I was recently asked whether I preferred off road or road triathlons and, honestly, I wouldn’t say that I prefer the one above the other as they both offer different pro’s, con’s and challenges.
Off-road triathlons are more challenging and demanding and also more aggressive, but road triathlons usually have laps on the run and bike courses which makes it more spectator friendly and also more competitive… as you can see you competition!!
The swim is similar in both road and off-road triathlons, and for both you need to have practiced your open water skills. Road triathlons have more competitors and the start of the swim is split into waves, which can make for a less bumpy start. Off-road triathlons, however, have less competitors so everyone starts at the same time… this allows for survival of the toughest and the first 200-300 meters is always a challenge!
I feel that mountain biking is much safer than road cycling. You are off the road in nature and don’t face the danger of being bumped off your bike by a car, as you do in road riding. It is also much more fun and challenging, not one minute on the mountain bike is the same and you need to focus a lot more as the terrain various a lot. If you like to get dirty, then this would be the obvious choice! With mountain biking the risk of falling is much higher, due to the uneven surface, but then again…it can happen on a road bike as well.
The cycle training you need to do for an off-road triathlon this is not dissimilar to an olympic- distance triathlon training plan. You just need to ensure you include more off-road riding to improve your technical skill as well as a little more hill training to prepare for those mountainous climbs!
The run training for an off-road triathlon always requires trail-running up and down hills, through forests, streams, riverbeds and other natural, and occasionally man-made obstacles. You need to be more conscious of where you are putting your feet and your lower limb strength needs to be a little better to prevent rolling your ankles.
With trail running the hills tend to be steeper, which means running up can be a little harder. Also, running down is much more technical and therefore also slower than the road. So practice running on these sort of trails, including sessions at race pace. The main thing to focus on is the muscular strength and endurance, not so much on the speed.
In summary, I like both road and off-road triathlon’s as triathlon is a great and challenging sport in each discipline. We are also fortunate to live in a country where both are possible as our environment allows for training and competing in both.
So whether you choose road or off- road the main thing is to get out there and enjoy every moment!