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Mix it Up this Fall: Challenge your Cycling Status Quo

Fall is a great opportunity to shift gears.

How does a triathlete who has just been hooked on the sport work on newly acquired cycling skills? How do experienced triathletes keep up their fitness heading into the winter? Fall is a great opportunity to shift gears from a balanced schedule of workouts in three sports and develop cycling proficiency by adding mountain biking or cyclocross riding.

An important thing to remember is to make sure there is a short rest period before undertaking a late season program, though. Even with the best of intentions, jumping head first into another intense cycle of training can easily result in burn out. Take two weeks to transition into this period with some friendly group rides and to brush the “rust” off the mountain bike handling.

Shorter in length, fall evenings are often limited to indoor trainer sessions with the longer outdoor rides moved to the weekends. This short, very specific workout is perfect for the fall as it allows the athlete to keep a high level of fitness without a huge outlay of time. Form can be maintained with three or four precise cycling sessions. Mountain biking, or even mixed surface road rides, provide a change of scenery that can add neglected social time as well as improving technical skills.

Chances are, if you have been to your local bike shop, the staff will be abuzz with the approach of cyclocross season. Cyclocross involves racing a road style bike equipped with more powerful brakes and larger tires around a multiple-lap course that can consist of pavement, grass, sand, mud, water, hills or any combination of all those. Many road riders look forward to this type of racing as the events are short and success is a mixture of finesse, technique and fitness. Cyclocross racing is similar to sprint or Olympic distance triathlon – effort is at threshold, or very close, the entire time.

Cyclocross bikes are also perfect as a second road bike, especially for use in inclement conditions. With the extra mud clearance between the tires and frame there is plenty of room for full length fenders in the spring. Coupled with a slightly wider tire, whether smooth or with an aggressive tread, the bike can be set up for exploring gravel roads and even trails. One of the benefits of this style of riding is the riders can obtain a higher level of confidence in the handling as well as the traction of the tires. It has often been noted that off-road racers, whether mountain bike or cyclocross, pedal very efficiently. This comes from having to feel the ground and balance pedal pressure against the traction available. As with road riding, choosing appropriate training partners will make, or break, the enjoyment. Riding with someone slightly better and following their lines through technical sections will improve a skill set and can also bolster one’s confidence, knowing that something is rideable.

Cycling off pavement requires the rider to be dynamic – weight gets shifted fore and aft, from the seat to the handlebars. This weight shift provides required traction to the appropriate wheel, which is necessary for braking or acceleration, as well as cornering. Having more weight on the bars will give the front wheel more traction required for cornering and braking, while the back wheel provides the acceleration.

Many traditional cycling workouts can be switched from pavement to the dirt or a combination of both.

Strength: These can be done on a mountain bike using longer consistent grade climbs or on technical trails that require constant and dynamic movement to maintain speed. Aim to keep the cadence relatively low instead of spinning quickly. Heart rate and breathing should stay under control. This type of workout also helps explore the amount of pressure to apply to the pedal to keep traction at the maximum.

Threshold: Choose a loop that takes approximately six to 12 minutes to complete. This can either be flat, hilly or even include a technical section with roots or rocks for variety. Divide the loop in two by completion time and ride at threshold for half and recover for half. Repeat four to eight times, keeping the total workout to under an hour. The important note here is to actually allow the heart rate to drop during recovery, so that section should be either smooth or downhill. A technical trail at top speed on a mountain bike works bike handling at the limit as well as.

Endurance: Use the longer weekend rides to maintain endurance, but include some strength as well. Plan a 2 ½ to 3 1/2 hour ride that consists of 50 percent road and 50 percent gravel. Keep cadence high at 90 to 95 rpm on the pavement and use the gravel sections to lower cadence. Watch pro cyclists during the spring classics on the rougher roads – they use an over geared cadence to maintain speed.

Heart Rate (HR) Zones / % of Lactate Threshold / Perceived Exertion (PE)

Zone 1: Active recovery / <80% of LT / Very easy pace

Zone 2: Aerobic / 80 – 87% of LT / Slightly faster pace, still able to talk

Zone 3: Threshold / 88-93% of LT / Moderate pace, increased breathing

Zone 4: Lactate / 94 – 100% of LT / Fast pace, breathing is getting uncomfortable

Zone 5: VO2 max / >100% of LT / All out pace, breathing is very deep and quick


MS = Main Set

HR = Heart Rate

(20″) = recovery after interval, ‘ = minute. ” = seconds

MTB = Mountain Bike

Sample 3 Week Plan:

Week 1

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Swim: DPS, 25% rest MS:4 x (150-100-50) Bike: Trainer Intervals MS: 5 x 5′ (4′) Z4

Wednesday: Run: Base 50′

Thursday: Swim: Pace 2 x (6 x 100) Bike: MTB or Trainer Strength MS: 4 x (6′ BG as 3′ 60 RPM, 3′ 55 RPM) @ Z 2/3; 4′ R – easy spin)

Friday: Swim: Endurance~10-15% rest) 5-6 x 300 (30″)

Saturday: Run: 4 x 1 mile (3′ R) Bike: MTB 90-120′ Steady aerobic

Sunday: Bike: MTB Strength and Endurance Mountain Bike 2.0 hours Ride your MTB. The first hour of this ride is flat to rolling terrain, maintain higher cadence 90 rpm. After W-UP, ride 30′ hard tempo in HR zone 3-4 at 90-95 RPM. Pick a trail loop that is intermediate in technical challenge but has a 2-3′ climb. Climb the hill aggressively, letting HR climb to zone 4 allow heart rate to drop on the descents but keep up speed.  If hilly terrain is not available, incorporate 2′ @ 55RPM (HR zone 3-4).

Week 2

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Swim: DPS  25% rest MS: 3 x (200, 4 x 50) Bike: MTB or Trainer Intervals MS: 6 x 4′ (4′) Z4

Wednesday: Run: Base 60′

Thursday: Swim: Pace 2-3 x (4×100, 4 x 50) Bike: Trainer Strength MS: 2 x (4′ BG at 50RPM / 4′ BG at 60 RPM / 2′ stand at 50 RPM /2′ Higher Cadence 100 RPM) Z 2/3, w/ 6′ R easy spin at 90RPM)

Friday: Swim:  Endurance~10-15% rest) 8 x 50 alt back/free, 4 x 100 alt breast/free, 2 x 200 pull, 400 free, 2 x 200 pull, 4 x 100 alt breast/free, 8 x 50 alt. back/free

Saturday: Run: 6 x 1km (2′ R) Bike: MTB 90-120′ steady aerobic

Sunday: Bike: MTB Strength and Endurance Road + Off Road: 2 hours Ride your MTB. The first 1/2 of this ride is on road, flat to rolling. After W-UP ride 20-30′ hard tempo in HR zone 4 at 90-95RPM. Ride the second half of your ride off-road. Pick a hilly trail network that is intermediate in technical challenge. Ride 20-30′ of this off road portion aggressively, letting HR climb to zone 4 on sharper climbs. If hilly terrain is not available, incorporate 3′ @ 55rpm (HR zone 3-4)

Week 3 – Recovery

Monday: Off

Tuesday: Swim: DPS  25% rest MS: 4 – 6 x (150 hypoxic, 100 DPS, 50 breathe every 9) Bike: Trainer Intervals MS: 4 x 6′ high cadence (4′) Z3-4

Wednesday: Run: Base 45′

Thursday: Swim: Pace 3 x (8 – 12 x 50) Bike: Trainer Strength MS: 3 x (6′ BG at 50-60RPM / 2′ Higher Cadence 100 RPM) Z 2/3, w/ 5′ R easy spin at 90RPM)

Friday: Swim:  Endurance~10-15% rest) 5 – 7 x 200 (20″)

Saturday: Run: Fartlek 6’/5’/4’/3’/2’1′ w 2′ easy jog between each interval

Sunday: Bike: Road Ride 90-120′ Steady aerobic

LifeSport coach Dan Smith is an NCCP Certified coach and has been involved with multisport for over fifteen years. He has also coached and instructed cycling, sailing and sail boarding since 1981.

LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group champions. He enjoys coaching athletes of all abilities who are passionate about sport and personal excellence

Beginner and experienced triathletes looking to start or improve their performances are invited to join the LifeSport team. Visit us on the web at www.LifeSportCoaching.com or email LifeSport Coaching at coach@LifeSportCoaching.com.