Branden Rakita is a strong American triathlete, one of those with a truly powerful physique. 1 meter and 85 cm of muscles make him a rouleur that, he declares, "the longer the race, the stronger I feel". In 1987 he ran his first triathlon, driven by legends like Ned Overend who ran through his Colorado and, from that day on, never stopped, until he became the American champion of XTERRA. For those who do not know this discipline, the XTERRA is an atypical triathlon, combining swimming, mountain biking, trail running and, according to the organizers, a part of "survival of the fittest"... which is all about the hardness of these races. We reach Branden at a difficult time because, in addition to the stop cause of Covid-19, he is facing a bad disease that affected his wife. Despite this, he had the urge to have a chat with us and introduce us to the iron warrior that is in him.
Hello Branden, It’s a pleasure to talk with a strong athlete like you. Your palmares is very rich… there’s a victory that you love much than others?
“I actually think the races I have not won I have loved more than others. XTERRA USA Champs in 2008 when I placed 5th was the first XTERRA when I knew I could contend. Then at XTERRA America Tour Champs last year when I was 3rd and was crowned USA National Champ was a race where I really fought for and put together a great race.”
What are you doing now?
“This year has been different for everyone and we are all dealing with it in our own way. But for me it has thrown an additional curveball at my wife and I as a month ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. That has added to the list of things we are fighting this year.”
We really hope that your wife will get well soon… I think that she is a fighter like you are...
“The outlook is very good, it certainly puts what is important in perspective. We saw this quote on the day we were meeting with our medical team to treat the cancer and it is as important as ever to live by: “Today, you could be standing next to someone trying their best to not fall apart. Whatever you do today, do it with kindness in your heart”.
A really nice quote and I think it will help you.
When and why did you start with endurance sports? I know that you made a lot of different sports!
“I come from a very active family, and my parents have always encouraged my sister and I to be active and get out and experience the world and enjoy being outside. For as long as I can remember being outside has been a release and a freedom for me so I spend as much time outside as possible.”
Right, your dad is an athlete too...
“My whole family is active but my dad has always been competitive and I got that from him. He was a football player in high school but after he moved to Colorado he was running marathons and then later started competing in triathlons. My mom has always enjoyed being outdoors running, hiking, cycling just for the enjoyment of it and that balance of competitiveness and enjoyment of being outside helps me balance things today. My parents have always encouraged me to go after my dreams and goals: they instilled a hard work ethic in me. I could not have become a professional triathlete and kept at this long without their support.”
You grew up in Colorado, I imagine that the off road is very simple to do… what kind of dirty roads and climbs do you have in your hometown and what are your favorite?
“Around Durango I would spend a lot of time on the Hermosa Creek Trail that I could ride to easily from my house and the other trails connecting in. In town the Horse Gulch trail system and Test Tracks which is now Overend Mountain Park in honor of Ned Overend would be some of my favorites. I am in Colorado Springs now and riding in Cheyenne Canon with the Mt Buckhorn and Captain Jacks trails are close and always fun to ride and were some of the original mountain bike trails and Gary Fishers has said that Jacks was one of his favorites.”
You said that MTB Legend Ned Overend is an inspiration for you… why? You also beaten him once!
“Ned is one of my sports heroes for a number of reasons. I have known him from a young age and part for his unbelievable accomplishments, he can still throw down with the youngsters but mainly for the type of person he is. He is extremely friendly and approachable and is one of those good people that has never stopped fostering the sport and is a big reason why some of the US best cyclists come out of Durango.”
The very beginning of the MTB movement has been awesome in Colorado, it was the “capital” of the MTB. I remember that, when i was a kid in the eighties in Italy, roadies seems old and boring to my eyes, they were only looking to performance… MTB was fun, colourful, pink and orange, craziness, plus the american dream: just cool...
“Growing up in Colorado, and Durango especially, it was very easy to be inspired to get out and ride as that was the local culture. There is a great trail network in Durango and with the first UCI Mountain Bike World Championship held there everyone wanted to be out riding. All the new companies that were getting started were born in mountain biking at that time. The stories of how they all got started out of the back of vans or a logo for a brand was looked like heroin lines and it was a much more layed back attitude and is more welcoming than the road scene. This also meshed well with the vibe in Durango and a reason why it is the original mountain bike capital of the world.”
What Effetto Mariposa’s products do you use and why does it helps you?
“I use almost the entire line of products from Effetto Mariposa, ever since I was introduced to Caffélatex when I started working at a bike shop in 2007. I have used it and every other item in the Caffelatex family ever since. The added sealing capabilities from the additive Vitamina CL goes in to every mountain bike tire I install. The compact Giustaforza torque wrench is very convenient and allows me to make sure everything is tight so I never worry about my setup before races. I am using the Tyreinvader insert and it is just a nice peace of mind that I am protecting my wheels and tires a bit more and don’t have to worry about flats. I carry the Espresso repair cartridge with me when I am racing just in case I really damaged the tire and need extra sealant to help get me through the course.” Once, when I was still racing road triathlons, I got a huge slice in my tubular tire during a pre-ride. I had a roll of Carogna with me and was able to easily and quickly mount a new tire and was able to pre-ride the next day and race.”
Run, swim, pedaling… you do all of them. But what’s your favorite discipline?
“I would have to say that mountain biking is my favorite as it makes it a bit easier to get further out into the mountains but trail running is a close second.”
The “XTERRA” is now a race format famous in all the world. Can you describe the emotions to ride it?
“The XTERRA community is a very close knit family of athletes and very welcoming as well. I have met people from around the world who are incredibly supportive and we can be fierce competitors on the race course but then immediately have a drink together afterward. We have the same passion to just get out and enjoy swimming, riding and running.”
And what is the main difference between an “XTERRA” and a road triathlon?
“There are two differences, the first is of course that XTERRA is an off-road triathlon. The swim is similar just any body of water we can find, then we have more fun on the bike since it is a mountain bike instead of on the road and then a trail run. The second difference is that we are much more laid back and relaxed than the road scene. We still work just as hard but we like to have fun during training and racing as well.”
“Hesitation is devastation” is a quote by Conrad Stoltz… what does it mean in sports?
“Though the main meaning is if you are approaching an obstacle on the mountain bike and you hesitate and slow down then you will either crash or be getting off the bike and have to walk, you need to commit to doing whatever is ahead of you. You can apply this to any scenario though as well, and always want to keep pushing forward you don’t want to sit back and wait.”
Can you tell us a typical week of training?
“In a normal year a typical week would be 5 swims totaling, about 5 hrs getting in 15-20 km. Cycling 4-5 days around 10 hours with a mix on the road bike and on the mountain bike. Running will be 4-5 days as well around 5 hrs as well, with a mix of road and trail running. As well, I will have 2 hard sessions with each sport, one long endurance and then the others recovery and/or base miles. I will do some strength training during the week as well and try to stretch and foam roll too.”
Well, that's a lot of work! When we get back from Covid-19, do you already have some races in your calendar?
“This is a bit of an odd year with what is going on, in June all of the XTERRA races were officially cancelled. I continue to look at the calendar to fill in races and I may do the Pikes Peak Apex in September which is a new mountain bike stage race in Colorado Springs on my home trails. I am also looking for some other challenges like an Everesting attempt, or maybe a mountain marathon or trying to steal some KOM’s for motivation or non structured hard sessions.”