The XTERRA World Championships are never short of challenges and today’s race in Maui, Hawaii, threw everything at every athlete and Braden Currie rated it as his toughest off-road triathlon.

Pounding swells and a brutally muddy mountain bike saw the Red Bull endurance athlete finish in fourth place, while still managing to beat one of his closest rivals, Josiah Middaugh, and claim the second fastest run split of the day.

Currie experienced highs through the 1.5km swim and lows on the 32km mountain bike - that climbed 1000m up and down the lower slopes of the West Maui Mountains - before finishing strongly on the 10.5km trail run in 2:55:49.

“I had the build-up that I had been wanting and I felt readier than ever and more confident than ever to win an XTERRA world title. But the day seemed to throw more at me than perhaps I was prepared for,” Wanaka’s Currie (30) says.

Torrential rain squalls and crazy winds over the past week made for heavy surf on the ocean swim. Currie entered the water among the field of 45 elite men and found himself in some clear water on his own, with a good lead to some of the top swimmers.

Exiting the water about 30-40 seconds back on the leaders - two swim specialists Courtney Atkinson and Ben Allen - Currie was in a group of four for the long run up to the bikes.

He had a quick transition and went into the ride in fourth - ready to work his way up to the lead. New-to-XTERRA athlete Mauricio Mendez (MEX) was 10 secs in front of Currie with Atkinson and Allen just ahead of him.

“Last year we rode roughly eight minutes quicker than Mendez and Allen so I felt comfortable where I was. But those two were working fantastic together and after around half an hour of riding I couldn’t’t seem to be able to bridge the gap and started trying to settle into my own tempo. Conditions were incredibly challenging and with the lack of traction, it was near impossible to push your physical limits. Every time I worked as hard as I could, I tended to spin out and lose traction so I had to pull back just to stay on my bike,” Currie says.

Braden Currie on the bikeBraden Currie on the bike
(Photo: Georgia Schofield; click to enlarge)

About 30 mins into the ride, Spain’s Ruben Ruzafa shot past at his normal ferocious pace. A three-time XTERRA world champion and extremely experienced mountain biker, he brought a downhill tyre to Hawaii.

“It was an incredible move that saw him be able to ride with a huge amount of traction and grip, which enabled him to ride away from the entire field by five-plus minutes. I raced Ruzafa about nine times in Europe two years ago and I am not foreign to having him hand it to me on the bike, but I really felt like I had narrowed the gap this year. So it was incredibly frustrating for me as I couldn’t race the race I knew I was capable of, because the conditions were just so loose,” Currie says.

He believes there would have been very few people who got away without a mechanical on the bike due to the muddy conditions but for Currie it came towards the end.

“At about 19km my shifter cable became clogged with mud and the rear derailleur got to a point where I could only stay in my highest gear. Working at a really high cadence on the flats and bleeding time through some of the final sections of the course, I ended up losing an additional four minutes over 7km, which I knew was going to put me in a tough position on the run.”

Heading onto the run in sixth, close behind Middaugh, Currie knew that it was going to be a hard day to beat him in the run. He also knew if he was going to have a chance at the podium that the United States athlete and defending XTERRA champ was going to be the guy that would push him to his limit.

“We battled consistently for over half the climb. Josiah was running well but wasn’t looking as strong as I have seen him before. As we neared the top I started a conversation to see where he was really at. My comment was ‘I am sure Ben Allen can’t be running this fast’. Josiah denied to reply, which gave me a good sense that he was right on his limit. At this point I accelerated and ran away from him on the last of the climbs,” Currie said.

At the top of the run Currie managed to pass Costa Rica’s Leonardo Chacon to move into fourth, believing that he could run his way onto the podium.

Braden Currie on the runBraden Currie on the run
(Photo: Georgia Schofield; click to enlarge)

“I kept pushing as hard as I could all the way to the end but today was not to be. I’m happy that I managed the second fastest run of the day, but that didn’t make up for sixth on the bike. Huge congrats to Ben on his third place, Ruben for his runner-up position, and the winner Mendez for laying it all out there,” Currie says.

He will take away some more learnings from the challenging conditions and pushing himself to the edge of his limits.

“And hey at the end of the day, fourth in the world ain’t that bad!”