12 April 2008

Views on training

I've been doing quite a bit of training over the last three weeks. While my actual hours committed are only slightly higher than normal, the energy output has been increased. In my spare time, I have been focusing on Monica, my clients and my recovery. That hasn't left any motivation for writing (or reading).

However... as I swim, bike and run in the Desert Southwest, there is ample time to think! It is just that those thoughts don't seem to get much past my mind.

As an aside, my mental conditioning coach likes to ask "where do your thoughts go when they leave your mind"? My two cents is that they go straight into our bodies. Part of the role of exercise in my life is releasing thoughts from my body.

So this blog will sum up a few thoughts that keep coming back to me. By writing them down here, I hope to set them free!


The photo that opens this week's letter is the Grand Canyon. Jonas and I thought that it would be a fun challenge to run to the river (and back) in a day. The canyon is a very powerful place and I highly recommend that you experience it for yourself. The number of eco-systems in a single place makes it very special. Totally by chance, we rolled through when there were different flowers blooming with every 1000 feet of elevation change. Fantastic!

The canyon had a strong effect on more than just my calves... in the days that followed, I felt a lot of emotions about that run. The canyon drove home my mortality in a different way than passing semi-trailers. Inside the canyon are many separate worlds that have been rolling along for thousands of years -- separate from any credit crisis, mortgage default or profit sharing agreement.

I can't promise that you'll have a similar experience but, regardless, it's worth the trip. If you come with me then I'll buy you a patch at Phantom Ranch. Big J asked why he was getting his patch at the bottom, but thought about it for a bit and smiled at me.

The only way is UP!

Jonas has been with me for the last three weeks as we travel around the desert with Kelly, our uber-support lady. Below we are the back of the monsterwagon (as he likes to call it).

In a few ways, the big guy is more gordo that gordo... it is strange when you are spending a lot of time with someone that shares your idiosyncrasies. The people that know both of us will probably be smiling because our greatest similarities are often the things that can irritate (but only slightly, naturally) those around us. Rather than dwell on how J & G maximize their "take" from the world around us... I'll share some observations about how Jonas approaches life.

By any definition, he is one of the most _successful_ athletes that I know. He's been fast for 15 years and supports his life by using his athletics to build his personal brand. He is living well and positioning himself for a healthy, sustainable future.

Nutrition -- he eats very, very well. The main differences that I noticed from what I write about is a large helping of good fats with every single meal. When my volume is high, I tend to pour olive oil on most meals (other than fruit). Big J uses olive oil, nuts and avocados. He eats a ton of fruit. Despite massive energy output when training (his average training speed is high) his %age of calories from processed foods is lower than nearly every one I know.

People tend to think that fast athletes never get tired. In fact, fast people get VERY tired. What separates elite ultraendurance athletes is: (a) how they cope with fatigue; and (b) their capacity to recover from stress/fatigue. The longer the event, the more important this becomes.

Jonas is super experienced and very successful over a long period of time. He has the confidence to walk, or grab a van ride, when he thinks it is required. He jokes that he might have been more successful if he had simply been a little tougher. There is a real humility that surrounds him.

As for success... with a VO2-max of 6.9L per minute you can do a tremendous amount of damage to yourself. I can't imagine having that sort of horsepower. While J's peaks may have been greater from a sustained all-or-nothing approach; I very much doubt that his life success would have been improved. He has achieved a remarkable position in his life -- he is an elite triathlete that has a strong personal brand, a business that works outside of race performance, and the personal flexibility to come train with his Canadian buddy in the spring!

His method of achievement isn't anything fancy -- relentless work. He is on his computer 4-8 hours per DAY answering emails, talking to client and blogging (in Swedish) about his trip.

While his inherent ability helps his race performance, his life success has been created by a drive for personal excellence and consistent work over the last 15 years.

A good guy for me to hang around.


Justin Daerr is the Camp Director for our Endurance Corner camps -- that's him above. The guy just LIVES for sag... ;-)

Justin gave the campers two great pieces of advice that I wanted to pass along. You will find them useful in your athletics, and your lives, if you apply them.

When training with people that are stronger than you... don't look for work. When you are undertaking a challenging task (a race, a training camp, a project) that requires uncommon stamina then pace your workout, your day, your week...

The successful athlete can't afford to max-out in any single training session because he needs to get back out there the next day. The day, the race, the week will get hard eventually -- sometimes not until your are back at home in private!

JD's other observation is that there are three approaches/aspects to the endurance lifestyle: Racing, Training and Touring. If your goal is performance then you need to spend the bulk of your time Training (not racing or touring).

Probably the most common training error is low-level racing in training. While this approach can work (especially if you are stronger than your buddies) -- eventually, it is self-limiting. Athletes that are plateaued and chronically injured are likely racing all the time. Long training camps (and how we cope in the weeks after) are great for helping us learn an appropriate training load. The skill lies not in the overload, rather the tough part is knowing how far is "far enough".

Something that we all deal with when deeply fatigued is "touring". Chronic "tourists" are generally married to the volume figures that they place in their training logs and have 50% (or more) of their weekly volume in their "easy" training zone. Being a tourist is a lot of fun and there is a time of year (and week) for easy training. Something that JD reminded us about is understanding when training has become touring. Maximizing our training program usually means cutting back on touring.

I found myself touring for a while yesterday and took today easy so that I could get back to training.

Great reminders from Justin

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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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13 April 2007

Nutritional Healing & Genetic Potential

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

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

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

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


Nutritional Healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that actually "mean"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Reduction of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

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

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

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

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


Sports "Nutrition"

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

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

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

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

Good health is good business.


Genetic Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Why test?

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

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

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

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

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

Until next week,

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