Before Caren Mills got into mountain biking in a big way she was just a social runner, but with an Epic behind her the competitive bug bit and she moved into off-road triathlons with the Xterra series before qualifying for the 2014 ITU Cross Tri World Championships in Zittau, Germany.
My first ever triathlon was off road; the 2014 Xterra Grabouw. It included a 1.5km swim, a very tough 26km Mountain bike and a 12km run. Surprisingly, I won my age category and qualified for Xterra worlds in Hawaii. That was all good and well, but once I started doing some research I realised that you don’t really win anything other than an entry into the event and that the cost to get to Xterra Maui were ridiculous. A friend told me about the ITU Cross Tri race in Limpopo that doubles as the South African and African Championships. She said if I won that I could qualify to go to Germany to compete in the 2014 ITU Cross Triathlon World Champs in Zittau, and represent South Africa. The costs were a third of going to Hawaii so I was keen to compete.
I competed and won my age category, qualified and was thrilled that I’d be off to Germany. But I only had 13 weeks to train for the big race, fitting training sessions for two disciplines into a day and trying to manage 3 children.
With three weeks to the race I did the first leg of the Hout Bay Trail run and fell in the last five meters of my leg of the relay and broke my finger! I didn’t even think of cancelling the race, the deposits had been paid and I was going anyway.
So with swimming out of the training schedule, with two weeks to go I pulled my calf on a run with my husband, so I was confined to the stationary bike for the last couple of weeks.
Race day arrived without any further injuries, but having scouted the race route in preparation, the pouring rain that has woken me in the early hours of the morning had me worried about the already technical mountain bike course. I lay awake strategizing in preparation for my 09:30 start.
Before the race start we were assigned to a designated waiting area, before being called down to the start line, from which we’d sprint into the water. I knew I had to get a good start so that no one could bash my broken finger.
When the gun went I sprinted in and was on my own about 30 strokes into the swim. With only about 150 ladies in the age group ladies world champs and the men starting separately the swim wasn’t too chaotic. I could just swim the 1.5km leg and look after my finger. I came out of the water in the midfield and raced through transition towards the supersized style, which lead onto the MTB course that had been haunting me since I arrived in Zittau.
When it came into view and I saw two girls ahead of me, one German and the other British. The German lady was moving fast and as we approached the ramp I could see that the British lady was starting to slow and hesitate! I could not afford to even think about slowing, I had to pick up the pace and get to the style before her. I was never going to make it before her, so I just hoped she would pull to one side so I could make it past. At the ramp she put her foot down and I moved to the far right, we touched bars… but not hard enough to go down and I made it over my supersized style. After that I could just focus on the race.
I had borrowed one of my cycling buddies, Phil’s bike but with his 34 tooth chainring, the 1 800 meters of climbing in 36km and the fact that I’m used to running a 32 tooth chainring on my 1 x 11 setup I ran out of gears a few times on the climbs. I loved the course even with the conditions. I had pasted two of the technical sections without a problem and while approaching the 30km mark where there were two technical rocky descents I kept reminding myself of Conrad Stoltz’s advice to “just keep the momentum and keep your backside as far back as possible and let the bike go.” Sometimes it’s easier said than done!
I had made it down the first one but just at the end the girl in front of me stopped and I had to quickly get around her and carry on, but as I did I heard a few swear words from behind as the guys, who’d started half an hour later, were catching us. When one passed me I realised he was a South African and I followed him down the next technical section. To our left a guy went over the bars and I just had to refocus and make it through the rest of the technical descent and then ride out the remaining 6km of the MTB leg.
Back in transition and off the bike my legs felt like lead. I could only hope they would loosen on the run. The crowds were great and I had terrific family support, which always helps, but still I don’t have much to tell about the run itself. A few people passed me, but my calf was feeling okay and eventually crossing that finish line was the best feeling!
It was a great experience to represent my country and the German organisers put on an amazing race. I placed fourth in my age category for which I’m happy considering my injuries. My next goal, if I get the funding, is the Xterra World Champs in Maui!
Caren “Mayhem” Mills is passionate about being outdoors: anything from surfing, SUP’ing, paddling, running, swimming and most of all mountain biking. She has three wonderful children, so when she’s not running around after them she’s outdoors. Follow her on Twitter @CarenPlanting.