9 January 2019
The below article is an in depth analysis written by professional triathlon coach Jim Vance on Ben Kanute’s recent performance at the 70.3 World Championships. In this article Jim shows a fascinating insight into Ben’s race strategy, the numbers he produced and how he continues to improve at the top end of the field.
4th at a major World Championships is something many athletes would dream of achieving, but for those at the top of the sport, it can be an extremely heartbreaking position, as it’s the first off the podium. The 2018 70.3 World Championships was arguably the best race in the distance’s history, on the men’s side at least. Considering the winner ran 2:13 marathon pace off the bike, we have seen a big jump in performance standards at the highest level.
Despite an amazing race for Ben Kanute, finishing 4th was a performance that provided both a sense of great accomplishment, and lack of satisfaction.
The data shows he had the best race he has ever produced, even better than the 2017 silver medal performance. The fact we planned and prepared to give his best race on the day, says a lot about how well Kanute is able to peak, and his improvements in the run off the bike continue to show his potential, as he is still one of the young guns in the field, as he was 25 at the start line.
The strategy was simple, as we knew it was going to take his best race ever to beat any or all of the big 3 of Frodeno, Brownlee and Gomez, who had 4 Olympic medals, including 3 Olympic Gold Medals. In fact, in an email of the race plan Kanute shared with me, he laid out how the race would go, and it was amazing how 95% of what he predicted, actually happened. And in our discussions, we said one or more of them would make a big mistake, and we just needed to put him in a position to capitalize on that. When Gomez was reduced to walking during the run, the window of opportunity seemed to appear. We also expected one or two athletes to surprise, and Appleton and Hemeeyach both fought hard to the finish, exceeding much of their pre-race expectations.
On the call out to the start line, Kanute made it a point to move away from Gomez and Frodeno, in hopes of working with Brownlee to attempt and establish a breakaway. Kanute’s 21:53 time for the swim put him 1st overall out of the water, at a blistering pace of 1:07 per 100 meters!
With a wetsuit swim, in relatively calm, salt water, it was going to be hard to break away from the field, especially the likes of the ITU veterans in this field. However, Kanute executed what he planned, and was first out of the water, and out onto the bike. Though he didn’t lose any of the top contenders, he certainly created enough of a gap to make it very difficult for any slower swimmers to bridge the gap on the bike, weeding much of the field out early.
Once onto the bike, we knew Kanute was stronger than last year, and the front pack of heavyweights likely wouldn’t allow anyone to get away very easily. This meant the pace would be high, but also likely to have attempts to break things apart, making the race much more stochastic and aggressive with attacks, especially compared to his solo, off the front race last year in Chattanooga. Here’s a direct comparison of those two races for Kanute on the bike, with the metrics from his Today’s Plan account:
- Though the average and adjusted power values were higher in 2017, the standard deviation of the power shows about 30% greater variance in the power outputs for 2018! That’s incredible that the numbers are still so close from year to year with that much variance in the samples
- The amount of time spent over threshold power in 2018 is 5% higher, or roughly 7 mins more time above threshold power compared to 2017
- In total, Kanute spent more than 22 minutes above his threshold watts!
- Interestingly, the last 10 mins of the bike, the group seemed to turn down the pressure, preparing for the run
- Today’s Plan Curve+® shows the highest intensity section of the bike doesn’t even begin until the 39th minute of the ride, where Kanute holds 381 watts for 8 minutes, on a flat section, before hitting a short, steep hill (Curve+ is currently in Beta mode)
- Kanute’s peak power outputs for 10 secs or less, happened at the 48th minute, the 53rd minute, and 1 hour 27 minutes into the race, from 578w to 631w, showing multiple attacks in the race, designed to create separation
The run is where Kanute continues to show big improvements, as his run time in 2018 of 1:12:38 was over 4 minutes faster than 2017, on a course which still had some up and down. For reference purposes, the run split gap between Gomez and Kanute was 4:22 in 2018, while the gap was 5:54 in 2017, when Gomez was able to shut it down and enjoy the win.
Another interesting note of Kanute’s run improvement, is his run splits for each of his 70.3 career races are, in order, 1:19, 1:18, 1:16, 1:14 and then this 1:12. This is an improvement of more than 30 secs per mile, or nearly 20 secs per km!
For Kanute to improve from 1:16:23 in Chattanooga, to 1:12:38 in Port Elizabeth, off a much more stochastic and dynamic ride, shows a lot of progress and further potential for him to continue to be a major player at this distance, and in other events.
One of the biggest differences also between 2017 and 2018, was how Kanute wanted to race the run. In 2017 he wanted to be conservative and just run to the power numbers he knew to stay under early in the run. With the quality of field being so tough, our expectation was that there would likely be a group off the bike together which would lead to one of the big 3 likely blowing up with an aggressive run start. We felt Kanute had to make sure he was in position to take advantage of an opportunity, should one of the big 3 falter. In other words, Kanute wasn’t going to play it safe and just race for 4th, he wanted the podium. We knew his run fitness was better than ever, and we agreed it was probably somewhere between 1:12-1:14, but we just didn’t know if that would be good enough to podium, or potentially win, but he had to risk it to have a shot at any step of the podium, so the early pace was fast off the bike. When Gomez slowed to a walk, it appeared the window of opportunity had opened, but Gomez was able to battle thru his bad patch, and only lose one spot in the race, falling from 2nd to 3rd.
Here are Kanute’s run power numbers from his Stryd, as analyzed in his Today’s Plan account:
Run file observations:
- 5 watts improvement made for an 11 secs/km improvement, which is a 1.5% increase in watts, but a 5% improvement in pace, showing big gains in biomechanical ability to translate his watts to speed, despite the much more dynamic and attacking ride
- The Power Pace Ratio reflects this increase in pace, relative to the watts produced, and his body mass
- I would have expected to see a bigger improvement in his form power, given how much improvement there was overall in pace, but some of this may be from him paying the price for his early pace efforts, and how much he slowed down
- The Standard Deviation being higher than 2017, also tells a story of higher efforts and slower paces
- He spent double the amount of time above his threshold effort in this race, than one year ago
It took Kanute about the same time to really recover from this race for what I usually see in age-group athletes who complete an Ironman, about 2-3 weeks. And even then, we had to work back slowly. Seeing some of the top guys come out of the race injured or beaten down isn’t surprising, when you really dive into the data and see the effort and output it took to contend for the win and podium positions.
This was Kanute’s most complete race of his career, a world class performance, in the greatest race in the distance’s history. It just wasn’t good enough to make the podium. But one thing he has proven twice now, is that he can pick a date on the calendar in the future, and show up in peak form, physically and mentally, ready to challenge the best in the sport. At just 25 years of age, and still improving, he will continue to be exciting to watch.