Last January, Jordan Winar signed up for the XTERRA ATX 21k Trail Run at Pace Bend Park to provide moral support for a co-worker who wanted to increase his fitness.
A lifelong swimmer and athlete his entire life, the 21k wasn't a big deal for Winar. What really caught his attention was the XTERRA ATX off-road triathlon.
“I always wanted to do a tri but it took some 30 years to get there,” said Winar, who signed up for both the trail and triathlon “just for the heck of it”.
“I’m a decent swimmer, mountain biking looked like fun, and trail running was something I knew I could take hold of.”
He bought a bike in February, and at XTERRA ATX on April 23rd he placed 53rd overall in his freshman attempt. In his 30-34 age group, he was 7th. But as the season progressed he took a top 10 overall at XTERRA Magnolia and placed first in his age group at XTERRA Cameron Park.
Since then, he’s been to eight states and 12 races so far this year. Although he lives near Austin, he drove 15 hours to race XTERRA St.Louis and will drive to Santa Fe, New Mexico this weekend for XTERRA TRI the Torture.
While most new athletes take a year or so to get the hang of XTERRA, Winar is already engaged in a battle for the South Central Regional Championship in his age group.
He credits the XTERRA race directors with his ability to succeed in races, despite being a beginner.
“I’ve emailed all the race directors about the trails and what I need to pack for the race,” said Winar. “They have all gotten back to me in 24 hours and have been extremely helpful. That’s very comforting as a rookie.”
He also credits his coach Sara Krause with Krause Sports Performance.
“The first time I went mountain biking, I was so bruised and cut up - I thought I would be riding on a gravel road and that wasn’t the case,” said Winar, who admitted his first month on his new bike wasn’t much fun.
“I didn’t know how to train for a triathlon and I didn’t know how to mountain bike and I knew if I was to continue without knowing anything, I was going to get really hurt. “
Winar googled “best XTERRA coach Lakeway Texas” and Sara Krause’s name came up.
“She put me on a plan and I don’t have to even think about it,” said Winar. “She was very patient and rode with me in the beginning. She walked me through all the courses and told me where to get off my bike and walk. For the non-local races like XTERRA Whitewater, Sara knew some local friends to get advice about the course. Without her I would have broken my wrist or something worse. ”
Six days a week, Winar gets up at four in the morning to run or ride with a headlamp. Then he heads to the gym to lift weights before work.
Winar also dramatically changed his diet. As an avid weight trainer, he was following the Paleo diet, but after doing some reading (he was inspired by Rich Roll and Brendan Brazier) he decided to go vegan and eliminate alcohol.
He credits his plant-based diet with increased recovery time and reduced fatigue.
“I raced five times in four weekends and I didn’t have any aches and pains," said Winar. "I wasn’t tired when I got up. I didn’t need as much rest as when I was on Paleo. A lot of people think it’s crazy but I feel the best I ever felt in my life. If I had known this earlier in life, I'm curious about what my athletic performance could have been.”
For convenience, Winar eats the same thing most days. He starts the day with a shot of wheatgrass juice and a smoothie packed with kale from his garden, spinach, banana, beets, and Vega Plant Based Protein Powder. For lunch he has a big salad, and for dinner he has a stir fry with chickpeas, vegetables, and rice or quinoa for protein.
Winner attributes his motivation to a vision he has for his family.
“I keep envisioning being at the XTERRA World Championships with the best athletes in the world and getting a photo at the finish with my kids and my wife. If we ever struggle in the future, we can look at that picture and say that we trained really hard to get to that race, so we can do this hard thing too.”
Winar knows that the photo he is thinking about doesn’t yet exist. But because of the work he has put in this season, the photo could be a reality in less than 80 days if he wins the South Central Region.
“The mind can destroy you or it can help you on your journey,” he says, and as powerful as his mind has been, Winar acknowledges that this year hasn’t been easy.
“My first race,” he said. “The night before, I was emailing my coach about what kind of socks I should wear. And she said, 'You don’t wear socks.' Now, I’m a grown man. I have three kids, but I’ve never done a triathlon before. I’ve never done an open water swim. I’ve never gone through a transition. I had all this anxiety.”
The next morning, Winar did it anyway. And that is his advice to anyone trying XTERRA for the first time.
“You are going to make a mistake,” he said. “You are going to be afraid. Your first transition is going to take three minutes and you are going to forget your race belt. But you are also going to meet so many great people.”
The first person Winar mentions is Michael Drackert, who is currently the only athlete standing in his way to becoming South Central Regional Champion.
Currently, Winar has 687 points and Drackert – who lives in Missouri - has 517. Even though Drackert beat Winar all three times they raced head to head, Winar has done more XTERRA races. (This weekend Drackert is in Canada for the ITU Cross World Championship.)
“I have this photo of Michael Drackert and me. That’s what XTERRA is all about. These people are really good people. Sure, it’s about getting fit but it’s also a family affair. These incredible athletes welcomed me into the tribe and made me feel like I belong."
Some of the athletes who have helped Winar include Texas standouts Kyle Greiser, Jason McIntyre, Adam Reardon, Chuck Olinger and Hans Ryham.
“Marcus Barton befriended me and Kyle pre-rode with me. These fast racers could be pompous, but instead they are super friendly.”
Winar wants to pay it forward by documenting each of the 12 races he competed in to help other athletes learn about the courses, venues, and things to do in each city.
He also has another goal.
“One of my biggest would be to beat Drackert heads up as he beat me three times this year. Maybe I can talk him into coming down to Texas. I have an extra room and would be thrilled to host him for XTERRA ATX or XTERRA Muleshoe.”
One might think that Winar has a case of beginner's luck, or maybe, a fire that will fizzle out. But Winar's dedication suggests that he is in it for the long haul. He mentions the well-known running proverb of the lion and the gazelle:
Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.
"At the beginning of the year," said Winar, "I sat down with my sales team at work and told them the story. Then I asked them if they wanted to have the mindset of a gazelle or a lion."
Out of the twenty people in the room, most wanted to be the lion.
“Well I’d actually prefer to be a gazelle," said Winar. "And the reason is, because at the end of the day the story you have to tell about outrunning a lion is so much better than the story of a lion picking off a weak gazelle."
Winar admits there are many times he isn't interested in running six miles at four in the morning.
"But as a gazelle you can’t take any days off. If you decide today, I’m just going to jog, I’m not going to push it as hard as I can, the lion’s going to kill you, right? So I keep thinking, if I'm the gazelle, I’m going to have a story to tell at the end of the year. I’m going to have a story to tell for the rest of my life to my kids and friends. And life is all about stories."