Numerical optimization of pacing strategies in locomotive endurance sports

Detta är en avhandling från Östersund : Mid Sweden University

Sammanfattning: This thesis is devoted to the optimization of pacing strategies in two locomotive endurance sports; cross-country skiing and road cycling. It has been established that constant pace and variable power distributions are optimal if purely mechanical aspects of locomotion are considered in these sports. However, there is a lack of research that theoretically investigates optimal pacing for real world athletes who are constrained in their ability to generate power output through the bioenergetics of the human body.The aims of this thesis are to develop numerical pacing strategy optimization models and bioenergetic models for locomotive endurance sports and use these to assess objectives relevant in optimal pacing. These objectives include: Investigate the impact of hills, sharp course bends, ambient wind, and bioenergetic models on optimal pacing and assess the effect of optimal pacing strategies on performance.This thesis presents mathematical models for optimization of pacing strategies. These models are divided into mechanical locomotion, bioenergetic, and optimization models that are connected and programmed numerically. The locomotion and bioenergetic models in this thesis consist of differential equations and the optimization model is described by an iterative gradient-based routine. The mechanical model describes the relation between the power output generated by an athlete and his/her locomotion along a course profile, giving the finishing time. The bioenergetic model strives to mimic the human ability to generate power output. Therefore, the bioenergetic model is set to constrain the power output that is used in the mechanical locomotion model. The optimization routine strives to minimize the finishing time in the mechanical locomotion model by varying the distribution of power output along the course, still satisfying the constraints in the bioenergetic model.The studies contained within this thesis resulted in several important findings regarding the general application of pacing strategies in cross-country skiing and road cycling. It was shown that the constant pace strategy is not optimal if ambient conditions change over the course distance. However, variable power distributions were shown beneficial if they vary in parallel with course inclination and ambient winds to decrease variations in speed. Despite these power variations, speed variations were not eliminated for most variable ambient conditions. This relates to the athlete’s physiological restrictions and the effect of these are hard to predict without thorough modeling of bioenergetics and muscle fatigue. Furthermore, it viwas shown that substantial differences in optimal power distributions were attained for various bioenergetic models.It was also shown that optimal braking and power output distributions for cycling on courses that involve sharp bends consisted of three or four phases, depending on the length of the course and the position of the bends. The four phases distinguished for reasonably long courses were a steady-state power phase, a rolling phase, a braking phase, and an all-out acceleration phase. It was also shown that positive pacing strategies are optimal on relatively long courses in road cycling where the supply of carbohydrates are limited. Finally, results indicated that optimal pacing may overlook the effect of some ambient conditions in favor of other more influential, mechanical or physiological, aspects of locomotion.In summary, the results showed that athletes benefit from adapting their power output with respect not only to changing course gradients and ambient winds, but also to their own physiological and biomechanical abilities, course length, and obstacles such as course bends. The results of this thesis also showed that the computed optimal pacing strategies were more beneficial for performance than a constant power distribution. In conclusion, this thesis demonstrates the feasibility of using numerical simulation and optimization to optimize pacing strategies in cross-country skiing and road cycling.