Resiliency is the first word that comes to mind when I think of what it takes to be successful at the XTERRA World Championship.
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Thriving under pressure is important for high performance in any sport, but in XTERRA you are not only racing other competitors on a tough course, but you also need to be prepared for variables that might be out of your control and challenges that may be unforeseen. Resiliency in the context of sport means meeting challenges head on and having the depth of character to adapt positively to those challenges. Experience is part of it and mindset is the other. Everyone who races in Maui clearly embraces challenges, but what happens when the going really gets tough?
If this were a continuum, at one end of the spectrum you have someone who cracks whenever something doesn’t go to plan. At the other end of the spectrum you have the most tenacious warrior you have ever seen who hopes for a big swell, the gnarliest conditions on the bike course, and sweltering heat on the run, because they know that 50% of the field will just crumble. Be that person. Early on in my career I would be intimidated by the star-studded start list, but then I realized that the ruggedness of the course and environment took about a third of the field out of contention. I began to hope for adverse conditions in every event I raced.
Respect mother nature
Plan for and train for the harshest of conditions with respect for how that changes the race. Think of the swim as a 20-30-minute wrestling match. Washing machine chop, rolling swells, and a big shore break don’t necessarily favor the best pool swimmers. Get out on race week and dive under some crashing waves, play in the surf, body surf some waves to shore, talk to the lifeguards.
In the eight years since XTERRA moved from Makena to Kapalua, we have seen a variety of conditions on the bike. Yes, it could be muddy, but it could also be dry and dusty. This year we have a major change to the bike course with a two loop, 20-mile course, with about 3700 feet of climbing total (about 2800 on the bike and 900 on the run). It’s going to be tough. I think the changes will make the course longer (duration) and more taxing. The major climb is all steep and sustained and you do it twice. The descent still has at least 500 feet of climbing mixed in and requires ninja focus. Arrive with your bike tuned and ready to take a beating. If there is something you can’t ride or your drivetrain gets clogged, know that others are in the same boat. Know that there is not one tire that does great in mud. Some tires are slightly better than others, but the fastest bike times are still posted by the strongest mountain bikers with the best skills riding a variety of conditions.
The run course is going to be essentially the same as the last few years, but the ground could be saturated like last year so you are slipping around on peanut butter, or it could be hot and humid with no trade winds, causing athletes to implode like never before.
Be careful what you wish for. It is going to be tough either way, especially coming off that bike course. Pacing yourself and knowing your abilities is key.
You don’t race with plan A
Visualizing the race course is a great idea, but make sure you are mentally preparing for a variety of conditions and scenarios. Most likely your race will not go as planned. The year I won worlds, I crashed twice on the bike, bent my derailleur, and crashed again on the run. That is just part of XTERRA. Something might happen within or beyond your control that makes your race 20-30% longer than anticipated. In 2010, I had multiple flat tires on the old course and ended up running the last 6 miles of the bike course. When I realized how far I had to run, my main thought was “I’m going to have to fuel and hydrate because I’m going to be out here for a while, and I have a long run ahead of me.” It’s not a question of when your race will go off the rails, but how are you going to respond when it does.
Stay focused on the task at hand. This is especially important when things go wrong. You punctured a tire, what are you going to do, what are your options? Stay calm, be deliberate and don’t let emotion take over. Your placing may have changed, but you are still in the race.
Other than illness or injury, the only thing that can take you out of the race is between your ears. Don’t be so locked into certain expectations that you have no ability to adapt to your current situation. Try putting a smile on your face, offer some words of encouragement to a fellow competitor and get back to work.
Your race is only over when you decide it is. I have tremendous respect for racers that push through no matter what and race for every single second until they cross that line.
More so than any other niche of triathlon, XTERRA is not raced on paper. Race times can’t be compared one year to the next and reading through the results tells you almost nothing unless you were there suffering through it. Don’t be too hard on yourself if the reality of race day did not match your expectations. I love to hear the stories after the race because everyone has one to tell.
For racers toeing the line on October 27th, I did not write this to put you at ease. I want you to know that it is going to be tougher than you can imagine and that you can do it. Harden up, be a warrior. This is XTERRA baby!
Josiah Middaugh is a 13x XTERRA National Champ, and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He’s been the top American in Maui for eight straight years. He has a masters degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 18 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a masters degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for more than a decade. Read past training articles at https://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.