For Josiah Middaugh, XTERRA has always been about the adventure. In 2016, however, the reigning World Champion may have gotten more than he bargained for.
His adventures started even before his season did when he got caught in a nasty snowstorm on the drive from his home in Eagle-Vail, Colorado to the airport in Denver to catch his flight for XTERRA Costa Rica.
“Had to pull over and wait it out,” he said. “Lucky it cleared enough to get through and make the flight.”
Then on his way out of Costa Rica there was a fire on the runway, followed by a President Obama encounter upon his arrival in Argentina, and a memorable Taxi cab ride with “Kahuna Dave” to another local airport for the jump to San Juan.
On his next trip he and his wife Ingrid found themselves dancing with dozens of Polynesian entertainers directly upon arrival. Then it rained, and rained, and the race turned into one of pure survival … or as Middaugh put it, “the most challenging trail loop I’ve ever done, it was diabolical.”
After the race he took time to swim with manta rays before heading to XTERRA Oak Mountain, where he once broke his knee-cap in a pre-ride, the very next weekend.
In July it was back home to the calm, controlled environment of his hometown in Colorado for XTERRA Beaver Creek, unless of course your wife signs you up for a celebrity dance gala right before the race, and then you get sick.
Later that month he traveled to XTERRA Dominican Republic where he was leading the bike and… “I was having a good time for a while,” he explained. “Then I got a puncture. I tried to plug it. I used my first CO2 to find the hole, but the hole was too big. So I put a tube in and inflated it with my other CO2, but the tube had a hole in it, so then I had nothing. I started running with my bike in one hand and wheel in the other. Rom and Braden went by and didn’t have anything to give me…then finally somebody had a tube. I put that in and then I couldn’t find my axle. It was a half a mile back up the hill. I left the bike and ran up the hill but couldn’t find it. I ran past it, looked everywhere and then finally, found it and ran back to the bike.”
Middaugh went on to post the fastest run of the day to finish fourth.
The next weekend was XTERRA Mexico where he suffered an acute case of appendicitis on the eve of the race on August 6. Organizers drove him two hours from the remote mountain countryside of Tapalpa to the specialist in Guadalajara where he had emergency surgery to remove it.
Through it all Middaugh has kept his incredible sense of humor and big smile, even won a couple races to put him atop the Pan Am Pro Series standings. And while it was not quite the ideal build-up to the XTERRA Pan America Championship, Middaugh says he’s feeling good.
“Like a million bucks…all green and wrinkled,” he joked. “Actually, I’m feeling pretty good and had a couple good weeks of training. It’s a good, deep start list here in Utah with plenty of guys that will be going for it. My plan as always is to race my own race and hang it all out there in all three disciplines. I think I can be within a minute on the swim, but it’s possible Karl Shaw could push the pace of that front pack and some guys might be able to go with him and put a bigger gap on me. I’m really looking forward to the bike but I know from last year that to get to the front I will have to be pushing very hard from the start, and the run could be interesting if there are 4 or 5 guys really close.”
Branden Rakita, who is 5th in the Pan Am Pro Series and a student-of-the-game, is quick to agree with Middaugh’s assessment of how the race might play out.
“It is going to be a very exciting race,” he said. “With the big field it will add a bit of a dynamic that we haven’t seen this year that could affect the standings. There are a number of strong swimmers – Braden Currie, Karl Shaw, Karsten Madsen, Brad Zoller, Felipe Barraza, Matt Lieto, Jean-Phillippe Thibodeau, Rom Akerson – and we should have a good group at the front to push the pace. We will try to get away and a gap could form. Once we are in Wheeler (the first big climb) the group will thin and spread out some, but even if you are in the front group with Josiah Middaugh, Brian Smith, and Sam Long coming up from behind, there is a lot that could still happen to mix things up.”
Last week we heard from Braden Currie, Karsten Madsen, and Matt Lieto (Read it here). This week we caught up with Rom Akerson, Karl Shaw, and Sam Long to get their thoughts…
“I am feeling great, we have had a great tour this year and every race was super fun and challenging,” said Akerson, who won the last two races on the Pan Am Pro Series at XTERRA Dominican Republic and XTERRA Mexico. “I expect to give it my best on Saturday and hope it puts me on the podium. I have been up in Vail for the last two weeks training and thinking about that climb. The goal is always the same, and that’s to WIN. I just need to feel good and make no mistakes.”
For Shaw, who is coming over from Europe, this race is a building block to Maui.
“I will be happy with a top 5 at this race, just four weeks before XTERRA Worlds,” said Shaw, who won XTERRA Costa Rica to start the season. “It’ll be my first time to Utah but my trainer lives here in Salt Lake City and I wanted to do one more tough race before Worlds. After this I will head back to Europe for some more hard training and some races.”
And for Sam Long, the 20-year-old who finished 2nd in his XTERRA debut at Beaver Creek in July, it’s all about the experience.
“Beaver Creek was the first race that I had a major breakthrough and I think I have been able to carry that intensity over,” said Long. “Since then I got second place at 70.3 Calgary (another improvement for me) and have noticed myself believing in what I can do more. I finally find myself believing that I can actually make a living as a professional triathlete and that I have a future in this sport. Also, because of Beaver Creek I can justify more mountain bike training and trail running. This has been awesome. I love being out in the mountains and on the trails. This truly has made life more enjoyable.”
In addition to the race itself, there is also a battle for the top spots in the Pan Am Pro Series that dishes out $60,000 to the top 10 men and women in the final standings.
This is the last of 10 events, and with 342 points Middaugh is the Pan Am Pro Series leader. Karsten Madsen from Canada and Rom Akerson from Costa Rica are close behind with 322 points apiece. Middaugh needs to finish top 3 to secure the crown, however, if (hypothetically speaking) Karsten or Rom win in Utah and Josiah finishes fourth or worse, they could take the title.
“My number one goal is to win the race and the only time I will think about the tour title is if something goes wrong like a flat tire, then I might be forced to do some math,” said Middaugh.
For Akerson and Madsen, a win coupled with a fourth-place finish or worse for Middaugh would give either of them the Pan Am Pro Series title (one of a million potential scenarios) and the second-spot will likely come down to who finishes higher between the two of them.
The battle for fourth is equally close with the Kiwi, Kieran McPherson, currently in fourth place, seven points ahead of Rakita.
“Main goal is top 3 in the race, but top 5 is still a stellar race with how deep the field is,” said Rakita. “If I take care of that then the next goal of getting back to 4th in the series is likely. I need to beat Kieran and have 1 person between us, which makes it difficult.”
Lots on the line this Saturday. Follow it as it unfolds on twitter @xterraoffroad starting at 9am MST.
XTERRA PAN AM CHAMPIONSHIP ELITE START LIST
Bib #/Pan Am Pro Series Rank – Name, NAT
1/1 – Josiah Middaugh – 38 – Vail, Colorado
2/2 – Rom Akerson – 32 – Tambor, Costa Rica
3/3 – Karsten Madsen – 24 – Guelph, Ontario, Canada
4/4 – Kieran McPherson – 24, Matamata, New Zealand
5/5 – Branden Rakita – 35 – Colorado Springs, Colorado
6/6 – Chris Ganter – 37 – Boise, Idaho
7/7 – Ian King – 26 – Virginia Beach, Virginia
8/9 – Sam Long – 20 – Boulder, Colorado
9/10 – Thomas Spannring – 40 – Longmont, Colorado
10/12 – Cody Waite – 38, Lakewood, Colorado
11/16 – Karl Shaw – 36, Great Britain
12/21 – Ryan Ignatz – 37, Boulder, Colorado
14/37 – Brad Zoller – 39, Avon, Colorado
15/45 – Dan Molnar – Bismark, North Dakota
16/46 – Brian Smith – 41, Gunnison, Colorado
17/47 – Michael Nunez – 35, Salt Lake City, Utah
18/56 – Eduardo Marcolino – 36 – Sao Paulo, Brazil
19/62 – Patrick McKeon – 27, Philadelphia, Penn.
20/NR – Rodrigo Acevedo – 30 – Bogota, Colombia
21/NR – Felipe Barraza – 24 – Santiago, Chile
22/NR – Barret Fishner – 33, Blodgett, Oregon
23/NR – Matt Lieto – 37, Bend, Oregon
24/NR – Alex Martinek – 24 – Durango, Colorado
25/NR – Alex Modestou – 29, Durham, North Carolina
26/NR – Cameron Paul – 26 – Taupo, New Zealand
27/NR – Jean-Philippe Thibodeau – 25 – Quebec, Canada
28/NR – Walter Schafer – 25 – Centennial, Colorado
29/NR – Braden Currie – 29, Wanaka, New Zealand
30/NR – Alex Roberts – 26, Taupo, New Zealand
31/NR – JP Donovan – 29, Incline Village, Nevada
32/NR – Leon Griffin
33/NR – Joshua Merrill
34/NR – Will Kelsay
35/NR – Jimmy Archer