With colors of fall blanketing Snowbasin Resort, hot temperatures and windy conditions prevailed on race day in the mountains of Uah for the Pan Am Series Final. The XTERRA Pan American Championship race was primed to be hotly contested with the reigning XTERRA World Champion Bradley Weiss, the 2016 World Champion Mauricio Mendez and the 2015 World Champion Josiah Middaugh all toeing the line along with a number of top athletes ready to battle it out for the series final.
While long time XTERRA standout Josiah Middaugh won the Utah Championship race 3 prior times, most recently in 2016, it was 22 year old Mauricio Mendez who took the crown last year. But at 40 years of age Middaugh seems to find a way to get more out of himself each year explaining “The only way I have been able to remain competitive in XTERRA is to evolve as XTERRA has evolved. The competition has gotten better year after year and I have tried to adapt accordingly. I realize I am 40 years old but I have always considered myself a late bloomer so I think I have a little bit more left in me. I think it is important to keep learning and stay focused on improving.”
With a better than expected swim at the Pineview Reservoir, Middaugh was 7th out of the water but more importantly only 49 seconds back from the front group of swimmers including Zoller, Mendez, Rakita, King, Weiss, & Madsen, with a smaller gap that usual to attempt to chase down on the bike. Middaugh remarked “I had a great swim, I always swim well at this race but this was probably my best to date. I have been swimming well the last couple weeks with Karsten Madsen and I training together. I also had a custom wetsuit made from Synergy based on my weaknesses and it made a big difference.”
A known talent on the bike, particularly when it comes to long sustained climbs at elevation, it didn’t take Middaugh long to bridge the gap passing Zoller, Mendez (who DNF’d due to a broken seat), First Endurance athlete Branden Rakita, King and Madsen. By mile 7 Middaugh caught Weiss to take the lead. Weiss dug deep to hold his wheel but the gap continued to increase throughout the bike. Flying into T2, Middaugh had opened up a gap of 2:28 on the reigning world champion and 3:39 in front of Madsen who was 3rd into T2. Laying down the fastest bike split of the day, Middaugh was 3:04 faster than First Endurance’s 22 year old Sam Long who pulled out the 2nd best ride of the day finishing the bike in 4th followed by Rakita in 5th (who has been nursing a tibial injury that’s kept him from running in training and was unable to run to his ability). Regarding his dominant ride, Middaugh said “I have put a little extra emphasis on biking this season and I felt stronger as I went up the climb. After I caught Bradley Weiss I actually thought Mauricio Mendez was still up the trail. I thought I was chasing most of the day and dug pretty deep to try to catch an invisible rider. I didn’t realize until I got off the bike that I was in the lead.”
Expanding on his advantage, Middaugh pushed all the way to the finish line to win the 2018 XTERRA Pan American Championships in a time of 2:26:35, 3:57 in front of 2nd place Weiss.
Adding to his tally of XTERRA Championship race wins and regaining his crown from 2016, Middaugh said
“This race is always the most competitive XTERRA outside of the world championships, so I am stoked to be able to pull off my fourth win here.”
Over the near 2 and a half hour race, Middaugh had his typical calculated approach to staying hydrated and topped up with electrolytes and calories. Explaining his nutrition plan, Middaugh said “I started the race with one bottle of EFS PRO mixed at 160 calories. At the first aid station I grabbed a water bottle and just took one big drink and tossed the bottle. I also had a flask of EFS Liquid Shot that was diluted with a little bit of water. My goal was to take in about 400 calories on the bike but I probably came up a little bit short at around 300 calories. On the run I carried a 10 ounce flask mixed with 120 calories of EFS PRO that I kept with me for the duration of the run taking a drink every mile or so.”
With the World Championships a mere 6 weeks on the horizon, Middaugh thoughtfully said
“This race has given me some confidence heading into Hawaii, but more importantly it has showed me that I am headed in the right direction with my training.”
“I have a plan for the final six weeks to top off my fitness and then dissipate that fatigue to arrive in Maui with good form. It’s a unique and individual race, so anything can happen.”
Perhaps even more stoked than the winner was 22 year old Sam Long, a phenom when it comes to juggling long distance IRONMAN road racing with the speed, power and technical skill required for off-road XTERRA, who pulled off a 3rd place podium result, just 47 seconds shy of 2nd place Weiss.
Long has already done 4 IRONMAN’s this year (Mt Tremblant 5th, Whistler 4th, Boulder 5th, New Zealand 9th) and has his 5th one in Louisville on October 14th, two weeks prior to XTERRA World Championships.
Finding himself 1:52 back on the swim, Long made major gains on the bike riding into T2 in 4th position —despite riding 223 training miles Monday and Tuesday on his TT bike that week. Managing to pass Madsen on the run and edging closer to Weiss, Long said “I found my stride from the start and just felt one with the trail.” Finishing in 2:31:19 to claim the 3rd spot on the podium Long exulted “I’m stoked to be on the podium at this race behind two world champs!! It gives me confidence that I can compete with them. Sometimes I struggle with my belief in myself for XTERRA, being mostly an on-road IRONMAN guy. However now I have a plan and the belief I can be on the podium at Maui. Racing and seeing how I compared in the various legs to the world champs contenders gave me a great idea of what I need to work on.”
XTERRA Pan American Championships
September 15, 2018
1 Josiah Middaugh 2:26:35
2 Bradley Weiss 2:30:32
3 Sam Long 2:31:19
4 Karsten Madsen 2:32:15
5 Walter Schafer 2:35:21
6 Brian Smith 2:36:58
7 Kieran McPherson 2:41:51
8 Branden Rakita 2:41:55
9 Nelson Hegg 2:47:45
10 Joshua Merrick 2:49:33