How to Race a Hilly Half Ironman

Ireland has a number of hilly middle distance races - not least the forthcoming IRONMAN 70.3 Dun Laoghaire. In this guest article, Matthew Elmore explains how to tackle a hilly half.

SPECIAL ST PATRICKS DAY OFFER:

As a special St Partick’s Day promotion, IRONMAN 70.3 Dún Laoghaire will be rolling back the entry price to tier 2 for 24 hours only, on 17 March 2018. Athletes who enter on Saturday 17 March using the promo code: IMPADDY will get their entry at €20 less than the current entry price, making it the lowest available price this year.

ENTER: http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/events/emea/ironman-70.3/dun-laoghaire/register.aspx#axzz59WzcHHrP

by Matthew Elmore

Wimbleball, St. Croix, Nice, St. George … the IRONMAN 70.3 portfolio, both past and present, has boasted bike courses bursting with leg-sapping climbs, exhilarating descents, and awe-inspiring views.

New to the list is IRONMAN 70.3 Dún Laoghaire on Ireland’s eastern coast. The bike course is garnering all the attention, with its spectacular 90km route through the most scenic areas of the region including the Wicklow Mountains National Park and its glacial lakes and rivers.

If you've never done one before, how does one go about properly preparing for a particularly punchy IRONMAN 70.3? Here, vastly experienced IRONMAN athlete and coach Chris Simpson offers his time-tested advice on smashing a rolling IRONMAN 70.3.

1. Perfect your pacing with heart rate

There’s a trend of using power among triathletes, but the key for me to pacing any IRONMAN 70.3 or IRONMAN is heart rate and cadence. Using heart rate will provide a measure of the physiological cost of the work you’re doing—overcook this in a long race and you’ll always pay the price. I advise age-group athletes to use their heart rate monitor during training so they become familiar with their zones and corresponding effort. 

Many triathletes push a bigger gear at a lower cadence, which can lead to recruitment of more type 2/fast-twitch muscle fibers, and therefore a greater lactate production and increased heart rate. I get my athletes to work on developing a cadence of 90 to 95 rpm (rotations per minute) with lower resistance, which develops aerobic capacity and the ability to be more efficient over a longer period of time in Zone 2.

To conserve energy, ride the climbs conservatively and focus on maintaining your cadence and controlling your heart rate. And don’t worry if you’re being passed on the climbs; be disciplined and stick to your race plan. In the race’s later stages you’ll repass many athletes.

2. Conquer the ascents and descents

Every athlete has their own style when it comes to riding in or out of the saddle. I encourage athletes to learn through training what the most efficient method for them is—for example, how to climb for prolonged periods at a realistic pace while keeping the heart rate under control.

For many, this is a combination of seated and out-of-the-saddle riding, but heart rate and cadence is always my mantra. For athletes from more of a running background, building up the amount of time you can climb out of the saddle is key for utilizing your muscles differently to relieve some of the pressure.

Another skill worth developing for triathletes taking on a hilly course is proper descending skills: sighting corners properly, and staying relaxed with the proper body position. Preparing for IRONMAN France, I trained on some big descents with experienced road riders. It was a revelation and something that I encourage my athletes to do.

3. Hilly course bike choice

Having ridden the famously hilly IRONMAN France in Nice on a tri bike, a road bike with clip-on aero bars, and a straightforward road bike, I’d go for the road bike for a hilly IRONMAN 70.3 or IRONMAN.

Most tri bikes are designed to be fast (stiff, aero, low profile) in a straight line. These factors can make them more difficult for particularly prolonged climbs and steeper gradients, and more difficult to handle on technical descents. For many beginner age groupers, they can also be more difficult to run off due to the more acute riding position.

Road bikes with clip-on tri bars are a reasonable compromise and can be a good choice for a hilly course, but I feel they can affect the handling of the front end. There are many styles of clip-ons however, and with research and lots of practice, they can be a useful tool in the armory.

For me and many of my athletes, a road bike is the way to go for hills. The compromise is that you’re not as aero if there are any flat sections, but after lots of practice and learning from the roadies, riding down on the drops can get you in a decent aero position. Another advantage is that you only need one bike to do a range of races on, helping to keep costs down.

The more relaxed riding position of a road bike also helps athletes stay more comfortable when climbing for longer periods of time. For descending, it allows riders to remain relaxed, smooth, and efficient. Personal experience also indicates that the ability to run better off the bike is better with a road bike.

4. Gear ratios for a hilly race

Gear ratios are dependent on each individual athlete. An athlete with a cycling background (or years of triathlon experience) can be different from a novice or a runner just getting into the sport.

For those coming from a running background or those new to tri, a compact groupset (with a 50-tooth outer and 34 inner chainrings) is optimum. I switched to a compact after years grinding away on a standard groupset, and suddenly, found that I could climb easier with a higher cadence while maintaining a lower heart rate and increased speed. And, instead of hitting the run with wooden legs, I got straight into my stride and carried less muscular fatigue. So, for many athletes, the compact is the place to start.

5. The ultimate hill session

This session is flexible and can be added to in terms of intervals and duration in order to progress it through the training cycle. I use different versions of it from almost the start of training, usually once per week or every two weeks. The session has a base/aerobic component but then develops lactate threshold and clearance, as well as climbing ability and power.

The session can be done on a trainer or gym bike. All you need is a bike and trainer, a heart rate monitor, a towel, a drink, and some good tunes!

Warm-up

-10-15 mins high cadence low resistance up to Zone 2

Main set

-5 mins: Zone 2 maintaining smooth pedal stroke throughout

-5 mins: Zone 3/4 threshold effort maintaining cadence

-5 mins: Shift up 1 or 2 gears and ride out of the saddle (this should be ‘dancing on the pedals’ without so much resistance that you have to force it.

Repeat main session 2-3 times.

Cool-down

-10 mins easy spin.

Progression can be made by adding an extra 15 min to the main session blocks. Or, depending on whether you want to develop more lactate tolerance/threshold or climbing ability, extend the duration of the second and third elements of the main set

IM Dun Laoghaire 2018

Originally from: http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/news/articles/2018/02/how-to-race-a-hilly-half.aspx#ixzz59vkoGt4v