Summit locals prepare for the 2015 Xterra World Championships in Maui Nov. 1
2015 Xterra World Championships
What: The annual Xterra off-road triathlon championships, expected to draw nearly 800 athletes from 40 countries
When: Sunday, Nov. 1
Where: Maui, Hawaii
The Xterra World Championships will be recorded and broadcast live on NBC Sports Network later this winter. To track the races live, follow Xterra social media at @XTERRAoffroad on Facebook and Twitter, or search the #xterramaui hash tag on the usual suspects. For more info on the championships, including final results after the race, see http://www.xterraplanet.com/maui.
On a chilly morning in late October, three of the best endurance athletes in Summit County were sitting around coffee at the Whole Foods in Frisco, chatting about the first bout of winter-like weather and whether or not they’re looking forward to ski season.
Well, more like two of Summit’s best endurance athletes, 45-year-old Scott Bierman and 41-year-old Christena Ward. Longtime professional triathlete Jaime Brede was still on her way over from Breckenridge.
The other two could hardly blame her for running a bit late: In early October, Brede had the worst crash of her professional race career at Moab Rocks, a multi-stage mountain bike race on a few of the area’s most iconic trails. She spent three days in the Moab hospital recovering after she broke several ribs and collapsed a lung in a nasty, freak accident on Porcupine Ridge.
“The thing is, I never crash when I’m racing,” Brede said when she arrived and gingerly sat down. “It takes a long time to get dressed when you have broken bones, you know?”
Ward and Bierman laugh. Neither of them have dealt with broken ribs and collapsed lungs, but they understand the pain that goes into racing at an elite level. Like Brede, both are die-hard Xterra athletes, the sort of folks who balk at traditional triathlons and would rather race off-road.
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All true Xterra tris, like the wildly popular Xterra Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek every July, feature the same combination of events: A one-mile, open-water swim; a 25 km mountain bike; and a 9.3 km trail run. It’s the kind of racing built for mountain locals like Brede and Ward and Bierman — folks who were doing these sports for fun in the first place.
“It’s addictive to race,” said Ward, an optometrist by day who splits training with running her business, Complete Family Eye Care in Dillon. “It’s definitely more fun to race than train.”
Ward is relatively new to the Xterra world — she picked it up two seasons ago when endurance mountain biking started to wear on her — and Bierman is a veteran with 15 years of off-road tris under his belt.
But, by 2015, both have put in the hours (as in taken enough podiums in the tough Rocky Mountain division) to earn invites for the Xterra World Championships, hosted in muggy Maui every autumn. The race takes place Nov. 1 and is expected to draw about 800 top-level athletes from 40 countries. After nearly 20 years it’s become a major production, with live timing and cameramen for an NBC Sports Network broadcast this winter.
“I know what to expect, I know what’s coming, and it was really just so much fun last year,” Ward said when the group started chatting about pre-Worlds nerves. “Racing in the water last year, I stood up to run to the beach and a cameraman popped up right in front of me. It’s exciting to be part of something that’s so big.”
Ward earned her first invite to Worlds last season — her first season racing — and immediately impressed the field. She finished in the top-three against about 40 racers in the 40-45 age division, then returned this year with podium finishes at five Xterra races before taking a second-place finish at the Xterra National Championships in Ogden, Utah on Sept. 19.
“For me, Xterra was about switching things up,” said Ward, a high school swimmer who had an advantage over most athletes, who struggle with the race-opening swim. “Once I was on the podium, the only thing I got nervous about was losing that podium spot.”
Bierman’s journey has been a bit longer and tougher, thanks in large part to the level of competition in the men’s 45-49 age division. Bit by bit, race by race, Bierman started finishing on the podium and finally earned a spot at Worlds. This year will be his first trip to Maui. His wife, Susan, will join him and compete in individual trail run.
“This is the culmination of 15 years of effort,” Bierman said with a sip of coffee. “That’s why this is just so — this is the pinnacle, man. I put it out there six years ago, put it on my wall that some day, I will get invited to the World Championships. When I got that qualification email, it was real. It was the greatest feeling ever.”
The not-so-lonely road
As the three continue chatting, the conversation pops from topic to topic: Training, coaching, the Xterra “family,” their personal families. The three don’t always train together, but Xterra is still small enough that they regularly run into each other on local trails, and at major races like the Beaver Creek and Ogden championships.
“It’s so hard to stop doing this sport, because you get to the point that you think, ‘I’m finally getting good at this,’” Brede said to a round of nods. “Every race you learn something new, no matter how long you’ve been doing it. You just can’t stop.”
Like Ward, Brede admits she’s addicted to Xterra racing. At one point, she competed in 36 races in a single season.
“I thought to myself, ‘There are 52 weeks in a year, Jaime. You might have a problem,’” she paused and laughed. “But it’s just addictive.”
Without a doubt, all three enjoy racing more than training. But one begets the other, and at a certain level, training turns into a lifestyle all its own. Ward and Bierman aren’t pros like Brede, which means their time is a bit tighter between family, work, travel and other little concerns.
“I have to set aside days that I know I’m not training and just X those days out on my schedule,” said Bierman, who travels often for work and occasionally gets off-track, like a recent multi-day conference in Las Vegas. “I work that out with my coach and he says, ‘These are just bye days. You have to let them go.’”
That’s where coaching comes into play. Sure, it’s an added expense on top of $300-plus race fees, but it can make a world of difference when all the other concerns start to pile up. All three use a coach for workout planning and a bit of nutritional advice.
“I think a coach really reduces the stress of planning, the accountability,” Ward said to nods from the other two. “It helps when you’re juggling being a mom and a business owner and a wife. Being all of those things takes time. Before I was working with a coach, I would pour over the numbers and the data. Now, it’s done for me.”
Ward works with local endurance coach Joe Howdyshell, while the other two work with pro Xterra athletes based on the Front Range.
“For me, having a coach takes the emotion out of things,” Brede said. “It becomes work. There’s no way to feel about it anymore — you just do it. I stick to a plan.”
Family can also do wonders for motivation. Ward’s husband helps plot out drop sites for every race, and Bierman’s wife said she would accompany him to Maui when (not if) he qualified for Worlds, no questions asked.
“You really need spouses that support you to do this sport,” Ward said. Brede tells a story about the patch her husband bought that reads: “Broke but talented.” The rest laugh.
“I really wouldn’t be able to afford the lifestyle I have if my husband wasn’t making the money for groceries,” Brede said when the chuckles died down.
“And supplements,” Ward adds. “All the diet supplements.”
After blood family comes the Xterra family. Along with a love for competition, all three athletes return year after year to see familiar faces. It’s like some kind of family reunion, all wrapped around an intimidating triathlon. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I know I wont go out there and break any records,” Bierman said. “I know I won’t even be on the podium. I just want to go for the experience, and like Christena said, it’s bigger than I can imagine right now. I’ll know people there, but there will be so many new people. It might be overwhelming — I just don’t know.”
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