Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Being Positive

Chris asked:

"Can you expand on your practice of relentless positivity and how you apply it to training, racing, everyday life- and those occasional down periods most of us must deal with."

Happy to share ideas.

The first step for me with any topic/challenge is awareness. Without awareness of our patterns, biases and habits, we tend to roll through life on autopilot. So, I want to create awareness of my current programming as well as the triggers that can toss me into an unconscious reaction.

It has been close to a decade since I undertook the program outlined in The Artist's Way. The program appears really hokey at the start but has a tremendous amount of value. I don't really know how, or why, the program worked for me but it enabled me to gain clarity on my values and biases.

In the case of personal attitude -- awareness would likely concern how/when we speak/write/think of ourselves in a negative attitude. Awareness would also include how we speak/write/think of others in a negative attitude -- in my experience, the more needy our ego, the greater the desire to speak poorly of others.

We too often accept vocal negativity from 'popular' people because of their station in society. If we want to be positive about ourselves, we need to be positive about everything. Remember that fit, beautiful, popular, rich and successful -- none of these imply "positive".

Peer group is an easy way to improve attitude (or screw it up). Positive people want to be associated with others that reinforce their attitude. In building quiet self-confidence, you will make yourself much more attractive to the sorts of people that you want in your life.

If you note the sorts of people that attract you, then you can quickly learn about your true value system. Over time, your peer group will modify your value system. Choose wisely!

Learning Positivity -- A good technique to start the ball rolling is to carry a small notebook around and record 'good things' as they happen to you (at least one per day). Our brains seem to do a lot better at finding faults then seeing good events. The notebook helps reprogram us by noticing something good; then writing it down and making it more concrete. No need to write down your judgments/negativity and don't worry if you find that there is a steady internal conversation that is less than ideal (its perfectly normal).

Another technique that I use is reminding myself that every person/situation has something to teach me -- even if it is patience, or anger management. So the internal dialog goes, "this situation seems to be stressing me, but I am learning how to cope and manage myself. So, actually, it is pretty useful for me."

Getting a momentary pause into my head to consider the situation is magic. By maintaining my self-awareness, I can often direct the outcome. My (slower) conscious reactions are nearly always superior.

NOTE -- this is why I avoid repling to an email/post/friend when irritated. I give myself 24-hours to mull things over -- the quality of the reply is always better. If I am really wound up then I write a reply (in Word, so I can't accidentally send) and review in the morning. I have never had to send the reply to feel better. Breaking the cycle of attacks is a noble calling!

Interestingly, I have also found that nearly everything in my life will work itself out in a few days WITHOUT my involvement. I suspect that we all greatly overestimate our importance to the world. This is also good to remember because we tend to be so self-absorbed that we fail to notice much of what's happening around us. Very good news as it means that most of my mistakes go unnoticed.

So we have a continuous, and circular process of:

  • Create awareness;
  • Consider (then adjust) peer group; and
  • Seek to reprogram self.

We can most easily adjust our patterns through control of our writing. Diaries/Blogs are very powerful tools that we can employ. Know that public expression exposes us to the slings and arrows of the insecure -- nothing demonstrates our collective insecurity quite like an internet forum that enables anonymous posting. Participation in such a community strengthens its power over us and brings its dysfunction into our peer group.

Once you feel that you have a handle on your writing then speaking/teaching is a very powerful method of reinforcement. Beware of our tendency to insert little self-depreciating 'asides' -- these are not alright. We don't need to pull ourselves down to be attractive to others. Humility doesn't require self-abuse.

The Dinner Party Game -- I've spent over an hour saying something positive about each successive person that was being cut-down at a dinner party. It is a fun game, but fatiguing. I passed on my next invite to that house (peer group).

Teaching -- when I had a public internet forum (that enabled anonymous posting), it provided me with a great platform to clarify and establish my thoughts on a wide range of topics. It also provided me with a daily opportunity to reinforce the views/qualities that I wanted to build into myself. However, be aware that consistency bias is a powerful force that must be battled to retain an open mind.

Feedback -- having a trusted adviser share areas for improvement can be really beneficial but remember that we each have a limit for the amount of "tough love" that we can handle. Quite often, you are best served by advisers with whom you have no emotional attachment. A coach exists to take the blame and (once trust is established) point out items that others would avoid. The client is normally quite adept at taking the credit for progress.

There is always a subtle background desire for reprisal when I receive a direct, and accurate, assessment of my weaknesses. As a result, I ask Monica for feedback when I can handle it and NEVER before bed. I never ask an adviser for feedback when I know that I am unable, or unwilling, to try their advice.


Coping with down periods. These are the key things that I use to try to perk myself up:

Wake-up time -- if I can get myself out of bed on time... this seems to help. Sleep pattern is HUGE for me.

Light -- I turn on every light day/night when I am awake. Bright light seems to help. In winter, I recommend walking outside during the brightest time of the day.

Sleep -- going to bed early (but not too early!) seems to help. I try to avoid napping more than 15 minutes because that normally means I don't sleep as easily at night. When I was working long hours in Hong Kong, weekend naps were really helpful. Back then, I was so tired that falling asleep was never an issue.

Music -- my iPod is a valuable tool to perk me up when I'm feeling a bit flat.

Intensity -- sustained high intensity is a bad idea (for me) when feeling flat. However, alactic training can perk me up. Alactic training is short (5-20 second) bursts of high intensity training.

Strength Training -- I find that lifting weights helps cheer me up.

Nutrition -- refined carbs are the bane of the mood swinging athlete. If I am going to take comfort in food then I aim for protein and good fats. When I am depressed my brain chemistry is screwed up enough without deviation from my normal (high quality) diet.

Peer Group -- I am very lucky that my wife, and buddies, like me despite my flaws. Hanging around with them when I am flat is beneficial (even if Monica has to drag me out of the house).

Movement -- one hour per day, every day, non-negotiable -- walking counts!

The final thing is a reality check. No matter how depressed I get, I can remind myself of the following:

  • I have felt this bad before;
  • I will feel better eventually; and
  • Only I can take responsibility for my recovery.

The three points above, help me persist with my emotional rehab exercises (outlined above). Once I come out of my funk (not during), I sit down and figure out what triggered it. Key triggers:

  • Sleep disruption
  • Long haul air travel
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in exercise habits
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive training intensity
  • Excessive use of altitude
  • Illness
  • Injury

Looking at the list above, the two weeks surrounding an A-priority event have a lot of these triggers.

Also beware of anything that can change your brain chemistry -- prescription drugs, alcohol, recreational drugs. As well as major forms of life stress: moving, change of job, divorce, death of a close family member, etc...

When done with a wellness-focus, the athletic lifestyle provides me with the greatest probability of emotional stability. Far better than the false gods of alcohol, sex, work, money, and personal superiority.

It is ironic that endurance athletics is most effectively used as a coping mechanism absent of the protocols that are designed to maximize performance.

Over the long term... the desire to succeed is most effective as a mental trick to get myself out of bed in the morning.

The best lesson that I was taught this year was never mess with another person's motivation. That is a tough thing to do as I battle with the desire to "be right". I want to do a better job at respecting what gets other people out of bed in the morning.


The Grey Zone

“While there is a place for the 8 hour-a-week swimmer, the job of the coach is to sell the dream to the athletes doing 10-12 hrs a week and persuade them to commit to the 18-24 hrs a week they need to become successful, competitive athletes”
- Bill Sweetenham

This blog is a bit of a counterpoint to the G-man’s recent blog on ‘adding it up’.

Most athletes are familiar with the concept of the ‘grey zone’, that intensity band that is too hard to be able to back up day to day but to easy to elicit any of the physiological benefits that come with high intensity training. It is my suggestion, based on the experiences that I have had as a coach that a similar zone exists in relation to weekly volume. This point is alluded to by former Aussie National Swim Coach, Sweetenham in the above quote.

This whole concept is related to the larger issue of being clear on your motivation for being a triathlete.

You can achieve optimal health (perhaps more optimal than your high volume counterparts) with good nutrition and an hour of training a day. You can get yourself in sufficient shape to enjoy the experience & camaraderie that comes with participating in recreational short-course triathlons and, with a short period of long distance training, increasing your volume to 12-15hrs/wk you can even get to the point of completing an Ironman triathlon.

On the flipside, you can experience that thing that few of us ever will, the joy of winning – be it winning your age group at a local race, qualifying for Kona or even getting your pro-card and mixing it up with the big boys by simply doing what others won’t, i.e. training 20 hrs per week, 3hrs a day today, tomorrow and the next.

Or…….., you can do what the majority of the field does and live in ‘the grey zone’, where you have the negative feelings that come with feeling like life is just a perpetual transition from one set of workout clothes to a business suit and back, without the accompanying positive feelings that come with the joy of the ‘pay off’ for all of your hard efforts. Or, as Sweetenham puts it

"This amount of swimming is too much training to be fun but not enough to produce a competitive result. The swimmers in this middle ground never feel good, and in time they become frustrated. We call this the competitive swimming twilight zone."

In order to ensure that the sport satisfies its’ desired role in your life, it is important that you get clear on what that role is. Or, put another way, are you a ‘completer’ or a ‘competer’

Note: I make no judgement that one role is more worthy than the other. However, I do get a little ticked off when an athlete doing the work of a ‘completer’ adopts the expectations of a ‘competer’ (Regardless of the commitment that a 12-15hr week may ‘feel like’ in the context of the rest of the athlete's life).

Speaking from experience, like the island prison of Alcatraz, the grey zone is a fine place to visit but not a place you want to live:

I, like many of my clients, are making a brief stopover there at the moment, but we are not under the illusion that our 12-15hrs of training a week will get us anywhere close to our potential. Sure, we may complete an Ironman or 2 along the way, but for us, it is simply a means to an end, a stop-over on the road to reaching our maximal tolerable training load and consequent potential. Sweetenham calls this point “breakpoint volume”. While, I’m not sure that I totally dig the connotations that come with reaching your ‘breakpoint’ (actually, if I’m to be honest with myself, I do dig it a lot! :-). It does bring home the truth in TS Elliot’s timeless quote – “only those who risk going too far can truly know how far one can go”.

What will 15hrs a week 'get' you? 95% of your potential? Nope. 90% of your potential? Probably not (I mean we're probably talking 30mi of running a week, if you were a marathoner how close to your potential would you expect 30mi a week to get you?) In the end, 15hrs a week of training will get you one step closer to discovering your breakpoint volume. That's it. For some of us, that's enough.

While I’m in a ‘quote happy’ mood, here is another than is particularly relevant to this piece:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, for they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”
- Theodore Roosevelt

Add It Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Endless Training.


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

Rarely do we invert the question.

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

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

Personal Admin
House Maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose wisely,

Making the Grade

“It takes a long time to get good”
- Scott Molina

It is no secret that success in endurance sports is a long journey, a journey that, like many of the bike rides that it encompasses, begins on an easy flat road, before moving into rolling hills and eventually culminating with a mountain like the Tourmalet (above). Yes, for the athlete who is committed to fulfilling their potential, the old adage is true:

“You cannot create the you of tomorrow with the actions of yesterday”

This is the very essence of the principle of progressive overload: Always doing a little more, inching up the volume and (to a lesser extent) the intensity over a very long time frame.

But, like all journeys, the intelligent traveller will invest in a map before setting out. Something that the explorers of yesterday learned in a hurry was that it is a whole lot easier to cross a mountain range by finding and crossing the passes rather than the peaks. The easiest way to cross the mountain range and to get to your end destination is not to pick the highest immediate peak and resolve to summit it (this is a sure-fire recipe for eventually tripping on a piece of loose gravel and falling down the mountain). No, the best way to get to where you want to be is to find the path with the most moderate altitude gain and the most shallow grade.

If you are anything like me, when going on a new mountain ride, the first question I will ask my riding buddy (or my map) is, what sort of grades am I looking at here? If I start to hear high double digits, my quads start cramping in anticipation :-)

Similarly, for the athlete committed to the long term journey of becoming the best triathlete they can be, they may wish to know:

a) What is the most direct route ?
b) What sort of grades am I looking to encounter?

The good news is that, based on the successful athletes that I am working with, the net grade increases are pretty tame. The climb to the top is more like a Mt. Lemmon steady grade, with great scenery the whole way, than a Tourmalet suffer-fest.

The bad news is that, even the most direct route is a looooong way. Istvan Balyi, the guru of long term development, said long ago that it takes 10,000hrs to become a world class athlete. While, I’m yet to have the privilege of taking an athlete to the summit of world class competition, based on the elite athletes that I have worked with, this trend holds.

So, that news is the worst of it, you’re in for a long trip. Now back to the good news, the climb is only a 1% grade!! That’s it! If you take the most direct route, the climb is total cake. Now, I know many of you will wind up taking the road less travelled and seek out the hard stuff, the 15-20% grades. Some of you will make it back to the moderate path, others will blow out a knee or crash on the descent. While, in the long run, both routes have the opportunity to get you to the same place, one is a whole lot more risky than the other.

The chart below shows the training volume and intensity for one high performing elite athlete over the past 6 years. While, not always taking the most direct route, the long term trend is obvious: a gain of ~10hrs/wk of volume over the course of the past 70mths (or ~6 years), an increase in training volume of 8 minutes/month, a net grade of ~1%!!

A similar trend can be seen in the following data on an elite German long course triathlete: As you can see, annual volume increased from 900-1600hrs over the course of 6 years. This represents an increase of ~115hrs/yr, 10hrs/mth – a grade of ~1%

This magic # of 10-30% volume increase each year has been advocated by a number of periodization experts including Matveyev and Bompa.

Additionally, the trend of adding 2-4 hrs of training to the basic week each year doesn’t just apply to the elite athlete. Another age-grouper (and Kona qualifier) that I have been working with increased his annual training volume from an average of 14hrs/wk in 2006 to 18hrs/wk this year (a net grade of 0.6%!!). Definitely not a Tourmalet inclination, but a long term sustainable one that doesn’t require the athlete to start ‘snakeing’ across the road in order to complete the climb. Let me elaborate...

Many times, when an athlete attempts a more rapid increase in volume, it will be, by necessity, accompanied by a corresponding decrease in quality. The obsession that many athletes have with overall miles or hours without any concern for the speed at which those miles are completed is a fundamental training error. The only way that you will move to the next level is by aerobically training muscle fibers that are currently ‘anaerobic’ or ‘gas guzzlers’. If you’re going too slow to recruit these fibers you are, as my buddy JD would say, ‘touring’ not ‘training’.

So, as an athlete setting out on a very long journey, you have some decisions of very practical significance to make: A moderate path with lower short term peaks and a more moderate grade or a more risky route that may or may not get you to your destination time-efficiently and in one piece.

The most moderate approach is to devise a basic week of general preparation at or slightly above (no more than 10-30% above) the previous year's volume that you know you can complete on at least 40 of the 52 coming weeks of the next year. This week can be tweaked occasionally in the case of camps or race preparation periods, but overall remains the same for a year or more.

For example, an athlete who achieved 500hrs of training (~10hrs/wk) in the preceding year may design a basic week of 11-13hrs (11hrs minimum acceptable for a normal training week, 13hrs target) for the following year. Even accounting for 'down' weeks of business travel, race recovery, family obligations and the like, a moderate plan like this will ensure a minimal 10% increase in training volume each training year.

The other mitigating factor that comes into play is the ‘quality’ of the road that you select. Sometimes the most direct route won’t be on the highest quality roads. I know that living in Boulder, if I want to head up into the mountains from where I am, my most direct route has me on my cross bike with some very low quality (but fun) surfaces. If I put too many quality constraints on the roads of my journey, all of a sudden my journey takes longer. Admittedly, I’m going a lot faster during the journey, with periods that I am absolutely flying on the high quality roads, but in the long term, they are not the most direct route to my destination.

We all know that progressive overload is one of the core tenets of an effective training program, but I think that sometimes we lose sight of the fact that ‘progressive’ training and ‘hard’ training are fundamentally antonymous.

Stay the course.


Exercise is Medicine

How we deliver a message to others greatly affects the level of cooperation we can expect from them and whether our suggestions are met with a smile or hostility. This is true for the politician who may be seen as an elitist; it’s true for health care professionals relating to their patients, parents to children and mentors to students.

Excerpts from an article by Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune:

Researchers are offering a rare glimpse into the interior world of Alzheimer’s patients. The study indicates even those deeply disoriented or cognitively impaired dislike being patronized or treated as if they were children. It suggests that a sense of adult identity remains intact in people, even when an individual isn’t able to remember how old she is, where she is, what day it is or which family members are alive or present.

Videotapes of elderly men and women showed aides helping patients bathe, brush their teeth, dress, eat and take medicines, among other things. A frame by frame analysis of the tapes found that when nurses or aides communicated by using language that assumed a state of dependence patients were twice as likely to resist their efforts to help. The older men and women would turn or look away, grimace, clench their teeth, groan, grab onto something, or say no. These behaviors might be viewed as indications of distress at being patronized.

What does this have to do with our sport? Do you remember when you first started training for triathlon or Ironman? I remember my own level of excitement. In fact, I occasionally shared my enthusiasm with others. However, that didn’t last long because nearly everybody outside the sport who heard about my plans had something less than encouraging to say. I soon decided not to discuss my training with folks outside the sport.

Let’s shift focus a bit to a specific segment within our sport’s population. What is it like for the Vets and Super Vets in our sport? I was discussing this with Scott Molina a couple days ago. His comment was "What I’m hearing from older athletes is that when they tell some one about their training or that they are training for an Ironman the listener’s response is usually negative – that they’re ruining their health."

While on my run I was thinking about dementia and heart disease and many other physical and mental maladies. I think it important that we encourage masters athletes to explore limits by remaining active. We know for a fact that mental stimulation maintains plasticity in the brain. Learning new skills, a new language, laying down new neuropathways and having concrete physical goals are proven methods for keeping the brain young and even reversing signs of aging. It is a fact that most of us can actually increase the plasticity of the brain. We know the heart builds corollary arteries when confronted with high cholesterol and arterial blockage and we know that a positive mental outlook is one of the driving forces behind maintaining over all health; especially as we mature. In some cases, it appears that the loss of choice and a sense of 'power' risks setting in motion physical decline. We should be asking "how can encourage mature men and women to stay very active".

In over 25 years in a practice where patients come to me in pain it has been my experience that activity or inactivity alone is not a predictor of degenerative joint disease (DJD or osteoarthritis). Sedentary folks can and do have advanced DJD _and_ the severity of the osteoarthritis doesn't always match the patient’s symptoms. Like wise, only mild degeneration can be accompanied by debilitating pain. DJD, can stem from a familial or a genetic predisposition. I see young men and women with arthritis absent trauma and I see older men and women who are very active who have little or no degenerative changes.

What does give a peek into the future beyond family history is a patients past history of acute injury. Trauma can lead to adhesions, inflexible scar tissue, decreased blood flow, ligament damage and aberrant motion. Loss of normal motion and optimal circulation do seem to be predictors of osteoarthritis. In other words, maintaining motion and restoring normal motion and function is the key to recovery following injury/trauma and as prevention.

Some people see an athlete with DJD and assume it is from a lifetime of running or biking or lifting weights but fail to consider that the arthritis might be there whether the athlete ran or not. In fact, it is my opinion that a lifetime of exercise often lowers complications of the disease. Some medical experts are of the opinion that activities such as running and biking actually stimulate growth of new cartilage in those areas that are wearing out.

There is a need to have increased open discussion among endurance athletes that explores long term health and elite performance; as well as the benefits of endurance sport that stave off aging (mental and physical) versus possible degenerative changes. Given that many if not most veteran athletes have some form of degenerative change, and that increased activity benefits the human condition in many ways, I see a greater need to promote awareness.

More from Scott: When Dr. John Hellemans opened his first Sport Medicine practice named SportsMed he did so with this slogan on the building: “Exercise is Medicine.


Dr. Kevin Purcell DC
Certified Active Release Technique (ART)
USAT Level ll Certified Coach

How easy is 'too easy'?

“It is better to run a long way slowly rather than to curtail the mileage possible by running too fast”
- Arthur Lydiard

Lydiard is the guy on the right in the pic above. Much of Lydiard’s training theory consisted of going easier (and longer) in the short term so that you can go harder and faster in the long term.

There are few questions related to training that elicit as much confusion as the two antipolar inquiries:

“How easy is too easy?”

“How hard is too hard?”

Sports science has done just as much to add to the confusion as it has to definitively answer either of these questions. In this post, I want to present the primary considerations (from my perspective) that each individual athlete must contemplate in order to arrive at an informed answer to these two questions.

Consideration #1: Cardiovascular development

Several studies have investigated the minimal training intensity necessary to stimulate an improvement in VO2max in both de-conditioned and conditioned subjects, e.g. Hollman and Venrath (1963), Karvonen et al (1957), or more recently, Swain and Franklin (2002). While the definition of “conditioned subjects” in these studies probably doesn’t extend to the level of conditioning of you guys & gals, the overall trend is still significant. Basically, these researchers concluded that the level of intensity necessary to elicit an improvement in VO2max was correlated to the starting fitness level of the subject. Generally speaking, the range was 30-60% of VO2max (~50-70% of maximum heart rate) for individuals with VO2max values ranging from 30-45ml/kg/min – average values for healthy college aged males and females. Considering most of you are (hopefully) fitter than your average college freshman (‘freshman 15’ included :-), we can assume that ~70% max heart rate is the minimal threshold necessary for improvements in your cardiovascular system.

These numbers tie in nicely with the findings of one of the forefathers of exercise physiology, Per Olaf Astrand, when he investigated the exercise intensity necessary to elicit maximal stroke volume of the heart during activity. This concept is analogous to utilizing a load that will recruit the maximal number of muscle fibers when hitting the bench press without regard for the speed at which the load is lifted. Beyond a certain point, the heart is contracting as ‘strongly’ as it is able. Any further demands in Cardiac output are met by increasing the heart rate rather than increasing the force with which the heart contracts. In a similar way that the absolute load of the bench press is fundamentally more physiologically significant than the speed that you lift it, most of the cardiovascular benefit of aerobic training is reached once this maximal stroke volume is achieved.

Recently, studies have shown that the point at which this occurs is not a uniform 40% VO2max as Astrand suggested, but is rather a function of the individual’s fitness, with elite athletes exhibiting no plateau in stroke volume up to, and in some cases, beyond the anaerobic threshold (Gledhill et al. 1994). So, for the fitness range encompassing recreational athletes to elites, from a cardiovascular standpoint, the minimal intensity required to elicit improvements in VO2max can range from heart rates of ~70% max heart rate for folks of similar fitness levels to healthy college age subjects up to ~90% max heart rate in the case of elite athletes. This has important implications on the level of athlete that ‘needs’ speedwork, but that sounds like a topic for another blog.

Consideration #2: Substrate development

So, to improve our cardiovascular indices of fitness, the minimal required intensity can range anywhere between 50 and 90% of the individual’s maximal heart rate depending on their relative fitness. Now, what of our metabolic fitness? We know that in competitions that last longer than 60-90 minutes that glycogen depletion can be a limiting factor. We also know that athletes who oxidize a greater amount of energy from fatty acids as opposed to Carbohydrate for a given workload are able to ‘spare’ their carbohydrate stores and last longer before being forced to slow down. We also know that from a training perspective, using less Carbohydrate at rest and during recovery activity enables us to recover more quickly and thus accumulate more work at sport specific intensities. Clearly, improving our ability to oxidize fat is an objective that is at least as important as improving our mechanisms for Oxygen delivery.

So, what is the minimal intensity required to meet this objective?

The chart above illustrates the fat oxidation trends of two individuals, one fit male with a VO2max of 56ml/kg/min and one deconditioned female with a VO2max of 33ml/kg/min. The y axis of the chart represents the total fat burned per minute, while the x axis represents intensity via heart rate. Clearly, the range at which the male and female are burning the most fat is quite different (and quite narrow). For the female, the heart rates that elicit her highest fat oxidation rates are 102-122bpm, or 55-66% of her maximal heart rate. For the male, the 133-156bpm represents 73-86% of his maximum heart rate. Therefore, the training zone that maximally trains the ability to burn fat will be markedly different for both subjects. This is one of the reasons that training systems based on a % of any given point (maximal heart rate, HRR, FT etc) are pretty useless. They do not account for the huge inter-individual variability that we see in the real world. It is also worth noting just how narrow these bands are. In the male’s case, there is very little stimulus for fat oxidation occurring below a heart rate of 130bpm and after 156bpm, fat oxidation falls off the proverbial cliff.

So, again it seems that the question of how easy is too easy (in a sense of improving metabolic fitness) is also strongly related to the individual’s starting fitness level, which I want to point out is not always indicated by their fitness in a VO2max sense. We have witnessed very ‘VO2max fit’ individuals with very poor substrate profiles and vice versa. Generally, though, I would feel confident saying that the minimal intensity necessary to elicit an improvement in fat oxidation ranges from 50-80% of max heart rate. This is backed up by a great study by Gonzalez-Haro et al (2007) that found that maximal lipolytic power was found anywhere from 33-75% VO2max in accordance with the individual’s fitness.

The trick, of course, for you as an athlete, is to discover your own ‘sweet spot’ for both 'max fat-burning' and 'max fitness' zones. Using non-customized formulae such as the MAF formula or % of Heart Rate Reserve is honestly nothing better than a blindfolded stab in the dark. The only way for you to really know ‘how easy is too easy’ and ‘how hard is too hard’ to stimulate your desired training adaptations is to test, test, test.

Big Dog Racing

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

It seems somewhat obvious but it is worth setting the scene with the observation that we can race in three types of fields: weak, moderate and strong. Each of us will cope a little differently within these levels of competition and each type of racing is useful for an athlete.

I chose Vineman because a strong field of elite competition was likely. I figured that Chris Legh, Craig Alexander and Chris Lieto would turn up. The bike course is against my preference and having strong athletes there would provide me with an honest picture of my fitness. It is easy to fool ourselves in training – you line up with five of the best athletes in the world, you will get some clear feedback.

Little did I know that a lot of other speedy people had the same idea and the race was one of the fastest that I have done. Terrenzo, Craig and Steve finished in a different zip code than me. As an aside, Cam Brown traditionally puts a similar amount of time into me in a Half IM as he does in a full IM. I’m not sure if I have ‘weird physiology’ or am simply soft. I saw Mark Allen this afternoon and, like Dave Scott, his standard for a decent Ironman starts at about 8:10 for the guys!

Lining up with such great athletes, I felt completely relaxed. The expectations are on them and, if things go well, then I have a shot and beating them. As well, there are plenty of people to tow you along, or chase down later.

A few years ago, I asked Scott why one of his athletes was always choosing the toughest events. It was clear to me that the athlete could win a lot more races with ‘better’ race selection. Stepping aside from appearance fees… Scott said that it is fun to go fast and race the best people. Vineman last weekend gave me an appreciation of the benefits of strong competition.

I came within 5 (!) meters of making the front swim group. There was a bend in the river and the depth went down to 18 inches. The lead group stood up and everyone looked at each other. That was my shot to get back on but I couldn’t quite bridge on. If I had really been willing to kill myself… ???

As it turned out, neither could Chris Legh and I ended up swimming beside him. I eased off to get on his feet and another athlete “had” that position. So I backed off and got behind him. He then lost Chris during an acceleration around the turnaround buoy – beware of turns! Anyhow, he was kind enough to tow me for the rest of the swim (much appreciated) then drop me in transition!

My transitions left quite a bit to be desired. The speedy guys took a couple of minutes out of me during the race. Not to mention at least one kilometer of soft pedaling while I tried to get my feet in my bike shoes. My skills are “ok” but the top guys have the little details wired. X-Factors.

Before the race I predicted that I would average 40 km/hr on the bike and run about 1:20 for the half marathon.

As it turned out, despite shifting my training focus heavily towards the bike, the top guys rode close to ten minutes into me and I ran 1:15 off the bike. I’m not sure if my slower bike performance is mental or chronological (Father Time). I am grateful that my position/equipment is improved because I am able to get a lot more speed from my power.

The elite draft rules (10 meters) make a big difference on bike speed. For what it’s worth, being able to ride under agegroup rules (7 meters) would make a big, big difference to my times. Perhaps I’ll demonstrate in my 40s when I go back to agegroup racing – with a 7 meter draft zone very fast times are possible with smart tactics.

I used all my gizmos on the bike – HR, speed, cadence, power. For racing I am using the new wireless SRM with PowerControl VI. I’m very happy with that product – paid retail, and boy do they charge (PowerTap works great if you are on a budget).

I recalibrated on race morning and that may have had an impact on my power numbers (which seemed a bit low). For the techie people out there, I raised my offset from 570 to 609. Adjusting manually back down to 570 makes the numbers look a lot more ‘normal’ compared to my testing and powertap data.

As an interesting point, coping with ‘low’ power data is an unpleasant, but valuable, experience. Even as a seasoned athlete, seeing low data was depressing for me. Ironically, I’m only happy on the bike when I am riding too hard!

When I arrived in T2, I definitely felt like quitting. I suppose that it is tiring to go fast but, inside my head, the sensation was that it is depressing to go slow. I had run the numbers on my day and calculated that I was going to finish in about 4:20.

With Monica waiting outside of T2 (wondering why it was taking me so long in there), I made myself a deal that I could retire from athletic competition but only after I ran 13 miles. Finish line retirement was OK, quitting in front of my wife wasn’t acceptable (perhaps that’s why she came…)

Heading out on the run, Jay-Z was arriving on the bike. While it was nice to see that she was leading the ladies’ race, her presence drove home that I hadn’t exactly scorched the bike. It also meant that I had better get moving because Joanna loves running guys down!

I ran on feel and had no idea about pace. I noticed that everyone (that I could see) started their run faster than me (Monica asked if I had stopped to eat a burrito in transition). This continued until about 2K into the run when I started to relax a bit and speed up.

Approaching the turnaround, I saw that I was two miles down on Terrenzo, Craig and Steve. I perked up for a bit then saw a long line of people heading out of the turnaround area – how did so many folks get in front me? However, my good mood persisted as I figured that I could catch at least a couple of them. I caught a few more guys and the fear of them coming back on me spurred me along.

Arriving at the finish line I was surprised to see 4:04 on the clock. That’s less than a minute outside of my personal best for the distance. Part of me was a little disappointed because it looks like I have to postpone elite retirement for a bit longer!

Jay-Z held on for victory and Monica tells me that she’s won three straight Half Ironman races. That lady has been speedy for a very long time. She let me feel her gold ring from the 2000 Olympics during the pro meeting and it is always nice to race alongside her.

I wonder how fast I could go if I was as tough as the ladies?


Single Sport Focus Periods: The Key to Success for the Working Athlete

After my first double digit hour week on the bike in a while (no doubt motivated by watching Le Tour), I thought it might be pertinent to chat through one of the most under-utilized training prescriptions – Single Sport Focus Periods.

But first, I had a request from one of my athletes to complete the ‘black belt trilogy’ and give some data on what a black belt week in the pool might look like. Here goes:

31000m in less than 10hrs
* 5km FS timed less than 1:30
* 4x100 IM @ 2:15, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 400IM @ 9:00, 2x200IM @ 4:30, 4x100IM @ 2:15
* 40x100m descending swim @ 1:45, 1:40, 1:35, 1:30
* 4x (4x100 FS @ 1:20) w/200 swim down
* 10x25!FS + 75 recovery @ 2:15 (w/sprints less than 17s/25m

The more mathematically astute of you, will have put together that a ‘black belt week’ for SBR will put you somewhere around the 30 hour mark – beyond what is feasible for most top AG athletes. While, I think there is big value to sporadic ‘stretch weeks’ that are in that neighbourhood for a top AG athlete, to do so on a regular basis, taking into account the addition of work and family stress is a quick recipe for burnout.

My absolute favourite training principle for the working athlete has to be the maintenance principle, which basically states that:

It takes substantially less volume to maintain a fitness level than it does to initially achieve it.

Specifically, studies have shown that a drop in training volume of 20-35% will maintain performance for a period of at least 4 weeks (Anderson et al., 1992, Costill et al. 1985, Mujika et al., 1995).

Using this principle, the time (or energy) limited athlete can incorporate cycles in which one discipline is emphasized, while the others are held at maintenance level. This can be done on the macro level, by spending a period of a month or more focusing on a weak discipline, or on the micro level by alternating the focus of your weeks.

Rod Cedaro, coach of former world champion, Jackie Gallagher is a big advocate of the microcyclic approach of cycling Swim/Bike/Run/Recovery weeks as his short term periodization strategy. For our prospective Top AGer/Kona qualifier, this may mean one week each month of 15hrs+ on the bike, while the others are maintenance weeks in the vicinity of 10hrs.

On the flipside, an athlete with a weak run leg may spend 6 weeks or more building their run volume in preparation for a fall marathon while dropping their swim and bike mileage back to maintenance levels.

A combination of these approaches that I will frequently use with my athletes is a cycle of 2 weeks focused on the athlete’s weak event followed by one week focused on maintaining the athlete’s strengths. I have seen good results with this approach.

This method is not just for top AG athletes, based on what I have seen, most working athletes exceed their capacity to absorb appropriate SBR training volume within a week pretty early in the piece. If you are a sub 13hr IM, working athlete, you are going to have a hard time hitting appropriate (single sport) training volume each week. Generally, an ad-hoc single sport focus will result, with the athlete tending to do more of the sport that is convenient or the sport that they enjoy, rather than the sport that is limiting. There is tremendous value to most athletes in being deliberate in choosing what sport they need to focus on.

At the other end of the spectrum, many elite athletes will have a hard time summoning the energy levels to maintain appropriate training intensity while hitting appropriate training volume in all 3 sports simultaneously, even when time is not a limiting factor.

When we get down to it, for all levels of athlete, time and energy are much greater limiters than genetics or inherent ability in a sport like triathlon. Any way that we can eek out more training stimulus for a given period of training time is obviously worth consideration.

Athletic Balance

No, today’s blog isn’t about that kind of balance. The balance that I am talking about in the title of today’s post is the balance across the training intensity spectrum.

But, before I get into that, Mat has written a great post this week on some of the limiters to Ironman performance that, as athletes we often fail to/don’t want to consider (e.g. day to day nutrition…Sugar addicts stand up! :-) Check it out -

In his post, Mat talks about the components of fitness. I want to explore that a little more in my own post this week.

In my mind there are two schools of thought on preparation for Ironman racing. On one side of the fence we have the following basic theory of training:

Position 1: Raise the athlete’s functional threshold to the highest level possible - since functional threshold is the best predictor of athletic performance in all aerobic events (yeah, right!) then make sure the athlete paces the race at the appropriate % of this functional threshold. If the athlete races under what their functional threshold # would indicate, it is clearly a pacing problem.
I hope you feel the sarcastic tone in the above paragraph. This myopic viewpoint of training really bugs me on a pretty deep level and the fact that there are a number of PhD’s (often in unrelated fields) out there espousing this viewpoint right now, bugs me even more. Excuse my grumpiness this morning. I’m a little undercaffeinated :-)

Anyhow, position 2: Miles make champions. Increase aerobic training volume to the limits of the athlete’s long term tolerance. Avoid high intensity training as it will ultimately limit the athlete’s training volume.

I want to point out that I have a strong lean (almost to the point of falling over sideways) toward this position. However, recently my experience in coaching and testing athletes has led me to reach the conclusion that despite the fact that 80% of the Ironman field would benefit from simply doing more, there is a select portion that is distinctly lacking in the top end abilities required to reach the next level of athletic performance.

I also believe that this 20% or so is growing as more and more people are selecting “training for an Ironman” as their first foray into triathlon training (or their reintroduction after a long lay-off) without following the natural progression of sprint tri, Olympic tri, Half Ironman followed by an Ironman several years into their triathletic development.

It can be very difficult for an athlete to determine how much ‘top end’ is enough? Folks like Gordo perform at the elite level of Ironman racing with, what would be considered, relatively pedestrian values of functional threshold, and especially, VO2max (within his elite peer group). However, I’m willing to stake a guess that Gordo’s functional threshold is higher than yours! OK, so you’re not looking to challenge Gordo at Vineman or even your age-group winner for that matter, but the question remains are you lacking in top end horsepower?

More numerically inclined exercise physiologists have been trying to equate relative performances over various race distances for years. Folks from Gardner and Purdy (1970), to Tom Osler (1978), Davies and Thompson (1979) all the way to Daniels and Gilbert’s famous VDOT tables (1979), have looked to equate a given VO2max value with performances from 800m through to (and in some cases beyond) the marathon. For the most part, these tables do show a relatively high predictive validity within this race duration spectrum. This makes a lot of sense when we consider that the relative ergogenesis of these events consists of an aerobic (glycolytic) contribution ranging from 80-99% (Hawley and Hopkins, 1995).

However, when put into practice, coaches who subscribe to this training model have noticed that for middle distance runners (400-1500m), the numbers don’t line up. Athletes in this category (unsurprisingly) tend to under-perform at the longer end of the duration spectrum and over-perform at the short end, despite having equal VO2max values to distance runners in the same performance category. For this reason, folks like Daniels (1998) and Martin and Coe (1995) have deduced modified ‘ideal’ performance tables for these athletes due to their ability to contribute anaerobic resources to performance that are independent of VO2max. Unfortunately, with the relative lack of sports science interest in ultra-endurance events, similar calculations have not been made for events in which aerobic lipolytic energy production begins to outweigh the aerobic glycolytic energy production that is largely dependent on physiological qualities like VO2max and Anaerobic (or Functional) Threshold. This is the major oversight that folks who espouse the Functional Threshold model of training fail to ‘get’.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty, if we take this lipolytic energy contribution into play, how does it affect the relative performance-duration curve?

I’ve presented a couple of predictive curves below. A distance curve from the tables of Daniels and Gilbert, a middle distance curve from Martin and Coe and an ultra-distance curve from real world data on elite ultra endurance athletes (ultra-runners and Ironman elites).

The x axis at the bottom of the chart reflects race duration (in hours). The y axis reflects the % of their vVO2 that the athlete sustains for the event.

The chart indicates that elite Ironman athletes’ race specific pace (and presumably power) is ~5% higher than what would be predicted from the normative curves of shorter distance athletes (on which many training models are based). In specific preparation for an ultra-distance event, this 5% greater endurance is something that should be trained before an effort is made to further elevate the functional threshold or VO2max of the athlete, especially since this adaptation is ultimately more trainable over the long term. Practical example:

Athlete with a PR of a 20:00 5K should be able to hold >70% of their vVO2max after an 8hr big day (~9:10/mi) before any emphasis should be given to speed training to further elevate the VO2max or Functional Threshold.

Keep in mind that the blue line on the chart is indicative of very well trained (although not ‘ultra trained’ distance runners, often running 100mi plus per week). It is likely that the difference between your own ‘blue line’ and ‘red line’ is substantially greater, especially if you have been emphasizing higher intensity training (FT/FT+ training) within your own training program.

It is for this reason that most (though not all) Ironman athletes can vastly benefit from a multi-month period that focuses on building base and raising the % of your vVO2 or max power that you can hold over the race duration.

If, on the other hand, you’re running an IM marathon at or close to 70% of your vVO2, a focus on ‘speedwork’ may be prudent. But first, of course (you know what I'm going to say), you must prove it!

Athletic Inversion & Living The Dream

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


One of the key things that Charlie Munger repeats in his Almanack is the advice to "always invert". I have been reading that advice for three years but only recently started to grasp the meaning. I think what he is trying to tell me... improve your chances of being successful, make sure you figure out what can kill you.

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

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

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

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

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


How we defeat ourselves in racing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here are some tips for improving how you manage fatigue.

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

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

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

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

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

What does this mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nutrition -- eat real food.

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


Living The Dream

Q. My description of a dream job would be: one that involved endurance sports, is active, flexible, challenging, and has a good potential for return on my investment of time and money. Very, very, very difficult to find something that meets those requirements, I think. I've contemplated becoming a race director, opening a gym/training facility for endurance athletes, going to school for ex. science, or getting a job with a company in the industry. All have their appeal. But its a huge set of steps between considering these possibilities while still in school and taking the plunge and leaving a steady job and income to try some venture of my own devising.

I've been reading your blog for a while and you seem pretty qualified to answer my question, which I am getting to. I've asked enough questions to realize that asking "how do I get that dream job" has just as many answers as there are people to answer; that is, everyone has a different story, and while they do help, they won't help me figure out my own plan. So my question is this: what is the most important skill/trait I can cultivate now and while working in engineering to help prepare me for the kind of profession I am contemplating?

Because of the high value we place on personal freedom, jobs with large degrees of freedom, rarely come with a high return on capital (human or financial). That said, when I look at the things that are most important to me (freedom, fitness, health, nature, love), these items do not cost much to acquire. They did, however, require years of preparation in terms of planning, positioning and effort.

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

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

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

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

Within your expert credentials, three things to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope this helps,

Welcome to Big A's Dojo!

In keeping with my aikido theme of last week, I thought I’d open with a pic of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba.

One of the things that I love about Martial Arts is the long term discipline required/expected when a new student enters the dojo for the first time. It is not uncommon for a judo student, for instance, to spend a year simply learning how to fall, before even a thought is given on how to go about instigating a throw. In the more legitimate schools, obtaining a black belt is a ten year deal!

On a spiritual training level, in my mind, it is this ‘patience training’ that makes martial arts so valuable to the individual in terms of dealing with the fact that success in the modern world is largely the result of sacrificing short-term wants for long term gains. Unfortunately, this mind set hasn’t trickled down to all sports. In the world of AG triathlon, for instance, the “I have 16 weeks to qualify for Kona” mind set is all too pervasive.

Another sport that does a good job focusing on the long term development of the athlete is swimming. My first job out of college was with Jones Aquatic Club in Australia. To this day, that short period of time in my life has left a significant impression on me. Let me paint the picture for you: A small, somewhat dingey indoor 25m pool bustling as a production line for the next Aussie swim superstars. In a 6 lane, 25m pool, every square foot was utilized in a mechanistic schedule that was running as smoothly as any Henry Ford production line ever did. The first 3 lanes were split in two, making for 9 ‘levels’ of swimming development. Each of these levels was denoted by a little colored token that the kid received when they checked in for the day. Once a child performed all of the (very specific) session criteria perfectly, one of the supervisors (that was my job), handed the kid a colored token indicating that they had been ‘promoted’ to the next level. It never ceased to amaze me, the joy that a small, inanimate token could bring to these kids. They would compete with the ferocity of an Olympic champion for the recognition of being the ‘kid who got the token’.

Of course, this method is paralleled in the Martial Arts, where the student’s long term development is broken up into a number of colored belt levels. I may be losing the plot here, but I have a sense that doing the same in any sport that requires a decade or more of commitment to truly realize your potential could only enhance long term motivation.

In keeping with my overall philosophy that if you want to train more or train harder, you must first prove it by training/racing faster, here are my virtual belt rankings from my own triathletic dojo :-) The following are my criteria for moving to the next level in running (similar criteria can be given for swim and bike training). I have derived these criteria from a number of sources (e.g. Daniels, Glover and Glover, McPhee) along with my own experience in working with athletes of a range of ability levels.

White Belt: All newbies come in as a white belt. In order to move up to a yellow belt they must achieve the following:

Yellow Belt:
- A 30mi (flat) run week in less than 4:36
- The ability to execute a functional strength routine with good form and optimal range of motion

- The ability to do 6x200m strides (pain free) in <47s/200
Blue Belt:
- A 40mi (flat) run week in less than 5:24 including:
- A 7mi long run in less than 60min
- 6x200m strides in less than 45s/200
- 3x1mi intervals in less than 7:00/mi w/1min rest

Black Belt:
- A 50mi (flat) run week in less than 6:30 including:
- An 11mi long run in less than 1:30
- 6x200m strides in less than 42s/200
- 8x400’s @ 3:30 w/a 400 jog in less than 1:26/400
- 4x1200’s @ 9:00 w/a 800 jog in less than 4:30/1200

After completing the ‘black belt’ program, the athlete is ready to move on to studying a specific school, e.g. Ironman training. This is not to say that athletes cannot complete an Ironman before reaching their black belt, however, in my mind at any belt level below black belt, the athlete is in a position to complete, but not compete.
This is an important distinction. It is also important to note that completing too many very long events during the athlete’s formative development will ultimately delay the point at which the athlete can begin to compete in said events. At the extreme, this can result in athletes who put in big volume but are never truly competitive as AG athletes because they lack a balanced development (but that sounds like the subject for another blog post)

Hope you’ve enjoyed my musings for this week.

Keep your focus, but keep it fun!

Sensai A :-)

Had a question from a reader on what a similar "black belt" week on the bike might look like. Some ideas below:
15hrs of cycling @ 2.8W/kg (211W NP for a 75kg cyclist)
w/the following key sessions:
- 60min Z3-Z4 Climb @ 3.8W/kg (285W NP for a 75kg cyclist)
- 5x5mins on/5mins off intervals @ >4.4W/kg (>330W for a 75kg cyclist)
- Big Gear Power Starts (10x30-60s in 53/12 w/2-5min easy spin recovery)
Getting your 'black belt' in Big A's Dojo isn't easy. Nothing worthwhile is.

Altitude -- Part Two

The picture above is Molina and me on Day Four of our high altitude training camp. We are on Loveland Pass, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Rockies.

Two weeks ago, I offered some general outlines for training camps. A little over a year ago, I offered some general outlines for altitude training. In reviewing those pieces, it struck me that they lacked practical advice for how YOU might approach a training camp at altitude. So that is my mission this week... offer you practical tips on how to get the most out of a 3-10 day altitude camp.

Why go to altitude?
Training at altitude produces desirable physiological changes for endurance athletes. My experience is that the most valuable (and potent) altitude stimuli occurs via blood desaturation during exercise at altitude. If you want to review the science on altitude then see the two book references at the bottom of this piece -- the books contain summaries of the best work that has been done on altitude.

For the endurance athlete, I define altitude:
Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

The first tip is to spend the bulk of your training camp one level higher than home. For example, if you live at sea level then be based at moderate altitude (4,500 to 6,500 feet). Remember that the primary goal is blood desaturation, then recovery. If you live/train too high then you end up with excessive desaturation and inferior recovery. Each day during training, feel free to sneak up a further level -- however -- be careful when training two-levels-up as fatigue/training stress is greatly magnified.

At an altitude camp, my main goals are (order of importance):

  1. Increased red blood cell growth via blood desaturation during training (my main goal each day)
  2. Build endurance through volume overload
  3. Maintain sport specific strength via hills (bike/run), big gear work (bike) and paddles (swim). I find low cadence work (swim/bike) to be well-tolerated.
  4. Enhance LT (not FT) performance via sub-LT, mod-hard blocks (generally 10-20 minute pieces at the end of an hour steady-state main set). See file at bottom for explanation of my terms.
  5. Maintain general strength -- keep overall training load such that I have enough energy to hit the gym every 4-6 days.

Some altitude training locations:

  • Jindabyne, NSW, Australia (3,000 feet; nearby Thredbo is 4,500 feet)
  • Bend, OR (3,600 feet)
  • Boulder, CO (5,400 feet)
  • Font Romeu, France (6,000 feet)
  • Vail, CO (8,300 feet)

My most common mistake with training at altitude is going too hard during the camp. Don't race during altitude training camps.

Tips to avoid going "too hard":

  • If you have access to sport specific testing then keep your heart rate under lactate threshold (as defined in the file below, ~2mmol definition of LT)
  • If you don't have access to testing then Mark Allen's MAP formula makes an effective cap, not target!
  • If you can blow yourself up in group training situations then: (a) make sure your camp partners are physically weaker than you; and/or (b) drop off the back _immediately_ when you hit the long climbs.

I have seen outstanding athletes ruin their training camps on day ONE, from ignoring the tip above. Even if you follow that tip, you may find that your early days at altitude leave you quite tired.

As well:

  • Disrupted Sleep -- if you can't sleep then assume you are training too intensely, reduce your heart rate cap by 10 bpm for 48 hours to regroup.
  • Sleep -- even if I have a little trouble sleeping, I make sure that I lie down for 10 hours per day. Molina likes naps -- I skip them so that I can fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Work -- don't expect to get any work done, you may be able to field easy telephone calls but you won't be able to devote much quality thought
  • Family -- don't con your spouse into running support. Keep family vacations about family.
  • Fitness -- arrive fit and train below your level of fitness. Altitude and increased training volume will give you the stimulus you desire.
  • Hydration -- in your first 72 hours at altitude increase your rate of hydration when training and across the night.
  • Nutrition -- always keep your heart rate down for the first two hours that follow solid food (if you ignore this tip then you will get "GI-feedback" that may have you sleeping on the couch). During training, keep your solids for the tops of long descents and use liquid nutrition. Make sure you have a protein source across your long training days. Avoid depletion, I tend to gain a couple of pounds during my most successful training camps.

Final Tips:

  • Gizmos -- leave your GPS and Powermeter at home, your training paces and power will be impaired at altitude -- this is the price you pay for building those red blood cells. I place my PowerTap in heart rate mode so that I am not tempted to chase watts.
  • Gearing -- use humble gearing. Most athletes will do best running a triple up front with a 30-tooth small ring. You need a lot of gears to stay under your heart rate cap in the early days.
  • Swimming -- unless you are a very efficient swimmer then you will have to dial your swimming way down. A good rule of thumb is to add 10% to your send-offs for each "step up" you take in altitude. Yes, you will likely need 20% more time to survive a workout in Vail if you are coming from sea level.
  • Running -- run easy and consider substituting trail hiking for your long runs.
  • Fun -- I was really lucky to have Scott along for this camp. He is my ideal training partner -- stronger than me mentally, great attitude outside of training and not seeking to kill me in training. I caught him looking at a map of South Western Colorado this morning so perhaps I can tempt him back in 2009!
  • Jacket -- always carry a rain jacket -- every single ride -- the weather changes FAST in the mountains

Finally, one that I learned from Chuckie V, NEVER CLIMB INTO LIGHTNING. The mountains will be there next time.

Hope this helps,


Recommended Reading


Files for Download

Endurance Corner Training Zones and Physiological Markers

Fooling Ourselves

“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others”
- Friedrich Nietzsche

It’s 5:30 am on a Sunday morning and I find myself lying on my back, wide awake, with my world spinning. Surprisingly enough, my foggy head this time isn’t the result of a bike crash concussion or a big night on the town (Vegas is next week, folks! :-) Nope, I’m lying on my back with my head spinning after Sensai Gordo Byrn took me down in an Aikido match.

Let me elaborate, we all know I’m a big fan of the metaphor in my writing and in this case, Gordo didn’t really strap on a gi and a blackbelt and throw me over his shoulder. No, I chose this metaphor as representative of the way that Gordo and I tend to tackle a difference of opinion. In this case, a difference of opinion on the topic of athletic potential.

I am very accustomed to arguing. In fact, on some level, I really enjoy it. It may come as a surprise to those who know my introverted tendencies to know that I was on the debate team back in high school. In fact, it wasn’t just a case of being ‘on the team’, I hope it’s not too conceited of me to say that back in our day, we kicked ass (quarter finals at State ass to be specific :-). Anyhow, point being I have no problem drawing a line in the sand when necessary and not backing down.

On most matters, I think Gordo and I see eye to eye. In the world of elite athletics, if you talk to enough people at the top you begin to realize that the commonalities far exceed the differences. Recently, however, you may have noticed a, somewhat antipolar viewpoint in the matters of ‘hard vs. soft’ approach to goal achievement and, more significantly, the topic of athletic potential. It has always been my stance that endurance athletics is largely an area in life where you get what you deserve. Recently, I have noticed a departure in the G-mans philosophy, away from this stance (to be frank, I have a feeling that I may have been unintentionally instrumental in this departure, but that is beside the point).

The short point of my metaphorical introduction to this morning’s post is simply this – the Gman got me thinking.

In and of itself, this is no small feat. If you’ve been unfortunate enough to bear witness to some of my online forum debates with one or two of the well known sports scientists out there you’ll know that my general way of War, my Big-A-Do :-), if you will is, when someone pushes me, I brace myself, strengthen my position and push back ten times as hard. With the appropriate firepower, this is a great way to win an argument, but not a great way to grow. By contrast, Gordo has a knack of using your own energy against you and leaving you on your back, with your head spinning, reconsidering your approach (hence my long winded Aikido metaphor).

In this situation, my head is spinning with the question “do I show potential?”, or on another front “am I getting what I deserve out of what I am putting into the sport or am I ‘fooling myself’? I also want to challenge myself and you all by pointing out another way that as triathletes we typically ‘fool ourselves’.

I have had 3 times in my life where I would (now) consider myself relatively ‘fast’ as an endurance athlete (interestingly enough, in at least one of these cases, at the time I considered myself distinctly ‘slow’ in relation to my peer group. Relativity to your peer group is huge as Mat pointed out a while ago in his piece, ‘Fast in Indiana’.)

Being ‘Fast’ #1: The Swim

The first time was when I swam 18:03 for a 1500m Freestyle back in 1992. Not surprisingly, in the context of Australia distance swimming, at the time relative to my squad members, this felt ‘slow’. Funny how things change. Right now if I could get back to that form I’d be one of the first swimmers out of the water in most of the local races, even out here in Boulder.

So, what was I doing at that time that set me up to swim that ‘fast’? I swam this time toward the end of our summer break in 1992. At the time I was riding my heavy ‘Old School’ road bike 40mi a day to get to and from my morning and evening swim practice. I was swimming 5-7km in the morning and another 5-7 in the afternoon.

So, am I fooling myself as to my potential as a swimmer? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.

Being ‘Fast’ #2: The Bike.

The fastest that I have been on the bike was 58min for a hilly 40K Time Trial back in 2003. It was a pretty solid course that I would do each week as a benchmark ride. I was consistently under 1 hour. At the time, I was also doing some training rides with the Division 1 University cycling team. I was placing top 5 in their weekly Time Trials and was holding my own on the weekend group rides.

The Cost:

At the time, I had just broken up with my wife and cycling was my outlet. In a 3 month period, my smallest week was 313mi, my biggest was 404mi. I would regularly ride my bike from Gainesville to Orlando (~120mi), crash at a Days Inn near Disney World and then ride back the next day.

Am I fooling myself as to my potential as a cyclist? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.

Being ‘Fast’ #3: The Run.

The fastest that I have run was a 2:53 Marathon back in 2003. At the time I also ran several 5K’s in and around 18 minutes and a 37min 10K.

The Cost:

Still a little psychologically screwy, after getting injured (meniscus) after my big bout of cycling, I threw my energy into two things:

a) Running a lot
b) Losing weight.

I had a 3 month block of 70-120k per week. I obsessively monitored everything that I ate and got my bodyweight (for my 6’4” frame) down to 158lbs. I was running to work and back twice most days (20K/day)

Am I fooling myself as to my potential as a runner? I don’t think so. Am I fooling myself as to the price I have to pay to get back there? Yes.

I certainly don’t present my past as an example of what to do. I have made a lot of errors along the way. However, I do present it as a bit of a reality check on the sort of volume that decent single sport athletes are doing. While my mind-set may have been a little different to the folks around me who were finishing at about the same time, I assure you my training volume wasn’t, 50-70mi a week isn’t anything ‘special’ to a runner. 400mi a week is pretty standard for a Cat 2/3 cyclist and 70K a week in the pool is nothing for a decent club level Aussie swimmer.

Of course, the challenge as a triathlete is to find the space in your life and the energy to do the requisite training volume. However keep in mind that even for you, as a triathlete, doing the work in all sports is a requisite. The notion of ‘cross-training’ is B.S. If you want to run like a runner, you must run like a runner, If you want to swim like a swimmer…. Well, you get my drift.

Sometimes as athletes, I think we (want to) forget these realities. Fool others, by all means, but whatever you do, don’t fool yourself.

The Stotan Code

I will be in the city of sin next week, if I am to be honest with you (and myself), I will probably be working out or sleeping while the rest of the city’s populous (including my brother, who is visiting from Australia) is sinning in one way, shape or form :-). I think I have always found more lasting joy in Asceticism than sin. I was pleasantly surprised, during my first road trip with the G-man, to discover that Nevada offers plenty of both. I’m looking forward to returning.

Anyhow, not sure how much time I will have to write next week so I thought I would throw up a second blog for this week. Speaking of asceticism, in this post, I am going to reproduce (blatantly copy) one of my favourite, & most inspirational pieces of writing on the subject: Percy Cerutty’s Stotan Code.

I gave a brief history of Cerutty and his ‘Stotan’ philosophy in a former blog. I was pleased to hear that it resonated with a number of readers in the same way it does me (I have highlighted some of the lines in this piece that most speak to me). I hope the following post provides more ‘fuel for the fire’ for the week of training ahead.

See you out there.


The Stotan Code
Percy Cerutty
‘Maker of Champions’

A Stotan is one who hardens, strengthens, toughens and beautifies the body by consistent habits and regular exercises, which are consciously and irrevocably made part of the life plan of the individual, as well as consciously determining that the mind will be cultivated upon such abstractions as purity, beauty and logic. Erudition, in as complete a degree as possible shall be the lifelong aim: Truth, in relation to all aspects of life, the unending search.

Stotans will, by virtue of their philosophy, be nature lovers, with a respect and appreciation of all evolved or created things. They will appreciate the sanctity of creative effort both in themselves and in others. They will strive to understand the significance implied by reality, will be able to discern the real from the spurious, and see no anomaly in nudity, either in body or mind. But neither will they cast pearls before swine.

Stotans, for all the reasons that their philosophy stands for (viz: hardness, toughness, unswerving devotion to an ideal), would look upon the sea (or mountains) as their pristine element and endeavour to associate themselves with their primeval source by immersing themselves at least once per month in all seasons of the year. No practice is disposed to toughen, both the body and the morale, more than this.

Stotans believe that neither the body nor the mind can be maintained at a high pitch of efficiency unless sufficient and regular rest is obtained, and aim at a daily average of of 8 hours sleep. Stotans, also, will not be found in social places after midnight. Stotans shall so regulate their lives that at the end of a period, varying with the intensity of effort, each shall realize that they have attained, without conscious striving, to a state of knowledge, and a position of leadership within the community. It is axiomatic that only the pure can understand purity, only the cultivated appreciate beauty, and only the strong truly measure their strength. Therefore, only the self-disciplined can command genuine respect.

A program shall be aimed at which shall be designed to [train each Stotan]:-

(a)… to withstand physical hardship, to accomplish feats of strength and endurance, to understand orderliness, and the true meaning of intelligence.

(b) To know himself as an organism and a personality

(c) To emerge, eventually emancipated, from all dogmas, creeds, and beliefs, as well as worldly and unworldly hopes and fears.

(d) To habitually function upon the highest planes of thought and physical effort.

(e) To place the objective of an alert, informed intelligence, and a perfected body, as primary in Life. And to arrive at the conclusion that all else will follow on.

(f) To learn that on this basis, the whole world, and all that it has to offer, opens out as a vision, splendid, normal and realizable.

(g) To understand that Past, Futures, Fates, Fears, Death, Selfishness, Egoism, Pride, Envy, Hate and Prejudice can be replaced by Intelligence that controls emotion, dominates destiny, manifests completeness and exults in Life.

(h) To understand that, in actuality, evolved man is a King, but without the trappings. That Kingship is his right and his destiny. That we can make ourselves, in time, all that we would. That we honour real men but are subservient to none.

In addition, Stotans shall train themselves to withstand, stoically, personal criticism, also, scepticism as the necessity or wisdom of such a Way of Life. In this regard, Stotans soon learn that they command knowledge, experience and ability not available to the prejudiced, the ignorant or the slothful.

Also, having embarked upon the Stotan Way of Life, like the Spartans, one must go through with it to the end. There is no giving up throughout life. The first pre-requisite for a Stotan is tenacity. The next is to understand that his loyalties are towards making the most of the material that is his, to the expansion, or at least the manifestation of the Life Force, and a constant identification of himself with his Life Force through his Way of Life.

To live this Way of Life is hard. It is not for weaklings. It is the Way that is travelled by all the truly great ones. It requires strenuous effort of body and mind.


The passage above is taken from the Graem Sims biography of Percy Cerutty, entitled “Why Die”. It is one of my favourite reads.

Onward Stotans!!!


Lifelong Athletics

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


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

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


If you have a moment can you address training as a way to maintain a lifetime of fitness and how to manage your training with a long term view? I ask because for myself partly but mostly for my father who is 63 and a fit runner. After watching me at the Eagleman 70.3 he has decided to switch from marathons/ casual cycling to triathlon (I am supportive and think the focused cross training is likely more sustainable as he gets older). Do you have any recommendations for older athletes? Are younger athletes able to maintain their fitness as they age or does the volume over the years result in overuse injuries that surface later in life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to my interview with Dr. John Hellemans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chose wisely,

The Evolution of an Age Grouper

Here is a picture of a dozen relatively new ducklings which I took this weekend here in a neighborhood close to mine. These guys tie into my posting as I am writing about an evolving triahtlete and these guys are rapidly growing. Fyi- These little dudes swim a lot faster than I do!

Today is the June 1 and I've been back in Seattle for 9 months now. Yesterday I did the Issaquah Sprint Triathlon, my first race of the season and it was awesome!

I woke up at 5:20 after hitting the snooze button twice and did some visualization (I use that term loosely) and ate some cereal before loading up my rig. After stopping at SBUX in Madison Park for my morning coffee I rolled across the 520 Bridge en route to Lake Sammamish where the race was being held. The air was clear and bright (if air can be bright I'm not sure, but at least the sky was) with the temperature in the upper 40's and the water temperature in the upper 50's.

I arrived at the transition area with about an hour to spare and got my body markings before going in and setting up my station. After laying out my wetsuit, bike gear and checking out all of the cute girls in the vicinity (races can be considered the bar scene for athletes and just like I was too shy to approach them at bars I don't do it here either) I pulled on my running shoes and ran around the parking lot for 10 minutes to get warmed up.

Unlike in previous year's races (all one and a half of them) I showed up with the expectation that I was going to perform at a relatively respectable level and I was confident that I would do well.

Of course no matter how well prepared we are or how confident we think we might be there is that little voice inside of us we have to contend with. You know which one I'm talking about, the one that tells us we aren't good enough and we are going to get our asses kicked. Somehow this guy in my dome trys to convince me that some dude that has been sitting on his couch all winter watching reality tv and pounding micro brews to escape the bleak reality of a Seattle winter is going to roll out on this sunny day and blow me and all of my hard work away. It is in silencing this inner critic and telling it that we did the training, we are in shape and we are here today to kick that voice's ass that enable us to secure our first victory of the day. Of course, the voice has logged many hours of steady training as well and he is not one to be beaten easily.

Being a part of me he is no quitter and he came right back at me, taunting me as I pulled on my wetsuit and walked down to the lake for my warm up swim. He got pretty loud and cocky as I waded into the water and realized it was a little bit colder than the night before and hesitated. Finally after remininding myself the importance of not being a whimp (not exactly what I said but you never know who will be reading this) and how beneficial a warm up is I threw my face in the frigid water and started to swim. Finally after 5-10 minutes of warming up I hauled myself over to the starting line to kick off the 2008 season.

For the first time ever in a race I didn't get in the back of the pack for the swim start and settled in closer to the front- half running half swimming to get going. My swim was OK and it was certainly better than last year by leaps and bounds I did stop a few times when I started swimming into people, but this was an entirely new experience for me... actually passing people so I think my system was in shock. This time I was in freestyle the entire time which apparently is a pretty effective way to race. No dog paddling, no back stroke, no side stroke, no visions of some hunch back dude on a flat boat with an eye patch dredging the bottom of the lake for my bloated dead body. Pretty solid all the way around.

I finished the swim strong coming up on the beach in 8 minutes and ran to the transition in a much better mood than past races. I knew I was in pretty good shape when I actually had to dodge people in the transition area as in the past this area has been some pretty lonely real estate for me. Aside from taking a full two minutes to pull my jersey over my heart rate monitor I had a fairly smooth transition and was off.

Once on the bike I passed quite a few people in my age group and remained fairly strong throughout the bike leg. Unlike the standard long course training that I do with my heart rate around 140ish I was pinning it the whole time and had my heart rate around 160 and 175-180 on the hills. I could feel the lactate sludge building up and burning in my legs but that feeling was trumped by the endorphin high that I was experiencing at the time. There are few highs in life that I can think of that compares to the feeling of racing. Even when in deep pain it has a way of locking me into the present moment and no matter how intense I am into the race I notice the beauty in everything. The scenery, the athletes-both the elites and average guys and girls out there giving it their best- it is very moving for me. It is times like these that I am truly appreciative of the gift that is my life.

But no matter how locked in I get it doesn't mean my mind doesn't wander and here are a few random thoughts from the ride...

-Maybe I shouldn't have had that shake from BurgerMaster last night

-Why do I think a stormtrooper is coming when I hear disc wheels

-I wonder what Issaquah tastes like? Is it better baked or sauteed? What would it be infused with if it were on the menu at most Seattle restaurants?

-who chooses the music they play at races? Why do we always have to hear good time oldies? why don't they play Metallica?

-I wonder if the lady in the 40-45 age group riding the mountain bike and listening to her Ipod thought it was cool that my legs are shaved? (I am not making this stuff up- I won't put into print what I come up with on long training rides)

So... enough of the race course philososphy. I pulled into the last transition and nearly encountered catastrophe. Due to a problem with team JFT2 uniforms not arriving in time I was racing in my old gear. Normally not a big thing, but... I had used my shorts for training in the pool and they had nearly disintegrated. They were certainly not the form fitting spandex they once were and my cut off jean shorts from my pseudo hippie days would probably have offered more support. As I was trying to dismount coming into the transition my shorts got stuck on my seat and I nearly bit it. Fortunately I have ample practice of averting near disaster while moving at high speed from my time on the slopes and as the crowd applauded my high wire act I was able to pull out of my nose dive and eject from the bike. It was only hours later when my friend Phil made his kids go inside when I came over to their house did I discover that I had torn a nice hole in my shorts exposing my pasty white backside.

The final transition was not too bad and I hit the running trail in high gear. I kept up what I felt was a "blistering" pace for the entire run and according to my calculations I did the run in just under 20 minutes and this was later confirmed by the official timer. I felt like my chest was going to explode the entire run, but at least I kept my heart rate steady (160-1755) Ha! I felt strong the entire run and had enough of a kick left to pass several more people at the end and finish with a time of 1:16:22. Random thoughts for the run...

-Oh my God, how much time do I have to prepare for Vineman?

-I wonder how long I could run all out at altitude before my hands start to shake?

-I'm glad I had that shake at BurgerMaster last night

Overall I was very happy with my performance and I am optimistic about the 2008 season. Next up is the Cascade's Edge Oly on June 21st, hopefully it won't be snowing that day.

As I grow older I am a big fan of connecting the dots and seeing how various singular events throughout life tie into others to make up the big picture. The past six months (hell the past 3 years) has been an interesting time in my life. I have seen my business and training/fitness take off and I have been through a somewhat difficult break up (or a relationship restructuring to place it in a positive sense) I have made it a practice to to ask questions of whatt good will come out of a seemingly bad situation. I now know that if I hadn't gone through the break up, I wouldn't have shaken up my routine and gone to the Endurance Corner Tucson camp this past March. This event has continued to have a positive impact on my life in many ways (Props to you Court!)

For me this was taking a big risk. In uncertain financial times it was a bit of a sacrifice for me to put out the money it took to travel down and attend, but I knew that it would be money well spent in supporting my goals. This is why I work to make money in the first place.

The second fear that I had to overcome was the fear of embarrassing my self. There were around 20 talented, hard working athletes at the camp and it took a leap of faith for me to leave my ego back in Seattle and just go down and give it my best. Sometimes that is all that we can do.

Just being around the Endurance Corner guys and all of the athletes was a big inspiration to me and I made it through the week relatively unscathed. Fortunately Gordo and JD had it set up that it was all I could do to roll out of bed and get my work in. I had no energy left to feel embarrassed and I certainly had no pride. This gave me a huge confidence boost and a new realization of just what it takes to become great at this sport.

You see, for me I love the training and the racing involved in triathlon, but I get much more out of it than that. I always look for ways that I can cross pollinate other areas of my life with the lessons and examples from sports. How can I use this experience to make me a better friend, boyfriend, eventually husband and dad. How can I use this transformation I've undergone as an example to others. How can I be more productive in business. This is what I think of when I'm not thinking about the milkshakes and dopers legs falling off when I'm out on my long rides.

For what it's worth I placed in the top third in my age group and wasn't too far from being where I want to be which is in the top 10. I'm feeling much better about the racing aspect of myself than I was when I was at the back of the back (Gordo, there is a difference) However I wasn't extremely attached to the outcome in either case. I might even be less attached now that I know it's more about my process and if I continually prepare the outcome will take care of itself- in both racing and life.

"Ain't no man can avoid being born average, but there ain't no man got to be common." Satchel Paige

Get after it!



“Duncan Armstrong (1988 Olympic Gold medallist in the 200m Freestyle) had witnessed the ruthless dedication displayed by Jono Sieben in his quest for his Olympic Gold (1984 200m Butterfly). In 12 months of training he did not miss one day, one session.”
- Lawrie Lawrence (coach of multiple Olympic champions)

“Give me 1000 x 6000m swim sessions without missing 1 and I guarantee you an Olympic Berth”
- Brett Sutton
Note: The athlete in question missed his first session after the 500th, his second was 870 session after starting. The day after his 3rd missed session he destroyed the national record and made the Olympic Team.

“The only secret of those of us who were training at Caulfield and Ferny Creek was the consistency of our training. None of us ever missed a day, as a result, we were all improving. Although each of our sessions would physically stretch us, we never finished a day so exhausted that we were not able to train to the same standard the following day.”
- Ron Clarke (19x World Record Holder)

There is a great quote (I think it’s Mark Twain) that comes to mind:

“He who picks up a cat by the tail learns something that he can learn no other way”

The point, of course, is that sometimes it takes a serious physical or emotional punch in order for us to truly learn, on the deepest level, a simple lesson. This is particularly appropriate to this week’s post because, as you probably read in my last update, I have recently had a week off and a week of very light training following my last crash – lots of time to think (& mope) about lost training.

Of course, we read about the importance of consistency again and again, but for some of us (e.g. me), we don’t truly realize just how important consistency is until we are forced into a period of inconsistent training. I’ll chat about my experiences over the past couple of weeks in a bit, but first a little background reading…

There are a number of studies out there that have demonstrated the immediacy of detraining upon cessation of training. Detraining occurs as quickly as 3 days after training ends and within 1-3 weeks, performance can be expected to drop by 25-30%. If you are unfortunate enough to be forced into a 1-3 month period of no training, expect a loss in performance of 40-50%. For all but elite athletes, this kind of loss will bring most athletes back to pre-training levels (McArdle, Katch and Katch, 1996). When one looks at these numbers, the importance of doing whatever it takes to keep the engine ‘ticking over’ becomes readily apparent.

The mechanisms behind these fitness losses are equally interesting: In just one week of training, athletes can lose 50% of additional mitochondria produced during 5 weeks of training. Once lost, up to 4 weeks of additional training are needed to regain this mitochondria (Olbrecht, 2000). This 4:1 rule is pretty commonly touted among coaches and seems well supported by the literature and my own personal experience, (as I have outlined below).

Similarly, glycogen stores rapidly decrease upon cessation of training, with losses of 40-60% to be expected following 4 weeks of de-training (Wilmore and Costill, 1999). This has direct implications on the athlete’s work tolerance upon resuming training. Even following 1 week of de-training, the athlete will often not reach pre-break training volume until 1 month or more of training resumption.

As mentioned above, my own experiences over the past couple of weeks are tying in well with the literature (I have actually had this blog in the works for a couple of weeks now. I was hopeful that I would be able to show data from my training break through to the return to my normal training/performance levels, but I am afraid, despite my wishes, I am falling in line with what the literature suggests and don’t expect to be back to this level for at least another week!)

My session by session average power and heart rate (from the session before my break through to now) is shown graphically below:

The 2 red lines represent my average training power and heart rate from my last month of training. As you can see, if my average power continues it’s trend, it will be July 1st before I am back to my average power output (201W) for the month of May. In other words, after 1 week off, it is taking me another 3 weeks to just get back to ‘normal’ training levels. This has huge implication for those athletes who have regular 3-7 day breaks in their schedule, e.g. travel for work etc. It is imperative that some level of maintenance training is done even during these relatively short time periods to ensure that the athlete is not continually playing catch up.

For athletes who are forced to take longer periods off due to injury, the importance of maintenance training becomes more pronounced. After reading about just how aggressive Floyd Landis was in his return to training after his hip fracture and comparing it to my own conservative approach (that resulted in being confined to a wheelchair for the better part of 3 months), I realize the importance that elite athletes give to ‘keeping the engine ticking over’.

In the end, as the elite coaches and athletes quoted at the start of this piece have concluded, CONSISTENCY TRUMPS ALL!


Maintenance Training

Jason asks:

"Just wondering what kind of guidelines there are for maintaining one's current fitness level?"

There is good news on this front. Generally, studies show that performance can be maintained (or in the case of tapering, improved) with reductions in training volume of 80-90% of peak seasonal volume for 7-10days of training or 65-80% of peak seasonal volume for longer time periods (up to 4 weeks), providing intensity, particularly intensity in excess of the lactate threshold is maintained at normal levels. (Anderson et al., 1992, Costill et al. 1985, Mujika et al. 1996).

The Back 40

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still thinking,

Because it's there!

“Unless you push the limits, you stagnate. Only when you try to go way beyond where you’ve been before do you really grow. That’s when you’re alive. That’s when you’re really living.” – Mark Allen.

I have a couple of blog posts in the works that are more in line with my typical genre of exercise physiology and training prescription (one on the final phase of annual periodization – The Race Preparation Phase, and another on the realities of de-training), but after reading Gordo’s latest blog, I had a bunch of thoughts swirling around that I wanted to put on paper. I hope you find my catharsis entertaining :-)

In said blog, the g-man asks the question:

“What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves in the process?”

Gordo goes on to point out something that, while the masses may not understand, something that, as athletes, we all (eventually) get: Athletic achievement and personal wellness are not synonomous. In fact, at the highest elite level, they are completely incongruent.

And so, as athletes, as people, we ultimately must answer the question “Why on earth would I choose to pursue an activity that may shorten, if not prematurely end my life?” For some, the answer is simple, “I wouldn’t” and so triathlon is pursued only to the extent that it enriches their health and the rest of their lives. They hike the small peaks and turn around when the footing becomes a little loose.

Others, perhaps the majority of athletes out there secretly enjoy the challenge, but rationally convince themselves that their level of involvement in triathlon supports their health and greater goals. As renowned exercise physiologist, Cooper, concluded back in the day, physiologically this is not the case: ‘If you are training more than 5 hours a week you are doing it for reasons other than health.’ For these athletes, drawing that fine line between achievement and wellness is a constant struggle.

For others, like the climber who inspired the title for today’s piece, the answer to Gordo’s question is just as easy (while perhaps not as rational) as the first group. When, in 1924, George Mallory was asked “Why would you want to climb Everest (when there is every chance of failure/death)?” he simply, and definitively replied “Because it’s there!”. Soon after, Mallory and his colleague, Andrew Comyn Irvine disappeared on the mountain and were not seen again until an expedition discovered their frozen bodies in 1999, 75 years, and some 1100 successful summits since Mallory made his decision.

In my mind, the perspective you take on Mallory’s quest, whether an ill-thought decision that resulted in failure or an inspiring example of ‘going for it 100%’ and living without fear says a lot about your potential as a triathlete.

We all choose (if and) when we turn around on the mountain.

48 Switchbacks

Our lead photo this week is the Passo di Stelvio – I spent Saturday riding up its forty-eight switchbacks. The photo is taken looking down and shows less than one-third of the climb, without doubt, one of the greatest rides in the world.

If you are a cyclist then I highly recommend a pilgrimage to Italy. Don’t leave it too late, though. I am in great shape and used my 34-27 extensively!

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

Big training isn’t for everyone and, even if you are ‘good’ at it, it can be counterproductive to your health and goals. However, undertaking massive challenges can be rewarding and lead to personal growth.

I now know that I can’t “win” Epic Camp. I might win “the game” but, to do that, I place myself in such a hole that I forfeit my larger life goals. Learning the value in doing less has been one of the most useful lessons of my athletic journey.

At Epic, we place ourselves under immense stress. Why? Each of us has a different answer to that question and, I suspect, many of the athletes never stop to consider their own answer. Here is mine… I attend Epic because training camps work.

If you have athletic goals then you are far more likely to achieve them when you surround yourself with a total training environment.

The essential components:

Removal of outside stressors – I didn’t check email once during the camp. This has a very positive impact on my recovery and clarity of mind. Our support team are also essential – laundry, maps, aid stations, meals. This is a huge benefit, even when balanced with the distractions of language, culture and different foods.

Social pressure – We all want to “look good”. If I host a camp then (to maintain my self-image) I can’t sleep through swim practice, take a van ride or skip my runs. What I can control is hitting the minimum workouts, doing my best and trying to be cheerful the whole time. I am placing myself in an uncomfortable situation where success is achieved by enduring the discomfort.

NOTE – In earlier years, social pressure to out-train every athlete temporarily ruined my health. In our larger society, social pressure to keep up with financial expenditure can lead to financial ruin. So be very careful with how you set yourself up in public (and the company you keep – your peer group greatly matters).

Massive Training Overload – My athletic advantage is capacity to train. If you can cram a ton of work into your body, absorb it and learn when to spend it… then you will improve. You will also place incredible stress on your immune system and wear your body out faster than if you were more moderate in approach. As with many things, there are increasing costs and decreasing benefits as you move up the performance curve.

In my experience, the costs outweigh the benefits for many athletes. Eight days of Epic Camp can be a great reality check on whether athletic success is desirable, probable and personally profitable (in the largest sense). Most people don’t have the necessary combination of genetics, attitude, life situation and talent to train (or work) at an elite level. Still, it can be fun place to visit.

Of course, if I had failed to try… that would have been a great (and, perhaps, silent) failure in my life.

Most EpicVets get a permanent benefit from the camp. However, given the psychological profile of our sport, we have had a few customers (myself included) absolutely torch themselves. Only the fittest athletes have a shot a sustaining what we do at Epic.

The camps are a great study in psychology and coping mechanisms. While we have “rules” for scoring points at the camp, everyone ends up playing their own version of the game. I suspect that we do this so that we each “win” in our own way. The people that attend are so used to winning that we each withdraw (at times) when faced with a situation where we may “lose”.

Next year, we will host two Epic Camps –New Zealand in January and French Alps in June. I have told Johno & Scott that I am 100% for the French Alps. I can’t confirm attending New Zealand right now.

If you are interested in learning more about Epic Camp then send us an email with your athletic background.

The camps are most effective for people in Sub-10 hour Ironman shape. With our climbing camps (Rocky Mountains, Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites), there is no place to hide so you need to turn up in solid bike shape.

If you aspire to Epic then Endurance Corner will be hosting more moderate training camps in 2009 – Tucson in early April (sub-13 to sub-10 IMers) as well as Boulder in July (open to IMers of all ability levels). I’ll share more details about these camps in the coming months.


The Pinnacle

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

Two weeks after that race, Scott Molina asked me “What if that’s it?” My reply was, “there’s always more”. Five years, two bouts of serious overtraining and six-months away from my 40th birthday… I am starting to see the relevance of his question…

In 2004, I achieved outstanding personal fitness from cramming eight weeks of high volume training into a nine-week block. My training partner on that adventure was Clas Bjorling – one of the toughest, and nicest, athletes that I have ever met. We didn’t try to “get fast”. We did the trip because we thought that it would be fun to swim/bike/run across America. The trip was more effective than fun – a life with meaning isn’t always fun.

Don’t assume that if you did the same trip then you’d get as fast as us! The trip “worked” because we (somewhat accidentally) created an environment where we gave ourselves what we needed at the time. Always remember to consider what YOU need as well as your current personal limiters. This is tough to do – I find it much easier to follow the advice of others than sit down and think for myself. Thinking is work.

Back to my fitness… early this year, I started to notice that I was able to do anything that I wanted on the bike. This is different than being able to do _anything_. I have limits but when I am riding in my peer group I can achieve what I set out to do – even if that is merely to survive.

Greed, in all things, is a source of personal downfall. Ten years ago, I altered my course from maximizing financial gain to increasing my life satisfaction. At its root, overtraining syndrome is a form of greed, an obsession with athletic performance that, ultimately, leads the athlete to sickness.

In regaining my athletic fitness I noticed clear parallels with the world of international finance. The most striking is the lack of health amongst some of the long-term practitioners. There are a lot of wrecked bodies in high finance and elite athletics. As a defense, the high performers would probably point to the poor health of the masses but, for me, that misses the point. What is the point of achievement if we need to damage ourselves (or compromise our ethics) in the process?

Few people arrive at the position where they are able to rationally see the benefits of less. Typically, we only see the benefits of change when we hit the bottom of our personal potential, or face a major crisis.

So as I blast up a 2,000 meter climb in the Dolomites, self-assured in my King of Mountains jersey, I ask myself… how am I serving the larger goals of my life? Will an extra 20 watts on my functional threshold get me to the top of the bean stock? How about an extra 50 watts? An extra 100 watts?

Then it dawns on me, I have learned this lesson before.

Day Three, Epic Camp Italy 2008 – I ride off the front pretty easily and realize that I should really enjoy the next few months because this is as quick as I am going to get. At one level (performance), my athletic mission is complete. At another (personal wellness), it is beginning.

Molina noticed the change in me and found it entertaining. He might not know the source until he reads this blog. Monica saw it months ago, before I had even noticed. Both of them roll their eyes when I say “this is it”. They’ve heard it all before.

What about Scott’s question?

If this is the Pinnacle then this is enough. Frankly, 2/3rds of my current fitness is enough – I would, however, have to adjust my bike gearing for the French Alps next summer. Scott was running a 30-tooth small chain ring in the Dolomites and many of us had gear envy.

Choose wisely,


The Mummy Returns

Yes, after managing to keep a safe distance between me and the pavement for the better part of a year and a half now (since my last crash in which I broke my hip and a couple of other things), my streak came to a crashing halt last Tuesday when I ran into some relatively immovable object on the roadway and came off second best.

Let me tell you, broken fingers aren’t too far down the pain scale from broken hips, but thanks to my friendly nurse with his morphine drip on hand, the pain was relatively short lived. Unfortunately, my ER doc’s attempt of ‘popping’ one of my fingers back into place didn’t work out and I wound up in surgery getting my finger pinned in place and my fractured elbow drained.

It maybe a little sad to admit that the first thought that went through my head after hitting the deck was “How much fitness am I going to lose this time?”. After my last experience of going from lifetime best fitness to completely starting over, after 3 months of bed rest, I must say, having to do it again is one of my greatest fears.

As it turns out, the answer to my question was 1 week (it would have been sooner but my doc made me promise not to work out until I was off the pain meds!!) I just got back from my first workout back, 1hr on the bike trainer followed by 30 minutes on the treadmill. After pushing a dismal 160W in my aerobic zone (50W less than usual), I am reminded yet again of the power of consistency. Avoid time off at all costs. Keep the engine ticking over at all times. Even in recovery cycles, movement is good!!

But, I digress. As promised, the topic of this week’s post is a follow up to my post 2 weeks ago on practical ways to improve fat oxidation. I will present a brief (typing with one hand sucks!! :-) case study of the athlete that we have witnessed the greatest improvement in fat oxidation thus far and I will highlight some of the practical methods that we have used to get him to this point.

I have been coaching this athlete for a little over a year now. He came to me as a relative ‘newbie’ to the sport (2yrs), with no experience over long-course triathlon (but a tendency for a performance drop off with increased duration, if we compare his best single sport efforts with his best longer duration tri efforts). Incidentally, this profile describes the majority of male athletes coming to me to prepare for their first Ironman. When we look at this athletes first substrate profile, it is not hard to see why many athletes do great over short duration efforts but have a hard time fuelling long duration efforts, e.g the Ironman.

As many of you know, my rule of thumb for best case Ironman (and day to day) pacing for an intermediate triathlete is ~10kcal of CHO/min. This is based on the simple math of average glycogen stores going into the event plus the maximum rate of glycogen sparing if the athlete fuels appropriately. Based on this athletes first test, even at his slowest pace he was expending >10kcal of CHO/min. If he raced at this level of fitness, clearly he would be in for a very long day with a best case scenario of walking the marathon. With very respectable ‘top end’ performances of 18:15 for a 5K and sub 60min for a 40K TT, clearly fat oxidation was the big limiter.


Nutrition: Our 2 goals for this athlete were (A) an improvement in fat oxidation at all intensities (B) a reduction in bodyweight. In order to accomplish these goals, I put this athlete on a diet of 400g of CHO/200g of (lean) Protein and 100g of (good) Fat. This represents 3300kcal/day and 48%/24%/28% macronutrient breakdown. Irrespective of whether the diet is eucaloric or not, I have found these percentages to be ideal in the base phase of training. This is (indirectly) also supported by the literature, e.g. Bergstrom et al. (1967) – check this study out. Lots of practical implications for the endurance athlete!!

Training: To support our objectives, training volume was quite high (20-23hrs/wk) but initially of a very low intensity (with most sessions having a cap of 50 beats below max!!) Incidentally, this is the sort of training that a very successful German ex-pro triathlete advocated when I was fortunate enough to chat with him about how he reached the pinnacle of the sport. It is what Dan Empfield called in an article about how the Germans trained “ridiculously slow”.

Our key sessions each week were a 4hr long flat bike (usually a trainer session due to weather constraints) followed the day after by a long, relatively flat hike of 4+ hours. Other sessions during the week were an aerobic maintenance brick, a strength maintenance session and several technique focused swims.

A couple of important caveats to the athlete looking to undertake such a program:

1. The athlete is a graduate student with limited commitments and therefore has ample time to devote to such a program without losing sleep.
2. The athlete is one of the most focused and compliant athletes in my stable. The above program is for the athlete intent on improving performance whatever it takes. This is not for everyone.
3. This athlete had one of the widest gaps between his ‘top end’ performance and his ‘all day’ performance. Most of the programs for my other athletes, while similar in overall emphasis are more ‘balanced’ across the intensity spectrum.

So, what results did 9 months on the above program yield…….

Simply, the highest rate of fat oxidation that we have seen to date (elites included) and, the first athlete to achieve the golden number that Professor Tim Noakes hypothesized that Mark Allen must have averaged to support his Kona performances, i.e 10 kcal of fat burned per minute!! In some ways to us, that barrier was like the 4 minute mile, something that sounded theoretically possible but something that we wouldn’t really buy into until we witnessed it first hand. Well, we witnessed it and it was glorious!!

This is not to say that I’m expecting this guy to be challenging Macca for the Kona win anytime soon. If you look at the charts you will see that while his overall economy is dramatically improving, he is still a big guy that chews up a good amount of juice to hold a given pace. However, having a physiological quality that very few people on earth possess (if our sample is anything close to representative) is a great starting point!!

With the sort of base that this athlete has patiently and deliberately taken the time to establish, I will be expecting big things from him in the coming years.

Poor Charlie's Almanack

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I am going to change gears from the tri-writing of the last few weeks and write about some personal and financial ideas.

Before we get into that a few announcements.

I can see Paradise by the dashboard lights

OK, I have to admit it, the title for today’s post is a little cryptic, even by my standards, the result of one of those long rides where one thought leads to another, then another and, kind of like Chinese whispers, the final thought winds up pretty far removed from where it all began, actually, with a Meatloaf song title :-). So let me explain….

I’ve never been much of a fan of blind faith. If any of my Sunday School teachers are reading this (highly unlikely :-) I’m sure they would concur. Gordo recently posted a discussion on the top 5 questions that we ask ourselves as triathletes. One of the big common questions was “how good can I be?” In a sport that demands the sort of time commitment that triathlon does, the answer to this question can be a (if not THE) big determining factor on whether we make the decision to continue exploring our potential or if we decide that we’ll never make it, “no matter what we do” after a disappointing race result. It is scary to me, as a coach, how fickle many very good athletes’ motivation really is. Make no mistake, if you want to swing your belief pendulum over to the side of genetic determinism, there will be no shortage of references for you to find that will back up your belief. Sometimes when I am reading studies that take this stance, I ask myself if the sports scientist authoring the study was a victim of his own self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain.....

Many folks wind up in sports science undergrad programs because of a passion for their own sporting pursuits. For the more ‘academically gifted’ (note the inverted commas!!), a cross-roads will eventually be reached in which the student is forced to make the decision to dedicate themselves to academia (masters, doctorate etc etc) or to continue to pursue their passion in the practice of athletics. It is not a huge leap for the (slightly jaded) PhD candidate to start to look for justifications for the decision that they have made. As one of the few sports scientists who took the other, more bumpy, much less green :-), fork in the road, I am in the unique position to have the background to tell you THE secret – there is no research out there that unequivocally proves that your potential as an athlete is genetically determined. None. Nada. There are short term studies that look at the relative plateau of one element of fitness over a short period of time and come to this conclusion. But there is also the “real life” evidence of (the majority?) of world class athletes who have improved their performance over the course of a decade or more. Science has a hard time explaining why, other than putting it down to a wide range of individual ‘trainability’. To be frank, if you ask a sports scientist “how good can I be?”, the only honest answer he/she can give you is “You’ll have to try and find out”.

However, as I said before, blind faith isn’t really my thing. While, I am by nature an “all in” kind of gambler, I’m not the kind of guy that would invest my life savings in a particular stock, never take the time to look at how it’s trending, and just hope it matures to $10,000,000 within the next decade. Yet, this metaphor exactly describes the way that many athletes approach their pursuit of the sport. Never getting any worthwhile feedback as to how their investment of time is doing. Just hoping that it will work out. Also, never taking the time to systematically investigate other investment options that may return a higher yield. When one fails to embrace this long term view of “how they are doing”, it can be very easy to become swayed by short term feedback. Personal example – Triple T. It would be very easy for me to ascribe my mid-pack performance at the Triple T race to a lack of genetic potential, if I wasn’t keeping the bigger picture in mind. So, what is the “bigger picture”?

One of my buddies/clients, Ryan Novak coined the term “dashboard” for the Excel charts that I generate to track our key performance indicators. I like this term, by keeping our eyes on the ‘dashboard’, we adopt an appropriate speed, we don’t run out of gas, and with the new GPS systems, we even make sure that we stay on the roads that will ultimately lead us to our destination.

An example of one of the “gauges” from my dashboard is shown below (my bike fitness vs. intensity breakdown over the past 17 months).

This chart is the synthesis of A LOT of data points over the course of the previous year. The trend is obvious. While the performance curve is one of diminishing returns, if we play it out to a decade or more, if the trend continues, it places me at a fitness index of ~1.9, equivalent to 270W at my IM heart rate in another 8 years (at age 40). Of course, there are no guarantees here. Like any forecasting, many things could happen between now and then that change the end result. However, now at least it is a calculated risk, one that I can make a conscious, informed decision on whether it is worth taking. It may seem crazy to make the decision to commit the next decade of my life to a result that is by no means guaranteed. However, in my mind, the true ‘reward’ is in making that commitment to spending my 30’s living with a conscious purpose rather than just whittling away my time unconsciously before waking up on my 40th birthday screaming “what have I done with the first half of my life?”. That’s not for me.

Of course, by keeping an eye on my investment, if things start heading South, I can also make a conscious, informed decision to pull the plug (unlikely), or at the very least, I can make the decision that my current strategy is not giving me the return on my time investment that I deserve and try something else (more likely).

What are you basing your training decisions on?

Train smart.


Note: My Part II on case studies of improvements in fat oxidation will be up next week. I got pumped up by this idea and wanted to post the 'dashboard' blog first.

Athletic Legacies and Training Speeds

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


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

Earlier this week, I sent my race report to Planet-X, Zipp and Blue Seventy. I expect that the PX crew should have it live shortly (click HERE on Tuesday). As you will read, I ended up with the quickest time for the weekend and was reminded that it is quite tough to go fast. Alan touches on the physiological reason why it is tough for me to go hard in his latest blog.

When you know the training/approach required to go fast – but can’t seem to do it – that knowledge can reduce your training satisfaction. In 2005, I was dealing with quite a bit of frustration.

Likewise, even if you arm yourself with the fitness to “go fast” – the knowledge of how hard you have to race can make you realize a few things. Now that I am “fit” I am reminded how tough it is to tap my fitness. Riding around the rolling hills of Southern Ohio I asked myself (more than once) why I was spending the weekend, away from my wife, chasing strangers around the backwoods?!

I feel very fortunate in my athletic life -- first (and foremost) to have the opportunity to train on a daily basis; and, second, to have experienced a high level of success. Strangely, just like my success in the corporate world, I have come to realize that there isn’t anything magical at the end of the rainbow. When I finish first, it simply means that nobody faster turned up and I sit around waiting for my pals to catch up.

For me, the satisfaction lies in experiencing the physical sensation of performing close to my potential. I can feel that in training AND, at training speeds, I can relax a bit and look around at nature. During a bike TT, I have to hold my head totally still and avoid creating any additional turbulence with my helmet (!). I save a few seconds but miss the view.

What is my point? Just a reminder of the following…

If you are dissatisfied with yourself at the back of the pack then you will have the same feelings in the middle of the pack. There are a lot of people chasing self-esteem at the races – I doubt you’ll find it in your racing (you could find it in on your athletic journey, though).

If you think that qualifying for Kona, winning your agegroup, or winning a race will change the way you feel about yourself then you may be disappointed. My experience has been that outstanding preparation is more satisfying than performance. However, I seem to be more process-oriented than most.

Coaches (and athletes) should be extremely wary about defining success in terms of relative performance. Our egos greatly overestimate the importance of victories.

The lessons of athletics come from the process of overcoming ourselves and learning to create habits that support our goals. Success is a continual process of finding patterns/choices/decisions that hold us back and eliminating them. These lessons are independent of inherent ability and ultimate performance.

Inherent ability and relative performance impact the satisfaction we receive but those feelings are shallow compared to the deeper meaning that arises when we overcome our fears and failures.

Take some time to consider the legacy that you are creating for yourself. How have the last five (or ten, or twenty) years served the life that you want to create?


How I Train & Race

With that in mind, I am going to change direction and share some ideas about how I get “fast” relative to myself. How do I improve my performance?

Consistency – the last two week’s articles are a good summary of my Big Picture approach. As a number of male readers wrote in… “it wasn’t just for the ladies”. I wrote that piece to remind myself, and you, of a few things.

Training Load – for ultradistance triathlon, your ultimate potential is closely correlated to the training load that you can absorb. If you have factors (genetic, occupational, whatever) that limit your capacity to absorb training then you will struggle to be a competitive ultradistance triathlete. This can be an unpopular message to deliver.

NOTE -- this point applies most directly to your performance against others -- by training smart, nearly everyone can perform far better than we imagined relative to ourselves.

Your struggles will show as:

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

If you have the psychological make-up to be a great athlete but lack the physical back-up then you are going to get frustrated coping with the above. I know athletes that manage to convince themselves that the above characteristics are success traits (!?). I would characterize them as failure markers – when you are dealing with two, or more, then you are limiting your ability to be successful in the large picture of your life.

My advice would be to consider if there is an alternative avenue for you to direct your energies where you could be great. Even if you are the “total package” for endurance sport, the rate of return on hour invested is low. If you are in it for reasons other than financial return or athletic glory, then acknowledging that fact will help you maintain a clearer perspective on how to organize your life.

In my life, I wonder if chasing race victories is simply a socially acceptable justification for wanting to do endless training camps. Training is fun, racing is tough.

I spent the 1990s banking 24,000 hours of work in the financial services industry. It is the return from a decade of work and a decade of training that created my athletic life (today). If you look at a snapshot of me (or anyone else) – then it is impossible to see the 20-30 years of choices that resulted in their current situation..

OK, now a few specifics…

Within each sport my first goal is to maintain efficiency, strength and endurance – read my Four Pillars for what that means. For EVERY distance of triathlon competition, that must be your first goal – both as a novice and an expert – it all starts from there.

The sports scientists say that our absolute VO2 can be trained up in about ten weeks – because of its quick return, intensity is great product to “sell”. It hurts and you get quick returns – must be good, eh?

By applying the Four Pillars, you can improve your power/pace at AeT/LT/FT for ten YEARS. Further, you will find that your capacity to sustain threshold efforts is linked directly to the depth of your steady-state fitness.

What do I mean by “depth of fitness”? I mean “consistent training load” – the first two bullets of this section. Depth of fitness shows mostly in your training log, not short durations TTs or the lab.

In an race like the Triple T – you see “speed” in the prologue // you see “fitness” in the final 13-mile run.

Now, even more specific…

Swimming – As a beginner, I received a huge return on my initial months of swim training. For my first year, I improved nearly every month. It was a lot of fun and the improvement became addictive. Then I reached my first (of many) swim plateaus. The early plateaus where easily overcome by adding volume. My later plateaus required adding volume and intensity. I had to learn how to “work” in the water. In order to improve from my current level, I need to be swimming 22-25,000 meters per week with three solid workouts and an IM set on my “easier” day. Swimming is the most intense aspect of my current program.

Cycling – Cycling is the heart of my endurance program. To perform well, I need a consistent load of 10-15 hours per week with my big weeks around 20-25 hours. Early in my career I did a lot of “touring” (easy cycling) but that is out of my program now. If I can’t ride at least steady then I cut the workout short. When I am riding well, I have the capacity to ride long periods on the flats (uninterrupted) The core of my program is rides of 3-5 hours duration with no more than two short breaks. Cycling is where I do the most work (effort over time) in my program.

Running – For a guy that runs well in races, I run relatively slowly in training. My program has two goals – run (nearly) every day and make my long runs my toughest sessions. That’s it. As a result, I am rarely injured and have a long track record of consistent running. REMEMBER -- if you want to run well then you need long term mileage. This is far more important than the physiological benefits of fast running.

Strength Training – about 70 sessions per annum with about 25 of those sessions hard enough to leave me sore for more than three days.

Here is the paradox – when I time trial, I turn all of that on its head.

Swim – lowest intensity part of my day

Bike – sprint and oly distance will see lots of power spikes; Half IM distance will see lots of power spikes in the 2nd half of the ride; IM distance very few power spikes.

Run – sprint and oly distance run fast the whole way; Half IM build effort and focus on a very fast final 10K; IM stay relaxed in the first half, quick in the 3rd 10K and hang on for the final 10K.

On race day, I have found that time trialling results in a faster time than racing. However, I have won a couple of events when I raced, rather than TT’d.

One final point, the above is not a protocol for health. It contains FAR too great a training load. Once we go past ten hours per week, we are being driven by something different than personal health – mental wellbeing? a circle of athletic obsession? I haven't figured that one out completely!



Feedback from last week.

One reader commented that she has a strong desire for a "performance" program and asked for my thoughts.

The most important aspect of your program is getting out the door each day. If you are doing that consistently then you are successful. You personal health depends much more on "doing" than the specifics of "what you do". I think that we all spend too much time sweating the details within our programs.

One of the fascinating aspects of human nature is how we (all) assume that a program of consistency and moderation contains a hidden "cost". The articles I share here are my views on what it takes for us to become high performers -- in both life, and the athletic arena.

Improving Fat Oxidation

Part 1: What Science Says....

The pic above is of yours truly following the completion of the Triple T triathlon in Ohio this past week. The photo was taken on the last day, after about 5K of swim racing, 190K of bike racing and 43K of run racing. I was a little depleted to say the least (G can attest to that by the way that I was walking after the race :-)

My strategy for the race was (I thought) a pretty conservative one: Hit the prologue pretty hard (about 90% of max effort), take the second day, 2 olympic distance races, as a regroup day by racing steady (150 heart rate cap) then try and race day 3 at mod-hard, which is just a notch below where I would race a fresh half (mod-hard to hard). I discussed G’s race plan with him in the car. He wanted to shoot for the lead early in the prologue and first oly. So, basically, his plan was to go hard from the gun. As it turns out, he had to continue to go hard pretty much until the last run in order to ensure the W. When I say hard, I mean hard in every sense of the word. Physiologically, if he were to go any harder he would be limited by lactate accumulation in the same way that an 800m runner is. G was racing very close to his max all weekend long. So, how did my conservative strategy play out? Great, until the second lap of the bike on Day 3 when I dropped from holding 280W to less than 200W in one fell swoop. Bonktown, population…me! Fortunately, my stupidity was transient. I went into damage control pretty quickly when I saw the writing on the wall. The second lap of the bike was very easy (13 minutes slower than the first) and by the time the run came around, I had a little bit of steady back to play around with. Yet again, the gap between G’s performance and mine became Grand Canyonesque as the race duration increased. I was forced to race so far below my max in order to just survive the weekend, while G was able to push his max day after day. Why? My arch enemy, Captain Fat Oxidation rears his ugly head again.

This post is going to be a little different to my previous posts on fat oxidation. Hopefully by now, you’re as convinced as I am that the ability to utilize fat as a substrate is an important, distinguishing factor between those who excel at Ironman and those who, despite impressive short course results, are unable to put it together for ‘the big one’. Hopefully, you’ve already contacted Matty Stein and booked a testing slot at our Endurance Corner lab in Boulder to determine whether fat oxidation is limiting for you. No, this post isn’t for the fence sitters waiting for academia to catch up before making a decision as to whether to devote their time toward improving this physiological variable. Nope. This post is for those athletes who have gone through the testing, identified that fat oxidation is a limiter and who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work on turning yourself into a fat burning machine.

So, this first post is going to give you a little background reading on what science says about means and methods to improve your ability to utilize fat as a fuel. My next post will be entitled “Fat Oxidation….What Big A says” and will profile some of the improvements that I have seen in my own athletes and the training and nutritional methods that we have used to achieve them.

But first….

You know how most folks have a favourite actor or actress? An actor that, if they come out with a new movie, you just have to see it? Well, in the same way that you may be a huge fan of your favourite movie star, I am a huge fan of a sports scientist by the name of Julia Goedecke. Julia’s chosen ‘genre’ is the influence of fat oxidation on long distance racing performance.

Julia and her colleagues at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa conducted a study in 2000 that looked at individual differences in fat oxidation across a variety of exercise intensities (rest, 25%, 50% and 70% VO2max). She came to a number of conclusions that have practical implications for ultra-endurance athletes:

#1. There is a wide variation in the amount of fat that is oxidized at rest.

Some of the athletes were deriving almost 100% of their resting energy from fat, while others were only deriving 25%. This has HUGE implications on athletes who struggle with body composition. By increasing your rate of fat oxidation at rest, you could potentially lose body fat 4x faster than you currently are!!! Not to mention preserving your precious glycogen stores for your next training session.

#2. Those subjects who burned more fat at rest also burned more fat at ALL EXERCISE INTENSITIES (see chart)

Even at 70% VO2max, some of the subjects who were 100% fat burners at rest were still deriving 40% of their energy from fat (think G), while in the athletes who were poor fat burners at rest, fat burning had completely shut down (think me, or you??)

So, what were the distinguishing factors between the ‘corvette’ athletes and the ‘prius’ athletes? Interestingly the factors changed somewhat with increasing exercise intensity.

a) The concentration of Free Fatty Acids within the blood

This is THE pre-requisite for fat burning at rest and all exercise intensities. In other words, if your blood is full of glucose as opposed to FFA’s, you will not be providing the muscles with any stimulus to ‘learn’ to use fat as a fuel. High FFA levels (and low-moderate blood glucose levels) are a pre-requisite for fat burning. This has LARGE nutritional implications. If you keep your blood sugar levels perpetually elevated, you will never become a fat burner. Period.

b) The concentration of fat-burning enzymes within the muscle.

While short chain and medium chain FFA’s can diffuse into the mitochondria freely, long chain FFA’s must ‘hitch a ride’ with the enzyme carnitine palmitoyl-transferase in order to make it to the mitochondria. A shortage of this enzyme will mean that even if you have sufficient FFA’s within the blood, the long chain ones will be left by the side of the road with their thumb in the air waiting to hitch a ride. This enzyme is inhibited in the post absorptive state when blood glucose is elevated.

c) Mitochondrial content within the muscle.

Of course, in order for FFA’s to be ‘burned’ and used for fuel we need a sufficient number of ‘engines’ to burn them. In this sense, the number of mitochondria within the muscle can ultimately limit the rates of fat oxidation. This is a function of aerobic fitness, which in turn is a function of the number of contractions performed by each muscle fiber, or put another way, as my buddy Chuckie V is fond of saying, miles make champions.

So, there you have it – 2 simple ways to turn yourself into a fat-burning machine:

1. Cut sugar from your diet (and moderate total CHO intake)

2. Train MORE in your aerobic zones (cut out the hard stuff until you’re ready for it).

Not exactly earth-shattering revelations, but based on what we are seeing in the lab these 2 principles are not being applied by most athletes. You can beat a large portion of the field by making these simple (though not easy) changes.

I’ll get down to more specifics in the next post.

Train smart.


Benzing asks:

“I have been tested and my suspicions confirmed that I am about as inefficient as possible. Is there any data on how long it takes a 44 old female body to retrain itself when practicing the prescribed training and change in diet?”

There has been a good amount of research on the physiological effects of low and moderate carbohydrate diets (e.g. Ravussin et al, 1985, Weinsier et al, 1992). Generally speaking, individuals who adopt a low-moderate CHO diet can expect a change in their resting RQ of ~.05 within 12-16 weeks. This translates to an increase in resting fat oxidation of ~20%.

The extent to which this carries over to performance during exercise is dependent on your overall fitness, or how many ‘engines’ you have to process your new found fuel line. This is the reason that studies looking at the impact of training on fat oxidation have returned mixed results. Keep in mind however, that even for the relatively unfit, burning more fat at rest is still a good thing!!

The vice versa argument also applies, as we found while driving the Sportsmobile back across the country from the Triple T. You can have the largest capacity tanks and the biggest engine around, but until you pay the lady at the gas station and she turns the fuel pumps on, the number of miles that you’re going to be able to drive is severely inhibited. :-)

Thoughts for female athletes

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


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

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

Five athlete slots -- one coach (me).

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck!


Fear, Self Worth and Performance

This week, I am going to stick with the theme of personal performance and share ideas on two human traits that make it very challenging to think clearly when stressed.

Before we move into the letter, a couple of announcements:

Summer Training Camps in Boulder -- the EC Team have carved out three weekends [June 7/8; July 12/13; and August 2/3] for small group training camps. If you would like to come to town for a weekend totally focused on long course racing then read full details in Mat's Blog. I will be in town for the July and August weekends and available for Q&A.

For the coaches out there, the EC Team would be happy to be your support crew. Feel free to talk to us about how we can back you up.

Boulder Performance Testing -- over on Alan's Blog, AC has been running through a series of articles sharing what we have been learning as a result of our fuel efficiency testing. While testing is the only way to get your personal data, the concepts of fuel efficiency and optimal pacing are essential to consider.

Based in Boulder, the team offers testing/consultancy services to help athletes (all sports, all distances) gain a better understanding of personal limiters and optimal pacing strategies. Our role is often to help athletes consider:

***Is my race performance in line with my training performance?

***What is the optimal pacing strategy for this course and distance?

***Have I been able to execute my pacing strategies in the past (in training, in racing)?

***Is my event dominated by AeT, LT, FT or VO2 benchmarks/performance? (see attachment below for explanation of our terms)

***Does my training program, and race schedule, mirror the specific demands of my key competitive event(s)?

Last week I laid out the general components of a successful plan, the role of a coach is to ensure that the specific components of the athlete's strategy are consistent with these points above.

If you want to read more about the Critical Success Factors for endurance athletics then you will find them HERE. The article is about long course triathlon but is directly applicable to 95+% of the field at every running, cycling, swimming or triathlon event.



Two of the greatest fears that we witness (daily) in group training situations are fear of missing out, and fear of being left behind. Two stories...

During an easy recovery ride in Tucson, we came across a female rider stopped at the side of the road. We passed and she jumped on our group. We were spinning very mellow and the rider went around us and headed down the road. Later that night, I asked if anyone got the urge to hammer past the lady for "daring" to ride through us? There were a lot of knowing chuckles.

As a test workout, I often ask my athletes to: (a) get dropped on purpose; (b) ride 20m behind the group for an entire ride; or (c) hold pace as I randomly accelerate around them. It can be VERY tough to mentally handle those situations.

I have found that our capacity to tolerate short term "training humiliations" is tied into self-worth and personal identity. There is a lot of mental noise going on during most group workouts!

When we find something emotionally difficult -- odds are -- the situation is bumping against personal fears and challenging our self-image. True confidence arises from acceptance of our own performance not the capacity to dominate the performances of others.

Hardness has its roots in domination -- softness (or being open) is rooted in acceptance. In what mode would you expect to make the best decisions?

It takes a surprising amount of specific training to become conscious enough to think clearly while acknowledging these fears.

When your race performance is diverting from your training performance -- look outside of your physiology for solutions. Instead of focusing on the last few percent of physical performance -- a large breakthrough could be available by relaxing and softening up (RASU).

Justin's latest piece on XTri talks about coping with his shift from agegroup to elite racer. A very honest look at the mental challenges that we share when racing.

On that fear of missing out... I deal with it every time I decide to rest/recover!

Back Next Week,


EC Training Zone Summary

Big A challenges YOU to a drag race!!

Pick your weapon of choice:
Option 1: A 2008 Corvette Z06

Option 2: A 2008 Honda Accord
Option 3: A 2008 Prius Hybrid

Now remember, this is a race. Make your selection.

I’ll tell you what, while I love driving in general, I have a bit of a penchant for long distance driving, so let’s race from my home town of Boulder to Albuquerque, NM, OK (about 350mi)?

There’s one more condition to the race, to keep things fair (and authentic to triathlon) we start with our gas tanks full and do it on one tank of gas. Thinking of changing your selection yet? No? You’re right, it’s still a race, whether it’s 50mi or 500mi, the fastest guy wins in the end, right?

OK, so let’s play it out. You screech out of the Boulder Res using every bit of your 505 Horsepower (in triathlon speak 376,000 Watts at VO2max, or in relative terms, you’re making Lance Armstrong’s 6.7 W/kg look pretty pathetic with your 265 W/kg :-) . You hit a solid cruising speed of 140mph (only 70% of your max!!) and you’re thinking this is cake. You’ve got the win in the bag. You’re passing cars left right and center – zing, zing.

Your buddy in the Accord takes off too at about 100mph (70% of his max) and he’s losing ground fast. You’re thinking to yourself, I bet he’s wishing he had those extra 143W/kg right now. Right?

Meanwhile, driving Miss Daisy takes off at a snails pace in the Prius at 80mph (70% of her max). Things aren’t looking great for her as the two guys scream off toward the Horizon. Honestly, with her 44W/kg she’d be better off enlisting the help of 6 Lance Armstrong’s with FT’s of ~ 7W/kg to pull her along dog sled style!! :-)

So, things are looking pretty clear cut as you scream along I25 toward Albuquerque, but then as you approach about 320mi, all of a sudden your super sexy sports car isn’t sounding so super sexy. You try and try to keep her going, but before you know it, you’ve got your head in your hands at the side of the road as your buddy in the accord (with 140W/kg less top end than you) comes rolling by. Doesn’t make sense, you both started with same size fuel tanks (18 G) topped off. Oh well, nothing you can do about it now but drop out of the race or get behind your car and push at a ridiculous crawl.

You’re no quitter, so as you tramp out the miles in the desert heat you get to thinking. “What went wrong?” It’s not too long before you put 2 and 2 together. Same size tanks, one guy runs out of gas before the other, man, that accord must be a lot more efficient with his fuel. You’re right. The accord is getting 22miles from every gallon of glycogen (oops, I mean fuel :-) whereas you and your sexy beast are getting 4 miles less for every gallon. As the buzzards start to circle, you get to thinking, “Gee, if fuel economy is the name of the game, Miss Daisy in the Prius is looking mighty good right about now.”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But the fact remains, with her pretty pitiful 44W/kg and her equally unimpressive top end speed of 115mph, Miss Daisy just isn’t going to have the Horsepower to catch the accord within the 350mi. She’ll get there, to be sure (and a whole lot faster than any of the clowns who wind up running out of gas and pushing) but at 80mph it’s going to take her about an hour longer than it takes your former buddy (who didn’t stop to pick you up – hey, it’s a race :-) in the Accord.

Believe it or not, this story isn’t just a case of Big A sitting on his couch spinning a yarn. Like all good parables, there is a strong hidden meaning in this story. Let me point it out for you: If you’re a Corvette (see below)

and you decide that this long distance racing thing is for you, spending training time eeking out another 10 horse power from your top end isn’t going to do much for you.

Likewise, if you have more of a Prius profile (see below), a dose of long steady distance training designed to improve your efficiency isn’t going to help you compete with the big boys come race day.

It is essential that in order to get to the next level, you determine what your true current limiters are. I see a lot of triathletes training blind in this regard. The only real way to determine whether you are a Prius or a Corvette is to take a FUEL test.

If you’re anything like the athletes that we’ve tested to this point, you may be surprised with the results.

Decisions, De-cisions

“Do or do not. There is no try.”
- Yoda

The pic above is of Hernan Cortes. Cortes’ greatest claim to fame (at least from my perspective) was the famous incident at Vera Cruz, when, during his attempted Mexican conquest, after landing on the shore with his armies and hearing of the might of the local ruler, Montezuma, he made the decision to eliminate any chance of retreat by burning his army’s ships.

The word decision comes from the latin roots ‘de’ meaning ‘from’ and ‘caedere’ meaning ‘to cut’. In other words, making a true decision means to physically cut yourself off from the possibility of failure.

Do not fool yourself, we all have limits to our will power, as Gordo points out in his latest blog. It is not superior willpower that separates champions from the rest of us. I spent a good amount of time with the Aussie national swim team when I was back in Australia. Like any sample of society, there are a number of different personalities within the team. Some are “hard” as a rock, completely unyielding, thinking about swimming and their goals for the sport 24-7. Others are more ‘soft’, more ‘yin-yang’ athletes, a balance of ‘get down to business’ attitude when they hit the water and ‘regular guy time’ when they hit dryland. Personality is not the distinguishing factor that separates those who make it from those who don’t. So, what does separate achievers from non-achievers? Achievers put themselves in a position to make habits of the things that failures won’t do. To be real, in the world of swimming, it is often not the athlete who must summon the daily willpower to make these decisions.

I never really ‘made it’ as a swimmer. I was an above average local swimmer. I’d pick up some medals at local meets. I made a couple of representative meets but there were certainly other swimmers in my own squad that were at that next level. Some went on to make the Aussie national team. When I look back to what the difference between them and me was, I am forced to conclude that the biggest difference wasn’t in their own obsession for the sport. Rather, these athletes had parents that were OBSESSED with the sport. On occasion, when one of these swimmers put in an effort that was deemed to be ‘sub-par’, I have seen his mother slap the kid across the face when he got back from his race. When I started coaching elite juniors in Sydney (8-12 year olds that were the superstars of tomorrow) this level of parental ‘commitment’ was no longer the exception, it was the rule.

It’s an interesting position to be a coach in this situation. While I knew that these kids were missing out on having a loving, caring, soft parental figure, they were gaining something that I never had, the joy that comes with being the very best, but more than that, the joy that comes with becoming your very best.

Now, I want to make clear that I am in no way condoning corporal punishment, especially in this circumstance. However, I do want to say that in some ways I wish that my parents would have pushed me more to stick to a commitment that I made.

This reminds me of the story of world record marathoner Toshiko Seko. After a particularly tough stretch in (his coach) Nakamura’s training camp, in which Nakamura put Seko on a diet of a piece of toast and a piece of lettuce each day (notably, in an effort to lose the weight that he had put on after spending some time in the US college system), Seko broke and ran home to the perceived security of his parent’s abode. When he got there his parents closed the door on their son. The sent him back to Nakamura with a message “Do whatever you must with him: He’s yours”.

OK, so maybe we aren’t all willing to make those decisions; to convince one of our family or friends to beat us up every time that we don’t make a performance benchmark or to live on lettuce and toast in an effort to lose a few pounds, but the point remains that the laws of cause and effect apply to us all and that if you are not receiving the results that you want in your life, it is because you have not made the decision to put these causal, environmental factors in place.

A true decision is marked by a physical action, the physical action to, all extents possible, block off any source of retreat. This may mean throwing all simple sugars in your home in the bin. It may mean selling your car so that you are forced to commute by bike. It may mean joining a masters swim program so that you have a social burden to show up to your swim sessions. Whatever the action, it is important to note that we live in a society in which retreat is both easy and, to some extent, expected (think divorce rates), and in which a decision, like a New Years Resolution is rarely worth the paper it is written on (if indeed we even get to the point of writing it down). It is not a true decision until it is backed up with massive, immediate action.


Planning and Being Hard

This week, I will shift gears from property investing and discuss two topics that preoccupy the minds of athletes -- The Plan and Being Hard. My thoughts will be slated towards athletics but the concepts apply just as strongly in our daily lives.

Before we roll into the letter, I was back in the Grand Canyon last Tuesday. This time I was running solo and applying the lessons from my first trip. It is amazing how quickly the body can adapt to stress. While I wasn't much faster on the round trip -- the damage that the run did to my body was a fraction of the first time. This time four weeks ago, I could barely walk and my legs were absolutely trashed. With respect to Ironman marathoning, durability is an essential fitness component that is near impossible to measure quantitatively. My average heart rate for the "run" was 117 bpm and it is one of the toughest sessions that I will do all year.

Alan's latest blog piece provides a window into my lab-fitness and a discussion of performance limiters. Something that JD pointed out at the April camp was that each of the Endurance Corner coaches has a different take on the same topic. That is part of what makes us a good team, and also a source of creative friction.

When I test myself I remember the following:

***Testing is three dimensional, performance is four dimensional. The test measures my ability to perform a specific task over a period of time. Performance, in sport and life, requires the ability to execute over multiple years. Life is about coping with the unexpected. By definition, our capacity to manage change cannot be measured in a controlled environment

***X-Factor // At our April camp, Robbie Ventura gave an excellent talk on fast time-trialling. The bottom line of his talk (for me) is some athletes go fast on race day for a range of "little things" that they are able to put together. Robbie calls these little things the X-Factors of racing. Successful people have the capacity to execute a series of little things, consistently, over time. For me, this skill is habit based. Our X-Factor capacity cannot be measured in the lab.

If you review my bike chart over on AC's blog then remember that it is the result of more than 20,000 hours of endurance exercise. We get a lot of question about how athletes can make changes to improve their charts in 6-8 weeks.

In your training do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
-- Morihei Ueshiba

I have been fortunate to study under a few masters of triathlon -- even they admit that their main skill is guessing better than average.


I play a good "long game" -- by that, I mean my performance over multi-year time horizon is strong. As a result, people are interested in the specifics of my plan.

The power of my plan lies in the general, not the specific. Here's what I mean -- when I get it right (and I make a ton of mistakes)...

***A simple plan that I can remember and execute every day

***Periods of specific overload that address key limiters

***Scheduled recovery, and downtime, before I need it

***No one session, day, week, month compromises the period that follows

***Finish strong

***Enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying

The above factors lead to outstanding execution over the long term. That, in turn, leads to performance.

99% of the noise in our heads (mine is no different) is a distraction from the above, makes very little positive impact on performance and reduces energy available for recovery.

Which brings me to...


Being Hard
Most people are surprised when I tell them that I am (nearly) completely soft. My close friends laugh when I say that I am 99% negotiable and 1% firm. I accept that the world could appear differently looking out, than looking in!

Given the impossible task of seeking to control the world around us AND our limited willpower, influence, energy... I tend to focus my true efforts on a very, very, very limited set of circumstances. I figure that I can be "hard" for a couple of hours per week, MAX. If I am "hard" more often then my overall performance will, ultimately, be compromised.

One of my past mentors taught me that we live with a six-shooter and no extra ammo. If we are thinking of using a "bullet" then we'd better make sure that it is a key point. That analogy has stuck with me and 95% (or more) of my training builds me up (mentally, physically). I only do a little bit that breaks me down.

I could be a little soft from a sport performance point-of-view // and // that is likely why HTFU gets my attention. However, after thinking about it for over a month, I don't know a single long term high achiever that is "hard".

In racking my brain, I only considered people that I knew. There are hard personalities that we hear about but I suspect that they are fabrications.

The toughest competitors that I know are soft in real life (though they try to hide it in public). Our fears and emotional weak points are powerful motivators when channeled towards performance.

When you reach a point where you can't handle any more... relax and soften up.

RASU -- maybe I'll get some hats printed up...

Cheers from New Mexico,