The Endangered Outdoor Ride

  • By Matt Fizgerald
  • Published Jun 14, 2011
  • Updated Oct 24, 2012 at 4:21 PM UTC

This story was originally printed in the March/April issue of Inside Triathlon magazine.

Meredith Kessler is one of the better cyclists in triathlon. Her typical Ironman bike split is in the 5:10 range. Pretty good for a full-time office worker and longtime age-grouper who waited until she was 31 to turn pro.

So what’s her secret? Simple: riding indoors.

“I ride outside once every other weekend,” she says. “That’s it.”

The rest of Kessler’s bike training is done under a roof, specifically that of Velo SF, a facility for group indoor cycling classes in downtown San Francisco. The 2010 Ironman Canada champion teaches four or five 90-minute sessions there each week. Each session incorporates high-intensity efforts that seem to do more than merely make up for any additional saddle time she might have if she always rode outdoors.

In fact, Kessler knows for a fact that her indoor-based bike training program is more effective than outdoor riding, because she used to do most of her riding outside. That’s when she used to complete her Ironman bike legs in six hours. Her bike performance breakthrough coincided precisely with her move indoors, in 2007.

Kessler is not alone in finding success with indoor-based bike training for triathlon. In the past several years, indoor riding has become a bona fide trend at the elite level of the sport, and that trend has begun to trickle down into the age group ranks. Also at the vanguard of the trend is Kessler’s fellow San Franciscan Tyler Stewart, who teaches three classes each week at Velo SF and rides outdoors once on the weekend. All of the indoor rides involve high-intensity intervals, and most of the outdoor rides are fairly short—seldom more than four hours.

“I typically do no more than 10 rides of more than four hours before an Ironman,” Stewart says.

Stewart feels she gains so much fitness from her high-intensity indoor rides that she can maximize her Ironman bike performance without ever logging more than 10 hours of saddle time in a single week. The results speak for themselves: Stewart owns bike course records at Ironman Florida (4:47:59) and Ironman 70.3 Vineman (2:23:55).

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