Off-road triathlon: What is it and how to get involved

Tempted by some off-road triathlon and want to learn more? Here's 220's Kate Milsom with everything you need to know

Competitors mountain biking in an Xterra race

Caught a glimpse of some multisport action taking place in rugged landscapes and want to find out more? No bother. Here’s 220’s Kate Milsom to tell you all about off-road triathlon and how you can get involved.


What is off-road triathlon?

Off-road triathlon, also called cross triathlon or x-tri, is a triathlon done entirely off-road. The discipline is said to have made its debut in 1996 during a race in Maui, Hawaii. Since then, its gained in popularity with races taking place across the world, including championship series from Xterra and World Triathlon.

How long are off-road triathlons?

Distances for cross triathlon races can vary, but typically events consist of a one-kilometre swim, 20-30km mountain bike (MTB) and a 6-10km trail run. Swims are open water, while mountain bike legs can vary in difficulty and technicality, and runs are often hilly and challenging.

How fit do I have to be to do an off-road triathlon?

Cross triathlon requires significantly different training to your normal on-road triathlon. Racers must be prepared for all eventualities and unknown terrain. To train for this, we’d recommend run sessions on trails and mud, with plenty of hills to boot.

It might seem short, but the MTB section of a cross triathlon requires a huge amount of skill and fitness, so be sure to practise your technical MTB skills over challenging paths and obstacles. If you’re not confident off-roading, then joining a local trail running or MTB club can be a great way start building your skills.

What kit will I need for an off-road triathlon?

If you’re planning to take on an off-road triathlon, you’ll need to invest in specific kit. The big one, as you might expect, is a mountain bike. The route and terrain your race covers will determine what type of mountain bike you’ll need, whether that be a hardtail mountain bike or one with full suspension.

It’s also worth investing in shoes and a helmet that are specifically designed for off-road action, while trail running shoes with good grip are a must for the run leg. Aside from these items, you should be able to get away with using much of your usual triathlon kit.

That being said, make sure you consider how your nutrition and hydration needs may change with an off-road race when compared to a road-based one. And as ever, test everything new well in advance of race day.


Top image credit: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images