"How fast you finish the cycling portion of a race depends on the power you’re able to produce during the ride. Ultimately, power output depends on just two variables: force and speed. Very simply, it depends on how hard you push and how fast you pedal. The three forces you need to overcome to move forward are air resistance, rolling resistance, and, on climbs, gravity. Because gravity and rolling resistance depend on weight, most cyclists try to minimize weight. This is most easily achieved by using a lighter bike and componentry, but these come at a high cost. Rolling resistance also depends on the road surface, as well as the make, thickness, and pressure of your tires. The biggest resistive force, however, is air resistance, which is dependent on your speed and frontal surface area. At 20 miles per hour on a flat road (gravity is zero), rolling resistance makes up less than 25 percent of the total resistance, while air resistance makes up more than 75 percent. The most effective way to reduce air resistance is to draft behind (or even next to) another rider. For a triathlete without the option to draft (drafting is not permitted in most amateur triathlon racing), reducing frontal area has the greatest effect on performance. Aerodynamic equipment--such as bike frames with tear-shaped tubes, deep-dish wheels and discs, narrow water bottles, tight skin suits, and streamlined helmets--can reduce some of the frontal area. However, a rider’s body is by far the biggest obstacle. Bike fit for a triathlete is therefore optimized with biomechanical fit and aerodynamic positioning; many triathletes even choose to ride a less comfortable setup in favor of better aerodynamics. Keep in mind, though, that a comfortable setup that incorporates aerodynamics will usually result in increased power output. Because road cyclists are allowed to draft, they tend to place greater importance on biomechanical fit, comfort, and handling of the bike than triathletes do, but triathletes would be well served in finding a comfortable setup.
It is relatively easy to adjust a traditional bike fit to a more aerodynamic fit. The most cost-effective investment is a set of aerobars. Better yet, using an ergo-stem along with your aerobars will allow you to more completely adjust the position of your handlebars. A second seat post and saddle combination will allow you to quickly move back and forth between a road position and a time trial position with just one bike frame. Because a traditional road bike fit often results in better (i.e., easier) handling of the bike, it is useful to be able to switch back and forth between setups. You can convert your bike to match your workout--aerodynamic position for solo efforts and time trials or a traditional bike fit for group rides and hilly routes. Before you adjust your bike fit to a more aerodynamic position, measure (and mark with tape) how your bike is set up. It is always a good idea to have the option of going back to a position that already works for you. Once you have the necessary measurements, move your saddle forward one or two centimeters. Because this reduces the distance from your saddle to the bottom bracket, you may also need to move the saddle up (usually about half the distance that you moved it forward). Now check your reach by leaning forward into the aerobars. The front of your shoulders should be aligned vertically with the back of your elbows. This position allows you to rely on the skeletal rather than muscular support of your upper arms for the weight of the upper body. Your comfort and flexibility should determine the height of the handlebars relative to the saddle. For example, if your hamstrings feel tight, your handlebars need to be moved higher. Most likely, your cleat position and your saddle tilt can remain in the same position as they were in before.
No matter how aerodynamic you want to be, injury prevention and comfort should be your main concerns with regard to fit. Your knee rotates through many cycles on a ride--in just one hour of racing at 90 revolutions per minute, you are completing 5,400 rotations per leg! If your bike is not properly fit to your biomechanics, you will be at high risk for injury. Also, if you are uncomfortable on the bike, you may become distracted by repetitive twinges instead of being able to focus on your effort. Because a proper bike fit is critical, you should be fit at a reputable triathlon or cycling shop, by a certified fit specialist, or by a coach or physical therapist who has experience in bike fit. A proper bike fit should always include setting up your cleats (on the bottom of your shoes) in the proper position: If your knee is restricted to the wrong range through each pedal cycle, you’re almost guaranteed injury. Athletes looking to be very competitive in triathlon should consider being fit by a professional fit specialist who will take into account every aspect of their biomechanics when adjusting their position. Look for someone who specializes in triathlon-specific fitting, and expect to pay $50 to $100 for the service (and anywhere from $200 to $1,000 for services that include power output measurement or wind tunnel testing).
Even with a good bike fit, you may find that you are uncomfortable on your saddle at times. If you experience this, consider the following:
- Never wear anything under your cycling shorts. The shorts are designed so that there are no seams in sensitive areas. Wearing undergarments adds those seams back between you and your saddle. Also, make sure you buy women’s shorts to ensure a proper fit.
- Wash your shorts after each ride to avoid infections.
- Use a chamois cream or ointment to prevent saddle sores and chafing. Apply it to both your body and the shorts for maximum protection.
- Use a women-specific saddle. They are designed to support the wider sit bones of a woman’s body and provide increased comfort."
"Setting up your triathlon training calendar and log can be the two most important actions you take, perhaps more important than any swim intervals, long rides, or morning runs you do.
Your Triathlon Training Calendar
Your training calendar can be a preprinted calendar, a poster board, an appointment book, or a calendar software program that prints out customized monthly grids. Just make sure that you have enough room to write down your daily workouts. Your training calendar should also be on paper, as opposed to just on a computer screen. Although a software program is great for creating customized calendars, make sure it can print out monthly grids. You want your training calendar to be within plain sight, not hidden away somewhere on a computer hard drive. Dedicate a space for your calendar—someplace that you know you’ll see every day. Once you’ve chosen your calendar and picked a place to put it, it’s time to make the commitment and put pen to calendar (scary, huh?).
Work Your Way Back From Race Day
First, write your race goal on your training calendar. How much time does that give you to train properly? Again, take into account your current fitness level and skills. If you need to reassess your race goal and set your target on something more realistic, now is the time to do it.
Divide Your Calendar Into Phases
Although part II covers training in much more detail, you’ll need to know a little bit about what experts consider to be the optimal way to train. Training in phases or cycles has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise. Each phase has a specific objective, and the workouts fulfill that objective.
Coaches and fitness experts don’t always agree on the exact number of phases and objectives (largely because training differs among sports and elite athletes require more complex training plans). However, if you are a multisport novice or future triathlete looking for your first finish-line crossing, you should integrate some basic phases into your training calendar. Following is a brief description of each of these phases.
If you think you have a good handle on how much time you need to devote to each phase after reading this section, plan your training calendar accordingly. If you’re super organized, you might even want to use color highlighters to block off phases, using a different color for each one. Don’t worry about writing down specific workouts; that comes later. For now, just get familiar with the phases, objectives, and estimated time frames.
Initiation Phase (Beginners Only)
Objective: Learn a new activity never or rarely performed before.
Estimated time: Depends on level of inexperience. If you are learning to swim the front crawl, this phase can take three months or more.
Objective: Create a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity.
Estimated time: Three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance for which you are training.
Speed and Technique Phase
Objective: Increase both the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise.
Estimated time: Three weeks to several months, depending on current conditioning and performance goals.
Race Simulation Phase
Objective: Boost race day confidence by completing workouts similar to what you will be doing in the event.
Estimated time: One to two months, depending on current conditioning and race goals.
Objective: Feel mentally and physically fresh for a race.
Estimated time: One to four weeks before your event, depending on the distance. Sprint-distance races usually only require a week of tapering.
Your Training Log
When you think of a journal or log, the first thought that might occur is sentimentality about the past. Part of the value of keeping such records is to remind you of your accomplishments, but keeping a record of your triathlon training and racing has more practical applications as well.
Training logs can help you avoid injuries and improve your performance. Maintaining an accurate log of your daily and weekly workouts is one of the best ways to keep on track. A log that chronicles the variables that affect your energy level and performance can help you achieve your triathlon goal.
You can purchase preprinted training logs. Some have motivating quotes and pictures and space for many variables. If you’re a computer geek, several workout log programs are available.
There’s no one way to keep a training log. Whatever you think are the most applicable variables are fine. Consider these variables for your own log:
• Hours slept. Current research suggests moderate sleep deprivation has little effect on performance during the adrenaline high of competition. Still, that ragged feeling during a three mile training jog might be the result of too little snooze time.
• Waking pulse. Record your beats per minute when you awake, preferably while you’re still in bed. An increase of more than three or four beats can signal overtraining.
• Distances and times. Tracking correct distances and workout times can keep you honest. It is also your most reliable measuring stick to check your progress.
• Time of day. Studies show that our energy levels fluctuate during the day. As long as all other variables remain the same, you can pinpoint your peak time of day for a workout.
• Intensity. Use descriptive terms or a scale of 1 to 10 (1 is very easy and 10 is extremely difficult). Monitoring intensity levels is a key in avoiding too many back-to-back killer workouts (or in avoiding that crippling disease couchus potatoeus).
• Feelings. Though many things can affect your mood, a change in mood is sometimes a precursor to sickness and an indication of overtraining. For example, irritability can be an early sign that you’re pushing yourself too hard.
• Injury flags. Pay close attention to any unusual pain, especially around the joints where most injuries occur. Note any such aches and pains in your log.
• Weight. Get on the scale in the morning, after you’ve relieved yourself. A 3 percent or more loss of body weight might mean you’ve lost too much fluid. Take an easy day or, better yet, a day off.
• Weather. If you are easily affected by heat, cold, humidity, or other weather variables, keep track of these conditions.
• Notes. Perhaps the best part about keeping a training log is flipping back to read about that special swim, ride, run, or race."
It's not often I can do this but the following is an excerpt from an upcoming book (currently only available as a pre-order), Triathlon 101 (Human Kinetics, due out March, 2009). In this updated edition reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Triathlon 101, you'll learn the five training phases for triathlon success.