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How They Did It: Kyle Smith

This undefeated young Kiwi has had two big wins already this year. We break down two monster workouts that helped him break through.


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Every month we’ll talk to a pro with a big breakthrough performance, learn about their story, and then dive into what they did to get there. This month, members will get an exclusive look into two unique bike sessions from up-and-coming long-course bike beast, Kyle Smith. We’ll share his workouts below and offer up commentary from the athlete himself on why these are important sessions and how he feels as he does them. With some modifications, these workouts can also be done at home as a part of a balanced training program.

He’s undefeated, he packs a knockout punch, and he’s prepared to put it all on the line—perhaps Kyle Smith should be in the boxing ring not on the race course.

But the Kiwi flyer, at just 23 years old, is now using the frustration of his ITU experience to fuel a stellar breakthrough into the non-drafting side of the sport–landing the decisive blows via a blur of a bike leg.

While much of the tri world has been on pandemic-induced pause, Smith has taken on the best New Zealand has to offer over the 70.3 distance and is yet to taste defeat. 

Last weekend he held tough to take the tape at Challenge Wanaka to win by only eight seconds over two-time Ironman World Championship finisher, Braden Currie. Last month Smith defended his Tauranga Half title. In December, it was victory in the Rotorua Suffer–known as the hardest tri in New Zealand. Three wins that built on a pre-Covid debut triumph at Ironman 70.3 Taupo and success at Tauranga the previous summer.  

Five and zero over the middle distance ain’t too bad, but it’s the manner of the victories that leap out: Smith has been first off the bike each time. In Tauranga, he posted a 1:58 56-mile bike split as he lowered his own course record to 3:39:43 and set the fastest middle distance time ever in the country. Saturday’s success in Wanaka also means he’s now inflicted back-to-back-to-back defeats on compatriot Braden Currie. 

What is it that makes Smith—who was brought up in the UK until aged 12—excel at the non-drafting format? “In 2016, I did some testing and my threshold numbers were off the charts,” he explained. “The analysis was questioned, but my coach said: ‘Nah, that’s just what he’s like. He can sit at that power for a long time.’ However, I was only 18 at the time and going long wasn’t really an option.”

Being a teenager on the ITU circuit in Europe proved tough. “I was living out of a suitcase, fending for myself, and it was all just a bit much. I made my World Series debut with the worst flu I’d ever had, went to the Under-23 world champs in 2019 and did OK [Kyle finished 11th], but was dropped from [New Zealand’s national governing body] Tri NZ. They just saw the results on paper.”

It was five weeks before Taupo 70.3 and Smith’s hometown race provided a fresh opportunity. “I bartered to get my pro license, and although I was unfit, thought: ‘I’ll just give it a good whack.’ The race was a fairy tale. Everyone was going nuts. I was in a world of pain and had massive blood blisters on my feet, but couldn’t let that one go. Having a beer with my coach afterwards, he said: ‘This could be you now, eh?! You’ve turned some heads and thrown the cat among the pigeons.’”

Four more wins followed as Smith has gone from strength to strength—including victory in Rotorua where he felt so good on the bike, he built a 5-minute buffer into T2 and recalls “riding out of town, sitting on 400 watts and smoking cigars!”

But how did he do it? Years of consistency after taking up the sport in the “triathlon mecca of Taupo,” and the help of two fierce Tuesday and Saturday bike sessions, he’s shared, below. Both include a run off the bike, aren’t for the faint-hearted, and should be done sparingly during any pre-race build.

Kyle Smith on his way to the victory at Challenge Wanaka. Photo: Sean Beale/Challenge Wanaka

Overview

Smith said: “My coach and I have a philosophy of building the engine before sharpening the tools, so I rarely do big lactate sessions or really fast running–everything is volume based. Both sessions work on the same principle of targeting 70.3 power. It’s hard to be 100% accurate, so we work to a range of plus or minus a couple of percent.”

Smith’s Tips On These Sessions

  1. Practice fueling as you would during the race.
  2. It’s OK to ride a road bike. (Check out our 2020 Road Bike Guide for triathletes) If the weather’s bad or the route hilly, you don’t have to always ride the TT bike.
  3. Don’t do these sessions too close to the race. “The latest I’d do these sessions are two weeks out,” he said.
  4. Race day will feel easier (at this power). “During training, I’ll be under heavy load and more fatigued going into the session,” Smith said.
  5. It’s supposed to be tough. Accept that how you feel will ebb and flow. “When it’s a down day, I remember I’ve had good days, and I won’t feel this bad on race day,” he said.

Smith’s Big Session 1

5 x 12 min. at 70.3 race power
Total time: 2h20m

Warm-up: 20 minutes
Build: 12 min. (increasing 30 watts every 3 min. to finish just above 70.3 target power)
Recover: 2 min. easy spin
Main set: 5 x 12 min. at 70.3 power, with 2 min. recovery spin between sets
Finishing set: 30 min. at 75% of 70.3 effort
Cool-down: 5 min. easy spin

Plus:
Run off the bike for 45 minutes. Unstructured, typically around 20 seconds/mile slower than 70.3 pace.

Smith’s experience: “After one hour at 70.3 race pace, I’ll still have a 30-minute ‘grippy’ ride home, which has helped me stay strong in the latter part of the 70.3 bike legs. The run off-the-bike won’t be specific, and I won’t stress over transition. I might get home, have a snack and change. It won’t be rushed, but I won’t be fully recovered either.”

Smith’s Big Session 2

2 x 45 min. at 70.3 race power
Total time: 2h30m

Warm-up: 20 minutes
Build: 12 min. (increasing 30 watts every 3 min. to finish just above 70.3 target power)
Recover: 2 min. easy spin
Main set: 2 x 45 min. at 70.3 power with 10 min. recovery between sets
Cool-down: 15 min. easy spin

Plus: Run off the bike for 45 minutes. Unstructured, typically around 20 seconds/mile slower than 70.3 pace.

Smith’s experience: “This is tougher than the first session and often horrible! If I get through it, I’m doing well. I only completed it once from 3-4 attempts before Rotorua. Our philosophy is never ‘go into the box’ because it’s hard to get out. If I’m 30 minutes into the second interval, I might have to put my hand up and say: ‘I’m done.’ But that’s the beauty of training by myself. Instead of completing 90 minutes and being ruined for a few days, I’d rather do an hour of quality work, ride home easy, salvage the run off the bike, and feel good for the next session.”