Michael Drackert is a multi-sport endurance athlete, USAT Cross Age Group National Champion, USAT All American for both road and off-road triathlons, Ironman All World Athlete and has competed at the Xterra World Championship and ITU Cross World Championship. In addition to triathlon, Michael has competed in numerous ultra events including the Dirty Kanza 200-Mile Gravel Grinder, Black Hills 100K Trail Run, as well as a self-supported bike trip across the United States. In 2019, he will compete in Spain at the ITU Cross World Championship and will spend the second half of the year in preparation to race the Pikes Peak Marathon and a first attempt at the 100-mile ultra-marathon.
Triathlon season is fast approaching and if you’re interested in mixing it up a little this year, then try adding an off-road race. Same triathlon format – swim, bike and run – but instead of racing on the roads, you get to rip it on a mountain bike and get dirty during a trail run. When it comes to off-road triathlons, Xterra is where it’s at. They partner with race directors throughout the world to host numerous epic events all leading up to the big show: the Xterra World Championship in Maui, Hawaii.
Getting to Maui is no easy feat, you’ll need to qualify by finishing select races at the top of your age group or win your respective regional point series. But no matter if you’re gunning for a World Championship slot or if you’re just trying something new, here’s a list of five U.S. Xterra races to try for 2019:
1. Xterra Oak Mountain – Pelham, Alabama
Distance: 1.5-kilometer (.93 mile) swim / 30-kilometer (18.5 mile) mountain bike / 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) trail run
Your first shot at grabbing a World Championship slot for the year. This race is considered a “Gold Level” Xterra and is part of the Pan Am Championship Tour. Translation: It is very competitive. The pros will all be there and amateurs will travel from around the country to duke it out at the beautifully wooded Oak Mountain State Park.
After a couple of loops in the lake, you’ll hit some fast and flowy singletrack trails before a steady 700-foot climb followed by a section called “Blood Rock.” Good luck getting through all of this. After one more bonus climb and some fun descents back to transition, the run is relatively flat with a few punchy climbs as you do two loops around the lake.
This race can get a little hot and humid, so stay hydrated on the bike to execute a winning run.
2. USA Triathlon Off-Road National Championship – Waco, Texas
Distance: 1.5-kilometer (0.93 mile) swim / 32.2-kilometer (20 mile) mountain bike / 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) trail run
This race is also known as Xterra Cameron Park but for 2018 and 2019, USA Triathlon selected it to also serve as the USAT National Championship. Finish well and you could be crowned a USAT Age Group National Champion and win a qualification spot to race for Team USA at the International Triathlon Union Amateur World Championship, which is hosted in a different country every year.
But be prepared to go 100 percent for this race. The swim is in a river, which is great when going with the current, not so great when you turn and go against the current. The bike is tight twisty-turny with a few nasty little climbs and the trail run features two trips up the infamous “Jacob’s Ladder.”
3. Xterra Lory – Fort Collins, Colorado
Distance: 0.8-kilometer (0.5 mile) swim / 21-kilometer (13 mile) mountain bike / 8-kilometer (5 mile) trail run
This is a great off-road triathlon for beginners or experts. The course is designed so that anyone can have fun and everyone will be challenged.
Located at the scenic Horsetooth Reservoir and Lory State Park, you’ll start out with a quick out-and-back swim followed by fast, smooth, and non-technical mountain bike trails. You’ll finish the bike feeling great, but be sure to save some energy for the run.
What’s Colorado without some climbing? The run course takes you up Timber Trail, which climbs over a 1,000-feet in just three miles. Once you reach the top, pay attention on the fast, two-mile rocky descent all the way to a water slip-n-slide across the finish line.
Sound fun? Don’t wait. Entries are limited to 350 participants, and the race has sold out since 2011.
4. Xterra St. Louis – Council Bluff, Missouri
Distance: 0.8-kilometer (0.5 mile) swim / 21-kilometer (13 mile) mountain bike / 7.25-kilometer (4.5 mile) trail run
This is my “hometown” race so it is marked on my calendar every year. There’s numerous Xterra races all throughout the country so definitely be sure to include your local race on the schedule. It is a great way to meet new people who share a love for the trails.
This particular race, Xterra St. Louis, changed venues for 2018 and it was awesome. Located at a remote lake in the beautiful mountains of Southern Missouri, many competitors stay at the lake campground and tell stories around the campfire the night before the race.
The early morning swim is peaceful and serene, but as soon as you exit the water and get on your mountain bike, you’ll quickly discover that the trails at Council Bluff Lake are rugged. Ride through rock gardens, creeks, and weave through the trees during one big loop around the lake. The run features some fast gravel sections leading up to a hill called “The Beast.” Don’t worry if you can’t run all the way up it the first time. You’ll get to hike it twice.
5. Xterra Pan Am Championship – Ogden/Snowbasin, Utah
Distance: 1.5-kilometer (0.9 mile) swim / 28.2-kilometer (17.5 mile) mountain bike / 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) trail run
One of the most scenic and epic races on the Xterra schedule. This race doubles as the Pan Am Tour Championship as well as the USA Championship. You’ll need some extra training hours leading up to this race just to reach the finish line. The race starts at Pineview Reservoir, with elevation recorded at about 5,000 feet.
Be sure to bring your wetsuit because the water is cold! Exit the water and get your climbing legs and lungs ready. After a short cruise down to Wheeler Creek Trailhead, you hop onto double-track trail up, up and away. In five miles, you will climb nearly 1,500 vertical feet, but that’s just the warmup. A fun single-track descent leads you to the start of the trail, which takes you to the race’s real climb: 2,000 feet up to the ridge of Sardine Peak. You’ll top out at an elevation of 7,400 feet with stunning views and a helicopter flying overhead following the professionals. The descent down to Snowbasin Resort is white-knuckle fast.
You might question if you’ll even want to start the run as it climbs 300 feet right out of the gate. If you’re wondering why you can’t catch your breath, that’s because you are over a mile in the sky above sea level as the trails continue up to over 6,900 feet in elevation. The good news, however, is what goes up, must come down. Start the descent and let your legs fly all the way to the finishing shoot lined with your competitors’ national flags from around the world. This race is a great way to finish off a full season of off-road triathlon racing.
Clever Training Recommends👇
As you prepare to give your absolute all in these Xterra races, it's more important than ever to keep an eye on how you're fueling your body.
For post-training run or something to chug after an Xterra race, Clever Training recommends First Endurance Ultragen as a way to help refuel tired muscles and restore your energy levels. Ultragen’s breakthrough technology is designed to provide the right nutrients to the right place at the right time during the 30-minute window of opportunity after an intense workout so you can recover fast.
As means of staying hydrated during one of the training runs, the Tailwind Nutrition Endurance Fuel Bags are perfect to take with you, as it has all the calories and electrolytes to help you keep going. Available in orange, lemon and plain flavors, Tailwind won’t give you an upset stomach or will give you a bad aftertaste when you shake and sip during your workout.