How to conquer Ironman with Zwift

Advertisement feature with Zwift: Lucy Charles-Barclay and Jan Frodeno provide their pro-proven ways to hit that Ironman startline fit and firing come the race season by using the power of Zwift

Triathlon racing on the Zwift virtual riding platform

Advertisement feature with Zwift

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There was a time, not too long ago, where indoor bike training was consigned to the garage in the winter months only, with Aerosmith, Pearl Jam or Arctic Monkeys (delete depending on your decade of birth) on the tape deck struggling to be heard over the spinning of the (non-direct drive) rear wheel.

Yet the advent of smart trainers and virtual riding platforms, such as Zwift, has recently revolutionised bike training for triathlon; it’s become more data driven, quieter and, whisper it, a huge bundle of fun.

And age-groupers aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of Zwift’s extensive training environment, with the UK’s Lucy Charles-Barclay and Jan Frodeno of Germany both avid users of the software. “Shared pain is always half the pain!” says Frodeno on the lure of Zwift.

Jan Frodeno is a Level 43 Zwift rider and Level 4 runner, logging around 17,000km and 200,000m of elevation gain, while Lucy is a Level 40 Zwift rider and Level 5 runner, recording over 18,000km and 175,000m of elevation gain.

Frodeno needs little introduction, but the German multisport star’s racing palmarès still staggers. He’s the first (and only) man to win both Olympic Games and Ironman World Championship gold medals. He’s the fastest man in Kona history, has won Ironman’s greatest crown three times and also has two Ironman 70.3 Championship titles on his creaking mantelpiece. His Kona bike split in 2019 was 4:16:03, at an average speed of 42km/h over 180km in the humidity of Hawaii.

Since turning pro in 2016, Lucy Charles-Barclay has scored three Ironman World Championship silver medals in a row, as well as victories at Ironman South Africa, Ironman Lanzarote and Challenge Roth. Her 180km Ironman bike split in Kona, meanwhile, significantly dropped from 4:58:19 in 2017 to 4:38:11 in 2018.

Here the two Ironman greats offer their essential tips on how to supercharge your triathlon training using Zwift, and what use age-groupers can learn from their winning ways…

1. PLAN FOR SUCCESS

“Zwift has had a huge impact on my training,” says Charles-Barclay. “It gives me a way of training to a variety of intensities that can be planned in advance and aren’t open to outside factors, such as weather conditions, punctures and traffic. It’s also a really fun platform that still provides Strava segments, challenges and other people to ride with. The levels of consistency and intensity Zwift offers me have made great improvements in my training, and this seems to be effecting my race results very positively.”

2. KEEP IT VARIED

“I do anything from an hour to 3:30hrs on Zwift depending on the session,” says Frodeno. “VO2 Max intervals, for instance, are just much easier to ride on a turbo trainer, but my training is completely varied. My favourite course is Watopia; there are some good course options with little elevation and I need the consistency more than anything.”

3. REPLICATE RACE SITUATIONS

“Make sure your training replicates race situations by setting the same bike and body positions for key efforts,” believes Lucy. “Use the same data readings as you would in a race such as power (watts) and heart rate (HR), as this’ll give you confidence in your ability to replicate it on race day. Unlike being on the open roads, you can be very specific about planning your efforts and building interval sessions targeting improvements in your power outputs and consistency of delivery. This is sometimes very hard to do outside of this platform, especially through the winter, so make sure you maximise what you achieve from Zwift.”

4. STRUCTURE YOUR SESSIONS

“Zwift is a very effective way to build your fitness,” adds Jan. “You’ll without a doubt be physically very well prepared, but make sure you don’t race every night! There are plenty of structured workouts and even programs to guide you. Add in the occasional outdoor ride, though, just to be familiar with the handling of a tri bike.”

5. LUCY’S ESSENTIAL ZWIFT SETS FOR IRONMAN

“The beauty of Zwift is that you can achieve every session you can imagine and make them very realistic,” states Charles-Barclay. “My sessions will range from short, power-focussed efforts – i.e. a 2 x 20min effort at power levels well above my Ironman power output. Other sessions will be four, five or even 6hr sessions more focused around conditioning of my body to hold an aero position and deliver consistent power outputs. If I’m focusing on a specific race then I’ll also try to replicate certain conditions. Before Kona, I did these sessions in a very hot environment, which can’t often be achieved on the roads in the UK.”

6. THE SOCIAL BENEFITS

“Zwift has become immensely more popular and so it’s become a lot more social,” believes Frodeno. “I used to get on Zwift just to do my bike training, maybe crack one or two achievements, but it was generally an intense session. These days I also enjoy going on Zwift for an easy spin just for the chat and banter in the groups.”

7. THE ENJOYMENT FACTOR

“The London map is my favourite as it’s my favourite city and Zwift is the only way to ride around this beautiful city with no cars in it,” adds Lucy. “I enjoy seeing familiar sights and I guess it’s the reason why I always love coming back to the London courses. Zwift allows me to enjoy training in the country and city I love regardless of weather, traffic or any other interruptions.”

8. IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE BIKE

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“I really enjoy Zwift Run,” says Charles-Barclay. “It’s a great training aid for my runs as it great to run with other people and it provides entertainment on long treadmill sessions.” Frodeno agrees. “I’ve only recently dived into this world and enjoy the diversity it brings. Shared pain is always half the pain!”