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The incredible experience of XTERRA - and the people who live it
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Much like the Ironman series of races, the XTERRA off-road version has fostered a very impressive group of devotees to call their own.

Sure, the truth is that there exists a great deal of cross-over within this particular demographic of athletes, as many of the runners, swimmers and cyclists compete in other sport specific events at varying distances, dabbling with the more traditional duathlons or triathlons, or making their way over to what is generally termed as adventure racing.

Now, thanks to the efforts of John MacDonald and a host of friends and volunteers, several hundred of these wonderfully energetic folks found themselves at Kivi Park this past weekend, entered into one or more of the eight different competitions that took participants from the shores of Crowley Lake, across some of the most challenging mountain bike trails in the province and eventually back to the front of the park, ever thankful to find the finish line in sight.

As MacDonald mentioned to me a few months back, a big part of the lure of the XTERRA series remains the goal of attempting to qualify for the XTERRA World Championships in Lake Molveno (Italy) on October 1st/2nd, the first time in 25 years that the event has shifted from its traditional home in Maui, Hawaii.

That was certainly right at the top of the list for Francisco Montoya, a native of Spain who moved to Toronto in 2012 to follow his soccer dreams (TFC Academy). On Saturday, he finished second only to Luka Senk of Collingwood in the Full-Distance off-road Triathlon, covering the course (1.5km swim / 26 km bike / 9 km run) in a time of 2:31.44, a couple of minutes ahead of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary graduate Kelly Thompson.

While Montoya has always been athletic, it’s honestly a wonderfully genuine love of cycling that has paved his entry into this transition from soccer. “I’ve been in sport pretty much my whole life,” said the young man who was competing in his first ever XTERRA race. “When I was young, I started going on mountain bike rides with my dad, which was nice.”

“We enjoyed a lot of time together.”

That background would come in especially handy with the trails of Kivi Park which can challenge the most technical of the mountain bike riders. “We have a lot of mountains in Spain too and pretty much all of my mountain biking was there, so I’m pretty used to rocks and mountains. But this is definitely way harder than central Ontario.”

Set to rest or at least take it a little easier for a couple of weeks before resuming his preparation for his big event in the fall, Montoya provided a race assessment that in general seems to hold true for the majority of triathletes.

“My weakness, I would say, is the swimming, which is probably the weakness for everyone,” he suggested. “I got through the swim and I think I did a very good pace with the mountain bike. The run was decent. I was just making sure I was fighting cramps, but they didn’t happen.”

A more middle of the pack racer from the Peterborough/Bowmanville region, Mike Bradley is the exception to the rule. “The swim is my best, believe it or not, which sounds silly for a triathlete,” confessed the 49 year old who was making his second appearance at Conquer the Crater and clocking in at a time of 3:15.26.

“I did a little bit of swim camps and races and it’s just taken off for me.”

Throwing himself into the whole world of triathlons in or around the age of 33, Bradley is among those for whom the circuit largely dictates his choice of races. “I’m always chasing XTERRA,” he said. “We’re looking for whatever race is kind of close, but this is a bonus because we love coming here.”

“It’s good and technical, the lake is good and clean – it’s a perfect event. And it’s a great spot to be up on vacation.” Opting to go the Airbnb route this year, Bradley and his wife have camped, at times, typically making a whole week of the excursion north.

And while he does enjoy a decent background in mountain biking, Kivi is different than so many other courses in Ontario. “They do emphasize that it’s difficult,” said Bradley with a smile. “This has to be one of the top five XTERRA race mountain bike courses in the world.”

Not that this stopped 53 year-old Belinda Edison from claiming top spot in her age category, along with 6th place among the 17 women who took part in the Short Distance off-road Triathlon – despite not even starting to mountain bike until early May (yes, of this year). “I actually signed up for the XTERRA before I even owned a mountain bike,” said Edison.

Clearly one to jump with both feet into an initiative that she fully believes in, the native of Georgetown started running in earnest in 2020, following a life-changing process that would see her shed roughly 100 pounds over the course of one year.

“My interest in running kind of peaked in 2020, just because of the fact that Covid and flexible schedules allowed me to get out there and try and get some running done,” she said, quickly adding trail runs with friends into her busy calendar.

“I have a great group of friends that do this kind of stuff and they steered me towards XTERRA. They love adventure racing.”

In spite of her solid race results, Edison insisted that competition often takes a backseat to the social element that binds these athletes together. “Sure, you’re racing, but you’re having a conversation with the guy behind you, the guy in front of you, asking where you’re from. And the scenery is breathtaking.”

“You do have to take the time when you are racing this kind of an event to soak it all in.”

Edison and some friends had been up this way in June, crossing paths with Sudbury runner Todd Withers at the time and eventually recruiting him to complete a relay trio when an out of town member dropped out. “I had already signed up for the XTERRA so I wanted to go out to Kivi Park to see what it was all about,” said Edison.

Despite some pre-race apprehension, this newcomer to the scene is more likely than not to be back again next year. “I was a little bit nervous about the swim, but the swim went swimmingly,” Edison laughed. “The two women who finished second and third (in my category) were giving me pointers, before the race, helping me do up my (wet) suit.”

“Next year, they’re not helping me,” she added with a smile.

Long-time local outdoor sport fanatic Jeff Paul needed very little prompting in jumping aboard for his first triathlon at the 2019 race – and he’s happy to be back. “I had an utter blast,” said the former competitive swimmer who also coaches the cross-country team at Cambrian College and is an avid off-road trail runner.

“I would much rather be in the forest, with open space and nature, rather than hanging out on the pavement. As far as the multi-sport component, you get a little bit of all aspects of working your body – and you’re out with some amazing people.”

“It’s one more event that brings joy to the community – and it’s for a great cause.”

In fact, in addition to the XTERRA affiliation, the Conquer the Crater race is also part of the Miles Against Cancer initiative, with local organizers making a hefty donation to the cause following the flurry of activity over the weekend. As for Paul, he’s readying for the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc excursion, a 171 kilometre challenge that begins in Charmonix (France) on August 22nd and winds its way through Italy and Switzerland, wrapping up on August 28th.

“This race is kind of the same concept as a tempo practice,” Paul acknowledged. “You recover super quick because I’m not grounding and pounding my knees when I am on the bike – which is the majority of this race.”

A trail runner for some 25 years now, the multi-sport athlete can hardly contain his passion for the discipline. “That’s my joie-de-vivre, my ultimate joy.”

And if that allows him to cross-over and interact with the niche of XTERRA faithful, well, that’s just an added bonus.

Following is a listing of some of the top finishers in some of the various categories: Full Distance Off-Road Triathlon - Men
1st - Luka Senk - 2:27:43
2nd - Francisco Montoya - 2:31:44
3rd - Kelly Thompson - 2:33:10
4th - Wolfgang Guembel - 2:35:36
5th - Jacek Jackiewicz - 2:39:05

Full Distance Off-Road Triathlon - Women
1st - Sara McIlraith - 2:44:29
2nd - Lori Whitmore - 3:10:14
3rd - Susan Gaudreau - 3:30:00

Short Distance Off-Road Triathlon - Men
1st - Laydon Bursey - 1:26:36
2nd - Caden Sutton - 1:30:13
3rd - Kaeden Ward - 1:31:34
4th - Ben Keen - 1:33:35
5th - Colin Ward - 1:37:21

Short Distance Off-Road Triathlon - Women
1st - Ginny Denomme - 1:51:45
2nd - Cristina Lastimado - 1:55:23
3rd - Karen Koehler - 1:55:46

Full Distance Off-Road Duathlon - Men
1st - Danny Brunet - 2:20:31
2nd - Javier Mena Diep - 2:49:38

Full Distance Off-Road Duathlon - Women
1st - Barbara Wolczak - 3:04:52
2nd - Charlotte Giddens - 3:24:06

63 km Trail Run - Men & Women
1st - Krista Allen - 7:02:45
2nd - Stephan Meyer - 7:12:04
3rd - Jeff Kroetsch - 7:44:55
4th - Emmanuelle Moreau - 7:51:51

21 km Trail Run - Men
1st - Eric Leishman - 1:36:29
2nd - Guy Chénier - 1:53:49
3rd - Vincent Chénier - 1:53:49
4th - Michael Rouleau - 1:57:59

21 km Trail Run - Women
1st - Shelley Walushka - 1:58:28
2nd - Kelly Senk - 2:00:49

10 km Trail Run - Men & Women
1st - Konrad Wiltmann - 57:45
2nd - Alex Espinosa - 57:50
3rd - Lisa Harman - 58:57
4th - Dave Richardson - 1:01:27

5 km Trail Run - Men & Women
1st - Aurel Fox-Recollet - 21:44
2nd - Emmy Passi - 23:06
3rd - Robbie Lindsay - 24:38
4th - Kelly Fleming - 24:43

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