Friday, October 28, 2011

Kona Counts - "If they use it, it MUST work great!"

I recently received an email from a company which claimed their product was the most used, compared to all their competitors, in Kona. This type of marketing is deceptive, but unfortunately effective for getting many athletes to use their products, and believe in them.

This company in particular gave away their product for FREE at Kona, and the only stipulation for receiving it was that it be used in the race. 

Kona equipment counts have now become a measuring stick for success among the businesses in the industry, since it is a sampling of the best athletes in that aspect of the sport, just like when a team in the Tour de France uses a certain product. Different independent groups are assigned with counting everything athletes use for the race which can be measured, tallied, seen and distinguished. Common things include bike frames brands, wheel brands, shoe brands, race kits, helmets, components on a bike, and much more. These counts begin at bike check-in, and continue thru the entire race.

The belief is among the athletes who see these counts, that these are the best athletes in the sport, so they must be great products too, right? 

The problem with this thinking is flawed in many ways:

1. These athletes were great anyway. In the case of the company who gave their product away for FREE, if they are just getting the product in Kona, it had no affect whatsoever on their preparation, and so the result being from the product isn't just in question, it's wrong. Many just wanted a free piece of equipment, which could save them some dough. Heck, many might turn around and sell it, using the marketing of the company as it being the most used product at Kona, and say on their classified sales ad, "Only used once!"

2. Performance at Kona has more to do with talent, athlete background, effective preparation, heat tolerance, pacing, nutrition timing/execution, mental toughness, luck and conditions, than equipment. In fact, I would list equipment behind all those in terms of importance.

3. When a product is given away for free, then an athlete is probably more willing to accept the flaws, than if they had to pay for it. Think about this when it comes to elites, who rarely pay for items, just get what they need from the highest bidder. Sure, some might be in a position with multiple offers to say, "I like this company over that company," so they can be a bit more honest, but many just sell to the highest bidder, or in some cases, the only bidder.

4. Really what the Kona count shows us is not which products are best, but which companies are selling the most products among the faster population. This is more so a good measuring tool for their marketing, but at the same time adds to their marketing arsenal. 

5. Many products are very individual-based. What I mean by this is that there are some products I used in my racing as an elite which wouldn't be advisable for many/most/all athletes. Bike fit is very individual, and different bikes will fit different bodies and flexibilities. Top finishers will run with racing flats, while someone walking the whole marathon has no need or might get injured with them. The examples could be listed here at length.

Bottom line, use your judgement, thinking for yourself. Read, ask, listen, touch, test and learn. You will learn what works for you, but don't be preaching to everyone that X-company is the best for everyone, and the best overall, (especially because of Kona counts), because that is just not the case.

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Goals for the off-season

The off-season is pretty much here for most triathletes, a few may have a late-season Ironman, but even the time until those is not long, and the off-season will begin.

Athletes tend to be pretty good at setting goals for the season, but few really set goals for the off-season. Off-season goals can really help to motivate and provide the big break-through the next season.

What types of goals should one set? This depends on the athlete, but usually, the off-season is the best time to work on weaknesses.

What weaknesses do you have as an athlete? Chances are you are fit, but lack the top end speed needed to race at a higher level. This should be your focus and where you set your goals. For some, this means training for a new 5K PR, while for others it might a new mile PR, in terms of setting goals.

It could also be a goal time in the pool, for the 400, 100 or 50, or perhaps even doing fly for a full 100 or 400.

On the bike, athletes can set a CP 1 or CP 6 wattage goal, or even a goal time for a shorter local climb in their area. Another opportunity is in cyclo-cross, racing a local series, with a placement goal for the series.

You'll notice these are sport specific goals, and not related directly to triathlon performance, but rather indirectly. The time frame of these is much shorter than what triathletes will do on race day, so it is general preparation, not specific. Periodization is basically the idea of going from general preparation to specific, in phases of time, changing the training stress to more closely resemble the demands of race day.

For most triathletes, race day is aerobic, so aerobic work is more specific, whereas super intensive, neurological training is more general, and what most triathletes need to train. But many get stuck on the same habits and workouts, performing a lot of race-specific work in the off-season. Then when the specific period of training comes, they are not introducing a new stress, so the body is not responding to it, instead plateauing and showing no improvement for the athlete.

Sit down and set some specific, measurable goals for the off-season, which address your weaknesses, and bring a new training stress to your body.

Coach Vance

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Continuous improvement?

Should you be seeing continuous improvement in your fitness and abilities throughout the year? Well, isn't that the point of training, to get better? If you're not getting better with your training, why train? Seems obvious, by how many times do athletes train and not see improvement?

The chart above is one I showed in a blog post a few months ago, where the athlete was progressing in the average pace off all runs in a week. (Click on images to enlarge). The challenge as a coach is to try and keep this upward trend going, for the entire season, and at as steep of a rate of incline as possible, without injuring the athlete. (Injuries will inevitably lead to a decline). So what has happened lately with this athlete? Well, see below. (Again, click on image to enlarge).

Now you can see we've been able to keep the athlete progressing well, on an upward trend, which is something he wasn't able to do at all in the first half of the year. In fact, not only is more of the first half of the year flat, there is a decline in performance come the months of May and June. 

When you use data and track how the athlete is progressing, you can continue to look for consistent improvement, and prevent performance plateaus, ahead of time. This is the key reason I have my athletes use technology in their training.

Coach Vance

Friday, October 21, 2011

Run PMC Chart for Ironman FL 2011

Thought I would share this Performance Management Chart for all run files and data, from a 60 year old I coach who is doing Ironman Florida in a few weeks. (Click on the image to enlarge).

This athlete has seen a huge jump in his run training and performances, as I record the top 10 performances for the season, for 6, 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes. Probably the most impressive aspect is the runs have been much more focused on becoming more economical over the longer durations, 90-120 minutes. And yet, even during these runs, his best 6 minute sample from those runs are some of his best of the year for 6 minutes! His confidence is very high seeing this, and he knows he will likely have the best run he's ever had off the bike at Florida, as long as he executes his plan effectively for the swim, bike and nutrition.

Coach Vance

Monday, October 17, 2011

Special Needs Bag?

One of the tools I believe is often misused at an Ironman event, is the Special Needs Bag, or sometimes called the "half-way bag". Problem with the name half-way bag, is that many times this bag doesn't come at half-way.

Why I believe it is misused is because when an athlete puts an important, and valuable piece of their race success in this bag, they put their race into the hands and responsibility of other people, likely which they do not even know.

We hear horror stories of lost special needs bags, but also sometimes given the wrong special needs bag. Though this is unlikely, as probably better than 90 % of special needs bag are delivered without issue, I had one athlete at Kona who was in the top 10 overall age-groupers when arriving at special needs. The volunteers could not find his bag, and as he stood on the side of the road, he watched many athletes he had worked so hard to be in front of, pass him. He estimates it was about 1 minute of time, which isn't much in the big picture, but this was a blow mentally.

This can be avoided with a different approach to special needs, and that is treating it as insurance only. What do I mean by insurance? Put a bottle in the bag in case you drop or lose one. Put a spare tube and CO2 cartridge, in case you flat and need another. Put some lubricant in a small baggie, or a sample size, in case you have some chaffing from your saddle, the salt water, etc, that you need to address or it will become quite painful.

If you can carry all your calories, or better utilize the aid stations, you'll be able to fly by special needs and pass a number of athletes who need to stop and gather their items. Mentally, you'll feel better, you'll be more in control of your race, and should something go wrong, you know you've got items waiting for you, and you can cash in that insurance policy.

Coach Vance

Friday, October 14, 2011

Analyzing the Ironman Run for Kona - Pro Women

In my last post, we analyzed the pro men's run off the bike, to determine what affect pacing might have on the race, and the dynamics of the first mile among the field.

It was clear that those with the least amount of fade/differential between their first mile time as a projected pace, and their actual pace, did better on the whole. It goes to show the value of the run in Ironman, especially the strength to hold a hot pace, if you're coming out of T2 hot. Or one could assume when a smart runner paces himself better out of T2, but within range of the leaders, we could see a surprise winner.

Truth be told, I never believed it was truly possibly to be that pace consistent among the pro's, like Ogden was. I honestly believed you would be too tired from the efforts of the bike in that heat, and you just fall to a sort of default pace. The athletes with the fastest default pace, who are best positioned when the heat really turns up toward the end, would find themselves in contention. Almost like a peloton and positioning for a field sprint. You have to be on the right wheels within the final K of a sprint finish, and in Ironman, that point is around the half-way point of the marathon.

Now Ogden has me rethinking that theory. However, Ogden did not win. He was not even in the top 10. But perhaps if Andi Raelert or Pete Jacobs don't run so fast for the first mile, they give themselves a better chance? We'll never know.

But what about the women? Do we see the same thing? I was able to record the 10 of the top 11 overall females, plus Julie Dibens, (leader off the bike, DNF due to injury).

Obviously, the women run the same course as the men, so no need to review the first mile profile again. Here's how the first mile panned out, according to overall place: (click on image to enlarge)

Here we see a MUCH different result and dynamic than we saw in the men's race. In this race, the lower differentials were found higher up in the top 10, as a general placing, whereas in the men's race, the better differentials were found closer to the podium, as a whole. 4 women actually would have been considered as pacing themselves better than Chrissie, but the only one who was in the top 5 was Mirinda.

So what does this mean? Well, I think there are a few things we can infer from this:

1. The bike plays a very large role, even more so in the women's race than the men's. The top girls are able to go out so fast, suffer some of the highest fall-offs of pace, and still hold/finish in the top 5 positions.
2. There is a big gap between the run ability of the top runners in the women's race, and the rest of the field. They can tolerate such a large differential, that even their slowing/default pace is much better than most of the other girls.

A few questions jump out at me when I see this...
1. Would Mirinda have won if she was smarter at pacing in the early miles? Can she go 2:45 with better pacing? Realize, compared to Chrissie, she did pace better, just not better enough.
2. Leanda Cave the same? Remember, she lead Chrissie and Mirinda by about 5:30 and 9 mins out of T2. Cut her 18 min differential in half, and she's right there with Mirinda trying to chase her down at the end, and making Chrissie sweat it out for awhile. Maybe even running well enough that Chrissie begins to worry, makes an error?

If these girls really want to beat Chrissie in the future, they need to recognize her weaknesses, and this is one that is now exposed. According to the data I collected, (and I missed a few), only 4 men ran the first mile faster than Chrissie.

Exciting information! What are you thoughts?

Coach Vance

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Analyzing the Ironman Run for Kona - Pro Men

One of the things I am always intrigued about is what separates the top elite athletes from the rest, and there is no doubt that the ability to run off the bike is a key determinant of success in triathlon. It was usually very clear to me in my days of racing, that how the first mile went on the run during an Ironman was a likely determinant of my how my run split would  be. Was this a mental thing, which gave me the confidence and desire to push myself? Perhaps.

In professional Ironman racing, you don't see perfect pacing. Instead, we see a strategy more like, "go until you fall apart, just don't fall apart as badly as everyone else!" The run is raced very similar to the bike, almost as a belief of a "peloton affect", where if the pack is let go, they never come back. On the bike, even if the athletes are riding "legally", there is still some draft benefit from the group as a whole, plus motorcycles of draft marshals possibly shielding the crosswinds at times, and possibly media, photographers, etc. And obviously there is the mental help of having others around to keep the pace and intensity high and consistent.

But is this the best strategy for the run? Would someone being smart in their pacing for the run coming off the bike with the leaders or main pack of contenders, possibly be able to take the victory, simply by pacing better? Or would they at least maximize the potential for highest placing, should they not be an outright contender for the victory.

I tried to gather evidence of this last year, but only with a Garmin 310XT, riding behind the athletes on a bicycle for a brief time, but this data was such a small sample it was not accurate, nor did it take into account the gradient at the different points I measured each of the athletes at.

This year, I set out to stand at the mile marker, and with the help of some viewers at home, and a couple of spotters/recorders at the mile mark, we were able to determine the first mile split for the top men and women, in almost real time during the event. I was actually able to tweet these paces live, (@jimvance).

As a preface, here is the profile of the first mile, from (click on image to enlarge)

The 1st mile has a climb based upon this source, but overall has a net gain/loss of close to zero. This was relatively confirmed by some of the files my athletes had from 4 different run files from the race, via Garmins. (There was some variance, but so small, this doesn't really affect the data, as in a gigantic uphill or downhill mile).

The men's data according to place of finish, from those I was able to get splits for: (click on image to enlarge)

There seems to be a general trend of lower differential of first mile time to actual pace performed equating to higher placings, with some exceptions. Meaning that perhaps the better pacers do better in overall placings. Or is it simply the athletes who can best tolerate the fast pace at the beginning, with the least consequences? Perhaps those who train for the initial acceleration?

Courtney Ogden had a differential of only 2:07 from his projected pace at mile 1, relative to his actual performance. It appears he came off the bike in 31st place, meaning he moved up nearly 50% of the pro men's field. This was an impressive performance, as the next best of those I recorded was Bockel, who was the only other under 10 minutes differential. Bockel's pacing helped secure a 4th place finish.

I recognize I did not get each and every elite who came by, so there is some missing data, but I did get many of the leaders and those who I felt there would be interest in, as well as those likely to finish in the top 10, including 8 of the final top 10.

So here are the questions I pose to you, would these elites be better off pacing themselves better in the first mile, or is being a part of the race and getting into the lead group the most important thing? Or is it best to train for this surge, and be able to keep the differential in the 9-16 minute range? Is the mental reward of being in the race for the podium from the start better for the athlete's performance?

Coach Vance

Friday, October 7, 2011

Racing Beyond Your Means

I am writing this from Kona, and tomorrow morning will be the Ironman World Championships here. I'll be watching the race, following my athletes, etc. I know my athletes will follow their plans, as we've rehearsed it well, they are confident.

But there will be many athletes, even at this event where the quality of the athletes is high, who will race beyond their means. Their training has been preparing for a certain output, and they will attempt to race well beyond that output. This will come from a lack of confidence in the plan and preparation, as well as peer pressure in the race to go as hard as possible for as long as possible.

Most athletes, even the competitive age-groupers that are fighting for a podium spot, would benefit from a strategy where they let the competition make the mistakes and take advantage of that. You don't have to be super aggressive to be successful here.

Pro's on the other hand, (at least on the men's side), have to take an opposite approach. They must take risks if they want to win. They must race beyond their training, because the difference in winning and getting 10th is very small. Different race, different strategies, different demands. It's hard to represent a certain race output, when such an effort is so taxing, they wouldn't be recovered and ready to race. They are going on faith that they are prepared for that huge, single-day stress.

It will be fun to watch, as that's what makes it so exciting, seeing who blows up and when. And my picks....Rasmus Henning and Chrissie.

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Transitions Lose Races

We say you can't win a race in the swim, but you can lose it. Swimming is a very technical sport that takes years of dedication to master and perform at a high level. Trust me, I know from experience. But what about transitions?

It's amazing how many athletes lose races with their slow and poor transitions. All that time, money and effort spent training on swimming, biking and running, and it comes down to the thing most easy to control. This is not a very technical skill, it's just ignored and neglected! Quit sabotaging your races with poor transitions, and practice them! Get your flying mounts and dismounts down pat. Quit trying to do a million things in transition, including a bathroom stop. It's a race!

As the sport gets more and more popular, and the competition gets deeper and stiffer, the little things matter more and more. In literally one week's time, you can make transitions a strength in your racing, all that's missing is your commitment.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What if there's a better way?

Sure, you can do the regular routine of Saturday long ride, Sunday long run, but what if there's a better way? Most athletes follow this schedule, but does that mean it is the most effective? Plenty of people do things which aren't necessarily the most effective, but is popular enough to bring comfort to the decision.

What if a 10 day cycle worked better? Or 14 days? Or what if you simply did 2 days in a row of biking, and moved your long run to the middle of the week?

Think about your training and performance. If you've hit a plateau, and aren't seeing the steady gains, maybe it's time to try a new routine. Change it up! Plenty of options, as your mind and creativeness, (or your coach's), are the only things holding you back.

If everyone else is doing the same thing, how do you expect to get ahead?

Coach Vance