Many people stuggle to do structured workouts outdoors, me included. Some of it comes down to wanting to just ride, but some of it comes from trying to find the right roads for your efforts. If you’re just doing a simple endurance ride and don’t have too much structure in exactly how hard you go, then you can ride just about anywhere, but if you’re doing anything more than that you need to put some thought into where you ride.
Often the best way to do structured work outside is to find a hill of the right length and do your intervals up it, then recover going back down. For very hard efforts, a steeper hill is usually best as you don’t have to worry about spinning out as much, and recovery is easier to manage.
If you’re just doing zone 5 and above efforts that are short, usually you can find something that works in your area. Longer efforts are usually harder.
Often times the biggest issue of finding a road/trail to do a workout on is not having a long enough climb/not downhill stretch to do it on. For long tempo or theshold efforts, you may need up to 20mins of straight climbing, preferably at a fairly steady grade. Often times this isn’t possible, so you have to find other solutions. One is to ride into a headwind, which is miserable, but even on flat ground, a decent headwind will allow you to do your efforts without worrying about going too easy. Another trick is to find a road that while flat, is maybe a 1-2% grade or is the most gradual uphill. This type of road will usually work for up to zone 4 efforts, depending on how flat it truly is. If you still can’t find a long enough stretch of road, or you can’t put out power on the flatter stuff, you’re starting to run out of options. There are still a few ways to work your way around it though. If you’re on a trail or gravel road, you could look for sand or a rougher patch that requires more power to get through it, on pavement, instead of riding the smooth stuff, choose the rough.
If all of those fail, and you can’t find a stretch of road to do your 15min zone 3 effort, you’re probably going to have make some compromises. Often you may just have to do your workout inside, if you really want to get it done right. For this reason I usually will do my more structured work indoors, while my less structured base rides are outdoors. I also have a few moderately long hills so I can choose to go outdside, but I prefer to get the really specific work done inside where I have more control. If you have your heart set on riding outside you may have to shorten the intervals to fit your stretch of road, and then just do more of them. If you’re within a minute or two of what you would be doing inside, then you can usually get away with the same amount of intervals as you would indoors. If you’re chopping your 10min interval down to 7mins, then depending on how many you’re doing, you may want to do one or two more.
If you can’t find a stretch of road that works, and you don’t want to reduce the length of your intervals, then you either have to ride inside, or just try to put in your efforts on less than ideal terrain, and possibly reduce the effectiveness of the workout.