Monday, February 1, 2016

Kevin Purcell, D.C.

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.

Competitive Surf Entry Swim Start

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

A skillful surf entry can save you minutes at the start of your race, or save the life of another. I am going to share some ideas that I picked up surfing, over four years as a junior lifeguard and seven years as a professional guarding beaches in California.

Before your race start, walk into the water and get to know what you will be sprinting into. Look for holes that may trip you and sandbars that could injure your head or neck. Be sure you pick your entry position after scouting out the ocean bottom and currents. If there are holes and dips move away from that line. If all areas have holes and dips, that may influence decision making. At work or racing I always checked the ocean bottom, made note of tides and knew how far out I could run.

Closely examine the ocean itself prior to start. Notice up coast or down coast currents. Float in the ocean that is waist or chest deep during warm up and note where the current takes you (if anywhere). Or, out of race entry area, throw a stick in the water and notice what happens to it (up or down). Then alter your line to the first buoy.

The benefit of a great surf entry may be lost if you are swept up or down coast away from an optimal buoy line. I have started races where I didn’t run toward the water. Instead, I ran down coast dozens of yards before entering the surf because I knew where the current would take me. It is best to enter so that you never fight the current. Instead, let the current do its thing.

Once you enter the water, forcefully kick your heels out wide so that you can run (not wade) into deeper water; at least knee deep while your feet fly wide above the water. If you look at the picture to the right you will notice that everyone is aggressively focused on urgent forward motion.


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.

When Things Change

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

As we mature and move onward, so does the way we view our health, and by extension, performance.

Performance can be measured in the work place, in a home setting, in our communities, as mentors or in any number of athletic endeavors. Then there is the all-important measurements done “in our heads.” Each area may age in different ways and some of them seem to overlap.

Readers have probably heard the expression “getting old sucks.” I imagine that saying came from somebody who was aging because aging supplies that kind of context. Drilling deeper, we might imagine a guy or gal expressing that feeling, in any number of ways, who held onto strong memories of “what it used to be like.”

To be clear, in my view, there is nothing wrong with holding onto memories of the good old days unless the memories make the good new days seem less good. Making the present seem less attractive by focusing on memories of the past is not productive; and unless you live alone or in a cave it has the unintended risk of affecting everybody else around you.

To be fair, our relative high levels of performance don’t happen by accident; and that means there were years, countless hours, sacrifice and an emotional toll that went into a personal best in any area of a life. Hopefully, the hard work and success brought a modicum of lasting happiness. If not, it could be viewed as time spent in an odd way.

There are good reasons why a person would let a skill fade or disappear that they had worked a decade or more to master. Perhaps no longer being able to do the action that was once a “joy” as well is enough of a reason. I don’t offer any judgment. I have enough trouble trying to figure me out, let alone somebody else’s motivation.

From the Rearview, I've Got Clear View…

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

Most of us in endurance sport keep a close eye on our fitness. We have benchmarks we expect to see in specific prep, after a taper and after post-race or end of season layoffs. Heart rates change, power numbers fluctuate, pace and percieved exertion look and feel different as well. Over time we are either trying to improve those benchmarks or maintain them, depending on age and depth of experience.

Do you have an idea of personal health markers and how they might change if you stopped living healthfully? And if you are only giving a part time effort toward being the healthiest you can be, do you have any idea how much more you can do?

After a decade of superior health it can be difficult to visualize what it would be like if we lost our health. What happens if we take our foot off the gas pedal; will the momentum we forged over a decade slip? The answer is yes; if we adopt a less healthy lifestyle our body will quickly become less healthy and maybe down right unhealthy.

Recently I was my own crucible and I have the laboratory data to back me up. I had a nasty injury from a stick in the eye. I could not train and wore a patch. The injuries to the cornea were slow to heal and I ended up wearing a clear plastic bandage in the eye to keep the wounds from sticking to the inside of my eyelid. About this time my mother had a series of strokes and I was driving eight hours round trip to her hospital once a week for months on end. On top of this I was dealing with cervical spine issues that created significant discomfort and arm pain. The coup de grace was the start of trigeminal neuralgia in late 2011 and lasted about eight months. If you Google trigeminal neuralgia you will see it is called the “suicide disease” and “it has been described as among the most painful conditions known to mankind.” They are not exaggerating.

Ironman Prep Swim: 4 x 1000

When you are swim ready for ironman you should be able to knock out a session in the pool that is over 4000 yards, that includes strong efforts, without material effect. A staple swim in the last four to six weeks could be something like 4 x 1000 meters without a lot of wall time. There are many ways to do a swim that includes 4 x 1000 intervals and here is one of my favorites.

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

Recently, I listened to a very interesting interview with world-class Cambridge neuroscientist John Coates, PhD who was discussing his new book. It focuses on the biology of risk taking and how our actions literally transform our body chemistry. It is fascinating stuff that may begin to explain why so many of us at one time or another have said, “Damn, why the heck did I do that!?”

Prescient Ironman Execution (PIE)

Successful long course athletes know that unlocking a run they can be proud of is a combination of fitness and execution. Knowing what you are capable of running over 26.2 miles after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike is a topic for another article. Here, I am going to briefly cover executing the swim, bike and first 30 minutes of the run in a way that makes your run potential a possibility.

If You Want To Grow: Seek Out Intimidating Life Experiences

A breakthrough occurs when we learn something we didn’t know we didn’t know. Afterward, we view it as wisdom, but that connotation conjures up old chiefs, so for our purposes, let’s call it (an) experience. Not to underestimate what another 10 to 20 years of life experience will add up to in wisdom!

Training Around Injury Is Different Than Training Through Injury

During my time as an athlete I have experienced a few injuries. My personal experience reminds me that pain tolerance cannot be trusted when a physician or coach is evaluating an injured athlete’s ability to safely train.

As a coach and chiropractor who gives advice professionally to super motivated athletes I always recommend training around an injury. I get very uncomfortable (some might say emotional) when an athlete tries to train through an injury.

I am very willing to explore a healthy, motivated athlete’s limits. Likewise, I am willing to explore his or her limits as we safely train around injury. What follows is an ongoing case study.

Low Back Pain on the Bike

As North America emerges from winter cold, cyclist are going to be getting longer hours in the saddle. Warmer weather provides opportunities for group volume camps like those Endurance Corner does so well. We can also build a camp of our own that covers seven to fourteen days. I advise half a dozen athletes who are in the middle of or just finished 25-to-60-hour volume camps. In addition to the fatigue we accrue many of us experience discomfort in the wrist, neck, butt and low back as we adjust to the workloads and the different positions we experience riding outside. Typically, a cyclist can ride through these types of aches and pains and adapt. For some, low back discomfort is a longer lasting issue.

Training Flat and Aero Power

Limiters in sport can be a challenge to train and strengthen. That makes sense because it’s often more fun to do things in areas where we already excel, especially in groups. But in ironman, it is essential that an athlete avoid having a limiter that comprises half of the race.

If we leave out ironman athletes who live in flat lands, a common cycling limiter is seen when comparing hilly threshold power to flat, aero threshold power.

Every Body Needs Recovery - Does Everyone Need An Off Season?

Many athletes in the northern hemisphere see November, December and maybe even January as an opportunity to get some much needed rest and recovery. They catch up with family and focus on work responsibilities that pay for sport. Then they gear up for their next season; say, February through October. They may even call it an off season and let some fitness go and comfort foods flow. That model works well for many busy athletes and may be the safest way to approach a season, your health and your longevity in the sport if you are wearing several hats.

There is no doubt that all athletes need appropriate recovery. But not all athletes need an off season every year. In fact, if you race professionally taking an off season is not always practical. Elites race often, are responsible to sponsors and above all, want to lift fitness from season to season. One of the best opportunities to raise fitness is when you are not racing. Most elites up north race from March through October. That leaves November, December, January and February to do some serious training. Many age groupers are thinking similarly. Their goal is to race at the pointy end of their category, if not over all. Some of your toughest competition often doesn’t take a traditional off season.

"Mental Fitness and Physical Fitness Go Hand and Hand"

The title is one of my all time favorite statements. I believe Plato said it over 2300 years ago. It is the first thing I remember on the bedroom wall that I shared with my brothers as a kid. That was a long time ago. When I left home it came with me. It is now on my office wall. Today I see it more as a goal than an axiom. I believe the closer I can get to both mental and physical fitness at once, the closer I am to my personal potential for long term health.

Doing the Double: 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas and IM World Championships in Kona

2011 is different from recent years past. There is a new, attractive 70.3 championship race in Las Vegas. The course appears to be fair, the entire series has matured and is very deep in talent, interest is high, and the weather is hot (maybe 100-110 degrees). One more thing: it is placed four weeks before IM Hawaii. If you are doing both there are additional variables to consider. Specific prep for these two races might focuses on several key points.

So You Want To Be Your Best

Recall, there is more than one path to athletic success. More importantly, your success can be measured in many different ways. For this discussion, let’s assume that everybody is willing to get tired through training stimulus. Now what?

What Equipment Do You Use To Train, Race and Recover?

Athletes have many gadgets and software to choose from when it comes to supporting training: SRM, Quarq, Power Tap, Garmin, heart rate monitors and Swimsense to name a few. There are graphs on WKO that record power distribution, heart rate distribution, mean maximal power, training stress and performance management. They can all be helpful. But none of them are as good as the human brain.

Do You Want to Come Down to the Station With Me?

I was on my bike, stopped at red light when a police office hails me on his loud speaker to pull over. Once the light is green I go through and pull over and park the bike. He gets out of the car and walks over to me and says, “Can you think of any legal reason to run a red light?”

Exercise: Health for You and Your Family

How we deliver a message to others greatly affects the level of cooperation we can expect from them.

Let’s consider older people who do not suffer from dementia or physical disability. What is it like for the older men and women who work to stay healthy through diet and exercise? Too often, they feel those around them are not supportive. Some are even told these activities are negative or harmful.

Mind and Body - Dealing with Stress

Stress can present itself in many ways through our lives. Work, finance, relationships and health challenges can all contribute varying degrees of stress in my life. You may see that as well. But it’s a good life and we prefer to keep most of what it has to offer day to day. So we need to find ways to release stress and view experiences in a way that allows us to avoid undue fatigue and dis-ease.

Absorbing Overload or Training Volume

The sun will soon be shining over more of the country in the Northern Hemisphere and guys and gals will have more opportunity to do bigger volume in warmer weather and with longer days. The camp or group settings often include more intensity then is first planned for a couple reasons. It is fun to have the reigns taken off and unless you are the strongest athlete at camp somebody is going to test you, repeatedly. Planning for overload and the recovery after overload are both essential. I want to share general guidelines on how I advise athletes to absorb overload or periods of big volume training.

Ironman Swim Fitness: Is It Critical?

Is it a good use of time to pursue deep swim fitness prior to your ironman? The answer may depend on how much time you have available to train outside of work and family obligations. But be honest, it is a safe bet that most Kona types are swimming quite a bit.

If you have the opportunity, I think it is worthwhile to develop deep swim fitness so that steady efforts keep you competitive out of the water at ironman. It is common to see athletes with lesser swim fitness over-swimming for 60-75 minutes and that can be the start of a cascade of problems later in the day.

Mentors - Part II

In part one I shared some thoughts about the importance of mentoring and being mentored. I would like to share some additional personal experience and add specific examples of ways we can add value to others at home, work and play. I include all three because mentoring is a lifestyle that focuses on others. While I have opinions, it’s important for me to point out that I have struggled with the lifestyle off and on in my time. Writing my thoughts out is a useful way to speaking to myself as well as others.


We are all mentors to someone -- and have been mentored. It may be in the course of parenting; or as a friend, a teacher, a coach, a co-worker or healthcare provider. At times you may not even know you are mentoring. It is some of the most important work we will ever do; more important that money and more important than winning. Why? Because it lasts and if done successfully it is extremely rewarding for all parties. Being mentored is not necessarily found in rigid programming. It occurs when opportunity presents itself and is often done by someone who cares about your welfare, although it may not feel like it at the time.

Being Prepared

by Kevin Purcell, D.C.

For quite some time now I have made continual changes in my life to extend my life span. I was about 40 years old when I decided that I should make an all-out effort to outlive my dad, who had died suddenly at 49. At that time, I set my sight on a handful of decades beyond that. Through years of university education in the medical sciences, another four years of health science education in professional school as a chiropractor, personal experience, reading and mentors, I have come to understand the diverse aspects of longevity.