SNOWBASIN — The beard, it turns out, really was good luck.
For seven of the past eight years, 34-year-old Josiah Middaugh has been the top ranked American in the XTERRA Series. But the U.S. Championship race at Snowbasin always got the best of him as he never managed to finish higher than third.
Not so Saturday as he won the off-road triathlon with a time of 2:26:57.
"Finally," said the Colorado resident. "More relief than anything. This is a really special win for me to pull this off for the first time."
Last year Middaugh was one of the race's favorites when he sliced a tire about two miles from the transition to the trail run.
He stopped and tried to put air in it until he realized the hole was too big to patch.
He watched helplessly as several riders passed him so he got back on the bike and began riding.
"Less than 400 meters later it was flat," he said. Middaugh kept riding until the tire fell off and he was riding the rim.
"It was just ugly," he said in a pre-race press conference. "It was a long mile."
He acknowledged that the U.S. Championships at Snowbasin had not been kind to him as he struggled with illness or mechanical issues nearly every year.
He joked with reporters that the beard he'd grown while taking a break from training, and subsequently decided to keep, would be a difference-maker for him.
Even with the bad luck he's experienced, he acknowledged before the race that it played to his strengths with a lot of high-altitude climbing.
"I'm at home in the mountains," he said with a smile. He did admit to a bit of anxiety on the downhill portion of the bike race after last year's flat tire.
"I was a little bit too nervous, but it worked out," he said afterward.
Middaugh dominated the field, finishing two minutes ahead of the second-place finisher, Ben Allen, 27, of Australia, who completed the race in 2:28:46. His lead enabled him to cross the finish line with his two children, who were waiting for him on the course.
"It was just a special day for me," he said. "I felt good; my training has been good for the last three months and it showed today."
Middaugh took the lead midway through the bike section of the race and is known as XTERRA's fastest trail runner.
France's Nicolas Lebrun, 39, was third with a time of 2:29:02; while South Africa's Conrad Stoltz, 38, was fourth with a time of 2:30:47. Stoltz earned enough points to earn an unprecedented 10th XTERRA U.S. Pro Series Championship.
On the women's side, Lesley Paterson, 31, of Great Britain, not only won Saturday's race, she won her first XTERRA U.S. Pro Series title. It is her third major win 11 months.
"It was awesome," said Paterson. "I did a lot of prep for this — came out 10 days early. It's the first time in an XTERRA race that I went into the lead on the bike and held it."
Despite having the lead heading in to the run, which is her strength, she was a little cautious at the start of the trail run.
"You're always a bit nervous," Paterson said. "Even though I'm a runner and I've got that pedigree, you think, 'Oh my gosh, did I push too hard on the bike?'"
She conquered the run with no problem — and no challenges — as she finished in 2:49:09, more than three minutes ahead of second-place finisher, Suzie Snyder, 29, of Virginia, who earned a time of 2:52:43.
Danelle Kabush, 36, of Canada, was third with a time of 2:52:56; Melanie McQuaid, 38, Canada, was fourth with a time of 2:54:56.