Our mind and body benefit from going off-road, particularly in the off-season. A time of renewal, closing the chapter on one season means inviting new for another.
As a professional triathlete, venturing into off-road triathlon two years ago was the beginning of me uncovering an entirely new element of enjoyment and performance. My debut was unintentional (and quite honestly - very not “professional”). I experimented with mountain biking and stumbled across the trails with friends. However, it quickly invited a sensation I hadn’t felt in many years: being a beginner.
Without fail, at the turn of late September here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, fall greets me with a newfound invitation to begin new. The crispness washing over me from the gentle winds like a clean slate, it’s nature’s whisper to reset, retune and restore.
I can trace this nostalgic sensation back to my first days of school. New school year, ~new me ~.
I felt this sense of new beginning - not in this way of needing to change, but perhaps as some derive from January 1st - the opportunity to create change within ourselves.
Triathletes: notorious for our type A (hey, and type 2 fun..right?) tendencies - prided for our regimented training, structured schedule and diligence to the grind. You find us sticking to the plan as much as the black line of the pool and yellow line of the road - steadily keeping pace, bettering ourselves with improved form efficiency, aerodynamic gear and the latest technological advancements. It’s these qualities about us which possess the draw to the sport. There’s always an area of improvement among the disciplines. Without question, it’s what enables the level of achievement only the intensity and range multi-sport demands.
Until it doesn’t. At some point the yearn for the pinnacle of competition no longer energized me like it once had. I got burnt-out.
I initially took on the dirtier, rugged, unknown, more adventurous path after Worlds in 2019 - I needed new.
The fall of 2019 following the World Championships in Switzerland came with its own unexpected challenges in my personal life. The lure of trail running and biking began as a way for me to return to my body and nature. It began when my community of friends and my brave partner got me on an 80’s hardtail, introducing me to my local mountains I’d yet to traverse, and to their credit…encouraging me to experience a whole new world of movement. I was HOOKED.
It so happened that as 2020 took its course, my desire for self-designed feats and setting my own challenges only heightened as racing was put on hold.
The trails delivered everything I never knew I needed - solitude in nature, a break from the pavement pounding and pace peeking, time with my new dog (if I’m honest with myself, I was really getting outside for her), and an escape from structure competition and training.
Two years later, I have the perspective to see the ways this drastically shifted my health and yearn for the sport in the long term.
Here’s what I learned by taking on a new way of experiencing multi-sport, and why now’s the perfect time for you to go off-road.
1. Being a Beginner Again is Hard, but Essential
There is something about starting new things, especially as an adult, where we are expected to immediately arrive and understand without complication. It bears an extra layer of emotional challenge that takes courageous and humbling strength to overcome.
Here’s the thing about doing hard things: You build trust with yourself. It’s liberating to release yourself from your unrealistic expectations. You learn you can survive, flailing and barely keeping your head about water—but expanding.
I felt rekindled with the absolutely terrifying yet expansive growth that floods a new experience. It was the same constant seeking-of-improvement that called me back to the pool day after day for twenty years. This improvement-seeking is what drew me to competitive triathlons. It demanded my utmost attention and presence, and I never felt more alive. Learning how to mountain bike was the start of many more firsts for me. Soon after, I felt that expansion in myself spiraling into all facets of my life.
2. Reduced Overuse Injury
Taking to mixed terrain provides a break from pounding the pavement. My reduction in injury over the past two years has led to my most consistent period of training, ever. The trails demand more diverse movement patterns - you are out of your saddle, hiking the bike (holy legs/aerobic capacity/arm strength), shifting your positioning as you dance along the rocks. The tiny muscles in my feet were recruited in new ways and it wasn’t step after step of the same repetitive motion.
3. Strengthened Athleticism
You can’t fake strength on the trails.
Before, a pebble in my path would throw me and my 21mm road tire into a ditch. It took me a long time to learn I can roll the rocks (and better, how to USE my full body to finesse over them!). This translates to my ability to spot my lines in advance on the trails, improved bike handling skills, muscle activation and activating my entire body (not just forcing my bike over roots).
When off the road and into the woods, you are forced to emphasize disciplines across the seasons - this incorporates variety and diversity of training.
The other unexpected benefit: greater respect for our body and the natural world as we modulate with the seasons. Throughout the year I have shifted focus from a 50mi trail run race, to a 100mi biking race, a frequent swimming emphasis, and short track to longer distance triathlon. My ability to have range has expanded and as a byproduct it’s recharged my drive for each discipline in a new way.
Read more in next weeks post!
About the Author:
Amanda Presgraves uniquely integrates her expertise across food and health, business, athletics, community development and mindset as a: Professional USA Triathlete and Ultra-Endurance Off-Road Athlete, Author of “The NonRecipe Book”, Food-Startup Entrepreneur, and Mindset Coach located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley of Harrisonburg, Virginia.