What do good outdoor intervals look like

I’m trying to start doing some outdoor workouts in a park near where I work. Whilst I didn’t expected the power to be as neat as on a turbo I seemed to have minimal time in the desired zone. I was wondering if anyone had some examples of what good intervals look like to compare? What would be a good time in zone?

Also, any tips to be smoother outside?

It takes some time to get a good feel for what power feels like outdoor. You’ll get better at it and after some outdoor rides you should get better times in zones.

I always have 20s and 5s power in my head unit and aim to keep my 20s power in the zone I’m training.

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I have 1s power on my Garmin and use the lap button to watch average power for the interval. I tried 3s power but found it too laggy … ended up doing overs and unders trying to hit the power number. I can hit my power targets within a couple of watts. I usually do intervals on hills because if you are going to be riding along staring at your computer its better if you are going a bit slower.

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Terrain makes a huge difference: speed (you go slower uphill, or at least, I do) is a factor, but you kind of want to avoid descents bang in the middle of an interval (rest periods between intervals are a good downhill opportunity though).

Over time, I’ve built my own little “library” of courses that I can pick from depending on the type of workout I’m doing (and kid you not: what an awesome feeling when you find out that you are outdoing what used to be the go-to “5 minute climb” and you now have the problem of having to find a new course :wink: )

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The comment above about a ‘library of courses’ is spot on. You need to have some options suitable for 30sec/1min/2min all the way up to 10-20min. Take into account safety (traffic volume, junctions, turn around points) and terrain (don’t want to be sustaining hard efforts downhill).

Also, load the session and then review it on your head unit prior to the ride. Some rests roll straight into an interval (typically short reps) and some require a press of the lap button that will allow you to control the start point.

Here is a couple of recent rides. One on a hill (varying grade) and one on a rolling road. Both can be done but you will refine your feel for holding power the more you practice.

Clark -2 by grifter1981 at Tuesday, Sep 07 2021 - TrainerRoad

Guyat by grifter1981 at Thursday, Sep 02 2021 - TrainerRoad

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Practice

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Here go examples of “good” outdoor intervals:
3x17 minutes (these were supposed to be 3s15, but the top of the climb was at just under 17 minutes): All of the intervals were within 7 seconds total elapsed time of each other (manually hitting lap button) with both NP & Ave. Power at 198 or 197 watts
Screen Shot 2021-09-13 at 10.05.06 AM

Another example for short (3, 2, 1 minute) hard start intervals

Here’s one done as a very long interval - ~1:55 in total - on slightly undulating terrain:

As others have said, the keys to doing “good” outdoor intervals are:

  • Pick your terrain to match the interval length. This is probably keys 1 - 5
  • Know the terrain. For all three of these examples, I’ve done intervals on them at least 4 or more times previous to these examples. So I know the terms / changes in gradients / where I might get slowed by traffic / lights - only an issue on the long interval course.
  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Have a simplified interval data screen. Unlike some others, except for the short intervals (3, 2, 1), I look at the following power numbers check my pacing: 10s ave, interval NP, interval average Power. Plus interval time and cadence. That’s it.
  • I also don’t do these using the workout functionality. These are simple enough that I just know the interval pattern I’m supposed to execute, and I use the lap button. At least for me, this is easier as I’m not worried if I’m off slightly on the recovery between intervals, or if a specific interval ends up being slghtly shorter (or longer) than it is supposed to be because of terrain / cars / whatever. See the 3x17 which was supposed to be 3x15, but the top of the climb was at ~17 minutes, so I went to the top of the climb.
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here’s my recent 1 hr 21 outdoor workout 4 x 5 mins i believe. just trying to be consistent with the effort really.

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One you get the feel of it, and assuming you have a good stretch of road, they’ll look as good as they do on the trainer in resistance mode. The upshot of that is you can practice indoors if you turn off erg mode at least now and then.

Basic tip: shoot for a power range rather than a specific number and understand the goals and purposes of the intervals you are doing and how that affects targets. Sometimes just hitting a wide zone is Ok (e.g. Easy zone 2 work); other times staying in a fairly narrow target is important (e.g. vo2 intervals); and sometimes its the effort not the watt number that matters (e.g. All out sprint intervals)

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As other said, good outdoor intervals are smooth. Terrain is almost everything. For example, no turns or traffic that you’ll have to slow down, as constant a gradient as possible so you don’t have to shift (shifting almost always causes a momentary peak or trough in output), etc. Otherwise it’s no different than riding indoors (unless you’re on ERG indoors where outdoors you’ll actually have to pace yourself).

I show lap time, avg power for 3s, 10s, and 30s on my head unit. I watch 3s and 30s closest.

Part of getting into outdoor intervals is just accepting that your power is going to be a bit all over the place for a bit. It will take practice before you can really dial in your RPE to your power output so that you don’t have to continually look at your head unit. During longer SS or threshold type intervals I probably glance at my headunit every 20-60 seconds to verify that I’m still in the right range.

I have target power, time left in interval, 3s power, cadence, HR, and last lap avg power on my main screen. I accept that the 3s power will fluctuate a bit but any longer would just feel like I was steering a boat.

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I’m very fortunate in that i have some great streets nearby for Intervals. Both have bike lanes and are wide and low volume. One is a 4-6 % grade that is perfect for 30 and 60 second intervals. Even better if i go early in the morning the side i ascend on has shade!
The other street ranges from a 0 to a 5% grade with an average of 3% with no stop signs until the end. Its just long enough to do a zone 5 interval for six minutes.
I also have a road nearby with a steady 4% climb that takes me about 4 minutes in zone 4. Great for hill repeats.
What i don’t have and need is a gradual steady climb that is 6 miles long for 20 minute FTP tests. The best roads i have for that are mostly uphill but have frequent descents.
I live in Fort Worth TX so i can ride throughout the year with relatively few exceptions.

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