Xterra Triathlons (AKA off-road or cross triathlons) shake up the old swim-bike-run formula, taking it off the concrete and into the wild. Swim through open water, mountain bike over technical singletrack, trail run through rolling hills—sounds dreamy, doesn’t it? Whether you’re an experienced triathlete or a complete rookie, here are five reasons to compete in an Xterra triathlon.
1. Mountain Biking
Road cycling is a common deterrent to athletes interested in triathlons that have yet to make the move. Chalk it up to pavement paranoia, lack of a decent road bike or a strong preference for soul-feeding mountain biking. The biking section of an Xterra replaces competitive pressure with pure joy. It no longer feels like a race, you’re simply out ripping singletrack—and you just happen to be wearing a number.
The mellow vibes at the Desert’s Edge Xterra in Fruita, Colorado surprised us. Instead of elitism, we found accommodating smiles even from the elite racers. Prior to the start, experienced Xterra triathletes realized our rookie status and were quick to share advice. After, we chatted with a 15-year veteran and a first-place age group finisher. “I don’t even do regular triathlons anymore,” he said. “The people at Xterra events make these triathlons what they are. It’s so mellow.” We couldn’t agree more.
For an Xterra you need three things: open water, singletrack and running trails. Any area with this trio is likely to be A-Okay in our book. For the richest experience, camp with fellow entrants and don’t be in a rush to head home on race day.
With Xterra triathlons from Arkansas to Hawaii, there’s likely to be a race within easy range. Accessibility goes beyond sheer geography as anyone can compete in these races; all it takes is a bit of preparation and dedication. Xterras often land between sprint and Olympic triathlon standard distances, with faster courses like the Fruita Xterra well suited to beginners.
5. The “Off-Road” Factor
Much of the electricity generated by the Xterra is the “off-road” factor. Finish times are less correlated to carefully pruned transition times or on-bike aerodynamics. More likely, a cactus needle pops your tire or a stray root sends you sprawling. The wild card element is part of what makes Xterra so appealing.