Q: I’ve been riding for a few years and never seem to get faster. What can I do?
The work needed to go faster on the bike requires you to really stretch beyond your comfort level. Thankfully, we can train ourselves to adapt to the discomfort physically and mentally so that it becomes more tolerable.
Recruit fast-twitch fibers
Many triathletes spend a lot of time riding at a steady, low heart rate effort. While doing so has its place in a training plan, too many low-intensity rides will teach your body to go one speed. Instead, switch a midweek endurance ride for one interspersed with high-intensity intervals. This will allow your body to recruit fast-twitch fibers in the middle of a slow-twitch session. For example, include 4×2-mile efforts mid-ride at faster than race pace. Spin out for 3 to 5 minutes easy in between the hard efforts.
Measure your effort
Training with power is an effective way of learning to ride faster because it provides measurable, quantifiable data. Many athletes don’t know they can push substantially harder than they have been. A critical power test can yield your FTP (functional threshold power), which will establish effective training zones. The duration of intervals and rest will vary depending on goals.
Try a time trial
Triathletes rarely go all out on the bike because they have to save something for the run, but doing so in a time trial can build discomfort tolerance. Many local cycling clubs host regular informal time trials. Sign up for a few shorter ones within a single training block and find that gear you’ve been neglecting. Like a power test, a time trial will hurt, but it’ll make riding fast in a triathlon feel a lot easier.
Suzanne Zelazo is a coach with Team Atomica in Toronto.