From 2012 until 2015, Emma Garrard was the fastest American woman at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui. She has competed in ten XTERRA World Championships, including twice as an age-grouper, eight times as an elite athlete, and four times as a mom. Garrard was also the XTERRA National Champ in 2015, after eight straight second-place finishes. When she finally crossed the line as a champion, she did it while carrying her two-year old son Torin.
If you could keep just a single snapshot of Garrard, it might be this one, because it illustrates not only her dedication to her family, but also her passion for the sport, and her ability to juggle both.
Now, Torin is five and her second son Nigel is 18 months old, and like many female endurance athletes, Garrard is discovering that having it all is turning out to be very expensive. Like parent-athletes everywhere, she is faced with having to change gears.
“Triathlon just wasn’t paying the bills,” admitted Garrard, who currently works full time as the Nordic development manager at Park City Ski and Snowboard, a top-notch ski and snowboard club geared to developing young athletes. Skiing was Garrard’s first sport, and she competed on the US Junior Olympic Team from 1998-2000 and also competed in NCAA Skiing from 1999-2004.
Now, Garrard is adding another title to her impressive athletic resume: XTERRA trail runner and marathoner.
While last September, Garrard finished seventh at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship in Snowbasin, putting in a solid performance on the swim, bike, and run. This year, she is competing in the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship, where she will focus solely on how fast her feet can take her.
“For sure I miss triathlon, but it’s definitely easier to get out the door to run than it is to schedule a swim or get out the door on my bike,” said Garrard, who can often be found on the trails near her home in Park City, Utah.
Although Garrard will be up against a solid women’s field of trail and mountain runners at XTERRA Trail Run Nationals, she has a strong running background and a lot of natural speed. Before she turned to XTERRA, Garrard was a Division I runner at University of Nevada, Reno. This May, proved that she still has wheels by running a 3:08 in the Toronto Marathon on almost no marathon-specific training.
“I started training in the second week of March,” said Garrard. “And I never even had a 50-mile week.” Despite having to train at altitude and in the snow, Garrard ran 3:08 in Toronto. For reference, she was averaging 7:10 minute miles.
She is equally solid on the trails.
“Other trail runners destroy me on the steep downhills,” said Garrard, who is always modest. “But I love the uphills and try for good turnover on the flats.”
Garrard admits that like many runners, her biggest challenge is mental.
“If you are in an XTERRA triathlon, you’re out there for three hours, but you are doing so many different things,” she said. “In a road marathon, you are aware of every single mile.”
Some of Garrard’s strategies include breaking down the race into the current hill, the upcoming aid station, the nature around her, or even the next ten seconds.
“The course at XTERRA Nationals is at its peak in September,” she said. “The fall colors are beautiful and it’s a great course. The last mile is so much fun.”
As a "local," Garrard is going to lead a pre-run of part of the XTERRA Nationals course in August.
“It’s such a runnable course that tests your endurance and strength without throwing a lot of obstacles in your way like rock gardens or other features. It’s pretty honest.”
This year, Garrard may camp with her family the night before the race, but regardless of how much sleep her kids grant her, expect her to be out in front on race day.
In the meantime, stay tuned for details about Emma’s XTERRA Trail Run National Course Pre-Run as well as her recommendations on where to get the best burgers and raspberry milkshakes.
Learn more about the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship on September 16th.