Want to TT well?

Over the last couple years I’ve had plenty of people ask me how to TT well in a triathlon. Recently I’ve had a bunch of these requests and so I’m slapping this on the blog. Being able to execute the bike split well requires fitness, but similarly importantly it requires that you have practiced the specific skill of doing it. That means you need to have a decent idea of how fast you can be going to gauge your effort (let’s presume we’re not working with power).

Note that this isn’t a cycling program. It’s a component of a cycling program that you’d implement as a part of your training during the specific buildup to your race. Alongside it there would be perhaps some intervals or hill repeats and maybe some middle distance rides and some easy rides to the coffee shop and back.

This plan makes use of two workouts and only two workouts. It’s simple but at the same time, what we’re trying to do is in some sense pretty simple as well. We’re trying to ride our bikes as fast as we can. The workouts are as follows: “Ride your bike” and “Ride your bike faster”. If you spend a while executing the progression inherent in this plan it will be able to tell you how fast you should try to ride at your upcoming race.

Workout: Ride your bike

Endurance Focus

Total Time: Rough estimate of total bike and run duration of planned race plus 1 hour. (Longest race of your season)

Get on your bike.
Ride X hours, take breaks in the first half if necessary and at half-way. When you are riding your bike you should always be doing the same effort. Minimum standard deviation across the full ride is the goal.
No breaks allowed during final half. Ideally this includes no stoplights etc. Leave town during the first half and complete the duration of the ride when you get back to city limits. Then take it easy on the way back through town. If your technology is capable of it take splits so you know your average speed during different portions of the ride you’ll need it for the next workout.
Note how much of the ride you are able to complete in the aerobars. Do not exceed riding the same fraction during your race bike split. The fastest bike split is to ride 100% on the aerobars, thus, try to do this during training.
The entire ride should be at a pace at which you would slow down significantly if you stopped pedaling. The interpretation of this varies from person to person based on fitness. The emphasis is that you are pedaling your bike for this duration, not sitting on your bike and just riding it along the road. The goal is to develop race-duration endurance.
Completing this workout should be a confidence booster for your ability to complete the race.

    For a sprint distance, this ride should total around 2-2.5 hours.
    For an Olympic distance this ride should total around 3-4 hours.
    For a Half Ironman this ride should total 5.5-6.5 hours.
    For an Ironman this ride should total ~8-10 hours… more than this is likely not beneficial, you need to eat too differently during such a ride that it’s similarity to racing reduces effectiveness.

Workout: Ride your bike faster

Time Trial Specificity Focus

Total Time: Total bike-segment duration plus 1 hour. (Longest race of your season)

Get on your bike.
Ride until you are warmed up and have an uninterrupted stretch of highway ahead of you. (ie. ride out of the city)
Begin the workout by choosing one of the following methods (based on if your pace is likely going to be wonky due to wind)
Pace is based on that of the second half of a recent successful completion of “Ride your bike” where you didn’t fade off into oblivion. Target pace is 25% faster than that.

    endurance ride at 25 kph, interval pace: 32kph
    endurance ride at 28 kph, interval pace: 35kph
    endurance ride at 30 kph, interval pace: 38kph
    endurance ride at 32 kph, interval pace: 40kph

If it’s windy, note which gear you would be riding in for the workout “Ride your bike”, select a gear that is 3-4 teeth smaller in the back. (This means shift up 2-3 gears depending where you are on your cassette).
Ride at your normal cadence for “Ride your bike” or slightly lower. Ride on the aerobars for the full interval, you are allowed to sit up on breaks (best to do initial recovery following intervals in the aero position).
Interval duration: first time doing this try intervals of 20 minutes. If successful do future workouts at 30min (then maybe 40) duration. The duration of your rest between intervals should be equal to or more than approximately 25% the duration of the interval completed. This isn’t a rule, but it’s a guideline that is supported by exercise physiologists. Don’t be a slave to the clock, for example, if you’re approaching a stoplight don’t start your timer to start the next interval until you know you will make it through. Ride your recovery intervals at “Ride your bike” pace or slightly slower, this isn’t supposed to be 10+ minutes of just coasting along the road. Eat and drink, keep pedaling and psyche yourself up for the next one.
Completing this workout should be a confidence booster for your ability to pace the race appropriately.

    For a sprint distance, this ride should total around ~1.5 hours including 2 intervals (20 min intervals).
    For an Olympic distance this ride should total around ~2.5 hours including 2 intervals (20 or 30 min intervals).
    For a Half Ironman this ride should total ~4 hours including 2 or 3 intervals completed (30min intervals).
    For an Ironman this ride should total ~6 hours… more than this is likely not beneficial, it will reduce your intensity on the intervals too significantly. Ride includes 4 intervals completed (Perhaps mix of 30 40 and 60 min intervals). Suggestion: start at beginning of 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th hours.

Progression and estimating race pace

The fastest pace that you can manage on average without fading on the intervals in “Ride your bike faster” during your biggest volume weeks of training is likely a good target race pace (if done on similar terrain) once tapered, rested, and mentally prepared for your race. Think about this as a two stage qualification: you need to complete the workout “Ride your bike” without drafting someone and without doing an out and back with a tailwind on the second half and actually record your average speed for the second half… no exaggerating allowed. Then you need to calculate the goal pace for the workout “Ride your bike faster” and ride all of the intervals at this pace without a fade-off at the end. It could take a while to develop the strength to actually do this as fast as suggested, keep at it. Once successful, “Ride your bike” again, you’ll likely be faster and have a new target to work on for a “Ride your bike faster” workout. Targets for race pace should be based on what you have proven yourself to be capable of during a successful long interval workout not an extrapolation of 25% speed on some endurance ride which may or may not have been impacted by the weather.

Disclaimer: You are hereby deemed incapable of riding any pace you may interpret that these workouts to have suggested for you until you have proven yourself to be able to do it. If you blow yourself up on the bike leg of a race based on this, you probably screwed up the math, or interpreted it to mean something that it doesn’t suggest. This is a conservative estimate of pacing the bike leg and you are almost guaranteed to run well off the bike. Remember that you’re supposed to be basing this off of an execution of the “Ride your bike faster” workout where you evenly paced all of your intervals and did it amongst other training without specifically resting up to do it.

Note that the 25% speed increase between “Ride your bike” and the intervals in “Ride your bike faster” is something I found to work for myself to compare appropriate speeds for the two workouts. If you’ve been riding for a long time you can probably estimate the appropriate interval intensity just based on what the interval set’s duration is supposed to be, use that rather than simply my estimates of speed. Relative intensities on what you would call an endurance ride, HR zones, current fitness, history in the sport etc are going to impact this. Use these numbers (and all numbers) as a guide, if your body was designed to operate strictly with numbers it would have a built in speedometer.

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