Todd Gottfried has always loved playing in the dirt.
Todd, aged 54, often jokes that “I’ve been riding mountain bikes since before there were mountain bikes.” “I used to race BMX bikes starting at age 13 and then I switched to racing mountain bikes in the early 1980’s. I’ve always been a trail runner too because it’s so much more adventurous than running on roads.”
Although Todd had raced some road events, he was never really that excited about road triathlons. But because he mountain biked, ran on the trails, and swam, he was quick to sign up for XTERRA Big Bear in 1997.
“When I heard about XTERRA, I knew it was my thing. I raced in XTERRA Big Bear and thought, this is it, I like it. There’s something here for me.”
In 1997 and 1998, Todd raced in XTERRAs in Half Moon Bay and Bonelli Park in San Dimas, California. In 1999, he qualified for the XTERRA World Championship in Makena, Maui, on the original course which was full of lava rock and terrifying descents. He went with his friends Pat Beaudoin and Colin Clinton. Pat didn’t race but went along to cheer on his good friend.
“My friend Pat was with me from the beginning,” says Todd. “He’s been to all of the XTERRA World Championship races I’ve done except two. Because of a condition with his ankles, he couldn't run. He could swim well and was an avid mountain biker but wasn’t comfortable with the running leg of a triathlon. However, Pat loved the XTERRA lifestyle.”
“Pat was the coolest friend,” says Todd. “He came with me to Maui every year and loved it. He would get to Maui and ride the bike loop five or six times a day. He went to every pre-race briefing, every post-race awards dinner and bought all of the XTERRA clothing.”
Finally, in 2016, Todd and his girlfriend and partner Gina DeTolve convinced Pat to enter the XTERRA World Championship on an at-large bid. “We told him that lots of people walk the running leg. We told him to just walk up the hills and scramble down. Of course, we picked 2016, the year of the epic mud bath, but Pat loved it. The harder the better for him. Pat’s motto was it was all about the adventure.”
In a strange twist of irony, Todd’s own ankles began giving him trouble last year and necessitated surgery.
“Ten years ago, I messed up my ankle,” explains Todd. “I could live with it, but it always affected my ability to run. It finally got so bad that I rolled it last year at XTERRA Worlds in the first mile of the run course. I walked the whole six-mile course but ended up with broken bones and torn ligaments.”
This year, Todd is competing in his 20th consecutive XTERRA World Championship, but he will be going without Pat.
“Pat passed away unexpectedly last December,” he says. “He wanted to race XTERRA Worlds again in 2019 and even got a new bike last year. This year, I’ll be racing his bike at the XTERRA World Championships in his honor. They say life goes on, but all those old memories stay with you. Now, when I ride Pat’s bike, I feel like I’m with him, back in Hawaii, which brought him so much joy.”
“Todd has a different pain threshold than the rest of us,” says Gina. The couple has been together since 2001. Gina is also an accomplished XTERRA athlete, but that’s not just because of Todd.
“When I first met Todd, I was new to road triathlons, and I wasn’t even thinking about off-road triathlons because it just seemed like too much,” says Gina. “But I went to an XTERRA with Todd in Half Moon Bay and heard Melanie McQuaid give a talk about how women should race XTERRAs. Right then and there I signed up. It’s all Mel McQuaid’s fault I’ve been doing XTERRA for 17 years.”
“Gina was supposed to come to that race to take photos of me because she’s a great photographer,” says Todd. “And I got no photos of that race. Instead, I was handing off my cold water headgear and booties to her after I got out of the ocean because she was racing the sport race which started right after the full XTERRA distance. But it all worked out.”
“I was hooked,” says Gina about her first XTERRA. “From then on, I left the roads and raced XTERRAs all year with Todd.”
This year is Gina’s 17th year racing at the XTERRA World Championship. The couple often train and travel to races together.
“We try to make training together happen as much as possible,” said Todd. “The pool is easy because she is in her lane and I’m in mine.”
“When we run, we’re in the same neighborhood,” adds Gina. “We like to do loops and meet up at some point.”
“When we are mountain biking, we go in groups or I try to pair her up,” says Todd. “I’m a really strong believer in the buddy system. You don’t want to leave someone behind.”
Both Gina and Todd have to fit in training amidst a busy work schedule. Todd manages the machine shop division for a semiconductor equipment company and Gina works in construction management as a project manager of public works school construction.
“My job is demanding, but I joke that I at least I get to boss the men around all day,” Gina says. Her toughness in life is no different than her resilience on the trails. “In XTERRA, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable. You have to always be pushing forward. You can’t look back. You’re always looking towards that finish line.”
Todd appears mellow at first glance. He says that he loves XTERRA for many reasons, including the safety of riding off-road because of the lack of cars, and the peace that comes from being in the mountains and off the beaten track.
However, when the gun goes off, Todd transforms into a different guy with a race face on.
“Years ago, Ann Mickey handled all the athlete relations at XTERRA,” Todd remembers. “One day she called me and told me that she saw my ‘Evil twin’ while looking at race photos. Because Todd looked like a completely different person when the gun went off.”
When Todd first started racing XTERRA he was in the 35-39 age group and his goal was always to make the podium.
“Even at XTERRA Worlds, I was always trying to be that age group winner,” he says.
“In the early years racing World Championships at Maui, he was finishing among the pros,” says Gina. “If he wasn’t in the top ten in his age group in Maui it was because he crashed or he was ill.”
This year, however, it’s going to be different for Todd.
“To race for someone else?” Todd wonders. “Knowing that I’m racing in Maui for someone else? That’s the unknown. The gun is still going to go off but I have to remember that this is Pat’s race. I want to see the race through his eyes and appreciate all the other people and take in the views because that’s everything that Pat loved about Maui. This year, it’s not about me or my form or my place or who I can beat. It’s just, can I make it through this for my friend.”