On Sunday 1stJuly 2018, SRM sponsored athlete, Michi Weiss, became the first Austrian in 20 years to win his home Ironman race and the first ever to achieve the Austrian Double – Ironman 70.3 St.Polten and Ironman Austria - in the same year. He has had six top 10 finishes at Klagenfurt before and was already a 4-time Ironman and 2-time Ironman 70.3 Champion, but this victory was special. He has prioritized it ever since we first met in 2011, coming so close on many occasions without ever having taken the top step - until yesterday, when it all came together in a superb display of controlled, decisive racing. Lets take a closer look:
Begin As You Mean To Go On
In recent weeks, Michi has been working hard on his open water swim skills with my assistant coach Peter Leo, who is also a very good triathlete and open water swimmer. For example, lake-based fartlek sessions, drafting behind Peter who was instructed to vary both pace and direction has brought a new confidence to Michi’s open water swimming ability and certainly contributed to his solid raceday swim.
This, for me, remains the area in which Michi still has minutes to shave off his splits, which should worry his rivals if we can bring that about! He exited the water in 52 minutes, which was 8 minutes down on the lead swimmer, but only 6 minutes from the main pack. With the bike/run form that Michi has demonstrated this year that was never going to be enough to hold him off. We knew then it was going to be a good day.
The bike course consists of two identical rolling 90km loops with three climbs of which the Rupertiberg is the most demanding. The entire 180km course includes approximately 1500m of vertical ascent over a saw-tooth profile, which makes settling into a nice steady rhythm virtually impossible. Even, steady power pacing, which is what we would always advise age group athletes to aim for, just was not an option for Michi. He basically rode at almost 70.3 race pace (338W) for much of the first loop which allowed him to catch the main pack of 6 athletes which included Tutukin and Potts who eventually finished in 2ndand 3rdpositions respectively.
Power Climb Attack!
Having caught this 6-man group at the 75km mark, Michi used momentum from the descent into the base of the Rupertiberg climb to launch a decisive attack, which you can see in the chart below. He rode hard, just above his threshold power, up the entire climb, averaging 406W for 6’26”, which was enough to get a gap on the group, which he subsequently maintained and even widened on the technical descent off the other side. He also caught and dropped the British athlete Mcnamee on this descent.
When I look at the chart above what I see is the power trace of a supremely confident athlete at the peak of his powers. Remember Michi has raced 6 times this year and has been on the podium in 5 of those races. When we spoke strategy in the days before the race, I, with my usual cautious physiology hat on, suggested that Michi ride as steady and patiently as possible so as to better allow his run to be used as a weapon, picking off the leaders one by one. Fortunately, he ignored my advice and went on his very experienced gut instinct. He rode suicidally hard for Lap 1 and then, after catching the leaders, Ackermann and Wojt, rode just hard enough to eventually shake them off – Ackermann was actually later penalized for drafting – which took a little longer than Michi expected but at this stage he was not prepared to go so deep that it would might jeopardize his run. We can see that on the second ascent of the Rupertiberg where he now climbed at a full 65W less than on the first ascent and much closer to usual his Ironman race pace.
When it was time to run, Michi sealed the win by running hard for the first hour – again, in the Ironman distance that takes confidence and belief in your endurance, averaging 3’45”/km pace, in order to dissuade the guys behind from mounting a charge even if they were able to – Tutukin had a super run but was too far behind at that stage to trouble Michi who had the luxury of being able to ‘enjoy’ those last kilometres of the marathon – Just the perfect race from start to finish when everything – swim, bike and run, came together on the day. It has been a long time coming and is a reflection of the level of pro-Ironman racing today that it almost takes perfection to pull off a win.
The 5 P’s - Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
In the chart above, note how Michi keeps his cadence (orange trace) in a fairly tight range of 80-90rpm for the entire ride in an instinctive effort to smooth out the rolling profile. His power (pink trace) is in gradual decline as a result of the necessary ‘race deciding’ effort he made on the first loop, as well as simply having to leave something in the tank for the run. This is a very rolling course so it is not surprising to see a more ‘spikey’ (stochastic) power trace than if it was a pan-flat course like, say, Melbourne.
We can also see this in a higher ‘Variability Index’ (VI) number (see above) of 1.05 (Normalized Power/Power), than we would usually see for Michi in an Ironman effort. If an athlete is not correctly trained for this type of rolling course profile, and has, for example, prepared by doing long steady efforts on a turbo trainer at ‘race pace’ (a very common age group mistake), then that athlete will almost certainly find that he/she has no legs at the end of the bike and will likely walk much of the run course – sound familiar? A steady, even paced effort on race day should always be the age grouper’s goal in order to remain as metabolically efficient as possible, but if the nature of the course profile does not allow that, and it rarely does, then prepare accordingly. Holding a specific wattage on the turbo trainer for hours on end at the same cadence will prepare you well for doing just that but not well at all for racing the Ironman Austria bike course! Save the trainer for intervals and get outside, failing that, change up those turbo sessions and make the ‘steady state’ efforts less steady!
Well done to Michi on the biggest Ironman victory of his career so far and on a superb season YTD. I also firmly believe the best is yet to come!
As always, thank you to Michi for allowing us total access to his SRM power files, which make understanding just how these incredible endurance athletes do what they do more possible and hopefully provide some insights which the age group population out there can use to race ever better themselves. All that is required is an SRM PowerMeter to allow you to improve your own 5 P’s!
May the Force (X Velocity) be with you,
Garth Fox (MSc)
Sports scientist and High Performance Coach