To wrap up 2016, we asked some of the EC coaches to answer a few questions about what they learned this year, and what they’ll try differently in 2017 (you can see Coach Alan Couzen’s lessons learned on his personal blog).
As a coach, what’s one thing you did right that you either hadn’t done before (because you tried something new) or that you changed from past years (because it wasn’t working)?
Justin Daerr: Over the last year to year and a half, I had been altering a lot of the swim workouts for athletes that include more rest than I might have included in the past. I think there is a common theme that assumes a tight or challenging send off equates to better return on fitness, but I have found the opposite to be more prevalent. By allowing a little more rest, the quality, recovery, and consistency of the sessions has been approving across the board.
Marilyn Chychota: I tried implementing a slightly longer taper for some athletes. Tapers are always going to be athlete specific and different for everyone, but I took the approach for some higher volume athletes of having their biggest weeks about three weeks out from their key races and then did a gradual taper from there. This worked really well for them.
Sue Aquila: I had to learn to release an athlete from the data. For some athletes, benchmarking training transitions the sport from an enjoyable hobby to an anxiety induced drama. Teaching athletes to adapt to the stress of goal achieving may not be the right template for every athlete. Usually these are the athletes that are thrilled when they forget their watch or their power meter fails. It’s similar to Munchausen syndrome but for training gear.
Jeff Fejfar: I made sure to include more regular feedback communication with athletes, even if electronic (text, email, post-activity comments in log). For many athletes I coach, it was often normal just to see a workout file with little subjective feedback or comments. By asking more probing questions, I would get more info to build upon. With that, the athletes seem to get a better feel for the additional info I find useful and have begun including more pointed feedback outside of just workout “metrics.” This also helps them to access the bigger picture of training and their own performance.
Lisa Roberts: In the past year I have changed the structure of my pool swim workouts to include more open water swim/race specific training. Some workouts were structured with no warm up at all, many included race take out efforts transitioning immediately into race pace (and back again), and many included non-freestyle swimming to get heart rate spikes — just like in races. I have found this gives athletes more confidence and control in race situations.
What did you learn that you’ll want to try differently/expand on next year with your athletes?
Marilyn Chychota: I’d like to spend more time working on specific bricks from swim to bike for some of my athlete’s. We work very specific bricks with bike and run. I do find that there is value in hard swim to bike bricks for athletes racing for top spots. These athletes have to swim with a lot of effort and training more often the transition from hard swim to getting to work on the bike I think could add a lot of value. I have done this in the past with professional athletes I’ve trained going for top spots, but I think all athletes could benefit from this type of work in the race season.
Sue Aquila: For women athletes especially, I’m going to program more strength focused work in season with greater attention to fueling properly to build muscle. I am finding women are catabolic and increasingly so as we age. Keeping the muscle they earn improves their performance and their overall lifestyle health.
Jeff Fejfar: For the time-crunched athlete, I experimented with minimizing (or completely cutting out) one or two disciplines when trying to focus on specific gains in another discipline. This worked especially well outside the competitive triathlon season for the bike for one athlete, and for the run for another. Overall fatigue from specific, year-round triathlon training can often limit individual sport gains.
Lisa Roberts: I’m always working on the best ways to communicate with my athletes and getting the most feedback from them so I can plan future workout sessions. Next year I want to expand on my athlete’s ability to communicate Perceived Effort to me first, then we can check this with actual data and numbers. This will include my athletes collecting HRV data as well.
Justin Daerr: Something that I’m always learning about and tweaking comes down to what type of taper/rest pattern best works with individual athletes. I really find this area to have some of the most individual response variations. Changing some rest/workout patterns around worked well for some athletes and made little difference for others. For some, we have found a pattern that works well and will be repeated. For others, we will need to continue to experiment a bit.
Were there any common limiters throughout your athlete squad that revealed themselves over the course of the year?
Sue Aquila: I didn’t come across any common limiters, but if there was something I missed, it’s because I didn’t train with an athlete individually. Whenever possible, I find that sharing a training environment with an athlete at a camp or a private training weekend can make a huge difference in setting a program that helps them to achieve goals. And if nothing else, it can help identify their buttons to push! Those are most often their barriers to their best performance. As soon as I hear an athlete “hates” a workout, I know that is the one that will help their performance the most and spite me in the process.
Jeff Fejfar: A limiter to running to potential off-the-bike has often been said to be overall bike fitness. The longer the race, the hillier the course and the larger the athlete, this tends to be more so of an issue. When doing a benchmarking test on the bike, such as the popular Allen and Coggan 5/20 test, I am finding more and more triathletes with a very small margin between their best 5 minute and best 20 minute power. If the percentage of 5 minute to 20 minute power is greater than 20% (25% being very good), the athlete is in a pretty good place. A spread of 12-19% is okay, but could use some attention. A 5/20 power spread of 11% or less really needs some attention.
Lisa Roberts: Time and consistency are always the common limiters in the squad. Each day is a balance of fitting it all in and keeping the sessions high quality. Having a lot of personal experience with being time-crunched and stressed to do it all, I have developed many training sessions that are laser-focused on quality versus quantity.
Justin Daerr: I wouldn’t associate a common limiter to many athletes, but I did have a number of athletes facing a long triathlon season that had their key race placed in the fall months. This meant that we had to monitor the training to make sure they were both mentally and physically ready for a late season push. Having a major event way down the road can sometimes lead to a lack of urgency or focus.
Marilyn Chychota: The biggest limiter for a lot of my athletes is time. There is no way around just putting in the hours required for long distance sport. Athletes’ lives are also busy with work, often travel and families. Balancing this all throughout the year will always be a fine tuning act. However, some of my busiest athletes had their lifetime best performances this year so I think we have a good handle on the juggling act.
Where there any common strengths?
Jeff Fejfar: The most common strength is being consistent with training. Those who stay consistent always have better gains in both fitness and race performance. Prioritizing and scheduling the workouts into the daily schedule before the day arrives tends to be key to the athletes that stay consistent and get in 95 percent or more of their planned training.
Lisa Roberts: Common strengths within the squad is a strong will to succeed and put forth their very best each day.
Justin Daerr: The common strength amongst the best athletes I’ve worked with is the same every year: consistency. It sounds boring and I suspect that being consistent kind of is that way. Getting up and doing the work week in and week out is somewhat mundane, but also highly effective when done over and over again. The best athletes handle this well and get themselves out the door each morning.
Marilyn Chychota: The athletes I work with had consistent top performances while still having a lot of fun. This is something I always strive for in my group and I think we achieve this very well all year.
Sue Aquila: I had quite a few athletes racing to prove to themselves and to others what was possible. The joy they received from inspiring others is not something that I can replicate. The worst moment was having an athlete that is a woman of color endure a racist attack while cycling. The best was watching her finish her first Ironman and inspiring others in her journey.
What’s one lesson you learned to apply to your own training/racing?
Lisa Roberts: I’ve learned that good workout sessions can be had, even in a seemingly “less than desirable” circumstance. In the middle of chaotic travel, without all the fancy bells and whistles of gear and facilities, we can still get quality work done that will benefit us on race day. This is a constant reminder for me, that I don’t have to always have the perfect conditions or equipment to get a good workout done, if I keep an open mind and am resourceful.
Justin Daerr: My own racing resulted in a lesson I have learned before, but continue to learn over and over again: never make assumptions as to when something is going to be easy and when it is going to be challenging. This applies to racing, training, work, etc. Sometimes we build up something in our minds and become hyper focused about it, only to let something we deem less meaningful to become the actual challenge.
Sue Aquila: Anyone can be good when the race conditions are great. This year ITU Long Distance worlds turned into the perfect storm of chaos for me. The swim was so bad I was fearful for the first time in my life that I wouldn’t make the cut off. I had a to ride an old bike that was legal but developed a shifting mechanical which required me to hold it in gear during a relentless headwind. When I got off the bike it was hotter than hell and I was somewhere in the top 20. I dug in on the run and never gave up. I learned that when race conditions are horrible, if you can release the excuses, you can end up on the podium. (…and in need of a strong post race adult beverage along with some counseling.)
Jeff Fejfar: I was plagued through much of the 2015 season with pain and discomfort stemming from a herniated cervical disc in the late spring. It came to a head in the fall and I eventually had to take a good amount of time off the bike and zero swimming to allow it to subside. Once I started back swimming this year, it began getting inflamed again. After accessing my stroke, making several small changes, and using a lot of time with a swim-snorkel, I have been able to continue training and have actually brought down my swim times both in the pool and racing for several personal bests. I was quite worried that the issue would mean the end of my racing, but with proper attention, I am swimming and racing faster than ever!
Did you have any revelatory moments this year?
Justin Daerr: This ties back to the taper tweaks. At ITU Worlds this year, Jeff Fejfar had a major breakthrough race that resulted in a silver medal in his age group. Based on some early races in the year, and some races to come, he wasn’t going through a “typical” taper, but then had a major breakthrough performance. A combination of circumstances led us to something that we might try to deliberately apply in the future.
Sue Aquila: I started working with the Indiana University Head Strength Coach twice a week. I had this bias that the only good strength work involved free weights. Tom Morris taught me the benefits of incorporating machine strength. I learned that they have less risk of injury and save time. As a result, I am stronger than ever in just a few 30-minute sessions per week. Training around some of the best collegiate athletes in the world is humbling and motivating. I was feeling a bit cocky about my leg press until the soccer player next to me (similar size) warmed up with a set at 500 lbs.
Jeff Fejfar: When athletes have life events that would interfere with a consistent training regimen, such as vacation, unplanned travel, funerals, etc., a small bout of frequent training such as 15-30 minutes of running can help bridge fitness until the time and schedule allows. Trying to force too much training during those periods tends to be counterproductive to overall season goals. Allowing the athlete plenty of flexibility up front seems to put them at ease that the season is not lost due to these scenarios!
Lisa Roberts: My “aha” moment for this year was starting to collect and work with my own HRV data. Although I haven’t fully grasped what all the data means, I am beginning to use it to inform my workout sessions. I have much to learn about this as I start to apply it to my athlete’s workout structure.