The 2013 XTERRA USA Championship was staged in picture-perfect conditions last September at Snowbasin Resort near Ogden, Utah, and if you missed it - now is your chance to see it for yourself as the full hour-long show is up on YouTube.
The race consisted of a 1,500-meter swim, a 28-kilometer bike and a 9.8-kilometer trail run.
Although it is officially the “USA Championship” the pro start list featured an international cast of stars. One of them was Leonardo Chacon, who participated in the 2012 Olympics and is considered a triathlon legend in his home country of Costa Rica.
His XTERRA experience, however, was limited to a fourth-place finish at the XTERRA World Championship last year in Hawaii, and a victory at the XTERRA Mexico Championship this year.
To make up for his relative lack of off-road experience, he trained in the mountains of Costa Rica. In particular, he found a trail that matched the elevation levels of Snowbasin (start at 4,900 feet above sea level, and reaching a peak of 7,300 feet).
“I’ve been training for this many months, like five to six months, improving my techniques,” said Chacon, 29, after the race. “Now I’m very happy I can be with these fast guys up there.”
Chacon completed the course in 2 hours, 32 minutes, 31 seconds – including the fastest run split at 39:57. He came out of the swim just seconds behind Australia’s Ben Allen, and had the lead for the first half of the bike leg. XTERRA veterans Conrad Stoltz of South Africa and American Josiah Middaugh (Vail, Colorado) eventually passed Chacon in the second half of the bike. At that point of the race, Chacon said he was content just to stay within sight of Stoltz and Middaugh.
“I knew I could run a bit faster than them, and I attacked,” he said of his run split.
Chacon and Middaugh were shoulder-to-shoulder midway through the run course before Chacon eventually turned it up in the final two miles and took the win by 57 seconds.
“I thought I had something in the tank, but I didn’t,” said Middaugh, who won the USA Championship in 2012. “Reached for it and it wasn’t there. I thought I was running the downhill stuff pretty good, but I was bonked and tired that last mile.”
Middaugh finished in 2:33:26, and his second-place showing was enough to net him the XTERRA U.S. Pro Series championship – his first in 10 years on the tour. “It’s been a long pursuit for this title,” he said. “Glad it finally worked out.”
In the women’s race, there was a point early during Saturday’s race when Lesley Paterson actually thought she was having a “horrible” day, thanks to lingering effects of a cold she carried into the race. That she went on to beat the women’s field by 43 seconds to win the XTERRA USA Championship for the second consecutive year shows just how dominant she has been in the past two years.
Paterson, 32, turned in the fastest bike split among the women and then held off 2012 Olympian Barbara Riveros (Chile) on the run to take the win.
“It was a tight race, there were a lot of good girls here,” Paterson said after the race. “It took me a good half the race just to get into it.”
Paterson came out of the swim in fifth place, but surprisingly got passed by several others during the first half of the bike course. “The legs just felt horrible,” she said. “We were at Wheeler Canyon and everyone was passing, and I’m a climber. I was like ‘what’s going on?’ ”
Once Paterson got into her rhythm, it was over for the other women. By the end of the bike leg, she was ahead by more than a minute. Her winning time was 2:53:21, including 1:36:38 on the bike leg.
The XTERRA USA Championship is not just about professionals. In fact, the age-group competitors make up the bulk of the field, and the two winners of this year’s race epitomized the amateur spirit.
Matthew Balzer from Reno, Nevada, was the top overall amateur with a time of 2:49:50. He finished 12th overall, topped only by 11 established professionals.
Despite the impressive victory, Balzer said he has no intention of returning to the professional ranks. He already owns two businesses in Reno – the Reno Running Company and MMS West (a mailing/shipping company). He also has a wife and two young daughters (8 and 5 months).
“I have an amazingly supportive wife and two young girls, so I’m happy with where I am,” he said.
Cole Bunn, a 17-year-old high school student from Bettendorf, Iowa, was the second amateur with a time of 2:51:11. He came in right after Balzer, good for 13th overall.
In the women’s amateur race, Elizabeth Gruber from Redding, California, took top honors with an all-out effort. She finished in 3:11:13, and rallied from a deficit of more than four minutes out of the swim.
“I had no idea I was in first,” she said after the race. “I was in the medical tent for more than an hour after the race, and I didn’t know where I placed.”
Gruber, 23, was 12th overall among all females, and collapsed after crossing the finish line and needed fluids to replenish her body. “I think it’s still unreal,” she said. “I don’t know if it will ever hit me.”
Gruber is a nursing student at Loma Linda University, and was surprised that she finished ahead of standout teenager Hannah Rae Finchamp. “I was like seven minutes behind her at the West Championships, and that was the closest I ever got to her before today,” Gruber said.
Finchamp, who won the XTERRA USA and World amateur titles in 2012, placed third this time in 3:14:51 and won the female 15-19 division for the third consecutive year.