Redefining hardcore: Local tri-athletes at the top of their game

Dan Savickas

For some people, completing a triathlon is a life time achievement, for others it a weekend ritual.

Although San Diego is described by most outdoor enthusiasts as the triathlon Mecca because the weather is nearly perfect year round, there are a few Tahoe locals who would care to disagree.

A new type of triathlon has emerged in the past few years redefining the sport and the type of training it takes to be successful.

The Xterra USA Championship Series is the first extreme off-road triathlon event. Instead of road biking and running, the Xterra events feature mountain biking and trail running.

This makes Tahoe a key place to live and train for these events, and locals Conrad Snover, Zach Beekler and Ross McMahan are proving this very fact.

“Tahoe is a great place to get ready for these events,” said Beekler. “There’s Thursday night mountain bike races at Northstar, swimming in Donner Lake, and plenty of trails to run. The possibilities are endless.”

Snover and Beekler both live in Tahoe Donner while McMahan lives in Incline Village.

“The elevations at the Exterra events are usually pretty comparable to the elevation here in Tahoe,” Beekler said.

The Xterra series features 42 triathlons in 28 states. It breaks down into three regional events and 38 point series races. All of these races lead up to the USA Championship in Lake Tahoe Nevada on Sept. 28.

In each of the point series events, points are awarded to the top 10 finishers in each race for every age group.

Then the highest point scorers in each of the nine regions compete against each other for the title of National Champion in Tahoe.

Last year McMahan finished third in his age group at the USA Championships, while Snover finished fifth.

All of these athletes have a chance to qualify to compete in the World Championship held in Wailea Hawaii on Oct. 26.

Athletes can qualify for this race by scoring a certain number of points in the points and Regional Championship series or by placing in the top three at any of the three Championship series.

The first of these series took place at Big Bear Lake in the West Championship on May 31, and June 1.

The event consisted of 0.9-mile swim in Big Bear Lake, an 18.6-mile mountain bike up Snow Summit, and a trail run with two nearly vertical 500-foot climbs.

“The trail running section went straight up

Between the biking and trail running the course included over 2,700 feet of climbing.

“The run was the hardest route I’ve ever done. It started at 6,800 feet and consisted of two loops, each with 600 feet of climbing in one mile. Every single participant walked up the climbs,” said Snover. “It was literally walking up a blue ski run.”

The race took place at 6,744 feet; the elevation of Truckee ranges anywhere from 5,900 to 6,900 up to 7,200 feet, so the crew from Tahoe felt right at home.

“It was a well-suited course for me because it’s similar to the Tahoe course in terms of elevation and climbing,” said McMahan.

Although the course was tough, Beekler, Snover and McMahan managed to qualify for the World Championships.

McMahan took first place in the 30- to 34-year old age group, Beekler placed second in the 40- to 44-year old age group, and Snover took third in the 25- to 29-year old age group.

This was not the first Xterra race of the season for Snover and McMahan.

They both competed in the Lake Las Vegas Off-Road point series event in Henderson Nevada on March 29.

Snover placed first in his age group and finished fourth overall. McMahan finished second in his age group and 10th overall.

Then on May 17 McMahan finished third in his age group and fifth overall at the Yuba Rock and Road point series event in Levan Utah.

In their age groups, McMahan is currently ranked first, Snover third, and Beekler seventh in the overall points series.

Last year Snover finished first in the point series to become the South West Regional Champion; McMahan finished fourth.

Snover, Beekler and McMahan are not strictly Xterra competitors; they also compete in a number of other events around the area.

Early this spring Beekler, Snover and their friend Shannon Rahlves, another Tahoe local, took part in the Wildflower road triathlon with over 6,000 athletes.

This is the second biggest triathlon in the U.S.

Beekler finished second in his age group. Rahlves also finished second, and Snover came in third.

Rahlves was the defending champion at Wildflower and held the record for the amateur female division.

These competitions are not only a hobby for these athletes; it’s a lifestyle. Their weekends are booked with mountain biking races, road races, adventure challenges, road triathlons and Xterra triathlons.

All of these athletes agreed that training in Tahoe gives them an extra edge.

“Elevation is a factor for a lot of the athletes, but not for us,” McMahan said.

“When we go to race in the triathlons, a lot of them are at sea level so it’s a clear advantage for us to train up here,” Beekler said.

Whatever the reason for training up here, the athletes have an unbelievable work ethic and attitude.

“Ultimately why we do it is because we love the sports,” said Rahlves. “You get addicted. For me it just feels good, it’s a goal. I like competing and training. Each competition keeps your focus; it’s a reason and point to keep training.”

Each one of these competitors has their own philosophy and reasons for competing.

“For me the number one rule is, never call it training. This is fun for me,” Beekler said. “There’s so many ways to stay in shape and have fun. There’s Tuesday night Reno Wheelman road races, Wednesday rides with Paco’s bike shop, and they both have room for all levels of riders.”

McMahan competes in a few road races each year, but for the most part he sticks to adventure style racing. “For me it was a progression of looking for challenges. First it was road races, then triathlons and then off-road triathlons are a step up from that,” McMahan said.

This weekend McMahan and Rahlves are part of a four person team heading down to Yosemite to try and become Team Tahoe for the Subaru Primal Quest Expedition Adventure Race happening in Tahoe this Sept.

“I’m excited, it’s a new adventure,” Rahlves said.

Living in Tahoe has many advantages and opportunities to get out and challenge you while still enjoying the outdoors.

If you’re interested or inspired in the story of these athletes, there are plenty of chances to get involved right in your neighborhood.

Saturday July 19 the Donner Lake International Triathlon will be held in Truckee.

July 26 offers an opportunity to enter the Xterra High Sierra Mountain Bike Triathlon at Donner Lake.

On Saturday Sept. 12 the Tahoe Big Blue Adventure Race combines trail running, kayaking, mountain biking and high ropes challenges in the Tahoe area.

Then on Saturday Oct. 11, the Lake Tahoe Marathon has taken on a three-day triathlon.

The challenges are out there and your backyard has all of the necessary means to make dreams into reality.

Support Local Journalism


Support Local Journalism

Readers around Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and beyond make the Sierra Sun's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.