19 February 2007

Getting Strong

The shot above was taken in Atlanta before a Southern Wedding. We had a baptist minister at the ceremony and he described marriage as...

...bein' locked in a room...
...NO door...
...NO win'das...
...There's a fi'ya burnin'...
...Just you and the missus...
...You gotta put that fi'ya out togetha!

At least that's what I heard... I was pretending that I was getting married again and renewing my vows. I left the church pretty fired up to be Monica's husband.

It was time well-spent.


Our trip to Atlanta was the last piece of my four week business/transition block. It was a lot of travel for me. What's a lot?

Queenstown-Auckland-LA-Fresno-Santa Cruz-Boulder-Edinburgh-London-Bermuda-Boulder-Atlanta-Boulder

I don't track miles flown but that was a pretty solid push. With that much moving around, work was #1 and I hardly rode at all. Volume was 9/11/15/12 hours per week -- that was the four weeks after Epic Camp.

It was an interesting change for me because (normally) after an Epic Camp, I recover for 7-14 days then slam right into Ironman Specific training. This time, I paused the training volume and focused on two training items -- get strong and get my HR way up a few times. It takes a surprising amount of discipline to rest when we are in good shape. Just like bike fitness in Ironman, it's challenging to build something up and NOT use it (bit like weapons, I suppose).

I've done three fast sessions so far (one life cycle and two running) -- on each one I've been able to access the 180s in terms of heart rate. So my experience from the last entry appears to be confirmed. Mark's protocol is resulting my being able to drive my heart rate 12-15 bpm higher than the last six years.

On my last session, I was running around a little indoor track -- about 25 minutes of work, including 90s walk breaks -- six reps with the max HR in each (174, 178, 182, 184, 182, 185). I still believe that I can get to 190bpm at sea-level if I was racing. The high HRs concerned me a bit so I ran them past Bobby (McGee) as well as Mark. I'm going to be careful with going much past 185bpm outside of racing.

My three-mile aerobic test hasn't budged (yet), 6:27 @ 148 bpm was the result last week -- the day before that fast run. One thing that I am wondering is if my running heart rate performance in earlier years was depressed due to fatigue -- in reviewing my bike step tests, I see fatigue in the data (depressed HR response through most aerobic wattage levels, then rapid increase to functional threshold, no ability to elevate past 160bpm and suppressed lactate response in the aerobic zone).

Effectively, "taking a break" after 16 weeks of training was something very different than what I've done in the past. However, it wasn't all travel. While I need to be careful aerobically at altitude, I decided to address my lack of strength training progress and was in the gym 2x per week.

In the mid-90s, I tried to start running. Knee pain shut me down for a couple of YEARS and I had to come back very gradually with walking/hiking. I started running... too fast, too much, too quickly... all the normal mistakes. Wish I knew about run-walk back then! So, for a two year period in my late 20s, I lifted a lot. Powerlifting stuff -- squats, dead lift, cleans // four day cycle with alternating body parts (legs/core; back/bi; chest/tri; off). I had reasonable success -- my legs have always increased strength rapidly.

The neat thing about strength training is that you end up looking good in clothes... triathlon is more about looking good in a speedo... ha ha

One of the things that I noticed in the gym (back then) was that when I truly committed to "getting strong" I would be able to breakthrough plateaus. My body was ready before my mind -- there is a bit of fear/respect when you stack it up. This year was similar but my mind got a little ahead of my spinal erectors (!) so I had to cap my squat out at 185lbs and use the leg press for going really heavy.

What's really heavy for me?

I managed this yesterday...
Squats (incl bar, thigh parallel, not deep) -- 45lbs, 135lbs, 185lbs (x3) -- all these were 12 reps on 2 min RI except the last set was 20 reps
Then leg press sled -- 360lbs (8 reps), 450lbs (8reps), 500lbs (why not, 6 reps) -- 3 min RI
Then single leg with emphasis on rapid finish -- 8L/8R/8L/8R continuous at 135 lbs on 2 min RI -- repeat

That whole thing took me 30 minutes and I stacked another half hour of mod-hard traditional strength work. I just flamed out on the last rep of the single leg and had to give myself a little help.

In my book, Joe and I talk about taking the squat up to 1.3-1.7x body weight -- for me that would be 215lbs to 280lbs. Too heavy for most of us in my opinion. In my mid-30s I could comfortably get up to 225 lbs but my back can't tolerate that these days (with a slower build-up, perhaps). I recommend that you never place more than 225 lbs on your back even if you can tolerate it. Not worth the risk. I've squat up to 300lbs in early 2002 but that was a lot of spinal compression for minimal gain -- frankly, I was lucky that I didn't injure myself.

My advice (to the guys) would be to start with the squat, take it to mod-hard (not more than 15% over body weight) then finish yourself off with the leg press. In Going Long, we're recommending building up to 2.5-2.9x body weight -- implying for me... 410lbs to 480lbs and that seems a lot more reasonable if you have outstanding technique, multi-year strength training experience and have followed the preparation protocol.

Those multi-year experience and technique pointers are essential for the squat -- it is really worth taking the time to learn how to squat properly. Take your time. I've been lifting (off and on) for over 2o years.

I see a lot of "experienced" folks in the gym using shocking (and dangerous) technique -- get a certified trainer to teach you free-weight technique.

#1 -- the point in the gym is to improve relative to YOURSELF
#2 -- a little LESS with a little BETTER technique

Be careful out there,

Labels: ,

03 February 2007

Phase Two Training

I like the photo above – the orange color of the light reminds me of the warmth of the winter sun in California. There’s a feeling around Santa Cruz that represents much of what I’ve been searching for since leaving Hong Kong in 2000. The closest word to describe it is ‘peace’.

Post-Epic, I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of days with Mark Allen. While we talked quite a bit about triathlon, I didn’t walk away with a bunch of notes about main sets and training sessions. A lack of notes is an unprecedented change! I do have to confess that I did make a few notes at our first meeting over breakfast. My brother commented that I must have been pretty fired up because I wasn't eating.

The single best thing about Mark’s method is its simplicity. Many people send me notes asking questions about the protocol. There is nothing more to tell you than what you read here.

Mark’s “coaching” me this season but a better description would be that he is guiding me. When I think about “coaching”, my mind seeks direction, instruction and certainty.

Tell me what to do to be great...
Tell me exactly how to do it...
Provide me with the answers to what I think I am seeking...

Real meaning and growth come from figuring out our own way, rather than following instructions.

As a guide, Mark’s provided me with the basics for Phase One. If you’ve read the articles on his website as well as my summary of the Fit Body, Fit Soul seminar then you’ll know as much as me about the protocol. Yes, it really is that simple. I may have more experience than you to apply the protocol but there isn’t anything more. He’s not holding anything back.

The simplicity would have been completely lost on me as a novice and (I suspect) that many athletes refuse to believe the powerful nature of harmonious simplicity.

I’ve often noticed a mutual tendency to create dependency between coaches & athletes. Naturally, it exists only in friends and associates!

The constant review of workouts, the fine-tuning, the periodization… as I learn more about myself, I see that most of this is wasted energy. I wonder how often we “discuss” to avoid facing the issues that are staring us in the face – issues that require us to change in order to progress. Even if we don't need to change (which I doubt)... I'd rather direct as much of "me" into the plan as possible.


Have you managed to string together those 12 weeks of consistent moderate training that I spoke about in October?

What happened since I reminded you in December?

If you haven't managed it then there is still plenty of time -- after all, it is only the start of February. Keep trying!

Here's why...

There’s no point in progressing your training until you can string together a dozen weeks of consistency. The more you struggle with consistency, the more you’ll be tempted to rush your preparation and cut corners.

Performance flows more easily by establishing your cycle of success.


January is the time for budgets and planning. During my 48-hour stint in Scotland, we talked a lot about our business' plans for the year. If you are interested in what I do other than triathlon, here's a link to an aspect of the company.

You may be surprised how many people don’t have a plan -- by simply writing down where you want to go, you will get a clear edge over nearly everyone. The power of simplicity!

Even those with a plan struggle to execute it. It’s the same for all of us and I’m no different than you. I read my plan to remind myself what I need to do. My moments of clarity can be pretty spread out -- so I need to write them down quickly and review them often.

Our ability to create, then observe, our patterns and habits greatly influences what we are able to achieve in our lives.

"To know others is intelligence, to know yourself is wisdom."

What I have benefited from is making a ton of mistakes and being exposed to experienced people that shared the lessons of their mistakes with me. These first few months with Mark have reminded me that our best advisors can be the ones that help us ask ourselves the right questions, rather than answering the endless noise created by our minds.

Take time to consider that point...

The best teacher is the one that helps us figure things out for ourselves.

I’ve written six page emails to which the best reply was a telephone call where we talked about the seasons and pacing across a year. Two weeks later, my head had dreamed up a whole range of new issues, which only had a vague connection to my previous ideas.

We can only see things in others that exist in ourselves. By not participating in the noise of my head, Mark helped me better see it.

Now I write my blog instead!

ha ha ha


A little bit about focusing on what we need in triathlon. While in Santa Cruz, we spent an evening running through the logic of the eGrip on-line engine. I entered some pretty extreme values to see if I could “tilt” the server. No such luck, it kicked out a week that was very close to what I would have created for myself. It took me only a couple of minutes to fine-tune.

If you are looking for a cost effective “coach” then I’d recommend his site as well as a copy of my book, Going Long. The book has sold over 25,000 copies and that blows me away.

Once you have your simple plan, you may consider pulling the plug on all the chat forums and repeat, repeat, repeat to the best of your ability. Remove the distractions from execution. Make a habit of "doing".

It's not easy for me to stay away but I've been off forums since my own board was shut down last summer. I was running with a good friend this morning (Richmond Park, London with the deer -- very nice) and we were discussing the internet. He observed that there is a forum where you can ask a trained nutritionist any question you want and she'll reply for free. Hardly anyone posts! Rather than post to an expert, people end up asking perfect strangers for guidance (most of whom struggle with their nutrition but they are extremely generous with their experience).

We often think that boards are a meeting place for experts. Quite often, they turn into places were people come to reinforce their existing biases or self-image (particularly "poor me"). Watch for that -- you don't want those things in your head.

Keeping my head clear is why I'm very wary of television and any form of violence these days. I haven't watched a movie in a long while.

If you are seeking change in your life then look out for habits that become a time sink.

Beware of the enemies of action!


So what about the title of this piece? Well, Phase Two of my season kicked off this week.

Summing up Phase One…
***14 weeks of base training (HR <= 148 bpm) ***Epic Camp (phew!) ***Two weeks mellow with high run frequency I achieved most of what I wanted in Phase One. The area where I fell short was strength development. I suppose the best way to look at it is that I have plenty of upside in Phase Two. To give you an insight... 3x15 squats at 135lbs was tough this week. I will be working towards 3x12 at 185lbs. For reference, six years ago I ended my strength phase able to do 3x12 at 225lbs comfortably. On the plus side, my aerobic fitness and stamina are strong for February. My benchmarks and training volume indicate that I'm in good shape. I don't want to be in great shape at this stage of the season. My aerobic test has stalled (7:10/6:50/6:25/6:18/6:23/6:28 -- October to January) so it is time to kick off Phase Two and add in some tougher stuff. Before you lace up your spikes... note that my approach was... 14 weeks of simple base training; a bike-oriented aerobic overload cycle; then rest. I spent two months "stalled" and didn't rush to use intensity. It was more important to establish the depth of my aerobic platform than start the tough stuff. When you think that you are behind (and our minds always try that on) then it is tempting to constantly rush. This is fundamental -- to absorb tough training, we need width and depth in our platform. Appropriate preparation is required to get the benefit from harder training. Mark’s guidelines to me were pretty simple, “a couple times a week go as hard as you can -- finish the main set with your heart rate as close to max as possible”. You can read an article on his website that lays it out. Don’t bother sending me an email for more info, that article tells you more than I heard! In fact, you'd be silly not to read everything on his website -- he just might have something to teach us.

Of course, if you read his advice then you might be left in a position requiring change and we are often unable to change without the stimulus of a crisis.

In terms of the session structure, I have enough experience to create something that is reasonable but that didn't stop me from asking Molina then checking with Mark! What we came up with was a main set like 6x3 minutes fast on 90s rest – it’s what I did to kick off Day Eight at Epic.

I’ll use some variations but workout structure is not a constraint on performance.

What I target is:
***intensity (fast);
***rep duration (2-4 minutes);
***rest (about 50% of rep duration);
***cadence (92-94, bike & run); and
***form (best -- this is important).

I'll note power/pace when convenient but they are a result, not a target. I'm seeking a physiological response rather than a target performance. It's easy to get caught up in the data (personal limiter of mine). All of my breakthroughs have come when I removed my mind from what I was seeking to achieve. For my money, that is the crux of performance psychology.

I was a bit jet lagged on Thursday and did my first session in the dark around Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh. It was 5am and I was running with the aid of moonlight. If you know the climb then I started at the base of the steep side. Two uphill reps (rest was downhill walking) then four repeats along the top (3 upwind, 1 downwind). I started uphill to ensure a good HR response.

I couldn't see my heart rate monitor so I set it to beep at 170bpm. The set ended up 6x2:45 (fast) on 90s walking rest, probably 15 minutes over 170bpm. When I checked my data after the session, I saw that my max for the workout was 185bpm. That's the highest heart rate that I've generated since I started triathlon. High octane stuff -- I've felt the training stimulation for the last three days -- the physiological responses leave me feeling like I'm on happy-juice.

It will be interesting to see if the ability to generate high heart rates continues because the main difference between me and my "fast" pals is their ability to access higher power/pace by driving their heart rates higher than me. I'm efficient within my steady zone but the top guys can load me up by accessing their superior top ends.

In the past, I've chosen to carry background fatigue that limited my ability to elevate my heart rate. Those long term periods of being overreached were a conscious decision to develop my stamina and endurance. Even with the associated periods where I was overtrained, they were successful from a knowledge and performance viewpoint.

I'm seeking a deeper level of success this year.


I've adjusted my race schedule (yet again).

Feb -- Snowman Stampede, 10-miler in Denver, hope I don't need crampons!
Mar -- Lake Havasu Olympic Distance Triathlon
Apr -- Desert Olympic Distance Triathlon
May -- Napa Half Ironman
June -- Prospect Lake Sprint Triathlon

July and August will be specific preparation for Ironman Canada. In the summer, I get enough action with my key sessions. My "best" training performance will likely be seen July 16th to August 5th. Thereafter, I build inwards for game day.

As Mark reminded me in Santa Cruz, through all the training, it is important to remember that there is a race coming. When Ironman Canada arrives I plan on being ready.

All my best from Bermuda,

Labels: ,