Jason McIntyre raced the Xterra World Championship last month in Maui, Hawaii. We've caught up with him to hear about the race, as well as his experience with off-road triathlon. Off-road triathlon, of which Xterra is one branded category, is a niche in multi-sport that is not as familiar to many of us as biking and running on pavement.
How did you become interested in off-road triathlon?
I first became interested in off-road triathlon in 2015 after getting back into mountain biking after a 10 year hiatus. I raced my first triathlon in 2002 during my senior year in High School, and I raced probably 5 or so road triathlons over the next 10 years off and on. I used to run cross country in middle and high school and loved mountain biking, so once I learned of Xterra, I thought it was the perfect mix of events to get back into triathlon. I wasn't particularly fast at any one of the 3 disciplines, but combined, I started to see improvement and better results. I have raced a full Xterra season for the last 3 years and have loved the community and family that I've found not only locally, but even at regional and championship races.
When, where, and how did you qualify for the Xterra World Championship?
There are essentially 2 ways to qualify for the Xterra World Championships. You can win 1st place in your age-group in your US region. There are 8 regions and Texas is in the South Central Region. Our very own Mark Saroni won the 30-34 South Central region, and I placed 3rd. There are no roll-downs for the regional champ qualifying slots. So, I had to seek qualification through the second method, which is to get top 3 in a qualifying championship race. I attempted to qualify at the Xterra Oak Mountain championship race in Alabama but finished in 7th place in my age group. While the slots do roll down, it didn't make it to 7th place. I decided this was the year I really wanted to qualify and go to Hawaii for the World Champs so I buckled down, started a solid training block, and registered for Xterra Mexico. Xterra Mexico is about 2 hours away from Guadalajara in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains. The course is beautiful and at high altitude (7300'). It was a tough swim at elevation, but I regrouped and put together a solid race, ultimately finishing in 3rd place in my AG and securing the qualifying slot I was seeking! So pumped!
How do you prepare for a race like the Xterra World Championship?
Preparing to race the Xterra World Championship takes dedication, focus, and intentional training. While the race distances are the same as an Olympic road triathlon, the swim is in ROUGH ocean water, steep 15-20% grade mountain biking with over 3100 of climbing, and then technical and steep trail running with 1100 feet of climbing in a 10k. This meant that my expected race time was going to be a minimum of 3 hours and 30 minutes but probably closer to 4 hours. I worked closely with Mark on my training program and we really focused on adding more volume to what I was doing previously, including a weekly 3 hour + effort on the bike. Additionally, my swim training really helped improve my efficiency and performance in the water. Three swim sessions a week made a difference. The Tuesday and Thursday group running also played a big role in developing my run fitness. I would typically add time/distance before or after the group workout, and the other athletes, particularly Iram, Raul, and Alfonso, helped push me and made the workouts fun.
What’s one example workout that you found especially helpful?
While I enjoyed my longer "adventure" bike rides, I really like training tempo and fast workouts. 4 x 1 mile tempo runs, 5 x 6 min bike intervals among others were favorites. A couple of times I did a longer warm up, and then 1 hour in to the bike I would hit some hill intervals or intensity sessions to simulate the race experience, when I would need to call upon threshold efforts after being tired or a couple hours into the race. In Xterra, you can't expect to race consistent flat efforts. The climbing, turns, limited passing area, and varying terrain surfaces will ask 120% at times.
What advice do you have for newcomers to off-road triathlon?
Advice for newcomers to off-road triathlon would be to start with familiarity with your mountain bike and push intensity on the trails. There's a lot of quick decision making and a bit of a learning curve to line choice, so it is best to do that before being in a race environment. Next would be to enter one of the Xterra sprint races. There are 5 Xterras each year within 90 minutes of Austin and most are a sprint distance (800 m swim, 13 miles mtb, and 4 mile trail run). These races are a blast and you'll immediately catch the Xterra bug!
What was your favorite part of the World Championship experience?
I have 2 favorite parts of the Xterra World Championship experience. First was the training and preparation. The volume and intensity were a bit much for me and not exactly sustainable for me with work, 4 kids, and everything else, but I truly enjoyed the progress and journey! I boarded my flight to Maui knowing I put in the work, made sacrifices, and that I was excited with the vulnerable state I was in. I was putting myself out there and knew that there was a possibility of greatness, but also a possibility of wanting. Both are exciting and when the "worse case scenario" still involves all the growth, progress, and gains that I experienced, there isn't really a downside! Not to mention I'm getting to go to Hawaii with my wife!! My second favorite part is build up and excitement of the venue, pro/elite athlete predictions, fanfare in Hawaii, and getting to meet other athletes from around the world. For example, only 6 out of the 38 racers in my age group were from the continental USA. It's a magical feeling!
Congratulations on your 13th wedding anniversary! How did you enjoy Maui, aside from the race?
Thank you! Yes, 13 amazing years being married to my wife, Emylee. She's an amazing support to me, and we love being fit together. We had a wonderful time on vacation and spent an additional 3 days on Oahu after the race. We got to hike, snorkel, do goat yoga and eat amazing food! I'm a firm believer that you need to keep dating your spouse, even after being married! It was great to spend the full week together and then come back home missing our children. Thanks mom so much for watching the kiddos!
Finally, what is next on your race schedule?
The nice thing about the off season is that I don't really have a "schedule" built up just yet. I will keep having fun mountain biking and running but will probably pause the swimming for a month or two. While not scheduled, I'm likely going to race some of the winter mountain bike marathon races.
Congratulations on your race, Jason!
Make sure to send your pictures from training and racing to: firstname.lastname@example.org so we can showcase all the rad stuff you guys do.
San Antonio Triathlon Club - San Antonio Triathlon Coach