When you go to the store to shop, which isle do you go down to get some “free speed”? That question about free speed is one of the most commonly asked one out there. You have a cool bike, you have fast wheels, you have a swoopy helmet, you have the latest tri gear apparel now why aren’t your race times just a little bit better.
I’m very well known for my aero knowledge about most things having to do with cycling, I have many, many hundreds of hours in various wind tunnels in both the U.S. and Europe, working on all levels of riders. I consult with many different manufactures of various products on the designs of new products and how they can be more efficient, I attend many races to watch Pro’s and Elite age groupers, looking for ways to help them break through time barriers to gain better performances. But what seems to be the best bang for the buck, the best return for the investment to help you get faster? Your first question to be answered, I think, needs to be about the “investment”. Is it the equipment? Is it the time to train? Is it the time away from your family? Is it your personal desire to achieve podium results? Or is it simply coming to grips with the level of intensity and pain or suffering necessary to be at the top?
There are many great articles about training techniques, about training schedules, about training with power or training by heart rates, these are all valuable lessons. There are also many great articles about nutrition, nutrition plans, nutrition goals, weight goals, weight vs power goals and I believe that proper nutrition tuning is one of the most unclear sciences that triathletes have to filter through. It is so individual, so dependent on race times, race day weather, race day desires that the odds of what works for a good friend or training partner working for you are not very good. In my view, just as you would go out and do hill repeats or track intervals, you need to do nutrition test at race pace intensity to make the best judgment of the results for yourself. Testing things like different tires is generally boring and inconsequential in your overall results, I believe those test are best left for magazine editors and you reap the benefit of their final answers without the investment of time or money. Much the same with aero wheels, the test results are generally well documented and published, “speed cost money”, is the age old saying and it still holds true. My opinion is that any 60 – 90mm deep wheel set is a lot faster than any 30 – 40mm deep wheel combination, so get the deepest that you can. This is much the same with aero helmets, any aero helmet is minutes faster than a standard road helmet, so don’t leave that speed on the table. Aero helmets are very individual and unless you have access to a wind tunnel to make the final judgment, get the helmet that fits your head the most comfortably. So your level of performance is front of the pack but consistency is elusive, or your performance is just a couple of spots away from the front and you can’t break through. We could see that you have all of the necessary equipment and you have always been a gifted athlete, speed has always come easy for you and you have built your life around a structured training regimen, so what is the next step?
I believe that the next step is comfort and that is what I would call “free speed”. You have to sit and be honest with yourself on this one, are you “comfortable” in the water, are you “comfortable” on the bike, and are you “comfortable” with your running? These are the hard questions that only you can answer. I regularly see that on race day, many great athletes that put in the hard miles can simply fall apart during the event. If your swim work is a little off then you are too tired to pedal the bike well those first 5 – 10k, causing a little doubt in your mind. Is your bike uncomfortable? Does the saddle hurt after a bit or can you suddenly just not bare to be down on the aero bars after 40 -50k? This really affects your run so you have to fix those issues. Do you have fast shoe laces for the run transition; is your race outfit comfortable, do you have good sunglasses? All of these things can detract from the race results and they are all pretty much “free” to fix. Looking honestly at your inner self is where Free Speed comes from, almost all elite athletes can go fast on a given day but to be a consistent front finisher, you can’t leave anything to be unanswered as far as comfort.