Going fast hurts!

Going fast hurts!

No matter how slowly you swim…

There’s no getting away from it that what ever triathlon distance you choose the bike is the longest leg. Many triathletes include drills and technical sessions in their swimming and running training to develop muscle memory and ensure body position and movements are efficient and effective. We all want to go as fast as we can whilst minimising the chance of injury. One can do similar on the bike, but without one major component, our efforts may not produce the desired effect. That component is bike fit. I’m referring to a detailed bike fit – not just measuring the basic lengths, distances and angles. There are a number of widely used bike fitting systems – Retul, Body Geometry (Specialized system), GURU Fit System plus you can find many independent bike fitting specialists around the country using their own systems.

Why a I needed a bike fit

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been leant a time trial (TT) bike (thanks to one particularly fab friend) and apart from changing the saddle height I hadn’t changed the set up. In truth – I didn’t know where to start. Nothing hurt apart from the saddle as wasn’t girl-friendly.  The switch to a TT bike had knocked 90 seconds off my 10 mile TT time but as advancing years have cost me time-off injured, and on the physio’s plinth, I was concerned that repetitive movements, often under pressure, and the fact that one is “attached” to my bike by hands, bottom and feet, could result in injury if my position was wrong. Like most cyclists I also seem to suffer from the desire to go faster.  Cycleworks have a qualified Body Geometry fitter who could set me up and review the fit on my road bike which I’ve ridden for 2.5 years.

Working with what you’ve got

The Body Geometry method was fascinating. The fitter, Kieran Ali, started by asking about my riding experience, goals, problems and aspirations. The aim is to set the bike up to make the most of the rider’s attributes rather than get them into a particular riding position. Next he looked at what he had to work with – namely my body. He looked at my foot arches – at rest and standing, the distance between my sit bones, my flexibility – feet, back, shoulders and hamstrings, my natural foot movements and my full stretch. I happen to be very flexible so can touch the floor with my palms which is unusual. I’ve also got quite high arches and my thoracic spine curves out and lumbar spine curves in. Kieran explained that whilst flexibility allows one to have a more aggressive race position if you’re racing longer distances you’ll need to take on nutrition and hydration so if your body is in an aggressive position for a prolonged period it can interfere with digestion and result in vomiting. I’ve met athletes that race half and full ironman and always vomit on the run and assume it’s caused by racing in the heat or swallowing water in the swim.

Fitting the athlete to their bike

The next stage was to put my bike on the turbo, observe me warming up and photograph my position. This was followed by various measurements, adjustments made to saddle height and position, handlebar height, aero bar position and cleat position, then more measurements of angles. At each stage Kieran observed my movement whilst I pedalled at various efforts. Once everything was in the right position he shone a beam on the front of my legs, whilst pedalling, to see if my ankle, knees and hips were aligned. Both knees moved slightly inwards as my arches flexed under pressure. Insoles with some arch support were put into my shoes and hey presto no more inward movement of my knee. Finally I was asked to increase the effort on the turbo to check nothing felt wrong with my new position and Kieran was happy that everything looked as it should. He took some final photos which showed my position had changed substantially.

Rome wasn’t built in a day

There’s a lot involved in the Body Geometry fit so it took all afternoon to have a fit on the TT bike and re-fit on my road bike. Time well spent.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating The first ride on the TT bike (post fit) got me a QOM (Queen of the Mountain for anyone that’s not a Strava fan). Particularly pleasing as I wasn’t riding hard – just thinking about pedalling and how I felt in the new position. I’ve since had a few short Fartlek sessions (50 mins) where I’ve ridden at different intensities for different lengths of time up hill, down hill and on the flat. The new set up felt good, more powerful particularly when I wanted to accelerate quickly and I picked up a few more QOMs and PRs (personal records).

The icing on the cake On Sunday 5th October I competed in the Oulton Park sprint duathlon which had a 21.6km bike leg. I’d raced in the same event for the first time on a very cold and windy day in March when the bike leg took me 0:42:14 on my road bike. Knowing the switch to a TT bike saved me 0:01:30 over a 10 mile TT course I was aiming for a 0:02:30 – 0:03:30 improvement as there was very little wind, I was familiar with the course and felt more experienced having time trialled regularly during the summer. The bike leg went really well. I knew I was going pretty quickly and being more experienced found I automatically stood up on the slight inclines to keep my speed up (just like the very fast, young guys in their GBR age group kit!)  It all felt really good and I overtook lots of other riders.  Don’t think that feeling good is a pain-free experience! 10 mile time trials and the cycle leg of a sprint duathlon hurt like hell. It’s good pain – the sort you get from working really hard – not the saddle or position being uncomfortable. I was gobsmacked by my result – 0:36:03 for the bike leg. A whopping 0:06:11 improvement which I put down to bike fit, summer time trialling and knowing the course. Like many triathletes I love a bit of data so after running a quick sort on the results I was even more delighted to find I was the fastest female on the bike leg – by 45 seconds!

My top three tips to improve your bike speed

Too many triathletes (and cyclists) become obsessed by changing kit and components and their conversation is littered with facts about weight savings and speed improvements. Before you’re tempted by the promise of weigh and time savings consider:

  • investing in a good bike fit
  • following a training programme for the distance you’ll be racing remembering to include speed work
  • racing the distance you’ll be doing in a triathlon in each discipline eg 25 mile time trials for standard distance triathlon

Happy cycling! I’m off to work on my run speed.

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