How to Train to Race Fast on a Fast Course February 02, 2021 11:46 Updated Follow Not signed in? Log into your Purple Patch account for full access to your education program for coaches and athletes. You need to sign in to view this page. Salivating at the prospect of a flat course that promotes a wonderful chance to record fast times and PRs? Many folks have felt your same excitement and anticipation, but been undone on race day due to a lack of proper preparation for the real demands of the event. Their dreams fall away as the promised fast run slides into a cramp-filled walk. Don’t worry, you can avoid the perils through proper preparation. Let’s provide you with do-not-miss features of your training preparation that will provide a much greater opportunity for success on race day. Let’s provide some context: Make no mistake, a flat bike and run course can provide very fast racing conditions, but these events are never as simple and easy as you might imagine. A flat course is a strength-based course, not a speed course. In longer-distance IRONMAN and Half-IRON distance races, the lack of terrain can become more of a challenge than many realize. Here is why: The lack of terrain leaves riders sitting for extended periods without required shifts in position and pedaling. The narrow range of power and cadence amplifies muscular fatigue. The flat terrain on the run creates muscular damage (particularly in the quads). Globally: you become over-dependent on a single set of muscle groups — creating prime conditions for early fatigue. Many riders are not equipped strength-wise to handle headwinds and tailwinds that often accompany flatter courses. So what’s the answer? Train to be ready for the conditions and challenges. Here is a simple hit-list of additions to your training program that will absolutely help. Training additions: Include plenty of strength-endurance (LOW RPM) work on the bike: There is no better antidote to the quad-busting flat terrain than higher-torque low cadence (low rpm) work. Strong intervals well above race pace (4-10 minutes in length) at 40, 50, 60 rpm are of high value. Here is an example session: MAIN: - 5 x 8 minutes at a very strong effort up a hill of 4-8% grade - In TT position if possible - Hold under 65 rpm - Descend between each interval with at least 5 minutes of recovery By including this training, you will also be equipped to push a bigger gear on race day, especially if you are met with headwind sections of the course Include some higher RPM intervals at or above race pace. Yes, cadence is important! Many situations in a race will find you getting pushed along for long stretches with a strong tailwind behind you. Power will be harder to come by in this situation, and shouldn’t be chased, but the natural and correct inclination will be to sit at a higher cadence when tailwinds come. For those who have failed to prepare, sitting for long periods at 90, 95 or even 100 rpm will create great distress and fatigue. Improve neurological conditioning by including intervals once a week (at the very least every other week) at the high end of the cadence range. Here is an example session: MAIN: - 4 x 15 min at Race Effort (if Half-IRON Distance, then easier than race effort) - ALL at 100-120 rpm in Time Trial position - 10 min smooth endurance between Commit to a strength-program: Don’t integrate strength and conditioning just to reduce the risk of injury, remember, it is a performance enhancer. A progressive and specific strength program will improve the time to fatigue of working muscles, and also strengthen the all-important auxiliary (supporting) muscles. This will enable you to hold posture and form under fatigue from a flatter course. Embrace variable terrain running: Maintaining posture and leg speed is going to be critical on race day, but the way to improve the chances of being able to execute is to improve the strength-based features of your run. Hill repetitions are high value, as is trail running (soft surface) with highly variable terrain. When guiding an athlete to prepare for a flat course, we add a bunch of variance. Crazy, eh? On the variable terrain runs, we focus on strong running up hill (maintaining posture and pushing off the big toe for posterior activation), then running light downhill, but with great foot speed. If you need to walk to retain posture and power on the uphill sections, it is not a failure at all, and highly encouraged. An example session: MAIN: - 90 min to 2 hours - Soft-surface trail run - Hills: Strong and sustained effort with walk breaks to maintain form - Downs: Foot speed, foot speed, foot speed! If you do not have access, then use a treadmill: MAIN: - 75 to 90 minutes - Include 4 Rounds: - 8 min at 4-5% strong - 4 min following each at 0% (or -3% if treadmill is capable) - 5 min smooth endurance at 1% between each Dial in the fit: A big mistake is for athletes to obsess so much about aerodynamics — it is fast after all! — that they end up with a bike position that is only sustainable for a few miles. You must balance aerodynamics and pure speed with a smart and sustainable position. This can make or break you. It is why we are partnered with IOG Bike Fit and Consulting, for both virtual and in-person consults, as their team is both pragmatic and serious experts in the optimization of all elements. Don’t invest all the money and effort to prepare for this race, to be undone by a terrible position, or one that looks good but is unsustainable. By adding these elements into your training and approach, you have a much better chance at nailing race day. Next up, PART TWO, where we dig into tips for execution on race day to make that flat course as fast as the website promises.