You may not realize it, but even though the triathlon season has mostly ended, you are in a critical period of your training – the time when you can actually look back and learn from your performance this year, and analyze the key factors that help you to generate new goals. Since most races offer detailed online results, and electronic training devices such as GPS, heart rate monitors and power meters are becoming more affordable and easy to use, you probably have access to detailed sources of information about your performance.
Here are four simple steps to follow for learning from your triathlons:
Step 1: Find Your Results
Although you can occasionally find unofficial race results posted on-site immediately after the event, most races will post results online within 48 hours. A couple useful website resources are Trifind.com and Triresults.com, which allow you to not only search triathlon results for your times and splits, but also to compare races and find accurate data from previous year's races.
Another website, Athlinks.com, takes race results reporting to an even more detailed level, allowing you to compare your race times and examine head-to-head match-ups against competitors, or “rivals”, against whom you frequently compete with for similar race times. I personally use Athlinks, and also visit the USAT rankings website to see how my rankings match up at the national level.
Step 2: Examine Your Splits
In addition to simply reporting your overall time, most online race results offer you A) swim time, pace per 100 meters or yards, overall place, and occasionally, division place and splits for multiple loop swims; B) first transition (T1) time; C) bike time, pace per mile or km, pace at specific checkmarks (such as when you cross certain timing mats on a longer race course) and placing; D) second transition (T2) time; E) run time, pace per mile or km, checkmark pace, and placing.
From such detailed results, you can glean important information, and ask yourself important questions, such as: does my open water 100 pace compare to my pool 100 pace? How does my open water pace change in choppy water vs. smooth swims? Did I see an improvement in swim pace when I attempted to draft? Does it appear that I need more practice swimming in groups or in open water?
Are my swim-to-bike transition times slow compared to others in my division? How did my bike speed compare to others in my division? In longer races, were my bike splits consistent between checkmarks, or did I slow as the race progressed? How did I compare to my rivals or to others in my division on a flat course vs. a hilly course?
Do I rank lower in bike-to-run transition (T2) than in swim-to-bike transition (T1), and if so, should I practice bike dismounts or changing into my running shoes more quickly? How are my run splits between checkmarks – did I come out of T2 too fast? Did my fueling strategies on the bike affect my run pacing early in the run, or later? How did I perform in the hot races vs. the cold races?
3. Check Out Your Data
If you wear your heart rate monitor during the swim, you can analyze how your heart rate during the swim affects your bike splits. For races in which you swim above your threshold heart rate, or at a very high heart rate, do you notice a difference in your bike splits, or can you get away with swimming hard and still performing well on the bike?
How long does it take after the swim for you to reach your goal heart rate on the bike? If you’re using a power meter or heart rate monitor on the bike, do you experience multiple spikes in intensity? Often, you may notice that you need more consistency in power output and pace, and must focus on spinning the climbs, while maintaining higher intensities on the flats and descents. Find your best race performances on the bike, and analyze the heart rate or power graphs. At what intensity can you consistently ride for different distances while still being able to have a good run split and overall time? Do these numbers change when the temperature, altitude, or road condition varies, and if so, by how much?
If you are wearing a GPS device for the run, you’ll be able to inspect how your pace changed during the run, and in longer triathlons, even without a GPS you can simply evaluate your pace between checkpoints. Do you perform better when you start fast and maintain a consistent pace, or when you run a negative split? Are your run splits affected by your bike cadence? Although relative to training, you will likely experience higher overall heart rates during a race, you can still glean important information from run heart rate data. For example, how does your run heart rate change based on your hydration and fueling on the bike? Does your fueling frequency on the run affect your heart rate? What heart rate can you consistently maintain without negatively altering pace, or “blowing up”?
Finally, remember that if you frequently race against the same competitors, you have the luxury of not just getting an objective view of your performance, but also a subjective view of how your rivals fared under similar conditions. For example, every triathlete might be slower in a choppy open water swim, but did you experience a greater loss of speed than your fellow competitors? If so, then you have identified a weakness that limits you relative to others in your division.
4. Generate Goals
In step four, you move from information to application. You have completed a thorough analysis of your splits and your data, and you can now generate specific and realistic goals.
Did you have poor bike splits on rolling courses? Then begin incorporating hill repeats. Did your performance suffer in a mass swim start? Start trying out masters swim classes and gettiing more open water swim partners. Were you slow in hot races? Begin heat acclimatization and incorporate hydration and electrolyte strategies. By ignoring weaknesses, you limit your improvement potential, but by identifying and eliminating limitations, you systematically become a better triathlete.
So that’s it: this off-season, as you sip a cup of eggnog, you can prepare for next season by finding your results, examining your splits, checking out your data and then generating goals.
For more tips just like this, head over to http://www.rockstartriathleteacademy.com, where triathlon coaches Ben Greenfield and Kerry Sullivan offer group triathlon workshops, live coaching calls, training plans, a member Q&A forum, and a host of other audio, video and article resources to make you a better triathlete.
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