Tri Plus Magazine

The Xterra Factor

trying an exotic off-road race can lead to a complete change of lifestyle, as it did for XTERRA pro athlete Emma Ruth Smith

I gaveup my job as a London solicitor in 2009 to become a professional XTERRA triathlete, and it was the best decision of my life. XTERRA is a brand name for off-road triathlon, just as Ironman is for long-distance triathlon. An XTERRA race is normally a 1.5km ocean swim, 30km mountain bike then 11km trail run, and races take place all over the world in exotic locations like Maui, Saipan and Guam, as well as stunning locations in Europe. Call me biased, but this is probably the best sport in the world!

The simple life
Life as a pro is far from easy, physically and financially. It’s been a huge step from working all hours to training all hours, and I push my body to the limit every day. I’m driven to pursue my dream and be the best athlete I can be, although there have been a few meltdowns along the way. I’m rapidly working through my savings just to pay the bills and it’s a case of financial survival from day to day. The little money I earn comes from race winnings. But I am one of the lucky ones and am really grateful to my product sponsors for the help I get at this early stage of my career.

I swapped my exclusive London lifestyle for a caravan in the Swiss Alps where I now live and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I’m so much happier now and proud to have made my dream become a reality. I love the simple life in my caravan surrounded by stunning mountains and incredible scenery and the training is just fantastic. I first got interested in triathlon and became a member of BRAT club in 2003 when I was at the University of Birmingham.

It wasn’t long before I started winning events and my coach at the time Julie Dibens (the current XTERRA World Champion) planted the seed that I could be good enough to go pro. Chrissie Wellington was my inspiration as we both have this obsessive drive to push ourselves and she just told me to go for it. I entered and won my first XTERRA event in the UK in 2008 and Iguess the rest is history. 

Takes my breath away
What I love most about XTERRA is that we get to go to the most amazing places, and no race is ever the same. I’ve swum in crystal clear oceans, clambered down waterfalls in rainforests, carried my bike across surging rivers and dodged many a coconut dangling from the palm trees. The XTERRA organisers certainly know how to design a challenging course using the terrain to its full advantage, and at times it can be more like a tropical adventure than a race!

We’re all fierce competitors in an actual race, but the XTERRA community is a really close-knit family and people look out for one another. For instance, British XTERRA athlete, Sam Gardner (Saipan 2010 Champion) gave me a lot of advice at my first few pro races. My performances are improving all the time, and the benefits of training full time with Team TBB Online are starting to pay off. I have made the podium in my last two races and I am looking to the World Championships in Maui on 24 October for a season finale.

Anyone can do XTERRA – I really believe that – it’s not the secret community that some people think it is. XTERRA is open to age- groupers as well as pros, and is something everyone should experience at least once in their life. If you’re hesitant about it, then just contact any one of the pros and they’ll be happy to help. My advice would be just give it a go and make your dream become reality. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Find out more about XTERRA at ; and follow Smith at

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