These questions were recently asked by one of our members. If you prefer riding on the trails versus roads to avoid cars, but do regular road triathlons and not necessarily the off-road Xterra types, what is the best way to substitute trail and mountain bike riding into your training plan?
The answer to this question does depend on how long the event is and what stage of training you are in, for example, in the base training phase or if you are just getting back on your bike, you can certainly do much, if not all of your work on the mountain bike. In my opinion, pedaling is pedaling and going out on a mountain bike would be a great idea. I understand the issue with traffic and cars these days and getting off the roads feels much safer, and to many people, may be a more enjoyable workout.
In terms of substituting the miles or distance into your plan, I wouldn’t use distance on the road and certainly not on the trails either. Time is always going to work best for you since that’s the only metric your body really understands. So add the training in terms of time and use heart-rate (HR) as your metric. You’ll see your HR drop over time on hills whether you are on the road or on the mountain bike, and there may be times you have to work very hard to climb a short steep hill on the mountain bike and your HR sky-rockets, but these are little VO2 sets that will help your overall fitness. After doing this week after week, your power will increase and you’ll be in much better shape. There’s something to be said for lactate reps early in the season. These are efforts that are very hard but for a short period of time. They aren’t long enough to break down muscle and shouldn’t cause any soreness like longer reps.
The hard efforts on a mountain bike will transition over to the roads and allow you to develop an improved threshold. The endurance you gain on the bike combined with the strength will help your overall fitness. Once you add in longer endurance rides you should be a well rounded rider.
Depending on the distance you are racing, about six weeks out from your key race, I would start adding in two key rides each week on your triathlon bike: The first key workout is your threshold or tempo day on the triathlon bike. It’s important to do these workouts in the aero bars and in the same gearing you intend on racing. The other key ride that you should be doing each week is your long ride. Getting used to your triathlon bike saddle, hand position on the aero bars, and the handling of the bike will help you tremendously on race day.
If you are racing longer events such as a half or full iron distance race, you may want to start to add in the two key workouts at least ten weeks earlier than race day.
Mixing up the riding will help any cyclist become better and if you feel safer riding off road, and you’ll do more of it, that alone will help you be a better rider in the long run.