Bike Handling Skills for Ironman Hawaii [2]

Southern Ontario is not known for the heat and humidity found out on the Hawaiian Islands.  There is however one aspect of the Ironman World Championship bike course that we do experience here once in awhile, giving triathletes the opportunity to prepare specifically for Kona: Ontario gets on the special occasion an awesome windy day, or if really lucky, a few.

Late September this year saw a string of days that were ideal training for any bike course on which you can anticipate experiencing strong winds (e.g. Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon), here are a few gifs from Burlington:

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Click here for videos [vid1] [vid2] [vid3] from Spencer Smith Park showing the waves crashing over the retaining wall and onto the promenade.

How many triathletes took the opportunity, in the drizzle, in the rain, in the gusty conditions to head out and get in a bike session?  How many triathletes instead remained indoors, heading off to the gym or onto the trainer seeking pristine conditions.  With race day weather unpredictable, and rarely pristine like that of the indoors, getting training in ‘real’ conditions is a must for any athlete pursuing their potential.

Former cat1 competitive cyclist Bill Anderson of Brant Cycle shared with me how back in his day of training and competing, his coach would take every opportunity to send him and his training mates out into the worst weather imagineable.  Was there method or was it simply madness?

Bill shares that at the time, there didn’t seem to be any point of training in cold, windy, rainy conditions, but when it came to racing in similar conditions, because Bill had spent so much time in it, it didn’t matter to him at all that the crit course was slick, that open areas forced riders into echelons, that the wind required experience for the gusts and constant changes in direction to be handled. Being comfortable across all weather conditions allows athletes to focus on racing.  The difference is dramatic on race day as cyclists who hide each time the weather turns rough can’t translate training into racing, sometimes DNF, and whichever the case may be, end up leaving the finish line wide open for those who train across all conditions.

With Bill’s message clear in my mind, my son and I took those wind days as opportunities to train in conditions that we would have avoided in the past.  On one of the days, I headed out on my own to one specific street that amplifies the wind: Marine Drive in Bronte, Oakville.  I call it apartment alley as both sides of Marine Dr have 10+ storey buildings on either side for a few hundred meters. The impact of these buildings is that whenever the wind is from the east or the west, the buildings funnel the wind turning Marine Dr into a virtual wind tunnel. Click here for a Youtube video of the wind in apartment alley.

marine-drThe wind was so strong that holding 10kph on my mountain bike was a challenge, but it was a ton of fun trying to remain vertical, make some horizontal progress, while practicing holding an aero posture amongst the gusts.

Another great location for training into headwinds or with tailwinds is North Service Rd, running from Confederation Park along the QEW.  This road is part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and runs all the way to St Catharines, and onto Niagara Falls.  The road is flat, open, and again, with winds coming from the east or west there are great training opportunities for sustained head and tail winds especially in the Stoney Creek and Lincoln sections where the Trail doesn’t wind through residential areas.

Kona is known not only for headwinds and tailwinds, but also for severe cross winds.  My preferred training spot for cross winds is the beach path that starts at the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge and ends at Confederation Park in Hamilton.  The value of an unsheltered road from prevailing winds becomes clear when the wind is howling off the lake.  During those days in late September riding the beach path felt like I was riding at a 45 degree inclining.  After 5k the work that my core had to do to maintain balance and simultaneously pedal was definitely being felt.  Riding the 5k back felt like I was unwinding as the other side of my core got the workout. A side benefit to wet and windy days… no one is out on the beach path, so you can have whatever is your favorite bike path all to yourself.

When the weather turned unbelievably beautiful on Thanksgiving weekend, with blue skies, a beaming sun, and temperatures in the mid 20s, it made the memories of those wet windy rides all that much sweeter.  In addition to appreciating the warmth of the sun, those wet windy days helped me realize that riding in different conditions really adds a new dimension to cycling and made training all that much more fun. Who knew!

If your training is not growing your enjoyment of the sport, then you may want to consider that you are in a rut… perhaps a weather rut.  Try different conditions and you may all of a sudden realize that its not the sport but sometimes our mindset that limits our enjoyment, and also our progress.

Wet and windy don’t phase me as much as they once did, and now after braving conditions and temperatures I avoided in the past, my outdoor riding season has been extended by at least 2 months.  The outcome of a few days in the rain and wind is that all of a sudden my training volume for October is already double what it was last year and October isn’t half over.

Just in case you are wondering how windy it can get at Ironman World Championships, watch the shirt of the volunteer in yellow, the angle the athletes are having to hold, and the amount they veer gives an idea of how strong the Mumuku winds can blow:

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