Monday, February 1, 2016

Know Your Enemy - Part I: Virtual Recon of Your Race Course

by Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

As race dates draw near, many athletes are beginning to enter their final race preparation phase in the lead up to their "A" event.

In my world, this means building the athlete’s key workouts around the specific demands of the race and the race course. You’ll notice that I distinguish between the two. Not all ironmans are created equal. Some, such as Lake Placid, are characterized by solid climbing followed by a good amount of rest while descending –- an interval workout of sorts, while others such as Florida are more akin to sticking your bike in one gear and grinding away on a trainer for six hours (for some of my guys who live in rolling terrain, this is exactly what preparing for a flat course feels like).

My point is, to put together workouts that best simulate the race course, you need to have some intimate knowledge of that course. Important factors are:

  • Temperature
  • Elevation
  • Technicality

Furthermore, to put together your race simulation workouts, you need to not only know the general demands of these factors but also the patterns of the course. For example, two courses may have 4000 feet of elevation gain, but one may consist of two good sustained climbs, while the other may be a "momentum course" made up of a bunch of rollers. You need to know and prepare for these distinctions. You could be in great six hour ride shape but the added muscular stress of dealing with re-accelerating your bike over and over again on a rolling course will do you in if you don’t specifically prepare for it.

Fortunately we live in a world of "Googling" where a couple of key strokes can get you detailed elevation and course data from sites such as Google Maps and even offers .csv exports so that you can see -- almost meter by meter -- what the course is doing and where the big pitches are. Combine that with sites like Weather Underground which compile years of meteorological data from places around the world and you can come up with a pretty good guess of what to expect on race day.

To the right is a typical screenshot from Mapmyride (this one for the Lake Placid course). You can click to enlarge it.

As you can see, it’s quite easy to get a good overview of any course you might be racing these days, but the real fun starts when you delve a little deeper and download the elevation data (click the table to the left to enlarge it).

From this data you can get a real idea of the sort of grades you’ll be dealing with and just as importantly, how long they’ll last.

Once you have this plethora of information, how do you use it to help you come up with an effective race strategy (or a couple of race strategies) to rehearse in your race sims?

Stay tuned for part II, where we’ll look at how you can use the above data to identify likely power demands and appropriate gearing for your chose race course.

Train Smart

Part II - Course and Gear Selection
Part III - Optimal Pacing for Different Courses
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