Garren Watkins doesn’t like to do the same race twice.
“I like to see new cities and go to places I’ve never been,” says Watkins, who was the 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ in the 40-44 age group. “I don’t want to do the same race over and over again. I want to find new races. I want to go where I haven’t been. I haven’t been to Alabama, so I’m going to do XTERRA Oak Mountain this year.”
It’s not surprising then, that Watkins has gone a long way for a race: Coeur d’Alene, Brazil, Arizona, Canada, South Africa, France, Wisconsin, Tahoe, Dubai.
And now, Alabama.
“That’s what racing does. It puts you out of your comfort zone,” says Watkins.
Watkins seems to be most comfortable out of the comfort zone. He is an expert on travel and being an expat (he lived in Dubai for years doing market research) because he has created new experiences for himself time and time again.
Watkins used to play soccer and surf in Oregon and found the icy water to be a Zen-like experience. “Swimming is where I can relax,” he says. “It comes pretty easy and being a strong swimmer is a huge bonus in XTERRA races.”
An ACL injury put a halt to soccer, but encouraged running in a straight line. Watkins began training for marathons and then Ironman.
“I had a random bucket list: Cape Epic, IM Worlds, BC Bike Race, XTERRA Worlds, La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, IM 70.3 Worlds, the Leadville 100/Breck Epic double, and Leadman."
And yet, Watkins claims that out of all of those races, the XTERRA World Championship in Maui remains his kryptonite.
“I liked the swim there just fine. Big and rough is good. I mean, if the weather serves up six-foot swells you kind of have to embrace it,” says Watkins, but then turns honest. “Of course, I’m the first to blame all kinds of things. But I had this coach when I was in Oregon, who would say, ‘You can’t do anything about the weather. Stop wasting energy on things that aren’t helping.’ And that’s where the mental battle starts.”
Watkins has a dark side. Maybe it’s that beard that streams water when he’s coming into T1, or that he charges straight into the mud. Or maybe it’s how he approaches the dark moments that are part of any race; any life.
“If you can’t do that, what can you do? It’s all about exploring those limits. You know you’re going to have that dark spot. You gotta know it’s coming and you gotta know how to get out of it. ”
When Watkins is in a dark place in a race, he calls on Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes who once said he ran a 100-mile race from one telephone pole to the next. “It’s really just one aid station to the next,” says Watkins. “You can do anything for a mile. One foot in front of the other.”
When asked why he pursues this type of activity, Watkins pauses. “Sometimes I wonder,” he admits. “I guess because you get to find out what you’re capable of. And you get to be with people who ride bikes and swim. There’s some good camraderie out on the trails.”
Watkins lives in Boulder, Colorado where he sometimes runs into fellow Pan Am Champ, Craig Daugherty on the trails. Both of them work in software implementation and seem to thrive on the extremes of structure and wilderness.
“My goals keep me out of trouble,” says Watkins. “That’s a big part of why I do it. Racing provides structure. I’m sure if I wasn’t doing XTERRA, I would replace it with something else that probably wasn’t so good for me.”