Kona qualification – Franks 11th journey

August 9th 2018

By Matt Hill
Categories: Triathlon Training

Kona qualification – Franks 11th journey

In March 2018 Matt and I coached some of the 2018 Team Zoot members in Kamen, Germany and were privileged to meet Kona veteran Frank Horlacher, a very experienced and accomplished German AG triathlete.

Discovering a gem

The focus for the weekend was swimming and in the very first swim session we noticed Frank straight away – his swimming stood out so much that Matt asked if we could “use” him to demonstrate a great triathlon swim stroke (for men).

Frank has a very effective, powerful swim stroke; one that is perfect for triathlon but very untraditional and one that many coaches try to “coach-out”.

A stong and efficient stroke
Frank’s swim stroke enables rhythm, balance and speed

We later discovered that Frank first started triathlon back in 1983 and has been a multiple IM Kona qualifier (going to Kona for his 11th time this year), which didn’t surprise us from what we saw!

Years of experience
In the early days. Frank at the German Student Masters triathlon 1991

Frank’s 2018 Kona journey

Frank was training for IM Frankfurt on 8th July, where he qualified for Kona again – by winning his age group and wrote a blog (in German) about his approach to the race which should be very inspiring to anyone doing triathlon, and especially anyone aiming for Kona!

Frank’s blog captures many of our coaching principles in a real-life anecdote. Some details are spelled out whilst there is also an underlying training message that enabled Frank to take first place in the M50 AG – in 9hr 28min 48sec!

For those who like the stats, the breakdown was:

Swim55min 58sec
T13min 37sec
Bike5hr 11min 34sec
T24min 18sec
Run3hr 13min 23sec

Having been to Kona 10 times, Frank obviously has a lot of training that has been effective and so has a well-developed aerobic system – key for success in any endurance event. From swimming we saw that he is very powerful, rhythmical and effective. We suspected his bike and run are similarly well developed – then what we saw of him in the weekend bike and run sessions confirmed it! Over the years, Frank has trained consistently to develop his aerobic system and strength, the three key components to his success.

Running then and now
Running tall and efficient – Kona and Frankfurt

Frank’s reflection

We have extracted some key points and added some commentary relevant to Frank’s statement:

FH: “I will start this event in January with the targeted training. Everything boils down to bringing the best performance that day”

MoT: A focused approach to achieving his goal – working on the process of how to reach a goal

FH: “When cycling, the default was to stay at 70-75% HR max”

“I heard an interview with Patrick Lange, in which he says that you can give 5 minutes on the bike track to win 10 minutes on the running track”

“…if you cycle too fast, then there is nothing left for the run.”

MoT: This is a key part to a successful race – you are not trying to go as fast as you can on the bike (or in the swim), what you are trying to do is to have a fast race. Managing effort on the bike, and maybe taking a little longer than you know you are capable of (if it were a bike only race), WILL pay dividends in the run – and on the race result.

Training must therefore focus predominantly on aerobic pacing – as Frank pointed out. If he went just a little over this (in training), he could not sustain it, so as a race strategy it is flawed. Frank wisely adapted his training and raced accordingly.

Strong and Aero
Kona veteran – 2013 and 2016

FH: “I read that you must downhill disproportionately spend a lot of power at high speed to overtake”

MoT: This equally applies to flat riding – it takes a disproportionate amount of effort – power – to go faster once you are travelling around 40kph, simply because the aerodynamic resistance increases so much – so pacing is key! This depends on the rider – size, weight, etc but as a rule, it is not worth the effort to go faster!

FH: “I also mounted only a Zipp 404 wheel in front. I can do that much better with wind and high speeds. A higher impeller is faster by the sail effect in wind, but if I then leave the Aeroposition to stabilize the bike, it costs 50 watts and that is significantly more than 2 to 4 watts through the impeller. I have extensively tested in the weeks before”

MoT: Aerodynamic (bikes and) wheels are good in static conditions or on indoor tracks, but when there is wind to content with, the best deep rim wheels may be fast, but they take more power from the rider to make them fast. Wheel choice, whether deep rim, normal or material can make the difference between a fast / comfortable ride and a fast / hard ride, so choose wisely as Frank did.

Stiff deep rim wheels also increase fatigue through vibration. If there is no give in the wheel and you ride on uneven, worn roads vibration passes through them into you. These vibrations cause fatigue and will be another influencer on overall race performance!

FH: “When I started running I immediately felt good. I could easily run a pace between 4:10 and 4:20. I did not have to drive at all.”

MoT: Direct follow-on from the well-managed, lower intensity, ride strategy – and it shows that it works!

FH: “I followed my CORE nutrition plan”

MoT: Having a well chosen and practiced race nutrition strategy can make all the difference. Establish a routine that works and stick with it.


Multiple Kona Finisher
Finishing Kona 2013 – 9hrs 31min

For us as coaches, the key take-away points from Frank’s success in Frankfurt are:

  • Aerobic training is essential
  • Have confidence that the correct management of a lower intensity is essential
  • Strength to maintain the target pace over the distance is essential – muscular strength helps keep cardiovascular intensity lower
  • Patience and discipline is needed to develop the above – and it is not going to happen over a single season, it comes with consistent training over several years.

We’re sure Frank will have a great 11th appearance in Kona in October this year.

Frank’s experience in training and adaptation over the years has proven results. Why would he want to change his approach now?