How to improve your cycling in a triathlon – Q & A for Hersports Magazine

As published in Hersports Magazine, some questions answered on improving cycling, short training races and training camps…..

I want to get faster in the cycling leg of my triathlons. I have a sprint coming up in a month. How can I get fast, quick?

The first rule of endurance training is that you must be patient. It takes time to experience real gains in fitness. Don’t expect to achieve your best bike performance in only one month. That said, by emphasizing cycling in your training schedule you should be able to shave off some time in your upcoming triathlon. How much depends on your current level of fitness.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t try to make fitness improvements in the last 10 days before a race; this time is reserved for tapering to maintain your conditioning and conserve energy for the event. With your race a month away, that leaves you about three weeks to work on increasing your bike speed.

Your current training plan most likely includes three to four days a week of running. To focus on your cycling, I suggest doing more bike workouts per week at the expense of one or two of the run sessions. You’ll find that increased fitness on the bike translates to a stronger run without extra run training.

For example, if you run two speed sessions a week, swap one out for a bike speed workout. Or instead of a long run, do a brick session comprised of a long bike ride and a run that’s 50 to 75 percent of the scheduled distance. Also, you could turn a swim-only day into a swim/bike brick.
However you work in more bike training, don’t sacrifice rest days. More training will not equate to better cycling if you don’t give yourself enough time to recover. Planning recovery is as important as planning the training.

During your bike workouts, focus on pedaling efficiently, increasing your cadence, riding more at race pace, and improving your form so you’re more aerodynamic. Some good speed-building workouts are pedaling drills. For example, after at least a 10-minute warm-up in a very easy gear, pedal at a cadence of more than 100 rpms or as fast as you can manage for one minute, then recover for one minute at a slower, more comfortable cadence.

Perform three to five sets. Concentrate on maintaining a quiet upper body and a smooth pedal stroke (think creating "circles" instead of pushing down into "Vs"). Finish this workout with some 30-second intervals of single-leg pedaling.

Cycling fitness increases with mileage and experience. Considering you have a relatively short time to prepare, keep your expectations reasonable. For the next event, plan enough time to achieve peak performance.


I’m training for a half Ironman coming up in six months. Should I schedule some shorter races (sprints, Olympic-distance, 5Ks or 10Ks) before then?

Incorporating other races into your training schedule not only allows you to practice racing and measure your progress, it also breaks up the monotony. The goal is to build as much confidence for the big event as you can and create a plan to ensure the day is as successful, and enjoyable, as possible.

I like to add 5Ks and 10Ks early in my preparation for the summer racing season. I usually work on building volume January to March and run footraces to make some of my weekend runs more interesting and to hone my form. As I get closer to race season, I switch to triathlons to focus more on race-pace efforts.

Likewise, I suggest you run some 5Ks and 10Ks during the "base" phase of your training cycle, the first one to three months when you’re focused on building mileage and overall conditioning. They’ll help you gauge your progress, adapt to race-intensity effort and gain confidence.

In roughly the fourth and fifth months when you work on developing race-specific fitness and skills, add a few sprint and/or Olympic-distance triathlons to your schedule. In sprints, work on shortening your transition times and building speed overall. Olympic-distance races will give you a chance to test your nutrition plan, work out the bugs in your equipment, and perfect your pacing strategy. In the final month before your race, you may want to include one or two 5Ks or 10Ks or a sprint tri, but nothing longer. At this time you need to concentrate on tapering and saving energy for your half Ironman.

How often you race will depend on your individual conditioning and experience. Some feel they get better results by "racing into shape." But as a rule, give yourself at least two weeks between races. Too much racing can leave you tired physically and mentally. It’s better to be hungry for your big race, than burned out and dreading it.


I’m thinking of going to a triathlon training camp. What are they like and what will I learn?

Training camps educate and motivate, and they’re also just plain fun. They’re short (usually two to three days) and intensive training sessions that provide valuable opportunities to help you improve as an athlete, learn more about training, get one-on-one time with some of the best coaches and biggest stars in the sport, and meet new friends from across the country who are as enthusiastic about racing as you are.

In addition to the running, biking and swimming (usually in open water) you’ll do at camp, most offer form evaluation — some with video analysis — and individual consultation with a coach. They’ll also include presentations on a range of topics such as race-day strategy, mental training, transition tips, healthy nutrition, strength training and the latest gear.

There are a lot of camps available, so let your individual goals and preferences guide you. For women-only triathlon camps check out and USA Triathlon also offers multi-day training camps, usually at Olympic Training Centers around the country (see "clinics" heading on If you want star power, try a cycling based camp hosted by Saris and Floyd Landis in Temecula in January.

Other alternatives are event-specific mini-camps. They’re usually held a few weeks before the race on-site so you can train on the actual route. Most large Olympic-distance races (check the race’s Web site) and Ironmans (see will have them. For off-road tri training, at each stop of the Xterra Championships tour, pro athletes host free clinics offering tips on transitions, equipment set-up, race-day nutrition and more (

Professional triathlete Melanie McQuaid was Xterra World Champion in 2003, 2005 and 2006. She makes her home in Victoria, British Columbia. Learn more at

Her Sports is the only magazine for women who regard sports as a way of life. To subscribe to the e-newsletter, the magazine or to learn more, visit


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