Adding mountain biking to your weekly triathlon training can be beneficial both mentally and physically. Mentally it can toughen you up- a hill on the road is cake compared to a hill in the woods. Hitting the dirt trails can be a nice mental break from the stress of traffic, stop signs, traffic lights, and pavement. Switching it up and get in the woods, among rivers and all that green may be calming on one hand but you can’t snooze, you have to pay attention. It’s more mentally stimulatiing on the trail, more engaging.
It can be physically beneficial to take a little break from your road or time trail position on the bike, use a few different muscles and get a little stronger. Mountain biking on single track trails once a week is like doing interval training. Terrain dictates the duration and intensity of the interval. And mountain biking compared to road cycling is all about pacing yourself. Let me say it again because it is really crucial- mountain biking in a triathlon is all about Pacing. It can be mentally challenging shifting gears, metaphorically speaking, to let go the idea of getting on the bike and just Hammer! You really have to pace yourself because one minute you are rolling over roots and rocks, then up a short steep climb, shifting to descend the other side and recover from the ass kicking you just got on that so called little hill. It’s like that, spike the heart rate on a hill or a technical climb of roots, rocks, gravel or mud then recover on the down, but not really because you are literally hanging on. But I have to say I like how mountain biking has you more engaged in the riding with balance, sitting, standing, climbing, descending, and shifting -constantly. It’s never dull even on easy terrain. If the terrain is easier, you just go faster and that still requires some skill. With mountain biking you want to be really in tune with your balance, and fine tune your skills to have the most fun. otherwise, in my experience, it’s just kinda scary.
Okay I may not be convincing you to get out and ride a little off road to improve your training for road triathlon but you can learn the skills and learn at your own pace. You can also start with terrain that is right for you. There are a few Xterra races where the terrain is just right for a newbie to the sport- like Sky High in NY. But until then, find a group ride or attend a mountain biking camp. For you readers in the New England area there is Coyote Hill in Vermont that offers camps for riders of all ages. There is a good amount of praying, trusting, focusing and relaxing the more technical the trail is. That said, it really pays to work on skills at least ones each week- it truly is fun.
Adding in one mountain biking session a week as your interval session works on balance and bike handling skills as well as improves mind and body awareness. Mentally and physically it’s refreshing to give your body and mind a break from getting on the time trial bike, putting your head down and just going. Its a good shift in attention and will keep you fresh to training and racing for many years to come.