‘Whatever Doesn’t Kill You…’ An Interview with an Endurance Freak

The race is a doozy, a multi-part endurance feat with kayaking, mountain biking, a trail race, and a time-trial bike sprint up a mountain pass. Does the Ultimate Mountain Challenge sound tough enough? Meet Josiah Middaugh, age 34, arguably the toughest endurance competitor at the GoPro Mountain Games, with six consecutive Ultimate Mountain Challenge titles under his belt.

Gear Junkie staffers have competed in the UMC in both the summer and winter and know first hand — the event is about as tough as it gets. We recently spoke with Middaugh, a resident of Vail, to learn what it takes to win the event year after year. —Sean McCoy

Middaugh competes aboard his Felt Edict 9

GearJunkie: What is your strongest sport in the UMC?

Middaugh: Originally, my background is running. I focus more of my training on mountain biking. That’s where I’ve made the biggest improvements in the past ten years.

What stands out about racing in this event?

The mountain bike race is one of the biggest prize purses in North America. The Time Trial pulls in some big cycling names and you have to take on the best trail runners in North America.

What do you do to train?

This event is tailor made for my strengths. It’s a hometown event and I come from a multi-sport background. My main sport that I train for in the summer is X-Terra Triathlon. Also, living just down the road sure helps!

The way I structure my training, I do a lot of back-to-back sessions. I do a lot of running and biking on tired legs.

What’s tough about the multi-sport and multi-day format?

It takes a lot of experience to do well. It’s something I struggled with when younger. As I’ve gotten a little older I’ve begun to train scientifically. I have a higher percentage of training that is high intensity. It prepares me for racing back to back.

What do you mean by scientifically?

I measure my training through power output. In the winter months, I do a lot of back-to-back hard workouts on a CompuTrainer. With my road bike on a stationary trainer it measures the power output in wattage. I’ll do a series of intervals to a very specific wattage number. I follow that with a treadmill at a steep incline.

Sounds tough!

Yeah, it’s not the most enjoyable thing to do but it works. It’s the measureable output that’s really important.

The start of an XTERRA swimming leg

You compete in a lot of events. What have you been up to this spring?

I just got back from a 10-day trip. I raced the XTERRA Southeast Championship in Alabama and then the XTERRA Trail Half Marathon. I won them both. Then next weekend I did the Beast of the Southeast — three races in two days. It starts with a sprint triathlon, then an off road triathlon, and finally a short track mountain bike race. I finished third, second and first — I got stronger through the events.

Middaugh crosses a finish line on top

It sounds like you’ve got the multi-day events wired.

It’s what I do. It’s my workouts. I do back-to-backs twice a week. I’ll work out Tuesday and Wednesday hard and Saturday and Sunday hard. Usually do easier workouts on other days. I might take one full rest day once every three weeks. Some days it’s just an easy swim or spin on a road bike.

It sounds like you spend a lot of time working out. What do you do to avoid injury?

I’ve had five knee surgeries so I’m familiar with injury. . .

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Sean McCoy

Editorial Director Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie's Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.