Lessons Learned From IM Training Indoors

We’re getting ever closer to my return to racing triathlon after a five year layoff. A lot has changed since my last go-round at this; just here at Slowtwitch alone I’ve gone from “social media guy” to editor-in-chief over some of that span. Then, of course, there’s COVID; daughter growing up and all the craziness that entails; job changes for Kelly; starting a youth triathlon here in New Hampshire, and more.

In a lot of ways, life’s a lot busier than it was the last time I tried to do one of these things. That means that the way I’m able to train has had to change, too. By the time we get to Lake Placid I’d estimate nearly 80 to 90% of this build has been done inside. (And a big shout-out to Wahoo for their KICKR — the thing is approaching 20,000 miles of indoor riding and I’ve never had an issue with the thing.) As I look at it, here are some of the pros and cons of doing it this way.


Being Able to Squeeze in Workouts Whenever You Can: By far the biggest issue that I have faced during this block is time management. Whether it’s work schedules or child schedule or life deciding to laugh in my face, finding chunks of time for workouts is a struggle. I can put blocks of time in my calendar all I want, but if a phone call comes up, it probably has to be answered.

Living where I do, that makes it difficult to be out on the roads, particularly cycling. We aren’t quite a cell signal desert, but we are cell signal challenged in places that are most safe to ride. So barring a ride on the weekend when I can get away and unplug, it’s almost necessary to ride indoors to get the mileage in. (In fact, once I wrap up writing this I’ll be hopping on Zwift for a long ride). Being able to bury a workout at four in the morning, or in the middle of the day, while still being able to parent and get my work done is mission critical.

Gamification Can Be a Powerful Motivator: Growing up, I loved video games. Although we were a few generations behind on the console wars, gaming on a Genesis and then a PlayStation. And there were few things more satisfying than finally knocking out an unbeatable level, or another team in the playoffs on a sports game.

That’s exactly what some of the indoor training platforms can offer you. I, personally, am on Zwift. Route badges have been an excellent motivator to complete some of my long rides during the course of this build, as we get into the meat of four, five, and six hour plus rides. Given the unrelenting nature of the Lake Placid bike course, being able to check off routes like the Mega Pretzel and its two ascents of the Epic KOM, or the PRL Full, have definitely provided some additional fuel for the fire.

Practicing Race Day Nutrition is Easier: I sweat. A lot. Like, double digits of pounds lost during some long rides if I underfuel lot. So my nutrition plan involves a high amount of liquid, electrolytes, and carbs. Being able to simulate that in training is important. And that’s frankly easier when you are riding indoors and can either pre-fill all of your bottles before the ride, or giving you an easy opportunity to re-fuel. I’m simply not as diligent about it when doing long rides outdoors, where I’m more likely to treat my body as a Mr. Fusion (it’s all fuel).

Safety: The unfortunate truth of our sport is that there are two types of cyclists — those that have crashed, and those that will. And although I am a member of the former group, that’s also no guarantee of not being a member of the latter one as well.

Statistics on that point, particularly regarding incidents involving cars, are grim — the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported a 9% increase in fatalities in car versus cyclist collisions in the last reported period. Anecdotally, I’ve had more run-ins in the last year on the road than I had in the first decade of riding on the roads. And having scrambled my brain once in a cycling crash, I tend to err on the side of caution when it comes to riding outside. I leave my outdoor rides to some of the gravel near my house; some remote rides in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire and Vermont; and certain routes in Lake Placid itself. Otherwise…it’s trainer time.


It’s Getting Hot in Here: Heat is my personal enemy. I’ve always had a bit of heat-related issues, and it’s only gotten worse post-TBI and as I’ve gotten older. My trainer set-up is in our basement, which tends to be the coolest room in the house. But it’s not unheard of, even with windows open and multiple fans running, for me to raise the temperature of that basement area 5-6 degrees during the course of a 90 minute ride.

If you’re going to do this much indoors, invest in fans, towels, and a whole lot of anti-seize compound for key components.

Boredom: It took until this year for me to finally understand why some people will throw Netflix on while training inside. It can get awfully boring riding indoors all the time. This is particularly true if you’re doing yet another workout in ERG mode (a story for another time) and you have endless stretches of the same watts at the same cadence for the fifth block in a row. It can easily take the joy out of riding a bike away from you.

This is why I tend to throw in the random midweek Zwift event — it’s at least different. And you have to pay attention to what’s happening in game, else you lose the group in a hurry.

Lack of Real World Experience: There’s no replacement for actually riding outdoors — the constant change of surface, terrain, wind, slope, riding near other cyclists, etc. You can’t mimic that indoors, even on rollers. You can’t simulate missing a shift on a climb, having to balance on board, and handle it. And you can’t fake blasting downhill at over 50 MPH and a sudden gust of wind shows up.

Thankfully I have years of experience to fall back on. But for newer riders, you have to get some of that time in.