If Andrew Knutsen’s goal was to win the 35-39 division XTERRA Mountain Regional Championship his strategy would be “to go to 4-5 races and win them all.”
“We are lucky here in Colorado having the Beaver Creek XTERRA in our backyard. That would be the mid-season A race where you would get 100 points. Then I would probably aim to get an early season 75-points at XTERRA Lory, a mid-season 75-points at XTERRA Winter Park, and finish it out with the late 75-points at XTERRA Buffalo Creek. This strategy would space the races out to one per month and allow ample time to train and recover for each race.”
BUT, the 35-year-old father of two isn’t thinking about winning his region, at least not this year.
“The regional title is nice, but the National title is my ultimate goal,” he said.
To make that dream come true Knutsen, an electronics engineer for Lockheed Martin, is coming up with a plan every bit as detailed as the hardware he designs for aerospace applications.
“After racing quite a bit of XTERRA over the past two years, going to Nationals and Maui with decent results I've realized that to be at the top of the podium in Ogden or Maui you have to be an elite mountain biker,” said Knutsen, who finished 24th overall, sixth amateur, and 3rd in the 30-34 division at Nationals last year.
“So, this year in order to achieve that I've decided to sacrifice racing as many XTERRA races in order to get stronger on the mountain bike by immersing myself in mostly mountain bike races this year. Therefore, although I plan to win both of the XTERRA'S on my schedule (Beaver Creek and Buffalo Creek) prior to Nationals, I have a feeling it won’t be enough points to take home the regional title.”
Knutsen, who has been racing XTERRA for six years now, was already a triathlete when he tried his first XTERRA race in 2010.
“I bought a mountain bike because my friends were into it and enjoyed mountain biking in the Colorado foothills, and at some point I thought ‘how hard could it be, I already do road tri's, so I signed up for Beaver Creek in 2010. It was by far the hardest race I had ever done. I said something like ‘I'm never doing this again’ as I crossed the finish line only to say 10 minutes later, ‘I'll be back next year.’
He finished 15th in his division that year and 106th overall, “and I still couldn't believe how much heart throbbing climbing was involved. I knew I could do better so I had to come back and try again.”
Each year Knutsen added another XTERRA to his schedule.
“My best finish was probably at Beaver Creek in 2014 where I took 1st Overall Amateur and beat a few pros along the way. I ended up 11th in the whole race, including the pros, with Cody (Waite) one spot in front of me.”
In an interesting twist it was Cody Waite (his coach) whom Knutsen credits for his improvement in XTERRA.
“Cody really loves the sport and it shows, and that is why I've been working with him for a couple years now,” said Knutsen. “I love his approach to XTERRA in general but at the heart of XTERRA is the mountain bike and that is where I think Cody's expertise lies. I've always performed my best when I was in my best shape on the bike and Cody knows how to get someone to that place. Most people don't enjoy riding on a trainer but the Sessions:6 bike trainer series has made me look forward to getting on the trainer. The super focused nature of each session using FTP testing, Watts prescribed workloads and a methodical progression to the 13-week series provides the perfect individual training stress which in turn results in an unparalleled fitness adaptation. And this is really only the tip of the iceberg. Cody's training plans continue this strategy all year long. This year I've even started using Cody as a coaching Mentor as I've started to get more involved on the coaching side of things by working with Sessions:6 athletes and leading a Sessions:6 bike trainer series.”
Specifically for this year, in an effort to win in Utah, Knutsen and Waite have come up with a focused plan.
“Normally I have a couple of peak cycles, but this year I'm approaching things a little differently. It is more or less a year-long build to be the fastest at Nationals. Although I have broken the year into three phases/focuses. The first phase, from January to March, my focus is on developing running speed with a series of running races culminating in an "A"ish running race in March. Then I will maintain that running speed as I shift my focus between April and July to the bike with a series of mountain bike races with an "A"ish race at Beaver Creek. Then I'll attempt to maintain both my running and mtb gains and shift my focus to the pool as I prepare for nationals.”
When asked why XTERRA Nationals was the goal, Knutsen said it was his favorite race, “partly because of the stunning beauty of the leaves changing colors and the majestic back drop of the Snowbasin Resort ski slopes and Sardine Peak. The temperature seems to always be perfect in Ogden in mid-September, and personally I like it cooler such that when you get out of the water the first few minutes on the bike are a little chilly until you start climbing up Wheeler canyon. And all the climbing on the course is such a great equalizer. There is no cheating that course, you have to be in shape and get everything out of yourself to have a good result. Bottom line, that course makes you earn it and I love every second of it.”
Knutsen thinks this year’s national championship race, now that it doubles as the XTERRA Pan American Championship as well, will bring out the best.
“It will be very interesting to see how the field gets deeper at the Pan Am Champs this year. I think the top three guys on the podium at Nationals from last year’s 30-34 age group (Balzer, Merrick and myself) are all aging up to the 35-39 age group this year. So if we all show up in Ogden in good form the 35-39 age group may be toughest age group in the field and Mexico and Canada's best athletes will only make it more interesting.”
Although his focus and effort may come across as intense, what draws Knutsen to XTERRA is the exact opposite.
“I like the laid back family atmosphere,” he said. “Camping with the family next to the course before some of the races has been a real highlight for us.”
XTERRA MOUNTAIN REGION RACES
|18-Jun||XTERRA Lory||Bellvue, Colorado|
|16-Jul||XTERRA Beaver Creek||Avon, Colorado|
|30-Jul||XTERRA Aspen Valley||Carbondale, Colorado|
|6-Aug||XTERRA Winter Park||Winter Park, Colorado|
|7-Aug||XTERRA Flathead||Kalispell, Montana|
|20-Aug||XTERRA Iron Creek||Spearfish, South Dakota|
|27-Aug||XTERRA Buffalo Creek||Bailey, Colorado|
|10-Sep||XTERRA Fruita (2017)||Fruita, Colorado|