02 January 2009

Endurance Corner Introduction

One of the best lessons that I have learned as a writer is that you aren't an author until you publish.  There are a lot of 'nearly finished' projects out there. 

It's time to publish.

A good website, like personal fitness/portfolio balancing/endurance training, is never complete.  Feel free to share your ideas for enhancements as well as feedback.  No need to take it easy on me -- the tough feedback is often the most valuable.


First... please adjust your bookmarks!
New Blog URL - http://www.EnduranceCorner.com/g_blog


EnduranceCorner.Com has two components: 
  • the basic platform allows free access to the full collection of my videos, blogs and articles; and 
  • the coaching module (workout planner & forum) is available for a small monthly fee.
I started my fitness journey over 15 years ago.  Ironically, I walked pub-to-pub on the weekends!  I was living in London at the time and this was a BIG improvement from how I had spent my weekends in the past (sitting in a pub).

When I was ready to make a change towards a healthier lifestyle, I was welcomed by a group of UltraRunners.  UltraRunning has a counterculture vibe about it and the guys were very open with sharing information about training/nutrition/fitness.  It was a LONG period of trial and error while I figured out what worked.

One of the greatest areas of 'struggle' was my weight.  I was absolutely clueless on nutrition.  My UltraBuddies were pretty Old School -- recovery food was beer, pizza, nachos.  Like a lot of us, I exercised so I could eat more but I was never able to lose fat around my tummy and always had this dream of "being ripped".  Somehow I thought that ripped-ness would make me more desirable -- and it does... but, ultimately, that desire is empty and feeding vanity leads to crisis.  More on that some other time!

So... first up -- the new site is a free resource for Endurance Training, Triathlon and Nutrition.  I have taken my most popular writings from the last ten years; reworked them and published into a Single Location.  

You don't need to sign-up for anything, the library is open to all.  

You are welcome to link as well as republish any article (completely, with link back to my site).  If you'd like to publish extracts then contact me first -- I nearly always say yes for non-commercial uses.

Recently, I have been mentoring a great group of people towards an early season sprint triathlon.  Answering their questions has reminded me of the large impact coaches can have with patient, solid advice.  The simple lessons that I have learned are, by far, the most powerful.

From the Home Page, you can access a couple of YouTube clips that I recorded to explain what really matters.  It is easy to get distracted in life.  My new site, will work to keep clients, readers and myself (!) focused on the big picture.

Our current product is an Ironman triathlon coaching engine.  I have written an article that explains our coaching engine so I won't repeat myself here.  Suffice to say, I have built an open platform that enables you to tailor your program to the realities of your life.  It contains everything that is essential for us to begin a dialogue on your training. 

You can get a solid program in many places -- my unique offering is myself, as guide for your program.

When a coaching relationship works well, there are benefits much wider than just the field of competition.  I can promise that you'll be ready for your race.  With a bit of luck, we will be able to share experiences that deepen success in your wider life.  

Programs start at $25 per week, with discounts when you sign up for more than 30 weeks.  Here is a link to the most common questions we have received.

The new edition of Going Long will be out in early February.  Every athlete that joins will receive a signed copy of the 2nd Edition.


The Future of Online Coaching
I first wrote about this back in May 2007 and my vision hasn't really changed.  I figured that it was sporting to explain what I saw.  I have been planning this site for years.

What is largely hidden from the triathlon demographic is the scale, and scope, of the transformation that is going to hit Western society.  It is human nature to project based on our past experiences.  It is impossible for any of us to quantify how a 40-50% decline in global asset values will change our societies.

Many of the changes are going to be unpleasant -- unemployment; personal bankruptcy; the pain of cutting back... however, these painful changes provide opportunities for realizing what matters most.  Many of us will find that we have spent the last 15-25 years spending money on items that didn't really enhance our quality of life.

What does that have to do with a coaching website?

I suspect that luxury spending is going to rapidly contract across the next two years.  Paying $7,500 to $20,000 per annum to a personal coach qualifies as a luxury item.  Speaking from experience, the family gets a bigger bang for its buck from child care assistance!

Triathlon grew up during the Great Expansion.  I suspect that different business models will be successful in the Great Unwinding.

Why not give it away for free?
Good question.  I was successful at building my personal brand by running a free website with the Tri Forum.  While it worked for my image, I'm not sure it worked for me.  Let me explain.

Success -- Within my paying clients, I can count my failures on a single hand.  Within my sponsored athletes and "personal projects", I can count my successes on one hand.

In my personal consulting life, my track record with people that don't pay me is poor.  My track record with paying clients is outstanding.  I have no idea for the reason behind this paradox.  EnduranceCorner.Com lets me use technology to lower my price point -- it is more equitable and enables me to reach a wider market.

My old forum (R.I.P.) generated a lot of goodwill.  Many of you have been with me from the early days and are a valuable part of my life, even if we never meet!  However, there are plenty of opportunities for social networking and other companies host it better than me.  As well, that business model is winner-take-all and when one is appealing to the masses (politics, media, forums) it is difficult to maintain one's ethics.

As a result, the forum on the new site will be for subscribing athletes only and hidden from public view.  I want to create an on-line environment where athletes, particularly the ladies, feel safe discussing what is on their mind.  I remember getting flamed in the early days -- it was really unpleasant.  Of course, out of that came perspective on fans, and anti-fans.

Ultimately, the direction the site goes will depend on you.  If we are offering good value then you'll let us know.


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28 November 2008

Real World Marathoning - Part Two

This week I am going to use the answers to your marathon questions to help explain how the fat guy on the right of the photo became the blazing triathlete on the left.  Not many people run 2:46 off the bike in an Ironman -- even fewer starting from a very comfortable 200+ lbs.

The Beginner Triathlete Forum has a thread right now on running yourself thin -- the advice that we read on the internet is typically appropriate for the guy on the left.  Most of us (even my current self) would do better following what makes sense for the guy on the right.  By the way, that really is me... quite stylish with the rolled down boxer shorts!


Q -- What do you consider to be necessary in a core marathon week for a runner targeting a flat course? ( I mean during a 13 week build up following a prep stage of 13 weeks of base training)

A -- Until you are in the top 5% of your race category, you will likely find that your ratio of base-to-build should be more like 150:6 -- six weeks of build for every 150 weeks of base.  Now that advice won't sell many magazines but I spent over five years doing nothing but base training.  Base training doesn't mean going slow all the time -- it means a focus on building endurance, sport specific strength and using a little bit of tempo/mod-hard in the week.  

I still did races but I never tried to "peak" for events -- I simply freshened up a bit went out, raced and kept on training the next week.  I raced distances that were UNDER my training distances and saved the long "events" for fun runs/hikes/climbs/adventures in training.

I am very glad that I did this.  For a new athlete, a 10K or a half marathon gives you an ample dose of "race" stimulus.  It's also a lot less painful to learn the lessons from going out to hard (we all do it!).  As an example, I tried to run an Ultramaraton in the mid-90s // had a great first 10K... was DONE by 70K.

As for training, I laid that out in my original post.  Running success does not require a sophisticated program -- what is essential is a sensible program, done daily, for seven to ten years.  My 2:46 happened more than a decade after I started running.  The body changes slowly -- when we rush the body, we get hurt.  If you are hurt then you can't run.  If you can't run then you won't improve.


Q -- I am a believer in running every day - but on some occasions it might only be 30 mins at a recovery pace. I know my "old school" running friends consider these sort of runs to be a waste of time ( "junk miles" ). Do you agree? 

A -- I covered this one in Part One -- all mileage is good mileage.  The caveat is staying healthy, injury free and being able to back up your training every day.  Personally, I count every run of 30 mins, or more.  Molina would let me count 20 mins, or more, but he's always been a little light on standards... ;-)

With daily running, you might find that seven runs across six days proves more effective than running every day.  Another "trick" I like is AM run on Day One with PM run on Day Two -- give you more than 24 hours recovery between those sessions.


Q -- One one my personal theories is it's best to do long runs first thing in the morning ( as in 5 / 6 am ) having had no breakfast. I believe this will increase fat oxidisation and will train you to run on empty - what do you think of that?

A -- Starvation training is HIGHLY attractive to endurance athletes but it isn't a magic bullet.  Denial strategies are not long term viable.  

Infrequent depletion has been shown to be useful for fat oxidation but it does nothing to address what is most limiting to fat oxidation (fuel mix and fuel timing).  In other words, to burn more fat in training (and store less when resting) one needs to address what really matters... daily nutrition.

What is essential (on a daily basis) is high quality food to nurture our bodies.  We can have a far greater impact on fat oxidative capacity by eating right (when not training) than by starving ourselves (when training).  I see this with my athletes all the time.  Fit female athletes are especially prone to the trap of a low-protein / low-fat diet.

In my elite athletic career, I never had the mental toughness to starve myself.  My race results benefitted from this 'weakness'.


Q -- Could you clarify what you mean by distinguishing between an aerobic, versus strength endurance, event?

A -- By the end of a marathon, the average athlete's legs are so trashed, they aren't able to place a meaningful load on their cardiovascular system.  By making this athlete's legs stronger performance will improve with the SAME aerobic function.  You can check whether this applies to you by using Jack Daniels' v-dot tables to compare your performance across different race distances.  Most amateur runners have a 5K time that is superior to their marathon time.  

As a practical example, it wasn't until I had run 2:49 (off-the-bike) that I felt I needed to add a specific prep block of fast finish long runs, threshold and VO2 work.  Even then it was only an eight-week block.  You will find that a longer period of the tough stuff will tend to leave you flat on race day.

I had the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race before I started training to have the fastest overall run split at an Ironman race.


Q -- When training for an IM-marathon, I suppose you might say to become efficient at max-steady-state, and when it comes time to race, don't slow down. But for an open marathon, how does your strategy change? Still need to train primarily on top end aerobic, or do you work more your glycogen burning mechanisms? When race day comes, it seems you could be a little more aggressive in your race strategy. After all, you don't have a 112 mile warm-up; right?

A -- Quite a bit here.  I'll take it in pieces.  Ironman marathoning -- what nearly everyone fails to consider is how slow an Ironman event is.  Nobody (even Crowie) is running fast in marathon terms.  What we do see is some outstanding running when totally depleted and beat up - that points to exceptional durability and aerobic economy.

Open marathoning -- again, what people fail to notice is the 'slowness' of the event.  Less than 2% of finishers are going sub-3.  Do most athletes need to be doing Yasso 800s?  My personal experience is what I needed was... eat right, burn fat, store less fat and run every day.  Until I was in the top 0.1% of triathlon runners, that was enough to improve most years for a decade.

Race Day Strategy -- I have found that on race day the struggles come with regard to humility and self-belief.  If I have any cracks in emotional well being then they will come through under stress and I will underperform.  It takes very little courage to blow one's self up in the first third of an endurance event (nearly all your peers will be there to keep you company).  It takes exceptional self-belief to race YOUR best effort and perform to your best ability.

Energy Metabolism -- Adjust this through your daily diet, not training strategies.  You'll get a much bigger performance gain.


Q -- Personally I am going to experiment with a "complex" plan like de Castella. What are your thoughts on complex training vs a Lydiard or periodised approach. I am to train mainly aerobic, incoporating a long run, a strength endurance session, sub-threshold session and hill session each week, obviously progressivly overloading these training variables throughout the plan. 

A -- Here's my blog on de Castella's book.  One of the things that surprised me about the book was how similar the approaches were.  I wasn't able to detect any real difference in terms of fundamental principles (nor can I with any great endurance program).

In terms of your approach, a solid basic week that focused on consistent mileage, hills, tempo and sub-threshold speed... I really like that for an experienced runner.  What I have found is that when you want to push your mileage up (in the winter, or early spring) you will have to greatly reduce average intensity.  

Within my own training, I have pushed mileage up to 225K (~140 miles) per week but that proved unsustainable for me.  My big weeks tend to do best in the 140-160K range (85-100 miles).  When I can tolerate that level of load for at least a month, then I can back off by 25-50% to maintain endurance, or challenge myself with an increase in average speed.  Historically, most of my running has been very slow (but so is my event and I need energy to bike/swim).  I have a ton of eccentric loading in my athletic history through walking/hiking/running downhill.


Q -- Re marathon training. Is it better to (a) run 7 times per week; (b) run 5 times, cycle once, swim 2-3 times; (c) run 3 times, cycle 1-2, swim 3 times, weights/yoga 1-2 times, nordic ski machine once?

A -- You will find that your best run (not triathlon) performances come from running often.  To run well, place an emphasis on run frequency in your training.  Cross-training, particularly cycling, is a safe way to build endurance and extend your running career.  There are a lot of beat up runners out there.


Q -- I'm interested knowing your thoughts as to how someone with a history or Achilles and calf injuries should handle training for a marathon.

A -- Address your personal limiters first, then get your run training stable for at least one year before considering signing up for an event that might hurt you.  One of the great things about triathlon is our ability to get the benefits of endurance exercise without the punishment of high-volume running.


Q -- How much swimming and biking should I interject into this winter to not lose all the base while I am training for my marathon?

A -- First thing to remember... for triathlon performance, the best program is ALWAYS a triathlon program.  Departing from a tri-program for a couple of weeks can make sense for the experienced athlete but isn't necessary.  Lack of three-sport consistency can impair long term development.

I have found that you can let your cycling slide for up to six weeks without much damage -- so long as you maintain your strength and aerobic function.  Much more than that and it does take a while to come back.

When a triathlete focuses on running, I recommend at least two swims per week to maintain.  Don't worry about slowing down in the water -- that is normal when running lots.


Hope this helps.  Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.


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06 November 2008

Marathon Training In The Real World

This is going to be a two-part series on marathon training. Part One will share some concepts which I believe impact all endurance sports, but especially, marathon training (stand alone and Ironman). Part Two will pick up the questions from last week, as well as, any from this week.


It has been a hectic week for me in Europe and I am now in Asia for a few days before returning to the US. Sorry that I missed the Friday deadline but I was busy growing grey hairs! No announcements this week, we will roll straight into Part One.


I had a look at average results for all marathons in the US in 2005 -- the results didn't surprise me, but they might surprise you. Average male finish time was about 4.5 hours, with the ladies just over 5.0 hours. That is for stand-alone marathons -- not running after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of running.

One of the interesting aspects about watching the US Election was that it reminded me that Americans are aspirational in their politics. What I mean is that some Americans will vote against their likely long-term financial interest to protect themselves for when they make-it-big. In America, people believe that everyone has a shot at making it big. In many other countries, people believe that the system is stacked against them (the only way to make it big in many places is to leave!) -- in those situations, soft socialialism (Cdn Style) can make sense. For all you Republicans out there, you have to see the irony about the Democrats co-opting the hope message.

In many ways, I see similar psychological attitudes towards endurance training. Athletes wanting to learn everything possible about elite and high-end run training -- many years before these techniques are appropriate for them.

Thinking about those average marathon finishers... they are racing at between 10-minutes and 11.5-minutes per mile. What are the factors that will impact their finish time?

Nutrition -- the single greatest performance enhancer for the bulk of the field is improved nutrition. This flows through in three main ways: improved body composition; increased energy; and increased training consistency (through reduced illness).

Nutrition is NOT the same as weight loss. A weight-loss focus with poor nutrition is a short-term strategy that will result in PERMANENT endurance performance impairment via impaired metabolic function. That said, the main benefit to the average runner's performance flows through reduced body weight.

Now, when you read the science, it will tell you that losing weight is an effective way to improve your VO2max (and I agree with that). However, is our average competitor (4.5 hours +/- 1 hour) really limited by VO2max? Is the average runner limited by their central capacity? I would say that average runner is peripherally limited. In other words, their capacity to put strain on their central aerobic system is what limits them.

Why is this the case? Put plainly, most runners lack the necessary mileage to make marathoning an aerobic endurance event. For most, it is a strength endurance event.

The media, and popular press, feed what our psychology desires, not what our lives need. So we need to recognize a cognitive bias that we share when it comes to performance in all fields. Consistently plugging away for years (saving, eating right, moderate training, getting out of bed...) these success factors are much more habitual than enjoyable. What is deeply satisfying is the life-situation that arises from an early-to-bed-early-to-rise approach to living.

Back to running! So if your main goal for athletics is consistent training with outstanding nutrition... how should you approach your training?

Long Term Consistent Mileage -- your optimal training approach is the strategy (today) that will MAXIMIZE your ten-year mileage. Unfortunately, humans are particularly poor at long term pay-offs. That's why only 1.6% of American Marathon finishers were able to get under 3-hours in 2005.

What is mileage? As my friend, and coach, Bobby McGee says... EVERYTHING is mileage! Hiking, walking, jogging, running and, as a triathlete, I would add swimming, biking, crosstraining. For the mileage limited (and nearly all of us fall into that category), we need to use every means possible to sneak in bonus training.

What are the items that most risk mileage? Here are mine:
  • Not training first thing in the morning
  • Getting off a routine sleep pattern
  • Excessive training stress (session duration or intensity) resulting in injury
  • Driving everywhere (a mile driven is one that you never get back into your log!)
  • Excessive training stress (weekly or monthly volume) resulting in deep fatigue
  • Lack of discipline with evening commitments (letting things run late, missing sleep)
Note I still haven't mentioned a single thing about training protocol. I haven't because it doesn't matter to that average finisher. As student, we must demonstrate an ability "to do" (for years) before we are constrained by "what we do".

Here's the basic week that I use to maintain my endurance options when I want to do a lot of work. The nice thing about running is that you get a large fitness return per minute invested.

  • Five days per week -- at least one hour of running

  • One day per week -- 2-4 hours of crosstraining, running, or mixed bike/hike

  • One day per week -- an hour of walking or crosstraining

6 days per week are easy/steady and one day per week will include some mod-hard/tempo. Long time readers will know how I define intensity but an easy way would be to use Mark Allen's article on max aerobic heart rate. Easy is 20 under, Steady is 10 under, Mod-hard is just under... Mark's heart rate. The system isn't perfect but it is simple/effective and won't distract us from sorting out our nutrition/mileage (daily, for the next decade).

Now, you'll see above that I listed 8-10 hours of exercise per week. That's far too much if you aren't used to it. So you will need to taper into the volume.

Here's how:
  1. Until you can run for 10 minutes (any speed) and keep your heart rate under Mark's max aerobic, just walk. You should be able to walk fast and get your heart rate within 20 beats of your max aerobic zone -- and that is enough. Aim for 20 minutes of aerobic walking per day. Prove that you can do that daily, for a month, before progressing.
  2. Once your walking habit is well-established then try this workout. Walk ten minutes; (3x) 5 minutes easy running (with short steps) alternating with 1 minute brisk walking; walk ten minutes. At first, do this workout 1-2x per week. When you can manage it 4x per week, for 4 weeks, then consider adding a long hike on the weekend.
  3. Remember that your goal is high-quality nutrition and mileage by any means necessary. Speed is meaningless, while you will see rapid progress with this approach, it will be years before you learn your full potential.
Enjoy the journey, it is a lot of fun.


PS -- In the early 90s, I was unable to complete a 5K run. In 2004, I ran a 2:46 marathon at the end of an Ironman Triathlon. You'll never know if you don't try and the rewards are much greater than athletic performance alone.

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03 October 2008

Old School Endurance

This week, I am going to have some fun and write about a topic dear to my heart -- Old School Endurance.  Not quite "Old Time Hockey" but Paul Newman's passing has been on my mind.  Watching Slapshot is a rite of passage for a lot of my Canadian pals.

Management and communication tips can wait for another week -- if you are like me then you could be a little burnt out on reading about the dire state of the global economy.  There is going to be plenty of time for working through the aftermath.


Two quick announcements before we get started:

I was looking for photos on the web this past weekend and discovered my interview on Endurance Planet -- scroll down the page, I am July 1st.  13 minutes long with some ideas about performance and coaching that might interest.  

Bobby McGee, world-class running and triathlon coach, is featured on Endurance Corner Radio.  Greg Bennett is coming in two weeks.  Send questions to Justin Daerr.


This past week, I was running (in the rain, wearing a cotton t-shirt... Chuckie you would have been proud).  I was rolling along thinking about this article and Ironman Hawaii in particular.  

The legend of Ironman is fairly well known... a few military guys sitting around trying to dream up the wildest event they can consider... Waikiki rough water swim, ride around Ohau, Honolulu marathon... something like that.  For me, that's Old School Endurance.

Sit around with your pals, dream up something off-the-charts then figure out how to do it.  Outside of Ultraman, there aren't a lot of triathlon events that fit that mould any more.  You are most likely to discover old school endurance on events like the Triple Bypass, Leadville 100, Hard Rock 100 or by bumping into an ultra-amigo on the Continental Divide trail.

Ironman has gained a lot over the years, lives have been changed for the better, and many cottage industries have popped up -- pretty much as a direct result of that original dare.

As a private equity guy, I think the sale this year could mark the high water mark for Ironman, but not necessarily for the WTC, as a company.  From the outside looking in, I can see clear opportunities for further profit enhancement:
  • The launch of the 70.3 series was a good move, when faced with an aging demographic as well as a need to attract younger customers.
  • The ability to bring race management in-house via acquisition, or competition.
  • Superior licensing arrangements -- to me, there has always been a disconnect between the marketing strategy (mass market) and the people that actually do the races (niche market).  Perhaps the most lucrative customers are the one's watching the NBC broadcast?  I suspect that there is a lot more that can be done with those of us that are actually doing the races.
Ramp things up and either fold into a larger entertainment group, or sell a piece of Ironman through the public markets.  I keep coming back to Planet Hollywood in my mind, though -- not a great outcome for the IPO shareholders but a great franchise name.  I'd be wary if they take m-dot public.  Of course, history tells us that select buyers will pay a large premium to own world-class brands.  My concern would be the risk of declining cash flow.

Why sell?  Long term capital gains tax rates are likely heading up; and a vendor wants to leave enough in it for the next buyer to generate a fair return.  The deal made sense to me from both sides. 

How to maintain growth of an expensive and time consuming hobby in the face of a declining economic environment?  The 70.3 series is a good strategic move.  It will be interesting to see how Ironman handles a significant economic slowdown within its demographic -- the Ironman target market has had a sustained bull run -- we should get Dan Empfield to share his thoughts.  Perhaps he'll write something about his -- SlowTwitch reflects the pulse of the sport and Dan has a historical perspective that few can match.

Back to Old School Endurance.  Before I ever did a swim set or bike repeat, I was a weightlifter, hiker, and (very average) sport climber.  Like many of us, I got a kick out of dreaming up new projects -- my progression to mountaineering was the ultimate in Old School.  Find a volcano somewhere in Asia -- use a three-, or four-, day weekend to fly-in, summit and fly-out.  I would sleep rough and listen to the jungle.

These days a ten-mile climb wears me out... still it is September.  A guy's got to rest some time!

Some of you might recognize the guy in the photo below -- this summer during Epic Camp Italy, I used my easy day, to ride past the turn off for the Messner Museum in the Dolomites.  Everest, solo, no oxygen, no one else on the mountain.  Pretty Old School! 

Endurance has a number of different qualities -- all of which are important to consider if you want to (ultimately) race well.  Each of these attributes is linked with the others and a breakdown in one area ends our ability "to endure".

Mental Endurance -- the ability to keep moving forward until the objective is met.  Chip away, bit by bit, day after day.  The downside is that people that score high here are the sorts the die in the mountains, or spend years pounding away at an area where they have little potential.  I score reasonably well here, so need to balance persistence (good thing) with consistency bias (risky thing).

Working on our physical endurance benefits our mental endurance in many ways. 

Anger management -- I experience a lot of background anger in the world, specifically what drives a lot of ultraendurance athletes to get so far away from home, from the 'real' world, from everyone else.  

To truly endure, we need to accept the way things are.  Somehow, years of physical endurance training managed to work-out a lot of situations, histories, and people that used to upset me.

Humility -- This could be the ingredient that creates the later life peak for the ultra-endurance athlete.  It takes most of us a many years to have enough setbacks to gain the humility required to stop repeating our mistakes.  The only sure fire way to increase my humility is wait around until an unexpected setback reminds me that I don't have all the answers.

Fear -- for me, fear is what leads anger.  I struggle to see the emotional roots of my fears... ...I only feel the anger.  I spend a lot of time searching for the fear that lies beneath my emotions.  My main fear has to do with disappointing people that I respect. 

Physical Endurance -- just like VO2 max, many people appear to be gifted with bodies that are created to tolerate volume well.  Expeditions are a great example of this trait.  When I was in peak mountaineering shape, I could carry/haul 130 lbs of gear daily, at altitude, for a week -- good for me, "easy" for a sherpa!  I could do a tremendous amount of low intensity work then handle hours of tempo on a final "summit day".  

What I couldn't do was swim, bike or run quickly -- let alone put them all together.  Endurance is an essential component of fitness but it is only a component.  At my mountaineering peak, I was a mediocre athlete.  But my solid endurance base, enabled surprisingly rapid progress when I started converting endurance to race fitness.

Most adult triathletes come to our sport with a focus on race fitness prior to the creation of an endurance (and strength) platform.  This is the piece of the performance puzzle that is missed by intensity-driven programs -- most likely because they are created by life-long athletes that haven't experienced an absence of endurance.

Metabolic Endurance -- I don't read a lot about this in the literature but I see it with people that are able to survive when placed in extreme situations -- as well as athletes that are (ultimately) able to go 'fast' in an Ironman.  Physical endurance is the ability to walk from Boulder to Vail.  Metabolic endurance is the ability to do it on minimal food and water.  Some coaches/athletes seek to train this through (effectively) starvation.  

Perhaps a future article will talk about self-starvation, and self-denial, in an attempt to exert control within a mind that feels out of control.  It's a complex psychological issue that is far easier to observe than treat.  I have had my greatest success with simple acceptance and affection for (fellow) crazies.

Constitutional Endurance -- relates to how fast we recover, our immune systems and what we generally call our "constitution".  We see this a lot at Epic Camp... there is normally one, or two, campers that manage to get stronger as the camp progresses.  Some individuals can simply take more than others -- and keep bouncing back.  In my mid-30s I could get away with extreme training -- at least I thought I was getting away with it!

Molina once managed the first week of an Epic Camp on nothing but liquid calories.  He'd had the trots for a week leading into the camp!  He didn't mention this to anyone lest we rip him to shreds -- Epic Campers can behave a bit like hyenas when they get fatigued... 

Scott's not the only example of World Champions that score off-the-charts for Old School Endurance -- Tom Dolan is a guy that springs to mind.  Talent, motivation, and the capacity to out-train any swimmer of his generation.

Now you might think that Ironman Hawaii is the ultimate test of endurance -- we could be fooling ourselves.  The photo above is how Amundsen chose to spend his summer when he raced Scott to the South Pole.  Great story.  Guts will only get you so far without preparation.

The real test of Ironman is the months, and years, of daily training that are required to put together a fast race.  That is the true test and probably why we see such an emotional release at the finish line -- so much went into that one day.


Some suggested reading to get your Old School mojo working...
Endurance, Shackleton (pictured above, likely the greatest demonstration of human endurance, ever -- gotta love the frosty beard, Monica won't let me grow one...)

Many enjoy the romanticism of endurance-Samurai that go down in flames -- the problem with that approach is you can't write up your adventures if you are dead on the mountain.  

Being a success oriented guy, I like the stories that centre around getting the team home in one piece.

Molina's 50 in 2010 -- it's going to take me a while to build back up but I'm looking forward to Going' Old School one more time with my good buddy.  We'll need to come up with something special.

Good luck to everyone racing Kona -- when it gets tough remember that it's just one day!

Back next week,

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26 October 2007

Kona 2007

I spent the last weekend with Robbie Ventura in Chicago and that photo above is my new TT position. Just in case you don't believe it... that really is me, Robbie says that I don't even look like a triathlete -- high praise. Even Monica couldn't recognize me when I sent over the shots -- said the leg looked "too big". ha ha

I will share my thoughts on his operation when I give my talk on coaching business models at the November Coaches Clinic. It was a fun weekend observing a successful businessman (and business) up close. It's impressive what the Vision Quest team have built. I've nicknamed the CEO... "Hurricane Robbie".

Thanks to Jim Sauls, you will find more velodrome photos HERE.

Once I get the data I'll pass it along to Planet-X for them to post up. You can read my 2008 plan over there now.


Kona 2007
I learn something each time I come to Hawaii and, this past trip, I had a few insights that I’ll pass along.

The island is an extreme place and the thought of racing here again is frightening for me. The only other course that generates a similar level of anxiety is Lake Placid. What these courses share is the fact that any pacing errors will be punished. In Kona, you get punished both severely and publicly. Of course, learning to cope with that is a useful skill, even if you never really ‘overcome’ a situation.


Bike Workouts

I’ll share a couple of workouts that I picked up. These are supplemental to the ones that I outlined in my Power Presentation that goes with my podcast on EC-Radio (right margin).

Non-technical readers may wish to skip ahead...

12/3s – typically, I do these as 15 minute continuous cycles of 12 min steady then 3 min mod-hard. Bob Korock was nice enough to share one that he uses that is done as 12 min mod-hard (Half IM avg watts) then 3 min easy. This is specific preparation workout, rather than general endurance. Most people would see the Tempo 12s as superior to the Steady 12s. That depends on your needs and the time of the season. Even in Kona, steady state stamina and a superior endurance physiology at the metabolic level are fundamental limiters that I see in the field.

For a few years I’ve suspected that certain strong (and large) athletes have the aerobic capacity to perform at a work rate that exceeds their metabolic capacity. Put another way, the athlete’s fitness across an event duration exceeds their capacity for fueling. Post race analysis of power/pace data shows that the athlete “should have” been able to tolerate the efforts.

Watching, and talking to, athletes in Kona – it appears that there is a risk that we spend too much time developing our threshold performance and neglect to maximize our metabolic efficiency both in terms of output and input. I have seen some speedy Ironman performances done off the back of throwing a ton of volume at an athlete. I wonder about the stickiness of training that maximizes the ability to process carbs and oxidize fat. I also expect that there are genetic, nutritional and training factors that influence these limiters to performance.

The persistence of metabolic efficiency adaptations is an important consideration because it might explain why I’ve done some ripping IMs fatigued with sub-optimal threshold training/performance. Perhaps I maximized my real constraint which is metabolic in nature. We’ve got a lot to learn about what’s really happening in 8-17 hour events. Robbie talked about RAAM-pace // the speed that results from your maximal rate of glycogen synthesis. After two days all RAAM athletes are running on empty -- we have seen RAAM speed in athletes that tried to lose weight at Epic Camp. In ironman terms I call it POLAR (Pace Of LAst Resort).

Anyhow, my second workout tip for you is one that Joe Friel shared with me. The mainset is a doozey… four hours at goal IM wattage within a race simulation workout that is done on a flat course. If you get more than a 5% heart rate deviation (at the end) from the steady-state heart rate achieve (in the middle) then you are either… (a) aiming too high in terms of wattage; or (b) lack the ‘depth’ of fitness required. Either way, you must lower your wattage target. I think that this is an excellent session because (if you use the data) you greatly increase your probability of running well.

FYI, these sessions are late-season workouts. I won’t be trying them anytime soon.

Some swim tips that I picked up from super-swimmer Karlyn Pipes-Nielsen… I will share them without a lot of explanation. Remember that you simply need to enter down and pull straight back. Most people overthink swimming.

She’s teaching straight-arm recovery, too avoid crisscross and overshooting on entry she instructs outside edge of hand entry (I tend to go pinky).

In starting the stroke, engage the outside edge of the hand and the base of the palm, rather than fingertips. This should engage the lat rather than firing just the deltoid.

I’m a deltoid dominant swimmer and felt the difference immediately.



Every year, the race in Hawaii gets more and more competitive in all categories. It was impressive to see how fast the over 50s (men and women) race. If you are in your 30s, then consider what's going to happen when all the 35-39 elites age-up. Look at the ages in the Top-30 // how fast will this guy go at 45 or 50? What a race!

In a few years, we will see guys like Ken Glah and Greg Fraine racing in the 50+ category. It will be fun to see what’s possible. As for me... I don't plan on denying you the chance to take me down in my 40s... ;-)

I received a great quote from Jo Lawn right after the race… “to win here you can’t have a bad _minute_ let alone bad day. The girls are going for it the whole way”.

Even if the fields are getting more competitive, there remains a lot of room for performance through superior pacing. Powermeters are going to become standard for most athletes -- as a coach, you need to be building your experience with power. There are a lot of smart people sharing tips on maximizing Ironman performance (2peak.com's ideas on power output bike vs. run). The sports scientists are catching up on what really drives IM performance.

Less than 5% of the athletes I watched climbing Palani used their powermeters. That’s a lot of ammo to use in the first twenty miles of the bike. I'm speaking from recent personal experience here... you gotta trust me!

I’ve been fortunate to work with Ron Ottaway (winner of the 70-74 agegroup) for the last six years. I will share my thoughts on The Aging Athlete in an up-coming letter. For what it’s worth, Ron was fast when he came to me (five times on stage in Kona). However, he did win his agegroup by over an hour so I feel qualified to comment on what works (at least for him).

Ron was 20-minutes down at Hawi and started the run right beside 1st place (probably his best bike pacing, ever, in an Ironman). I’m looking forward to reviewing his power file. The challenges that face the ageing (speedy) athlete are unique as hanging onto developed fitness is a lot easier than building it up.

The fastest elite times may be similar to what Mark and Dave put up but the depth of the field is greatly increasing. Track the Top 10/20/30 (M/F) overall times to prove it to yourself. Top Ten used to be a reasonable dream for me... now I'm not so sure!


Dr. J
Some neat posts from Dr. J over on his blog – he lays out (what I believe is) the most effective way for an athlete to improve their run performance.

Most people that do run camps target an average pace/intensity FAR too high. This time of year I am running 8-9 min per mile with my heart rate <145 style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">


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09 September 2007


Presently, I’ve moved on from the Canadian Rockies and am a bit jet-lagged in Edinburgh, Scotland. Before we get into this week’s letter, a few quick announcements:

Power Talk – I’ll be speaking on training/racing with power at a September 19th meeting of the Boulder Triathlon Club. 7pm at the Senior Center beside the East Boulder Rec Center.

The Business Aspects of Coaching
– November 2nd & 3rd in Colorado Springs – registration is now open. The clinic is a chance to learn more about managing your coaching business as well as tips for personal financial planning. USAT have arranged housing/meals through the Olympic Training Centre so the cost is very reasonable.

Tucson Training Camps – March 22nd to 30th & April 19th to 27th – please contact “mat” “@” endurancecorner.com to reserve your spot. If you have any questions on suitability or the actual camp program then drop me a line.

We’re going to have catering/support/sag at the standard of the camps I do with Scott/Johno. Eight days, all-inclusive, $2,250 per camp (we cover everything but your travel to/from Tucson). Sign up for both camps and we will arrange physiological testing and review your training program as part of the package. The camps are going to be a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to them.

Alternative Perspectives has a neat article by my friend Terry Kerrigan. He's writing about Power Reserve.

Mat's blog talks about the role of expectations in performance -- it's extremely rare for a new athlete to have the humility to accept their actual bike fitness. I'm willing to bet that you've had similar thoughts in your racing -- I certainly have. What makes Mat's race unique is that he didn't bow to what he thought he had to do -- he simply did his best. A good lesson for all of us.

I'm back on top of my email -- if you've been waiting a while for an reply and it doesn't come through then please follow-up. There was considerable back-log on the server and some messages may have gone missing.


Whether I achieve, or fail to achieve, my goals – there is always a huge “sigh” at the end of a long build towards any event (fundraising, competition, deal completion, business sale, graduation, new product development).

Transition points are challenging as I am at my best when working towards a tough goal. Outcome doesn’t have as large an impact as the process of sustained personal excellence towards a task. Once the smoke clears, there’s always the sensation of “well, what next”? I’ll come to that in Part Three.

Three things that I’ve been mulling in my head:

First, in evaluating the merits of a decision, I want to consider how I did based on the information that I had at the time, rather than the outcome. It’s possible to make good decisions and have sub-optimal outcomes. Likewise, we can have superior outcomes that are purely due to chance. A great discussion of this point is in Robert Rubin’s book about his time as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary.

Second, I failed to achieve my goal and am currently in nine-hour Ironman shape. It is tempting to “adjust” outcomes by rationalizing external/internal variables. That is bogus. Beware of the trap of fooling yourself with post-experience rationalizations – people close to us will often support rationalizations in an attempt to soothe our egos.

In order to learn from any experience, we need to see the raw reality of our performance. When I blow it, I need to know it. It is the fastest way to learn and improve.

In my last post, I talked about “life best” fitness – sitting here today – I don’t think so! Fitness has physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. I may have optimized certain elements of my physiology but I failed to optimize my _performance_ on the day. The clearest indicator of fitness is performance.

Finally, although I didn’t see it at the time, the race was “lost” in the first hour of the competition. In 2005, I had a similar experience (Cam beat me by 20+ minutes that day). If you are going to lose then you might as well learn something.

Swim Pacing – the swim start was super fast and that surprised me. Why? Perhaps, I created a perception that I was one of the people that you “had to beat” to do well. Perhaps, I wanted the field to race on “my terms”.

I made a choice to swim “easy”. This was a poor decision – why did I do that? I was well trained (physically) to solo at max aerobic effort – I’d been doing weekly open water swims for the entire summer. However, I ended up cruising a large chunk of the swim leg. Why? I went “easy” because I wanted the swim to be “easy”. This was a failure of mental preparation and a poor decision based on the information at the time.

Bike Pacing – coming out of the water, I gave up nearly seven minutes to Mr. Doe. I told myself that was OK, I’d simply had a “flat tire” during the swim. Early in the bike, I found myself riding with Yastrebov/Marcotte/Curry. This encouraged me as the guys are experienced, excellent athletes. My early ride felt like a repeat of 2004 (except the elite draft zone was three meters longer and those are three VERY material meters). I told myself to relax and let the lads pace me back into the race.

Sounds great, eh?

Reality proved a little different! The boys were laying serious hurt on me. We ripped the front half of the course. Even factoring in the tailwind, the first fifty miles of the bike represented the fastest riding that I’ve done in THREE years.

If we are looking to optimize race performance then we need to operate under our maximum capacity for most of the day. So why did I make this decision? I was seeking to maximize race position – maximize, not optimize.

I started racing an hour late _and_ two hours early. If you know the Ironman Canada course then you’ll understand the paradox.

Not only did I ride super strong, but I rode off the front of the lads around Mile 80 – Kieran (in first) was 15 minutes up-the-road but Johno (in second) was close. The first hundred miles was the most intense Century Ride that I’ve done in the last five years. The breakthrough ride that I’d dreamed about was happening. However, it may have proved more effective to place it in July!

Over the last two years, my coaches have recommended that I try to blow myself up on the bike (B- and C-priority races). The irony of doing it during my AAA-priority race makes me smile, and certainly doesn’t make me unique.

The results of my bike pacing happen to nearly everyone in the field. People asked me what “went wrong”? Nothing went wrong; my race outcome was perfectly normal. The fact that it took me so long to wreck myself shows that I was in decent physical shape.

The critical piece of information that was missing was my _actual_ bike fitness, relative to the guys I was riding alongside. I made an internal decision (pacing) based on external variables (the lads). However, I had zero 2007 experience racing with those guys, and then, decided to go off the front of them.

Having ‘blown it’ with my first decision of the day, I don’t have any regrets with trying a new race strategy. The huge serving of Marathon Humility was informative. I was conscious enough on the run to see that my experience was directly my creation – “why, oh why, did I do this to myself”. I was entertained by my self-created suffering. Hopefully, I won’t make this form of entertainment a habit!

Out on the bike, I failed to drink enough water but was saved from disaster by the excellent running conditions. A bit of dehydration may have led to increased complications on the run. The choice to drink less was a very poor one because it makes it much tougher for me to assess the magnitude of my cycling over-exuberance. Still, even if I knew _exactly_ the degree that I blew it on the bike; I will be a different athlete next time.

Whether, or not, there will be a next time is the subject of Part Three. In Part Two, I’ll share thoughts on how the past year went for me. I am in the process of reviewing, then updating, my Personal Plan for the next year.

One final thought, a couple of the lads emailed that they hope to race me on a better day. Last weekend’s race was my absolute best effort and represented total dedication at my end. I brought my A-game to Penticton and the guys in front of me beat me while I tried my best.

In our lives, we rarely give ourselves the chance to give our absolute best towards any endeavor. My wife, my clients and my team put a tremendous amount of energy into my race preparations. Daily, I reap the benefits of this focus on excellence.

The toughest part of the entire day was (my perception of) failing to deliver to my crew. As Mark warned, when the race gets tough, the surface fears (failure, fatigue) melt away to the reality of our subconscious fears. I didn’t realize how much I loved Monica until the only disappointment that I felt was not delivering on her dedication to my goal. That is an interesting piece of self-knowledge.

Under duress, I failed to consider that the reward we receive for loving is more love, rather than more performance. If you can relate then you are a very lucky person. If I sound a bit flakey then that is OK too. I only started to understand recently.


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29 August 2007

Ironman Canada 2007

Huddle asked me about my Big Room Speech being a motivator. Not so much any more -- my main personal driver is simply to "go fast". However, having the chance to stand up in front of a room of people and say that I love Monica, that would be fun. I didn't get my shot this year so I'll write it here instead!

Sweets, I really appreciate the massive effort that you put into my athletics this year and I love you very much!

My current location is Banff, Alberta and I'm riding intermittent wireless from a public parking area near the Bow River. Check back on September 10th for the first of a three part series. I've been running through the race, as well as, the year in my head for the last few days. I'll share ideas on: (a) the race; (b) the year; and (c) the future.

Many thanks for the pre-race good wishes -- I read them all prior to last Sunday and have managed to reply to (most of) you from Banff.

Monica pointed out that my race ended up mirroring one of my greatest triathlon fears. I found myself laughing (internally) as I had a personal moment, on my hands and knees, at Mile Eight of the run. As usual, the 'fear' was far worse than reality. Quite ironic that I had to get myself into life best fitness in order to self-detonate.

The most interesting aspect of the week was that, through a single blog entry each week, I created a change in the way other people saw (and reacted to) me. Three hours of writing each week was enough to tilt (a small niche of) the World.

Things are a bit backed up on the email. Expect replies to extend into mid-September.

Not (yet) a Hollywood ending but I'm a fan of French Cinema in any event.


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19 June 2007

Specific Prep -- June 2007

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask yourself following the workout:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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13 June 2007

More On Personal Planning

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lessons as I see them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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08 June 2007

Mid Year Reality Check & Long Rides

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

That's the Ironman Champion Weekend.

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

That's not it.

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

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

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

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

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

Take care,

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

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22 May 2007

Grip Tips

This week’s photo is one of my favorites from the archives. One year ago this week, Team MonGo on the beach in Brazil. Sitting here on a plane to the United Kingdom, I can remember the warm sun on that morning. I’m far from Brazil right now but it seems very close. Good memories.

One announcement before I kick off, I’ll be speaking at a USAT Coaching Clinic on November 2nd & 3rd – location is the Olympic Training Centre at Colorado Springs. This is the same weekend as last season. This year we will focus on the “business” part of coaching. The clinic is open to coaches/athletes of all sports. More details as I work them out with Tim Boruff of USAT.

I promised that I’d share a few of the ideas that Mark passed along to me – I’ve been bumping into Mark off-and-on for a few years. I’ve taken every single opportunity to speak to him over the years. Some of what I’ll share below I picked up before we formally started working together – some of it may have nothing to do _directly_ with Mark but he was a catalyst for change.

To kick off, I went back to my notes from the Fit Body, Fit Soul clinic in September last year. It’s been eight months already! So much has happened, and yet, I feel as if I’m exactly the same person… …but I’m not.

In reviewing my notes, I see that I had four “fears” and one “desire” that I wanted to send on their way. When I met with Mark in January, he told me not to worry about them because they were already gone. Similar to writing something down in a blog; the identification and sharing of a fear greatly reduces its power.

At the clinic, I wrote down quite a bit about sleep and healing. My sleep patterns have always provided a direct insight into my personal productivity.

My four key tips for improved sleep are:

***Wake-up at the same time every day

***Moderate use of stimulants (mine are coffee, training stress, intensity and evening speaking)

***No email or business after dinner

***Simplify week structure and number of commitments

I also wanted to reduce overall stressors on my body. The four things that I wanted to achieve where: eliminating alcohol; improving nutrition; reducing travel; and limiting internet.

Sitting here on British Airways, I have to admit that I didn’t reduce my travel much – I’ve been all over the place! However, my internet surfing is way, way down and that helped in many areas. Avoiding chat forums and most media, eliminates a source of external noise that saps productivity.

One of the quickest ways to increase productivity is reduce the mental junk food that you consume. Are your media choices consistent with excellence? Are you making the same excuses for media outlets that you used to apply to your nutrition?

I asked these questions to myself and the answers were informative. So I write to you here instead of joining in the chorus of disharmony elsewhere.


The booze and the nutrition were straightforward to sort out. I’m very lucky that Monica creates a wide range of fantastic meals. We’re eating extremely healthy meals that change daily. Previously, we ate “chicken and salad” for dinner every night (very healthy but lacking in variety). The shift to a wide range of organic ingredients added materially to our grocery bill but, for us, it is a price worth paying. Nutrition offers me a sustainable advantage over my competition and will enhance my family’s long term quality of life.

One of the last notes that I made at the clinic was that we achieve balance by living in harmony and peace with our environment. Are Monica and I a “sustainable family”? Not yet, the amount of garbage that I generate still bothers me (not enough to do much about it though). We are re-doing our garage and basement and generating a ton of trash. Garbage, and my direct impact on the environment, is a topic that I’ve been thinking about since 2004 (when the only thing I left on my trip across America was trash).

My brother gave me a nudge on composting, so we’ve got that happening now. I planted a dogwood tree near my compost pile and it seems to be enjoying my initiative.

If you’ve read a simple book on sustainability then send me the title. I’d welcome some ideas.


Overall, as you can gather, things are going well and I am enjoying the challenge of making changes to my approach.

One of the interesting effects of Mark’s protocol…

I am enjoying success with sensible training…

the success enables me to be ever more sensible…

and generate ever more success.

Flip it around… an elite cycling buddy of mine once shared this circle with me…

he didn’t achieve the results he wanted early in the year…

so he skipped his mid-season break where he re-establishes his base…

so he kept racing and didn’t achieve the results he wanted.

Lest you think that I’ve gone soft… I still overload myself quite a bit. The main change that I’ve made is much more structured recovery.

My four week rolling volume has ranged from 47 hours (post-Epic in January) to 99 hours (the block that followed Epic Recovery). To put that in context, in the Spring of 2004, I peaked at just over 140 hours in a single four week block.


OK, what did Mark say?

Well, prior to my last trip we discussed very little in terms of specifics. Our discussions were more about training philosophy (pacing a year, pacing a season, pacing a workout, background) as well as settling my mind down (doing enough, keep the cap, be patient). I enjoy talking to Mark – the guy relaxes me. Breakfast in Santa Cruz is the slowest that you’ll ever see me eat.

What I’ve written in this blog contains more detail than what we discussed – I went to his site for supplemental information. I’ll outline the few areas where I received clear tips. You’ve heard some of this before!

Heart Rate Cap – the “cap” that Mark likes is a real cap. Elites don’t get any special dispensations – perhaps someone can ask Macca about his program and drop me an email! I need to know if there is an alternative protocol for the sub-8:10 Kona plan…

I stuck to that cap as best as I could. Within the cap, there are pace/power/speed peaks but there is no sustained hammering. When you go hard, you have a reason and you go really hard.

In the interests of full disclosure I did have two days where I drilled it “off plan” – one at each of the training camps that I did. These were hard sessions that were done a day, or two, before I had them officially scheduled. Group training is tough even for an experienced guy like me! Mark told that would probably happen and I should remember that blowing it didn’t need to become a habit.

The cap has a neat implication – looking for more information, I went to Mark’s site and read his tip to try to keep things over 120 bpm when doing an endurance session. That is an absolutely brilliant tip!


This completely removes any pressure during an endurance session. When I go out, my mission is to get over 120 bpm and not cross 148 bpm. I can use all my knowledge, my zones, my power meter, my lab results – however, too much complexity will leave you feeling less than satisfied. Why? Because you will ALWAYS find a metric that you aren’t meeting – your knowledge will beat you down! Mark’s system removes that.

If you get out the door then you are pretty much guaranteed a successful workout.

That’s a recipe for consistency and consistency is what really matters.


Another clear piece of advice that Mark gave was not to let my weight go under 160 lbs (I’m 6-1, post-yoga). Imagine that (!), an ultraendurance coach telling me not to get too light – sacrilege!

When he told me, I was disappointed – if figured that 157 was possible if I ate super light this summer... like many of us, I enjoy driving my weight down for races – yes, I have a deep seeded desire to control things.

Not only did Mark set the weight floor, but he followed up on it (twice) with me. Clearly, this wasn’t a passing comment. His rationale is: (a) for IM we need maximum power; and (b) to go really fast we need maximum ‘reserves” (physical, mental, spiritual). Power and reserves are not maximized when weight is minimized.

Worth repeating – power and reserves are not maximized when weight is minimized.

So the floor relaxes me and I start to focus on eating super healthy because “if I only get 160 lbs then I better make sure that they are the fittest 160 lbs in Penticton”. It got to the point where I even skipped weighing myself for a few weeks because “making weight” ceased to be an issue for me. I checked in this past week… doing fine.

Our “technical knowledge” may take issue with caps and floors – however, if the goal is getting the athlete to focus on what truly matters then, for me, they are extremely powerful tools… …and I knew what I was doing before I started working with Mark!


The first time I heard Mark speak about winning in 1989 he shared his experience with “giving up” during the race. He didn’t quit, rather he completely accepted his situation and acknowledged that he would continue to the best of his ability.

I had a similar experience with my running test. I was kicking out that same result for SIX months while training 20-40% less than normal. I can assure you that it was testing! It wasn’t until I totally accepted that I was going to race Canada with a 4 min per K max aerobic pace that I broke through.

Of course, it might have been all that training…

I take your point but remember that, at my level, the training is taken for granted. Everybody in the Top Ten trains to the best of their ability. The differences are not due to lack of effort – the differences are due to the combined effects of little things over an extended period of time.


The final point is Mark’s tip that when I “go fast”; I should go as fast as I can. Of all the tips, this is the clearest change from my previous approach because to “go fast” I need to rest up and really rip it. I freshened-up for every fast session and race that I did this year. Previously, I’d only freshen a few times a season.

Training up at my maximum heart rate is new. Coming from an ultra background, I expect that my top-end has never been fully trained (going back to school days). That is a change that Mark brought to my program – the limited application of maximum effort training. In the past, I’ve tried to go “really fast” but I’ve carried too much fatigue to achieve the levels that I’ve seen in 2007.

How much tough stuff? Looking at my calendar, 16-18 days (Sept 2006 to May 2007) where I let my heart rate go over 150 bpm for a sustained period of time. Of those days, I hit maximum heart rate on less than ten. Of the ten, I hit life highest heart rates on five or six.

I was under 150 bpm for the first 14-15 weeks of this season – my longest endurance phase in the last seven years (even while overtrained – yes, I am the type to test myself when nuked).


It’s a good thing that I’ve been pacing myself because last week we ran through Mark’s view on specific preparation for an elite athlete. We didn’t talk main sets or highly structured workouts, I already know how to structure a bike ride.

We discussed weeks, and days, of race specific overload:

***Big weeks (SBR, Bike and Run);

***Big Day Training (see my tips page);

***Back-to-back Long Rides;

***Double run days.

It’s essentially the same structure that I’ve been using in the past. The training is the SAME as what I’ve been doing in the past. It is nearly identical to the program that Scott Molina has been teaching me since 2000, and not far from what I learned from Dave Scott in 2004.

So what’s different? The mind craves differences!

***I’ll start the final block completely fresh – after two weeks of maintenance training, I will do less than five hours this week – half of my weekly volume will be on this coming Sunday. The only other time that I was this fresh in May, I raced Ironman Brazil, took two weeks off then did Epic Camp France. I won’t be repeating that pattern this year!

***My initial run fitness is much higher with my max aerobic, FT and VO2 paces at life best levels. I completed a 20-miler on Magnolia Road last Sunday and combined my fastest split with lowest average heart rate. I’m in great marathon shape;

***I’ll do more long bike rides (than the year I rode across America for base training);

***I’ll do less fast running and start it later in the summer – when I run fast, I will run very fast;

***My long runs will stay under 150 bpm – previously, my longest runs would also be some of my fastest. I’ve done some tough 20-milers in the past;

***Including this week (and race week), I will have five unloading periods (two more than normal) and each period is about double the duration of normal;

The differences relate to ensuring that I absorb the training required to go very fast in Penticton on August 26th. I’ve created a situation where I am “ahead of plan” – this gives me the confidence to insert extra recovery and greatly increases the probably of success. It also removes the pressure to hit homeruns – I don’t need to prove anything in training (listen to Faris on Competitors Radio for his take on AG-training in San Diego).

When I started reaching the podium at International races, I asked Scott what I should change to go faster. His advice was: (a) remember to keep what made you fast in the first place; (b) make your tough days tougher; and (c) keep your easy days easy.

There is very little change in my training protocol. The adjustments come mainly in my recovery protocol. As my tough days increased their load, we found that I needed easy periods, as opposed to easy days.

It all looks so simple sitting on my excel spreadsheet…

Should be an interesting summer!


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04 May 2007

May Q & A

Still on the road this week so a few thoughts on: priorities; realistic protocol choices; and externals.


S.T. writes…
“Important things tend to receive great criticism from ourselves. At least this is what my market research shows, which was done among my friends. We always think that our priority list is not correct. For example, we always ask “why this is #1?” and why this is #8? (in a top-10 list)…

“Anyway, when you have free time and you’re in good mood, pls write a post on this very subject “deciding what is really important to you”. I think that this decision is very short-lived and it’s like making a tattoo. You like it now (in our case you consider it important now), but are you going to like it after 5 or 15 years? In my humble opinion, decide what is important now and is rated #1 now, it’s not something that can last for too long, maybe that was the case in the 90s, not in the 2k years. It can even become counterproductive in our fast changing world. Everything goes, turns and moves fast and our “important things” (probably) follow."


Some general points on goals and priorities.

Within my life, my goals are signposts (or waypoints). They are not a destination in themselves, rather they help me be the sort of man that I want to be. They support a desired lifestyle and ethical framework for me. With that in mind, I’m always free to change my goals (or my approach) with new information.

Some of my pals (and readers) often appear to take my goals more seriously than I do. What I strive for is total commitment with limited attachment -- some days go better than others on that front! I think that we need to be wary of sticking to stated goals when changing circumstances show that another makes more sense. That's why I advise careful thought before making public statements -- they often come back to bite when we are least equiped to deal with them!

That said, what I’ve found in my own life is that my true goals are timeless in nature. They span cultures as well as trends/fashions. These are the values which lie beneath the items that I may place on my Top Ten list. See my Personal Planning post (September 5th, 2006) – the key things for me are:

Big Picture
>>>Successful marriage combined with personal satisfaction
>>>Open communication based on kindness and respect
>>>Practice listening skills
>>>Observe and reflect

Key Likes
>>>Like to train and write
>>>Like to achieve
>>>Enjoy temperate weather with ample sunshine
>>>Maintain expense/income balance

All of the above are available to me on a daily basis and, with the exception of my marriage (and the weather), only require action on my part. I have complete control over them.

Within my life, I see very little link between “balance” (in the Western sense) and personal satisfaction. It often feels that I have to work at keeping my life focused (and a bit out of balance), in order to achieve a deeper level of success.

However, there is a strong link between “harmony” and personal satisfaction. Harmony flowing most easily when I am living up to my commitments to myself – everything that I appear to do for “others” is undertaken as a result of a desire to maintain my personal view of self. To think otherwise can generate a lot of resentment – there are a lot of highly successful “self-less” people living lives of background anger due to failing to realize this point.


D.M. writes…
“My main constraint (as for a lot of us!) is time.... …I'm able to manage 10 hours of training per week while keeping my life balanced. As a result, my training consists of a mix of intervals, time trial efforts ( e.g. 5k run or 60min bike TT) and longer sessions (e.g. 90min steady run or 3 hour ride). So far I am improving and my body absorbs the intensity well.

“I know you prefer a lower intensity approach and it clearly works very well for you and many others. My question is, simply, with a 10h per week time constraint, do you feel that a higher intensity approach is warranted, or is there a better alternative?”


I think you answered your own question – your life is stable, you are improving and you feel like you are absorbing the training. Those three items describe an athletic approach that is successful in terms of our life.

What I’ve seen in my own training as well as the training of my athletes is that for an athlete to get close to their “ultimate athletic potential” (whatever that may be) requires a level of time commitment that most people don’t want to make. The time required simply doesn’t fit into their overall life goals. It sounds like you’re in that position right now. So I’d stick with what’s working for you.

What you may find is that using the occasional “Big Day” (see my Coaching Long Course Athletes article) in your training provides a different sort of training stimulus for you. Consistent, variable overload, absorbed over time. That goal can be achieved by a multitude of methods & protocols.


S.B. writes…
“… there are performance plateaus that people reach fairly quickly (within a few years), are very difficult to get past, and very wildly between different people. For example, I'm skeptical that I'll ever get my LT up or over 300w - my physiology doesn't seem to lend itself to that, and that's fine, I'm 155lbs. In a bike racing context, I can train up my short term sprint wattages much faster and higher than most other people are able to (which is perfect for Ironman, right?). I train with guys who have easily exceeded my strenght/weight ratios.

“So, are you putting a subtlety on the "absorbed" work versus the "completed" work - e.g. we all go out and do training that we might not be absorbing, even if we think we are?

“Now, for IM I feel like I agree with you more since the parameters are a little different - I know I can physically do all the things required to do very well at IM - it's a matter of building endurance and durability to do them over longer terms. But at the end of the day, aren't there still simple genetic/physiological aspects that play a major role, given we may not *really* know where those limits are?"


You will maximize your “speed” when you maximize your “stamina” – that is why I place such a fundamental emphasis on the long term, consistent application of steady-state aerobic training.

You are correct with the subtle emphasis that I’ve started to place on “absorbing”, rather than completing. There is an over-emphasis on the completion aspect of training – there are a lot of simple (but not easy) ways for us to enhance our absorption of training (sleep, nutrition, massage, flexibility, time management, financial stability, emotional stability). The items that I share within this blog are what, I believe, drive a deeper level of performance.

Well before I was racing elite, I learned (through Joe Friel) that my limiter was the ability to recover, not the ability to train. Most the athletes that I work with start their first year with me doing a lot “less” in their eyes – yet at the end of the year, they have done “more” because they didn’t nuke themselves, stayed healthy and had greater consistency.

Finally, genetics are the ultimate “external”. There is zero that can do about them. Time spent worrying about them is 100% wasted energy.

Focus on what you control. Ideally, what you control right now.

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03 December 2006


This article is on the most important thing that I've learned this year. I'll lead you through my progression...

Joe Friel taught me that the only difference between a fantastic and a poor performance is that we learn more with a poor performance. I'd go further and say that what we learn with success can lead to some of our greatest mistakes [See Deep Survival by Gonzales].

One of Scott Molina's favorite sayings is that we can justify a lot when we are winning. He was talking about races but, we are ALL winning at many levels nearly all the time. Even if you think that you are unsatisfied, from a human survival viewpoint, we are huge winners. In fact, when we consider some of the things that we do worry about, well, that really drives home the point.

Mark Allen mentioned to me that the patterns and experiences that we lay down when we are successful are what we need to overcome to move past that level of success. Within life, our approach will take us to a point. To get past that point, or even to stay at that point, our approach, and our beliefs, will need to adjust as our environment, and as we change.

So that's the opener


Now a break for the photos!

What you have on the photos is TT-2004 (Trek) and TT-2006 (Cervelo) and TT-2007 (Planet-X).

The most recent shot is how I spend a chunk of my week here in Noosa... living the dream on my porch. Like the headband? It makes me smile. That position is "short stem, flipped up, seat back 2cm, spacers out". I've been trying a few different options.

If I can get my torso stretched out more then it appears to be a big improvement over the previous two years. My shoulders are lower than normal even with that hump in my back (which is mainly spine, not scapula). Saddle looks a bit low in the various photos (we took ten) but it is quite powerful (from Week One wattage, the only way was up).

I also think that I have some scope to put some spacers back in as my head (even with helmet & looking forward) would be lower than my spine. That 2004 position went 8:29 -- certainly some upside there. I was riding with my shoulders around my ears!

You see... I'm trying to stay open to new TT positions to move past my previous success!


I've got a post on "true wealth" in my drafts folder but it didn't quite get to where I wanted it. I did a post on wealth last January 1st so perhaps I'll run it then as a one-year review.

If you've noticed that the archive (right margin) is out of action then so have I -- we're on to that. May have happened in a migration that we did a few weeks back.

The thoughts on wealth started when I was doing my quarterly review of my personal plan. I've also been reading a series of books about wealth and the stock market (The Money Game; Reminicenses of a Stock Operator; and The Richest Man in Babylon). The Babylon book is the most practical. The other two have great stories and a reminder that performance is merely how elites keep score. The enjoyment lies in the path, the game.


If you read my stuff (that was actually about me) from 2005 then you will see a thread running through my most of my personal writing. It went something like... once I knew that I wasn't able to do what it takes to perform the joy went out of it for me.

That is interesting to me because it points to several assumptions that I had that must have been very deeply help. These assumptions were the result of the line of thinking that I opened with.

When we only have one way to succeed, eventually, the changing cycles of life will get to us. It also ignores the fact that are as many ways to succeed as there are successful people. Anybody that tells us that their way is the only way... they haven't really looked around.

In October, a buddy lent me a copy of the Triathlete interview with Peter Reid. The most interesting thing that I found in there was Peter's observation that once he couldn't do the training required (by him), he knew that it was over (for him). It's good to see that I'm not the only one that has felt that way about our sport.

When we "fail" we get clear (and memorable) feedback that our approach isn't working. However, when we succeed we receive different feedback -- that our approach worked (at a given point; for a given circumstance).

Many successful people end up chasing their memories of what that success entailed. Who knows if we are even chasing the right memories! Even if we are chasing the correct memories, is it the right time to be chasing them?

Dave Scott told me (through M) that every race is different, every season is different, every year is different. He was probably trying to tell me that I didn't need to ride across the US each year to do a decent Ironman. John Hellemans has been telling me that (indirectly) for about three years!

I just might be starting to listen.

To attain our very best, we need to challenge ourselves to remain open to new approaches. I like to think about it as being flexibly stubborn, or intelligently committed.

Results come from commitment to a process. The challenge for me has been to remain committed to the results, rather than a specific process. Am I deeply committed to my process or my performance?

In my life, I've used many different approaches. Successful outcomes resulted from my commitment to, and belief in, the approach that I was using -- more so than the specific approach. Our commitment and belief systems are very powerful in creating our results.

Relentless commitment to any reasonable process will take us quite far. It is when we want to get even further that we need to consider how we've been holding ourselves back.

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29 October 2006

Consistency Bias

I was mulling a few things over yesterday while doing yard work. It was a toasty day (the snow's gone again) and I was enjoying rounding up leaves.

Over the last week, I've been reading a wide range of race reports and discussing season reviews with my athletes. There are a number of recurring themes that come out of these:

***the desire to train harder all year
***the desire to train harder earlier in the year
***the desire to "figure out" nutrition strategies

The way our heads work, we have an in-built bias towards following our past decisions and beliefs. High achievers have a natural bias towards deepening this attachment. This influences the way that we perceive people, events and ideas.

This week Scott reminded me how it can be painful to accept a valid idea from a source that we find personally unappealing. The flipside also holds true, it is very difficult for us to reject a concept from a person (or coach, or mentor) that we find personally appealing.

Continual improvement requires a willingness to rethink our past actions and beliefs.

Our method of achievement will take only take us so far -- in many cases this is VERY far. However, eventually, we will need to consider if certain success traits (harder, harder, harder & more, more, more) could be holding us back.

Likewise you'll often see a level of anger or player-hate present in many top athletes -- that can work for a main set or even a long ride // however, it's a tough way to go about living and you can't maintain it indefinately. The next time that I see Mark & Brant -- top of my list is exploring ideas for moving through emotion to a place that I call "quiet power".

Back to the reviews and race summaries -- the observations that attract my attention run something like this...

...I choose X and it didn't really work out for me. I'm going to remember that and do Y next year.

A statement like the one above is very rare to see in public. If Faris only races two IMs next year then you'll know that he followed is his own advice from the Competitors Radio show.

My athletes, generally, share their most honest observations in private and (like me) need to be encouraged to consider if their choices could have been made a bit better.

How many times have you heard a coach say... "well, we didn't really get that right. Unfortunately, my program and strategy blew her up."

I don't hear it a lot -- however -- I do live it!

The best coach, and the best trainer, that I know... those two guys will readily admit that they make a lot of mistakes. It's the nature of life.

Many us suffer from consistency bias when we ignore the results of our actions (or our athletes, or our races). Everything in life is offering us feedback -- IF we are open to receiving it.

A common form of consistency bias is blaming external factors for sub-optimal results -- carbohydrate mixed with water seems to have a particularly toxic effect of many racers // it just might be worth considering pacing -- if you happened to be wearing a heart rate monitor.

Coaches should look to the results of their athletes -- athletes should remember that having a coach doesn't relieve them of the obligation to think for themselves.


Dave and I were talking about training this week. I told him that I'm putting together a team of top agegroup training partners for 2007.

He noted that I won't be racing agegroupers in Canada next year...
...I noted that I don't plan on racing in training next year.

In a group training environment, everyone compromises a little bit -- generally -- the strongest athlete compromises the least. I get dropped a lot in training (even when fit). It takes a lot of humility to stick with your session -- many of the top guys end up alone to avoid having to deal with this aspect of the group.

Be wary of our tendency to avoid information sources (and people) that would provide us with evidence that we need to change our beliefs/actions. The best example of this in athletic training is the heart rate monitor -- many people simply don't want to have to deal with the fact that they are training sub-optimally. They say that it isn't "fun" and it isn't "fun" to be confronted by the dissonance created by consistency bias. For me, the fun has always been in knowing that I am doing everything possible to achieve my goals.

When our attachment to performance is greater than our attachment to the past -- we will find that we are open to new ways of doing things.

Most people would rather be right, than effective. We should think about that as we surf the internet searching for threads to reconfirm our biases.


Probably my most cherished belief is that the athlete that does the most training wins. In fact, I've often said in the past that I have never run into a problem that couldn't be overcome from excessive volume and focus. Well, that worked to a very speedy point (8:29) but I've decided that it is time to take a gamble to try to get past that point.

The gamble doesn't involve modifying any of my training protocols -- so if you think that there is a change there // I haven't been effective in communicating. My protocol is exactly the same with two exceptions...

#1 ***my focus is on absorbing (not doing) training

My first four weeks were 15/12/17/17 hours, including yoga. Typically I would slam right back into 30 hours weeks. This year I'm focusing on eight months of preparation, for eight weeks of training, for eight hours of racing.

The last time I "peaked" was August 2004 and I don't intend on peaking prior to August 2007. It takes a huge amount of patience and I am tested daily (by good friends with good intentions).

#2 ***I've placed a ceiling of 148 bpm on all my efforts

I am using my exact same training protocol, simply under that ceiling. I'm a lot more diligent with my strength and yoga than I have been since 2001.

When you start losing the ability to undertake the small things -- that could be a sign that you're hitting it a bit too hard. In October, the fact that I am enjoying my yard work is a good sign.

Aerobic Run Test #2 showed 20 sec per mile improvement. I don't expect that every three weeks. For those of you that haven't used a moderate protocol before -- results will probably be slower. Remember that I was in <3 off-the-bike marathon shape only two months ago.

I'll leave you with an observation that Mark shared with us in Texas. A high intensity early season protocol will rapidly move you to the SAME level of fitness that your achieved the previous year (it works). Mark's protocol is what, he believes, moves us to a HIGHER level of fitness later in the year (it works better).

If you've been peaking in April then choose wisely.

Remember that everyone around us has bought into our past actions/beliefs. Expect to be tempted by old patterns and partners.

To get different results from the masses, we need to train differently.


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24 July 2006

Preparing For Kona

A very fast AG buddy asked me for my thoughts on preparing for Hawaii. These might be useful if you happen to be a speedy person preparing for a late season IM.


General Ideas

1 -- July should be about getting moving rather than hammering yourself with race specific work

2 -- Beware of excessive heat stress in August -- key workouts should be positioned to maximize performance -- easy sessions will give enough heat acclimatization -- don't do any key sessions across the middle of the day. Because the swim in Hawaii generates a lot more fatigue (rough water, non-wetsuit) than usual // and // given the heat index in August... I think that it is worthwhile considering a swim camp (9-14 days long) for August. Get your swim volume right up -- say 28-35 km per week equivalent. Put the run/bike onto maintenance for this period. You can really step it up in the water when hot without any risk of heat exhaustion -- nice way to spend the hottest time of the year.

3 -- September...
a -- week of sept 25th is a very good week to shed all fatigue and end with that Specific Prep weekend that I designed for you
b -- if you go for that strategy then make the weekend of Sept 23/24 lighter than you think you need -- in other words treat the weekend of Sept 30/Oct 1 like it is a B-priority race and freshen for it
c -- I would place your greatest training load in the first half of September -- that is when I would challenge myself from a training point of view -- again, watch the heat stress

4 -- October -- be smart, be patient, keep it rolling, build inwards towards the race

5 -- Weekday Training -- maintain your strengths during the week -- challenge yourself on key weekends -- freshen on both Monday and Friday with Friday being very light

6 -- Take more weekly rest that normal in October


A -- to work on reducing bike "fade"
210K ride
First third of the ride place HR _cap_ of 3bpm _under_ the bottom of your steady zone -- ride 10+ meters behind a strong buddy and do not exceed cap (he will pull away a number of times when warmed up -- that's the point)
Then sit on your steady zone for 50K (you might reel him in)
10K easy -- load up on drinks
Then (3x) -- 3K mod-hard/12K steady (you should reel him in)
Then 10K easy
Then 30 minutes building to the top of your mod-hard zone (he'll be gasping on your wheel if you get your pacing right)
easy home

===> this is one tough ride when you combine with a long run within 48 hours
===> ensure proper hydration and eat at race levels

B -- Once you've done your key period in September -- I'd consider shifting the long run to 48 hours after the long ride. That will increase quality.


Pacing in Hawaii is tougher, not easier than CDA

a -- very strong AG field
b -- deep pool of decent swimmers
c -- lots of climbing in first 40K
d -- massive arousal and poor decision making
e -- VERY hot start to the marathon with the out and back on Ali'i

#1 reason though... if you screw up your early marathon pacing then the heat/humidity totally punish you. It's a lot tougher to regroup from early run mistakes. So your downside risk is magnified.

Overall, I think that it takes a number of years for most athletes to get their personal pacing correct. That probably explains why the folks that figure-it-out remain pretty consistent.

Be wary of basing your pacing off other athletes -- a lot of them are DNFs or on a suicide mission. Race your best race.

On the bike hold back until you hit Waikoloa on the _return_ leg. At that stage you'll likely need to focus to stay aero and avoid power fade.

On the run, I see merit in holding back until after you have completed the Palani climb -- by then you'll have a sense of how much the heat has hit you. Once you go through the turnaround in the Energy Lab I'd build it all the way to the finish. This is where you can make real time on folks.

Remember that you're in great shape -- have had high consistent volume for the last 6+ months. Your key sessions should be aimed at assisting with your execution rather than adding a lot of fitness. From a fitness perspective, you are in a great position. The key will be giving yourself the best chance to get your fitness from the practice field to game day.