One of the most inspiring aspects of watching amateurs compete is realizing they are just like us. They too have careers and families and foot all their own bills for race entries and plane tickets. Like us, they have to balance intense training plans with school plays, partners' schedules, college classes, work demands, and getting dinner on the table. XTERRA South Central Regional Champ Alissa Magrum summed it up best when she said that training often occurs "in the cracks," wedged into those dark and cold pre-dawn hours or creatively squeezed in between dentist appointments and oil changes.
On Saturday, September 16th, their hard work was revealed in incredible performances at the 2017 XTERRA Pan Am Championship at Snowbasin Resort in Ogden, Utah. After a few days of rain, the sun came out for these talented and tough competitors.
Tate Haugen, 16, from Fort St. John, Canada, seemed to come out of nowhere to claim the top amateur spot of the day, finishing 11th overall in 2:37:20. A 12th grader at Northeast Secondary School in British Columbia, Haugen has been competing in XTERRA events for five years. The past two years, he was 9th at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui in the 15-19 age group.
"I would say this is one of the better races I've had," said Haugen."I really thought on the bike I was going to blow up on the run, but I held it together somehow."
Haugen attributes his success to a more focused training plan. "Before it was kind of just for fun. And now I'm trying to be a little more serious."
Look for Haugen next month at the XTERRA World Championship where he hopes to make the podium on the world stage.
Brett Tack, of Boulder, Colorado was the first American amateur finisher, coming in 14th overall in 2:39:07. At XTERRA Oak Mountain, Tack was the 30-34 age group champ, and at XTERRA Beaver Creek, he was the top amateur of the day. For his entire season, he's been focusing on the XTERRA Pan Am Championship and the XTERRA World Championship races.
"I have always set goals high," said Tack. "I knew with a lot of work in the pool I could change the way my races turned out. Instead of racing from the back, I could actually utilize the bike to build some time and race with the best."
After being sick for several weeks with a virus, Tack admitted he wasn't at his best on race day, but was going to give it his all on Saturday, regardless. His swim was slower than he wanted it to be, but he powered through on the bike and run.
"I had no clue who was in front of me," said Tack. "On the bike I passed Nelson and Garren and then Lewis Ryan. Then I flew off the cliff up there on the bike and Lewis went by me. I followed them down and bided my time and the run was actually really good. It was all I could do, man. I'll take it."
Lewis Ryan, the Kiwi whippersnapper, admitted to having a bit of an off day following a great performance at XTERRA Fruita on September 14th.
"I was giving everything I had but I wasn't feeling a million bucks," said Ryan. "I felt like I was breathing through my ears, that sort of thing. Sometimes it's like that, but you gotta enjoy this sort of thing. It's certainly an accomplishment just to finish this course. It's brutal."
Ryan finished 18th in 2:42:36. Behind him was Brent Mattison of Bend, Oregon, who crossed the line in 2:44:32. Mattison was the 30-34 age group champ at XTERRA PDX in August.
CU Boulder senior, Nelson Hegg was next, finishing just ahead of Austrian pro Dominik Wychera in 2:44:39.
"Ogden is by far my favorite venue out of any other course and generally plays to my strengths - higher altitude and cooler temperatures," said Hegg. "I felt real good on the swim and the bike, but unfortunately didn't have my running legs with me on that day. I would have liked to have done a bit better in the amateur category, but I was still happy to end up first in the age group."
This year, Hegg was the 20-24 age group champ at XTERRA Beaver Creek, finished second overall behind pro Ben Allen at XTERRA Indian Peaks, and was 4th overall at XTERRA Lory. In addition to his training, he is also balancing a double major in marketing and management with a minor in Spanish. After graduation, Hegg will turn pro next year.
"This was a decision I thought a lot about, but I think this is the only way to fully unleash my potential and see where I can go. With more consistent training and a more structured training plan, I will be curious to see how I will do next season."
Lukus Klawitter, who was the first amateur at XTERRA Fruita earlier this month, took the 25-29 age group and Matthew Balzer was the 35-39 age group champ. Klawitter finished the XTERRA Pan Am Championship course in 2:50:43 and Balzer came through in 2:50 flat.
One of the closest finishes of the day was between the 40-44 age group contenders Michael Dorr from Avon, Colorado and Garren Watkins from Boulder. The two finished just two seconds apart in 2:52:08 and 2:52:10.
Last year, Watkins was the Pan Am Champ in the 40-44 age group and Dorr was 5th.This year, Dorr came into the Pan Am Championship with the goal of making the podium.
"After taking 4th at Beaver Creek with my best race there, I knew it would be a tough task. But all I ask of myself is to give the best effort I can and see what happens," said Dorr after Saturday's race. Dorr said that he had some doubts on the bike after Ryan McMullen passed him but hit "hero dirt" on the downhill and got a second wind. Dorr passed McMullen back with about a mile left to go on the run.
"Ryan gave me a friendly yell as I went past," said Dorr, "And I felt that I was in podium contention. All of the sudden I see a tall bearded guy down the switchback - it was Garren Watkins, who has been the most dominant guy in our division over the last two years. I got so excited, less than a half mile in the race, and I started gaining on him quickly. With about two switchbacks left, I made the pass and felt I could hold him off. Humberto (Rivera) was right there with us coming down straightaway to the finish. Garren really held on strong and I sprinted hard through the finish line to hold the two off."
Notably absent from the 40-44 age group was Rife Hilgartner, who is out with a torn quad tendon. We wish him a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing him when he's cleared for racing in March.
Andy Lee, who is always tough, was the 45-49 Pan Am Champ, finishing in 2:52:42. He continued to impress on Sunday by winning his age group at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship 21k.
XTERRA Regional Champ Joe Cooper and Carl Edgerton were the 50-54 and 55-59 age group champs, finishing in 3:08:08 and 3:07:59 respectively. In 60-64 age group, Tom Monica finished ahead of John Davis, 3:19:02 to 3:23:12. In the 65-69 division, it was Clyve Cousins in 3:57:37, and the 70-74 age group went to Daniel Rose in 5:01:59.
On the women's side, 2017 Ms. XTERRA Deanna McCurdy of Littleton, Colorado was the first amateur and first woman in the 40-44 age group, finishing in 3:12:07.
"I had a good swim for me - a really good swim for me," said McCurdy, who favors swimming least of the three sports. "I was just happy and enjoying the day out there."
McCurdy and runner up, Jennifer Razee played cat and mouse for a bit on the course. Razee is also in the 40-44 age group, and her mantra for the season has been #Faster40.
"I love the Pan Am Champs and course," said Razee. "The altitude, climbing and impressive backdrop at Snowbasin always serve up an amazing race experience - it inspires everyone to bring their A-game. Deanna and I ran up the ramp out of the swim together on Saturday, but she really had another gear on the bike, and I lost contact with her through the bridge and meadow sections leading into the Green Pond descent. I crested the top of Sardine with another friend who let me know that I only had a couple of amateurs just ahead. I managed to reel someone in on the descent and caught Courtney Kaup right out of transition on the first run ascent. I’m not sure Ogden is a course you walk away from saying you felt great all day - I was definitely willing my legs to keep pushing through the run on the bobbly rocky sections and climbs, as they were jello at that point. But I'm always happy to be in the mix and leave it all out there on the course."
"I love Jen," said McCurdy, "But I hate racing Jen because she and I are just so exactly the same. Sure enough, we got out of the swim and she passed me on the bike in the first mile. I passed her back and she stayed on my wheel for a while. You can never dismiss Jen. She is so strong."
Both athletes train with Middaugh Coaching and swap first and second places with each other on a regular basis. At XTERRA Beaver Creek, Razee finished third in her age group, four minutes ahead of McCurdy.
"We have some similar strengths in our bike and run climbing, and close splits at most races," said Razee of her rivalry with McCurdy. "Inevitably we’re seeing each other on course at some point, and we’ve come out of transitions neck and neck often. I do hate that we’re always battling each other for the podium. I don’t think we’ve had more than a couple of minutes between us at any race this season. We keep talking about finding a duo mountain bike race, so we get a chance to truly race on the same team together."
Courtney Kaup of Richmond, Vermont was third and the first finisher of the 35-39 age group with a time of 3:17:18. Kaup has had a great year. She was age-group champ at both XTERRA Oak Mountain and XTERRA Beaver Creek. At Beaver Creek, she finished 15th overall for the women.
Alexa Turzian was the 25-29 age group champ with a time of 3:19:46, and Megan Riepma took the 30-34 age group in 3:26:58.
Kiki Silver took the 45-49 age group in 3:23:44 in front of Jennifer Burtner and XTERRA Ambassador Laura Morris.
Eight-time XTERRA Regional Champ Paula Maresh made the race for 50-54 age group champ a bit of a battle. She finished less than a minute in front of three-time XTERRA Regional Champ Margo Pitts, 3:39:36 to 3:40:28.
In the 55-59 category, the women were tough with Janet Soule finishing in 3:33:41 and 2016 Pan Am Champ Tamara Tabeek following behind in 3:44:55. The following day, Tabeek won her age group in the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship 21k.
Martha Buttner finished strong in the 60-64 age group, with a time of 3:49:33, ahead of Barbara Peterson who finished in 4:17:05. Buttner was the XTERRA Regional Champ for the Mountain Region and Peterson earned her 13th Regional Champ title this year in the Western Region.
XTERRA Regional Champ Jo Garuccio and Libby Harrow closed out the 65-69 age group. Garuccio finished in 4:27:11 while Harrow, who had hip surgery earlier in the year, finished in 6:18:11.
As the sun set on Snowbasin Resort, it was impossible not to be awed by the dedication and excellence of the athletes who choose to swim in cold water, bike over rocks and roots, and run at altitude for fun. Even more inspiring was the respect and admiration the competitors so obviously have for each other. Michael Dorr summed up the spirit of XTERRA after the race.
"After I crossed the finish line, Garren and I exchanged congratulations to each other," said Dorr. "I had no idea if I had won my age group so when I got my time card, the sense of accomplishment settled in. I was humbled. I am honored to race with a group of guys that push each other and humbled to compete in such a great series. The XTERRA Tribe is part of my family."