PC Division Now Open – Vogtsberger Leads the Way

Former Mr. XTERRA award winner Craig Vogtsberger is no stranger to charting new courses.

Just last year he became the first physically challenged (PC) division winner of the XTERRA off-road triathlon Pan America Tour.  He’s also the most decorated challenged athlete in XTERRA America Tour history, having won an unprecedented nine regional off-road triathlon titles and four USA Championship crowns since 2008.

Not bad for a guy, who, after being crushed between two Army Humvees and suffering massive trauma to his entire body in 2001, was told he’d never do much with his body again.

“I was told I would never do anything again and would just sit in a chair the rest of my life and take medication,” said Vogtsberger. “By 2005, I had enough of not living. I went and watched a local triathlon near Kalamazoo and watched the freedom the athletes had. I knew from that moment I wouldn’t be just sitting anymore.”

Now, with a room full of medals from more than 10 years of racing triathlons around the world, Vogtsberger has his sights set on a new challenge … trail running.

“This year, I wanted a little extra challenge and decided to be the first physically challenged athlete to compete in the XTERRA 21K Trail Run Series in Colorado, at XTERRA Nationals, and hopefully at XTERRA Worlds.”

With a simple email to XTERRA, Vogtsberger had the PC division added to every race in the XTERRA Trail Run Series, and he’s hoping other physically challenged athletes join him on the trail.

Last weekend, Vogtsberger competed in the XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain 24K Trail Run in Colorado Springs. “It was extremely challenging,” he said. “But it was also in a beautiful setting. I started out at a good pace and was able to traverse the terrain with only a few problems the first lap. But the second lap wore me down. After 11 miles, I was just focused on finishing.”

Vogtsberger has a condition called foot drop, caused by his accident, which results in an uneven gait. He wears a device called an Allard Blue Rocker 2.0, which increases stability.

Race director, Victoria Seahorn, was thrilled with Vogtsberger’s performance. “I honestly wasn’t sure if he could handle the course because it’s extremely challenging. We also had 70 mph gusts of wind on race day, which made conditions even more difficult,” she said. “But Craig was fantastic.”

“I was pretty happy to finish my first ever 24K,” admitted Vogtsberger. “I’ve had races where I sprint across the finish feeling great and others where I end up in the medical tent. I never can tell what my body is going to do. All the more reason to train harder for more races!”

Vogtsberger is a stay-at-home dad to three kids (12, 9, and 15 months) so like all parents, he fits in training in when he can. “It might be at 5am or at 8pm at night. I might eat lunch and the little one goes down for a nap and I immediately jump on the bike on the trainer and get in however long I can.”

Next up for the man affectionately known as “V” is the XTERRA Beaver Creek half-marathon in Avon, Colorado on July 16.

“I signed up for four XTERRA half-marathons and hope Worlds will be my fifth,” he said.  “I noticed that there hasn’t been a PC runner yet in the 21Ks, so I thought I might be the first!”

XTERRA Heads to Malaysia

On April 30th, the XTERRA Malaysia Trail Runs will be held on the beautiful island of Langkawi, which is the largest in an archipelago of 104 islands off the northwestern coast of Malaysia. 

Langkawi has beautiful blue water, white sand beaches, and tropical rain forests. The Trail Runs will be held a day after the XTERRA Asia-Pacific Championship Off-Road Triathlon. 

“Our trail run courses follow the Championship Course,” said race director, Sean Chee. “And some of our triathlon competitors love the Championship Course so much, they come back and race it again during the Trail Run.”

The 5K run includes part of the off-road triathlon course the pros race on, including the loop on Pantai Kok’s white sandy beaches. “It’s suitable for almost anyone,” said Chee, “Because we take out the hard bits.” 

The 11K race is the same loop that the off-road triathletes follow the day before. “Only your legs won’t be tired from a swim and a bike,” said Chee. “It’s very challenging, but it’s a perfect loop.”

The 21K race includes the 11K loop as well as part of the mountain bike course from the triathlon. In last year’s race, John Fell won in 2:37:54, over 20 minutes ahead of second place Sabrina Dumont, who finished first for the women in 2:59:02. In third was Ben Crookendel in 3:06:11. 

Learn more and register for the XTERRA Malaysia Trail Run at www.xterramy.com

Rivalry Heats Up XTERRA Atlantic Series

Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Mary Decker and Zola Budd. Lasse Viren and Steve Prefontaine. 

For decades, distance running has had its share of rivalries. But none have been as fun to watch as the one currently waging between the XTERRA Atlantic Series’ rivals Iain Banks and Evan Daney.

In the XTERRA Brandywine Creek 12K Trail Run on March 12th, Evan Daney came in a second in front of Iain Banks. On April 9th, in the XTERRA Seneca Creek 10K, Iain Banks finished a second ahead of Evan Daney.

“In the last race, it was so close coming across the line that no-one could even guess who won and it all came down to the timing chips across the mat,” said Banks. 

On May 7th, at the XTERRA Lums Pond 12K Trail Run, the two will come together for a third time in Bear, Delaware.  

“Iain is shaping up to be a tough guy to beat,” said Daney. “Typically, I am the one controlling the race. Iain has proven to be a formidable opponent who has left me in an all out sprint for the finish twice. During the race, his strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa, so it creates a real chess match as we approach the finish line. I learned a lot about Iain’s racing style at Seneca Creek and don’t intend to place second again.”

“Coming into Seneca Creek, we now both knew each other, so once the gun went off, neither of us was willing to let the other one open any kind of a gap,” admitted Banks. “We literally ran stride for stride at the front of the race for the entire course, and both knew it was going to come to the final mile to see if either one of us would crack.”

XTERRA Lums Pond will clearly be the race to watch. Situated along the banks of the historic Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, the course is situated near ancient Native American hunting camps, old hardwood forests, pristine streams, and fresh ponds.

“It’s an honest course,” said race director Jefferson Nicholson. “It’s flat and fast.”

But it’s not only the men who are throwing down. On her Facebook page on April 18th, Julie Lawand wrote, “Currently sitting in second place for points in this series…Let’s see if I can win that spot in the National Championship out in Utah … Who’s with me???”

“What can I say?” asked Nicholson. “These races are held in the very places our founding fathers fought for freedom. We’re racing in the land of overachievers.” 

Learn more and register for XTERRA Lums Pond.

Weldemariam Runs Like the Wind at XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain

The 7th annual XTERRA Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 5K/12K/24K on April 9th had its share of surprises.

For one, there was the wind, which was so strong that race organizers couldn’t set up a tent or keep the arch up over the finish line. “It was an amazingly beautiful spring day for a run,” said race director, Victoria Seahorn. “And it was also outrageously windy. Some gusts were 70 miles an hour. On the course, wind at your back is a treat, but running into it is an endurance event like no other.”

Conditions like this don’t usually result in fast times. The 64 runners in this year’s 24K race completed the course in an average time of 2:48. However, this year’s champ, Azerya Weldemariam, stunned almost everyone.

“Weldemariam was incredible with a winning time of 1:34 over the almost 15 mile course,” said Seahorn. “And this is at altitude, with high winds, and on a challenging trail. It’s pretty unbelievable. 

To put this in perspective, Weldemariam came in about 13 minutes ahead of runner up, Kyle Anabas. Travis Lavin came in about 90 seconds later in 1:49:48. On the women’s side, Maija Zimmerman was the leader in 2:04, followed by Abby Haughness and Caitlin Felder.

Weldemariam originally hails from Eritrea, which is the same East African country where Meb Keflezighi was born. Meb is the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in the marathon and finished 4th in the 2012 games. He won the Boston Marathon in 2009 and again in 2014 when he was 39 years old.

Weldemariam was introduced to running relatively late in life when he began his mandatory service in the Eritrean military. “We had many conditioning activities and I discovered I loved the sport,” he said. “I was encouraged to start training and shortly after, I was asked to join the Eritrean National Team.”

As part of the Eritrean National Team, Weldemariam traveled throughout Europe and Africa. He placed 2nd overall in four World Mountain Races and was 1st two years in a row in the World Mountain Running Grand Prix.

After training with the team for seven years, Weldemariam’s coach encouraged him to come to America to try to secure a safer place for his family to live.

Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. In 1947, the United Nations called for Eritrea to be federated with Ethiopia and ruled by the Ethiopian Emperor. This resolution was unpopular with the Eritreans, and in 1958, the Eritrean Liberation Movement began a war for independence with Ethiopia that would last for over 30 years.

Finally, in 1993, Eritrea declared its independence and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front  (EPLF) seized power. No other elections have been held since then and no other political groups are allowed to organize. Hostility between Djibouti and Ethiopia still exist, and according to Human Rights Watch, the Eritrean government’s human rights record is among the worst in the world. In 2016, Reporters Without Borders ranked 180 countries from greatest freedom of the press to least, and Eritrea came in last.

Since coming to America, Weldemariam has been trying to outrun his country’s brutal history. In 2016, he was 2nd in the Pikes Peak Marathon and 1st in the National Trail Running Championship in Moab, Utah in the marathon distance.

“I’m working hard,” said Weldemariam, who works full-time at Great Wolf Lodge. He is trying to make enough money for his family – still in Eritrea – to join him. “I run for freedom,” said Weldemariam. “But also, I run so my family can come here and be safe.”

View race results here

Running 101 with World Champ Michael Fussell

A few weeks ago, we were running over ice and snow. Now, we are slogging through mud, joyfully shedding layers and looking forward to summer. After all, longer days mean longer runs.

However, as XTERRA heats up and heads south for next weekend’s races at XTERRA Victoria Bryant (Royston, GA), XTERRA Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach, SC), and XTERRA ATX (Austin, TX) it’s important to respect the heat and train accordingly for warmer weather and increased humidity.

To dive deeper into this subject, we caught up with the 2016 XTERRA ATX Trail Run men’s champ Michael Fussell who will be heading to the race a day early this year, not to walk the course, but rather to provide medical assistance for the XTERRA ATX off-road triathlon held the day before.

“Most difficulties in a race come from not training properly,” said Fussell, a Registered Respiratory Therapist. “Neither the course nor the body lie. If you’re training at a nine-minute pace, you shouldn’t start running at an eight-minute pace just because it’s XTERRA Worlds.”

Fussell knows firsthand what he’s talking about. The 2016 55-59 division XTERRA Trail Run World Champion started running in the 1970’s when it wasn’t just a sport but a movement. Think Bill Bowerman, Steve Prefontaine, and Joanie Benoit. He set records at Hagerstown Junior College and the University of Georgia and raced against greats Frank Shorter, Bill Rogers, and Marty Liquori. In 1980, he was a rabbit for Alberto Salazar as he tried to break Pre’s 5K American record at the Martin Luther King games in Atlanta.

Currently, Fussell works as a consultant to a medical device company that provides therapy to a failing heart, helping restore a more normal function.

He measures the success of the device the same way he measured the success of the high school runners he used to coach: by recording VO2max, which is the maximum oxygen uptake by muscles during intense activity.

“VO2max is another way of saying cardiac output,” explained Fussell. “If you bring more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, you have less lactic acid.”

Just as diseased hearts can become healthy again, normal hearts can become fitter and better able to handle the physiological stress of an endurance event. “And the better a body is at undergoing muscular stress, the easier it is to run faster in difficult conditions like heat or altitude.”

The bad news is that increasing fitness takes as long as it takes, which is anywhere from two weeks to acclimate to heat and altitude and three months to significantly increase VO2max.

“During the first 90 days of training, intensity has very little to do with improving fitness,” said Fussell. This is because it takes a minimum of 90 days for the body’s biological systems to react and adapt to new or additional stress. “Your body won’t respond faster than it can inherently respond.”

The good news is that we don’t have to kill ourselves to get stronger.

“Start where you are,” advised Fussell. “Run or jog at a pace so that you can carry on a complete conversation – not just a few words or half a sentence. Enjoy your time running, because you won’t continue something you don’t like. Whether you are just starting to run or you are running at a hotter time of day or in a warmer climate, go easy on yourself to avoid heat exhaustion, dehydration, and injury.”

Next, Fussell suggests signing up for a trail run. “Sign up for the 5K at XTERRA Victoria Bryant or XTERRA Myrtle Beach. Start small and see where you are. Test out your fitness by kicking the tires.”

Then, ask questions. “Everyone at an XTERRA trail run is there because they like trail running and healthy living. It’s a wonderful community and most runners want to share what they know and what they’ve learned.”

Fussell adds that most runners are happy to help you find trail shoes, locate running groups in your area, and share training tips.

Finally, Fussell recommends that runners sign up for an XTERRA regional series. “Most of the same people come to the races in a series and you’ll have a whole new set of friends. When you’re at that stage, fitness isn’t work but a lifestyle and something you will look forward to every day.”

Find an XTERRA race near you at xterratrailrun.com.

Trail Partners: Jo May and Doug Beagle

Jo May and Doug Beagle have been training and racing together for over three decades and have covered every endurance event from the Kona Ironman to the XTERRA World Trail Run Championship. They have completed a marathon or ultra in each state and are almost finished doing it a second time.

Last year, both Jo and Doug won their 65-69 age groups at the XTERRA World Trail Run Championship. At the XTERRA National Trail Run Championship, they were both third.

XTERRA caught up with the couple and talked about endurance, marriage, and why you should always carry money for pastries when you run.

Jo: We met through triathlons.

Doug: In the early eighties, I was competing in Oklahoma City triathlons and a woman asked me where I trained. She said, ‘Oh, you must know Jo May. You have to meet her.’ I heard Jo May would be at the Texas A&M triathlon so I found her and introduced myself.

Jo: I don’t remember that.

Doug: You didn’t remember me then either.

Jo: My focus is on numbers not people. I’m a tax accountant.

Doug: One of my talents is that I persevere. I just kept calling and calling and it worked out.

Jo: I think maybe our first date was going to lunch. But I know our dates turned into workouts.I was a big swimmer then.

Doug: My strength was not swimming. That took some effort. I was always a runner.

Jo: You did OK.

Doug: We love to talk together. And we love to race together. In the eighties, we would  jump into our VW Camper and Jo would pay for our food and gas by winning masters races. We had a lot of good adventures.

I remember one trip to eastern Tennessee. We often chose the roads less traveled. We came to the Mississippi in a storm and the only way across the river was on a ferry that only held two automobiles.

Jo: Think raft.

Doug: Yeah, but there was always good running in Tennessee.

Jo: We transitioned into ultra running after I got hit on my bike by a drunk driver while I was pregnant. But I was lucky. I ended up on grill instead of under the truck.

Doug: We got a baby jogger after that.

Jo: After our daughter was born in 1990, we would go out for three to four hours with the baby jogger. We would watch garbage trucks, cows, pick berries – all the things a baby likes. Running can lead to so many different things.

We’ve seen so much of Europe through running. The U.S. too. We’ve already done a marathon in all fifty states.

Doug: We do about fifteen marathons a year. We’ve qualified for Boston more than 18 times. We were both there in 2014 during the bombing.

Jo: Doug had finished the race, but I was still on the course.

Doug: I was walking back to the hotel and thought an electric transformer exploded. But I had a hunch it was something bad. There were a lot of sirens. I couldn’t reach Jo on my cell phone so I went back to the hotel.

Jo: I was about a mile from the finish and the race officials stopped us. No one knew where we were and most of us didn’t have phones with us on the course.

Doug: I wasn’t worried. We’ve done hundreds of races together and we always do our own thing. I knew she would show up.

Jo: He doesn’t worry. He never worries.

Doug: We eventually met up at the hotel. It was quite chaotic since a lot of people couldn’t get to their keys or phones or wallets in their drop bags. And no one could get across the river.

Jo: The silver lining was that we heard from people we hadn’t heard from in years.

Doug: It was like the Oklahoma City bombing. When something terrible happens, the goodness comes out in people too. The next day, we went to a bakery in Boston and everyone was talking to everyone else.

Jo: We were all just happy to be there.

Doug: Yep. Whenever we run in cities, we carry money so we can stop in bakeries or for coffee. We always meet wonderful people and it’s the best way to discover a new city.

Jo: We meet a lot of people on the trails as well. And we’ve met a lot of great people at XTERRA runs. If you fall, there’s always someone willing to help you up and it’s a wonderful atmosphere.

Doug: You walk into Boston and feel the electricity in the air. In Kona, you feel the anxiety and anticipation. In XTERRA races, everyone is low key. Whether someone is ahead of me or behind me, there isn’t that negative energy.

Jo: I think we will stay with running as long as we can. You can get a lot of running in without a huge time commitment. And, you can run in the dark. You can’t bike or swim in the dark.

Doug: We live near the trails in Houston, so most days we get up and go. I think that’s the secret as we’ve gotten older. I only run on soft surfaces and stay off pavement.

Jo: If you’re looking for dirt, you can find dirt.

Doug: On Wednesdays, we meet friends at 5:30 AM and do five to eight miles on trails.

Jo: We run more slowly now so we don’t get injured. I’ve traded speed for health.

Doug: I did get hurt three years ago in the Breckenridge Marathon. I fell and hit my shoulder on a rock.

Jo: Of course he finished the race.

Doug: We cross train too. I go to the gym a few times a week and Jo and I still swim.

Jo: Running keeps you on an even keel. My job is stressful during tax season but I always make time to run because I’m so much more efficient throughout my day.

Doug: Even if you aren’t a morning person, you can start a new habit. It might be tough to get started, but you will feel so much better in the day if you exercise. Get someone to meet you at 5:30 am. Find a reason to get out the door.

Jo: Or just set your alarm an hour earlier.

Doug: Running lets you see what you are made of inside. We have no plans to stop.

Shepaug Runners Go the Distance

The second annual XTERRA Northeast Trail Run Series officially kicked off April 8th with the XTERRA Shepaug Run Raiser in Bridgewater, Connecticut. The day proved to be a true festival of running with 10K, 25K, 50K, and 80K courses.

“Two feet of snow melt and seemingly endless rain turned the 10K course into an energy and soul sucking mud run,” said race director, Austin Planz. “Luckily, memories of the torture were quickly replaced by smiles as runners shared stories of survival over bowls of post race grub.”

Michael Lapsa was first in the 10K with a time of 55:50. Jackie Smith came in for the women in 1:06.

The 10K has a gentle elevation gain of 634 feet, while the 25K includes over 2000 feet of uphill, metered out over the entire loop. The 50K and 80K runs are two and three laps of the 25K course, respectively.

“The end of loop one was great,” said XTERRA Ambassador Simon Edgett, who won the 50K. “I crossed the line side by side with Raphael Sarfati, who went on to win the 80K. I stopped and changed my shoes and socks before heading out onto lap two. Even though my feet were only dry for about ten minutes, it was definitely worth it for my state of mind.”

Knowing he was in the lead kept Simon Edgett going strong. “I carried pieces of paper with my goal split times on one side and my favorite quotes on the other. One of the quotes was ‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear–not absence of fear.’ which is attributed to Mark Twain.”

Dmitry Girgoryeu and Kira Ragazzo took the 25K in 2:10 and 2:27, respectively. Simon Edgett came through the 50K in 5:44 and Jennifer Kimpel was the women’s champ in 7:57.

Raphael Sarfati finished in 8:09:57; over two hours ahead of second place Ramon Bermo.

“I would like to thank all the runners for their wonderful spirits and upbeat attitudes under challenging trail conditions on a rescheduled date,” said Planz. “Good people make good races.”

Learn more about running your first ultra.

Complete race results can be found here.

Next up in the XTERRA Northeast Series is the XTERRA Wawayanda Trail Run on May 7th in Hewitt, NJ. Points will be given for the 25K, 50K and the 80K at the first three races and the 20K at the season finale held in Syracuse, NY on August 13th. The top athlete in each age group and the end of the series will be rewarded with free entry to the XTERRA Trail Running National Championship in Ogden, UT on September 17.

Photos courtesy of Ransom Edgett

Big Smiles at XTERRA New Zealand Races

This weekend, New  Zealanders had a tough choice between two fantastic races: XTERRA Rotorua and XTERRA Wellington’s second race of its series: The Orongorongos. The two cities are about 450 km apart and are extremely different from each other. Rotorua is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire where you can run between geysers and geothermal vents. XTERRA Wellington was held at the southernmost tip of the North Island in Rimutaka Forest Park, a lush park near Wellington Harbor.

In the XTERRA Rotorua run, Johanna Ottoson won the women’s 21K easily in  1:29:52 while Tama Christensen took the men’s title in 1:20:20.

View the XTERRA Rotorua results.

Down south in Wellington, Will Bell and junior Anoush Shehadeh won the 20K in 1:46:07 and 1:59:24, respectively. In high school, Shehadeh was a standout runner. She was 4th in the prestigious Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships in 2013 and was named the 2013-14 Gatorade Massachusetts Girls’ Cross-Country Runner of the Year.

“The Orongorongo Valley is the spiritual home of XTERRA trail running, with our first event held here in 2008,” said race director, Mike Thomason.

The Orongorongos Valley in the Rimutaka Forest is a very special place, pristinely maintained by the Department of Conservation. The area wasn’t settled until the 1920’s, when people built wooden huts out of materials on hand. The area is so beautiful that some people made these huts their homes, while others came to the Orongorongos valley to “tramp,” also known as backpacking. The last hut was built in 1980, and the Department of Conservation currently protects and manages the 50 huts in the valley.

“Trail running is such a great way to connect to tradition,” said Thomason. “And the XTERRA Rotorua and Wellington races are a great way to keep that tradition alive.”

View the XTERRA Wellington results.

The XTERRA Wellington series consists of five races. The next one up is Awesome Akatarawas on April 30th. 

Photo credit: Stephen Barker/Marathon-photo.com

Fagundes, Paterson Win XTERRA Black Mountain

In most cases, if you went to a race and discovered that one of the “fast guys” had just completed a Ragnar Relay, you would breathe a sigh of relief.

Not so if that “fast guy” is Anthony Fagundes, who broke his own course record on the XTERRA Black Mountain 15K course by 20 seconds last weekend, less than 24 hours after finishing the SoCal Ragnar Relay. He crossed the line in 56:13, over six minutes ahead of second place finisher, Frederic Tete.

“I wasn’t expecting that at all,” said Fagundes, two-time winner of XTERRA Black Mountain. “I didn’t even look at my watch for the first three miles because I didn’t want to get discouraged. When I finally looked at my time, I realized I had a chance to break my record so I pushed up the last hill.”

A steeplechaser in college, Fagundes entered the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach last year on a whim. He won the whole thing in 2:38, battling cramps and a fever for the last 11 miles. Next, he did the XTERRA SoCal Series, where he won six of the eight races and set a course record on five of them.

“On Sunday, Anthony literally ran to the race from Huntington Beach,” said race director Brennan Lindner. “After running three very tough legs of the Ragnar on Friday, Friday night, and very early Saturday morning, he pretty much blistered the rest of the field at Black Mountain.”

Fagundes raced at altitude for the first time at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Snowbasin, Utah where he finished 8th.

Last month, he finished 7th in the Way Too Cool 50K in Cool, Calfornia, which was his first ultra run.  He was surprised when he looked over at a runner he was passing and realized it was 2015 XTERRA Trail Run World Champ, Patrick Smyth.“He must have been having a bad day,” said Fagundes.

“No one knew who I was at that race, but I like being the underdog. I show up and people are like, who’s this guy?”

When he’s not shattering records, Fagundes is a bicycle courier. “I like to think of it as paid cross-training. Most of the other couriers race bikes and I’m the only one who runs. But I really noticed my fitness coming together after riding so much.”

His goal for the rest of the year is to run at the XTERRA World Championship on Oahu and hopefully, secure a few sponsors and a coach. “Right now, I just look at what the fast guys do and imitate them. I like to have fun with it.”

On the women’s side, professional triathlete and coach, Lesley Paterson, won the 15K in 1:07, which was 9th place overall. The two-time XTERRA World Champion won XTERRA Tahiti, XTERRA France, and XTERRA Italy in 2016.

“It’s always cool to do just one event,” said Paterson. “And since running is my first passion, it’s a bonus that I got to do a trail run. Plus I get a chance to see and meet a whole new XTERRA community.”

Paterson’s first book will be coming out June 8th, titled, The Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down and Rise to the Occasion. It’s available for pre-order here.

View the complete results.

The XTERRA Black Mountain Trail Run is the fifth race in the XTERRA SoCal Series. The final race is XTERRA  Malibu Creek on May 20th.