On Sunday 27th November, in his 4th consecutive Ironman Cozumel, (having already won the event twice previously and placed 3rd last year), SRM sponsored triathlete, Michi Weiss put together his fastest ever swim/bike combo, as well as a sub-3 hour marathon, to come home in 4th place overall. Another great end of season result, made especially sweet by the fact that he finished it off with yet another fastest bike split to add to his collection and the Cozumel bike course record – happy athlete, happy PowerMeter and bike sponsors! In this article I will examine Michi’s SRM power file and offer some suggestions as to what age group athletes can glean from what is, after all, a jerky line on a graph – trust me though, there is plenty!
Swim Better, Bike Smoother
Firstly though, it would be remiss not to mention Michi’s 48-minute swim split. This represented his fastest ever Ironman swim and provided further evidence, following his best ever Kona swim performance in October, that his open water swim proficiency is now such that the range of race options available to him when he gets onto the bike course has broadened. Essentially, he now has more time to ride himself to the front of the race and this lends itself to a more even pacing strategy, which in turn increases power/efficiency, which in an energy limited event like Ironman, is paramount. I should say that following the last article where I discussed Michi’s swim improvement, I had a number of emails from age groupers asking me how he did it and was it down to a new swim suit or specific technique adjustment or even a new nutritional product. It was none of those. It was quite simply a 50% increase in training frequency this year resulting in a 30% increase in volume. In other words, Michi suits up and gets wet more often than in the past. Hard work has its rewards!
The Cozumel Series – No.4
The Cozumel bike course is just a great arena for Michi to showcase his triathlon superpower that is pushing big watts at high cadence in a tight aero tuck for hours on end, preferably into headwind, or failing that a nasty crosswind – he is made for that stuff. The results are clear to see in the table below. With the exception of 2015 when he picked up a stomach bug in the week before the race, robbing him of his usual strength, his performances have been consistently excellent. However, the latest was the best because it was the most controlled. If you cast your eyes down the peak power columns in the table for each year and focus in on 1-5 minute durations you will already understand what I mean. The short end of his race power-duration curve was flatter but the long end was unchanged – that is what I want to see in an Ironman power trace whether it be Michi’s or yours, because it means the athlete has largely avoided very metabolically expensive accelerations above his critical power (or FTP) but has stuck like glue to his known max sustainable race watts – all of which is practically impossible to do without a PowerMeter.
The other obvious takeaway from the data in the table is the higher average speed in 2016 for the same average watts as compared to previous years. In other words he has become more aerodynamically efficient. That is an improvement which Michi’s new bike sponsor, Diamondback, will enjoy. Certainly, the Michi/Andean bike package is fastest we have seen to date.
The Pied Piper Effect
Note how the pink power trace above from this year’s race is just so much less frenetic than last year’s below. Michi and I have talked a lot about the need to be more patient on the bike and not to use his strength just because he can. Indeed, the perfect ride would be a tight pink trace that followed the black dotted line above (sustainable race watts) all the way from left to right. This would mean he had ridden really efficiently and left as much in the tank for the run leg as possible. However, this will never actually happen in reality due to the specific power demands of catching and dropping the less proficient cyclists, especially when they form long lines behind him basically getting a free ride as we have seen many times this year. If you look at this year’s file you can see how much effort – nearly 400W for 5 minutes with a final surge of almost 600W for 30 seconds – was required to shed the tail. Still, it was a very well managed and efficient ride from which age groupers can learn. We, after all, really do have the luxury of dialing in our race watts and sticking to them – with an SRM powermeter what could be easier!!
Metabolically Profligate No More
In my view, Michi is very close to being the finished article. By this I mean the following: His open water swim is now good enough to allow a more evenly paced bike effort to put him in contention in any race. Previously, the bike leg necessarily had to be rather metabolically profligate (due to the time he had to find on the lead swim group once they were out on the bike leg and working together) to get him into the same position at the front of the race, albeit with severely depleted glycogen reserves. Now therefore, his run performance will come under much more scrutiny. Michi can run, make no mistake. I was with him at Ironman Melbourne in 2014 when he ran a 2h45m marathon into coastal headwind from start to finish. Suffice to say, that together with improved heat tolerance, running economy is the last piece of the Weiss performance puzzle. Roll on 2017!
Once again, thankyou as always to Michi Weiss for sharing his data from this and every race over the last 4 years. And welldone on what has been a consistently excellent series of race performances in 2016. The next one could well be his best ever!
May the Force (X Velocity) be with you,
Sports Scientist and High Performance Coach