22 June 2007

Altitude -- Part One

Our photo this week is the Three Amigos (g, BDC and Denny) at 11,000 feet on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I mentioned to Brandon that we sure look better than I felt. I had progressed beyond seeing stars to seeing blotches.

It was likely the hypoxia but when Brandon asked me for the location of the nearest water fountain (at 11K) I laughed so hard that I triggered a massive coughing fit. Perhaps you had to be there...

Thursday afternoon here in Boulder and I have just finished the toughest three days of my current training block -- nine days of high volume start on Saturday. In the last 48 hours I managed 30 miles of running (avg elevation ~8,500 feet), ten hours of cycling and 10K of swimming. My final workout was a team time trial session where the lads took me to the point where I "lost interest". Currently, I am moving pretty slowly, especially up stairs.

Hands down, I have the most dedicated crew of homeboys anyone could ask for. Denny, in particular, has total dedication to getting the absolute best out of me on every bike session. I do get a little grumpy when he gives it an extra 30 watts as he pulls through but, hey, that's what I need.

Every coach that I've ever had has told me that it's important to place myself in situations where I'm not in control. Grumpiness is a sign of resistence -- I'm committed to riding more "clearly" next time. To ensure that the lads have an adequate incentive to ignore my pleas for mercy, I shall be offering a $5 cash bonus for anyone that beats me to the KOM point (TBA) in three week's time. They'd probably smash me for free but a little money always make it's more interesting.


Ghost Wars is finished -- read about your tax dollar at work! Given the popular mandate after 9/11, I can only imagine what the CIA have been up to over the last few years. What was most fascinating to me is the unintended consequences and changing dynamic of US foreign policy. A sure-fire policy ten years ago can seem totally boneheaded later. Stockdale's advice about the nature of military action is well taken -- clearly defined while being publicly supported by all of our leaders. Secret wars are far too easy to leave people swinging once the going gets tough.

I also read, "Where are the customers yachts?" An easy, and entertaining, read. Given my focus on personal excellence for Ironman Canada on August 26th, I've shut down new deal flow -- so this didn't hold quite as much interest as when I considering new deals in 2006. Made me smile though.

Right now, I am reading "The 4-Hour Work Week". This book comes the closest to how I make choices on a daily basis. The title, and promo, are a bit chessy and nearly put me off the purchase. I probably bought it because I wanted to see how I stacked up against the author -- I still tend to compete on multiple fronts.

So far, there are two key things that I've pulled out:

The Role of Management -- educating the team to effectively serve the goals of the company. Empowering employees to become effective, rather than efficient.

Dead Time -- I consider myself highly effective but it is amazing how much dead-space remains in my life. The author's point about relentlessly cutting out; "Not to do" lists; learning to say "no"; and relentless simplification are excellent reminders of the value that can be achieved from considering habits that hold us back. He's down to 60 minutes of email once per week. I'm bringing in a few new strategies to free more time for myself.


We're launching Alternative Perspectives this week (thanks to Brian Johnson). The first installment is Alan writing about Lydiard and the 100-Mile Run Week. When you read the article, remember that his athletes were likely running at an average of 10 mph. So the base program was ten-hours of max steady-state work per week (for the rest of your life). Interestingly, as a decent age-group ultrarunner, that duration was close to the max that I could handle. Back then we used to budget ten kilometers per hour and my big weeks were likely close to 100km.


I raced last weekend. Fortunately, my good buddy (Justin Daerr) wrote my race report for me. Just substitute "bike" for "swim" and you have my story. I signed up for a low-key local race and Hunter Kemper turned up! It ain't easy going short when you're a long course guy...


When I prepare for Canada, I like to include a lot of altitude training into my June program. My personal experience is that there is a big reduction in late-race fatigue that accrues to an athlete that has patiently assembled 10+ weeks at altitude.

For this discussion I'll define altitude in five categories. If I was writing to a mountaineering audience then I would change my definitions. When I was climbing high mountains, altitude was pretty much "why bother" until you were over 12K and didn't really start to dig in until over 17K.

Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

Those are rough guidelines based on my personal experience. You could probably go +/- 500 feet at any end.

To give you an idea on how altitude impacts my running...
***Ten (flat-ish) miles at 10,300 was 7:14 per mile pace at 149 bpm (small HR variation)
***Fifteen (hilly) miles at ~8,500 feet was 6:48 per mile pace at 146 bpm (large HR variation)
***Three (flat) miles at sea-level was 5:59 per miles pace at 148 bpm (no HR variation)

I've found that the shortest "altitude" camp that makes sense is seven weeks -- two weeks easy; two weeks solid; one week easy; two weeks solid. The best duration (for me) is ten, or more, weeks.

Most visitors to altitude training locations try to cram too much, too quickly into their programs. The literature talks about low- and high-responding athletes. In my experience, it would be more accurate to classify them as impatient and patient athletes. Athletes that like to do a lot of tough training; tend to make themselves very tired, very quickly by rushing their adaptive periods. Altitude doesn't "work" for them because they are totally shagged when they leave.

I've found real altitude to be far better than artificial. On the artificial side, I've used IHT, low-O2 tents, and low-O2 rooms.

My expereince is that the "sweet spot" for an endurance athlete appears to be in the range of 7,500 to 8,500 feet. That's where I can get my pace rolling (when acclimatized) _and_ enjoy the hypoxic "benefits". At all levels of altitude, I use downhill running to get my cadence and speed up without red-lining my heart rate.

I believe that real altitude works best because, for endurance sports, the most effective adaptive mechanism appears to flow through desaturation that occurs while training at moderate and mod-high altitudes. The interuption to sleep, and slowing of recovery, that occurs from the low-O2 systems seems (to me) to be counterproductive. The delay in recovery that happens from artificial altitude was not outweighed by performance improvement.

I've also noticed that following an extended period of altitude training (say June) -- I am able to maintain my acclimatization with 2-3 weekly sessions at mod-high altitude -- these sessions need not be challenging, merely include 30-60 minutes of steady-state aerobic training. This frees me to do all my key specific prep sessions (July/August) at moderate altitude.

For my "speed" cycles I head down to sea-level. This past Spring, I used two camps (Nevada and California) that fit very well with my desire to boost my top-end performance as well as my Phase Two training (race cycle).

For recovery (including nightly sleep), I like to get as low as possible. It's tempting for athletes, especially those with access to artificial altitude, to crank up altitude stress when training stress is low. My own experience is that this is counterproductive.

Impact on all three sports -- I'm often asked by altitude-trained athletes how they should adjust their efforts for a triathlon at sea level. My own experience (Oly Distance, Half IM Distance, IM Distance) is that you don't change anything, you simply go faster at your 'normal' efforts. For races under two hours, I have found that I can generate (and sustain) higher heart rates, especially on the run.

So that's Part One -- if you have specific questions about altitude then send them along and I'll include them in Part Two. I only check emails on Monday so replies could take up to 14-days.

In order to give myself every opportunity to win Ironman Canada on August 26th, you may find my replies to questions to be a bit brief.


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19 June 2007

Specific Prep -- June 2007

This week I am going to share some ideas about specific preparation for Ironman. Next week I'll publish a letter on Altitude. I wrote them both up but my editor (Mrs. Byrn) said that it was a little overwhelming to combine the two topics. Besides, I have a very solid week of training coming up so it is nice to be a little ahead on the writing.

Last week I mentioned that Mat is on board for the summer. He asks a lot of questions, almost as many as me! Seeing as I take the time to answer (most of) his questions and... seeing as he does come up with some good questions... I asked him to start writing down a record of our discussions. Mat does a great job of expressing the meaning behind what we discuss. You can find Mat's Blog here -- he has a nice writing style.

Next week we will launch a new feature, Alternative Perspectives. Each week I'll share an alternative view on a topic that interests me. I think that you'll enjoy some different views. We're going to open up with a piece written by Alan on the Lydiard Approach to endurance training. It fits nicely with my "de Castella" book review which will be coming in July. Alan has a strong technical mind and likes to get into the science that lies beneath "what works". His technical strength keeps me honest when I stray too far into lay-terminology (or simply make something up to suit my example!!!).

Our photo this week is John Shilt (Dr. J's younger bro). John is an Epic-Vet, IM finisher and solid guy. I often get the sense that he wonders why he's out there during some of our mega sessions. There is something about John that I find deeply entertaining. It's probably the portrait of deep suffering that he radiates on his long sessions -- early pacing isn't (yet) his forte... He probably thinks that I dream up most our sessions to specifically torture him -- while not 100% true, it is much easier to do a challenging session when you have a guy like John slogging his way through it. Keeps my relative emotional state in perspective. He's a great addition to our squad.


Specific Preparation
Our trip to Winter Park went really well. I always forget the difficulty of the ride over Trail Ridge Road -- it's a very solid climb (over three hours uphill). The climb has a long time up over 10,000 feet and that's quite taxing. I had a 27-tooth cog on the back and once I went through 10,500 feet, any material effort had me over my max aerobic heart rate (a little under 90 minutes of 148+ across the weekend).

The Trail Ridge ride was over eight hours in the saddle and it was essential for me to back-it-up on Sunday. My focus for the first four hours of the day was eating and staying relaxed. Across the entire ride (Trail Ridge), I ate...

***2,250 cals of Pro4 gel-lyte
***2x32 oz bottles Infinit Heat Mix
***4 Clif bars
***3 V8s
***1 gatorade
***1 Hagen Dazs Ice Cream Bar (at the 105 mile mark)
***5+ litres of water

Athletes love challenging themselves to train on nothing; to trim recovery nutrition; and survive on less. That may work for certain events but long distance traithlon is not one. I use the aid stations that are provided at my races.

There is surprising reluctance to long duration training at maximum rates of absorption. For many athletes, carbohydrate processing is a constraining variable on performance. How often do we hear about race-day stomach problems? Learning appropriate race-situation pacing and fueling is an essential skill. Jeff "Dr. J" Shilt is writing up an article on this point and I'll share the link when we have it live.

What I have found with my tougher rides is that sustained mod-hard intensity results in stomach back up if there is material protein or fat in my nutrition. I have been using Infinit Recovery for my endurance training and that works great when I am in an endurance phase (easy and steady training in cooler weather). I have shifted to their Heat Mix on the warmer, more intense days.

The back-it-up ride went fantastic for me. I managed to negative split our out-and-back route. It always amazes me how tough it is to negative split a 100-mile ride. The few times that I have done it during an endurance session, I have had to drill it in the final half hour. This time was no different -- an hour of mod-hard intensity to finish off 13 hours of riding over the weekend.

One of the best sessions that you can do for race preparation is a double-loop ride, no drafting, a single stop for fluids -- 45-55 miles per loop. You'll learn a ton. Run an hour off the bike if you want a reality check -- the answer that you get may make you a bit uncomfortable!

Questions to ask yourself following the workout:

>>>Was I ready to run a marathon?
>>>How easy would I have had to go in order to run a marathon to the best of my ability?
>>>What would have happened if I swam 4000m immediately prior to the ride?
>>>How about if that swim had the highest average heart rate of my race?
>>>Considering that, how easy would I have to swim/bike in order to run a marathon to the best of my ability?

The lads have faith in me but -- until you experience that ride -- there is no basis for understanding what is required to give yourself a chance to perform. We are doing workouts where there is no place to hide from our errors. Guys are starting to "forget" HRMs and splits... a sure sign of the appearance of cognitive dissonance!

Most (but not all) of the guys are training to perform -- these individuals learn fast. The guys that are training to train, they are having a lot of fun and that's their main motivation. They are still valuable members of the squad -- their enthusiasm is an essential part of how we get the most out of ourselves.

I ended Sunday very tired so when the lads suggested that we return early to Boulder, we packed the car and headed back down. My first training cycle ended on Sunday and I skipped the long run planned for Tuesday (swim, gym, run instead).

Here's a recap of the cycle...
Sat -- Big Day, Flatter Ride -- total about 7.5 hrs
Sun -- Big Day, Hill Ride -- total about 6.5 hrs
Mon -- easy (no memory, forgot to write down)
Tues -- Big Day, Hill Ride -- total about 6 hrs
Wed -- Bobby McGee Run Drills; Big Swim; Easy Flat Ride -- total about 5.5 hrs
Thurs -- Switzerland Trail Duathon -- hill bike and a tough 15-miler (PB run time) -- total about 4 hours
Fri -- easy SBR -- about three hours
Sat -- 125-mile high altitude hill ride with 30 min easy run -- total over 8 hrs
Sun -- 100-mile race sim ride with 25 min easy run -- total over 5 hrs

Nine days was tons for me. When I was less experienced I used to shoot for 21 days of hitting it. Now, I aim for specific overload until I am tired.

For an athlete that is new to big volume training, a desk job can be a blessing. Extra spare time can lead to DEEP fatigue -- in my squad the vets are helping the new guys avoid wrecking themselves.

All of the speedy guys in the squad have been doing more volume, with more intensity and taking less rest days than me. Within the "speedsters", everybody but Billy Edwards has had some sort of immune system challenge (infection, illness, and/or mild exhaustion). Billy is a Marine and they seem to have a different sort of DNA.

I'm getting exactly what I need from the team -- I hope they are getting what they want from me. Part of me feels responsible when I watch my training partners flattening themselves -- however, deep fatigue is the real goal for many endurance athletes -- inner peace through physical exhaustion. That was a huge motivator for me in the past. Who knows? They could be "right" -- I had breakthrough after breakthrough when I was hitting it very, very hard.

Most people that ask me for advice think that I am giving them a watered down program. They hide their fatigue in case I "take away" training from them! In fact, I lay out a little more than I expect we can handle. Similar, to my own program, we all need to step down from time-to-time. Having the humility to back-off is a valuable skill.

Mat and Alan have been the most reasonable out of the group -- probably because they spend the greatest time with me. The other guys spontaneously step past what I've advised. Perhaps they didn't study the outline of the entire summer program that I circulated... I know they read this blog so this is (yet another) warning that my front-running training partners tend to underperform on game day.

Coming up in the next cycle... week one will have a broken marathon Tues/Wed with an average elevation over 9,000 feet; and a broken IM-sim on the weekend (Big Day/Long Run Combo). Week two will be the highest volume week (SBR) of the summer with an emphasis on bike training. We hope to end the second cycle with a 150-mile ride on Saturday and a 21-mile run on Sunday. This time, we're targetting a 13-day block. I'll keep you posted.

Even if the lads end the summer deeply fatigued -- I have total confidence that the execution lessons that we are learning will serve us well.

While it helps to be fresh for IM, it's not a prerequisite for success, nearly the entire field races tired and I've seen outstanding performances from tired people (including myself). This year, I plan on being considerably fresher than years past.


Before you assemble your summer training plan, I recommend that you read the first two pages of this article. It is the clearest summary that I've written on the critical success factors for long course race performance. Take time to consider your critical success factors -- your plan should include specific overload to address the key components of long course racing...

***the ability to comfortably swim 2.4 miles
***the ability to comfortably ride 112 miles
***the ability to comfortably run 26.2 miles

Until you can do these in a month, week or weekend -- be cautious when you try to do them in a day.


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13 June 2007

More On Personal Planning

This letter will focus on a recent conversation with a buddy of mine. He was asking me for advice on Personal Planning. Our photo this week is Richter Pass on the Ironman Canada course. Two things that I think of every day (maybe every waking hour) -- Monica and Ironman Canada.

Oh yeah, Mat is reviewing my websites (GordoWorld.Com, Byrn.Org, CoachGordo.Com) as part of his summer internship. We will be simplifying the articles and streamlining navigation. If you have any favourite articles then please print and save at your end. For republishing and/or non-commercial uses, please drop me a line in advance.

Books that I've recently read (all good): The Last True Story That I'll Ever Tell; All Marketers Are Liars; and Through Our Enemy's Eyes. Currently reading "Ghost Wars".

One business book and the rest are background reading to evaluate what our leaders are saying about the threat from terrorism. I think that there is room for improvement on how the issue is being framed.


Before we shift to the topics, a bit of a personal update. This weekend, we're doing a high-altitude training camp across the Rockies to Winter Park. My version is...

Saturday -- 210K Boulder to Winter Park via Trail Ridge Road; easy run PM
Sunday -- 180K Winter Park to Rand, return; easy run off the bike
Monday -- AM Swim; PM Easy Run
Tuesday -- AM Swim then Long Run; drive back to Boulder

Tuesday marks the 11th day of my first specific prep training cycle. If things go as planned then I'll have six days with 5+ hours of training; a long run; and four decent swims. The main focus of this training block is my riding.

The lads don't know it yet but the Sunday ride will have a 10m draft zone -- following last week, a couple of them mentioned that they wanted to get their noses in the wind. So this will be a perfect opportunity for a Reality Check. Several sustained hours of 128-145 bpm are very different when the heart rate isn't being driven by repeated high power surges.

The new arrivals at altitude will change Saturday to: AM long course swim; drive to WP; Berthoud Pass Ride (10K climb starts 9000+ ft); easy run PM with the group. The long ride on Saturday has an extended piece over 10,000 ft (to end a 3+hr climb) and that is VERY draining when you aren't fully acclimatized.

A future letter will cover my thoughts on altitude -- my practical altitude experience (real, artificial, sea level to 20,000+ feet) is broad from both mountaineering and triathlon. I have had plenty of different experiences and will share my views for you to consider.

Oh yeah, the pool is around 8,500 feet so it should be entertaining watching a bunch of fatigued triathletes use three-stroke and flip turns! I doubt that we'll be going very fast.


Personal Planning -- Part Two
A friend asked: When you were tired in 2005 and knew it was time to take a break from triathlon, how did you know what to do? I have so many questions in my head about the future that I don't know where to start. What is the best plan for me?

Here's what I meant to say. There are several aspects of this topic that are important to me:

The first thing to do is write down EVERY question and issue that you have. Make it a two column table. In the second column, write about how each topic makes you "feel" -- there will be a tremendous amount of self-knowledge there.

Know that I strive to do the best plan for "me". Telling you what to do would be a mistake because you don't need to do what I would do. "Your" job is the same as mine, figure out the best plan for "you". Don't follow what I do, per se. That said, my case study might give you some ideas -- plus I enjoy writing about me! Remember that I had a lot of good fortune over the last few years -- I probably just got lucky! You mileage will vary.

In Spring 2005, I was not willing to consider that it was time to take a break until it was apparent that I couldn't do _ANY_ material training.

To move out of denial, I had to get very tired. Monica had to walk me around the block to get my body moving again. I did Swim Camps (Chop House Challenge) and started training for the Leadville 100. I was completely missing the numerous, very clear, signs that I was fried.

More than enjoying training, what I really love is personal achievement. Sitting around fried doesn't offer me any of that. So... I dropped training and moved on to something else, where I had a shot at some personal achievement. Not everyone is achievement oriented -- I think that most people would prefer to be liked. I also have a strong desire to be accepted but my self-acceptance is high enough that my main thing is achievement. A more spiritual way of presenting this would be a constant search for my ultimate potential -- perhaps I'll get there some day. For now, I tend to have a desire to "win" at most of what I do.

Once I moved past denial, I came very quickly to acceptance -- I nearly always do. I think that I skipped "anger" but you'd have to ask Monica about that. More on this topic HERE - a very good read.

With acceptance in hand, I looked around at what I could do. At that stage, the two best "options" in my life were Monica and Chris (my business partner). I asked Monica to marrry me and I listened very careful to what Chris told me was happening in the business. When you have a relationship with a high energy entrepreneur then there are always opportunities around. In speaking with Chris I realized that a problem that we had (too many good deals, not enough money) had created an opportunity to form a new company. My Hong Kong business attire was pulled out of the closet and I spent two years helping him establish the new company.

The lessons as I see them:

***When you are unable to do the work required to reach your goals -- it's time to take a break. The will to win is nothing without the will to prepare. I was struggling to get out of bed!

***Lives are fluid, change is natural and should be (at a minimum) accepted. Part of the reason that I warn people against public goal statements is that it takes massive self-confidence to change direction once you've made a public statement. There is a very strong social bias against changing course. It is one of the toughest obligations of leadership.

***My best plan at June 2007 will not be my best plan at March 2008. I always have the ability to change my plans. My goal is to make the best choices (today) given my skills, opportunities and desires.

***The plan will change but your core values are likely to stay the same. Knowing what is truly important to you; knowing what gives you satisfaction -- this knowledge will ease you through the periods of transition.

***Transitions are VERY tough -- I've been divorced, changed careers (3x), relocated internationally (4x), lost my health (2x)... all challenging things. However, through it all, I always enjoyed spending time with "me". Sticking to our personal ethics really helps in difficult times. It's why I avoid associations with people with weak ethics -- in both finance and athletics it can be tempting to spend time with the ethically slack.

The fact that you were asking me about my "break" means that you need to take one. Here are some other points for the overtrained athlete to consider:

If you continue then you won't improve -- you've seen your performance stagnate, or decline. More of the same will generate the same results. You are wasting valuable time.

Accept that you may never achieve your goals. You certainly won't achieve them by following the same path. In my journey, this acceptance was very liberating and opened up many new, and rewarding, paths/relationships for me.

If you take a break then you can put yourself in a position to benefit from the return of your drive, your health. What is different for me in 2007? Two main things -- long term financial stability and the massive support that I receive from Monica. Many athletes are drained by a lack of financial and emotional stability in their lives.

Stability matters, in 2004, the difference between Tom and me was 0.35%. In other sports the differences are even smaller.

The road back:
***2005, regain health and create stability
***2006, see if I could "prepare" again
***2007, gain support of a mentor with strengths that matched my blindspots

I've "won" well before August 26th -- I'm enjoying playing a strategic game with my body. Finance is the exact same game with contacts, emotions and intellect.

Many who win, never win anything at all -- this is especially true of those that lose their personal ethics, most commonly these days through fraud or doping.


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08 June 2007

Mid Year Reality Check & Long Rides

I lifted the expression "reality check" from Mark -- it's one that he uses in a range of situations. We could get into a discussion on the definition of reality but I'll save that for a later date. The two usages that I recall from Mark are: (a) making sure our race selection matches our life situation; and (b) pausing to consider things. I'm not going to talk about either of these today but I thought that I'd cite the source of my title!

I'm typing on Monica's computer right now. I've placed my machine on "break" for the weekend to free my mind to get through a challenging two days of training (six to seven hours of SBR each day this weekend).

I was out with the "lads" yesterday and they gave me exactly what I was looking for. I'd set my heart rate monitor to beep at 149 bpm -- I find that the alarm going off makes it easier for me to stick with my pre-defined workout. Just like the first day of an Epic Camp, I was out the back pretty consistently the entire workout. The longest that I lasted with the group was 35 minutes worth of uphill big gear work in the first 90 minutes.

Mark and I worked out an "Ironman Canada" simulation route that's designed to lift the elements of bike fitness that are required for Penticton success. It will be interesting to see how my fitness develops across the summer -- the Lads are very fit right now and provide clear benchmarks.

In 2004, my strong training buddies helped bring me to a whole new level of performance. Hopefully, we'll do that again.


Whether we are talking about weight loss, financial health, race fitness, or education -- we all overestimate what we can achieve in the short-term and underestimate what we can achieve in the long-term.

For the topics that matter to me (my Top Ten list), I've found that six months is a good period of time to see some progress. I check my personal business plan quarterly but I don't always see much progress -- even across 13 weeks. On my trip to Scotland last month, I reviewed my personal business plan. The last serious revision was eight months ago. While the components of my life strategy change over time -- the core elements have been stable for years.

When we look back across a longer period of time, we can consider the feedback that we have received on each item.

Many wonder about the right path to choose, the correct decision to make, whether it is "all worthwhile", and if we are getting anywhere at all. When I am relaxed and conscious -- say, in a good "listening mood" -- I find that I have a better chance to review my life rationally.


Clear Feedback
I have a saying in my head that I use to note important observations -- Clear Feedback. In my personal review I considered the following bits of Clear Feedback as they related to my goal of winning Ironman Canada:

***Personal Bests
***Greater than 10% underperformance at a race, or race component
***Number of days lost due to unexpected fatigue, illness or injury
***Injuries that require extended time off and/or medical treatment
***Immune system warning signals
***Greater than 5% movement in body weight

When I think through the above, the feedback that I received over the last eight months is that I am heading the right direction and that my key risk areas remain the same. I sense that I've made all these big changes -- but -- my core essence has stayed exactly the same. Still, the pattern of Clear Feedback is encouraging. My answers...

***Yes, quite a few
***Yes, bike leg in Desert Triathlon after run camp
***Since end of September, about 50% of 'normal' -- still want to improve consistency -- all fatigue related except for a two day break due to a sprained ankle -- interestingly, I have the reputation for monster training -- if I smooth my average weekly training volume across my overtrained periods then I could have done the same "lifetime" training with a lot less immune stress on myself. de Castella makes this point -- it's probably even more important as a runner due to the pounding that sports places on our bodies.
***I've had stable weight for the longest period of my adult life (over two years -- while training and while resting). Stable, rather than lean, seems to be the goal that works well for me. When I target "lean" I end up too light then rebound 10-20% following competition. Losing the last 2-3 pounds is highly costly!

Items #4 and #5 can offer an athlete Clear Feedback that the pathway to deeper success is less, rather than more. The massive level of commitment for high-level success can leave us blind during the periods where we can benefit from a more relaxed approach.

Remember that our minds will always search for an EXTERNAL cause of the challenges that we face. Individuals that are able to make continual progress adjust their INTERNAL responses to external variables.

When I ask questions of my self/athletes/friends that are designed to help consider this point... the most common reply is absolute silence. There are very few times when we are open to considering change. Even when I have "known" that change was required, I have always tended towards trying "harder" within my existing patterns.

So far, the best method that I've found for rapid learning/change is to find mentors that excel in the areas where I am weak and follow their advice.. verbatim -- I'm not exactly transcending my limiters but it is effective in generating results.


Long Rides
The Lads were asking me what I shoot for on my long rides.

What's are my goals? Here's a list:

***Start the ride with a solid long course (50m) swim -- 4,500m, building to 5,500m by the end of the summer
***Total ride duration slightly over bike split duration in Canada
***Minimal stops, flat course
***Main sets designed to address key success areas (TT ability on the flats)
***Build towards 60% of ride duration being greater than IM bike effort -- 2:15 to 2:30 of Half IM effort
***Run 10K easy off the bike then back it up with 20M long run the day after
***Do the entire thing without heart rate crossing 150 bpm -- this is the catch!

That's the Ironman Champion Weekend.

Lots of fast folks get through this weekend but their relative intensity is too high -- or they do it while drafting, telling themselves that they are doing what it takes because they are training "fast".

That's not it.

The goal is to build towards this weekend -- I have only "hit" it really well a few times in my career. I nearly always end up going easier than I outlined above. Still, I can live with my race results -- I'd rather race above my training performance!

One other point, completion of this workout is NOT what it takes to do well. The weekend is simply something that I work towards. In 2006, 8:36 in Brazil (5th) and 8:5x (3rd) in Canada -- I didn't manage to "hit" the weekend that entire year! The best that I managed were "steady" main sets -- as a result, I adjusted my IM bike pacing to match my training performance, ran great and placed well.

So 2006 was preparation for... 2007's base training... and the first five weeks of my specific prep block... so that I can absorb two blazing weekends in late July. 75+ weeks of prep for 15-16 hours of training.

Kind of a long way to say... when you are well up the road on the only sub-8:30 guy on the ride then you might want to ask yourself "why". Of course, I'm totally fine with getting dropped... ;-)

There was a fair amount of self-talk this past weekend!

Take care,

PS -- think about the best long ride that you ever had... ...Ironman doesn't feel like that.

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03 June 2007

Personal Investment Strategy

A.C. Writes:

I live in XXXX and bought my first property 14 months ago. I have done well in the 14 months that I have owned it. It has appreciated in value somewhere between 20 and 35% if the comparables are to be believed. It may have even increased by more. I am looking to move and I wonder whether I should remove equity from the property and purchase a second home and rent out the first all be it at a loss, or sell the first and purchase a substantially more expensive property and only own one. The XXXX market is difficult to read and I suppose if enough people / journalists / commentators tell us the market is over valued and will crash it will eventually become a self fullfilling prophecy but what would you do? Stay put for 12 months and see what the market does, remove equity and purchase a second home or sell and purchase?

What I'll do here is share the questions that I ask myself as well as the information that I prepare for myself when evaluating a property investment decision.

This should not be taken as investment advice or any recommendation on what to do with your own money. My goal here is to highlight some concepts that, I believe, are essential for making smart investment decisions.


First up, what is the expected yield on the investment -- there are a lot of different ways to look at yield.

Gross -- when people are selling to you, they will quote Gross Yield and they will define that as Total Annual Rent divided by Purchase Price. As an example, if you are paying $550,000 for a property with a $2,500 per month rent then your estate agent might quote a prospective yield of (12 x 2,500 / 550,000) = 5.5% per annum.

Now that might sound pretty good, 5.5% per annum plus the potential for capital growth. However, Gross Yield on Purchase Price isn't what you really get as a landlord. What I like to consider is my net yield.

Net -- when I buy, I want to calulate my Net Yield and I define that as Net Annual Income divided by Gross Acquisition Cost.

To calculate Net Income you need to factor in... insurance; advertising; letting agents fees; maintenance; accounting; void periods; and all other costs. You also need to consider the time commitment that you will make, which can be material if you try to self-manage.

To calculate Gross Acquisition Cost you need to factor in... purchase price; acquisition costs (legal, valuation, bank fees, finders commissions, stamp duty); renovation costs (we redo most of our flats before letting); and furniture.

If you are running things as a business then you also need to consider an allocation of your central overheads. We have a team of 15 that works full-time in Edinburgh and that _excludes_ our development partner's group (contractors, sub-contractors, site management) as well as our lettings agent's group (letting, cleaners, accountants). There is a considerable amount of effort that goes into managing a residential portfolio. It's no wonder that most groups prefer to focus on commercial property.

When you start to factor all these points in... that 5.5% per annum that you were promised starts to look much less -- in some cases you'll 'lose' up to 50% of your Gross Yield. For this reason, many residential portfolios operate with a net yield lower than their cost of debt.

When we started investing in the mid-90s, it was the other way around, our net yield was 2-4% above our cost of finance. It was a great time to be investing. 20% down and our net yield serviced the mortgage with a little extra left over.


With the yield you are in a position to calculate the total return (IRR) on the equity component of your investment -- explaining my views on capital structures as well as equity IRR calculations will have to wait for a future edition.

A quick scan on google turned up some options to help you if you want to read more -- this one looked interesting. Remember that, when we forecast growth, we will have a bias towards what's happened over the last three years.

With my investing, I want to consider a range of outcomes (likely and unlikely) and weight their likelihood. If I am comfortable with the implications of each outcome then I'll invest.

There are investments that have a great expected rate of return that I have passed on because I was concerned about the "implications" of a highly remote event. In finance, "implications" can include personal bankruptcy or a material reduction in standard of living. Our photo this week is Monica in Paris, being able to visit France is a luxury that we want to be able to keep in our lives.


Now that you have a grip on the yield/total return -- you need to consider your alternative uses for the capital. I'll illustrate some examples...

Credit Card Debt -- this could be clocking up at 15-25% per annum. Your greatest investment is often paying down your most costly debt -- then cutting your cards into pieces. Credit cards are the bane of financial prudence -- Monica started a company in Colorado and we get 2-3 credit offers per WEEK.

Money Market Funds and Bank Deposits -- depending on your currency, you can earn 4-6% per annum for short term deposits. I never search for the last 0.1% and only invest with the largest banking groups. Seeing as I don't have any capital upside with this investment, I want the lowest possible capital downside.

Business Ventures -- I keep an allocation of my portfolio reserved for "exceptional deals" -- things that pop-up at short notice that have the potential for a large capital gain. When a great opportunity presents itself, you want to be able to take advantage of it.

***When you are paying off a large mortgage, car payments and/or credit cards then you will have to pass on opportunites that have the potential to give you the financial freedom to do what really matters to you -- generally, the things that we truly like cost very little.

For many of us, the true cost of leverage lies in opportunity cost as well as the emotional burdens. The interest rate is often the least of our worries!

Phew, a bit of a long winded way to say... Consider what else you can do with the money and consider the time/energy/emotions that each of those investment opportunities requires from you. Residential letting can be an intensive investment on many fronts.

Kicking back with a low risk portfolio is "boring" but over a 15-45 year time horizon boring starts to look pretty good!

Maybe I should have been an actuary...


Now let's touch on some of your specific questions...

Q -- Should I rent at a loss? Double my exposure? Move into a massive house?

A -- Can you support three-years of your projected financial loss? Can you support one year of zero rental income? How long will your family remain financially solvent if you (or your partner) lose your job? Have you looked at your likely "total return" (equity IRR) across a variety of capital growth scenarios?

It's only been the last few years that investors (and bankers) decided that they would tolerate property deals that didn't cover their cost of finance. This is a relatively new phenomenon (outside of start-up VC) and should provide you with an insight into where current valuations are relative to historical norms (super high).

In 2005, I had more than 100% of my net worth invested in property -- at that level, I was seriously uncomfortable. So, I took actions to reduce my exposure to a level that I felt comfortable with. I think it was JP Morgan that advised a worried young investor to "sell to the sleeping point".

I sleep a lot better in 2007.

So... I was comfortable with the nature of my investment (prime Scottish residential) but I was uncomfortable with the quantum of my exposure (>100% of Net Worth).

What would I do?
I would likely purchase a house in the best neighbourhood that I could afford that had a price well _under_ the maximum that I could afford. With my personal investment, I need to stay well under the "sleeping point".

What should you do?
I have no idea but bear in mind that certain elements of the property market appeal directly to the way our minds are programmed. More concepts...

Envy -- in a rising market there are plenty of transactions that lead us to feel good about holding property. In a declining market, there are less transactions and we tend to fool ourselves about the true value of what we are holding.

Stories -- people love stories -- the property market abounds with stories of folks making money -- as well as characters that are experts at taking advantage of our desire to dream about easy money. We only hear about the good deals -- people don't brag about their dud investments.

Nominal returns -- NOBODY talks about the true cost of investing. We bought a condo in Boulder in 2004 for $360,000 and sold it for $409,000 this year (~5% return across the period).

Sounds like a good deal?
When you factor in cost of ownership, transaction costs (massive in the USA) and alternative uses for the capital -- it was my single worst investment across that period and Monica's family took a lot of the management hassle off our hands!

Still, it was a good deal "for me" -- there's more to consider that just the pure financial return.

Cycles -- if you are in your 20s, or even if you are in your late-30s like me, then we have no REAL memory of a truly crappy property market. 1989-1992 was poor in the UK and the 70s were a disaster all over (I am told). Going further back (see Irrational Exuberance, 2nd Edition) you'll see that property markets (like all markets) have periods were they snap back to trend.

Within my own investing, I want to make sure that I'll be OK if the target market/asset class snaps back to trend and overshoots way under trend. I have missed a lot of great deals because of my financial prudence. However, I've done enough decent deals to outperform my goals.

Security & Guarantees -- when markets turn down, I want to make sure that I'm not the first port-of-call when the banks start calling their security. In the early 90s, many US banks decided to exit the UK market -- remembering this lesson, we pay more to bank with people that are unable to leave our markets, providing money is not a commodity business and we choose our partners carefully.

Not exactly black and white, eh? For me it is a lot like athletic training -- best guesses based on imperfect and changing information. As well, there are exceptions for most of the "rules". Still, the rules have served me well.

Bottom line -- at this stage of the cycle, I wouldn't leverage past my ability to comfortably service the debt in an economic downturn.

Be patient -- you'll be saving and investing for the rest of your life. At some time over the next 10-15 years, there will be great deals that nobody wants to buy. When that happens, you will want to have the capital to take advantage of those opportunities.

As an investor, one of our greatest fears is missing out -- it's tough to sit on cash when everyone is leveraging up to the eyeballs.


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