Key bike workouts for race-day success

Ironman athletes should perform the key workouts on the roads to avoid the monotony of 90+ minutes on the trainer
While it can be easy to get caught up with and confused by the tremendous amount of training information relating to power, heart rate, periodization and the like, the reality is that sound training boils down to a few key fundamentals.

And one of the most basic, yet most significant, principles is that of specificity: training according to the physiological demands of your goal event, whether an Ironman, half-Ironman, Olympic-distance race or sprint.

During your specific race-preparation phase, which lasts six to 12 weeks and allows you to fine tune your fitness for race day, you'll be focusing on a few key weekly workouts in each sport.

For the bike, these key workouts are often best performed indoors on the trainer, where you can focus on the set (and hold conditions constant to improve repeatability) rather than worrying about traffic, weather and the rigors of constant stopping and starting. However, athletes racing Ironman may want to perform the below key workout on the roads, if for no other reason than simply to mitigate the monotony of spending more than 90 minutes on the trainer.

Managing intensity

If you haven't already done so, it can be useful to determine your various training zones for heart rate and power output (if you have a power meter). The easiest and most effective way is to do this is to perform a simple, yet intense, 15-minute time trial, either on a flat section of road or on your trainer.

The reason we use a 15-minute time trial is because it's an easily repeatable test that shouldn't overstress your systems. Perform this test toward the end of a recovery week.

After the field test, determine your average heart rate and power. These numbers will likely be five to 15 percent above your lactate threshold; thus, if your average heart rate on the 15-minute time trial is 160, then use the following equation to determine your approximate LT:

160 x .10 = 16, 160 -- 16 = 146, LT = 146

If your average power output is 300 watts, then use this formula to estimate your power at LT:

300 x .10 = 30, 300 -- 30 = 270 -- Average power at threshold = 270 watts

Sprint-distance set

Most sprint-distance triathlons include bike legs between 12 and 15 miles, which take between 30 and 60 minutes for most athletes to complete.

During a sprint race, you'll primarily rely on the your aerobic system; however, you will also push close to, and often beyond, your LT; thus, you'll want to develop the ability to race at a high heart rate and power output while boosting your LT and improving your ability to tolerate high levels of lactic-acid production. Mental toughness is key.

  • Warm up: 10 to 15 minutes easy spin
  • Main set: 5 minutes as: 10 seconds on/10 seconds off (big ring/15). Go 95 percent on the "on" effort and soft pedal on the "off" effort.
  • 2 minutes soft pedal: Big ring/15
  • 10 x 1 minute hard: Big ring/15, 85-95 RPM, HR (15) + 5 to 15 bpm or Avg. P (15) + 10 to 15 percent) @ 1-minute rest (small ring/15)
  • 3-5 minutes soft pedal
  • 5 x 2 minutes hard: Big ring/13, 80-90 RPM, HR (15) + 5 to 10 bpm or Avg. P (15) + 5 to 10 percent) @ 2-minute rest
  • 3 to 5 minutes soft pedal
  • 2 x 5 minutes hard: Big ring/your choice of rear cogs, 75-85 RPM, HR (15) + 5 bpm @ 5 minutes rest or Avg. P (15) + 5 percent
  • Cool down: 5 to 10 minutes easy
  • Olympic-distance set

    An Olympic-distance bike is 24.8 miles or 40km and takes most athletes between 52 and 90 minutes to complete. You will need to develop the ability to race near your lactate threshold and slightly above. You will also have to increase your endurance and focus on developing an acute sense of pacing.

  • Warm up: 10 to 15 minutes easy spin
  • Main set: 20 minutes as: Choose any gearing, but maintain a cadence of 85 to 95 RPM, HR (15) -- 5 bpm or Avg. P (15) -- 5 percent 5 minutes soft pedal
  • 15 minutes as: Choose any gearing, but maintain a cadence of 80 to 90 RPM, HR (15) or Avg. P (15)
  • 5 minutes soft pedal
  • 10 minutes as: Choose any gearing, but maintain a cadence of 75 to 85 RPM, HR (15) + 5 bpm or Avg. P (15) + 5 percent
  • 3 x 5 minutes: Choose any gearing for each rep, but maintain a cadence of 75 to 85 RPM, HR (15) + 5 to 10 bpm or Avg. P (15) + 5 to 10 percent) @ 5-minute rest
  • Cool down: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Ironman-distance set

    An Ironman bike is 112 miles and takes most athletes between five and seven hours to complete. You will rely primarily on your aerobic energy system. You will need to develop your overall endurance and aerobic capacity plus pacing discipline, the ability to stay focused and mental toughness. The key is to sustain a high level of aerobic effort.

  • Warm up: 20 to 30 minutes easy
  • Main set: During the course of your ride, maintain an aerobic heart rate and power output of HR (15) -- 15 to 40 bpm and Avg. P (15) -- 30 to 50 percent. Keep your cadence between 85 to 95 RPM.
  • At the top of each hour, do a 20- to 30-minute tempo effort where you take your intensity up to and slightly above (2 to 5 percent) your projected race pace. Following each tempo effort, take a short recovery, maintaining a steady aerobic heart rate and a cadence above 85 RPM before your next rep.

    Pay special attention to your calorie and fluid needs during this workout.

    By incorporating these key cycling workouts into your training program before your next race, you can boost your fitness and lower your bike split.

    Key: SR = seconds rest, LT = lactate threshold, W = watts, HR (15) = Heart rate from your field test (allow for 5 bpm range during workout), RPM = Revolutions per minute, Avg. P (15) = Average power from your field test (allow for a 10-watt range during workouts), Big ring/15 = Big front chainring x 15-tooth rear cog, Small ring/21 = Small front chainring x 21-tooth rear cog.


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