Runners to enjoy natural beauty at XTERRA event
Story By Grace Thornton
Nozomi Wade didn’t start running until 2009 because she didn’t like to sweat.
But these days — the days following when she won her age group at the XTERRA World Championships — she finds herself loving the drive over to Oak Mountain State Park to take in the trails on two feet.
“We have been going to Oak Mountain pretty frequently,” says Wade, who drives over with her husband James from their home in Atlanta’s suburbs. “We love the canopy of trees — it’s so beautiful.”
Her sentiments help explain why the locally held XTERRA race event — marking its 11th year at Oak Mountain this May 21–22 — has become such a draw for the state park in Shelby County. The event is one of the larger, championship qualifying races in XTERRA’s global race series, which includes trail running and off-road triathlons.
“We enjoy running there,” Wade says. “I do trail running, and my husband does the off-road triathlon, so he swims in the lake and loves that, too. We think it’s a great, great venue.”
The two started racing as a hobby after they became empty nesters.
“It’s been great,” she said. “We started small and just kept thinking, ‘Well, this is fun,’ and got more and more involved.”
The race at Oak Mountain will offer $15,000 in prizes for elite athletes competing in a 1.5k swim, 30k mountain bike and 10k trail run.
Amateurs can also compete for one of 51 spots in the XTERRA World Championship on Oct. 23 in Maui, where Wade won her title.
A shorter Sprint race at Oak Mountain will offer a 750m swim, 15k mountain bike and 5km trail run.
And newbies who want to start like the Wades did are encouraged to try the new Xticer, a shorter race with a 200m swim, 10k mountain bike and 2km trail run. XTERRA offers a Couch to Trails program at Xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail to get you kick started.
Trey Garman, XTERRA vice president, says the Xticer gives athletes the chance to “experience what XTERRA is all about on a beginner-friendly course and supportive environment.”
Racers and spectators can both expect “a great park, a family friendly atmosphere, and fun times,” Garman says. “XTERRA is a fun way to live the healthy, active, outdoors lifestyle. It’s like being a kid again, playing outside in the dirt with your friends. It’s also very therapeutic to be in the forest, to ride and run on single-track trails, to get your heart pumping and feel alive.”
And Oak Mountain is a great place for that.
“What makes XTERRA at Oak Mountain State Park special is the beautifully maintained trail system,” Garman says. “We’ve been racing here for more than a decade, and elite athletes from all over the world routinely tell us its one of the best places they’ve ever ridden.”
Plus, the lake is clean and warm, he says, and there are “a million great places to eat nearby.”
“You’ll find real southern hospitality at every turn,” Garman says.
It’s a great environment for a race, says Brandon Mader, a PowerBar elite trail runner from Huntsville who is no stranger to the winner’s circle at the Oak Mountain race.
“I went the first time in 2010, and the draw was to finish out an Alabama race series I had started. I kind of looked at that race like the pinnacle of that series, like a regional championship,” he says. “But I kept going back.”
It’s a great experience, Mader says. “I love all the XTERRA races, but the big ones are excellent, and this is one of the big ones. They create such an atmosphere around an event.”
And that atmosphere draws thousands from around the world, he says.
“It’s been a real destination not only for people who are interested in XTERRA but also for people interested in trail runs and triathlons,” Mader says. “It really highlights Oak Mountain and Shelby County and brings people into the area.”
Park entry fees for spectators are $5 for adults and $2 for children and seniors 62 and over.
For more information and a schedule of weekend events, visit Xterrapelham.com.