Training and Racing the Aqua Bike

542 800 Patrick McCrann


Once upon a time the Aquabike was something no triathlete wanted to do. It was an opportunity that race directors gave athletes who became injured and still wanted to compete.

Over time, this small niche has grown to become a very competitive aspect of the triathlon world. There are many events across the country where you can compete with an Aquabike. There’s a growing number of athletes opting for these events to reduce the time or the cost of training. It even has its own long course championships!

To help our members, Endurance Nation is releasing our first ever digital Aquabike-specific training programs.

While these training plans are only available the people who are part of Endurance Nation (Become a Team Member), this article will show you how we structure the programs and how you may want to modify your training to be your best for your next race.

An Aquabike Overview

As context, our baseline Aquabike training plan was designed using the long course championship distances as a model. This means that the race distances are focused on the long course version of the race. The guidance in conversation here will evolve around training for a 3 km / 2-mile swim and a 120 km / 75-mile bike.

What Does No Running Mean?

Some athletes are simply not able to train and race the run. They may have a long or short term injury. There may be a bigger issue as to why running is not part of the program. Or perhaps they just don’t enjoy running and would much rather swim and bike.

Not having to run as a part of your multisport training program opens the opportunity to do more work in the water and on the bike.

One of the biggest friction points I have with my athletes is managing the run workouts in relation to the rest of their program. The run is the most costly of all three multisport disciplines and brings with it a high potential for overuse and injury.

Eliminating the run frees up more time to train and gives you a chance to do higher intensity work on the bike without compromising the swim.

Creating A Balanced Aquabike Training Plan

We set out to create a model that would allow athletes to train effectively across the course of their season and still be successful on race day. Endurance Nation’s philosophy demands you make the most of each workout. We call it our training Return On Investment.

These Aquabike training plans are no different. We want you to do the minimum training required that yields the maximum benefit. If I can get you faster with less work that means more recovery. The more recovery you have between those work sessions means the more work you can do overall and also the stronger you will be on race day.

Our Aqua bike training programs have three distinct phases.

The first phase of eight weeks is designed to be more of an orientation as you get used to the basic training week. This is the foundation of training from which you will build the rest of your year.

In the second phase we begin to work some additional intensity into your training program. This happens on the bike; from a swim perspective, you simply add in a fourth swim each week.  We shuffle the bike workouts so that you have two high quality intensity sessions vs the typical two endurance sessions.

In the third and final phase we get a little more race specific and transition back to the longer bike workouts on the weekend. These bikes are what will lead you into being ready for race day. These sessions are more focused on race pacing, positioning, and nutrition. It’s all about sharpening and getting ready for the rigors of race day.

All three phases are supported by benchmarking workouts that allow you to confirm your fitness. You can use those numbers to dial in the appropriate intensity of each training session. In this way, the Aquabike plans are no different than any other Endurance Nation training program.

A Little Bit More Rest!

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Aquabike programs also have at least one day off a week. This is because rest makes a big difference in your daily performance. After all, we can only do so much work in the time that we have.

More importantly, a rest day gives you the opportunity to move your workouts around to accommodate any scheduling challenges. As you go through the training program if you find you need more rest, we encourage you to take it. There’s nothing wrong with showing up to your next training session stronger and more prepared. 

An Aquabike Race Execution Strategy

Endurance Nation is renowned for its Four Keys of race execution. Over the past decade we have helped tens of thousands of athletes realize their endurance race potential using our system. The four keys still apply here to the Aquabike and if you’re interested, you can watch the full length DVD here:

To be a little more specific about the Aquabike training plans, we need to shift our strategy simply because there isn’t a run at the end of the day. Most of our guidance revolves around pacing the early parts of the swim and the bike such that you can realize your run potential at the end of the day. But without the run, you have a significant opportunity to increase the effort earlier on. That doesn’t mean you should go nuts, just that you have room to be a little more aggressive.

So what does more aggressive mean within the context of a well executed Aquabike? Actually, very little changes.

The Swim

We still insist that you swim only as fast as your ability to maintain your form. Proper swim technique is the key to becoming fast in the water. There is no amount of extra thrashing or kicking that will make you faster on the swim. The longer the swim, the more this becomes true.

You will do a great deal more swimming in the training leading up to your race than your normal triathlon. Ideally the swim will feel much easier than most of your longer swims have felt in your previous multisport race experience. So while the execution remains the same, you should have a greater degree of control and confidence in your pacing and placement on race day.

The Bike

Like its half- or full-iron distance cousin, the long course Aquabike demands patience. Failure to respect the full 70+ miles of the bike will have significant consequences by the end of your day.

In the traditional long course pacing model, we ask that you spend the first portion of your bike getting your heart rate down and riding at what we call JRA pace. This is a pace that all of us who are reading this article right now could ride together at. This pace is critical within the context of a traditional triathlon because we are conserving energy for the third and most important leg of the day.

As an Aquabike athlete that’s not one of our considerations, and as such, we don’t have to be as conservative at the start. Instead, you will break your race down into three distinct parts.

Bike Part One: The initial portion is the warm-up where you will transition from the swim to the bike and get settled in. This portion of the bike will last anywhere from 25% to 33% of your race distance. It’s still early in the day and you want to be smooth but not riding too hard. From an intensity perspective this would be approximately zone two effort.

Bike Part Two: The second portion of your race day, is the main part of the bike. At this time you’ll be riding more at Half Iron Intensity or Zone Three. This is where you begin to move into a more distinct race mentality and become slightly more aggressive. You are slowly ratcheting up the effort and intensity, watching your heart rate climb as you see the “tide” change and you begin passing others.

Bike Part Three: The third and final portion of the bike is where your race really happens. It’s at this time that you are free to fly pushing your intensity as hard as you can through to the finish line.

In many ways this is where you move from competing like a triathlete to riding much more like a bicycle racer. You’ll need to be more aggressive on the climbs and the descents, seeking speed wherever possible . Remember that the finish line is just a short jog or walk from where the bike ends and so you need to leave it all out there on the open road.

Micro Adjustments for Other Race Distances

If your Aquabike event happens to be shorter than the long course championships, you may shorten the initial transition period (Part One). Then you can extend with the body of your race (Part Two) at that zone three effort. We do not recommend that you extend the third and final segment of the bike until you’ve gained experience!

Aquabike Nutrition

Let’s not forget that nutrition is still a critical part of this day. By changing the intensity we are also changing the dynamic of how you eat and drink.

While the Ironman® distance is much more about a grazing mentality to fuel the run, this is only possible because the bike is completed at such a relatively easy intensity. As you begin to bike at a higher level of work, your aerobic system becomes more stressed and digestion becomes even more difficult.

Part One of your bike and those early easy miles are important for nutrition. Pushing the effort at the end of the day will make eating anything almost impossible.

This is another reason why doing race simulation workouts will help you to dial in your nutrition. These sessions will also give you confidence that you have the proper fueling strategy in place to be successful across the bike.

What Is A Successful Aqua Bike Race?

Inside Endurance Nation we have defined a successful triathlon as a not slowing down on the run after a solid bike. Within the Aquabike space a good race is defined as a good last hour on the bike with no dips or fading.

Intensity on the bike and the run are simply apples and oranges – there’s no way to compare. As you become more experienced at the Aqua bike distance, you will have a better understanding of just how hard that Upper Zone Three/Zone Four effort can be after a competitive swim.

How Can You Access Our Aquabike Training Program?

At the present time our Akamai training programs are only available to members. In order to access them you need to become a team member. This gives you time to explore the Team, connect with a Coach, get your season outlined and start training with your Aquabike plan. If you like it, you’re welcome to stay — we can train you through your race, through the winter and into your next season and beyond!

We wish you the best of luck with your training and racing and we hope to see you at the championships!

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