Monday, February 1, 2016


Learning to Be Confident

A few months ago, I wrote an article about overcoming a bad race at ITU Long Course Worlds. During the race, I reflected on one of my earlier sports mentors, who taught me the importance of perseverance and maintaining your confidence.

History and Reflection

History and reflection are how we learn and move forward to bigger and better things. Keep record of patterns, habits and thoughts to look back on as you progress through each season so you can learn what works and what needs improvement.

Overloading for Ironman Hawaii

Qualifying for Kona requires a lot of work and, even if you have all day to train, smart overload is an effective way to get better.

Athletes can waste a lot of energy worrying about the structure of their training plan. Prove that you can do the work before you worry about the structure.

Specific Preparation: Part I

by Gordo Byrn

Before we get into the specific workouts that I use to prepare an athlete for Kona qualification, let’s review the nature of the event:

  • It’s really long
  • You swim, then bike, then run
  • Your best result comes from using your fitness in a way that optimizes your fuel supply across the distance
  • No matter how well you are prepared, it is likely that reality will be somewhat different than what you expected

Let’s look at the above in more depth and consider what is implied for you.

  • Length
    How long are you likely to be out there and how long could you be out there? Ironman St George 2012 is a great example of conditions (wind) making a far longer race than anyone expected.

    As a coach, I advise Kona qualifiers from sub-9 to 13-hour finishing times. Compare the duration and average intensity of your event with your Basic Week. Most, but not all, athletes will find themselves long on intensity and short on endurance.

  • Medium of Movement
    You’ll start your day in the water, shift to fast moving air and finish with slow moving air. Do you have a deep appreciation of pace for each of these mediums and have you prepared yourself to put your efforts where you’ll get the most speed?

    It’s a long day and you can’t afford to waste energy. Become skilled at saving energy everywhere you can.

  • Fuel Supply
    Do you know what it takes to bonk you? What are the implications of running out of energy? There can be very different implications for a 200-pound male qualifier than for a 115-pound female qualifier. The larger you are, the greater the humility (and base) you’ll need to develop for your bike ride.

  • Mental Conditioning
    Is your life in order? Have you taken steps to create harmony in preparation for your Kona quest?

Plan for the "Realist"

by Alan Couzens, MS (Sports Science)

Last week I talked about the different improvement curves that I’ve observed for different types of athletes. I identified three basic athlete types: the natural, the realist and the worker.

As part of our new “How to Qualify for Kona” section that recently kicked off, I’m going to put some of those observations into the context of what it means to different types of athletes looking to qualify for Kona.

In a previous article for the Training Peaks site I conveyed some of the typical chronic training load ranges that I tend to see for athletes of different types and ability levels. The table from that article is reproduced below.

The times that qualify an athlete for Kona are getting faster by the year. The 2010 ranges for flat (Florida, Arizona, Brazil) and hilly courses (Lake Placid, CdA, St. George) for differing age-groups and genders is shown below.

So, comparing the two tables, if you’re a young(ish) male, you’ll likely need the fitness level represented by a VO2max/VO2 score of 60-67ml/kg/min* corresponding to a Chronic Training Load somewhere in the 75-150 TSS/d range. If you’re a young(ish) female, you’ll need the fitness level represented by a VO2max/score of 57-60 ml/kg/min* corresponding to a CTL somewhere in the 70-130 range.

Kona! Kona! Kona!

The Ironman World Championship… I love the race, I love the venue. I have been blessed to have competed in that race 10 times. I feel like I know the race and the venue as if I have been there my whole life. It so ingrained in me that when I take a GU while riding or running I literally feel myself on the Queen Kamehameha Highway. In an instant, I can picture the lava fields, I can see the flowering bushes blowing in the wind. When I hear a helicopter overhead I get a rush over me and can instantly feel the energy of the swim start. As clear as day, I can see the pier to my right, the hotels to my left and even the rocks and the way they are lined up as I swim out to the start line. If I was an artist I could probably paint the entire sea floor of the swim course.

Navigating Your Kona Quest

In this article, I’ll discuss the five most common limiters to fast age group ironman performance. I’ll identify the issue and offer you specific tips to improve your race day performance.

Athlete Heart Advice for Coaches

I get a bunch of inquiries from athletes about various heart issues. Surprisingly, though, I get relatively few inquiries from coaches. But when I do hear from coaches, they generally ask one of two questions:

1. Can I get my athlete to talk with you about a potential heart issue?
2. What do I need to know about…?

Both are great questions. The first question is easy. I’m generally happy to talk with athletes about heart issues and help point them in the right direction to find help.

Today, let’s deal with the second question.

Load and Performance

One of the most common requests I receive as a coach is to don my prognosticator hat and answer the question, “How fast will I go on race day?”

This question can take various forms, from the direct “Will I qualify?” to the subtle “What’s an appropriate pacing strategy?” but the inquiry is fundamentally the same -- "Based on the training that I’ve done, what are some realistic performance expectations?" Or, the flipside to that, "If I have 'xyz' performance expectations, how much training do I need to do?"

Health Warning Signs

This year, a friend of mine found out that he had advanced cancer. Another buddy discovered blood clots throughout his body. In both situations, starting treatment earlier would have been better.

Something I learned from our team doc (Jeff Shilt, M.D.) was to rule out the really bad stuff as quickly as possible.

Location, Location, Location

There is more to starting a successful business than location but you can’t have a successful business unless you have the right location. Racing to the pointy end in triathlon requires a similar focus. You can race well on lots of courses but to truly be successful you have to learn what is the right location for you.

Work Before Work Rate

If I could pinpoint the main difference between my approach to endurance, and more classical approaches, it comes from a desire to optimize sub-maximal stamina. With the exception of my female and veteran athletes, I rarely focus on maximal performance.

Going Long in the Swim

I’ve had my eyes open for a longer distance swim race (10km or more) for a couple years. Around this time last year I came across the Henley Bridge-to-Bridge Swim, a 14.1-km swim in the Thames River from the town of Henley to the town of Marlow, about an hour’s drive west of London. Given that I’m not particularly fond of ocean swimming, I figured with this race there’d be no marine life like jellyfish or sharks, no alligators like the typical Mississippi triathlon, and I wouldn’t be more than 75 yards from shore in case my ambition exceeded my abilities on race day.

I registered right away. I didn’t want to be left out.

Our Favorite Workouts: Late Season Running Quickness

If you are still racing and heading to some of the fall events you still have some work to do. You've likely been racing for a number of months now and dragging out more long miles may only leave you flat. The months of racing, tapering and long sessions can see you losing some strength by this point in the year.

I recommend focusing your energy on quality for your event and keeping strength and power up. You want to prevent the feeling of "getting slow" from the year worth of long training and hard racing.

Understanding Perceived Fatigue

Most of us have heard of “Rate of Perceived Effort” (RPE or PE). A solid understanding of your own PE is an underlying advantage in the ability to train and race. But do you understand your Perceived Fatigue?

Considerations for Ironman Athletes Racing at Altitude

With the recent introduction of two new high altitude races to the Ironman calendar, the challenge of irondistance racing just reached a new level. Now, not only must athletes overcome the trials of optimal pacing (over many hours), nutrition, and heat, but an additional variable has been thrown into the mix: the reduction of the partial pressure in O2 that comes with increasing altitude.

Real World Weight Loss

As a former “fat guy,” here are four tips that have made my life better and helped me keep the weight off.

Water, water everywhere…

Let me do my best to explain a central physiologic concept near and dear to all our hearts (and brains, muscles and other non-beating organs): osmolality and how it relates to the need to drink, prevention of dehydration and maintenance of general health.

Thoughts on Eating for Health

Eating for health is a broad topic and it's possible to get completely immersed in the subject looking up all the chemical pathways of the body and what nutrients are needed for what bodily function. However, this doesn't reflect on practice, so rather than educate on the esoteric aspects of this subject I'll instead try and give a fresh way of looking at health and a fresh approach to applying knowledge.

Lessons from Tracking My Blood

Last week, I received the result of my final blood test for the year. I’ve been tweeting the results and pulled together a table and chart. I’ll leave it to the experts to analyze.

For background on my year of testing, please see My Biological Passport and My First Off Scores.

So, what did I learn?

Creating Your Nutrition Plan

Swim, bike, run, nutrition. How many times have you heard or said, “All was going well and then I…” had stomach issues, ran out of all energy, couldn’t stop cramping and so on. I remember my first ironman I was given so much advice on what to eat and how much that I ended up being overwhelmed and went into the race with the, “I can not eat enough” mindset. I completely over-ate; eating gels, bars and more bars… ugh.

I will never forget starting that marathon feeling and looking so bloated. It was at that time I told myself I was never eating solid food during a race again. It occurred to me that eating solid food was difficult to actually digest since all the blood was being shunted away from my gut to help my muscles perform. So my journey of nutrition training began.

Nutrition for Performance

When you look at what most athletes "do," you will quickly see that their training is not about goal race performance. Rather, training is driven by other factors in their lives -- most typically habit and peer group. If performance matters then understanding the emotional component of your nutritional choices is an essential starting point.

Optimal Nutrition for Hot Weather Races

Some of the common themes here at EC are nutrition for health and nutrition for performance. Our editor was right to point out that these two topics are often distinct and perhaps even counter to one another. However, one situation in which they are very much linked is nutrition and hydration for hot weather racing. Get it wrong and not only is your performance going to suffer but you could very well be putting your health at risk!

Small Unit: Eat to Train and Race

Kilojoules don’t lie.

One of the reasons I love my power meter is that regardless of my weight, height or bad attitude, it will display the work I have completed in kilojoules. Without boring you with the science, a kilojoule equals roughly a calorie of energy found in food.

When I started my triathlon journey, my goal during long course events was to learn to consume half the kilojoules per hour in calories. As a novice, 34g of carbohydrates (150 calories) per hour worked fine. I could even process some protein at this level.

As I improved, the kilojoules per hour that I burned steadily climbed.

Big Unit Ironman Fueling

"Big units" (those athletes over 170 pounds) have different fueling requirements than smaller athletes. Kevin Purcell, top age group coach, former elite age-grouper and "big unit" himself, shares advice for determining what works for you, along with his personal pre-race and race nutrition strategy.

Big Unit Body Composition

Triathlon is a unique sport in that people from all different backgrounds and at all different levels and ages get involved. It's an endurance sport of many different shapes and sizes.

There is a good percentage of men doing the sport who are what we at EC refer to as " Big Units" -- men over 170 pounds. Endurance sport is generally geared towards people who are small as when going the distance it's attractive to carry less. One of the great things about long distance triathlon such as 70.3 and IM racing is being strong and bigger can play an advantage. Unlike pure marathon, triathlon over the long distance can suit a big unit athlete when guided right. The strength and power can see them go very fast, especially on the swim and bike.

Race Morning Should be a Simple Process

What I do before a race is very simple. Racing for me is a relaxing process, a bit like being in the airport. You have one job to do: get your ass to the gateway with your luggage in the appropriate place, be prepared with a big enough stash of food for the journey and make sure you have comfy clothes. That’s essentially the approach I take into a race.

Race Period Concerns: Over-Tapering/Under-Tapering

It seems that no matter which tapering strategy the coach and athlete decide on, there will almost certainly come a time close to the race when the athlete doubts the strategy. This is perfectly normal. The weird physical sensations that accompany the change in training that the taper brings, coupled with the stress of the situation make for some fertile ground for doubts to spring up. Without a smart strategy and a firm resolve, these doubts often breed dumb decisions.

So, what constitutes a smart taper?

Don't Think Too Much

It’s the night before the big race. Dinner is done, you’ve had some downtime, and now you’re climbing into bed a little earlier than your normal bedtime to try and squeeze in a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. You stare at the alarm clock, think and adjust the minutes of the hour you plan to rise. You start at 4:15 a.m., then adjust the time to 4:20 thinking that those extra five minutes are going to give you that extra rest you need to set a PR. After a few minutes of lights out, you rise again to adjust the clock back to 4:14 because that just sounds better and you don’t want to be rushed and it’ll give you that important six minutes.

From the Athlete's Heart Mailbag: Blood Donation

We invited readers to submit heart-health questions for Dr. Larry Creswell. Periodically through the coming months, Larry will devote his column to answering questions that should be of interest to triathletes and other endurance athletes.

In this edition, Larry answers a question about blood donation and exercise.