In the world of XTERRA, there are four regional championship races that take place over the course of the season - West, Southeast, East and Mountain. The lovers of the sport will tell you that all of the races are fun (duh!), but it has to be said that the championship races are really, really fun! OK - to be honest - the merits of each championship course can be debated, depending on what type of course appeals to you (desert, mountain, etc) - but a championship race is such a big event! All of the XTERRA national sponsors show up with their tents, promoting their wares. And you know for sure that it's a Championship event when you see the Paul Mitchell Cut-a-Thon tent: free haircuts for donations to the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
While the expo atmosphere is always a good time - it's the athletes that make the event. A championship race will always draw more competitors. Athletes from all over the country will descend on these regional events with the hope of qualifying for the World Championship race held each October in Maui. As if that is not enough to ratchet up the excitement, a regional championship is where you can count on seeing a full contingency of the XTERRA professional athletes competing. The XTERRA professional athletes are from all over the world - not just the U.S. - and they are so fun to watch! The age-group athletes have the opportunity to race the same course at the same time as the professionals - and while most of the time the 'age groupers' see only the backs of the pros, often there's one or two non-professionals that manage to finish up there with the big guns. How cool is that?!
It was with all this in mind that Brent headed to Las Vegas a mere three days after returning home from California. He has business in the area, so he was able to make the most out of the trip. I had not originally planned to go on this trip - but it's a regional championship! - what was I thinking? I scoured the internet for a deal on airfare.....and made a huge mistake by booking a "cheap" ticket on Spirit Airlines. Let the buyer beware: Spirit will charge you $45 to check a bag, or $50 for a carry on! Seriously. Oh well. What's done is done. The important thing is that I got to be there.
Friday afternoon packet pick-up was our first opportunity to scope out the venue - the Westin at Lake Las Vegas...swanky! It was a productive outing as I finally got to meet Trey Garman, the VP of XTERRA who has been super supportive of Brent's efforts with XTERRA Across America; and The Bike received a little TLC from the sponsor bike shop, McGhie's. Afterward, we tracked down a place for sushi - not a terribly difficult task in Las Vegas - and it was back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Race morning was a bit unusual in that the championship race did not start until 10:30. After all the typical pre-race preparations were complete, the athletes almost had enough time to take nap. There are times - especially in Colorado - when a later start is appreciated because the weather will improve. This was not one of those times. When the first wave started at 10:30, the temperature was above 80 degrees and climbing, and the wind had picked up. You know the type of wind that can strip paint off cars? Yeah....blow a bicycle rider off the course and sandblast his face for good measure. Well, if it were easy, everyone would do it.
Despite the conditions, Brent raced well (and managed to stay upright...always a good thing). Since the previous two weeks had been Western Region races, there were some familiar faces in the field of athletes: Joe, Sam and Debbie from Real; and Liz from Renegade. Liz killed it out there and earned a coveted berth at Worlds by winning her age group...nicely done!
The real story was with the pros, and - not to take anything away from the men, but - the women were 'uh-mazing'! Christine Jeffrey started it off by being the first athlete - men and women - out of the water. Yep - the whole field got chicked. Then, while the guys were duking it out through the bike and run, Lesley Paterson turned it up - winning the women's division by 12 minutes (what?!) and coming in 4th place overall! All but three guys got chicked. Wow. And just in case anyone would try to argue that it was a fluke, Lesley went out the next day and won the half-marathon trail race, coming in 3rd place overall. She's a beast! (I wanna be just like her when I grow up)
The men's race - no surprise - was a battle between 4-time World Champion Conrad Stoltz (South Africa) and Josiah Middaugh, the #1 American XTERRA professional for six of the last seven years. Conrad had the lead going into the run - but not enough of one. There's no messing around with a guy who has also been a Snowshoe National Champion - Josiah ran him down and won the first big race of the season. (Since Josiah lives in Vail, we like to claim him as a home-town boy.) Rest assured - there will be many more battles between these guys as the season goes on. And there are a number of other pros that should never be counted out. That's what makes these races so much fun!
Note: I was still mulling over the content of this post when news of the horror in Boston came through. It's tough to put forth a post that's light-hearted when dealing with such a heavy heart. While all instances of terrorism are horrible and strip us of our innocence, the reality is that some are more personal and affect us more deeply than others. An attack at the Boston Marathon is personal. For anyone who has ever laced up and stood at a starting line...for anyone who has ever stood at a finish line, anxiously awaiting the triumphant finish of a loved one...this is personal. Most of those who will read this post are either endurance athletes or friends of endurance athletes...and I'd be willing to bet that all of us know or know of at least one person who was at the race on Monday. As a family of athletes - just as we celebrate each other's accomplishments - so will we grieve together. We will wear our race shirts on Friday and continue to mourn those who were killed, those who were injured, and the layer of innocence that was ripped from us. We will be forever grateful for our loved ones that are safely back at home. We will be inspired by the average people who stepped up and became heroes that day. We will remember that the good people of the world outnumber the evil by millions. And we will lace up our shoes and begin again.