Five Vixxens put their early-season training to the test this past weekend at Ironman St. George 70.3. With an age group podium, three top-ten AG finishes, and a course PR, Saturday was a strong start to the season for many on the team. But how did we get there? Early season races are challenging given the winter limitations of riding and running outside and necessary time off after the fall. We spent some time talking to Eric Kenney, the Performance Director of Vixxen Racing and Coach of EK Endurance, about preparing for early season races and the growth of the team.

You did St. George race prep with the Vixxens last year. What’s different this year? How has the team changed?

One of the main things that is different from last year is that there are new athletes that bring up a different dynamic because of their backgrounds and strengths. The team grew this year, so there are a wider range of backgrounds. The veteran athletes have more experience, so they’re approaching St. George with a lot of knowledge from last year. They know that the perfectly mapped out training rarely happens - you’re always having to execute it in the real world - so they’re ready to roll with those unexpected situations.

Also, last year it was snowing, raining, and cold the weekend we tried to do a simulation so we had to do something inside to get some heat. The race ended up being cold and rainy anyway. This year we had good weather and were able to get an outside race prep in.

In terms of the team goals - those were the same. But how we actually implemented them were different because of the weather, timing, and athletes themselves.

Kelly Emich cruising down the race course at St. George 70.3.

Kelly Emich cruising down the race course at St. George 70.3.

What kind of pre-race prep did you do with the Vixxens this year?

We did a brick workout leaving from Tom Watson park in Boulder. I choose a bike route that was hill-heavy towards the end like St, George. It was designed to break the athletes’ rhythm, to force them to change their efforts. I chose that because I wanted them to face those things before the race and get out of their comfort zones. They needed to get used to that varying terrain. The fitness part was secondary - it was more about being prepared for pacing and varied conditions.

One of the things I talk about with race execution on the bike - and in general - is being in control. Everything you’re doing should be on purpose - watts, RPM, nutrition. The route I selected was made to challenge the athletes’ ability to be in control of their effort and pacing. We wanted a distance close to the distance of the race, but also dealing with the options we had. We focused on time instead of distance.

I told the more advanced athletes that the course was shorter than in actually was to throw a wrench in their mental game. We don’t want things like that to get in the way on race day. There are so many variables and if you let those small potential changes get to you, it can throw you completely off.

We followed up with a 4 mile run at race pace. I tracked the athletes’ heart rates to see if there was any cardiac drift. Being in control of their pacing on the bike can help them prevent issues during the run.

The main goal of this workout was to get them mentally prepared for the unique challenges of the St. George course - it’s hilly and can be hot and there is the Snow Canyon climb. Especially for the new athletes, learning to be control in those conditions can be a challenge

How do you manage coaching a team and also providing individual feedback?

We all came together to meet for our race prep workout, but I gave different instructions to athletes based on their experience and fitness. They all rode at their own pace and we met at the end. More advanced athletes were given specific wattage and efforts in different portions of the ride while the less experienced focused on paying attention to controlling effort on the changing terrain.

Each athlete’s race execution comes down to their specific physiology and fitness level and they should treat their training that way. For example, if an athlete is a weaker runner, they need to be more cautious on their exertion on the bike independent of their biking abilities. To be a successful triathlete you have to take into account how each sport affects the others.

After giving individualized instruction, I’m also able to give individual feedback based on an athlete's heart rate and power data, especially the difference between the bike and run efforts.

Read about last year’s pre St. George training session here.

To find out more about Eric Kenney and EK Endurance, check out his website.