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Predictors of Triathlon Performance

By Todd Buckingham | July 06, 2017, 6:49 p.m. (ET)

age group nationals

A study to analyze data from Olympic distance triathlons 

This will be my third year competing in the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. My first year in Milwaukee was a great experience and I finished eighth overall. Last year in Omaha was even better, and I (somehow) managed to come away with the overall win! (You can read about that here.) After being around such high-level triathletes at the championships the last two years, it got me thinking: What makes a triathlete good at swimming, biking and running? Is there a single factor that is most predictive of success in each of the three disciplines or in the overall race? And wouldn't it be nice if there was a way to measure all this data and put it to good use in my training and racing?

With the development of triathlon watches like the Garmin Forerunner series, it’s now possible to measure these factors in training and race situations. One of the problems with these watches is that they give athletes so much information, it can be hard to narrow down and focus on what’s really important. Is it the number of strokes an athlete takes during the swim, having a high cycling cadence, or having really long strides in the run?

Now, I’ve always been somewhat of a self-proclaimed nerd and that even extends into the world of triathlon. As a Ph.D. student in kinesiology at Michigan State University, there is a culminating research paper that I am required to write based upon a research study that I conduct. For my research study, I am setting out to answer these questions.

Specifically, with my study I am looking to assess data measured by a triathlete’s multisport watch during the 2017 USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance Age Group National Championship race and other Olympic-distance triathlons as well. I hope to discover how certain variables (SWOLF, cycling cadence and running stride length) are related to success in each discipline, as well as in the overall triathlon.

Now this is the cool part: almost every triathlete who finishes the 2017 USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance Age Group National Championship race or another Olympic-distance race during the 2017 season is eligible to be part of my study and will obtain information that will hopefully lead to an improvement in his/her triathlon performance!

To be part of my study, triathletes must plan to participate in the 2017 USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance Age Group National Championships or another Olympic-distance race during 2017 and use a multisport watch during the race. After the race, participants of my study will complete a questionnaire that asks about various triathlon and other athletic endeavors (e.g., various personal records, years of triathlon experience, purpose for competing in triathlons). Participants will also send a link through the survey that contains the race measured by their Garmin device. This will allow researchers to analyze which variables are associated with better performance during the race in each the swim, bike and run disciplines, and overall for age-group triathletes.

If you are interested in how to improve your triathlon training and racing performance, please consider participating in my study. For detailed instructions on how you should use your multisport watch during the race, please visit

After you finish the race, you can take the survey here. Remember, the survey can only be completed after you finish the race so don’t start it too soon.

I will be at the national championship race in August, so feel free to come find me and chat about the study. If you have any questions, please email me at

Thanks, and I look forward to another great race in Omaha!