Ask The Coach – How Far Should I Ride?
“If you are training for Olympic distance what’s the furthest / longest you should go for your long ride before it becomes diminishing returns?” -Mathew W.
The standard Olympic distance triathlon is 40 kilometers in length or around 25 miles. And because the bike is typically your “longest” leg of a triathlon (you spend more time on the bike than you do in the water or running) being as strong or fit as you can on the bike is of substantial benefit.
But as Mathew is asking, is there a point where being able to ride for longer just doesn’t add additional benefit?
Please keep in mind when reading the response below that everyone is different. Your training plan will vary from the person on the bike next to you based on your athletic background, current fitness, and time available to train (and recover.)
One key thing to consider is how long you expect to be on the bike during your race. I am a “time” coach, meaning I prefer to prescribe workouts based on time rather than distance. One guideline rule of thumb is that if you can comfortably complete (not at race pace) one and a half times your bike duration (or distance), you will be OK..
If you are competing in longer races, such as the half-ironman or full ironman, this “overdistance” can apply (some coaches utilize significant overdistance), but more often the longest ride is closer to the race distance. The goal is to make sure you are comfortable at that distance/duration.
Let’s just say you are pretty sure you can complete the 40km bike leg in 90 minutes. If you build your rides so up to 2 hours and 15 minutes, you should have no issues getting through race distance. Converted to distance, if you can handle a 35-40 mile ride, you should be good. And it’s not a bad idea to do this distance a few times in your training. The less fatigued you get on the bike, you will likely have a much better run off the bike.
There is some window to your longest, as there are a lot of other factors regarding your training. If you can afford a little bit longer sessions on the bike, take advantage of it. That said, most age groupers only training only for an Olympic distance race probably don’t need to be out for more than about three hours.
Olympic distance races are “fast,” and therefore training has a substantial amount of intensity, which can be hard on the body. Don’t let more “extra” time in the saddle interfere with your recovery.
One more tip – on some of your long rides, make sure you are doing some race-pace interval work. This is so that you can confirm that it’s a viable pace for you and that your nutrition and hydration plans work at that effort. Sometimes the fuel sources that work for a 2.5 hour ride don’t quite sit as well when you put the hammer down.
If you have a question for Coach Nicole, submit it here.