Of the three triathlon disciplines, swimming is more likely than biking or running to be on the bottom rung of the training ladder, just tolerated rather than loved. If you’ve ever been to a race where they had to cancel the swim because of water temperature or rough seas, you’ll have seen that at least half of the competitors feel relieved. It’s not like they would have signed up for the duathlon in the first place, but they’re okay with their race being changed to a duathlon.
In fact, swimming is so not-fun for enough people that duathlons are a popular thing in their own right. These run-bike-run events are easy to find, often happening at the same time right alongside triathlons.
That’s not me. I love swimming and don’t love the bike. I like the bike well enough on race day. But I’m not into the outdoor training. I’ve got my reasons and I’m okay with them, as I articulated here. When I posted about my tortured relationship with the bike, I said I needed to reflect on my future as a triathlete. How can you really do triathlon if you avoid training sessions on the road bike?
Well, there are a few ways. As I see, I’ve got a few options (most of these are from Sam, who seems to have “solutions” to my “bike problem” percolating in the back of her mind fairly consistently):
1. Indoor bike training. I got into indoor bike training over the winter. That’s where you use your road or triathlon bike and put it on an indoor trainer. I did it with a group led mostly by Sam’s bike coach Chris, sometimes by Cheryl from Happy Is the New Healthy. Here you get the benefit of a coach and a group to keep you motivated. In the winter, I actually loved doing this. Training inside takes care of my first fear of cycling: the road. It also taught me to work hard on the bike, much harder than I’d ever worked before when riding on my own outside. And using heart rate zone taught me a few things about zone work that I hadn’t known before.
I also learned, when doing a few extra classes with an instructor and Ironman triathlete named Jody, that some triathletes do most, even all, of their bike training indoors and only ride outside on race day all the time. The reason is that you’ve got a controlled environment and can just work on developing power. No traffic lights, road delays, or compromised surfaces to deal with. You don’t need to worry about where you’re going, how to carry enough nutrition, or what the weather forecast is. Meredith Kessler, a multiple Ironman Champion, does almost all of her training inside, as does Ironman Champion Andy Potts. See more on this strategy here.
You can also do indoor bike training on your own. I’ve yet to try that even though I paid Sam’s coach to give me two further workouts a week through the winter that I was supposed to do on my own.
I replaced one of these with another type of class, led by my triathlon coach, Gabbi, on Computrainers. Again, you use your own bicycle but this time Gabbi supplied the trainers, which are fancy computerized do-dads hooked up to the computer. Your power output shows in watts (I think they’re watts) on a big screen at the front of the room, and the training program runs on that screen like a video game. Your job: to keep your power within the specified range. They are tough classes. A brutal test, taken periodically through the winter, helps to establish your baseline and also to track progress.
And finally, there are spin classes. I have access to excellent spin classes at the Y and there is a spin studio nearby where Cheryl teaches at least one class a week.
My thoughts on year-round indoor training: Trainer classes always end when the weather improves because the groups head outdoors. But spin classes go year round because lots of spinners aren’t really cyclists at all. I can’t imagine doing the trainer on my own, especially in the summer. But I can imagine doing the occasional spin class. Of course, occasional isn’t quite good enough. In order to really train on the bike such that performance improves, it’s necessary to commit to at least 3 bike workouts a week.
2. Train outside, but in very deserted areas. Sam does intervals once a week at an industrial park after hours. She says it’s a rare evening that she’ll see any cars at all, and even if she does, it’ll be one or two cars and that’s it. She’s extended an open invitation to me to do that with her. So far I haven’t taken her up on it.
3. Screw the training and just go out and have fun. This is kind of where I’m at this year for Kincardine.
My thoughts on the “no-training” approach: It’s one thing to go into Kincardine untrained on the bike, with it’s not-so-challenging 12K bike leg. But an Olympic distance 40K on the bike is another thing altogether. 40K is far for me, and to follow that with a 10K run is work. Not only that, the slower my bike leg, the later my run leg. When I did Bracebridge last summer, I ran 10K in the heat of the day, right through the noon hour. That made it brutal. If I’m going to do that distance, I need to do more than nothing.
4. Suck it up and get my butt out on the road despite my fear. There are all sorts of risks associated with everyday life, so why single out the bike as particularly dangerous? I could just force myself out there and do it anyway. I did that last year and I made it through the season.
My thoughts on “suck it up”: The thing is, it’s a phobia, and so is resistant to reason. But also, there is a difference, to me, between risk and necessary risk. Biking on rural roads doesn’t have to be a part of my life. It’s supposed to be a leisure activity that I do for fun. I know people do risky things for fun: sky-diving, motorbiking, rock climbing. Go for it. I get to choose where I want to put myself in harm’s way. And I hate that feeling in my stomach when I’m getting ready to go out on the bike, forcing myself out the door. It just doesn’t feel worth it to me.
5. Give up triathlon. This is the saddest option. I do love race day. Multi-sport is fun and challenging. There are other things to try, like aquathon (swim-run), but those are few and far between where I live. I know of one aquathon this summer and I can’t make it.
My thoughts on giving up triathlon: Like I said, it makes me kind of sad to think about giving up completely. I’m not scared on the bike on race day (even if it’s not my favourite part of the day) because the course is safer on race day than on any other day with regular traffic, or at least it feels that way to me. But I’ve not totally ruled out this option. And when Kincardine is over, the fact is, I’m giving up on triathlon at least for this year. Then, when winter comes, I’ll hit the indoor trainer again and see where that takes me by next spring.
I don’t know anyone else who loves triathlon but hates the bike. As I said at the beginning, the more common combo is loving triathlon and just tolerating the swim. If you’ve had experience as a triathlete with unequal feelings about the different disciplines, please share about that in the comments. Most especially, I’d love to hear how you overcame (or if you overcame) your feelings about that one part of the race that you hated (or didn’t love as much as the others).