The Triathlon Execution Magic of Riding Steady, Part 2: Training vs Racing

Steady wins the race!

In Part 1 we introduced you to the concept of “riding steady.” In Part 2 we discuss the application of this to your triathlon training and racing.

Steady: Racing vs Training

Now, our discussion of Steady in Part 1 is a style of riding the bike, just as drilling it up every hill and coasting down is a style. It’s a skill you learn (see below) and once you got it, you got it. We believe you can choose to ride like this, or not, in training, just as you can choose to ride to ear-shattering rock or mellow reggae, depending on your mood.

Racing: we want you to race as we’ve described in Part 1. Easy to understand why.

Training:

  • The Skill of Steady: yes, you need to spend some time developing the SKILL of how to ride Steady. we feel that much of this is riding Steady around people who are not and thereby gaining the confidence that this style of riding absolutely works. Once you have that confidence, then everything that everyone else does around you — the wrong thing — just makes you increasing more confident that you’re riding smart while they are not. But…
  • Maximizing the WORK: for training purposes, mo’ work done per minute of training time spent is mo’ betta’!! Personally, about 95% of our riding is very much not-steady — we have the skill, know how to use it, and can turn it on or off as we need to. But when we are training, we want to cram as much kj, TSS, IF, VI, cadence ranges, etc into every minute of our ride. Our effort is all over the place, always hard, all the time. For example, you can ride steady and average 240w, 260w Pnorm for a training ride or you can surge, drill yourself, keep the watts up on downhills and generally have FUN on the bike (very important) and average 240w but with a Pnorm of 280w. 280w > 240w = you’ve made myself more tired = that’s a good thing!! But…
  • As you get closer to your race you do need to put on the Steady Hat a bit more in training — relearning or practicing the skill, reaffirming your confidence in this technique, and adapting your body to long, sustained, constant efforts. The primary vehicle for this is your long rides and we prescribed steady-specific workouts in the last 8-12wks of our athletes’ training plans.

Learning the Skill of Riding Steady

All:

Ensure you have enough gears on your bike for the terrain you train and race on. Generally speaking, MUCH of the surginess of a given ride is often the result of not having enough gears. This drops you into low cadences you’re not used to/don’t like, so you spike the watts to push against this.

With Power:

Very simply — look at the dial and don’t surge! You have a monitor on your stem. That stem tells you what you’re doing. You should know what you’re supposed to do, ie, what watts you’re supposed to stick to. When you look at the dial and see stupid numbers…stop being stupid! Having enough gears on your bike to maintain a comfortable cadence across a range of terrain will certainly help you to not surge or spike your watts.

But the most important tool is just increased awareness. After years and years of riding with power, when we are trying to ride steady, our eyes just lock into the monitor on hills, downhills, head, tailwinds, standing, etc. The nets it that we NEVER put out watts that we don’t want to. Our goal is to make zero mistakes, to mistakenly toss out watts that we didn’t mean to.

Without Power

Pay attention to the pressure on the soles of your feet:

  • You’re riding on the flats a 90rpm, creating X pressure on the soles of your feet.
  • As the road starts to go up, focus on the pressure and shift up (to easier gears), to keep this cadence and pressure the same.
  • At the same time, watch the people around you, using them as a frame of reference. they will stomp on the gas and gap you — this is a good thing!
  • If the hill is steep enough and/or long enough, you’ll run out of gears. Just settle in and get up the hill, keeping yourself comfortable. Note that HR is not a great tool in this situation, as HR lags effort by about 90″ — if your HR rises from low Z2 to high Z3…that probably means you’ve been riding at a Z4-5 effort the whole time and your HR is only just now catching up.
  • Again, watch the people around them, specifically their body language. You’ll see them come off the gas and now the gap they opened up on you stabilizes or even comes back to you a bit.
  • As you near the crest of the hill, focus on your feet again. Keep the pressure the same by shifting up in the gears. You’re not going harder, you’re simply extending your climbing effort above across the crest and into the downhill. Stay on the gas until you get up to about 34mph…then get very aero and coast. As your speed bleeds off, just start pedaling again at your selected cadence and pedal-pressure.
  • Again…watch the people around you. You’ll either see them (1) come WAY off the gas and start coasting right away — their 27mph to your 35mph –, or (2) pedal weakly across the crest and keep pedaling on the downhill, even trying to accelerate beyond your 34mph. It’s very, very cool to pass someone pedaling like crazy while you’re aero, coasting, stretching, and recovering.

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4 comments
  • David
    REPLY

    Wind and hills. With power and the concept of flattening a course, they should be the same. However, I tend to be able to fatigue much less holding avg of watts X during a long steady ascent, let’s says a 45min ascent versus holding avg of watts X for 45min on a flat course into a strong headwind. In theory, those avg X watts over the 45min are the same in power terms. However, the perceived fatigue (physical and mental) is significantly greater going into the headwind. Any thoughts on why one may encounter such deviation in perceived effort under same avg watt riding under the circumstances described?

  • David
    REPLY

    Wind and hills. With power and the concept of flattening a course, they should be the same. However, I tend to be able to fatigue much less holding avg of watts X during a long steady ascent, let’s says a 45min ascent versus holding avg of watts X for 45min on a flat course into a strong headwind. In theory, those avg X watts over the 45min are the same in power terms. However, the perceived fatigue (physical and mental) is significantly greater going into the headwind. Any thoughts on why one may encounter such deviation in perceived effort under same avg watt riding under the circumstances described?

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    @David, very common observation re the relatively low RPE and higher watts of a climb vs on the flats and/or into a headwind. Personally, I think it’s related to joint angles, riding position, cadence, and mental disassociation(?). First, assuming that you’re sitting up on a climb vs remaining in the aerobars, this is generally a more powerful riding position (hands on the hoods, sitting up, etc) vs in the aerobars. You’re just able to put out more watts in this position vs the aerbars, so there’s that. Second, your cadence is generally lower on a climb vs on a flat / into a headwind and watts generally feel a little easier at lower cadence. Or rather, it’s mentally easier to keep the watts up with you’re doing so at a lower cadence vs at a higher cadence. I think it’s because the feeling of pushing hard on the pedals, and the associated constant muscle tension is easier to maintain, mentally? Finally, it’s just mentally easier to disassociate your head from the effort on the climb vs on a flat / headwind. I no that I can start a climb at high watts and high effort, kinda mental checkout and think about other stuff…then check back in and find that I’ve been holding the same high watts and effort without the “need” to have been focused on doing so the whole time. Not so on a flat or headwind. I often need to pay attention constantly to maintain the watts and effort I want to see.

    Anyway, just some observations from one guy 🙂

  • Rich Strauss
    REPLY

    @David, very common observation re the relatively low RPE and higher watts of a climb vs on the flats and/or into a headwind. Personally, I think it’s related to joint angles, riding position, cadence, and mental disassociation(?). First, assuming that you’re sitting up on a climb vs remaining in the aerobars, this is generally a more powerful riding position (hands on the hoods, sitting up, etc) vs in the aerobars. You’re just able to put out more watts in this position vs the aerbars, so there’s that. Second, your cadence is generally lower on a climb vs on a flat / into a headwind and watts generally feel a little easier at lower cadence. Or rather, it’s mentally easier to keep the watts up with you’re doing so at a lower cadence vs at a higher cadence. I think it’s because the feeling of pushing hard on the pedals, and the associated constant muscle tension is easier to maintain, mentally? Finally, it’s just mentally easier to disassociate your head from the effort on the climb vs on a flat / headwind. I no that I can start a climb at high watts and high effort, kinda mental checkout and think about other stuff…then check back in and find that I’ve been holding the same high watts and effort without the “need” to have been focused on doing so the whole time. Not so on a flat or headwind. I often need to pay attention constantly to maintain the watts and effort I want to see.

    Anyway, just some observations from one guy 🙂

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