Ask the Coach – Training for both On and Off-Road Triathlons
Sunny writes: I really got into the road and Xterra triathlons last year. I noticed that I wasn’t as prepared for the running terrain as I’d like to be. What’s your recommendation on splitting training time to make sure I am able to complete either? My main goal is to be in good enough shape to finish and enjoy either terrain.
As the sport of triathlon grows, so does interest in the variety of events that are available, especially here in the state of Colorado, where there are many on and off-road options. However, one might say that Xterra races, your off-road race, are a completely different ballgame than road triathlons, except for the similarity they share in being swim/bike/run events. So how does one train for both and enjoy both the training and the racing? Let’s break it down to the events.
Swim: The swim is probably the most similar between the two events, most likely a lake or river swim. The one difference in the swim is that swim position is a little more critical in the Xterra race. Road triathlons are usually on wide roads that allow you to pass slower cyclists that might be faster swimmers. Xterra races can have technical and single track sections that might make passing difficult. Something to keep in mind when you are swim training.
Bike: One thing in common between races is that if you spend too much energy on the bike, your run will suffer. In my opinion, it is much easier to burn through energy stores on a mountain bike (especially for the newer mountain biker/Xterra athlete) than on a road bike. Mountain bike fitness can carry over to road fitness so I recommend the following.
- Work on mountain bike technical skills at least once a week. If you are new to the sport, find a local cycling club that gives lessons. You will learn a lot faster from an experienced mountain biker than by yourself.
- Get at least two mountain bike rides in each week and one road bike ride. You might alternate weekend long rides, one week being a road ride and the other being a mountain bike ride, depending on how your races are scheduled throughout the season.
- Practice hydrating/fueling on your mountain bike. It’s much easier to eat/drink on a road bike (and practice this too!), as it’s a necessary thing in both kind of races. Be comfortable refueling!
- Know it is OK to get off and walk your bike. If a section is too technical or going to get you beyond a reasonable heart rate, then walk the bike. Make sure some of your training routes have technical sections beyond your ability so you can 1) work on skills, and 2) execute judgement on when to get off and walk.
- Hit the trails. Trail running will build leg strength that can be used in both road and off road racing, so get on the technical trails at least once a week. If you don’t have access to trails where you live, find hilly terrain (short & steep, and some longer hills) or vary the incline on a treadmill. But most importantly:
- Do race simulation bricks. Not necessarily race-pace, but race-terrain. Leading up to your off-road race, make sure you practice running a technical trail after a mountain bike ride. If you can, do shorter bricks after your bike rides (both road and off-road) at least once a week. A quick 10-minute run off the bike is enough to help teach your body to run off the bike so when it comes to your longer bricks and races, you will be prepared.
A coach can certainly help design a schedule appropriate for both kinds of races, but if you are building your own training plan, incorporate the tips above and happy racing!
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