The main event of the year for XTERRA racing is the World Championships held in Kapalua on the island of Maui. Always an epic race with a 1 mile open water swim, mountainous 18.5 mile mountain bike course and a 6.5 mile run through trails and over a sandy beach with more than 4,000 feet of elevation gained throughout the race.
This year mother nature threw an extra element to the race hitting the island with hurricanes early in the year leaving the water tables high enough that the days of rain leading up to the race never allowed the course to dry out. The bike and run course were reduced to a muddy slick trail difficult to get any grip and created havoc on the mechanics of the athletes’ bikes with mud and grass tangling in the drivetrain forcing athletes to stop and clean their bikes. To make matters even worse, particularly for the non-swimmers, race morning saw the ocean kicking up big swells to start the race.
First Endurance athletes Josiah Middaugh, Branden Rakita, Sam Long and Lesley Paterson all experienced degrees of difficulty on race day yet each endured to battle through the elements and dig deep within themselves.
Though the women’s race boasted regional champions and past world champions, all eyes were on Scotswoman Lesley Paterson. Having won World Championships in 2011 and 2012, Paterson had her eyes firmly set on nothing other than regaining the title having had a few difficult years being diagnosed with Lymes disease following her last win here.
Paterson had a better than expected swim – 6th out of the water, 3:26 behind eventual 2nd place Michelle Flipo but only 25 seconds off of the front pack. Once onto the bike Paterson turned it up a notch, making huge gains posting the fastest ride by over 8 minutes and continued to extend upon her lead with the fasted run split of the day. Though the conditions couldn’t hold down the Scottish Rocket, she wasn’t immune to the difficulties of the day stating “Wow, the mud was insane but patience was the main order of the day. I focused on just staying calm and understanding that everyone felt that way!”
Winning her 3rd XTERRA World Championship title, Paterson expressed
“You know, the emotions are full of both relief and gratitude. To be able to perform the way I know I’m capable is just really cool. I’m very happy! It shows me that ‘never giving up’ has to be a mantra!”
New to the First Endurance triathlon team this year, Paterson commented on the benefits she felt from First Endurance products “I notice an ability to sustain higher intensities by utilizing both OptygenHP and PreRace. Not only was I alert with lots of energy, but I was able to hit that threshold capacity and sustain it!”
This year in the men’s competition, the race boasted perhaps the best ever field and certainly the greatest depth of competition. 2015 World Champion Josiah Middaugh was feeling at the top of his game but knew very well there are no givens on race day.
“My expectations were high for the race, as I knew my build-up went perfectly and my fitness was at an all-time high.”
“I also tried to mentally prepare for several different scenarios since the conditions and the challenge of the course means you never race with plan A.”
The choppy ocean water proved to be particularly difficult for many including Middaugh who said “On race morning the swell finally arrived and the shore break was huge.”
“I pre-swam the exact course two days earlier in 21 minutes, but it took me nearly 25 minutes on race day at race intensity.”
“I didn’t anticipate losing that much time in the water and was shocked to be so far behind but I just tried to focus and went to work on the bike. I knew I had my work cut out for me since all of the contenders made the first swim group nearly 3 minutes ahead.”
Despite having the 48th over all swim time, Middaugh’s ‘never quit attitude’ saw him charge hard as he always does on the bike, passing rider after rider through the slick mud making an incredible comeback from his disappointing swim start. Middaugh’s mountain bike split was second only to professional mountain biker, Ruben Ruzafa, 2 seconds faster than the eventual winner on the day, Rom Akerson, and minutes faster than the rest of the men’s elite field moving him all the way up to 5th to start the run.
“The course was just unbelievable with all of the mud and grass that would pull up into your drivetrain and clogged everything up. Everyone had issues and you just had to keep your head in the game. I pushed as hard as I could whenever I could and thought maybe I could clock back into the race.”
With a strong performance on the run, Middaugh held off super runner, 2016 World Champion Mauricio Mendez. Despite high aspirations, Middaugh’s comeback from near 4 minutes back on the swim to 5th on the podium was nothing short of an incredible effort and display of tenacity. Middaugh said “I felt good going out on the run and thought for sure some of the front runners would pop, but they were all running strong. I was fortunate not to have any major mechanical issues or bad crashes and to finish fifth against such a strong field means I still had a good day”.
Sam Long has been mixing it up on the triathlon scene this year racing bicycle stage races, 70.3’s, IRONMAN distance and XTERRA. Just two weeks prior, Long placed 2nd at IRONMAN Louisville. Long’s season has been one of constant improvement from each race but his day in Maui was difficult, finishing the swim 3:47 off the lead and his effort on the bike, his strongest discipline, was marred with mechanical issues which led to physical issues.
“My electronic shifting went out at about 6k right after the first descent and I was stuck in my hardest gear. I tried to fix it quickly and then rode for a few minutes just grinding which became too hard to continue and knew I needed to fix it. I managed to fix the problem and was able to shift again, however, my chain would drop occasionally. Then my seat post broke leaving my seat angled way up at 90 forcing me to sit in a position causing lots of torque on my back. My back eventually gave out and I collapsed in T2, making for an equally difficult run.”
XTERRA Worlds is a race I will never forget and everyone who raced should be proud of themselves. While I had my worst day of racing in my entire career—due to serious mechanicals—”
“I had to find something new in myself to finish. That’s what sport is about.”
The ever-happy and positive Long said “I’m looking forward to some extended down time before building for an even better year next year.”
Long time XTERRA athlete Branden Rakita said
“XTERRA World Championships this year doled out the most brutal conditions through the swim, bike, and run that we have ever dealt with in Kapalua.”
A strong swimmer who is typically at the pointy end of the race out of the water, Rakita had another strong swim to start the championship race and riding strongly early on. After that, Rakita said “Things got ugly once into the mud. The mud, grass and leaves would clog up on the bike and you would grind to a halt, clean things out then get going again. I was going pretty well through the first 14 miles but on the last climb and then the last 5 miles on wickedly slick and muddy single track I was mentally fatigued and just wanted to be done. The run was survival, I actually felt pretty fresh getting off the bike at the start of the run which I attribute to course conditions making it hard to dig as hard as you wanted and having a hard time staying mentally engaged over the last 6 miles of the course and not pushing as much as I should have been. The run was just as slick as the last part of the bike and I did whatever was necessary to just get through it. It was a long hard day I was stoked to not have any issues with my nutrition and was able to get in the necessary electrolytes and calories through my bottles of EFS-PRO and EFS Liquid Shot.”
XTERRA World Championships
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
October 28, 2018
1 Lesley Paterson (Scotland) 3:29:07
2 Michelle Flipo (Mexico) 3:39:55
3 Lizzie Orchard (New Zealand) 3:40:53
4 Suzie Snyder (USA) 3:44:28
5 Brigitta Poor (Hungary) 3:45:26
6 Carina Wasle (Austria) 3:51:08
7 Julie Baker (USA) 3:59:26
8 Angela Niklaus (Switzerland) 4:00:21
9 Penny Slater (Australia) 4:04:15
10 Allison Baca (USA) 4:06:34
1 Rom Akerson (Costa Rica 2:52:41
2 Bradley Weiss (South Africa) 2:53:16
3 Sam Osborne (New Zealand) 2:54:37
4 Ruben Ruzafa (Spain) 2:55:34
5 Josiah Middaugh (USA) 2:56:33
6 Mauricio Mendez (Mexico) 2:57:10
7 Karsten Madsen (Canada) 3:04:05
8 Maxim Chane (France) 3:07:07
9 Francois Carloni (France) 3:07:41
10 Roger Serrano (Spain) 3:10:29