Sunday, April 26, 2015

Columnists

Leveraging Your Strengths

When you identify yourself as a triathlete you are often asked, "What is your strength? What background did you come from?"

For some it's obvious -- swim, bike or run. For others it's less obvious -- strong stomach, ability to endure tough conditions, mental capacity, durability or ability to absorb high training/racing load without injury or illness. And then there are those who are well-rounded as triathletes with no particular discipline as a specific strength, but the strength itself is that all three events are strong and balanced.

When Things Change

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

As we mature and move onward, so does the way we view our health, and by extension, performance.

Performance can be measured in the work place, in a home setting, in our communities, as mentors or in any number of athletic endeavors. Then there is the all-important measurements done “in our heads.” Each area may age in different ways and some of them seem to overlap.

Readers have probably heard the expression “getting old sucks.” I imagine that saying came from somebody who was aging because aging supplies that kind of context. Drilling deeper, we might imagine a guy or gal expressing that feeling, in any number of ways, who held onto strong memories of “what it used to be like.”

To be clear, in my view, there is nothing wrong with holding onto memories of the good old days unless the memories make the good new days seem less good. Making the present seem less attractive by focusing on memories of the past is not productive; and unless you live alone or in a cave it has the unintended risk of affecting everybody else around you.

To be fair, our relative high levels of performance don’t happen by accident; and that means there were years, countless hours, sacrifice and an emotional toll that went into a personal best in any area of a life. Hopefully, the hard work and success brought a modicum of lasting happiness. If not, it could be viewed as time spent in an odd way.

There are good reasons why a person would let a skill fade or disappear that they had worked a decade or more to master. Perhaps no longer being able to do the action that was once a “joy” as well is enough of a reason. I don’t offer any judgment. I have enough trouble trying to figure me out, let alone somebody else’s motivation.

Does the Heart Get Tired?

Last month an article on Slowtwitch entitled, “Heart Tired Revisited”, stimulated an online discussion among some of my triathlete friends about whether or not the heart “gets tired.” I cast a vote for NO and I’m sticking with at least a qualified NO. But the conversation got me to thinking and reading about the broader issue of exercise-related cardiac fatigue. That’s a real concept with implications for every endurance athlete.

Show Up and Blow Up

I am sure I heard the phrase that is the title of this column somewhere in the past, but the first time I acknowledged it is when it popped in my head during a Masters swim session in Boulder. Time and time again, I have watched people show up, blow up (in the main set), then linger on the walls as others finish the workout. I am not criticizing the process of blowing up, as I think its part of learning your limits, but repetitively training to failure is not productive. One reason is it inhibits a training plan’s volume/load/consistency/etc. The other problem is that the athlete no longer understands what it is to really blow up. By continually failing in training, the athlete already has that plan in his or her head and will probably pull the pin simply when things get difficult as opposed to “impossible.”

Shut up and Improvise

My hobby of triathlon takes as much work as my actual work. To quote Vince, a fellow team member/business owner at Endurance Corner, “I am a professional triathlete and a part-time business owner.” Doing both, triathlon and business, requires my personal priorities to be perfectly aligned:

  • Family/Friends
  • Health
  • Business

A Broader Perspective on the Past Year

When we look back and reflect on the season, the practice usually encompasses jotting down a list of what worked, what did not work, what training you enjoyed, and what training you forced yourself to get through. We may analyze every number all the nifty gadgets and testing told us about our fitness, and adjust our training so the coming season will result in better execution and less injury or training burnout.

When I look back, the lessons of my year are deeper than anything to do with training, racing, and coaching. In actuality, while it’s a “deeper” lesson, it’s much broader in perspective.

Considering Your Winter Training

There are many different ways athletes approach their overall annual plans, but most have similarities they follow when thinking of their upcoming year. Terms like "prioritization" and "repeatable week" are all commonly used in endurance sport. Most know there needs to be an element of pacing the year and ramping up to specific work as the main event approaches.

With 2013 training kicking off for everyone, it's time to consider how you approach the winter.

2012 Under a Microscope

2012 wasn’t a breakthrough year for me in the way it had been in previous years. I didn’t have any eureka moments. I didn’t learn anything new. What I did was learn how to apply existing knowledge on a higher level.

My Biological Passport

Rather than engaging the willfully blind, I’ve been thinking about how we could tip the scales towards clean athletes. Frankly, it’s made me sad to see that most of the triathlon media have acted to suppress discussion of the history of doping in our sport.

Maintaining Fitness and Enjoyment During Life Changes

When I was asked by Endurance Corner’s editor to share the lessons I learned this year, I’ll admit I didn’t know where to start. Moving cities, trading employment for self-employment and turning a hobby into a career all at the same time made for quite the education. Full-time endurance coaching would seem to be ideal for training, but the transition period is an interesting one. Here are a few of the most notable and surprising lessons I learned in 2012.

Self Improvement

Now that my breakthrough season has ended, I find myself in a new place. Content. Tired. Resting. Recovering. Eating. Making Merry. Happy.

At Masters swimming I had a friend ask me what was I getting ready for next. My response? Self-improvement. I realized after Kona that the goal was never the answer. And Kona was never the question. The last five years have truly been a journey in self-improvement.

How did I improve?

Common Traits of Consistently Improving Athletes

I have the pleasure of asking several athletes in different points in their development across a number of sports a lot of questions. A few things are consistent in the ones who continue to improve and do well.

2012 Lessons Learned - Let it Go

I have been thinking about the topic of “lessons learned” for quite some time and there are so many lessons to be learned each year. Whether it is personal or about training, there is always some sort of nugget one can take away from his or her experiences throughout a given year. I think there are several types of lessons, both specific to individual circumstances, and macro, which can be applied to many aspects of life.

From the Rearview, I've Got Clear View…

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

Most of us in endurance sport keep a close eye on our fitness. We have benchmarks we expect to see in specific prep, after a taper and after post-race or end of season layoffs. Heart rates change, power numbers fluctuate, pace and percieved exertion look and feel different as well. Over time we are either trying to improve those benchmarks or maintain them, depending on age and depth of experience.

Do you have an idea of personal health markers and how they might change if you stopped living healthfully? And if you are only giving a part time effort toward being the healthiest you can be, do you have any idea how much more you can do?

After a decade of superior health it can be difficult to visualize what it would be like if we lost our health. What happens if we take our foot off the gas pedal; will the momentum we forged over a decade slip? The answer is yes; if we adopt a less healthy lifestyle our body will quickly become less healthy and maybe down right unhealthy.

Recently I was my own crucible and I have the laboratory data to back me up. I had a nasty injury from a stick in the eye. I could not train and wore a patch. The injuries to the cornea were slow to heal and I ended up wearing a clear plastic bandage in the eye to keep the wounds from sticking to the inside of my eyelid. About this time my mother had a series of strokes and I was driving eight hours round trip to her hospital once a week for months on end. On top of this I was dealing with cervical spine issues that created significant discomfort and arm pain. The coup de grace was the start of trigeminal neuralgia in late 2011 and lasted about eight months. If you Google trigeminal neuralgia you will see it is called the “suicide disease” and “it has been described as among the most painful conditions known to mankind.” They are not exaggerating.

My Tough 2012

After Kona in 2011, my coach Kevin Purcell and I put together the game plan for 2012:

  1. Find an early qualifier for Kona with a flat bike course
  2. Qualify at IM Texas
  3. Race Kona

The plan was simple and realistic because we could expect four spots in my age group and flat bike courses suit me perfectly as I’m relatively tall and, at 83kg, I’m not the lightest.

Looking Back... Going Forward

Over the past month I’ve spent time planning for athletes’ 2013 seasons, but while looking forward I have had to spend time reflecting back over the past year or two to help in getting the future correct. Simply, I’d like to share some lessons I’ve learned or confirmed with my athletes (or myself) over the past year.

Three Powerful Strategies to Incorporate in Your 2013 Season Plan

In my last blog post, I offered a quick retrospective on some of the things that I would like to do differently as my squad heads into 2013.

While it’s always good to look back on the past with a critical eye, it is equally important to celebrate the successes -- the changes that we made this year that led to some breakthrough performances. I’ll attempt to recount some of those in this article, so that you, the reader, can apply them to your own 2013 plan and have your own breakthrough year!

Five Questions for Your Doctor

Readers here at Endurance Corner will know that I’m a fan of a periodic visit to the doctor for a check-up. In a previous column I discussed the rationale and the value in athletes having a doctor and on my blog I’ve offered suggestions about how to find a good primary care doctor. Today I’m sharing five important questions for your doctor that will help you get the most out of an annual visit.

Getting to the Start Line

Ironman preparation is long, and it gives you plenty of time to screw things up. Alas, I seem to manage to get myself injured with great consistency before my ironman races. Before my last race of the season -- Ironman Florida -- I kept true to myself and managed to crash three weeks before race day. I was not happy.

Blown Base

With the year wrapping up and winter rolling in for many of our readers, I thought I’d share my three most memorable base-training errors.

Turning My Weakness Into My Strength

I’m writing this on the day where I finally achieved my goal of squatting 12 reps at 1.5 times my bodyweight. That strength set is the bar Alan Couzens identified for me being “strong enough.” When I started working with Alan, I didn’t really think strength was a limiter until he said for me to be able to play with the big boys I needed 10 kilos more muscle. I accepted the challenge and chalked up my hands.

Addressing Persistent Weaknesses

Addressing weaknesses is a tricky thing. Once identified, it is tempting to either fight them like a gladiator or avoid dealing with them altogether. The latter approach will ensure weaknesses remain so, while the former is likely to erode strengths and lead to burnout. I know this to be true because I have tried each of these strategies!

"The Best of Endurance Corner" - Now Available!

Endurance Corner has been a leading resource for long course triathlon training and racing advice. In our first “Best of” book, we’ve pulled together advice from our team of experts to help guide you to iron-distance success, focusing on five key content areas:

  • Setting up a successful season
  • Executing your race plan
  • Using training camps to slingshot you past your competition
  • Creating a healthy lifestyle
  • Developing mental strength

Overcoming Weaknesses

The first step to overcoming any weakness is having the ability to recognize it. Most of us are pretty tough on ourselves so we can create a huge list of things we want to improve. An actual weakness is slightly different, and it's sometimes hard to identify exactly what it is.

Coaching Lessons 2013

With most everyone’s season winding down, at least in the northern hemisphere, I thought that I’d share three lessons that I picked up from our team in 2012.

The End of Your Season

I am now unloading fitness after a fourteen month journey that ended with crossing the finish line in Kona. I started this journey in August of 2011 with a breakthrough performance at Ironman Louisville and a Kona qualification in May of 2012 at Ironman Texas.

Unloading for me usually means “touching” swimming and cycling once or twice the week post race. This year it included touching a Mai Tai or two as well.

The Little Things - Improving Your Small Weaknesses

Last month I discussed looking at a relatively long term planning picture at this time of year to give yourself some focus and direction with your training. While many athletes still need to focus on improving those bigger picture items first, there comes a time when smaller ones can make a difference.

K.I.S.S.

In my opinion, the title of this column is a term that has been forgotten or simply not used enough!

Are you asking yourself what is K.I.S.S? Keep It Simple Stupid!

After my last article on the 40 boring weeks, I got bombarded with the question, “What should I do during the 40 boring weeks?” I can say just about every person who wrote me was trying to make it far more complicated than it really needs to be.

A Cautionary Tale

Following Tyler Hamilton’s book, a friend recommend David Millar’s book, Racing Through the Dark. I got a kick out of the book as Millar and I have crossed paths many times without meeting (Hong Kong, Noosa, France).

Endurance sport attracts people, myself included, who become manic on depressants -- the two most common being fatigue and alcohol. Millar shares anecdotes of how he responds to fatigue and booze (my depressants of choice in my 20s and 30s).

If you are prone to feelings of mania then you’re probably at risk for depression.