22 December 2007

Endurance Training Protocols


Our photo this week is Team MonGo doing wheat-grass shots at the Noosa Farmer's Market -- don't mind our goofy hats but the UV was 13 and we were trying to save our skin!

I was going to write about “mood management” (aka depression) but that doesn’t strike me as very festive – and, besides, I’m feeling better… …so we will pick that topic up in the new year.

Before we kick off a brief update on our Tucson Camps. We are doing two camps – March 22-30 (five spots left) and April 19-27 (three spots left). The camps will have a bike focus and are appropriate for athletes that are in 13-hour Ironman shape and faster. Looking around the internet, you have a lot of choices for 2008 camps. Here’s a bit on how we differentiate ourselves.

What makes us unique is our people. Our coaching/support team is a mixture of elite and highly successful agegroup athletes. We can tell you “what it takes” and also give you an objective view on “what’s realistic” within your life.

Jeff Shilt – Endurance Corner Doc, works full-time as an orthopedic surgeon/clinician. Multiple Ironman and Epic Camp finisher, most recently a Top 50 finisher at Ironman Canada.

Justin Daerr – been up on stage as an agegrouper in Kona and recently 8:40 at Ironman Florida (4:40 ride and sub-3-hour run) Similar to Jeff, a self-made athlete that has put thousands of hours into improving. More on JD in the outline at the bottom of this message (see attached below).

Alan Couzens – Endurance Corner Exercise Physiologist, our sports science go-to-man. IM finisher and long term student of Olympic coaches/athletes.

Mat Steinmetz – graduate degree in exercise science, Mat heads up the testing program at our lab. Finished his first IM this year in Kentucky.

Gordo Byrn – from totally out of shape in the mid-90s to Ultraman Hawaii Champion (2002) and Top Ten fastest all-time result IM Canada (2004, 8:29). Co-author Going Long (over 20,000 copies sold). Former private equity partner (Schroder Ventures) and co-founder Heritor’s Group.

Monica Byrn (end of each camp) – one of the fastest swimmers (male or female) in our sport. IM Swim personal best of 46 minutes (IM New Zealand 2005). Monica will be offering up swim tips and leading a break-out session for the ladies.

Kevin Purcell (March Only) – husband, parent, leading coach and over-50 triathlete. Multiple Epic Camp finishes, Kona qualifications and agegroup podiums. Kevin is a particular expert with issues facing female and veteran athletes.

Robbie Ventura (April Only) – founder of Vision Quest Coaching, former elite cyclist on US Postal. Robbie brings a fresh look to long course racing. He’s attending the camp to prepare for Ironman Canada 2008.

My opinion is that what makes us truly special is our set-backs; failures; disappointments; and flaws. Of course, laying all those out wouldn’t be particularly motivating! Suffice to say, if you are facing a personal challenge in your life then we have personal experience with it, or have advised others in dealing with it.

We run the highest level of support you will find anywhere – maps, vehicles, sag, meals, laundry, sports nutrition, massage. The support means that you will get more training done.

Drop me a line if you want more information. I’m happy to answer any questions. The camps are intimate so we are able to tailor the schedule to meet personal needs (please remember to tell us).

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My recent article on XTri got my mail box humming with various questions. I’ll pick these up as well as explain some philosophical points about endurance training.

What’s the best training protocol for me to use?

Start by considering what your goals are as well as the items that are holding your back.

Think along a three-year timeframe – what are the pieces that you will need to put together to achieve your goal? Most clients that come to me are seeking their ultimate success by the end of the next year. Life doesn’t work that way – nor would it be particularly rewarding if it did.

Many athletes are limited by factors outside their athletic lives (financial instability, poor nutrition, drug/alcohol use, conflict within their peer group, personal planning, ethical weakness, spousal abuse, sleep). Until these factors are addressed – no protocol is optimal.

To achieve our true athletic potential, we need to be operating from a position of harmony and stability. We also need to be willing to change.

What are you willing to change? Most people say they are willing to change but when they hit a true roadblock – revert to past patterns. There is an illogical (but real) comfort in our disfunctions.

Plateau’ed athletes are most often held back by these non-athletic factors – many chase various athletic protocols looking for the magic formula to over-ride these non-athletic limiters. Time and time again they crash due to the energy-draining impact of disharmony and lack of stability with their lives.

OK, I have my life in order, what do you recommend?

There isn’t one magic formula and I have doubts as to whether protocol has a large physical impact. We make endurance training far more complex and difficult than it needs to be. An effective protocol enhances mental state improving nutrition and athletic consistency. Similarly, an effective protocol has sensible limits that enhance consistency and speed recovery.

What works for an athlete finishing Top-5 in Kona will, likely, be totally inappropriate for an athlete seeking to qualify for Kona. In turn, the aspiring Kona-qualifier will be able to absorb a very different program than a first-timer.

Often we find ourselves training at a level that we aspire to attain – rather than – the level appropriate for our current fitness. Clients often compare my recommendations to the published programs of athletes that are, literally, hours ahead of them on race day.

As an aside, you should be wary of using any data that you have not directly measured across weeks (perhaps months). Much of the training data that I read is incorrect, or misleading in presentation.

If I had to point you in a direction then I’d say – search for the program that will enable you to maximize the amount of training you can absorb across a three-year timeframe. Then, do everything you can to avoid self-sabotage and promote consistency.

Some specific tips for this time of year:

Structure – lay out a Basic Week that you believe you can handle every week for the first 12 weeks of 2008.

Volume – go back to your log for January to March 2007. Calculate your average weekly volume.

Reality Check – most people will find that their Actual 2007 Week is 25-50% less than their Goal 2008 Week. At this stage, you will be tempted to make excuses for why this year will be different. That is a mistake –your actual performance is where you are currently at. That’s OK. The goal is to maximize your actual position.

Adjust – trim your Goal 2008 Week so that is lined up with your Actual 2007 week.

Execute – Weeks 1/4/7/10, do your goal week; Weeks 2/5/7/11, OK to increase volume with extra workout frequency (if you want); and Weeks 3/6/9/12 should be about 20% less than target.

Intensity – Keep your heart rate/power/pace under the lower of your VT1/LT heart rate/power/pace. Which ever ceiling you hit first -- stop there, that's fast enough. If you don’t have access to physiological testing then use Mark Allen’s MAP method.

Two exceptions: (a) big gear, low cadence work on the bike – you can exceed VT1/LT wattage, but not HR; (b) short bursts of high power/pace exercise swim/bike/run – you can exceed VT1/LT power/pace, but not HR.

As an aside, if your VT1/LT heart rate is lower than your MAP heart rate – use the VT1/LT heart rate (I recommend that you check it by sport). When you are honestly applying Mark’s protocol and it isn’t working then your VT1/LT heart rate is likely lower than your MAP heart rate. Athletes with this profile will nearly always think that the protocol didn’t work because they were going too easy! In fact, they were training too intensely to build the desired endurance adaptations.

If your VT1/LT heart rate is higher than your MAP heart rate then I would stick to MAP for your early season endurance training. After three months of endurance training, I would retest (by sport) and do your mod-hard (tempo) training slightly under VT1/LT power/pace with a cap of VT1/LT heart rate.

NOTE on MAP

Most people do not deviate on the high side – I think I am the only one we’ve seen so far in the lab (and my 39-year old physiology is far from normal). Even then, it might simply be an early season abnormality. We will know more as we use the met cart to track me across an entire year.

Far more common is VT1/LT occurring under MAP – as a result endurance adaptations are compromised when athletes use MAP as a target, rather than a ceiling – athletes show this very frequently in their bike data.

Many coaches use VT1/LT as the bottom of their endurance training zones – while you will get measurable fitness adaptations training at (and above) VT1/LT, desirable long distance endurance adaptations are compromised.

Nutrition – You will have more energy than last winter and be sick less often. Use your increased energy to increase the quality of your nutrition. We don't need to have cancer, to find an anti-cancer diet effective. I've found the nutritional method that we share in Going Long to be highly effective.

If you apply this protocol for the first quarter of 2008 then I absolutely guarantee that you will hit April 2008 fitter than April 2007. In addition, you will find that you have space in your life to be successful in much deeper sense than athletics alone.

Happy Holidays,

gordo


Justin's Coach CV, Word Doc

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14 December 2007

Risks and Returns


That's Monica on Sunshine Beach, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. That's the real name of the place! While I'm not much of a beach guy, the scenery has been worthwhile.

This week I'm talking about finance and company valuation. If you would prefer a solid endurance article then Coach KP writes about Ironman Pacing on Alternative Perspectives.

This week's announcements run a bit long. I'll update on our Tucson camp next week -- we still have a couple of spaces.

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Brad Kearns has a project called Running School (aka Running's Cool). The idea is to educate elementary and middle school kids/teachers/parents about nutrition and exercise. The program touches on a lot of things that we believe in. Brad started at his kids' school and is planning on branching out to other schools. You can clickthrough to find out how to help him with the worthwhile cause. We are sponsoring a school in 2008.

A reader sent in this speech by the former Chairman of Bankers Trust (good stuff, thanks for thinking of me). The fourth paradox (about moderation and extremism) rang most true. It is worth a read.

There are other speeches by Sanford on that site -- his defense of Financial Services puts forward a good case. Reality lies between Business School speeches and books like The Game, Liars Poker, Barbarians at the Gate and The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I'm surprised this didn't get more comment... getting paid tens of millions to run a business which writes $10 billion off then walking with $162 million for failing to see it coming. This is not an isolated incident -- only the scale makes it noteworthy.

In hedge funds, trading and investment banking, there is a massive incentive to game the system. Given the amount of leverage available to these companies, there should be clear disclosure and firm regulation. When it really hits the fan, taxpayers are the ones that ultimately foot the bill.

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This past weekend, I read a book on the Enron collapse, The Smartest Guys In The Room. When I arrived at the end of the book I was left with two impressions. First, it is terrifying how fast a highly leveraged vehicle can unwind. Second, I have read that story before.

The problems, and financial techniques, that are part of the Enron story aren’t unique. They have been used, and abused, prior to Enron (computer leasing, software maintenance) and after Enron (sub-prime crisis).

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Concentration

In addition to giving me the advice to “save 10% of what you earn”, my Dad also told me to “never have more than 10% of your net worth in a company you don’t directly control”. The people most hurt by the Enron collapse violated this key tenet of investment strategy.

Even if you are an insider, be wary of monster bets. There have been stages in my investment career where I had more than 100% of my net worth riding on a single company (but it was "my" company). While this ensures “focus”, I feel that I am more effective with a significant, rather than total financial commitment.

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The Deal You Don't Do

If you are in a leadership position then you must foster a culture where it is OK to make a little less money. This helps maintain business, and personal, ethics. Senior management must empower, and support, team leaders that walk, rather than compromise company values. This is _extremely_ hard to do when large amounts of money are on the table. I have seen private equity partners eat hundreds of thousands of dollars in dead deal costs.

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Return on Capital Employed (ROCE)

Towards the end of the Enron book, the topic of the company’s return on investment comes up. A figure of 7% per annum is quoted. The basis of measurement isn’t clear from the text. Here’s how I define it…

Cash Flow Before Interest and Taxes

LESS

Capital Investment Required to Sustain That Cash Flow

Take that and divide by “Net Debt Plus Shareholders Funds”

Tracking this figure back ten years for a business, and its peer group, can tell you quite a bit. Can’t go back ten years? Then place a discount on the quality of those earnings.

A lot of people use “Depreciation & Amortization” instead of “Capital Investment Required…”. If you choose that method then know that your number can be skewed by the recent capital investment history of the firm (and industry) you are evaluating. Age, and capacity, of capital employed should be considered.

Other folks like to use “Earnings” rather than “Cash Flow”. I prefer cash flow because generating cash is the financial purpose of business.

Attractive businesses have a high ROCE and good management teams know their ROCE.

If you meet a company without a clear focus on ROCE then a red flag should go up. It isn’t the only metric but (for businesses with more than just human capital) it is an important figure to track.

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Profit Recognition and Asset Valuation

Inside the book, there is a clear explanation of Mark-to-Market vs. Historical Cost accounting. They are two different methods used to achieve the same goal – a true and fair picture of a company’s financial position. Enron went wrong in its application of its valuation methods as well as its employee rewards structure.

The questions to ask:

Does the business have any contracts/transactions/projects that extend greater than one year? What is the recognition basis for revenue, income and capital uplift on these projects? Describe the nature of historical revenue/cost/value revisions on these contracts. What are the key assumptions that underpin profit recognition and project valuation?

How does employee compensation relate to the assumptions used on the above transactions? Specifically, who benefits and how do they benefit?

Rapidly growing businesses with a material part of their income statement (or balance sheet) linked to management judgment are risky with lower quality earnings. They can still make good investment targets.

If management fails to give clear, immediate answers on the above questions – red flag should go up.

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Off-Balance Sheet Financing

This one often gets companies (and people) into trouble. The main reason to use off-balance sheet financing is to raise debt over-and-above a prudent level. There can be times when these techniques make economic sense.

These structures bite when a company (or person) hits hard times. In particular, financial and performance guarantees can create large, and sudden, liabilities. A business with weak internal controls can have large hidden contingent liabilities.

Some questions to consider:

Have you used any of the company’s shares, assets, or guarantees to support (formally, or informally) projects outside of the company’s balance sheet? Has any outside entity guaranteed (formally, or informally) any aspect of the company’s operations?

Have any members of the management team issued personal guarantees (for any reason) to any financial institution connected to, or separate from, the company? If yes then please supply the specifics.

In the mid-90s, we would go as far as having key management warranty their NAV statements. You can learn a lot about a senior management team by the way they manage their personal finances. In the recent era of covenant-lite financing and non-doc loans, I expect this practice may have fallen away.

If there is a lot going on, or if you can’t figure out why things are going on, then don’t touch the business, or the manager. It’s not worth it.

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Bottom Line

The senior person leading the transaction should ask the CEO these questions. As well, ask employees in accounts, sales/origination and operations/fulfillment. Remember that large frauds start as small frauds – always be willing to walk away.

People want to do the right thing but often feel trapped by their situations. For this reason, you need to ask the questions, a lot of questions. You will save capital (and time) by talking to management before investing.

As personal investors, we rarely have the ability to check these questions with large companies. That is why I don’t invest in the stock market. If you feel that you must have stock market exposure then I recommend a low-cost, broad index fund.

Good luck,

gordo

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06 December 2007

Health & Athletic Longevity


“If I don’t race for the rest of my life then I might be able to repair the damage that I did to myself”
-- Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion
There have been times where I have lost sight of the long term health benefits from physical activity. As a result, I have fried myself (over doing it) or not bothered to do anything at all (not doing it). These two errors arise from a mental disconnect between fitness and health.

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Alan’s blog has a good piece on early season training. He lays out the choices that face an athlete. Stepping back to the larger issue of personal health, they represent phases of our athletic lives.

Phase One – one hour of activity per day
For most people this would consist of walking for an hour (five days a week) and strength training (two days a week). This is achievable by nearly everyone and will maximize longevity when applied on a lifetime basis.

Invest a single hour a day to extend, and enhance, the quality of your life. Our photo this week is me and "my rock". From our condo in Noosa, I takes me 35 minutes to get to the rock. No matter how tired/sore I am feeling... I gotta make it to the rock.

Choosing _not_ to apply this level of activity will impair your quality of life, the only question is when.

Most people wait until heart disease, cancer or death of their parents spurs them to action.

If you find that an hour of daily activity isn’t “enough” to manage your body composition then you are using exercise to continue dysfunctional eating habits. I have spent years using exercise to avoid adjusting my eating patterns.

Phase Two – Standard Basic Week
An outline for triathlon is included below – this program represents achievable athletic excellence within a life that includes family; friends; and business success.

The program is an outline for the athletic component required for (one definition of) personal excellence. It is well above the minimum for personal health.

Only a minority will choose this level of commitment. As a result, you can perform better than most your peers when you use it consistently. Relative to the general population, athletes at this level are very high achievers – many will not think so because they fixate on Phase Three athletes.

You need some genetic gifts to support this level of training across a lifetime – it involves a lot of mileage! The gifts are not in terms of VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) rather, they are gifts of superior immune system function; excellent biomechanics and above average connective tissue durability.

Phase Three – Advanced Basic Week
If you want to achieve the absolute maximum out of your body then trying this phase makes sense. However, not everyone improves at this level of training, some people get slower and will optimize their athletic performance by sticking at Phase Two.

That last point is worth repeating. For every athlete, there is a point where additional training load will lead to reduced athletic performance. I know a number of excellent athletes that have failed to sustain early success when they “got serious” and upped training stress.

I also know a (very) few gifted freaks that can soak up training stress far, far above the normal population. These athletes do very well at ultradistance events.

The success of the training freaks skews what you think is reasonable.

Only a small minority of the population (perhaps only the gifted freaks) handle this level of training over the long term. Even the people that appear to handle the training… check back with them twenty years after their athletic peaks, there are a lot of knee surgeries and hip replacements that don’t make the headlines.

What we handle over the short term and what we handle over the long term are often different.

I used to believe that anyone could handle this level of training with enough rest, nutrition and recovery. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that capacity to absorb training is as personal as VO2max.

Most people can’t train like you think I train – even me.

Phase Management
Given the choice between maximizing annual fitness (short term) and quality/length of life (long term); it is natural to gravitate towards short-term payoffs.

By definition, it takes a long time to see a long term payoff. Over an eighteen-year career in finance, I have had two years of “harvest”. All the rest were “investment”. This doesn’t come naturally. Interestingly, in my two harvest years, people thought I was nuts.

Even if an athlete can handle a ton of Phase Three training, lifetime athletic performance will be optimized by mixing the three approaches. For most of my elite career, my mixing has been forced due to overtraining – likely not an optimal strategy!

Overtraining is what happens when an athlete’s quest for fitness strays too far from personal health. On Alternative Perspectives this week, we have Part Two of Clas’ experience with overtraining. Very few athletes take the time to write out their experience. It takes courage to share our self-destructive tendencies. As an 8:15 Ironman athlete, Clas has lived more athletic achievement than most of us will ever experience.

Dr. John Hellemans has been speedy in his 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I am going to be spending a fortnight with him (and the Kiwi elite team) in February. I have my mobile podcasting equipment with me and will be recording interviews for Endurance Corner Radio.

Rapid Progress
A desire for rapid progress is a by-product of our consumer culture.
Advertising and traditional media feed discontent with our self-image.
Acknowledging these influences is important.

When you are starting out, focus on what you can do – get moving for an hour every day. You are doing what it takes. That is enough.

If your athletics are flattening you with illness; stress fractures; secret binging; disrupted sleep; night sweats; persistent muscle soreness; mood swings; low energy; extended sleeps… then you are moving away from athletic performance and personal health. You are not on a path of personal excellence.

From within a cycle of over-reaching and fatigue – it is very difficult to see the pattern that we have created for ourselves. Beware of coaches, mentors and colleagues that stoke your self-destructive tendencies.

Beware of survivor bias – chronically injured and overtrained athletes disappear from our collective consciousness. Many highly motivated athletes fry themselves by focusing on what the surviving minority do.

I chose the quote above because Mark is one of the few older World Champions that I know who hasn’t had orthopedic surgery.

The quality of our lives (today) has very little to do with the achievements of yesterday.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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Basic Week Document

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