A trialling time
So, the Time Trial season is well and truly underway. As is the triathlon season, not that I would know much about that. I haven’t entered a single triathlon this year.
Well, that’s not quite true. I am entered as part of a team for the Team Relays in Nottingham on 24th August. I’m not sure that actually qualifies as a triathlon though! Or if it is, it’s one with the slowest transitions ever.
So having focused on the bike (with some mixed success: I got a new 25-mile PB on the infamous R25/3H course and set a couple of course PBs in the early season, but have struggled for form since) so far this year, I decided that it was time to do a little (and I mean a little!) running and swimming.
With the Team Relays consisting of a 500m swim, a 15km bike and 5km run, my approach to swim and run training has been pretty simple: Just focus on the distances! So a lot of speedwork in the pool and not to much endurance (although I did do a steady 1900m in under 31 minutes this week, way off my PB, but not the disaster I thought it might be) and mostly intervals and progressive runs (typically no more than 8-9km), with a few Saturday morning Parkruns thrown in.
Frankly, I’ll be happy (I’m never really ‘happy’ but it’s all relative) with a swim under eight minutes and a run under 20. With four weeks to go, it’s a big ask, but I might just be able to pull it off.
The return to the water and the donning of running shoes (in whatever limited capacity) is not without consequence for the cycling. I can now see why, as a full-time triathlete, I was never a threat to the real ‘testers’ on the time trial circuit. Introducing a few hours of swimming and running to my weekly training plan (I call it a ‘plan’; in reality I make it up as I go…. Never a good thing) has hit my cycling FTP quite hard.
By as much as 8-9%, if recent race performances are a reliable indicator. A bigger hit than I would have anticipated. Of course, the lack of a proper training plan (and indeed the lack of proper training!) might have something to do with the drop off in power as well.
One thing that has gone well is the switch from a standard Ultegra 52-tooth front chainring to a special 56-tooth version designed by Martyn Harris (of Raceware Components) for Drag2Zero. The move to the bigger chainring (as cool as it looks, especially in orange to match the bike!) isn’t so much about being able to push a bigger gear overall (I wish…) as it is about maintaining as straight a chain line as possible between the front chain ring and the rear cassette.
The theory being that if you only have something like a 52t chainring on the front, you’re more likely (assuming you’re riding at 42-50kph) to be in your 11, 12 or 13 cog on the back. This effectively twists the chain, adding friction that can rob of you of Watts. How many is open to debate, but 2-4 Watts seems a reasonably conservative estimate.
By swapping to a 56t chainring, for the same speed you should be more or less in the middle of the cassette, providing a significantly straighter chain line and saving those 2-4 Watts. The bigger front ring does also help stop you spinning out on descents, although of course you have to be prepared to muscle the climbs a little more (rather than swapping to a single-ring setup, I kept the existing second chainring and front mech – and to my surprise, they actually shift ok!). Oh, and did I mention it looks cool?
The ‘big boys’ will tell you that a 58t front ring is the way to go. But I know my power is not there yet, so 56t seemed a good compromise. And keeping the second ring has allowed me to spin back to HQ after a knackering ride (have NOT tried shifting under power, suspect it wouldn’t end well!).
Otherwise the bike remains unchanged from last season. So that’s not the cause of any drop in performance. No, that’s down to me and I’m the only one that can fix it. Probably too late to do anything meaningful this year, but I’ll keep plugging away.