Volcano resident, Bill McMahon, has never let difficult challenges pass him by and on Oct. 25 the head cross country and track coach from Hilo High took on one of the toughest triathlons of them all, XTERRA.
Hawaii played host to two major World Championship triathlons this past October, the well known Ironman held in Kailua-Kona and XTERRA, which was held two weeks following Ironman, in Makena, Maui.
XTERRA is best known for its difficult terrain as a portion of the course goes through the dusty slops of Haleakala in which world class athletes compete.
During the bike portion of the race mountain bike riders will climb uphill some 1,400 feet in just one mile before making a rapid descent.
Grueling is the best word that comes to mind when summarizing XTERRA and only a hand full of qualifiers are allowed on the course.
Eneko Llanos of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain was the overall male champion and Julie Dibens from Bath, England the overall female champion. For winning the 2009 race each received the $20,000 first place prize money that goes with the XTERRA champion title, but the real applause goes to the few hundred amateurs that took on the event just for the challenge.
For McMahon, this was his fifth XTERRA and this year he had his highest finish as he managed to slip into the world’s top ten in his 50 to 54 year age group.
“This is the most difficult race I’ve ever done and every year I say to myself that I’m not going to run it again, but I keep coming back,” McMahon said.
XTERRA begins with a 1.5 kilometer swim, followed by a 30K bike and finishes with an 11K trail run. Although the distances are much shorter than the Kona Ironman the terrain is extremely difficult leaving athletes wondering why they do it and causing them to dig deep into their motivational reservoirs.
McMahon’s training for XTERRA begins months in advance and he gives much of the credit for his success to his training partner, Todd Marohnic.
“This race was always a team effort,” McMahon said. “If one of us does good we both win. Todd would have probably beaten me at XTERRA this year, but his bike’s chain broke and it took him 10 minutes to repair it.”
McMahon finished the race in 3 hours 52 minutes, good enough for 9th in his age division, while Marohnic crossed the line five minutes later, 3:57, and finished 13th in the world in the same age division which had 35 competitors and 30 finishers.
“We were 1-2 for Hawaii finishers and we’re proud of that fact,” McMahon said. “We were actually hoping to do better, but we’ll take what we can get.”
The Volcano residents train together on a regular bases and often ride their bikes to and from work just to get the necessary workouts needed to take on XTERRA.
“Todd will often ride his bike from his land in Laupahoehoe to his home in Volcano or vice versa as transportation,” McMahon said. “I have been caught using my bike as transportation to and from work in Volcano to Hilo High and back.”
Three to five hour bike rides are not uncommon for the duo and they are often regular members with a late Friday afternoon group that meets in Kulani at the Waiakea Forest Reserve.
“Our Friday group can have as many as 40 riders or as few at 10,” McMahon said. “The Kulani ride can be from one to two hours, but it is full on anaerobic, the entire time. It is a real hammer session that keeps us in a competitive mode. Besides being competitive the group is also very technology savvy and we have great fun.”
McMahon and Marohnic met each other 10 years ago and both believe that if they had never met that they would not be doing and entering the races that they do today.
“Todd and I will often do off beat workouts like riding up to Mauna Kea or into Waimanu Valley on our bikes or running at those locations,” McMahan said. “Todd and I train according to how we feel, not on a real set schedule. We often end up doing some pretty hard stuff.”
In the past the duo have gone to Oahu to compete at the Kualoa Ranch XTERRA Qualifier to earn a slot into XTERRA World Championships, but this year they were lucky enough to get their slots by winning one of the 60 lottery awards.
“We’ve always qualified prior to this year for XTERRA and we would have qualified again this year, but prior to the Oahu trip we found out that we were selected in the lottery,” McMahon said.
The XTERRA World Championships places a cap of 550 non professional competitors on Maui which makes entry into the race very selective and difficult to secure.
“XTERRA is challenging because it simple never lets you rest. There is not a part of the course that isn’t challenging,” McMahon said.
So why does he keep returning? “I keep coming back to Maui because, as Todd puts it, when you are competitive sometimes you never really feel like you’ve put something to bed. We still have that desire to keep challenging ourselves,” McMahon said.
McMahon finished the 2009 race with blisters on his feet and needed to throw away his shoes insoles.
“We really are just a bunch of old guys that haven’t yet figured out that we’re supposed to ride our bikes like sane people by the time we’re our age,” he said.