Ironman Bike Strategy

[caption id="attachment_5829" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Formulate A Plan And Stick To It"]ironman_triathlon_race_strategy[/caption] 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.  


TAGS: ironman , bike , race , strategy
Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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