Alex Modestou is an aspiring pro who first raced XTERRA eight years ago shortly after graduating from high school in Iowa. The 27-year-old, who now lives in Washington, D.C. working as a business analyst for GEICO Insurance, won the overall amateur title at the XTERRA East Championship earlier this month. We caught up with him after the race to see if his breakthrough performance was the start of something big…
XTERRA: How satisfying was winning the overall in Richmond?
ALEX MODESTOU: I was very excited and somewhat surprised to win the amateur race in Richmond. Last year, I ran in the lead (although I didn't know it at the time) with Andy Lee for five miles before he pulled away to take the win, so I had extra motivation not to fade this year. Winning, however, made me much more hungry than satisfied. The race lit a fire under my butt to quit dreaming and make the sacrifices necessary to realize my dream of being a professional XTERRA triathlete.
XT: What is your ultimate dream?
AM: XTERRA has been my deferred dream for far too long. I’ve decided to do what’s necessary to become a professional XTERRA triathlete. I plan to keep improving enough to justify taking my pro card, and form partnerships within the industry to make a full USA championship series race schedule a reality. Additionally, I’d like to channel my love for teaching, race experience, and training knowledge into a coaching business down the road.
XT: We see that you’ve signed up for the XTERRA Mountain Championship July 20 at Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado. There is some heavy competition there in the thin air, have you ever done that race before?
AM: No, but I just signed up for it. I figure, if I’m going to work to compete with the pros, I need to see if I can hack it at altitude. I’ve always wanted to see the Rocky Mountains, and love that XTERRA provides an extra impetus to explore the wonders of the US.
XT: How long have you been racing XTERRA?
AM: I raced my first XTERRA a few weeks after graduating high school in 2005. That year, I also did the Midwest and National championship races. Double majoring in math and physics, work, living on a bare bones budget, and a few poorly timed injuries kept me away from XTERRA during college. Working 70+ hour weeks as a math and physics teacher in a low-performing high school kept me away for a bit longer. In 2011, I quit making excuses and rejoined the XTERRA tribe. I plan to be around for a long time.
XT: Let’s go back to Richmond for a moment, last year you almost won the overall amateur title but came up just short, what happened?
AM: Last year I was running a lot more, and arrived on race day very lean. I remember shivering uncontrollably while waiting in the water for the cannon to go off. I was having a great swim until I realized that dozens of competitors had run by me on a sandbar instead of swimming a shallow section. I spent the remainder of the swim clawing my way back. I passed a fair number of racers on the bike and rode the majority of the course alone, unaware that I was in second place. Riding the James River trails is always an exhilarating experience that I look forward to. The fleet-footed Andy Lee caught me on the first mile of the run, and we ran together for about five miles and passed one other racer. He pushed me to my absolute limit in the scorching heat. I didn't eat anything during the race, and ran out of gas with about a mile to go. It wasn't until after crossing the finish line that I realized I had come in second overall. I was totally shocked with my performance, as I had cut 17 minutes off of my time from the previous year.
XT: This year due to Tropical Storm Andrea and all the rain that closed the trails for pre-riding your blog post with all the pictures of the Richmond course turned out to be very helpful. What inspired you to do that?
AM: In 2011, I competed in the national championship race in Ogden, UT. I didn’t have the opportunity to pre-ride the whole course, and I crushed my back after flying and flipping over some BMX jumps that were obscured by the tall grass lining the trail. I hobbled through the 10k run in tremendous pain, and took nearly a month to fully recover. Afterwards, I swore to pre-ride each course and help as many competitors as possible have a fun and race safe. The Richmond course contains numerous technical sections that can be very dicey riding blind at race speed; my aim was to provide a virtual pre-ride. Additionally, I want to help grow the sport and offer a window into the XTERRA experience – the courses sell themselves, we just have to get more people in the know. Road triathletes just don't know what they're missing on the trails.
XT: How did you first learn about XTERRA?
AM: I grew up in Coralville, IA, just a 15-mile bike ride away from Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, long before there was an XTERRA Sugar Bottom. Accordingly, I was hooked on mountain biking and trail running from an early age. After graduating high school, I got wind of a notoriously difficult off-road tri in Kansas, right where my sister lived at the time, so I figured I had to go.
XT: Can you recall your very first XTERRA race?
AM: My first XTERRA was the Midwest Mudder (RIP). I was as green as it gets: the only swimmer without a wetsuit in frigid water and probably the only biker on a fully rigid paper route bike with flat pedals. In the days leading up to the race, the area experienced heavy rain, including 9’’ the night before the race. In keeping with the XTERRA spirit, the race went on as planned. Mother nature was truly our most fierce competitor. The cold water served as a catalyst for speed, and I came out of the water in the lead with one other competitor. I put on some baggy basketball shorts and a mesh jersey over my Speedo, slapped on some running shoes and my helmet, and continued the adventure. The rest of the race was a wild slog against the elements. Navigating the bike course required carrying my bike above my head in chest deep floodwater, motocross-style drifting on any rideable sections, and constantly cleaning mud out of the fork, drivetrain, and chain stays to keep the wheels spinning. More than two thirds of the field dropped out by the end of the first lap on the bike. It was much less a race than a test of mental fortitude (or insanity perhaps). The run was more of the same, similar I imagine to Spartan races/Tough Mudders/etc. but with natural obstacles. After nearly five hours, I crossed the finish line totally cooked, and was hooked.
XT: What do you like about XTERRA?
AM: I love that you race the course in addition to the competition. Mountain biking and trail running offer a transcendent experience that can only be found in nature. Each course offers a completely unique challenge and memories for a lifetime. The icing on the cake is that XTERRA competitors are kind, generous, laid back, and fun-loving individuals who I look forward to seeing at each race.
XT: Who do you think are the best age groupers in your region? The country?
AM: Daryl Weaver and Anthony Snoble are standout athletes in the Northeast region. The three of us placed in the top four in each of the three upper East coast races so far this year (Richmond plus Jersey Devil and King of the Hill). Looking at the XTERRA championship race reports, Mauricio Mendez, Neilson Powless, and Bryce Phinney are also crushing it in the men's races. Maia Ignatz and Hannah Rae Finchamp, who I was able to chat with at Richmond, are really doing well on the women's side.