Every XTERRA run course is unique. Consider the daunting Mayan wall and rock hopping at XTERRA Richmond, the many stream crossings of XTERRA Tahoe, the tough canyon ascents and descents of XTERRA Milwaukee and, of course, the beaches, lava rock, log jumping and unending climbs at the XTERRA world-championship course on Maui.
But regardless of where you're racing, XTERRA run courses can require a few skills that you may not have had the opportunity to fully develop in the course of training for road triathlons. Here are a few tactics to help you decipher the unique demands you'll encounter on the run at an XTERRA.
Those of you who have read my XTERRA articles before will know I am a big proponent of boosting strength: that is, good efficiency at or just above lactate threshold coupled with good muscular strength within your hip flexors/extenders, calves and glutes.
This goes back to the specificity-of-training principle: tailoring your workouts to suit the anticipated challenges you'll face on race day. In addition, regardless of your primary race focus, all triathlon running demands a good bit of strength if only for the fact that you are asking your body to work hard in a fatigued state after already swimming and cycling.
However, strength is particularly important for off-road tri's. XTERRA run courses can send you up nearly vertical hills, over logs or through soft sand. Good strength, especially through the hips, will give you more power, help you adjust to differing terrain and handle the lateral, explosive movements not typically associated with road running.
To develop XTERRA-specific run strength, include hill repeat plus longer intervals mixed with a bit of weight work in your training schedule. Specifically, try to run hilly courses (either on- or off-road) a couple of times each week, with one of these hilly sessions coinciding with your long run.
The goal is simply to get used to the undulating terrain and its varied demands. If you don't live in a hilly area (that's you Florida) try getting on the stair-climber at the gym once a week for 40 to 60 minutes at a moderately high level on the "random" program.
In addition to basic hill running, add longer intervals to your training as well. Once a week, complete about an hour run that includes three to six hard work intervals of four to eight minutes apiece following a warm-up. After each effort, run easy for 50 percent of the work-interval time.
For example, if you complete an effort of four minutes, then recover with an easy jog for two minutes before beginning your next hard interval. Your pace should be at your XTERRA race pace or just a bit faster. If XTERRA is your main focus, try and do this workout on hilly trails the majority of the time; otherwise, simply perform the session on your normal training route.
During the season don't overdo your weight training, but do try to get into the gym once or twice a week for about 30 minutes. After a good warm-up (rowing for 10 minutes is excellent) do 3 x 10 of single-leg press, hamstring curls and back extensions (be sure the back extensions are done with low weight and perfect form). This is just enough to help you build strength without negatively impacting your other training.
The technical aspects of mountain biking put increased demand on your body and make it more challenging to drink and stay hydrated, which can impact the energy reserves you have left for the run. And even if the race is shorter than an Olympic-distance road tri, the event could feel more like a half-Ironman-distance effort.
Thus, plan for added fatigue when you consider your run tactics; most likely you will be fairly tired coming off the bike and will want to build into your run pace rather than trying to run fast right out of transition only to fall apart later on.
With this in mind, be sure to pre-run or pre-ride the run course before the race so you get a sense of what you're up against. For example, the run at XTERRA Richmond has all the difficulty in the second half, including the nearly vertical Mayan wall, a long rock-hoping section and a hilly island loop. The beginning of the run is very flat, so it is easy to take off too quickly out of transition and then struggle over the second half.
Lastly, be sure to stay mentally focused. Remind yourself of what is coming and how you will handle it. Don't let the demands of the course wear on you and make you lazy. Keep pushing.
XTERRA runs can be intimidating at times, but if you are properly trained and sufficiently prepared for what's out there, they can also be the most fun part of your entire season.