Learning to ride long… with Gabriel Sayer

As we are currently coming out of the depths of winter I thought I would share with you my thoughts on riding long as part of your triathlon training. No matter what distance you do the bike is always going to be a significant part of your race and as such it should also be a significant part of your training plans. Even a so called “sprint” triathlon will take a good athlete over an hour to complete, an Olympic over 2 hours and you are doing well to get under 5 hrs for a middle distance. There is clearly a need to develop your aerobic capacity, your ability to keep going at a sustainable pace for a long time, and the question is how you achieve this. In addition building your strength at the same time so you can cycle faster is going to be a good thing.

Looking at how we build aerobic capacity it seems clear that can be achieved by working at a steady state of around 70% of your maximum heart rate. If you are working harder than this then you are probably going to fade during the session and there is some evidence to suggest that this will limit your ability to train your aerobic systems. So if you want to race an oly distance race it seems sensible that you should be training your aerobic system to be comfortable for at least 2-3 hrs continuous exercise at the ideal heart rate and the easiest way to do this is to get out on your bike and go for a long ride. Riding for 3 hrs at 70% of your max heart rate is tiring. To get to this point you need to build the strength in core muscles to support your legs as they do all the work, and you supporting muscles in your bum to allow you to sit in the saddle for 3 hours or so!

You also need to make sure you have got your bike position sorted so that you are not putting unnecessary strain on yourself through poor bike fitting. If you have never had anyone look at your bike set up now is the time before you start building up your training. A new position often feels uncomfortable at first but if you are fitted to your bike properly it can make a lot of difference in the long term. Then you need to start riding your bike!! 2 or 3 rides a week of an hour or so, or regular commuting will get your muscles getting used to your bike. A weekend ride starting at an hour or so and building up each week will soon start to have you feeling comfortable on you bike.

You wont necessarily notice but your back, neck and so on will all be getting stronger which means you will fatigue less quickly and therefore be able to sustain your riding for longer. Once you can sit and ride your bike for you target time then you can start aiming to keep the tempo up for 20 min blocks during the ride. Perhaps the best way to do this is to ride with someone a bit stronger than you and hang onto their back wheel. Simply put, if you can hold a normal conversation you are going to slowly if you are gasping for your next breath then it is too fast. If you get to thinking how few words you need to answer your training partner’s question, because you run out of breath, then you are probably going about the right pace.

Hopefully then by the first warm spring day you will be ready to head out on a solid tempo ride, sustaining your goal pace and get the feeling of strength and rhythm as you pedal out into the countryside and this will return you a great favour come raceday when your strength and fitness will carry you longer and faster!

One last thing, every cyclist should carry all they need to fix 2 punctures and should know how to do this. If you don’t then it is time to learn!!!

2 responses to “Learning to ride long… with Gabriel Sayer

  1. Great post Gariel. Sound advice from our most experienced Ironman athlete. Gabriel did receive our Cyclist of the Year Award remember! What’s your take on aero helmets Gabriel? Worth the investment for an Olympic distance athlete? Tim (LFTC Coach)

  2. aero benefits come down to bang for your buck. Cheapest investment is to train better or more (so long as you are not time limited) and to get the most aero position you can and hold it for the length of the ride. Best benefit for time is aero bars, assuming you have a race bike, then aero wheels, then bike itself then things like hat and clothing. Hat is said to be worth 3-5 watts of power saved for same speed. Aero bars can save you 40+watts! They can cost about the same. Easy things to do is get rid of stuff flapping e.g. number and clothes, keep your aero position and have an FTP of at least 300 watts!

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