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Ride Faster by Being Better, Not Fitter

Ride Faster by Being Better, Not Fitter

This guest blog post comes to us from Boulder, CO based coach, Eric Kenney of EK Endurance Coaching. Instagram: @ekendurance


When it comes to riding fast in a triathlon there are many ways one can increase speed and efficiency. The first thing that most people think of is tech - more aerodynamic gear and bicycles, even clothing. In the past, some of these technological advantages were seen as very small gains and in a lot of cases they are, however, when you start coupling them together, they can add up significantly. Ceramic bearings, wheels, bottom brackets, oversized pulleys, chains with less friction, aerodynamic shoes and socks. While technology continues to evolve and we learn more about all of these things, another way that athletes can gain speed and decrease effort on the bike leg is by improving their skills.

Skills ranging from cornering ability, descending skills, managing feed zones and other riders better. Handling windy conditions, better overall pacing and power control, and being more relaxed and comfortable on the bike can go farther than people think. Refining these skills can make one’s bike leg faster, but at the very least it helps people coming off of the bike feeling better having used less energy. They are more relaxed, have fewer tight muscles and transition to the run leg of the race with greater ease and confidence.

What skills are more important and how should we improve them?
My answer would be whatever you are really weak or bad at, as well as looking at the demands and characteristics of your racecourse. But for now, I’ll talk briefly about a few of the key skill areas.


Good pacing will not only have you coming off the bike with better legs but it can also make you faster. “Ride the course flat” is a phrase you may have heard. When in doubt, yes ride it steady.  Having spikes in power and effort and recoveries is harder on the body. Depending on the distance, you may want to stay out of certain zones or effort levels. In a 70.3 for example, most amateurs will want to stay below threshold (even 90% of threshold) as a key ceiling. Not only do we fatigue the muscles much faster we use a lot of calories! As we get to that lactate threshold, we not only use more calories per minute but it shifts to 100% glycogen! in a race that is 4 to 5 hours or maybe longer for many of us, sparing that muscle glycogen is very important!  Two things I tell my athletes on hilly courses is, ”The hill isn’t over until you find yourself going fast enough on the downhill to soft pedal or coast,” and with that, “you should pace yourself so you never NEED a rest, but if you find a spot to back off some and get one, take it!!”

The bike is as much about going fast as it is about setting up the run. These are a couple of rules that will help you to hit the run feeling better than ever.  To train this, get off your indoor trainer. Get outside, get out of your comfort zone!  Be safe, no need to jump into the local roadie fast group ride yet. Ride rolling courses, learn to control your power, cadence and effort on terrain that isn’t ideal. Anticipate hills, gusty winds, shift a lot. Keep re-finding your rhythm until it becomes second nature.

Bike Handling


When you look at most traditional, non-draft triathlon courses bike handling skills don’t seem to be an area to gain much time, and you may be right. Especially in longer races. The speeds are slower, turns fewer per mile, etc. But bike handling skills go farther than cornering faster.  Moving through feed zones quicker and safer, staying in your aero position longer on descent and in gusty cross wind conditions. At Ironman 70.3 St. George – a very dynamic bike course with hills, turns and wind - an athlete of mine regularly produced times ten and even fifteen minutes faster on the same power outputs as other athletes of similar weight and size as her. It sounds impossible and the first time I thought a power meter somewhere was off - not calibrated, maybe. But it has happened time and time again.  How?

As you look at this athlete you begin to notice all of these areas of skill and preparedness. Her bike fit is great - flat back, head down.  The technology is there also - aero equipment, bike, etc. But then the skills come into play as well.  She is relaxed on her bike staying aero on every mile of descents where others sit up, she moves through feed zones quicker with less hesitation, corners are smoother, she slows down less in the 200-400 meters before the turn and does not have the need to accelerate after, saving time and energy!  When looking at the the data file the watts are almost perfectly steady. If you remove speed and profile form the data graph you would never know it was a file from St George 70.3. Athletes that ride too hard in early stages fade then get pushed into far too high of an exertion level on the final steep climb.

How Do You Get to This Level?

Diversity in training, for starters.  Get out of your comfort zone. Ride with others, ride on the flats, hills, ride your race bike in these conditions, do different types of intervals. Do them on different roads and terrain.  And yes, time, this all takes time - years of consistent training and practice. But that doesn’t mean you can’t begin right now. So take the bike off the trainer, find a safe road and start mixing up your training and practice race execution!

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