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.
- 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.
- 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.
Have a bad race? Jump straight back in the saddle and carry on.
From time to time athletes will have what they perceive as a bad performance. This can lead to a grasping at thin air, trying to decipher, or come up with a reason for what is or was a possible cause.
As an example, I have seen athletes swimming the best they have ever swum prior to a race, but then have a poor swim on race day. Whether through self doubt, or discussions in a group environment, this can lead to doubt in their training program, and a desire (by the athlete) to throw everything out and make random changes based on their insecurities following this one poor result.
As a coach talking with athletes I often heard ‘X told me this is what they do’, or ‘Y says B also had this problem and how they worked on it’. In the above example of a poor swim, common suggestions include
- Bad wet suit – lets get another one
- Swim training not right – lets change the swim program
- Swim technique not right – lets change swim technique.
Any, or all three have the potential to wreck a whole race season!
In the sport of horse racing there is a very specific thought, before any changes are made –
‘Forgive a horse a bad run’.
There are so many reasons for a single poor performance, and a knee jerk reaction, after what could well have been an anomaly can have dire long term effects.
There’s always the next race to line up for!
Even in sports where one would think are played under controlled circumstances, we can observe anomalies. In Snooker, played on a perfectly flat table, small imperfections or dirt on the ball, or in the playing surface can affect the direction of the ball and the outcome of the game. Similarly in Golf, even with a perfect putting stroke, slight anomalies in a green can change the game, and if allowed to affect the players confidence then also the match, or even the players whole season.
The lesson is this –
Stop trying to take away good form because of an occasional performance that you are not happy with. If there is something wrong, you will be the first to have your coach questioning it. If he / she doesn’t, then show courage and stop doubting.
As doubt may indeed be the biggest problem for you.
David achieved a new Ironman PB in New Zealand this year.
Ironman champion or bike mechanic?
When Jo Spindler emerged from his workshop with a metal file in his hand, oily clothes, face and hands, it was hard to tell.
It turns out he’s both: In pursuit of the perfect bike for his partner – fellow Ironman winner Diana Riesler – Jo was busy filing a new seat stem, determined to improve her already astonishing performances, having won IM Lanzarote and Malaysia.
For me, this was an excellent sign; The restaurant manager should know how to boil an egg. And I really like the way Jo understands not just what to do, but how and why. For someone like me with a million questions, Jo is fantastic. Here is someone who had competed at the highest level, triumphed, and now tells age group athletes how to do it.
With Jo and Diana in Mallorca
I began competing in triathlons in 2013, starting at Olympic distance, then 70.3. In early 2016, I was training for my first Ironman in Austria later that year. In fact I already had a coach, who sent me daily schedules, but didn’t pay much attention to any other part of my training life. I was looking for someone or something different.
Training with the Trisutto Mallorca Camp was dramatically different. The schedule was demanding, intense, fast and serious. I remember making porridge every morning, because each day felt like preparing for a 70.3 race. I would order a double espresso between sessions, to be sure I had enough energy for the next challenge. I loved it! The fellow athletes were different to those I’d met before. Mostly German and Swiss, several were high caliber, age group winners or Kona qualifiers, but not all. The standard was high, but there was no sense that slower athletes were less valued, everyone was doing their best and Jo was encouraging everyone equally.
Among the many highlights of that camp were the important lessons on swim technique and training (particularly the underwater hand and arm motion), on riding up hills in the big ring, and on whether to shave my legs. ‘Yes!’ said Jo. ‘You’ll save 10 watts.’ On a practical level, ‘Jo-the-bike-mechanic’ gave me and my Cervelo S5 a new set-up which cured my back problems and significantly increased my speed. It was like getting a new, faster bike.
Riding the quiet Mallorquin lanes and spectacular mountain passes with Diana was another treat. It’s always a thrill to train with an elite athlete, to see them at work and learn from them.
Summer Camp in St.Moritz
Later that summer, after completing IM Austria, I signed up for another TriSutto camp, this time in St Moritz Switzerland, run by the group’s founder and head coach Brett Sutton. This time, there were several Trisutto coaches helping us through the sessions. Brett would make a speech about swim, bike or run training, and the other coaches would add their comments and ideas. Then we’d go off and train in the superb mountains above the town.
Among the coaches was Rafal Medak, a London-based Polish triathlete who is one of the world’s best 40-45 age groupers: He’s competed at Kona for seven consecutive years and finished 22 Ironman races. Like Jo, Rafal is a great student of the sport. He has a sharp analytic mind and is always looking for smart ways to improve training, preparation and performance. Soon after the summer camp, Rafal agreed to coach me and we’ve now had more than six months together, including an excellent result at Ironman New Zealand, where I overcame terrible swim and bike conditions to set a new PB.
Meeting up with Andrea and Roberto at various locations around the word!
Meanwhile, some of the people I’ve met through Trisutto have become friends: Roberto and Andrea Cagnati, for example, are also crazy about the sport and love travelling to exotic locations. We’ve met in Phuket, Mallorca, New York and London, always having a run or a swim together, or competing in events.
When I came back to Mallorca this April, a year after meeting Jo and Diana. It was a real pleasure to see them again, to race with Diana at Porto Colom and to train with them at the BEST Center in Colonia Sant Jordi, a few km away from their home in Felanitx.
These days, Jo has shaved off his beard and I’ve not seen any oil on his hands. But his engineer’s mind and his huge passion for triathlon are as sharp as ever. Thanks for welcoming me to the Trisutto family, Jo, I’ve loved every minute.
David Nicholson joined Trisutto in October 2016 and currently trains under Rafal Medak. Since then he has achieved impressive results at IM New Zealand, Laguna Phuket, and Ironman 70.3 Phuket.
Jo Spindler is Trisutto’s Head European Coach and also a multiple Ironman winning coach. He bases his training squads between Spain and Switzerland
Join Jo at his next weekend camp in Sursee, in May.
Rafal Medak is a Trisutto coach based out of London.
Having just completed a serious of camps in Maspalomas, Rafal is currently planning further Camps in St.Moritz over the European Summer.
Ready for action. Trackside at our Malaysian training base in Iskander Puteri.
As athletes prepare for their key races, thoughts turn to tapering. What, when and how?
Tapers are an individual thing, however one can be guided by the general principle that triathlon of all distances is an aerobic sport. Even sprint distance racing is a minimum of one hour in duration.
If we consider an Olympic distance, also commonly known as ‘short course’ racing, we are looking at a race that takes around 2 hours for the pro’s to complete – a time duration which is far closer to the time required for elite marathon runners to finish their event. Hence, going the distance in triathlon is paramount, even in ‘sprint’ and ‘short course’ triathlon racing. To do this to the best of ones ability requires being strong the last third of the swim, the last third of the bike, and for the last third of the run. If your chosen race is Ironman, then in addition, how can you be strong for the last 3 hours of your day, where for many the metaphorical wheels fall off?
The simple fact is most triathletes taper too much. They worry about being super fresh for a race, when in fact ‘rested’ is fine.
Feeling super fresh at the race expo, the welcome banquet, and on race morning can lead one to a false sense of expectation, and reality. ‘I feel terrific, let me at it! To only then find half way into the bike that the body says ‘I do not feel so fresh anymore!‘.
If you are an athlete who has a 7 – 14+ day taper leading into your race, this is an area you may want to examine in more detail. Rather than drastically reducing the volume from your program, we advise to reduce the intensity in the last 7 – 10 days leading into your race. Maintain some volume in your taper to keep your ‘aerobic engine’ topped up and ready for your big day.
Remember that fresh is only best if you are buying fruit. Even meat is better slightly aged!
Robbie Haywood is Director of Coaching at Trisutto, with over 15 years experience. He spreads his time between his home on the Sunshine Coast, Australia and the Trisutto Headquarters in St Mortiz.
Join Robbie at one of the St Mortiz Camps in June and July and in Cyprus in May.
‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’
Mental toughness is the ability to perform to the upper range of your individual talent and skill, regardless of competitive circumstances. We all know that long distance events especially require at least as much mental strength as physical preparation!
Being mentally tough means that no matter how brutal the circumstances are, whether it be your 13th hour during the Ironman race in temperatures well over 35 C, or your 20th rep of a 400m interval session, you’re able to stand the pain and suffering and perform to the best of your skills. The reward for toughness…, a good time, a personal best, a good place, maybe place on the podium of your age group category or even a win, or the satisfaction of ‘just’ finishing. Mental toughness may be the defining factor between finishing at the front of the pack and not finishing at all.
It’s not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that’s engaged and competitive in the environment you’re in, whether that’s competing against the clock or other human beings. It’s easy when you feel good physically. It’s when that physicality leaves you, it becomes the real task. What you’re physically capable of in an endurance environment is more determined by your mental strength than your physical capabilities. Your body can go beyond what your physical perceptions of tiredness or fatigue are. Your brain will be telling you ‘You are tired, stop.’ The mental limitations kick in before the physical limitations, it’s a simple protecting factor.
Photo credit: AsiaTri.com
Visualization is a part of the training that is important. You don’t have to do anything physically, you can be meditating or walking, anything where you’re in your mind, playing it out in advance. You can imagine the start, the course, the spectators, the finish line or those points that your body is saying ‘stop’ or that you’re suffering. You can mentally training yourself to push through those barriers.
You should also be prepared to overcome mechanical issues during the bike leg, a flat tire, loosing you nutrition, getting hit during the swim…the list is long, but the better you are prepared mentally to those, the better you will handle the real situation, if it occurs on race day.
If you spend too much time being down about it, it can throw your race completely. You have to keep yourself in a place that’s not a dark, panic one. It also comes back to core faith, for me it always was my family and the people that are closest to me, I raced also for them and gained strength and positivity, knowing they will wait at the finish line or follow me online for several hours back home.
Another thing is, of course is the training; in many ways harder than the event itself in terms of the hours you’re putting in and no one is cheering for you. You have to get comfortable in your pain cave. It’s a place of prolonged suffering. You know you’re going to experience it, but you have to find a way to know that it’s not going to last forever.
Try to focus your mind on the positive of completing. When you’re in immense physical pain, try to dull the pain as much as possible or the opposite, try to welcome to pain!
It’s up to you, remember, everyone is different! But once the pain enters your head, you start to legitimize ways of pulling out. There’s a difference between ‘bonking’ and hitting the wall mentally. When you really bonk physically (nutritional issues for example) in most situations there is less you can do about it, you will loose a lot of time or even not be able to finish. But how long you hit a wall mentally, depends on your own thoughts, mantras, to what your brain is saying to you and how you handle these.
There can be a bad 20 or 30 minutes, but you can still have a pretty awesome race.
Don’t feed into your fears or worries or concerns. You have to feed into your positive thoughts, those are the ones that are going to get you through. This can definitely be practiced during your very intense training sessions.
I know, it’s easier said than done, but
Edith Niederfriniger is a Trisutto Coach based in Italy.
Join Edith at her Tuscany Training Camps in April.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.