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Hours in the Saddle


									Hours in the Saddle

August 2005

For the past month, the most compelling show on TV has been the Tour de
France, and Lance’s seventh straight win. We watch the cyclists in awe and
recognize the years of training they’ve put in to get to this level. Every single one
of the tour riders is a remarkable athlete, to say nothing of each athlete’s stamina
and efficiency on two wheels, a bit of carbon fiber, and a seat post. Even though I
have been known to put in 20 to 30 hours per week of swimming, cycling,
running, and strength sessions, I still could not imagine riding an average of 4 to
5 hours at a blistering pace for 21 days, first taking on the Alps, and then
conquering the Pyrenees.

Elite cyclists are highly skilled and meticulous athletes. It is critical that they pay
attention to the finer details of the sport in order to excel amongst fierce
competition. I love to study everything about an elite cyclist—his or her
positioning, pedal stroke, cadence, upper body movement, climbing technique,
aero-position, and bend in the elbow. I look for subtle details that differentiate
one rider from another, such as the head tilt, heel drop or breathing pattern.
Proficient cycling boils down to extreme efficiency—expending as little energy as
possible while moving forward as quickly as possible. As with most sports we
play, proficiency comes when we have spent hours and hours “in the saddle.”
The time put in will translate into muscle memory for future use and ultimately
improved performance. Imagine the hours the tour riders spend in their saddles
developing extreme fitness along with unparalleled neuromuscular adaptations
and mental concentration. It seems unfathomable.

In my 8 years of triathlon racing and 2 years of concentrated road racing, it is
only in the past year that I have spent seemingly endless hours per week on my
bike. Just two weeks ago I put in over 23 hours on my bike over a 7-day period.
My rides vary from 3 to 6 hours. I use every long ride to train my mental focus,
practice my nutrition and hydration, and imprint an efficient pedal stroke in the
memory of my muscles. Some long rides translate into an epic experience,
depending on the intensity required, weather conditions, or the route selected.

I alternate my bike training between two different bikes. One is my road bike
(similar characteristics to what you see in the Tour de France), which positions
the body upright. The second bike is my triathlon bike. I use this bike in all my
triathlons, since it sets the body is an aero and streamlined position. A triathlon
bike is also more conducive to riding in a straight line as most triathlon bike legs
are configured in races. The geometry varies considerably between bikes so it is
important to spend ample time on both depending on what races are coming up
in the next few months. To complement my equipment, I also use a heart rate
monitor, speedometer, cadence meter, and power tap, all of which help me
gauge my effort and train effectively. It is only after many months of training on
both bikes that I develop equal comfort levels.

To give you an idea of my bonding relationship with my bike, since November
2004 we have traveled to Florida and California twice, as well as to Arizona,
Oregon, Montreal, and Red Deer, along with numerous trips to Penticton and
Victoria. The process of dissembling and reassembling is a workout in and of
itself. Each time I watch my bike box slide away on the baggage belt at the
airport I pray it arrives at the other end mechanically sound and with all the
pieces intact.

When training in town, my local cycling routes include the Richmond/Stevenson
loop, Horseshoe Bay, Cypress Mountain, and Seymour Mountain. Often I will
climb Seymour and Cypress in the same training session in a workout called “the
double crown.” Most riders know the exact gradient and distance of both
mountains and place considerable emphasis on their ability to reach a certain
benchmark in a specific timeframe (i.e., you may hear a cyclist claim it takes her
9:13 minutes from the 2 km mark to the first lookout of Cypress, but that her
record is 9:09).

This past winter posed some new challenges for my riding regime. I began
building up to Ironman Arizona (April) in the month of December. Due to the rainy
climate we have here in Vancouver, the weather rarely cooperated on many of
my “long ride” days. When the weather and temperatures seemed too unpleasant
to face in the outdoors, I would bring my workout inside, round up some friends
and ride the wind trainer in my living room for 2.5 to 3 hours. My longest stint was
4 hours during which I went through 3 sets of workout clothes and 5 sweat
towels. A hard wind trainer session can be extremely beneficial if you can stand
the mind-numbing effects of riding to nowhere.

After Ironman Arizona, (where the bike leg proved to be disastrous, not due to
lack of training but rather mechanical and equipment failures), I focused on
building my bike hours for Ironman Canada (August ’05), riding with my “roadie”
friends at moderate to aggressive paces. In early May, I traveled down to Oregon
to race in a 3-day stage race called Columbia Plateau—the most abbreviated of
bike tours. Road racing, in my view, is the best way to increase your leg
cadence, enhance your confidence in a pack, build leg power and develop
mental stamina. When combining the race length, the 60km/hr winds on the first
day and the torrential rain on the last day, we all left exhausted yet stronger for
making it to the finish line in an upright position.

As I carried on my training in the spring, I continued to place considerable
emphasis on my bike leg. Late May and early June included a half Ironman in
Orlando along with several long training days in Victoria with my coach Joel and
co-athletes (Simon Whitfield, Jasper Blake, and Jonathan Caron). When training
under Joel’s microscope, I perform at my best. He rides a motorcycle alongside
each of us to check our heart rates, speed, and power. He also reminds us to eat
and drink frequently, to practice taking in fuel in an elevated heart rate zone. A
typical workout with Joel might be to ride 4 hours, including 3 sets of 45 minutes
at race pace followed by a short 30-minute run building to Ironman pace (“for
feel” as Joel says) and a late-day three kilometer swim at the local pool. In
between sessions, we are eating, stretching, or resting.

The past 45 days has included my longest rides of the season. Joel has me
riding 4 to 5 days a week at an average of 4 hours per session, with swimming
and running strategically scheduled as key workouts around my long rides. I
included another half Ironman on July 10th in Osoyoos. The ride course routed us
out-and-back along the toughest stretch of road in the Ironman Canada bike
course. Clearly this was an excellent preparation race for anyone competing in
IMC. I also knew my training was on track since I won the event with 15 minutes
to spare.

As I approach the end of my big mileage phase in preparation for IMC, I can
certainly feel how my relationship with my bike has evolved. I feel totally “at one”
with my bike. When I hop on my bike, I feel in sync, smooth and confident—I can
grip a corner, hop a curb, climb a mountain, and power along the flats. Must be
all those hours in the saddle!

My top challenge—that faced by every long-distance triathlete or multisport
athlete—is developing efficiency that translates into optimum speed, endurance,
and power. To date, my experience in an Ironman has been a good swim, a
great ride, and a petering out of resources on the run?]run. Oddly, however,
running is my background and should be my strongest discipline. How can I
improve that and change the outcome? The answer lies in becoming even more
efficient on my first two disciplines in order to conserve energy and feel fresh for
my last effort. This is why it is necessary to spend so many hours in the saddle:
refined cycling economy translates into a faster run split!

I invite you to read an interesting article (you can find it at by Peter Reid (3x Ironman
World Champion and Canadian athlete) describing his experience with
developing greater cycling efficiency.

With 5 weeks to go, I often spend time visualizing race day. I visualize myself
having a fast and silky swim, and a stellar ride with a smooth cadence and quiet
upper body. I visualize myself coming off the bike with fresh legs and excited to
challenge a new set of muscles groups ready to gallop the marathon. I visualize
myself celebrating, through my performance, the many long hours put in to arrive
at this day. I visualize myself successfully carrying out my fueling and pacing
plan to the finish line and rejoicing in the gratification of completion with friends
and family.
I realize most people don’t have the time, opportunity, or inclination to spend 3 to
6 hours a day on their bike, but the concept of putting in the time is the same for
golfing, tennis, basketball, soccer, swimming or running, as well as for other life
activities. Spending time “in the saddle” will result in performance improvements
and efficiencies. Testing yourself in a race or personal challenge is a great way
to see how effective your efforts have been. If you’ve been consistent and
purposeful, your efforts will most certainly pay off. My next major test is Ironman
Canada and rest assured I will report back on the effectiveness of my hours in
the saddle.

Cycling is a fast-growing sport, especially among young people and women.
Walk into John Henry Cycles and you will see mountain bikes, road bikes,
triathlon bikes, cyclocross bikes, tricycles, and uni-hitches for parents and kids.
You will also see fluid trainers for stationary cycling, advertising for spinning
classes, and postings for club rides and cycling events. Anyone with a bike and
some motivation has a world of options at his or her doorstep.

From what I hear the next big event is the OAR Agassiz Cycling Event, on
August 13th. Options include a 30 km, 60 km or 90 km ride. I will definitely be
there on my race bike and loaning my road bike to Vivian Thom so she can also
participate. If you are building towards this event, I encourage you to consider
ways of developing efficiencies and refining your cycling skills.

I hope to see you out there, suited up in a helmet and spandex shorts, with
shaven legs and a spare tube.

Ride on,

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