Triathlon Training: Making the Most Out of Your Group Ride

May is officially here, which means both the race season and the weather are heating up. Recreational and competitive cyclists are strapping on their helmet, throwing their leg over their bike, and heading off to their favorite group ride to suffer in the company of others.

Memphis has many group rides that cater to all levels and speeds. They are a great for a number of reasons:

  • They provide great motivation to push harder than you would on your own.
  • The social aspect of training with others helps prevent mental burnout.
  • The varied pace forces riders to work a wide range of intensity levels.
  • They simulate road bike races and are great training for road cyclists.

Unfortunately, some of the things that make fast group rides great for road racers, make them less than ideal for triathletes. It comes down to the demands of both sports: Triathlons require a steady pace that will take you the distance, while road racing uses bursts of energy, followed by coasting in the draft.

To maximize speed in a triathlon, settle into a steady, hard, sustainable effort. Big spikes in intensity may increase speed in the short term, but come at a cost in both energy and time in the long run. The human body can sustain a steady, sub-maximal effort up to a certain point known as the lactate threshold. Go over that point by too much or for too long, and the body will be forced to slow down and recover. The fastest time split comes by keeping a high, steady, smooth effort.

How can a triathlete better stimulate the demands of their sport while still enjoying a group ride?

  1. Maximize time spent in the wind. Drop off the back of the pack by about 10 yards and use the group as the pacer. It will force you to work harder and give you something to chase, without all the coasting that happens when riding in a pack. Pretend you are in your race and dial into the effort or zone you would be using. If the intensity increases too much or you start pushing too hard, pace back up to the group and get in the draft to recover. Rinse and repeat.
  2. Make sure the duration of your effort is in line with the type of triathlon you are doing. If preparing for the MIM Olympic distance, work on hitting 3 x 20 minute repeatable efforts off the back with 5 minute recovery in the group. For the Ironman, increase the duration of your interval and think about joining a slower group ride to be your “pacer.”
  3. Pay attention to cadence. This is the number of revolution per minute you pedal. If you train at a different cadence than you race, this will hurt your overall performance. Matching your training cadence with you racing cadence is almost as important as training at the right intensity levels and is something that even experienced athletes sometimes overlook.
  4. Simulating a race position. Many group rides don’t allow aerobars or triathlon specific bikes due to safety concerns, but that doesn’t mean you can’t simulate your race position. Instead of sitting up on the tops of the bars, work on dropping lower to be more aerodynamic. Riding in a lower, more forward position causes the muscles to fire differently and adapting to this new position takes time. Race day should not be the only time you are working on riding in a lower position.

To get a better idea if you are training too hard or not hard enough, set specific training zones to monitor your intensity. Training zones are based off of power and heart rate and are calculated specifically to each athlete. To learn more about training zones and how to calculate yours, visit www.buildpeakcompete.com/threshold-zone-setting.

Coach Bryant Funston is the co-owner of BPC Performance Coaching. BPC has worked with hundreds of athletes in the Memphis area and around the nation, helping time-crunched athletes maximize their potential. For more info call 901-308-7272 or visit buildpeakcompete.com.

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