Sunday, December 19, 2010

That Bike Thing: Avoiding Future Bike Disasters

The struggle in Clearwater
In my last blog, I promised to address the lingering (read: mind-boggling) questions from my 2010 season, one by one. The first one on the list, and most important because it continues to plague me relentlessly year after year no matter what I do, and it's approaching the point where I'm ready to tear my hair out and re-dedicate myself to just marathon-running, is: "how do I get faster on the bike?"

I look at the question and think everyone is staring right back at me with accusations, thinly veiled as questions: "how can you be so stupid that you can't figure out how to train on the bike?" and "do you even ride your bike?"

So, yes, I feel like an idiot when it comes to biking -- because I DO ride. I ride hills. I do long rides. I do trainer intervals with a heart-rate monitor. I ride a LOT. During the season, I ride three or four times a week with at least one week-day ride after work exceeding two hours. And during my Ironman build-up, I ride at least six long rides of 100-110 miles. People I've ridden with have even told me I'm strong biker (after which, unfortunately, I have to scrutinize them for signs of insanity).

Yet, I never improve. I don't get any faster. In fact, I got slower this season. My training log says there's no way that could have happened (my training log even reached out to strangle me more than once this year while screaming "what the hell is wrong with you?"). I logged more miles and harder miles than ever before, and my race speed has not changed. And what's worse, I reach speeds in training that are faster than I ever do in a race (on similar terrain). The day before my final 70.3 in Clearwater this year, I went out for a short easy spin and my legs felt better and I rode faster than I did on race day. And the question resurfaces: "what the hell is wrong with me?"

How is it that, for me, the laws of training and racing (i.e., hard work equals improved performance) do not seem to apply to biking. Even at my advanced age, it still works for swimming. It still even works for running. But not for biking. Is biking that much different? Does it take years to see improvement? Are my biking muscles deceptive in their behavior? Do they hate me? Am I not working hard enough when my legs are burning and I'm sweating buckets on the trainer only to get off and feel like jello for the rest of the day?

I buy books with training plans in them. Last year I bought a book called Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. The book has an eight-week muscular endurance program for the bike that I followed religiously. Based on my performance on the bike this season, it didn't seem to have any effect at all. Yet, every other piece of advice in the book was good.

So now what? What can I do different? I talk to other "bikers" (i.e., people that seem to have figured out this biking thing, or, pretty much every triathlete on the planet). Besides recommending things I already do, their answers boil down to the following:

  1. Add strength training with weights
  2. Ride with a group of faster bikers
  3. Train with a power meter
  4. Get a CompuTrainer
After exploring these possibilities, I have deduced that yes, indeed, triathletes, in general, make much more money than I do (i.e., recommendations 3 and 4 are well above my income level even when eBay is selling them). I have also deduced that weight training is something I need to add. I will HAVE to figure out a way to fit it in around my work and training schedule. Riding with other bikers will take care of itself this year because I now have a team to train with -- I think I mentioned them in my previous blog, the Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport team.

Because I've heard and read such amazing things about it, a CompuTrainer would also be high on my list of training tools. There's always hope for a miracle windfall or some other way to scrape up $1600+ -- not to mention, being a Mac devotee, I'll have to come up with another $3-500 for a Windows PC.

Whatever happens, you can be sure I'll chronicle it here and let you know what the results are... or give you the disaster fallout details.


  1. Maybe there will be a Christmas miracle.

  2. Interesting thing about the triathlon, it’s not three sports it’s one event. So many times we hear that someone had a great bike only to crash and burn during the run. Truth is it was that “great” bike that undermined the run. If you subscribe to this point of view then it makes perfect sense that no one, not even Chrissie, is going to dominate in all three “phases” of the triathlon. Think about it, triathletes like Chris Lieto kill it on the bike only to fall victim to (much) faster runners in the final phase of the event.

    You’ve proven to be one of the fastest swimmers/runners on race day and although I can understand the desire to get faster at all three disciplines I certainly don’t see your bike time as being a huge concern in the overall race. You’re races are won during the run and as long as you don’t take yourself out of the equation on the bike you should continue to find your way to the podium.

    I would recommend you check out the bike course in St. George and get in as much practice climbing between now and May of 2011.

    Happy holidays,