As the racers entered the water they were reminded how lucky they were. “Two months ago it was 110 degrees for a triathlon here, today it’s only 55 degrees, exactly half as hot,” race director Fred Phillips said over the bullhorn. Those who were at this race last year probably remember it being below 40 degrees when they entered Lake DeGray for the first leg of the DeGray XTERRA Sprint and Epic races.
Because road triathlons are not tough enough, or maybe because some people prefer running and cycling on trails instead of pavement, in 1996 the XTERRA was born. Originally called the AquaTerra, this dirty cousin of the triathlon was first raced in Hawaii. The race earned a reputation for being so rough and rugged that one of the first sponsors, Nissan Motors, introduced its own XTERRA truck in 1997. Nissan and XTERRA parted ways a few years ago but the races live on. If you haven’t figured it out yet, like a triathlon, an XTERRA consists of a swim, bike and run but instead of the standard road fare on the bike and run competitors mountain bike and trail run. It’s a perfect sport for the trails of Arkansas.
This year DLT Events XTERRA race moved just down the road from it’s previous location at Iron Mountain Resort, still on DeGray Lake but in the popular triathlon venue at the lake’s spillway parking area. This move was made possible by the addition of new trails in the Iron Mountain Trail System that now reach all the way to the spillway.
Shorter, sprint distances have been the standard for XTERRAs over the years but in 2010 Fred Phillips and DLT Events hosted their first “Epic” XTERRA in Ruston, LA. As traditional triathlons have sprint, olympic and ironman distances, the off-road races now have sprint and epic distances. A sprint distance has 500-900 yard swimming, a 10-12 mile mountain bike section, and 3-4 mile trail run while the epic challenges racers with a one-mile swim, 30-to-35 mile mountain bike, and 9-to-11 mile trail run.
The event at Iron Mountain consisted of both race distances. The sprint field started at 9 am while the epic competitors started 15 minutes later. The swim portion took place in a protected cove to the left side of the spillway parking area with only a small area near the far turn exposed to open water. After some final instruction from the race director, racers were off, the sprinters doing one lap of the swim course followed by the epic racers who would be in the water for two laps. The 55 degree temperature felt even colder with the brisk wind coming across the lake. Even so, there were a few who decided to go without wet suits.
Once out of the lake, racers headed up the carpet pieces covering the rocky shoreline to the transition area. Top competitors learn to save their legs during the swim, saving their punishment for the next two legs of the race. Stripping out of the wet suits makes this the slowest transition of the race but soon competitors were ready to mount the mountain bikes. The bike course covered a short paved section and then a bit of gravel then into the forested singletrack. Iron Mountain is one of the newer trail systems in the state and is quickly becoming a favorite among mountain bikers in the central and southern part of the state. While the sprint course was 11 miles, the epic racers would ride a tough 34 miles or two laps of the whole trail system. Some stout climbs punctuate this flowy course with a couple short technical sections.
Once they were done with the ride, the athletes transitioned to the run. Once off the bike it usually takes several minutes for the racers to get their legs working properly. Competitors protest the “noodle leg” that comes from trying to run after a long period of pedaling. A portion of the mountain bike trails was used for the run plus a jeep trail that took the runners up a steep hill from below the dam, up and over a hill and then down a steep section. Just one lap for the sprinters, three laps for the epic racers and then across the parking lot for the finish.
This was the final race of the 4 race epic series which includes races in Ruston, LA, Marquette, MI and Salamanca, NY. Due to being a National Series this race brought competitors in from 18 states.
The first 3 overall/men for the sprint race:
1. Karl Stover – 1:32:44
2. Dane Baldini – 1:34:26
3. John Venable – 1:39:15
The top 3 women for the sprint race:
1. Jill Tillman – 1:59:16
2. Cynthia Bradley – 2:04:43
3. Kristin Scarella – 2:05:12
The top 3 overall/men for the epic race:
1. Andy Lee – 5:03:15
2. Mike Barro – 5:08:10
3. Ron Tribendis – 5:22:53
The top 3 women for the epic race:
1. Kelly Cool – 6:09:07
2. Beverly Enslow – 6:43:37
3. Kimberly Roberson – 7:32:32
All other results are posted on the DLT Events Site.
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