Unlike many triathletes, who view swimming as something to get through before the biking and running competition begins, 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Craig Daugherty actually loves the water.
“Getting out of the water first in XTERRA races helps tremendously because it’s so much harder to pass on the bike,” says Daugherty. “I’d rather be ahead in open water than behind on the single track.”
Daugherty has been swimming since he was five, a sport he continued throughout college at Dickinson, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. In fact, he entered his first off-road triathlon because he was looking for a way to stay in shape over the summer so he could maintain fitness for the fall and winter swim seasons.
“In 2004, someone asked me to try the Mt. Gretna Off Road Triathlon and I thought, what the heck? I know I can survive the run. I’ve been mountain biking for a year or two. And swimming is something I’m actually good at.”
After college, Daugherty and his Ironman Triathlete wife, Kate, relocated to Boulder, Colorado, which was an easy decision for both of them. “We wanted to move to a city with a more bike-friendly culture,” says Daugherty. “We were going to check out Portland and Eugene too, but once we were in Colorado, we realized we didn’t need to visit any place else. I was already working from home, so I told my boss, ‘Hey, I’ll wake up at 6 am to work at 8 am east coast time and you probably won’t even know I’m not in Pennsylvania.’”
His official job is a software implementation consultant, but his real love is working as a Bicycle Education Trainer for the Boulder Valley School District. “I basically teach kids how to ride their bikes the way we drive our cars,” says Daugherty. “We want kids to be more confident on their bikes and to learn critical thinking. Like, what side of the road should they be on, what are the hazards of the road they are riding on, are there parked cars, is someone going to open a door?”
Daugherty works hard to help kids catch bicycle fever, but in his own workouts, Daugherty has a pretty mellow philosophy. “I am definitely a proponent of fun first,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what I am doing. What’s important is that I’m having fun and that I have good people around me.”
He admits that this way of thinking is what keeps bringing him back to XTERRA. “XTERRA has such a different vibe than road triathlons,” he says. “The community is so much better. Everyone is there to enjoy being outside, and even the top guys are way more relaxed. Josiah Middaugh may have just won the whole thing, but he’d probably have a beer with you if you asked him.”
Typically, Daugherty puts in about 10-12 hours of training a week, but he doesn’t get too stressed out about it. He doesn’t have a coach, and last summer was the first time he even thought about a training plan.
“I bought one on Training Peaks for about twenty bucks,” he says. “But a lot of days I start a ride and I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do this workout.’ Half an hour in, I think, ‘Eh, I’ll hammer up this hill.’ And I end up doing the workout.”
But he readily admits that there are days that he pulls the plug and simply enjoys the ride. This doesn’t sound like typical Pan Am Champ behavior, but Daugherty believes it’s the secret to his success. “I think my laid back approach keeps my hunger alive because I’m never really overdoing it,” he says. “I don’t burn out.”
Even at the XTERRA Pan American Championship in Utah last year, where Daugherty placed first in his 30-34 age group, he wasn’t worried about his performance. “In Utah, the one thing that needs to be said is how gorgeous that entire course is. I almost wanted to slow down and just take it all in. The trails were in awesome shape, and ripping down the fast, flowy sections was just amazing.”
Daugherty wasn’t even sure how he was doing until the race was over the results were announced. “It’s hard to know who’s in front of you, so basically, I finished the swim and started riding hard. I was looking at a lot of legs to see where I was, but really there’s no way to know. When I hit T2, I just started running for my life as if a bear was chasing me because running is my weakest link. That’s where I suffer.”
Daugherty doesn’t want to pin down what’s next for him. Maybe it will include some mountain bike trips with his wife or his buddies. Maybe it will be starting a family. Or maybe, it will be a little bit of both.
The only thing for sure is that whatever Craig Daugherty is doing, he is going to be enjoying it. “I’m not in this to make money so what’s the point of stressing about it? I just want to get on my bike, ride hard, and have fun.”
XTERRA athlete profile by Reyn Okimoto, Shidler College of Business, class of 2017