Over Hill, Over Dale, They Run the Dusty Trails
By Don Norcross
When the Waikiki tourism industry wanted marketing consultant Tom Kiely to establish more TV exposure for the region in the late 1980s, Kiely created a lifeguard competition, then a one-week mountain-bike series.
After the cyclists finished dusting themselves off at Kualoa Ranch, they pedaled straight to the eastern shore to dive into the water, which led one of Kiely's partners to suggest, “You know what we should do? Put on one of those triathlon things, but with mountain bikes.”
Thus was born the off-road triathlon series XTERRA.
The first race in 1996 on Maui attracted 123 athletes. (Carlsbad's Michellie Jones won the women's race.) This year, more than 100 XTERRA races will be held worldwide, in 32 states and 16 countries.
Wanting to attract a larger audience and offer events for those who might be swimming-or cycling-challenged, XTERRA added 5K trail runs as ancillary events to the triathlons.
Two years ago the XTERRA Trail Run Series was created.
There were 14 trail races in 2006. That number swelled to 40 last year, including an event at Mission Trails Regional Park. This year there will be 50, with a national and world championship, the latter on Oahu.
This year's event at Mission Trails will be held on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 3, at 8 a.m. There will be a 5K and a 15K.
The reasons for trail running's popularity are many. Many runners have tired of the traditional road-race scene. The packed corrals, pavement, urban setting. They want to be at one with nature.
And running on softer surfaces typically leads to fewer physical-therapy appointments.
“Running on trails, it's like being a kid again,” said Brennan Lindner, race director for the Mission Trails event. “It's much more carefree. You're in the moment.”
Former Ironman Hawaii champion Heather Fuhr competed at Kona 16 years in a row before passing on the race last year, citing burnout. To get her athletic fix before heading to Kona to work for a Web site, Fuhr ran and won the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon outside Reno.
She'll run the 15K at Mission Trails.
“You're out in the middle of nowhere,” said Fuhr, describing her affinity for the dirt. “You get away from being around a lot of people or traffic. You can explore.”
The Mission Trails course features 900 feet of elevation gain. Because many of the XTERRA races offer narrow, single-track trails, the fields are smaller than most road races. The Mission Trails races will be limited to 400 runners.
“They feel more like a grassroots event,” Fuhr said.
There's a certain unknown element at trail races. Because most road races feature similar topography, runners typically know about what time they'll run. Not trail runs, which can vary in difficulty from relatively easy to Somebody Hire Me a Sherpa.
“You don't know what's in store for you until you get there,” said Fuhr, who'll pass on previewing the Mission Trails layout.
“I don't want to know what I have coming up,” she said. “I think ignorance is bliss.”
The XTERRA Trail Run Series has created an Xduro class, longer races that will range from 18 kilometers (11-plus miles) to 27K (nearly 17 miles).
While the XTERRA Trail Running World Championship (21K) will offer prize money, in keeping with the low-key atmosphere, it will be a modest $10,000, $2,000 to the winners.
Kendahl Morabe of Jamul likes trails for the common reasons: scenery and soft surface. But even trails present hazards that pavement doesn't.
“We have coyotes, deer and cows get out,” Morabe said.
Come summer, she passes on the dirt.
“There are tons of rattlesnakes,” she said. “I don't like to kill the rattlesnakes. We're running in their territory. I try to avoid them.”
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