On this episode of The Kona Edge, professional cyclist Liza Rachetta shares with us how she made the transition from ironman triathlete to professional cyclist and how she still manages to race at the highest level in her age group while still maintaining her place on the pro team.
LIZA RACHETTA: Yes, thanks Brad, thanks for having me back.
BRAD BROWN: Liza, we’ve spoken about your career and journey into triathlon and transition into professional cycling and how you’re still racing. Cycling is obviously something you’re good at.
We spoke a little bit about the pressure that you feel going into a race where people think you should be absolutely smashing the bike leg, but you said that your role is more of a domestique than a time trialer, so it’s very different in those two racing environments.
What would you say has been the secret to your success on the bike? What’s the one thing you’ve done over the years that you think has given you the advantage?
Can the Power Meter help in Ironman bike training?
LIZA RACHETTA: Well, the one thing, and this is very common now, is simply using Power and having a coach to assess and prescribe my Power and my watt on the bike and that’s really been critical to getting the most out of a long ride whereas before, I might just be riding along and now I tend to do a lot more sub threshold type work in my long rides. And then just trying to recover from those.
BRAD BROWN: You also touched, in our first chat, just a little bit about recovery and how important sleep is and nutrition. Do you find that training with a Power meter forces you to make sure that there’s a specific outcome for each session you put in on the bike, that there’s no junk miles. You’re doing things and what you’re doing is for a specific reason?
LIZA RACHETTA: It is very much more specific and unfortunately I used to be very much of a social rider, enjoying the group rides and meeting up with friends. And now that time is really rare and I do appreciate it when I can, but almost always I’ve got a specific purpose in terms of time.
Maybe Power during the intervals. Maybe working on fueling, cadence. There’s a lot of little components now that go into each ride and I think the trick is balance for me. It might be that I’m going too easy and I really need to be going harder and I have to have the mindset of sometimes it’s okay to go easy or back it off.
BRAD BROWN: Liza, talk to me about the transition from being within a Peloton and in that group environment to time trialing? Time trials are tough, there’s no two ways about it and 180km time trial in an Ironman can be brutal. How do you deal with that from a mental and physical perspective?
Dealing with mental and physical challenges at Kona
LIZA RACHETTA: Yeah, so 180km time trial, sometimes when I think of it now, I’m in awe that that’s what I spent a few months training for and performing, and I think the mental part of it is very important, and a lot of the athletes talk about the mental focus and calmness leading up to, especially Kona, the World Championships. And that’s to me, to be honest with you, is just a critical factor that you’ve got everything in place.
Your mind is fresh and calm, so that on race day you can perform and you can push yourself through that wall of pain and having positive reinforcement. Sometimes I usually write a little sticky tape on the top of my stem or my water bottle telling myself to smile. Something, maybe humorous of the day and that, a lot of times, I’ll look down and just be reminded of it and it’ll help get me through that actual race.
The physical part, you know, I think that’s actually, probably, when you mentioned my strengths, to be honest, it’s just being able to suffer for a very long time. And being in a Peloton and doing some of the races I’ve done, like the Duro in Italy.
Those bike races and at that level, you are always pushed sort of beyond your comfort zone and that’s the thing when I come back to triathlon, and preparing for Kona, I remember how hard I’ve had to work, just to get to the finish line, that this now, I’m in an environment where I’m in control and I need to remember that I can push myself for that long because I’m still in control of the power and the pace.
BRAD BROWN: And race day is just one day, you don’t have to come back and do it tomorrow.
LIZA RACHETTA: Oh yes, thank goodness!
BRAD BROWN: Liza, as far as the dark patches, you mentioned recalling, going through tough stages in the giro when things do get tough, is that one of the strategies you use, is when you are battling, whether it be in any part of the race, whether on the bike or the run and you’re in one of those dark spaces, do you think back to times where you’ve suffered, but have been able to get through it, is that where you get your strength from to bounce back?
Getting through hard sessions will make your Ironman race easy
LIZA RACHETTA: Brad, that’s right, yeah, in fact it tends to be a little bit more of reflection on hard training days and my coach really sort of instills in me, if you get through these hard sessions, it’ll make the race seem easy, which hmmm, I’m not sure if the race ever seems easy. But because it puts into place the training at such a hard level and I might go out, I might be hot, I might be struggling and it will be very difficult to get through, when I’m out there during the day on Kona, I think about the preparation that I’ve done and I reflect on all the things that have made me ready and I just keep that positive attitude and I think that’s really important.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about dealing with the conditions in Kona, particularly from a bike perspective. It can and does get hot in Hawaii, 2015 was probably a bit hotter than most, how do you deal with those conditions? You ride a lot in Europe, those conditions are vastly different to the experience that you would have on the Big Island?
LIZA RACHETTA: Yeah, that’s another important aspect, one of the best quotes that I’ve heard is, ‘you can be a champion on any other Ironman course around the world, but when you get to Kona, everything changes.’
I think that’s absolutely true because the weather changes almost always during the week with the winds and heat and that type of thing and there’s no shade, there’s no coasting or easy parts to really any of the course and I’ve found, this past year I think the heat was a factor. The year before the wind really was a factor on the bike, so you sort of never know what you’re really going to get and dealing with those leading up to the race, I would suggest almost the best thing to do is put yourself in an environment that’s challenging with wind or with heat.
If you can train in that, some people opt to do altitude, which is also good as well, but those difficult conditions for training, then you’ll get to Kona and it’s not going to seem quite as bad.
BRAD BROWN: Without a doubt. Liza, thanks so much for your time once again here on The Kona Edge, much appreciated, we look forward to catching up again soon.
LIZA RACHETTA: So do I, thank you.