21 May 2008

Thoughts for female athletes


This week I will share some observations that are relevant to female athletes. Much (most?) of the exercise physiology chatter that we hear is geared towards male athletes. In particular, large/strong/speedy male athletes. You can be sure that nobody is posting their worst workout data in their blogs! :-)

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Before we get into this week's letter an announcement:

Colorado Altitude Camp -- June 27th to July 5th
Seven Days of bike-focused training in the Rockies. Start/Finish in Boulder, CO. ~550 miles of cycling, plus run, plus swim. Appropriate for sub-10 hr IMers.

Five athlete slots -- one coach (me).

Highlights -- Brainard Lake (10K); Trailridge Road (11K); Steamboat Springs, Vail, Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Snow Mountain Ranch Swimming Pool (>9K!), Mt Evans (14K).

$2100 per person includes everything but transport to/from Boulder. Contact me with your athletic CV for more info. Discounts available for sub-8:50 IMers and/or athletes that swim faster than me.

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Below is a chart that we prepared to illustrate a typical profile for a fit amateur female athlete. The chart is a mixture from a few different ladies and shows a 'normal' profile. If you would like then click on it to see a large image.

The chart above shows an interesting paradox for many female athletes. The point at which many women oxidize the greatest amount of fat (per minute) tends to feel "too easy". A recent visitor commented that she'd have to "pedal with one leg to go that slow".

Interestingly, fit female athletes have the capacity to do nearly 100% of their training at an intensity that shuts down most of their fat burning. If you have body composition goals -- you want to burn fat, not calories.

I am not talking world class female athletes -- I am likely talking about YOU. By "fit" I mean a woman that has been training for a few years, is active and can get through a triathlon of any distance. In other words, fit relative to the general population -- not the people winning at World Champs.

How many women (and men) train "hard" and never seem to be able to lose weight. While it is tempting to blame our genetics... the fault may lie in our approach.

I don't know about you but I started training to lose weight -- period. Weight loss was my ONLY goal. I have never coached an athlete (male or female) that didn't share this desire, at some level.

In my experience, a moderate approach to training intensity yields a much deeper satisfaction from your athletes. Why? Here are the benefits:

***Faster weight loss
***Lower cravings
***Reduced incidence of injury & illness
***Way less physically painful (your ego may take a knock from time-to-time)
***Improved metabolic rate, less risk of stress fractures and bone density loss (from persistent energy deficits)

The "go hard" approach will work for some -- there are well-known training squads that thrive on energy deficits and extreme work ethic. What I am suggesting is for you to make an informed choice based on the life you want to live.

Remember that, as human beings, we are not great at considering long term costs/liabilities. As well, our media doesn't cover the shattered tibias, twisted psyches and torched metabolisms of our athletic heroes of yesteryear -- they run cover photos of the lithe bodies of today.

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So, for the ladies out there that may be coping with frustration, or a personal plateau. Here are some simple tips to maximize both your performance and your athletic satisfaction.

What to do?
***first goal is 3 sessions per sport, per week // if you can do that for 12 weeks then...
***add an additional session per sport, per week // combo sessions count
***keep the program "too easy" for the first few years // training should always be an emotional release -- if is becomes a source of stress then back-off immediately, and learn. Remember why you chose to be active.

What counts?
***Everything counts! 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes... whatever. For running... walk, hike, jog, run -- it all counts! The most important thing is to do something, anything. Aim for about an hour per day.

How hard?
***90% of your training should be done in the zone that maximizes your fat burning. If you are starting out then this will likely occur with FLAT cycling and fast WALKING. If you are puffing then SLOW DOWN, you have likely shut down your fat burning.
***For the other 10% of your training keep your heart rate under "180-AGE" -- if you want to go harder than this then fine -- I don't think that it is a big deal. What matters is staying healthy, looking good and being active.
***For $240, you can get a Fuel Test in a lab (like ours) but this is not essential. The above guidelines are "close enough" for the early years (not weeks!) of your program.
***Your mind/ego will try to convince you that you are somehow "different" -- however -- heart rate outliers are pretty rare.

What to eat?
***Forget about sports nutrition until you are training over two hours in a single session.
***Eat normally with two modifications -- no refined starch/sugar after 4pm and lean protein with every single meal (and at least 5x per day).
***Once you have the above sorted for a few months (not weeks) -- increase the amount of "real food" you eat. Real Food = food that comes without an ingredient list on the side. Read labels -- sugar is everywhere in packaged foods.
***Make incremental changes, gradually.

In all areas, focus on positive choices that support your long term goals -- denial strategies aren't effective.

When it all gets too much -- take a break and try to keep things in perspective. As my home page says... do not take life so seriously, no one will make it out alive.

We all make mistakes -- my failures are signs that I have been trying too hard. The main thing is staying in the game.

Good luck!

g

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17 May 2008

Fear, Self Worth and Performance


This week, I am going to stick with the theme of personal performance and share ideas on two human traits that make it very challenging to think clearly when stressed.

Before we move into the letter, a couple of announcements:

Summer Training Camps in Boulder -- the EC Team have carved out three weekends [June 7/8; July 12/13; and August 2/3] for small group training camps. If you would like to come to town for a weekend totally focused on long course racing then read full details in Mat's Blog. I will be in town for the July and August weekends and available for Q&A.

For the coaches out there, the EC Team would be happy to be your support crew. Feel free to talk to us about how we can back you up.

Boulder Performance Testing -- over on Alan's Blog, AC has been running through a series of articles sharing what we have been learning as a result of our fuel efficiency testing. While testing is the only way to get your personal data, the concepts of fuel efficiency and optimal pacing are essential to consider.

Based in Boulder, the team offers testing/consultancy services to help athletes (all sports, all distances) gain a better understanding of personal limiters and optimal pacing strategies. Our role is often to help athletes consider:

***Is my race performance in line with my training performance?

***What is the optimal pacing strategy for this course and distance?

***Have I been able to execute my pacing strategies in the past (in training, in racing)?

***Is my event dominated by AeT, LT, FT or VO2 benchmarks/performance? (see attachment below for explanation of our terms)

***Does my training program, and race schedule, mirror the specific demands of my key competitive event(s)?

Last week I laid out the general components of a successful plan, the role of a coach is to ensure that the specific components of the athlete's strategy are consistent with these points above.

If you want to read more about the Critical Success Factors for endurance athletics then you will find them HERE. The article is about long course triathlon but is directly applicable to 95+% of the field at every running, cycling, swimming or triathlon event.

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Fear
Two of the greatest fears that we witness (daily) in group training situations are fear of missing out, and fear of being left behind. Two stories...

During an easy recovery ride in Tucson, we came across a female rider stopped at the side of the road. We passed and she jumped on our group. We were spinning very mellow and the rider went around us and headed down the road. Later that night, I asked if anyone got the urge to hammer past the lady for "daring" to ride through us? There were a lot of knowing chuckles.

As a test workout, I often ask my athletes to: (a) get dropped on purpose; (b) ride 20m behind the group for an entire ride; or (c) hold pace as I randomly accelerate around them. It can be VERY tough to mentally handle those situations.

I have found that our capacity to tolerate short term "training humiliations" is tied into self-worth and personal identity. There is a lot of mental noise going on during most group workouts!

When we find something emotionally difficult -- odds are -- the situation is bumping against personal fears and challenging our self-image. True confidence arises from acceptance of our own performance not the capacity to dominate the performances of others.

Hardness has its roots in domination -- softness (or being open) is rooted in acceptance. In what mode would you expect to make the best decisions?

It takes a surprising amount of specific training to become conscious enough to think clearly while acknowledging these fears.

When your race performance is diverting from your training performance -- look outside of your physiology for solutions. Instead of focusing on the last few percent of physical performance -- a large breakthrough could be available by relaxing and softening up (RASU).

Justin's latest piece on XTri talks about coping with his shift from agegroup to elite racer. A very honest look at the mental challenges that we share when racing.

On that fear of missing out... I deal with it every time I decide to rest/recover!

Back Next Week,
gordo

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EC Training Zone Summary

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10 May 2008

Planning and Being Hard


This week, I will shift gears from property investing and discuss two topics that preoccupy the minds of athletes -- The Plan and Being Hard. My thoughts will be slated towards athletics but the concepts apply just as strongly in our daily lives.

Before we roll into the letter, I was back in the Grand Canyon last Tuesday. This time I was running solo and applying the lessons from my first trip. It is amazing how quickly the body can adapt to stress. While I wasn't much faster on the round trip -- the damage that the run did to my body was a fraction of the first time. This time four weeks ago, I could barely walk and my legs were absolutely trashed. With respect to Ironman marathoning, durability is an essential fitness component that is near impossible to measure quantitatively. My average heart rate for the "run" was 117 bpm and it is one of the toughest sessions that I will do all year.

Alan's latest blog piece provides a window into my lab-fitness and a discussion of performance limiters. Something that JD pointed out at the April camp was that each of the Endurance Corner coaches has a different take on the same topic. That is part of what makes us a good team, and also a source of creative friction.

When I test myself I remember the following:

***Testing is three dimensional, performance is four dimensional. The test measures my ability to perform a specific task over a period of time. Performance, in sport and life, requires the ability to execute over multiple years. Life is about coping with the unexpected. By definition, our capacity to manage change cannot be measured in a controlled environment

***X-Factor // At our April camp, Robbie Ventura gave an excellent talk on fast time-trialling. The bottom line of his talk (for me) is some athletes go fast on race day for a range of "little things" that they are able to put together. Robbie calls these little things the X-Factors of racing. Successful people have the capacity to execute a series of little things, consistently, over time. For me, this skill is habit based. Our X-Factor capacity cannot be measured in the lab.

If you review my bike chart over on AC's blog then remember that it is the result of more than 20,000 hours of endurance exercise. We get a lot of question about how athletes can make changes to improve their charts in 6-8 weeks.
In your training do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
-- Morihei Ueshiba
I have been fortunate to study under a few masters of triathlon -- even they admit that their main skill is guessing better than average.

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Planning
I play a good "long game" -- by that, I mean my performance over multi-year time horizon is strong. As a result, people are interested in the specifics of my plan.

The power of my plan lies in the general, not the specific. Here's what I mean -- when I get it right (and I make a ton of mistakes)...

***A simple plan that I can remember and execute every day

***Periods of specific overload that address key limiters

***Scheduled recovery, and downtime, before I need it

***No one session, day, week, month compromises the period that follows

***Finish strong

***Enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying

The above factors lead to outstanding execution over the long term. That, in turn, leads to performance.

99% of the noise in our heads (mine is no different) is a distraction from the above, makes very little positive impact on performance and reduces energy available for recovery.

Which brings me to...

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Being Hard
Most people are surprised when I tell them that I am (nearly) completely soft. My close friends laugh when I say that I am 99% negotiable and 1% firm. I accept that the world could appear differently looking out, than looking in!

Given the impossible task of seeking to control the world around us AND our limited willpower, influence, energy... I tend to focus my true efforts on a very, very, very limited set of circumstances. I figure that I can be "hard" for a couple of hours per week, MAX. If I am "hard" more often then my overall performance will, ultimately, be compromised.

One of my past mentors taught me that we live with a six-shooter and no extra ammo. If we are thinking of using a "bullet" then we'd better make sure that it is a key point. That analogy has stuck with me and 95% (or more) of my training builds me up (mentally, physically). I only do a little bit that breaks me down.

I could be a little soft from a sport performance point-of-view // and // that is likely why HTFU gets my attention. However, after thinking about it for over a month, I don't know a single long term high achiever that is "hard".

In racking my brain, I only considered people that I knew. There are hard personalities that we hear about but I suspect that they are fabrications.

The toughest competitors that I know are soft in real life (though they try to hide it in public). Our fears and emotional weak points are powerful motivators when channeled towards performance.

When you reach a point where you can't handle any more... relax and soften up.

RASU -- maybe I'll get some hats printed up...

Cheers from New Mexico,
gordo

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03 May 2008

US Property, May 2008


This week I will share some thoughts on US Property.

I'm enjoying my last afternoon in Southern Arizona. Tomorrow, Ben (from the February Snow Farm camp in NZ -- in photo above) and I will head north to Phoenix. Then on to Flagstaff and a repeat of the Canyon run. Monica warned me not to be a hero and JD's advice was to PB by "one second" so... I think my pals are telling me not to fry myself when we head to Phantom Ranch on Tuesday.

Next week, we follow the same route back to Boulder with one modification -- inserting a ride from Cuba, NM to Los Alamos, NM (the long way via Jemez). We drove that road to end our April trip and the climbing is too good to miss. Back-to-back centuries from Farmington to Los Alamos will put the final touch on my preparations for Epic Italy.

Dr. J was trying to figure out why the camps are so much fun and decided that the best aspect is the fact that we offer every camper an opportunity to challenge themselves on each day. You don't have to take the offer but it is there. Sharing those sorts of experiences with people is a lot of fun for us. We'll be running the Tucson camp again next spring as well as adding a mid-summer camp in Boulder. The camps tire us out but it is a "good tired" and provide me with a role to play as I age.

Come along next year and you can benchmark yourself against my Mount Lemmon time -- I do well on anything uphill over 20-miles...

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US Property
I told Monica that I was thinking about giving myself the week off from the blog and she suggested that I write about property. Perhaps, she was hoping that if I write my thoughts down then I might not have to act on them.

Here's a summary of the key articles that made it through my media filter this past week. Given that I was training an average of five-hours-per-day with the campers... you probably heard even more than me...

***Declines in median prices of over 20% in Sunbelt and Southern Californian locales.
***Pundits talking about further declines over the next six years.
***Unsold inventories double normal levels (Nationally).
***Continued write-offs and rights issues in the financial services sector.

Looks to me that both Mood and Money are heading down. Financial historians note that the property market is like a giant aircraft carrier... slow to turn but, when it does, tending to overshoot fair value.

I suspect that everyone in America knows someone that has had their house repossessed in the last year -- that is going to color all of our judgment as we hear more of these stories.

Towards the end of last year, I recommended that aspiring homeowners get their Net Asset Statements and Revenue/Expense budgets in order. Have you done this? In order to position yourself to take advantage of potential buying opportunities you need to have your financing, and finances, in order.

We are thinking about buying an investment property (not second home). Here are my criteria:

***Climate opposite to Boulder, CO
***Would enjoy using during vacant periods
***Less than 1% annual holding costs
***Forecast net yield (after all expenses) 10% over treasuries
***50% capital upside over a ten-year view
***Entry price less than $200 per sq foot
***Superior location in a prime destination
***No leverage purchase -- don't reach financially

Sound like a good deal? It does to me -- perhaps a bit "too good" for this stage of the cycle. To hit those numbers I would need a vendor to accept 15-40% less than their current asking prices. However, having done my homework, my bid price is 10% less than the most recent deal that actually completed and therein lies a tip...

Figure out what an asset is worth to you, prior to anchoring with the price expectations of the vendor


This is important all the time but even more essential in a declining market with constant negative information. By figuring out a price at which you are "unlikely to be wrong" -- you have a much better shot at being right over the medium- to long-term.

What are the signs that a target market might be poised for a large correction?

In this environment, I would look at the mortgage service cost relative to the cost to rent. Even with the recent corrections, many markets have rental costs that are fractions of the cost to own. Given large inventories of unsold homes, rental increases are unlikely. Given weak mortgage markets, mortgage costs are unlikely to fall. That leaves the most likely adjustment mechanism to be capital depreciation.

Potential buyers are building in expected price declines -- no one in the nation is expecting prices to rise. Most owners are holding depreciating assets -- we all HATE holding depreciating assets. At some stage, vendors will sell to remove the pain of a thousand paper cuts.

If you rent with a view to buying then negotiate strongly on early termination provisions -- the more Blue Chip your profile, the more aggressive you should be on all terms.

The ability to complete quickly will be seen as highly attractive by sellers. Vendors are going to get increasingly keen.

On the corporate lending side, I have not yet seen credit contraction in line with the capital that has been written off by the financial sector. I suspect that the front line banks are current preparing strategies for how they will deploy, preserve and recover capital over the next 12-18 months. When we start to hear about rising corporate bankruptcies then we will know that we've moved into that phase of the credit crisis.

Here are three things that I keep hammering into myself when I'm thinking about making an investment:

#1 -- I don't "need" to do deals (doing nothing is OK)
#2 -- I desire to make good investments
#3 -- Above all else preserve capital (for me, the time for "betting big" was 10-20 years ago)

Be prepared, attractive buying opportunities will present themselves to educated investors.

Until next week,
gordo

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