Third Time's a Charm at Xterra Malta
Xterra Malta is my annual date when I fight mind over body. A course so tough and intensive that even failing to keep focus for a millisecond could send you crashing into a rocky, twisty, premature DNF (did not finish).
The Xterra Malta triathlon is held on the beautiful north westerly coast of the island of Malta. Bang smack in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. This off-road feat consists of a 1.5km open water swim. This is around a triangular course in the crystal-clear blue waters of Golden Bay. Then onto a gruesome 30km cross country bike route. This takes you across Malta’s best northern single tracks. All followed by a 10km trail run up clay cliffs that expose a view across the most beautiful scenic runs Malta has to offer.
It’s my third time competing in this challenge. This time I’m as trained as I could possibly be, considering I’ve just recovered from a broken rib. My mindset is eager and ready. My nutrition plan is tried and tested and my gear is all I could hope for. Now all I need is to put my training into action when the foghorn blows.
On Your Marks...
When the fog horn blows, those first few minutes are somewhat the hardest. We struggle to set our path. Limbs waving, kicks flying as we gasp for air. Fighting to settle in from our washing machine entrance into the beautiful blue rhythm we’ve all been training to. It’s too late to back out now. It’s too late to give into the excuses. My mind quietens down and the warrior instinct takes over. My swim is not as strong as it once was. However, I’m happy to back off now and notch up the gas in the cycle set where the difference is made. We exit the swim up a torturous, 100 plus, set of steps to the transition area. The newbies attempt a sprint but their heart rate soars way too early. The seasoned ones take a strong and steady pace hiding a smile as we pass those still wet behind the ears.
On Your Bike
My most notable upgrades this year are on the cycle section. First and foremost a new carbon full suspension xc Scott spark 700 mountain bike. Of which I’ve been riding for the best part of 8 months. Including competing with in Denmark. I mount my stead and clip into my pedals. Off I go into what now seems to be my back yard. I’ve trained this course in every possible condition. I think I know my way, but it never gets easy. I feel strong, I’m definitely ready. I’m still smiling.
My second and most practical upgrade are my new pair of Oakley Flak Jackets with transition lenses. I’ve been using these babies in my training sessions and they have kept me happy and safe. Being a father of 3 and running my own business means that my training gets done before everybody else gets up. I typically get out of the house at 4:45 am and ride till 6:45am in time to watch the sun rise over the Maltese hills. It’s interesting how a piece of kit has made such a difference to my racing. Clarity is everything and the Malta sun is a force to be reckoned with. So, I was happy to be wearing these shades as I climbed up the first hill on the bike course standing square into the sun.
Back into transition, my friends and family cheering on. I’m ahead of my usual pack, but my body is starting to suffer now. Running has always been my Achilles heel. Having avoided every other run session for any reason I now know will come back to haunt me. I gulp some coconut water, knock back my trusted 33Shakes Chia Gel and trade my first pair of Flak Jackets for my pair of shiny reds Flak Jackets. These better suit my tired face as I cross the finishing line with a photo opportunity.
One Last Push
Xterra Malta is the gift that keeps on giving. The run never fails to take me by surprise like the slap of a frozen fish across your face on a sub-zero morning. Although today it isn’t sub-zero and my quads are what’s niggling. Up the slippery clay we go, hot and bothered but still set on the final target. The feeding plan goes out of the window. Give me anything and everything you’ve got before I hit the wall. I’m 3 hours into the race now. Not long before I cross the finish and enjoy a cool crisp pint of Cisk Excel.
Pain is temporary but bragging rights last forever. I cross the line with a new personal best, way ahead of what I could have ever expected. My medal hangs proud. My kids hang across my neck, my wife slaps a kiss across my salty lips and I feel a rush of grateful energy flood through my veins.
As I rinse my bike down in the evening, still wearing my Oakley’s, the sun starts to set. My mind starts to wander like every other wannabe athlete’s mind: “What’s next?”.
Footnotes: Photographs and Words fromPeter-Jan Grech
E Y E W E A R T H E S E . C O M
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