Often times, the lifestyle and racing strategies of pro athletes are so far removed from us age group mortals that their advice is irrelevant to how we should train and compete. However, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned from IM USA Champion TJ Tollakson’s Training Peaks file.
If you’re not familiar with the course, it is a two loop course with a tiny little flat out and back in the middle. The main feature of the course is a wicked downhill from Lake Placid followed by a big climb back up to elevation. I had a chance to ride the course in the fall of 2008. As you can tell from the sweet rental bike, tech vest and performance khakis, it was a ride I took very serious.
What does this all mean? Start with heart rate. TJ’s heart rate climbed over time. There’s a number of causes of cardiac drift. Without information on the weather and other factors it is hard to guess. Regardless, despite, in his words, “going out a bit harder” in the beginning his intensity built over time throughout the race. He didn’t go blow out all his energy early.
Further, the difference in HR from ascent to descent was minimal. 4 beats per minute to be exact. Most cyclists newer to racing on hills tend to crush the uphills and dog the downhills using the descent as a chance to catch their breath and recovery. This is a big mistake. Remember that $4k you spent on the tri bike? The downhill is where you get your money back. But only if you are in aero pushing it. Pros know this and give it all they got on the downhills and flats.
Now take a look at the cadence of 83 and 84 on the climbs. That’s what most age group athletes average on the downs and flats. Keeping the relatively high cadence throughout the bike segment had to have helped TJ run a very consistent 6:20 pace for the first twenty miles otb.
In case you’re wondering – he knocked down 4 cans of Red Bull from wake up to finish line and chose a burger with cheese fries as his post-race recovery meal. Now that I can’t endorse.