After “flipping over the handlebars” a few times in his first-ever XTERRA two years ago in Guam Charlie Epperson wasn’t sure if he’d even be able to finish the race.
“I was completely overwhelmed, and wrecked on every technical decent,” said Epperson, which means he wrecked a lot as there are a bunch of tricky downhills on that course.
“At the same time, I got a rush from mountain biking that doesn’t exist on the road and was motivated to achieve the level of conditioning necessary to race competitively. Like anything else I learned it takes time and you get better if you have the patience to endure the tough days on the bike learning the skills and techniques necessary to ride these courses,” said Epperson.
Eventually he did finish that race, and now - just two years later, the 36-year-old is among the fastest XTERRA racers in the Marianas and the newly crowned XTERRA Saipan amateur champ.
Born and raised in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in east Tennessee, Epperson – a Lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard - turned an 8-month project on Guam into a two-year love affair with the island and its supportive endurance sports community.
“Guam offers a surprising amount of races for its size. Every weekend there is at least one and most likely two races (MTB bike, road cycling, running, or triathlon) held on the island. It really is simply amazing how active the athletic/endurance sport community is here and I feel very lucky to have some world-class training partners - such as two-time Olympic Runner Derek Mandell - and the opportunity to swim in open water year round.”
Epperson, who ran track and cross country at the University of Tennessee, is now running fast to avoid paying the bar tab … at least the first round of it.
“My XTERRA training buddies Cameron O’Neal, Ben Dillon and I have a withstanding bet that the slowest run time buys the first round of beer,” explains Epperson of his newfound motivation for a fast run split. “It’s turned out to be a pretty contested bet. I had to buy a round after watching Cameron come by me on the slopes of the XTERRA USA Championships in Utah this past September, and at XTERRA Worlds a mere 13-seconds separated our run splits from fastest to slowest.”
With one of the local amateur race favorites – Pete Lombard (who was the top amateur last year) unable to race due to a knee injury, Epperson might just be the guy to beat next Saturday.
“I don’t know about that. Cameron (O’Neal) is fresh off a strong finish at Ironman NZ and is no doubt in great shape. I don’t know Courtney Cardenas personally but he finished one spot ahead of me last year and has the bike racing skills to be in the mix.”
While XTERRA Guam is one of his favorite XTERRA races because of the unique landscape and “steep waterfalls that represent the tropical terrain we race on in Guam,” Epperson says he really enjoys the USA Championship course because “I’m not a strong downhill mountain biker so the elevation gain pays off for me.”
He’ll also race at XTERRA Switzerland this season and is hoping for a trip to the XTERRA Southeast Championship in Alabama as well. For now, he’s just enjoying the time spent with his island friends as well as the visiting athletes taking part in XTERRA Triple Crown series in the Western Pacific.
“To me one of the big draws to the XTERRA community has been how humble the pros remain and the interaction age groupers get with them. This year at XTERRA Saipan Ben Allen was cleaning up his gear in transition after the race and I inquired how the race played out for the pros (he won) and he followed up with genuine interest in how my race went. Along the same lines, my girlfriend and I shared a tabled with Dan Hugo and fellow South African Bradley Weiss at the banquet and had a delightful time chatting with them throughout the evening. I think these racers reflect the class of athletes that XTERRA draws in,” said Epperson.