Becoming a 2x Ironman Age Group World Champion
After winning her 2nd Ironman AG World Championship, I recently got together with Jana Richtrova to review the season & in discuss what we believe were the key factors contributing to her success.
Going into 2022, we had a primary target: to find ways to increase her training load without compromising her health/life priorities. Through our analysis, we identified the following main factors that helped her achieve that.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV)/Resting Herat Rate (RHR)
Through 2021 we spent time tracking her HRV & RHR more as a means to collect data and understand how training & life (work, stress, etc.) impacted her recovery/performance. With that knowledge, we focused on tracking it using the HRV4Training app to help us inform training decisions & adjust her program.
But we didn't let it dictate the training. Despite HRV being higher/lower sometimes, we never made daily decisions solely on that. Instead, tracking HRH/RHR with the app helped her add context to the data obtained, including a daily questionnaire regarding energy levels, muscle soreness, sleep quality, etc.
It allowed her to reflect on how her body felt at a given moment; thus, going into a session, she would be flexible if feeling tired. For instance, most weeks, we scheduled a "higher intensity," and instead of her doing the session on a set day, she picked what day of the week that session was best to do based on HRH/RHR & personal feel.
As the coach, HRV/RHR offered a tool to identify trends and understand how the load had a positive/negative impact during a training block or seek answers when the load didn't seem to be the culprit for a negative response. (i.e., asking questions about her diet, sleep, etc.)
At the end of 2020, we began tracking lactate accumulation in Jana's program via lactate testing. By mid-2021, we added a full metabolic test tracking lactate and gas exchange (VO2/VCO2), and for the entire 2022 season, we periodically performed metabolic testing every 10-12 weeks.
The test served three main functions: to set proper training zones for better training intensity & load control, to identify areas of opportunity to improve, and finally, to determine if the work we were prescribing was improving what we set ought to improve.
In the past, we used popular methods to determine zones like a percentage of Functional Threshold Power or Critical Power, a percentage of VO2 max or Max Heart Rate, etc. While for some zones, it was relatively close/accurate, for others, it wasn't. Metabolic testing removed this uncertainty from the equation.
When planning Jana's program, we didn't set blocks based on a given model (i.e., periodirized vs. pyramidal) or had weekly training hours in mind. Instead, we wanted to increase her training load over time to whatever was sustainable. Based on past data, we knew she could average ~20h per week for a few months during the intense preparation pre-Kona. Anything over that impacted her ability to recover.
For 2022 we proactively focused on controlling her intensity by tracking heart rate, power, perceived exertion & lactate concentration, in particular, earlier in the season. It allowed her to dial in her "feel" and avoid going too hard on "easier" days or too easy or "harder" days. As a result, it led to an average of 24 hr of training per week for June & July and 26hr for August & September, the most she has ever done.
Jana's energy expenditure for different intensities was part of the metabolic testing data we collected throughout the year. Also, we tested her resting metabolic rate to get a baseline of the daily calories she needed when not training. This helped me calculate a "weekly calorie budget" based on the planned training load and give her a target for a given period (i.e., eight weeks).
During the week, she consumed, on average more calories than the demands required, but on the weekends, she usually was behind due to the long training sessions. By keeping a steady weekly target, she maintained her weight & energy levels consistently. As soon as we noticed her weight would drop, she needed to up her food intake.
Finally, fueling during sessions became necessary regardless of the intensity or duration. She skipped fueling on short/easy sessions in the past, but this time around, she fueled all the time. Not because the short/easy session needed much fuel, but consuming the calories usually helped in subsequent sessions (later in the day or the next day)
Tools & Data Tracking
For many years, we have used training tools like a power meter or heart rate to aid Jana's ability to guide her training & help me monitor things like training load. Since 2018, we have incorporated run power into the equation, and for the entire 2022 season, we used those tools, plus a lactate meter and the CORE Body Temp device.
Using all these tools & tracking all this data can undoubtedly lead to information overload or become "useless'' training tools if you don't use the data to inform your program or invest the time in learning how to use them.
That said, we kept things relatively simple, Jana's job was to collect the data, and mine was to look for trends over time & determine if said data was practical. So, for instance, when we initially got the CORE and did their prescribed "heat ramp test" in a matter of weeks, we realized she wasn't training near the suggested "heat training zone."
And that was because her training intensity wasn't intense enough to drive her body core temperature that high despite the intense Texas summer. But as we accumulated more data, we identified & an ideal core temperature range in which she could ride at a race pace while fueling properly without affecting her run. Thus, we used it in a way that was useful for us.
Using the Stryd for run power gave us a more stable metric to relate to heart rate when running in different terrain (i.e., hilly terrain). Also, the metrics the Stryd collects, like stride per minute, stride length, ground contact time, vertical oscillation, etc., helped us "tweak" some of those slightly to improve her energy cost of running at a race pace.
Jana has been incredibly resilient in training, avoiding significant injuries in past years. But the more she has trained, the more "tweaks" or minor setbacks we have experienced. While leading her age group at the 2021 Ironman World Championship, she had to stop due to a hamstring injury.
Therefore, after a functional evaluation, strength training became a crucial part of her program and something she regularly did, targeting specific areas. Every week she did a few 20-30 min sessions with weights and bands & she also did a few short yoga sessions as a cool down after other sessions. All this was an essential aspect of her program rather than something she would fit in when possible.
Going into the 2022 season, Jana had a goal (to be fit enough to contend for the Ironman AG world title), and we had a target to increase her total training load without negatively affecting her health. And to achieve that, we used the HRV4 training app to monitor her stress/recovery by tracking HRV/RHR. This data helped inform her training choices & allowed me to track her body's response to training.
We also relied on metabolic testing to accurately define her training zones, identify areas of opportunity & track improvements. In addition, we controlled her training intensity to increase her volume gradually & monitor it with various training tools. These tools helped inform our training decisions over time & target specific changes. Finally, we placed a big emphasis on calorie consumption & energy expenditure as well as on strength training to improve her body's durability.
In the end, her hard work paid off, and she achieved the most training volume she has ever logged & won the 40-44 Age Ironman World title.