Locals top Ultimate Mountain Challenge podium | VailDaily.com

Locals top Ultimate Mountain Challenge podium

Josiah Middaugh participates in the10K Spring Runoff at the 2016 GoPro Mountain Games in Vail. The 10K Spring Runoff will take place on a different course in 2019 as the normal course still has snow on parts of it.
Townsend Bessent | Townsend@vaildaily.com |

VAIL — The Ultimate Mountain Challenge tests endurance athletes in trail running, mountain biking, road biking and kayaking. But in all of the years the competition has been a part of the Mountain Games, only one man has won. The true ultimate mountain challenge has become the act of trying to beat Eagle-Vail’s Josiah Middaugh in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.

And what a challenge it is.

John O’Neill and Ryan Petry, of Boulder, gave it a shot this year and couldn’t get there.

“Each individual event is so stacked with talent,”Middaugh said, “It’s humbling to really get worked by some of these single sport professionals, (some of) the best in the United States.”


Middaugh, himself a world champion in the Xterra off-road triathlon competition, said in his opinion, both the best cross-country mountain biker in the country, Howard Grotts, and the best off-road trail runner in the country, Joe Gray, showed up at the Mountain Games this year. Third-place finisher John O’Neill said the attractive prize purses at the events — $2,000 to the winner — keeps the talent level high.

“You can come here and do well as a pro athlete financially, and have fun doing it,” he said.

O’Neill also finished third overall in the trail run, earning himself an extra $500 for that accomplishment.

“Hitting the podium in the trail run, against such a stacked field, was one of the best personal accomplishments for me of the whole Games,” he said. “But I’m also stoked to say I beat world’s best kayaker Dane Jackson in the kayaking part and also beat Josiah in the run to take him down in two of the four Ultimate Mountain events.”

Middaugh said it has been fun watching O’Neill’s progression during the past few years.

“John is one of those guys who is super talented, he grew up kayaking in Vail, he was phenomenal runner in college, and he’s putting it all together piece by piece,” Middaugh said. “He has beaten me in two events right now and it’s probably only a matter of time before he figures it out.”


Middaugh said his performance in the mountain biking portion of the competition was what gave him the advantage. After a good performance on the technical Vail Mountain cross-country course on Saturday, “it took a lot of the pressure off,” Middaugh said.

“The mountain biking takes the most out of you because it’s the longest, it’s close to a two-hour event, and you push as hard as you can the whole time,” he added.

Women’s Ultimate Mountain Challenge winner Gretchen Reeves agreed. A former state champion mountain biker, she said the course is extremely difficult.

“It’s a total fitness course,” she said. It’s not very technical, you have your typical long mountain climb and then you have all these undulating short features that take a lot of energy, and you’re also at elevation. The course is tough and it hurts a lot, and then you have to come in at 8 o’clock the next morning and go straight up the hill again.”

The event is broken up over two days, with kayaking and mountain biking on the first day and trail running and road biking on the second day.

“You wake up that second day and you don’t necessarily feel that fresh,” Reeves said.

Middaugh said he’s going to take a break from hard exercise for a few days. His next big competition is here in Eagle Country in July, the Xterra Mountain Championship at Beaver Creek.

“It will be nice to have a little break before the next event,” he said. “I don’t have much in the legs after this one.”

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