2023 World XTERRA AG Race Report by Calvin Zaryski (15th World XTERRA Medal)
TRAVEL STRESS AND HEALTH
Italy, particular Molveno is hard to get to from Calgary, Canada! Likely anyone traveling from North America will encounter the same challenges. It was a 17 hour travel day for me, as I elected to take a direct flight to Rome (not risking losing my bike in flight transfers) and take the high speed train up North. I did sleep a bit on the 10hr flight but it’s still not restful sleep. Looking back, it would have been better to arrive earlier than 4 days before race day and to fly into Milan. The jet lag and body health needs more time to be at its best with such a travel schedule. Hauling a bike box and gear from the airport to trains to ground transport is also quite demanding. Being my first time to Europe I was stressed by the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of solo travel. For instance, trying to find a cab at 9:15pm from Trento, that “wants” to take you 45 minutes up into a ski hill community was challenging. After one refusal, I paid 90 Euros to get to my accommodations in Andola. Andola is 5km uphill from Trentino where the race was held.
Take Away: Arrive early anticipating the magnitude of travel stress and Jet Lag and allow for more on course training.
JUST IN TIME
Once I arrive to Andola, sleeping and finding a new schedule was difficult. I felt terrible for 2 days fighting through the fatigue and tying to convince myself it would pass. I pre road the course on my Specialised Hardtail under somewhat dry conditions with ease. I was happy with my tire selections and pressures. Because rain was in the forecast, I choose the Specialized Ground Control 2.2 on the rear and 2.35 on the front. I felt ok on the bike, but my short runs were feeling terrible and I knew I needed to adjust quickly. With 2 sleeps left before race day, I decided to take a sleeping aid and sleep as long as possible. 10 hours of good sleep was achieved and finally I felt better.
Take Away: Sleep as much as possible to recover from travel and anticipate a poor night sleep before the race
CONTROLLING ANXIETY and MAINTAINING CONFIDENCE
As a 10X World AG Champion one would think I would be used to racing these big races. Not so much. I was crazy nervous, more than ever. Sick to my stomach anxiety which can often be interpreted as illness. Self sabotaging thoughts and tremendous doubt overwhelming my psyche. I found myself thinking of all of the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might happen’. One of the biggest causes of anxiety was my worry of being the final start wave to start the race. A congested course was troubling me. To heighten my anxiety, the Friday rains were relentless and a flood warning was issued. The upper race course became a mud pit and the officials closed the course. My goal of a possible medal or win was now less of a priority. There were now too many concerns of safety than going fast. My thoughts transitioned to simply finishing safely and making the right choices for the fastest outcome. When to get off the bike and run, and when to chance an attempt of riding the roots uphill and the rocks and roots downhill. Some of the steep straight forward sections were now even unridable. Add the inevitable factor of trying to pass slower riders on technical sections heightened the stress and uncertainly.
Take Away: Keep racing in Perspective. Focus on your values and gratefulness for superior health and opportunity rather than the fabricated challenges that may or may not occur.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
The weather forecast was accurate and on race morning the sun came out and the cold 6 degrees air warmed up to 12 for my 11:20am start! Because the sun was shining I elected to warm up for a good 15 minutes in the 17 degree water. I also choose the transition lens goggles rather than my clear option. The warm up is critical for not just a fast start, but a smooth transition after the start to race pace without that dreaded heaviness and even panic. I swam well. But picture this: I was the LAST wave. The entire female wave was 2 minutes ahead of me and by the first swim bouy, I was in the middle of them! Chaos! I wove and darted my way through the crowds, catch swimmers from the 40-49 AG before the first swim exit. We had to exit the water, run along a short dock and dive off the dock into the water and head to the final segment before the finish. Well that was the intention anyways. After many “run to a dive” practices the days before, I was ready to execute this skill. But because there were so many people on the dock entering at the same time, I was unable to dive, but rather a strong jump into unoccupied water. I pressed on and finished strong with the 3rd fastest swim in the 55-59 AG. The swim was slightly long in distance and I swam 23:13 for 1550m. I was in the game for a medal and my race spirits returned. Knowing your placement after the swim creates some needed awareness allowing me to set goals of catch the two athletes ahead or minimizing the damage of athletes catching me.
Take Away: Trust in your preparation. Once the race starts find your flow and focus on small segments one after another.
DISASTER 30 SECONDS INTO THE RIDE
I had a slow transition because I elected to wear socks anticipating lots of hike a bike in the mud. I mounted my bike and accelerated gaining speed for the first steep ramp up and down some 100m after the mount line. Just before getting to the steep ramp, a male athlete was in an incorrect gear and didn’t make it up, sliding back down the ramp into another female athlete and then causing me to STOP part way up the ramp! All our bikes got tangled and it was a disaster. We then had to figure a way we could walk up this steep wet ramp. Meanwhile other riders were yelling at us to get out of the way. I swear I lost over 60 seconds on this first obstacles some 100m into the bike leg! No need to panic, just get riding. Smooth, strong and steady. Ride hard but respect the length of this race and the 1100 meters of vertical gain on the bike leg. Hoping to catch the 2 riders ahead of me, I found myself being passed by several of my competitors on the technical slick ups and challenging downs.
Take Away: Expect the Unexpected, Refocus and realize your competition is likely experiencing the same.
SUPERIOR RIDING SKILLS
I watched 4 athletes from France and Italy ride away from me in the slippery, wet and technical sections of the course. They were smooth and strong. I few times I had to jump off my bike and run to keep up but ultimately they would slowly pull away. I had to remain positive and keep fighting. Anything can happen in an XTERRA… possibly the Frenchman way up front could experience cramping or even a serious crash or flat tires. There is always hope.
Take Away: You can’t control your competition but rather try to match their performance when possible
On the technical descents, I just didn’t have the mental race attitude to take risks. I was more concerned about staying safe and avoiding a serious crash. The ground was very slippery and now very rutted in spots. Unfortunately, once you accept this belief, you are likely to lose time to those who are all in. I am sure this is where I lost the most time to the 6 riders that out road me by 4-6 minutes. I was fit and had a great bike. I just lacked the skill and the mental grit to keep up.
Take Away: Sometimes a cautious execution is better than high risk that could end your day and have life long consequences.
After dropping 4 positions on the mountain bike I knew I had to run as fast as possible. Back in 2019, I was 4 minutes down on a Frenchman off the bike and outran him by 8 minutes to win my 9th world title. So I thought anything was possible. At least I could battle back to a top 5. I got some feedback I was one minute down on 4th and 2 minutes down on 3rd but a huge 6 minutes down on 1st. Anything can happen and pure grit was needed to battle back to a podium position.
Take Away: Know your strengths and take advantage of your superior preparation
TAKE SOME RISKS
After the fast and flatter section holding 3:45-4’/km pace, I had to take some risks on the technical and steep section of the course. I was all in… I would either have a great run or blow up. Again I was slightly impeded by slower moving athletes who were in the waves before me, so running at my maximum ability was tricky. But I suspect it was the same for the runners ahead of me and I just needed to take a few chances to gain some advantage. I was pretty vocal asking to pass, surging hard when an opening was available.
Take Away: Know your limits and take calculated risks that have low consequences
HARD TRAIL TRAINING PAYS OFF
In Calgary there is a trail that is very similar to the technical steep section of the Molveno course. Not only would I do hard timed trials on this trail but I would even do repeats wearing a 6 pound weight vest and 2.5 pound ankle weights. This training certainly paid off on the steep slopes allowing me to run past countless runners. Kilometer repeats also helped with my leg speed on the flatter sections.
Take Away: Do training that is more uncomfortable than racing! You’ll be able to accept the discomfort more readily.
RAN OUT OF COURSE
I ran hard, meter my meter finally catching the reigning European Champion and pushing past him to catch 2 Italians with only 2km to go. I was hoping I was now in 2nd, knowing the Frenchman was nearly 6 minutes ahead. I pressed on as hard as I could thinking those who I passed could have a late race surge or maybe, just maybe, the first place athlete was struggling to the finish and I could nip him at the line.
Take Away: The race isn’t over till you cross the line. Push to the end with no regrets!
SATISFYING OUTCOME and PRIDE
After my strongest effort of the season, I was satisfied with my race. Sure the mountain bike could have been faster, but the run certainly gave me pride. I could not have run harder and had nothing left. Soon after finishing I discovered I was 3rd in my AG. The first two athletes from France out road me by 5 minutes. Looking at the run splits, I was catching both of them but needed more distance. I even outran the winner by 4 minutes but his swim and bike was just too strong.
Take Away: Racing is like art, when you look back at your work or race, you want to be proud of your preparation and effort.
TEAM SYNERGY SUPPORT
Before the race, Team Synergy met to discuss race conditions and overall strategy. The information was invaluable and I even felt like I had an advantage from all the expert advise. Furthermore, one of the most memorable emotions was having the Professional Team Synergy Athletes cheer me on during the run! Josiah and Sullivan Middaugh, Branden Rakita, Steve Croucher, Katelyn Button, Suzie Snyder were all there urging me to fight right to the finish line. The team support was spectacular and made the experience that much more memorable. Thank you Team Synergy for an awesome experience.
Take Away: Team support and recognition by your loved ones and friends helps heighten your experience and often help you reflect on your accomplishment and efforts.
15 World XTERRA Medals, 10 Gold, 3 Silver, 2 Bronze.