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

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