On this edition of The Kona Edge we catch up with Sam Long and chat some biking today. Sam shares his love of mountain biking with us and how he feels it improves his Ironman bike performance.


BRAD BROWN:  Welcome back onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge. We head back to Boulder in Colorado to catch up with Sam Long. Sam, welcome back onto The Kona Edge, nice to touch base once again.

You mentioned in our first chat that you spent a lot of time on the mountain bike and how that’s improved your Ironman biking, it’s something a lot of triathletes, and I don’t want to call them ‘roadies’ as opposed to Xterra triathletes, but it’s something that a lot of road triathletes don’t really understand the benefit of and it can make a huge difference to your strength and power on the bike.

SAM LONG:  Oh yeah, absolutely.

Mountain biking benefits your power on the bike

BRAD BROWN:  You mentioned in our first chat that you’ve been almost doubling up, so you’re doing an Xterra followed by a half Ironman. Are you spending a fair amount of time on the mountain bike? What’s some of the stuff that you do on the mountain bike that you think can benefit you or someone on the road?

SAM LONG:  On the mountain bike I generally get out about twice a week and usually it’s on my easy days. I’m a big believer in the benefits of doing hard efforts on the TT bike. I think that carries over to the mountain bike. But what I love about doing easy days on the mountain bike is one, it creates this mental aspect where whenever I pretty much get out on my TT bike, I’m ready to go and ride hard.

Always having that mental aspect, when I’m on my TT bike, I’m feeling strong, I’m riding hard. That’s a powerful belief to carry through with the whole bike in general and there’s still some days I do easy days. But even a lot of my easy days are on mountain bikes generally, but sometimes on a road bike.

On the mountain bike when I ride easy, it’s so beneficial because you’re having to go uphill on this technical stuff and so you’re really learning how to balance a bike. In terms of getting mountain bike skills, you dial down in terms of bike balance and turning skills because it’s much harder to do something slow than it is to do it fast. That’s really helpful.

The big benefit of mountain biking, when I go hard mountain biking, say you’re going up a climb and you’re constantly going to be changing your cadence. There’s going to be times your cadence might be 50 rpm and then there’s going to be other times where your cadence is going to be 110 or 115 rpm, just based off where the rocks are and getting it over.

Learn the range of power and avoid burn out

It really teaches you a whole range of cadences and a whole range of powers as well as you’re always having to surge or not surge and stand up and not stand up and generally while we don’t think that’s a skill you need in triathlon, it can be very useful. Say, if you’re having to pass a bunch of people and avoid getting a drafting penalty and stuff like that. I think it’s really good for that as well as again, just breaking up the training and that way you’re not always out on the same roads, on the same bike, getting tired of it, potentially getting burnt out.

BRAD BROWN:  I love that, just from an interest perspective, like you say, to avoid that burn out, particularly in the last few weeks where you’re doing those long rides before an Ironman. We all get to that point where we’ve just absolutely had enough and it’s nice to be able to break things up and hit a beautiful trail on a mountain bike. Still get the benefit, but don’t have that fatigue of gee, I’ve got to go and ride this thing again. I think that makes a massive difference.

If you look at your career, can you pin it down to one thing that you think you’ve done on the bike that’s given you huge gains?

SAM LONG:  Yeah, I actually think I could do that. The bike is unique in the sense compared to swimming and running that the ability for aerobic development, the potential for aerobic development is what I should say, is much bigger in my opinion because you can’t go and run for five hours. You can’t go and swim for five hours, plus your heart rate is generally quite low in swimming anyways and so for me, my biggest gains on the bike have come from those long days on the bike. I think it comes down to being that simple. Long days in the mountains, generating power and doing some intervals out there as well, not always a lot of intervals, but I really think that’s made my bike my home, so to speak, in triathlon.

BRAD BROWN:  You also mentioned in our first chat, it’s those long sessions that make you mentally tough so that when you are really struggling in the back end of an Ironman, you’ve been there before and you know what it takes to get yourself out of those dark places.

Long sessions on the bike toughen you mentally

SAM LONG:  Exactly. There’s this great study, I guess I’ll call it a study, that they did when they had, I forget what year it was, but they had the Kenyan Marathoners do Kona and everyone thought they’d crush the marathon, but no, they actually kind of sucked in the marathon. First they rode like 6-7 hours and then they ran over 4 hours when they’re usually running two just because the run comes from the strength on the bike and in an Ironman, guess what? You’re riding long, no matter how fast you are, you’re riding well over 4 hours.

BRAD BROWN:  If there’s one thing to take away from this chat is the run comes from the strength on the bike, I love that. What are some of the things you love doing on the bike, what’s your favourite bike workout?

SAM LONG:  My favourite bike workout would just be going and riding 110 miles with, I think it’s 6 500 feet of elevation gain. And what I’ll generally do is when I’m going up that climb, I’ll generally do one half hour, sort of TT, not all out, but trying to go a solid pace. And then maybe 10 minutes easy and then another half hour where it’s not hard, but you’re just kind of developing low cadence to really build strength in the legs.

That will be in the first half of the bike and so then the rest, until hour four it’ll be easy and then as I’m coming home, I love to do this all out time trial, it’s about 8 miles and so I just try to hammer it out as hard as I can. And if you’re having to really push yourself at the end of that, then it almost makes it seem like, okay, that’s exactly what you’re doing in an Ironman and so that would be my favourite session.

My other favourite sessions would be, I love doing just one minute, on a day where you’re not trying to kill yourself, not super hard, maybe 15 x 1 minute with the rest intervals not being super important there. It can be a minute or two minutes, but that’s just to get the neuro muscular part of the legs, that way you know how to push the pace harder than an Ironman, so an Ironman pace is going to feel easy. I would say those are kind of like my two favourite sessions to do on the bike.

BRAD BROWN:  Awesome, Sam, thanks for your time today here on The Kona Edge, much appreciated. We look forward to getting you back on to talk a little bit about your run next time out. Thanks for your time mate.

SAM LONG:  See you next time.