Friday, January 11, 2013

Athlete Performance Breakout - IM 70.3 - Oceanside

For many people, racing in triathlon is about "fun" and living a healthy lifestyle.  While performing well is a high priority, it is not the end all by any means.

While "fun" is a relative term, what I'll try to do today is attempt to explain proper pacing through the bike leg of a triathlon using Ironman 70.3 Oceanside as an example.  Oceanside is a perfect example of what can go well, and horribly wrong if the bike leg is not given its proper attention either through under-training, or overexertion.  With this course's widely varying terrain, all skills of the athlete are brought into play with steep climbs, rollers, and good flats.  One must be adept at knowing how hard to push, or not to push in all these areas to have a complete race and legs for the run.

The ride through Camp Pendleton enables a special view into how participants fared in the race since these roads are mostly closed to outside civilians.  With limited rides taking place on this course and stretches of road, pouring over Strava ride data gives a perfect set of sample data without the masses of rides on normal routes.

If you are unfamiliar with Strava, a short synopsis is it compares GPS rides and run against other athletes' uploaded routes, and ranks them according to determined "Segments" set up by users who think they would be useful tools for training.  From this a reward system shows you how your latest performance matches you previous ride/ride, as well as the rest of the Strava world.  For example, Oceanside 70.3 has various segments set up and the major climbs and full route are below:

Full Oceanside Bike Course - 54.8 miles - 2,500 feet of climbing
First Pendleton Climb - .5 miles - 300 feet of climbing
Basilone Climb - 4.1 miles - 460 feet of climbing
Basilone Final Climb - .6 miles - 210 feet of climbing
Pulgas Basilone Climb - .5 miles - 170 feet of climbing

Using these segments, along with each athlete's half marathon and historical race results, we'll show how proper and poor pacing can effect a full race.  None of the above climbs are that severe, but the body only has a limited capacity to absorb major damage that can be inflicted on some of these short and steep inclines.  Each time an athlete overexerts on a climb, they may not affect their overall bike time, but more than likely, their run will suffer.

"There is no such thing as a great bike followed by a poor run." - I've seen this quote used a lot and would love to figure out the first to coin it. 

So, we now come to our stable of 31 athletes who have uploaded their data to Strava and are easily found in all segments. I'll leave them nameless and review them in general as to not overly praise, or poke fun at.  As I said, each athlete does this for their own fun and it is not our place to chastise.  An objective view of this data is what we are bringing to the table for those who would like to learn from these athletes.
In my analysis, the above segments are taken into account, as well as their full bike time, run time, as well as heart rate and watts when available.  To make the data manageable, the results were ranked against the smaller pool of participants, as some results from previous years muddle the Strava rankings.  

The 20 mile preamble to the bike course lets athletes thoroughly warm up, and usually provides a false sense of how the race will unfold with a normal south tail wind providing a push up the coast.  This can add to athlete's need to push harder up the hills as well as their goals may have shifted to faster bike splits as they hit the halfway point ahead of schedule.  

Full athlete data can be found here.  Any input is welcome to further the analysis.  Let me know if you have any questions.

From the first climb, we can see  a wide thinning of the field through the rest of the course.  Of the top half (15) of our sample, a drastic re-shuffling occurs.  By the second climb, Basilone-4.1 miles, 5 athletes have dropped to the bottom half of the field.  At the top of Basilone, many of these athletes felt a resurgence when seeing the peak and pushed their way back to their peak power and only two were left lagging.  Reaching the final major climb of the bike course it was surprising that only three athletes who took the first hill in the top half had dropped to the bottom half of the field.  I was thinking the theory of overexertion may be wrong?  Nope, taking the full course into consideration you can see that 6 of the athletes who charged that first hill, and the rest of the climbs, had dropped to the bottom performers.  

A better distinction of how the race played out for people is ranking their Average climbing rank, against their time rank.  For example, Athlete K ranked 20th, 18th, 19th, and 13th respectively on the major climbs.  Nothing stellar in that aspect, and bringing his climbing rank average to 17.5, making him the 19th best climber in our field.  What is stellar is that even while giving up time on those climbs, his overall time for the course ranks him 12th in our field, a 7 spot improvement!  A great piece to his data as well is that he was using a powermeter so further analysis can be gained.  His entire ride averaged 232 watts, and none of the climbs exceeded a 20% margin.  Marked with a PR Half Ironman Run, this was a near perfect race for this athlete.

The next example will be overexerting climbs and a severe drop in overall bike rank.  Athlete C ranked 5th in the climbing portion of the bike course, with charging the 1st Climb in 2nd, tempering his pace for Basilone in 16th, surging the top of Basilone in 6th, then climbing Pulgas in 5th position.  These were great climbs, but in comparison to the 24th best bike time, not as much.  This athlete also finished the run 20 minutes slower than his Open Half Marathon PR.

A prime example of under-exertion comes from none other than me!  I think I got into my own head a bit too much in preparing for this race.  I am still a bigger guy, so I climbed conservatively.  In looking at my ride files, it was much to conservative.  Even as a bigger guy, I didn't increase my watts on the climbs enough and ended up with the 20th ranked climb average.  When you compare this to 8th ranked overall time in the pool, there was probably 4-5 minutes left out on the course.  The one bonus of under-exertion is that you guarantee legs for the run!  Even while coming off an injury through January, as well as running the new, convoluted run course, I managed a faster half marathon time than the previous year at 1:27:14.  This adds to the adage that pushing harder on the bike can exponentially slow your run time.  It was the choice to make sure my under-trained run had a chance, but looking back, the bike could have been better.

Back to the climbers once again to measure how their climbing rank, pairs up with their overall time.  I would say that a 4 spot margin would be acceptable change in climbing rank to overall time rank.  That equates to around a 5 minute change to overall time from the rankings.  Outside of this margin you can see many incredible climbing efforts.  From the field, you have the 3rd, 5th, 13th, and 17th ranked climbers.  Unfortunately, these athletes averaged a drop of over 10 spots in overall time rank.  All of these athletes were in our first group of climbers to charge the first climb as well.  You can see the destructive power of charging a hill from this group and the importance of proper pacing.

Hill climbing is only half of the equation.  Even if an athlete managed to ride a continuous effort through the bike course, it still may have been too much for them on that day anyways.  Unfortunately, since I can't interview each athlete to find their overall biking ability, we will have to assume that they are trained for the event, as well as research their best historical run times to help reveal overexertion on the bike.  The 70.3 distance is also a place where things can go wrong and effect finish times wildly.  Its hard to really pinpoint if someone just had a bad day, fueled improperly, or was just injured.  

I'll leave the run analysis to the reader now.  Unfortunately, without knowing the athlete, or speaking with them, it is extremely hard to tell if they under performed or not in the run.  The rudimentary data I can pull from other race results doesn't show a distinct trend either except for the severe over and under performing climbers.  The lesson I guess is finding the edge you can push on the bike and be able to hold it together for the run.  It seems simple, but watching people pass you on a hill can drive even the most disciplined athlete crazy.  Today's world also rewards cyclists for their efforts with KOM's.  If that is your motivation, have at it.  I'm going for a PR.