24 November 2008

High Performance Coaching

These week I will share some thoughts/ideas that came out of three days at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  I've been quite busy on the business front -- apologies if your waiting for an email reply.  I spend my spare time with Monica and Alexandra.  I've also been doing yard work -- gets me away from my desk and into the sun!


If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas then send your congressman a copy of Atlas Shrugged. If you don't get the joke then you MUST read the book.

Financial bail outs, automobile bail outs, housing bail outs... we are close to making the common investment mistake of throwing good money after bad. As well, we're throwing a lot of money! Government does a crappy job with capital allocation. If you want to stimulate the economy then leave: (a) cash with people that are going to spend it; and (b) capital with people that know how to allocate it.  You get a lot more bang for your buck when you let the private sector allocate capital and fend for itself.

The Dow is about 40% off its peak, other markets are up to 60% down... property markets are 15-35% down (more if you HAVE to sell). Similar to how inflation was understated during the Great Expansion. The deflationary effects are being understated during the Great Unwinding. 

Considering human nature, and the fact that most of my countrymen are grossly over-leveraged... I am going to start moving from a deflation-defensive portfolio to an inflation-defensive portfolio. Just gotta figure out how. Throw your ideas in the comments section for me!


High Performance Coaching
I haven't forgotten about your marathon questions, just pretty darn busy these days with a combination business obligations and the launch of my new coaching website (the developers are ahead of me for the first time in my life).

If you look many sports then you will find that the best high performance coaches are not necessarily the highest performers in their own lives.  This is because athletic performance measures a VERY narrow, but highly valued, aspect of human performance

Within my own life, I see myself as a high performer who enjoys teaching, rather than a high performance coach. It's an important distinction -- your kids would be safe with me.  I define success on whether your life is better having known me.

There is a fundamental paradox in elite athletics that you have to be willing to completely ruin yourself to achieve your maximum athletic potential -- what a lot of us miss is knowing the appropriate time to take that chance. Similar to many areas in life, a risk maximizing approach leads to disaster, more often than not.

When I meet MDs, PhDs, and coaches involved in elite athletics, I like to challenge them on our role in feeding the self-destructive tendencies in many of our athletes. As Bobby McGee notes, in some cases a coach's true role is giving their athletes the confidence and self-love to leave their addiction behind.


OK with that philosophical opener, I'll toss out the best tidbits from the three days.

What is a level three coach?
If you'd asked me that a week ago, I would have told you... "one level up from level two" and I think that is what nearly every triathlon coach in America thinks. Here's what I was told, and it makes a lot of sense.

A Level Three Coach is:
  • a high performance coach
  • knowledgeable in draft-legal short course racing
  • able to assist an athlete that aspires to Olympic-level competition
As Coach KP noted in Colorado Springs... once you realize those points, there is a clear commitment to supporting the US Olympic program if you apply to become a Level Three coach. I think that is a good thing. I also think that we need to do a far better job communicating to the triathlon membership, as well as the coaches.

The goal of a Level Three coach is to help the US win Olympic medals -- I think that's the fundamental point. Given that 50% of the USAT budget comes from the amateur membership -- we should probably get clarity on that point. From my own point of view, aside from USAT helping to make amateur races insurable, I'm happy to support that goal.

The structure of the elite coaching program is being shifted from a "pull the athletes to Co Springs" to "support the athletes/coaches where they want to train". There is a lot of good stuff happening with ideas about supporting centers-of-excellence around the country. In my experience (colored by global triathlon adventures), this is absolutely the right way to handle it.

One dedicated coach, surrounded by a core group of athletes that will turn up EVERY day... is all it takes to create a world-class program. We've seen that in Christchurch, Victoria, the Gold Coast, Boulder, and wherever Sutto happens to be.

The sports science, sports psychology, testing, biomechanics... all the bolt on services... these are great but it is easy to lose sight of the main point about athletic performance. Programs get results from incentives that encourage athletes to train more than they ever thought possible. 

If our goal is Olympic medals that we want as wide a base as possible (recruitment) and a long term vision to build the athletes with potential (long term development). Spending a lot of money sending people to foreign races is a waste of time. 

Focus on recruitment, long term development and providing local races for the athletes with potential to win prize money -- don't hand money out -- let the good athletes win it. 

Make things hard for the athletes -- if an athlete lacks the passion, or the ability, better for everyone that they drop out early and find an area where they can be successful.


We talked about the ITU points structure -- an area where I was completely clueless. I'm not going to recreate it here but, if you want to coach elites, then I suggest you get someone to teach you about it. It's pretty fundamental.

We talked about standardized testing and I will share these:

Swim -- 200 from a dive (max effort) -- rest one minute -- 800 from a push (best time)

Bike -- continuous 2 min intervals of 10w starting at 150w (men) and 100w (ladies) -- go to failure, track HR

Brick -- Junior targets are 30 minutes at 190w/260w (female/male) then 3K for time -- no more than 15s RI between bike/run. You might say "what about the small people" -- the wattage target isn't fair. Well, ITU racing isn't fair and if you can't hit the target then you'll likely get shelled out the back. Besides, you'll get some of it back on the run TT if you are small.

You will be able to find more benchmarks on the USAT website shortly.


Sounds like they do a lot of supplemental oxygen training -- 26% and 60% mixtures.  I won't get into the specifics but will say that they believe it is important if an elite short course athlete lives at altitude full time.


Functional exercises:
  • Goal is functional mastery NOT reps. Very important to move away from rep targets as athletes will always sacrifice form to hit targets.
  • Keep brain engaged and stop when mentally fatigued.
  • Start with NO load, have reset points, do movement pattern.

Great line from the sports psychologist -- "The less clothes the athlete wears in competition the greater the chance for an eating disorder. I've never worked with a hockey player that had an eating disorder."

To develop mentally strong people, watch conditional love in your coaching -- proportion time & praise. You might get short term results from tough love but at maximum competition (Olympic Level) -- tough love athletes are much more prone to cracking.


We met Krista Austin in the sports science department and bent her ear for three hours. She is the best sports scientist that I've ever met for translating science to performance. We talked about lactate, altitude, nutrition, depletion training and limits to performance. Highlights:

Capacity to raise lactate is often related to fueling. Athletes that lose top end lactate numbers could be chronically depleted.

She likes to track "fatigue rate" in training as a measure of performance. Similar to decoupling in longer steady state efforts but, for traditional endurance events, up to 2 hours, they might use VO2, or FT, intensity.

It takes 3 mins for lactate to stabilise in the muscles, then a further 2 mins to get out to the blood. Many labs use three minute steps then tie lactate values to the previous step to get around this point. She recommends sampling at the 5 min mark.

To get around issues with athletes blowing off CO2 when straddling during a treadmill fuel test (for lactates) they only plot the last minute of each 5 min step.  Good idea for us to test run fueling.

They start quite "high" in terms of intensity with their tests.  Might work for elites -- I had reservations about the data shown to me every for some of the national team members.  Looked like excessive speed early in the test.

Intermittent Hypoxic Training -- the first sports scientist that I've come across that has concluded that the main pathway for altitude benefits is via exercise in a desaturated state. She has done some really neat work with desaturation in training.

Altitude -- most people need about 300 hours of sleeping at altitude to get the training benefit. Points to a 5-7 week camp being optimal as well as endurance phases (at altitude) alternating with speed/recovery phases at sea level. Not practical for amateurs but very interesting for elites.

We discussed my personal protocol of extended steady with some mod-hard at altitude as well as my preferred altitudes for desaturation training.

VO2 -- interestingly, she said it takes 2-3 years for VO2 to plateau in elites. That's a lot longer than I normally hear.

Functional Strength vs Aerobic Power -- she made an interesting point that a lack of functional strength (gym strength, hill strength, one rep max) can result in athletes falling apart in longer highly intense aerobic efforts. We chatted about the need for athletes to tolerate extended work loads above goal ultraendurance effort in order to sustain race effort. We see this a lot in Ironman when an athlete "ought to" be able to hold a certain wattage but blows up (power/pace peaks aside).

Depletion training -- she talked me through protocols to enhance fat oxidation through depletion in training. I noted that my experience is that there are far greater gains to come from nutrition changes outside of training. I also noted that the self-destructive tendencies of ultraendurance athletes can get out of hand here. She noted that if she uses this technique then it is a specific, rather than chronic, protocol.

Dedydration and Performance -- she made a neat point that (within reason) economy gains from dehydration weight loss can overcome declines in performance.  Fits with my observation of managed dehydration in elite competition.

She saw merit in Asker Jeukendrup's approach to nutrition. She notes that athletes with body comp challenges tend to eat the wrong types of food at the wrong times -- it was more than a case of amount of energy. A lot of what she said sounded like Joe Friel.  She sees a lack of protein, good fats and veggies in most athletic diets.

For fast men over 155 lbs, I told her that I also like to train the fueling side of things -- i.e. the capacity to easily process fluids and nutrition during extended periods of steady to mod-hard exercise. This is a limiter for high performance long course racing -- but not ITU.  Not a focus for her -- makes sense as this is a limiter for 7+ hour competitions.

I'm going to invite Krista to our Boulder Clinic (July 2009) to chat nutrition and exercise physiology. I am also going to get our Boulder Clinic certified so that we can offer CEUs (coaching education units) -- good for qualified coaches as well as making your costs tax deductible. Drop me a line for more info.

We talked about errors in met cart measurements -- Douglas Bag (up to 2%); Parvo (up to 9%); New Leaf (up to 19%).

To have 99% confidence in a lactate measurement -- you need to allow +/- 0.6 mmol.
To have 99% confidence in a HR measurement -- you need to allow +/- 6 bpm.

Therefore, measurement tools should be used as a guide. Refreshing to have an honest talk about the limits of scientific precision.

I will end with a final tip for cold water racing... bring a thermos of warm water to "pre load" the wetsuit before water entry. Avoids all that cold water coming into the suit.

Back next week,

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At 8:44 AM, Blogger Matthew Percy said...

Hey Gordo,

Re. todays post. As you have rightly pointed out the threat of deflation I'm confused by the following comment ( direct quote )

"I am going to start moving from a deflation-defensive portfolio to an inflation-defensive portfolio."

Is that a ( possibly early fatherhood induced ) typo OR do you think trying to stimulate spending will result in inflation in the medium term?

Please let me know.

Regards Matthew

At 9:57 AM, OpenID ronbyrnes said...

Altering one's portfolio based upon imperfect deflation/inflation projections seems shortsighted. I think you should keep reiterating one of your previous points--reduce overhead and make sure income exceeds expenses on a monthly basis. Then automatically invest the difference in low cost index funds. Go swim, bike, and run for ten years and then check your totals.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


It wasn't an error but I could have been more clear!

Current position is deflation defensive -- house plus cash.

Kind of achieved this position by accident because the equity portion of my portfolio rocketed, then disappeared over the last three years (wrote about that a few weeks back).

So I have a nice defensive position for the real deflation that is happening.

However... the majority of voters, and the congress are not in my position.

Voters... overleveraged, scared, asking for handouts/bailouts.

Politicians... exist to get reelected, indexed salaries, will be gone when the deficits come home to roost, aware that the electorate have short memories

Therefore... my medium term expectation is massive monetary expansion -- this is balanced by the Great Unwinding as well as a big decrease in the velocity of money (hoarding of capital as well as global reductions in debt/equity ratios).

Inflation is a monetary phenomenon. Human nature will "demand" that our leaders take the easy way out -- implies inflation likely (at least to me).

It could take me a few years to re-weight my portfolio. So might as well start thinking about it now.


At 11:07 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


Good points -- thanks for sharing. See my reply to Matthew -- I don't have those index funds right now but have been considering them.

One thing that I am also considering is taking a more concentrated approach to investing. This will require a bit more work from me to investigate various options. It might prove to be too much effort and I could end up taking the iShare/index option.

Thanks for sharing,

At 8:57 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Hi Gordo,

The challenging part of the solution is this part of your recommendation: b) leave capital with people that know how to allocate it. Where do we find enough of those types of people?

Human nature pretty much ensures collapses, if the (generally myopic) market participants (even "smart" ones) are left in an Ayn Rand laissez-faire utopia.

You would get euphoria and panic, booms and busts, rarely, but often enough. Should we really start from scratch and rebuild trust between counterparties from the ground up, every 30-60 years, after every collapse?

People saw this coming. Nassim Taleb called it, and profited from this panic, but even his investment strategy consists of out-of-the money puts and calls. What if the collapse was deep enough that counterparties couldn't deliver on the contracts? Any old nuclear detonation anywhere in the world could cause that.

The logical investment prescription of Atlas Shrugged is: arm yourself, and start building your utopia now (Hmm, maybe somewhere around Leadville?), because the rationally self-interested person can't control these emotional market participants. They just ruin the whole party. I have kids, and don't like that solution much.

As a reformed Ayn Rand junkie, I now believe that government plays a useful and important counter-cyclical role, because of its infinite time horizon, and "last resort" power. We need wise officials, no doubt, but we have enough of them scattered about to do a messy but passable job of it.

Greenspan, a Rand acolyte back in the day, just had his whole worldview torn down in front of him. He had a real Munger moment: "tear down one of your most cherished beliefs every single year". I think Greenspan has paid ahead a few years on that count. Taleb's proverbial turkey finally hit Thanksgiving Day - what the hell, this CAN'T happen.... :)

link here

Greenspan Shrugged

Apologies for the length. No obligation to respond in kind, or at all.

I really enjoy reading your thoughts, and congrats on the beautiful baby.

At 11:05 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


Thanks for taking the time to share ideas.

I'll look at the Greenspan article -- the most interesting lesson from watching our views on Greenspan over the last decade is how short our memories appear to be. It is a good lesson in human nature. He was hailed and feted when cutting rates and feeding the increase in asset values. Now that times are far tougher, we (collectively) fail to look inwards and hual him up to capital hill to grill him. Not saying that anyone is right, or wrong, just interesting to watch our collective human nature.

Capital allocation -- in my time as an investor, I have found that the folks with the capital generally are better at allocation. So the optimal choice is to make no choice. As much as possible, leave capital/income with the people that earn it, not necc. those that inherit it!

Atlas Shrugged -- the aspect of the book that I find parallels our current situation isn't the part where our 'leaders' withdraw. Rather it is the long line of failed businesses lining up in Washington for public support to bail out the designers of failed policies. If their own shareholders won't support then there could be a good reason.

Time horizons -- interesting concept. We might want to look outside our own life experience to gain context on norms. History could be filled with a lot more examples of countries blowing up than enduring for hundreds of years (there could be survivor bias in what we 'know' today). I'm not a historian but imagine that long term store of value (in a country) is less common that we believe. I suspect that the relative stability that we have experienced in our own (and in our parents) lifetimes may be skewing our perception of the norm.

30/60 year cycles -- I read in interesting article on that idea -- generational cycles -- http://bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2005/12/100_year_bull_b.html

With all of us tending to live longer (on average), I wonder how that will change.

As well, I will shortly be 40 years old -- in my adult lifetime, I have never truly known a protracted period of declining global liquidity and economic hardship. I have experienced pockets of trouble (early 90s in the UK, Asian crisis mid-90s, stock market slide 2000) but I have always been able to muddle through.

This is the first year (in my life) where close friends have been completely hammered and I have witnessed corporate/personal insolvency up close in my peers. Even now, most of my contacts/friends are still in denial on what is likely to happen. From what I see, we are at the leading edge of a wave of (absence of) liquidity issues in the corporate and private sector. Goldman Sachs might have access to TARP capital but my friends that find themselves personally overextended are not going to get much of a break (or sympathy) from society at large. It is a very good time to be employed in a stable (ideally somewhat boring) field.

Kind of got on a roll... thanks for getting me thinking.


At 11:06 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...

For that article link -- google... "100 year dow chart"

At 1:05 PM, Blogger Aaron Arner said...

Thanks for your generous response, Gordo.

I too was an admirer of Greenspan right alongside everyone else – this crisis has been SO educational to me. I certainly do feel a little turkey-like myself.

Great distinction on those who earn their capital vs those who inherit it. Huge difference.

You’re right about the bailouts getting out of hand. The Treasury was supposed to buy panic-stricken securities for a long-term profit to taxpayers - not buy stakes in private sector companies….

Governments probably need the infinite time horizon in order to have any shot at prosperity and stability in the world, but yes, it seems conceivable things could go the way of Ancient Rome or Weimar Germany. We would feel very foolish to have our assets in paper or electronic form if that were to happen. Very sobering.

Doom and Gloom aside, there are some incredible opportunities in distressed debt floating around out there. I won’t name-drop, but there is money lying on the ground, waiting for people to pick it up. I'm trying to shed my emotional attachments to some existing investments in order take advantage.

Separately, I’m looking forward to the Boulder Camp in July.

Happy parenting,


At 5:58 PM, Blogger Bob Mitera said...

Hi Gordo -

First - Congrats to you and Monica on the addition. (I am behind in sending notes of this type.)

I agree with you regarding the "bailout" money. I feel this is like giving money to a 13 yr old. We will get stuck with the bill and have nothing tangible to show for it and still be in the same place when the money is gone. I value another opinion on this especially your VC perspective as I am 18 to 36 months from approaching VC with my program.

I appreciate it as one who manages a large budget/staff myself.

Regarding altitude - I get a mental bump from even 7 to 10 days at altitude as an AGer. Only recently have I trained in high places and have "felt" a difference which is most likely placebo affect but it was easier to breathe. I wonder if a CAT unit and sleeping at altitude and training here and then going to a camp before a big race would make a large difference? Thinking of trying this in 09 or 10 depending on schedules.


At 6:53 PM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


I suspect that you might find that using low O2 air at home while exercising (to desaturate) would prove superior to a short trip to altitude.

While you can benefit from a training camp at moderate altitude (say Boulder or Utah). I think the benefit is from the training, rather than the altitude. As well, training needs to be endurance oriented.

That said, during Epic Colorado, we took a group of very fit IMers from sea level and SMASHED them for 12-days with an average elevation over 7K. We are pooped at the end of the camp but everyone survived and had a great experience. Despite being totally worked two weeks out from IMC, I had my fastest race up until then and finished 3rd with a 2:49 off the bike. Go figure.


At 12:38 AM, Blogger monneron said...

Hello Gordo,

My inflation-oriented stance will look quite lame, but I think it is the one that makes most sense right now : long-dated Treasury Inflation Protected Securities !

If you take my preferred one, the 2028 1.75, it fetches today a REAL return of around 3%, which is low by the 80/90 returns expectation standards, but quite OK by long term historical standards.

I like TIPS for two reasons :

a) There is an illiquidity premium on TIPS but it is still US Govt debt. Credit that is collateralized by Govt requires no capital from banks. It means that when you will think that risky asset prices are low enough, you will not necessarily have to sell your bond portfolio to jump in the market, but will be able to leverage yourself at reasonable spreads.

b) there is an extremely valuable option in it : the principal repayment is linked to the CPI, but if you are wrong and the US ends up with severe deflation that is not offset on a long term basis, you get the nominal whatever happens. It is true that it never happened in the US, but it happened in Japan (the Japan equivalent of TIPS does not have this option : surprise, surprise ! )

Two important points to consider :

First, you will have to pay tax on the capital gains that coming from inflation indexation, so inflation protection is not complete. This is true for any inflation hedge anyway : Taxation in inflationnary times is usually punitive for people that have a big part of their revenues coming from investment income (check the US income tax brackets during the 40s and the 70s...). No easy answer to that.

Second, some people doubt the validity of CPI indices. I am clearly not one of them. Actually, the main problem with the US CPI is the "owner's equivalent rent". It was probably a source of underestimation in the last ten years, but the effect is likely to reverse in the future, and therefore will be FAVORABLE to TIPS bondholders. Of course, the government could always lie and reports false figures. It happened in Argentina but I don't believe it will happen in the US. If one thinks that it indeed could happen in the US, not only one shouldn't buy TIPS, but one should emigrate from the US as soon as possible !

my 2 cents


At 6:56 AM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...


Thanks for the tips on TIPS -- I had come across them but had not had someone review in detail for me. Your time to reply was appreciated.


At 10:50 AM, Blogger martygaal said...


congrats on the little one, hope you and Monica are doing well. I came across this fund recently, don't own it but the allocation is interesting: Permanent Portfolio.

Personally I am buying physical bullion and commodities a la Jim Rogers.

And saving $, period!

Happy holidays,

At 3:36 AM, Blogger monneron said...

The "free" option starts to become common knowledge :
The opportunity window may close soon...


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