Monday, February 1, 2016

Managing Fatigue Towards Kona

by Gordo Byrn

During late spring and early summer, I typically share unconventional tips with my most successful athletes:

  • Consider your season over.
  • Make sure you don’t lose any more weight.
  • Go on holiday and drop some fitness.
  • Remove structure, head out and have fun.
  • Perhaps, it is time to train without the data for a bit.
  • Take some time to improve the non-athletic aspects of your life.


There are two types of Kona-qualifying athletes.

Type One will require a life-best result to qualify -- these are most of the first-timers as well as athletes that are right on the edge of slot allocation.

Type Two merely need to punch their ticket so they can turn up in Kona and compete for an age group award. These are very unique individuals, well suited to ironman racing.

In pacing your season, it is essential to consider who you are. Our minds often focus on who we’d like to be and that can cause unnecessary mistakes.

At Ironman Texas in 2012, our team had a number of athletes that secured qualifying slots. The Texas course rewards a smart and well-prepared athlete. I coached two of our Kona qualifiers and their plans were very different. The differences related to the competitive environment they faced relative to their current fitness.

If your goal requires a life-best performance then you’ll need to adopt a clear-the-decks approach to athletic excellence and after you achieve your goal, you’ll need to back off... way off!

If your true season goal is performance on the Big Island (that is, beyond your qualifying race) then keep your powder dry for a late-summer push. Go into your qualifying event a little undertrained, particularly with respect to anaerobic endurance and functional threshold performance.

Human psychology is not suited to following these tips. Why?

The chemical signature of “being fast” is one of the most powerful drugs in the world. People will mortgage their future health for just-one-more-season. I’ve had some close calls, myself.

The reinforcement of the media (for elites) and peers (for all of us) will scaffold achievement onto our identities. Being hailed and feted for athletic performance can make recovery and rejuvenation periods threatening to our self-image. Many outstanding athletes ruin their health before they see the folly of exchanging personal health for the approval of others.

Faced with the lure of another performance high, the remembering self does a poor job at recalling previous, or preventing future, errors.

When you have a moment of clarity, write-it-down. Having written over 1,000 articles on performance, it’s a tactic that I use in my own life.

I’ll share four mantras that have rung true.

  1. Life-best performance requires life-best recovery.

  2. What really matters is the ability to hit it four weeks out of five, ending two weeks out from a goal event.

  3. Most people never figure out how to be fast in October.

  4. Pace your season like your race: build continuously and power through the finish line.

None of the quotes above are my own. They belong to Olympians and World Champions.

As a working athlete, if it is really about performance then know that you’re likely to have six weeks a year when you can really go for it. Experienced athletes do best spreading those weeks across the year. Two weeks to overload for an early season event, then four weeks placed strategically to peak for Kona (or to get to Kona).

The rest of the year is about creating the physical capacity (base) to absorb highly challenging training. These base weeks may look challenging to an outsider but are well within a Type Two athlete’s ability to recover.

If you set life bests all the way to winning your slot then you’re likely to ignore me. That’s okay the first time, but I hope you remember this advice once our experience mirrors each other. Pay attention to when you are the most fit during the year.

Likewise, if you have the capacity to truly perform in Hawaii then don’t get greedy and try to blow your competition off the face of the map all summer!

Be patient.

Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.

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