Josiah Middaugh, king of the mountains
To question the road Josiah Middaugh has taken is to second-guess destiny.
Unless, of course, you don’t believe in destiny.
It could be happenstance that Middaugh has become one of the best mountain triathletes in the country in a little less than four years.
The facts could just be a coincidence, not fate. Don’t over-analyze the particulars, like Middaugh choosing Vail over Arizona and California for a summer internship after college; that once in Vail he began to pick up mountain biking for the first time in his life; that at Central Michigan he was an average college runner who struggled against smaller runners and was hampered by injuries; that after coming to Colorado he began winning amateur races and was finishing in the top third of the pro ranks; that he decided to go pro in 2003 after realizing his potential as a multi-sport athlete.
The circumstances which led to Middaugh’s steady ascent could be just that: circumstance. He could have taken one of the other internships. If not for a nagging knee injury in college, he could have been an all-American. Subsequently, he might not have the drive he has now to reach his full potential.
His wife, Ingrid, could have said she wanted to stay in Michigan.
“Not in a million years did I imagine that we would end up here after college,” she says. “We had decided we wanted to live in Michigan, but after we had been here for a summer, we decided that there was no way we were leaving.”
At home in the mountains
To look at the road that he has taken — a long, snaking path which winds from the Midwest to Colorado, from runner to triathlete, from boy to man and now a father — it is hard not to think his ascension wasn’t somehow fated.
Middaugh is not thinking about destiny, however, on this cool Wednesday evening as he bolts down a dirt road on Tennessee Pass with his older brother, Yaro, in tow. The two have just finished a quick 30-minute training run in preparation for the Xterra Central Championship in Keystone, July 18, following what was an intense 23 miles of mountain biking in the Vail Recreation District’s Camp Hale Hup race. Aside from a few stragglers, most of the field has long since departed toward home or to the company of a few cold ones at the Saloon in Minturn.
These two hearts are still beating hard, though, as night shoos away the last touches of the day and the moon takes its perch in the sky.
The 25-year-old Josiah tells his story candidly, running over the details again while Yaro catches his breath in the background. Yes, there’s no denying it’s a good story, he admits, one to go along with other late-bloomer tales, but as to whether it’s fate?
Maybe it’s just the place. Maybe, Josiah just needed mountains to realize who he was and who he could be.
“When I moved out here, I was kind of disappointed with my college career,” he says. “I just never really reached my potential because I had a lot of injuries. When I was injured, I learned to swim and bike a little bit. Then when I got out here, I started picking up a lot of things. I hadn’t mountain biked before I moved here. I always thought maybe I could be good at something.”
As fate would have it, the internship at the Aria Spa and Club at the Cascade Resort he counts as one of the biggest blessings in his life, aside from meeting Ingrid and having their son, Sullivan, together.
“Right when I graduated college, we got married and moved out here all in about a week,” Middaugh says grinning. “I just spread my resume across the country and got a fitness internship to finish my degree at the Cascade (Resort). We had never been here before, and we were like, ‘Let’s check it out for the summer and see how it goes.’ And, we ended up staying.”
Ingrid even mentions fate when she talks about the factors that brought the two newlyweds out west.
“It’s amazing to think that this place was the perfect place for what he wanted to do,” she says. “Both of us had never been to Colorado, Arizona or California, so we had no clue what any of them would be like. To come to this place with so many amazing endurance athletes like Mike Kloser and Jay Henry and Jimi Mortenson, it’s incredible.”
Making a name for himself
That first summer Josiah says he was just “fooling around” when he entered running and biking races.
His introduction to mountain bike racing came when he entered the Vail Ultra 100 a week before the race, even though he didn’t own a bike. He bought a $300 used mountain bike at a pawn shop and finished the whole 100 miles. His body paid the price afterward.
If the 2001 season was his encouraging and yet trying orientation to the realm of mountain sports, his 2002 campaign was a loud pronouncement that he would be a name to watch in the future. He won the amateur division at both the Xterra West and Central Championships and finished third at the 2002 Xterra World Championships just one week after finishing his first Ironman.
The decision to go pro was the obvious next step.
“When I finally was at a point when I was beating all the amateurs and being really consistent and finishing in the top-third of the pros, then I felt I was ready to move up,” he says. “It was in the back of my mind the whole time. It’s what I wanted to do.”
Rocks to lean on
Middaugh openly admits that being married and having a full-time job as a personal trainer at the Cascade could both be construed as distractions with which other pros don’t have to contend. Welcoming Sullivan into the world just four months ago is another thing to add to the list.
It’s these distractions, however, that Middaugh says keep him grounded. Having Yaro close by helps, too.
“I have a really understanding wife,” Josiah chuckles. “It’s tough. I have a lot of early mornings and I just fit my workouts in whenever I can. I’ll squeeze in an hour run here and hour bike (ride) there and I just try to fit it in as early in the day as I can so I can spend time with the family in the evening. Ingrid keeps things in perspective. She lets me know what my priorities are for sure. She’s great. She puts up with a lot.
“It’s great to have my brother here, too. We train together all the time and hang out. It makes it easier on my parents. They kind of like the idea that were in the same place.”
Yaro says that the decision to follow Josiah to Colorado made sense after growing tired of living in the desert in Palm Springs, Calif. After helping move his little brother and his new wife in, the older brother began to wonder why he didn’t move himself.
“I just kept coming back,” he says. “I just loved the athletic atmosphere here. It’s pretty amazing. There’s no set standard here. The marathon is not the standard here. There’s always someone one-upping whatever you’re doing. And, I like that atmosphere.”
Yaro, who teaches fifth grade at the Vail Mountain School, says that the best thing about living in the valley is that it brings out the best in both him and Josiah athletically. He is not surprised by the success Josiah has achieved, even though his college career wasn’t anything special. All his little brother needed, he says, was a new start in a new place.
“Truthfully, I knew that he had it in him,” Yaro says, glancing over at his taller, little brother. “I knew that he could do it. He had knee trouble all the way through college and through high school, as well. He was never able to put together a season that he was happy with. I knew he had the drive for sure, though.”
Strengths and weaknesses
Why does Josiah Middaugh succeed now? Because he’s got the perfect build for a triathlete, matched with an infallible desire to become the best. At 6-foot-2, 165 pounds, he towers over most of his competitors and buries them with his long stride and his powerful leg drive.
His greatest strength, however, is his self-awareness. He openly acknowledges as to why he was average before. He also acknowledges his weaknesses.
His swimming could be better. He would never do as well in Olympic triathlons because they don’t play to his climbing strengths on the bike. His big frame also doesn’t suit him well if he were to compete in just foot races.
“I knew I was capable of more,” he says. “There’s more skills involved in triathlon. In running, I was one of the bigger runners. Everyone I was running against was 5-foot-8, 135 pounds. I felt like if there were some other sports involved, I would be kicking these guys butts.”
He’s also got the prescience to see that he has plenty of time to get where he’s going.
“Right now I’m 25. There’s usually nobody younger than me that’s beating me on the XTerra circuit. Most guys are peaking somewhere around 30 and holding that peak somewhere into their mid-30s, even late 30s. I think I’ll be around for a while. I think I’ve got a good 10 years in triathlon,” he says.”I think right now I’m just focused on consistent improvement. I really have no idea where I could go with it. I’ve improved so much every year I just want to keep continuing and if that works out, I should end up near the top of the sport.”
It appears as if Josiah Middaugh knows which road he is on.
For now, though, Josiah Middaugh the father wants to get home to his wife and son before it gets too late.
He says goodbye with a smile and then jogs down to his car and jumps in with Yaro.
The road home is all downhill.
Contact Nate Peterson at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com