More than just a pretty place, Maui’s a terrain to train and will host the 2012 Xterra World Championships this weekend.
On Maui’s Gold Coast on the southwestern side of the island, the aquamarine Pacific Ocean offers a visibility so clear that the sandy khaki-colored sea floor seems almost within reach. At a perfect 72 degrees most of the year, ocean training swims come with paradisiacal accompaniment. Humpback whales sing to one another during the winter breeding and birthing season, and shimmering schools of fish dart through vibrant coral hues in leagues of blue. Welcome to the home of the Xterra World Championship.
As the world’s premier off-road triathlon, Xterra combines a 1.5K (0.9-mile) rough-water swim, a 29.5K (18.3-mile) mountain bike ride and a 9.8K (6.1-mile) trail run which, when it comes to Maui, is best described by Xterra as a “tropical roller coaster ride through pineapple fields and forest.” This year’s Xterra World Championship will be held on Oct. 28 in Kapalua, and 800 amateur and professional athletes from around the world plan to participate.
Maui has plenty of things in abundant supply: 80-degree weather almost year-round, natural training grounds as challenging as they are beautiful, and most importantly, a whole island of friendly folks. This means that wherever you go, a newfound friend is just a shaka wave away.
It starts with Donnie Arnoult, owner of Maui Cyclery and widely renowned as the go-to cycling guy for all things endurance race-related. Having raced Xterra before, Donnie is readily available to support everyone from novice and intermediate riders to professional athletes. Cyclists can meet at his shop in Paia at 8:30 a.m. for guided tours and supported three-hour rides almost every morning. “There are plenty of rides in Maui, including the longest paved climb in the world. From sea level to the top of Haleakala crater is 36 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing.”
And, as an avid outdoor enthusiast who’s lived on the island for the past 10 years and worked with countless noteworthy competitors, Donnie has plenty of tips to share. “A lot of pro-triathletes come train here in the off-season,” he says. Pro triathletes such as two-time Olympic medalist Simon Whitfield, three-time Xterra world champion Melanie McQuaid and four-time Xterra world champ Conrad Stoltz spend time in the winter months in Maui. “I’d suggest coming in a couple of weeks in advance of the race to train to win. You’ve got to get used to the heat—October is usually the hottest month on Maui—and get acclimated to the humidity and the weather. Xterra has pretty tough climbing through Kapalua.”
Locals suggest three amazing must-do rides while on Maui: (1) Haleakala Climb, 36 miles and 10,000 feet of vertical riding that starts in Paia at the intersection of Hana Highway and Baldwin; (2) Road to Hana, a breathtaking journey that starts in South Maui or Twin Falls in Paia, with the option to go out and back or make the full 115-mile loop; and (3) West Maui Circle, a 60-mile ride that features “Mr. Steepy,” an incredible incline you’ll never forget.
David Scibor, who has enjoyed living and training on the island over the past several years, also suggests one very special experience not to be missed. “You’ve got to get the banana bread and shaved ice from Lorraine’s in Kahakaloa. It’s owned by a local Hawaiian couple, where they grow bananas on property and bake the bread daily.
For more off-road rides, visit Makawao State Forest where single-track trails abound. One of the lesser-known places to bike, Makawao features rides that traverse through a variety of forests that are challenging, steep and technical. Because it’s higher in elevation than Kapalua, the temperatures tend to be a bit cooler.
The Poli Poli State Forest above Kula provides 4,000–6,500 feet of up-and-up trails ranging from 3–10 miles and several longer trails that take you through redwood forest. Also, the historic Lahaina Pali trail stretches over the southern part of the West Maui Mountains and offers a very scenic and difficult one-way, 5-mile trail run with an elevation gain of 1,500 feet. In the 1800s, this was the main trail to Lahaina by horse or by foot. It now offers uneven rocky terrain, hearty sunshine, windmills and amazing coastline views throughout an incredible strength workout.
Depending on what type of swim workout you have in mind, you can swim along the coastline of Kama’ole One in Kihei for 800–900 yards, watched over by lifeguards, and repeat laps for Olympic-distance swims. A Masters group meets on Sunday mornings in front of Makena Beach Resort at 9 a.m. The slower you go, the more you can take in the coral, fish and manta rays. Whether a competitor, weekend warrior or supporting family member, everyone can participate. Another local tidbit is that the public pool in Kihei is accessible to everyone—at no cost. In fact, Xterra champions may just jump into the lane next to you.
With all the Xterra fanfare around Kapalua, the perfect remedy for crowd-free training and genuine relaxation is the Four Seasons in Maui. Everywhere you look, the ocean follows in view. An infinity Serenity Pool is reserved for individuals 21 and over (notice the classical music piped underwater as you swim), which is balanced by a complimentary family-friendly Kids Center (on-call nannies are also available). The Four Seasons even offers a running trail that continues all the way to La Perouse Bay at the southernmost tip of the island, where you can traverse lava rocks that the ancient Hawaiians once trod.
For a post-race celebratory dinner, make reservations at Duo, headed by chef Chris Galliciano, featuring locally grown fish and vegetables that may very well become one of the most memorable dining experiences of the decade.
If You Go…
» The official host hotel of the Xterra World Championship and location of the start and finish is the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua (Ritzcarlton.com). An ultra convenient location at the center of race HQ, the Ritz offers quintessential luxury accommodations amid a stunning tropical beachfront setting.
» For the bed-and-breakfast experience, consider these options: Paia Inn Hotel in Paia (Paiainn.com), Hale Ho’omana Bed & Breakfast (Halehoomana.com) or Windward Garden (Windwardgardenbandb.com) in Makawao or What a Wonderful World B&B in Kihei (Amauibedandbreakfast.com).