Achieving Underachievement Part Deux

A quick recap of where we got to with my selfless 7 year (and counting) project in helping other people realise how not to qualify lest they may not make the same mistakes.  If you don’t come from a swim background, learn how to swim…properly, swim more than you want, swim with other people, don’t do much logging yardage for yardage’s sake and err towards doing the stuff you prefer to avoid.  There you go 2,500+ days’ worth of learning experiences packed into less than 50 words.  Okay you still gotta do the work but following that advice will get you there a lot quicker if my extensive sample size of one is to be believed.

This is awesome.  We’re in T1 and we’re struggling to find our bike.  That’s a problem we never used to have. Which brings us quite nicely onto the bike.  Well a bit like the jumping in without goggles and swimming episode (that was actually when I had an ITB issue from running) I did the biking equivalent when recovering from PF.  It goes a little like this – buy a used bike on ebay, look for the bits where you put your feet, shrug your shoulders and just take your pedals off your mountain bike.  Then take a day off work, pick a town 50miles away, cycle there on the most direct route (you know – the one you’d use in the car with the dual carriageways and no scenery), turnaround, come back.

As you can probably tell Eddy Merckx I was not…by a long way.  Clueless is arguably being charitable. The only thing I knew was there was guy at school back in the 70s whose dad cycled everywhere and that automatically made one a weirdo and the other guilty by association.  There weren’t even Brits in the Tour de France back then let alone winning it.

So a long distance event means long distance cycling…consistently. Yes and in the run up to IM Austria then I think that was highly relevant.  Endurance was definitely going to be a limiting factor with such an absence of any sort of background to rely on. So I juggled and shoe-horned and got in a long ride pretty much every week and from memory (probably won’t surprise that I didn’t keep a training log) I tried to get as close to a century ride as I could once a month.  All very steady with that all too familiar feeling of the effort being unable to be upped anytime the road went up at the back half of any ride.

I bought a turbo and found that spending time on there wasn’t really an issue.  So I could be consistent in the week during the winter and on the odd occasion when the weather made outdoor riding too unappealing. This was long before the days of Catch-up TV and YouTube and iPads and as I’m not a fan of films there was a fair degree of JFDI involved.  Well there would need to be if I was going to consistent.  To say there wasn’t a lot of structure and science to the turbo work would be putting it mildly.  Despite knowing a bit about intervals and the like from my knowledge of running I don’t recall transferring a whole lot of that knowledge to the bike. I used to not cycle and now I did cycle so in a binary world I was doing the right thing.

So for a triathlon and biking numpty I knocked out a 5:30 bike split first up that was significantly better than I’d expected.  For a non-cyclist time in the saddle is essential.  I, personally, don’t see a substitute.  When over 50% of your race time should be made up of the bike leg you’re gonna need bike legs.  They are made on your bike not on your legs.

Then lo and behold adaptations had occurred and I wasn’t struggling to turn the cranks towards the end of longer rides.  The sensible thing would have been to move on to the next phase of development.  Endurance alone probably wasn’t my limiter anymore.  Pushing a gear for a long time was doable, pushing a big enough gear to make me much faster was not.  So I kept doing lots of steady miles, as I read that somewhere once and I kind of enjoyed it (i.e. it wasn’t unpleasant).  It meant I was logging lots of hours and that was measurable and it sounded good.  Here’s an extract from part 1 on swimming that turns out isn’t sport specific –

There’s a reason we do what we like.  If you like to avoid it learn to like it.

Not Eddie Merckx

It took me too long to get out of this particular bubble of self-justification that incorrectly connected what I was doing with what I should be doing and, perhaps, what I liked telling people I’d been doing – predominantly by using hours as the unit of measurement and the notion that more was better.  I transitioned a bit and improved a bit as a result…but I was still shy of where I could have been and where I wanted to be.  Evidently I didn’t want to be there enough to do the things that would get me there though.  I worked a little bit harder on the turbo with a little bit more structure but this still included sometimes just getting on the turbo cos I had ‘some training’ to do.

If we fast forward a few (too many) years then 18 months or so ago I decided as it was pretty clear I didn’t have enough leg strength I’d do something about it.  Terrain wise I don’t have the luxury of climbing to assist in this, so I’d roll some big gear work sometimes. Chuck it in the big ring, crank up the resistance and push for 30-45 minutes.  Sometimes.   I’d do some targeted work sometimes at above IM effort, maybe increase it over an hour from IM effort, to above IM effort to balls out.  Sometimes.  I truncated the long ride in the main.  I then made sure I finished strong for the last hour or so most of the time or did some targeted harder work in 15+minute blocks at the end.  Most of the time.

As with the swim there’s some pretty obvious lessons to be learnt and hopefully some time to be saved for those looking to improve and/or start do the right things without necessarily accruing a lengthy back catalogue of wrong things.  It’s slightly different than the swim in that this is the key area where I still need to show the 10-15 minute improvement that’s required for qualification.  There’s been several times I’ve been within 10-15 minutes off Gary (who qualified at Tahoe and would have qualified at France the year before if the run had been 200 yards shorter given that’s where he passed out!) but I still haven’t posted that bike split I need.  Close but no cigar.  I’m addressing that at the moment and obviously the proof will be in the Black Forest Gateaux in Frankfurt. So until then you’ll have to trust me that in 7 years I’ve identified some good things and some bad things in terms of getting better at the bike leg :-


1)      More becomes less relevant as you develop

2)      More becomes less when you’re too tired to do anything but some more of the same

3)      Do stuff that’s uncomfortable.  After a time you’ll probably be limited by strength more than aerobic fitness. (I now do more of this in a week than I used to do in a month.)

4)      Time Trials are a good way to get VERY uncomfortable. You don’t need to be Eddy Merckx to enter.  Cyclists bite even less than they choose to engage in polite conversation!

5)      Lack of ability has a cause.  Find it and remove it don’t use it as a justification to just do more

6)      Work out how fast you need to be and then make sure you’re moving towards it.  If not do something different.

7)      Get a bike fit.  I had one with no computers or measurements outside a couple of angles and a plumb bob and the difference in comfort was profound.

Be consistent at getting regularly uncomfortable to address your weakness which is probably weakness not ‘fitness’.  It takes more than consistency alone.

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