Kona Benchmarks

In my Plan for the “Realist” article, I wrote about some of the general levels of fitness that I typically encounter among athletes who qualify. Many of these measures of fitness are a little abstract, especially for those not super familiar with WKO+ or my own method of performance modeling: CTL, VO2 score, etc.

In this piece I want to bring some of those numbers down to a rubber meets the road perspective so that we can begin to answer the most basic of questions — what sort of training sets/sessions should an athlete be able to accomplish to indicate they are in Kona shape?

This question is a little complicated by the oft ignored fact that an athlete’s fitness will change over the course of the year. Therefore, it’s of limited value to say that Kona fitness equates to a 5k time of X, unless the athlete runs a 5k the day before the race! The true value of these benchmarks lies in identifying how these standards should progress over the course of a year to let the athlete know that they are on track as they move towards his or her Kona bid. Thus, an element of time is added to the equation.

Ideally, these benchmarks will also shift in specificity in accordance with training emphasis from indicators of general fitness to indicators of specific (ironman) fitness as the athlete nears the event.

So, without further ado, what are some of the key benchmarks that an athlete should be targeting if Kona is realistically within sight?

Let’s start with a case study example of a 20-45 year old male who builds to qualifying fitness (VO2 score=65) over the course of a year.

Expected progressions for a 20-45 year old male on the Kona path are shown for a number of test sets/events that I typically include in an athletes program, including:

  • MAF test: Maximum pace in minutes per mile for a 20 minute test at a HR equal to 180 minus the athlete’s age.
  • 12 rep squat: Weight in percent of body weight that an athlete can squat for 12 repetitions over a full range of motion.
  • T3000: 3000m freestyle time trial (time in minutes)
  • 5k run race
  • CP5: 5-minute maximal power bike test (watts per kilo of body weight)
  • CP20: 20-minute maximal power bike test (watts per kilo of body weight)
  • 2.5 hour and 5 hour challenge sets: Maximal power bike test of various formats (watts per kilo)
  • Metric sim: Race sim workout over similar course to goal event but at 62.5% distance (power in watts per kilo, pace in minutes per mile)

While I have significantly more experience dealing with male qualifiers, I’ll offer some thoughts on benchmarks that a female athlete in the 20-45 year oold age range may want to target based on the relationship between male female race power/pace:

A couple of notes related to the tables above:

  1. These are rested benchmarks not tired benchmarks. There will be a difference in what the athlete can do during a normal training week vs a recovery week. These standards a re representative of what a rested athlete should be able to accomplish.
  2. The time it takes to “check off” these benchmarks will vary considerably depending on the type of athlete. The early year benchmarks may seem quite tame to a lot of athletes and indeed, there will be some athletes may be able to work their way through two of these cycles in a season. However, for many, this will be too ambitious. Athletic type has direct implications on the number of qualification attempts and the spacing of these races.
  3. Some athletes may fail to achieve some of the short benchmarks (or strength benchmarks) and still qualify. In fact, in some ways it is easier to qualify at a long race like Ironman for an athlete with a higher than normal aerobic endurance. I have certainly coached folks unable to go sub-18 for a 5k who are able to crush an ironman marathon! However, in terms of long term development, I’m not sure this is ideal. Aerobic capacity and aerobic power are two sides of the same coin and a developing athlete who is already strong in one, is conversely weak in the other. There is no surer route to a plateau than specializing too early. I am in the business of creating generally fit, fast, strong athletes.

In our next article on How to Qualify I’ll take a look in a little more depth at what your ability/inability to hit these long and short benchmarks tells you about your strengths and weaknesses as an athlete and what it infers about your optimal Ironman pacing strategy come race day. Until then…

Train smart

Categories: Training

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