Making sense of a triathlon race result

A race gives you a chance to get out on a beautiful scenic course, with other like-minded people, and have a fun day of exercise in a safe environment. A race gives you a chance to dig deep, deeper than you will at training. And you get a “Race Time” which you can use to measure your improvement.

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Or can you?

I came out of Byron Bay Triathlon with a hollow feeling. I’d gone into the race out of form, with little swim or bike training. I’d recently started run training for the GC Half Marathon and was interested to see how this would affect my run time. But it was a ‘C’ race for me – no taper. My goal was to have fun and enjoy the race.

And I came out with an Olympic distance PB – my fastest ever Olympic distance tri by 1 minute!

So why the hollow feeling?

Well, it wasn’t a PB because I’d aced it or grown to a new level after my recent Ironman. It was a PB because the course was short!

To be fair, the organiser’s warned us prior to the start that the ride would be short due to recent storm damage so it wasn’t their fault. But 34.5km instead of 40km makes a significant difference to my finish time – like 10 mins!

And on the run, I’ve been trying to crack 40 mins for years and I could tell this wasn’t going to be the race as I was on track for about 41:30. Yet when I stopped my watch over the finish line I see 40:11! Only 11 seconds off the sub-40 – I could definitely have dug deep for that. Later I found the Garmin measured the run at 9.65km. That explains the free minute. Gosh, if they’d shortened it to 9.5km I’d have got my sub-40!

Olympic Distance Race Times

During my three years in triathlon my OD times have been steadily dropping. Race time was my yardstick to confirm that I was improving, and by how much; to confirm that the training was working! This latest race has fully exposed that “Race Time” in a triathlon is not that useful a measurement – courses differ and “Race Time” is course dependent; weather differs and “Race Time” is weather dependent.

So what about using finishing place to measure performance?

Well, as my recent 2nd overall at the Main Beach 5km parkrun shows, placing is all about who turns up (or doesn’t). And your placing depends on how fast your competitors go. If you are racing for a place then it is going to be a LOT harder to smile and shake your head in disappointment when the big packs of drafters go past on the bike! Suddenly what other people are doing matters: they’re stealing your place!

You can measure your performance against your friends or rivals. But again, your performance depends on theirs – they might be injured, or they might have done a monster training block and be in the form of their life. It’s a better measurement, a fun measurement, but not a reliable measurement.

The best bet is to go back to the same race year after year. The weather will average things out over the years – just so long as they don’t change the course!

Or you could run instead…

I’ve recently started doing a weekly 5km parkrun. The same route every week. There’s nowhere to hide!

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