Ironman Maastricht

Maastricht makes Michi 4x Ironman Champion

Michi Weiss Wins Ironman Maastricht 2017 in Style!

On a perfect race day Sunday August 06, just five weeks after a strong 5th place finish at his home race in Austria, SRM sponsored triathlete Michi Weiss stormed through the field to win his first Ironman Maastricht and in so doing became a 4-time Ironman champion. In this article I want to look at this impressive win in more detail and outline some of the key pro tips that the ambitious age group athlete can take away.

‘Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.’

On Sunday 19th March 2017, Michi suffered a fracture of his collarbone and AC joint grade 5 separation, following an unavoidable bike crash at Ironman 70.3 Campeche. In my view, in the intervening 15-week period of surgery, physio, constant rehab exercising as well as some actual specific triathlon training, between that crash and his 5th place finish at Ironman Austria showed just what a champion Michi has become. At no point did he complain about his predicament, but simply focused on what he had to do one day at a time – perhaps that attitude provides the number one lesson any age grouper suffering an untoward injury can take away from the truly professional mindset required for success in this infinitely demanding sport.

The Swim – No Maas!

Last year, having got Michi’s weakest discipline in the sort of shape that meant his superior bike/run ability would give him the chance to win any race he entered, 12 weeks of zero swimming due to his injury changed all that. In the race Michi was dropped from both swim groups in the first 300m of the 3,8km (2.4mi) 1-loop Mass River swim. Thereafter he was on his own, exiting the water in 56:02, almost 9 minutes down on the leaders – time to go to work!


The Bike – Come to Daddy.

Over the course of the 2-loop 178km (110.6mi) bike leg, Michi hauled in the lead five-man group containing the defending champion Bas Diederen and in so doing, posted the fastest bike split of the day of 04:31:23 averaging 38km/h (24mph) over a course with 1200m+ (4000ft) of vertical gain. Only Michael van Cleven entered T2 ahead of Michi.

Lets look at Michi’s SRM power file:

Technical, Twisty, Lumpy – The Uber Bikers’ Perfect Course!

As we can see from the power file above, Michi paced the bike leg beautifully, only allowing power to fall by 6% on the 2nd loop versus the 1st loop. One way of doing this is by ensuring that there is very little ‘dead time’ where you stop pedaling – look at Michi’s cadence distribution below:

Constant Cadence Minimising ‘Dead-Time’

But in our discussions in the days leading up to the race, it was the technicality of the course that caused us the most concern. Not so much from a safety point of view (as a former Xterra triathlon World Champion Michi handles a bike as well as anyone and the disc brakes on his Diamondback Andean provides excellent braking modulation), but rather from a metabolic point of view. Constantly having to brake and accelerate out of corners is much more energy consuming than steady (‘iso-power’) riding. Therefore the strategy – and one that age groupers should adopt – was to smooth out the course as much as possible and avoid power outputs that registered above his FTP – see below:

Spending the Energy Budget Wisely

Equally, it was essential to be very attentive to hourly carbohydrate intake on the bike. Usually Michi manages around 75-80g carbs/hour but in this race he managed to get that up to nearer 95-100g/hour, which was exceptional especially when you consider the constant steering inputs required on such a technically demanding course. As always GQ-6 hydration base made this possible but because Ironman is also about maintaining a very positive attitude over many hours, the odd treat – Snickers bars are a Michi favourite  – have their place in a race winning nutritional strategy!

Photo: Ironme

The Run – Start Fast, Stay Fast.

So having posted the fastest bike split, Michi exited T2 around 5 minutes down on Belgian van Cleven and proceeded to put together a metronomic best marathon split of the day in 02:45:16 showing immense endurance as he barely slowed down at all averaging a pace of 03:57/km (6:20/mi) with an average cadence of 85-90 footstrikes per minute and overhauled van Cleven with almost 14,5km (9mi) to go going on to win his 4th Ironman race by almost 5 minutes and grabbing a Kona pro qualification slot - never a given for any of the pros – in the process. Not bad when you started the season by breaking your collarbone! Kudos Michi.



The List

In conclusion, looking at Michi’s winning day overall there are a few factors that jump out at me and which age groupers should learn from. Lets list those:

#1. Understand The Challenge.

#2. Know Your Nutritional Limits and Push Them.

#3. Beautiful Pacing Precedes Successful Racing.

#4. Ironman Success Requires Endurance, Doh!

#1. Understand The Challenge.

Michi always rides the bike course in the week before the race. Age groupers should at least drive it to better understand the challenge facing them on Sunday morning. This may well inform nutritional strategy as it did for Michi or wheel choice, tyre pressures and if nothing else, help refine your pacing strategy.

#2. Know Your Nutritional Limits and Push Them.

Ironman is essentially an eating contest because the athletes’ prime limiter is fuel. We burn fuel when exercising moderately hard at a faster rate than we can consume it. The more carbohydrates consumed on the bike, the better – at least up to the point when gastrointestinal distress raises its ugly head. Find your limits in long training sessions, understand the numbers in terms of grams of carbohydrates per hour involved, prepare bottles and gels accordingly and then replicate those numbers under racing conditions. 

#3. Beautiful Pacing Precedes Successful Racing.

As with nutrition, it is essential to understand the limits of your bike/run ability in the context of the race distance you are taking on. This is very easy to do if you use a power meter, as you will know from specific training sessions and previous races what rolling average watts you are able to push on the bike and still run well off it. To some extent the same can be said for heart rate, speed and even just simply how you feel, albeit they are much less reliable metrics for pacing for many reasons that I will not go into here. The important take away is to learn how to meter out your energy reserves in the most efficient way no matter what the race. Make the racecourse fit your individual physiology by pacing smart.

#4. Ironman Success Requires Endurance, Doh!

An obvious statement but I guarantee that if you are an age group Ironman athlete who is not getting quicker in races, it is because you lack the requisite levels of endurance and not because of a lack of sexy high intensity intervals. Michi’s run splits show that his last 10km (6.25mi) were only slightly slower than his first 10km. The pros generally excel at minimizing the drop off in power and pace during races. One reason at least is due to their willingness to put in the work. See below for a typical endurance developing training weekend from Michi’s training diary in June of this year:

Long and Slow

These sessions are typically done at 65-70% of heart rate max which is considerably easier in intensity than most age groupers like to train at but also longer. I never said there was a quick fix to success!

As always I would like to thank Michi for his willingness to open up his files for all to see - this is still far from common practice in the pro ranks for whatever reasons – and to congratulate him once again on a flawlessly executed race – a masterclass no less – so soon after being presented with real challenges early in the season. The pro’s pro indeed.

May the Force X Velocity be with you,

Garth Fox

Sports Scientist and High Performance Coach