Grey skies and rain greet me when I arrive at the Novotel Twin Waters for the Tre-X Back2Back off-road triathlon. But while the skies are depressed the triathletes and events of the next two days certainly aren’t. The racing is fierce, the athletes gutsy, the organisation professional and the atmosphere friendly.
We open transition at 11:15am on Saturday morning and admire the amazing mountain bike machines being wheeled in. These sparkling clean beasts won’t stay that way for long. While the water has drained from much of the sandy bike course there’s still enough mud to leave a mark after the first day’s racing.
There are four back to back races on the schedule. Each race is held both on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning with most athletes going round both days. The first to take to the course are the Teaser athletes who are children aged over 10, teenagers and adults participating in their first off-road event. The Teasers race through a 150m swim, 5km mountain bike ride and 1km run. The front-runners fly while some of the other athletes show grit to test their skills through the course.
The long course event heads off second. These athletes will swim 500m, MTB 15km and complete a 6km beach run to the finish. I watch Saturday’s events from my spot at the mount and dismount lines in transition. This area also forms the turn-around point for the cyclists as they complete their first and second laps of the course. The crowd are close to the course around transition, cheering their family and friends ever onward around the tough course.
Laughter bursts through the air. A cyclist hits the deck in the soft sand. He momentarily lost concentration because he was about to raise his hand to wave at his supporters. They call out that they have their cameras ready. The cyclist falls off gently onto the soft sand, laughs out loud and remounts his metal steed to continue his race. It’s one of those moments that highlight the friendly competitive atmosphere of the Tre-X race.
As the last of the long course athletes are completing their final laps the short course athletes start to enter transition after their 350m swim. They will head out on a 10km MTB cycle and then a 4km beach run. There is a flurry of activity as cyclists enter and exit transition. It’s exciting to watch as athletes of all abilities share the course but do so with care for each other. There are men and women who make the course look easy while others seem content just to stay upright. All have smiles on their faces as they come back into transition after their respective laps of the bike course.
As the last cyclists complete the bike leg the first of the long course athletes start coming back to watch the race after completing their races. They regale us with stories of the foam on the beaches, which clung to their legs making it look as though they were wearing ugg boots.
While the rains held off on Saturday afternoon the same can’t be said for Sunday. We technical officials are grateful that the event organisors erected a tent for us to stand under as we check the athletes’ bikes and helmets this morning because the rain is pelting down. Triathletes greet us with smiles and laughter as they rack their bikes and wait for their events to begin. They are all going to complete the same courses as Saturday but this time in the rain.
While I spent Saturday in transition, I spend Sunday helping with the swim start. I love the sound as each wave starts with triathletes running and then diving into the water. At the ring of an old school bell each wave races into the water with a whoosh bang sound. Some swimmers take off like dolphins, racing easily through the water while others battle courageously through their least-favourite part of the race. It’s fantastic to see the courage of the tail-end swimmers who still hit the course despite their lack of confidence in the water.
I also spend some time out on the run course watching the triathletes slogging it out up the beach. It’s impressive to see them all silhouetted against the angry sky with the angry sea roaring in my ears.
Back in transition I watch a few of the cyclists racing through the mud. They are far dirtier today than they were yesterday and there are a few more cyclists returning with mud and cuts on them from where they fell. But two things haven’t changed: the smiles and the encouragement of the crowd.
There’s one more event I haven’t mentioned yet: the Dirt Kids races. This is a race for 7-10 year old kids who swim 50m, cycle 3km and run 500m. The race is non-competitive, with the focus being on kids getting involved in the sport and having fun. It begins after all the adult competitors have finished racing.
The Dirt Kids lay their bikes on the beach near the end of their swim leg. Due to the non-competitive nature of the event and the kids’ ages parents were allowed to assist their children in putting on their shoes and helmets, or running alongside their children to help them find the course.
There are some fantastic performances among the youngest competitors of the weekend, who are also backing up two days in a row. They swim through the lake quickly, turning at the surf lifesaver before swimming back to shore where some of the older and more experienced competitors make their transition independently. The Dirt Kids rode around the resort lake on a pathway before riding a short section of the MTB course and then back to transition. The run took the competitors around the lake to a beach and back. And boy can some of those Dirt Kids run!
Whether you are an adventure racer, triathlete, single-sport specialist, parent looking for a kid-friendly event or someone wanting to tackle an adventure this event has something for everyone. Who knows, next year I might even hire a mountain bike (yes, you can even hire a mountain bike at the event), take a pre-race MTB skills class (offered 1-2 weeks before the event on the event course) and give the race a go myself rather than volunteering in a yellow vest.