On Saturday 13th October, Michi Weiss delivered, quite possibly, the finest performance of his career so far. He achieved a top 10 in the deepest field of pro triathletes on the planet. The highlight was posting the 2ndfastest bike split ever seen in the 40-year history of the race. The relatively benign atmospheric conditions played their part in that performance but take nothing away from its sheer brilliance. Lets take a closer look at his SRM power file.
‘ The hallmark of a truly world-class athlete is the ability to deliver peak performance when it matters - on race day. Michi has become very good at that these last few years.’ Garth Fox, coach
The weather forecast for Kona on race day was going to be uncharacteristically cool and windless. That meant instead of infernal heat, it was just going to be very hot at around 29C average in the morning with 65% humidity, but still up in the mid 30’s with 80% plus humidity by mid afternoon. Still, this was good news for Michi. He performs at his best when it is cooler, typically between 20-30C.
In the days before the race we had talked about the need to stay with a group in the swim, albeit at the back of the field, and not to get isolated this year. He managed this really well and actually had his best ever swim split on the Big Island exiting the water in 54’14” for the 3.8km iconic Ocean swim. At this point, even though Michi came out of T1 in dead last position, the time difference of 4 minutes to the group of main contenders was absolutely bridgeable with his current bike form. And so it proved, but it was not easy and to do so it required a truly stellar bike performance.
In our discussions before the race, we had decided that the game plan was to use the expected cooler morning temperature on race day to ‘positively split’ the power delivery over the bike course. In other words, Michi was to ride at close to 70.3 power (330W-350W) until right up to the turnaround in Hawi if necessary, and then to ‘rest up’ in whatever group was available at that point, focus on nutrition and generally try to keep core temperature under control on the return to Kona. In the event, he averaged 337W and 42km/h to Hawi, riding hard with the likes of David Plese and eventual runner-up, Bart Aernouts.
‘ On the climb from the Kawaihae gas station on the return leg where I caught Lionel Sanders and Patrik Nilsson, I just remember thinking how good I felt at that stage when previously it has been a low point’.
On the descent from Hawi, Michi caught the Kienle group, passed them with only David Plese able to follow and then soon caught Lionel Sanders and Patrik Nilsson on the climb away from the gas station in Kawaihae. Usually, this is the point where Michi finds the heat a problem but this time he was feeling great and so chose to make a decisive pass on Sanders and Nilsson dropping Plese in the process. From michi’s SRM file we can see that this passing move on last years’ runner-up required a slightly above threshold effort of around 400W for 3.5 minutes at a cadence of 75rpm – a hard but nicely controlled effort.
From this point on there was a slight tail wind and Michi held really good speed averaging 45km/h at his standard Ironman race power of 310-320W. He eventually caught the leading group of contenders at the Scenic Point and stayed in that group all the way back into town. It is important to point out just how much of an advantage there is to be had if the athlete can make that front group in Kona because as we can see in SRM file, once in the group, the pace remains high in excess of 42 km/h but the power required to stay there was less than 280W which for Michi would elicit a heart rate of well below 120bpm.
Real Performance Requires Real Training
Michi grew up riding mountain bikes on forest trails. He is not a big fan of sitting for endless hours on a turbo trainer. He likes to ride outside, where there are imperfections in road surface, there is traffic, other cyclists, tight bends, wind, rain - in short, real world conditions that mimic many race conditions. I mention this because it seems there is presently an anodyne trend in triathlon to train almost entirely on indoor trainers reducing all performance to numbers on screens. So what you might say? Well it is worth pointing out that when this main group of contenders hit the technical sections of road on the outskirts of Kona, Michi was towards the back of the group in 12thposition but by the time he got off the bike he was in 4thposition overall making up 8 places in the last 2km of the bike leg. Riding smooth, fast and safe is a skill honed in the real world and not in a basement.
Road To Kona
Back in 2013 I ran a training camp in the mountains around Dubai for a group of very motivated age group triathletes. One of those was 29yr old Gamal Aboushabana who had made the journey from Abu Dhabi where he worked in the oil industry. He was full of enthusiasm for the sport, he had minimal swimming ability, no aerobic base and had relatively few hours available for training, often having to work offshore on oil pipeline inspection boats, which did not make training any easier. Even so, Gamal committed to improving every aspect of his performance. He trained with relentless consistency and accuracy (the training precision afforded by his SRM powermeter has been instrumental in his performance trajectory on the bike) to the point where he was able to qualify for Kona from IM 70.3 Turkey. Then, in spite of being able to average only 9 hours of training per week this year due to work and family commitments which included being required to work offshore during his biggest training week in his Kona build up, he still managed a fantastic finishing time of 11h16m in what was also his second ever full Ironman! The Kona dream is for everyone. It just depends on how much you want it. Hats off to you Gamal!
By the time the leaders exited T2 on to the run the Kona conditions of serious heat and humidity that we all know and love, were once again making themselves felt. Michi held pace running at around 4’05/km but the heat was getting to him by the halfway point.
‘ At the halfway point on the run the heat really hit me. After that I was just in survival mode.’
Nevertheless, he hung tough posting a 3h00 marathon time which required an all out sprint in the last 300m of the run to narrowly get ahead of the great Javier Gomez, which secured Michi his first ever top 10 finish in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii which comes just one month after a top 10 finish in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa and a season containing 4 overall wins in Ironman/70.3 races including the Austria Triple.
A truly superb season (so far – Ironman Cozumel still to come!), which I, perhaps more than most, understand, has been the culmination of years of dedication and attention to detail. Well done Michi, you deserve it. May the future hold more of the same! As always, thank you for allowing us to look into your SRM files from this and every race you do.
May the Force X Velocity be with you!
Sports Scientist and High Performance Coach