….at all cost” mentality.
You don’t need to train for the swim. For that matter, don’t bother practicing in open water prior to your race. The swim is short and who cares if you come out near or at the end of the pack. You will totally make it up on the bike. In fact, you’ll be laughing at all those suckers who exerted tons of energy to exit the water minutes ahead of you. Besides, the water is apt to be dark, cold and slimy and trying it out before race day will completely spoil the surprise. Furthermore, if you only stick to pool training chances are high you’ll be able to meet one of those cute kayakers paddling around and give him or her something useful to do.
Every workout should leave you feeling exhausted, especially during race week. The best way to build confidence is to do tough workouts a few days before your race, especially your A race. It is worth the effort, even if your legs feel like lead on race day. Besides, if worse comes to worst, you can always claim that you just trained too darn intensively. You’ve got yourself covered.
Along the same lines…If you’re feeling awesome during your taper week, you should make new race day goals. Ignore everyone’s (including your coach’s, if you have one) overly conservative advice about sticking to the original game plan. These people obviously don’t realize that you are going places.
And last, but definitely not least, don’t worry about carrying a spare tube or CO2 cartridge. You will never flat on the course, so why add the weight onto your bike? If you were to flat, almost everyone else is carrying the tools and things you need so why bother? Being self-reliant is totally overrated. If for some godforsaken reason you can’t fix the tire, you can just hoof it back. Who doesn’t love pushing their bike for miles and miles in mountain bike shoes? You’ll undoubtedly get a better workout doing that than racing. Talk about a bonus.
If there's one thing XTERRA athletes love doing, it's talking about swimming, mountain biking and trail running. Well-intended tips and advice run amok at races, on the internet and sometimes before group rides/runs. Unfortunately, a lot of that guidance is just downright terrible. The best advice works because it focuses on the process and the journey and is given by someone with experience, who legitimately knows what he or she is doing and talking about.
How do you know if you’re dealing with an expert? Often relevant scientific research is there to back up the advice. Simply put, good advice is concrete and true. The worst advice is bad because it simply isn't true and you do more harm than good if you follow it. Hopefully most of you reading this article already know these things, but just in case….don’t try anything new on race day, do change your race plan if needed, recover properly from hard workouts and races, take it easy during your taper week, practice swimming (a lot), eat more vegetables than ice cream, and make sure your zipper is in the back of your wetsuit. Oh, and definitely enjoy that post-race beer. You’ve earned it.
The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by Sheri Anne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.