SNOWBASIN -- It got a bit hairy at the Xterra USA Championships on Saturday morning as a bearded Josiah Middaugh claimed his first USA Championship in 12 years of racing Xterra events, turning in a 2:26:57 to finish nearly two minutes ahead of his nearest competitor, Australia's Ben Allen.
For the past four years, Middaugh has placed third in this race, frustrated by mechanical issues and stellar performances by other top athletes.
But this year it was Middaugh whisker time.
"I've had eight weeks of really good training, and I've been growing this beard and that's helped a lot," Middaugh said, smiling. "It's (the beard) just indicative of what my mindset has been for the last eight weeks. I haven't raced. I've been at home, training hard in the mountains, and I've done a handful of workouts that were harder than the race that I did today. It's always good when the race feels easier than training."
Middaugh's mountain-man-style facial hair caught the attention of his competitors as well.
Conrad "the Caveman" Stoltz, who has won the USA championship three times previously, but faded to fourth Saturday on the run after briefly leading on the bike, congratulated Middaugh at the finish line, asking, "How long do you think it will take me to grow a beard like that?"
It was only the second time an American has won the U.S. Pro Series in the 12 years it has been run. Middaugh came out of the .93- mile swim in fourth place, caught leader Allen in the seventh mile of an 18.1-mile bike and began gapping the field on the bike climb up Sardine peak. His gap grew during the 6.3-mile run.
"That's the earliest I've ever had the lead in any Xterra and I didn't know what to do," Middaugh said. "I panicked a little bit; I wasn't sure if I should ease up or go harder, and it made me a little too tentative on the downhills, which was not good. But I felt good and kept everything under control the whole day.
"I finally put together a great race. It's been a long time coming at this race. It feels really good -- a big relief to finally get that monkey off my back. I just felt good all day. I have to be really thankful when it comes together like this. Because last year I felt the same, but I had a flat tire; you just never know what can happen, and you never know how your body is going to respond until you race."
It was a flat tire that held local favorite, David Henestrosa, a Clearfield resident here from Spain on a teaching visa, off the podium.
In his second year at the USA Championships, he had a repeat flat-tire incident that lost him four or five minutes that he was unable to make up on the run, despite posting the second-fastest run time of the day.
"I said I'm going to take the downhill easy. I'm going to be safe. I was riding with another guy and on the first turn I just heard 'pshhhh,' and I was like, 'Oh no.' I had to stop and fix the flat really quick, but just fixing the flat, five or six guys passed me. I passed all of them running and finished sixth," Henestrosa said. "I'm a little sad because I believe I could have been fourth or fifth. But, I'm really happy because I finished, that's the goal. I would be really sad if I couldn't have finished. I finished so I'm happy."
For the pro women it was Lesley Paterson, originally from Scotland and now from San Diego, who claimed first prize and sealed up her pro series points win to claim $12,500 in prize money.
Paterson has been working her way steadily up the ranks since her debut Xterra USA Championship in 2008, in which she placed fourth.
"It was an awesome race for me," said Paterson who finished in 2:49:09. "I started off pretty challenging in the swim; I came out a little bit down than I wanted to, but I tried to stay relaxed and stay focused. I've been staying here the last week with a wonderful family, the Radcliffe's from Salt Lake City, so you know I've had an opportunity to really get to know the course."
Paterson was sixth coming out of the water and turned in the second-fastest bike time of the day catching her competitors, including Xterra USA Championship 2009-2011 winner Melanie McQuaid.
"I went into the lead on the bike, which is very unusual for me, but I've been working on my bike," said Paterson of catching the leaders at the top of Sardine peak. "I came into transition and left in first place, which again, I've never had the opportunity to do and I'm a runner, so that's always nice. So I ran, and it was great just kind of getting to enjoy the run. It's awesome."
Suzie Snyder, of Virginia, had a breakthrough race, finishing second in 2:52:43. Snyder had never finished higher than third in an Xterra point series race. Danelle Kabush was third, while McQuaid finished fourth.
The Utah Xterra Short course, a half-mile swim, 12-mile bike and 3.1-mile run, was won by Ogden's Parry Higginson in 1:55.26 in the men's division, and Heber City's Callie Spotted Elk in the women's division in 2:14.16.
The Utah Xterra Long Course, following the same course as the pros, was won by Salt Lake City's Spencer Peterson (3:07.20) in the men's division and by Betsy Spiegel (3:42:42), also of Salt Lake City, in the women's division.