24 November 2008

High Performance Coaching


These week I will share some thoughts/ideas that came out of three days at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.  I've been quite busy on the business front -- apologies if your waiting for an email reply.  I spend my spare time with Monica and Alexandra.  I've also been doing yard work -- gets me away from my desk and into the sun!

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If you are looking for Christmas gift ideas then send your congressman a copy of Atlas Shrugged. If you don't get the joke then you MUST read the book.

Financial bail outs, automobile bail outs, housing bail outs... we are close to making the common investment mistake of throwing good money after bad. As well, we're throwing a lot of money! Government does a crappy job with capital allocation. If you want to stimulate the economy then leave: (a) cash with people that are going to spend it; and (b) capital with people that know how to allocate it.  You get a lot more bang for your buck when you let the private sector allocate capital and fend for itself.

The Dow is about 40% off its peak, other markets are up to 60% down... property markets are 15-35% down (more if you HAVE to sell). Similar to how inflation was understated during the Great Expansion. The deflationary effects are being understated during the Great Unwinding. 

Considering human nature, and the fact that most of my countrymen are grossly over-leveraged... I am going to start moving from a deflation-defensive portfolio to an inflation-defensive portfolio. Just gotta figure out how. Throw your ideas in the comments section for me!

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High Performance Coaching
I haven't forgotten about your marathon questions, just pretty darn busy these days with a combination business obligations and the launch of my new coaching website (the developers are ahead of me for the first time in my life).

If you look many sports then you will find that the best high performance coaches are not necessarily the highest performers in their own lives.  This is because athletic performance measures a VERY narrow, but highly valued, aspect of human performance

Within my own life, I see myself as a high performer who enjoys teaching, rather than a high performance coach. It's an important distinction -- your kids would be safe with me.  I define success on whether your life is better having known me.

There is a fundamental paradox in elite athletics that you have to be willing to completely ruin yourself to achieve your maximum athletic potential -- what a lot of us miss is knowing the appropriate time to take that chance. Similar to many areas in life, a risk maximizing approach leads to disaster, more often than not.

When I meet MDs, PhDs, and coaches involved in elite athletics, I like to challenge them on our role in feeding the self-destructive tendencies in many of our athletes. As Bobby McGee notes, in some cases a coach's true role is giving their athletes the confidence and self-love to leave their addiction behind.

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OK with that philosophical opener, I'll toss out the best tidbits from the three days.

What is a level three coach?
If you'd asked me that a week ago, I would have told you... "one level up from level two" and I think that is what nearly every triathlon coach in America thinks. Here's what I was told, and it makes a lot of sense.

A Level Three Coach is:
  • a high performance coach
  • knowledgeable in draft-legal short course racing
  • able to assist an athlete that aspires to Olympic-level competition
As Coach KP noted in Colorado Springs... once you realize those points, there is a clear commitment to supporting the US Olympic program if you apply to become a Level Three coach. I think that is a good thing. I also think that we need to do a far better job communicating to the triathlon membership, as well as the coaches.

The goal of a Level Three coach is to help the US win Olympic medals -- I think that's the fundamental point. Given that 50% of the USAT budget comes from the amateur membership -- we should probably get clarity on that point. From my own point of view, aside from USAT helping to make amateur races insurable, I'm happy to support that goal.

The structure of the elite coaching program is being shifted from a "pull the athletes to Co Springs" to "support the athletes/coaches where they want to train". There is a lot of good stuff happening with ideas about supporting centers-of-excellence around the country. In my experience (colored by global triathlon adventures), this is absolutely the right way to handle it.

One dedicated coach, surrounded by a core group of athletes that will turn up EVERY day... is all it takes to create a world-class program. We've seen that in Christchurch, Victoria, the Gold Coast, Boulder, and wherever Sutto happens to be.

The sports science, sports psychology, testing, biomechanics... all the bolt on services... these are great but it is easy to lose sight of the main point about athletic performance. Programs get results from incentives that encourage athletes to train more than they ever thought possible. 

If our goal is Olympic medals that we want as wide a base as possible (recruitment) and a long term vision to build the athletes with potential (long term development). Spending a lot of money sending people to foreign races is a waste of time. 

Focus on recruitment, long term development and providing local races for the athletes with potential to win prize money -- don't hand money out -- let the good athletes win it. 

Make things hard for the athletes -- if an athlete lacks the passion, or the ability, better for everyone that they drop out early and find an area where they can be successful.

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We talked about the ITU points structure -- an area where I was completely clueless. I'm not going to recreate it here but, if you want to coach elites, then I suggest you get someone to teach you about it. It's pretty fundamental.

We talked about standardized testing and I will share these:

Swim -- 200 from a dive (max effort) -- rest one minute -- 800 from a push (best time)

Bike -- continuous 2 min intervals of 10w starting at 150w (men) and 100w (ladies) -- go to failure, track HR

Brick -- Junior targets are 30 minutes at 190w/260w (female/male) then 3K for time -- no more than 15s RI between bike/run. You might say "what about the small people" -- the wattage target isn't fair. Well, ITU racing isn't fair and if you can't hit the target then you'll likely get shelled out the back. Besides, you'll get some of it back on the run TT if you are small.

You will be able to find more benchmarks on the USAT website shortly.

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Sounds like they do a lot of supplemental oxygen training -- 26% and 60% mixtures.  I won't get into the specifics but will say that they believe it is important if an elite short course athlete lives at altitude full time.

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Functional exercises:
  • Goal is functional mastery NOT reps. Very important to move away from rep targets as athletes will always sacrifice form to hit targets.
  • Keep brain engaged and stop when mentally fatigued.
  • Start with NO load, have reset points, do movement pattern.
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Great line from the sports psychologist -- "The less clothes the athlete wears in competition the greater the chance for an eating disorder. I've never worked with a hockey player that had an eating disorder."

To develop mentally strong people, watch conditional love in your coaching -- proportion time & praise. You might get short term results from tough love but at maximum competition (Olympic Level) -- tough love athletes are much more prone to cracking.

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We met Krista Austin in the sports science department and bent her ear for three hours. She is the best sports scientist that I've ever met for translating science to performance. We talked about lactate, altitude, nutrition, depletion training and limits to performance. Highlights:

Capacity to raise lactate is often related to fueling. Athletes that lose top end lactate numbers could be chronically depleted.

She likes to track "fatigue rate" in training as a measure of performance. Similar to decoupling in longer steady state efforts but, for traditional endurance events, up to 2 hours, they might use VO2, or FT, intensity.

It takes 3 mins for lactate to stabilise in the muscles, then a further 2 mins to get out to the blood. Many labs use three minute steps then tie lactate values to the previous step to get around this point. She recommends sampling at the 5 min mark.

To get around issues with athletes blowing off CO2 when straddling during a treadmill fuel test (for lactates) they only plot the last minute of each 5 min step.  Good idea for us to test run fueling.

They start quite "high" in terms of intensity with their tests.  Might work for elites -- I had reservations about the data shown to me every for some of the national team members.  Looked like excessive speed early in the test.

Intermittent Hypoxic Training -- the first sports scientist that I've come across that has concluded that the main pathway for altitude benefits is via exercise in a desaturated state. She has done some really neat work with desaturation in training.

Altitude -- most people need about 300 hours of sleeping at altitude to get the training benefit. Points to a 5-7 week camp being optimal as well as endurance phases (at altitude) alternating with speed/recovery phases at sea level. Not practical for amateurs but very interesting for elites.

We discussed my personal protocol of extended steady with some mod-hard at altitude as well as my preferred altitudes for desaturation training.

VO2 -- interestingly, she said it takes 2-3 years for VO2 to plateau in elites. That's a lot longer than I normally hear.

Functional Strength vs Aerobic Power -- she made an interesting point that a lack of functional strength (gym strength, hill strength, one rep max) can result in athletes falling apart in longer highly intense aerobic efforts. We chatted about the need for athletes to tolerate extended work loads above goal ultraendurance effort in order to sustain race effort. We see this a lot in Ironman when an athlete "ought to" be able to hold a certain wattage but blows up (power/pace peaks aside).

Depletion training -- she talked me through protocols to enhance fat oxidation through depletion in training. I noted that my experience is that there are far greater gains to come from nutrition changes outside of training. I also noted that the self-destructive tendencies of ultraendurance athletes can get out of hand here. She noted that if she uses this technique then it is a specific, rather than chronic, protocol.

Dedydration and Performance -- she made a neat point that (within reason) economy gains from dehydration weight loss can overcome declines in performance.  Fits with my observation of managed dehydration in elite competition.

She saw merit in Asker Jeukendrup's approach to nutrition. She notes that athletes with body comp challenges tend to eat the wrong types of food at the wrong times -- it was more than a case of amount of energy. A lot of what she said sounded like Joe Friel.  She sees a lack of protein, good fats and veggies in most athletic diets.

For fast men over 155 lbs, I told her that I also like to train the fueling side of things -- i.e. the capacity to easily process fluids and nutrition during extended periods of steady to mod-hard exercise. This is a limiter for high performance long course racing -- but not ITU.  Not a focus for her -- makes sense as this is a limiter for 7+ hour competitions.

I'm going to invite Krista to our Boulder Clinic (July 2009) to chat nutrition and exercise physiology. I am also going to get our Boulder Clinic certified so that we can offer CEUs (coaching education units) -- good for qualified coaches as well as making your costs tax deductible. Drop me a line for more info.

We talked about errors in met cart measurements -- Douglas Bag (up to 2%); Parvo (up to 9%); New Leaf (up to 19%).

To have 99% confidence in a lactate measurement -- you need to allow +/- 0.6 mmol.
To have 99% confidence in a HR measurement -- you need to allow +/- 6 bpm.

Therefore, measurement tools should be used as a guide. Refreshing to have an honest talk about the limits of scientific precision.

I will end with a final tip for cold water racing... bring a thermos of warm water to "pre load" the wetsuit before water entry. Avoids all that cold water coming into the suit.

Back next week,
gordo


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05 July 2008

Altitude -- Part Two


The picture above is Molina and me on Day Four of our high altitude training camp. We are on Loveland Pass, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Rockies.

Two weeks ago, I offered some general outlines for training camps. A little over a year ago, I offered some general outlines for altitude training. In reviewing those pieces, it struck me that they lacked practical advice for how YOU might approach a training camp at altitude. So that is my mission this week... offer you practical tips on how to get the most out of a 3-10 day altitude camp.

Why go to altitude?
Training at altitude produces desirable physiological changes for endurance athletes. My experience is that the most valuable (and potent) altitude stimuli occurs via blood desaturation during exercise at altitude. If you want to review the science on altitude then see the two book references at the bottom of this piece -- the books contain summaries of the best work that has been done on altitude.

For the endurance athlete, I define altitude:
Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

The first tip is to spend the bulk of your training camp one level higher than home. For example, if you live at sea level then be based at moderate altitude (4,500 to 6,500 feet). Remember that the primary goal is blood desaturation, then recovery. If you live/train too high then you end up with excessive desaturation and inferior recovery. Each day during training, feel free to sneak up a further level -- however -- be careful when training two-levels-up as fatigue/training stress is greatly magnified.

At an altitude camp, my main goals are (order of importance):
  1. Increased red blood cell growth via blood desaturation during training (my main goal each day)
  2. Build endurance through volume overload
  3. Maintain sport specific strength via hills (bike/run), big gear work (bike) and paddles (swim). I find low cadence work (swim/bike) to be well-tolerated.
  4. Enhance LT (not FT) performance via sub-LT, mod-hard blocks (generally 10-20 minute pieces at the end of an hour steady-state main set). See file at bottom for explanation of my terms.
  5. Maintain general strength -- keep overall training load such that I have enough energy to hit the gym every 4-6 days.
Some altitude training locations:
  • Jindabyne, NSW, Australia (3,000 feet; nearby Thredbo is 4,500 feet)
  • Bend, OR (3,600 feet)
  • Boulder, CO (5,400 feet)
  • Font Romeu, France (6,000 feet)
  • Vail, CO (8,300 feet)
My most common mistake with training at altitude is going too hard during the camp. Don't race during altitude training camps.

Tips to avoid going "too hard":
  • If you have access to sport specific testing then keep your heart rate under lactate threshold (as defined in the file below, ~2mmol definition of LT)
  • If you don't have access to testing then Mark Allen's MAP formula makes an effective cap, not target!
  • If you can blow yourself up in group training situations then: (a) make sure your camp partners are physically weaker than you; and/or (b) drop off the back _immediately_ when you hit the long climbs.
I have seen outstanding athletes ruin their training camps on day ONE, from ignoring the tip above. Even if you follow that tip, you may find that your early days at altitude leave you quite tired.

As well:
  • Disrupted Sleep -- if you can't sleep then assume you are training too intensely, reduce your heart rate cap by 10 bpm for 48 hours to regroup.
  • Sleep -- even if I have a little trouble sleeping, I make sure that I lie down for 10 hours per day. Molina likes naps -- I skip them so that I can fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Work -- don't expect to get any work done, you may be able to field easy telephone calls but you won't be able to devote much quality thought
  • Family -- don't con your spouse into running support. Keep family vacations about family.
  • Fitness -- arrive fit and train below your level of fitness. Altitude and increased training volume will give you the stimulus you desire.
  • Hydration -- in your first 72 hours at altitude increase your rate of hydration when training and across the night.
  • Nutrition -- always keep your heart rate down for the first two hours that follow solid food (if you ignore this tip then you will get "GI-feedback" that may have you sleeping on the couch). During training, keep your solids for the tops of long descents and use liquid nutrition. Make sure you have a protein source across your long training days. Avoid depletion, I tend to gain a couple of pounds during my most successful training camps.
Final Tips:
  • Gizmos -- leave your GPS and Powermeter at home, your training paces and power will be impaired at altitude -- this is the price you pay for building those red blood cells. I place my PowerTap in heart rate mode so that I am not tempted to chase watts.
  • Gearing -- use humble gearing. Most athletes will do best running a triple up front with a 30-tooth small ring. You need a lot of gears to stay under your heart rate cap in the early days.
  • Swimming -- unless you are a very efficient swimmer then you will have to dial your swimming way down. A good rule of thumb is to add 10% to your send-offs for each "step up" you take in altitude. Yes, you will likely need 20% more time to survive a workout in Vail if you are coming from sea level.
  • Running -- run easy and consider substituting trail hiking for your long runs.
  • Fun -- I was really lucky to have Scott along for this camp. He is my ideal training partner -- stronger than me mentally, great attitude outside of training and not seeking to kill me in training. I caught him looking at a map of South Western Colorado this morning so perhaps I can tempt him back in 2009!
  • Jacket -- always carry a rain jacket -- every single ride -- the weather changes FAST in the mountains
Finally, one that I learned from Chuckie V, NEVER CLIMB INTO LIGHTNING. The mountains will be there next time.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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Recommended Reading
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Files for Download

Endurance Corner Training Zones and Physiological Markers

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08 March 2008

US PPP, UK Property and Sports Knowledge


Check out that photo... Makes me want to ride! In three months time Epic Camp is heading to Italy. Johno and Ian are perfecting the logistics for how we will get up the Stelvio Pass (pictured). If you would like to join us (June 8th to 15th) then drop me a line with your triathlon CV.

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Visiting Europe & UK Property
I am currently mid-way through a European business trip and tapping on my computer in Edinburgh, Scotland. The UK is certainly expensive for the dollar-based visitor -- Yesterday I went through $100 and that only included a visit to a health club and some breakfast. Out of all the countries that I visit in the world, the US appears to be offering the best value right now. I have been considering how to take advantage of that point but haven't come up with much (other than telling my European business contacts to diversify away from Euro-based assets).

A few years ago no one in my peer group wanted to hold Euro assets. Now, many talk as if the dollar is heading for a permanent slide. My simple purchasing-power-parity (PPP) analysis from my global journeys is telling me something different.

Here in Scotland, I am the director of a firm that specializes in prime residential development. I work in the Scottish part of the company's portfolio -- they also have projects in London, Boston, New York and Dubai. Generally, the company follows a buy-build-hold strategy but we do sell a portion of the portfolio each year. The sales enable us to 'prove' our valuations to bankers/shareholders and manage the overall composition of the portfolio.

For those of you interested in residential property prices here is what we are seeing -- the prime Scottish sector grew 5% last year and has been flat in the early part of 2008. This is against a backdrop of 10-20% falls in the UK's new build and 'investment' sector.

Up-and-coming market segments and secondary locations are under extreme pressure -- investors, and firms, that bought heavily into the new build sector are going to have a very tough time.

Given our financing strength, we had been hoping to make distressed purchases. We aren't seeing many of these and good deals remain competitively priced. One favorable change is that development margins have expanded back to 2004 levels. Of course, that might be the result of our sales assumptions being more rosy that our competition. UK home buyer sentiment is as bad as I've seen it in the last 15 years but prime prices are stable (paradox #1). It will be interesting to watch how the market moves over the next 12 months.

The credit markets are tight but we have been approached by lenders that are keen to build their loan books in prime residential (paradox #2). While the credit markets are poor (in general), we are being offered loans at attractive prices. Similar to the property markets, there is a lot of variation within the credit markets.

Within our key financial relationships, liquidity is more of an issue than credit -- banks want to do more deals than they can fund with their balance sheet. They are limited by the short-term funding capacity of their balance sheets, not the quality of their deal flow. (Paradox #3) We remain the other way around -- high quality prime property deals are in shorter supply than capital.

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Who Controls Knowledge?
Scientific research costs money, takes time and is very difficult to control. Have you ever wondered wondered who funds the research that we take for granted? Have you ever considered if the population studied is an accurate representation of your current position?

I ask these questions because (in ultraendurance) the best athletes appear to do impossible feats -- coping with excessive hydration, dealing with material dehydration, superior fat oxidization, superior carbohydrate metabolism... it can seem that everywhere I look in ultradistance triathlon, there are outliers that don't fit the data.

By definition, the highest athletic performers are outliers but I wonder if industry-funded research on collegiate men (or sedentary adults) is the most accurate representation of my peer group. I'm also aware that, in a market with limited funding, the established players have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and their position.

Specifically, I've been thinking about how I perform...

***my capacity to process food (huge)
***my performance when dehydrated (just fine, mostly)
***my ability to remove fluids from my gut (massive)
***my capacity to oxidize fat for fuel and/or my ultraeconomy (unable to explain via the literature)
***my power/pace profile when fit (far below average reduction from VO2 down to AeT)

How much of the above is genetic, how much was trained, how much is due to the 'norms' being inaccurate? We may never know for sure and worrying about our profile is likely a waste of time. Focus on enjoying the training and see what happens.

There is a lot of silent evidence that is lost when people that aren't suited to ultradistance athletics retire from the sport. Each year, a BIG segment of long distance triathletes disappear. In most fields, people that underperform relative to effort (low inherent ability) fade into the background. Evidence from people that outperform relative to effort (high inherent ability) is what we cling to. The mind wants to believe that there might be an easy way... if only we had the magic protocol... [motivation, inherent ability, opportunity, time, luck].

One benefit that we have within our Boulder team is a wide range of physiological baselines. Alan is the most science-savvy team member and he faces the greatest physiological hurdles for going long. If you read his blog then you'll see that (physically) he performs best at 10-30 minute efforts -- one of the toughest zones for me to perform in. Triathlon is the only sport where a sprint takes 60-90 minutes!

Alan and I were talking about motivation for athletics -- performance vs enjoyment. Understanding our motivation is important because it relates to the satisfaction that we receive from our sport.

For example, I am an enjoyment-oriented athlete (that happens to have high inherent ability for ultra-distance triathlon). The least satisfying periods of my athletic 'career' have been when I focused on performance benchmarks. Working within a team, or with a coach, that is highly performance driven totally drains me. Interestingly it took me NINE years to figure this out!

That said, performance-oriented coaches have helped me breakthrough with my racing. Sometimes this was enjoyable, sometimes not!

Knowing what drives you, and your clients, is an important consideration in ALL advisory fields (finance, business, academics, athletics). To be effective teachers, we need to understand the values of our clients, and ourselves.

Coaches can't create motivation but we can certainly kill it.

Back next week,
gordo

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19 October 2007

Lab Work, Career Beginnings and Entitlement

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

I Replied...
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.
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Lab Work
We have been playing in the lab this past week. I did four tests (bike lactate step with fuel; max aerobic run; resting metabolic rate; and a brick where I held AeT wattage for 80 minutes). So far, no ground breaking insights and I appear to be pretty normal.

Running the fuel test in tandem with the lactate test is very interesting (to me at least). In some athletes we are seeing material divergence between their lactate profile (AeT/FT) and their met-cart profile (AeT/VT1/FT). Often times the lactate test indicates that the athlete ought to be training more intensely than the fuel test. The fuel test has given us an insight into why using top end performance to determine endurance training zones is prone to error. We'd kill Alan if we used a 20 min max effort test to set his endurance zones on the bike -- he can really rip when there's plenty of glycogen available. I'm sure that he'll write more after we arm him with a bit more data. For what it's worth, this is where in-the-field experience is invaluable -- the testing provided us with a metabolic reason for him being so whipped all the time.

Given that nearly every athlete wants to know the pace/power/intensity at which their fat burning is maximized we're putting together a progressive test to determine that point for recreational athletes. My sister-in-law runs daily on her treadmill so she's the perfect candidate to test our protocol. In an up-coming letter I will share ideas on burning more fat, and storing less.

Visiting various labs and speaking with a range of PhDs, it is surprising to us that every lab (and just about every sports scientist) has a unique protocol for VO2 max testing. We've arrived at our own consensus and will be running it past a few personal contacts. A few more weeks and we will publish where we ended up. Seems that there is a fair amount of "art" in the testing science.

Drop mat "at" endurancecorner.com a line if you are interested in some testing.

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Career Beginnings
I read pmarca's blog from time-to-time and came across an interesting piece on where to work. Thinking back to my own path, it is excellent advice.

I stumbled into Private Equity in 1990 -- I was hand-trained by a founder of the British venture capital industry (Jon Moulton). I think that Jon would say that the article I linked up is reasonable -- the amount of cash that flows into all segments of the finance industry is unbelievable. Many of the players within the game believe that they actually deserve it, others stay quiet and earn their money below the radar. Jon comes out and says what many of us have been thinking for years.

Jon plays a game at which he is a world-class player -- it's fun to do things when you are better than most your competition. I think that he's the only person in the world that's built two leading private equity firms from scratch. He makes a lot of money but could make even more if he felt like pushing things. His business serves his desire to work with great people and play the game -- financially, he's had more than he needed for the last twenty years.

He knows a lot lot about money and I hope that he sits down and writes out his thoughts one day -- that's a book I'd love to help write. We have access to Warren Buffet's annual reports but there's a ton of great stuff that's scattered amongst the memories of Jon's employees, partners and managers.

Here's a bit on how I met him... against the advice of the senior partner that interviewed me, Jon decided to hire me straight out of university. These days, nobody really gets that chance -- the industry players are, for the most part, established players and it is VERY tough to get a seat at the golden table.

Back in 1990, I was cheap, graduated with first-class honors (Econ/Finance) and Jon knew my Dad. The first two points were a key part of his buying decision -- Jon likes to hire smart people. He figures that if you can score well at a good school then you should be "useful for something". Knowing my Dad limited his downside because he could recoup his investment via satire.

From the early days, I was fortunate in that he found most of my flaws entertaining (there were many). Jon likes to be entertained. His wit is so fast that it took me six months until I was able to understand what he was saying. His partners used to translate for me and, even today, I probably miss many of his jokes. He's operating at a pretty high level.

My starting pay was less than the cleaners and my desk was the only one in the firm that Jon could see from his own. That made for interesting times as he would lean forward and shout "Byrn! Heel!" when he had a task for me. I'd drop everything and come running. Whenever I was given a task by Jon, I'd work non-stop until it was done. One management team nicknamed me "the rottweiler", I had a lot to learn about people skills.

Jon's done more for diversity in the financial services industry than any other person I've met in my career -- I'm surprised that no one ever talks about that. Hand ups, rather than handouts. To see this, you would need to look to the man's actions rather than his words -- Jon would probably tell you that he only hires the best people and doesn't give a stuff about backgrounds. That's true but doesn't explain the texture of most of his competitors.

I worked in London at a time when capital under management was benefiting from rapid portfolio growth and a shift in asset allocation. We knew that the industry fundamentals were good but we failed to grasp just how fast our world was changing. We were lucky to have some very bright Harvard MBAs on the team that provided strategic background -- Jon was at his best adding value to the firm by doing good deals, rather than strategic oversight.

The American players were the Big Boys (with their private jets and stretch limos) but we held our own in terms of net returns. The concepts of portfolio management and net returns were in their infancy. I was one of the first people to build a full-fledged model of a private equity fund, Jon's idea, not mine! Because our returns were great, we were in a position to educate our investors without risking our P&L, rare in financial services!

Another great idea Jon had was to calculate the equity IRR from doing a buy-out of the FTSE index and rolling all interest (after dividends) for five years. He loved it when my calculation (looking back five years) showed an equity IRR of 30% per annum. This was 1992 and the parallels to today's hedge fund industry are clear -- making money from leverage rather than sound investment judgment.

I worked internationally, first in London then in Hong Kong. When I'd plateaued in terms of personal development, I headed out on my own and have been involved in founding start-ups since then (property investment, property development, consulting, human performance, tourism).

Operations aren't my forte. As you might guess from reading my stuff -- what I do best is take a range of ideas; assemble them in the language of finance; and structure a deal/company so that good people get involved in supporting the plan. I do the easy bit -- the people that execute daily do the tough stuff.

As I emphasize to Alan and Mat, make the most of your learning opportunities. Boulder, 2007, human performance, alongside an experienced coach/investor/athlete. I didn't realize how unique my situation was until years after working for Jon.

Similar to my piece on the future of the coaching industry; I have a piece in my head on the future of Human Performance consulting. I'll write that up because there is an opportunity to create a world-class business in Boulder and I need help with the day-to-day.

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Health Warning
I'm being pretty direct below and when I re-read it... I sound a little negative on "living the dream". I suppose that is because most of the elites that I meet are a bit clueless on what they are heading for as well as the long term implications of their decisions. Still, poverty isn't fatal and athletics is a lot of fun.

My decision to seek to maximize my athletic potential in 2000 was an outstanding life decision -- in a sense, I saved my life. However, the financial benefits that one forgoes in following an athletic path are material. Nobody (coaches, athletes, race directors) goes into triathlon for the money.

If you think that you are too "poor" to afford health insurance then I recommend that you reconsider. I have many friends in our sport that have sustained medical bills in excess of $10,000 within the last five years. The highest that I know about is more than $100,000. If something happens to you then it's going to be pretty major -- a high deductible insurance policy costs very little relative to the financial impact of most cycling accidents (Alan/Mat pay ~$150 per month for a PPO plan that includes dental).

Taking $2,500 or $5,000 on the chin is nothing compared to a six figure bill landing in your lap. For my family, I self-insure the small to moderate stuff with a gold standard plan that backs me up for anything major.

When deciding what constitutes major; consider it as a percentage of your personal Net Asset Value.

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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 China and India for anyone that believes otherwise. Elites are free at any time to get themselves a job in the traditional workforce – most “pros” in all sports have at least a part-time “real” job.

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 New Zealand) that make it “hard” on their elites are doing them (and their taxpayers) a favour. If an athlete’s prospects are poor then we certainly don’t want to make it easier for them to hang on – a trip back to the traditional workforce can be educational and do wonders to motivate those on the edge.

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!

As Ms Rand noted... China, Russia and others have tried a system that tried to be fair to everyone -- it had all the wrong incentives.

More next week,

gordo

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10 August 2007

True Limiters


The photo this week is a snap from this morning's lab testing. That's Mat working on my most recent lab test (we have lab coats but he seems more comfortable in a Jack Daniels t-shirt). We are at the very early stages and it's been a lot of fun for all the team.

Alan is going to write up some thoughts on Lactate Testing -- he's at two pages already -- you'll find the article over on his blog in a few days. He's got all our data so it might be interesting for you to review.

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I've made a few adjustments to my gear for IM Canada.

I've always wondered what difference it would make to have the _absolute_ best equipment available to me on race day. The good people at Planet-X offered to pimp my TT bike so I can transfer extra watts through to to the road. That's very much appreciated!

On race wheels, I'm likely to run the set of Xentis-TTs. Given that I thought a 23 was a 27 on my hill TT and they accelerate faster than a disc -- I figure that they will be the most efficient wheel set for me. The IMC bike course involves plenty of pace changes so I'll trade a bit of high-velocity straight-ahead aero to reduce power spikes on pace changes.

Probably the biggest change is that I'll not run a powermeter this year -- no post-ride data for you. I thought quite a bit about this decision and it feels right for me. With eight years on power, I'll use the Force (and my heart rate monitor) to guide me.

I'm keen for pace feedback on the run but haven't made a final decision on whether to run an HRM. My physiological testing has confirmed my 'feel' at various paces and I've raced that marathon course plenty of times -- the key components of (my) running fast in Penticton are pace, rather than effort based.

My buddy Chris McDonald set me up with some compression socks -- they don't match my speedo but you might see them on the run. My fashion choices amuse me and a bit of internal amusement can come in handy towards the end of the race. This might mean that I don't run my second choice socks... too bad as they _really_ entertain me.

Guess I can wear them to the pro meeting...

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Poker Pacing

Within our training group this summer, one guy has managed to lift his run performance much more than the rest of us -- Jeff Shilt. I asked Dr. J to share his approach for getting the most out of his run sessions and he wrote this week's Alternative Perspectives for us. This is a practical explanation of Lydiard's advice to always "come-back-faster-than-you-went-out" when running.

Jeff (gleefully) pulls large handfuls of time out of the more 'spirited' Lads in the back halves of his run and swim workouts. I believe that there is a material physiological benefit to training this way. Jeff has deeply ingrained a mind-body connection of always finishing strong.

Under stress, (I expect that) he will revert to the pattern of backing off early and finishing very strong. Many athletes think that they will be able to "race different than training". Under stress, you are very likely to revert to your most deeply held memories and patterns. This is why athletes that love high intensity training are at a disadvantage in ultra-distance racing -- they have little practical knowledge of the difference between easy/steady/mod-hard... to them... it is all "slow".

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Getting into Coaching

Mike Ricci, Mat and I cut our first podcast this week. Hopefully, I won't put you to sleep because I need to be more animated! We started recording 15 mins after a decent swim workout -- guess I was a bit flat. We'll need a bit of time to get it live -- this is all new for us.

I'll try to do better for you when we cut the "Going Pro" piece -- please email me questions that you have. I'll see if my buddy, Chris McDonald, will join me for that one -- he knows the raw reality of "living the dream".

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A reader sent me an interesting interview with Renato Canova -- the article provided interesting things to consider. Two of Canova's key beliefs struck me as particularly relevant:

(a) the need for change within an athlete's program -- the dynamic nature of athletic fitness across an athlete's lifespan; and

(b) the need to minimize fuel consumption at specific event pace.

Fuel consumption (and mix) is an essential consideration for ultradistance athletes -- it may go some way to explaining why the fastest athletes (defined as pace/power at FT) don't always win Ironman.

For what it is worth, for events over seven hours, I'd define race-specific fitness as power/pace at AeT and I'd measure how well-trained an ultra athlete is by calculating AeT power/pace as a percentage of VO2-Max power/pace. The more traditional benchmark is to use Functional Threshold, rather than Aerobic Threshold.

I'll let Jeff and Alan pick this up after we've reached internal agreement on the terminology that we'll be using at Endurance Corner. There are many ways to say the same thing.

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Recent Books

With my recent focus on Ironman Canada, my reading has taken a backseat -- however, I did have time to read an interesting book on running -- Run Easy by Ron Clarke. It was another one from Alan's extensive library -- likely out of print in the USA.

This past weekend, Mat lent me his copy of Lance Armstrong's War -- the insight into the cultural and social background of the pro peleton was the most interesting part for me.

Like Lance, I take note of the people that speak of me in public. They give me extra motivation to ensure that I do my absolute best to achieve my absolute best. If I am honest, then (for some reason) even the folks that merely mention me tend to fire me up. I've asked the Lads to _never_ _ever_ defend me in public.

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True Limiters

Alan and I were talking about performance the other day and he made the comment that one of the things that he liked about my philosophy was my view that genetics don’t play a large part in athletic performance. If a guy in our office thinks that I said that then I’d better clarify my position. I’ll do that in a minute.

Daniels talks about the ingredients for success in his book. His ingredients are: Inherent Ability; Motivation; Opportunity; and Direction. At the end of that opening chapter, he sums up that the ingredients essentially boil down to ability and motivation.

To clarify, genetics play a key role in how far (and fast) you’ll progress relative to others. However, your DNA plays much less of a role in how far you’ll progress relative to yourself. You’re ultimate achievement will be impacted far more by non-physiological factors than many think. [For the purposes of this article, I will overlook work on the role of genetic modes of expression in brain function.]

In a culture where motivation is driven (largely) from relative performance -- genetics will, therefore, play more of role in determining how close you’ll come to your Ultimate Potential. Why? Because many people are externally, rather than internally motivated.

What prevents athletes (or anyone else) from realizing their Ultimate Potential in a given field? I’ve watched many highly successful people over the last eighteen years and will share some observations on what truly limits us.

Resistance to Change -- I'm on record (somewhere) having said that I've never met a problem that couldn't be overcome by additional effort. That philosophy served me very well. I achieved an 8:29 Ironman and a couple of second places. I then spent most of 2005 nuked and used my same patterns to take me back to a 3rd place finish (22 minutes slower than my best). In order to move past my previous success (or even try to get back to it) -- I had to make simple, yet deep, changes to my fundamental beliefs about endurance

Ego -- in his blog, Mat writes about the challenges of training with guys that he knows are faster than him. He closes wondering if he will have the humility to let people that he "knows are slower" go up the road. I asked him if he really knew the background of everyone that he'll be racing in Kentucky. Keying off a stranger that's bent on blowing themselves up can be a dangerous strategy. I know a few guys that have made tactical decisions based on athletes that didn't even finish the bike leg.

Control -- training and racing produce strong emotions at times. Over the last month, I've cried when running well -- fitness is a strong drug and the emotions that result from the various chemicals that we release with powerful training can cause strange actions. I interpret most strong emotions as "power" -- some of my training pals interpret them into anger (or disrespect). That can be useful if you've got a hard interval to do but disastrous if you are 60 miles from home on an endurance ride. Probably the most talented guy that I ever trained with confided in me that he was simply unable to control himself when racing -- great for Half IM and shorter races but he never fulfilled his long course potential.

Financial Stability -- spending a good chunk of our lives working at our maximum capacity (and resting from triathlon) is the greatest performance enhancer a tired athlete can do for themselves. Like most stressors, you don't realize how much debt/poverty drains you until you've removed it (and recovered).

Recovery -- I write about this one a lot. I know athletes that have been watching their racing slow for multiple seasons, yet struggle to see what the cause might be. I also watch athletes coping with running injuries, adjust their programs by making everything "quality" and reverting to patterns that have caused happiness in the past (e.g. back-to-back IM racing). Some of these athletes are coached by the smartest people in our sport -- you have to wonder if people are considering the cause of chronic fatigue and injury.

Time -- for people that "get it" -- time is the ultimate limiter, much more than talent or genetics. Starting at 30-years-old, I might (just) be able to squeak out my genetic potential before my athletic capacity starts to wane. As well, there's only so much that we can take out of our daily lives to work towards a goal. I have a team of people that help me towards my goals.

Patience -- the final one is my favourite. Most people will leave the playing field before they reach their potential. By sticking around, you'll make less mistakes while the new entrants (clamor for their 'right' to) repeat your errors.

After all that, it comes back to Daniels. To perform best, relative you ourselves, ultimately we're limited by our motivation.

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I'll be offline from now until September 12th. I might publish, I might not. We'll see.

Many thanks for your support over the last year,

gordo

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01 July 2007

de Castella & July


Our picture this week is Brandon and Scott post-run at Epic Camp New Zealand. We are accepting applications for our 2008 camps (New Zealand and Italy). If you are interested then head over to the Epic Web Site and send your details to Johno. As of today, we have spaces left in both camps.

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These individuals have riches just as we say that we "have a fever," when really the fever has us. -- Seneca
I pulled the above quote from The 4-Hour Workweek, which I've now finished. You can substitute different words for "riches" -- fitness; knowledge; beauty; success...

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Jeff "Dr. J" Shilt has written our next article over on Alternative Perspectives. Jeff's taken the time to medically interpret the dreaded "GI-Shutdown" that occurs to many athletes during competition.

One of the characteristics of an effective coach is the ability to share knowledge in different formats. Technical discussions are not my forte -- Jeff points out that while I get the "gist" correct, my terminology can often "need improvement".

He's kindly agreed to share his technical knowledge on a range of subjects and I'll be posting his articles in the future.

You'll also find an article by my good friend, Clas Bjorling. Clas has agreed to write a series of articles that take us from his high school years to an 8:15 Ironman time (and beyond). This is certainly an Alternative Perspective because (as you'll read) Clas and I achieved Ironman success from very different backgrounds.

Like me, Clas believes that the best remains to come!

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Finally, if you are looking for Alternative Perspectives of what it is like to train directly with me then head to John Shilt's Blog -- he's documenting his summer as one of The Lads. If you scroll down then you'll find a listing of all The Lads as well as their Blog links.

Before you feel too sorry for John's self-detonation yesterday I'll share a quote following the "nothing special ride" that we had scheduled on Tuesday (after his track session)...

"G, you would have been proud of me I was really disciplined there, kept the heart rate to 162 bpm".
As an ultra-endurance athlete, the most dangerous aspect of "letting" yourself do hard training is that it resets your internal perception of effort. Very few athletes have a limiter of going "too easy" in their races.

At the time that John felt that we were being controlled we were going 30-40 miles per hour.

I was sitting on 145 bpm and knew that I was engaged in some impromptu tempo! I'd also done a track session and was amazed at how "easy" it felt. This is likely the mechanism that screws up our early bike perception (when we swim too fast).

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de Castella on Running

I am in a BIG training week right now so I'm going to hit this in point form. Hopefully, you'll be able to pull some useful info out of here.

#1 -- the most interesting thing to me (as a high-volume guy) is the author's ability to maximize his genetic potential with a training program that was 11-15 hours of training per week. This was in a deep, highly competitive sport. For a period of time, he was the best marathoner in the world.

#2 -- there was total commitment of his inner circle to HIS success. His inner circle consisted of his wife; his training buddies and his work. His consistency was amazing with up to 1,000 day running streaks.

As an aside, last week a friend asked me how he could get a person to care more about their career (the underlying point, possibly, being that if this person improved their career then he could focus more on his non-career goals).

Some points...


a -- if I could only get my wife to support me more... // consider if you are worthy of support! If you want someone to support you then they need to believe in you and deeply desire to help you. In other words, the support that we receive from our inner circle is directly proportional to the support we give back. True leadership is earned and must be personified/renewed daily. If you are seeking leadership so that you can kick back and cruise on the efforts of others -- your team will see through you, immediately.


b -- placing the burden of our achievement on another person -- these are fear-based excuses. True leadership comes from creating our own circumstances for success.


c -- Every morning ask yourself, what are the actions that I can take (today) that will directly impact my ability to achieve my goals? Most people spend their time on items that have ZERO bearing on what they are seeking to achieve. Does constantly surfing the internet directly support the most important items in your life? These habits are tough to break -- I know because I'm working on it too!


#3 -- "I kept believing that I could win" -- one of the secrets of success is deeply knowing that you can win. That doesn't mean that it is certain -- it simply means that if you keep doing your absolute best then you have a shot. Many of the self-sabotaging actions that I witness in athletics result from the athlete lacking self belief.

#4 -- "Train below your threshold." -- Training is a method to achieve "fitness". Fitness being the components necessary for effective competition. (paraphrase...) "I had to make compromises because I knew that I had to train the next day." By threshold, de Castella refers to our maximum limit, not a physiological point of intensity.

***Most athletes train until they can train no more. Early in his career, de Castella did this as well. However, he learned from that and rarely repeated his mistakes. In my own program, my training partners very, very, very rarely see my best.

#5 -- "Strength" -- the capacity to muster speed when exhausted. His program was built around the creation of race strength. If this works for a "short" event like a marathon then consider how appropriate it is for a "long" event like most triathlons.

#6 -- Pace merely provides feedback -- training is based on effort.

#7 -- The fastest time comes from building effort. Run evenly, finish strong.

While, de Castella writes that he doesn't "believe in" periodization. He did believe in phasing his year to build the various components of race performance (fitness). My "working athlete" approach fits very well into his Basic Week with variation based on the competitive and natural seasons.

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July
I thought that I'd share my most common summer training mistakes with you. By writing them down here, I hope to avoid them over the next seven weeks.

These warnings apply to all sports and are most appropriate as your fitness grows. The closer you get to maximum fitness, the closer you get to blowing it all.

No doubt, some of you will think that I am writing directly to you... as I told the Lads last week. If you feel something when you read my writing then consider who is doing the feeling!

#1 -- PB Training -- when things are going very well in training, slow down and pat yourself on the back. As you experience life best training performance, relax and accept the increased fitness. Resist the urge to "go hard" on every session. Learn to operate slightly below your limits.

#2 -- Nutrition -- as your key sessions become more demanding, you will need to increase your focus on nutrition. There is no faster way to end your season than long/intense training that is done in a depleted state. Depletion and dehydration training will not bring success.

#3 -- Weight -- you can improve your body composition // or // you can pursue life best training. You can't do both. Nutritional stress must be low when training stress is high. This point will make a lot more sense after you've blown it, believe me!

#4 -- Bonus Intensity -- nearly all the decent athletes that I train with will use their increased fitness to train "one-level-up" on all their sessions. Know your physiological zones and stick to your plan. Most athletes are unable to execute their plans in a group situation. There is huge race day upside from training yourself to execute on your own terms.

#5 -- Group Training -- you never know how hard your training partners are working. The guys that are dropping you on Tuesday may be taking most of the week off. Let your training partners be strong -- it will make it more fun when you crush them at your next A-race.

#6 -- Benchmarking -- Don't benchmark yourself off anyone that fails to do every _meter_ of your weekly program (especially your running). Be wary of keying off athletes that consistently race below their training performances -- use them but don't emulate them.

#7 -- Recovery -- nearly all highly motivated athletes will not recover until they are physically unable to train. The bulk of your competition are completely unable to sort their recovery... you can give yourself a huge advantage by planning (then executing) your unloading periods.

#8 -- Specific Preparation -- no matter what you try to tell yourself -- riding the wattage roller coaster on the wheel of a fast ironman guy is not an express ticket to success. Use the "crazy" aspects of the group for your fast training, and use it sparingly.

#9 -- Big Dog Riding -- if you are one of the stronger guys in your group then try this... ride 20 meters off the back of the group for the first 90-120 minutes of the ride (a strategic early ride pee is good for this). You'll get gapped for a bit. Once you roll back up to the group (first dip in team motivation) -- pull the lads for 30-60 minutes. Each time someone comes around you -- let the gap open up to 10 meters and wait until they come back. Pull for some more until another guy takes off.

In June, the lads never came back to me (!). It was lonely but great training! As my fitness increases, I'm able to hang in for longer. Of course, now that The Lads are reading this... I fully expect a concerted effort to work me.

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Yesterday was our second wedding anniversary. After an eight-hour training day, we headed out to dinner at a local restaurant. After a bit of prodding, I managed to get Mrs. Byrn to offer up my key point for Year Three -- asking how she is doing more often.

From the beginning of our relationship, my #1 goal has been to help Monica feel love(d). In fact, that's been top of my list for a while now.

With that in place everything else falls into line.

Cheers,
gordo

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22 June 2007

Altitude -- Part One


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
gordo

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13 April 2007

Nutritional Healing & Genetic Potential


This week, I will discuss some tips on how to frame our relationship with food and share some thoughts on VO2 Max testing.

I know that some readers like to keep track of what I am reading.

The best article that I've read recently is Managing Oneself by Drucker (legit link & bootleg version). It was an absolutely fascinating read for me. The article helped me see how comunication failings (on my part) are often due to the pathway, rather than the substance of, the message.

I also decided to educate myself a bit more about the nature of armed conflict -- an interesting read on this is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Jet Pilot by Stockdale. I'm a little over halfway through.


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Nutritional Healing

I'm going to keep this as simple as possible to remove any wiggle room that our minds might seek to create.

Training is a process of breaking down the body. Effective nutrition provides the building blocks that heal the damage that training causes. If you are looking for a sustainable, long term performance edge over your competition then nutrition is where you can find it.

Training = breaking down
Nutrition = healing
Training + Poor Nutrition = stress fractures, illness, burnout, injury, early athletic retirement and failure to achieve ultimate potential

When I look at many images of elite endurance athletes, I see highly motivated people mortgaging their future health for a perceived short term performance edge. The media sex-up, then serve, these images in order to market goods and services. [I acknowledge my role here -- we'll tone down the shirt off shots on the new website!]

When athletes share their honest opinions with me there can be an underlying current that they could really achieve something if they could just eliminate their need to eat. I know many people that spend quite a bit of time searching for reasons to malnourish themselves in the name of performance. From time-to-time, I am one of these people -- fortunately, I have a strong desire to eat and low attachment to self-defeating patterns (once noticed by me).

Blood shot eyes, extended muscle soreness, night sweats, slow training recovery -- you might be starving yourself, rather than striving for excellence.

It's a complex challenge and I'd encourage you to talk to your doctor/counsellor about it. You will need a trusted professional to guide you through the psychological and physiological construction that is disordered eating.

If you are sitting on the edge, waivering back and forth, good days and less good days... then here's how I approach my own nutrition. I am far from perfect but I manage better than most.

I nourish my body to maximize its potential to heal itself.

What does that actually "mean"?

***Other than sleep, no long periods without food -- I find that I do best with something every three to four hours.

A classic disordered eating pattern is fasting during and after training resulting (a) slower recovery; (b) lower metabolic rate; (c) weight gain due to inevitable binging on poor food choices; and (d) increased muscle breakdown.

***Eating the least processed, highest quality foods available to me -- that means wild and/or organic "real" food. "Real Food" is food that comes without an ingredients list -- an apple, a steak, a carrot, a bag of quinoa...

Choices that prevent us from achieving what we truly value are not "treats" -- they are patterns of self-sabbotage.

***Protein with every meal and readily accessed protein during all long training sessions. We need to minimize the catabolic effects of endurance training.

***Strength training (functional, traditional and terrain) within my year round program.

***Complete elimination of hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

***Reduction of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

***Take the majority of my intake in the form of lean protein, fruits, veggies, unrefined carbs and good fats.

Be wary of our mind's habit of a constant search for "new information" as well as our ego's desire to look for justification of self-defeating patterns/habits.

If an elite athlete happens to win a race after eating pizza for dinner -- there might be other factors involved than cheese and bread!

I will leave you with an interesting article on eating real food.

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Sports "Nutrition"

Novice and low/moderate volume athletes have little need for sports nutrition products -- use them cautiously and in moderation. These products are energy dense, you'll get a lot more nutrition (and satisfaction) from a balanced meal than 5-600 calories of sugar and salt.

There is an multi-billion dollar industry out there trying to get us to "carb-up" and "recover" in ways that add to our waist-lines and their bottom-lines. I use sports nutrition products during and after training for convenience. In my view, the sports nutrition industry over-promotes their goods.

I know world-class athletes that train exclusively on water and real food. However, with long training sessions and busy lives, an element of sports nutrition is useful. Remember that manufactured foods are convenience-oriented, and rarely nutrition-oriented.

Read your labels -- some of these companies are not acting in our best interests! I can't understand why leading nutrition companies market products with artificial sweetners and hydrogenated oils.

Good health is good business.

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Genetic Potential

When I think about genetic potential, I tend to think about VO2 Max testing.

For the record, I've never been tested in a lab. I sense that a certain minority would enjoy finding out that I had a VO2-Max in the 80s -- that might let them off the hook a bit. Well it might, but I know athletes with VO2s in the 80s that struggle to finish their races. So oxygen uptake is merely one factor.

Still, some enjoy these conversations so I'll share a recent email thread...

A.S. asked -- what has your VO2max been at what you consider your peak period?

I replied -- 74 kgs, 75s per 400m, running -- 73 kgs, 400 watts, cycling. Those are my best VO2 pace/power numbers of my career.

A.S. replied -- I estimated it to be around 52ml/kg/min and for cycling around 4.9 L/min or 67ml/kg/min.

I did first the one for running and when I saw that number I thought "No way, this can't be right, it is not high enough". I only started training for triathlon this year, so I can't say that I am experienced enough to judge, so I searched a little bit more to see if there are any measurements for world class athletes. What I found is that the lowest number for runners was Derek Clayton's at 69. For cyclists Lance's was 84 and Indurain's was 88.So my initial thought was more or less confirmed, your numbers are not high enough.

Furthermore after all these years of training you have improved a lot your VO2max which means that it can't increase a lot more.

The thing here however is that you have already ran a 2:48 marathon in an Ironman race and you have done that more than once. So I guess the key words are "high enough". Your numbers are not "high enough" for running these events seperately but on the other hand they are more than enough to complete an Ironman race in 8:30 hours.

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That's pretty much where we left it. I confirmed that his estimate on my running looked reasonable to me (2:46 is my run PB) -- I tend to reference Daniels' V-dot tables. He asked about my thoughts on the cycling number... I have no idea, I've always considered my IM bike ride to be efficient transport to a fast marathon and far from centrally governed.

If you break it down (I have), a blazing fast Ironman race isn't centrally constrained -- you don't need single sport VO2 prowess. Swim 50 min, Bike 4:45, Run 2:40.

Here's what's really interesting to me...

Why test?

A. Some athletes want to test their VO2 to DEFINE their limits. Personally, I've chosen to avoid tests that might give me an excuse, or a perceived limit, in achieving my ultimate potential.

B. Others may seek to understand their potential -- WE HAVE NO IDEA! Here's another set of data -- 85 kgs, 95s per 400m, running -- that data set is the SAME guy... me!

C. Other athletes may test for an external validation of themselves. I suppose that external validation lies in the attraction of competition (or blog writing!). Using people, tests, races to try to achieve more than we thought possible. However, I doubt if lasting satisfaction will accrue from hitting a magical number in a human performance lab.

Still, if we see it as an interesting game, then I don't see the harm in it. Just don't expect to get meaningful information from what a machine tells you is possible. Similar to finance, the trick is maximizing the use of what you've got, rather than constantly wishing for more.

As for thoughts on my not being able to improve anymore... I'll file that under "M" for Motivation. I've got a few quotes in there from strangers and retired world champions.

Until next week,
gordo

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07 April 2007

Personal Excellence & Pain


This week I'm going to run through some thoughts on recent emails, personal excellence and race pain. I'll then pull it all together with some thoughts on the Bottom Line.

But first, our photo this week is Dr. John Hellemans. This shot is going up on the "wall of fame" in our yoga room. Hopefully, John will come by for a visit some day and sign the shot. Of course, he has doctor's handwriting so it could be tough to read what he actually writes!

John is one of those people that, by merely knowing, causes us to lift our game. I don't know the date of the photo but John is in his 50s now (with at least seven world AG triathlon titles) and, if anything, his legs are slightly _more_ muscular today.

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Mail Bag

My last piece generated a fair amount of email and I'll respond over the next month. I'm quite backed up on email and that can be tough for me. However, clearing my in-box fails to make my personal Top Ten list so I'm having to make some emotional adjustments.

Do I "need" folks to "believe" me to achieve my goals? No I don't. What I am doing here is sharing ideas that have helped me in my personal journey. Passing along little things that I've learned about achieving what I want in my life. They might help you, they might not, but they have been fundamental in a huge personal transformation.

The purpose of my writing here is:

>>>to affirm within myself the tools, techinques and patterns that I am using to achieve personal excellence

>>>to share ideas for you to achieve personal excellence (be it athletic, financial or in some other sphere)

My mail bag on my endurance protocol tips was fascinating. The various writers noted that the tips didn't apply to them because:

...they were too slow
...they were too fast
...they did not have enough endurance experience
...they had too much endurance experience
...their friend had different heart rate data than them
...there was a small piece of "the plan" that didn't make sense
...they have a different training history to me

One point that I will address -- that Mark and I were in similar positions when we started the protocol -- and -- that this position is different to where you may find yourself.

If you listen to Mark talk about his approach then you'll find that he was at the opposite end of the endurance spectrum from me. Specifically, his top end numbers greatly dominated his low end numbers.

Even if you don't think that you are "fast" nearly everyone that comes to endurance sport is in this relative position. You are in the same boat as Mark.

My story is a little different. I came to triathlon with low end numbers that dominated my top end. This is probably because of my pre-triathlon endurance background (strength training, hiking, mountaineering, ultrarunning) -- I logged many low intensity hours of endurance training. I spent five years primarily training under my aerobic cap -- before I knew that any such "cap" existed.

This is what's fascinating for me -- my VO2-Max speed is the highest that it has ever been using a protocol that well-meaning folks tell me is only designed to benefit my "low end".

I encourage you to try the protocol that YOU believe is best. Don't take my word for it. I have tried many different approaches and, ultimately, we answer to ourselves. Make sure that you can hold yourself accountable to your program and remember that you are using YOUR protocol, not Mark Allen's, not your coach's, not Joe Friel's, not mine.

Every day, you create your own protocol. The people around us are merely guides, they don't do the work on our behalf.

Of course, if you postpone "training smart" until you are "fast" then you might be waiting a long, long time.

The only workout that you truly control is your next one.

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Personal Excellence

K.M. asked me about my thoughts on striving for our highest potential. I've been thinking for the last week and here's what I managed to come up with.

The concept of achieving our highest potential seems to approach the "problem" backwards because "achievement" is a perceived result, not a path to follow. Achievement will never offer satisfaction because it is merely a fleeting moment in time -- a life committed to excellence could be what we are seeking.

One of my greatest lessons of athletics is that we have no idea of our highest potential. Specifically, we have NO clue what we can achieve over a five, ten or twenty year time horizon. Some personal examples...

Eighteen months after I started training for triathlons, I qualified for Hawaii at the Half Vineman (July 2000). That FAR exceeded my 1998 perception of my highest athletic potential.

Three years after qualifying at Vineman, I ran 2:49 off the bike at IMC, posting the fastest run split on the day, finishing third and passing a future World Champion in the last 10K. That FAR exceeded my 2000 perception of my highest athletic potential.

In 2004, I ran 2:46 off the bike and finished in 8:29 -- the guy that won that day posted one of the fastest winning times in the history of the event -- I was 107 seconds behind him on a day where I had a flat tire. That FAR exceed my wildest perceiption of my highest athletic potential.

So, my experience is that aiming for our highest potential will ALWAYS sell ourselves short, because we sell ourselves short.

Our limited perception of what we can achieve is our single greatest obstacle.

What to do?

Rather than trying to "achieve" -- what I do is focus on personal excellence in areas of my life that provide me with satisfaction, support and meaning.

Personal excellence is about how I handle the little things. Some examples:

Monica -- experience love, hold hands, kindness
Winning an Ironman -- live sober, train regularly, limit travel, wake up early
Swimming -- breathe second stroke off the wall, three stroke breathing, push straight back, hip over
Cycling -- smooth circles, hold position, commit to cadence
Running -- ribs down, toe through, thumbs up, spine long
Nutrition -- real food, slower eating, frequent meals, internal healing
Personal Finance -- cover overheads, always save
Personal Investing -- preserve capital, trustworthy partners

Now all that sounds pretty simple but, I assure you that it is FAR from easy. In fact, to achieve success requires the support of many people and these people will very quickly see through hoax-commitment to excellence.

When I feel pain, it is most often due to knowing that I am not measuring up in terms of the simple things required for personal excellence. Real pain comes from knowing that we are not measuring up to our highest potential.

...and that explains a lot of angst in the world.

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Race Pain

A good friend shared some ideas that he gave a mutual buddy on coping with "race pain". They were excellent and centred around:

>>>Enduring to share, and honour, the pain of a loved one
>>>Enduring to achieve an important goal
>>>Enduring due to fear of failure
>>>Enduring because the emotional pain of "cracking" would be greater
>>>Enduring to uphold a personal honour code

All of the above are excellent short term techniques for dealing with the sensations and emotions that we experience within a race situation.

My long term solution for race pain is a bit more simple.

There is no pain, only performance.


"Pain" is our mind's classification of feedback that we experience in training and racing. Appropriate training/racing intensities are going to feel a certain way. If we choose to classify, and constantly affirm, that we will experience pain then... pain is what we receive. You will get what you desire.

However, if we accept that there will be certain sensations associated with taking actions that are deeply important to us (training, racing) then our breaking point will increase dramatically.

At the early to moderate stages of discomfort, "pain" is too strong a word (for me) and gives an unnecesary emotional content to how things are going to feel.

At a clinic a few years back, Josh Davis (multiple Olympic medalist) shared his views on the essense of swimming. He summed it up along the lines of... moving through self-imposed pain barriers.

Many great athletes equate performance with reseting their own concepts of an acceptable level of personal discomfort. In Penticton one year, Dave Scott described Ironman racing as "managed discomfort". He refused to accept that Ironman racing was painful.

Focus on performance, leave the pain for the athletes behind you.

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The Bottom Line

The reason that someone may be faster than "you" mostly has to do with the fact that they have absorbed more work than you. So if it all comes down to work (Landis, Lydiard, Molina) then why bother with protocol at all?

An effective protocol is what enables us to improve relative to ourselves. My true "protocol" is one of learning, sharing, experimenting and applying. I'm constantly looking for techniques, motivation, situations and people that will help me complete more work.

It is a fascinating subject because excellence at every given moment is a tough companion -- however -- to achieve a level of "greatness" we merely have to keep moving forward striving for those simple elements of personal excellence.

Moving forward with consistent application of principle based performance.

Happy Easter,
gordo

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26 March 2007

Where You Want To Be


Our photo this time is my buddy, Greg, on top of Everest.

You know, I never really thought about why a guy would carry an Epic Camp sign to the top of the world. However, with a couple of years to think about it... I've developed a theory.

Greg and I worked together for a few years. Looking back, I think that Greg hired me as more of a life and general endurance advisor than a triathlon coach. Greg's got a knack out of getting the most out of his "team" and he very carefully put together the pieces required to give himself a shot at climbing Everest.

Managing a team of people for an individual goal is an interesting concept -- you can apply those skills to Everest; the Olympics or a race like Ironman Canada. It takes many, many people to put together an individual performance. Many don't even realize the role that they play.

So a little story, after IM-New Zealand in 2005, Greg comes up to me at the Awards Dinner, thanked me for my support and said, "g-man, I'm RIGHT where I want to be". Monica was there with me and there was a lot said by our TOTAL silence to that statement.

Greg had just completed the race in 12:30. Knowing a little bit about mountaineering, Monica asked me my opinion about the likely outcome of his expedition. I said that it was most likely that this would be the last time we would ever see Greg. We spent the next few months reading Greg's Everest Website waiting to see what would happen.

What I didn't know what that Greg's "taper" is best summed up by this picture. Not exactly, keeping the feet up. He'd deliberately shagged himself and used an Ironman as a practice summit day.

Crafty fella!

Turns out that he was right where he needed to be -- he got the photo (via the North Ridge) and his team left the mountain in one piece.

As for his tri-coach... I didn't start proper training again until NINE months after that race. Greg should have been worried for me!

An interesting lesson -- I delivered exactly what he wanted without even knowing what was required of me. Further, I thought that he was heading to disaster, while I was actually sliding deep into the valley of fatigue (from a 2nd place overall placing).

My students teach me a lot -- it does take me a few years to learn their lessons...

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Are you where you want to be?

It's worth considering that question from time to time for many reasons. I'll lay out that athletic case this time. Perhaps, I'll write about life philosophy some other time. That's more about being the person that we want to be.

The longer days of April combined with increasing fitness are exactly what many of us will need to tip ourselves over the edge in terms of training.

Before full blown overtraining sets in we have to ignore many repeated warning signals. Here are a few:

***Muscles that are persistently sore to the touch
***Chronic inflamation of tendons or muscle insertions
***Chronic GI distress
***Staleness in training
***Increase/Decrease in sleep pattern
***Increase/Decrease in weight or appetite
***Sugar cravings
***Low/High heart rate relative to effort
***Injury -- true accidents are few and far between

I know a number of very fit people that have lived with the above for multiple years. They are so fit that no one would ever consider that they were shelled.

If you have a couple of these then you can rest now and pull yourself back from the brink. Or... you can keep the same pattern going and end up with the same result. I did for five years and my results were good, very good, better than I ever thought possible! So pushing through things can work quite well... then I was forced to decide if I truly wanted to move to a higher level of performance.

April is when we start to see more frequent "nuked please help" posts on the internet. When they pop-up remind the person to: (a) rest; and (b) learn from what toasted them. I wouldn't spend much more time than that -- most of us (myself included) have too much invested in our existing patterns to change them until we are REALLY ready. It took a six-month nuking for me to realize that, perhaps, there could be another way to play things.

Which brings me to...

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Where I happen to be.

I did a race this past weekend and, in a few days, I'll type up a report for posting over on the Planet-X website. I'll also send along my ergomo data file -- if it downloads OK -- I broke my download cable and am standing by for a new one.

So my build-up and the race went really well. Best case scenario for me -- my one hour bike power and my running vVO2 Max are both at lifetime bests. This off a "stagnated" aerobic run test -- Mark writes about plateaus here...

What would you do if the most versatile male triathlete of all time took the time to write a series of articles explaining how best to train? What if his protocol appeared too simple to be true? What would you do?

I started by reading them -- scroll down on that link to get the articles.

When you read them -- watch how you tend to want to argue with him. How you think you are different. How it might not apply to you. Then ask yourself, "Who is arguing?"

There is deep power in the consistent application of simplicity -- however, our minds find it near impossible to fathom. As I remind my athletes, our greatest challenge lies in learning to over-ride our instinctive desire to screw things up for ourselves.

As I was powering along at life best watts -- the main things on my mind were circles, joy and breathing. There isn't much better than racing through the desert when we are fit.

So what to do next? Well, I'm going to do the most difficult thing possible.

I'm going to stop "trying" to get faster and return to an endurance focus for the next four weeks. It's super tempting to get leaner, train harder and go even faster. My base is deep so there is a pretty good chance that I could be ripping by May.

However... I'm looking for something really special on August 26th and that's going to require some patience. So, just like after Epic Camp in January, I'll ease off, hit the gym and be smart.

I'm telling you exactly what I am doing, there are no secrets and, yet, it is very tough (for all of us) to follow a simple protocol. One of life's little ironies.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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25 April 2006

Hot Stuff

I thought that I’d share some ideas on training in the heat. I’m currently back on BA, above the Rockies and far removed from the heat and humidity of the Big Island.

I really enjoyed my training camp there and know that it added materially to both my fitness and my knowledge. That island is a neat place – there is a groove that you need to find in order to train well. Of course, we found our groove a little differently than Peter does. We had a condo in Keauhou and a guest pass at the Hualalai Four Seasons spa. That made a huge difference.

Peter living up high makes a lot of sense to me but I doubt they have high speed internet up there so it really isn’t practical when you need to stay in touch. If you are doing an “eat, sleep, train” gig then the commute wouldn’t be an issue and (without central aircon) you’d certainly sleep better up high. I haven’t tried that in Hawaii but if I was true iron-monk then it would have certain appeal for me. Heck, just because Peter does it, there is appeal for me.

I kicked off my training camp with an Olympic distance race. I didn’t swim or bike particularly memorably but I ran great and that must have made me feel a bit bulletproof when it came time to start “training” again. As well, by not gaining a stack of weight last year (when I wasn’t training), I am in the fortunate position at spending most of my time training very close to race weight. It is a HUGE advantage in a lot of ways. The greatest is that it reduces the stress on me because I don’t have to seek to trim down while training stress is high. In fact, I can eat a little bit extra and avoid the risk of depletion training – one of the easiest and most common ways to nuke ourselves.

Anyhow, my first big day was a decent swim followed by a big ride through the Kohala Mountains. I completely nuked myself and wasn’t able to hold anything down from Noon until 6am the following day – threw the entire contents of my stomach up three or four times. It was a bit embarrassing! My stomach completely shut down and things piled up until I threw up. Even after getting sick, I think that my electrolytes where whacked at I kept throwing up until I settled the following day.

Now I could blame my sports drink…
Or my electrolyte caps…
Or the brand of my sports nutrition…
Or the water that they were serving on the course…

However, I think that answer was a lot simpler. I ate too much, went too hard and blew myself to bits. With 90F temps in Tempe, I am sure that a few folks experienced the same thing as me that weekend.

M saw my issue immediately and recommended that I scale my morning intake way back. So I had to make some material adjustments to my nutritional timing. Normally, I like to front end load the bulk of my nutrition. In the heat, I wasn’t able to do that.

Breakfast was pretty similar most mornings – two cups cooked quinoa mixed with four eggs. That was served with a cup of strong coffee. I’m guessing that was probably 50-65% of what I would normally take in and 40% of what I ate the morning that I was sick.

Dave Scott recommends that athletes consider liquid nutrition when racing IM – I’ve tried that but I’ll usually eat a full breakfast on top of that as well. In Kona, I think that the liquid breakfast is a great idea.

As well, I think that highly efficient athletes (like Dave) enjoy a material performance benefit in Hawaii where processing calories is so tough. If you are a big, cold weather powerhouse then you might not be able to process enough to keep yourself rolling – probably best to lean out or stick to cold weather races. Even if you can do it on the bike in training, can you do it trying to stay close to Faris in the water then riding hard up/down Kuakini?

On the bright side, I’ve found that nutrition and hydration are highly trainable. So if it really matters to you then you could come and get a bunk beside Peter. However, most people aren’t willing to do that – and it’s pretty tough to beat an experienced guy that’s willing to do everything (just about year round) to beat you.

When training, I consumed less calories than normal. Sports drinks and gels gave me the bulk of my calories. When I thought that I needed more nutrition than that, I would stop, sit down and eat some real food (while not training). That worked much better and, once adopted, my stomach didn’t give me any more issues. I also used some electrolyte caps but, probably, more for insurance than anything else. I wasn’t particularly well acclimatized upon arrival and wanted to make sure that I didn’t deplete myself too badly. I also supplemented with magnesium each morning.

I’d do all of the above (minus the stopping and eating) if I was racing Hawaii here in October. I came to realise that some of the spectacular blow-ups that we witness each October could simply be too much early food combined with excessive early intensity. It appears to me that (for the guys) unless you are the fittest guy on the planet then going a bit too hard is unavoidable if you want to win, most years. Why? Because you are seeking to optimize your performance within a group of athletes that are following a sub-optimal strategy.

That is a fundamental point about Ironman pacing – there is a lot of social proof available on the swim and the bike that you are going too easy. This social proof comes from nearly everyone self-detonating. If your only experience in Ironman is the death march then you have no deep emotional understanding of the power of being able to run well. For your mind, it simply doesn’t exist. No matter how much I tell you about it, at a basic (animal) level, you won’t believe it until you’ve had the emotional experience. Most will never get there and that is a huge edge that some have.

More on this in a book called Deep Survival. An Ironman is the closest that many of us will come to a survival situation. It’s worth knowing how your mind is likely to react in these situations. Again, this is part of what I seek to program, and experience, in training. It’s probably also part of what Molina means when he talks about racing being a separate skill.

I also walked away very impressed with the athletes that have consistently performed well in Hawaii. The folks that armchair quarterback the elite performances each year should try this simple workout – I would be grateful if you could post this on your favourite internet board at 6am on October 22nd…

Wake up at 5am, eat breakfast and at 6am run to/from the Energy Lab at an easy pace – probably 9 minute miles for most of the critics. Mark and Dave held 6s starting a bit past Noon having smoked the swim/bike. That blows my mind.

In terms of pacing in tropical heat, I had an interesting workout at the end of my stay. Presumably after three weeks (and plenty of training) here I was reasonably well acclimatized. I did five intervals of varying length on the Queen K. I was holding Olympic distance race effort – moderately hard to hard in my lingo. Easy to do when you are in reasonable shape.

I found that my heart rate was about ten beats above normal but it felt pretty easy as I’d had two maintenance days before this session. I imagined how it would feel to go 5% harder when surrounded by the fittest athletes on the planet and completely fresh. Most likely even easier.

Following the main set, I was holding 50-65% of my threshold wattage but my heart rate was at a “cold climate” level equal to 85% of threshold wattage. In other words, I was generating “easy pace” power with “Half IM” race heart rates – not exactly spectacular! It took a ten minute break at a Chevron station for my heart rate to get back to normal.

The main set wasn’t all that demanding either. The total probably worked out to 45-50 minutes worth of just under threshold work.

The lesson for me is that hot weather pacing errors as far more costly than where the majority of us train. Combine that with a “World Champs” atmosphere and it is easy for me to see why each year the bulk of the top male contenders are done before they ever get to the run.

Even if you train in the heat – it’s different in Hawaii. There’s something unique about the combination of the heat, the wind, the lava, the tarmac… it all adds up. I’ll be pretty cautious the next time I race here.

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Finally, how did I make up the calorie deficit from less early day and training eating?

Liquid recovery calories (sports nutrition, rather than beer) and high quality burgers! The Residents Beach Club at Hualalai has an amazing bacon, mushroom, cheese burger. It costs fifteen bucks but the view is fantastic. I think I averaged two per week.

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Pitfalls

A couple other ideas that hit me overnight as I snoozed across the Atlantic.

Intensity – it is very easy to convince one’s self that it is OK to ride/run “one level higher” due to the heat. Personally, I think that this is a mistake. What I was doing with my own training was giving myself a 3-5 bpm cushion in terms of HR zones. Typically, I’ll train at the bottom of all my zones (steady and mod-hard mainly). In Hawaii, I was training 3-5 bpm above the bottom, accepting a lower wattage/pace and remaining outside of my grey zone. To train the higher end of my power/pace profile I would add some mod-hard at the _end_ of my longest training sessions. For long course racing, this approach greatly enhances endurance when moving back to a more temperate race environment. Constantly holding back involves a level of faith (and self-belief) that is challenging at times (but great training for race day).

Tempo – similarly, it is possible and (even more) tempting to make nearly all endurance training a tempo session (when tested by heart rate). I see this quite a bit in reviewing many (most?) athletes’ plans, not just in the heat. Psychologically, we see that we are working “harder” and therefore assume that it is better. While you can get away with that for a couple (or even several) weeks in the heat, I think that it is a mistake. Training a “half gear” too high all the time leaves the athlete flat for key races. You’ll look like a rock star in training but you run the risk of your well being dry when it really matters. You will also be in for a surprise when you go past the seven hour mark on race day.

Hydration – a general observation that most athletes will be chronically dehydrated when transitioning to training in the heat. This results in extended recovery and increased muscle damage from training. In order to correct this situation (I spent my first 7-10 days dehydrated working this out), I needed to place water in my car, beside my bed and ensure a minimum of one liter per hour when riding, drink consistently for 3-6 hours after my long days and through my nights. Athletes that don’t like to stop during training or use depletion practices will find extended recovery as well as low long session quality.

Training Timing – start your key training as close to dawn as possible. We get enough heat stress without training in the middle of the day. All of my running routes were designed with access to fluids in mind and I had three one-liter bike bottles that I used on my bike.

Cooling – we stayed at a place with central air con and had access to a cold swimming pool. Completely eliminating heat stress at couple of times per day helped avoid the foggy feeling that builds up from constant heat stress.

Altitude – Coastal Hawaii is a hot, humid place but it is possible to do some riding at higher altitudes. Riding between 500-1,500 feet is, generally, cooler and subject to more cloud cover. If you do get yourself to the east side of the island, or above 2,000 feet then bring appropriate clothing. These areas are subject to a completely different climate than the lava fields.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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