Twenty-two athletes earned the perfect score of 325 points on the XTERRA America Tour this year, and of those 22 four won 7-of-7 races in their division. In the last few weeks we’ve caught up with three of them - Chris Scott from Morrison, IL; Daryl Weaver from Lititz, PA; and Don Morrison from West Brandywine, Pa.
This week we catch up with the only female to attain 7-for-7 perfection, Melanie Etherton (pictured above).
Etherton grew up in Germany and moved to Austin, Texas in 2005 after finishing her PhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. Here we get to know a little more about the South Central 35-39 Regional Champion.
XTERRA: What do you do for a living?
Melanie Etherton: I am a Design Engineer. I design circuits that protect ICs from damage caused by Electrostatic Discharges during handling and production. In fact, right before I came to Ogden I attended the EOS/ESD Symposium in Tucson, AZ.
XT: What is your sports background?
ME: Not much of a competitive background. I played tennis and basketball in high school and was on the track team. But my favorite sports were rock climbing, downhill skiing and a lot of snowboarding in the Alps. When I moved to Texas, I was pretty sad about missing out on Snowboarding during the winter. To cheer me up, my husband Steve built me a nice mountain bike and took me on a local trail in Dallas. I was instantly hooked, but it took a few more years and a lot of convincing from friends before I started racing in Texas.
XT: How did you originally get into triathlons, then XTERRA?
ME: I started racing mtb (TMBRA) in 2007 and went from Cat3 to Cat1 in less than a year. After a while, I was ready to try something new. Right around that time we met Mike Carter at one of our local trails in Texas. He was very enthusiastic about XTERRAs and suggested that we try one. There was only one problem - I had never swum a single stroke of freestyle before. Since Steve was very excited about it and had always wanted to try a triathlon, I looked around for swim lessons and found a perfect coach. I took a few individual lessons in the spring and then joined the triathlon training team PAC. My first (road) Tri was in June or July that year and was intended as preparation for the Camp Eagle XTERRA in August of 2010. It was super sprint with a 250 yard swim. I thought I was not going to make it through, but of course I did. I improved my swim a bit over the next few weeks and actually did quite well at my first off-road triathlon.
XT: How many years have you been racing XTERRA, how many wins?
ME: A bit over two years now. In the last two years we competed in every XTERRA in Texas and then a few more in Louisiana and Alabama. In all the local races I either won my age group or placed first overall. But the result I am most excited about is the first place in my age group at the ITU Cross World Championships in Alabama this year. We plan to travel to a few races that are more distant over the next few years and I am very excited about that.
XT: Perfect year, what's your secret?
ME: I don't think there's one big secret. Balancing a demanding work schedule with training and being consistent is very important. Working with PAC coach Shawn Bostad on a reasonable but challenging training plan helps a lot. Having my supporting husband Steve as a consistent training partner and mountain bike "coach" is a big advantage of course. Getting up every morning at 5 am to get in a quality workout in the Texas heat before work is essential and eating a super healthy diet is an important factor as well.
XT: Favorite race?
ME: I love them all, but if I had to pick, I'd vote for Camp Eagle, Rocksprings, TX and Oak Mountain, Pelham, AL.
XT: Are you ready for Utah and does the course suit your strengths?
ME: Yes! and No, unfortunately not. I like climbing and we have some hills in Austin, but it is very hard to train for the extended climbs here in Ogden in combination with the altitude. The cold water is also challenging for me. Most of the races in our area are not even wetsuit legal, so that is a bit of an adjustment. I am a bit better prepared than last year, so we'll see.
XT: I see that you and your husband Steve came in pretty close together last year in Utah, is there a story there?
ME: We train together a lot, so we usually finish very close in all races. He is the better mountain biker, but I am a bit faster in the swim, so we usually see each other at least once on the trail. Our run times are very close - in fact both the 1/2 marathons we ran in Texas we ran together for the complete 13.1 miles and crossed the finish line together. In Ogden this was not on purpose, but worked out that way. This year he is quite a bit stronger, so I have to work a lot harder to finish close.
XT: What is that you dig about XTERRA?
ME: Everything! XTERRA has the friendliest competitors, volunteers and race organizers. The locations are almost always beautiful and the races are challenging. Even on a bad day, every race is fun.