Wednesday, February 3, 2016

How To Avoid Over Training--Part One

This is a two part series from my buddy, Clas. He nuked himself more severely than any case than I have read about. He is sharing his experience so that you can learn from his year on the sidelines.

Over training is an occupational hazard for the highly motivated endurance athlete. In my opinion, elements of over training are an essential part of the process of elite ultraendurance performance. While deep overreaching is common, (and, at times, desirable), deep over training should always be avoided.

You'll miss your immune system when it is gone.


Now, That most of us are starting to make plans for next year. This could be a good time to tell you a little about how to avoid over training and what I've learned from my experience. Many of us are high achievers and don’t listen to what our bodies are telling us when we are training and racing, or not even in “normal” life.

First, I will tell you a little about what I have experienced since my health started to be run down during the fall 2006. In the end I will give you ideas how to avoid over training, so if you are busy you can just skip part one and wait for part two, but I think we can all benefit from hearing what can happened if you push too far.

Before I got shingles 1.5 years ago I had never had any serious illness that had been caused by training to hard. Of course there has been several times where I've been very tired but, my body and mind had always been able to recover from whatever I had pushed myself through.

And so it did when I first got shingles, as so it seemed. I had been training very hard in New Zealand for 3 months including a killer Epic Camp and slowly got myself over the edge. I could feel I was getting more and more fatigued but I had Ironman Arizona coming up in about a month, so I kept pushing. I thought my body could make it a few more weeks before I started my taper, but 2 weeks before the race I got shingles again and I had to cancel the race to focus on getting healthy.

I had never heard about shingles but I got some tips from the great New Zealand Ironman athlete Joanna Lawn who had suffered from shingles a year or so earlier. She told me to take it very, very easy for some time to let the body heal itself, which I did, at least for a few weeks, I then started to feel better and slowly started training. After about a month I was back into my regular training routine and I felt pretty strong so I looked up some new races to do. I had set a new Swedish Ironman distance record at Quelle Challenge in Roth the year before so I though I should go back there and break my own record. I first needed a “warm up race”, and went to UK and to race a ½ IM that was 2 weeks before Roth. I then went to Roth and had a great race considering the warm conditions, which I don’t care for. I was able to break my own record and finished in a time of 8:15. I was very happy with my race in Roth and by now I had totally forgotten that I had just gotten over a pretty serious illness.

The week after Roth Kristy arrived in Sweden and she was getting ready for Ironman UK that was about 7 weeks after Roth. So without taking any real rest I started to join her on her sessions and after a few weeks I felt pretty good again and decided that I was going to race Ironman UK as well. Again, I would first need a “warm up” race so we went to Denmark and did a ½ Ironman that was 2 weeks before Ironman UK.

When I raced in Denmark, I could feel that I started to get pretty fatigued again. I had an okay race but my body felt like stopping the entire time. However, Just as I had done earlier in life, I didn’t listen what I body was telling me. I had an Ironman coming up and I was going to do that race even though I was a little tired. I was confident that everything would be okay once I started tapering for real.

I was able to recover a little before Ironman UK, but during race week I could feel that something was going on in my body. I felt more stressed then normal and had a hard time focusing on things. I had an Ironman coming up, so I tried to ignore these signals. Why listen to my body now when I had never done that before?

I started the race which went okay, but I never felt good. But, that’s the thing with Ironman, if you are just good enough and keep moving, you will have an okay finish. I finished 2nd overall and was happy about that. One thing I can say for sure is that if I had been 100 % healthy, I would have won.

I hadn’t more than finished the race before I started to get a cold and fever. I felt completely horrible for the next day and night. The night before we were going to fly back to Sweden I got the first symptoms that this was heading towards something much worse then just a cold. My chest started to get bumps, my stress level was at its maximum, and my head was spinning. I’m glad Kristy was there to calm me down and after a few hours I was able to relax and fall a sleep.

We then flew back to Sweden and a week later I started training for Silverman, the Ironman distance race located just outside Las Vegas. I was going to do that race as a relay with the other Swedish pro triathletes Jonas Colting and Björn Andersson. Jonas was going to swim, Björn the bike, and I was going to run the marathon.

Even if I have had these symptoms around Ironman UK I thought that just training for a marathon was going to be fine, I just needed to run a few hours every day. However, for about a month or so, I would train for a week, and then get a cold for a week, train for a week, sick for a week. After a few rounds of this I got a very bad throat infection and was put on a 10 day antibiotic cure. A few days into my treatment, my throat got better but now my body just went into some kind of hole. My mental energy went the same way, but I thought it might have been caused by the antibiotics. So, I just relaxed. It was nice to have an excuse for myself that it was okay to not be training.

When the treatment was over, I took a few more days off. Once I tried to get started again with some light training, my body would not respond. I took a few more days off, then tried again, but my body just didn’t want to get going. Phuuuuuu, I had a marathon coming up within a few months and needed to get going. I tried again but it didn’t work. As I’m sure you understand this ended up to be a very bad circle and I felt more and more stressed because I wasn't able to do the training I needed.

I finally got my act together and told Jonas and Björn that I just wasn’t going to make it to the race. There was a $100,000 reward to the first finishing team that also broke 8 hours. On this hilly course we thought that I would need to run close to 2:30 if we were going to finish in sub 8hrs. I wasn’t going to do that with a just few 20 min training runs that ended with me laying in bed for an hour trying to recover.

Now, I didn’t need to get in 2:30 marathon shape within the next month, which took a lot of pressure off me. Jonas and Björn were able to find a very good alternative for me, a retired Swedish pro triathlete that now had been focusing on just running for the last several years. I was very happy they found someone so I wouldn't feel like I had let the whole team down by pulling out.

I now could concentrate on getting myself healthy again. However, my energy levels didn’t get any better and my mental stress had just gotten worse. I went to the hospital and had all kinds of test done. I thought I must have some kind of serious infection or illness, but all the tests came back normal.

In the beginning of December 2006 I flew to San Francisco to spend some time with Kristy and to find someone that could help me build my health back. By now I had heard about something called chronic fatigued syndrome and read about over training. I seemed to have all the symptoms associated with this, which was sort of a relief. I now knew that I wasn’t suffering from something that was going to get treated just by taking a pill or two and that there wasn't much a regular doctor could do for me.

My body was very run down from all the hard physical training combined with all the mental stress. I felt as though I was not able to continue with my life as I had done for the last 10 years, or pretty much all my life. I have always lived a very active life, and now to think that I'm suffering from some kind of disease.

I knew that pro triathlete Matt Dixon had been suffering from deep over training a few years earlier and I had met Matt on some training rides in San Francisco. I contacted Matt and he helped me to get in touch with a doctor in the bay area that had helped him get his health back.

I've now been working with this Doctor, Dr. Morgan Camp, since February this year (2007). Dr. Camp makes sure that my body is getting everything it needs to heal with the aid of supplements and diet.

I wasn’t doing any exercise at all from January to June and couldn't even make it to the grocery store. My mind was all over the place. Throughout the Spring, my energy got better and better and in June, I went on my on a 10 min ride. My body responded pretty well ,so I slowly started to do some short, easy exercise gradually building a little each month all through July, August and September.

However, in late September, I could feel that I started to go downhill again and stopped training to give myself a little break again. Being at home and not training doesn’t really work either, so I went up to the local school where I worked as a sport teacher 5-6 years ago and asked if they needed some help.

I’m now working as an assistant and I found it pretty entertaining. I’m also taking a class in English so I can improve my grammar a little and I will continue to do this until Christmas. After this point in time I will then see where my health is and find the best place is to keep improving.

I wish I could travel to some exotic place and just focus on training but as long as my health is suspect I wouldn't be able to tolerate that much training. My mind like to keep busy so I think it would be a good idea to have a part time job, but we will see. I have learned that taking one day at a time is a pretty good way to take on life.

Only one thing is for sure in my life right now, that is, I will continue to do everything I can to come back to triathlon as soon but safe as possible. That sometimes means that I have to take a step away from the sport, putting less stress on my body and mind.

Before I move on with this article I want to say thanks to all the people who in some way helped or are helping me to get through this. I’m pretty sure that we all can learn something from this experience.

Stay tuned for part two.

Best Regards,

Making the most of your Preparatory Period:

An hour a day keeps the Doctor away, three hours a day keeps Joe Bonness away :-)

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

Of all the phases of periodization, the General Preparatory period means many different things to many different coaches. For some, this period is merely an extension of the transition phase, a sort of “wait out the winter” phase without losing too much summer fitness. For others, generally those with experience coaching elites, it is recognized that the athlete’s ultimate performance ceiling is ultimately determined by the working potential that is built during the General Preparatory phase of training.

In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes that coaches and athletes make is running from one specific prep/competition phase into another, or worse still, hitting a hard 12 week specific prep phase, followed by a couple of races during the summer and then taking the winter off. It is worth repeating the point that the intensity and frequency of key sessions that you are able to tolerate in your specific preparation for a given event, is entirely determined by the working potential that you have built during the “off season”. As Lance Armstrong was fond of saying, THERE IS NO OFF-SEASON.

So, what does this mean in practical terms for the working athlete looking to fulfill his/her potential while taking into account the constraints of work, family etc. ? One word: Consistency. The primary objective of the General Prep phase should be to build and habituate a basic week that you can hit at least 8 weeks out of 10. I have found that the simpler this week is, the more likely the athlete is to hit it.

One Hour a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

For my novice athletes, I set a simple goal of 1hr of cardiovascular activity every morning before going to work. By placing this “big rock” in the jar (i.e. the day) first, we greatly increase the chance of it getting done. Also, there is some positive reinforcement to be had from being able to check the exercise goal off the To-Do list before starting a stressful work day. In short, this is a fantastic life habit to create. In my humble opinion, the 1hr a day of exercise coupled with a healthy diet are the bare minimal requirements for achieving and maintaining a good physique and (more importantly) good health. In my previous life as a personal trainer, it became very apparent that the willpower required to hit the caloric target that would enable my clients to lose fat while maintaining your typical sedentary, work-stress filled lifestyle is not maintainable long-term. An hour a day keeps the doctor away and it provides a great base level of fitness on which you can later add some key long sessions to specifically prepare for your first Ironman.

Two Hours a Day Keeps Half the Field Away

For the athlete looking to become more competitive, in the second or third year of training, the preparatory phase can graduate to a 2hr a day goal. I still encourage my athletes to get the bulk of the 2 hours done at the start of the day in one session. In addition to the reasons mentioned above, studies on fat oxidation have shown a big shift at the 90min-2hr mark. Therefore, athletes willing to make this commitment to a 2hr morning workout at least 5 days a week can see big shifts in body composition and substrate fitness in a relatively short time. Both of these changes have big implications on your Ironman performance. For most folks, with a busy, dare I say unorganized, life. 14hrs a week represents the top end of what they an hit on a week to week basis. Don’t get me wrong, 40x14hr weeks in a year will lead to a solid performance level – top end of your age group sort of thing. However, generally speaking, after 2 or 3 years of being a decent age-grouper most folks are getting a little frustrated at plateauing times and coming in 30th, 40th, 100th in your age group in the big races. It has been said that no one remember second place. If that is true, they sure as heck don’t remember 39th! Often, this frustration can lead to athletes looking to train more time-efficiently, in other words, crank up the training intensity on a ‘less is more’ approach. There are a bunch of frustrated 500yr hour athletes out there, going from coach to coach, year after year, looking for the ‘secret’ to push them up to the next level. The 'secret' is that the folks who are winning your age group, either currently, or at some time in their lives have made a commitment to put in consistent 20+hr weeks. Much of my job as a coach of athletes looking for that 'breakthrough performance’ is to put on my 'life coach hat'; identify priorities, carve out time in your schedule for the important stuff and learn to say no.

Make no mistake about it, if you are exercising more than 1 hour a day, you are doing it for reasons other than fitness. Cooper (the aerobic exercise training guru) pointed this out years ago and it holds true today. If you are in the sport of triathlon as a competitive athlete (as opposed to a fitness athlete) then put yourself in a position that enables you to compete!

Three hours a day keeps Joe Bonness away :-)

No guarantee on this one. Joe is a fantastic athlete, but the point holds true. There are people out there who lead very fulfilling balanced lives that are able to fit in 3hrs of training a day. It follows that until you match their training commitment, you won’t beat them! 3 hours a day? That’s crazy! Tell that to the tens of thousands of high school swimmers getting up at 4am every morning to hit the pool for a 2hr session, followed by a full school day and after school practice. Doesn’t this level of training affect their academic performance? Studies indicate the contrary. Doesn’t this make them tired through the day? Yep, so when they hit the sack at night, they don’t lie there in a perpetual state of insomnia thinking about all of the stresses of work/school….they sleep. If you truly want to lead a ‘balanced’ life, surely a part of that is balancing out some of the ever-increasing mental stress of your family and work life with some physical stress relief!

So, that’s it for the spiel. What does this mean in practice for the experienced athlete committed to a breakthrough season? Simple. Make 2-a-days a habit: Take a 30-45 minute jog when you get up in the morning, commute via bike to work and then commute home detouring by the pool/gym. At this point in the season, the intensity of the exercise is secondary to just getting it done. This means if you feel good, throw in a bit of steady-state training. If you feel like crud then make it an easy spin. As long as your heart rate is within 10 beats of your AeT, you’re golden. If you reach a point that your heart rate won’t go up, take a few days off – make that one of the 10 recovery weeks per year that you allot yourself. Have to go out of town for a weekly conference? Don’t stress yourself out trying to keep up with the routine in an environment you can’t control, schedule this week in advance as one of your recovery weeks. Simple, right? Easy, wrong! It’s very challenging in the beginning to train your support network to adjust to your new basic week. You have to get to bed earlier (no late night TV), you have to be more productive in the time you have at work, to get the essentials done, while ignoring the non-essentials – no wasted time on email etc. You need to train your boss to value your results at work rather than desk-time. You need to have open and frank discussions with your wife about your goals and the importance that triathlon holds in your life. For many folks, these are the greatest limiters to your athletic performance, not your VO2max, muscular endurance or speed skills. Rather, your life skills.

I guess I should end this with a couple of caveats:
#1 You don't go from being a 7hr/wk athlete to a 20hr/week athlete in a month. Recognize that the commitment to fulfilling your potential in endurance sports is a long-term game. If you maintain your current (aerobic) intensity, a 10%/month increase is challenging but achievable for most folks. This basically means that a 10hr athlete could progress to a 20hr athlete over the course of a year if they included no specific preparation/serious racing over that year. For most folks a 2-3 year 100% increase is more tolerable and gives you sufficient time to make changes in the rest of your life that will support your athletic goal.

#2 Every jump in your training volume must be matched with a jump in your recovery strategy. In my experience, you won't be able to sustain 20hrs/wk of training on less than 8-9hrs of sleep a night (bare minimum). Similarly, your commitment to nutrition quality and timing becomes exponentially more important with increased training volume.

#3 As a coach, it's not my job to determine your priorities. However, it is my job to point out to you when your life priorities and your athletic goals don't mesh. There will be times in your life that athletics will not be (& should not be) high on your priority list. E.g. starting a family, devoting 2-3 years to moving up the corporate ladder (to provide more free-time/financial independence in the future). In this case it is important to manage expectations. It is a lot easier to maintain your current level of racing performance (on similar or even diminished volume) than it is to have a 'breakthrough performance'. Keeping your training going at a fitness or maintenance level during these years is essential to your health, stress management & your long-term athletic goals. However, just as increasing intensity and volume at the same time is a recipe for disaster, increasing your commitment to 2 areas of your life at the same time is a sure-fire recipe for burn-out. Always keep the big picture in mind.

I hope I have conveyed, the importance of the General Preparatory period, on so many levels, as the foundation for your late season performance. Stay tuned for future articles on how your week will change as you move into the specific preparatory period. But for now….

Get it done.

Responsibility & Legacy

Alternative Perspectives is back with Part One of a two part series on over training.


The media forms an essential counterbalance to those in power, certainly those in government. However, judging from my inbox, the reporting on the riots in Paris is probably being over-done (globally). We have been enjoying the symphony, the Louvre Museum and the Eiffel Tower. The trouble is confined to the periphery.

That said... we did bump into a lawyer's strike yesterday at Place Vendome -- completely shut the neighborhood down! The French do appear to enjoy a good strike. Notwithstanding a little labour unrest, France is a fantastic place and we truly enjoyed ourselves.

As I hit the "publish" button on this piece, we're off to the airport to begin our journey to Hong Kong and onward to Australia. Next week I will be writing you from Noosa, Queensland.


Two weeks ago, I sorted out my will. At its essence, I see a will as being about motivation. A reflection of how I motivate myself; how I seek to motivate those around me; and the impact that I will have on the motivation of future generations.

When I think back over my adult life, the person that I would have been most worried about inheriting capital is "myself". The shakiness of my personal motivation from 17 to 32, was hidden from everyone other than myself -- I have managed to get quite a bit done over the years but it easily could have gone far, far differently. A benevolent chunk of cash at just the 'right' time could have had seriously 'wrong' consequences.

Further, knowing that I wasn't solely reliant on my own resources would have reduced my desire, and need, to take care of myself.

Our ability to responsibly allocate capital is a direct result of our experience with learning how to accumulate it. It is challenging to teach prudent financial management to people that have never had to manage finances.


A Valuable Legacy
I've been considering:
***What drives personal ethics?
***What drives self-worth?
***What drives the achievement of a life with meaning?

Ethics, self-worth and a life with meaning -- if I had to choose three things to wish for my kids then those are a good starting point. None of these points require a trust fund.

The most powerful success factors in my life have come from education, social networks and life experiences. A legacy with meaning is one that shares the lessons of my life.

What does this have to do with motivation?

***Achievement is linked to maximizing our capacity to work, then working.

***Self-worth is linked to favorable outcomes from work done ethically.

***Wealth is linked to favorable financial outcomes from capital invested wisely. True wealth is a function of personal freedom, not merely financial assets.

***Happiness correlates reasonably well to personal freedom -- especially, when that freedom is used for ethical work.

I haven't seen a direct correlation between wealth and personal ethics. Going further -- unearned wealth severely challenges both personal ethics and our sense of self-worth. I often ask myself what I did to deserve such a wonderful life and have tendencies to make my life more difficult (for no appreciable reason).

In our society, wealth provides a shield from being confronted by the effects of weak personal ethics. The frequency that we make poor choices is linked to our ability to tolerate poor outcomes. An example relevant to my early career, getting drunk and being unproductive at the office fails to be an option if our lack of productivity gets us fired. Inherent ability masks a lot of counterproductive behavior -- as Scott Molina notes... "you can justify an awful lot when you are winning".

Most of us will do the minimum to achieve our personal goals -- it is for this reason that challenging goals prove so useful for many of us.

My legacy?

Here's what I'm working towards:
***A clear example of the benefits of consistent ethical work over time;
***a useful library; and
***the authorship of one very useful book.

Off to the Southern Hemisphere,


It has been a fascinating week over here in Scotland. As I've been writing about athletics for the last few weeks, I will turn to a few finance oriented topics that may interest.

For most of us "credit conditions" lie invisible until we need a personal loan or a mortgage. However, in my various lines of work (private equity, finance, property development and asset management) we are nearly always in the credit markets. I had a very interesting conversation with a senior banker this week.

By way of background, we founded our Scottish property development business in 2005 and have been assembling property deals since the mid-90s. We are a material, but not massive, relationship for our bankers.

With property development transactions, our company makes money from the value of finished projects being more than the development cost. By way of example, if it costs $80,000 to build an apartment which is worth $88,000 on completion then the "capital uplift" is said to be 10%.

Financially, our business "works" for our shareholders because we are able to refinance their equity investment by borrowing against the "capital uplift" at completion. This lets the company move its share capital along to the next investment -- this drives our return on equity.

I spend most of our board meetings listening, thinking and taking minutes. It is good practice for my 2008 goal of listening more. None of what follows was explicitly said in the meeting, I simply noted it and will share some conclusions later in this letter.

Capital uplift (our company's profit margin) -- after two years of declining margins on new deals -- we were suddenly presented with a large opportunity (>$50 million) that had a projected capital uplift of 25%. The deal popped up because (we believe) the buyer was having financing trouble.

As part of our year-end review, our bankers asked us to provide them with additional comfort on our portfolio valuations (easy for us to do as we operate in a specific geography with transparent market pricing).

Our bankers mentioned that the syndication markets were closed. Debt syndication markets are how banks share and diversify risk for their largest loans. They noted that when the markets came back on-line only the best deals would be taken up. Valuation verification is an important step towards ensuring we will be at the front of the queue when the debt markets re-open.

As for new debt, we have heard from our bankers, as well as others in our sector, that new money will be tight for the next six months. That's a polite way of saying that many banks are presently closed for new business. It's not a case of asking for their money back, rather it is a case of not being in a position to fund new deals -- regardless of how attractive they look. I feel sorry for any business that is operating below par in this market.

Bankers are talking about balance sheet decisions, rather than investment decisions. There is a very clear focus on the balance sheet, rather than the quality of new business. Personally, I take this as an excellent development. In a challenging credit environment, we want to be with an institution that has a keen eye on its own balance sheet. The sooner a bank gets comfort on its own credit position, that faster it will be able to start lending again.

However, the fact that senior bankers are more focused on balance sheet strength than new business is a powerful statement in itself. The credit contraction that is happening in the major financial centers is not visible to Main Street at present. If your business (or your personal life) relies on new finance over the next twelve months then I would start the refinancing process early and make sure that you tick-the-box in every conceivable way. Once the credit markets re-open, lenders are going to choose the highest quality credits first.

The days of covenant-lite and non-doc loans are gone. For the better, too.

I attended a presentation from an executive that works at the Bank of Scotland's treasury department. He had many excellent slides and I've scanned three that are relevant to this letter (and my life).

Here's the first one. I noted the date that we bought our first flat in the UK. To say we had good timing is an understatement.
This next one shows the dislocation between base rate (set by the government) and LIBOR (what people like us actually pay for our loans). What killed some mortgage institutions is that they pay LIBOR but lend to their clients at base. This mismatch is highly costly when the markets move out-of-whack.
Those dotted lines show that the forward markets think that things will return to "normal". However, people are pretty jumpy and when I hear bankers noting that "liquidity and confidence are illusions" I fasten my seatbelt.

The last chart is a neat one that we certainly didn't realize at the time.
What I did on this one was draw in the point where we negotiated the initial portfolio of deals that formed our property development business. Once again, we were fortunate in our timing.

I don't have confidence in my ability to make predictions, however, I think that it is fair to say that the following are happening:

***a large credit contraction is underway in the UK and US (perhaps elsewhere, I can't really comment)

***a high degree of uncertainty (bordering on distrust) exists within the international banking community (reflected in interbank rates)

***due to the lag between liquidity and pricing; there is a dislocation between asset pricing and credit availability -- many sellers don't realize the lack of funding available their potential buyers

What does this mean?

From a business point of view, we are going to focus on keeping our credit providers informed and confident in our company. In this environment you want to make sure your capital providers know exactly what's happening in your business.

If your business, or your main customer, relies on credit, then you've likely seen the impact of the credit contraction already. However, if you are a few steps removed from the credit markets then you might not fully grasp what is heading our way. There are hundreds of billions of debt capacity being removed due to the equity write-offs within our financial system.

Over the next few months, keep a keen eye on accounts receivable as well as your key customers/distributors. If you have any clients who's demise would bury your firm then see if you can get credit insurance (it can be a cost effective way to reduce your exposure). In the early 90s, I watched a number of firms go down as credit tightened and the economy slowed. If you are conservative and cautious then you'll be able to navigate your way through. I have seen "services" recessions in Asia but never really witnessed them in Europe or the US.

From a personal point of view, I'm bearish on asset pricing, especially in the property markets. Liquidity is going to be highly valuable in 2008.

Sitting over here in Europe, the US offers outstanding value right now on a Purchasing Power Parity basis. It's crazy expensive over here in Europe. Seems like dollar-for-pound in the UK. My British friends talk about shopping trips to New York (a town that seems expensive to me). People are flying to New York for a weekend of Christmas shopping. If you are in the US then run the numbers on that same weekend to London or Paris!

Off to Paris next week -- we won't be doing much shopping and I hear that there is an excellent multi-day museum ticket.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers,

Setting up your training plan based on the athlete you should be

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

I recently had an interesting email exchange with a couple of buddies on the merits (& limits) of field testing. There are a number of training approaches that place a lot of faith in determining training zones and training prescriptions based on short duration field tests (CP30 on the bike, 1000m time trial in the pool etc.). As a coach, I think it is important that you are aware of the limits of using this approach to make training recommendations.

Let me throw in a quick case study of 2 athletes with similar CP60 values to illustrate my point.

2 guys:

CP60 = 275 watts (Heart Rate = 174)
CP60 = 262 watts (Heart Rate = 154)

One is me, the other is an athlete that I coach.

Even if we were to use these more moderate 60 minute values in place of the 30 minute test suggested in ‘Going Long’, following the %FT approach, these are the heart rate zones that we would come up with for each of our athletes:

Z1: <140 bpm <123
Z2: 140-153 bpm 123-136 bpm
Z3: 154-165 bpm 137-143 bpm
Z4: 165-174bpm 143-154 bpm

So, how do these numbers stack up in the real world?

First of all, from a training perspective. If we adhere to the general prescription from a number of training authorities out there that the bulk of the athlete’s training should take place in Zone 2, one of our athletes, (i.e. me) is in a world of trouble. Over the course of the past year, the most Zone 2 (as defined by this method) that I have been able to tolerate has been 3:40 of a 20:00 week (~18%). If I were to go out there and try and follow some well known coaches recommendations that suggest that 70% or more of the athlete’s week should be made up of Zone 2 training, my training week would be done by Tuesday and you’d find me flat out, staring at the ceiling by the middle of the week. On the other hand, my buddy regularly does 10hrs+ in what this method would define as his Zone 3!!

Now, from a race perspective, the typical pacing prescription for an intermediate Ironman is Zone 2 – 3. In, the real world, however, the longest that I have personally been able to hold the very bottom number in my 'Zone 2' is 7:14 (a long way from my IM finish time!!). On the flip side, my athlete is able to go 11hrs+ at the top of his Zone 2.

As to the ‘why’ we see this wide range in our athletes ability to tolerate a given % of their functional threshold heart rate or power, we have witnessed a good correlation between an athletes ability to hold long durations at a given % of their FT and a high ability to oxidize fat as a substrate at each respective %. In the example given, at the bottom of our Zone 2, I am burning about 120kcal/hr more carbohydrate than my athlete. Is it any wonder that I run out of it sooner??

However, from a practical perspective, the take home message is that the best way to set up your athlete’s ‘Ironman training zone’ is to use their actual average heart rate or power for an Ironman. Likewise, the best way to set their base (day in, day out) training heart rate is to use their actual average heart rate over the course of a standard training week.

The point is that the further your training prescriptions get from the actual intensity measured during a test, the more they are based on assumptions of what ‘should’ happen in the real world, and like most assumptions that we make, they are generally based on a ‘best possible’ scenario.

Before you use these assumptions to guide the future direction of your training plan, be sure to ask yourself whether they are valid for the athlete you are or if you are, instead, designing a program for the athlete that you should be.

The Aging Athlete

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Taking each component:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ron's a winner at a very deep level.


Some quick Qs on last week's posting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


Business Clinic Notes

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

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

-- Bobby McGee

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

That's a start.


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Do we know what our clients most value?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Files for Endurance Corner Radio

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

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

Interpreting Lactate Curves (Coaches Presentation)

The following posts are from a presentation that we prepared for the USAT coaching clinic. You will find an accompanying podcast at
Part I: Critical Markers
Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES

* Objectives
- Show coaches how to use lactate testing to better individualize training prescriptions

* What is Lactate
- By-product of glycolysis (carbohydrate metabolism)

* What does an elevation in blood lactate signify?
- Greater dependence on glycolysis for energy production
- Reduced ability to clear the lactate being produced

* Critical Markers on the lactate curve
- 3 fiber types
- Slow Oxidative (SO)
- Fast Oxidative Glycolytic (FOG)
- Fast Glycolytic

- 3 Critical Markers on the Lactate Curve
- AeT
- LT1/VT1
- LT2/VT2/FT

* AeT (Aerobic Threshold)
- A shift in fiber recruitment from SO to FOG (McLellan and Skinner, 1980)
- First deepening of breath (breathing through mouth)
- First uptick on the lactate curve
- HR ~ 30-50BBM relative to fitness (Hellemans, 1999; Sweetenham, 2001)
- Generally occurs at 35-60% VO2max/50-70% vVO2max (Martin, 1997)- Higher values possible in elite Ironman athletes

* LT1/VT1 (“Lactate Threshold”)
- A fiber recruitment shift from FOG to FG (Hagberg & Coyle, 1984)
- Notable increase in expiratory stimulus (i.e. breathing becomes loud)
- Heart Rate ~20-40BBM depending on fitness (Hellemans, 1998)
- Heart Rate ~8-15BBM below VT2 (Dave Scott)
- 79-89% vVO2max for elite athletes (Padilla et al, 1999)
- ~ 1mmol above mean baseline values (Hagberg & Coyle, 1984,
USOC protocol)

* LT2/VT2 (“Functional Threshold”/ “OBLA”)

- The point at which the SO fibers, liver and heart can no longer metabolize/oxidize the lactic acid being produced by the FG fibers.
- Notable increase in rate of expiration as ventilation can no longer keep up with the need for CO2 removal (“Panting”)
- HR ~10-30BBM relative to fitness (Hellemans, 1998)
- Elite values typically 80-90% VO2max/85-95% vVO2max (Martin, 1997)
- This is a “functional threshold” because the athlete’s ability to accumulate training time above this threshold is severely diminished when compared to tolerance to training just below this threshold.
- Methods of assessing from Lactate Curve
· Clear deflection point
· Modified DMax (AIS, 1987)

Stay tuned for an accompanying article on using these critical markers to set training zones.


“Mate, you should get the families on board when you are doing athlete planning. I have seen far too many relationships screwed up by this sport.”

-- Greg Bennett, World Champion Husband


I had a T-Rex in my kitchen this past Halloween... Mat went to CostCo and bought 300 pieces of candy and 30 "full bars" (for special costumes). We live in a cul-de-sac and hardly any kids came! Dave had sixty kids over to his place and he was giving away breath mints... next year, I am going to ramp up my marketing.

As a personal reminder... we did quarterly evaluations this week at Endurance Corner. It was recommended that I work on three things:

(a) remember that my mood has a direct impact on the team's productivity (the leader needs to lead);

(b) reduce interruptions when the lads are working on tasks that require sustained thought; and

(c) when I start to focus on being "right" rather than my objective... stop talking and take a break.


My dad describes a blog as… “a collection of ideas, given away for free, that you would normally spend more time developing and seek publication”. I suppose that is a polite way of saying that these letters read a little choppy sometimes.

I am going to share some ideas that came out of the Endurance Corner advisory meeting last weekend as well as recent discussions that I’ve had with some very smart people. We’ll see how this turns out – lots of snippets, hopefully, they make sense.

Before we kick off, Robbie Ventura is going to drop into the last four days of our April Tucson camp. As you may have heard on IronmanTalk, he is preparing to race Ironman Canada and I’m sharing a few tips with him. We have a bit in common, in 1998, I signed up for IMC when my only triathlon experience was a sprint tri. He’s in a similar boat, especially with his swimming.

In Tucson, we will get the chance to share Robbie’s first super-long triathlon training day (the day before we will SBR Mt. Lemmon). If you’d care to join us at the camp then drop me an email for details. We have a few spaces left for the March/April camps.

The March camp will be set-up to fit with athletes preparing for IM Arizona as well as those looking to jump start early season fitness.


A few months ago, I asked a friend if he thought that he was operating at his maximum potential. I have been thinking about that question as it relates to my own life. In reading Dead Certain, I was struck by the thought that President Bush has certainly achieved close to his personal potential. Quite separate from his popularity, the man has achieved close to his maximum potential. It is an interesting case study that has me looking inwards.

In my mulling over of this topic, I see a distinction from achieving greatness and achieving honor. A great person need not be honorable – and an honorable person need not be great.

When I speak with my grandmother, I note that she takes comfort in doing her best to have chosen an honorable path. I haven’t had honest conversations with any people that achieved greatness without honor – I imagine that their later years are filled with regret. Something for all of us to consider when we are tempted by the easy way. For this reason alone, be wary of situations (and people) that tempt you to cut corners.

I am kicking all this around because I know that my potential as a “person” is far greater than my potential as an athlete. I sense that when I seek one, I let go of the other. I was talking about this point with Graham Fraser – a guy that has witnessed his share of holding on, and letting go. He didn’t offer any specifics, merely the catalyst of placing the thought on my radar screen.

Why this is so interesting to me is that it is easy for me to see that there is a risk that we neglect our larger potential when we seek our athletic potential. Monica thinks that I do a pretty good job of balancing things – however – that’s because she is on-my-list when I’m hitting triathlon hard.

Still thinking that over while I consider a business opportunity that offers me the chance to do something “great”. When business deals look very attractive, history tells me that I am probably tired.



I have been talking with a few business owners about ownership. The same topics keep repeating:

***Equity ownership should only be shared with people that provide capital essential for business growth – human capital counts, probably more than any other type.

***My preference is to share equity capital with individuals that are essential to the development of the goals of the business founder and increase both the size, and likelihood, of success.

***Within the management team, my preference is to share equity capital with individuals that are fit for leadership. Does someone improve the CEO’s ability to lead and improve the quality of that leadership?

***I’m not keen on 50:50 partnerships as someone needs to be in charge and contributions are never equal. In that situation, I prefer 67:33. This is a neat number as: (a) the two founders can sell 24% of new equity to a third partner; (b) the founders can still control 76% of the company, post issue; (c) the smaller founder retains a veto over special resolutions that require 75% approval; and (d) the larger founder controls >50% of the equity, post issue.

***If you create a business that is a wild success then you should not feel obligated to deal out a stack of money to everyone around you – you’ll screw them up and you have done plenty for your team by creating the business. Even more likely is that you are best person around to allocate and manage capital. During your lifetime, consider if you dilute the power of your money to do “good” by spreading it into the public at large. After your lifetime is a topic for another time – I have an article in my head about inheritance and motivation.

***Remember that equity and bonuses are most appreciated at the time of allocation. Frequent cash incentives are much more appreciated than single long-term allotments.

***If you are the founder of a small business then consider who is truly necessary for the business to operate. When you stand back and take an honest look – you often see that you are the only person holding things together. In that case, it doesn’t make sense to deal people in as shareholders.

***People that increase your personal freedom; require limited management; and work towards your goals – are highly valuable. Do what it takes to retain them – frequent cash incentives based on their performance and skills in managing other people – that is what I prefer.

***Ideally, the individual that is most fit for leadership should control the equity capital of the firm. If you are the founder, and best decision maker, then be wary of diluting your ability to steer the direction of the firm – far easier to place key employees on generous profit sharing. If you are in a human capital intensive business then this doesn’t always work. Still, try to keep control vested in a small group of individuals – the best partnerships are run by a core group of senior partners.

***As a counterweight to the above point, if you have the ability to greatly improve the value of a firm and/or increase the likelihood of success… then be sure to negotiate a deal that rewards you for the value you create. There is often a balance between paying your dues and achieving market value for your services. The best and brightest can be underpaid until they test their market value – be very polite to your senior partners if you plan on playing this game. If you over-estimate your market value then you are exposed to having your bluff called.

***Always remember that bigger isn’t better and that you’ll cut your best deals when you are willing to lose them. Keep a steady focus on what you want from your business. It is very easy to get caught up in growth, for growth’s sake.

***Always consider if a new opportunity will give you more satisfaction – or merely more work. Know your personal goals and seek to align them with your work goals.

Two final thoughts:

1 – always be willing to make a little less money to maintain high personal standards

2 – remember that your most important brand is yourself – invest in that brand



Files referenced on Endurance Corner Radio

Bike Efficiency PDF File

Recreational Athlete Treadmill Protocol

Kona 2007

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

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

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

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


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

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


Bike Workouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


VO2 testing for Long Course Triathletes

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES

Part II: Case Studies

In the short time since I wrote the first post on VO2 testing, we have done a substantial number of tests on athletes of a wide range of abilities. I will present some of the (anonymous) data here to provide you with some concrete ideas on the levels of pure power and substrate efficiency required for different performance levels and hopefully to provide you with the impetus to plan a trip to Boulder to get tested and see how you stack up!

First, let me present the curves (enlarge in 'paint' to view) and then I will chat about some of the distinguishing features that we have observed between these athletes of differing abilities.

Case Study 1: ~9:00 Ironman (not Gordo J)

Case Study 2: 10:50 Ironman

Case Study 3: 12:20 Ironman
* Fat Burning
Careful observation of the curves will show that the big differences lie in the blue shaded area. In short, based on the athletes we have seen, the faster the guy, the more fat they burn at and around AeT and the longer they keep burning fat. In the case of the 9hr guy pictured, he has a peak fat oxidation rate of ~8kcal/min and holds a fat oxidation rate of ~5kcal/min all the way up to VT1 (or ~Half Ironman efforts). This pattern has been consistent across all of the faster guys that we have tested so far and is supported by the literature, e.g. Jeukendrup et al. (1997), who found fat oxidation rates of 5.6kcal/min in trained cyclists (mean VO2max = 67ml/kg/min) vs. 3.4kcal/min in untrained college males (mean VO2max = 48ml/kg/min) while pedalling at ~60% VO2max.

*Aerobic Threshold (AeT):
According to Martin (1997), AeT values range from 35-60% of VO2max, with better trained athletes falling higher on the scale. For our 3 subjects, relative AeT values were 61%, 48% and 60% of VO2max resp., In absolute terms, this represented 175, 152 and 200 watts. At first glance, this would seem to favour athlete C over athlete B over an Ironman duration race. However, in real terms, athlete C’s poor substrate economy at this pace means that, for him, AeT power is a poor predictor of Ironman performance.

When I pull the data from the 3 athletes above, the point that best correlates with their actual Ironman intensity is a point of ~10kcal of CHO oxidation on the substrate curve. For athlete A, this is 74% of VO2 max (240 watts). For athlete B, this is 71% of VO2max (202 watts) and for athlete C, this is 59% of VO2max (175 watts). This makes logical sense, since Ironman is fundamentally an exercise of carbohydrate sparing. Additionally, it makes mathematical sense when we look at the substrate shift over long duration exercise:

If we assume a peak glycogen storage of ~2000kcal in muscle stores and a maximal exogenous CHO oxidation rate of 4kcal, an endogenous CHO oxidation rate of 6kcal/min would only last 5hrs 33minutes. At first glance, it appears that even at these relatively low levels of intensity, the Ironman is a metabolic impossibility. However, studies by Costill, (1970) and Bosch et al (1993) along with test on our own resident guinea pig, Gordo Byrn, have shown typical RER changes of 0.1 or more as we get 2hrs+ into metabolic testing and substrate shifts of 30% or more towards contribution from fat. This means that for a well trained athlete, we would expect CHO oxidation to almost half as they get 2hrs or more into the race. In practical terms, this means that our 5hrs 33mins demolition time, could almost double to 11hrs, and for a decent athlete becomes within the realm of possibility for an Ironman distance. As this calculation (and his race heart rate data) suggest, this 10kcal/min point isn’t going to work for a 12+hr Ironman.

*VT1 (“Lactate Threshold”)
At least in our very limited sample, VT1 as a % of VO2max appears to be a better correlated to Ironman performance than AeT as a % of VO2max and it makes good intuitive sense. An athlete with a high VT1 is able to use the more economical FOG fibers at higher workloads before recruiting the glycogen guzzling Fast Glycolytic Fibers (Coyle, 1984).

VT1 values for elite athletes vary between 74-83% of VO2max (Padilla et al, 1999). Athlete 3 may have some room for improvement here, but in relative terms, he is still not too far behind the other guys (or outside normative values) in this measure of performance.

One other interesting observation, when we look at the VT1 point is the breakdown in substrates at that point. For all athletes, VT1 represents the point where there is a rapid drop off in fat burning and a rapid increase in CHO utilization. However, a trend that we are witnessing for our better athletes is an ability to hold their fat oxidation rates pretty well up to this point. This may represent a potential area of improvement for our 10:50 guy.

*VT2 (“Functional Threshold”/ "OBLA”)
A very trainable adaptation. Elite values are typically 80-90% of VO2max, while values for the general population are typically 40-50% VO2max (Martin et al, 1986, Padilla et al., 1999)

Again, all of our athletes do well in this respect. There appears to be a trend that the faster athletes have the higher VT2. However, all athletes are within elite parameters for VT2, yet only one of our athletes would be considered elite from an Ironman perspective.

We could be onto something interesting with these differences in fat oxidative capacity, especially at likely race intensities. I will keep updating as we learn more.

References available upon request.

For further information on discovering your own personal limiters via testing at our Boulder Sports Performance Lab, contact me at

Network Effects

Here's a shot of the Coffees of Hawaii sailing canoe in Kona. We were dealing out hot/cold espresso as well as water/sports drink during Ironman Hawaii race week. I'll be sharing more thoughts on Kona in the next few weeks.

Before this week's letter. A few bits and pieces...

A.R. Asked...
Sorry to bother you – a while ago (2 weeks?) – you interjected a short comment about what to look for in an ideal woman ( you mentioned something about high self esteem and a few other things? ). I am going through some decision making currently with regards to the opposite sex and I was hoping to find that bit of wisdom you imparted but I can’t seem to find it – do you remember what the few important things that you listed as important were?

Get yourself a copy of "Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart" -- there is a chapter on this exact subject. Gordon explains it much better than me.

For the cyclists that are looking for more information on training with power -- I recently read the Allen/Coggan book on Training with Power. There was a lot of interesting information and tips in there. If you apply their tips then remember that the physiologically optimal plan is the one that you can consistently apply across a number of seasons. Most athletes have a bias towards overwork and there is no better way to fatigue yourself (mentally/physically) than chasing watts in your training.

I've been giving some thoughts to my presentations for the November 2nd/3rd clinic on the Business of Coaching. We are going to be sharing the tools that I use to help coaches increase their revenues, and satisfaction, from coaching.

Finally...the City of Boulder is soliciting input for Valmont Park facilities. Please fill out the on-line comment form. In question 3 you might consider casting your vote for a 50M x 25M pool with separate dive tank and spectator seating. You can access the form HERE.

In the spirit of Aloha, Alternative Perspectives is a piece by Kevin Purcell -- Kona Blue. Only Kevin knows what it truly took to follow his vision of Hawaii.

Alan's blog has a piece on VO2 Max testing for Ironman athletes -- I expect that we'll learn a tremendous amount over the next few years. I used to be highly skeptical on the benefits. Now I am lining up -- Alan should have my 2008 benchmark results written up by the end of November. I need a few weeks to get moving again -- right now, I sense that the testing would be poor idea.


Network Effects

A friend was recently talking me through the cascade of impacts that occurred following the rape of a young lady. The disruptions to her family, the cost of starting the wheels of our justice system as well as the support that it will take the lady to heal from the experience. Overall, a huge level of disruption, pain and expense resulting from a single action.

It got me thinking...
...about the compound effects of a series of kind actions over an extended period of time
...about my own participation in the transmission of negative, and positive, acts
...about my personal responsibility for how I choose to think and act

Small actions of kindness -- opportunities for bold strokes of greatness in my life are rare. However, hook all of us up to an internet connection, support each other and, perhaps, one of us could do something truly special. Even more powerful would be getting thousands of people to undertake a series of small acts.

One of my habits is to pick up five pieces of trash every day. I don't hit it every day and I probably average 20 pieces of trash per week. Now 20 pieces of trash doesn't seem like much but last week Monica started picking up trash too. Strange hobby to share with your wife, eh?

So my 20 pieces could be up to 30, or 40, by the end of the year. If even five people reading this note decide to pick-up as well then we'd be well on our way to making a material impact on things.

This isn't about litter -- it is about accessing our collective power to shape the world around us.

Our role as a transmitters. In my inner circle, I tend to be the most adverse to traditional media. As part of my Personal Review this past September, I decided to chop some more media sources from my list of approved outlets (good-bye

We are impacted by every person, thought, action, image, sound and mood that comes into contact with us. It is tough enough for me to keep my head straight without all the consumption; faux-righteousness; violence; false imagery; etc... pumped out by the bulk of the media.

I can't always see the damage that is being done to me (and you) by the media. Our continued participation is what sustains these vehicles -- your eyes (and therefore your mind) is what they are seeking. Inactive participation isn't possible -- your anonymity isn't a factor for a force that, ultimately, seeks to control the masses.

What I can clearly see is that nearly all print, television and internet content fails to move me towards my goals. The "dead time" insight is easier to sell to myself then facing the reality that a website is poisoning my character (though listening to many of you talk about how certain forums make you feel it should be pretty obvious -- to your spouse, if not to you personally).

To achieve our goals we need to limit our time spent on achieving nothing. I've found that it is far better to "do nothing" than spend my time on junk food for the mind. I achieve a lot more insights when unplugged.

Once I have an insight that I may be holding myself back, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to sustain my current path. It's the main reason behind my incremental progress with my nutrition. I see the true impact of "treats" in my life. Binging loses (most of) its fun when I deeply understand its impact. There is no true satisfaction in being slack.

Those of you that read Mat's blog will see his take on this shortly. He gave me a preview and asked me if it made sense. I told him that he came pretty close to describing every September of mine from 2001 to 2006 -- and probably -- a few bonus months in between.

Small actions count,

Kona Blue

Kevin first sent this piece to me a couple of years ago. It's a great story that gives an insight into what motivates people to compete here in Hawaii.

I hope you enjoy it.


Dr. Kevin Purcell, D.C.

There is no place I would rather be than on the big island of Hawaii in October. My love affair with this place started suddenly in 1992; a mix of (1) a very old dream to do the Hawaii Ironman and (2) a chance 1992 meeting with the race while on vacation in Kona. The old dream began in 1980. I had a buddy in professional school (Chiropractic) who was training for Ironman and I’d tag along with him on his easy runs through Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I remember he had a shoe sponsor and his shoes had some whacky waffle patterns on the sole. I had never seen running shoes before. I was running in Converse basketball shoes. With his influence, I wanted to go over to Hawaii and give the IM a go. I think there was 6-8 months left to prepare before the late season event. I was a lifeguard during summers in Santa Barbara County, so when school let out I started to ride my bike 20-25 miles each day over the summer before taking my spot in the tower. We were allowed to swim and run along the beach during work so I logged about 5 miles a day running barefoot in the sand. No qualification was necessary to race in the early days, meaning I could have showed up and taken part; but as the summer ended I found I couldn’t finance the trip. It just wasn’t possible; so I put any idea of IM aside. However, my buddy, Bill McKean, was a 12 year navy SEAL team member and some of his SEAL pals did very well over there in the first couple races. Bill was (and is) one tough dude. He went that year and finished 9th OA on his first attempt at IM. Months later, he was 2nd OA in the Western States 100 in 18:52. Bill is now an excellent chiropractor up near Auburn above Sacramento.

The Hawaii IM dream was on hold. I graduated, was licensed, opened a chiropractic practice in 1982 in San Diego and am still there. I continued to watch IM from afar. I saw Moss crawl, bought Scott Tinley clothing and recall Scott Molina laying down what, at the time, was the 3rd fastest Kona finish on record (8:31) and first place. I gained lots of weight and did zero aerobic training over the next decade.

In October 1992 a friend offered me a promotional package trip to Kona for vacation. I didn’t know the IM was being held there in October. All that and a lot more was about to change. During my vacation we stayed in some blue roofed condos down by the old bike to run transition, The Kona Surf. On the trip, I didn't do much walking. I got around in a golf cart. I drove the little car everywhere, even over short distances. Always one handed as I had a mai tai or beer in the other. One day, cruising through the blue roofed properties while in route to get a newspaper in the hotel next door, I came to a roadside crossing where I had to stop for a long line of runners. I watched them go by. As an ex athlete who competed at a high level in basketball, I had respect for anyone who was able to do what it takes. But in '92, at 230lbs, running wasn't for me! I had no aerobic fitness and was lacking the motivation to run.

That is the place my head was at this day as I watched the runners file by. They all appeared focused and in some degree of discomfort. I asked an elderly lady what the hell they were doing. As she moved past me, she let me know that she had just gotten off her bike (silly man!). Then she growled back over her shoulder in a voice that sounded to me like something off a Black Sabbath album, “IRONMAN”. I was excited. I had stumbled upon the event and the drama I had admired since 1980. I got a vicarious rush that ran throughout my body. I immediately attempted to follow what was left of the 'race'.

It was the back of the pack that found me that afternoon. These athletes are tough and often deal with levels of pain that go with less than perfectly working bodies. I related to their struggle. Had I seen race leaders and eventual winners (Mark Allen and PNF) glide past me I may never had ‘seen’ that this race was possible for me. I parked the cart and I made my way by foot, back toward the finish line as the sun was setting. I saw all shapes, sizes and ages of athletes keep moving forward as the back half of the field made their way to the finish anyway they could. They limped, hobbled grunted and groaned. By the time I reached earshot of the finish area I was totally ROCKED by what I was watching. It was all glow sticks and guts. My adrenaline started to flow as I hurried on to the finish line. I was drawn like Richard Dreyfuss to the Devil’s Peak in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”.

When I arrived it got even better. Each athlete that finished was physically wasted – but ecstatic. The announcer called them out by name. He gave their ages and hometowns. The crowd was loud and my eyes misted. My throat ached. I was so happy for the finishers. I can’t explain how moving this was for me. I stood there watching for hours. That night, I vowed to do the race.

It took me six more years to begin _any_ training in 1998. I was unable to muster the strength to make lifestyle changes that would support getting fit. Finally, I realized that I had to give up a part of myself to be whole. I was 230lbs, but it never entered my mind that I had an unusual body for an endurance athlete. In university, as a basketball player, I was used to being one of the smallest people on the court and I guess I still saw myself as unfit but capable. I never considered that I might not be able to finish IM Hawaii – and I thought (wrongly) soon. I borrowed my brother’s bike and started riding and running in an old pair of Asics shoes. I swam in a 20 yard indoor pool – all beginning at 3:00am before work.

The chance meeting at the blue roofed condos and the Ironman was a catalyst for change in my life -- and my families. I dropped fifty pounds, down to 180 and once again became fascinated by health. I studied our sport, listened to and sought mentors. It wasn’t until 2003, eleven years after my vacation encounter and 22 years after Bill McKean’s example that I qualified and raced IM Hawaii for the first time.

I have now done 19 Ironman races all over the world and guide others to their IM goals. I still get a special feeling in and around this sport, specifically the Hawaii IM, Kona and the big island. I don’t think my feelings are unique. My gut tells me that there are hundreds, if not thousands of changed lives as a result of our sport. Here’s to change.


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

On Holiday

Hi Gang,

I'm on holiday so won't be publishing for a bit longer.

In the meantime, we have published another article from Clas -- click through the Alternative Perspectives link to the right. This article explains his view on how he runs very, very fast in Ironman. I hope you enjoy.


Running (Very) Fast in Ironman

How to run a 2.42 marathon in an Ironman.

Or maybe the subject should be more “What did I do/how did I train to be able to run a 2.42 marathon in Ironman New Zealand 2004”.

When I finished 2: nd in IM NZ -04, I set a new run course record and ran my fastest IM marathon by over 10 min. And when I crossed the line it wasn’t like I had been suffering and pushing my body over the limits more than in the previous races for 42 K, it was more the other way around. For the first time I came of the bike and from the first step to the last step on that marathon I felt like I was just “cruising”.
And for all of you that have seen the run course at IM NZ know that it’s not a flat course where you have the wind in your back all the time, okay, it’s not a hilly course but it’s pretty much rolling all the time.

I will by this article try to look back and see what I did different in my training from previous years building up to that race. Even if I have tried hard I haven’t been able to repeat that IM run split since either. I did run a 2.44 marathon in IM Brazil 2.5 month after my fast run in IM NZ after Gordo and I had been riding cross the States, but I believe that run split was also based on the training I did building up to IM NZ that year.
I have also been able to pull off a few good run splits at the Ironman distance race Quelle Challenge in Roth, Germany, but compare to IM NZ Roth has an “easy” run course.

Mmmm, where should I start??
I have always been a pretty good runner, and also when I started to race shorter triathlons (up to ½ IM) almost 10 years ago I was able to run well of the bike and have one of the fastest run splits, but then when I started to race Ironman 2001 I went from being the fastest runner to be a average good runner, and for the first few years I got pretty upset that I wasn’t able really run the marathon, it felt more like a painful jog where my legs felt like 2 heavy pieces of wood. With a personal best of 1.07 half marathon and sub 15 min on the track I know how it should feel when you run, and that was not how my first IM runs felt.

So what did I do different leading up to IM NZ 2004 and what can you do overall in your training and racing strategy to run faster of the bike??

First of all I believe that if you are riding over you ability on the bike leg you can not aspect that you will run well of the bike, with this I don’t mean that you must cruise the bike to be able to run well, but most of the time if you give away 5-10 min from your bike split you will run 15-20 min quicker. And that is not only because your legs will be fresher, it also has to do with that if you have been riding with a lower heart rate which probably means that you have been able to fuel your self better and your stomach have been able to absorb the energy so you can start the run full of energy, we all know that its much easier to eat and drink on the bike than during the run, if you can pace yourself a little on the bike at least.

Then I know from my own experience that most of us should have major benefits from more stretching, take away a few hours a week from your swim, bike and run training and stretch more, if you want to have a smooth, energy saving running step you can not have hamstring, gluts or hip muscles that are tight like a rocks. This will not only make you to a faster runner, you are also making your back a favour so you will be able to enjoy triathlon racing without back pain for a few more years.

So that was 2 major things that has to do with the run split as well other then the run training itself. But let’s go back to what I did leading up to IM NZ -04.

The first time I was training in NZ was Jan-March 2002 and I got introduced to long distance training for the first time, before that I didn’t train that much but when I did train I went pretty hard, and I saw that I got pretty good results from very little training, but of course you need to do some long distance training if you want to race at longer distances. So after been adding some more volume to my training for a year I decided to study one semester at the “local” university in the fall 2003, and because if this I didn’t have as much time to train so I ended up to go back to my old way of training for 4 month. I did a few quality sessions each week in each sport and some strength training but that was pretty much it, so about 12-14 hours a week of training, but as I said, good quality. For run training I did 2 sessions on an indoor 200 m track and 2-2.5 hour long run each week. The indoor sessions were 8*1 K with 1 min recovery and the 2: nd indoor session was 3*3 K repeat with 2 min recovery. It wasn’t all out session so I always made sure that I was able to run the last interval a little bit faster than the first but they were all at good pace, almost like I was training for a 10-15 K running race.

For bike training I mostly did 2 sessions each week on my indoor bike or trainer, the sessions was 6*8 min with 2 min recovery at a good pace. The same was for swimming, just a few sessions but good quality. For strength training I focused on the core but also did some lower and upper body stuff.

Then I finished my semester just before Christmas 2003 and flew to Gordo in NZ to train. And all of you that knew Gordo back then know that he liked to train a lot, (as he still does) so I joined in on his training schedule and my training hours got 2 and sometimes 3 times as many compare to when I was studying, but the intensity wasn’t as high so I was able to tolerate the training pretty good.

In the middle of January we did an Epic Camp on the north Island of NZ which went well overall for me, and I think it was day 6 or 7 of the camp where we raced the Auckland ½ IM. I was able to race strong and finish of with a 1.13 run split on a fair course.

Then finally it was the beginning of March and IM NZ was about to come around the corner. I had raced there the 2 previous years and finished 12: Th and 4: Th overall with a run split of 3.05 and 2.57 if I don’t remember wrong, and I didn’t think that I had done anything different this year so I didn’t aspect anything special out there.

But during the race I could feel that I was much better prepared then before, and it wasn’t all the distance training the last 2 month leading up to the race that had been the difference, it was what I had done the 4 month before that. During race I was able to hold a better pace on the bike for longer periods of time and when I caught up to some group on the bike I was able to hold my 10 meters and recover for a few minutes and then take of again.

And when I finally started the run it was like I had been on a little warm up ride, of course I was a little bit stiff in my lower back but after a few kilometres I was running without any stiffness. I was very surprised how easy it felt even if I ran at 3.45-3.50 min/K pace which was much faster then what I had been able to hold in an IM before, and that wasn’t a pace that I had planned to be able to hold, I just ran based on how it felt and I was very comfortable at that pace. Even the last 10 K I didn’t slow down that much, but of course at that point I had to push a little bit to be able to hold the pace up but I ended up to run the 2:nd ½ marathon pretty much at the same speed as the first one.

So, my summary of this is that if you want improve your IM finishing time and marathon split it’s not all about endurance, you also need to improve your “top” running speed/ strenght, lets say your 5 and 10 K speed, and you also need to work on your bike fitness/pacing so you can come through the 180 K ride without being to fatigued.

And the 2:nd part of this summary is that as you can see it worked great for me to first work on my strength/ speed for 3-4 month, then build my endurance for a few month on top of that. And by doing it that way and not the other way around which I believe is the most common way to do it, work on your endurance then add speed, I was able to get much more “quality” out of my endurance training.

I don’t know if this above made sense at all to you, but I think we start to see it more now when the Olympic guys start to move up and race at IM distance, even if they haven’t been training “long” for more then a few month they are able to race very well at Ironman distance races., of course they might at first have some trouble with pacing but as soon as they figure that out then they can go very fast at Ironman races.

So why not try something different for next season, when the winter arrives do sessions to work on your VO2 max, lactate threshold and overall strength and flexibility, then when the sun start to come out in end of February add some longer sessions and who knows, you might be very fast next year.

Take care

VO2 testing for Long Course Triathletes

Part I: Setting Accurate Training Zones

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES

As many of you know, Mat, Gordo and I have recently opened a small human performance lab in Boulder. It has been a very interesting experience on many fronts. As a guy who is totally obsessed with numbers, I have been quite surprised at the reaction of a number of quite elite local triathletes when we approached them about testing. The prevailing attitude about VO2max testing still appears to be that VO2max is the ‘end all, be all’ when it comes to endurance athletics. In fact, many athletes are so afraid of discovering what their number (and by extension of logic, their athletic ceiling) is that they have declined the opportunity to get tested and get some very useful information about their current physiological limiters that they can then apply to their training. The VO2max number is just one (and probably the most useless) metric that we obtain from a VO2 test. It is not particularly relevant to ultra-distance athletes, whose VO2 numbers are often quite pedestrian when compared to their short-course counterparts, and, at the risk of offending my fellow exercise scientists out there, to suggest that we only have a maximal 15-20% upside to improving our VO2 max is quite simply bollocks. Even taking body composition and economy improvements into account, I have witnessed numerous clients exhibit improvements in both lab measures and ‘real world numbers’ far in excess of 20%. There is a definite plateau in the stroke volume/oxygen delivery side of the equation. However, the aVO2 side of things, while much slower to improve, is a multi-YEAR adaptation.

But let me dismount from my VO2 high horse for a moment, as I explain some of the other (non-maximal) VO2 metrics that can provide you, as an athlete, with some very useful information on your training zones, your true physiological strengths and weaknesses and where you should best direct your training efforts for the coming year.

Training Zones
VO2 testing is a particularly useful way to determine training zones. It provides the coach and athlete with some additional measures that heart rate and lactate testing do not provide. It also makes the ‘no-mans land’ area between zones easy to identify and eliminate, thus maximizing the desired training effect.

Critical points on the VO2 curves:

Zero Net Energy Utilization (NEU)
The curve immediately below displays the total work being produced at each respective intensity level, along with the relative contributions from fat and carbohydrate for one of our athletes.

As a very fit athlete, this guy has reached a point where he is able to train at an intensity where he can accumulate work with no net glycogen cost. I.e. he is able to replenish glycogen at the same rate at which he is using it. Several studies have shown that the maximal rate of replenishment under conditions of exercise is approximately 3kcal of Carbohydrate per minute (Jeukendrup and Jentjens, 2000). This threshold is indicated by the horizontal line on the graph. If the athlete can work out at an intensity in which they produce less than ~3kcal minute of work from Carbohydrate metabolism, they are in essence not dipping into their glycogen stores. For the athlete in the figure above, you can see that he accomplishes this. The point where the curve rises above the line corresponded with an intensity of 62% of this athlete’s VO2max. In other words, this athlete can exercise at 62% of their VO2max without inhibiting glycogen recovery from their harder sessions. This is a critical ability because it significantly increases the total amount of work that can be accumulated in a training week. In volume overload periods, this can take the form of training camps or, in the context of the basic week, the athlete at this level can employ low intensity aerobic training while they are recovering from key sessions.

Maximal Level of Fat Oxidation
From VO2 data, we can also determine a specific training intensity that elicits the greatest absolute contribution from fat oxidation. For the Ironman athlete, this is the key adaptation and, in my experience, is the greatest predictor of Ironman success. Frequently, an athlete who is relatively fast in short course racing will be disappointed when they attempt to transition to long course. The reason is simple, long course racing has very different limiters to short course racing. Consider the data below from 2 actual athletes:

One of these athletes has a 9:54 Ironman to his credit. The other is yet to break 13:00. Of course, I wouldn’t be going through all of this building of the suspense if the results were as expected. You guessed it, the 9:54 guy has a VO2max of 41 So, what data is missing?
The key data missing is economy & fat oxidation rates. At Athlete B’s “Steady” pace, he is able to produce 5.5kcal/min from fat oxidation. Athlete A is topped out at 4.3 kcal/min. Now, before Athlete B’s ego gets too inflated, it is worth noting that Dr Tim Noakes, in his book Lore of Running, postulates that Mark Allen must have generated 10.5 kcal/min from fat (!) in order to run a 2:40 marathon at the end of an Ironman. He also points out that this value is 50% greater than the highest level that he had recorded in elite 10K and marathon runners in his South African human performance lab. Clearly, it is an understatement to say that this ability deserves a good amount of attention (& training time) for the Ironman athlete, especially considering the ‘upside’ that most of us have in this area.
Ventilatory Threshold 1
A VO2 test is useful not only to monitor this ability, but also to determine the appropriate zones to use to improve it. If you take another look at the chart, you will see that from 50-75% VO2max, there is a good chunk of energy contribution coming from fat oxidation. However, once the athlete goes a tick over 75%, the energy coming from fat oxidation disappears rapidly. oxidation. It is very useful, as an Ironman athlete to be able to pinpoint this spot in setting your training zones. There are many ways to approximate this, e.g. the Maffetone method etc, but it is worth noting that, in my experience, there is more individual variation here than even with maximal heart rate and the best way to see that important breakpoint at the cellular level is with individual VO2 testing.

Ventilatory Threshold 2/"Lactate Threshold"
On a VE curve, you will typically see 2 clear deflection points, where VE and VCO2 both increase in a non-linear fashion, i.e. there is a jump in Ventilation (the blue line) and VCO2 (the purple line) that is noticeably greater than the preceding steps. The first of these (VT1 on the curve below) is related to the metabolic shift from fat to carbohydrate oxidation noted above (McLellan and Skinner, 1980). The second of these is caused by the rapid accumulation of lactate in the blood once the athlete passes the lactate balance point and the consequent rise in ventilation elicited in an effort to expel the additional CO2 created from the dissociation of lactate. On a normal individual, this point (VT2) will correspond exactly with LT2, or the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA).

This value is also of use to us as athletes because it represents another distinct limiter to the amount of volume that we can tolerate in a training session and over the course of a week. Even small excursions above the VT2 line correspond with a very high recovery cost (due to the shift in fibers used) and for the long course athlete very little performance benefit.

Of course, the final point of interest is the point of VO2 max, which, coincidentally, corresponds with the max value of the VO2 curve (providing this point fulfils certain criteria). For the long course athlete, the VO2max has very limited predictive value, &, consequently demands limited attention to its improvement. Even a 2:40 marathon requires only a VO2 of 53ml/kg/min. For most well trained individuals, this maximal value is not going to be limiting. Going back to our Athlete B, despite his relatively low maximal value, he was able to run 3:22 for an Ironman Marathon (67% of his VO2max). This value corresponds with Dr. Noakes’ estimates for Mark Allen’s optimal Ironman marathon (i.e. 66% VO2max) IMHO, until you are approaching these relative values, a focus on raising your maximal value is not appropriate.

In part II, I will get more into the nitty gritty of actual values for different athletes and the consequent training implications.

If you are interested in having a VO2 test performed and interpreted by our team, drop me a line at

The (Literal) Costs of Doping

Jeff Shilt, M.D.

On the tails of pro cycling's doping scandals, the buzzword in triathlon has been age group doping. I have to admit, I've been equally curious about the incidences of doping amongst age group athletes. I remember an Outside Magazine article a few years back describing the author’s experience when he obtained performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) from an “anti-aging” doc. He discussed the performance benefits and downsides to the variety of PED’s available.

As a practicing orthopaedist who has prescribed drugs considered “performance enhancing” for patients with problems for whom the drug was created, I found this an intriguing article. I have no experience with the performance enhancement aspects of the PED’s. I was involved in a pharmaceutical company’s research in the early 90’s on the use of growth hormone (GH) to accelerate the recovery of elderly patients who had sustained hip fractures. I’ve cared for patients who required GH for a variety of short stature syndromes. I’ve known patients who require Erythropoetin (Epo) because they are practicing Jehovah Witness (religion that bans receipt of blood transfusions) and are undergoing a surgical procedure with a large expected blood loss, or patients with cancer, whose blood cell counts are low because of their cancer therapy. I can’t really tell you how the “performance” of children with diseases, old people with hip fractures, and cancer patients was affected by the use of these critically needed medicines…their recent 40 k time trial times were rarely the topic of conversation!

So, I was likewise educated as were most who read the Men’s Health article. I’m a firm believer in competing cleanly and since the resurgence of the topic coincided with my interest in endurance sports, I decided to find out what is required to ensure that athletes that I train with and advise are clean. Team Good Guys unanimously were in favor of pursuing the approach, so I set off in search of finding a regimen for us to follow, demonstrating our commitment to clean competition.

I have to admit I was shocked at my findings. Upon the advice of the cycling team physician that has taken one of the most well-known stances against doping, I contacted their lab about pricing and protocols. First, there is not one simple test that ensures with 100% accuracy that an individual is not taking ANY exogenous product. For most PED’s, year-round, weekly testing is required to follow trends of metabolites and blood markers. This testing protocol requires 2 blood and 2 urine tests per week. If you do a less stringent regimen, the protocol is ineffective as people can schedule use around known tests and avoid detection. Second, as you might imagine, this is expensive. This protocol costs about $10,000/ a year.

The lack of stringent testing is responsible for the sad state that cycling and track/field are in now. To date, no sport has required this level of testing. I applaud the cycling teams that are adhering to this principle. It really is shameful that high revenue sports, such as basketball, football, and baseball have failed to require stringent testing. Is this a rampant problem in these sports…you betcha. I don’t believe any of them are clean until they adopt this regimen.

For triathlon, and specifically, age groupers, this testing regimen is not practical. As much as I hate to admit it, if people want to cheat, they can. Although not infallible, random testing is still useful in detecting less sophisticated athletes who cheat. A negative random test doesn’t mean you don’t dope, it just means you didn't get caught. A positive test, however, proves with reasonable certainty that you have cheated. As much as I would like to believe in a couple of guys that have turned up positive, it is highly unlikely given the knowledge I have now.

Certainly for the age groupers in our team, we can’t literally afford to prove our clean approach. And even for the pro’s, who's yearly winnings rarely exceed the $10,000 required for testing, it is a stretch. In the future, I hope we see the costs decrease and the protocols improve so that we can ensure a clean sport.

Cheers to all of us out there who train and race for the healthy body and mind our activity gives us. Shame on the rest of you.

No Zeros…

Year End Review 2007


Shortly, I will be on the road to Santa Cruz. I am looking forward to the weekend with Brant and Mark. Questions, fears and a persistent desire to spend time alone in nature. I don't expect anything fancy from the guys but their calming presence is useful for clear thinking.

Sweat the Small Stuff: Blood Testing for Athletes

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES

After finishing my “A” race for the season, my mental outlook has shifted somewhat from looking forward to the races of the year ahead to looking back at what worked and didn’t work in the season just passed. I find this retrospective analysis to be a key process that is ignored by many self-coached athletes (myself included). It is often much easier, when things don’t work out to blame the plan and switch to a completely different approach, than it is to take responsibility, look back and evaluate how well you executed the plan. It is even more valuable to look back honestly on what were the true limiters to perfect execution. Was it an absence of quality sleep, poor nutritional choices or work conflicts that prevented you from adhering to your plan this past year? These factors are often considered the “extras” to training, the supplemental chapters that are in the back of the training books, the “small stuff”. However, in my experience, these factors come into play long before factors such as what % of threshold training you should include in your schedule or how many hours you should increase this year become relevant. In fact, all of these pages that make up the “front chapters” in your training books are almost entirely dependent on how much attention you pay to the chapters in the back of the book. ‘Small things’ like sleep patterns, regular stretching, optimal nutrition and regular medical screenings can have a BIG impact on your performance.

For me, 2007 was a frustrating year. After a nasty bike crash at the end of ‘06 left me in a wheelchair for 3 months, I was, to a large degree, starting from scratch. In January, I started walking, initially for a half mile, then a mile, then 2 until by March I was back into some semblance of a normal training week, swimming a bit, biking a bit, jogging a bit. Everything was progressing forward nicely. I was adding a couple of hours of training to my basic week every month and finally starting to feel like an athlete again. Until, at the end of April, I hit a bit of a wall. For the better part of a month, I was in a hole. I was sleeping 11-12 hours every night, struggling to get an hour of training in each day but feeling like I used to feel after an 8 hour training day. Something was definitely wrong. In the past, I would have blamed myself or my training plan. But, this time, I decided to go on the hunt for some real answers. I found these answers in a simple blood screen.

The important thing, that athletes so often forget, is that the absence of sickness and optimal health are not synonyms. In western culture (if growing up in your house was anything like growing up in mine), we frequently only go to the doctor when we are sick (or on the verge of death, if your father is anything like mine J However, a simple routine blood screen can provide a wealth of information to the athlete about a variety of health measures that may be seriously impacting their performance &/or their ability to regenerate after training

For instance, a few key markers with normal standards for male endurance athletes from the Australian Institute of Sport (note; these may differ from normative values in the general population, therefore it is important to find a doctor who specializes in sports medicine):

- Erythrocytes (5.21+/-0.46 mill/µl)
- Haemoglobin (16.1 +/- 1.4 g/dl)
- Haematocrit (0.47+/-0.04)
- Median Corpuscular Volume (88.6+/-3.0fl)
- Median Corpuscular Haemoglobin (1.81+/-0.1 fmol)
- Median Corpuscular Haemoglobin Concentration (21.1+/-1.3 mmol/L)
- Iron (18.1+/- 7.1 µmol/L)
- Ferritin (66.2+/-31.2 ng/ml)

Other measures that can be used as reliable indicators of regeneration from training load include: Insulin, cortisole, serum urea, creatine kinase, amino acids, immunoglobulins.

In my case, my serum ferritin levels, at 17 ng/ml were about a quarter of what they should be for a healthy endurance athlete. Serum ferritin is an important contributor to iron stores within the body and is, therefore, an important component in maintaining Haemoglobin within the blood. A drop in Haemoglobin of just 0.1% results in a reduction in VO2max of 1%. This is just one very important reason for an athlete to have regular blood testing performed.

In my situation, a simple bout of Iron supplementation enabled me to build my training by 7 hrs p.w. in the space of 3 months. Showing me, without doubt, that, in my case, the “small stuff” was definitely worth paying attention to.

The Baron on Epic Camp

In this article I will write a little bit about Epic Camp (I'm on the right in this photo).

For you who don’t know what Epic Camp is then I can recommend that you visit . There you can get more information how Gordo first came up with the idea for Epic Camp, and even for you who already know what Epic Camp is I recommend that you visit the site to see all the great pictures from the different camps and to read the blogs. It was a while ago since I visited the site but I went today to refresh my mind for this article and I got stucked for a few hours looking at all the pictures and reading the blogs. I have so many great memories from these camps so it will be hard to choose what to bring up in this article.

Previous Epic Camps:

January 2003, New Zealand, South Island.
July/August 2003, Colorado Rockies
January 2004, New Zealand, North Island
October 2004, Kona, Hawaii
January 2005, Australia
January 2006, New Zealand
June/July 2006, France
January 2007, New Zealand

Upcoming Camps:

January 2008, New Zealand
May/June 2008, Italy

I have been able to join the first 6 camps, but due to my racing schedule I mist the one in France 2006 and due to my overtraining I wasn’t able to take part in the one in NZ 2007 either. And now I just have to wait and see how my training and recovery goes in the fall to see if I can join the camp in NZ this coming January or if I have to wait to the one in Italy next summer.

One thing is for sure, if you really want to test your limits and learn a few things about yourself, and others, then you should join one of these camps. Of course it’s not always laugh and smile faces that you hear and see on these camps, after 6-7 days of 6-8 hours of training a day, people tend to fall into some kind of quietness for a few days, but then after a few days things seems to turn around again and people are able to keep things together and really enjoy the whole experience again.

Epic NZ 2003

The first ever Epic Camp was in January 2003. I came to NZ 1 month before the camp, but just a few days before the camp started I flew back home to Sweden to join a big sport ceremony where I had been nominated to be one of 4 to get the title “The up comer of the year” 2002 in all Swedish sports after I won my age group in Hawaii IM that year. Now I wasn’t the one that got that title, but just to be nominated was a big deal for me and the sport of triathlon in Sweden, so I’m very happy that I took the pain to fly half way around the globe from NZ to be part of this ceremony. It took me 2 days to fly home, then I was in Stockholm for 2 days for the ceremony then it took me 2 days to fly back to NZ, and when I arrived there it was day 5 or so of epic camp so I got thrown straight into big training. Or actually the day after I arrived we did the Queenstown ½ IM, I think I was mostly asleep during the race due to the 12 hour time difference from Sweden but I was able to keep things together and win the race. Think that is my biggest memory from that first Epic Camp.

Epic CO 2003

The 2nd Epic Camp was run in Colorado Rockies 2003, this is the camp that I still today liked the most, and it’s probably also the camp when I have been suffering the most to. I really like the feeling to be riding the bike in the mountains, its so much power and energy in these areas.

During this summer I was training for the Powerman world Championship in Duathlon, Zofingen. So I did no swimming during this camp, but instead I did double runs pretty much every day, so when the other guys went to the pool in the morning I went for a 60-90 min run, then after a long day on the bike we all ran off the bike for another 45-60 min. And I still remember how Gordo didn’t give me any bonus points in the competition for the yellow jersey for my morning run, because the bonus point each day was only if you swam, rode and ran every day. Almost like it was easier to do double runs then to float around in the pool for an hour in the morning. Okay Gordo, I have no hard feelings about this but I think I should have gotten the yellow jersey in this camp

[Ed Note -- you only won a single pass out of 15+. Sure you ran 200K and did 100,000 feet of climbing but I'm OK with the victory.]

Epic NZ 2004

In the NZ camp 2004 my strongest memory is when on day 7 or so of the camp raced Auckland ½ IM and I had a very strong race and finished just 23 sec behind Cameron Brown, ran a 1.13 ½ marathon, and that after been avg 6 hours of training a day for 6 days before the race.

Epic Kona 2004

Then we have the Kona Camp 2004. It was no “real” epic training at this camp, the camp was more a tapering camp for the Hawaii Ironman that year; think the camp ended 7 days or so before the race.

I have no epic memory from this camp; I had been training in Palm dessert and Palm Springs for 5 weeks, then another 5 weeks on the Hawaii Island to get used to the heat. I was very fit but all the heat training had slowly drained my overall energy so during the camp and when the Ironman race arrived I was already fried and it ended to be a long day out there, was in shape for a top 10 finish but as I said I was done even before the race started so I was just able to jog to the finish in a disappointing 35: th place. Guess one of my memories is that Cameron Brown also had a hard day out there and we ran together to the finish the last 10 miles.

Epic Aus 2005

The one and only camp 2005 was in Australia in January, I had never been in Australia before so I was looking forward to this camp; think my strongest memory is that it was HOT during the camp. Björn Andersson did this camp as well and I remember one day when I was able to finish the ride before him, he came to the hostel and pretty much fell of his bike because of dehydration and layed on the floor completely wiped out for a good hour like a wet dog trying to get things together again. But next day he was back in the front again.

Think one of the main thing you learn during the camp is that how much more training you can tolerate when you just can focus on training and recovery, doesn’t really matter how tired you get during the day, the crew does everything for you so you can focus on recovery so when you the next morning wake up full with new energy, ready for another 8 hour day.

Epic NZ 2006

The last camp I was able to join was the one in NZ 2006.
I was in good shape and was able to train hard and long every day at this camp, was some good people at the camp who was able to push me very hard in the yellow jersey competition, but I was able to take home the jersey.

But when I now look back my overtraining problems started with this camp. I had 12 days of very good training at the camp, so if I had been smarter I should just had been focusing on recovery for the following 10-12 days, but instead of doing that I thought I would loose too much fitness if I took more then one easy day so I keep training and I slowly got myself down in a hole. I was planning to race Ironman Arizona in April but I ended up with shingles 2 weeks before the race, so I flew home to Sweden to recover for a month, then I was able to set a new Swedish IM distance record in a time of 8.15 in Roth, but then I once again wanted too much and raced IM UK 1.5 month after that and I was back in the hole, and this time it was real.

With that, I want to mention how important the recovery is after a 12 days camp where you have pushed yourself behind your limits.

Epic Camp in VERY fun and you will learn so many things and meet great people, but don’t forget that the camp does make you tired so you might want to have some downtime to recover when you get back home.

I hope to see you at the next Epic Camp in NZ or in Italy 2008.

Take care

The Two Ms

Yesterday, Monica and I did a "dry run" for our late summer camping trip. In the photo, you can see the result of my campfire skills. Physically, I get tired these days so exercise is limited to easy trail walking.

Over on Alternative Perspectives, Clas shares his experiences from Epic Camp over the years. Coming up he will explain "How to run a 2:42 marathon off the bike" -- we'll get that live in a few weeks. It is an entertaining read.

I've been reading Ayn Rand -- (GV, I'll mail the book back soon). Ms. Rand is a fine writer and gets me excited about living up to my maximum potential. Her encouragement to reduce theory to basic truths interested me in relation to endurance sports -- I'll continue to think about that because I sense that with some effort it would be possible to create a straightforward model for endurance training. I've tried to do that with my Four Pillars article but there could be a clearer theory waiting out there.

In the meantime, as the summer winds down and the cyber surfing season heats up... two things kept coming back to be as I flipped the pages.

Equality -- the need to place personal responsibility for individual action as a high priority. This is even more important for those that seek to lead, or influence, others in the field of individual rights.

Intellectual Domination -- I watch media pundits (and cyber celebrities) claim to be guardians of the truth while engaging in satire and bullying. Their actions cloaked in humor and/or intellectual superiority while seeking to subdue any discussion that runs counter to their ideas. Spending one's talent bullying the students (we once were) strikes me as the path of a wasted life. There is a higher way available to us.


So, I'm back in Colorado following a few meetings in New York. In the Big Apple, I was fortunate to be able to stay with my Everest climbing, hedgefund’ing, Ironman’ing buddy, Greg "the kid" Vadasdi.

It is always fun to spend time with “The Kid”. Similar to my buddy, Ed McDevitt (I’m on to you, amigo), Greg is one of those intelligent guys that enhances his success by having the world underestimate him. I’m going to start working on that in 2008. Life can be easier when our competition under-rate us.

I received some follow-up on my piece on international financial markets. A few people asked what I thought was going to happen in various markets.

I have no clue!

Be suspicious of people that claim to have a clue!

When it comes to forecasting my experience is that it is totally impossible to predict short-term movements. We have no idea and the more certain the experts become, the greater the opportunity for an unexpected event to really shake things up.

My formal financial education is getting a touch dated (Class of ’90). At McGill, I was reasonably well schooled in the traditional drivers of markets as well as the technical theories that have been purported to drive financial markets. My academic and technical background is useful for reading the FT, or Wall Street Journal, but it doesn’t serve me well when I try to comprehend what I actually see in the world around me. In fact, it is probably a liability.

If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last couple of years then you will have seen my interest in learning from authors that immerse themselves in how things actually work (be they markets or people). The GordoWorld team is in the process of updating my website and one of the additions will be a section on my recommended reading list. Mat and I will trawl through my library and type-up what I liked, and why.

Fundamental analysis works well for estimating the likely long term path of an asset or investment opportunity. However, it falls short when asked to explain what actually happens in the short term. In other words, my academic (and real-world) training are useful for valuation but something else seems to drive pricing.

What is it?

For me, the two main drivers are:

(a) Mood; and

(b) Money.

Let’s take money first. How many people have the ability to purchase the asset, or make the investment? Most people will spend to the maximum limit of their ability to pay. As an aside, always find out your client’s budget before bidding on a project.

If we enhance ability to pay with low cost finance and easily obtained credit lines then you’ll bump up the demand for assets and, in most people, reduce price sensitivity. Many corporations (and CEOs) follow a similar path -- it very difficult for spending and investment decisions to be made free of the influence of capital available.

There is limited transparency on the true position of global liquidity – however, the careful observer can make educated guesses on the impact of global shocks on capital markets. Our recent experience with the credit contraction that followed the sub-prime shock is an example.

With mood I consider:

How do “I” feel about the opportunity?

How do people around me feel about the opportunity?

How does the broader public feel about the opportunity?

While I think that I’m an optimist when it comes to life, my conservative nature means that I’m a nervous seller. Where I’ve made mistakes on pricing is when I failed to take into account differences between my perception and the broader public. I’ve consistently sold early in my deals.

Interestingly, this tendency hasn’t cost me many investment opportunities. I’ve always had more deals available than personal appetite to fund them. In fact, our property development company started because we had a mismatch between good deals and available capital.

Why is it important to track these factors? It’s important because a change in either one can be a leading indicator of an approaching valuation swing. When these two factors change direction in tandem then we are going to see a shift in asset pricing.

So when people ask me what’s going to happen… I have to say that I have no idea. As an investor, what I look for is situations where my best guess is that my entry pricing is less than fundamental valuation. That creates the opportunity – reality is then dictated by the hard work of an ethical management team.

Investing is about: (a) solid fundamental analysis; (b) limiting the cost of your mistakes; (c) paying less than fundamental value at the front-end; (d) avoiding fraud; and (e) backing the efforts of outstanding people. Of these factors, the two deadly sins of Private Equity are overpaying and backing crooks -- very tough to recover from either of these. If your deal doesn't fit these parameters then you are speculating, rather than investing.

In terms of market timing, don’t expect to get that perfectly right other than by fluke. Watch for shifts in the two Ms. When a trend is established, consider the likelihood that this direction will be sustained. Invest only when you see a gap between price and valuation.

It sounds so easy. Reality is tougher but the basics will serve us well for as long as we temper our greedy instincts.

Stick with your winners; sell them only when concentration fears start to keep you up at night. Historically, that’s been my early warning system on both people and deals – if I’m thinking about you at midnight then we’ll probably be speaking shortly!

Always hold a portion of your portfolio in high quality cash equivalents – this will enable you to capitalize on unexpected opportunities and assist with the (near impossible) task of staying calm when everyone else is losing their cool. By definition, your best deals will be offered to you when everyone else is out of cash. As much as possible, be countercyclical in your fundraising and capital reserves.

Waiting and watching…


PS -- I'm off to Santa Cruz next week to see Brant and Mark. After that Monica and I will be camping for two weeks. I've set things up so that I should be able to keep publishing.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds great, eh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Financial Thoughts

My IM Canada race report is drafted and I'm giving myself a few more days to mull it over. As promised, it will be live by September 10th.

I have a few hours this morning before my taxi comes to take me to the airport so I thought that I'd address a question that I received this week.

I enjoyed your continued comments on finances and economy. At about the same time you posted being "overweight cash" I was doing about the same... ...I would love to hear your thoughts on the blog about the subprime situation and the US housing market if you're looking for suggestions from the viewing public ;)

For background and continued info on the sub-prime situation, check out this website. John is a great analyst when it comes to explaining the background as well as the specifics. My gut feel is that the sub-prime situation was merely a trigger that resulted in a (beneficial) repricing of global risk. Things were totally out of control in terms of liquidity and lending. My personal view is that the "powers that be" should let a lot of people lose a lot of money -- investors should not be bailed out when they make crappy investment decisions. People need to lose money.

That said... I'm reading the Lex Column this morning (on the back of my FT) and notice their chart on three-month interbank rates. It is a look at what's happened to Sterling, Dollar and Euro interbank lending rates over the last six months. If you can punch that up on your Bloomberg then it's worth checking out. This is the rate that banks lend to each other.

I combine that chart with a discussion that I had with a senior banker this week. He was telling me that there are rumours about some medium sized institutions that are expected to need to merge with a stronger partner. That's a quaint British way of saying that they expect a few medium-sized banks to go bust if they don't get taken over.

I flip elsewhere in my paper and note that the last month saw record levels of capital raised by the strongest financial institutions (to strengthen their balance sheets). Elsewhere, my old boss is talking about the regulatory authorities being ill-equipped to handle the nature of the crisis.

So there is a real financial crisis happening right now. To date, the stock market, real economy and general public haven't focused on this issue. Given the magnitude of what I see happening, I can't see how it won't hit the real economy. Massive amounts of liquidity are being removed from the global financial system and the cost of capital is increasing.

That's my view on the macro picture.

On the micro picture -- life remains good for everyone that I come across. Unless you are a realtor, housebuilder, mortgage broker or specialist investment banker -- you will have been insulated from the crisis.

In Scotland, we've seen 5% capital growth in our property portfolio (YTD) and have been able to achieve returns much greater than that by creating value through project design; enhanced planning and "financial engineering". The team here are experts at getting the most out of difficult refurbishment projects in prime locations.

Consistently moving around the world, what most strikes me is the value that the United States offers relative to Europe (generally) and the UK (specifically). Europe is an expensive place to live and do business.

I'm writing this piece inside a two-bedroom flat at the edge of the New Town of Edinburgh. It is a converted warehouse, rather than the traditional buildings that make up most of our portfolio. This flat is valued at US$565,000 and I'd expect to see it get close to US$600,000 in an open market sale. At market value, you'd be looking at a gross yield of 4% and I wouldn't bet on you receiving much capital growth over the next three years. Smart financial buyers have been priced out of this market (they weren't really participants up here anyhow).

What's all this mean? Not much of change from what I was concerned about in 2004. I saw that we had to shift our business strategy to one that is based around value-creation, rather than asset-inflation. Personally, I reduced exposure "too early" and my partner made a quick paper profit on my holdings. However, together we created our new business and I "made" far more by helping him create something new -- than kicking back and letting him (and our team) do all the work on an established business.

At some stage, I'll talk about exits, sales and the strategic nature of working with entrepreneurs. I'm very happy about how things turned out. Selling to a CEO (& very close friend) was highly educational -- I'm glad that we're consistently on the same side of the table now. Personally, I prefer to sell early and for a bit less than full price.

So that's what I'm seeing out there right now. No real change in my outlook from last time.


In portfolio terms...

Asset Allocation is 75% USD and 25% GBP
Forecast Capital Growth is 5% USD and 95% GBP
Forecast Income is 20% USD and 80% GBP
Forecast Expenses are 50% USD and 50% GBP

Breaking my portfolio down I'm 50% cash equivalents and 50% property related. The property investments are split 50:50 between the US and the UK. Our US property investments have a negative yield (we live in our house). My UK property investments have a high (but indirect) yield as they are tied to my advisory income.

All my portfolio leverage (up and down) sits in the UK property component of my portfolio. I hold cash as a hedge against this volatility. If we saw a major crash in global property markets then my UK holding would be hit. It is important to me to avoid dilution through the trough of the next property downturn.

It all sounds pretty complicated! More simply... a house in Boulder; a financial advisory business; a UK property developer; and cash. One major client in Scotland and personal expenses dominated by US taxes and a UK-domiciled consulting team.


In reading through I didn't address your question on the US housing market. I think that the market will continue to fall over the next 12-18 months. If I wanted to enter the market then I'd start looking in January next year. I think that you'll have a lot of scared vendors early next year -- there is a wall of ARM debt that is going to adjust in the spring.

The only reason that I'd buy would be to have a primary family residence -- I expect that the terms on "buying for investment" will greatly improve over the next 12 months. I also expect that vacation locations will see better values when over-leveraged buyers are forced to unload properties.

Given the "yield gap" on most properties, I see little capital upside and the potential to get smoked by an adverse yield-shift (for the last ten years we've been benefiting from a favorable yield-shift). If that happens then there will be some great buying opportunities but we'll all be scared (witless) about putting money into a falling market.


Real World Periodization II: Phases & The Annual Training Plan

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

I had an interesting chat with Gordo, the other day, about the difference between what a ‘long-term plan’ means to a swim coach vs. a recreational tri coach. I had the fortunate experience of working for a couple of years under Aussie swim coach Col Jones. Jones Swimming is a household name in the age group swim scene in Australia, with multiple state titles and a score of athletes who have gone on to compete well at both the national and international level. The reason lies in the incredibly structured developmental program that they have in place.

When a child signs up for swim lessons at Jones, they begin, knowingly or not, an 8-10 year process that creates some of the best swimmers on the Aussie scene. From the moment they take their first push and glide from the wall, they are being watched, not only by their instructor, but also by the squad supervisor, who determines if and when the child is ready to move up to the next level. In the beginning, this decision is based on simple technical criteria, e.g.:
- Straight arm recovery
- ‘Chop off the ear’
- Water on the eyebrows
- ‘Boil the water’ with the feet.

The technical criteria becomes progressively more advanced and demanding through the learn to swim phase (~ages 4-8) and eventually transitions to more performance & attendance based criteria as the child makes the transition to junior squads (ages 8-12), for example:
- Complete 10x100 FS @ 2:15
- Complete 10x100 IM @ 2:45
- Attend 5 of the available 7 sessions each week.

And, if they show promise, eventually to the results based criteria of the high performance squads e.g.
- Make state finals
- Qualify for Nationals.

The point is, Jones, and other successful swim programs that I have had the opportunity to observe &/or be a part of, recognize that the acquisition of technical competence, basic endurance, basic strength, threshold endurance and specific race speed is a process that takes 8-10 years. The swimmer does essentially the same training day in, day out in the squad that is appropriate for their current developmental level for as long as it takes to move up to the next one. This could be 10 weeks or 6 months. Sure, some kids get bored along the way and are able to convince their parents that this swimming thing is not for them, or that they should transfer to a different coach (who generally promises that if Sally was in my program, she’ll be making State within a year). Either way, the program doesn’t change to accommodate their whims. The squads roll on, with or without them. And, with only a few exceptions, those who persist and stay a part of this program for the 8-10 years are rewarded with a very high level of performance.

I make the point above that long term improvements in endurance take long term periods of focused development and that, while it is normal to get bored along the way, the solution is not to switch sports or switch coaches or switch training methods. The solution is always – stay the course.

In Tudor Bompa’s landmark book, Theory and Methodology of Training, he speaks of the staircase of athletic development and how the step height and step length are both functions of the biomotor ability that the athlete is seeking to improve.

For example, endurance vs. strength.

Or, put another way, to paraphrase Bompa, while flexibility can be overloaded and improved from day to day, and strength from week to week, improvements (and graduations in the training stress) for endurance should be considered month to month.

Because Bompa’s primary area of focus was strength and power training, much of the rest of the book was framed in that light, e.g. macrocycles were designated as 4-6 week periods of a given training emphasis, while microcycles (or loading blocks) were designated as periods of ~1 week. This may be entirely appropriate when we are talking about optimal duration of training blocks for an experienced strength athlete, however, in my opinion and experience as a coach of endurance sports, it significantly misses the mark when we are talking about developing the core biomotor abilities of the sub-elite endurance athlete.

So, in Friel-speak, when we are looking at the key training cycles, e.g. Base 1, Base 2, Base 3, etc…, for a novice to sub-elite athlete, it is my opinion that these blocks are better used as 4-8 MONTH periods of development, rather than 4-8 weeks.

It may be interesting to look at what phase of athletic development you are currently at in your long term development as an athlete.

Base 1
“Training to train”

Typical Performance Level:
12-17hr Ironman (although, it is worthwhile noting that athletes at this level can be quite quick at short distance racing, some of my “Base 1” athletes are 5 hours or better for a half but unable to break 12 for a full).

- Technique
- Basic Endurance
- Body Composition
- Basic Strength
- Basic Flexibility/Injury Prevention

Typically this athlete will come in 30-50lbs overweight, and despite what they may have “benched” or “squatted” back in high school, will be surprised when we get them in the weights room & they struggle to get a good # of reps with 2 plates on the bar. This level of athlete will benefit most from a prolonged training block focusing on improving their basic biomotor abilites, which also happen to be their specific race limiters.

Good improvements can be expected if the athlete devotes 4-8 months training at this level. It is not unusual to see someone drop 50lbs in this time frame and strength improvements for this level athlete can generally be expected to be 50-70%, putting them close to Joe Friel’s strength/bodyweight goals by the end of the year.

The year may culminate in a “just finish” Ironman or a big hiking trip or bike tour. Either way, this “training to train” year sets the athlete up well for Base 2.

Base 2:
“Training to perform”

Typical Performance Level:
10-12hr Ironman

- Steady State Endurance
- Steady State Speed

Our serious athlete, who has completed several Ironman events and is ready for a “breakthrough performance”, often after multiple races where they underperformed relative to their shorter race distance performances. Despite the athlete’s insistence that they need more speed work, this athlete can most benefit from a long period of training with a focus on maximizing the amount of steady state training within their basic training week. Again, this basic adaptation requires a long time (multiple months) to optimize. It is a reality that most untrained/poorly trained individuals will struggle to hold their AeT pace/power for much more than a half-ironman effort, the ability to hold this effort for the duration of an Ironman race is not something that should be taken for granted. For the average 10-12hr IMer, extending your aerobic threshold endurance to equal or exceed your predicted race duration is the adaptation that offers the greatest “bang for your buck”.

Base 3:
“Training to race”

Performance Level:
9-10 hour Ironman

- Muscular Endurance
(the amount of the race that they can devote to Zone 3-4 efforts)
- Tactics
(where to best place these efforts to ensure the greatest return).

When the Ironman athlete gets to the point that steady state endurance is no longer a limiter, it may make sense to insert periods of effort above average race effort that are tactically advantageous in accordance with the athlete’s strengths, e.g. for an athlete who is a strong climber, it may be beneficial to move into a Zone 3 effort on a key climb in the race where they will be able to generate more speed for the additional watts than if they were to expend the same amount of energy on the flats. Similarly, depending on the race, it may prove useful to expend their ‘reserve energy’ during the swim, in an effort to bridge up to a group of swimmers that is more in line with their cycling ability (to minimize the extra effort associated with passing slower cyclists). However, it is important to note that by the time you are ready to tactically race an Ironman, you’re already at a pretty elite level and, as Gordo is fond of saying, you have spent many years getting ‘fit’ before worrying about getting ‘fast’.

So, that’s my take on the appropriate duration of mesocycles or “focus periods” for the endurance athlete. Now, what about the appropriate duration of overload steps (or microcycles)? As previously mentioned, as a biomotor ability, endurance has relatively long, shallow steps in the developmental staircase. From practical experience, I have found that the optimal length of these steps is anything from 4-8 weeks of one consistent training stimulus before further overload is applied. This ties in nicely with the “basic week” concept. In other words, I give my athletes a fixed training stimulus (a basic week) that they are to repeat 4-8 times before we re-evaluate what adaptations/improvement has occurred and, if applicable, add a slight overload (generally no more than 10%) of whatever stimulus is appropriate for their current developmental level. For our Base 1 athlete this may be a 10% increase in pure volume or a 10% increase in total work completed in a strength session. Either way, the increase is quite modest and conservative and patient by most other coaches’ standards. It does, however, represent the appropriate time frame for the athlete to get some real, measurable improvement that is specific to their own personal limiters.

The progressive transition through these developmental levels is, at best case, a 3 year process, and that assumes consistent, appropriate training on a week-in, week-out basis. Just as the kids who made it through the Jones’ program were the one’s with the parents who recognized the difference between a child’s whims and genuine discontent, if you are to truly succeed in this sport, when you are considering giving up or changing approaches or looking for the next best short cut, it may serve you to be your own best parent and remind yourself how important it is, both in sport and in life, when in doubt, to stay the course.

Power Reserve

I hope that you enjoy this article -- this is a very interesting concept that Terry shared with me last year. He's taken to time to write up his thoughts, more fully, for us here.

You can contact Terry through his website, linked below.


Terry Kerrigan and Dr. Philip Skiba


We should probably introduce ourselves, and let you know why we are writing this together. Terry is an Ironman pro, and is the CEO of Aperion For Life, Inc. He coaches and trains athletes across a number of sports, and brings substantial personal experience to the table. Dr. Philip “The Other Dr. Phil” Skiba specializes in sports medicine and exercise science with a focus on endurance athletes. He is the CEO of PhysFarm Training Systems. Though he coaches a small number of athletes, he primarily works as a consultant and advisor to elite and professional athletes around the world, helping to direct their coaches and trainers to design better programs. PhysFarm then uses the data gathered to design new technologies to better prepare athletes for competition.

Terry and Dr. Phil work as a tag team to train a small number of highly motivated athletes. Terry provides much of the practical advice and training progressions, while Dr. Phil provides the science, analysis, and direction. This approach has been very successful. For example, we work together on Joanna Zeiger’s training. She went from a string of tough races to 15th at the Edmonton ITU race, to 1st at Boulder Peak and 2nd at 5430 Long Course.

We are often asked about our coaching “style” or “approach.” We encourage our athletes to stop thinking in the generic wastebasket terms of “bottom-up” or “top-down” coaching. We treat each athlete as a unique individual with particular strengths and weaknesses to be exploited or improved. We believe in applying the art of coaching to the latest science to develop a logical, evidence-based strategy that yields results time after time.

The Concept of Power Reserve:
Before we can talk about the concept of “power reserve”, we should discuss a few definitions so that we are all on the same page.

Functional Threshold Power (FTP): Coined by Dr. Andrew Coggan, this is the best average power an athlete can maintain for an exercise task that takes about an hour. It is highly correlated to the Maximal Lactate Steady State, that is, the highest intensity of exercise an athlete can perform and still maintain a constant level of lactate in the blood, rather than a continual increase. It is primarily due to the metabolic fitness of the muscles, that is, the ability of the muscles to use fat for fuel, and spare carbohydrates (which are limited).

VO2max: The maximal amount of oxygen the athlete can use during exhaustive exercise. It is primarily due to the ability of the heart to deliver blood to working muscle, as well as the number of capillaries in the muscle. pVO2max refers to the power required to reach VO2max, and is usually quite close to the best average power an athlete can maintain for about 4 to 6 minutes.

Using these concepts, we can put together an organizational framework in our minds. If you think of your fitness as a house, imagine that the foundation of the house is your “base training” or perhaps more appropriately, your overall ability to tolerate specific Ironman training. Let’s think of your absolute best sprint power output is the peak of the roof, your VO2max as the attic, and your FTP as the ceiling. Your performance ability (race power) is equal to your height, and you mark your height on the wall as you grow. Make sense?

First things first: You need to train before you can train. What we mean by this is that you need a period of months to years of general training so that you have a foundation that can support the house. What you are doing is allowing your body to build the appropriate infrastructure to support everything you want to make it do. Put another way, as Dr. Andrew Coggan has pointed out: the more you train, the more you will be able to train. We don’t just go out and try to race an Ironman. We spend years training and racing shorter distances before moving up to the ultra distance stuff.

Once we have a solid foundation and are sure the place won’t collapse, we can move into the house and begin to “grow up.” By performing specific training, you begin to get taller. As you grow, your head gets closer and closer to the ceiling. Eventually, you need to raise the ceiling or you will bump your head, right? So, by training in certain ways, we can raise that ceiling. But now, you have another problem…your attic space is getting smaller. To make more space, you have to extend the attic higher. Yet, this eventually creates another problem…you can’t make the attic any taller than the roof. At some point, you need to raise the roof.

When we say “Power Reserve”, we are referring to your “headroom.” We are referring to the amount of power you have available to you above what you actually need to perform the way you would like in the race. Practically speaking, this Power Reserve also reflects an RPE reserve. When the roof, attic, and ceiling are high enough, you have plenty of headroom and you don’t feel cramped/stressed at your chosen race power. The goal of good coaching is to figure out the best way to improve your headroom.

For example: Let’s consider power requirement for a task vs. an athlete’s maximal capacity developed in training. The task is a 180k bike leg in about 4h30m: 68 kg athlete, good aero position, appropriate equipment. Let’s say it takes 265 watts to accomplish this task. How stressful this is, and how well the athlete will run afterwards, depends on their Power Reserve. In other words, if your maximal ability for 180k is 275 watts, and you rode 265 watts, you are going to be shelled and will likely run poorly. However, if your maximal ability for 180k is 290 watts, 265 watts will feel much less taxing.

There are both smart ways and a silly ways to generate that 265 watt average. You could constantly vary your power, or ride steady. Both mathematical modeling and practical experience indicates that your best bet is riding steady, with plenty of reserve, and minimizing your forays into ceiling / attic / roof territory. (However, you should also note that in very variable terrain, a more variable power approach is more appropriate.)

Developing Your Height vs. Developing Your Headroom

The important thing to remember is that the division of exercise efforts into “zones” is a purely artificial, man-made process. In other words, exercise is a continuum where riding done at FTP not only improves power at LT or MLSS, but also serves to improve pVO2max and fatigue resistance. Likewise, riding done at pVO2max will also serve to improve FTP. However, we think in terms of zones so that we train in a time efficient manner and can focus in on particular aspects of fitness.

Traditional training theory would have you believe that the area between LSD training and threshold training is essentially a “no-man’s land.” We have found that, at least in ultra-distance athletes, there is significant gold to be mined here. We have found that while the athlete’s headroom increases with more intense training, increasing the athlete’s height (90k to 180k race power) is best achieved by what we call directed LSD riding. In other words, the athlete does not simply ride long and slow. Rather, the athlete rides in a directed way with extended periods of time at a high LSD / low-end tempo pace. An increase of just 5-10% results in very significant gains in terms of Ironman race power over the long term.

Why Are We Talking About Power Instead of Heart Rate?

Exercise science tells us that (at least below VO2max) HR is the effect of, not the cause of performance ability. You select an exercise level, and your heart simply tries to meet the demand. For instance, we regularly witness HR variations in a range of +/- 15bpm at the exact same power output in Terry’s training! If we had followed a strict heart rate protocol, we would have likely over or under-trained him in a variety of training blocks and circumstances.

The problem is that HR is affected by all kinds of stresses, whether that’s deconditioning, exercise duration, temperature, hydration status, or psychological state. Too many athletes micro-manage HR as if it’s the cause for adaptation when in fact it’s a result of many ongoing changes both chronic and acute. A power meter tells you exactly how hard you are working at any given time, and allows you to very carefully monitor and distribute your effort over the course of a race to make sure you do not push too hard and blow up

The idea of gauging effort in this way is nothing new. For example, look at swimmers and runners: HR monitoring has not really infiltrated the highest levels of these sports. The best athletes have trained on the basis of pace / split times (in other words, power) and duration. The oft-cited Dr. Jack Daniels (and if you don’t own a copy of his book, turn off your computer, go buy it, and don’t read anything else until you finish it) has managed many elite and professional athletes on this basis. Power monitoring will allow you to monitor your training similarly on your bike.

Now, this does not mean that HR data is useless. However, to make it useful, you need to use in under very controlled conditions and keep the above caveats in mind. For instance, it is possible to look at the ratio of HR:Watts in a controlled (indoor and cooled) environment. This is a bit beyond what we can cover in this rather general article, but the point is that there is a place for HR monitoring…just not what most athletes and coaches think it is.

As A Practical Matter, How Do I Apply These Concepts?

This is purely a coaching question, and will be different for every athlete. However, we can give you some general guidelines about our approach to athletes.

1. Know what system you are training.
Set up appropriate zones a la those developed by Dr. Coggan. You can look around on the Internet for a .PDF he authored on the subject, or pick up the book he co-authored, “Training and Racing with a Power Meter”. Dr. Skiba’s book “Scientific Training for Triathletes” also has a short primer on this.

2. Build your foundation.

“Base Training” isn’t (or rather, shouldn’t) be about just going long and slow. LSD training is important in this context, but you must always address the other systems: Anaerobic capacity (<1-2>20 minute power) to optimally prepare your body for everything you will ask of it later. Pure LSD training to the exclusion of all else prepares you to go long and slow. Is that how you want to race? We refer to LSD as Long Smart Distance Adaptation, very specific power per energy system and progressing the duration.

3. Go short and fast before you go long and fast.
This is also known as “reverse periodization” or “raise the left, fill the right”. In other words, you increase how many watts you can make, then work on how long you can make them. Early on this may mean working on your short term power (a couple of minutes) and extending that power out to 4-6 minutes. This raises the roof and attic. Then, you do the same thing for your FT and later race power. You start out with a directed long ride that includes a few 15-minute intervals at race power. Later in the season, you will extend those intervals to 20 or 30 minutes. As you reach peak training load, you gradually cut down the rest interval. You will come to a place where you can ride at your desired race power very steadily and without great variation for many hours.

4. Don’t do anything in the race you didn’t first do in training!

This might be the most important rule. Prove to yourself you can do it in training before you try to throw the smack down in a race. If the best you have ever done for 180k is 220 watts and you try to push 260 watts, you are asking for a 6 hour marathon that will leave you praying for death. You would be surprised at how many people do exactly this. Just because you feel like Superman at the end of your taper doesn’t mean you are faster than a speeding bullet. Stick to the plan.

The Big Picture:

As you apply these concepts to swimming and running, it is important to remember the big picture. The body adapts to stress according to some pretty well defined principles, the most important of which are specificity and progressive overload.Specificity means just what you think it does: at the end of the day, you need to run to become a better runner and bike to be a better biker. There is very little crossover between sports, and this has been proven scientifically. (To be strict about it, there is some minimal crossover, but this is of more importance to novice and/or severely detrained athletes). Progressive overload means that you slowly overload the body such that it adapts to the new stress level. In mythology, Hercules became strong by carrying a small calf up a hill every day. Each day, the calf grew a little, which made his “workout” a little harder. Hercules achieved great strength through a process of overload. He didn’t carry the calf one week and then a bull the next week. Catch our drift? You can’t do it all at once…it needs to be gradual.

But, just how long is “gradual”? We are talking years. Seriously. More often than not, athletes “overshoot” mentally. They attempt an overly ambitious training program and expect a result that isn’t in keeping with the time periods of physiologic adaptation. They think in terms of weeks, months and race seasons, when in fact it takes years (as many as 10) to come to peak ability. The results of “overshooting” are often frustration, injury and health complications. In desperation, the frustrated athlete then begins investing too much energy in things that don’t provide any proven gains. They look to enhance results with supplements, swimming aids, or special running shoes, and become still more frustrated when they fail to meet expectations.

There is no easy way. Achieving your potential is about hard work, being honest with yourself, and having a deep level of commitment to becoming your best on your body’s terms, not your ego’s terms. There is no replacement for things like a healthy lifestyle, sleep, good nutrition, and above all, patience.


Above all, the most important concept we can convey to you is that your training program must be based on evidence; that is, real data. How fast can you swim 4k on a day-to-day basis in training? How many watts can you put out and for how long can you put them out? How fast can you run from 20-40k? How about after cycling for several hours? This is what you need to know to design your training program properly, and just as importantly, how to optimally plan and execute your race. Good Luck!

Aperion For Life, Inc. bridges the gaps between sports performance, lifestyle development, and health and wellness, providing thoroughly planned and effective solutions to fitness related challenges. Read more at

PhysFarm Training Systems, LLC is dedicated to helping clients in amateur and professional sports achieve excellence in athletic performance through the application of the latest science and state of the art technology. PhysFarm develops custom training strategies for clients interested in lifting performance through legal, scientifically validated means. More information is available at

Ironman Canada 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Interpreting Lactate Curves for Ironman Athletes

Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science), CSCS, PES.

It has become a somewhat common practice for intermediate to elite athletes to have regular lactate assessments in an effort to track improvements and to determine and periodically assess training zones. These are both worthwhile ways to use the data from a lactate test. However, it is of great importance that the data is being evaluated in the context of Ironman racing. In the following article, I will examine some of the negative implications of setting zones and evaluating data in the traditional (non-ironman) way and I will show you, as an ironman athlete, the proper way to set your training zones based on data from your lactate test. I will also discuss some of the deeper implications of lactate testing that can guide the direction of your future training. But first a quick primer on exercise physiology and what’s happening on ‘the inside’ when you complete a graded exercise test.

So, what is lactate? In general terms, lactate is simply a by-product of anaerobic metabolism. When insufficient O2 is available for complete fuel breakdown, a small amount of energy can be released with glucose conversion to an intermediate substance – pyruvic acid. In turn, this pyruvic acid can either be metabolized (in the presence of sufficient oxygen) via aerobic glycolysis or it can be further disassociated into lactic acid and H+ ions. In the context of “anaerobic” athletic events, it is the accumulation of these H+ ions that ultimately limits performance. In the context of typical aerobic athletic events, the power of the athlete to oxidize this pyruvate via aerobic processes becomes an important factor in limiting performance.

For the ironman athlete, there are a couple of important physiological implications to consider when we see elevated lactate values:

#1 Blood lactate can be indicative of a greater reliance on anaerobic processes for the production of energy.

#2 Blood lactate can be indicative of a shift from fat-burning to carbohydrate burning.

This implication is much more important for an Ironman athlete than the first because glycogen depletion is a primary limiter in Ironman racing. If you can reduce the proportion of energy that is coming from glycolytic processes and maximize that coming from lipolytic processes, your glycogen stores will last longer for the same given workload. Because these are a much more finite store than your lipids, it behoves the Ironman athlete to do all that he/she can to maximize this adaptation.

Without going into too much depth, for the science guys out there, the increased lactate exhibited from carbohydrate oxidation can be explained by the increased acidity of the carbohydrate molecule when compared to the fatty acid molecule. This increased acidity ultimately results in greater CO2 production when energy is liberated from Glucose as opposed to FFA’s (~25% more CO2 for the same net energy yield). Ultimately, this extra CO2 has to go somewhere. Typically it combines with H20 to form H2CO3 (carbonic acid), which in turn dissociates into H+ ions and bicarbonate (HCO3). It is the conversion of H+ ions & Pyruvate into Lactate via it’s interaction with Lactic Dehydrogenase that ultimately results in increased lactate within the muscle.

Now, it is important to note that slow twitch fibers utilize a different form of lactic dehydrogenase (H-LDH) that maintains the equilibrium preferentially shifted toward pyruvate, NOT lactate (this in turn favors lipolysis over glycolysis). Thus, if slowtwitch fibers are being exclusively used & the body is primarily reliant on fat as a substrate, muscle lactate production is negligible.

So, what does this all mean in a practical sense to you as an athlete?

In the above chart, you will see a number of lactate curves from the Boulder “lads”, with a 2:07 marathoner (Gelindo Bordin) thrown in, just to spice things up (save & view in paint to enlarge). I will provide you with an analysis of some of the implications that arise from each of the curves with regard to setting appropriate training zones and training methodologies for the coming phase.

Curve 1 (Alan) represents a traditional lactate profile. The subject’s first deflection point (AeT)occurs at a speed of ~ 7.0 miles per hour and a lactate level of 2mmol/L. If you draw a straight line from this first deflection point along the curve, you will see that at the 4th data point (~4mmol/L), the curve breaks away from this second straight line and becomes more steep. We term this deflection VT2 or the anaerobic threshold. It is these two ‘breakpoints’ in the curve that provide the most information on recommendations for assigning training zones and recommendations on changes to training methodologies in the coming phase.

Before we go into the practical implications for Alan’s training program, first a quick recap on what is going on, biochemically at each of the points on the curve:

When Alan begins the test and gradually increases his pace to a comfortable aerobic level, arterial blood lactate remains relatively unchanged from resting levels (1.4mmol/L in Alan’s case) despite an increase in pace. The first workload intensity that represents a jump in the lactate level is termed the aerobic threshold. Both ventilatory and blood lactate rises can be observed at this level. The ventilatory rise is explainable as previously mentioned on the basis of blood HCO3 buffering mechanisms, in which the additional CO2 produced with the recruitment of FOG (type IIa) fibers via their preference for aerobic glycolysis (sugar burning) over lipolysis (fat burning) results in temporary buffering with NaHCO3 to form Carbonic acid, which eventually is expelled (as CO2 gas) via increased ventilation when it reaches the lungs. Even if you don’t 100% get the rationale, the important thing to note is that an increase in lactate response & an increase in ventilation are signalling a change in muscle fiber recruitment from slow twitch fibers (fat-burners) to FOG fibers (sugar-burners) (Skinner & McLellan, 1980). As Ironman athletes, the longer we can stave off this switch, the better.

As FG fibers begin to be recruited and the anaerobic load goes up, at workloads greater than those described (~75-90% VO2max), the blood lactate level then begins a more rapid rise. In Alan’s case this can be seen at 8.0mph (~82% VO2max). The threshold at which this rise takes place can be termed the anaerobic threshold. Both ventilatory (panting) and blood lactate changes occur at this threshold as well. At the work intensity where the blood lactate concentration begins to accumulate and blood acidity begins to rise, the rising H+ ion accumulation provides a powerful stimulus for NaHCO3 buffering and a consequent rise in expired CO2.

So, based on the above data, how do we calculate appropriate training zones for Alan?
Let’s begin by considering our physiological objectives:

Increase fat oxidation
Knowing that, in Alan’s event (Ironman Triathlon), glycogen depletion is a primary limiter (esp for those in the 10-12hr bracket), it is of utmost importance to maximally train those fibers that can produce energy without consuming large quantities of carbohydrate, i.e. the slow twitch fibers. We can see from the chart that in Alan’s case, the transition from slow-FOG fibers occurs at ~2mmol/L or 7mph. Therefore, for our runs that aim to improve this ability we should be training @ or below ~7mph or, this can be prescribed according to the heart rate that corresponded with this level during the test, in Alan’s case ~155bpm (from lab data not shown).

Increase aerobic capacity of FOG fibers.
A secondary objective for the sub-elite Ironman, and perhaps a primary objective for the elite Ironman is to improve the oxidative capacity of the athlete’s type II fibers. It is likely, in the course of the competition that pace or terrain changes, along with fatigue will force the athlete to produce more power than can be provided by ST fibers alone. Therefore, it is important that the athlete improves the oxidative potential and efficiency of any fibers he/she is likely to recruit come race day. For the intermediate IMer, this means lower threshold FOG fibers, for the elite IMer, this means the full spectrum of FOG fibers. From a training zone perspective, we could delineate these zones as 2-3mmol/L (Zone 2) and 3-4mmol/L (Zone 3) for Alan, or, 155-166bpm & 166-172bpm resp.

3. Increase oxidative potential of FG fibers,
i.e. transform your fast twitch fibers into more FOG-like fibers. In muscle biopsies of elite endurance athletes it is frequently hard to discover any fibers that resemble traditional fast twitch fibers. The reason for this is that the athlete improves the oxidative potential of his white fibers that they begin to take on the aerobic characteristics of red fibers. This has big implications for the elite athlete in terms of power output, esp on the bike. If the elite IMer is able to recruit 90% of his fibers aerobically and the novice is only able to recruit 60%, you don’t have to be a professor to deduce the performance implications. At Alan’s performance level, I wouldn’t prescribe this level of training, but for illustrative purposes this zone (Zone 4) would be 4-6mmol/L or 172-182bpm.

4. Increase VO2max
For the super-elite athlete that has fully maximized their ability to oxidize as much fat as possible (to produce energy), i.e. in practical terms, raised their aerobic threshold to 70% or more of VO2max, and has raised the oxidative potential of their FOG fibers to 90% of VO2max, the limiter now becomes oxygen delivery. This is best improved by very hard sessions that are at or very close to the intensity corresponding to the athlete’s VO2max. There will come a time in the elite athlete’s development that they will need to oscillate between periods of “speedwork”, i.e. VO2max and periods of “volume” or aerobic development, with each phase providing the small but necessary extra stimulus to ratchet the other capacity up a couple more notches. It needs to be noted, however, that this is very elite stuff. For the sake of argument, Alan’s zone for this intensity (Zone 5) would be 6-9mmol/L or 182-194bpm.

So, that’s how we calculate the training zones, now what does the curve tell us about what our training priorities should be for the coming phase?

Let’s begin by looking at the first point, what we are terming the aerobic threshold.
The point best correlated to Ironman performance among the curves is the first point, i.e. speed at AeT. In order of Ironman performance we have:

Gordo AeT = 9.2mph
Jeff AeT = 8.0mph
John AeT = 8.0mph
Mat AeT = 8.0mph
Alan AeT = 7.1mph

This is important to note. While, the profile of the curves is quite different beyond the AeT point, with some being more steep than others after AeT (e.g. Gordo & Alan vs. Mat, John, Jeff), the best predictor of Ironman performance is not the profile of the curve, but rather the speed at AeT (the other factors come into play, as discussed below but moving your curve as far ‘right’ as possible should be priority #1).

So, how do we move the curve to the right? Well, we could try to ‘push it’ with a high volume of work at or below the AeT or ‘drag it’ by elevating our VO2max as high as possible and hoping that the subsequent points will fall into line. The former method, i.e. ‘pushing the curve’ has received the most empirical support as the best method for long term adaptation (e.g. Touretski & Pyne, 1994) and makes the most logical sense when we break VO2max into it’s two constituent components: Cardiac output and Arterio-venous oxygen difference. The first of these is maximized in a very short period of time: 12-14 weeks (Seiler, 1998). Therefore, if continued top end improvement is desired, one must undertake training that addresses peripheral limiters which have a much greater time course of training adaptation (Seiler, 1998).

So, that’s step 1: Push the curve as far to the right as possible by performing a very high volume of exercise slightly below the AeT:

This is the slowest but longest term adaptation and therefore, should be made a high priority throughout the training year and your athletic career as a whole. Clearly, while Alan and Gordo share similar lactate profiles, the big difference lies in the speed at their first deflection point. That inch and a bit difference of the graph, represents a difference of ~7000 hours of steady state aerobic training in the real world!

Clearly, all of the crew, irrespective of what their lactate profile does after that first deflection point, could benefit from continued emphasis in this area. This begs the question, how much is enough? Mark Allen got to the point that he was able to run 5:19/mi at this point (11.3mph). He accomplished this with repeated bouts of 12 week base periods over the course of 10+ years where ALL of his training was done below this point (Noakes, 2003). This is not too far from the first break-point of Gelindo Bordin and may represent a near optimal value for lipolytic power. In short, as an endurance athlete, until you are running 11.3mph w/ a lactate level very close to your resting level, you have some serious upside to improve all levels of performance @ & above AeT by devoting a high volume of training to an intensity at or below your first deflection point (~2mmol/L).

When comparing the next section of the curves (from 2-4mmol/L), some notable differences can be observed. It is fairly clear that John, Mat and Jeff all exhibit a fairly tame gradient from 2-4 mmol/L. This is indicative of a very well trained aerobic glycolytic system or, from a muscle fiber perspective, their FOG fibers are very well trained to produce work. In fact, you will notice that at the 4mmol/L mark, their curves begin to approach Gordo’s curve. The only problem is, when you look at the area between their curves and Gordo’s, this represents a high glycolytic cost to do so. My hunch is that they have been spending a good amount of time (perhaps unintentionally) training above their AeT’s. While this may be a good thing in terms of specific preparation for a 10hr IM, comparison of their grades with Gordo’s indicates a much greater upside to moving their first point closer to his via training at or below the 2mmol/L mark.

On the other side of the coin, for a curve like Alan’s that represents a fairly steep rise after AeT, IF he gets to the point that AeT endurance is no longer a specific limiter to Ironman performance, a short specific phase of training designed to flatten his 2-4mmol/L line prior to racing an IM may be prudent. This is accomplished with dedicated “key sessions” that are slightly above his AeT:

Looking beyond the 4mmol/L mark, it is clear that Alan and Gordo’s curves exhibit a second deflection point. This is indicative of the individual Anaerobic Threshold, which, as previously mentioned, indicates the period of exercise in which lactate dissipation and clearance can no longer match the rate of accumulation. Because of the anaerobic nature of Fast Glycolytic (FG) fibers, this also tends to indicate a shift in recruitment pattern from FOG to FG fibers. It is not uncommon in elite endurance athletes to notice an absence of this second deflection point (Martin and Coe, 1991). Frequently, these athletes are very efficient at clearing lactate and also taking it up and using it as a substrate. In addition, frequently,elite athletes do not exhibit traditional FG fibers under conditions of a biopsy, i.e. they have converted fibers that were previously inept at using oxygen into fibers that can produce work under oxidative conditions, i.e. with minimal lactate output.

Gordo’s lactate curve is a little atypical of elite long course athletes in this regard. If I were to hypothesize on this, it may be due to more emphasis on higher intensity speed work during this year compared to last, or a consistent emphasis on strength training. In the context of IM racing, this difference may be a bit of a red herring. It is unlikely that he will be spending significant periods of time at 4mmol/L esp during the run. If we were to see a similar profile on the bike and, particularly on the swim, it may indicate a potential area for improvement in the context of a tactical race. In this case, greater emphasis on Zone 3 training may prove useful (to flatten out the 3-4mmol/L) aspect of the curve.

Zone 4 training, as previously mentioned may be useful at the super-elite level to ‘peak up’ oxygen delivery mechanisms which will ultimately allow higher threshold fibers to be saturated with O2 and trained, i.e. as a corollary to Zone 3 training. It is important to note that VO2max is rarely a limiter to Zone 1 & 2 intensities and therefore, it’s use in the training of sub-elite long course athletes needs to be seriously questioned.

Hopefully, I have conveyed the importance of regular lactate testing for the endurance athlete. Hopefully, I have also conveyed the importance of having a coach or sports scientist who is very familiar with Ironman-specific lactate interpretation to advise you on training implications arising from such a test.

To enquire about our testing packages here at our Endurance Corner Lab in Boulder, Colorado, or to ask any questions about lactate testing in general, please contact me at

References available on request.

Poker Pacing

Jeff Shilt, M.D.

Over the past few years, I’ve tried different running approaches to get faster. This year, I’ve concentrated on running the back half of my runs faster than I do the front half. This pace can be different from session to session, but I try to always negative split the “effort”.

I want to state right from the start that I know very little about poker, so if I don’t represent the game (Hi:Low) correctly, then I apologize. However, one has to admit the terminology is “catchy”!!

So what is poker pacing? I choose my target heart rate for the day, which is generally dependent on the duration of the run. For my runs that are 1 hour or greater, this corresponds to my projected steady hr that I will utilize for Ironman pacing. In the first third of the run, my effort that day is never higher than the specified rate. For me, especially when fatigued, this usually involves 18-20 minutes of very easy running. This effort is usually 12-15 beats below my goal in the early going, and it naturally drifts up to my specified “High” limit.

In the middle of the run, I elevate my effort until my heart rate matches my target heart rate.

The final third of the run is most crucial and where the most benefit from the effort occurs. My heart rate in this period is never below the “Low” limit. Typically this is challenging during the initial effort, but after overcoming the mental urge to slow down the pace becomes comfortable. If feeling fresh, I will end the run topped out at my aerobic ceiling for the last 10-15 minutes.

I find several advantages in this approach. First, it allows me to ease into each run, relieving the mental stress of hitting a particular pace. I really like to take it easy during the beginning of the run. The more fatigued I am, the longer it might take to reach my “High” limit. I find this very relaxing, saving valuable mental energy needed later.

Secondly, I find that this more relaxed approach allows me to pace more appropriately on that particular day. It is seldom that I end up bonking or slowing down because my initial effort is one that is more realistic given my condition that day. There is no “pushing” myself to run a pace I likely can’t hold.

The mental benefit of allowing me to take an easy pace in the beginning of the run pays off when I feel obliged to keep the commitment of a harder effort at the end of the run. My experience is that the easy pace in the first half when I’m fresh is not significantly lower than a more pressured pace; whereas the harder effort is typically much faster than a failing second half effort in which you went too hard in the beginning.

I’ve additionally observed an improved ability to gauge the appropriateness of my pacing and level of fatigue. If my elevated heart rate in final 1/3 results in a faster pace, I think it is safe to say I have the appropriate fitness to run that pace AND that I’ve chosen a pace that is reasonable for that fitness. On the other hand, when my extra effort at the end doesn’t result in a faster pace, then I’ve chosen too fast of a pace. When I can’t reach a higher heart rate, it generally means I’m fatigued. This last assumption takes into account that I’ve been using poker pacing in training and am very familiar with my efforts and paces.

This pacing can be used for the other disciplines and the entire race. This has become increasingly apparent as our training group has experimented with “Big Day Training” and variation of our efforts during our swim and bike sessions.

I’ve included my splits from an open water swim I recently completed:

7/26/07 Boulder Swim

time/avg hr

This was a successful pacing session in that I was able to remain relaxed in the beginning and then steadily increase my effort with a concomitant increase in pace over the duration of the swim. As I refine my efforts in the water, I will be able to narrow the range over which heart rates vary. Though, similar to running, I’m continually surprised how much additional effort at the end is required to significantly elevate pace.

It is clear to me that when approaching BDT and iron-distance events with the intention of taking it easy during the swim and first 45 minutes or so of the bike (first third), steady during the remainder of the bike and the first 20 minutes of the run (second third), I’m able to elevate my effort and increase my pace in the final aspects of the run. Using this approach requires significant patience and an thorough understanding of early pacing. My experience is that without training this method, most of us don’t have the self-awareness of early pacing and the mental fortitude to resist the chaos around us on race day.

Just remember, iron-distance racing should be approached as Big Day Training with a fast final 10k.

Hope this is helpful.


True Limiters

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Poker Pacing

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

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

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


Getting into Coaching

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Recent Books

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

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

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


True Limiters

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

Daniels talks about the ingredients for success in his book. His ingredients are: Inherent Ability; Motivation; Opportunity; and Direction. At the end of that opening chapter, he sums up that the ingredients essentially boil down to ability and motivation.
To clarify, genetics play a key role in how far (and fast) you’ll progress relative to others. However, your DNA plays much less of a role in how far you’ll progress relative to yourself. You’re ultimate achievement will be impacted far more by non-physiological factors than many think. [For the purposes of this article, I will overlook work on the role of genetic modes of expression in brain function.]
In a culture where motivation is driven (largely) from relative performance -- genetics will, therefore, play more of role in determining how close you’ll come to your Ultimate Potential. Why? Because many people are externally, rather than internally motivated.
What prevents athletes (or anyone else) from realizing their Ultimate Potential in a given field? I’ve watched many highly successful people over the last eighteen years and will share some observations on what truly limits us.
Resistance to Change -- I'm on record (somewhere) having said that I've never met a problem that couldn't be overcome by additional effort. That philosophy served me very well. I achieved an 8:29 Ironman and a couple of second places. I then spent most of 2005 nuked and used my same patterns to take me back to a 3rd place finish (22 minutes slower than my best). In order to move past my previous success (or even try to get back to it) -- I had to make simple, yet deep, changes to my fundamental beliefs about endurance
Ego -- in his blog, Mat writes about the challenges of training with guys that he knows are faster than him. He closes wondering if he will have the humility to let people that he "knows are slower" go up the road. I asked him if he really knew the background of everyone that he'll be racing in Kentucky. Keying off a stranger that's bent on blowing themselves up can be a dangerous strategy. I know a few guys that have made tactical decisions based on athletes that didn't even finish the bike leg.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Many thanks for your support over the last year,


Instrument Training

Sam Doolittle

When you see little 2-4 seat planes flying around in the sky, they are mostly flying under what is known as Visual Flight Rules (VFR). That means that the pilot is doing most of his flying and navigating by looking out the window. Many of the small changes in the plane’s attitude (banking, climbing, etc) are preformed by feel and by looking out the window at the horizon. The term ‘flying by the seat of you pants’ comes from the feel of our butt on the seat in various flight attitudes.

More advanced flying makes extensive use of the various instruments in the plane. For the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on two instruments: the altimeter and the attitude indicator.


The altimeter shows the plane’s altitude above sea level. It is simply a barometer designed on the idea that changes in air pressure are a result of climbing or descending.

Attitude Indicator

The attitude indicator (AI) is also known as the artificial horizon. It depicts the plane’s attitude (whether it’s banked, climbing, descending, or level). In the attached picture, the plane is wings-level, in a slight climb. This instrument is based around a gyroscope which is sensitive to any changes in the plane’s attitude.

Using both instruments together

If you are flying in the clouds with no external references, it is quite easy to be disoriented. (In fact, this is a major cause of small plane crashes – untrained pilots flying into the clouds and becoming disoriented). Therefore, it is necessary to fly solely by reference to instruments. (As an aside, the first pilot to do this was Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. Although he is best remembered for leading the Tokyo raid in WWII, it is his instrument flying which is perhaps his greatest contribution).

When flying in the clouds, the understanding and use of both of the aforementioned instruments is critical. The AI shows any momentary change in the plane’s attitude while the altimeter shows trends over time. For instance, when the pilot initially pulls back on the yoke, the AI will show that a climb has been initiated. However, the altimeter will only show a climb as the plane’s altitude actually increases. (Interestingly, at slow airspeeds, it is possible to be in a climbing attitude while actually losing altitude.)

One way pilots describe how these two instruments interact is to characterize the attitude indicator as a control instrument and the altimeter as a performance instrument. In other words, when initiating a climb or descent solely by reference to instruments, you would control the attitude with the attitude indicator and determine the performance of that climb or descent with the altimeter.

What’s this got to do with endurance training?

Think about the discussion above, but replace ‘attitude indicator’ with power meter and ‘altimeter’ with heart rate monitor. The power meter is a control instrument showing how much force is being applied to the pedal at any time. The heart rate monitor is a performance instrument giving you feedback from your control inputs. Just not necessarily instantaneously.

(And, similarly to how a pilot sets altitude limits and follows them on the altimeter, one would also set heart rate limits).

One last point, it is a common refrain in flight training for the instructor to tell the student to ‘get his head outside the cockpit’. In other words, stop focusing on the instruments and fly the plane by looking outside. Once you can do that, then learn how to control the airplane by instruments. I believe the same holds true for all the technology available to today’s endurance athletes.

Happy landings,