Tuesday, June 21, 2011

How to become a strong cyclist

(Photos courtesy of Tey)

I've often been asked how do I pull off such good bike splits in an Ironman and half Ironman.

But first, going off on a tangent, my buddy Richard Tang recently gave me a video about Ironman preparation. Of course "I knew it all" BUT as is often the case I don't always practise and execute it all! One of the points they made on the video was that "There is no such thing as a good Ironman bike split if you're walking on the run" Oh Lordy, how true is that? AM I LISTENING? I hope so.

So, leaving my poor Ironman race management to one side for a moment, how do I regularly pull off sub 5hr 180k rides? I believe the answers are simple enough: -

1) Ride a lot. And I mean a lot. I average over 200k a week each year, with illness, burnout, holidays, family commitments and work etc that means many many weeks of 300 and 400k riding to get an average of over 200k per week.

2) Embrace the pain. If you're not able to find some love for the pain then the guy that has done the same mileage as you is going to leave you behind every time.

It that it?...ALMOST!

I believe the secret then is three specific sessions: -

Workout A) The weekend long ride. How long? Depends on your reference points but I consider "long" to be anything over 140k but to be honest for Ironman training 180K+ is my number. No breakfast stops (eat on the go), no hanging around, no chatting, no resting, just refill your bottles and go. It takes long enough as it is and quite honestly you should be running straight afterwards if you're training for an Ironman. So just get on with it.

Workout B) The midweek moderate distance, higher intensity, brick ride/run. How long? Again it depends upon your reference points but based on the numbers above I'd say between 50k and 90k followed by between 8k and 21k run.

Workout C) This workout is a major motivation to writing this article. The article has been inspired by many people asking me what are the secrets and me telling them of points 1) and 2) and the specific workouts of A) and B) above which most people get (and then don't do! haha) but Workout C) most people don't get, choose not to get and quite honestly phase it out of their mind as soon as they start thinking about the reality of it. To be be fair though, some people have actually tried Workout C)...once and sometimes even twice haha. I don't personally know anyone that does it regularly, except me.

The problem is that this workout needs to be done every week as a standard "bread and butter" session, year round. But when training for Ironman, it needs to be done twice a week. Difficult when you consider that Workouts A) and B) above also need to be completed.

So here it is, the workout is a combination of distance(time), resistance and a lot of mind numbing pain, THE HIGH RESISTANCE INTERVAL session. I do these sessions on a turbo trainer in order to correctly manage what I'm trying to achieve. I do it while watching "shoot em up" movies or American TV comedies, basically "rubbish" that you don't need to concentrate on. Trust me you can't concentrate on the TV if you're doing these sessions right, they're designed to hurt body, mind and soul.

Sound like fun? You're right, they're not, but what doesn't kill body, mind and soul, makes the body, mind and sole stronger, MUCH STRONGER.

Generally on Mondays (two days after my long bike/run brick and one day after my long run) I do a 20 minute warm up with moderate resistance followed by 31x1 minute reps of FULL RESISTANCE. (By full resistance I mean the magneto resistance on max and the heaviest gear). The cadence should be ~50. Each 1 minute rep is followed by 1 minute easy to moderate with the last easy one being a 10 minute warm down. That should be 1 hour 31 minutes of pure misery - I LOVE IT (in a twisted sort of a way). After 5 reps I'm usually close to tears but somehow I pull the full workout off every time.

Friday (Day before my long bike/run brick) I do 10 minutes warm up, 10 minutes moderate/hard resistance (cadence of about ~70), 10 minutes maximum resistance, heaviest gear (cadence ~50), 10 minutes easy. Followed by 5 reps of: - 6 minutes max resistance, heaviest gear, (cadence ~50) each 6 minute rep is followed by 3 minutes of easy to moderate with the last easy one being a 10 minute warm down. That should be 1 hour 32 minutes of more sexy, addictive, misery.

These workouts should and do leave me with rubbery legs struggling to get up the stairs. I swear by them, they're not singularly the secret to my strong cycling, but combine points 1 and 2, Workouts A), B) and C) and if it needs pointing out - YOU MUST DO THEM CONSISTENCY, then you have it. Follow this routine week in week out and you are going to be unstoppable.

The only danger then, as I have found out, is that it becomes tempting to crush the bike leg in an Ironman. Hence my new race strategy follows all of the points above, combined with a power meter to ensure that my ride is consistent from start to finish (efficiency) and then smart race management (the number one item on the agenda of smart race management is to stick to what the power meter says and ignore Mr. Ego).

[As we get older we don't necessarily get smarter...BUT to get faster that's all that we really have to work with, so hopefully I'll milk that reservoir of knowledge for a few years and then maybe go back to golf haha]

I truly hope that this post helps anyone aiming to become stronger on the bike. It works believe me but you've got to spend the time and embrace the pain. There are no short cuts.

But remember "There is no such thing as a good Ironman bike split if you're walking on the run" [I wrote this again as much for my own benefit as anyone else's haha]


Bryan Payne said...

AWESOME POST!!!! Finally.

I'm going to try it, I'm stuck at a 36 kph average for halfs and 33 kph for Ironmans. Loved how you showed the workouts and sets. Don't like the trainer idea though.

Thanks for taking the time to share your limited knowledge. haha


Matty O said...

Thank you for this. Printing it now.

JohnP said...

Thanks for the insight!!

I haven't been going far enough into the hurt locker on my 'C' workouts, but this is only my first year doing this stuff so now that I understand what this entails I can't wait to kill the bike next year!
IMLP is fast approaching, I think I'll also take your and TP's advice and hit that half-iron this weekend. I figure as long as I take it easy on the run I should be safe from injury given that IMLP is not far off.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic!! And well written. Thanks for sharing

My Boring Triathlon Blog said...

awesome post!

my riding sucks

Perfectionist said...

Thanks for sharing. I never stop learning from you.

On top of your tips, I believe we should also take note of our nutrition (to peak and to recover) and of course to invest on a lethal cycling machine like yours. That's the icing on the cake :D

Richard Tang

Mich said...

100 % agree with it

yipwt said...

I agree with your workout. Only that it takes extra dedication, which I couldn't do... :P

All the best in Korea...

Simon said...

B, Thanks buddy, glad your trying it again. Can't say I'm holding my breath...haha, we shall see but if your serious about speeding up the answer is here.

M, Good luck, let me know how you get on and at what point you give up haha

J, I have a feeling that out of the three of you it'll be you that sticks to this and reaps the rewards. You clearly understand it ain't all gonna be fun, WINNING is though. Glad you're doing the half IM. Seriously though I would be scared of it, the idea is that you test your body, go for it on the run don't hold back. Just remember it's a training/racing day that's all.

A, you're welcome

MBTB, you're welcome and do this training and I guarantee you your cycling will ROCK not suck.

R, Thanks buddy, you flatter me more than I deserve. Nutrition for sure is an important topic but one I don't feel qualified to write about - maybe you can share your thoughts? As for the bike, yeah it's all about the bike haha.

M, Excellent, thanks

Y, Thanks but what do you mean dedication that you couldn't do? You're the most awesomely dedicated man I know when you put your mind to a "special project" like your recent three peak solo ride. Thanks re Korea.

JohnP said...

MBTB - You already have the secret ingredient to the fastest bike split of us all, ok well execpt me of course lol!

You're riding the fastest bike ever made! You're already a shoe in to the podium ;)
It just sucks for your that the playing field was evened because I ride the exact same bike haha!

heckler said...

You have left out one crutial point, an understanding and supportive wife :)

Simon said...

JP, sad that we're not going to get the chance to race off on the bikes...oh...wat a minute...we are Ironman Lake Placid, bring it on!

H, Not sure how understanding and supportive my wife is but rather resigned to it now I think haha

Anonymous said...

what model\brand is your bike trainer?


Simon said...

Hi A, current trainer is a Tacx Bushido smart triner but soon to be upgraded to a Tacx Neo.