Endurance Corner Introduction
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Gordo Byrn's blog on triathlon training, ironman racing, personal planning, business and investing.
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
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
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
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 (
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
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.
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!
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?
This week’s photo is one of my favorites from the archives. One year ago this week, Team MonGo on the beach in
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
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
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
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
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
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
***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
***I’ll do more long bike rides (than the year I rode across
***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
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!
Still on the road this week so a few thoughts on: priorities; realistic protocol choices; and externals.
“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."
“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?”
“… 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?"
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.
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.