Thursday, October 31, 2013

Introducing Formula Endurance

(Formerly known as TriJuniors)

In 2009, I noticed a gap in the triathlon community of San Diego, where development of junior talent, and introduction of the sport at a young age was missing, especially for Olympic-style, draft-legal triathlon. I saw that there were two very large and successful programs in the US, one based in suburban Chicago and the other in Des Moines, IA, and figured if there was a place to be successful with a junior program, it would be here in the birthplace of the sport. I had retired from professional racing, and decided that if anyone was qualified to start a program in San Diego, it was me. After all, I was a school teacher and coach for 6 years before leaving to focus on triathlon professionally.

In 2010 the program TriJuniors was born. That first year we finished 11th in the national championship team standings. In the following 2 years, we would finish 5th each year, despite the massive growth of the sport and more teams popping up all over the US. This past season, we finished 9th, but produced a #1 ranked Junior Male in the US, and the top 13 year old female at Nationals. I am encouraged by the progress and talent of the youth in the program. It's been especially rewarding to look out and see 30 teenage athletes competing at a high level, realizing what was once just an idea in my mind had come to fruition.

With the NCAA set to vote on January 18-19th, 2014, for triathlon to become the next women's sport, and would be set to begin in the fall of 2014, we are at a crossroads for both the swim world and triathlon. Most swim programs around the country are very controlling, expecting athletes to commit to only swimming, and many only want pool swimming at that. They ignore open water, and triathlon. Their interest is only in the goals of the club, not what is best for the individual athlete.

Enter, Formula Endurance.

Formula Endurance's goal is to be the ONLY USA Triathlon High Performance Team and USA Swimming Club in the US, by January 1, 2014. We are already a USA Triathlon High Performance Team, and the swimming part should be completed before that date.

Why is this a big deal? Because when a female athlete finds their path to an NCAA scholarship is not highly probable in swimming, (like most swimmers), they deserve a chance to pursue triathlon. The fact Formula Endurance is both a swim and triathlon club, focused on pool swimming, open water and triathlon, (heck, even supporting training for water polo), means more opportunities for athletes to develop and find the best path for themselves, male or female. We don't restrict athletes, we support them. Swim programs around the country will find if they don't offer triathlon, they will begin to lose athletes to programs like this.

If you are going to be a top level male or female junior elite triathlete in the US and prepared for NCAA and beyond, you need to be serious about swimming, and this will give them the opportunity to do so. This program model will likely set the precedent of what a develop program should be for triathlon, as well as for swimming. 

What happened to TriJuniors? Nothing, it just changed its name to Formula Endurance. Mostly because it was not a good name for a swim club, and I want it to be consistent across both sports. Formula Endurance is still a 501c3, non-profit organization.

I am excited about the future of this program, and the sport. Please support us if you can. Stay tuned!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie - Part 3 - Pacing in Kona

In a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2, I wanted to dive further into the race data and see if we could begin to look at other aspects of the race which might have affected the performance of Luke McKenzie in Kona, and his outstanding 2nd place finish in 2013.

As I have stated, the question I am asking is, "Was Luke McKenzie's change to 90+ rpms on the bike, a big reason for his dramatic improvement in Kona?"

Of course, there are many other factors that contribute to a race, and proper pacing is probably one of the biggest. So let's look and see how the pacing went in these races, and if that played a role in the differences in the placings for Luke in Kona.

How can we assess pacing? In Kona, perhaps more than any other Ironman, the first hour matters a lot. The first hour on the bike matters in all pro Ironman races, but in Kona it includes the town loop, with climbs on Kuikini and Palani, packed with screaming fans, and the desire to make the lead pack onto the Queen K, given the legal drafting benefit, and the mental push of having the athletes around you to keep the pace high.

Considering Luke has always been a top swimmer, he comes out with the lead group and tends to stay with them early on the bike and throughout much of the race. The first hour of his bike will bring him well past the 25 mile mark, meaning they are traveling over 25 mph! In fact, the range of distance covered in 2011-2013 through the first hour is 26.1-27.8 miles! That's fast, and with the early surges and climbs in the town, you can bet there isn't much room for error. So I was curious, did Luke just pace himself better in 2013, than in 2012 and 2011?

Variability Index, (VI), is a measurement in TrainingPeaks which helps us see how much variance there was in the power output of the athlete. It is basically average power divided by normalized power. If the athlete rode perfectly steady, VI would be 1.0, meaning normalized and average power would be nearly identical. If it is 1.12, that means the power varied 12%. A typical pro variance is about 1.05 or less for an entire Ironman bike.

So let's isolate the first hour of the bike, and see how volatile the pace was, with surges up the hills, and staying with the pack. (Click on all images to enlarge)

You can see that usually the pace is quite varied early, and is much more settled down in the last hour. What is really interesting here is that I was expecting to see that in Luke's best performances, he likely paced himself better, limiting the surges. But what we actually see is the exact opposite! Luke's two biggest VI's were in his two best performances in Kona! His worst performance of the three, 2012, was a significantly lower VI and more steady, much better paced, in the first hour.

So what was different about these three samples, that sets 2012 apart in terms of best pacing, but worst performance? Let's review the basic data from the three rides again.

In the above chart, you can actually see that his OVERALL VI was higher in 2012. But don't forget, it also was his largest power fade of the three years. See the next chart. (Click to enlarge)

When your power output drops nearly 30% from the start, and you've paced yourself without surges extremely well at the beginning, the effort to produce the watts is too much to maintain. So was it fitness, or the execution of the ride, in terms of cadence vs. force on the pedals?

Remember, his FTP in 2012 was 360, same as 2013, and he actually produces a lower IF, and lower TSS in 2012 than 2013. Usually, that means less taxing or stress on the body, which would signal a better opportunity to run well off the bike. But that didn't happen in 2012 at all. 

Part of pacing is also knowing that the intensity you're riding at is correct, not just surges. So let's compare Luke's hour 1 VI in Kona, with the IF from that first hour, to see if he just rode too hard, even if not varied.

Here you can see he actually had his highest IF in 2012, in that first hour, but only 4 tenths of a percent more than 2011. And 2011 was MUCH MORE volatile in that first hour. In 2013, he was rather volatile, but the actual intensity of the watts relative to his FTP was lower than the prior 2 years by about 4%. 

Lastly, let's look at how he rode those watts, relative to force/cadence, with a quadrant analysis, isolating just the first hour of the bike each year, and then compare that with the QA breakdown for the entire race.

QA Hour 1

QA Entire Race

Here we can see that Luke actually increased his Q2% in that first hour in 2011 and 2012, compared with how he rode the rest of the race. Remember, Q2 is high force, low cadence, below 90 rpms. But in 2012, he spent a significant more amount of time in Q2, than 2011. In 2013, he actually spent less percentage of time in Q2 during the volatile first hour than he spent the rest of race. He even spent more Q4 time spinning over 90, in that first hour, than the rest of the race, percentage wise. He spent the same percentage of time in Q1 in 2013, in the first hour, as he did the entire race.

To summarize....
- In the most volatile hour of the 2013 race, Luke spent over 76% of the time over 90 rpms, which was more than he actually did for the whole race
- Luke's 2012 first hour of racing, his lowest cadence year, was actually less volatile the first hour than 2011 and 2013
- Luke's 2012 first hour was about the same IF as in 2011, but about 4% higher than 2013
- Luke's Q2 time in the first hour of 2012 was significantly higher than the other years, being more than twice 2011, and nearly 10 times more than in 2013
- Luke's biggest power and cadence fade came in 2012, despite the lower volatility in the first hour, and similar IF to his excellent 2011 performance

Basically, from this data I think we can say pacing made very little difference, as his small VI and similar IF early in the ride don't prove poor pacing on his part. (Although his IF in hour 1 was lowest in 2013, and 4% might have made the difference).

So what was the big difference in the performance? Was it that he was better able to tolerate the volatility based on his higher cadence he rode in 2011 and 2013 in that hour, compared with 2012? Did his mashing, high Q2 time, catch-up with him and sap the run out of his legs?

Yes, the sample size here is very small, but these are questions which coaches and Ironman athletes need to ask themselves.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What do you think elite level sport is?

My recent posts on Luke McKenzie have been both praised and criticized, as is expected when you present ideas and evidence that perhaps the common way of thinking might not be the best line of thinking, or that there may be a way to do things better and more effectively.

The fact some might blow off this sudden jump in Luke's performance, when there is clear evidence of a change in training style and philosophy, shows a mindset which is lazy, stubborn, and facing a ticking clock. If people and athletes who are pursuing elite level sport want to wait until something is proven to the masses, then it is too late. Your competition has likely been doing it for many years, and you've been getting beat frequently and regularly by it.

That's what elite level sport is, trying to find an advantage to see the most effective and best ways of gaining performance and training adaptations, BEFORE THE COMPETITION DOES! If you think you can just do what everyone else is doing and just beat them at the same game, you better be sure you have the best athlete(s).

One example...When I raced XTERRA professionally, during the 2006 season, I knew I was never going to beat the likes of a Conrad Stoltz or Josiah Middaugh, racing the same bike(s) they raced. They were just too good on the bike, I needed an advantage they didn't have. So I went and got a 29er, (they rode 26 inch wheels then), which was a rarity during that time. In fact, many in the XTERRA pro ranks laughed at me, thinking I was just a sucker for the newest fad, as I was the only pro riding a 29er. (I also chose to go to the extreme and ride it fully rigid, hoping the fire road sections would really help me, and to keep the weight down). Unfortunately, some mechanicals and injuries kept me from continuing with the season, and I decided to switch to Ironman. But now you can't go to an XTERRA event and find a 26 inch wheel, practically. That advantage is lost now. Everyone in the field wised up. I didn't take advantage of the situation as well as I could have, but certainly, that opportunity was there for me. If I had used it more effectively, who knows what it would have meant for my career.

Now that everyone knows about 29ers and uses them, it's great that they are proven. But if you were waiting for proof, the opportunity is lost in elite level XTERRA.

Is Luke's change to 90+ rpm's on the bike proof enough for you to change the way you ride in long course? That decision is up to you, but you must also ask yourself if you're willing to give that opportunity of change solely to your competition, because some of them will be doing it. That's what elite level sport is.

Coach Vance

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie Part 2 - Kona 2011-2013

After my last post, many wondered how Luke's cadence was in 2011, when he finished 9th, and ran 3:05 off the bike in the Kona. It was a great question, and I was luckily able to retrieve Luke's file from 2011, so now we can actually compare his last Kona performances.

***I must give full credit to Hunter Allen of the Peaks Coaching Group, for the article he did on Luke's 2011 Kona ride for a now defunct tri magazine, as he supplied the 2 file photos and the actual power file for this post.***

So the general premise of what I am asking with these posts is, was Luke McKenzie's change to a higher cadence, (90+, which is 20 rpms more from 2012 to 2013), one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason for his breakthrough race, both on the bike and for the run?

Before I go on to present evidence, let me say I am not certain of this, as there are so many factors affecting performance, especially preparation, conditions, race circumstances and decisions of the competitors, and more. However, this change in riding style and performance was so great, it is unprecedented, and we must examine it closer, not just shrug it off as coincidence. It is especially compelling when we look at how Pete Jacobs rode to win in 2012.

So let's look at the basic info for Luke's ride in 2011, compared with 2012 and 2013: (Click on all images to enlarge)

Here's an image of his actual power file:

Here's an image of Luke's 2011 QA from the race:

The first thing you'll notice is his higher cadence than 2012, but his overall sample average is still in Q3. Here's the breakdown by quadrant for each year:

Many have said 2011 was a higher cadence year, and they are right. However, looking at the above chart, you can see even though he had more time in Q4, (90 rpms or higher), he still had an average which was weighted heavily in Q3, and his average cadence for the whole ride was less than 90, at 86. His reduction of ~40% of his total ride time for 2013 in Q3 compared with 2011-2012 is incredible.

Perhaps he rode too low still, and 86 rpms just wasn't high enough to see the advantages of the higher cadence. But let's look deeper, and compare what I call Cadence Fade/Power Fade. This is a new measurement I created, where I isolate the first hour and last hour of an Ironman bike, to see how the effort fatigued the athlete. I compare the average cadence and the normalized power for those 2 hours, and calculate the percentage lost or gained.

In the above chart, I have sorted the years by place, with his worst finish, 2012 at the top, 2011 in the middle, and his best performance at the bottom. A few interesting correlations as finish place improves, (albeit this is a small sample size), are:
- Cadence was higher both in the first hour and last hour as place improves
- The percentage loss of cadence fade is lower as cadence goes up, and place improves
- The percentage loss of power is lower as cadence goes up
- Run splits get faster as cadence goes up and cadence fade goes down
- IF goes up, but given the power conditions can play on this, it seems to lack any credibility

Perhaps just as interesting is that TSS for ride, NP entire ride and VI ride show no statistical relevance.

Of course, as place improves in the race, you would expect fitness and preparation to be better. One item of interest is that actually in 2011, Luke's reported FTP was 330 watts, when he got 9th. In 2012 and 2013, his worst and best performances, it is reported at 360 watts. Does this negate the preparation argument, since he had a higher FTP or better bike preparation in 2012 and 2013? Of course not. After all, FTP is only one measurement of fitness. But one could also argue that if Luke made the decision to ride over 90 rpms, (which he clearly did), he made a decision to better prepare himself to do so, and executed that. Which would give credence to the fact his preparation was more effective when he focused on going over 90 rpms.

Was it because he did the race over 90, or that his training to ride at 90+ had a more positive effect on his fitness and preparing his body? Was 90 the magic number where the changes in fitness happened for him?

There are no simple, clear answers, as there are so many variables. In my next post, Part 3, I will look at one variable which may or may not play a role, (I haven't even investigated it fully yet, but believe I should). Stay tuned!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie - Kona 2013

If there was one athlete who stole the show in Kona this year, it was Luke McKenzie. His best finish in Kona prior to this year was 9th. This year he stormed out on a break-away which many thought might have been suicidal, considering his company on the break. 

Last year, 2012, Luke finished 24th overall in the race. After that race, I highlighted some of the differences between his riding style and that of the winner, Pete Jacobs. Apparently, whether he read my blog or not, he came to the conclusion that his cadence needed to improve. 

The fact is, Luke changed his riding style from 2012 to 2013, DRAMATICALLY! And I don't use capital letters often to illustrate a point, but I am not sure I can think of a better reason when you see the differences. Before I begin, it is best for you to review this post to better understand QA

Here is what Luke rode in 2012, from a Quadrant Analysis perspective... 

(click on image to enlarge)
Luke's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 0.1%, 2: 36.4%, 3: 58.5%, 4: 5%
Luke's run split: 3:20:32

What this means is Luke rode the race in 2012, mostly as a "masher". His cadence averaged 74 rpms for the entire race. He was pushing slowly, but forcefully on the pedals. I divided his output into the 4 quadrants, which highlight that he spent over 1/3rd of the race pushing that high gear, high force, with low cadence. 

This led to a high Q3 time, which means lower force, and lower cadence, basically lower wattage, because he inevitably fatigued quite a bit. In fact, his total average of all power samples for the ride fell into Q3. He had only 5% of the entire ride at a cadence higher than 90, which would have put him in Q4. 

In 2013, we saw an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT Luke McKenzie. Here's his QA from Kona 2013...

(click on image to enlarge)
Luke's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 6.5%, 2: 7.4%, 3: 16.9%, 4: 69.2%
Luke's run split: 2:57:20

How different was this than 2012? Let's review in a closer look...

Luke entirely changed his point of emphasis when riding, avoiding the lower cadence, higher force quadrant of Q2, in favor of the higher cadence spinning and lower force production of Q4. He was able to dramatically reduce the low force, low cadence Q3 quadrant, as Q3 inevitably means the athlete is not performing well. After all, a lot of time spent at low force with low cadence means low power outputs. Although one might want to conserve energy, there was so much Q3 time in 2012, it was clear that Luke was spent from all the gear mashing in Q2.

Just to help show the difference in terms of cadence, here's what the change looked like in terms of the percentage of time spent below 90 rpms, versus at or above 90 rpms:

To say this is a dramatic change is putting it mildly to say the least. Luke clearly put a new emphasis in his bike training to become a higher cadence rider. This isn't a change an athlete can simply make overnight, even one of his talent level. This took many months with a focused determination to become a different rider. 

Another metric I have started looking at is cadence fade and power fade, where I compare the first and last hour of an Ironman bike, average cadence and normalized power, to get a sense of how much the ride fatigued the athlete. Here's a comparison of 2012 and 2013 for Luke. 

You can see the difference in how much less he actually lost of his cadence, and how well he maintained his power throughout the race, only losing about 4% from the first hour, compared to losing 28% of his power in the last hour of 2012. Did the mashing of the gears tire him out more in 2012? It would appear. 

One might wonder if he just rode smarter in 2013 with pacing, and that had an effect instead of his cadence change. Here's a look at how his numbers were from 2012 vs. 2013...

As you can see, the numbers weren't dramatically different overall, and the fact the conditions allowed him to ride a faster speed also helped raise his IF and NP. There is only a small difference in his VI. 

Lastly, his run split in 2013 was 23:12 faster than 2012, an average of 53 secs per mile faster for the marathon! Could this have just been better training and preparation for the run? The conditions? Sure, it could be that, could just be coincidence. But when you look at how Pete Jacobs rode and ran last year, you begin to wonder if we are onto something here. 

Does this mean every athlete should be riding high cadence, maximizing Q4 time? There is still more research to be done, but it is clear that Luke believed so, dramatically changing the way he rode, and it clearly paid off, going from 24th last year to 2nd this year, putting together his best bike and run in Kona ever.

Coach Vance

Monday, October 21, 2013

Transformation via Training Plan

Here's a photo an athlete shared with me on Facebook, of his transformation after using one of my Training Plans. His name is Peter Prestley, and he used an XTERRA plan of mine to prep for the XTERRA World Championships in Maui, Hawaii this weekend.

Always great to see this type of feedback! If you're using one of my plans as well, would love to see something from you as well.

If you're looking for a training plan to prepare you, please check out mine at

Coach Vance

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Power of Kyle Buckingham

Another article I wrote and is published at, is on the top age grouper in Kona, Kyle Buckingham, winner of the Men's 30-34 age group, in a time of 8:37. If you are interested in how the top age groupers are performing, you will want to check this article out, as I compared his performance to that of the pro men.


Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Power Analysis - Meredith Kessler vs. Linsey Corbin - Kona 2013

Here's an article for Slowtwitch I wrote, on behalf of TrainingPeaks, looking and comparing the power files of Meredith Kessler and Linsey Corbin, both Purple Patch Fitness athletes for Coach Matt Dixon.

Enjoy! I will working on a couple more like this, and then posting a review of the Kona run data.