Are the Norwegians unbeatable? Mark Allen on the science and data

Last week Norway’s incredible triathlon success in 2021 came under the microscope in the New York Times no less, and Mark Allen is here with his latest ‘Road To St George’ feature to provide his take on the appliance of science which has aided the incredible rise of Kristian Blummenfelt and Gustav Iden.

“As I read through that New York Times article, I thought ‘Jeez, how is anybody going to be able to beat those guys in the big races, they have so much science behind them. And clearly its been working when you look at their results from 2021.

Which data is key?

And then I looked a little deeper into it, and I was thinking about the areas they have focused on, at least in the article. And one of them was lactate testing, one of the science pieces that has been put in place for years.

YouTube video
Mark Allen talks Norwegians and data in his latest ‘Road To St George’ feature.

Basically they were trying to figure out how fast can an athlete go in training so that they get benefit, but so they can be consistent and come back tomorrow and train again and again and again. This is basic stuff that we were figuring out years ago without all this science.

Second thing they were looking at was calorie intake. You have to be able to get in calories to sustain an effort. If you can’t get them in, you’re going to slow down. If you use up all your glycogen, you bonk – that’s another thing they were looking at with all of this deep science.

Kristian Blummenfelt / Gustav Iden
Blummenfelt and Iden had an incredible 2021 (Photo by Donald Miralle for IRONMAN)

A third thing was trying to figure out how to pace the triathlon, whether it’s an Olympic distance race like Kristian had in Tokyo or an Ironman distance race like he had in Cozumel. And figuring out how hard you can go on the bike before you’re building up too much heat in your body and then you pay the price on the run. Again, something we were trying to figure out years ago.

So what’s the difference, why are these guys using data, figuring out the same stuff we’ve done for decades now? Why are they going so much faster?

Mark Allen verdict

My feeling and my sense of this is that they are getting all the pieces put in place all at the same time. One season, Kristian Blummenfelt goes from Olympic gold medalist to having the fastest Ironman distance time ever in Cozumel. That’s because a lot of pieces that took me years to figure out through the data, were put in place all in one season – that’s the dramatic difference.

So what are these pieces again? Let me highlight them because I think it’s important to understand:

  • One of them is training consistently. Not training so hard that you burn yourself out. But training consistently so that you test yourself today but then you are able also to come back tomorrow and do it again and again and again. This took me quite a few years to figure out – I got burned out. I’d overtrain and then I realised ‘wait a minute, I can’t train that hard all the time’. I figured out the formula for myself. Intuitive, a little bit of measurement, but not the deep science that you could do it in one season.
  • Second thing was how do you get in the calories you need to sustain the effort that you want to sustain through the fitness that you have. That was the biggest piece in Kona. I didn’t get that right until the final Ironman that I did in 1995, my 12th Ironman Kona. It was the only race in Kona where I actually didn’t get sick to my stomach because the calories I was getting in were too much – I couldn’t absorb them, I got sick, I got nauseous. But in their case, they’re figuring that out right here on the spot.
  • The third thing is figuring out how to pace the race. Pretty simple right, you go hard on the bike, great – you go too hard and you have a terrible run. You go just hard enough, you have an incredible marathon. Again, something that I was trying to figure out in my era through trial and error, these guys are able to figure out in one season.

So it begs the question, are these guys invincible? Are they unbeatable? Will anybody be able to beat them at the IRONMAN World Championship in St George. Will they be unbeatable in Kona in October?

Let’s see – if the other athletes are embracing all of these pretty basic areas that you need to dial in, and they get them all dialled in, it’s going to be an amazing race.

If the other athletes think they can look at just one area and win, Blummenfelt and Iden – the Norwegian athletes – are gonna crush.”

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