Race Potential

As a race approaches I like to put my goals in perspective. I attempt to estimate my potential from a brief history of training data and race results. It’s speculative at best – there is as much interpretation as there is extrapolation; the word ‘feel’ crops up all too often in the analysis. With Ironman Lanzarote four days away – much as I’d like to ignore it – I need that feel for race day. My problem is I have never trained like this before: fewer hours, more inconsistency, I’ve not raced at such a low fitness. I lack a frame of reference from which to judge my potential on Saturday. It’s unnerving.

Wanting to quantify the situation I inevitably turned to the logs, totalling training hours over the past sixteen weeks – a sufficient period for an Ironman build. Unsurprisingly it was less than previous races, but my perception that I’d barely trained was equally far from the truth. Over the four month period I average roughly ten hours per week. More than nothing, but less than I used to do.

Training Volume During the Sixteen Weeks Prior to Race Day

Although hours give a limited account of preparations, I couldn’t resist comparing with previous races. Only my recent run training approaches the volumes of my more successful endeavours. But perhaps comparison with last year is more relevant, overall training volume is closer; should I expect a similar swim, a slower bike, but a faster run?

But it’s not just how many hours you do, it’s how you do them. The 2010 Ironman World Championship or ITU Long Distance Worlds in 2009 demonstrate the point – performances failed to live up to the investment. It may be reassuring to know I’ve trained more than I imagined; it just doesn’t say much about how I might race. And that perspective on performance is what I’m after.

Those slim blue lines that pass for swim training worry me. I vividly remember my arms abandoning me during the second half of the Challenge Henley swim; and I suspect I may be lining up for a similar experience. I am concerned enough that I made a rare visit to the pool. With a Wetronome beeping under my goggle strap I performed a set of 200s hoping to gain a feel for my current race pace. The choice of 200s over 400s says it all; it’s depressing to think how I would have cruised through that set in 2010. That’s what you get for dodging the water. I might – with careful pacing – manage around a 1:10 with minimal suffering. It could be worse.

The cycling and running I do is of good power and pace, but I lack the volume I’ve had before. With less data to guide me I turned to another source of information – the disastrous race of 2009, when an abscess kept me out of the saddle leading to a 6:18 bike and a 4:30 run. I am confident that being able to sit and pedal for the entire 180km course will see me circuit the island faster than that; and last season assures me I can run a better marathon. It remains unknown what will happen when I combine those two and throw in a swim, but I’ve dragged myself through enough tough days to get the job done.

Race day remains a mystery. But I can put the spectre of a nightmare day to the back of my mind. I am less prepared than at previous races, but there’s been sufficient work to get me to the finish time in a respectable time.


  • A post predominantly considering the outcome, as opposed to the specific processes that will get you there – a brave strategy. 😉

    On Facebook you link this post as pondering the question as to how tough it will be? Re-read the post and see how many words there are with a negative frame of reference – THAT is what is unnerving.

    Positive emotion is key to resilience. This race is only as tough as you make it. Don’t ignore how you feel, Change it!

    Have a great race! I’d certainly be looking forward to all that Tapas!


  • Ian Simon

    Think about the past 5 years more than the last 16 weeks. I’m sure you’ll be stronger on the bike than you expect and it sounds like you’ve had a much better run build-up than for last year’s racing.
    Enjoy it!

  • Andy,

    I may put a plan based on the process, I’ve a rough idea of power and pace I’ll try and hold and I certainly know how the effort should feel.

    I wouldn’t read too much into the negativity, I expect it to hurt and I don’t anticipate a PB, but that’s different from going as well as I can on the day. I am likely to adopt a cautious race plan, it’s as much because I’ve got another 3 Ironmans to get through this year and don’t want to break myself now.

    I’m quite curious to see how far off from my better performance here I am.


  • Ian,

    I guess I’m used to asking myself if I can ride that hard or run that fast; this time I’m wondering how hard or fast I can actually run. In the back of my head I’ve a rough idea, some safe targets to aim for. It’ll be interesting to see how I do given significantly lower volume. And I can adel enjoy this as a training race given there’s 3 more to go this year.


  • Russ , looking at your hours trained , which would you say was your best race not just in terms of your finish time but where you felt strong all way thorugh

  • Paul,

    Interesting question. Bearing in mind there’s some interpretation involved in choosing a strong or a good race, there are a number in that list. Another factor to consider is the numbers don’t always tell the whole story, for example Kona 2010 I had been hardly able to run for 2 months prior to race day, but run volume is high because of the time prior to that. 16 weeks was an arbitrary choice.

    These races all went well and I consider myself to have raced strongly: Kona 2009, Ironman Western Australia 2009, Ironman New Zealand 2010, ITU LD Worlds 2010.

    I wouldn’t however read too much into the fact they all cross the 300 hour mark. ITU LD Worlds in 2009 was 2 weeks after Kona and I was far from recovered. The huge volume for New Zealand was a consequence of a fortnight on Epic Camp riding the length of the country. Here are a few things I would stress as important to my most successful races:

    Swim: the strongest swims came from regular 15K+ weeks, frequent sessions and at some points regular 4.5-6km sets. This ensured 3.8km as a distance was easy and with a mix of intensity and aerobic conditioning I was very swim fit. A long way off front of pack, but achieving a good time for me and not wasting too much energy.

    Bike: hours do count, but my strongest bike performances have taken more than just long rides, a lot of harder efforts and riding for periods at tempo pace as a regular component of long rides. I have done many miles now and distance is relatively easy for me to handle, working on 3-5 hour rides incorporating good tempo efforts for long periods has helped a lot.

    Run: best performance came after a serious level of volume, but I’d not recommend it for a triathlete really, I barely rode the bike during the period. There is however a notable difference once my weekly mileage is up in the 40-50 region, and then again if I take it further to the 60+ area. The challenge is balancing that with the other training. However once I’m run fit I find training and racing feels a lot easier.

    Volume does help, there’s no denying that it is a major factor in how you perform. But then so does what you do in those hours and if you simply accumulate hours without any purpose you may not achieve all you could. Were I to look at my Ironman history the early phase involved a focus on achieving sufficient fitness while time-constrained, once the constraints were gone the focus was volume for a long while, the third stage has been more moderate (though still quit high volume on a relative scale) with higher intensity work involved. Much as many coaches talk about the danger of the grey zone, I have to admit I have gained many benefits from riding in this area at certain points in my development (but not all the time).

    Hope that goes some way to answering your question