Kona Special: ‘What it Takes’ To Qualify With Alan Couzens

October 5, 2016


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For this Kona special we are making about you. We all have dreams and many of us have that dream to Kona Qualify. Well we have back with us Alan Couzens, MS, to present real-life data on what separates those who qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona from those who don’t. These are every day athletes, not pros. There are a lot of variables at hand and it’s pretty easy to make assumptions on how one would KQ, but Alan has compiled data to break it down more specifically.

  • There is not much research on Kona qualifying specifically, making this data special.
  • Get Alan’s blog with all the data here.
  • Alan’s data: how many athletes it’s based on (20), what’s the time frame/season being covered, and other variables of the sample population.
    • One-third of athletes qualified of those sampled.
    • While based on the 2015-16 season, it’s largely similar to what Alan sees every year. However, there trend is showing that it is getting harder to qualify and more competitive.
  • Building the base of fitness in order to be ready for the “final 12 months” into a KQ. In other words it’s not realistic to go from the coach and to Kona in 12 months, so what were prior seasons like building up appropriate aerobic fitness and whatnot?
  • How do you assess if someone is ready for “what it takes” kind of work. How can a self-coached athlete do this? Or maybe someone with a coach but still trying to be intuitive if the coach doesn’t assess for them?
  • Do you think it takes a special kind of athlete who is capable of “what it takes” or could pretty much anyone figure it out given the right life circumstances, i.e. time, health, etc.
  • Of all the variables which is MOST important in getting a KQ: Workload. Volume and getting the work done is most important.
  • “Almost double that of the non-qualifiers, averaging about 17hrs a week, (~2.5hrs/day of training) – ‘2 a days’, most days, through the year are the norm.”
  • Take home: if you can put in the time, no reason you can’t make it.
  • Annual hours (12 mo period): 800+ hours for qualifiers, and <500 hours for non-qualifiers.
  • Monthly hours: minimum, average, and max hours and how it varies with the season and priorities at certain key times.
  • Going above and beyond with training camps, etc.
  • However: standard deviation of over 200hrs – genetic freaks can make it on less
  • Other stats analyzed:
    • TSS – higher in KQ
    • IF (intensity) – not that different between groups, and KQ are relatively low. Highlights aerobic focus this is a good bit lower than most self coached athletes train & is also a good bit below race intensity for most of the speedy group.
    • EF – bike and run efficiency factor numbers (avg power and pace divided by HR).
    • Avg male: 240 watts at 140 HR, 7:30 run pace at 140 HR. Women about 10% lower watts on the bike.
    • BMI – not too skinny and can’t starve yourself to Kona. More talk on other aspects of body comp including body fat percentage and LBM. Leanness matters in the heat especially when intensity increases (i.e. male pros on the bike go extra hard).
    • K1 – Quantifying the training load to see your “buck vs. bang.” And in fact the more you push volume limits, the less fitness bang you get.
  • What about variables not measured:
    • Metabolic efficiency and fat-burning ability
    • Lactate Threshold
    • VO2max
  • If consistency is key, what about concept of being inconsistent in order to listen to the body and look out for health, assuming we don’t operate like a machine?
  • Tracking other data on the day-to-day to assess readiness to train: mood, HRV, etc. If score is bad, make it an easy day. If score is good, go at it!
  • It comes down to getting in the key sessions.
  • Troubleshooting: What if you’re a good aspiring athlete but you miss a year or good chunk of time?


One Comment

  • Dave Campbell says:

    Great episode. While the focus was on Kona qualifying, there were all sorts of great nuggets in there for any endurance activity, and I gained a lot of insight for things that could be applied to ultra-running. I also liked the mention of volume at Zone 1 intensity. I have always struggled with strict MAF intensity as it feels too hard to be “easy”. Nice to see an opinion that a lot of volume can be in the 10+beats below MAF.

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