Why Do They Swim-Bike-Run So Fast? Data.

The most advanced science in the triathlon world can be found in Norway, where athletes embrace the data found in heat sensors, oxygen measuring masks and their feces. Kristian Blummenfelt participating in a wind tunnel testing session at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.Credit…Kevin Faingnaert for The New York Times

In November, under stormy, tropical skies, the reigning Olympic men’s triathlon champion, Kristian Blummenfelt leapt from a pier into the Caribbean Sea. Then, 7 hours 21 minutes 12 seconds later, after swimming 2.4 miles, cycling more than 112 and running 26.2, he snapped the tape to win the Cozumel Ironman in Mexico and become the fastest ever at the Ironman distance.

Never mind that it had been his first attempt at the distance or that he had diarrhea for days beforehand. On the run, he ducked into a portable toilet twice, costing him over 90 seconds, and he still clocked a 2:35:24 marathon. He beat the triathlon record time by over six minutes.

His result shook the triathlon world to an extent that bewildered Blummenfelt, 26. “The strange thing for us was the Cozumel race got at least as much attention as the Olympics,” he said, referring to his gold medal performance at the Tokyo Games.

Jan Frodeno, the three-time Ironman world champion who held the record Blummenfelt appeared to break, called his Cozumel performance “next level.”

But after initially recognizing the performance as a record, the Professional Triathletes Organization backtracked. The course was not certified by World Athletics, and the Cozumel course is one of the fastest in the world because of a favorable current in the swim leg.

And as in all endurance sports, doping is a concern. In 2021, the triathletes Yuliya Yelistratova of Ukraine and Igor Polyanskiy and Alexander Bryukhanov, both of Russia, tested positive for the blood-boosting substance EPO. Blummenfelt said he was not tested in Cozumel.

But there is another explanation for Blummenfelt’s victories in Tokyo and Mexico: data. If the Oakland A’s were a Trojan horse for analytics in baseball and other ball sports, Norway’s national team is a triathlon leader in taking the “Moneyball” approach.

“They are changing the minds of a lot of people,” said an early innovator in triathlon sports science, Dan Lorang, who coaches Frodeno and the 2019 Ironman women’s world champion, Anne Haug. “Even if nobody knows exactly how they are doing it, everybody now sees science seems to have a big impact on performance.”

Coach Olav Aleksander Bu examined Blummenfelt’s bike at a training session at the Eindhoven University of Technology.
Coach Olav Aleksander Bu examined Blummenfelt’s bike at a training session at the Eindhoven University of Technology.Credit…Kevin Faingnaert for The New York Times

With a stable of young athletes winning races all over the globe, Norway looks primed to take over the sport in 2022, partly because of Blummenfelt, who is not only an elite athlete, but also a willing guinea pig.

He grew up playing soccer and swimming in Bergen, Norway, a soggy city nestled among mountains and fjords. After seeing him run, his swim coach suggested he compete in a sprint triathlon in 2009. He won. Months later, he was invited to join Norway’s fledgling national triathlon team.

“It was not like the standard to join the team was superhigh,” Blummenfelt said. “There were no other triathletes to find.”

The coach was the father of another athlete. He had minimal triathlon experience but a keen eye for talent. In 2010, a wiry teenager named Gustav Iden joined the team, and the year after that, Casper Stornes was added to the roster. All three went on to be world champions or Olympians.

By 2011, when Blummenfelt was 16, Arild Tveiten, an accomplished Ironman triathlete, took over as coach and brought a new level of professionalism to the team. Four years later, the coach met Olav Aleksander Bu, an engineer and serial entrepreneur who changed the trajectory of Norway’s team.

Bu shadowed Blummenfelt and the Norwegian delegation at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and became convinced that aside from riding faster and making bicycles lighter, the sport hadn’t made many significant technological advances in years.

Bu and staff members collect data from different sensors to give them information about Blummenfelt’s performance.
Bu and staff members collect data from different sensors to give them information about Blummenfelt’s performance.
Credit…Kevin Faingnaert for The New York Times

Here was an endurance sport in which athletes engaged in multiple training sessions involving multiple disciplines every day. They were always on a clock, generating data from heart rate monitors and VO2 max tests, which measure the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use. But Bu did not think enough data was being collected or properly understood.

He took an investigative approach, leafed through the established literature, sought out ongoing research and measured every variable he could find. He strapped Blummenfelt and others with upward of 20 sensors, more than Lorang ever used. He pricked their ears and smeared their blood on lactate meters multiple times during each training session. He even taught Blummenfelt to take his own blood.

A VO2 mask allowed Bu to collect carbon isotopes to determine the source of carbohydrates Blummenfelt burned while training. Were they from his body’s glycogen stores, which are difficult to replace during a race? Or were they derived from gels and drinks he ingested? When glycogen stores burn, athletes are liable to bonk and fade. If they burn only what they eat and drink, they can go all day, and outlast their competitors.

In their early days together, Bu found that Blummenfelt burned too much glycogen. “He was so mentally strong,” Bu said, “it had a downside. He pushed too hard because he could, and was getting too glycogen thirsty too early.” Measuring for lactate more often allowed Blummenfelt to monitor and control his intensity on every ride and run, which enabled him to train longer and at a consistent pace.

Bu and Blummenfelt after a cycling training session.
Bu and Blummenfelt after a cycling training session.Credit…Kevin Faingnaert for The New York Times

Bu continues to probe the margins, looking for any advantage. Nothing is out of bounds. He has had Blummenfelt drink a $2,000 bottle of water infused with oxygen isotopes that can be collected in urine samples and analyzed to gauge his overall oxygen efficiency. He has also been known to collect and burn fecal samples to better understand Blummenfelt’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates. Yes, like feces, data is everywhere.

The most significant recent gains have come from proprietary heat sensors. From the beginning, Bu created relationships with small companies that use Norway’s team as a testing resource. One such company makes a sensor that measures core body temperature, allowing Bu and his athletes to determine in real time how much of their energy is going toward performance and how much is burning off as excess heat.

Tveiten believes understanding the data collected in those heat sensors was crucial in Blummenfelt’s Olympic victory. He knew to hold back on the bicycle leg to keep his core temperature down in the heat, and he was able to blow past his fading opponents on the run when he was no longer concerned about glycogen burn. Blummenfelt won Olympic gold by just 11 seconds. He used the same tool at Cozumel, when he once again laid back on the bike to pace himself early, then ran free.

Fans, not those kinds of fans, at the Eindhoven University of Technology wind tunnel.
Fans, not those kinds of fans, at the Eindhoven University of Technology wind tunnel.Credit…Kevin Faingnaert for The New York Times

Blummenfelt hopes it’s a sign of things to come. In May, he will compete in the delayed 2021 Ironman world championships in St. George, Utah, and in October, it will be the 2022 world championships in Kona, Hawaii. It took Frodeno four years to go from Olympic to Ironman champion. Blummenfelt is hoping to do it in 10 months.

Will the most advanced science in the sport — which in January included perfecting his cycling form and equipment in a European wind tunnel — provide the margin he needs to become the talk of triathlon again?

“As an athlete, it can be tricky to find improvements,” Blummenfelt said, “but when you go into the lab, it becomes easier to find your weaknesses — the areas where we think we can put more time and effort in, and improve.”

Bu was more direct. “It will almost be like taking candy from kids,” he said. “It’s actually that simple.”

Fuente: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/18/sports/triathlon-kristian-blummenfelt.html?smid=url-share

Copiado solo para uso interno de Trilab360.

Cambiar es crecer

El mundo del triatlón es infinito. Tiene tantas subidas y bajadas como nuestra vida en general. Mil y un aprendizajes al igual que nuestro crecimiento como personas. Fases de madurez al igual que los seres humanos. Pero sobre todo esa dosis de realismo que nos obliga a sobreponernos a las dificultades y a levantarte cada día. De eso se trata la vida. El triatlón es vida.

Hace cuatro semanas tomé una decisión: buscar nuevos horizontes en este complejo mundo del triatlón. Cambiar para seguir creciendo, para continuar desafiando el statu quo. Opté por un salto cualitativo sin retorno (desde mi perspectiva), cuya principal premisa es medir la mayor cantidad de variables que encierra este deporte multifacético, sumándole una cuota de profesionalismo a mi amateurismo.

Este proceso me tiene muy entusiasmado, ya que veo mejoras en mis sesiones de entrenamiento, pero sobre todo porque todos los días aprendo algo que nuevo que me permite entender este deporte en su más amplio sentido. Quiero compartir algunas reflexiones que tal vez a alguien le sean útiles, dependiendo la fase en la que se encuentre.

Información precisa y confiable. ¿Te ha pasado que entrenas triatlón y transcurren meses enteros en que no comprendes en qué etapa estás? ¿Habré avanzando? ¿Estoy mejor que hace tres meses atrás? ¿Me estoy sobre entrenando? ¿Estoy entrenando como debo? A mi sí. Y eso me afectaba psicológicamente porque al no medir, no podía direccionar mis pensamientos en lo que hacía bien o mal y esto mermaba mis posibilidades a la hora de competir. O al menos mentalmente me hacía sentir que estaba menos preparado que el resto. O tan simple como que me generaba dudas por sentir que estaba parado sobre arena movediza.

En este micro ciclo que comencé junto a Trilab 360 todo se mide con fórmulas matemáticas que nos permiten entender las fases en las que estamos. Pero sobre todo, nos dan la posibilidad de comprender pará qué entrenamos y por qué realizamos determinado ejercicio en un día específico y sus respectivas intensidades.

Buenos hábitos. Mi decisión de cambiar de entrenamiento, el espíritu de grupo, el cocheo permanente y el diálogo fluido me han hecho explorar nuevos umbrales de motivación que me han ido llevando a experimentar círculos virtuosos. Sin perder el espíritu amateur, pero tomándome con mucha responsabilidad cada día de entrenamiento, respetando los descansos, mejorando la alimentación, aumentando la hidratación y las horas de sueño.

El cambio empieza en ti. Hay muchos tipos de triatletas y todos tienen lugar en este deporte. Sin embargo, la decisión de cambiar parte por uno mismo. En mi opinión, no te superarás (porque el triatlón se trata de ganarte a ti mismo, no a otros) si no sientes esas ganas de ganarle a tu otro yo. Podrás hacer durante muchos años triatlón, pero en algún momento caerás en una meseta si ese fuego interior no te quema. Cuando esa llama está viva, te mueve a desafiarte y alcanzar mejores resultados.

No te guardes nada. Hace cuatro años incursioné en el mundo del triatlón. Viví años de mucho crecimiento y conocimiento, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta que ingresé sin saber absolutamente nada. Sin embargo, te puedo asegurar que el verdadero cambio se produce en el momento en que decides romper límites mentales y barreras psicológicas al dejar de pensar que el éxito es lejano y que pocos son los dignos de sentirse lo suficientemente buenos como para pararse ante el resto y declararse triatletas. Necesitas perseverancia para levantarte a diario, paciencia porque los resultados no llegan rápido, creer en ti mismo para entender que los frutos dependen de ti, pero sobre todo pasión y profesionalismo.

Si tan solo logras incorporar este deporte como un estilo de vida y parte de tu diario vivir, tendrás un gran camino ganado.

Un abrazo


Pablo Rossi
Triatleta por hobby, padre por vocación, esposo por elección.