Wednesday, February 3, 2016

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 Off-Season: The most important phase of all

“Resuming training too early is much like pulling an onion out of the garden and realizing it is not yet fully grown. One cannot put it back in and expect more growth!”

- Peter Coe (Coach of middle distance legend Sebastian Coe)

The opening picture for today’s post was put together by one of the athletes that I work with at the end of his season for 2009. I think it pretty eloquently describes how many of us feel at the end of a tough season.

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!

Rocky VI: Fitness v. Fatigue

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”
Friedrich Nietzsche

So, being in the middle of an Ironman taper for the past couple of weeks seriously got me thinking about the role of fatigue in the training process. Dropping a significant amount of load over the past couple of weeks has me feeling like Superman, running my 200’s almost 5s faster than what I do in a normal training week, swimming times that I haven’t seen in a long while and feeling an unfamiliar pep throughout the day.

These sensations got me seriously asking the question, what if I was to throw down a training block right now? What sort of quantity/quality could I accomplish? Of course, it’s purely speculative, but I do know that I have energy and motivation for training that has been missing over the last couple of months while I have been pitching my tent in the valley of fatigue.

I guess all of this extra energy devoted to firing a few more neurons brought me full circle, back to that undying question: When it comes to fatigue, how much is too much?

Reflections on Savings and Investment

This week we return to a more financial-oriented letter. Now that the US election is out of the way, it seems like the bad news has started rolling again. The bad news can seem relentless at times and, following my trip around the world, appears to be happening in the US, Europe as well as Asia.

With the mood (near universally) negative, I've been trying to figure out my long term strategy for savings and investment. As I mentioned a few weeks back, I'm currently projecting a cash flow deficit for 2009. I suspect that I'm not alone in being in that position! Frankly, being able to absorb an unexpected set back is why I've been conservative over the last twenty years. I have been reminding myself that the world isn't ending but human psychology can be tough to counter.

Daniels for IM

“Ignorant people see life as either existence or non-existence, but wise men see it beyond both existence and non-existence to something that transcends them both; this is an observation of the Middle Way.”

From the times of Zatopek and Lydiard, there have remained 2 basic schools to endurance training – the ‘far before fast’ school (Lydiard, Viren, Seiko etc) and the ‘fast before far’ school (Zatopek, Peters, Pirie etc).

Advocates of the latter school have often claimed that the athlete who is most successful at the shorter distances will ultimately prove most successful at the longer distances. With the recent marathon success of athletes such as Haile Gebresellassie (an athlete with a sub 3:50mile best), it is hard to argue with this perspective.

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.


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.


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.

Fun in the Sun

Hey gang, with the sunny season coming to a close and the legs getting over our last race effort enough for us to contemplate doing it all again, I thought I would throw out a quick reminder of the camps that Endurance Corner will be offering as a winter escape in 2009.

Last year’s two camps in Tucson were definitely a highlight of my year and I’m pretty psyched to have the opportunity to log some miles in the Arizona sun with some of you fine folks in 2009.

I’ve included a summary of what’s in store, along with some of my own impressions from last years camps (lifted directly from my training log) for your consideration. If my brand of good clean family fun sounds a lot like yours, be sure to drop Justin Daerr an email at Justin “at” endurancecorner “dot” com and sign up.

Endurance Corner Tucson Camp 2009

Endurance Corner, out of Boulder, Colorado, will be hosting two triathlon camps in 2009.

Family Finances & Bear Market Psychology

Investment strategy is the topic for this week. I am not going to tell you what I think you should do. Rather, I am going to share ideas about how I approach my family's investment strategy and outline some observations from the last few weeks. An interesting article where the author does offer some "to do's".


Individuality II: Adaptive Training.

“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, let it grow, be like water”
- Bruce Lee

I was tempted, this week, to write an article on one of the remaining principles of training, the principle of specificity. But, I am forced to admit that I don’t buy into that principle to the extent that I once did. I, like Matt Fitzgerald and other coach/athletes who place a high importance on sensory acuity, have found now, on a couple of occasions, that my bike load does influence my running performance, that my strength training does influence my bike performance and vice versa. There are a couple of preliminary performance and dose-response modelling studies that also support this notion, but in a broader sense, the jury is still out. So, under the old adage that it is better to be presumed a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt, I’ll keep my mouth closed on that one…..for now :-)

Instead, I wanted to write a follow up piece on a principle that I DO believe in 100% - the principle of individuality. This piece was inspired by two things. First of all, I picked up a copy of Brad Hudson’s book “Run Faster”. This is, unequivocally, the best book that I have read on training theory in a very long time. Speaking from the vantage point of someone who is looking at 2 book shelves full of over 200 books on swim, bike and run training, hopefully that statement carries some weight. Do yourself a favour and buy a copy.

The second thing that inspired this piece was a discussion with one of the well-known coaches who espouses cookie-cutter programs as the cost-effective solution for the majority of triathletes looking for some guidance with their training program. I have a number of issues with this approach and the way that triathlon coaching seems to be going that I will address below, not the least of which is that it fails to acknowledge the physiological, psychological and socio-cultural realities of individuality as athletes and as human beings, that contribute to the fact that, when it comes to creating an effective, appropriate training program for the individual, one size does NOT fit all.

In fact, as you will see below, I would go so far to say than an athlete would be far better starting their journey with no schedule and a blank log book in hand than a generic schedule that is not tailored to them.

If you were to take a look at the 200+ books on my bookshelf, you would notice an interesting pattern. The older, more tattered books are much more practical in content (Triathletes Training Bible, Serious Training for Serious Athletes, Road Running for Serious Runners, etc.) . It used to be the case that if I didn’t see immediately practical schedules, routines, workouts when flipping through the pages of the new entries in the sports and fitness section, I deemed the book worthless and moved on. Now, I am much more likely to deem it worthless if it does contain schedules supposed to fit various age or ability groups because, after experimenting with various schedules & programs on myself and in earlier years, my athletes I have come to the conclusion that it is both preposterous & frustrating to think for a second that you can forecast with any degree of accuracy how quickly any individual will adapt to a given workload or even what physiological changes a given weekly schedule will create. It is a truth and certainly not a negative comment that, in a lot of ways, the very best coaches are ‘making it up as they go along’.

Bruce Lee is an athlete and an individual that I respect very deeply. His art of Jeet Kune Do was largely based on ‘formlessness’. An extension of Krishnamurti’s concept that ‘truth is a pathless land’, in a practical sense, formlessness simply means adapting a resolve to not hold to one form or one theory, but rather to have an open mind and use whatever works. While there are certain core concepts that have proven common to the great endurance athletes of the past, e.g. relatively high volume training, multi-pace training, some form of periodization, hard-easy training, etc. there is also room for a lot of grey. Some things have proven to work for some athletes, some for others.

However, this is not to say that there are 100 best ways to achieve your athletic potential. For every one athlete, there is one best way, specific to your own physiology, psychology and life circumstances. The real art, and perhaps joy, in training comes from discovering your Way

One of the more interesting things that I have done as an exercise physiology student is to look under the microscope and examine various muscle biopsy samples. It is very easy for the human mind, in a search for uniformity and schemata to forget just how physically different and unique that we all are. When your gaze is shifted from common faces to the foreign environment of a microscope slide, you are given a startling reminder of the fact that we are all completely unique. Even letting go of all the quantitative differences of muscle fiber type, # of cytochromes, mitochondria etc, it is clear, even to the layman that one guy’s muscle ‘looks’ very different to another’s. It is a logical extension then, that with different capacities, the ‘right’ way to train one person will be very different from another, even if the individuals are of similar fitness and training for similar events.

While most coaches will acknowledge these differences, the complexity of creating truly individual training programs tailored to each individual’s physiological peculiarities leads many to simply give up and adopt a ‘best fit’ approach, which works out fine if you’re one of the athletes who fits within the parameters of the best fit, but not so well if you’re one of the unlucky who lacks the adaptive potential or the optimal physiology to benefit from the fixed training plan. I will tell you from experience, that it is very easy to rationalize the success of a particular training method based on 1 or 2 athletes, of a squad of 20 or more being very successful on it. (I am honestly sorry to those 18/20 that didn’t make it. If only I knew then what I know now).

The good news is that you don’t have to perform daily blood analysis and muscle biopsies to determine the optimal training program for each athlete. A little flexibility, a little responsiveness is all that is required. Bruce Lee hit the nail on the head when he penned that quote 40 years ago. There is much to be admired about a single drop of water. From the day that it is deposited on an alpine slope and it begins thawing, it has only one mission, one way to use the potential energy that it has been given, and that is to find a path that leads it to the sea. However, like you on your athletic journey, the eventual path is undetermined at this point. The water droplet must be responsive. When times are good, the water will flow quickly. When times are tough, and the tributaries shallow, the water must slow down. When the water hits an obstacle and stops moving forward, it must quickly and subtly change course. If the hand of man comes in and attempts to hurry the water beyond it’s natural rate of flow it will spill over the sides and be removed (at least temporarily) from it’s forward path of progress.

This metaphor describes, quite succinctly, the way that I coach and train as an athlete. While the mission may be set in stone, the path & the rate of progress are not. The smart athlete rather than adhering to a particular schedule ‘no matter what’, will:

1. Pay attention to his/her body on a daily basis to determine if they are ready for a particular workout. If not, they will do an easier workout or rest without hesitation, irrespective of what the schedule says. In addition, they will make note of what they are able to absorb and plan the next training cycle accordingly.

2. Pay attention to the physiological adaptations that are occurring and once one plateaus, will move their focus to another, all with the aim of becoming an appropriately balanced athlete. I discuss the practicalities of this in my previous blog on complex training. In this way, a schedule forecasted forward more than 3 or 4 weeks is worthless because no one can guess the rates at which each physiological capacity will improve for each individual.

Ultimately, training responsively will prove to be the quickest route to your goals. It is true that nature does a poor job of anything when hurried. The water learned this a long time ago. Maybe, as athletes, we can too.

Train Smart.


Fit Pregnancy & Childbirth

Fit pregnancy and childbirth are the topics for this week.  The letter is likely to end up fairly long but it should make an interesting change from politics and the economy!

Couple of announcements before we kick off.

Tucson -- we have ten slots left for our Spring Camp in Tucson.  Dates are March 29th to April 5th.  Six days of training, $2,350 includes everything but your airfares.  The camp is appropriate for sub-13 hour IMers (and sub-6 hours Half IMers).  For more info drop me a line.

Over on Endurance Corner Radio you will find three new podcasts -- Greg Bennett; Going Fast in Kona; and Chris Baldwin.  If you want then you can subscribe to the podcasts through iTunes -- we are listed under Endurance Corner Radio.  Jonas Colting will be live on Monday!


Fit Pregnancy

On October 14th, Monica gave birth to our daughter Alexandra (she's the one in the photo above).  Seeing as I'm the writer in the family, I will share some observations across the last ten months.
We have all heard stories about massive weight gain during pregnancy.  I've heard stories of women gaining up to 80 pounds across their pregnancies.  Listening to these tales, many women must wonder if large amounts of baby weight are the norm.  Do I have to become huge, to have a healthy baby?  Monica's experience might be relevant to you.
Before we start with the pregnancy, I want to mention a little bit about the year before the pregnancy.  When you look at the athletes racing in Kona, or ITU Worlds, you will see that most participants are optimized for performance, rather than personal health.  In fact, I'd guess that many very fast elite athletes (male and female) would have trouble conceiving when they are peak athletic condition.  
So my first recommendation for athletes seeking to conceive is to get a medical check-up and shift the basis of your athletics from performance, to health.  That is something that Monica and I did across last winter.  Although I continued to ride my bike, my overall training stress was low enough that I had sufficient energy to devote to fatherly duties...
Monica didn't ride and focused her training on swimming, running and yoga.  She was in excellent health and physical condition.  While we were trying to conceive, she kept both the volume, and intensity, of her program.  She didn't do much fast running but she would swim fast three times per week.
Monica's main worries prior to getting pregnant: 
  • I will lose my body
  • I will lose fitness
  • I won't be able to do anything
  • I will get slow and never recover
I can relate to those concerns -- I share many of them every October and November!
The good news is you can maintain your body, your health and, most surprisingly, your fitness.  Here's how she did it.
No Zeros -- Monica did some form of physical activity every single day, for her entire pregnancy - even the day her water broke.  This performance was a lot better than Dad's record!
While our medical advice was not to commence a fitness program when you get pregnant, all our doctors said that it was OK to maintain a fitness program through pregnancy.  Monica's doc also noted that there isn't much practical knowledge about pregnancy and the endurance athlete.  
The warnings boiled down to:
  • Don't let your body overheat;
  • Stay well hydrated;
  • Don't get out of breath (steady effort, or lower); and
  • Listen to your body.
Monica read the blogs of athletic moms like Bree Wee and Paula Radcliffe -- seeking to learn from their experience.  She also consulted with coaches of elite female triathletes to learn from their experience.  Something that came out of that research is the risk of stress fractures that result when moms come back too quickly.  We received a lot of warnings about late term and postpartum running.
While most people talk about trimesters, looking from the outside, I noticed shifts closer to ten week blocks within M's 40-week pregnancy.
First ten weeks -- hormonal changes, mainly impacted mood and appetite.  Monica was lucky in that her cravings were fresh fruit (rather than sugar/starch) related.
Second ten weeks -- feeling much better, moderated volume and intensity with attitude of baby-comes-first.
Third ten weeks -- pregnancy starts to show, pubic bone discomfort at 26 weeks, stopped running at 30 weeks, shifted to the elliptical trainer 2x per week.
Final ten weeks -- months of high frequency swimming left her very economical in the water, some high volume swim weeks, hiking started around 34 weeks, elliptical reduced to 1x per week.
Here's a great stat... total swim distance across the pregnancy... 908,600 meters.   Average weekly volume was 14 hours and 45 minutes (includes yoga & cross training but not mellow walks with me).  That average volume was down from 19-23 hours per week before conception.
The most surprising thing for me was that across her third trimester, Monica had returned to a level of aerobic swim economy that was on-par with where she was preconception.
To sum up Monica's focus:
  • Pre-pregnancy -- health, not race fitness
  • During pregnancy -- baby comes first, no zeros

The biggest mental challenges Monica faced were:

  • not stopping; 
  • coping with weight gain; 
  • coping with her body changing; and
  • coping with peer group response.

There will be days where you feel like everyone wants you to get huge, slow down and be uncomfortable.  Those feelings are normal and it helps to know that all pregnant ladies are dealing with them.

If she had to give you one piece of advice with your pregnancy then she would encourage you to remain active, moderately, every day.  Also remember that if you plan on breast feeding you'll burn off your baby weight safely and gradually.

The birth experience was intense and nothing like either of us expected.  We went to "baby school" this summer but nothing can prepare you for the real thing.  

All you experienced moms out there... you certainly downplayed the extreme nature of childbirth!

6:45pm Sunday (Zero Hour) -- water breaks, contractions start shortly thereafter

+6 hrs -- at the hospital, told cervix is 1-2 cm dilated
+15 hrs -- Monica's OB/Gyn gives an exam and notes that cervix is 1 cm dilated -- previous exam was incorrect; drug inserted to help cervix along
+18 hrs -- full blown labour gets going, strong contractions happening up to 2:30 min apart
+23 hrs -- another exam; disappointing news; uterus is ahead of cervix; only 2cm dilated; facing another 12 hrs of labour M opts for epidural
+24 hrs -- epidural kicks in with three hours of pain relief and relative comfort
+29 hrs -- pain relief gone; M feeling pretty strung out and ragged; doctor recommends sleeping pill to enable M to sleep; doesn't force it but strongly recommends
+30 hrs -- M waives off sleeping pill; gets anaesthetist to refresh the epidural;
+31 hrs -- another three hours of pain relief; a couple of short naps; makes a huge difference
+34 hrs -- pain relief wanes; good news that M is 8.5 cm dilated (one needs to get to 10 cm) 
+35 hrs -- pretty extreme pain through transition; M starts pushing; has to pause because she nearly pushes the baby out before the doctor can get to the room
+35:30 hrs -- childbirth!

Things that surprised us:

The extreme amounts of pain -- likely magnified by duration of labour and lack of sleep.   Picture the most despair your have ever seen in an athlete... this didn't even come close!  I'm guessing that you'd only see close having to watch young people die or see people broken via torture.  It's a good thing that babies are so cute!

The main thing that surprised me (M didn't see) was the large amount of blood that came out after the birth -- between the placenta and the blood, there was a bucket full of post-baby-bits. Didn't freak me out but it certainly got my attention.

Tips for the guys:

Being in the room, and supportive, provides a HUGE opportunity to strengthen your marriage. In life, we only get a few opportunities to demonstrate character. Child-birth is a total-body experience for your wife, being able to share that can create a deep bond. She will always remember if you were there for her.

Besides, after you watch, you'll spend the rest of your life grateful that your wife is handling the birthing part of the relationship. Blew my mind!

Back next week,

Exercise Physiology 201: Speaking the Same Language

In my last article on ‘Exercise Physiology 101: The Basics’, I outlined some of the key critical transitions that occur within the body when faced with an increasing exercise demand. In the name of practical applicability, coaches have used various methods to approximate these critical points and a variety of terms to describe the range that encompasses the transitions between these points.

The mixed use of terms like Zone 2, Compensation Training, Maximal Aerobic Function Training, Reps, Intervals, ½ Paced Efforts, Tempo Training etc etc. can leave 2 intelligent coaches speaking 2 totally separate languages, the equivalent of Swahili and Japanese, if you will. To make things worse, the Swahili definition of ‘Tempo’ is completely different from the Japanese definition, so even those words that are common to both languages or systems can have definitions that are completely distinct and different. No wonder athletes get confused!!

In this article, I will present our own Endurance Corner terminology and will outline how it relates to the concepts outlined in the last exercise physiology article and also to the many and varied terms used by some of the more popular coaching systems.

Let’s begin by defining the terms that you’re likely to hear at Endurance Corner:

Easy Training (AeT-10 to AeT) – Improves your ability to generate energy from fat (especially for Novice athletes), enhances mitochondrial proliferation and capillary density (although less so than steady training). For the advanced athlete, enhances recovery between sessions.

Steady Training (AeT to AeT+10) – Improves your ability to generate energy from fat (intermediate athlete), enhances mitochondrial proliferation and capillary density in FOG fibers (these points are VERY important for aerobic energy production at all aerobic intensities above this zone), creates biomechanical adaptations that allow training at more intense levels. Training above this level places increasing risks for overuse injuries, especially in the novice athlete.

Moderately-Hard Training (AeT+10 to VT1/LT) – Improves the ability of your FOG fibers to produce energy from fat, enabling you to include more intense main sets in your longer races and your basic week.

Hard/Threshold Training (VT1/LT to OBLA/FT) – Develop the ability of your fast twitch fibers to produce energy aerobically. At the upper reaches, this intensity also enhances cardiac stroke volume and VO2max.

Very Hard/VO2max Training (OBLA/FT to Max)– Maximally develops the ability of your cardiovascular system to deliver oxygen to your working muscles.

Now, comparing our definitions with some of the more well-known systems we come up with the following table:

We offer this table as an approximation of the way that the various definitions ‘fit together’ so that we may almost speak the same language as athletes who use other systems. I say almost because, rather than being based on independent physiological markers such as aerobic threshold, VT1 etc, the bulk of systems are based on somewhat arbitrary percentages of one point, e.g. Max heart rate, threshold heart rate or functional threshold power. In these cases, the computations will not always line up with the physiological markers. For this reason, I am a big advocate of defining each point separately via lactate, VO2/VCO2 or, when lab testing is unavailable, simple breath markers.

Train Smart.


Ethics, Incentives and Enforcement

I suppose a lot of us are talking about Wall Street, greed, CEOs, bankers, bonuses... much of the discussion that I read, and hear, centers around a lack of ethics on the part of people in positions of leadership. With crisis comes opportunity. We have a unique opportunity to improve our financial system.
I am going to write about business but this could just as easily be a piece on doping.
A lot of poor decisions are rationalized by a belief that the action was justified by the actor being a good person. Given that we each have to live with ourselves, it is reasonable to believe that nearly every poor decision is followed by a post-fact rationalization.
Once we start living a lie, even a small one, we can find ourselves on a slippery slope that eventually leads to moral ambiguity. Far easier to stay a mile away from "the line" then risk the public humiliation that comes from high profile ethical lapses.
During times like these, one can easily see the costs from ethical lapses but it important to remember that our current situation started with a series of small decisions where the benefits appeared to out-weigh the costs. Step by step, the situation progressed until we have a crisis caused by lack of enforcement, excessive leverage and skewed incentives.
So now society, as a whole, pays the price. People are upset and human nature will seek vengeance. I suppose this article is my attempt to help channel that vengeance towards productive progress.
I like to remind myself that we win (individually, and collectively) by maintaining high ethics. Over a lifetime, there is much financial gain to be had by being reliable and extremely trustworthy. Greater than finances alone, there is much love and friendship to be received. There can appear to be short term trade-offs but there is no long-term cost to avoiding false gods (easy money, sex, alcohol, pride, false performance...).

As humans, we need to be wary of situations that screw up our ability to think clearly:
  • weak peer group (social pressure)
  • intoxication (drugs & alcohol)
  • fear or anger (emotional overload triggering automatic response)
  • all-or-nothing outcomes (perception of nothing to lose)
As citizens (coaches, managers, leaders), we also need to consider the incentives that we are putting in place. Are we creating systems that reward cheating? When we experience a lot of undesirable outcomes then it is more effective to change the incentive structure, rather than punish a never ending line of cheaters.
It's for this reason that you'll never get the drugs out of a big money sport, until the money starts to leave because of the drugs. The money is the incentive and sport rewards performance. Speaking from experience, Investment Banking faces a similar challenge.
It is also why draconian penalties don't work all that well to clean up a corrupt culture. The people on the inside have spent years justifying their actions and likely see the rules as the problem. You don't need a code of silence to enforce a corrupt culture because human nature does the enforcement for you. By increasing the all-or-nothing nature of the outcome, massive penalties can make it more difficult, not less, to break the chain.
To really change a dysfunctional culture, one needs to change the incentives.
So what were the incentives that appear to have created our financial crisis:
Top of my list is leverage -- we had plenty of warning that allowing companies, and investment vehicles, massive amounts of debt was systemically risky. We tolerated laws and investment structures that created a massive shadow banking system. LTCM happened about ten years ago. However, we didn't recognize the need to change back in 1998. You'd have be be a fool not to see it now.
The regulations are going to come. If your livelihood, or business model, depends on plentiful leverage then you had better start thinking about your back-up plan. Industries that rely on easy leverage are going to be decimated. I wouldn't be surprised to see laws making hedgefunds illegal. There is going to be coordinated global re-regulation.
Once you reduce the leverage in a system, you immediately reduce the profits available from gaming the system.
I also suspect that we will see laws banning many unregulated financial instruments as well as statutory limits on personal and corporate leverage.
Next is lack of transparency and disclosure. The act of telling the whole world (or at least your board of directors, bankers, employees and shareholders) what you are doing can help clear the mind. Disclosure needs to be compelled because human nature works to keep most of us pretty quiet in group situations.
Compelling disclosure can protect highly motivated people from themselves. Make it a crime (punishable by fine) for a company to have off balance sheet vehicles. If you are not willing to hold an asset on your main balance sheet... then should you be holding it at all?
In the UK, it is a crime (punishable by fine) not to share conflict of interest information with fellow directors. The law goes even further in that one needs to share the conflicts of other directors, if one has knowledge. I suspect that the US has similar laws on the books. So I don't think that a bunch of new laws are required. Rather, I think that consistent application of a straightforward code of conduct is required.
Next is enforcement. How much money does a white collar crime need to involve before there is a legal obligation to call the cops? I asked that question the other day and a lawyer couldn't tell me. A manager could misallocate hundreds of thousands of dollars and there isn't any obligation to call the police. I was amazed.
There is too much judgement given to directors in how they handle ethical issues. The upper echelon of any industry (or pro sport) is a club, the key players know each other and many outsiders are keen to get a seat at the table. If society has a problem with the culture of that club then we need to provide incentives for insiders to clean it up.
Which brings me to public humiliation, the single best deterrent available. While it might be fun to "win" -- letting down our peers and being disgraced... human nature sees that as HIGHLY unattractive. Elites pay attention when those around them are caught in ethical violations. Imagine how Eliot Spitzer's kids felt -- one really needs to be drunk on hubris not to think through how that situation had to end up.
Forgiveness and rehabilitation -- I'm not from the ban-them-for-life school of ethical punishment. My preference is to disclose; criminally convict (where appropriate); fine; ban for a reasonable period; and log the information on the public record.
Coming back to where we started this article, good people can make bad decisions and a lot of good can flow from a crisis that resulted from ethical lapses. Some examples:
Campaign finance reform -- McCain's actions on reform appeared to flow from the Savings & Loan crisis. Regardless of one's politics, you have to admit that John McCain has achieved tremendous good for his country. Did you watch the video? They should open each session of Congress by having the legislature watch the Obama campaign's "documentary". The 13 minute clip scared the crap out of me and I'm not even a politician.
Cycling reform -- David Millar (our photo this week) has become an advocate for cycling reform. He was caught, he did his time, his actions are on the public record -- now he appears driven to change the direction of his sport.
There are many more examples of good people getting caught (or not caught), coming clean then becoming a positive force for change (via personal foundations or crusades).
I suspect there are many CEOs and bankers that want to do the right thing for themselves, and their country. What we need to do is reduce the leverage they have available; limit their ability to sell unregulated products; enforce existing regulations; and publicly pursue/ban those that choose the break the rules.
Finally a few specific items that have been swirling in my head.
Mark to market accounting waivers -- John Mauldin is calling for the government to waive the obligation for companies to mark asset values to market. He is making his case by selecting certain assets that are clearly trading below long term value. We are in this mess because of a culture of non-disclosure, hiding bad assets and moral hazard from companies not having to live with the results of their decisions.
Advocating changing the rules, hiding the problem, giving banks time... that is how we got into the mess in the first place. John is a great writer, I read his letter every week, he has most things right, but I think he's got this one wrong. If you don't want to mark assets to market then don't buy those assets.
Compel full, and open, disclosure to create trust. If banks are allowed to hide their problems then we will never get the interbank market going again. Get everything out in the open and, where necessary, grant short-term waivers for capital adequacy ratios.
Government investments in bank equity -- our governments are shortly going to guaranty all our banking deposits as well as invest massive sums of capital into the balance sheets of our banks. I was amazed when Secretary Paulson said that the government wasn't going to seek board representation, or other rights. Would Goldman Sachs invest $700 billion without board representation, veto rights and disclosure requirements?
I suspect that the government is going to get taken to the cleaners on its investments. I couldn't invest $700,000 effectively if I had to rush -- $700 billion? It is likely to be a mess either way.
The money is the incentive, we must drive change at the same time as investment. As an investor, your power is strongest the moment before you invest. Once you've got a couple billion in a company, human nature creates massive inertia. This is a unique opportunity. There will be zero change if not driven by the governments that are saving these institutions. I take a lot more comfort in the British approach, so far.
Next week, I'm going to change direction and talk about Fit Pregnancy! Monica says that she really appreciated reading articles that athletic women wrote about their baby experiences. She's not a writer (but she makes really nice handmade cards...) so you'll have to read the story second-hand from Papa G.
Happy Fall,

Living the Basic Week 1: Big Rocks First

“Scheduling is how we manifest our intent on the world”
- Stephen Covey

Those of you familiar with Stephen Covey’s great read, “First Things First” will recognize the reference to placing your big rocks first. The story goes:

I attended a seminar once where the instructor was lecturing on time. At one point, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He reached under the table and pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He set it on the table next to a platter with some fist sized rocks on it. “How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

After we made our guess, he said, “Okay, let’s find out.” He set one rock in the jar… then another….then another. I don’t remember how many he got in, but he got the jar full. Then he asked “is the jar full?”

Everybody looked at the rocks and said “yes”.

Then he said, “Ahhh”. He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar and the gravel went in the little spaces left by the big rocks. Then he grinned and asked once more “Is the jar full?”

By this time we were onto him. “Probably not,” we said.

“Good!” He replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went in all the little spaces left by the rocks and gravel. Once more, he looked at us and said, “Is the jar full?”

“No!” we all roared.

He said, “Good!” and he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in. He got something like a quart of water in that jar. Then he said, “Well, what’s the point?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are gaps, and if you really work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

“No,” he said, “that’s not the point. The point is if you hadn’t put the big rocks in first would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

This story works on so many levels and, while I am likely to go off on a bit of a rant as to how this can relate to determining session order within a microcycle, the real power of this analogy can be achieved on the most basic level with the following simple instruction:

Begin each day with a clear list of your most important action items for the day and don’t start item #2 until you have finished item #1.

This is not a particularly new idea. The steel magnate Andrew Carnegie described this very item as the #1 distinguishing action of the most successful men in the world.

Along a similar vein, Friedrich Nietzsche commented:

“When one has a great deal to put into it, a day has a hundred pockets”

But, I’m a coach and so I am apt to interpret the metaphor through that lens. So, to that end, a warning: Many triathlon training programs can become exceedingly complex and often seem to incorporate change for changes sake. In my opinion, it is crucial that the athlete and coach are intimately aware of each athletes own ‘big rocks’ and that they create each weekly training schedule accordingly.

Personally, considering the importance of triathlon in my life and the fact that my current Ironman limiters are:
- Steady state endurance (bike and run)
- Basic strength
- Bike aerodynamics/flexibility general big rocks (athletic and non-athletic) for the week are, in order of size:

- 1 x 5-6hr easy-steady long ride (200-250TSS) alt w/1x3hr aerobic maint ride (150TSS) every 2-3 weeks
- 1 x 2-2.5hr steady-mod long run flat or hills (100-150TSS) alt w/90min maintenance run every 2-3 weeks
- 2x1hr of strength training each week
- 30 minutes of yoga EVERY day
- 2 days rest/recovery training (0-40TSS)
- Good nutrition each day.
- 9-10 hours of sleep each night
- 1hr of prep time before each athlete’s phone consultation each week.
- 2 x 2hrs of aerobic maintenance training w/2x20min threshold maint. (80TSS)
- 1 x 2hrs of aerobic maintenance training w/1hr of tempo/BG maint. (100TSS)
- 3-4hrs of writing each week

From a training perspective, this equates to a week of 15-18hrs or 560-740TSS (80-105ATL) for a loading week or 12hrs/515TSS (74ATL) for a recovery/maintenance week.

At a projected increase of 10-30mins of training (or 1-3 CTL) per wk, this week will represent a good loading week that addresses my limiters for the next 2-4 months. Until then, no need for change, just repeat the week. In 2-4 months time it may be prudent to re-test, reassess and identify some new ‘big rocks’ (or some bigger rocks of the same geology) to put in my jar.

Not constantly changing volume and sessions every week allows one to truly habituate the week to the point that motivation is not an effort. Simplicity breeds habit.

In addition, having an acceptable time 'range' for the week allows for high energy and low energy weeks and allows for a little wiggle room with respect to unforeseen work and family commitments.

My sand (the stuff that can potentially fill my jar before I get my big rocks in) is:
- Excessively checking my email
- TV
- Getting carried away with writing
- Being a people pleaser: On a number of fronts, refusing to say no in favor of the bigger yes.

I have to stay vigilant on this and make sure that every day I put my big rocks in the jar first, i.e. get my training done before I get on the computer, get my steady state training done before I do anything ‘hard’, 'walk my walk' (i.e. train) before I 'talk my talk' (i.e. write).

In practical terms, my personal ‘basic week’ weekly schedule for the next 2-3 months is:

As mentioned above, 15-18hrs of training (3 swim, 7.5-8.5 bike, 4.5-5 run) + strength and flexibility.

You will notice that I start the week on Saturday with my biggest rock and schedule across by priority from there.

This is the same template that I use for my weekly planner. All commitments are in ink. I treat every commitment as I would an appointment with a VIP. Everything else must fit in around these big rocks. Period. No exceptions.

For some of my other athletes, with different limiters, their athletic ‘big rocks’ may be different. For example, their mod-hard training session may move from priority #10 to priority #1.

You will notice that my loading days (the days with an ATL greater than my CTL) reflect my limiters, i.e. long aerobic workouts. For an athlete who has strong basic endurance but poor muscular endurance, i.e. high CP360 relative to CP90-180, these loading workouts may accrue load in a very different way, i.e. with the inclusion of some very long, solid tempo sets. This is precisely the profile of one of the athletes that I work with who we tested last week. Therefore, in the name of continued development, a change of training tack is due (look out Mr. Friedman :-).

For the reasons listed above, frequent testing is a must. It is less difficult than many would assume for an athlete (particulalrly a masters athlete) to become chronically imbalanced.

With the number of different training approaches out there this whole business can, at times, get pretty confusing. Irrespective of the format that you choose to use, there are some universal training steps that need to be followed:

1. Build general fitness/ability to tolerate load
2. Identify personal strengths and weaknesses
3. Construct weekly training sessions that relentlessly address your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths
4. Schedule these sessions within your week so that the important ones GET DONE!

Train Smart!


Personal Freedom

A good friend sent me a link to an interview with Andrew Bacevich.  The interview provides interesting points of view on patriotism, foreign policy, projection of power and the central values of American society.  It takes an hour to get through and it was a useful way to spend a Sunday morning. 
The interview is, nominally, with reference to Bacevich's book, The Limits of Power. The author is described as a conservative historian but many of his points are often made (far less effectively) by my liberal friends.  The link was sent to me by a veteran who said that he watched with tears in his eyes because someone had finally put into words what he had felt for years.
An example is his position on "not war" as opposed to peace -- my quote, not his.  It's the first time, I have heard someone talk about the Iraq war in a more nuanced point of view.  Generally, we are presented with binary choices (in/out; win/lose; victory/defeat).  Bacevich goes deeper and examines the impact of a full commitment in one area which limits our ability to commit in other areas.  
As an investor, I look at the opportunity cost of a position.  As a historian, Bacevich does the same thing with respect to the projection of power and the allocation of national capital.  Like many strengths, wealth/force/power/fitness may be most useful when applied sparingly.

Complex Training: The principle of variety and multilateral development

“It is easier to do many things than to do one thing, continuously for a long time”
- Marcus Fabius Quintilian

We open today’s blog with a pic of my country man and one of the greatest marathoners of all time – Mr. Robert DeCastella. Deek, as he is fondly referred to back home, was, at his time, arguably the greatest marathoner in the world and a multiple world record holder.

Deek and his coach, Pat Clohessy, were a part of the ‘new order’ of marathoning that really began with Buddy Edelen. These coaches were characterized by their pot pourri approach to training in which, rather than exclusively adhering to the successive, phasic periodization approach of Lydiard or the meticulously controlled interval method of Gerschler, these coaches recognized the merits of both and implemented both concurrently throughout the training year.

Deek describes the method as follows:

“Complex training involves the same basic routine all through the year, year in year out, with only slight modifications for racing. Other methods break the year into sections (hence the name ‘interval’ or ‘block’ training), each aimed at developing specific aspects of running. When racing, I put more emphasis on track sessions, while during heavy training, I put more emphasis on long runs”

In practical terms, Deek’s key sessions included every week were:
* A hilly long aerobic “strength” run
* A long steady aerobic “rhythm” run
* A shorter, faster tempo run
* A track or hill repeat workout
* A leg speed workout
* Easy recovery runs

This was Deek’s weekly menu day in, day out, year in, year out. It was standardized to the point that he would run the same courses for the workouts each and every week to get a feel for form and improvement.

Almost year-round ‘speedwork’ coupled with high mileage training would characterize the methods of all of the ‘big names’ of the 70’s and 80’s – Deek, Salazar, Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter etc. etc.

Physiologically, this is not surprising. If one were to pick up a copy of any of the big selling recreational training books of the 90’s and beyond, you could be forgiven for thinking that you can expect to devote 4 weeks of maximal strength training to take yourself from Mr. Puniverse to a 600lb leg press or 8 weeks of ‘build training’ in which you take you Anaerobic Threshold from 60-90% of your VO2max. The reality, of course, is that most physiological adaptations, perhaps with the exception of central VO2max, are very long term adaptations. What do I mean by long term? Things like maximal strength, anaerobic threshold, (and especially) fat oxidation are at the very least, multi-month, and in the case of fat oxidation, multi-year adaptations (see the chart from Jansen, 1987, below).

Additionally, particularly the last 2 follow that annoying rule of physiology that the adaptations that take the longest to train are also the quickest to de-train. In short, all of these qualities demand vigilant, year-round attention. The easiest way to do so, is to incorporate all of the training methods to some extent within the athlete’s basic week throughout the training year.

To further the point, studies on training monotony (e.g. Foster, 2001) have shown that too much similarity between training sessions within a week of training is a strong correlate of over-reaching and over-training. IOW, not only does providing a mix of training serve to address all physiological systems, the variety alone helps with recovery and improves the total workload that you will ultimately be able to tolerate.

In triathlon training, a good mix for a recreational athlete would be:
* A long aerobic swim (possibly with gear or open water)
* A technical/drill swim mixed with basic speed
* A descending aerobic swim with some threshold
* A long steady bike
* A medium strength (big gear) bike descending to mod-hard or AT
* A shorter high cadence recovery bike w/some aerobic maintenance
* A long hilly run
* A descending flat run
* A couple of recovery runs with strides and drills.
* A traditional strength workout
* A functional strength circuit + yoga

Now, that is a lot to fit in a week. To fit all of this within the time and energy constraints of a typical athlete will require that some sessions be very short and easy. To this end, as Deek points out, there is a change in emphasis put on different sessions in accordance with the time of year and the race schedule, e.g. harder and longer long runs during the base period, harder and more interval reps in the speed period. This said, some level of all types of training is included throughout the year. Let me elaborate more on how I use this principle within my own coaching practice.

Within most weeks of my athletes training year, some sessions will be ‘hard’, i.e. above your normal average load, some will be ‘maintenance’ sessions that equal your average load and some will be ‘recovery’ sessions that are lower than your average training load, giving you a ‘freshening’ affect.

This is not to say that hard sessions are always fast. If you’re used to a weekly 90 minute long run, a 2hr long run could be your ‘hard’ session for the week. As Deek points out, the decision of which sessions are going to be your hard sessions for any week is a function of the time of year and your own specific weaknesses. In my ‘forest for the trees’ blog and my ‘spending your allowance wisely’ blog, I give some guidelines as to how to use TSS points on the macro level to plan your training. I suggest that a loading week should be 10-20TSS/d above your CTL (your normal training load). As the monotony studies cited above point out, the best way to distribute this load isn’t to add 15TSS/d to each day, but rather, in line with the hard-easy principle to have 2-3 days that are 30-50 TSS/d above the norm, while the others are normal/maintenance or recovery days. For instance, if your normal CTL is 120 TSS/d, a big day may be 160TSS. In the early season, this may be a 3hr steady-mod long run. In the competitive phase this may be a 2hr descending run with the last 40mins just under threshold. Either way, this represents a ‘hard’ session.

I’ve presented a number of arguments for the incorporation of variety within the athlete’s basic week, including remaining true to the time course of training adaptations and avoiding training monotony and overtraining. However, perhaps the best argument is made by the Roman rhetorician quoted in the opening of today’s blog. As a former personal trainer, I have seen first hand the difference in effort put forth and the difference in session enjoyment between highly structured & monotonous ‘traditional’ strength sessions and sessions that incorporated multiple exercise modalities (bands, balls, slideboards etc.). When it comes down to it, not only is variety an effective training principle - it is just plain fun!

Train smart.


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.
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.
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.

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,

Spending your allowance wisely

“Waste is worse than loss”
- Thomas Edison

After the positive feedback on my ‘forest for the trees’ blog (it seems there are a lot of folks out there like myself who were frustrated by the lack of applicability of the PMC chart to day-to-day training), I have decided to expand upon one of the concepts mentioned, that of a fitness ‘allowance’.

Let me elaborate – if you are a good little boy or girl, and you do all of your chores; get a good quality and quantity of sleep, eat right, stretch, receive regular massages, stay organized and manage life stressors, every 3-4 weeks your body will pay you an allowance of additional fitness (we can express these ‘fitness dollars’ as additional points added to your CTL #), that you may choose to invest, gamble or spend.

Now, before I go on pointing out the consequences of your decision as to what to do with your ‘fitness dollars’, I should point out that if you are a bad little boy or girl and you fail to do your chores for the week, you won’t get your allowance for that week, i.e. if you let work stress get the better of you, if you let the quality of your sleep trail off etc etc, don’t expect to get a fitness payout for that training block.

As mentioned in the previous blog, a fair allowance (something that is appropriate for the work you do without sending your parents bankrupt) is ~10-20TSS/d every 3-4 weeks. Now, you can choose to do any of the following with this payout:

a) You can invest in more fitness by putting your allowance towards your foundation. Placing it in a savings account that offers a very slow but assured increase on the investment that you make, specifically, we are talking about aerobic base training, with the bulk of training below the athlete’s Ventilatory Threshold 1. As Colwin points out in his book Swimming into the 21st Century, this training is anabolic & builds the swimmers ‘adaptation energy’, i.e. it builds you up, while some of the other forms of training are catabolic and tear the swimmer down.

b) You can take your allowance to Vegas and gamble it on some ‘speedwork roulette’. Earlier this year I went down to Vegas to meet up with my Dad and Brother, who flew in from Australia for a fun vacation. My brother found an affinity for the slot machines while we were down there and, at various times, was ‘up’ by a good amount. This weekend was the tail-end of a month long vacation that my brother had been on and he had some spending money that he still needed to ‘blow’. By having sufficient reserve to be able to afford to ‘play big’, if he had have timed things appropriately and walked away at his peak, he could have taken home sufficiently more money than he arrived with (of course, like most of us, he didn’t and gambled it all on ‘just one more’ proverbial roll of the dice :-), but the potential was there). On the flipside, Jen and I went down there with a limited budget, a limited foundation, and so while we had fun playing the games, we simply didn’t have enough of a reserve to ever really expect a big ‘pay out’.

c) You can spend your allowance on some fun, i.e. races. Now, nobody likes a scrooge, someone who hoards their foundation, afraid to ever use any of it. After all, the point of building your fortune is not in the actual pieces of paper that lie in your wallet or bank account, but rather on the fun and freedom that they potentially represent. However, keep in mind that from a fitness perspective, any time you race seriously (as opposed to B & C races that fall more under the ‘gamble’ category), you are running at a loss. You are using fitness that will take a significant time of base/foundation training to get back. This is not to say that we shouldn’t race, after all, racing well is kind of the point. But we should be prudent in how much of our annual salary we devote to something that we know offers no return.

So, you decide to invest your allowance. Smart choice. However, just like the real world, you have options in what to invest in. Different strategies for different levels of risk tolerance and different individual preferences. You have an extra 10-20 TSS/d to invest. What should you invest in?

Easy training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 2hrs of easy training to add to your week. This is a very low risk way to spend your allowance. However, as explained in my last blog, it doesn’t offer the same ‘bang for your buck’ as the following investment….

Steady Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you about 90mins of steady training to add to your basic week each month. Steady training has a solid interest rate and for most folks offers the best return on their investment.

Mod-Hard Training: A little more risk here. Your 10 TSS/d will buy you a 1hr mod-hard main set to add to your training. This strategy is probably too risky for those with a limited foundation. However, for those who’ve been at the game for a while, there is some real benefit to diversifying your portfolio and devoting some of your fitness dollars to Mod-Hard training.

Hard Training: Your 10TSS/d will buy you a 40-50min AT workout. This is a very risky investment for those with limited foundation. However, for those with some money to play around with, training in and around the anaerobic threshold offers excellent potential return on the money invested. If you ever want to be sitting at the ‘high rollers’ table, there will come a time when placing a calculated risk on expanding your foundation with hard training will become appropriate.

So, how do you know what an appropriate investment is for you? Of course, as a coach, I’m going to say that you would be best served listening to the objective advice of your ‘financial advisor’ :-). However, for those who want to keep an eye on their own portfolio, analyzing the main sets of your training each week and seeing how balanced they are across the training spectrum (see my article on appropriate balance for Ironman athletes), looking for potential weak spots or plateaus will enable you to appropriately allocate your resources each month.

Train Smart.


Big Meeting Protocol

I have been in a few big meetings over the course of my business career and had another this past week.  The meeting went as well as could be expected and I wanted to share the approach I took to give myself the best shot at a good outcome.  

Before we get into the BMP, a couple of announcements:
It's my brother's birthday today.  Happy Birthday Chuck!  Relevant to the US elections, there is a clip about the Canadian Health Care system -- not exactly G-rated, you've been warned.
Brooke Davison just won the overall female AG title at Nationals in Portland last weekend.  She's interviewed (with her 2 year old) over on Endurance Corner Radio.
Coffees of Hawaii now have decaf.  Albert was kind enough to send me a sample bag and I'm hooked.  Out photo this week is from the plantation on Molokai.  When you grind the beans, they look the reddish color of the earth (seen in the picture).  Enter "EC" at checkout for a 20% discount.
It's amazing what we can get done when something _really_ matters to us.  My main client in the UK is working through its business plan with banks, shareholders and suppliers.  As part of this process, we have been having a series of meetings with people that are fundamental to a successful outcome.  Separate from content, I have found that my approach has a BIG impact on outcome.  So here's my Big Meeting Protocol.
Be Prepared
I had eleven days of preparation for the Big Meeting this past week. 
I undertook independent discussions with senior managers; key shareholders; and lenders.  I wanted to speak with people one-on-one because it reduces the tendencies we have in crowds -- peer agreement, avoiding bad news, consistency bias, deferral to authority.  As the listener, I need to be aware of my own tendency to use these conversations to confirm, rather than to learn. 
Prior to our meeting, I wanted to have a clear idea on the position of each of the company's projects.  Our final internal meeting was a top-to-bottom review of every project on the company's books -- took three hours and we already knew the deals.  We might not have identified all the issues, but we did our best to make sure that we all knew the same issues.  This enables clarity in communication.
Finally, I believe that it is essential to have a clear understand on the cash position of a business.  Running out of cash is not a good thing.  I probably spent a full day considering the very short term cash position for the business.  As I wrote last week, a buffer of liquid assets provides time -- in business, as in life, time can be very valuable.
Visualization is not just for Ironman swim starts!  Throughout my business career, I have used visualization to prepare for, and rehearse, important meetings.  While things rarely go as mentally (or actually) scripted, having mental and written plans increases your chance for a successful outcome.  It also increases relaxation during your competitive event (in this case a business meeting!).
Pre-Meeting Routine
I have the exact same routine that I use for Big Meetings.
  • Snack
  • An hour of aerobic exercise (no higher than steady)
  • Shower
  • Good sized meal with carbohydrate
  • Head to the meeting
If the meeting is in the afternoon, or evening, then I will leave the office early to get my training done.  I'll eat my pre-meeting meal and return to the office.
The routine makes sure that I am alert, relaxed, stress-free and fueled.  Generally, key meetings don't last more than 3 hours.
In an important, or crisis, situation... it can be tempting to skimp on nutrition, sleep, or exercise.  For me, that is always a mistake.  My productivity and clarity are far higher when I stick with my routines.  As well, I do my best problem solving when exercising (a meditation of movement, perhaps).
Big Meetings are stressful.  When work stress increases, my caffeine intake halves.  Clear decisions require us to slow our reaction time.  Pausing, before acting, is tough enough when stressed, near impossible with a quad-latte coursing through our veins.
I didn't have a wingman this past week but have had one on the past.  
In the UK, they have a habit of placing a small plate of cookies on the table at business meetings.  Quite civilized, one meets for tea, cookies and business discussion...
If you have a wingman, ideally one with a low emotional attachment to outcome, then your wingman can "offer you a cookie" if you start to freak, or get off track.  The pause to eat your cookie, could enable you to reset.  You don't really need a cookie to use this technique... what you need is a calm friend and a pre-agreed strategy for signaling a need to pause.  I suppose that is the role that an attorney takes in many situations.  However... if you turn up with a lawyer then you might freak the other parties at the meeting!

If you don't know... ...then just say so
Kind of sounds like something Johnny Cochran would say.  He really was a character.
Managing serious situations is about trust -- you might get away with spinning things in normal times but it is a poor strategy when faced with important decisions.
For my meeting this week I had two computer screens running (three spreadhseets); two reports open on my desk; and a hard bound book containing a year's worth of notes.  With all that information, days of preparation and over ten years of advising the client... I was STILL stumped a few times!  
If the stakes are high, and the quality of the decision relies on the accuracy of information, then people don't mind waiting a couple of minutes (or even another hour) while you calculate the right answer.  
A commitment to accuracy/transparency is an attractive trait in a trusted advisor.
Summing Up
You'll see that I use a lot of "race tactics" for my Big Meetings.  In reality, these are performance tactics.  High performance in business, athletics and academics is all the same.  
Take time to learn from successful outcomes and remember that the toughest situations are ripe with opportunities for learning.
Next week, I'm going to share specific ideas for managing through a recession.  As I predicted last spring, we are moving into the action phase of global liquidity shock which was triggered back in August 2007.  
As we saw with the demise of the American Investment Banks, it is a lot better to take action, than be acted upon.
Until next week,

Endurance Physiology 101: The Basics

In preparation for the launch of the official Endurance Corner website (stay tuned), Gordo has asked me to compile a couple of concise, core articles that will give our readers a background in the endurance exercise physiology behind some of the triathlon terminology that we use and the training philosophy that we espouse. Terms such as the aerobic threshold, the fat oxidation threshold, the lactate threshold and the anaerobic or functional threshold are regularly thrown around and unless you have a background in exercise physiology, they may leave your head spinning (even those of us with a background are not immune to the occasional head spin :-)

So, this first article will present a brief review of those essential physiological concepts that have real, practical significance to you as an endurance athlete and the future direction of your training.

Let’s begin our ex phys 101 class with a brief review of one of the most important concepts, that of muscle fiber type.

Fiber Types

Just as the chicken has both dark meat and white meat, we humans also have muscles (meat) that is white, or dark in concert with it’s purpose. The ‘dark meat’ is made up, primarily, of slowtwitch fibers. Whereas the ‘white meat’ is made up of more explosive fast twitch fibers.

A good portion of our leg meat (for example the Soleus muscle of the lower leg) is predominantly ‘dark meat’, full of oxygen processing mitochondria (and the associated red pigmented cytochrome complexes) and myoglobin. Whereas, muscles responsible for more explosive movements, for example the ‘pushing’ muscles of the upper arm (triceps brachii) contain more fast twitch (white) fibers. In a very real sense, form dictates function.

Just as there are differences between different muscle groups within one human body associated with the muscle function. There are also vast differences between humans in the proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers within the ‘prime mover’ muscles. Elite endurance athletes may exhibit 80% or more slow twitch fibers, while power lifters will show a majority of fast twitch fibers. Most of us will exhibit a fairly even 50-50 split.

Science generally comes to the conclusion that the proportion of slow twitch and fast twitch fibers within the body is largely genetically determined. That is, shortly after birth the number of slow and fast twitch fibers within your body is fixed. This can be a depressing revelation for the aspiring endurance athlete, but fear not. There is hope on the horizon, a subtype of the Fast Twitch Fiber group, the Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG) fiber can change dramatically to take on characteristics very similar to the slow twitch fiber, i.e. you can start with a bucket full of KFC’s white meat and with a few hundred thousand waves of your magic wand, it can be miraculously transformed into dark meat.

The Aerobic Threshold

Not surprisingly, this transition between using your “dark meat” and your “white meat” is a critical training intensity.

Also unsurprisingly, there is limited upside in making your dark meat more dark. There is a lot more benefit to spending your precious training time devoted to turning your white meat (fast glycolytic fibers) into dark meat (fast oxidative glycolytic fibers). This transition typically occurs somewhere between 40-60% of your VO2max as displayed in the chart below. However, this represents a pretty wide range. For a 40 year old male, this would typically mean heart rates of anywhere from 90bpm to 130bpm. Now, remember, this is a critical point. While there is certainly no harm training below this point, there is limited upside to making your dark meat more dark.

Well, if that’s the case, you say, I’m going to shoot for the high end of the range. The problem with this approach is that there is another critical threshold that most of you will eventually bump up against.

The Fat Oxidation Threshold.

A typical lactate curve, showing the Aerobic Threshold, the first rise in lactate levels above baseline is shown below (at ~60% VO2max)

On the following chart, the range of the athlete’s maximal fat oxidation is transposed. This range of fat oxidation, with a peak at ~50% VO2max is fairly common. Therefore, this is an example of an athlete with very good low end cardiovascular fitness and average metabolic fitness.

You can see that if this athlete were to train at the high end of the aerobic threshold zone (60% of their VO2max), they would be performing most of their training outside of the safety umbrella of their maximal fat oxidation range. The problem with this is that due to the finite nature of carbohydrate stores, the amount of training that the athlete will be able to accumulate within a week will be compromised and the their white meat won’t become as dark as it could have if they had have adopted a more moderate approach. The fat oxidation threshold has a wider span than the aerobic threshold in accordance with the athlete’s training, diet and genetics and can range from 30-75% of VO2max (~80-150bpm for our hypothetical 40 year old!!)

So, does this mean all of my training should take place in this sweet spot between my Aerobic Threshold and my Fat Oxidation Threshold? No. If you’re a ‘normal’ intermediate Ironman triathlete, the bulk of your training should occur here. However, there are a couple of additional factors to consider.

1) What if your maximal rate of fat oxidation is below your Aerobic Threshold?

As mentioned in the ranges above, particularly for novice Ironman athletes, this is a possibility. In this case, most of your training needs to be ‘easy’ training, below the Aerobic Threshold until your metabolic fitness catches up with your cardiovascular fitness and you can ‘graduate’ to more steady training at or slightly above your Aerobic Threshold.

2) Do you plan on doing any races above your ‘steady’ zone?

Perhaps with the exception of Ironman racing, most races will occur at a level beyond the athlete’s ‘steady’ zone (that sweet spot between the athlete’s Aerobic Threshold and Fat Oxidation Threshold). An athlete who performs all training in this zone will be unprepared & untrained for higher intensity efforts.

3) Do you plan on getting better?

If you ever plan on pushing 300 watts aerobically, training day in and day out using your 250W fibers isn’t going to get the job done. A sprinkling of training done at your long term goal pace (with more and more as your metabolic tolerance to this training improves) is going to be necessary.

Hence, including some training above and below the ‘steady’ zone is a good idea. So let’s take a look at the next step up.

The Lactate Threshold

As you continue to carve a little deeper, by increasing the workload, eventually you will come upon the dedicated white meat, the fast glycolytic fibers. These are fibers that are resistant to turning into dark meat because of, #1) their size, #2) they demand a lot of carbohydrate and it is therefore hard to provide enough fuel to perform sufficient contractions to induce this transformation. Still, particularly for the short course athlete (Half IM and less), this shouldn’t stop you from trying, because even making these white fibers a little more dark can have tremendous performance upside because it will affect the net amount of lactate being produced and delay the onset of blood lactate accumulation.

For most athletes, the lactate threshold represents the 'yellow light' in the training spectrum. Due to the glycogen cost of training above this point, athletes should be preparing to stop when this warning signal sounds. Efforts above the lactate threshold should be used sparingly.

The Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation (OBLA) or the “Anaerobic Threshold”

Eventually (irrespective of your willpower), if you continue to increase the intensity of exercise, the increasing acidity within the muscle will prevent contraction. The point at which this lactic acid (and the associated hydrogen ions) begin to accumulate is deemed the OBLA or anaerobic threshold. Consequently, there is a big difference in the amount of exercise time that you can accumulate just below this level versus just above it. For most folks, this is a ‘red zone’ of training, offering limited return with extended recovery time.

However, this is the zone that offers the greatest upside to improving oxygen delivery to the muscles. Therefore a limited amount of this training should be included in serious athletes programs, particularly in the ‘peaking’ phase.

So, now that we know a little more about how important it is to distinguish between the different physiological points, the question becomes, how do we practically do so in the field or the lab?

The Lab

In the lab, we will typically use lactate assessment during progressive exercise to identify ‘jumps’ in the lactate curve that are indicative of the above points.

For those labs who have access to high-end metabolic carts, breath by breath analysis will reveal similar jumps in ventilatory measures that correspond with these points on the lactate curve. This association between physiology, lactate and ventilation leads to some key indicators that the athlete can use in the field.

Breath Markers

The astute athlete can pick up the key physiological shifts using breath markers as described below:

Aerobic Threshold: Breathing through the nose alone (mouth shut) becomes uncomfortable and loud.

Lactate Threshold/Ventilatory Threshold 1: Breathing through the mouth becomes loud and rhythmic, particularly the exhalation phase of breathing

Anaerobic Threshold/Ventilatory Threshold 2: Breathing through the mouth picks up in tempo and becomes uncontrolled panting.

While the fat oxidation threshold is harder to specifically determine, it is typically within 10 beats (above or below) of the AeT and is strongly indicated by your tolerance to training at each intensity. If you can’t get to the lab, the ‘old school’ advice of starting your basic week with predominantly ‘easy’ (AeT-10bpm to AeT) training and progressively incorporating more steady training (AeT to AeT+10bpm) as tolerated provides a good starting point.

Being familiar with the physiological points mentioned above: The aerobic threshold, the fat oxidation threshold, the lactate threshold and the anaerobic threshold, and the associated implications provides you with the first step in planning your triathlon training appropriately and systematically.

The Forest for the Trees

“Man is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
- Blaise Pascal

One of the interesting aspects of being a full-time triathlon coach is the number of different ways of looking at training that you are exposed to. Coaches that I have consulted with, long term athletes that I train and sports scientists all have different ways of looking at the training for their athletes. Many are on a completely different wavelength.

I have had opportunity to see firsthand the interaction between coaches and scientists at institutions such as the Australian Institute of Sport and The Olympic Training Center here in the U.S. In both cases, I have seen, to some degree a lack of ‘buy in’ from the coaches to any advice given by the scientists. In a very real way, both are speaking different ‘languages’, largely because they are working on 2 very different levels of understanding the training process.

If I had to come up with one key trait that defines the very best coaches in the world from the herd, it would be the ability to rapidly shift on a daily basis between a big picture understanding of the athlete’s development with the day to day design of training sessions that fit in with the long term goals, the athletes life constraints and the athletes day to day physiology.

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.
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.
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,

Real World Periodization IV: The Need For Speed

“I feel the need, the need for speed”
- Lt. Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell (Top Gun)

It’s been a while since my last post on one of my favourite topics – periodization and long term planning. So, first, a recap on the story so far:

I am a big advocate of long term periodization, however, I firmly believe that for all but elite athletes that the progression through the typical phases is a multi-year rather than a multi-month progression. This runs counter to most of the popular literature on the topic, including that of folks like Joe Friel and Gale Bernhardt.

That said, I do like the general phase delineations advocated by Friel and I find them more definitive and practically applicable than those proposed by the periodization ‘forefathers’ – Bompa and Matveyev.

In a nutshell, the progression is as follows:

Base 1 (General Prep):

An emphasis on progressively habituating the athlete to achieving and then consistently hitting their ‘basic week’. At all times during this phase intensity is completely incidental and falls way down the list of priorities when compared to volume and consistency. Throughout this phase, constraints are minimal. So long as the athlete is able to get the heart rate above 60% of their max/AeT-10 (with a cap of 80% max/VT1), I’m a happy coach.

Base 2 (Specific Prep I):

So, the athlete is hitting their basic week on at least 3 of every 4 weeks. Next step is to begin observing and then pushing the aerobic quality of the training. This means that I start to ‘tighten the screws’ and move from my “whatever Brah” coaching methodology closer to my goose-stepping Nazi persona that my athletes will be familiar with when they reach Base 3 and beyond. In practice, this means we introduce the following concepts:
- Training on measured courses (less important for my athletes who use Power)
- Observing and improving average training speed over said courses
- Adding back-end loaded steady state main sets to each of the longer days.

Base 3 (Specific Prep II):

When we reach a point that the athlete is achieving a majority of training in their steady zone, I will begin to add more challenging mod-hard (and in some cases, hard) main sets to the shorter days, so long as (and this is important) the quantity and average speed of training are not compromised with the addition of this intensity. The amount of mod-hard that each athlete can tolerate is incredibly variable and is related to such factors as gender, size, muscle fiber composition and general constitution and can range from 10-30% of the athlete’s basic week.

So, that’s the story so far.

Now, as we go along, after we have established some measured courses that we perform regularly from phase 2 on, I become more and more aware of what a ‘good time’ is for each of the sessions/courses. It is only after a multi-month plateau on said courses that I will even think about introducing a dedicated speed phase.

The exception to this would be if an athlete has targeted a short distance race as an “A race” for this season. However, I strongly advise developing athletes against doing this. In the long run, what you give up for the 3-5% of extra speed that you may gain by specifically preparing for your short distance ‘A Race’ is quite simply not worth it and, IMHO, the emphasis on regular (short course) racing is the primary reason that we have seen a significant stalling in the times of World Championship events from Ironman to National Track Racing over the past 20+ years. E.g. Peter Snell’s 800m time from 1962 would still place him 2nd at the 2008 US National Championships (in an Olympic year)!! Mark Allen’s winning Ironman time from 1989 would place him 1st at the 2007 Ironman (and has only been beaten by one athlete in the 18 years since)!!

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that you are one of those athletes who:

a) Has hit your target volume for 40/52 weeks for the past year.
b) Is doing the bulk of their training at or above their AeT
c) Has incorporated mod-hard to hard training within their basic week to the limits of their individual tolerance without compromising training volume.
d) Has witnessed a plateau in the aerobic main set times from his key weekly sessions.

What’s the next step?

I feel the need….. the need for speed.


The primary purpose of speed-work is (arguably) to improve central
(cardio-pulmonary) adaptations by providing added
stimulus to increase blood volume and consequently increase stroke
volume and VO2max (Seiler, 1991). By improving these factors,
greater oxygen is made available to the muscles for aerobic energy
production at all submaximal (aerobic) intensities. These adaptations
are the opposite of those peripheral adaptations sought with long, slow
distance training.

Phase Length:

Numerous studies have shown that the desired adaptations plateau
after a period of 10-14 weeks (e.g. Fox, 1975, Cunningham, 1979).
This duration of speed training has been confirmed in the field by
coaches such as Lydiard (running) and Carlile (swimming).


Intensity of training is a key component and should range from
90-100% of VO2max (3K-10K pace).


3-4 sessions per week are required to elicit improvement in well
Trained athletes (VO2max greater than 50 ml/kg/min). 2 times per week is
Sufficient for athletes with VO2max less than 40ml/kg/min.


For well trained athletes, total training time at 90-100% VO2max
should tally 30-45mins per session. Time trumps intensity and even
if the athlete cannot maintain 90% VO2max for 30-45mins, the session
duration should remain (Wegner and Bell, 1986).

During this phase of training, overall volume is reduced as necessary to accommodate intensity. Total volume of 66-80% of max volume is sufficient to maintain long term peripheral adaptations. Reductions greater than this should be avoided due to the time it takes to re-gain peripheral vs. central adaptations (Mujika et al. 1996).

If a speed phase is warranted/used within the annual plan, I would still recommend a return to a high volume Base 3 cycle (with 2 maintenance speed sessions each week) prior to tapering for an Ironman race.

I’ll chat through my thoughts on the taper in my next instalment on Real World Periodization.

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!


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.


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.


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).


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,

Newtons' Laws

"Habit can be the best of servants or the worst of masters”
- Nathaniel Emmons

You may be thinking there is a grammatical error in the title of today’s blog but you would be sorely mistaken. I actually want to pay tribute to two Newtons today.

The first is Arthur Newton (pictured below), ultra runner from the 1920’s and 1930’s. Newton won 5 of the 6 Comrades Marathons in which he competed. He has also been cited as a major influence of folks like Percy Cerutty and Ron Clarke. In short, he knew his stuff. He was also someone who went against the prevailing belief that, World Class endurance athletes were born, not made. At 38 years of age, Newton set out to discover his athletic potential using a similar trial and error approach to that of another 30-something year old named Arthur Lydiard some 30 years later. Interestingly, they came to some strikingly similar conclusions.

In fact, Chuckie V’s recent post on information overload got me thinking about how little useful information we’ve uncovered since Newton penned his 9 laws of running training back in the 30’s (Chuckie, you’d like Newton. In addition to his running exploits, he walked 47,000km in his lifetime!!).

I thought now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the simplicity of what is really ‘required’ for training to be effective by looking at Newton’s 9 Laws of Training (Note: TSS scores, variability indexes and PMC charts don’t make the list :-)

1. Train frequently year round.

“First, practice your event as often as possible, paying less attention to other activities. If you want to be a good athlete, you must train all the year round, no matter what. What is really required is a little exercise constantly; this will benefit you permanently to a far greater degree than single heavy doses at long intervals”

2. Start gradually and train gently

“Second, never practice anywhere near ‘all out’. You ought never get really breathless or to pant uncontrollably. So in running, as in most athletics it is essential to ‘take it kindly’.

My advice is this – train gently and comfortably. Nearly all of us dash into it hoping for and expecting results which are quite unwarranted. Nature is unable to make a really first class job of anything if she is hustled. To enhance our best, we need only, and should only, enhance our average. That is the basis on which we should work for it succeeds every time when the other fails.”

3. Train first for distance (only later for speed)

“If you are going to contest a 26 mile event, you must at least be used to 100 miles a week…. As it is always the pace, never the distance, that kills, so it is the distance, not the speed that must be acquired. In the early days of training, you must endeavour only to manage as great a distance on each practice outing as you can cover without becoming abnormally tired. Your business therefore is to develop your ordinary standard by continuous practice.

Your aim throughout should be to avoid all maximum effort while you work with one purpose only; a definite and sustained rise in the average speed at which you practice, for that is the whole secret of ultimate achievement. This enables you to build up considerable reserves and to add continually to them. You must never, except for short, temporary bursts, practice at racing speed.”

4. Don’t set a daily schedule.

“Don’t set yourself a daily schedule; it is far more sensible to run to a weekly one, because you can’t tell what the temperature, the weather or your own condition will be on any one day”

5. Don’t race when you are in training and run time trials and races longer than 16km only infrequently.

“I decry such things as time trials…I am convinced that they are nothing but a senseless waste of time and energy. They can’t tell you any more than the race itself could.

I am convinced that it doesn’t help in any way at any time to practice sheer speed. Actual racing and running or all out exertion in any form of sport should be confined solely to the competition for which you are training. Your business is to build up, not to break down. You will find the speed is there and doesn’t need practice.

But by all means, enter a race every now and then, but beyond making a good shot of it, leave time trials and anything of that sort very much alone.

Racing, then, should be the only time trials, and should be run only every 2 weeks, preferably 3. 6 weeks between events would be more suitable for a marathon man, once in 2 months is probably better.

Remember to ‘bank’ your racing powers until you seriously require them, and you will then find that the interest is there as well as the capital when you start to draw on the account; there is no safer, saner or surer method of training.”

6. Specialize

“Specialization, nowadays is a necessity. Modern exponents have raised the standards to such a height that nothing but intensive specialization can put a fellow anywhere near the top.

Before the 1914-1918 war, the marathon was considered an event for only the favoured few who had unusual toughness and stamina.

It takes anything from 18mths to 3 years to turn a novice into a first class athlete. You will have to drop the bulk of your present recreations and spend the time in training; anything from 2 to 3 hours a day will have to be set aside. Athletics must be your major engagement for at least 2 years on end, your business or means of making a livelihood being at all times of secondary importance.

To drop anything at any time during that period whether for a holiday or anything else is to throw overboard part of your hard-earned ability: The longer the holiday, the more serious your relapse.”

7. Don’t over-train

“Perhaps one of the chief points is to regulate your training so as to be sure of always being on the safe side: The least trifle of overdose if persisted in will surely lead to trouble of one sort or another….

Go so far every day that the last mile or 2 become almost a desperate effort. So long as you’re fit enough for another dose the following day, you’re not overdoing it. But you must never permit yourself to approach real exhaustion, you must never become badly tired.

A good way to judge whether you are overdoing it is by your appetite. A really fearsome thirst is a definite sign that either the pace or distance has been too much. Not only are you unbearably thirsty, but your appetite has entirely disappeared for many hours after the event. Curiously enough, it is almost always the pace that is to blame.”

8. Train the mind.

“The longest and most strenuous mental and physical exertions all come at the start; get on with it at once and you will soon be through the worst. If you can stick it out for a few months, things will become altogether easier, because, by that time,…your active mind will have handed over to the subconscious a whole series of almost interminable details in the form of habits; and what formerly necessitated a continual effort will then become more or less automatic. Stamina seems to me to be just as much a mental attribute as a physical one.

Make your mind healthy and it will do the rest. If it is not normally healthy, you will never make a decent job of anything. Success depends far more on what use you make of your head than anything else.”

9. Rest before a big race.

“You should cut out all racing of every description during the last month of your training…you will need certainly 3 weeks to put the finishing touches to your stamina and reserves of energy..When you consider what a vast amount of work you have already gone through you will admit that a fortnight or so longer is a relatively trifling matter.

Endeavour to keep your spare time fully occupied with reading, writing or anything that will keep you still-anything to divert your mind from harping on the forthcoming event.”

As valuable and directly applicable as these laws are, the first law of the other Newton is, in my humble opinion, even more applicable to the bulk of age group athletes (myself included):

I. Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

You may ask, what does this law of physics have to do with making me a better triathlete? Well, as Arthur Newton alludes in his 8th law, Sir Isaac’s (pictured below) first law of motion is not just a law of physics, but also one of human psychology.

After a very familiar discussion with Gordo the other day, on the merits of devoting some of my training time to improving my flexibility and consequent bike position via yoga, I was left asking myself why I had not made a focused effort to do so in the months since the G-man first suggested it. Is it because I don’t believe it is a limiter? No way. Is it because I don’t enjoy yoga? Nope. I actually really get into it once I get going. The only reason that I can come up with is that it is not yet habitual to me in the same way that going for my morning run or ride is.

For those who have had a test done in our Endurance Corner Lab, you’ll be very familiar with the following analogy….

In the EC lab we have a Velotron bike ergometer with a mammoth fly wheel. I think it’s 80 pounds or so. Anyhow, in order to get the flywheel moving, even on a minimal wattage resistance, to overcome that initial inertia takes some serious (sometimes discouraging) effort. However, once the flywheel is up to speed, the first few jumps in intensity are considerably easier than the initial effort of putting the wheel in motion. In a similar way, while getting a new habit established can take some considerable effort, once it is established it is much easier to keep it rolling. Even ‘uping the ante’ is significantly easier than that initial stage of putting the new habit in action.

As Charles C. Noble observed:

“First we make our habits, then our habits make us”

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.


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...


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.

The Principle of Individuality:

Performance and Malleability of the System or….

Making the most of what you’ve got!

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

This post is part of a series on the practical application of training principles (see sidebar, 'the core principles')

Those of you keeping up with the Olympics will, no doubt, be aware of the dominance of the Chinese, particularly in the Gymnastics events. Whatever your political views, one cannot argue with the results that come from a state sponsored athletics program. While China’s dominance can, in part, also be attributed to their immense population, one need only look at the success of countries in the former Eastern Bloc, such as Romania (the home country of the gymnast pictured above – Ecaterina Szabo) for a striking example of what can occur when a country makes a concerted effort to ‘make the most of what it’s got’. It is ironic that the socialist states have exemplified the art of embracing (and exploiting) individual differences, while, in the name of equality, the Western world is reluctant to admit that we are all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses that suit us better to some tasks than others. This is the crux of talent identification programs and, in a larger sense, the principle of individuality.

This post is not going to have the same limiting tone that most blogs that look at genetic determinism in sports portray. The “if you don’t like your performance, then blame your parents” tagline just isn’t as applicable to ultra-distance athletics as it is to some sporting events (as you will see!). However, there are certain physiological peculiarities that leave some individuals better suited to some sports than others. At the extreme example, there are some functional pre-requisites that must be met if an individual is to be World Class in any sport. Many of these are very trainable. Some are not. The intelligent athlete will ultimately select the sports and events that give him/her a ‘fighting chance’.

So, what are the physiological pre-requisites to becoming a World Class Endurance Athlete?

1. The Engine.

Absolute VO2max:
Heavy weight Rowers: 5.9L/min-6.9L/min (Hagerman, 2000)
Olympic Swimmer: 4.1-5.3L/min (Klentreau and Motpetit, 1991)
Pro Cycling: 4.6-6.4 L/min (Padilla et al. 1999, Coyle et al. 1991)
World Class Marathon: 4.5-5.3L/min (unpublished OTC data)
World Cup Triathlete: 4.8-5.5L/min (Bunc et al. 1996, Pickard, 1995)
Elite Ironman: 4.1-4.8 L/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1996)

According to studies by Bouchard (1988), a reasonable expectation for VO2max improvement with appropriate training is ~15% (range 3-33% improvement, partially in accordance with training status). Therefore, if you’re a male athlete with an untrained VO2max in the ball park of 3.8 L/min, you’re in the Ironman game. To be frank, based on the testing that we have performed, this isn’t all that rare or special.

For those of you who are yet to get into the lab, for the relatively untrained athlete, 3.8L min corresponds with a starting functional threshold power of ~200W. Good but certainly not exceptional.

Within the first year of aerobic training, the average athlete can expect this value to increase his VO2max ~15%-20% to with appropriate aerobic training mixed with higher intensity intervals (Bouchard, 1990; Klissouris, 1971). This equates to 4.0-4.2L/min or an FT of ~240W

2. The Chassis:

Rower: 183-200cm, 79-97kg 8.2-9.6% (AIS Data)
Olympic Swimmer: 174-199cm, 66-99kg, 7.9-12.0% Bodyfat (AIS Data)
Pro Cyclist: 171-196cm, 65-84kg, 5.9-8.7% Bodyfat (Padilla et al 1999, AIS Data)
World Class Marathon: 167-183cm 54-73kg, 4.6%-7.0% Bodyfat (AIS Data)
World Cup Triathlete: 176-181cm, 69-73kg, 6.8-7.6% Bodyfat (O’Toole et al, 1995)
Elite Ironman: 176-180cm, 69-74kg 7.3-11.0% Bodyfat (O’Toole et al, 1995)

For a relatively untrained individual, it is generally considered reasonable to be able to gain 5-9% Lean Muscle Mass (LMM) within 12-18mths of consistent strength training (Gettman et al. 1979, Misner et al. 1974). This equates to ~0.1-0.3kg/wk. So, your chances of achieving the proper morphotype for your chosen pursuit are substantially greater if your starting LMM is within ~6-10kg of your sports optimal weight.

On the flip-side, while potential for fat loss changes with somatotype, even endomorphs have the potential to become relatively lean. This is both the area of greatest upside for most of us and the area that many of us have the most work to do. In this case, reasonable long term fat loss of 0.08 to 0.25%/wk can be expected (4-10% body fat reduction per year in accordance with starting value and somatotype). With the set-point theory in mind, a sporting event within 5-10% of your ‘normal’ body-fat is suggested. In other words, if your current body fat is 20%, aspiring to be the next Olympic Marathon champ may not be ideal. Aspiring to be an elite Ironman on the other hand….

There are a number of other anthropometric variables that are specific ideals for various sports listed below:

Swimming (Macpherson, 1976):
- Large biacromial diameter (>45cm)
- ‘Tall’ sitting height (>0.5x standing height)
- Standing Arms Span > Standing Height
- Large Feet (>0.16x standing height)
Cycling (Coyle, 1991):
- Upper thigh circumference >55cm
- Mid-thigh circumference >52cm
- Calf circumference >36cm

Plugging your absolute VO2 #’s into your new streamlined chassis will give respective relative VO2max values in the ranges of:

Rower: 66-71ml/kg/min (Hagerman, 2000)
Olympic Swimmer: 54-62 ml/kg/min (Klentreau and Montpetit, 1991)
Pro Cyclist: 70-84 ml/kg/min (Padilla et al, 1999)
World Class Marathon: 72-79 ml/kg/min (unpublished OTC data)
World Cup Triathlon: 68-79 ml/kg/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1999,
O’Toole et al. 1996)
Long Course Triathlon: 59-65 ml/kg/min (Sleivert and Rowlands, 1999
O’Toole, 1996)

While relative VO2max is of limited significance to a weight supported activity such as rowing, or even flat road cycling/TTing, as a triathlete, it is important that the athlete strives for both the maximal absolute oxygen uptake (to optimize bike performance) and the highest possible relative number (for hills and run performance). Again, long course relative values are within the reach of most folks, esp when the impact of body composition is taken into account.

3. The Drive-Train

OBLA/LT: Now we start to get to the important stuff: The oxidative potential of the athlete’s muscle fibers. Or in other words, the ability of the athlete to pull Oxygen from the circulating blood and convert it to energy. According to the research, this adaptation is much more malleable over the long term. While it may be, to some extent, limited by ST fiber composition, in general, the studies back up the old adage that “miles make champions”. For example, Coyle (1988, 1991) found that athletes with 5-10 years of endurance training had significantly higher LT’s (as a % of VO2max) than athletes with a younger ‘training age’: 66% of VO2max for athletes with a mean of 2 years endurance training, 75% for athletes with a mean of 5 years of endurance training and 79% for athletes with a mean training age of 9 years.

For our hypothetical aspiring champion, coming into his second year of training with an FT of 240W, if he falls in line with the mean rate of improvement from Coyle’s studies, his FT values would progress as follows:

Year 1: 240W
Year 3: 265W
Year 5: 285W
Year 7: 293W
Year 9: 300W

4. The Wheels:

Mechanical Efficiency:

However, in addition to the improved physiological efficiency, there are also long term improvements in biomechanical efficiency taking place that can need to be factored into the equation. Improvements of ~4-6 Watts per liter of O2 consumed have been witnessed for cycling (Coyle, 1988,1991). For the Ironman athlete, this can mean a difference of 15-20 Watts for the same energy expenditure. Similarly, elite runners typically exhibit much higher efficiency, than novice runners, and to a lesser extent, triathletes. In fact, with years of running training, athletes can expect to run 5-7% faster for the same energy expenditure by sheer virtue of improved biomechanical efficiency: 15-20s/mile at typical race paces!! (Margaria et al. 1963). Again, providing you have a ticket to the dance (in the case of Ironman, they’re pretty easy to come by)….. miles make champions.

In a cycling sense, for our “champ in the making”, this brings the progression more in line with the following:
Year 1: 240W
Year 3: 270W
Year 5: 293W
Year 7: 307W
Year 9: 320W

5. The 'Back-Up' Battery
Substrate Efficiency: Finally, we come to the big one. While not directly related to LT or FT, it is the prime determinant of your ability to use your aerobic efficiency over long course racing duration.

For example, 2 athletes with a Functional Threshold Power of ~320W, one burns 5kcal/min of fat. The other burns 2kcal/min from fat. The extra 3kcal/min of Carbohydrate that the athlete must use to supplement for their poor fat burning results in athlete A (Mr inefficiency) racing an Ironman at 68% of his functional threshold power (218W), while athlete B is able to race at 80% of his functional threshold power (256W). In terms of “bang for your buck”, this 40 watts is a whole lot easier to come by than the 5 years that it takes to achieve a similar improvement from aerobic training. While all successful Ironman athletes require relatively high aerobic numbers (LT/FTP), not all athletes with high aerobic numbers will be successful Ironman athletes. Substrate oxidation plays a large part in explaining this.

The good news is that, all in all, substrate oxidation is very malleable, esp with diet.
Ravussin et al (1985) observed a change in subjects resting RQ by .05 within a 16 week period by manipulating protein/CHO content of the subjects’ diets. This represents a change in fat oxidation of ~17%. The extent to which this carries over to exercise performance is largely a function of the subjects’ aerobic fitness (Goedecke et al. 2000). Again, aerobic fitness is a necessary ingredient to achieving your potential as a long course athlete, however, alone, it is not enough.


Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the principle of individuality is that, while we are all born with different handicaps and advantages within the athletic arena, we are also born with widely varying ‘trainability’. Even the most genetically deterministic sports science researchers such as Claude Bouchard are ultimately forced to conclude that attempting to predict the extent that an athlete will adapt to training is futile. Some athletes will improve VO2max by 1.0L or more with 20 weeks of aerobic training, while others will struggle to improve by 0.1L. This can only be partly attributed to the athlete’s starting level. In real world terms, while I have provided an example of the average rate of progression observed in a number of studies as a 9 year process, the reality is, that, while the majority of us will fall under the ‘meat of the curve’, based on the genetic studies to date, some folks can expect to go from untrained to World Class in 3 years, while at the rate that others are progressing (with equal training load) they will simply run out of time. While there may be some clues that we can use (and heed) along the way, when it comes down to it, there is only one way to completely answer the question “How good can I be” – Get out there!

Real World Bike Speed

This week, I'm going to talk a bit about the evolution of my approach to the bike leg in triathlon. I have gone DEEP into the archives for your reading enjoyment!


But first, two multimedia links for you.

Laura Bennett Olympic Video -- great if you have kids that are wondering what it might take to get themselves into the Olympics! The video is about 24 minutes long -- so let it buffer.

Chris McDonald Podcast -- The Big Unit updates on his year since winning IM Louisville last August. Great info on racing Challenge Roth as well as life at the sharp end. More Chris can be found at his blog.


You can waste a ton of energy thinking about your bike position -- each year, I try a few changes in January/February then tinker through the year based on optimizing COMFORT, not power.

Short course athletes might think that comfort doesn't matter. However, if it takes you a few miles to loosen up then your race is OVER before you get into your run groove.

For Ironman, if your back locks up on the bike then you give away tons of "aero". 112 miles of riding is a heck of a long way to endure a tight position.

So, remember what really matters to triathlon performance:

  1. Consistency -- consistent training over many years
  2. Nutrition -- high quality fuel for optimal recovery, body composition and performance
  3. Aerobic Stamina -- maximizing aerobic economy and endurance at your optimal race effort
  4. Pacing -- back-end loaded race effort to optimize speed across each leg and increase the probability of outstanding run performance

Bike position has NOTHING to do with how your bike looks racked in transition. Your bike position is about how you perform on your bike as well as how you run off your bike.

Your true bike position is what you are holding when tired, not fresh.


Let's get into a few photos to kick off.

You might recognize the guy above. Craig Walton is one of the most respected, and fastest, non-drafting athletes in the World. I throw this up to remind myself that my nose doesn't need to touch my stem.

OK, now for a bit of raw reality with some of the positions that I've used over the years. Below is a shot from my first bike fit with John Cobb, April 2002.

The position looks great on the trainer. Trouble is... how the heck do I see where I am going? Look at my vision. Straight down. So I would have to crane my neck upwards even to see a few meters up the road. Not great for long distance triathlon.

As an interesting aside... I look fit in that photo but I am totally smoked and only a few weeks away from my first bout of serious overtraining. If I knew then what I know now...

Below are my next two bikes -- the position I rode in 2004 as well as what I changed to in 2005. The reason I changed in 2005 was I wanted to get my saddle more forward. I will come to the "why" in a little bit.

As you can see above, different frame but, in reality, same position. Two important aspects to note about the picture on the left:

1 - look at the angle of my arms, they are pointing down. You see this a lot at the races. My front end is too low for my flexibility. As a result, my low back is constantly firing and my back will tighten as my ride progresses. Eventually, I'll have my wrists on my aerobar pads and form a big wind scoop with my body. My bike, however, looked excellent racked in transition!

2 -- I corrected this point in the picture on the right. I'm able to relax my back in the position. An important point... a higher front end can result in a lower, more relaxed, back. This is very important to remember for all distances.

The positions above worked out well for me -- they weren't all that aero but they were, on balance, comfortable enough for me to run very well (3 hours flat on the day photographed below).

In 2003/2004/2005, I had three podium finishes at Ironman events and managed one of the fastest times ever at Ironman Canada 2004 (8:29). However, those races were done with a 7 meter draft zone.

Bump the draft zone out to 10 meters and my position becomes more relevant. Why? Try sitting fourth wheel at 40 km.h with 5 meter gaps between bikes. You will very quickly see that 7 meters Ironman (front to front) is quasi-draft legal once you can hold 40 km.h. To race well in the agegroup ranks you must learn how to use your competition both effectively and ethically.

Recognizing this fact, I have been working on getting more slippery. With four months until my 40th birthday, there is limited upside with my horsepower. My current position is photographed below.

Things that I want you to notice:

Wheels -- 1080 front, sub-9 disc rear -- this is an insanely fast wheel combo. If you are going to run the 1080 then you must practice in training. If I had to choose my single greatest source of speed then the wheel set wins. I used to be highly skeptical about the impact of wheels until I put these on my bike.

Vision -- I can see up the road without straining my neck. I can't see far... but I can see far enough.

Helmet -- Giro Advantage Two -- if you are a heavy sweater, racing in hot weather, or suffer from dehydration on the run... then GO VENTS. If you are racing in the cold then an aerohelmet is the most efficient way to keep your core temperature up. Keep the tail down against your back (my IMNZ race photo shows a big gap, that is a no-no).

Seat Height -- at the high end of acceptable, seems to work for me.

Cleanliness -- no bottles catching the air coming down my back. My spares are in a bike bottle in my seat tube bottle cage. Fluids are via aerobar mount and down tube bottles -- can be accessed with minimal body movement. I wear a skinsuit, so there is no flapping clothing.

Arm position -- Going narrow as sped me up (see differences in photos below). The ONLY way that I can hold a narrow position is to pull my elbows backwards towards my hips. I run a very shot stem.

One more photo so you can see nose of saddle relative to BB (below). When TTing at high power (>FTP), I slide forward to the nose of the saddle. This saddle position is a compromise, I have found that I lose too much climbing power/comfort if the saddle goes any more forward. With the PX frame geometry, I am at the limit of how far forward I can go.

While it might be tempting to slam even more forward... remember that you need a place to put your head and you don't want to create chronic neck pain. Your TT position needs to be comfortable, otherwise you'll never train in it!

A couple of final points to consider:

Wind Tunnels -- I spent several thousand dollars with wind tunnel testing a few years ago. Frankly, it gave me the wrong answer. I recommend field testing, ideally race performance data.

Ride Strategy -- How you use your position is as important as the position itself. I am looking for a position that enables me to relax in the fast parts of the course and be comfortably powerful in the slow parts of the course.

I have power variability in my rides because I rest at high speed. I avoid power spikes as they impair my run for very little time gain. I will, however, lift my power in the slow part of the course. I am constantly considering effort versus air speed when TTing.

The bike is the only part of a triathlon where you can coast with very little time penalty. The run provides ample opportunity to lay it down, as well as, the greatest time penalty for cracking.


What to Optimize?
Triathlon cycling has little to do with elite road TTing or the 4K pursuit. While we can learn from elite cyclists, we need to remember that our event has different physiological requirements.

Here is my ride logic:

#1 -- what is my best case scenario for power output and average speed across the race distance, ignoring the run?

#2 -- what is the fastest position that I can hold at 95% of best case power?

#3 -- open with (at least) the first fifth of the ride at 90% of best case power. Lower heart rate into my target zone and establish hydration, nutrition and comfort.

#4 -- if I am feeling good then gradually shift upwards to 95% of best case power and hold as RPE increases across the ride duration.

#5 -- invest my greatest effort into the slowest parts of the course. Remember that (nearly) every meter of the run will be slower than the bike.

#6 -- until I run well, keep lowering my target bike effort.


What is it Worth?
The changes that I outline above have removed 30 watts (~11%) from the power required for me to average 40 km.h here in Boulder. I suspect the key three changes are: improved wheels; smaller wind scoop; and smarter application of power. I have field tested with aerobic TTs from 20 minutes to 2 hours.

The two things left for me to consider are my fork/front wheel combo as well as my wrist height (guys like Levi seem to lift arm angle to close off the wind scoop entrance, Fabian less so).

With a bit of luck, I may be able to pull a couple more watts out.


Valuing People

Value Their Opinions // Avoid Ideological Malice // Be Willing To Serve

I took the picture above on a recent visit with my mom at her home where I was raised in Carpinteria, California. The picture of the sunset is about 400 meters from her house and takes place about 300 times a year. I surfed this beach on a near daily basis and visits here are a strong link to some happy years. My mom is a wise woman whom I dearly love. She and my dad taught me to value people. I use the time at this beach for reflection and a primal connection with the ocean.

It is a goal of mine to continue to learn from my family, patients, clients and mentors (including those who don't know they mentor me). I first started using the internet in 1999. I recall having had a tendency to make readers defensive. I noticed that when sharing what I thought was a reasonable message some folks were reacting less than favorably.

About the same time something else was brought to my attention by a guy with whom I shared space in a Health Center that housed my chiropractic practice. He was an acupuncturist and practiced eastern medicine. A big white dude, he was also beyond Black Belt in martial arts (striped or polka dotted // something ridiculous).

After months of working along side one another we were talking face to face and he made reference to my 'challenging' stance. Subconsciously I was somewhat rigid and attempting to be my tallest self. He asked me why I had an attitude. I looked at him as he stood with knees slightly bent, hands loosely clasped behind his back, feet close together, one slightly in front of the other, eyes smiling. He was polite; but I still heard his message: “why are you posturing”.

I have thought a lot about that day and have examined other areas of my life to see where some posturing might decrease my ability to communicate. As a teacher and a doctor it has been my experience that if I want my opinion to be considered and well received; if I want to widen my reach and strengthen my message, I need to let others know that I am also listening. One step in the direction is letting go of the need to be continually right by assessing my own attitudes. In 1999 my attitudes were betraying my emotions and insecurities. No matter how I tried to disguise them, they leaked out with the openness of an anatomical chart. As I started searching for reasons for the friction I created I started finding things about myself I was not aware of; some of it I wanted to change. The good news; I can change my attitudes and behavior.

As well, if I am motivated to learn it is helpful for me to remain open minded; present my case and then listen to others who are willing to offer reviews, opinion and personal experience. I am more careful to avoid inflammatory statements than I was back in 1999 but still catch myself reacting instead of thinking. When I am conscious of wanting to communicate rather than be 'right' I use words like ‘often’ or ‘many’ or ‘some’ because there will always be a reader that notes an exception to my thoughts. When I render an opinion I try to leave room for dissent. Phrases like “with a reasonable degree of medical certainty” accomplish this and allow a well researched position to stand on its own when others see things differently. The result, hopefully, is that I am less defensive with regard to my own comments and more open to ideas that might strengthen my knowledge base; learning from others that may choose to help.

Making others feel valued means listening, letting folks express their opinion before rushing in to give an answer. It isn’t my job to fix people. That attitude may result in a reaction motivated by what I think over what is true. Considering role reversal, when I have something to say to another, it might just be enough that they hear what’s on my mind or in my heart.

When my daughters were infants it sometimes took a great deal of attention to understand what they wanted from me. Others times I could smell what they wanted; clean diapers. As they became old enough to make choices as children I had to change my tactics. Respecting them meant trusting them instead of assuming they would do a task wrong. As adults, we are quite similar. Valuing others is a way to help ensure they will do a task well.

I recently read that one of the best ways to show respect is to simply listen. “We offer our presence and open our ears, listening to the hidden hurts and heartaches, the deepest dreams and desires of one another.”

Dr. Kevin Purcell D.C.

Coach KP specializes in guiding long course triathletes. In the last five years, he has coached over 15 athletes to qualifying spots in Kona (including FPRO 2x). That list includes five international Ironman Age Group Champions and an AG podium at IM Hawaii.

Lessons from the Meatheads

After last week’s blog, that emphasized the magnitude of the time commitment necessary to reach the top of a sport like triathlon, I thought that it might be a good time to throw out a reminder that, while in the long term, all athletes who are successful in the triathlon world will wind up doing a lot of miles, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the goal of those miles is to make us more fit, not simply more tired. In a volume focused sport like triathlon, it is very easy to lose sight of this simple fact.

One of the things that distinguishes triathlon from other sports is the uncontrolled nature of the environment in which it takes place. This is both a positive and a negative. Being able to experience all kinds of environment; lakes, mountains, beaches, forests, in the context of a sport is one of the most enjoyable aspects of triathlon. In fact, one may argue that it is the aspect of triathlon that makes the immense volume that I alluded to last week tolerable. However, for the athlete who is not coming from a competitive sporting background, it can be very easy to confuse this ‘touring the countryside’ with athletic training. My buddy JD wrote a blog about this distinction a while back and it is a principle that I keep coming back to with my own training and with the athletes that I work with.

It is important as an athlete to remember that the only way that you are going to witness an improvement in your average race speeds is with a concomitant increase in your average training speeds.

This principle is something that is very easy to enact and monitor on a daily basis in a sport in which the environment is controlled: The lap pool of swimming, the track for running or, the velodrome for cycling. Perhaps the extreme example of control in a sport occurs in the training environment of our cousins on the other side of the force-velocity pond – the strength and power athletes.

We can learn a lot from the years and years of logbook entries from athletes in whom the training environment and protocol is absolutely and completely controlled. After all, the only way that we can make conclusions on the effectiveness of any training manipulation is if we completely control all of the extraneous variables. How often as triathletes will we:

a) Increase our training miles while not paying attention to a drop in training speed
b) Add speedwork to our weekly running plan and notice a drop in energy/speed for our other aerobic runs.
c) Add a myriad of swimming drills to our program without ever assessing if we are able to improve our stroke length while maintaining our stroke rate, or are our drills just making us look more ‘pretty’.

Yes, as much as we make fun of the ‘meatheads’ in the gym, in the grand scheme of things, these folks are training much more intelligently and systematically than most triathletes (or triathlon coaches) could ever dream of.

I mean, do you ever hear the following conversation take place in the weight room:
Gymrat 1: So, what’s on the schedule today?
Gymrat 2: Oh, I’m just going to bust out an easy 500 reps.
Gymrat 1: What weight?
Gymrat 2: Oh, I don’t care. Today’s just a long easy day.

Quality is ALWAYS part of the equation.

This is not to say that every session is hard. Those of you familiar with weight training, will know that the bulk of training typically takes place at 70-80% of 1 RM, only a moderate load. However, the load is always fixed.

On the flipside, I will often hear athletes say, “I don’t get it coach. I’ve been doing the same amount of training as Johnny over there. I’ve been running my 40 miles a week, the same as him but he’s running 3:30 off the bike. What gives?” Of course, the element that the athlete is missing is that Johnny is running his 40 miles at sub 7:30 pace, while my disillusioned buddy has to slow down to 8:30 pace to accommodate the same mileage.

In fact, the years and years of trial and error experimentation in a controlled setting has yielded a number of training principles on the response of the human body that carry across well to endurance training.

One of the foremost authorities in distilling and applying these principles in the world of strength and conditioning is the strength training guru, Charles Poliquin:

Here are a couple of Poliquin’s principles that you may find particularly applicable to you as an endurance athlete:

1. The ‘critical drop-off point’

The basic premise of the critical drop off point is that a coach should never increase the quantity of a given stimulus at the expense of quality. It is pointless to do sets in which the resistance is lowered so much that (a) sufficient tension is not put on the muscle to elicit performance gains, i.e, the load is below the training threshold (b) the targeted muscle fibers are no longer being recruited/trained. These additional “garbage sets (miles)” would impede recovery by putting excessive strain on the nervous system, energy stores and neuro-endocrine response. The cumulative effect could be overtraining.

In practical terms, when pace or power is diminished by 5-7% from the goal, shut it down. This ties in well with Friel’s comments on decoupling, Coggan’s perspectives on the number of reps to perform during interval training and (kicking it old school ) with Lydiards comments that if an athlete cannot return at the pace in which he went out that the distance is too great.

2. To prevent overtraining cut back first on volume rather than intensity.

The body is very well equipped to not overtrain by intensity – it will simply decrease the neural drive and not allow the body to undertake a load that is too heavy for its current reserves. It is not well equipped to deal with excessive volume. Therefore, when tired, it is better to decrease the volume until the athlete is able to equal or better his/her usual training load. This can be a hard thing for the addicted triathlete to do and provides good impetus to be proactive in recovery.

3. Vary load by only 10-12% within a given training session.

A typical scenario for the AG athlete: Jimmy goes out for a steady 6hr endurance ride @ 170-190 W. He’s not feeling great in the early stages so he decides to prolong his warm up and rides for 90 minutes at an AP of 155W. All of a sudden he meets up with his buddy, Fred who has an FTP about 20W higher than Jimmy and decides he could do with some company. He gets on Fred’s wheel and has to hold 200+W just to stay there. Fred makes a turn for the hills and Jimmy hangs on for dear life, ultimately doing 5x2 minute climbs at a little over his FTP of 240W with 5 min recovery between climbs.

All told, a session that had a desired range (after warm up) of 20W, winds up with a range of almost 100W! The problem with this is that there is not enough stimulus at any one training intensity to elicit a training effect. But, there is sufficient overall training stress to fatigue the athlete. Bottom line, know the purpose of the session and stick to that intensity band.

I really could go on all day about the lessons that we can learn from strength coaches and athletes but I have a 2hr aerobic ride at 170-190 Watts with my heart rate under 150bpm to do. :-) 

Train for fun & IMPROVEMENT.