On a very hot spring day in Pelham, Alabama, a few hundred amateur athletes performed in a way that made you proud to be a human being. Not only did they rise to the physical challenges of the day, they displayed the mental fortitude to push pass doubts, pain, and the desire to quit. And, they handed out an awful lot of high-fives while doing it.
The day began with a non-wetsuit swim in the glassy water of Double Oak Lake. Andy Kelsey (50-54), Doug Day, and Karl Stover (both 45-49) were first out of the water ahead of a pack of pros. Stefan Laursen (45-49), Hans Ryham, and Garren Watkins (both 40-44) were next, followed by Kevin Jett (30-34), Amanda Beyer (25-29), and John Davis (Challenged).
Juan Carlos Gonzalez (15-19) wasn’t far behind, and this applies to more than just the swim. The teenagers hitting the dirt today are one of the first generations to grow up with triathlon and XTERRA as an established sport. For them, protein smoothies, Training Peaks, and full suspension are part of everyday life, while some pros didn’t even learn to swim or mountain bike until they were in their twenties. Judging by the performances of the kids on the course, XTERRA’s future looks bright.
Joe Urbanowicz, who finished second in his age group was down a glove, had goggles that leaked, and had to deal with a broken shoelace. He gave his pump to a fellow competitor and handed out a CO2 cartridge and a tube to the guy who purchased his old bike. But, this 16-year old refused to let obstacles faze him and was undeterred until the very end.
“Towards the end of the first lap on the run, I fell hard but was able to get up and finish strong,” he said with cheer, despite his tough day in the dirt.
Kyle Robinson took the 20-24 age group while in the 25-29 division, Caleb Baity’s work with mentor and coach Marcus Barton was on display.
“I have been training a lot this past winter working on my swim since it is my biggest weakness. This being said I was nervous about how I was going to stack up,” said Baity, who didn’t need to worry.
He had the second fastest amateur bike split behind overall amateur champ, Andy Lee, and stayed level headed despite the tough nature of the race, which seems to always sneak up and do its worst when athletes least expect it. In his post-race recap on his blog, Baity, who finished as the fourth overall amateur, wrote about Blood Rock:
I danced through the roots and rocks just like I had practiced the day before hitting each line I wanted to. I had a smooth and clean exit and was excited how much time that saved me. Right as I hammered down on the first pedal stroke after Blood Rock my chain fell off. I felt so excited that I had cleaned the hardest section of the entire course only to drop my chain five feet afterwards. I was quick to put it back on and off I went.
Baity said that overall, what XTERRA Oak Mountain taught him is that the mind is much stronger than the body.
In the 30-34 age group, Michael Drackert achieved a goal that was over two years in the making – Maui or bust. Drackert had been gunning for a regional championship to get him to paradise, but he won’t have to rely on that this year as he won his age group and got the XTERRA World Championship spot to go with it.
“I'm feeling very grateful, humbled, and surprised,” said Drackert. “I thought if I could get under three hours then I'd have a shot at top three in my age group, but I really did not expect to win. The experience was also really special to share with my friend Dan Ballheimer who won the 35-39 age group. I can't even begin to explain how much I learned on a personal level leading up to this race. It was truly life changing.”
In the 35-39 division, Ballheimer posted the fastest bike and run splits earn that top step.
“Qualifying for Maui was my goal on January 1st of this year,” he said. “So, I put a lot of expectations on myself. But as they say, if you don’t get butterflies why are you doing it? Everything was exceptional from the course to the crew as well as my XTERRA family and friends.”
Both Drackert and Ballheimer compete in the XTERRA Midwest Region, which will kick off with XTERRA Illinois Wilds on June 10th.
In the 40-44 division, journeymen Hans Ryham and Garren Watkins worked together out of the water and again on the bike to finish one, two. They were the second and third fastest amateurs of the day, respectively. After the race, Ryham remembers:
As we approached the crest of the hill on the bike, I led the transfer and some of the descent, at which point Garren gunned it. I picked some poor lines going into Blood Rock and lost his wheel pretty quickly. Again on my own, I just tried to push a solid pace. The trail was clear behind me and every now and then when there was a bit more climbing, I would catch up to Garren and hang on for a bit. T2 came sooner than I thought and as I slipped on my running shoes, Garren give me a friendly pat on the back as he made his way to the run out. I was right on his heels and was running confidently. Josiah was starting his second lap at the same time and I was tickled that he was willing to share a hi-five while he passed as well.
AJ Petrillo and Yaro Middaugh – also in the 40-44 age group – also used teamwork to finish third and fourth. AJ described his day:
That was one of the most fun races I have done in a long time. Getting to race a majority of the event with a friend makes it even better.
I was in T1 when I saw Yaro and Marcus enter, so I knew they would catch up to me on the bike pretty quickly. Marcus caught me within the first two miles and was riding strong. Once we hit the long climb, the pace slowed a bit, so I decided to push a little to put some time between Marcus and me, since I knew he could out run me. I caught up with another racer and we rode together for a little on the climb and then Yaro came flying up behind me. He was in great spirits and looked strong. I turned to the guy I was riding with and told him that I had to go and put in a small push to catch up to Yaro. I don’t know if we discussed it, but I think we both made the decision to push the bike and try to reel some of the guys ahead of us in. Our pace and skills seemed to match. I did a final push at the end of the bike and maybe put 15 seconds on Yaro before the run. Yaro caught me on the road and I figured that we were going to have a repeat of Fort Yargo and I was just going to try to hold onto his feet as long as possible. I wished Yaro the best, but then he said he wasn’t feeling his run legs yet, then his pace slowed and said he was close to cramping. My legs were not feeling good, but I was running a pace I knew I could sustain. I pulled away from Yaro and then ran scared for the rest of the 10K.
I absolutely love this course and getting to race with guys like Yaro, Caleb, and Marcus. They are not only extremely talented guys, but also really good dudes all around. I can’t say enough good things about these guys and it is why I keep coming back to this race.
Notably absent from the 40-44 age group was David Dornaus, who became a father on Mother’s Day to Milo Joseph and Georgia Mae. Although they arrived at only 32 weeks, the future Xticers are doing well and getting strong.
“Physically and emotionally. I feel like I did 15 XTERRA races,” said Dornaus about his previous week. “But I still plan to find a race and get my ass to Maui. I saw the results and am motivated as ever.”
In the 45-49 division, the day belonged to Texas firefighter Andy Lee, who had an OK swim and then absolutely crushed the bike and run. His performance earned him the top amateur spot of the day.
Marcus Barton, XTERRA Southeast standout and mentor to all, was disappointed with his second-place performance but didn’t let it spoil his experience. Instead, he decided to take a step back and visit his family homestead in the Talladega National Forest on his way home. He went to his family’s “Old House” and found some peace there as he propped his feet up on the porch railing, just like his grandfather used to. You can watch his video of his experience on Facebook.
In the 50-54 age group, Donny Forsyth, Mike Barro, and David Meadows finished within the same minute, while in the 55-59 age group, Ali Arasta finished 29 minutes in front of second place. Ned Daily took the 60-64 age group, Alan Moore claimed 65-69, and Dale Vaughan won the 70-74 age group. In the 75 and older division, GL Brown showed us why you never need to retire.
John Davis, the Challenged Athlete champ, was greeted at the finish line by his parents, who have always been supportive of the standout swimmer.
“I lost my water bottle after a root collision, so I had to ride 15 miles without water,” said Davis after the race. “I got dehydrated and the run is always a challenge but I had fun. There are such great folks volunteering and encouraging the athletes. It was a great, great day.”
For the women, it was all about Sophie Allen in the 15-19 division, who we expect will now be chased by many college triathlon coaches.
Avari Lewis claimed the title in the 20-24 age group while Amanda Beyer bested Heather Wilson and Kat Marks by crushing the swim and the bike and running it in. But even though Beyer made it look easy, the course at Oak Mountain had its way with her too. She had a crash at mile five on the bike course that left her with a broken seat rail.
“It was kind of like riding an office swivel chair for 15 miles,” Bayer said, who is focusing this year on her run.
Beyer had a better surprise on the Thursday before the race during the course pre-ride – her boyfriend proposed. The plan was that her fiancé to-be would beat Amanda to the top of the climb and then pop the question, but he wasn’t quite quick enough.
“Let's just say it's a good thing I stopped to wait for him,” said Beyer, who also said “Yes.”
Katarina Marks wasn’t at her best on race day as she is dealing with a few iron-related nutrition issues.
“It was a good rust buster, but if I'm going to be honest, I was pretty disappointed and frustrated with how my body reacted,” said Marks, who is hoping to earn her pro card later this year.
We have no doubt that Marks will quickly resolve her nutritional snags and we look forward to seeing another Beyer and Marks matchup later this season.
“Saturday was just one of those bad days. I mean I hopped off the bike, and my body just wasn't absorbing the calories I was trying to put in, so I had no energy. I just went into survival mode instead of my usual ‘chase people down’ mindset.”
Annie Pendygraft claimed the 30-34 age group while XTERRA National Champ, mountain bike queen, and mum to four, Sian Crespo, held off Kristen Wade and Sue Finney in the 35-39 age group.
In the 40-44 division, Deanna McCurdy claimed the top amateur spot for a second year in a row. Courtney Kaup – second overall amateur - Lindsay Jackson, and Angie DeFilipppi were behind her. McCurdy didn’t have the fastest swim but had the fastest bike split by five minutes and the fastest run by three minutes.
“I’m honored to cross the finish line as the repeat overall amateur champ, but even more honored to share the podium with two amazing ladies who are also friends,” wrote McCurdy on Instagram after the race. “They push me to search for answers to my questions of what I am capable of, why I do what I do, and who I am becoming along the way.”
In the 45-59 gang, Canadian Heather Pady surprised herself with a strong showing that earned her the third-place amateur spot as well as her age group win and a spot in Maui.
“My race went really well and I felt it was maybe better than I expected at this point in the season,” she said. “I swam with Deanna and we both said after the race it was our first time feeling comfortable to swim in a little group. On the bike I just focused on having my own race, getting around other competitors when it was safe and picking good lines around the rocks and roots. After the long climb I was on my own so I was able to really have fun on the flowing single-track descent! Heading out on the run it did start to feel a little warm and I had to laugh at myself remembering that I told you I was looking forward to being warm - careful what you wish for right?”
Margo Pitts took her usual spot at the top of the 50-54 age group, even though she had strong competition from Cindy Duby, Kate Lucas, Jodie Ramey, and Paula Maresh. Elaine Morison claimed the 55-59 title, Lucia Colbert nabbed the 60-64 crown, and Linda Usher won the 65-69 division.
As usual, much more happened on the course than race times and splits would let on. Friendships were formed, goals were achieved, bonds were cemented, and Blood Rock claimed its usual share of skin. But that’s the nature of XTERRA: in for a penny, in for a pound. Because this is the kind of Tribe where competitors meet on the dirt and become family for life.
Find by division results here.