After approximately five hours drive from our Aachen Headquarter we have arrived to Xonrupt-Longemer, a French village close to Gérardmer, where this year Xterra France 2021 took place. After we left the highway, it was a heavy uphill drive with our fully packed bus to 700-meter height. A beautiful scenery unfolded front of our eyes. Green hilly woodlands surrounded two silvery shimmering lakes. Close to the shore of one of them the race village was built up with a huge wooden gate as finish line and a maze of biking and running ramps made out of thousands of pallets.
This was my first assignment for Sportograf and I was quite overwhelmed. Saturday, the 3 rd of July started relaxed, as the first race for the kids was scheduled for the afternoon, and a day before we already found some great spots for photography. So, I used the early morning to discover the place and the trail of the race in the sunrise with one of our E-MTB. Our accommodation was located already way above the race village but I still had to ride uphill to find the track in the woods. Already the 300-meter height difference was calling for my appreciation, and yet I have not even seen the track leading through huge rocks, at parts covered with stones, or pervaded with roots. I must admit, I dismounted several times to
push the bike just as much uphill as downhill although I had more than just muscle power. After two hours ride I was happy to get back to our accommodation and still have some time to recover from a slight muscle fever.
In the afternoon the kids were competing in two categories, which was just fair, as some of them just started primary school while others already had some sort of mustache below their nose. Swimming in the Lac De Longemer was the first challenge, then biking and finish with running. Although the kids did not have to fight with elevation as their track was kept around the lake, the mini triathlon brought some of them to the edge of their power. Especially some of the younger ones arrived to the finish line crying or close to it.
Later in the afternoon the Swim Run took place, although it rather supposed to be called Run Swim, as the participants started with running and then went swimming. This was the funniest concept of competition I have ever heard of or seen. The participants had to compete in pairs, and they were attached together with a rope. The race had four sections, every section had a running and a swimming part. So they were running in one part of the forest then swimming in the lake, then running again in an other part of the woods and then swim again and so on. The distances were always different and they had to run through the finish line together. The pairs were couples, friends or relatives in a very wide variety of age, some of them were in their twenties others in their sixties. At some part of the lake water plants were growing, and the competitors raised from the water with chunk of plants attached and knotted to their ropes. So, they had no other choice as continue the race with the unwanted cluster till the end. The spirit of this part of Xterra was less competitive and more spiritual through the physical bound created by the rope attached. Although the members of pairs had their own pace, they were forced to adapt to each other, and be connected again to be able to finish the track.
During the night it was raining heavily, and although Sunday started with sunshine, the trail in the woods remained muddy. “Mud your triathlon” is the slogan of Xterra France and this year for sure the slogan was truer than ever. In the afternoon started to rain again, which pushed the limits further. The participants and their bikes were covered with mud completely to such an extend that the wooden built ramps from the rain and mud got so slippery that at one point every second one fell. Luckily no one was badly injured, but for sure some pain and bruises occurred. A day before lots of people already made a try out and enjoyed the speed of these ramps in the sunshine, but at the day of the competition they took back speed and rather chose to ride off the ramps, rather risking to get stuck in the mud.
Xterra France is a real physical challenge, way more than a simple triathlon. It is a strength testing adventure, where everyone who is crossing the finish line can be proud of this achievement. It is also thoroughly a family event, where several participants finished the race surrounded with their kids, running the last meters together, sharing the feeling of victory with their loved ones, expressing probably that without their continuous support they would not be able to have this accomplishment.
The positive energy of the event is sustained with constant live DJ music and amazing moderators who animate the audience to cheer till the last competitor arrives. It is a real must to see and for those who feel adventurous enough even to participate.
text by Krisztina Fazekas-Kielbassa