Over the last 18 months, I have written several articles about Kona-qualifying athletes with details about their training, their strengths and skill sets and their race selection and execution. The purpose of these articles has been to show that while the goals of various athletes might be similar, the journey is unique to each individual. The first KQ article I wrote was about Ray Picard’s qualification in 2015; Ray recently qualified for Kona at Liuzhou 70.3, winning his AG in a time of 4:06:44. In this second edition, we’ll cover Ray’s final preparation leading to his most recent KQ.
Since the WTC was acquired by the Wanda Group in 2015, there has been a major expansion of races in China. Additionally, a number of these new 70.3 races include Kona slots which presented a unique opportunity for Ray to qualify for Kona. Ray still lives and trains in Hong Kong, which certainly presents plenty of challenges for training, but its proximity to these new race venues makes for easy travel.
This season Ray is targeting IM Cairns as his first IM of the year and we planned to shoot for a Kona slot at this event. In the lead up to this race, Ray planned to race Liuzhou 70.3 and Vietnam 70.3; 10 and 5 weeks out from IM Cairns. Qualifying for Kona at Liuzhou 70.3 was initially not something we were targeting as it was going to be his first race in almost six months, was likely going to be highly competitive, and pretty much had no room for error as he would need to win his AG (M35-39) to qualify.
However, as training progressed in the spring, we were starting to see some really solid sessions. In late February, Ray had a weeklong business trip to the U.S. In the middle of the week, he joined a group ride with more than two hours of very fast riding. Seeing his performance within this ride made me believe that he was in a position to compete for the AG win in China.
Ray had done a few 70.3 races in 2016 and had consistently ridden right at 270 watts and had done a good amount of running in the 4:00/K range (~1:24 HIM runs split). I wanted to see him try and bump the power up close to 280 and get the run off the bike into the lower 1:20s.
Three weeks out from the race, I had Ray to do a test workout to get a feel for where we were in relation to the goal output. For this session, I adapted a workout I got from Gordo Byrn many years ago; it involves a run/bike/run brick session. I’ve changed it up a bit over the years and I always tweak the 2nd run based on what the athlete is trying to achieve. In Ray’s case the session looked like this:
10K run; first 5K @ sub 150 HR; second 5K @ 150-160
Start bike as soon as possible; ride the following set as one continuous block:
40 minutes 250-265 watts
20 minutes 280-295
30 minutes 250-265
30 minutes 280-295
Finish set as close to home as possible; then run
Three rounds of:
1K @ 4:10-20/K
2K @ 3:45-55/K
5-10 minute cool down.
This session is a solid workout and I use it quite sparingly; typically only when an athlete has gone a long time without racing and we need to get an honest assessment of how they might race without causing too much overall stress. I always look at how the athlete responds in the final 30 minutes of the 2-hour ride and how easily they can change pace on the second run.
In Ray’s case, he managed to nail the first 90 minutes of the ride, but fell just shy of the goal output in the last 30 minutes. However, he nailed the second run and even beat the pacing targets I suggested in a controlled, even manner. With three weeks remaining to race day, we set about to complete a few key workouts to bring all the fitness pieces together. These included:
Two track sessions; one with a main set of 6×800 on vVo2 on 1:1 work:recovery; then another 12×400 set with the same pacing, but off a 2:00 send off; making for closer to a 2:1 work: recovery ratio. Ray also completed one solid longer run where he ran steady for 70 minutes and finished with a fast 5K, paced by feel.
For cycling, we kept most sessions in line with what we would normally do, except one longer session that included a main set of 7×10 minutes at 280-300 watts (slight over target of HIM watts). The goal here was to simply get Ray more comfortable in this tempo range without making anything too long or taxing. I also included a couple rides that had him surging and recovering which was meant to help simulate some of the power output changes that occur on crowded bike courses.
Ray’s swimming training didn’t deviate too much from normal with the exception of joining a local swim squad once in the middle of the week. This squad uses Swim Smooth’s CSS to design sessions and they proved to be effective for Ray, as he was able to hit better times in these training sessions than he could when swimming solo.
Coming into race week, all looked well. The workouts were all coming together nicely, but the weather forecast and water temperature were a bit of a concern. The water temperature was in the 50s and the weather forecast was calling for cool weather with a potential of rain. Ray has extensive experience in warm/hot weather racing, but lacked experience under these conditions. He opted to use both a neoprene cap and booties to help with the water temperature and I told him that this weather was an opportunity for him to run faster than usual as overheating will not be a factor.
Swim: 25:18. I was unaware, but the swim was actually down current so Ray posted a fast time. However, post race he told me he had some major trouble with his neoprene cap which caused him to lose a good amount of time as he kept adjusting it throughout the swim. Fortunately the conditions were so fast he didn’t lose much time, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for future races.
Bike: 2:14:39. Ray was spot on with his pacing; with a normalized power output of 283 watts and an average power output of 278. This was a really nice bump up from his racing in 2016 where most bike legs had him sitting right around 270 or just under.
Run: 1:20:27. Ray told me the course was a bit short so his time might have been closer to 1:22 given the pace he was holding. Again, this was a really nice bump from his 2016 run splits, aided both by improved run fitness and ideal running conditions.
Final time: 4:06:44; winning the 35-39 age group and securing a Kona slot.
While this snapshot of Ray’s training is an interesting look into what eventually led to a successful race, it needs be kept in context. Ray’s success comes from what he has been doing every week, every month, every year for years and years now and not simply what he did in 3-4 weeks. However, it’s always interesting (to me, at least) to look at the final weeks of what resulted in a successful performance.