Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Going long: Factors of success for Cody Beals in the Ironman distance

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STAC Performance ambassador Cody Beals has had a fairytale year, from winning three 70.3 races internationally (Taiwan, Eagleman and Victoria) to then winning his Ironman debut at IM Mont-Tremblant (and setting the course record), capping it all off a month later by winning IM Chattanooga. Meticulous and  detail-oriented, it’s no surprise that Cody loves our Vitrual Wind Tunnel and worked hard with our team and his coach, STAC Performance partner David Tilbury-Davis, to optimize the small details that matter on the big day, such as bike position. As he made that jump up to Ironman racing this year, Cody and David tackled a handful of details to turn the 70.3 Uber-biker into a well-rounded long distance athlete that could push those big watts across the 180-km distance but back it up with a fast marathon, too. While Cody has had some great interviews on his two wins, we chatted with David about the adaptations they made for the full distance and the tweaks in bike position that contributed to Cody’s success this season in a sport that sees times dropping across the field every year. 

STAC Performance: Notably a course record holder on the bike in many 70.3s, Cody seems to only be getting faster, even while the rest of the men’s field is getting faster too. What’s to explain for the faster and faster 70.3 bike splits every year, from both a general and Cody-specific perspective?

David Tilbury-Davis: Generally speaking, my view is that folks are getting more and more attuned to the cumulative benefits of attention to all the inherent details of performing optimally. As the sport has evolved as has the influence of science, add that technology has grown and we’ve seen a progression from a purely “engine” focussed approach (‘get fit on the bike, getter fitter on the bike’) to a much much more holistic approach. That in no particular order, is now incorporating….

a) Individuality of adaptation to certain training stimuli
b) Bike fit being driven by “athlete centred” assessment mechanisms rather than formulaic approaches
c) Capacity to express comfort on the bike in metabolic as well as mechanical terms
d) The relevance of nutritional demands and adaptation to said demands
e) Aerodynamics both athlete, equipment and interaction between the two
f) Advances in principles of training and adaptation
g) Breadth and depth of talent at races, “a rising tide lifts all boats” 
h) Technological advances in cycling equipment
i) Advances in tools and methods for quantification of work, race environments and injury risk

Many of these existed in the past but where, to all intents and purposes, vapourware to anyone not with exceptionally deep pockets or part of a well-funded entity (professional team, governing body).

At its purist essence a bicycle is a metabolically motorised vehicle that travels at its fastest at maximal efficiency. When you think about it like that and tear the system down to every component of the system that can be optimised there is still a lot of “low hanging fruit” gains that can and are now being made by the everyday professional (and age group) athlete due to ten-fold cost reductions and the internet providing immediate access to far more knowledge.

What Cody has done over the last few years is pragmaticallly apply a cost-benefit ratio analysis to the “low hanging fruit” and over time these additive changes have allowed Cody to move to the upper end of the development cycle curve. My view is that it is his analytical background that has allowed him to critically think about any and all changes or sponsorships to ensure he is making value add choices.
Photo credit: Korupt Vision

STAC: What are the key differences in 70.3 and full Ironman biking?

DTD: How stochastic the racing can be and the brinkmanship or gamesmanship so to speak. It differs between the two. Also resilience in all its forms…aerobically, psychologically, neurologically, cardiovascularly and gastric emptying wise, more being demanded in Ironman racing.

STAC: How has Cody adapted physiologically for the 180-km bike ride?

DTD: I think adaptation is not really the correct choice of words. It is more a case of layering the right attributes on top of existing ones. 70.3 racing demands a lot of fitness and capacity to surge and recover as you respond to the race dynamics. Whilst Ironman still has aspects of this the greater need is for the capacity to maintain posture and form and effort for a long time. Cycling wise we incorporated multiple 6hr rides.

STAC: Talk about how aerodynamics play into both 70.3 and full Ironman biking. How do these considerations affect Cody’s position on the bike for each distance (does his position change between both?)

DTD: Broadly speaking a 2% reduction in drag is worth 2mins over an Ironman (assumes 0.260 CdA & reduction of 0.005 & racing at 39kmph). Making that kind of gain is not particularly difficult from that starting point and it could be the difference between making a draft legal pack and not making it into a draft legal pack. Similarly in 70.3 racing the same applies, just half the saving.

With the technology we have today we can take this example and quickly find 6-8mins over an Ironman. But importantly if the bulk of these gains have come from positional adjustments the athlete must spend time adapting to holding that position comfortably physically and, importantly, mentally.

This is the biggest mistake I see some pro athletes making today. They invest time and energy into finding a really fast position then spend a limited amount of time acclimating to it such that come race day by 120km into the Ironman race posturally they simply can’t maintain form.

Some years ago the video footage of the fastest bikers on the Kona Ironman course was analysed and they were, on average, sat up out of aero position for an approximate total of 2mins!

What Cody has been diligent about is taking his honed 70.3 position and simply spending more time holding that position so that come the Ironman race days his body wasn’t in shock staying in aero for so long.

STAC: What does it take to build a world-class triathlon cyclist? Besides coaching and bike fit, what are the smaller or unexpected details that contribute to this success?

DTD: Making sure they are making smart equipment choices foremost. If you can get this right such that the athlete can be comfortable, digest food easily, be aero and be riding a bike that handles well you’ve built a really solid foundation to work from. This seems obvious but many a professional athlete have bike sponsor that sends them a frame size of the manufacturers choosing and I’ve seen many occasions where this has resulted in performance compromises either on the bike or on their ability to run well post ride.

Once you have this right it becomes about assessing the athletes physiological strengths and weaknesses, what are the course demands or weather demands of the races they are choosing etc… Then you do a realistic performance gap analysis and start to plan how you address that gap. Either with training and adaptations or equipment choices for quantitative gains or subjective feelings for the better in the athlete.

SP: We've heard Cody mention that one of his strengths is attention to detail in his race preparation.  Is there anything that he does that's unique or different from other athletes that you've worked with?  

DTD: Much of what he does are aspects that he & I have worked on over time and certainly from my side of that equation the principles and practises applied are applied by all the athletes I have and do work with. Of course, I can’t comment on whether past athletes continue to embrace some of these principles nor whether athletes I don’t work with consider some of these things relevant or irrelevant but if the trend in bike performances in 70.3 and Ironman is anything to go by more and more professional athletes are realising small thoughtful practises or choices can pay performance dividends.

STAC: In both of his races, he's mentioned that he's hit a low point coming off the bike, so is there anything that you would recommend athletes do to prepare for breaking through this mental barrier?

DTD: Firstly manage their fuelling and nutrition strategies appropriate to their effort and distance racing, the brain needs glycogen to function!

Secondly when they practise any “efforts” during longer rides make a point to do these towards the end of the ride, this will help the body adapt and provide mental training.

For a more in-depth look at some of these topics from Cody's perspective, we recommend reading his interview with Ventum 

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