What You Need To Know For Your First XTERRA Triathlon

In this post, I’ll share some tips on how to have a fun, fast, and safe XTERRA racing experience. If you are unfamiliar with off-road triathlons and why you might want to join in on the action in 2014, check out my introductory article here.

Picture of a steep singletrack trails in a lush green forest

Add a splash of off-road adventure to your triathlon schedule in 2014

Finding the perfect race:

With an extensive global tour and over 60 races already announced for the 2014 US tour, you’re bound to find a great event within a reasonable driving distance of your home. If you enjoy a larger, festival-type race atmosphere with a professional field, sign up for one of the XTERRA regional championship races. You could punch your ticket to the world championships in the process. Your age-group results at the US series events will earn you points towards qualification for the national championship in Odgen, UT.

Equipment Considerations:

Bike with transition gear including helmet, socks, bike shoes, and running shoes

All set-up in transition

The swim in XTERRA triathlons follows the same USAT guidelines for wetsuit use as with on-road triathlons. If you own a wetsuit and it’s allowed in the race, use it, it will make your swim faster. For the bike leg, only mountain bikes are allowed for competition (no cross bikes, BMX bikes, etc.) As is good practice before any bike ride, do a quick maintenance check before hitting the trails:

    • Inspect the tires for wear and trail debris, and inflate the tires to your preference within the specified range
    • Check that the front/rear suspension are properly tuned
    • Lubricate the chain
    • Check that the wheels are true, spinning freely, and that there is no play in the hubs, also check for even spoke tension
    • Check the brakes pads for excessive wear and check your brake power and modulation
    • Shift through your entire gear range to make sure the shifter cables are working properly and front and rear derailleur are properly adjusted
    • Make sure all bolts are properly tightened and there is no play in the crankset

If you don’t already have a tubeless setup, making the switch may be the biggest performance enhancement you can make to your current bike. Riding with tubeless tires eliminates the risk of pinch flats and allows you to ride with lower air pressure, which greatly improves traction and control. As crashes and brush-ups with dangling tree branches are far more likely on trails than road riding, I always wear gloves and sunglasses. The chances of flatting and/or having a mechanical are also much greater off-road. Accordingly, I carry a hex-key, chain breaker, spare tube and tire levers, pump and/or CO2 with me when riding.  In a race, I’ll carry tools in a saddle bag and/or tape them to my seat post. I’ve also seen racers store tools in a hydration pack or empty water bottle.

As for the run…

A rare straight-line section of singletrack

On tame trails like this, regular road shoes will do just fine

All four climbs were required to navigate this boulder section

If your run course looks more like this, you’ll want the added grip and underfoot/toe protection of a trail running shoe

Pre-Race essentials:

The most important thing to do before any off-road triathlon is to pre-ride the bike course.  As an example, here’s a full recon of the XTERRA East Championship race. Learning the course, including all of the twists, turns, and technical sections, is much more enjoyable and safe during a low-key recon ride than in the heat of a race. For the same reason, check out the run course in advance as well. If you haven’t ridden trails in close proximity to other riders before, I’d strongly recommend going on a group ride with your local MTB organization. This is a great way to meet other riders and enhance your skills.

Race Strategy:

In XTERRA, you are racing the course in addition to your fellow competitors.  Nothing will derail your race faster than a hard fall; learn the terrain and ride within your limits. Use downhill sections to relax and lower your heart rate. Focus on your technique as you carve corners, navigate obstacles, and pump the terrain for free speed. Try to stay just under your red line for the duration of the race; if you go out too hard, you may find yourself crawling to the finish line. Most of all, live in the moment. Enjoy the natural surroundings and the rush of pushing your body to its limits.

Bucket List Races:

Bag two birds with one stone by completing an XTERRA and riding an IMBA EPIC trail at Lake Tahoe, Southeast Championship, or Tsali, NC. The national and world championships are also located at stunning venues that are perfect for mixing vacation and racing.

If you have any other tips, please share your own advice and off-road experiences in the comments below.

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4 Responses to What You Need To Know For Your First XTERRA Triathlon

  1. norsemen1984 says:

    Thanks for the article, I’ve shared it with the XTERRA England audience.


  2. Oshri says:

    Awesome- may you have many, many fantastic races this year and enjoy all the views along the way. Looking forward to joining you at one of them when you come out a little closer to this end of the continent.

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