What’s an XTERRA Event Like?

We decided to spend a day documenting one of our local strong men and master wrench spinner Mike Rodgers as he competed in the XTERRA event of May 07, 2023 at Wawayanda State Park, NJ

With only a vague understanding of the event (its a tri-atholon with dirt — right?) NOT Really…

An XTERRA competition and a traditional triathlon are both multi-discipline endurance races, but they differ significantly in their environments and specific activities. Here’s a detailed comparison:

XTERRA Competition


  • Off-road and natural terrains.
  • Typically includes trails, mountains, forests, and lakes.


  1. Swim:
    • Open-water swimming in natural bodies of water like lakes, rivers, or oceans.
  2. Mountain Bike:
    • Off-road mountain biking on rugged trails with various obstacles such as rocks, roots, and steep inclines.
  3. Trail Run:
    • Running on unpaved, uneven, and often technical trails through natural settings.


  • Requires handling rough, unpredictable terrain.
  • Emphasis on technical skills, particularly in mountain biking.
  • Greater focus on natural obstacles and varying elevation.


  • Typically more laid-back and community-focused.
  • Emphasis on adventure and connection with nature.

Traditional Triathlon


  • Urban or suburban settings.
  • Often includes roads, paved paths, and pools.


  1. Swim:
    • Can be in open water (lakes, rivers, oceans) or in a swimming pool.
  2. Bike:
    • Road cycling on paved surfaces, often with closed roads or designated bike paths.
  3. Run:
    • Road running on paved paths or streets.


  • Requires endurance and speed on more predictable, smoother surfaces.
  • Less emphasis on technical skills, more on maintaining a steady pace.
  • Often involves navigating through urban or suburban landscapes.


  • Can be highly competitive with a focus on time and rankings.
  • Often larger events with more participants and spectators.

Key Differences

  • Terrain: XTERRA is off-road with natural, rough terrains, while traditional triathlons are on paved, smoother surfaces.
  • Biking: XTERRA involves mountain biking with technical skills, whereas triathlons involve road biking focused on speed.
  • Running: XTERRA features trail running with natural obstacles, whereas triathlons have road running on paved paths.
  • Overall Experience: XTERRA offers a more adventurous, nature-centric experience, while traditional triathlons are more about speed and precision on established routes with increased risk.

Both types of competitions offer unique challenges and experiences, catering to different kinds of athletes and their preferences. But in general an XTERRA competition requires extra grit and presents greater opportunity for injury. We were anxious to see what kind of crazies would sign up for this kind of pain.

A short description of what we witnessed; ice-cold black water requiring wet-suits, to be swum — eroded wet and puddled tree lined trails, traversing mild or steep climbs, to be biked and run. How could one’s ankles and knees possibly survive?

This was all taken in stride (no pun intended) by a varied lot of athletes, women and men of age differences spanning 50 plus years. Their main commonalities were that of mutual respect and comradery. From our perspective they all shared great strength, perseverance and endurance. If you were to judge the competitors solely on appearances you wouldn’t be able to tell what an incredibly strong group of individuals you were in the presence of.

So here’s how it looked and how Mike endured, cut down to three minutes…

XTERRA — May 07, 2023 / Wawayanda State Park, NJ

Mike finished the event in 37th place amongst the men. His total time was under the 4hr. mark, quite an impressive effort. To put his effort in perspective — he is a regular top ten appearance (in multiple disciplines) of our local Strava segments. The bulk of the field was in the 3-4hr. range —but the top 6 competitors were all sub 3Hrs., it is incredible to witness such athleticism. ADD PLUG MR

The event attendees were a happy gregarious lot, mostly friends and family providing moral and sag support. The only sour face we encountered was the event photographer who seemed to think we were muscling in on his territory — far from the truth was that — the guy took some stunning individual athlete pics even and ventured off into the woods to capture action shots along the interior of the course. That said, we watched from the beach, staging and parking areas then the finish line. Just those areas gave great views of the action and struggles and then when all the time we spent watching the competitors efforts exhausted us there were plenty of places to sit and have nice bagged lunch. Really just a great day for a family, the parks setting provided a beautiful back drop for the event and plenty of things to enjoy alongside the race. Camping was also available.

If you’ve never attended one of these events you should add it to your list of cycling centric day trips. Find an upcoming event or learn how to participate (crazy you are though) at: https://www.xterraplanet.com. Enjoy your ride and remember your suffering will probably pale next to that of the XTERRA competitors.

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