Triathlon 2.0

TriathlonWorld.com presents an excerpt from the new Triathlon 2.0: Data-Driven Performance Training (Human Kinetics, 2016), written by former elite triathlete Jim Vance.

| August 23, 2016 | TRAINING

Triathlon 2.0

In-Race Monitoring

Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson was one of the most feared fighters in the history of boxing. Yet there were plenty of experts in the sport who spoke of his weaknesses and how to beat him, as though it were not that hard. Many of his opponents trained and planned to beat him by using his weaknesses against him. And much like the quote from Tyson, those plans may have been very well devised, but once the match started and they took those first few punches, dealing with the adversity of the match, it became a challenge to stick to the plan.

That’s triathlon and racing. No matter how well you plan, when you get into the big races, against the toughest competition, your resolve and steadfastness to that plan will be tested greatly. Your plan better not be good—it must be great. And it should have contingencies if the punch to the mouth was more than you expected.

This chapter shows you how to better execute your race plan, especially if things begin to unravel or you get that big punch to the mouth.

There are two types of athletes: scientists and artists. Scientists use the numbers and data to train and race to their potential, while artists use the feel of their fitness to train and race to success. A few athletes, and usually the most successful, would be categorized as both, using the best of both worlds to be successful.

Many of today’s top professional triathletes get into the wind tunnel, measuring the drag of their bike position. This is a perfect example of the science side of racing helping athletes. When they use this information in a race while facing the strategic decisions of attacking at certain points, reading their opportunities and opponents to use it, it only enhances the art of racing to their advantage.

If you were to listen to an interview with two-time Ironman world champion Chris McCormack, he would tell you a lot about the art of racing. He does not like power meters and GPS watches.

He’s an athlete who adjusted on the fly, reading his opponents and pushing the pace, taking risks in the race and putting pressure on his competitors. Sometimes it worked for him, and sometimes it didn’t.

Unfortunately, Chris believed so much in the art of racing that he was very resistant to science. One wonders how many Ironman World Championships he might have won if he were as committed to the science of training and racing as he was to the art of racing.

Chris has spoken out about reading races and going with your gut, using your perceived exertion in the moment and having faith in your training and fitness.

I agree that athletes need to race and quit staring at the numbers. Athletes need to build trust in their perceptions, take risks, and learn what they’re capable of. Chances are they are more capable than they realize of better performance. Many simply need to break the chains of the power meter zone or running at a set pace.

Our perceived exertion levels are only as reliable and good as their connection with the reality of our fitness and capabilities, though. Chris simply doesn’t like to use the common power meter and GPS or stopwatch for running to determine this. The better he sees the skill of perceived exertion being correct for him, the better feedback he gets for himself.

But this is an acquired skill that takes months, if not years, of development and has to happen over the course of each season as well. Chris is a guy who doesn’t balance a full-time job with training. He can conduct the sessions required to learn this skill in a much more rapid time frame than the average age grouper. He does this well, and the results are clear, but that’s not reality for many athletes in the sport.

I get the sense it is better for him to say it is all art, and not science, because then it sounds like he is the only one capable of doing it correctly. It is certainly an art and science mix, but to say one artist’s way is the only way is not something most would ever agree with.

I was coached for a period by Peter Reid during my professional Ironman racing days. Peter was a three-time Ironman world champion and probably one of the most consistent Ironman world championship racers ever. He was really big on athletes not getting stuck on the numbers and not letting the power meter control the athlete. I agreed, because if you really train properly, then on race day, you’re going to ask more of your body than you ever have before, and the expectation is your body should perform better than it ever has before. If you’re feeling good on race day, go with it, but be smart about it. If your race day goal is 225 watts and you’re thinking the first hour at 280 watts is easy and you can hold it, that’s probably a little too dramatic of a change.

The wind and conditions might change, so maybe you’re going much faster or slower than you predicted. It’s important to know your estimated and training tested range, from your build phase and race plan.

This is going to come down to how well you know your body as an athlete. What abilities are you confident in? If you’re confident in your run ability, you may not need to take as much risk on your bike. If you’re not confident in your run, maybe you do.

Let’s say the race is a two-loop bike course and you’re five minutes slower on the lap than what you expected on your goal watts. Now it’s looking like you’re going to be out there for 10 minutes more than you expected. You likely need to adjust your power numbers to the slower part of the range or closer to it.

The Emotional Component of Long-Course Racing

If you’ve ever done long-course triathlon racing, an Ironman or half Ironman, you’ve likely seen that there are periods where you feel great and like the race is going exactly as planned, with a euphoria and happiness that makes all the sacrifice worth it. This tends to be followed by periods where things are not going well. This usually leads to feelings of doubt, anger, frustration, and crankiness. This lasts until either the race is over or you come out of it, beginning to feel better, and the cycle viciously repeats itself.

The challenge many athletes face is that when things are going well, they tend to feel invincible, not being patient and lacking respect for the distance and time they still have to travel. This is exactly why chapter 12, Prerace Preparations, was written, to get athletes to see a bigger picture, a written plan, and not let them stray from it.

When athletes feel great early on, it is easy to make poor pacing and nutritional decisions, as though they are invincible. But the opposite tends to happen after this. When athletes begin to struggle, battling fatigue, headwinds, cramps, and more, it’s easy for the negative thoughts to creep into their head. This makes it very hard to rebound, because suddenly everything is a negative in their mind, and barring some sudden change in how they feel physically (usually only brought on by a dramatic slowing, which doesn’t please them), they won’t rebound quickly from this negative mind-set, and their performance will no doubt suffer from it.

If we can identify the things to monitor and make sure the race plan is executed precisely, or adjusted with intelligent decisions on the fly, then the athlete’s success is highly probable.

You shouldn’t have to stray from your plan, and these metrics during the race should help you avoid the emotional roller coaster, or at least the lows.

Race Day Execution Monitoring

So how do you execute the plan on race day? You need to monitor your output. Since you’re riding with a power meter, you can monitor and pace the bike according to certain metrics you want to accomplish, based on your race plan. Most modern bike computers can show multiple fields on a single screen. With a computer head unit mounted to your bike, you should consider having some of the following metrics displayed on the screen, tracking them throughout the race. This will tell you very quickly and directly if you are on or off your plan.

TSS (training stress score). This will help you see how the race is going according to TSS, and if the course is consistent in terms of laps or elevation, you can likely foresee early in the race if you’re on pace to get the TSS you planned for.

NP (normalized power). This is related to TSS because you can’t get TSS without NP, but this metric becomes extremely important in races that have a lot of up and down or extremely steep faces. If you know your goal NP value and your goal TSS value seems to be on point with your plan, you won’t need IF on the screen.

IF (intensity factor). Your IF is related to your NP, so if your screen is limited and you must eliminate something, this is the one I would suggest. However, it can really help an athlete see how he or she is doing, supporting the NP and TSS numbers.

Time. Though this may seem unnecessary, it is actually crucial. The amount of time you are under intensity is the key factor in determining TSS. If you are doing a multilap course, the time for each lap can help you estimate how close you’ll be at the current intensity to your goal time on the bike.

Current power. This is a real-time power output. It helps you see in the moment if you’re following the plan for power output. If you look at average, or some long-term time range for power output, you can miss much of the real-time outputs, especially if the course is hilly or with long climbs and descents.

What about setting alarms if you’re out of your desired zone? This would be helpful on a flat course but not very helpful on a hilly course where you will definitely exceed the power zone or power range quite a bit. Something to consider for your racing.

Average speed. If your race course isn’t multiple laps, or the laps aren’t equal in length, you can track average speed in mph instead, while tracking real-time power and NP, so you can see how you’re doing, projecting how the bike split might go in terms of time and TSS.

If you will know when you are at the halfway point of a 112-mile ride, and your planned TSS is 280, your TSS at the 56-mile mark should be 140. Knowing that your speed ranges, average speed is going to let you know whether you are on track or not.

Current speed, relative to average speed, is not that important if you’re monitoring current power. Using and watching average speed can really help an athlete monitor and establish a bike split during the race. Know the mph average for your bike split estimated range, and you’ll know how to adjust. Tables 13.1 and 13.2 show bike splits relative to bike speed for half Ironman (70.3) and Ironman, respectively.

Table 13.1

Table 13.2

RPM. If you have a goal rpm, you’ll probably want cadence up on the screen. This can help you if you’re the type to become a masher, especially as you tire. The great part of this metric on the screen is that it is process oriented and keeps you focused in the moment on pedaling your bike efficiently. Depending on your power meter, you might even be able to set the metric on the screen to be power balance (left leg vs right leg) or pedal engagement, which tells you the actual degree within the circle of the pedal stroke at which the foot produces a force on the pedal. This is another great process-oriented metric that helps your pacing execution.

If you are controlling your power correctly, within the limits of your plan, and you know your distance traveled or remaining, the TSS is going to line up. The IF is going to line up. It’s simple math. As long as you’re riding at the proper power output and your average speed is where it needs to be, the race will fall in line.

Put these metrics together and have them show that your planned race numbers for the bike are coming together, and your confidence for executing a great bike split in the race should be sky high. This will help you avoid the emotional roller coaster, because things are going exactly as you planned or even better than planned. It will help show you are mastering the art of racing.

What about heart rate? I will explain that shortly.

Race Nutrition

You also need to take into consideration your nutrition plan. Are you taking in solids and liquids as planned, and what are the possible stomach issues that could accompany the higher intensity that you would hold? Remember, at higher intensities, your stomach will process less. If you are going to push the pace a little more than planned, try to stick with mostly liquid nutrition; your system will be able to process that more efficiently at higher intensities.

Sometimes in a race your stomach just doesn’t agree with what you planned and practiced. It could be that the drink you’re using just doesn’t taste very good on race day, so you might need a change on the fly. What if you drop your bottle or a hole in the road tosses it out of the cage? You’ll need to know what else you need and what is available on the course to make up for it.

Excerpted from Triathlon 2.0 by Jim Vance. ©2016. Reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics.

All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission, or display is permitted without the written permission of Human Kinetics, Inc.