Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Corner: Building World-Class Endurance By Gordo Byrn

The Corner: Building World-Class Endurance
By Gordo Byrn

Triathlon is an “endurance” sport but how, exactly, do we measure endurance?

Similar to the Poker Pacing Run from last week, I’m going to offer you a real-world measure to track your endurance, this time on the bike.

Before we get to the workout, a quick review of terms. In setting our training zones we have three important breakpoints: functional threshold, lactate threshold and aerobic threshold.

Functional threshold – approximately, best average power/pace for an hour
Lactate threshold – see my column on Training in the Fourth Dimension
Aerobic threshold – we created a chart to show exactly what we are talking about.


Scientifically, we like to set the Steady training zone around is the highest pace/power that you can sustain without your lactate exceeding baseline. In our chart this point is ~134 bpm, ~250 watts.

If we were setting this athlete’s Steady zone then I’d probably start with ranges of 131-139 bpm (-3/+5 bpm) and 240-260 watts (+/- 10 watts). The power zone being the target to average for long aerobic main sets.

To add some context on the risk of setting aerobic zones from the top down, the athlete’s max, best half hour and best hour heart rates are 198/179/170 respectively. Using any of these to set his Steady zone would have him training too intensely for the adaptations we are seeking with his extensive endurance training.


It takes a practice to ride both evenly and to a steady target – our minds tend to gravitate to the highest figures that flash across our screens so most athletes will tend to over-estimate power output (as well as speed).

We are also emotional creatures that are prone to distraction. In order to time trial well at high intensity, we first need to build the mental skills to ride evenly at low-, to moderate-, intensity. So while you are building World Class Endurance, you are also training the mental skills required to TT well.

Let’s say that you don’t have access to lactate testing. Here is a practical method for determining this breakpoint:
• Do a gentle warm-up for 20-30 minutes;
• Close your mouth;
• Start at recovery effort and slowly increase pace/power;
• Note where you open your mouth;
• Note the pace/power at that point; and
• That is your starting point for Aerobic Threshold (AeT).

Now your mind is going to try to convince you that this point is too easy for the training to benefit you and, when you start, you could be a little depressed with the implied pace/power.

When I started exercising, I could hit my AeT by walking briskly and that’s what I did. I had years of hiking and strength training before I was able to run comfortably.


How Do I Use This Point?
As you gain experience with how this physiological point feels, and impacts your breathing, you will be able to “check in” on it during your endurance training. A common error with endurance training is the tendency to sit between AeT and LT. To progress your fitness, it is much better to spread your endurance training closer to these physiological breakpoints.

In other words, don’t use improved fitness to train a little harder in your steady zone. Use you improved fitness to incorporate Mod-Hard training that is slightly under your Lactate Threshold (as defined in my Fourth Dimension article).

My favorite workout to train endurance is a continuous Aerobic Ride in the flats. When I met Scott Molina in 2000 this was a gaping hole in my fitness portfolio. I could climb all day in my Mod-Hard zone but would CRUMBLE after an hour of riding steady on the flats. I was amazed at how tired I become when I pulled all the REST out of my aerobic training.

If you think that this style if training is “too easy” then select routes that strip out your breaks (no lights, stop signs, downhills) and load up your bike with supplies!


Where Am I Trying To Get To?
An effective benchmark to track is your ability to hold AeT power relative to your goal race duration. Some figures that I track:

How many days does it take me to rack up 150% of my goal race duration at AeT power?

What is my weekly ratio of total AeT volume to race duration?

Within my own training, I don’t consider my endurance “rock solid” until I have the capacity to hold AeT power for 150% of my goal race in a day as well as complete a week where my AeT volume is triple my goal race duration.

Right now I am training for a five-hour event. So this implies a desire to create the ability to complete a 7.5-hour “steady-focused” day as well as a 15-hour “steady-focused” week.

Reframing, if you are training for, say, a three-hour event then an important fitness milestone is the ability to hold AeT power/effort for 4.5 hours without stopping. You will not be able to “race” for three hours until you can hold an even, aerobic output for beyond that duration.

As you work towards these benchmarks, a few things will happen to your body:

#1 – you will improve your performance at low-, to moderate-, intensities.

#2 – you will become more efficient at burning fat.

#3 – you will prepare your joints & ligaments for the stresses of higher intensity training.

#4 – you will safely increase your capacity to sustain workload.

The above benefits are successful to endurance success and cannot be short-cut through high intensity.


How Long Should I Use This Protocol?
Within my own training, the application of this article as the core of my program was enough to win Ultraman and finish 4th at Ironman New Zealand.

It wasn’t until I had ridden across America and finished 3rd at Ironman Canada that I saw clear physiological improvement from Training-Like-A-Pro. In other words, I didn’t have the endurance capacity to absorb the challenging training that the media tells us we “need”.

Without World-Class Endurance, your “hard” training will flatten your performance. With World-Class Endurance, you will only need four to eight weeks of specific intensity work to reap the benefits of higher intensity training.

I’ll end with another case study for you. The athlete in this week’s photos is Kevin Purcell (www.CoachKP.com). I worked with Kevin for a number of years with a goal of qualifying for Kona and, ultimately, winning his agegroup at an international race. Here’s his progression:

13:02 --- May '99 (OZ)
12:10 --- Aug '99 (Canada)
12:38 --- May '00 (Cali)
11:35 --- Aug '00 (Canada)
11:05 --- May '01 (Cali)
10:46 --- Aug '02 (Canada)
10:30 --- Nov '02 (Florida)
10:22 -- May ‘03 (Brazil)
11:48 --- Oct ‘03 (Kona)
10:37 --- Mar ‘04 (New Zealand)
13:43 --- Oct ’04 (Kona)
10:48 --- Mar ‘05 (New Zealand)
10:40 --- Oct ‘05 (Kona)
10:23 --- Nov ‘05 (Florida)
10:35 --- May ‘06 (Brazil)

You’ll see a couple of outliers in there when we didn’t quite get it right. Fortunately, Kevin was able to apply his smarts at the Big Show in 2005. The 10:35 in Brazil was what it took to win his agegroup as a 50-year-old.

When you are preparing for a long race, my benchmark of 150% of race duration might not seem practical. However, it should help you gain context on the content of your training program.

If it is taking you 5-14 days to roll-up steady training equivalent to your race duration then you will be at a disadvantage over the athlete that has the capacity to roll-up his/her race duration most weekends.

No Easy Way,

You’ll find Gordo over at EnduranceCorner.com -- the EC crew is hosting training camps in Boulder this July and August – contact any of them for more details. The camps are USAT certified and include 10 CEUs.


#1: Lactate Curve
#2: Pre-triathlons
#3: Post-triathlons