19 December 2019
3 Keys of the Training and Performance Approach of Ben Kanute
In 2019, Ben Kanute raced in every month except January and November. That’s 10 months of racing at a world-class level in triathlon. The most surprising fact though, is his racing successes ranged from Super Sprint distances of Mixed Relay and Super League, to 70.3 distance.
To compare, Super Sprint races last about 25 mins, while 70.3 races can last up to 4 hours. In one stretch of 22 days in 2019, Kanute won 3 races of different styles and distances, (ITU sprint, a 70.3 race, and an Olympic distance non-drafting). He did this just a few weeks after helping the USA to a silver medal performance at the WTS Abu Dhabi Mixed Relay event.
So what are some take-aways an age-group triathlete can take away from Kanute’s success, to put into their own training and racing?
1 – Set your training phases and your competition phases
Looking at Kanute’s annual planning chart, you see a preseason preparation phase, focused on the basics, then competition phases, alternated with specific preparation phases. Many athletes stay in the same mode and preparation style of training all year. This is especially common for athletes who have 2 Ironman events in their year, as the main focal events. Even if an athlete doesn’t have a competition schedule as numerous as this, the idea of changing the focus of your training through the year, and around different events is needed, as the body responds well to variance of stimulus in training and racing.
When you have training phases and competition phases, you have clear goals for each phase. When in the training phase, athletes are under the greatest load, taking risk in training, according to their goals for the year and/or upcoming competition phase.
Once an athlete enters the competition phase, the goal changes from training to performance and maintaining the fitness gained in the preparation phase. Kanute is able to race frequently in this period, and use the races themselves as the key training sessions, and actually “racing himself into shape.” Otherwise, the training is much less, and his CTL/ATL/TSB reflects this.
When the goals are simple and clear for each phase, the decisions of what training sessions to do, and how much to push, become clear as well. This keeps athletes healthy, improving, and performing.
2 – Identify & track the key metrics to progress towards your goals
Kanute has specific metrics related to developing his super sprint prowess, and others related to his 70.3 performance. These metrics vary as greatly as the races he does, but tracking the trend of these metrics tells us how well Kanute is responding to the training. If the sessions and load are progressed properly, then we should see a relatively continuous improvement trend over time.
With watts on the bike, (and on the run), the performance gains can be objectively measured and compared, session to session, month to month, and season to season. In this image, Kanute’s peak power outputs for 2019 by month are listed, with heat mapping and red highlights, to show where he performed his best. In 2019, it was in August and September, which were his peak events and prep for Tokyo Test Event Mixed Relay, and the 70.3 World Championships, in Nice, France.The ability to see you’re training and racing at the best you have been all year, builds confidence, and helps prove the plan is working.
In this next image, Kanute is able to compare his build up to Escape From Alcatraz in 2018, specifically vs 2019. The approaches had to be different because of the race schedule differences, but he wanted to see what we could learn from the two different approaches. These charts show the percentage of time he spent above threshold power, and the distribution of power values from the two periods. You can see the approach in 2019 was more high and low end focus, while 2018 had a more concentrated focus across smaller range.
Some of the other metrics Kanute uses includes, Performance Index, where we track his cycling ability, and cycling strengths, using the Performance Index scores and history, within Today’s Plan. This highlights where his strengths are, and are indicative of the different training approaches, and his response to those sessions.
If the metrics most related to an athletes goals aren’t improving, then the performance on race day won’t happen. Tracking for continuous improvement trends toward those metrics helps athletes prepare and perform better.
3 – Reduce training risk when gains are minimal
Staying healthy, and continuously improving, are not easy, but many athletes are their own worst enemies when it comes to this. The amount of training risk athletes take should be relative to the potential fitness gains. When the return on investment (ROI), is small, but injury risk or over-training becomes high, (sometimes exponentially so), then workouts should be complete, or adjusted to minimize the injury risk.
Three common ways Kanute reduces training risk:
1 – Maintenance run sessions are run-walk. Maintenance sessions have minimal gains, but running is inherently risky for injury. Alternating or inserting frequent walk breaks during runs helps keep the risk down, but the maintenance gains not diminished.
2 – Never train to a point where more than 48 hours or two days of recovery, can’t get the athlete recovered. The third day should be a home run workout, or else the athlete is overreaching, and soon will dig a hole too big to come out of.
3 – Progressing workouts in load, over each cycle. The workouts may be similar, but they increase in duration or intensity, or sometimes even both. Instead of starting at the highest level we want him to achieve, we build to it. This makes sure he is ready, and can handle the load of the session, when it is at the highest load. Many athletes start at the biggest load, keeping the session the same, and just hoping they get faster or show to be stronger each time, and many times are not ready for that.
These keys to Kanute’s approach to training and racing have made him one of the most successful and versatile triathletes in the world. Try incorporating some of these to help your performance and training.
Jim Vance is an elite triathlon coach, based in San Diego, CA. He is the personal coach of Ben Kanute, and a Today’s Plan user. Visit CoachVance.com for more info.