RunTri.com Racing Coverage | Exclusive Chicago Triathlon Coverage
You’ve been riding a bike since you were little more than a toddler. It’s easy. Once you got the hang of riding without training wheels, the only thing standing between you and finishing the bike portion of a triathlon was endurance, really.
And you’ve been training for months to build that endurance to complete the sprint (20k, 12.4 mile) or Olympic distance (40k, 24.8 mile) bike leg of the Chicago Triathlon. So you’re ready, right?
Maybe not. Sure, you probably can ride the course and finish in a reasonable time. But in my experience there are at least five mistakes that can make your bike ride tougher, slower and more unpleasant than necessary. The good news is they are mistakes that can be avoided. Here’s how.
Mistake #1: Starting too Fast
There’s a certain excitement the moment you hop on your bike to begin the cycling portion of the triathlon. The Chicago course starts with an uphill ramp of a few hundred yards that deposits riders on Lake Shore Drive. When you get to the crest at the bridge over the Chicago River, prepare to take advantage of the downhill to pick up some speed. But don’t let that speed trick you.
Mistake: Suddenly you’ll be at high speed, and others around you will be, too. It’s tempting to try to hammer right away, to maintain that speed, or at least to keep up with others. You’ll feel great, with energy to spare. Why not show how fast you can go?
Bad idea at the start. Others will give in to temptation and ride faster than they should as you all round the bend at Oak St. Beach barely a mile into the race. They might burn out early in the bike, and pay for it later on the ride, and certainly on the run. It happens all the time. Don’t try to keep up if it’s faster than you’re used to.
Solution: What you want is a balanced ride, one that leaves you nearly as strong at the end as you were from the start. People will be passing you over and over. Let them. Ride your own race, don’t try to beat others. Some of those who pass you will be walking while you are running. Race smart especially in the first miles. Ride at a level that you can sustain for the distance, and you’ll be better off for the whole race.
Mistake #2: Failure to Let the Course Work for You
The Chicago Triathlon bike course on Lake Shore Drive is simple, but also a little deceptive. Not quite flat, it features several overpasses that take you slightly uphill, then downhill. If you want to ride a little faster, you can use this course to your advantage without expending much extra energy.
The Mistake: Many riders reach these overpasses – mainly between Belmont and Lawrence — and glide down the other side. They see the downhill as a free ride, time to take a break, time to stop pedaling (and they may need that break if they made mistake #1). But when they do, they slow down and lose a valuable opportunity to let gravity do more to increase their speed.
The Solution: For you, the downhill can be a great opportunity to gain speed and time. The trick: once you get near the crest of the overpass, shift to a bigger (harder) gear, and get out of the saddle. Start riding downhill aggressively and quickly. Do not glide; instead pedal firmly and quickly.
With several overpasses in the race, you can gain some real speed and time with little extra effort. Gravity can give you the boost, your power can take you faster and farther with greater momentum.
Mistake #3: Inadequate Nutrition/Hydration
It’s possible to err on both sides when it comes to nutrition and hydration in a triathlon. Some consume too little, many consume too much. It’s important to find a balance, not only for the ride, but more importantly, to give your body what it needs for the run.
Mistake: Many people carry two or three water bottles on their bike, others don’t bring a thing. With nutrition, it’s hard to make sense about how much is needed, so some triathletes just bring more. Powerbars, Fig Newtons, I’ve even seen sandwiches. But others skip nutrition entirely.
Solution: I can make it this simple – carry one bottle on your bike, and carry 100 calories of nutrition for every 30 minutes you think you’ll be on the bike. You can get a fresh bottle at the Lawrence Ave turnarounds (every 6 or 12 miles). You won’t need more. For nutrition, the 100 calorie equation could mean half a powerbar or a GU or other 100 calorie gel every 30 minutes. Simple. You’ll be well hydrated with extra calories to help you finish the bike and run well after that.
Mistake #4: Poor Form
Poor pedaling form makes cycling, and completing the triathlon harder than it needs to be.
Mistake: We learn from an early age that you get a bike up to speed by pushing on the pedals – push, push, push. And most people at the Chicago Triathlon will still be employing that style. It makes you feel strong, a firm thrust downward translating to speed. But it puts extra stress on the legs and your energy reserves that will ultimately slow you down.
Solution: Lance Armstrong and all good cyclists, find extra speed by pedaling in circles. After pushing the pedal down, don’t stop there. Pull the pedal around using your hamstrings. Both legs working together generate more power and speed. And both legs are less tired in the end. That will help you run better when you get there.
Mistake #5: Riding Illegally
No one intends to ride illegally, especially in the Chicago Triathlon. The problem is so many riders and many people don’t know the rules, or how they apply to them. The most common rule I see broken is blocking.
Mistake: The road can be congested, and people cluster up, taking up the entire lane. The right side is to be reserved for passing. Problem is, everyone’s passing everyone else and someone is always blocking the passing lane, thinking they are the fastest one there. Not only is it unsportsmanlike, it can also get them penalized or disqualified.
Solution: Remember, there will always be a faster rider than you out there. Guaranteed. Pass the person in front of you (call out ‘passing on your right’, and thank them as you go by), and then pull out of the passing lane. Someone else will zoom past, and be grateful you didn’t block their path. It’s a fairer race that way.
Be the Solution
So there you have it. Some mistakes that may undoubtedly occur on race day. But you’re better than that. You’ll be implementing the solutions. And you’ll get to the finish line faster as a result.