XTERRA Couch to Trail - FAQ

Feb. 5, 2016

Meet Lauren, a college student and aspiring XTERRA triathlete.

“I’m looking to test my limits and find my true potential,” she said.  “I was trying to find a challenge that was do-able, but totally out of the ordinary and I came across XTERRA.  It looks extraordinary and that is how I want to feel … extraordinary.  But, where do I start?”

Answer: Right here, with our new XTERRA Couch to Trail program designed to help first-timers get into the sport.  We'll start by answering some of the first questions that came to Lauren's mind, and we'll evolve from there. Every other week XTERRA will share ideas just for beginners in the Couch to Trail column, and on alternating weeks the Middaugh Coaching Corner column will delve into training ideologies and specifics.

First, some of the basics, with answers and ideas from XTERRA gurus Amy Eck and Mimi Stockton....


Q: I know XTERRA combines swimming, mountain biking, and trail running, but what are the distances?
A:  It varies.  The shortest XTERRA race, our “Xticer” super-sprint race, combines a 200-meter swim with a 10K (6.2-mile) mountain bike ride and a 2K (1.25-mile) trail run.  Our standard championship distance combines a 1.5K swim (1-mile) with a 30K mtb (18.6-mile) and 10K (6.2-mile) trail run. We also have sprint races that are half those distances.

Q: How far would 200-meters be in my local pool?
A:  It depends.  An Olympic size pool is 50 meters in each direction, but most U.S. pools are 25-yards (23-meters) in each direction.

Q: What bodies of water are the swims generally done in?
A: There are XTERRA races with swims in oceans, lakes, and rivers.  I would have to say the majority of our swims are done in lakes.

Q: Are there separate events for people of different skill levels?
A: Yes.  There are different distances, different wave starts, and different age classifications.  So if you’re 27-years-old you’d be racing other competitors in the 25-29 age group. Depending on the event, there are usually several “wave” starts for the swim. For example: all pros start first. Then, three minutes later all men, and three minutes after them, all women.  This also varies per event.

Q: What conditions would the weather have to be like for the swim to get canceled?
A: Safety is always first, and there are number of scenario’s where a swim can get cancelled – unhealthy water, freezing water, high water - but it doesn’t happen very often.  In 20 years of XTERRA, there has only been a few notable cancellations, like when the James River in Richmond, Virginia was flowing so fast it turned into a Class IV rapid.

Q: What should I do in order to prepare my body?
Mimi: This is a question I get asked a lot from people who are just starting out in the world of triathlon.  I tell them that the body is a finely tuned machine, and if you don't take great care of it, it won't perform optimally.  If you've decided to take the plunge and do your first XTERRA, you're going to have to devote time and energy into training and buy some equipment.  Treat your body well.  Eat whole foods most of the time, take time to stretch out those tired and sore muscles, get enough sleep (this is when your body is repairing itself and getting ready for the next training session) and truly rest on the off days.  Listen to your body.  If you just aren't feeling it one day, take it off.  Missing one workout isn't going to make or break you.  I train a lot by feel and think nothing of taking off a day if I just don't feel good.  Especially as you get older, diet and rest become increasingly more important.

Q: Is it better to train in groups or as an individual?
Mimi: I think this is a very personal decision.  If you are a person that enjoys group training in general, then by all means, train in groups.  Many people agree that group training can make you faster by pushing you to go harder.  I know for me this is definitely true in the pool.  And for beginner mountain bikers, I would definitely suggest going out with an experienced mountain biker--one who can teach you skills and help boost your confidence.  Group training is by no means necessary however.  I tend to do all of my bike and run training solo.  I enjoy training alone and most of my workouts are tailored to me specifically.  Furthermore, I can do them when I have time during the day. I do swim with others in the pool, primarily because this is my weak leg, and I need to be pushed and like to be pushed.  I believe I have gotten faster because of it.

Q: Preparing for something so rigorous needs a starting point in which to build from, so where do you suggest I start?
Amy: To be successful at anything you need a PLAN. In your triathlon preparation, finding educated professionals to taking on 3 sports can be overwhelming, and if done incorrectly can cause one to injure him or herself, so a great place to start is to partner up with a coach and possibly a training group for social and technical support.  The BEST place to find a triathlon coach is to go to theusatriathlon.org website and look for a certified coach in your area.  There, you will also find a list of USA Triathlon approved and insured clubs.  Make sure that both your coach and your club are certified, as that will ensure your maximum safety (club will provide insurance) and sport knowledge.  In other words, you will be safe and have fun in scheduled workouts so you can be healthy and perform well in your race when the time arrives.

Note:  There are a lot of great XTERRA-specific coaches out there that can do training from afar and/or in-person. Josiah Middaugh of Middaugh Coaching; Lesley Paterson of Braveheart Coaching; Cody Waite from Sessions6; and Amy Eck from Camp Bennett are just a few.

Q: Is there a Triathlon community that is more social rather than competitive?
A: That’s XTERRA!  This community is very welcoming, and while the racing is competitive the people are widely referred to as the nicest in all of triathlon.

Q: What is the hardest leg of the Triathlon?
Mimi: This is different for each person.  Some start doing triathlons after a swimming or running career.  Others have spent significant time bike racing.  Then, there are some that have experience in all three sports, or some have no experience at all.  For me, the hardest leg has always been swimming.  I can practice all the time and feel great in the water, but it is still my weak spot.  Thank goodness it is the shortest leg of the triathlon!  Because it is the shortest leg, I realize that even if I'm not the strongest swimmer I'll be able to make up the time on the bike and/or the run.  But still, I swim a lot and continuously trying to improve my stroke and overall speed.   I think many would agree, however; that the mountain bike portion of any race is usually the hardest just by virtue of it being the longest.  Then again, if you hate to run, you might beg to differ and argue that running 4-6 miles on trails after biking is the hardest part.

Q: How prepared do I need to be for terrain obstacles?
Mimi: Since each course is different, you need to be prepared to face anything and everything.  I think feeling comfortable tackling obstacles are essential to making yourself feel confident on race day.  I try and do all my running on trails.  And of course, it's great to do long endurance rides on a road bike or trainer, but nothing beats riding a mountain bike on trails to get you ready for race day.  I really don't think you can compare road biking with mountain biking.  The latter requires so much more athleticism, power, momentum and coordination. The only way to feel comfortable and confident on a mountain bike is to practice, practice, practice.

Q: How much money would I need to get started?
Mimi: There's no doubt about it, triathlon is an expensive sport and hobby.  How much money you spend really varies.  Certain things are required of course, but how much you spend on those required items is entirely up to you.  The mountain bike, bike shoes and helmet are going to be the costliest items. Oh, and perhaps a wetsuit.  If you are just starting out, I might recommend testing out various bikes to see if you want to go with a full suspension or hardtail.  One option is to buy a used bike or borrow one from a friend.  There are plenty of great used bikes on the market.

Q: Is there a season for this?
A: Year-round!  There may be two-feet of snow on the U.S. East Coast right now (Feb. 1), but it’s summertime in South Africa so their season is in full swing.  The sport is more conducive to warmer weather.

Q: Is there an off season? Or should I plan to train all year long whether there is an upcoming race or not.
Mimi: There is an off season and most people would consider it to be November and December.  It's a good idea to take a physical and mental break during these months to recharge and focus on something other than swimming, biking and running.  I think you'll find that when you start training again in January, your body and mind will thank you for the much needed time off.

Q: What are average times I should shoot for?
A: To start, just getting to the start line on time and happy is a good goal.  The accomplishment of finishing is the first step to master, and is a super rewarding feeling when you’re just getting started.

Couch to Trail