Parkite Stephen defends her title at XTERRA National Championships
Olympic and U.S. ski team member Liz Stephen had just completed three weeks of training in New Zealand. After a grueling regime day in and day out for nearly a month on top of a mountain, most people would want to take a break, be lazy for a little while and maybe partake in some Netflix binge-watching (something Stephen admits her coaches would prefer she do, as well).
But for Stephen, she was back on the competition trail, this time without skis.
At the XTERRA Trail Run National Championship race in Ogden, Utah last Saturday, Stephen decided to enter the 21-kilometer race as the two-time defending female champion. The Parkite made it three-straight titles at the event when she cruised to the finish line as the top female finisher at Snowbasin Resort in a time of 1:31:08, over eight minutes faster than her nearest competitor in the female division. Her first-place finish earned her a $1,000 prize.
“It’s really fun to win,” Stephen said. “The podium [finishes] aren’t every day, and they aren’t all the time, so it is special to stand on one, even if it’s not for my sport and it’s not what I’m pursuing exactly. … Running has always been a huge passion of mine, so it means a lot [to me], for sure.”
Growing up as an alpine skier in Vermont, Stephen was also an avid runner, competing for her high school’s cross country team. She even gave thought to competing at the collegiate level, but when she realized that skiing was what she wanted to pursue, she got the best of both worlds by switching to cross-country skiing in 10th grade.
While the two sports don’t go “super hand-in-hand,” according to Stephen, training as a cross-country skier does contain a lot of running. However, by focusing more on skiing and less on running these last three weeks in New Zealand, Stephen was feeling the pain of running the near half-marathon as soon as the first mile of the race.
“When people say, ‘Oh that was super fun!” Like, it’s not super fun from beginning to end,” said Stephen, who admits that she believes running can be harder than skiing. “There are times [when it hurts], especially in a running race, it’s a painful sport.”
But there’s a method to Stephen’s madness. By participating in the XTERRA National Championships, she is keeping her mind and body sharp in regards to racing. Training is important and necessary for success, but it’s an entirely different story when a race takes off.
“The [XTERRA] race was more to go out, have fun and to just remind your body [how to race]. I think it’s really important to remind your body, and actually your brain more, how to race and how it feels,” Stephen said.
For now, Stephen will take a much-needed break before participating in her team’s last training camp here in Park City towards the end of October. After that, she will be heading off to Europe to compete from November to late March, with potentially a break to come home and refresh her body and mind for a couple of weeks some time in between.
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