31 May 2007

The Future of On-line Coaching


Our photo this week is my friend Sandi on her way to a personal best in the Edinburgh Marathon. A PB and a big smile! I also want to give a shout out to my pal (Miss A) in Sydney, she's going through chemo right now and good thoughts come in handy. The Byrn Family sends you a healing vibe...

Alan and I started a "book club" here at GordoWorld HQ. The first one that he offered me was "de Castella on Running". I will give you a chance to read it before I offer up my book review -- well worth the time to read. My book for him was "The Richest Man in Babylon". Mat has joined us for the summer so, perhaps, he'll throw in a good title.

I had a quote sent to me from Vern Gambetta's Blog -- I surfed the blog and found a great post on success that he linked up from three articles -- Really Good Stuff.

More than being smart, what's helped me is the ability to learn from smart people. Thank you to all the readers that share their "good stuff" with me.

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My buddy Ken is doing his MBA at Berkeley. He is kind enough to keep me in the loop on the latest developments in entrepreneurship as well as what's happening in the Bay Area. I've been developing a business plan for a new company and we have been sharing ideas covering technology, coaching, on-line communities and what's 'happening' on the internet. Much of what follows is a reflection of various ideas that Ken's shared with me -- perhaps there's value outside of Harvard after all... ;-)

This could be a bit choppy as I'm still working through my ideas . Writing is, part of, how I think and develop concepts/strategy. In addition to Ken's tips, Alan has been surveying the wider coaching, community and training applications market -- he's put together some surprising briefing papers that have been really helpful to my Advisory Board. When it comes to fact-finding and analysis, he does a far better job than I could. I tend to "rush to judgement" -- Alan's the other way, he'd still be doing research if I hadn't put a deadline on him...

...we're a good fit.

On-line coaching (triathlon) is a bit unique on the internet in that clients pay for content. Other successful content models that spring to mind are WSJ-online and The Economist. In those cases, I pay for timely, specialist content, written by smart people. The content (for now) is superior to what's available on the free sites.

But perhaps triathletes aren't paying for 'content' -- perhaps they are accessing an application for peace-of-mind and to make contact (on some level) with the founder/creator/moderators of the site. Perhaps they _want_ to pay to feel like they are doing something positive for their athletics -- I know that this is a big driver for the urge to "get a coach" or "join a club".

With web technology, it is tempting to over-invest at the front end to increase the "gee whiz" factor with clients and, therefore, justify the subsciption fees that are charged. Personally, I'd want to attract people with a reasonable, free beta version -- let them debug and help me design my vision.

Another approach is to be a follower of technology and focus on creating a simple, effective application. A low overhead front end where you plow a decent chunk of revenues into direct marketing to your clients -- late summer/early fall advertising, free articles and booths at key expo locations.

Both of these models are operating successfully in the triathlon marketplace. What struck Alan and me was that in other sports 'coaching' applications are given away for free -- equipment manufacturers develop them to build their brands; shift product; and attract traffic.

If you are shifting millions of dollars of merchandising, then fifty thousand (per annum) on programming is merely a portion of your marketing budget. Fifty grand per annum across five years would wipe out (the technical edge) of all the existing players.

I've had two smart companies approach me to build a coaching business for them but they wanted me to do it, essentially, for free. Why would a coach:entrepreneur build a brand for free? Within a branded goods business, it is straightforward to calculate the increase in equity value that can be created from a successful web-marketing strategy. I'm sure that many people see the opportunity -- however -- we are all busy folks. Someone will need to get on with it.

When I think about what matters in an on-line training program -- Basic Week Generator; Log; Season Planner; Reference Articles -- these components manage themselves once built. The founding team can sit back. I don't see sustainable advantage from a content, or application, driven business model.

The structure of athletic success // consistent, variable overload across time // that doesn't require constant revision of reference material and application drivers. It's a lot like coaching -- once you've "taught" your athletes your protocol then client retention is down to: (a) whether they like hanging out with you; (b) whether they are proud to be associated with you; (c) non-athletic value addition (life skills, career management); and (d) the team/community aspect that you create within your business. There could be more -- that was off the top of my head.

So I've been thinking how all the above will impact the new business. Four things that I've come across and have been thinking about for the new business:

A -- Good brands market themselves
B -- Build it for yourself
C -- "If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses" -- Henry Ford
D -- A business exists to serve the goals of its owner

When those components mix in my head I get the urge to strip away the endless complexity that is conjured up to market products & services. Complexity in goods to make you pay for more gizmos. Complexity in services to make you pay to look inside the Black Box.

Why not offer a simple program and spend time supporting clients in a manner that enhances success?

Some people just want a plan -- give that for free. Others may want interaction, personal advice, a deeper understanding (the complexity behind the simplicty) -- they can purchase consulting services or join an on-line community. This level of interaction requires: judgement; share of mind; and experience. Specialist advice that requires human capital -- providing sustainable advantage within the advisory team.

A key question -- "How would you respond to a new entrant offering your application for free -- what is your sustainable advantage?"

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Looking ahead on the technology, I expect that we'll see "coach-in-a-phone" shortly -- PT On The Net as well as Dave Scott's site are laying the foundations for this next step.

Mark asked me my thoughts on the best video feed; I thought about that for a bit and advised him to wait until the market sorted it out. Just like podcasting gave all of us the ability to become radio broadcasters; I'm sure that vod-casting (or its equivalent) will be worked out in 12-24 months.

Similar to PT On The Net -- I expect that we'll get PT-down-the-wire with workouts coming directly down the internet into plasma TVs -- there are people doing this already via DVD. I don't think that their current pricing models are sustainable as new entrants will enter the market and give it all away for (close to) free. If a company has a subscriber base of several thousand readers then you can pump the workout down the line for 25c, or give it away for free by selling an advertising header/footer.

The personal training market is going to split into low-end (cheap and cheerful) and high-end (relationship/high value added) -- the people in the middle that are charging $50-80 per hour to hang out with clients -- they will get squeezed.

A bit of an aside... I've never been able to figure out tech-valuations -- given the rapid change; the tendancy for competitors to give away applications for free; the near-zero site loyalty... why the large valuations? I'm sure there is an army of investment banker writing reports on "why" but I don't see sustainable, long term cash generation. I'm a long term cash-flow kind of investor.

Video coaching -- I was riding yesterday and thinking that it must be possible to combine GPS, key workout structure, and coach video into a handbar mounted device. You could have Coach Gordo along for your ride -- in my dream, I had Dave Scott telling me not to slack off with my twenty minutes standing on the flats!

Some of the more nimble triathlon entrepreneurs are starting this process with Computrainer's group training product -- Mark joked that it was the perfect combination for overtraining... twelve triathletes; loud music; head-to-head video monitors and sixty minutes on your lunch hour... you don't even get a chance to "sit-in" -- hammer down the whole way!!! :-)

Video consulting and conferencing -- watch the weekly or daily briefing where the expert panel discuss questions that were sent in by their clients. Personalise the concept with high quality "face-to-face" interaction with the smartest minds in your sport, or industry.

If we look to the hourly rates in law, taxation, accounting, finance then the best of the best will be able to greatly leverage their knowledge. The challenge faced by many highly skilled people is that they are tied to their office and local geography -- that's going to change. You'll have the world on a plasma screen in a few years, if you want it. I see it starting with live video feeds into "success conferences".

The question, "How do we position our team, and create the reach, so that we'll be able to access the clients that will want these services?"

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Implications?

From my own point of view...

>>>front end costs should be incurred to leverage personal human capital

>>>a model focused on traffic / reach generates a return via an increased premium earned on personal human capital

>>>follow technology via the widest, established channels -- let MS, IBM, Yahoo, Apple and Google battle it out. Sit under the technology umbrella of the market leader(s).

>>>consider how to address the 'entertainment' factor -- 'gee whiz' is how a lot of people have fun // very important in coaching as it is recreation for the target market (as well as distraction at the office!)

>>>focus on increasing specialist knowledge and experience -- entire team must be dedicated to continual study // human capital, connections, networks and real relationships. While the basics remain the same, the ability to appear at the cutting edge is good marketing. Looking at it another way -- race results attract clients; delivering success keeps them.

>>>share expert information/experience constantly and as broadly as possible.

>>>invest assuming that your application can be wiped out in 12 months. The established players are better funded (essentially "free" equity) and have the ability to crush you whenever they feel like it.

That's a tough way to end it -- good thing we sit on the fringe of a niche sport.

Still thinking,
gordo

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25 May 2007

Working Athlete Periodization & Prime Property


I've been on the road for a few days so our photo is another shot from the archives. I am missing Monica!

I've been a little jet lagged this week and took the opportunity to write up some thoughts on an alternative periodization approach. It's what I've been using for myself, and my crew, over the last few years. I'll explain the approach more fully in the Second Edition of Going Long. Joe and I will be working on the update this Fall and it should hit the stores in 2008. While the core of the book will stay the same, we have enough new information to merit a re-write. The second edition will be supplemental to the first -- an extension, rather than a replacement.

I read in The Economist that viagra could help reduce jetlag when flying East (no joke). Don't think I'll try it but it did make me smile.

The top end of the UK housing market is cranking along -- no signs of the slowdown that I was reading about this week in the US market (Toll Brothers). I've been thinking about the main drivers of the persistent boom in top end pricing -- declining long term interest rates, plenty of global liquidity and strong executive salaries in the financial - legal - accounting - insurance industries. The banks are offering very large mortgages to the right sort of buyers - up to 10x pre-tax income. On my trip, I've heard of multi-million, 100% loan:value mortages.

Edinburgh is seeing multiple pre-qualifed buyers competing on houses worth in excess of $3 million. This is a completely new situation. Five years ago, one of our companies was the first buyer to pay over $2 million for a townhouse -- today that same property is worth over $4 million ($6 million post-renovation). Too bad we sold that one! If you want to read about some seriously large housing appreciation then research the performance of the top end London market. In dollar terms, the last three years have been truly amazing.

Interestingly, the top end yields are reasonable in London, better than Edinburgh. I expect that we'll see significant rental growth in our key Scottish markets. For our highest quality product, we have seen rents move by 20-40% over the last 12 months. That's a big move for a sector that saw flat rents from 1998-2004 and isn't the experience of the broader market.

At a micro level, the market is being driven by an increasing number of top end buyers/renters. These clients are looking for high quality in locations that (by their nature) will always be cramped for supply. Combine that with a (well placed) reluctance to undertake their own refurbishment projects and you have a situation were the best properties earn a premium return.

By "best", I'm referring to the top 0.1% of the market. We stick to the most desirable properties to ensure full occupancy and high liquidity. We want to able to rent and/or sell in any market situation because an illiquid portfolio with empty properties can kill you in a downturn.

It's been a very interesting trip for me.

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One of the challenges of using a traditional periodization model is that the cycles of volume don’t always fit with the realities of your life. Put another way, when you use a table to determine your training schedule, you are typically doing either too little, or too much. Of these two situations, “too much” is the most risky.

What follows is an approach that I’ve been using with my athletes for the last few years. The traditional approach to periodization that we used in my book (Going Long) is both proven and effective. This letter seeks to provide you with alternative ideas that have helped many of my athletes achieve greater consistency and satisfaction with their training.

Here are the key concepts:

1 – the Basic Week approach maximizes training consistency over multiple months and seasons. By aiming for a “little less” each week, you will achieve more over the long run.

2 – your Weekday training is determined by the reality of your life situation, primarily your obligations to work and family.

3 – your Weekend training is split between an Endurance Day (typically Saturday) and a Family Day (typically Sunday).

4 – The training on your Endurance Day shifts based on your experience, fitness, goal event and the time of the year. You progress the nature of this day gradually and in harmony with daylight, climate and your fitness. Early season the purpose of this session is to build “endurance”, the ability to complete your desired race duration. As the season progresses, you shift your focus towards “fitness”, the ability to perform across your desired race duration.

It is typical for novice athletes to focus on “endurance” for multiple season. I spent many years with endurance as my main (nearly, sole) focus. An endurance athlete never graduates from focusing on steady-state stamina – it is the fundamental component of athletic performance.

5 – On your Family Day, place the people that support your athletic goals first. This increases your emotional harmony and gives you a break from athletics. It also has a positive athletic benefit because you arrive at work fresh on Monday – keeping you employed (!) and increasing the quality of your Weekday sessions.

6 – By agreeing a training schedule with all key players in your life, you remove the constant struggle to “squeeze in” and “juggle” training sessions. You have an agreed structure that you’ll repeat for the rest of your life. This is a holistic approach that fits your training into the larger goal of a successful lifestyle.

When you set-up your Basic Week keep the following tips in mind:

1 – aim for a Basic Week structure that you can complete “no sweat” forty weeks per year. You want to have a structure that enables you to outperform on a weekly basis. This is an important part of building credibility with yourself.

2 – while the timing structure of your week should remain the same, ensure that you vary your training protocol (what you do in each session) every six to eight weeks. Your fitness will progresses from variable overload applied consistently across many years.

3 – twice a year, insert a period of unstructured training. At the end of your season take 2-8 weeks of unstructured training and in the middle of each year at 1-2 weeks of unstructured training. The closer you move to your maximum potential and the greater your athletic success, the more recovery you will need to insert into your year.

4 – every three weeks back off on the training load, even (and especially) when you think that you don’t “need” it. You are playing a long-term game where athletic fatigue creeps into the body very gradually.

5 – use benchmark testing to track your progress. Remember that multiple month plateaus are common; the rapid progression of the novice athlete is not the typical experience of a veteran to our sport.

Your ultimate athletic development is determined by your athletic consistency, not the nature of your toughest sessions. Protect your consistency and your fitness foundation; these are the keys to reaching your fullest potential.

Hope this helps,

gordo

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22 May 2007

Grip Tips


This week’s photo is one of my favorites from the archives. One year ago this week, Team MonGo on the beach in Brazil. Sitting here on a plane to the United Kingdom, I can remember the warm sun on that morning. I’m far from Brazil right now but it seems very close. Good memories.

One announcement before I kick off, I’ll be speaking at a USAT Coaching Clinic on November 2nd & 3rd – location is the Olympic Training Centre at Colorado Springs. This is the same weekend as last season. This year we will focus on the “business” part of coaching. The clinic is open to coaches/athletes of all sports. More details as I work them out with Tim Boruff of USAT.

I promised that I’d share a few of the ideas that Mark passed along to me – I’ve been bumping into Mark off-and-on for a few years. I’ve taken every single opportunity to speak to him over the years. Some of what I’ll share below I picked up before we formally started working together – some of it may have nothing to do _directly_ with Mark but he was a catalyst for change.

To kick off, I went back to my notes from the Fit Body, Fit Soul clinic in September last year. It’s been eight months already! So much has happened, and yet, I feel as if I’m exactly the same person… …but I’m not.

In reviewing my notes, I see that I had four “fears” and one “desire” that I wanted to send on their way. When I met with Mark in January, he told me not to worry about them because they were already gone. Similar to writing something down in a blog; the identification and sharing of a fear greatly reduces its power.

At the clinic, I wrote down quite a bit about sleep and healing. My sleep patterns have always provided a direct insight into my personal productivity.

My four key tips for improved sleep are:

***Wake-up at the same time every day

***Moderate use of stimulants (mine are coffee, training stress, intensity and evening speaking)

***No email or business after dinner

***Simplify week structure and number of commitments

I also wanted to reduce overall stressors on my body. The four things that I wanted to achieve where: eliminating alcohol; improving nutrition; reducing travel; and limiting internet.

Sitting here on British Airways, I have to admit that I didn’t reduce my travel much – I’ve been all over the place! However, my internet surfing is way, way down and that helped in many areas. Avoiding chat forums and most media, eliminates a source of external noise that saps productivity.

One of the quickest ways to increase productivity is reduce the mental junk food that you consume. Are your media choices consistent with excellence? Are you making the same excuses for media outlets that you used to apply to your nutrition?

I asked these questions to myself and the answers were informative. So I write to you here instead of joining in the chorus of disharmony elsewhere.

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The booze and the nutrition were straightforward to sort out. I’m very lucky that Monica creates a wide range of fantastic meals. We’re eating extremely healthy meals that change daily. Previously, we ate “chicken and salad” for dinner every night (very healthy but lacking in variety). The shift to a wide range of organic ingredients added materially to our grocery bill but, for us, it is a price worth paying. Nutrition offers me a sustainable advantage over my competition and will enhance my family’s long term quality of life.

One of the last notes that I made at the clinic was that we achieve balance by living in harmony and peace with our environment. Are Monica and I a “sustainable family”? Not yet, the amount of garbage that I generate still bothers me (not enough to do much about it though). We are re-doing our garage and basement and generating a ton of trash. Garbage, and my direct impact on the environment, is a topic that I’ve been thinking about since 2004 (when the only thing I left on my trip across America was trash).

My brother gave me a nudge on composting, so we’ve got that happening now. I planted a dogwood tree near my compost pile and it seems to be enjoying my initiative.

If you’ve read a simple book on sustainability then send me the title. I’d welcome some ideas.

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Overall, as you can gather, things are going well and I am enjoying the challenge of making changes to my approach.

One of the interesting effects of Mark’s protocol…

I am enjoying success with sensible training…

the success enables me to be ever more sensible…

and generate ever more success.

Flip it around… an elite cycling buddy of mine once shared this circle with me…

he didn’t achieve the results he wanted early in the year…

so he skipped his mid-season break where he re-establishes his base…

so he kept racing and didn’t achieve the results he wanted.

Lest you think that I’ve gone soft… I still overload myself quite a bit. The main change that I’ve made is much more structured recovery.

My four week rolling volume has ranged from 47 hours (post-Epic in January) to 99 hours (the block that followed Epic Recovery). To put that in context, in the Spring of 2004, I peaked at just over 140 hours in a single four week block.

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OK, what did Mark say?

Well, prior to my last trip we discussed very little in terms of specifics. Our discussions were more about training philosophy (pacing a year, pacing a season, pacing a workout, background) as well as settling my mind down (doing enough, keep the cap, be patient). I enjoy talking to Mark – the guy relaxes me. Breakfast in Santa Cruz is the slowest that you’ll ever see me eat.

What I’ve written in this blog contains more detail than what we discussed – I went to his site for supplemental information. I’ll outline the few areas where I received clear tips. You’ve heard some of this before!

Heart Rate Cap – the “cap” that Mark likes is a real cap. Elites don’t get any special dispensations – perhaps someone can ask Macca about his program and drop me an email! I need to know if there is an alternative protocol for the sub-8:10 Kona plan…

I stuck to that cap as best as I could. Within the cap, there are pace/power/speed peaks but there is no sustained hammering. When you go hard, you have a reason and you go really hard.

In the interests of full disclosure I did have two days where I drilled it “off plan” – one at each of the training camps that I did. These were hard sessions that were done a day, or two, before I had them officially scheduled. Group training is tough even for an experienced guy like me! Mark told that would probably happen and I should remember that blowing it didn’t need to become a habit.

The cap has a neat implication – looking for more information, I went to Mark’s site and read his tip to try to keep things over 120 bpm when doing an endurance session. That is an absolutely brilliant tip!

Why?

This completely removes any pressure during an endurance session. When I go out, my mission is to get over 120 bpm and not cross 148 bpm. I can use all my knowledge, my zones, my power meter, my lab results – however, too much complexity will leave you feeling less than satisfied. Why? Because you will ALWAYS find a metric that you aren’t meeting – your knowledge will beat you down! Mark’s system removes that.

If you get out the door then you are pretty much guaranteed a successful workout.

That’s a recipe for consistency and consistency is what really matters.

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Another clear piece of advice that Mark gave was not to let my weight go under 160 lbs (I’m 6-1, post-yoga). Imagine that (!), an ultraendurance coach telling me not to get too light – sacrilege!

When he told me, I was disappointed – if figured that 157 was possible if I ate super light this summer... like many of us, I enjoy driving my weight down for races – yes, I have a deep seeded desire to control things.

Not only did Mark set the weight floor, but he followed up on it (twice) with me. Clearly, this wasn’t a passing comment. His rationale is: (a) for IM we need maximum power; and (b) to go really fast we need maximum ‘reserves” (physical, mental, spiritual). Power and reserves are not maximized when weight is minimized.

Worth repeating – power and reserves are not maximized when weight is minimized.

So the floor relaxes me and I start to focus on eating super healthy because “if I only get 160 lbs then I better make sure that they are the fittest 160 lbs in Penticton”. It got to the point where I even skipped weighing myself for a few weeks because “making weight” ceased to be an issue for me. I checked in this past week… doing fine.

Our “technical knowledge” may take issue with caps and floors – however, if the goal is getting the athlete to focus on what truly matters then, for me, they are extremely powerful tools… …and I knew what I was doing before I started working with Mark!

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The first time I heard Mark speak about winning in 1989 he shared his experience with “giving up” during the race. He didn’t quit, rather he completely accepted his situation and acknowledged that he would continue to the best of his ability.

I had a similar experience with my running test. I was kicking out that same result for SIX months while training 20-40% less than normal. I can assure you that it was testing! It wasn’t until I totally accepted that I was going to race Canada with a 4 min per K max aerobic pace that I broke through.

Of course, it might have been all that training…

I take your point but remember that, at my level, the training is taken for granted. Everybody in the Top Ten trains to the best of their ability. The differences are not due to lack of effort – the differences are due to the combined effects of little things over an extended period of time.

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The final point is Mark’s tip that when I “go fast”; I should go as fast as I can. Of all the tips, this is the clearest change from my previous approach because to “go fast” I need to rest up and really rip it. I freshened-up for every fast session and race that I did this year. Previously, I’d only freshen a few times a season.

Training up at my maximum heart rate is new. Coming from an ultra background, I expect that my top-end has never been fully trained (going back to school days). That is a change that Mark brought to my program – the limited application of maximum effort training. In the past, I’ve tried to go “really fast” but I’ve carried too much fatigue to achieve the levels that I’ve seen in 2007.

How much tough stuff? Looking at my calendar, 16-18 days (Sept 2006 to May 2007) where I let my heart rate go over 150 bpm for a sustained period of time. Of those days, I hit maximum heart rate on less than ten. Of the ten, I hit life highest heart rates on five or six.

I was under 150 bpm for the first 14-15 weeks of this season – my longest endurance phase in the last seven years (even while overtrained – yes, I am the type to test myself when nuked).

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It’s a good thing that I’ve been pacing myself because last week we ran through Mark’s view on specific preparation for an elite athlete. We didn’t talk main sets or highly structured workouts, I already know how to structure a bike ride.

We discussed weeks, and days, of race specific overload:

***Big weeks (SBR, Bike and Run);

***Big Day Training (see my tips page);

***Back-to-back Long Rides;

***Double run days.

It’s essentially the same structure that I’ve been using in the past. The training is the SAME as what I’ve been doing in the past. It is nearly identical to the program that Scott Molina has been teaching me since 2000, and not far from what I learned from Dave Scott in 2004.

So what’s different? The mind craves differences!

***I’ll start the final block completely fresh – after two weeks of maintenance training, I will do less than five hours this week – half of my weekly volume will be on this coming Sunday. The only other time that I was this fresh in May, I raced Ironman Brazil, took two weeks off then did Epic Camp France. I won’t be repeating that pattern this year!

***My initial run fitness is much higher with my max aerobic, FT and VO2 paces at life best levels. I completed a 20-miler on Magnolia Road last Sunday and combined my fastest split with lowest average heart rate. I’m in great marathon shape;

***I’ll do more long bike rides (than the year I rode across America for base training);

***I’ll do less fast running and start it later in the summer – when I run fast, I will run very fast;

***My long runs will stay under 150 bpm – previously, my longest runs would also be some of my fastest. I’ve done some tough 20-milers in the past;

***Including this week (and race week), I will have five unloading periods (two more than normal) and each period is about double the duration of normal;

The differences relate to ensuring that I absorb the training required to go very fast in Penticton on August 26th. I’ve created a situation where I am “ahead of plan” – this gives me the confidence to insert extra recovery and greatly increases the probably of success. It also removes the pressure to hit homeruns – I don’t need to prove anything in training (listen to Faris on Competitors Radio for his take on AG-training in San Diego).

When I started reaching the podium at International races, I asked Scott what I should change to go faster. His advice was: (a) remember to keep what made you fast in the first place; (b) make your tough days tougher; and (c) keep your easy days easy.

There is very little change in my training protocol. The adjustments come mainly in my recovery protocol. As my tough days increased their load, we found that I needed easy periods, as opposed to easy days.

It all looks so simple sitting on my excel spreadsheet…

Should be an interesting summer!

gordo

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18 May 2007

Never Follow, Averages and Overtraining


This week I am going to expand my thoughts on both overtraining and effective investment. I'll also explain a little something about averages in training and racing.

Our photo is the "Dixie Chicks", three great ladies that came to Mitch's desert camp and made it fun for me. Their passion for the sport was contagious and they added a lot to the week.

An offer to gLetter readers from Albert at Coffees of Hawaii. From May 21-28, you'll be able to get 20% off everything on the website by using the code "gordo2007". Choose your order, then enter the code at checkout. My favourite product is the Hawaiian Espresso.

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Never Follow
A reader asked for some more information on my advice to never follow poor investment decisions (in people, in shares, in companies, in ourselves).

Read Hedgehogging by Barton Biggs. Tons of good stuff in there -- written by a man's who's world contains people where a net worth of $25 million is a reasonable starting point. The insight into the mind-set of the financial elite is interesting but the real value, for me, came from his reminders on investment strategies that work.

For example, in his firm they have a policy that they review every deal that falls X%. If they still believe that it is a good deal then they must double their position. If they can't convince themselves of that point then they sell immediately. You can apply this point to any situation in life -- I use it on people, discipline with human capital is more important than financial capital.

Tip Two -- Common mistakes that we make are: (a) giving more value to things that we already own (bad deals) ; and (b) over-estimating our ability to influence a situation (save an investment, improve an employee). These concepts are laid out quite well in Mauldin's book, Just One Thing.

Another issue that we face with our Bad Deals is that they distract us from doing what we are really good at. Put another way, we gain very little from turning a poor employee into an average employee. However, the star members of our teams (and portfolios) can impact total performance in a meaningful manner. The mere fact that we tolerate dead wood can hold back the star performers (See Collins, Good to Great).

Put simply, whenyo u think that you can fix the situation... you probably can't and, even if you can, you'll make more money backing your winners and investing in your strengths.

Finally, don't fool yourself into thinking that markets are transparent. My investment portfolio consists of:
>>>Money Market Funds (low fee, very low risk);
>>>CDs from very highly rated organizations;
>>>Ventures in which I play a positive role in enhancing equity value;
>>>My house.

That's it.

In the past, I have had the opportunity to invest in collective investment schemes that were managed by the partners of my old investment fund. That was a great deal, quite profitable and my role was limited. I also benefitted from the extended bull market in prime UK housing (that is continuing) -- I can't take much credit for that.

The partners' investment scheme and the housing boom succeeded by giving me leveraged upside, with limited downside -- they were options on future outcomes. Create, and take, options whenever possible. Consider where you can create options in your own life. I tend to keep a number of opportunities rolling at any one time. This gives me flexibility and exposure to a range of situations.

Another good lesson from Venture Capital is that if you invest long enough then you'll nearly always hit a home-run eventually. One homerun, when combined with fiscal discipline, creates many options for how you will spend your time.

It all sounds so easy, doesn't it. Well, there are probably a thousand qualified people for each seat at the elite finance table -- so you need to be smart; work your ass off; enjoy working and a bit lucky. From the outside, opportunity may appear to be what holds you back (the entertainment industry may appear like this to some). From what I've observed, most people lack the combination of work ethic and work enjoyment. I've given (and continue to give) people the opprtunity to learn/succeed. Even when you offer a hand up, most folks are content to stay in their current situation -- out of fear, inertia or some other driver.

Final thoughts... when you take the return of the financial services industry (as a whole), you'll see the participants strip out the excess return for themselves. It's a highly efficient market for the participants of "the game". That's my final book recommendation for today, The Game, by Adam Smith.

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Averages
What follows is a chat about simple averages -- not normalized, not weighted. Unless I specifically write otherwise, I always mean the simple average when I write.
E.M. wrote... I just heard your talk on power on Ironman talk podcasts and found it quite interesting... I am actually glad I did not look at the watts during the race because (from training) my expectations were to bike in the 240-250 range vs the 225-235 range.
A buddy that worked at Nasa once explained to me why we spend nearly all of our time above the average pace/watts/hr for a session. It has something to do with the fact that sometimes we go _really_ slow but we never go _really_ fast. He had a nifty equation that explained it all.
The above athlete's experience is what happens in the real world when we pace correctly... our actual average is lower than our training average for that goal effort. Specific to that example, sitting on 240-250w for the bulk of the race will result in an average 10-20w lower. Many athletes get caught in the trap of chasing average watts -- you can get a bit depressed, or very tired (!), with that strategy on race day. Dial in your sustainable effort and accept the power/pace/speed that results. Honest race simulation workouts help avoid surprises.

It is similar with running. For me to average 4 minute per K pace in a race, I need to be able to sit in the 3:50-3:55 per K range for the bulk of the race.

By the way, this discussion isn't meant to say that one needs to train faster -- rather, I'm pointing out that on race day, most of us find that our "steady" pace over 8-18 hours is slower than our steady pace over 20-60 minutes. I spend a lot of time helping athletes learn this point.

What feels "easy" for the first five hours of racing... just might be your sustainable pace/power/effort for the entire race. It certainly is for the first three hours of your day -- no need to open up by swimming at Half Marathon heart rates. You are killing yourself.

A final thing to watch for in training -- let's say you want to hold 128-135 bpm on a workout. Early in the day that might result in an average of 127-129 bpm. After you are warmed-up, say, 133 bpm. If you are seeing averages close to 135 bpm then you've been training above your target zone most of the main set.

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Overtraining
Coach KP and Dr. J were swapping ideas about overtraining, reaching for excellence and other ideas. It's always nice to "listen in" (via email) when a couple of smart guys share their experiences. Anyhow, after reading their thread, I talked it through with Mark Allen (I was in Santa Cruz this week). What follows is a mix of Mark, the guys and my own thoughts.

The lessons and benefits of being overtrained ALL accrue the FIRST time you go through that process and (if you are lucky) learn the nature of "bad fatigue". You will also see that fatigue is a state, not an emotion. The highest performing ultraendurance athletes have a low (to nil) emotional attachment to fatigue. I expect that the shorter the duration of the event, the more important a low emotional attachment to pain becomes.

Guys like Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Molina, Peter Reid -- I imagine that they have low attachment to both fatigue and pain. I have no idea what _really_ happens in their heads but I know that my experiences meant that I was open to completely frying myself. My early warning signals sound "faint", or are ignored. My buddy Clas is even stronger than me -- therefore, his overtraining experience was, ultimately, deeper than mine.

In hindsight, I received all the overtraining "benefits" when I took myself to an over-reached state (see Going Long for an explanation of the difference). Basically, over-reaching is using race specific overload to create race specific fatigue in a desire to generate physiological and mental benefits. Over-reaching is an essential part of ultraendurance performance.

My lack of experience with "appropriate overload" led me to choose to go "too far" resulting in overtraining. It is really tough to see that you've gone "too far" until you get there.

Similar to learning how to differentiate pain, some people learn how to differentiate between types of fatigue. Good fatigue, silly fatigue, dangerous fatigue, fatigue that can be ignored and fatigue that shouldn't be ignored. Thing is... we are constantly changing and challenging ourselves to make decisions on uncertain information.

Many athletes relive, recreate, actively seek... highly stressful experiences such as overtraining -- they crave the chemical buzz associated with high stress. This pattern is a poor strategy for success but can produce high level results. A deeper level of success is available if we are conscious enough to learn from our mistakes.

Mark shared... picture a horizontal line -- at the left side is "out of shape"... at the right side is "maximum potential" -- one hundredth of an inch to the right of maximum potential is completely overtrained. Athletes that come closest to their maximum potential have the greatest risk of overtraining. I see this in my own athletes.

Here's the kicker... most people are so far from their maximum potential; so stressed out from their life choices; that to pile on the additional stress of "training right"; "physiologically optimal"; "true build training"; "going hard"; and/or "training like a pro". Achieves only two things...

#1 they get sick/injured; and
#2 they get very tired.

You are left with a person that faces simple exhaustion, rather than being overtrained. So they get nuked AND fail to get the benefits from pushing their limits. It takes many years of preparation to gain value in screwing up... a paradox of endurance training, I suppose.

To an athlete with an experience of being deeply overtrained -- effective training feels like being constantly undertrained. I've felt completely undertrained for the last thirty weeks, while using Mark's protocol. However when I think back, I can remember thinking very clearly that I was at my maximum limit for what I could absorb. It is just like looking back at a well paced Ironman race, at any given point could have gone "harder" however at the finish you know that you gave it your all.

I did an aerobic run test Tuesday morning before I met Mark. 5:59 average across three miles with last two miles at 6:00.36. The last three benchmark runs that I have done have all been life best performances across the distance (6 miles off the bike, 33-flat; Half Marathon off the bike, 1:16; Aerobic Test, 5:59). Everything that I am doing is contained in this blog -- there's no secret training happening. I'm doing less than previous years but (I suppose) absorbing more.

Most people fail by never giving themselves a chance to perform. Too much effort, too short a timetable, and a lack of preparation. Short bursts of mis-directed passion -- one night stands with "effort" rather than an extended courtship of "excellence".

That's all for this week,
gordo

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12 May 2007

Success, Discipline, Bad Deals and Bodhisattvas


The photo this week relates to my final topic of bodhisattvas. The other topics that I'll share ideas on are success/results; discipline/compromise; and bad deals.

Before we kick off a public service announcement on helmets and seat belts... the good weather has a number of my pals riding naked!

It is worth remembering that we never choose when we will have a life threatening accident. Helmets have saved me from two very serious head injuries. If you don't want to wear a helmet for yourself then wear it for your friends/family -- we are the ones that will be left to pick up the pieces when you sustain a serious injury.

If you insist on riding without a helmet then please, at a minimum, carry an organ donor card.

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Success vs Results
A friend recently remarked that while he 'lived' better than anyone that he knew, he believed that I enjoyed the way that I lived far more than him. There wasn't any envy in his statement -- just an observation on the difference between consumption and satisfaction.

There is, I believe, a related topic in athletics -- the difference between achieving success and achieving results. There are a lot of different aspects of this topic and I will limit myself to a couple of sub-topics this evening.

There are several training techniques that produce results while rarely leading to success. I'll share a few:

***Starvation training, exercise anorexia, depletion training -- whatever you'd like to call it. Over the short term, self-starvation can be performance enhancing. There are several successful trainers that actively push their athletes down this path -- results are achieved and others (including the athlete) are left to pick up the pieces.

***Overtraining -- a really interesting topic for me. Within my own training, I was successful, with a high quality of life during all of my overtraining phases. When I look around my friends and read case studies of world class athletes, I see that there are positive physical and mental adaptations that occur as a result of the lessons leading into an overtrained state. Pretty much everybody at the top of their sport has blown themselves up at some stage.

Having come out the other side of both these topics, I find it difficult to participate (in any way) in an athlete's desire to impair themselves. However, I do have empathy for the athlete that argues for his right to nuke himself. You'll certainly miss your health when it is gone, so it is best to ensure that you have a very good reason for venturing to the limit.

These topics present interesting ethical dilemmas that (I expect) healthcare professionals must balance on a daily basis. The balance between respecting a person's right for self-determination and my desire to surround myself with individuals that embody the life that I want to live.

At many levels, athletes look to their coaches/trainers/advisors/mentors for affirmation that their strategies are "what it takes". I'd caution you to consider if a solitary focus on results will, ultimately, lead you along the path of a successful life.

Speed, money, body fat percentage, net worth -- these may enhance our perceived quality of life but they do not represent quality of life. The more fixated we become on them, the more we'll miss them when they're gone.

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Discipline vs Compromise
Another buddy of mine shared an observation that taking care of his financial obligations was forcing him into a position of compromise with his training. He noted that he struggled with compromise -- the underlying sentiment being that he was results focused on his training and didn't want to back down from achieving in that field.

If you've been reading this blog for a while then you'll know that financial prudence is a fundamental belief of mine. When I am out of financial balance, I can't really think about much else. This presents challenges as I broaden my consulting practice to help people with their financial situation. In fact, I have a little sign beside my desk now... "assist without ownership". The sign is part of my drive to free myself from the illusion of controlling anything outside of myself.

I thought about my friend's comment and my first response (internally) was a quick retort that there is a massive difference between compromise and discipline. However, given a week to mull it over... I think that my buddy had it absolutely correct.

Changing our patterns is difficult
Changing our patterns takes time and effort
Meaningful change requires new methods of thinking
Without the catalyst of a crisis, most are unable to make meaningful changes

I think that my strong initial reaction was generated by my own pattern of thinking. Here is how I see it...

"I never compromise, I make positive decisions that support my desired goals. I'm doing what it takes to achieve success."

You can easily change this to...

"I am constantly compromising, all I do is say 'no' to myself. I try so hard to escape my failed patterns. Poor me."

Same thing...
Different mind set...
Different probability of success.

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Bad Deals
Whether it is a poor investment, a weak hiring decision or a failed relationship, we are all going to make a few bad deals in our lives. Due to space constraints and to protect the guilty (i.e. me!)... I'll skip the specific examples.

Here are the key things that have helped me deal with my most serious personal challenges:

Forgiveness -- not your spouse, not your business partner, not your employee -- forgive yourself for having made such a poor decision to start with. When I'm in a bad deal, nearly all of the angst that I feel comes from a mixture of fear and embarrasment for a self-generated failure. I made a poor choice -- I blew it -- things didn't work out as planned. To think clearly, to move forward in a positive manner, my first step is to forgive myself.

Effective -- you'll have a lot more success in your exit strategy if you focus on being effective, rather than being right. Seeing as you've (hopefully) managed to forgive yourself for entering into the deal -- there is no need to get the other party/company/boss/employee to admit that they screwed up as well. You don't need to be "right" -- you do need an exit that protects your position while preserving your ethics. If you are in settlement negotiations remember that your self-respect is the only asset that you truly own.

Tests -- while you are working towards a successful exit strategy, expect to be challenged emotionally with 'unreasonable' requests. I used quotes because it is important to remember that the other party is likely fighting for their own financial/emotional survival. In these situations, people can do some strange things.

Sunk costs -- in a bad deal, the time/money/emotions of the past are gone. What matters is having the mental clarity to make effective decisions about where you will invest your current (and future) time/money/emotions.

As a professional investor of 17 years, I can tell you that (as a rule) you will make the greatest return by never, ever, ever, ever following your money when a company is off plan. I watched us burn millions of pounds learning that lesson in the early 90s. A simple rule that is far from easy to implement.

As a human being of 38 years, I can say that the strength of my relationship with Monica stems from the self-knowledge and self-commitments that flowed from the errors that I made in previous relationships. To get a different outcome, I had to change my approach, rather than my partner.

Finally, for what it's worth, my most valuable life lessons have come as a result of bad deals. The financial and emotional costs that I've paid have returned huge dividends through improved decision making and perspective about my life situation.

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Bodhisattvas
If you click the link then you'll get a proper definition of a bodhisattva -- I like Jack Kerouac's, "a brave wise being or a great wise angel". I think that I had one of these mythical creatures in my house the other day.

Allow me to explain...

The photo that leads the blog this week is my father-in-law as a young man. As you can see, he was a military man and worked on a carrier flight deck.

A few months after that photo was taken, Robert was involved in an accident where he was sucked into a jet intake. His buddies pulled him out of the engine and he was dead on the scene. The engine blades sliced his shoulder quite badly and he lost enough blood for his heart to stop. Fortunately, the crew managed to revive him.

He's never really explained to me what dying was like -- I doubt that he'd be able to find the words and, even if he did, how could I understand. Anyhow, after they managed to get him stable from the first accident, his shoulder became infected and it wasn't looking too good for him. Interestingly, when he describes this period of his life he focuses on his friend in the hospital, playing checkers and laughing daily. Dying was quite beneficial for his mental outlook!

I attended Robert's 70th birthday party and he explained a few things to us. He didn't really give a speach, rather he shared a few ideas that had been helpful to him. It was a bit like being handed thirty zen koans. I only remember a few things from his talk but he's been threatening to publish his memoirs.

The observation that stuck with me was his statement that he is constantly surrounded by mirrors.

When I am at my most "clear", I don't seek to overcome, or fix, myself. Rather, I use self-acceptance to create empathy by seeing myself reflected in others. Some traditions talk about being "one" with the world -- so far the best that I can manage is a little empathy. It's a start.

Another of the things that he shared is that the accident super-charged his ability to "feel", specifically, to experience love. A person that is supercharged on love has some interesting characteristics -- Robert's emotional circuit breakers can get overloaded and he's prone to crying when he's really happy -- which means that he cries at just about anything because he sees beauty in most things (other than the Bush administration but he's working on that).

Like a lot of my best teachers, simply being with him leaves me feeling better. He's got quite a bit to teach me but I know it all already. My head likes to file everything in sequential or opposing terms. Some knowledge doesn't quite fit that way.

Back next week,
gordo

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04 May 2007

May Q & A

Still on the road this week so a few thoughts on: priorities; realistic protocol choices; and externals.

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S.T. writes…
“Important things tend to receive great criticism from ourselves. At least this is what my market research shows, which was done among my friends. We always think that our priority list is not correct. For example, we always ask “why this is #1?” and why this is #8? (in a top-10 list)…

“Anyway, when you have free time and you’re in good mood, pls write a post on this very subject “deciding what is really important to you”. I think that this decision is very short-lived and it’s like making a tattoo. You like it now (in our case you consider it important now), but are you going to like it after 5 or 15 years? In my humble opinion, decide what is important now and is rated #1 now, it’s not something that can last for too long, maybe that was the case in the 90s, not in the 2k years. It can even become counterproductive in our fast changing world. Everything goes, turns and moves fast and our “important things” (probably) follow."


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Some general points on goals and priorities.

Within my life, my goals are signposts (or waypoints). They are not a destination in themselves, rather they help me be the sort of man that I want to be. They support a desired lifestyle and ethical framework for me. With that in mind, I’m always free to change my goals (or my approach) with new information.

Some of my pals (and readers) often appear to take my goals more seriously than I do. What I strive for is total commitment with limited attachment -- some days go better than others on that front! I think that we need to be wary of sticking to stated goals when changing circumstances show that another makes more sense. That's why I advise careful thought before making public statements -- they often come back to bite when we are least equiped to deal with them!

That said, what I’ve found in my own life is that my true goals are timeless in nature. They span cultures as well as trends/fashions. These are the values which lie beneath the items that I may place on my Top Ten list. See my Personal Planning post (September 5th, 2006) – the key things for me are:

Big Picture
>>>Successful marriage combined with personal satisfaction
>>>Open communication based on kindness and respect
>>>Practice listening skills
>>>Observe and reflect

Key Likes
>>>Like to train and write
>>>Like to achieve
>>>Enjoy temperate weather with ample sunshine
>>>Maintain expense/income balance

All of the above are available to me on a daily basis and, with the exception of my marriage (and the weather), only require action on my part. I have complete control over them.

Within my life, I see very little link between “balance” (in the Western sense) and personal satisfaction. It often feels that I have to work at keeping my life focused (and a bit out of balance), in order to achieve a deeper level of success.

However, there is a strong link between “harmony” and personal satisfaction. Harmony flowing most easily when I am living up to my commitments to myself – everything that I appear to do for “others” is undertaken as a result of a desire to maintain my personal view of self. To think otherwise can generate a lot of resentment – there are a lot of highly successful “self-less” people living lives of background anger due to failing to realize this point.

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D.M. writes…
“My main constraint (as for a lot of us!) is time.... …I'm able to manage 10 hours of training per week while keeping my life balanced. As a result, my training consists of a mix of intervals, time trial efforts ( e.g. 5k run or 60min bike TT) and longer sessions (e.g. 90min steady run or 3 hour ride). So far I am improving and my body absorbs the intensity well.

“I know you prefer a lower intensity approach and it clearly works very well for you and many others. My question is, simply, with a 10h per week time constraint, do you feel that a higher intensity approach is warranted, or is there a better alternative?”


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I think you answered your own question – your life is stable, you are improving and you feel like you are absorbing the training. Those three items describe an athletic approach that is successful in terms of our life.

What I’ve seen in my own training as well as the training of my athletes is that for an athlete to get close to their “ultimate athletic potential” (whatever that may be) requires a level of time commitment that most people don’t want to make. The time required simply doesn’t fit into their overall life goals. It sounds like you’re in that position right now. So I’d stick with what’s working for you.

What you may find is that using the occasional “Big Day” (see my Coaching Long Course Athletes article) in your training provides a different sort of training stimulus for you. Consistent, variable overload, absorbed over time. That goal can be achieved by a multitude of methods & protocols.

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S.B. writes…
“… there are performance plateaus that people reach fairly quickly (within a few years), are very difficult to get past, and very wildly between different people. For example, I'm skeptical that I'll ever get my LT up or over 300w - my physiology doesn't seem to lend itself to that, and that's fine, I'm 155lbs. In a bike racing context, I can train up my short term sprint wattages much faster and higher than most other people are able to (which is perfect for Ironman, right?). I train with guys who have easily exceeded my strenght/weight ratios.

“So, are you putting a subtlety on the "absorbed" work versus the "completed" work - e.g. we all go out and do training that we might not be absorbing, even if we think we are?

“Now, for IM I feel like I agree with you more since the parameters are a little different - I know I can physically do all the things required to do very well at IM - it's a matter of building endurance and durability to do them over longer terms. But at the end of the day, aren't there still simple genetic/physiological aspects that play a major role, given we may not *really* know where those limits are?"


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You will maximize your “speed” when you maximize your “stamina” – that is why I place such a fundamental emphasis on the long term, consistent application of steady-state aerobic training.

You are correct with the subtle emphasis that I’ve started to place on “absorbing”, rather than completing. There is an over-emphasis on the completion aspect of training – there are a lot of simple (but not easy) ways for us to enhance our absorption of training (sleep, nutrition, massage, flexibility, time management, financial stability, emotional stability). The items that I share within this blog are what, I believe, drive a deeper level of performance.

Well before I was racing elite, I learned (through Joe Friel) that my limiter was the ability to recover, not the ability to train. Most the athletes that I work with start their first year with me doing a lot “less” in their eyes – yet at the end of the year, they have done “more” because they didn’t nuke themselves, stayed healthy and had greater consistency.

Finally, genetics are the ultimate “external”. There is zero that can do about them. Time spent worrying about them is 100% wasted energy.

Focus on what you control. Ideally, what you control right now.

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