Monday, May 30, 2011

Interested in Time Trialin'?

By: Rural Girl

I was asked to write a post on my recent time trials. I then asked myself how absolutely boring and mind-numbing could that be?! INSTEAD... as elementary as it may seem to some, I thought I'd write about the 'what's, how's and why's' of time trialing. Who knows, maybe I'll even convince a few of you to try it out for yourself!

For those new to cycling or triathlon, an organized time trial is a type of cycling race. Multiple riders are set loose, either in pairs or singly, and at varying time increments, such as every 15-30 seconds. A pre-set course is followed. All time trials are not of the same distance and terrain. The ones I have done are between 16 and 25 miles with substantial amounts of climbing versus slight rollers.

The rider basically goes as hard as he or she can for the duration of the ride. It's really very simple; no drafting, no pace line, none of that stuff that mucks us non-roadies up! I also think that is part of time trialing's charm. It does bring together triathletes and pure cyclists, bridging the gap between us. We're definitely more alike than different!

What I love the most about time trialing is that at most events any bike will do. If it's got wheels and moves under human power, it's a GO. However like at most events, where there are highly zealous, Type A-er's, the bling can be astounding! Zipp wheels and Powertaps are everywhere! Not too many Huffy's or 10" wide gel-foam saddles with springs underneath. But I love seeing them. You can tell a lot by a man and his bike.

Strategy is really quite minimal. If you're so inclined, it does pay to know the course. Usually they are not so long that a quick drive around the loop will not break the ever-growing gas bank! Where are the hills? What way is the wind blowing in relation to the course? How are the roads? Where are the corners? For me, less uncertainty is better. That way I can just put my head down and race. Having a decent warmup is KEY. I typically aim for a good 30 minute spin with several pick-ups thrown in to get the legs fired up. How this is accomplished is individual. I always bring my CycleOps trainer and set it up next to my van. The last major piece of strategy would seem simple and obvious but is probably the hardest to accomplish. Do Not Blow Up Over the First 15 Minutes! It's easy to do. Races are exciting. Goals are set high. Competition is there to be beaten. But the best piece of advice I have to give about time trialing is to hold back out of the gate. BUILD into the ride. Trust me, I've heard this countless times by my coaches and still mess it up! What I have realized though is that it's true. My better time trials have occurred when I've been conservative up front. This means I'm not spending the last 75% of the race trying to dig myself out of the lactate-filled hole I've dug for myself over the first 25%.

I must interrupt the flow of this for a moment and interject something. Ladies, if you've been reluctant to get into competitive cycling because it seems intimidating, this is the best way to get your toes wet. It's you against the clock. Not you against a pack of riders 2 feet next door with a feeling of impending doom with the ditch nearby. It's a great way to meet other women cyclists/triathletes, learn new things, and potentially get involved with a group or club. I cannot encourage women enough to get involved.

Back on track....What is a definite is that time trials are a great way to assess bike fitness. I like to do a few each spring because I get a feel for where I'm at on the bike. One would then ask, "well how do you know that?" Because hills, snow, sleet, hail, and wind all affect time and mph. Doing the same race the following year on the same course will most likely lead to a different result. But is it an improved result? It may be despite the fact that the overall time is slower. How do you know? Training with power. Power does not lie. Force times Distance divided by Time. All that matters is how hard your legs are cranking round the pedals. I will not go into a great big physics lesson or explanation as I am sure to fall short. I will time and time attest to the fact that training with power has got to be the best thing I do to improve my bike fitness. I admit, I'm a power junkie!

The bottom line is that time trials can be nasty. A lot like going for it in a 10K. However, just like everything else in this world, you get out of it what you put into it. That's one of my mantras. Burning pain in the quads. Snot running out of your nose. Exploding lungs. What's not to love?! As my coach would say, if you don't feel like your ready to puke at the end, you didn't go hard enough! Hmmmm. I've never done THAT. But, I just keep telling her that I have a very STRONG stomach. Ha! Whether you choose to aim for that goal or not, I do encourage everyone to look at time trials as a way to get more involved in the cycling community, assess bike fitness, and build bike fitness.

Let's go race!