“Is that a giant bucket of lube?”

The three of us – me, my husband and a new friend – stared at our winnings, three giant buckets with “PROGOLD Lubricants” printed on thema.

“Maybe,” I responded.  I barely pump my tires, let alone do things like lubricate my bike’s…well, whatever it is you lubricate on a bike, so a giant bucket of lube seemed feasible.

Our friend smiled. “Think I’m going to go call my wife.”

Don’t you love those slaphappy, post-race moments?

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The Tsali Xterra Triathlon was last Sunday and, despite my best efforts, I didn’t take home the overall female win for a third year. That’s okay – I worked hard for 2nd and was 1st in my age group. I still think that the Tsali Xterra is the best race of the season and not just because of giant lube buckets. You get to swim in the clear waters of Fontana Lake, run BEFORE you bike (usually the run is last) and the Tsali trails are always fun. Plus, you can camp two minutes from transition and there’s nothing like running the 52° waters of the Nantahala River, just down the road, to ice down those legs after a strong race effort.

But, really, I just love off-road tris. This past race had a smaller-than-normal turnout, which motivated me to launch a mini-PR campaign for the love child of mountain biking and road triathlon, the off-road tri. (I just made that up; please don’t send articles about the origins of the off-road triathlons.) Here’s why you should try one.

You get to ride your bike and run on trails. Isn’t everything more fun on trails? You’re were probably scouring the BRO website for trail info before getting sucked into this race report because you love trails that much. And, for all you sweaty southeasterners: trails = shade.

If you’ve wanted to try racing your mountain bike, off-road tris are a great way to start. The most common question I get asked about off-road racing is about passing on the bike leg. Because you swim before you bike in a tri, competitors are usually more spread out on the trail than in a cross-country mountain bike race with a mass start. For the record: When you want to pass, let the person in front of you know and wait until they tell you they’re ready. Being passed? Tell the person behind you that you’ll let them know when you’re ready. As soon as you safely can, find a wide berth of trail, ride to one side and tell the rider behind you to haul ass. (Or something along those lines.) As the passer or passee, it always helps to be specific: “Okay, coming up on your left!”

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Most regional off-road tris tend to be small – 100 or so competitors. So if you want a break from the hassles of bigger races – or, let’s be honest, you want a better chance of getting on the podium – they’re a good option.

Head-to-toe trail grime makes for hardcore race photos.

If you’re a road triathlete, you’ll find a much more laidback vibe at off-road tris. It’s still a competitive atmosphere – I mean, it is a race – but the intensity is dialed back. Maybe it’s the fresh trail air…or relatively short race distances…or hungover mountain bikers rallying for that 8 am start. Whatever it is, it’s hard not to make friends.

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And the bucket? There was all sorts of bike maintenance stuff in there that got my husband all excited, so I probably won’t see him for three days once he busts it open.

Thanks to Blue Ridge Outdoors for sponsoring the Athlete Team, to Dave and Terry Berger with Gone Riding for always putting on a solid race and to my father-in-law, Jerry Schneider, who showed up three days early to snag a campsite and stuck around all morning to basically watch us change shoes in transition.

Next race…good question. Xterra Whitewater?

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The Hub and Pisgah Tavern, Crozet Running, Bold Rock Cidery, and Blue Ridge Cyclery.

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