The Rise, Fall and Rise Of Off-Road Triathlon in South Africa

by | Aug 24, 2023 | TRIATHLON, Events, Featured, Woolworths X Tri Prime View

At the forefront of this revival, the Woolworths X TRI series embodies the essence of off-road triathlon.

We’re pretty fortunate down here on the Southern tip of Africa. We’re blessed with fairly temperate weather (with the right gear you can run and ride outside in all seasons) and we’re blessed with a rich network of off-road trails close to most major centers. We’re also a nation with a penchant for challenges and a deep affection for endurance sports, which explains the rich historical tapestry of off-road triathlon in this land.

Off-road triathlon, as its name suggests, encompasses swimming, mountain biking, and trail running. This sport gained prominence during the late 1990s and early 2000s in South Africa. It served as an alternative to the traditional road triathlon, allowing athletes to compete in natural, off-road settings.

Our endurance and outdoor adventure culture being what it is, off-road triathlon found a supportive community and suitable terrain for hosting such events here and the sport gained traction in the country due to its challenging courses set in scenic natural landscapes.

Nothing can be written about the history of off-road triathlon in SA without a (big) tip of the hat to Conrad ‘The Caveman’ Stoltz. Stoltz is a multiple-time XTERRA World Champion and played a crucial role in showcasing the sport’s appeal through his impressive performances on the international stage. The Caveman showed that the category could be a viable pro career and the likes of Dan Hugo and Brad Weiss followed with their own global successes. 

The XTERRA South Africa Championship became one of the prominent events on the XTERRA World Tour. This race attracted both local and international athletes looking for a unique and challenging race experience. The South African XTERRA Championship was known for its rugged courses, which often included technical mountain biking sections and demanding trail runs.

As the sport grew globally, it also influenced the growth of off-road triathlon in South Africa. Local races and series sprouted up across the country, offering enthusiasts various opportunities to compete and explore the natural beauty of South Africa’s landscapes. Regrettably, like many endeavors, the number of events dwindled due to insufficient sponsorship and organization.

Woolworths X Tri
Woolworths X TRI in the spectacular Karkloof


Nonetheless, the past few years have witnessed a remarkable resurgence, with the Woolworths X TRI series leading this revival. Originating as an annual event in the Western Cape, aimed at raising funds for the Woolworths Trust, the series expanded to Gauteng and KZN in 2022 with resounding success. This platform offers a mass participation swim, bike, run (and walk) experience, open to individuals of all fitness levels and skills.

At the forefront of this revival, the Woolworths X TRI series embodies the essence of off-road triathlon. It caters to both elite racing aspirations and the desire for an enjoyable outing, all while championing a noble cause.

A distinctive feature of the Woolworths X TRI is its diverse range of categories tailored to every level of fitness and technical proficiency. Whether you’re a newcomer eager to test your mettle, a weekend warrior seeking a fresh challenge, or an elite athlete striving for excellence, there’s a category tailored for you.

Woolworths X Tri
Woolworths X TRI

For the elites, the X TRI Full features a demanding course: a 1000m Open Water Swim, a 27 km technical mountain bike segment, and a 12 km trail run. For those seeking a slightly less daunting challenge, the X TRI LITE offers a 400m open water swim, a 12 km jeep track mountain bike leg, and a 5 km off-road run.

Recognising that the joy of participation isn’t confined to the fiercely competitive, the Woolworths X TRI includes options like the ‘RUN FOR FUN,’ a 5km off-road run (which can also be completed as a walk), and the ‘WALK FOR GOOD,’ a 3km nature walk suitable for participants of all ages.

One thing that really stands out for us too is the access to free coaching by renowned SA triathlete, Vicky Van Der Merwe of Stellenbosch Triathlon Squad. This addresses one of the most daunting aspects of entering a triathlon: the training regimen. It tackles questions like balancing the three disciplines, leveraging strengths while improving weaknesses, and determining the right training volume, timing, and approach.

Woolworths X Tri
Woolworths X TRI

In the midst of this exhilarating adventure lies a profound sense of purpose. Woolworths has consistently aimed to make a meaningful contribution to South Africa’s social development agenda. By supporting projects and programs that address issues such as food security and education, Woolworths remains steadfast in its commitment to the global #zerohunger2030 initiative.

As athletes and participants join forces under the banner of the Woolworths X TRI, they not only challenge themselves physically but also contribute to a legacy of positive change. The event’s fusion of athleticism and altruism encapsulates the spirit of South Africa’s resurgence in off-road triathlons and stands as a testament to the transformative power of sport.

If this has inspired you to get out there, enter the Woolworths X TRI HERE, today. You can also read more about some of the past events, here.

The three-race Woolworths X TRI series races forward with a passion for excellence and a commitment to social impact. A Woolworths X-Tri isn’t just an event; it’s a celebration of human endeavour, a showcase of breathtaking landscapes, and a beacon of hope for a brighter future. Learn more about the upcoming events here. 

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