Hop in a kayak for a unique triathlon experience.
After years of suffering through the sometimes brutal competition of adventure racing, the lure of shorter events, (as in you can finish in one day and still make it home for dinner that night) sparked me to look into other multi-sport activities. It’s not that I didn’t like AR, it’s just that as I was getting older, the thought of staying up all night in the often cold and wet conditions was losing its appeal. Multi-sport was still my love so naturally I looked toward triathlon. I tried a few traditional sprints and even up to a full Ironman but the road courses just didn’t do it for me. I struggled with the swim and I longed for the trails and hills of the forest venues.
Then, XTERRA came along. I thought this was it; Multi-sport, mountain biking and trail running. What a perfect combo. I dove in head first. But, while I was a competent and competitive biker and ultra runner, I lacked the necessary skills needed in the water. I trained, hired coaches, went to clinics and yes, I could swim the distances but I just could not make it out of the water in the front of the pack. The result was spending my precious time and energy fighting to pass 100 mountain bikers on tight single track. By the time I made it to the run, I was out of gas. While still fun, these efforts left me a bit deflated.
Somewhere along the way, I friend of mine invited me to join him in a new endeavor. A new type of triathlon that involved adventure, forest settings, trails and my long time love of kayaking. The best part; no swimming! The Captain Thurmond’s Challenge, as it was called back then, offered a format of 17 mile mountain bike, 8 miles of class III-IV whitewater kayaking and then 7 miles of trail running. Once again, I was on board and very excited to find a sport that brought me back full circle to my AR days. The race didn’t quite turn out so well as a bike mechanical quickly sent me to the back of the pack, but I was hooked.
After that race, I started searching out similar race formats. It turns out, there are many to choose from scattered across the Eastern USA. Sometimes referred to as an “Off-Road” triathlon, several are called “Challenges”. The formats and distances vary greatly and no two are ever the same.
Mountain biking and trail running are most popular in these events but there are several out there that keep a more traditional triathlon setting involving road, cyclocross or tri-bikes combined with road running or easy trails. A lot of venues incorporate the use of Rails-to-Trails facilities. These offer easy flat courses, usually along a river setting, allowing for all types of bike options with softer, flat “trail” runs. While most people would find white water kayaking daunting, most of these kayak triathlons offer a doable lake or a gentle river setting.
With so many different formats and race offerings out there for kayak triathlons, you can easily find one that fits your interest and skill level. Most of these type of races are low key, I.E. lacking the ‘Hype’ found in traditional triathlons. Go out and give one a try! You may find out like I did that this was my true calling in the multi-sport world.
Since my first “Challenge” attempt, (and last place finish), I have done several over the years. After many tries, I was even able to finally finish on top the podium at Captain Thurmond’s!
Below is a list of some of my favorites.