Monday, February 1, 2016


Playing to Our Strengths - Part 2: Understanding Long Term Development

In a previous article, I outlined the importance of understanding where your relative strengths lie in order to maximize your relative performance as a triathlete. I applied this on two levels:

  1. Understanding the sport that best suits your morphology, from swimming for the tall, strong and long levered to running for the short, skinny “lungs on legs” body build.
  2. Understanding the event duration that best suits you based on your fatigue curve. I suggested that this fatigue curve will, in all likelihood, change over your development as an athlete and that, consequently, the nature of your “A” race should also change in accordance with the event that you’re best suited for at that time.

I want to explore the second of these concepts in a little more depth.

Change Your Life

At our Tucson Camp, I shared thoughts on drug use in sport.

A key selling point on staying clean is my experience that “getting fast” won’t change your life. If you compromise your ethics in the hope of benefiting from cheating then you’re going to be disappointed.

While getting fast didn’t change my life, the transformation from fat to fit to fast completely changed my life.

Via complete devotion towards my goals, I went far beyond what I thought feasible, then discovered that the goals didn’t provide meaning.

What gives?

Consistency Through Simplicity

Over the years, I have found that the most effective teachers and coaches avoid making too many changes with their students/athletes at once. They value the execution of one simple change at a time as opposed to changing everything in one quick go. One of the best examples of this is watching a swim coach make one suggestion about an athlete’s stroke instead of pointing out every flaw. If the coach can get the athlete to habituate one change, they can move on to the next. If they think about too many things at once, nothing changes.

Creating Epic Performances

When it comes to racing, almost everyone is constantly looking for the perfect workout to help have that epic performance. What I think many people do not realize is that while the physical workouts are important, the mind is the source of true epic performances. The question is, how can you train yourself to have that epic performance?

My First OFF Scores

In 2008, our team doc contacted the Agency for Cycling Ethics in Los Angeles and spoke with Paul Scott. We were curious what it would cost to “prove” we were clean. We were quoted $10,000-12,000 per athlete. This figure was totally out of reach for us. It likewise proved financially not viable for the company, as it folded later that year. Much of this cost is the result of the weekly labs required by its protocol to reduce the chance of someone skirting around a positive test

Mediterranean Diet: The Best Ever?

Can a diet with more fat really be healthier for your heart? Well, it may be true! Let’s talk about a recently published scientific report on the Mediterranean diet and heart health. The findings are remarkable and have implications for athletes and non-athletes, alike.

Real World Running Rehab

After two running injuries last fall, I asked our team doc, Jeff Shilt, for a running rehab program. He shared his elite athlete rehab protocol, it was an excellent program:

Functional strength
Gradual ramp of load and intensity

Considering the time commitment required for Jeff's program, I knew there was zero chance that I'd be able to execute it. Rather than fail, I searched for an alternative plan.

Find a Strength Program that Works for You

The gym can be icing on the cake or it can be a critical part of your program. Either way, gym conditioning has a positive impact on endurance sports performance, especially in triathlon where strength endurance is such a huge factor for the event.

Some people have concerns such as time limitations or building too much mass. That's why it's important that you choose a strength program that fits you. Even two sessions per week throughout the year right up to the last 12 weeks of your A race can have a material benefit.

How Important is It?

My last article was focused on letting go of the requirements to what we perceive as important. This piece revolves around asking how important is it? This slogan helps me focus again on what I feel I need to do, not only in triathlon, but in life in general. If I focus on determining how important is something, than I can decide what I need to do to accomplish my goal.

The Necessary Obsession

Many years ago (in a country far, far away) Scott Molina told me he felt sorry for the wife of an athlete, who was having a tough time with her hubby's focus on sport. The tail end of the conversation went like this...

Molina: The guy's totally obsessed.
Gordo: And...
Molina: That's tough on a relationship.
Gordo: So...
Molina: Well, it might be nice to go on a picnic some time. Chill out, have some wine.
Gordo: Dude, nobody decent wants to go on a picnic.

Motivate Yourself: The High and Low Self

“It is not my job to motivate you. My job is to teach you how to motivate yourself.”
- Dotty Hall, professor and coach

I ponder frequently about motivation. I do so especially in the dark cold winter months where it seems I endlessly ride the bike trainer or hover over the long black line. Some days I walk by my trainer in dread of the workout ahead.

I am intimately aware that I can quit at anytime. Retire. Call it a career and sell my gear in a garage sale.

Yet I don’t.

Find Your Motivator

What are your dreams?

If you love what you do, motivation comes easy. I love the training; the races are just small celebrations of the hard work and consistency in training. When races fall off the near-term calendar, all that’s lost are the celebrations, but the love of training remains the same and the motivation as fuel and inspiration to reach dreams never dies.

Self Tracking with the Basis Watch

One of the challenges a physician faces when evaluating a patient is making sense of a lot of information within a limited time. The same is true for a coach monitoring an athlete’s progress. Physicians and coaches are now leveraging the ability of patients and athletes to collect their own data. Self tracking has become an important trend for monitoring health and fitness, as people take charge of their own data collection and become mindful of their daily patterns and habits. A number of wearable devices have come on the market to aid in self tracking including the new Basis B1 watch.

Do What You Need to Do

During this time of year, some people can’t resist the urge to get out and do as much as possible because they really want to kick ass next year, and others struggle to find motivation in the inclement weather. My advice to both groups is to follow the middle way: do as much as you need to do.

Tips to Maintain Your Motivation

Those who knew me during my racing career knew I was one of the worst athletes when it came to staying motivated during winter. Every year after competing in Kona I would come back to Cali to our first rain and mornings in the low 40s. The days were short, the weather was cold and my will to work out was dried up. My coach would comment that I took my “break” way too far.

Strength Training for Health

With the EC Team, we just finished up our annual Big Steel Challenge, where we play a game to see how much weight we can lift in a month.

I was talking with Justin Daerr about the purpose of triathlon strength training and he noted that his main focus is to “get strong.” I agree with Justin and our best advice to get strong is in my Strength Training for Triathlon article.

Outside of the obsessive focus of a potential Kona Qualifier, most people fail to start a strength program because they overestimate the minimum commitment to benefit.

Staying On Track During the Winter

Through this period of the winter we usually see two things: people either being overzealous with their training and not understanding pacing the season, or completely unfocused because they are in the thick of winter and they feel like it will be forever before they get to race.

I've found that a few things work to keep you on track for your season goals.


In January of 1999 I crashed my custom steel Guerciotti TT frame (circa 1984) that had all Campy components. It was close to 15 years old but I had owned it only a few months. I was not as attached to it as I might have been with time.

I immediately purchased a brand new bike: the 1999 Litespeed Blade -- 61cm, brushed titanium 6Al/4V frame. It was the same style frame Lance would time trial on in the Tour that year re-branded as a Trek. He won the Prologue and Individual Time Trial on his way to his first Tour victory.

I have ridden that bike all over the world since then.

Patience and Improvement

As performance minded athletes transition into their winter training, most come back highly motivated to strive towards new goals. At this time of year, our brains and mentality are usually ahead of our bodies in terms of what we can handle. Because of that, it’s crucial we manage our energy early in the year/season so that we can do our best and most difficult training when it matters most with relation to our key race(s).

Jump Up and Over Plateaus

After four years, my running stopped improving. Plateaus are inevitable. Acceptance is not! Through the help of my two coaches, Marilyn McDonald and previously, Gordo Byrn, I learned that sometimes we need to jump up and over plateaus, especially in our off season or winter months.

A Question of Honor

Ask yourself three questions:

  1. What was your goal when you started sport?
  2. Now that you’re experienced, why continue to compete?
  3. For you, what’s elite sport about?

The Pace of Change

In my first years in triathlon I didn't run that much because I didn't need too. Running was my gateway into triathlon and while I didn't have a huge history in sport, I was good at it. I was a front-of-pack runner, all I needed was the swim and the bike to put me there. It was a natural and easy choice to prioritize those other sports and rely on my run being good enough. It worked well for a while until I eventually realized that running was no longer as much of a strength; cycling and -- to a lesser extent -- swimming had caught up.

It was going to take more than a “good enough” run to race faster now.

Playing to Our Strengths

”You’ve got to dance with the girl who brung ya.”

I stole the somewhat cryptic quote above from strength coach Dan John.

Dan is referring to an all too common problem in sports of ignoring your natural strengths. We all pop into this world with some level of uniqueness -- tall, short, long arms, wide shoulders, big head… whatever makes you a little different from the rest is likely something that you can exploit in the world of athletics.

Letting It Go

These three simple words can create a lot of space, happiness, serenity and freedom in my life. Letting what go, you might ask?

Letting go of the “requirement” to train, to race, to produce a result that often is not all that important. Letting go of the need for money, control, certainty or even relationships. I have often thought that triathlon was the answer to my happiness.

How to Maintain Your Strengths this Winter

The beginning of a new year always brings about different questions. The number one question I ask myself at the end/start of every year is what went well and what may need improvement. The critical athlete in me usually ends up very confident that my strengths went well and my never ending weakness needs improvements.

While developing a plan to improve your weakness, you should incorporate a plan to maintain your strength.

Leaving a Mark

Starting and owning my first business was a dream born in high school and realized in my late 20s. The only skills I seemed to have at that time were perseverance and focus. I didn’t know enough to know how difficult it was to actually start a business. My success was born out of my fear for failure (a skill I apply frequently to my triathlon racing).

After the first few months after opening my business, I began to drown in the reality of my roles. I was the staff, manager, owner, accountant, janitor, banker and legal department. I excelled in a few of the areas but in most of them I would rate my performance as poor. Not long into the journey, the clouds cleared and I knew the next step: it was time to terminate my employment.

Challenge Your Strengths

I’d bet that most who are on this site reading this article are highly motivated athletes who enjoy the process of learning a little everyday. Many of us are into the off-season (or what I think is better termed “dim-season,” because we’re never really “off”). The standard protocol is to reflect back on the year and find what needs to be improved to make you better, faster and stronger for the coming season(s).

Should the focus shift to…
Improve a weakness?
Make your strength stronger?

How about both?

Stay Strong

Quite often as coaches or athletes we search for ways to improve our weaknesses so that we can improve our overall ability as triathletes. One thing we don’t want to see happen through this process is that our strengths fall off so much that they become a liability... dare I say, a weakness. Even though the saying goes, “Train your weaknesses, race your strengths,” you still need make sure you have strengths to fall back on.

Balancing Your Strengths with Your Development

Maintaining strengths when working on your weaknesses is hard, not only physically but mentally. Attachment also comes into play. If last season you were known to be particularly good at a discipline or a type of workout, you could become attached to the idea of being that guy who is the best at that one thing.

What's Your Minimum?

Think back to 2012. What are the challenges that were faced by friends and teammates?

In my athletic circle, we saw:

  • Clinical depression and thoughts of suicide
  • Marital infidelity and divorce
  • Financial loss and unemployment
  • Head trauma and brain injury
  • Potentially career-ending orthopedic injury

2012 wasn’t a “bad year” -- it was surprisingly normal. Setbacks are the norm and I could create a similar list for most years. The dark days of winter provide an opportunity for self-reflection (apologies to my pals in Oz!).