In 2014, Mike Dorr received a roll-down slot for entry into the XTERRA World Championship in Maui.
He turned it down.
“I wanted to earn my spot,” says Dorr. “So that was my goal in 2015, to earn my spot for XTERRA Worlds at XTERRA Beaver Creek.”
Dorr knows a little something about getting after it. A successful high school runner, he burned out his senior year and began partying in college. By 2008, he was 215 pounds and drinking so much he could barely keep food down.
“I was basically an alcoholic,” he admits. “So I moved back home to Iowa to change my life around. I just did not want to live like that anymore.”
His first eight months sober were “really, really hard.” Next, he met with a personal trainer who gave him an exercise and nutrition plan. It was nothing fancy – mostly, just more hard work.
“My first two weeks working out, I was on a treadmill walking,” says Dorr. “I was barely doing anything because I was so overweight. Then everything started coming back for me.”
By 2010, Dorr had dropped the weight, moved back to Colorado, and was running on the trails six days a week. The following year he purchased a mountain bike and entered a few races.
“Then I was like, I need a goal, because if I don’t have a goal then I don’t feel like I can accomplish anything. So I saw this XTERRA race and I thought, well, I know how to run, I love to mountain bike, and I don’t drown if I go in the water.”
Having never entered an open water swim, Dorr watched a lot of YouTube videos and focused on swimming. The week before his first XTERRA at Beaver Creek, Dorr did a local “dunk and dash” race in a borrowed kayak wetsuit.
“That wetsuit was basically a sponge,” says Dorr. “I got through the swim but I was scared shitless, really.”
Before Beaver Creek, Dorr bought a proper wetsuit and lined up at the start.
“It was my first mass start,” he says. “It was probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But it was the greatest feeling in the world after I finished that swim because everything else was gravy.”
The next year, Dorr followed his passion into personal training and had no time to race, but in 2014, Dorr wanted to make it into the XTERRA National Championship, which had a qualifying standard at that time. Despite a rough race at XTERRA Beaver Creek where his nutrition fell out of his back pocket on the mountain bike ride, he qualified for Nationals and was sixth in his age group.
Still, Dorr didn’t think his sixth place finish merited a trip to the XTERRA World Championship. That would come a year later.
“One of the best moments I had in XTERRA was at Beaver Creek in 2015 when I qualified for Worlds. I took 18 minutes off my time from the previous year. I felt like I was getting to the podium.”
It goes without saying that the 40-44 age group is one of XTERRA’s most competitive. The top six men swap podium steps the way kids swap Pokemon cards. In the 2015 XTERRA Beaver Creek race, Dorr finished less than a minute behind age group champ Ryan McMullen – 2:39:13 to 2:39:54.
Amazingly enough, the two had a mirror-image finish the following year, with Dorr in front, 2:39:24 to 2:39:58. Also in the mix that year at Nationals were 2016 Pan Am Champ, Garren Watkins, Matt Berg, Yaro Middaugh, and Andy Lee. Despite Dorr’s hard work and increased experience, the talent of the 40-44 age group kept Dorr from the podium at the XTERRA National Championship in 2016.
This year was something different. He qualified for the 2017 XTERRA World Championship at XTERRA Oak Mountain in a near tie with David Dornaus. Both times were listed as 2:47:45, but Dorr’s second place finish was good enough. He was hoping to step on the podium again at the 2017 XTERRA National Championship, but he ended up surprising himself by landing the top spot.
“Winning at the Pan Am Championships was definitely the highlight in XTERRA for me,” says Dorr. “I was just hoping to get on the podium. To win it was a little overwhelming, just knowing who I was going against.”
Dorr didn’t move to the lead until the end of the run.
“Right at the last aid station I saw these guys going up on the switchback,” he says, describing the race. “We had just made that big climb right in the middle of the race, and we were still going up a bit and I saw three of the guys in my age group. I was totally surprised that they were that close to me. I’m like, I’m actually gaining on these guys and if I can get by them to the last mile and a half where it’s all downhill, I know I can beat them because I know I’m a downhill runner.”
When Dorr passed Ryan McMullen, McMullen yelled his encouragement. Next, he caught up to Garren Watkins and passed him on the second to last switchback on a burst of energy.
Still, Dorr is modest about the win. “I don’t think Garren had his best race.”
Watkins disagrees. “I had a five-minute lead on Dorr, but he was the better runner that day. He’s a good downhill runner. Me, not so much.”
Until the XTERRA World Championship in Maui on October 29th, it will be business as usual for Dorr. His head is down and he’s going to keep on swinging.
“I don’t like to swim,” he admits. “But I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning at five and go swim. It’s going to be 27 degrees and I’m not going to want to go but once I jump in the pool, I’m fine.”
If he has an advantage – in addition to his natural talent – it’s that he won’t back down.
“I always look at it as you attack the wave, you don’t let the wave attack you. You gotta go and get to it before it gets to you.”