The cycling leg typically takes as long to complete in most triathlons as does the swim and run combined. Roughly 50-60% of the entire triathlon is spent cycling. To excel in triathlon you need to take full advantage of this extra time on the bike and use it to distance your self from the competition.
Since the bike leg encompasses the greatest percentage of total race time it is here where most triathletes greatest room for improvement lies. Serious triathletes are always looking for ways to improve. If your goal were to improve your Ironman time by 30 minutes how would you do it? How much time and training would it take to improve your swim or run splits by that amount? Is it even possible? It stands to reason that most of your improvement would occur on the bike over a 5-7 hour effort rather than from the relatively short swim and run durations.
To get faster on the bike the triathlete needs to eliminate the gray zone in his/her training. The gray zone is that level of effort that is neither difficult enough to fully activate a positive training adaptation, nor easy enough to allow the athlete to adequately recover. Long, consistent, relatively hard miles do not allow the athlete to recover from day to day. Such training also is not difficult enough to truly prepare the athlete for the physiological stresses associated with racing. Improvement will be slow and the athlete likely will plateau with gray zone training. The most the triathlete can hope for is to race at a speed just slightly faster than his/her training pace.
My athletes learn that it is OK to ride easy. There is no shame in having easy training rides and in fact I’m a big believer in them. I also have my athletes perform consistent and appropriate high intensity riding at race pace or faster efforts. This kind of training hardens the body and mind for the rigors of racing and develops a huge reservoir of speed from which the athlete can draw on. In other words, when its time to train easy we go really easy, and when its time to ride fast, my athletes train very, very fast.
Bike training plans are designed with the specific goal race in mind. Olympic distance triathletes will do multiple high intensity rides per week, while for example; Ironman training requires much longer, less intense rides. Both types of triathletes however will do easy rides designed to provide active recovery and much harder rides with portions significantly faster than race pace. Ultimately, regardless of the length the triathlon, the goal is to ride as fast as humanly possible without jeopardizing your ability to run well off the bike.
To run well you must be in excellent bike shape. Bike training that incorporates adequate recover rides and ample doses of speed will help insure that your bike fitness improves. How well you run and your final race outcome will depend on your bike performance. Ride too slowly and you don’t have a prayer, too fast and you blow up on the run. Contrary to what a famous ex-triathlete has said, it “Is All About the Bike!”