Within 1 month of watching Reese’s data roll in, I had picked up on strengths and weaknesses in his physical performance. Mix that with our Skype sessions and I was hearing the same thing that I was seeing. For the first month or so, I didn’t want to act but only observe and make notes. Finally, I had identified a strong opportunity and we began to discuss it.
There is no doubt in my mind that Reese is genetically gifted. He has an exceptional ability to dig deep and tap into his anaerobic capacity after being on the limit throughout a race. This physiologically is possible for most, but many aren’t willing to hurt like Reese is. While he is talented in this arena, it was also causing a drastic reduction in athletic performance because he didn’t understand how to control it. This is where the STRYD Power Meter comes in.
Utilizing the STRYD:
For Reese we have found that 195 watts tends to be his functional threshold pace for anywhere between 1500-3000 meters. Roughly 5-10 minutes. For longer distances this number would be reduced, but for his specific purposes, this is the number that we have focused on for his races. By seeing all of his data in training and racing, we found that he can hold this pace, but he will see a significant decline in performance if he goes above it for too long. In his early season races it was almost like clock work. Reese would have the mentality that he needed to lead from the start and would always open up the first 300 meters of his 1500’s at 220-250 watts. His first 400 would be in 1:07-1:10, followed by 2 laps at 1:17-1:20.. and a 4th lap at 1:10 (again, his ability to kick). He kept running the exact same times for about 1-2 months as he continued to use the same approach. For Reese it was always his idea to start fast and try to run from the front. In his local races this was fine as he would win regardless, but at the national level this wasn’t going to cut it. For the past 4-6 months we have worked on a more controlled opening lap which doesn’t put him in oxygen debt. We don’t exactly use those terms when talking together, but he understands the idea… his body can’t support it yet. By working on this tactic, we have continually improved his pacing and finally at the national championship have cut nearly 40 seconds off his 3000 times from early in the season and 15 seconds off his 1500 times. While he did improve physically as well, he improved greatly in his understanding of race pacing and tactics and benefitted greatly in trusting his body and letting others set the pace early on. While all of this is fantastic, it was actually his bike workouts that finally showed him the light. I will discuss this next.
This was our breakthrough. Reese and I started using ZWIFT a couple months before nationals and it has been a game changer for us. I knew that Reese was understanding our pacing talks about STRYD, but he was still only executing in half of his races. He was getting better, but it still wasn’t ideal and Nationals were coming up. Knowing this and that he was understanding power, we started riding on ZWIFT and discussing watts/kilogram. In ZWIFT, watts/kilogram is essentially the metric that determines how fast your rider goes. On the flats a more powerful rider will win, but going uphill its all about your watts/kg ratio. After riding 1 time and discussing this, Reese started to catch on and we referred to all intervals in this terminology. He knew to keep his numbers in a certain range when working and was building his understanding as well as his physical performance. Once I knew he understood this metric enough, I told him we were going to do a 5 min race… who ever is ahead at the end wins. We did this race on a mountain climb in the ZWIFT software so that it would be equal. Reese weighs 101 pounds where as I weigh in at 182 pounds. Therefore, his 3 watts/kg is roughly around 150 where as mine is around 240. For reference Reese has a threshold of around 165 watts where as I’m around 275.. We both share similar W/kg at threshold. So, the stage was set. I picked 5 minutes because I knew his 1500 meter races took him just under that amount of time. I said “Reese, do whatever you gotta do to win.. whoever is ahead after 5 minutes is the winner”. Sure enough, he took off flying. I was watching his guy and he started at 5.5 watts/kg for 20 seconds. I laughed to myself but thought “great, this is what I wanted”. Reese was about 8 seconds up after 1 minute but was starting to fade. I had started at 3.8 watts/kg and told myself I would only go up to 4.2 if I absolutely had to. I wanted to try and use the lowest amount of energy possible to teach him a lesson.. Reese quickly faded after about 90 seconds (which is where most anaerobic capacity dies off and your body starts screaming for oxygen). By 2 minutes I had caught him. I was feeling fresh and he was dying. by 3 minutes I had put in a 4 second gap, 4 minutes an 8 second gap, and at 5 minutes I had won by 11 seconds. Going back over his power files after, we saw that Reese had surged to 5.5 to start, faded to 3.2 for 3 minutes.. then picked it up trying to catch me the last 30 seconds up to 5.5 watts/kg. He raced it exactly like he did his 1500’s on the track. Reese ended up doing far more work than I, where as I had averaged 3.8 watts/kg for 5 minutes which would have easily been in Reese’s wheel house had he been patient and smart.
All this is to say that, it took Reese seeing it with data in front of him and knowing that I had worked less but gone faster while using the same metrics. Even if we were doing traditional coaching in that instant, Reese would in his mind think “of course Derek won, he is older and stronger”. But by seeing both of our Watts/kg on the screen and knowing we were equal in that setting, I beat him using less energy. A light bulb went off.
About 1 month after our First ZWIFT Race, Reese showed up at the AAU Junior National Championships. We had talked quite a bit regarding his pacing, our ZWIFT experience, what we expected other kids to do, to not panic, and to trust what we have been building all year. I’m proud to report that in all of his races, Reese went through the first lap in 3-4th position and successfully kept his pace through the middle laps to distance everyone and win each event he participated in. While power is important in race settings, its the idea and mentality that may be more important. Numbers won’t always translate to wins, but the education and understanding of how numbers work and how to maximize your odds of success can. We maximized Reese’s odds of winning by playing into his strengths and and limiting his weaknesses. This to me is the power of technology and how we have, as a community, built a 3x national champion.
I would be naive to think that this was all a product of distance coaching. As I noted in part 1, Reese has a fantastic network around him which includes a local track coach, swim coach, family, and friends who support him. What I wanted to point out in this 3 part series is that many times performance goes far beyond what you see in person. While there is no substitute for hands on coaching and experience, there is a lot that can be done to increase the athletes effectiveness, physical, and mental (probably the most important) performance.
It has been a blessing to coach Reese over the last 8 months and I look forward to continuing our goals together. While I have been able to teach him some things, he has given me the opportunity to experiment with new methods of coaching and constantly make me think outside the box. I hope you enjoyed this quick look in on how we work with athletes all across the World. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org