Monday, February 1, 2016

January 2005 By Gordo Byrn

January 2005
By Gordo Byrn

“So g-man, things must be a lot easier now that you’ve figured everything out” - Molina

Hey there,
things continue to go well on the training front on the south side of the equator. Molina and I opened up our year with a four day stage race. I have to admit that bike racing is a lot more fun when I’m not getting blasted out the back of the bunch. If you search the xtri archives then you’ll find an early article of mine from my first attempt at the Tour de Vineyards – makes interesting reading.

Not so sure about the merits of bike racing for ironman athletes – mainly because the athletes that do best at it are reinforcing their strengths, rather than addressing their limiters. Anaerobic power and threshold endurance have never been strengths of mine, so this time of year is a reasonable time for me to try something different. As well, I’m lucky in that I get to race with the Vets, rather than the A-graders.

The tour went well – with my secret recovery strategies and Team World support team (Miss M and Miss B) – I bounced back really well from the racing. Scott and Dave offered me a few goals for each day and I raced a lot smarter than last year (why did those downhill attacks seem like such a good idea to me?). The tour left my legs a bit fatigued but was a good confidence booster for my cycling.

I’ve had a few easy days since then and am on a plane (right now) flying across the Tasman to Australia. Epic Camp Aussie starts on Monday and it’s time for something completely different – a big overload of volume and frequency. We’ve got a group of twenty athletes assembled and it will be our biggest camp to date. My personal goals for the first week are 1,000Ks of cycling, 100Ks of running and 25Ks of swimming. We’ll see if I can pull that off. As I mentioned in December, the weather has been pretty chilly in Christchurch so the Aussie heat should throw up some additional challenges for me.

OK, that Molina quote at the top. I’ve been around the sport for a little while and have dedicated the last five years of my life to learning as much as possible about athletic performance. I spend a lot of time each week talking to folks about training as well as thinking about my own training. Scott was joking when he said it but the joke really hit home. Back in 2000, when I met Scott, I really did think that I had it all figured out. I had my heart rate zones, my training plans and my season plan. I knew what I had to do and I devoted myself to doing exactly that. I didn’t have a lot of time for new or different ideas, I was completely convinced in my personal system.

As I developed as an athlete, and coach, I discovered that my needs, and the needs of my athletes, were changing all the time. I also noticed that frequently athletes would do great, or poorly, for no apparent reason. I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about the characteristics of the athletes that consistently perform over time and while their training protocol is a factor, to me, it doesn’t appear to be THE factor – something to bear in mind the next time you are watching a group of exercises physiologists debate how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

I’ve also noticed that the more experience, the more knowledge, that I possess, the less certain I am on the way forward and the more respect that I have for alternative approaches. Our minds seem to have a natural tendency to complicate things and there appears to be a strong attraction to ‘new’ and ‘innovative’. However, one thing I feel confident about is that there’s not a lot of complexity required for an athlete to complete and compete in an ironman distance race. We aren’t sending people to Mars. The physiological requirements are straightforward. A lot of patience and time is required, but complexity in training is a distraction from what really matters.
One of my coaching mentors is a guy called Dr. John Hellemans. If you go to him for a training plan then he’s likely to talk to you, gain an idea about your background, goals, needs, limiters… then he’ll write you a basic week on a single sheet of paper. He’ll tell you to get out there and do the week for a couple of months then come back for another chat. Most people never come back, they don’t really want to achieve their goals – they’re dreaming about success, not actively pursuing it.

One Thing – if we can do “one thing” then we’ll never be able to become masters of many things. So the novice should start with that single sheet of paper, that basic week. Master the “one thing” then move on to other things. The Karate Kid was a bit hokey but I’m starting to understand it better as I get older.

I used to think that John was nuts – there’s no periodization, there’s no variety, where are the recovery weeks, it’s far too simple… now I see that the single piece of paper, that Basic Week, is a fantastic tool. Just focus on the paper, be very consistent, do the plan and we’ll talk in a few weeks. You get a routine, a schedule and it’s repeatable. There’s a lot of power in routine, in stacking week after week of consistent training. It’s also good training for what it really takes to succeed.

Each year, my coaching gets more and more simple, closer and closer to John’s approach. While I believe that the constant search for knowledge and experience is essential, I think that the precision that many of us seek to provide in our training, and lives, provides more benefit to our ego than the quality of our result. I think back to Dave Scott and Mark Allen – two guys that excelled in an era devoid of many of the ‘essential’ gizmos and testing protocols, 8:10 or better in Kona for each of them. The quality of their performances is truly amazing.

So what truly matters? Passion, persistence and patience.

A feeling of satisfaction arising from using the path towards our goals as a vehicle for personal excellence and discovery.

The ability to stick with it. “It” being anything from getting out of bed to an entire season of training.

An understanding that there are inevitable plateaus and cycles within each of our lives, a maturity to see these as natural and continue along our path. A focus on the bigger picture while chipping away a single task at a time.

The one thing that I might have figured out is that the coach certainly isn’t the determining factor in athletic performance. Be wary of anyone that claims otherwise – the best coaches that I know would likely tell you that the best they can do is get it “mostly right”.

The guidance and advice provided by a good coach can be the difference between success and failure but the credit for success lies in the athlete. Coaches can be motivational figures but true motivation must come from within. Ultimately, the athlete is the one who must do the training and execute on the day.

A lot of this is on my mind because somehow I managed to get way, way faster than I ever imagined possible. So I tell myself, everything up to this point ‘worked’ but then I realize that I tried everything to get to this point. So what exactly worked? The Three Ps, I suppose. I don’t really know though, so I keep moving forward, one workout at a time. Searching, learning and having fun.

I’ll be reporting from the field on over the next two weeks. Drop by if you’re interested in reading more musings.

Take care,