Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Alan Couzens's blog

What does it take to qualify?: A physiologist's perspective

OK, so back to my normal milieu this week …..

Questions and emails on my ‘what does it take to finish an Ironman’ post seemed to indicate that you all liked the format but, for you, finishing isn’t going to cut it. You want to qualify! :-)

Today’s pic is of one of the top Age Groupers I coach, Shawn Burke, busting out a 9:23 qualifying time in Ironman Florida. Being able to work with Shawn and a number of other top age group athletes ‘up close and personal’ over multiple seasons, I’ve been able to witness first hand ‘what it takes’.

I’ve written a previous post on what it takes from a general work/commitment perspective to reach the very top of your age group. Despite the heat received, I stand by the message:

- Multiple years of physical training, amounting to several thousand hours of work.

Perhaps the message would be a little more moderate than what I outlined for a Kona slot, but the way things are going at the pointy end of the field, Kona qualifier and top AG are rapidly becoming one and the same. In fact, based on last year, most flat course qualifying males under 50 were in the 9:30’s!

But is work enough?

What Does it Take to Finish an Ironman?

A bit of a departure this week from my regular focus on high performance athletics to discuss the level of fitness required to complete an Ironman race in under 17hours.

Before I whip out the scalpel and start dissecting, a couple of quick observations on the psychology of the Ironman finish…

Having the chance to coach some first time IMers has been an interesting experience. Not so much from the physical side of things, as I point out below, the physical equation for an Ironman finish is quite simple – get the athlete fit, strong, and teach appropriate pacing. But the psychology of an athlete’s first attack on the Ironman distance is a thing of pure beauty.

In my experience, a first time Ironman has a perspective that often fades as the athlete morphs into a ‘mid-packer’. The magnitude of an Ironman finish is not lost on the first timer and the accompanying fear offers real, pure, motivation.

The athlete pictured above, Louie Bonpua exemplified ‘pure motivation’ better than anyone I can think of. For more on Louie, click here…

Torque Yourself!: 'On-the-bike' Strength Training for Triathletes

In a previous blog, I wrote about the theory of strength-endurance training. Specifically, about how to look at torque numbers to set some goals for on-the-bike strength training.

Are you a 'skilled' swimmer?

I can’t think of a squad that I’ve been involved with in which attendance of at least 5x per week was not mandatory. When I think back, it also strikes me how, once committed to the squad routine ‘drop outs’ were few and far between.

The importance of strength to endurance

"When the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts" - Rollins

When it comes to athletic training, a central thesis that I have developed over my years as a coach is that all athletes, from ultra-distance Ironman athletes to 100m sprint runners are, well, for lack of a better word, athletic.

Influence Curves

“All animals are created equal but some are more equal than others” – The Pigs (Animal Farm).

As the pigs suggest in one of my favorite reads, there are situations where while things may appear equal, in reality they are not. One of these situations is in the realm of training load.

Let me explain….

The benefits of going 'easy'

I received an interesting question via email this week that left me a little ponderous. Since pondering is always better shared, I thought I’d write a small piece on it for my blog this week.

The question was in reference to a recent literature review by Stephen Seiler on the polarization of training into definitive ‘hard’ and ‘easy’ training….

Right Effort

A young boy traveled across Japan to the school of a famous Martial artist. When he arrived at the Dojo he was given an audience by the Master.
"What do you wish from me?" the Master asked.
"I wish to be your student and become the finest Karate-ka in the land," the boy replied "How long must I study?"
"Ten years at least" answered the Master

Destructing your Annual Training Plan - Part II

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.”
- Bruce Lee

Destructing your Annual Training Plan - Part I

“The best laid plans of mice and men go often askew”
- Robert Burns

It’s that time of year again. The end of the old season and the beginning of the new means that coaches and self coached athletes throughout the country are buying their notebooks, double clicking their excel spreadsheets and picking up the training manual du jour for the 2010 season.

The Fatigue Curve

A big part of understanding the training process comes down to understanding all there is to know about being tired. After all, in order to ‘supercompensate’ to a level of fitness above the ‘norm’ requires the athlete to take on more work and become more fatigued than they would ordinarily submit themselves to.

The Science of Decoupling

Those of you familiar with the training philosophies of Joe Friel (the guy decoupling big time in the shot above :-) will have no doubt come across the concept of ‘decoupling’, i.e. a shift in the power: heart rate relationship as a workout goes on.

An example of this, from one of the athletes I work with, in the form of a rise in heart rate and a drop in power as the session progresses is shown below(click to enlarge).

Clearly, as time went on the gap between the athlete’s power and heart rate widened, to the point that by the end of the session, the difference in power:HR compared to the start is 26%. Or in other words, it is taking this athlete an extra 30 beats/min to generate the same power!!

Detailed info on the calculation of decoupling can be found here, but the general gist is; we take the power/heart rate for the first half of the session and divide it by the power/heart rate for the second half. E.g. if that athlete did 105 watts at 100bpm in the first half (power/HR = 1.05) and 100 watts at 100bpm in the second, i.e. he lost 5 watts (power/HR = 1.00), then his decoupling would be 5watts/100watts = 5%.

When you think about it, this is a pretty perplexing phenomena. We assume physiologically that a given effort requires a given amount of energy, which requires a given amount of oxygen, which in turn requires a given amount of heart beats, at least for a particular individual! So what are the causes and implications of a need for more heart beats at the same workload?

More on Athletic Balance...

How to use power curves to help determine athletic strengths and weaknesses

One of my key objectives as a coach is to address and rectify the athlete’s weaknesses with respect to the demands of their event.

The first step in addressing is assessing, i.e. determining where the athlete is physiologically weak. I use multiple means in making this assessment, including laboratory testing (which I have written about at length) along with field data, which will be the focus of this article.

One of the key principles within my training philosophy is that of athletic ‘balance’. This is no doubt, at least in part, bred from the testing that I have performed on a wide array of athletes of different events of different duration. In all cases, the general ‘athleticism’ of these athletes shines through, to some extent, irrespective of their specific event.

This is more than just platitude. In the communist GDR for example, all athletes from marathon runners to Olympic lifters to 1500m swimmers, first had to pass a ‘general athleticism test’ in order to be considered for the sports schools that would enable them to eventually practice their specialty. The criteria for a male 13 year old was as follows (Arbeit, 1997):

• Height: 1.71-1.76m
• 30m sprint: 4.0s
• 3x hop: 6.0-6.4m
• Ball throw (165g): 54-60m
• Shot Put (3.0kg): 9.0-9.5m
• 1500m Run: 4:40-4:50

What it Takes (Part II)

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic. It takes sweat, determination and hard work”
- Colin Powell.

WKO+: Speaking the Lingo

- Jeannie from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Talking the Torque: Strength-Endurance Training for Cyclists

When it comes down to ‘nuts and bolts’ in order for a cyclist to produce more power he must either increase his cadence (revolutions per minute) or increase the force that he is imparting on the pedals (his torque).

Energy Pacing your Ironman III

This is a more complex question than it appears at face value and is a function of things like:
• Training
• Nutrition
• ‘Freshness’
• Muscle Mass
• Duration of your event.

Let’s take a look at a couple of these factors individually.

Muscle Mass/Training

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

A short wiki search revealed that the origin of the term – 2 steps forward, one step back, is found in a very apropos metaphor of a frog trapped in a well. For every 2 jumps forward, he slides down the slippery wall and loses some ground, but even so, with determination, net progress is made and there is a happy ending to the tale as Kermit makes the final leap out of the well.

Checking the Box

“Although Seb was quite nimble, due to his slim physique, his running showed a significant lack of endurance. To remedy this, some distance training and participation in cross-country was indicated…… As Seb progressed, a positive effort was made to improve the balance between his speed and endurance but neither one at the expense of the other”

Energy Pacing your Ironman

The first thing to realize is that, by and large, for both bike and run, the body is pulling energy from a single, finite energy pool. A fixed amount of calories or kilojoules, stored as fat, glycogen and protein.

The Protein Bonk

If you’ve been involved in this endurance training game for some time now, chances are that you have, at one time or another, gone a little too far, on too little carbohydrate and experienced the sensations of the dreaded bonk - when you call down to the power-house in the legs and Scotty replies back “I’m givin’ her all she’s got Cap’n”.

Serious Recovery for Serious Athletes

My hunch is that this attention is going to need to become ever more vigilant as I approach my 40’s. Gordo has certainly seemed to pay more mind to recovery over recent years and he is not alone. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to chat a little with Greg Bennett at Gordo’s 40th birthday party.

Wko+ for simpletons

Somebody whose approach I deeply respect is athlete, Tim Luchinske. It seems that the bulk of Tim’s actions are put in place with the aim to bring the essentials more into focus and I’m not talking along the lines of what logbook he selects. Check out his blog to get a feel for what I mean.

Benchmarks and Forecasting

there are parallels between weather forecasting and performance forecasting in the world of athletics. Similarly, there are those who are understanding and embracing these new technological tools to better forecast their athletes’ performances and there are those who still see this new science as ‘hit and miss’ at best.

Do work, Son!

I had an interesting question from one of the athletes that I work with that went along the lines of,

“Coach, I just had a look at Joe Blow’s performance manager chart from last year (Joe Blow is a top AG athlete). I almost put in the same amount of work as him. Our CTL #’s were almost identical but our performances were a world apart. What gives?”

Raise your standards

Gordo has spoken frequently about the importance of out-performing the expectations that you set for yourself. And yet, so many of us keep falling into the same habits and making one of the 3, what I consider, critical errors that hold us back from expressing our potential:

1. Failing to set standards
2. Setting unachieveable standards
3. Setting overly complex standards

Timing Recovery for Optimal Performance

I think back to a comment on one of my older blogs from a reader making the observation that my posts tend to focus on that 4 letter word – work. Make no mistake, I still see total workload as a central, almost determinant factor in endurance sports. However, I am now much more tuned into the intelligent distribution of work (and my athletes are seeing faster progress because of it!)

The winning wisdom of Johan Bruyneel

1.We might as well win.

The title of the book, we might as well win, is also the first lesson. Bruyneel explains it as follows:

Planning your Season

Step 1: Determine cycle volume

Look at last years volume, your non-training life, your fitness level and your recovery profile to determine volume goals in 2009. Some general recommendations on typical volume increases from the previous season:

- Novice: Plus 20-30%
- Intermediate: Plus 10-20%
- Advanced: Plus 0-10%