Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Fast Fun at the 2015 XTERRA Trail Run National Championships

It had been a few years since I raced an XTERRA trail run, and I'll be honest, I missed it. XTERRA has always been able to take their cool mountain community vibe and inject it with some polish, such as a blazing finish line chute full of top notch sponsors, professional prize purses, enough events for the whole family to get dirty, and a post-race video worthy of sharing. Even in this world of barbed wire obstacle and tough mudding insanity, XTERRA successfully sticks to their roots and consistently wins the hearts of a loyal group of outdoor warriors. The events are long enough to hurt, but not so long you can't spend the afternoon meeting people and sipping beers at the end. When I saw a weekend free up that would allow me to head to Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, for the XTERRA Triathlon and Trail Run National Championships, I was eager to get reacquainted!

(Mario Mendoza tackles the 2014 course)
On the flight up, I found myself excited to shift into the different gears required for a half marathon (21k) trail distance. After ultra training most of the year, it seemed like I was going to have to go at "ludicrous speed" just to keep up with the likes of Patrick Smyth (2x XTERRA World Champion, 2015 US Mountain Running Champion), 2015 NCAA 5k Champ Travis Morrison, 2015 St. Louis Marathon winner Richard Chelimo, and defending champion and 2x Olympic cross country skier Liz Stephen. It would be a good shake up the ultra training! 

(Sharing a beer with Josiah Middaugh after winning his 10th national title)
I arrived in time to watch the last of the XTERRA Off Road Triathlon National Championships, and watch the amazing bike skills these athletes have. And they can still head up into the hills and clock 6:30 min/miles! You could tell these athletes were stoked to punch their ticket to the world championship in Hawaii. A few were doing the double and would be back for the Trail Run the next day. Yup, these are my people!

(perfect day, ready to run)
Come race day, the weather was ideal and cloud free, and the single track beckoned the ~250 runners to come play. As the cannon sounded, we headed around the roads before tackling one of two big climbs. First mile was a 5:50 min/mile, and I was in 40th! This is a fast group.

(the cannon fires, and we are off!)
(Alayna Szuch - 11 years old, and killing it!)
I could feel the 6k-8k foot elevation pulling at my lungs, but when the race is this short, you basically have to charge the whole thing. I took the first climb with Alayna Szuch, an 11-year-old that was holding onto third Woman overall, and showing no signs of slowing. Incredible!

(the single track is fast!)
The dry single track was well groomed by the mountain bikes, providing a fast course with lots of banked turns. I was picking up places on the downhills and straights, my inov-8 X-Talon 212's proving to be the right shoe for nimbly jumping from mud to rocks, but wow, I just could not adjust to this fast pace! I swore I was one step away from a swan dive into the Wasatch canyons. As I looked ahead at the group of runners charging into the second hill (mile 6), it was clear the track runners had a special advantage with their speed and ability to come quickly out of switchbacks. I spotted some likely Masters runners ahead, so made my way up to them as we crested Sardine (mile 8) and ran the ridge line.
(breaking through to the ridge line on Sardine)
The Fall colors lured us off the ridge and into the final long set of switchbacks. I caught up to Wilhelm Northrop, who was the winner in my age group last year, and stuck close to him knowing his course familiarity (4x finisher) was better than mine (nada). As we hit one mile to go, I had enough to push past him in the final climb, only to learn that climb was A LOT bigger than I had thought. Darn you, announcer that sounds so close! But I pressed through, and crossed the finish in in 1:36:59 for 20th place, turning and thanking Wilhelm for his help. It turned out to be much slower than his finish last year, as he has been focusing on cycling this year, but it sure felt fast to me.

(Wilhelm sets the pace)
Patrick Smyth (1:13:55) handily won, holding off Travis Morrison (1:17:29) and Flagstaff's Mike Popjoy (1:21:07), while Liz Stephen (1:28:39) brought home a convincing win. The 11-year-old I passed, Alayna Szuch (1:45:32), held on for an impressive 2nd overall! She was one of a dozen truly outstanding young kids in here mixing it up in the full 21k...there is no doubt this sport is building the future of trail running. (all results, summary of race and national championship)

(yeah, finish!)
(Patrick Smyth and the Top 5 Men)
(Patrick catches up with fans, while Travis wonders what the hell I'm doing)
(The future of our sport...how cute are they?)
I managed a 2nd for my Age Group, behind a blazing fast Donnie Gray from the local Salomon team who had me by three minutes thanks to his amazing climbing skills. Yeah, gonna have to tune in that training to beat these mountain goats. But also great fun to meet so many new runners and see all these young speedsters. The Szuch family managed to have three wins, with Alayna, Mom, and brother taking national titles before heading off to soccer practice. Many age group winners had won their age group in the triathlon the day before, including 71-year-old James Meskimen from Truckee, CA, donning his Ironman Lake Tahoe buckle. Yup, these are serious mountain athletes right here. It is great to celebrate a wonderful day in the sun with them.

My thanks to the XTERRA family and their amazing volunteers for putting on a world class race. It was great to see you again!


  1. Szuch was actually second. Great blog and coverage.

    1. You are correct! (and corrected) I think I misread the results, and assumed an international runner had come in between. She was amazing, running all the hills. We will see more of her for sure!

  2. How do you take such great pictures while you're running?

    Thanks for giving readers so much color about the event and other participants. Most bloggers focus solely on their own race.

    1. This one was the iPhone 6 in hand. They don't all come out, but generally a handful do. It doesn't cost much time since a little recovery generally means I can go faster when I jump back in. And XTERRA always has great people! Tons of fun.


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