The XTERRA World Championship course is perpetually evolving. In 1996 the race featured point-to-point swim, bike, and run legs over sharp lava rocks and dry, dusty bowls on Maui’s south shore. This year it’ll traverse wet forest trails, pineapple fields, and ridgelines high above the northwest coast.
It’s the fifth year of racing on Maui Land & Pineapple Company’s private 22,000-acre oasis, and improvements to the trail structure have been made each season. Competitors in 2015 will be treated to more single track trails on the bike and another half-mile of twisting, technical trail running before they reach the finish line.
It all starts with a 1.5-kilometer rough water swim at D.T. Fleming Beach fronting the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Once on the bike riders navigate from the Ritz to a ridgeline - down to a ravine - and back up again, like a tropical roller-coaster ride through paradise.
The bike is one big 20-mile loop with 2,800-feet of climbing that goes up-and-down the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains more than a dozen times. Course designers are striving to find the perfect balance of passing opportunities early with skillful riding opportunities later on.
“It’s an honest endurance challenge, that is for sure,” said race director “Kahuna Dave” Nicholas. “The original Maui course was brutal. The first one was just about who could survive, really, and even the run was pure torture with a mile of slogging through soft sand. This course is not just for survivors, but for those with the skills and endurance to ride the bike well and fast, and still have enough left in their legs to handle a really challenging trail run.”
The signature spot on the Maui course is at the five-mile mark on the bike as riders pop out on a narrow ridge with hundred foot drop-offs on either side. From the top you can see all around the vast West Maui Forest Reserve and over the deep blue Pacific Ocean to the neighbor islands of Moloka’i and Lana’i.
“The views are simply spectacular,” Nicholas explains. “And don’t worry, if I didn’t fall off – neither will you. In fact, when you come early to preview the course, bring your camera with you. The scenery is something that not many people get a chance to see.”
Once on the run competitors will be faced with a whole lot of climbing while they weave along dirt trails, through oleander forests, and into 60-foot high ironwood evergreens to an unexpected mountain lake at the 700-foot level.
“It descends like a slalom course through high green bermudagrass and opens up in spots to expose fantastic views of the Pacific,” said Nicholas. “Obstacles are everywhere, including a technical, steep downhill into a gully where racers will have to jump over and duck under fallen trees, navigate a rocky dry creek, head through thick elephant grass, and along a narrow single track trail with switchbacks that drop all the way down to the beach. The final test of skill and endurance is a calf-busting 250-meter white sand beach run.”