If you’re like me, the smell of spring and the change of seasons gets you excited for the summer full of exploring the outdoors. I spend the winter on skis, which means spring is when I start running again more seriously and add in time on the bikes as well. It’s important to include both hard and easy days in your training, making sure there’s a clear distinction between the two. Both hard interval sessions and recovery days are what gets you fast in the end. Below are some of my favorite early season workouts; running, biking, and in the gym, both easy and hard, all important to get me through the racing season ahead.
- Rea Kolbl, Ascent Athlete, US Skimo National Team, Spartan Ultra World Champion, & Guest Writer
Best Running Workout
Regardless of the race you’re training for, working on your speed is important. Depending on where you live, this might not be possible during the winter as trails and roads are covered with snow and ice, and winter is generally a good time for a running off-season focusing on other sports, strength, or aspects of life.
Assuming you did other forms of cardio through the winter, your engine should be ready to go; speedwork builds transmission, the sport-specific economy of movement. Best way to get back into speedwork is on hills; speeds are lower which lowers the injury risks, dirt is softer on your joint, and downhill recovery runs introduces some of the eccentric stimulus that’s very specific to running.
Here’s one of my favorite early season running workout:
- 15-20 minute easy warm up, 4x6 minute hill repeats with easy jogging back down, 10-15 minute easy cool down.
- The important part here is to ease into every repeat; you don’t want to start with a sprint then bonk halfway up the hill. Start with a moderate effort, something that feels like work but sustainable for a long time, then slowly increase or hold the effort to make sure you don’t slow down significantly over any single and across the repeats.
- Finish off with some easy running, calf stretches, and a whey protein shake.
Running Recovery Routine
Easy running can be both recovery and building aerobic base. It’s an essential part of training and should be the majority of your time in running shoes.
If you live in a place where flat and hilly terrain are both available, easy runs should be done mostly on flat terrain – it’s really hard to actually keep your heart rate in the easy zone when climbing. If you only have hills, make sure to really slow down – hiking the climbs is a perfectly great training tool! Your recovery runs shouldn’t be longer than 45 minutes and should be done fully in conversational effort that you feel you could hold forever. You should feel as good or better when you’re done compared to when you started, and all days, including easy days, deserve some recovery protein at the end.
Best Biking Workout
Biking is one of my favorite complements to running in the summer, both on roads and on trails. It balances the impacts of running while still building aerobic capacity and strong legs. Mountain biking on technical trails also helps with downhill running: it teaches you how to look ahead, pick your line, and navigate technical terrain that translates well into running shoes as well.
For the hard days, I like to climb! Whether it’s a long sustained climb or intervals, going uphill on the bike is just as fun as descending that follows.
Road Bike Workout Plan
- Warm up easy for around 20 minutes. Then, repeating the same climb:
- 15min endurance (conversational), ride back down or pedal really easy for 5 minutes.
- 15min tempo (harder than conversational, but not an all out race effort), ride back down or pedal easy for 5 minutes.
- 15min threshold (race effort).
- Ride easy for 15 minutes or longer to cool down or add more time to the ride.
Mountain Bike Workout Plan
- Picking a hilly route, I warm up easy for ~20min. Then hit every climb at hard end of endurance/low tempo effort, riding easy on flats and focusing on good line choice and smooth descending on the way down. This is especially important early season when my body and brain need to remember skills from the previous year of riding.
- Finish off a smoothie of crushed ice, milk, banana, peanut butter, cinnamon, and strawberry flavored scoop of whey protein.
Biking Recovery Routine
Recovery on the bike is my favorite; I use it to recover both from hard runs, hard rides, and races. I use it whenever I feel tired and when my joints are achy. Using the gearing to switch to low resistance and pedal at relatively high cadence on relatively flat routes makes me feel better than any other easy activity. I usually finish the ride more energized than I started and the blood flow through my muscles and joints make those feel better too.
Like with recovery runs, paying attention to your heart rate is super important – you really want to make sure to keep it really low so you’re actually in the recovery zone. This varies from person to person, but typically sits around 120-130 bpm (and wrist monitors don’t work, so make sure to get a chest strap if doing HR based training). You can add it a coffee stop, ice cream break, and a protein smoothie at the end!
Best Gym Workout
If you haven’t done so during the winter months, early season is a great time to build strength in the gym! Every runner/biker/skier should be hitting the gym at least 1-2x per week – being strong not only improves performance but it also greatly decreases the risk of injury, whether your focus is long distance events or short, fast races. Since I need a significant amount of muscular endurance for trail running and mountain biking I focus on relatively high reps but with still quite heavy weight – typically in the 3x10 rep range, with a weight that makes that 10th rep challenging but doable. Some of the key movements are squats, deadlifts, step-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, and core, usually sticking to the same routine for about a month before switching over to a different one. Below is one of my favorite early season workouts.
Strength Band Warmup Plan
- 5x around the world each leg
- 10x monster walk forward, 10x backwards
- 10x side step in each direction
- 10x forward step with straight legs, 10x back
- 10x fire hydrant
- 10x donkey kicks
- Squat circuit: 3 rounds
- 10x Barbell squat
- 10x Dumbbell step ups
- 12x Squat press
- Glute/hamstring: 3 rounds
- 10x Romanian deadlift
- 15x Kettlebell swing
- 10x Swiss ball hamstring curl
- Core circuit: 3 rounds
- 20x Renegade rows
- 20x Windshield wipers
- 10x Side plank with leg lifts
Gym Recovery Routine
On recovery days I usually skip the gym. Easy ride, recovery run, or a full rest days are best! But if you must go, spending time on foam rolling and stretching is the best use of time. Or just stay home and bake some ascent recovery powered treats!