Sean McFarlane takes us through the second part of the Ben Nevis Braveheart triathlon training plan…
So you’ve signed up for (or are going to) this epic challenge as sponsored by this magazine, with its run up and down Britain’s highest mountain. You may be worried about how to prepare and what you’ll encounter, well fear not as we continue our recce and training plan.
The bike leg is a straightforward out and back loop. Fort William at 9:30am on a Saturday morning in October is usually pretty quiet, but the first section does head out through the North West side of the town. In order to best deal with any traffic and some traffic lights at the start of the bike course, the organisers have a created a “time out” section which is important to bear in mind and will work as follows: as you leave transition, your race time will stop and won’t start again until you reach the BP garage on the outskirts of town 3.25km from transition. At this point your race time will be reactivated. When you return to this point, there is a distillery opposite the BP garage and here once again your race time will be stopped, with your remaining journey to transition being a time out. Your race time will be reactivated once you enter transition. This ensures a safe start and end to the bike course. I would advise however against a very leisurely spin out to the BP garage. It’s important to start your race systems and I also suspect you’ll need to warm up. On top of that, although it is a time out section you do have a limit of 10 minutes to get to the garage from transition and the same applies when you return. Once you reach Spean Bridge after 17km you will be directed right along the A96. You continue on that road passing by the shores of Loch Laggan on your right with the magnificent Creag Meagaidh mountain looking on approvingly to your left. As the Cairngorms come into view to the front and you reach the head of the loch, you’ll eventually reach a car park on your left hand side where you will turn and return to transition along the same route. The road surfaces are good, and as the course gradually climbs on the way out remember that the prevailing wind here is usually (though not always) from the west.
More info: bennevisbraveheart.co.uk/bike.html
Plan bike and kit choice, nutrition and race planning
Before you even start to turn the pedals, you should have already made some key decisions, which will have a crucial effect on your race. You’ll have carefully considered your choice of bike and set up (see later). Kit choice is also vital; the outward leg gradually gains height so you should warm up relatively quickly, but do pay attention to the weather conditions and prepare accordingly. There’s no chance to come back to transition during the bike leg so be sure to take everything you need.
It may be a cliché but you do, more than ever, have to race your own race here. This bike leg is all about getting round as quickly as possible whilst at the same time ensuring you return to transition as ready as you can be for a half marathon up and down Britain’s highest mountain. Resist the temptation to hammer past the lines of bikers clearly visible ahead. But at the same time don’t be afraid to push on if you feel you can do so without significantly compromising your running ability. Of course it’s a very difficult balance to get right and one that is at the core of the triathlon challenge.
Then there’s nutrition which is an essential factor that mustn’t be overlooked, but often is. The bike represents the best opportunity in the race to safely take on the nutrition you need, so use it to do just that. Three fundamental tips here: firstly confirm exactly where the aid stations are and what is at them, there’s no point carrying more than you need; secondly make sure you have tested and are happy with your nutrition in advance of race day; and thirdly check you can safely carry all that you need and access it whilst riding.
Use the last few kilometres of the bike to begin to spin the legs more and start to think about the run. Check how your nutrition feels and if necessary top up with liquid but resist the temptation to do any last minute gorging. Your stomach won’t thank for you for that as you start the run. Let the fun commence…!
More info, and how to enter: bennevisbravheart.co.uk
With the huge increase in both road biking and triathlons it’s a safe bet that most of us have recently had to consider what to think about when it comes to choosing a bike. Nowadays it no longer seems to be a choice of just one bike and with the rise of the “extreme” triathlons, an interesting debate has ensued, namely speed versus comfort. But can you have both? Most of us, if we have sufficient funds, will opt for or at the very least be very tempted by a time trial bike. We see pictures of super triathletes in Kona and footage of Sir Brad and think “Yup, that’ll do me”. But, as always, choosing the kit of professional athletes in an attempt to emulate them is never that simple and, in the case of time trial bikes, can lead to all sorts of complications.
I’m regularly amazed at the number of people who turn up to triathlons with fancy time trial bikes and tell me they’ve “test ridden” them for an hour or so the week before. They then race, finish the bike leg in serious discomfort and as a result are able to do little more than crawl around the run. The problem of discomfort during the bike leg leading to a poor run is a particular problem in longer races such as half or full Ironman triathlons. It’s even more of an issue in the new extreme triathlons where the runs are off road and involve a mountain or two. I’ve made this very mistake myself and on more than one occasion. Where the run is lengthy and over difficult ground, the last thing you want to do is come off the bike in discomfort. Perhaps you can battle through a 5km run but try doing that over a marathon with mountains and you’re in for a whole world of trouble.
Faced with a choice of comfort over speed during the bike leg of an extreme triathlon, I’d always go for comfort. For two straightforward reasons: firstly if you are comfortable you’re far more likely to bike faster as you will be able to sustain more effort for longer; secondly you’ll give yourself a much better chance of running well over challenging terrain.
So what’s the answer? Simple: an aero road bike with tri bars. Last year’s Celtman winner did just that, smashing the course record by over twenty minutes in the process. He had the fastest bike split of the day with the second fastest split also going to a competitor with the same set up. Aero road bikes have evolved significantly over recent years. There’s also a range of tri bars available with a wide selection of positions to choose from so spend time considering the options here as well. It all means that you can get yourself a very fast and comfortable set up for triathlons whilst also having a road bike for general riding. Aero bikes tend to be slightly heavier than “normal” road bikes but what you lose in weight you more than gain in cutting through wind resistance.
You do have to carefully consider the course involved; with the aero bike and tri bars set up being far more suited to relatively hilly bike legs, offering as it does a better range of positions more suited to climbing and descending. If you are used to time trialling I would be more reluctant to make a change, but at least experiment if at all possible.
With whatever bike you choose to use, getting a professional bike fit is well worth it. Like so many things that are worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. So avoid at all costs doing it half-heartedly and just getting a few measurements; that’s guaranteed to cause you more harm than good. Trust me, I’ve done just that and paid the price. Instead take the time and spend the (relatively small amount of) money to get it done thoroughly. Do this much sooner rather than later as any changes need time to bed in. Be prepared to make changes gradually and don’t be put off by initial discomfort.
Pay particular attention to your saddle. So many of us cite this as being one of the main areas of discomfort so make sure you take time and advice on this. Saddle fitting is now available and helps enormously as do the many creams and lubricants available. The other issue here can be race shorts. Many of us train in bibs which typically have more padding than race shorts so make sure you’ve practised and are happy with your race shorts.
Want to see the course with a guided tour of what to expect? Sean McFarlane gives us his recce on our YouTube channel. Here’s the video:
Braveheart training plan 2
Remember that this plan represents the best-case scenario and, as we all know, life can get in the way of proper training. Don’t panic at all if you miss anything, but do try to take advantage of our long summer evenings and get out when you can.
WORDS: Sean McFarlane PICTURES: Andy McCandlish
Catch up on part one of the Ben Nevis Braveheart triathlon training plan here.