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A Pan Am medalist’s tips for making the most out of training alone on the bike

The art of solitary riding

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

The world has certainly changed over the last few months, but the habits of Canadian athletes certainly haven’t. During the spring pandemic I worked at a bicycle store deemed essential in Toronto. When plexiglass shields were installed to distance customers from employees, I knew that human interaction had changed, as had training with friends, groups and clubs. While it can often be beneficial and more enjoyable to work out with others, there are certainly some benefits to training alone, especially come race day. Should you continue to find yourself without your regular training crew in the coming months, here are a few tips I have used over the years to combat the loneliness that comes with solo training.


One thing that I have always relied on during my solo training has been music. There is something special about throwing on a favourite song or curated playlist to get you through your efforts. From easy recovery workouts to interval training that has you blue in the face, I have always found that extra push in my tunes that help me through my goal workouts. If music is not your thing, podcast’s are a great way to keep the mind occupied during solo workouts. Catching up on news, lifestyle and sports podcasts can be a great way to learn a thing or two while putting in some endurance training. While there is an arguable benefit of practicing race day silence and being with your thoughts (as most triathletes are during their races), I am of the belief that during long steady efforts it does not hurt to keep the mind occupied with some noise, leave the race day silence to your time trial tests or race pace intervals.

Breathing, stretching and yoga

One addition to my limited workout regime amidst lockdown has been trying some different yoga and pilates classes with my girlfriend via Zoom meetings. After my first pilates class my only comment was that I never knew something done entirely on a mat could be so tiring and such a great workout. I engaged muscle groups that I forgot I had, especially previous injury areas that I so often neglect. In a time where race aspirations and training destinations are put on hold, there is no better time to address the entire body as a whole with strengthening and movement orientated exercise. A quick search of the internet for home practices like yoga will help you expand your athletic ability, and there is literally no downside.

From cardio-blasting pilates to slow-flow yoga, it is beneficial to practice and work on exercises which slow you down and connect your body through breath and movement. Things like yoga, pilates and stretching might differ from your usual workout routine, but these activities strengthen your body, and also add some mental toughness to your fitness CV

Virtual competition

While racing might be on hold for the remainder of the year, there are still many ways to compete with those all around the world. One of the original, and in my opinion, best tests of your training status is Strava. Many of my best performances have been on Strava segments which I either know, or have meticulously examined before going after the beloved top spot. It is also a great way to discover new training roads or routes which might become part of your regular training regime. Testing yourself on climbs, long uninterrupted roads or endurance routes can often be beneficial in gauging your fitness level, and it is also fun to see just how many people are also out enjoying the same things you love.

With the release of the Ironman Virtual Club triathletes can now rest easy that there is a community to test themselves against the people they might see at their local race scene. Not only is it important to keep your competitive edge for upcoming events, but the training benefits of gauging fitness against others can be a beneficial way to plan future training. While virtual racing will never replicate the demands and atmosphere of lining up on race day, it is certainly the next best thing to keep busy during these unprecedented times. Having tuned into a few of the pro races hosted through both Ironman Virtual Club and Strava, it has been great to see the community engage in this new style of racing. The real-time analytics of racers also provide a peek into just how strong triathlete pros are – it certainly inspired me to get off the couch and work out.

With the current ever-changing times, it is up to all athletes to adapt and rise to the new challenge that is competing. I can only imagine the jaw-dropping differences competitors will see when they show up on race day. I imagine wave starts will have to be decreased in size, social distancing will have to be upheld in the transition zone and the high fives between competitor and spectator will be a thing of the past. While these differences will be an adjustment, it will certainly be nice to compete again.

Sean Mackinnon was a top junior triathlete before he turned his focus to cycling and became part of the national cycling program. He won two bronze medals at the 2015 Pan Am Games.

This story first appeared in the July, 2020 issue of Triathlon Magazine Canada.