Endurance Nation Ironman Racing System, Part II: Racing with Power

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Endurance Nation coaches Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann introduce and discuss their system for preparing for and executing the Iron distance bike leg with a powermeter. The text below is an introduction. Please read and then listen to the podcast.

Be sure to also visit the Endurance Nation Podcast Channel to browse our library of podcasts.

We’ve been coaching, training and racing with power since about 2002. In 2007 we collaborated with several other smart coaches and athletes in the power-space to really delve into the subject of racing the Iron distance with power. Over the course of much analysis and discussion, we developed a very simple and bulletproof system.

We published these racing ideas, along with power training and file analysis, as a three part webinar series in January 2008. Coeur d’Alene’08 became an excellent proving ground for these ideas, applied across a broad range of athletes on race day. Before you listen to the podcast below, we’d like to set the stage for you with a few key ideas first:

  • Should vs Could Bike Split
    We define success within the EN system as a “good” run split. There is no such thing as a good bike followed by a poor run. Our focus on the bike is to ride the bike split/effort that sets up the run. Period. We feel that focusing on the split you “could” ride vs the split you “should” ride is a very slippery slope that often results in dramatically slowing down or walking much of the run course.


  • If You Can Measure It, You Can Control It  
    We’re going to make up a new sport, Liftathlon. You and I will go to the gym, lift weights for 6hrs, and then run a marathon. The weights I put on my bar are measured. I know, in real time and all the time, exactly how much weight I’m lifting right now. More importantly, I know how much total weight I can lift, at what rate I can lift it, and still run well off the bike. As a result, I make very, very few “pacing” mistakes. After all, the weight on my bar is a Stupidometer, telling me exactly when I’m doing too much. You, however:
  1. Don’t know how much weight is actually on the bar. You might have a pretty good idea but you don’t absolutely KNOW.
  2. Furthermore, you really have no idea how much cumulative weight you can lift and still run well of the bench press. You are guessing, at best.

Now, in an event that lasts several hours during which small mistakes have a very long time to add up and express themselves, who has the advantage? If I can measure what I’m doing, if I know what I’m doing, and make fewer mistakes as a result, overtime I will do a better job of creating the conditions for success: not slowing down on the run.

  • Ride A Steady Effort
    Average Watts: Think of this as the physics of you moving yourself and your bike around the course, over the hills, pushing your body through the wind, etc. Two identical riders with identical average watts will ride identical bike splits because they performed the exact same physics (assuming drag, rolling resistance, and other variables are held constant).

    Normalized Watts: a construct of the guys behind CyclingPeaks, normalized watts is an attempt to create a common baseline against which we can compare two dissimilar rides or riders. Very simply, it accounts for the fact that higher watts are exponentially more costly to our bodies than lower watts. Within the context of this discussion, think of normalized watts as how tired you made yourself producing your average watts.

    Riding Steady: Because higher watts are exponentially more costly than lower watts, the small time gained by powering over a hill is vastly outweighed by the cost of spiking those watts. You WILL pay for that effort later in the day. In our system we ride with very few power fluctuations: power up just a bit on a hill but maintain that “flat” power across the crest, into the downhill and across the next flat. If you find yourself riding near an EN athlete on race day, you’ll notice they will go backwards on the climb, coast by you on the downhill, and then just keep running at mile 18 while everyone else is walking. We are happy to give up 5-10 seconds on a hill to get back 30-60 minutes on the run!


  • Legs = Bank Account
    You only have so much $$ in your legs and it has to last you all day. This implies two things:
  1. It would help if I knew how much money I had in my legs and how long I expected to be on the course spending that money. Through our analysis of many, many power files, we have identified what this cycling budget is as an objective, measurable number.
  2. Riding the bike is then largely about controlling the rate of my spending, in real time, so I get off the bike in T2 with enough money to spend on the run. As I’m climbing this hill I’m very tightly controlling every penny, nickel and dime that I allow to fall out of my pocket.

Now that you’ve wrapped your head around the key principle of racing with power, please join Rich and Patrick as they discuss the application of these tools to Patrick’s performance at Coeur d’Alene. Endurance Nation Podcast Channel


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