Coach’s Note by Lance Watson

How to Go Off Road in the Fall

You’ve have a great summer of training and racing, cranked out some great racing efforts and you’re feeling good about your fitness. You’ve worked hard and you are in good shape, but the burning question is: can you go faster this year or do you have to wait until next season to hit another threshold in your fitness?

If you have completed your goals for your summer season but your gut tells you there is more to accomplish this year, move yourself to the forest and the trails and use a new environment to provide the inspiration and the terrain to whip yourself into a new level of fast. Switching up your venues will prevent athlete burn out--the result of testing yourself too many times over the same intervals at the track—and will make training feel fresh again. Going off road will give you some new paths to crush in workouts and present a new skill set that fuels your passion.

Trails are softer than the road, which can give your body a break from the pavement pounding nature of road running and you can use the hills to increase your power and your fitness. Trail running requires more agility than road running, and combined with the hills, will increase your overall strength, something which may have taken a hit over the summer months of run training.

Mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes are awesome for taking to the trails, even if you are not a hard core technical rider. Pushing a heavier bike and using the hills for high intensity intervals and for strength sessions is a great way to get fit.


For trail running, most training shoes are fine for the flatter paths of city parks. If you plan to go a little farther off road, a trail running shoe will ensure you are comfortable and stable. Current trail running shoes are lightweight and responsive and they offer more grip and protection underfoot from peddles and sharp rocks.

A basic mountain bike or cyclocross bike is all you need to ride the trails, while clipless pedals and bike shoes will enable you to maximize the climbs for a new fitness peak.

Your Workout Space:

For running you want to find a park with good flat trails if you are new to the forest. Many city parks are built like this and provide excellent running paths and interval loops. You will also need to scope out a hill that gives you at least two minutes of uphill running. A trail with longer climbs (five minutes or more) is also ideal for endurance runs. If you are confident in the trails, hopping roots, logs and rocks will give the workout more ‘fun factor”!

For biking, you need to find a park with trails at your level that allows cyclists. Flat to rolling terrain is what you are looking for, with some good 2-5 minute hills. The Trans Canada or Rails to Trails are perfect for new off road scenery and are generally flat.

The Technique:

Running hills is a great way to get your heart rate up while cementing good form. When running uphill, look up to the crest of the hill, keeping an eye on the terrain in front of you. Drive your knees and arms to propel you up the hill, while keeping feet light and cadence quick (over 90 steps per minute). Pay attention to your core, holding yourself in a tall posture, and most importantly, be relaxed. Attitude is everything in hill running: if you want to make gains, it has to be uncomfortable. Work hard, be positive and don’t back down from the burn. Recovery is easy jogging down the hill. Run on the softest surface possible downhill, keep your shoulders and neck loose, take quick steps to reduce pounding and exhale deeply as you recover for the next interval.

Riding off road requires a bit more effort so your pace will be slower than on your road bike, but you should be able to get your heart rate up easily. Focus on smooth circles with your pedals and having energy used mainly to propel you forward. For climbing, stay seated and still. Resist bouncing your upper body or back to create power, but have a relaxed grip and feel constant power coming from your glutes, quads and hamstring muscles.

The Plan:

This program is for the fit runner or triathlete who has raced a number of times this season and has completed a number of 90 minute runs and 2 hour rides in the past few months. 

The program uses Heart Rate zones as a guide. Identify your comfort zone level and teach yourself to resist backing off the moment your legs or lungs burn and you will find that you are stronger than you think. Overall, reinforce proper biomechanics as you train and hold very strong form as you fatigue. Plan ahead and save your energy for key days in the schedule, and take a recovery day after hard efforts.

The ‘Offroad Intensive’ Week

(Options for 2 consecutive weeks are listed for Tuesday and Thursday intervals. Adjust duration and number of intervals based on ability. Workouts in Red are double days for a more experienced athlete)

Note: ‘=minutes; “=seconds; hr = hour.

Zn = heart rate zone

(brackets) indicates rest between intervals.



Day off (Great day for yoga class, stretch and core strength) or optional short 60’ recovery bike, flatter.


RUN (60’) Hill/fitness circuit. 15’ zn 1. 3 x 10 lunge steps.

Week 1:  4-6 x 2’ hill trail repeats fast (zn 4-5) Jog down recovery and alternate 10 lunges/10 push ups + 1’ plank between reps. 15’ cool down.

Week 2: 10 x 45” uphill trail sprints (10-12% grade) Jog down recovery. Alternate 10 lunges/10 push ups + 1’ plank between reps. Comfortable in the hills? Choosing paths with roots, stumps and rocks will increase the fun factor and your agility.

BIKE: (optional) 60’ technical bike @ recovery pace. Comfortable on your mountain bike? Do a technical bike circuit, with roots, rocks, small logs, or stairs. Create a short 3’-5’ circuit and master a new skill. Ride easy and just a tiny bit outside your skills comfort zone. Great for pedal stroke efficiency and balance.



BIKE: 60-90’ Aerobic mountain bike ride on moderately hilly trails. Focus on form and technique on hills, not speed.


BIKE: (90’) Mountain bike hill repeats. Ride 30’ zn 1-2 warm up. 4 x 30” hill sprints at max speed.

Week 1: 3-5 x 4-5’ hill repeats zn 4-5. Seated hills. Ride down recovery.

Week 2: 2 x 10’ steady uphill climb at zn 4-5. (15’ easy ride between intervals). Increase technical component and grade consistent with ability.

RUN: (optional) 45’ Recovery and agility run to work stabilizers and hone peripheral vision.

Choose rocky or technical trail and run at easy pace. Stop every 10’ and do 4 x 10 lunges + 1’ plank.


DAY OFF (Great day for yoga, stretch or core strength)


RUN: 75-120’hilly trails.  Make this run a progression run after an easy 15’. Pace gets gradually faster by 15-20’ segments to zn 4-5 and last 15’is easy. (Attack the hills, love the burn).


BIKE: 2.5-3.5hr: Aerobic mountain bike trail ride. Get a group, do a Trans Canada or Rails to Trails route, or somewhere new. Comfortable on your bike? Match the terrain to your skill.


To determine your LT, do a field test on the run when your legs feel rested. After a warm-up of 15 minutes, do a 30-minute time trial on flat terrain where you can hold your hardest uninterrupted effort for that duration. Track is a good option.

Pace out your time trial as evenly as possible. To determine your LT heart rate, hit the lap button on your heart rate monitor 10 minutes into the time trial. The average heart rate for the final 20 minutes is your LT heart rate. 

This chart will help you understand the various training Zones.


% of Lactate Threshold  

Breathing and Perception


<80% of LT

Gentle rhythmic breathing. Pace is easy and relaxed. The intensity is a jog or very easy run or very easy bike spin.


80 - 87% of LT

Breathing rate and pace increase slightly. Many notice a change with slightly deeper breathing, although still comfortable. Running and cycling pace remains comfortable and conversation is possible.


88-93% of LT

Become aware of breathing a little harder, pace is moderate. A stronger cycling or running rhythm, this is “feel good” fast. It is slightly more difficult to hold conversation.


94 - 100% of LT

Starting to breathe hard, pace is fast and beginning to get uncomfortable, approaching all-out 30 minute bike or run pace. This pace should be challenging to maintain.


>100% of LT

Breathing deep and forceful, many notice a second significant change in breathing pattern. Pace is all-out sustainable for one to five minutes. Mental focus required, moderately uncomfortable and conversation undesirable.


LifeSport head coach Lance Watson has coached a number of Ironman, Olympic and age-group Champions over the past 28 years. He enjoys coaching athletes of all levels. Contact Lance to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance.

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