For the sake of this article, the focus will be specifically on biking and swimming for the Ironman.
This is where muscle meets machine. Who doesn’t love the free feeling of flying around on a bike? It is especially fun when aiming to soar faster every workout. The key to cycling in the Ironman is not only to go fast and furious for the duration of the bike segment, but to also have plenty of juice left for the run that follows.
For my cycling training I generally do three types of rides. I either do a hill sprint workout, medium distance speed workout, or a long distance ride.
For the hill workouts, I use a series of hills nearby that take from 3 to 6 minutes to climb and use a variety of gears and alternate between seated and standing positions. I personally love these training sessions for the intense burning sensation you get in your legs and lungs.
In my opinion, hill sprints are one of the best ways to boost cycling fitness and force production. In addition, you get plenty of curious looks from the neighbors who see you climb up and fly down the same hill all morning. It’s crazy fun, and it helps to build the “engine” on your machine. I am aiming to go from a v-8 to v-12 and increase my horsepower as well.
Word of caution, your legs will feel like wet noodles for most of the day following these workouts. It’s similar to 20 rep squat workouts, for those who have done them, but here you repeat them over and over. Luckily, NO7Rage and CreatineXXL come in handy to buffer some of that lactic acid. In the end, you have to learn to “love the burn.”
For the medium distance speed workouts, I pick a distance I can cover in 90 min to 2 hours and hit it hard. This is also a great distance to add a run at the end to work on my “Transition” skills. At other times, I will go directly from my swim workout into a medium distance sprint workout or hill workout to shake things up.
For the long distances, I go at around race pace and I focus on covering distance, building the length every workout in order to peak a couple of weeks before the race.
In addition to the fitness training, I have been studying the “pose” technique of cycling as well. It has helped tremendously as it focuses on using a higher cadence and bodyweight transfer to generate speed. The fastest cyclists seem to keep a minimum of 90 pedal strokes per minute, with some going much higher. The other key to speed is “un weighing” your non-working leg as fast as you can and applying pressure with your bodyweight in the 1 to 4 o’clock position of the pedal stroke.
It is a very interesting concept and again turns the sport of cycling into an art form. I will take segments of each workout and focus on my technique, aiming to improve one aspect at a time. For example, while climbing a hill on a long ride I may count 10 pedal strokes on each leg and ensure I am putting my bodyweight into each pedal in the proper portion of the cycle.
The learning process is a continuous one.
Ah yes, nothing like kicking it in the ocean for a nice “group swim.” The start of an Ironman is a pretty awesome sight. You have thousands of athletes all fluttering in a mad dash like a big school of fish, which is breathtaking to say the least.
First, my goal is to swim faster to get on the bike sooner and to move efficiently in order to save what energy I can for the bike and run.
I have broken my training into three general areas; Aerobic Endurance, Muscle Endurance, and Anaerobic Endurance.
Aerobic Endurance feels comfortable like I could go to a far off island at this speed. I may use this pace for practicing technique or to warm up. But the majority of my training is at race pace or faster broken up into intervals. In my triathlons, I want to get out of the water in good position and the swim portion is shortest of the three events, so it makes sense to train fast to be fast!
Muscle Endurance is a speed that I can maintain for 90 seconds up to about 12 minutes. I do these in intervals. I’ll usually break it up into either 100m, 200m, 400m, or 1000m segments with 30-60 seconds rest at the wall. This pace feels uncomfortable but bearable. I am aiming for improved times every workout. Similar to running and biking, I pick one technical part of the stroke and concentrate on it for the entire set. I stay with one element at a time for a couple weeks, and then choose another one, once I feel that it is ingrained.
Anaerobic Endurance is where I basically sprint. This is taxing and fun. For me, I get a great burn in my back as I am stroking as fast and strong as I can in good form. I am grabbing as much water as possible with each stroke and pivoting the hips with explosiveness.
These sprints last about 60 seconds or less. I basically go for 50m-75 m with all the gusto I can muster. I then rest at the wall and let my body cool down. While sprinting I picture Michael Phelps going for the Gold, using strong, gliding strokes, which look powerful and effortless.
Gaining swimming fitness is easy, it’s reducing drag that is the secret to fast and efficient swimming. I learned that the best and fastest swimmers take the least amount of strokes per length and cover the most distance per stroke.
Therefore I spent weeks doing one drill only, “Hand Swapping.” This is where you aim to keep one arm extended until the other arm enters the water and then you stroke. This drill has helped me immensely in improving my stroke length.
As with the cycling and running, I train at different intensities to increase the speed I can move and still stay aerobic and help the body go from anaerobic back to aerobic sooner. There will always be periods of anaerobic activity mixed in so it’s important to be able to recover and get going aerobic again. I like to train hard to make the race feel easy.
As far as technique goes, I have been studying the Total Immersion Swim technique. Through books, DVDs, and other coaches I have received great secrets of being “fishlike” in the water.
The keys to being fishlike are swimming long (extending your body), swimming on your sides (like a vessel), and using body rotation for propulsion. These tips alone have made it much easier to go faster.
With swimming being such a technique-oriented sport, I keep technique as a top priority and ensure that every stroke is a good one because you are either teaching yourself to stroke better or worse. Therefore, I end each workout feeling strong and fast with sharp technique instead of taking the workout to the point where fatigue turns your workout into a splashy mess.
I make each stroke count, covering as much distance as possible every time my hand leaves the water.
I can’t wait to get in the warm waters off of St. Croix and race the other fish people. It will be a fun day indeed.
The next article will cover workout structure, while preparing for multi-sport events.