Ironman Bike Strategy


Formulate A Plan And Stick To It

An Ironman bike strategy?  I haven’t really thought of one other than I don’t want to burn my legs out so that the run is one miserable step after the other.  I have an Ironman marathon run strategy and I’ve been so focused on that portion of the race that I haven’t given true consideration to the bike.

For example, on the run I want to run a 4 hour marathon.  To accomplish this goal I need to run 26.2 miles at a 9:00/mile average.  Seems feasible considering that I ran the Las Vegas Marathon at an 8:03/mile pace to finish in 3:31.  The problem is that I hadn’t swam 2.4 miles and biked 112 miles prior to that run.  I have read that you can add anywhere from 10% – 12% to your stand alone times for the same distance in triathlon.  3 hours and 31 minutes converts to 211 minutes.  If I add 10% to that number I am at 232 minutes or 3 hours 52 minutes.  If that number is 12% then I am staring at 236 minutes or 3 hours and 56 minutes.  Having a 4 hour goal makes sense.  To accomplish said goal I plan on going out at a 9:15-9:30/mi pace for the first 6 miles.  This is approximately 3 total minutes slower than my goal over the 26.2 miles.  After the first 6 miles I am looking at running 8:30-8:45/mi for 4 miles and then back it down and continue this cycle until I cross the finish line.  Sound plan with executable numbers.  I am going to be drinking every 15 minutes along with taking one half of a HoneyStinger waffle every hour.  Nutrition won’t be a problem.  I also plan on sipping water at every aid station while I take approximately 30-45 steps.  Sound plan, but what about the bike?

Well I know how fast I think I can finish the bike, but then I read this post from Endurance Nation and it made me think twice about that number.  During my three Half-Ironman races I have been conservative out of the gate and just found my rhythm and then started to turn up the gas a bit.  In California this plan worked fairly well as the middle section of the bike was climbs and I managed to catch and pass most of those that flew by me earlier in the race.  In Austin it worked to a T as I had plenty of gas in my legs to finish strong.  In Puerto Rico I found myself tiring at the end of the ride but still managed a solid 56 mile split, and the fastest 56 mile split I have done.  The reality though is that the two runs in Austin and Puerto Rico were slower than the run in California so maybe my plan wasn’t perfect after all.  I know that Ironman is a different beast and that strategy needs to be different.

Here is what Endurance Nation proclaims to be the right plan and my thoughts are in red:

There’s No Such Thing as a Good Bike Followed by a Poor Run
The last time we checked this was an Ironman TRIATHLON – swim, bike, and run. The difference between a “good” swim or “bad” swim is only about 2-4 minutes. The difference between “easy” bike or a “hard” bike is only about 10-15 minutes. But the difference between a “good” and “bad” run can be measured in hours.

If you boil down the numbers and I ride a 5:45 which I think I could and riding a 6:00 which I think I should that 15 minutes is not a big deal.  To ride 112 miles in 6 hours means a ride of 18mph and that is something well within my capability.  Considering I rode 92 miles on the course at 19.5 mph the prospect of going faster than 6 hours is conceivable.  Two weeks ago I rode 112 miles in exactly 6 hours and felt strong off the bike.  My time could probably fall in between but setting a goal of 6 hours will allow me to remain calm and comfortable on the bike without any added pressure of HAVING to go faster.

Ride the Bike You Should, Not the Bike You Could
Your “could” bike split is the one you dream about, the one you told your friends on your last long ride when they remarked how fit you look, how hard you’ve been working, and ask you what you could ride at IMXX. In contrast, your “should” bike split is the bike that sets up the run. In our experience, the difference between Could and Should is about 10 to 15 minutes – add 10-15 minutes to that sexy Could split and set up the run.

Same points from above apply here.  Would it be nice to see a 5:30 bike split?  Of course, but not if it comes at the cost of a 5 hour marathon.  Think about that for a second.  Sacrifice 30 minutes on the bike to gain 1 hour on the run.  That is a 30 minute swing in my favor.  Makes total sense.  And let’s say that 5:45 feels good and I am not hurting, then that means that we are looking at a 45 minute swing in my favor.

Do the Opposite of Everyone Else
In our experience, over 80% of the Ironman field doesn’t know how to properly execute the bike. Proper bike execution is then largely a matter of doing the opposite of everyone else.

  • Ride easy for the first hour. Are you being passed by a LOT of people? That’s a very good thing, trust us.
  • Managing your effort on this hill, setting up the run vs racing for $100 KOM prime they are not handing out at the top…and going backwards through the field? That’s a good thing, they will come back to you somewhere during the day.
Going back to the theory that I have had for the 70.3 distance the same applies here.  There are going to be athletes who are just better cyclists than I am and there is nothing I can do to stay with them.  There are going to be athletes who explode out of T2 only to burn out.  Can you tell the difference between the two when they pass you?  Neither can I so why stay with any of them.  This is my race and one I will use as my mantra as it seems the world passes me by.  That is OK I will pass them later on the bike or most certainly on the run.

Flatten the Course
You best cycling strategy to set up a great run to maintain a very steady effort across all terrain – no big effort surges on hills, no excessive coasting on downhills, etc. Imagine your foot is on a gas pedal.

It is funny to read this about the bike because it is exactly what I have been doing on the run for the better part of this training.  I have found that by exerting the same amount of energy going up a hill or down a hill as on the flat sections allows me to maintain a steady constant heart rate and pace.  It would only figure that doing the same on the bike makes sense.  Focusing on my HR and my perceived level of exertion will allow me to not crush myself going up and not coast to much coming down.

Show Up with Enough Gears on Your Bike
Having the proper gearing for your course is an important part of our “flatten the course” strategy above. What gearing is best? In general, you can never have enough gears in an Ironman. More specifically, these are the gears that Coach Rich, a 5:05-15 Ironman cyclist, would ride on US Ironman courses:

  • All: compact crank, 50/34 gearing, then…
  • IMTX, FL, AZ: 23-11
  • IMSG, IMCDA, IMLP, IMNYC, IMTremblant: 26-11, or 25-12
  • IMWI: 26-11
Isn’t it a good thing that my bike set for IMTX should be exactly the same as that for IMAZ.  After speaking with Jeff Irvin a few months ago he assured me that what I have on my bike is good for IMTX.  I am not a bike nut nor will I pretend to be so I always turn to Jeff, Kevin, Matt, BDD and Patrick for help in that category.  If they say what I have works then I am not going to spend another moment thinking about it.
Look for Free Speed First

112 miles is a long time for smart, slippery, aerodynamic choices to express themselves. In our experience, your biggest return on investment opportunities on the Ironman bike are:

  • Bike fit: The largest aerodynamic component of the bike/rider system is YOU. A proper bike fit can dramatically improve your aerodynamics while keeping you comfortable on the bike.
  • Aero helmet: A big aerodynamic return for your $130-200 investment.
  • Bottle/tools placement: An efficient, clean, well-thought-out setup will also significant

I am going to get a bike fit this week to ensure that it is dialed in.  I can’t imagine 112 miles of being uncomfortable.  I can say without hesitation that the long rides I have done during this training cycle have been very comfortable.  The old adage: Better Safe Than Sorry fits here.  I have an aero helmet and my bottles/tools placement has been decided as well.  I am using my torpedo mount without the A2 straw along with my down tube speedfil.  I am also putting a bento box on the frame behind the bottle to hold the HoneyStinger waffles.  The tube will be taped to the under side of my seat and there will be CO2 cartridges and that is all.  The allen wrench will be taped to the tube or in my back pocket as there is a zipper on the race kit.



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  1. Matt Oravec says:

    Alright, I do agree w/ this. HOWEVER, in my experience… the difference between a fun ironman and a miserable ironman is stomach revolt. Seriously, anyone that has stomach issues on the run will be miserable.

    If you do the training, going a tad harder on the bike won’t affect your run that much. It is much easier to get the time on the bike than the run… you know this deep down. Don’t over analyze (too late, right?) all this. Get a good pace going on the bike and then get a good pace going on the run. Good ironman athletes are VERY consistent in their pacing/racing.

    The article more or less says, don’t go balls to the wall on the bike and then crawl on the run. I hope this makes sense… just find your comfortable groove and go with it :)
    Matt Oravec recently posted..Wildflower Pre-Race ReportMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      I dealt with that stomach non-sense this weekend and I hope that is the only problem I have with it during this process. That was just not fun but I can say I laughed out loud from your comment yesterday. By the way I wasn’t in a wetsuit but instead in Jeff’s swimskin, so you know I was rushing to get out of it.

      I agree with you also about don’t go balls to the wall on the bike and then crawl on the run. It makes so much sense and it is about being smart on race day.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Bike StrategyMy Profile

  2. BDD says:

    Bike fit with 3 weeks to go??? When you are already comfortable on the bike during training? Even the most minor tweek to the bike will feel different to your body.

    I could write a mini book on this article, I never done an ironman, so I dont know what to expect or what happens, but I would imagine K.I.S.S. is probably the best approach to a race of that distance,
    BDD recently posted..Miami University Student Foundation Triathlon – Aquabike Race ReportMy Profile

  3. I spent way to many brain cycles on this leading up to my ironman and could go on and on. Ping me offline if you want to deep dive on any of this. (note this is where a power meter can absolutely be like cheating).

    I learned the painful lesson of going out too hard on the bike during my second ever HIM. If you do the bike split 5 minutes too fast for you, you’ll be walking later. A rule of thumb is that a properly paced iron bike will result in a run pace within 30 seconds/mile given the same conditions (this doesn’t mean within 30 seconds of PR on a favorable course, etc). It is better to go 5 minutes too slow on the bike and be able to make it up on the run that just a little over and being toast.

    The number one pothole in iron racing is nutrtion with going too hard on the bike number 2.

    When I did IMFL last year I decided to go a little hot on the bike (per power meter) because of the head wind. I expected to get help from the wind in the second half where I could make that effort up and not have to burn so many matches. It all worked out.

    BTW: I ran a 53/39, 12×27 at IMFL and never got in the 39. In the many times I’ve ridden IMLP, I’ve used a 50/34 with either a 12×27 or a 11×28 and live in the 34 for seemingly forever.

    The summary of this is go easier than you think you are on the bike. Beware that the taper will mike it feel almost too easy but that is about right. If you think you are going hard with the taper behind you, danger Will Robinson.

    • CTER says:

      Thanks for the knowledge. That is really beneficial. I can see getting out there on the bike and thinking I can really crank this up my legs feel great and that is because for three weeks I wasn’t burning them out. Great great advice. Much appreciated.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Bike StrategyMy Profile

  4. Bob says:

    I’m upset I’m not on your list… but I will supply my suggestions anyway…
    BDD is dialed in on the comment of not tweaking 2.5 weeks out. Do not get fit now. If they change anything you will PAY the price!
    Don’t over analyze your bike/ run… the weather, wind and conditions of the day will determine what you should do..
    Bob recently posted..Selective amnesia or don’t give a shit?My Profile

    • CTER says:

      I haven’t emailed you personally but I need to. You have tons of knowledge and I’d be a moron to not tap into that more often. Consider yourself added to the distribution list of those smarter than I am when it comes to Ironman racing.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Bike StrategyMy Profile

  5. Natasha says:

    Wow lots of good points I never considered. That’s probably because my goal was always to just survive! I’m going to read this again in about a month once I’m deeper in my IM training. Thanks!
    Natasha recently posted..Over the Edge for Special Olympics!My Profile

    • CTER says:

      Natasha – which IM are you doing? Also, check out the CTER Facebook page. I posted an article I found about racing your first IM. I will repost it here as my race day gets closer but I wish I had read it 4 months ago and had it printed and taped to my wall.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Bike StrategyMy Profile

  6. Jill says:

    Hi! I think Endurance Nation has some pretty great tips there. I think after analyzing my race at Lake Placid… expect the unexpected. Whether it’s some sort of nutrition fail (like dropping water bottles/Perform on bike) , pacing issues (your legs may feel more tired than you expect once you hit that marathon), flat tire(s)… always have a backup plan and remember to stay calm! If something unplanned happens, just remember, taking a few minutes to solve the issue won’t kill your race. It may even help! In my case, when I was fixing my THREE flats, that was also time where I was stretching my legs and “resting.” I think that helped me ride strong throughout the rest of the course. I also agree with the whole let everyone pass you by the first half of the bike… no need to waste energy. Good luck and more importantly HAVE FUN! It’s an amazing day!
    Jill recently posted..Monday Photo-FundayMy Profile

    • CTER says:

      Thanks Jill. I am really excited about and I think the best part is the unknown. It seems odd for me to say that because I am a planner. I need all details all the time but this is such a different animal altogether that the idea of just doing the race and not knowing what is around the corner is so exciting. I am on pins and needles and it is going to take the best of me to not be haywire for the next three weeks during taper. Thank you for the words…..they are truly appreciated.
      CTER recently posted..Ironman Bike StrategyMy Profile

  7. Emz says:

    Holy. Freaking. Crap.
    All those numbers.

    Reason #9,247
    Why I cannot commit to an IM.

    You rock.

  8. Jeff Irvin says:

    Good plan Jason. We’ve talked a lot about this and you have it dialed in — stick to this plan and you’ll be golden.

    Fwiw – I ran a standard 54/39 crank with an 11-25 on the IMTX course. Never left the 54, never needed the 25. When I do it again will use a 50/34 with an 11-23. After logging some good miles on a compact crank I see no reason to use a standard anymore — higher rpm seems to equal fresher legs for the run.

  9. Marlene says:

    This is awesome. I am still so clueless about these things, so it’s helpful for me. Another one to save in my favoUrites. :)
    Marlene recently posted..April 2012My Profile

  10. katie says:

    did I miss the swim strategy post?

    I think these are all fantastic tips. I even got my hands on an aero helmet for my 70.3 this weekend….sigh.
    katie recently posted..mostly wordless wednesdayMy Profile

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