Monthly Triathlon Training Advice
The Essential Guide to Triathlon Post-Race Analysis
Recently I did a video interview with Global Triathlon Network about post-race analysis.
Here I want to expand upon the advice I gave. I'll show you how to analyze your triathlon post-race data so you can train and race better in the future. If you’re a runner or cyclist, rather than a triathlete, the advice below will still be valuable.
It’s natural, whenever you take part in an event, to analyze your results afterwards. Apps like Strava, Garmin Connect and Training Peaks make this easier to do, and also help you compare your performances against others.
The problem is, unless you analyze your race results properly, it can lead you to draw false conclusions. This can be demotivating and might cause you to change your training regime unnecessarily.
In this blog, I’ll help you examine your race data based on facts rather than blind optimism.
Using Race Times and Splits For Analysis
The first thing that everyone does after a race is look at their race finishing time and splits. There's nothing wrong with that, I do it too. And if you’re anything like me you’ll feel one of three ways afterwards:
a) over the moon with happiness
b) crushingly disappointed
c) happy with one or two disciplines, and crushingly disappointed with the other(s).
That's partly because there are dozens of variables at play in a triathlon. No two races are the same. And no two days are the same. Comparing your race times or race splits is not an accurate method of analysis. You’re not really comparing apples with apples.
For starters, triathlons aren’t always accurate. The realities of planning a safe race-route near a swim and transition hub, means there is often some leeway in the distances stated.
And that's just the start. I've made a slightly boring list of race-variables below. Feel free to scroll on past it.
Boring List of Variables That Will Affect Your Triathlon Splits
The list above does not cover everything, but it still covers 33 different things that can significantly affect your race splits. Are you starting to get the idea? Hopefully you can see that race splits aren't always the best way to compare your performances.
Comparing Your Finishing Positions
There’s another way of analyzing your race performances. If you look at the results PDF for most triathlons, you’ll see how you ranked against other competitors by discipline. For example, your swim ranked 10th, your bike ranked 15th and your run split ranked you in 25th.
Sometimes these rankings are given by age group, sometimes by overall position and sometimes both. The example below is from my own race at IRONMAN 140.6 Barcelona.
Example of race results, with rankings:
Comparing your finishing position for different disciplines is useful, because it shows where your strengths and weaknesses were on that given day in relation to everyone else. However, it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions from this information. There are two big reasons why.
The level of competition varies massively between events. I once had the fastest swim split at a triathlon and afterwards I thought: “I’m awesome!”. Then a week later my awesome swimming ranked me 80th at a different triathlon. In fact, in the example above my swim ranks 85th, although I paced it pretty cautiously.
Your performances in each discipline are affected by your pacing in the previous discipline. You could have a fantastic swim and bike, but a relatively slow run. But that doesn’t mean you’re a bad runner. It might just mean you were over-tired because you swam and cycled too hard.
The Best Way to Analyze Post Triathlon Results
So far, we’ve talked about the difficulty of post-race analysis, but let's now talk about how to get it right.
A couple of weeks before you start racing, you should perform three different fitness tests in controlled conditions, to establish a set of baseline data.
Armed with this baseline data, you can then analyze your race results objectively. No more guess work or false assumptions. After doing these tests you will have a better idea of how you might expect to perform on race day.
The 3 Essential Benchmark Fitness Tests:
(These URL links will take you to my articles on our My Pro Coach Athlete Help Center)
1. Critical Swim Speed Test.
To establish your current pace per 100 for a 1500 time-trial.
2. Critical Power Bike Test.
To establish your current power output and heart rate for a 1 hour time-trial.
3. Running Threshold Test.
To establish your current pace and heart rate for a 1 hour time-trial.
In all my training plans I include these benchmark fitness tests every eight weeks. They are to be done in recovery weeks, so that fatigue does not affect the results.
These three nuggets of performance data can then be used to evaluate your results. Just remember when analyzing your race data using your test results, you must factor in the accumulative fatigue of all three disciplines on race day.
For example, an Olympic distance triathlon is a 2 to 3-hour race. It is highly unlikely you’ll run your fastest ever 10km time at the end of it all. So, don’t expect to.
Post-Race Analysis Example
This small example of post-race analysis is taken from a 90km Half Ironman bike ride, by one of our coached athletes (David). I used Training Peaks for analysis here, but there are other similar kinds of software too.
Leading into the race, we knew David's FTP was close to 275 watts because he did a CP20 bike fitness test beforehand.
This snapshot of data shows us that David rode at 93% of his FTP for the first 45km. This is sometimes called your Intensity Factor (IF). It simply refers to the percentage of your FTP you rode.
Remember that FTP is a measure of your current 1-hour time trial power output. And that a Half Ironman is usually a 4 to 7-hour event. So ideally, he should have paced it a little more conservatively. I advised him to ride at 80 to 83% of his FTP. You can read more about Half Ironman pacing in my previous blog post here.
In the second half of the bike section, David’s power output faded as he grew more fatigued. He rode at just 67% of his FTP (compared to 93% in the first half) and his average heart rate was five beats lower.
It's also worth noting that the first half of the race was slightly hillier, which makes it easier to get carried away with riding too hard. Especially if you don't have the right gearing.
We performed a similar process for the swim and run. Comparing his CSS swim pace and threshold run pace to his half Ironman race pace.
His swim data looked good, but his run data showed that he underperformed. As you would expect, if your legs were blown from cycling too hard before a half marathon run.
We took into account as many variables as we could, such as the distance of the race, accumulative fatigue and hills. The analysis is by no means a perfect process because of the sheer number of variables involved. But using recent performance test data is always better than looking at race splits in isolation.
Interestingly, David was relatively happy with his overall race result. It was a new personal record, even though the analysis suggested he could have performed significantly better if he had paced it more conservatively.
The flip side of this coin is that I see athletes who are disappointed with their race result. And then after analyzing it using their benchmark fitness test scores for comparison, they realize they actually performed well on the day.
And that’s why it’s so important to use recent performance test scores, rather than guesswork or assumptions to analyze your triathlon race results. It'll help you stay grounded in reality, giving you a far better idea of how you raced and how to improve in the future.
Triathlon Post-Race Analysis - Conclusions
Coach Phil Mosley Training Tips Blog
Train Smart. Race Hard.
Phil Mosley is a triathlon coach and triathlon magazine writer.
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