• Mark Turnbull

It’s Never Too Late to Start Cycling and Qualify for Kona - if You Use INSCYD

Salim Mohamed getting an INSCYD test done by Jo Spindler

Hard work will always beat talent (if talent is not trained). But if you've got a good set of genes and a strong work ethic, then you're on the road to success. And that is true at any given phase in life. Just take Salim Mohamed’s case, for instance.

In his 20s Mohamed was more into climbing and he only ran his first marathon in 2004 (at the age of 37) in 3 hours and 45 minutes. After an 11-year hiatus, he returned to marathon running in 2015 and finished in 2 hours and 59 minutes (at age 48). Running, though, was only part of his sport career development.

In 2012, the year of the London Olympics, Mohamed decided to get on a bike for the first time — at the age of 45. Two years after, he entered one of the hardest sportives of the cycling calendar, the Marmotte, which snakes over 174 km for a total of 5,180 metres of vertical elevation. That same summer he also raced the London duathlon and finished 5th overall and 1st in his age group. Clearly, the endurance genes were of a good breed, but so was his commitment and hard work. That's why, he thought: “why shouldn't I just try to add the swim into the equation?”

Fast forward to summer 2015 and Mohamed entered the Triathlon of Alpe d’Huez, which snakes around the same roads of the Marmotte (those made famous and notorious by the Tour de France) and the ITU Duathlon World Championships. 

At this point, the triathlon focus took over. Salim signed up for his first full Ironman in 2016, but not happy with one race, he did two: Ironman Lanzarote and Mallorca (when Mallorca was still a full-distance). Although his progression looks astonishing if viewed from the outside, Mohamed is more humble about his results: “the times weren’t anything special.”

He then raced Ironman Lanzarote again in 2017, where he probably had his worst Ironman to date. The same summer (in June) he started to be coached by INSCYD coach Joseph Spindler. At the end of that summer, in September, he won his age group in Challenge Madrid — under a “baking hot run”.

It was clear that with that potential, Mohamed had what it takes to target the ultimate triathlon goal, that is to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona. 2018 was a full-on attack: Mohamed raced in Lanzarote again, Ironman UK (where he finished 12th in his age group) and Ironman Wales (where he finished 6th and missed the slot for a mere 5 minute gap). 

He had talent and he was putting in the hard work. It was just a matter of time before smashing his goal, but a final piece was missing: the precision of a cutting edge software for physiological testing to fine-tune the last pieces of the mosaic.

 “The first test we did with INSCYD was in January 2018,” says coach Joseph Spindler. “For the first part of the year our main focus was to decrease the VLamax, which we achieved around August with an improvement of 100% as we moved his value from 0.58 to 0.28.” There were several ways Spindler and Mohamed achieved this first goal: through a different training plan compared to what Mohamed used to do (the new one included more work done at lower cadence and higher torque) and through a nutrition plan that reduced the consumption of some carbohydrates like pasta and rice.

The second phase of Mohamed development targeted an increase of VO2max. “We wanted to maintain the VLamax by increasing the intensities and target an increase of VO2max,” says Spindler. 

And if the first tests gave 49 ml/kg/min for the bike and 54 for the run, the tests done this year returned a 55.5 ml/kg/min for the bike and 58.5 for the run — and the same VLamax parameters. Almost proportionally, these results transferred in real life into Mohamed moving up his AG ranking.

“From the tests I certainly learned that I was very inefficient in burning fat, particularly on the bike,” says Mohammed. “I think my efficiency has been the key improvement. VO2 and threshold improved in the last test in February [2019] but before then, the key has been to produce the same power output or pace for longer — and I think that is primarily due to the emphasis on getting the VLAMAX down.” The hard work and the long project finally paid off and everything came full circle on June 14th 2019. With a total time of 9 hours and 2 minutes (the course was shortened because of the heat and the high levels of pollution), Mohamed finished the day in 4th position in his AG — good enough for his first slot to the Ironman World Championships. And that happened at 52 years of age and only four years after he swam in a triathlon for the first time and seven after he hopped on a bike.

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