Tri Talk Triathlon Podcast, Episode 66a

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Part 2 of understanding the USAT age group ranking system. How you can maximize your ranking through effective race scheduling and strategy. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth… about 100 spots on your age group ranking. Today, on Tri Talk.

Welcome to this supplemental edition of Tri Talk your podcast source for triathlon tips, training, news and more. To new listeners in Connecticut, I hope you did well at the New England Athletic Club Triathlon, and a special hello to long-time Connecticut Tri Talk fan and occasional critic, Norman. On the other side of the country, in Oregon you are just 2 months away from one of the best-named events in the country. The Beaver Freezer Sprint Triathlon on April 4th. My goal at Tri Talk is to help you swim, bike, and run faster, to meet your personal triathlon goals. Whether you are an elite or amateur triathlete, we cover sprint distance to Ironman distance. I’m your host, David Warden, and this is Tri Talk Episode 66a.

Today on Tri Talk part 2 of Episode 66. This will not be as heavy and long as the previous episode, and in fact if you just plain did not understand the USAT ranking system at all, that’s OK, because this is the episode that you need to know how to maximize that ranking. As in Episode 66, this will benefit USAT members, but I’ll be back in March with Tri Talk’s regular universally applicable information.

Remarkably, almost no comments from Episode 66 to report. Probably because no one understood it!

Let’s get onto the good stuff! It seems a bit ridiculous for me to claim a way for you to maximize your ranking, because the best way to maximize your ranking is to race as fast as you can! Nothing I say here will have nearly the impact as simply as effective training racing your best. But I do think that your ranking can be tweaked a bit higher by the following strategy. Let’s start with 4 suggestions around race selection.

First, and obviously, this is the easy part, do at least 3 USAT sanctioned triathlon or 2 sanctioned duathlons. Don’t assume that your event is USAT sanctioned. Some of the biggest and most popular events are not sanctioned. The second-largest triathlon in my home state of Utah with 800 participants is not a sanctioned event. Events that were sanctioned one year might change without notice and become non-sanctioned without the race director notifying the participants. Even races that ask for your USAT number might not actually be sanctioned events. It is a very frustrating situation to find out at the end of a year that you were one race short of the required number of sanctioned races and can’t get a ranking. Confirm with your race directors that you are registered for at least 3 sanctioned events.

Second, setup your taper for your USAT events. Unless you have that one non-USAT events race that is so important to you, you’ll obviously get more points if you are tapered for USAT events and schedule them for your A race. The best-case scenario would be a 3-4 week race cluster at the end of a training period doing 3-4 races in one 4-week Race period. This can obviously only be done for short course racing.

The biggest mistake I made in 2008 was that all my A races were non-USAT events. There were 3 events that held more local bragging rights that I scheduled everything else around, and it really affected my ranking.

Third, do more than 3 USAT events. There is no harm from doing poorly in an event that you might not be tapered for because USAT only takes your top 3 events. Although a taper gives you the best chance at your best race, we all know that a breakout performance could happen at any time. The two races I won last year took place at the end of 12 hour training weeks and were pleasant surprises. Also, even if you are long-course specialist, throw in a couple of short course races as part of your speed training and get enough races for a ranking.

Fourth, race your strength. If you are better at short course, do several sanctioned short course events. If you are better at long-course, try to taper for those events. Again, this ranking system really favors short-course athletes who can race more often. I really think that if you are a long-course specialist, try to taper and do your long A race, recover for a week or so, and then try to get in another mini-season of short events.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. There are really only two factors that will influence your points for a given race. It is the relationship between the event par time and your own individual time. You want to participate in events that have a very high par time, because you are then more likely to get closer to that par time. But what causes a high par time? Remember, it is not events where the athletes are slow, that does not define a high par time. It is events where many athletes did worse than their previous year’s ranking would indicate.

I think that the best chance for you to find a race with a high par time is early season racing. In general, age-group athletes get better as they progress during the year. Their first race is, in general, is not as good as races later in the year. The ranking that they received last year is based on their entire year, and very few athletes will be able to perform in their first race of the new year as well as they did in their last race. Of course, this theory assumes that you have been training well all winter in anticipation of an early-season race. If you find an event where the par time is high, but you also are not in as good a shape because it is early in the year, then it was no benefit to do that early event as far as points go.

Next, if you want find races with a high expected par time, you don’t want to race in events with a low expected par time, at least if you want to maximize your potential points. Events with low par times are the events where everyone is coming with their A game. These are the highly popular events that it seems everyone is tapering for. Don’t get me wrong, these events are great to participate in. You should do these events. But it is in these events, where many, many athletes are performing above their previous year’s ranking where the par time will be low, and therefore it will be tough to perform at or below that par time.

I also believe that new races tend to draw athletes racing below their expected par time. I don’t know why this is, maybe some listeners can help me with this. Highly experienced athletes who are fit year round tend to shy away from brand-new events. New events rarely have a ton of experienced athletes who perform consistently year-round. It is the seasoned events that draw these athletes, usually. They want to participate in an event if they know it will be worth their time. Athletes who race for fun, and tend to train and peak unpredictably, and therefore a higher chance of performing below their ranking, are drawn to these new events. Again, I can’t really nail this down, but my gut tells me that jumping all over new events will allow you to be at an event with a high par time.

Finally, consider adding 2 duathlons to your race schedule. USAT only requires 2 sanctioned duathlons in order to get an annual ranking in that category. Duathlons also tend to start earlier in the season, because they have a higher tolerance for cold than a triathlon. Going back to my theory on early-season races, you could get in 2-3 duathlons before April as part of your training, and get a ranking in duathlon practically in your sleep. Plus, if you’re your swim is your weak link, like me, you might actually get a mich higher ranking in duthlon than triathlon.

OK, that coved race selection, and now a bit about race strategy.

First, speed counts. Sure, we know that is true, but let’s quantify that. Have you ever found yourself at the end of a race, maybe a small event, and looking over your shoulder and there is no one there? Isn’t it tempting to pull up and say, “hey, nothing is going to change my place in the race whether I kill myself or nor not, I’ll come in the same place either way.” That might work in the Australia Triathlon Series, but for USAT every second counts toward your points. Let me give you an example.

This might be the most important part of this episode. Let’s say you finish with a time of 70 minutes in a race where par as 60 minutes. Your score for that event would be 85.7143. Let’s say that another athlete finished just 30 seconds later. Their score would be 85.1064 for that same event. Based on the 2008 M30-34 rankings, that difference of 0.6 points would represent 40 spots at the end-of -year ranking. That athlete literally lost over one yearly ranking spot for each second he slowed down. Even though his place in the event did not change, his ranking did.

However, although speed counts, it is important to adjust your race day intensity based on the big picture of the season. Yes, if you slow down because you just know it is not going to be a good day, your points for that event will be poor. But remember, you goals is to get 3 outstanding times, and not 6 pretty good times. You can afford to have several bad races, as long as you have 3 really good ones. If you go into a race feeling only so-so, use it as a training session, rest up, or even skip it altogether and make your next race your best performance.


Second, utilize the legal draft and consider avoiding that elite division. From episode 65, I’m convinced that passing a ton of cyclists will significantly help your overall time.

If you really care about your ranking, again your placement for the day does not count, your overall speed does. To give you an example of this, you’ll recall the duathlon I participated and recorded in 2008 from Episode 60. Although I won the duathlon, I only received 80 points for the event, compared to my worst event where I came in 15th overall and got 88 points. That is the difference between top 10% in your age group and top 25% in the rankings, but the placement for 80 points was first and the placement for 88 points was 15th. Even though I came in first, it did not get me many points. So again, if you want points, race for speed and not for placement.




Hey, are you still there? Why are you still listening. The episode is over. Oh, I get it. You’re waiting for one of my blooper reels or waiting for me to do something funny. You just want to laugh at my mistakes or expect me to always have some humorous scenario put in the end of the episode for you entertainment. Well I can’t handle that kind of pressure. Why can’t you just accept me for who I am. A type A personality who doesn’t care about laughter or humor or joy. Whenever I’m at a party its always, hey David be funny, hey David tell a joke. It’s never, “hey David, tell us the difference between lactate threshold and anaerobic threshold. No, I’m supposed to be funny all the time…