Project Ironman – The Bike: 3 Preparation Tips

Project Ironman – The Bike: 3 Preparation Tips

Ironman distance racing is ultimately about energy management. How you control and distribute your effort throughout the day is essential to a good finish. The ironman bike leg plays a crucial component to this end, as it normally represents the bulk of one’s total race time. Regrettably many still race the bike leg as if nothing were to follow, either caught up in the excitement of the day or on the quest for that new bike split PB. Yet the success of the subsequent run (assuming adequate training preparation) is very much predicated on what you do on the bike, from energy expenditure (pacing) to energy intake (feeding).

Here are three simple suggestions to help prepare your bike leg to have a positive impact on your run.

Technique – Practice Feeding

I will take a road less travelled. No talk about goal TSS, IF, cadence, peddling foot motion or about ideal head, back, hand position etc. Instead, a crucial fundamental – practicing the mechanics of getting nutrition from its storage place on the bike, or on your person, into you while staying comfortably in control of your bike.

This may sound presumptuous to many but forgive me. There is reason. I have personally encountered/witnessed individuals who were committed to an IM, kitted with slick race bikes, yet (in training) refused – literally – to reach for a water bottle (from a seated position let alone from the aero position) unless at a full stop, one leg on terra firma. All will agree that feeding is imperative in ironman racing. It is the 4th discipline. However, all the best nutritional advice and formulations are for naught if it remains affixed to the bike frame by T2.

It all starts with the set up – using kit or makeshift solutions that suit your comfort and ability/experience level. It is all fine and dandy that the latest trendy slick water bottle mount between the aerobars will save you 45s to 1min over 40k (in a wind tunnel).  It is of little value to you aerodynamically in an ironman if every time you have to drink you need to break position by sitting up or you lose directional control of the bike, because holding course with one forearm is precarious for you. In this instance, perhaps using a refillable aero bottle may be more suitable. Yes the wind tunnel numbers may show +0.0001g more aero drag on that straw than the former set up.  But if it helps you minimize movement on the bike while drinking then you will feel more comfortable to sip regularly whilst holding a better aero position for longer (win-win). And don’t feel belittled…. remember our World Champ…

Chrissie in Kona

Therefore comfort of access is crucial. If you are apprehensive to reach for items the more likely you will not eat or drink sufficiently. If you have a seat mounted cage, practice reaching back extracting and returning while keeping your eyes on the road. If you have a refillable bottle between the bars, practice refilling from another bottle on the fly. Likewise, practice ripping off gels taped to the top tube, reaching into your top tube food box or your jersey back pocket using either hand. Being ambidextrous is also advantageous. Should you race in a country where they drive on the opposite side of what you are accustomed to back home, the aid stations will likely be on that “new’ side. [Tip – practice your feeding mechanics while riding the turbo as well instead of having a buffet table alongside.]

So, whatever set up you chose for hydration and nutrition, you must practice using it as you would on race day. Learn to reach for things, and place them back on the move. If you are reluctant to do so, you may very well miss crucial feeding and begin accumulating a potentially unrecoverable energy debt before starting the run.

 Training – Holding Race Pace Under Fatigue

Everybody is a hero coming out of T1. Some even act like it’s a BMX race start Don’t believe me? Go to Kona and observe the sprinting and jostling of some age groupers not even 50m up the hill from the King K hotel – utter lunacy!  What matters is how you can sustain your race effort on the back half, to one-third of the course. This is where the real (smart) heroes shine.

In practical training terms this means first ingraining the necessary restraint at the outset of your long rides that will target race pace. No sense in beaming about your watts for the first 50k only to fizzle and falter by 80 km. Second, include progressively, longer continuous segments at target race pace effort at the back end of long rides when you are fatigued. These could start at 30 minutes and progress to 2 hours at the tail end of a 3 – 4.5hour ride. Don’t be afraid to try. Remember this is ironman race pace, not 40km time-trial pace.

Daniela has perfected the art of race pacing

The second component to these race-pace segments is cerebral – applying a race mindset, making tactical decisions as you would on race day. This will further amplify the value of such race-pace segments especially when facing undulating terrain with a tailwind. It will likely be difficult to hold a target power number. But you can still put out a “race effort” by doing the right things – i.e. holding tight aero and speed on descents, pushing a touch harder up a grade or into a momentary head/cross wind, deciding when to fuel based on terrain ahead and time etc. That is still relevant race-pace specific training.

Intervals are great for developing your race-pace. Long continuous segments will really train your physical and mental stamina and confidence to perform when tired, including making the right tactical decisions. The more you practice this in different conditions, the better positioned you will be come the run.

Race Preparation – Building Race Specific Stamina

Every ironman course is 180km (+/-), yet each one has its challenges – a climbing course is daunting for many, while holding aero position for hours on a flat course is unbearable for some. Barring an opportunity to ride the course in vivo, see it on a map and study the profile provided by the race or using Google Earth, Map My Ride or such. Appreciate, understand and then train to task…for the benefit of the subsequent run as well.

To highlight, consider Ironman Whistler. The course features approximately 2000m of cumulative climbing. There are about 20km’s of leg sapping, undulating terrain before the first major climb ~12km with 8-10% pitches thrown in. The last ~35km back to T2 is pretty much a sustained climb. In between there are lots of high-speed descents.

Obviously, climbing strength and descending skills should be incorporated into one’s bike training regime. With respect to race specific preparation within the last ~12 weeks, it would be beneficial to choreograph rides that accumulate a similar total elevation gain (or more) and periodically include a long sustained climbing effort on the back end, and then doing so before a transition run. This will achieve at least two things.

  1. You will need to diligently work your effort and fuel management to best position yourself energetically for the run. This may not be as straightforward as when riding a flat course.
  2. It will accustom your body to run with substantial climbing fatigue in it, which for some may be quite difficult as compared to a flatter course.

Likewise, if a course happens to have a lot of corners, you would want to plan rides that regularly disrupt your rhythm with frequent direction changes. Cumulatively this will have another unique effect on your disposition before the run.

Whatever the course you chose, study it, know it, train for it.

Incorporate these three tips into your ironman bike preparation to ensure you keep the “fuel flow” going, to remain on task as fatigue sets in and to bolster your confidence in handling the challenges of your chosen course. Doing so will increase the chances of a successful run.

 

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Project Ironman – The Swim: 3 Preparation Tips

Project Ironman – The Swim: 3 Preparation Tips

Over the years I have frequently heard people insist that because the IM swim accounts for ~10% of total race time, it only deserves a commensurate amount of training attention. While the swim indeed represents a small fraction of your overall finish time, it still matters – a lot. You cannot (or most likely will not) win the IM on the swim but you sure can lose your day if it detrimentally impacts your bike performance and subsequent run. Here are three simple suggestions to help prepare your swim to have a positive impact on the rest of your race day.

Technique – The Recovery
Ultimately your swim preparation should aim to improve your ability to cover the race distance at (your) speed comfortably so you have energy in the tank to bike and run effectively. It all starts with a sustainable technique. This means one that you can replicate sustainably for~4000 strokes over 3.8k (factoring some navigational deviations along the way). The Recovery phase is key to this end.

The recovery is undervalued. People often pay lip service to it as simply that phase that somehow links the “Push” with the “Place”. When it is a point of attention discussion revolves around “proper” – dare I say aesthetic – form. I would argue that aside from being an inevitable biomechanical link in the stroke cycle it has a functional purpose.

Recovery means exactly that – recovery! Yet so many AG from a non-swim background (lacking the flexibility and coordination of fellow early-start pure bred swimmers) still work the recovery, contriving that high “chicken-wingie” finger-drag type procedure from the shoulder complex – because that is considered proper swim form. I see the energy tax in their body language.

Indeed the recovery phase is short lived. Passes in the blink of an eye at race effort. But it is still an opportunity to recuperate. Think of the upstroke phase when pedaling. How exhausting will it be to actively “pull up” every stroke over the course of 180k? So relax the elbow angle. Open it up. Is there an optimal angle? No. It can be completely straight. Whatever feels comfortable and provides your arm and shoulder with a momentary sense of respite (without of course compromising the placement of the hand on entry). The tension, pressure and power come under water where it matters. Over top – chill. Multiply that 4000x and there is some energy savings to be had. Remember – recovery means exactly that. Make it so.

Training – Race Pace Grooving (RPG)
In my fundamentals article I stressed the importance of rehearsing race pace (RP). An effective trial set to groove your swim RP, while developing and gauging progress in your stamina is to complete 4000m of 100m pull holding RP on a RP +7-10 sec send-off time – i.e 40 x 100p (1.50) @ 2.00. Of course one needs to work up to this possibly starting with 10 x 100, 20 x or 30 x, depending on experience. The goal is to hold RP from start to finish and see if and at one point in the set you start to fall off the pace. The seasonal objective is to make each trial feel better than the last (which means your efficiency and stamina are improving).

Naturally we want to see pace times come down as part of anticipated progression. What is most important is that you are able to sustain the effort 40x, consistently. If after 2-3 consecutive trials you are now coming in consistently with 12-15 sec rest, then you are likely ready to re-set your RP (in this example to 1.45 leaving on 1.55).

This trial set also helps potentially identify aspects that need further training attention. For example, if after 28-30 reps your pace tends to fall off to 1.58-2.02 and becomes a struggle to hold, then addressing stamina and holding TUF (Technique Under Fatigue) at the back end of training sets might be a point of attention. If the pace falls off mid-way and then consistently comes back on track or better for the back end, this may be indicative of distraction that may require more mental focus and cue development.

Try this trial set every 6-8 weeks to measure your progress from both a pace and energetic standpoint while concurrently grooving your RP effort. And remember to do this with NO WATER BOTTLE stops!


Race Preparation – Simulation Prep Sets
While it is never really possible to recon an actual IM swim course (as the full course is never set up until race morning – Kona being perhaps the closest exception) you can still get a sense of the course rhythm at home. By studying the actual course map found in the Athletes Guide you can design sets that follow the course pattern and allow you to develop your personal race approach/strategy with more specificity.

Using a fictitious IM race that has a 2-loop triangular course: 800m x 300m x 800m with an exit run around a buoy on the beach. You will quickly deduce that this course has 3x turns >90 degrees / points of convergence, and a tight inter-section between turn 1 and 2. This means there will be at least 3 points along the course, excluding the mayhem of the start, where some intensity will be inevitably injected into the mix causing HR to jack up momentarily requiring you to control it and settle back into your game quickly.

**[p = pull buoy, pp = pull + paddles, sri = sec rest interval, mri = min rest interval]

One specific prep session might be:
5 min warm up choice / 1-2mri full rest (waiting for the gun)
4 x 50p desc 1-4/5sri (start)

Then 2 times through:
7-8 x 100 (RP)/10sri (leg 1)
4 x 25 fast/5sri (turn 1, simulate convergence melee and its short and choppy nature, get HR up)
3 x (75 fast+25 mod-med) continuous (simulate the “bumper car” effect as people come out of the turn trying to re-sight and catching up/passing waves ahead)
4 x 25 fast/5sri (simulate turn 2 as above)
4 x 200 (RP)/15sri (leg 2)
4 x 25 sprint/5sri (turn 3, simulate HR rise from standing up and running. Round 2, do as 100 build by 25 to finish).
(Set 1- p, Set 2 – pp)

Incorporate these three tips into your IM swim preparation. They will help you conserve energy, develop your capacity to cover the distance at speed and build your confidence to tackle the nuances of the given course. Exiting the swim with resilience can only help your day on the bike and run.
Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.

 

Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.