Lake Placid residents create Xoona website for outdoor athletes who like to compete without the hassle or expense of entering races.
By Susan Bibeau
It’s two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and I really should be at the Explorer office designing the next issue. Instead, I’m taking a run on one of my favorite trails. Yes, you could say I’m playing hooky. You could also say I’m hard at work.
My assignment is to run 3.8 miles on the Jackrabbit Ski Trail to McKenzie Pond and back. Not a bad way to spend an hour or so, if you ask me. Today is hot and muggy, and the woods offer a cool, albeit buggy, respite from the heat. Ordinarily I would take a dip in the pond on a day like this, but I’m in the middle of a race. I may be by myself, but it’s still a race. When I get done, I’ll post my time on Xoona.com.
Xoona (pronounced ZOO-na) is an online community of trail runners, cross-country skiers, paddlers, bikers, and other outdoorsy athletes who like to compete for fun without the pressure or the expense of organized races. It’s also a good way for aspiring athletes to prepare for organized races.
The website is the brainchild of Peter Fish and Allan Rego, avid runners and outdoor enthusiasts who teach English and history, respectively, at the National Sports Academy in Lake Placid.
“If you are new to cycling and you show up at a race where everyone is decked out in spandex and riding an expensive bike, that’s intimidating,” Fish said. “Xoona lets people experiment with racing at their own comfort level.”
The idea came to Fish and Rego during their attempt to do a forty-mile ski tour that they called the “growler to growler.” The pair set out to ski from the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery to the summit of Mount Marcy (growler can mean a jug of beer or a small iceberg) and back. They failed to complete the trip but found plenty of time to develop the notion of a free racing site.
“We were too tired at the end to even drink a beer at the pub, but somehow we retained the idea of free self-timed racing,” Fish said.
Xoona was launched last fall with a number of ski routes in the vicinity of Lake Placid. The Lake Placid “hub,” sponsored by the Placid Planet bike shop, now boasts forty routes for ten sports. Xoona has also created hubs in Saranac Lake, sponsored by Adirondack Lakes and Trails, and in Burlington, Vermont, sponsored by the Skirack. Fish and Rego plan to establish hubs in other outdoor-oriented communities, such as Moab, Utah, and Boulder, Colorado.
The sponsors of the hubs select and map out the routes. They include something for everyone, from hardcore adventure racers to middle-aged weekend warriors like me. Some of the more challenging courses include the 5.1-mile trail run from Marcy Dam to the summit of Mount Marcy (to date, no one has posted a result) and the downhill ski run from Avalanche Pass to Marcy Dam (completed in 8:19 by “BiFF” on March 21). The more mellow-minded can run the 2.6-mile loop around Mirror Lake or paddle a 4.5-mile circuit of glacial ponds west of Upper Saranac Lake.
Membership is free. To participate, sign up, complete a route, and record your time on the course page. Results are posted on the course page and your profile page. If you don’t want to submit a time, you can simply note that you completed the course. Each course page contains a trail description and map and a list of the top ten times. There also are user comments that are fun to read and at times helpful. For instance, a runner recently posted about the 4.3-mile run from Connery Pond to Whiteface Landing: “Trees down after the thunderstorms last night and lots of washout.” Good to know.
Even if you’re not interested in racing, Xoona allows you to track your own progress over time and to compare yourself with others in your age group. It also provides an ever-growing list of routes to run, bike, ski, swim, and paddle.
Although the site features some epic routes, the goal of the founders was to make racing accessible to all athletes, whatever their level of expertise or the size of their pocketbook, and to foster a sense of community.
As a “middle-of-the-pack” competitor living in an area filled with Olympic athletes and Ironmen, I can relate to this. The local mini-triathlons held throughout the summer are often used as training races for visiting triathletes. Here one can see plenty of $600 wetsuits and $10,000 bicycles. It’s hard not to feel a sense of inadequacy if you are competing on a beat-up mountain bike.
Racing can become an expensive habit. The entry fee for this year’s Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid was $575. Local 5K and 10K races are $25 or $30 a pop. If you like to compete, the fees add up quickly. In contrast, Xoona provides the opportunity to race for free, though participants are encouraged to donate to a revolving list of local charities and organizations selected by the hubs.
That Xoona is a new venture is evident at times. Some of the courses have yet to attract more than a handful of competitors (or any, in the case of the run up Marcy). And the selection of routes remains somewhat limited. For example, there are no mountain-bike options on the Saranac Lake hub or trail-running options on the Burlington hub. If Xoona continues to grow, however, you may someday be able to choose from thousands of routes across the nation. If you’re traveling or on vacation, you would be able to find routes chosen by local experts.
For the moment, the excitement for me comes from knowing that the possibilities for competition are endless and right in my own back yard. I have a list of new routes to complete. I ponder this as I check my watch at the end of my Jackrabbit run: 44:32. It’s not my best time, but summer is just starting.