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Since working more intensively with age group athletes one thing I’ve struggled with is when they have a better and more detailed knowledge of a range ‘instant performance’ products than I do. How to respond when presented with a barrage of statistics on various pieces of equipment and nutritional supplements down to their exact micro usage?

It often takes a day down the coal mine at a race like Ironman South Africa, one of the toughest out there, to expose the realities of what it really takes to develop ‘instant’ performance:

The Success

Rafal Medal has earned his spot at Kona in his first race of the year. Congratulations, Rafal. A great achievement. His pre-season training was done predominately in the dead of an English winter from his living room – through turbo workouts and the run machine.

Historically, Rafal has always had a problem of walking some portions of the run. This race he was able to complete the whole run as a ‘run’, walking only the targeted aid stations to top up his needs. A huge success to see his last 10km, usually the ‘worst part of my race’, turn into the best part on a hot and dehydrating type of day.

The turnaround? Upon investigation of Rafal’s race day diet I thought he may have been an agent for the nutritional supplements industry, such was the complicated group of food products he would consume while racing.

So back to basics: chocolate milk in the bidden, Mars bars in the pocket and a Polish chocolate brand to break up the taste of the same thing for 10 hours.

Returning the focus to the 3 nutritional rules for getting through an Ironman:

1) Making correct nutrition decisions under pressure.

2) Knowing the amount of calories you need per hour.

3) Taking those calories in food stuffs and in ways that you are both physically and psychologically comfortable with.

The Learning Curve

Our second age group athlete, Alicja, was also ready for a great race only to have it taken away by a series of technical difficulties on the bike.

In our sport we see the prevalent use of electronic gear shifters. I don’t like them. I’ve seen too many failures using such equipment for me to feel otherwise. Negligible (if any) improvement in speed, and in return you risk being rendered completely useless out on the race course if anything goes wrong. Such was the case for Alicja.

To those who will inevitably want to debate the use of digital shifters I would point out that one of the greatest road and time trial cyclists of all time, Fabian Cancellara, has long preferred not to use them (or power meters for that matter). Alberto Contador, who we know is not averse to any performance enhancement has also traditionally preferred mechanical. (References below).

Unfortunately Alicja then had to deal with another problem, a faulty seat clamp, or maybe a faulty husband setting up her bike after travelling!

Over the years I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this with the pros. They travel to a race at great expense only to have to pull out with a self inflicted mechanical. A bolt not tightened here or there, gears not meshing, or a dead battery.

“But I had them checked before the trip.”

Take my tip: On race day the booths are full of bike mechanics. Yes, they may be doing another job, but I’ve long found paying for 5 minutes of their time to give your bike a once over, checking the gears, tyres and seat is a great investment. The last thing you want is for it all to come crashing down because you have failed to tighten a bolt to the correct tension.

Alicja, to her credit, battled away in one gear and no seat until she reached a mechanical bay. She kept going and proved her courage by ripping out the best run split in her age group. That takes guts and we salute her fine effort.

Top 5The Top 5 men and women pros at Ironman South Africa.

The Development Continues

Finally, we have Matt Trautman’s recovery effort in the pro ranks. When the Captain first came to squad with high hopes for Kona he was informed that with his current swim he was dreaming. I thought he could concentrate on the lesser events, or alternatively, take it upon himself to get his swim to the point where he could be competitive. He has chosen the latter course and after two separate swim stimulus programs has since improved immeasurably.

He will have no doubt received plenty of advice suggesting that he should be concentrating on his bike-run weapons as ‘What’s the difference if you swim 3 minute faster in an 8-hour Ironman?’

Well Sunday should underline the importance to all pro athletes of an Ironman swim. Straight from the starter’s gun Matty was not in it as against the ‘big dogs’ the race for the podium was over within the first 600m.

He fought bravely to recover and eventually finish fourth, being the first South African home. But we’re about the big picture. If he wants to get amongst them at the big show in Kona then those three minutes are everything to his career.

The good news is I know he will be in the pool this morning searching for those minutes. Like all good captains, you don’t have to show them twice how to navigate away from the rocks.

Cancellara and Contador references:

Cancellara’s bikes otherwise share nearly everything. Like at Ronde van Vlaanderen, his Paris-Roubaix bike goes battery-free, save for the SRM PowerControl 7 computer head. The Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control levers are connected to the derailleurs with actual braided steel cables and there’s no power meter present. Cancellera prefers to race on ‘feel’ and no one is going to argue with that approach as it’s served him very well so far.

Contador’s new bike features an FSA K-Force Light crankset – 53/39T chainrings, naturally – equipped with an SRM power meter. There’s no Di2 here, Contador is running mechanical Dura-Ace 9000. The Spaniard is also using Roval Rapide CLX 40 tubular wheels with CeramicSpeed bearings (also on the headset) to ensure ultra-smooth rolling. The wheels are wrapped in S-Works Turbo Tubular Allround tyres.

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