Cross triathlon: should you try it?
Throughout the years, I have seen triathletes in my club in need of a change and many decided to try cross-triathlon. For some of them, it was such a revelation that they now prefer to compete in cross-triathlons. While triathletes can easily switch between a classic triathlon, a duathlon or an aquathlon, a cross triathlon is different enough to require extra technique and specific training for this discipline. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try it for fun to see if you enjoy it.
Let’s see in more detail what is a cross triathlon, what you should know about it, and finally, help you decide if you should give it a try!
What is a cross triathlon?
A cross-triathlon is an off-road triathlon. It consists of an open water swim followed by a mountain bike ride and a trail run. In summary, it is a triathlon on dirt and rough terrains and generally, the bike and run legs are quite hilly. It is for people who love the outdoors and get closer to nature.
Cross triathlons are about exploring and adventures, relaxing while doing an effort, and reconnecting with nature. From forest paths to mountain trails, it is a nice way to recharge your batteries. Of course, it is still a race but it feels different from a classic triathlon on asphalt. That’s why cross-triathlon is becoming more and more popular.
Cross triathlons are accessible to everyone. Events of different difficulty exist and you will meet amateurs and pros racing in a joyful atmosphere. Cross triathlons can be a bit more technical than a regular triathlon but we will talk more about this later in this article.
What are cross triathlon distances?
Cross triathlons can vary in length. The most common distances are sprint (750m swim, 12km ride & 4km run) and olympic (1500m swim, 30km ride & 10km run) distances. Compared to regular triathlons, these distances can vary between events to adapt to the terrain and elevation.
So, you can find extra short, short and medium-length off-road triathlon events easily. If you are looking for long distances, like the Ironman equivalent for cross triathlon, you will struggle to find one. You can find the equivalent of “half Ironman” but these events are quite rare. This is due to the difficulty of the terrain and the elevation.
Cross triathlons also vary a bit between events. For a sprint distance, for instance, you can have events with varying swim lengths, ride lengths and/or run lengths. This is not as specific as with regular triathlons. This is due to the terrain and difficulty of the event.
Let’s see below the common distance range encountered in cross-triathlons events:
|Event type||Swim||Mountain Bike||Trail run|
|Off-Road Super Sprint (XS)||250-400m||5-8km||2-3.5km||Metric|
|Off-Road Sprint (S)||400-800m||10-12km||3.5-6km||Metric|
|Off-Road Olympic (M)||1000-1500m||20-30km||6-10km||Metric|
|Off-Road Super Sprint (XS)||0.1-0.3mi||3.1-5 mi||1.2-1.9mi||Imperial|
|Off-Road Sprint (S)||0.3-0.5mi||6.2-7.5mi||1.9-3.7mi||Imperial|
|Off-Road Olympic (M)||0.6-0.9mi||12.4-18.6mi||3.7-6.2mi||Imperial|
Are there any famous cross triathlons?
XTERRA Triathlons events are a famous series of cross-triathlons off-road. It’s as famous as the Ironman series in the world of regular triathletes. In a similar way, there is an XTERRA championship organized each year.
Nowadays, cross-triathlon is quite popular and there are several races other than XTERRA series happening each year. World Triathlon even organizes its own championship each year.
What equipment do you need for an off-road triathlon?
To participate in a cross-triathlon, you must use a mountain bike. It is also highly recommended to wear trail running shoes for extra grip. The paths and trails can be quite demanding with narrow passages, mud, and rocks. This is why you can also bring poles for the run leg.
Some beginner/discovery cross triathlons can have easier terrains where a gravel bike is likely enough for the job. But in most cases, a MTB is still necessary and enforced by the rules.
Are the rules different between a cross-triathlon and a triathlon?
Cross triathlons are governed by the rules of a regular triathlon, and as such do not change much in terms of organization. It’s not an adventure race where you have to find your own way to the finish line. It’s the same as a traditional triathlon where the course is marked, except you no longer are on asphalt.
Generally speaking the
There are a couple of main differences in the rules between a cross-triathlon and a triathlon, such as:
- Moutain Bike is mandatory (no cross bike, gravel, …)
- Drafting allowed, though the benefit is very limited compared with a regular triathlon due to the nature of the terrain
- Spike shoes are allowed
How does racing a cross-triathlon affect your training?
Racing off-road is very different: the bike leg is much more technical and the run leg is really tough due to the elevation. The swim however is the same as any triathlon with open-water swimming. So for training, you should focus on what’s new. Let’s look at it in more detail:
Riding a MTB is very different to riding a road bike. And really I can tell you 😉 I had a nasty fall after a couple of sessions on a MTB. I now have a scar for life! But don’t worry it doesn’t have to be like this for you.
Mountain biking is more technical, you have to learn how to shift your weight properly, understand how to go down the path (the position on the bike for instance in this situation), and deal with random stones, roots, etc in your way to make sure you don’t fall off. It requires some training and the best way to do so is first to buy a mountain bike and head to the trails. Start easy and increase the difficulty.
Ideally, if you can find a group of people you can join on the trails it will help you progress much faster. Some triathlon clubs even propose dirt rides. So it’s up to you to get the technique but it is highly recommended to prepare for a cross triathlon.
You might already practice trail running as it is quite common among traditional triathletes. Running on dirt has proved to have less impact on the knees and is generally appreciated due to the pleasure of running in nature.
But if that’s completely new, trail running is easy to pick. Put on trail running shoes for extra grip and start running on forest trails and hilly paths nearby your place. The difficulty with trail running is going up and even worse going down. It really affects the legs and can hurt if you are not used to it.
Should you do a cross triathlon?
If you are not afraid of mud and dirt and enjoy the outdoors, you should definitely try a cross-triathlon (an easy one first). I am pretty sure you will fall in love with it because the atmosphere is much more fun than a regular triathlon; the quietness of the paths, and the pleasure of the landscape to watch, make racing a lovely experience. Quite relaxing in the end despite the effort.
The additional bike skills you will learn along your cross journey will also have a beneficial impact on your road bike rides. There are no downsides apart from a higher risk of injuries. So it’s definitely worth the try.
Of course, you can end up quite muddy like me 😉