- The Magazine
- Current Issue
- Events & Shows
- Web Extras
- Yellow Pages
The Xterra USA National Championship is about more than the competition.
Photo: Ryan Jerz
Hundreds of athletes dressed in wetsuits and swim caps stand on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, bracing themselves for the shock of the icy water. Some braved the water earlier to get used to the chill, but most stretch, jog in place, and chat with friends and family who huddle nearby in warm jackets. For the competitors, the hot chocolate can wait—there’s a job to do.
The Xterra USA National Championship, always the last weekend in September, is the culmination of a year’s worth of off-road triathlons. Athletes compete all over the nation, building their total score to qualify for this Incline Village event. This year they range in age from 13 to 71 and represent 46 states and seven countries, all vying for the title of champion.
As the starting gun rings out and they dive into the water, the race is on…but it will be a long one. One mile in the icy alpine lake, a 30-kilometer bike ride through the rocky, rutted mountainside above Lake Tahoe, capped by a 10-kilometer trail run. It’s not for the faint of heart.
Mary Wilcox, 25, and Taylor Foss, 21, of Ogden, Utah, nod their heads and laugh when asked if they have to be insane to compete in these races. What kind of masochist decides a simple mountain hike isn’t challenging enough and has to put his body through this test of endurance? Wilcox and Foss can’t quite describe the adrenaline rush they feel as they charge up mountainsides or navigate dry creek beds on two wheels.
“It’s a cool thing to do,” Wilcox, who took first in her bracket in the open competition the day before, says. “You never know what your limits are until you test them.”
That’s what Xterra is designed to do, says Tom Kiely, CEO of Team Unlimited, the Honolulu-based company that produces the Xterra races worldwide. Xterra is about taking your average triathlon to the next level, and perhaps inspiring people along the way.
“It’s about competing against yourself, and people are very supportive,” he says. “The whole USA tour is the road to Lake Tahoe, and we’ll have registered more than 1,000 competitors and 6,000 spectators.”
The spectators have just as much fun as the athletes. Friends, family, Incline Village residents, and tourists fortunate to be here this weekend clamor for a good vantage spot on the beach to support the athletes. The Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe, which towers above the beach, is the hub of activity, and visitors open their windows and step out onto their decks to watch.
As swimmers emerge from the lake, lapping up on the beach like ocean waves, the crowd goes wild, following them to the Expo area, where athletes hop on mountain bikes. The crowd spends the next three hours eating hot barbecue, sipping cold drinks, and watching their favorite athletes come down the final stretch of the race. Paul Mitchell stylists cut hair, charging only charity donations, while children compete in their own bike race around the park.
Pacifico, one of Xterra’s main sponsors, hosts a beer garden which hums with activity while a giant inflatable bottle taunts the athletes with their reward at the finish line. And that’s part of what Xterra is all about. It is a grueling, demanding, body-wrenching test of endurance, but it is also a party. Athletes encourage one another, lend a helping hand, tease each other on the trail, and look for their friends they haven’t seen since the last race. After the race, they leave their tennies in the hotel room and tie on their dancing shoes. They toss back a couple of beers and rehash the day’s events. And they plan to do it all again next year.
The Nevada Commission on Tourism is a major sponsor of the national championship, which brings athletes and spectators to one of the most dazzling venues in the West. It exposes the grandeur of Lake Tahoe to the world. And it shows the world that Nevada is more than just casinos, 24-hour buffets, and hotel rooms.
“This course is definitely the best course out there,” Alex Stevens, 30, of Jackson, Wyoming says while cooling down after the race. Wilcox agrees, saying the swim portion of the triathlon is like swimming in a pool. The water is so clear she could see the texture of the sand below her.
Kiely and his fellow Team Unlimited staff say Lake Tahoe is always a pleasant surprise to athletes. They don’t always associate Nevada with glistening, clear water, snow-capped mountains and crisp, fresh mountain air.
“Some of the international people think America can’t be as beautiful as their own country,” Kiely says. “But I was talking to an athlete from South Africa, and he said, ‘I can’t believe America is so beautiful.’”
For complete 2007 race results and other information, visit xterraplanet.com.