This is the second installment of this series. It’s Olympic/International distance this time. I’m reviewing 3 triathlon race distances to see if any patterns appear. My opinion is that in triathlon, of any distance, the best finishing times come from the faster runners. I also wanted to see if a faster bike split can set up a high age-group place without a blazing swim and run time. I got a little carried away and put down some of my pearls for triathlon. It was more of an exercise for me in preparation of these races this year.
I’m looking at the results from the 2011 Rocketman Olympic Triathlon in the fine city of Huntsville, AL. The race venue is on Redstone Arsenal Army base. The swim is a 1500 meter river swim. Start is time-trial by estimated swim time. One swims about 550meters north against the current, across 100 meters, and then down-river 850meters to transition. Transition area is simple and small (race capped at 500 racers). There’s a short ramp up from the river. The 40k bike course is mostly flat, with a couple of small rollers. A few turns but I’d call it a nontechnical course. The run is on/off road and usually hot that time of year.
Bruce Gennari of Team Timex placed first overall in 2:01:12. BG was a Div 1 swimmer at Alabama and is our local equivalent to Andy Potts. Dude is a fish. He had a good day with the only sub 1 hour 40k bike time and a top-10 run time.
- This swim tends not to be blazing fast as some swim venues. It’s not wetsuit legal and the first third against the current adds to times, I think. But, never forget, swim distances and times are very difficult to predict pre-race.
- Nevertheless…BG swam at about a 1:15/100y pace. Top 10% swim was at 1:39/100y pace. 2 of the fastest swimmers placed on the podium. The second overall had the 13th fastest swim but went on to kill the bike and run.
- Interestingly, only 4 of the fastest swimmers cracked the top 10 at the end of the race. Certainly seems at this race, a fast swim without a solid bike and run did not always benefit. Did those participants kill the swim only to burn matches for the rest of the race? Most of the time there are just talented fish (aka fast swimmers) that aren’t as strong on bike or run.
- A top 10-15% swim would be my goal for this race. Any faster is just icing. I wouldn’t burn matches during the swim. It’s not wetsuit legal but you gain a few seconds with a speedsuit provided you can strip this quickly in T1. The race is not a WTC-race so you wouldn’t have to worry about speedsuit restrictions. Another choice would be the Desoto liftfoil tri-suit.
- Only lesson here is practice your transitioning. Fastest T1 times in the low 30 secs. The transition area at this race is small and not congested. One should be able to enter/exit in less than 45 secs. Short run-up from river…Goggles/Swim cap off…+/-Speedsuit off while putting helmet on…Bike unracked and pushed across mount line…running jump onto bike, feet on shoes already clipped in…and your gone. Transition times are free time. Make them count. Or make them not count, that is. I’ve placed higher by virtue only of a quicker T1/T2.
- The bike distance is much longer than the sprint distance. One can pass faster swimmers and bank several minutes on the faster runners. That’s only if you ride at threshold or slightly below. Your legs have to be fresh to run a quick split later.
- There are a few formulas that may accurately predict what you should ride for the 40k to have a fast run split. I think, unfortunately, there are too many other variables at play. I train with a powermeter and I can test to estimate my FTP (functional threshold power). This is theoretically the power I can hold for one hour. With an estimate of my FTP in mind, I can race at 90-95%of my FTP for this distance and likely have good running legs. Training and racing with power has advantages over using heart-rate or just racing at a certain speed. It eventually comes down to practice and experience. I haven’t done a sprint or olympic distance race with my powermeter, so this year will be fun analyzing that data.
- Anyway, too much rambling; back to the data. The eventual winner had the fastest bike split. That isn’t usually the case in most races. In this race, of the top 10 finishers, seven had top 10 bike splits. That’s pretty dominate. A fast bike split propelled these folks well up in the standings.
- The top 10% biked at 1:05:35 or faster for 40K(@24.8miles). That’s about 22.8mph. Pretty fast, but a good course to do that. In most age-groups, there is a pointy end with faster bike splits in the top finishers then a gradual drop off. In my age-group, a sub 1:06(22.6mph) bike split would be solid.
- A little slower T2 times compared to T1. Takes a brief period to wake up our running legs. The fastest times were not necessarily from the winners but their #s weren’t slug-like either. These folks are off their bike and moving out.
- Fastest run splits didn’t all come from the overall winners. In fact, only 4 of the fastest run split racers placed in the top 10 overall. This was similar to the swim stats. The fast run splits did place them high in their respective age-groups however. Like the bike numbers, there is a pointy end to the run splits in each age-group. Run fast and you’ll pass alot of people.
- Running a 43:02 (6:55 min/mi) 10k gave one a top 10% split for the run. It is difficult to run at the pace one would run an open time. I’ve touched on this before. At shorter distances, one may get closer to that, +/- 5%. At longer distances, one has to manage effort over a longer swim and longer bike to leave “fresh” legs. There are a few gifted triathletes that can throw down run splits at all distances that are very close to open times, (Pro Craig Alexander comes to mind). A few articles are written about this. There is a comparison about two talented collegiate runners. One, I forget his name-ha, ha, had very impressive 5k, 10k times in college compared to his teammate (I do remember his name…Hunter Kemper). However, when they both tried triathlon, it was Hunter who could run much faster for a triathlon run split. His teammate never was as competitive. Research suggests there may be different neuromuscular properties between these runners and perhaps it’s mostly genetic. However, training and neuromuscular development and endurance can help get closer to that 5% drop. So don’t give up yet.
TABLE (Overall 1,2,3 times)—Yeah, I know I said no charts, but my skills are improving.
- Unrelated to anything, I’m still impressed by how fast Gennari swims. I’m a better than average triathlete swimmer and still can’t even sniff those numbers. Maybe for 100-200y, but I fall apart after that. Again, wow. Nevertheless, it seems that a solid swim is important in the standings but you can’t win the race with the fastest swim split (though Gennari did, –ha,ha). Therefore, swim steady with good form and good breathing. Don’t kill yourself for an extra 1-2 minutes. A speedsuit may give you 30-40sec over a 1500m swim and will set you back $200-300. Better be able to strip that sucker off fast in T1.
- I’m starting to see those stronger cyclists move up the standings as the distance gets longer. You can boost yourself forward quite a bit if you have a solid pacing plan. Just leave something in the tank.
- Fast runners to the front of the line again. Work on your running and you will do well in triathlon. It’s less about running a bunch of bricks than just running. In fact there is a growing trend away from monster brick sessions. They are still used by a lot of triathletes in training. The thought is that your muscles are adapting to switching quickly from cycling specific mechanics to running. Also the thought that running on bike-fatigued legs will make you stronger physically and mentally. When I first starting doing triathlons, bike-run bricks were awkward and painful. However, the more I race and the more my cycling/running base increases, I rarely feel that jelly-legged. The sad exception is when I over-cook the bike, get behind on fuel, or its just hot/humid as crap (my nemesis).
- Lastly, the longer the distance, don’t forget about hydration/fueling. For me anything over 90 minutes requires a game plan for nutrition. Most athletes have about 90mins of ready-to-go fuel in their glycogen stores. Beyond that we use our fat stores. Unfortunately, at the higher level of exertion/HR used in a race, we can’t process this into energy efficiently. Therefore, it’s better to have a more simple source of energy coming into our body.
A little lengthy but hope readers can pull a little knowledge out.