Doing a multisport race is more inviting and exciting than ever because it's no longer just swim, bike, run. You might stride through sand, paddle on a lake, or hit the trails—all while feeding your need for fresh air.
Photo: Melissa Gayle
It used to be that multisport races meant the surf and (paved) turf of a typical triathlon. Now there are new hybrid multi events that incorporate outdoorsy pursuits like mountain biking, beach running, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking. So whether you've been tempted to tri or are just being introduced to the idea, you have plenty of truly inspiring options. And the chances to get in on the fun keep expanding: Adventure racing has grown by 11 percent and nontraditional triathlons by 8 percent in the last three years, according to the Outdoor Foundation's latest sport participation report.
Multisport events are drawing both novice racers and elite athletes because of "the idea that they can achieve something they never thought they could," says Alfred Olivetti, owner of Go Tri Sports, a specialty running and triathlon store in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, that organizes such races. (Setting a lofty goal can work in your favor.) And he doesn't see the trend dying down anytime soon—people will keep coming back for the boost of confidence they get after finishing a race and the self-discovery that goes along with it. "No matter what shape you're in or level you're at, you can expect to feel that endorphin rush, because at some point a course is going to get hard," Olivetti says. "It's how you push through those challenges and come out on the other side that shows you what you're really made of."
Ready to break down your boundaries and blow your mind with a big drink of nature? Check out a few more major benefits of multis—both mind and body—that will spark you to cross new finish lines.
A refreshing change of perspective
Many newer tris are trading the usual roadway courses for fresh terrain that pumps up the scenery. Instead of riding and running on city streets, you might find yourself biking on dirt trails through the woods and running along a shoreline. In the Atlantic Community Bank Beach BumTriathlon in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, participants complete a 500-meter swim before hitting the sand for a 6-mile bike ride and a 3-mile run. You can also get down and dirty with Xterra's off-road events (xterraplanet.com for dates and locations), which include mountain biking and trail running. "Exercising out in nature—and I mean really out there—is extremely mentally beneficial," says Suzie Snyder, reigning Xterra USA Champion. "In a way, the stillness of the trail balances out the intensity of a hard physical effort."
Level up your training
Let's not forget that prepping for and participating in these events can be great exercise. (Here are some training tips for newbs.) Rotating such disparate workouts—running one day, hitting the rower the next—will reach muscles your usual routine might be missing. "Plus, when you're running in the sand, paddling through a lake, whatever it is, you're taxing your body in another way than when you are on a stable surface," says DaraTheodore, a trainer at the Fhitting Room in New York City who participates in adventure races. (Bonus: Running in sand will burn 60 percent more calories than doing that same pace on solid ground.) Sometimes that means getting uncomfortable and trying new activities. "The things you fear are the things you need to attack," she says. "That's where the change happens and where you grow as an athlete."
They're not all wet
Non-swimmers can still get in on a triple-threat activity with these races that replace freestyle with paddle sports. The SUP &Run 5K in Sarasota, Florida, for example, takes you on a lakeside loop before the stand-up paddle boarding portion of the race. Going straight from a hard-paved surface to the wobbly water adds an extra balance challenge. There's also the trifecta at the Millyard Bike Paddle Run in Nashua, New Hampshire.Individuals or teams bike 15.1 miles before grabbing the vessel of their choice—canoe, kayak, or SUP—for a 2.5-mile canal paddle. Participants close out the whole thing with a scenic 5K run.
Wrap your mind around this
Not all multis are synonymous with pushing your physical limits—and you might be surprised how doable they are when yoga is mixed in. Experience the run-yoga combo yourself at one of the Wanderlust 108 events this summer and fall. (Check dates and sign up at wanderlust.com/108s.) You'll start with a 5K run, move into a yoga class, and finish with meditation. "They're all disciplines that connect you with yourself and your surroundings," says Wanderlust community manager Jessica Kulick. At the Run the Vineyards Yoga and Endurance Challenge in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, you'll go through a quick yoga flow, run two miles, dodge some obstacles, and enjoy a glass of wine at the end. (Prefer beer? Sign up for one of these runs.)
Bond with your workout buddy
A multi known as the swimrun offers partner races that put teamwork at the center of the challenge, with some two-person teams even tethering themselves together as they tackle the course. The race concept originated in Sweden with the Ötillö Swimrun, but there are affiliated events across the globe, with a range of distances for all levels. (To find an event, go to otilloswimrun.com.) At Swim-Run-VA in Richmond, Virginia, for example, you'll alternate between running and swimming six times. Think of it as the ultimate interval workout.