Fixing My Cadence

For a long time the cadence sensor on my bike has had a dead battery. It never seemed very important to me to fix, because, well, I was getting the workouts done. Recently I had some extra energy laying around and changed out the battery to get my rig 100% operational. All the bells and whistles. As a side note, the batteries it takes are those CR2032 and I have to take a second to call a few things out. First, they are so hard to get out of the package that I almost gave up. I think it required some form of surgical knife and a vise to cut open the plastic. Second, they are clearly labeled as having a ‘bitter coating’. Are there really that many kids eating batteries that we need a bad tasting flavor? Besides, it isn’t even really that bitter.

Moving on, my first ride in a LONG time with cadence shocked me a bit. I was holding around 65-70 RPM. This made me scratch my head a bit, and immediately assume the device was broken. Common theory says I should be closer to 90 RPM, that’s where the magic happens. Where your legs are fresh for the run and you rely on your cardio more so than your strength. After seeing that number, I did some sophisticated experiments such as counting pedal strokes for a minute, and concluded that sensor was right.

It would seem that over the past year, I fell into the habit of grinding alot more than spinning. To be honest it is probably longer than a year as I don’t recall the last time I used cadence. It hasn’t really ever been too important to me if I met the watts needed for the workout. And to be fully open, I still am not fully convinced it really matters and here is why. If I train my body to respond to certain loads or stresses and am able to achieve the desired output, do any other factors really matter? Another way of saying this might be if you run with an inefficient looking gait but at the same time are the fastest person in the race, will changing something make you better? If it isn’t broke don’t fix it they say. Sadly though I am nowhere near the front of the race, and the key to my ultimate success in triathlon is conquering the bike.

With big goals of qualifying for Kona last year now moved to this year, it will take every improvement I can muster to obtain the times needed. To put it in perspective, I will most likely need to race a sub 10 hour Ironman. In order to do that, I figure roughly 1:05 swim, 5:20 bike, 3:25 run. That leaves 10 minutes for transition, which at IMLP is reasonable. There is some float built in, for example, I think if I am in good condition I can run better than 3:25 which would give me more room on the bike. Here is the rub though, last Summer during our bandit 70.3, I rode one lap of IMLP (56 miles) in about 2:49. That only puts me at 5:38 so I still need to find 18 minutes (and yes I know 56 is much different than 112). That is a sizeable amount of time to make up, but the good news is I have a plan and the first part of that plan is making sure I check all the boxes on bike form, technique, fit etc.

Back to the cadence issue. This metric is pretty much all I am watching on the screen these days. The watts are locked in with Erg mode, so as long as I am turning the pedals we are good. I don’t really need to shift because the trainer adjusts resistance based on my cadence. Simple enough just focus on spinning fast and relaxed. Well, not really that simple since now I am essentially retraining my legs. There is a certain ‘feeling’ I am looking for that I get when I am working. Almost a resistance that tells me I am in the right spot. With the cadence shift that changes. You see the faster you spin the less the resistance for the same power output. You make the same power pushing less but faster. This is why they say that a faster cadence is superior for running off the bike. It taxes your muscles much less.

There are a lot of ways to get the cadence up, for one I could jump on the Peloton and get yelled at by a virtual instructor. Maybe I will try that on the next Wicked ride, but until then, I noticed that the higher wattage intervals seem to be helping. My coach has been throwing things such as 125% of FTP for 60 seconds followed by 2-3 minutes recovery and I saw a very interesting thing from that. Heading into the higher wattage I would naturally speed up the cadence to meet the wattage, but then right afterwards, when the rest set started, I would continue to spin at a higher than normal number. Doing these types of workouts has me averaging closer to 86 if I concentrate.

Will any of this make a difference? Time will tell. I do know that keeping an average cadence in the 60’s and hoping to run a sweet 26.2 miles quickly may not be the optimal path. I am on the bike anyway so working on a weakness only makes sense. Ultimately if it doesn’t work, that’s fine too. If it keeps everything the same but I pedal faster there may still be some wear and tear gains on the ol’ IT band. Either way, now is the time to adjust. With around 5 months to go I will keep at it and measure the progress with bike and run data. As long as the outputs don’t appear to suffer hopefully I can bring this with me on race day.

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