There are workouts where you finish battered and beaten, muscles packed with lactate. And then, there are days when you just go out and ride your bike.
Tad Elliott does 70 percent of his training on two wheels, but there’s one workout that he especially relishes: a 68-mile loop near his home town of Durango, Colorado, that he rides with his friend Troy Wells.
Unlike some of the more painful sessions one might do on foot or in the gym, Elliott calls this ride a “free workout” — its psychological toll is minimal. And spending over three hours on the bike prepares Elliott well for those longer rollerski workouts that are the bread-and-butter of the fall.
“Coming off the bike, I’m used to putting in big hours — I’m used to work like that,” he said. “Especially working your legs, going into skate skiing — for some reason, cycling into skate skiing transfers really well.”
Elliott’s loop starts with a long climb — about 45 minutes. He said that he and Wells usually ride side-by-side, at a steady pace, without drafting. They’re not going threshold — Elliot pegged his effort at upper level two.
It’s still a conversational pace, but Wells, a professional mountain biker and cyclocross racer, is a little faster than Elliott, “so he does a lot more talking.”
The climb is paved, but the rolling terrain afterwards is mostly dirt — Elliott described the roads as “haggard,” with “big rocks” and “big truckers passing us.”
Both riders are sure to have their food and drinks ready before they start — it helps that Wells’s main sponsor is Clif Bar — and they eat consistently. There’s no stopping, except maybe for a chocolate milk or Coke towards the end of the ride.
“We just ride smooth,” Elliott said. “I just end up laughing the whole time, and enjoying it.”
The whole loop takes about three hours, or just over, for an average of about 23 miles per hour. (Amateur cyclists may find that pace slightly on the ballistic side — try shooting for an average of 16 to 20 miles per hour, at least for your first few rides.)
When Wells and Elliot are done with the ride, they usually go get wraps at a local sandwich shop, then take a nap. The afternoon is reserved for nine holes of golf — the “recovery walk.”
The workout is a blast, Elliott said, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beneficial — “it’s not like I do it to mess around,” he said.
Elliot says he reaps rewards from the ride in longer skate races, where he’s comfortable at a higher pace. And the three-hour duration also teaches his body to burn fat stores towards the end of the session, which will be necessary for marathons during the ski season.
Elliott said he usually starts doing the ride in the mid-summer, but he’ll keep at it through the fall. He sees no problems with doing the workout up until November, since the fun format makes it easy to get out the door.
“I enjoy it — I enjoy going out with my friend and riding. I don’t have to drag myself out of bed, or anything, to go do that workout. I look forward to it,” he said. “I know I’m going to laugh and enjoy myself eventually that day….You’re going to be tired, but you’re going to have fun.”
Nat Herz is an Alaska-based journalist who moonlights for FasterSkier as an occasional reporter and podcast host. He was FasterSkier's full-time reporter in 2010 and 2011.