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?
For the endurance athlete, I define altitude:
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):
Some altitude training locations:
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":
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.
Finally, one that I learned from Chuckie V, NEVER CLIMB INTO LIGHTNING. The mountains will be there next time.
Hope this helps,
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“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s 5:30 am on a Sunday morning and I find myself lying on my back, wide awake, with my world spinning. Surprisingly enough, my foggy head this time isn’t the result of a bike crash concussion or a big night on the town (Vegas is next week, folks! :-) Nope, I’m lying on my back with my head spinning after Sensai Gordo Byrn took me down in an Aikido match.
Let me elaborate, we all know I’m a big fan of the metaphor in my writing and in this case, Gordo didn’t really strap on a gi and a blackbelt and throw me over his shoulder. No, I chose this metaphor as representative of the way that Gordo and I tend to tackle a difference of opinion. In this case, a difference of opinion on the topic of athletic potential.
I am very accustomed to arguing. In fact, on some level, I really enjoy it. It may come as a surprise to those who know my introverted tendencies to know that I was on the debate team back in high school. In fact, it wasn’t just a case of being ‘on the team’, I hope it’s not too conceited of me to say that back in our day, we kicked ass (quarter finals at State ass to be specific :-). Anyhow, point being I have no problem drawing a line in the sand when necessary and not backing down.
On most matters, I think Gordo and I see eye to eye. In the world of elite athletics, if you talk to enough people at the top you begin to realize that the commonalities far exceed the differences. Recently, however, you may have noticed a, somewhat antipolar viewpoint in the matters of ‘hard vs. soft’ approach to goal achievement and, more significantly, the topic of athletic potential. It has always been my stance that endurance athletics is largely an area in life where you get what you deserve. Recently, I have noticed a departure in the G-mans philosophy, away from this stance (to be frank, I have a feeling that I may have been unintentionally instrumental in this departure, but that is beside the point).
The short point of my metaphorical introduction to this morning’s post is simply this – the Gman got me thinking.
In and of itself, this is no small feat. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to bear witness to some of my online forum debates with one or two of the well known sports scientists out there you’ll know that my general way of War, my Big-A-Do :-), if you will is, when someone pushes me, I brace myself, strengthen my position and push back ten times as hard. With the appropriate firepower, this is a great way to win an argument, but not a great way to grow. By contrast, Gordo has a knack of using your own energy against you and leaving you on your back, with your head spinning, reconsidering your approach (hence my long winded Aikido metaphor).
In this situation, my head is spinning with the question “do I show potential?”, or on another front “am I getting what I deserve out of what I am putting into the sport or am I ‘fooling myself’? I also want to challenge myself and you all by pointing out another way that as triathletes we typically ‘fool ourselves’.
I have had 3 times in my life where I would (now) consider myself relatively ‘fast’ as an endurance athlete (interestingly enough, in at least one of these cases, at the time I considered myself distinctly ‘slow’ in relation to my peer group. Relativity to your peer group is huge as Mat pointed out a while ago in his piece, ‘Fast in Indiana’.)
Being ‘Fast’ #1: The Swim
The first time was when I swam 18:03 for a 1500m Freestyle back in 1992. Not surprisingly, in the context of Australia distance swimming, at the time relative to my squad members, this felt ‘slow’. Funny how things change. Right now if I could get back to that form I’d be one of the first swimmers out of the water in most of the local races, even out here in Boulder.
So, what was I doing at that time that set me up to swim that ‘fast’? I swam this time toward the end of our summer break in 1992. At the time I was riding my heavy ‘Old School’ road bike 40mi a day to get to and from my morning and evening swim practice. I was swimming 5-7km in the morning and another 5-7 in the afternoon.
So, am I fooling myself as to my potential as a swimmer? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.
Being ‘Fast’ #2: The Bike.
The fastest that I have been on the bike was 58min for a hilly 40K Time Trial back in 2003. It was a pretty solid course that I would do each week as a benchmark ride. I was consistently under 1 hour. At the time, I was also doing some training rides with the Division 1 University cycling team. I was placing top 5 in their weekly Time Trials and was holding my own on the weekend group rides.
At the time, I had just broken up with my wife and cycling was my outlet. In a 3 month period, my smallest week was 313mi, my biggest was 404mi. I would regularly ride my bike from Gainesville to Orlando (~120mi), crash at a Days Inn near Disney World and then ride back the next day.
Am I fooling myself as to my potential as a cyclist? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.
Being ‘Fast’ #3: The Run.
The fastest that I have run was a 2:53 Marathon back in 2003. At the time I also ran several 5K’s in and around 18 minutes and a 37min 10K.
Still a little psychologically screwy, after getting injured (meniscus) after my big bout of cycling, I threw my energy into two things:
a) Running a lot
I had a 3 month block of 70-120k per week. I obsessively monitored everything that I ate and got my bodyweight (for my 6’4” frame) down to 158lbs. I was running to work and back twice most days (20K/day)
Am I fooling myself as to my potential as a runner? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.
I certainly don’t present my past as an example of what to do. I have made a lot of errors along the way. However, I do present it as a bit of a reality check on the sort of volume that decent single sport athletes are doing. While my mind-set may have been a little different to the folks around me who were finishing at about the same time, I assure you my training volume wasn’t, 50-70mi a week isn’t anything ‘special’ to a runner. 400mi a week is pretty standard for a Cat 2/3 cyclist and 70K a week in the pool is nothing for a decent club level Aussie swimmer.
Of course, the challenge as a triathlete is to find the space in your life and the energy to do the requisite training volume. However keep in mind that even for you, as a triathlete, doing the work in all sports is a requisite. The notion of ‘cross-training’ is B.S. If you want to run like a runner, you must run like a runner, If you want to swim like a swimmer…. Well, you get my drift.
Sometimes as athletes, I think we (want to) forget these realities. Fool others, by all means, but whatever you do, don’t fool yourself.
I will be in the city of sin next week, if I am to be honest with you (and myself), I will probably be working out or sleeping while the rest of the city’s populous (including my brother, who is visiting from Australia) is sinning in one way, shape or form :-). I think I have always found more lasting joy in Asceticism than sin. I was pleasantly surprised, during my first road trip with the G-man, to discover that Nevada offers plenty of both. I’m looking forward to returning.
Anyhow, not sure how much time I will have to write next week so I thought I would throw up a second blog for this week. Speaking of asceticism, in this post, I am going to reproduce (blatantly copy) one of my favourite, & most inspirational pieces of writing on the subject: Percy Cerutty’s Stotan Code.
I gave a brief history of Cerutty and his ‘Stotan’ philosophy in a former blog. I was pleased to hear that it resonated with a number of readers in the same way it does me (I have highlighted some of the lines in this piece that most speak to me). I hope the following post provides more ‘fuel for the fire’ for the week of training ahead.
See you out there.
The Stotan Code
‘Maker of Champions’
A Stotan is one who hardens, strengthens, toughens and beautifies the body by consistent habits and regular exercises, which are consciously and irrevocably made part of the life plan of the individual, as well as consciously determining that the mind will be cultivated upon such abstractions as purity, beauty and logic. Erudition, in as complete a degree as possible shall be the lifelong aim: Truth, in relation to all aspects of life, the unending search.
Stotans will, by virtue of their philosophy, be nature lovers, with a respect and appreciation of all evolved or created things. They will appreciate the sanctity of creative effort both in themselves and in others. They will strive to understand the significance implied by reality, will be able to discern the real from the spurious, and see no anomaly in nudity, either in body or mind. But neither will they cast pearls before swine.
Stotans, for all the reasons that their philosophy stands for (viz: hardness, toughness, unswerving devotion to an ideal), would look upon the sea (or mountains) as their pristine element and endeavour to associate themselves with their primeval source by immersing themselves at least once per month in all seasons of the year. No practice is disposed to toughen, both the body and the morale, more than this.
Stotans believe that neither the body nor the mind can be maintained at a high pitch of efficiency unless sufficient and regular rest is obtained, and aim at a daily average of of 8 hours sleep. Stotans, also, will not be found in social places after midnight. Stotans shall so regulate their lives that at the end of a period, varying with the intensity of effort, each shall realize that they have attained, without conscious striving, to a state of knowledge, and a position of leadership within the community. It is axiomatic that only the pure can understand purity, only the cultivated appreciate beauty, and only the strong truly measure their strength. Therefore, only the self-disciplined can command genuine respect.
(a)… to withstand physical hardship, to accomplish feats of strength and endurance, to understand orderliness, and the true meaning of intelligence.
(b) To know himself as an organism and a personality
(c) To emerge, eventually emancipated, from all dogmas, creeds, and beliefs, as well as worldly and unworldly hopes and fears.
(d) To habitually function upon the highest planes of thought and physical effort.
(e) To place the objective of an alert, informed intelligence, and a perfected body, as primary in Life. And to arrive at the conclusion that all else will follow on.
(g) To understand that Past, Futures, Fates, Fears, Death, Selfishness, Egoism, Pride, Envy, Hate and Prejudice can be replaced by Intelligence that controls emotion, dominates destiny, manifests completeness and exults in Life.
(h) To understand that, in actuality, evolved man is a King, but without the trappings. That Kingship is his right and his destiny. That we can make ourselves, in time, all that we would. That we honour real men but are subservient to none.
In addition, Stotans shall train themselves to withstand, stoically, personal criticism, also, scepticism as the necessity or wisdom of such a Way of Life. In this regard, Stotans soon learn that they command knowledge, experience and ability not available to the prejudiced, the ignorant or the slothful.
Also, having embarked upon the Stotan Way of Life, like the Spartans, one must go through with it to the end. There is no giving up throughout life. The first pre-requisite for a Stotan is tenacity. The next is to understand that his loyalties are towards making the most of the material that is his, to the expansion, or at least the manifestation of the Life Force, and a constant identification of himself with his Life Force through his Way of Life.
To live this Way of Life is hard. It is not for weaklings. It is the Way that is travelled by all the truly great ones. It requires strenuous effort of body and mind.
The passage above is taken from the Graem Sims biography of Percy Cerutty, entitled “Why Die”. It is one of my favourite reads.
A book recommendation for you that I have been enjoying is Seeking Wisdom, From Darwin to Munger. When I have read Charlie Munger's writing, he often talks about his checklists -- trouble is, I couldn't find them anywhere. Until I bought this book -- they are a great appendix that the author assembled.
This week I am going to share ideas on a reader question.
If you have a moment can you address training as a way to maintain a lifetime of fitness and how to manage your training with a long term view? I ask because for myself partly but mostly for my father who is 63 and a fit runner. After watching me at the Eagleman 70.3 he has decided to switch from marathons/ casual cycling to triathlon (I am supportive and think the focused cross training is likely more sustainable as he gets older). Do you have any recommendations for older athletes? Are younger athletes able to maintain their fitness as they age or does the volume over the years result in overuse injuries that surface later in life?
I wrote a blog on The Aging Athlete last November. That is a good starting point.
Long time readers will notice that my advice appears consistent across sex, age, experience and and goals. That is a conscious decision -- my experience is that consistent application of the Four Pillars applies very well across populations. For training protocol, I think that we should all research the lessons of Arthur Lydiard and translate to our sport, ability level and athletic age.
NOTE -- Lydiard is well known for his 100-mile per week base phase, I like to translate that into time for triathletes -- in Lydiard's population a 100-mile run week was about 11-12 hours of training. For sustainable results, keep those hours in your head, sticking with a hard distance target can be counterproductive.
Every athlete, that seeks long term success, should remember the essential nature of non-training factors. Put another way, new athletes can appear to "get away"with poor nutrition, never stretching, muscle imbalances, and weak recovery strategies. If you want to perform across ten, twenty, fifty years then these risk factors become key personal limiters.
A phased approach can work well. Phases within each week, month, year, four year cycle and decade. Consider the weak points in your current athletic inventory. What can derail you? Greatly improve these "consistency risk factors" in your transition period and early season. Then... maintain across your season. It takes far less energy to maintain a level of strength/flexibility/nutrition/immune function than it does to improve, or heal, when it goes off track.
As an example, even today, I feel that I continue to benefit from strength training done over a decade ago, yoga done eight years ago and two years of aerobic overload (2003/2004).
There are only a few (usually Olympic level) coaches that have the vision to nurture talent across a 6-12 year time horizon. Most people go-for-broke in 6-18 months and only the biomechanically gifted freaks survive.
Our reader closes with a great point -- lifetime volume and wearing out. Hardly anyone (other than former elite marathoners and ironman champions) discusses this with me. I suppose it is human nature to avoid focusing on the fact that we wear-out and die.
Listen to my interview with Dr. John Hellemans.
John is very good at respecting an individual's 'right' to make their own mistakes. However, he has been telling me for YEARS that the high level pursuit of ultradistance sports is unhealthy because of the training load IMers place on our bodies. I never had a real position on his point until this year (he's right). It's a lot like death -- it simply doesn't make sense until someone young, close to us, dies. Even then, our brains aren't wired to focus on our own mortality.
My buddy, Jeff (Dr. J) Shilt explains it this way... think of yourself as a car. You can use the best fuel, have a perfect service record and drive carefully. Still, no matter what you do, things will wear out eventually. 1200 hour training years don't exactly fit with "careful driving"!
Coming back to Hellemans, he is one of the best 50-somethings in the world at standard distance triathlon (8 world AG titles, I think). He's been in triathlon since it was founded and is still ripping today. He shoots for 12-15 hours per week of training load and that enables him to be a highly competitive and happy guy.
Tom Evans is my role-model for Ironman and John Hellemans is my role-model for life.
So in terms of life long athletics -- thinking through my own experience as well as my training partners left in the sport and long gone...
You can likely hit it pretty solid through to 25 years old. Athletically young athletes can also be very aggressive for 1, or 2, years when they are under 40. I have seen many athletes jumpstart their endurance by taking a sabbatical from work to focus on their cycling. However, hitting-it-hard for more than 18 months tends to fry athletes at all levels and compromises long-term consistency.
Remember that long term consistency is the best indicator of being able to approach our ultimate athletic performance. Far more than protocol, consistency is the universal characteristic that appears at the top.
High performing endurance athletes that come from non-impact sports (swimming, cycling) need to be VERY VERY careful when they start running. If you strap an elite swimming engine to a novice runner body then you nearly always ruin the athlete -- don't fall into the trap of fooling yourself with exceptions. There is a TON of silent evidence.
So my advice... if you have potential for triathlon then you will know within two years from starting the sport. Folks with high athletic potential improve very rapidly. With that rapid improvement comes the temptation for more, and more, and more... a good coach is valuable to protect you from the natural enthusiasm that comes from success. Know your coach's limiters and remember that we tend to be attracted to people that share our biases.
For whatever reason, we seem to think that there is more merit in ruining our bodies if we happen to be be "good" -- my rapid, and continuous, improvement hindered my capacity for an objective review of my athletic path. It wasn't until I approached my athletic peak, for a second time, that I was able to consider what the heck I was doing. Like so many things, most of us keep rolling until something breaks. Even then, how often do we chase the illusive "high" of past experience.
Once you have been doing endurance sport seriously for five years, and certainly by ten, you will have a clear idea of your potential, what you enjoy and (if you pause to think) should be able to figure out the "why" behind your participation. At that stage, it is worth considering how you are going to maximize your "athletic why" across the rest of your lifetime. If you read this blog weekly then you'll know that I've been mulling my "why" for a few years... ...and I am still training!
Off to the Rockies with Molina. Back online after the 4th of July.
Today is the June 1 and I've been back in Seattle for 9 months now. Yesterday I did the Issaquah Sprint Triathlon, my first race of the season and it was awesome!
I woke up at 5:20 after hitting the snooze button twice and did some visualization (I use that term loosely) and ate some cereal before loading up my rig. After stopping at SBUX in Madison Park for my morning coffee I rolled across the 520 Bridge en route to Lake Sammamish where the race was being held. The air was clear and bright (if air can be bright I'm not sure, but at least the sky was) with the temperature in the upper 40's and the water temperature in the upper 50's.
I arrived at the transition area with about an hour to spare and got my body markings before going in and setting up my station. After laying out my wetsuit, bike gear and checking out all of the cute girls in the vicinity (races can be considered the bar scene for athletes and just like I was too shy to approach them at bars I don't do it here either) I pulled on my running shoes and ran around the parking lot for 10 minutes to get warmed up.
Unlike in previous year's races (all one and a half of them) I showed up with the expectation that I was going to perform at a relatively respectable level and I was confident that I would do well.
Of course no matter how well prepared we are or how confident we think we might be there is that little voice inside of us we have to contend with. You know which one I'm talking about, the one that tells us we aren't good enough and we are going to get our asses kicked. Somehow this guy in my dome trys to convince me that some dude that has been sitting on his couch all winter watching reality tv and pounding micro brews to escape the bleak reality of a Seattle winter is going to roll out on this sunny day and blow me and all of my hard work away. It is in silencing this inner critic and telling it that we did the training, we are in shape and we are here today to kick that voice's ass that enable us to secure our first victory of the day. Of course, the voice has logged many hours of steady training as well and he is not one to be beaten easily.
Being a part of me he is no quitter and he came right back at me, taunting me as I pulled on my wetsuit and walked down to the lake for my warm up swim. He got pretty loud and cocky as I waded into the water and realized it was a little bit colder than the night before and hesitated. Finally after remininding myself the importance of not being a whimp (not exactly what I said but you never know who will be reading this) and how beneficial a warm up is I threw my face in the frigid water and started to swim. Finally after 5-10 minutes of warming up I hauled myself over to the starting line to kick off the 2008 season.
For the first time ever in a race I didn't get in the back of the pack for the swim start and settled in closer to the front- half running half swimming to get going. My swim was OK and it was certainly better than last year by leaps and bounds I did stop a few times when I started swimming into people, but this was an entirely new experience for me... actually passing people so I think my system was in shock. This time I was in freestyle the entire time which apparently is a pretty effective way to race. No dog paddling, no back stroke, no side stroke, no visions of some hunch back dude on a flat boat with an eye patch dredging the bottom of the lake for my bloated dead body. Pretty solid all the way around.
I finished the swim strong coming up on the beach in 8 minutes and ran to the transition in a much better mood than past races. I knew I was in pretty good shape when I actually had to dodge people in the transition area as in the past this area has been some pretty lonely real estate for me. Aside from taking a full two minutes to pull my jersey over my heart rate monitor I had a fairly smooth transition and was off.
Once on the bike I passed quite a few people in my age group and remained fairly strong throughout the bike leg. Unlike the standard long course training that I do with my heart rate around 140ish I was pinning it the whole time and had my heart rate around 160 and 175-180 on the hills. I could feel the lactate sludge building up and burning in my legs but that feeling was trumped by the endorphin high that I was experiencing at the time. There are few highs in life that I can think of that compares to the feeling of racing. Even when in deep pain it has a way of locking me into the present moment and no matter how intense I am into the race I notice the beauty in everything. The scenery, the athletes-both the elites and average guys and girls out there giving it their best- it is very moving for me. It is times like these that I am truly appreciative of the gift that is my life.
But no matter how locked in I get it doesn't mean my mind doesn't wander and here are a few random thoughts from the ride...
-Maybe I shouldn't have had that shake from BurgerMaster last night
-Why do I think a stormtrooper is coming when I hear disc wheels
-I wonder what Issaquah tastes like? Is it better baked or sauteed? What would it be infused with if it were on the menu at most Seattle restaurants?
-who chooses the music they play at races? Why do we always have to hear good time oldies? why don't they play Metallica?
-I wonder if the lady in the 40-45 age group riding the mountain bike and listening to her Ipod thought it was cool that my legs are shaved? (I am not making this stuff up- I won't put into print what I come up with on long training rides)
So... enough of the race course philososphy. I pulled into the last transition and nearly encountered catastrophe. Due to a problem with team JFT2 uniforms not arriving in time I was racing in my old gear. Normally not a big thing, but... I had used my shorts for training in the pool and they had nearly disintegrated. They were certainly not the form fitting spandex they once were and my cut off jean shorts from my pseudo hippie days would probably have offered more support. As I was trying to dismount coming into the transition my shorts got stuck on my seat and I nearly bit it. Fortunately I have ample practice of averting near disaster while moving at high speed from my time on the slopes and as the crowd applauded my high wire act I was able to pull out of my nose dive and eject from the bike. It was only hours later when my friend Phil made his kids go inside when I came over to their house did I discover that I had torn a nice hole in my shorts exposing my pasty white backside.
The final transition was not too bad and I hit the running trail in high gear. I kept up what I felt was a "blistering" pace for the entire run and according to my calculations I did the run in just under 20 minutes and this was later confirmed by the official timer. I felt like my chest was going to explode the entire run, but at least I kept my heart rate steady (160-1755) Ha! I felt strong the entire run and had enough of a kick left to pass several more people at the end and finish with a time of 1:16:22. Random thoughts for the run...
-Oh my God, how much time do I have to prepare for Vineman?
-I wonder how long I could run all out at altitude before my hands start to shake?
-I'm glad I had that shake at BurgerMaster last night
Overall I was very happy with my performance and I am optimistic about the 2008 season. Next up is the Cascade's Edge Oly on June 21st, hopefully it won't be snowing that day.
As I grow older I am a big fan of connecting the dots and seeing how various singular events throughout life tie into others to make up the big picture. The past six months (hell the past 3 years) has been an interesting time in my life. I have seen my business and training/fitness take off and I have been through a somewhat difficult break up (or a relationship restructuring to place it in a positive sense) I have made it a practice to to ask questions of whatt good will come out of a seemingly bad situation. I now know that if I hadn't gone through the break up, I wouldn't have shaken up my routine and gone to the Endurance Corner Tucson camp this past March. This event has continued to have a positive impact on my life in many ways (Props to you Court!)
For me this was taking a big risk. In uncertain financial times it was a bit of a sacrifice for me to put out the money it took to travel down and attend, but I knew that it would be money well spent in supporting my goals. This is why I work to make money in the first place.
The second fear that I had to overcome was the fear of embarrassing my self. There were around 20 talented, hard working athletes at the camp and it took a leap of faith for me to leave my ego back in Seattle and just go down and give it my best. Sometimes that is all that we can do.
Just being around the Endurance Corner guys and all of the athletes was a big inspiration to me and I made it through the week relatively unscathed. Fortunately Gordo and JD had it set up that it was all I could do to roll out of bed and get my work in. I had no energy left to feel embarrassed and I certainly had no pride. This gave me a huge confidence boost and a new realization of just what it takes to become great at this sport.
You see, for me I love the training and the racing involved in triathlon, but I get much more out of it than that. I always look for ways that I can cross pollinate other areas of my life with the lessons and examples from sports. How can I use this experience to make me a better friend, boyfriend, eventually husband and dad. How can I use this transformation I've undergone as an example to others. How can I be more productive in business. This is what I think of when I'm not thinking about the milkshakes and dopers legs falling off when I'm out on my long rides.
For what it's worth I placed in the top third in my age group and wasn't too far from being where I want to be which is in the top 10. I'm feeling much better about the racing aspect of myself than I was when I was at the back of the back (Gordo, there is a difference) However I wasn't extremely attached to the outcome in either case. I might even be less attached now that I know it's more about my process and if I continually prepare the outcome will take care of itself- in both racing and life.
"Ain't no man can avoid being born average, but there ain't no man got to be common." Satchel Paige
Get after it!
“Duncan Armstrong (1988 Olympic Gold medallist in the 200m Freestyle) had witnessed the ruthless dedication displayed by Jono Sieben in his quest for his Olympic Gold (1984 200m Butterfly). In 12 months of training he did not miss one day, one session.”
- Lawrie Lawrence (coach of multiple Olympic champions)
“Give me 1000 x 6000m swim sessions without missing 1 and I guarantee you an Olympic Berth”
“The only secret of those of us who were training at Caulfield and Ferny Creek was the consistency of our training. None of us ever missed a day, as a result, we were all improving. Although each of our sessions would physically stretch us, we never finished a day so exhausted that we were not able to train to the same standard the following day.”
There is a great quote (I think it’s Mark Twain) that comes to mind:
“He who picks up a cat by the tail learns something that he can learn no other way”
The point, of course, is that sometimes it takes a serious physical or emotional punch in order for us to truly learn, on the deepest level, a simple lesson. This is particularly appropriate to this week’s post because, as you probably read in my last update, I have recently had a week off and a week of very light training following my last crash – lots of time to think (& mope) about lost training.
Of course, we read about the importance of consistency again and again, but for some of us (e.g. me), we don’t truly realize just how important consistency is until we are forced into a period of inconsistent training. I’ll chat about my experiences over the past couple of weeks in a bit, but first a little background reading…
There are a number of studies out there that have demonstrated the immediacy of detraining upon cessation of training. Detraining occurs as quickly as 3 days after training ends and within 1-3 weeks, performance can be expected to drop by 25-30%. If you are unfortunate enough to be forced into a 1-3 month period of no training, expect a loss in performance of 40-50%. For all but elite athletes, this kind of loss will bring most athletes back to pre-training levels (McArdle, Katch and Katch, 1996). When one looks at these numbers, the importance of doing whatever it takes to keep the engine ‘ticking over’ becomes readily apparent.
The mechanisms behind these fitness losses are equally interesting: In just one week of training, athletes can lose 50% of additional mitochondria produced during 5 weeks of training. Once lost, up to 4 weeks of additional training are needed to regain this mitochondria (Olbrecht, 2000). This 4:1 rule is pretty commonly touted among coaches and seems well supported by the literature and my own personal experience, (as I have outlined below).
Similarly, glycogen stores rapidly decrease upon cessation of training, with losses of 40-60% to be expected following 4 weeks of de-training (Wilmore and Costill, 1999). This has direct implications on the athlete’s work tolerance upon resuming training. Even following 1 week of de-training, the athlete will often not reach pre-break training volume until 1 month or more of training resumption.
As mentioned above, my own experiences over the past couple of weeks are tying in well with the literature (I have actually had this blog in the works for a couple of weeks now. I was hopeful that I would be able to show data from my training break through to the return to my normal training/performance levels, but I am afraid, despite my wishes, I am falling in line with what the literature suggests and don’t expect to be back to this level for at least another week!)
My session by session average power and heart rate (from the session before my break through to now) is shown graphically below:
The 2 red lines represent my average training power and heart rate from my last month of training. As you can see, if my average power continues it’s trend, it will be July 1st before I am back to my average power output (201W) for the month of May. In other words, after 1 week off, it is taking me another 3 weeks to just get back to ‘normal’ training levels. This has huge implication for those athletes who have regular 3-7 day breaks in their schedule, e.g. travel for work etc. It is imperative that some level of maintenance training is done even during these relatively short time periods to ensure that the athlete is not continually playing catch up.
For athletes who are forced to take longer periods off due to injury, the importance of maintenance training becomes more pronounced. After reading about just how aggressive Floyd Landis was in his return to training after his hip fracture and comparing it to my own conservative approach (that resulted in being confined to a wheelchair for the better part of 3 months), I realize the importance that elite athletes give to ‘keeping the engine ticking over’.
In the end, as the elite coaches and athletes quoted at the start of this piece have concluded, CONSISTENCY TRUMPS ALL!
"Just wondering what kind of guidelines there are for maintaining one's current fitness level?"
There is good news on this front. Generally, studies show that performance can be maintained (or in the case of tapering, improved) with reductions in training volume of 80-90% of peak seasonal volume for 7-10days of training or 65-80% of peak seasonal volume for longer time periods (up to 4 weeks), providing intensity, particularly intensity in excess of the lactate threshold is maintained at normal levels. (Anderson et al., 1992, Costill et al. 1985, Mujika et al. 1996).
Our picture this week is Scott Molina (looking buff at 48) competing in the Epic Italy, 4.5K uphill race. For me, his expression sums it up. Note that he is holding excellent form despite being totally worked. True running technique is what you are left with when you're wrecked. Here's a shot of Johno's run form... hills are a great way to improve running economy...
I'd show you a picture of my running form but... it left a bit to be desired when put alongside my fellow Epic coaches! We'll finish with a veranda shot at the Hotel des Alpes in Cortina. An outstanding hotel based in the heart of the Dolomites. A great base for the bulk of your vacation in the Italian Alps.
Back to the quote that started this piece off. If a man as clever as Feynman says that he needs to be careful about fooling himself then, I figure, there are a number of areas in my own life where I am currently fooling myself. So the last two weeks have been spent investigating how I am fooling myself.
Use of Capital -- I need to exercise consistent fiscal discipline across all areas of my life.
Athletic Achievement -- athletic triumphs are most satisfying when novel and unexpected. Across a lifetime, one may find greater satisfaction from success in a variety of fields. The joy of beginner's mind is exceedingly tough to maintain as one becomes more and more experienced (in reality, more and more biased!) in a field.
Athletics and Satisfaction -- satisfaction comes from living in harmony with my body and the sensations of personal health. These feelings are most prevalent when I am training for a competition. However, I think that I am linking competition to the feelings rather than seeing the link between lifestyle and personal satisfaction.
Relative Achievement and Competition -- the most peaceful moments of my adult life have been moving in harmony with nature, not defeating strangers in athletic combat.
Benefits of Financial Wealth -- the two greatest benefits of financial wealth are independence and freedom. Using our wealth for its most obvious use (goods and services) reduces it ability to provide us with what truly matters.
All of the above feed into my personal values and ethics that I have built up over the last ten years.
Successful Marriage based on kindness and respect
The title of this article refers to years 40 to 80 of my life. My goal with my current review is to establish a frame of reference against which I can make decisions of varying duration and expected outcome.
I thought that I was going to have to re-write "everything" then discovered that my values were fairly well documented within my existing business plan.
I will finish this week with a shot of my nephew sporting the GordoWorld team colors at a local swim meet...
“Unless you push the limits, you stagnate. Only when you try to go way beyond where you’ve been before do you really grow. That’s when you’re alive. That’s when you’re really living.” – Mark Allen.
In said blog, the g-man asks the question:
“What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves in the process?”
Gordo goes on to point out something that, while the masses may not understand, something that, as athletes, we all (eventually) get: Athletic achievement and personal wellness are not synonomous. In fact, at the highest elite level, they are completely incongruent.
And so, as athletes, as people, we ultimately must answer the question “Why on earth would I choose to pursue an activity that may shorten, if not prematurely end my life?” For some, the answer is simple, “I wouldn’t” and so triathlon is pursued only to the extent that it enriches their health and the rest of their lives. They hike the small peaks and turn around when the footing becomes a little loose.
Others, perhaps the majority of athletes out there secretly enjoy the challenge, but rationally convince themselves that their level of involvement in triathlon supports their health and greater goals. As renowned exercise physiologist, Cooper, concluded back in the day, physiologically this is not the case: ‘If you are training more than 5 hours a week you are doing it for reasons other than health.’ For these athletes, drawing that fine line between achievement and wellness is a constant struggle.
For others, like the climber who inspired the title for today’s piece, the answer to Gordo’s question is just as easy (while perhaps not as rational) as the first group. When, in 1924, George Mallory was asked “Why would you want to climb Everest (when there is every chance of failure/death)?” he simply, and definitively replied “Because it’s there!”. Soon after, Mallory and his colleague, Andrew Comyn Irvine disappeared on the mountain and were not seen again until an expedition discovered their frozen bodies in 1999, 75 years, and some 1100 successful summits since Mallory made his decision.
In my mind, the perspective you take on Mallory’s quest, whether an ill-thought decision that resulted in failure or an inspiring example of ‘going for it 100%’ and living without fear says a lot about your potential as a triathlete.
We all choose (if and) when we turn around on the mountain.
Our lead photo this week is the Passo di Stelvio – I spent Saturday riding up its forty-eight switchbacks. The photo is taken looking down and shows less than one-third of the climb, without doubt, one of the greatest rides in the world.
If you are a cyclist then I highly recommend a pilgrimage to
Big training isn’t for everyone and, even if you are ‘good’ at it, it can be counterproductive to your health and goals. However, undertaking massive challenges can be rewarding and lead to personal growth.
I now know that I can’t “win” Epic Camp. I might win “the game” but, to do that, I place myself in such a hole that I forfeit my larger life goals. Learning the value in doing less has been one of the most useful lessons of my athletic journey.
At Epic, we place ourselves under immense stress. Why? Each of us has a different answer to that question and, I suspect, many of the athletes never stop to consider their own answer. Here is mine… I attend Epic because training camps work.
If you have athletic goals then you are far more likely to achieve them when you surround yourself with a total training environment.
The essential components:
Removal of outside stressors – I didn’t check email once during the camp. This has a very positive impact on my recovery and clarity of mind. Our support team are also essential – laundry, maps, aid stations, meals. This is a huge benefit, even when balanced with the distractions of language, culture and different foods.
Social pressure – We all want to “look good”. If I host a camp then (to maintain my self-image) I can’t sleep through swim practice, take a van ride or skip my runs. What I can control is hitting the minimum workouts, doing my best and trying to be cheerful the whole time. I am placing myself in an uncomfortable situation where success is achieved by enduring the discomfort.
NOTE – In earlier years, social pressure to out-train every athlete temporarily ruined my health. In our larger society, social pressure to keep up with financial expenditure can lead to financial ruin. So be very careful with how you set yourself up in public (and the company you keep – your peer group greatly matters).
Massive Training Overload – My athletic advantage is capacity to train. If you can cram a ton of work into your body, absorb it and learn when to spend it… then you will improve. You will also place incredible stress on your immune system and wear your body out faster than if you were more moderate in approach. As with many things, there are increasing costs and decreasing benefits as you move up the performance curve.
In my experience, the costs outweigh the benefits for many athletes. Eight days of Epic Camp can be a great reality check on whether athletic success is desirable, probable and personally profitable (in the largest sense). Most people don’t have the necessary combination of genetics, attitude, life situation and talent to train (or work) at an elite level. Still, it can be fun place to visit.
Of course, if I had failed to try… that would have been a great (and, perhaps, silent) failure in my life.
Most EpicVets get a permanent benefit from the camp. However, given the psychological profile of our sport, we have had a few customers (myself included) absolutely torch themselves. Only the fittest athletes have a shot a sustaining what we do at Epic.
The camps are a great study in psychology and coping mechanisms. While we have “rules” for scoring points at the camp, everyone ends up playing their own version of the game. I suspect that we do this so that we each “win” in our own way. The people that attend are so used to winning that we each withdraw (at times) when faced with a situation where we may “lose”.
Next year, we will host two Epic Camps –
If you are interested in learning more about Epic Camp then send us an email with your athletic background.
The camps are most effective for people in Sub-10 hour Ironman shape. With our climbing camps (Rocky Mountains, Pyrenees,
If you aspire to Epic then Endurance Corner will be hosting more moderate training camps in 2009 – Tucson in early April (sub-13 to sub-10 IMers) as well as Boulder in July (open to IMers of all ability levels). I’ll share more details about these camps in the coming months.
In early 2003, I managed to go under nine hours at Ironman New
Two weeks after that race, Scott Molina asked me “What if that’s it?” My reply was, “there’s always more”. Five years, two bouts of serious overtraining and six-months away from my 40th birthday… I am starting to see the relevance of his question…
In 2004, I achieved outstanding personal fitness from cramming eight weeks of high volume training into a nine-week block. My training partner on that adventure was Clas Bjorling – one of the toughest, and nicest, athletes that I have ever met. We didn’t try to “get fast”. We did the trip because we thought that it would be fun to swim/bike/run across
Don’t assume that if you did the same trip then you’d get as fast as us! The trip “worked” because we (somewhat accidentally) created an environment where we gave ourselves what we needed at the time. Always remember to consider what YOU need as well as your current personal limiters. This is tough to do – I find it much easier to follow the advice of others than sit down and think for myself. Thinking is work.
Back to my fitness… early this year, I started to notice that I was able to do anything that I wanted on the bike. This is different than being able to do _anything_. I have limits but when I am riding in my peer group I can achieve what I set out to do – even if that is merely to survive.
Greed, in all things, is a source of personal downfall. Ten years ago, I altered my course from maximizing financial gain to increasing my life satisfaction. At its root, overtraining syndrome is a form of greed, an obsession with athletic performance that, ultimately, leads the athlete to sickness.
In regaining my athletic fitness I noticed clear parallels with the world of international finance. The most striking is the lack of health amongst some of the long-term practitioners. There are a lot of wrecked bodies in high finance and elite athletics. As a defense, the high performers would probably point to the poor health of the masses but, for me, that misses the point. What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves (or compromise our ethics) in the process?
Few people arrive at the position where they are able to rationally see the benefits of less. Typically, we only see the benefits of change when we hit the bottom of our personal potential, or face a major crisis.
So as I blast up a 2,000 meter climb in the Dolomites, self-assured in my King of Mountains jersey, I ask myself… how am I serving the larger goals of my life? Will an extra 20 watts on my functional threshold get me to the top of the bean stock? How about an extra 50 watts? An extra 100 watts?
Then it dawns on me, I have learned this lesson before.
Day Three, Epic Camp Italy 2008 – I ride off the front pretty easily and realize that I should really enjoy the next few months because this is as quick as I am going to get. At one level (performance), my athletic mission is complete. At another (personal wellness), it is beginning.
Molina noticed the change in me and found it entertaining. He might not know the source until he reads this blog. Monica saw it months ago, before I had even noticed. Both of them roll their eyes when I say “this is it”. They’ve heard it all before.
What about Scott’s question?
If this is the Pinnacle then this is enough. Frankly, 2/3rds of my current fitness is enough – I would, however, have to adjust my bike gearing for the French Alps next summer. Scott was running a 30-tooth small chain ring in the Dolomites and many of us had gear envy.
Yes, after managing to keep a safe distance between me and the pavement for the better part of a year and a half now (since my last crash in which I broke my hip and a couple of other things), my streak came to a crashing halt last Tuesday when I ran into some relatively immovable object on the roadway and came off second best.
Let me tell you, broken fingers aren’t too far down the pain scale from broken hips, but thanks to my friendly nurse with his morphine drip on hand, the pain was relatively short lived. Unfortunately, my ER doc’s attempt of ‘popping’ one of my fingers back into place didn’t work out and I wound up in surgery getting my finger pinned in place and my fractured elbow drained.
It maybe a little sad to admit that the first thought that went through my head after hitting the deck was “How much fitness am I going to lose this time?”. After my last experience of going from lifetime best fitness to completely starting over, after 3 months of bed rest, I must say, having to do it again is one of my greatest fears.
As it turns out, the answer to my question was 1 week (it would have been sooner but my doc made me promise not to work out until I was off the pain meds!!) I just got back from my first workout back, 1hr on the bike trainer followed by 30 minutes on the treadmill. After pushing a dismal 160W in my aerobic zone (50W less than usual), I am reminded yet again of the power of consistency. Avoid time off at all costs. Keep the engine ticking over at all times. Even in recovery cycles, movement is good!!
But, I digress. As promised, the topic of this week’s post is a follow up to my post 2 weeks ago on practical ways to improve fat oxidation. I will present a brief (typing with one hand sucks!! :-) case study of the athlete that we have witnessed the greatest improvement in fat oxidation thus far and I will highlight some of the practical methods that we have used to get him to this point.
I have been coaching this athlete for a little over a year now. He came to me as a relative ‘newbie’ to the sport (2yrs), with no experience over long-course triathlon (but a tendency for a performance drop off with increased duration, if we compare his best single sport efforts with his best longer duration tri efforts). Incidentally, this profile describes the majority of male athletes coming to me to prepare for their first Ironman. When we look at this athletes first substrate profile, it is not hard to see why many athletes do great over short duration efforts but have a hard time fuelling long duration efforts, e.g the Ironman.
As many of you know, my rule of thumb for best case Ironman (and day to day) pacing for an intermediate triathlete is ~10kcal of CHO/min. This is based on the simple math of average glycogen stores going into the event plus the maximum rate of glycogen sparing if the athlete fuels appropriately. Based on this athletes first test, even at his slowest pace he was expending >10kcal of CHO/min. If he raced at this level of fitness, clearly he would be in for a very long day with a best case scenario of walking the marathon. With very respectable ‘top end’ performances of 18:15 for a 5K and sub 60min for a 40K TT, clearly fat oxidation was the big limiter.
Nutrition: Our 2 goals for this athlete were (A) an improvement in fat oxidation at all intensities (B) a reduction in bodyweight. In order to accomplish these goals, I put this athlete on a diet of 400g of CHO/200g of (lean) Protein and 100g of (good) Fat. This represents 3300kcal/day and 48%/24%/28% macronutrient breakdown. Irrespective of whether the diet is eucaloric or not, I have found these percentages to be ideal in the base phase of training. This is (indirectly) also supported by the literature, e.g. Bergstrom et al. (1967) – check this study out. Lots of practical implications for the endurance athlete!!
Training: To support our objectives, training volume was quite high (20-23hrs/wk) but initially of a very low intensity (with most sessions having a cap of 50 beats below max!!) Incidentally, this is the sort of training that a very successful German ex-pro triathlete advocated when I was fortunate enough to chat with him about how he reached the pinnacle of the sport. It is what Dan Empfield called in an article about how the Germans trained “ridiculously slow”.
Our key sessions each week were a 4hr long flat bike (usually a trainer session due to weather constraints) followed the day after by a long, relatively flat hike of 4+ hours. Other sessions during the week were an aerobic maintenance brick, a strength maintenance session and several technique focused swims.
A couple of important caveats to the athlete looking to undertake such a program:
1. The athlete is a graduate student with limited commitments and therefore has ample time to devote to such a program without losing sleep.
So, what results did 9 months on the above program yield…….
Simply, the highest rate of fat oxidation that we have seen to date (elites included) and, the first athlete to achieve the golden number that Professor Tim Noakes hypothesized that Mark Allen must have averaged to support his Kona performances, i.e 10 kcal of fat burned per minute!! In some ways to us, that barrier was like the 4 minute mile, something that sounded theoretically possible but something that we wouldn’t really buy into until we witnessed it first hand. Well, we witnessed it and it was glorious!!
This is not to say that I’m expecting this guy to be challenging Macca for the Kona win anytime soon. If you look at the charts you will see that while his overall economy is dramatically improving, he is still a big guy that chews up a good amount of juice to hold a given pace. However, having a physiological quality that very few people on earth possess (if our sample is anything close to representative) is a great starting point!!
With the sort of base that this athlete has patiently and deliberately taken the time to establish, I will be expecting big things from him in the coming years.
Before we get into that a few announcements.
Boulder Summer Training Weekends -- we have a couple of slots left in each of our July and August camps. Full details here -- The weekends are a mixture of training as well as a chance to sit down talk with the EC coaching crew.
Epic Camp Italy -- starts this coming weekend. You can follow the action on the Epic Camp website. Scott and Johno have come up with a very challenging route. Should be entertaining and I am glad that I've taken my preparations seriously. Unfortunately, Mike Montgomery won't be able to join us so it looks like Molina is the man-to-beat for the campers with Pink Jersey aspirations. I have made a promise to myself that I won't tack on a single bike kilometer so that probably rules me out of the overall competition.
PodCast -- I did an interview with Mark Byerley, a fellow Canadian based in Waterloo. You'll find MP3 and WMA versions HERE.
Alan wrote a fun piece about his thoughts on athletic performance. I enjoyed it and can relate to a lot of what is in there. Thoughts that flowed...
In life, participation trumps performance -- however, successful performance helps maintain participation.
If it really is all about participation then playing the "performance game" can be a good way to keep going. If tweaking, experimenting and fine tuning keeps you heading out the door then its all good!
I need to maintain an open mind about the sources of other people's motivation. Motivational tools that work are important.
I have a lot of respect for 'scientists' (and coaches) that front up and get out there. There is so much about sports performance that we don't understand. If we get all the MSc's/PhD's out there then we're bound to learn some more!
AC wrote about heading towards the end of the first half of his life. That caught my eye as I have started preparing my 40-year plan that will take me to 80 years old!
I have been reading Poor Charlie's Almanack a great read and a reminder about several keys to successful living, and investing.
The best tip (so far) is to approach your lifetime investing as if you have a twenty punch card. Each time you make an investment, it costs you one punch. Consider a 40-year investment career with twenty key decisions. That really appeals.
The implication of this approach (for me) is that we want to think very carefully about each investment and be highly selective. When we bet, make a substantial investment, with a margin-for-safety built into the price and ensure capital preservation.
This is great advice -- thinking back, my investment track record is dominated by the performance of my five largest investments. Get rid of those five deals and my personal track record would be below average. I have never been diversified and have had poor returns from my limited stock picking. I would be ahead if I removed all my small investments // every one that I ever made. As a portfolio, they had a poor return and sitting on cash would have been superior. I appear to lack discipline when I am not committing a substantial portion of my net worth.
Munger is a fan of Ben Franklin (see section on Virtue in the link) and points out that Franklin reduced his commitment to business when he was 42 so that he could focus on his writing, science and other interests. Thinking about Franklin triggered the decision to consider the second half of my own life. The key questions that I have been pondering:
What are my values?
I recommend the Almanack to you. I have the Second Edition and it looks like they just revised with a Third Edition.
Not sure about internet connectivity in Italy -- if I can get on-line (and have the energy) then I'll update from Epic Italy. Otherwise, I'll be back the week of June 16th.
OK, I have to admit it, the title for today’s post is a little cryptic, even by my standards, the result of one of those long rides where one thought leads to another, then another and, kind of like Chinese whispers, the final thought winds up pretty far removed from where it all began, actually, with a Meatloaf song title :-). So let me explain….
I’ve never been much of a fan of blind faith. If any of my Sunday School teachers are reading this (highly unlikely :-) I’m sure they would concur. Gordo recently posted a discussion on the top 5 questions that we ask ourselves as triathletes. One of the big common questions was “how good can I be?” In a sport that demands the sort of time commitment that triathlon does, the answer to this question can be a (if not THE) big determining factor on whether we make the decision to continue exploring our potential or if we decide that we’ll never make it, “no matter what we do” after a disappointing race result. It is scary to me, as a coach, how fickle many very good athletes’ motivation really is. Make no mistake, if you want to swing your belief pendulum over to the side of genetic determinism, there will be no shortage of references for you to find that will back up your belief. Sometimes when I am reading studies that take this stance, I ask myself if the sports scientist authoring the study was a victim of his own self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain.....
Many folks wind up in sports science undergrad programs because of a passion for their own sporting pursuits. For the more ‘academically gifted’ (note the inverted commas!!), a cross-roads will eventually be reached in which the student is forced to make the decision to dedicate themselves to academia (masters, doctorate etc etc) or to continue to pursue their passion in the practice of athletics. It is not a huge leap for the (slightly jaded) PhD candidate to start to look for justifications for the decision that they have made. As one of the few sports scientists who took the other, more bumpy, much less green :-), fork in the road, I am in the unique position to have the background to tell you THE secret – there is no research out there that unequivocally proves that your potential as an athlete is genetically determined. None. Nada. There are short term studies that look at the relative plateau of one element of fitness over a short period of time and come to this conclusion. But there is also the “real life” evidence of (the majority?) of world class athletes who have improved their performance over the course of a decade or more. Science has a hard time explaining why, other than putting it down to a wide range of individual ‘trainability’. To be frank, if you ask a sports scientist “how good can I be?”, the only honest answer he/she can give you is “You’ll have to try and find out”.
However, as I said before, blind faith isn’t really my thing. While, I am by nature an “all in” kind of gambler, I’m not the kind of guy that would invest my life savings in a particular stock, never take the time to look at how it’s trending, and just hope it matures to $10,000,000 within the next decade. Yet, this metaphor exactly describes the way that many athletes approach their pursuit of the sport. Never getting any worthwhile feedback as to how their investment of time is doing. Just hoping that it will work out. Also, never taking the time to systematically investigate other investment options that may return a higher yield. When one fails to embrace this long term view of “how they are doing”, it can be very easy to become swayed by short term feedback. Personal example – Triple T. It would be very easy for me to ascribe my mid-pack performance at the Triple T race to a lack of genetic potential, if I wasn’t keeping the bigger picture in mind. So, what is the “bigger picture”?
One of my buddies/clients, Ryan Novak coined the term “dashboard” for the Excel charts that I generate to track our key performance indicators. I like this term, by keeping our eyes on the ‘dashboard’, we adopt an appropriate speed, we don’t run out of gas, and with the new GPS systems, we even make sure that we stay on the roads that will ultimately lead us to our destination.
An example of one of the “gauges” from my dashboard is shown below (my bike fitness vs. intensity breakdown over the past 17 months).
Of course, by keeping an eye on my investment, if things start heading South, I can also make a conscious, informed decision to pull the plug (unlikely), or at the very least, I can make the decision that my current strategy is not giving me the return on my time investment that I deserve and try something else (more likely).
What are you basing your training decisions on?
Note: My Part II on case studies of improvements in fat oxidation will be up next week. I got pumped up by this idea and wanted to post the 'dashboard' blog first.
Last weekend, I raced the Triple T in
Earlier this week, I sent my race report to Planet-X, Zipp and Blue Seventy. I expect that the PX crew should have it live shortly (click HERE on Tuesday). As you will read, I ended up with the quickest time for the weekend and was reminded that it is quite tough to go fast. Alan touches on the physiological reason why it is tough for me to go hard in his latest blog.
When you know the training/approach required to go fast – but can’t seem to do it – that knowledge can reduce your training satisfaction. In 2005, I was dealing with quite a bit of frustration.
Likewise, even if you arm yourself with the fitness to “go fast” – the knowledge of how hard you have to race can make you realize a few things. Now that I am “fit” I am reminded how tough it is to tap my fitness. Riding around the rolling hills of
I feel very fortunate in my athletic life -- first (and foremost) to have the opportunity to train on a daily basis; and, second, to have experienced a high level of success. Strangely, just like my success in the corporate world, I have come to realize that there isn’t anything magical at the end of the rainbow. When I finish first, it simply means that nobody faster turned up and I sit around waiting for my pals to catch up.
For me, the satisfaction lies in experiencing the physical sensation of performing close to my potential. I can feel that in training AND, at training speeds, I can relax a bit and look around at nature. During a bike TT, I have to hold my head totally still and avoid creating any additional turbulence with my helmet (!). I save a few seconds but miss the view.
What is my point? Just a reminder of the following…
If you are dissatisfied with yourself at the back of the pack then you will have the same feelings in the middle of the pack. There are a lot of people chasing self-esteem at the races – I doubt you’ll find it in your racing (you could find it in on your athletic journey, though).
If you think that qualifying for Kona, winning your agegroup, or winning a race will change the way you feel about yourself then you may be disappointed. My experience has been that outstanding preparation is more satisfying than performance. However, I seem to be more process-oriented than most.
Coaches (and athletes) should be extremely wary about defining success in terms of relative performance. Our egos greatly overestimate the importance of victories.
The lessons of athletics come from the process of overcoming ourselves and learning to create habits that support our goals. Success is a continual process of finding patterns/choices/decisions that hold us back and eliminating them. These lessons are independent of inherent ability and ultimate performance.
Inherent ability and relative performance impact the satisfaction we receive but those feelings are shallow compared to the deeper meaning that arises when we overcome our fears and failures.
Take some time to consider the legacy that you are creating for yourself. How have the last five (or ten, or twenty) years served the life that you want to create?
How I Train & Race
With that in mind, I am going to change direction and share some ideas about how I get “fast” relative to myself. How do I improve my performance?
Consistency – the last two week’s articles are a good summary of my Big Picture approach. As a number of male readers wrote in… “it wasn’t just for the ladies”. I wrote that piece to remind myself, and you, of a few things.
Training Load – for ultradistance triathlon, your ultimate potential is closely correlated to the training load that you can absorb. If you have factors (genetic, occupational, whatever) that limit your capacity to absorb training then you will struggle to be a competitive ultradistance triathlete. This can be an unpopular message to deliver.
NOTE -- this point applies most directly to your performance against others -- by training smart, nearly everyone can perform far better than we imagined relative to ourselves.
Your struggles will show as:
If you have the psychological make-up to be a great athlete but lack the physical back-up then you are going to get frustrated coping with the above. I know athletes that manage to convince themselves that the above characteristics are success traits (!?). I would characterize them as failure markers – when you are dealing with two, or more, then you are limiting your ability to be successful in the large picture of your life.
My advice would be to consider if there is an alternative avenue for you to direct your energies where you could be great. Even if you are the “total package” for endurance sport, the rate of return on hour invested is low. If you are in it for reasons other than financial return or athletic glory, then acknowledging that fact will help you maintain a clearer perspective on how to organize your life.
In my life, I wonder if chasing race victories is simply a socially acceptable justification for wanting to do endless training camps. Training is fun, racing is tough.
I spent the 1990s banking 24,000 hours of work in the financial services industry. It is the return from a decade of work and a decade of training that created my athletic life (today). If you look at a snapshot of me (or anyone else) – then it is impossible to see the 20-30 years of choices that resulted in their current situation..
OK, now a few specifics…
Within each sport my first goal is to maintain efficiency, strength and endurance – read my Four Pillars for what that means. For EVERY distance of triathlon competition, that must be your first goal – both as a novice and an expert – it all starts from there.
The sports scientists say that our absolute VO2 can be trained up in about ten weeks – because of its quick return, intensity is great product to “sell”. It hurts and you get quick returns – must be good, eh?
By applying the Four Pillars, you can improve your power/pace at AeT/LT/FT for ten YEARS. Further, you will find that your capacity to sustain threshold efforts is linked directly to the depth of your steady-state fitness.
What do I mean by “depth of fitness”? I mean “consistent training load” – the first two bullets of this section. Depth of fitness shows mostly in your training log, not short durations TTs or the lab.
In an race like the Triple T – you see “speed” in the prologue // you see “fitness” in the final 13-mile run.
Now, even more specific…
Swimming – As a beginner, I received a huge return on my initial months of swim training. For my first year, I improved nearly every month. It was a lot of fun and the improvement became addictive. Then I reached my first (of many) swim plateaus. The early plateaus where easily overcome by adding volume. My later plateaus required adding volume and intensity. I had to learn how to “work” in the water. In order to improve from my current level, I need to be swimming 22-25,000 meters per week with three solid workouts and an IM set on my “easier” day. Swimming is the most intense aspect of my current program.
Cycling – Cycling is the heart of my endurance program. To perform well, I need a consistent load of 10-15 hours per week with my big weeks around 20-25 hours. Early in my career I did a lot of “touring” (easy cycling) but that is out of my program now. If I can’t ride at least steady then I cut the workout short. When I am riding well, I have the capacity to ride long periods on the flats (uninterrupted) The core of my program is rides of 3-5 hours duration with no more than two short breaks. Cycling is where I do the most work (effort over time) in my program.
Running – For a guy that runs well in races, I run relatively slowly in training. My program has two goals – run (nearly) every day and make my long runs my toughest sessions. That’s it. As a result, I am rarely injured and have a long track record of consistent running. REMEMBER -- if you want to run well then you need long term mileage. This is far more important than the physiological benefits of fast running.
Strength Training – about 70 sessions per annum with about 25 of those sessions hard enough to leave me sore for more than three days.
Here is the paradox – when I time trial, I turn all of that on its head.
Swim – lowest intensity part of my day
Bike – sprint and oly distance will see lots of power spikes; Half IM distance will see lots of power spikes in the 2nd half of the ride; IM distance very few power spikes.
Run – sprint and oly distance run fast the whole way; Half IM build effort and focus on a very fast final 10K; IM stay relaxed in the first half, quick in the 3rd 10K and hang on for the final 10K.
On race day, I have found that time trialling results in a faster time than racing. However, I have won a couple of events when I raced, rather than TT’d.
One final point, the above is not a protocol for health. It contains FAR too great a training load. Once we go past ten hours per week, we are being driven by something different than personal health – mental wellbeing? a circle of athletic obsession? I haven't figured that one out completely!
Feedback from last week.
One reader commented that she has a strong desire for a "performance" program and asked for my thoughts.
The most important aspect of your program is getting out the door each day. If you are doing that consistently then you are successful. You personal health depends much more on "doing" than the specifics of "what you do". I think that we all spend too much time sweating the details within our programs.
One of the fascinating aspects of human nature is how we (all) assume that a program of consistency and moderation contains a hidden "cost". The articles I share here are my views on what it takes for us to become high performers -- in both life, and the athletic arena.
Part 1: What Science Says....
The pic above is of yours truly following the completion of the Triple T triathlon in Ohio this past week. The photo was taken on the last day, after about 5K of swim racing, 190K of bike racing and 43K of run racing. I was a little depleted to say the least (G can attest to that by the way that I was walking after the race :-)
My strategy for the race was (I thought) a pretty conservative one: Hit the prologue pretty hard (about 90% of max effort), take the second day, 2 olympic distance races, as a regroup day by racing steady (150 heart rate cap) then try and race day 3 at mod-hard, which is just a notch below where I would race a fresh half (mod-hard to hard). I discussed G’s race plan with him in the car. He wanted to shoot for the lead early in the prologue and first oly. So, basically, his plan was to go hard from the gun. As it turns out, he had to continue to go hard pretty much until the last run in order to ensure the W. When I say hard, I mean hard in every sense of the word. Physiologically, if he were to go any harder he would be limited by lactate accumulation in the same way that an 800m runner is. G was racing very close to his max all weekend long. So, how did my conservative strategy play out? Great, until the second lap of the bike on Day 3 when I dropped from holding 280W to less than 200W in one fell swoop. Bonktown, population…me! Fortunately, my stupidity was transient. I went into damage control pretty quickly when I saw the writing on the wall. The second lap of the bike was very easy (13 minutes slower than the first) and by the time the run came around, I had a little bit of steady back to play around with. Yet again, the gap between G’s performance and mine became Grand Canyonesque as the race duration increased. I was forced to race so far below my max in order to just survive the weekend, while G was able to push his max day after day. Why? My arch enemy, Captain Fat Oxidation rears his ugly head again.
This post is going to be a little different to my previous posts on fat oxidation. Hopefully by now, you’re as convinced as I am that the ability to utilize fat as a substrate is an important, distinguishing factor between those who excel at Ironman and those who, despite impressive short course results, are unable to put it together for ‘the big one’. Hopefully, you’ve already contacted Matty Stein and booked a testing slot at our Endurance Corner lab in Boulder to determine whether fat oxidation is limiting for you. No, this post isn’t for the fence sitters waiting for academia to catch up before making a decision as to whether to devote their time toward improving this physiological variable. Nope. This post is for those athletes who have gone through the testing, identified that fat oxidation is a limiter and who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on turning yourself into a fat burning machine.
So, this first post is going to give you a little background reading on what science says about means and methods to improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel. My next post will be entitled “Fat Oxidation….What Big A says” and will profile some of the improvements that I have seen in my own athletes and the training and nutritional methods that we have used to achieve them.
You know how most folks have a favourite actor or actress? An actor that, if they come out with a new movie, you just have to see it? Well, in the same way that you may be a huge fan of your favourite movie star, I am a huge fan of a sports scientist by the name of Julia Goedecke. Julia’s chosen ‘genre’ is the influence of fat oxidation on long distance racing performance.
Julia and her colleagues at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa conducted a study in 2000 that looked at individual differences in fat oxidation across a variety of exercise intensities (rest, 25%, 50% and 70% VO2max). She came to a number of conclusions that have practical implications for ultra-endurance athletes:
#1. There is a wide variation in the amount of fat that is oxidized at rest.
Some of the athletes were deriving almost 100% of their resting energy from fat, while others were only deriving 25%. This has HUGE implications on athletes who struggle with body composition. By increasing your rate of fat oxidation at rest, you could potentially lose body fat 4x faster than you currently are!!! Not to mention preserving your precious glycogen stores for your next training session.
#2. Those subjects who burned more fat at rest also burned more fat at ALL EXERCISE INTENSITIES (see chart)
Even at 70% VO2max, some of the subjects who were 100% fat burners at rest were still deriving 40% of their energy from fat (think G), while in the athletes who were poor fat burners at rest, fat burning had completely shut down (think me, or you??)
So, what were the distinguishing factors between the ‘corvette’ athletes and the ‘prius’ athletes? Interestingly the factors changed somewhat with increasing exercise intensity.
a) The concentration of Free Fatty Acids within the blood
This is THE pre-requisite for fat burning at rest and all exercise intensities. In other words, if your blood is full of glucose as opposed to FFA’s, you will not be providing the muscles with any stimulus to ‘learn’ to use fat as a fuel. High FFA levels (and low-moderate blood glucose levels) are a pre-requisite for fat burning. This has LARGE nutritional implications. If you keep your blood sugar levels perpetually elevated, you will never become a fat burner. Period.
b) The concentration of fat-burning enzymes within the muscle.
While short chain and medium chain FFA’s can diffuse into the mitochondria freely, long chain FFA’s must ‘hitch a ride’ with the enzyme carnitine palmitoyl-transferase in order to make it to the mitochondria. A shortage of this enzyme will mean that even if you have sufficient FFA’s within the blood, the long chain ones will be left by the side of the road with their thumb in the air waiting to hitch a ride. This enzyme is inhibited in the post absorptive state when blood glucose is elevated.
c) Mitochondrial content within the muscle.
Of course, in order for FFA’s to be ‘burned’ and used for fuel we need a sufficient number of ‘engines’ to burn them. In this sense, the number of mitochondria within the muscle can ultimately limit the rates of fat oxidation. This is a function of aerobic fitness, which in turn is a function of the number of contractions performed by each muscle fiber, or put another way, as my buddy Chuckie V is fond of saying, miles make champions.
So, there you have it – 2 simple ways to turn yourself into a fat-burning machine:
1. Cut sugar from your diet (and moderate total CHO intake)
2. Train MORE in your aerobic zones (cut out the hard stuff until you’re ready for it).
Not exactly earth-shattering revelations, but based on what we are seeing in the lab these 2 principles are not being applied by most athletes. You can beat a large portion of the field by making these simple (though not easy) changes.
I’ll get down to more specifics in the next post.
“I have been tested and my suspicions confirmed that I am about as inefficient as possible. Is there any data on how long it takes a 44 old female body to retrain itself when practicing the prescribed training and change in diet?”
There has been a good amount of research on the physiological effects of low and moderate carbohydrate diets (e.g. Ravussin et al, 1985, Weinsier et al, 1992). Generally speaking, individuals who adopt a low-moderate CHO diet can expect a change in their resting RQ of ~.05 within 12-16 weeks. This translates to an increase in resting fat oxidation of ~20%.
The extent to which this carries over to performance during exercise is dependent on your overall fitness, or how many ‘engines’ you have to process your new found fuel line. This is the reason that studies looking at the impact of training on fat oxidation have returned mixed results. Keep in mind however, that even for the relatively unfit, burning more fat at rest is still a good thing!!
The vice versa argument also applies, as we found while driving the Sportsmobile back across the country from the Triple T. You can have the largest capacity tanks and the biggest engine around, but until you pay the lady at the gas station and she turns the fuel pumps on, the number of miles that you’re going to be able to drive is severely inhibited. :-)
Before we get into this week's letter an announcement:
Colorado Altitude Camp -- June 27th to July 5th
Five athlete slots -- one coach (me).
Highlights -- Brainard Lake (10K); Trailridge Road (11K); Steamboat Springs, Vail, Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Snow Mountain Ranch Swimming Pool (>9K!), Mt Evans (14K).
$2100 per person includes everything but transport to/from Boulder. Contact me with your athletic CV for more info. Discounts available for sub-8:50 IMers and/or athletes that swim faster than me.
Below is a chart that we prepared to illustrate a typical profile for a fit amateur female athlete. The chart is a mixture from a few different ladies and shows a 'normal' profile. If you would like then click on it to see a large image.
Interestingly, fit female athletes have the capacity to do nearly 100% of their training at an intensity that shuts down most of their fat burning. If you have body composition goals -- you want to burn fat, not calories.
I am not talking world class female athletes -- I am likely talking about YOU. By "fit" I mean a woman that has been training for a few years, is active and can get through a triathlon of any distance. In other words, fit relative to the general population -- not the people winning at World Champs.
How many women (and men) train "hard" and never seem to be able to lose weight. While it is tempting to blame our genetics... the fault may lie in our approach.
I don't know about you but I started training to lose weight -- period. Weight loss was my ONLY goal. I have never coached an athlete (male or female) that didn't share this desire, at some level.
In my experience, a moderate approach to training intensity yields a much deeper satisfaction from your athletes. Why? Here are the benefits:
***Faster weight loss
The "go hard" approach will work for some -- there are well-known training squads that thrive on energy deficits and extreme work ethic. What I am suggesting is for you to make an informed choice based on the life you want to live.
Remember that, as human beings, we are not great at considering long term costs/liabilities. As well, our media doesn't cover the shattered tibias, twisted psyches and torched metabolisms of our athletic heroes of yesteryear -- they run cover photos of the lithe bodies of today.
So, for the ladies out there that may be coping with frustration, or a personal plateau. Here are some simple tips to maximize both your performance and your athletic satisfaction.
What to do?
What to eat?
In all areas, focus on positive choices that support your long term goals -- denial strategies aren't effective.
When it all gets too much -- take a break and try to keep things in perspective. As my home page says... do not take life so seriously, no one will make it out alive.
We all make mistakes -- my failures are signs that I have been trying too hard. The main thing is staying in the game.
Before we move into the letter, a couple of announcements:
Summer Training Camps in Boulder -- the EC Team have carved out three weekends [June 7/8; July 12/13; and August 2/3] for small group training camps. If you would like to come to town for a weekend totally focused on long course racing then read full details in Mat's Blog. I will be in town for the July and August weekends and available for Q&A.
For the coaches out there, the EC Team would be happy to be your support crew. Feel free to talk to us about how we can back you up.
Boulder Performance Testing -- over on Alan's Blog, AC has been running through a series of articles sharing what we have been learning as a result of our fuel efficiency testing. While testing is the only way to get your personal data, the concepts of fuel efficiency and optimal pacing are essential to consider.
Based in Boulder, the team offers testing/consultancy services to help athletes (all sports, all distances) gain a better understanding of personal limiters and optimal pacing strategies. Our role is often to help athletes consider:
***Is my race performance in line with my training performance?
***What is the optimal pacing strategy for this course and distance?
***Have I been able to execute my pacing strategies in the past (in training, in racing)?
***Is my event dominated by AeT, LT, FT or VO2 benchmarks/performance? (see attachment below for explanation of our terms)
***Does my training program, and race schedule, mirror the specific demands of my key competitive event(s)?
Last week I laid out the general components of a successful plan, the role of a coach is to ensure that the specific components of the athlete's strategy are consistent with these points above.
If you want to read more about the Critical Success Factors for endurance athletics then you will find them HERE. The article is about long course triathlon but is directly applicable to 95+% of the field at every running, cycling, swimming or triathlon event.
Two of the greatest fears that we witness (daily) in group training situations are fear of missing out, and fear of being left behind. Two stories...
During an easy recovery ride in Tucson, we came across a female rider stopped at the side of the road. We passed and she jumped on our group. We were spinning very mellow and the rider went around us and headed down the road. Later that night, I asked if anyone got the urge to hammer past the lady for "daring" to ride through us? There were a lot of knowing chuckles.
As a test workout, I often ask my athletes to: (a) get dropped on purpose; (b) ride 20m behind the group for an entire ride; or (c) hold pace as I randomly accelerate around them. It can be VERY tough to mentally handle those situations.
I have found that our capacity to tolerate short term "training humiliations" is tied into self-worth and personal identity. There is a lot of mental noise going on during most group workouts!
When we find something emotionally difficult -- odds are -- the situation is bumping against personal fears and challenging our self-image. True confidence arises from acceptance of our own performance not the capacity to dominate the performances of others.
Hardness has its roots in domination -- softness (or being open) is rooted in acceptance. In what mode would you expect to make the best decisions?
It takes a surprising amount of specific training to become conscious enough to think clearly while acknowledging these fears.
When your race performance is diverting from your training performance -- look outside of your physiology for solutions. Instead of focusing on the last few percent of physical performance -- a large breakthrough could be available by relaxing and softening up (RASU).
Justin's latest piece on XTri talks about coping with his shift from agegroup to elite racer. A very honest look at the mental challenges that we share when racing.
On that fear of missing out... I deal with it every time I decide to rest/recover!
Back Next Week,
Pick your weapon of choice:
Now remember, this is a race. Make your selection.
I’ll tell you what, while I love driving in general, I have a bit of a penchant for long distance driving, so let’s race from my home town of Boulder to Albuquerque, NM, OK (about 350mi)?
There’s one more condition to the race, to keep things fair (and authentic to triathlon) we start with our gas tanks full and do it on one tank of gas. Thinking of changing your selection yet? No? You’re right, it’s still a race, whether it’s 50mi or 500mi, the fastest guy wins in the end, right?
OK, so let’s play it out. You screech out of the Boulder Res using every bit of your 505 Horsepower (in triathlon speak 376,000 Watts at VO2max, or in relative terms, you’re making Lance Armstrong’s 6.7 W/kg look pretty pathetic with your 265 W/kg :-) . You hit a solid cruising speed of 140mph (only 70% of your max!!) and you’re thinking this is cake. You’ve got the win in the bag. You’re passing cars left right and center – zing, zing.
Your buddy in the Accord takes off too at about 100mph (70% of his max) and he’s losing ground fast. You’re thinking to yourself, I bet he’s wishing he had those extra 143W/kg right now. Right?
Meanwhile, driving Miss Daisy takes off at a snails pace in the Prius at 80mph (70% of her max). Things aren’t looking great for her as the two guys scream off toward the Horizon. Honestly, with her 44W/kg she’d be better off enlisting the help of 6 Lance Armstrong’s with FT’s of ~ 7W/kg to pull her along dog sled style!! :-)
So, things are looking pretty clear cut as you scream along I25 toward Albuquerque, but then as you approach about 320mi, all of a sudden your super sexy sports car isn’t sounding so super sexy. You try and try to keep her going, but before you know it, you’ve got your head in your hands at the side of the road as your buddy in the accord (with 140W/kg less top end than you) comes rolling by. Doesn’t make sense, you both started with same size fuel tanks (18 G) topped off. Oh well, nothing you can do about it now but drop out of the race or get behind your car and push at a ridiculous crawl.
You’re no quitter, so as you tramp out the miles in the desert heat you get to thinking. “What went wrong?” It’s not too long before you put 2 and 2 together. Same size tanks, one guy runs out of gas before the other, man, that accord must be a lot more efficient with his fuel. You’re right. The accord is getting 22miles from every gallon of glycogen (oops, I mean fuel :-) whereas you and your sexy beast are getting 4 miles less for every gallon. As the buzzards start to circle, you get to thinking, “Gee, if fuel economy is the name of the game, Miss Daisy in the Prius is looking mighty good right about now.”
You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the fact remains, with her pretty pitiful 44W/kg and her equally unimpressive top end speed of 115mph, Miss Daisy just isn’t going to have the Horsepower to catch the accord within the 350mi. She’ll get there, to be sure (and a whole lot faster than any of the clowns who wind up running out of gas and pushing) but at 80mph it’s going to take her about an hour longer than it takes your former buddy (who didn’t stop to pick you up – hey, it’s a race :-) in the Accord.
Believe it or not, this story isn’t just a case of Big A sitting on his couch spinning a yarn. Like all good parables, there is a strong hidden meaning in this story. Let me point it out for you: If you’re a Corvette (see below)
and you decide that this long distance racing thing is for you, spending training time eeking out another 10 horse power from your top end isn’t going to do much for you.
Likewise, if you have more of a Prius profile (see below), a dose of long steady distance training designed to improve your efficiency isn’t going to help you compete with the big boys come race day.
If you’re anything like the athletes that we’ve tested to this point, you may be surprised with the results.
The pic above is of Hernan Cortes. Cortes’ greatest claim to fame (at least from my perspective) was the famous incident at Vera Cruz, when, during his attempted Mexican conquest, after landing on the shore with his armies and hearing of the might of the local ruler, Montezuma, he made the decision to eliminate any chance of retreat by burning his army’s ships.
The word decision comes from the latin roots ‘de’ meaning ‘from’ and ‘caedere’ meaning ‘to cut’. In other words, making a true decision means to physically cut yourself off from the possibility of failure.
Do not fool yourself, we all have limits to our will power, as Gordo points out in his latest blog. It is not superior willpower that separates champions from the rest of us. I spent a good amount of time with the Aussie national swim team when I was back in Australia. Like any sample of society, there are a number of different personalities within the team. Some are “hard” as a rock, completely unyielding, thinking about swimming and their goals for the sport 24-7. Others are more ‘soft’, more ‘yin-yang’ athletes, a balance of ‘get down to business’ attitude when they hit the water and ‘regular guy time’ when they hit dryland. Personality is not the distinguishing factor that separates those who make it from those who don’t. So, what does separate achievers from non-achievers? Achievers put themselves in a position to make habits of the things that failures won’t do. To be real, in the world of swimming, it is often not the athlete who must summon the daily willpower to make these decisions.
I never really ‘made it’ as a swimmer. I was an above average local swimmer. I’d pick up some medals at local meets. I made a couple of representative meets but there were certainly other swimmers in my own squad that were at that next level. Some went on to make the Aussie national team. When I look back to what the difference between them and me was, I am forced to conclude that the biggest difference wasn’t in their own obsession for the sport. Rather, these athletes had parents that were OBSESSED with the sport. On occasion, when one of these swimmers put in an effort that was deemed to be ‘sub-par’, I have seen his mother slap the kid across the face when he got back from his race. When I started coaching elite juniors in Sydney (8-12 year olds that were the superstars of tomorrow) this level of parental ‘commitment’ was no longer the exception, it was the rule.
It’s an interesting position to be a coach in this situation. While I knew that these kids were missing out on having a loving, caring, soft parental figure, they were gaining something that I never had, the joy that comes with being the very best, but more than that, the joy that comes with becoming your very best.
Now, I want to make clear that I am in no way condoning corporal punishment, especially in this circumstance. However, I do want to say that in some ways I wish that my parents would have pushed me more to stick to a commitment that I made.
This reminds me of the story of world record marathoner Toshiko Seko. After a particularly tough stretch in (his coach) Nakamura’s training camp, in which Nakamura put Seko on a diet of a piece of toast and a piece of lettuce each day (notably, in an effort to lose the weight that he had put on after spending some time in the US college system), Seko broke and ran home to the perceived security of his parent’s abode. When he got there his parents closed the door on their son. The sent him back to Nakamura with a message “Do whatever you must with him: He’s yours”.
OK, so maybe we aren’t all willing to make those decisions; to convince one of our family or friends to beat us up every time that we don’t make a performance benchmark or to live on lettuce and toast in an effort to lose a few pounds, but the point remains that the laws of cause and effect apply to us all and that if you are not receiving the results that you want in your life, it is because you have not made the decision to put these causal, environmental factors in place.
A true decision is marked by a physical action, the physical action to, all extents possible, block off any source of retreat. This may mean throwing all simple sugars in your home in the bin. It may mean selling your car so that you are forced to commute by bike. It may mean joining a masters swim program so that you have a social burden to show up to your swim sessions. Whatever the action, it is important to note that we live in a society in which retreat is both easy and, to some extent, expected (think divorce rates), and in which a decision, like a New Years Resolution is rarely worth the paper it is written on (if indeed we even get to the point of writing it down). It is not a true decision until it is backed up with massive, immediate action.
BURN THOSE SHIPS!!!
Before we roll into the letter, I was back in the Grand Canyon last Tuesday. This time I was running solo and applying the lessons from my first trip. It is amazing how quickly the body can adapt to stress. While I wasn't much faster on the round trip -- the damage that the run did to my body was a fraction of the first time. This time four weeks ago, I could barely walk and my legs were absolutely trashed. With respect to Ironman marathoning, durability is an essential fitness component that is near impossible to measure quantitatively. My average heart rate for the "run" was 117 bpm and it is one of the toughest sessions that I will do all year.
Alan's latest blog piece provides a window into my lab-fitness and a discussion of performance limiters. Something that JD pointed out at the April camp was that each of the Endurance Corner coaches has a different take on the same topic. That is part of what makes us a good team, and also a source of creative friction.
When I test myself I remember the following:
***Testing is three dimensional, performance is four dimensional. The test measures my ability to perform a specific task over a period of time. Performance, in sport and life, requires the ability to execute over multiple years. Life is about coping with the unexpected. By definition, our capacity to manage change cannot be measured in a controlled environment
***X-Factor // At our April camp, Robbie Ventura gave an excellent talk on fast time-trialling. The bottom line of his talk (for me) is some athletes go fast on race day for a range of "little things" that they are able to put together. Robbie calls these little things the X-Factors of racing. Successful people have the capacity to execute a series of little things, consistently, over time. For me, this skill is habit based. Our X-Factor capacity cannot be measured in the lab.
If you review my bike chart over on AC's blog then remember that it is the result of more than 20,000 hours of endurance exercise. We get a lot of question about how athletes can make changes to improve their charts in 6-8 weeks.
In your training do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
I have been fortunate to study under a few masters of triathlon -- even they admit that their main skill is guessing better than average.
The power of my plan lies in the general, not the specific. Here's what I mean -- when I get it right (and I make a ton of mistakes)...
***A simple plan that I can remember and execute every day
***Periods of specific overload that address key limiters
***Scheduled recovery, and downtime, before I need it
***No one session, day, week, month compromises the period that follows
***Enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying
The above factors lead to outstanding execution over the long term. That, in turn, leads to performance.
99% of the noise in our heads (mine is no different) is a distraction from the above, makes very little positive impact on performance and reduces energy available for recovery.
Which brings me to...
Given the impossible task of seeking to control the world around us AND our limited willpower, influence, energy... I tend to focus my true efforts on a very, very, very limited set of circumstances. I figure that I can be "hard" for a couple of hours per week, MAX. If I am "hard" more often then my overall performance will, ultimately, be compromised.
One of my past mentors taught me that we live with a six-shooter and no extra ammo. If we are thinking of using a "bullet" then we'd better make sure that it is a key point. That analogy has stuck with me and 95% (or more) of my training builds me up (mentally, physically). I only do a little bit that breaks me down.
I could be a little soft from a sport performance point-of-view // and // that is likely why HTFU gets my attention. However, after thinking about it for over a month, I don't know a single long term high achiever that is "hard".
In racking my brain, I only considered people that I knew. There are hard personalities that we hear about but I suspect that they are fabrications.
The toughest competitors that I know are soft in real life (though they try to hide it in public). Our fears and emotional weak points are powerful motivators when channeled towards performance.
When you reach a point where you can't handle any more... relax and soften up.
RASU -- maybe I'll get some hats printed up...
Cheers from New Mexico,
“First learn stand, then learn fly. Nature rule, Daniel-san, not mine.” - Mr. Miyagi
I was watching the Karate Kid yesterday. It’s been a while since I watched that movie and I must say that viewing it this time through the filter of a coach was a little different experience – that Miyagi knows his stuff!
I thought I’d open with one of his gems from the movie. So true. I’ve already written a number of blog posts along a similar line, i.e. you must first get fit before you get fast. I have outlined just how much time some of my mentors in the swimming world devote to building their swimmers aerobic engines before any thought of adding “speedwork” to the program.
As an aside, from my own experience, I recently had my best aerobic run test since coming back from my hip fracture last year (7:36/mi). Still, by no means a ‘rock star’ number, actually probably not even worthy of ‘band geek’ status, but for me, this is still a solid improvement - down from 10:00/mi in December. How did I improve 2.5mins/mile in 6 months? Speedwork? A 10% volume increase each week? Nope. I have been doing the exact same week, week after week for the past 6 months. A basic week consisting of 3.5hrs of aerobic running (~30mins a day) week in and week out. And, I might add, 6 months in, doing the same thing, the improvement keeps coming. It may not be exciting, but the Romans were spot on, when they drilled into their students Repetitia mater studitorum est (repetition is the mother of study).
But, the inspiration for this blog doesn’t come so much from my own training experience as it does from a conversation with elite triathlete and EC coach, Justin Daerr (pictured below) at one of our recent EC camps.
JD was pointing out to me how he felt that he was lacking top end horsepower based on some of the impressive numbers that some of his competitiors are able to throw down on Functional Threshold tests. The conversation was very familiar to me. Usually it is coming from a novice triathlete who has picked up one of the latest “8 weeks to an 8hr IM program” (I’m only slightly exaggerating) that asserts that intensity is the ticket to breaking through to the next level. I’ve heard it so many times that I pretty much go on auto-pilot with my standard response, i.e. if exclusive aerobic training is good enough for a nationally ranked Aussie swimmer (whose event is 1/100th the duration of yours), it is good enough for you. But, this time I was a little taken back. Surely there comes a point for the elite athlete in which it becomes prudent to push the top end. In a round about way, I got the impression that JD was interested in if he was at this point.
Those of you who are familiar with this blog will no doubt be aware of my penchant for aerobic training as the basis for fulfilling your potential as an endurance athlete. However, those of you who are able to read between the lines will also recognize that I have a strong preference for the development of balanced athletes. JD and I half-jokingly call it “Maffetone with a twist” When I talk balance, I’m not talking ‘Daniel-san standing one legged on a beach pillar’ balance, no, I’m talking about having balanced development across the aerobic spectrum and across all fiber types. So, from a physiological perspective, what does a balanced elite IM triathlete look like? What is the relative importance of things like VO2max, Functional Threshold Power, Maximal Fat Oxidation etc etc. From JD’s perspective, what sort of FT #’s are required in order to be a world class long course triathlete? Or, put another way, what physiological qualities are truly limiting the 8:30 to 9:00 athlete from becoming an 8:00-8:30 athlete?
Tim Noakes provides an interesting side bar in the latest edition of Lore of Running that outlines why an 8:xx IM is a ‘metabolic impossibility’. He points out that for Mark Allen to run a 2:40 marathon at the end of an Ironman would require Allen to oxidize fat at a rate of 1.15g/min (~10kcal/min). He also points out that the highest fat oxidation rates that they have observed in their laboratory (primarily studying elite distance runners) is 6.8kcal/min. In our own lab, the max we have seen is 8.1kcal/min. However, we haven’t tested someone with the IM pedigree of Mark Allen yet!! Based on the numbers, at the 19kcal/min point (the energy expenditure required for a 155-160lb guy to run at 2:40 pace), Allen is getting more than 50% of his energy from fats!!
So, from a purely scientific perspective, what does it take?
In practical terms, there are a couple of other considerations:
- Tactics: While supposedly an individual time trial, in the elite race there are times that it will be prudent to exceed the 50/50 point in order to bridge to/stay on a group on the swim or bike or make a tactical move on the run. For these reasons, a functional threshold in excess of the bare minimum may be desirable. Generally though, pacing the race in accordance with your own physiology will ultimately lead to the fastest time and the best race result.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s give our hypothetical Kona winner an extra 25W on the bike and 10s/mile on the run. Even with these buffers, this gives us a relatively pedestrian FT of 325W on the bike and 6:02 on the run. There are a good # of elite triathletes around the country who fit the bill and thousands of collegiate cyclists and runners who can put out these #’s in their sleep.
Based on the literature that I have read and the athletes that we have seen in our own lab, I could count on one hand the # of athletes in the world who can oxidize 10kcal/min of fat at any point along the performance curve, let alone at race pace.
Gordo’s latest curve is shown below:
Make no mistake about it, this is a ‘Rock Star’ curve. For most folks, even very good AG athletes, fat oxidation (in black) will completely shut down in the mod-hard zone. For G, you can see that his fat burning continues, not only into his ‘threshold’ zone, but beyond it. In other words, even when G is accumulating lactate quicker than he can get rid of it, he is still efficiently burning fat!!
Still, while ego inflation is not a bad bonus to doing a lab test with EC, most folks are more intererested in their weak points or limiters.
For G, his critical window at which he is oxidizing less than 10kcal/min CHO occurs at ~250W on the bike. Based on Noakes equations and based on other power data that I have from elite Kona competitors of similar weight, to be competitive in Hawaii, this point must move into the 280-300W range, or 19-20kcal/min. Doing the math, this necessitates an ability to oxidize fat at 9-10kcal/min (consistent with Noakes suggestions about this being the differentiating factor for world class IM athletes).
While, it would be nice to see G add another 25W to his FT, this isn’t the biggest physiological limiter at this point. Even for someone who puts A LOT of conscious effort into improving his ability to oxidize fat (both nutrition and training), this area still provides the greatest ‘upside’ for him. Imagine what a dedicated focus on this could do for the rest of us!
I may throw JD’s curve up there pending permission. I guess I take G’s implicit permission for granted as he pointed out in his last blog :-)
That’s it for now, I’m done with my low glycemic breakfast and am off for a fat-burning run
I'm enjoying my last afternoon in Southern Arizona. Tomorrow, Ben (from the February Snow Farm camp in NZ -- in photo above) and I will head north to Phoenix. Then on to Flagstaff and a repeat of the Canyon run. Monica warned me not to be a hero and JD's advice was to PB by "one second" so... I think my pals are telling me not to fry myself when we head to Phantom Ranch on Tuesday.
Next week, we follow the same route back to Boulder with one modification -- inserting a ride from Cuba, NM to Los Alamos, NM (the long way via Jemez). We drove that road to end our April trip and the climbing is too good to miss. Back-to-back centuries from Farmington to Los Alamos will put the final touch on my preparations for Epic Italy.
Dr. J was trying to figure out why the camps are so much fun and decided that the best aspect is the fact that we offer every camper an opportunity to challenge themselves on each day. You don't have to take the offer but it is there. Sharing those sorts of experiences with people is a lot of fun for us. We'll be running the Tucson camp again next spring as well as adding a mid-summer camp in Boulder. The camps tire us out but it is a "good tired" and provide me with a role to play as I age.
Come along next year and you can benchmark yourself against my Mount Lemmon time -- I do well on anything uphill over 20-miles...
Here's a summary of the key articles that made it through my media filter this past week. Given that I was training an average of five-hours-per-day with the campers... you probably heard even more than me...
***Declines in median prices of over 20% in Sunbelt and Southern Californian locales.
Looks to me that both Mood and Money are heading down. Financial historians note that the property market is like a giant aircraft carrier... slow to turn but, when it does, tending to overshoot fair value.
I suspect that everyone in America knows someone that has had their house repossessed in the last year -- that is going to color all of our judgment as we hear more of these stories.
Towards the end of last year, I recommended that aspiring homeowners get their Net Asset Statements and Revenue/Expense budgets in order. Have you done this? In order to position yourself to take advantage of potential buying opportunities you need to have your financing, and finances, in order.
We are thinking about buying an investment property (not second home). Here are my criteria:
***Climate opposite to Boulder, CO
Sound like a good deal? It does to me -- perhaps a bit "too good" for this stage of the cycle. To hit those numbers I would need a vendor to accept 15-40% less than their current asking prices. However, having done my homework, my bid price is 10% less than the most recent deal that actually completed and therein lies a tip...
Figure out what an asset is worth to you, prior to anchoring with the price expectations of the vendor
This is important all the time but even more essential in a declining market with constant negative information. By figuring out a price at which you are "unlikely to be wrong" -- you have a much better shot at being right over the medium- to long-term.
What are the signs that a target market might be poised for a large correction?
Potential buyers are building in expected price declines -- no one in the nation is expecting prices to rise. Most owners are holding depreciating assets -- we all HATE holding depreciating assets. At some stage, vendors will sell to remove the pain of a thousand paper cuts.
If you rent with a view to buying then negotiate strongly on early termination provisions -- the more Blue Chip your profile, the more aggressive you should be on all terms.
The ability to complete quickly will be seen as highly attractive by sellers. Vendors are going to get increasingly keen.
On the corporate lending side, I have not yet seen credit contraction in line with the capital that has been written off by the financial sector. I suspect that the front line banks are current preparing strategies for how they will deploy, preserve and recover capital over the next 12-18 months. When we start to hear about rising corporate bankruptcies then we will know that we've moved into that phase of the credit crisis.
Here are three things that I keep hammering into myself when I'm thinking about making an investment:
#1 -- I don't "need" to do deals (doing nothing is OK)
Be prepared, attractive buying opportunities will present themselves to educated investors.
Until next week,
We open with a snappy photo of Alan Couzens – he’s photogenic if you don’t give him time to realize that you are taking his photo. It is a little blurry but I don’t have many in the archives that have the big guy grinning ear-to-ear. We’ve turned him loose a bit on the training at this camp so perhaps his grin is endorphin-enhanced.
One of the nice things about having a Human Performance Lab in my basement is that I am able to do whatever test, whenever I want. Two weeks ago, Alan hooked me up to the Met Cart and we updated my bike fitness profile. I will leave it to AC to use my data as he sees fit (we end up in his blog whether we like it or not!).
We were discussing the implications of my test – near identical O2 uptake with lower lactate levels. Again, best if I leave the technical discussion to the experts (i.e. AC). One of Alan’s suggestions was to increase the fat content of my diet. He did this indirectly by suggesting that I reduce the glycemic load of my breakfast. Eating less isn’t an effective option for me so I decided to add more calories to my diet.
He offered his advice with a caveat that he was a bit nervous giving me nutritional advice. If you know the two of us then you may smile at the thought of AC giving me nutritional tips. At first I didn’t get it – I was left pondering why an expert would be nervous sharing his advice with me. Then it hit me… he may have been concerned because of our relative ease with the 'nutrition-thing'.
I haven’t had a chance to speak to the big guy about this point but it is something that I face a lot so why not cover it here – AC and I “talk” a lot via the internet anyhow... J
There is a difference between advice and leadership. As a coach/friend/adviser/consultant, it is important to consider what the situation requires, as well as, what the client desires. I don't need my advisers to follow their own advice -- I need advisers that give me their best advice and objective feedback.
In my consulting career, I have often made incorrect assumptions about what the client desires – generally a mistaken assumption will result in the relationship breaking down due to lack of communication. My advisory failures are most often a result of a mistaken assumption (on my part) about what the client desires.
To be successful at offering what (I think) someone needs, I need to build trust by sharing ideas in a format that keeps them engaged and open. If I seek influence in a situation then I must start by creating trust.
Things to consider when deciding to offer leadership, advice or compassionate listening:
***What does the situation require?
***What does the client desire?
***What am I equipped to offer?
Triathlon is a strange sport where many of the leading experts were outstanding participants in the game. Many consumers are HEAVILY biased on the actual race performance of their advisers. I think this happens because the deeper purchase decision isn’t based on a search for expert knowledge. A personal triathlon coach is most often an aspirational purchase, separate from a search of improvement.
In other walks of life (swimming, cycling, basketball) the coach’s prior ability as a performer falls far behind his current ability as a teacher/mentor/leader. Swimming is an example where some great coaches have been very average athletes. Knowledge, communication skills and experience are the key ingredients – athletic ability scores very low outside of the marketing arena.
While leadership potential is boosted by walking-the-walk, the fact that we are human, prone to mistakes and share similar struggles to our clients most often makes us better advisers. Some of the most powerful communication that we can give our friends, family and clients is an open discussion of the real challenges that we face.
We have space left in Epic Italy (June 7-16, eight days of training). Drop us a line if you are interested. Please include details on your athletic history and current fitness.
We finish with a shot of a flowering cactus.
I love it down here.
PS -- saw my first snake of the year today!
"You only ever grow as a person when you spend time outside your comfort zone"
Percy’s athletics was backed up by a fundamental philosophy that resonates loudly with me. He even had a name for his philosophy and accompanying code of conduct. He called it the STOTAN code. The word stotan is a composite of two words:
Stoic: A philosophy based on deriving pleasure from virtue and being unmoved by necessary hardship.
Spartan: An ancient greek culture based on loyalty, discipline and acting for the greater good.
I have had some recent conversations with Gordo that have forced me to look at what motivates me both as a coach and an athlete and I keep coming back to these principles.
I recently had an athlete put in a breakthrough performance and qualify for Kona. Of course, I was eagerly watching the web on Sunday, checking out his performance and I knew he was on the verge of something special. When he finished the race, I was excited to know that he was on the cusp of a Kona slot, and even more excited the next day to hear the news that he had secured one. But the real ‘lump in the throat’ moment for me came when I read his race report and realized just how much tenacity he showed out there, how deep he had to dig and how far into himself he had to go to reach a level he had never reached before. A level of athletic achievement? Yes. But it’s more than that, to me, in a lot of ways, it is those moments of pushing your previous limits that personally define us.
When Gordo asked me why I was in the sport, my initial knee-jerk was “to get better, to improve my performance.” But, the more I think about it, the more I realize that, while I want to get better, in the end, the thing that keeps me going is, as Pierre De Coubertin suggested, not the triumph but the struggle. It’s a weird thing isn’t it? But it’s almost common for athletes, especially truly great athletes to have a penchant for “the hard way”. If my time in Aussie swim squads taught me nothing, it taught me that the smile that creeps over the coach on pool deck often has nothing to do with faster times for a set or the thought of a possible medal at the next meet, the smile is all about those principles that I mentioned above; an inspiring display of loyalty, discipline and athletes who are unmoved by the necessary hardship of athletics.
On the surface, there is obviously a certain joy that comes from knowing that you are doing something that others aren’t willing to do. On the deeper level, I think that this emotional satisfaction stems from something that the Eastern religions realized long ago, that to become an individual with a soul, a spiritual entity independent of our brain and material shell, occasionally we must act independently of them. We must do things that challenge our body, we must do things that challenge our rational thoughts, e.g. jump on our bikes and ride 5hrs up a mountain despite the fact that we know rationally that with a base of 2x1hr trainer rides a week, it’s probably not a smart thing to do :-), just to prove that “I” am more than my rational thoughts. For whatever reason, call it God, call it destiny, call it whatever, some cosmic force has determined that “I” am an athlete.
It is also probably fair that I let my athletes know that this is also what motivates me as a coach. Of course I want you to get better. I want you to achieve your athletic goals. I want you to get healthy. All of that. But I also want you to experience those moments where you bust through your own self concept. Those moments of self-control and fortitude that show you that you are so much stronger than your emotions and your whims. You are so much more. Every time you complete a basic week. Every time you get out of bed and get ready to train as soon as your alarm clock goes off. Every time that you hit the supermarket instead of hitting Mickey D’s not only makes me proud of you as an athlete, it also fulfils me to know that I am helping you discover a self that is independent of your thoughts, your whims, your cravings. I am helping you discover your true self. In answer to Gordo’s question…. THAT is why I am a coach.
In retrospect, the title isn’t totally apt, I’m not calling all Stotans, just one :-) I have one slot left for coaching over the next year. If what I have said strikes a chord, drop me an email.
I'm going to write about two topics this week: some quick thoughts on success; and ideas on "my demographic".
Alan has some guidelines that he uses in his coaching -- they run something like... never reduce... never trade... never compromise... // I'll let him write the whole story. They work quite well for people that are operating below their maximum capacity.
However, the majority of my clients are seeking to operate beyond their maximum capacity. I know that most my personal trouble come from over-estimating what I can handle.
Some examples that we bump into a lot in our sport:
Those are the three most common that I've experienced in my own training. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I find it useful to ask myself the opposite to see if I am missing something:
***Could my body sustain more training load?
Of course, when we are trapped in self-sabotaging patterns, it often takes a crisis (or seriously crappy race) to get us to look fresh at our approach. When we reach the point that more is clearly insane... then we might be ready to try less.
One final thought on success -- a friend noted to me the other day... "I did everything that I was asked". I smiled at the time.
Not everyone understands the difference between success and compliance. Success isn't about doing the minimum.
Below is a snap of me cradling a mixing bowl of oatmeal and scrambled eggs. Here's a stat that you probably didn't know -- I tend to eat 28-35 whole eggs per week when training big. I also eat a lot of olive oil, nuts, avocados, fish, chicken and beef. My main nutritional "weakness" is mayonnaise! Interestingly my hdl/ldl ratio is about 1:1 (96/100 to be exact).
I don't count calories, grams of macro nutrients or seek to optimize any ratios. What I do is eat for fuel and seek to limit ANY loss of lean body mass (EVER).
This brings me to...
I thought that I'd lay out some key concepts for the 35+ guys to remember // things are going to change from what you remember in your 20s. Take it from me, or Scott Molina... or Dave Scott... or Mark Allen... ...the needs of the speedy veteran athlete are very different than what you may read in the magazines.
#1 priority is Training Consistency // you gotta be training to hold on to what you got and "holding on" has to be a key motivator of men in my demographic. Those eyeball searing workouts that you think you ought to do... if they result in an injury then you are likely to lose fitness, and lean body mass, that will be very tough to regain.
Once you are over 50, the cost of injuries is even greater.
#2 priority is Keepin' What You Got // whether you use hills, big gears, paddles or Gold's Gym -- covet your strength. It insulates you from injury, keeps you healthy and improves your mood. I also suspect that heavy weights buoy naturally declining hormonal levels (as does a limited amount of high intensity cardio).
Jeff Cutteback is a name that you might have heard -- if you are in "My Demographic" then you should do some research on Jeff. He's been speedy for a long while and just finished 15th overall at IM Arizona (nipping Molina's record in the 45-49). Jeff's is 49, going to Kona and I suspect that he has a birthday between now and October... go get 'em Jeff!
As I start to feel the impact of multiple 1,200 hour training years (mainly on my feet), I have begun to consider how best to use my remaining lifetime mileage.
There is a school of thought that says "keep the hammer down and hope medical science stays in front of me". However, like most of "My Demographic", I started triathlon to lose a bit of weight and challenge myself. The whole "being fast" thing happened as an accident. Back in 1999, I was merely looking for a daylight finish.
With my pals I talk about the divergence between elite athletic performance and personal health. As I age, I start to wonder about the divergence between optimizing speed at 40 years old and maximizing athletic enjoyment across the next thirty years.
I like my feet, my knees and my hips -- it would sure be nice to hang on to the Original Equipment for as long as possible!
Whether it is at the bottom, or the top, of the range... "My Demographic" is where we will each see our maximum athletic potential decline.
...and that could be why we are all out there trying to prove something to ourselves!
Just trying to figure out what.
Off to our second Tucson Training Camp in the morning. Should be a great week of training with old, and new, friends. We have a solid group of amateur athletes; our superb support crew and an outstanding ten-day forecast from weather.com.
See you out there,
However... as I swim, bike and run in the Desert Southwest, there is ample time to think! It is just that those thoughts don't seem to get much past my mind.
As an aside, my mental conditioning coach likes to ask "where do your thoughts go when they leave your mind"? My two cents is that they go straight into our bodies. Part of the role of exercise in my life is releasing thoughts from my body.
So this blog will sum up a few thoughts that keep coming back to me. By writing them down here, I hope to set them free!
The photo that opens this week's letter is the Grand Canyon. Jonas and I thought that it would be a fun challenge to run to the river (and back) in a day. The canyon is a very powerful place and I highly recommend that you experience it for yourself. The number of eco-systems in a single place makes it very special. Totally by chance, we rolled through when there were different flowers blooming with every 1000 feet of elevation change. Fantastic!
The canyon had a strong effect on more than just my calves... in the days that followed, I felt a lot of emotions about that run. The canyon drove home my mortality in a different way than passing semi-trailers. Inside the canyon are many separate worlds that have been rolling along for thousands of years -- separate from any credit crisis, mortgage default or profit sharing agreement.
I can't promise that you'll have a similar experience but, regardless, it's worth the trip. If you come with me then I'll buy you a patch at Phantom Ranch. Big J asked why he was getting his patch at the bottom, but thought about it for a bit and smiled at me.
The only way is UP!
By any definition, he is one of the most _successful_ athletes that I know. He's been fast for 15 years and supports his life by using his athletics to build his personal brand. He is living well and positioning himself for a healthy, sustainable future.
Nutrition -- he eats very, very well. The main differences that I noticed from what I write about is a large helping of good fats with every single meal. When my volume is high, I tend to pour olive oil on most meals (other than fruit). Big J uses olive oil, nuts and avocados. He eats a ton of fruit. Despite massive energy output when training (his average training speed is high) his %age of calories from processed foods is lower than nearly every one I know.
People tend to think that fast athletes never get tired. In fact, fast people get VERY tired. What separates elite ultraendurance athletes is: (a) how they cope with fatigue; and (b) their capacity to recover from stress/fatigue. The longer the event, the more important this becomes.
Jonas is super experienced and very successful over a long period of time. He has the confidence to walk, or grab a van ride, when he thinks it is required. He jokes that he might have been more successful if he had simply been a little tougher. There is a real humility that surrounds him.
As for success... with a VO2-max of 6.9L per minute you can do a tremendous amount of damage to yourself. I can't imagine having that sort of horsepower. While J's peaks may have been greater from a sustained all-or-nothing approach; I very much doubt that his life success would have been improved. He has achieved a remarkable position in his life -- he is an elite triathlete that has a strong personal brand, a business that works outside of race performance, and the personal flexibility to come train with his Canadian buddy in the spring!
His method of achievement isn't anything fancy -- relentless work. He is on his computer 4-8 hours per DAY answering emails, talking to client and blogging (in Swedish) about his trip.
While his inherent ability helps his race performance, his life success has been created by a drive for personal excellence and consistent work over the last 15 years.
A good guy for me to hang around.
Justin gave the campers two great pieces of advice that I wanted to pass along. You will find them useful in your athletics, and your lives, if you apply them.
When training with people that are stronger than you... don't look for work. When you are undertaking a challenging task (a race, a training camp, a project) that requires uncommon stamina then pace your workout, your day, your week...
The successful athlete can't afford to max-out in any single training session because he needs to get back out there the next day. The day, the race, the week will get hard eventually -- sometimes not until your are back at home in private!
JD's other observation is that there are three approaches/aspects to the endurance lifestyle: Racing, Training and Touring. If your goal is performance then you need to spend the bulk of your time Training (not racing or touring).
Probably the most common training error is low-level racing in training. While this approach can work (especially if you are stronger than your buddies) -- eventually, it is self-limiting. Athletes that are plateaued and chronically injured are likely racing all the time. Long training camps (and how we cope in the weeks after) are great for helping us learn an appropriate training load. The skill lies not in the overload, rather the tough part is knowing how far is "far enough".
Something that we all deal with when deeply fatigued is "touring". Chronic "tourists" are generally married to the volume figures that they place in their training logs and have 50% (or more) of their weekly volume in their "easy" training zone. Being a tourist is a lot of fun and there is a time of year (and week) for easy training. Something that JD reminded us about is understanding when training has become touring. Maximizing our training program usually means cutting back on touring.
I found myself touring for a while yesterday and took today easy so that I could get back to training.
Great reminders from Justin
As the snow thaws and spring approaches, I thought that it might be timely if I threw out a blog entry on the Specific Preparatory phase of training. For most folks who are targeting a late Summer race, they will probably be getting ready to enter this very important phase of training.
Many of you will be familiar with a chart similar to the one below that describes the general process of periodization, as outlined by Tudor Bompa in his landmark book, “Theory and methodology of training”.
As you can see, during the specific prep phase of training, the general trend is an increase in training intensity while volume of training is slightly increased or maintained. It is important to note, that for endurance athletes, it is not until the very end of the specific prep phase and the transition to the race prep phase that volume begins to take a ‘back seat’ to intensity. For ultra-endurance athletes, this is even more pronounced and for novice to intermediate ultra-endurance athletes it may never be appropriate to sacrifice your progressive volume development in order to emphasize intensity.
The training methods:
Here is where a lot of folks go wrong with the specific prep portion of their training year.
Too many “A” races.
Too much intensity.
It is very easy for athletes in this pattern to develop a rationalization that they are time limited and therefore need to get the most ‘bang for their buck’ by focusing on intensity vs. volume. For some this is indeed the case. Most, however, when we really get down to it are energy limited, not time limited. And when a big withdrawal is made from the energy bank account with a long, intense weekend ride, it is very easy to rationalize skipping the Monday workout by finding something ‘more important’ to do.
It never ceases to amaze me how much training successful age group athletes manage to fit around their very successful working and family lives. However, a progressively growing bank of energy is a pre-requisite for this.
So, what is an appropriate volume and intensity for the specific prep phase of training for most AG athletes?
A simple rule of thumb is, don’t sacrifice volume for intensity until you are 10-12 weeks from a very important A-RACE. This means if you try and up the ante on one of your key sessions but wind up dropping volume from the week, the session was too hard. No rationales, no excuses, no “if I could have slept an extra hour I think I could handle it”, no “I think I felt a cold coming on this week, on a normal week I could handle it”. If you truly care about your long term development as an athlete, be very cautious and deliberate as to the times you choose to drop volume for intensity. For myself, these are the situations that I am willing to do that:
If my training data indicates I have a shot at a Kona slot
That’s it. Other than that, it’s onward and upward. The “peak him here, peak him there, peak him everywhere” approach is no way to achieve your full potential in the sport.
To be fair, there is one other situation in which it may be appropriate to drop volume and increase intensity and that is when aerobic performance plateaus. I am reluctant to include this exception for two reasons:
Most athletes that I have worked with significantly underestimate how long they can improve from solely doing aerobic work. We are talking about a multi-year adaptation here. There is no need for speed until you are a very established athlete.
Most athletes simply don’t have the data to determine when a plateau is occurring. The “I feel flat so I think I need some speedwork” doesn’t cut it. Show me the numbers – a multi-month plateau in the aerobic numbers from your benchmark sets.
Other than that, keep doing more, keep doing it faster and you will become a better athlete. Simple as that.
The video above is from one of my favourite movies, Anchorman. This week’s blog entry is about morphological characteristics of elite Ironman triathletes, or more specifically, how big are their guns? I guess in reality, I’m more interested in the correlation between things like thigh girth, muscle cross sectional area and performance, but I’ll take any excuse to throw a Will Ferrel reference in there J
One of my own personal struggles as a triathlete is with the issue of bodyweight. At various points in my athletic career, my pre-occupation with my bodyweight has bordered on dysfunctional. The issue is not helped by the obvious reinforcement that comes from running my fastest marathon ever, which was ~20 minutes faster than my next fastest marathon, at 158lbs. For my 6’4” frame, you can imagine I was pretty skinny. In fact, all of the times in my past that I would consider I was running relatively fast have been at a low bodyweight (158-165lbs). I always assumed this relationship to be causative. Now, I’m not so sure.
The crew (Mat, JD) and I just returned from Endurance Corner’s inaugural spring training camp in Tucson, AZ. The camp was a great experience all around, great training, great people, great environment. For myself, one of the highlights of camp was a discussion that I had with Jonas Colting (World Champion and 2x Ultraman Champion). Jonas was great to be around for a couple of reasons. Number 1, he is a great archetype for the sort of athlete I could become. He is a big, strong dude, and a great runner to boot (that’s him in the yellow crocs below)
#2: He is one of those athletes with a no-limits attitude. It can become easy for athletes with egocentric personalities to buy into the “I guess I was born to be a gifted athlete.” This is particularly true when anyone with a rudimentary understanding of exercise physiology is familiar with the work of Daniels, Yarbough & crew, who ultimately came to the conclusion that the gold standard of aerobic performance (VO2max) is largely genetically determined. In my mind, I am yet to see a study with sufficient duration that has led me to conclusively agree with this. Perhaps my own bias is coming into play here. If so, I’m fine with that I’d much rather adopt a self serving inaccurate belief than a self-defeating accurate belief any day of the week.
Anyhow, back to the convo with Big J….
It was Jonas’ take that muscular demand for O2, i.e. having bigger oxidative fibers, can be a potent stimulus for VO2max improvement. This was interesting to me for a couple of reasons - #1, I was re-reading Noakes ‘Lore of Running’ on the car trip down and he comes to a similar conclusion:
“The high rate of Oxygen delivery to those skeletal muscles, which is needed to sustain their function during maximal exercise is the result, not the cause of an athlete’s superior exercise capacity.”
#2 I had largely discounted those bigger athletes who do well at endurance sports as genetic freaks, e.g. Big Mig with his 7.04 L/min VO2max. Sure he goes up hill pretty quick, but for us mere mortals without his engine, if we want to go uphill quickly or we want to run quickly and we’re lacking a couple of L/min of absolute VO2max, the only way we are going to improve our relative VO2max is to shed some pounds. As Noakes’ perspective above suggests, this may not be the case.
The last VO2max test that I did resulted in a max oxygen uptake of 4.5 L/min. Decent, but certainly not elite by any stretch of the imagination. If we accept the traditional view on VO2max that claims that the best I can hope for is a 5-15% improvement in my ‘engine size’, it is pretty clear that I have a much better shot at long term improvement by making my modifying my chassis and making it more efficient than spending a lot of energy eeking out the last 5% from my engine. However, if we adopt the alternative approach that ST/FOG fiber demand for O2 is a potent stimulus for VO2max improvement, hypertrophy of these fibers becomes a viable objective.
This perspective does have some scientific support, particularly in the European Exercise Phys literature. Berbalk has done a number of studies looking at training load, fiber size and cardiac adaptations and has shown a definitive link between the 3 among endurance athletes. Is it causative? Maybe yes, maybe no, but at least in my mind it makes enough intuitive sense to be worthy of further exploration and I’m not going to wait around on the lab rats to do the exploration for me!!
So, what is the ideal endurance athlete muscle make-up?
a) ST/FT%: A number of studies have shown a higher % of slow twitch fiber area in endurance athletes vs. speed athletes vs. untrained. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 65-85% ST fibers for endurance trained athletes (Costill et al., 1976). While the ST/FT balance seems to have genetic determinants, deliberate atrophy of the FG fibers can affect the ST/FT balance.
b) ST/FT fiber size. Strength-endurance athletes, e.g. rowers, cyclists, swimmers typically have FOG fibers 1.3x the size of untrained individuals and 1.5x the size of pure endurance athletes, e.g. marathon runners (Pieper, Scharschmidt, 1981)
What does this look like in real world terms?
And the numbers? Gordo was kind enough to forward some recent anthropometric data from his Snowfarm stay in NZ. Compare the numbers below to some data that I have from elite Australian distance runners at the A.I.S (mean values, n=18) and my own measurements
A couple of observations jump out when comparing G with similarly elite distance runners:
1. He is heavier. Even when corrected for height, G is carrying an extra 1.1 grams for every cm of height.
2. While heavier, the extra weight is made up of fat-free mass (bone and muscle) as he is similarly lean to the elite distance runners.
3. He has a larger frame than the elite distance runners (at least if we take biepicondylar femur breadth to be representative of bone widths through the skeletal frame)
4. He has greater calf girth than the distance runners. As previously mentioned, this is largely independent of calf skinfolds and is primarily indicative of greater cross-sectional muscle fiber area in the lower leg musculature. A theoretical basis for why this might be the case is given in point b above.
When comparing G’s data with my own, the observations do more than jump out, they leap from the page and punch me square between the eyes. In fairness to Gordo, I must point out that the same conclusions that I am forced to draw from the data are exactly what he has been telling me for some time now. Ditto Matty Stein for that matter, but as Tidwell from Jerry Maguire sort of said, whenever I am confronted with an assertion made without empirical data my gut response is “show me the numbers!!” Well, there they are. It will be interesting to see what I do with them.
I have been in the desert for the last week attending our Endurance Corner Spring Camp in Tucson, Arizona. The camp has been a reminder of a few topics that I will cover in this week's letter.
What's possible // Everyone here is a real athlete, but not everyone realizes it. Justin and I were commenting to each other that everyone is strong, durable and able to log the miles. It is tough to be one of the slower athletes in a group as high powered as this one. Interestingly, I have found that the slower athletes are the least likely to experience mental stress at a camp. Camp is challenging and they expected that!
Attitude & Fatigue // Similar to Epic Camp (where everyone is a bad ass "back home"), the faster agegroup athletes are used to being able to dominate in training _and_ dictate the nature of their training. Most specifically, swim volume and peak power required when group riding. JD warned us all pre-camp... "Don't go looking for work, let the work come to you". That is good advice when riding with a couple of Ultraman Champs. Fortunately, Jonas and I have been feeling gentlemanly -- I did big ring Gates Pass on Tuesday but Mat made me (and the rest of the ride) pay later.
Something that I have noticed across the years is that athletes that are unable to adjust self-expectations in the face of high powered competition are the ones that have the greatest gap between actual, and potential, performance.
Specifically, they convince themselves that they are training easier than reality. Training camps, long races, and descending main sets, are an effective way to benchmark one's reality. It's why I love Epic Camp for my own training -- not that I always listen to what the group is 'telling' me!
Setting one's mind // We've seen some stand out performances this week. Personally, I have been most impressed by the swim training that the campers have done. Scott taught me that (most) athletes will rise to the expectations of their peer group. We have been putting up a "real" swim workout most days. I have been sharing some of the workouts that Monica used to turn me into a low-50s IMer.
Limits // Today at lunch Sean Fenner told me that he wished that he could really hit it a few days and see what's possible. I passed along my experience that even when you think you are holding back... you are likely hitting it quite hard! The camp environment takes us far beyond where we could get ourselves. I probably would have taken a light day yesterday if I was at home. Instead... 10K steady run, 5500 yard solid swim and 50 mile aerobic maintenance bike. Jonas spent the early part of the camp trying to get us to sleep in // then gave up and started training! Even the fastest guy at the camp benefits from the group dynamic.
Ultra Speed // The differentiator between good and great ultradistance athletes is NOT their 20-60 minute power. At a camp like this, you don't see the best from the fittest athletes -- they have tons in reserve. What we do see (but might not realize) is the difference between an elite athlete's easy/steady pace and an agegrouper's mod-hard/threshold pace. Look at Sindballe's heart data BEFORE you look at the power. How many people racing 2-5 hours LONGER than him are able to ride that "easy" in an Ironman Distance race? Thorbjorn held off Tim deBoom -- one of the greatest runners in the history of Hawaii -- he did that on the marathon.
We did a test set within our 5500 yard swim...
In case you are wondering... I went something like 5:10/4:58/4:51/4:41 and tried quite hard on the last one -- my 400 yard PB is 4:20 so I have some work to do! We were leaving on 5:45. Big J dropped a 4:08 on the last one. Bit of a gap.. that's why he's The Man.
The inability to descend is a result of lack of practice (and confidence), not lack of potential. Lacking this critical ability means that the athlete is likely training one intensity zone higher than they think -- all-the-time. Within most AG programs this doesn't show as excessive fatigue -- it tends to show as: (a) late race fading; (b) stagnant aerobic development (especially around AeT); and (c) an inability to really hit the toughest sessions.
Same deal on the bike -- in a group situation, you can pretty much always count on a highly motivated athlete to come to the front and start riding "easy to steady" by siting on their Half Ironman wattage. I comfort myself that the draft is outstanding and it will only be a half hour or so before the pace slows down. Even with the advent of powermeters, most athletes cannot wait to show their strength.
Finishing strong is a very satisfying form of delayed gratification.
We will race the way we train.
Coach KP and I were swapping ideas about learning and teaching this past week. We shared a few observations that came from thinking about how open (or closed) I have been to new ideas across my triathlon career.
Being open to new ideas, means being open to change. Change is uncomfortable. As an adviser, most of my clients come to me seeking reassurance that there is no need for change (a lot of time that motivates me as well). We are open to guidance, so long as it consists of digging deeper into our existing patterns.
How often do we say to a teacher, "I hope you are not trying to tell me there is a problem."
Most often we see the need to change as a problem when it is an opportunity for success.
A few years back, I read that Tiger Woods decided to change his golf swing. At the time he was the best golfer on the circuit, yet he saw the need to change. I know very few experts that would be willing to completely learn a skill that is fundamental to their identity. The true master's commitment is to excellence, not the current way of doing things.
It is the rare expert that is open to change -- not only did Tiger see the need to change but he had the self-awareness to figure this out on his own. Most of us require stress, failure or some other external input to indicate that change might be required.
The trap of expert knowledge. Of being smart enough, good enough, fast enough -- it can be useful (but painful) to get outside of the familiar from time to time.
Here at our Tucson camp, the group environment takes all of us outside of the familiar, it can be uncomfortable at times. At our first dinner KP spoke of his experience at being the strongest athlete at a camp, as well as, the weakest athlete at a camp. He says that it can be emotionally uncomfortable when we are out-gunned. However, in getting through those situations, we can emerge stronger.
Early in my career, I remember thinking that simplicity was a sign of ignorance -- and -- having a strong desire to constantly demonstrate my complex knowledge to my teachers and the world at large. My coaches found my intensity entertaining -- I was fortunate for their patience!
The master teachers that I have worked with make the complex simple -- they help their students focus on the key elements. As the student becomes an expert, he sees more and more complexity. One of my drivers for simplification is to make sense of all the options that are available. Another is seeing that there are a few themes that underpin the wide range of protocols that are applied by successful people.
History tells me that I know less than I think
This blog is a few days late (we've been training) so that is enough for now.
Until next week,