Middaughs ready to contest XTERRA U.S. championships at Beaver Creek
Race will be first elite XTERRA competition for Sullivan Middaugh as dad, Josiah, looks for 16th national title
For the first time ever, the Beaver Creek XTERRA will play host to the sport’s 21st U.S. national off-road triathlon championships. That means, 15-time U.S. champion and 2015 world champion Josiah Middaugh will go for No. 16 right in his backyard.
“I definitely know the course like the back of my hand,” said Middaugh in a late-June phone call. “That being said, the course will be changing and it hasn’t been set in stone yet.”
A week out from his 44th birthday, the sage endurance star and hometown favorite has admittedly entered the next chapter of his career. He’s still fit, but his overall training this spring took a back seat to tracking his two sons, Sullivan and Porter, in their final track meets.
“It’s been kind of a slow start to the season for me,” he said, almost hesitant to reveal any cracks in an armor that has been air-tight since he turned pro in 2003.
“I’m kind of feeling a little bit rusty and Davos Dash was kind of a good indicator of where I’m at — not too far off, but not where I would want to be.”
At the 40th running of the Davos Dash on June 22, he finished second by four seconds, completing the uphill race in 17:13. Though the elite time is only 27-seconds off of Jay Henry’s old 2009 course record, Middaugh set a new standard in 2020 when he blitzed the course in 15:57.
In mulling over his current aerobic state, Middaugh’s tone is paradoxically at a place of convincing peace — his primary thrill is “seeing the race through his son’s eyes (they’ll line up on July 16 together)” as he (hopefully) stays within striking distance — but laced with a sliver of the warmth still wafting up from his competitive streak’s embers.
“I know the level of commitment I’ve had in the past and it’s not quite where it should be, but I’m hoping that the slow start to the season will pay off,” he optimistically said, seconds after beating himself up unnecessarily for “slacking a bit” in terms of “doing the proper training.”
“I don’t have the specificity I’ve had before. Really, it comes down to doing the really hard work. I’ve done some of the work, but not the stuff that makes the real big difference,” he added with a laugh.
While he’s perhaps shirked away from some of the most specific race-ready sessions, he shouldn’t be counted out for the $25,000 prize purse in July 16th’s 1,500m swim, 24k mountain bike and 9k trail run. There’s a reason, after all, that his picture is at the top of the event’s website.
Last year in Ogden, Utah, Middaugh finished second to Sam Osborne of New Zealand, but as the top American, was crowned a 15th U.S. title. At the 2021 Beaver Creek XTERRA, Middaugh was third overall behind Osborne and fellow American Sam Long. Middaugh has won six of the last eight Beaver Creek events, but Long, the 6-foot-4 star from Boulder has been gradually maturing on the Avon course.
In his 2016 debut, he came out of nowhere and latched onto Middaugh for the initial 4-mile, 2,000-foot climb. Then, in 2017 and 2018, he finished in third behind Middaugh and Mexico’s Mauricio Mendez.
“We’ll see, but people will always come out of the woodwork for this race,” Middaugh said of the field. With the usual U.S. circuit gone, the only major race in the states is Beaver Creek’s. Still, many of the world’s best can qualify for the October XTERRA World Championships at any world qualifer, regardless of location. In short, it’s a toss-up as to who might show up, but the usual triathlon-heavy Colorado scene should ensure a stacked group at the top.
“It will definitely be a strong field for sure,” Middaugh summarized.
At the very least, he’ll have to contend with his son, Sullivan, who will be racing in the elite field for the first time in his XTERRA career.
Fresh off Battle Mountain High School graduation, Middaugh didn’t take too much time off of his stellar senior track season, where he ran a 9:15.50 — at altitude — in his last 3200-meter race. Middaugh is a member of Project Podium, a USA Triathlon elite development program designed to shepherd juniors into the Olympic road multi-sport scene. He has already raced twice.
“He kind of had to jump right into it,” his dad said.
“The training is different now — it’s a little more balanced. He’s having fun with it,” Josiah said.
Though his focus is now draft-legal road triathlons, Middaugh’s Project Podium coach is supportive of the 18-year-old pursuing XTERRA. If all goes well, he’ll race at Beaver Creek and in Italy for October’s World Championship. Sullivan won the XTERRA sprint event as a 13 and 14-year-old in 2017 and 2018.
Thus far, race strategy isn’t a dinner table topic.
“It hasn’t come up yet,” Middaugh laughed. He doesn’t want to assume they’ll end up in the front, but it would make for a good story.
“We’ll definitely chat about it sometime. I want him to do his own race and me to do my own race,” he said.
“Best case scenario, yeah, we both can be near that front, but you can’t count out the dozen other people that have the same mindset.”
He knows at this point, he doesn’t have much chance in a flat-out running race, but who will be strongest after the cumulative wear of a 2-hour event remains a mystery.
“Any kind of run, head to head, he’s just sizzling fast. The only thing I might have is just overall endurance, and that definitely plays into it in XTERRA,” Josiah said.
At this stage in his career, Josiah is delighted to be in the mix, next to his boy.
“I would say that’s probably my biggest motivation now — just to have fun with it and kind of see the race through his eyes and kind of be a part of that,” he said.
“I’m at a pretty good place mentally. I do feel like I’m somewhat retired and just having fun with it now. I don’t have the same self-imposed expectations. I’m happy to be anywhere near my peak fitness and see what I can do and how it shakes out on race day.”