I have been struggling with one area in my triathlon training. How much do I push in the bike portion of the race to leave enough energy in my legs for the run? I have heard the illustration given that your body is like a book of matches. You only have so many matches in your legs and body for the entire race. If you burn up too many matches early on then you will end up with nothing left at the end. This seems an appropriate illustration to think of when trying to figure out the exact formula for finishing strong.
I think the issue of how hard to push in the bike to leave energy for the run depends on the length of the race. In summary, if you are racing a sprint triathlon you can push harder in the bike then if you are racing an Ironman distance race. Your body can obviously respond better in a shorter race so you can push harder in the bike portion.
I found myself very frustrated with this issue at my first half-ironman distance race earlier this year. I did well for the vast majority of the bike portion of the race, feeling that I had not exerted myself too much and that I had something left for the run. Toward the end of the bike portion, however, I missed a water handoff with about 15 miles to go of the 56 miles. I felt like I was in good enough shape with some of my Accelerade mixed water still with me. I thought I could make it to the end. The day was hot and I found myself trying to maintain a certain speed while increasing my exertion level on the bike. I got to the end of the bike portion and was preparing to transition to the run with nothing left in the tank. I started cramping in my right leg and had no real power to run well.
So, I returned to training for my next race which was an International distance race of 1.5K swim, 45 K bike, and 10 K run. I pushed on the bike slightly but tried to stay within my own race. I ended the 45 K (almost 28 miles) bike ride with some good bounce in my step. I found that I completed the run in good time (8:30 per mile) but still lacked some of the power in the run that I desired. I also felt like my speed on the bike (18.4 mph) was far below what I had trained at. I once again felt like I had left something to be desired as I was slower in the bike.
All this begin said, I am trying to dial in the special formula that it takes to know the exertion level strategy on the bike to race properly in the run. I think I have figured out that I need to push at a good pace in the bike but not overly hard, and then run with more power.
A couple of workouts to help with this will be to perform more brick workouts where I can transition from the bike to the run. I also think I need a couple of race rehearsals to truly determine the exact exertion level. I also need to track my heart rate better to know how hard to push on the bike to maintain a good pace in the run. Comment below to tell me how else do you track exertion level? I also would like to push harder in my workouts on the bike to truly see what I can do on the bike. I don’t think I have come close to my full potential in my bike speed or in my legs.