This is an excerpt from the new "Triathlon 2.0: Data-Driven Performance Training" (Human Kinetics, 2016), written by former elite triathlete Jim Vance.
“There are too many factors you have to take into account that you have no control over … The most important factor you can keep in your own hands is yourself. I always placed the greatest emphasis on that.” — Eddy Merckx, Belgian, five-time Tour de France champion
What role did your preparation play in the performance outcome? How can we then use that data in the future to perfect your training for the next race? The most important training you do may happen after the race, and it’s not physical training.
Racing, at any level, is a combination of art and science. The art of racing is understanding how a race works and how to read a race, like the dynamics of what is happening around you, reading your competition’s moves and making moves to beat them. The art of racing is being flexible with your race plan as the race unfolds. This is going by feel on race day and is a psychological aspect of racing. The science of racing, the physiological demands of the race, is backed up with real numbers. These numbers come from a power meter and a GPS device. With this data, real feedback is now available to the artist.
If you visit any running, cycling or triathlon forum on the internet, you’ll notice the popularity of race reports. We all seem to love the storytelling that goes with our adventures, especially in longer races where so many things happen that the toughest part is remembering them all for the report.
Many athletes enjoy writing the report and talking about the funny instances, the pain and discomfort (at times) and the lows and highs of their performance. However, most are missing a quality opportunity to assess their race, performance, strategy, nutrition, pace and even confidence or motivation in some cases.
If you’re tempted to write a race report, it’s fine to make it enjoyable for others to read, but be sure to use it as a tool to be honest and objective with yourself. In fact, a race report should be more for your use as an evaluation tool than as an entertainment tool for others.
With as much time as athletes put into training and preparation for an event, probably the most effective use of time comes after the race in truthfully assessing your performance and how closely it matched your expectations. If it didn’t match, what were some of the causes? Were you underconfident in yourself and performed much better than you expected? Did you overestimate your fitness or underestimate the course, competition or conditions?
What types of things can be learned from this reflection and evaluation? It may seem unimportant once the race is over, but if you ever plan to return to a similar endeavor, or this race, this opportunity is golden.
A postrace analysis is an incredibly useful tool that allows you to go back and review the written plan and compare it directly with what happened, step by step. This allows you to see where your planning was spot-on and where you missed in your projections. This exercise of writing the plan and then comparing it with what actually happened are opportunities to learn about both the science and art of racing. They are both learned skills and can come a lot faster if given the attention.
No matter how you feel about how the swim leg went for you, you should assess if your preparation and plan were effective. Did you train properly to perform the swim split you wanted? There may not be a lot of numbers that are easy to assess and measure, but one simple measure is to see how your test sets and race-specific workouts equated to the performance. Were the swim test times similar to other races, and how did that compare with your time and place within your age group at the race?
Did the current, water temperature or sighting challenges affect you? Were you able to handle the crowds if it was a mass start? What helped or hurt you with that?
If it was a time trial start, how effective do you feel your warm-up was? If you swam in a wetsuit, how did it feel?
Now we can really begin to dive into the data and see how you did, not only in the race execution but also in how well your training actually prepared you for the demands of race day, so you can make adjustments in your future training decisions. Remember too that the bike is about 50 percent of the race time, so a lot can be gleaned from this data, in terms of analysis of your success.
Estimate Versus Actual Bike Split
In the race plan, you estimated your bike split, and now it’s time to compare that estimation and the plan from it with what the actual split was. What effect did your estimation have on your race? If you were way off with your estimation, that can be very bad for your performance, no matter if you were much faster or much slower. What conditions on race day played into this? Was it hotter than expected? Was it windier than expected? Did you ride with better or worse equipment you didn’t realize would affect your split? Did you end up carrying a lot more items than you do in training? All of these can have a major effect on your actual bike split versus your estimated bike split.
If you used a race planning software program, how did the plan compare with what actually happened? Again, if there were major differences, what might have caused them?
Remember, we have a goal TSS for a very specific reason: to leave enough gas in your tank to run as well as you can. Use the bike to set up the run. If the run did not go either how you wanted or expected, how did your bike TSS factor into this? If your TSS is fine, how did you get to that number? Was the pace too hard early and you slowed considerably late? If you had a great run, what do the numbers tell you?
If your run did not go how you wanted or expected and TSS doesn’t appear to have been the main factor, then the next step is to look at VI from the bike. Were there too many early surges? Were there too many surges overall throughout the bike? Remember, surges can be in response to another athlete, such as passing or to overcome terrain.
Did you run the first mile five percent faster than your goal pace for the event? Was your goal pace realistic, given the course and your training? What metrics did you see in your training that made you feel you could run that pace?
What external factors on race day had an effect on your run split? The hottest part of the day is usually in the afternoon, when athletes are on the run course. Was it hotter than expected when you were on the run course? Was it windier than expected on the run course?
You have to look at the metrics from the power meter and your run training independently and combined and factor in external conditions.
Finally, did you execute your nutrition plan to support the run performance you wanted? More on that shortly.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the importance of flexibility with your estimated bike time. This is the main reason for creating ranges with your goal time. So were you flexible on race day? Flexibility is the art of racing, being able to adjust on the fly as you’re reading the race.
If your training was specific to your needs and your estimated bike split, you ultimately asked more from your body than you have ever asked before; you were asking it to perform better than it ever has before.
Did you adjust your race plan as the race progressed throughout the day? Did you adjust your strategy on the fly due to unexpected conditions such as a hotter or windier day? Did you adjust your strategy if you simply were not able to generate the power output that you wanted? Did you adjust your strategy if you were stronger than you thought you would be on race day?
How did your nutrition play a role in your flexibility? Did your nutrition plan work? Was there a good mixture of solid foods and liquid calories? Did you have gastrointestinal issues during the race? If you did, what affect did that have on your ability to stick to your plan? What were some of the potential causes? Concentration of the nutrition? Too much solid food? Not enough?
All of these questions are important to ask to help analyze your race and improve the next time out.
Jim Vance is a former triathlete and currently an international triathlon, running and cycling elite coach with TrainingBible Coaching. He is the founder and head coach of the nonprofit organization Formula Endurance, the nation’s first USA Swimming and USA Triathlon high-performance team.
As the first program to take advantage of the latest science and technology, Triathlon 2.0 examines the sport’s most popular devices, including cycling power meters, GPS trackers, and heart rate monitors. Vance, now an elite coach with TrainingBible Coaching, helps you put the numbers to work, translating data into a comprehensive program based on your performance needs and triathlon goals. Triathlon 2.0: Data-Driven Performance Training is now available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at HumanKinetics.com.
All rights reserved. No reproduction, transmission, or display is permitted without the written permission of Human Kinetics, Inc.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.