Off-Road Triathletes and Adventure Racers Keep Each Other Company

By Aja Cook and Todd Jackson • Photos by Rich Cruse/XTERRA

Adventure racers have long had an affinity for off-road triathlons as a way to lengthen their race season and build up individual event skills. Off-road triathlons such as the nationally recognized XTERRA series offer adventure racers an opportunity to cross train with challenging events when not participating in adventure races.

Off-road triathlons and adventure races are sort of the fraternal twins of multi-sport racing; they don’t look exactly alike, but they share a lot of the same traits. In both types of events racers mountain bike and run on a variety of rugged terrain, take to the water for at least one leg and transition between events rapidly.

On the other hand, there are some major differences between the two events. Most adventure races are run by two, three, or four-person teams, as opposed to the solo format of off-road triathlons. In most adventure races (AR’s), team members must always stay in sight of each other or risk being penalized. Additionally, every team member must complete every section of the course. This means that any team is only as fast as its most challenged team member.

In another departure, AR requires teams to navigate using maps and compasses. Teams typically appoint a captain and a navigator and those team members are responsible for making sure that the team knows where it’s going and is prepared to get there. A wrong decision can seriously erode a team’s confidence and performance. With off-road tris, however, the course is pre-marked and solo racers are only responsible for themselves. There is no getting lost in an off-road tri.

The sheer variety of necessary gear in an AR indicates that adventure racers must be skilled in other activities besides navigation. Adventure racers typically must also be able to ascend ropes, rappel, perform well on a ROPES course and solve puzzles, among other skills. Since off-road triathlons don’t involve navigation, team dynamics and extra skills, racers can concentrate on perfecting their running, biking, and water skills.

Racing in off-road terrain is challenging but a lot of fun. Mountain bikers and trail runners looking to experience their first off-road race, yet who aren’t ready for the added stress of team dynamics, comprehensive gear requirements, and tricky navigation found in adventure races, should consider signing up for an XTERRA race or similar event. Of course, the added challenges found in an AR are all part of the fun for those wanting to take it to the next level.

To find out more about off-road triathlons and to see event listings, visit

Aja Cook is a member of the Dirty Avocados Adventure Racing Team and an Xterra competitor. Todd Jackson is director of the Big Blue Adventure Race Series.