Age Group 70.3 World Champion Data Analysis
American Chris Thomas has won his age group at the 70.3 IRONMAN World Championships on four occasions, including 2012. On September 8, Thomas successfully defended his title in Vegas in the 40-44 age group, with a time of 4:21:56. A member of the Timex Multisport Team that uses TrainingPeaks, Thomas offered us a chance to look at his bike and run file, and see what it takes to win the age group world title.
Pushing at the Start
Thomas started with a decent swim of 30:05, putting him 17th out of the water but 0:04:22 down from the leader. As a result, he pushed hard on the early miles of the bike. “I had some guys from my age group around me as we headed out of the resort,” recalled Thomas. “I wanted to get open road as quickly as I could.” His Normalized Power (NP) for the first 19 minutes was 295 watts, which is equal to Thomas’ Functional Threshold Power (FTP), or what he could sustain for an hour. For that same time his Average Power (AP) was only 215 watts, a huge difference of 80 watts from his NP. NP accounts for surges in power that are physically “costlier” than a constant effort, so the difference in NP and AP meaning that Thomas was either going really hard or really easy – not a good thing in triathlon. The difference in AP And NP is reflected in his Variability Index (VI), a massive of 1.37 (a VI of 1.0 being a perfectly smooth effort). We would expect to see this number for a criterium bike race, not a 56-mile time trial.
So how did Thomas still ride a 2:24:23? Simple – he calmed down, settled his effort and then steadily rode through the field. “I try to ride as consistently as I can so I’m able to run fresher off the bike,” said Thomas. After the power spikes over the first 19 minutes, Thomas’ file reveals a smooth and steady output. Thomas averaged 241 watts for that 2:05 stretch. That equals 3.66 watts per kilogram, a very solid number for an age group athlete. For the pro men, we typically see around 4.0 to 4.2 w/kg. Additionally, his VI plummets to 1.03, right in the range of what we look for during a half or full IRONMAN bike. He also mentioned that he rides mostly off of feel and heart rate and peeks at his power every so often. The file shows that his average heart rate also dropped from an average of 152 bpm for the first 19 minute section, down to 146 bpm for the remainder of his ride. Even in the last 30 minutes Thomas averaged 226 watts which shows he was still riding strong. “I could have ridden harder, but I knew how important the run would be,” he said.
Thomas also learned from the previous two years and dialed in his nutrition. “I really paid attention to staying [ahead on] my nutrition and salt [intake] this year,” he said. “This year’s strategy enabled me to feel really strong throughout the bike.”
Running Strong for the Win
But the race doesn’t end after the bike – the run is where you can win or lose it all. Thomas’ Timex GPS was set to record laps every 1.6k, or 1 mile. This allows us to see how steadily he paced despite the rolling terrain. Thomas kept his mile splits in the low- to mid-6:00 per mile range. “I backed off a bit at the beginning and just focused on finding my rhythm,” said Thomas. He likes the rolling course, calling it “very fair”. To stay steady Thomas again uses a mix of feel and technology. “I go by feel but like to check my heart rate to make sure I’m pushing hard enough. I peek at my pace each mile split to get a feel for how I’m moving.” Staying steady on a rolling course isn’t easy. For Thomas, he opens his stride on the downhills and isn’t afraid to push the pace when he feels good. His run time of 1:22:48 is a reflection of his smart bike ride, proper pacing and of course, his talent and training.
Putting it All Together
A smart and fit racer, Thomas blends his experience and feel with technology to guide his effort. He can manage his effort with internal cues but also checks this power/pace to make sure he is on target. Proper pacing on the bike allows Thomas to be strong on the run to the finish. His multiple world titles back up this strategy, one that can be used successfully by any age group athlete.