Triathlon is one of the best things that has happened to bicycling. Many people who were runners and swimmers, or just people wanting to challenge themselves in a race against the clock, have taken up the Swim, Bike, Run phenomenon. I think it is super as it brings a different type of person into cycling. There is much to learn, however, and I have always been adding to my “triathlon bank” of information.
When cyclists dabble in triathlons, they are already good cyclists and running is relatively easy to learn. I remember when I was a full-time Category 2 bike racer in Dallas, I found a “Thursday Night Group” of runners at White Rock Lake in Dallas who seemed to be having a great time running and then going to a place afterwards to drink beer and eat. I did some 10K runs and found it easy enough to get to a 6:15 pace, but as luck would have it, I turned my ankle badly and my running career was over. It also hurt my cycling and I remembered this when I started seeing people try triathlons back in the 80’s.
I see many people who are triathletes and a trend has developed, at least to my perspective. I sense that triathletes will spend inordinate amounts of time in the pool learning to perfect a swim stroke. They do intervals, speed work, and emulate the fast swimmers who can win a competitive swim meet. Additionally, they run with the fast runners. I hear of all sorts of organized run workouts; hill intervals, fartlek, speed work, track workouts, you name it. Here is the rub: I also hear so many of these people “just getting on their tri bike and riding.” This does not compute to me!
In many past articles I have elaborated how much one needs to learn to ride a bicycle properly. I think that this fear of the unknown combined with bad anecdotal urban myths (“I don’t draft on a group ride because I can’t draft in a triathlon,” etc.) causes triathletes to suffer on the bike and subsequently the run. With this in mind, there are two things I ask triathletes to think about as they work on their bike leg; Fitting and Training.
Since I talk about fitting a lot, we can get this one out of the way. I believe the best and most aerodynamic position on a triathlon bike is one that is efficient enough to generate loads of power, balanced enough to avoid muscle imbalances that can cause premature fatigue and comfortable enough (read high enough!) to allow you to stay in the aerobars the entire event. I cannot stress this last part. If the bike is set up so that you have to sit up and rest during the triathlon then you are going to pay a huge time penalty. My fitting process deals with this and I can answer direct questions from you regarding this part of the program.
The main topic of this article is “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Translated into triathlon bikespeak, this means that if you swim with the fast swimmers and run with the fast runners, you need to learn to ride with the fast bike riders. I know this is so easy to say and so hard to do, and that is why I am mentioning it. More people lose time on the bike than anything, followed closely by losing time on the run because the bike leg was a disaster. The runner-centric thought process also contributes here, stating that if the bike leg is too taxing, the run is blown, so take it easy on the bike leg.
My thought is, the people finishing at the front of their age groups or overall are not taking it easy on the bike. They train like bike racers on the bike, just like they do swimming and running. Here is how you can do it:
1) Ride a road bike in group rides. Tri bikes are inherently designed to ride in a timed race, not in packs. You need the speed work and intensity of road group rides, particularly with people who are better than you. Get a good road bike and learn the tricks of the road racers. This finesse and expertise will transfer back to the triathlon. It’s not easy to learn to ride with bike racers but it is well worth it.
2) You need to ride in a straight line in a triathlon. This is the shortest distance between two points. You learn to ride in a straight line in a peloton as you are close to other riders and the better the group, the closer they can ride together. You eventually learn to relax and ride gracefully and smoothly.
3) Do intervals. Hill intervals, speed intervals, short and long intervals. You already do this on the swim and run, just do the same on the bike.
4) When riding in groups, get used to going fast. Once you are used to 30 miles an hour, holding 25 mph on the tri bike doesn’t seem so bad.
5) Push your limits on hard training days. When you do intervals or go on a hard group ride, exceed your expectations. You may suffer. You may get dropped. This kind of conditioning will make you better. The logic is to train hard enough that two things happen. First, when you recover, you will get stronger. Second, the training is so hard that the race is easier.
6) Get a coach. A good coach will make a huge difference in your progress. You need to be accountable and the coach can help keep you from overtraining. You may need more input than one coach can give. If your coach is weak on swimming, for instance, you may need a separate swim coach to work in tandem with your main coach. It’s ok. Nobody knows everything about everything. I don’t coach running or swimming, but focus strictly on the bike. You need expert help from three disciplines.
At the end of the day, getting your position on the bike better and learning to ride both the road bike and the triathlon bike well is not only important, but a realistic pathway to cut huge chunks of time from your events. Nobody said triathlon was easy, but so many people are finding the rewards that it must be worth it. Stay focused!
KGS Bikes is known around the world as the premiere bicycle fitting studio and boutique. For over 25 years, Kevin Saunders, President, has studied bicycle fitting and sold high end bicycles. KGS Bikes sells bicycles from Co-Motion Parlee, Serotta, Zinn, and Guru, in addition to fitting services. For more information visit the KGS Bikes blog, http://blog.kgsbikes.com and the KGS Bikes website, http://kgsbikes.com.
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