Friday, October 24, 2014

What it Takes

Alan Couzens, MS (Sport Science), CSCS, PES.

The pic above is of Ironman legend Peter Reid. Many of you will be familiar with the Ironman documentary that profiled Peter’s preparation for the 2005 Ironman World Championships, aptly titled “What it takes”. Movies like this, along with a lot of the old school books written by the big 4 (Molina, Allen, Scott and Tinley) do a good job of illustrating what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the sport. On the flip side, there are ump-teen books on the market today aimed at the absolute novice triathlete with the goal of completing his/her first triathlon. However, IMHO, there is a big gap in the information channel for the 50+% of athletes in the middle who are looking to move to the next performance level.
For a data-obsessed guy like myself, one of the best aspects of getting involved in the coaching game has been the mass exposure to the training and performance data from athletes of a wide range of abilities. I am certainly in a better position now than I was a couple of years ago to comment on ‘what it takes’ to achieve those stepping stone goals of, completing your first Ironman, running your first IM marathon, moving to the top of your age group or nailing that elusive Kona slot. Considering my own past ill-conceived notions of ‘what it takes’ it should come as no surprise to me that most folks have absolutely no idea of the actual long term training volume that it will take to achieve their goals. What is somewhat surprising, though, is the emotional attachment that some folks have to their chosen protocol, no matter how incongruent with their goals it may be. Some 11+ hr Ironfolks are desperately attached to the notion that if they don’t hit their 25hr training weeks, they’ll never breakthrough to the next level. Of course, there is no way an 11hr athlete has the fitness reserve (or, generally, the life circumstance) to make these 25hr weeks happen on a consistent basis and so the end result is nothing but inconsistent training mixed with a solid dose of frustration.
On the flip side, I have come across other athletes who significantly under-estimate the time commitment necessary to complete an Ironman. These busy “type A” professionals will typically only be able to consistently complete single digit hour training weeks and will, unsurprisingly, have a less than enjoyable experience on race day.
What is interesting to me as a coach is the emotional attachment that many athletes have to their training approach. Often, I can do my level best to explain to my athletes that their current training choices are not consistent with their current performance level or realistic performance goals, but frequently I have seen this fall on deaf ears. In retrospection, I’ve concluded that there are 2 reasons for this:
1. I am a far better “thinker” than I am a “talker” and sometimes I fail to accurately communicate the ‘why’ behind my training prescriptions to my athletes
2. My athletes don’t have the same ‘big picture view’ that I do, i.e. they only have access to their own training logs and the metrics that they choose to personally track and analyze. Meanwhile, I have access to a wide variety of athletes logs and I analyze EVERYTHING.
So, I thought it might be useful if in this blog, I throw out some quick numbers from a few of my athletes as to “what it takes” to achieve various performance levels.

First up, let me profile the 5 athletes that I’ll give data for:

1. Athlete 1 is a 35-39AG male competitor. He has an IM PR of 10:30 (on a challenging course) and a half PR of 4:33. He has a fairly flexible job, no wife or kids. He is targeting IMWI
2. Athlete 2 is a 40-44AG male with an IM PR of 10:55 (Half- 5:12). Steady job schedule, wife, kid. Target race is IMFL.
3. Athlete 3 is a 30-34AG male with an IM PR of 12:19 (Half-4:52). Part time, flexible job schedule, girlfriend, no kids. Target race is IMAZ in November.
4. Athlete 4 is a 45-49AG male with an IM PR of 12:19 (half PR 5:05). Also a busy career schedule that involves lots of travel and a wife and kids to throw in the mix. Target race: IMWI.
5. Athlete 5 is a 40-44AG male marathoner/ultramarathoner (PR:4:xx) training for his first IM.
Now the fun part….

We have 5 athletes spanning the gamut from first timer to top of the AG ranks. So here’s the big question, can you pick which training numbers belong to which athlete??

Believe it or not, athlete a corresponds with the first athlete profile, athlete b with the second, etc.

Note: These numbers aren’t presented as ‘targets’. That’s not how it works. You keep the training trending up and you get there when you get there. Phil Collins sang “you can’t hurry love”. Well, you can’t hurry training adaptations either (though it doesn’t carry a beat as well :-)

Some time ago, I wrote a blog post based on the concept of “if you want to train more, prove it by racing (and training) faster”. I often come back to that point. There is little value to be gained from adding 5hrs of training volume if you drop 20W in the process.

While the above is obviously a limited sample, it gives you some idea of the sort of volume that different levels of athlete are hitting right now. It also shows that there is a limited correlation between early season training volume and race performance. It seems that volume isn’t the final answer. So, what is?

If we look at the athletes at the top of the table, the distinguishing characteristics are as follows:

1. The guys at the top of the table exhibit a slow, steady consistent build up in volume and intensity over a long time period. Athlete A’s volume has progressively increased from 52-60hrs over the past 6 months, with a corresponding progressive increase in intensity. Athlete D’s monthly volume has varied from 40-93hrs with fluctuating intensity.
2. The guys at the top of the table have been involved in long course racing for a relatively long (unbroken) time. They have multiple Ironman races under their belt and many Half IM’s. Athlete A has been at the IM game since 2003. Or, in g-speak, “It takes a long time to get good”.
So, in this sense, when answering the question “what does it take?”, the final answer may be a protocol that allows you to progressively increase both volume and intensity of training over many seasons. This is an important question to come back to when deciding whether to radically change your training volume or intensity from one week or month to the next.

When it comes to fulfilling your potential as an Ironman athlete, patience is a virtue.

US PPP, UK Property and Sports Knowledge


Check out that photo... Makes me want to ride! In three months time Epic Camp is heading to Italy. Johno and Ian are perfecting the logistics for how we will get up the Stelvio Pass (pictured). If you would like to join us (June 8th to 15th) then drop me a line with your triathlon CV.

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Visiting Europe & UK Property
I am currently mid-way through a European business trip and tapping on my computer in Edinburgh, Scotland. The UK is certainly expensive for the dollar-based visitor -- Yesterday I went through $100 and that only included a visit to a health club and some breakfast. Out of all the countries that I visit in the world, the US appears to be offering the best value right now. I have been considering how to take advantage of that point but haven't come up with much (other than telling my European business contacts to diversify away from Euro-based assets).

A few years ago no one in my peer group wanted to hold Euro assets. Now, many talk as if the dollar is heading for a permanent slide. My simple purchasing-power-parity (PPP) analysis from my global journeys is telling me something different.

Here in Scotland, I am the director of a firm that specializes in prime residential development. I work in the Scottish part of the company's portfolio -- they also have projects in London, Boston, New York and Dubai. Generally, the company follows a buy-build-hold strategy but we do sell a portion of the portfolio each year. The sales enable us to 'prove' our valuations to bankers/shareholders and manage the overall composition of the portfolio.

For those of you interested in residential property prices here is what we are seeing -- the prime Scottish sector grew 5% last year and has been flat in the early part of 2008. This is against a backdrop of 10-20% falls in the UK's new build and 'investment' sector.

Up-and-coming market segments and secondary locations are under extreme pressure -- investors, and firms, that bought heavily into the new build sector are going to have a very tough time.

Given our financing strength, we had been hoping to make distressed purchases. We aren't seeing many of these and good deals remain competitively priced. One favorable change is that development margins have expanded back to 2004 levels. Of course, that might be the result of our sales assumptions being more rosy that our competition. UK home buyer sentiment is as bad as I've seen it in the last 15 years but prime prices are stable (paradox #1). It will be interesting to watch how the market moves over the next 12 months.

The credit markets are tight but we have been approached by lenders that are keen to build their loan books in prime residential (paradox #2). While the credit markets are poor (in general), we are being offered loans at attractive prices. Similar to the property markets, there is a lot of variation within the credit markets.

Within our key financial relationships, liquidity is more of an issue than credit -- banks want to do more deals than they can fund with their balance sheet. They are limited by the short-term funding capacity of their balance sheets, not the quality of their deal flow. (Paradox #3) We remain the other way around -- high quality prime property deals are in shorter supply than capital.

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Who Controls Knowledge?
Scientific research costs money, takes time and is very difficult to control. Have you ever wondered wondered who funds the research that we take for granted? Have you ever considered if the population studied is an accurate representation of your current position?

I ask these questions because (in ultraendurance) the best athletes appear to do impossible feats -- coping with excessive hydration, dealing with material dehydration, superior fat oxidization, superior carbohydrate metabolism... it can seem that everywhere I look in ultradistance triathlon, there are outliers that don't fit the data.

By definition, the highest athletic performers are outliers but I wonder if industry-funded research on collegiate men (or sedentary adults) is the most accurate representation of my peer group. I'm also aware that, in a market with limited funding, the established players have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and their position.

Specifically, I've been thinking about how I perform...

***my capacity to process food (huge)
***my performance when dehydrated (just fine, mostly)
***my ability to remove fluids from my gut (massive)
***my capacity to oxidize fat for fuel and/or my ultraeconomy (unable to explain via the literature)
***my power/pace profile when fit (far below average reduction from VO2 down to AeT)

How much of the above is genetic, how much was trained, how much is due to the 'norms' being inaccurate? We may never know for sure and worrying about our profile is likely a waste of time. Focus on enjoying the training and see what happens.

There is a lot of silent evidence that is lost when people that aren't suited to ultradistance athletics retire from the sport. Each year, a BIG segment of long distance triathletes disappear. In most fields, people that underperform relative to effort (low inherent ability) fade into the background. Evidence from people that outperform relative to effort (high inherent ability) is what we cling to. The mind wants to believe that there might be an easy way... if only we had the magic protocol... [motivation, inherent ability, opportunity, time, luck].

One benefit that we have within our Boulder team is a wide range of physiological baselines. Alan is the most science-savvy team member and he faces the greatest physiological hurdles for going long. If you read his blog then you'll see that (physically) he performs best at 10-30 minute efforts -- one of the toughest zones for me to perform in. Triathlon is the only sport where a sprint takes 60-90 minutes!

Alan and I were talking about motivation for athletics -- performance vs enjoyment. Understanding our motivation is important because it relates to the satisfaction that we receive from our sport.

For example, I am an enjoyment-oriented athlete (that happens to have high inherent ability for ultra-distance triathlon). The least satisfying periods of my athletic 'career' have been when I focused on performance benchmarks. Working within a team, or with a coach, that is highly performance driven totally drains me. Interestingly it took me NINE years to figure this out!

That said, performance-oriented coaches have helped me breakthrough with my racing. Sometimes this was enjoyable, sometimes not!

Knowing what drives you, and your clients, is an important consideration in ALL advisory fields (finance, business, academics, athletics). To be effective teachers, we need to understand the values of our clients, and ourselves.

Coaches can't create motivation but we can certainly kill it.

Back next week,
gordo

Getting schooled at the university of life.

Alan Couzens, MS (Sport Science), CSCS, PES.


Pic: Big A choosing to spend his break time during the VQ Solvang bike camp chatting rather than eating. In retrospect, not his best choice :-)

Before I get started, I want to apologize in advance for any lack of coherence that may present itself in this piece. When writing the bulk of this, I was 25 hours into a 30hr training week and at that point the body begins to shut down any functions not deemed necessary for survival. Thinking about the content of my latest triathlon blog may fall into that category J But, our team dinner finished early one night and I had some time on my hands, so I gave it a whirl.

The title of this blog comes largely from my Dad. Whenever a topic would come up that he had no formal training in, I would question him on where he got his information. His standard response was “the university of life.” I’d probably throw back some retort on the ease of admission to said school, but, when it comes down to it, I deeply respect the practical intelligence that my father prides himself on. As much as I respect it, my personal strength has always been traditional “book learning”. It’s a funny thing how one’s strengths find a way of manifesting themself in an individual’s profession. For instance, I love to coach, always have, but these days I do it remotely from a lab rather than face to face in the field with my athletes. Mat is a great communicator, I am not. I am a great analyst and, in that sense, I guess I’m filling the right seat on the EC coaching bus.

But, I digress, the thing that got me thinking about real world vs. lab world this week has been our team’s attendance at Robbie Ventura’s VisionQuest Cycling Camp in Solvang, CA. I came into this camp still on the slow and steady volume ramp up since my crash in ’06 (yes, it really does take that long to get your fitness back). Basically that meant 10hr bike weeks of primarily easy-steady intensity training. Despite my low volume, my lab numbers have been solid – MLSS of 280-300W, Peak power well into the 3’s. So, when I first got to thinking about what I might expect from the camp, my initial impression was that, I probably have the engine to hold onto some of these guys, but that, with my low volume, I would poop out early in the piece. Prior to Epic in 06 I had done a number of 30hr weeks in the preceding 6 months. This past year, my biggest weeks were in the low 20’s and they left me pretty rocked.

Surprisingly, here we are at day 5, the endurance is holding up. So far, I’m not feeling too rocked from consistent 6ish hour days and a 30hr week with 400mi of biking (with no drop in average intensity) looks like it’s going to happen. On the flip side, the power numbers, that I felt were my trump card here, aren’t holding up.

Day 1 was by far the most informative, educating 4 hours that I have ever spent learning about cycling. I wasn’t listening to a Robbie V talk or reading the Jeukendreup cycling book that I brought with me. No, I was getting schooled in a different way, on the bike.

So, we roll out nice and easy and warm up to get ready for our first challenge of the week, a 5mi uphill TT. No sweat. I love to climb and am looking forward to seeing what kind of watts I can throw down here at sea level on day 1….

Lesson #1: Size matters!!

I get to the top. 310W 20:xx minutes. Not great, but decent. I paced it pretty conservatively and finished over geared, but with some gas in the tank. I (cautiously) roll down the other side of the climb to regroup with the EC posse on the other side. I ask Mat “what were your numbers?” He fires back “1815”. Dude, I don’t want to know your kj expenditure, just give me the important number, the watts. “No, that’s my time for the climb, not my kj. Oh, I don’t know, 308W”. Pretty much what I expected. Mat and I have had a pretty similar load on the bike over the last little bit. I thought we’d be pretty close together on that one. Also, pretty close to dead on what the lab #’s would suggest.

Notes:
Of course, the bigger point that I was missing is that despite equal watts, Mat got up the hill ~2 minutes faster than I did.. When going up a hill, absolute watts mean very little. Mat weighs in at ~67kgs, I weigh in at ~77kgs. Therefore, Mat’s W/kg were ~15% better than mine (4.6 vs. 4.0), as was his time up the climb. In order to throw down a similar time up the climb, I would need to put out ~356W at my current bodyweight. I’m not getting any leaner than I am already, so there is only one option: Get stronger and more powerful!!

Not paying too much attention to the time for the climb, I move on and line up with the “fast and long” group for the rest of today’s ride, “the A group”. Robbie says fast is going to be about another 40mi at 18-20mph, No prob. I used to do some group riding with team Florida in Gainesville (RED FLAG: Gainesville is flat!!) and we’d motor along nicely at 20-22mph without too much effort. 18-20 is perfect for an easy end to today’s ride.

So, we get started with a climb. Still feeling good, we’re holding 300-350W up this climb and I’m digging it. I’m actually thinking at that point, how much I miss riding with a group. Then, the descent starts…..

Lesson 2: Skills matter!!

I get dropped by the group on the small descent. Truth be told, I suck at descending. Call it a mix of flashbacks from my crash, my crappy flexibility, my height, my bike position, whatever. All I know is, guys go flying down a mountain past me as an unrecognizable blur. This was no exception. Ordinarily, I wait for the bottom and just TT back to the group, no sweat. But this is no ordinary group and this is no ordinary group ride. It’s first day of camp and everyone wants to mark their territory. The group hadn’t broken up at this point but the pace wasn’t pedestrian. Thankfully, Mat notices that I’m AWOL and sends, superstar, Gardie Jackson back for me. Gardie and the sag pace me back up to the group, but it’s probably a 5-10min bridge at 300+W. That’s gonna hurt a little later in the day. School bell rings, class is out, first lesson of the day complete: I need to either throw my FT up another 50W or man up and get some serious descending practice on the climbs around Boulder this summer if I hope to stay with riders of this calibre.

Notes: After chatting with Robbie and having a chance to practice the last couple of days during my tack-ons, here is what I’ve concluded about improving my personal ability to descend.

- Get in the drops: You increase your stopping power and bike stability ten-fold when you move from the hoods to the drops.
- Get your weight back on the saddle: Much more stable and prevents the possibility of an endo on steep descents.
- Get flexible (or get a custom bike): With my long legs and short torso, I always size down on my bikes. This presents a problem with the drop and I think is the primary reason I don’t use my drops as much as I should.
- Get 90% of your braking done before the turn
- Weight the outside leg

I catch back on and “ring-a-ding”, school’s back in. Still on the subject of skills, I discover that the other aspect of skills that really matters in this group riding thing are pack skills.

Lesson #3: Position matters!!

Position, in two senses of the word, really matters in group cycling.

I get back onto the back of the group and start riding along and chatting with Robbie (who was on my inside). I don’t know if this was a conscious choice of mine at the time, but I just felt more comfortable on the outside. It gives me that little bit of room to check my speed into the wind when needed and, truth be told, fear of the wheel in front of me, probably means I’m pushing into the wind more than I really need to. This preference leads to a lot of aero disadvantages, including those mentioned above and, for a bigger guy, it robs me of the opportunity to sit on the inside when the wind is coming from the left.

The other aspect of position that matters is bike position. After moving back into the group, I make the mistake of finding Matty Stein’s wheel. Now, Mat has two things going for him that makes him a really bad draft choice for a guy like me:

1. He’s almost a foot shorter than me
2. He has the flexibility to almost put his chin on the front wheel.

In real world terms, what does this mean?? At least 30W difference between him and me at the same speed. Mat’s power meter wasn’t working at the time, but JD was rolling along on the front of the group at 177W, while I was struggling to hold the same speed in the group at 205. Life in the peloton isn’t fair for us big, stiff, clumsy guys.

So, what do you get when you mix in:
* 2 threshold bridges at 280-320W (one via crappy descending skills, one via a flat)
* 30 extra watts on the flat than the rest of the group due to equally crappy pack skills and a less than optimal bike position
* A 300kcal deficit because you make the choice that your break time is better spent picking Robbie V’s brain than slamming a coke.

Answer: An ample slice of humble pie as, despite your best efforts, you watch the pack ride away from you.

You’re probably reading this blog thinking ‘duh’, all of these lessons are pretty elementary and are preached in every basic cycling book out there. And you’re right. There’s nothing complex about the lessons that a camp like the VQ camp teaches. Personally, for me, the real value to these sort of camps is in the massive application of these lessons. And the fact that the lessons are accompanied with enough of an emotional punch when you make it through days like the one mentioned above that they really inspire you to action.

This camp provided plenty of opportunities for me to discover my own personal limits and weak points. I have a love-hate relationship with that process. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is never easy and often not fun in the moment, but it is the one essential action that will prevent you from stagnating as a person by forcing you to grow. When it comes down to it, in a lot of ways, to me, this is what life is all about.

Needless to say, I’ll be back for more.

Vision Questing


Our photo this week is Robbie Ventura, one of the most genuine people I have met. We were descending Figueroa on Day Two and he started taking pictures of me at over 30 mph -- suffice to say his bike skills are far, far superior to mine. Robbie is the founder of VisionQuest Coaching. You might have seen him on the Versus Tour coverage the last couple of summers.

Robbie has a really special gift -- when he talks to you, you feel like you are the most important person in the world. Sounds kind of irrational but all you want to do is agree and help him out. There is a special vibe around him (and the VQ Coaches) that leaves you happy. It is a powerful kind of charisma.

Robbie and his team at VisionQuest Coaching were hosting a Solvang Spring Camp and the Boulder team (Mat, Alan, Justin) came across for the experience. This week I will share ideas that flowed out of five days of hammering with the roadies.

First a few announcements:

Spring Employment -- I am doing a personal training camp from April 3rd to 14th (start Tucson, end Santa Fe). We'll drop by the Grand Canyon en route. I need a couple (or two pals) to run sag/support/logistics. Please drop me a line if you are interested in helping out. This is a working, rather than training, position. Pay based on experience -- more if one of the duo has a massage qualification.

eMail -- I am now officially buried. My hopes of taming my inbox faded this week. I'll keep chipping away. Thanks for your patience.
Tucson Camps -- one of our campers noticed that the first weekend of our March 22-30 camp is Easter. As a result, we have an opening for March. Drop me a line if you are interested in joining us. As a reminder, you'll want to be in 13-hour IM shape, or quicker. Both camps have a range of people signed up.
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Solvang is beautiful! Great riding, a decent swimming pool at the local "Y" and nice country roads for running (there could be trails, I haven't gone exploring). A wide range of riding terrain from flats, to rollers, to 'beyond category' climbs.
More than the location, what makes the VQ camp special is the VQ team. Robbie has assembled a unique group of folks around himself -- (coaches, staff, mechanics, athletes). Most everyone has a positive, open vibe. Even the cagey, roadie-types are friendly -- they run you off the road with a smile (joking... kinda).
If you are interested in what we've been doing then you can have a look at Petro-World or JD's Blog. Both Mark and Justin have been writing daily updates. As you will see, there has been a period of all-out effort at some stage of EVERY day at the camp. As an athlete, I don't come to a roadie-focused camp and expect anything else.
One of the VQ-Vets (Jim Sauls) took us for a ride the day before the camp. Jim's legs were glowing (they were that white). Jim let me know that the Chicago-based athletes had been off-the-roads for weeks prior to the camp. Sitting on their trainers, waiting to be unleashed in Southern California. Similar to Epic, Robbie started the camp with a TT to enable the stronger athletes to blow off a little steam. See if you spot the difference...
VQ TT Day -- 10 mile warm-up; 5 mile TT with uphill finish then two hour (very) solid group ride // rest up to hammer the tri guys tomorrow.
Epic TT Day -- 50 min run; 3K swim includes 2K TT; ride 140K with 2 KOMs; 43K dead-flat TT with 10K upwind finish -- limp back to motel wondering about tomorrow.
The strong VQ riders had plenty left for Day Two -- a monster climb that felt a bit like a cyclocross course at times. We rode the back side of Figueroa. The road was washed out in sections and my front fork filled with mud. Felt like I had my brakes on! I have had my TT bike in some unique places; that climb makes the Top 10, for sure.

In the early days of the camp, the roadies thought that we were nuts to place ourselves at such a disadvantage by using our TT bikes. By the end of the camp, some may have changed their minds -- more about that in the Petro-Blog.

Mental Fatigue -- an interesting thing that I noticed with the bike camp is that my desire to "go hard" was fading faster than my physical ability. All the cycling intensity seems to wear down my immune system and my drive -- much more than my body.

Average Workout Watts -- with the entire camp on power, we were able to compare wattage throughout the camp. It was a reminder that you can't tell much by averages (even normalised) -- there was huge variation in the people that rode around me as well as people that went out the back while holding the same average watts as me. Remember that power is most useful to track yourself against yourself.

Lab Testing -- Alan's most recent piece was about the difference between two lab tests. Camper-of-the-week would have to go to Mat Steinmetz (one of the tests analyzed). Mat's lab tests, background and pre-camp performance gave ZERO indication that he was about to ride out of his skin (literally on Day Five). The guy was drilling me on Mt Fig and took over Molina's normal role in my life. Mat's performance was a clear reminder that we only get a snapshot with physiological testing (and tests don't always track the most important aspects of performance).

Benchmarking -- the structure of the camp rides // 5M TT; 1Hr Uphill KOM; Century Ride; 45K Handicap Race // that gave each of us ample opportunity to benchmark our power (and pace) against a wide range of campers. My only regret was a malfunctioning SRM on Gardie Jackson's bike. Gardie is the most complete athlete (body, mind, spirit) that I have met in a long, long while. If you ask me what I aspire to in my athletics then it is the physical power resident in Gardie.

The guys say that a large element of bike racing is leadership -- when I am riding with athletes like Robbie and Gardie, I would gladly toss my entire week away to help them get the job done. True leaders and genuine guys -- very inspirational stuff. It was strange to be in a group of elite athletes that fostered a selfless feeling within myself (not something that anyone close to me would recognize).

As the camp progresses, and we all get tired, it is normal to wonder... "is it optimal to be smashing ourselves day-in day-out for a week?" The triathletes, especially, wonder if it is "OK" to be doing all of the threshold and VO2 efforts. My advice has been to have fun and train lots.

While you don't want to fill your entire program up with high intensity sessions, taking a week in March and really challenging yourself can be useful -- especially, when you've been chained to your trainer for the last few months.
When the campers get home, I recommended an easy week (to absorb/recover) the returning to their normal (sane) program -- hopefully you return at a higher level. The mental challenge that follows camps is not continuing to smash yourself. With the memories of all the hard training fresh in your mind, it can be tempting to pass-along some hurt to your training buddies. In my experience, that is a mistake and will leave you flat when you would rather be fast.
With my own fitness regime... I will be coasting for the next three weeks. I am working in Europe for a fortnight then returning to Boulder. This camp was very, very tough and I need to settle down for a while. Having coached a few athletes that consistently peak in March, I am choosing to lose a bit of fitness to protect myself from myself. I will start to ramp back up beginning with our first Tucson training camp.
One final thought, I think that a lot of triathletes give roadies a bad time because they don't like the way that strong cyclists deal out punishment on the bike. When the VQ-lads are laying down the hurt I remind myself that it is business, nothing personal. There is no way that I could this sort of bike training on my own and really appreciate how they have welcomed us into their world. I would like to offer a special word of thanks to my buddy, Mark Pietrofesa. Mark got the absolute best out of me this week.
Road cycling has a lots of lessons for life -- you can be having your best day and still get spat out the back. Acceptance and non-resistance are worth extra power in that environment -- the Zen of self-shelling.

Lately I have been giving thanks every morning for the chance to enjoy another day. Sitting here on Sunday afternoon, this has been a very special week in my life. Not just for the training -- the full story can wait for another day.
gordo

My Southern Retreat


I have been off-the-grid for the last two weeks and staying up at Snow Farm in New Zealand. I am happy to report that the world didn't end and I wasn't fired by my clients. In fact, everything seems exactly the same as when I left the world of connectivity. Makes me wonder how long I could pull the plug before something material happened. I bet one month.

Aside from the President, I can't think of many occupations where we have to be in constant contact. In fact, there are a few (banker, accountant, CFO, CEO) where best practice forces you to leave for two weeks in a row. A two week holiday reduces our ability to perpetrate a fraud on our employers.

This piece is a recollection of thoughts that I had across the retreat, when the stimuli of constant outside influences was removed.

The first thing that I noticed was my mind calmed very quickly. Within 24-hours I was grateful that I had made the fortnight's commitment to stay off-line. Monica offered to clean my email server but I was worried that she might see something and mention it to me. So we waited. The grand total of spam, and real, messages was 8,500 when I 'mailwashed' the server last Thursday. If you are waiting for a reply then I'll need a bit more time... I'm making good progress, should be back to you by the 1st of March.

The next thing that I noticed was my sleep improved in all areas. The speed that I fell asleep was faster, the number of times that I woke up during the night was reduced and my ability to wake up (refreshed) before my alarm increased. All this while living at altitude and undertaking challenging training with elite short course athletes.

Pretty much everything improved. So I wonder... does technology and the media serve us? Or do we serve it?

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When I stop writing, I miss the release, and learning. Even on retreat, I kept my writing going. You will find my complete Snow Farm Daily Diary below, all 14 pages of it. Worth a read if you are interested in athletic performance -- we had excellent speakers.

So I miss writing but I don't miss TV, movies, newspapers, email... one of my goals for the next 12 months will be to do a better job at restricting my input (even more) and see if I can outsource a few more of the items that clutter my mind.

What about clients? Over the last three years, I have been shifting to a model that is based on high value interaction with my clients. I noticed that I am most effective when I work shoulder-to-shoulder with clients -- our Tucson Camps are an experiment with "doing more" of that work.

I am effective remotely but that sort of work doesn't appear to build me up. Instead, it clutters my inbox with low-value chatter than doesn't address the key issues facing the client. Email can be useful but, overall, it is low value communication.

To get to the core of performance requires trust -- and trust requires spending time with people. Another paradox is that a large impact, need not require a large amount of time. Spending a few days with John Hellemans reminded me of that. More than anyone I've met, his life is an example of the impact one man's high standards can have on the world around him. PodCast Here -- sound is mixed in terms of quality.

We were talking about Tibet and John noted that it was difficult for one man to make a difference. I shared an observation that one man can make a huge difference and that his work in NZ has made a massive difference in the lives of thousands of people. He started triathlon at the same age as I did (30). John's life shows what combining passion, talent and work ethic over 25 years can achieve -- a lot!

Up there at Snow Farm, I asked myself a few questions:

  • What am I good at?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • Where do I spend my time?

I do a decent job at spending my time at things that I am both good at, and enjoy doing. However, I have identified a few items where I am spending time, not enjoying it and not being particularly effective. I also sense that I've placed a few of my team members in situations where they aren't particularly good and aren't enjoying it. There could be a way to make those around me more effective. I'll need to ask them when we are together.

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So that's the Big Picture items that came into my head. Here are a few detailed items from the specific of the camp, and my time with Hellemans.

Choices -- most of us will reach a point in our lives when performance deteriorates, or ceases to improve. At that stage, we have a choice to make: Quit, Change or Hang On. Most people Quit or grind themselves into the ground by Hanging On. Only the select few learn to manage themselves through continuous change.

Tightness -- tight muscles are weak muscles. Rehabilitate your personal weak spots by trigger point release, muscle activation and strengthening. If the muscles are small then they need small exercises, done gently.

Authenticity -- I read a book by the title of this bullet point. Perhaps that is the attraction of the South Island. It's weather, wind, people and topography are deeply authentic. Not always comfortable, but real and full of power.

Kiwi Real Estate -- With gross yields at 3% and mortgage finance at 10%, I'm bearish on the Kiwi property market. I don't see the room for yields to come up and I see speculative buying in many markets. However, given interest rates, the liquidity position of the local economy looks like it will stay buoyant (unlike most other markets). My personal rent-or-buy decision would be rent.

Wanaka vs. Queenstown -- Comparing these two towns, I can see why the internationals like QT but Wanaka has better weather, more sunlight and cheaper housing. Long term, I expect Wanaka to outperform.

PPP -- In US dollar terms, New Zealand real estate is 400% more expensive than seven years ago (22% p.a.). Petrol has shown a similar increase and food is up 17% p.a. in USD terms. New Zealand isn't expensive but it is not cheap any more. For what the visitor gets, it offers fair value. The days of US$110,000, five bedroom houses are long gone!

My final realization was that New Zealand is one of the few things in the world that I miss when it is not in my life. Monica was the first person that I ever placed on that list. Now I have two things.

By "New Zealand", I mean Molina, Hellemans, the wind, the mountains, the weather and the people.

  • Molina because he is a bit nuts, accepts himself and gets on with his life.
  • Hellemans because he is successful by putting others ahead of himself (keep hope alive).
  • The wind because it is so ridiculous that you just have to laugh.
  • The mountains because of their beauty.
  • The weather because you can get snow, hail, heat, cold, rain and wind... all in 24 hours.
  • The people because they work their butts off and have realistic expectations -- they are also loyal and friendly.

You Kiwis have a good thing going down there.

Hope to be back soon,
gordo

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In case you are wondering, Marty and Ben are in a Kiwi Ice Bath in the photo. Chillin' at 5300 feet...

Word File of My SnowFarm Daily Diary

Snow Farming

Our photo this week is a post workout shot of Ben Pattle. Ben lives in the Gold Coast and is over in New Zealand for a training camp put on by John Hellemans.

A few months ago, John asked me if I would be interested in giving an evening talk to a U23 Elite Triathlon Camp that he was organizing. I jumped at the opportunity and signed on to attend the camp for two weeks. I am not sure that John realized that he had invited me to attend the camp -- he kept emailing me to confirm my dates and eventually pointed out that there wasn't any funding available for 39-year-old, Canadian, Ironman Athletes at his U23 Short Course Camp...
Lucky for me, we managed to work things out by treating me as a solo athlete that was operating in parallel to the Tri NZ Camp. I have been doing my best to keep my head down, stay out of the way and support the session goals. Good practice for me!
In the first couple of days of the camp, three athletes asked me (separately), "why would you come train with us"? The main reasons: (a) my respect for John Hellemans; and (b) I was sure that I would learn something from spending two weeks with coaches/athletes/experts that differ from my peer group.
Probably the first thing that stands out is the training, nutrition and physiology of the athletes is very "textbook" in nature. Everything about this camp fits what I read in the literature. In this world, sport science and real-world experience operate in harmony.
I suppose that living in a world where the median competitor will be racing for 13 hours tends to skew my perception of what athletes require. As well, the athletes here are a unique population with half the camp coming from a distance swimming background. The former swimmers talk about consistent 70-100,000 meter weeks (plus dry land). That level of volume is simply the 'standard' load to be reasonable. Training camps took some of them up to 120,000 meters per week.
So how does a 20-24 year old elite triathlete train? Pretty much like most people think that they "ought" to train.
  • Something 'hard' six out of seven days -- you and I would find it hard, for them it is mostly moderately-hard (in HR and lactate terms). When they go "very hard" it is off the charts for you and me -- most of us can't get there (and those that do tend to take the rest of the week off or get sick).
  • The faster swimmers turn crimson when they swim at threshold -- their capacity to 'work' in the water is impressive. Capacity to (and enjoyment of) work remains a differentiator between athletes.
  • Limited steady training -- endurance sessions start easy/recovery and finish mod-hard (textbook roadie training). Similar to the eskimos having 12 words for snow -- Ironman Athletes have many ways to describe "steady". In this world, they call it boring!
  • Lots of power spikes on the bike, their event does not require excellence in TT ability. They train to tolerate the demands of their bike leg. Big gaps between average and normalized power. Jumps, bridges, burning matches... all normal and expected.
  • No-nonsense swim sessions, swimming in the 'slow' lane yesterday, I was lapped at the 125m mark of a 200. The fast swimmers could hold 1:15/100 meter pace for close to two hours.
  • 90% of the weekly training volume has a clear purpose and structure.
The implications are what you'd expect -- they swim great, can handle a ton of pace changes (all sports) and perform very well in training sessions that are under 3 hours. In short, they are solid draft-legal short course triathletes (guess that's why they are on the team!).
FWIW, after seeing these athletes up-close for a week, I think distance swimming (idealy mixed with a couple years of 400 IM training) is the ideal background for a triathlete. The fitness from distance swimming can be seen in the outstanding recovery in-workout and between-workouts. The stronger athletes have heart rates that drop like stones when the pace backs off.
Nutritionally, due to their age and training intensity zones, their diet is very carb-focused when compared to my own. Just like Epic Camp, some of the folks are experiencing digestive distress when intensity combines with a fair amount of bread/cereal. That said, the food that is offered enables each athlete to choose their own 'style' and it has been easy for me to eat the way I like and maintain high nutritional quality. There is salad and veggies with lunch/dinner and I've been having my scrambled eggs each morning.
We have an experienced sports science team that have been monitoring the athletes inside, and outside, of their training sessions. For the first time in years, I have been formally tracking my morning data (mood, sleep, training, muscle soreness, MRHR, SpO2, weight). The objective data is useful as a crosscheck against subjective perception. Fortunately, my body seems to be working in harmony with the training schedule. Being able to opt-out of sessions and train by myself has probably helped. I'd be pretty smoked if I did the full week that the team completed. The "mod-hard" bike work and "endurance" swim sessions have seen me working quite hard.

As a long course athlete, I wonder if there is upside in addressing their relatively undertrained steady zones on the bike. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, the athletes are in their specific preparation phase for Elite Nationals in three weeks. So, now isn't the time to worry about that. However, at some stage, I expect that improving their steady-state bike/run fitness might benefit their late-race performance.

One of the guest speakers made an interesting point -- there are things that you have to do if you want to be the best. His tone was that these things are non-negotiable, they simply "are". If an athlete chooses not to do them then they will not reach their maximum personal potential. That really rang true to me. How often do we catch ourselves settling for being good enough.

During my talk, I shared KP's advice that the true enemy of great is good. Everyone here is good. Looking around, I expect that a few might become great. Out of the great athletes, one might make the commitment to seek their fullest personal potential. It will be fun to watch the athletes develop and become part of a growing Kiwi tradition of Triathlon Excellence.

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If you click the title of this post then you'll go through to the Snow Farm website. We are over 5,000 feet here, high enough to get an altitude effect (my O-sats have been in the low 90s every morning for a week).

Road bike training requires a 13K drive down to the main road. From Wanaka (45 mins away) there are five different routes available -- all decent.

The run training is excellent due to the nordic ski tracks. As well, you can get close to 7,000 feet by running up the nearby mountains (the campers did just that this week).

Wanaka has pool and open water swimming. The lodge does an all-inclusive deal and has a mix of accommodation standards. I am staying in a nice room with an en suite. Our host (Steve) even gave me the green light to help myself to the industrial espresso machine.

The living is good!

gordo

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PS -- I am half way through a two week cyber-retreat so won't be back on-line until the end of next week. It's been a fantastic break and is providing me a chance to reflect on a number of items.

Every time I pull-the-plug, I am amazed at how my recovery speeds up. There is speed in simplicity.

Word File of my SnowFarm Daily Diary

PowerPoint Presentation to Young Athletes

The Inner Game


Some high quality thoughts from my buddy KP. I hope you enjoy.

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My brother and I recently compared our experiences growing up. There are four siblings; three bothers and a sister. The three brothers shared a room. We had the same father and mother. Our parents were married until my dad died suddenly at age 49. At that time, we were 23, 21, 20 (me) and 16. All of us are married with children. How different could our experiences have been, right? My brother recalls family dynamic slightly differently than I do. He remembers subtle perceived preferences, advantages and opinion in ways that fit ‘his story’. I have my own story, as do my sis and other brother. We each have our own remembrances; each unique. If we asked my mom which one of us she loved most she would laugh at us like we were little kids who never grew up and answer something like “whichever one needed me most at that moment”.

While most of us consider ourselves free of prejudice and relatively open minded, it appears we are influenced by our individual view of the family and our efforts to be part of the unit. The truth, as we see it, affects the way we interact with people, events and even ourselves. My view of myself limits or supports my ability to act. It alters what I see and don’t see; what I question or fail to notice; what I am willing to risk in an effort to achieve, or what I settle for because “that’s out of my reach”. When I am made aware of my bias toward myself, I am given freedom of choice. Considering the laws of quantum physics that tell us much of who we are is what we choose to be, removing bias means that even our normal daily activities can result in a new paradigm when “who we are” is free.

So this begs the question, what’s your story? If four siblings from a well adjusted, loving family give four different views of the same or similar events, the stories must be shaded by the teller of the tale. What are you telling yourself? It can be difficult to separate your story from what is real. This applies to relationships and to careers. Is the deck stacked against you? Is life unfair? In sport, is there a little voice that is telling you I am not good enough, not fast enough, not smart enough or not tough enough? Some people do have legitimate complaints or handicaps, but continually using hardships as an excuse can become a limiting behavior.

In the book “The Inner Game of Tennis” W. Timothy Gallwey draws the distinction between fulfilling the ultimate human possibility and a simple way to develop certain inner skills that can be used to improve any outer game of your choice. It’s about learning to get out of your own way so that you can learn and perform closer to your potential. There is an internal conversation going on within all of us. He calls the talker, critic controlling voice Self 1 and the self that has to hit the ball (or run, bike, swim, work, socialize, romance) Self 2. Turns out, the less we hear from Self 1 the better Self 2 performs. The more we trust in Self 2 potential the better we execute and the quieter Self 1 conversation is. This “Inner Game” will never change as long as human beings are vulnerable to fears, doubts and distractions of the mind.

Individuals find meaning and derive pleasure from varied activities. Building successful businesses, building successful families, maintaining healthy bodies and service, come to mind.
In the forward to the book Gallwey pulls this quote:

What is the real game?
It is a game in which the heart is entertained
The game in which you are entertained
It is the game you will win

Of course winning isn’t everything. The oldest and best known surviving morality play is from circa 1485. Recalling the message from the play ==>

"Man can take with him from this world ...
nothing that he has received, only what he has given".

Everyman -- 15th Century

“In the play, the main character, Everyman, is stripped, one by one, of those apparent goods on which he has relied. First, he is deserted by his patently false friends: his casual companions, his kinsmen, and his wealth. Receiving some comfort from his enfeebled good deeds, he falls back on them and on his other resources -- his strength, his beauty, his intelligence, and his knowledge -- qualities which, when properly used help to make an integrated man. These assist him through the crisis in which he must make up his book of accounts, but in the end, when he must go to the grave, all desert him save his good deeds alone. The play makes it's effectively grim point that man can take with him from this world nothing that he has received, only what he has given.”

The Norton Anthology of English Literature

KP
http://www.coachkp.com/

Mat Steinmetz…..My black spiderman??


Those who have seen Spiderman 3 will be familiar with the introduction of the black spiderman. This villain entered the movie as the antithesis to the regular Spiderman (which was, IMHO, a pretty darn cool concept). He was the opposite in every way to red spidey.

Seeing Spiderman 3 got me thinking as to who my antithesis in life might be. That’s a tough question, considering how far from the norm I fall on many fronts, but at least from a physiological perspective, EC’s own, Mat Steinmetz has to come close.

Mat and I recently did bike FUEL tests here at the EC lab in Boulder. We both put out some pretty good #’s but in very different ways (see charts below).


Of course, I’m going to throw up the chart that gives me the upper hand first :-) If we define AeT as the workload that elicits the first material uptick in the lactate curve, for me this occurs at 220W. For Mr Stein, while a little harder to see from the curve, if we pull in his baseline and w/up data it is clear that the 160W stage is the first indication of rising lactate.

If we define the lactate threshold values as 1mmol/L above baseline, Mat’s Lactate Threshold occurs at 220W, while mine occurs at 240W (at this point the curves, and our relative abilities at this physiological point come much closer together).

Finally, the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA), defined by either the modified Dmax method or the workload the first elicits a 1mmol/L jump in lactate occurs for Mat at 260W, and for me at 280W.

While, if looking at these numbers in isolation, one may expect that I would have the upper hand, in real world long course racing this doesn’t (at this point in time) bear out. A reason for that may be found if we compare our relative substrate profiles from the same test:

The black area of the chart illustrates the relative contribution of fat oxidation to overall caloric output at each respective intensity. It’s pretty clear to see from the charts who’s going to run out of fuel sooner (even at relatively high power outputs).

So, it looks like the score is 1-1 and the battle of Big A and Mighty M continues.

However, Mat is not the real villain in this epic battle. Nope, the villain here is much more sneaky, dangerous and a master of using the dark arts to draw me under his spell:

OK, so here’s my personal rationale….. As an endurance athlete training 15-20hrs per week, I’m going to be taking in 500-700g/CHO per day. Most of this CHO will (should) be in the form of sports nutrition products. This equates to (ball park) an extra 2400kcal/day I need to buy just to keep the motor running. Now, I can buy the premium stuff (Clif Bars etc) for ~5c/kcal or I can pump the low octane budget stuff for ~ about ¼ c/kcal. Let’s not kid ourselves, with all of the vitamin and mineral additives, added protein, blah blah blah, what our body really needs at the end of the workout is quick, easily digestable sugar. I can get the rest of that stuff in better (more natural), more appropriate forms throughout the day.

So, that’s the sensible rationale for throwing my 6 boxes of Pop-Tarts in the shopping trolley each week, now for the reality of what actually happens. If my Pop-Tarts do not make an immediate exit to the garage after unpacking the groceries (to where all of the other ‘sports nutrition products’ go), they get placed in easy view in the pantry and fall into this ‘no-mans land’. Is it a breakfast product? Is it a snack food? Is it a replenishment food after a long, hard session. Unfortunately, for some reason, if it doesn’t have “sports nutrition product” printed on it, my mind is completely unable to make the distinction and it becomes all of the above. I think the one Pop Tart identity that has most led to my substrate demise has been the ‘breakfast food’. Over recent weeks, I have been known to slam a Pop tart or 2 before a ride. My body is smart enough to know that if I’m going to throw that much fuel into my blood stream before a workout, it’s sure as heck not going to bother liberating a bunch of FFA’s when it doesn’t need them. Long story short, my body gets even better at burning carbs and worse at burning fat despite an increased training load.

So, that is my diabolical plan over the next little bit – get sugar out of the house. Matty Steinmetz, you may have won this battle but you’ll never win the war mwaaahaaaahaaaa…

Reflections on Overtraining


Our photo this week is Team MonGo at Ben Lomond Saddle above Queenstown, New Zealand. Monica and I went for a hike last week and were treated to some amazing views. Our “hike” turned into a pretty solid workout and I managed to convince my training partner to take the gondola down to save my legs. At the top of the Gondola, we ran into Epic Vet Eliot as well as his dad. They were on their way up as we were finishing. Eliot’s mohawk makes him pretty easy to spot from a distance.

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An Epic Camp provides plenty of opportunity for self-reflection. My hour long final podcast is a reflection of my internal dialogue when logging big miles. As you can probably tell from the podcast, I am comfortable spending time alone and find my idiosyncrasies amusing. Molina thinks that this is a characteristic that long-term ultra junkies share. We are the funniest guys we know but aware that we probably overestimate our amusement value to others.

This past trip, I had Scott chat me through his career – starting from 100 mile run weeks (at 15) through to his athletic peak (at 25) then winning Ironman Hawaii (at 28) then retiring (at 33). Homeboy is one durable athlete to hit it hard for 18 years. Suffice to say, he is comfortable being tired.

The Terminator needed an overhaul when he retired and he spent five years working as a personal trainer and lifting weights. That takes us to 38 and I arrived in his life at 40. The “fastest” that I have seen him was Epic Colorado in 2003 when he was 43 years old – he was fast across all three disciplines and could hang with Clas/me (no sweat). Clas had the fastest run at Zofingen and I ran 2:49 at IMC that year; we were in Podium IM shape.

The rough timeline is important for some of the points I will make later. I may not have got it exactly right but my listening is improving.

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The closer you get to your ultimate physical potential; the greater the “payback” that will be required when you exceed your body’s ability to recover. As you approach your maximal race fitness, there is a divergence between athletic success and physical well-being/longevity.

Fitness is a very powerful drug that programs deep athletic memories. Almost by definition, athletes with the ability to take themselves beyond reasonable levels of training/fatigue are at risk for overtraining. In fact, some successful elites may even tell you that overtraining is essential for success.

I’m not sure those words are what the champions mean. Here’s my shot at it:

  • Completing a lot of work is a requirement for success in any field.
  • The closer we get to our maximum capacity to “do” work, the closer we are to completely ruining our ability to “absorb” work.
  • As a species, we are poor at seeing much further than the current moment – especially with a stack of endorphins coursing through our veins.
  • Take all of these together – mistakes are to be expected and overtraining is a “normal” hazard for the endurance athlete.

Scott had more success than pretty much anyone in the history of our sport – he’d make anyone’s top ten list for race victories.

His payback period was five to ten years. I am nearing my third anniversary of hitting the wall and I wonder…

  • Have I paid back enough?
  • Have I learned my lessons?
  • When will the Old G re-appear?

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Five years until he got back to triathlon training and ten years until he was really rippin’ it up again.

Years… not seasons… not months… not weeks.

This struck me because I had five months off in 2005 (April to August) then eased back into hour-per-day training for a few months before starting back with structured triathlon training in December 2005. Across 2006, it was touch-and-go with quite a bit of residual fear in my body. If you have ever had an injury then you’ve likely experienced the fear of re-injury. Overtraining is a spiritual and immune system “injury” with a similar psychology.

All across 2006, I was looking for a sign that I was “healed” and that soon I would be able to get back to the training that I remembered.

An important note – the training that we remember is our lifetime best performances blurred by the passage of time. A long term training log is a wonderful tool for a reality check. I use it often with my most headstrong athletes (and myself). Lifetime bests have the deepest chemical signatures – check the facts before making assumptions about how you “used to be”.

In 2006, my training was erratic and I used the cushion of working in my business to hide from reality. Perhaps I was past it, perhaps I was still tired, perhaps I was cured of my desire for mega-miles.

Long time readers will know what happened next, I went to Mark and Brant for some help putting myself back together – both physically and spiritually. I re-established my connection with nature and saw some of the patterns that caused my fatigue.

I thought I was healed – more accurately… I hoped that I was healed. On many levels I was healed. Without a doubt, Mark’s training protocol gave me my health back – I highly recommend his method if you are seeking to break a cycle of fatigue, injury or overtraining. The combo of Mark and Brant is an amazing duo – I have no idea how, or why, it works but (for me) it was really something special.

…but the fear remained, along with an emotional component of fatigue. Each time I would become fatigued, I was waiting to fall into exhaustion.

In life, we most often get what we expect and this probably held me back. My fears also prevented me from following my heart with the sort of training approach that I enjoy and have found effective. There were a lot of self-rationalizations that went on in my head but, in reality, I was scared.

If you read my Ironman Canada 2007 race report then you know what happened next… total public meltdown and my worst race performance relative to fitness in five years.

That was followed by four months of depression that culminated in three weeks in the tropical paradise of Noosa where I struggled to get out of bed. A few things got me moving:

Commitments – last October I made a commitment to Monica that I would do at least one hour of activity every single day for the rest of our life together (walking counts!). As an athlete, or an athletic spouse, you either understand why that is important, or you don’t. As my love for, and understanding of, Monica grows; I see how lucky I am to have a life partner that understands me better than I understand myself.

Personal Responsibility – nobody “made” my situation, it was the direct result of choices I made. I did my best to take small concrete actions that moved me back towards the life I want to live. Getting out of bed each morning is the most important thing that I do. If I can get that done then 89 out of 90 days, everything flows from there.

Acceptance – with most of my recovery challenges, my healing progresses most rapidly once I accept that I might never get better. By ceasing to resist my fatigue, my mood, my challenges – I start to improve. I don’t think that we ever “overcome” or “conquer” our fundamental challenges in life – we learn the patterns, habits and strategies that are effective to keep us moving forward.

All of these thoughts occurred to me because last week, training felt different to me. Epic made me tired but it didn’t make me scared. I commented about my improved form to Molina and he said that he didn’t notice any difference (or anything impressive). On reflection, that made sense because the change was on the inside.

It was a lot of fun to have my health back and enjoy training with the guys. I need to remember that as the memories of Epic return to me while training.

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I suppose my point is one that Mark shared with me. The factors that lead to breakdown accumulate across many years (often in parallel to increased athletic performance). Any improvement, from rock bottom, will feel like healing.

The greater your success leading up to the breakdown, the longer your recovery will likely take. Be patient in the early stages – my impatience through the early years of overtraining is what led to hitting the wall.

The stages, for me, were:

  • Breakdown;
  • Total rest;
  • Resumption of light activity – this is where health and biomechanical issues can be addressed;
  • Resumption of unstructured triathlon training – address patterns/habits that lead to breakdown;
  • Resumption of triathlon training balanced with equal periods of scheduled recovery (this step is very rarely done – it was the key to a rapid return to fitness in 2006); and
  • Resumption of elite triathlon training that is balanced with extended transition and early season training.

Adult athletes should remember that stress and fatigue that builds up outside of sport can often manifest itself as athletic overtraining.

I’ll keep you posted.

g

The Ultimate Success Formula for Triathletes

Part 2: Keeping up with the Trends
Alan Couzens, MS (Sport Science), CSCS, PES

That’s me above in my new “McLovin” Shirt, an early Valentines day gift from Baby J. As you can probably tell by my clothing selection, keeping up with the latest fashion trends has never been much of a concern of mine. I typically wear what I want, irrespective of what the rest of society is wearing ‘these days’. It’s always been that way. Back in college you would probably have given me a wide berth, with my razor shaved skull, combat boots, cut off army issue pants and the obligatory angry band T-Shirt (Tool, Pantera or Ministry for those interested). Dressing like this did a wonderful job of feeding my social paranoia/anxiety disorder, but that’s a topic for another blog (or a therapist’s couch :-)) sometime in the future.

No, today’s blog is not about keeping up with the latest clothing trends or social norms. The ‘trends’ that I am referring to in the title are your training trends. As I mentioned in the last blog, what you actually get done in a training year provides significant information as to what you should do in the following year. I also suggested that there are 3 ‘trends’ that you definitely want to see in your annual training log:

1. An increase in training volume over the course of the training year.
2. An increase in training intensity over the course of the training year.
3. An increase in performance standards/fitness over the course of the training year.

I also promised in the last blog to throw out an example from my own log and some simple methods of assessing

a) Whether you fulfilled the above criteria for a successful training year in 07
b) Your current level of improvement in fitness and load tolerance so that you can begin to plan/forecast your training in 08.

So, here we go….

Let’s begin by taking a look at my fitness improvement on the bike in 2007. First thing to determine is whether or not there was an improvement. For this metric, I have been tracking my power output at a given aerobic heart rate.

A good number of you will, by now, have access to regular power measurement of some description, be it a power meter on your own bike or a comptrainer. For those, without power, your best bet for biking is to eliminate the variables in the power equation over which you have limited control, i.e. wind. Pick a steady climb that is steep enough to slow you down enough that wind resistance becomes a minimal factor, i.e. less than 10mph and long enough that your HR will stabilize (i.e. 3+minutes) and repeat 5-10 hill repeats regularly (weekly, ideally on a relatively calm day) throughout the year to get an assessment of your performance in time for the climb at a given (small HR range).

The key with this metric and all of the metrics that we’ll discuss is obtaining enough data points throughout the year to assess whether the trend is significant. This is IMPORTANT. From my experience, even the most diligent and serious athletes will get lab tested 2-3 times per year. The reality is, 2-3 data points don’t make for a very reliable trend. Lab testing is a necessity for other reasons (setting training zones and assessing strengths/weaknesses), but as a measure of day to day or week to week progress, I will take a simple, less controlled field test repeated 50 times throughout the year over 2 or 3 meticulously controlled lab tests any day of the week.

OK, so back to the graph. X axis in the number of months since I started back training (after my big bike crash). Y axis is my power output at a heart rate of 140bpm. This is pretty close to my best IM heart rate to date and is smack bang in the middle of my steady zone on the bike.

So, in answer to the first question that establishes whether 2007 was a successful year, Did I get better? The answer is yes. Looking at the graph, I went from pushing (a pitiful) 124 watts at a heart rate of 140 in January, to a max of 201 watts at a heart rate of 140 during my specific prep period in August. Now, it should be said that these power measurements were obtained from a variety of sources (Polar PM, Velotron, Saris Spin Bike,SRM). However, I do have a LOT of data points from each of these means.

I guess a logical follow up question is “if I improved by 80 watts in 2007, what can I expect out of 08? 280watts at my IM heart rate?” Unfortunately, no, my performance trend is not linear but is best represented (for the math geeks out there) as a logarithmic curve, or for my more pessimistic readers, a curve of diminishing returns. If I stay on the trend curve, by my key race of next year (ironman Arizona) in November, I should be pushing 216W at a heart rate of 140. I am hopeful that, with a bout of higher intensity work during my specific prep period, I will once again be able to jump a little above the curve but, a realistic goal for Nov (providing I keep with the current training trend) would have my IM power output somewhere in the 220’s. While not much of a jump over the course of the year, a power output of 220 would put me at the pointy end of the AG field and would go a long way toward helping me achieve my greater goals.

Whenever, I look at a trend curve like this, it’s always fun to play it out to the nth degree. If I continue on the same performance (and training) trend for the next 5 years, what can I expect? The answer: 242W at 140bpm. I may not be challenging Stadler with those #’s but it’s certainly motivating to picture myself at that level of performance with a period of sensible, progressive, consistent training over, what is in the grand scheme of things, a relatively short period of time.

But, there is always a flip side. What will the likely cost be for me to get to this performance level based on my current training trends? First, let’s look at the bike training trends of 07 that resulted in my 80 watt gain over the course of 12 months. Specifically, let’s look at: Did I increase my training volume over the course of the year? Did I increase (or at the very least, maintain) my training intensity over the course of the year?

So, the nice slope of that trend line indicates, yes indeed, I am training more now than I was last January, which is a good thing, considering I was a month out of a wheelchair at that time, but irrespective of the reason, I’m on the up and up, I’ll take it.

Once again, I can’t look at a trendline without wondering what lies a little to the right of the graph, so it begs the question, if the trends continue, what level of biking volume will I be doing in the lead up to my key IM in order to keep pace with my improvement trend? Extrapolating from the curve, we come up with 49hrs/mth or approximately 12hrs of biking for each week of my specific prep phase next year for a 220W IM performance. Definitely seems doable from a distance. Most things do. Of course, this doesn’t include swimming or running. Factor those in and we’re probably in the ball park of a 20hrs/wk average over the course of 12 weeks. Factor in the fact that, either in the name of recovery, sickness, injury or just life, I’ll probably wind up playing catch up for 3 or 4 of those weeks, necessitating closer to a 25hr week, it becomes clear that this level of training load and consistency is no cake walk and the only way to prepare for August, September and October of next year, is to continue to keep up with the trends, today, tomorrow and the day after that.

Let’s throw intensity onto the chart and see how I did on that front.

First, the big question, did I manage to complete the golden trilogy of an effective training plan:
- Increased fitness
- Increased volume
- Increased intensity

Yep. Intensity increased from an average heart rate of 129bpm in January to 136bpm in December. This may not sound like a whole lot, but in real world terms is indicative of an increase in steady (Zone 2) training from 15% to 25% and an increase in sub threshold (Zn 3-4) training from 5% to 14%.

So, overall, not a bad year in the world of Big A. The best thing about starting over after a major accident is that you get to re-experience the joy of the novice, where improvement comes thick and fast. Of course, this joy is tempered somewhat when you think back to old PRs from ‘back in the day’. But, coming back to retrospective analyses like this really helps me to foster the faith that I will be back where I once was and then some. The numbers don’t lie.

Also, performing analyses like this can give the astute athlete some clues on strengths, weaknesses and how your body responds to different training methods. I won’t subject you to the same metrics from my 2007 run volume. Partly because this article is running long and partly because I’m embarassed to do so. Suffice to say that the rate of improvement of my run curve is substantially flatter than my bike curve. You may have noticed a slight drop in my bike volume over the past couple of months. This is a conscious decision to bring my bike:run ratio more into balance and the effects so far have been good. I have dropped 53s per mile from my 2mile aerobic run test. Lesson for 2008: Run more.

The other trend that is obvious from the charts is that, for me, higher fitness levels in 2007 were much better correlated with increased intensity than increased volume. Now, of course tolerance to intensity is strongly related to the base developed and that is why increasing intensity with no regard to volume is a bad idea. However, it is important to keep in mind that the function of base training is to enable you to tolerate more of the specific training that you need to improve your race specific fitness. Base is important but not an end in itself.

So, how will these observations alter my plans for 08. Answer – not dramatically. My #1 priority is to keep surfing my trend wave. Because, if the pattern holds, that is my best route to (long term) getting where I want to be. However, when energy permits and I am feeling good enough to play around on the lip of the wave, I will be doing this with increased run volume and a slight increase in intensity. For example, at the moment, my trend wave has me at about 12hrs/wk of training. However, for the past 4 months, I have stayed ahead of the wave and averaged 15+hrs/wk by progressively pushing up my run volume. While doing this, however, I am conscious that relative to my past performance (and a large number of data points), at 15hrs/wk I am pushing the long term limits. I am also aware that as a 'one-off', I could easily exceed 15hrs of training. Last year I hit a number of 20-25hr weeks. But the point is, for whatever reason, I was not able to keep up with this level of volume long term (this is an important question, perhaps THE important question, to ask yourself). Now, If I’m able to hang on to my 15hr weeks, the wave will eventually catch up, but there is a fine line between hanging on and 'wiping out' that I am (from previous experience) verrrry aware of.

The most important thing is for me to stay on my wave, irrespective of all the distractions, the other over ambitious surfers around me, the many rocks scattered throughout my course and the kids on their boogie boards fighting to get my attention. As another one of my favorite bands (Soundgarden) used to sing, “keep it off my wave. It’s my wave!”

Epic Updates


Hi All,

Just a short note this week.

A few short podcasts are on Endurance Corner Radio as well as daily updates on IronmanTalk at iTunes (they haven't updated their website but the podcasts are daily updates).

Blogs are at the Epic Site as well as the Planet-X triathlon Site.

Back to blogging next week. 27 hours of training in the first four days -- at least half of it was at a very solid pace.

Cheers from sunny Wanaka,
gordo

Sweet Home New Zealand


This week, I am going to share some observations about what makes New Zealand a special place. But first a few items.

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There will be at least a ten day gap before my next letter due to Epic Camp New Zealand -- you should find an pre-epic blog over on the Planet-X site next Monday. I have started Epic podcasts on Endurance Corner Radio and hope to continue across the camp.

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A reader sent in a question regarding my curtailing the booze. Here's what I wrote back:

Clarity of thought // I saw this pretty quickly. Once I stopped drinking my mind became a lot more clear. I spotted that in about two weeks.

Emotional hangovers // at some level, I always knew that booze, sugar, toast, cereal, etc... didn't 'work' for me. Not sure if this makes sense but all the changes that you read in my interview -- those are driven by the fact that once I "see" a bad habit, the joy of doing it tends to drain out.

Productivity // I was losing a good chunk of my personal productivity -- I prefer to apply my time productively and enjoy working.

There is a health benefit but that doesn't seem to carry as much weight in my mind. Perhaps because it is too obvious and I do a lot of other healthy things. I am likely rationalizing that I am "healthy enough".

A friend taught me that the true enemy of "great" is "good". When we see ourselves as good people, we can give ourselves excuses that prevent us from being great. If we see ourselves as "bad" people then our self-destructive tendencies can be tougher to modify -- I would seek help if that was the case.

Heavy drinking (binge eating, fast food, nutrition, etc...) -- all are lifestyle choices -- not much different than being an athlete. Once any of these items become inconsistent with the life that I want to lead, they have to go // OR // I had to accept that I wasn't going to be the man that I was capable of being. The worst sort of "settling".

If you eliminate the booze then you will have a huge amount of time and energy. Time and energy are two of the most valuable things a person can have. Combining them gives us tremendous personal freedom. Freedom and personal responsibility are scary . It is normal to prefer self-imprisonment, or self-medication.

There is a transition required from one life, to another. I'm fortunate to have a supportive wife and great friends -- if you don't have the personal infrastructure then there are plenty of sources of support/assistance/help. It takes unique courage to ask for help in a culture where men struggle to ask for directions!

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Reader feedback on start-up investing...

Things that run counter to our investment instincts:

  • Not doing transactions (buying or selling);
  • Sitting on cash;
  • Declining to accept capital when the climate isn't right for investment; and
  • Returning capital to investors.

Things to remember about start-ups:

  • Starting a small business limits personal freedom;
  • Consider what happens if your staff quit, steal from, or compete with you. All are likely to happen at some stage; and
  • Consider if you have a sustainable competitive advantage -- specifically, what drives your economics and how that might change over time.

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The picture below is Lake Tekapo -- 245KM from our start point on Day Two of Epic. A worthy destination!


Mark Allen taught me the importance of establishing a connection with where we live. As an athlete, Mark felt a connection with both Hawaii and Boulder -- two places where he expended tremendous physical energy. After Scott Molina won the Ironman in 1988, Mark came down to the South Island for a training camp. Mark had a pretty solid 1989.

It has been two years since I spent any material time in New Zealand and, returning, I realized how much I missed the place.

The picture at the top of this letter is Akaroa Harbour, our turnaround point for Day One of Epic Camp. From the hill top you are looking into a volcanic cater that opens to the sea. Along the top of the crater, you will find trails, tracks and roads that enable some seriously challenging training. If you make it to Akaroa then return via Long Bay Road, pack your climbing gears.

In 2005, I sold my house and left New Zealand to take on a substantial consulting assignment. Returning in 2008, it feels like I have new eyes.

Last weekend, Scott and I were riding towards Gebbies Pass (far end of the shot below). We were getting completely drilled by the wind but, for some reason, I am always relaxed on Gebbies Pass Road (had more than a few Zen moments there). Grinding away in my 55-21, I remembered Mark's lesson about the benefits of having a connection with a place. I feel very connected to this part of the World.

Why are there so many great athletes down here? For triathlon, I think it is a combination of factors.

Attitude -- Kiwis expect to work hard, for limited financial reward, for their entire lives. This stands apart from my experience in Canada and the US.

In Canada, there is an expectation that the government's role is to take care of its citizens. Down here, you take care of yourself (for the most part).

An aspect of the American Way is an expectation that there will be wealth differences but these are tolerable because upward mobility is available to all. In many ways the Kiwi's are the exact opposite. For successful people to remain popular, one needs to be sincerely humble. Not a lot of "show me the money" happening down here.

Terrain -- The hills are short & steep, the road surface is slow and the wind can be relentless. From the bottom of the island, your next landfall is Antarctica and you can feel that when the wind comes from the South! It is so challenging that I probably couldn't hack it for a Southern Winter.

Expectations -- The swim squad that I train with here is a good example of Kiwi realism. The triathletes that want to improve expect to swim 4-5 times per week 4,000 to 5,500 meters per session. Those are agegroupers, not pros. They do swim squad in the morning, work all day and train again in the evening. They do this every single week, for years.

You will never hear about them because they rarely travel and don't post on the internet. While we debate the finer points of human physiology, they plug away at 1,000 hour training years.

It's good to be back.


The photo above is Karekare Beach in the North Island. I'll be speaking with the Epic Vets to see if there is interest in riding the length of the North Island in January 2009.

Self Awareness and Facilitation


Our photo this week is Monica’s Buddy Andrea (MBA). MBA has an M.B.A. from Harvard. She came over to Australia to visit us and I have been receiving free personal consulting.

When we discussed my piece on Start-Ups, Andrea noted that hardly anyone takes the first step of creating self-awareness. At HBS, they had an entire course on the subject. Most of us can’t go to Harvard but we can review the article and consider its best points.

Here goes!

Drucker’s article notes that it is extremely tough for us to figure out ‘where we belong’. He suggests that we should start by noting where we don’t belong as well as the situations that don’t suit our strengths.

He counsels that we enhance our strengths while working to eliminate our bad habits (rather than our weaknesses). There is much greater return from supporting top performers than “fixing” mediocre players.

Focus on being polite, trim the bad habits and place ourselves in situations where we can use our strengths.

He points out that we all have intellectual arrogance that limits our success. I spent two hours thinking about the areas where I am intellectually arrogant. I really had to think. I am far from perfect but everyone else’s limiters came to me first!

Probably my #1 arrogance is advisers that have never “done it” – I place a huge emphasis on learning-by-doing. When I see a man promoting himself as “the world’s greatest” adviser on a subject that he has never personally experienced, I have to work (very hard) to give any credibility to his experience. That’s a shame because some of these advisers have spent countless years studying the best performers. They probably know a thing, or two!

To know, but not to do, is not to know.

I surround myself with do’ers. There is an important role for the academics – those of us that have “done” are biased by our experience – combine us with people that are biased by their textbooks and we might breakthrough together.

If you look closely at the Endurance Corner consulting team then you will see my efforts at diversity. Still, we are a bit young and too male. We are working on it.

In my youth, my greatest limiter was a core belief that tact was a sign of weakness. In my 20s, all that mattered was performance. Now, if you are a high performer then you can get away with that for a while. However, we pay a high price in terms of ultimate success and effectiveness. I was fortunate that my first boss was a lot like me and found my flaws entertaining.

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Values – we tend to think of values and ethics as being crystal clear – black/white or right/wrong. Drucker makes the point that, in life, we can find ourselves in a situation where conflicting values are both “right”. I will give you an example with a list of my business values.

This is what Gordo Incorporated stands for:

  • Low leverage
  • Full disclosure
  • Focused, specialized personal excellence
  • Clear instructions
  • Return on capital employed focus
  • Long term achievement trumps short term gains

Consider the opposite of the above points – Snazzy Company Limited values:

  • Maximum leverage
  • Necessary disclosure
  • General, personal excellence
  • Accepts that life is imperfect with changing information
  • Growth focus
  • Consistent short term gains

In one job, I would be happy – in the other… a disaster. It is important for me to remember that the other company isn’t a “bad” company, just different.

Armed with your strengths and personal values you can decide if an opportunity makes sense for you. Before signing on, use your self-awareness to lay out what is required for you to succeed.

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The other interesting part of the article is a description of the different ways that people communicate, learn and work. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I work/learn by writing. At McGill, my class notes were the Gold Standard. The “listeners” used to photocopy them for subsequent review.

I have had two successful business relationships with extreme examples of listeners/talkers. Until I figured these guys out, I used to bang my head because they “never read what I write”. The way to crack the code is to call them on the telephone – I used to call these guys from 30 feet away!

If you are working with people with a different style then acknowledge it. We are paid to be effective, not right. Andrea's tip here is to remember that, more than changing your style, respect and adapt to the styles of our co-workers.

More in the article – with great examples.

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Feedback analysis – Drucker’s feedback tips are HIGHLY valuable. Each time you make a key decision – write down what you think is going to happen and revisit it 9-12 months later. I have eight years of personal business plans and learn a lot from them.

Some things that I noticed:

  • When I get nervous about a situation there is usually a reason
  • My goals are challenging, I (mostly) achieve them but rarely exceed by a large margin
  • Other people are better at judging character than me
  • I need people with excellent people skills around me
  • I would benefit from pausing after my greatest successes
  • Painful personal feedback from the people closest to me is normally correct – I listen but, typically, at least two years after I am told. This could indicate that I am stubborn…
  • I could be far more effective by taking a greater personal interest in the people around me.

There is much more in the article. It’s only ten pages. A small investment of time to get an edge on ourselves!

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Phew, running long again! I will be short on facilitation.

The best thing that Andrea pointed out to me was that in any situation there is the person acting and the person facilitating.

As an adviser, many clients come to me for the professional OK to continue with their bad habits. At one level they want success but, at another level, they want acceptance/love and the OK to keep rolling just as they are. So we start by acknowledging what is working and good in their lives.

Without a basis of trust, we can get fired when we refuse to facilitate. When we fail to surround these difficult conversations with manners and tact, they often fall on deaf ears. With my inner circle, I often have to wait a year, or more, for an opening to share feedback. As a bonus, waiting saves me when a rush-to-action is inappropriate.

My second thought was to consider the people, and firms, that I facilitate. Whether we like it or not, our actions have a multitude of direct/indirect impacts. Questions that I considered:

  • Do the companies that I support back the best people?
  • Do the websites that I visit share my values?
  • Would I be friends with a person that had a personality like my favorite sites?
  • Do the blogs that I read bring out my best emotions? Do they lift me up?
  • With the people/firms that don’t share my ethics, how are they linked to me? Am I facilitating them?
  • Would direct action strengthen, or weaken, my adversaries?

Andrea’s final tip was “Stay on message and stay positive” – with that in mind, I won’t share my answers. One of the things that I am working on is my need to “be right” all the time.

Until next week,

gordo

Financial Start-Ups


Our photo this week is from our first Epic Camp in January 2003. Many speedy people in that shot -- some of them didn't even know it at the time!

Endurance Corner is accepting applications for 2 to 4 month internships. For more details contact mat at endurancecorner dot com. Prior experience is useful but not necessary.

Endurance Corner is looking for an MD, PA or Nurse Practitioner for its medical consultancy practice. The position would, initially, be part-time and ideal for a parent looking to re-enter the workforce. Please contact gordon at endurancecorner dot com if interested.

Endurance Corner is based in Boulder, CO.


We start this week with some feedback from Europe.
D.D. Observes:
A couple of things that come to mind regarding your recent piece on "motivation":

Interesting how "achievers" are usually - not always - driven by primarily selfish goals. No judging here, just observing.

CAREFUL! I know a lot of people who place themselves amongst (relative) "losers" just to look good. Those guys ARE NOT the top achievers. "You are as good as the expectations of your peer group." At least in the long run. IMHO

Selfish Goals -- I am not so sure that high achievers in 'self-less' vocations are more purely motivated than high achievers that work for themselves. As well, there may be a lot of selfish people that don't achieve -- it may not be a defining characteristic.

Peer Group -- this is a very good observation and why I advised 'periods' of out-performance. My podcast with Chris McDonald was interesting in this regard. Chris moves between towns where he is 'normal' and a 'star'. He stays in Boulder until he can't handle it anymore then heads back to Aussie and pounds his mates. Like I tell Mat, Fast in Indiana isn't always fast.

One last point, most people are not working towards maximizing their personal achievement. Their daily choices and actions are inconsistent with achievement -- the true goal is something else.

We can have very fulfilling lives while being clueless. I have enjoyed my periods of unconscious incompetence! High achievers are some of the most tortured people I know.

Alan wrote an outstanding article on what limits achievement. Understanding the process he outlines is a requirement for breakthrough performance.


And now... this week's letter.

I received an interesting email. If this letter triggers any ideas then please send them in. This topic is one of my favorites and I have been considering a few start-up opportunities myself.

A.R. writes:
I come from an entrepreneurial background and started with my current mentor and boss in real estate development XX years ago. With the current market and industry conditions my mentor has decided that 2008 will be a very safe year where we will not be looking to acquire or develop any more properties but just finish out the few condo conversions that we are doing and manage the apartment buildings currently in the portfolio...

I will be in the position to either find a new job in RE development or take the plunge (sooner than expected) of going on my own.

As I do some job searches I find positions that are interesting but that would be developing, raising capital, or acquiring properties for another organization and my thought is why do that for another company when I could be doing that on my own. The thought of going on my own excites me and what I want to do, however I only have about a 2 months capital reserve currently in the bank without liquidating anything and so I would be looking at going into some sort of debt.

If I go to another company I feel like it will be demoralizing and that I will not have the passion and work ethic that I would if I was on my own; however it would give me more time to gain experience and save more equity for a better time to go solo. I do have a couple projects that would provide a strong foundation if I go solo- raising capital for a distressed homebuilders fund, multiple client kitchen/bath renovations, development of 10-20 single family lots that a partner of mine owns which we are planning to develop, and 1 or 2 other opportunities but will not bring in cash flow for at least a few months. I also feel that I would miss out on these opportunities if I join another company as in that case I will not be able to commit the necessary time for these independent projects.

When I receive these emails, I get a little bit nervous because I fear that you might actually take my advice! So the first thing to remember is that there are no 'right' or 'wrong' answers. Odds are, you are going to be just fine going down any path.

That said, "trust your heart" can prove to be expensive when leverage is involved.

I would spend time on your Personal Plan before shifting to your Start-Up Business Plan (which you should write out in full and share with a respected adviser). Our society has romantic ideas about entrepreneurship that are far removed from the reality of owning your own business.

The first thing to do is read The E-Myth. That book helped me understand the roles required for entrepreneurial success as well as what often kills a business. Step back from the 'franchise' discussion and consider the broad strategic issues of simply achieving your business goals. Remember that a business exists to serve the aims of its owner. Do you know your aims?

That will help you frame the second thing... Do you know what you are good at? (Drucker summary and full article as well as more resources) Then consider if you enjoy doing what you are good at.

My Answer: I work as a consultant because I am good at project management, financial analysis, deal execution and strategic planning. My best skill is taking all of those components and expressing them in a clear written plan that is attractive to key decision makers. I spent the 90's doing that 50-80 hours per week.

Working solely on work was slowly killing me. I completely lost touch with my physical self (weak nutrition, no fitness, plenty of booze) and was disconnected to my spiritual side (never close to nature).

The solution was a position where I can alternate very intense periods of effort with recharging phases. However, this means that (absent change) I cannot be the CEO of a new company.

If you are talking about setting up a business then you are looking at a sustained, full-time total commitment. It is no different than what I write about elite athletics. The best CEOs that I know have tiny off-seasons and build their lives completely around the success of their businesses. World champion obsession.

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In Private Equity, we break the business into three pieces: Deals; People; and Money.

Deals -- do you have access to attractive investment opportunities? Many markets are characterized by a magic circle of established players that have access to proprietary deal flow. The property market is characterized by incomplete information and many conflicts of interest. Good deals often succeed by using superior information. How good is your information?

People -- do you have the skills to capitalize on the investment opportunities? I was fortunate to have been taught by one of the best Private Equity teams in the world. Even today, I haven't met a group of people that comes close to the team that trained me. I was the lowest paid person (in the building!) when I joined but it was one of the happiest and fulfilling periods of my life. Being part of a winning team can be more fun than struggling in your own business.

Money -- do you have access to capital? On what terms? How do those terms compare to your competition? Established players have a big advantage here -- it is tough to be the new guy.

With the investment business that I co-founded, it took us five years before we were successful raising institutional equity -- we relied on individual equity. Over that five year period, I was cash flow negative every single year. All the while, we were ahead of our business plan.

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Further thoughts to consider...

For more than a decade, investors would have had to do something stupid not to make a great return on any property investment. A sustained bull run leaves all players convinced of their deal selection 'skill'. We can't help but be influenced by this bias. As markets revert to the mean, most of us will find out that asset inflation, rather than investment smarts, drove our returns.

Do you know how to manage the capital that you have? Look at your personal track record with your own capital -- a two month personal reserve seems small at your age (but is not uncommon). People with the skills to be long term managers of funds demonstrate those skills (first) with their own capital. A great story from Asia...

Investment Banker Pitching Rich Local Man:
'So Mr. Lee, I think that this fund is an excellent opportunity for you.'

Mr. Lee to IB:
'Tell me, how much are you worth?'

IB: 'I'm worth over a million dollars.'

Mr. Lee: 'I'm worth over a hundred million. Why don't you give me your money and I'll see if I can do better for you.'

The best investors take care of their own money -- and -- treat their investors' money as if it was their own.

Market Timing -- most the reports that I am reading these days are talking about property inventory being clogged through to early 2009. These are huge generalizations and you need to consider your local situation. It is very tough for a small scale developer to make money in a flat market. Our early development deals only made money from asset appreciation -- frankly, we probably lost money on the development while we learned the ropes. Even today, we aren't experts. What we do is team up with experts and align our financial interests. There are a lot of ways to be ripped off in construction.

Against the current market background, building personal capital; broadening your skills base and studying under a smart investor -- could be time well-spent.

Family Capital -- if you can't raise start-up capital from sophisticated third parties then my advice would be don't do the deal. People will cite exceptions to this rule -- they exist but are exceedingly rare. If the market won't back you then there is information in their refusal. We have always been able to get our best ventures funded.

Missing Out -- Don't worry about that. This market will get cheaper, inventory will build and deal flow will increase. Your worst case scenario is that pricing will stay the same. Always be willing to lose a deal.

Cash Flow -- Make sure your can hold for at least a three years. One of my strategic goals for this year is to arrange funding through 2012 for my main client. Being able to hold through the bottom of the cycle is fundamental for long term returns.

Liquidating -- Twice in my career I have "sold everything" to invest in a new venture. It was good discipline to consider the new 'position' relative to my existing holding.

If you decide to go for a position with an existing team then consider people that are strongest in your weakest area -- when we go into business, we often partner with people that we've worked with before.

Hope this helps,
gordo

The Ultimate Success Formula for Triathletes

Part 1: The Theory
Alan Couzens MS (Sport Science), CSCS, PES

“The only secret of those of us training at Caulfield and Ferny Creek was the consistency of our training. None of us ever missed a day. As a result, all of us were improving. Although each of our sessions would physically stretch us, we never finished a day so exhausted that we were unable to train to the same standard the following day.”
- Ron Clarke (18 time World Record Holder in Distance Running)

I just got back from a trip to Australia to visit the folks and see my sister get married. It really is a long, awful flight and even now, 4 days back I am still feeling the effects. On the positive side of things, I did get a lot of reading done on the long flight. One of the books that I re-read was Jack Canfield’s Success Principles. I am a big fan of the personal development genre and within this genre, Canfield’s book has to be one of my favourites. When reading one of the chapters on “paying the price” it got my mind thinking about the similarities between Canfield’s message and that of another of my favourite authors in this field, Tony Robbins.

Tony Robbins has to be one of the most well-known success gurus of this century. I am a big fan of his in general, but one of my favourite Tony Robbins’ principles is something that he calls the “Ultimate Success Formula”. The thing that I really love about this formula is it’s simplicity. Basically (paraphrasing), it goes something like; there are 4 key steps to success in any endeavour:

1. Define your outcome
2. Model the behaviour of those who have achieved your outcome
3. Take MASSIVE ACTION
4. Develop the sensory acuity to know the results you are getting and modify your actions accordingly.

In my opinion, this formula can just as appropriately be applied to the field of triathlon as it can to anything else, business, relationships etc. As a coach, the thing that is striking to me is the rarity that most athletes actually follow through with the most important step - #4. Just about every semi-serious triathlete out there has a goal of some description. Many of them have also sought out a mentor, in the form of a book or a coach, to help give them some clues of how to go about achieving their goal. The serious ones also don’t have a problem taking ‘massive action’. Some also do a fantastic job of obsessively logging the details of their workouts. However, the air is starting to get pretty thin when we look at the peak triathletes who actually analyse and use this data that they collect to determine the future direction of their training.

For many of us, the process of devising a training plan is analogous to the following scenario: You decide that you want to take a trip from Orlando, FL to the tiny mountain town of Nederland, CO. So, being a relative novice traveller, you go to the map store and buy a large scale map of the continental US. You set off from Orlando and follow the interstates on your way to Colorado, but when you reach the border, you are shocked that you can’t find Nederland anywhere on your map. So, rather than taking stock of where you are and pulling into a gas station to refine your search with a smaller scale map, you decide that Rand McNally doesn’t know what he’s talking about & you go searching for a different map of the continental US from a different publisher. Of course, this map doesn’t have your final destination on it either. End result, you jump from one guys large scale map to the next without ever paying attention to where your current route has landed you or refining your search to determine your future direction and you never make it to your destination.

The best athletes around get this. I first met Gordo at Epic Camp 2006. I was coming off a couple of pretty solid months of training, including 2 x 30hr weeks and I was feeling pretty good about my ability to keep working with a high volume approach. At the first opportunity I had, I spoke with Gordo about my recent training and where I should go from here. His first question and one which, to a large extent, inspired this blog, was “is it working for you?” It shocked me, but I really didn’t have a solid answer to the question. Sure, I was obsessively monitoring the details of every workout, but I wasn’t, at least in any measurable way, taking the time to analyse the data to determine what training stimuli yielded the greatest improvement and, whatsmore, my plan for the future was based strictly on my assumption that more volume = more results. I was following 2 of the 3 steps in the Training Peaks ‘monitor, analyse, plan’ credo, but my plans, in no way, shape or form were influenced by all of the data that I was monitoring.

Even now, the tendency is always to believe that I could do more than I currently am, if only....

For a good portion of the past 12 months my basic goal has been 3 hours a day of training. Did I base this on my average volume for 2006? Nope. Did I take into account that I was little more than a month out of a wheelchair after my hip surgery when I set these lofty goals? Nope. My plan was based solely on the volume that I believed I would need in order to be competitive in my age group over the Iron Distance in 2007 and 2008. This is one of the most common and harmful mistakes that I come across as a coach on a daily basis. Type-A age group athletes typically let their goals for the season dictate their rate of improvement rather than letting their rate of improvement dictate their seasonal goals. This is one of the reasons that it is so difficult to develop over the long term as a self-coached athlete. It is true that, as a society, we have a tendency to greatly overestimate what we can accomplish in a year, while grossly underestimating what we can achieve in a decade purely by applying unrelenting patience and persistence.

Hopefully by now, I have convinced you that in order to ‘train smart’ in ’08 and beyond, it is important to determine the efficacy of your training plan to this point. In order to do this a couple of questions need to be answered:

1. What was your training methodology in ’07?
Pay attention to the word methodology, as opposed to plan. What you intended to do at the start of the year is far less important than what actually got done.

Note: With improved sensory acuity the gap between what you intend to do and what you do will shorten. This can make a big difference to your confidence and your belief in yourself as an athlete.

2. Did your training methodology bring about the desired results?
The 2 results that I definitely want to achieve for each and every athlete, each and every year are:
a) A rise in the athlete’s ability to tolerate work, measured by an increase in volume AND intensity from year to year.
b) An improvement in the athlete’s performance standards from one year to the next.

Stay tuned for part II of this article, where I will outline some of the specific numbers that you can track in your log on a daily basis in order to effectively answer these questions and how to track these metrics over time to determine what is working for you.

Beyond Achievement

We have a family tradition of buying pajamas for Christmas. This year, I modified it by purchasing Monica a red bikini. However, my editorial board has instituted a new policy regarding bikini photos --"Clavicle Up". I managed to get this one past my publisher, it is one of my favorites.

Alternative Perspectives has an new piece by Clas on Damage Control. The photo he sent is a keeper. Bike skills work, Swedish Style.

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What are you going to do after you win IMC?
-- Monica, October 2007

In the Northern Hemisphere the mixture of long nights, weak December nutrition and overall holiday stress can leave us with the need to “take action”. Armed with a burning desire “to do something” we often sit down and write out our New Year’s Resolutions.

I consider my life on a quarterly basis. Monica, jokes that if she doesn’t like my personal plan then she only needs to wait a week and we will have another one. She’s quite patient and doesn’t voice objections until it looks like I might actually do something.

This week’s letter isn’t about the right action to take – I’ll leave that to you. What I am going to do is share my experience on what has driven me towards the actions that I have taken in the past.

Scott wrote a great piece about how he motivates himself. This letter is about what is motivating me.

Did you get the distinction there?

There are tricks, tactics, habits and strategies that we can employ to do the work necessary to achieve our goals. That’s Molina’s piece.

There is the psychological profile that underlies the selection of our goals in the first place. That’s this piece.

Some common goals:

  • Lose X pounds by Y date
  • Walk X minutes Y times per week
  • Save $X per Y
  • Qualify for X
  • Break X hours for Y event
  • Get my NAV to $X

Various goals of mine:

  • Finish an Ironman
  • Train at least 25 hours per week as many weeks as possible
  • Win Keauhou Kona Triathlon, Ultraman Hawaii, IM Canada or IM New Zealand
  • Qualify for Ironman Hawaii
  • Swim the English Channel or Rottnest Channel.
  • Swim sub-6 400 IM or sub-20 1500 LCM free
  • Swim, bike, run across America
  • Reach one person, one thousand people, or one million people
  • NAV equal to five/ten/twenty years of personal expenses (indexed/not indexed)
  • Own a house/flat/cottage anywhere, in Boulder, in New Zealand, in San Francisco, in Arizona, in the mountains, in Noosa, in Paris or in Scotland
  • Raise $5 million, $50 million, $250 million, or $1 billion for a client
  • Write a book about Ironman Training, Personal Excellence or my life
  • Climb Mt Kilimanjaro, Denali, Mt Cook, Mont Blanc, Mt Tasman, Cho Oyu, Mt Vinson or Aconcagua
  • Run the Leadville 100, Run Boulder to Vail, Run the Hong Kong Trailwalker
  • Sail to France, to Antigua or around the World

Goals are items that we are actively working towards – everything else is dreams or personal legends.

When we combine moderate talent with extreme work ethic then we will achieve results in most areas. If we stumble into a field where we have some real aptitude then results can be amazing -- especially with the tailwind of favorable conditions (and a bit of luck).

Do you notice a theme across my list?

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One of the greatest motivators in my life has been the pursuit of “things other people don't do”.

My friend, Kevin Purcell, once marveled at my ability to leave a goal after I achieve it. Finish one job and move along to my next task. It was an honest complement on non-attachment. However, I was deeply attached to my true motivator – self-affirmation through relative performance.

If you share this trait then be wary of placing yourself in a position where you are surrounded by people that are superior achievers of your goals. For personal satisfaction, you will need to spend time in an environment where you are able to exhibit relative out-performance.

“In a team, it is important for everyone to get a chance to be strong”. That’s a tip from Scott Molina – a guy that seems to get along with just about everyone.

“Envy, not greed, makes the world go ‘round”. That one is Warren Buffet, a man with a lot of first hand experience on what motivates people.

+++

Six years ago I can remember feeling the absolute healthiest of my life. I have memories of lying in bed and enjoying breath after breath of cool, calm air. I had completed 12 weeks of intensive yoga and freed many restrictions.

This “health” memory came to me in early December when I realized that I was, once again, lying in bed felling very good. For the first time in six years I was free of soreness and deep fatigue. There are two constants in the life of an elite athlete – fatigue and soreness. Learning to cope with this fact is a large part of the mental game of ultra endurance sport.

In December 2001, a sport psychologist asked me “why do you want to do triathlon”? I answered without doubt, “because it is what I was born to do”.

What I meant was triathlon is work and I was born to work – therefore – I was born for triathlon.

That is the second great motivating force in my life. Some people have a high capacity to complete/absorb/enjoy work. When you mix excellent process management skills, moderate talent and inherent work ethic – you get results.

The purest form of motivation is an enjoyment of work. People, situations, habits and choices that impair our work ethic are extremely hazardous to a life with meaning.

The back-story is that having got my health back, I am not sure if I want to spend another year really tired and sore!

+++

Remember five years ago and consider the events that stand out in your mind.

When I think back to 2002 the key aspects are:

  • Totally frying myself in an attempt to win KKT
  • Taking two months off as a result of being grossly overtrained
  • Co-founding a property investment company
  • Training four weeks for IMC then repeating my time from the previous year
  • Winning Ultraman Hawaii

Which of these are “good” and which are “bad”? That depends on your point of view.

Every item in that list is a requirement to get to the end, winning Ultraman Hawaii. At the time, winning Ultraman was a great event for me. As a result of winning in 2002, I went back in 2003… …and nearly died.

Not so great!

But then again… the forced rest may have been the difference between success and failure in 2004.

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Pulling it all together…

  • In setting goals, consider the motivating factors behind your list.
  • If you are motivated by relative performance then schedule periods where you can shine.
  • For goals that require sustained effort over time: focus on areas that you deeply enjoy; and remove people/attitudes/perceptions/habits that are barriers to the work necessary to achieve.

If you are fortunate enough to experience high level achievement then your vocation will likely become your identity. I have experienced this in a few fields. Examples:

  • Scott Tinley was Triathlon -- solid article
  • Tom Dolan was Swimming -- that guy could train
  • Key founders are their businesses -- remember this when you negotiate
  • Great champions are their sports
  • World-class achievers are their goals
  • Addicts are their habits

If a recession, divorce, injury, or the passage of time removes an expression of identity then it is painful. Alternative interests are personal insurance policies, even Lance had his foundation.

The Tinley interview discusses a champion coming to terms with his sport. My personal experience is life-transitions (divorce, illness, injury, career change) force me to come to terms with myself. Specifically, I am forced to cope with the death of an identity.

Die a few times and it becomes easier to cope.

++++

What lies beyond achievement?

Peace.

Peace has a lot of different names and levels of experience. Some other names... The Zone, Flow, Exhaustion, Satisfaction, The Pump, Whole Body Experience, Zen, Endorphins, Open, Harmony, Relaxation, Well Being, Health...

The chemical signature of achievement feels a lot like peace.

Rather than sloth, peace is my counterbalance to work. The quest for peace driving my 'pure' motivation. Seems a bit crazy to spend one's life chasing peace... I don't know. If that's what is really driving me then it takes a lot of the burden off -- the list above is daunting.

I have often confused silence (or nothing) with peace. Many of my self-destructive habits/patterns stem from this confusion. Anger, fear, intoxication -- the far side of each of these feel close to peace, but isn't. I suspect that Big Pharma uses this pathway to create a perception of well being in its users. I lump all these 'nothings' into the category of False Gods -- the list changes over time -- perhaps because the truest addiction is to that peaceful vibe.

Artists, comedians, writers, CEOs, investment bankers, endurance athletes -- peace is where we get to. Part of the process of "getting there" is the drive to "get it out" of us. At times our gifts can feel like curses.

That's enough for today. Running a bit long!

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Here’s my January 2008 list:

  • Successful marriage based on kindness and respect
  • Peaceful Listening
  • Retreats with Nature
  • Wake-up Early
  • Ethical life with meaning

Where is the relative achievement? Could be lurking in #5, not sure.

To know others, intelligence
To know yourself, wisdom
-- Lao Tsu

Effective communication is about getting a person to listen (first) then think (second). Monica is a very effective communicator.

Still searching,
gordo

The Baron On Damage Control


Clas shares some practical tips on coping with unplanned lay-offs.  

Above is how modern Vikings take-it-easy over the winter.  Clas claims that motorsports enhance bike handling skills.
Even if you have read my previous articles 5 or more times and happen to get injured, over trained or sick, don’t freak out. Getting worked up will not help your situation at all. The best thing you can do to speed up your recovery is to accept it, stay positive and spend more time on other things in your life that make you feel good.

No matter the degree of your over training, injury, or illness, in my experience there are a few things you can do to help speed your recovery. Of course you can use these things even if you do not have an injury or illness that forces you to take a break. I think that most of us would be even better athletes if we could be a little more “human” in our living for a few months every year. If we want to perform 100% at a few races every year, then I believe that we must also let ourselves perform at 50% at least for a few month every year. If not, then I feel you may risk having your body perform at 90% all year round.

Take a break after the season, do some other fun things for a few months. Keep your running, swimming and stretching going, but keep it light. Then when you start training again your body and mind will be ready to push for another 9-10 months.

I've brought up a few of these things in my previous articles, but I bring them up again because they are very important for your recovery.

I will mix up some concrete ideas with some basic writing in regards to having an illness or injury. I know the subject is what to do if you already have a illness or injury, but I hope most of you are injury free and want to share some ideas so you can stay that way.

First of all, when an injury or illness occurs, see a good sports physiologist, doctor, or literature on your problem so you can get started on a good recovery program. The sooner you get professional help the sooner you will be back on the road. Ask your friends if they have someone they would recommend.

The above advice also includes minor injuries that you deal with during daily training. If you know you have a weak spot, work on it daily, or at least weekly. Some of us, like myself, are not yoga gurus that can make a knot of our own bodies. So, if you know you are tight, don’t wait until you get injured before you stretch. Make it a daily routine to stretch for at least an hour on your days off from training.

If you keep a training journal, also include the hours you spend stretching. These hours can be more valuable than some of the hours you spend out on the road.

Once you have more information about your illness/injury and have started your recovery program you should have a good idea how long it will take until you will be back on the road. Even if your break is a few months to a year, try to make something good out of it. This is a good time to focus on all the items that get neglected during your regular periods of training.

If you happen to develop some chronic fatigue your energy will be VERY, VERY limited and you must be careful with not doing too much. Spend your energy finding a good doctor that has experience with treating illnesses like this. I doubt that you will get the right treatment from a regular doctor because this illness is so complex and you have to treat your body on many different levels which most doctors don’t have experience doing. This is the illness that I have the most experience with and because your energy is so limited it’s even more important to spend the energy on the right things and with the right people. Your life doesn’t stop because you are ill or injured, so, you might as well do something productive with your time.

Here is a list of some random ideas for you if you have/want to take a break from training.

1. Learn to speak a new language or to play an instrument…….

2. Spend more time with your family and friends. (Choose the ones that bring you energy and make you laugh)

3. Spend more energy on your job (If this makes you feel good and brings you more energy, otherwise leave it out)

If you are a professional athlete like myself who doesn’t have a “real” job, then try to get one. When my energy got better, I found it very useful for my mind to get a part-time job to have something else then just training to think about. This can also provide financial stability when prize money is not an option.

4. Learn more about items that will be useful when you resume training and racing. For example, learning more about nutrition or overall training philosophy (this is okay as long as it doesn’t make you feel stressed because you can’t train as you want)

5. If you can still do a little bit of activity but have to stay away from your particular sport, why not try learning some other sport that doesn’t affect your injury or illness. This could be anything from motor sports to yoga. Learning new things can be very fun and bring you a lot of energy.

6. Take a vacation or go on a retreat. Go alone or with a few of your favorite people. This is a great time to get to know others better or if alone, rediscover yourself. Some of us have been so busy for so many years that we barely know ourselves.

Take some time to reflect on your life and what you want to achieve in the future. Evaluating yourself can be a little bit depressing at first because it can be the first time that you've ever experienced something that took you out of your normal routine. It may also be the first time you've realized that the things you are doing might not go on for ages. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop what you are doing, but if you at least know it won’t go on for ever, then you might put some more effort into enjoying it as much as possible while it lasts.

These are the sort of things that I have done over the last year that have helped me in my recovery. It’s very easy to get depressed, sad, or angry when you get a long lasting illness or injury, but it’s okay if life sucks sometimes (as a good friend of mine told me) and it’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. However, it won’t help your recovery if this happens too often.

Many people have told me, and I've slowly started to believe them, that it’s often after a injury or illness that forces you to learn new things that will help you grow as an athlete and come back even stronger than before.

Instead of freaking out, get the best professional help you can, enjoy your break and you will be back stronger then ever.

Best regards
Clas Björling
www.clasbjorling.com

Endurance Training Protocols


Our photo this week is Team MonGo doing wheat-grass shots at the Noosa Farmer's Market -- don't mind our goofy hats but the UV was 13 and we were trying to save our skin!

I was going to write about “mood management” (aka depression) but that doesn’t strike me as very festive – and, besides, I’m feeling better… …so we will pick that topic up in the new year.

Before we kick off a brief update on our Tucson Camps. We are doing two camps – March 22-30 (five spots left) and April 19-27 (three spots left). The camps will have a bike focus and are appropriate for athletes that are in 13-hour Ironman shape and faster. Looking around the internet, you have a lot of choices for 2008 camps. Here’s a bit on how we differentiate ourselves.

What makes us unique is our people. Our coaching/support team is a mixture of elite and highly successful agegroup athletes. We can tell you “what it takes” and also give you an objective view on “what’s realistic” within your life.

Risks and Returns


That's Monica on Sunshine Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. That's the real name of the place! While I'm not much of a beach guy, the scenery has been worthwhile.

This week I'm talking about finance and company valuation. If you would prefer a solid endurance article then Coach KP writes about Ironman Pacing on Alternative Perspectives.

This week's announcements run a bit long. I'll update on our Tucson camp next week -- we still have a couple of spaces.

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Brad Kearns has a project called Running School (aka Running's Cool). The idea is to educate elementary and middle school kids/teachers/parents about nutrition and exercise. The program touches on a lot of things that we believe in. Brad started at his kids' school and is planning on branching out to other schools. You can clickthrough to find out how to help him with the worthwhile cause. We are sponsoring a school in 2008.

A reader sent in this speech by the former Chairman of Bankers Trust (good stuff, thanks for thinking of me). The fourth paradox (about moderation and extremism) rang most true. It is worth a read.

There are other speeches by Sanford on that site -- his defense of Financial Services puts forward a good case. Reality lies between Business School speeches and books like The Game, Liars Poker, Barbarians at the Gate and The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I'm surprised this didn't get more comment... getting paid tens of millions to run a business which writes $10 billion off then walking with $162 million for failing to see it coming. This is not an isolated incident -- only the scale makes it noteworthy.

In hedge funds, trading and investment banking, there is a massive incentive to game the system. Given the amount of leverage available to these companies, there should be clear disclosure and firm regulation. When it really hits the fan, taxpayers are the ones that ultimately foot the bill.

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This past weekend, I read a book on the Enron collapse, The Smartest Guys In The Room. When I arrived at the end of the book I was left with two impressions. First, it is terrifying how fast a highly leveraged vehicle can unwind. Second, I have read that story before.

The problems, and financial techniques, that are part of the Enron story aren’t unique. They have been used, and abused, prior to Enron (computer leasing, software maintenance) and after Enron (sub-prime crisis).

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Concentration

In addition to giving me the advice to “save 10% of what you earn”, my Dad also told me to “never have more than 10% of your net worth in a company you don’t directly control”. The people most hurt by the Enron collapse violated this key tenet of investment strategy.

Even if you are an insider, be wary of monster bets. There have been stages in my investment career where I had more than 100% of my net worth riding on a single company (but it was "my" company). While this ensures “focus”, I feel that I am more effective with a significant, rather than total financial commitment.

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The Deal You Don't Do

If you are in a leadership position then you must foster a culture where it is OK to make a little less money. This helps maintain business, and personal, ethics. Senior management must empower, and support, team leaders that walk, rather than compromise company values. This is _extremely_ hard to do when large amounts of money are on the table. I have seen private equity partners eat hundreds of thousands of dollars in dead deal costs.

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Return on Capital Employed (ROCE)

Towards the end of the Enron book, the topic of the company’s return on investment comes up. A figure of 7% per annum is quoted. The basis of measurement isn’t clear from the text. Here’s how I define it…

Cash Flow Before Interest and Taxes

LESS

Capital Investment Required to Sustain That Cash Flow

Take that and divide by “Net Debt Plus Shareholders Funds”

Tracking this figure back ten years for a business, and its peer group, can tell you quite a bit. Can’t go back ten years? Then place a discount on the quality of those earnings.

A lot of people use “Depreciation & Amortization” instead of “Capital Investment Required…”. If you choose that method then know that your number can be skewed by the recent capital investment history of the firm (and industry) you are evaluating. Age, and capacity, of capital employed should be considered.

Other folks like to use “Earnings” rather than “Cash Flow”. I prefer cash flow because generating cash is the financial purpose of business.

Attractive businesses have a high ROCE and good management teams know their ROCE.

If you meet a company without a clear focus on ROCE then a red flag should go up. It isn’t the only metric but (for businesses with more than just human capital) it is an important figure to track.

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Profit Recognition and Asset Valuation

Inside the book, there is a clear explanation of Mark-to-Market vs. Historical Cost accounting. They are two different methods used to achieve the same goal – a true and fair picture of a company’s financial position. Enron went wrong in its application of its valuation methods as well as its employee rewards structure.

The questions to ask:

Does the business have any contracts/transactions/projects that extend greater than one year? What is the recognition basis for revenue, income and capital uplift on these projects? Describe the nature of historical revenue/cost/value revisions on these contracts. What are the key assumptions that underpin profit recognition and project valuation?

How does employee compensation relate to the assumptions used on the above transactions? Specifically, who benefits and how do they benefit?

Rapidly growing businesses with a material part of their income statement (or balance sheet) linked to management judgment are risky with lower quality earnings. They can still make good investment targets.

If management fails to give clear, immediate answers on the above questions – red flag should go up.

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Off-Balance Sheet Financing

This one often gets companies (and people) into trouble. The main reason to use off-balance sheet financing is to raise debt over-and-above a prudent level. There can be times when these techniques make economic sense.

These structures bite when a company (or person) hits hard times. In particular, financial and performance guarantees can create large, and sudden, liabilities. A business with weak internal controls can have large hidden contingent liabilities.

Some questions to consider:

Have you used any of the company’s shares, assets, or guarantees to support (formally, or informally) projects outside of the company’s balance sheet? Has any outside entity guaranteed (formally, or informally) any aspect of the company’s operations?

Have any members of the management team issued personal guarantees (for any reason) to any financial institution connected to, or separate from, the company? If yes then please supply the specifics.

In the mid-90s, we would go as far as having key management warranty their NAV statements. You can learn a lot about a senior management team by the way they manage their personal finances. In the recent era of covenant-lite financing and non-doc loans, I expect this practice may have fallen away.

If there is a lot going on, or if you can’t figure out why things are going on, then don’t touch the business, or the manager. It’s not worth it.

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Bottom Line

The senior person leading the transaction should ask the CEO these questions. As well, ask employees in accounts, sales/origination and operations/fulfillment. Remember that large frauds start as small frauds – always be willing to walk away.

People want to do the right thing but often feel trapped by their situations. For this reason, you need to ask the questions, a lot of questions. You will save capital (and time) by talking to management before investing.

As personal investors, we rarely have the ability to check these questions with large companies. That is why I don’t invest in the stock market. If you feel that you must have stock market exposure then I recommend a low-cost, broad index fund.

Good luck,

gordo

Racing Long


Kevin knows more than most about converting fitness to performance. Not only can he write about this topic, he has lived it, repeatedly.

I hope you enjoy this article.

When I guide clients toward their IM goals, I like to use Power, PE and HR. Used together, those three data points can give the clearest picture of real time efforts on the bike, cardiovascular stress on the body, fueling and hydration issues. As a coach who reviews power files of athletes seeking to race to potential, I often uncover key nuggets of data that are critical to unlocking the ability to execute a superior race plan; a plan that gives them the opportunity to run 26.2 miles _well_ off the bike. That race plan should include pre-race fueling (breakfast), correct swim, bike, run efforts and specific, individual hydration and fueling strategies. This is a good time to pause and say that not everybody needs a power meter to race well. Some athletes crack the code without using power or monitoring HR. If you feel you are one of those guys or gals, rock on!

If you find yourself under performing at your AAA race, listen up, it doesn’t have to be that way. Not many athletes nail their first IM. When it happens you’ll find somebody who did more than get fit; they also studied. Interestingly, many in this fraternity struggle in subsequent IMs. Given the fact that nearly everyone shows up to IM fit, and that much of the field underperforms relative to training markers, we can assume that important questions that focus on race execution are going unanswered or ignored. Our personal 'best races' will happen when we feel no fear and have the confidence that we are well prepared. Having race ‘experience’ implies that we have had the opportunity to answer questions that relate to execution. What type of experience you bring to the table is dependant on whether you learn from your success and/or failure. It is imperative that an athlete be honest with self about past performance and racing/training efforts; identifying what needs to happen to catapult to the next level. Beyond fitness, what needs to happen? (1) often it is finding the focus to complete and execute your race plan within specific efforts levels more than a specific time goal. (2) I think it wise to begin by focusing on personal excellence; which results in your fastest finish time. (3) for many athletes struggling to get it right, training and race experiences highlight this truth – there is a need to reduce efforts over the early part of the race. (4) many athletes fail to understand that to perform, we need to structure our preparation so that IM becomes routine as possible. With those thoughts in mind, I have some suggestions.

IM requires that we have a plan. Then, you need the ability to discern whether the plan was executed effectively. Often, athletes use ‘end of race’ power averages as a way to help answer that question. Good stuff, because a well executed IM bike will show quite specific power averages. However, averages don’t readily acknowledge tactical errors, power spikes, fading watts, rising HRs and declining power. Averages may hide events that render a plan obsolete. You can have great looking ‘entire ride’ averages and blow yourself to bits. Those who study successfully executed IMs will tell you that vast majority of the races they examine have _very_ similar characteristics. In fact, many of us believe that even those athletes that do not use a power meter would produce power files similar to successful athletes who do ride with meters. In other words, while it is not necessary to ride with a power meter to execute well, using one can benefit athletes that struggle while relying on PE and HR.

What should entire ride averages look like? I have heard some suggest that the range for correct power over a flat IM bike might be from an average of 65% of FTP for the less fit, to above 75% of FTP for the very fit (Functional Threshold Power being defined by Andrew Coggan as a well executed, best effort, avg power over a 60min TT). In my practice, I have found a smaller range signals success // more like 70-73% FTP. Averages in the 74-75% range may be successfully used by the very fittest athletes riding 4:30 and running sub3 marathons because their race day is abbreviated relative to most of the field. Even for the elite of the elite, riding above avg 75% FTP for an IM ride while hoping to have a lifetime best run attached appears optimistic. If it has worked that way for you, and you are riding 5-6hr bike splits you might consider that identified FTP was low // or that you may still have a better run in you over 26.2 miles off the bike. Very few athletes will purposely choose to ride harder, knowing they are hurting their run, hoping that it upsets their competition’s race plan in a significant way.

An important point -- I think very wide ranges of % FTP used in IM (correctly or incorrectly) are associated with a foggy notion of what FTP really was to begin with (high or low) prior to race, and those foggy numbers become even less clear when early pacing errors and poor fueling tactics begin to skew data beyond usability. As we move away from relative elite fitness or the very strong AGer, we generally move toward the less experienced athlete. The less experienced athlete is typically less able to identify FTP in a way that accurately translates to a 5.5 to 6.5 hour ride + fueling + successful marathon. However, in my experience, if/when the less experienced, moderately fit athlete does ID correct power ranges, either alone or with an advisor, the average percentage of FTP used over an IM is still in the 70% range, as long as they find a real FTP number.

Again and again and I see athletes over estimating FTP through a 20min test, or by sitting up the last 5min to boost numbers or by focusing too much of training on swelling threshold power numbers without confirming execution of correct IM efforts over 5-6hrs of biking as it fits into 9-12hrs of racing. Not only do I think a 20min TT is too short as a test, it doesn't seem to translate well to a 5-6 hour ride. I have found the 30min best effort TT (-5%) to be a relatively good proxy for the 60min test. Still, the 60min TT is better, and past successful HIM and IM performance with excellent runs attached the best.

An athlete’s threshold and correct IM power ranges are initially located through the relatively short but tough test mentioned above and then can be tracked over time. The second, more difficult and confirming test (say, race simulation ride or a Big Day Brick) is used more sparingly over the last 10-12 weeks in specific prep, prior to your AAA race. It is a reality check. The best predictors of IM performance are the KEY workouts in specific prep and the library an athlete builds of past IM performances; the races with good runs attached // not the 30-60min TT for threshold power. The short tests are quit helpful, but not enough. Athletes who depend on short test FTP numbers alone, often use about 5-10w too much over the first half of the course; just enough to cause digestive disturbance, significant dehydration and a sub-optimal run.

CyclePeaks gives your power file a Variability Index: VI is normalized power divided by average power. Does a tight VI mean you raced optimally? If an athlete incorrectly names his/her race efforts via power, a tight VI does not represent optimal race execution, only good execution of a faulty plan. Further, because an athlete's optimal plan should show quite a bit of variable power on courses with terrain changes, an overview of execution should include the athlete's approach to flats, rollers, extended climbs and descents. Correctly identifying the %FTP to be used over variable terrain and riding tactically will result in a tight VI. In my experience, VI has less to do with the actual power used and everything to do with how the power is applied. A larger VI reflects power spikes (the way power is applied or removed suddenly // it is tactical). Tactics in IM, where we successfully run a marathon off the bike, are different that those used in bike only races.

Over the course of an IM, an athlete can shift from seconds of threshold watts (100% of FTP) while cresting a climb, to moderately hard power used on extended climbs (80-86% FTP) to steady flat efforts (70-73% FTP) to soft pedaling descents (say 50-65% FTP or less) and still ride with a tight VI. In fact, if done correctly, averages will fall in that 70-73% range. It is the transition from one power to the next that can damage your ability to run well. Your strongest race via power will have a tight VI if you obey power caps and shift efforts purposefully. Power spikes are what make VI large. Example: at IM Hawaii, a ride with steady efforts on flats, moderately hard efforts on rollers and extended climbs, seconds of well placed threshold efforts and soft pedaling the descents, will give a VI near 1.04 if shifting efforts is done carefully. I think anything over 1.05 for IM is failure to execute optimally with regards to running your best for 26.2 off the bike.

My must do’s prior and during an IM Race == >

1) correctly identify FTP with 95% of 30min TT power (minimum) or 60min TT for some. Use these numbers in conjunction with PE and HR and *note if and when power can be tactically misleading (heat, dehydration, calories intake, etc).

2) corroborate findings above as correct IM efforts over 5-6hr race simulation ride // or better yet, as part of Big Day Brick where ride and run-off follows race breakfast and tough 4-5k swim (very helpful).

3) in specific prep, marry results from #1 and #2 with correct HR caps, experienced PE and proper fueling

4) use varied power that fits specific parts of the course (climbs, rollers, flats, descents). Use established threshold and VO2 watts as max caps to be used rarely or numbers never to be seen.

5) *apply variable power changes while avoiding power spikes* (resulting in VI at or below 1.05)

6) fuel the bike as part of your determination of race execution – they are intimately connected. If you cannot eat and stay aero at a given effort, and then run well, you better seriously consider a new bike position and/or your named FTP. Give yourself a chance to run to potential!

*For best pre-race preparation I'd like to see a greater emphasis placed on field tested FTP (not indoors) melded with well executed long race simulation workouts (breakfast, swim, bike + run-off.

In addition to Power, I pay close attention to HR guidelines as heart rate is an objective measure of cardiovascular strain. You might have a very accurate idea of threshold power and power guidelines for your IM, but if you don’t fuel and hydrate well, your performance will suffer early, perhaps even ending your race should you fail to slow down and correct the errors to that point. In IM, I strongly suggest you monitor heart rate over riding by power alone. Beware of thinking those numbers are redundant; the two markers tell different tales. I always track Power, HR and PE. In problem situations, if things get funny (as they sometimes do) I may have to go with PE, lower HRs and alter my plan until my body returns to a recognizable working order. Ironman is a long day. Acceptance can be difficult. One of the great lessons of IM is found in the frustration that comes from poorly executed races. They force the athlete who is listening to accept reality. There is always a reason things go right – and there is always a reason things deteriorate. We all know someone who at times can race very well on PE alone. If that isn’t you, hang in there; it’s possible for everyone to figure this IM puzzle out.

KP
www.coachkp.com

How To Avoid Over Training--Part Two


So what have I learned from my experience and other ideas I have to avoid over training in general??

***Listen to your body and mind. I know it’s hard because we are so used to being able to push trough everything which works most of the time allowing us to bounce back pretty quickly. However, there comes a time when you have been pushing and pushing for so long that your body and mind are starting to act against you. When things don't feel right and this feeling persists, please take a step back and look at your whole situation before you run yourself down.

***Set goals and build a race/training schedule that makes you perform at your best but that you can manage without counting on a miracle.

***Rest before you are totally wiped out. It’s better to take an extra easy day or a complete day off every week then having to take a year off due illness.

***Training breaks you down; resting/ recovery builds you up. Build your training around your easy days/days off and not the other way around.

***If you get extra stress from things outside of training, don’t try counter this stress with even more training. Train a little less when you are busy with other things, and train more when your schedule is less full. Our bodies can only handle a certain amount of stress. Sometimes we can train 40 hours a week and still recover and get stronger, but sometimes we get rundown in a 15 hour week. Be a little flexible!!

***It can be a good idea to have other things in life that are important to you other then training and racing. We need a balanced life and with a balanced life we get harmony in our bodies and when we have harmony in our bodies then they respond much better to all the things we want them to do--like recover better from training.

When only one thing in your life is important then you can get yourself in trouble because one day you may have to stay away from that thing. I that thing gets taken away, your life can get pretty tough and boring and that can let you down. Keep in mind that we need to be balanced.

***During the times when you put extra stress on your body try to give your body the best fuel possible and try and get a lot of sleep.

***If you happen to put yourself over the edge, don’t freak out. Look at your schedule and cut out all the things that are not VERY IMPORTANT. You need to minimize the stress on your body, both physically and mentally. Do things that make you relax and happy.

***Our minds are the most incredible things that are on this planet. With our minds we can climb Mount Everest, finish an Ironman (and fast if you want it badly enough), be able to survive deadly illnesses, it’s just a question how badly we want to achieve things.

With our minds we can also set ourselves back. We can focus on the wrong things, start thinking negative, we can get in our own way prohibiting recovery and happiness. It’s okay if life sucks sometimes, that’s just how life is. When day after day, week after week, you are feeling like life just has negative and dark things to offer you. Then I think you are not trying your best and you need to try to see things in a different way.

It’s up to you how you want to see life. If you are always being negative and seeing everything in black, life will probably just bring you negative things, but if you can start to see the positive and bright things in life then life will bring you more positive.

In the beginning, it can be hard to find these positives, but as soon as you find them you can probably start to see them everywhere.

***Be patient, both to achieve things in sport and with things in life. It’s like my over training. I didn’t get myself in this situation by doing a long run a little bit too hard or skipped a rest day one. I have pushed myself over the edge slowly over the last couple of years and even when I passed the edge I kept pushing. It will probably take me about the same time to come back to 100 % health.

***Focus on things in life that bring you energy. If they don’t, try to see things you are doing from another view and if they still don't give you energy, you should probably let go of these things and do something else. This can be sport, jobs, friends, relationships.

These are the things I can think of when it comes to trying to stay healthy and injury free. I’m sure I have forgotten a few important things, but if you come up with something that I missed, please send me an email clasbjorling "at" hotmail "dot" com It could help me and others improve our energy and health.

Remember to stay balanced. I think that’s one of the most important components if you want to live a long and happy life.

Best regards
Clas
www.clasbjorling.com

Health & Athletic Longevity


“If I don’t race for the rest of my life then I might be able to repair the damage that I did to myself”
-- Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion

There have been times where I have lost sight of the long term health benefits from physical activity. As a result, I have fried myself (over doing it) or not bothered to do anything at all (not doing it). These two errors arise from a mental disconnect between fitness and health.

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Alan’s blog has a good piece on early season training. He lays out the choices that face an athlete. Stepping back to the larger issue of personal health, they represent phases of our athletic lives.

Phase One – one hour of activity per day
For most people this would consist of walking for an hour (five days a week) and strength training (two days a week). This is achievable by nearly everyone and will maximize longevity when applied on a lifetime basis.

Invest a single hour a day to extend, and enhance, the quality of your life. Our photo this week is me and "my rock". From our condo in Noosa, I takes me 35 minutes to get to the rock. No matter how tired/sore I am feeling... I gotta make it to the rock.

Choosing _not_ to apply this level of activity will impair your quality of life, the only question is when.

Most people wait until heart disease, cancer or death of their parents spurs them to action.

If you find that an hour of daily activity isn’t “enough” to manage your body composition then you are using exercise to continue dysfunctional eating habits. I have spent years using exercise to avoid adjusting my eating patterns.

Phase Two – Standard Basic Week
An outline for triathlon is included below – this program represents achievable athletic excellence within a life that includes family; friends; and business success.

The program is an outline for the athletic component required for (one definition of) personal excellence. It is well above the minimum for personal health.

Only a minority will choose this level of commitment. As a result, you can perform better than most your peers when you use it consistently. Relative to the general population, athletes at this level are very high achievers – many will not think so because they fixate on Phase Three athletes.

You need some genetic gifts to support this level of training across a lifetime – it involves a lot of mileage! The gifts are not in terms of VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) rather, they are gifts of superior immune system function; excellent biomechanics and above average connective tissue durability.

Phase Three – Advanced Basic Week
If you want to achieve the absolute maximum out of your body then trying this phase makes sense. However, not everyone improves at this level of training, some people get slower and will optimize their athletic performance by sticking at Phase Two.

That last point is worth repeating. For every athlete, there is a point where additional training load will lead to reduced athletic performance. I know a number of excellent athletes that have failed to sustain early success when they “got serious” and upped training stress.

I also know a (very) few gifted freaks that can soak up training stress far, far above the normal population. These athletes do very well at ultradistance events.

The success of the training freaks skews what you think is reasonable.

Only a small minority of the population (perhaps only the gifted freaks) handle this level of training over the long term. Even the people that appear to handle the training… check back with them twenty years after their athletic peaks, there are a lot of knee surgeries and hip replacements that don’t make the headlines.

What we handle over the short term and what we handle over the long term are often different.

I used to believe that anyone could handle this level of training with enough rest, nutrition and recovery. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that capacity to absorb training is as personal as VO2max.

Most people can’t train like you think I train – even me.

Phase Management
Given the choice between maximizing annual fitness (short term) and quality/length of life (long term); it is natural to gravitate towards short-term payoffs.

By definition, it takes a long time to see a long term payoff. Over an eighteen-year career in finance, I have had two years of “harvest”. All the rest were “investment”. This doesn’t come naturally. Interestingly, in my two harvest years, people thought I was nuts.

Even if an athlete can handle a ton of Phase Three training, lifetime athletic performance will be optimized by mixing the three approaches. For most of my elite career, my mixing has been forced due to overtraining – likely not an optimal strategy!

Overtraining is what happens when an athlete’s quest for fitness strays too far from personal health. On Alternative Perspectives this week, we have Part Two of Clas’ experience with overtraining. Very few athletes take the time to write out their experience. It takes courage to share our self-destructive tendencies. As an 8:15 Ironman athlete, Clas has lived more athletic achievement than most of us will ever experience.

Dr. John Hellemans has been speedy in his 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I am going to be spending a fortnight with him (and the Kiwi elite team) in February. I have my mobile podcasting equipment with me and will be recording interviews for Endurance Corner Radio.

Rapid Progress
A desire for rapid progress is a by-product of our consumer culture.
Advertising and traditional media feed discontent with our self-image.
Acknowledging these influences is important.

When you are starting out, focus on what you can do – get moving for an hour every day. You are doing what it takes. That is enough.

If your athletics are flattening you with illness; stress fractures; secret binging; disrupted sleep; night sweats; persistent muscle soreness; mood swings; low energy; extended sleeps… then you are moving away from athletic performance and personal health. You are not on a path of personal excellence.

From within a cycle of over-reaching and fatigue – it is very difficult to see the pattern that we have created for ourselves. Beware of coaches, mentors and colleagues that stoke your self-destructive tendencies.

Beware of survivor bias – chronically injured and overtrained athletes disappear from our collective consciousness. Many highly motivated athletes fry themselves by focusing on what the surviving minority do.

I chose the quote above because Mark is one of the few older World Champions that I know who hasn’t had orthopedic surgery.

The quality of our lives (today) has very little to do with the achievements of yesterday.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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Basic Week Document

How To Avoid Over Training--Part One


This is a two part series from my buddy, Clas. He nuked himself more severely than any case than I have read about. He is sharing his experience so that you can learn from his year on the sidelines.

Over training is an occupational hazard for the highly motivated endurance athlete. In my opinion, elements of over training are an essential part of the process of elite ultraendurance performance. While deep overreaching is common, (and, at times, desirable), deep over training should always be avoided.

You'll miss your immune system when it is gone.

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Now, That most of us are starting to make plans for next year. This could be a good time to tell you a little about how to avoid over training and what I've learned from my experience. Many of us are high achievers and don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us when we are training and racing, or not even in “normal” life.

First, I will tell you a little about what I have experienced since my health started to be run down during the fall 2006. In the end I will give you ideas how to avoid over training, so if you are busy you can just skip part one and wait for part two, but I think we can all benefit from hearing what can happened if you push too far.

Before I got shingles 1.5 years ago I had never had any serious illness that had been caused by training to hard. Of course there has been several times where I've been very tired but, my body and mind had always been able to recover from whatever I had pushed myself through.

And so it did when I first got shingles, as so it seemed. I had been training very hard in New Zealand for 3 months including a killer Epic Camp and slowly got myself over the edge. I could feel I was getting more and more fatigued but I had Ironman Arizona coming up in about a month, so I kept pushing. I thought my body could make it a few more weeks before I started my taper, but 2 weeks before the race I got shingles again and I had to cancel the race to focus on getting healthy.

I had never heard about shingles but I got some tips from the great New Zealand Ironman athlete Joanna Lawn who had suffered from shingles a year or so earlier. She told me to take it very, very easy for some time to let the body heal itself, which I did, at least for a few weeks, I then started to feel better and slowly started training. After about a month I was back into my regular training routine and I felt pretty strong so I looked up some new races to do. I had set a new Swedish Ironman distance record at Quelle Challenge in Roth the year before so I though I should go back there and break my own record. I first needed a “warm up race”, and went to UK and to race a ½ IM that was 2 weeks before Roth. I then went to Roth and had a great race considering the warm conditions, which I don’t care for. I was able to break my own record and finished in a time of 8:15. I was very happy with my race in Roth and by now I had totally forgotten that I had just gotten over a pretty serious illness.

The week after Roth Kristy arrived in Sweden and she was getting ready for Ironman UK that was about 7 weeks after Roth. So without taking any real rest I started to join her on her sessions and after a few weeks I felt pretty good again and decided that I was going to race Ironman UK as well. Again, I would first need a “warm up” race so we went to Denmark and did a ½ Ironman that was 2 weeks before Ironman UK.

When I raced in Denmark, I could feel that I started to get pretty fatigued again. I had an okay race but my body felt like stopping the entire time. However, Just as I had done earlier in life, I didn’t listen what I body was telling me. I had an Ironman coming up and I was going to do that race even though I was a little tired. I was confident that everything would be okay once I started tapering for real.

I was able to recover a little before Ironman UK, but during race week I could feel that something was going on in my body. I felt more stressed then normal and had a hard time focusing on things. I had an Ironman coming up, so I tried to ignore these signals. Why listen to my body now when I had never done that before?

I started the race which went okay, but I never felt good. But, that’s the thing with Ironman, if you are just good enough and keep moving, you will have an okay finish. I finished 2nd overall and was happy about that. One thing I can say for sure is that if I had been 100 % healthy, I would have won.

I hadn’t more than finished the race before I started to get a cold and fever. I felt completely horrible for the next day and night. The night before we were going to fly back to Sweden I got the first symptoms that this was heading towards something much worse then just a cold. My chest started to get bumps, my stress level was at its maximum, and my head was spinning. I’m glad Kristy was there to calm me down and after a few hours I was able to relax and fall a sleep.

We then flew back to Sweden and a week later I started training for Silverman, the Ironman distance race located just outside Las Vegas. I was going to do that race as a relay with the other Swedish pro triathletes Jonas Colting and Björn Andersson. Jonas was going to swim, Björn the bike, and I was going to run the marathon.

Even if I have had these symptoms around Ironman UK I thought that just training for a marathon was going to be fine, I just needed to run a few hours every day. However, for about a month or so, I would train for a week, and then get a cold for a week, train for a week, sick for a week. After a few rounds of this I got a very bad throat infection and was put on a 10 day antibiotic cure. A few days into my treatment, my throat got better but now my body just went into some kind of hole. My mental energy went the same way, but I thought it might have been caused by the antibiotics. So, I just relaxed. It was nice to have an excuse for myself that it was okay to not be training.

When the treatment was over, I took a few more days off. Once I tried to get started again with some light training, my body would not respond. I took a few more days off, then tried again, but my body just didn’t want to get going. Phuuuuuu, I had a marathon coming up within a few months and needed to get going. I tried again but it didn’t work. As I’m sure you understand this ended up to be a very bad circle and I felt more and more stressed because I wasn't able to do the training I needed.

I finally got my act together and told Jonas and Björn that I just wasn’t going to make it to the race. There was a $100,000 reward to the first finishing team that also broke 8 hours. On this hilly course we thought that I would need to run close to 2:30 if we were going to finish in sub 8hrs. I wasn’t going to do that with a just few 20 min training runs that ended with me laying in bed for an hour trying to recover.

Now, I didn’t need to get in 2:30 marathon shape within the next month, which took a lot of pressure off me. Jonas and Björn were able to find a very good alternative for me, a retired Swedish pro triathlete that now had been focusing on just running for the last several years. I was very happy they found someone so I wouldn't feel like I had let the whole team down by pulling out.

I now could concentrate on getting myself healthy again. However, my energy levels didn’t get any better and my mental stress had just gotten worse. I went to the hospital and had all kinds of test done. I thought I must have some kind of serious infection or illness, but all the tests came back normal.

In the beginning of December 2006 I flew to San Francisco to spend some time with Kristy and to find someone that could help me build my health back. By now I had heard about something called chronic fatigued syndrome and read about over training. I seemed to have all the symptoms associated with this, which was sort of a relief. I now knew that I wasn’t suffering from something that was going to get treated just by taking a pill or two and that there wasn't much a regular doctor could do for me.

My body was very run down from all the hard physical training combined with all the mental stress. I felt as though I was not able to continue with my life as I had done for the last 10 years, or pretty much all my life. I have always lived a very active life, and now to think that I'm suffering from some kind of disease.

I knew that pro triathlete Matt Dixon had been suffering from deep over training a few years earlier and I had met Matt on some training rides in San Francisco. I contacted Matt and he helped me to get in touch with a doctor in the bay area that had helped him get his health back.

I've now been working with this Doctor, Dr. Morgan Camp, since February this year (2007). Dr. Camp makes sure that my body is getting everything it needs to heal with the aid of supplements and diet.

I wasn’t doing any exercise at all from January to June and couldn't even make it to the grocery store. My mind was all over the place. Throughout the Spring, my energy got better and better and in June, I went on my on a 10 min ride. My body responded pretty well ,so I slowly started to do some short, easy exercise gradually building a little each month all through July, August and September.

However, in late September, I could feel that I started to go downhill again and stopped training to give myself a little break again. Being at home and not training doesn’t really work either, so I went up to the local school where I worked as a sport teacher 5-6 years ago and asked if they needed some help.

I’m now working as an assistant and I found it pretty entertaining. I’m also taking a class in English so I can improve my grammar a little and I will continue to do this until Christmas. After this point in time I will then see where my health is and find the best place is to keep improving.

I wish I could travel to some exotic place and just focus on training but as long as my health is suspect I wouldn't be able to tolerate that much training. My mind like to keep busy so I think it would be a good idea to have a part time job, but we will see. I have learned that taking one day at a time is a pretty good way to take on life.

Only one thing is for sure in my life right now, that is, I will continue to do everything I can to come back to triathlon as soon but safe as possible. That sometimes means that I have to take a step away from the sport, putting less stress on my body and mind.

Before I move on with this article I want to say thanks to all the people who in some way helped or are helping me to get through this. I’m pretty sure that we all can learn something from this experience.

Stay tuned for part two.

Best Regards,
Clas
www.clasbjorling.com

Making the most of your Preparatory Period:

An hour a day keeps the Doctor away, three hours a day keeps Joe Bonness away :-)

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

Of all the phases of periodization, the General Preparatory period means many different things to many different coaches. For some, this period is merely an extension of the transition phase, a sort of “wait out the winter” phase without losing too much summer fitness. For others, generally those with experience coaching elites, it is recognized that the athlete’s ultimate performance ceiling is ultimately determined by the working potential that is built during the General Preparatory phase of training.

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that coaches and athletes make is running from one specific prep/competition phase into another, or worse still, hitting a hard 12 week specific prep phase, followed by a couple of races during the summer and then taking the winter off. It is worth repeating the point that the intensity and frequency of key sessions that you are able to tolerate in your specific preparation for a given event, is entirely determined by the working potential that you have built during the “off season”. As Lance Armstrong was fond of saying, THERE IS NO OFF-SEASON.

So, what does this mean in practical terms for the working athlete looking to fulfill his/her potential while taking into account the constraints of work, family etc. ? One word: Consistency. The primary objective of the General Prep phase should be to build and habituate a basic week that you can hit at least 8 weeks out of 10. I have found that the simpler this week is, the more likely the athlete is to hit it.

One Hour a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

For my novice athletes, I set a simple goal of 1hr of cardiovascular activity every morning before going to work. By placing this “big rock” in the jar (i.e. the day) first, we greatly increase the chance of it getting done. Also, there is some positive reinforcement to be had from being able to check the exercise goal off the To-Do list before starting a stressful work day. In short, this is a fantastic life habit to create. In my humble opinion, the 1hr a day of exercise coupled with a healthy diet are the bare minimal requirements for achieving and maintaining a good physique and (more importantly) good health. In my previous life as a personal trainer, it became very apparent that the willpower required to hit the caloric target that would enable my clients to lose fat while maintaining your typical sedentary, work-stress filled lifestyle is not maintainable long-term. An hour a day keeps the doctor away and it provides a great base level of fitness on which you can later add some key long sessions to specifically prepare for your first Ironman.

Two Hours a Day Keeps Half the Field Away

For the athlete looking to become more competitive, in the second or third year of training, the preparatory phase can graduate to a 2hr a day goal. I still encourage my athletes to get the bulk of the 2 hours done at the start of the day in one session. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, studies on fat oxidation have shown a big shift at the 90min-2hr mark. Therefore, athletes willing to make this commitment to a 2hr morning workout at least 5 days a week can see big shifts in body composition and substrate fitness in a relatively short time. Both of these changes have big implications on your Ironman performance. For most folks, with a busy, dare I say unorganized, life. 14hrs a week represents the top end of what they an hit on a week to week basis. Don’t get me wrong, 40x14hr weeks in a year will lead to a solid performance level – top end of your age group sort of thing. However, generally speaking, after 2 or 3 years of being a decent age-grouper most folks are getting a little frustrated at plateauing times and coming in 30th, 40th, 100th in your age group in the big races. It has been said that no one remember second place. If that is true, they sure as heck don’t remember 39th! Often, this frustration can lead to athletes looking to train more time-efficiently, in other words, crank up the training intensity on a ‘less is more’ approach. There are a bunch of frustrated 500yr hour athletes out there, going from coach to coach, year after year, looking for the ‘secret’ to push them up to the next level. The 'secret' is that the folks who are winning your age group, either currently, or at some time in their lives have made a commitment to put in consistent 20+hr weeks. Much of my job as a coach of athletes looking for that 'breakthrough performance’ is to put on my 'life coach hat'; identify priorities, carve out time in your schedule for the important stuff and learn to say no.

Make no mistake about it, if you are exercising more than 1 hour a day, you are doing it for reasons other than fitness. Cooper (the aerobic exercise training guru) pointed this out years ago and it holds true today. If you are in the sport of triathlon as a competitive athlete (as opposed to a fitness athlete) then put yourself in a position that enables you to compete!

Three hours a day keeps Joe Bonness away :-)

No guarantee on this one. Joe is a fantastic athlete, but the point holds true. There are people out there who lead very fulfilling balanced lives that are able to fit in 3hrs of training a day. It follows that until you match their training commitment, you won’t beat them! 3 hours a day? That’s crazy! Tell that to the tens of thousands of high school swimmers getting up at 4am every morning to hit the pool for a 2hr session, followed by a full school day and after school practice. Doesn’t this level of training affect their academic performance? Studies indicate the contrary. Doesn’t this make them tired through the day? Yep, so when they hit the sack at night, they don’t lie there in a perpetual state of insomnia thinking about all of the stresses of work/school….they sleep. If you truly want to lead a ‘balanced’ life, surely a part of that is balancing out some of the ever-increasing mental stress of your family and work life with some physical stress relief!

So, that’s it for the spiel. What does this mean in practice for the experienced athlete committed to a breakthrough season? Simple. Make 2-a-days a habit: Take a 30-45 minute jog when you get up in the morning, commute via bike to work and then commute home detouring by the pool/gym. At this point in the season, the intensity of the exercise is secondary to just getting it done. This means if you feel good, throw in a bit of steady-state training. If you feel like crud then make it an easy spin. As long as your heart rate is within 10 beats of your AeT, you’re golden. If you reach a point that your heart rate won’t go up, take a few days off – make that one of the 10 recovery weeks per year that you allot yourself. Have to go out of town for a weekly conference? Don’t stress yourself out trying to keep up with the routine in an environment you can’t control, schedule this week in advance as one of your recovery weeks. Simple, right? Easy, wrong! It’s very challenging in the beginning to train your support network to adjust to your new basic week. You have to get to bed earlier (no late night TV), you have to be more productive in the time you have at work, to get the essentials done, while ignoring the non-essentials – no wasted time on email etc. You need to train your boss to value your results at work rather than desk-time. You need to have open and frank discussions with your wife about your goals and the importance that triathlon holds in your life. For many folks, these are the greatest limiters to your athletic performance, not your VO2max, muscular endurance or speed skills. Rather, your life skills.

I guess I should end this with a couple of caveats:
#1 You don't go from being a 7hr/wk athlete to a 20hr/week athlete in a month. Recognize that the commitment to fulfilling your potential in endurance sports is a long-term game. If you maintain your current (aerobic) intensity, a 10%/month increase is challenging but achievable for most folks. This basically means that a 10hr athlete could progress to a 20hr athlete over the course of a year if they included no specific preparation/serious racing over that year. For most folks a 2-3 year 100% increase is more tolerable and gives you sufficient time to make changes in the rest of your life that will support your athletic goal.

#2 Every jump in your training volume must be matched with a jump in your recovery strategy. In my experience, you won't be able to sustain 20hrs/wk of training on less than 8-9hrs of sleep a night (bare minimum). Similarly, your commitment to nutrition quality and timing becomes exponentially more important with increased training volume.

#3 As a coach, it's not my job to determine your priorities. However, it is my job to point out to you when your life priorities and your athletic goals don't mesh. There will be times in your life that athletics will not be (& should not be) high on your priority list. E.g. starting a family, devoting 2-3 years to moving up the corporate ladder (to provide more free-time/financial independence in the future). In this case it is important to manage expectations. It is a lot easier to maintain your current level of racing performance (on similar or even diminished volume) than it is to have a 'breakthrough performance'. Keeping your training going at a fitness or maintenance level during these years is essential to your health, stress management & your long-term athletic goals. However, just as increasing intensity and volume at the same time is a recipe for disaster, increasing your commitment to 2 areas of your life at the same time is a sure-fire recipe for burn-out. Always keep the big picture in mind.

I hope I have conveyed, the importance of the General Preparatory period, on so many levels, as the foundation for your late season performance. Stay tuned for future articles on how your week will change as you move into the specific preparatory period. But for now….

Get it done.

Responsibility & Legacy


Alternative Perspectives is back with Part One of a two part series on over training.

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France
The media forms an essential counterbalance to those in power, certainly those in government. However, judging from my inbox, the reporting on the riots in Paris is probably being over-done (globally). We have been enjoying the symphony, the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The trouble is confined to the periphery.

That said... we did bump into a lawyer's strike yesterday at Place Vendome -- completely shut the neighborhood down! The French do appear to enjoy a good strike. Notwithstanding a little labour unrest, France is a fantastic place and we truly enjoyed ourselves.

As I hit the "publish" button on this piece, we're off to the airport to begin our journey to Hong Kong and onward to Australia. Next week I will be writing you from Noosa, Queensland.

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Responsibility
Two weeks ago, I sorted out my will. At its essence, I see a will as being about motivation. A reflection of how I motivate myself; how I seek to motivate those around me; and the impact that I will have on the motivation of future generations.

When I think back over my adult life, the person that I would have been most worried about inheriting capital is "myself". The shakiness of my personal motivation from 17 to 32, was hidden from everyone other than myself -- I have managed to get quite a bit done over the years but it easily could have gone far, far differently. A benevolent chunk of cash at just the 'right' time could have had seriously 'wrong' consequences.

Further, knowing that I wasn't solely reliant on my own resources would have reduced my desire, and need, to take care of myself.

Our ability to responsibly allocate capital is a direct result of our experience with learning how to accumulate it. It is challenging to teach prudent financial management to people that have never had to manage finances.

++++

A Valuable Legacy
I've been considering:
***What drives personal ethics?
***What drives self-worth?
***What drives the achievement of a life with meaning?

Ethics, self-worth and a life with meaning -- if I had to choose three things to wish for my kids then those are a good starting point. None of these points require a trust fund.

The most powerful success factors in my life have come from education, social networks and life experiences. A legacy with meaning is one that shares the lessons of my life.

What does this have to do with motivation?

***Achievement is linked to maximizing our capacity to work, then working.

***Self-worth is linked to favorable outcomes from work done ethically.

***Wealth is linked to favorable financial outcomes from capital invested wisely. True wealth is a function of personal freedom, not merely financial assets.

***Happiness correlates reasonably well to personal freedom -- especially, when that freedom is used for ethical work.

I haven't seen a direct correlation between wealth and personal ethics. Going further -- unearned wealth severely challenges both personal ethics and our sense of self-worth. I often ask myself what I did to deserve such a wonderful life and have tendencies to make my life more difficult (for no appreciable reason).

In our society, wealth provides a shield from being confronted by the effects of weak personal ethics. The frequency that we make poor choices is linked to our ability to tolerate poor outcomes. An example relevant to my early career, getting drunk and being unproductive at the office fails to be an option if our lack of productivity gets us fired. Inherent ability masks a lot of counterproductive behavior -- as Scott Molina notes... "you can justify an awful lot when you are winning".

Most of us will do the minimum to achieve our personal goals -- it is for this reason that challenging goals prove so useful for many of us.

My legacy?

Here's what I'm working towards:
***A clear example of the benefits of consistent ethical work over time;
***a useful library; and
***the authorship of one very useful book.

Off to the Southern Hemisphere,
gordo

Credit

It has been a fascinating week over here in Scotland. As I've been writing about athletics for the last few weeks, I will turn to a few finance oriented topics that may interest.

For most of us "credit conditions" lie invisible until we need a personal loan or a mortgage. However, in my various lines of work (private equity, finance, property development and asset management) we are nearly always in the credit markets. I had a very interesting conversation with a senior banker this week.

By way of background, we founded our Scottish property development business in 2005 and have been assembling property deals since the mid-90s. We are a material, but not massive, relationship for our bankers.

With property development transactions, our company makes money from the value of finished projects being more than the development cost. By way of example, if it costs $80,000 to build an apartment which is worth $88,000 on completion then the "capital uplift" is said to be 10%.

Financially, our business "works" for our shareholders because we are able to refinance their equity investment by borrowing against the "capital uplift" at completion. This lets the company move its share capital along to the next investment -- this drives our return on equity.

I spend most of our board meetings listening, thinking and taking minutes. It is good practice for my 2008 goal of listening more. None of what follows was explicitly said in the meeting, I simply noted it and will share some conclusions later in this letter.

Capital uplift (our company's profit margin) -- after two years of declining margins on new deals -- we were suddenly presented with a large opportunity (>$50 million) that had a projected capital uplift of 25%. The deal popped up because (we believe) the buyer was having financing trouble.

As part of our year-end review, our bankers asked us to provide them with additional comfort on our portfolio valuations (easy for us to do as we operate in a specific geography with transparent market pricing).

Our bankers mentioned that the syndication markets were closed. Debt syndication markets are how banks share and diversify risk for their largest loans. They noted that when the markets came back on-line only the best deals would be taken up. Valuation verification is an important step towards ensuring we will be at the front of the queue when the debt markets re-open.

As for new debt, we have heard from our bankers, as well as others in our sector, that new money will be tight for the next six months. That's a polite way of saying that many banks are presently closed for new business. It's not a case of asking for their money back, rather it is a case of not being in a position to fund new deals -- regardless of how attractive they look. I feel sorry for any business that is operating below par in this market.

Bankers are talking about balance sheet decisions, rather than investment decisions. There is a very clear focus on the balance sheet, rather than the quality of new business. Personally, I take this as an excellent development. In a challenging credit environment, we want to be with an institution that has a keen eye on its own balance sheet. The sooner a bank gets comfort on its own credit position, that faster it will be able to start lending again.

However, the fact that senior bankers are more focused on balance sheet strength than new business is a powerful statement in itself. The credit contraction that is happening in the major financial centers is not visible to Main Street at present. If your business (or your personal life) relies on new finance over the next twelve months then I would start the refinancing process early and make sure that you tick-the-box in every conceivable way. Once the credit markets re-open, lenders are going to choose the highest quality credits first.

The days of covenant-lite and non-doc loans are gone. For the better, too.

I attended a presentation from an executive that works at the Bank of Scotland's treasury department. He had many excellent slides and I've scanned three that are relevant to this letter (and my life).

Here's the first one. I noted the date that we bought our first flat in the UK. To say we had good timing is an understatement.
This next one shows the dislocation between base rate (set by the government) and LIBOR (what people like us actually pay for our loans). What killed some mortgage institutions is that they pay LIBOR but lend to their clients at base. This mismatch is highly costly when the markets move out-of-whack.
Those dotted lines show that the forward markets think that things will return to "normal". However, people are pretty jumpy and when I hear bankers noting that "liquidity and confidence are illusions" I fasten my seatbelt.

The last chart is a neat one that we certainly didn't realize at the time.
What I did on this one was draw in the point where we negotiated the initial portfolio of deals that formed our property development business. Once again, we were fortunate in our timing.

I don't have confidence in my ability to make predictions, however, I think that it is fair to say that the following are happening:

***a large credit contraction is underway in the UK and US (perhaps elsewhere, I can't really comment)

***a high degree of uncertainty (bordering on distrust) exists within the international banking community (reflected in interbank rates)

***due to the lag between liquidity and pricing; there is a dislocation between asset pricing and credit availability -- many sellers don't realize the lack of funding available their potential buyers

What does this mean?

From a business point of view, we are going to focus on keeping our credit providers informed and confident in our company. In this environment you want to make sure your capital providers know exactly what's happening in your business.

If your business, or your main customer, relies on credit, then you've likely seen the impact of the credit contraction already. However, if you are a few steps removed from the credit markets then you might not fully grasp what is heading our way. There are hundreds of billions of debt capacity being removed due to the equity write-offs within our financial system.

Over the next few months, keep a keen eye on accounts receivable as well as your key customers/distributors. If you have any clients who's demise would bury your firm then see if you can get credit insurance (it can be a cost effective way to reduce your exposure). In the early 90s, I watched a number of firms go down as credit tightened and the economy slowed. If you are conservative and cautious then you'll be able to navigate your way through. I have seen "services" recessions in Asia but never really witnessed them in Europe or the US.

From a personal point of view, I'm bearish on asset pricing, especially in the property markets. Liquidity is going to be highly valuable in 2008.

Sitting over here in Europe, the US offers outstanding value right now on a Purchasing Power Parity basis. It's crazy expensive over here in Europe. Seems like dollar-for-pound in the UK. My British friends talk about shopping trips to New York (a town that seems expensive to me). People are flying to New York for a weekend of Christmas shopping. If you are in the US then run the numbers on that same weekend to London or Paris!

Off to Paris next week -- we won't be doing much shopping and I hear that there is an excellent multi-day museum ticket.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers,
gordo

Setting up your training plan based on the athlete you should be

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

I recently had an interesting email exchange with a couple of buddies on the merits (& limits) of field testing. There are a number of training approaches that place a lot of faith in determining training zones and training prescriptions based on short duration field tests (CP30 on the bike, 1000m time trial in the pool etc.). As a coach, I think it is important that you are aware of the limits of using this approach to make training recommendations.

Let me throw in a quick case study of 2 athletes with similar CP60 values to illustrate my point.

2 guys:

CP60 = 275 watts (Heart Rate = 174)
CP60 = 262 watts (Heart Rate = 154)

One is me, the other is an athlete that I coach.

Even if we were to use these more moderate 60 minute values in place of the 30 minute test suggested in ‘Going Long’, following the %FT approach, these are the heart rate zones that we would come up with for each of our athletes:

Z1: <140 bpm <123
Z2: 140-153 bpm 123-136 bpm
Z3: 154-165 bpm 137-143 bpm
Z4: 165-174bpm 143-154 bpm

So, how do these numbers stack up in the real world?

First of all, from a training perspective. If we adhere to the general prescription from a number of training authorities out there that the bulk of the athlete’s training should take place in Zone 2, one of our athletes, (i.e. me) is in a world of trouble. Over the course of the past year, the most Zone 2 (as defined by this method) that I have been able to tolerate has been 3:40 of a 20:00 week (~18%). If I were to go out there and try and follow some well known coaches recommendations that suggest that 70% or more of the athlete’s week should be made up of Zone 2 training, my training week would be done by Tuesday and you’d find me flat out, staring at the ceiling by the middle of the week. On the other hand, my buddy regularly does 10hrs+ in what this method would define as his Zone 3!!

Now, from a race perspective, the typical pacing prescription for an intermediate Ironman is Zone 2 – 3. In, the real world, however, the longest that I have personally been able to hold the very bottom number in my 'Zone 2' is 7:14 (a long way from my IM finish time!!). On the flip side, my athlete is able to go 11hrs+ at the top of his Zone 2.

As to the ‘why’ we see this wide range in our athletes ability to tolerate a given % of their functional threshold heart rate or power, we have witnessed a good correlation between an athletes ability to hold long durations at a given % of their FT and a high ability to oxidize fat as a substrate at each respective %. In the example given, at the bottom of our Zone 2, I am burning about 120kcal/hr more carbohydrate than my athlete. Is it any wonder that I run out of it sooner??

However, from a practical perspective, the take home message is that the best way to set up your athlete’s ‘Ironman training zone’ is to use their actual average heart rate or power for an Ironman. Likewise, the best way to set their base (day in, day out) training heart rate is to use their actual average heart rate over the course of a standard training week.

The point is that the further your training prescriptions get from the actual intensity measured during a test, the more they are based on assumptions of what ‘should’ happen in the real world, and like most assumptions that we make, they are generally based on a ‘best possible’ scenario.

Before you use these assumptions to guide the future direction of your training plan, be sure to ask yourself whether they are valid for the athlete you are or if you are, instead, designing a program for the athlete that you should be.

The Aging Athlete


The man above is Ron Ottaway -- a very special guy.

In 2002, Ron broke the M65-69 Ironman Hawaii record with an 11:57. One catch... Marcos Alegre went 11:53 that day so Ron finished second. Imagine working your entire life to win, to be #1... then going out and breaking the course record... to finish second.

Ron worked five more years towards one single goal -- win Ironman Hawaii. A few weeks ago he went 13:05 (at 70 years old) and won his agegroup by over an hour.

I've been fortunate to advise Ron for the last six years. Ron's personal excellence has helped make me a better person. Ron was an outstanding athlete many years before we met -- my role is more of an objective cheerleader than a project manager.

Everyone that knows Ron has stories about him... one of my favorites is completing the Western States Endurance Run when he was 54. Another is sending me workout details before heading to the hospital to get stitches from falling off his bike -- I recommended that he get the stitches first next time.

Lest you think that he's one dimensional -- he worked full-time until this year and is a key part of a huge family (both older and younger than him).

What follows are lessons that we've learned together -- I've made some good calls and some poor calls over the years. The benefit of working with a world class athlete is that the bad recommendations get covered up by Ron's competitive spirit.

In 2003, I cost him a podium finish at World Champs -- he only made it on stage due to his strength of will. You can't train like a crazed 35 year old when you are 66. Ron stuck with me despite my errors.

This year, I was _right there_ when he took the lead at Mile One of the marathon. While I missed the Awards, I had a very warm feeling when I flew home from Kona this year. To play a part in another person's ultimate success is one of the "highs" of coaching.

While no coach can "succeed", an effective plan can be difference between success and failure. Together Ron and I have learned a lot over the years.

+++

Now that we've figured out (mostly) what works -- and more clearly, what doesn't work -- we tend to approach most years in a similar fashion. From Kona to the end of the year we don't talk to each other much. Ron has a 15+ year running streak so he runs each day. Some days just a short one but EVERY day.

In November/December, Ron does easy training. I provide support for going easy and resting -- it doesn't come naturally to a competitor at his level. Even when training "easy" Ron is doing around ten sessions per week (3-4 swims; 1-2 yoga; 0-2 spins; 7 runs; 1-2 strength). The guy is super consistent.

Ron swims and does strength training -- year round. While some sports scientists believe that strength training doesn't improve performance, you must remember that growing old is about retaining performance not improving it. Watching Ron, his "strength" work (sport specific and in the gym) appears to have had a beneficial effect on retaining bike power.

For most of the population, long term quality of life is about retaining mobility, much more than improving athletic fitness. One of the drags about growing old (for some) is their world slowly shrinks as favorite activities are given up.

Considering the mobility point, Ron started yoga five years ago and this improved his swimming and overall range of motion. If a 65 year old man can improve his flexibility (and therefore his swim times) then I really have no excuse. I've been slack on the flexibility work lately.

OK in terms of the lessons for most of us. That's it.

For high quality of life, long term, focus on:

Consistency -- little something every day
Flexibility -- retain your range of motion, especially if you are a runner
Strength Training -- hold onto lean body mass & retain strength to survive falls/accidents

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Starting in January Ron gets back to structured training -- the "advanced week" at the bottom of this note is the week that I use as his template. Ron does all the stuff in square brackets. There is very little change in the structure of the week. What changes is the overall focus of the sessions themselves. However, even that doesn't change a whole lot. We keep it really simple.

Taking each component:

Swimming -- keep the frequency high; long course as much as possible; watch that swim fatigue doesn't compromise other session quality.

Cycling -- build overall endurance; retain FT power; wide range of variable cadence main sets; and challenge maximal aerobic capacity in a biomechanically safe environment.

Running -- super consistent; wary of any small injuries that could reduce consistency; little bit of uphill running to tax aerobic system; very careful with overall run volume and intensity. Informed risks with volume, frequency and intensity.

Strength -- consistency trumps intensity // we go hard sometimes but only on leg press. Really watch the back with the squats due to flexibility limiters.

Flexibility -- yoga 2x per week; again watch back; helps with overall balance.

Biomechanics -- as you can tell from that photo // outstanding. Ron's built well for endurance. He has a smaller frame, good feet, compact running style and excellent ankle/knee/hip alignment. There is a low wear & tear "cost" to every mile that he runs -- and he has run a lot of miles.

Luck -- the unknown factor // in six years only minor soft tissue damage from his cycling accidents. To be fast in your 60s/70s/80s -- there is a component of fortune.

Mental -- the only 70 year old that can do Ron's program is Ron. The guy has more motivation than anyone that I've ever met. He passed out cold in the massage tent with his family around -- his daughter was super worried because he wanted the title so bad. Low blood pressure, thankfully. He was up and around in about an hour.

He's heading back next year to defend his title.

Ron's a winner at a very deep level.

++++

Some quick Qs on last week's posting.

Q1 -- Black Swan Book link?
A1 -- Find it HERE

Q2 -- Did I record my Personal Planning talk?
A2 -- Not yet. If your company, or club, wants to bring me in to give a talk then drop me a line.

Q3 -- You wrote: "it is easy for me to see that there is a risk that we neglect our larger potential when we seek our athletic potential". I've thought *very* similar things in the past when I was playing competitive golf at university (ie: 'do I pursue golf 100% or devote more to personal/academic/extracurricular pursuits?' I wonder if you could expand on your sentence a bit, and if you have any thoughts on how to "figure out" what is the best route to take?

A3 -- I asked Monica what she thought. She felt that pursuing my athletic potential had never impaired achieving my personal potential. Seeing as she is the most important person in my inner circle -- the only person, other than myself, to whom I have a covenant -- I suppose that's enough. However, there has been something more in my head.

I took her support to mean that she never feels neglected when I am living a life of personal excellence. However, what I was writing about was my internal view on my personal ultimate potential. Given that my self view is limited (to date I can always achieve more over 5-10 years than I see in the present); there was more to my pondering than, "am I being a good husband".

Ultimately, the question that I have been asking myself is what would I do if I "knew" that I would never again race Ironman in 8:29 -- or -- if my window to win Ironman Canada was permanently closed. Would I be OK with that? How would I want to live? The question is valid because at some stage, either I will win, or I won't win. Either way, "I" will be the same guy thereafter.

For now, I keep thinking and make daily choices that are consistent with keeping my options open.

g

PS -- the actions that clearly impair my personal potential have nothing to do with "what" I do and everything to do with "how" I do them.

=====

Here's the link to the Basic Week that I use with pretty much everyone that I advise. As you'll see, I don't add much value in terms of writing schedules and/or data entry.

Basic%20Week%20Structure.doc

Business Clinic Notes

The photo above contains more of "me" that most photos of me but, maybe, that's just the way I like to see it. You can pretend that I'm the candle...

"Keep in mind that your role with these athletes is, ultimately, to give them the confidence to stop."

-- Bobby McGee

I learned a lot this past weekend at the Business of Coaching Clinic. That quote above was a salient reminder that often we have the greatest positive impact on clients by giving them the confidence to chose a more positive path than the one that they are on.

Over the last fourteen years, I have used endurance athletics to avoid dealing with important issues in my life.

Some of my greatest successes as an adviser have been helping clients choose an alternative path for their lives.

+++

Bobby challenged us to pick one thing from the clinic and apply it on Monday, noting that "people that go to conferences often collect information without applying it". The same applies with self-help books -- Mike Ricci noted that the most successful people that he sees are the ones that manage to apply 5% of the good ideas they come up with.

What did I apply? I decided to apply Mike's advice about considering, specifically, to whom your company is selling.

Since last year, the target Endurance Corner customer has been shifting in my thinking. This week, I sat down with Alan/Mat and we reviewed what everyone _really_ likes to do. As the lead adviser to the business, I thought about what I really don't like to do as well as what I do best.

We're still working on it but we've made a decision that we are going to be about selling value-added advice, and services, that are a product of our unique mix of skills (strong technical knowledge mixed with very deep real-world experience and access to the best minds/protocols/facilities in our sport).

Running a coaching business... other people (such as D3, CPC, CF, CTS, Ultrafit, VQ...) are able to do that better than us -- so we'll focus on supporting them, and their athletes, and their potential customers.

We will do a limited amount coaching to make sure that we remain practical in our application of our experience and continue to learn. It's essential that we walk-the-walk and follow our own best protocols.

That's a start.

+++

There was a lot of talk about "what coaching clients buy." Many thought that clients are buying "results." While clients are attracted to results, what I see is people buying...

...access to excellence (exemplified by the coach);
...compassion, listening, understanding (our society subtly tells many people that they have no worth);
...camaraderie (social networking, teams, community, sense of belonging);
...time management assistance (established high performers); and/or
...life skills assistance (young high performers).

Coaching is as an aspirational purchase for many people -- if you aim to position your self (your firm) at the top end of the market then you must ensure that your personal positioning is consistent with your target market.

Why do former Marines make excellent coaches? They have been trained in excellence -- it becomes who they are and apparent to their customers -- honor, ethics, excellence.

As Bobby said, you don't need to be an excellent athlete relative to others -- you need to be an excellent person relative to yourself.

+++

Mike challenged us to consider our differentiation as well as the areas where we can be world-leaders.

Two areas came to mind for me:
#1 -- personal transformations using athletics as a catalyst; and
#2 -- critical success factors for ultraendurance athletic competition, specifically Ironman triathlon.

+++

In listening to Mike, I wondered how many of us spend our time on what the client truly values.

Do we know what our clients most value?

How often do I make myself more busy, rather than more successful? Early in my coaching career the answer was... most of the time.

Bobby/Mike/me -- we acknowledged that every single thing that we do reflects on our brand, ourselves, our company -- every single act is a form of marketing.

We also shared our experience that we under-valued ourselves early in our careers. Bobby encouraged us to make the case that ours is a legitimate profession.

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Linda mentioned that we have 100,000 USAT members // with the correct business structure, a market share of 0.01% is enough to provide most coaches with a satisfactory income. This is a wide open industry. Even the established players have small market shares with clients that are easily persuaded to change.

Mike commented that one of his advisors cautioned against being in a non-scalable business... I highly recommend a copy of The Black Swan to that adviser.

Donovan noted that there are over 1,000 coaches on TrainingPeaks. What that tells me is that running, cycling and triathlon coaching are rapidly growing industries with highly fragmented and inexperienced competition -- ripe for standardization and consolidation // This is an opportunity for someone else -- we have made a strategic decision not to attempt to sort the market out.

There is tremendous value in the coach (or company) that creates a system for generating referrals and client inquiries. There is also value added in the coach (or company) that structures appropriate contracts, payment terms, legal protections and administrative assistance. But... how do you control quality? how do you retain your best performers?

The coaching industry will become more professional -- I expect that companies like TrainingPeaks will grow ever more sophisticated each year. The bottom end of the market will access their systems via web/iPhone. The top end of the market (companies like D3) will sell value-added services that go far beyond building training plans. The (current) middle market will get squeezed.

The key financial metric (to me) is revenue per relationship. This is different than "per client" -- you could have a low revenue client that generates a ton of referral and associate business. That is a high value relationship -- look beyond the dollars when you assess the key people in your network. Also look to the non-monetary benefits that accrue when you take on an assignment.

+++

Bobby challenged us to consider what we want to leave as our coaching legacy. The normal way to do this is to do an exercise where we write down our eulogy.

I don't need to pretend that I am dying to be honest with myself (although it does help). Daily, I consider my legacy as a person up to this point -- my flaws and failings providing fertile ground for self-improvement!

Some explicit tips that I wrote down from Bobby's presentation:
***Do graduate work after you have direct experience in your field;
***Teach kids to learn how to teach anyone;
***Leadership trumps protocol;
***Take formal instruction on your greatest limiters;
***Work only with people that you trust;
***Focus on what you do best;
***Develop passive streams of income;

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Bobby noted that he's not sure that training protocol makes much of a difference for Ironman triathlon -- he did this by contrasting with marathoning. Molina/Hellemans have said, essentially, a similar thing.

As a coach (or successful athlete)... if you think that your training protocol is essential for success remember that you are extremely biased by two effects:

(a) survivor bias -- you survived it; and

(b) silent evidence -- we are (mostly) unaware of the athletes that the protocol destroyed along the way.

More on the way we fool ourselves with "evidence" in The Black Swan.

Boil it down...
Talent, motivation, opportunity, direction -- those come from Daniels.
A ton of training -- that comes from Lydiard.

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One of the last talks of the weekend was my presentation on Personal Planning. I love giving this talk to groups of people and had been looking forward to giving the talk for WEEKS.

It is my favorite topic in the world because I passionately believe in the method that I have developed over the years.

I need to constantly work on my #1 point for 2008 which is listening. In the Q&A, I really struggled to shut myself up enough for us to learn from the other panelists.

During my planning presentation... I was in full flow -- really fired up...

I gave myself the mental combination of contrasting my love for Monica and the disappointment of failing to win IMC. What wasn't apparent, or explained, was the link between IMC and an expression of our love for each other.

Monica gave me total dedication this past year so that I could give 100% towards my goal. IMC is the only thing in my entire life that I have _truly_ worked towards yet failed to achieve (most my other successes are due to a combination of chance and natural ability).

I was wide open and had to pause because I was about to meltdown in front of 40 people (!)... it was a "good room" and they got me back on track. However, it took me days to 'recover' from being that open. Powerful stuff.

Monica likes to tease her Dad because he is known to get fired up; blow his circuit breakers; and cry -- all the while being wide open to the person he's talking with.

She may have married the same sort of guy...

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Files for Endurance Corner Radio

Alan's Talk on Zones -- Part One is on Alan's Blog -- Part Two is the PDF below, look at Page One of the scan... that is how many ways there are to say the same thing... just on Alan's desk!
alan_prez_pt2.pdf

Will's Talk on Training -- his test results and my recent lactate test.
will_bike_11_07.pdf
gb_runlactate_nov_07.pdf

Interpreting Lactate Curves (Coaches Presentation)

The following posts are from a presentation that we prepared for the USAT coaching clinic. You will find an accompanying podcast at http://endurancecorner.libsyn.com
Part I: Critical Markers
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES

* Objectives
- Show coaches how to use lactate testing to better individualize training prescriptions

* What is Lactate
- By-product of glycolysis (carbohydrate metabolism)

* What does an elevation in blood lactate signify?
- Greater dependence on glycolysis for energy production
- Reduced ability to clear the lactate being produced

* Critical Markers on the lactate curve
- 3 fiber types
- Slow Oxidative (SO)
- Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG)
- Fast Glycolytic

- 3 Critical Markers on the Lactate Curve
- AeT
- LT1/VT1
- LT2/VT2/FT

* AeT (Aerobic Threshold)
- A shift in fiber recruitment from SO to FOG (McLellan and Skinner, 1980)
- First deepening of breath (breathing through mouth)
- First uptick on the lactate curve
- HR ~ 30-50BBM relative to fitness (Hellemans, 1999; Sweetenham, 2001)
- Generally occurs at 35-60% VO2max/50-70% vVO2max (Martin, 1997)- Higher values possible in elite Ironman athletes

* LT1/VT1 (“Lactate Threshold”)
- A fiber recruitment shift from FOG to FG (Hagberg & Coyle, 1984)
- Notable increase in expiratory stimulus (i.e. breathing becomes loud)
- Heart Rate ~20-40BBM depending on fitness (Hellemans, 1998)
- Heart Rate ~8-15BBM below VT2 (Dave Scott)
- 79-89% vVO2max for elite athletes (Padilla et al, 1999)
- ~ 1mmol above mean baseline values (Hagberg & Coyle, 1984,
USOC protocol)

* LT2/VT2 (“Functional Threshold”/ “OBLA”)

- The point at which the SO fibers, liver and heart can no longer metabolize/oxidize the lactic acid being produced by the FG fibers.
- Notable increase in rate of expiration as ventilation can no longer keep up with the need for CO2 removal (“Panting”)
- HR ~10-30BBM relative to fitness (Hellemans, 1998)
- Elite values typically 80-90% VO2max/85-95% vVO2max (Martin, 1997)
- This is a “functional threshold” because the athlete’s ability to accumulate training time above this threshold is severely diminished when compared to tolerance to training just below this threshold.
- Methods of assessing from Lactate Curve
· Clear deflection point
· Modified DMax (AIS, 1987)

Stay tuned for an accompanying article on using these critical markers to set training zones.