Coach's Perspective: What does it take to Qualify for Kona?

Female athlete running during an Ironman
December 13, 2016

Mike Ricci


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This past September and October I had two of my athletes qualify for Kona, which was such an amazing feeling as a coach. The paths they took to earning those spots were very different and had their own challenges. Greg Lindquist nailed a spot by winning Ironman Lake Tahoe outright and Sarah Peltier punched her ticket a few weeks later by earning 3rd in her Age Group at Ironman Chattanooga. Both had raced Ironman Boulder the past two years, and both were close, but no cigar type races. It can be tough on a coach when a plan doesn't come together and you start to doubt that you are doing the right types of workouts, or maybe the taper wasn't long enough or maybe too long. And the numbers can always be viewed in your favor or not: maybe the athlete was using a low volume, high intensity approach in training. This works well when things go well on race day, but when they don't you can always say the answer is "more volume" or maybe it was "too much volume". Bottom line is there's never an easy answer when your athletes don't get the results they want. As a coach you can't give up, but you have to learn to keep pressing for the training process vs. results type training. The one thing I try to look at is "How is the athlete doing week to week, month to month? Is there progress?" To me, that's really the key. When things don't go well on race day then we have to look at the race plan and the execution of the plan. It's not always easy to figure out the answer.Working with athletes on a long term basis can be a lot of fun when they reach goals and you feel as though you are doing your job as a coach. But, the road to success is often paved with potholes, bonks, tough courses and if you win in the end, an unstoppable attitude! One of the biggest stumbling blocks that we had with Sarah over the past 3 years is that the workouts always went according to schedule, but the races were always less than what we expected. I was stumped for a while and quite honestly, frustrated. After IM Boulder this year Sarah (11:22 and 6th AG) and I sat down face to face and talked about what she needed to do to improve and to move up to the next level of racing. Those are tough conversations, but when you respect someone and care about them, they are conversations that have to happen. My intention is always to make sure the athlete is getting what they want out of me in terms of my help, my attention, my knowledge and my resources.

Part I: Coaching Sarah

We knew after Boulder that we could change up Sarah's swim workouts a bit. Since she swims alone and doesn't have a swim background, adding specific time goals on certain swims would be productive. Typically she's a 1:20 swimmer in an IM race. Coincidentally, she misses the podium and a Kona slot by, you guessed it, 20 minutes. We knew we weren't going to make up 20 minutes on the swim between IM Boulder and IM Chattanooga, but we could improve her swim economy by taxing her swim fitness a bit. It's low risk and high reward since she was resting her legs a bit after IM Boulder. Another change is that we bumped her "IF" (% of Functional Threshold Power) that she would train and race at to 75%. Almost all of my athletes ride at 68-72% and that works well for them. With Sarah, I wanted to try something new and wanted to see if riding harder would affect her run off the bike. We did two race simulations before IM Chattanooga and both went well. The intensity factor she rode at, didn't seem to matter, so we opted for the 75% range. The last change we made was instead of looking at what she "should" be running, we did the opposite we had her run at what she "could" be running. There's talk in triathlon coaching circles about your athletes running the pace they "should" vs. the pace they "could". So, we took another calculated risk, this one was high risk, but high reward. Sometimes you have to take risks to achieve the goals you set for yourself. This was no different.

In the end, it all paid off, as Sarah had a great swim, biked where we thought she would (even though she came off the bike in 10th place AG) and ran her way onto the podium at IM Chattanooga and into a Kona slot! Even though the day turned out great, it wasn't how we drew it up. We were thinking in order for her to have a shot, she'd have to come off the bike in the top 5 and run past 1 or 2 girls in her age group. The fact that she ran past 7 athletes to get into 3rd was even better! As a coach, these are the moments that make the job. Helping an athlete achieve a goal is something wonderful, but I couldn't be more proud of Sarah and all that's she's accomplished this season!

She was awarded the November 2015 D3 Athlete of the Month, and she shares her journey qualifying for Kona here.

Part II: Coaching Greg coming up next!

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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