Nobody said cycling for triathlon was easy, so it’s time for you to get harder, says double UK cycling champion and Kona finisher Eamonn Deane.
Excuses, excuses, excuses. I’ve heard them all before. Especially the ones about your dodgy cycling performances. I know how it feels – you’ve put the work in at the pool, got some hard miles in on the bike and pounded out some quality run sessions, yet when you put all three together in a triathlon you seem to come up short.
I remember finishing races knowing I had given everything on the swim and run, and yet I hadn’t ridden well on the bike. But with a few races and plenty of miles in my legs, cycling soon became my strongest discipline – and it can be yours too.
Of the three disciplines, cycling can be a tough one to crack. For a start, it requires more equipment and kit, which doesn’t come cheap. Even getting through the winter can be a challenge in itself, and the extra clothing, kit and perhaps a dedicated training bike all add to the expense. You may end up deciding that a run seems a better option. The temptation to skip that ride can be strong. But persevere and it’ll reap rewards, with those tough miles paying you back on race day.
Ditch the excuses
So if you feel your bike leg is letting you down, don’t worry, you’re not alone; plenty of tirathletes under-perform on the bike section during a race. In fact, in all my years of cycling and triathlon, the same excuses come up time and time again. So, I’ve taken a selection of them and given my advice. Any sound familiar…?
“I don’t know what it should feel like to ride really hard in a triathlon”
Experience is a great teacher. The more you race the more you will get a feel for racing. Your training should include some quality, race-pace riding. Just like it is with swimming and running, interval training is a great way to improve your speed and endurance. Periods of hard intensity cycling, followed by rest intervals, will improve your fitness levels and give you the confidence to keep pushing. Interval training is also time efficient; you don’t have to put in long miles to become better at cycling for triathlon.
“I ride steadily to make sure I have plenty of energy for the run.”
While you certainly need to have something in the tank for the run, particularly in the longer distance events, it is difficult to make up time lost on the bike once you’re on the run. Your goal should be optimum performance in all three disciplines. Incorporate brick sessions (back to back workouts) into your training regime. Running straight from the bike in training will prepare you for that hardest of transitions – your legs feel like jelly but with the right preparation you can deal with it quickly, get in to your stride and still run strong even after maximum effort on the bike. Remember to also get some fuel inside you during the cycling section – it’s the best time to feed and will keep you going on the run.
“On the bike I suffer from aching legs long before I start breathing hard.”
Rest assured its normal and even the professionals will be feeling it as they head out on to the cycling section of a triathlon. Concentrate on your form, the first few miles will feel uncomfortable, get into a rhythm, and perhaps take on some fluid in the early stages.
As you settle in, think about your gearing. Use a lower gear to begin with and, as you find your legs, change up to a hard but manageable ratio. A lot of triathletes will ride too big a gear (the smaller the cog you use on the the rear sprocket, the bigger the gear). Do not be afraid to change down on an incline or into a headwind. With proper use of your gears you will become more efficient and less fatigued. Consistent training will make aching legs a thing of the past.
“It’s easy to go hard on the swim and run, but I can’t get my heart rate up on the bike for some reason.”
Be positive, you are fit and determined. It takes months or even years of training to get to a stage where you can push hard on the bike, but you will keep improving all the time. Racing helps, as do cycling time trials. They enable you to find the edges of your pain threshold.
“I prioritise comfort on the bike because at my slow speeds the aerodynamics don’t matter.”
If you run into a headwind you’ll notice it feels harder than when the wind is on your back. I’m sure you can cycle faster than you can run, so believe me, aerodynamics DO matter.
Comfort costs speed and speed costs comfort, so look for a compromise, you need to be efficient and effective but you also need to have something left for the run. Pure cyclists can get away with more extreme positions, because once the race is over they can relax – but triathletes still have a race to run.
Top Ironman athletes like Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander get the compromise just right. Their positions are aerodynamic, but not so extreme that it hinders their ability to run a fast marathon. You need to work on finding the right blend of comfort and speed that works for you.
This article originally appeared in Triathlon Plus magazine – subscribe here from just £1.