Local athletes prepare for XTERRA World Championships | VailDaily.com

Local athletes prepare for XTERRA World Championships

26th annual off-road triathlon championships moves away from Maui for first time

Karl Edgerton competes in XTERRA Oak Mountain Alabama.
XTERRA/Courtesy photo

Eight locals are set to compete in Saturday’s 26th annual XTERRA World Championships. After 25 years in Maui, Hawaii — the birthplace of XTERRA — the world’s premier off-road triathlon world championships has moved to Trentino, Italy.

“While I really enjoyed Hawaii, I like the idea of the XTERRA leaders moving the venue to different places periodically as this gives us a chance to see different parts of the world and experience different race conditions,” said Karl Edgerton, who will be making his seventh trip to XTERRA Worlds.

2015 world champion Josiah Middaugh and his son, 2022 U.S. champion Sullivan — more on them later this week — along with Edgerton, Michael Dorr, Suzie Snyder, Henry Reed, Paul Stedman and Rife Hilgartner will join the more than 750 multi-sport athletes representing 40 countries in Trentino.

The elites will jump into Lake Molveno at 9 a.m. (1 a.m. MST), with age-group competitors beginning at 10 a.m., for a 1.5-kilometer swim. From there, they’ll complete a two-lap, 32-kilometer mountain bike ride in the Dolomites before finishing with a 10-kilometer trail run.

“Molveno Lake and its mountain range will be the extraordinary backdrop to a truly breathtaking and challenging competition,” said Roberto Failoni, councillor for crafts, trade, promotion, sport and tourism for Trentino, in the 2022 XTERRA World Championships media guide.

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“Once XTERRA announced the 2022 World Championships were going to (be) held in the Dolomites, I was in,” said local Henry Reed, who will be competing in his third XTERRA Worlds.

“Racing in Europe is always ‘an experience’ and the Brenta Dolomites makes for an amazing race setting and a challenging course.”

Reed, a 2010 and 2021 age-group national champion, was second in the 50-54 age group at XTERRA Worlds in 2021. A veteran of Ironman 70.3 and full Ironman World Championships, Reed enjoys the “international flavor and top-level competition that only the World Championships bring.” After a “silly pre-race nutritional mistake” hurt his Beaver Creek race, he’s looking for redemption.

“So, I am motivated and look forward to executing a good race,” he stated.

“I expect a heavy European contingent — many strong riders — which will make for good competition. A challenging course and stiff competition — that’s what you want in a world championship.”

XTERRA has blossomed to include 50,000 athletes competing across 50 countries since its inaugural Worlds was broadcast on Fox Sports Net on Nov. 3, 1996. To qualify for the World Championships, where professionals are vying for a purse of 100,000 euros, athletes have to be one of the top finishers in their age group at an XTERRA World Tour Qualifying Event (such as XTERRA Beaver Creek this July), or be the defending World Champion.

Sullivan (15-19) and Dorr (45-49) are the only two returning local age-group champions, though the former will be in the elite division this year.

Paul Stedman will be making his first XTERRA Worlds appearance. His goal: “To have the best race I can,” he stated.

Feeling fit

Karl Edgerton, who has been racing XTERRA for 20 years — starting with XTERRA Keystone — said his theme for Saturday is “staying healthy and staying fit.”

“Proper training is key for optimal performance and facilitates mental strength,” Edgerton remarked, noting new training challenges have arisen as he’s aged. He’s battled a pulled calf muscle, a sore hip and a minor case of plantar fasciitis this season.

“Thankfully, I am healthy now and feeling better and stronger than I have felt all year,” he said. Edgerton, who has won the XTERRA Pan American Championship three times in his age group, balances his week with three days of swimming with the local master’s team, four bike workouts, two runs and a mix of strength training.  

“I focus a lot on nutrition,” he added. “I am a firm believer that a healthy whole-food plant-based diet is beneficial in helping me achieve my athletic goals.”

Reed said he’s been focused on climbing on the bike and the run to prepare for the Dolomites.

Henry Reed has won his age group at the Rocky Mountain Regional Championship at Beaver Creek six times.
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“From a fitness standpoint, I’m feeling well-trained and ready for this race,” he stated.

Stedman also commented that his training has been “very good.”

“Training for XTERRA and Ironman events has been a well planned progression with four more events this year,” he stated.

Stedman, who has been competing in Ironman and USA Triathlon events since 2017, started with XTERRA as a way to get into mountain biking and trail running.

“I figured living in Avon (one of the best XTERRA locations on the planet) and having Josiah as my coach (the best XTERRA and triathlon coach on the planet), if I were going to get into XTERRA now would be the time,” he wrote in an email.

“Rife State of Mind”

Rife Hilgartner’s story was captured by Trey Garman on XterraPlanet.com this summer in a piece titled “The Rife state of mind,” an appropriate title given his journey. On Dec. 23, 2020, the two-time XTERRA national champion was told he had three years left to live after discovering stage 4 colon cancer had metastasized to his liver and lungs.

“You just can’t accept it,” he told Garman.

“You have to accept you’re sick, that something happened, and you have to accept that you have to deal with it, but you don’t have to accept that it will take you out.”  

After an aggressive 12-week round of chemotherapy, he started to feel more normal, and began setting training goals. In April of 2021, he completed the XTERRA Oak Mountain race in Alabama. That August, a CT scan revealed his colon was clear and his lungs were good.

Rife Hilgartner rides in the XTERRA Oak Mountain in 2021.
XTERRA/Courtesy photo

“I felt strong, healthy, and motivated; I was thriving,” he told Garman.

Then, a mountain bike snafu during a September ride caused his knee to pop out, requiring surgeries to repair his quad tendon. At the same time, he underwent three more rounds of chemotherapy and another CT scan, which showed a thickening at the original tumor spot.

“So in January 2022, my knee still swollen from surgery, I had a laparoscopy to remove 10 inches of my large intestine,” he told Garman.

“It was brutal.”

Three rounds of chemotherapy kept him out of XTERRA Beaver Creek this July.

“Beginning of round eight, seems like I’ve been here before, seems almost comfortable in a weird way,” Garman reported him proclaiming in a video message to his racing friends.

“I beat it before. I’m going to beat it again. I’m training strong, lifting weights, working a bunch, building my foundation and looking to uplift and inspire people.”

About the course

Lake Molveno’s crystal clear waters, surrounded by the Brenta Dolomote mountains, is where Saturday’s action will kick off.

“Although Lake Molveno makes for an amazing setting, I’m expecting “brain freeze” conditions on the swim,” Reed stated.

After transition one, athletes take a 3-kilometer flat of singletrack around the lake before climbing for the next 7-kilometers. It’s all downhill for the final 6-kilometers, which becomes more technical in the second half. Athletes complete two laps of the 16-kilometer loop.

The final leg begins with a flowy run along the shore of the lake before a rolling, more technical middle. A steep downhill will flush competitors into a fast fire road back to the finish.

“I’m excited for a different World Championship course and experience,” Suzie Snyder, ranked No. 18 in the women’s elite division, told XTERRA in the lead up to the race.

Suzie Snyder placed second in the women’s elite field at XTERRA Beaver Creek this July.
Jesse Peters/Courtesy photo

Snyder, who placed second overall at Beaver Creek in the XTERRA USA Championships, now calls Avon home. She is a five-time XTERRA U.S. champion and has been the top American at XTERRA Worlds five straight years, including a third-place finish in 2016.

“I think the atmosphere will be electric with excitement for something different, a bigger field of competition, and generally a new challenge for many of us,” the 15-year veteran said.

The competition location is an added perk of participating in the sport.

“In addition to striving for peak athletic performance going into worlds, I also enjoy the adventure of traveling to a new place and spending time with other athletes from Vail and from around the world,” Edgerton said.

“My goal for this race is to stay safe and enjoy the experience. If I give it my all and leave nothing out on the course, then I will feel good about my result.” 

“@xterraplanet world champs @lagodimolveno. Stunning mountains, rugged trails, crystal blue lake, and healing peace,” Hilgartner posted on Instagram on Monday.

“So blessed to begin this run to the biggest day in off-road triathlon.”

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