Categories: Race

Preparing for IRONMAN Kona | How Sebastian Kienle uses training and racing data

October 4, 2018

Now that IRONMAN Kona is just around the corner, we’re excited to take a peek into how multiple-time World Champion, Polar athlete Sebastian Kienle prepares for the big day and how he uses data during and after the race. 

Using data from tune-up races 

IRONMAN Kona is Sebastian Kienle’s main race for the season but in addition to this ultimate challenge he tunes up for it by doing 6-7 middle distance races during the season. These tune-up races play an important role in preparing for the real deal (even though he prefers to call them just races without labeling them as tune-up or trial races).

One of the races Kienle completed (and won) earlier this year was Challenge Turku in Finland on August 13, 2018. Here’s the Polar Flow race data he tracked during the race with his Polar V800 to analyze afterwards what kind of changes he could and should make for IRONMAN Kona:

 

Monitoring heart rate and speed in altitude 

In addition to getting into the zone with the tune-up races, Sebastian Kienle prepared for IRONMAN Kona by training in altitude.  

“During the summer, I spent several weeks training in an altitude camp and using my heart rate data to make the most of it. In the beginning, my heart rate in altitude was about 15 bpm higher than usual when running the same speed, but towards the end of the training my heart rate was only 5 bpm higher,” Kienle explains.  

Although only few studies show actual evidence that training in altitude benefits performance, Kienle thinks it’s worth it.  

Although only few studies show actual evidence that training in altitude benefits performance, Kienle thinks it’s worth it.  

“It’s like a plasebo for me: I believe it makes me perform better, therefore, it does. That’s because a lot of your success is in your head. You’ll more likely hit your goals if you think you will.” 

In addition to running heart rate, Kienle monitored his recovery closely in the altitude camp and did the orthostatic test twice a week.  

5 weeks for adjusting before IRONMAN Kona  

After the tune-up races and training in altitude, Kienle traveled to Kona five weeks prior to the race, which is the ideal timing for him, leaving him enough time to adjust and deal with any surprises.

When I first arrive to Kona, it feels overwhelmingly hot but after three weeks, I don’t notice the weather conditions anymore.

“When I first arrive in Kona, it feels overwhelmingly hot but after three weeks, I don’t notice the weather conditions anymore. That’s why I travel well in advance and give myself time to get used to the climate and the time difference. This way I make sure I’m not jet-lagged or still in full-body shock because of the heat when I do my most important training sessions 12 days before the race.” 

“Because of the heat and the humidity, your heart rate may be 10-15 beats higher even though you’re running your usual pace. Some people ignore this and overdo it when they try to maintain the same speed and power.”  

Traveling to the race destination early is also a way to avoid any unpleasant surprises evolving into catastrophes: Kienle makes sure he has enough time to recover after the 24-hour flight so that even getting ill on the plane won’t knock the bike over.

Data during race 

Kienle tracks his running speed and cadence during races and checks his stats afterwards to spot weaknesses.  

I’ve noticed that when I get weak I try to do longer strides.

“I’ve noticed that when I get weak I try to do longer strides so towards the end of the run I focus on maintaining my cadence. When I run, I need to know my pace, but I don’t usually use a power meter on the bike,” Kienle says.  

That’s because for pros, it’s important to stay with the group, even if it’s not perfect for your pacing. Kienle is a strong cyclist so no matter what the speed and power on the bike, he’ll be able to handle it and still complete the run.

Having that back to look at helps mentally.

But, no matter what their strongest suit is, pros will aim to stay with the group on the bike because even though you’re not allowed to draft (trail another cyclist) and need to keep a 12 m distance to the cyclist in front of you, having that back to look at helps mentally.

For age groupers it’s important to race with a cycling power meter and monitor those watts to make sure they don’t push too hard on the bike to have the energy to complete the run.   

“Up until now, I haven’t tracked my heart rate when I’m racing because it feels uncomfortable to wear a chest strap when running and difficult with a wetsuit. That’s why I’ve been looking forward to having a multisport watch with accurate wrist-based heart rate measurement.” 

Analysis after race 

Kienle analyzes his training and racing data together with his coach. After a race, he uploads his data on Polar Flow and his coach has instant access to it.  

“When you look at the data afterwards, you’ll be more aware of what you should be doing the next time.” 

For example, after the race Kienle reviews how changes in swimming speed in the first 500-600 meters affect the end result and he always monitors his running speed.  

It’s good to have someone who can help you analyze your training data and find ways to improve your performance.

“It takes some time to look at the data and analyze it with my coach, but once it’s done, we both know what we’re talking about, having access to the same numbers.” 

Even if you don’t have a coach, it’s good to have someone who can help you analyze your training data and find ways to improve your performance based on the data and your subjective feeling. 

Sebastian Kienle’s top tips for using data when training and racinG

1. DON’T LOOK AT THE NUMBERS ONLY

Data can guide you to train smarter but don’t forget to listen to your body, too.

2. REMEMBER THERE’S MORE THAN ONE PIECE IN THE PUZZLE

Don’t focus only on heart rate, speed or power – look at heart rate in relation to power and speed. Just like a salad with only cucumber is kind of… well, not a salad, it’s just cucumber, data is at its best when you mix it up! 

3. LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE

Always look at the longer time period of sessions. Don’t just pick one set of data from one session, and look at it without perspective. Look at a longer period of training to see what has changed over time. 

4. GET A SECOND OPINION

The more you learn, the better you can use data and get something out of it. It’s always important to have a second opinion from someone experienced who can help you interpret the numbers. You’re biased when it comes to your own data: you’ll either start obsessing over the smallest mistake you made or think you’re (unrealistically) awesome.