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
* What is Lactate
* What does an elevation in blood lactate signify?
* Critical Markers on the lactate curve
- 3 Critical Markers on the Lactate Curve
* AeT (Aerobic Threshold)
* 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,
* 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.
Stay tuned for an accompanying article on using these critical markers to set training zones.
I had a T-Rex in my kitchen this past Halloween... Mat went to CostCo and bought 300 pieces of candy and 30 "full bars" (for special costumes). We live in a cul-de-sac and hardly any kids came! Dave had sixty kids over to his place and he was giving away breath mints... next year, I am going to ramp up my marketing.
As a personal reminder... we did quarterly evaluations this week at Endurance Corner. It was recommended that I work on three things:
(a) remember that my mood has a direct impact on the team's productivity (the leader needs to lead);
(b) reduce interruptions when the lads are working on tasks that require sustained thought; and
(c) when I start to focus on being "right" rather than my objective... stop talking and take a break.
My dad describes a blog as… “a collection of ideas, given away for free, that you would normally spend more time developing and seek publication”. I suppose that is a polite way of saying that these letters read a little choppy sometimes.
I am going to share some ideas that came out of the Endurance Corner advisory meeting last weekend as well as recent discussions that I’ve had with some very smart people. We’ll see how this turns out – lots of snippets, hopefully, they make sense.
Before we kick off, Robbie Ventura is going to drop into the last four days of our April Tucson camp. As you may have heard on IronmanTalk, he is preparing to race Ironman
The March camp will be set-up to fit with athletes preparing for IM Arizona as well as those looking to jump start early season fitness.
A few months ago, I asked a friend if he thought that he was operating at his maximum potential. I have been thinking about that question as it relates to my own life. In reading Dead Certain, I was struck by the thought that President Bush has certainly achieved close to his personal potential. Quite separate from his popularity, the man has achieved close to his maximum potential. It is an interesting case study that has me looking inwards.
In my mulling over of this topic, I see a distinction from achieving greatness and achieving honor. A great person need not be honorable – and an honorable person need not be great.
When I speak with my grandmother, I note that she takes comfort in doing her best to have chosen an honorable path. I haven’t had honest conversations with any people that achieved greatness without honor – I imagine that their later years are filled with regret. Something for all of us to consider when we are tempted by the easy way. For this reason alone, be wary of situations (and people) that tempt you to cut corners.
I am kicking all this around because I know that my potential as a “person” is far greater than my potential as an athlete. I sense that when I seek one, I let go of the other. I was talking about this point with Graham Fraser – a guy that has witnessed his share of holding on, and letting go. He didn’t offer any specifics, merely the catalyst of placing the thought on my radar screen.
Why this is so interesting to me is that it is easy for me to see that there is a risk that we neglect our larger potential when we seek our athletic potential. Monica thinks that I do a pretty good job of balancing things – however – that’s because she is on-my-list when I’m hitting triathlon hard.
Still thinking that over while I consider a business opportunity that offers me the chance to do something “great”. When business deals look very attractive, history tells me that I am probably tired.
I have been talking with a few business owners about ownership. The same topics keep repeating:
***Equity ownership should only be shared with people that provide capital essential for business growth – human capital counts, probably more than any other type.
***My preference is to share equity capital with individuals that are essential to the development of the goals of the business founder and increase both the size, and likelihood, of success.
***Within the management team, my preference is to share equity capital with individuals that are fit for leadership. Does someone improve the CEO’s ability to lead and improve the quality of that leadership?
***I’m not keen on 50:50 partnerships as someone needs to be in charge and contributions are never equal. In that situation, I prefer 67:33. This is a neat number as: (a) the two founders can sell 24% of new equity to a third partner; (b) the founders can still control 76% of the company, post issue; (c) the smaller founder retains a veto over special resolutions that require 75% approval; and (d) the larger founder controls >50% of the equity, post issue.
***If you create a business that is a wild success then you should not feel obligated to deal out a stack of money to everyone around you – you’ll screw them up and you have done plenty for your team by creating the business. Even more likely is that you are best person around to allocate and manage capital. During your lifetime, consider if you dilute the power of your money to do “good” by spreading it into the public at large. After your lifetime is a topic for another time – I have an article in my head about inheritance and motivation.
***Remember that equity and bonuses are most appreciated at the time of allocation. Frequent cash incentives are much more appreciated than single long-term allotments.
***If you are the founder of a small business then consider who is truly necessary for the business to operate. When you stand back and take an honest look – you often see that you are the only person holding things together. In that case, it doesn’t make sense to deal people in as shareholders.
***People that increase your personal freedom; require limited management; and work towards your goals – are highly valuable. Do what it takes to retain them – frequent cash incentives based on their performance and skills in managing other people – that is what I prefer.
***Ideally, the individual that is most fit for leadership should control the equity capital of the firm. If you are the founder, and best decision maker, then be wary of diluting your ability to steer the direction of the firm – far easier to place key employees on generous profit sharing. If you are in a human capital intensive business then this doesn’t always work. Still, try to keep control vested in a small group of individuals – the best partnerships are run by a core group of senior partners.
***As a counterweight to the above point, if you have the ability to greatly improve the value of a firm and/or increase the likelihood of success… then be sure to negotiate a deal that rewards you for the value you create. There is often a balance between paying your dues and achieving market value for your services. The best and brightest can be underpaid until they test their market value – be very polite to your senior partners if you plan on playing this game. If you over-estimate your market value then you are exposed to having your bluff called.
***Always remember that bigger isn’t better and that you’ll cut your best deals when you are willing to lose them. Keep a steady focus on what you want from your business. It is very easy to get caught up in growth, for growth’s sake.
***Always consider if a new opportunity will give you more satisfaction – or merely more work. Know your personal goals and seek to align them with your work goals.
Two final thoughts:
1 – always be willing to make a little less money to maintain high personal standards
2 – remember that your most important brand is yourself – invest in that brand
Files referenced on Endurance Corner Radio
I will share my thoughts on his operation when I give my talk on coaching business models at the November Coaches Clinic. It was a fun weekend observing a successful businessman (and business) up close. It's impressive what the Vision Quest team have built. I've nicknamed the CEO... "Hurricane Robbie".
Thanks to Jim Sauls, you will find more velodrome photos HERE.
Once I get the data I'll pass it along to Planet-X for them to post up. You can read my 2008 plan over there now.
The island is an extreme place and the thought of racing here again is frightening for me. The only other course that generates a similar level of anxiety is Lake Placid. What these courses share is the fact that any pacing errors will be punished. In Kona, you get punished both severely and publicly. Of course, learning to cope with that is a useful skill, even if you never really ‘overcome’ a situation.
Non-technical readers may wish to skip ahead...
12/3s – typically, I do these as 15 minute continuous cycles of 12 min steady then 3 min mod-hard. Bob Korock was nice enough to share one that he uses that is done as 12 min mod-hard (Half IM avg watts) then 3 min easy. This is specific preparation workout, rather than general endurance. Most people would see the Tempo 12s as superior to the Steady 12s. That depends on your needs and the time of the season. Even in Kona, steady state stamina and a superior endurance physiology at the metabolic level are fundamental limiters that I see in the field.
For a few years I’ve suspected that certain strong (and large) athletes have the aerobic capacity to perform at a work rate that exceeds their metabolic capacity. Put another way, the athlete’s fitness across an event duration exceeds their capacity for fueling. Post race analysis of power/pace data shows that the athlete “should have” been able to tolerate the efforts.
Watching, and talking to, athletes in Kona – it appears that there is a risk that we spend too much time developing our threshold performance and neglect to maximize our metabolic efficiency both in terms of output and input. I have seen some speedy Ironman performances done off the back of throwing a ton of volume at an athlete. I wonder about the stickiness of training that maximizes the ability to process carbs and oxidize fat. I also expect that there are genetic, nutritional and training factors that influence these limiters to performance.
The persistence of metabolic efficiency adaptations is an important consideration because it might explain why I’ve done some ripping IMs fatigued with sub-optimal threshold training/performance. Perhaps I maximized my real constraint which is metabolic in nature. We’ve got a lot to learn about what’s really happening in 8-17 hour events. Robbie talked about RAAM-pace // the speed that results from your maximal rate of glycogen synthesis. After two days all RAAM athletes are running on empty -- we have seen RAAM speed in athletes that tried to lose weight at Epic Camp. In ironman terms I call it POLAR (Pace Of LAst Resort).
Anyhow, my second workout tip for you is one that Joe Friel shared with me. The mainset is a doozey… four hours at goal IM wattage within a race simulation workout that is done on a flat course. If you get more than a 5% heart rate deviation (at the end) from the steady-state heart rate achieve (in the middle) then you are either… (a) aiming too high in terms of wattage; or (b) lack the ‘depth’ of fitness required. Either way, you must lower your wattage target. I think that this is an excellent session because (if you use the data) you greatly increase your probability of running well.
FYI, these sessions are late-season workouts. I won’t be trying them anytime soon.
She’s teaching straight-arm recovery, too avoid crisscross and overshooting on entry she instructs outside edge of hand entry (I tend to go pinky).
In starting the stroke, engage the outside edge of the hand and the base of the palm, rather than fingertips. This should engage the lat rather than firing just the deltoid.
I’m a deltoid dominant swimmer and felt the difference immediately.
In a few years, we will see guys like Ken Glah and Greg Fraine racing in the 50+ category. It will be fun to see what’s possible. As for me... I don't plan on denying you the chance to take me down in my 40s... ;-)
I received a great quote from Jo Lawn right after the race… “to win here you can’t have a bad _minute_ let alone bad day. The girls are going for it the whole way”.
Even if the fields are getting more competitive, there remains a lot of room for performance through superior pacing. Powermeters are going to become standard for most athletes -- as a coach, you need to be building your experience with power. There are a lot of smart people sharing tips on maximizing Ironman performance (2peak.com's ideas on power output bike vs. run). The sports scientists are catching up on what really drives IM performance.
Less than 5% of the athletes I watched climbing Palani used their powermeters. That’s a lot of ammo to use in the first twenty miles of the bike. I'm speaking from recent personal experience here... you gotta trust me!
I’ve been fortunate to work with Ron Ottaway (winner of the 70-74 agegroup) for the last six years. I will share my thoughts on The Aging Athlete in an up-coming letter. For what it’s worth, Ron was fast when he came to me (five times on stage in Kona). However, he did win his agegroup by over an hour so I feel qualified to comment on what works (at least for him).
Ron was 20-minutes down at Hawi and started the run right beside 1st place (probably his best bike pacing, ever, in an Ironman). I’m looking forward to reviewing his power file. The challenges that face the ageing (speedy) athlete are unique as hanging onto developed fitness is a lot easier than building it up.
The fastest elite times may be similar to what Mark and Dave put up but the depth of the field is greatly increasing. Track the Top 10/20/30 (M/F) overall times to prove it to yourself. Top Ten used to be a reasonable dream for me... now I'm not so sure!
Most people that do run camps target an average pace/intensity FAR too high. This time of year I am running 8-9 min per mile with my heart rate <145 style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES
Part II: Case Studies
In the short time since I wrote the first post on VO2 testing, we have done a substantial number of tests on athletes of a wide range of abilities. I will present some of the (anonymous) data here to provide you with some concrete ideas on the levels of pure power and substrate efficiency required for different performance levels and hopefully to provide you with the impetus to plan a trip to Boulder to get tested and see how you stack up!
First, let me present the curves (enlarge in 'paint' to view) and then I will chat about some of the distinguishing features that we have observed between these athletes of differing abilities.
* Fat Burning
Careful observation of the curves will show that the big differences lie in the blue shaded area. In short, based on the athletes we have seen, the faster the guy, the more fat they burn at and around AeT and the longer they keep burning fat. In the case of the 9hr guy pictured, he has a peak fat oxidation rate of ~8kcal/min and holds a fat oxidation rate of ~5kcal/min all the way up to VT1 (or ~Half Ironman efforts). This pattern has been consistent across all of the faster guys that we have tested so far and is supported by the literature, e.g. Jeukendrup et al. (1997), who found fat oxidation rates of 5.6kcal/min in trained cyclists (mean VO2max = 67ml/kg/min) vs. 3.4kcal/min in untrained college males (mean VO2max = 48ml/kg/min) while pedalling at ~60% VO2max.
*Aerobic Threshold (AeT):
When I pull the data from the 3 athletes above, the point that best correlates with their actual Ironman intensity is a point of ~10kcal of CHO oxidation on the substrate curve. For athlete A, this is 74% of VO2 max (240 watts). For athlete B, this is 71% of VO2max (202 watts) and for athlete C, this is 59% of VO2max (175 watts). This makes logical sense, since Ironman is fundamentally an exercise of carbohydrate sparing. Additionally, it makes mathematical sense when we look at the substrate shift over long duration exercise:
If we assume a peak glycogen storage of ~2000kcal in muscle stores and a maximal exogenous CHO oxidation rate of 4kcal, an endogenous CHO oxidation rate of 6kcal/min would only last 5hrs 33minutes. At first glance, it appears that even at these relatively low levels of intensity, the Ironman is a metabolic impossibility. However, studies by Costill, (1970) and Bosch et al (1993) along with test on our own resident guinea pig, Gordo Byrn, have shown typical RER changes of 0.1 or more as we get 2hrs+ into metabolic testing and substrate shifts of 30% or more towards contribution from fat. This means that for a well trained athlete, we would expect CHO oxidation to almost half as they get 2hrs or more into the race. In practical terms, this means that our 5hrs 33mins demolition time, could almost double to 11hrs, and for a decent athlete becomes within the realm of possibility for an Ironman distance. As this calculation (and his race heart rate data) suggest, this 10kcal/min point isn’t going to work for a 12+hr Ironman.
*VT1 (“Lactate Threshold”)
VT1 values for elite athletes vary between 74-83% of VO2max (Padilla et al, 1999). Athlete 3 may have some room for improvement here, but in relative terms, he is still not too far behind the other guys (or outside normative values) in this measure of performance.
One other interesting observation, when we look at the VT1 point is the breakdown in substrates at that point. For all athletes, VT1 represents the point where there is a rapid drop off in fat burning and a rapid increase in CHO utilization. However, a trend that we are witnessing for our better athletes is an ability to hold their fat oxidation rates pretty well up to this point. This may represent a potential area of improvement for our 10:50 guy.
*VT2 (“Functional Threshold”/ "OBLA”)
Again, all of our athletes do well in this respect. There appears to be a trend that the faster athletes have the higher VT2. However, all athletes are within elite parameters for VT2, yet only one of our athletes would be considered elite from an Ironman perspective.
We could be onto something interesting with these differences in fat oxidative capacity, especially at likely race intensities. I will keep updating as we learn more.
References available upon request.
For further information on discovering your own personal limiters via testing at our Boulder Sports Performance Lab, contact me at email@example.com
I was in Kona last week and the artist of the above print (Mike Field) took me out on his sailing canoe. Heck of a good time.
Running the fuel test in tandem with the lactate test is very interesting (to me at least). In some athletes we are seeing material divergence between their lactate profile (AeT/FT) and their met-cart profile (AeT/VT1/FT). Often times the lactate test indicates that the athlete ought to be training more intensely than the fuel test. The fuel test has given us an insight into why using top end performance to determine endurance training zones is prone to error. We'd kill Alan if we used a 20 min max effort test to set his endurance zones on the bike -- he can really rip when there's plenty of glycogen available. I'm sure that he'll write more after we arm him with a bit more data. For what it's worth, this is where in-the-field experience is invaluable -- the testing provided us with a metabolic reason for him being so whipped all the time.
Given that nearly every athlete wants to know the pace/power/intensity at which their fat burning is maximized we're putting together a progressive test to determine that point for recreational athletes. My sister-in-law runs daily on her treadmill so she's the perfect candidate to test our protocol. In an up-coming letter I will share ideas on burning more fat, and storing less.
Visiting various labs and speaking with a range of PhDs, it is surprising to us that every lab (and just about every sports scientist) has a unique protocol for VO2 max testing. We've arrived at our own consensus and will be running it past a few personal contacts. A few more weeks and we will publish where we ended up. Seems that there is a fair amount of "art" in the testing science.
Drop mat "at" endurancecorner.com a line if you are interested in some testing.
I stumbled into Private Equity in 1990 -- I was hand-trained by a founder of the British venture capital industry (Jon Moulton). I think that Jon would say that the article I linked up is reasonable -- the amount of cash that flows into all segments of the finance industry is unbelievable. Many of the players within the game believe that they actually deserve it, others stay quiet and earn their money below the radar. Jon comes out and says what many of us have been thinking for years.
Jon plays a game at which he is a world-class player -- it's fun to do things when you are better than most your competition. I think that he's the only person in the world that's built two leading private equity firms from scratch. He makes a lot of money but could make even more if he felt like pushing things. His business serves his desire to work with great people and play the game -- financially, he's had more than he needed for the last twenty years.
He knows a lot lot about money and I hope that he sits down and writes out his thoughts one day -- that's a book I'd love to help write. We have access to Warren Buffet's annual reports but there's a ton of great stuff that's scattered amongst the memories of Jon's employees, partners and managers.
Here's a bit on how I met him... against the advice of the senior partner that interviewed me, Jon decided to hire me straight out of university. These days, nobody really gets that chance -- the industry players are, for the most part, established players and it is VERY tough to get a seat at the golden table.
Back in 1990, I was cheap, graduated with first-class honors (Econ/Finance) and Jon knew my Dad. The first two points were a key part of his buying decision -- Jon likes to hire smart people. He figures that if you can score well at a good school then you should be "useful for something". Knowing my Dad limited his downside because he could recoup his investment via satire.
From the early days, I was fortunate in that he found most of my flaws entertaining (there were many). Jon likes to be entertained. His wit is so fast that it took me six months until I was able to understand what he was saying. His partners used to translate for me and, even today, I probably miss many of his jokes. He's operating at a pretty high level.
My starting pay was less than the cleaners and my desk was the only one in the firm that Jon could see from his own. That made for interesting times as he would lean forward and shout "Byrn! Heel!" when he had a task for me. I'd drop everything and come running. Whenever I was given a task by Jon, I'd work non-stop until it was done. One management team nicknamed me "the rottweiler", I had a lot to learn about people skills.
Jon's done more for diversity in the financial services industry than any other person I've met in my career -- I'm surprised that no one ever talks about that. Hand ups, rather than handouts. To see this, you would need to look to the man's actions rather than his words -- Jon would probably tell you that he only hires the best people and doesn't give a stuff about backgrounds. That's true but doesn't explain the texture of most of his competitors.
I worked in London at a time when capital under management was benefiting from rapid portfolio growth and a shift in asset allocation. We knew that the industry fundamentals were good but we failed to grasp just how fast our world was changing. We were lucky to have some very bright Harvard MBAs on the team that provided strategic background -- Jon was at his best adding value to the firm by doing good deals, rather than strategic oversight.
The American players were the Big Boys (with their private jets and stretch limos) but we held our own in terms of net returns. The concepts of portfolio management and net returns were in their infancy. I was one of the first people to build a full-fledged model of a private equity fund, Jon's idea, not mine! Because our returns were great, we were in a position to educate our investors without risking our P&L, rare in financial services!
Another great idea Jon had was to calculate the equity IRR from doing a buy-out of the FTSE index and rolling all interest (after dividends) for five years. He loved it when my calculation (looking back five years) showed an equity IRR of 30% per annum. This was 1992 and the parallels to today's hedge fund industry are clear -- making money from leverage rather than sound investment judgment.
I worked internationally, first in London then in Hong Kong. When I'd plateaued in terms of personal development, I headed out on my own and have been involved in founding start-ups since then (property investment, property development, consulting, human performance, tourism).
Operations aren't my forte. As you might guess from reading my stuff -- what I do best is take a range of ideas; assemble them in the language of finance; and structure a deal/company so that good people get involved in supporting the plan. I do the easy bit -- the people that execute daily do the tough stuff.
As I emphasize to Alan and Mat, make the most of your learning opportunities. Boulder, 2007, human performance, alongside an experienced coach/investor/athlete. I didn't realize how unique my situation was until years after working for Jon.
Similar to my piece on the future of the coaching industry; I have a piece in my head on the future of Human Performance consulting. I'll write that up because there is an opportunity to create a world-class business in Boulder and I need help with the day-to-day.
My decision to seek to maximize my athletic potential in 2000 was an outstanding life decision -- in a sense, I saved my life. However, the financial benefits that one forgoes in following an athletic path are material. Nobody (coaches, athletes, race directors) goes into triathlon for the money.
If you think that you are too "poor" to afford health insurance then I recommend that you reconsider. I have many friends in our sport that have sustained medical bills in excess of $10,000 within the last five years. The highest that I know about is more than $100,000. If something happens to you then it's going to be pretty major -- a high deductible insurance policy costs very little relative to the financial impact of most cycling accidents (Alan/Mat pay ~$150 per month for a PPO plan that includes dental).
Taking $2,500 or $5,000 on the chin is nothing compared to a six figure bill landing in your lap. For my family, I self-insure the small to moderate stuff with a gold standard plan that backs me up for anything major.
When deciding what constitutes major; consider it as a percentage of your personal Net Asset Value.
Entitlement In Sports
So many ideas come to my head when I read the above observation. Please know that I am speaking generally rather than replying directly to you. Your question touches on the fundamental issue that many people have with entitlement.
What do we truly deserve? Start here for ideas on that!
Fair wages – elite athletes are volunteers and no one has an inherent ‘right’ to train all day in the sun // I recommend a trip through rural
We all are susceptible to a feeling of entitlement in our lives – I feel it in myself. An early dose of random misfortune can often be a blessing.
The national associations (like
If you want to make a living as a world-class athlete then you’d better be a world-class athlete. Most elites aren’t world-class, they are proficient and hard working.
Making It – you don’t “make it” as an elite triathlete – with a few 1-in-1,000 exceptions you make a bit of money for a few years then you retire (often with a beat up body and a smoked immune system). Winning a few races isn’t like making partner in a law firm – you will be heading back into the workforce (probably with short notice and before you want).
For most elites (and fast AGers), fast racing is great marketing, rather than income earning. The athletic "class" that make the greatest return from their racing are the “athlete coaches” that place consistently in their divisions. They represent achievable success in their local markets and share their experience with increasing life satisfaction from racing. As a "class", elite triathletes make nothing. My lifetime prize money is equivalent to two months current expenses (maybe less, I'm probably overestimating).
If the goal is to make a decent living then channeling the energy spent on athletic excellence into just about any other field will result in superior financial returns.
However, it is the challenges that make the pay-off so rewarding – whether competing for money, a Kona slot or simply to finish. Most of us would do it for free – actually most of us pay to do it!
Rewards – as a society, we place a tremendous value on physical beauty and athletic power. We have been conditioned for our entire lives than a lean, fit body is the ultimate achievement. As I age, I take comfort in having a better body in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I expect that the “reward” that many elites receive stems from the way we perceive an elite athlete.
Change – I’m not sure than anything needs to change in the sport of triathlon. If the athletes were to organize themselves and take charge of race promotion then they might be able to capture a larger share of the sport’s revenues. However, I see this as unlikely for a few reasons:
***lack of skills // as a class, elites are great athletes, not great businessfolk. The federations and race organizations have a massive edge and strong financial incentives to maintain the status quo. As a practical point, even if an athlete had the skills – why does it make sense to put a lot of effort into helping a group of second tier pros make more money? Pretty low return for your personal charity investment and, I expect, that you would get a lot more bang for your buck in other fields.
As an aside, my personal experience with Bradventures, NA Sports and HFP Racing is that they get money to athletes that support their company vision and add value to their businesses. Graham Fraser has done a tremendous amount for elites (as well as others) but we don’t hear a lot about it. He’s probably learned that critics exist to criticize.
Many young pros focus on explaining why they should be given money – a far better proposition is to demonstrate how you can add value to the company by being an ambassador of their brand mission. I had ten years of investment experience when I came to triathlon and it took me years to figure this out. One thing I did figure out was that using my skills to beg for free bike shorts was a low return activity.
***the events are bigger than the athletes // There are very few athletes that can benefit a race director by their presence.
Life Lessons – the lessons that we learn with a personal quest for our maximum potential are highly valuable and the training is a lot of fun. At some stage of our lives, I think that everyone should spend a couple of years trying to be their absolute best at something. The lessons are independent of outcome.
Remember that sport (and a meaningful life) is challenging – that’s the point!
More next week,
Here's a shot of the Coffees of Hawaii sailing canoe in Kona. We were dealing out hot/cold espresso as well as water/sports drink during Ironman Hawaii race week. I'll be sharing more thoughts on Kona in the next few weeks.
Before this week's letter. A few bits and pieces...
Get yourself a copy of "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart" -- there is a chapter on this exact subject. Gordon explains it much better than me.
For the cyclists that are looking for more information on training with power -- I recently read the Allen/Coggan book on Training with Power. There was a lot of interesting information and tips in there. If you apply their tips then remember that the physiologically optimal plan is the one that you can consistently apply across a number of seasons. Most athletes have a bias towards overwork and there is no better way to fatigue yourself (mentally/physically) than chasing watts in your training.
I've been giving some thoughts to my presentations for the November 2nd/3rd clinic on the Business of Coaching. We are going to be sharing the tools that I use to help coaches increase their revenues, and satisfaction, from coaching.
Finally...the City of Boulder is soliciting input for Valmont Park facilities. Please fill out the on-line comment form. In question 3 you might consider casting your vote for a 50M x 25M pool with separate dive tank and spectator seating. You can access the form HERE.
In the spirit of Aloha, Alternative Perspectives is a piece by Kevin Purcell -- Kona Blue. Only Kevin knows what it truly took to follow his vision of Hawaii.
Alan's blog has a piece on VO2 Max testing for Ironman athletes -- I expect that we'll learn a tremendous amount over the next few years. I used to be highly skeptical on the benefits. Now I am lining up -- Alan should have my 2008 benchmark results written up by the end of November. I need a few weeks to get moving again -- right now, I sense that the testing would be poor idea.
A friend was recently talking me through the cascade of impacts that occurred following the rape of a young lady. The disruptions to her family, the cost of starting the wheels of our justice system as well as the support that it will take the lady to heal from the experience. Overall, a huge level of disruption, pain and expense resulting from a single action.
It got me thinking...
Small actions of kindness -- opportunities for bold strokes of greatness in my life are rare. However, hook all of us up to an internet connection, support each other and, perhaps, one of us could do something truly special. Even more powerful would be getting thousands of people to undertake a series of small acts.
One of my habits is to pick up five pieces of trash every day. I don't hit it every day and I probably average 20 pieces of trash per week. Now 20 pieces of trash doesn't seem like much but last week Monica started picking up trash too. Strange hobby to share with your wife, eh?
So my 20 pieces could be up to 30, or 40, by the end of the year. If even five people reading this note decide to pick-up as well then we'd be well on our way to making a material impact on things.
This isn't about litter -- it is about accessing our collective power to shape the world around us.
Our role as a transmitters. In my inner circle, I tend to be the most adverse to traditional media. As part of my Personal Review this past September, I decided to chop some more media sources from my list of approved outlets (good-bye CNN.com).
We are impacted by every person, thought, action, image, sound and mood that comes into contact with us. It is tough enough for me to keep my head straight without all the consumption; faux-righteousness; violence; false imagery; etc... pumped out by the bulk of the media.
I can't always see the damage that is being done to me (and you) by the media. Our continued participation is what sustains these vehicles -- your eyes (and therefore your mind) is what they are seeking. Inactive participation isn't possible -- your anonymity isn't a factor for a force that, ultimately, seeks to control the masses.
What I can clearly see is that nearly all print, television and internet content fails to move me towards my goals. The "dead time" insight is easier to sell to myself then facing the reality that a website is poisoning my character (though listening to many of you talk about how certain forums make you feel it should be pretty obvious -- to your spouse, if not to you personally).
To achieve our goals we need to limit our time spent on achieving nothing. I've found that it is far better to "do nothing" than spend my time on junk food for the mind. I achieve a lot more insights when unplugged.
Once I have an insight that I may be holding myself back, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to sustain my current path. It's the main reason behind my incremental progress with my nutrition. I see the true impact of "treats" in my life. Binging loses (most of) its fun when I deeply understand its impact. There is no true satisfaction in being slack.
Those of you that read Mat's blog will see his take on this shortly. He gave me a preview and asked me if it made sense. I told him that he came pretty close to describing every September of mine from 2001 to 2006 -- and probably -- a few bonus months in between.
Small actions count,
Kevin first sent this piece to me a couple of years ago. It's a great story that gives an insight into what motivates people to compete here in Hawaii.
Dr. Kevin Purcell, D.C.
There is no place I would rather be than on the big island of Hawaii in October. My love affair with this place started suddenly in 1992; a mix of (1) a very old dream to do the Hawaii Ironman and (2) a chance 1992 meeting with the race while on vacation in Kona. The old dream began in 1980. I had a buddy in professional school (Chiropractic) who was training for Ironman and I’d tag along with him on his easy runs through Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I remember he had a shoe sponsor and his shoes had some whacky waffle patterns on the sole. I had never seen running shoes before. I was running in Converse basketball shoes. With his influence, I wanted to go over to Hawaii and give the IM a go. I think there was 6-8 months left to prepare before the late season event. I was a lifeguard during summers in Santa Barbara County, so when school let out I started to ride my bike 20-25 miles each day over the summer before taking my spot in the tower. We were allowed to swim and run along the beach during work so I logged about 5 miles a day running barefoot in the sand. No qualification was necessary to race in the early days, meaning I could have showed up and taken part; but as the summer ended I found I couldn’t finance the trip. It just wasn’t possible; so I put any idea of IM aside. However, my buddy, Bill McKean, was a 12 year navy SEAL team member and some of his SEAL pals did very well over there in the first couple races. Bill was (and is) one tough dude. He went that year and finished 9th OA on his first attempt at IM. Months later, he was 2nd OA in the Western States 100 in 18:52. Bill is now an excellent chiropractor up near Auburn above Sacramento.
The Hawaii IM dream was on hold. I graduated, was licensed, opened a chiropractic practice in 1982 in San Diego and am still there. I continued to watch IM from afar. I saw Moss crawl, bought Scott Tinley clothing and recall Scott Molina laying down what, at the time, was the 3rd fastest Kona finish on record (8:31) and first place. I gained lots of weight and did zero aerobic training over the next decade.
In October 1992 a friend offered me a promotional package trip to Kona for vacation. I didn’t know the IM was being held there in October. All that and a lot more was about to change. During my vacation we stayed in some blue roofed condos down by the old bike to run transition, The Kona Surf. On the trip, I didn't do much walking. I got around in a golf cart. I drove the little car everywhere, even over short distances. Always one handed as I had a mai tai or beer in the other. One day, cruising through the blue roofed properties while in route to get a newspaper in the hotel next door, I came to a roadside crossing where I had to stop for a long line of runners. I watched them go by. As an ex athlete who competed at a high level in basketball, I had respect for anyone who was able to do what it takes. But in '92, at 230lbs, running wasn't for me! I had no aerobic fitness and was lacking the motivation to run.
That is the place my head was at this day as I watched the runners file by. They all appeared focused and in some degree of discomfort. I asked an elderly lady what the hell they were doing. As she moved past me, she let me know that she had just gotten off her bike (silly man!). Then she growled back over her shoulder in a voice that sounded to me like something off a Black Sabbath album, “IRONMAN”. I was excited. I had stumbled upon the event and the drama I had admired since 1980. I got a vicarious rush that ran throughout my body. I immediately attempted to follow what was left of the 'race'.
It was the back of the pack that found me that afternoon. These athletes are tough and often deal with levels of pain that go with less than perfectly working bodies. I related to their struggle. Had I seen race leaders and eventual winners (Mark Allen and PNF) glide past me I may never had ‘seen’ that this race was possible for me. I parked the cart and I made my way by foot, back toward the finish line as the sun was setting. I saw all shapes, sizes and ages of athletes keep moving forward as the back half of the field made their way to the finish anyway they could. They limped, hobbled grunted and groaned. By the time I reached earshot of the finish area I was totally ROCKED by what I was watching. It was all glow sticks and guts. My adrenaline started to flow as I hurried on to the finish line. I was drawn like Richard Dreyfuss to the Devil’s Peak in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”.
When I arrived it got even better. Each athlete that finished was physically wasted – but ecstatic. The announcer called them out by name. He gave their ages and hometowns. The crowd was loud and my eyes misted. My throat ached. I was so happy for the finishers. I can’t explain how moving this was for me. I stood there watching for hours. That night, I vowed to do the race.
It took me six more years to begin _any_ training in 1998. I was unable to muster the strength to make lifestyle changes that would support getting fit. Finally, I realized that I had to give up a part of myself to be whole. I was 230lbs, but it never entered my mind that I had an unusual body for an endurance athlete. In university, as a basketball player, I was used to being one of the smallest people on the court and I guess I still saw myself as unfit but capable. I never considered that I might not be able to finish IM Hawaii – and I thought (wrongly) soon. I borrowed my brother’s bike and started riding and running in an old pair of Asics shoes. I swam in a 20 yard indoor pool – all beginning at 3:00am before work.
The chance meeting at the blue roofed condos and the Ironman was a catalyst for change in my life -- and my families. I dropped fifty pounds, down to 180 and once again became fascinated by health. I studied our sport, listened to and sought mentors. It wasn’t until 2003, eleven years after my vacation encounter and 22 years after Bill McKean’s example that I qualified and raced IM Hawaii for the first time.
I have now done 19 Ironman races all over the world and guide others to their IM goals. I still get a special feeling in and around this sport, specifically the Hawaii IM, Kona and the big island. I don’t think my feelings are unique. My gut tells me that there are hundreds, if not thousands of changed lives as a result of our sport. Here’s to change.
Coach KP specializes in guiding long course triathletes to their goals, both elite and first time Ironman athletes. In the last five years, he has coached over 15 athletes to qualifying spots in Kona (including FPRO 2x). That list includes five international Ironman Age Group wins and an AG podium at IM Hawaii.
Mat and I spent a couple of hours sorting through email and admin yesterday. I'm currently on my way back to Boulder for a night before heading to Kona in the morning. In Hawaii, I'll be working with Albert and the rest of the Coffees of Hawaii team. If you see me then come on up and say 'hi'.
The piece below was written in early September. It is more about how I feel than what I plan on doing. Mark and Brant didn't have any magic advice but the retreat (and the two weeks completely off-line that followed) provided the space for me to consider a bunch of different things. As the physiological peak from the summer waned, the magnitude of the last year's mental commitment became more clear. I'm still pretty tired!
I'll share more over the next little while. I also have a list of topics (not all about me!) that I'll be writing up.
Mat told me that the Planet-X site doesn't have my Power PodCast live any more. Give us a couple of days and you will be able to access Endurance Corner Radio by clicking -- HERE.
Also -- you'll be able to download my PowerPoint presentation (on Power) by clicking -- HERE. Should only take a couple of days for us to get live.
A man who has a vision is not able to use the power of it until after he has performed the vision on Earth for the people to see.
The above quote is from a book called Black Elks Speaks. It’s an interesting story about an Indian Shaman who lived through a turbulent time in American history. There is quite a bit going on in the book and, I’m guessing, that I will see something if I continue to read the book as I age.
Sitting here, at 38, and considering the lessons of the old man’s story. There are a few things that stand out…
***Within his circle he was a famous and powerful healer. Across his life he was able to help a great many of his people. However, as an old man, what he most regretted was his failure to do his best to follow a powerful vision that he had as a youth.
The parallel of this in my life is clear. The September that was filled with the most regret was 2005, when I didn’t race Ironman
***Within his tradition, the power of visions/dreams can be diluted by sharing them widely. When Black Elk told his story to the author, it was the first time in his life that he shared his complete vision. Even then, there were elements that he wasn’t able to put into words and remained his alone.
Here I think my lesson could be to temper my desire to constantly, and publicly, prove my ability to achieve my goals. I’ll need to ask Mark and Brant about their thoughts here.
What I'm getting at here is immediately publishing my "best stuff" (spiritual/physical). Mark mentioned that I might want to absorb them for a bit before sending them along.
As a first hand account of “how the West was lost” – the book made for informative reading.
Throughout my life, I have had callings, often ignored, to go on a solo retreat in nature.
The last one that I did started on September 11th, 2001 – a personal retreat in Olympic National Park. That retreat had FAR too much exercise for immediately after an Ironman but was a great experience for me. The solitude on Day One had me hearing voices in my head that didn’t settle for hours. I thought that I was losing my mind!
Aside from Peaceful Listening, a goal for 2008 is to complete a series of retreats close to nature. I haven’t decided if these are going to be formal, informal, solo or group. Brant and Mark have a fair amount of experience here so I’ll ask them for guidance.
The recurring drive to get close to nature needs to be heeded. It is a big part of what led me into endurance sports.
So what’s next? Well, I’ve sorted out my goals of learning to listen and retreats.
Athletically, I’m not really sure. There are some things that I can improve. I have no idea whether I will enjoy, or be able to sustain, the work required to achieve them.
Will I head back to Penticton in August? I have no idea right now.
PS -- If you are looking for an interesting read on investment theory (much shorter than Rubin's book) then CLICK HERE. Thanks to JS for sending along to me. Interestingly, EV is one of the lessons that was hammered into me by the McGill finance faculty. It's also why I've sold out of successful (highly leveraged) investments -- I wasn't willing to live with the slight probability of a highly negative outcome. Borrowing from Taleb, even if you are playing Russian Roulette with a gun with 10,000 chambers -- losing remains a highly unattractive outcome.
I'm on holiday so won't be publishing for a bit longer.
In the meantime, we have published another article from Clas -- click through the Alternative Perspectives link to the right. This article explains his view on how he runs very, very fast in Ironman. I hope you enjoy.
How to run a 2.42 marathon in an Ironman.
When I finished 2: nd in IM NZ -04, I set a new run course record and ran my fastest IM marathon by over 10 min. And when I crossed the line it wasn’t like I had been suffering and pushing my body over the limits more than in the previous races for 42 K, it was more the other way around. For the first time I came of the bike and from the first step to the last step on that marathon I felt like I was just “cruising”.
I will by this article try to look back and see what I did different in my training from previous years building up to that race. Even if I have tried hard I haven’t been able to repeat that IM run split since either. I did run a 2.44 marathon in IM Brazil 2.5 month after my fast run in IM NZ after Gordo and I had been riding cross the States, but I believe that run split was also based on the training I did building up to IM NZ that year.
Mmmm, where should I start??
So what did I do different leading up to IM NZ 2004 and what can you do overall in your training and racing strategy to run faster of the bike??
First of all I believe that if you are riding over you ability on the bike leg you can not aspect that you will run well of the bike, with this I don’t mean that you must cruise the bike to be able to run well, but most of the time if you give away 5-10 min from your bike split you will run 15-20 min quicker. And that is not only because your legs will be fresher, it also has to do with that if you have been riding with a lower heart rate which probably means that you have been able to fuel your self better and your stomach have been able to absorb the energy so you can start the run full of energy, we all know that its much easier to eat and drink on the bike than during the run, if you can pace yourself a little on the bike at least.
Then I know from my own experience that most of us should have major benefits from more stretching, take away a few hours a week from your swim, bike and run training and stretch more, if you want to have a smooth, energy saving running step you can not have hamstring, gluts or hip muscles that are tight like a rocks. This will not only make you to a faster runner, you are also making your back a favour so you will be able to enjoy triathlon racing without back pain for a few more years.
So that was 2 major things that has to do with the run split as well other then the run training itself. But let’s go back to what I did leading up to IM NZ -04.
The first time I was training in NZ was Jan-March 2002 and I got introduced to long distance training for the first time, before that I didn’t train that much but when I did train I went pretty hard, and I saw that I got pretty good results from very little training, but of course you need to do some long distance training if you want to race at longer distances. So after been adding some more volume to my training for a year I decided to study one semester at the “local” university in the fall 2003, and because if this I didn’t have as much time to train so I ended up to go back to my old way of training for 4 month. I did a few quality sessions each week in each sport and some strength training but that was pretty much it, so about 12-14 hours a week of training, but as I said, good quality. For run training I did 2 sessions on an indoor 200 m track and 2-2.5 hour long run each week. The indoor sessions were 8*1 K with 1 min recovery and the 2: nd indoor session was 3*3 K repeat with 2 min recovery. It wasn’t all out session so I always made sure that I was able to run the last interval a little bit faster than the first but they were all at good pace, almost like I was training for a 10-15 K running race.
For bike training I mostly did 2 sessions each week on my indoor bike or trainer, the sessions was 6*8 min with 2 min recovery at a good pace. The same was for swimming, just a few sessions but good quality. For strength training I focused on the core but also did some lower and upper body stuff.
Then I finished my semester just before Christmas 2003 and flew to Gordo in NZ to train. And all of you that knew Gordo back then know that he liked to train a lot, (as he still does) so I joined in on his training schedule and my training hours got 2 and sometimes 3 times as many compare to when I was studying, but the intensity wasn’t as high so I was able to tolerate the training pretty good.
In the middle of January we did an Epic Camp on the north Island of NZ which went well overall for me, and I think it was day 6 or 7 of the camp where we raced the Auckland ½ IM. I was able to race strong and finish of with a 1.13 run split on a fair course.
Then finally it was the beginning of March and IM NZ was about to come around the corner. I had raced there the 2 previous years and finished 12: Th and 4: Th overall with a run split of 3.05 and 2.57 if I don’t remember wrong, and I didn’t think that I had done anything different this year so I didn’t aspect anything special out there.
But during the race I could feel that I was much better prepared then before, and it wasn’t all the distance training the last 2 month leading up to the race that had been the difference, it was what I had done the 4 month before that. During race I was able to hold a better pace on the bike for longer periods of time and when I caught up to some group on the bike I was able to hold my 10 meters and recover for a few minutes and then take of again.
And when I finally started the run it was like I had been on a little warm up ride, of course I was a little bit stiff in my lower back but after a few kilometres I was running without any stiffness. I was very surprised how easy it felt even if I ran at 3.45-3.50 min/K pace which was much faster then what I had been able to hold in an IM before, and that wasn’t a pace that I had planned to be able to hold, I just ran based on how it felt and I was very comfortable at that pace. Even the last 10 K I didn’t slow down that much, but of course at that point I had to push a little bit to be able to hold the pace up but I ended up to run the 2:nd ½ marathon pretty much at the same speed as the first one.
So, my summary of this is that if you want improve your IM finishing time and marathon split it’s not all about endurance, you also need to improve your “top” running speed/ strenght, lets say your 5 and 10 K speed, and you also need to work on your bike fitness/pacing so you can come through the 180 K ride without being to fatigued.
And the 2:nd part of this summary is that as you can see it worked great for me to first work on my strength/ speed for 3-4 month, then build my endurance for a few month on top of that. And by doing it that way and not the other way around which I believe is the most common way to do it, work on your endurance then add speed, I was able to get much more “quality” out of my endurance training.
I don’t know if this above made sense at all to you, but I think we start to see it more now when the Olympic guys start to move up and race at IM distance, even if they haven’t been training “long” for more then a few month they are able to race very well at Ironman distance races., of course they might at first have some trouble with pacing but as soon as they figure that out then they can go very fast at Ironman races.
So why not try something different for next season, when the winter arrives do sessions to work on your VO2 max, lactate threshold and overall strength and flexibility, then when the sun start to come out in end of February add some longer sessions and who knows, you might be very fast next year.
Part I: Setting Accurate Training Zones
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES
As many of you know, Mat, Gordo and I have recently opened a small human performance lab in Boulder. It has been a very interesting experience on many fronts. As a guy who is totally obsessed with numbers, I have been quite surprised at the reaction of a number of quite elite local triathletes when we approached them about testing. The prevailing attitude about VO2max testing still appears to be that VO2max is the ‘end all, be all’ when it comes to endurance athletics. In fact, many athletes are so afraid of discovering what their number (and by extension of logic, their athletic ceiling) is that they have declined the opportunity to get tested and get some very useful information about their current physiological limiters that they can then apply to their training. The VO2max number is just one (and probably the most useless) metric that we obtain from a VO2 test. It is not particularly relevant to ultra-distance athletes, whose VO2 numbers are often quite pedestrian when compared to their short-course counterparts, and, at the risk of offending my fellow exercise scientists out there, to suggest that we only have a maximal 15-20% upside to improving our VO2 max is quite simply bollocks. Even taking body composition and economy improvements into account, I have witnessed numerous clients exhibit improvements in both lab measures and ‘real world numbers’ far in excess of 20%. There is a definite plateau in the stroke volume/oxygen delivery side of the equation. However, the aVO2 side of things, while much slower to improve, is a multi-YEAR adaptation.
But let me dismount from my VO2 high horse for a moment, as I explain some of the other (non-maximal) VO2 metrics that can provide you, as an athlete, with some very useful information on your training zones, your true physiological strengths and weaknesses and where you should best direct your training efforts for the coming year.
Critical points on the VO2 curves:
Zero Net Energy Utilization (NEU)
The curve immediately below displays the total work being produced at each respective intensity level, along with the relative contributions from fat and carbohydrate for one of our athletes.
As a very fit athlete, this guy has reached a point where he is able to train at an intensity where he can accumulate work with no net glycogen cost. I.e. he is able to replenish glycogen at the same rate at which he is using it. Several studies have shown that the maximal rate of replenishment under conditions of exercise is approximately 3kcal of Carbohydrate per minute (Jeukendrup and Jentjens, 2000). This threshold is indicated by the horizontal line on the graph. If the athlete can work out at an intensity in which they produce less than ~3kcal minute of work from Carbohydrate metabolism, they are in essence not dipping into their glycogen stores. For the athlete in the figure above, you can see that he accomplishes this. The point where the curve rises above the line corresponded with an intensity of 62% of this athlete’s VO2max. In other words, this athlete can exercise at 62% of their VO2max without inhibiting glycogen recovery from their harder sessions. This is a critical ability because it significantly increases the total amount of work that can be accumulated in a training week. In volume overload periods, this can take the form of training camps or, in the context of the basic week, the athlete at this level can employ low intensity aerobic training while they are recovering from key sessions.
Maximal Level of Fat Oxidation
One of these athletes has a 9:54 Ironman to his credit. The other is yet to break 13:00. Of course, I wouldn’t be going through all of this building of the suspense if the results were as expected. You guessed it, the 9:54 guy has a VO2max of 41 ml.kg.min. So, what data is missing?
The key data missing is economy & fat oxidation rates. At Athlete B’s “Steady” pace, he is able to produce 5.5kcal/min from fat oxidation. Athlete A is topped out at 4.3 kcal/min. Now, before Athlete B’s ego gets too inflated, it is worth noting that Dr Tim Noakes, in his book Lore of Running, postulates that Mark Allen must have generated 10.5 kcal/min from fat (!) in order to run a 2:40 marathon at the end of an Ironman. He also points out that this value is 50% greater than the highest level that he had recorded in elite 10K and marathon runners in his South African human performance lab. Clearly, it is an understatement to say that this ability deserves a good amount of attention (& training time) for the Ironman athlete, especially considering the ‘upside’ that most of us have in this area.
Ventilatory Threshold 1
A VO2 test is useful not only to monitor this ability, but also to determine the appropriate zones to use to improve it. If you take another look at the chart, you will see that from 50-75% VO2max, there is a good chunk of energy contribution coming from fat oxidation. However, once the athlete goes a tick over 75%, the energy coming from fat oxidation disappears rapidly. oxidation. It is very useful, as an Ironman athlete to be able to pinpoint this spot in setting your training zones. There are many ways to approximate this, e.g. the Maffetone method etc, but it is worth noting that, in my experience, there is more individual variation here than even with maximal heart rate and the best way to see that important breakpoint at the cellular level is with individual VO2 testing.
Ventilatory Threshold 2/"Lactate Threshold"
This value is also of use to us as athletes because it represents another distinct limiter to the amount of volume that we can tolerate in a training session and over the course of a week. Even small excursions above the VT2 line correspond with a very high recovery cost (due to the shift in fibers used) and for the long course athlete very little performance benefit.
In part II, I will get more into the nitty gritty of actual values for different athletes and the consequent training implications.
If you are interested in having a VO2 test performed and interpreted by our team, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeff Shilt, M.D.
On the tails of pro cycling's doping scandals, the buzzword in triathlon has been age group doping. I have to admit, I've been equally curious about the incidences of doping amongst age group athletes. I remember an Outside Magazine article a few years back describing the author’s experience when he obtained performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) from an “anti-aging” doc. He discussed the performance benefits and downsides to the variety of PED’s available.
As a practicing orthopaedist who has prescribed drugs considered “performance enhancing” for patients with problems for whom the drug was created, I found this an intriguing article. I have no experience with the performance enhancement aspects of the PED’s. I was involved in a pharmaceutical company’s research in the early 90’s on the use of growth hormone (GH) to accelerate the recovery of elderly patients who had sustained hip fractures. I’ve cared for patients who required GH for a variety of short stature syndromes. I’ve known patients who require Erythropoetin (Epo) because they are practicing Jehovah Witness (religion that bans receipt of blood transfusions) and are undergoing a surgical procedure with a large expected blood loss, or patients with cancer, whose blood cell counts are low because of their cancer therapy. I can’t really tell you how the “performance” of children with diseases, old people with hip fractures, and cancer patients was affected by the use of these critically needed medicines…their recent 40 k time trial times were rarely the topic of conversation!
So, I was likewise educated as were most who read the Men’s Health article. I’m a firm believer in competing cleanly and since the resurgence of the topic coincided with my interest in endurance sports, I decided to find out what is required to ensure that athletes that I train with and advise are clean. Team Good Guys unanimously were in favor of pursuing the approach, so I set off in search of finding a regimen for us to follow, demonstrating our commitment to clean competition.
I have to admit I was shocked at my findings. Upon the advice of the cycling team physician that has taken one of the most well-known stances against doping, I contacted their lab about pricing and protocols. First, there is not one simple test that ensures with 100% accuracy that an individual is not taking ANY exogenous product. For most PED’s, year-round, weekly testing is required to follow trends of metabolites and blood markers. This testing protocol requires 2 blood and 2 urine tests per week. If you do a less stringent regimen, the protocol is ineffective as people can schedule use around known tests and avoid detection. Second, as you might imagine, this is expensive. This protocol costs about $10,000/ a year.
The lack of stringent testing is responsible for the sad state that cycling and track/field are in now. To date, no sport has required this level of testing. I applaud the cycling teams that are adhering to this principle. It really is shameful that high revenue sports, such as basketball, football, and baseball have failed to require stringent testing. Is this a rampant problem in these sports…you betcha. I don’t believe any of them are clean until they adopt this regimen.
For triathlon, and specifically, age groupers, this testing regimen is not practical. As much as I hate to admit it, if people want to cheat, they can. Although not infallible, random testing is still useful in detecting less sophisticated athletes who cheat. A negative random test doesn’t mean you don’t dope, it just means you didn't get caught. A positive test, however, proves with reasonable certainty that you have cheated. As much as I would like to believe in a couple of guys that have turned up positive, it is highly unlikely given the knowledge I have now.
Certainly for the age groupers in our team, we can’t literally afford to prove our clean approach. And even for the pro’s, who's yearly winnings rarely exceed the $10,000 required for testing, it is a stretch. In the future, I hope we see the costs decrease and the protocols improve so that we can ensure a clean sport.
Cheers to all of us out there who train and race for the healthy body and mind our activity gives us. Shame on the rest of you.
Shortly, I will be on the road to Santa Cruz. I am looking forward to the weekend with Brant and Mark. Questions, fears and a persistent desire to spend time alone in nature. I don't expect anything fancy from the guys but their calming presence is useful for clear thinking.
This is an interesting period for me because I have huge energy, both mental and physical, but... I sure get tired if I try to 'train'! On the mental side, I am ready for short bursts of activity (like blogging) but am struggling with getting much sustained work done, such as the second edition of my book.
Before this week's letter, a reminder that I'll be speaking at a USA-Triathlon Clinic, in Colorado Springs. First weekend of November. If you want to learn practical tools for making a living from sport (running, cycling, swimming, triathlon) then this is the clinic for you. The speakers have helped build many successful coaching business and will be sharing how they go about it.
Also, if you watch Mat's blog then he'll link up an interview that we did with Chris McDonald, Ironman Kentucky champion. Look there on Monday. The interview is great. Thanks to Chris and Marilyn for dropping by the studio.
Key things that I was reminded of:
***athletes that are going to do well at elite IM get to the top of the AG ranks quickly. There is a very rapid early performance progression -- then you have to start "training". Chris, Clas and I -- it took each of us two years to get into low 9-hour shape (mid-9s for me). Clearly some athletes have an edge getting down to that point (Kona Qualifier shape).
***for the men especially, a massive capacity to absorb (not merely do) work is a universal requirement. Chris' 2006 season is not for the faint hearted! Nearly all the top guys have done some large, sustained volume at some stage. Chris is unique in that he hasn't (yet) faced deep overtraining.
***there is value in taking yourself far, far beyond your comfort zone -- the pathway from which performance flows isn't clear to me -- mental and well as physical, perhaps
***expect extreme financial despair and hardship along the athletic path -- you are making a decision that will result in a permanent reduction in your financial stability // folks in their early 20s are not equipped to think this through to their 40s, 50s and beyond
***you will face bleak periods where you want to quit; you're also likely have some great days
***even as an Ironman Champion, your athletics (alone) will have you living below the poverty line. You'd better really enjoy training and actively/immediately develop alternative income sources.
It's worth a listen -- remember that Chris "made it" farther than most of us will achieve in our athletic careers. He is an 'outlier' and your mileage will vary -- the average elite retires broke (but fit and with a nice tan) when they can no longer cope with the financial stress.
Head to the Planet-X website on Monday. They should have an MP3 and PowerPoint presentation that I did on Training/Racing with Power. I went into a lot more depth than the IronmanTalk podcast. Many thanks to Mat/Alan/Brian/Rebecca for their help in creating this for you.
Since I left
When I fail to achieve a goal (such as winning Ironman
***What worked this year?
***What changes might enable things to work even better next year?
***What held me back this year?
***What changes are required for continued personal growth?
***Did I give my previous plan every chance to succeed?
***What do I enjoy doing?
Notwithstanding all that, there are deeper considerations to be made prior to tackling the issue of athletic success. To bring these issues into focus I’ve asked myself:
***What did I achieve in the last year? Specifically, what are the items that will have a long term beneficial impact on my life?
***If the next twelve months were similar to the last twelve months then would I be OK with that?
***What items need my focus to make personal progress over the next twelve months? More specifically, how do I want to focus my personal development activities over the next year?
Given my high level of effectiveness and satisfaction, there are a lot of things working in my life. In seeking to improve performance on a single day (August 24, 2008) – I don’t want to impair the quality of the other 364 days of my year.
I’m going to share my thoughts on the answers to the questions but, within this article, “my thoughts” are the least important aspect. Why? Because they are merely my answers.
I’d encourage you to seek, then ask, the right questions of yourself.
In my consultancy practice, my clients receive the greatest value when I ask the right questions -- not when I give the most forceful answers.
I need to constantly remind myself of the above point because giving answers soothes the ego. Of course, the uncertainty of the outcome of our own questions is what makes life fun.
My greatest success this year was making one lady feel loved. I was helped by the fact that she has a kind disposition, patience and high self-esteem (guys, look for these traits in a wife). I’ve greatly leveraged my ability to achieve by strengthening the person closest to me.
Once you have the right people around you, spend your time strengthening them and assisting with the achievement of their goals -- your efforts for others will multiply when they come back to you.
JK asked about learning to say "no" to folks. For me, success is about getting people around us to say "yes" to our goals, rather than telling them "no" to their desires.
How do we do that? #1 -- we focus our time on the highest return items for those in our inner circle. #2 -- we communicate our personal mission clearly and simply. #3 -- by supporting those close to us and communicating our goals // we give them a stake in our mission. Finally, we hold ourselves to the absolute highest standards possible -- we must be working harder (and happier) than anyone in our circle. If we want to lead then we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than our team.
There is irony in how following what makes me happy has such a positive impact on the world around me. The way we live could be more important than the specifics of how we live.
Living how we want with a closed heart -- selfish?
Living how we want with an open heart -- inspirational?
Our conditioning often tells us that in order to do “good” we need to deny ourselves. I deny nothing of my dreams, or spirit, and there are clear and persistent messengers that encourage me to follow my heart.
I was talking to Clas and he asked me if I thought that I had put too much emphasis on Ironman
When I miss my private goals, or when I don’t live up to my personal standards of excellence, it “hurts” at some level. The pain isn’t too bad because I have the next goal and, by and large, I meet my commitments to myself. The difference with Ironman
What I see now is the tremendous amount of good that results regardless of my public performance on that day. Perhaps that will free my mind from the concern about letting down the people that are closest to me. Missing a swim workout in February certainly doesn’t generate the same level of goodwill!
Avoid regret for a man that has the freedom to follow his dreams, and does. Feel empathy for those who live under the illusion that they are trapped in prisons, and don’t.
PS -- Alternative Perspectives next Monday will have Dr. J's piece on doping. For perspective, the annual cost of proving that I am clean is equal to my gross prize money from my best year of racing (2004). This year my gross prize money was about $2,000. You don't get rich from any aspect of triathlon (coaching, writing, racing). In fact, you have to be very good at all three to survive on sport alone.
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES
After finishing my “A” race for the season, my mental outlook has shifted somewhat from looking forward to the races of the year ahead to looking back at what worked and didn’t work in the season just passed. I find this retrospective analysis to be a key process that is ignored by many self-coached athletes (myself included). It is often much easier, when things don’t work out to blame the plan and switch to a completely different approach, than it is to take responsibility, look back and evaluate how well you executed the plan. It is even more valuable to look back honestly on what were the true limiters to perfect execution. Was it an absence of quality sleep, poor nutritional choices or work conflicts that prevented you from adhering to your plan this past year? These factors are often considered the “extras” to training, the supplemental chapters that are in the back of the training books, the “small stuff”. However, in my experience, these factors come into play long before factors such as what % of threshold training you should include in your schedule or how many hours you should increase this year become relevant. In fact, all of these pages that make up the “front chapters” in your training books are almost entirely dependent on how much attention you pay to the chapters in the back of the book. ‘Small things’ like sleep patterns, regular stretching, optimal nutrition and regular medical screenings can have a BIG impact on your performance.
For me, 2007 was a frustrating year. After a nasty bike crash at the end of ‘06 left me in a wheelchair for 3 months, I was, to a large degree, starting from scratch. In January, I started walking, initially for a half mile, then a mile, then 2 until by March I was back into some semblance of a normal training week, swimming a bit, biking a bit, jogging a bit. Everything was progressing forward nicely. I was adding a couple of hours of training to my basic week every month and finally starting to feel like an athlete again. Until, at the end of April, I hit a bit of a wall. For the better part of a month, I was in a hole. I was sleeping 11-12 hours every night, struggling to get an hour of training in each day but feeling like I used to feel after an 8 hour training day. Something was definitely wrong. In the past, I would have blamed myself or my training plan. But, this time, I decided to go on the hunt for some real answers. I found these answers in a simple blood screen.
The important thing, that athletes so often forget, is that the absence of sickness and optimal health are not synonyms. In western culture (if growing up in your house was anything like growing up in mine), we frequently only go to the doctor when we are sick (or on the verge of death, if your father is anything like mine J However, a simple routine blood screen can provide a wealth of information to the athlete about a variety of health measures that may be seriously impacting their performance &/or their ability to regenerate after training
For instance, a few key markers with normal standards for male endurance athletes from the Australian Institute of Sport (note; these may differ from normative values in the general population, therefore it is important to find a doctor who specializes in sports medicine):
- Erythrocytes (5.21+/-0.46 mill/µl)
Other measures that can be used as reliable indicators of regeneration from training load include: Insulin, cortisole, serum urea, creatine kinase, amino acids, immunoglobulins.
In my case, my serum ferritin levels, at 17 ng/ml were about a quarter of what they should be for a healthy endurance athlete. Serum ferritin is an important contributor to iron stores within the body and is, therefore, an important component in maintaining Haemoglobin within the blood. A drop in Haemoglobin of just 0.1% results in a reduction in VO2max of 1%. This is just one very important reason for an athlete to have regular blood testing performed.
In my situation, a simple bout of Iron supplementation enabled me to build my training by 7 hrs p.w. in the space of 3 months. Showing me, without doubt, that, in my case, the “small stuff” was definitely worth paying attention to.
In this article I will write a little bit about Epic Camp (I'm on the right in this photo).
For you who don’t know what Epic Camp is then I can recommend that you visit www.epiccamp.com . There you can get more information how Gordo first came up with the idea for Epic Camp, and even for you who already know what Epic Camp is I recommend that you visit the site to see all the great pictures from the different camps and to read the blogs. It was a while ago since I visited the site but I went today to refresh my mind for this article and I got stucked for a few hours looking at all the pictures and reading the blogs. I have so many great memories from these camps so it will be hard to choose what to bring up in this article.
Previous Epic Camps:
January 2003, New Zealand, South Island.
January 2008, New Zealand
I have been able to join the first 6 camps, but due to my racing schedule I mist the one in France 2006 and due to my overtraining I wasn’t able to take part in the one in NZ 2007 either. And now I just have to wait and see how my training and recovery goes in the fall to see if I can join the camp in NZ this coming January or if I have to wait to the one in Italy next summer.
One thing is for sure, if you really want to test your limits and learn a few things about yourself, and others, then you should join one of these camps. Of course it’s not always laugh and smile faces that you hear and see on these camps, after 6-7 days of 6-8 hours of training a day, people tend to fall into some kind of quietness for a few days, but then after a few days things seems to turn around again and people are able to keep things together and really enjoy the whole experience again.
Epic NZ 2003
The first ever Epic Camp was in January 2003. I came to NZ 1 month before the camp, but just a few days before the camp started I flew back home to Sweden to join a big sport ceremony where I had been nominated to be one of 4 to get the title “The up comer of the year” 2002 in all Swedish sports after I won my age group in Hawaii IM that year. Now I wasn’t the one that got that title, but just to be nominated was a big deal for me and the sport of triathlon in Sweden, so I’m very happy that I took the pain to fly half way around the globe from NZ to be part of this ceremony. It took me 2 days to fly home, then I was in Stockholm for 2 days for the ceremony then it took me 2 days to fly back to NZ, and when I arrived there it was day 5 or so of epic camp so I got thrown straight into big training. Or actually the day after I arrived we did the Queenstown ½ IM, I think I was mostly asleep during the race due to the 12 hour time difference from Sweden but I was able to keep things together and win the race. Think that is my biggest memory from that first Epic Camp.
Epic CO 2003
The 2nd Epic Camp was run in Colorado Rockies 2003, this is the camp that I still today liked the most, and it’s probably also the camp when I have been suffering the most to. I really like the feeling to be riding the bike in the mountains, its so much power and energy in these areas.
During this summer I was training for the Powerman world Championship in Duathlon, Zofingen. So I did no swimming during this camp, but instead I did double runs pretty much every day, so when the other guys went to the pool in the morning I went for a 60-90 min run, then after a long day on the bike we all ran off the bike for another 45-60 min. And I still remember how Gordo didn’t give me any bonus points in the competition for the yellow jersey for my morning run, because the bonus point each day was only if you swam, rode and ran every day. Almost like it was easier to do double runs then to float around in the pool for an hour in the morning. Okay Gordo, I have no hard feelings about this but I think I should have gotten the yellow jersey in this camp
[Ed Note -- you only won a single pass out of 15+. Sure you ran 200K and did 100,000 feet of climbing but I'm OK with the victory.]
Epic NZ 2004
In the NZ camp 2004 my strongest memory is when on day 7 or so of the camp raced Auckland ½ IM and I had a very strong race and finished just 23 sec behind Cameron Brown, ran a 1.13 ½ marathon, and that after been avg 6 hours of training a day for 6 days before the race.
Epic Kona 2004
Then we have the Kona Camp 2004. It was no “real” epic training at this camp, the camp was more a tapering camp for the Hawaii Ironman that year; think the camp ended 7 days or so before the race.
I have no epic memory from this camp; I had been training in Palm dessert and Palm Springs for 5 weeks, then another 5 weeks on the Hawaii Island to get used to the heat. I was very fit but all the heat training had slowly drained my overall energy so during the camp and when the Ironman race arrived I was already fried and it ended to be a long day out there, was in shape for a top 10 finish but as I said I was done even before the race started so I was just able to jog to the finish in a disappointing 35: th place. Guess one of my memories is that Cameron Brown also had a hard day out there and we ran together to the finish the last 10 miles.
Epic Aus 2005
The one and only camp 2005 was in Australia in January, I had never been in Australia before so I was looking forward to this camp; think my strongest memory is that it was HOT during the camp. Björn Andersson did this camp as well and I remember one day when I was able to finish the ride before him, he came to the hostel and pretty much fell of his bike because of dehydration and layed on the floor completely wiped out for a good hour like a wet dog trying to get things together again. But next day he was back in the front again.
Think one of the main thing you learn during the camp is that how much more training you can tolerate when you just can focus on training and recovery, doesn’t really matter how tired you get during the day, the crew does everything for you so you can focus on recovery so when you the next morning wake up full with new energy, ready for another 8 hour day.
Epic NZ 2006
The last camp I was able to join was the one in NZ 2006.
But when I now look back my overtraining problems started with this camp. I had 12 days of very good training at the camp, so if I had been smarter I should just had been focusing on recovery for the following 10-12 days, but instead of doing that I thought I would loose too much fitness if I took more then one easy day so I keep training and I slowly got myself down in a hole. I was planning to race Ironman Arizona in April but I ended up with shingles 2 weeks before the race, so I flew home to Sweden to recover for a month, then I was able to set a new Swedish IM distance record in a time of 8.15 in Roth, but then I once again wanted too much and raced IM UK 1.5 month after that and I was back in the hole, and this time it was real.
With that, I want to mention how important the recovery is after a 12 days camp where you have pushed yourself behind your limits.
Epic Camp in VERY fun and you will learn so many things and meet great people, but don’t forget that the camp does make you tired so you might want to have some downtime to recover when you get back home.
I hope to see you at the next Epic Camp in NZ or in Italy 2008.
Yesterday, Monica and I did a "dry run" for our late summer camping trip. In the photo, you can see the result of my campfire skills. Physically, I get tired these days so exercise is limited to easy trail walking.
Over on Alternative Perspectives, Clas shares his experiences from Epic Camp over the years. Coming up he will explain "How to run a 2:42 marathon off the bike" -- we'll get that live in a few weeks. It is an entertaining read.
I've been reading Ayn Rand -- (GV, I'll mail the book back soon). Ms. Rand is a fine writer and gets me excited about living up to my maximum potential. Her encouragement to reduce theory to basic truths interested me in relation to endurance sports -- I'll continue to think about that because I sense that with some effort it would be possible to create a straightforward model for endurance training. I've tried to do that with my Four Pillars article but there could be a clearer theory waiting out there.
In the meantime, as the summer winds down and the cyber surfing season heats up... two things kept coming back to be as I flipped the pages.
Equality -- the need to place personal responsibility for individual action as a high priority. This is even more important for those that seek to lead, or influence, others in the field of individual rights.
Intellectual Domination -- I watch media pundits (and cyber celebrities) claim to be guardians of the truth while engaging in satire and bullying. Their actions cloaked in humor and/or intellectual superiority while seeking to subdue any discussion that runs counter to their ideas. Spending one's talent bullying the students (we once were) strikes me as the path of a wasted life. There is a higher way available to us.
So, I'm back in Colorado following a few meetings in
It is always fun to spend time with “The Kid”. Similar to my buddy, Ed McDevitt (I’m on to you, amigo), Greg is one of those intelligent guys that enhances his success by having the world underestimate him. I’m going to start working on that in 2008. Life can be easier when our competition under-rate us.
I received some follow-up on my piece on international financial markets. A few people asked what I thought was going to happen in various markets.
I have no clue!
Be suspicious of people that claim to have a clue!
When it comes to forecasting my experience is that it is totally impossible to predict short-term movements. We have no idea and the more certain the experts become, the greater the opportunity for an unexpected event to really shake things up.
My formal financial education is getting a touch dated (Class of ’90). At McGill, I was reasonably well schooled in the traditional drivers of markets as well as the technical theories that have been purported to drive financial markets. My academic and technical background is useful for reading the FT, or Wall Street Journal, but it doesn’t serve me well when I try to comprehend what I actually see in the world around me. In fact, it is probably a liability.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last couple of years then you will have seen my interest in learning from authors that immerse themselves in how things actually work (be they markets or people). The GordoWorld team is in the process of updating my website and one of the additions will be a section on my recommended reading list. Mat and I will trawl through my library and type-up what I liked, and why.
Fundamental analysis works well for estimating the likely long term path of an asset or investment opportunity. However, it falls short when asked to explain what actually happens in the short term. In other words, my academic (and real-world) training are useful for valuation but something else seems to drive pricing.
What is it?
For me, the two main drivers are:
(a) Mood; and
Let’s take money first. How many people have the ability to purchase the asset, or make the investment? Most people will spend to the maximum limit of their ability to pay. As an aside, always find out your client’s budget before bidding on a project.
If we enhance ability to pay with low cost finance and easily obtained credit lines then you’ll bump up the demand for assets and, in most people, reduce price sensitivity. Many corporations (and CEOs) follow a similar path -- it very difficult for spending and investment decisions to be made free of the influence of capital available.
There is limited transparency on the true position of global liquidity – however, the careful observer can make educated guesses on the impact of global shocks on capital markets. Our recent experience with the credit contraction that followed the sub-prime shock is an example.
With mood I consider:
How do “I” feel about the opportunity?
How do people around me feel about the opportunity?
How does the broader public feel about the opportunity?
While I think that I’m an optimist when it comes to life, my conservative nature means that I’m a nervous seller. Where I’ve made mistakes on pricing is when I failed to take into account differences between my perception and the broader public. I’ve consistently sold early in my deals.
Interestingly, this tendency hasn’t cost me many investment opportunities. I’ve always had more deals available than personal appetite to fund them. In fact, our property development company started because we had a mismatch between good deals and available capital.
Why is it important to track these factors? It’s important because a change in either one can be a leading indicator of an approaching valuation swing. When these two factors change direction in tandem then we are going to see a shift in asset pricing.
So when people ask me what’s going to happen… I have to say that I have no idea. As an investor, what I look for is situations where my best guess is that my entry pricing is less than fundamental valuation. That creates the opportunity – reality is then dictated by the hard work of an ethical management team.
Investing is about: (a) solid fundamental analysis; (b) limiting the cost of your mistakes; (c) paying less than fundamental value at the front-end; (d) avoiding fraud; and (e) backing the efforts of outstanding people. Of these factors, the two deadly sins of Private Equity are overpaying and backing crooks -- very tough to recover from either of these. If your deal doesn't fit these parameters then you are speculating, rather than investing.
In terms of market timing, don’t expect to get that perfectly right other than by fluke. Watch for shifts in the two Ms. When a trend is established, consider the likelihood that this direction will be sustained. Invest only when you see a gap between price and valuation.
It sounds so easy. Reality is tougher but the basics will serve us well for as long as we temper our greedy instincts.
Stick with your winners; sell them only when concentration fears start to keep you up at night. Historically, that’s been my early warning system on both people and deals – if I’m thinking about you at midnight then we’ll probably be speaking shortly!
Always hold a portion of your portfolio in high quality cash equivalents – this will enable you to capitalize on unexpected opportunities and assist with the (near impossible) task of staying calm when everyone else is losing their cool. By definition, your best deals will be offered to you when everyone else is out of cash. As much as possible, be countercyclical in your fundraising and capital reserves.
Waiting and watching…
PS -- I'm off to Santa Cruz next week to see Brant and Mark. After that Monica and I will be camping for two weeks. I've set things up so that I should be able to keep publishing.
Power Talk – I’ll be speaking on training/racing with power at a September 19th meeting of the Boulder Triathlon Club. 7pm at the Senior Center beside the East Boulder Rec Center.
We’re going to have catering/support/sag at the standard of the camps I do with Scott/Johno. Eight days, all-inclusive, $2,250 per camp (we cover everything but your travel to/from
Alternative Perspectives has a neat article by my friend Terry Kerrigan. He's writing about Power Reserve.
Mat's blog talks about the role of expectations in performance -- it's extremely rare for a new athlete to have the humility to accept their actual bike fitness. I'm willing to bet that you've had similar thoughts in your racing -- I certainly have. What makes Mat's race unique is that he didn't bow to what he thought he had to do -- he simply did his best. A good lesson for all of us.
I'm back on top of my email -- if you've been waiting a while for an reply and it doesn't come through then please follow-up. There was considerable back-log on the server and some messages may have gone missing.
Whether I achieve, or fail to achieve, my goals – there is always a huge “sigh” at the end of a long build towards any event (fundraising, competition, deal completion, business sale, graduation, new product development).
Transition points are challenging as I am at my best when working towards a tough goal. Outcome doesn’t have as large an impact as the process of sustained personal excellence towards a task. Once the smoke clears, there’s always the sensation of “well, what next”? I’ll come to that in Part Three.
Three things that I’ve been mulling in my head:
First, in evaluating the merits of a decision, I want to consider how I did based on the information that I had at the time, rather than the outcome. It’s possible to make good decisions and have sub-optimal outcomes. Likewise, we can have superior outcomes that are purely due to chance. A great discussion of this point is in Robert Rubin’s book about his time as
Second, I failed to achieve my goal and am currently in nine-hour Ironman shape. It is tempting to “adjust” outcomes by rationalizing external/internal variables. That is bogus. Beware of the trap of fooling yourself with post-experience rationalizations – people close to us will often support rationalizations in an attempt to soothe our egos.
In order to learn from any experience, we need to see the raw reality of our performance. When I blow it, I need to know it. It is the fastest way to learn and improve.
In my last post, I talked about “life best” fitness – sitting here today – I don’t think so! Fitness has physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. I may have optimized certain elements of my physiology but I failed to optimize my _performance_ on the day. The clearest indicator of fitness is performance.
Finally, although I didn’t see it at the time, the race was “lost” in the first hour of the competition. In 2005, I had a similar experience (
Swim Pacing – the swim start was super fast and that surprised me. Why? Perhaps, I created a perception that I was one of the people that you “had to beat” to do well. Perhaps, I wanted the field to race on “my terms”.
I made a choice to swim “easy”. This was a poor decision – why did I do that? I was well trained (physically) to solo at max aerobic effort – I’d been doing weekly open water swims for the entire summer. However, I ended up cruising a large chunk of the swim leg. Why? I went “easy” because I wanted the swim to be “easy”. This was a failure of mental preparation and a poor decision based on the information at the time.
Bike Pacing – coming out of the water, I gave up nearly seven minutes to Mr. Doe. I told myself that was OK, I’d simply had a “flat tire” during the swim. Early in the bike, I found myself riding with Yastrebov/Marcotte/Curry. This encouraged me as the guys are experienced, excellent athletes. My early ride felt like a repeat of 2004 (except the elite draft zone was three meters longer and those are three VERY material meters). I told myself to relax and let the lads pace me back into the race.
Sounds great, eh?
Reality proved a little different! The boys were laying serious hurt on me. We ripped the front half of the course. Even factoring in the tailwind, the first fifty miles of the bike represented the fastest riding that I’ve done in THREE years.
If we are looking to optimize race performance then we need to operate under our maximum capacity for most of the day. So why did I make this decision? I was seeking to maximize race position – maximize, not optimize.
I started racing an hour late _and_ two hours early. If you know the Ironman Canada course then you’ll understand the paradox.
Not only did I ride super strong, but I rode off the front of the lads around Mile 80 – Kieran (in first) was 15 minutes up-the-road but Johno (in second) was close. The first hundred miles was the most intense Century Ride that I’ve done in the last five years. The breakthrough ride that I’d dreamed about was happening. However, it may have proved more effective to place it in July!
Over the last two years, my coaches have recommended that I try to blow myself up on the bike (B- and C-priority races). The irony of doing it during my AAA-priority race makes me smile, and certainly doesn’t make me unique.
The results of my bike pacing happen to nearly everyone in the field. People asked me what “went wrong”? Nothing went wrong; my race outcome was perfectly normal. The fact that it took me so long to wreck myself shows that I was in decent physical shape.
The critical piece of information that was missing was my _actual_ bike fitness, relative to the guys I was riding alongside. I made an internal decision (pacing) based on external variables (the lads). However, I had zero 2007 experience racing with those guys, and then, decided to go off the front of them.
Having ‘blown it’ with my first decision of the day, I don’t have any regrets with trying a new race strategy. The huge serving of Marathon Humility was informative. I was conscious enough on the run to see that my experience was directly my creation – “why, oh why, did I do this to myself”. I was entertained by my self-created suffering. Hopefully, I won’t make this form of entertainment a habit!
Out on the bike, I failed to drink enough water but was saved from disaster by the excellent running conditions. A bit of dehydration may have led to increased complications on the run. The choice to drink less was a very poor one because it makes it much tougher for me to assess the magnitude of my cycling over-exuberance. Still, even if I knew _exactly_ the degree that I blew it on the bike; I will be a different athlete next time.
Whether, or not, there will be a next time is the subject of Part Three. In Part Two, I’ll share thoughts on how the past year went for me. I am in the process of reviewing, then updating, my Personal Plan for the next year.
One final thought, a couple of the lads emailed that they hope to race me on a better day. Last weekend’s race was my absolute best effort and represented total dedication at my end. I brought my A-game to
In our lives, we rarely give ourselves the chance to give our absolute best towards any endeavor. My wife, my clients and my team put a tremendous amount of energy into my race preparations. Daily, I reap the benefits of this focus on excellence.
The toughest part of the entire day was (my perception of) failing to deliver to my crew. As Mark warned, when the race gets tough, the surface fears (failure, fatigue) melt away to the reality of our subconscious fears. I didn’t realize how much I loved Monica until the only disappointment that I felt was not delivering on her dedication to my goal. That is an interesting piece of self-knowledge.
Under duress, I failed to consider that the reward we receive for loving is more love, rather than more performance. If you can relate then you are a very lucky person. If I sound a bit flakey then that is OK too. I only started to understand recently.
I have a few hours this morning before my taxi comes to take me to the airport so I thought that I'd address a question that I received this week.
For background and continued info on the sub-prime situation, check out this website. John is a great analyst when it comes to explaining the background as well as the specifics. My gut feel is that the sub-prime situation was merely a trigger that resulted in a (beneficial) repricing of global risk. Things were totally out of control in terms of liquidity and lending. My personal view is that the "powers that be" should let a lot of people lose a lot of money -- investors should not be bailed out when they make crappy investment decisions. People need to lose money.
That said... I'm reading the Lex Column this morning (on the back of my FT) and notice their chart on three-month interbank rates. It is a look at what's happened to Sterling, Dollar and Euro interbank lending rates over the last six months. If you can punch that up on your Bloomberg then it's worth checking out. This is the rate that banks lend to each other.
I combine that chart with a discussion that I had with a senior banker this week. He was telling me that there are rumours about some medium sized institutions that are expected to need to merge with a stronger partner. That's a quaint British way of saying that they expect a few medium-sized banks to go bust if they don't get taken over.
I flip elsewhere in my paper and note that the last month saw record levels of capital raised by the strongest financial institutions (to strengthen their balance sheets). Elsewhere, my old boss is talking about the regulatory authorities being ill-equipped to handle the nature of the crisis.
So there is a real financial crisis happening right now. To date, the stock market, real economy and general public haven't focused on this issue. Given the magnitude of what I see happening, I can't see how it won't hit the real economy. Massive amounts of liquidity are being removed from the global financial system and the cost of capital is increasing.
That's my view on the macro picture.
On the micro picture -- life remains good for everyone that I come across. Unless you are a realtor, housebuilder, mortgage broker or specialist investment banker -- you will have been insulated from the crisis.
In Scotland, we've seen 5% capital growth in our property portfolio (YTD) and have been able to achieve returns much greater than that by creating value through project design; enhanced planning and "financial engineering". The team here are experts at getting the most out of difficult refurbishment projects in prime locations.
Consistently moving around the world, what most strikes me is the value that the United States offers relative to Europe (generally) and the UK (specifically). Europe is an expensive place to live and do business.
I'm writing this piece inside a two-bedroom flat at the edge of the New Town of Edinburgh. It is a converted warehouse, rather than the traditional buildings that make up most of our portfolio. This flat is valued at US$565,000 and I'd expect to see it get close to US$600,000 in an open market sale. At market value, you'd be looking at a gross yield of 4% and I wouldn't bet on you receiving much capital growth over the next three years. Smart financial buyers have been priced out of this market (they weren't really participants up here anyhow).
What's all this mean? Not much of change from what I was concerned about in 2004. I saw that we had to shift our business strategy to one that is based around value-creation, rather than asset-inflation. Personally, I reduced exposure "too early" and my partner made a quick paper profit on my holdings. However, together we created our new business and I "made" far more by helping him create something new -- than kicking back and letting him (and our team) do all the work on an established business.
At some stage, I'll talk about exits, sales and the strategic nature of working with entrepreneurs. I'm very happy about how things turned out. Selling to a CEO (& very close friend) was highly educational -- I'm glad that we're consistently on the same side of the table now. Personally, I prefer to sell early and for a bit less than full price.
So that's what I'm seeing out there right now. No real change in my outlook from last time.
In portfolio terms...
Asset Allocation is 75% USD and 25% GBP
Breaking my portfolio down I'm 50% cash equivalents and 50% property related. The property investments are split 50:50 between the US and the UK. Our US property investments have a negative yield (we live in our house). My UK property investments have a high (but indirect) yield as they are tied to my advisory income.
All my portfolio leverage (up and down) sits in the UK property component of my portfolio. I hold cash as a hedge against this volatility. If we saw a major crash in global property markets then my UK holding would be hit. It is important to me to avoid dilution through the trough of the next property downturn.
It all sounds pretty complicated! More simply... a house in Boulder; a financial advisory business; a UK property developer; and cash. One major client in Scotland and personal expenses dominated by US taxes and a UK-domiciled consulting team.
In reading through I didn't address your question on the US housing market. I think that the market will continue to fall over the next 12-18 months. If I wanted to enter the market then I'd start looking in January next year. I think that you'll have a lot of scared vendors early next year -- there is a wall of ARM debt that is going to adjust in the spring.
The only reason that I'd buy would be to have a primary family residence -- I expect that the terms on "buying for investment" will greatly improve over the next 12 months. I also expect that vacation locations will see better values when over-leveraged buyers are forced to unload properties.
Given the "yield gap" on most properties, I see little capital upside and the potential to get smoked by an adverse yield-shift (for the last ten years we've been benefiting from a favorable yield-shift). If that happens then there will be some great buying opportunities but we'll all be scared (witless) about putting money into a falling market.
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.
I had an interesting chat with Gordo, the other day, about the difference between what a ‘long-term plan’ means to a swim coach vs. a recreational tri coach. I had the fortunate experience of working for a couple of years under Aussie swim coach Col Jones. Jones Swimming is a household name in the age group swim scene in Australia, with multiple state titles and a score of athletes who have gone on to compete well at both the national and international level. The reason lies in the incredibly structured developmental program that they have in place.
When a child signs up for swim lessons at Jones, they begin, knowingly or not, an 8-10 year process that creates some of the best swimmers on the Aussie scene. From the moment they take their first push and glide from the wall, they are being watched, not only by their instructor, but also by the squad supervisor, who determines if and when the child is ready to move up to the next level. In the beginning, this decision is based on simple technical criteria, e.g.:
The technical criteria becomes progressively more advanced and demanding through the learn to swim phase (~ages 4-8) and eventually transitions to more performance & attendance based criteria as the child makes the transition to junior squads (ages 8-12), for example:
And, if they show promise, eventually to the results based criteria of the high performance squads e.g.
The point is, Jones, and other successful swim programs that I have had the opportunity to observe &/or be a part of, recognize that the acquisition of technical competence, basic endurance, basic strength, threshold endurance and specific race speed is a process that takes 8-10 years. The swimmer does essentially the same training day in, day out in the squad that is appropriate for their current developmental level for as long as it takes to move up to the next one. This could be 10 weeks or 6 months. Sure, some kids get bored along the way and are able to convince their parents that this swimming thing is not for them, or that they should transfer to a different coach (who generally promises that if Sally was in my program, she’ll be making State within a year). Either way, the program doesn’t change to accommodate their whims. The squads roll on, with or without them. And, with only a few exceptions, those who persist and stay a part of this program for the 8-10 years are rewarded with a very high level of performance.
I make the point above that long term improvements in endurance take long term periods of focused development and that, while it is normal to get bored along the way, the solution is not to switch sports or switch coaches or switch training methods. The solution is always – stay the course.
In Tudor Bompa’s landmark book, Theory and Methodology of Training, he speaks of the staircase of athletic development and how the step height and step length are both functions of the biomotor ability that the athlete is seeking to improve.
For example, endurance vs. strength.
Or, put another way, to paraphrase Bompa, while flexibility can be overloaded and improved from day to day, and strength from week to week, improvements (and graduations in the training stress) for endurance should be considered month to month.
Because Bompa’s primary area of focus was strength and power training, much of the rest of the book was framed in that light, e.g. macrocycles were designated as 4-6 week periods of a given training emphasis, while microcycles (or loading blocks) were designated as periods of ~1 week. This may be entirely appropriate when we are talking about optimal duration of training blocks for an experienced strength athlete, however, in my opinion and experience as a coach of endurance sports, it significantly misses the mark when we are talking about developing the core biomotor abilities of the sub-elite endurance athlete.
So, in Friel-speak, when we are looking at the key training cycles, e.g. Base 1, Base 2, Base 3, etc…, for a novice to sub-elite athlete, it is my opinion that these blocks are better used as 4-8 MONTH periods of development, rather than 4-8 weeks.
It may be interesting to look at what phase of athletic development you are currently at in your long term development as an athlete.
Typically this athlete will come in 30-50lbs overweight, and despite what they may have “benched” or “squatted” back in high school, will be surprised when we get them in the weights room & they struggle to get a good # of reps with 2 plates on the bar. This level of athlete will benefit most from a prolonged training block focusing on improving their basic biomotor abilites, which also happen to be their specific race limiters.
Good improvements can be expected if the athlete devotes 4-8 months training at this level. It is not unusual to see someone drop 50lbs in this time frame and strength improvements for this level athlete can generally be expected to be 50-70%, putting them close to Joe Friel’s strength/bodyweight goals by the end of the year.
The year may culminate in a “just finish” Ironman or a big hiking trip or bike tour. Either way, this “training to train” year sets the athlete up well for Base 2.
Our serious athlete, who has completed several Ironman events and is ready for a “breakthrough performance”, often after multiple races where they underperformed relative to their shorter race distance performances. Despite the athlete’s insistence that they need more speed work, this athlete can most benefit from a long period of training with a focus on maximizing the amount of steady state training within their basic training week. Again, this basic adaptation requires a long time (multiple months) to optimize. It is a reality that most untrained/poorly trained individuals will struggle to hold their AeT pace/power for much more than a half-ironman effort, the ability to hold this effort for the duration of an Ironman race is not something that should be taken for granted. For the average 10-12hr IMer, extending your aerobic threshold endurance to equal or exceed your predicted race duration is the adaptation that offers the greatest “bang for your buck”.
When the Ironman athlete gets to the point that steady state endurance is no longer a limiter, it may make sense to insert periods of effort above average race effort that are tactically advantageous in accordance with the athlete’s strengths, e.g. for an athlete who is a strong climber, it may be beneficial to move into a Zone 3 effort on a key climb in the race where they will be able to generate more speed for the additional watts than if they were to expend the same amount of energy on the flats. Similarly, depending on the race, it may prove useful to expend their ‘reserve energy’ during the swim, in an effort to bridge up to a group of swimmers that is more in line with their cycling ability (to minimize the extra effort associated with passing slower cyclists). However, it is important to note that by the time you are ready to tactically race an Ironman, you’re already at a pretty elite level and, as Gordo is fond of saying, you have spent many years getting ‘fit’ before worrying about getting ‘fast’.
So, that’s my take on the appropriate duration of mesocycles or “focus periods” for the endurance athlete. Now, what about the appropriate duration of overload steps (or microcycles)? As previously mentioned, as a biomotor ability, endurance has relatively long, shallow steps in the developmental staircase. From practical experience, I have found that the optimal length of these steps is anything from 4-8 weeks of one consistent training stimulus before further overload is applied. This ties in nicely with the “basic week” concept. In other words, I give my athletes a fixed training stimulus (a basic week) that they are to repeat 4-8 times before we re-evaluate what adaptations/improvement has occurred and, if applicable, add a slight overload (generally no more than 10%) of whatever stimulus is appropriate for their current developmental level. For our Base 1 athlete this may be a 10% increase in pure volume or a 10% increase in total work completed in a strength session. Either way, the increase is quite modest and conservative and patient by most other coaches’ standards. It does, however, represent the appropriate time frame for the athlete to get some real, measurable improvement that is specific to their own personal limiters.
The progressive transition through these developmental levels is, at best case, a 3 year process, and that assumes consistent, appropriate training on a week-in, week-out basis. Just as the kids who made it through the Jones’ program were the one’s with the parents who recognized the difference between a child’s whims and genuine discontent, if you are to truly succeed in this sport, when you are considering giving up or changing approaches or looking for the next best short cut, it may serve you to be your own best parent and remind yourself how important it is, both in sport and in life, when in doubt, to stay the course.
You can contact Terry through his website, linked below.
Terry Kerrigan and Dr. Philip Skiba
We should probably introduce ourselves, and let you know why we are writing this together. Terry is an Ironman pro, and is the CEO of Aperion For Life, Inc. He coaches and trains athletes across a number of sports, and brings substantial personal experience to the table. Dr. Philip “The Other Dr. Phil” Skiba specializes in sports medicine and exercise science with a focus on endurance athletes. He is the CEO of PhysFarm Training Systems. Though he coaches a small number of athletes, he primarily works as a consultant and advisor to elite and professional athletes around the world, helping to direct their coaches and trainers to design better programs. PhysFarm then uses the data gathered to design new technologies to better prepare athletes for competition.
Terry and Dr. Phil work as a tag team to train a small number of highly motivated athletes. Terry provides much of the practical advice and training progressions, while Dr. Phil provides the science, analysis, and direction. This approach has been very successful. For example, we work together on Joanna Zeiger’s training. She went from a string of tough races to 15th at the Edmonton ITU race, to 1st at Boulder Peak and 2nd at 5430 Long Course.
We are often asked about our coaching “style” or “approach.” We encourage our athletes to stop thinking in the generic wastebasket terms of “bottom-up” or “top-down” coaching. We treat each athlete as a unique individual with particular strengths and weaknesses to be exploited or improved. We believe in applying the art of coaching to the latest science to develop a logical, evidence-based strategy that yields results time after time.
The Concept of Power Reserve:
Functional Threshold Power (FTP): Coined by Dr. Andrew Coggan, this is the best average power an athlete can maintain for an exercise task that takes about an hour. It is highly correlated to the Maximal Lactate Steady State, that is, the highest intensity of exercise an athlete can perform and still maintain a constant level of lactate in the blood, rather than a continual increase. It is primarily due to the metabolic fitness of the muscles, that is, the ability of the muscles to use fat for fuel, and spare carbohydrates (which are limited).
VO2max: The maximal amount of oxygen the athlete can use during exhaustive exercise. It is primarily due to the ability of the heart to deliver blood to working muscle, as well as the number of capillaries in the muscle. pVO2max refers to the power required to reach VO2max, and is usually quite close to the best average power an athlete can maintain for about 4 to 6 minutes.
Using these concepts, we can put together an organizational framework in our minds. If you think of your fitness as a house, imagine that the foundation of the house is your “base training” or perhaps more appropriately, your overall ability to tolerate specific Ironman training. Let’s think of your absolute best sprint power output is the peak of the roof, your VO2max as the attic, and your FTP as the ceiling. Your performance ability (race power) is equal to your height, and you mark your height on the wall as you grow. Make sense?
First things first: You need to train before you can train. What we mean by this is that you need a period of months to years of general training so that you have a foundation that can support the house. What you are doing is allowing your body to build the appropriate infrastructure to support everything you want to make it do. Put another way, as Dr. Andrew Coggan has pointed out: the more you train, the more you will be able to train. We don’t just go out and try to race an Ironman. We spend years training and racing shorter distances before moving up to the ultra distance stuff.
Once we have a solid foundation and are sure the place won’t collapse, we can move into the house and begin to “grow up.” By performing specific training, you begin to get taller. As you grow, your head gets closer and closer to the ceiling. Eventually, you need to raise the ceiling or you will bump your head, right? So, by training in certain ways, we can raise that ceiling. But now, you have another problem…your attic space is getting smaller. To make more space, you have to extend the attic higher. Yet, this eventually creates another problem…you can’t make the attic any taller than the roof. At some point, you need to raise the roof.
When we say “Power Reserve”, we are referring to your “headroom.” We are referring to the amount of power you have available to you above what you actually need to perform the way you would like in the race. Practically speaking, this Power Reserve also reflects an RPE reserve. When the roof, attic, and ceiling are high enough, you have plenty of headroom and you don’t feel cramped/stressed at your chosen race power. The goal of good coaching is to figure out the best way to improve your headroom.
For example: Let’s consider power requirement for a task vs. an athlete’s maximal capacity developed in training. The task is a 180k bike leg in about 4h30m: 68 kg athlete, good aero position, appropriate equipment. Let’s say it takes 265 watts to accomplish this task. How stressful this is, and how well the athlete will run afterwards, depends on their Power Reserve. In other words, if your maximal ability for 180k is 275 watts, and you rode 265 watts, you are going to be shelled and will likely run poorly. However, if your maximal ability for 180k is 290 watts, 265 watts will feel much less taxing.
There are both smart ways and a silly ways to generate that 265 watt average. You could constantly vary your power, or ride steady. Both mathematical modeling and practical experience indicates that your best bet is riding steady, with plenty of reserve, and minimizing your forays into ceiling / attic / roof territory. (However, you should also note that in very variable terrain, a more variable power approach is more appropriate.)
Developing Your Height vs. Developing Your Headroom
The important thing to remember is that the division of exercise efforts into “zones” is a purely artificial, man-made process. In other words, exercise is a continuum where riding done at FTP not only improves power at LT or MLSS, but also serves to improve pVO2max and fatigue resistance. Likewise, riding done at pVO2max will also serve to improve FTP. However, we think in terms of zones so that we train in a time efficient manner and can focus in on particular aspects of fitness.
Traditional training theory would have you believe that the area between LSD training and threshold training is essentially a “no-man’s land.” We have found that, at least in ultra-distance athletes, there is significant gold to be mined here. We have found that while the athlete’s headroom increases with more intense training, increasing the athlete’s height (90k to 180k race power) is best achieved by what we call directed LSD riding. In other words, the athlete does not simply ride long and slow. Rather, the athlete rides in a directed way with extended periods of time at a high LSD / low-end tempo pace. An increase of just 5-10% results in very significant gains in terms of Ironman race power over the long term.
Why Are We Talking About Power Instead of Heart Rate?
Exercise science tells us that (at least below VO2max) HR is the effect of, not the cause of performance ability. You select an exercise level, and your heart simply tries to meet the demand. For instance, we regularly witness HR variations in a range of +/- 15bpm at the exact same power output in Terry’s training! If we had followed a strict heart rate protocol, we would have likely over or under-trained him in a variety of training blocks and circumstances.
The problem is that HR is affected by all kinds of stresses, whether that’s deconditioning, exercise duration, temperature, hydration status, or psychological state. Too many athletes micro-manage HR as if it’s the cause for adaptation when in fact it’s a result of many ongoing changes both chronic and acute. A power meter tells you exactly how hard you are working at any given time, and allows you to very carefully monitor and distribute your effort over the course of a race to make sure you do not push too hard and blow up
The idea of gauging effort in this way is nothing new. For example, look at swimmers and runners: HR monitoring has not really infiltrated the highest levels of these sports. The best athletes have trained on the basis of pace / split times (in other words, power) and duration. The oft-cited Dr. Jack Daniels (and if you don’t own a copy of his book, turn off your computer, go buy it, and don’t read anything else until you finish it) has managed many elite and professional athletes on this basis. Power monitoring will allow you to monitor your training similarly on your bike.
Now, this does not mean that HR data is useless. However, to make it useful, you need to use in under very controlled conditions and keep the above caveats in mind. For instance, it is possible to look at the ratio of HR:Watts in a controlled (indoor and cooled) environment. This is a bit beyond what we can cover in this rather general article, but the point is that there is a place for HR monitoring…just not what most athletes and coaches think it is.
As A Practical Matter, How Do I Apply These Concepts?
This is purely a coaching question, and will be different for every athlete. However, we can give you some general guidelines about our approach to athletes.
1. Know what system you are training.
3. Go short and fast before you go long and fast.
The Big Picture:
As you apply these concepts to swimming and running, it is important to remember the big picture. The body adapts to stress according to some pretty well defined principles, the most important of which are specificity and progressive overload.Specificity means just what you think it does: at the end of the day, you need to run to become a better runner and bike to be a better biker. There is very little crossover between sports, and this has been proven scientifically. (To be strict about it, there is some minimal crossover, but this is of more importance to novice and/or severely detrained athletes). Progressive overload means that you slowly overload the body such that it adapts to the new stress level. In mythology, Hercules became strong by carrying a small calf up a hill every day. Each day, the calf grew a little, which made his “workout” a little harder. Hercules achieved great strength through a process of overload. He didn’t carry the calf one week and then a bull the next week. Catch our drift? You can’t do it all at once…it needs to be gradual.
But, just how long is “gradual”? We are talking years. Seriously. More often than not, athletes “overshoot” mentally. They attempt an overly ambitious training program and expect a result that isn’t in keeping with the time periods of physiologic adaptation. They think in terms of weeks, months and race seasons, when in fact it takes years (as many as 10) to come to peak ability. The results of “overshooting” are often frustration, injury and health complications. In desperation, the frustrated athlete then begins investing too much energy in things that don’t provide any proven gains. They look to enhance results with supplements, swimming aids, or special running shoes, and become still more frustrated when they fail to meet expectations.
There is no easy way. Achieving your potential is about hard work, being honest with yourself, and having a deep level of commitment to becoming your best on your body’s terms, not your ego’s terms. There is no replacement for things like a healthy lifestyle, sleep, good nutrition, and above all, patience.
Above all, the most important concept we can convey to you is that your training program must be based on evidence; that is, real data. How fast can you swim 4k on a day-to-day basis in training? How many watts can you put out and for how long can you put them out? How fast can you run from 20-40k? How about after cycling for several hours? This is what you need to know to design your training program properly, and just as importantly, how to optimally plan and execute your race. Good Luck!
Aperion For Life, Inc. bridges the gaps between sports performance, lifestyle development, and health and wellness, providing thoroughly planned and effective solutions to fitness related challenges. Read more at www.aperionforlife.com
PhysFarm Training Systems, LLC is dedicated to helping clients in amateur and professional sports achieve excellence in athletic performance through the application of the latest science and state of the art technology. PhysFarm develops custom training strategies for clients interested in lifting performance through legal, scientifically validated means. More information is available at www.physfarm.com
Huddle asked me about my Big Room Speech being a motivator. Not so much any more -- my main personal driver is simply to "go fast". However, having the chance to stand up in front of a room of people and say that I love Monica, that would be fun. I didn't get my shot this year so I'll write it here instead!
Sweets, I really appreciate the massive effort that you put into my athletics this year and I love you very much!
My current location is Banff, Alberta and I'm riding intermittent wireless from a public parking area near the Bow River. Check back on September 10th for the first of a three part series. I've been running through the race, as well as, the year in my head for the last few days. I'll share ideas on: (a) the race; (b) the year; and (c) the future.
Many thanks for the pre-race good wishes -- I read them all prior to last Sunday and have managed to reply to (most of) you from Banff.
Monica pointed out that my race ended up mirroring one of my greatest triathlon fears. I found myself laughing (internally) as I had a personal moment, on my hands and knees, at Mile Eight of the run. As usual, the 'fear' was far worse than reality. Quite ironic that I had to get myself into life best fitness in order to self-detonate.
The most interesting aspect of the week was that, through a single blog entry each week, I created a change in the way other people saw (and reacted to) me. Three hours of writing each week was enough to tilt (a small niche of) the World.
Things are a bit backed up on the email. Expect replies to extend into mid-September.
Not (yet) a Hollywood ending but I'm a fan of French Cinema in any event.
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.
It has become a somewhat common practice for intermediate to elite athletes to have regular lactate assessments in an effort to track improvements and to determine and periodically assess training zones. These are both worthwhile ways to use the data from a lactate test. However, it is of great importance that the data is being evaluated in the context of Ironman racing. In the following article, I will examine some of the negative implications of setting zones and evaluating data in the traditional (non-ironman) way and I will show you, as an ironman athlete, the proper way to set your training zones based on data from your lactate test. I will also discuss some of the deeper implications of lactate testing that can guide the direction of your future training. But first a quick primer on exercise physiology and what’s happening on ‘the inside’ when you complete a graded exercise test.
So, what is lactate? In general terms, lactate is simply a by-product of anaerobic metabolism. When insufficient O2 is available for complete fuel breakdown, a small amount of energy can be released with glucose conversion to an intermediate substance – pyruvic acid. In turn, this pyruvic acid can either be metabolized (in the presence of sufficient oxygen) via aerobic glycolysis or it can be further disassociated into lactic acid and H+ ions. In the context of “anaerobic” athletic events, it is the accumulation of these H+ ions that ultimately limits performance. In the context of typical aerobic athletic events, the power of the athlete to oxidize this pyruvate via aerobic processes becomes an important factor in limiting performance.
For the ironman athlete, there are a couple of important physiological implications to consider when we see elevated lactate values:
#1 Blood lactate can be indicative of a greater reliance on anaerobic processes for the production of energy.
#2 Blood lactate can be indicative of a shift from fat-burning to carbohydrate burning.
This implication is much more important for an Ironman athlete than the first because glycogen depletion is a primary limiter in Ironman racing. If you can reduce the proportion of energy that is coming from glycolytic processes and maximize that coming from lipolytic processes, your glycogen stores will last longer for the same given workload. Because these are a much more finite store than your lipids, it behoves the Ironman athlete to do all that he/she can to maximize this adaptation.
Without going into too much depth, for the science guys out there, the increased lactate exhibited from carbohydrate oxidation can be explained by the increased acidity of the carbohydrate molecule when compared to the fatty acid molecule. This increased acidity ultimately results in greater CO2 production when energy is liberated from Glucose as opposed to FFA’s (~25% more CO2 for the same net energy yield). Ultimately, this extra CO2 has to go somewhere. Typically it combines with H20 to form H2CO3 (carbonic acid), which in turn dissociates into H+ ions and bicarbonate (HCO3). It is the conversion of H+ ions & Pyruvate into Lactate via it’s interaction with Lactic Dehydrogenase that ultimately results in increased lactate within the muscle.
Now, it is important to note that slow twitch fibers utilize a different form of lactic dehydrogenase (H-LDH) that maintains the equilibrium preferentially shifted toward pyruvate, NOT lactate (this in turn favors lipolysis over glycolysis). Thus, if slowtwitch fibers are being exclusively used & the body is primarily reliant on fat as a substrate, muscle lactate production is negligible.
So, what does this all mean in a practical sense to you as an athlete?
In the above chart, you will see a number of lactate curves from the Boulder “lads”, with a 2:07 marathoner (Gelindo Bordin) thrown in, just to spice things up (save & view in paint to enlarge). I will provide you with an analysis of some of the implications that arise from each of the curves with regard to setting appropriate training zones and training methodologies for the coming phase.
Curve 1 (Alan) represents a traditional lactate profile. The subject’s first deflection point (AeT)occurs at a speed of ~ 7.0 miles per hour and a lactate level of 2mmol/L. If you draw a straight line from this first deflection point along the curve, you will see that at the 4th data point (~4mmol/L), the curve breaks away from this second straight line and becomes more steep. We term this deflection VT2 or the anaerobic threshold. It is these two ‘breakpoints’ in the curve that provide the most information on recommendations for assigning training zones and recommendations on changes to training methodologies in the coming phase.
Before we go into the practical implications for Alan’s training program, first a quick recap on what is going on, biochemically at each of the points on the curve:
When Alan begins the test and gradually increases his pace to a comfortable aerobic level, arterial blood lactate remains relatively unchanged from resting levels (1.4mmol/L in Alan’s case) despite an increase in pace. The first workload intensity that represents a jump in the lactate level is termed the aerobic threshold. Both ventilatory and blood lactate rises can be observed at this level. The ventilatory rise is explainable as previously mentioned on the basis of blood HCO3 buffering mechanisms, in which the additional CO2 produced with the recruitment of FOG (type IIa) fibers via their preference for aerobic glycolysis (sugar burning) over lipolysis (fat burning) results in temporary buffering with NaHCO3 to form Carbonic acid, which eventually is expelled (as CO2 gas) via increased ventilation when it reaches the lungs. Even if you don’t 100% get the rationale, the important thing to note is that an increase in lactate response & an increase in ventilation are signalling a change in muscle fiber recruitment from slow twitch fibers (fat-burners) to FOG fibers (sugar-burners) (Skinner & McLellan, 1980). As Ironman athletes, the longer we can stave off this switch, the better.
As FG fibers begin to be recruited and the anaerobic load goes up, at workloads greater than those described (~75-90% VO2max), the blood lactate level then begins a more rapid rise. In Alan’s case this can be seen at 8.0mph (~82% VO2max). The threshold at which this rise takes place can be termed the anaerobic threshold. Both ventilatory (panting) and blood lactate changes occur at this threshold as well. At the work intensity where the blood lactate concentration begins to accumulate and blood acidity begins to rise, the rising H+ ion accumulation provides a powerful stimulus for NaHCO3 buffering and a consequent rise in expired CO2.
So, based on the above data, how do we calculate appropriate training zones for Alan?
Increase fat oxidation
Increase aerobic capacity of FOG fibers.
3. Increase oxidative potential of FG fibers,
4. Increase VO2max
So, that’s how we calculate the training zones, now what does the curve tell us about what our training priorities should be for the coming phase?
Let’s begin by looking at the first point, what we are terming the aerobic threshold.
Gordo AeT = 9.2mph
This is important to note. While, the profile of the curves is quite different beyond the AeT point, with some being more steep than others after AeT (e.g. Gordo & Alan vs. Mat, John, Jeff), the best predictor of Ironman performance is not the profile of the curve, but rather the speed at AeT (the other factors come into play, as discussed below but moving your curve as far ‘right’ as possible should be priority #1).
So, how do we move the curve to the right? Well, we could try to ‘push it’ with a high volume of work at or below the AeT or ‘drag it’ by elevating our VO2max as high as possible and hoping that the subsequent points will fall into line. The former method, i.e. ‘pushing the curve’ has received the most empirical support as the best method for long term adaptation (e.g. Touretski & Pyne, 1994) and makes the most logical sense when we break VO2max into it’s two constituent components: Cardiac output and Arterio-venous oxygen difference. The first of these is maximized in a very short period of time: 12-14 weeks (Seiler, 1998). Therefore, if continued top end improvement is desired, one must undertake training that addresses peripheral limiters which have a much greater time course of training adaptation (Seiler, 1998).
So, that’s step 1: Push the curve as far to the right as possible by performing a very high volume of exercise slightly below the AeT:
This is the slowest but longest term adaptation and therefore, should be made a high priority throughout the training year and your athletic career as a whole. Clearly, while Alan and Gordo share similar lactate profiles, the big difference lies in the speed at their first deflection point. That inch and a bit difference of the graph, represents a difference of ~7000 hours of steady state aerobic training in the real world!
Clearly, all of the crew, irrespective of what their lactate profile does after that first deflection point, could benefit from continued emphasis in this area. This begs the question, how much is enough? Mark Allen got to the point that he was able to run 5:19/mi at this point (11.3mph). He accomplished this with repeated bouts of 12 week base periods over the course of 10+ years where ALL of his training was done below this point (Noakes, 2003). This is not too far from the first break-point of Gelindo Bordin and may represent a near optimal value for lipolytic power. In short, as an endurance athlete, until you are running 11.3mph w/ a lactate level very close to your resting level, you have some serious upside to improve all levels of performance @ & above AeT by devoting a high volume of training to an intensity at or below your first deflection point (~2mmol/L).
When comparing the next section of the curves (from 2-4mmol/L), some notable differences can be observed. It is fairly clear that John, Mat and Jeff all exhibit a fairly tame gradient from 2-4 mmol/L. This is indicative of a very well trained aerobic glycolytic system or, from a muscle fiber perspective, their FOG fibers are very well trained to produce work. In fact, you will notice that at the 4mmol/L mark, their curves begin to approach Gordo’s curve. The only problem is, when you look at the area between their curves and Gordo’s, this represents a high glycolytic cost to do so. My hunch is that they have been spending a good amount of time (perhaps unintentionally) training above their AeT’s. While this may be a good thing in terms of specific preparation for a 10hr IM, comparison of their grades with Gordo’s indicates a much greater upside to moving their first point closer to his via training at or below the 2mmol/L mark.
On the other side of the coin, for a curve like Alan’s that represents a fairly steep rise after AeT, IF he gets to the point that AeT endurance is no longer a specific limiter to Ironman performance, a short specific phase of training designed to flatten his 2-4mmol/L line prior to racing an IM may be prudent. This is accomplished with dedicated “key sessions” that are slightly above his AeT:
Looking beyond the 4mmol/L mark, it is clear that Alan and Gordo’s curves exhibit a second deflection point. This is indicative of the individual Anaerobic Threshold, which, as previously mentioned, indicates the period of exercise in which lactate dissipation and clearance can no longer match the rate of accumulation. Because of the anaerobic nature of Fast Glycolytic (FG) fibers, this also tends to indicate a shift in recruitment pattern from FOG to FG fibers. It is not uncommon in elite endurance athletes to notice an absence of this second deflection point (Martin and Coe, 1991). Frequently, these athletes are very efficient at clearing lactate and also taking it up and using it as a substrate. In addition, frequently,elite athletes do not exhibit traditional FG fibers under conditions of a biopsy, i.e. they have converted fibers that were previously inept at using oxygen into fibers that can produce work under oxidative conditions, i.e. with minimal lactate output.
Gordo’s lactate curve is a little atypical of elite long course athletes in this regard. If I were to hypothesize on this, it may be due to more emphasis on higher intensity speed work during this year compared to last, or a consistent emphasis on strength training. In the context of IM racing, this difference may be a bit of a red herring. It is unlikely that he will be spending significant periods of time at 4mmol/L esp during the run. If we were to see a similar profile on the bike and, particularly on the swim, it may indicate a potential area for improvement in the context of a tactical race. In this case, greater emphasis on Zone 3 training may prove useful (to flatten out the 3-4mmol/L) aspect of the curve.
Zone 4 training, as previously mentioned may be useful at the super-elite level to ‘peak up’ oxygen delivery mechanisms which will ultimately allow higher threshold fibers to be saturated with O2 and trained, i.e. as a corollary to Zone 3 training. It is important to note that VO2max is rarely a limiter to Zone 1 & 2 intensities and therefore, it’s use in the training of sub-elite long course athletes needs to be seriously questioned.
Hopefully, I have conveyed the importance of regular lactate testing for the endurance athlete. Hopefully, I have also conveyed the importance of having a coach or sports scientist who is very familiar with Ironman-specific lactate interpretation to advise you on training implications arising from such a test.
To enquire about our testing packages here at our Endurance Corner Lab in Boulder, Colorado, or to ask any questions about lactate testing in general, please contact me at email@example.com.
References available on request.
Over the past few years, I’ve tried different running approaches to get faster. This year, I’ve concentrated on running the back half of my runs faster than I do the front half. This pace can be different from session to session, but I try to always negative split the “effort”.
I want to state right from the start that I know very little about poker, so if I don’t represent the game (Hi:Low) correctly, then I apologize. However, one has to admit the terminology is “catchy”!!
So what is poker pacing? I choose my target heart rate for the day, which is generally dependent on the duration of the run. For my runs that are 1 hour or greater, this corresponds to my projected steady hr that I will utilize for Ironman pacing. In the first third of the run, my effort that day is never higher than the specified rate. For me, especially when fatigued, this usually involves 18-20 minutes of very easy running. This effort is usually 12-15 beats below my goal in the early going, and it naturally drifts up to my specified “High” limit.
In the middle of the run, I elevate my effort until my heart rate matches my target heart rate.
The final third of the run is most crucial and where the most benefit from the effort occurs. My heart rate in this period is never below the “Low” limit. Typically this is challenging during the initial effort, but after overcoming the mental urge to slow down the pace becomes comfortable. If feeling fresh, I will end the run topped out at my aerobic ceiling for the last 10-15 minutes.
I find several advantages in this approach. First, it allows me to ease into each run, relieving the mental stress of hitting a particular pace. I really like to take it easy during the beginning of the run. The more fatigued I am, the longer it might take to reach my “High” limit. I find this very relaxing, saving valuable mental energy needed later.
Secondly, I find that this more relaxed approach allows me to pace more appropriately on that particular day. It is seldom that I end up bonking or slowing down because my initial effort is one that is more realistic given my condition that day. There is no “pushing” myself to run a pace I likely can’t hold.
The mental benefit of allowing me to take an easy pace in the beginning of the run pays off when I feel obliged to keep the commitment of a harder effort at the end of the run. My experience is that the easy pace in the first half when I’m fresh is not significantly lower than a more pressured pace; whereas the harder effort is typically much faster than a failing second half effort in which you went too hard in the beginning.
I’ve additionally observed an improved ability to gauge the appropriateness of my pacing and level of fatigue. If my elevated heart rate in final 1/3 results in a faster pace, I think it is safe to say I have the appropriate fitness to run that pace AND that I’ve chosen a pace that is reasonable for that fitness. On the other hand, when my extra effort at the end doesn’t result in a faster pace, then I’ve chosen too fast of a pace. When I can’t reach a higher heart rate, it generally means I’m fatigued. This last assumption takes into account that I’ve been using poker pacing in training and am very familiar with my efforts and paces.
This pacing can be used for the other disciplines and the entire race. This has become increasingly apparent as our training group has experimented with “Big Day Training” and variation of our efforts during our swim and bike sessions.
I’ve included my splits from an open water swim I recently completed:
7/26/07 Boulder Swim
This was a successful pacing session in that I was able to remain relaxed in the beginning and then steadily increase my effort with a concomitant increase in pace over the duration of the swim. As I refine my efforts in the water, I will be able to narrow the range over which heart rates vary. Though, similar to running, I’m continually surprised how much additional effort at the end is required to significantly elevate pace.
It is clear to me that when approaching BDT and iron-distance events with the intention of taking it easy during the swim and first 45 minutes or so of the bike (first third), steady during the remainder of the bike and the first 20 minutes of the run (second third), I’m able to elevate my effort and increase my pace in the final aspects of the run. Using this approach requires significant patience and an thorough understanding of early pacing. My experience is that without training this method, most of us don’t have the self-awareness of early pacing and the mental fortitude to resist the chaos around us on race day.
Just remember, iron-distance racing should be approached as Big Day Training with a fast final 10k.
Hope this is helpful.
The photo this week is a snap from this morning's lab testing. That's Mat working on my most recent lab test (we have lab coats but he seems more comfortable in a Jack Daniels t-shirt). We are at the very early stages and it's been a lot of fun for all the team.
Alan is going to write up some thoughts on Lactate Testing -- he's at two pages already -- you'll find the article over on his blog in a few days. He's got all our data so it might be interesting for you to review.
I've made a few adjustments to my gear for IM Canada.
I've always wondered what difference it would make to have the _absolute_ best equipment available to me on race day. The good people at Planet-X offered to pimp my TT bike so I can transfer extra watts through to to the road. That's very much appreciated!
On race wheels, I'm likely to run the set of Xentis-TTs. Given that I thought a 23 was a 27 on my hill TT and they accelerate faster than a disc -- I figure that they will be the most efficient wheel set for me. The IMC bike course involves plenty of pace changes so I'll trade a bit of high-velocity straight-ahead aero to reduce power spikes on pace changes.
Probably the biggest change is that I'll not run a powermeter this year -- no post-ride data for you. I thought quite a bit about this decision and it feels right for me. With eight years on power, I'll use the Force (and my heart rate monitor) to guide me.
I'm keen for pace feedback on the run but haven't made a final decision on whether to run an HRM. My physiological testing has confirmed my 'feel' at various paces and I've raced that marathon course plenty of times -- the key components of (my) running fast in Penticton are pace, rather than effort based.
My buddy Chris McDonald set me up with some compression socks -- they don't match my speedo but you might see them on the run. My fashion choices amuse me and a bit of internal amusement can come in handy towards the end of the race. This might mean that I don't run my second choice socks... too bad as they _really_ entertain me.
Guess I can wear them to the pro meeting...
Within our training group this summer, one guy has managed to lift his run performance much more than the rest of us -- Jeff Shilt. I asked Dr. J to share his approach for getting the most out of his run sessions and he wrote this week's Alternative Perspectives for us. This is a practical explanation of Lydiard's advice to always "come-back-faster-than-you-went-out" when running.
Jeff (gleefully) pulls large handfuls of time out of the more 'spirited' Lads in the back halves of his run and swim workouts. I believe that there is a material physiological benefit to training this way. Jeff has deeply ingrained a mind-body connection of always finishing strong.
Under stress, (I expect that) he will revert to the pattern of backing off early and finishing very strong. Many athletes think that they will be able to "race different than training". Under stress, you are very likely to revert to your most deeply held memories and patterns. This is why athletes that love high intensity training are at a disadvantage in ultra-distance racing -- they have little practical knowledge of the difference between easy/steady/mod-hard... to them... it is all "slow".
Getting into Coaching
Mike Ricci, Mat and I cut our first podcast this week. Hopefully, I won't put you to sleep because I need to be more animated! We started recording 15 mins after a decent swim workout -- guess I was a bit flat. We'll need a bit of time to get it live -- this is all new for us.
I'll try to do better for you when we cut the "Going Pro" piece -- please email me questions that you have. I'll see if my buddy, Chris McDonald, will join me for that one -- he knows the raw reality of "living the dream".
A reader sent me an interesting interview with Renato Canova -- the article provided interesting things to consider. Two of Canova's key beliefs struck me as particularly relevant:
(a) the need for change within an athlete's program -- the dynamic nature of athletic fitness across an athlete's lifespan; and
(b) the need to minimize fuel consumption at specific event pace.
Fuel consumption (and mix) is an essential consideration for ultradistance athletes -- it may go some way to explaining why the fastest athletes (defined as pace/power at FT) don't always win Ironman.
For what it is worth, for events over seven hours, I'd define race-specific fitness as power/pace at AeT and I'd measure how well-trained an ultra athlete is by calculating AeT power/pace as a percentage of VO2-Max power/pace. The more traditional benchmark is to use Functional Threshold, rather than Aerobic Threshold.
I'll let Jeff and Alan pick this up after we've reached internal agreement on the terminology that we'll be using at Endurance Corner. There are many ways to say the same thing.
With my recent focus on Ironman Canada, my reading has taken a backseat -- however, I did have time to read an interesting book on running -- Run Easy by Ron Clarke. It was another one from Alan's extensive library -- likely out of print in the USA.
This past weekend, Mat lent me his copy of Lance Armstrong's War -- the insight into the cultural and social background of the pro peleton was the most interesting part for me.
Like Lance, I take note of the people that speak of me in public. They give me extra motivation to ensure that I do my absolute best to achieve my absolute best. If I am honest, then (for some reason) even the folks that merely mention me tend to fire me up. I've asked the Lads to _never_ _ever_ defend me in public.
Alan and I were talking about performance the other day and he made the comment that one of the things that he liked about my philosophy was my view that genetics don’t play a large part in athletic performance. If a guy in our office thinks that I said that then I’d better clarify my position. I’ll do that in a minute.
Daniels talks about the ingredients for success in his book. His ingredients are: Inherent Ability; Motivation; Opportunity; and Direction. At the end of that opening chapter, he sums up that the ingredients essentially boil down to ability and motivation.
To clarify, genetics play a key role in how far (and fast) you’ll progress relative to others. However, your DNA plays much less of a role in how far you’ll progress relative to yourself. You’re ultimate achievement will be impacted far more by non-physiological factors than many think. [For the purposes of this article, I will overlook work on the role of genetic modes of expression in brain function.]
In a culture where motivation is driven (largely) from relative performance -- genetics will, therefore, play more of role in determining how close you’ll come to your Ultimate Potential. Why? Because many people are externally, rather than internally motivated.
What prevents athletes (or anyone else) from realizing their Ultimate Potential in a given field? I’ve watched many highly successful people over the last eighteen years and will share some observations on what truly limits us.
Resistance to Change -- I'm on record (somewhere) having said that I've never met a problem that couldn't be overcome by additional effort. That philosophy served me very well. I achieved an 8:29 Ironman and a couple of second places. I then spent most of 2005 nuked and used my same patterns to take me back to a 3rd place finish (22 minutes slower than my best). In order to move past my previous success (or even try to get back to it) -- I had to make simple, yet deep, changes to my fundamental beliefs about endurance
Ego -- in his blog, Mat writes about the challenges of training with guys that he knows are faster than him. He closes wondering if he will have the humility to let people that he "knows are slower" go up the road. I asked him if he really knew the background of everyone that he'll be racing in Kentucky. Keying off a stranger that's bent on blowing themselves up can be a dangerous strategy. I know a few guys that have made tactical decisions based on athletes that didn't even finish the bike leg.
Control -- training and racing produce strong emotions at times. Over the last month, I've cried when running well -- fitness is a strong drug and the emotions that result from the various chemicals that we release with powerful training can cause strange actions. I interpret most strong emotions as "power" -- some of my training pals interpret them into anger (or disrespect). That can be useful if you've got a hard interval to do but disastrous if you are 60 miles from home on an endurance ride. Probably the most talented guy that I ever trained with confided in me that he was simply unable to control himself when racing -- great for Half IM and shorter races but he never fulfilled his long course potential.
Financial Stability -- spending a good chunk of our lives working at our maximum capacity (and resting from triathlon) is the greatest performance enhancer a tired athlete can do for themselves. Like most stressors, you don't realize how much debt/poverty drains you until you've removed it (and recovered).
Recovery -- I write about this one a lot. I know athletes that have been watching their racing slow for multiple seasons, yet struggle to see what the cause might be. I also watch athletes coping with running injuries, adjust their programs by making everything "quality" and reverting to patterns that have caused happiness in the past (e.g. back-to-back IM racing). Some of these athletes are coached by the smartest people in our sport -- you have to wonder if people are considering the cause of chronic fatigue and injury.
Time -- for people that "get it" -- time is the ultimate limiter, much more than talent or genetics. Starting at 30-years-old, I might (just) be able to squeak out my genetic potential before my athletic capacity starts to wane. As well, there's only so much that we can take out of our daily lives to work towards a goal. I have a team of people that help me towards my goals.
Patience -- the final one is my favourite. Most people will leave the playing field before they reach their potential. By sticking around, you'll make less mistakes while the new entrants (clamor for their 'right' to) repeat your errors.
After all that, it comes back to Daniels. To perform best, relative you ourselves, ultimately we're limited by our motivation.
I'll be offline from now until September 12th. I might publish, I might not. We'll see.
Many thanks for your support over the last year,
When you see little 2-4 seat planes flying around in the sky, they are mostly flying under what is known as Visual Flight Rules (VFR). That means that the pilot is doing most of his flying and navigating by looking out the window. Many of the small changes in the plane’s attitude (banking, climbing, etc) are preformed by feel and by looking out the window at the horizon. The term ‘flying by the seat of you pants’ comes from the feel of our butt on the seat in various flight attitudes.
More advanced flying makes extensive use of the various instruments in the plane. For the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on two instruments: the altimeter and the attitude indicator.
Using both instruments together
When flying in the clouds, the understanding and use of both of the aforementioned instruments is critical. The AI shows any momentary change in the plane’s attitude while the altimeter shows trends over time. For instance, when the pilot initially pulls back on the yoke, the AI will show that a climb has been initiated. However, the altimeter will only show a climb as the plane’s altitude actually increases. (Interestingly, at slow airspeeds, it is possible to be in a climbing attitude while actually losing altitude.)
One way pilots describe how these two instruments interact is to characterize the attitude indicator as a control instrument and the altimeter as a performance instrument. In other words, when initiating a climb or descent solely by reference to instruments, you would control the attitude with the attitude indicator and determine the performance of that climb or descent with the altimeter.
What’s this got to do with endurance training?
(And, similarly to how a pilot sets altitude limits and follows them on the altimeter, one would also set heart rate limits).
One last point, it is a common refrain in flight training for the instructor to tell the student to ‘get his head outside the cockpit’. In other words, stop focusing on the instruments and fly the plane by looking outside. Once you can do that, then learn how to control the airplane by instruments. I believe the same holds true for all the technology available to today’s endurance athletes.
I wrote a short piece on my August training over at the Planet-X site. One error that I discovered this evening -- I ran an 11-23 cassette rather than a 12-27 // sometimes it's best not to know that you are overgeared for a TT. Amazing what we can do when we don' t realize it. I thought that I had a gearing advantage over the boys and that made the TT feel easier -- the edge was all in my head!
In a future article, or podcast, I'll be discussing "Going Pro" -- if you've got any questions that you'd like me to address then send them along via email -- I listed all our email addresses last time.
Sam's written another interesting piece for us on Alternative Perspectives -- it compares powermeters with flying an airplane.
a -- that your purchase will cost more in February next year
For what it's worth, in housing, I expect that the worst that you'll do is pay the same price next year -- with yields low (in most markets) that, effectively, means that you will have saved money.
In our Scottish business, we've done very well locking in deals across the winter when conditions are uncertain. We did that with the tailwind of a strong liquidity environment -- with tighter debt markets, there will be attractive deals to be had for fully funded buyers. Within our property development joint venture, margins have started to expand again (after contracting for the last two years).
The press appear to have latched onto the fact that we are in a credit crunch. I don't see that. [Ed Note: Whoops! ECB injects e100 billion into the debt markets.] What I see is that we've moved to more 'normal' debt conditions with borrowers having to demonstrate ability to pay and offer security -- the numbers don't look like a crunch to me. There is a clear overhang of poor credits and marginal developments in many markets -- still, fairly priced, quality product in prime locations continues to attract good pricing.
I think that there is a decent chance that we'll move through our current, benign, conditions through to a real credit crunch. The global liquidity picture should be a bit more clear by early spring.
Greed continues to dominate fear in the markets that I follow. I'm overweight on cash and biding my time.
First -- identify our habits and patterns
Most of the literature that I real about sports psychology focuses on exercises and techniques to deal with Part One of the challenge. Create consciousness about what's going on upstairs. That is a powerful first step.
For me, what comes after that is shifting from being (unconsciously) controlled by our thoughts to (consciously) observing them. Personally, I don't hold much hope of being able to control my mind -- I merely want to observe it.
I think we all experience thoughts, patterns, habits that we'd like to change -- only a minority of folks seem to be able to pause (a fraction of a second) to gain control of the automatic response that our fears and habits generate within us.
That fraction of a second is the most valuable second in my life -- it is where I am able to achieve a handhold of control over my actions. That small element of control helps me with the many little decisions that, ultimately, form my reality.
It sounds 'new age' to state with certainty that I control my life, my reality. Is it really? Consider the opposite -- how many times have you experienced the complete lack of control over your destiny? Being controlled by automatic responses to people, situations, emotions -- having your mind click into autopilot leaving you unconsciously following along. I spent YEARS like that.
Coming back to athletics -- I found a great article in the archives to illustrate my point. Here is my 2001 Race Plan. I must have been pretty nervous because I considered just about everything! The Plan worked great but there's no way that I could have remembered all that stuff on race day.
Six years later, here's my race plan for August 26th...
No prizes for guessing which race strategy is easier to remember. Six out of seven components are under my direct control for the duration of the event. The seventh is a reminder (to me) that racing is a test of will (at many levels).
More than being able to remember/execute. What I notice between 2001/2007 is that, over time, I have incorporated many of the "Phase One" lessons (of racing) into my life. I don't need to be reminded of them, they are part of my life. So when you are working through mental skills training; consider that the ultimate goal may be to get past the exercises.
In my life, the "not thinking" is often more valuable than the "thinking".
Mat just posted Alan's article on Daniels Running Formula over on Alternative Perspectives. Alan had been asking me a lot of personal training questions over the past few days. Turns out, that he was using me for a Case Study. Alan's articles do an excellent job of explaining the technical side of our approach to coaching.
For more info you can contact Alan via email.
Getting into Coaching
I've had several emails seeking advice for getting into coaching. I've asked my friend, Mike Ricci, to do a podcast with me. We'll answer all the questions that we've received over the last month.
If you have any questions that you'd like us to cover then please send them along via email to:
Jeff "Dr. J" Shilt is working on two Spring Camps. The camps will be based in Tucson, AZ. Pricing will be around $2,250 and will include everything but your airfare to/from Tucson.
Camp 1 -- March 22-30, 2008 -- this will be a balanced training camp with an emphasis on the bike. For athletes racing IM Arizona, we'll schedule an "honest" race sim ride on March 23rd and make sure the rest of the camp fits into your Peak Period.
Camp 2 -- April 19-27, 2008 -- this will be a bike-focused training camp and the stronger athletes will ride 400-500 miles across the camp.
Fitness -- as a guideline, you'll want to have sub-13 hour IM fitness and/or sub-6 hour Half IM fitness. I imagine that some of my speedy pals will turn up so we'll have two groups each day.
If you'd like more details then please send an email to:
We're confirming a venue with a kitchen and meeting room // once that's done we'll be in a position to fix the price. We're capping the camp size at 14 athletes to ensure plenty of interaction between us.
There will be the opportunity to arrive early for the camps and receive supplemental consulting, season planning and physiological testing. If that interests then please include in your note to Jeff.
Jeff, Alan, Mat and I will attend both of these camps.
"mat" "at" "endurancecorner.com"
Part 1: Long Term Athletic Development
The most frequent quandary I have witnessed as a coach and an observer of elite coaches over the past 10 years relates to the fundamental questions of ‘how much?’ & ‘how hard?’. The best coaches that I have seen seem to have an innate sense of appropriate volume and appropriate pace based on the developmental level of the athletes that they work with. Still, this unique skill of determining appropriate workloads is something that seems to, as a best case scenario, take many years, many trials & many errors to develop. So, where does the committed athlete turn in an effort to determine some reasonable, concrete parameters in determining appropriate workloads for themselves? Certainly, hiring one of these accomplished coaches is a good starting point. Another option is to review some of the literature written by these great coaching minds. Frequently, however, it has been my experience that the very best coaches only understand their decision making processes on very abstract levels. They just have a “feel” for what their athletes should be doing. A notable exception to this can be found in the formulae of running coach and scientist, Jack Daniels. Jack is renowned in the running community as the “numbers guy”. He revolutionized the way that we determine appropriate running pacing with his V-DOT table and has left several implications on the table that have a direct impact on your long term planning as a triathlete.
1. If you want to train faster then prove it by racing faster.
The crux of the Daniel’s approach is that there is a narrow band of optimal training paces/intensities that train each physiological system. The clear implication for this is that while you may be able to do your intervals faster or harder than what your own respective VDOT recommends, if you do so, you will not be training the physiological mechanism that you are targeting for that workout. In short, the only way to move up a level in your pace recommendations is to prove that your VDOT has increased via race results.
2. If you want to train more, then prove it by racing faster.
So, what is this optimal volume? A few guidelines from Daniels and others to consider:
In Daniels’ Red (intermediate) plan, for runners who can complete a 20 mile training week under 3hrs (which, for the numerically obsessed out there, works out to a flat base pace of <9:00 per mile or a V-DOT of 47), he recommends building from 20-35 miles per week before racing anything up to half-marathon distance. This program has very limited training beyond tempo intensity. In other words, if you are not running 40-52mi p.w. at a base pace of 8:20 or better per mile, in Daniels opinion (and mine), you are not ready for focused speed work. Importantly, he also points out that runners of this ability level are not ready to target a marathon, which provides some pretty interesting implications for Novice triathletes who sign up for an Ironman with similar fitness numbers
In the Blue (advanced) plan (for runners with a base pace of ~8:20/mile or better/VDOT of 51), Daniels recommends 40-52 miles per week (over the course of 16+ weeks or ~2% increase per week). This phase of development represents more of a focus on speed work (interval training/VO2max sets). In my opinion, this may still be a little early for the use of VO2max sets if the athlete is concerned with developing to their ultimate potential. For instance, former Aussie National Swim Coach, Bill Sweetenham, did no focused VO2 max training for his swimmers until after they had reached National Qualifying level (In Daniels-speak, this would equate to a VDOT of ~64). Daniels also continues to point out that this level of training is not really optimal for Marathon preparation
In the Gold (sub elite) plan (for runners who can complete a 60 mile run week at or better than ~7:45/mile, representing a VDOT of >57), Daniels recommends 60-75 miles/wk of running and asserts that when a runner is of the calibre to handle this training program, they will be prepared for the specific training necessary to prepare for competition of any distance. This level of fitness ties in nicely with Sweetenham’s recommendations of attaining a VDOT of 60+ before engaging in ‘specialized’ training (i.e. race-specific speedwork).
After completing the Gold level of development, the athlete will be ready to undertake any of Daniels’ specialized elite training programs (ranging from 800m-Marathon), presumably in accordance with the personal strengths that they have discovered in the course of the general developmental programs. This form of long term athletic development, moving from a general to a specific focus over a long time period is reminiscent of the plans espoused by periodization guru Istvan Balyi (2005). It is Balyi’s contention that an athlete should be progressed very gradually over the course of 10 years (or 10,000 hours) if they are to achieve their full athletic potential.
Interestingly if we look at a case study of 1, based on Gordo’s rate of development in his July blog entry, his theoretical pattern of training development, based on Daniels programs, would have looked like this:
Based on the training data that I have from Gordo, these mileage numbers look pretty right. For instance, 60 miles @ 6:54/mi = 7hrs/week of running. Gordo’s current run volume is 5-8hrs per week, 5hrs for the easy weeks & 8 for the basic weeks, leading to an average of ~7 per week. If you look at Gordo’s basic week as a working athlete back in 2000, the numbers (4 runs for a total of ~5hrs) seem to line up with the above recommendations pretty well also.
So, pulling all of this together, here are a couple of key observations from the data that you can apply to your own long term plan:
1. It still takes a long time to get good.
2. You need to get fit before worrying about getting fast.
The implications on long-term development for non-elite athletes are certainly something that struck a chord with me when reading the 2nd edition of Daniel’s running formula. As illustrated above, for the most part, the numbers tie in very well with both real life athletic development and proposed developmental plans from some other proven sporting coaches, including Bill Sweetenham and Istvan Balyi.
A couple of fascinating questions that arise from looking at talent identification and long-term athletic development are:
Daniels sheds some interesting light on these 2 questions with his 2.2+6 seconds rule, as do David Martin and Peter Coe (coach and father of Sebastian Coe) in their landmark book, Better Training for Distance Runners. Stay tuned for an upcoming article that delves into what these authors have to say on these two very important questions.
On a related note, stay tuned to my Blog for an upcoming article on how to interpret a lactate curve and how to use the information to identify & address your own personal athletic limiters.
For comments and questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References available upon request.
After my long run last Sunday, Monica and I headed to Santa Cruz for a final visit with Mark and Brant before Ironman Canada. It was a quick trip but I don't judge value added on the time that someone spends with me. Mark and I were together for about three hours and we probably talked about "me" for less than half that time. That's got to be a record for me!
Following my visit with Mark, I had two hours alone at my motel. I'd left my computer behind and forgot to bring any books. It was just me and my note pad. These thoughts stem from the catalyst of Mark's presence -- they may not necessarily be exactly what he said.
Over the last nine weeks, my fitness has benefited from "The Pop". "The Pop" is an unexpected increase in performance. I've been popping in all sports as well as the gym. While my training partners continue to improve, the sensation inside me is that I've improved at a faster rate. So I've been asking myself "why".
In order to understand the process of this year, it's important to backtrack a bit to September 2006. When I read that Peter retired, I figured that there could be an opportunity to work with Mark. So I dropped him a line -- then followed up via email -- then followed up via telephone -- then went to his Sport & Spirit Clinic in Austin. I told Monica that if I wanted Mark to help my world then I should probably make the effort to learn about his world.
When I came to Mark, I wanted help with two aspects of my athletics:
#1 -- that I would nuke myself again in training. Across 2003 & 2004, I did more training than just about anyone I know -- that year culminated with a nine-week ride across America and ten-weeks of IronSchool with Dave Scott's elite group. The overall process was "successful" in that I went 8:29 at Ironman Canada 2004. However... I knew that I would be unable to repeat that level of training again -- my body simply couldn't train at that level.
#2 -- that I would blow-up in a race. There are only a handful of races where I've let go and gone as fast as I can go. I've haven't won most of these races but they have all been deeply fulfilling. With my 2006 racing, I felt like there was a governor on my efforts. I wanted to learn techniques for blowing through self-imposed limits.
Here's the crux of what Mark told me -- I've heard him repeat it many times so I'm sure that he won't mind me repeating it here:
When I read that (less than 14 days after Ironman Canada 2006), I understood what he was saying. However... I didn't really understand at all and, I expect, that a year from now I will probably have an even deeper understanding of what lies behind those words. I've saved the full email and refer back from time-to-time.
Following the Austin Clinic, Mark agreed to take me on and I made a commitment to myself to follow the Sport & Spirit protocol to the absolute best of my abilities. For those of you that have attended the clinics, that means the spiritual aspects as well as the physical training aspects.
Most people come to a mentor or a coach looking for help "to achieve a result" or "to remove a problem". The difference in my case was that I came to Mark looking for new ideas and a commitment to change.
Wanting a result -- versus -- wanting to change.
Most people seek experts to achieve a result yet very few people are willing to attempt change.
Thinking about it, there have been four key "change points" in my triathlon career -- in each of them I learned a tremendous amount from adopting a new approach.
end 1999 -- implementing Friel's book, The Triathlete's Training Bible
mid-2002 -- training closely with Scott Molina (we started working informally at the end of 2000)
mid-2004 -- joining Dave Scott's elite squad
end 2006 -- working with Mark Allen
I can assure you that I'm tempted, daily, to return to my old pattern of out-training everyone. Fortunately, I keep improving so that takes a lot of the pressure off!
A lady that worked in Brant's office died last Thursday. She happened to be Mark's age so death and longevity were on his mind. Death is _always_ on my mind and never far from me (especially when I'm riding).
I wonder if longevity should be the ultimate goal for all of us -- I acknowledge that my opinion on this will likely change as I grow older! Within my mountaineering career, I came to a point where the risk of dying exceeded the benefit that I received from climbing. That's why I shelved my ambitions for any Himalayan expeditions.
Within triathlon, I've often told myself (and others) that any damage that I do to myself exercising is far less than the damage I was doing in my "old life" before exercise.
What happens when your "old life" becomes your previous triathlon life? What are you left with if you transcend the false gods of alcohol, money, work, sex, fame and... exercise?
I'm working on that -- last Tuesday, I was left with truth, love and meaning.
Back to Mark & Brant...
I can't tell you specifically how, or when, my fears left but I do know that my self-confidence started to increase following my May visit to Santa Cruz. There's something about visiting Mark's house in Santa Cruz that always makes me feel great. I must have told Monica ten times that Mark's place is my gold standard for housing. Everything that I look for in a house is there (black cat, warm sun, wood burning stove, and high speed internet...). More than the physical stuff, you've got the man himself and the vibe of the place.
On that trip, Brant joked that I didn't really need to seem him -- that I should simply rub my hands against Mark and pick-up some speed that way. I settled for a hug and a few hours of talking.
I'd encourage you to find non-traditional recovery avenues... whether it is a traditional religion, philosophy, nature, family, small kids, pets or the sea.
There is power in small and simple things.
I can't end this piece without offering up a few technical details. Mat's pulling together a Top Ten list from the over fifty (!) pages that I've written this year. Off the top of my head here are some of Mark's techniques that worked very well for me...
Pacing -- pace every set, session, week, block, trimester, year so that you are strongest at the end. If you are an athlete with poor pace control in single-session training then this is likely a KEY limiter for you in your LIFE (not just athletics) -- you are at risk for trying too hard.
Pacing was an easier lesson for me. I had some trouble in November/December but managed to figure it out. You have to let your ego "go" when you are getting dropped. The Lads were crushing me pre-July.
Recovery -- the main difference between my training partners and me lies in what I don't do. I do far less than them on my easy days (2 per week, every week) and my easy weeks (1 every second or third week). I have never had this much structured rest my triathlon career -- I am setting seasonal personal bests in every single sport as well as the gym.
Recovery has been a very tough lesson for me. I continue to take pride in my ability to out-train most people. I've had to shift that focus to being an eGrip poster child. I battle with the urge to do more on most days -- Monica's been a great help here.
The Rules -- I love to follow the rules. Once Mark made the fundamental points clear (heart rate cap; pacing; weight floor) -- it was easy for me to stick with them. Where I've been challenged is when he removes the limits -- when I "go fast", I am supposed to go as fast as I can. The removal of all limits results in a similar fear to #2 above.
Back-to-backs -- if you look in my peak run week (posted last time) then you'll see that the bulk of my run volume was done in two day windows where a challenging run followed a solid session the previous day. Whether you are running, swimming, cycling or Big Day Training -- this is a highly effective way for an experienced athlete to safely (and specifically) overload themselves.
Be careful -- it took me over ten years to prepare for that week of running you saw. I did a similar thing with my cycling this past week (22 hours on the bike over five days, ending with a 160-miler on Saturday).
I'll end with two observations, Mark adds value to me by:
***Helping me identify my personal "not to do"s; and
***Supporting me with a protocol that addresses the personal weaknesses that I've identified.
It is human nature to seek people to tell us "what to do" and follow protocols that enable us to showcase our strengths. My experience is that a deeper level of success may lie elsewhere.
After hitting a wall on my maintenance ride today, after a pretty fatiguing weekend (6hrs Saturday w/2.5hrs steady-mod and 2:20 long run on Sunday with 1:30 steady), it got me thinking about how infrequently I have experienced this level of fatigue in this season versus my previous 10+ years in the sport. Feeling this level of fatigue has now become a rarity for me, as I have begun to fully embrace Gordo’s key principle that moderation (i.e. always leaving a little in the tank) leads to consistency.
An interesting # related to the above: I am at 17 zeroes (days without training) so far this year (8 months in). Last year I had a grand total of 87 for the 12 months. There’s something to this moderation thing!!!
It is my sense, based on my own experience as both a coach and athlete, that the level of fatigue that I am feeling right now is almost “the norm” for serious working athletes. This is a big mistake and in my opinion is one of the key factors that separate good age group athletes and neo-pros from the very best in the sport. As in most things, there is a time and a season to challenge yourself. However, doing it every week will seriously limit your development as an athlete. I thought it might be useful to self coached athletes out there if I outlined the approach I use with my own athletes in developing a sensible, progressive loading protocol.
The workload (volume or intensity) is increased progressively for 3 weeks followed by 1 unloading week.
In my opinion, for all but the most elite, consistent athletes, it is a mistake to use any loading protocol during the early preparatory period, as the cumulative fatigue of repeating the basic week is sufficient stimulus to elicit improvement in the early season. For this reason, I typically use a 2:1 or 3:1 flat loading protocol with my athletes in the early season:
In the middle part of the season, these “challenge sessions” will be challenging from an endurance perspective, thus the volume pattern over the course of the mesocycle will look like:
It is important to note that, while these sessions can be slightly more challenging than the hardest session of the current basic week, they are not so challenging that they compromise the recovery week. For the recovery week, I like to try a maintenance session midweek and a test session at the end of the week. If the maintenance session is completed without incident, I will consider making the ‘challenge session’ a regular ‘key session’ for the athlete’s basic week in the coming cycle. If the mid-week maintenance session is compromised (as it was for me this week), it provides clear feedback that the session was too much. In any event, it is imperative that the athlete is fresh enough for their test session at the end of the week.
This form of “real world periodization” does not require any complicated mathematical forecasting of what the athlete ‘should’ be able to tolerate by a given date. Rather, it meets the athlete where they are currently and asks them to try just a little more. I have found this to be a very reasonable, realistic approach that, most importantly works long term.
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