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Cycling Tips for Triathletes

By Marni Sumbal

There is something impressive about someone who can individual swim, bike and run fast, but that doesn't matter much with endurance triathlon training/racing. Sure, it can impact your fitness but you have to know how to put the pieces together and that is what triathlon training is all about. Creating new limits but knowing how to stay within them.

cyclingI take training very seriously, especially at the ultra/Ironman distance, as there is a lot to learn within the journey. Many athletes get so caught up in the miles and fearing the distance, but I believe that we must not rush the journey and recognize how important it is to focus on the key workouts that make up great race day performances.

A recent workout session done by my husband Karel and myself showed us that like many athletes, you have to respect your own fitness level when training for an endurance event. I love training with Karel but with four weeks ‘til race day, the training is very specific to both of our bodies. We can continue to share this journey together but at different paces, intensities and volume.

So as I was collecting my thoughts after the tough training session, I couldn't help but think about the progress I have made on my bike, and I thought I'd share some of my top tips for becoming a better, smarter and stronger cyclist. Having been coached by Karel on the bike since we met in 2006 and Karel riding a bike all his life, I have learned a lot about cycling and how to properly ride/train on a bike, as well as how to be more comfortable on the bike, since cycling was very new to me when I started tris and I was very scared on the bike.

Most importantly, you can always get better as a cyclist so don't ever give up.

Train with a power meter.

Learn how to change your gears appropriately and how to adjust gears before stopping. This includes how to anticipate changing terrain and adjusting gears appropriately.

Learn how to switch from big/small ring while drafting.

Be sure your bike is set-up with a hydration system that is easy to access (ex. rear bottle cages) and that all bottles are secure. Plus, learn what your nutrition needs are for each individual workout.

Learn how to become "one" with your bike.

Learn how to brake properly, especially before stopping or if slowing down in a group.

Relax on the bike.

Maintain good position of your seat bone on the saddle.

Learn how to pedal smoothly.

Learn how to climb based on your size/height (I generally climb in my small chain ring and standing).

Don't be afraid to ride with others but be sure you are not taking your time away from your own specific training.

Don't ride scared.

Learn how to change a flat tire.

Learn how to anticipate other objects around you, possibly getting in your way (react quickly but smart).

Learn how to embrace the pain to get stronger (good pain, not injury pain).

Just ride your bike for fun — get more comfortable on your bike in all types of conditions (be smart).

Practice scenarios similar to race day. Set up your bike, wear clothing, wear HR monitor, stuff jersey pockets, etc., similar to race day to get use to what "it" feels like.

Be sure to have a bike that fits you — don't buy a bike and then try to fit it.

Trust your mechanic (or be married to him/her :)) and be sure he/she understands your individual needs and goals. 

For most triathletes, there is no reason to be "aero" on the bike with a flat back. Avoid an aggressive/aero position on the bike and get a Retul fit by a fitter who is qualified to fit you with the Retul system.

Know how to dress appropriately on the bike and invest in comfortable shoes and helmet. 

Use your gadgets appropriately. Use a bike computer, separate from a running Garmin so you can fix it to your bike and not on your wrist. Rather than being stuck on speed, consider lap times every 10-20-30 minutes so you can better pace yourself.

Create sets that will allow you to progress with fitness and remember that athletes will peak at different times. 

Do not get frustrated on the bike as cycling is one of the best activities that you can do for a lifetime (like swimming) that is easy on the body.

Ride safe, wear a Road ID and have fun!

Marni Sumbal, MS, RD, LD/N works as a Clinical Dietitian at Baptist Medical Center Beaches, and is the owner of Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition, LLC, providing one-on-one consulting in the Jacksonville, Fla., area. Marni is a Registered Dietitian, holding a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, and is a Certified Sports Nutritionist (CISSN). As an elite endurance athlete, she is also a USA Triathlon Level I Coach and a 5x Ironman finisher. Marni is a 110% Play Harder, Brooks ID, Hammer Nutrition and Oakley Women brand ambassador. She enjoys public speaking and writing, and she has several published articles in Fitness Magazine, Bicycling Magazine, The Florida Times-Union Shorelines, Lava Magazine, Hammer Endurance News, CosmoGirl magazine and Triathlete Magazine, and contributes to and Ironman online in addition to USA Triathlon.

To contact Marni, email, visit her blog or her website