I approached improving my bike split in much the same way as I had when I wanted to improve my swim. The main difference being that I came from a cycling background so I had probably already picked a lot of the obvious “low hanging fruit” Regardless, I listed all of the things I could think of doing to improve my biking and bike split and then started picking them off one at a time focusing on where I thought the big gains would be first. The list looked something like this.
- Turbo sessions: I believe the turbo is one of the best ways to improve on the bike. A good structured hour on the turbo is worth 90 minutes to 2 hours of just riding on the road. There is no downhill, freewheeling, drafting or stopping for traffic. You can also do high intensity intervals that can sometimes be difficult to do safely outdoors and I usually incorporate single leg drills as part of my warm up to help smooth out dead spots and imporve my pedalling.
- Big gear workouts: For me alongside volume this is one of the secret bullets. Big gear, or overgear workouts are one of the things that gave me huge gains. I got much stronger on the bike and for Ironman strong equals fast.
- Pacing workouts: Ironman pace intervals or long time trial efforts: I think one of the most important lessons I learned was how to pace myself for Ironman racing. I am often passed in the first 30-40 minutes of the bike as I stick to my plan. I decided early on to let them go and not react. They were either faster than me, in which case racing them on the bike was a bad idea. Or they were starting too fast in which case racing them was still a bad idea. I learned what my pace and effort should feel like by doing long Ironman Race Pace intervals in training. Invariabily I started too fast in the beginning and slowed but with practice I learned just how easy I needed to go at the start and how my effort built through the middle of the ride even though my speed stayed the same.
- Long rides: I did a lot more long 4-6 hour rides and I incorporated more intervals and race pace riding into them. I found that when I was doing a ride of 5-6 hours every week it not only helped physically but it also made the distance seem a lot more manageable in my mind. Related: Ironman training Volume
- High intensity workouts: Quite early on I decided to try incorporating some high intensity into my workouts which for Ironman training would be very counter intuitive but I found it helped (once I had a good big base of fitness and strength work done) I have since read a number of studies supporting this including the very well researched book Fast after 50 by world renowned coach Joe Friel (I’m not quite there, at 50, yet but I thought it was best to know what was coming down the tracks)
- Commuting: I started to incorporate as much of my commute as possible on the bike. It was a really easy way to add a couple of hours riding into my week without it taking much from the rest of my life, these rides either served as good recovery sessions or I would focus on more strength work.
- Big bike weeks: I’m back to volume again. If you read this or this you will know how big a fan I am of big volume and the bike is the area that I found the biggest gains when I overloaded it. My biggest blocks of biking were 1200 km over 8 days. I did this block in 2011, 2012 and 2013 as part of an organised sportive ride and the effects were unbelievable. We averaged 150-180k a day and I found that by day 4 instead of feeling wiped out I got stronger and stronger. About a month after this block each year it was like someone stuck an engine up my arse, I would be just flying.
- Riding hills: In particular seated big gear climbing is like rocket fuel to me. Similar to the big bike weeks after about 6 weeks of big gear work I would get a big bump in strength and speed. But in general I found that climbing just made me strong and the more I did it the stronger I got. It was very important though to control the intensity.
- Bike fit: I worked on my bike fit which I would have had fine tuned over the years, being a bike fitter myself meant I had a fairly good idea what I was looking for, I just needed the help of a second fitter to act as my eyes.
- Wind tunnel set-up: This one is the exact opposite of “low hanging fruit” a very expensive but massively beneficial day which helped me massively as a fitter as well as really nailing my bike position.
- Investing in really good winter clothing and full mudguards: So that weather was never an excuse not to train. That’s it, simple.
- Tri bike adaptation: I switched all of my riding to the tri bike earlier in the season to increase adaptation to the riding position and improve my bike handling.
- Tyres and tubes: Like number 11 I think having really bomb proof tyres for training so I rarely have to lose training time due to mechanicals. The other thing I did was to research the fastest tyre and tube combination for Ironman. It would be an awful waste to spend all that money and time only to overlook a small expense like really fast race tyres.
- Wheels: At the more expensive end of things but they offer a big benefit, I am also a believer in not just getting the fastest wheel but the fastest wheel that a rider can ride fast. If you’re too small for an 80mm front wheel and disc combo then regardless of the wind tunnel claims of the maunfacturer you will never see the numbers because you will be fighting the bike.
- The Bike: Ah here we are, my favourite part. I am (as are most age groupers) in a position that is even better than most pro’s. We get to choose the bike I think is the fastest as opposed to having to ride what I’m being paid to ride. I put a lot of effort into every detail of the bike, I couldn’t bear losing a Kona slot by 2 minutes if I had skimped on the possible mechanical gains. If someone is just fitter, faster or better on the day that’s one thing but being beaten because their bike was better prepared would kill me.
- Race clothing: It stands to reason that you and I are the biggest least aerodynamic part of the package. The bike, wheels etc cause a fraction of the drag that we do so if there was a way of making myself slipperier by choosing a faster top or shorts or even by making sure that my race number was fixed in such a way that it didn’t add to the drag I would look for it.
- Chain and cassette: Clean, new and with the newest fastest running lube treatment. A tiny detail but if you’ve gotten this far down the list then why not chase every single tiny gain as well as the big ones.
- Bearings: Like the chain and cassette these are one of the smaller gains but they are a detail that shouldn’t be overlooked orr at least assessed. An expensive option for sure but if the budget is there, the trainings done then worth checking out.
- Bike group set: I chose Shimano Di2 electronic groupset because it offered gearshifting from the brake levers as well as the tri extensions. I often climb out of the saddle so it meant I could ride it like I ride my road bike on the hills and not constantly have to sit to change gears.
- Helmet: A relatively inexpensive piece of kit compared to the bike but one where minutes can be gaineed over an Ironman bike leg.
- Coaching: Working with a coach was the first thing we went and sorted when we first decided to chase a Kona slot and it probably should be at the top of this list. Short circuiting a lot of the learning mistakes I would have made and to be honest I might never have qualified without what I learned particularly from my first coach. Massive volume must be matched with the correct prescription of sessions.
I have been lucky enough to get to know and learn from some of the most successful Irish Ironman triathletes. I have written aboutwhat they do differently and the lessons they have learned and you can check it out here.
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