Ironman Courses and Performance
On Saturday Australia’s Craig Alexander won Ironman Hawaii for the second straight year. The win came just as it did last year with a strong run to make up a big gap off of the bike. In 2008 he came off the bike 11:13 down. Last Saturday he was 12:13 behind Chris Lieto starting the run. Alexander turned a few 6-minute miles early in the marathon and caught a fading Lieto by mile 21 going on to win by more than two minutes..
This M.O. is not unusual in the Hawaii Ironman. With few exceptions this race is typically won on the run. The bike course terrain (note that I’m not talking about wind or heat which is a different topic altogether) simply isn’t hard enough to make it the determining factor.
A few years ago I compared all of the North American Ironman courses to see if I could determine what the best predictor of the race outcome would be – the swim, the bike or the run. I narrowed the focus to the top 10 male finishers in each race that year and compared their swim, bike and run placements with their finish placements. What I found was that the bike course had the most to do with predicting the outcome. When the course was hilly, such as Lake Placid, the bike performance was highly predictive of the outcome. The flatter the bike course became the more likely the run was to be predictive of the outcome. Florida turned out to be a runner’s course. Swimming, by the way, was never a good predictor of race outcome.
I did not look at the overall predictability of the women pro’s or age grouper’s swim, bike and run splits. It could be different from the male pros, but I doubt there would be a significant shift. It makes sense that hilly bike courses would favor strong cyclists and that flat courses would favor the better runners.
Does this have any implications for you? It might. When choosing a race at which to qualify consider your strengths as a cyclist, especially in terms of climbing, and also how good of a runner you are compared with your competition. This seems like a given, but I frequently talk with people who have obviously made the wrong choice. Qualifying for Hawaii is hard enough without making it even more difficult.