On several Fridays a year, Michael Drackert leaves his Kansas City engineering firm, heads home and loads up his van. He drives for hours before pulling into a parking lot to sleep. In the morning, he wakes up, hits the road again, and finally stops in the middle of the woods.
If you haven’t guessed, Drackert is an XTERRA Warrior.
“I show up to work on Monday and I’ll have scrapes and bruises on my leg from where I crashed on my mountain bike,” said Drackert, 34. “But no one at work has any idea about what I did over the last 48 hours. That I drove to Michigan and did this intense, epic race, and slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot and drove home. It’s amazing how much you can cram into life from Friday after work until Monday back at the desk.”
For the last year, Drackert has been gunning for Maui. At the beginning of the 2017 season, he sat down with his wife and planned out the races he thought he needed to compete in to be the XTERRA South Central Regional Champ and earn a qualifying spot at the XTERRA World Championship.
“With off-road racing, a lot of planning gets thrown out the door,” admitted Drackert. “It’s like what Mike Tyson said – ‘Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.’ That’s what I love about the sport – the unpredictability. The need to adapt.”
Last year Drackert narrowly missed qualifying for Maui, but he’s undaunted and back at it again this year.
“When I knew I wasn’t going to Maui last year, I decided to go ahead and do two races in the fall that would count towards 2018 points. I already had the fitness, and now I had the time,” he explained.
Drackert won his age group at XTERRA Fort Custer and was second at XTERRA Fruita. This year, Drackert is going to race at XTERRA Cameron Park, XTERRA ATX, XTERRA St. Louis, and XTERRA Oak Mountain.
Growing up in Kansas City, he wrestled and played soccer, but only got into endurance sports because he was curious about what he thought was an impossible feat.
“In college, some friends and I decided that we were going to try to run a marathon,” remembers Drackert. “But just the idea of running 26 miles sounded insane to me. Then, while we were training, we were like, man, have you heard about these crazy Ironman races where they are swimming and biking before the marathon?”
It wasn’t long before Drackert decided to try an Ironman himself, despite not knowing how to swim.
“I was working in a bike shop at the time and the owner had done a few Ironman races. I told him I was going to train for one too. He said, ‘Have you ever done a triathlon?’ I said, ‘Nope.’ And he was like, ‘Maybe you better learn to swim, first.’”
Despite being in marathon shape, Drackert could barely make it to the other side of the pool without being out of breath.
“I just had to keep getting in the pool and panicking,” says Drackert. “I reached out and found friends to help, and slowly but surely I was able to get a bit of swim strength.”
Drackert’s first triathlon was a half-Ironman, which led to several full-length Ironman races. Concurrently, he was spending his summers as a backpacking guide in southern Colorado, where he was also spending a lot of time “peak bagging” mountains over 10,000 feet in elevation.
He eventually left the roads of Ironman behind in favor of ultra marathons, including a 100K trail run in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
“Working in engineering, my days tend to be full of analyzing, calculating, and planning. It’s very structured. There are formulas, rules, and codes that must be followed, and we analyze designs to predict outcomes. This way of thinking carried over to road triathlon where my training and racing were controlled by heart-rate zones, power outputs, negative splits, aerodynamics, and power-to-weight ratio. Racing on the road became too calculated. I could almost predict the outcome before the gun went off.”
Drackert found his way to XTERRA when a friend refused to do an ultra marathon with him because he didn’t want to run that slowly.
“He was like, ‘Dude, we only got a short window in our life to go fast. You can go slow when you’re old. ‘That’s when I switched to XTERRA.”
Drackert’s first XTERRA was the XTERRA Epic Iron Mountain in Arkansas in 2015, which featured a one-mile swim, a 30-mile mountain bike, and a 10-mile trail run.
He placed third overall in that race, and the following year discovered the inaugural XTERRA St. Louis, and because he still travels to Colorado every year, he also did XTERRA Lory.
“Because I live so far from most XTERRAs, I started piecing all of these little races together and making vacations of them.”
Last fall, Drackert and his wife traveled to Michigan for XTERRA Fort Custer and spent a night in Chicago to celebrate their wedding anniversary. He credits his wife with being patient with his training schedule and keeping him grounded.
“Whenever I get upset about a race or if I’m really excited because I did well, my wife asks me what I think the headline in the paper is going to be the next day. And I realize it will say something like, ‘Local man wins local race against amateur athletes.’ And I remember, hey man, we’re all just having fun out here together.”
Drackert applies this same attitude towards his training and turns even the mishaps into adventures.
“Adventures usually happen when things don’t go as planned,” he said. “And there is a lot that doesn’t go as planned. I was out on the trail a few weeks ago and had to cross over a frozen stream. It looked totally doable but as I was riding across, I slid out on the ice. I was lying there, laughing like, of course! What was I thinking? That I’m going to ride my bike across the ice and not wreck?”
Drackert admits that it’s the spirit of adventure and beauty of the outdoors that keep him training and packing up that van of his.
“The number one thing I love about being out on the trails is just the silence,” says Drackert. “It’s quiet and you can really let your mind just stop. And that’s when I’m at my best. When I’m looking at an obstacle in front of me and I am wondering if I can get up it or not, I’m never successful. But when I get into a state of flow, I can let it all happen."
And that’s what this year is about for Drackert.
“This year is about letting go of results and just being aware of the personal growth that results from the process.”