I'm known for my cycling skills on the race course as I've shown during my pro debut season, I'm able to ride as fast as the top guys (2:15 @ Vineman 70.3 with a crash, 2:21 at Lake Stevens 70.3, and 2:13 at Rancho Cordova). But it did not come easy as there's a ton of work that goes into getting cycling fitness.
To give you some background, my first 70.3 bike split was 2:29 on Vineman 70.3 which is a honest and challenging course. I did that race on a tri-bike set up but without aero frame. My bike split 4 years later was 2:15 on the same course with a bike crash. So technically it's around 2:13. so a 15 minute + improvement. That's also an increase of 2.4 mph, which is pretty huge. Granted my equipment has improved over the years, from a Cannondale aluminum frame to Cervelo p2 carbon, to an Argon 18 E 118 frame, but trust me, what matters the most is the person that's doing the pedaling.
So here are the 10 things I learned over the past 5 years. I also studied a lot of biomechanical engineering classes at Stanford so I've provided a lot of science behind what's going on. My goal is for you to speed up your progress to success as I've made a ton of mistakes that hopefully you will not make!
1. Make sure that your fit on your bike is proper. Approach a trusted local bike fitter. Slowtiwtch.com has a list of trusted fitters. I'm sponsored by the number 1 fitter on slowtwitch, Pedro, and he can be reached at p-fits.com. Proper fit is essential in avoiding injury and maximizing your performance. If you're worried about the price, a proper fit cost around 175 dollars or less for tri bikes and around 75 bucks for road bikes. It's a much smaller investment compared to everything else you have to buy. So do it!
2. Long Rides cannot be skipped or substituted. There are a lot of talks about replacing long slow rides with shorter high intensity interval sessions. While I understand that many people don't have the luxury to ride long everyday (I don't personally), having one weekly long ride is a must.
Long rides forces your body to go into energy-deprived state and forces it to adapt and use fat as fuel. 2.5 hour-3 hour is a minimum in gaining any marginal fitness. To go to the next level, try riding 3.5-4 hours for your weekly long ride during your base period. You will get stronger and build a solid base for the upcoming season. *Try going with a friend or two. Excessive 4 hour solo rides is not recommended for mental wellness(personal experience :P)
And don't just ride long and slow for 4 hours. More and more studies have shown that slow, long, steady miles actually don't benefit as much as conventional wisdom has suggested. It is the variation of training, and stimulus that improves fitness the most. So try breaking up the 4 hour ride into:
30 minute warm up, build from easy to steady, then 10 minute steady in TT position or in the drops, 10x(30 seconds fast, 30 seconds slow), 5 minutes build from steady to tempo. 5 minutes easy.
40 minute easy-steady(90rpm), 20 minute steady-tempo (big gear, 60-75rpm)
20 minute easy-steady(90rpm), 10 minute steady-tempo (big gear, 60-75rpm)
2x(10 minute easy-steady(90rpm), 5 minute steady-tempo(big gear, 60-75 rpm))
3x(6minute sit up (70rpm)z2 2 minute stand up (60rpm)z3, 6 minute (progress from 80rpm to 90rpm) z2)
Cool Down til you hit 4 hours.
3. Eat and Drink on all rides. It is important to practice and adapt eating and drinking during riding because that's what you'll be doing in a race. For any ride with intensity, per hour I drink 24oz of 180-200 calories(2 scoops of CarboPro) with electrolytes (nuun tablet). If the ride is longer than 1 hour, than I eat a gel per hour (100 calories) or eat part of a clifbar. Rule of thumb is 2 calories per pound of body weight per hour.
Helps with recovery, keeps you fresh for your next session and tomorrow, and adapts your digestive system to work while exercising. Remember triathlon is all about consistency, being able to repeat the training and keep up that work load. Replacing carbohydrate/Electrolytes is extremely helpful to combat fatigue.
4. Find your natural cadence, but also ride all variety of cadences. Your natural cadence the cadence that is most efficient for your body. Everyone has a different composition of muscle types (slowtwitch type I, and fast twitch type IIA, type IIB). Type 1 or slowtwtich is more suited for high cadence, low force, less torque, high use of oxygen (higher heart rate) because your muscles are working less hard but it's working more frequently. Type 2A is more suited for stronger cyclists that like the push the big gears (70-80rpm). In general bigger guys (160-170 pound and muscular) will want to take advantage of their strength and push a lower gear (80-85rpm) while skinnier guys (maybe myself) would like to push a higher gear so use our aerobic system more and stress our muscles less. (*Type 2B is reserved for high power sprints that triathletes dont really do). So everyone's own natural cadence is unique. The 90rpm rule is a good rule of thumb, but I've seen people pedal at 100rpm(Ironman World Champ Sebastian Kienle) and as low as 85 rpm(Multiple Ironman Champ, Jordan Rapp).
Efficiency comes from utilizing and maximizing the amount of the pedal stroke where you produce power. The higher the cadence, the more "empty" pedaling you're doing, which means you're spending more energy moving your legs than actually pedaling. Lowering the cadence can help find a sweet spot where you can produce torque throughout the stroke. But lowering it too much, you start pushing the boundary of your muscular efficiency. Your muscles are built to contract at certain velocities. The amount of force your muscle fibers can produce peaks at a certain velocity (hence your natural cadence) and it drops off when contraction is too fast and too slow. Pushing bigger gears also eats into your glycogen storage in your muscles which may lead you to bonk (no one wants that)
I've found that it's usually an iterative process to find that sweet spot cadence. I used to mash gears (75-80rpm) because that's what my mentor Brady rode at and some other pros were doing. I then started spinning a lot (95-100rpm) to see if that works better for me. I've found that my natural cadence is around 92-90 rpm and it slowly drops off to 87rpm as I fatigue. So it's important for you to find out what that cadence is for you. Which cadence gives you a reasonable heart rate, reasonable perceived effort while putting out watts, and which is most comfortable?
5. Incorporate big gear work outs. Big gear work outs (z3-z4 intensity done at 60rpm or lower) is a must to gain strength. I just read that Sebastian Kinele (2014 Ironman World Champ and a bike monster) does work outs at 40rpm (INSANE!). Some works that I do are 5x4min big gear with 3 min rest, or 3x15min at 60rpm at threshold. Also do this in your aero position. You will get really comfortable and strong. I've avoided doing these work outs because they're extremely uncomfortable but once I started doing them, I made a sudden jump to the next level.
6. Spend time in the aero position(A LOT). I've seen triathletes (myself included) ride 3 hours and spent less than 30 minutes in the aero position. The only race that only requires you to be in the aero position for only half an hour is a sprint distance event. Olympic is at least 60 min ish, Half Ironman is 2.25 hr to 3-4 hr. It's VITAL to practice producing power and exerting big effort for extended periods of time in the aero position. After I started working with my coach Keith, we spent a ton of time in the aero position. Some example work outs:
2-3x20min, 10 minute easy in between, at threshold.
4x15min, 5 min easy in between, intensity is moderate-hard
5x8min, with 2min easy in between, intensity is moderate-hard
7. Race Intensity. The previous point leads me nicely to my next point. Race intensity at race position. Again, when I first started I rode a lot. I did not realize that there were a lot of stoplights, and downhills where I don't pedal. The fluctuation in heart rate is crazy and nothing like race conditions. Not to say that you should train AT race pace all the time, but it's important to have structured intervals of close to race intensity in order for your body to adapt. So when I went to races, I just got destroyed, because my body's never really done intervals longer than 15 minutes before.
If you have a heart rate monitor, or power meter, use them! Try doing one of the work outs shown above (4x15min, etc) and hold your heart rate at race intensity (generally zone 3 to zone 4). If you don't have a HRM, or power meter, then find a nice long hill, and try to keep your perceived effort constant and steady.
8. Equipment Choices. Smart decisions can save you a couple seconds here and there and all together, they can add up to minutes.
a. Between the arm water bottle mount is a popular one that's very easy to accomplish with zip ties.
b. Behind the seat water bottle is also doable with zip ties. But Practice putting water bottle back in, it's hard!
c. Make sure you tri-kit is tight, and nothing lose is flapping around. It slows you down more than you think.
d. GET A DISC WHEEL. i can't afford one so i got the next best thing, a disc cover . If you happen to have an zipp 808 rear, it's actually faster than zipp's own disc. Having a covered back wheel is dramatically faster. High recommend it./
e. Tire Choice. Clinchers have been shown to be faster than tubulars which is great b/c tubulars are a bit of a pain to deal with. The fastest tire in the industry is Continental Grand Prix 4000s II. (most pros ride 700x23c, some ride 24s, and very few ride 25s. If you're a heavy rider, 25c would be great, otherwise, as of now, 23c is the best option for general public) Puncture resistant and low rolling resistance. And most aero. Best of all worlds.
If you're not a fan of continentals or high quality German craftsmanship, then visit http://www.slowtwitch.com/Products/Things_that_Roll/Tires/Fast_Tires_2013_3787.html
for more tire choices.
f. Gearing choice. This is from my personal experience, but most bikes sold have compact nowadays (50 teeth big ring, and 34 small bring in the front). This is definitely not enough when downhills come around. The minimum you should have is 52 teeth.
if you only had to buy one cassette, I recommend 11-28 combination. It gives you best of both worlds with good climbing ratio and a fast small cog. It does suffer a bit on gear difference between gears. 11-25 is also popular. But 11-28 will cover all tough courses including Wildflower.
g. Aero helmet has been shown to save a ton of time. There are also hybrid road-aero helmet now so you only have to buy one!
9. Ride hard up hill, ride easy downhill. From physics, drag is increased by factor of (speed) squared. Drag is directly correlated with amount of energy you need to spend. This means as speed get higher and higher on a downhill, power output has diminished returns, meaning if you push 20-30 more watts you're only going slightly faster (0.5 mph). So pedal easier downhills.
On the other hand, riding uphill, there is less drag, and most of your power goes into overcoming your weight, which is correlated with force of gravity. Gravity does not increase or decrease with your speed. It is constant. Therefore, you get more bang for your buck if you push more power. Your speed will increase much more.
So ride slightly harder on the uphills (10-15 watts above your target power, or 2-4bpm higher for heart rate). Keep in mind that you can only increase your power for so often. From Powermeter handbook , if your target zone is zone3, and you're going into zone4, you're burning "matches". For a 70.3, you have around 10 minutes or less worth of total duration where you can increase you power on uphills in such a fashion. I overdid it recently at Wildflwoer and paid for it on the run. So ration your efforts and go fast!
10. Nailing your taper. I've taken tapers too easy in the past and ended up having a terrible bike on race day. I've read similar stories with Pete Jacobs (2012 Ironman World champ). The key is maintaining strength. Do one or two work out race week where you remind your body the race intensity (3-4x6min at race pace, regular cadence), and another shorter work out (4x90 seconds at or above race pace, big gear) to maintain your strength muscles.
That was longer than I expected, but I think that is all for now. I have much more to share so stay tuned! Please email me or contact me if you find anything confusing or would like to discuss about anything. Also I don't have answers to everything. This is what I think has worked best for me personally. I'm constantly learning and improving my own training methods so if you have any inputs please let me know!
Thanks for reading if you made it this far!