Middaugh gets back to Xterra competition, finishes 3rd in series opener
Off-road triathlon series had been on hiatus since October of 2019
EagleVail athlete Josiah Middaugh got back to Xterra racing Saturday after more than a year away from his favorite sport.
Xterra races take an off-road approach to the regular triathlon format, using mountain biking, trail running and outdoor lake and ocean swimming instead of their more traditional counterparts.
The approach takes practice, and Middaugh said he was definitely feeling rusty heading back to Oak Mountain State Park in Alabama where the first Xterra race since the Oct. 27, 2019 World Championship, where Middaugh finished sixth.
In Alabama, where he has won five of the last seven Xterra races, Middaugh said he found a deep field of competitors who, like him, were eager to get back to racing.
“I did not expect that. I thought at the first race of the season everybody would be staying home on their home continent,” Middaugh said. “I thought I’d be racing mostly other Americans, and then all of a sudden, a couple weeks out, I heard Sam Osborne from New Zealand was coming over — he won the series in 2019. Then I heard that Bradley Weiss, who won the World Championship event in 2019, was coming over from South Africa; and that Karsten Madsen was coming from Canada; Kieran McPherson came from New Zealand; so all of a sudden we had a really stacked international field.”
Middaugh said while it was exciting to see the Xterra Alabama event attracting an international field, he also knew some of the competitors were probably going to be showing up with better fitness levels than he has at the moment.
“These guys are coming off the South African and New Zealand summer, so even if there wasn’t a pandemic, I’d expect them to have a lot better form,” Middaugh said. “That’s usually what happens, the first race is an eye opener.”
This year, in addition to being an eye opener, the first Xterra event of the season provided a rock to the face for Middaugh. The New Zealanders had been racing with relatively minimal interruption, and Middaugh, meanwhile, had attempted to stay in shape by taking on personal challenges like road cycling 80 laps up Buck Creek Road in Avon. He also did what events he could, including the Spartan Games in Vermont, where he had to live on a farm with 23 other competitors. In addition to outdoor biking, running and swimming, challenges included obstacle course racing and indoor fitness competitions.
“It wasn’t necessarily in my chosen sport, more to just feed that competitive spirit a little bit and also give me something to look forward to and something to train for,” he said.
It also made him excited to get back to Xterra racing, but in getting back, he remembered why it helps to be in practice.
“I made the highlight reel for the wrong reasons,” he said.
One feature of the course at Oak Mountain State park is known as Blood Rock, and Middaugh went over the handle bars of his mountain bike there and smashed his face against the aptly named obstacle.
“On that course, there’s so many mistakes you can make,” he said.
Oak Mountain is a nearly 10,000-acre state park with 50 miles of trails through pine and hardwood oak forest.
Middaugh crashed into a couple of those oak trees, leaving the area with bruises all over his shoulders and hips.
“It was pretty brutal to have those setbacks right away on the bike, but that’s Xterra racing, you never go with your Plan A,” he said.
Middaugh said he was happy with his third-place finish on the day. Sam Osborne finished first in 2 hours, 29 minutes — about 2 minutes ahead of second-place Bradley Weiss.
“It’s so good to be back,” Osborne said. “Domestic racing is cool, but it always leaves you wanting more, ya know, it feeds the addiction but not like this where you turn up and there’s two world champs and the field is so deep. What a race.”
Weiss said he had some of his own trouble with the course.
“I got a double flat tire very early on in the bike, hit a rock and hit both the front and the rear,” Weiss said. “The way Sam moves through these trails; every second you’re standing still you’re losing the race. I got back on and think I was about 1:50 back at that point, about five minutes into the bike.”
Middaugh came in 3 minutes behind Weiss.
“Had I have had a perfect day, I think I would have been closer to those guys, but I don’t know if I had the win in me, just in the place that they’re at with their fitness and their skill right now,” Middaugh said.
The next race of the season will take place on Middaugh’s home course at Beaver Creek on July 17.
“My fitness is pretty good, but it was also a wake-up call that I’m not quite where I need to be,” he said.