The 20th edition of the XTERRA USA Championship was one for the ages, unleashing an exciting new run-bike-run format on an absolutely stunning fall day in the mountains with great racing and lots of surprises all around.
While the elite race in Utah garnered most of the attention last weekend, there was some really great racing taking place in the amateur divisions as well.
The most eye-popping result of them all came from 15-year-old Andie Aagard, a sophomore from Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah, who won the 15-19 division and the overall amateur title in her first-ever XTERRA race. Moreover, she posted the second-best women’s finish time behind only elite champion, Samantha Kingsford.
“My older sister, Aubrie, did this race two years ago when she was 19 and won her category and had a ton of fun,” said Aagard. “This year she mentioned doing it again, and since I love to mountain bike, I thought it sounded cool. My original plan was to sign up with my mountain biking friend who is also a super good swimmer. He was going to teach me to swim, and I was going to help him with running (even though I don’t really run haha), but we kept waiting to sign up, because we weren’t totally sure we wanted to do it, especially because it was the weekend between two NICA races. When they dropped the swim, my friend said he didn’t want to do it anymore, but I became more interested. Friday afternoon I called my Dad and said I wanted to sign up and he said ok. I hadn’t ran in three months, so I went for a three mile jog just so my body wasn’t in complete shock the next day, then I packed my bag and we drove up to Ogden. On the car ride I looked up triathlon racing tips, because I had no idea what to expect. I had never done any races besides mountain bike ones, and I didn’t even know what a transition was!”
Aagard, who started mountain biking two years ago, won NICA Utah State Champs (freshman) last year and the Junior Women’s 15-16 USA Cycling Mountain Bike XC National Championship in July. On Saturday, she posted the fastest women’s bike split of the day in 1:39:16 – a full minute quicker than Kingsford.
Making the feat even more incredible is that Aagard started the race in the fifth wave, thus had to run and ride her way passed hundreds of other racers – mostly men – on one of the most technical bike courses in all of XTERRA.
“It definitely got annoying sometimes and if it weren’t for my experience in NICA races, I probably wouldn’t have been as efficient at passing,” Aagard explained. “Last year, when I raced freshman girls, the girls’ JV categories would start five minutes ahead of my category and I would often have to pass up to 50 riders during my race, so I’m used to asking to pass and having to maneuver my bike around a rider’s wide handlebars.”
Aagard also had the 7th best first-run time (21:12) and the second-best final run time (48:50) among amateur women. Her winning time of 2:52:03 was more than one-minute ahead of elite runner-up and 3x XTERRA World Champion Lesley Paterson, and 20-minutes faster than age-group runner-up, the amazing Deanna McCurdy.
“I had a lot of fun,” exclaimed Aagard. “When the race started, I decided to just follow another girl that looked to be around my age, so that I could get an idea of a good pace for the run. We ended up coming into the first transition only a few seconds apart. Once I was on my bike, I was in my element. As I would pass people they would shout encouragement, which was nice. After the climb there was a long downhill that was super-fast and fun zipping through the colorful leaves. I hadn’t pre-ridden the course, so everything was new.”
Aagard entered the bike-to-run transition in fourth place, right behind two of XTERRA’s finest elite women racers, Paterson and Suzie Snyder.
“When I entered the second transition I heard the commentator say something about the top women now coming in, and I was a bit confused, I thought the pros were way ahead of me,” said Aagard. “I fumbled with my shoelaces watching as the woman I followed into the transition already heading out on the run before I even had my shoes on. On the run, there was a nice dude behind me that would tell me how many more miles to the top, which kept me motivated. Crossing the finish line was very gratifying, especially with all those people there cheering. My dad was screaming from the sidelines and the race environment was super supportive. Overall, it was exciting to finish my first duathlon that strongly, and I am super happy I decided to sign up.”
Deanna McCurdy (45-49 division), who coaches kids herself, was super impressed with Aagard.
“Absolutely incredible performance by Andie,” said McCurdy, who placed fifth overall and won her fifth national championship in the process.
Jill Sorensen, the 40-44 division winner, was third amateur and seventh overall, 2019 age group champ Jennifer Razee was fourth amateur and eighth overall, and Jennifer Johnson was fifth amateur and 10th overall in her first-ever XTERRA.
The most prolific winner of the day was Barbara Peterson, who won her 10th XTERRA USA Championship. Only Cindi Toepel, who won 11 titles, has more. Other repeat champions include Caroline Colonna with four, Jo Garuccio with three, and Patty Smaldone and Sharon McDowell-Larsen each won their second.
XTERRA USA Champions – Age Group Women
|F15-19||Andie Aagard||Highland, UT||0:21:12||1:39:16||0:48:50||2:52:03|
|F20-24||Claire Homan||Salt Lake City, UT||-||-||0:53:53||3:23:20|
|F25-29||Samantha Doner||Mammoth Lakes, CA||0:21:04||2:01:22||0:50:12||3:13:47|
|F30-34||Jennifer Johnson||Ivins, UT||0:21:00||2:01:14||0:47:06||3:12:11|
|F35-39||Jess Tapp||Missoula, MT||0:24:40||2:10:54||0:57:37||3:35:44|
|F40-44||Jill Sorensen||Dillon, CO||0:22:35||1:51:06||0:54:24||3:10:15|
|F45-49||Deanna McCurdy (5)||Littleton, CO||0:21:13||1:52:52||0:49:23||3:05:22|
|F50-54||Patty Smaldone (2)||Portland, OR||0:29:32||2:16:26||1:10:25||4:01:21|
|F55-59||Caroline Colonna (4)||Taos, NM||0:23:32||2:03:21||0:56:08||3:25:01|
|F60-64||Sharon McDowell-Larsen (2)||Grand Junction, CO||0:24:39||2:05:05||1:00:08||3:33:01|
|F65-69||Barbara Peterson (10)||Santa Barbara, CA||0:29:54||2:42:54||1:13:21||4:30:03|
|F70-74||Jo Garuccio (3)||Sandy, UT||0:30:07||2:54:50||1:35:12||5:04:37|
The men’s amateur race was equally remarkable with Hunstville and Ogden locals Anders Johnson finishing 6th overall and Hite Stromberg right behind him in 8th overall as the second amateur.
Johnson, who was also the top age grouper here two years ago, posted the fastest bike split of the day in 1:23:21 – a full one-second quicker than Sam Osborne
“Pretty stoked on having the fastest bike split of the day, even if it was just by a second,” said Johnson, a researcher at Stanford who is currently studying the genetics of elite athletes within the department of cardiovascular medicine.
Johnson said his game plan for the first run was pretty simple, “to keep Hite, a very strong runner and biker, within sight and not lose too much time, but not to go so deep as to blow myself up. I did exactly that and ended up in the transition 30-40 seconds behind him, a gap I was confident that I could close quickly on the bike.”
He not only closed the gap on Stromberg, but the entire field and entered the bike-to-run transition I fifth position behind only the top four elite men.
“The home course advantage came in handy and I was able to make my way deep into the pro ranks,” said Johnson. “I had opted for my Epic hardtail on the day which is a decision I was happy with. Once on the run, that was grueling from the very first step and only let up slightly when the main climb was over. I just focused on putting one foot in front of the other and trying to stave off the cramping the best I could. I finished the day, ecstatic with the result, but looking for a little more effort wise.”
Also of note, Craig Vogstberger won his sixth XTERRA National Championship in the physically challenged division, Ian Davidson won his fourth, Jason Michalak (who placed 10th overall) won his third as did 2019 champ Michael Dorr, while Johnson, Henry Reed, and Brent Peacock each won their second.
XTERRA USA Champions – Age Group Men
|M15-19||Ethan Adams||Lehi, UT||0:18:36||1:35:27||0:45:05||2:40:55|
|M20-24||Anders Johnson (2)||Huntsville, UT||0:18:01||1:23:21||0:44:40||2:27:56|
|M25-29||Gabe Bram||Denver, CO||0:19:58||1:52:00||0:53:36||3:08:03|
|M30-34||Blake Herrmann||Lake Tahoe, CA||0:18:42||1:38:32||0:46:21||2:45:34|
|M35-39||Dwayne Dixon||Raleigh, NC||0:18:46||1:36:18||0:41:56||2:38:46|
|M40-44||Jason Michalak (3)||Crested Butte, CO||0:18:33||1:31:38||0:45:40||2:37:34|
|M45-49||Michael Dorr (3)||Avon, CO||0:18:07||1:37:10||0:42:44||2:39:58|
|M50-54||Henry Reed (2)||Edwards, CO||0:18:26||1:39:29||0:43:12||2:43:03|
|M55-59||Mark Milam||La Habra, CA||0:23:17||1:47:33||0:55:21||3:09:30|
|M60-64||Brent Peacock (2)||Jackson, WY||0:20:26||1:46:21||0:49:18||2:58:15|
|M65-69||Ian Davidson (4)||Clemson, SC||0:27:27||2:12:00||1:03:40||3:47:20|
|M70-74||Frank George||Rome, GA||0:27:40||2:12:19||0:57:16||3:41:59|
|PC||Craig Vogtsberger (6)||Highlands Ranch, CO||0:30:08||2:31:42||1:21:50||4:28:32|