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Training tests vs. race day performance

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

One of the most interesting features people find about our coaching methods is the lack of physical testing. It has raised many questions by our visiting campers and coaches. Some are intrigued that in two weeks they see no lactate tests, no power meter tests, and no time trials in either our swimming, biking or running.

Over the years, we have been bombarded with a lot of questions along the lines of:

What’s Nicola Spirig’s sweat flow rate? What’s Daniela Ryf’s V02 max? What’s Matty Trautman’s Functional Threshold Power? His watts per kg? Training Stress Score? What about Ritchie (Nicholls). He’s quick. What time can he run a flat 400m in? What’s his pace at lactate threshold heart rate?’

So as a high performance coach to answer ‘I have no idea’ to the above questions astounds many people. However what astounds them even more is when I say ‘And I don’t want my athletes to know either.’

‘But if you don’t test how can you monitor improvements?’

I find such questions ironic when we compete as much as we do in our sport. Firstly, let me state that what we monitor in training is NOT as important as the performance levels we see in racing – as the ever growing range of training testing tools would seem to suggest.

We train and race in a sport where even a sprint distance event takes a minimum of 1 hour. Over the longer distances the efforts can extend to 17 hours for some participants.

The real problem is any true performance indicator doesn’t measure just the physical aspects of training, but also the psychological aspects including the ability to perform in a race atmosphere.

As any long-term coach will tell you over the course of a career you will see hundreds of athletes who make gigantic gains in training numbers, which are never translated into actual race performance.

A situation that is even more prevalent among age group athletes. Lately I’ve seen athletes making horrendous race decisions (choosing the wrong swim line, misplacing the transition bag, skipping the food station) that have no relevance at all to ones performance ability in training – only to have them query the training and question whether their original numbers were right in the first place.

The problem is not the training, but the inability to be disciplined and make correct decisions under race-day pressure.

Yes, I’ve seen the adverts about the different testing available under simulated race conditions. Unfortunately there is little substance to them beyond promoting whatever x, y, or z new form of testing is available.

Sweat flow rates seem to be the new ‘must have’ tool for the up-and-coming coach. Yet any coach who happens to be advanced enough will know its hyperbole in its best light and deceiving in the extreme at its worst.

Salt retention rates, statistics on V02 max and the reams of data that can be generated are actually a huge disadvantage to your athletes. It is sold as exact science and it is anything but. The outside parameters are not similar for any of the tests – how tired / fresh is the athlete? How much rest did he / she have before the test? What stage is their training block in? Hydration levels may be different, training environments are at different temperatures, room pressures are at different levels, equipment calibrations can be different and so on.

There are too many variables that compromise the training testing results – when in fact you don’t need them in the first place.

At we’re about reality. We don’t make training decisions on performance indicators derived from a false economy.

Nothing will help you with heat races or sweat rates more than being as fit as you can possibly be. One must instead ensure your training time is as consistent and as efficient as possible – these are the things that you can have control over and will end up doing the most for your performance.

To have age group athletes come to camp with a bevy of data on every aspect of their so called ‘physical performance ability’ is crazy. I don’t care about your 10 minutes watts or individual sweat flow and salt usage when I can see with my own eyes that your arms are falling off after the swim warm up.

The reality is the fitter you get with the limited time you have to train will change all your ‘performance indicators’ on a monthly basis. They become obsolete in most instances inside 8 weeks and none of the above tests (if you want even partial accuracy) should be undertaken inside of an initial 20 weeks of consistent, uninterrupted training.

Whether your training time load is 8 hours of work per week or 18 or 28, after 20 weeks then and only then will you get some form of relevance that may help your performance on a given day. The implementation of disciplined feeding and hydration will always be more important than what you are taking and in what amounts.

Camp athletes and coaches are often surprised the lack of technical testing.

So many athletes go to extraordinary lengths to find out this information beforehand – only to miss feed stations, fail to collect the nutrition bags because the volunteer was not ready, or they were in a panic because they couldn’t find it. Truth be told getting this right is the most important ingredient to success.

So, in conclusion at we stick to what we believe is the basic 1,2, 3.

1) If we physically test it is to know what is the maximum heart rate for an individual. And it is individual. I don’t know Nicola Spirig’s max HR, but I do know Daniela Ryf’s. Why? Because one I train on physiology and the other I train on psychological factors.

2) We do our Ironman feeding on the premise for women of 1 gram of carb for 1kg of body weight. The men we extend this to 1.5 grams to 2 depending on body composition. The big, big units we can do as much as 3.

We harp on our athletes not to miss these numbers and to stand down and play defence until you have adequately fuelled. If that means getting off the bike to take on the above levels of nutrition, so be it.

3) The longer the race the more liquid calories we use in comparison to water. As a squad we tend to have good salt retention because we pay attention to not washing it out before and during the race.

We build our programs around this simple 1, 2 and 3.

Forget your testing. Get the basics nailed down tight first and they will see you through the most difficult challenges the sport offers.


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