Once a week, professional endurance athlete Josiah Middaugh likes to strap on his snowshoes or crampons and charge up one of the Rocky Mountain ski runs in Vail, Colorado.
“Winter is a key training season for me,” says Middaugh, who grew up in East Jordan and has since become one of the top multisport athletes in the world. “I do a lot of cross-country skiing and running on snowshoes. Winter training is what sets me up for a good season of racing in the summer. If winter sports were a little more high profile, I’d prefer to do them full-time.” In September, Middaugh, 34, won the XTERRA U.S. National Championship, a mountain bike triathlon in Snow Basin, Utah. He’s been the top American finisher and U.S. Champion in the race for the past seven years, but foreign rivals kept him from the overall win until his 2012 race.
“It was absolutely the biggest win of my career,” says Middaugh, a personal trainer and coach who holds a Master of Science degree in Human Movement. “I finished third for the past 4-5 years in a row, but I was always battling the same guys back and forth.”
The XTERRA Championship race included a 1.5k swim, 28k mountain bike race and 10k trail run. What makes the race really tough, however, is the change in elevation during the course.
“There’s a 3,000-foot vertical gain on the mountain bike portion of the race and a 1,200-foot gain on the trail run,” Middaugh says. “The distances weren’t extraordinary, but the terrain was. It’s a really exhausting course with beautiful scenery.”
Middaugh has also won the U.S. National Snowshoe Racing Championship five times, including the first event held in Traverse City in 2002. He’s also won the US Triathlon-sanctioned Winter Triathlon National Championships in Midway, Utah, among many other races.
He currently trains about 15 hours a week at his home outside Vail, where the elevation is at 8,000 feet. Training at that elevation gives him a competitive edge in the 25-30 races he enters each year as a pro.
“Luckily, I live in a place where the terrain makes a big difference in my training,” he says.
Add to all of the above, Middaugh is also the father of three, Larsen, age 2, Porter, 7, and Sullivan, 8. He met his wife, Ingrid, while attending Central Michigan University (CMU). She too is an athlete who enjoys trail running and snowshoeing.
Middaugh’s website -- www.josiahmiddaugh.com -- notes that he was delivered by a midwife and born in a one-room stone house in Northern Michigan.
He grew up loving the outdoor life and says his parents instilled a strong work ethic in himself and his two brothers. “We always worked for everything we got,” he recalls, “played hard when the work was done, and life was good. I still believe one of the best core workouts is hauling and splitting maple and oak firewood with a heavy splitting maul.
“When my Dad (Steve) was around 40 he decided to get in better aerobic shape and started running,” he adds. “So at age 11, so did I. I enjoyed pushing my limits and had some moderate success at an early age.”
Middaugh got his first taste of endurance sports at the age of 15 when he entered the East Jordan Freedom Festival Triathlon.
“I didn’t have any formal swimming background and didn’t know how to freestyle,” he says of the race, which starts in Lake Charlevoix. “I ended up doing the side stroke.”
He ran track and cross-country at CMU and took up swimming to cope with injuries. While still in college, he learned of the XTERRA race series on TV. XTERRA offers dozens of off-road triathlons and trail runs all over the world.
Upon graduation, Middaugh moved to Colorado and began serious racing, entering events such as 100-mile mountain bike races that included 13,000 feet of elevation gain. He won his first race in Keystone, CO in 2002.
That same year, he entered the Hawaiian Ironman. “That was when I was just getting started as a pro and I entered it rather naively,” he recalls. “I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I finished.”
Today, Middaugh has been a pro racer for 10 years and most of his focus is on the XTERRA series. Typically, he does a variety of races through the year, including a couple of half-iron triathlons, pointing toward the national XTERRA race. This year, he will also compete in the Wildflower Triathlon in California, a half-iron race which involves a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike race, and 13.1-mile run.
His goal is to win the Xterra World Championship on Maui this October, which attracts athletes from around the world. “I’m definitely going to be there this year,” he says. “Last year I finished second, and it was my best finish ever.”
As a coach and personal trainer, Middaugh works with runners, cyclists, triathletes, adventure racers and general fitness athletes. What advice does he have for snowbound fitness buffs in Northern Michigan?
“I think you’ve got to get out and take advantage of any environment you live in,” he says. “If you live in snow country and like to do triathlons or road racing, then it’s a good idea to take up snowshoeing or cross-country skiing in the winter to break up your training season and refresh your mind.
“I’ve battled some injuries in my career and winter training is always easier on the knees,” he adds. “I do a fair amount of indoor training as well during the winter, such as CompuTrainer cycling (see “Gearbox” feature) and swimming, but it’s incredible how good cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are for training -- there’s no better form of aerobic exercise.”
For more on Josiah Middaugh and to follow his racing career, check out www.josiahmiddaugh.com .