Sam Teller: From Track to Trails

College runner turned off-road triathlete, Sam Teller has become a familiar face on the XTERRA circuit. Trading comfort-zone stability for the adventure and experience of full-time racing, his journey is a gritty tale of ambition, sacrifice, and the pursuit of cross-tri dreams.

Written by
Sarah Bonner
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In between races at a bustling European airport, American athlete Sam Teller is unpacking the details of his World Cup journey so far this year. The Short Track races take him back to his track running days, European grocery store hours are a quirky adjustment, and quitting his job to pursue the World Cup circuit was a game-changer.

With only two years of XTERRA racing and minimal road triathlon experience, the 27-year-old former college runner is a fresh face in the off-road triathlon pro scene. Teller candidly admits he's not racing for victories yet, but he's driven to improve at every turn. Lighthearted, thoughtful, and relaxed, Teller emphasizes that this season isn't about proving himself—it's about letting go.



Welcome to the Dark Side

Teller's journey into off-road triathlon began after running track and cross country at the University of Virginia, where he studied environmental science. Post-graduation, he moved to Boulder, Colorado, and turned to triathlon to escape the consistent plague of running injuries. 

After racing a few Half-Ironmans and even competing at the Ironman World Championship, he eventually discovered the dark and dirty side of triathlon and signed up for his first XTERRA. Teller’s first off-road triathlon at XTERRA Beaver Creek, where he finished 9th and discovered his new passion, completely changed the trajectory of his racing career. Track and road were out, and cross triathlon was in.

“It was really fun. It was the whole XTERRA vibe. Road triathlon is just a little more uptight, which isn't bad, but it's not really my personality to be super Type A. I enjoyed the relaxed feeling of XTERRA and it’s a little friendlier between athletes. Even though we're still rivals, I think it's just more welcoming. XTERRA has been really welcoming to me.”

The following year, Teller raced Oak Mountain, Beaver Creek, and the World Championship in Molveno, steadily improving his performance in off-road triathlon.



The Leap

Back home in Boulder, Teller was promoted to manage the bike shop he worked at, but the pull to race was growing and a plan was unfolding. Watching the inaugural World Cup in 2023 gain momentum with each of the 7 stops, Teller wanted more.

“We were together at Thanksgiving, and my dad said, you know, you have the rest of your life to make money and you only get these opportunities once—you should go for it.”

With support from every direction, including fellow competitors Ben Forbes and Tom Fisher, Teller started saving up so he could leave his job and race the entire World Cup circuit for the 2024 season.

“Still, I was stepping into some uncertainty and it’s still a little scary not having an income, but I knew I could save money and set up the opportunity for myself.”

“Enough people were saying it's going to be the experience of a lifetime, you should definitely do it if you have the chance. So I created the opportunity and went for it.”



Reality Check

Teller’s first World Cup race in Taiwan, Stop #1 of the 2024 series, was an immediate reality check for his limited mountain biking experience. Taiwan's notoriously challenging course, characterized by its intense technicality and natural terrain, posed a stark contrast to the trails he was used to riding. Stop #2 in Greece presented further challenges, with struggles on both the bike and run. Finally returning to a familiar course at Stop #3 in Oak Mountain, Teller finished 14th - a result that called for a moment of pause and reflection.

“I'll be honest, the season itself, finishing-wise, has been pretty mediocre.”

Despite improvements, facing the reality of the high competition level within the XTERRA World Cup, especially from the dominant European field, was a big adjustment.

“Racing in North America is just not as competitive. Triathlon in general is not as big of a sport, and the off-road scene is definitely much smaller. I had good finishes at Beaver Creek the past two years placing ninth and then seventh—and last year was the World Cup, so seventh at a World Cup was super good. Partially, that gave me a false sense of my own skill, in all honesty.”

Teller is candid but equally determined.

“I've only been doing XTERRA for a couple years. I think biking is definitely my weak point right now, especially technical handling. Fitness-wise, I’m pretty solid. My swim's not great, but I can run well, given my background. I'm hoping that in the second half of the season, I get more experience under my belt.”



Ready for Quebec 

Like everyone, Teller is wary of the weather heading into the next World Cup stop in Quebec. The course boasts some of the best mountain biking trails in the series, but it can transform into a muddy beast when wet.

“I’m just hoping the skills I've been developing in Europe will transfer over, regardless of the weather. I had a strong swim in Switzerland two weekends ago, so now I’m hoping I come out of the water in a decent position and then have a solid bike.”

Mud or not, Teller is focused on battling fellow Americans Branden Rakita and Steve Croucher. 

"I like the Short Track format. It's exciting, and it’s similar to track running races in that it's short and really high energy."

His strategy applies to both the Full Distance and the Short Track races which will be held a day apart in Québec. Both offer the opportunity to gain valuable points to climb the series ranking.

“I've been getting more aggressive on the shorter stuff, especially in the water. I like the Short Track format. It's exciting, and it’s similar to track running races in that it's short and really high energy—it's a very pure cut-down version of the sport. It’s really fun.”



Letting Go

Before he heads to Québec, however, Teller has a few flights to get back and some time at home, offering him a chance to reflect on his journey into full-time racing. While his results might not have been what he wanted, his improving performance and abundance of gained experience are invaluable—and so is the perspective that has come along with it.

“This summer trip signifies letting go a little bit, taking a risk, and trying to enjoy the current experiences more than focusing on the outcome,” Teller explains, emphasizing his shift in mindset and approach to racing.

"I’m making a conscious effort to relax more and enjoy the racing.”

“When I decided that I was going to do all the World Cups this year, I put more pressure on myself to finish higher. I really felt that in Taiwan and did not enjoy the race nearly as much as I wanted to,” he admits, reflecting on the self-imposed expectations.

At his second World Cup race in Oak Mountain, Teller adjusted his mental approach. “I worked hard in Oak Mountain to kind of step back and have more fun—and I really did in that race,” he says, highlighting the positive impact of this mindset shift. “It's still taking more of a conscious effort while racing to take the pressure away. I don't have a job to go back to so racing is not the pure escape that it was when I was working full time. So I’m making a conscious effort to relax more and enjoy the racing.”



Stay Positive, Stay Happy

With three more World Cup stops to go in the 2024 series, including the final stop at the XTERRA World Championship in Italy, Teller is simply looking to get better. 

Part of his full-time athlete learning curve has been the travel and culture shock. Teller laughs about the language barrier and that grocery store hours in other countries are "way different" than in the US. He explains how he pushed himself to reach out to other athletes and how friendly they have been, from just meeting up to train to offering travel and race advice.

“I’ve got the travel side and the lifestyle side down, but I’m still working on the racing and training side,” Teller says, emphasizing the ongoing adjustments required for a full-time racing career.

Learning how to be consistent with training while traveling and improving his technical skills is his focus for the second half of the season. “I just try to ride a lot. I try to ride the technical things and push myself in training. And in Boulder, I have plenty of friends who are better riders than myself.”

Despite the challenges, Teller embraces the process. “You can't do everything in life, and so you really need to focus on the things you enjoy and the positive relationships that you can foster.”

“You can't do everything in life, so you really need to focus on the things you enjoy and the positive relationships that you can foster.”

He continues, “When you're in those positive spaces, reflect on that moment, take it in, be grateful and appreciative of it—and know those are the most important things. The negative experiences aren’t as important, so have the perspective that you probably don’t need to worry as much.”

Follow Sam Tellers World Cup campaign on the World Cup series page, and watch him race live at the Czech Short Track and the World Championship Short Track and Full Distance races. Also, be sure to subscribe to the XTERRA YouTube channel for all video content from the off-road triathlon pro series.










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Author Bio

Sarah Bonner

Sarah Kim Bonner (MA, PGDip, BA Hons) is a Canadian freelance writer, graphic designer, and professional triathlete. She has worked as a creative for over 10 years, specializing in written storytelling within endurance sports. Emotionally allergic to an office 9-5, she has lived and raced all over the world from the Arctic to Africa and now calls the Canary Islands home. Find her at or @sarahkimbonner.

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