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Making The Leap To Off-Road Triathlon

  • By Kim McDonald
  • Published Jan 24, 2013
Photo: Nils Nilsen/Xterra


He’s raced in world championships in Kona and Vegas, but top age-grouper Kim McDonald had never raced an off-road triathlon until earlier this year. In addition to discovering a wildly good time and refreshing race experience, he learned a few things along an inevitably bumpy road that will save you from some of the first-timer pitfalls—and trail rash—when you’re ready to make the leap.

Riding the trails on a mountain bike was once one of my favorite ways to spend the weekends. Yet after a series of crashes, two of which resulted in broken ribs, I quickly lost my motivation for the sport. When my massage therapist had his mountain bike stolen five years ago, I gave him mine. Better to have someone use it, I figured, than to let it gather dust in my garage. I was sticking to road riding and triathlons. But I’m looking at getting a mountain bike again. And the reason is Xterra.

My first off-road triathlon was in April at the Xterra West Championship in Las Vegas. Billed as a hilly but not overly technical race, I figured it would be a good way to build fitness for the Wildflower Long Course Triathlon the following month. And since I was familiar with the Lake Las Vegas event site, having competed in the 70.3 world championships in September 2011, I chose to enter the championship race—a 1,500m swim, 30K mountain bike and 10K trail run. After pre-riding the bike course on my borrowed mountain bike the day before the event (and having difficulty on the climbs and descents), though, I realized I was in way over my head. I should have entered Xterra’s sport race instead—a 750m swim, 15K mountain bike and 5K trail run.

On race morning, my worst fears were realized: rain, wind, 57-degree water and air temperatures in the 40s. It was shaping up to be a long and miserable day. To motivate myself, I decided to focus on three simple goals: keep warm (even if I had to spend more time in transition putting on extra clothes), have fun and try my best not to seriously injure myself. I also consulted with three experienced Xterra pros who gave me their tips on how to make the leap to off-road racing—reigning Xterra world champion Lesley Paterson, Trevor Glavin and Jessica Cerra.

Here’s what I learned from them and from my first Xterra:

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