Opening up the professional cycling and sports world.


The Transition to Triathlon

If you’re a cyclist - have you thought about making the switch to triathlon? I hear you already - Nope, no, uh uh, nada, no way, not happening, don’t care. But what if I told you wouldn’t make a successful transition anyway. Would you believe me?

On this episode we’re trying to understand the difficulty of transitioning from cycling to ironman triathlon. We’’ll take a look at some former pro-cyclists turning to Ironman and how they fare. We’ll also get behind the reasons why almost all cyclists struggle to get results in Ironman and if you’re going to make the jump - how you can increase your chances of success.


Damian: If you’re a cyclist - have you thought about making the switch to triathlon? I hear you already - Nope, no, uh uh, nada, no way, not happening, don’t care.But what if I told you wouldn’t make a successful transition anyway. Would you believe me?I mean there has only ever been one cyclist who has done well at Ironman level, or the Nautilus Triathlon as it was called back then when John Howard an established cyclist with 4 US National Road Cycling championships and 2 summer Olympics to his name - before he took up the challenge of Ironman triathlon.Coming in third in the 1980 edition in Oahu, Hawaii, it was a predictable result and a trend we will explore in this episode - John crushed the ride with a time of 4:18 (35 minutes faster than the winner) but his swim of 1:51 he was dead last out of the water and a full hour behind the winner, and his run was 4:13, 43 minutes slower than the winner. That’s not the entire story, though, as John changed his training and returned the next year. We’ll find out his results later on in the show.INSIDE Indent StartOn this episode we’re trying to understand the difficulty of transitioning from cycling to ironman triathlon. We’’ll take a look at some former pro-cyclists turning to Ironman and how they fare. We’ll also get behind the reasons why almost all cyclists struggle to get results in Ironman and if you’re going to make the jump - how you can increase your chances of success.INSIDE Indent EndMusicDamian: Imagine coming out of the swim in last place, even knowing you could ride better than everybody else.This was the position John Howard was in in 1980...and as I mentioned in the intro he went on the finish third that year. Not bad considering another soon to be endurance sport legend, Ned Overend in his pre-cycling days was also in that race and despite his running background (Overend had run a 2:28 marathon before this race), the swim and the bike in the Ironman turned Overend "from a runner to a walker" and he finish last in 23rd spot.John didn’t take this defeat lightly, though, and went about training for the following year which also happened to be the first time Ironman was run on the big island of Kona. By the time race day rolled around - he was ready.Clip: 1981 Ironman Part 1Damian: The 1980 winner’s time in the swim was 51 minutes,The swim is where it can all fall apart and you wouldn’t be wrong thinking swimming is possibly a cyclists weakest sport afterall, the average road cyclists arms are not to dissimilar to a t-rex with their underdeveloped arms splashing about the water.And maybe ex-cyclists do struggle in the swim but the time lost is not that great.The current swim record set in 2018 by Jan Sibbersen is 46:29 - approximately 5 and a half minutes faster than the time set in 1981...and a paper by Romuald Lepers that Analyses the Hawaii ironman performances in elite triathletes from 1981 to 2007 shows that the average swimming time of the best triathletes decreased rapidly and then plateaued for both males andfemales. No technological advances took place in swimming because wetsuits have been forbidden at the Ironman due to warm water temperatures. Time performances decreased during the 1980s and tended to stabilize over the last two decades.When John Howard got out of the water in his 1981 race his time was 1 hour 11 seconds, 40 minutes faster than the year before.Clip: 1981 Ironman Part 2 - Coming out of the swimDamian: Now is where we get to the bike leg…the ex-cyclists strength - or is it? Before we go any further I want to introduce you to this guy...Clip: My name is Thorstan….Damian: Thorstan aka the geek from trirating.com is the guy everyone turns to when it comes time to crunch the numbers on triathlon course performance and predictions. He started looking into times and courses as a way to compare the results from different Ironman courses. In the process of this he has amassed a metric ton of data from Ironman races. So he was the first guy that came to mind when thinking about the ex-cycling pros that have made the transition to Ironman.Thorstan: Well you have a couple of top pros that have moved over into triathlon.Damian: We spoke a little about John Howard - but we also spoke about a current ex-pro that is does really well in the cycling leg. In fact he broke the Kona course bike record in 2018 with a 4:09:06 ride.Looking back at Cam Wurf’s short history in Ironman he seemed to originally follow the common strategy or mindset that cycling is the longest leg so it doesn’t really matter if you can really swim or run. Where the time will be made up on the cycling leg and I will hang on as best I can afterwards.Of course this is intuitive but it seems to be the same strategy that John Howard used in his first Ironman, and in his second it seemed to be the same as he quickly took over the lead on the bike.Clip: Build up a strong lead in the bicycle part, this is his idea.Damian: Something Thorsten talks about is a move away from this mindset to really be successful in Ironman, he calls it finding your balance...Thorstan: of OK maybe cycling is my strength...Damian: And Cam Wurf is showing this across his times in his Ironman races. This progression in his times and maybe even his mindset.Thorstan: He improved his swim time, he was...the run coming up...Obviously cycling seems not to be the problem for ex-cyclists, in fact someone like am Wurf is actually slowing down their bike leg to make a faster run.Thorstan:Damian: John came off the bike similar to the year before…Clip - “Here comes John Howard...Damian: After the bike leg is done - it’s time for the real deal breaker for cyclists...the run. I have uncovered that this is the most difficult part in making the transition. And the times show it…Thorstan:Damian: So the big question for me is why? And from my investigation it mostly comes down to your engine as a cyclist is large from cycling but the frame (your body) is probably weak.And here is where I have some actionable tips for you if you are going to try make a successful transition to triathlon.The problem people with a good cardiovascular base encounter when they start running is that while their heart is more than up to the job, muscles, tendons and bones are not, as running is a high-impact activity, and this takes some time to adjust.So for the first few months: Run slowly - you should be able to keep a conversation going at almost all times (It's OK to get winded on the uphills).Start with no more than three days/week of running - add in another day after a couple of months. Running two days in a row, every once in a while, is OK, but it's easier to stick to "every second day".For the first few weeks, keep the length at 30-45 minutes at a time - 30 for two of your runs, and 45 for the third. Again - go slowly. Plan to take a year to build up to 80 kilometres or 50 miles a week or so.Technique wise, it would be a good place to get some running technique coaching but basically you want to learn to run with the lowest impact on your body: Keep your steps short, so you land under your centre of gravity - do not try to extend your foot far in front of your body. Also, you should also try not to land with your heel first - rather try to land either on your whole foot, or land on your forefoot, and then let the heel come down before taking off again.In the case of John Howard he was able to pull it together...Clip: “And here comes Howard towards the finish line…”Damian: Finding your transition balance is not easy but spending time building running is going to be time well spent when thinking about making the transition to triathlon.MusicThe ChaserDamian: It’s time once again for The Chaser. The segment of the show where I talk about something that will help you chase down your goals - whether it’s a product, study or performance tip…The week - the Theragun.If you can imagine the love child of a hand drill and a hammer then you start to get a picture the Theragun.What is essentially a beefed up hand held massager - it’s doing some serious work. Take a listen to it in action…...oh no that’s not it, wrong file...hang on....….I’ve seen it in action so the sound isn’t so terrifying but I can image if you’ve never seen this thing and your physio gets it and turns it on, you would be scared.In all honesty it’s not that scary but what is it for and does it work - and most importantly, will it help you reach your cycling goals.To start it costs nearly $600 US. This may be only 6 or 7 massages but is it more effective than a massage?But just what does the TheraGun do that other massagers that are a fraction of the price don’t?The claim is that it’s going to help you increase your range of motion, at the same time decreasing your pain says Dr. Jason S. Wersland, a chiropractor and creator of the TheraGun, He also claims that its efficiency is higher because of the frequency and amplitude. Unfortunately for us there isn’t any real information available about the device’s real efficacy.And being just a more sophisticated massage device, even when there is some truth that different frequencies may have different effects on how muscles heal and relax, there’s no compelling research at the moment saying that one frequency of vibration or amplitude, like that of the TheraGun, is better or more efficient than another.So I cannot give you a definitive answer on the claims but let’s break down the type of therapy it uses. It’s called percussive therapy and compared to techniques like foam rolling and massage, it works the brain-body connection to change the relationship with pain. Which apparently works when you introduce something to the body that’s higher frequency or stimulus, the body has to pay attention and do something about it.It’s a beefed up deep tissue massage that claims to speed up the process of working out muscle knots. It’s not really a self serve tool though. You cannot reach around and aim it on your back for example. Legs would be no problem, though.I honestly don’t see a need to use one over the long term. Yes if you’re training hard you might get sore, but that pain is not something can be fixed - rather than just managed. So even if this product was proven to work better and faster - I’m not sure it’s worth the price and hassle for cyclists.Damian: INSIDE is produced by VirtuGO and hosted by me, Damian Ruse.If you enjoyed this show and you want to hear more - Subscribe on Apple Podcasts of wherever you listen. And tell your riding buddies - Thank you so very much for listening and we’ll see you next episode or out on the road.