It's easy to talk about winners. There is something incredibly inspiring about watching the fastest runners cross the finish line, grab the banner, and raise it high as a crown of Ti leaves is placed on their heads.
But, as anyone who has watched an XTERRA event knows, the runners who finish in the middle and back of of the back are just as incredible and just as inspiring. After all, there is usually a very good reason that someone decides to run up a mountain. Some people are just that adventurous. Others have used the race at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship as a goal for health, fitness, and living to the fullest. Still others are out there exorcising demons or chasing down dreams.
Whatever their motivation, this weekend, more than 1,400 runners will show up at Kualoa Ranch to face off against the mountain, the mud, and themselves. Some have been coming to "the Ranch" since 2008 and have done every XTERRA Championship Trail Run from XTERRA Oak Mountain to XTERRA Beaver Creek. For others, this is their first time on this hallowed 'aina.
Sergio Florian has been a part of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship for the past seven years. For the past six years, he's done his own version of "The Double," in which he races at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship and then does the Honolulu Marathon a week later. Last year was Florian's best result. He was ninth overall at XTERRA Worlds against a tough field, and managed a sub-three hour marathon the next week, which qualified him for Boston.
"I love XTERRA Trail Run Worlds at Kualoa because it has a little bit of everything," says Florian. "There are fast technical sections and steep climbs that literally bring you to your knees. And it's just a gorgeous location which I'm lucky to call home."
Florian is a PT specializing in spinal cord injuries at Wellness Neuro & SCI and one of the reasons he races each year is to inspire the people he works with.
"What keeps me coming back is the process. I love preparing for these races and bringing my best out on race day."
Doug Beagle and Jo May are true ambassadors of the sport and have been running at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship for years.
May (pictured below), who won her 65-69 age group at the 2016 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, will be returning this year to defend her title.
"This is a tough course," she admits. "My friend Joe Gray just jumps from the top of that mountain to the bottom, but I need to use that rope to get down the hill."
May also adds that one of the extra challenges of racing in the middle of the pack is that if the footing is difficult, it's even more difficult after hundreds of other runners have come through.
"Last year, I grabbed onto the rope, and right after, someone heavier grabbed it behind me," says May. "I spun around so all of a sudden, I was facing up the mountain."
May is a die-hard competitor and comes to XTERRA trail runs to win. However, her competitors become friends as soon as the race is finished - and sometimes, even before. In 2012, while riding the shuttle bus from their hotel in Waikiki to the race at Kualoa Ranch, May and Beagle got to know two-time XTERRA Trail Run World Champ, Joseph Gray.
Because they have a house in Colorado - where Gray also lives - the couple have become close friends with Gray and his wife over the years and race the XTERRA Colorado Trail Run Series together.
"Joe even tried to get Doug and I to do an adventure race with him, but luckily, we had something else planned that day," says May, who adds that Gray sometimes forgets he is 30 years younger than May and Beagle.
Another XTERRA Ambassador who will be climbing the mountain at Kualoa Ranch is Tom Dhans (pictured below), who is also a triathlete. He recently returned from Maui, where he competed in the XTERRA World Championship.
Dhans found XTERRA in 2012, while vacationing with his wife on Maui. He asked someone in the spa of their hotel for a good place to run. It just so happened that the XTERRA World Championship was taking place in a few days, and he joined a small training group who was heading out to run the trails.
Dhans, who competed in the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in 2015, is returning this year with his wife Angie, who will compete in the Adventure Walk while Tom runs in the 21K.
"I never need a reason to race in an XTERRA event," says Dhans. "If it's XTERRA, then I know my ohana and my tribe will be there. I feel so at home on the island, and there's a connection to the land that you have to experience in order to truly understand it. Race announcer Kalei (Waiwaiole) calls it the 'aina."
Dhans is also looking forward to racing the course at Kualoa Ranch, which is like none other.
"The course seems mythical when you are running," says Dhans. "The tight single track and elevation test you mentally and physically. It's beautiful, and passing by all of the movie sets is truly epic."
Dhans will be at XTERRA University at the Waikiki Beach Walk on Lewers Street, Saturday at 2 pm, to talk about his experience running at Kualoa Ranch and answer questions about the course. He will be on a panel with XTERRA Kapalua 10K Champ, Malia Crouse.
Koehl (pictured top) is beloved on Oahu. The founder of Hawaii Soul Runners. She not only organizes runs and races, but mentors distance and ultra runners young and old. This year marks Koehl's third year in a row doing the the 21K - last year she was second in her age group. She has also done the 10K a few times as well.
"The scenery and views are unparalleled at XTERRA Worlds," says Koehl. "The course brings you between the mountains and back into the valley, but it’s something about that turnaround when you head makai (toward the ocean) that you realize you are running cliffside with this amazing view of the ocean while majestic green mountains loom above. It's just incredible."
Marcy Fleming, the defending 55-59 age group champ says that she keeps returning to Kualoa Ranch each year because of the people.
"The XTERRA World Championship is like the Cheers of trail running, because everybody knows your name. There is something for everyone at XTERRA Worlds, meaning that you get everyone from families to elite runners. But it doesn't matter who you are - after the race, we all chill out together and enjoy a cold one."
Fleming, who lives in Kailua acknowledges that the recent rain will make this course muddy - as usual.
"My advice to the 21K racers is to make sure you have your laces tight, hydrate well and have an energy gel to get you up the long slogs, and plan to get dirty!"
The mud is its own annual tradition, and all who race at Kualoa Ranch revel in the challenge.
"The race can be summed up in the way Kalei calls us into the finish chute," says Jo May. "She says, 'Welcome home XTERRA Warriors.'"
XTERRA Defending Champions
|1-9 F||Nova Stickley||Kaneohe, HI||4:00:50|
|15-19 F||Claire Cutler||Kailua, HI||2:27:27|
|25-29 F||Polina Carlson||Kailua, HI||1:38:06|
|30-34 F||Malia Crouse||Makawao, HI||1:46:14|
|40-44 F||Mindy Morizumi||Lahaina, HI||1:57:12|
|45-49 F||Maria Lourdes Rivera||Glendale, CA||2:15:31|
|50-54 F||Monica Ross||Anchorage, AK||1:53:27|
|55-59 F||Marcy Fleming||Kailua, HI||2:41:46|
|65-69 F||Jo May||Houston, TX||3:57:59|
|30-34 M||Joseph Gray||Colorado Springs, CO||1:17:15|
|35-39 M||Sergio Florian||Kaaawa, HI||1:36:54|
|40-44 M||Jerome Auruskuvecius||Anchorage, AK||1:45:13|
|45-49 M||Kengo Yoshimoto||Honolulu, HI||1:41:42|
|50-54 M||Mark Geoghegan||Honolulu, HI||1:42:19|
|55-59 M||Michael Fussell||Grapevine, TX||1:46:22|
|65-69 M||Doug Beagle||Houston, TX||2:28:00|
|70-74||Ellis Andrews||Penticton, CAN||2:32:21|
Online registration for the race is closed, but you can still register this Saturday, December 2nd at the Waikiki Beach Walk on Lewers Street in downtown Honolulu. For more information, please visit www.xterraplanet.com/trailrun.
Photos courtesy of Enduro Photo and Mike Adrian.