Sometimes we feel like when we do something and progress, we have to follow a natural order of progression. Case in point: you do a few sprint triathlons and then you feel like you need to move up to an Olympic. Most people feel like after doing a few Olympics the next step is doing a Half Ironman, or a 70.3 distance. But what if that’s not your right fit? After all, not everyone has the time or dedication or desire to do a long course triathlon. So what are your options? Well, you can stick with short course and medium course triathlons, which is perfectly fine, or you can venture into a whole other world. A world so wild and crazy, it goes against everything you’ve learned about triathlons and training and avoiding injuries because crashing and blood are a normal part of this world. This is a realm of true grit and craziness. I’m talking about the world of Off Road Triathlons.
“What does that mean?” you ask.
Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a triathlon… that is off road.
For starters, it means you get to buy a new bike (yay!) and new shoes (double yay!) because you will not be taking your road bike or tri bike or running shoes out on these courses. Nope, you will be riding on single track trails.
“What’s single track?” you’re probably wondering.
OK, remember when you started doing triathlons you learned all this cool lingo like bricks and OWS and you thought you were super cool because you now knew how to break the triathlete code? Well, you’re about to get even cooler because there’s new lingo like singletrack, xc, full suspension, hard tail, and I’ll break it down in a second.
For starters, the concept of an off road triathlon is the same as a triathlon. You start with a swim, followed by a bike, and finish with a run. For a sprint, the swim portions are usually a little longer. While a road sprint is traditionally somewhere between 500 and 600 meters, an off road tri is going to be around 750 meters. The bike portion is shorter. A road sprint is usually around 13 – 15 miles, off road is around 10 and that can be more or less depending on a trail. I’ve done an Xterra triathlon that said 10 miles and it was actually only 8. Finally, the run is the same. A 5K. But because you’re on a trail, that distance can also vary slightly shorter or longer because it’s not like a road where you can set a course and it be perfectly 5Ks.
So why are there such differences in the distances? Easy. Off Road Triathlons are traditionally more difficult than road triathlons. They extend the swim to make that part harder. The bike is shorter because you’re dealing with elevation changes, technical terrain like rocks and roots, climbs that may include said rocks and roots, and descends that may also include rocks and roots.
So let’s look at a few key words:
Climb – going up a hill
Descent – going down a hill
Switchback – winding trail that makes going up or down hills less steep
Hardtail – a bike that only has shocks in the front
Full Suspension/Soft tail – a bike that has shocks in the front and rear and the frame is composed of 2 separate parts
Single track – a trail that is wide enough for one person or bike at a time
XC – Cross country – a variety of surfaces to include dirt, gravel, grass, roads
MTB – mountain bike
Technical – areas that present challenges like rocks or roots
Bunny hop – when you press the weight of your body onto your grips and thrust upward to lift the front end of your bike. Additional bunny hops can include a follow through to press on your pedals to lift the rear end of your bike.
You don’t have to clip in to your mountain bike, but it helps just like with a road bike where you have that push and pull power so it makes you more efficient, but it also makes falling and crashing a lot easier. When you do fall, stay with your bike if possible. I say when because everyone falls. It happens. When you’re riding, pay attention to what’s ahead of you looking out far enough based on your speed. Some people say look out 50 yards or so, I say it’s like driving, if you’re going slow you’re not looking way out, if you’re going fast, you’re looking way out. But never look at your feet, that’s how you crash. When you go up hills, sit towards the front of your bike, and when going down hills, sit towards the back of your saddle and stay low. You may see pros sometimes completely off their saddles behind and under with their stomachs on their saddles. Easy up cowgirl, you’re not there yet. When you’re rolling over logs or rocks, keep speed and keep your pedals at 9:00 and 3:00, or 0 and 180 degrees and get a bunny hop start and ride through. That’s the basics to the bike portion.
For the run, there’s not too much different than road running. You want good form. You want to look out ahead based on your speed like with the bike. You will also notice you will be going slower than you would if you were on a road. The same goes for the bike, you’ll be much slower on your bike than you would on a road. With the run, when you fall, try to protect your vital organs. Fall on your forearms if possible as they’re kind of useless. Be loose, you’ll do less damage rolling a loose ankle than a tense one.
I know a lot of this sounds scary but they’re fun. And if this doesn’t seem like your thing, don’t worry. Just do what makes you happy!
Written By: Jenny Teague, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Jenny on Instagram @adventuresintraining
Do you follow your own path? If so, tell us about it in the comments below!