These unique challenges will help you enjoy your tri season more than ever.
“As an endurance athlete, keeping myself as far from complacency as I can is important to continue evolving and strengthening myself, both mentally and physically,” says professional triathlete Alyssa Godesky, who shakes up her Ironman schedule with FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempts on the trails every season. Godesky isn’t alone—plenty of pros step outside the tri box during their season to keep things fun, stay fresh, and get faster.
When former pro Jesse Thomas needs a break from the road and aerobars, he can usually be found crushing gravel. “I got into exercise as much for exploration as I did competition, and while you can certainly explore on a TT bike, after hours locked in the aerobars on the same training route, it gets old.”
Think of gravel riding as the lower-risk, high-fun cousin of mountain biking. Dirt roads are often groomed, and not too gnarly, so bike strength goes up without having to navigate technical terrain. Think fire roads, not singletrack. Aside from the chamois time, gravel riding does wonders for handling skills and pedal stroke, smoothing your stroke out along the whole circle, much like riding a trainer.
PRO TIP: Leave the workout instructions at home. “Gravel riding is more exploratory versus a workout-specific focus,” Thomas explains.
Four hundred meters. At 7,000 feet of altitude. On a 70% incline. ITU athlete and two-time Red Bull 400 champion Megan Foley says it’s the hardest thing she’s ever done. Training for a vertical race like the Red Bull 400 or Towerrunning Series is a way to prioritize hill running, which builds leg strength and cardiovascular capacity.
PRO TIP: “The shorter the race, the longer the warm-up,” is Foley’s number one rule. She recommends a mix of easy jogging, drills and strides to get your body ready for the work ahead.
Endurance doesn’t have to be limited to rides and runs. Time on your feet—in any form—can boost your ability to go long. Thru-hiking, or tackling a trail from beginning to end, can be a great mid-season challenge. Some trails can be completed in 24 hours, while others can take days (or even weeks).
“With thru-hiking, you’re getting a fair bit of elevation change on a daily basis while carrying a backpack,” Godesky says. “When you have the strength of trail miles, you become a more durable triathlete.”
PRO TIP: You don’t have to go for an FKT, says Godesky. “A common saying on the trail is to ‘hike your own hike.’ The timeline, miles, pace, terrain … that is yours to choose.” As is your trail name.
Everesting is a simple concept that’s deceptively hard to execute: Pick a hill—any hill—and ride repeats until you climb 8,848 meters (or 29,029 feet), the equivalent of Mount Everest. This epic endurance challenge is a favorite of über-cyclist Cameron Wurf, who can be found Everesting wherever he goes. Obviously the time spent riding helps build fitness, and the climbing builds tons of strength.
PRO TIP: If Everesting in one shot feels too ambitious, spread the challenge over consecutive days.