Triathlon as we all know is a three part sport, and if you have been around the sport or reading almost anything about it on the internet, you no doubt will have seen that it's imperative to your success that the sports are viewed as a whole or rather with a mind to consider the impact that each portion of the race will have on the next. This seems really straight forward much like the considerations of nutritional intake during the race, however, just the seemingly simple, yet in reality almost impossibly complicated nutritional topic, the impact of the previous part of the race on the next grows into a larger and more complex conversation as you peel back the layers like the metaphorical onion.
For the greater part of the triathlon community the impact of the bike leg or rather harder than planned for bike leg , or more accurately harder than trained for, is well understood - bike too hard and your run will suffer. The challenge for most age group athletes with this concept is two fold.
1. Managing the expectations on race day ie.
Suddenly finding an extra 20 watts for 90 or 180 km isn't likely and as such, probably not energy in the bank you can afford to spend but more akin to a loan that is accruing interest to a bank with strict repayment terms, think loan shark with a baseball bat
2. Understanding the impact of perceived effort (PE) in the early stages of the event will be much different to the PE you felt while coping with the weight of accumulated fatigue from weeks and weeks of progressive overload.
Side note- much like drink to thirst or eat when hungry, ride to feel is in my opinion, horrible advice, in that the notion of the concept is flawed from the very basis of it's premise. If our ability to read our body's signals was so effective then the problem would only exist in extreme outlier cases, rather than almost every other athlete every other time things go wrong, rather I’d suggest we use the term drink to experience or eat to historically learnt habits but that's rather a too large rabbit hole to explore right now..
I think that we can agree while the cause may take some convincing, almost universally we tend to accept the above concept without the use of complicated diagrams or overproduced ‘documentaries’ to help us see the ‘truth’. What isn't as easily accepted is the fact that your good swim time may have just dismantled your race. .
At a basic level, to be successful at endurance racing we are talking about the ability for work to be done from a set amount of energy stored, albeit a storage we are impotently trying to refill, and the harder we perform that work the faster the storage empties much like running with a full glass or water.
Our human brains however have over time learned that taking in the whole of a large and overbearing problem is overwhelming, therefore we quickly look for natural partitions to dissect and compartmentalise, breaking down into smaller manageable chunks, like organic project managers. I think this natural partitioning leads us to disregard the impact that the first part of our race has on the performance of the last leg, performed so many hours later.
The second part of my hypothesis is based on the most common style of swim training, Anyone that has swam with a swim squad would no doubt have been exposed to interval style swim training. The shorter efforts punctuated with brief rest periods coupled with a competitive group atmosphere are all huge keystones to performance improvement. Allowing us to hold better form and the motivation to dig deeper than we would on our own. Which could be great if the race ended at the end of the swim. Instead the preceding statement before us today as adult A/G swimmers in the triathlon world. The sensory deprivation that grips us during swimming can dull our sense of perceived effort and with no metric feedback from gamins finest until after the feet hit the sand and long after that storage of energy is more than halfway to the danger zone, the seeds of suffering have been sewn. The start of an Ironman is like endurance sport casino, a brutal affront to our sensors already being waterboarded with adenine and raw emotion.
Human nature takes over and our swim goes to the familiar perceived effort we have ingrained in training , fresh and over excited, with nothing to reign us in besides a PE that we have honed over months and years of swim squad to take us to the edge.
It's hours later we feel the harsh reality of the over excursion when the legs turn heavy and the pace grinds to a crawl, the swim a memory with a good swim time attached as an arbitrary reinforcement that the effort was inappropriate. The reality is most Age Group athletes think what does it matter how hard I swim I don't need my arms to ride. The reality is, you can use 50% of your energy stores (glycogen) in that 1 hour if your overreaching (anaerobic zone) and set the Carbohydrate burning into overdrive from the first minute of a multi hour endurance event.