Tales from the Trails: The Top 3 Amateur Women

Nov. 13, 2015

We caught up with some of this year’s amateur division XTERRA World Champions and asked them a bunch of questions like when they took the lead, how their day unfolded, and what the win meant to them. Here’s what the top three amateur women had to say (and we’ll get deeper into the field in the weeks to come…)

Julie Baker, 35-39 and Overall Amateur Champ, from Sonora, California

Julie is a 38-year-old soil scientist currently working on mapping soils at Sequoia and Kings Canyon Nationals Parks who was racing in Maui for the first time.

“I've been racing XTERRA pretty consistently since 2012, except for last year (2014) when I was injured,” said Baker. “I think my introduction to XTERRA though was back in the day (2003) when a friend and I decided we wanted to try triathlon and did a sprint race at Half Moon Bay.”

She came into Maui off a remarkable performance at the XTERRA USA Championship where she finished 5th overall and top amateur, but wasn’t sure what she could expect against an all-star cast of competitors from around the world…

XTERRA: Did you know who your main competition would be?  Had you beaten them before or had they beaten you?

Baker: I didn't really know much about my age group, especially women from other countries, but I was expecting to have a close race with Liz Gruber.  We finished 1-2 at a couple races this year, and she was right behind me at the USA champs at Snowbasin, and the previous time I raced there, in 2013, she passed me on the run to win.  She is a great runner and I kept expecting her to overtake me, but once I started downhill on the run I thought I could probably hang on.

When did you take the lead?

I think just a little way into the bike, I came around a corner and saw a girl sprawled out in the woods, picking herself back up.  I thought I was still chasing another, because someone said I was third out of the water, but by the time I got to the first climb people were saying I was in the lead, so I must have passed the other girl in transition.

How cool was it to race against people from all over the world who were in your age group?

It was amazing how far people come to do this race, and how psyched everyone was to be there!  It was also awesome and humbling to race on the same course with such great elite athletes.

Did the calm waves help you or help your competition?

Probably better for the competition.  Anything that makes the swim tougher, longer, harder is probably in my favor.

When did you have to really dig deep?

I think the whole course was very challenging, whether it was steep climbs that took their toll physically, or the twisty downhills and obstacles which required mental focus, to the hot conditions which needed planning and preparation to stay hydrated and healthy.  Great job to everyone who came out to race and push themselves and see what they can accomplish!

Anything you’d like to add?

Big thanks to all the volunteers, at this race and every race throughout the season.  Thanks for keeping us safe, pointing us in the right direction, keeping us hydrated, and seeing to all the countless details so we can get out on the trails and see what we're made of.

Thanks to my mom and Brad for being so supportive and coming out to this race with me, and to all my friends at home who believed I could do it, and to Mike, Tim, and the gang in Sonora who pushed and encouraged me every workout.

Liz Gruber, 25-29, from Colorado Springs (Pictured Above)

Liz won Worlds for the third time this year and was also part of the notorious Ninja Turtles gang, which finished runner-up to some swim instructors from Sweden at the Halloween Costume Party.

She’s a 26-year-old nurse in the Pediatric ICU who started racing XTERRA in 2012 and has won in Maui every chance she’s had (skipped 2014 for nursing school).

XTERRA: Liz, when did you take the lead?

Gruber: I'm not sure where I took the lead for my age group; I wasn't looking that closely for numbers on calves.  Plus it's pretty hard to read them when you're whipping around on the bike course!  A friend said I was 7th overall woman early on in the bike and when I came to the mud pit section on the course I jumped off and ran cyclocross-style through it.  I passed about 4 women in that short section so I believe I took the age group lead then and third overall. I ran one more woman down in the 1st mile of the run to place 2nd overall amateur woman.

Did you know who your main competition would be?

I knew that Julie Baker from California was going to be one of my main competitors; she beat me by less than a minute at the U.S. Championship and I knew she was going to bring her best to Maui.  Being the World Champs, I knew there would also be a lot of other wicked fast women out there from other countries I hadn't competed against yet.  Last year, the top 3 overall amateur women were all in my age group, 25-29, and non-American, so I figured I'd have to get top 2 overall and really bring my A-game to hope to win my age group!

How cool was it to race against people from all over the world who were in your age group?

This is one of the biggest reasons I love to race XTERRA World Champs so much!  I made a couple amazing new friends and we are already scheming plans for epic mountain bike and adventure trips in Canada, New Zealand, the U.S., and more!

Did the calm waves help you or help your competition?

Living in Colorado Springs, I have been able to live and train at 6000+ft, so swimming at sea level with its bountiful, sweet sweet oxygen felt great!  The calm waves didn't help or hinder me, however. I came out of the water about the same distance back from my competitors as I did at U.S. Nationals.

When did you have to really dig deep?

The bike at Worlds is just plain punishing; scorching heat, relentless hills, and a single track battlefield.  I knew that this race is often won and lost on the bike, so I definitely dug deep out there to try to stay focused, eat and drink as much as possible, and not get too dazed in the heat and humidity.

Who or what was your inspiration?

I truly love the sport, the people, and adventuring in the outdoors.  When times got hard and strained this year I would reach out to my amazing training buddies and best friends, and they would always be so incredibly encouraging and continue to believe in me.  One of my closest friends and XTERRA pro, Kara Lapoint, is one of my main supports and a huge inspiration to me this year.  She battled through breaking and having surgery on her hand, a torn ligament, sickness, crazy life/work stuff, and so much more to come out and crush it at Worlds and place in the top 5 for the U.S Pro Series!  I'm so proud of her and feel beyond pumped for next year and another great season of racing!

Craziest, weirdest, funniest thing that happened on race day?

Coming straight out of accelerated nursing school to Worlds, I've been pretty short on cash, so I actually slept on a friend of a friend of a friend's couch during my trip at Worlds.  It was great because it was free housing with a great host, but less ideal because they didn't have air conditioning.  It got hotter every night leading up to race day, and after sweating all night two nights before the race, I knew I couldn't go into race day dehydrated.  I ended up having a place to stay that was air conditioned the night before the race, but it made for an exciting day before the race!

How did you celebrate?

Man, did we have a great time celebrating!  Not only was I celebrating the World Champ win, I was also celebrating finishing nursing school, passing my nursing state boards, and scoring my dream job as a Pediatric ICU nurse!  My closest XTERRA friends and I lived it up at the banquet dinner, dressed like crazy-awesome Ninja Turtles for the Halloween party, won 2nd place at the costume contest to win a 6ft long board, and danced our hearts out.  I was also able to stay a few extra days after the race in Hawaii and loved swimming with the sea turtles in the awesome waves, cliff jumping, and exploring Maui and Lanai with amazing friends and family.

Are you planning on coming back to defend your crown next year?

I am planning on racing Worlds next year and will be looking to cat-up to pro.  This race is one of the most epic races in the world and I wouldn't want to miss it for anything!

Anything else??

It has been so exciting and motivating to be able to race the XTERRA American Tour over the last few years.  Since I've moved three times into three different XTERRA regions, I've been able to race my heart out over a wide variety of regional courses and terrain; from racing with swarms of stinging jellyfish in the Puget sound, to riding high above Sapphire-blue Lake Tahoe on the Flume Trail, to climbing and descending through jacked rock and aspen-painted hillsides in the Rocky Mountains.  What a great way to explore the amazing trails and countryside of the U.S.!  Keep it up, XTERRA!  You continue to inspire! 

Mimi Stockton, 40-44, from Stevensville, Michigan

Mimi is a 43-year-old stay at home mom and personal trainer that teaches all kinds of classes at a small fitness boutique called Maddog Revolutionary Fitness in her hometown.  She’s been racing XTERRA for six years now, it was her fifth try in Maui and she picked up her third World Title.

XTERRA: When did you take the lead?

Stockton: It wasn't until I was halfway through the bike that I knew I was having the race of my life. A couple of people said, "There are only two in front of you." I knew one of the two was Liz Gruber (who is much younger than me) but I didn't know who the other one was, so I figured if I kept up my pace and didn't crash, I had a chance of either coming in 1st or 2nd in my age group. I ended up passing Liz on the bike and came into T2 in second place overall. Never in my life have I come into T2 and seen no bikes on my rack!!! I was very pumped (but tired!). 

Did you know who you’re competition would be?

Yes, I knew who I thought were going to be my top 5 competitors. One of course was Kelli Montgomery, the world champ from last year, and the other three were Americans who did really well at Nationals. The last one was a woman from France (who ended up coming in 3rd in my age group this year) who beat me at the ITU Cross World championship race in Sardinia in September. I wasn't thrilled with my results in Italy and so I felt I had a lot to prove in Maui.  But I also felt to a certain extent that I was the one to beat, I was the one with the target on my back that everybody would be chasing. I like being in that position, because it motivates me like nothing else and keeps the fire burning inside me. 

What’s it like to race against all the international competitors?

Since I typically only race in the USA (this year being the exception when I raced in Italy), it's always special to race against people from all over the world.  For the most part, I know my competition in the US, but there are so many competitors from all over the world who are wild cards.  They definitely add an element of surprise to the race!  And of course, there's nothing quite like meeting athletes who are just like you that live half way around the world.  

When did you have to really dig deep?

Around mile 3 of the run, just before the majority of the climbing ended, I thought I was going to lose it.  I pushed really hard (too hard) the first couple of miles and I started hallucinating and seeing things in the woods that obviously weren't there (like bears).  I walked for a bit, grabbed a bit of water and then tried to calm down before running again.  Just those 30 seconds helped me tremendously and I was back on my way (thankfully down hill!).  I swear though, Big Foot was behind one of those trees.  I'd bet my life on it.  

What was your inspiration?

I find inspiration in all kinds of things and people.  I guess I've always simply taken for granted that my mind is overwhelmed with ideas, questions, possibilities and at times seemingly absurd dreams incessantly.  When I look outside, I am overtaken by the majesty of everything that I see around me. Life is about so much more than just me.  The beautiful landscape that is Maui is inspiring; the athletes from all walks of life and with all kinds of stories to tell are inspiring; the notion that my kids look up to me is inspiring.  I dream big and I go for it today, because nobody is promised tomorrow. 

Weirdest thing that happened on race day?

Definitely seeing Big Foot lurking behind the tree.  

How did you celebrate?

I went for a celebratory run of course...a run to the market to get some Kona Brewing Big Wave Ale.  And I gave myself the day off after the race.  Ha!

What’s your favorite quote?

By Mae West, "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."