How to Ensure a Great Ironman Bike Leg

Heat

You're used to seeing a heart rate of X, power of Y, and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of Z in the temperatures you've seen in training at your goal Ironman effort. That effort has an associated nutrition and hydration plan.

But on race day it's much hotter. You must make an adjustment to that plan, deciding on a course of action and then executing that action. So while the frequency of that decision is very low, the length of time across which you apply that decision is very long, all day. Smart, disciplined athletes with opportunities to adapt to the heat want hot races because they will make good choices while their competition makes poor choices.

More: How Kona Ate My Husband

Wind

Whether you're confronted with a head, tail, or crosswind, you need to make an adjustment to your pacing plan. Or do you? Actually, you don't, and shouldn't, and here's why:

  • Unlike a climb, which usually only lasts for a few minutes, if you give it more gas into a headwind, or come off the gas into a tailwind, you will apply that decision for many, many minutes depending on the orientation of the course and the wind direction. For this reason...
  • Some Ironman courses are more wind-dangerous, not because they are necessarily very windy but because you are going in one direction for miles and miles. So if you've made the decision to work a little harder than you should into the wind, you're now working a little too hard for miles and miles. Not good!

Long Climbs

These may appear to be particularly dangerous but they're not. Why? Because they are relatively easy to identify and figure out. That is, it's relatively easy to understand that when you make the left in Wilmington and start riding back into Lake Placid, you'll be mostly climbing for 45 to 60 minutes.

Sure, there are some grade changes in that stretch and it's not a grinding climb, but most patient, disciplined, smart athletes can wrap their heads around the fact that they'll be going mostly up for the better part of an hour and that they should just chill.

Short Climbs

These are the killers of Ironman run splits. Why? Because short, steep hills force you to make many, many decisions. It's very easy to make wrong decisions—too much power—on these hills, and they are short enough that your heart rate probably never rises to a level that's a true reflection of your effort.

More: 10 Secrets to Conquering a Monster Hill

In Summary

  • Race day is about execution, not fitness.
  • You put your head in a Box and drive that Box around the course. The contents of your Race Execution Box are: Self-awareness, knowledge, patience and discipline.
  • The course then presents you with variables and requirements to make a decision.
  • The frequency of these decisions, and the length of their consequences, are the true measures of an Ironman bike courses difficulty, not the total elevation gain!
    • Lots of decisions + good Box = potential for a good day.
    • Lots of decisions + poor Box = likelihood for a bad day.

More: Do Your First Ironman

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