XTERRA Couch to Trail – So You Want to Be an XTERRA Athlete?


By Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance,5x XTERRA Age Group World Champ

XTERRA Training: Couch to TrailIt’s January. The holidays are over. It’s back to school and back to work. You’ve had some time to contemplate the new year, your goals, your plans, and your desires. You love to mountain bike and run on trails, and you can swim 500 meters without drowning.  “Why not do an off-road triathlon?” you think. “It can’t be that hard, right?”

Excellent decision!  There is no better way to dive into the wonderful world of off-road racing than to well … just dive in.  And, with just a little bit of guidance and work, it’s not that hard. 

Over and over again people ask me—how do I become an XTERRA athlete? Where do I start? What do I do? Of course, swimming, mountain biking, and running are key—as that is what makes up an XTERRA race. That being said, there are two major components to get from the couch to the finish of a first (or next) XTERRA. These qualities are important to embody for a first race, sure. But even more so, the qualities are paramount as you get farther down the road in the sport—when going from a shorter distance to a longer distance, feeling overwhelmed and burned out, or facing your first DNS or DNF. 

Make a Decision The first one is the easy one: Make a Decision. Every action starts with a decision.  Whether it’s deciding to make pancakes for breakfast or to dye your hair purple. Deciding to do an off-road triathlon is indeed a big decision, but once you have made the decision to do something, you, in turn, ignite the passion, the desire and purpose to take action.  So if you want to be an XTERRA athlete or do an XTERRA, decide that you will and make the promise to yourself.  


Be Tenacious The decision has been made.  Now it’s time to be tenacious. I love that word because it implies a dogged determination, a spunky, fierce and unrelenting desire to do something and to do it well. When it comes to training, I am tenacious. When it comes to setting a goal and chasing after it, I am tenacious.  I am not the most talented athlete when it comes to swimming, mountain biking and running, but I am good enough. The difference?  When I make a decision to do something—whether it’s to finish a race or win it—I am relentless in the pursuit of that goal. I may not always get the desired outcome, but at least I know that I did everything I could and I never quit when faced with adversity.  The key is, once you’ve made the decision to become an XTERRA athlete, then get after it—be strong and unyielding and keep on trucking. This is your decision, your goal and how you approach it is solely up to you.  Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to what others are doing.  And definitely don’t let others’ opinions of what you’re doing bother you (some will undoubtedly think you’re crazy, that’s okay!). Make a plan and stick to it.  Stay focused, keep your eye on the goal and let everyone else do their own thing.  

So You Want to Be an XTERRA Athlete?Now, a few words of wisdom about what’s in store for you. You will not become efficient at swimming, mountain biking or running overnight. This is not an easy sport.  You should plan on checking your ego at the door because chances are someone thirty pounds heavier and ten years older than you will repeatedly lap you in the pool. You will get passed on the mountain bike trails and you will crash frequently. Furthermore, getting fast on trails is a lot harder than you think. You will get up early to train.  You will train on weekends when your friends and family are hanging out. You will spend money on all kinds of gear (that’s the fun part!). Some days you will look forward to your workouts, and other days you will want to hide in a closet. You will suffer badly through some workouts and others will make you feel like a million bucks. You might develop an injury.  You will probably spend more time in the pool than you want. You will always smell like chlorine.  You will eventually get over your fear of the open water. You will learn to be patient.  You will learn to be humble.  You will learn to fight.  You will learn that pain is sometimes enjoyable.  But most of all, through all the sweat and occasional tears, you will realize that this decision to do an XTERRA is one of the best decisions you’ve ever made.    

XTERRA will change your outlook on life and many other things you thought you had figured out. It’s not just crossing that finish line or going home with a finisher medal. It’s the countless hours that got you to that point—a moment in time that you will never forget, a moment that you will discuss with your family and friends for hours if not days after the event. These discussions will most likely be about how much fun you had and about how you can improve.  You’ll go through all the details of the race—at what point could you have swum faster, biked harder or ran faster? This is what will go through your head every day until you get the opportunity to participate again!

So you wanna be an XTERRA athlete?  Be relentless, fearless, train as hard as you can and most of all, enjoy the ride! 

XTERRA Couch to TrailCheck out last year’s articles on everything you need to know—gear wise—about getting started in the crazy fun world of XTERRA. And stay tuned for the next installment of XTERRA Couch to Trail.  We’ll be discussing the various phases of a training plan.  

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little and five-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of Next Level Endurance. Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Contact them at info@nextlevelendurance.net.