02 January 2009

Endurance Corner Introduction


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

It's time to publish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does that have to do with a coaching website?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
gordo

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28 November 2008

Real World Marathoning - Part Two


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hope this helps.  Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

gordo

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24 November 2008

High Performance Coaching


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We talked about standardized testing and I will share these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back next week,
gordo


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06 November 2008

Marathon Training In The Real World


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gordo

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

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03 October 2008

Old School Endurance


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

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

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Two quick announcements before we get started:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back next week,
gordo

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12 September 2008

Principles of Breakthrough Performance


This week I am going to shift back to a discussion of athletic performance. However, this article is also a summary of what's worked for me in academics, marriage and business.

Our photo this week is my buddy, Chris McDonald. Much of this article has come from considering his approach, as well as observing myself. I think he'd admit that he's taken himself far, far beyond what he thought possible even a few years ago.

Simplicity -- Whether you are considering an investment portfolio, new project development, sales strategy, or how to complete a stretch week of triathlon training. Increased simplicity improves your probability for success. Remove as much as possible from your life.

Specifically, to achieve top success requires the capacity to outperform your competition, daily, for a very long time. Some of the competition are more talented, more experienced, better funded, smarter... simplicity is an edge that you can give yourself.

Dilution of effort -- every item, thought and obligation added to your life dilutes your ability to fully commit to what is required for success. Single minded obsession is often a recipe for a future crisis -- still... if we are having a discussion about performance... then alternating obsession with recovery can be an effective strategy.

For any task requiring high quality, focused output (creative, technical, athletic) the periods when you are doing nothing are equally important to the periods where you are following your vocation. In athletics, periods of unstructured training (easy days, transition periods) can fulfill this role but you will still need some time where you are free to sit in a chair and chill out.

So when you are laying out your plan for breakthrough performance, I would encourage you to plan, and protect, your rejuvenation periods. I have watched some truly great athletes destroy themselves by trying to hold their athletic "high" a few months too long.

Stability -- there are a lot of areas where we dilute performance with instability:

Financial -- assuming that you have shown aptitude for your passion, you should allow at least five years to see what's possible in terms of performance. Being able to stay the course is very important -- you are looking at 10,000 hours worth of effort to see what's possible. Consider your out-goings and in-comings, the athletes that get this "right" follow a clear written plan.

If you are following a high-pay vocation then be wary of spending "because you can". A high burn-rate limits flexibility, personal freedom and can leave you beholden to the company, or person, that signs your pay check. I also believe that it makes ethical purity much more challenging.

If you are forced to ratchet down an expensive lifestyle that never generated incremental happiness then you will feel _real_ pain and loss.

Alan wrote a recent article on athletic periodization -- as I read it, I realized that it is a parable of my approach to life -- moving between business, investing, marriage, spirituality, triathlon and coaching. For each "run" I take at Ironman excellence, there are months, sometimes years, of careful preparation -- Base training for life!

So... I will offer some specifics that are proven for triathlon success.

Finances -- a minimum of three years living expenses, in cash, in the bank and a plan for maintaining your financial security. Financial stress drains performance. Figure out your personal financial weak link and create a simple plan to improve it.

Geography -- no more than two training bases, one VERY low cost, the other in an environment that makes it easy to address your key personal limiter, whatever that might be. Access to at least eight months of pleasant outdoor riding; and access to at least four months of long course swimming. Altitude isn't important. Watch what you spend on airfares.

Approach -- early in your athletic career, your #1 focus should be building your capacity to absorb steady-state training load. If you aspire to be a top Ironman athlete then progress gradually until an average training volume of 25 hours per week can be achieved within a five month span. Just focus on the training, you'll learn a lot. Once you can handle that load then increasing the average speed will offer a lot more gains than cranking the volume even further.

Note, the time requirements for athletic success imply very flexible part-time employment, or unemployment! With meaningful work obligations (that require analytic capacity), it simply isn't possible for me to move much past 12-18 hours per week. Even then, I need to be HIGHLY organized.

Timelines -- Five years of dedicated endurance training would be a fast progression to where you need to worry about your specific protocol. In the early days, any reasonable protocol will show progress. Train every day and avoid doing anything too silly.

Be very wary of seeking an intensity-driven short cut. You will make gains but you will limit your ultimate development. Running is a great example where "run easy every day" can result in fantastic gains, for years, for all new runners. It is also my preferred protocol for elite swimmers/cyclists that must give their connective tissues years to catch up to their aerobic engines.

Competitive Exposure -- Maintaining a challenging, but not overwhelming, competitive environment is important for motivation and progression.

I recommend that you podium at agegroup World Champs before racing elite. If you can't podium then the best decision may be to develop as a fast amateur. This will free you to consider options, and opportunities, that present themselves outside of athletics. Realistically, until you can podium at agegroup World's then you are unlikely to be able to survive as an elite athlete. Even then, the road is a fun, but tough, one.

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Pulling all of that together. The big things that I have observed over the years:
  • Maintain simplicity in weekly routine.
  • Follow a low cost annual plan that limits travel, yet makes it mentally easy to train.
  • Good training partners are golden -- they get you through the inevitable down periods and help you stay the course.
  • Focus on building your capacity to train. Stop doing anything that results in missing tomorrow's training.
  • Sleep lots.
  • Until you can beat everyone within a two hour drive from home, there is no need to spend money traveling to races.
  • Focus on executing your weekly training plan, not achieving weekly results. Progress can lay hidden for months. I've had plateaus that lasted years.
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Next week, I am going to shift back to investing, specifically the process that I go through when deciding how to allocate capital.

All my best,
gordo

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05 September 2008

2008 Review, Part Two



This week’s letter is about taking the time to consider the long term implications of our current choices as well as offering some insight into how I approach my personal planning.

The photo above has me thinking about some additional adjustments to my TT position - I will be tinkering this winter!

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If you haven’t been to the Alternative Perspectives page in a while then you might enjoy two articles from Coach Kevin Purcell. The most recent was a thought provoker for me and very enjoyable.

2009 Boulder Camp – I am very happy to confirm Joe Friel and Bobby McGee as guest coaches at our Summer Triathlon Camp. Joe and Bobby have been instrumental in my athletic career and share more than fifty years of collective coaching experience.

As a reminder, the camp will run from July 20 to 25, 2009. By letting you handle your accommodation and morning meals, we have been able to set the cost at a very affordable $1,250. This camp is open to all abilities, all-distances and will have a balanced focus between skills development, triathlon training and athlete education. To confirm a slot, please drop me an email.

Two book recommendations for you: FIASCO is a great read about structured products and investment banking – it fits with my observations from a career inside the financial services industry.

Website Optimization is a good read for anyone that runs a web driven business, or brand. The book made me realize how little I know -- lots of easy ways to improve the reach of my writing. I read the book with pen, paper and a high speed internet connection. I approached the read like a "workbook" taking notes and making changes to my website outline.

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I was walking around Edinburgh this week and noticed that it is impossible to see a credit crunch. The buildings don’t know who owns them, or the prices that we place on them. That realization settled me down at the start of a very busy week. The UK faces challenging economic times.

My trip to Scotland confirmed suspicions on the state of my personal NAV. Long time readers may remember that I sold my UK property exposure in 2005/2006 and used a portion of the proceeds to help establish a Scottish residential property developer. While the development business is stable, the market outlook for sector is weak.

I’ve seen a big reduction in the upside component of my personal portfolio and a stack of paper profits went up in smoke. My marked-to-market net worth went down significatly in 2008. No wonder investment banks are looking for a way to avoid reporting the true market value of their illiquid securities. It was a (very) good thing that I am not personally leveraged -- I would be toast if I was a hedge fund.

Interestingly, prime residential rents are way up in Scotland. We have seen a 50% increase in our portfolio yields over the last three years and, I suspect, there are more rental increases to come. The upward yield shift gives comfort to our bankers (in a time when they aren’t hearing a whole lot of good news).

We haven’t seen any evidence of forced selling by developers. This could change if the main lenders take a hard line but, to date, all the key participants seem content to sit-it-out until market conditions improve.

Times like this are potentially volatile because if everyone is doing nothing then there is substantial downside risk if assets (at the margin) are forced through the market. Prices always move at the margin and, in a thin market, the actions of a few can impact the balance sheets of the many.

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The Tri Biz
While there isn’t much that I can (or want to) do with my personal balance sheet, I have taken a hard look at my personal profit and loss account.

Over the last three years, my largest single expense category has been “triathlon”. In 2005, I downsized my sources of triathlon revenue to create space for a big increase in my financial consulting business. The net cost of doing that was probably on the order of $100,000. I suspect that is a much smaller cost than many athletes bear when they downsize work commitments to focus on qualifying for World Champs. A single year off as a doctor, investment banker or CEO can cost a multiple of my figure.

I’m fond of saying that the easiest way to increase net income is to reduce personal expenditure. I remind myself of this because the consumption treadmill is a seductive trap, constantly marketed to us through the media.

In my annual review, I look at my expenses (current, projected, core and surplus) as well as my revenues (current, projected, downside, potential). I would encourage you to do the same.

Why? Because we always underestimate the large effect that small changes have over the time lines of our lives.

$33K per annum, for seventeen years, at 4% is $782,000.

By taking action to eliminate my net triathlon cost (today), I can finance my unborn daughter’s college education (tomorrow). Of course, all this is contingent on not spending the money elsewhere, or being miserable with the change. We can take cost control too far.

For me, starting a business helps spending discipline. My accountant tells me that the IRS will "help" further by disallowing losses if we lose money for three consecutive years. As well, I have considered bringing in a financial partner to create social, and profit, pressure. There are a lot of benefits to 100% ownership (see Raising the Bar) but I also benefit from having obligations to people I respect.

My game plan for personal expenditure control:

***Focus on the training camps that I am hosting Tucson (April); Epic France (June); and Boulder (July). Last year, I attended nine training camps and only one made a positive contribution to Gordo Incorporated.

***Consolidate the best of my writings into a single location for you (the reader) to access easily. The best marketing lesson from my triathlon experience is “give away good information for free”. Helping people is fun and creates massive goodwill. I have a stack of content spread between five websites. My content is underutilized and tough to access.

***Place my library within a website where I will be able to combine: (a) my coaching skills; (b) my writing skills; and (c) my enjoyment of helping people learn from athletics.

My financial consulting business has (effectively) total concentration with a single client. I am a big believer in the value of concentration (and the illusion of diversification). However, small things matter over long timeframes… one, or two, additional relationships will make a difference.

The benefit of my business model is it fits with my desire to main freedom of location and schedule. Commitments given to clients limit my freedom of occupation (somewhat), but I love working and there is a fair exchange.

An up-coming letter will discuss (in detail) my current personal portfolio strategy. While my outlook hasn’t changed, my portfolio structure changed (due to those paper profits evaporating).

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The Truly Precious
Because time is far more precious than money, I also do a time inventory. I have become provicient at considering my happiness return per hour. Still, it takes constant pruning to maintain a high quality life.

There are clear requirements to a long term focus on elite athletics. These requirements have associated costs that can increase over time.

Financial – outlined above.

Structural – to run well in triathlon, I need to maintain a high level of annual run volume. Having spent most of 2007 walking around my house in fluffy slippers (to comfort bruised feet), I know that the required level of volume is wearing my feet out.

Emotional – I don’t know about you… but I am not a whole lot of fun from three to eleven weeks out from a key competition. I used to get around this by living alone in the spare room of a fellow endurance athlete, or hibernating upstairs at my house in Christchurch. The IronMonk-gig worked for athletic performance but lacked in terms of emotional well-being. I have increasingly found that I can’t be the husband I want be while spending 20 weeks a year on the knife edge of human endurance.

Monica is so completely loyal that she’d back me for another five years of relentless focus. She respects me too much to offer the soft option of backing off to please-the-wife. I didn’t truly understand the brilliance of doing that for your husband until this year. If you are married to somebody like me, it is the best way to ensure peace of mind in your man. I’ve got a couple buddies that have managed the freedom but haven’t (yet) found their peace. Don’t think that I’ve necessarily found any!

Addicts come up with all sorts of ways to justify their actions. Generally, I am only able to fool myself for five to fifteen years at a given vocation. Increasingly, I find better and better things to focus on. Fatherhood represents another opportunity for self-knowledge.

I have been truly fortunate to have the opportunity to spend much of the last decade living as an elite athlete. It has been a tremendous experience and worth all the overtraining, financial costs and other occupational hazards. I rarely regret the past, even my mistakes and “hard times”.

One of the main hazards of objective decision making is caused by a combination of consistency bias, overvaluing what we own and overweighing sunk costs. “I have given up too much to change course” is a common thought pattern that can skew clear judgment. There are also tremendous social pressures that we place on each other to remain consistent in approach. We have an in-built bias against “flip-floppers”. This is a bit odd in a world where most of our key decisions are made against a background of incomplete, and changing, information.

I have always enjoyed “doing what it takes” and, I suspect, that most obsessed folks are excellent at getting the job done. Seeing this trait, could be why Monica likes me to have a project. Too much idle time leaves me short on endorphins.

It’s an interesting time for me. With my sport, increasing costs are reducing my enjoyment from doing what it takes. Frankly, I’d rather be a world class person than a world class athlete. I am fortunate to have been exposed to role models that manage to do both.

Since 2004, I hoped that winning Ironman Canada would give me a fairy tale ending. Just like Monica, Life doesn’t appear to have offered me an easy way out.

Back next week,
gordo

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28 August 2008

2008 Year In Review, Part One, Athletics


This week's photo was taken while I was competing in the speedo division of Ironman Canada 2008. I am going to write up my race report for the Planet-X website. Additionally, my pals at XTri.Com have published a recent Q&A.

Long time readers will know that I like to spend September reflecting on how things went over the last year. This year, I am a bit ahead of schedule and will share some ideas that I have been considering throughout August.

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Why Compete?
It may surprise you to learn that I don't really enjoy the "competing" part of athletic competition. While it is fun to win, how many of us are consistently dominating? Not me. Even when I win (or my clients win), I have concerns that the pleasure that I experience is just my ego being inflated. Humility does not come naturally to me and requires constant vigilance.

For short course racing, John Hellemans says that if you feel like quitting then you are going the correct effort. He is a multiple agegroup world champion and Olympic coach, so I remember his words. For much of this summer, I had that sensation in training -- I noted those feelings and reminded myself that, for Ironman, they were a clear indication that I was on edge and needed to be careful. I counted down my sessions, and the days, until Ironman Canada.

So why compete?

I have been getting slower for my last three years of Ironman racing. Similar to dying... we all know that slowing down is coming but it is a bit of a surprise when it actually arrives!

Why compete? Many valuable experiences are not pleasurable. The main personal benefits that I receive from racing all seem to come with "coping". We are all going to get knocked around a bit in life. Racing gives us a safe environment to train our coping skills. More specifically:

Coping with Public Success and Failure -- IMC 2007 was a public failure of a clearly stated goal. The failure caused me a lot of personal pain. However, trying our absolute best then failing... is liberating once we get past the pain. I am, mostly, free from concern over public performances. When I faced challenges in 2008, I looked inward... how do I want to respond to this decision, not... what will others think of this decision.

Pain results when Expectations (not performance) diverge from Results. Crisis comes from our expectations -- an athlete preferring to quit, rather than face the reality of their performance. Quiting stifles personal growth and, speaking from experience, it is far better to fail than quit. Getting across the finish line creates closure -- a DNF (that doesn't involve an ambulance ride) often remains an open wound.

Learning to cope with success is also challenging. People that like us for no reason aren't much different than people that hate us for no reason. It takes considerable self-esteem to remain ethically centered in the face of consistent positive feedback (social, financial, athletic...).

Dealing with a Lack of Control -- Control and stability are illusions, just ask any 68-minute Ironman swimmer! Racing drives that home to me, again, in a safe environment. Learning to manage our emotions, and decisions, while under extreme duress is a HIGHLY valuable skill that we take back into our daily lives.

Reaching Beyond Ourselves -- I have never made the lead swim pack in an international level triathlon. But... I don't rule it out! Racing provides us with an environment where we can achieve things that we thought were impossible. I've had a couple of disappointing Ironman races but... if I do happen to RIP one in the future... wouldn't it be great. Athletics have consistently shown me that I am capable of much more than I can imagine.

For me, the lessons of competition revolve primarily around self-awareness and self-control. Which leads nicely to...

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Race Status, Elite versus Amateur
While I was counting down the days to Ironman Canada, I was also counting down the end of my elite career. There are elements of elite ironman training (high run mileage and risk of immuno-destruction) that don't fit with my personal plan for the next 30 years. On reflection, I also wanted to experience the (hoax) joy of winning without having to cope with the extreme duress and health risks that come from elite level training.

To explain my current thinking, I need to set the stage with a couple of stories...

A -- I have a few good friends that are former military officers. I have always been drawn to "something" that all good officers share -- the calling to be an exemplar. Charlie Munger uses the term with respect to CEOs but it applies to any person in a position of leadership (teachers, parents, coaches...). An exemplar is a leader that consistently holds themselves to a higher standard than their students.

B -- Within my own athletic career, the highlights aren't the times that I won races. The real highlights came when I performed close to the level of a great athlete (Tom Evans, Steve Larsen, Peter Reid). Not so often with Peter and not any more with Tom & Steve... but I hope you get my point... it is extremely motivating to have the opportunity to race alongside athletes that played a role in our entering sport in the first place.

C -- The quickest way to learn that external success is an illusion is to "win". Even then, "victory" is a powerful drug and highly addictive. There are many ways to keep score. In athletics, we use a clock. In other fields, they may count mistresses, dollars, clients, page views, sales transactions... external success can become a trap.

A long introduction to say that I have decided to race elite for another year. Slowing down with style will make me a better man, at a minimum a more humble man!

Racing beside Simon Lessing, and the traveling Aussies, at Boulder Peak 2009 should provide me with a solid stress management opportunity. As well, there are athletes out there that will enjoy taking me down. Why deny them that pleasure? Scott jokes that our Epic Camp clients enjoy taking down "the Ultraman".

Outside of Worlds, I'm not quite slow enough to make it a fair fight in the agegroup ranks (it could get a lot more fair during an up-coming break). In business, I have tried to be willing to sacrifice success to remain true to my values. So, you guys in the 40-44 next year will be safe from me... but I will be benchmarking against you. When you track me, remember that I have a 10 meter draft zone and, likely, had to swim alone, often without a wetsuit!

The Canadian federation makes it a bit challenging for non-resident nationals to receive their elite cards. As a result, I am going to seek a US Elite Card (once my Green Card comes through). To my friends north of the border, know that I love Canada and am a proud Canuck.

Next week, I will publish Part Two. That letter will cover the intersection of Business, Athletics and my Personal Plan. I have things sorted for my 40s but have discovered a few areas that need to be addressed to prepare for my 50s and 60s.

I play a long game.
gordo

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08 August 2008

Add It Up



Our photo this week is Team Bennett (Greg & Laura).

As I type this, Laura is heading to Beijing in order to represent the US in the Olympics (pretty cool). I have been fortunate to get to know the Bennetts over the last little while.

When I compare Laura to myself, what stands out is her true attitude. By "true attitude" I mean the way she is. She is not working on having a positive attitude -- she "is" positive in a very peaceful sense.

Over the last eight years, I have made a consistent, conscious effort to reprogram a habit of relentless positivity. I also work on seeking to view situations from the opposite perspective. My attitude is a habit, Laura's attitude is a trait. Give me another 20 years and I might get there!

When I was working with Dave Scott in 2004, I was amazed at his grasp of the competitive dynamic of Ironman racing. Dave's toughness and physical skills are legendary but, I think, what really gave him an edge was understanding the competitive dynamic of a race and knowing how to "win".

The only person that I've met with a similar level understanding of mixing terrain, skills and tactics is Greg Bennett (the other "GB"). Seeing as I am an older, long course guy... (i.e. no threat!) ...Greg speaks freely around me. Like listening to Molina, I kick back and soak up the knowledge. Every single time I sit down with Greg, I learn something new. What's unique to Greg is his capacity to create, then execute, a winning strategy. There are a lot of strategic coaches out there but they rarely have the physical goods to deliver their own plans. He's formulating, visualizing, then executing his own victories.

With a bit of luck, we will be able to schedule the Bennetts as part of our evening speakers series at our Boulder Camp next July.

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Toby (from Art of Tri) has offered a 20% discount to all gBlog readers. What you do is enter the discount code at check-out. The code is GORDO-99 and the website is HERE. Monica and I like the hoodies.

One of Art of Tri's taglines is "One Passion...Endless Training". That can mean a lot of different things. Five years ago, I might have interpreted that as making sure that I met my daily target of Five-A-Day.

Five hours of training, rather than five servings of fruits and veggies!

More and more, "Endless Training" is about maximizing my athletic enjoyment across a lifetime. Taking care of my body and making sure that I'm still able to do interesting things into my 60s and 70s.

The first time I rode up the Tourmalet (pictured below), there were two guys well into their 60s (perhaps 70s) grinding their way towards the summit. Totally soaked in sweat -- suffering in silence. Frankly, they looked a lot like Montgomery, Newsom and me -- just older!

I want to be those guys. I want to be on the Tourmalet in 2030 (hopefully with Molina.



Endless Training.

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Add It Up
Most of the discussion about endurance sports is prescriptive in nature. Athletes create goals and ask friends/experts/coaches to comment on what-it-takes. Coaches opine about optimal protocols required for "success". Success being defined in terms of beating all-comers, personal bests or qualifying for World Champs.

Rarely do we invert the question.

Instead of stating "What it takes", I start by asking my clients "What have you got?"

In order to figure that out you need to Add It Up and I like a time inventory/log to get a hold on that. Consider in a week, time spent...

Training
Working
Shopping
Cooking
Cleaning
Spouse
Friends
Kids
Pets
Family
Education
Reading
Personal Admin
House Maintenance
Internet
TV
Movies
Relaxation
Other...

Don't waste time scheduling your perfect week -- rather, observe, and log, what you are really doing. You will learn a lot.

There are no sacrifices required for success, merely choices. Most people will resist the above exercise because they don't want to be faced with the information that would result.

One of the choices I make is to sub-contract as many non-core items as possible. Paradoxically, I also retain a number of items that might appear to be low value added:

***Cooking red meat
***Trash, recycling and pet poop
***(Moderately) heavy lifting -- I need assistance for the truly heavy
***Rose garden watering
***Breakfast

I could probably sub-contract these items but I find them relaxing and happen to be very good with pet poop.

My point is we can only "create time" by reducing our commitments. In my podcast with Chris McDonald, his advice to the aspiring athlete was "sell everything". Extreme simplicity is another way to reduce commitments -- if you don't have a house, car, consulting practice, spouse, job, garden, pet... then there is nothing to spend time on. Remember that elimination of many of these items will have a negative impact on our ability to have a life with meaning.

OK... once you've added-it-up. Reflect on the following levels of endurance commitment...

Nine hours of training per week -- at this level, you will be able to achieve personal health and enjoy the wellbeing that comes from endorphin release. Remember that the greatest benefit you receive from an active lifestyle comes from the first hour in your daily routine. At this level, you are unlikely to maximize your potential as an "athlete" and a lot of people are curious about how far they can go.

Fifteen hours of training per week -- at this level of long term commitment, you have a very good shot at achieving the bulk of your athletic potential. I think that it represents an achievable target for an athlete that wants to make endurance sport a fundamental aspect of their life.

Now the kicker... endurance sport attracts a lot of extreme people, such as myself. After a taste of early success... we convince ourselves that "achieving the bulk of our personal potential" is selling ourselves short. So we target...

Twenty-One hours of training per week -- if you want to squeeze the last few percentages (and we are talking small percentages) from your performance then you're looking at a 1,000 hour annual commitment for an extended period of your athletic development.

Thing is... even if you can handle it physically (many can't)... as you shift ever upward on the endurance commitment scale... you will notice that, eventually, you also need to annually commit an extra 700 hours of sleep and spend an extra 350 hours on athletic admin (massage, stretching, changing, showering, travel).

For many, what was once an enjoyable 450 hour annual commitment, gradually becomes an all-encompassing obsession sucking upwards of 2,000 hours a year.

So in addition to adding up your available time, also consider what level of athletic commitment makes the most sense in terms of the life that you are seeking to create for yourself.

Financially...
Ten years
1,550 hours per year
$15 per hour (say, $25 less 40% in taxes/costs)
5% return on savings
= $292,000

Sit on that nest egg for 20 years at 5%
= $775,000

Choose wisely,
gordo

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22 July 2008

Big Dog Racing


This past weekend, I was racing at the Vineman 70.3 in California. The race experience reminded me of a few things that I’ll share in this week’s letter. Until I receive some race photos, I have used a favorite from the archives. Below is a thumb that Dave sent along to tide readers over. Thanks Dave -- for the photo and running a fine race out there in Cali!

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?

g

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12 July 2008

Athletic Inversion & Living The Dream


October 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of Scott Molina's victory at the Hawaii Ironman. Part of Scott's motivation for returning is the desire to get-it-right in terms of preparation, and race day performance. If an athlete as successful as Scott feels that he hasn't quite got it right -- after 30 (!) years of racing -- then there must be structural limitations in the human condition.

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One of the key things that Charlie Munger repeats in his Almanack is the advice to "always invert". I have been reading that advice for three years but only recently started to grasp the meaning. I think what he is trying to tell me...

...to improve your chances of being successful, make sure you figure out what can kill you.

Munger believes that a solid track record of success can be created by sticking to what you know, working hard and limiting your poor choices. Inversion is a method of bringing potentially poor choices, or situations, to the front of your mind.

The books that I recommended in the last few weeks do a great job when it comes to applying this advice in the real world. However, I spent yesterday considering what derails athletic success.

According to Daniels, the two key aspects of athletic success are inherent ability and motivation.

However, our ability to achieve athletic success is a mixture of what we choose to do and what we choose to avoid. Nothing impacts choices as directly as your peer group -- choose associates wisely.

Across an athletic lifetime, there are ample opportunities for self-sabotage. World Champions (like Molina) have interesting stories about personal triumphs. They have hilarious stories about their mistakes. Unknowingly, I have been studying oral autobiographies of great champions/investors/coaches over the last eighteen years.

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How we defeat ourselves in racing



The image above is a histogram of an ironman-distance power file. Don't get too caught up in the details, the picture helps me explain a couple of concepts for endurance success.

The Dead Zone -- the dead zone starts at the average wattage (and heart rate) for a Half Ironman race where you ran well. What is "running well"? I like to define it as within 7% of a fresh half marathon split. Within my own racing, I can come within 5%.

Why do I call it the dead zone? Because if you spend too much time above your average Half IM power (or heart rate)... your hopes of a decent marathon will DIE. The more time you spend there, the greater the likelihood of marathon difficulties.

We shouldn't blame the molecular structure of our nutritional choices, the issue lies with our selected race effort.

In racing, the #1 thing that can kill you is choosing a race pace that exceeds: (a) your fitness; or (b) your capacity to fuel to the finish line.

The likelihood of a superior performance increases the more easily you start the day. Consider:

Swim -- once you are swimming an easy to steady effort, you will find that you need to massively increase effort for a tiny increase in pace. You won't believe the scale of this relationship until you actually try it for yourself. In fact, a number of athletes strongly resist learning this knowledge.

As the saying goes...
...you can bring athletes to the lake but you can't make them negative split with a heart rate monitor attached...

The test workout is 5x800 meters (each one faster than the one before) -- best done open water or in a 50-meter pool. Check your average/max HR per lap against your pace per lap. Compare your workout average pace/HR with the average pace/HR for the final two laps.

Bike -- providing you choose humble gearing (a BIG assumption), you have the option to moderate and totally control your effort. If a former World Ironman Champion like Scott Molina can ride with a 30/27 then you should be able to suck-it-up and be realistic about your gearing needs.

Run -- if you blow on the run then the time penalty is MASSIVE, the cost of a marathon meltdown is disproportionately high. At Ultraman, I have pulled back 10-minutes per MILE, off athletes that run into trouble.

Does your prior race record show that you have the experience, fitness and competence to "race" to what you think is the limit of your fitness? I put "race" in quotes because very few people ever race an Ironman.

So what is a realistic effort for you to aim for on the bike? Here is a test workout... 3x40 mile loops, no long climbs, no drafting, with less than 90 seconds of stopping between each loop. Do each loop faster than the one before -- if you pull that off (and aren't wrecked) then Lap 2 is a good guideline. If you can't descend the laps, or if you are totally worked at the end, then even your slowest lap is too fast.

Download your data from this workout and look at your actual heart rate and power profiles. That is your benchmark for IM -- given that you are swimming 2.4 miles and running a marathon as well... you are likely to need to step _down_ from that actual training data. Similar to the swim test set... you will feel a lot of mental resistance when faced with this information. Many don't want to know.

No doubt some of you think that I am nuts to recommend a 200KM race simulation ride -- does your prior racing track record show that you have the knowledge to determine appropriate pacing?

I did a series of race simulation rides in 2001 -- they were extremely tough and the lessons are still with me! For some reason, lessons learned alone, in training, tend to stick with me longer than repeated errors made in the heat of competition.

A word on averages, fast triathlon cycling is about learning to optimize your speed on the LOWEST possible wattage. An athlete that can go the same speed as you on 80-90% of your power has a huge advantage once the run begins. We all tend to focus on the big numbers, however, the athletes that are most impressive are the ones that go quick on low power. Learning how they do that can give you and edge -- some ideas... aerodynamics, fast in the slow bits, avoiding spikes, bike skills, relaxed at high speed.

Even armed with the above knowledge, it is near impossible to apply it when stressed and surrounded by people making poor decisions. Socially, it is far safer to fail conventionally than 'risk' success in an unconventional manner. I have numerous podium finishes that result from (what others call) cycling 'weakness'.

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Q. What is the #1 killer of athletic success in training?
A. Fatigue.

I have been working with athletes for ten years now and the greatest challenge that we face is managing fatigue. Athletes that successfully manage fatigue are more consistent with their training (and happier) thereby increasing their ultimate athletic success.

Here are some tips for improving how you manage fatigue.

Chasing Fitness -- Chasing fitness happens when you sit down and calculate the "fitness" required to meet an athletic goal. You then train at your goal fitness level, rather than your current fitness level. We do this in a lot of different ways -- solo athletes, do this by chasing Personal Bests in workouts; group training athletes, do this by seeking to "win" workouts with "faster" athletes.

My experience is the best training partners are slightly weaker physically, stronger mentally and very fun to be around. You then let the group dynamics lift your fitness.

As for the effect on your training partner... remember that most of your competition isn't consciously seeking their personal best, they are controlled by moment-to-moment emotions.

Chasing Averages -- I've nuked myself a few times with this approach, most recently last week. Here is how it works... you sit down with a recent lab test, or race result. The data is "real" so you have confidence that it will provide a reasonable benchmark to what you should do. You then pull out the exercise physiology textbooks and calculate the precise intensity that you should hold for the workout. Then, for an unexplained reason, you add 5-10% to the intensity and 10-20% to the duration! Fortunately, I cracked fairly early in that workout!

Another word on why averages are misleading. Have another look at the chart above. The average of that ride was 253w. About 6% of that ride was less than 100w but less than 2% of the ride was greater than 400w. With heart rates/power/pace, there are always more very low values than very high values. The longer, and more variable, the workout the greater this effect. As well, my brain always seems to "normalize high". If you ask me to guess the average power of an effort that I just completed (when I watched the screen a lot), I am nearly always 5-10% too high.

What does this mean?

A - If your goal effort is 180-190w then you'll probably average ~175w if you execute correctly.

B - If you set your powermeter on "average watts" and try to hit a number then the majority of your ride will be well over that number and you'll fail to notice (highly costly) power spikes.

No Man's Land Training -- A fit athlete will have the capacity to train every session a little bit "too hard". Taking the three main physiological markers, AeT/LT/FT, the mid points between each of these, should be avoided, with particular attention being paid to the mid-point between AeT and LT. There is a big increase in recovery requirement (and hardly any training benefit) from training slightly over these points, as opposed to slightly under. See the attachment from last week for more info.

NOTE -- intensity moderation is easier to apply to others than ourselves! Having a coach review workout files (post fact) can help you stay sane.

The final three points are sleep, life stress and nutrition (including drug/alcohol use). These are huge in terms of their impact on the amount of fatigue we carry around in our lives.

Sleep -- an extra hour of sleep, every night.

Life Stress -- consciously choosing to do less, in order to achieve more.

Nutrition -- eat real food.

The more simple you can make your life, the greater the chance that you will be able to execute successfully.

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Living The Dream
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.

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?
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.

The opportunity to build personal capital in your 20s is valuable. However, when I look back, even more valuable was: (a) being surrounded by a group of highly intelligent people that enhanced my desire to work; (b) the acquisition of a wide range of skills and the opportunity to apply these skills in a range of situations; (c) instruction (by example) of the level of commitment/effort/perseverance required to achieve challenging goals.

When I look for people to associate with, I ask myself, "does this person have a track record of achievement backed by work ethic and strong personal values?" Spending your 20s focused on the creation of that sort of person would be time very well spent.

More specifically for your goal, my advice is to focus on building your expert credentials, as perceived by your target market. Share your knowledge freely as it has little value if hoarded. The market will let you know if your experience has value and relevance.

Sharing your experiences, also improves your communication skills. In the field you are considering, effective communication is important.

Within your expert credentials, three things to consider:

Image -- always present yourself the way you wish to be seen by your target market. Be aware that most people will quickly see through a lack of authenticity. Remember that what takes decades to build can be pulled down very quickly. Respond slowly, and thoughtfully, in environments you don't control (such as other people's internet forums).

Within my own life, I have found it much easier to eliminate choices that don't fit my desired image than create something that doesn't exist. If you chip away at the items that don't fit then you will find that, over time, you end up with a "self" that is in pretty good shape. Over the last few years, I have taken a hard look at the aspects of my life that run counter to honesty, kindness and health. I work daily at the elimination of small things that are inconsistent with these values.

Put yourself in the right peer group, learn to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done and gain control over the little things that are inconsistent with the person you want to become.

Perception -- there is the way we see ourselves, and the way others see us. From a business point of view, an understanding of how others see us is very useful. What aspects of your story resonate with your target client base? What special, or interesting, knowledge do you have to share? Sharing genuine experiences of an interesting life is probably the most popular form of soft-marketing you can do. We share a love of interesting stories.

Knowledge -- do you know what you don't know? Do you know what you need to know? Do you have multiple approaches available to help your clients? At the beginning of our athletic journey we know so little. Start by figuring out how the different approaches work, and don't work, for you. Work with the best people you have access to. Solidify your knowledge by sharing, and teaching, it.

Most of us get into trouble when we stray into areas where our knowledge is limited. Even as you achieve expert status (whatever that means) resist the urge to opine on all range of subjects. Focus on sharing experience in the areas where you have specific, and relevant knowledge. One of the nice things about being part of a smart team is that you have the ability to bring in support when clients ask questions outside of your core competency.

The ability to ask for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. One needs to be self-confident to admit one's limitations.

If you put yourself "out there" then there will be people waiting to sling arrows, or anonymous comments, at you. By sticking to what you know, it will make it easier to handle it when people seek to bring you down. Remember that our critics exist to criticize, no matter what they say, they have little interest in helping us.

While you are building the above be aware that the more successful you become the greater you are at risk for being hurt by various forms of cognitive bias. One of the reasons that I study under different teachers is to keep my "toolbox" filled with more than one approach for each problem.

Many experts become so immersed in their own dogma that they lose their intellectual freedom. I have had some very intelligent people agree with me in private, but note that they can't change their opinion because of the weight of their past public record. We share an irrational bias against people that change their opinion. Always give yourself the freedom to change your mind in light of new information.

I didn't answer your question directly because people that create world-class financial returns from triathlon are more scarce than World Champion triathletes. However, there are many examples of people that create an enviable lifestyle in our sport, and I believe you will find that much more rewarding than outsize financial returns.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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25 June 2008

Lifelong Athletics


The picture above is from 2004 -- that is Tom Evans without the shirt. Tom had a great race that day and, an even better day, last weekend when he won (with style) in Idaho. Now that Peter is flying float planes, Tom has to be the fastest Canadian Ironman. Outstanding for a married guy with a full-time job. When I have a tough day, or start to doubt myself, I think about Tom. He is a big inspiration to me.

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A book recommendation for you that I have been enjoying is Seeking Wisdom, From Darwin to Munger. When I have read Charlie Munger's writing, he often talks about his checklists -- trouble is, I couldn't find them anywhere. Until I bought this book -- they are a great appendix that the author assembled.

This week I am going to share ideas on a reader question.

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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?

I wrote a blog on The Aging Athlete last November. That is a good starting point.

Long time readers will notice that my advice appears consistent across sex, age, experience and and goals. That is a conscious decision -- my experience is that consistent application of the Four Pillars applies very well across populations. For training protocol, I think that we should all research the lessons of Arthur Lydiard and translate to our sport, ability level and athletic age.

NOTE -- Lydiard is well known for his 100-mile per week base phase, I like to translate that into time for triathletes -- in Lydiard's population a 100-mile run week was about 11-12 hours of training. For sustainable results, keep those hours in your head, sticking with a hard distance target can be counterproductive.

Every athlete, that seeks long term success, should remember the essential nature of non-training factors. Put another way, new athletes can appear to "get away"with poor nutrition, never stretching, muscle imbalances, and weak recovery strategies. If you want to perform across ten, twenty, fifty years then these risk factors become key personal limiters.

A phased approach can work well. Phases within each week, month, year, four year cycle and decade. Consider the weak points in your current athletic inventory. What can derail you? Greatly improve these "consistency risk factors" in your transition period and early season. Then... maintain across your season. It takes far less energy to maintain a level of strength/flexibility/nutrition/immune function than it does to improve, or heal, when it goes off track.

As an example, even today, I feel that I continue to benefit from strength training done over a decade ago, yoga done eight years ago and two years of aerobic overload (2003/2004).

There are only a few (usually Olympic level) coaches that have the vision to nurture talent across a 6-12 year time horizon. Most people go-for-broke in 6-18 months and only the biomechanically gifted freaks survive.

Our reader closes with a great point -- lifetime volume and wearing out. Hardly anyone (other than former elite marathoners and ironman champions) discusses this with me. I suppose it is human nature to avoid focusing on the fact that we wear-out and die.

Listen to my interview with Dr. John Hellemans.

John is very good at respecting an individual's 'right' to make their own mistakes. However, he has been telling me for YEARS that the high level pursuit of ultradistance sports is unhealthy because of the training load IMers place on our bodies. I never had a real position on his point until this year (he's right). It's a lot like death -- it simply doesn't make sense until someone young, close to us, dies. Even then, our brains aren't wired to focus on our own mortality.

My buddy, Jeff (Dr. J) Shilt explains it this way... think of yourself as a car. You can use the best fuel, have a perfect service record and drive carefully. Still, no matter what you do, things will wear out eventually. 1200 hour training years don't exactly fit with "careful driving"!

Coming back to Hellemans, he is one of the best 50-somethings in the world at standard distance triathlon (8 world AG titles, I think). He's been in triathlon since it was founded and is still ripping today. He shoots for 12-15 hours per week of training load and that enables him to be a highly competitive and happy guy.

Tom Evans is my role-model for Ironman and John Hellemans is my role-model for life.

So in terms of life long athletics -- thinking through my own experience as well as my training partners left in the sport and long gone...

You can likely hit it pretty solid through to 25 years old. Athletically young athletes can also be very aggressive for 1, or 2, years when they are under 40. I have seen many athletes jumpstart their endurance by taking a sabbatical from work to focus on their cycling. However, hitting-it-hard for more than 18 months tends to fry athletes at all levels and compromises long-term consistency.

Remember that long term consistency is the best indicator of being able to approach our ultimate athletic performance. Far more than protocol, consistency is the universal characteristic that appears at the top.

High performing endurance athletes that come from non-impact sports (swimming, cycling) need to be VERY VERY careful when they start running. If you strap an elite swimming engine to a novice runner body then you nearly always ruin the athlete -- don't fall into the trap of fooling yourself with exceptions. There is a TON of silent evidence.

So my advice... if you have potential for triathlon then you will know within two years from starting the sport. Folks with high athletic potential improve very rapidly. With that rapid improvement comes the temptation for more, and more, and more... a good coach is valuable to protect you from the natural enthusiasm that comes from success. Know your coach's limiters and remember that we tend to be attracted to people that share our biases.

For whatever reason, we seem to think that there is more merit in ruining our bodies if we happen to be be "good" -- my rapid, and continuous, improvement hindered my capacity for an objective review of my athletic path. It wasn't until I approached my athletic peak, for a second time, that I was able to consider what the heck I was doing. Like so many things, most of us keep rolling until something breaks. Even then, how often do we chase the illusive "high" of past experience.

Once you have been doing endurance sport seriously for five years, and certainly by ten, you will have a clear idea of your potential, what you enjoy and (if you pause to think) should be able to figure out the "why" behind your participation. At that stage, it is worth considering how you are going to maximize your "athletic why" across the rest of your lifetime. If you read this blog weekly then you'll know that I've been mulling my "why" for a few years... ...and I am still training!

Off to the Rockies with Molina. Back online after the 4th of July.

Chose wisely,
gordo

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22 June 2008

The Back 40


The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.
-- Richard Feynman

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Our picture this week is Scott Molina (looking buff at 48) competing in the Epic Italy, 4.5K uphill race. For me, his expression sums it up. Note that he is holding excellent form despite being totally worked. True running technique is what you are left with when you're wrecked. Here's a shot of Johno's run form... hills are a great way to improve running economy...



Scott is in town on Friday and, starting Saturday, we'll be hitting the Rockies for a week of altitude training. I was up on Magnolia Road this morning for a little high altitude prep. It will be interesting to see how Scott copes -- hopefully, he will have some of the Stelvio left in his bloodstream.

I'd show you a picture of my running form but... it left a bit to be desired when put alongside my fellow Epic coaches! We'll finish with a veranda shot at the Hotel des Alpes in Cortina. An outstanding hotel based in the heart of the Dolomites. A great base for the bulk of your vacation in the Italian Alps.


That is Randy from New York with Scott/me. I get a big kick out of hanging with guys from the East Coast. They live in a different world and that helps me maintain perspective.

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Back to the quote that started this piece off. If a man as clever as Feynman says that he needs to be careful about fooling himself then, I figure, there are a number of areas in my own life where I am currently fooling myself. So the last two weeks have been spent investigating how I am fooling myself.

Use of Capital -- I need to exercise consistent fiscal discipline across all areas of my life.

Athletic Achievement -- athletic triumphs are most satisfying when novel and unexpected. Across a lifetime, one may find greater satisfaction from success in a variety of fields. The joy of beginner's mind is exceedingly tough to maintain as one becomes more and more experienced (in reality, more and more biased!) in a field.

Athletics and Satisfaction -- satisfaction comes from living in harmony with my body and the sensations of personal health. These feelings are most prevalent when I am training for a competition. However, I think that I am linking competition to the feelings rather than seeing the link between lifestyle and personal satisfaction.

Relative Achievement and Competition -- the most peaceful moments of my adult life have been moving in harmony with nature, not defeating strangers in athletic combat.

Benefits of Financial Wealth -- the two greatest benefits of financial wealth are independence and freedom. Using our wealth for its most obvious use (goods and services) reduces it ability to provide us with what truly matters.

All of the above feed into my personal values and ethics that I have built up over the last ten years.

Successful Marriage based on kindness and respect
Peaceful Listening
Retreats with Nature
Wake-up Early
Ethical Life with Meaning
To explore and share new experiences
To read good books and learn
To write and teach
Temperate weather with ample sunshine
Maintain expense/income balance

The title of this article refers to years 40 to 80 of my life. My goal with my current review is to establish a frame of reference against which I can make decisions of varying duration and expected outcome.

I thought that I was going to have to re-write "everything" then discovered that my values were fairly well documented within my existing business plan.

I will finish this week with a shot of my nephew sporting the GordoWorld team colors at a local swim meet...


I've got a few spare jerseys in the basement -- if your kids are interested then drop me a line with your address. [Update -- they all went in 24 hours]

Still thinking,
gordo

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16 June 2008

48 Switchbacks


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 Italy. Don’t leave it too late, though. I am in great shape and used my 34-27 extensively!

Epic Italy was my ninth Epic Camp. I learn, and re-learn, lessons each time I go through the Epic experience. To promote contemplation, I left my iPod packed for the entire camp. Epic went well and what follows are some observations that I hope you find interesting.

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 –New Zealand in January and French Alps in June. I have told Johno & Scott that I am 100% for the French Alps. I can’t confirm attending New Zealand right now.

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, Alps, Dolomites), there is no place to hide so you need to turn up in solid bike shape.

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.

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The Pinnacle

In early 2003, I managed to go under nine hours at Ironman New Zealand. For a guy with my background, that’s fast.

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 America. The trip was more effective than fun – a life with meaning isn’t always fun.

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.

Choose wisely,

g

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01 June 2008

Athletic Legacies and Training Speeds


This week, I will share some ideas on being fast as well as some detail on my own program. I will also touch on a few paradoxes between my training approach and my racing performance.

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Last weekend, I raced the Triple T in Southern Ohio (that's me in the photo above -- I'm on the bike with the Zipp 1080 front -- seriously fast wheel, use with caution!). The race has a unique format. Athletes complete an Ironman but the distance is split into four races over three days (a prologue, two Olys and a HIM). To place well, an athlete needs to be able to perform well when tired – one of my strengths.

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 Southern Ohio I asked myself (more than once) why I was spending the weekend, away from my wife, chasing strangers around the backwoods?!

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?

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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
***Low energy
***Illness
***Poor workplace performance
***Poor relationship performance
***Disordered eating (there is a lot more of this behavior than eating disorders)
***DNS and DNF results
***Low race performance relative to training performance

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!

g

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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.

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21 May 2008

Thoughts for female athletes


This week I will share some observations that are relevant to female athletes. Much (most?) of the exercise physiology chatter that we hear is geared towards male athletes. In particular, large/strong/speedy male athletes. You can be sure that nobody is posting their worst workout data in their blogs! :-)

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Before we get into this week's letter an announcement:

Colorado Altitude Camp -- June 27th to July 5th
Seven Days of bike-focused training in the Rockies. Start/Finish in Boulder, CO. ~550 miles of cycling, plus run, plus swim. Appropriate for sub-10 hr IMers.

Five athlete slots -- one coach (me).

Highlights -- Brainard Lake (10K); Trailridge Road (11K); Steamboat Springs, Vail, Vail Pass, Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass, Winter Park, Snow Mountain Ranch Swimming Pool (>9K!), Mt Evans (14K).

$2100 per person includes everything but transport to/from Boulder. Contact me with your athletic CV for more info. Discounts available for sub-8:50 IMers and/or athletes that swim faster than me.

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Below is a chart that we prepared to illustrate a typical profile for a fit amateur female athlete. The chart is a mixture from a few different ladies and shows a 'normal' profile. If you would like then click on it to see a large image.

The chart above shows an interesting paradox for many female athletes. The point at which many women oxidize the greatest amount of fat (per minute) tends to feel "too easy". A recent visitor commented that she'd have to "pedal with one leg to go that slow".

Interestingly, fit female athletes have the capacity to do nearly 100% of their training at an intensity that shuts down most of their fat burning. If you have body composition goals -- you want to burn fat, not calories.

I am not talking world class female athletes -- I am likely talking about YOU. By "fit" I mean a woman that has been training for a few years, is active and can get through a triathlon of any distance. In other words, fit relative to the general population -- not the people winning at World Champs.

How many women (and men) train "hard" and never seem to be able to lose weight. While it is tempting to blame our genetics... the fault may lie in our approach.

I don't know about you but I started training to lose weight -- period. Weight loss was my ONLY goal. I have never coached an athlete (male or female) that didn't share this desire, at some level.

In my experience, a moderate approach to training intensity yields a much deeper satisfaction from your athletes. Why? Here are the benefits:

***Faster weight loss
***Lower cravings
***Reduced incidence of injury & illness
***Way less physically painful (your ego may take a knock from time-to-time)
***Improved metabolic rate, less risk of stress fractures and bone density loss (from persistent energy deficits)

The "go hard" approach will work for some -- there are well-known training squads that thrive on energy deficits and extreme work ethic. What I am suggesting is for you to make an informed choice based on the life you want to live.

Remember that, as human beings, we are not great at considering long term costs/liabilities. As well, our media doesn't cover the shattered tibias, twisted psyches and torched metabolisms of our athletic heroes of yesteryear -- they run cover photos of the lithe bodies of today.

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So, for the ladies out there that may be coping with frustration, or a personal plateau. Here are some simple tips to maximize both your performance and your athletic satisfaction.

What to do?
***first goal is 3 sessions per sport, per week // if you can do that for 12 weeks then...
***add an additional session per sport, per week // combo sessions count
***keep the program "too easy" for the first few years // training should always be an emotional release -- if is becomes a source of stress then back-off immediately, and learn. Remember why you chose to be active.

What counts?
***Everything counts! 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes... whatever. For running... walk, hike, jog, run -- it all counts! The most important thing is to do something, anything. Aim for about an hour per day.

How hard?
***90% of your training should be done in the zone that maximizes your fat burning. If you are starting out then this will likely occur with FLAT cycling and fast WALKING. If you are puffing then SLOW DOWN, you have likely shut down your fat burning.
***For the other 10% of your training keep your heart rate under "180-AGE" -- if you want to go harder than this then fine -- I don't think that it is a big deal. What matters is staying healthy, looking good and being active.
***For $240, you can get a Fuel Test in a lab (like ours) but this is not essential. The above guidelines are "close enough" for the early years (not weeks!) of your program.
***Your mind/ego will try to convince you that you are somehow "different" -- however -- heart rate outliers are pretty rare.

What to eat?
***Forget about sports nutrition until you are training over two hours in a single session.
***Eat normally with two modifications -- no refined starch/sugar after 4pm and lean protein with every single meal (and at least 5x per day).
***Once you have the above sorted for a few months (not weeks) -- increase the amount of "real food" you eat. Real Food = food that comes without an ingredient list on the side. Read labels -- sugar is everywhere in packaged foods.
***Make incremental changes, gradually.

In all areas, focus on positive choices that support your long term goals -- denial strategies aren't effective.

When it all gets too much -- take a break and try to keep things in perspective. As my home page says... do not take life so seriously, no one will make it out alive.

We all make mistakes -- my failures are signs that I have been trying too hard. The main thing is staying in the game.

Good luck!

g

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12 April 2008

Views on training


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only way is UP!


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good guy for me to hang around.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great reminders from Justin

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27 March 2008

Tucson Training


Above you have Mat Steinmetz, Mike Alvarez, Sean Fenner and Mark Cook -- my ride buddies from yesterday's 50 mile effort.

I have been in the desert for the last week attending our Endurance Corner Spring Camp in Tucson, Arizona. The camp has been a reminder of a few topics that I will cover in this week's letter.

What's possible // Everyone here is a real athlete, but not everyone realizes it. Justin and I were commenting to each other that everyone is strong, durable and able to log the miles. It is tough to be one of the slower athletes in a group as high powered as this one. Interestingly, I have found that the slower athletes are the least likely to experience mental stress at a camp. Camp is challenging and they expected that!

Attitude & Fatigue // Similar to Epic Camp (where everyone is a bad ass "back home"), the faster agegroup athletes are used to being able to dominate in training _and_ dictate the nature of their training. Most specifically, swim volume and peak power required when group riding. JD warned us all pre-camp... "Don't go looking for work, let the work come to you". That is good advice when riding with a couple of Ultraman Champs. Fortunately, Jonas and I have been feeling gentlemanly -- I did big ring Gates Pass on Tuesday but Mat made me (and the rest of the ride) pay later.

Something that I have noticed across the years is that athletes that are unable to adjust self-expectations in the face of high powered competition are the ones that have the greatest gap between actual, and potential, performance.

Specifically, they convince themselves that they are training easier than reality. Training camps, long races, and descending main sets, are an effective way to benchmark one's reality. It's why I love Epic Camp for my own training -- not that I always listen to what the group is 'telling' me!

Setting one's mind // We've seen some stand out performances this week. Personally, I have been most impressed by the swim training that the campers have done. Scott taught me that (most) athletes will rise to the expectations of their peer group. We have been putting up a "real" swim workout most days. I have been sharing some of the workouts that Monica used to turn me into a low-50s IMer.

Limits // Today at lunch Sean Fenner told me that he wished that he could really hit it a few days and see what's possible. I passed along my experience that even when you think you are holding back... you are likely hitting it quite hard! The camp environment takes us far beyond where we could get ourselves. I probably would have taken a light day yesterday if I was at home. Instead... 10K steady run, 5500 yard solid swim and 50 mile aerobic maintenance bike. Jonas spent the early part of the camp trying to get us to sleep in // then gave up and started training! Even the fastest guy at the camp benefits from the group dynamic.

Ultra Speed // The differentiator between good and great ultradistance athletes is NOT their 20-60 minute power. At a camp like this, you don't see the best from the fittest athletes -- they have tons in reserve. What we do see (but might not realize) is the difference between an elite athlete's easy/steady pace and an agegrouper's mod-hard/threshold pace. Look at Sindballe's heart data BEFORE you look at the power. How many people racing 2-5 hours LONGER than him are able to ride that "easy" in an Ironman Distance race? Thorbjorn held off Tim deBoom -- one of the greatest runners in the history of Hawaii -- he did that on the marathon.

We did a test set within our 5500 yard swim...
5x500 then 4x400 with one goal -- faster each 400, leave 10s after the person in front of you (non-drafting). This is a tough swim for an athlete to get "right" in a group situation. Most people swim them as mod-hard; threshold; threshold; very hard with the last three swims within 6-8s of each other.

In case you are wondering... I went something like 5:10/4:58/4:51/4:41 and tried quite hard on the last one -- my 400 yard PB is 4:20 so I have some work to do! We were leaving on 5:45. Big J dropped a 4:08 on the last one. Bit of a gap.. that's why he's The Man.

The inability to descend is a result of lack of practice (and confidence), not lack of potential. Lacking this critical ability means that the athlete is likely training one intensity zone higher than they think -- all-the-time. Within most AG programs this doesn't show as excessive fatigue -- it tends to show as: (a) late race fading; (b) stagnant aerobic development (especially around AeT); and (c) an inability to really hit the toughest sessions.

Same deal on the bike -- in a group situation, you can pretty much always count on a highly motivated athlete to come to the front and start riding "easy to steady" by siting on their Half Ironman wattage. I comfort myself that the draft is outstanding and it will only be a half hour or so before the pace slows down. Even with the advent of powermeters, most athletes cannot wait to show their strength.

Finishing strong is a very satisfying form of delayed gratification.

We will race the way we train.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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10 February 2008

Reflections on Overtraining


Our photo this week is Team MonGo at Ben Lomond Saddle above Queenstown, New Zealand. Monica and I went for a hike last week and were treated to some amazing views. Our “hike” turned into a pretty solid workout and I managed to convince my training partner to take the gondola down to save my legs. At the top of the Gondola, we ran into Epic Vet Eliot as well as his dad. They were on their way up as we were finishing. Eliot’s mohawk makes him pretty easy to spot from a distance.

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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 Hawaii (at 28) then retiring (at 33). Homeboy is one durable athlete to hit it hard for 18 years. Suffice to say, he is comfortable being tired.

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.

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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:

  • Completing a lot of work is a requirement for success in any field.
  • The closer we get to our maximum capacity to “do” work, the closer we are to completely ruining our ability to “absorb” work.
  • As a species, we are poor at seeing much further than the current moment – especially with a stack of endorphins coursing through our veins.
  • Take all of these together – mistakes are to be expected and overtraining is a “normal” hazard for the endurance athlete.

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…

  • Have I paid back enough?
  • Have I learned my lessons?
  • When will the Old G re-appear?

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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.

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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:

  • Breakdown;
  • Total rest;
  • Resumption of light activity – this is where health and biomechanical issues can be addressed;
  • Resumption of unstructured triathlon training – address patterns/habits that lead to breakdown;
  • Resumption of triathlon training balanced with equal periods of scheduled recovery (this step is very rarely done – it was the key to a rapid return to fitness in 2006); and
  • Resumption of elite triathlon training that is balanced with extended transition and early season training.

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.

g

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22 December 2007

Endurance Training Protocols


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 Canada.

Justin Daerr – been up on stage as an agegrouper in Kona and recently 8:40 at Ironman Florida (4:40 ride and sub-3-hour run) Similar to Jeff, a self-made athlete that has put thousands of hours into improving. More on JD in the outline at the bottom of this message (see attached below).

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).

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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.

Happy Holidays,

gordo


Justin's Coach CV, Word Doc

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06 December 2007

Health & Athletic Longevity


“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”
-- Mark Allen, 6-time Ironman World Champion
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.

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Alan’s blog has a good piece on early season training. He lays out the choices that face an athlete. Stepping back to the larger issue of personal health, they represent phases of our athletic lives.

Phase One – one hour of activity per day
For most people this would consist of walking for an hour (five days a week) and strength training (two days a week). This is achievable by nearly everyone and will maximize longevity when applied on a lifetime basis.

Invest a single hour a day to extend, and enhance, the quality of your life. Our photo this week is me and "my rock". From our condo in Noosa, I takes me 35 minutes to get to the rock. No matter how tired/sore I am feeling... I gotta make it to the rock.

Choosing _not_ to apply this level of activity will impair your quality of life, the only question is when.

Most people wait until heart disease, cancer or death of their parents spurs them to action.

If you find that an hour of daily activity isn’t “enough” to manage your body composition then you are using exercise to continue dysfunctional eating habits. I have spent years using exercise to avoid adjusting my eating patterns.

Phase Two – Standard Basic Week
An outline for triathlon is included below – this program represents achievable athletic excellence within a life that includes family; friends; and business success.

The program is an outline for the athletic component required for (one definition of) personal excellence. It is well above the minimum for personal health.

Only a minority will choose this level of commitment. As a result, you can perform better than most your peers when you use it consistently. Relative to the general population, athletes at this level are very high achievers – many will not think so because they fixate on Phase Three athletes.

You need some genetic gifts to support this level of training across a lifetime – it involves a lot of mileage! The gifts are not in terms of VO2max (maximum aerobic capacity) rather, they are gifts of superior immune system function; excellent biomechanics and above average connective tissue durability.

Phase Three – Advanced Basic Week
If you want to achieve the absolute maximum out of your body then trying this phase makes sense. However, not everyone improves at this level of training, some people get slower and will optimize their athletic performance by sticking at Phase Two.

That last point is worth repeating. For every athlete, there is a point where additional training load will lead to reduced athletic performance. I know a number of excellent athletes that have failed to sustain early success when they “got serious” and upped training stress.

I also know a (very) few gifted freaks that can soak up training stress far, far above the normal population. These athletes do very well at ultradistance events.

The success of the training freaks skews what you think is reasonable.

Only a small minority of the population (perhaps only the gifted freaks) handle this level of training over the long term. Even the people that appear to handle the training… check back with them twenty years after their athletic peaks, there are a lot of knee surgeries and hip replacements that don’t make the headlines.

What we handle over the short term and what we handle over the long term are often different.

I used to believe that anyone could handle this level of training with enough rest, nutrition and recovery. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that capacity to absorb training is as personal as VO2max.

Most people can’t train like you think I train – even me.

Phase Management
Given the choice between maximizing annual fitness (short term) and quality/length of life (long term); it is natural to gravitate towards short-term payoffs.

By definition, it takes a long time to see a long term payoff. Over an eighteen-year career in finance, I have had two years of “harvest”. All the rest were “investment”. This doesn’t come naturally. Interestingly, in my two harvest years, people thought I was nuts.

Even if an athlete can handle a ton of Phase Three training, lifetime athletic performance will be optimized by mixing the three approaches. For most of my elite career, my mixing has been forced due to overtraining – likely not an optimal strategy!

Overtraining is what happens when an athlete’s quest for fitness strays too far from personal health. On Alternative Perspectives this week, we have Part Two of Clas’ experience with overtraining. Very few athletes take the time to write out their experience. It takes courage to share our self-destructive tendencies. As an 8:15 Ironman athlete, Clas has lived more athletic achievement than most of us will ever experience.

Dr. John Hellemans has been speedy in his 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. I am going to be spending a fortnight with him (and the Kiwi elite team) in February. I have my mobile podcasting equipment with me and will be recording interviews for Endurance Corner Radio.

Rapid Progress
A desire for rapid progress is a by-product of our consumer culture.
Advertising and traditional media feed discontent with our self-image.
Acknowledging these influences is important.

When you are starting out, focus on what you can do – get moving for an hour every day. You are doing what it takes. That is enough.

If your athletics are flattening you with illness; stress fractures; secret binging; disrupted sleep; night sweats; persistent muscle soreness; mood swings; low energy; extended sleeps… then you are moving away from athletic performance and personal health. You are not on a path of personal excellence.

From within a cycle of over-reaching and fatigue – it is very difficult to see the pattern that we have created for ourselves. Beware of coaches, mentors and colleagues that stoke your self-destructive tendencies.

Beware of survivor bias – chronically injured and overtrained athletes disappear from our collective consciousness. Many highly motivated athletes fry themselves by focusing on what the surviving minority do.

I chose the quote above because Mark is one of the few older World Champions that I know who hasn’t had orthopedic surgery.

The quality of our lives (today) has very little to do with the achievements of yesterday.

Choose wisely,
gordo

++++

Basic Week Document

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15 November 2007

The Aging Athlete


The man above is Ron Ottaway -- a very special guy.

In 2002, Ron broke the M65-69 Ironman Hawaii record with an 11:57. One catch... Marcos Alegre went 11:53 that day so Ron finished second. Imagine working your entire life to win, to be #1... then going out and breaking the course record... to finish second.

Ron worked five more years towards one single goal -- win Ironman Hawaii. A few weeks ago he went 13:05 (at 70 years old) and won his agegroup by over an hour.

I've been fortunate to advise Ron for the last six years. Ron's personal excellence has helped make me a better person. Ron was an outstanding athlete many years before we met -- my role is more of an objective cheerleader than a project manager.

Everyone that knows Ron has stories about him... one of my favorites is completing the Western States Endurance Run when he was 54. Another is sending me workout details before heading to the hospital to get stitches from falling off his bike -- I recommended that he get the stitches first next time.

Lest you think that he's one dimensional -- he worked full-time until this year and is a key part of a huge family (both older and younger than him).

What follows are lessons that we've learned together -- I've made some good calls and some poor calls over the years. The benefit of working with a world class athlete is that the bad recommendations get covered up by Ron's competitive spirit.

In 2003, I cost him a podium finish at World Champs -- he only made it on stage due to his strength of will. You can't train like a crazed 35 year old when you are 66. Ron stuck with me despite my errors.

This year, I was _right there_ when he took the lead at Mile One of the marathon. While I missed the Awards, I had a very warm feeling when I flew home from Kona this year. To play a part in another person's ultimate success is one of the "highs" of coaching.

While no coach can "succeed", an effective plan can be difference between success and failure. Together Ron and I have learned a lot over the years.

+++

Now that we've figured out (mostly) what works -- and more clearly, what doesn't work -- we tend to approach most years in a similar fashion. From Kona to the end of the year we don't talk to each other much. Ron has a 15+ year running streak so he runs each day. Some days just a short one but EVERY day.

In November/December, Ron does easy training. I provide support for going easy and resting -- it doesn't come naturally to a competitor at his level. Even when training "easy" Ron is doing around ten sessions per week (3-4 swims; 1-2 yoga; 0-2 spins; 7 runs; 1-2 strength). The guy is super consistent.

Ron swims and does strength training -- year round. While some sports scientists believe that strength training doesn't improve performance, you must remember that growing old is about retaining performance not improving it. Watching Ron, his "strength" work (sport specific and in the gym) appears to have had a beneficial effect on retaining bike power.

For most of the population, long term quality of life is about retaining mobility, much more than improving athletic fitness. One of the drags about growing old (for some) is their world slowly shrinks as favorite activities are given up.

Considering the mobility point, Ron started yoga five years ago and this improved his swimming and overall range of motion. If a 65 year old man can improve his flexibility (and therefore his swim times) then I really have no excuse. I've been slack on the flexibility work lately.

OK in terms of the lessons for most of us. That's it.

For high quality of life, long term, focus on:

Consistency -- little something every day
Flexibility -- retain your range of motion, especially if you are a runner
Strength Training -- hold onto lean body mass & retain strength to survive falls/accidents

++++

Starting in January Ron gets back to structured training -- the "advanced week" at the bottom of this note is the week that I use as his template. Ron does all the stuff in square brackets. There is very little change in the structure of the week. What changes is the overall focus of the sessions themselves. However, even that doesn't change a whole lot. We keep it really simple.

Taking each component:

Swimming -- keep the frequency high; long course as much as possible; watch that swim fatigue doesn't compromise other session quality.

Cycling -- build overall endurance; retain FT power; wide range of variable cadence main sets; and challenge maximal aerobic capacity in a biomechanically safe environment.

Running -- super consistent; wary of any small injuries that could reduce consistency; little bit of uphill running to tax aerobic system; very careful with overall run volume and intensity. Informed risks with volume, frequency and intensity.

Strength -- consistency trumps intensity // we go hard sometimes but only on leg press. Really watch the back with the squats due to flexibility limiters.

Flexibility -- yoga 2x per week; again watch back; helps with overall balance.

Biomechanics -- as you can tell from that photo // outstanding. Ron's built well for endurance. He has a smaller frame, good feet, compact running style and excellent ankle/knee/hip alignment. There is a low wear & tear "cost" to every mile that he runs -- and he has run a lot of miles.

Luck -- the unknown factor // in six years only minor soft tissue damage from his cycling accidents. To be fast in your 60s/70s/80s -- there is a component of fortune.

Mental -- the only 70 year old that can do Ron's program is Ron. The guy has more motivation than anyone that I've ever met. He passed out cold in the massage tent with his family around -- his daughter was super worried because he wanted the title so bad. Low blood pressure, thankfully. He was up and around in about an hour.

He's heading back next year to defend his title.

Ron's a winner at a very deep level.

++++

Some quick Qs on last week's posting.

Q1 -- Black Swan Book link?
A1 -- Find it HERE

Q2 -- Did I record my Personal Planning talk?
A2 -- Not yet. If your company, or club, wants to bring me in to give a talk then drop me a line.

Q3 -- You wrote: "it is easy for me to see that there is a risk that we neglect our larger potential when we seek our athletic potential". I've thought *very* similar things in the past when I was playing competitive golf at university (ie: 'do I pursue golf 100% or devote more to personal/academic/extracurricular pursuits?' I wonder if you could expand on your sentence a bit, and if you have any thoughts on how to "figure out" what is the best route to take?

A3 -- I asked Monica what she thought. She felt that pursuing my athletic potential had never impaired achieving my personal potential. Seeing as she is the most important person in my inner circle -- the only person, other than myself, to whom I have a covenant -- I suppose that's enough. However, there has been something more in my head.

I took her support to mean that she never feels neglected when I am living a life of personal excellence. However, what I was writing about was my internal view on my personal ultimate potential. Given that my self view is limited (to date I can always achieve more over 5-10 years than I see in the present); there was more to my pondering than, "am I being a good husband".

Ultimately, the question that I have been asking myself is what would I do if I "knew" that I would never again race Ironman in 8:29 -- or -- if my window to win Ironman Canada was permanently closed. Would I be OK with that? How would I want to live? The question is valid because at some stage, either I will win, or I won't win. Either way, "I" will be the same guy thereafter.

For now, I keep thinking and make daily choices that are consistent with keeping my options open.

g

PS -- the actions that clearly impair my personal potential have nothing to do with "what" I do and everything to do with "how" I do them.

=====

Here's the link to the Basic Week that I use with pretty much everyone that I advise. As you'll see, I don't add much value in terms of writing schedules and/or data entry.

Basic%20Week%20Structure.doc

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09 November 2007

Business Clinic Notes



The photo above contains more of "me" that most photos of me but, maybe, that's just the way I like to see it. You can pretend that I'm the candle...

"Keep in mind that your role with these athletes is, ultimately, to give them the confidence to stop."

-- Bobby McGee

I learned a lot this past weekend at the Business of Coaching Clinic. That quote above was a salient reminder that often we have the greatest positive impact on clients by giving them the confidence to chose a more positive path than the one that they are on.

Over the last fourteen years, I have used endurance athletics to avoid dealing with important issues in my life.

Some of my greatest successes as an adviser have been helping clients choose an alternative path for their lives.

+++

Bobby challenged us to pick one thing from the clinic and apply it on Monday, noting that "people that go to conferences often collect information without applying it". The same applies with self-help books -- Mike Ricci noted that the most successful people that he sees are the ones that manage to apply 5% of the good ideas they come up with.

What did I apply? I decided to apply Mike's advice about considering, specifically, to whom your company is selling.

Since last year, the target Endurance Corner customer has been shifting in my thinking. This week, I sat down with Alan/Mat and we reviewed what everyone _really_ likes to do. As the lead adviser to the business, I thought about what I really don't like to do as well as what I do best.

We're still working on it but we've made a decision that we are going to be about selling value-added advice, and services, that are a product of our unique mix of skills (strong technical knowledge mixed with very deep real-world experience and access to the best minds/protocols/facilities in our sport).

Running a coaching business... other people (such as D3, CPC, CF, CTS, Ultrafit, VQ...) are able to do that better than us -- so we'll focus on supporting them, and their athletes, and their potential customers.

We will do a limited amount coaching to make sure that we remain practical in our application of our experience and continue to learn. It's essential that we walk-the-walk and follow our own best protocols.

That's a start.

+++

There was a lot of talk about "what coaching clients buy." Many thought that clients are buying "results." While clients are attracted to results, what I see is people buying...

...access to excellence (exemplified by the coach);
...compassion, listening, understanding (our society subtly tells many people that they have no worth);
...camaraderie (social networking, teams, community, sense of belonging);
...time management assistance (established high performers); and/or
...life skills assistance (young high performers).

Coaching is as an aspirational purchase for many people -- if you aim to position your self (your firm) at the top end of the market then you must ensure that your personal positioning is consistent with your target market.

Why do former Marines make excellent coaches? They have been trained in excellence -- it becomes who they are and apparent to their customers -- honor, ethics, excellence.

As Bobby said, you don't need to be an excellent athlete relative to others -- you need to be an excellent person relative to yourself.

+++

Mike challenged us to consider our differentiation as well as the areas where we can be world-leaders.

Two areas came to mind for me:
#1 -- personal transformations using athletics as a catalyst; and
#2 -- critical success factors for ultraendurance athletic competition, specifically Ironman triathlon.

+++

In listening to Mike, I wondered how many of us spend our time on what the client truly values.

Do we know what our clients most value?

How often do I make myself more busy, rather than more successful? Early in my coaching career the answer was... most of the time.

Bobby/Mike/me -- we acknowledged that every single thing that we do reflects on our brand, ourselves, our company -- every single act is a form of marketing.

We also shared our experience that we under-valued ourselves early in our careers. Bobby encouraged us to make the case that ours is a legitimate profession.

+++

Linda mentioned that we have 100,000 USAT members // with the correct business structure, a market share of 0.01% is enough to provide most coaches with a satisfactory income. This is a wide open industry. Even the established players have small market shares with clients that are easily persuaded to change.

Mike commented that one of his advisors cautioned against being in a non-scalable business... I highly recommend a copy of The Black Swan to that adviser.

Donovan noted that there are over 1,000 coaches on TrainingPeaks. What that tells me is that running, cycling and triathlon coaching are rapidly growing industries with highly fragmented and inexperienced competition -- ripe for standardization and consolidation // This is an opportunity for someone else -- we have made a strategic decision not to attempt to sort the market out.

There is tremendous value in the coach (or company) that creates a system for generating referrals and client inquiries. There is also value added in the coach (or company) that structures appropriate contracts, payment terms, legal protections and administrative assistance. But... how do you control quality? how do you retain your best performers?

The coaching industry will become more professional -- I expect that companies like TrainingPeaks will grow ever more sophisticated each year. The bottom end of the market will access their systems via web/iPhone. The top end of the market (companies like D3) will sell value-added services that go far beyond building training plans. The (current) middle market will get squeezed.

The key financial metric (to me) is revenue per relationship. This is different than "per client" -- you could have a low revenue client that generates a ton of referral and associate business. That is a high value relationship -- look beyond the dollars when you assess the key people in your network. Also look to the non-monetary benefits that accrue when you take on an assignment.

+++

Bobby challenged us to consider what we want to leave as our coaching legacy. The normal way to do this is to do an exercise where we write down our eulogy.

I don't need to pretend that I am dying to be honest with myself (although it does help). Daily, I consider my legacy as a person up to this point -- my flaws and failings providing fertile ground for self-improvement!

Some explicit tips that I wrote down from Bobby's presentation:
***Do graduate work after you have direct experience in your field;
***Teach kids to learn how to teach anyone;
***Leadership trumps protocol;
***Take formal instruction on your greatest limiters;
***Work only with people that you trust;
***Focus on what you do best;
***Develop passive streams of income;

+++

Bobby noted that he's not sure that training protocol makes much of a difference for Ironman triathlon -- he did this by contrasting with marathoning. Molina/Hellemans have said, essentially, a similar thing.

As a coach (or successful athlete)... if you think that your training protocol is essential for success remember that you are extremely biased by two effects:

(a) survivor bias -- you survived it; and

(b) silent evidence -- we are (mostly) unaware of the athletes that the protocol destroyed along the way.

More on the way we fool ourselves with "evidence" in The Black Swan.

Boil it down...
Talent, motivation, opportunity, direction -- those come from Daniels.
A ton of training -- that comes from Lydiard.

+++

One of the last talks of the weekend was my presentation on Personal Planning. I love giving this talk to groups of people and had been looking forward to giving the talk for WEEKS.

It is my favorite topic in the world because I passionately believe in the method that I have developed over the years.

I need to constantly work on my #1 point for 2008 which is listening. In the Q&A, I really struggled to shut myself up enough for us to learn from the other panelists.

During my planning presentation... I was in full flow -- really fired up...

I gave myself the mental combination of contrasting my love for Monica and the disappointment of failing to win IMC. What wasn't apparent, or explained, was the link between IMC and an expression of our love for each other.

Monica gave me total dedication this past year so that I could give 100% towards my goal. IMC is the only thing in my entire life that I have _truly_ worked towards yet failed to achieve (most my other successes are due to a combination of chance and natural ability).

I was wide open and had to pause because I was about to meltdown in front of 40 people (!)... it was a "good room" and they got me back on track. However, it took me days to 'recover' from being that open. Powerful stuff.

Monica likes to tease her Dad because he is known to get fired up; blow his circuit breakers; and cry -- all the while being wide open to the person he's talking with.

She may have married the same sort of guy...

===============================================

Files for Endurance Corner Radio

Alan's Talk on Zones -- Part One is on Alan's Blog -- Part Two is the PDF below, look at Page One of the scan... that is how many ways there are to say the same thing... just on Alan's desk!
alan_prez_pt2.pdf

Will's Talk on Training -- his test results and my recent lactate test.
will_bike_11_07.pdf
gb_runlactate_nov_07.pdf

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26 October 2007

Kona 2007


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

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

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

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

=====

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

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

****

Bike Workouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

Competition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

====

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

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

gordo

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09 September 2007

Choices


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


++++


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Sounds great, eh?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


gordo

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29 August 2007

Ironman Canada 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

gordo

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10 August 2007

True Limiters


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Poker Pacing

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

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

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

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Getting into Coaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recent Books

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

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

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

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True Limiters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many thanks for your support over the last year,

gordo

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01 August 2007

The Oracle


I've carried the picture above around for a few years. I added a quote, "Being There". For me, the opportunity far out-weighs the outcome.

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After my long run last Sunday, Monica and I headed to Santa Cruz for a final visit with Mark and Brant before Ironman Canada. It was a quick trip but I don't judge value added on the time that someone spends with me. Mark and I were together for about three hours and we probably talked about "me" for less than half that time. That's got to be a record for me!

Following my visit with Mark, I had two hours alone at my motel. I'd left my computer behind and forgot to bring any books. It was just me and my note pad. These thoughts stem from the catalyst of Mark's presence -- they may not necessarily be exactly what he said.

Over the last nine weeks, my fitness has benefited from "The Pop". "The Pop" is an unexpected increase in performance. I've been popping in all sports as well as the gym. While my training partners continue to improve, the sensation inside me is that I've improved at a faster rate. So I've been asking myself "why".

In order to understand the process of this year, it's important to backtrack a bit to September 2006. When I read that Peter retired, I figured that there could be an opportunity to work with Mark. So I dropped him a line -- then followed up via email -- then followed up via telephone -- then went to his Sport & Spirit Clinic in Austin. I told Monica that if I wanted Mark to help my world then I should probably make the effort to learn about his world.

When I came to Mark, I wanted help with two aspects of my athletics:

#1 -- that I would nuke myself again in training. Across 2003 & 2004, I did more training than just about anyone I know -- that year culminated with a nine-week ride across America and ten-weeks of IronSchool with Dave Scott's elite group. The overall process was "successful" in that I went 8:29 at Ironman Canada 2004. However... I knew that I would be unable to repeat that level of training again -- my body simply couldn't train at that level.

#2 -- that I would blow-up in a race. There are only a handful of races where I've let go and gone as fast as I can go. I've haven't won most of these races but they have all been deeply fulfilling. With my 2006 racing, I felt like there was a governor on my efforts. I wanted to learn techniques for blowing through self-imposed limits.

Here's the crux of what Mark told me -- I've heard him repeat it many times so I'm sure that he won't mind me repeating it here:
...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.

Following the Austin Clinic, Mark agreed to take me on and I made a commitment to myself to follow the Sport & Spirit protocol to the absolute best of my abilities. For those of you that have attended the clinics, that means the spiritual aspects as well as the physical training aspects.

Most people come to a mentor or a coach looking for help "to achieve a result" or "to remove a problem". The difference in my case was that I came to Mark looking for new ideas and a commitment to change.

Wanting a result -- versus -- wanting to change.

Most people seek experts to achieve a result yet very few people are willing to attempt change.

Thinking about it, there have been four key "change points" in my triathlon career -- in each of them I learned a tremendous amount from adopting a new approach.

end 1999 -- implementing Friel's book, The Triathlete's Training Bible

mid-2002 -- training closely with Scott Molina (we started working informally at the end of 2000)

mid-2004 -- joining Dave Scott's elite squad

end 2006 -- working with Mark Allen

I can assure you that I'm tempted, daily, to return to my old pattern of out-training everyone. Fortunately, I keep improving so that takes a lot of the pressure off!

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A lady that worked in Brant's office died last Thursday. She happened to be Mark's age so death and longevity were on his mind. Death is _always_ on my mind and never far from me (especially when I'm riding).

I wonder if longevity should be the ultimate goal for all of us -- I acknowledge that my opinion on this will likely change as I grow older! Within my mountaineering career, I came to a point where the risk of dying exceeded the benefit that I received from climbing. That's why I shelved my ambitions for any Himalayan expeditions.

Within triathlon, I've often told myself (and others) that any damage that I do to myself exercising is far less than the damage I was doing in my "old life" before exercise.

What happens when your "old life" becomes your previous triathlon life? What are you left with if you transcend the false gods of alcohol, money, work, sex, fame and... exercise?

I'm working on that -- last Tuesday, I was left with truth, love and meaning.

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Back to Mark & Brant...

I can't tell you specifically how, or when, my fears left but I do know that my self-confidence started to increase following my May visit to Santa Cruz. There's something about visiting Mark's house in Santa Cruz that always makes me feel great. I must have told Monica ten times that Mark's place is my gold standard for housing. Everything that I look for in a house is there (black cat, warm sun, wood burning stove, and high speed internet...). More than the physical stuff, you've got the man himself and the vibe of the place.

On that trip, Brant joked that I didn't really need to seem him -- that I should simply rub my hands against Mark and pick-up some speed that way. I settled for a hug and a few hours of talking.

I'd encourage you to find non-traditional recovery avenues... whether it is a traditional religion, philosophy, nature, family, small kids, pets or the sea.

There is power in small and simple things.

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I can't end this piece without offering up a few technical details. Mat's pulling together a Top Ten list from the over fifty (!) pages that I've written this year. Off the top of my head here are some of Mark's techniques that worked very well for me...

Pacing -- pace every set, session, week, block, trimester, year so that you are strongest at the end. If you are an athlete with poor pace control in single-session training then this is likely a KEY limiter for you in your LIFE (not just athletics) -- you are at risk for trying too hard.

Pacing was an easier lesson for me. I had some trouble in November/December but managed to figure it out. You have to let your ego "go" when you are getting dropped. The Lads were crushing me pre-July.

Recovery -- the main difference between my training partners and me lies in what I don't do. I do far less than them on my easy days (2 per week, every week) and my easy weeks (1 every second or third week). I have never had this much structured rest my triathlon career -- I am setting seasonal personal bests in every single sport as well as the gym.

Recovery has been a very tough lesson for me. I continue to take pride in my ability to out-train most people. I've had to shift that focus to being an eGrip poster child. I battle with the urge to do more on most days -- Monica's been a great help here.

The Rules -- I love to follow the rules. Once Mark made the fundamental points clear (heart rate cap; pacing; weight floor) -- it was easy for me to stick with them. Where I've been challenged is when he removes the limits -- when I "go fast", I am supposed to go as fast as I can. The removal of all limits results in a similar fear to #2 above.

Back-to-backs -- if you look in my peak run week (posted last time) then you'll see that the bulk of my run volume was done in two day windows where a challenging run followed a solid session the previous day. Whether you are running, swimming, cycling or Big Day Training -- this is a highly effective way for an experienced athlete to safely (and specifically) overload themselves.

Be careful -- it took me over ten years to prepare for that week of running you saw. I did a similar thing with my cycling this past week (22 hours on the bike over five days, ending with a 160-miler on Saturday).

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I'll end with two observations, Mark adds value to me by:

***Helping me identify my personal "not to do"s; and

***Supporting me with a protocol that addresses the personal weaknesses that I've identified.

It is human nature to seek people to tell us "what to do" and follow protocols that enable us to showcase our strengths. My experience is that a deeper level of success may lie elsewhere.

Cheers,
gordo

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26 July 2007

Performance -- Training the Body


Our photo this week features "The Lads" -- in order... Mat, Denny, John, Brandon, Jeff. As their alter-egos... The Intern, The Lizard, Salsa, Rico Suave, Dr. J.

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Alan's written an excellent piece for this week's Alternative Perspectives. At the top of the AP-Blog, I wrote a disclaimer that you shouldn't assume that the articles represent my views. However, this piece represents the views of my new company, exactly.

The challenge to Alan... to you... to me... is to apply that protocol. The acquisition of knowledge is far easier than the application.

Early in my coaching career, I was much more prone to adjusting my views under pressure from my athletes. As I've gained experience, I've tried to model myself (more and more) along the Hellemans-Model, as I observe it...

...accept that athletes have the right to follow their own plans
...offer clear, direct advice when asked for an opinion
...minimize energy spent on athletes that ask for your opinion then ignore it

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Q -- Where does running performance come from?
A -- An enjoyment of consistent, long term, appropriate mileage.

Working backwards...

Mileage -- walking, running, jogging, hiking, mountaineering, backpacking, cycling, waiting tables, standing -- it's all good. What counts? Everything that involves your legs counts.

Appropriate -- Alan and I are going to review Daniels' Running Formula in the weeks to come. The #1 point that I take out of that book is... If you want to train faster then prove it by racing faster.

It is far more important "to train" than to train "fast". Athletes that chase power/pace nearly always underperform on race day. I've seen that around me for my entire athletic career. Guys that can totally kick my butt in training end up miles behind me on race day.

One more quote that I like (from Dr. J) -- Prove that you can operate below your limits before seeking to outperform them.

Appropriate could mean anything from 5 to 150 miles per week. There are no fixed rules -- you'll have to figure it out for yourself. With my own experience -- it took me years to get to the point where I could tolerate a 'normal' running week that you might read in a magazine. I spent 1993-1998 'training' in a very general sense.

Long term -- from a standing start, it is going to take 10-15 years to see what's possible. If you are looking for the 10-15 week program for excellence, you are fooling yourself.

For those of you familiar with Daniels' v-dot tables. My v-dots by year...
mid-90s -- 33
1997 -- 45
1998 -- 47
1999 -- 50
2000 -- 51
2001 -- 54
2002 -- 57
2003 -- 60
2004 -- 62
2005 -- 60
2006 -- 60
2007 -- 65

There's a lot of training _and_ a lot more than training that moves an athlete from a v-dot of 33 to 65. In 1997, I was "fast" within my training circle. There are many definitions of fast -- as athletes find when they move to Boulder, Christchurch or other centers of athletic excellence.

Consistent -- As a triathlete, I currently run about 225x per annum. That level of volume was impossible for me when I started. I started by walking, hiking and lifting weights. I didn't jump-start my athletic career by signing up for an Ironman.

Enjoyment -- 225 runs per annum across, say, eight years... 1,800 runs. If you're going to invest that level of time then you'd better be enjoying yourself. Athletes that see their sport as "work" rarely succeed on the deepest levels.

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Here's a summary of the toughest week of running that I'll do this summer. It was the program for last week and broke many of the "rules" that I apply as a coach.

Elite Tri -- Specific Prep -- Run Program
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Monday -- off running; swim/gym

Tuesday -- swim/bike (four hours) and run two hours off the bike holding 7:30 per mile pace

Wednesday -- high altitude, hilly run of 15 miles with Tim (6 miles in 50 minutes then 9 miles in 50 minutes); swim/bike with evening five miler slower than 8 min per mile

Thursday -- morning five-miler slower than 8 min per mile; ride four hours easy with depressed heart rate (I wonder why?)

Friday -- off running; swim only

Saturday -- little under six hours worth of tough swim/bike with mixed tempo run off the bike (8 miles)

Sunday -- swim an easy 2400 meters (to wake up legs) then 23 miler with Tim and evening four-miler

= 76 miles at ~7:36 per mile

I've had 3:15 (off the bike) marathoners tell me that they are unable to run slower than seven-minute miles.

I've also had Clas shake his head at how I run sub-2:50 by spending much of my time cruising around at eight-minute pace.

It's the pace changes that make life interesting in gWorld. :-)

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Coming Soon -- Training the Mind & True Limiters

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01 July 2007

de Castella & July


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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de Castella on Running

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

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

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

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

Some points...


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

With that in place everything else falls into line.

Cheers,
gordo

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19 June 2007

Specific Prep -- June 2007


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

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

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

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

====

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Questions to ask yourself following the workout:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

gordo

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13 June 2007

More On Personal Planning


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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lessons as I see them:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers,
gordo

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08 June 2007

Mid Year Reality Check & Long Rides


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

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

***Yes, quite a few
***Yes, bike leg in Desert Triathlon after run camp
***Since end of September, about 50% of 'normal' -- still want to improve consistency -- all fatigue related except for a two day break due to a sprained ankle -- interestingly, I have the reputation for monster training -- if I smooth my average weekly training volume across my overtrained periods then I could have done the same "lifetime" training with a lot less immune stress on myself. de Castella makes this point -- it's probably even more important as a runner due to the pounding that sports places on our bodies.
***None
***None
***I've had stable weight for the longest period of my adult life (over two years -- while training and while resting). Stable, rather than lean, seems to be the goal that works well for me. When I target "lean" I end up too light then rebound 10-20% following competition. Losing the last 2-3 pounds is highly costly!

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

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

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

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

++++

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

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

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

That's the Ironman Champion Weekend.

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

That's not it.

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

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

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

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

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

Take care,
gordo

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

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25 May 2007

Working Athlete Periodization & Prime Property


I've been on the road for a few days so our photo is another shot from the archives. I am missing Monica!

I've been a little jet lagged this week and took the opportunity to write up some thoughts on an alternative periodization approach. It's what I've been using for myself, and my crew, over the last few years. I'll explain the approach more fully in the Second Edition of Going Long. Joe and I will be working on the update this Fall and it should hit the stores in 2008. While the core of the book will stay the same, we have enough new information to merit a re-write. The second edition will be supplemental to the first -- an extension, rather than a replacement.

I read in The Economist that viagra could help reduce jetlag when flying East (no joke). Don't think I'll try it but it did make me smile.

The top end of the UK housing market is cranking along -- no signs of the slowdown that I was reading about this week in the US market (Toll Brothers). I've been thinking about the main drivers of the persistent boom in top end pricing -- declining long term interest rates, plenty of global liquidity and strong executive salaries in the financial - legal - accounting - insurance industries. The banks are offering very large mortgages to the right sort of buyers - up to 10x pre-tax income. On my trip, I've heard of multi-million, 100% loan:value mortages.

Edinburgh is seeing multiple pre-qualifed buyers competing on houses worth in excess of $3 million. This is a completely new situation. Five years ago, one of our companies was the first buyer to pay over $2 million for a townhouse -- today that same property is worth over $4 million ($6 million post-renovation). Too bad we sold that one! If you want to read about some seriously large housing appreciation then research the performance of the top end London market. In dollar terms, the last three years have been truly amazing.

Interestingly, the top end yields are reasonable in London, better than Edinburgh. I expect that we'll see significant rental growth in our key Scottish markets. For our highest quality product, we have seen rents move by 20-40% over the last 12 months. That's a big move for a sector that saw flat rents from 1998-2004 and isn't the experience of the broader market.

At a micro level, the market is being driven by an increasing number of top end buyers/renters. These clients are looking for high quality in locations that (by their nature) will always be cramped for supply. Combine that with a (well placed) reluctance to undertake their own refurbishment projects and you have a situation were the best properties earn a premium return.

By "best", I'm referring to the top 0.1% of the market. We stick to the most desirable properties to ensure full occupancy and high liquidity. We want to able to rent and/or sell in any market situation because an illiquid portfolio with empty properties can kill you in a downturn.

It's been a very interesting trip for me.

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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

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22 May 2007

Grip Tips


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

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

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

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

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

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

My four key tips for improved sleep are:

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

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

***No email or business after dinner

***Simplify week structure and number of commitments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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OK, what did Mark say?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course, it might have been all that training…

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

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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).

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

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

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

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

***Back-to-back Long Rides;

***Double run days.

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

So what’s different? The mind craves differences!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It all looks so simple sitting on my excel spreadsheet…

Should be an interesting summer!

gordo

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18 May 2007

Never Follow, Averages and Overtraining


This week I am going to expand my thoughts on both overtraining and effective investment. I'll also explain a little something about averages in training and racing.

Our photo is the "Dixie Chicks", three great ladies that came to Mitch's desert camp and made it fun for me. Their passion for the sport was contagious and they added a lot to the week.

An offer to gLetter readers from Albert at Coffees of Hawaii. From May 21-28, you'll be able to get 20% off everything on the website by using the code "gordo2007". Choose your order, then enter the code at checkout. My favourite product is the Hawaiian Espresso.

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Never Follow
A reader asked for some more information on my advice to never follow poor investment decisions (in people, in shares, in companies, in ourselves).

Read Hedgehogging by Barton Biggs. Tons of good stuff in there -- written by a man's who's world contains people where a net worth of $25 million is a reasonable starting point. The insight into the mind-set of the financial elite is interesting but the real value, for me, came from his reminders on investment strategies that work.

For example, in his firm they have a policy that they review every deal that falls X%. If they still believe that it is a good deal then they must double their position. If they can't convince themselves of that point then they sell immediately. You can apply this point to any situation in life -- I use it on people, discipline with human capital is more important than financial capital.

Tip Two -- Common mistakes that we make are: (a) giving more value to things that we already own (bad deals) ; and (b) over-estimating our ability to influence a situation (save an investment, improve an employee). These concepts are laid out quite well in Mauldin's book, Just One Thing.

Another issue that we face with our Bad Deals is that they distract us from doing what we are really good at. Put another way, we gain very little from turning a poor employee into an average employee. However, the star members of our teams (and portfolios) can impact total performance in a meaningful manner. The mere fact that we tolerate dead wood can hold back the star performers (See Collins, Good to Great).

Put simply, whenyo u think that you can fix the situation... you probably can't and, even if you can, you'll make more money backing your winners and investing in your strengths.

Finally, don't fool yourself into thinking that markets are transparent. My investment portfolio consists of:
>>>Money Market Funds (low fee, very low risk);
>>>CDs from very highly rated organizations;
>>>Ventures in which I play a positive role in enhancing equity value;
>>>My house.

That's it.

In the past, I have had the opportunity to invest in collective investment schemes that were managed by the partners of my old investment fund. That was a great deal, quite profitable and my role was limited. I also benefitted from the extended bull market in prime UK housing (that is continuing) -- I can't take much credit for that.

The partners' investment scheme and the housing boom succeeded by giving me leveraged upside, with limited downside -- they were options on future outcomes. Create, and take, options whenever possible. Consider where you can create options in your own life. I tend to keep a number of opportunities rolling at any one time. This gives me flexibility and exposure to a range of situations.

Another good lesson from Venture Capital is that if you invest long enough then you'll nearly always hit a home-run eventually. One homerun, when combined with fiscal discipline, creates many options for how you will spend your time.

It all sounds so easy, doesn't it. Well, there are probably a thousand qualified people for each seat at the elite finance table -- so you need to be smart; work your ass off; enjoy working and a bit lucky. From the outside, opportunity may appear to be what holds you back (the entertainment industry may appear like this to some). From what I've observed, most people lack the combination of work ethic and work enjoyment. I've given (and continue to give) people the opprtunity to learn/succeed. Even when you offer a hand up, most folks are content to stay in their current situation -- out of fear, inertia or some other driver.

Final thoughts... when you take the return of the financial services industry (as a whole), you'll see the participants strip out the excess return for themselves. It's a highly efficient market for the participants of "the game". That's my final book recommendation for today, The Game, by Adam Smith.

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Averages
What follows is a chat about simple averages -- not normalized, not weighted. Unless I specifically write otherwise, I always mean the simple average when I write.
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.
The above athlete's experience is what happens in the real world when we pace correctly... our actual average is lower than our training average for that goal effort. Specific to that example, sitting on 240-250w for the bulk of the race will result in an average 10-20w lower. Many athletes get caught in the trap of chasing average watts -- you can get a bit depressed, or very tired (!), with that strategy on race day. Dial in your sustainable effort and accept the power/pace/speed that results. Honest race simulation workouts help avoid surprises.

It is similar with running. For me to average 4 minute per K pace in a race, I need to be able to sit in the 3:50-3:55 per K range for the bulk of the race.

By the way, this discussion isn't meant to say that one needs to train faster -- rather, I'm pointing out that on race day, most of us find that our "steady" pace over 8-18 hours is slower than our steady pace over 20-60 minutes. I spend a lot of time helping athletes learn this point.

What feels "easy" for the first five hours of racing... just might be your sustainable pace/power/effort for the entire race. It certainly is for the first three hours of your day -- no need to open up by swimming at Half Marathon heart rates. You are killing yourself.

A final thing to watch for in training -- let's say you want to hold 128-135 bpm on a workout. Early in the day that might result in an average of 127-129 bpm. After you are warmed-up, say, 133 bpm. If you are seeing averages close to 135 bpm then you've been training above your target zone most of the main set.

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Overtraining
Coach KP and Dr. J were swapping ideas about overtraining, reaching for excellence and other ideas. It's always nice to "listen in" (via email) when a couple of smart guys share their experiences. Anyhow, after reading their thread, I talked it through with Mark Allen (I was in Santa Cruz this week). What follows is a mix of Mark, the guys and my own thoughts.

The lessons and benefits of being overtrained ALL accrue the FIRST time you go through that process and (if you are lucky) learn the nature of "bad fatigue". You will also see that fatigue is a state, not an emotion. The highest performing ultraendurance athletes have a low (to nil) emotional attachment to fatigue. I expect that the shorter the duration of the event, the more important a low emotional attachment to pain becomes.

Guys like Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Molina, Peter Reid -- I imagine that they have low attachment to both fatigue and pain. I have no idea what _really_ happens in their heads but I know that my experiences meant that I was open to completely frying myself. My early warning signals sound "faint", or are ignored. My buddy Clas is even stronger than me -- therefore, his overtraining experience was, ultimately, deeper than mine.

In hindsight, I received all the overtraining "benefits" when I took myself to an over-reached state (see Going Long for an explanation of the difference). Basically, over-reaching is using race specific overload to create race specific fatigue in a desire to generate physiological and mental benefits. Over-reaching is an essential part of ultraendurance performance.

My lack of experience with "appropriate overload" led me to choose to go "too far" resulting in overtraining. It is really tough to see that you've gone "too far" until you get there.

Similar to learning how to differentiate pain, some people learn how to differentiate between types of fatigue. Good fatigue, silly fatigue, dangerous fatigue, fatigue that can be ignored and fatigue that shouldn't be ignored. Thing is... we are constantly changing and challenging ourselves to make decisions on uncertain information.

Many athletes relive, recreate, actively seek... highly stressful experiences such as overtraining -- they crave the chemical buzz associated with high stress. This pattern is a poor strategy for success but can produce high level results. A deeper level of success is available if we are conscious enough to learn from our mistakes.

Mark shared... picture a horizontal line -- at the left side is "out of shape"... at the right side is "maximum potential" -- one hundredth of an inch to the right of maximum potential is completely overtrained. Athletes that come closest to their maximum potential have the greatest risk of overtraining. I see this in my own athletes.

Here's the kicker... most people are so far from their maximum potential; so stressed out from their life choices; that to pile on the additional stress of "training right"; "physiologically optimal"; "true build training"; "going hard"; and/or "training like a pro". Achieves only two things...

#1 they get sick/injured; and
#2 they get very tired.

You are left with a person that faces simple exhaustion, rather than being overtrained. So they get nuked AND fail to get the benefits from pushing their limits. It takes many years of preparation to gain value in screwing up... a paradox of endurance training, I suppose.

To an athlete with an experience of being deeply overtrained -- effective training feels like being constantly undertrained. I've felt completely undertrained for the last thirty weeks, while using Mark's protocol. However when I think back, I can remember thinking very clearly that I was at my maximum limit for what I could absorb. It is just like looking back at a well paced Ironman race, at any given point could have gone "harder" however at the finish you know that you gave it your all.

I did an aerobic run test Tuesday morning before I met Mark. 5:59 average across three miles with last two miles at 6:00.36. The last three benchmark runs that I have done have all been life best performances across the distance (6 miles off the bike, 33-flat; Half Marathon off the bike, 1:16; Aerobic Test, 5:59). Everything that I am doing is contained in this blog -- there's no secret training happening. I'm doing less than previous years but (I suppose) absorbing more.

Most people fail by never giving themselves a chance to perform. Too much effort, too short a timetable, and a lack of preparation. Short bursts of mis-directed passion -- one night stands with "effort" rather than an extended courtship of "excellence".

That's all for this week,
gordo

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04 May 2007

May Q & A

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

===

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

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


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Some general points on goals and priorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

++++

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

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

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


+++

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

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

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

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

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

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26 April 2007

Desert Thoughts


This week, I'm going to share some thoughts that we have been discussing at Mitch's Desert Camp. These topics come up quite frequently, so I thought that I'd offer my take on them.

First though, from last week, I asked Monica what she thought my key blindspots were. Her observation was that I actively create more obligations than my athletic competition -- I'll be seeking simplification as I head into IMC. As for my own introspection, I came up with my desire to attempt to control the world around me (control, of anything external, being an illusion).

The camp was a great experience and I learned quite a bit from the athletes and other coaches. Alan and Jeff came up with excellent ideas for a series of articles. I hope to share their work with you in the weeks to come (they are writing, not me).

Alan has joined our new business and has two spots for athletes, if you're looking for a coach then drop me a line and we will discuss if we are a good fit for you. Aside from Monica, Alan spends the most time with me each week.

Swimming
I shared some of Monica's swim workouts with the campers and emphasized a few things about triathlon swimming for them to consider...

>>>Tri swimming is not a competition in maximal oxygen consumption. I see a lot of inefficient swimmers working on their "engines", rather than improving their efficiency. I shared my favourite tool for rapid improvement in economy (three stroke breathing) -- not everyone is willing to "slow down" to speed up. If you've been plateaued using two stroke then perhaps your limiter is effciency, not effort.

>>>Swim pacing -- if triathlons started with a run then pacing mistakes would be much more evident. I know many, many athletes that start their long course racing at heart rates that aren't far off open half marathon levels. In other words, they kick off their day with a 30-75 minute max effort swim.

>>>Digestion -- Jeff shared his observation that max effort swimming shuts down the GI system -- in his IM racing, he has had to wait over an hour for it to restart after the swim. He's working on swimming more relaxed, until he learns how to do that... he needs to wait a long time before starting his energy/fluid intake. His view is that many people with his swim effort profile, run into trouble from eating/drinking too quickly after the swim. 2-2.5 hours without food or fluid intake is quite a deficit to overcome.

>>>Improvement -- I believe very strongly that swim training is similar to bike/run training. The key fitness component being steady state stamina -- this comes from sustained, moderate main sets of 30-60 minutes duration. Three stroke breathing being a great reality check during main sets to keep us in our endurance zones.

The approach above requires a level of dedication that many athletes will never manage. If you step-up then you can achieve an edge relative to the vast majority of your competition.

I started swimming at 30-years of age and trained myself down to a low-50s Ironman swim. I've been fortunate to study under a number of the best swim coaches in our sport. In my last three races I came out of the water with, or ahead, of the race winner. It can be done!

Useful Pots
The Chinese have a saying that the most useful part of a pot is the space inside. In other words, the "spaces" in our lives are as essential as the events. At the camp, I found that I was most able to help people during the "spaces" in the camp, rather than during the training sessions.

When laying out the schedule for a training camp, it is tempting to keep things action packed. However, what I most enjoyed was a moderate training week with time for massage, yoga and interaction with the campers. There was plenty of informal interaction and that's what's most interesting for me.

If you are looking to learn, to grow, to change direction... then the first step is creating the space in your life for the "new" to come it.

Training Protocols
Mitch shared some ideas on his personal training protocols with us and, hopefully, this is an accurate reflection of what he meant. In Mitch's own training, there are two kinds of sessions -- fun sessions (the bulk) and race-prep sessions (the key ones).

Fun sessions are what excite him, keep him training and reflect the way he wants to live. They may, or may not, be specific to his needs as an athlete. By keeping plenty of fun in his program -- he keeps his enjoyment and consistency high across the year. This is important because consistency is the #1 thing in a training program.

Race-prep sessions are his key workouts that he does to prepare his body (and mind) for the demands of his goal races. These are done much less frequently. They take a lot of discipline on his part. On Saturday, I rode with Mitch during one of his race-prep rides. I had NEVER seen him ride like that... dead even pacing, smooth power transitions on the hills... a complete eye-opener and learning experience for me.

Jeff noted that if you get ten successful people together in a room, most people will want to discuss their differences. However, the REAL information comes from learning their similarities -- what are the common elements of success?

Watching Mitch, I realized that he is a guy that deeply understands long course race pacing -- when he's "having a little fun" on a group ride -- that's just for kicks. When it comes time for a key session he's all business, as you'd expect from a Marine officer!

A good reminder that we rarely see the entire picture of an athlete's (or coach's) program.

++++

The Boulder swim clinic has been postponed due to a scheduling issue, I'll let you know new dates when announced.

I raced on April 21st and will be writing that one up, as well as my up-coming race, in one week's time. You'll be able to read that on the Planet-X website in ten days or so. I'll post the link when it is live.

With a bit of luck, Mitch will "feature" me at one (or two) of his camps in 2008. I think that it would be fun to repeat a camp like this one (race then training) as well as a BIG bike camp.

Back in a few days,
gordo

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07 April 2007

Personal Excellence & Pain


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

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

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

++++

Mail Bag

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

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

The purpose of my writing here is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

Personal Excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

Race Pain

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

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

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

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

There is no pain, only performance.


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

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

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

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

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

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

++++

The Bottom Line

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

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

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

Moving forward with consistent application of principle based performance.

Happy Easter,
gordo

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11 March 2007

Viva Las Vegas


My buddy, Ed, says that my blog entries are too complicated for him to read when he's in a big training cycle. So here's one just for Ed!

If you don't understand the triathlon shorthand then don't worry, I'll probably come up with some philosophy for next time. Here's one idea that I remembered after my last piece -- the most important person for me to say "no" to is myself.

+++

We're in Vegas for a couple of weeks of training and I love the place. We're staying in the southern part of town about half way between Lake Mead and Red Rocks. Yesterday I ran at Red Rocks in the morning and ended my day with a ride beside Lake Mead -- even squeezed in a masters session with Frank (the RD for Silverman).

Vegas has a lot of "characters" and the people watching is always interesting. We're on the fringes of the action and we'll probably keep it that way.

I did another aerobic run test this morning -- still the same speed! I ended up averaging 150bpm instead of 148bpm -- 6:28 per mile (6:15/6:30/6:33). So I'll keep it rolling for another three weeks. I'm in an intensity cycle right now to see if I can move through the plateau.

Here's a sample of the sorts of workouts that I've done and will be doing...

I haven't done this one myself but Simon's been leading it weekly at the Boulder Res and it is a great run workout for early season...

***Number off the runners
***Each runner takes a turn doing an interval
***Interval is 15 seconds to 2:30 long // runner's choice
***No one can pass the leader of the interval
***Leader can go as fast, or as slow, for the duration
***After each interval, everyone jogs very easy back to the last runner in the group
***Repeat for 15-30 minutes

Pretty good session and you can include runners of a range of abilities.

+++

Here are a few that I've done...

Fast Run -- designed to get the HR way, way up // 6x3 min fast on 90s RI // I've done flat as well as slight up/down (Marshall Road at the Res if you know it). I had thought that 180 bpm might be possible but at altitude all I hit was 175bpm and that had me seeing spots and sucking BIG air.

Hard Tempo Run -- aiming for an ending HR that is about 10 bpm under the Fast Run -- I managed to hit 173bpm on this (8bpm over my 1 hour max at Snowman Stampede). Terrain alternates dead flat with hills. Hills are FT+ effort up and FAST on the way down -- aim for decent form and solid "impact" on the descents. Main set is like 3x8 min on 4 min RI. RI for my running is always walking.

Long Run -- keep it aerobic -- mixed terrain, hills before flats. Still doing a 12 minute cycle of run:walk. Sprained my anke running in the snow but am back in action after a fast recovery -- used a machine called GameReady that really took the swelling out of my ankle.

Double Run -- insert on a few Tempo and Long run days. Have only done once so far -- the evening after the Snowman Stampede.

Long Ride -- main intensity is done at the end of a long ride -- aim for 20 minutes of work over functional threshold // when I tried to go 3x8 min fast (4 min RI) at the 2.5 hour mark of a four hour ride last week I had MAJOR fade but still hit 170 bpm, so a decent effort. Anyhow, new plan for this week...

ITU SBR Session -- This week I will do a solid swim (main set as... 5x400 lcm leaving on 6 min with effort as fast, mod-hard, steady, mod-hard, fast) then straight into a trainer session with 4x6 min fast on 3 min RI. After the trainer session, run immediately 5 miles steady. This is an ITU-type workout that the lads would do in NZ -- I'm going to recover by riding easy, they would alt between steady/mod-hard/fast -- I'm not quite at that part of my season, yet. The ITU lads would back that up with functional & core strength/run speed in the evening but I'll take the rest of the day off!

Swim -- I've been doing one quality overdistance workout each week; a solid IM swim day and a continuous swim. This past week was decent in terms of volume (22.5K meters equivalent). My continuous swim today was 4000 scm as 2000 relaxed then alt by 100 faster, 100 easier -- probably had a differential of 10s per 100 between the faster and the easier.

I've also been inserting long periods (60-120 mins) of higher cadence riding into the early parts of some long rides. Bobby wants me to get my run cadence up and this seems to be helping.

Boulder riding has been mainly in the flats and lower volume. Vegas riding will have more hills and remain lower volume as I am in an intensity cycle.

Heart rates remain very responsive -- the 175 bpm during my 6x3 min fast last Wednesday was the highest HR I've generated in Colorado.

Take care,
gordo

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05 March 2007

The Magic Formula

Blogger is having a little trouble uploading my photo. So...

There's an alternative one posted on Planet-X with my race report. That photo is of the Snowman Stampede. As you can tell from that snapshot, the day lived up to its billing. The race was my first sustained effort of the season and it went well for me. I can attest that an hour of drilling it at altitude gives a pretty strong hypoxic training stimuli.

For those of you that enjoy data, my average heart rate for the hour was 165 bpm and my max was 170 bpm. That compares to my heart rate cap of 148 bpm -- I've been using that for all "endurance workouts" as well as during "endurance" phases of training.

+++++

I was sent a weblink the other day to a philosophical website. I enjoy reading these sites and surfed around for a while. Around the same time, I was contacted by an athlete looking for an exact determination of his endurance training heart rate threshold, what I call AeT (aerobic threshold).

The two events reminded me that our minds craved certainty as well as clarity. We're always looking for...

...the magic formula
...the magic protocol
...the perfect partner
...the perfect wave
...the perfect day
...the perfect conditions
...the ideal plan

A man more wise than me pointed out that this craving for something other than what we are tends to make a lot of people unhappy. Still, I think that spending time learning from experts can be time well spent.

It's interesting though... my experience is that you have to learn a tremendous amount to get yourself to the point where you see that nearly everything that you learned is a distraction from what matters.

The people that get the most practical use from their knowledge, tend not to be the ones with superior knowledge. Individuals with the greatest reach excel in clear communication, rather than technical detail. This drives many experts absolutely bananas! Personally, I find that entertaining for some reason.

So on the site that I linked up is a quote about success. You can read the entire essay here.

"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."

That pretty much sums it up for me. There's nothing more that I can tell you about success.

..but I'll give it a shot anyhow!

I prefer to program myself in positive, proactive ways. Figure out what you want to achieve then seek out experts of character and pattern yourself on their actions, thoughts and beliefs.

That's all great but... you are going to need a HUGE amount of energy to keep up with an individual that has deeply engrained their success patterns into their mind, body and spirit. In fact, most people will get overwhelmed by the power of their mentors.

So while the author of that essay is pointing out the difference between success and failure -- he is not addressing why the failures struggle to keep up. When people breakdown, it is their process that falls apart.

So how do we give ourselves the energy to maintain our circle of success? How do we give ourselves every chance to form those successful habits?

Here are some ideas that I came up with. They are what work for me. Perhaps they will help you. I'd encourage you to find out what works for you. Much better than following what works for me!

All of the following are things that we can "do" in order to build the energy that we have available. The closer that I stick to these guidelines, the easier (and deeper) I find my ability to achieve my goals.

Simplicity
-- most people try to do too much. At any given time, I can manage doing two things "right" in my life. Everything else is being done "ok" at best. If you come over to my house then you'll see the two things that I'm working on right now. I posted it on my fridge. I want every single person that is close to me to know what I'm working on.

Nutrition -- there is a clear link between nutritional quality and mood. Running deeper than mood, there is a direct link between energy and nutrition. I smile when people tell me that "a calorie is a calorie". It's not that way in my body and it's not that way in terms of our impact on the Earth.

Our bodies are the most direct expression of how we feel about ourselves and our nutritional choices are the most frequent actions that we take with respect to our (physical) selves. Food choice is easier than thought choice!

Recovery -- there is a certain pride in many cultures (and sub-cultures) around sleep deprivation and self-suffering. At a certain level, something inside us can "feed" of this stress but (eventually) you'll fade away. The "hard" path may feel satisfying for a few years but it is worth remembering that most of us are playing an 80 year game! I have big plans for my body twenty years from now -- some of the lads might get me this decade but if I just hang on long enough...

Love -- this is a big one and I'd encourage you to think about love in the absolute broadest sense of the word. What I mean is any thing, person or experience that enables us to feel more "open". In my world this includes: Monica, nature, church, friends, training, old tress, snow, sun, wind, animals, little kids, water... all of these are spiritual "openers" for me and lift my energy.

Attitude -- attitude is mission critical. My mentors/advisers/pals and I had an email thread the other day about "coaching elite athletes". What started as a discussion on coaching elite triathletes (rather infrequently elites in life), turned into a platform for some very successful people to define their personal definition of success. What was fascinating to me was that EVERY one of the successful people had achieved their person definition of success. They may not have achieved my definition (or your definition) but they achieved their own. A clear reminder that we must choose our goals wisely. What comes next is important...

Successful people cultivate an abundance mentality for their goals within themselves. They "are" what they are seeking to achieve. Through this self-expression, they achieve success prior to achieving their goals.

Unsuccessful people (unconsciously and consciously) cultivate a scarcity mentality within themselves. The focus on their "lack" of what they are seeking and long for the day when they will achieve it. This day rarely comes.

Change in our life situation most effectively stems from an improvement in our personal outlook, expressed by what we cultivate in ourselves. We are most able to attract the things, experiences, people that we cultivate within ourselves.

In, then out.

Our culture has it completely backwards with many of the messages that we are fed within the media. The searching for satisfaction (and change) without. The unsucecssful are constantly wondering why their impression of the world remains rooted as a reflection of what they hold within. The truly successful smile and give thanks that they have learned to be satisfied with what they have created within themselves.

So that's my Energy Creator list! What about my personal energy reducers?

Related to simplicity -- I train myself to say "no" to attractive opportunities. If you have trouble with this point then start by saying "no" to unattractive opportunities. No joke, I know plenty of people that repeatedly choose to do things that they hate rather than having to face saying "no" to somebody that's probably too caught up in their own life to notice.

Nobody likes saying "no" to people (comes back to the opening quote about successful habits) -- I was fortunate in that I was forced to learn how to say "no" in my first job. In venture capital, we had to say "no thanks" to a lot of people. Given that it is as tough for the partners as it is for us... the junior guy on the team gets plenty of practice saying "no" early in the investment process -- the partners get the really tough ones... saying "no" late in the process!

I tend to extend my zone-of-no-thanks from opportunites... to situations... to people... to habits... to foods... to the web ...to anything that is a distraction from my ability to devote myself to my two main goals.

Sounds a bit extreme, and I suppose that it is, however I am looking for a very deep level of achievement, satisfaction and success.

The Magic Formula -- a self-sustaining circle of sustained action over time.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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19 February 2007

Getting Strong




The shot above was taken in Atlanta before a Southern Wedding. We had a baptist minister at the ceremony and he described marriage as...

...bein' locked in a room...
...NO door...
...NO win'das...
...There's a fi'ya burnin'...
...Just you and the missus...
...You gotta put that fi'ya out togetha!

At least that's what I heard... I was pretending that I was getting married again and renewing my vows. I left the church pretty fired up to be Monica's husband.

It was time well-spent.

++++

Our trip to Atlanta was the last piece of my four week business/transition block. It was a lot of travel for me. What's a lot?

Queenstown-Auckland-LA-Fresno-Santa Cruz-Boulder-Edinburgh-London-Bermuda-Boulder-Atlanta-Boulder

I don't track miles flown but that was a pretty solid push. With that much moving around, work was #1 and I hardly rode at all. Volume was 9/11/15/12 hours per week -- that was the four weeks after Epic Camp.

It was an interesting change for me because (normally) after an Epic Camp, I recover for 7-14 days then slam right into Ironman Specific training. This time, I paused the training volume and focused on two training items -- get strong and get my HR way up a few times. It takes a surprising amount of discipline to rest when we are in good shape. Just like bike fitness in Ironman, it's challenging to build something up and NOT use it (bit like weapons, I suppose).

I've done three fast sessions so far (one life cycle and two running) -- on each one I've been able to access the 180s in terms of heart rate. So my experience from the last entry appears to be confirmed. Mark's protocol is resulting my being able to drive my heart rate 12-15 bpm higher than the last six years.

On my last session, I was running around a little indoor track -- about 25 minutes of work, including 90s walk breaks -- six reps with the max HR in each (174, 178, 182, 184, 182, 185). I still believe that I can get to 190bpm at sea-level if I was racing. The high HRs concerned me a bit so I ran them past Bobby (McGee) as well as Mark. I'm going to be careful with going much past 185bpm outside of racing.

My three-mile aerobic test hasn't budged (yet), 6:27 @ 148 bpm was the result last week -- the day before that fast run. One thing that I am wondering is if my running heart rate performance in earlier years was depressed due to fatigue -- in reviewing my bike step tests, I see fatigue in the data (depressed HR response through most aerobic wattage levels, then rapid increase to functional threshold, no ability to elevate past 160bpm and suppressed lactate response in the aerobic zone).

Effectively, "taking a break" after 16 weeks of training was something very different than what I've done in the past. However, it wasn't all travel. While I need to be careful aerobically at altitude, I decided to address my lack of strength training progress and was in the gym 2x per week.

In the mid-90s, I tried to start running. Knee pain shut me down for a couple of YEARS and I had to come back very gradually with walking/hiking. I started running... too fast, too much, too quickly... all the normal mistakes. Wish I knew about run-walk back then! So, for a two year period in my late 20s, I lifted a lot. Powerlifting stuff -- squats, dead lift, cleans // four day cycle with alternating body parts (legs/core; back/bi; chest/tri; off). I had reasonable success -- my legs have always increased strength rapidly.

The neat thing about strength training is that you end up looking good in clothes... triathlon is more about looking good in a speedo... ha ha

One of the things that I noticed in the gym (back then) was that when I truly committed to "getting strong" I would be able to breakthrough plateaus. My body was ready before my mind -- there is a bit of fear/respect when you stack it up. This year was similar but my mind got a little ahead of my spinal erectors (!) so I had to cap my squat out at 185lbs and use the leg press for going really heavy.

What's really heavy for me?

I managed this yesterday...
Squats (incl bar, thigh parallel, not deep) -- 45lbs, 135lbs, 185lbs (x3) -- all these were 12 reps on 2 min RI except the last set was 20 reps
Then leg press sled -- 360lbs (8 reps), 450lbs (8reps), 500lbs (why not, 6 reps) -- 3 min RI
Then single leg with emphasis on rapid finish -- 8L/8R/8L/8R continuous at 135 lbs on 2 min RI -- repeat

That whole thing took me 30 minutes and I stacked another half hour of mod-hard traditional strength work. I just flamed out on the last rep of the single leg and had to give myself a little help.

In my book, Joe and I talk about taking the squat up to 1.3-1.7x body weight -- for me that would be 215lbs to 280lbs. Too heavy for most of us in my opinion. In my mid-30s I could comfortably get up to 225 lbs but my back can't tolerate that these days (with a slower build-up, perhaps). I recommend that you never place more than 225 lbs on your back even if you can tolerate it. Not worth the risk. I've squat up to 300lbs in early 2002 but that was a lot of spinal compression for minimal gain -- frankly, I was lucky that I didn't injure myself.

My advice (to the guys) would be to start with the squat, take it to mod-hard (not more than 15% over body weight) then finish yourself off with the leg press. In Going Long, we're recommending building up to 2.5-2.9x body weight -- implying for me... 410lbs to 480lbs and that seems a lot more reasonable if you have outstanding technique, multi-year strength training experience and have followed the preparation protocol.

Those multi-year experience and technique pointers are essential for the squat -- it is really worth taking the time to learn how to squat properly. Take your time. I've been lifting (off and on) for over 2o years.

I see a lot of "experienced" folks in the gym using shocking (and dangerous) technique -- get a certified trainer to teach you free-weight technique.

Remember...
#1 -- the point in the gym is to improve relative to YOURSELF
#2 -- a little LESS with a little BETTER technique

Be careful out there,
gordo

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03 February 2007

Phase Two Training


I like the photo above – the orange color of the light reminds me of the warmth of the winter sun in California. There’s a feeling around Santa Cruz that represents much of what I’ve been searching for since leaving Hong Kong in 2000. The closest word to describe it is ‘peace’.

Post-Epic, I was fortunate to be able to spend a couple of days with Mark Allen. While we talked quite a bit about triathlon, I didn’t walk away with a bunch of notes about main sets and training sessions. A lack of notes is an unprecedented change! I do have to confess that I did make a few notes at our first meeting over breakfast. My brother commented that I must have been pretty fired up because I wasn't eating.

The single best thing about Mark’s method is its simplicity. Many people send me notes asking questions about the protocol. There is nothing more to tell you than what you read here.

Mark’s “coaching” me this season but a better description would be that he is guiding me. When I think about “coaching”, my mind seeks direction, instruction and certainty.

Tell me what to do to be great...
Tell me exactly how to do it...
Provide me with the answers to what I think I am seeking...

Real meaning and growth come from figuring out our own way, rather than following instructions.

As a guide, Mark’s provided me with the basics for Phase One. If you’ve read the articles on his website as well as my summary of the Fit Body, Fit Soul seminar then you’ll know as much as me about the protocol. Yes, it really is that simple. I may have more experience than you to apply the protocol but there isn’t anything more. He’s not holding anything back.

The simplicity would have been completely lost on me as a novice and (I suspect) that many athletes refuse to believe the powerful nature of harmonious simplicity.

I’ve often noticed a mutual tendency to create dependency between coaches & athletes. Naturally, it exists only in friends and associates!

The constant review of workouts, the fine-tuning, the periodization… as I learn more about myself, I see that most of this is wasted energy. I wonder how often we “discuss” to avoid facing the issues that are staring us in the face – issues that require us to change in order to progress. Even if we don't need to change (which I doubt)... I'd rather direct as much of "me" into the plan as possible.

####

Have you managed to string together those 12 weeks of consistent moderate training that I spoke about in October?

What happened since I reminded you in December?

If you haven't managed it then there is still plenty of time -- after all, it is only the start of February. Keep trying!

Here's why...

There’s no point in progressing your training until you can string together a dozen weeks of consistency. The more you struggle with consistency, the more you’ll be tempted to rush your preparation and cut corners.

Performance flows more easily by establishing your cycle of success.

####

January is the time for budgets and planning. During my 48-hour stint in Scotland, we talked a lot about our business' plans for the year. If you are interested in what I do other than triathlon, here's a link to an aspect of the company.

You may be surprised how many people don’t have a plan -- by simply writing down where you want to go, you will get a clear edge over nearly everyone. The power of simplicity!

Even those with a plan struggle to execute it. It’s the same for all of us and I’m no different than you. I read my plan to remind myself what I need to do. My moments of clarity can be pretty spread out -- so I need to write them down quickly and review them often.

Our ability to create, then observe, our patterns and habits greatly influences what we are able to achieve in our lives.

"To know others is intelligence, to know yourself is wisdom."

What I have benefited from is making a ton of mistakes and being exposed to experienced people that shared the lessons of their mistakes with me. These first few months with Mark have reminded me that our best advisors can be the ones that help us ask ourselves the right questions, rather than answering the endless noise created by our minds.

Take time to consider that point...

The best teacher is the one that helps us figure things out for ourselves.

I’ve written six page emails to which the best reply was a telephone call where we talked about the seasons and pacing across a year. Two weeks later, my head had dreamed up a whole range of new issues, which only had a vague connection to my previous ideas.

We can only see things in others that exist in ourselves. By not participating in the noise of my head, Mark helped me better see it.

Now I write my blog instead!

ha ha ha

####

A little bit about focusing on what we need in triathlon. While in Santa Cruz, we spent an evening running through the logic of the eGrip on-line engine. I entered some pretty extreme values to see if I could “tilt” the server. No such luck, it kicked out a week that was very close to what I would have created for myself. It took me only a couple of minutes to fine-tune.

If you are looking for a cost effective “coach” then I’d recommend his site as well as a copy of my book, Going Long. The book has sold over 25,000 copies and that blows me away.

Once you have your simple plan, you may consider pulling the plug on all the chat forums and repeat, repeat, repeat to the best of your ability. Remove the distractions from execution. Make a habit of "doing".

It's not easy for me to stay away but I've been off forums since my own board was shut down last summer. I was running with a good friend this morning (Richmond Park, London with the deer -- very nice) and we were discussing the internet. He observed that there is a forum where you can ask a trained nutritionist any question you want and she'll reply for free. Hardly anyone posts! Rather than post to an expert, people end up asking perfect strangers for guidance (most of whom struggle with their nutrition but they are extremely generous with their experience).

We often think that boards are a meeting place for experts. Quite often, they turn into places were people come to reinforce their existing biases or self-image (particularly "poor me"). Watch for that -- you don't want those things in your head.

Keeping my head clear is why I'm very wary of television and any form of violence these days. I haven't watched a movie in a long while.

If you are seeking change in your life then look out for habits that become a time sink.

Beware of the enemies of action!

####

So what about the title of this piece? Well, Phase Two of my season kicked off this week.

Summing up Phase One…
***14 weeks of base training (HR <= 148 bpm) ***Epic Camp (phew!) ***Two weeks mellow with high run frequency I achieved most of what I wanted in Phase One. The area where I fell short was strength development. I suppose the best way to look at it is that I have plenty of upside in Phase Two. To give you an insight... 3x15 squats at 135lbs was tough this week. I will be working towards 3x12 at 185lbs. For reference, six years ago I ended my strength phase able to do 3x12 at 225lbs comfortably. On the plus side, my aerobic fitness and stamina are strong for February. My benchmarks and training volume indicate that I'm in good shape. I don't want to be in great shape at this stage of the season. My aerobic test has stalled (7:10/6:50/6:25/6:18/6:23/6:28 -- October to January) so it is time to kick off Phase Two and add in some tougher stuff. Before you lace up your spikes... note that my approach was... 14 weeks of simple base training; a bike-oriented aerobic overload cycle; then rest. I spent two months "stalled" and didn't rush to use intensity. It was more important to establish the depth of my aerobic platform than start the tough stuff. When you think that you are behind (and our minds always try that on) then it is tempting to constantly rush. This is fundamental -- to absorb tough training, we need width and depth in our platform. Appropriate preparation is required to get the benefit from harder training. Mark’s guidelines to me were pretty simple, “a couple times a week go as hard as you can -- finish the main set with your heart rate as close to max as possible”. You can read an article on his website that lays it out. Don’t bother sending me an email for more info, that article tells you more than I heard! In fact, you'd be silly not to read everything on his website -- he just might have something to teach us.

Of course, if you read his advice then you might be left in a position requiring change and we are often unable to change without the stimulus of a crisis.

In terms of the session structure, I have enough experience to create something that is reasonable but that didn't stop me from asking Molina then checking with Mark! What we came up with was a main set like 6x3 minutes fast on 90s rest – it’s what I did to kick off Day Eight at Epic.

I’ll use some variations but workout structure is not a constraint on performance.

What I target is:
***intensity (fast);
***rep duration (2-4 minutes);
***rest (about 50% of rep duration);
***cadence (92-94, bike & run); and
***form (best -- this is important).

I'll note power/pace when convenient but they are a result, not a target. I'm seeking a physiological response rather than a target performance. It's easy to get caught up in the data (personal limiter of mine). All of my breakthroughs have come when I removed my mind from what I was seeking to achieve. For my money, that is the crux of performance psychology.

I was a bit jet lagged on Thursday and did my first session in the dark around Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh. It was 5am and I was running with the aid of moonlight. If you know the climb then I started at the base of the steep side. Two uphill reps (rest was downhill walking) then four repeats along the top (3 upwind, 1 downwind). I started uphill to ensure a good HR response.

I couldn't see my heart rate monitor so I set it to beep at 170bpm. The set ended up 6x2:45 (fast) on 90s walking rest, probably 15 minutes over 170bpm. When I checked my data after the session, I saw that my max for the workout was 185bpm. That's the highest heart rate that I've generated since I started triathlon. High octane stuff -- I've felt the training stimulation for the last three days -- the physiological responses leave me feeling like I'm on happy-juice.

It will be interesting to see if the ability to generate high heart rates continues because the main difference between me and my "fast" pals is their ability to access higher power/pace by driving their heart rates higher than me. I'm efficient within my steady zone but the top guys can load me up by accessing their superior top ends.

In the past, I've chosen to carry background fatigue that limited my ability to elevate my heart rate. Those long term periods of being overreached were a conscious decision to develop my stamina and endurance. Even with the associated periods where I was overtrained, they were successful from a knowledge and performance viewpoint.

I'm seeking a deeper level of success this year.

####

I've adjusted my race schedule (yet again).

Feb -- Snowman Stampede, 10-miler in Denver, hope I don't need crampons!
Mar -- Lake Havasu Olympic Distance Triathlon
Apr -- Desert Olympic Distance Triathlon
May -- Napa Half Ironman
June -- Prospect Lake Sprint Triathlon

July and August will be specific preparation for Ironman Canada. In the summer, I get enough action with my key sessions. My "best" training performance will likely be seen July 16th to August 5th. Thereafter, I build inwards for game day.

As Mark reminded me in Santa Cruz, through all the training, it is important to remember that there is a race coming. When Ironman Canada arrives I plan on being ready.

All my best from Bermuda,
gordo

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20 January 2007

Why Epic


Games Day is over and, for the record, Mark Pietrofesa won quite handily – remember that name because if you are in the 40-44 then you’ll be getting to know him quite well over the next few years. Steve Larsen nipped him for a slot at Vineman in 2005 but I’m putting my money on Mark for the re-match, certainly over the full distance in Hawaii.

####

I wrote some of this a few days ago...

I’ve finished my third monster brew of the day. I’m trying to stay awake until 7pm so I can sleep through the night.

The nutritional cracks have become open fissures – I had a couple of bowls of ice cream last night; tortilla chips the night before and pancakes this morning. For me, the nutrition heading off the rails is a sign that it is time to back off on everything, rest up and absorb the training. I have four weeks worth of business, personal and family travel coming up. So I’m going to take things easy and try to run most days.

In early December, Monica asked me whether I would go to Epic if I hadn’t committed to it. At that time, I was very tired and scared about the camp. Scared? Yes, scared. You see, I know what these camps are like. I also have intimate knowledge about overtraining. It scares me.

[Very] Big Week Training is risky but the risk:reward ratio is worthwhile for me – I’ve spent over a decade learning about how I respond to endurance training. As I want to explore my ultimate potential as an athlete then there are certain risks that need to be undertaken. What I’m trying to do this time around is make sure that I’m following the most appropriate path.

I’m glad that I turned up – first to see the guys and second because this was the best two-week training camp that I’ve ever had. Stripping out the easier stuff, I managed 45 hours of steady and mod-hard training in 14 days. That is a massive amount of work to put into my body in January.

For the top performers in any sport, the physiological training is a given. We must do the work to generate the physiological changes that give rise to the potential for breakthrough performance.

Work is a given – that’s why I remind athletes that protocol isn’t the decisive factor. It has an impact but it doesn’t dominate the path from potential to performance. What really matters is the psychological and spiritual changes that happen during Big Week Training.

Fatigue – an acceptance of fatigue as a physical state of the body, rather than a mental problem of the mind.

Humility – an acceptance that we do have certain limits on certain days. However, learning that our limits are far, far further than we thought possible. By removing ourselves from our daily routines, we “trick” our minds into allowing us to exceed our previous athletic definitions of ourselves.

Work – teaching the mind that work is a relaxing form of pleasure. Getting to the point where five to six hours of steady cycling (in the wind and rain) is more of a meditation than a training session.

Confidence – seeing that physiological superiority results from absorbing more work, over more time – rather than an innate, unachievable genetic edge.

These are the lessons that we seek to bring the athletes that join us at Epic Camp. They are also the lessons that I renew each time I arrive at Epic.

When you read about Epic Camp you may think that it is about pain tolerance. For some of the athletes that could be the case. For others, that might be the way a few of the days feel. For me, Epic is about training my mind that sensations that I may have felt as pain are better expressed as joy. I use nature, the Epic Lads and the “game” to reprogram my emotional framework. There was as much psychological as physical “practice” happening at this camp.

Once the fatigue starts to pile up, the psychological cracking shows first. An athlete’s psychological systems will break down well in advance of their physical systems.

Epic is a direct challenge to what an athlete previously thought as reasonable and challenging. Most the lads deal with their psychological challenges internally. Over the years a few break out in public (generally around Day 7 or 8).

####

Coming into the camp, I had a few goals that I wrote about…

***Keep HR under 148 for the first week – managed that for all but an hour of riding on Day Five. Keeping intensity down in a group situation is extremely tough – I was dropped a couple of times on Day One but bridged back when the pace eased. We need a tremendous amount of self-confidence to allow ourselves to go out the back in a group situation. Most people are unable to execute their plan in a group situation or under psychological pressure. They can not do it.

***Pull the longest ride of Day Three (225K) – got that done with Charlesy as my wingman.

***Hit it hard a few times in Week Two – similar to the amount of Week One endurance training, I managed much more than I thought possible – two hours at 300w+ on Day Eight and a tough main set/group ride on Day Ten. I also drove my HR up into the 170s for the entire run on the Day Eight Aquathon.

***Be cheerful, less controlling and listen more – better than previous camps and I’ll keep working on these points!

If you head over to the Planet-X bikes website then you can check out my data from those hard rides. The most interesting data (for you) might be Day Eight and Day Ten. They will give you an insight into my threshold and VO2 power.

My favourite day was probably Day Seven when I broke a spoke fifteen minutes into the ride (and in the rain). Once the crew had me rolling again, I rode alone, playing catch-up, and was able to build the ride, hour-by-hour for five hours. Confidence that I can ride well when fatigued is something that I was seeking at the camp and I found it at the end of Week One.

Many of the lads report a sensation of improving fitness during the camp. I think, what really happens is that the body & mind simply get used to working for long periods of time. Physiologically we fatigue, mentally we strengthen.

####

I know some guys where Epic has changed their lives – 50 to 80 hours of training changing the direction of someone’s life. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Scott and I are doing what we were born to do – it’s our path. Some folks get that, some don’t.

I ended up with my lowest total (and points “standing”) for any of the camps. However, in terms of training stimulation, this would have to be the most specific camp for my goal of winning Ironman Canada in August 2007.

Sitting here on my flight out of Queenstown, I’m the least fatigued from any of the previous camps. I’m going to absorb the training because I want to get faster, not because I am deeply overreached.

The game plan for February is to physically re-group, run frequently and organize the non-triathlon aspects of my life.

Monica is a very high priority for the next two months.

####

In Alexandra, we had a Q&A session with the lads. Here are a couple of highlights that you might want to consider within your own program.

Triathlon is a young sport. I’m fortunate to have been able to learn from a number of the pioneers and experts of our sport. In watching the lads at Epic, I see that what I think is possible (for myself and others) sells our potential short. Many, many times I would have advised athletes to skip sessions (or stop training altogether) if I was “coaching” them at Epic. If we had stopped at a “reasonable” level then (without exception) we would have failed to learn valuable lessons about ourselves and human physiology.

One of these days, we’ll get Dr. J to undertake a study of us at Epic, until then, you’ll have to take my word for it. Much of the triathlon advice that you receive is the equivalent of someone telling you that the Earth is flat.

Please don’t take _anything_ that you hear as the end-all. Take what sounds reasonable, what has worked for people like you and experiment.

Take action, make mistakes, learn and share your experiences.

####

Is Big Week Training the “optimal protocol”?

Along your endurance journey, don’t expect to find “one way”, “one approach”, “one protocol” or “one method”. Big Week Training is merely one tool that you can place in your athletic (or coaching) toolbox. For experienced athletes, Big Week Training is a safe way to bump up our performance.

Watching Crazy Mike was interesting because he went both long and hard (daily). I don’t recommend that but… he got through it and put in excellent output (swim, bike and run) session, after session, after session.

High Volume, High Intensity is high octane training and, last night, Scott talked about the risk of staleness and overtraining. In a group environment, it is possible to blow an entire season of fitness across a single fortnight – especially if we forget that we must pay a recovery price eventually. Like me, Mike is planning on recovering through February.

Each camp we continue to learn a tremendous amount from watching the guys. One of Scott’s key observations is that if you get a group of top athletes together and raise your expectations then nearly everyone will step up. We sure saw that on this camp. I couldn’t believe how much they got done. I purposely cut back the volume and piled on the steady-state for this camp.

Week One was 40 hours of training and Week Two was 20 hours of training. Because my relative reality was that I was doing less than the Epic Lads, this was the easiest (and highest quality) sixty hours of training that I’ve done since the summer of 2005.

Day One
***Run 12K steady (used Bobby McGee run:walk for the entire camp, except the Day 8 Aquathon and short games day runs)
***Swim 3K with 2K TT (14:30/14:08)
***Ride Six Hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard)

Day Two
***Swim 3K with 2K steady
***Bike 4.5 hours (four of which were steady to mod-hard)
***Run 10K easy

Day Three
***Ride 7.5 hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard, last 30 minutes mod-hard to hard)

Day Four
***Swim 3K open water (1K steady rest easy)

Day Five
***Swim 3K steady to mod-hard
***Run 10K mod-hard then 1K fast
***Bike Three Hours (middle hour crisscross max aerobic pace; last hour steady to mod-hard)

Day Six
***Swim 3K (1K band only then 2K steady)
***Ride 4.5 hours easy

Day Seven
***Easy 30 min run
***Ride 5 hours build by hour easy to mod-hard

Day Eight
***Ride Four Hour (60 min build to mod-hard; 60 min mod-hard to hard; 30 min steady then easy)
***Aquathon – 10 min steady swim; 15 min hard to very hard run

Day Nine
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 52 minutes (wide range of intensities)

Day Ten
***Easy morning run 10K
***Four hour ride including 6x3 min @ VO2 watts on 90s RI; one hour hard rolling pacing line; one hour steady to mod-hard
***Swim 40 mins include 30 min steady

Day Eleven
***Games day include 6 min 400 IM, Five Minutes threshold running and some power events
***Ten minutes easy swimming

Day Twelve
***Three hour ride (include one hour steady; some big gear work and twenty minutes fast)
***Easy 90 minute run in the evening

Day Thirteen
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 51 minutes (easy to mod-hard)

Day Fourteen
***Run 80 minutes steady
***Catch this plane to Auckland

The top agegroup guys did MORE than the above (Crazy Mike was close to double). Some of you are trying to beat these guys.

Compared to (some of) our competition we achieved one or two months worth of key sessions in a single training camp. It takes many years of patient, smart training to prepare the body for undertaking this sort of training camp.

####

I’ll share some of my non-linear recovery techniques that I used over the last fortnight. Nobody ever writes about this stuff as it pertains to triathlon. I can't be the only one with this experience!

So this is what really happened. Much of this is operating at different levels of my experience. I’ve always been willing to access anything that works.

Fit Body, Fit Soul – I used what I learned from Mark and Brant at their weekend clinic. They can teach you better than I can and their lessons have helped move me closer to my ultimate potential as an athlete.

The Sun – On the morning of Day Two, I spent an hour on the beach watching the sun rise. Some might call that a meditation but I was simply looking around, relaxing and asking for help.

The Weather – In heat, or in rain, I will run palms-up for a period of time to absorb energy from the sun or the sky. I use a similar technique within my yoga practice.

Yoga – I did frequent, short yoga sessions – up to three times per day.

Massage – I had five massages in the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand.

Monica – I spoke to Monica five times over the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand. This is the least direct contact that I’ve had with her since we’ve been together. However, I probably held her in my heart for five to twelve hours per day. At my end it felt like I was pulling energy from her. She’s pretty tired right now. I don’t know if that was my doing! Over the years, there have been a few people from which I have pulled energy when training at a high level.

Breathing – When I was surrounded by the power of nature; or saw a flower; or saw an animal; I would breathe the experience into my body. With my little injuries, I would direct the breath towards the part of my body that needed to recover (another technique from yoga).

Dreams – I had dreams about each of the key people in my life. They gave me various pieces of advice. Some of which I remembered, some of which merely made me feel nice when I woke up in the morning.

iPod – I like listening to good music on my iPod.

Some of this I can explain, some of this I am simply sharing with you.

More than understanding my experiences, I’d encourage you to explore your own.

####

Protocol is not the differentiating factor between athletes.

Passion, persistence and patience – combine those with any reasonable protocol and you’ll get results. The people that tend to take issue with alternative protocols are, typically, unable to do the protocol they don’t like; or, are trying to profit from an alternative view of the world. For example, most coaches passionately believe in the way _they_ like to train. From a sales & leadership point of view, that belief is essential.

Scott and I really enjoy the camps. We do them to spend time with the lads and enjoy ourselves. We have a deep enjoyment of training.

On the podcasts, there was a tone that Epic Camp is special, possibly elitist. It is special for the Epic Vets because it represents a shared experience, a very different experience and an outside of the box experience.

While it is a unique experience “for us” you could recreate it for yourself. I’ve done it a number of times over the years and it’s helped me.

Epic Camp is unique and special; but Big Week Training is open to anyone with a backpack and a map!

What is unique here is the nature of the athletes. We are sharing a massive undertaking alongside experienced, confident and (mostly) mellow high achievers. The older guys that come have achieved a very high level of success (in multiple fields). With this success comes humility and (if you listen) a willingness to share knowledge.

We also get athletes that are searching for a level of validation (of themselves and/or from others). It’s ironic that we often need to achieve something to learn that it doesn’t really matter. It never was about the goal – the goal merely provides us something around which we can wrap a lifestyle.

The man who competes with no one
In all the world, has no competitor.

And that’s a wrap for another year.

gordo

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12 January 2007

EC:NZ'07 Update

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 London, England – Toby. Yesterday morning, I was suited up with everything, including a pair of neoprene swim gloves (see Aquaman photo of Molina), helmet cover, booties, and synthetic long underwear (good for crappy riding weather, made by Asics). Toby turned up in shorts and reluctantly put on a pair of arm warmers. He said that he wanted to “save” his leg warmers in case the weather took a turn for the worse. I suppose that it is all a matter of perspective. We convinced him to put them on prior to the ride – air temp was 10C at the start and went down as low as 9C before we got over Lewis Pass (about 3.5 hours ride time to the pass).

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.

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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 Brandon. Once his pace settled down, and I was doing catch-up drill, I tapped his calf and came by for a pull. I figured that we’d swap 400s. Of course, at the back of my mind, I knew that there could be a chance to break away and get my 10s back from him.

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…

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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!

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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…

True Strength

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!

Take care,

gordo

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03 December 2006

Memories



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

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

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

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

So that's the opener

+++

Now a break for the photos!

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just might be starting to listen.

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

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

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

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

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18 November 2006

Early Base Training


The photo above is a shot of the sunrise taken from Sunrise Beach, Queensland, Australia. I like it because the energy is bursting through the clouds (right at the photographer). Breathe it in!

Before we can build successful races;
We need to create successful lives.
That's what I told myself for all of 2006.

Another thing that I learned with Mark & Brant in Austin. I now see that success is a good thing. I had a reservation on that front with regards to IMC — I didn't see the goodness in it. Achieving our dreams is a very good thing.

I went to the beach to spend some time alone asking for support on my journey -- physical power for recovery; tranquility within myself; empathy for M; and harmony in all the Queensland drivers that see me when I'm riding my bike.

Enough of what matters...
Onto what interests...
;-)

++++

I've just finished eight weeks of my Early Season Training protocol as well as my third aerobic run test. I followed it to the letter (did you???). My weekly training volume moved between 7-18 hours (avg was 14), that includes my yoga (3x) per week.

Some tips/lessons:

***I had to back off the traditional strength work about half way through when the major muscle groups in my legs/hips blew out my minor ones. So I've been on cords, core, balancing & body weight exercises for the last three weeks. This week, I'll start to add back some traditional work (mainly lower body free weights done lightly).

***I did aerobic run tests at the end of Weeks 2/5/8 (three different countries, still working on my travel less goal) and saw considerable improvement (7:10/6:50/6:25). Far faster than any previous year in my athletic career -- probably because I didn't have such an overload stress from jumping the volume back up to "what I thought I needed".

***Even with the "taper in" on the volume. I was tired a lot, slept tons. The strength training seems to create a different type of fatigue than normal aerobic stress.

***By never crossing my personal heart rate cap I found that I was able to greatly increase the aerobic quality of my workouts. My average pace was higher and much more consistent. I also found my overall consistency greatly increased -- normally starting back up takes so much mental energy to push through everything. I only had three zeroes -- all travel related. One when I slept 20-hours in an Auckland hotel room at the end of my business tirp.

***Not crossing that cap was very, very, very tough! I was wearing my heart rate monitor riding my cruiser to a run and had to back off! A fair amount of walking (still doing it) as well as micro-strides to get up hills. I have a concern that I may be swimming a little too hard at times so will need to be more careful now that I am swimming in a group here in Noosa.

++++

What's next. Well, if you didn't follow my Early Season Protocol to the letter then you should spend eight weeks redoing your homework! It's like total immersion, there's no point moving forward until you've mastered step one.

Here's what I have planned for the next nine weeks...

***Two weeks where I will get my body used to the Basic Week again. I'll keep the swim/run steady-focused. The bike will come in simply on a frequency basis. No main sets; insert a bit of steady; tweak my position on my new bike.

***Easy week, retest my max aerobic run pace (warm-up; three miles at target HR; cool down)

***Repeat my Basic Week (2x) -- swim/run as before and add some aerobic and big gear main sets -- steady effort.

***Easy week, retest my max aerobic run pace (warm-up; three miles at target HR; cool down)

***Transition week -- easy to moderate -- travel to NZ; get advice on my bike fit (hopefully); hit the lab for a lactate step test to failure (bike) the day before Epic.

***Epic Week One -- I'm writing it here so that you can hold me to it! NEVER cross my aerobic HR cap; maximise average pace for all workouts; never tack-on volume. Pull all the way from Hanmer to Moana on Day Three.

***Epic Week Two -- choose a moment every other day and have 15-25 minutes where I go as fast as I can go. I won't announce where & when just yet because that would spoil the fun!

That will end the first 17-weeks of my season. I then have four weeks of transition where my main goal will be to run six days a week; hit the gym twice a week; and keep the yoga rolling three times a week. Everything else will be a bonus.

During my transition period I have some personal and work related goals that need to be achieved. Athletics will need to take a back seat while I set myself up for the racing phase of my season.

++++

I was going to plug my Spring Training camp with Mitch Gold but it sold out a week after we decided to do it. 80% of my coaching fees from this will go towards our Aquatic Project in Boulder. If you're interested then perhaps Mitch has a waiting list.

If we are successful with a proposal that we're making to the Boulder Elks then I'll be launching a training team based at the lodge from April to October. This will be my main squad as I prepare for Ironman Canada. I'll be solely an athlete until after IMC -- then I'll pitch in on the coaching. More on that after we get the green light.

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11 November 2006

Long Course Clinic Notes


The photo is more from Halloween -- the moose antlers were a gift from a good friend on my 31st birthday. I dug them out of storage from my candy duties. We had high margin candy, word spread in the neighbourhood and I was reduced to dealing out PRIA bars after a mere 60 mintues. Groups of 10-12 kids started turning up, some only wearing track suits!

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I'm writing this from my hotel desk in Hong Kong. I signed a stack of financial accounts down in the business centre and packed them off to FedEx. So my business trip is officially over. All that remains is an afternoon flight to Auckland and an early morning connection to Brisbane.

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Day One of the clinic started with Monica & Andy handling the swim session. I'd never seen my brother-in-law in action and he was an impressive guy. I think that I'll rope him into my tri team in Boulder -- more on the team in my next post (from the Southern Hemisphere).

+++

For Day Two, we had Susan Williams (the most humble olympic medalist I've met); Bobby McGee and Tim Hola (fresh off a <9> "...the struggle is sometimes hard to see because it is not a struggle between good and evil as much as it is a struggle between the good and the best...

"...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."
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.

Back to the clinic...

+++

Susan talked about Barb building up to sets of 3x100 on the stretch cords -- we need some of those for Noosa!

Tim's program at 24 hours per week in the big weeks shows why he's so dominant. For a working athlete to hit that schedule in his on-weeks shows a mastery of recovery and scheduling.

Tim's tips for what to do outside of training -- W.I.N. and mental attitude -- show where he gets a little extra out of himself and his training.

Tim shared this... "See Your Goals Every Day". Reminded me that I need to print out my goals and paste them up in Noosa. FYI -- I had an "8:29 Ironman Canada" on my wall for 15 months before I did it -- even dreamed about it in the summer of 2004. Cam Brown probably thought I was nuts when he visited my "shrine" (bedroom) in 2003.

If you get the chance to visit Siri's basement in Boulder then you'll see the same thing in action today. She even uses the same quotes as me!

W.I.N. -- what's important now

In listening to certain of the debates/questions over the weekend. I wrote this down, "Information is rarely a limiter". In other words, many coaches/athletes would do better devoting their energies searching for simplicity, rather than additional complexity.

Bobby shared his elite periodization pattern -- by week it goes Long; Long; Easy; Hard -- then you repeat. If you inserted another "easy" at the end of the cycle then you'd have a nice pattern for a five week "camp" in any sport.

Bobby shared his experience that fit athletes need to be worried about key workouts going too well. This has been shared with me by elite swim coaches. As we near true peaks in fitness -- we need to be extra careful as we have the ability to spend that fitness in training. Dave shared this with me in 2004 and I did a good job of limiting myself in training.

Bobby pointed out that Ironman running has more in common with a long hike than marathoning. He challenged the coaches with the question -- do you train your athletes to get the most out of their walking? Do you equip your athletes with the mental skills to get the most out of their walking? Do you enter your races with the strategy to get the most out of your walking?

I've shared his run:walk strategy many times. More can be found on www.BobbyMcGee.com

His best concept... was when he asked that we consider if we are training a central or a peripheral response with our training. Very insightful.

By the end (or even the middle) of an ironman race, most athletes have a peripheral system that is so shot that they have an inability to place a meaningful load on their central system. Ironman is an event that challenges the peripheral system. This is VERY different from nearly all other endurance events (marathons, TTs, road racing, swimming).

Bobby's run:walk is so effective because it preserves the peripheral system. I'm going to trial his protocol when I am down in Australia. It's a good time of year to experiment. He's got a <2:30 style="font-weight: bold; font-style: italic;">
gordo

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31 October 2006

Long Course Clinic Materials


Hi Gang,

The local squirrels seem to have taken an interest in my pumpkin -- they have been eating my "G".

I probably won't be publishing much for the next two weeks. I've written a lot over the last little while and will be starting a very long business trip that ends (lucky me) in Noosa, Queensland.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with the links for my Long Course Clinic materials...

Coach G's Key Workouts and Coaches' Tips -- Downloadable PDF

These next ones are PowerPoint presentations.

Coaching Long

Structured Bike Training

Effective Race Execution

Monica's Swim Presentation

Take care and keep it simple this fall!

gordo

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18 October 2006

Early Season Training

Many athletes use the early season (winter/spring) to focus on improving a single sport.

Generally, the greatest triathlon gains come from building overall endurance and cycling strength by increasing our focus on the bike. However, for many of us, this simply isn't practical once the weather turns chilly. As I write this in Boulder, there is snow on the ground. Good thing that I am off to Noosa in three weeks.

So what to do? Well, the first thing to remember with early season training is that it is EARLY! You have a long year ahead and you don't want to burn any material mental toughness with your program.

We also need to consider what aspects of our previous program held us back -- you'll be tempted to return to old patterns -- such as my personal challenge... overtraining!

Your overall goal should be to build the platform (endurance, strength, nutrition, flexibility) that will support your late spring and summer training.

Here is one protocol that is highly effective. I've used it several times in the past on both myself and my athletes. I hope it helps you.

Pace your season like your races.
Be strong at the end.

gordo

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KEY things for a running focused early season...

**HR <= the lower of (a) MAP; and (b) the top of steady run zone. Follow this at all times. Note that this cap will let you go a bit "harder" on the bike (up to mod-hard) and in the water (mod-hard to hard RPE). However, remember that this is the cap, not the target -- I'm not smashing myself just yet!

**You need to trust this protocol as you will be able to easily exceed. I'm constantly slowing myself down these days. Most people simply cannot follow this protocol -- they are too attached to their ego in training and racing. If we want different results than the masses then we need to train smarter than the masses. This is how we create continual improvement -- you can rush yourself back to last year's fitness, and that may be fine for some. Personally, my goal is to take myself into a whole new level of fitness. This is how I moved my IM run consistently under three hours.

**If you compare your normal base training heart rates with the "ceiling" then most will see that they have been doing a lot of tempo within their previous base periods -- pretty much all year, all days! This results in a narrow aerobic base, relative to our personal potential.

**The purpose of increased run frequency is time-efficient widening of the aerobic base as well as increased leg durability.

**With the HR cap, there will be walking on hills -- if I can walk then so can you. Your humility will serve you well on race day.

**Run duration isn't a key metric. Simply run 45-60 minutes each time, follow the cap, make sure that you have at least one day per week without any lower body work. For advanced athletes, after you've done 3-4 weeks of this protocol, you could add a second run on one day; or a long hike instead of your run -- keep the rest day! After 6-8 weeks you can add a longer run. However, the greatest gains come from volume built through frequency -- not longer or faster runs.

**Keep swimming -- focus on building bilateral relaxation -- get your continuous, relaxed, bilateral swimming to the point where you can swim 4,000 meters without stopping -- pace does not matter. A gradual build up over 12 weeks should be plenty of time for an experienced triathlete. Don't swim hard, don't bother with TTs, swim relaxed and as often as fits your life. This is how I moved my swim sub-60 minutes.

**Strength training 2x per week -- start embarrassingly light, perfect form, slow and relaxed. Be humble. Free Weight Squats are the single best exercise in the gym -- learn perfect form and how to rotate your pelvis forward/down to protect your back.

**Bike -- real low volume or placed on hold when stretching the run frequency.

**Yoga -- 3x per week for the first 12 weeks of the season. Huge upside here -- if you have a non-tri spouse/partner then do it together. Again, most people will not invest in this aspect of their portfolio -- as a result they tend to experience reduced economy and increased time lost through injury.

This gets you to...
Swim 3-4 hours
Bike 0-2 hours
Run 5-6 hours
Strength 1-2 hours
Yoga 3-4 hours

Total = 12-18 hours per week. A stack for any working athlete and most people (living in the real world) will have to trim duration to get to 8-12 hours per week.

Remember that a moderate program applied with outstanding consistency over a long time is what builds fitness. You want to be a rock star at the end of the summer, not in March!

For reference, this sub-9 hour IMer is 12-15 hours per week right now including my walking and yoga. I'll stay here for a total of six weeks. That's AFTER a month of zeros and walking. I could easily tolerate more (volume, intensity, frequency) but, I think, that would risk my ability to hit it when it matters and I'd start to skip yoga!

Testing -- do a MAP test (run) at the start of the season and every three weeks thereafter. FYI -- my first result was 7:10 per mile (average) in early October -- personal best from 2004 was 6:00 per mile. I'll test again around Halloween. I use three miles -- you want to choose a distance that will give you about 20 minutes of running after a 15 minute warm-up. With
cool down that is a 45 minute session

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05 October 2006

MAP Heart Rate

Hi All --

Had a few questions for more info on Mark's HR guides and the meaning of MAP. In the man's own words...

Mark Allen on Heart Rate Training

I'll be following this myself in my Base Preps -- the wrinkles that I'll add is a Three Mile run test (Pace to HR) and a 20 min flat bike test (Watts to HR). The number I am using is 148 bpm.

Cheers,
gordo

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02 October 2006

Fit Body, Fit Soul

I spent the weekend with Mark Allen and Brant Secunda -- summary is HERE

My full notes are HERE

A good buddy asked...

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 replied...

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.

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25 September 2006

Pre Season

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.

It's pretty tough to truly do nothing -- I had a fortnight of pretty low output and found myself getting a bit tense with not taking any action. That surprised me but, I suppose, that it shouldn't have been that surprising to discover that I am hooked on action. The three people that know me the best have (in their own ways) told me over the years that I have an action bias and, often, the best action is no action.

I was very interested in that stuff that I wrote about last time so I reviewed the full length director's cut of What The Bleep as well as watching the supplemental interviews. I also got myself a copy of The Quantum World (2nd Edition, By Ford) to read. The last time I read a physics text book was when I was 17. It was a good mental exercise to try to follow along with taus, quarks and neutrinos.

While the film's suggestions (implied to me) about the wisest way to live one's life make complete sense -- we create our own experience in any situation. I didn't feel the same scientific basis for bridging quantum physics into our experience of reality. My experience is the same as the main players in the movie -- my views are very similar -- but -- I didn't see the scientific underpinning (yet) for the step to quantum reality. Still, I was remined of a very good lesson in the form of a question...

How often do we reject a good idea because of our view of the messenger?

Far too often, I think.

####

Following my foray into physics textbooks, I needed a bit of a break and pretty much stopped reading for a few days. The next book that I picked up is called The Anatomy of Peace. I suppose that peace is interesting to me right now because I sense that more and more people are thinking that escalating war is inevitable. It certainly is if nearly everyone starts to think it is (creating our reality).

Quite a few famous Asian authors talk about breaking the cycles within our lives and the book shares some ideas about how we can stop feeding the conflicts within ourselves and our own lives. It was a great reminder of a few things within my own life as I've been thinking a lot about the patterns and habits that I've been following with regard to my work & athletics. Many of these patterns have been highly successful but which ones have been holding me back. I'm off on a retreat this coming weekend to gain some ideas on where I hold myself back.

I've also trimmed my Top Ten list -- actually I've made a sub-set. I chose the two things that are most important to me from October 2006 to August 2007. The internet and my site didn't make the cut -- so you'll see me taking a much lower profile. I'm going ahead with... Early November, Colorado Springs, CO -- USAT Long Course Clinic, see the USAT website or email me for details. I have a few more things planned -- Epic Camps and Talks but I will be creating more space for my Top Two as one of my patterns has been extremely high productivity from high scheduling. I'm going to schedule less so that I can achieve a deeper success in my two areas of focus.

What is success? More than 8:20, I've come to realise that the true nature of the game is to see how close I can come to my ultimate potential. I sat down and mapped it out and came up with 8:17 in Penticton.

Why do it again? It is a search for the deep satisfaction that came in 2003 & 2004 from knowing that on-the-day, I had a race that came very close to my personal potential on-the-day.

So that's a point on the Top Two. The other one is M and I've been thinking a lot about her Top Two list -- atleast how it appears to me. In my heart, I know that we have alignment between ourselves. If you read any David Deida then (my view) of our relationship falls into some (but not all) of his concepts. M tends to experience "us" more than meditating on "us" like I do.

I'll be around a bit less over the next few months. I won't be ending anything. Rather, I'll be focusing on a couple of other areas that will enable me to make a deeper contribution when I return.

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20 August 2006

Maximising Athletic Performance

Hi All,

This is the start of my Good, Better, Best thoughts. They are flowing from a desire to expand my seminar thoughts -- an outline can be reached HERE.

What I am working towards is a "master" PowerPoint presentation that I can tailor to various audiences. It would take me all day to run through the current draft and I haven't typed up the PDF attachments for Key Workouts; Training/Racing with Power and Benchmarking.

If I come to your tri club then we'll run through the key topics that apply to working athletes. Due to time constraints the only places (over the next year) where you'll hear the Full Monty is my November 2006 Seminar as well as Epic Camp (assuming I'm chatty!).

There is nothing "new" here. I'm pulling thoughts together from what I've experienced over the last eight years.

If you happen to see a gap then shoot me a note.

Cheers,
gordo

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07 August 2006

Unloading

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.

Here goes…

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 Cam (ever) but, perhaps… someday… you see, he started at a higher level than me and just kept improving. Cam’s been consistently improving, year-in year-out from a very high level. Taking an 8:20-guy and making him _even_ faster is a pretty challenging thing to do. In fact, simply staying in 8:20 shape for a series of seasons is a very challenging thing to do!

Scott knows Cam much better than me so I asked him… “what is the change that Cam made to his program over the last couple of years”. Scott told me that probably the biggest change was that when he “rests”, he really rests. Quite often, elite athletes will do easy training on their rest days – keeping the volume going. I imagine that Cam does this but, watching from a distance, I also see that he schedules decent periods of time where he takes deep recovery – whether he wants to or not.

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 Edinburgh. Public speaking is an area where I’m only “fair” and I like to practice whenever possible.

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 Scotland (summer of 2002). 2005 wasn’t so much resting as a complete lack of training!

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 Scotland, I have cut the volume to 25-50% of what I’d like. I suppose that it is natural to always wish that we could do more, go faster…

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…

***Norman won Hawaii the year he had an early season injury, DNF’d Ironman New Zealand and was “behind” the whole way.

***My good buddy, Kevin Purcell, won his agegroup in Brazil, following a year with significant downtime due to foot surgery.

***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…

“My People”

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 Greece, in the hills, on the trails, in triathlon and at Epic Camp. On the surface they might look pretty well-adjusted. However, inside they are prone to evangelical devotion to their passion (work, booze, running, triathlon, mountaineering, whatever).

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.

gordo

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09 July 2006

Epic France 2006

Epic France 2006

I am in a hotel room in Pau, France after a dozen days of training across the French Pyrenees. Over the last few days, I had a chance to run through various thoughts on the camp as well as training in general. Nothing too earth shattering, for me, but perhaps some of you might find them of interest.

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 Andorra).

***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 Brazil

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 Brazil and Epic – favouring recovery over preparation. That turned out to be an excellent choice for me as well as Dr. J (who had a great camp following Brazil).

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.

Athletic Leadership

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.

Off to Paris for a combo wedding anniversary and birthday party.

Cheers,

gordo

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29 April 2006

Advice to a Young Elite

I am currently on the World’s Favourite airline heading to London and onwards to Miami.

It was a very useful week in Scotland and the JV keeps rolling along. We had an open board meeting and ran through a lot of the items that I wrote about in my finance oriented pieces. The BOS lads are very switched on. When they are being tough on us, they know it! We had an honest chat about why they are being tough on us. By sitting down and talking about everything openly, we realised the logic behind their positions – all of which seemed far more reasonable than what we were dreaming up in the absence of communication.

Some of you had follow-up questions, tips and advice stemming from my last few entries. Responding is a bit down my list as I want to finish off sharing my Kona ideas.

On to our topic…

Over the last six years, I’ve helped a few elite athletes through a mixture of coaching, training and financial support. It hasn’t been charity (not even close) as I benefited through training partners, technical instruction and companionship. Helping people can be a tricky business but I’d say that it’s worked about 70% of the timen (my batting average is improving since I last wrote about this!). That’s a pretty good hit rate in my view.

I’ve also learned a few things about how best for me to play it: (a) clear expectations; (b) high standards; (c) open communication; (d) my way or the highway (if you are living under my roof); and (e) mutual respect. When I’ve tried to “be nice”, or compromise my expectations then it hasn’t worked as well.

Spring is here and summer will follow soon. Most elites (most people for that matter) will follow the same pattern in 2006 that they have created over the last few years. They can be beaten!

What follows is some advice having watched the progress (but mainly the lack of progress) of various elite athletes and neo-pros over the last six years.

Training
For ten months of the year, your #1 priority is your training and everything that enables you to do your training. You will not improve without consistent, focused training. A lot of athletes are great at being “hard” in public – that’s NOT what it is about. Where the great athletes move ahead is by being consistent and focused in private.

Your natural talent will get you to a point – to move beyond that, to breakthrough, you need a consistent, focused total athlete approach – when nobody is watching.

The role of an athlete is not to travel the world chasing races depleting limited financial resources. Until you can crush everyone at all your local events, stay in one place and train consistently. Otherwise you are fooling yourself and merely living a triathlon vacation. Seasonal migration is useful but only to improve the quality of your training – seeing young pros drop three months spending money to DNF or detonate in Kona strikes me as ridiculous. Get out there and win a hot weather Ironman first.

With your training, search for a training partner that shares your approach to fitness. These people are invaluable. Also ensure that this person has an attitude and character that you respect – you will spend a lot of time with them. As a result, they will impact the way you think, so choose wisely.

With your coaches and mentors – look beyond results, look to the life that they actually lead outside of their sport. Is this the life that you want for yourself? This is a fundamental consideration because what you actually learn from mentors (consciously or unconsciously) is the life skills that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

If you happen to make it to the top, what next? At some stage, you will have to consider life beyond actively competing. This is where the best coaches/mentors will provide real assistance.

Finance
As they say: ‘There is a leisure class at both ends of the socioeconomic ladder”.

The alternative employment choice for most of your competition is retail sales, massage therapy, bike maintenance or personal training. Training all day is an attractive alternative.

Bear in mind that civilians work for a living. You are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to give-it-a-shot. It amazes me when I listen/read to athletes (and their supporters) talking about “how hard it is” for Dude to make ends meet as a triathlete. No kidding! Dude is typically a 9:08 IMer and about 125th in the world. Society doesn’t owe him the right to go on vacation. Entitlement mentalities leave me shaking my head.

Your #1 medium term goal is to achieve cash flow breakeven. Give yourself three years to figure out: (a) are you well suited to elite athletics; and (b) are you going to be able to have a decent quality of life. Assuming that you start as a top agegroup athlete, then after three years of living-the-dream you should have an idea about what further progress is going to entail.

What is breakeven? Supporting yourself completely from your own efforts. I’d strip out cash used from: spouse; parents, personal savings; sugar daddy (or mommy); and other unearned sources.

Now if you happen to have three years worth of cash flow in the bank then that is a clear advantage but you’d better be sure you want to use it because triathlon is a low pay vocation!

Financial stress is like any other – it distracts, reduces energy levels and makes you less effective at achieving your goals. However… it can be a great motivator when used appropriately.

Summing Up
You might notice that I didn’t talk about winning races, getting fast, hammering yourself or any of the other things that a young elite might consider being important. That’s because I don’t think that they really matter all that much.

Where I would spend my time is…

*** building my aerobic engine, improving skills, enhancing flexibility and learning personal limiters;
*** associating with people that use sport to create a satisfying life; and
*** improving my ability to support myself over the long haul.

Ultimately those are the items that will lead to success (or prevent roadblocks) over the ten years that it will take for you to achieve your athletic potential.

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09 February 2006

Coaches & Athletes

A few ideas that have been rolling through my head this week.

All coaches have biases, insecurities and blind spots. When your needs as an athlete bump up against one (or more) of these; that’s when errors of judgment occur.

The toughest and most important part of athletic success is getting out of bed every morning, on time, for many years. When we take actions that risk our ability to back-it-up (even if physiologically beneficial) we are gambling with the big picture of what it takes to succeed.

Be wary of coaches living out their athletic dreams (and managing personal insecurities) through pushing their athletes over the edge.

Is the coach seeking to control the program or the athlete? My most effective coaching relationships are more like conversations than prophesies.

Having had the opportunity of five years of world class coaching – where I went wrong is when I took advice and added to it. The most counterproductive (and common) change was going harder, for longer, than instructed – I’ve completely ended my season twice.

Don’t spend any time with a coach with weak ethics. Life is about a lot more than athletic results. Repeated exposure to a man of weak character can impair you for years.

The best training partner is one that gets you out the door, supplies a few laughs and keeps you from inadvertently nuking yourself. A lot of great athletes have benefited from a training partnership with “weaker” athletes.

The key benefit of athletics is providing us with a forum through which we can overcome ourselves. Ultimately, that is the only thing that a race, or a competitor can offer us.

Athletes that miss this point spend their entire lives chasing a finish line that never satisfies.

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23 January 2006

Epic NZ, Epilogue

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.

Had a great swim this morning. At the start of Epic Camp, I swam 2000m in 29:10 at max effort drafting like the dickens. This morning, I did a 2000m main set leaving on 1:30 base, holding 1:27.5 down to 1:22.5 per 100 (effort was steady to mod-hard).

Bumped into Scott and told him about it (I get excited by improvement). I said that it was great that Epic Camp helped me out so much. Scott pointed out that the several million meters that I swam from 2001-2004 might have helped me a bit more than 25K of swimming over the two weeks of Epic Camp.

He might have a point.

Because of my work commitments, I won't be able to train as consistently as I might like. However, a bit of forced rest is probably a good idea to keep me on track. When I get to Scotland, I am going to join a health club that has a 25m indoor pool. My game plan is to aim for five swims and five runs per week -- 20K swimming and 80K running. Cycling will probably be slim to nil. Still, I plan on getting an indoor trainer. Having it staring at me over the weekend could result in a few bonus hours of training.

My real European training mission is to make progress towards my 400 IM goal -- that makes short course more fun for me. Miss M says that I need to rip a 2:45 200IM (LCM) to have a shot at six minutes for the 400. She says that builds in a "buffer" for me. I figure that the number is closer to 2:52 or 2:53. I ended my workout today with a 3:02 so I have about 10 seconds to come out. I'm planning a TT for February 14th (three weeks time). Not sure if I'll go for the 400 or the 200. I'll let my coach decide.

The Achilles is perking up more and more. My massage guy was a little concerned that it might puff up due to all the flying. So... I am back on the anti-inflams for the journey to Scotland. I’m not the ideal traveler because I enjoy the freedom of being able to mix wine and coffee with my meals (a bad idea when I need to sleep).

So that's my news post Epic. To close out the Epic Reports, here are a few bonus ideas that I was mulling over the course of the camp.

What Price Leisure?
Friday morning, I woke up with plenty of time to get ready before heading off for the last day of the camp. It was a very pleasant morning, warm and clear. I made my coffee, chopped my fruit and sat down for a solo breakfast overlooking the estuary.

Realising that the view is just as relaxing from a rented house as one that I own myself.

Realising that breakfast is just as tasty when prepared by myself as opposed to live-in help.

I sat there trying to figure out the price of my relaxation, my moment of peace looking out at the Southern Alps and the water. What would I pay for this view? What would I give up for this view?

It is quite difficult for me to price the tranquility that comes from the combination of big training and nature. That's probably the best lesson for me from Epic. The fact that there are things that we can't price -- shared experiences with friends; time away from noise close to nature in beautiful surroundings. These experiences are very uplifting -- especially when combined with 70 hours of endurance training endorphins.

The Curse of Talent
Given the choice, would you choose to be a great talent or a great worker? We get both kinds of people at Epic Camp -- talented and hard working. Generally, most of us tend more towards one than the other.

For me, I'd want to learn how to be a great worker. Being able to achieve satisfaction from working towards a goal is a fundamental attribute of achieving both success and satisfaction.

Most the talented people that I've met (by this I mean genetics) -- by an large, they do the minimum required to get by and it's no surprise that they are often merely surviving. The workers on the other hand, they know that they have to constantly strive towards achievement. Gaining satisfaction from their daily effort, independent of the result at the end of the day.

Clas is one of the most dedicated worker-athletes that I've ever met. It's no accident that I have spent so much time shoulder-to-shoulder with him over the years.

A few hours later now, I’m on a flight from Sydney to Singapore and I’ve just finished the book Fooled By Randomness. Great read that had me looking at a number of things from a fresh angle. I might write about those ideas a bit later. Made me view myself in a new light.

Always More, Always More
I was driving the crew in one of the Epic Vans that Jonas claims to love so much (a classic story that he’ll tell you after a few Red Bull & Vodkas some time). So I was in the van and Clas and I were chatting about our ride across the USA – NINE (!) weeks of averaging 100K per day.

We get to the Lodge and Molina points out that he had three YEARS in the 80s where he averaged 100K per day. With riding like that I asked him why he didn’t win the Tour de France. He pointed out that he won a hundred races instead.

Point taken.

Later he would confide that with five to six hundred 200K plus days (literally) in his back, he might have overdone it a bit. I can’t win either way!

The next day Miss M points out that my two swim PBs were on par with the average nine year old girl. Love your ladies, challenge your men.

I’ll show you two!

Tap the Hate
When all else fails go to hate.

That’s what I kept advising the crew on Epic. I come across an ability to manufacture and access the power of anger/hate in many of the best athletes that I know – Baron gets pissed off a lot but you need to know him to see it. As for me, I can’t hide anything from Monica. We both do it and that’s why it’s tough to do real training together. You don’t want to “bring the hate” when your sweetie is nearby.

Plenty of good books cover that observation better than me. Just wanted to let you know that you aren’t the only one using that technique. Lots of people feel a bit “bad” for using it as training tool.

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17 January 2006

Epic NZ, Week Two

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.

Have you been reading KP’s blog? It’s being able to spend time with guys like him that makes these camps special for me. Always outnumbers, always outgunned, always moving forward.

Today at the base of Arthur’s Pass he asked me for my recommendation on whether he should continue. Earlier, he was completely screwed and Darryl (uber-support dude) asked me if KP was going to continue… my reply – that is up to Kevin, not me.

Anyhow, by the time we got to the base of the climb – we were all soaked, KP had his Northern Cali wet weather gear on (he thinks he bundles up, he has no clue – not his fault, he grew up there). KP’s back is history, he can’t even stand when off the bike.

So he asks me what to do – I told him the truth – with that back, there is no way you can make the climb, it is the hardest climb that I’ve ever done. I also knew that if he ceased up then there was a good chance that he might die of exposure before we could get him off the mountain. He let me ride away.

Riding up the mountain, there are massive waterfalls all over the place –Jurassic Park stuff. My Achilles tendon has been acting up a bit – due to loose pedal and my Week One pacing strategy (more about that later). I’m trying to get up on minimal wattage but as the guy with powermeters are sure to report, there was no easy way up that climb. Most of us learned that it really is possible to keep a bike vertical with a cadence <20 rpm.

I saw a second support vehicle heading down so that gave me some comfort that the lads weren’t going to expire on the climb. It really was that kind of day. If they post a photo of my riding kit you’ll see that I was quite well prepared.

Brandon rode up to me and was singing! I wasn’t sure if he’d truly lost it or was simply happy. It was the sort of day where we were all training well past ridiculous.

Still, we’re all safe now and that is a relief to me. Having Monica and many of my best pals on the road means that I get concerned when the conditions get dicey.

Oh yeah, we had an aquathon this morning. Monica took down the Terminator! It was the best that I’ve ever seen her run. She looked fantastic. Later she crashed due to a series of events and some wet train tracks – she’s OK now and resting beside me in bed.

Life can change very quickly. Up or down.

That was one of the things I was thinking about on the way up the climb – cold, wet and very happy.

You know, the ride is going to end soon – better savour it.

+++

The last two days (not today), I instituted a change of tactics. I wanted to see how fast I could get my mini-group from A to B without blowing anyone up. Some of the lads on the gTrain thought that I was doing them a favour. Like I told M, I wasn’t doing anyone a favour, I was showing off to my wife!

Molina tried to teach me something a couple or three years ago – we were on a four day bike tour and heading downhill. A couple of guys that had arrived that morning (Weekenders) went to the front and starting DRILLING it on the way down. I was like… what-the-heck? Scott smiled at me and said, “hey, don’t worry about it, let them be strong.”

Let them be strong.

Here at Epic Camp we have a stack of people that are used to always being strong. Probably always being the strongest in their training groups.

Well, part of what we do on these camps is take everyone to the point where they aren’t strong. We’ve all cracked on this camp – well, maybe not The Baron, but I’ve seen him crack other times!

Anyhow, the flip side is that we’ve all hard our strong moments. Part of what being a good training buddy, coach or friend is about is letting people be strong. Not giving in, rather giving people a chance to show that they are strong.

Once you look at athletes through that lens, well, a lot of their actions seem more reasonable. The guy just wants his shot of being strong – let’s give it to him. Probably took me a week to work that out – a week of getting drilled, an injury and two years since Scott made the point. I get there eventually!

Scott and Stephen are really impressive and I am glad that the lads had a chance to seem them in action. I’m also glad that Stephen had a chance to see how Clas approaches training. I suppose that part of what I might have offered the lads on my wheel was an insight that they wouldn’t seen with Clas (because they are out the back when he does that kind of training).

In a unit, if you build the trust of the weaker riders that you aren’t trying to kill them then they feel secure. When folks feel safe they focus on what they need to do – heads are clear – just ride as best you can – no man behind – the stronger will do a bit more work. It’s a different kind of strength and when you contrast it with a group that’s constantly attacking itself – it is amazingly efficient.

Besides showing off, I wanted to make that point to the people in my group. Set an even pace, keep everyone together and you can go a pretty decent speed. It doesn’t take a lot of strength to shatter a group – you merely need to choose your moment. However, to keep a group together and deliver that group with everyone (even me) knowing that they couldn’t have done the ride faster – that takes a mixture of strength and patience that you don’t see a lot. Clas has it – he’s an 8:21 guy – if you play nice then he’ll show it to you – if you play silly then you’ll likely ride alone. He won’t tell you though; you’ll simply find yourself with a bunch of crazies attacking each other.

Some days I can see it more clearly than others. Fatigue, injuries and long pulls – they clear my mind.

+++

I can’t remember what kind of shape I said I was in at the beginning of the camp. Suppose that I could check. I do know that I am in far better shape now and I haven’t (yet) received the physical benefit from the training. When we come back from a lay-off (or injury) there is always a bit of confidence in our bodies that needs to be restored – I told Mark the other day that he was my insurance policy when I was pulling the crew. I didn’t know if that was possible and felt better knowing that he was there in case I detonated.

I really love this stuff. It’s a relief to find out that my immune system is up to the challenge. I think the main thing that was holding me back was life stress and I’ve taken steps to sort that out.

Not sure when I’ll write next, perhaps on the plane heading to the UK after the camp.

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30 December 2005

December

If I get myself rock-star-fit again then I hope I come back to this post so I can appreciate the turnaround.

Had a look through my log for December and did a few calculations -- I'll end up with a decent kick-off month -- given the previous nine months...

Depends on what I get up to tomorrow -- which won't be much because the cold isn't really budging -- so I estimate... Swim 11 hours; Bike 52 hours; Run 17 hours; and Strength/Core/Balance 5 hours. Grand total 85 hours and 3 zeros (zeros are killers at lower volume).

FWIW -- 85 hours was my total from Epic Oz last January (12 days worth). I've also got a piece in my head about what my 'real' strategy is for getting back into shape. I might save that for an Epic NZ entry or perhaps crank it out this coming week -- I'm not good at waiting once something is in my head.

If you look at the SBR allocation then there will be no prizes for guessing what I think is important for getting my endurance back.

As for the Four Pillars... I managed to swim 4000m (LCM) three times this month -- average time was 68 minutes. On the bike, I managed one five hour, fairly continuous ride (the rest had plenty of breaks). On the run, I managed a few 1:40 runs -- probably 20K each.

I had three overuse injuries and one illness. Plantar Faciitis, Popliteus Tendinitis and a general knee tendinitis that I haven't quite diagnosed. All three of stem from moving my bike volume from 5 hours in November (last four days) to 50+ hours in December (probably more fair to report that I went from 0 to 55). I've dealt with them all before and (thanks to M's massage) managed to get them reasonably under control.

I was getting a bit on myself about my month, I was well short of target. I figured that might happen and that's why I didn't publish any targets.

To perk myself up, I pulled out my 2000 training log (God Bless it) and selected two months at random Feb/Mar when I was training for IMOz (10:0x was the outcome, I think). Neither was over 80 hours -- only two zeros for both months combined and one of those was during a USA/UK/India trip and might have been caused by the date line. Pretty consistent, a lot of frequency and a few races.

OK, no need to panic just yet.

Still, I can't help but think how far I need to travel from where I am today -- I suppose that's the real challange. Keeping my will and plugging away. It seems pretty daunting given how easily I get totally shagged these days. Epic will be a lesson in pain!

M suggested an indoor bike trainer for Scotland -- I'd already planned on a pool/gym membership. She's been pretty spot on with her 'suggestions' and is the newest member to my coaching team.

She didn't know that she'd been appointed.

Guess she does now.

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25 December 2005

There will come a time...

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.

In one of the photos I am handing over a framed IMC finishers photo to John “Dr. J.” Hellemans. The Docta’ is a guy that I hold in very high regard and I consider him one of the finest people I’ve ever come across. So I was pretty stoked to be welcomed to the Wall-of-Honour that sits behind his desk.

Since I am kicking back and reminiscing, here are some key things that I learned from John…

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.


Two reminders that we must match training protocol to the needs of the athlete, rather than the athlete fitting the needs of the protocol.

The first quote was explaining, in a way, why he still thinks that my approach to IM is risky.

The second quote was a form a reassurance, in a sense. I was a bit worried about the way a buddy was approaching his race. John’s advice was that ultimately we must do what we think is best for ourselves – I like that approach because sink/swim I have ownership for what I am choosing to do.

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!




But the #1 thing that Hellemans told me – I haven’t needed it yet but perhaps that is because I think about it so much. With regards to honour, drugs and cheating:

“Gordo, there will come a time when you have to choose”

Sitting here more than a year past my life best performance. I understand more fully what he may have meant.

I think that folks tend to lose their moral compass when they start to define success relative to others than themselves. It’s also a key to enjoying the work required for success. Whenever I have shifted a training emphasis from “enjoying what it takes to improve” to “doing the training required for a target performance” – things have become a lot tougher.

A good safety mechanism is working on holding our intent to ethically overcoming ourselves. There is a clear risk if we lack purity of intent because short cuts work, in the short term. In the long term, you lose a lot more than simply knowing that you ethically quit.

There is an element of irrational obsession required to achieve a high level in any field, particularly ultraendurance athletics where performance goes far beyond any reasonable view of health or well-being benefits. Of course, there is a counter argument put forward by many-a-compulsive athlete, such as myself, that the alternatives to excessive exercise aren’t all that palatable to me, or those around me.

Anyhow back to John. As a physician I think that it is fair to assume that he’s armed with a wealth of knowledge on both sides of the sports ethics fence.

As my own knowledge of the physiological requirements of a blazing fast Ironman have grown…

As my evangelical dedication to the training required to improve has borne fruit…

…I’ve come to realise that a well trained athlete in a thinly competitive sport such as Ironman triathlon can easily move from international class to world class with a single cycle of PEDs. Nothing new there as we have all seen what PEDs do to a world class athlete.

I suppose the difference is that I never thought that the dilemma could reasonably apply to me. I always figured that I’d be 30-60 minutes behind the best. Now I see that in my best shape, I was likely 5-15 minutes behind. That gives me a fuller appreciation of how it can be tempting.

Not related to John but that reminds me of something – Scott was telling me about something that bothered him the other day. Perhaps he’ll write about during Epic – I hope so because he’s pretty darn entertaining when he goes off about something that he feels strongly about.

What drives him a bit crazy is reading comments from folks that have never come close to achieving their athletic potential debating ideal protocols for relative mediocrity.

Greatness is there, if we’d simply wake-up and commit ourselves to working our butts off.

As you can see, I am still working on John’s internal calm while letting athletes make their own mistakes.

Who knows? Maybe it will work and we’ll learn something.
That’s another of my favourites.

Choose wisely.

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18 December 2005

Epic Prologue

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.

Johno wanted to know if I wanted to give a talk at the start of Epic. I passed on that as I figured that Scott would be well placed to cover it. Perhaps it was a bit of fear on my part given that I am not going to be the best prepared athlete at Epic. So I've been mulling over "what's epic" or "what's epic for me".

Typically, for my first piece of Epic I write something for the outside world. Well this time I think we are going to have 32 people on the trip including the support crew. We're also going to have four ladies along -- we've never had more than one. It will be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic, if at all. Three couples too, another experiment.

Often when I dream stuff up during training, it makes perfect sense on the road. Everything seems so clear on the bike! Then I get home, settle down, the endorphins wear off and I wonder what the heck was I thinking. So if this doesn't make sense -- no worries -- it might make sense one day when you are training...

So we've invited you along to Epic. You probably think that what's coming up is a big physical test. Actually, you'll find that the true test isn't physical. We wouldn't have invited you along if you didn't have what it takes to finish. The true test is one of character.

It's like John Collins says about Ironman -- you can quit at any time, if you don't then you win.

No excuses -- what do you think when you hear that?

I tend to take it two ways.

The most typical way is a "hard" interpretation. No excuses -- I'm going to make the toughest plan possible and stick with it come hell or high water. That works for some but, generally, we can only be truly hard for a portion of our lives. It varies for each of us but a consistently "hard" strategy normally ends with physical burnout (injury/illness) or mental staleness.

The second way is softer in one sense but the self-knowledge isn't always sugar coated. What if someone took away all our excuses. They sorted our meals, accommodation, support... and the responsibilities of our typical lives were removed for twelve days.

What could we achieve?

Well, when you remove all the excuses you can achieve quite a bit! What makes it a bit complicated is that at the same time, we get ourselves so shagged that quitting is the easy option. We'll even have a sag wagon filled with cold beverages (beers for Molina!) and friendly staff. You can quit at any time... but if you don't then you'll win.

Anyhow, it's not always a DNF that signifies quitting, we can fold mentaly and keep on moving forward. I know that I've been so tired that I'd long given up and simply accepted the situation. That's a great place to become familiar with if you are an Ultraendurance athlete because removing the emotional content of fatigue leaves us free to get on with finishing our event!

I didn't realise it fully but over the last few years I'd had a few experiments with excuse removal -- for myself and for others. With others I'm probably batting about .300 in terms of whether people really wanted their excuses removed (most don't). Either they are comfortable being "prevented" from achieving their stated goals; or their intent (what really matters to them) isn't what they tell you at all. Slackness is can be appealing at times -- appealing yes, rewarding, no.

When evaluating folks I try to focus on what I see them do, rather than what they say about themselves or other folks say about them. I'll be watching myself closely over the camp!

So we will be removing all the excuses; surrounding ourselves with a bunch of people that hate to quit and we will see what happens.

We will get so shelled that the raw reality of our characters starts to show. Hopefully, we'll all enjoy what we see!

If we don't quit -- then we'll win.

Don't let yourself down.

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08 December 2005

Back To Basics

My seven month break from triathlon training has given me the chance to learn and try out a few things.

Fitness – everyone always wants to know how much fitness you lose and how long it takes to come back. I’ve been on a low volume, sporadic training program for most of 2005. I started the year in fantastic shape and am now still in pretty reasonable shape. Not fast in triathlon terms but healthy and fit relative to the population at large. How’d I do that?

Well it wasn’t by design. I’ve been doing what I felt like all year and haven’t used any technical equipment to track my volume, pace or duration. Most weeks were in the 4-7 hours of training range and I took a stack of zeroes when work, travel or my mood meant that I choose not to exercise.

I managed a few solid running weeks where I was close or over 100K/60M. Two nice bike weeks between IMNZ and the end of November – I was in the 400-500K range for each. My last real swim training was the steakhouse challenge back in March or April.

I didn’t really notice the fatigue from the few decent weeks that I had because when I got run down I’d simply take three days off! I am also fortunate in that I am flex-time for 20-25 days a month and can sleep a lot and do my work at odd hours.

Nutrition – I need to put on a suit a few days each months. One of the nice things about a suit is that while the wearer might change size, it doesn’t. So you get clear feedback. My suits also date back to my days in Hong Kong as a working athlete (my business partner points out the date frequently). Whenever my suits start to get a bit tight, I know that it’s time to tighten up on nutrition. This seven month period is the longest that I’ve been able to keep a stable weight (while training single figures) in my adult life. Stable weight is one sign that our nutrition is in balance. When I was a triathlete, I would start each year heavy but still in OK shape. This time I _knew_ that I wasn’t going to be in great shape. So I had to start the training year in good nutritional condition. That gives us a big advantage when starting up – in terms of energy, in terms of being able to move, in terms of positive self image.

On that self image point – shaved down the other day. It’s worth 2KGs mentally. If you are a non-triathlete reading this – then you’ll simply have to trust me.

Four Pillars – if you are interested in any form of endurance training then I’d encourage you to read my Four Pillars article on my tips page. It is the best piece of training advice that I’ve ever managed to write. Having coached it for the last five years, and now living it, it’s the fastest way to improvement. I won’t run through it again in detail here. I’ll just say that it I am following it to the letter right now and have a way to go before hitting the volume benchmarks in the text.

The game plan is to: (a) get my swim to 4K relaxed, continuous; (b) get my bike to six hours; and (c) get my run to two hours. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same week. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same weekend. If I achieve than then it will be time for Epic New Zealand and we’ll try to that that about 4-7x in twelve days.

Recruitment – I read a lot on the internet about specificity. What I’d really like to know is what muscle group and movement pattern do we not require for triathlon? My first week back was a real eye-opener because I was moving like I’ve seen many age-group athletes. Basically, my body was pretty much asleep. While I’d been running, most of the major muscles groups, especially in my core, were completely asleep. I had an inability to recruit muscles and that left me extremely weak. Ten days in, my muscles are waking up – due to a broad, lightweight, non-specific approach to strength training. I feel far, far better immediately and my performance has improved. Ten days is simply not enough time for fitness to come into play (and my running had me in pretty good cardio shape to start). So I think the specificity argument is a poor one for working triathletes. We need to have our total body awake and two 45 minute core, balance, conditioning sessions can really help.

Stretching – we’re not getting any massage these days. I need to work about 45 hours per week on my property business; combined with shopping, meals and training means that time is tight. So we have a deal that we will stretch 15 minutes after our longest bike or run workout of the day. It is making a big difference for both of us and even that little bit has us making progress in terms of recovery and range of movement. 15 minutes a day. I’m working full-time, training once or twice a day and still getting the shopping done (laundry is a bit behind though!).

The Basic Week – my basic week is pretty basic! From 9am to 9pm I am working everyday. We have a proper sit down meal whenever we eat at home. I turn off my machine and lay out the table French-style. Out of my work day I take breaks for training, food shopping and trips to the post office. We haven’t gone out yet, and probably won’t more than 2x the entire time we are in Montpellier. We’ve planned a two day trip to Paris at the end of December as that gives us something to look forward to. Pretty basic, eh?! Well, that’s what it takes. I was the same way when I was training in Hong Kong.

So the training week is six days “on”; one day “open” (last week open meant “off”). We do three days where the training break is a ride. The other three days consist of a morning run then a combo session in the afternoon (coffee, core conditioning, swim – in that order). So we get a coffee-date three times a week. We hold hands when we go shopping too!

Soreness and Fatigue – what used to qualify as a recover day or workout in January/February is now a proper session for me. I’ve gone past four hours of daily training two times since we started. Both times resulted in 11+ hours of sleep that night. Phew, I get tired – I can’t remember the last time this little volume would wipe me out. I also get sore as the little muscles involved with triathlon wake up and are used anew.

4K really is a long way to swim! I haven’t got there yet. When I hit the benchmark, I might drop back in and let you know.

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02 December 2005

Sixty Zeroes

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.

Monsy seems to be confusing the local workmen. They keep walking in on her when she's changing. I told her it's standard operating procedure for the lads in the South of France. Still, she's not used to having to lock herself down in a cubicle to get ready to swim or hit the gym. Apparently a couple of guys "when to jail for that" in Boulder -- we're a world away from Colorado!

This week marked the start of my five week campaign to get myself in some sort of reasonable shape for Epic Camp. Trying to make it out the door on a daily basis and not fall behind in my work. Starting back from ground zero while managing my inbox is a good reminder from my earlier days as a working athlete.

How did I go? Well, I enjoyed myself by was amazed at how weak I am and how tired a little training makes me. As for the specifics, they are going to remain confidential as I don't want to place any undue pressure on myself. Suffice to say that you wouldn't be awed by my current performance. My goal for the end of December is being able to complete my swim/bike/run goals from my Four Pillars article.

About the title... what's a zero? A zero is when you don't do any training for a day. I'm not sure exactly how many zeroes that I pulled down so far in 2005 because I stopped my training log in March or April. However, I do know that it's a lot more than sixty. I took a zero today to end my first training week.

So where does the sixty come from? Friday night I was lying in bed mulling things over. I've been having quite a tough time turning my brain "off" these days. I wake up and it just starts rolling... or I lie in bed and it keeps rolling... the fatigue that I get from training is so pleasurable precisely because I clears my head of all those thoughts. I can remember when I started training in Hong Kong the feeling of pleasure from a mind full of nothing at the end of a day of trail walking. Exercise addition being one of the more socially acceptable sleep aids I've used over the years.

What do you think of when you are training? For me, when it is going well, I am thinking of absolutely nothing. Pure nothing. Wonderful stuff.

Back to the sixty zeroes -- that is how many my good buddy KP had in the bag from his pre-epic preparations when he arrived in Auckland for Epic North Island a couple of years ago. He got through that camp, survived the desert road, avoided "the tape" and shared more than a few laughs with me and the lads. As Dr. J said last year, "life is good, sure, but these times, these experiences, this is what it's really about". That keeps me smiling as the camp ticks closer with each day. If it's hard, if I suffer, if I get crushed, blown out the back, whatever... well that really is the point. So the 'worst' it goes, the more hilarious the experience. Plus, Molina tends to lay off a bit when I am getting beat on. I'm looking for a bright side a bit with my training these days -- I could be the first epic participate kicking off with triple figure zeroes for the training year. It is a concern.

We are a bit isolated here in France. I still have my internet connection and my email -- thank god for wireless global roaming or I'd be hooped. In reality all we have is each other and that's a nice opportunity for us, espcially after a summer where I spent five out of the first seven weeks of my marriage on the road.

There's quite a bit that KP and the boys would appreciate about France. #1 is the real deal coffee that they are serving up all around the place. Espresso is what they call coffee. Hard core coffee you feel. Coffee that is so strong, I am a little nervous going for a second round. The French are great with their coffee -- they go for the single shot versions and alternate with cigarettes. I imagine that one could get pretty charged up with that. Being used to Starbucks, I have to slow myself down from slamming a double shot in two swigs.

How do you feel when people who don't know you write nice things about you? I feel quite nervous. I think that it's a mistake to place our faith in anything other than our own itegrity. I know me and I am pretty normal from the inside looking out. Perhaps the nervousness comes from a sense that whether we are positive (or negative) it's the same trap to seek satisfaction/inspiration/motivation from sources outside of our own actions.

Not much of a point to this one. Just had to clear my head.

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26 November 2005

Back Yourself

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.

Why is that relevant? It’s relevant because how often do we hold back because we aren’t sure if we are worthy of success? I can assure you that the folks in that business are regular folks (as “normal” as any of us, at least). They work hard and take advantage of their opportunities as best they can. For the senior folks, I imagine that it’s long ago ceased being about the money. They were always a pretty humble bunch in terms of how they lived.

Another neat stat is that my first boss’ current business went through a benchmark this year where they returned their first billion pounds to their investors. Raising a billion is pretty impressive – actually returning it (successfully) is even more impressive.

Stuff like that makes you think as I am not far off my first boss’s age when he hired me. Of course, simply doing things because one “can” is also a bit dangerous if our ethical compass gets out of whack, or if we fail to consider the best use of our intent.

Somebody asked me about recruiting the other day – I didn’t really answer them all that clearly at the time. I’ve been thinking about it. Having had a couple of weeks to consider, I think that I’d recommend a recruiting trip to Harvard Business School and focus on the Baker Scholars. I’ve come across six of them in my working career, all successful folks and good people to have backed. Been trying to figure out how I can tap that knowledge. Perhaps just file it for the future.

Thinking to triathlon and a couple of my training buddies. Folks generally fall into two camps, improving athletes and lifestyle athletes. The lifestyle crew often seem to be on a triathlon vacation. The improvers are enjoying themselves too, but have a certain fanaticism in their approach. When lifestylers talk about their races, they tell you what went wrong. I rarely hear about that from the folks that improve.

Perhaps, it is that people that move ahead focus on what can be done in the present, rather than what’s gone wrong in the past.

So many similarities between athletics and business. That is certainly the benefit of moving between worlds, countries, interests… we are able to gain perspective. Oh yeah, it you happen to be long on Dubai real estate? I’d be a little careful – I’ve only seen a few places that remind me of how Dubai looks right now – Bangkok, Shanghai and Jakarta. Shanghai was driven by global and domestic demand combined with the world class work ethic of the Chinese. Bangkok and Jarkarta ended in tears for a lot of people. Anyhow, the tourism infrastructure won’t be wasted but I certainly have my doubts on what level of real economy will be created there given the nature of the geographic neighbours. It will be a fun place to watch develop over the next few years. They are building a city-state from the ground up. Pretty impressive regardless of the return on equity for FDI.

This weekend is Ironman Australia, for an athletic example of what sustained backing yourself can do then do a google search of the 2001-2005 results for a guy called Chris McDonald. I bet he’s done 5,000 aerobic hours over the last five years. Not many folks give themselves the opportunity to see what’s possible. Chris certainly has.

Dark Power
My buddy Clas has been clearing bush in the forests of Sweden. He’s a “glass half full” sort of guy. If you are a triathlete dealing with near total darkness, cold and snow… well you might as well enjoy it. I used to think that the Vikings must have loved getting away from the cold for their trips kicking butt around Europe. However, in getting to know the doodes, I sense that getting away to a warm climate is fun but… there is an element of recharging that they receive from the cold and dark. That and the winter seems to be a good time to do “man stuff”.

Hangin’ in Paris
Monsy and I were walking across Pont Alexandre III a few days ago. Heck of a nice ‘pont’, I recommend it if you happen to be in Paris. So one Italian guy kisses his girlfriend and triggers a make-out break amongst just about every couple on the bridge. Gotta love Paris.

Monsy and I later decided that the entire country must smoke. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled from the smoking bans that have been implemented throughout most of the countries where we spend our time.

If you do get to Paris then I recommend the Musee d’Orsay. Pretty cool – walk up to the top and look across Paris through the clock that faces the river. Also check out the polar bear sculpture on the second floor. Being Canadian, I suppose that I am partial to a good polar bear sculpture.

The Café Marillon also has a great selection of West Coast rap. Team Mongo were grooving along with TuPac while hiding out from the sleet yesterday. Some kid sitting beside Monsy apologised to the waiter that he didn’t have any cash to buy coffee – but we did note that he had enough smokes to nail four back-to-back in 20 minutes! I sense this could be a recurring theme with our interactions with our euro-conterparts.

Follow Up
A buddy wrote me some interesting thoughts based on the last entry. I thought that I’d share two parts that really appealed to me:
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.

I think results are like wattage -- they come from effort. For some that effort is fun, for others it is work.
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.

Fun/Satisfaction – for me that comes from being able to move forward – the little steps – so long as I can move forward. It’s when I am not moving forward, that’s when my dissatisfaction climbs. Now, learning to think that I am moving forward when chilling out, recharging, resting – that’s something that I’ve been working on. Read a book called – In Praise of Slow recently. Quite repetitive but it did make me consider where speed might not be the most appropriate method of attack.

At my recent wedding, Chris reminded me (and the entire dinner) about the time that I took over his secretary’s computer because she wasn’t typing the drafting changes fast enough into the deal legals. That was 1993 and I was certainly in a big hurry back then.

That’s all for today. Actually sitting on the tarmac in an Air France airbus right now. Pretty neat use of technology. I now have global internet roaming to go with my snazzy new machine.

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