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Gear review

Instinct vs Data

By May 27, 2022No Comments

Braden Currie Ironman Triathlete

Photos: Nancy Otto

I think anyone who has ever watched me race before would form the conclusion that I am not someone who normally races the race based on my data screens.

I have always felt that I needed to read the race and make decisions on the fly.  This strategy has paid off many times over the course of my career. But at the same time, I am trying to aim higher than I ever have before in a sport where the current records just keep getting smashed.

Ironman World Championships St George Utah May 2022

One of the best races of my life or at least the best swim-run of my life. I had the opportunity to race the race how I believed I could. It’s been almost 3 years since having the opportunity to race the best in the world. To have now had the opportunity to have had the best performance on my first race back on the world stage has reinforced everything I have been working on.

The key contributors to this performance came down to a few things. My training prescription had the potential of being focused solely on the St George bike course. I had done the base volume and improved many things over the last few years including upping my cadence, creating more efficiency in how I ride, evolving my riding position to one that is now comfortable as well as aero and the big one – improving my power.

When Ironman NZ was cancelled in February, it meant my complete focus could go into the St George course. That wasn’t how I felt at the time, but looking back it gave me the opportunity to throw everything at St George.

My bike coach Ben Reszel was excited. We don’t always have the time between races to execute a preparation that is near perfect for every event, but this time we did.  I had a goal in mind of qualifying for Kona at this event but as we got closer to the event I started to shift the goalposts.

I could see from my power numbers and racecourse simulations in training that this course was going to suit me.

We made the decision to also add an altitude acclimation to the preparation a few weeks out as well just to make sure we were ticking every box.

This also gave the opportunity for my coach to arrive early in St George and help me with the final lead into the race. I didn’t realise how beneficial this would be until coach Ben turned up.

I have had some incredible coaches in my time as an athlete and I have learned a huge amount from each and every one of them. They all have different strengths and although they say there is no such thing as the perfect coach, they have all given me everything they could to make me a better athlete.

But one of Ben’s strengths is undoubtedly his ability to prepare me for the course and taper me into a race – with the outcome of peak performance. Some of this was based on instinct and observation when it came to the taper. But the other 90% was based on a detailed analysis of the various sections of the course, and my performance in those sections over the time we had in St George. After multiple rides on key sections of the course, Ben was able to compare the power I was producing on the climbs, relative to the heart rate and lactate perimeters that he wanted me to stay within, in order to sustain the 180km ride. He was able to gauge my recovery times after these tough sections and determine where I could push a little harder to gain time that was worth the effort, and where I should lay off as the extra effort wasn’t worth the time I saved.  We were testing lactates every day and as I came closer to the race my lactates were lower and lower relative to similar power outputs on the climbs.

Ben also proved to be without a morsel of doubt that if I rode efficiently in the right gear with the right cadence and with the right body position, I would produce an equal amount of power when compared to my classic technique of getting up out of the seat and moving around a lot to produce power.

Every ride, Ben was out there with me in the Dodge Ram driving close enough to have his 2nd Garmin head unit read my power and heart rate numbers in real-time.  He would then beep his horn if I was riding over my numbers, which is what I tend to do. On the screen of the Garmin Edge 830, I had my 10s power average, cadence, distance, time and speed. As he was watching me like a hawk at all times, it conditioned me to read my power metre more than I ever have and consciously remember every section of the course in detail.

Closer to the race, Ben went through the entire bike course with me on the big screen and surmised the power I could go to in each and every section and where I could make time. Also where it wasn’t worth pushing too hard as the time I would make would be minimal for the power effort and resulting lactate. He referenced other athletes and what they did in their training from accessible online platforms so I knew I was about where I needed to be and I knew offhand the highest I could go. I had to hope on race day we had it all correct, but of course, the German’s predictions were bang on.

His final words to me on the morning of race day were “Race with your head and watch your numbers but trust your instinct to take chances.”

I think if a coach said this to me before a race in the past, I would have ignored the first part completely but that’s probably because I didn’t understand how to make my data work for me.

The end result is a bike performance that I couldn’t be happier with.