Steamboat runner heading to XTERRA World Championship | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat runner heading to XTERRA World Championship

Austin Colbert

— It’s the food — in particular, the fresh sushi — that excites Steamboat Springs resident Penelope Freedman the most. The remainder of her upcoming trip to Hawaii is better characterized as nervous energy.

"I just hope I can do really well," Freedman said. "I'm so nervous, because I don't know quite what to expect. I've been watching videos of the race, and it just looks so intense. And the heat — I'm not good in the heat."

Freedman is headed to the Aloha State this week to compete in the 2015 Paul Mitchell XTERRA Trail Run World Championship at Kualoa Ranch, just north of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. According to the official Website, more than 2,000 runners are expected from across the world to participate in "The Crown Jewel of Trail Running."

XTERRA, which began in the mid 1990s as a triathlon in Maui, is one of the world's growing sports. Replacing road biking with mountain biking and road running with trail running, it offers smaller races worldwide. The Dec. 6 trail run, in which Freedman is competing, is exclusively a 21-kilometer, or 13-mile, trail run and is considered the pinnacle of trail running competition.

"She is a little nervous, and I'm a little nervous for her. We've done all the training possible," said Steamboat's Charlie Chase, Freedman's strength and conditioning coach. "She is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen. You ask her to do something, and she does it even more so. She just hammers it."

Chase will travel to Hawaii with Freedman this week, where the 32-year-old looks to continue the success she's had this year. Freedman was born and raised in South Africa before moving to New Zealand in her early teens. She traveled the world for many years as a snowboarder, which ultimately led her to Steamboat about three years ago.

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It wasn't until this summer, when she won the Steamboat Springs Running Series championship, that running became top priority in her athletic endeavors.

"Her physical side is there. She's had a tremendous season," Chase said. "Being 32, I think she is going to be all right. It comes down to genetic makeup. She has a real genetic gift — a young, genetic gift."

Despite her relative inexperience in competitive trail races, Freedman was an impressive force in the SSRS throughout the summer. Her confidence and desire to compete in the XTERRA world championship came largely after she finished second among women at the Backcountry Wilderness Half Marathon in Highland Ranch earlier this month; only Olympian Jess Petersson bested her time of one hour, 33 minutes and 55 seconds.

Next Sunday's half marathon in Hawaii will provide a number of different challenges, however. Not only is the competition expected to be stiff, but the jungle-heavy course is incredibly difficult, and the hot, damp conditions will be a stark contrast to the cold, mountainous terrain that has served as her Steamboat training grounds.

"The pro runners that have run it in the past, their times are not incredibly fast, which tells me the course is extremely difficult," Freedman said. "It's helped me a lot running on the ice and in deep snow. It helps me with balance and agility. But I'm really worried about the heat and the humidity. (I feel) I have a huge disadvantage."

Last year, former University of Oregon runner Kimber Mattox won the women's portion of the race in 1:32:44. Mattox will return this year to defend her title.

On the line is a $10,000 purse, with the top seven men and top seven women receiving prize money. And just as importantly for some, including Freedman, is the chance to earn big-name sponsors to help fund future events.

"Her drive is amazing," Chase said. "She can do these types of things at her age very readily and not have some terrible, bad effect later on in the week or later on in life. She has a real genetic gift to be able to do it."

To reach Austin Colbert, call 970-871-4204, email acolbert@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Austin_Colbert