Twenty year old Nelson Hegg did so well at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship race last year, he thought about turning pro. He was 19th overall in a very competitive field and the first American amateur to finish.
“In all honesty, the day didn’t feel that hard,” said Hegg, who was recently named “Men’s Off-Road Triathlete of the Year” by USA Triathlon. “I was in the zone for the majority of the race, that state of bliss and flow which limited the physical pain. It wasn’t until the second half of the run that I had to really buckle down and get to the finish.”
“So yeah, I thought about starting the process of going pro,” Hegg continued. “But then, Maui. After Maui, I decided to stay amateur at least another year. I’m really not a fan of that course.”
Hegg competed in the XTERRA World Championship race in Maui in 2015 and 2016. “The first year was alright,” he said. “But last year, the mud threw me for a little loop. I had a pretty good swim, which is unusual for me. Then it got super steep in the mud. Everyone was pushing their bikes and all of a sudden, I couldn’t keep up. My shoes had no traction and I kept slipping back even though I was totally anaerobic and going at about 95 percent.”
After the race, Hegg realized that he had worn road bike shoes in the race. “I didn’t even know they made mountain bike shoes. But after that race I did a lot of research. I bought these top of the line mountain bike shoes, and all of a sudden, it’s a different world.”
At the XTERRA Pan Am Championships last year, Hegg also ran in trainers. “I got some lightweight trail shoes for racing now. I’m flying.”
If Hegg didn’t have time to do research previously, it might have been because he’s been busy. He seems to want to fill each hour with as much high-quality living as possible – a trait he’s had all his life.
Additionally, he is self-coached, which means he has to learn everything on his own. Hegg hasn’t ruled out a coach at some point in the future, but he hasn’t had great experiences in the past.
When Hegg was 12, he joined a kids’ cycling team. “It was pretty intense,” he said. “I definitely got my butt kicked. One of the requirements was a century ride because we were doing a fundraiser. It was a disaster. Being 12, halfway through I was so tired, I ended up crashing a few times.”
In high school, Hegg ran on his high school’s track team. “I was the most injured guy on the team. I had three stress fractures in two years.”
The injuries led Hegg to cross-train in the pool and on the bike. “After high school I decided to pick up triathlon. But I don’t have a coach because ever since I’ve been injured, I like to listen to my own body. Some of the things my coaches had me do just weren’t right for me.”
There are downsides to being self-coached, Hegg admits. There is the shoe issue for one. Secondly, he doesn’t have a set training schedule.
“I do what I like to do,” he said. “I wake up and see what I feel like doing. And usually, that’s not swimming.”
Hegg lives close to XTERRA athletes – and strong swimmers - Craig Daugherty and Garren Watkins. “I race against them all the time,” said Hegg. “They always beat me out of the water. But inevitably we meet up in the race and say a few nice words or talk smack or whatever.”
Hegg is in his junior year at CU Boulder. He’s majoring in business with a minor in Spanish and has to balance his training with his job at the local bike shop, part-time work as a website designer, and a full load of classes.
“All my friends wonder why I take so many classes. Usually I have between 18 and 21 credits. I just really like electives. I took African Dance last semester, which was super fun. Next semester I’m taking jazz dance.”
Hegg also does heated yoga four times a week because it helps keep injuries at bay. “The primary reason I’m into yoga and dance is to improve my emotional intelligence. Lately I’ve really been into that. If I can advance my own emotional intelligence, it will benefit me in the future. Who doesn't want to learn how to interact better and be more understanding?”
His race schedule for the rest of the season is also pretty full. His next race will be XTERRA Lory, which is one of his favorites and he is looking forward to the ITU Multisport World Championships.
“I’ll definitely do XTERRA Beaver Creek and Nationals, and hopefully Maui again. Despite that course.”
Hegg’s goals are high, and he wants to compete for pro spots even as an amateur. “I want to be the first amateur in every race I’m in,” he said. “Except for Maui. Maui is just unreasonable.”