Josiah Middaugh right now is in a fight for the 2009 XTERRA national points championship standings, standing third with 452 points, 30 behind leader Conrad Stoltz and 10 behind Nico Lebrun. This year he has been one of the most consistent competitors in the XTERRA Cup series, taking 2nd at Lake Las Vegas, 3rd at Ft. Custer, Michigan, 2nd at Pelham, Alabama, 2nd at Richmond, 1st at Heart of Arkansas, and 3rd at home in Beaver Creek, CO. These finishes have come after a rocky 2008 in which he suffered through an IT band injury and subsequent recovery process.
Middaugh started his XTERRA career winning the 20-24 age group division at nationals in Lake Tahoe and at worlds in Maui. After turning pro, he scored big in 2004, winning XTERRA Canada, XTERRA West in Keystone, Colorado, and took thirds at nationals at Tahoe and at the world championship in Maui.
In 2006, he proved his resilience. After suffering a broken kneecap in a pre-race crash in Pelham, Alabama in the spring, he kept his fitness high by working on his swim and on his bike while limiting his runs to 10 minutes. Just four months after the accident, he scored a 7th at XTERRA Nationals in Lake Tahoe and a 4th at Worlds in Maui.
Despite a decent college running career (limited by injuries) in which his best mark was a decent but not overwhelming 25:30 8k, Middaugh has developed into a world-class XTERRA athlete in large part because of his mastery of and use of the winter sports alternatives available at his current home in Vail, Colorado.
Competitively, he scored national snowshoe championships in 2002 and 2003, five wins at the Mt Taylor Quadrathlon in New Mexico, a USA Winter Triathlon Championship in 2006 and a USA Triathlon Long Course National Championship on the roads in 2005.
But of all his multisport laurels in the snow, perhaps his most dominating performances have been his three straight wins at the Teva Games’ Ultimate Mountain Challenge, which combines four disciplines - whitewater kayak, a rugged mountain bike, a tough trails run and an uphill road bike time trial.
Middaugh explains how training and racing at altitude in the snow can be his biggest ally as he chases another podium – or perhaps a long-sought dream of win – in the tropical climes at Maui.
Slowtwitch: Why are you so good at Ultimate Mountain Challenge?
Josiah Middaugh: It's a good combination of events, but it's all about endurance, and I feel like I've got pretty good endurance. Living here in Vail, I'm gradually picking up some of the outdoor sports. It's a fun way to compete and a good excuse to get outdoors and train every day.
ST: How does it start?
Josiah: The Ultimate Mountain Challenge has four events over two days. On Saturday we start with a kayak downriver sprint for 3 miles in class 3 whitewater. Nothing crazy, but crazy enough for those who do not kayak.
ST: You finished the kayak in 17:53.2, 11th overall and 4th in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge category behind Mike Kloser (17:45.1) Travis Macy (17:49.3) and Ian Anderson (`17:51.0) and ahead of Travis Scheefer (18:33.7)
Josiah: The paddling was my inexperience point. Luckily, I kept the boat straight and stayed on top of the water and didn't wind up swimming.
ST: Describe the mountain bike event? Is it tougher than some XTERRAs?
Josiah: A few hours after the kayak, we followed with a 22-mile mountain bike race on Vail Mountain which had probably 5,000 vertical feet of elevation change. The distance was not so far, but it was brutal with really steep climbs. It was held on a course which went over terrain where they held several World Cup races. So it got a little crazy. It was a lot of single track and pretty varied terrain lot of spring runoff, some spots were pretty wet, really steep stuff.
ST: The overall winner of the mountain bike section was Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. The field included pros Todd Wells and Adam Craig, who raced in last Olympics, but in your Ultimate Mountain Challenge category, you slammed the field with a 1:55:57 clocking, followed by Travis Scheefer (2:01:09), Travis Macy (2:09:16), Mike Kloser (2:09:44). What did you learn competing against a stacked pro field on such a tough course?
Josiah: We had the most competition in the mountain bike race. I usually race in the multi sport category, but I tried to compete head-to-head with some of the best and learned what World Cup style racing is all about. I definitely had a tough time hanging with the top group from the start. I finished 12th of 74 overall there but I put time on the next person in my category doing all the events -- Travis Scheefer.
ST: How did you come out of that race physically?
Josiah: The legs actually felt pretty good. The intensity of the start tore my lungs up and felt like ice in my lungs after the first few minutes. They felt like they were bleeding. Temperatures weren’t so bad, so my reaction was mostly due to the high altitude and dry air. I think thin air really is tough for the lungs, and I found myself pretty congested that night. There was a lot of stuff like cottonwood around -- a time for spring allergies.
ST: On the 10k trail run you ran 49:17 which placed you 8th overall and put 1 minute 23 seconds more on Travis Macy in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge category. How tough was the course?
Josiah: The 10km trail run had 1,800 feet of vertical up and down on pretty ridiculously steep terrain on Vail Mountain hiking trails and straight up and straight down some ski runs. It is definitely a leg thrasher. The trails were mostly dirt, a little bit of mud, and would definitely be considered technical running. We ran down a lot of twisty downhill slopes.
ST: Was this twisting terrain worrying you after suffering some leg injuries last year?
Josiah: I had an IT band injury and for 7 months I was not able to run more than 10-20 minutes in training. That made my run difficult. Temperature-wise, the Ultimate Mountain Challenge run started out in the mid-50s and It ended up in the 40s, with a lot of wind. By the time it ended we had some rain and hail.
ST: Tell us about some of the trail running stars you were up against besides your Ultimate Mountain Challenge rivals?
Josiah: Matt Carpenter, who is in his 40s, is arguably one of the best uphill runners of all time, won that stage. He lives in Manitou Springs and has won the Pikes Peak ascent and marathon many times. He has one of the highest VO2 maxes ever recorded. He was out of sight after a mile or so. Then there was Rickey Gates, who placed third at the National Trail Running Championship last year and placed real well at the World Trail Running Championship. Every event was stacked with top competition and I got my dose of humble pie and still had a little reward at the finish. I finished 8th in the trail run against all individuals and first among my five closest Ultimate Mountain Challenge competitors.
ST: On the final 9.9k road bike hill climb, you cemented your victory with a 29:21 clocking, outpacing Scheefer’s 31:05, Mike Kloser’s 32:05 and Travis Macy’s 32:36 in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge all-rounders.
Josiah: The road bike hill climb time trial was 10 miles and went from Vail Village to the cul de sac at Vail Pass halfway up. It was all uphill and averaged a 6 percent grade with some flat sections. I averaged 20 mph, because I was able to get quite a bit of speed on the flats. Nothing crazy. I talked to Greg Krause who won and he kept his bike in the big ring the whole way. I finished overall about 13th or so, about 2 minutes off Krause, who rode about 27:11. My legs were pretty trashed running down those 2,000 vertical feet two hours before. That did not help the situation at all. So I was not keeping it in the big rings.
The results: Overall, Middaugh’s 3:32:28 time in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge outpaced Travis Macy by 17:49, Travis Scheefer by 20:12 and closed out Mike Kloser by a 21:38 margin.
ST: So do you draw the line at any form of winter sports?
Josiah: I will try any multisport that is not crazy long.
ST: What is your favorite?
Josiah: I love the Mt. Taylor winter quadrathlon in Grants, New Mexico. It is probably the best winter event I do. I’ve won it five times. You ride the road bike 13 miles, run 5 miles up Mt. Taylor and then you ski a few miles and snow shoe a mile to the summit. Then you head back down and do it all over again in reverse order to the finish at the bottom.
ST: Do these events suit your mountain-bred strengths?
Josiah: I think these events definitely suit my strengths very well. I live at altitude in the mountains. This is a perfect environment to do things like this mountain biking and trail running. I think the more sports I do, the better I do. I consider myself an endurance athlete but definitely the outdoor sports skills are my forte.
ST: Has Kloser tried to talk you into adventure racing?
Josiah: Mike Kloser is a good friend of mine. He invited me to a stage adventure race, with him twice. It sounded like a lot of fun but adventure racing does not necessarily mesh well with XTERRA racing. I definitely respect the adventure racers. Some of the crazy stuff they do give them some great stories to tell. But at this point, I am focusing on XTERRA where the races are relatively short and fast. I definitely prefer to test myself as an individual and will try to stay away from adventure races for awhile.
ST: Quite a difference from where you grew up in Michigan?
Josiah: I had some good hills to train on in northern Michigan, but Central Michigan, where I went to college, is possibly the flattest place in the country.
ST: What was your sports background there?
Josiah: I grew up in East Jordan Michigan, and I have a distance running background. I also did a fair amount of team sports, basketball mainly. I ran in college at Central Michigan University.
ST: What were your best times in cross country and track?
Josiah: My best time in any competitive running? Let’s see. I ran 8k at about 25:30. I was definitely not a college success. I had knee surgery in college and spent most of college career injured. Part of the reason I am still pretty hungry to compete and reach my potential is that it was not tapped before and cross training has helped me extend my limits.
ST: What led you to Colorado?
Josiah: In 2000, I graduated and got married and moved to Vail. At that point, I had no intentions of making a living out here. But it ended up being perfect environment and stimulus for me.
ST: How did you meet your wife?
Josiah: Ingrid and I met when we were in college and both of us were runners on the cross country team. We got married in 2000 in Michigan, there were 300 people there -- a lot of family and friends. June was our 9th anniversary.
ST: Now that you have a family, how have things changed?
Josiah: Three years ago I broke my kneecap at the Alabama XTERRA warming up and pre-riding the course. I went down and just hit my kneecap on the fork of my bike. So, now I am 30, I definitely do not take the same chances I used to. I tell my wife some guys on mountain bikes ride on the razor’s edge on the downhills. But now I downhill like I have two kids. We have two boys – Sullivan, age 5, and Porter, three and a half..
ST: Do they love the Colorado outdoors? And how many chances do they take?
Josiah: They do just about anything outside right now. But they are pretty well contained and have not pushed limits too far yet. They have a good time riding bikes in our driveway and playing in the back yard.
ST: What mountain activities first caught your fancy?
Josiah: Most of them I picked up since I moved to Colorado. My parents gave me a sense of adventure and this was a perfect place to keep that up. When I started out in Colorado I did snow shoe races. Mostly just local. I did the snow shoe national championships a few times in Michigan and Utah and I won it three times.
ST: What does it feel like racing on snow shoes?
Josiah: It is done at an obviously much slower pace than running. It is definitely a strength run event. People that do some cross training tend to cross over pretty well. Triathletes and cyclists can do well at it. The speed is a lot slower. You use a lot more strength. It helps to have some athletic ability. You need to be pretty nimble on your feet. Descending on snow shoes can make the difference of a minute on long downhill. Snow shoe racing shoes are about 7-8 inches wide and about 22-25 inches long. Every snow shoe sinks, it just depends on how much and so you are always dragging some snow up with you. A lot of races maybe one third is on groomed snow, the rest is single track or off track. And in single track you run on top and it’s really uneven footing. Off track is pretty low impact intensity. Compared to even trail running you run on some of the steepest things ever seen. Basically it’s like running with crampons on your foot – you can go up a 30 percent pitch, terrain you never ever do in trail running. A lot of races are on ski resorts where you go straight up ski runs. So it gives you a really cool sense of adventure. It’s one of the best ways to cross train actually, as far as developing your aerobic engine. It’s been a big secret of mine.
ST: So how do you use winter sports like snow shoeing in daily workouts?
Josiah: Lot of my winter workouts are just head out and run straight up the ski hill. I might only go 2 miles. It might only be a 30 minute workout. If I had a chairlift I can do it two or three times.
ST: What sort of work do you do to supplement your racing income?
Josiah: I work at Dogma Athletica, a gym in Edwards Colorado, and do personal training there. I also do online coaching, especially triathletes, cyclists runners.
ST: At this point, what is your main goal of the season?
Josiah: Maui is the ultimate goal of this season. I’ll leave it at that. You never know what the future will hold. The next six months I will try to have narrower focus to shine in on XTERRA.
ST: What do you consider your ace in the hole discipline in XTERRA races?
Josiah: I made most improvement recently in the swim. But it is far from being ace in the hole. My swim is close enough to put me in position. But I am a strong biker and runner. For XTERRA you have to dominate the bike to win and my biking is better now than in any other year, in part through a new coach I have, Mike Durner from Colorado Springs. He is with Carmichael Training Systems. I have been a coach myself about 8 years so I definitely see the value in it. And I find it is an advantage at this time to release that responsibility to someone else. I feel like I am coachable person and I have seen some really good results with training less in volume and with more specificity. Plus it’s good for my family.
ST: Who are your biggest sponsors?
Josiah: Salomon trail running shoes, First Endurance nutrition products, TYR apparel, Profile Design.
ST: Ever had a song stick in your head while training or racing?
Josiah: Funny thing about that. I don’t own an iPod and I do not train with music. People might make fun of me for that. But I know the lyrics to this song by Fort Minor called Remember the Name. It goes like this:
This is ten percent luck, twenty percent skill
Fifteen percent concentrated power of will
Five percent pleasure, fifty percent pain
And a hundred percent reason to remember the name!
It stuck in my head for Worlds at Maui last year and it was a good motivator there.
ST: Coming back from injury, you finished 7th at Maui last October. What can you do to get closer to the podium or a win?
Josiah: I think my new swim and stronger bike will make the difference this year. Very often I am playing catch-up and you never hear “Josiah is in third place” on the microphone until it’s over. Hopefully, this year they’ll be hearing my name on the mic a whole lot earlier. Finally, I simply have to run faster.