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  1. #1
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    Would triathlon training help aerobic base for XC racing?

    OK, quick background. I followed a "training bible" plan fairly closely last year. Totaled about 350 hours. I live in MI and getting long base miles through the winter is tough for me to do. (I'm a wimp) Therefore I did a lot of longish rides indoors (2-3 hours). This seemed to improved my racing from previous years as typically I just did some running and some random spin classes through the winter. I raced expert/elite SS class and usually finished mid-pack. Which I was happy with as it was my first year racing with the fast guys.

    So my girlfriend talked me into doing some triathlons next year and we would like to train up to a half ironman distance. Most of this training is HR zone 2 type stuff. Last year I was doing 7-9 hours per week spinning indoors. This year I'm planing on doing about 5-6 hours of spinning, but adding 5-6 hours of swimming and running to the mix. For now I'm really enjoying the mix of training. Then as the weather breaks I will get more bike time to start getting ready for a few spring races.

    So, in general do you guys think that losing some cycling hours but gaining more total hours with some swimming and running will help, hurt or keep XC race results about the same? Or should I try to keep cycling hours the same or more than last year? Obviously there are a ton of variables here, so just looking for some general thoughts or pointers from people who do XC racing and triathlons.
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    Running is going to help your cardio. People said that Nino runs in order to boost his cardio in ways that biking can't. I am a firm believer that running is the best and most efficient way to boost cardio. So it depends on where your weakness is at on the bike. Do you suffer on the bike because of cardio or muscle fatigue? For me, I crap out first due to muscle fatigue and i do really well on the cardio side of things.

    Swimming is not going to help your biking in a noticeable way. I am a horrible swimmer but it seems like swimming is mostly two things 1. Form and 2. Cardio. Being efficient is key to swimming and not needing huge gulps of air all the time helps a lot.

    Something that I have realized (it took me 3 years) is that good triathletes are rarely experts in any one thing. They have to divide their time up into three events to be good. You are probably going to find out this year that you are going to be mediocre at three events instead of really good at one. There is definitely a level of compromise. What is more important to you? Is there a certain time that you want to get with triathlon, or do you just want to finish it?

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    I just finished my first sprint tri over the weekend. I don't believe that it really helps XC racing at all. Swimming and running are not bad, but if the take the place of biking then it may hurt. Road biking helps only in that it builds endurance, both cardio and muscles. Running can infact cause injury and have you lose time on the bike. Swimming can be bad if you build up too much upper body and have to drag that around on the bike.

    That said for general health and fitness Tri training is good as it works alot of muscle groups. If you goal is get lean and fit then it is good and will help muscle groups you don't get when riding. However if you are already fit and want to do well at XC racing then I think swimming and running should not replace much biking training. In my Tri training I became a better swimmer and runner, but since I was good on the bike it has done nothing for that. Heck I think I might have been faster on the bike had I spent all that time just on the bike. However if you can add training time by also swimming and running then it will help. 8hrs of bike vs 6hrs bike and 6 hrs swim/run = more time training.
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  4. #4
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    I race triathlons, and train pretty rigorously, and am surprised how little crossover training benefit there is between riding and running, other than the aerobic base you gain from either. I can win a podium on a local 5k run, or finish in top 10% of a big race like Army Ten Miler (top 1700 of about 24,000 racers) ... But put me on a mountain bike race and I always finish in bottom half and usually bottom third. I'm in a run heavy training block right now prior to a January marathon, and am getting on the bike only for recovery rides.... Probably losing some bike speed. So my experience is that 1) you'll enjoy triathlons; and 2) the best triathletes are the best triathletes .... Not great bikers with a strong run or the best runners with a good bike.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mageetah View Post
    (I'm a wimp) I did a lot of longish rides indoors (2-3 hours).

    ... it was my first year racing with the fast guys.

    ... for now I'm really enjoying the mix of training.
    First of all, you're NOT a wimp.

    After one year of racing, figure out what you need to improve - conditioning, losing fat, technical skills... figure out where and why you lost time on the courses and work on that.

    If you enjoy it, keep doing it. You're not getting paid to ride/race your bike. Do whatever is fun.

  6. #6
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    You arent a wimp if you can ride indoors from 2-3 hours at a time. That makes you a hardman.
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  7. #7
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    Exactly.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sheepo5669 View Post
    You arent a wimp if you can ride indoors from 2-3 hours at a time. That makes you a hardman.
    +1. I switch to flat pedals and gore-tex hiking boots and ride around in the snow first!
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  9. #9
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    Yes 2 or 3 hours indoor thats a machine. I love Michigan trails btw did the Poto SS race. I starting running about 40 miles a week 4 months ago if anything it has help my riding. Gives different group muscles a break.

    A friend of my who runs marathons did Shenandoah 100 he rides maybe 5 times a year and finish mid pac. I would not be able to jump to his disciple and run a marathon in a respectable time but than again if it was a DH race I would destroy him. Running will build your endurance and it seems like you got the technical skills down so I don't think the cross training is going to slow u down at all.

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    Tri's are fun but off-road Tri's are even more funner...and beyond that multiday bikepackin trips are the funnest...

  11. #11
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    Hey thanks for all the encouraging input. I pretty much think that more total training will equal similar or improved spring fitness. I do plan on getting outside to ride at least once on the weekends. Its the dark/cold/wet combo that I just have trouble with on weeknights.

    Off road triathlons do interest me quite a bit....man I can't wait for spring!
    Sometimes you eat the bar... and well, sometimes the bar eats you

  12. #12
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    Yeah, I forgot about those. Maybe try an Xterra event if one is in your area. You'll probably do great at it.

  13. #13
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    Swimming is not going to help your biking in a noticeable way
    I disagree with this. Swimming will push your cardio to new levels. I attribute my cardio capacity to all the swimming I do (4-6 miles a week). You can go anaerobic real fast swimming. That anaerobic capacity is a big factor to helping biking and running. You still need muscular endurance, but you can all the ME in the world, but you are not going any where fast without a solid anaerobic endurance.

    You will also drop weight like a lead balloon. Even if your not training for triathlons, a simple, quick 30minute swim can have huge benefits.



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    I think running is an especially worthwhile activity for general fitness and if done in moderation is a cornerstone of a good exercise program.

    The issue I see with many triathletes is they do a lot of workouts in a tired state and don't get much top end. On the bike especially the workouts tend to be recovery or endurance rides because the running leaves the legs trashed.

    Doing intervals and tempo on fresh legs is the key for either running or biking. How you fit that in your plan is the trick. Too much junk miles will make you a one speed kind of athlete, which I think is why many triathletes tend to keep doing longer and longer events rather than trying to get faster at the shorter ones.

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    Mixing up the training is great for all around performance, evens the body out and keeps entire body fit. If you just want to work on your cardio try jumping rope... a lot of people laugh at that but it's the best cardio workout you can get, try it and report back. Good luck in your 2013 season.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by jroden View Post
    I think running is an especially worthwhile activity for general fitness and if done in moderation is a cornerstone of a good exercise program.

    The issue I see with many triathletes is they do a lot of workouts in a tired state and don't get much top end. On the bike especially the workouts tend to be recovery or endurance rides because the running leaves the legs trashed.

    Doing intervals and tempo on fresh legs is the key for either running or biking. How you fit that in your plan is the trick. Too much junk miles will make you a one speed kind of athlete, which I think is why many triathletes tend to keep doing longer and longer events rather than trying to get faster at the shorter ones.
    Yep.

  17. #17
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    I'd assumed triathletes did longer and longer events because the Ironman set the standard. The shorter ones are stepping stones or training events.

    Although I gotta say, that is a long-ass time to be doing something. Even three things.
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  18. #18
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    What the hell is this "cardio" that people are throwing around?

    Please, use something resembling a scientific term such as "aerobic endurance", "increased VO2 max" or something that attempts to be specific.

    Improved "cardio" doesn't tell me a damn thing. I know we don't all have to be exercise physiology professors, but come on. At least attempt to use correct terminology, and in the right context.

    Because it sounds ridiculous, and is misleading as well.
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  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sheepo5669 View Post
    You arent a wimp if you can ride indoors from 2-3 hours at a time. That makes you a hardman.
    Hell yeah!!
    "The best pace is suicide pace, and today is a good day to die." Steve Prefontaine

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by AndrwSwitch View Post
    I'd assumed triathletes did longer and longer events because the Ironman set the standard. The shorter ones are stepping stones or training events.

    Although I gotta say, that is a long-ass time to be doing something. Even three things.
    Ironman doesn't set the standard for anything, but that's the way most people outside of triathlon see it. I do mainly Half Ironman and Xterra races because they're the most fun for me.

    As for always training tired and easy on the bike is a huge overgeneralization. All of my trainer time is Sweet Spot and above in terms of intensity (4x/week). I know plenty of other triathletes with the same mentality. Right now all of my running mileage (~40 mi/week) is easy volume so I can put intensity into my biking.

  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by Le Duke View Post
    What the hell is this "cardio" that people are throwing around?

    Please, use something resembling a scientific term such as "aerobic endurance", "increased VO2 max" or something that attempts to be specific.

    Improved "cardio" doesn't tell me a damn thing. I know we don't all have to be exercise physiology professors, but come on. At least attempt to use correct terminology, and in the right context.

    Because it sounds ridiculous, and is misleading as well.
    I assume it's just a shorthand for "cardiovascular system" which is just a junk term for generalized aerobic endurance work.

    It is one of those garbage can terms tossed around by people who do a different primary sport like weight training and say "I'm going to do some cardio today" which means ride 20 minutes on the Monarch.

    How you could be misled is beyond me. It's just an innocuous moniker frequently tossed around by tyros at endurance sports, no harm in that.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by jroden View Post
    I assume it's just a shorthand for "cardiovascular system" which is just a junk term for generalized aerobic endurance work.

    It is one of those garbage can terms tossed around by people who do a different primary sport like weight training and say "I'm going to do some cardio today" which means ride 20 minutes on the Monarch.

    How you could be misled is beyond me. It's just an innocuous moniker frequently tossed around by tyros at endurance sports, no harm in that.
    I don't think he was actually misled. It was more of a plea to be a bit more specific with your terminology. I agree with him that we should be using a bit more specific terminology.

  23. #23
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    I like how he came in here to bash people and act all high and mighty and superior to everyone else, but didn't offer any advice of his own.

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    The other part of the puzzle is a yearly training plan will go from lots of generalized endurance activity toward much more race specific work. Unfortunately, triathlons are not a fall-winter sport which is where they would fit perfectly.

    That said go ahead and enjoy them and see how your cycling responds. If you start getting real good and want that extra 5%, you have to spend more time on the bike perhaps.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by jroden View Post
    The other part of the puzzle is a yearly training plan will go from lots of generalized endurance activity toward much more race specific work. Unfortunately, triathlons are not a fall-winter sport which is where they would fit perfectly.
    That is a gross oversimplification and misunderstanding of triathlon training. Sure, there is lots of endurance work involved in triathlon, but training takes the same for as single sports. The closer to your event, the more specific you need to be. That takes the form of more speed work in all sports. Sure you could go out and just do a bunch of endurance training to complete a triathlon, but if you have any hopes of being competitive, it's not just base building like you are seemingly implying.

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    Quote Originally Posted by skibum1321 View Post
    That is a gross oversimplification and misunderstanding of triathlon training. Sure, there is lots of endurance work involved in triathlon, but training takes the same for as single sports. The closer to your event, the more specific you need to be. That takes the form of more speed work in all sports. Sure you could go out and just do a bunch of endurance training to complete a triathlon, but if you have any hopes of being competitive, it's not just base building like you are seemingly implying.
    My point is for someone with 12 hours of time for training, doing swim-bike-run is fine for building aerobic base, but as the season approaches, the rider looking to maximize performance on the bike needs to spend the bulk of those hours riding on a bike and not swimming or running. Running repeat quarters on the track is demanding, but will not do nearly as much as a structured interval workout on the bike.

    I don't think what I said was overly cryptic or vague, it's just the movement of generalized endurance activities to specific activities that are related to the sport.

  27. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by jroden View Post
    My point is for someone with 12 hours of time for training, doing swim-bike-run is fine for building aerobic base, but as the season approaches, the rider looking to maximize performance on the bike needs to spend the bulk of those hours riding on a bike and not swimming or running. Running repeat quarters on the track is demanding, but will not do nearly as much as a structured interval workout on the bike.

    I don't think what I said was overly cryptic or vague, it's just the movement of generalized endurance activities to specific activities that are related to the sport.
    Yeah, absolutely the more time you spend on the bike the better. You really need to pick whether to optimize your triathlon performance or your cycling performance. I was just questioning your assertion that triathlon fits into the phase of general fitness. It's not general fitness, it's very specific to the sport of triathlon and you will not optimize your triathlon performance by viewing it as a "general phase".

  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by skibum1321 View Post
    Yeah, absolutely the more time you spend on the bike the better. You really need to pick whether to optimize your triathlon performance or your cycling performance. I was just questioning your assertion that triathlon fits into the phase of general fitness. It's not general fitness, it's very specific to the sport of triathlon and you will not optimize your triathlon performance by viewing it as a "general phase".
    I t
    know but the guy was asking about doing triathlon as training FOR MTB racing. So my answer is yes it's pretty good for general fitness training, better than downhill skiing or basketball, maybe less better than XC skiing and certainly less better than road bike racing or cyclocross.

    The problem of course is the peak seasons of the two sports overlap in most parts of the country, so training for triathlons at a casual level would be good 8 months out, but not so good a month out.

  29. #29
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    Yes I'm hoping to let swim bike run replace bike bike bike through the winter basically for keeping/building a general aerobic base. I also agree that I have to pick my battles. I'm currently planning on doing tri's for a fun new challenge, but my main focus will still be XC.
    Sometimes you eat the bar... and well, sometimes the bar eats you

  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mageetah View Post
    Yes I'm hoping to let swim bike run replace bike bike bike through the winter basically for keeping/building a general aerobic base. I also agree that I have to pick my battles. I'm currently planning on doing tri's for a fun new challenge, but my main focus will still be XC.
    So in that case, I would stay with a fairly bike heavy training load and mix in a bit of running and swimming. If you were aiming for tri as your primary focus, I would recommend much more running.

  31. #31
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    I love running and swimming because I can fit in short workouts in my hectic schedule. I can swim for a half an hour or run for 30-50 minutes on days where I just don't have time to bike, it still keeps my heart and lungs in shape, and keeps my weight down (very important to keep lean!). With snow on the ground here in Utah my winter riding options are limited and I can't stand spinning. Swimming is also a GREAT recovery day activity. I also pull out the cross country skate skis in the winter, which is a blast and a good workout.

    When I'm in good triathlon shape, I also feel overall in better shape than when I'm just in good cycling shape. Mixing up the workouts in triathlon also keeps me from burning out- you think this won't happen to you, but it happens to everyone in racing eventually.

    But one of the big reasons that I run and swim is XTERRA! I can't explain how awesome these races are to folks that haven't tried them, an Xterra race is simply a blast, and once you do one you will be hooked (the Utah championship is the best!)

  32. #32
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    In the OP's situation I am not so sure the cross training will help the base much for THIS year. The swim and run mileage would need some time to catch up to the nice bike mileage that has accumulated.

    No question I think swimming and running can help overall. Join a local masters swim class and you'll quickly see why good swimmers are dominating the triathlon scene. Their aerobic base is off the charts, but it took them many years to get there. Building run mileage in a safe manner, especially on the trails, will definitely help your XC base, but it will take time to safely build. Hence, why I said it probably won't help the OP THIS year.

    FWIW, I came off of three years of long course triathlon (with short tris and xterra mixed in) and only did Xterra and a ton of mountain biking last year. Swimming was the least it's been in 5 years (I am MOP swim on a good day). I like swimming for its recovery benefits as much as its aerobic beni's. Running volume dropped significantly, but intensity picked up. I mountain biked a ton with some road rides sprinkled in. Had the best year yet. Ran off the bike better than ever. I attribute most of the success to mountain biking a ton even though I have always biked a ton. Specificity....if you want to keep or build your aerobic base on the bike you are going to have to ride a lot.

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