Sunday, January 17, 2010

Figuring it Out - the Cycling Dilemma

At the end of last season, after my run disaster in Clearwater, I was convinced the run leg of my triathlon needed more work than anything. I crashed and burned on the run in almost every race despite the fact that I considered myself a "runner." When I started doing triathlons after years of marathoning, I was tearing up the run leg. In Olympic-distance triathlons, I often won by making up 4-7 minute deficits off the bike. During those years, I continued to run five or six days a week -- in addition to biking three or four and swimming three. Now that I'm older, busier and more tired, I have had to cut run frequency. Naturally, in evaluating my mistakes last season, I thought this was why my running suffered. So, to force myself to run more, in December I registered for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May as part of my build-up for Ironman Lake Placid.

Then I started reading. According to Joe Friel, author of "The Triathlete's Training Bible" and co-author (with Gordon Byrn) of "Going Long: Training for IM-Distance Triathlons," it's not my running that needs to be fixed. It's my overall biking fitness. Reading this made me think back to what I was doing all those years ago. When I entered the triathlon realm in 2001, my fitness was firmly rooted in running. I was a sub-3:00 marathoner. As a former collegiate swimmer, the swimming would be the easy part -- I just had to find a pool. The missing piece was cycling. I didn't even have a road bike.

I approached cycling as I do everything: all out. I wasn't sure I'd "love" triathlon, so I bought an inexpensive (i.e., under $1000) road bike, fitted it with aero bars, and started riding. I rode as fast as I could, as far as I could (or until it got dark), whenever I could. It basically amounted to three or four times a week. And I rode hills because I live in a hilly area. Thinking back, I rode a LOT more on my non-long-ride days than I do now -- sometimes 2.5 to 3 hours. These days, per week during hard training, I usually do one really long ride (5.5-6.5 hours), one 1.5-2 hour speed/tempo ride, and one (or two) shorter rides (1 hour). Based on everything I've read as of late, this is not enough biking to excel in the bike leg of Ironman (or even half-Ironman). But until now, I always thought I could make up the difference by having a stellar run.

According to those in the know, stellar running abilities carry no weight in the Ironman distance. After a year of less-than-admirable performances, I'm ready to test this theory. Heck, I've already started getting used to four cycling sessions per week during my prep phase. I think I'm even learning to like it.

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