When people ask me why I like to use TrainingPeaks with my coaching clients I give two very simple answers: it’s a great way for coach and client to communicate with one another, and it’s a fantastic way to build and review an athlete’s history.
It is that history that is critical for the race day planning of an athlete’s first Ironman distance triathlon. There is no single-day sport that is more difficult both to prepare for and to compete in. Any mistakes made along the way either in planning or on race day will be compounded by weather, the course, and the crushing feeling of defeat and disappointment.
It was those mistakes that we were looking to avoid when I helped to prepare one of our athletes for her first Ironman earlier this year at Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. As a somewhat experienced triathlete, things like equipment or the transition were not an issue, but how hard to go and what to consume to survive the event certainly were.
Using the high-tech data detailed on TrainingPeaks, we were able to analyze what workouts she had done in the past for all three sports, what the Training Stress Scores (TSS) were for the different types of exercises and training, and how the changes in her energy consumption affected how she felt after those training sessions. Here’s what we learned for each segment of the race:
• Being a former high-level competitive swimmer, we knew this athlete’s strength would be the first leg of the event. Using data from past workouts on TrainingPeaks, we were able to estimate her TSS and kilojoule workload for the distance. We rounded up a bit to compensate for nerves and cold water. Brr.
• For the bike portion of the race, we used data from her power meter uploaded to TrainingPeaks and WKO+ to estimate her long-term critical power value (the highest wattage possible for a given amount of time) and therefore give her a realistic gauge of effort for the event. We wanted her to have a steady and stress-free ride.
• Again using TrainingPeaks, we knew from past running workouts what type of energy this athlete burned during long or fast or mixed types of run training. Using the training zones portion of her TP account, we could estimate what her best pacing and energy usage would be for a steady marathon run on race day.
With this pacing information available, we now turned to the meal and food logs she kept meticulously for every day and every workout. Using both the Dashboard function on her TP account and graphing out performance for her workouts on WKO+, we knew what was needed for her to have a healthy and steady day. We developed a standard caloric intake per hour and then purchased race nutrition products or estimated what was available on the course to fulfill those requirements.
So, we had the intensity and nutrition standards necessary in order for her to reach her goals. We knew from her history what was possible and what to expect on race day barring any incidents or other unforeseen issues.
The most critical mistake I have seen made in preparing for difficult endurance races is the correct “taper” or working rest period going into the big event. This is where TrainingPeaks and WKO+ made life very easy. As mentioned above, the functions that track TSS for swimming and running in addition to the power data from the bike gave us three pieces of information shown on our Performance Management Chart:
1. Chronic Training Load – this is a rolling 42-day or 6-week average of your daily training stress score. Also called your “fitness”, it shows how your overall training is proceeding.
2. Acute Training Load – this value is your 7-day average and helps put a number to what is called “fatigue”. Basically, a hard week makes you tired!
3. Training Stress Balance – this value is basically the difference of the above two factors or your “form”. You can be fit as heck, but if you are tired, you are going to go slow!
Our goal was to maintain a good fitness level but bring that fatigue down and the form up just in time for race day. We were able to customize (almost daily, yikes!) the two weeks going into the race so that she was as fresh and fit as possible for the Ironman distance.
This athlete was only off of our estimated time by four minutes and finished in broad, shining daylight. It’s one thing to just finish an Ironman distance event, it is another to cross the finish line with a smile, knowing you did your best and gained an incredible experience.
Kyle Wolfe has spent the last 26 years of his life dedicated to the sport of cycling. Kyle is the multisport coach of Finish Fast Cycling, a USA Cycling licensed Level 2D Coach, a Level B USAC official, and is Power Based Training Certified by USAC. Kyle is one of only a few in the Northeast with such certification and one of only about three dozen nationwide. As a former elite racer, he has competed and scored all across this country and in Europe while learning about the sport and competition. His lifelong exposure to competitive sports and coaching has taught him how to work with athletes and help them reach their highest levels possible!