As you get into athletics, surely its just about being in competition and getting your feet wet. However as you start to advance, it quickly becomes evident that you need to play to your strengths if you truly want to excel. This is true in any sport as you aim for that top level. Just as everyone in baseball may want to be shortstop or centerfield, for some individuals you are just much stronger at another position. In endurance events, the same thing happens. In cycling at lower levels you will without a doubt find individuals that want to be an “all-arounder” or win every race. This is often not possible and leaves cyclists feeling defeated even though they were set up for defeat. This blog will look at how to select races to find yourself in better positions to win or advance within the sport you love.
Fast-Twitch vs Slow-Twitch
We watch the olympics and see different swimmers in the 1500m vs the 50m. For some reason as amateurs, this seems completely reasonable when watching on T.V but if we were to go to the pool, we would want to beat our friends in both the 50 and 1500. As amateur individuals we feel that if we practice enough, we can be good at everything. While you will make advancements (hence why coaching is important), you will naturally be better at one event vs the other. This is because when you were born you were born with a certain ratio of slow-twitch or fast-twitch muscle fibers. Depending on what you have more of will determine which event you would be better at!
Now, just because you were born with a certain ratio doesn’t mean you can’t convert some fibers. There are fibers that can go back and forth between fast and slow (trainable fibers), but you will still be at an advantage over other athletes based on your genetic background.
This becomes evident quickly if you were to spend 4 weeks training, and then go through some test sets. You will either have a natural ability to put out power instantly, or sustain power for longer amounts of time but never reach the same maximal output as your fast-twitch friend.
By understanding which one you are, you can start to understand what you are better at as an athlete and use this as one of your first ways to select a race
Weight in endurance events is a huge factor in overall performance. While there is a point at which you can be too light to sustain effort, generally speaking the athlete that weighs less will do better over a long day due to not having to exert as much force and not requiring as much energy to cool themselves as their overall mass is lower.
When we start to look at cycling, weight comes into play when possibly selecting a flat vs mountainous race. If we know what your threshold is in watts, we can divide that by your weight (kilograms) and make a very calculated decision on if you should race in the mountains or find flatter road races. For someone with a low watts/kg but a high ability to put out maximum watts, it would make no sense to go race in the mountains. Understanding your watts/kg in cycling can play a huge factor in selection of races.
And finally for our triathletes. All of this comes into play for you. Are you good at cooling off in hot weather? Are you a strong cyclist or strong runner? If you are looking to qualify for Kona one day or just looking to have the race of your life, it would be wise to pick a race that suits your strengths. There are Ironman’s with cooler temps and those that are notorious for hot temperatures. There are Ironman’s with difficult bikes and those that are pancake flat. If you plan on spending nearly a year focusing on a big event like Ironman, then it would be wise to select a race that will give you the best chance at maximizing your abilities.
While this is a generalized statement, its often that taller athletes are better fit for aerobic endurance than anaerobic power. This is because V02 is related to the amount of surface area you have. Also, athletes that are leaner tend to have higher V02’s as well. Therefore, the taller you are and the leaner you are, the more likely you are to have a high V02. With these athletes selecting events that are a function of v02 and threshold tend to suit them well (think Time Trials or 10k running).
The smaller you are the more likely you are to have condensed fibers that are great for powerful motions and better suited for sprinting. Now, while I type this its good to understand there are outliers (Usain Bolt), but the only way you will know for sure is to test.
You can be the best sprinter in the world, but you will get destroyed in a long distance race. Rather than try to be above average in all races, why not focus on becoming the best at the race where your strength is represented. All endurance sports have differing distances, terrain, time of the year (weather), etc. Before you go into your next season you should realize where your strengths and weaknesses are and plan your season accordingly. Don’t put yourself at a disadvantage because you’re negligent in your scheduling. Understand your strengths and have your best season yet!
To hear more, tune in Wednesday as Jeremy Brown of Mind Right Multi-Sport and I host a coaches chat.
For questions or comments, please email me at email@example.com