An Off-Season Challenge: Indoor Triathlons Are Not Just For Beginners

When there's snow on the ground and you're ready to race, indoor triathlons offer a great challenge.

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The off-season can be rough. Shorter days and cold outdoor temperatures can cause training motivation to dwindle. If you find yourself struggling to get moving when workouts force you inside, signing up for an indoor triathlon could cure your off-season woes.

Indoor triathlons are almost always based on time instead of distance. A typical race length is 75 minutes, consisting of a 10-minute pool swim, 10-minute T1, 30-minute bike (in a cycle studio or on an exercise bike), 5-minute T2, and a 20-minute treadmill run. Racers are “graded” on a curve based on the number of participants, with athletes receiving points based on how they performed in each discipline.

The race format may seem targeted to newbies, but indoor tris can help multisport veterans get primed for the upcoming season. Cate Demet is a Chicago-based triathlete with more than 100 outdoor triathlons on her race resume, but she also participates in five to seven indoor triathlons during the long Midwest winter to get both body and mind ready to go when the snow finally melts. She’s even gone so far as to participate in multiple indoor triathlons on the same day.

“I started to do them to improve my swim,” Demet says. “When you have a guy’s face literally in your face because you have to share a lane, it makes the chaos of an open-water swim in June a breeze.”
While there’s the obvious training benefit of injecting some high-intensity effort into the offseason malaise, Demet believes the biggest benefit of indoor racing is more about mind than body.

“It keeps you sharp during that time of year when it’s hard to do so,” she says. “If you do a handful of indoor races during the winter, then there’s no anxiety when the outdoor season starts because you’ve already raced a few times.”

While you should be losing a little fitness in the offseason to let your body recover, you don’t want to be climbing out of too deep a hole come spring. Injecting one or two high-intensity training sessions per week can ensure that your peak power and pace don’t fall off a cliff, and having the small goal of a few indoor races is great motivation to keep the intensity up when summer races seem a distant goal.

“When I train for indoor races, I typically swim first, then hit the treadmill and finish on the bike,” Demet says. “That’s what works best for me to keep the intensity up. I mix in a lot of short and fast sprints in the pool, then my treadmill run is typically six one-mile repeats at the hardest pace I can hold. I finish with an hour on the exercise bike at high RPMs, gradually increasing speed.”

Ready to Rumble?

From Chicago to NYC and across the U.S., there’s an indoor race ready to challenge you:

FFC Indoor Triathlon Series</dt
A six-race series at each of FFC’s Chicagoland locations. Events begin in January and run through April.
Life Time Tri Series Indoor Tri
A series of 75-minute virtual races at 47 Life Time Fitness locations across North America. Events begin in October and run through April.
Jackrabbit Indoor Triathlon
An annual race in late January at the Vanderbilt YMCA in New York City.
Indoor Triathlons at Chelsea Piers
A four-race series at one of New York’s most upscale fitness clubs running from January through June.

Living Room Racing

You don’t have to leave your home to race indoors. Popular online training platform Zwift has introduced dozens of new challenges. Whether you want to climb all 29,028 feet of Mt. Everest, complete the Tour of California course, or race a few friends up Alpe d’Huez, Zwift offers a way to stay motivated and focused on the trainer.

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