Kristian Blummenfelt is the Data-Driven Future of Triathlon

In November, under stormy, tropical skies, reigning Olympic men’s triathlon champion Kristian Blummenfelt jumped from a pier into the Caribbean Sea. Then, after 7 hours 21 minutes 12 seconds, after swimming 2.4 miles, cycling more than 112 and running 26.2, he broke the tape to win the Cozumel Ironman in Mexico and become the fastest ever Ironman distance.

Aside from the first attempt away or having diarrhea days ago. While escaping, he plunged into the portable toilet twice, costing him 90 seconds and still holding the 2:35:24 marathon. He beat the triathlon record by more than six minutes.

His result shook the triathlon world so much that 26-year-old Blummenfelt was stunned. What was strange for us was that the Cozumel race was at least as popular as the Olympics,” he said, referring to his gold medal performance at the Tokyo Games.

Three-time Ironman world champion Jan Frodeno, who holds Blummenfelt’s seemingly broken record, described the Cozumel performance as “next level”.

But after accepting the performance as a record, Professional Triathletes Organization takes a step back. The course is not approved by World Athletics and the Cozumel course is one of the fastest courses in the world due to a positive current in the swim leg.

And as with all endurance sports, doping is a concern. triathletes in 2021 Ukraine Yulia Yelistratova and Igor Polyansky and Alexander Brukhanov, Russia both tested positive for the blood-enhancing substance EPO. Blummenfelt said it hasn’t been tested in Cozumel.

But there is another explanation for Blummenfelt’s victories in Tokyo and Mexico: data. If the Oakland A’s are a Trojan for analytics in baseball and other ball sports, the Norway national team is a triathlon leader who takes the “Moneyball” approach.

“They’re changing a lot of people’s minds,” said Dan Lorang, an early innovator in triathlon sports science who coached Frodeno and 2019 Ironman women’s world champion Anne Haug. “Even if no one knows exactly how they do it, now everyone sees that science has a huge impact on performance.”

With a roster of young athletes winning races around the world, Norway looks poised to take over the sport in 2022, thanks in part to Blummenfelt, who is not only an outstanding athlete but also an eager guinea pig.

He grew up playing soccer and swimming in Bergen, Norway, a wet city nestled between mountains and fjords. After seeing her run, her swimming coach suggested she compete in a sprint triathlon in 2009. Won. Months later, he was invited to join Norway’s novice national triathlon team.

“Joining the team was not of a super high standard,” said Blummenfelt. “There were no other triathletes to find.”

The coach was the father of another athlete. He had minimal triathlon experience, but had a keen eye for talent. In 2010, he joined a wiry youth team named Gustav Iden, and the following year Casper Stornes was added to the roster. All three became world champions or Olympians.

By 2011, when Blummenfelt was 16, Arild Tveiten, a successful Ironman triathlete, took over the coaching and brought a new level of professionalism to the team. Four years later, the coach met Olav Alexander Bu, an engineer and serial entrepreneur who changed the course of the Norwegian team.

This eclipsed Blummenfelt and the Norwegian delegation at the Rio Olympics in 2016, convinced that besides riding faster and making bikes lighter, the sport hasn’t made any significant technological advances over the years.

It was an endurance sport in which athletes practiced multiple disciplines each day. They were always on a watch, generating data from heart rate monitors and VO2 max tests, which measure the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use. However, This did not consider sufficient data to be collected or properly understood.

She took an investigative approach, reviewed established literature, looked for ongoing research, and measured every variable she could find. It connected Blummenfelt and others with more than 20 sensors, more than Lorang has ever used. During each training session, he pierced his ears and smeared his blood on the lactate meters several times. He even taught Blummenfelt to draw his own blood.

A VO2 mask allowed Blummenfelt to collect carbon isotopes of Bu to determine the source of the carbohydrates he burned during training. Were they from his body’s glycogen stores, which are hard to replace during a race? Or was it derived from the gels and drinks he swallowed? When glycogen stores are burned, athletes are prone to fainting and fainting. If they only burn what they eat and drink, they can go all day and outlast their competitors.

During their first days together, Blummenfelt noticed that he was burning a lot of glycogen. “He was very mentally strong,” Bu said, “he had a downside. He pushed too hard for what he could, and his glycogen was thirsty too soon.” The lactate measurement allowed Blummenfelt to monitor and control his intensity more frequently with each ride and run, allowing him to run longer and at a consistent pace.

This continues to explore the limits, looking for any advantage. Nothing is off limits. He had Blummenfelt drink a $2,000 bottle of water infused with oxygen isotopes that can be collected in urine samples and analyzed to measure overall oxygen efficiency. It’s also known that Blummenfelt collects and burns stool samples to better understand his ability to metabolize carbohydrates. Yes, data like feces are everywhere.

The most significant recent gains have come from proprietary heat sensors. From the very beginning This has built relationships with small companies that use the Norwegian team as a testing resource. One such company is making a sensor that measures core body temperature and allows Bu and its athletes to determine in real time how much of their energy goes into performance and how much is burned out as excess heat.

Tveiten believes understanding the data collected in these heat sensors was crucial to Blummenfelt’s Olympic victory. He knew how to grip his bike leg to keep his core temperature down in the heat, and when he no longer had to worry about glycogen burning, he was able to outshine his fading rivals as he ran. Blummenfelt won the Olympic gold by just 11 seconds. He used the same tool in Cozumel, got on the bike once again, accelerated early, and then freed.

Blummenfelt hopes this is a sign of what’s to come. will compete in May. Utah 2021 Ironman world championship postponed in George, and in October there will be the 2022 world championships to be held in Kona, Hawaii. It took Frodeno four years to go from Olympic to Ironman title. Blummenfelt hopes to do this within 10 months.

It will be the most advanced science in sports – which It included perfecting cycling form and equipment in a European wind tunnel in January. — does it provide the margin it needs to become the agenda of triathlon again?

“Finding improvements as an athlete can be difficult,” Blummenfelt said, “but once you get into the lab, it becomes easier to find your weaknesses – areas where we think we can invest more time and effort and improve.”

This was more direct. “It will be almost like getting candy from kids,” he said. “It’s actually that simple.”

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