Kona ’15: The Lessons Part 3

The last two lessons were big overarching lessons that I think many may find useful. Here are a few more that may only apply depending on how and where you train.

Heat Training:

I did a great deal of preparation for Kona in my training room. I had the door shut, the window shut, a space heater, a humidifier, a towel filling the crack under the door, and an air purifier. For the most part I think this style of training is quite good, especially if you don’t live in a climate like Kona. When riding the bike, I had two moderate sized fans blowing on me. While running, I had the treadmill fan, and a moderate sized fan blowing on me. When I got to Kona, I actually found biking outside to be a lot easier than it had felt in my training room. I would attribute that to it being hotter in my training room than it was in the mornings in Kona, but also to the fact that full-body cooling while riding outdoors is much greater than a couple of fans can provide.

On the other hand, my running felt absolutely terrible. In my first long run in Kona, I was actually forced to stop and walk on several occasions. I averaged 4:11/km (6:43/mile) for a 28k run, and was going backwards fast. My average heart rate in this run was about 145BPM. To put that in perspective, here in Canada, I have done 3x5k all sub 16 minutes on 3 minutes recovery, each with average heart rates right in that neighbourhood. One mistake I made in my Kona heat prep was that I ran with a fan on. If you want to be successful in Kona, you need to forget about being cooled by the wind. It is only a very rare treat that you will experience wind out on the run course. In just about every single run I did there, I felt like I was burning alive. Even if I stopped to walk, because there was virtually no wind, my core temperature would barely come down. Once I started to run again, the perceived exertion was through the roof and I had the desire to walk. That being said, after about 3 weeks of training in those conditions, my heart rate came down significantly, and I was starting to be able to run decently well, at moderate heart rates.

The other thing I did not appreciate about Kona is just how powerful the sun is. In all honesty, I don’t think I have ever experienced sun so piercing in my entire life. I was training at temperatures hotter than Kona in my training room, but I was neglecting a force just as powerful: sun light. In the future, I think an area to improve upon would be to purchase a heat lamp, and place it beside / over top of my treadmill, at least for my long run and some key run workouts. Other than these factors, I think my heat training prepared me quite well, despite the conditions here in Canada being nothing like those in Kona.

Cadence Changes:

I do 95% of my biking indoors on the CompuTrainer. If you are not familiar with how the CompuTrainer works, it basically holds whatever level of resistance against the back tire that you tell it. If you tell it to hold 300w, it will hold that level of resistance against the tire, independent of your cadence. In other words, it is possible to do all of your biking at the exact same cadence, all the time. This is pretty close to what I have been doing. For a harder interval I might ramp my cadence up to 85RPM, and for long steady rides I will usually be somewhere between 78-82RPM, but that is about it for variation. That is all fine and dandy on a flat course, with very little changes in grade, but Kona has a lot of elevation change. As well, there almost always is wind, sometimes a head wind, other times a tail wind, which just adds to the cadence changes experienced due to the terrain.

I have close to ZERO experience riding at cadences over 90RPM, yet for a good portion of the bike in Kona, my cadence was well above 90RPM. Coming down from the turnaround at Hawi, my cadence was well over 100RPM! Like anything, if you don’t use it, you lose it. I think the massive shifts in cadence, as well as spending time at cadences I am not used to, only added to the stress that the bike ride had on my body. In the future, I will practice riding at different cadences, to better simulate the demands that will be met outdoors.

Aerodynamics and Bike Weight:

Before the race I made a conscious decision to wear a 2L Camelbak, as well as carry three 750mL bottles full of fluid. I wore the Camelbak very high up on my back, and I used all round bottles. I’ve since spoken to several professionals in the field of aerodynamics and they are certain there was a lot of “free time” given up here, just in terms of aerodynamics. The other side of the equation is weight. I was carrying an extra 9lbs for a great deal of the race. For the first 100k or so it is largely uphill. Compare that to someone only carrying one or maybe two bottles: That’s an extra 6lbs. That may not seem like much, but when you are going uphill, it all adds up. I have always been quite ignorant of aerodynamics and have not given it the attention it deserves. I am now of the belief that aerodynamics is actually very important if you want to perform well against the best guys, on the world stage. None of the guys with the fastest bike splits were leaving any “free watts” out there.

Another thing that I have been aware of, but due to my ignorance of the importance of aerodynamics I have been neglecting, is my tracking issue with my knees. When I pedal, my knees come out really wide at the top of my pedal stroke; as wide as or perhaps even wider than my shoulders. Many people have commented on this in the past, but I have always thought “what’s the big deal?” The fact of the matter is that it creates unnecessary drag. At 80RPM for 4 hours that is 19200 instances of unnecessary drag. Once again, this is another “free speed” opportunity. I have been biking in front of a mirror for nearly two weeks now, and my knees are already staying considerably closer to the frame than in the past.

There are many more lessons, but Kona is quite a ways behind us now. It’s time to move on. Next up for me is Ironman Arizona, where I hope to apply a few of these lessons.

Thanks for reading!


9 thoughts on “Kona ’15: The Lessons Part 3

  1. Hey Lionel, you should think about running a 55 or 56 tooth front chainring for the descents and tailwind in Kona. Cycling at low cadence is not a bad thing especially if you’re more efficient. Good luck at Arizona!

  2. One good way to work on knee tracking : tape a zip tie on your top tube perpendicular to the tube and such that each end brushes each knee on the top of the pedal stroke. Now you’ll have a tactile reminder to keep your knees in, works with eyes closed!!

  3. Awesome blog Lionel. Your insights and honesty is truly refreshing and I can surely say that there is tremendous value in sharing your lessons to others. Many thanks for that. Two comments I have are: A) Have you ever had a proper bike fit with a certified fitter? Also, getting some time in the wind tunnel would be a great investment. B) Any updates on the coaching front? Will you be working with someone full time in 2016?

  4. A good resource might include looking at the system of marginal gains espoused by Team Sky (in the professional peloton).

    In the same vein as team sky, my friends who love racing TTs constantly assess and tweak their bikes and body position looking for a free watt. It’s a common thread among the top TT artists in cycling.

    I look forward to seeing your continued refinement of aerodynamics, followed by some big wins!

    BTW, Freshii is just opening a cafe in my hood, I’ll check it out-

  5. I would definitely recommend a bike fit by someone who fits you from the cleat up. It is very possible that you might need some wedges and/or a spacer between your crank arm and pedal to help find your best pedal stroke. It might be as simple as keeping your knees in and getting used to that, but question why your knees are going out in the first place? If it is because of because of your bio-mechanics, then getting a new bike fit might make a major difference for you. You also want to be conscientious about making a change with your knees, especially if it feels like you are forcing it to happen. It could lead to an injury down the road.

    Love your blog and how you really open up to your fans. It is always nice to know that professionals have making of the same struggles that the normal folks do. Good luck at IMAZ.

  6. Hey Lionel, I am a big fan of Computrainers as well, especially as we head into a Canadian winter. One thing that works great for me is training with the “real course videos”. I use the IM Canada (Penticton) course for a lot of my workouts. I ride different sections of the course depending if I want to include climbing in my workout. This gives you real world cadence changes which are a big help. You can still do a 20 minute interval at 300 watts but you have to change gears with the terrain. Also, I have had great success cleaning up the top of my pedal stroke from using shorter cranks like Fernando suggested FYI. Have a great race tomorrow !!

  7. Awesome blog Lionel and great lessons from Kona! From my perspective, in a nutshell, you can

    1) improve your power even further, but given how high it already is, it may be difficult to increase much,
    2) improve your efficiency, which is where I think you have the most room for improvement.

    Regarding 1), doing more interval training and training less hours overall seems the right strategy.
    Regarding 2), the obvious areas of improvement are training with a swim coach and with a strong swim team, working on your aerodynamics on the bike. However, I would also mention

    a) Increasing your cadence on the bike. I think this is critical to have you drop some lower body weight and thus will help you both on the swim (better buoyancy and body position) and on the run.
    b) Seriously stretching and core training. This will help you prevent injury – you will certainly get injured at some point so minimizing the probability and the severity of such events is critical. Furthermore, this will help your swim and run through a stronger core and more flexible joints.

    Excited to see you race in 2016!

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