by Chad Holderbaum 

Ed. Note—Chad Holderbaum lives and works in Colorado Springs, coaching for Durata Training, and also races as a professional triathlete. This week, Chad brings us a simplified approach of understanding the power demands required to be at the front of the age group race in Kona.

Kona 2018 saw a record setting day, with not only blistering pro bike times but also really fast age group splits, especially on the bike course. In fact, the top AG males in the 30-35, 35-39 and 40-44 categories all rode between 4:30 and 4:35! If you are an age-group athlete with dreams of making it on to the podium in Kona, then it is very important to understand the wattage demands of the bike opposed to targeting a projected finish time. Historically in Kona over the last couple of years, to have a shot at an AG podium in these three competitive divisions, a bike split of around 4:50 was required and now—suddenly—we saw podium contention athletes biking fifteen to twenty minutes faster.

Did they go faster by holding more watts or did they go faster because of the favorable weather? By using advanced modeling tools such as Best Bike Split (BBS) and analyzing previous power files of athletes, it was easy to determine that it was more than likely the latter. So, when it comes down to it, what did the BBS modeling and power file analysis show us? We learned that—regardless of the favorable weather conditions in 2018—the top age group athletes still met similar power-based targets as they have in years past. For example, a 4:50-4:55 bike split in years past was analogous to a 4:30-4:35 bike split in 2018.

Some specific power files that I reviewed to help make this determination were:

A 5:07 bike split in 2013 equaled 3.0 w/kg
A 5:00 hour split in 2012 equaled 3.25 w/kg
A 4:55 bike split in 2011 equaled 3.30 w/kg
A 4:48 bike split in 2018 equaled 2.85 w/kg

As a coach, I strongly suggest that an athlete does not get hung up on chasing a particular Ironman time goal and instead work to shift their mindset to power/wattage based targets on the bike. Taking a deeper dive into these power files over the past couple of years, a podium contention athlete needs to be holding approximately 3.3-3.4 watts per kilogram (w/kg) on the bike in addition to posting  quick swim and run splits. It is important to note that this high-level recommendation does not consider aerodynamics and/or individual drag of an athlete. Of course, the more aero you are, the greater the speed at a reduced wattage. That being said, it’s safe to assume that if you’re racing in Kona, both your fit and equipment are dialed in.

In summary, this should illustrate what it takes to bike with the best in your category and set realistic expectations between you and your coach.