Kona ’15: The Lessons Part 1

The lessons: This might be my favourite part about triathlon. After every major race I always sit down and try and figure out what I did right, what I did wrong, and where I can improve for the future. I think the best part about the race in Kona is that I made a lot of mistakes. Said another way, I think there is a lot of areas to improve upon for next year. I will share a few of the over-arching lessons that I think you may find useful, over the course of several blog posts. A few of the lessons I will keep to myself in hopes that when my triathlon career is over you will hire me to be your coach, and I will share them with you then.

LESSON 1: OVERTRAINING

I met Sebastien Kienle for the first time this year in Kona at the Oakley House (Side bar: As I suspected, he is the coolest person in the world). We chatted for a few minutes and as he was walking out the door he turned back and shouted to me “Hey Lionel! Stop doing an Ironman every day!” I chuckled a bit, but deep down inside I knew he was giving me a little golden nugget.

I am a firm believer that no one changes until they are ready to change. I have been told on literally hundreds of occasions that I have been overtraining, particularly on the bike and run. But I heard none of them- I was not ready to change. This year I spent the vast majority of my time training for the Ironman distance. Unfortunately, I committed a serious error when drawing up my training schedule. For the most part, I tried to do the distance as much as possible in practice. The logic being that the easier I could make the distance itself feel, the faster I would be able to cover the distance. Unfortunately, this logic is seriously flawed.

Training at or around race pace for lengthy periods of time may seem like a good idea, but the problem is that while doing this your upper limits are falling (lactate threshold and Vo2Max), you are accumulating a massive amount of fatigue, and you are forgetting the muscle recruitment and breathing patterns required to push big power, or run really fast. Ultimately, instead of getting faster, race pace becomes progressively harder and harder.

Don’t believe me? In the early part of the year I focused on training for the 70.3. The big difference between when I train specifically for a 70.3 or specifically for an Ironman is that in 70.3 training I am constantly striving to raise my upper limits, and spend very little time at 70.3 race pace. I spend absolutely ZERO time at Ironman race pace! After Ironman Texas I decided to test the hypothesis of whether making the distance “feel easier” actually allowed you to cover the distance any faster. Here are some of my “Ironman specific” rides:

May 16, Ironman Texas:

IMTX Bike

May 25:

May 25

June 5:

June 5

June 12:

June 12

June 24:

June 24

July 8:

July 8

July 23:

July 23

July 29:

July 29

Aug 6:

Aug 6

Many of those rides were done on the indoor trainer, and I just make up the distance covered, but to put it into perspective for you, I pushed 300w at Ironman Texas and covered the bike course in right around 4:11. I should also mention that I always ran off the bike after those rides; usually a half-marathon anywhere between 1:17 and 1:20. I think it’s safe to say that a massive amount of fatigue was being accumulated at that time.

The astute observer may also notice that I raced three 70.3s in there as well: Mont Tremblant on June 21st, Muskoka on July 5th, and Racine on July 19th. Those races only added to the fatigue being accumulated. Unfortunately, during this time, I think I dug myself a hole that I could not get out of in time for Kona. Here is my bike ride from that race:

Kona Bike Data

Sadly, I did nearly fifteen 4+ hour rides this year, and Kona was my worst power output of them all. Compare that to 70.3 Worlds in 2014, where I had my best ride of the entire year in terms of power output- hands down, by far. I consider myself to be someone who rises to the occasion and transcends current self-imposed limitations in big races. Unfortunately, I think the effect of chronic over training was far too great to overcome with sheer will power in Kona. Everything was going good through 100k. I intended on holding between 310 and 320w, and I was holding steady at 317w. But then it was like a switch went off and there was absolutely nothing I could do to produce any considerable power from then on.

I think the big take home message here is that you do not need to do the race in practice. So far, my best full-distance performance was at Ironman Florida in 2014. I wasn’t even training for an Ironman at that time! That entire year I focused on the 70.3 distance, and peaked for 70.3 Worlds. I took a week off after 70.3 Worlds; then got sick and took another week off; did “Ironman” training for about three weeks; got sick again for a week; tapered for a week, and then did Ironman Florida. There I was able to hold 313w on the bike for 4 hours and 12 minutes, then run a 2:44 marathon. I had only done about 5 rides over four hours that year, and two of them were very easy! I’ve been nowhere near that level this year, while doing “Ironman specific” training.

Hypothesis: Making the distance “easier” makes you able to cover the distance faster.

Conclusion: False.

Thanks for reading!

12 thoughts on “Kona ’15: The Lessons Part 1

  1. Thanks again for sharing your power profiles – love those. As a big fan, your assessment/self-eval Osgood to hear. You were blessed with so many things and can race well at all distances, but I was concerned when you seemed less likely to pursue a 70.3 championship. Hopefully you will take a serious run at this next year and get back to the training of previous years – generate power that makes your competition afraid 🙂 and please eat gummy worms and pizza whenever you feel like it! Return to every little thing that had you on the right trajectory, adopt some new practices, and don’t be so hard on yourself – trial and error is what contributed to the most successful people to ever walk on this earth. On a side note, related to obsession of some for Kona, I personally am in awe of every distance champion, Sprint, Olympic, 70.3, and/or IM – all require an insane commitment. You had another great year!!! (and no matter your place, it was riveting watching you pass the comp!)

  2. Thanks for sharing! I wish more pros would do this. I’m hoping you have a long down time after Kona. I think any triathlete thinks if they are not training they will get back to where they were before. I had to take 6 weeks off running this Spring and what do you know I was right back to where I was within 4 weeks. I actually got faster after that too. Hopefully your 1st race is late Spring so you can reap the benefits of some down time and recovery.

  3. Thanks for solving the mystery created by your falling so short of your tremendous capability on the biggest day: You buried yourself under an avalanche of overwork, assuaging a misbegotten sense of guilt about temperate (correct) training levels. Now go and be more judicious in your training and amaze and delight us once again!

  4. Love the insight and honesty, Lionel! You are going to come back a stronger and more insightful athlete in 2016 which is going to make you an even bigger force to be reckoned with. This is huge for amateurs and pro’s alike to hear – thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks! When you say you do your schedule, do you not have a coach telling you what to do? REST and enjoy some down time with Erin.

  6. Thank you for this. Even though our training is on different levels I as well have felt this philosophy was the way to go. I will be doing my first full next summer and have hired a coach for the first time for professional input. I have been concerned on my coach working me hard enough, but after this post I will listen to my coaches experience and knowledge.

  7. It takes someone with a pretty strong backbone to share the way you do, Lionel. Thanks for giving us insight into what’s going on in your head and being open and honest about it. Not only are you one of my favourite athletes, you are one heck of a human being!

  8. Great post Lionel. I’m not sure if you follow Jesse Thomas’ posts but somewhat came to the same conclusion you did. He specifically focused on 70.3’s and smaller and did his first ever attempt at an Ironman distance in Wales a month or so ago and won!! He had never attempted any of the distances. Anyway, I think this is great that you share all of this information and insight. Keep on inspiring and posting! Great season!!

  9. Great lessons, thanks for sharing, Lionel. Although my times have nothing to do with yours, I also focus on shorter distances with higher intensities. it helps me recover faster and not accumulate lots of fatigue. We will be watching you in ’16! 🙂

  10. Thanks for sharing Lionel and well done on a great season.

    Firstly I’m sure I’m not the only one disappointed with you not doi g 70.3 WC after your great effort in 2014.

    I presume going to Europe was to disruptive and you had a lot of 70.3 races already ?

    With regards to your training Traininpeaks software and TSS and ATL numbers will help guide you in your training load. Have you read the Hunter Allen’s book https://www.velopress.com/books/training-and-racing-with-a-power-meter-2nd-ed/ ?

    Good luck next season Lionel looking forward to the updates !

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