As much as I really love triathlons, I am continually called back to the woods. I’m afraid to ever try an Xterra type race, because I know I would love it and immediately abandon road races. The problems with this are two fold and actually remind me of my reasons (read: excuses) for not getting into triathlon in the first place.
First, I suck at mountain biking. Yes, I have endurance. But in the balance, coordination, technique and guts departments… not so much. I had someone tell me once that when you mountain bike, going faster is actually better/easier and you just have to trust your gear and ride over stuff. The first time I did this… I went over the bars and down a hill with my bike on top of me. Not exactly the desired effect. The person failed to mention that picking a good line is critical to making the other things work.
I’m finding the same holds true for trail running. As tentative and cautious as I want to be because I’m worried about my crappy ankles, it’s actually easier if you speed up. To say this is counter intuitive is an understatement. But as my endurance and fitness improve, so does my speed. And as my speed goes up, I feel more comfortable. I still can’t bomb down hills but I’m moving faster.
Second, even with as many beautiful trails and great territory as Missouri provides, we don’t have one Xterra race or even that many offroad multisport races. It doesn’t make any sense. We have some EPIC trail runs. Surely SOMEBODY can figure out how to run one past a lake someplace with multi use trails… What this means is that for me to combine my terrible mountain biking skills with my sloth-like offroad running style and horrible swimming, I need to drive 6 hours to get to the closest race. Somehow… that doesn’t add up.
So, bad mental math aside, what is the draw? I can just as easily humiliate myself locally on public roads and in pools for all to see. Why get dirty?
There is just a different feeling to offroad races. It’s more laid back. Less of the type “A” stress of a road race. Mountain biking, for me anyway, is just more fun. Trail running is just better. The swim would suck no matter what unless I was going down river in a raft, so it’s always something I’ve just tolerated. I don’t know… There is a certain peace to being in the woods. Even if you are racing. And before you start arguing about how much more dangerous it is, I’m putting the bullshit stop on that. I firmly believe that is all perception. Hitting a root and going over the bars is a hazard, yes. But it will always pale in comparison to getting hit by a car. Crashing is crashing. I haven’t seen any more or less crashes or injuries offroad. My two most recent scabs came from tripping on nothing in particular and falling on a bridge on a new section of an urban, concrete trail.
People I train with ask me sometimes why I still do a day or two a week of offroad training during triathlon season. Shouldn’t I be doing all road stuff? Perhaps. But besides the benefits of breaking up my training and working different muscles, it forces me to relax. To think different… To run/ride different… To breathe different. And whether I’m dodging spider webs or trying to get over that one spot clean for the first time on my bike, sometimes I just need “different”. That’s what I like most about trails. Maybe I’ll be better at it someday. But I don’t really care. I might walk away from triathlons at some point, but I will always ride (badly) in the woods.