Endurance Corner Introduction
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Gordo Byrn's blog on triathlon training, ironman racing, personal planning, business and investing.
Our lead photo this week is the Passo di Stelvio – I spent Saturday riding up its forty-eight switchbacks. The photo is taken looking down and shows less than one-third of the climb, without doubt, one of the greatest rides in the world.
If you are a cyclist then I highly recommend a pilgrimage to
Big training isn’t for everyone and, even if you are ‘good’ at it, it can be counterproductive to your health and goals. However, undertaking massive challenges can be rewarding and lead to personal growth.
I now know that I can’t “win” Epic Camp. I might win “the game” but, to do that, I place myself in such a hole that I forfeit my larger life goals. Learning the value in doing less has been one of the most useful lessons of my athletic journey.
At Epic, we place ourselves under immense stress. Why? Each of us has a different answer to that question and, I suspect, many of the athletes never stop to consider their own answer. Here is mine… I attend Epic because training camps work.
If you have athletic goals then you are far more likely to achieve them when you surround yourself with a total training environment.
The essential components:
Removal of outside stressors – I didn’t check email once during the camp. This has a very positive impact on my recovery and clarity of mind. Our support team are also essential – laundry, maps, aid stations, meals. This is a huge benefit, even when balanced with the distractions of language, culture and different foods.
Social pressure – We all want to “look good”. If I host a camp then (to maintain my self-image) I can’t sleep through swim practice, take a van ride or skip my runs. What I can control is hitting the minimum workouts, doing my best and trying to be cheerful the whole time. I am placing myself in an uncomfortable situation where success is achieved by enduring the discomfort.
NOTE – In earlier years, social pressure to out-train every athlete temporarily ruined my health. In our larger society, social pressure to keep up with financial expenditure can lead to financial ruin. So be very careful with how you set yourself up in public (and the company you keep – your peer group greatly matters).
Massive Training Overload – My athletic advantage is capacity to train. If you can cram a ton of work into your body, absorb it and learn when to spend it… then you will improve. You will also place incredible stress on your immune system and wear your body out faster than if you were more moderate in approach. As with many things, there are increasing costs and decreasing benefits as you move up the performance curve.
In my experience, the costs outweigh the benefits for many athletes. Eight days of Epic Camp can be a great reality check on whether athletic success is desirable, probable and personally profitable (in the largest sense). Most people don’t have the necessary combination of genetics, attitude, life situation and talent to train (or work) at an elite level. Still, it can be fun place to visit.
Of course, if I had failed to try… that would have been a great (and, perhaps, silent) failure in my life.
Most EpicVets get a permanent benefit from the camp. However, given the psychological profile of our sport, we have had a few customers (myself included) absolutely torch themselves. Only the fittest athletes have a shot a sustaining what we do at Epic.
The camps are a great study in psychology and coping mechanisms. While we have “rules” for scoring points at the camp, everyone ends up playing their own version of the game. I suspect that we do this so that we each “win” in our own way. The people that attend are so used to winning that we each withdraw (at times) when faced with a situation where we may “lose”.
Next year, we will host two Epic Camps –
If you are interested in learning more about Epic Camp then send us an email with your athletic background.
The camps are most effective for people in Sub-10 hour Ironman shape. With our climbing camps (Rocky Mountains, Pyrenees,
If you aspire to Epic then Endurance Corner will be hosting more moderate training camps in 2009 – Tucson in early April (sub-13 to sub-10 IMers) as well as Boulder in July (open to IMers of all ability levels). I’ll share more details about these camps in the coming months.
In early 2003, I managed to go under nine hours at Ironman New
Two weeks after that race, Scott Molina asked me “What if that’s it?” My reply was, “there’s always more”. Five years, two bouts of serious overtraining and six-months away from my 40th birthday… I am starting to see the relevance of his question…
In 2004, I achieved outstanding personal fitness from cramming eight weeks of high volume training into a nine-week block. My training partner on that adventure was Clas Bjorling – one of the toughest, and nicest, athletes that I have ever met. We didn’t try to “get fast”. We did the trip because we thought that it would be fun to swim/bike/run across
Don’t assume that if you did the same trip then you’d get as fast as us! The trip “worked” because we (somewhat accidentally) created an environment where we gave ourselves what we needed at the time. Always remember to consider what YOU need as well as your current personal limiters. This is tough to do – I find it much easier to follow the advice of others than sit down and think for myself. Thinking is work.
Back to my fitness… early this year, I started to notice that I was able to do anything that I wanted on the bike. This is different than being able to do _anything_. I have limits but when I am riding in my peer group I can achieve what I set out to do – even if that is merely to survive.
Greed, in all things, is a source of personal downfall. Ten years ago, I altered my course from maximizing financial gain to increasing my life satisfaction. At its root, overtraining syndrome is a form of greed, an obsession with athletic performance that, ultimately, leads the athlete to sickness.
In regaining my athletic fitness I noticed clear parallels with the world of international finance. The most striking is the lack of health amongst some of the long-term practitioners. There are a lot of wrecked bodies in high finance and elite athletics. As a defense, the high performers would probably point to the poor health of the masses but, for me, that misses the point. What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves (or compromise our ethics) in the process?
Few people arrive at the position where they are able to rationally see the benefits of less. Typically, we only see the benefits of change when we hit the bottom of our personal potential, or face a major crisis.
So as I blast up a 2,000 meter climb in the Dolomites, self-assured in my King of Mountains jersey, I ask myself… how am I serving the larger goals of my life? Will an extra 20 watts on my functional threshold get me to the top of the bean stock? How about an extra 50 watts? An extra 100 watts?
Then it dawns on me, I have learned this lesson before.
Day Three, Epic Camp Italy 2008 – I ride off the front pretty easily and realize that I should really enjoy the next few months because this is as quick as I am going to get. At one level (performance), my athletic mission is complete. At another (personal wellness), it is beginning.
Molina noticed the change in me and found it entertaining. He might not know the source until he reads this blog. Monica saw it months ago, before I had even noticed. Both of them roll their eyes when I say “this is it”. They’ve heard it all before.
What about Scott’s question?
If this is the Pinnacle then this is enough. Frankly, 2/3rds of my current fitness is enough – I would, however, have to adjust my bike gearing for the French Alps next summer. Scott was running a 30-tooth small chain ring in the Dolomites and many of us had gear envy.
Our photo this week is a post workout shot of Ben Pattle. Ben lives in the Gold Coast and is over in New Zealand for a training camp put on by John Hellemans.
As a long course athlete, I wonder if there is upside in addressing their relatively undertrained steady zones on the bike. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, the athletes are in their specific preparation phase for Elite Nationals in three weeks. So, now isn't the time to worry about that. However, at some stage, I expect that improving their steady-state bike/run fitness might benefit their late-race performance.
One of the guest speakers made an interesting point -- there are things that you have to do if you want to be the best. His tone was that these things are non-negotiable, they simply "are". If an athlete chooses not to do them then they will not reach their maximum personal potential. That really rang true to me. How often do we catch ourselves settling for being good enough.
During my talk, I shared KP's advice that the true enemy of great is good. Everyone here is good. Looking around, I expect that a few might become great. Out of the great athletes, one might make the commitment to seek their fullest personal potential. It will be fun to watch the athletes develop and become part of a growing Kiwi tradition of Triathlon Excellence.
If you click the title of this post then you'll go through to the Snow Farm website. We are over 5,000 feet here, high enough to get an altitude effect (my O-sats have been in the low 90s every morning for a week).
Road bike training requires a 13K drive down to the main road. From Wanaka (45 mins away) there are five different routes available -- all decent.
The run training is excellent due to the nordic ski tracks. As well, you can get close to 7,000 feet by running up the nearby mountains (the campers did just that this week).
Wanaka has pool and open water swimming. The lodge does an all-inclusive deal and has a mix of accommodation standards. I am staying in a nice room with an en suite. Our host (Steve) even gave me the green light to help myself to the industrial espresso machine.
The living is good!gordo
Our photo this week is Team MonGo at Ben Lomond Saddle above
An Epic Camp provides plenty of opportunity for self-reflection. My hour long final podcast is a reflection of my internal dialogue when logging big miles. As you can probably tell from the podcast, I am comfortable spending time alone and find my idiosyncrasies amusing. Molina thinks that this is a characteristic that long-term ultra junkies share. We are the funniest guys we know but aware that we probably overestimate our amusement value to others.
This past trip, I had Scott chat me through his career – starting from 100 mile run weeks (at 15) through to his athletic peak (at 25) then winning Ironman
The Terminator needed an overhaul when he retired and he spent five years working as a personal trainer and lifting weights. That takes us to 38 and I arrived in his life at 40. The “fastest” that I have seen him was Epic Colorado in 2003 when he was 43 years old – he was fast across all three disciplines and could hang with Clas/me (no sweat). Clas had the fastest run at Zofingen and I ran 2:49 at IMC that year; we were in Podium IM shape.
The rough timeline is important for some of the points I will make later. I may not have got it exactly right but my listening is improving.
The closer you get to your ultimate physical potential; the greater the “payback” that will be required when you exceed your body’s ability to recover. As you approach your maximal race fitness, there is a divergence between athletic success and physical well-being/longevity.
Fitness is a very powerful drug that programs deep athletic memories. Almost by definition, athletes with the ability to take themselves beyond reasonable levels of training/fatigue are at risk for overtraining. In fact, some successful elites may even tell you that overtraining is essential for success.
I’m not sure those words are what the champions mean. Here’s my shot at it:
Scott had more success than pretty much anyone in the history of our sport – he’d make anyone’s top ten list for race victories.
His payback period was five to ten years. I am nearing my third anniversary of hitting the wall and I wonder…
Five years until he got back to triathlon training and ten years until he was really rippin’ it up again.
Years… not seasons… not months… not weeks.
This struck me because I had five months off in 2005 (April to August) then eased back into hour-per-day training for a few months before starting back with structured triathlon training in December 2005. Across 2006, it was touch-and-go with quite a bit of residual fear in my body. If you have ever had an injury then you’ve likely experienced the fear of re-injury. Overtraining is a spiritual and immune system “injury” with a similar psychology.
All across 2006, I was looking for a sign that I was “healed” and that soon I would be able to get back to the training that I remembered.
An important note – the training that we remember is our lifetime best performances blurred by the passage of time. A long term training log is a wonderful tool for a reality check. I use it often with my most headstrong athletes (and myself). Lifetime bests have the deepest chemical signatures – check the facts before making assumptions about how you “used to be”.
In 2006, my training was erratic and I used the cushion of working in my business to hide from reality. Perhaps I was past it, perhaps I was still tired, perhaps I was cured of my desire for mega-miles.
Long time readers will know what happened next, I went to Mark and Brant for some help putting myself back together – both physically and spiritually. I re-established my connection with nature and saw some of the patterns that caused my fatigue.
I thought I was healed – more accurately… I hoped that I was healed. On many levels I was healed. Without a doubt, Mark’s training protocol gave me my health back – I highly recommend his method if you are seeking to break a cycle of fatigue, injury or overtraining. The combo of Mark and Brant is an amazing duo – I have no idea how, or why, it works but (for me) it was really something special.
…but the fear remained, along with an emotional component of fatigue. Each time I would become fatigued, I was waiting to fall into exhaustion.
In life, we most often get what we expect and this probably held me back. My fears also prevented me from following my heart with the sort of training approach that I enjoy and have found effective. There were a lot of self-rationalizations that went on in my head but, in reality, I was scared.
If you read my Ironman Canada 2007 race report then you know what happened next… total public meltdown and my worst race performance relative to fitness in five years.
That was followed by four months of depression that culminated in three weeks in the tropical paradise of Noosa where I struggled to get out of bed. A few things got me moving:
Commitments – last October I made a commitment to Monica that I would do at least one hour of activity every single day for the rest of our life together (walking counts!). As an athlete, or an athletic spouse, you either understand why that is important, or you don’t. As my love for, and understanding of, Monica grows; I see how lucky I am to have a life partner that understands me better than I understand myself.
Personal Responsibility – nobody “made” my situation, it was the direct result of choices I made. I did my best to take small concrete actions that moved me back towards the life I want to live. Getting out of bed each morning is the most important thing that I do. If I can get that done then 89 out of 90 days, everything flows from there.
Acceptance – with most of my recovery challenges, my healing progresses most rapidly once I accept that I might never get better. By ceasing to resist my fatigue, my mood, my challenges – I start to improve. I don’t think that we ever “overcome” or “conquer” our fundamental challenges in life – we learn the patterns, habits and strategies that are effective to keep us moving forward.
All of these thoughts occurred to me because last week, training felt different to me. Epic made me tired but it didn’t make me scared. I commented about my improved form to Molina and he said that he didn’t notice any difference (or anything impressive). On reflection, that made sense because the change was on the inside.
It was a lot of fun to have my health back and enjoy training with the guys. I need to remember that as the memories of Epic return to me while training.
I suppose my point is one that Mark shared with me. The factors that lead to breakdown accumulate across many years (often in parallel to increased athletic performance). Any improvement, from rock bottom, will feel like healing.
The greater your success leading up to the breakdown, the longer your recovery will likely take. Be patient in the early stages – my impatience through the early years of overtraining is what led to hitting the wall.
The stages, for me, were:
Adult athletes should remember that stress and fatigue that builds up outside of sport can often manifest itself as athletic overtraining.
I’ll keep you posted.
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
Justin Daerr – been up on stage as an agegrouper in Kona and recently 8:40 at Ironman
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).
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).
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.
I was in Kona last week and the artist of the above print (Mike Field) took me out on his sailing canoe. Heck of a good time.
A Reader Asked...
...my question to you is what one book (or if that is too tough) what several books have had the most impact on your beliefs, thoughts, views, etc. I feel like I am in a significant transition point in my life where I have achieved a lot but still feel like I’m not sure where I’m heading
The book -- that's easy for me -- The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron -- I read the book (and did the program) the first summer that I spent in Boulder (2000).
Seven years later, every single thing that I wrote on my Top Ten list had come true. I thought that some of the items were a bit of a long shot as well. The interesting thing about that book (and the program) is that it is a tool to unlock whatever is lurking inside of us. It's a powerful program -- it seemed pretty goofy at the start but seeing it through changed my life.
FWIW, I would have described my life in 2000 EXACTLY as you laid out in your question.
Entitlement In Sports
A listener observed:
It continues to amaze me how difficult it is to be a pro triathlete and the sacrifices you have to make. Perhaps in the future you could discuss what needs to change in our sport in order for elites to make a fair wage?
So many ideas come to my head when I read the above observation. Please know that I am speaking generally rather than replying directly to you. Your question touches on the fundamental issue that many people have with entitlement.
What do we truly deserve? Start here for ideas on that!
Fair wages – elite athletes are volunteers and no one has an inherent ‘right’ to train all day in the sun // I recommend a trip through rural
We all are susceptible to a feeling of entitlement in our lives – I feel it in myself. An early dose of random misfortune can often be a blessing.
The national associations (like
If you want to make a living as a world-class athlete then you’d better be a world-class athlete. Most elites aren’t world-class, they are proficient and hard working.
Making It – you don’t “make it” as an elite triathlete – with a few 1-in-1,000 exceptions you make a bit of money for a few years then you retire (often with a beat up body and a smoked immune system). Winning a few races isn’t like making partner in a law firm – you will be heading back into the workforce (probably with short notice and before you want).
For most elites (and fast AGers), fast racing is great marketing, rather than income earning. The athletic "class" that make the greatest return from their racing are the “athlete coaches” that place consistently in their divisions. They represent achievable success in their local markets and share their experience with increasing life satisfaction from racing. As a "class", elite triathletes make nothing. My lifetime prize money is equivalent to two months current expenses (maybe less, I'm probably overestimating).
If the goal is to make a decent living then channeling the energy spent on athletic excellence into just about any other field will result in superior financial returns.
However, it is the challenges that make the pay-off so rewarding – whether competing for money, a Kona slot or simply to finish. Most of us would do it for free – actually most of us pay to do it!
Rewards – as a society, we place a tremendous value on physical beauty and athletic power. We have been conditioned for our entire lives than a lean, fit body is the ultimate achievement. As I age, I take comfort in having a better body in my 30s than I did in my 20s. I expect that the “reward” that many elites receive stems from the way we perceive an elite athlete.
Change – I’m not sure than anything needs to change in the sport of triathlon. If the athletes were to organize themselves and take charge of race promotion then they might be able to capture a larger share of the sport’s revenues. However, I see this as unlikely for a few reasons:
***lack of skills // as a class, elites are great athletes, not great businessfolk. The federations and race organizations have a massive edge and strong financial incentives to maintain the status quo. As a practical point, even if an athlete had the skills – why does it make sense to put a lot of effort into helping a group of second tier pros make more money? Pretty low return for your personal charity investment and, I expect, that you would get a lot more bang for your buck in other fields.
As an aside, my personal experience with Bradventures, NA Sports and HFP Racing is that they get money to athletes that support their company vision and add value to their businesses. Graham Fraser has done a tremendous amount for elites (as well as others) but we don’t hear a lot about it. He’s probably learned that critics exist to criticize.
Many young pros focus on explaining why they should be given money – a far better proposition is to demonstrate how you can add value to the company by being an ambassador of their brand mission. I had ten years of investment experience when I came to triathlon and it took me years to figure this out. One thing I did figure out was that using my skills to beg for free bike shorts was a low return activity.
***the events are bigger than the athletes // There are very few athletes that can benefit a race director by their presence.
Life Lessons – the lessons that we learn with a personal quest for our maximum potential are highly valuable and the training is a lot of fun. At some stage of our lives, I think that everyone should spend a couple of years trying to be their absolute best at something. The lessons are independent of outcome.
Remember that sport (and a meaningful life) is challenging – that’s the point!
More next week,
...here is the bottom line: you will have to do things very differently than you have in the past. And if not, the patterns will repeat themselves. This is usually the toughest part for all athletes, especially those who have achieved near perfection in their racing as you have done. You will need to shift the memories of what happened to your body when you trained hard. You will need to strengthen your self confidence on a very different level than you have been working at. You will most likely need to really look at your training program with different eyes and probably make some significant changes to that so that you not only avoid the burnout, but also maximize your genetics on race day.When I read that (less than 14 days after Ironman Canada 2006), I understood what he was saying. However... I didn't really understand at all and, I expect, that a year from now I will probably have an even deeper understanding of what lies behind those words. I've saved the full email and refer back from time-to-time.
Q -- Where does running performance come from?
A -- An enjoyment of consistent, long term, appropriate mileage.
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?
"I never compromise, I make positive decisions that support my desired goals. I'm doing what it takes to achieve success."
"I am constantly compromising, all I do is say 'no' to myself. I try so hard to escape my failed patterns. Poor me."
The man who competes with no one
In all the world, has no competitor.
I’m enjoying a home-made mochaccino right on our first of two “regroup” days. I had to negotiate for these days to be inserted!
22 hours of training in three days and I had to haggle for a chance to put myself together!
Because I didn’t run yesterday, Molina is threatening to revoke my “complete the camp” bonus. He’s top of my list for Week Two…
Scott will write about Motivation and I hope you read it. He’s been at this for a very long time. He’s had his ups and downs – perhaps he’ll share those some day. It takes a long time to get good and many people say they want to get good. However, most people don’t want that. Most people want the “good”. The people that get to the top, what they really want is the “work” to get good. To do a lot of work, over a long time… that takes Motivation. Motivation is a habit; success is a habit. Hopefully, Scott will offer up some tips for us.
Here’s how I see it work in myself and others…
We often create imagined injustices to keep us rolling. I’ve found that as I mature, my motivation comes more purely (Quiet Mind, Quiet Power). When I was younger I used a lot of coffee, anger, music or imagined injustice to get rolling. Perhaps that was a sign of carrying excessive fatigue. Clas jokes that when you need a full pot of coffee to get through your main set then perhaps your program is a bit tough! With a more moderate approach, I can motivate from within.
Look for that in your self – recovery is the final option for many highly motivated people (not just athletes).
To do the work required to achieve greatness – that takes a long time. Simply to get back to the fitness I had in 2004, I laid out a 21 month plan. 21 months of planning… leading towards the third athletic peak of my life… in the ninth year of my triathlon career. I hear about athletes seeking to “peak” three times in a season! Life doesn’t work like that.
Molina was planning on leading a contingent of lads up Arthur’s Pass for a bonus ride. However, the rain in coming down _very_ steady right now so we’ll have to see if that ride gets rolling. The clouds are sitting right over the hills and the lake is calm. Doesn’t look like it will blow over anytime soon…
I’m confident that most the Yellow jersey contenders will get out there today. Hopefully, the rain will ease a little for them but I wouldn’t count on it.
So what about the camp so far. Well, after what has supposed to have been a very cold Kiwi summer, we’ve had pretty good weather. Yesterday was quite damp but everyone brought enough gear so that we all made it through without incident. Johno called the weather “patchy” and it seemed like I had a patch that followed me for about six hours!
We’ve got a guy here from
I’ve done the route before – never in one go, though! To get through what I expected to be an 8-9 hour ride, I broke it up into pieces. I also left my iPod rolling the entire time. I rode with the groupetto yesterday. I haven’t done much riding with the groupetto at previous camps, so I can’t comment on what it is normally like. At this camp, you’ve still got a lot of very strong guys in the second bunch.
I like to set my own pace when riding. That’s a nice way of saying that I am a bit of a control freak and dislike having pace dictated to me. I’m working on that!
Clive, Albert, Mark and Lou – they also like rolling at their own speed and that can be quicker than mine – especially when we are going uphill. I’ve been “backing off” on the hills. By backing off, my power “only” increases by 25-50% from what I put out when pulling. Some of the lads must be lifting close to 100% from what they are putting out on the flats. Those surges add up across a 1,000K bike week!
So we broke up a bit. On the second KOM, I was doing my normal back-off thing and was probably going a little too easy as there were five guys up the road at one point. I figured that I was putting a damper on things with my moderate approach – especially for Mark who likes to give it a go. Albert was almost out of reach and somebody had to give him a push! So I picked things up a bit (five minutes at 375w; three minutes at 400w) to get Mark within striking distance – I went to 151 bpm and sent Mark after Albert. He played it very well and got past the Albernator, never easy!
Towards the end of the ride it was just Andrew Charles and me – KP, if you are reading this then it was a lot like the ride to Westport (except AC didn’t start frothing at the end). We alternated steady main-sets with easy periods to see how long it would take us to reel in the guys up the road.
Clive was particularly tough to bridge back to! With the lads that have been coming to Epic for a few years, it is enjoyable to see their development as triathletes. Clive’s riding great these days, especially for someone who came out of a Canadian winter to join us.
So those are my memories of Day Three. I can still get my heart rate up when I want, so don’t appear to be too shelled.
Some notes on Epic for those of you who might be considering big training to jump start your own training:
***150 bpm // 150bpm is a magic number in my experience. If any of us do sustained work over 150 then there is a material recovery cost. The young guys can burn a lot more matches than the vets. My cap of 148 bpm has served me well in Week One. I’ll get to open it up a bit in Week Two – for now, patience.
***Running // I have only done two runs so far. A solid steady effort on Day One and an easy run on Day Two. I didn’t run yesterday (D3) as I felt that 225K and 7:40 of pulling was enough. The running combined with bike intensity really beats the legs up. I’m a little sore this morning – but the legs don’t feel as “damaged” as previous camps.
Brandon “bdc” Del Campo and Mike “Crazy Mike” Montgomery both ran 2.5 hours on Day Two! Mike’s coming off a solid run camp so he seemed to tolerate it a bit better. Yeseterday, Mike got the location of the first KOM a bit wrong – thought that he was attacking with 20K to go… turn out that it was 50+ KM of rollers. At least he had a light tailwind to help him out – he’s riding without aerobars. Hence the name… Crazy Mike.
***Nutrition // I made the mistake of eating two cans of Thai Chili Tuna on Day One. Phew! Blew through that, quite literally. Nutrition is a real challenge on the camp – not because of the support, the good choices are there… the challenge is making the good choices! I did better at dinner yesterday with lots of veggies. The next two days are low volume days so I will do better. If you have a body that isn’t used to a lot of sugar/starch then a change in diet can be quite stressful.
***Mental // We are all tired. There comes a point – say after six hours of riding on Day Three where the fatigue is mental – that might sound counterintuitive but… it is not your body that decides to back off, it is your mind. This is where the group really helps.
Having Charlesy on my wheel yesterday was great. I’d announce that I was starting a main set in five minutes and he was my “witness” – Scott calls this getting pushed from behind. You don’t want to crack in front of your ride buddies. Athletes of different abilities can ride together all day. This assumes that the guy at the front rides friendly and backs off on the hills. Most male group training is about trying to kill your ride pals – lifting 100% on all hills. It is also how most people race.
Might make good group riders – doesn’t do squat for your IM times.
***Peaks // There’s been a little throwing up and bonking. Yesterday flushed a few people out. When you are doing big training day after day after day, you need to have your training and recovery nutrition wired. Eating little bits continuously as well as ensuring plenty of fluids.
Day Three shook a few people up – a couple of mushroom clouds went up out there. Slight depletion, power peaks and sustained periods over 150 bpm… generally result in some painful personal time to evaluate the error of your ways.
Some people learn, some don’t.
Back from my only session today (D4) – 3K open water swim event.
Lou gave us a great lead out and we made the front group! However, their pace was a bit punchy so I let them go. Lou hit a tree! So that slowed him down. We swam it in for 5th and 6th. The four upfront were Molina, Scott Davis, Mark P and Albert. Mark’s really able to lift himself for the events.
I’ll share a few memories from the other days.
My favourite memory from Day One was the swim TT. We started 10s apart and Johno split all the fast guys up so my drafting opportunities were limited. Or so I thought…
BDC was starting 10s back. It was a dive start and I opened with a 1:20 first 100. BDC must have swum a 1:13 because on my second flip turn was RIGHT there. Made me smile. My mood improved even more when he made his “move” at 250m and came by. If any of you wonder how my swimming improved in the last couple of years. It is due to the combination of Monica’s training program and guys like BDC. I enjoyed a very comfortable 550m in the froth behind
After 200m we passed Jarret, and the slightest gap opened up… so at the 1K mark I swam a hard 200. You need to be able to do that at ANY time in an IM swim. That is much more important than your first 400m or your sustained pace. At the sharp end, it is surviving the pace changes that determines your swim time. BDC has improved a lot but didn’t make the pace change… he lost at least 40s in the last 800 due to missing the change (and worked just as hard doing it).
I experienced some power fade at the end of Day One during the 70K TT. The TT was my idea because I wanted the campers to experience some legit riding when they were still fresh. Just like the 2K swim TT – athletes rarely do long main sets. A two hour TT after six hours of training gives us an honest insight of our fitness.
If you want to see your real fitness then schedule a 30-90 minute best aerobic TT (not threshold!) at the end of your long workouts. Keep your HR on target and look at your real aerobic pace – some people simply don’t want to know…
The best part of Day Two was making the group and the fact that nearly all of us finished the ride together. The muffins at 100K were also pretty tasty!
The depth of the riders on the camp means that there is always someone willing to pull the second group back to the front after each set of climbs. As well, the TT took a little bit of the starch out of the young guns. Finally, we didn’t have any points on the line so the Contenders were holding back (just a little) – saving up for their long runs later in the day!
The Gate of Pride
I just finished a book called Everyday Zen (Charlotte Joko Beck). The author is western and gives a modern (to me) interpretation of certain zen concepts. She uses a wide range of examples to illustrate her points. One chapter talks about how progress is often inhibited when we bump into the “gate of pride”. It’s something that merits consideration for all of us. I’ll give a few examples as they pertain to athletics.
Think about your training partners… it can be tough to see these in ourselves…
How much is enough?
Here at Epic we don’t set any limits on the athletes. We even provide incentives (with our points game) for people to over-do-it. It’s amazing what people will do to themselves in a group environment for a couple of points. We all love to play the game – that’s what life is when you consider it – a game.
It is up to every athlete to decide their personal limits. The group helps most of the guys go far past their previous limits. As well, as I have mentioned before, when we are all tired, the physical limits become mental ones. Pacing, hydration, nutrition, sleep, stretching – these are all limiters.
When we blow, we will cite a physical limiter… however… it was mental choices (pace, nutrition, hydration, volume, intensity) that lead to a (perceived) physical collapse.
The more pride we have, the harder we bang against that gate.
Some bang for weeks… some for years… some forever…
I mentioned this on the podcast.
The “weakest” guy at Epic Camp is one of the strongest guys back home. The athletes that join us are high achieving successful people. They aren’t used to compromising with themselves, or due to the force of another. Even the strongest guy at Epic will have a bad day eventually. And when you do… you’ll get smacked down.
I used to get pretty grumpy when that happened.
The “CTI” athletes (can’t take it) are, generally, the ones that race below their training performance. The guys that smile; nod; and say “you got me there”… they tend to bounce back and grow from the group experience.
Bevan and Molina are two guys that seem to enjoy getting smashed. Bevy because pride doesn’t have much of grip on him (he’s probably going to get very good and will need to watch that – nothing fails like success). Molina because he proved whatever it was that he needed to say with his professional career – 100+ wins can take the edge off, for some. Others just keep chasing whatever they seem to be seeking…
We’ve had some great athletes at Epic Camp that struggled with the lack of control forced on them by being in a group of strong athletes. It’s fun to be the Alpha Male but you learn a lot more about yourself when you’re getting dealt.
As I am finding, an evangelical zeal for training (or anything else) will get you to a point (a very successful point if you have the right combination of skills, passion and persistence). When you want to get past that point, you’ll need to consider the elements of your success that have been holding your back. Within my athletic career (and business career), pride always had to give way to humility to truly tap my personal potential.
This has been the second great lesson of triathlon for me.
The first lesson was that we can all achieve far, far more than we ever dreamed possible.
Not sure if I’ll write again but six pages is enough!
Before I get stuck into this topic. A few thoughts that I’ve had on doping. I don’t usually think about the topic much but with Floyd in the news all my non-athlete pals keep talking about it to me. Stepping aside from the specifics of Floyd…
It’s not surprising to me that some people choose to cheat. Physical prowess doesn’t imply ethical strength any more than physical attraction does. I think that it is in all of our natures to ascribe high character to high achievers. However, I don’t think that achievement is a good predictor of ethics.
It’s possible to waste a heck of a lot of energy thinking, talking and debating ideas/people that we will never really know. I have enough going on with trying to figure myself out – spending time worrying about a well-known stranger is something that I try to avoid.
When we look for motivation from outside of ourselves, be it guru, coach, athlete, mentor, hero… we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Lasting motivation comes best from the inside, from seeking to be our own heroes. While world champions show us what’s possible – the very human mistakes of others remind us of the need for personal ethical vigilance.
What I saw from watching and reading about Floyd this summer was the guy’s work ethic. The joy and satisfaction that he received from “working” struck me as unique – not winning bike races. The joy of work is a fundamental aspect of achievement and satisfaction.
Do I worry about doping in our sport? Not at all. However, I might if I was a true professional seeking a financial living from relative race performance. Being clean and just missing in a field that you didn’t trust – that would be tough. I can think of a number of ITU and IM athletes that have good reasons to wonder what might have been. At my level, it’s not a concern – it’s possible to beat pretty much every doper by out-training them. Even if you can’t beat them on the playing field, you’ve won a far greater victory within yourself.
There’s no deeper defeat than letting yourself down. If you want to punish someone then bringing that knowledge front and centre can be a lesson that’s hard to swallow. We can come up with all kinds of rationalizations but, ultimately, it comes down to a single event, a choice, a decision.
As for Floyd, I sure wish that the referees would stick to their own protocols. When the drugs police can’t be trusted to follow their own rules, it is bad for their own image and authority. Public credibility is tough to build and easily lost.
There are a number of challenges that face most aspiring athletes. The two most common oppose each other and that’s why (I think) a lot of training discussions can become emotional. On one hand, most of us are training at a level that is less than optimal for overall performance. On the other hand, even at this lower level, the greatest challenge we face is recovering from our training, not stacking more onto ourselves.
This article isn’t directly about those topics – I’ll cover the physiological progression at some stage, perhaps when I am tapering for IM Canada in a couple of weeks. What I want to talk about here is something that I’ve noticed in the very best agegroup and elite athletes that I’ve coached, trained or simply watched from a far.
The most impressive guy that I’ve raced consistently over the last few years is Cameron Brown. To be honest, I haven’t really raced
Within my own training over the years, work and fatigue have “forced” periods on me where my training volume is far less than what I would like to be doing. In fact, whenever I am resting I get pretty restless, somewhat grumpy and a bit down on myself for slacking. The last two weeks have been hard at times because I’ve been traveling, working and (happily) agreeing to social commitments. I rarely have a social life outside of my personal Top Ten list as I find it incredibly fatiguing.
One of my social commitments was a talk that I (very happily) gave to a group of athletes here in
As well as talking… I was listening to myself…
“The key is to see if you are improving. If you are getting better then you are heading in the right direction. If you are on a plateau then things might need to change.”
“When I used to work, my #1 thing was simply to avoid taking a zero. If I could do that then I’d be OK.”
I used to be quite poor at listening while talking. Probably still am… if I am not the one talking! J
All this is interesting to me because I have been “forced” to rest much more this year than in previous years. Not surprisingly, the last time I was resting this much, was the last time I was working a lot in
When I’ve been on my training camps, I have hit the steady-state volume as hard as I could handle (that tolerance has been variable, but increasing). When I have been working here in
Something that I haven’t done for more than six years is that I have raced once a month and done that as fresh I could manage. “Fresh” being a relative term when you log 24+ hours of travel in the four days before a race (did that a few times, don’t recommend it). I tried to train through a couple of races but that didn’t really work so well for me – I don’t have the depth of fitness to quickly bounce back from hard training or racing.
Some things that I’d like to share…
My power/pace isn’t at lifetime best numbers (a year off will impair fitness, no surprise) but my ability to achieve relative intensity is much higher. In other words, my top-end isn’t great but I can get there much more easily.
There were long periods in my development (2000-2004) where I carried so much fatigue that I’d struggle to get much out of my mod-hard zone. For me, these were valuable times to my overall development but I may have pushed a bit too far at times – of course, that’s likely the only way that we learn how far is too far.
I’ve been using training camps that are followed with weekly recovery and training blocks – much smaller blocks of training than the typical 3-4 week cycles. Each cycle has my overall fitness improving.
I’m able to fit a few other things in my life. I’m less “one dimensional” than I used to be.
I find all this quite interesting because if I am going to be a long term athlete then I will probably want to cycle my intensity through the years; peaking at 40, 45, 50 and 55 years old (say). By “intensity” I don’t mean how hard I am going in training – I mean the sacrifice, focus and dedication required to be my very best.
My Top Ten goal is to be fit and healthy – not world athletic domination (wink). Because I am willing to compromise, it is easier to beat me most of the time. However, when (and if) I am on-my-game then it’s tough to beat me. The level of commitment required to go <8:30 style=""> I used to be haunted by that knowledge but I seem to have transcended my fear of never getting back there. I’m fortunate in that I simply like training and racing too much!
Some more things that I’ve noticed and I could be wrong here on the guys that I don’t directly advise. But, quite often, an unexpected set-back can set the tone for an athlete to breakthrough…
***My good buddy, Kevin Purcell, won his agegroup in
***I took close to a year off and got myself back into 8:36 shape within six months.
***When he was 65, supervet Ron Ottaway became one of only three men 65+ to go under 12-hours in Kona. That race performance followed a winter where he was forced by injury to keep volume low for close to three months.
***In July, Clas Bjorling went 8:15 in Roth following a month off (April) due to shingles.
Of course, perhaps what all these guys have in common is that they pushed themselves right to the limit over a long time. There needs to have been some pretty serious training, to get adaptations from a month of zeroes.
As an aside, Ron would want the record to show that he is 10+ years without a zero.
OK, those guys are rock stars. What does that have to do with the average athlete? Here’s another consideration…
Something that I notice in many endurance athletes is an active desire to hammer themselves silly. There must be an element of the endurance mind-set (or our culture, or our personal programming) that leads us towards self-damage in the search for fitness.
Fatigue is part of the training process and deep, deep fatigue is an essential part of ultraendurance training. But here are some things to consider from time to time…
Do you have a good feel for exactly how tired you are? How deep have you dug the hole? The highly motivated athletes that I know, generally, underestimate the fatigue they are carrying around and overestimate their ability sustain hard training. I include myself in this category. It is only when I rest that I realise just how fatigued I was.
How many times have you heard someone (perhaps yourself) say… “I don’t like to rest, I feel sluggish when I rest”. Personally, I believe that there are a lot of Top Ten agegroupers that could be Top Ten overall if they only freshened up from time-to-time. It is also a shame to watch some of my elite pals train their asses off then underperform at their key races. If you are doing it right and not getting the results that your training indicates then consider if “more” is really going to get you there.
Nobody really knows who trains and who doesn’t – I believe that most people can be out-worked if you have enough drive and time. When our results are deviating from our commitment – we are often trying too hard. It’s a tough message to believe but I’ve been beating some folks for a few years and I think that they’ve been out-training me. Of course, several thousand aerobic hours over the last six years must count for something.
Back to you…
What are your goals for sport?
Why do you participate?
Why are these questions important to everyone?
If your goal is performance then is your program making you better? Are you improving on the program that you’ve been following for the last one, two, three, four… years?
It’s very difficult to change ourselves – but we can change our advisers and, through them, our approach.
Some programs can make you get more tired than good. I have pals with programs that work great for them but I wouldn’t last two months on their protocol. Remember that there is no one answer and there is a lot of grey out there.
That’s why I like to look at the impact of the program, the coach, the approach… over a number of seasons. I gain a lot of satisfaction with helping athletes head in the right direction over time. I make plenty of mistakes and there are some folks that I can’t help. However, there are some athletes where my guidance has made a difference and that “difference” is what coaching is about for me.
Now you might be simply sitting on a plateau (that happens) but… if you’ve been consistently training for a couple of years with limited progress then you’re likely being hampered either from excess training stress or a lack of recovery. I’ll cover this more in an up-coming piece (Good, Better, Best – that will lay out my case for the physiological progression that I seek with ultra endurance training).
Realistically, the vast majority of athletes (in any sport) are in it more for personal satisfaction, than relative performance and this includes the most successful elites if you dig deep enough into their motivation. The best athletes have an internal satisfaction that comes from working towards and achieving various goals. If that’s the case then consider if being shelled most of your year is actually improving the quality of your life.
But you say you “need your training”… I know all about that but our training can also be a crutch behind which we fail to deal with other issues (emotional, nutritional…).
That brings me to the most important consideration of all…
Scott started talking about “my people” a few years ago in something I read of his on the internet. I’ll let him talk about “his” people in his own words – he is part of “my people”, though.
Who are “my people”? For me, they are the people that I’ve met along my journey with whom I could deeply relate and share a laugh. I’ve found them in finance, on beaches in
My tri-people… we are in triathlon as a lifestyle choice. That’s a cliché and doesn’t quite capture what I mean… more bluntly… training for triathlon is a socially acceptable addiction versus what we would certainly be doing if we were forced to stop (over-eating, booze, drugs, chasing ladies…).
Here’s where a good mentor comes in… constantly choosing a path that runs the risk of losing the exercise drug is pretty darn risky. The more you rely on your training for sanity, the more you’d do well to heed that tip.
Thing is… people like me, people like “my people” are prone to ignoring well meaning advice until it has been learned directly, repeatedly and painfully. I spend a lot of time assuring my crew that preventative rest is essential as well as performance enhancing.
When we are reaching for the highest level and smoke ourselves – a shattered immune system can feel like living in a very deep, very dark cave. Learning how best to schedule recovery is something that many (including the author) struggle with.
Of course, you could also say that it isn’t until you’ve pushed yourself over the edge that you really breakthrough. I think that there is something in that as well.
Epic France 2006
I am in a hotel room in
Oh yeah, my site’s been acting up with various viruses/Trojans. I’ve decided to pull the plug on the board. Seems a shame as the board exists as a vehicle to help people, perhaps it was time for a change.
This was our sixth attempt at Epic. At our fifth camp last January, I’d had a lot of struggle with fatigue/injury and only managed to complete about 80% of the schedule. This time around, I wanted to complete the entire camp as drafted.
When Scott put together the initial program for this camp, I was a bit concerned that he’d built a camp that was impossible for anyone to complete as drafted. Running a few numbers on the distances/average speeds I calculated that the second group would need to ride 90+ hours (over 11 days!) to complete the cycling, let alone being able to swim/run every day.
So we trimmed things down a bit to bring the camp into a range that would be feasible for the top guys to complete. The camps are always a massive stretch for the agegroup athletes to complete as drafted. Placing stubborn, highly motivated athletes into a position where personal compromise is highly likely is part of what we seek to achieve on the camps.
It’s also interesting to watch how the ride dynamics change. On day one, Monica rode with one athlete and I rode with nine. On day eleven, Monica finished with nine athletes and I finished with one… The process of personal compromise is often painful for the guys – generally, these are guys that resist getting dropped, seeing it as a form of personal failure. Personally, I think that the transformation is an essential lesson from the camp.
First… the goal is not to overcome (or survive) the efforts of others – rather – the goal is to place one in an environment where we are able to overcome the limits that we impose on ourselves. By (repeatedly) overcoming self-imposed limits we learn a few things. Quite often, I heard athletes saying that they “couldn’t do” something that we had scheduled. More accurately, they might be reflecting a fear that we might not be able to do something and that could “force” us to view ourselves as a failure. That brings the second point…
…failure isn’t fatal – over the course of the camp, we all “failed” in various ways. In fact, that is a part of the structure of the camp. To place people in a position where they might not make it (whatever “it” happens to be). Certainly, if an athlete arrived with a goal to ride at the front of every single ride then they would probably be forced to compromise at some stage (as Monica’s Day Eleven ride buddies might attest).
There is a form of freedom that comes from the realization that our performance is independent from ourselves. Some great athletes never manage to achieve that distinction – we were talking about that at our celebration dinner last night. Fear of failure stalking them throughout their careers and following them throughout their lives. Lives that are often filled with a lingering dissatisfaction with themselves (despite outward success). This cycle drives a number of high achievers that I know – you can get a lot done by tapping this source. However, it won’t really be all that satisfying and (I think) that, to truly breakthrough, one must free one’s self from the tension and distraction that comes from fear.
So the camps are designed in a way that at least half the folks won’t be able to do the whole thing. We have optional sessions, open days and the ability to tack on. This really bothers some people because no matter how much an athlete does… there’s likely someone doing more. Learning to choose how much is enough and learning what constitutes too much – that’s a valuable skill for an athlete.
The combination of our non-athletic commitments (work, family, other) impose constraints on us that limit both our training and our ultimate performance. Most people take comfort in these limits because they obscure the fact that most athletes are not doing everything that they can to achieve athletic success. That’s not a value statement – that’s a statement of fact. Most people make daily choices that result in limits being placed on their performance in all areas.
If you want to beat someone then you have to be willing to out-train them – consistently and for a long time. Sitting around telling yourself that you are doing “everything you can” won’t achieve that ultimate result. Results come from a relentless drive to remove anything that isn’t connected to your ultimate goal. Of course, few people have an idea on their ultimate goal either.
Epic removes all the distractions, all the excuses and lets the athletes experience what we often say we’d like – wouldn’t it be great to train all day, with support, with the best athletes… many are surprised to find that, actually, it would be pretty darn tiring! Now elites don’t train like we did every day – nobody can do that. However, the best athletes do front up for many years when tired, sick, injured – take a group of outstanding athletes, support them as best as possible and still… it’s darn tough to swim/bike/run every day for twelve days. The distractions of “superior” performances (am I measuring up); weather (its OK not to train today); fatigue (I did enough yesterday); and personal mental noise… these all add up.
But for each athlete that realises that elite athletics might not be the joy that they had envisioned – there are a few that have an “a-ha” moment on what it really takes. At least, they come to an understanding about what the journey of athletic discovery is really about. Being able to play a role in that discovery is a big part of what makes the camps fun for me.
During the camp, my total contact with the outside world consisted of a couple of secondhand email conversations and a telephone call from the side of the Tourmalet. The increase in personal energy that resulted from a total focus was amazing Eliminating all sharing of thought with the outside world. Even writing this article, Monica has noted a change in me.
The camps are intended to be very hard. We provide the athletes with an environment where they can nuke themselves or lift their fitness to new heights. There was quite a bit of talk during the camp about things being a bit too hard. I don’t really have an answer for that. Looking at my own performance, I had life best absolute bike performance on Day Eight of the camp (311w for 90 minutes through
***this followed a week of 50+ hours, where I was smashing myself most days
***that followed two weeks where I trained less than ten hours per week
***that followed two weeks completely off
***that followed Ironman
Conventional wisdom says that I shouldn’t have been able to do that. Mine wasn’t the only example – all the guys were consistently doing things that amazed themselves. Much of what we seek in the camps is to demonstrate to ourselves (and the campers) that conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply. I’d go further and note that most of the people setting the conventional wisdom are (by definition) pretty average in terms of personal achievement. There is a lot that can be learned from studying and participating with outlier performers – for me, bring a group of “outliers” together provides a very interesting case study.
Personal lessons from epic camp…what did I learn this time?
Last December, I was wondering if I’d ever get fit again – there’s a blog entry on that somewhere below. At the time, I had three types tendonitis going on in my knees, my feet were shot and I got _really_ tired with 2-4 hours of training per day. Seven months later, there’s been a massive transformation in my fitness. It’s tempting to call it miraculous but I know how many hours went into my body from 2000 to 2004.
The questions that I’d been wondering since last summer have now been answered and replaced with new ones.
Will I ever get back to elite-level training? Well, I answered that with this camp. It was the first time since February 2005 that I’ve been able to train “properly”. Properly means long and high quality main sets – 60 to 120 minute steady-state pulls mixed with 45 to 90 minutes of mod-hard to hard climbing. I melted everyone at the camp except Mike (one of the toughest guys that I’ve ever trained with) and myself.
The six months of base training that I did for Brazil Ironman enabled me to tolerate a surprising amount of hard training – long periods of mod-hard to hard intensity (most days) on the bike.
I did very little between
Coming off a successful training camp, it is tempting to keep-it-rolling with very challenging main sets and “race focus” training blocks. However, I’ve made that mistake before and won’t be repeating it. My goal remains to be speedy in August 2007 so I’ll keep doing the base preparation to absorb the training required to lift myself next year.
There’s a good article about training in Outside Magazine – read the Floyd Landis piece. Much of what I’ve been talking about above is in there.
At one level, I kept waiting to collapse during Epic. I figured that I’d wake up one morning completely nuked, or sick, or unmotivated. That kinda happened on Day Nine when I had a two hour nap in the morning. However, I was fine by lunch and strong for the following 48 hours. The lack of distractions and large amount of fun that I was having must have helped my happy mind overcome my fatigued body.
So I’ve seen that I can tolerate “proper” training again. More importantly, I learned that by trimming (eliminating?) my exposure to distractions, I enjoy that training immensely. Athletic “greatness” is there for the taking. The question is whether I will make the choices and commitments required to achieve my personal potential. My immune system; my non-athletic commitments; my wife… none are going to provide me with an easy out. I’m faced with a healthy body, supportive wife, and understanding business partner. If I don’t take this opportunity then it will be 100% down to my choice.
The realization that I have the ability (and opportunity) to again be a great IMer is a bit surprising. I am eight months ahead of where I expected to be.
I’ve been skipping around a bit. Hopefully, you’ve gotten something out of my thoughts. One last concept that I want to pass along.
Who is the leader in a training group? What is the role of a coach or leader within a training group?
For me, athletic leadership comes from helping others get the most out of themselves. It doesn’t imply being able to shell the entire camp at will. This camp we started the Green Jersey award for the athlete that most exemplified “epic values” for the day. For the camp, we awarded the jersey to Jeff Shilt. Jeff earned it by helping the entire camp get more out of their experience as well as demonstrating (daily) what we seek to achieve at Epic – a combo of JFT & Back-It-Up. He did it with a smile on his face, mostly.
I am currently on the World’s Favourite airline heading to London and onwards to Miami.
A few ideas that have been rolling through my head this week.
So I am at the airport in Christchurch now. About to start a long journey to Scotland via Auckland, Sydney, Singapore and London. Not the most direct way to get there but the most comfortable & productive that I could schedule.
Phew, what a few days. What does a guy think about when he’s pulling for eight hours? Not a whole lot really but here are some ideas. I could probably make this a pretty decent piece but I’ve only got just over an hour until dinner.
If I get myself rock-star-fit again then I hope I come back to this post so I can appreciate the turnaround.
Where the heck do all these ideas come from? I've no idea but they just keep rolling. My only escape is to write them down. Typically, I publish about 10% of what I write (and actually write down about 10-30% of what I dream up). With this blog, I've been writing a lot more. Perhaps I'll settle down in a bit.
I've been thinking about this piece during all my runs for the last week.
Here's an interesting post I wrote six years ago.
What makes me smile is that I was thinking six years back when I wrote it. And now... we are six years ahead.
...and I had absolutely NO clue what was possible back then, as a "speedy" 10.5 hour guy.
...and I realize that, even as a 8.5 hour guy, I was merely decent. For me, now, speed doesn't really start until you are a low 8-hour guy and even that seems reasonable on certain courses.
We don't need a whole lot of single sport talent to manage a 20-minute 1,500, hold 250w for the bike and hold 3:50 min Ks for a marathon. In fact, as a single sporter, you'd simply be "good for a working athlete". Hardly international class.
Molina once told me that was the great thing about triathlon -- you truly can out work your competition. My experience is that it's the way in most things, providing we define success correctly.
I was reading an article the other day when the writer basically said... "I wish that it was different but due to my lack of **** I'll never..."