Mountain Bike Training For Triathletes

Take your bike training to the trails this fall to reap some significant fitness gains.

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Take your bike training to the trails this fall to reap some significant fitness gains.

Four-time world masters champion Tammy Tabeek has been racing mountain bikes since 1987 and has used the crossover benefits of riding on the dirt to also capture multiple road national championship titles. As a coach in San Diego, driven by her own experience, she passionately espouses the virtues of off-road training to her roadie clientele.

For one, her mountain biking background has helped her avert numerous crashes on the road. “Having been a pro downhiller on the mountain bike as well as a Category 1 road racer, there have been several occasions where my skills on the dirt allowed me to dodge crash situations on the road,” she says. “Because you really need to pay attention and focus when you’re on the dirt, situational awareness becomes part of your mentality out of necessity.”

And there’s no denying the physiological benefits of taking your bike training to the trails, says Tabeek: “Mountain biking is such a pure power and strength sport, and the power crossover really benefits my road riding. Through the years I’ve seen a lot of people benefit significantly from doing both road and dirt riding—we are better conditioned as well as mentally stronger and able to deal with adversity a little better.” The perks transcend training, too, shaping overall perspective. “Mountain biking, whether racing or just out enjoying the trails, doesn’t always go as planned, and that’s where it teaches you to think often of a Plan B, which, for me, has translated over to everyday life on many occasions.”

If you’re interested in dabbling in dirt, Tabeek suggests contacting your local bike shop, which may be a hub for planned rides or can refer you to a mountain bike club. In some cases you can rent a bike from the shop on a demo day and test it out on nearby trails (she suggests looking up your nearest Trek store for this).

The getting-started gear list is pretty short, says Tabeek. In addition to the bike, all you’ll need is a safety-approved helmet, a pair of comfortable bike shorts, a sturdy pair of shoes and a water bottle. Once you’re hooked—it’s a foregone conclusion, says Tabeek—and want to take on the challenge of an off-road triathlon, the international Xterra series ( is a great option. “Xterra proves to be one of the best organizations to be involved with—the people are friendly and very willing to help new racers, and any level is challenging and very empowering and keeps you wanting more,” she says. “The entire family can get involved, and it’s just a feel-good atmosphere.”

For information about Tabeek’s private coaching, visit

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Steal This: Josiah Middaugh’s VO2max Workout

In addition to being one of the best off-road triathletes in the world, Vail, Colo.-based Josiah Middaugh is also a coach. “When the world’s best mountain bikers are compared to road cyclists, VO2max and relative threshold power tend to be higher in mountain bikers,” says Middaugh. “Here is a workout that has many crossover benefits for any type of triathlete.”

Under/over 3×12 minutes
For each 12-minute block, ride 4 minutes at just below threshold intensity, 2 minutes above threshold intensity, 4 minutes just below threshold, 2 minutes above. If you are lucky enough to live in the mountains, this could be performed during one continuous climb. Cadence should be slower when intensity is below threshold and faster above threshold. This might mean that you stay in the same gear or even a gear easier for the higher intensity. Recover downhill for 4–6 minutes. This workout can be modified based on the terrain available so that the hardest efforts are performed on the steepest sections.

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