XTERRA Pan Am/USA Amateur Race Recap

By XTERRA
Sep. 19, 2018

Usually, we rate important things in life according to their degree of responsibility or their seriousness. After all, we have families to care for, jobs to do, and mortgages to pay. In the grand scheme of things, a race doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, some days, when people ask, “Why are you training so hard?” there may not even be a good answer.

And yet, that is the best part about amateur athletic events. We do them just because we can. In the words of the top female amateur at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship for the third year in a row, Deanna McCurdy said, “I don’t have to do this. I get to do this. We athletes are all out here fighting our own inner battles, but we are sharing in the joy, the pain, and the camaraderie that bring us all together to conquer our mountains and reach the finish line.”

Nowhere was that more evident than in Saturday’s race at the inimitable Snowbasin Resort just outside of Ogden, Utah. There was a starting cannon and a finish line, just like in any race. But what happened between the two made the XTERRA Pan Am Championship truly special. There were crashes and falls. There were punctured tires, blood, and bee stings. But most of all there were smiles. Competitors and friends made room for more feet in an ice bath, high fives and hugs were abundant, and most of all, there was an overwhelming feeling of mutual respect for fellow warriors out there doing battle - not just against each other but against the mountains themselves, both real and metaphorical.

Anders Johnson XTERRA

Anders Johnson, the top male amateur of the day was from nearby Huntsville, Utah. Saturday’s race was only his fourth XTERRA and fourth triathlon ever. A cross-country mountain biker, Johnson won XTERRA Wild Ride last year and this year. He also competed in last year’s XTERRA Pan Am Championship but flatted on the mountain bike course.

This year was a different story. This year, he finished ninth overall in 2:44:07, less than 20 minutes back from the day's elite champ, Josiah Middaugh.

“I felt really good,” Johnson said after crossing the finish line, where he was greeted by a posse of friends and family. “I tried to have a good swim and then make up time on the bike. I was able to work my way into the pro field and was happy that I finished strong.”

Johnson cramped coming out of T2 and worried that he might have to stop during the run, but he was able to keep going, one foot in front of the other in speedy succession.

Johnson and McCurdy were in good company on Saturday. All the amateurs who lined up at the base of the boat ramp fought hard and raced tough. It wasn’t the easiest day for a race. It was unseasonably warm and the course at Utah is one of the toughest on the XTERRA Pan Am Tour. With about 4000 feet of climbing on the bike alone, tight switchbacks and rocky descents took out a few elite and amateur athletes alike. The trails were dry, dusty, and hot, and in Wheeler Canyon, you could smell smoke from nearby wildfires.

Robbie Day

Yet, the athletes were up for the challenge. Robbie Day finished on top in the 15-19 age group and tenth overall, less than three minutes behind Johnson. Day had a great race despite a crash on the bike course. After taking in a few mouthfuls of dust, he calmly got up, turned his bike around, and continued on. The overall winner of XTERRA Lory is only 16, but he races with the poise of someone much older. In past years, the 15-19 division hasn’t been a competitive age group, but now, it’s stacked. To win, Day had to beat Bowen Satterthwaite and Benny Smith, both of whom are top competitors.

Like Day, Smith started young. He competed in his first triathlon at the age of six with his dad and entered an XTERRA Sprint when he was 11.

“I got smoked,” Smith said of his first XTERRA. “I was dead last, but I liked it a lot.”

A few years later, Smith competed in XTERRA Beaver Creek and won his age group. Although he just graduated from high school this spring, Smith’s goal is to get his pro license. Unfortunately, he’s had a tough year. He cramped on the run course at XTERRA Lory and has been dealing with an Achilles injury for more than a year.

“I’ll be the worst pro out there, but it’s something I’ve always wanted,” he said. “I’ve been looking up to guys like Josiah since I was a little kid.”

Satterthwaite is also wise for his years. In 2016, he was the youngest competitor at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui, and only 12 when he competed in his first XTERRA Pan Am Championship in 2014, where he finished eighth overall in the XTERRA Utah Sprint.

“That first race was kind of scary with all the people in the swim,” he admitted. “But I loved it and was pretty surprised by how well I did.”

Satterthwaite has been dealing with Osgood-Schlatter Syndrome, which is knee pain at the growth plate and common among teenage athletes. Despite having to curtail training a bit, Satterthwaite showcased his enormous potential on Saturday and finished third in the 15-19 division, and 17th overall with a time of 2:51:54.

Lukus Klawitter won the 25-29 age group, despite a challenging race and his own set of injuries. “It always feels good to finish that one,” said Klawitter about Saturday's race. “I had a very sub-par swim that set me up to really get after it on the bike. The bike course suits me well as I live at a higher altitude and the climbing is a good match for my body and racing style.”

Unfortunately, in T2, Klawitter’s lace came off his shoes so he had to do the entire run with one shoe unlaced. Additionally, because of an Achilles injury, he has only run a few times in the past month.

“I was really happy to get through that run,” he said. “My overall goal was to place in the top three of the amateur field and while I didn’t do that, I could have done it if my swim was better. But I was happy with my performance on the bike and the age group win.”

Andrew Hall, who won the 30-34 age group at XTERRA Beaver Creek, won again on Saturday. The CPA from Holiday, Utah had a great time out on the course and finished 13th overall.

“I can’t think of a better venue for an event,” said Hall. “What a course. That was just a really good time. You could rip out there but it never felt out of control.”

Hall had one of his best swims despite a few zigzags. “I think I was swimming so hard that I didn’t swim straight. But all in all, the swim was how I like it – fast and uneventful.”

Hall saved some for the bike and tried to stay with XTERRA Beaver Creek top amateur, Francisco Gonzalez.

“I beat Francisco out of transition and tried to hold onto him as long as I could on the bike,” said Hall. “He passed me in a fury in Wheeler Canyon, but he mellowed out and I tried to stay with him in Middle Fork.”

In the end, Gonzalez finished less than two minutes ahead of Hall - 2:46:52 to Hall's 2:48:42. Both won their 35-39 and 30-34 age groups respectively.

In the 40-44 age group, CJ Castle finished about seven minutes ahead of runner-up Michael Dorr. Castle finished second to Garren Watkins at XTERRA Beaver Creek and second at XTERRA Lake Tahoe. Dorr has also been steadily improving all season. He finished fourth in his age group at XTERRA Oak Mountain, third at XTERRA Beaver Creek, and moved up again on Saturday.

In the next group up, Andy Lee was the fastest in his 45-49 age group by almost ten minutes. The soft-spoken Lee is a former skier, and it’s clear that he is at home in the mountains. Like most of what Lee does, he's excellent at all three disciplines as a solid swimmer, a technical mountain biker, and a fast runner.

To win a 40-something age group is no small task. This is an extremely competitive group of athletes, which on Saturday also included fantastic swimmer Eric Snowberg and 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ Rife Hilgartner, who was back at Nationals after having to miss last year because of a torn quad tendon. After the race, Hilgartner had ice packs taped to both knees, but he was in good spirits and was happy to have gotten through the run without incident.

XTERRA Regional Champ John Stehmeier won the 50-54 age group in Utah in his 10th try, and was ecstatic.  He had a brilliant year, which included age group wins at XTERRA Lake Tahoe and XTERRA Deuces Wild. Jason Bird from Cheyenne Wyoming finished sixth behind Stehmeier, but he brought some valuable assets to the race in the form of his kids. Abigail Bird won the 20-24 age group and Eric Bird finished second only to top amateur Anders Johnson in his 20-24 age group.

Bruce Wilson in the 55-59 age group also brought his daughter Heather to Utah where she finished fourth in the 25-29 age group behind Amanda Bayer and Nikki Farmer. Karl Edgerton was the 55-59 age group’s champ and finished about three minutes in front of Wilson.

Kirk Harger, who finished fifth in the 55-59 division may have won the “Most Motivated” award of the day. He lives in Wetmore, Michigan on the rather isolated Upper Penninsula. His town is so small that it doesn’t have a swimming pool. In order to train for XTERRA, Harger made an arrangement with a local motel and can swim in their pool if there aren’t any guests using it. Because he works such long hours, he often rides his bike to and from work just to get time in the saddle. And as for running? Harger only has two toes on his left foot because of an accident as a child, but this hasn’t stopped him from racing up and down mountains.

In the 60-64 age group, Cliff Millemann dominated and continued his winning streak for the year while Dawes Wilson and Richard De Glymes won their respective 65-69 and 70-74 age groups.

There is no doubt that the women who raced at the XTERRA Pan Am Championship were absolutely fearless on this tough course as well. Or perhaps courageous is a better word because there are always things that can scare you in XTERRA. In the French language, coeur means “heart” and the word coure means “to run.” There is no doubt that all the women who raced on Saturday ran with some serious heart.

Sometimes running with heart means to run with joy, and other times, it means to keep going when every bone in your body is telling you to stop. That’s what McCurdy’s race was like.

“We all long for magical races where everything falls into place, the feet feel light, and the effort feels minimal relative to the pace,” McCurdy wrote on Facebook. “Today was not one of those races. Today I had to convince my brain that I wanted to do this. I swam well and came out of transition around tenth, passed a few girls right as we jumped on our bikes, and six more on the first tough climb up Wheeler Canyon. It was not easy. My breathing was short and sounded like dog trying to pull its owner along on a short leash.”

Still, McCurdy persevered and finished first in a tough age group that included Kathryn Lockwood and XTERRA Portland race director Lindsay Jackson.

The question of the day belonged to the 35-39 age group because “Who is Courtney Hill?” was something asked again and again. This dark horse form Pocatello, Idaho was the second fastest amateur female overall and won the 35-39 age group ahead of Sian Crespo and 2018 Ms. XTERRA Kristen Wade.

Hill is a talented runner who has qualified for and competed in the Boston Marathon, but her only XTERRA races before Utah were XTERRA Wild Ride in her home state.

Even Hill was a bit surprised with her performance at her first ever XTERRA Pan Am Championship.

“God must have been smiling at me because I don’t know how I did so well,” she said after the race.  “It was a really good and special day.”

Hard work is one answer to the question of how Courtney Hill did so well. The busy physician’s assistant (her kids are 7, 5, and 2) often gets up at 4AM because it’s the only time she can fit in a run. She mountain bikes with her husband and jumps in the pool once a week.

“Qualifying for Maui was so unexpected, but my husband is from Hawaii so we are going to take the whole family,” said Hill about competing in next month’s XTERRA World Championship race in Kapalua, Maui.

Mimi Stockton also had a great day and finished less than two minutes behind Hill, making the overall amateur podium and nabbing the 45-49 age group. Even better, Stockton had a much better race than she did the first time she ventured to Utah eight years ago when she sprained her wrist and broke two ribs.

"My biggest challenge going into Utah wasn’t the altitude or the climbing or even those around me - it was believing in myself,” said Stockton. “XTERRA is a great mania to which you must stay completely focused, without reticence, without hesitation and you must have complete confidence in your abilities. One slip, one doubt, and it can all come crashing down. But I never had a doubt race morning, and that was the reason I did well."

The 25-29 and 30-34 age groups were full of new names, which is typical of this young division. Like Hill, Rebecca Goldstein (25-29) was a surprise with her win over Amanda Bayer, Nikki Farmer and Heather Wilson while Katie O’Brien (30-34) had to best Amelia Van Dyke (formerly Vonesh), Stephanie Brunnemann, and Melanie Willard.

Margo Pitts XTERRA

Saturday was definitely a day for the XTERRA Regional Champs with Margo Pitts claiming the 50-54 age group and Sharon McDowell-Larsen taking the 55-59 spot. To win, Pitts had to beat both Paula Maresh and Michelle Blankenship while McDowell-Larsen had to surpass longtime XTERRA Warriors Janet Soule and Tamara Tabeek. In the 60-64 age group, Barbara Peterson completed her 140th XTERRA at Utah. Both she and Jo Garuccio won their age groups.

It's easy to assume that because the XTERRA National Championship is the biggest XTERRA race so far this year, the race is all about the wins, the PRs, and the bragging rights. Yes, the athletes are incredible: they are fast and tough and strong, but they are also humble. They know that everyone out there is fighting their own battle and slaying their own demons.

“Everyone is chill out here,” said Benny Smith. “It’s part of why I like XTERRA so much. It’s a different kind of vibe.”

Andrew Hall gave a voice to the experience of being an XTERRA athlete and articulated what it’s like to live more both on and off the course.

“We weren’t just surviving out there," he said. "We were working the switchbacks and accelerating through corners. We were pushing some big power.”

Complete Results

The Champs

XTERRA PAN AM/USA CHAMPS (FEMALE AGE GROUP)

 

Division

Name

Hometown

Time

20 - 24

Abigail Bird

Cheyenne, WY

4:09:25

25 - 29

Rebecca Goldstein

Salt Lake City, UT

3:30:37

30 - 34

Katie O'Brien

Park City, UT

3:49:23

35 - 39

Courtney Hill

Pocatello, ID

3:25:32

40 - 44

*Deanna McCurdy

Littleton, CO

3:16:01

45 - 49

Mimi Stockton

Stevensville, MI

3:27:00

50 - 54

Margo Pitts

Raleigh, NC

3:40:27

55 - 59

Sharon McDowell-Larsen

Colorado Springs, CO

3:43:22

60 - 64

Barbara Peterson

Berkeley, CA

4:18:46

65 - 69

Jo Garuccio

Sandy, UT

4:52:51

PC

Christy Williams

Littleton, CO

5:07:29

       

XTERRA PAN AM/USA CHAMPS (MALE AGE GROUP)

 

Division

Name

Hometown

Time

15 - 19

Robbie Day

Evergreen, CO

2:46:39

20 - 24

* Anders Johnson

Huntsville, UT

2:44:07

25 - 29

Lukus Klawitter

Alamosa, CO

2:51:54

30 - 34

Andrew Hall

Salt Lake City,  UT

2:48:42

35 - 39

Francisco Gonzalez

Boulder, CO

2:46:52

40 - 44

C.J. Castle

Dillon, CO

3:02:40

45 - 49

Andy Lee

Austin, TX

2:56:25

50 - 54

John Stehmeier

Lake Arrowhead, CA

3:11:03

55 - 59

Karl Edgerton

Vail, CO

3:26:07

60 - 64

Cliff Millemann

Davis, CA

3:27:32

65 - 69

Dawes Wilson

Vail, CO

4:18:27

70 - 74

Rich De Glymes

Newcastle, CA

4:17:59

* TOP AMATEURS

   
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