Reasons to Run: XTERRA is no ordinary triathlon

Published: Friday, Sept. 30 2011 1:46 p.m. MDT

The XTERRA finish line

Photo by Shanell Dunn

"So how long was your tri?" my friends always seem to ask."Was it an Olympic or just a sprint distance?" I can easily reply after a "normal" road triathlon, but with my race last weekend, I’m not really sure how to respond.

Last Saturday I competed in my second XTERRA Utah Off-road Triathlon in Ogden, Utah, (one of more than 70 XTERRA races across the U.S.held every year). Anyone who has raced it knows the XTERRA is no ordinary triathlon.

For starters, the XTERRA is an off-road tri, which means swimming in rivers, reservoirs, lakes and oceans; biking through windy single-track canyons; and running up mountain trails.

In the XTERRA, there aren’t sprint or Olympic distances; instead, there are just two courses, one short and one long (hence the reason I don't know how to respond when my friends ask me how long my tri was). For the Ogden XTERRA, the short course consists of a 750m (about .5 mi) swim, a 19k (12 mi) mountain bike ride and a 7k (4.3 mi) trail run. The long course is a 1500m (about 1 mi) swim, 28k (17.5 mi) mountain bike ride and a 9.8k run (6.1 mi).

For those unfamiliar with triathlons, the XTERRA distances are different than your standard triathlon, and explaining this kind of triathlon is made more difficult by the fact that comparing road to off-road is like comparing apples to oranges.

I did a road tri about two months prior to the XTERRA, and my overall time was barely longer on the Olympic road distance than the XTERRA short course. For example, on the road tri, I completed the 25 mi bike leg in about 1 hour 6 minutes while the 12 mi XTERRA bike leg took me about 1 hour 27 minutes.

The steep, windy, uphill trails and unique distances provide an added challenge, but they aren't the only things that turn the XTERRA into a whole different tri. This year I decided to take some time and ask a few of the participants why they do the XTERRA over a "normal" road tri. Here are some of the responses I got:

Jennifer Hollibaugh, an XTERRA national championship athlete, said she loves the XTERRA because she loves mountain biking and trail running.

Others shared that sentiment.

"You don't want to be pounding the pavement for an hour. You want to be out in the mountains!" said Park City native Andy Ostler.

"Doing an off-road triathlon is so much more cool!" Cori Biggs, XTERRA long course participant said. "The off-road triathletes are just so much more down to earth, more fun, more friendly, and it’s so much more of an adventure. I've done up to half Ironmans and this is where it’s at. Right here. Just the atmosphere around here, the trails, and the trail running up in these beautiful mountains, it's just so much better."

Stuart Johnson also from Park City, Utah, said, "In a road triathlon it's kind of just like grid and go, and you just put your head down and crank as hard as you can. [The XTERRA] adds a whole different level of excitement."

While most enjoy the added excitement, Tim Sandell and Jeremy Smith, both long course participants, say they just need something alittle different than a road triathlon.

As for me, I side with Cori. The XTERRA really is a whole different experience: the people, the technical mountain biking trails, the majestic mountains. It's incredible.

So, whether you want more excitement or just something a little different, I highly recommend you try an XTERRA.

Logan Dunn works on the Deseret News online products team, where he manages the social media accounts for the Deseret News as well as other online development projects. Logan loves cycling, swimming and occasionally running.

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