You love to mountain bike and run on trails, and you can swim 500-meters without drowning. “Why not do an off-road triathlon?” you think. “It can’t be that hard, right?”
Excellent decision! There is no better way to dive into the wonderful world of off-road racing than to well … just dive in. And, with just a little bit of guidance and work, it’s not that hard.
Simple, it’s swim-bike-run but all off-road. XTERRA has races at sea level and altitude, with swims in lakes, rivers, and oceans – in big cities and small towns – from one end of the earth to the other. While each race offers up its own unique set of challenges, there is one constant … the people and their adventurous “Live More” spirit that unites the XTERRA community.
While no two courses are alike, the traditional “full-distance” XTERRA off-road triathlon mixes a 1.5K swim with a 30K mountain bike and 10K trail run. A “sprint” distance is half that, and in some destinations XTERRA offers even shorter distance events called the “Xticer”.
Where do I start?
Over and over again people ask me—how do I become an XTERRA athlete? Where do I start? What do I do? Of course, swimming, mountain biking, and running are key—as that is what makes up an XTERRA race. That being said, there are two major components to get from the couch to the finish of a first (or next) XTERRA. These qualities are important to embody for a first race, sure. But even more so, the qualities are paramount as you get farther down the road in the sport—when going from a shorter distance to a longer distance, feeling overwhelmed and burned out, or facing your first DNS or DNF.
First, Make a Decision
Every action starts with a decision. Whether it’s deciding to make pancakes for breakfast or dye your hair purple. Deciding to do an off-road triathlon is indeed a big decision, but once you have made the decision to do something, you, in turn, ignite the passion, the desire and purpose to take action. So if you want to be an XTERRA athlete or do an XTERRA, decide that you WILL and make the promise to yourself.
Once you do your first off-road race, you’ll never see tri the same way again. I should know – I raced my first XTERRA in Lake Tahoe a decade ago and fell in love with the chill vibe that comes from forgetting about aerodynamics and focusing on the fun of going where cars can’t.
Next, Be Tenacious!
The decision has been made. Now it’s time to be tenacious. I love that word because it implies a dogged determination, a spunky, fierce, and unrelenting desire to do something and to do it well. When it comes to training, I am tenacious. When it comes to setting a goal and chasing after it, I am tenacious. I am not the most talented athlete when it comes to swimming, mountain biking, and running, but I am good enough. The difference? When I make a decision to do something—whether it’s to finish a race or win it—I am relentless in the pursuit of that goal. I may not always get the desired outcome, but at least I know I did everything I could and I never quit when faced with adversity.
It’s the coolest, most diverse, challenging and funnest competition ever!
The key is, once you’ve made the decision to become an XTERRA athlete, then get after it—be strong and unyielding and keep on trucking. This is your decision, your goal, and how you approach it is solely up to you. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to what others are doing. And definitely don’t let others’ opinions of what you’re doing bother you (some will undoubtedly think you’re crazy, that’s okay!). Just make a plan and stick to it. Stay focused, keep your eye on the goal, and let everyone else do their own thing.
One of the toughest things I’ve ever done, but well worth it
Now, a few words of wisdom about what’s in store for you. You will not become efficient at swimming, mountain biking, or running overnight. This is not an easy sport. You should plan on checking your ego at the door because chances are someone thirty pounds heavier and ten years older than you will repeatedly lap you in the pool. You will get passed on the mountain bike trails and you will crash frequently. Furthermore, getting fast on trails is a lot harder than you think. You will get up early to train. You will train on weekends when your friends and family are hanging out. You will spend money on all kinds of gear (that’s actually the fun part!).
Some days you will look forward to your workouts, and other days you will want to hide in a closet. You will suffer badly through some workouts and others will make you feel like a million bucks. You might develop an injury. You will probably spend more time in the pool than you want. You will always smell like chlorine. You will eventually get over your fear of the open water. You will learn to be patient. You will learn to be humble. You will learn to fight. You will learn that pain is sometimes enjoyable. But most of all, through all the sweat and occasional tears, you will realize that this decision to do an XTERRA is one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.
Running through the finishing chute that morning was like traveling in time back to some of my first triathlons in the early 1980s. The scene in the transition area was very festive and low-key. People were laughing, displaying battle scars and not really talking about their times or where they finished up, but about the adventures they encountered along the way—how they were reduced to a crawl up the steepest hill on the run or the various ways they went over a ravine we were forced to cross on the mountain bike course.
XTERRA will change your outlook on life and many other things you thought you had figured out. It’s not just crossing that finish line or going home with a finisher medal. It’s the countless hours that got you to that point—a moment in time that you will never forget, a moment that you will discuss with your family and friends for hours if not days after the event. These discussions will most likely be about how much fun you had and about how you can improve. You’ll go through all the details of the race—at what point could you have swum faster, biked harder or ran faster? This is what will go through your head every day until you get the opportunity to participate again!
So you wanna be an XTERRA athlete? Be relentless, fearless, train as hard as you can, and most of all, enjoy the ride!
A cyclist, tech geek at heart, a passion for new shiny things and a huge appetite for triathlon. I spend most of my time between managing two of the world's best triathletes and a traditional corporate life.