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Give it a Tri:
On-track Training for an Off-road Tri

By Scott Schumaker

The journey to the finish line of an off-road triathlon starts long before the starting gun goes off. If you want to have a successful race, whether that's just completing it or clocking a PR, it starts with training - weeks of it. What follows are general guidelines to either get you started or provide a check and balance for what you are already doing.

This plan revolves around a schedule of training a maximum of 12 hours a week, and is focused on Xterra-distance events (1k swim, 27k mountain bike, 10k run). "A lot of people make the mistake of thinking they've just got to train, train, train," says Xterra pro Candy Angle. "They don't understand the concept that less is sometimes more. That you really have to give your body the time to rest and recover, especially when you're pushing hard."

"You can do very well on 12 hours a week, for sure," says triathlon coach Wes Hobson, who finished second at the Xterra World Championship in 1998. If you don't have that much time, that's OK, adjust the time ratios below to work for you. A minimum of eight hours per week will get you through a race and, "most people can find that by turning off the television," says acmecoaching.com's Ian Murray. Regardless, you'll need to adjust the time ratios, because you won't be training 12 hours a week, every week, anyway.

No matter how many hours you have to train, since mountain biking takes a majority of the time in an off-road triathlon, be sure to spend at least half of your hours on the bike. For example, during your big 12-hour week that would mean six to seven hours biking, two to three hours swimming, and three hours running.

If you have a race coming up within the next month or two, hopefully you have a decent base of swimming, biking and running. Total hours of training per consecutive week should be along the lines of six, eight, 10 and 12. For the 12-hour week, shoot for two to three swim sessions, two 30 to 45 minute runs, one 90-minute run, and, Murray suggests, two 90-minute mountain bike rides, one three-hour road ride, and one 60-minute road ride. For all of these workouts, you should be able to talk comfortably when riding and running, focusing on form and technique. Carry this same, rather mellow effort level over to swimming, where you'll want to focus on drills, body position and lengthening your stroke.

Midseason Cycle

With the base period complete, start a new four-week training cycle that can take you through the rest of the year. These cycles will be geared toward building strength and power, which are crucial for off-road triathlon's bike and run. The hours per week of training will build through eight, 10, 12, and then, the fourth week, reduce to six to eight. The end of the fourth week is a great time to have a race scheduled, and the six to eight hours of exercise that week will include the duration of the race. If you don't have a race that fourth week, start the cycle over with an eight-hour week.

Try to swim three times a week during this period. If you only have two hours, make one session an hour long and the other two 30 minutes. One session should be an overall hard, distance-oriented, one-hour workout that includes a main set of repeats of at least 300 yards in length. Murray suggests this one: 3x500 with lots of rest in between where the first 150 is very strong, though not a full sprint, and then backing down to a more controlled, race pace. Another session should be more drill- and form-oriented. The third session should be easy to medium effort if you're tired, or a fast, hard one focusing on race pace repeats of 100 to 300 yards in length that total 1,000 to 1,500 yards if you're feeling great. Hobson recommends doing a short speed set at the end of each workout, 6x25-yard sprints with equal rest, to further simulate the beginning of the race.

Again, you'll be shooting for six to seven hours a week of riding during the peak week of these training cycles, and it will mimic the road to mountain biking ratio of the base period. The difference is you will hit the hills twice a week, once during your long aerobic road ride and once on the mountain bike.

The mountain bike hill ride focuses on building strength and power and is the week's key hard bike workout. Here are two workouts you could alternate on a weekly basis. Hobson suggests standing for three minutes, sitting three minutes, and then three minutes of easy spinning. Murray recommends seated climbs lasting four to six minutes with eight to 10 minutes easy spinning in between. Either way, start with one or two reps and gradually work up to six or seven. Aim to hit the upper end of your aerobic zone, don't go anaerobic. And, here's the key, push a big gear during the hard minutes. Work in the 60 to 65 rpm range for the first few weeks until your muscles and joints become accustomed to the strain, then work down to 50 to 55 rpm, or even 45 to 50 rpms. If you don't have hills around, just focus on pushing those big gears.

You don't want to do more than two mountain bike rides a week because off-road riding does beat you up and it will take too long to recover. In fact, keeping that second mountain bike ride short, (under an hour) on relatively flat trails, and focusing on pedaling efficiency is a good idea. If you're really feeling beat up, replace it with an easy road bike ride or skip it all together.

For the run, again, shoot for three hours of total running during the 12-hour week, with the long run being up to 90 minutes. Rolling trails would be ideal for this long run. You also have one 30 to 45 minute easy run. And, head to the hills again for the week's key hard workout. Here's one Hobson likes: a 15-minute warm-up, then 8x40 seconds fast up a steep hill, walk back down, repeat. If you can find a trail to do this on, that's ideal. If not, the road will work. No hills around? Substitute a StairMaster or a treadmill on 5 percent incline. Or, hit the track for three miles of repeats; say 6x800 or 8x400. "The less rest the better," says Hobson. "And you're not concentrating on speed, but force and endurance." Translation: these repeats aren't sprints or road tri pace. Keep them at about 80 percent of your body's maximum output.

A Few More Tips

1. It's essential to build one day off from working out into your weekly schedule, and this doesn't mean packing the day with business meetings and errands. "Work in at least an hour of complete rest (on your off day) like you work in an hour of working out," Murray says. Get a massage, take a nap, sit in the hot tub. This is as important as every key workout.

2. Consider taking one week completely off in the middle of the season, maybe after a big race that is exceedingly taxing. Most find they are stronger mentally and physically the second half of the season as a result.

3. If you have a big, all-important race coming up, take at least a two-week taper (some take three), training six to eight hours with two weeks to go, and four to six the final week. That final week should be mostly easy where you're trying to stay loose and relaxed. However, do throw in a few bursts of effort - up to a minute x5 - once or twice during the week in the swim, bike, and run to keep a spring in your step.

4. Finally, remember that everyone is different. What works for Hobson, Murray, Angle or me may not work the same for you. So, experiment and doodle with the guidelines listed here and discover what works best for you.

Author Scott Schumaker is a semi-retired professional xterra triathlete and a regular contributor to asm.

10 Things Not To Forget When Racing An Off-Road Tri

By Jamie Whitmore

Duct Tape. This is the first thing I pack when traveling. I use it often for things like securing gels to the bike or fixing a tubeless flat.

Neosporin. This comes in handy every once in a while after pre-riding the course or racing.

Full-Fingered gloves. They give added protection and grip while riding and sometimes on the run.

Yankz Shoelaces (Or other elastic, no-tie laces). They come in handy for quick transition and are great for trail running.

Slime/Stan's No Tubes. Either one can prevent a flat, especially in Maui.

Oxygen Mask or Optygen. The Xterra races in Keystone (Colorado), Big Bear (California) and Lake Tahoe (Nevada) can really take your breath away.

Shock pump. The air in shocks should always be let out when flying. This is the only pump that can adjust pressure in shocks.

Socks. A must for the run to avoid blisters from trailing through water, dirt and sand.

Glasses with various lenses. Different color lenses are helpful for different courses and light conditions, and glasses help keep dust out of the eyes.

Waffle iron. Waffles are my must-have food for the morning intake of carbohydrates on race day.

Jamie Whitmore, 27, of Elk Grove, California, was the 2003 Xterra Pro Points Series Champion.

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