Saturday, November 28, 2015

Personal Freedom

A good friend sent me a link to an interview with Andrew Bacevich.  The interview provides interesting points of view on patriotism, foreign policy, projection of power and the central values of American society.  It takes an hour to get through and it was a useful way to spend a Sunday morning. 
The interview is, nominally, with reference to Bacevich's book, The Limits of Power. The author is described as a conservative historian but many of his points are often made (far less effectively) by my liberal friends.  The link was sent to me by a veteran who said that he watched with tears in his eyes because someone had finally put into words what he had felt for years.
An example is his position on "not war" as opposed to peace -- my quote, not his.  It's the first time, I have heard someone talk about the Iraq war in a more nuanced point of view.  Generally, we are presented with binary choices (in/out; win/lose; victory/defeat).  Bacevich goes deeper and examines the impact of a full commitment in one area which limits our ability to commit in other areas.  
As an investor, I look at the opportunity cost of a position.  As a historian, Bacevich does the same thing with respect to the projection of power and the allocation of national capital.  Like many strengths, wealth/force/power/fitness may be most useful when applied sparingly.

Complex Training: The principle of variety and multilateral development

“It is easier to do many things than to do one thing, continuously for a long time”
- Marcus Fabius Quintilian

We open today’s blog with a pic of my country man and one of the greatest marathoners of all time – Mr. Robert DeCastella. Deek, as he is fondly referred to back home, was, at his time, arguably the greatest marathoner in the world and a multiple world record holder.

Deek and his coach, Pat Clohessy, were a part of the ‘new order’ of marathoning that really began with Buddy Edelen. These coaches were characterized by their pot pourri approach to training in which, rather than exclusively adhering to the successive, phasic periodization approach of Lydiard or the meticulously controlled interval method of Gerschler, these coaches recognized the merits of both and implemented both concurrently throughout the training year.

Deek describes the method as follows:

“Complex training involves the same basic routine all through the year, year in year out, with only slight modifications for racing. Other methods break the year into sections (hence the name ‘interval’ or ‘block’ training), each aimed at developing specific aspects of running. When racing, I put more emphasis on track sessions, while during heavy training, I put more emphasis on long runs”

In practical terms, Deek’s key sessions included every week were:
* A hilly long aerobic “strength” run
* A long steady aerobic “rhythm” run
* A shorter, faster tempo run
* A track or hill repeat workout
* A leg speed workout
* Easy recovery runs

This was Deek’s weekly menu day in, day out, year in, year out. It was standardized to the point that he would run the same courses for the workouts each and every week to get a feel for form and improvement.

Almost year-round ‘speedwork’ coupled with high mileage training would characterize the methods of all of the ‘big names’ of the 70’s and 80’s – Deek, Salazar, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter etc. etc.

Physiologically, this is not surprising. If one were to pick up a copy of any of the big selling recreational training books of the 90’s and beyond, you could be forgiven for thinking that you can expect to devote 4 weeks of maximal strength training to take yourself from Mr. Puniverse to a 600lb leg press or 8 weeks of ‘build training’ in which you take you Anaerobic Threshold from 60-90% of your VO2max. The reality, of course, is that most physiological adaptations, perhaps with the exception of central VO2max, are very long term adaptations. What do I mean by long term? Things like maximal strength, anaerobic threshold, (and especially) fat oxidation are at the very least, multi-month, and in the case of fat oxidation, multi-year adaptations (see the chart from Jansen, 1987, below).

Additionally, particularly the last 2 follow that annoying rule of physiology that the adaptations that take the longest to train are also the quickest to de-train. In short, all of these qualities demand vigilant, year-round attention. The easiest way to do so, is to incorporate all of the training methods to some extent within the athlete’s basic week throughout the training year.

To further the point, studies on training monotony (e.g. Foster, 2001) have shown that too much similarity between training sessions within a week of training is a strong correlate of over-reaching and over-training. IOW, not only does providing a mix of training serve to address all physiological systems, the variety alone helps with recovery and improves the total workload that you will ultimately be able to tolerate.

In triathlon training, a good mix for a recreational athlete would be:
* A long aerobic swim (possibly with gear or open water)
* A technical/drill swim mixed with basic speed
* A descending aerobic swim with some threshold
* A long steady bike
* A medium strength (big gear) bike descending to mod-hard or AT
* A shorter high cadence recovery bike w/some aerobic maintenance
* A long hilly run
* A descending flat run
* A couple of recovery runs with strides and drills.
* A traditional strength workout
* A functional strength circuit + yoga

Now, that is a lot to fit in a week. To fit all of this within the time and energy constraints of a typical athlete will require that some sessions be very short and easy. To this end, as Deek points out, there is a change in emphasis put on different sessions in accordance with the time of year and the race schedule, e.g. harder and longer long runs during the base period, harder and more interval reps in the speed period. This said, some level of all types of training is included throughout the year. Let me elaborate more on how I use this principle within my own coaching practice.

Within most weeks of my athletes training year, some sessions will be ‘hard’, i.e. above your normal average load, some will be ‘maintenance’ sessions that equal your average load and some will be ‘recovery’ sessions that are lower than your average training load, giving you a ‘freshening’ affect.

This is not to say that hard sessions are always fast. If you’re used to a weekly 90 minute long run, a 2hr long run could be your ‘hard’ session for the week. As Deek points out, the decision of which sessions are going to be your hard sessions for any week is a function of the time of year and your own specific weaknesses. In my ‘forest for the trees’ blog and my ‘spending your allowance wisely’ blog, I give some guidelines as to how to use TSS points on the macro level to plan your training. I suggest that a loading week should be 10-20TSS/d above your CTL (your normal training load). As the monotony studies cited above point out, the best way to distribute this load isn’t to add 15TSS/d to each day, but rather, in line with the hard-easy principle to have 2-3 days that are 30-50 TSS/d above the norm, while the others are normal/maintenance or recovery days. For instance, if your normal CTL is 120 TSS/d, a big day may be 160TSS. In the early season, this may be a 3hr steady-mod long run. In the competitive phase this may be a 2hr descending run with the last 40mins just under threshold. Either way, this represents a ‘hard’ session.

I’ve presented a number of arguments for the incorporation of variety within the athlete’s basic week, including remaining true to the time course of training adaptations and avoiding training monotony and overtraining. However, perhaps the best argument is made by the Roman rhetorician quoted in the opening of today’s blog. As a former personal trainer, I have seen first hand the difference in effort put forth and the difference in session enjoyment between highly structured & monotonous ‘traditional’ strength sessions and sessions that incorporated multiple exercise modalities (bands, balls, slideboards etc.). When it comes down to it, not only is variety an effective training principle - it is just plain fun!

Train smart.


Old School Endurance

This week, I am going to have some fun and write about a topic dear to my heart -- Old School Endurance.  Not quite "Old Time Hockey" but Paul Newman's passing has been on my mind.  Watching Slapshot is a rite of passage for a lot of my Canadian pals.
Management and communication tips can wait for another week -- if you are like me then you could be a little burnt out on reading about the dire state of the global economy.  There is going to be plenty of time for working through the aftermath.
Two quick announcements before we get started:
I was looking for photos on the web this past weekend and discovered my interview on Endurance Planet -- scroll down the page, I am July 1st.  13 minutes long with some ideas about performance and coaching that might interest.  
Bobby McGee, world-class running and triathlon coach, is featured on Endurance Corner Radio.  Greg Bennett is coming in two weeks.  Send questions to Justin Daerr.
This past week, I was running (in the rain, wearing a cotton t-shirt... Chuckie you would have been proud).  I was rolling along thinking about this article and Ironman Hawaii in particular.  
The legend of Ironman is fairly well known... a few military guys sitting around trying to dream up the wildest event they can consider... Waikiki rough water swim, ride around Ohau, Honolulu marathon... something like that.  For me, that's Old School Endurance.
Sit around with your pals, dream up something off-the-charts then figure out how to do it.  Outside of Ultraman, there aren't a lot of triathlon events that fit that mould any more.  You are most likely to discover old school endurance on events like the Triple Bypass, Leadville 100, Hard Rock 100 or by bumping into an ultra-amigo on the Continental Divide trail.
Ironman has gained a lot over the years, lives have been changed for the better, and many cottage industries have popped up -- pretty much as a direct result of that original dare.
As a private equity guy, I think the sale this year could mark the high water mark for Ironman, but not necessarily for the WTC, as a company.  From the outside looking in, I can see clear opportunities for further profit enhancement:
  • The launch of the 70.3 series was a good move, when faced with an aging demographic as well as a need to attract younger customers.
  • The ability to bring race management in-house via acquisition, or competition.
  • Superior licensing arrangements -- to me, there has always been a disconnect between the marketing strategy (mass market) and the people that actually do the races (niche market).  Perhaps the most lucrative customers are the one's watching the NBC broadcast?  I suspect that there is a lot more that can be done with those of us that are actually doing the races.
Ramp things up and either fold into a larger entertainment group, or sell a piece of Ironman through the public markets.  I keep coming back to Planet Hollywood in my mind, though -- not a great outcome for the IPO shareholders but a great franchise name.  I'd be wary if they take m-dot public.  Of course, history tells us that select buyers will pay a large premium to own world-class brands.  My concern would be the risk of declining cash flow.
Why sell?  Long term capital gains tax rates are likely heading up; and a vendor wants to leave enough in it for the next buyer to generate a fair return.  The deal made sense to me from both sides. 
How to maintain growth of an expensive and time consuming hobby in the face of a declining economic environment?  The 70.3 series is a good strategic move.  It will be interesting to see how Ironman handles a significant economic slowdown within its demographic -- the Ironman target market has had a sustained bull run -- we should get Dan Empfield to share his thoughts.  Perhaps he'll write something about his -- SlowTwitch reflects the pulse of the sport and Dan has a historical perspective that few can match.
Back to Old School Endurance.  Before I ever did a swim set or bike repeat, I was a weightlifter, hiker, and (very average) sport climber.  Like many of us, I got a kick out of dreaming up new projects -- my progression to mountaineering was the ultimate in Old School.  Find a volcano somewhere in Asia -- use a three-, or four-, day weekend to fly-in, summit and fly-out.  I would sleep rough and listen to the jungle.
These days a ten-mile climb wears me out... still it is September.  A guy's got to rest some time!
Some of you might recognize the guy in the photo below -- this summer during Epic Camp Italy, I used my easy day, to ride past the turn off for the Messner Museum in the Dolomites.  Everest, solo, no oxygen, no one else on the mountain.  Pretty Old School! 

Endurance has a number of different qualities -- all of which are important to consider if you want to (ultimately) race well.  Each of these attributes is linked with the others and a breakdown in one area ends our ability "to endure".
Mental Endurance -- the ability to keep moving forward until the objective is met.  Chip away, bit by bit, day after day.  The downside is that people that score high here are the sorts the die in the mountains, or spend years pounding away at an area where they have little potential.  I score reasonably well here, so need to balance persistence (good thing) with consistency bias (risky thing).
Working on our physical endurance benefits our mental endurance in many ways. 
Anger management -- I experience a lot of background anger in the world, specifically what drives a lot of ultraendurance athletes to get so far away from home, from the 'real' world, from everyone else.  
To truly endure, we need to accept the way things are.  Somehow, years of physical endurance training managed to work-out a lot of situations, histories, and people that used to upset me.
Humility -- This could be the ingredient that creates the later life peak for the ultra-endurance athlete.  It takes most of us a many years to have enough setbacks to gain the humility required to stop repeating our mistakes.  The only sure fire way to increase my humility is wait around until an unexpected setback reminds me that I don't have all the answers.
Fear -- for me, fear is what leads anger.  I struggle to see the emotional roots of my fears... ...I only feel the anger.  I spend a lot of time searching for the fear that lies beneath my emotions.  My main fear has to do with disappointing people that I respect. 
Physical Endurance -- just like VO2 max, many people appear to be gifted with bodies that are created to tolerate volume well.  Expeditions are a great example of this trait.  When I was in peak mountaineering shape, I could carry/haul 130 lbs of gear daily, at altitude, for a week -- good for me, "easy" for a sherpa!  I could do a tremendous amount of low intensity work then handle hours of tempo on a final "summit day".  
What I couldn't do was swim, bike or run quickly -- let alone put them all together.  Endurance is an essential component of fitness but it is only a component.  At my mountaineering peak, I was a mediocre athlete.  But my solid endurance base, enabled surprisingly rapid progress when I started converting endurance to race fitness.
Most adult triathletes come to our sport with a focus on race fitness prior to the creation of an endurance (and strength) platform.  This is the piece of the performance puzzle that is missed by intensity-driven programs -- most likely because they are created by life-long athletes that haven't experienced an absence of endurance.
Metabolic Endurance -- I don't read a lot about this in the literature but I see it with people that are able to survive when placed in extreme situations -- as well as athletes that are (ultimately) able to go 'fast' in an Ironman.  Physical endurance is the ability to walk from Boulder to Vail.  Metabolic endurance is the ability to do it on minimal food and water.  Some coaches/athletes seek to train this through (effectively) starvation.  
Perhaps a future article will talk about self-starvation, and self-denial, in an attempt to exert control within a mind that feels out of control.  It's a complex psychological issue that is far easier to observe than treat.  I have had my greatest success with simple acceptance and affection for (fellow) crazies.
Constitutional Endurance -- relates to how fast we recover, our immune systems and what we generally call our "constitution".  We see this a lot at Epic Camp... there is normally one, or two, campers that manage to get stronger as the camp progresses.  Some individuals can simply take more than others -- and keep bouncing back.  In my mid-30s I could get away with extreme training -- at least I thought I was getting away with it!
Molina once managed the first week of an Epic Camp on nothing but liquid calories.  He'd had the trots for a week leading into the camp!  He didn't mention this to anyone lest we rip him to shreds -- Epic Campers can behave a bit like hyenas when they get fatigued... 
Scott's not the only example of World Champions that score off-the-charts for Old School Endurance -- Tom Dolan is a guy that springs to mind.  Talent, motivation, and the capacity to out-train any swimmer of his generation.

Now you might think that Ironman Hawaii is the ultimate test of endurance -- we could be fooling ourselves.  The photo above is how Amundsen chose to spend his summer when he raced Scott to the South Pole.  Great story.  Guts will only get you so far without preparation.
The real test of Ironman is the months, and years, of daily training that are required to put together a fast race.  That is the true test and probably why we see such an emotional release at the finish line -- so much went into that one day.

Some suggested reading to get your Old School mojo working...
Endurance, Shackleton (pictured above, likely the greatest demonstration of human endurance, ever -- gotta love the frosty beard, Monica won't let me grow one...)
Many enjoy the romanticism of endurance-Samurai that go down in flames -- the problem with that approach is you can't write up your adventures if you are dead on the mountain.  
Being a success oriented guy, I like the stories that centre around getting the team home in one piece.
Molina's 50 in 2010 -- it's going to take me a while to build back up but I'm looking forward to Going' Old School one more time with my good buddy.  We'll need to come up with something special.
Good luck to everyone racing Kona -- when it gets tough remember that it's just one day!
Back next week,

Spending your allowance wisely

“Waste is worse than loss”
- Thomas Edison

After the positive feedback on my ‘forest for the trees’ blog (it seems there are a lot of folks out there like myself who were frustrated by the lack of applicability of the PMC chart to day-to-day training), I have decided to expand upon one of the concepts mentioned, that of a fitness ‘allowance’.

Let me elaborate – if you are a good little boy or girl, and you do all of your chores; get a good quality and quantity of sleep, eat right, stretch, receive regular massages, stay organized and manage life stressors, every 3-4 weeks your body will pay you an allowance of additional fitness (we can express these ‘fitness dollars’ as additional points added to your CTL #), that you may choose to invest, gamble or spend.

Now, before I go on pointing out the consequences of your decision as to what to do with your ‘fitness dollars’, I should point out that if you are a bad little boy or girl and you fail to do your chores for the week, you won’t get your allowance for that week, i.e. if you let work stress get the better of you, if you let the quality of your sleep trail off etc etc, don’t expect to get a fitness payout for that training block.

As mentioned in the previous blog, a fair allowance (something that is appropriate for the work you do without sending your parents bankrupt) is ~10-20TSS/d every 3-4 weeks. Now, you can choose to do any of the following with this payout:

a) You can invest in more fitness by putting your allowance towards your foundation. Placing it in a savings account that offers a very slow but assured increase on the investment that you make, specifically, we are talking about aerobic base training, with the bulk of training below the athlete’s Ventilatory Threshold 1. As Colwin points out in his book Swimming into the 21st Century, this training is anabolic & builds the swimmers ‘adaptation energy’, i.e. it builds you up, while some of the other forms of training are catabolic and tear the swimmer down.

b) You can take your allowance to Vegas and gamble it on some ‘speedwork roulette’. Earlier this year I went down to Vegas to meet up with my Dad and Brother, who flew in from Australia for a fun vacation. My brother found an affinity for the slot machines while we were down there and, at various times, was ‘up’ by a good amount. This weekend was the tail-end of a month long vacation that my brother had been on and he had some spending money that he still needed to ‘blow’. By having sufficient reserve to be able to afford to ‘play big’, if he had have timed things appropriately and walked away at his peak, he could have taken home sufficiently more money than he arrived with (of course, like most of us, he didn’t and gambled it all on ‘just one more’ proverbial roll of the dice :-), but the potential was there). On the flipside, Jen and I went down there with a limited budget, a limited foundation, and so while we had fun playing the games, we simply didn’t have enough of a reserve to ever really expect a big ‘pay out’.

c) You can spend your allowance on some fun, i.e. races. Now, nobody likes a scrooge, someone who hoards their foundation, afraid to ever use any of it. After all, the point of building your fortune is not in the actual pieces of paper that lie in your wallet or bank account, but rather on the fun and freedom that they potentially represent. However, keep in mind that from a fitness perspective, any time you race seriously (as opposed to B & C races that fall more under the ‘gamble’ category), you are running at a loss. You are using fitness that will take a significant time of base/foundation training to get back. This is not to say that we shouldn’t race, after all, racing well is kind of the point. But we should be prudent in how much of our annual salary we devote to something that we know offers no return.

So, you decide to invest your allowance. Smart choice. However, just like the real world, you have options in what to invest in. Different strategies for different levels of risk tolerance and different individual preferences. You have an extra 10-20 TSS/d to invest. What should you invest in?

Easy training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 2hrs of easy training to add to your week. This is a very low risk way to spend your allowance. However, as explained in my last blog, it doesn’t offer the same ‘bang for your buck’ as the following investment….

Steady Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 90mins of steady training to add to your basic week each month. Steady training has a solid interest rate and for most folks offers the best return on their investment.

Mod-Hard Training: A little more risk here. Your 10 TSS/d will buy you a 1hr mod-hard main set to add to your training. This strategy is probably too risky for those with a limited foundation. However, for those who’ve been at the game for a while, there is some real benefit to diversifying your portfolio and devoting some of your fitness dollars to Mod-Hard training.

Hard Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you a 40-50min AT workout. This is a very risky investment for those with limited foundation. However, for those with some money to play around with, training in and around the anaerobic threshold offers excellent potential return on the money invested. If you ever want to be sitting at the ‘high rollers’ table, there will come a time when placing a calculated risk on expanding your foundation with hard training will become appropriate.

So, how do you know what an appropriate investment is for you? Of course, as a coach, I’m going to say that you would be best served listening to the objective advice of your ‘financial advisor’ :-). However, for those who want to keep an eye on their own portfolio, analyzing the main sets of your training each week and seeing how balanced they are across the training spectrum (see my article on appropriate balance for Ironman athletes), looking for potential weak spots or plateaus will enable you to appropriately allocate your resources each month.

Train Smart.


Big Meeting Protocol

I have been in a few big meetings over the course of my business career and had another this past week.  The meeting went as well as could be expected and I wanted to share the approach I took to give myself the best shot at a good outcome.  

Before we get into the BMP, a couple of announcements:
It's my brother's birthday today.  Happy Birthday Chuck!  Relevant to the US elections, there is a clip about the Canadian Health Care system -- not exactly G-rated, you've been warned.
Brooke Davison just won the overall female AG title at Nationals in Portland last weekend.  She's interviewed (with her 2 year old) over on Endurance Corner Radio.
Coffees of Hawaii now have decaf.  Albert was kind enough to send me a sample bag and I'm hooked.  Out photo this week is from the plantation on Molokai.  When you grind the beans, they look the reddish color of the earth (seen in the picture).  Enter "EC" at checkout for a 20% discount.
It's amazing what we can get done when something _really_ matters to us.  My main client in the UK is working through its business plan with banks, shareholders and suppliers.  As part of this process, we have been having a series of meetings with people that are fundamental to a successful outcome.  Separate from content, I have found that my approach has a BIG impact on outcome.  So here's my Big Meeting Protocol.
Be Prepared
I had eleven days of preparation for the Big Meeting this past week. 
I undertook independent discussions with senior managers; key shareholders; and lenders.  I wanted to speak with people one-on-one because it reduces the tendencies we have in crowds -- peer agreement, avoiding bad news, consistency bias, deferral to authority.  As the listener, I need to be aware of my own tendency to use these conversations to confirm, rather than to learn. 
Prior to our meeting, I wanted to have a clear idea on the position of each of the company's projects.  Our final internal meeting was a top-to-bottom review of every project on the company's books -- took three hours and we already knew the deals.  We might not have identified all the issues, but we did our best to make sure that we all knew the same issues.  This enables clarity in communication.
Finally, I believe that it is essential to have a clear understand on the cash position of a business.  Running out of cash is not a good thing.  I probably spent a full day considering the very short term cash position for the business.  As I wrote last week, a buffer of liquid assets provides time -- in business, as in life, time can be very valuable.
Visualization is not just for Ironman swim starts!  Throughout my business career, I have used visualization to prepare for, and rehearse, important meetings.  While things rarely go as mentally (or actually) scripted, having mental and written plans increases your chance for a successful outcome.  It also increases relaxation during your competitive event (in this case a business meeting!).
Pre-Meeting Routine
I have the exact same routine that I use for Big Meetings.
  • Snack
  • An hour of aerobic exercise (no higher than steady)
  • Shower
  • Good sized meal with carbohydrate
  • Head to the meeting
If the meeting is in the afternoon, or evening, then I will leave the office early to get my training done.  I'll eat my pre-meeting meal and return to the office.
The routine makes sure that I am alert, relaxed, stress-free and fueled.  Generally, key meetings don't last more than 3 hours.
In an important, or crisis, situation... it can be tempting to skimp on nutrition, sleep, or exercise.  For me, that is always a mistake.  My productivity and clarity are far higher when I stick with my routines.  As well, I do my best problem solving when exercising (a meditation of movement, perhaps).
Big Meetings are stressful.  When work stress increases, my caffeine intake halves.  Clear decisions require us to slow our reaction time.  Pausing, before acting, is tough enough when stressed, near impossible with a quad-latte coursing through our veins.
I didn't have a wingman this past week but have had one on the past.  
In the UK, they have a habit of placing a small plate of cookies on the table at business meetings.  Quite civilized, one meets for tea, cookies and business discussion...
If you have a wingman, ideally one with a low emotional attachment to outcome, then your wingman can "offer you a cookie" if you start to freak, or get off track.  The pause to eat your cookie, could enable you to reset.  You don't really need a cookie to use this technique... what you need is a calm friend and a pre-agreed strategy for signaling a need to pause.  I suppose that is the role that an attorney takes in many situations.  However... if you turn up with a lawyer then you might freak the other parties at the meeting!

If you don't know... ...then just say so
Kind of sounds like something Johnny Cochran would say.  He really was a character.
Managing serious situations is about trust -- you might get away with spinning things in normal times but it is a poor strategy when faced with important decisions.
For my meeting this week I had two computer screens running (three spreadhseets); two reports open on my desk; and a hard bound book containing a year's worth of notes.  With all that information, days of preparation and over ten years of advising the client... I was STILL stumped a few times!  
If the stakes are high, and the quality of the decision relies on the accuracy of information, then people don't mind waiting a couple of minutes (or even another hour) while you calculate the right answer.  
A commitment to accuracy/transparency is an attractive trait in a trusted advisor.
Summing Up
You'll see that I use a lot of "race tactics" for my Big Meetings.  In reality, these are performance tactics.  High performance in business, athletics and academics is all the same.  
Take time to learn from successful outcomes and remember that the toughest situations are ripe with opportunities for learning.
Next week, I'm going to share specific ideas for managing through a recession.  As I predicted last spring, we are moving into the action phase of global liquidity shock which was triggered back in August 2007.  
As we saw with the demise of the American Investment Banks, it is a lot better to take action, than be acted upon.
Until next week,

Endurance Physiology 101: The Basics

In preparation for the launch of the official Endurance Corner website (stay tuned), Gordo has asked me to compile a couple of concise, core articles that will give our readers a background in the endurance exercise physiology behind some of the triathlon terminology that we use and the training philosophy that we espouse. Terms such as the aerobic threshold, the fat oxidation threshold, the lactate threshold and the anaerobic or functional threshold are regularly thrown around and unless you have a background in exercise physiology, they may leave your head spinning (even those of us with a background are not immune to the occasional head spin :-)

So, this first article will present a brief review of those essential physiological concepts that have real, practical significance to you as an endurance athlete and the future direction of your training.

Let’s begin our ex phys 101 class with a brief review of one of the most important concepts, that of muscle fiber type.

Fiber Types

Just as the chicken has both dark meat and white meat, we humans also have muscles (meat) that is white, or dark in concert with it’s purpose. The ‘dark meat’ is made up, primarily, of slowtwitch fibers. Whereas the ‘white meat’ is made up of more explosive fast twitch fibers.

A good portion of our leg meat (for example the Soleus muscle of the lower leg) is predominantly ‘dark meat’, full of oxygen processing mitochondria (and the associated red pigmented cytochrome complexes) and myoglobin. Whereas, muscles responsible for more explosive movements, for example the ‘pushing’ muscles of the upper arm (triceps brachii) contain more fast twitch (white) fibers. In a very real sense, form dictates function.

Just as there are differences between different muscle groups within one human body associated with the muscle function. There are also vast differences between humans in the proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers within the ‘prime mover’ muscles. Elite endurance athletes may exhibit 80% or more slow twitch fibers, while power lifters will show a majority of fast twitch fibers. Most of us will exhibit a fairly even 50-50 split.

Science generally comes to the conclusion that the proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers within the body is largely genetically determined. That is, shortly after birth the number of slow and fast twitch fibers within your body is fixed. This can be a depressing revelation for the aspiring endurance athlete, but fear not. There is hope on the horizon, a subtype of the Fast Twitch Fiber group, the Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG) fiber can change dramatically to take on characteristics very similar to the slow twitch fiber, i.e. you can start with a bucket full of KFC’s white meat and with a few hundred thousand waves of your magic wand, it can be miraculously transformed into dark meat.

The Aerobic Threshold

Not surprisingly, this transition between using your “dark meat” and your “white meat” is a critical training intensity.

Also unsurprisingly, there is limited upside in making your dark meat more dark. There is a lot more benefit to spending your precious training time devoted to turning your white meat (fast glycolytic fibers) into dark meat (fast oxidative glycolytic fibers). This transition typically occurs somewhere between 40-60% of your VO2max as displayed in the chart below. However, this represents a pretty wide range. For a 40 year old male, this would typically mean heart rates of anywhere from 90bpm to 130bpm. Now, remember, this is a critical point. While there is certainly no harm training below this point, there is limited upside to making your dark meat more dark.

Well, if that’s the case, you say, I’m going to shoot for the high end of the range. The problem with this approach is that there is another critical threshold that most of you will eventually bump up against.

The Fat Oxidation Threshold.

A typical lactate curve, showing the Aerobic Threshold, the first rise in lactate levels above baseline is shown below (at ~60% VO2max)

On the following chart, the range of the athlete’s maximal fat oxidation is transposed. This range of fat oxidation, with a peak at ~50% VO2max is fairly common. Therefore, this is an example of an athlete with very good low end cardiovascular fitness and average metabolic fitness.

You can see that if this athlete were to train at the high end of the aerobic threshold zone (60% of their VO2max), they would be performing most of their training outside of the safety umbrella of their maximal fat oxidation range. The problem with this is that due to the finite nature of carbohydrate stores, the amount of training that the athlete will be able to accumulate within a week will be compromised and the their white meat won’t become as dark as it could have if they had have adopted a more moderate approach. The fat oxidation threshold has a wider span than the aerobic threshold in accordance with the athlete’s training, diet and genetics and can range from 30-75% of VO2max (~80-150bpm for our hypothetical 40 year old!!)

So, does this mean all of my training should take place in this sweet spot between my Aerobic Threshold and my Fat Oxidation Threshold? No. If you’re a ‘normal’ intermediate Ironman triathlete, the bulk of your training should occur here. However, there are a couple of additional factors to consider.

1) What if your maximal rate of fat oxidation is below your Aerobic Threshold?

As mentioned in the ranges above, particularly for novice Ironman athletes, this is a possibility. In this case, most of your training needs to be ‘easy’ training, below the Aerobic Threshold until your metabolic fitness catches up with your cardiovascular fitness and you can ‘graduate’ to more steady training at or slightly above your Aerobic Threshold.

2) Do you plan on doing any races above your ‘steady’ zone?

Perhaps with the exception of Ironman racing, most races will occur at a level beyond the athlete’s ‘steady’ zone (that sweet spot between the athlete’s Aerobic Threshold and Fat Oxidation Threshold). An athlete who performs all training in this zone will be unprepared & untrained for higher intensity efforts.

3) Do you plan on getting better?

If you ever plan on pushing 300 watts aerobically, training day in and day out using your 250W fibers isn’t going to get the job done. A sprinkling of training done at your long term goal pace (with more and more as your metabolic tolerance to this training improves) is going to be necessary.

Hence, including some training above and below the ‘steady’ zone is a good idea. So let’s take a look at the next step up.

The Lactate Threshold

As you continue to carve a little deeper, by increasing the workload, eventually you will come upon the dedicated white meat, the fast glycolytic fibers. These are fibers that are resistant to turning into dark meat because of, #1) their size, #2) they demand a lot of carbohydrate and it is therefore hard to provide enough fuel to perform sufficient contractions to induce this transformation. Still, particularly for the short course athlete (Half IM and less), this shouldn’t stop you from trying, because even making these white fibers a little more dark can have tremendous performance upside because it will affect the net amount of lactate being produced and delay the onset of blood lactate accumulation.

For most athletes, the lactate threshold represents the 'yellow light' in the training spectrum. Due to the glycogen cost of training above this point, athletes should be preparing to stop when this warning signal sounds. Efforts above the lactate threshold should be used sparingly.

The Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA) or the “Anaerobic Threshold”

Eventually (irrespective of your willpower), if you continue to increase the intensity of exercise, the increasing acidity within the muscle will prevent contraction. The point at which this lactic acid (and the associated hydrogen ions) begin to accumulate is deemed the OBLA or anaerobic threshold. Consequently, there is a big difference in the amount of exercise time that you can accumulate just below this level versus just above it. For most folks, this is a ‘red zone’ of training, offering limited return with extended recovery time.

However, this is the zone that offers the greatest upside to improving oxygen delivery to the muscles. Therefore a limited amount of this training should be included in serious athletes programs, particularly in the ‘peaking’ phase.

So, now that we know a little more about how important it is to distinguish between the different physiological points, the question becomes, how do we practically do so in the field or the lab?

The Lab

In the lab, we will typically use lactate assessment during progressive exercise to identify ‘jumps’ in the lactate curve that are indicative of the above points.

For those labs who have access to high-end metabolic carts, breath by breath analysis will reveal similar jumps in ventilatory measures that correspond with these points on the lactate curve. This association between physiology, lactate and ventilation leads to some key indicators that the athlete can use in the field.

Breath Markers

The astute athlete can pick up the key physiological shifts using breath markers as described below:

Aerobic Threshold: Breathing through the nose alone (mouth shut) becomes uncomfortable and loud.

Lactate Threshold/Ventilatory Threshold 1: Breathing through the mouth becomes loud and rhythmic, particularly the exhalation phase of breathing

Anaerobic Threshold/Ventilatory Threshold 2: Breathing through the mouth picks up in tempo and becomes uncontrolled panting.

While the fat oxidation threshold is harder to specifically determine, it is typically within 10 beats (above or below) of the AeT and is strongly indicated by your tolerance to training at each intensity. If you can’t get to the lab, the ‘old school’ advice of starting your basic week with predominantly ‘easy’ (AeT-10bpm to AeT) training and progressively incorporating more steady training (AeT to AeT+10bpm) as tolerated provides a good starting point.

Being familiar with the physiological points mentioned above: The aerobic threshold, the fat oxidation threshold, the lactate threshold and the anaerobic threshold, and the associated implications provides you with the first step in planning your triathlon training appropriately and systematically.

Financial Security and Capital Allocation

Financial security and capital allocation are the topics for this week's letter. I have been wanting to write about these for some time. What a background in the capital markets -- a very rough week for people.

I am extremely busy on the business front.  As you can imagine, we face a very challenging time in UK Property.  If you are waiting for an email reply then I will get to you, just need some more time. Each day, I have had to parcel my energy, prioritize tasks and schedule recovery.

OK -- a couple of announcements...

***I turned on comments so that so we can interact. Take it easy on me. You'll find that moderation is 'on' so I need to review before they go live.

***Endurance Corner Radio has podcasts from Joe Friel and Chris McDonald. Send feedback to D.J. J.D., who is leading our effort.  Joe is talking about his background (very interesting) and training. Chris explains how we can break Chris Lieto's course record at IM-Moo by using IM-Loo as part of our taper -- its easy if you just follow his point-by-point instruction for race week...

***Joe is going to be speaking at our Boulder Triathlon Camp next July. The camp is open to all levels/distances and will have a mix of hands-on instruction, training and discussions. Cost is $1,250 -- drop me a line for more details.  We've got some great speakers lined up.


Who knew the markets would melt down? Personally, I don't blame the short sellers. They are only acting on what insiders and smart researchers have been telling us for months... our financial system needs to be recapitalized. Massive global deleverage is tough. In my own ventures, it is the main cause of the difficult situation faced by friends and clients. 

What lessons can we learn?


Acquisition of capital is different than borrowing debt. Because debt comes from third party sources, we need to be wary of the tendency to view it as 'free' money. When I work with individuals, or companies, that run into trouble, it is often a crisis created by borrowing to the maximum extent permitted. Permitted under law, permitted under debt agreements, permitted by running X creditcards. An appropriate amount of leverage is well, well below the maximum that can be borrowed.

To me, capital in its most simple form is cash and liquid assets. Before we talk about how to allocate, let's consider how to acquire:

1 -- spend less than you make
2 -- pay yourself first

Physically, I have been overweight before. When I was heavy, I would often wish that I could wave a wand and "be thin". If I could just get a chance to start all over then everything would be alright. I would tell myself that I wouldn't make the same mistakes again.

Finances are a lot like that. When we have no capital, we can spend a lot of time wishing that we had capital.

Physical fitness is just like financial health. Until we take actions, and create habits, that change the direction we are heading... we will keep heading the same direction. We have to make the change.

The two tips that I shared above come from The Richest Man in Babylon -- a good read on the topic of personal finances. I like that book because it doesn't make things too complicated.

3 -- Protect core capital.

What is core capital?  Put simply, it is capital that you cannot afford to lose.  Having no assets at 65 years old is a far different situation than being wiped out in your 20s.

At 40 years old, my view on core capital is ten years living expenses.  While the income from that capital doesn't come close to covering my living expenses, it does give me years to adjust when faced with an unexpected setback.  Across a full career in business, we can be certain that we will face multiple setbacks.  After the past 14 days, the importance of core capital has become very apparent. 

How do I protect core capital?

4 -- Be wary of leverage.

My core capital is completely unleveraged.  While this reduces my return, it greatly reduces the risk profile on my portfolio.

I go even further in that I don't care about my investment return on core capital, I care about safety.

Within my business projects, I am willing to use leverage but, these days, only with capital that is above my core capital.  Why am I so conservative?

5 -- You only need to achieve financial security once.

By following the basic principles in my book recommendation you can give yourself an excellent chance to achieve financial security over your lifetime.

Sure we are exposed to Black Swans but you can stack the deck in your favor if you educate yourself and stick to the basics.

It is surprisingly difficult to stick to the basics.  We let our guard down, we cut corners, we are less careful.  We need to be constantly vigilant!


For capital allocation, my first consideration is where I will be living in the future.

This is important to make sure that I have assets (and currencies) that will balance my future liabilities.  While I don't trade currencies, I consider purchasing power parity when deciding about large investments which match, or don't match, future plans.

I don't have a lot of sophistication in my review -- I look at things such as daily living costs, relative prices of accommodation, interest rates.

When I think about property purchases, I am very specific -- seeking good value, in a specific neighborhood, of an appealing city.  I define value back to my long term currency.  For me, that means converting back to USD, the US is my likely home.

The cities that I really like are: Edinburgh (GBP); Paris (EUR); San Francisco (USD); Hong Kong (quasi-USD).  I don't have any exposure to those markets presently but I keep an eye on them.

Currencies that I like are USD (matched to long term liabilities); CHF/EUR (long term stability).  Some people like Singapore dollars but you only need to look at a map to see that there is real political risk in the neighborhood.  In terms of Asian exposure, my preference would be a moderate yielding real property investment in Hong Kong.


When I was starting out, I thought that it would be nice to "be rich" -- whatever that means.  Along my journey, I have realized that wealth is neither the goal, not the benefit of financial security.

The two main benefits are ethical reinforcement and personal freedom.  If the pursuit of wealth forces you to compromise your values, or ties you to unpleasant situations... then one really needs to consider if that is a benefit at all.

Following the events of this past week, a very relevant consideration.


The Forest for the Trees

“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
- Blaise Pascal

One of the interesting aspects of being a full-time triathlon coach is the number of different ways of looking at training that you are exposed to. Coaches that I have consulted with, long term athletes that I train and sports scientists all have different ways of looking at the training for their athletes. Many are on a completely different wavelength.

I have had opportunity to see firsthand the interaction between coaches and scientists at institutions such as the Australian Institute of Sport and The Olympic Training Center here in the U.S. In both cases, I have seen, to some degree a lack of ‘buy in’ from the coaches to any advice given by the scientists. In a very real way, both are speaking different ‘languages’, largely because they are working on 2 very different levels of understanding the training process.

If I had to come up with one key trait that defines the very best coaches in the world from the herd, it would be the ability to rapidly shift on a daily basis between a big picture understanding of the athlete’s development with the day to day design of training sessions that fit in with the long term goals, the athletes life constraints and the athletes day to day physiology.

Principles of Breakthrough Performance

This week I am going to shift back to a discussion of athletic performance. However, this article is also a summary of what's worked for me in academics, marriage and business.

Our photo this week is my buddy, Chris McDonald. Much of this article has come from considering his approach, as well as observing myself. I think he'd admit that he's taken himself far, far beyond what he thought possible even a few years ago.
Simplicity -- Whether you are considering an investment portfolio, new project development, sales strategy, or how to complete a stretch week of triathlon training. Increased simplicity improves your probability for success. Remove as much as possible from your life.
Specifically, to achieve top success requires the capacity to outperform your competition, daily, for a very long time. Some of the competition are more talented, more experienced, better funded, smarter... simplicity is an edge that you can give yourself.
Dilution of effort -- every item, thought and obligation added to your life dilutes your ability to fully commit to what is required for success. Single minded obsession is often a recipe for a future crisis -- still... if we are having a discussion about performance... then alternating obsession with recovery can be an effective strategy.
For any task requiring high quality, focused output (creative, technical, athletic) the periods when you are doing nothing are equally important to the periods where you are following your vocation. In athletics, periods of unstructured training (easy days, transition periods) can fulfill this role but you will still need some time where you are free to sit in a chair and chill out.
So when you are laying out your plan for breakthrough performance, I would encourage you to plan, and protect, your rejuvenation periods. I have watched some truly great athletes destroy themselves by trying to hold their athletic "high" a few months too long.
Stability -- there are a lot of areas where we dilute performance with instability:
Financial -- assuming that you have shown aptitude for your passion, you should allow at least five years to see what's possible in terms of performance. Being able to stay the course is very important -- you are looking at 10,000 hours worth of effort to see what's possible. Consider your out-goings and in-comings, the athletes that get this "right" follow a clear written plan.
If you are following a high-pay vocation then be wary of spending "because you can". A high burn-rate limits flexibility, personal freedom and can leave you beholden to the company, or person, that signs your pay check. I also believe that it makes ethical purity much more challenging.
If you are forced to ratchet down an expensive lifestyle that never generated incremental happiness then you will feel _real_ pain and loss.
Alan wrote a recent article on athletic periodization -- as I read it, I realized that it is a parable of my approach to life -- moving between business, investing, marriage, spirituality, triathlon and coaching. For each "run" I take at Ironman excellence, there are months, sometimes years, of careful preparation -- Base training for life!
So... I will offer some specifics that are proven for triathlon success.
Finances -- a minimum of three years living expenses, in cash, in the bank and a plan for maintaining your financial security. Financial stress drains performance. Figure out your personal financial weak link and create a simple plan to improve it.
Geography -- no more than two training bases, one VERY low cost, the other in an environment that makes it easy to address your key personal limiter, whatever that might be. Access to at least eight months of pleasant outdoor riding; and access to at least four months of long course swimming. Altitude isn't important. Watch what you spend on airfares.
Approach -- early in your athletic career, your #1 focus should be building your capacity to absorb steady-state training load. If you aspire to be a top Ironman athlete then progress gradually until an average training volume of 25 hours per week can be achieved within a five month span. Just focus on the training, you'll learn a lot. Once you can handle that load then increasing the average speed will offer a lot more gains than cranking the volume even further.
Note, the time requirements for athletic success imply very flexible part-time employment, or unemployment! With meaningful work obligations (that require analytic capacity), it simply isn't possible for me to move much past 12-18 hours per week. Even then, I need to be HIGHLY organized.
Timelines -- Five years of dedicated endurance training would be a fast progression to where you need to worry about your specific protocol. In the early days, any reasonable protocol will show progress. Train every day and avoid doing anything too silly.
Be very wary of seeking an intensity-driven short cut. You will make gains but you will limit your ultimate development. Running is a great example where "run easy every day" can result in fantastic gains, for years, for all new runners. It is also my preferred protocol for elite swimmers/cyclists that must give their connective tissues years to catch up to their aerobic engines.
Competitive Exposure -- Maintaining a challenging, but not overwhelming, competitive environment is important for motivation and progression.
I recommend that you podium at agegroup World Champs before racing elite. If you can't podium then the best decision may be to develop as a fast amateur. This will free you to consider options, and opportunities, that present themselves outside of athletics. Realistically, until you can podium at agegroup World's then you are unlikely to be able to survive as an elite athlete. Even then, the road is a fun, but tough, one.
Pulling all of that together. The big things that I have observed over the years:
  • Maintain simplicity in weekly routine.
  • Follow a low cost annual plan that limits travel, yet makes it mentally easy to train.
  • Good training partners are golden -- they get you through the inevitable down periods and help you stay the course.
  • Focus on building your capacity to train. Stop doing anything that results in missing tomorrow's training.
  • Sleep lots.
  • Until you can beat everyone within a two hour drive from home, there is no need to spend money traveling to races.
  • Focus on executing your weekly training plan, not achieving weekly results. Progress can lay hidden for months. I've had plateaus that lasted years.
Next week, I am going to shift back to investing, specifically the process that I go through when deciding how to allocate capital.
All my best,

Real World Periodization IV: The Need For Speed

“I feel the need, the need for speed”
- Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Top Gun)

It’s been a while since my last post on one of my favourite topics – periodization and long term planning. So, first, a recap on the story so far:

I am a big advocate of long term periodization, however, I firmly believe that for all but elite athletes that the progression through the typical phases is a multi-year rather than a multi-month progression. This runs counter to most of the popular literature on the topic, including that of folks like Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt.

That said, I do like the general phase delineations advocated by Friel and I find them more definitive and practically applicable than those proposed by the periodization ‘forefathers’ – Bompa and Matveyev.

In a nutshell, the progression is as follows:

Base 1 (General Prep):

An emphasis on progressively habituating the athlete to achieving and then consistently hitting their ‘basic week’. At all times during this phase intensity is completely incidental and falls way down the list of priorities when compared to volume and consistency. Throughout this phase, constraints are minimal. So long as the athlete is able to get the heart rate above 60% of their max/AeT-10 (with a cap of 80% max/VT1), I’m a happy coach.

Base 2 (Specific Prep I):

So, the athlete is hitting their basic week on at least 3 of every 4 weeks. Next step is to begin observing and then pushing the aerobic quality of the training. This means that I start to ‘tighten the screws’ and move from my “whatever Brah” coaching methodology closer to my goose-stepping Nazi persona that my athletes will be familiar with when they reach Base 3 and beyond. In practice, this means we introduce the following concepts:
- Training on measured courses (less important for my athletes who use Power)
- Observing and improving average training speed over said courses
- Adding back-end loaded steady state main sets to each of the longer days.

Base 3 (Specific Prep II):

When we reach a point that the athlete is achieving a majority of training in their steady zone, I will begin to add more challenging mod-hard (and in some cases, hard) main sets to the shorter days, so long as (and this is important) the quantity and average speed of training are not compromised with the addition of this intensity. The amount of mod-hard that each athlete can tolerate is incredibly variable and is related to such factors as gender, size, muscle fiber composition and general constitution and can range from 10-30% of the athlete’s basic week.

So, that’s the story so far.

Now, as we go along, after we have established some measured courses that we perform regularly from phase 2 on, I become more and more aware of what a ‘good time’ is for each of the sessions/courses. It is only after a multi-month plateau on said courses that I will even think about introducing a dedicated speed phase.

The exception to this would be if an athlete has targeted a short distance race as an “A race” for this season. However, I strongly advise developing athletes against doing this. In the long run, what you give up for the 3-5% of extra speed that you may gain by specifically preparing for your short distance ‘A Race’ is quite simply not worth it and, IMHO, the emphasis on regular (short course) racing is the primary reason that we have seen a significant stalling in the times of World Championship events from Ironman to National Track Racing over the past 20+ years. E.g. Peter Snell’s 800m time from 1962 would still place him 2nd at the 2008 US National Championships (in an Olympic year)!! Mark Allen’s winning Ironman time from 1989 would place him 1st at the 2007 Ironman (and has only been beaten by one athlete in the 18 years since)!!

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that you are one of those athletes who:

a) Has hit your target volume for 40/52 weeks for the past year.
b) Is doing the bulk of their training at or above their AeT
c) Has incorporated mod-hard to hard training within their basic week to the limits of their individual tolerance without compromising training volume.
d) Has witnessed a plateau in the aerobic main set times from his key weekly sessions.

What’s the next step?

I feel the need….. the need for speed.


The primary purpose of speed-work is (arguably) to improve central
(cardio-pulmonary) adaptations by providing added
stimulus to increase blood volume and consequently increase stroke
volume and VO2max (Seiler, 1991). By improving these factors,
greater oxygen is made available to the muscles for aerobic energy
production at all submaximal (aerobic) intensities. These adaptations
are the opposite of those peripheral adaptations sought with long, slow
distance training.

Phase Length:

Numerous studies have shown that the desired adaptations plateau
after a period of 10-14 weeks (e.g. Fox, 1975, Cunningham, 1979).
This duration of speed training has been confirmed in the field by
coaches such as Lydiard (running) and Carlile (swimming).


Intensity of training is a key component and should range from
90-100% of VO2max (3K-10K pace).


3-4 sessions per week are required to elicit improvement in well
Trained athletes (VO2max greater than 50 ml/kg/min). 2 times per week is
Sufficient for athletes with VO2max less than 40ml/kg/min.


For well trained athletes, total training time at 90-100% VO2max
should tally 30-45mins per session. Time trumps intensity and even
if the athlete cannot maintain 90% VO2max for 30-45mins, the session
duration should remain (Wegner and Bell, 1986).

During this phase of training, overall volume is reduced as necessary to accommodate intensity. Total volume of 66-80% of max volume is sufficient to maintain long term peripheral adaptations. Reductions greater than this should be avoided due to the time it takes to re-gain peripheral vs. central adaptations (Mujika et al. 1996).

If a speed phase is warranted/used within the annual plan, I would still recommend a return to a high volume Base 3 cycle (with 2 maintenance speed sessions each week) prior to tapering for an Ironman race.

I’ll chat through my thoughts on the taper in my next instalment on Real World Periodization.

2008 Review, Part Two

This week’s letter is about taking the time to consider the long term implications of our current choices as well as offering some insight into how I approach my personal planning.

The photo above has me thinking about some additional adjustments to my TT position - I will be tinkering this winter!


If you haven’t been to the Alternative Perspectives page in a while then you might enjoy two articles from Coach Kevin Purcell. The most recent was a thought provoker for me and very enjoyable.

2009 Boulder Camp – I am very happy to confirm Joe Friel and Bobby McGee as guest coaches at our Summer Triathlon Camp. Joe and Bobby have been instrumental in my athletic career and share more than fifty years of collective coaching experience.

As a reminder, the camp will run from July 20 to 25, 2009. By letting you handle your accommodation and morning meals, we have been able to set the cost at a very affordable $1,250. This camp is open to all abilities, all-distances and will have a balanced focus between skills development, triathlon training and athlete education. To confirm a slot, please drop me an email.

Two book recommendations for you: FIASCO is a great read about structured products and investment banking – it fits with my observations from a career inside the financial services industry.

Website Optimization is a good read for anyone that runs a web driven business, or brand. The book made me realize how little I know -- lots of easy ways to improve the reach of my writing. I read the book with pen, paper and a high speed internet connection. I approached the read like a "workbook" taking notes and making changes to my website outline.


I was walking around Edinburgh this week and noticed that it is impossible to see a credit crunch. The buildings don’t know who owns them, or the prices that we place on them. That realization settled me down at the start of a very busy week. The UK faces challenging economic times.

My trip to Scotland confirmed suspicions on the state of my personal NAV. Long time readers may remember that I sold my UK property exposure in 2005/2006 and used a portion of the proceeds to help establish a Scottish residential property developer. While the development business is stable, the market outlook for sector is weak.

I’ve seen a big reduction in the upside component of my personal portfolio and a stack of paper profits went up in smoke. My marked-to-market net worth went down significatly in 2008. No wonder investment banks are looking for a way to avoid reporting the true market value of their illiquid securities. It was a (very) good thing that I am not personally leveraged -- I would be toast if I was a hedge fund.

Interestingly, prime residential rents are way up in Scotland. We have seen a 50% increase in our portfolio yields over the last three years and, I suspect, there are more rental increases to come. The upward yield shift gives comfort to our bankers (in a time when they aren’t hearing a whole lot of good news).

We haven’t seen any evidence of forced selling by developers. This could change if the main lenders take a hard line but, to date, all the key participants seem content to sit-it-out until market conditions improve.

Times like this are potentially volatile because if everyone is doing nothing then there is substantial downside risk if assets (at the margin) are forced through the market. Prices always move at the margin and, in a thin market, the actions of a few can impact the balance sheets of the many.


The Tri Biz
While there isn’t much that I can (or want to) do with my personal balance sheet, I have taken a hard look at my personal profit and loss account.

Over the last three years, my largest single expense category has been “triathlon”. In 2005, I downsized my sources of triathlon revenue to create space for a big increase in my financial consulting business. The net cost of doing that was probably on the order of $100,000. I suspect that is a much smaller cost than many athletes bear when they downsize work commitments to focus on qualifying for World Champs. A single year off as a doctor, investment banker or CEO can cost a multiple of my figure.

I’m fond of saying that the easiest way to increase net income is to reduce personal expenditure. I remind myself of this because the consumption treadmill is a seductive trap, constantly marketed to us through the media.

In my annual review, I look at my expenses (current, projected, core and surplus) as well as my revenues (current, projected, downside, potential). I would encourage you to do the same.

Why? Because we always underestimate the large effect that small changes have over the time lines of our lives.

$33K per annum, for seventeen years, at 4% is $782,000.

By taking action to eliminate my net triathlon cost (today), I can finance my unborn daughter’s college education (tomorrow). Of course, all this is contingent on not spending the money elsewhere, or being miserable with the change. We can take cost control too far.

For me, starting a business helps spending discipline. My accountant tells me that the IRS will "help" further by disallowing losses if we lose money for three consecutive years. As well, I have considered bringing in a financial partner to create social, and profit, pressure. There are a lot of benefits to 100% ownership (see Raising the Bar) but I also benefit from having obligations to people I respect.

My game plan for personal expenditure control:

***Focus on the training camps that I am hosting Tucson (April); Epic France (June); and Boulder (July). Last year, I attended nine training camps and only one made a positive contribution to Gordo Incorporated.

***Consolidate the best of my writings into a single location for you (the reader) to access easily. The best marketing lesson from my triathlon experience is “give away good information for free”. Helping people is fun and creates massive goodwill. I have a stack of content spread between five websites. My content is underutilized and tough to access.

***Place my library within a website where I will be able to combine: (a) my coaching skills; (b) my writing skills; and (c) my enjoyment of helping people learn from athletics.

My financial consulting business has (effectively) total concentration with a single client. I am a big believer in the value of concentration (and the illusion of diversification). However, small things matter over long timeframes… one, or two, additional relationships will make a difference.

The benefit of my business model is it fits with my desire to main freedom of location and schedule. Commitments given to clients limit my freedom of occupation (somewhat), but I love working and there is a fair exchange.

An up-coming letter will discuss (in detail) my current personal portfolio strategy. While my outlook hasn’t changed, my portfolio structure changed (due to those paper profits evaporating).


The Truly Precious
Because time is far more precious than money, I also do a time inventory. I have become provicient at considering my happiness return per hour. Still, it takes constant pruning to maintain a high quality life.

There are clear requirements to a long term focus on elite athletics. These requirements have associated costs that can increase over time.

Financial – outlined above.

Structural – to run well in triathlon, I need to maintain a high level of annual run volume. Having spent most of 2007 walking around my house in fluffy slippers (to comfort bruised feet), I know that the required level of volume is wearing my feet out.

Emotional – I don’t know about you… but I am not a whole lot of fun from three to eleven weeks out from a key competition. I used to get around this by living alone in the spare room of a fellow endurance athlete, or hibernating upstairs at my house in Christchurch. The IronMonk-gig worked for athletic performance but lacked in terms of emotional well-being. I have increasingly found that I can’t be the husband I want be while spending 20 weeks a year on the knife edge of human endurance.

Monica is so completely loyal that she’d back me for another five years of relentless focus. She respects me too much to offer the soft option of backing off to please-the-wife. I didn’t truly understand the brilliance of doing that for your husband until this year. If you are married to somebody like me, it is the best way to ensure peace of mind in your man. I’ve got a couple buddies that have managed the freedom but haven’t (yet) found their peace. Don’t think that I’ve necessarily found any!

Addicts come up with all sorts of ways to justify their actions. Generally, I am only able to fool myself for five to fifteen years at a given vocation. Increasingly, I find better and better things to focus on. Fatherhood represents another opportunity for self-knowledge.

I have been truly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend much of the last decade living as an elite athlete. It has been a tremendous experience and worth all the overtraining, financial costs and other occupational hazards. I rarely regret the past, even my mistakes and “hard times”.

One of the main hazards of objective decision making is caused by a combination of consistency bias, overvaluing what we own and overweighing sunk costs. “I have given up too much to change course” is a common thought pattern that can skew clear judgment. There are also tremendous social pressures that we place on each other to remain consistent in approach. We have an in-built bias against “flip-floppers”. This is a bit odd in a world where most of our key decisions are made against a background of incomplete, and changing, information.

I have always enjoyed “doing what it takes” and, I suspect, that most obsessed folks are excellent at getting the job done. Seeing this trait, could be why Monica likes me to have a project. Too much idle time leaves me short on endorphins.

It’s an interesting time for me. With my sport, increasing costs are reducing my enjoyment from doing what it takes. Frankly, I’d rather be a world class person than a world class athlete. I am fortunate to have been exposed to role models that manage to do both.

Since 2004, I hoped that winning Ironman Canada would give me a fairy tale ending. Just like Monica, Life doesn’t appear to have offered me an easy way out.

Back next week,

Newtons' Laws

"Habit can be the best of servants or the worst of masters”
- Nathaniel Emmons

You may be thinking there is a grammatical error in the title of today’s blog but you would be sorely mistaken. I actually want to pay tribute to two Newtons today.

The first is Arthur Newton (pictured below), ultra runner from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Newton won 5 of the 6 Comrades Marathons in which he competed. He has also been cited as a major influence of folks like Percy Cerutty and Ron Clarke. In short, he knew his stuff. He was also someone who went against the prevailing belief that, World Class endurance athletes were born, not made. At 38 years of age, Newton set out to discover his athletic potential using a similar trial and error approach to that of another 30-something year old named Arthur Lydiard some 30 years later. Interestingly, they came to some strikingly similar conclusions.

In fact, Chuckie V’s recent post on information overload got me thinking about how little useful information we’ve uncovered since Newton penned his 9 laws of running training back in the 30’s (Chuckie, you’d like Newton. In addition to his running exploits, he walked 47,000km in his lifetime!!).

I thought now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the simplicity of what is really ‘required’ for training to be effective by looking at Newton’s 9 Laws of Training (Note: TSS scores, variability indexes and PMC charts don’t make the list :-)

1. Train frequently year round.

“First, practice your event as often as possible, paying less attention to other activities. If you want to be a good athlete, you must train all the year round, no matter what. What is really required is a little exercise constantly; this will benefit you permanently to a far greater degree than single heavy doses at long intervals”

2. Start gradually and train gently

“Second, never practice anywhere near ‘all out’. You ought never get really breathless or to pant uncontrollably. So in running, as in most athletics it is essential to ‘take it kindly’.

My advice is this – train gently and comfortably. Nearly all of us dash into it hoping for and expecting results which are quite unwarranted. Nature is unable to make a really first class job of anything if she is hustled. To enhance our best, we need only, and should only, enhance our average. That is the basis on which we should work for it succeeds every time when the other fails.”

3. Train first for distance (only later for speed)

“If you are going to contest a 26 mile event, you must at least be used to 100 miles a week…. As it is always the pace, never the distance, that kills, so it is the distance, not the speed that must be acquired. In the early days of training, you must endeavour only to manage as great a distance on each practice outing as you can cover without becoming abnormally tired. Your business therefore is to develop your ordinary standard by continuous practice.

Your aim throughout should be to avoid all maximum effort while you work with one purpose only; a definite and sustained rise in the average speed at which you practice, for that is the whole secret of ultimate achievement. This enables you to build up considerable reserves and to add continually to them. You must never, except for short, temporary bursts, practice at racing speed.”

4. Don’t set a daily schedule.

“Don’t set yourself a daily schedule; it is far more sensible to run to a weekly one, because you can’t tell what the temperature, the weather or your own condition will be on any one day”

5. Don’t race when you are in training and run time trials and races longer than 16km only infrequently.

“I decry such things as time trials…I am convinced that they are nothing but a senseless waste of time and energy. They can’t tell you any more than the race itself could.

I am convinced that it doesn’t help in any way at any time to practice sheer speed. Actual racing and running or all out exertion in any form of sport should be confined solely to the competition for which you are training. Your business is to build up, not to break down. You will find the speed is there and doesn’t need practice.

But by all means, enter a race every now and then, but beyond making a good shot of it, leave time trials and anything of that sort very much alone.

Racing, then, should be the only time trials, and should be run only every 2 weeks, preferably 3. 6 weeks between events would be more suitable for a marathon man, once in 2 months is probably better.

Remember to ‘bank’ your racing powers until you seriously require them, and you will then find that the interest is there as well as the capital when you start to draw on the account; there is no safer, saner or surer method of training.”

6. Specialize

“Specialization, nowadays is a necessity. Modern exponents have raised the standards to such a height that nothing but intensive specialization can put a fellow anywhere near the top.

Before the 1914-1918 war, the marathon was considered an event for only the favoured few who had unusual toughness and stamina.

It takes anything from 18mths to 3 years to turn a novice into a first class athlete. You will have to drop the bulk of your present recreations and spend the time in training; anything from 2 to 3 hours a day will have to be set aside. Athletics must be your major engagement for at least 2 years on end, your business or means of making a livelihood being at all times of secondary importance.

To drop anything at any time during that period whether for a holiday or anything else is to throw overboard part of your hard-earned ability: The longer the holiday, the more serious your relapse.”

7. Don’t over-train

“Perhaps one of the chief points is to regulate your training so as to be sure of always being on the safe side: The least trifle of overdose if persisted in will surely lead to trouble of one sort or another….

Go so far every day that the last mile or 2 become almost a desperate effort. So long as you’re fit enough for another dose the following day, you’re not overdoing it. But you must never permit yourself to approach real exhaustion, you must never become badly tired.

A good way to judge whether you are overdoing it is by your appetite. A really fearsome thirst is a definite sign that either the pace or distance has been too much. Not only are you unbearably thirsty, but your appetite has entirely disappeared for many hours after the event. Curiously enough, it is almost always the pace that is to blame.”

8. Train the mind.

“The longest and most strenuous mental and physical exertions all come at the start; get on with it at once and you will soon be through the worst. If you can stick it out for a few months, things will become altogether easier, because, by that time,…your active mind will have handed over to the subconscious a whole series of almost interminable details in the form of habits; and what formerly necessitated a continual effort will then become more or less automatic. Stamina seems to me to be just as much a mental attribute as a physical one.

Make your mind healthy and it will do the rest. If it is not normally healthy, you will never make a decent job of anything. Success depends far more on what use you make of your head than anything else.”

9. Rest before a big race.

“You should cut out all racing of every description during the last month of your training…you will need certainly 3 weeks to put the finishing touches to your stamina and reserves of energy..When you consider what a vast amount of work you have already gone through you will admit that a fortnight or so longer is a relatively trifling matter.

Endeavour to keep your spare time fully occupied with reading, writing or anything that will keep you still-anything to divert your mind from harping on the forthcoming event.”

As valuable and directly applicable as these laws are, the first law of the other Newton is, in my humble opinion, even more applicable to the bulk of age group athletes (myself included):

I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

You may ask, what does this law of physics have to do with making me a better triathlete? Well, as Arthur Newton alludes in his 8th law, Sir Isaac’s (pictured below) first law of motion is not just a law of physics, but also one of human psychology.

After a very familiar discussion with Gordo the other day, on the merits of devoting some of my training time to improving my flexibility and consequent bike position via yoga, I was left asking myself why I had not made a focused effort to do so in the months since the G-man first suggested it. Is it because I don’t believe it is a limiter? No way. Is it because I don’t enjoy yoga? Nope. I actually really get into it once I get going. The only reason that I can come up with is that it is not yet habitual to me in the same way that going for my morning run or ride is.

For those who have had a test done in our Endurance Corner Lab, you’ll be very familiar with the following analogy….

In the EC lab we have a Velotron bike ergometer with a mammoth fly wheel. I think it’s 80 pounds or so. Anyhow, in order to get the flywheel moving, even on a minimal wattage resistance, to overcome that initial inertia takes some serious (sometimes discouraging) effort. However, once the flywheel is up to speed, the first few jumps in intensity are considerably easier than the initial effort of putting the wheel in motion. In a similar way, while getting a new habit established can take some considerable effort, once it is established it is much easier to keep it rolling. Even ‘uping the ante’ is significantly easier than that initial stage of putting the new habit in action.

As Charles C. Noble observed:

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us”

2008 Year In Review, Part One, Athletics

This week's photo was taken while I was competing in the speedo division of Ironman Canada 2008. I am going to write up my race report for the Planet-X website. Additionally, my pals at XTri.Com have published a recent Q&A.

Long time readers will know that I like to spend September reflecting on how things went over the last year. This year, I am a bit ahead of schedule and will share some ideas that I have been considering throughout August.


Why Compete?
It may surprise you to learn that I don't really enjoy the "competing" part of athletic competition. While it is fun to win, how many of us are consistently dominating? Not me. Even when I win (or my clients win), I have concerns that the pleasure that I experience is just my ego being inflated. Humility does not come naturally to me and requires constant vigilance.

For short course racing, John Hellemans says that if you feel like quitting then you are going the correct effort. He is a multiple agegroup world champion and Olympic coach, so I remember his words. For much of this summer, I had that sensation in training -- I noted those feelings and reminded myself that, for Ironman, they were a clear indication that I was on edge and needed to be careful. I counted down my sessions, and the days, until Ironman Canada.

So why compete?

I have been getting slower for my last three years of Ironman racing. Similar to dying... we all know that slowing down is coming but it is a bit of a surprise when it actually arrives!

Why compete? Many valuable experiences are not pleasurable. The main personal benefits that I receive from racing all seem to come with "coping". We are all going to get knocked around a bit in life. Racing gives us a safe environment to train our coping skills. More specifically:

Coping with Public Success and Failure -- IMC 2007 was a public failure of a clearly stated goal. The failure caused me a lot of personal pain. However, trying our absolute best then failing... is liberating once we get past the pain. I am, mostly, free from concern over public performances. When I faced challenges in 2008, I looked inward... how do I want to respond to this decision, not... what will others think of this decision.

Pain results when Expectations (not performance) diverge from Results. Crisis comes from our expectations -- an athlete preferring to quit, rather than face the reality of their performance. Quiting stifles personal growth and, speaking from experience, it is far better to fail than quit. Getting across the finish line creates closure -- a DNF (that doesn't involve an ambulance ride) often remains an open wound.

Learning to cope with success is also challenging. People that like us for no reason aren't much different than people that hate us for no reason. It takes considerable self-esteem to remain ethically centered in the face of consistent positive feedback (social, financial, athletic...).

Dealing with a Lack of Control -- Control and stability are illusions, just ask any 68-minute Ironman swimmer! Racing drives that home to me, again, in a safe environment. Learning to manage our emotions, and decisions, while under extreme duress is a HIGHLY valuable skill that we take back into our daily lives.

Reaching Beyond Ourselves -- I have never made the lead swim pack in an international level triathlon. But... I don't rule it out! Racing provides us with an environment where we can achieve things that we thought were impossible. I've had a couple of disappointing Ironman races but... if I do happen to RIP one in the future... wouldn't it be great. Athletics have consistently shown me that I am capable of much more than I can imagine.

For me, the lessons of competition revolve primarily around self-awareness and self-control. Which leads nicely to...


Race Status, Elite versus Amateur
While I was counting down the days to Ironman Canada, I was also counting down the end of my elite career. There are elements of elite ironman training (high run mileage and risk of immuno-destruction) that don't fit with my personal plan for the next 30 years. On reflection, I also wanted to experience the (hoax) joy of winning without having to cope with the extreme duress and health risks that come from elite level training.

To explain my current thinking, I need to set the stage with a couple of stories...

A -- I have a few good friends that are former military officers. I have always been drawn to "something" that all good officers share -- the calling to be an exemplar. Charlie Munger uses the term with respect to CEOs but it applies to any person in a position of leadership (teachers, parents, coaches...). An exemplar is a leader that consistently holds themselves to a higher standard than their students.

B -- Within my own athletic career, the highlights aren't the times that I won races. The real highlights came when I performed close to the level of a great athlete (Tom Evans, Steve Larsen, Peter Reid). Not so often with Peter and not any more with Tom & Steve... but I hope you get my point... it is extremely motivating to have the opportunity to race alongside athletes that played a role in our entering sport in the first place.

C -- The quickest way to learn that external success is an illusion is to "win". Even then, "victory" is a powerful drug and highly addictive. There are many ways to keep score. In athletics, we use a clock. In other fields, they may count mistresses, dollars, clients, page views, sales transactions... external success can become a trap.

A long introduction to say that I have decided to race elite for another year. Slowing down with style will make me a better man, at a minimum a more humble man!

Racing beside Simon Lessing, and the traveling Aussies, at Boulder Peak 2009 should provide me with a solid stress management opportunity. As well, there are athletes out there that will enjoy taking me down. Why deny them that pleasure? Scott jokes that our Epic Camp clients enjoy taking down "the Ultraman".

Outside of Worlds, I'm not quite slow enough to make it a fair fight in the agegroup ranks (it could get a lot more fair during an up-coming break). In business, I have tried to be willing to sacrifice success to remain true to my values. So, you guys in the 40-44 next year will be safe from me... but I will be benchmarking against you. When you track me, remember that I have a 10 meter draft zone and, likely, had to swim alone, often without a wetsuit!

The Canadian federation makes it a bit challenging for non-resident nationals to receive their elite cards. As a result, I am going to seek a US Elite Card (once my Green Card comes through). To my friends north of the border, know that I love Canada and am a proud Canuck.

Next week, I will publish Part Two. That letter will cover the intersection of Business, Athletics and my Personal Plan. I have things sorted for my 40s but have discovered a few areas that need to be addressed to prepare for my 50s and 60s.

I play a long game.

The Principle of Individuality:

Performance and Malleability of the System or….

Making the most of what you’ve got!

“All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”
- The Pigs (Animal Farm)

This post is part of a series on the practical application of training principles (see sidebar, 'the core principles')

Those of you keeping up with the Olympics will, no doubt, be aware of the dominance of the Chinese, particularly in the Gymnastics events. Whatever your political views, one cannot argue with the results that come from a state sponsored athletics program. While China’s dominance can, in part, also be attributed to their immense population, one need only look at the success of countries in the former Eastern Bloc, such as Romania (the home country of the gymnast pictured above – Ecaterina Szabo) for a striking example of what can occur when a country makes a concerted effort to ‘make the most of what it’s got’. It is ironic that the socialist states have exemplified the art of embracing (and exploiting) individual differences, while, in the name of equality, the Western world is reluctant to admit that we are all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses that suit us better to some tasks than others. This is the crux of talent identification programs and, in a larger sense, the principle of individuality.

This post is not going to have the same limiting tone that most blogs that look at genetic determinism in sports portray. The “if you don’t like your performance, then blame your parents” tagline just isn’t as applicable to ultra-distance athletics as it is to some sporting events (as you will see!). However, there are certain physiological peculiarities that leave some individuals better suited to some sports than others. At the extreme example, there are some functional pre-requisites that must be met if an individual is to be World Class in any sport. Many of these are very trainable. Some are not. The intelligent athlete will ultimately select the sports and events that give him/her a ‘fighting chance’.

So, what are the physiological pre-requisites to becoming a World Class Endurance Athlete?

1. The Engine.

Absolute VO2max:
Heavy weight Rowers: 5.9L/min-6.9L/min (Hagerman, 2000)
Olympic Swimmer: 4.1-5.3L/min (Klentreau and Motpetit, 1991)
Pro Cycling: 4.6-6.4 L/min (Padilla et al. 1999, Coyle et al. 1991)
World Class Marathon: 4.5-5.3L/min (unpublished OTC data)
World Cup Triathlete: 4.8-5.5L/min (Bunc et al. 1996, Pickard, 1995)
Elite Ironman: 4.1-4.8 L/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1996)

According to studies by Bouchard (1988), a reasonable expectation for VO2max improvement with appropriate training is ~15% (range 3-33% improvement, partially in accordance with training status). Therefore, if you’re a male athlete with an untrained VO2max in the ball park of 3.8 L/min, you’re in the Ironman game. To be frank, based on the testing that we have performed, this isn’t all that rare or special.

For those of you who are yet to get into the lab, for the relatively untrained athlete, 3.8L min corresponds with a starting functional threshold power of ~200W. Good but certainly not exceptional.

Within the first year of aerobic training, the average athlete can expect this value to increase his VO2max ~15%-20% to with appropriate aerobic training mixed with higher intensity intervals (Bouchard, 1990; Klissouris, 1971). This equates to 4.0-4.2L/min or an FT of ~240W

2. The Chassis:

Rower: 183-200cm, 79-97kg 8.2-9.6% (AIS Data)
Olympic Swimmer: 174-199cm, 66-99kg, 7.9-12.0% Bodyfat (AIS Data)
Pro Cyclist: 171-196cm, 65-84kg, 5.9-8.7% Bodyfat (Padilla et al 1999, AIS Data)
World Class Marathon: 167-183cm 54-73kg, 4.6%-7.0% Bodyfat (AIS Data)
World Cup Triathlete: 176-181cm, 69-73kg, 6.8-7.6% Bodyfat (O’Toole et al, 1995)
Elite Ironman: 176-180cm, 69-74kg 7.3-11.0% Bodyfat (O’Toole et al, 1995)

For a relatively untrained individual, it is generally considered reasonable to be able to gain 5-9% Lean Muscle Mass (LMM) within 12-18mths of consistent strength training (Gettman et al. 1979, Misner et al. 1974). This equates to ~0.1-0.3kg/wk. So, your chances of achieving the proper morphotype for your chosen pursuit are substantially greater if your starting LMM is within ~6-10kg of your sports optimal weight.

On the flip-side, while potential for fat loss changes with somatotype, even endomorphs have the potential to become relatively lean. This is both the area of greatest upside for most of us and the area that many of us have the most work to do. In this case, reasonable long term fat loss of 0.08 to 0.25%/wk can be expected (4-10% body fat reduction per year in accordance with starting value and somatotype). With the set-point theory in mind, a sporting event within 5-10% of your ‘normal’ body-fat is suggested. In other words, if your current body fat is 20%, aspiring to be the next Olympic Marathon champ may not be ideal. Aspiring to be an elite Ironman on the other hand….

There are a number of other anthropometric variables that are specific ideals for various sports listed below:

Swimming (Macpherson, 1976):
- Large biacromial diameter (>45cm)
- ‘Tall’ sitting height (>0.5x standing height)
- Standing Arms Span > Standing Height
- Large Feet (>0.16x standing height)
Cycling (Coyle, 1991):
- Upper thigh circumference >55cm
- Mid-thigh circumference >52cm
- Calf circumference >36cm

Plugging your absolute VO2 #’s into your new streamlined chassis will give respective relative VO2max values in the ranges of:

Rower: 66-71ml/kg/min (Hagerman, 2000)
Olympic Swimmer: 54-62 ml/kg/min (Klentreau and Montpetit, 1991)
Pro Cyclist: 70-84 ml/kg/min (Padilla et al, 1999)
World Class Marathon: 72-79 ml/kg/min (unpublished OTC data)
World Cup Triathlon: 68-79 ml/kg/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1999,
O’Toole et al. 1996)
Long Course Triathlon: 59-65 ml/kg/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1999
O’Toole, 1996)

While relative VO2max is of limited significance to a weight supported activity such as rowing, or even flat road cycling/TTing, as a triathlete, it is important that the athlete strives for both the maximal absolute oxygen uptake (to optimize bike performance) and the highest possible relative number (for hills and run performance). Again, long course relative values are within the reach of most folks, esp when the impact of body composition is taken into account.

3. The Drive-Train

OBLA/LT: Now we start to get to the important stuff: The oxidative potential of the athlete’s muscle fibers. Or in other words, the ability of the athlete to pull Oxygen from the circulating blood and convert it to energy. According to the research, this adaptation is much more malleable over the long term. While it may be, to some extent, limited by ST fiber composition, in general, the studies back up the old adage that “miles make champions”. For example, Coyle (1988, 1991) found that athletes with 5-10 years of endurance training had significantly higher LT’s (as a % of VO2max) than athletes with a younger ‘training age’: 66% of VO2max for athletes with a mean of 2 years endurance training, 75% for athletes with a mean of 5 years of endurance training and 79% for athletes with a mean training age of 9 years.

For our hypothetical aspiring champion, coming into his second year of training with an FT of 240W, if he falls in line with the mean rate of improvement from Coyle’s studies, his FT values would progress as follows:

Year 1: 240W
Year 3: 265W
Year 5: 285W
Year 7: 293W
Year 9: 300W

4. The Wheels:

Mechanical Efficiency:

However, in addition to the improved physiological efficiency, there are also long term improvements in biomechanical efficiency taking place that can need to be factored into the equation. Improvements of ~4-6 Watts per liter of O2 consumed have been witnessed for cycling (Coyle, 1988,1991). For the Ironman athlete, this can mean a difference of 15-20 Watts for the same energy expenditure. Similarly, elite runners typically exhibit much higher efficiency, than novice runners, and to a lesser extent, triathletes. In fact, with years of running training, athletes can expect to run 5-7% faster for the same energy expenditure by sheer virtue of improved biomechanical efficiency: 15-20s/mile at typical race paces!! (Margaria et al. 1963). Again, providing you have a ticket to the dance (in the case of Ironman, they’re pretty easy to come by)….. miles make champions.

In a cycling sense, for our “champ in the making”, this brings the progression more in line with the following:
Year 1: 240W
Year 3: 270W
Year 5: 293W
Year 7: 307W
Year 9: 320W

5. The 'Back-Up' Battery
Substrate Efficiency: Finally, we come to the big one. While not directly related to LT or FT, it is the prime determinant of your ability to use your aerobic efficiency over long course racing duration.

For example, 2 athletes with a Functional Threshold Power of ~320W, one burns 5kcal/min of fat. The other burns 2kcal/min from fat. The extra 3kcal/min of Carbohydrate that the athlete must use to supplement for their poor fat burning results in athlete A (Mr inefficiency) racing an Ironman at 68% of his functional threshold power (218W), while athlete B is able to race at 80% of his functional threshold power (256W). In terms of “bang for your buck”, this 40 watts is a whole lot easier to come by than the 5 years that it takes to achieve a similar improvement from aerobic training. While all successful Ironman athletes require relatively high aerobic numbers (LT/FTP), not all athletes with high aerobic numbers will be successful Ironman athletes. Substrate oxidation plays a large part in explaining this.

The good news is that, all in all, substrate oxidation is very malleable, esp with diet.
Ravussin et al (1985) observed a change in subjects resting RQ by .05 within a 16 week period by manipulating protein/CHO content of the subjects’ diets. This represents a change in fat oxidation of ~17%. The extent to which this carries over to exercise performance is largely a function of the subjects’ aerobic fitness (Goedecke et al. 2000). Again, aerobic fitness is a necessary ingredient to achieving your potential as a long course athlete, however, alone, it is not enough.


Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the principle of individuality is that, while we are all born with different handicaps and advantages within the athletic arena, we are also born with widely varying ‘trainability’. Even the most genetically deterministic sports science researchers such as Claude Bouchard are ultimately forced to conclude that attempting to predict the extent that an athlete will adapt to training is futile. Some athletes will improve VO2max by 1.0L or more with 20 weeks of aerobic training, while others will struggle to improve by 0.1L. This can only be partly attributed to the athlete’s starting level. In real world terms, while I have provided an example of the average rate of progression observed in a number of studies as a 9 year process, the reality is, that, while the majority of us will fall under the ‘meat of the curve’, based on the genetic studies to date, some folks can expect to go from untrained to World Class in 3 years, while at the rate that others are progressing (with equal training load) they will simply run out of time. While there may be some clues that we can use (and heed) along the way, when it comes down to it, there is only one way to completely answer the question “How good can I be” – Get out there!

Real World Bike Speed

This week, I'm going to talk a bit about the evolution of my approach to the bike leg in triathlon. I have gone DEEP into the archives for your reading enjoyment!


But first, two multimedia links for you.

Laura Bennett Olympic Video -- great if you have kids that are wondering what it might take to get themselves into the Olympics! The video is about 24 minutes long -- so let it buffer.

Chris McDonald Podcast -- The Big Unit updates on his year since winning IM Louisville last August. Great info on racing Challenge Roth as well as life at the sharp end. More Chris can be found at his blog.


You can waste a ton of energy thinking about your bike position -- each year, I try a few changes in January/February then tinker through the year based on optimizing COMFORT, not power.

Short course athletes might think that comfort doesn't matter. However, if it takes you a few miles to loosen up then your race is OVER before you get into your run groove.

For Ironman, if your back locks up on the bike then you give away tons of "aero". 112 miles of riding is a heck of a long way to endure a tight position.

So, remember what really matters to triathlon performance:

  1. Consistency -- consistent training over many years
  2. Nutrition -- high quality fuel for optimal recovery, body composition and performance
  3. Aerobic Stamina -- maximizing aerobic economy and endurance at your optimal race effort
  4. Pacing -- back-end loaded race effort to optimize speed across each leg and increase the probability of outstanding run performance

Bike position has NOTHING to do with how your bike looks racked in transition. Your bike position is about how you perform on your bike as well as how you run off your bike.

Your true bike position is what you are holding when tired, not fresh.


Let's get into a few photos to kick off.

You might recognize the guy above. Craig Walton is one of the most respected, and fastest, non-drafting athletes in the World. I throw this up to remind myself that my nose doesn't need to touch my stem.

OK, now for a bit of raw reality with some of the positions that I've used over the years. Below is a shot from my first bike fit with John Cobb, April 2002.

The position looks great on the trainer. Trouble is... how the heck do I see where I am going? Look at my vision. Straight down. So I would have to crane my neck upwards even to see a few meters up the road. Not great for long distance triathlon.

As an interesting aside... I look fit in that photo but I am totally smoked and only a few weeks away from my first bout of serious overtraining. If I knew then what I know now...

Below are my next two bikes -- the position I rode in 2004 as well as what I changed to in 2005. The reason I changed in 2005 was I wanted to get my saddle more forward. I will come to the "why" in a little bit.

As you can see above, different frame but, in reality, same position. Two important aspects to note about the picture on the left:

1 - look at the angle of my arms, they are pointing down. You see this a lot at the races. My front end is too low for my flexibility. As a result, my low back is constantly firing and my back will tighten as my ride progresses. Eventually, I'll have my wrists on my aerobar pads and form a big wind scoop with my body. My bike, however, looked excellent racked in transition!

2 -- I corrected this point in the picture on the right. I'm able to relax my back in the position. An important point... a higher front end can result in a lower, more relaxed, back. This is very important to remember for all distances.

The positions above worked out well for me -- they weren't all that aero but they were, on balance, comfortable enough for me to run very well (3 hours flat on the day photographed below).

In 2003/2004/2005, I had three podium finishes at Ironman events and managed one of the fastest times ever at Ironman Canada 2004 (8:29). However, those races were done with a 7 meter draft zone.

Bump the draft zone out to 10 meters and my position becomes more relevant. Why? Try sitting fourth wheel at 40 km.h with 5 meter gaps between bikes. You will very quickly see that 7 meters Ironman (front to front) is quasi-draft legal once you can hold 40 km.h. To race well in the agegroup ranks you must learn how to use your competition both effectively and ethically.

Recognizing this fact, I have been working on getting more slippery. With four months until my 40th birthday, there is limited upside with my horsepower. My current position is photographed below.

Things that I want you to notice:

Wheels -- 1080 front, sub-9 disc rear -- this is an insanely fast wheel combo. If you are going to run the 1080 then you must practice in training. If I had to choose my single greatest source of speed then the wheel set wins. I used to be highly skeptical about the impact of wheels until I put these on my bike.

Vision -- I can see up the road without straining my neck. I can't see far... but I can see far enough.

Helmet -- Giro Advantage Two -- if you are a heavy sweater, racing in hot weather, or suffer from dehydration on the run... then GO VENTS. If you are racing in the cold then an aerohelmet is the most efficient way to keep your core temperature up. Keep the tail down against your back (my IMNZ race photo shows a big gap, that is a no-no).

Seat Height -- at the high end of acceptable, seems to work for me.

Cleanliness -- no bottles catching the air coming down my back. My spares are in a bike bottle in my seat tube bottle cage. Fluids are via aerobar mount and down tube bottles -- can be accessed with minimal body movement. I wear a skinsuit, so there is no flapping clothing.

Arm position -- Going narrow as sped me up (see differences in photos below). The ONLY way that I can hold a narrow position is to pull my elbows backwards towards my hips. I run a very shot stem.

One more photo so you can see nose of saddle relative to BB (below). When TTing at high power (>FTP), I slide forward to the nose of the saddle. This saddle position is a compromise, I have found that I lose too much climbing power/comfort if the saddle goes any more forward. With the PX frame geometry, I am at the limit of how far forward I can go.

While it might be tempting to slam even more forward... remember that you need a place to put your head and you don't want to create chronic neck pain. Your TT position needs to be comfortable, otherwise you'll never train in it!

A couple of final points to consider:

Wind Tunnels -- I spent several thousand dollars with wind tunnel testing a few years ago. Frankly, it gave me the wrong answer. I recommend field testing, ideally race performance data.

Ride Strategy -- How you use your position is as important as the position itself. I am looking for a position that enables me to relax in the fast parts of the course and be comfortably powerful in the slow parts of the course.

I have power variability in my rides because I rest at high speed. I avoid power spikes as they impair my run for very little time gain. I will, however, lift my power in the slow part of the course. I am constantly considering effort versus air speed when TTing.

The bike is the only part of a triathlon where you can coast with very little time penalty. The run provides ample opportunity to lay it down, as well as, the greatest time penalty for cracking.


What to Optimize?
Triathlon cycling has little to do with elite road TTing or the 4K pursuit. While we can learn from elite cyclists, we need to remember that our event has different physiological requirements.

Here is my ride logic:

#1 -- what is my best case scenario for power output and average speed across the race distance, ignoring the run?

#2 -- what is the fastest position that I can hold at 95% of best case power?

#3 -- open with (at least) the first fifth of the ride at 90% of best case power. Lower heart rate into my target zone and establish hydration, nutrition and comfort.

#4 -- if I am feeling good then gradually shift upwards to 95% of best case power and hold as RPE increases across the ride duration.

#5 -- invest my greatest effort into the slowest parts of the course. Remember that (nearly) every meter of the run will be slower than the bike.

#6 -- until I run well, keep lowering my target bike effort.


What is it Worth?
The changes that I outline above have removed 30 watts (~11%) from the power required for me to average 40 km.h here in Boulder. I suspect the key three changes are: improved wheels; smaller wind scoop; and smarter application of power. I have field tested with aerobic TTs from 20 minutes to 2 hours.

The two things left for me to consider are my fork/front wheel combo as well as my wrist height (guys like Levi seem to lift arm angle to close off the wind scoop entrance, Fabian less so).

With a bit of luck, I may be able to pull a couple more watts out.


Valuing People

Value Their Opinions // Avoid Ideological Malice // Be Willing To Serve

I took the picture above on a recent visit with my mom at her home where I was raised in Carpinteria, California. The picture of the sunset is about 400 meters from her house and takes place about 300 times a year. I surfed this beach on a near daily basis and visits here are a strong link to some happy years. My mom is a wise woman whom I dearly love. She and my dad taught me to value people. I use the time at this beach for reflection and a primal connection with the ocean.

It is a goal of mine to continue to learn from my family, patients, clients and mentors (including those who don't know they mentor me). I first started using the internet in 1999. I recall having had a tendency to make readers defensive. I noticed that when sharing what I thought was a reasonable message some folks were reacting less than favorably.

About the same time something else was brought to my attention by a guy with whom I shared space in a Health Center that housed my chiropractic practice. He was an acupuncturist and practiced eastern medicine. A big white dude, he was also beyond Black Belt in martial arts (striped or polka dotted // something ridiculous).

After months of working along side one another we were talking face to face and he made reference to my 'challenging' stance. Subconsciously I was somewhat rigid and attempting to be my tallest self. He asked me why I had an attitude. I looked at him as he stood with knees slightly bent, hands loosely clasped behind his back, feet close together, one slightly in front of the other, eyes smiling. He was polite; but I still heard his message: “why are you posturing”.

I have thought a lot about that day and have examined other areas of my life to see where some posturing might decrease my ability to communicate. As a teacher and a doctor it has been my experience that if I want my opinion to be considered and well received; if I want to widen my reach and strengthen my message, I need to let others know that I am also listening. One step in the direction is letting go of the need to be continually right by assessing my own attitudes. In 1999 my attitudes were betraying my emotions and insecurities. No matter how I tried to disguise them, they leaked out with the openness of an anatomical chart. As I started searching for reasons for the friction I created I started finding things about myself I was not aware of; some of it I wanted to change. The good news; I can change my attitudes and behavior.

As well, if I am motivated to learn it is helpful for me to remain open minded; present my case and then listen to others who are willing to offer reviews, opinion and personal experience. I am more careful to avoid inflammatory statements than I was back in 1999 but still catch myself reacting instead of thinking. When I am conscious of wanting to communicate rather than be 'right' I use words like ‘often’ or ‘many’ or ‘some’ because there will always be a reader that notes an exception to my thoughts. When I render an opinion I try to leave room for dissent. Phrases like “with a reasonable degree of medical certainty” accomplish this and allow a well researched position to stand on its own when others see things differently. The result, hopefully, is that I am less defensive with regard to my own comments and more open to ideas that might strengthen my knowledge base; learning from others that may choose to help.

Making others feel valued means listening, letting folks express their opinion before rushing in to give an answer. It isn’t my job to fix people. That attitude may result in a reaction motivated by what I think over what is true. Considering role reversal, when I have something to say to another, it might just be enough that they hear what’s on my mind or in my heart.

When my daughters were infants it sometimes took a great deal of attention to understand what they wanted from me. Others times I could smell what they wanted; clean diapers. As they became old enough to make choices as children I had to change my tactics. Respecting them meant trusting them instead of assuming they would do a task wrong. As adults, we are quite similar. Valuing others is a way to help ensure they will do a task well.

I recently read that one of the best ways to show respect is to simply listen. “We offer our presence and open our ears, listening to the hidden hurts and heartaches, the deepest dreams and desires of one another.”

Dr. Kevin Purcell D.C.

Coach KP specializes in guiding long course triathletes. In the last five years, he has coached over 15 athletes to qualifying spots in Kona (including FPRO 2x). That list includes five international Ironman Age Group Champions and an AG podium at IM Hawaii.

Lessons from the Meatheads

After last week’s blog, that emphasized the magnitude of the time commitment necessary to reach the top of a sport like triathlon, I thought that it might be a good time to throw out a reminder that, while in the long term, all athletes who are successful in the triathlon world will wind up doing a lot of miles, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the goal of those miles is to make us more fit, not simply more tired. In a volume focused sport like triathlon, it is very easy to lose sight of this simple fact.

One of the things that distinguishes triathlon from other sports is the uncontrolled nature of the environment in which it takes place. This is both a positive and a negative. Being able to experience all kinds of environment; lakes, mountains, beaches, forests, in the context of a sport is one of the most enjoyable aspects of triathlon. In fact, one may argue that it is the aspect of triathlon that makes the immense volume that I alluded to last week tolerable. However, for the athlete who is not coming from a competitive sporting background, it can be very easy to confuse this ‘touring the countryside’ with athletic training. My buddy JD wrote a blog about this distinction a while back and it is a principle that I keep coming back to with my own training and with the athletes that I work with.

It is important as an athlete to remember that the only way that you are going to witness an improvement in your average race speeds is with a concomitant increase in your average training speeds.

This principle is something that is very easy to enact and monitor on a daily basis in a sport in which the environment is controlled: The lap pool of swimming, the track for running or, the velodrome for cycling. Perhaps the extreme example of control in a sport occurs in the training environment of our cousins on the other side of the force-velocity pond – the strength and power athletes.

We can learn a lot from the years and years of logbook entries from athletes in whom the training environment and protocol is absolutely and completely controlled. After all, the only way that we can make conclusions on the effectiveness of any training manipulation is if we completely control all of the extraneous variables. How often as triathletes will we:

a) Increase our training miles while not paying attention to a drop in training speed
b) Add speedwork to our weekly running plan and notice a drop in energy/speed for our other aerobic runs.
c) Add a myriad of swimming drills to our program without ever assessing if we are able to improve our stroke length while maintaining our stroke rate, or are our drills just making us look more ‘pretty’.

Yes, as much as we make fun of the ‘meatheads’ in the gym, in the grand scheme of things, these folks are training much more intelligently and systematically than most triathletes (or triathlon coaches) could ever dream of.

I mean, do you ever hear the following conversation take place in the weight room:
Gymrat 1: So, what’s on the schedule today?
Gymrat 2: Oh, I’m just going to bust out an easy 500 reps.
Gymrat 1: What weight?
Gymrat 2: Oh, I don’t care. Today’s just a long easy day.

Quality is ALWAYS part of the equation.

This is not to say that every session is hard. Those of you familiar with weight training, will know that the bulk of training typically takes place at 70-80% of 1 RM, only a moderate load. However, the load is always fixed.

On the flipside, I will often hear athletes say, “I don’t get it coach. I’ve been doing the same amount of training as Johnny over there. I’ve been running my 40 miles a week, the same as him but he’s running 3:30 off the bike. What gives?” Of course, the element that the athlete is missing is that Johnny is running his 40 miles at sub 7:30 pace, while my disillusioned buddy has to slow down to 8:30 pace to accommodate the same mileage.

In fact, the years and years of trial and error experimentation in a controlled setting has yielded a number of training principles on the response of the human body that carry across well to endurance training.

One of the foremost authorities in distilling and applying these principles in the world of strength and conditioning is the strength training guru, Charles Poliquin:

Here are a couple of Poliquin’s principles that you may find particularly applicable to you as an endurance athlete:

1. The ‘critical drop-off point’

The basic premise of the critical drop off point is that a coach should never increase the quantity of a given stimulus at the expense of quality. It is pointless to do sets in which the resistance is lowered so much that (a) sufficient tension is not put on the muscle to elicit performance gains, i.e, the load is below the training threshold (b) the targeted muscle fibers are no longer being recruited/trained. These additional “garbage sets (miles)” would impede recovery by putting excessive strain on the nervous system, energy stores and neuro-endocrine response. The cumulative effect could be overtraining.

In practical terms, when pace or power is diminished by 5-7% from the goal, shut it down. This ties in well with Friel’s comments on decoupling, Coggan’s perspectives on the number of reps to perform during interval training and (kicking it old school ) with Lydiards comments that if an athlete cannot return at the pace in which he went out that the distance is too great.

2. To prevent overtraining cut back first on volume rather than intensity.

The body is very well equipped to not overtrain by intensity – it will simply decrease the neural drive and not allow the body to undertake a load that is too heavy for its current reserves. It is not well equipped to deal with excessive volume. Therefore, when tired, it is better to decrease the volume until the athlete is able to equal or better his/her usual training load. This can be a hard thing for the addicted triathlete to do and provides good impetus to be proactive in recovery.

3. Vary load by only 10-12% within a given training session.

A typical scenario for the AG athlete: Jimmy goes out for a steady 6hr endurance ride @ 170-190 W. He’s not feeling great in the early stages so he decides to prolong his warm up and rides for 90 minutes at an AP of 155W. All of a sudden he meets up with his buddy, Fred who has an FTP about 20W higher than Jimmy and decides he could do with some company. He gets on Fred’s wheel and has to hold 200+W just to stay there. Fred makes a turn for the hills and Jimmy hangs on for dear life, ultimately doing 5x2 minute climbs at a little over his FTP of 240W with 5 min recovery between climbs.

All told, a session that had a desired range (after warm up) of 20W, winds up with a range of almost 100W! The problem with this is that there is not enough stimulus at any one training intensity to elicit a training effect. But, there is sufficient overall training stress to fatigue the athlete. Bottom line, know the purpose of the session and stick to that intensity band.

I really could go on all day about the lessons that we can learn from strength coaches and athletes but I have a 2hr aerobic ride at 170-190 Watts with my heart rate under 150bpm to do. :-) 

Train for fun & IMPROVEMENT.


Being Positive

Chris asked:

"Can you expand on your practice of relentless positivity and how you apply it to training, racing, everyday life- and those occasional down periods most of us must deal with."

Happy to share ideas.

The first step for me with any topic/challenge is awareness. Without awareness of our patterns, biases and habits, we tend to roll through life on autopilot. So, I want to create awareness of my current programming as well as the triggers that can toss me into an unconscious reaction.

It has been close to a decade since I undertook the program outlined in The Artist's Way. The program appears really hokey at the start but has a tremendous amount of value. I don't really know how, or why, the program worked for me but it enabled me to gain clarity on my values and biases.

In the case of personal attitude -- awareness would likely concern how/when we speak/write/think of ourselves in a negative attitude. Awareness would also include how we speak/write/think of others in a negative attitude -- in my experience, the more needy our ego, the greater the desire to speak poorly of others.

We too often accept vocal negativity from 'popular' people because of their station in society. If we want to be positive about ourselves, we need to be positive about everything. Remember that fit, beautiful, popular, rich and successful -- none of these imply "positive".

Peer group is an easy way to improve attitude (or screw it up). Positive people want to be associated with others that reinforce their attitude. In building quiet self-confidence, you will make yourself much more attractive to the sorts of people that you want in your life.

If you note the sorts of people that attract you, then you can quickly learn about your true value system. Over time, your peer group will modify your value system. Choose wisely!

Learning Positivity -- A good technique to start the ball rolling is to carry a small notebook around and record 'good things' as they happen to you (at least one per day). Our brains seem to do a lot better at finding faults then seeing good events. The notebook helps reprogram us by noticing something good; then writing it down and making it more concrete. No need to write down your judgments/negativity and don't worry if you find that there is a steady internal conversation that is less than ideal (its perfectly normal).

Another technique that I use is reminding myself that every person/situation has something to teach me -- even if it is patience, or anger management. So the internal dialog goes, "this situation seems to be stressing me, but I am learning how to cope and manage myself. So, actually, it is pretty useful for me."

Getting a momentary pause into my head to consider the situation is magic. By maintaining my self-awareness, I can often direct the outcome. My (slower) conscious reactions are nearly always superior.

NOTE -- this is why I avoid repling to an email/post/friend when irritated. I give myself 24-hours to mull things over -- the quality of the reply is always better. If I am really wound up then I write a reply (in Word, so I can't accidentally send) and review in the morning. I have never had to send the reply to feel better. Breaking the cycle of attacks is a noble calling!

Interestingly, I have also found that nearly everything in my life will work itself out in a few days WITHOUT my involvement. I suspect that we all greatly overestimate our importance to the world. This is also good to remember because we tend to be so self-absorbed that we fail to notice much of what's happening around us. Very good news as it means that most of my mistakes go unnoticed.

So we have a continuous, and circular process of:

  • Create awareness;
  • Consider (then adjust) peer group; and
  • Seek to reprogram self.

We can most easily adjust our patterns through control of our writing. Diaries/Blogs are very powerful tools that we can employ. Know that public expression exposes us to the slings and arrows of the insecure -- nothing demonstrates our collective insecurity quite like an internet forum that enables anonymous posting. Participation in such a community strengthens its power over us and brings its dysfunction into our peer group.

Once you feel that you have a handle on your writing then speaking/teaching is a very powerful method of reinforcement. Beware of our tendency to insert little self-depreciating 'asides' -- these are not alright. We don't need to pull ourselves down to be attractive to others. Humility doesn't require self-abuse.

The Dinner Party Game -- I've spent over an hour saying something positive about each successive person that was being cut-down at a dinner party. It is a fun game, but fatiguing. I passed on my next invite to that house (peer group).

Teaching -- when I had a public internet forum (that enabled anonymous posting), it provided me with a great platform to clarify and establish my thoughts on a wide range of topics. It also provided me with a daily opportunity to reinforce the views/qualities that I wanted to build into myself. However, be aware that consistency bias is a powerful force that must be battled to retain an open mind.

Feedback -- having a trusted adviser share areas for improvement can be really beneficial but remember that we each have a limit for the amount of "tough love" that we can handle. Quite often, you are best served by advisers with whom you have no emotional attachment. A coach exists to take the blame and (once trust is established) point out items that others would avoid. The client is normally quite adept at taking the credit for progress.

There is always a subtle background desire for reprisal when I receive a direct, and accurate, assessment of my weaknesses. As a result, I ask Monica for feedback when I can handle it and NEVER before bed. I never ask an adviser for feedback when I know that I am unable, or unwilling, to try their advice.


Coping with down periods. These are the key things that I use to try to perk myself up:

Wake-up time -- if I can get myself out of bed on time... this seems to help. Sleep pattern is HUGE for me.

Light -- I turn on every light day/night when I am awake. Bright light seems to help. In winter, I recommend walking outside during the brightest time of the day.

Sleep -- going to bed early (but not too early!) seems to help. I try to avoid napping more than 15 minutes because that normally means I don't sleep as easily at night. When I was working long hours in Hong Kong, weekend naps were really helpful. Back then, I was so tired that falling asleep was never an issue.

Music -- my iPod is a valuable tool to perk me up when I'm feeling a bit flat.

Intensity -- sustained high intensity is a bad idea (for me) when feeling flat. However, alactic training can perk me up. Alactic training is short (5-20 second) bursts of high intensity training.

Strength Training -- I find that lifting weights helps cheer me up.

Nutrition -- refined carbs are the bane of the mood swinging athlete. If I am going to take comfort in food then I aim for protein and good fats. When I am depressed my brain chemistry is screwed up enough without deviation from my normal (high quality) diet.

Peer Group -- I am very lucky that my wife, and buddies, like me despite my flaws. Hanging around with them when I am flat is beneficial (even if Monica has to drag me out of the house).

Movement -- one hour per day, every day, non-negotiable -- walking counts!

The final thing is a reality check. No matter how depressed I get, I can remind myself of the following:

  • I have felt this bad before;
  • I will feel better eventually; and
  • Only I can take responsibility for my recovery.

The three points above, help me persist with my emotional rehab exercises (outlined above). Once I come out of my funk (not during), I sit down and figure out what triggered it. Key triggers:

  • Sleep disruption
  • Long haul air travel
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in exercise habits
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive training intensity
  • Excessive use of altitude
  • Illness
  • Injury

Looking at the list above, the two weeks surrounding an A-priority event have a lot of these triggers.

Also beware of anything that can change your brain chemistry -- prescription drugs, alcohol, recreational drugs. As well as major forms of life stress: moving, change of job, divorce, death of a close family member, etc...

When done with a wellness-focus, the athletic lifestyle provides me with the greatest probability of emotional stability. Far better than the false gods of alcohol, sex, work, money, and personal superiority.

It is ironic that endurance athletics is most effectively used as a coping mechanism absent of the protocols that are designed to maximize performance.

Over the long term... the desire to succeed is most effective as a mental trick to get myself out of bed in the morning.

The best lesson that I was taught this year was never mess with another person's motivation. That is a tough thing to do as I battle with the desire to "be right". I want to do a better job at respecting what gets other people out of bed in the morning.


The Grey Zone

“While there is a place for the 8 hour-a-week swimmer, the job of the coach is to sell the dream to the athletes doing 10-12 hrs a week and persuade them to commit to the 18-24 hrs a week they need to become successful, competitive athletes”
- Bill Sweetenham

This blog is a bit of a counterpoint to the G-man’s recent blog on ‘adding it up’.

Most athletes are familiar with the concept of the ‘grey zone’, that intensity band that is too hard to be able to back up day to day but to easy to elicit any of the physiological benefits that come with high intensity training. It is my suggestion, based on the experiences that I have had as a coach that a similar zone exists in relation to weekly volume. This point is alluded to by former Aussie National Swim Coach, Sweetenham in the above quote.

This whole concept is related to the larger issue of being clear on your motivation for being a triathlete.

You can achieve optimal health (perhaps more optimal than your high volume counterparts) with good nutrition and an hour of training a day. You can get yourself in sufficient shape to enjoy the experience & camaraderie that comes with participating in recreational short-course triathlons and, with a short period of long distance training, increasing your volume to 12-15hrs/wk you can even get to the point of completing an Ironman triathlon.

On the flipside, you can experience that thing that few of us ever will, the joy of winning – be it winning your age group at a local race, qualifying for Kona or even getting your pro-card and mixing it up with the big boys by simply doing what others won’t, i.e. training 20 hrs per week, 3hrs a day today, tomorrow and the next.

Or…….., you can do what the majority of the field does and live in ‘the grey zone’, where you have the negative feelings that come with feeling like life is just a perpetual transition from one set of workout clothes to a business suit and back, without the accompanying positive feelings that come with the joy of the ‘pay off’ for all of your hard efforts. Or, as Sweetenham puts it

"This amount of swimming is too much training to be fun but not enough to produce a competitive result. The swimmers in this middle ground never feel good, and in time they become frustrated. We call this the competitive swimming twilight zone."

In order to ensure that the sport satisfies its’ desired role in your life, it is important that you get clear on what that role is. Or, put another way, are you a ‘completer’ or a ‘competer’

Note: I make no judgement that one role is more worthy than the other. However, I do get a little ticked off when an athlete doing the work of a ‘completer’ adopts the expectations of a ‘competer’ (Regardless of the commitment that a 12-15hr week may ‘feel like’ in the context of the rest of the athlete's life).

Speaking from experience, like the island prison of Alcatraz, the grey zone is a fine place to visit but not a place you want to live:

I, like many of my clients, are making a brief stopover there at the moment, but we are not under the illusion that our 12-15hrs of training a week will get us anywhere close to our potential. Sure, we may complete an Ironman or 2 along the way, but for us, it is simply a means to an end, a stop-over on the road to reaching our maximal tolerable training load and consequent potential. Sweetenham calls this point “breakpoint volume”. While, I’m not sure that I totally dig the connotations that come with reaching your ‘breakpoint’ (actually, if I’m to be honest with myself, I do dig it a lot! :-). It does bring home the truth in TS Elliot’s timeless quote – “only those who risk going too far can truly know how far one can go”.

What will 15hrs a week 'get' you? 95% of your potential? Nope. 90% of your potential? Probably not (I mean we're probably talking 30mi of running a week, if you were a marathoner how close to your potential would you expect 30mi a week to get you?) In the end, 15hrs a week of training will get you one step closer to discovering your breakpoint volume. That's it. For some of us, that's enough.

While I’m in a ‘quote happy’ mood, here is another than is particularly relevant to this piece:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, for they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt

Add It Up

Our photo this week is Team Bennett (Greg & Laura).

As I type this, Laura is heading to Beijing in order to represent the US in the Olympics (pretty cool). I have been fortunate to get to know the Bennetts over the last little while.

When I compare Laura to myself, what stands out is her true attitude. By "true attitude" I mean the way she is. She is not working on having a positive attitude -- she "is" positive in a very peaceful sense.

Over the last eight years, I have made a consistent, conscious effort to reprogram a habit of relentless positivity. I also work on seeking to view situations from the opposite perspective. My attitude is a habit, Laura's attitude is a trait. Give me another 20 years and I might get there!

When I was working with Dave Scott in 2004, I was amazed at his grasp of the competitive dynamic of Ironman racing. Dave's toughness and physical skills are legendary but, I think, what really gave him an edge was understanding the competitive dynamic of a race and knowing how to "win".

The only person that I've met with a similar level understanding of mixing terrain, skills and tactics is Greg Bennett (the other "GB"). Seeing as I am an older, long course guy... (i.e. no threat!) ...Greg speaks freely around me. Like listening to Molina, I kick back and soak up the knowledge. Every single time I sit down with Greg, I learn something new. What's unique to Greg is his capacity to create, then execute, a winning strategy. There are a lot of strategic coaches out there but they rarely have the physical goods to deliver their own plans. He's formulating, visualizing, then executing his own victories.

With a bit of luck, we will be able to schedule the Bennetts as part of our evening speakers series at our Boulder Camp next July.


Toby (from Art of Tri) has offered a 20% discount to all gBlog readers. What you do is enter the discount code at check-out. The code is GORDO-99 and the website is HERE. Monica and I like the hoodies.

One of Art of Tri's taglines is "One Passion...Endless Training". That can mean a lot of different things. Five years ago, I might have interpreted that as making sure that I met my daily target of Five-A-Day.

Five hours of training, rather than five servings of fruits and veggies!

More and more, "Endless Training" is about maximizing my athletic enjoyment across a lifetime. Taking care of my body and making sure that I'm still able to do interesting things into my 60s and 70s.

The first time I rode up the Tourmalet (pictured below), there were two guys well into their 60s (perhaps 70s) grinding their way towards the summit. Totally soaked in sweat -- suffering in silence. Frankly, they looked a lot like Montgomery, Newsom and me -- just older!

I want to be those guys. I want to be on the Tourmalet in 2030 (hopefully with Molina.

Endless Training.


Add It Up
Most of the discussion about endurance sports is prescriptive in nature. Athletes create goals and ask friends/experts/coaches to comment on what-it-takes. Coaches opine about optimal protocols required for "success". Success being defined in terms of beating all-comers, personal bests or qualifying for World Champs.

Rarely do we invert the question.

Instead of stating "What it takes", I start by asking my clients "What have you got?"

In order to figure that out you need to Add It Up and I like a time inventory/log to get a hold on that. Consider in a week, time spent...

Personal Admin
House Maintenance

Don't waste time scheduling your perfect week -- rather, observe, and log, what you are really doing. You will learn a lot.

There are no sacrifices required for success, merely choices. Most people will resist the above exercise because they don't want to be faced with the information that would result.

One of the choices I make is to sub-contract as many non-core items as possible. Paradoxically, I also retain a number of items that might appear to be low value added:

***Cooking red meat
***Trash, recycling and pet poop
***(Moderately) heavy lifting -- I need assistance for the truly heavy
***Rose garden watering

I could probably sub-contract these items but I find them relaxing and happen to be very good with pet poop.

My point is we can only "create time" by reducing our commitments. In my podcast with Chris McDonald, his advice to the aspiring athlete was "sell everything". Extreme simplicity is another way to reduce commitments -- if you don't have a house, car, consulting practice, spouse, job, garden, pet... then there is nothing to spend time on. Remember that elimination of many of these items will have a negative impact on our ability to have a life with meaning.

OK... once you've added-it-up. Reflect on the following levels of endurance commitment...

Nine hours of training per week -- at this level, you will be able to achieve personal health and enjoy the wellbeing that comes from endorphin release. Remember that the greatest benefit you receive from an active lifestyle comes from the first hour in your daily routine. At this level, you are unlikely to maximize your potential as an "athlete" and a lot of people are curious about how far they can go.

Fifteen hours of training per week -- at this level of long term commitment, you have a very good shot at achieving the bulk of your athletic potential. I think that it represents an achievable target for an athlete that wants to make endurance sport a fundamental aspect of their life.

Now the kicker... endurance sport attracts a lot of extreme people, such as myself. After a taste of early success... we convince ourselves that "achieving the bulk of our personal potential" is selling ourselves short. So we target...

Twenty-One hours of training per week -- if you want to squeeze the last few percentages (and we are talking small percentages) from your performance then you're looking at a 1,000 hour annual commitment for an extended period of your athletic development.

Thing is... even if you can handle it physically (many can't)... as you shift ever upward on the endurance commitment scale... you will notice that, eventually, you also need to annually commit an extra 700 hours of sleep and spend an extra 350 hours on athletic admin (massage, stretching, changing, showering, travel).

For many, what was once an enjoyable 450 hour annual commitment, gradually becomes an all-encompassing obsession sucking upwards of 2,000 hours a year.

So in addition to adding up your available time, also consider what level of athletic commitment makes the most sense in terms of the life that you are seeking to create for yourself.

Ten years
1,550 hours per year
$15 per hour (say, $25 less 40% in taxes/costs)
5% return on savings
= $292,000

Sit on that nest egg for 20 years at 5%
= $775,000

Choose wisely,

Making the Grade

“It takes a long time to get good”
- Scott Molina

It is no secret that success in endurance sports is a long journey, a journey that, like many of the bike rides that it encompasses, begins on an easy flat road, before moving into rolling hills and eventually culminating with a mountain like the Tourmalet (above). Yes, for the athlete who is committed to fulfilling their potential, the old adage is true:

“You cannot create the you of tomorrow with the actions of yesterday”

This is the very essence of the principle of progressive overload: Always doing a little more, inching up the volume and (to a lesser extent) the intensity over a very long time frame.

But, like all journeys, the intelligent traveller will invest in a map before setting out. Something that the explorers of yesterday learned in a hurry was that it is a whole lot easier to cross a mountain range by finding and crossing the passes rather than the peaks. The easiest way to cross the mountain range and to get to your end destination is not to pick the highest immediate peak and resolve to summit it (this is a sure-fire recipe for eventually tripping on a piece of loose gravel and falling down the mountain). No, the best way to get to where you want to be is to find the path with the most moderate altitude gain and the most shallow grade.

If you are anything like me, when going on a new mountain ride, the first question I will ask my riding buddy (or my map) is, what sort of grades am I looking at here? If I start to hear high double digits, my quads start cramping in anticipation :-)

Similarly, for the athlete committed to the long term journey of becoming the best triathlete they can be, they may wish to know:

a) What is the most direct route ?
b) What sort of grades am I looking to encounter?

The good news is that, based on the successful athletes that I am working with, the net grade increases are pretty tame. The climb to the top is more like a Mt. Lemmon steady grade, with great scenery the whole way, than a Tourmalet suffer-fest.

The bad news is that, even the most direct route is a looooong way. Istvan Balyi, the guru of long term development, said long ago that it takes 10,000hrs to become a world class athlete. While, I’m yet to have the privilege of taking an athlete to the summit of world class competition, based on the elite athletes that I have worked with, this trend holds.

So, that news is the worst of it, you’re in for a long trip. Now back to the good news, the climb is only a 1% grade!! That’s it! If you take the most direct route, the climb is total cake. Now, I know many of you will wind up taking the road less travelled and seek out the hard stuff, the 15-20% grades. Some of you will make it back to the moderate path, others will blow out a knee or crash on the descent. While, in the long run, both routes have the opportunity to get you to the same place, one is a whole lot more risky than the other.

The chart below shows the training volume and intensity for one high performing elite athlete over the past 6 years. While, not always taking the most direct route, the long term trend is obvious: a gain of ~10hrs/wk of volume over the course of the past 70mths (or ~6 years), an increase in training volume of 8 minutes/month, a net grade of ~1%!!

A similar trend can be seen in the following data on an elite German long course triathlete: As you can see, annual volume increased from 900-1600hrs over the course of 6 years. This represents an increase of ~115hrs/yr, 10hrs/mth – a grade of ~1%

This magic # of 10-30% volume increase each year has been advocated by a number of periodization experts including Matveyev and Bompa.

Additionally, the trend of adding 2-4 hrs of training to the basic week each year doesn’t just apply to the elite athlete. Another age-grouper (and Kona qualifier) that I have been working with increased his annual training volume from an average of 14hrs/wk in 2006 to 18hrs/wk this year (a net grade of 0.6%!!). Definitely not a Tourmalet inclination, but a long term sustainable one that doesn’t require the athlete to start ‘snakeing’ across the road in order to complete the climb. Let me elaborate...

Many times, when an athlete attempts a more rapid increase in volume, it will be, by necessity, accompanied by a corresponding decrease in quality. The obsession that many athletes have with overall miles or hours without any concern for the speed at which those miles are completed is a fundamental training error. The only way that you will move to the next level is by aerobically training muscle fibers that are currently ‘anaerobic’ or ‘gas guzzlers’. If you’re going too slow to recruit these fibers you are, as my buddy JD would say, ‘touring’ not ‘training’.

So, as an athlete setting out on a very long journey, you have some decisions of very practical significance to make: A moderate path with lower short term peaks and a more moderate grade or a more risky route that may or may not get you to your destination time-efficiently and in one piece.

The most moderate approach is to devise a basic week of general preparation at or slightly above (no more than 10-30% above) the previous year's volume that you know you can complete on at least 40 of the 52 coming weeks of the next year. This week can be tweaked occasionally in the case of camps or race preparation periods, but overall remains the same for a year or more.

For example, an athlete who achieved 500hrs of training (~10hrs/wk) in the preceding year may design a basic week of 11-13hrs (11hrs minimum acceptable for a normal training week, 13hrs target) for the following year. Even accounting for 'down' weeks of business travel, race recovery, family obligations and the like, a moderate plan like this will ensure a minimal 10% increase in training volume each training year.

The other mitigating factor that comes into play is the ‘quality’ of the road that you select. Sometimes the most direct route won’t be on the highest quality roads. I know that living in Boulder, if I want to head up into the mountains from where I am, my most direct route has me on my cross bike with some very low quality (but fun) surfaces. If I put too many quality constraints on the roads of my journey, all of a sudden my journey takes longer. Admittedly, I’m going a lot faster during the journey, with periods that I am absolutely flying on the high quality roads, but in the long term, they are not the most direct route to my destination.

We all know that progressive overload is one of the core tenets of an effective training program, but I think that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that ‘progressive’ training and ‘hard’ training are fundamentally antonymous.

Stay the course.


Exercise is Medicine

How we deliver a message to others greatly affects the level of cooperation we can expect from them and whether our suggestions are met with a smile or hostility. This is true for the politician who may be seen as an elitist; it’s true for health care professionals relating to their patients, parents to children and mentors to students.

Excerpts from an article by Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune:

Researchers are offering a rare glimpse into the interior world of Alzheimer’s patients. The study indicates even those deeply disoriented or cognitively impaired dislike being patronized or treated as if they were children. It suggests that a sense of adult identity remains intact in people, even when an individual isn’t able to remember how old she is, where she is, what day it is or which family members are alive or present.

Videotapes of elderly men and women showed aides helping patients bathe, brush their teeth, dress, eat and take medicines, among other things. A frame by frame analysis of the tapes found that when nurses or aides communicated by using language that assumed a state of dependence patients were twice as likely to resist their efforts to help. The older men and women would turn or look away, grimace, clench their teeth, groan, grab onto something, or say no. These behaviors might be viewed as indications of distress at being patronized.

What does this have to do with our sport? Do you remember when you first started training for triathlon or Ironman? I remember my own level of excitement. In fact, I occasionally shared my enthusiasm with others. However, that didn’t last long because nearly everybody outside the sport who heard about my plans had something less than encouraging to say. I soon decided not to discuss my training with folks outside the sport.

Let’s shift focus a bit to a specific segment within our sport’s population. What is it like for the Vets and Super Vets in our sport? I was discussing this with Scott Molina a couple days ago. His comment was "What I’m hearing from older athletes is that when they tell some one about their training or that they are training for an Ironman the listener’s response is usually negative – that they’re ruining their health."

While on my run I was thinking about dementia and heart disease and many other physical and mental maladies. I think it important that we encourage masters athletes to explore limits by remaining active. We know for a fact that mental stimulation maintains plasticity in the brain. Learning new skills, a new language, laying down new neuropathways and having concrete physical goals are proven methods for keeping the brain young and even reversing signs of aging. It is a fact that most of us can actually increase the plasticity of the brain. We know the heart builds corollary arteries when confronted with high cholesterol and arterial blockage and we know that a positive mental outlook is one of the driving forces behind maintaining over all health; especially as we mature. In some cases, it appears that the loss of choice and a sense of 'power' risks setting in motion physical decline. We should be asking "how can encourage mature men and women to stay very active".

In over 25 years in a practice where patients come to me in pain it has been my experience that activity or inactivity alone is not a predictor of degenerative joint disease (DJD or osteoarthritis). Sedentary folks can and do have advanced DJD _and_ the severity of the osteoarthritis doesn't always match the patient’s symptoms. Like wise, only mild degeneration can be accompanied by debilitating pain. DJD, can stem from a familial or a genetic predisposition. I see young men and women with arthritis absent trauma and I see older men and women who are very active who have little or no degenerative changes.

What does give a peek into the future beyond family history is a patients past history of acute injury. Trauma can lead to adhesions, inflexible scar tissue, decreased blood flow, ligament damage and aberrant motion. Loss of normal motion and optimal circulation do seem to be predictors of osteoarthritis. In other words, maintaining motion and restoring normal motion and function is the key to recovery following injury/trauma and as prevention.

Some people see an athlete with DJD and assume it is from a lifetime of running or biking or lifting weights but fail to consider that the arthritis might be there whether the athlete ran or not. In fact, it is my opinion that a lifetime of exercise often lowers complications of the disease. Some medical experts are of the opinion that activities such as running and biking actually stimulate growth of new cartilage in those areas that are wearing out.

There is a need to have increased open discussion among endurance athletes that explores long term health and elite performance; as well as the benefits of endurance sport that stave off aging (mental and physical) versus possible degenerative changes. Given that many if not most veteran athletes have some form of degenerative change, and that increased activity benefits the human condition in many ways, I see a greater need to promote awareness.

More from Scott: When Dr. John Hellemans opened his first Sport Medicine practice named SportsMed he did so with this slogan on the building: “Exercise is Medicine.


Dr. Kevin Purcell DC
Certified Active Release Technique (ART)
USAT Level ll Certified Coach

Buy Signals & The G-Zone

As you can see from the picture above, wild animals have moved in with us. The kittens have a few strange habits but, all in all, are a good addition to the team.

This week I'm going to share some ideas about what I am seeing in the financial world as well as discuss how July went for me (in an athletic sense).

First an announcement on 2009 Training Camps. Right now, I have committed to three training camps. Each camp has a slightly different focus that I'll touch on. If you are interested in more information on any of them then drop me a line.

Side note -- cyclists are welcome to any of the Endurance Corner camps, the swim/run aspects are optional.

Endurance Corner Tucson Camp -- March 29 to April 5, 2009 (Sun-Sun), training will run Monday to Saturday. An early season camp with a "training" focus. Appropriate for 13 hour and faster IM athletes -- as well as -- 6 hour and faster Half IM athletes. Highlights will include Mt Lemmon, Cactus Forest Trail, Kitt Peak and Madera Canyon. We will be based at The Hotel Arizona -- camp price is all inclusive for the week ($2,350).

Epic Camp France -- June 13 to 22, 2009, training will run Sunday to Sunday. It must be the Kiwi Winters but John and Scott have upgraded our initial thoughts on route. This one will be doozy! Highlights will include the Galibier, the EmbrunMan Bike Course and Stage 17 from this year's Tour (Embrun to Alpe d'Huez, massive). We will finish off the camp with an EpicMan competition that includes a TT up Alpe d'Huez -- camp price is all inclusive and expected to be ~e3,300. Epic Camp is only appropriate for athletes in sub-11 hour shape -- be prepared for up to 27 hours of training in the first three days of the camp.

Endurance Corner Boulder Camp -- open to all abilities, all distances -- July 20 to 25, 2009. Camp starts the Monday following Boulder Peak Triathlon. Camp will mix education with training.

During the day we will take advantage of the outstanding terrain that is offered in, and around, Boulder. Evenings will include expert speakers on a range of subjects (nutrition, mental skills, building your training week, getting the most out of our bodies). The price point on this camp will be lower as athletes will sort their own breakfasts/lunches/accommodation/transfers -- we will handle support, sag, sports nutrition, and dinners. More info to come -- drop me a line if you want to reserve a slot.

If you've been looking for an opportunity to train with me (and my network) but were concerned about your "speed" then the Boulder Camp is a great opportunity for you. It will be an active week that blends physical fitness with education on performance and personal wellness.

Speaking of personal wellness... Alternative Perspectives has a great piece from Kevin Purcell about a number of different factors that relate to endurance sport and exercise. Click THIS LINK to check it out.


Buy Signals
There hasn't been a whole lot of good news on the financial, or economic, fronts recently and this has started to impact my outlook. Here are some of the things that I have been reminding myself over the last little while:

Pricing -- prices move at the margin. Stepping back from commodity markets (which I don't understand), the "margin" appears to be characterized by increasing supply, reduced ability to pay and increasing risk premiums.

Transaction Volume -- the people that I know with the capacity to pay are staying on the sidelines. A few are dabbling in commodities but no one is, yet, investing real money (for them). Regardless of what they say publicly, I don't see the international banks doing much external lending. As I wrote a few months ago, what seems to be happening is internal discussions on how best to sort their existing client relationships. Done properly, an active restructuring of loan portfolios could prove to be profitable for the banks (and painful for the shareholders of non-performing loans).

I started my career in the early 90s when asset values were falling, PE ratios were (relatively) low and leverage was only available on conservative terms. In that market, my firm made solid profits from backing solid management teams and cash flow businesses. However, what really helped was multiple, liquidity and leverage expansion (a tailwind of mushrooming global liquidity).

I've been thinking about how one might profit when things turnaround. Haven't come up with anything -- although I have put any US property investments on hold while the financial sector's liquidity position continues to weaken.

Another thing that I remind myself of... the world isn't ending. Times are tough for the people at the "margin", no doubt about that -- if you are working in a factory building SUVs then there will be very real stress. However, broadly speaking, the economy is rolling along, slower but still moving.

Given the scale of the write-offs in the financial sector, the economy is doing well. Perhaps there is a longer lag effect that has yet to be seen. I expected the impact from last summer's credit crunch to be larger and more severe. My contacts in the banking sector lead me to believe that there could be a wave of "action" coming towards the end of this year. In the past, I've found that most large organizations prefer inaction, over action, in a crisis situation.

If the banks start taking clear, consistent action on their loan books, that would lead me to believe that we are through the worst of the crisis. Right now, most organizations continue to consider their options.


The G-Zone
I am typing this blog from the base of Mt Evans, Colorado. My training buddy, Ed, is likely heading down from the summit. I missed the summit due to fatigue -- my high altitude run training seems to require extended recovery. Even with the extra fatigue, I love it in the high Rockies.

Ed made the observation that many triathlon writers have a background current of anger in their blogs and forum posts. The anger is something that I have noticed and stopped reading certain sites/writers because of it.

Perhaps anger is too strong a word -- a better way to put it might be "grumpy". I was swapping emails with Tom and Scott the other day. Tom made the comment that his training approach was designed to avoid getting too grumpy. Scott was forgiving me for an email that was sent
during a very grumpy afternoon!

So maybe that is another early warning signal that an athlete may have done enough training... when we move from being fatigued into the Grumpy-Zone.

I called Monica this morning from Vail and made sure to point out that I was merely tired, not grumpy. She chuckled and said that the drive back to Boulder offered plenty of time to enter the G-Zone.

Anyhow, when guys as experienced as Evans/Molina warn about the G-Zone... it might make sense to keep on eye on it. When the world starts to drive us crazy, perhaps we are simply a little over-reached.

Cheers via bootleg wireless in the high Rockies,

How easy is 'too easy'?

“It is better to run a long way slowly rather than to curtail the mileage possible by running too fast”
- Arthur Lydiard

Lydiard is the guy on the right in the pic above. Much of Lydiard’s training theory consisted of going easier (and longer) in the short term so that you can go harder and faster in the long term.

There are few questions related to training that elicit as much confusion as the two antipolar inquiries:

“How easy is too easy?”

“How hard is too hard?”

Sports science has done just as much to add to the confusion as it has to definitively answer either of these questions. In this post, I want to present the primary considerations (from my perspective) that each individual athlete must contemplate in order to arrive at an informed answer to these two questions.

Consideration #1: Cardiovascular development

Several studies have investigated the minimal training intensity necessary to stimulate an improvement in VO2max in both de-conditioned and conditioned subjects, e.g. Hollman and Venrath (1963), Karvonen et al (1957), or more recently, Swain and Franklin (2002). While the definition of “conditioned subjects” in these studies probably doesn’t extend to the level of conditioning of you guys & gals, the overall trend is still significant. Basically, these researchers concluded that the level of intensity necessary to elicit an improvement in VO2max was correlated to the starting fitness level of the subject. Generally speaking, the range was 30-60% of VO2max (~50-70% of maximum heart rate) for individuals with VO2max values ranging from 30-45ml/kg/min – average values for healthy college aged males and females. Considering most of you are (hopefully) fitter than your average college freshman (‘freshman 15’ included :-), we can assume that ~70% max heart rate is the minimal threshold necessary for improvements in your cardiovascular system.

These numbers tie in nicely with the findings of one of the forefathers of exercise physiology, Per Olaf Astrand, when he investigated the exercise intensity necessary to elicit maximal stroke volume of the heart during activity. This concept is analogous to utilizing a load that will recruit the maximal number of muscle fibers when hitting the bench press without regard for the speed at which the load is lifted. Beyond a certain point, the heart is contracting as ‘strongly’ as it is able. Any further demands in Cardiac output are met by increasing the heart rate rather than increasing the force with which the heart contracts. In a similar way that the absolute load of the bench press is fundamentally more physiologically significant than the speed that you lift it, most of the cardiovascular benefit of aerobic training is reached once this maximal stroke volume is achieved.

Recently, studies have shown that the point at which this occurs is not a uniform 40% VO2max as Astrand suggested, but is rather a function of the individual’s fitness, with elite athletes exhibiting no plateau in stroke volume up to, and in some cases, beyond the anaerobic threshold (Gledhill et al. 1994). So, for the fitness range encompassing recreational athletes to elites, from a cardiovascular standpoint, the minimal intensity required to elicit improvements in VO2max can range from heart rates of ~70% max heart rate for folks of similar fitness levels to healthy college age subjects up to ~90% max heart rate in the case of elite athletes. This has important implications on the level of athlete that ‘needs’ speedwork, but that sounds like a topic for another blog.

Consideration #2: Substrate development

So, to improve our cardiovascular indices of fitness, the minimal required intensity can range anywhere between 50 and 90% of the individual’s maximal heart rate depending on their relative fitness. Now, what of our metabolic fitness? We know that in competitions that last longer than 60-90 minutes that glycogen depletion can be a limiting factor. We also know that athletes who oxidize a greater amount of energy from fatty acids as opposed to Carbohydrate for a given workload are able to ‘spare’ their carbohydrate stores and last longer before being forced to slow down. We also know that from a training perspective, using less Carbohydrate at rest and during recovery activity enables us to recover more quickly and thus accumulate more work at sport specific intensities. Clearly, improving our ability to oxidize fat is an objective that is at least as important as improving our mechanisms for Oxygen delivery.

So, what is the minimal intensity required to meet this objective?

The chart above illustrates the fat oxidation trends of two individuals, one fit male with a VO2max of 56ml/kg/min and one deconditioned female with a VO2max of 33ml/kg/min. The y axis of the chart represents the total fat burned per minute, while the x axis represents intensity via heart rate. Clearly, the range at which the male and female are burning the most fat is quite different (and quite narrow). For the female, the heart rates that elicit her highest fat oxidation rates are 102-122bpm, or 55-66% of her maximal heart rate. For the male, the 133-156bpm represents 73-86% of his maximum heart rate. Therefore, the training zone that maximally trains the ability to burn fat will be markedly different for both subjects. This is one of the reasons that training systems based on a % of any given point (maximal heart rate, HRR, FT etc) are pretty useless. They do not account for the huge inter-individual variability that we see in the real world. It is also worth noting just how narrow these bands are. In the male’s case, there is very little stimulus for fat oxidation occurring below a heart rate of 130bpm and after 156bpm, fat oxidation falls off the proverbial cliff.

So, again it seems that the question of how easy is too easy (in a sense of improving metabolic fitness) is also strongly related to the individual’s starting fitness level, which I want to point out is not always indicated by their fitness in a VO2max sense. We have witnessed very ‘VO2max fit’ individuals with very poor substrate profiles and vice versa. Generally, though, I would feel confident saying that the minimal intensity necessary to elicit an improvement in fat oxidation ranges from 50-80% of max heart rate. This is backed up by a great study by Gonzalez-Haro et al (2007) that found that maximal lipolytic power was found anywhere from 33-75% VO2max in accordance with the individual’s fitness.

The trick, of course, for you as an athlete, is to discover your own ‘sweet spot’ for both 'max fat-burning' and 'max fitness' zones. Using non-customized formulae such as the MAF formula or % of Heart Rate Reserve is honestly nothing better than a blindfolded stab in the dark. The only way for you to really know ‘how easy is too easy’ and ‘how hard is too hard’ to stimulate your desired training adaptations is to test, test, test.

Big Dog Racing

This past weekend, I was racing at the Vineman 70.3 in California. The race experience reminded me of a few things that I’ll share in this week’s letter. Until I receive some race photos, I have used a favorite from the archives. Below is a thumb that Dave sent along to tide readers over. Thanks Dave -- for the photo and running a fine race out there in Cali!

It seems somewhat obvious but it is worth setting the scene with the observation that we can race in three types of fields: weak, moderate and strong. Each of us will cope a little differently within these levels of competition and each type of racing is useful for an athlete.

I chose Vineman because a strong field of elite competition was likely. I figured that Chris Legh, Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto would turn up. The bike course is against my preference and having strong athletes there would provide me with an honest picture of my fitness. It is easy to fool ourselves in training – you line up with five of the best athletes in the world, you will get some clear feedback.

Little did I know that a lot of other speedy people had the same idea and the race was one of the fastest that I have done. Terrenzo, Craig and Steve finished in a different zip code than me. As an aside, Cam Brown traditionally puts a similar amount of time into me in a Half IM as he does in a full IM. I’m not sure if I have ‘weird physiology’ or am simply soft. I saw Mark Allen this afternoon and, like Dave Scott, his standard for a decent Ironman starts at about 8:10 for the guys!

Lining up with such great athletes, I felt completely relaxed. The expectations are on them and, if things go well, then I have a shot and beating them. As well, there are plenty of people to tow you along, or chase down later.

A few years ago, I asked Scott why one of his athletes was always choosing the toughest events. It was clear to me that the athlete could win a lot more races with ‘better’ race selection. Stepping aside from appearance fees… Scott said that it is fun to go fast and race the best people. Vineman last weekend gave me an appreciation of the benefits of strong competition.

I came within 5 (!) meters of making the front swim group. There was a bend in the river and the depth went down to 18 inches. The lead group stood up and everyone looked at each other. That was my shot to get back on but I couldn’t quite bridge on. If I had really been willing to kill myself… ???

As it turned out, neither could Chris Legh and I ended up swimming beside him. I eased off to get on his feet and another athlete “had” that position. So I backed off and got behind him. He then lost Chris during an acceleration around the turnaround buoy – beware of turns! Anyhow, he was kind enough to tow me for the rest of the swim (much appreciated) then drop me in transition!

My transitions left quite a bit to be desired. The speedy guys took a couple of minutes out of me during the race. Not to mention at least one kilometer of soft pedaling while I tried to get my feet in my bike shoes. My skills are “ok” but the top guys have the little details wired. X-Factors.

Before the race I predicted that I would average 40 km/hr on the bike and run about 1:20 for the half marathon.

As it turned out, despite shifting my training focus heavily towards the bike, the top guys rode close to ten minutes into me and I ran 1:15 off the bike. I’m not sure if my slower bike performance is mental or chronological (Father Time). I am grateful that my position/equipment is improved because I am able to get a lot more speed from my power.

The elite draft rules (10 meters) make a big difference on bike speed. For what it’s worth, being able to ride under agegroup rules (7 meters) would make a big, big difference to my times. Perhaps I’ll demonstrate in my 40s when I go back to agegroup racing – with a 7 meter draft zone very fast times are possible with smart tactics.

I used all my gizmos on the bike – HR, speed, cadence, power. For racing I am using the new wireless SRM with PowerControl VI. I’m very happy with that product – paid retail, and boy do they charge (PowerTap works great if you are on a budget).

I recalibrated on race morning and that may have had an impact on my power numbers (which seemed a bit low). For the techie people out there, I raised my offset from 570 to 609. Adjusting manually back down to 570 makes the numbers look a lot more ‘normal’ compared to my testing and powertap data.

As an interesting point, coping with ‘low’ power data is an unpleasant, but valuable, experience. Even as a seasoned athlete, seeing low data was depressing for me. Ironically, I’m only happy on the bike when I am riding too hard!

When I arrived in T2, I definitely felt like quitting. I suppose that it is tiring to go fast but, inside my head, the sensation was that it is depressing to go slow. I had run the numbers on my day and calculated that I was going to finish in about 4:20.

With Monica waiting outside of T2 (wondering why it was taking me so long in there), I made myself a deal that I could retire from athletic competition but only after I ran 13 miles. Finish line retirement was OK, quitting in front of my wife wasn’t acceptable (perhaps that’s why she came…)

Heading out on the run, Jay-Z was arriving on the bike. While it was nice to see that she was leading the ladies’ race, her presence drove home that I hadn’t exactly scorched the bike. It also meant that I had better get moving because Joanna loves running guys down!

I ran on feel and had no idea about pace. I noticed that everyone (that I could see) started their run faster than me (Monica asked if I had stopped to eat a burrito in transition). This continued until about 2K into the run when I started to relax a bit and speed up.

Approaching the turnaround, I saw that I was two miles down on Terrenzo, Craig and Steve. I perked up for a bit then saw a long line of people heading out of the turnaround area – how did so many folks get in front me? However, my good mood persisted as I figured that I could catch at least a couple of them. I caught a few more guys and the fear of them coming back on me spurred me along.

Arriving at the finish line I was surprised to see 4:04 on the clock. That’s less than a minute outside of my personal best for the distance. Part of me was a little disappointed because it looks like I have to postpone elite retirement for a bit longer!

Jay-Z held on for victory and Monica tells me that she’s won three straight Half Ironman races. That lady has been speedy for a very long time. She let me feel her gold ring from the 2000 Olympics during the pro meeting and it is always nice to race alongside her.

I wonder how fast I could go if I was as tough as the ladies?


Single Sport Focus Periods: The Key to Success for the Working Athlete

After my first double digit hour week on the bike in a while (no doubt motivated by watching Le Tour), I thought it might be pertinent to chat through one of the most under-utilized training prescriptions – Single Sport Focus Periods.

But first, I had a request from one of my athletes to complete the ‘black belt trilogy’ and give some data on what a black belt week in the pool might look like. Here goes:

31000m in less than 10hrs
* 5km FS timed less than 1:30
* 4x100 IM @ 2:15, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 400IM @ 9:00, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 4x100IM @ 2:15
* 40x100m descending swim @ 1:45, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30
* 4x (4x100 FS @ 1:20) w/200 swim down
* 10x25!FS + 75 recovery @ 2:15 (w/sprints less than 17s/25m

The more mathematically astute of you, will have put together that a ‘black belt week’ for SBR will put you somewhere around the 30 hour mark – beyond what is feasible for most top AG athletes. While, I think there is big value to sporadic ‘stretch weeks’ that are in that neighbourhood for a top AG athlete, to do so on a regular basis, taking into account the addition of work and family stress is a quick recipe for burnout.

My absolute favourite training principle for the working athlete has to be the maintenance principle, which basically states that:

It takes substantially less volume to maintain a fitness level than it does to initially achieve it.

Specifically, studies have shown that a drop in training volume of 20-35% will maintain performance for a period of at least 4 weeks (Anderson et al., 1992, Costill et al. 1985, Mujika et al., 1995).

Using this principle, the time (or energy) limited athlete can incorporate cycles in which one discipline is emphasized, while the others are held at maintenance level. This can be done on the macro level, by spending a period of a month or more focusing on a weak discipline, or on the micro level by alternating the focus of your weeks.

Rod Cedaro, coach of former world champion, Jackie Gallagher is a big advocate of the microcyclic approach of cycling Swim/Bike/Run/Recovery weeks as his short term periodization strategy. For our prospective Top AGer/Kona qualifier, this may mean one week each month of 15hrs+ on the bike, while the others are maintenance weeks in the vicinity of 10hrs.

On the flipside, an athlete with a weak run leg may spend 6 weeks or more building their run volume in preparation for a fall marathon while dropping their swim and bike mileage back to maintenance levels.

A combination of these approaches that I will frequently use with my athletes is a cycle of 2 weeks focused on the athlete’s weak event followed by one week focused on maintaining the athlete’s strengths. I have seen good results with this approach.

This method is not just for top AG athletes, based on what I have seen, most working athletes exceed their capacity to absorb appropriate SBR training volume within a week pretty early in the piece. If you are a sub 13hr IM, working athlete, you are going to have a hard time hitting appropriate (single sport) training volume each week. Generally, an ad-hoc single sport focus will result, with the athlete tending to do more of the sport that is convenient or the sport that they enjoy, rather than the sport that is limiting. There is tremendous value to most athletes in being deliberate in choosing what sport they need to focus on.

At the other end of the spectrum, many elite athletes will have a hard time summoning the energy levels to maintain appropriate training intensity while hitting appropriate training volume in all 3 sports simultaneously, even when time is not a limiting factor.

When we get down to it, for all levels of athlete, time and energy are much greater limiters than genetics or inherent ability in a sport like triathlon. Any way that we can eek out more training stimulus for a given period of training time is obviously worth consideration.

Athletic Balance

No, today’s blog isn’t about that kind of balance. The balance that I am talking about in the title of today’s post is the balance across the training intensity spectrum.

But, before I get into that, Mat has written a great post this week on some of the limiters to Ironman performance that, as athletes we often fail to/don’t want to consider (e.g. day to day nutrition…Sugar addicts stand up! :-) Check it out -

In his post, Mat talks about the components of fitness. I want to explore that a little more in my own post this week.

In my mind there are two schools of thought on preparation for Ironman racing. On one side of the fence we have the following basic theory of training:

Position 1: Raise the athlete’s functional threshold to the highest level possible - since functional threshold is the best predictor of athletic performance in all aerobic events (yeah, right!) then make sure the athlete paces the race at the appropriate % of this functional threshold. If the athlete races under what their functional threshold # would indicate, it is clearly a pacing problem.
I hope you feel the sarcastic tone in the above paragraph. This myopic viewpoint of training really bugs me on a pretty deep level and the fact that there are a number of PhD’s (often in unrelated fields) out there espousing this viewpoint right now, bugs me even more. Excuse my grumpiness this morning. I’m a little undercaffeinated :-)

Anyhow, position 2: Miles make champions. Increase aerobic training volume to the limits of the athlete’s long term tolerance. Avoid high intensity training as it will ultimately limit the athlete’s training volume.

I want to point out that I have a strong lean (almost to the point of falling over sideways) toward this position. However, recently my experience in coaching and testing athletes has led me to reach the conclusion that despite the fact that 80% of the Ironman field would benefit from simply doing more, there is a select portion that is distinctly lacking in the top end abilities required to reach the next level of athletic performance.

I also believe that this 20% or so is growing as more and more people are selecting “training for an Ironman” as their first foray into triathlon training (or their reintroduction after a long lay-off) without following the natural progression of sprint tri, Olympic tri, Half Ironman followed by an Ironman several years into their triathletic development.

It can be very difficult for an athlete to determine how much ‘top end’ is enough? Folks like Gordo perform at the elite level of Ironman racing with, what would be considered, relatively pedestrian values of functional threshold, and especially, VO2max (within his elite peer group). However, I’m willing to stake a guess that Gordo’s functional threshold is higher than yours! OK, so you’re not looking to challenge Gordo at Vineman or even your age-group winner for that matter, but the question remains are you lacking in top end horsepower?

More numerically inclined exercise physiologists have been trying to equate relative performances over various race distances for years. Folks from Gardner and Purdy (1970), to Tom Osler (1978), Davies and Thompson (1979) all the way to Daniels and Gilbert’s famous VDOT tables (1979), have looked to equate a given VO2max value with performances from 800m through to (and in some cases beyond) the marathon. For the most part, these tables do show a relatively high predictive validity within this race duration spectrum. This makes a lot of sense when we consider that the relative ergogenesis of these events consists of an aerobic (glycolytic) contribution ranging from 80-99% (Hawley and Hopkins, 1995).

However, when put into practice, coaches who subscribe to this training model have noticed that for middle distance runners (400-1500m), the numbers don’t line up. Athletes in this category (unsurprisingly) tend to under-perform at the longer end of the duration spectrum and over-perform at the short end, despite having equal VO2max values to distance runners in the same performance category. For this reason, folks like Daniels (1998) and Martin and Coe (1995) have deduced modified ‘ideal’ performance tables for these athletes due to their ability to contribute anaerobic resources to performance that are independent of VO2max. Unfortunately, with the relative lack of sports science interest in ultra-endurance events, similar calculations have not been made for events in which aerobic lipolytic energy production begins to outweigh the aerobic glycolytic energy production that is largely dependent on physiological qualities like VO2max and Anaerobic (or Functional) Threshold. This is the major oversight that folks who espouse the Functional Threshold model of training fail to ‘get’.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty, if we take this lipolytic energy contribution into play, how does it affect the relative performance-duration curve?

I’ve presented a couple of predictive curves below. A distance curve from the tables of Daniels and Gilbert, a middle distance curve from Martin and Coe and an ultra-distance curve from real world data on elite ultra endurance athletes (ultra-runners and Ironman elites).

The x axis at the bottom of the chart reflects race duration (in hours). The y axis reflects the % of their vVO2 that the athlete sustains for the event.

The chart indicates that elite Ironman athletes’ race specific pace (and presumably power) is ~5% higher than what would be predicted from the normative curves of shorter distance athletes (on which many training models are based). In specific preparation for an ultra-distance event, this 5% greater endurance is something that should be trained before an effort is made to further elevate the functional threshold or VO2max of the athlete, especially since this adaptation is ultimately more trainable over the long term. Practical example:

Athlete with a PR of a 20:00 5K should be able to hold >70% of their vVO2max after an 8hr big day (~9:10/mi) before any emphasis should be given to speed training to further elevate the VO2max or Functional Threshold.

Keep in mind that the blue line on the chart is indicative of very well trained (although not ‘ultra trained’ distance runners, often running 100mi plus per week). It is likely that the difference between your own ‘blue line’ and ‘red line’ is substantially greater, especially if you have been emphasizing higher intensity training (FT/FT+ training) within your own training program.

It is for this reason that most (though not all) Ironman athletes can vastly benefit from a multi-month period that focuses on building base and raising the % of your vVO2 or max power that you can hold over the race duration.

If, on the other hand, you’re running an IM marathon at or close to 70% of your vVO2, a focus on ‘speedwork’ may be prudent. But first, of course (you know what I'm going to say), you must prove it!

Athletic Inversion & Living The Dream

October 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Scott Molina's victory at the Hawaii Ironman. Part of Scott's motivation for returning is the desire to get-it-right in terms of preparation, and race day performance. If an athlete as successful as Scott feels that he hasn't quite got it right -- after 30 (!) years of racing -- then there must be structural limitations in the human condition.


One of the key things that Charlie Munger repeats in his Almanack is the advice to "always invert". I have been reading that advice for three years but only recently started to grasp the meaning. I think what he is trying to tell me... improve your chances of being successful, make sure you figure out what can kill you.

Munger believes that a solid track record of success can be created by sticking to what you know, working hard and limiting your poor choices. Inversion is a method of bringing potentially poor choices, or situations, to the front of your mind.

The books that I recommended in the last few weeks do a great job when it comes to applying this advice in the real world. However, I spent yesterday considering what derails athletic success.

According to Daniels, the two key aspects of athletic success are inherent ability and motivation.

However, our ability to achieve athletic success is a mixture of what we choose to do and what we choose to avoid. Nothing impacts choices as directly as your peer group -- choose associates wisely.

Across an athletic lifetime, there are ample opportunities for self-sabotage. World Champions (like Molina) have interesting stories about personal triumphs. They have hilarious stories about their mistakes. Unknowingly, I have been studying oral autobiographies of great champions/investors/coaches over the last eighteen years.


How we defeat ourselves in racing

The image above is a histogram of an ironman-distance power file. Don't get too caught up in the details, the picture helps me explain a couple of concepts for endurance success.

The Dead Zone -- the dead zone starts at the average wattage (and heart rate) for a Half Ironman race where you ran well. What is "running well"? I like to define it as within 7% of a fresh half marathon split. Within my own racing, I can come within 5%.

Why do I call it the dead zone? Because if you spend too much time above your average Half IM power (or heart rate)... your hopes of a decent marathon will DIE. The more time you spend there, the greater the likelihood of marathon difficulties.

We shouldn't blame the molecular structure of our nutritional choices, the issue lies with our selected race effort.

In racing, the #1 thing that can kill you is choosing a race pace that exceeds: (a) your fitness; or (b) your capacity to fuel to the finish line.

The likelihood of a superior performance increases the more easily you start the day. Consider:

Swim -- once you are swimming an easy to steady effort, you will find that you need to massively increase effort for a tiny increase in pace. You won't believe the scale of this relationship until you actually try it for yourself. In fact, a number of athletes strongly resist learning this knowledge.

As the saying goes... can bring athletes to the lake but you can't make them negative split with a heart rate monitor attached...

The test workout is 5x800 meters (each one faster than the one before) -- best done open water or in a 50-meter pool. Check your average/max HR per lap against your pace per lap. Compare your workout average pace/HR with the average pace/HR for the final two laps.

Bike -- providing you choose humble gearing (a BIG assumption), you have the option to moderate and totally control your effort. If a former World Ironman Champion like Scott Molina can ride with a 30/27 then you should be able to suck-it-up and be realistic about your gearing needs.

Run -- if you blow on the run then the time penalty is MASSIVE, the cost of a marathon meltdown is disproportionately high. At Ultraman, I have pulled back 10-minutes per MILE, off athletes that run into trouble.

Does your prior race record show that you have the experience, fitness and competence to "race" to what you think is the limit of your fitness? I put "race" in quotes because very few people ever race an Ironman.

So what is a realistic effort for you to aim for on the bike? Here is a test workout... 3x40 mile loops, no long climbs, no drafting, with less than 90 seconds of stopping between each loop. Do each loop faster than the one before -- if you pull that off (and aren't wrecked) then Lap 2 is a good guideline. If you can't descend the laps, or if you are totally worked at the end, then even your slowest lap is too fast.

Download your data from this workout and look at your actual heart rate and power profiles. That is your benchmark for IM -- given that you are swimming 2.4 miles and running a marathon as well... you are likely to need to step _down_ from that actual training data. Similar to the swim test set... you will feel a lot of mental resistance when faced with this information. Many don't want to know.

No doubt some of you think that I am nuts to recommend a 200KM race simulation ride -- does your prior racing track record show that you have the knowledge to determine appropriate pacing?

I did a series of race simulation rides in 2001 -- they were extremely tough and the lessons are still with me! For some reason, lessons learned alone, in training, tend to stick with me longer than repeated errors made in the heat of competition.

A word on averages, fast triathlon cycling is about learning to optimize your speed on the LOWEST possible wattage. An athlete that can go the same speed as you on 80-90% of your power has a huge advantage once the run begins. We all tend to focus on the big numbers, however, the athletes that are most impressive are the ones that go quick on low power. Learning how they do that can give you and edge -- some ideas... aerodynamics, fast in the slow bits, avoiding spikes, bike skills, relaxed at high speed.

Even armed with the above knowledge, it is near impossible to apply it when stressed and surrounded by people making poor decisions. Socially, it is far safer to fail conventionally than 'risk' success in an unconventional manner. I have numerous podium finishes that result from (what others call) cycling 'weakness'.


Q. What is the #1 killer of athletic success in training?
A. Fatigue.

I have been working with athletes for ten years now and the greatest challenge that we face is managing fatigue. Athletes that successfully manage fatigue are more consistent with their training (and happier) thereby increasing their ultimate athletic success.

Here are some tips for improving how you manage fatigue.

Chasing Fitness -- Chasing fitness happens when you sit down and calculate the "fitness" required to meet an athletic goal. You then train at your goal fitness level, rather than your current fitness level. We do this in a lot of different ways -- solo athletes, do this by chasing Personal Bests in workouts; group training athletes, do this by seeking to "win" workouts with "faster" athletes.

My experience is the best training partners are slightly weaker physically, stronger mentally and very fun to be around. You then let the group dynamics lift your fitness.

As for the effect on your training partner... remember that most of your competition isn't consciously seeking their personal best, they are controlled by moment-to-moment emotions.

Chasing Averages -- I've nuked myself a few times with this approach, most recently last week. Here is how it works... you sit down with a recent lab test, or race result. The data is "real" so you have confidence that it will provide a reasonable benchmark to what you should do. You then pull out the exercise physiology textbooks and calculate the precise intensity that you should hold for the workout. Then, for an unexplained reason, you add 5-10% to the intensity and 10-20% to the duration! Fortunately, I cracked fairly early in that workout!

Another word on why averages are misleading. Have another look at the chart above. The average of that ride was 253w. About 6% of that ride was less than 100w but less than 2% of the ride was greater than 400w. With heart rates/power/pace, there are always more very low values than very high values. The longer, and more variable, the workout the greater this effect. As well, my brain always seems to "normalize high". If you ask me to guess the average power of an effort that I just completed (when I watched the screen a lot), I am nearly always 5-10% too high.

What does this mean?

A - If your goal effort is 180-190w then you'll probably average ~175w if you execute correctly.

B - If you set your powermeter on "average watts" and try to hit a number then the majority of your ride will be well over that number and you'll fail to notice (highly costly) power spikes.

No Man's Land Training -- A fit athlete will have the capacity to train every session a little bit "too hard". Taking the three main physiological markers, AeT/LT/FT, the mid points between each of these, should be avoided, with particular attention being paid to the mid-point between AeT and LT. There is a big increase in recovery requirement (and hardly any training benefit) from training slightly over these points, as opposed to slightly under. See the attachment from last week for more info.

NOTE -- intensity moderation is easier to apply to others than ourselves! Having a coach review workout files (post fact) can help you stay sane.

The final three points are sleep, life stress and nutrition (including drug/alcohol use). These are huge in terms of their impact on the amount of fatigue we carry around in our lives.

Sleep -- an extra hour of sleep, every night.

Life Stress -- consciously choosing to do less, in order to achieve more.

Nutrition -- eat real food.

The more simple you can make your life, the greater the chance that you will be able to execute successfully.


Living The Dream

Q. My description of a dream job would be: one that involved endurance sports, is active, flexible, challenging, and has a good potential for return on my investment of time and money. Very, very, very difficult to find something that meets those requirements, I think. I've contemplated becoming a race director, opening a gym/training facility for endurance athletes, going to school for ex. science, or getting a job with a company in the industry. All have their appeal. But its a huge set of steps between considering these possibilities while still in school and taking the plunge and leaving a steady job and income to try some venture of my own devising.

I've been reading your blog for a while and you seem pretty qualified to answer my question, which I am getting to. I've asked enough questions to realize that asking "how do I get that dream job" has just as many answers as there are people to answer; that is, everyone has a different story, and while they do help, they won't help me figure out my own plan. So my question is this: what is the most important skill/trait I can cultivate now and while working in engineering to help prepare me for the kind of profession I am contemplating?

Because of the high value we place on personal freedom, jobs with large degrees of freedom, rarely come with a high return on capital (human or financial). That said, when I look at the things that are most important to me (freedom, fitness, health, nature, love), these items do not cost much to acquire. They did, however, require years of preparation in terms of planning, positioning and effort.

The opportunity to build personal capital in your 20s is valuable. However, when I look back, even more valuable was: (a) being surrounded by a group of highly intelligent people that enhanced my desire to work; (b) the acquisition of a wide range of skills and the opportunity to apply these skills in a range of situations; (c) instruction (by example) of the level of commitment/effort/perseverance required to achieve challenging goals.

When I look for people to associate with, I ask myself, "does this person have a track record of achievement backed by work ethic and strong personal values?" Spending your 20s focused on the creation of that sort of person would be time very well spent.

More specifically for your goal, my advice is to focus on building your expert credentials, as perceived by your target market. Share your knowledge freely as it has little value if hoarded. The market will let you know if your experience has value and relevance.

Sharing your experiences, also improves your communication skills. In the field you are considering, effective communication is important.

Within your expert credentials, three things to consider:

Image -- always present yourself the way you wish to be seen by your target market. Be aware that most people will quickly see through a lack of authenticity. Remember that what takes decades to build can be pulled down very quickly. Respond slowly, and thoughtfully, in environments you don't control (such as other people's internet forums).

Within my own life, I have found it much easier to eliminate choices that don't fit my desired image than create something that doesn't exist. If you chip away at the items that don't fit then you will find that, over time, you end up with a "self" that is in pretty good shape. Over the last few years, I have taken a hard look at the aspects of my life that run counter to honesty, kindness and health. I work daily at the elimination of small things that are inconsistent with these values.

Put yourself in the right peer group, learn to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and gain control over the little things that are inconsistent with the person you want to become.

Perception -- there is the way we see ourselves, and the way others see us. From a business point of view, an understanding of how others see us is very useful. What aspects of your story resonate with your target client base? What special, or interesting, knowledge do you have to share? Sharing genuine experiences of an interesting life is probably the most popular form of soft-marketing you can do. We share a love of interesting stories.

Knowledge -- do you know what you don't know? Do you know what you need to know? Do you have multiple approaches available to help your clients? At the beginning of our athletic journey we know so little. Start by figuring out how the different approaches work, and don't work, for you. Work with the best people you have access to. Solidify your knowledge by sharing, and teaching, it.

Most of us get into trouble when we stray into areas where our knowledge is limited. Even as you achieve expert status (whatever that means) resist the urge to opine on all range of subjects. Focus on sharing experience in the areas where you have specific, and relevant knowledge. One of the nice things about being part of a smart team is that you have the ability to bring in support when clients ask questions outside of your core competency.

The ability to ask for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. One needs to be self-confident to admit one's limitations.

If you put yourself "out there" then there will be people waiting to sling arrows, or anonymous comments, at you. By sticking to what you know, it will make it easier to handle it when people seek to bring you down. Remember that our critics exist to criticize, no matter what they say, they have little interest in helping us.

While you are building the above be aware that the more successful you become the greater you are at risk for being hurt by various forms of cognitive bias. One of the reasons that I study under different teachers is to keep my "toolbox" filled with more than one approach for each problem.

Many experts become so immersed in their own dogma that they lose their intellectual freedom. I have had some very intelligent people agree with me in private, but note that they can't change their opinion because of the weight of their past public record. We share an irrational bias against people that change their opinion. Always give yourself the freedom to change your mind in light of new information.

I didn't answer your question directly because people that create world-class financial returns from triathlon are more scarce than World Champion triathletes. However, there are many examples of people that create an enviable lifestyle in our sport, and I believe you will find that much more rewarding than outsize financial returns.

Hope this helps,

Welcome to Big A's Dojo!

In keeping with my aikido theme of last week, I thought I’d open with a pic of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba.

One of the things that I love about Martial Arts is the long term discipline required/expected when a new student enters the dojo for the first time. It is not uncommon for a judo student, for instance, to spend a year simply learning how to fall, before even a thought is given on how to go about instigating a throw. In the more legitimate schools, obtaining a black belt is a ten year deal!

On a spiritual training level, in my mind, it is this ‘patience training’ that makes martial arts so valuable to the individual in terms of dealing with the fact that success in the modern world is largely the result of sacrificing short-term wants for long term gains. Unfortunately, this mind set hasn’t trickled down to all sports. In the world of AG triathlon, for instance, the “I have 16 weeks to qualify for Kona” mind set is all too pervasive.

Another sport that does a good job focusing on the long term development of the athlete is swimming. My first job out of college was with Jones Aquatic Club in Australia. To this day, that short period of time in my life has left a significant impression on me. Let me paint the picture for you: A small, somewhat dingey indoor 25m pool bustling as a production line for the next Aussie swim superstars. In a 6 lane, 25m pool, every square foot was utilized in a mechanistic schedule that was running as smoothly as any Henry Ford production line ever did. The first 3 lanes were split in two, making for 9 ‘levels’ of swimming development. Each of these levels was denoted by a little colored token that the kid received when they checked in for the day. Once a child performed all of the (very specific) session criteria perfectly, one of the supervisors (that was my job), handed the kid a colored token indicating that they had been ‘promoted’ to the next level. It never ceased to amaze me, the joy that a small, inanimate token could bring to these kids. They would compete with the ferocity of an Olympic champion for the recognition of being the ‘kid who got the token’.

Of course, this method is paralleled in the Martial Arts, where the student’s long term development is broken up into a number of colored belt levels. I may be losing the plot here, but I have a sense that doing the same in any sport that requires a decade or more of commitment to truly realize your potential could only enhance long term motivation.

In keeping with my overall philosophy that if you want to train more or train harder, you must first prove it by training/racing faster, here are my virtual belt rankings from my own triathletic dojo :-) The following are my criteria for moving to the next level in running (similar criteria can be given for swim and bike training). I have derived these criteria from a number of sources (e.g. Daniels, Glover and Glover, McPhee) along with my own experience in working with athletes of a range of ability levels.

White Belt: All newbies come in as a white belt. In order to move up to a yellow belt they must achieve the following:

Yellow Belt:
- A 30mi (flat) run week in less than 4:36
- The ability to execute a functional strength routine with good form and optimal range of motion

- The ability to do 6x200m strides (pain free) in <47s/200
Blue Belt:
- A 40mi (flat) run week in less than 5:24 including:
- A 7mi long run in less than 60min
- 6x200m strides in less than 45s/200
- 3x1mi intervals in less than 7:00/mi w/1min rest

Black Belt:
- A 50mi (flat) run week in less than 6:30 including:
- An 11mi long run in less than 1:30
- 6x200m strides in less than 42s/200
- 8x400’s @ 3:30 w/a 400 jog in less than 1:26/400
- 4x1200’s @ 9:00 w/a 800 jog in less than 4:30/1200

After completing the ‘black belt’ program, the athlete is ready to move on to studying a specific school, e.g. Ironman training. This is not to say that athletes cannot complete an Ironman before reaching their black belt, however, in my mind at any belt level below black belt, the athlete is in a position to complete, but not compete.
This is an important distinction. It is also important to note that completing too many very long events during the athlete’s formative development will ultimately delay the point at which the athlete can begin to compete in said events. At the extreme, this can result in athletes who put in big volume but are never truly competitive as AG athletes because they lack a balanced development (but that sounds like the subject for another blog post)

Hope you’ve enjoyed my musings for this week.

Keep your focus, but keep it fun!

Sensai A :-)

Had a question from a reader on what a similar "black belt" week on the bike might look like. Some ideas below:
15hrs of cycling @ 2.8W/kg (211W NP for a 75kg cyclist)
w/the following key sessions:
- 60min Z3-Z4 Climb @ 3.8W/kg (285W NP for a 75kg cyclist)
- 5x5mins on/5mins off intervals @ >4.4W/kg (>330W for a 75kg cyclist)
- Big Gear Power Starts (10x30-60s in 53/12 w/2-5min easy spin recovery)
Getting your 'black belt' in Big A's Dojo isn't easy. Nothing worthwhile is.

Altitude -- Part Two

The picture above is Molina and me on Day Four of our high altitude training camp. We are on Loveland Pass, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Rockies.

Two weeks ago, I offered some general outlines for training camps. A little over a year ago, I offered some general outlines for altitude training. In reviewing those pieces, it struck me that they lacked practical advice for how YOU might approach a training camp at altitude. So that is my mission this week... offer you practical tips on how to get the most out of a 3-10 day altitude camp.

Why go to altitude?
Training at altitude produces desirable physiological changes for endurance athletes. My experience is that the most valuable (and potent) altitude stimuli occurs via blood desaturation during exercise at altitude. If you want to review the science on altitude then see the two book references at the bottom of this piece -- the books contain summaries of the best work that has been done on altitude.

For the endurance athlete, I define altitude:
Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

The first tip is to spend the bulk of your training camp one level higher than home. For example, if you live at sea level then be based at moderate altitude (4,500 to 6,500 feet). Remember that the primary goal is blood desaturation, then recovery. If you live/train too high then you end up with excessive desaturation and inferior recovery. Each day during training, feel free to sneak up a further level -- however -- be careful when training two-levels-up as fatigue/training stress is greatly magnified.

At an altitude camp, my main goals are (order of importance):

  1. Increased red blood cell growth via blood desaturation during training (my main goal each day)
  2. Build endurance through volume overload
  3. Maintain sport specific strength via hills (bike/run), big gear work (bike) and paddles (swim). I find low cadence work (swim/bike) to be well-tolerated.
  4. Enhance LT (not FT) performance via sub-LT, mod-hard blocks (generally 10-20 minute pieces at the end of an hour steady-state main set). See file at bottom for explanation of my terms.
  5. Maintain general strength -- keep overall training load such that I have enough energy to hit the gym every 4-6 days.

Some altitude training locations:

  • Jindabyne, NSW, Australia (3,000 feet; nearby Thredbo is 4,500 feet)
  • Bend, OR (3,600 feet)
  • Boulder, CO (5,400 feet)
  • Font Romeu, France (6,000 feet)
  • Vail, CO (8,300 feet)

My most common mistake with training at altitude is going too hard during the camp. Don't race during altitude training camps.

Tips to avoid going "too hard":

  • If you have access to sport specific testing then keep your heart rate under lactate threshold (as defined in the file below, ~2mmol definition of LT)
  • If you don't have access to testing then Mark Allen's MAP formula makes an effective cap, not target!
  • If you can blow yourself up in group training situations then: (a) make sure your camp partners are physically weaker than you; and/or (b) drop off the back _immediately_ when you hit the long climbs.

I have seen outstanding athletes ruin their training camps on day ONE, from ignoring the tip above. Even if you follow that tip, you may find that your early days at altitude leave you quite tired.

As well:

  • Disrupted Sleep -- if you can't sleep then assume you are training too intensely, reduce your heart rate cap by 10 bpm for 48 hours to regroup.
  • Sleep -- even if I have a little trouble sleeping, I make sure that I lie down for 10 hours per day. Molina likes naps -- I skip them so that I can fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Work -- don't expect to get any work done, you may be able to field easy telephone calls but you won't be able to devote much quality thought
  • Family -- don't con your spouse into running support. Keep family vacations about family.
  • Fitness -- arrive fit and train below your level of fitness. Altitude and increased training volume will give you the stimulus you desire.
  • Hydration -- in your first 72 hours at altitude increase your rate of hydration when training and across the night.
  • Nutrition -- always keep your heart rate down for the first two hours that follow solid food (if you ignore this tip then you will get "GI-feedback" that may have you sleeping on the couch). During training, keep your solids for the tops of long descents and use liquid nutrition. Make sure you have a protein source across your long training days. Avoid depletion, I tend to gain a couple of pounds during my most successful training camps.

Final Tips:

  • Gizmos -- leave your GPS and Powermeter at home, your training paces and power will be impaired at altitude -- this is the price you pay for building those red blood cells. I place my PowerTap in heart rate mode so that I am not tempted to chase watts.
  • Gearing -- use humble gearing. Most athletes will do best running a triple up front with a 30-tooth small ring. You need a lot of gears to stay under your heart rate cap in the early days.
  • Swimming -- unless you are a very efficient swimmer then you will have to dial your swimming way down. A good rule of thumb is to add 10% to your send-offs for each "step up" you take in altitude. Yes, you will likely need 20% more time to survive a workout in Vail if you are coming from sea level.
  • Running -- run easy and consider substituting trail hiking for your long runs.
  • Fun -- I was really lucky to have Scott along for this camp. He is my ideal training partner -- stronger than me mentally, great attitude outside of training and not seeking to kill me in training. I caught him looking at a map of South Western Colorado this morning so perhaps I can tempt him back in 2009!
  • Jacket -- always carry a rain jacket -- every single ride -- the weather changes FAST in the mountains

Finally, one that I learned from Chuckie V, NEVER CLIMB INTO LIGHTNING. The mountains will be there next time.

Hope this helps,


Recommended Reading


Files for Download

Endurance Corner Training Zones and Physiological Markers