Now that I’m a few weeks removed from Midsouth Gravel, I want to write about the training experience.
What I used
- Saris H3 direct-drive/smart trainer
- TrainerRoad AI-enabled training program
- an oscillating fan that we had lying around
- my road bike
- my usual bike gear (bibshorts, mesh baselayer)
Why I Chose What I Did
Saris H3 smart trainer
I’ve used a “dumb” trainer before and found it wildly boring, no matter what I put on the television. The issue is that while it’s generally the most affordable option and gets you on the bike to workout – you have to get off the trainer to adjust the resistance.
My priorities for a direct-drive trainer were to be relatively quiet, as I set up in a “public” part of our home, and be super easy to set up. The Saris H3 was so quiet my husband didn’t hear the trainer so much as the giant fan I had pointed at me whenever I was on it.
Smart trainers connect to your computer through an ANT+ or Bluetooth connection so the training program can adjust the resistance for you (ERG mode) – or you can put the trainer in standard mode, select a level of resistance, and shift up and down the cassette to work on power output. The resistance controlled by the program in ERG mode is very, very convenient and wonderful. All you have to do is focus on pedaling to hit the target power.
The only place I found ERG to be less than helpful was in Sprints, mostly because it takes the trainer a few seconds to ramp up the resistance so you can hit the target power range – but then it also limits your output by modulating the resistance so you stay at the power target. This frequently limited my ability to hit sprint power targets in the short duration of the sprint. It was much easier in the standard resistance mode because I could manage my power output against the trainer’s resistance.
I interviewed several coaches before deciding to find a workout plan and commit to it. I’m not a racer, I don’t intend to race, and it seemed a bit wild to spend $150+ per month just to have someone tell me to do more or less or to keep up the good work.
I looked at the two most popular programs, Zwift and TrainerRoad. While both have solid workout plans, I ultimately decided on TrainerRoad based on a comment I saw while reading comparisons:
Zwift is great for social riding; TrainerRoad is boring but effective.some random person on the internet
I was not approaching training as a bike ride with miles to track; this was strictly a workout. Time in the saddle, turning the pedals, and working on fitness objectives. This was not supposed to be fun; it was supposed to ensure I could finish a 100-mile gravel ride in early March.
TrainerRoad also has an AI function that will analyze your workouts and outside activities to adjust your future workout intensity. This was both super cool and super hard – because if you crush a workout, it keeps pushing you harder on the next workout. There is no “chill at this level until it feels easy.”
Also, I do not have a power meter on my outdoor bikes, so I’m not sure how accurate the incorporation of outdoor rides actually was. But I did learn that maybe doing a 90min threshold workout one day and then trying to keep up on a hilly mountain bike ride with my faster friends was definitely a Mistake.
How It Went
Honestly, it went really well.
As someone who has been on Operation Avoid the Trainer for YEARS … this was a tough pill to swallow at first. It took me two weeks before I set up the trainer because once it was set up, I would have to use it. And I so vastly prefer outdoor riding and the informal “training” I had been doing …. it was a mental hurdle just to start.
I set up my TrainerRoad account and customized my training plan. I chose a Low Volume plan because as a newbie to indoor training, it was tough enough to get on the trainer three days per week. I assumed I would swap out my 90min weekend workout for outdoor riding as much as possible.
New York had a very mild winter, and by that I mean it rained. A lot. Which severely limited my desire to go outside to ride. It was damp and chilly and unappealing.
So this is where I admit having the trainer as an option to keep working on my fitness when the weather was foul was really, really convenient. I could throw on my bike attire, make a bottle of Skratch Labs hydration, and get a good workout in 60-90min. Even with a fan blowing directly on me at full blast, I finished every workout absolutely soaked in sweat.
Once I committed to follow the plan as closely as possible, the rest came fairly easy. I sync’d my training plan with my Google Calendar so I didn’t make plans over my training days (or moved my training as needed to accommodate unmoveable things like business trips or helping my kid move across the state). After a few weeks, getting on the trainer every 2-3 days felt normal and natural.
Of course, about 14 weeks later I took a weekend off to spend time with one of my kids for an activity-free weekend. Getting on the trainer the first day after that trip was SO HARD. I wanted to throw everything out the window. It hurt, it was hard, I had zero motivation to be on the trainer, and everything just felt off. But I finished the workout and reminded myself that the mental aspect of just getting through the first set of intervals, even just the first over-under, would pay off when I was out in the middle of nowhere and still need to pedal back to the start.
Plus, I only had 2 more weeks before Midsouth, so I could also remind myself it’s a limited-time inconvenience.
My target was to be out for 10 hours with about 8 hours of ride time.
While training didn’t make me faster (by race standards; I ended up around where I would normally be in late May), and I didn’t lose any weight despite adding in 3.5 hours of workouts to my life … I met my ride time goal and was only out for 9.5 hours total (including stopping at the aid stations).
It actually felt very weird to come back from Oklahoma and NOT get on the trainer a few days per week. I thought about extending the training plan because Fitness Gains but ultimately decided to take a few months off and focus on riding for fun again. I don’t want to lose sight of Riding Bikes Is Fun with a side benefit of Fitness.
I did, however, plan out a 16-week plan to help keep my base fitness up for my 2-week bikepacking trip in late August. I can see how spending a little time on structured workouts will benefit my ability to ride consecutive days while hauling all my camping gear around.
Until June 1, I’m back to riding bikes with friends as I can. I’ve made my peace with not being in Top Shape during this time because my focus is back to fun.
See you out there!