Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ironman Age Group Rankings

Ironman introduced a new scheme this year.  The worldwide age group rankings.

The idea is to rank every ironman athlete around the world.  Points are allotted for each ironman event you do in a calendar year and this gets tallied giving you an overall rank - worldwide, in your age group, and in your country.

The points allocation isn't simple.  It's related to your finish time in relation to the winner where 5000 points is allocated to the winner and then the points decrease by time until it reaches a pre-determined lower limit (at which point all slower finishers would receive that same score.  It's a pretty tricky exercise as you're obviously trying to compare athletes who have never raced each other, and with different numbers in races and differing levels of difficulty across the courses.  Not to mention those events that get altered for whatever reason (for instance last year's Ironman New Zealand getting turned into a half distance race).

It's a reasonably academic exercise - it's made clear on the Age Group Rankings website that the person sitting at number 1 in these rankings is not considered the world champion on the basis of the rankings.  But you've got to give them credit for trying and I understand at the end of each year it is the intention that every ironman athlete will get a certificate recognising their year's results.

The rankings also benefit those who do more than one ironman event each year.  Your best three scores are counted and so while I can understand the sceptics arguing that this is simply another way for WTC to encourage people to cough up and do more ironman events, I can also understand that it is an additional way to separate people by allowing a wider range of scores, thus minimising the occurrence of people on the same score.

Plus, I'm not complaining.  Doing two ironman events this year means I'm quite happy to have both scores counted!  And I was complaining even less when I decided to entertain myself with a look at the current rankings and found that I have 3 races scored against my name - not only 2013 Ironman NZ (which I expected), but also 2012 Ironman NZ and Ironman Cairns (which I didn't expect would be counted).

And this is where it gets quite cool.  With my three races, this back of the pack, non-athlete is currently sitting in the top 5% of her age group worldwide.

Yes, 5%!!!!

Currently I'm ranked 56th out of 1225 female athletes in the 45-49 age group worldwide.  And out of the New Zealand athletes I rank 7 out of 51 - top 14%.

Yes, it's an academic exercise that realistically means little, (and will change frequently), but I'll take it.

Stumbling Across Your Limits - Recognising those Junk Miles

Today Coach Dave made a rare discovery.

He finally found my limits and gave me a session to do that was a bridge too far.

My current block of training, leading up to Ironman Cairns, is all about the bike.  With Taupo out of the way for the year, and goals for that race well and truly met, the pressure is off for Cairns and I have the luxury (!) of experimenting with the race plan and trying something new.  During our Taupo de-brief I identified a prime goal for Taupo in 2014, and that is to try and crack 6 hours for the bike leg.

I've done some analysis of my relative performance in Taupo this year compared to the other girls in my age group and identified that I'm only around 2km/hr off the pace in terms of achieving a 6 hour bike split.  And, given my love for the bike, it's something that I'm pretty comfortable with hammering myself on in order to achieve that goal.

So Cairns will be a bit of an experiment this year - I will go completely against the current ironman wisdom of pacing the bike (holding back, even) in order to maximise the run leg.  In Cairns the plan will be to hammer the bike and accept that it will likely mean I'll suffer on the run.  We're only going to be interested in the bike split result and whatever happens on the run, happens.

Instructions sorted!
This training block, then, is all about building my strength and speed on the bike.  To do this, Coach Dave is starting to play around with sessions focusing on low cadence, high gear, hill repeats, and 1km high cadence sprints.

We started it off, then, last Sunday with a 4 hour ride at Kurnell.  The routine was on each half hour I would do 5 x 1km sprints in the big ring with 90+ cadence and an easy 3 minutes between each sprint.  It was a good session, and hard.  

On Thursday morning I did an early morning ride to Taronga Zoo where there is a popular stretch of road that cyclists use for hill repeats.  It's around 1.5km long and climbs 73m, providing a steady gradient of around 5%.  My instructions were to do the first rep in the big ring on the front and lowest gear at the back.  The next three reps would be in the next gear up on the back.  Considering that my instinct whenever I hit a climb is to drop to the bottom gear, and spin with as little load on the legs as possible, this was a noticeably more difficult exercise and I was definitely feeling the burn by the time I got home.  

On Friday evening I did a wind trainer session with the instructions to focus on the glutes and hammies and, to achieve this, I lowered the cadence and used a higher gear thus making sure I was engaging my legs for the full pedal stroke and using strength and power rather than relying on cadence.  Again, it was a tough session.  

Saturday morning arrived and it was our club run, a 13km jaunt around Chatswood and Artarmon and about 500m of climbing.  With my return to NRG I have moved up into a faster group and so, for me, there isn't too much "social" about this session.  And, in St Pete's words, I was "killing" the hills - so, again, the legs weren't getting much respite!

So those sessions, plus bootcamp and a couple of swims, added up to a reasonably tired irongirl heading to Cronulla this morning for another 4 hour bike session of 1km sprints.

And it showed.  

As I did the first 30min warm up I could tell immediately that my legs didn't have a lot of spark in them.    In fact they had no spark in them whatsoever.  I was determined to give it a go, however, and so got stuck into the first sprint.  Did that, although didn't feel 100%, and set about making sure my next 3 minute break really was "easy".  Into the second 1km sprint and it all turned to custard.  After 500m I blew up and just had no gas left in the tank.

At that point I realised that there was no way I was going to be able to manage any quality sprints for the next 3 hours and so I started tossing around the alternatives.  And this is where it can get tricky to figure out what to do.  Do you tough it out and do the time on the bike, i.e. do the 4 hours so I've got the distance logged, or do you write it off and go home?  There's a fine line between the two and what you don't want to do is log junk miles.  

I initially decided to carry on and try doing the 4 hours so I could at least get the time logged on the bike.  However as I pedalled over the two small rises on the lap, I realised that even this wasn't going to be a goer.  I was feeling flat and lethargic and all I wanted to do was head back to the train station and go home.

So I did.

And because I'm a bit of a data freak I couldn't resist looking at the Garmin download to see if there was any possible explanation.  What it showed is that my average and max speed for the first sprint was almost identical to last week.  However the telling statistic was that I couldn't get my heart rate up to where it should have been.  My max and average heart rate were both around 10 bpm lower and my cadence was about 15 rpm lower than last week.  And that trend repeated in the second sprint as well.  So it confirmed to me that I was simply too fatigued to get any benefit out of the session and I did the right thing by closing the door on it and coming home.

And while I was disappointed that I couldn't nail it today, there was a positive in that I recognised continuing the session would have likely set me back.  And it helped Coach Dave identify my current limit so he could adjust things accordingly.

The moral of the story, then, is to remember that you can't expect to nail every session 100%.  There will be ups and downs along the way and the key is to trust your gut instinct and go with it.