A true gem on the XTERRA circuit, XTERRA Richmond is an adrenaline-packed urban off-road race. With the help of sponsor Luck Stone, the XTERRA village takes over Brown’s Island park in downtown Richmond for a weekend in early June, with Trail Runs on Saturday and the XTERRA East Championship and sprint distance triathlons on Sunday.
Note: XTERRA Richmond will also be the site of the 2014 USAT Off-Road National Championships on June 15, 2014.
I’ve raced here the past two years, winning my age-group both times and finishing 9th, then 2nd overall in the amateur race. This weekend, I went to Richmond to pre-ride (and pre-run and pre-swim) the course to prepare for the 2013 race next weekend. After a hard crash in the 2011 XTERRA USA Championship on a part of the bike course that I had not pre-ridden, I swore off of sight reading courses at race pace. Fortunately for me, I live close enough to Richmond that I can make a day trip to practice this course. I hope this photo pre-ride will serve as a resource for others who may not be as close or have the time to get out there until race day. For those who are not familiar with the joys of off-road triathlon, I offer this window into the beautiful and challenging adventure of XTERRA.
The River City
The mass start swim begins in the water at a boat launch about a quarter-mile from transition, underneath a railroad bridge. When the river is low, the main concerns are the rocks in the riverbed. When the river is high, you still have to watch out for shallow rocks, but also have to be mindful of the relatively strong current that can easily push you off course. The swim course takes you across the James River, zigzagging around a few buoys, followed by a short run on Belle Isle, and then back into the water for a swim back to the boat launch on Tredegar Street. At 1000 meters, it’s the shortest swim of the championship series, although it’s certainly challenging with its underwater obstacles and current.
Another wrinkle with the swim, especially if the water is low, is that there may be sandbars in the river where it is easier to stand up and run than it is to swim/slog through the shallow water. As such, I would highly recommend watching the pro swim to see what they do. I was a victim of this tactical error in 2012, and it cost me about a minute on my swim time.
Swim start at the boat launch under the railroad
Swim across the James River to Belle Isle
After running along the beach on Belle Isle, swim back parallel to the bridge
Keep swimming along the bank back to the boat launch
If you need a break, doggy paddle
The quarter-mile run back to transition is rough on the feet. Stash a pair of sandals or shoes near the swim exit.
The Championship bike course consists of two 10-mile loops connecting the North Bank, Buttermilk, and Forest Hills singletrack along the banks of the James River. (The sprint race shares the same course, but is one shorter loop.) The trails are tight, twisty, and narrow hard-pack with plenty of technical features and punchy climbs. The course rewards strong and skillful riders who can maintain speed through corners and power over undulating terrain. Make sure to hydrate thoroughly on both laps, as Richmond in June can be oppressively hot, especially with the 9:45AM start time.
During race weekend, XTERRA village and the transition area take over the park on Brown’s Island
After leaving T1, make a left onto Tredegar Street
Plenty of smooth road on Tredegar to secure your shoes, then make a right at the info board onto the North Bank Trail
Make a left after the pedestrian bridge
Onto a fire road, then make a U-Turn at the handrail up the hill
At the top of the newly paved walkway, take the ramp onto the Lee bridge
The Lee Bridge shoulder is exceptionally wide, and is a great place to hydrate!
Take the first exit off the Lee Bridge onto Riverside Drive
The Buttermilk trail system begins just after the red brick building in the photo above
Be ready for fast, twisty, singletrack right off the bat
Stay left on the short rocky incline before the culvert, and ride through the tunnel on the left
You might want to tip your glasses down while in the tunnel
There is a quick hike-a-bike section out of the tunnel
Stay to the left on the fire road, the trail resumes slightly further uphill on the right
After a fast, switchback section around big logs…
be ready for a tricky u-turn
When you reach this gorgeous flat section at the top of a hill…
watch out for a blind 1-foot drop-off, keep your weight back!
Pre-load, then unweight your bike as you ride over a short set of stairs
Soak in the scenery, but be careful riding the Forest Hills bridge
Take a left after the bridge back onto the fire road
Ride down, and back under the culvert
Take an immediate left after the tunnel, back onto the singletrack
A tricky rock garden immediately awaits!
The first of three creek crossings soon follows
The second creek crossing is very slippery in the morning. Locals congregate here to watch the action!
Next is a tricky uphill on a large, smooth rock surface
Stay smooth and fluid on the third creek crossing
Keep right on the Buttermilk trail
Take a left onto the pedestrian walkway as the trail ends
Watch out for pedestrians on the walkway, and take the opportunity to hydrate!
And take in the view
Take a left at the flag pole
The Buttermilk trail resumes shortly after, on the left
Get ready for a nasty uphill (to the left), power up the wooden ramp
After the uphill, you ride along Kansas Ave through a neighborhood. Last year, this was a bottle exchange spot. Drink up!
Turn right on Texas Ave, left through the parking lot, back onto the North Bank Trail
One of many challenging switchbacks along the course
The North Bank Trail will spit you back onto the entry fire road to start the 2nd lap
Overall, the course is very flat and fast (albeit hot and exposed). The Mayan Ruins, staircases, dry river run, and the Belle Isle singletrack keep you honest.
Leaving T2, the run course follows the canal path past the concert stage
Enjoy the art and ignore the pain in your legs and lungs
Keep right of the concrete wall and run straight across the railroad tracks to 14th St
Turn right when you reach 14th St, crossing over the first of two bridges
Check out the views of the James River and Richmond industry from the second bridge
Hang a right, just before the railroad crossing sign onto the floodwalk
Power up the steps
Careful down the steps
The course turns left under the 9th St bridge
Take a right under the 9th St bridge, by the wooden garbage bin, onto the Mayan Ruins
Don’t burn all your matches scaling the Mayan Ruins, there’s still nearly 4 miles to go
Try to calm the fire in your quads on the flat bridge after the ruins
Hang a right after the bridge onto Railroad Ave
Take the singletrack on the right before the yield sign to Riverside drive
Catch the singletrack again, just under the Lee Bridge
The course continues on Riverside Drive, same as the beginning of the bike loops
At the bike course trail head, take a right on the pedestrian bridge instead
Watch out for pedestrians (and motion sickness) on the spiral staircase
Take a left after the staircase onto a long (~1 mile), flat, and fast section of fire road
Pass the RVA park maintenance facility on your right
Then take a right on the gravel off-shoot of the main fire road
Be careful on the slippery water crossing
The next section is technical singletrack, filled with rocks and roots – quick feet are a must!
The singletrack spits you back onto the flat fire road (in the opposite direction), make a left…
onto this wooden bridge, and turn right onto more technical singletrack
The singletrack ends here, and the dry river run begins
Navigate across the first, small portion
Through some tricky terrain…
And onto the big dry run section! In the XTERRA spirit, sprint across to the iron ladder any way you can
Climb up the iron ladder, you’ve made it
A view of the dry river run from the iron ladder
After the ladder, take a right onto a flat fire road, then after about a quarter mile, take a left onto a wide uphill trail
The next section is about 0.75 miles of technical, twisty running in the maze that is the the Belle Isle trail system. FOLLOW THE COURSE MARKINGS!
The singletrack will spit you back onto the flat fire road. Follow it to the pedestrian bridge, where you cross back over the James River for the last time
From here, its a sprint along Tredegar St back to the finish line in XTERRA village. Refreshments and festivities await.