At their core, endurance sports are gratifying conquests. Pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits helps you learn, grow, and stay healthy. However, simply overcoming a difficult task lacks a certain allure to keep athletes continuing year after year after year. A good way to really transform a challenge into a lifestyle is to incorporate healthy doses of joy, camaraderie, variation, and sustainability. These four characteristics are in essence, the spirit of off-road triathlon and that’s what keeps those type of athletes coming back again and again.
These four traits were perfectly represented at two separate events that happened on June 3rd and 4th – XTERRA Deuces Wild and USA Triathlon Off-Road National Champs (aka Gator Terra). Both of these races have been around for years because they consistently incorporate these fundamental characteristics.
Joy – Simply Because It’s Fun
Hang out with an off-road triathlete while training or racing and they’ll talk about how fun it is. Fun. Fun is a word that is used constantly to describe the sport whether it’s referring to ripping up a sweet piece of single track, taking part in an epic race, hanging out and laughing with your friends, challenging yourself to become better, or just enjoying being outside and active.
Seven time world champ, Conrad “The Caveman” Stoltz, would often be heard saying something along the lines of “Would you rather stare at a white line for 8 hours or fly through the woods, hopping logs, railing around corners, splashing through creeks and puddles, and playing in the mud like a kid. I like this sport because it’s a fun challenge.” If that doesn’t sound entertaining and engaging, what does?!
USA Triathlon Off-Road National Champs this year could have easily been described as miserable or over the top when the skies decided to open up and absolutely down pour on the athletes. It turned single track trails into single track rivers. The athletes were slipping and sliding everywhere. There was so much mud it was difficult to even keep your eyes open without them being filled with flying mud. And how did the racers respond to all of this? They loved it! They said it was a huge challenge, but in the end, they were stoked that mother nature couldn’t stop them that day.
Camaraderie – Competitors and Friends
When your competition is not only the athletes around you, but the course itself, something changes in your mentality. You see the people around you as comrades – both of you battling the obstacles nature has laid in front of you. The competitive drive and desire to win doesn’t diminish, however a unique bond is forged through mutual suffering. Visit any off-road event and pre-race you’ll see the venue filled with smiling faces of friends re-connecting and rejoicing in happy memories. Post-race it’s beers, goofiness, and laughter.
“You know what I love about XTERRA? The races are really just the excuse to get together with friends, share stories and make memories together that we will replay in our heads for years to come. This weekend was full of such great ones. Fred Phillips of DTL Events and his crew took a championship event and made it just that, but didn’t lose the feel of small town grass roots racing that I love.” – Deanna McCurdy, Overall female winner at USA Triathlon Off-Road National Champs.
Variation – Something New Every Time
Routine is good, but monotony is bad. Off-road is the perfect avenue to apply that mantra. There is always change. Whether it’s day to day or year to year, the training, the trails, the races are never quite the same. Some athletes thrive on the repetitiveness of endurance sports, but most humans get bored of doing the same thing over and over again. Off-road tri is an experience that varies constantly.
USA Triathlon Off-Road Nats had some unexpected weather that changed the trails from ‘hero dirt’ to ‘single track rivers’. Read the full story about one of the wettest races ever.
At XTERRA Deuces Wild, with less than 1 mile to go on the run, the race directors added in a peculiar feature. Athletes were led to the waters’ edge and told to jump in for a 50 meter swim. Motivated by the crowds on the hill above and the refreshing cold water on a hot day, the athletes powered through to the finish. After crossing the line they gleefully recalled the details of the race and how you’d only find those elements in off-road triathlon.
XTERRA Deuces Wild mixed things up this year with their athlete swag as well. Rather than the typical race t-shirt, they gave participants a fleece blanket and neck buff branded with the race logo. They also got creative with the finishers medal and awards.
Sustainability – Creating a Lifestyle, Not a One Time Goal
Endurance sports can sometimes be a strain on “normal life” due to the large time requirements. Completing a long distance triathlon is a typical bucket list goal, but athletes quickly realize that training basically consumes you – morning, day, and night. Training for 20+ hours a week is not generally a sustainable lifestyle. A sport that requires much less than 20 hours per week is easier to adapt as a lifestyle, rather than a temporary endeavor. The competitors at XTERRA Deuces Wild and USA Triathlon Off-Road Nats, were comprised of engineers, firefighters, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, and many other professionals that don’t have copious amounts of time to train, yet they still completed the event and really enjoyed themselves. Off-Road triathlon is complimentary to their everyday lives, not an unsustainable consumer of it.
We spoke to Jukka Valkonen, Team USA athlete at multiple national and world championships, about how this sport fits into his life. “I’m Co-founder and Chief Health Officer of two venture funded companies.” said Valkonen. “Despite having some health issues this year, I still fit in some training while working full time with a busy family schedule, and doing meaningful volunteer work.”
Share with us in the comments below some of the other characteristics of the “spirit of off-road triathlon” that keep you interested in the sport.