Understanding the exact demands of your event, the past winners and your capabilities is the best way to ensure you are training as efficient as possible. I will teach you how to spy on your competitors in Strava to help you win your ‘A’ race.
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To understand your physical capabilities for the specific demands of an event, you have ideally raced the event before and have a data file on the physiological requirements. The second best option is another person’s data file, which you will want for a comparison anyway. But outside of these, it’s time to get our hands dirty, do some spying in Strava to figure out what it takes to win your ‘A’ race, and how you can best train for the event.
This 12 step plan can be used for any event, but it’s a little time consuming, so you may only want to do it for your ‘A’ races. They are the most important ones after all.
STEP 1: Collect previous race data from the event
- A previous data file from your race
- A data file from another compeditor
STEP 2: Search race results for winner of the event in your category
This information is readily available, especially if you’re in the US (usacycling.org). But most clubs and racing outfits have online results.
First bit of recon is on the rider themselves. Using Strava’s comparison chart at the right hand side of the page – look at their overall training, time, distance, frequency. This can guide you in making decisions about your ATP. Helping you to decide whether you are being realistic with your planned training hours.
STEP 3: Find the winner’s Strava race data for the event
Search Strava for the data from this rider for the event. This is not always a given. They may have not recorded the entire race, or not included all of their vitals. What we are looking for here is an overview of the effort required.
If you can find the data, skip to step 5. Otherwise, you will have to find the next best option.
STEP 4: Find event as a Strava race data segment
Search the event name in Strava. A hot tip here is the name of an event is not always recorded by all the riders that competed – so look for the ‘others’ section. Unfortunately there is no way to filter these peeps, I just look for the most PRO looking profile picture. But you could go back to your results page and search for the name of the highest placed rider in your category. This is a slow process, but I believe it’s worth it.
STEP 5: Build a race route
If you cannot find the race, then you need to create a race route so you at least know the climbing demands of the event. It wouldn’t hurt to do this anyway.
To do this I used Strava Routes for the first time. It’s good to have a centralised place to store your race profiles, but doing it in Strava has some huge bonuses. In the past I have mapped out rides on the free, and very capable Gmap-pedometer.com. So that’s an option if you don’t want to sign up to Strava Premium.
Using the Route Builder is straightforward, no surprises. I will say that it is still in beta, and I found it a little buggy at times. Especially when I wanted to map a road and it keep automatically following a mountain bike track. Which I guess makes it good for mountain bike race profiles.
STEP 6: Create race profile
Once you have the the route sitting in front of you, you’re able to work out the demands of the event.
I record this in a template I made up as a Google spreadsheet.
It includes the following data:
- Event Date:
- Event Type:
- Race Distance:
STEP 7: Find and record important sections of the race
I went to the extra step of manually recording specific sections of the course. Noting their type and number, characteristics, distance, Elev gain, and estimating Avg gradient. And most importantly, the distance each section starts and finishes.
STEP 8: Highlight key race sections
Once you have recorded the overall data we get to use the power feature that only Strava can provide, Segments! Getting a look at the actual demands of specific sections of the route is a great feature, which is even more valuable if you’re not near the racecourse.
In the Routes Builder you can enable ‘Segment Explore’. Essentially you’re just looking to match up the data you have already recorded. But also adding the crucial parts and working out the demands of the event by adding average gradient, elapsed time, power and average speed.
If your original target rider has this information on their profile, and they’re a premium member this is easy. Otherwise it again takes a little time to get the best information at this point. In a perfect situation you can find a data from a rider in the race, with a power meter and they are a premium member. But you will just have to wing it at this stage. Finding riders around your level, and with real power data is the absolute minimum I’d aim for.
If you want to get really serious at this point, you could try and break down the entire ride, mile by mile. But I am only looking what I believe are the key sections of the race, part of this is based off my own feel for the rider I’m working with or my own racing. We will get into rider capabilities in a moment. For now though – highlight 2 or 3 decisive sections in your spreadsheet.
Find similar Strava Segments
Using the My Segments page of Strava. Look for the exact segments or match the criteria of your decisive sections. These will become the basis of your focussed intensity training.
You will have to use your judgement on which ones are the closest. A couple of guidelines though, go for longer rather shorter, but go for the less steep of the gradients, and don’t be afraid to cut longer climbs into shorter segments.
STEP 9: Assess your general capabilities
Now it’s time to look at where you are, or what you’re capable of.
Here is where we focus on the gap between the two. Starting wide with aerobic, can you sustain the overall effort in time that the winner did last year?
If you have a file from last year, this will help you to see the time spent in each zone, and where you might of lost the race fitness wise. Using the sections of the race you have pinpointed in Strava helps makes this comparison. If you don’t have this information then looking at your Strava segments.
STEP 10: Assess your specific capabilities
You need to assess the specific physical capabilities needed to match the demands of the event, and take a closer look at the key sections of the race. If you don’t have a complete race file your only option is to pick out the segments you have recorded, and use that information.
Question to now ask yourself are:
Are you capable of hitting the same numbers as the race segments? If yes, can you hit them a multiple of times?
Depending what power zone these efforts are in, looking at the frequency and volume of each zone will give you an idea of the overall demands of the event.
How long do you need to be capable of sitting in each zone?
STEP 11: Find the gaps in your training
Any obvious gaps in the analysis done so far will help guide your training, as Tim likes to say – Let the numbers guide you. Or something like that.
STEP 12: Prioritise training elements
The first gap, and low hanging fruit is your weight. Weight wise, what weight do you have to be to produce these watts? Your power to weight ratio could give you a boost, without any training. If it’s not possible or too far from reach then don’t risk the loss of power of you’re not going to take your nutrition monitoring seriously.
Aerobic – an essential component to any endurance athletes training, and one that cannot be neglected here. But we are focussing on the physical demands.
When it comes time to focus on intensity in training, you can train indoors or outdoors.
Planning indoor training
Use average watts of the segments as an indicator.
Use the Strava Segments app, and a Wahoo KICKR in Erg mode to simulate the segments.
Planning outdoor training
Ride the segment
Ride the similar segment
It’s hard for me to get into specifics – but hopefully this is a good start for you to get focus on what’s important, and how to start training.
A further note on training. Unless your event is a Sportive or Granfondo type of non -competitive event, then this is going to be enough. The tricky and skillful part of training is when this is a race, because unless it’s a time trial or MTB race, there are lots of other elements involved. Racecraft plus tactical fitness, for attacks and sprints etc. So use this as a base, but let your strengths and weaknesses guide you to determine the rest of your training.
Photo Credit: thelearningcurvedotca on Flickr