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Few triathletes attempt both traditional and off-road racing, much less dominate in both formats. But for Flora Duffy, XTERRA racing is a big part of her success as an ITU competitor, and vice versa. After wrapping up her 2016 with a double victory at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final in Cozumel and XTERA World Championships in Maui, Duffy kicked off her 2017 season with a win at XTERRA South Africa. Here Duffy discusses how venturing off-road helps her stay on the path of victory.
Triathlete.com: Congratulations on your recent victory at XTERRA South Africa! How does it feel to start your season off with a W?
Duffy: It is great to start the year off with a win. XTERRA South Africa is a special race for me. I spend part of the year training in Stellenbosch so the XTERRA is a bit of a “home” race. Friends and my boyfriend’s family come out to watch the race, which makes the event that much better.
Triathlete.com: The last two races of your 2016 season were also wins, and big ones. With two championship races only a month apart, what was your strategy?
Duffy: The entire year had been very intense. Preparing for the Olympics and winning the ITU World Triathlon overall took a lot from me. My coach Neal [Henderson] and I decided to remove most of the intensity from my training and not worry too much about the watts I was riding nor try to run specific paces. I had great condition, most of the work was done—the most important thing was to remain healthy and top up my aerobic base.
Triathlete.com: We don’t see too many triathletes attempt both ITU and off-road triathlon. Why do you think that is?
Duffy: It is hard to balance the two. The ITU race schedule is so full that it is hard to fit in other races. I only do two XTERRAs a year now—one to qualify for Maui, and then of course Maui. It is too difficult to fit in others.
Another reason is a lot of federations and coaches do not allow their athletes to race off road. I presume it has something to do with fear of the athlete hurting themselves. And of course, the major difference: not everyone can ride a mountain bike. That is probably the biggest barrier to entry!
Triathlete.com: So why did you decide to try off-road triathlon?
Duffy: In 2013, I was taking a bit of a break from ITU racing and was looking for something new to try. I knew how to ride a mountain bike, so thought I would try XTERRA. I actually got my butt kicked in my first race. It was so hard! So XTERRA then became something I wanted to figure out. Thankfully I started dating Dan Hugo [a former XTERRA pro] that year, so he taught me the tricks.
Triathlete.com: And now you obviously love it. What keeps you coming back to the XTERRA circuit?
Duffy: Yeah, I really enjoy it. It is so different from any other genre of triathlon. It is so fun and the race locations so unique. In ITU racing everything must be perfect to win, while in XTERRA crashing, having a flat tire, or messing up a few corners are part of the experience. It mixes high performance and adventure out there on the course.
Triathlete.com: How does XTERRA benefit you as an ITU racer?
Duffy: It keeps everything fun. I really enjoy the variation. If I don’t feel like riding my road bike, I can pull out my mountain bike and head for the trails. It can get intense racing on the ITU circuit, so for me, XTERRA has become a bit of an outlet.
Triathlete.com: How do you address the techniques and skills required for each type of racing within a typical week of training?
Duffy: I spend 3 or 4 months of the year in South Africa, and while I am here I ride my mountain bike 2-3 times a week. Plus, I ride often with Dan, so to keep him in sight I have to ride technically well!
During the ITU season, I still try to ride my mountain bike once a week. After the ITU season, I put the road bike away and only ride my mountain bike in preparation for XTERRA Worlds. I try to spend as much time riding trail as possible. It is a lot more demanding on the body compared to road riding, so it takes me about 10 days to get what I can “mountain bike fit” again.
In terms of running and swimming—that mostly stays the same. The run in Maui is mostly uphill so I incorporate longer hills into my training.
Triathlete.com: Any downsides to adding off-road training to a schedule?
Duffy: The only difficulty for me is it makes my season longer than I sometimes would like, but I do always end my year in Maui, so it is not that bad!