Prediction of triathlon race time from laboratory testing in national triathletes


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: April 2000 - Volume 32 - Issue 4 - pp 844-849
APPLIED SCIENCES: Physical Fitness and Performance

SCHABORT, E. J, S. C. KILLIAN, A. ST CLAIR GIBSON, J. A. HAWLEY, and T. D. NOAKES. Prediction of triathlon race time from laboratory testing in national triathletes. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 844–849, 2000.

Purpose: Four days after competing in an Olympic-distance National Triathlon Championship (1500-m swim, 40-km cycle, 10-km run), five male and five female triathletes underwent comprehensive physiological testing in an attempt to determine which physiological variables accurately predict triathlon race time.

Methods: All triathletes underwent maximal swimming tests over 25 and 400 m, the determination of peak sustained power output (PPO) and peak oxygen uptake (V̇O2peak) during an incremental cycle test to exhaustion, and a maximal treadmill running test to assess peak running velocity and V̇O2peak. In addition, submaximal steady-state measures of oxygen uptake (V̇O2), blood [lactate], and heart rate (HR) were determined during the cycling and running tests.

Results: The five most significant (P < 0.01) predictors of triathlon performance were blood lactate measured during steady-state cycling at a workload of 4 W·kg−1 body mass (BM) (r = 0.92), blood lactate while running at 15 km·h−1 (r = 0.89), PPO (r = 0.86), peak treadmill running velocity (r = 0.85), and V̇O2peak during cycling (r = 0.85). Stepwise multiple regression analysis revealed a highly significant (r = 0.90, P < 0.001) relationship between predicted race time (from laboratory measures) and actual race time, from the following calculation: race time (s) = −129 (peak treadmill velocity [km·h−1]) + 122 ([lactate] at 4 W·kg−1 BM) + 9456.

Conclusion: The results of this study show that race time for top triathletes competing over the Olympic distance can be accurately predicted from the results of maximal and submaximal laboratory measures.

Unlike the individual sports that comprise the triathlon (swimming, cycling, and running) in which the correlation between performance and the corresponding physiological variables measured in the laboratory have extensively been studied (1,3,4,8,9,12,17,24), few studies have assessed the relationship between triathletes’ race performances and any single or a combination of physiological variables. Furthermore, studies to date either have described the physical characteristics (5,14,18,20,27,28) and response of triathletes to simulated competition (11,27), or have investigated recreational triathletes (27) or triathletes of a wide range of abilities (11). To the best of our knowledge, no study to date has examined the physiological profiles of National class Olympic-distance triathletes or attempted to predict overall performance times of Olympic-distance triathletes by making use of physiological test results.

Accordingly, the first aim of the current investigation was to assess the physiological status of National class male and female triathletes during the competitive season. A second purpose of the study was to determine whether any of the physiological variables measured during conventional laboratory testing could accurately predict race time in triathlon competition.

MRC/UCT Bioenergetics of Exercise Research Unit, Department of Physiology, University of Cape Town Medical School, Cape Town, SOUTH AFRICA

Submitted for publication August 1998.

Accepted for publication February 1999.

Address for correspondence: A. St Clair Gibson, Ph.D., P.O. Box 115, Newlands, 7725, South Africa; E-mail:

©2000The American College of Sports Medicine