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Haskins Double Carries Useful Lessons for All Triathletes

Photo by Paul PhillipsBy Matt Fitzgerald

It is not easy to win the St. Anthony’s Triathlon, which is one of the most competitive non-drafting international-distance races on the professional circuit. It’s even harder to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team in triathlon. More difficult still is achieving both of these feats in a period of 12 days, but Sarah Haskins nearly did just that, winning St. Anthony’s on April 29 in course-record time and then coming within a hair’s breadth of qualifying for her second Olympics at the ITU World Triathlon San Diego on May 11, finishing as the second American and eighth overall when she needed to be the first American and among the top nine finishers. (Check out Sarah's power file from ITU San Diego here).

Although disappointed with the latter result, Haskins, 31, takes comfort in knowing that her preparation for the back-to-back races was perfect. The St. Louis native and current resident of Clermont, Fla., might be further gratified to know that her preparation for the unique “double” that she nearly pulled off provides an excellent model for age-group triathletes to follow in their own efforts to excel in more than one race within a short period of time.

It was only in January of this year that Haskins and her coach-husband Nate Kortuem learned the date of the final Olympic qualification event for U.S. athletes. Although it fell less than two weeks after St. Anthony’s, where Haskins was the defending champion, the thought of skipping the Florida race to focus on the more important San Diego event never crossed her mind. “I felt that it was possible to have peak form for both races,” Haskins explains. “I think it actually would have been harder if the races had been farther apart. But with only 12 days between them, I could use St. Anthony’s as one last ‘fitness race’ before the trials.”

Haskins also knew from nine years of triathlon experience that she was capable of bouncing back quickly from one race to perform well in a second race one or two weeks later. Nevertheless, she and Kortuem recognized that they would have to plan and execute her preparation just right to maximize her chances of achieving her goals for the two events. Here again they took advantage of knowledge acquired through past experience.

“We looked at what we did before London last year,” says Kortuem, referring to August’s ITU World Triathlon London, where Haskins finished a disappointing 34th. “I think we trained too hard and put her in a hole. Going into London after that she was just dead flat. Obviously, we cut back for recovery, but by then it was already too late.”

Sponsored by TrainingPeaks, Haskins uses their WKO+ desktop and Web software to quantify her fitness and fatigue throughout the year so that she can link cause (training) with effect (race performance) and make adjustments as necessary. After studying her Performance Management Chart for 2011—which included complete data sets for swimming, cycling, and running—Kortuem recommended a different approach for this year.

“We decided to have her rest earlier,” he said. “If you rest early, then you absorb all of the hard training you’ve done up to that point. Then you can build back into the race so that you’re actually gaining fitness when the race comes instead of struggling to catch up on recovery.”

Haskins and Kortuem agreed that the strategy would work best if Haskins kept her racing and travel to a minimum prior to St. Anthony’s. So between January and early April Haskins trained consistently at home in Clermont. Her routine was interrupted for just two events—the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge on March 3 and the Nautica South Beach Triathlon on April 1—both of which were within driving distance of home. Haskins “trained through” the first race and then tested her early-rest strategy for Miami, bringing her workload down two weeks ahead of the event instead of waiting until race week. The test went well (Haskins won the Miami event), so two weeks before St. Anthony’s Haskins backed off once more to catch up on recovery. In the first half of race week she did a few more hard workouts to make the “fitness” line on her Performance Management Chart begin to curve upward again. The last three days were treated as a short taper. Haskins went into the event feeling fit and ready. The results proved it: Haskins’ winning time of 1:56:55 shattered the course record by 50 seconds and gave her a massive 2:21 margin of victory.

That race itself served as a final sharpening workout for the Olympic trials in San Diego. Haskins did just enough work during the intervening week and a half to stay sharp but made rest her top priority. Although Haskins ultimately fell 45 seconds short of making her second Olympic team, she could not fault her training plan.

“I think we pretty much nailed the training,” she says.

See Haskins' Performance Management Chart below, showing her fitness building through training load, and her rest periods. Note her fitness (represented by the blue line) climbs steadily over time, and her form (represented by the yellow line, TSB), increases after periods of rest such as immediately prior to St. Anthony's.

Although many age-group triathletes choose to rely on ready-made training plans found in magazines, books, and websites to prepare for races, such plans necessarily focus on a single “peak” race, whereas in reality a lot of triathletes are in situations similar to that of the Haskins double, wishing to perform well in two or more races with a span of several weeks or a few months. Haskins believes that the approach she takes with the aid of TrainingPeaks software's analytics and tracking can work just as well for these age-groupers.

“I think it’s important to remember that races are your hardest workouts,” Haskins explains. “If you’re trying to do a number of races in a short period of time, you have to treat those races as workouts when it comes to planning your hard work and your recovery in a way that allows you get fit and stay fit without getting too tired. One of the great things about WKO+ or TrainingPeaks is that it treats everything the same. If you plug in the data from your workouts and your races it will combine them and tell you how much fitness and how much fatigue you have from everything lumped together.”

Haskins feels it’s possible to peak twice per season. If you have two races that fall within 14 days or so during the season, you can stretch a peak to cover both of them. But any attempt to stay in peak form longer than that is just a recipe for burnout. “After each peak I think it’s important to take a week easy,” Haskins says. “During the season you have to take those breaks or else you’re not going to have anything left for the end.”

No matter how often you race, the goal is consistency—to perform well in each competition. To do that it is essential that you balance hard work and recovery appropriately, which, as Sarah Haskins has shown, is made easier with tools such as TrainingPeaks and WKO+ that quantify fitness and fatigue so you don’t have to guess about these things.

Sarah used and WKO+ to track her training over time and be in peak form for both St. Anthony's and ITU San Diego. Learn more about TrainingPeaks Software for Athletes here. You can also check out Sarah's own race report from ITU San Diego here.

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Reader Comments (5)

I thought that St Anthonys was a NON Drafting race for the pro's just like the AGe groupers. Matt indicated it was a draft legal race. . Which was it

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjon adamson

Great article, thanks!
I understand and use the ATL vs CTL trends. It is my understanding that ATL is based on most recent 10 days.
1. Might this be different for younger athletes who recover faster, vs older athletes?
2. Are all the workouts (TSS) included in the ATL calculation of equal mathematical weighting? Might it make sense to discount the workouts from 8,9,10 days ago?
3. Is it necessary to determine a personal ATL calculation? How might one do this? Should resting heart rate be considered? Might this change within a season, or over time due to age?
4. Might the ATL calculation be different as an athlete goes from triathlon training and racing to marathon training and racing? In my experience a marathon takes longer recovery than a similar TSS triathlon.

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBill

These are great questions! You no doubt see the potential of using the Performance Management Chart for performance modeling but understanding nuances between athletes takes experience and a bit of trial and error. With that said, TrainingPeaks has the world best athletes and coaches constantly trialing the system and gained a good depth of understanding on the questions you're asking.

1. Because ATL/CTL is based on TSS which is based on relative thresholds the recovery vs. effort is mitigated when comparing athletes of different ages since often an older athlete will have greater tolerances for handling greater workloads even if the intensity is lower. Therefore instead of thinking in terms of strictly TSS and age, it's more important to consider the athletic age and how TSS is generated. Prescribing a young/inexperienced athlete workouts above IF of .9 will likely lead to quicker gains, generating ATL growth rapidly and likely resulting is less injury than an equally experienced older athlete doing IF of .75-.85 but even a spry teenager would eventually need to back off and reduce intensity to improve other energy systems and after a month or two you'd imagine the two athletes would have comparable CTLs. Essentially we need to look at the athlete based on their athletic age and how much TSS/IF they can tolerate.

2. I encourage you to consider TSB as the inverse of ATL and why it's important to weight the workouts equally, especially if doing longer/harder efforts. For example, a general rule for marathoners is 1 days of rest for each mile of racing. This of course can be subjective based on the athlete's personal tolerances as mentioned above but gives a general idea to the importance of understanding adaption and recovery is a process that goes beyond a few days. Thus an athlete's fitness from a long ride on the weekend may not be fully realized until the following week or beyond due to the length of recovery.

3. As mentioned above, ATL is just a snapshot of your short-term training so while its okay to keep figures in mind you'd be better served by focusing on growing your CTL at a responsible rate(<5%) without letting TSB drop too low(something you could correlate with resting HR). However, you'll notice I use general terms on purpose since one athlete's negative 40 TSB could be another's -50 so ultimately you need to know what you can handle while still growing CTL week after week.

4. In my experience a marathon takes longer recovery than a similar TSS triathlon. For a beginner or intermediate athlete its likely you can see different ATL between a runner, cyclist and triathlete since not many new runners can train the volume that a triathlete could. However as the athlete improves over a season or several seasons the ability to generate TSS from a single sport will improve such that an intermediate runner could have a comparable CTL with a novice or intermediate triathlete.

In summation there are few key points to consider when using the PMC:
-How TSS is generated in relation to IF/volume will depend on the athlete and their ability to handle certain workloads.
-Aim for a sustainable percentage of growth for CTL instead of a hard number if working with beginner or intermediate athletes. After a few seasons you can target a certain CTL but you still need to get their without radical spikes in growth or else risk injury/illness.
-Treat each workout as a piece of a whole and ATL as a piece of CTL. Focusing on strictly on TSS or ATL will not likely produce long term growth.
- Listen to the athlete as well as the numbers. Even the best science in the world can't predict a bad day. We don't have the luxury to control every source of stress in an athletes life. The PMC is excellent at tracking and planning fitness but life TSS(like travel) can wreck havok if not recognized. Use PMC to absorb and manage training around life TSS and your athletes' will be able to accomplish more than if you only focused on getting ATL to "x" each week etc.
-Think big(CTL) work small(ATL/TSS).

May 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDan McIntosh

@jon, you are right, it is a non drafting race. That was a typo and now fixed. Thanks for the heads up.

May 15, 2012 | Registered Commentertrainingpeaks

Isn't the message that it possibly didn't work? Surely olympic qualification was the 'A race' so could racing hard so soon before taken just the tiniest edge off that could have made the difference in hitting the qualification goal?

May 16, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdorkingdan

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