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Meet the XTERRA World Champions Part III

Plus a look at Sunday's XTERRA Trail Run World Championship.

Over the last few weeks we’ve tracked down the age group world champions to see how their day unfolded. Here we learn more about Hannah Rae Finchamp, Benoit Lalevee, Carol Rasmussen, and Oliver Shaw.

Hannah Rae Finchamp (15-19) Altadena, California – 3:05:55

Hannah Rae Finchamp wasn’t just the fastest woman in the 15-19 division at XTERRA Worlds, she was the fastest amateur woman in the entire field.  The 16-year-old junior at Maranatha High School finished 13th overall, ahead of six pro woman, and more than seven-minutes ahead of the next age group female.

“My race went extremely smooth, well as smooth as the ocean, sand, dirt, sun and a little rain can go,” said Finchamp, who did her first XTERRA (a trail run) when she was just 10-years-old.

“I had a better race than I could have ever imagined.  God truly blessed me and was with me the whole race.  I spent much of the race thinking it was too good to be true and I still couldn’t believe I was in first until mile four on the run when I passed a man from an older age group.  He said, “You’re going to be XTERRA world champion and you know it!”  At that moment I felt my eyes tear up and began to thank God for such an amazing race.”

It’s the second straight 15-19 division XTERRA World Championship for Finchamp, who was also the top amateur and winner of her second consecutive XTERRA USA Championship in September.  Together with 16-year-old Neilson Powless (who won the men’s USA and World Championship overall titles out of the 15-19 division) the duo became the youngest competitors to ever win the overall titles in the amateur division at both races this year.

“I have always been an adventure seeker and XTERRA fit the bill perfectly.  It was like nothing else I had ever seen and it was so exciting!  Then right when I turned 14 (race age 15) and I reached the age limit for the full XTERRA course I signed up.”

It’s clear that the future of XTERRA is coming of age.

“The best part of the World Championship in Maui, and XTERRA in general, is that you never know how your race will turn out because there are so many obstacles to overcome.  I absolutely love Maui, and while many people go there to simply vacation, I think I have the best of all worlds.  When racing in Maui I swam in the beautiful clear ocean, biked to what seemed like the top of the world and ran up hills some people wouldn’t even consider possible.  I am already looking forward to next year!”

Benoit Lalevee (45-49) St.Nazaire Les Eymes, France – 2:55:40

In just his second year of racing off-road Benoit Lalevee can claim to be the fastest 45-49 division man in XTERRA.

“I did my first XTERRA in Switzerland last September and won, but before that I did mainly road tris. Now, I prefer off-road racing and being closer to nature,” said Lalevee.

The channel manager for Schneider Electric came to Maui with a group of Swiss and French athletes organized by long-time XTERRA pro Olivier Marceau.

“It was a wonderful trip.  We had good times during training, relaxing and visiting the island,” said Lalevee.

Raceday didn’t go quite as smooth as the rest of the trip, however… “The night before the race we got evacuated because of the tsunami and only had a few hours sleep, and the swim was not so simple due to the waves but I did my best.  On the bike I had problems with my rear derailleur due to the dust, and I did not know my position.  Then on the last climb on the run before the lake I had two big leg cramps and had to stop. I thought it could be finished for me, but on the descent everything fell back in order,” said Lalevee, who finished more than six-minutes ahead of runner-up Dan Smith from Canada.

Even more adventure greeted Lalevee on his return-trip home as he was re-routed through Chicago instead of New York to avoid Hurricane Sandy.

“The 2012 XTERRA could have been a disaster but in the end I am World Champion, proud and thankful for all my family and friends who believed in me.”

Carol Rasmussen (45-49) Karlslunde, Denmark – 3:33:09

By trade Carol Rasmussen teaches Danish, English, German, physical education and swimming to kids ages 10 to 15.  After finishing Ironman Worlds in Kona (11:54:58) and winning the 45-49 division at XTERRA Worlds just two weeks later, she could probably teach them a thing or two about triathlon as well.

“I was actually a mountain biker that started to do some triathlon when I read about XTERRA last year,” explained Rasmussen about her entrance to the sport.  “So, my husband and I decided to participate in the German XTERRA, and I won, and we thought it was such a nice race that we participated again this year.  I also qualified for the Ironman so I thought why not go and do both.”

Rasmussen credits taking it easy (if that’s possible) during the marathon in Kona for her winning day in Maui.

“In Kona I decided to walk a third of the marathon back to the finish line, which I think saved my leg, so that I was able to run strong in Maui.”

Like many other competitors this year, Rasmussen got sidetracked by the Tsunami warning the night before the race.

“We were staying at a campground, and when we finally got back to our campsite after the pre-race dinner the police told us to evacuate and we drove up the nearest road towards the mountain.  I was trying to sleep in the back of the car but there was so much noise from all the other people it wasn’t really possible.”

The lack of sleep had little impact on her race or experience.

“We had a great time in Maui,” said Rasmussen.  “We did some sightseeing and got to meet a lot of friendly and interesting people from all over the world.  When people say that the Ironman in Kona is the greatest race they have ever participated in, I can only say, Kona is boring compared to XTERRA Maui. Everything is better on Maui; the welcome dinner, the award dinner, the Halloween Party, the bike and run tracks through the nature, the wild swim, and the friendly, easy going athletes. What a great experience.”

Oliver Shaw (20-24 Division) Rotorua, New Zealand – 2:42:49

He’s just 20-years but Oliver Shaw is already a seasoned XTERRA veteran.

“I started XTERRA five years ago at the New Zealand Champs which are held at Rotorua every year. I am from Rotorua and always wanted to do the race. My Dad thought I could do quite well if I trained for it, so I did and I’ve been to every New Zealand XTERRA and World Championship race since,” said Shaw.

Turned out Dad was right, as the young Kiwi has been a force back home and in Maui through the years. This year at the world championship Shaw finished 25th overall, second amateur, and just 14-seconds behind the overall amateur winner Neilson Powless.

“I was really happy on race day to see the clouds come over as all my build up had been done in New Zealand winter which isn’t Hawaiian-like at all,” exclaimed Shaw.  “I had an average swim but once onto the bike I felt pretty good and started to make my way up the field as I came out of the swim way back. I moved up to one of the top amateur’s off the bike and had a solid run. I took the lead about halfway through the run so I was pretty sure that I was leading my age group although it was nice to have it confirmed at the finish!”

Shaw edged Dennis Kruse from Germany by a little more than one-minute, and was nearly five minutes faster than Ryan Petry from Arizona who dominated the age group competition at the XTERRA West and Mountain Championships this year.

Having just finished his last year at the University of Waikato studying sport perhaps the next step for Shaw might be a pro career.  One thing is for certain, another trip to Maui is in order…

“Maui is an amazing place to visit and race. The beaches, resorts and people are some of the best in the world.”


A diverse and talented field of trail runners from around the world will participate in the 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship on Sunday, December 2.

More than 2,000 runners from 15 countries and 37 states are entered, but once again, the site of the race will be the star of the show. The majestic Kualoa Ranch will serve as the host site for the fifth consecutive year, and the runners will be treated to trails that are breathtaking in more ways than one.

“The course is totally unique,” said Canada’s Lucy Smith, who placed second overall among the elite women in 2011. “I have run many World Championships in cross country, and while some were unbelievably hard, the XTERRA World Championship course is the most remote and the ‘wildest’ and craziest run course I have ever done.”

Part of the lure is the mystery. The trails at Kualoa Ranch are normally closed to the public, and the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is one of only a handful of events that has been granted a permit to stage a race there.

Most of the time, the beautiful natural backdrop of Kualoa Ranch is reserved for filming of movies, television shows, or commercials. Among the credits are blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Pearl Harbor, 50 First Dates, and hit television series such as LOST and Hawaii Five-O.

It has also become the perfect setting to determine the XTERRA Trail Run World Champions.

Oregon’s Max King won the event in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. He will not enter the race this year due to the expected birth of his child. However, he explained why he considers the course at Kualoa Ranch one his favorites: “It’s one of my favorites because of the atmosphere surrounding the race. There aren’t too many races that take place in such a beautiful place. The Kualoa Valley surrounded by massive green ridges on three sides and the crystal clear blue ocean on the other is a 360 degree awe-inspiring place to compete for a World Championship. I love the course since it is one of those that requires an all-around athlete — strong in all aspects of different running surfaces.”

There are some hidden dangers within that beauty. Although Kualoa Ranch reaches a peak of less than 750 feet above sea level, the 21-kilometer championship course will still feature close to 3,000 feet of total climbing.

“I think the constant climbing and descending makes the course challenging and fun,” Smith said. “From dealing with the steep climbs right off the bat to the final mad dash down the hill, you are constantly trying to find a rhythm in the inconsistent elevation. I would describe the course as relentlessly hilly and the final hill as most wonderfully and hilariously insane.”

There is also the weather to deal with. Although it takes place every December, the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is not exactly known for its winter conditions. In fact, temperatures are usually in the 80s on race day.

Brandon Mader has made the trip from Alabama to Hawaii to do the race several times, and said the drastic difference in weather change can be shocking for some runners coming from colder climates. “If you haven’t been preparing for the weather, it can be very oppressive in middle of the race,” he said. “Coming from colder climates is particularly difficult because of how long it takes your body to adapt to heat.  Most of the country has been in cold weather for two solid months.”

The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is open to runners of all ages and skill levels, and every age-group winner from the 21-kilometer long course will earn the title of 2012 XTERRA Trail Run World Champion. Age groups range from 10-14 to 75-79.

In addition to the 21K championship course, there will also be separate 10-kilometer and 5-kilometer courses for the less-experienced runners.

There is still one last chance to join the race and see what this course is all about. In-person registration will be held on Saturday, December 1, at the Waikiki Beach Walk (Lewers Street) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more about the race, please visit www.xterratrailrun.com.


Anybody want a world championship? The XTERRA Trail Run World Championship is up for grabs this year.

This year’s event is scheduled for December 2 at Kualoa Ranch, Hawaii, and in the unpredictable sport of trail running, this much is certain – there will be new champions.

Oregon’s Max King is the only runner to win the men’s title at XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. The event was created in 2008, and he has won it every year. King’s reign will come to an end this year, as he will stay in Oregon with his wife for the expected birth of their second child in early December.

In his absence, the list of contenders is impressive:

– Ben Bruce has placed in the top three of the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in 2008, 2009 and 2011. He was a finalist for the steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic trials in 2012 (he placed sixth).

– Joseph Gray is a recognized name in the sport of trail running. He placed second at the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in 2009, and is a three-time former winner of the USATF Mountain Runner of the Year award.

– Thomas Rivers Puzey and Jacob Puzey are brothers who placed fourth and fifth, respectively, at the 2011 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship. Rivers Puzey has somewhat of a home-course advantage, as he competed in college at BYU-Hawaii, which is located about five miles away from Kualoa Ranch.

– J. Marshall Thomson placed second to King at the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship in Utah in September.

Will Christian placed second to King at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, and the margin of 1 minute, 20 seconds, for that year remains the closest any runner has come to King on the Kualoa Ranch course.

– Mario Mendoza placed second to King at the 2011 XTERRA Trail Run National Championship at Utah, and is a past winner of the USATF Trail Runner of the Year award.

King said the eventual new champion will have to be “an all-around athlete” to conquer the field and the course. “It takes a little bit of everything,” he said. “Strong technical skills and hill climbing endurance are a must, but parts of the course also require a high level of speed as well. The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is that the significant hill at mile 9 really wipes people out. Climbing ability is important from the gun but having climbing endurance in this race is even more important.”

The women’s division is also in search of a new queen, as 2011 champion Morgan Arritola will not enter this year due to injuries and other schedule conflicts. What’s more, none of the other previous women’s champions are entered. In their absence, there is also an impressive list of female contenders:

– Lucy Smith (pictured) placed second last year in her first try at Kualoa Ranch. She is considered one of the top masters (40-older) endurance athletes in all of Canada.

– Kim Kuehnert is a runner on the Hawaii Pacific University cross country team. She is originally from Germany, and placed second at the 2010 XTERRA Trail Run World Championship (she did not compete last year due to illness).

– Polina Babkina is another runner from the Hawaii Pacific University cross country team. She is originally from Russia and was the team’s top-seeded competitor this season.

– Susie Stephen is considered Hawaii’s top female distance trail runner. She placed sixth overall at last year’s XTERRA Trail Run World Championship, and first in the 30-34 age group.

Returning age-group champions from last year include: Keith Rieger (men 40-44), Ray Brust (men 50-54), Susie Stephen (women 30-34), Melanie McQuaid (women 35-39), Lucy Smith (women 40-44), Brigitte Stemmer (women 55-59) and Lee Saltonstall (women 60-64).