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Gordo Byrn's blog on triathlon training, ironman racing, personal planning, business and investing.
This past weekend, I was racing at the Vineman 70.3 in
It seems somewhat obvious but it is worth setting the scene with the observation that we can race in three types of fields: weak, moderate and strong. Each of us will cope a little differently within these levels of competition and each type of racing is useful for an athlete.
I chose Vineman because a strong field of elite competition was likely. I figured that Chris Legh, Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto would turn up. The bike course is against my preference and having strong athletes there would provide me with an honest picture of my fitness. It is easy to fool ourselves in training – you line up with five of the best athletes in the world, you will get some clear feedback.
Little did I know that a lot of other speedy people had the same idea and the race was one of the fastest that I have done. Terrenzo, Craig and Steve finished in a different zip code than me. As an aside, Cam Brown traditionally puts a similar amount of time into me in a Half IM as he does in a full IM. I’m not sure if I have ‘weird physiology’ or am simply soft. I saw Mark Allen this afternoon and, like Dave Scott, his standard for a decent Ironman starts at about 8:10 for the guys!
Lining up with such great athletes, I felt completely relaxed. The expectations are on them and, if things go well, then I have a shot and beating them. As well, there are plenty of people to tow you along, or chase down later.
A few years ago, I asked Scott why one of his athletes was always choosing the toughest events. It was clear to me that the athlete could win a lot more races with ‘better’ race selection. Stepping aside from appearance fees… Scott said that it is fun to go fast and race the best people. Vineman last weekend gave me an appreciation of the benefits of strong competition.
I came within 5 (!) meters of making the front swim group. There was a bend in the river and the depth went down to 18 inches. The lead group stood up and everyone looked at each other. That was my shot to get back on but I couldn’t quite bridge on. If I had really been willing to kill myself… ???
As it turned out, neither could Chris Legh and I ended up swimming beside him. I eased off to get on his feet and another athlete “had” that position. So I backed off and got behind him. He then lost Chris during an acceleration around the turnaround buoy – beware of turns! Anyhow, he was kind enough to tow me for the rest of the swim (much appreciated) then drop me in transition!
My transitions left quite a bit to be desired. The speedy guys took a couple of minutes out of me during the race. Not to mention at least one kilometer of soft pedaling while I tried to get my feet in my bike shoes. My skills are “ok” but the top guys have the little details wired. X-Factors.
Before the race I predicted that I would average 40 km/hr on the bike and run about 1:20 for the half marathon.
As it turned out, despite shifting my training focus heavily towards the bike, the top guys rode close to ten minutes into me and I ran 1:15 off the bike. I’m not sure if my slower bike performance is mental or chronological (Father Time). I am grateful that my position/equipment is improved because I am able to get a lot more speed from my power.
The elite draft rules (10 meters) make a big difference on bike speed. For what it’s worth, being able to ride under agegroup rules (7 meters) would make a big, big difference to my times. Perhaps I’ll demonstrate in my 40s when I go back to agegroup racing – with a 7 meter draft zone very fast times are possible with smart tactics.
I used all my gizmos on the bike – HR, speed, cadence, power. For racing I am using the new wireless SRM with PowerControl VI. I’m very happy with that product – paid retail, and boy do they charge (PowerTap works great if you are on a budget).
I recalibrated on race morning and that may have had an impact on my power numbers (which seemed a bit low). For the techie people out there, I raised my offset from 570 to 609. Adjusting manually back down to 570 makes the numbers look a lot more ‘normal’ compared to my testing and powertap data.
As an interesting point, coping with ‘low’ power data is an unpleasant, but valuable, experience. Even as a seasoned athlete, seeing low data was depressing for me. Ironically, I’m only happy on the bike when I am riding too hard!
When I arrived in T2, I definitely felt like quitting. I suppose that it is tiring to go fast but, inside my head, the sensation was that it is depressing to go slow. I had run the numbers on my day and calculated that I was going to finish in about 4:20.
With Monica waiting outside of T2 (wondering why it was taking me so long in there), I made myself a deal that I could retire from athletic competition but only after I ran 13 miles. Finish line retirement was OK, quitting in front of my wife wasn’t acceptable (perhaps that’s why she came…)
Heading out on the run, Jay-Z was arriving on the bike. While it was nice to see that she was leading the ladies’ race, her presence drove home that I hadn’t exactly scorched the bike. It also meant that I had better get moving because Joanna loves running guys down!
I ran on feel and had no idea about pace. I noticed that everyone (that I could see) started their run faster than me (Monica asked if I had stopped to eat a burrito in transition). This continued until about 2K into the run when I started to relax a bit and speed up.
Approaching the turnaround, I saw that I was two miles down on Terrenzo, Craig and Steve. I perked up for a bit then saw a long line of people heading out of the turnaround area – how did so many folks get in front me? However, my good mood persisted as I figured that I could catch at least a couple of them. I caught a few more guys and the fear of them coming back on me spurred me along.
Arriving at the finish line I was surprised to see 4:04 on the clock. That’s less than a minute outside of my personal best for the distance. Part of me was a little disappointed because it looks like I have to postpone elite retirement for a bit longer!
Jay-Z held on for victory and Monica tells me that she’s won three straight Half Ironman races. That lady has been speedy for a very long time. She let me feel her gold ring from the 2000 Olympics during the pro meeting and it is always nice to race alongside her.
I wonder how fast I could go if I was as tough as the ladies?
Q. My description of a dream job would be: one that involved endurance sports, is active, flexible, challenging, and has a good potential for return on my investment of time and money. Very, very, very difficult to find something that meets those requirements, I think. I've contemplated becoming a race director, opening a gym/training facility for endurance athletes, going to school for ex. science, or getting a job with a company in the industry. All have their appeal. But its a huge set of steps between considering these possibilities while still in school and taking the plunge and leaving a steady job and income to try some venture of my own devising.Because of the high value we place on personal freedom, jobs with large degrees of freedom, rarely come with a high return on capital (human or financial). That said, when I look at the things that are most important to me (freedom, fitness, health, nature, love), these items do not cost much to acquire. They did, however, require years of preparation in terms of planning, positioning and effort.I've been reading your blog for a while and you seem pretty qualified to answer my question, which I am getting to. I've asked enough questions to realize that asking "how do I get that dream job" has just as many answers as there are people to answer; that is, everyone has a different story, and while they do help, they won't help me figure out my own plan. So my question is this: what is the most important skill/trait I can cultivate now and while working in engineering to help prepare me for the kind of profession I am contemplating?
If you have a moment can you address training as a way to maintain a lifetime of fitness and how to manage your training with a long term view? I ask because for myself partly but mostly for my father who is 63 and a fit runner. After watching me at the Eagleman 70.3 he has decided to switch from marathons/ casual cycling to triathlon (I am supportive and think the focused cross training is likely more sustainable as he gets older). Do you have any recommendations for older athletes? Are younger athletes able to maintain their fitness as they age or does the volume over the years result in overuse injuries that surface later in life?
Our lead photo this week is the Passo di Stelvio – I spent Saturday riding up its forty-eight switchbacks. The photo is taken looking down and shows less than one-third of the climb, without doubt, one of the greatest rides in the world.
If you are a cyclist then I highly recommend a pilgrimage to
Big training isn’t for everyone and, even if you are ‘good’ at it, it can be counterproductive to your health and goals. However, undertaking massive challenges can be rewarding and lead to personal growth.
I now know that I can’t “win” Epic Camp. I might win “the game” but, to do that, I place myself in such a hole that I forfeit my larger life goals. Learning the value in doing less has been one of the most useful lessons of my athletic journey.
At Epic, we place ourselves under immense stress. Why? Each of us has a different answer to that question and, I suspect, many of the athletes never stop to consider their own answer. Here is mine… I attend Epic because training camps work.
If you have athletic goals then you are far more likely to achieve them when you surround yourself with a total training environment.
The essential components:
Removal of outside stressors – I didn’t check email once during the camp. This has a very positive impact on my recovery and clarity of mind. Our support team are also essential – laundry, maps, aid stations, meals. This is a huge benefit, even when balanced with the distractions of language, culture and different foods.
Social pressure – We all want to “look good”. If I host a camp then (to maintain my self-image) I can’t sleep through swim practice, take a van ride or skip my runs. What I can control is hitting the minimum workouts, doing my best and trying to be cheerful the whole time. I am placing myself in an uncomfortable situation where success is achieved by enduring the discomfort.
NOTE – In earlier years, social pressure to out-train every athlete temporarily ruined my health. In our larger society, social pressure to keep up with financial expenditure can lead to financial ruin. So be very careful with how you set yourself up in public (and the company you keep – your peer group greatly matters).
Massive Training Overload – My athletic advantage is capacity to train. If you can cram a ton of work into your body, absorb it and learn when to spend it… then you will improve. You will also place incredible stress on your immune system and wear your body out faster than if you were more moderate in approach. As with many things, there are increasing costs and decreasing benefits as you move up the performance curve.
In my experience, the costs outweigh the benefits for many athletes. Eight days of Epic Camp can be a great reality check on whether athletic success is desirable, probable and personally profitable (in the largest sense). Most people don’t have the necessary combination of genetics, attitude, life situation and talent to train (or work) at an elite level. Still, it can be fun place to visit.
Of course, if I had failed to try… that would have been a great (and, perhaps, silent) failure in my life.
Most EpicVets get a permanent benefit from the camp. However, given the psychological profile of our sport, we have had a few customers (myself included) absolutely torch themselves. Only the fittest athletes have a shot a sustaining what we do at Epic.
The camps are a great study in psychology and coping mechanisms. While we have “rules” for scoring points at the camp, everyone ends up playing their own version of the game. I suspect that we do this so that we each “win” in our own way. The people that attend are so used to winning that we each withdraw (at times) when faced with a situation where we may “lose”.
Next year, we will host two Epic Camps –
If you are interested in learning more about Epic Camp then send us an email with your athletic background.
The camps are most effective for people in Sub-10 hour Ironman shape. With our climbing camps (Rocky Mountains, Pyrenees,
If you aspire to Epic then Endurance Corner will be hosting more moderate training camps in 2009 – Tucson in early April (sub-13 to sub-10 IMers) as well as Boulder in July (open to IMers of all ability levels). I’ll share more details about these camps in the coming months.
In early 2003, I managed to go under nine hours at Ironman New
Two weeks after that race, Scott Molina asked me “What if that’s it?” My reply was, “there’s always more”. Five years, two bouts of serious overtraining and six-months away from my 40th birthday… I am starting to see the relevance of his question…
In 2004, I achieved outstanding personal fitness from cramming eight weeks of high volume training into a nine-week block. My training partner on that adventure was Clas Bjorling – one of the toughest, and nicest, athletes that I have ever met. We didn’t try to “get fast”. We did the trip because we thought that it would be fun to swim/bike/run across
Don’t assume that if you did the same trip then you’d get as fast as us! The trip “worked” because we (somewhat accidentally) created an environment where we gave ourselves what we needed at the time. Always remember to consider what YOU need as well as your current personal limiters. This is tough to do – I find it much easier to follow the advice of others than sit down and think for myself. Thinking is work.
Back to my fitness… early this year, I started to notice that I was able to do anything that I wanted on the bike. This is different than being able to do _anything_. I have limits but when I am riding in my peer group I can achieve what I set out to do – even if that is merely to survive.
Greed, in all things, is a source of personal downfall. Ten years ago, I altered my course from maximizing financial gain to increasing my life satisfaction. At its root, overtraining syndrome is a form of greed, an obsession with athletic performance that, ultimately, leads the athlete to sickness.
In regaining my athletic fitness I noticed clear parallels with the world of international finance. The most striking is the lack of health amongst some of the long-term practitioners. There are a lot of wrecked bodies in high finance and elite athletics. As a defense, the high performers would probably point to the poor health of the masses but, for me, that misses the point. What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves (or compromise our ethics) in the process?
Few people arrive at the position where they are able to rationally see the benefits of less. Typically, we only see the benefits of change when we hit the bottom of our personal potential, or face a major crisis.
So as I blast up a 2,000 meter climb in the Dolomites, self-assured in my King of Mountains jersey, I ask myself… how am I serving the larger goals of my life? Will an extra 20 watts on my functional threshold get me to the top of the bean stock? How about an extra 50 watts? An extra 100 watts?
Then it dawns on me, I have learned this lesson before.
Day Three, Epic Camp Italy 2008 – I ride off the front pretty easily and realize that I should really enjoy the next few months because this is as quick as I am going to get. At one level (performance), my athletic mission is complete. At another (personal wellness), it is beginning.
Molina noticed the change in me and found it entertaining. He might not know the source until he reads this blog. Monica saw it months ago, before I had even noticed. Both of them roll their eyes when I say “this is it”. They’ve heard it all before.
What about Scott’s question?
If this is the Pinnacle then this is enough. Frankly, 2/3rds of my current fitness is enough – I would, however, have to adjust my bike gearing for the French Alps next summer. Scott was running a 30-tooth small chain ring in the Dolomites and many of us had gear envy.
Last weekend, I raced the Triple T in
Earlier this week, I sent my race report to Planet-X, Zipp and Blue Seventy. I expect that the PX crew should have it live shortly (click HERE on Tuesday). As you will read, I ended up with the quickest time for the weekend and was reminded that it is quite tough to go fast. Alan touches on the physiological reason why it is tough for me to go hard in his latest blog.
When you know the training/approach required to go fast – but can’t seem to do it – that knowledge can reduce your training satisfaction. In 2005, I was dealing with quite a bit of frustration.
Likewise, even if you arm yourself with the fitness to “go fast” – the knowledge of how hard you have to race can make you realize a few things. Now that I am “fit” I am reminded how tough it is to tap my fitness. Riding around the rolling hills of
I feel very fortunate in my athletic life -- first (and foremost) to have the opportunity to train on a daily basis; and, second, to have experienced a high level of success. Strangely, just like my success in the corporate world, I have come to realize that there isn’t anything magical at the end of the rainbow. When I finish first, it simply means that nobody faster turned up and I sit around waiting for my pals to catch up.
For me, the satisfaction lies in experiencing the physical sensation of performing close to my potential. I can feel that in training AND, at training speeds, I can relax a bit and look around at nature. During a bike TT, I have to hold my head totally still and avoid creating any additional turbulence with my helmet (!). I save a few seconds but miss the view.
What is my point? Just a reminder of the following…
If you are dissatisfied with yourself at the back of the pack then you will have the same feelings in the middle of the pack. There are a lot of people chasing self-esteem at the races – I doubt you’ll find it in your racing (you could find it in on your athletic journey, though).
If you think that qualifying for Kona, winning your agegroup, or winning a race will change the way you feel about yourself then you may be disappointed. My experience has been that outstanding preparation is more satisfying than performance. However, I seem to be more process-oriented than most.
Coaches (and athletes) should be extremely wary about defining success in terms of relative performance. Our egos greatly overestimate the importance of victories.
The lessons of athletics come from the process of overcoming ourselves and learning to create habits that support our goals. Success is a continual process of finding patterns/choices/decisions that hold us back and eliminating them. These lessons are independent of inherent ability and ultimate performance.
Inherent ability and relative performance impact the satisfaction we receive but those feelings are shallow compared to the deeper meaning that arises when we overcome our fears and failures.
Take some time to consider the legacy that you are creating for yourself. How have the last five (or ten, or twenty) years served the life that you want to create?
How I Train & Race
With that in mind, I am going to change direction and share some ideas about how I get “fast” relative to myself. How do I improve my performance?
Consistency – the last two week’s articles are a good summary of my Big Picture approach. As a number of male readers wrote in… “it wasn’t just for the ladies”. I wrote that piece to remind myself, and you, of a few things.
Training Load – for ultradistance triathlon, your ultimate potential is closely correlated to the training load that you can absorb. If you have factors (genetic, occupational, whatever) that limit your capacity to absorb training then you will struggle to be a competitive ultradistance triathlete. This can be an unpopular message to deliver.
NOTE -- this point applies most directly to your performance against others -- by training smart, nearly everyone can perform far better than we imagined relative to ourselves.
Your struggles will show as:***Injury
If you have the psychological make-up to be a great athlete but lack the physical back-up then you are going to get frustrated coping with the above. I know athletes that manage to convince themselves that the above characteristics are success traits (!?). I would characterize them as failure markers – when you are dealing with two, or more, then you are limiting your ability to be successful in the large picture of your life.
My advice would be to consider if there is an alternative avenue for you to direct your energies where you could be great. Even if you are the “total package” for endurance sport, the rate of return on hour invested is low. If you are in it for reasons other than financial return or athletic glory, then acknowledging that fact will help you maintain a clearer perspective on how to organize your life.
In my life, I wonder if chasing race victories is simply a socially acceptable justification for wanting to do endless training camps. Training is fun, racing is tough.
I spent the 1990s banking 24,000 hours of work in the financial services industry. It is the return from a decade of work and a decade of training that created my athletic life (today). If you look at a snapshot of me (or anyone else) – then it is impossible to see the 20-30 years of choices that resulted in their current situation..
OK, now a few specifics…
Within each sport my first goal is to maintain efficiency, strength and endurance – read my Four Pillars for what that means. For EVERY distance of triathlon competition, that must be your first goal – both as a novice and an expert – it all starts from there.
The sports scientists say that our absolute VO2 can be trained up in about ten weeks – because of its quick return, intensity is great product to “sell”. It hurts and you get quick returns – must be good, eh?
By applying the Four Pillars, you can improve your power/pace at AeT/LT/FT for ten YEARS. Further, you will find that your capacity to sustain threshold efforts is linked directly to the depth of your steady-state fitness.
What do I mean by “depth of fitness”? I mean “consistent training load” – the first two bullets of this section. Depth of fitness shows mostly in your training log, not short durations TTs or the lab.
In an race like the Triple T – you see “speed” in the prologue // you see “fitness” in the final 13-mile run.
Now, even more specific…
Swimming – As a beginner, I received a huge return on my initial months of swim training. For my first year, I improved nearly every month. It was a lot of fun and the improvement became addictive. Then I reached my first (of many) swim plateaus. The early plateaus where easily overcome by adding volume. My later plateaus required adding volume and intensity. I had to learn how to “work” in the water. In order to improve from my current level, I need to be swimming 22-25,000 meters per week with three solid workouts and an IM set on my “easier” day. Swimming is the most intense aspect of my current program.
Cycling – Cycling is the heart of my endurance program. To perform well, I need a consistent load of 10-15 hours per week with my big weeks around 20-25 hours. Early in my career I did a lot of “touring” (easy cycling) but that is out of my program now. If I can’t ride at least steady then I cut the workout short. When I am riding well, I have the capacity to ride long periods on the flats (uninterrupted) The core of my program is rides of 3-5 hours duration with no more than two short breaks. Cycling is where I do the most work (effort over time) in my program.
Running – For a guy that runs well in races, I run relatively slowly in training. My program has two goals – run (nearly) every day and make my long runs my toughest sessions. That’s it. As a result, I am rarely injured and have a long track record of consistent running. REMEMBER -- if you want to run well then you need long term mileage. This is far more important than the physiological benefits of fast running.
Strength Training – about 70 sessions per annum with about 25 of those sessions hard enough to leave me sore for more than three days.
Here is the paradox – when I time trial, I turn all of that on its head.
Swim – lowest intensity part of my day
Bike – sprint and oly distance will see lots of power spikes; Half IM distance will see lots of power spikes in the 2nd half of the ride; IM distance very few power spikes.
Run – sprint and oly distance run fast the whole way; Half IM build effort and focus on a very fast final 10K; IM stay relaxed in the first half, quick in the 3rd 10K and hang on for the final 10K.
On race day, I have found that time trialling results in a faster time than racing. However, I have won a couple of events when I raced, rather than TT’d.
One final point, the above is not a protocol for health. It contains FAR too great a training load. Once we go past ten hours per week, we are being driven by something different than personal health – mental wellbeing? a circle of athletic obsession? I haven't figured that one out completely!
====Feedback from last week.
One reader commented that she has a strong desire for a "performance" program and asked for my thoughts.
The most important aspect of your program is getting out the door each day. If you are doing that consistently then you are successful. You personal health depends much more on "doing" than the specifics of "what you do". I think that we all spend too much time sweating the details within our programs.
One of the fascinating aspects of human nature is how we (all) assume that a program of consistency and moderation contains a hidden "cost". The articles I share here are my views on what it takes for us to become high performers -- in both life, and the athletic arena.
Our photo this week is Team MonGo at Ben Lomond Saddle above
An Epic Camp provides plenty of opportunity for self-reflection. My hour long final podcast is a reflection of my internal dialogue when logging big miles. As you can probably tell from the podcast, I am comfortable spending time alone and find my idiosyncrasies amusing. Molina thinks that this is a characteristic that long-term ultra junkies share. We are the funniest guys we know but aware that we probably overestimate our amusement value to others.
This past trip, I had Scott chat me through his career – starting from 100 mile run weeks (at 15) through to his athletic peak (at 25) then winning Ironman
The Terminator needed an overhaul when he retired and he spent five years working as a personal trainer and lifting weights. That takes us to 38 and I arrived in his life at 40. The “fastest” that I have seen him was Epic Colorado in 2003 when he was 43 years old – he was fast across all three disciplines and could hang with Clas/me (no sweat). Clas had the fastest run at Zofingen and I ran 2:49 at IMC that year; we were in Podium IM shape.
The rough timeline is important for some of the points I will make later. I may not have got it exactly right but my listening is improving.
The closer you get to your ultimate physical potential; the greater the “payback” that will be required when you exceed your body’s ability to recover. As you approach your maximal race fitness, there is a divergence between athletic success and physical well-being/longevity.
Fitness is a very powerful drug that programs deep athletic memories. Almost by definition, athletes with the ability to take themselves beyond reasonable levels of training/fatigue are at risk for overtraining. In fact, some successful elites may even tell you that overtraining is essential for success.
I’m not sure those words are what the champions mean. Here’s my shot at it:
Scott had more success than pretty much anyone in the history of our sport – he’d make anyone’s top ten list for race victories.
His payback period was five to ten years. I am nearing my third anniversary of hitting the wall and I wonder…
Five years until he got back to triathlon training and ten years until he was really rippin’ it up again.
Years… not seasons… not months… not weeks.
This struck me because I had five months off in 2005 (April to August) then eased back into hour-per-day training for a few months before starting back with structured triathlon training in December 2005. Across 2006, it was touch-and-go with quite a bit of residual fear in my body. If you have ever had an injury then you’ve likely experienced the fear of re-injury. Overtraining is a spiritual and immune system “injury” with a similar psychology.
All across 2006, I was looking for a sign that I was “healed” and that soon I would be able to get back to the training that I remembered.
An important note – the training that we remember is our lifetime best performances blurred by the passage of time. A long term training log is a wonderful tool for a reality check. I use it often with my most headstrong athletes (and myself). Lifetime bests have the deepest chemical signatures – check the facts before making assumptions about how you “used to be”.
In 2006, my training was erratic and I used the cushion of working in my business to hide from reality. Perhaps I was past it, perhaps I was still tired, perhaps I was cured of my desire for mega-miles.
Long time readers will know what happened next, I went to Mark and Brant for some help putting myself back together – both physically and spiritually. I re-established my connection with nature and saw some of the patterns that caused my fatigue.
I thought I was healed – more accurately… I hoped that I was healed. On many levels I was healed. Without a doubt, Mark’s training protocol gave me my health back – I highly recommend his method if you are seeking to break a cycle of fatigue, injury or overtraining. The combo of Mark and Brant is an amazing duo – I have no idea how, or why, it works but (for me) it was really something special.
…but the fear remained, along with an emotional component of fatigue. Each time I would become fatigued, I was waiting to fall into exhaustion.
In life, we most often get what we expect and this probably held me back. My fears also prevented me from following my heart with the sort of training approach that I enjoy and have found effective. There were a lot of self-rationalizations that went on in my head but, in reality, I was scared.
If you read my Ironman Canada 2007 race report then you know what happened next… total public meltdown and my worst race performance relative to fitness in five years.
That was followed by four months of depression that culminated in three weeks in the tropical paradise of Noosa where I struggled to get out of bed. A few things got me moving:
Commitments – last October I made a commitment to Monica that I would do at least one hour of activity every single day for the rest of our life together (walking counts!). As an athlete, or an athletic spouse, you either understand why that is important, or you don’t. As my love for, and understanding of, Monica grows; I see how lucky I am to have a life partner that understands me better than I understand myself.
Personal Responsibility – nobody “made” my situation, it was the direct result of choices I made. I did my best to take small concrete actions that moved me back towards the life I want to live. Getting out of bed each morning is the most important thing that I do. If I can get that done then 89 out of 90 days, everything flows from there.
Acceptance – with most of my recovery challenges, my healing progresses most rapidly once I accept that I might never get better. By ceasing to resist my fatigue, my mood, my challenges – I start to improve. I don’t think that we ever “overcome” or “conquer” our fundamental challenges in life – we learn the patterns, habits and strategies that are effective to keep us moving forward.
All of these thoughts occurred to me because last week, training felt different to me. Epic made me tired but it didn’t make me scared. I commented about my improved form to Molina and he said that he didn’t notice any difference (or anything impressive). On reflection, that made sense because the change was on the inside.
It was a lot of fun to have my health back and enjoy training with the guys. I need to remember that as the memories of Epic return to me while training.
I suppose my point is one that Mark shared with me. The factors that lead to breakdown accumulate across many years (often in parallel to increased athletic performance). Any improvement, from rock bottom, will feel like healing.
The greater your success leading up to the breakdown, the longer your recovery will likely take. Be patient in the early stages – my impatience through the early years of overtraining is what led to hitting the wall.
The stages, for me, were:
Adult athletes should remember that stress and fatigue that builds up outside of sport can often manifest itself as athletic overtraining.
I’ll keep you posted.
Our photo this week is Team MonGo doing wheat-grass shots at the Noosa Farmer's Market -- don't mind our goofy hats but the UV was 13 and we were trying to save our skin!
I was going to write about “mood management” (aka depression) but that doesn’t strike me as very festive – and, besides, I’m feeling better… …so we will pick that topic up in the new year.
Before we kick off a brief update on our Tucson Camps. We are doing two camps – March 22-30 (five spots left) and April 19-27 (three spots left). The camps will have a bike focus and are appropriate for athletes that are in 13-hour Ironman shape and faster. Looking around the internet, you have a lot of choices for 2008 camps. Here’s a bit on how we differentiate ourselves.
What makes us unique is our people. Our coaching/support team is a mixture of elite and highly successful agegroup athletes. We can tell you “what it takes” and also give you an objective view on “what’s realistic” within your life.
Jeff Shilt – Endurance Corner Doc, works full-time as an orthopedic surgeon/clinician. Multiple Ironman and Epic Camp finisher, most recently a Top 50 finisher at Ironman
Justin Daerr – been up on stage as an agegrouper in Kona and recently 8:40 at Ironman
Alan Couzens – Endurance Corner Exercise Physiologist, our sports science go-to-man. IM finisher and long term student of Olympic coaches/athletes.
Mat Steinmetz – graduate degree in exercise science, Mat heads up the testing program at our lab. Finished his first IM this year in Kentucky.
Gordo Byrn – from totally out of shape in the mid-90s to Ultraman Hawaii Champion (2002) and Top Ten fastest all-time result IM Canada (2004, 8:29). Co-author Going Long (over 20,000 copies sold). Former private equity partner (Schroder Ventures).
Monica Byrn (end of each camp) – one of the fastest swimmers (male or female) in our sport. IM Swim personal best of 46 minutes (IM New Zealand 2005). Monica will be offering up swim tips and leading a break-out session for the ladies.
Kevin Purcell (March Only) – husband, parent, leading coach and over-50 triathlete. Multiple Epic Camp finishes, Kona qualifications and agegroup podiums. Kevin is a particular expert with issues facing female and veteran athletes.
Robbie Ventura (April Only) – founder of Vision Quest Coaching, former elite cyclist on US Postal. Robbie brings a fresh look to long course racing. He’s attending the camp to prepare for Ironman Canada 2008.
My opinion is that what makes us truly special is our set-backs; failures; disappointments; and flaws. Of course, laying all those out wouldn’t be particularly motivating! Suffice to say, if you are facing a personal challenge in your life then we have personal experience with it, or have advised others in dealing with it.
We run the highest level of support you will find anywhere – maps, vehicles, sag, meals, laundry, sports nutrition, massage. The support means that you will get more training done.
Drop me a line if you want more information. I’m happy to answer any questions. The camps are intimate so we are able to tailor the schedule to meet personal needs (please remember to tell us).
My recent article on XTri got my mail box humming with various questions. I’ll pick these up as well as explain some philosophical points about endurance training.
What’s the best training protocol for me to use?
Start by considering what your goals are as well as the items that are holding your back.
Think along a three-year timeframe – what are the pieces that you will need to put together to achieve your goal? Most clients that come to me are seeking their ultimate success by the end of the next year. Life doesn’t work that way – nor would it be particularly rewarding if it did.
Many athletes are limited by factors outside their athletic lives (financial instability, poor nutrition, drug/alcohol use, conflict within their peer group, personal planning, ethical weakness, spousal abuse, sleep). Until these factors are addressed – no protocol is optimal.
To achieve our true athletic potential, we need to be operating from a position of harmony and stability. We also need to be willing to change.
What are you willing to change? Most people say they are willing to change but when they hit a true roadblock – revert to past patterns. There is an illogical (but real) comfort in our disfunctions.
Plateau’ed athletes are most often held back by these non-athletic factors – many chase various athletic protocols looking for the magic formula to over-ride these non-athletic limiters. Time and time again they crash due to the energy-draining impact of disharmony and lack of stability with their lives.
OK, I have my life in order, what do you recommend?
There isn’t one magic formula and I have doubts as to whether protocol has a large physical impact. We make endurance training far more complex and difficult than it needs to be. An effective protocol enhances mental state improving nutrition and athletic consistency. Similarly, an effective protocol has sensible limits that enhance consistency and speed recovery.
What works for an athlete finishing Top-5 in Kona will, likely, be totally inappropriate for an athlete seeking to qualify for Kona. In turn, the aspiring Kona-qualifier will be able to absorb a very different program than a first-timer.
Often we find ourselves training at a level that we aspire to attain – rather than – the level appropriate for our current fitness. Clients often compare my recommendations to the published programs of athletes that are, literally, hours ahead of them on race day.
As an aside, you should be wary of using any data that you have not directly measured across weeks (perhaps months). Much of the training data that I read is incorrect, or misleading in presentation.
If I had to point you in a direction then I’d say – search for the program that will enable you to maximize the amount of training you can absorb across a three-year timeframe. Then, do everything you can to avoid self-sabotage and promote consistency.
Some specific tips for this time of year:
Structure – lay out a Basic Week that you believe you can handle every week for the first 12 weeks of 2008.
Volume – go back to your log for January to March 2007. Calculate your average weekly volume.
Reality Check – most people will find that their Actual 2007 Week is 25-50% less than their Goal 2008 Week. At this stage, you will be tempted to make excuses for why this year will be different. That is a mistake –your actual performance is where you are currently at. That’s OK. The goal is to maximize your actual position.
Adjust – trim your Goal 2008 Week so that is lined up with your Actual 2007 week.
Execute – Weeks 1/4/7/10, do your goal week; Weeks 2/5/7/11, OK to increase volume with extra workout frequency (if you want); and Weeks 3/6/9/12 should be about 20% less than target.
Intensity – Keep your heart rate/power/pace under the lower of your VT1/LT heart rate/power/pace. Which ever ceiling you hit first -- stop there, that's fast enough. If you don’t have access to physiological testing then use Mark Allen’s MAP method.
Two exceptions: (a) big gear, low cadence work on the bike – you can exceed VT1/LT wattage, but not HR; (b) short bursts of high power/pace exercise swim/bike/run – you can exceed VT1/LT power/pace, but not HR.
As an aside, if your VT1/LT heart rate is lower than your MAP heart rate – use the VT1/LT heart rate (I recommend that you check it by sport). When you are honestly applying Mark’s protocol and it isn’t working then your VT1/LT heart rate is likely lower than your MAP heart rate. Athletes with this profile will nearly always think that the protocol didn’t work because they were going too easy! In fact, they were training too intensely to build the desired endurance adaptations.
If your VT1/LT heart rate is higher than your MAP heart rate then I would stick to MAP for your early season endurance training. After three months of endurance training, I would retest (by sport) and do your mod-hard (tempo) training slightly under VT1/LT power/pace with a cap of VT1/LT heart rate.
NOTE on MAP
Most people do not deviate on the high side – I think I am the only one we’ve seen so far in the lab (and my 39-year old physiology is far from normal). Even then, it might simply be an early season abnormality. We will know more as we use the met cart to track me across an entire year.
Far more common is VT1/LT occurring under MAP – as a result endurance adaptations are compromised when athletes use MAP as a target, rather than a ceiling – athletes show this very frequently in their bike data.
Many coaches use VT1/LT as the bottom of their endurance training zones – while you will get measurable fitness adaptations training at (and above) VT1/LT, desirable long distance endurance adaptations are compromised.
Nutrition – You will have more energy than last winter and be sick less often. Use your increased energy to increase the quality of your nutrition. We don't need to have cancer, to find an anti-cancer diet effective. I've found the nutritional method that we share in Going Long to be highly effective.
If you apply this protocol for the first quarter of 2008 then I absolutely guarantee that you will hit April 2008 fitter than April 2007. In addition, you will find that you have space in your life to be successful in much deeper sense than athletics alone.
“If I don’t race for the rest of my life then I might be able to repair the damage that I did to myself”There have been times where I have lost sight of the long term health benefits from physical activity. As a result, I have fried myself (over doing it) or not bothered to do anything at all (not doing it). These two errors arise from a mental disconnect between fitness and health.
-- Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion
"Keep in mind that your role with these athletes is, ultimately, to give them the confidence to stop."
-- Bobby McGee
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!
...here is the bottom line: you will have to do things very differently than you have in the past. And if not, the patterns will repeat themselves. This is usually the toughest part for all athletes, especially those who have achieved near perfection in their racing as you have done. You will need to shift the memories of what happened to your body when you trained hard. You will need to strengthen your self confidence on a very different level than you have been working at. You will most likely need to really look at your training program with different eyes and probably make some significant changes to that so that you not only avoid the burnout, but also maximize your genetics on race day.When I read that (less than 14 days after Ironman Canada 2006), I understood what he was saying. However... I didn't really understand at all and, I expect, that a year from now I will probably have an even deeper understanding of what lies behind those words. I've saved the full email and refer back from time-to-time.
Q -- Where does running performance come from?
A -- An enjoyment of consistent, long term, appropriate mileage.
These individuals have riches just as we say that we "have a fever," when really the fever has us. -- SenecaI pulled the above quote from The 4-Hour Workweek, which I've now finished. You can substitute different words for "riches" -- fitness; knowledge; beauty; success...
"G, you would have been proud of me I was really disciplined there, kept the heart rate to 162 bpm".As an ultra-endurance athlete, the most dangerous aspect of "letting" yourself do hard training is that it resets your internal perception of effort. Very few athletes have a limiter of going "too easy" in their races.
As an aside, last week a friend asked me how he could get a person to care more about their career (the underlying point, possibly, being that if this person improved their career then he could focus more on his non-career goals).
a -- if I could only get my wife to support me more... // consider if you are worthy of support! If you want someone to support you then they need to believe in you and deeply desire to help you. In other words, the support that we receive from our inner circle is directly proportional to the support we give back. True leadership is earned and must be personified/renewed daily. If you are seeking leadership so that you can kick back and cruise on the efforts of others -- your team will see through you, immediately.
b -- placing the burden of our achievement on another person -- these are fear-based excuses. True leadership comes from creating our own circumstances for success.
c -- Every morning ask yourself, what are the actions that I can take (today) that will directly impact my ability to achieve my goals? Most people spend their time on items that have ZERO bearing on what they are seeking to achieve. Does constantly surfing the internet directly support the most important items in your life? These habits are tough to break -- I know because I'm working on it too!
#3 -- "I kept believing that I could win" -- one of the secrets of success is deeply knowing that you can win. That doesn't mean that it is certain -- it simply means that if you keep doing your absolute best then you have a shot. Many of the self-sabotaging actions that I witness in athletics result from the athlete lacking self belief.
#4 -- "Train below your threshold." -- Training is a method to achieve "fitness". Fitness being the components necessary for effective competition. (paraphrase...) "I had to make compromises because I knew that I had to train the next day." By threshold, de Castella refers to our maximum limit, not a physiological point of intensity.
***Most athletes train until they can train no more. Early in his career, de Castella did this as well. However, he learned from that and rarely repeated his mistakes. In my own program, my training partners very, very, very rarely see my best.
#5 -- "Strength" -- the capacity to muster speed when exhausted. His program was built around the creation of race strength. If this works for a "short" event like a marathon then consider how appropriate it is for a "long" event like most triathlons.
#6 -- Pace merely provides feedback -- training is based on effort.
#7 -- The fastest time comes from building effort. Run evenly, finish strong.
While, de Castella writes that he doesn't "believe in" periodization. He did believe in phasing his year to build the various components of race performance (fitness). My "working athlete" approach fits very well into his Basic Week with variation based on the competitive and natural seasons.
I thought that I'd share my most common summer training mistakes with you. By writing them down here, I hope to avoid them over the next seven weeks.
These warnings apply to all sports and are most appropriate as your fitness grows. The closer you get to maximum fitness, the closer you get to blowing it all.
No doubt, some of you will think that I am writing directly to you... as I told the Lads last week. If you feel something when you read my writing then consider who is doing the feeling!
#1 -- PB Training -- when things are going very well in training, slow down and pat yourself on the back. As you experience life best training performance, relax and accept the increased fitness. Resist the urge to "go hard" on every session. Learn to operate slightly below your limits.
#2 -- Nutrition -- as your key sessions become more demanding, you will need to increase your focus on nutrition. There is no faster way to end your season than long/intense training that is done in a depleted state. Depletion and dehydration training will not bring success.
#3 -- Weight -- you can improve your body composition // or // you can pursue life best training. You can't do both. Nutritional stress must be low when training stress is high. This point will make a lot more sense after you've blown it, believe me!
#4 -- Bonus Intensity -- nearly all the decent athletes that I train with will use their increased fitness to train "one-level-up" on all their sessions. Know your physiological zones and stick to your plan. Most athletes are unable to execute their plans in a group situation. There is huge race day upside from training yourself to execute on your own terms.
#5 -- Group Training -- you never know how hard your training partners are working. The guys that are dropping you on Tuesday may be taking most of the week off. Let your training partners be strong -- it will make it more fun when you crush them at your next A-race.
#6 -- Benchmarking -- Don't benchmark yourself off anyone that fails to do every _meter_ of your weekly program (especially your running). Be wary of keying off athletes that consistently race below their training performances -- use them but don't emulate them.
#7 -- Recovery -- nearly all highly motivated athletes will not recover until they are physically unable to train. The bulk of your competition are completely unable to sort their recovery... you can give yourself a huge advantage by planning (then executing) your unloading periods.
#8 -- Specific Preparation -- no matter what you try to tell yourself -- riding the wattage roller coaster on the wheel of a fast ironman guy is not an express ticket to success. Use the "crazy" aspects of the group for your fast training, and use it sparingly.
#9 -- Big Dog Riding -- if you are one of the stronger guys in your group then try this... ride 20 meters off the back of the group for the first 90-120 minutes of the ride (a strategic early ride pee is good for this). You'll get gapped for a bit. Once you roll back up to the group (first dip in team motivation) -- pull the lads for 30-60 minutes. Each time someone comes around you -- let the gap open up to 10 meters and wait until they come back. Pull for some more until another guy takes off.
In June, the lads never came back to me (!). It was lonely but great training! As my fitness increases, I'm able to hang in for longer. Of course, now that The Lads are reading this... I fully expect a concerted effort to work me.
Yesterday was our second wedding anniversary. After an eight-hour training day, we headed out to dinner at a local restaurant. After a bit of prodding, I managed to get Mrs. Byrn to offer up my key point for Year Three -- asking how she is doing more often.
From the beginning of our relationship, my #1 goal has been to help Monica feel love(d). In fact, that's been top of my list for a while now.
With that in place everything else falls into line.
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?
One of the challenges of using a traditional periodization model is that the cycles of volume don’t always fit with the realities of your life. Put another way, when you use a table to determine your training schedule, you are typically doing either too little, or too much. Of these two situations, “too much” is the most risky.
What follows is an approach that I’ve been using with my athletes for the last few years. The traditional approach to periodization that we used in my book (Going Long) is both proven and effective. This letter seeks to provide you with alternative ideas that have helped many of my athletes achieve greater consistency and satisfaction with their training.
Here are the key concepts:
1 – the Basic Week approach maximizes training consistency over multiple months and seasons. By aiming for a “little less” each week, you will achieve more over the long run.
2 – your Weekday training is determined by the reality of your life situation, primarily your obligations to work and family.
3 – your Weekend training is split between an Endurance Day (typically Saturday) and a Family Day (typically Sunday).
4 – The training on your Endurance Day shifts based on your experience, fitness, goal event and the time of the year. You progress the nature of this day gradually and in harmony with daylight, climate and your fitness. Early season the purpose of this session is to build “endurance”, the ability to complete your desired race duration. As the season progresses, you shift your focus towards “fitness”, the ability to perform across your desired race duration.
It is typical for novice athletes to focus on “endurance” for multiple season. I spent many years with endurance as my main (nearly, sole) focus. An endurance athlete never graduates from focusing on steady-state stamina – it is the fundamental component of athletic performance.
5 – On your Family Day, place the people that support your athletic goals first. This increases your emotional harmony and gives you a break from athletics. It also has a positive athletic benefit because you arrive at work fresh on Monday – keeping you employed (!) and increasing the quality of your Weekday sessions.
6 – By agreeing a training schedule with all key players in your life, you remove the constant struggle to “squeeze in” and “juggle” training sessions. You have an agreed structure that you’ll repeat for the rest of your life. This is a holistic approach that fits your training into the larger goal of a successful lifestyle.
When you set-up your Basic Week keep the following tips in mind:
1 – aim for a Basic Week structure that you can complete “no sweat” forty weeks per year. You want to have a structure that enables you to outperform on a weekly basis. This is an important part of building credibility with yourself.
2 – while the timing structure of your week should remain the same, ensure that you vary your training protocol (what you do in each session) every six to eight weeks. Your fitness will progresses from variable overload applied consistently across many years.
3 – twice a year, insert a period of unstructured training. At the end of your season take 2-8 weeks of unstructured training and in the middle of each year at 1-2 weeks of unstructured training. The closer you move to your maximum potential and the greater your athletic success, the more recovery you will need to insert into your year.
4 – every three weeks back off on the training load, even (and especially) when you think that you don’t “need” it. You are playing a long-term game where athletic fatigue creeps into the body very gradually.
5 – use benchmark testing to track your progress. Remember that multiple month plateaus are common; the rapid progression of the novice athlete is not the typical experience of a veteran to our sport.
Your ultimate athletic development is determined by your athletic consistency, not the nature of your toughest sessions. Protect your consistency and your fitness foundation; these are the keys to reaching your fullest potential.
Hope this helps,gordo
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!
E.M. wrote... I just heard your talk on power on Ironman talk podcasts and found it quite interesting... I am actually glad I did not look at the watts during the race because (from training) my expectations were to bike in the 240-250 range vs the 225-235 range.A buddy that worked at Nasa once explained to me why we spend nearly all of our time above the average pace/watts/hr for a session. It has something to do with the fact that sometimes we go _really_ slow but we never go _really_ fast. He had a nifty equation that explained it all.
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?"
There is no pain, only performance.
Blogger is having a little trouble uploading my photo. So...
"The secret of success of every man who has ever been successful -- lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don't like to do."
The man who competes with no one
In all the world, has no competitor.
I’m enjoying a home-made mochaccino right on our first of two “regroup” days. I had to negotiate for these days to be inserted!
22 hours of training in three days and I had to haggle for a chance to put myself together!
Because I didn’t run yesterday, Molina is threatening to revoke my “complete the camp” bonus. He’s top of my list for Week Two…
Scott will write about Motivation and I hope you read it. He’s been at this for a very long time. He’s had his ups and downs – perhaps he’ll share those some day. It takes a long time to get good and many people say they want to get good. However, most people don’t want that. Most people want the “good”. The people that get to the top, what they really want is the “work” to get good. To do a lot of work, over a long time… that takes Motivation. Motivation is a habit; success is a habit. Hopefully, Scott will offer up some tips for us.
Here’s how I see it work in myself and others…
We often create imagined injustices to keep us rolling. I’ve found that as I mature, my motivation comes more purely (Quiet Mind, Quiet Power). When I was younger I used a lot of coffee, anger, music or imagined injustice to get rolling. Perhaps that was a sign of carrying excessive fatigue. Clas jokes that when you need a full pot of coffee to get through your main set then perhaps your program is a bit tough! With a more moderate approach, I can motivate from within.
Look for that in your self – recovery is the final option for many highly motivated people (not just athletes).
To do the work required to achieve greatness – that takes a long time. Simply to get back to the fitness I had in 2004, I laid out a 21 month plan. 21 months of planning… leading towards the third athletic peak of my life… in the ninth year of my triathlon career. I hear about athletes seeking to “peak” three times in a season! Life doesn’t work like that.
Molina was planning on leading a contingent of lads up Arthur’s Pass for a bonus ride. However, the rain in coming down _very_ steady right now so we’ll have to see if that ride gets rolling. The clouds are sitting right over the hills and the lake is calm. Doesn’t look like it will blow over anytime soon…
I’m confident that most the Yellow jersey contenders will get out there today. Hopefully, the rain will ease a little for them but I wouldn’t count on it.
So what about the camp so far. Well, after what has supposed to have been a very cold Kiwi summer, we’ve had pretty good weather. Yesterday was quite damp but everyone brought enough gear so that we all made it through without incident. Johno called the weather “patchy” and it seemed like I had a patch that followed me for about six hours!
We’ve got a guy here from
I’ve done the route before – never in one go, though! To get through what I expected to be an 8-9 hour ride, I broke it up into pieces. I also left my iPod rolling the entire time. I rode with the groupetto yesterday. I haven’t done much riding with the groupetto at previous camps, so I can’t comment on what it is normally like. At this camp, you’ve still got a lot of very strong guys in the second bunch.
I like to set my own pace when riding. That’s a nice way of saying that I am a bit of a control freak and dislike having pace dictated to me. I’m working on that!
Clive, Albert, Mark and Lou – they also like rolling at their own speed and that can be quicker than mine – especially when we are going uphill. I’ve been “backing off” on the hills. By backing off, my power “only” increases by 25-50% from what I put out when pulling. Some of the lads must be lifting close to 100% from what they are putting out on the flats. Those surges add up across a 1,000K bike week!
So we broke up a bit. On the second KOM, I was doing my normal back-off thing and was probably going a little too easy as there were five guys up the road at one point. I figured that I was putting a damper on things with my moderate approach – especially for Mark who likes to give it a go. Albert was almost out of reach and somebody had to give him a push! So I picked things up a bit (five minutes at 375w; three minutes at 400w) to get Mark within striking distance – I went to 151 bpm and sent Mark after Albert. He played it very well and got past the Albernator, never easy!
Towards the end of the ride it was just Andrew Charles and me – KP, if you are reading this then it was a lot like the ride to Westport (except AC didn’t start frothing at the end). We alternated steady main-sets with easy periods to see how long it would take us to reel in the guys up the road.
Clive was particularly tough to bridge back to! With the lads that have been coming to Epic for a few years, it is enjoyable to see their development as triathletes. Clive’s riding great these days, especially for someone who came out of a Canadian winter to join us.
So those are my memories of Day Three. I can still get my heart rate up when I want, so don’t appear to be too shelled.
Some notes on Epic for those of you who might be considering big training to jump start your own training:
***150 bpm // 150bpm is a magic number in my experience. If any of us do sustained work over 150 then there is a material recovery cost. The young guys can burn a lot more matches than the vets. My cap of 148 bpm has served me well in Week One. I’ll get to open it up a bit in Week Two – for now, patience.
***Running // I have only done two runs so far. A solid steady effort on Day One and an easy run on Day Two. I didn’t run yesterday (D3) as I felt that 225K and 7:40 of pulling was enough. The running combined with bike intensity really beats the legs up. I’m a little sore this morning – but the legs don’t feel as “damaged” as previous camps.
Brandon “bdc” Del Campo and Mike “Crazy Mike” Montgomery both ran 2.5 hours on Day Two! Mike’s coming off a solid run camp so he seemed to tolerate it a bit better. Yeseterday, Mike got the location of the first KOM a bit wrong – thought that he was attacking with 20K to go… turn out that it was 50+ KM of rollers. At least he had a light tailwind to help him out – he’s riding without aerobars. Hence the name… Crazy Mike.
***Nutrition // I made the mistake of eating two cans of Thai Chili Tuna on Day One. Phew! Blew through that, quite literally. Nutrition is a real challenge on the camp – not because of the support, the good choices are there… the challenge is making the good choices! I did better at dinner yesterday with lots of veggies. The next two days are low volume days so I will do better. If you have a body that isn’t used to a lot of sugar/starch then a change in diet can be quite stressful.
***Mental // We are all tired. There comes a point – say after six hours of riding on Day Three where the fatigue is mental – that might sound counterintuitive but… it is not your body that decides to back off, it is your mind. This is where the group really helps.
Having Charlesy on my wheel yesterday was great. I’d announce that I was starting a main set in five minutes and he was my “witness” – Scott calls this getting pushed from behind. You don’t want to crack in front of your ride buddies. Athletes of different abilities can ride together all day. This assumes that the guy at the front rides friendly and backs off on the hills. Most male group training is about trying to kill your ride pals – lifting 100% on all hills. It is also how most people race.
Might make good group riders – doesn’t do squat for your IM times.
***Peaks // There’s been a little throwing up and bonking. Yesterday flushed a few people out. When you are doing big training day after day after day, you need to have your training and recovery nutrition wired. Eating little bits continuously as well as ensuring plenty of fluids.
Day Three shook a few people up – a couple of mushroom clouds went up out there. Slight depletion, power peaks and sustained periods over 150 bpm… generally result in some painful personal time to evaluate the error of your ways.
Some people learn, some don’t.
Back from my only session today (D4) – 3K open water swim event.
Lou gave us a great lead out and we made the front group! However, their pace was a bit punchy so I let them go. Lou hit a tree! So that slowed him down. We swam it in for 5th and 6th. The four upfront were Molina, Scott Davis, Mark P and Albert. Mark’s really able to lift himself for the events.
I’ll share a few memories from the other days.
My favourite memory from Day One was the swim TT. We started 10s apart and Johno split all the fast guys up so my drafting opportunities were limited. Or so I thought…
BDC was starting 10s back. It was a dive start and I opened with a 1:20 first 100. BDC must have swum a 1:13 because on my second flip turn was RIGHT there. Made me smile. My mood improved even more when he made his “move” at 250m and came by. If any of you wonder how my swimming improved in the last couple of years. It is due to the combination of Monica’s training program and guys like BDC. I enjoyed a very comfortable 550m in the froth behind
After 200m we passed Jarret, and the slightest gap opened up… so at the 1K mark I swam a hard 200. You need to be able to do that at ANY time in an IM swim. That is much more important than your first 400m or your sustained pace. At the sharp end, it is surviving the pace changes that determines your swim time. BDC has improved a lot but didn’t make the pace change… he lost at least 40s in the last 800 due to missing the change (and worked just as hard doing it).
I experienced some power fade at the end of Day One during the 70K TT. The TT was my idea because I wanted the campers to experience some legit riding when they were still fresh. Just like the 2K swim TT – athletes rarely do long main sets. A two hour TT after six hours of training gives us an honest insight of our fitness.
If you want to see your real fitness then schedule a 30-90 minute best aerobic TT (not threshold!) at the end of your long workouts. Keep your HR on target and look at your real aerobic pace – some people simply don’t want to know…
The best part of Day Two was making the group and the fact that nearly all of us finished the ride together. The muffins at 100K were also pretty tasty!
The depth of the riders on the camp means that there is always someone willing to pull the second group back to the front after each set of climbs. As well, the TT took a little bit of the starch out of the young guns. Finally, we didn’t have any points on the line so the Contenders were holding back (just a little) – saving up for their long runs later in the day!
The Gate of Pride
I just finished a book called Everyday Zen (Charlotte Joko Beck). The author is western and gives a modern (to me) interpretation of certain zen concepts. She uses a wide range of examples to illustrate her points. One chapter talks about how progress is often inhibited when we bump into the “gate of pride”. It’s something that merits consideration for all of us. I’ll give a few examples as they pertain to athletics.
Think about your training partners… it can be tough to see these in ourselves…
How much is enough?
Here at Epic we don’t set any limits on the athletes. We even provide incentives (with our points game) for people to over-do-it. It’s amazing what people will do to themselves in a group environment for a couple of points. We all love to play the game – that’s what life is when you consider it – a game.
It is up to every athlete to decide their personal limits. The group helps most of the guys go far past their previous limits. As well, as I have mentioned before, when we are all tired, the physical limits become mental ones. Pacing, hydration, nutrition, sleep, stretching – these are all limiters.
When we blow, we will cite a physical limiter… however… it was mental choices (pace, nutrition, hydration, volume, intensity) that lead to a (perceived) physical collapse.
The more pride we have, the harder we bang against that gate.
Some bang for weeks… some for years… some forever…
I mentioned this on the podcast.
The “weakest” guy at Epic Camp is one of the strongest guys back home. The athletes that join us are high achieving successful people. They aren’t used to compromising with themselves, or due to the force of another. Even the strongest guy at Epic will have a bad day eventually. And when you do… you’ll get smacked down.
I used to get pretty grumpy when that happened.
The “CTI” athletes (can’t take it) are, generally, the ones that race below their training performance. The guys that smile; nod; and say “you got me there”… they tend to bounce back and grow from the group experience.
Bevan and Molina are two guys that seem to enjoy getting smashed. Bevy because pride doesn’t have much of grip on him (he’s probably going to get very good and will need to watch that – nothing fails like success). Molina because he proved whatever it was that he needed to say with his professional career – 100+ wins can take the edge off, for some. Others just keep chasing whatever they seem to be seeking…
We’ve had some great athletes at Epic Camp that struggled with the lack of control forced on them by being in a group of strong athletes. It’s fun to be the Alpha Male but you learn a lot more about yourself when you’re getting dealt.
As I am finding, an evangelical zeal for training (or anything else) will get you to a point (a very successful point if you have the right combination of skills, passion and persistence). When you want to get past that point, you’ll need to consider the elements of your success that have been holding your back. Within my athletic career (and business career), pride always had to give way to humility to truly tap my personal potential.
This has been the second great lesson of triathlon for me.
The first lesson was that we can all achieve far, far more than we ever dreamed possible.
Not sure if I’ll write again but six pages is enough!
Those lines above sum up everything that I've learned in my adult life and explain why an ethical life devoted to excellence is, on reflection, the only option for personal satisfaction.
"...the good is always an enemy of the best because the good is so good; it has the feel of good, but ultimately it is less useful because it is not the best."
Many athletes use the early season (winter/spring) to focus on improving a single sport.
Hi All --
I spent the weekend with Mark Allen and Brant Secunda -- summary is HERE
Just read your notes. Very interesting to say the least. I guess the bacon cheesburgers are off the menu. I may be wrong, but when you wrote that the heavy volume might have been a cause for the lack of absorption fo the training, are you thinking that the Epic Camp sort of volume might not necessarily be the way to go?
I think that the Epic Camps are very useful and chatted with Mark about it. He said that cycling overload was a key part of his preps.
Where he thinks that people go wrong is not knowing what they are trying to achieve and "why" -- blindly hammering; a lack of humility in group training; constant work over 145 bpm (for you, my # is 148)... these things hold many people back.
So the change that I will make is better tracking of my fitness -- am I improving with each cycle. If not then I need to consider...
...just a bad test
...too much volume
...not enough rest
...time for hard training
Most people jump all over the place without any thought. As you know, I think a lot. However, I know that I can do a better job and be more disciplined in my base training. I also need to be much better with stretching and strength training. In order to reach my ultimate potential, I need to do everything right.
I think that I can still eat the burgers! It's the fries that might have to be limited. Even then... if I run from Keauhou then I'm having the full monty. The booze is completely axed for now.
Tomorrow marks the end of my most recent cyber retreat and I managed to take the longest breaks yet from email and (even) opening my computer. I'm tapping on M's machine right now. I thought that I'd share some observations from this period. It's been my longest chosen break from training _and_ work that I can remember.
Before I get stuck into this topic. A few thoughts that I’ve had on doping. I don’t usually think about the topic much but with Floyd in the news all my non-athlete pals keep talking about it to me. Stepping aside from the specifics of Floyd…
It’s not surprising to me that some people choose to cheat. Physical prowess doesn’t imply ethical strength any more than physical attraction does. I think that it is in all of our natures to ascribe high character to high achievers. However, I don’t think that achievement is a good predictor of ethics.
It’s possible to waste a heck of a lot of energy thinking, talking and debating ideas/people that we will never really know. I have enough going on with trying to figure myself out – spending time worrying about a well-known stranger is something that I try to avoid.
When we look for motivation from outside of ourselves, be it guru, coach, athlete, mentor, hero… we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Lasting motivation comes best from the inside, from seeking to be our own heroes. While world champions show us what’s possible – the very human mistakes of others remind us of the need for personal ethical vigilance.
What I saw from watching and reading about Floyd this summer was the guy’s work ethic. The joy and satisfaction that he received from “working” struck me as unique – not winning bike races. The joy of work is a fundamental aspect of achievement and satisfaction.
Do I worry about doping in our sport? Not at all. However, I might if I was a true professional seeking a financial living from relative race performance. Being clean and just missing in a field that you didn’t trust – that would be tough. I can think of a number of ITU and IM athletes that have good reasons to wonder what might have been. At my level, it’s not a concern – it’s possible to beat pretty much every doper by out-training them. Even if you can’t beat them on the playing field, you’ve won a far greater victory within yourself.
There’s no deeper defeat than letting yourself down. If you want to punish someone then bringing that knowledge front and centre can be a lesson that’s hard to swallow. We can come up with all kinds of rationalizations but, ultimately, it comes down to a single event, a choice, a decision.
As for Floyd, I sure wish that the referees would stick to their own protocols. When the drugs police can’t be trusted to follow their own rules, it is bad for their own image and authority. Public credibility is tough to build and easily lost.
There are a number of challenges that face most aspiring athletes. The two most common oppose each other and that’s why (I think) a lot of training discussions can become emotional. On one hand, most of us are training at a level that is less than optimal for overall performance. On the other hand, even at this lower level, the greatest challenge we face is recovering from our training, not stacking more onto ourselves.
This article isn’t directly about those topics – I’ll cover the physiological progression at some stage, perhaps when I am tapering for IM Canada in a couple of weeks. What I want to talk about here is something that I’ve noticed in the very best agegroup and elite athletes that I’ve coached, trained or simply watched from a far.
The most impressive guy that I’ve raced consistently over the last few years is Cameron Brown. To be honest, I haven’t really raced
Within my own training over the years, work and fatigue have “forced” periods on me where my training volume is far less than what I would like to be doing. In fact, whenever I am resting I get pretty restless, somewhat grumpy and a bit down on myself for slacking. The last two weeks have been hard at times because I’ve been traveling, working and (happily) agreeing to social commitments. I rarely have a social life outside of my personal Top Ten list as I find it incredibly fatiguing.
One of my social commitments was a talk that I (very happily) gave to a group of athletes here in
As well as talking… I was listening to myself…
“The key is to see if you are improving. If you are getting better then you are heading in the right direction. If you are on a plateau then things might need to change.”
“When I used to work, my #1 thing was simply to avoid taking a zero. If I could do that then I’d be OK.”
I used to be quite poor at listening while talking. Probably still am… if I am not the one talking! J
All this is interesting to me because I have been “forced” to rest much more this year than in previous years. Not surprisingly, the last time I was resting this much, was the last time I was working a lot in
When I’ve been on my training camps, I have hit the steady-state volume as hard as I could handle (that tolerance has been variable, but increasing). When I have been working here in
Something that I haven’t done for more than six years is that I have raced once a month and done that as fresh I could manage. “Fresh” being a relative term when you log 24+ hours of travel in the four days before a race (did that a few times, don’t recommend it). I tried to train through a couple of races but that didn’t really work so well for me – I don’t have the depth of fitness to quickly bounce back from hard training or racing.
Some things that I’d like to share…
My power/pace isn’t at lifetime best numbers (a year off will impair fitness, no surprise) but my ability to achieve relative intensity is much higher. In other words, my top-end isn’t great but I can get there much more easily.
There were long periods in my development (2000-2004) where I carried so much fatigue that I’d struggle to get much out of my mod-hard zone. For me, these were valuable times to my overall development but I may have pushed a bit too far at times – of course, that’s likely the only way that we learn how far is too far.
I’ve been using training camps that are followed with weekly recovery and training blocks – much smaller blocks of training than the typical 3-4 week cycles. Each cycle has my overall fitness improving.
I’m able to fit a few other things in my life. I’m less “one dimensional” than I used to be.
I find all this quite interesting because if I am going to be a long term athlete then I will probably want to cycle my intensity through the years; peaking at 40, 45, 50 and 55 years old (say). By “intensity” I don’t mean how hard I am going in training – I mean the sacrifice, focus and dedication required to be my very best.
My Top Ten goal is to be fit and healthy – not world athletic domination (wink). Because I am willing to compromise, it is easier to beat me most of the time. However, when (and if) I am on-my-game then it’s tough to beat me. The level of commitment required to go <8:30 style=""> I used to be haunted by that knowledge but I seem to have transcended my fear of never getting back there. I’m fortunate in that I simply like training and racing too much!
Some more things that I’ve noticed and I could be wrong here on the guys that I don’t directly advise. But, quite often, an unexpected set-back can set the tone for an athlete to breakthrough…
***My good buddy, Kevin Purcell, won his agegroup in
***I took close to a year off and got myself back into 8:36 shape within six months.
***When he was 65, supervet Ron Ottaway became one of only three men 65+ to go under 12-hours in Kona. That race performance followed a winter where he was forced by injury to keep volume low for close to three months.
***In July, Clas Bjorling went 8:15 in Roth following a month off (April) due to shingles.
Of course, perhaps what all these guys have in common is that they pushed themselves right to the limit over a long time. There needs to have been some pretty serious training, to get adaptations from a month of zeroes.
As an aside, Ron would want the record to show that he is 10+ years without a zero.
OK, those guys are rock stars. What does that have to do with the average athlete? Here’s another consideration…
Something that I notice in many endurance athletes is an active desire to hammer themselves silly. There must be an element of the endurance mind-set (or our culture, or our personal programming) that leads us towards self-damage in the search for fitness.
Fatigue is part of the training process and deep, deep fatigue is an essential part of ultraendurance training. But here are some things to consider from time to time…
Do you have a good feel for exactly how tired you are? How deep have you dug the hole? The highly motivated athletes that I know, generally, underestimate the fatigue they are carrying around and overestimate their ability sustain hard training. I include myself in this category. It is only when I rest that I realise just how fatigued I was.
How many times have you heard someone (perhaps yourself) say… “I don’t like to rest, I feel sluggish when I rest”. Personally, I believe that there are a lot of Top Ten agegroupers that could be Top Ten overall if they only freshened up from time-to-time. It is also a shame to watch some of my elite pals train their asses off then underperform at their key races. If you are doing it right and not getting the results that your training indicates then consider if “more” is really going to get you there.
Nobody really knows who trains and who doesn’t – I believe that most people can be out-worked if you have enough drive and time. When our results are deviating from our commitment – we are often trying too hard. It’s a tough message to believe but I’ve been beating some folks for a few years and I think that they’ve been out-training me. Of course, several thousand aerobic hours over the last six years must count for something.
Back to you…
What are your goals for sport?
Why do you participate?
Why are these questions important to everyone?
If your goal is performance then is your program making you better? Are you improving on the program that you’ve been following for the last one, two, three, four… years?
It’s very difficult to change ourselves – but we can change our advisers and, through them, our approach.
Some programs can make you get more tired than good. I have pals with programs that work great for them but I wouldn’t last two months on their protocol. Remember that there is no one answer and there is a lot of grey out there.
That’s why I like to look at the impact of the program, the coach, the approach… over a number of seasons. I gain a lot of satisfaction with helping athletes head in the right direction over time. I make plenty of mistakes and there are some folks that I can’t help. However, there are some athletes where my guidance has made a difference and that “difference” is what coaching is about for me.
Now you might be simply sitting on a plateau (that happens) but… if you’ve been consistently training for a couple of years with limited progress then you’re likely being hampered either from excess training stress or a lack of recovery. I’ll cover this more in an up-coming piece (Good, Better, Best – that will lay out my case for the physiological progression that I seek with ultra endurance training).
Realistically, the vast majority of athletes (in any sport) are in it more for personal satisfaction, than relative performance and this includes the most successful elites if you dig deep enough into their motivation. The best athletes have an internal satisfaction that comes from working towards and achieving various goals. If that’s the case then consider if being shelled most of your year is actually improving the quality of your life.
But you say you “need your training”… I know all about that but our training can also be a crutch behind which we fail to deal with other issues (emotional, nutritional…).
That brings me to the most important consideration of all…
Scott started talking about “my people” a few years ago in something I read of his on the internet. I’ll let him talk about “his” people in his own words – he is part of “my people”, though.
Who are “my people”? For me, they are the people that I’ve met along my journey with whom I could deeply relate and share a laugh. I’ve found them in finance, on beaches in
My tri-people… we are in triathlon as a lifestyle choice. That’s a cliché and doesn’t quite capture what I mean… more bluntly… training for triathlon is a socially acceptable addiction versus what we would certainly be doing if we were forced to stop (over-eating, booze, drugs, chasing ladies…).
Here’s where a good mentor comes in… constantly choosing a path that runs the risk of losing the exercise drug is pretty darn risky. The more you rely on your training for sanity, the more you’d do well to heed that tip.
Thing is… people like me, people like “my people” are prone to ignoring well meaning advice until it has been learned directly, repeatedly and painfully. I spend a lot of time assuring my crew that preventative rest is essential as well as performance enhancing.
When we are reaching for the highest level and smoke ourselves – a shattered immune system can feel like living in a very deep, very dark cave. Learning how best to schedule recovery is something that many (including the author) struggle with.
Of course, you could also say that it isn’t until you’ve pushed yourself over the edge that you really breakthrough. I think that there is something in that as well.
Epic France 2006
I am in a hotel room in
Oh yeah, my site’s been acting up with various viruses/Trojans. I’ve decided to pull the plug on the board. Seems a shame as the board exists as a vehicle to help people, perhaps it was time for a change.
This was our sixth attempt at Epic. At our fifth camp last January, I’d had a lot of struggle with fatigue/injury and only managed to complete about 80% of the schedule. This time around, I wanted to complete the entire camp as drafted.
When Scott put together the initial program for this camp, I was a bit concerned that he’d built a camp that was impossible for anyone to complete as drafted. Running a few numbers on the distances/average speeds I calculated that the second group would need to ride 90+ hours (over 11 days!) to complete the cycling, let alone being able to swim/run every day.
So we trimmed things down a bit to bring the camp into a range that would be feasible for the top guys to complete. The camps are always a massive stretch for the agegroup athletes to complete as drafted. Placing stubborn, highly motivated athletes into a position where personal compromise is highly likely is part of what we seek to achieve on the camps.
It’s also interesting to watch how the ride dynamics change. On day one, Monica rode with one athlete and I rode with nine. On day eleven, Monica finished with nine athletes and I finished with one… The process of personal compromise is often painful for the guys – generally, these are guys that resist getting dropped, seeing it as a form of personal failure. Personally, I think that the transformation is an essential lesson from the camp.
First… the goal is not to overcome (or survive) the efforts of others – rather – the goal is to place one in an environment where we are able to overcome the limits that we impose on ourselves. By (repeatedly) overcoming self-imposed limits we learn a few things. Quite often, I heard athletes saying that they “couldn’t do” something that we had scheduled. More accurately, they might be reflecting a fear that we might not be able to do something and that could “force” us to view ourselves as a failure. That brings the second point…
…failure isn’t fatal – over the course of the camp, we all “failed” in various ways. In fact, that is a part of the structure of the camp. To place people in a position where they might not make it (whatever “it” happens to be). Certainly, if an athlete arrived with a goal to ride at the front of every single ride then they would probably be forced to compromise at some stage (as Monica’s Day Eleven ride buddies might attest).
There is a form of freedom that comes from the realization that our performance is independent from ourselves. Some great athletes never manage to achieve that distinction – we were talking about that at our celebration dinner last night. Fear of failure stalking them throughout their careers and following them throughout their lives. Lives that are often filled with a lingering dissatisfaction with themselves (despite outward success). This cycle drives a number of high achievers that I know – you can get a lot done by tapping this source. However, it won’t really be all that satisfying and (I think) that, to truly breakthrough, one must free one’s self from the tension and distraction that comes from fear.
So the camps are designed in a way that at least half the folks won’t be able to do the whole thing. We have optional sessions, open days and the ability to tack on. This really bothers some people because no matter how much an athlete does… there’s likely someone doing more. Learning to choose how much is enough and learning what constitutes too much – that’s a valuable skill for an athlete.
The combination of our non-athletic commitments (work, family, other) impose constraints on us that limit both our training and our ultimate performance. Most people take comfort in these limits because they obscure the fact that most athletes are not doing everything that they can to achieve athletic success. That’s not a value statement – that’s a statement of fact. Most people make daily choices that result in limits being placed on their performance in all areas.
If you want to beat someone then you have to be willing to out-train them – consistently and for a long time. Sitting around telling yourself that you are doing “everything you can” won’t achieve that ultimate result. Results come from a relentless drive to remove anything that isn’t connected to your ultimate goal. Of course, few people have an idea on their ultimate goal either.
Epic removes all the distractions, all the excuses and lets the athletes experience what we often say we’d like – wouldn’t it be great to train all day, with support, with the best athletes… many are surprised to find that, actually, it would be pretty darn tiring! Now elites don’t train like we did every day – nobody can do that. However, the best athletes do front up for many years when tired, sick, injured – take a group of outstanding athletes, support them as best as possible and still… it’s darn tough to swim/bike/run every day for twelve days. The distractions of “superior” performances (am I measuring up); weather (its OK not to train today); fatigue (I did enough yesterday); and personal mental noise… these all add up.
But for each athlete that realises that elite athletics might not be the joy that they had envisioned – there are a few that have an “a-ha” moment on what it really takes. At least, they come to an understanding about what the journey of athletic discovery is really about. Being able to play a role in that discovery is a big part of what makes the camps fun for me.
During the camp, my total contact with the outside world consisted of a couple of secondhand email conversations and a telephone call from the side of the Tourmalet. The increase in personal energy that resulted from a total focus was amazing Eliminating all sharing of thought with the outside world. Even writing this article, Monica has noted a change in me.
The camps are intended to be very hard. We provide the athletes with an environment where they can nuke themselves or lift their fitness to new heights. There was quite a bit of talk during the camp about things being a bit too hard. I don’t really have an answer for that. Looking at my own performance, I had life best absolute bike performance on Day Eight of the camp (311w for 90 minutes through
***this followed a week of 50+ hours, where I was smashing myself most days
***that followed two weeks where I trained less than ten hours per week
***that followed two weeks completely off
***that followed Ironman
Conventional wisdom says that I shouldn’t have been able to do that. Mine wasn’t the only example – all the guys were consistently doing things that amazed themselves. Much of what we seek in the camps is to demonstrate to ourselves (and the campers) that conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply. I’d go further and note that most of the people setting the conventional wisdom are (by definition) pretty average in terms of personal achievement. There is a lot that can be learned from studying and participating with outlier performers – for me, bring a group of “outliers” together provides a very interesting case study.
Personal lessons from epic camp…what did I learn this time?
Last December, I was wondering if I’d ever get fit again – there’s a blog entry on that somewhere below. At the time, I had three types tendonitis going on in my knees, my feet were shot and I got _really_ tired with 2-4 hours of training per day. Seven months later, there’s been a massive transformation in my fitness. It’s tempting to call it miraculous but I know how many hours went into my body from 2000 to 2004.
The questions that I’d been wondering since last summer have now been answered and replaced with new ones.
Will I ever get back to elite-level training? Well, I answered that with this camp. It was the first time since February 2005 that I’ve been able to train “properly”. Properly means long and high quality main sets – 60 to 120 minute steady-state pulls mixed with 45 to 90 minutes of mod-hard to hard climbing. I melted everyone at the camp except Mike (one of the toughest guys that I’ve ever trained with) and myself.
The six months of base training that I did for Brazil Ironman enabled me to tolerate a surprising amount of hard training – long periods of mod-hard to hard intensity (most days) on the bike.
I did very little between
Coming off a successful training camp, it is tempting to keep-it-rolling with very challenging main sets and “race focus” training blocks. However, I’ve made that mistake before and won’t be repeating it. My goal remains to be speedy in August 2007 so I’ll keep doing the base preparation to absorb the training required to lift myself next year.
There’s a good article about training in Outside Magazine – read the Floyd Landis piece. Much of what I’ve been talking about above is in there.
At one level, I kept waiting to collapse during Epic. I figured that I’d wake up one morning completely nuked, or sick, or unmotivated. That kinda happened on Day Nine when I had a two hour nap in the morning. However, I was fine by lunch and strong for the following 48 hours. The lack of distractions and large amount of fun that I was having must have helped my happy mind overcome my fatigued body.
So I’ve seen that I can tolerate “proper” training again. More importantly, I learned that by trimming (eliminating?) my exposure to distractions, I enjoy that training immensely. Athletic “greatness” is there for the taking. The question is whether I will make the choices and commitments required to achieve my personal potential. My immune system; my non-athletic commitments; my wife… none are going to provide me with an easy out. I’m faced with a healthy body, supportive wife, and understanding business partner. If I don’t take this opportunity then it will be 100% down to my choice.
The realization that I have the ability (and opportunity) to again be a great IMer is a bit surprising. I am eight months ahead of where I expected to be.
I’ve been skipping around a bit. Hopefully, you’ve gotten something out of my thoughts. One last concept that I want to pass along.
Who is the leader in a training group? What is the role of a coach or leader within a training group?
For me, athletic leadership comes from helping others get the most out of themselves. It doesn’t imply being able to shell the entire camp at will. This camp we started the Green Jersey award for the athlete that most exemplified “epic values” for the day. For the camp, we awarded the jersey to Jeff Shilt. Jeff earned it by helping the entire camp get more out of their experience as well as demonstrating (daily) what we seek to achieve at Epic – a combo of JFT & Back-It-Up. He did it with a smile on his face, mostly.
I am currently on the World’s Favourite airline heading to London and onwards to Miami.
A few ideas that have been rolling through my head this week.
So I am at the airport in Christchurch now. About to start a long journey to Scotland via Auckland, Sydney, Singapore and London. Not the most direct way to get there but the most comfortable & productive that I could schedule.
Phew, what a few days. What does a guy think about when he’s pulling for eight hours? Not a whole lot really but here are some ideas. I could probably make this a pretty decent piece but I’ve only got just over an hour until dinner.
If I get myself rock-star-fit again then I hope I come back to this post so I can appreciate the turnaround.
If you’ve surfed my new coaching website then you’ll see a few pictures there. My web guy, Brian Johnson, chose them and I was surprised that he managed to capture some of the my favourite memories. Cool.
I like my athletes to learn how to train by feel.Heart rate monitors, powermeters, pace… all of these are meant to help the athlete dial in their subjective perception – learn how different efforts feel. Gizmos support our ability (and responsibility) to learn.
Know two things about Scott (Molina), he has spent more time overtrained than any other person that I know. [thinking…] …and, I suppose, he has won more races than anyone I know.We were kicking around training protocols in 2003. My approach had concerned him a bit because I was pretty much always shelled (but happy). In my lactate tests, I had zero top end for over a year. Like all great coaches that I’ve known, even if he disagrees with a protocol, he has a respect for results.
I wouldn’t worry too much about that, in my view you were pretty close to full blown overtraining.Offering me comfort when I DNF’d Ultraman in 2003. He had been worried that the race was going to finish me off after pushing very hard through IMC2003 fatigue to prepare.
Bear in mind that your constitution is better than most.
Remember that you have to do the training that is right
for you, not him.
Are you sure that you don’t simply like working with him because he does what you say?A doctor’s reminder that as a coach we must be wary of control factors in any advisory relationship. It caused me to think deeply about the plan I was offering a friend. I tried offering him “what I thought he needed” – turned out that didn’t work to well! So we took a break then went back to what my heart knows works. Hopefully, that will turn out to be what he needs!
“Gordo, there will come a time when you have to choose”
Who knows? Maybe it will work and we’ll learn something.That’s another of my favourites.
Where the heck do all these ideas come from? I've no idea but they just keep rolling. My only escape is to write them down. Typically, I publish about 10% of what I write (and actually write down about 10-30% of what I dream up). With this blog, I've been writing a lot more. Perhaps I'll settle down in a bit.
I've been thinking about this piece during all my runs for the last week.
My seven month break from triathlon training has given me the chance to learn and try out a few things.
So Ced told me to keep parking illegally -- bet me that I'd save money over the month. I decided to skip that and smiled as I saw the ticket man (and a line of twelve cars with tickets on the way to the pool). Must be the season for giving in France.
The guys that I used to work with in London recently launched a five billion euro investment fund. That struck me as a heck of a lot of cash. It also made me smile. Generally, terms in the venture capital industry are “2 & 20” – an annual fee of 2% of the fund and 20% of the capital gains returned to investors. Let’s say you double the investors’ capital, then you are talking about a profit share of one billion euro as well as a hundred million euro per annum of management fees. Inspirational stuff when you consider that their first fund (before most of the current team joined that business) was less than 100 million euro equivalent 25+ years ago, the annual management fees of the business could be close to double that today. Shows what a group of smart, motivated people can achieve with sustained long term focus.
How do you separate "accepting what was your best effort at the time" from what is actually a truthful best effort. It is tempting to let myself off the hook… …Maybe the answer is to judge myself in the present. After all, the present is what we can impact. Positive actions going forward make the past a valuable learning experience.Successful people, that achieve peace, seem to have the ability to draw the line at how good is good enough. Successful people that achieve success, they often fail to achieve peace – that feeling of never measuring up stalking them.
I think results are like wattage -- they come from effort. For some that effort is fun, for others it is work.