Option 1: A 2008 Corvette Z06
Option 2: A 2008 Honda Accord
Option 3: A 2008 Prius Hybrid
Now remember, this is a race. Make your selection.
I’ll tell you what, while I love driving in general, I have a bit of a penchant for long distance driving, so let’s race from my home town of Boulder to Albuquerque, NM, OK (about 350mi)?
There’s one more condition to the race, to keep things fair (and authentic to triathlon) we start with our gas tanks full and do it on one tank of gas. Thinking of changing your selection yet? No? You’re right, it’s still a race, whether it’s 50mi or 500mi, the fastest guy wins in the end, right?
OK, so let’s play it out. You screech out of the Boulder Res using every bit of your 505 Horsepower (in triathlon speak 376,000 Watts at VO2max, or in relative terms, you’re making Lance Armstrong’s 6.7 W/kg look pretty pathetic with your 265 W/kg :-) . You hit a solid cruising speed of 140mph (only 70% of your max!!) and you’re thinking this is cake. You’ve got the win in the bag. You’re passing cars left right and center – zing, zing.
Your buddy in the Accord takes off too at about 100mph (70% of his max) and he’s losing ground fast. You’re thinking to yourself, I bet he’s wishing he had those extra 143W/kg right now. Right?
Meanwhile, driving Miss Daisy takes off at a snails pace in the Prius at 80mph (70% of her max). Things aren’t looking great for her as the two guys scream off toward the Horizon. Honestly, with her 44W/kg she’d be better off enlisting the help of 6 Lance Armstrong’s with FT’s of ~ 7W/kg to pull her along dog sled style!! :-)
So, things are looking pretty clear cut as you scream along I25 toward Albuquerque, but then as you approach about 320mi, all of a sudden your super sexy sports car isn’t sounding so super sexy. You try and try to keep her going, but before you know it, you’ve got your head in your hands at the side of the road as your buddy in the accord (with 140W/kg less top end than you) comes rolling by. Doesn’t make sense, you both started with same size fuel tanks (18 G) topped off. Oh well, nothing you can do about it now but drop out of the race or get behind your car and push at a ridiculous crawl.
You’re no quitter, so as you tramp out the miles in the desert heat you get to thinking. “What went wrong?” It’s not too long before you put 2 and 2 together. Same size tanks, one guy runs out of gas before the other, man, that accord must be a lot more efficient with his fuel. You’re right. The accord is getting 22miles from every gallon of glycogen (oops, I mean fuel :-) whereas you and your sexy beast are getting 4 miles less for every gallon. As the buzzards start to circle, you get to thinking, “Gee, if fuel economy is the name of the game, Miss Daisy in the Prius is looking mighty good right about now.”
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the fact remains, with her pretty pitiful 44W/kg and her equally unimpressive top end speed of 115mph, Miss Daisy just isn’t going to have the Horsepower to catch the accord within the 350mi. She’ll get there, to be sure (and a whole lot faster than any of the clowns who wind up running out of gas and pushing) but at 80mph it’s going to take her about an hour longer than it takes your former buddy (who didn’t stop to pick you up – hey, it’s a race :-) in the Accord.
Believe it or not, this story isn’t just a case of Big A sitting on his couch spinning a yarn. Like all good parables, there is a strong hidden meaning in this story. Let me point it out for you: If you’re a Corvette (see below)
and you decide that this long distance racing thing is for you, spending training time eeking out another 10 horse power from your top end isn’t going to do much for you.
Likewise, if you have more of a Prius profile (see below), a dose of long steady distance training designed to improve your efficiency isn’t going to help you compete with the big boys come race day.
It is essential that in order to get to the next level, you determine what your true current limiters are. I see a lot of triathletes training blind in this regard. The only real way to determine whether you are a Prius or a Corvette is to take a FUEL test.
If you’re anything like the athletes that we’ve tested to this point, you may be surprised with the results.