Wednesday, February 3, 2016

exercise physiology

Are you a 'skilled' swimmer?

I can’t think of a squad that I’ve been involved with in which attendance of at least 5x per week was not mandatory. When I think back, it also strikes me how, once committed to the squad routine ‘drop outs’ were few and far between.

Understanding Intensity - Part Three

No compression socks in this week's photo! Makes a change, eh?

Part One discussed different ways to look at appropriate training zones -- heart rate, power, metabolic function, lactate profile. Hopefully, it also gave you a practical example about how you should be wary of using another athlete's tolerance to decide your own.

Part Two stripped out all the technical stuff and made the point that, ultimately, you should judge your training by what you can repeat.


This week I will offer some ideas to consider when assessing why, what, when and how... to ramp your training load. Remember that load is a function of frequency, duration and relative intensity.

Understanding Intensity - Part One

This week's article will require you to put on your thinking caps. It looks long but that's because of all the charts.

This series is going to touch on an aspect of my performance philosophy that is best summed up by a recent Kona Qualifier... why train fast if you are racing slow.

The best coaches/athletes in our sport have an inherent understanding of these issues - they might not use fancy charts but their programs/approach take into account what follows.

Part Two will be my article for XTri.com next week -- it is going to be a LOT more straightforward than what follows. If you are able to wrap your head around Part One, I think, you'll get more from Part Two.

Let's go!


Something that I noticed early in my athletic career was a huge difference in my tolerance for different types of workload.

The biggest example that I can remember with my own training was the effect that high intensity and flat steady-state riding had on my fatigue. I would become absolutely whipped.

Athletes have large variability in their tolerance for both workload and relative intensity. Over the years I have had this explained to me as:

Constitution - some athletes have superior constitutions... they can just handle it.

Experience - athletes have been racing fast, or training strong, since they were young kids... they can just handle it.

Mental Strength - the athletes that can't handle it are mentally weak. They could do it if they would harden up. You need to buckle down, toughen up and just handle it.

Part of the reason why I dislike HTFU is the philosophy points many athletes in COMPLETELY the wrong direction. STFD is more appropriate for the majority of people that I coach (slow ... ... down), perhaps Steady ... ... Up (STFU).

Benchmarks and Forecasting

there are parallels between weather forecasting and performance forecasting in the world of athletics. Similarly, there are those who are understanding and embracing these new technological tools to better forecast their athletes’ performances and there are those who still see this new science as ‘hit and miss’ at best.

Do work, Son!

I had an interesting question from one of the athletes that I work with that went along the lines of,

“Coach, I just had a look at Joe Blow’s performance manager chart from last year (Joe Blow is a top AG athlete). I almost put in the same amount of work as him. Our CTL #’s were almost identical but our performances were a world apart. What gives?”

Controlling For Reality

Careful readers will have noticed that I write quite a bit about "reality" these days. I believe that the events of the last eighteen months will cause fundamental changes in the way we live our lives. I have also made substantial changes within my own approach to living.

When Monica starts repeating gordo-isms back to me, I know that I have been hitting a topic particularly hard. Part of the purpose of this blog is to reinforce the life that I want to lead for myself. Also, if my views get too crazy then, I hope, a few of you will let me know!

The gordo-ism of the last six months is "it was nice while it lasted". There are two components of that statement.

The first is the classic view of the self-absorbed guy (me). In the Story of G, I was fortunate that circumstance offered me the ability to be completely self-centered in my pursuit of academics, finance and athletics -- each for about a decade. Seeing Lex snuggled into her mother, the two of them star-fished on what was formerly know as "my bed"... drove home the reality that I'm not running things any more. Further, to impose my will (and retake my self-centered existence) implies breaking my personal ethics. That said, I am holding out pockets of resistance...

High Performance Coaching


These week I will share some thoughts/ideas that came out of three days at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I've been quite busy on the business front -- apologies if your waiting for an email reply. I spend my spare time with Monica and Alexandra. I've also been doing yard work -- gets me away from my desk and into the sun!

Altitude -- Part Two


The picture above is Molina and me on Day Four of our high altitude training camp. We are on Loveland Pass, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Rockies.

Two weeks ago, I offered some general outlines for training camps. A little over a year ago, I offered some general outlines for altitude training. In reviewing those pieces, it struck me that they lacked practical advice for how YOU might approach a training camp at altitude. So that is my mission this week... offer you practical tips on how to get the most out of a 3-10 day altitude camp.

Why go to altitude?
Training at altitude produces desirable physiological changes for endurance athletes. My experience is that the most valuable (and potent) altitude stimuli occurs via blood desaturation during exercise at altitude. If you want to review the science on altitude then see the two book references at the bottom of this piece -- the books contain summaries of the best work that has been done on altitude.

For the endurance athlete, I define altitude:
Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

The first tip is to spend the bulk of your training camp one level higher than home. For example, if you live at sea level then be based at moderate altitude (4,500 to 6,500 feet). Remember that the primary goal is blood desaturation, then recovery. If you live/train too high then you end up with excessive desaturation and inferior recovery. Each day during training, feel free to sneak up a further level -- however -- be careful when training two-levels-up as fatigue/training stress is greatly magnified.

At an altitude camp, my main goals are (order of importance):

  1. Increased red blood cell growth via blood desaturation during training (my main goal each day)
  2. Build endurance through volume overload
  3. Maintain sport specific strength via hills (bike/run), big gear work (bike) and paddles (swim). I find low cadence work (swim/bike) to be well-tolerated.
  4. Enhance LT (not FT) performance via sub-LT, mod-hard blocks (generally 10-20 minute pieces at the end of an hour steady-state main set). See file at bottom for explanation of my terms.
  5. Maintain general strength -- keep overall training load such that I have enough energy to hit the gym every 4-6 days.

Some altitude training locations:

  • Jindabyne, NSW, Australia (3,000 feet; nearby Thredbo is 4,500 feet)
  • Bend, OR (3,600 feet)
  • Boulder, CO (5,400 feet)
  • Font Romeu, France (6,000 feet)
  • Vail, CO (8,300 feet)

My most common mistake with training at altitude is going too hard during the camp. Don't race during altitude training camps.

Tips to avoid going "too hard":

  • If you have access to sport specific testing then keep your heart rate under lactate threshold (as defined in the file below, ~2mmol definition of LT)
  • If you don't have access to testing then Mark Allen's MAP formula makes an effective cap, not target!
  • If you can blow yourself up in group training situations then: (a) make sure your camp partners are physically weaker than you; and/or (b) drop off the back _immediately_ when you hit the long climbs.

I have seen outstanding athletes ruin their training camps on day ONE, from ignoring the tip above. Even if you follow that tip, you may find that your early days at altitude leave you quite tired.

As well:

  • Disrupted Sleep -- if you can't sleep then assume you are training too intensely, reduce your heart rate cap by 10 bpm for 48 hours to regroup.
  • Sleep -- even if I have a little trouble sleeping, I make sure that I lie down for 10 hours per day. Molina likes naps -- I skip them so that I can fall asleep more easily at night.
  • Work -- don't expect to get any work done, you may be able to field easy telephone calls but you won't be able to devote much quality thought
  • Family -- don't con your spouse into running support. Keep family vacations about family.
  • Fitness -- arrive fit and train below your level of fitness. Altitude and increased training volume will give you the stimulus you desire.
  • Hydration -- in your first 72 hours at altitude increase your rate of hydration when training and across the night.
  • Nutrition -- always keep your heart rate down for the first two hours that follow solid food (if you ignore this tip then you will get "GI-feedback" that may have you sleeping on the couch). During training, keep your solids for the tops of long descents and use liquid nutrition. Make sure you have a protein source across your long training days. Avoid depletion, I tend to gain a couple of pounds during my most successful training camps.

Final Tips:

  • Gizmos -- leave your GPS and Powermeter at home, your training paces and power will be impaired at altitude -- this is the price you pay for building those red blood cells. I place my PowerTap in heart rate mode so that I am not tempted to chase watts.
  • Gearing -- use humble gearing. Most athletes will do best running a triple up front with a 30-tooth small ring. You need a lot of gears to stay under your heart rate cap in the early days.
  • Swimming -- unless you are a very efficient swimmer then you will have to dial your swimming way down. A good rule of thumb is to add 10% to your send-offs for each "step up" you take in altitude. Yes, you will likely need 20% more time to survive a workout in Vail if you are coming from sea level.
  • Running -- run easy and consider substituting trail hiking for your long runs.
  • Fun -- I was really lucky to have Scott along for this camp. He is my ideal training partner -- stronger than me mentally, great attitude outside of training and not seeking to kill me in training. I caught him looking at a map of South Western Colorado this morning so perhaps I can tempt him back in 2009!
  • Jacket -- always carry a rain jacket -- every single ride -- the weather changes FAST in the mountains

Finally, one that I learned from Chuckie V, NEVER CLIMB INTO LIGHTNING. The mountains will be there next time.

Hope this helps,
gordo

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Recommended Reading

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Files for Download

Endurance Corner Training Zones and Physiological Markers

True Limiters


The photo this week is a snap from this morning's lab testing. That's Mat working on my most recent lab test (we have lab coats but he seems more comfortable in a Jack Daniels t-shirt). We are at the very early stages and it's been a lot of fun for all the team.

Alan is going to write up some thoughts on Lactate Testing -- he's at two pages already -- you'll find the article over on his blog in a few days. He's got all our data so it might be interesting for you to review.

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I've made a few adjustments to my gear for IM Canada.

I've always wondered what difference it would make to have the _absolute_ best equipment available to me on race day. The good people at Planet-X offered to pimp my TT bike so I can transfer extra watts through to to the road. That's very much appreciated!

On race wheels, I'm likely to run the set of Xentis-TTs. Given that I thought a 23 was a 27 on my hill TT and they accelerate faster than a disc -- I figure that they will be the most efficient wheel set for me. The IMC bike course involves plenty of pace changes so I'll trade a bit of high-velocity straight-ahead aero to reduce power spikes on pace changes.

Probably the biggest change is that I'll not run a powermeter this year -- no post-ride data for you. I thought quite a bit about this decision and it feels right for me. With eight years on power, I'll use the Force (and my heart rate monitor) to guide me.

I'm keen for pace feedback on the run but haven't made a final decision on whether to run an HRM. My physiological testing has confirmed my 'feel' at various paces and I've raced that marathon course plenty of times -- the key components of (my) running fast in Penticton are pace, rather than effort based.

My buddy Chris McDonald set me up with some compression socks -- they don't match my speedo but you might see them on the run. My fashion choices amuse me and a bit of internal amusement can come in handy towards the end of the race. This might mean that I don't run my second choice socks... too bad as they _really_ entertain me.

Guess I can wear them to the pro meeting...

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Poker Pacing

Within our training group this summer, one guy has managed to lift his run performance much more than the rest of us -- Jeff Shilt. I asked Dr. J to share his approach for getting the most out of his run sessions and he wrote this week's Alternative Perspectives for us. This is a practical explanation of Lydiard's advice to always "come-back-faster-than-you-went-out" when running.

Jeff (gleefully) pulls large handfuls of time out of the more 'spirited' Lads in the back halves of his run and swim workouts. I believe that there is a material physiological benefit to training this way. Jeff has deeply ingrained a mind-body connection of always finishing strong.

Under stress, (I expect that) he will revert to the pattern of backing off early and finishing very strong. Many athletes think that they will be able to "race different than training". Under stress, you are very likely to revert to your most deeply held memories and patterns. This is why athletes that love high intensity training are at a disadvantage in ultra-distance racing -- they have little practical knowledge of the difference between easy/steady/mod-hard... to them... it is all "slow".

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Getting into Coaching

Mike Ricci, Mat and I cut our first podcast this week. Hopefully, I won't put you to sleep because I need to be more animated! We started recording 15 mins after a decent swim workout -- guess I was a bit flat. We'll need a bit of time to get it live -- this is all new for us.

I'll try to do better for you when we cut the "Going Pro" piece -- please email me questions that you have. I'll see if my buddy, Chris McDonald, will join me for that one -- he knows the raw reality of "living the dream".

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A reader sent me an interesting interview with Renato Canova -- the article provided interesting things to consider. Two of Canova's key beliefs struck me as particularly relevant:

(a) the need for change within an athlete's program -- the dynamic nature of athletic fitness across an athlete's lifespan; and

(b) the need to minimize fuel consumption at specific event pace.

Fuel consumption (and mix) is an essential consideration for ultradistance athletes -- it may go some way to explaining why the fastest athletes (defined as pace/power at FT) don't always win Ironman.

For what it is worth, for events over seven hours, I'd define race-specific fitness as power/pace at AeT and I'd measure how well-trained an ultra athlete is by calculating AeT power/pace as a percentage of VO2-Max power/pace. The more traditional benchmark is to use Functional Threshold, rather than Aerobic Threshold.

I'll let Jeff and Alan pick this up after we've reached internal agreement on the terminology that we'll be using at Endurance Corner. There are many ways to say the same thing.

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Recent Books

With my recent focus on Ironman Canada, my reading has taken a backseat -- however, I did have time to read an interesting book on running -- Run Easy by Ron Clarke. It was another one from Alan's extensive library -- likely out of print in the USA.

This past weekend, Mat lent me his copy of Lance Armstrong's War -- the insight into the cultural and social background of the pro peleton was the most interesting part for me.

Like Lance, I take note of the people that speak of me in public. They give me extra motivation to ensure that I do my absolute best to achieve my absolute best. If I am honest, then (for some reason) even the folks that merely mention me tend to fire me up. I've asked the Lads to _never_ _ever_ defend me in public.

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True Limiters

Alan and I were talking about performance the other day and he made the comment that one of the things that he liked about my philosophy was my view that genetics don’t play a large part in athletic performance. If a guy in our office thinks that I said that then I’d better clarify my position. I’ll do that in a minute.

Daniels talks about the ingredients for success in his book. His ingredients are: Inherent Ability; Motivation; Opportunity; and Direction. At the end of that opening chapter, he sums up that the ingredients essentially boil down to ability and motivation.
To clarify, genetics play a key role in how far (and fast) you’ll progress relative to others. However, your DNA plays much less of a role in how far you’ll progress relative to yourself. You’re ultimate achievement will be impacted far more by non-physiological factors than many think. [For the purposes of this article, I will overlook work on the role of genetic modes of expression in brain function.]
In a culture where motivation is driven (largely) from relative performance -- genetics will, therefore, play more of role in determining how close you’ll come to your Ultimate Potential. Why? Because many people are externally, rather than internally motivated.
What prevents athletes (or anyone else) from realizing their Ultimate Potential in a given field? I’ve watched many highly successful people over the last eighteen years and will share some observations on what truly limits us.
Resistance to Change -- I'm on record (somewhere) having said that I've never met a problem that couldn't be overcome by additional effort. That philosophy served me very well. I achieved an 8:29 Ironman and a couple of second places. I then spent most of 2005 nuked and used my same patterns to take me back to a 3rd place finish (22 minutes slower than my best). In order to move past my previous success (or even try to get back to it) -- I had to make simple, yet deep, changes to my fundamental beliefs about endurance
Ego -- in his blog, Mat writes about the challenges of training with guys that he knows are faster than him. He closes wondering if he will have the humility to let people that he "knows are slower" go up the road. I asked him if he really knew the background of everyone that he'll be racing in Kentucky. Keying off a stranger that's bent on blowing themselves up can be a dangerous strategy. I know a few guys that have made tactical decisions based on athletes that didn't even finish the bike leg.

Control -- training and racing produce strong emotions at times. Over the last month, I've cried when running well -- fitness is a strong drug and the emotions that result from the various chemicals that we release with powerful training can cause strange actions. I interpret most strong emotions as "power" -- some of my training pals interpret them into anger (or disrespect). That can be useful if you've got a hard interval to do but disastrous if you are 60 miles from home on an endurance ride. Probably the most talented guy that I ever trained with confided in me that he was simply unable to control himself when racing -- great for Half IM and shorter races but he never fulfilled his long course potential.

Financial Stability -- spending a good chunk of our lives working at our maximum capacity (and resting from triathlon) is the greatest performance enhancer a tired athlete can do for themselves. Like most stressors, you don't realize how much debt/poverty drains you until you've removed it (and recovered).

Recovery -- I write about this one a lot. I know athletes that have been watching their racing slow for multiple seasons, yet struggle to see what the cause might be. I also watch athletes coping with running injuries, adjust their programs by making everything "quality" and reverting to patterns that have caused happiness in the past (e.g. back-to-back IM racing). Some of these athletes are coached by the smartest people in our sport -- you have to wonder if people are considering the cause of chronic fatigue and injury.

Time -- for people that "get it" -- time is the ultimate limiter, much more than talent or genetics. Starting at 30-years-old, I might (just) be able to squeak out my genetic potential before my athletic capacity starts to wane. As well, there's only so much that we can take out of our daily lives to work towards a goal. I have a team of people that help me towards my goals.

Patience -- the final one is my favourite. Most people will leave the playing field before they reach their potential. By sticking around, you'll make less mistakes while the new entrants (clamor for their 'right' to) repeat your errors.

After all that, it comes back to Daniels. To perform best, relative you ourselves, ultimately we're limited by our motivation.

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I'll be offline from now until September 12th. I might publish, I might not. We'll see.

Many thanks for your support over the last year,

gordo

de Castella & July


Our picture this week is Brandon and Scott post-run at Epic Camp New Zealand. We are accepting applications for our 2008 camps (New Zealand and Italy). If you are interested then head over to the Epic Web Site and send your details to Johno. As of today, we have spaces left in both camps.

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These individuals have riches just as we say that we "have a fever," when really the fever has us. -- Seneca

I pulled the above quote from The 4-Hour Workweek, which I've now finished. You can substitute different words for "riches" -- fitness; knowledge; beauty; success...

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Jeff "Dr. J" Shilt has written our next article over on Alternative Perspectives. Jeff's taken the time to medically interpret the dreaded "GI-Shutdown" that occurs to many athletes during competition.

One of the characteristics of an effective coach is the ability to share knowledge in different formats. Technical discussions are not my forte -- Jeff points out that while I get the "gist" correct, my terminology can often "need improvement".

He's kindly agreed to share his technical knowledge on a range of subjects and I'll be posting his articles in the future.

You'll also find an article by my good friend, Clas Bjorling. Clas has agreed to write a series of articles that take us from his high school years to an 8:15 Ironman time (and beyond). This is certainly an Alternative Perspective because (as you'll read) Clas and I achieved Ironman success from very different backgrounds.

Like me, Clas believes that the best remains to come!

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Finally, if you are looking for Alternative Perspectives of what it is like to train directly with me then head to John Shilt's Blog -- he's documenting his summer as one of The Lads. If you scroll down then you'll find a listing of all The Lads as well as their Blog links.

Before you feel too sorry for John's self-detonation yesterday I'll share a quote following the "nothing special ride" that we had scheduled on Tuesday (after his track session)...

"G, you would have been proud of me I was really disciplined there, kept the heart rate to 162 bpm".

As an ultra-endurance athlete, the most dangerous aspect of "letting" yourself do hard training is that it resets your internal perception of effort. Very few athletes have a limiter of going "too easy" in their races.

At the time that John felt that we were being controlled we were going 30-40 miles per hour.

I was sitting on 145 bpm and knew that I was engaged in some impromptu tempo! I'd also done a track session and was amazed at how "easy" it felt. This is likely the mechanism that screws up our early bike perception (when we swim too fast).

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de Castella on Running

I am in a BIG training week right now so I'm going to hit this in point form. Hopefully, you'll be able to pull some useful info out of here.

#1 -- the most interesting thing to me (as a high-volume guy) is the author's ability to maximize his genetic potential with a training program that was 11-15 hours of training per week. This was in a deep, highly competitive sport. For a period of time, he was the best marathoner in the world.

#2 -- there was total commitment of his inner circle to HIS success. His inner circle consisted of his wife; his training buddies and his work. His consistency was amazing with up to 1,000 day running streaks.

As an aside, last week a friend asked me how he could get a person to care more about their career (the underlying point, possibly, being that if this person improved their career then he could focus more on his non-career goals).

Some points...

a -- if I could only get my wife to support me more... // consider if you are worthy of support! If you want someone to support you then they need to believe in you and deeply desire to help you. In other words, the support that we receive from our inner circle is directly proportional to the support we give back. True leadership is earned and must be personified/renewed daily. If you are seeking leadership so that you can kick back and cruise on the efforts of others -- your team will see through you, immediately.

b -- placing the burden of our achievement on another person -- these are fear-based excuses. True leadership comes from creating our own circumstances for success.

c -- Every morning ask yourself, what are the actions that I can take (today) that will directly impact my ability to achieve my goals? Most people spend their time on items that have ZERO bearing on what they are seeking to achieve. Does constantly surfing the internet directly support the most important items in your life? These habits are tough to break -- I know because I'm working on it too!

#3 -- "I kept believing that I could win" -- one of the secrets of success is deeply knowing that you can win. That doesn't mean that it is certain -- it simply means that if you keep doing your absolute best then you have a shot. Many of the self-sabotaging actions that I witness in athletics result from the athlete lacking self belief.

#4 -- "Train below your threshold." -- Training is a method to achieve "fitness". Fitness being the components necessary for effective competition. (paraphrase...) "I had to make compromises because I knew that I had to train the next day." By threshold, de Castella refers to our maximum limit, not a physiological point of intensity.

***Most athletes train until they can train no more. Early in his career, de Castella did this as well. However, he learned from that and rarely repeated his mistakes. In my own program, my training partners very, very, very rarely see my best.

#5 -- "Strength" -- the capacity to muster speed when exhausted. His program was built around the creation of race strength. If this works for a "short" event like a marathon then consider how appropriate it is for a "long" event like most triathlons.

#6 -- Pace merely provides feedback -- training is based on effort.

#7 -- The fastest time comes from building effort. Run evenly, finish strong.

While, de Castella writes that he doesn't "believe in" periodization. He did believe in phasing his year to build the various components of race performance (fitness). My "working athlete" approach fits very well into his Basic Week with variation based on the competitive and natural seasons.

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July
I thought that I'd share my most common summer training mistakes with you. By writing them down here, I hope to avoid them over the next seven weeks.

These warnings apply to all sports and are most appropriate as your fitness grows. The closer you get to maximum fitness, the closer you get to blowing it all.

No doubt, some of you will think that I am writing directly to you... as I told the Lads last week. If you feel something when you read my writing then consider who is doing the feeling!

#1 -- PB Training -- when things are going very well in training, slow down and pat yourself on the back. As you experience life best training performance, relax and accept the increased fitness. Resist the urge to "go hard" on every session. Learn to operate slightly below your limits.

#2 -- Nutrition -- as your key sessions become more demanding, you will need to increase your focus on nutrition. There is no faster way to end your season than long/intense training that is done in a depleted state. Depletion and dehydration training will not bring success.

#3 -- Weight -- you can improve your body composition // or // you can pursue life best training. You can't do both. Nutritional stress must be low when training stress is high. This point will make a lot more sense after you've blown it, believe me!

#4 -- Bonus Intensity -- nearly all the decent athletes that I train with will use their increased fitness to train "one-level-up" on all their sessions. Know your physiological zones and stick to your plan. Most athletes are unable to execute their plans in a group situation. There is huge race day upside from training yourself to execute on your own terms.

#5 -- Group Training -- you never know how hard your training partners are working. The guys that are dropping you on Tuesday may be taking most of the week off. Let your training partners be strong -- it will make it more fun when you crush them at your next A-race.

#6 -- Benchmarking -- Don't benchmark yourself off anyone that fails to do every _meter_ of your weekly program (especially your running). Be wary of keying off athletes that consistently race below their training performances -- use them but don't emulate them.

#7 -- Recovery -- nearly all highly motivated athletes will not recover until they are physically unable to train. The bulk of your competition are completely unable to sort their recovery... you can give yourself a huge advantage by planning (then executing) your unloading periods.

#8 -- Specific Preparation -- no matter what you try to tell yourself -- riding the wattage roller coaster on the wheel of a fast ironman guy is not an express ticket to success. Use the "crazy" aspects of the group for your fast training, and use it sparingly.

#9 -- Big Dog Riding -- if you are one of the stronger guys in your group then try this... ride 20 meters off the back of the group for the first 90-120 minutes of the ride (a strategic early ride pee is good for this). You'll get gapped for a bit. Once you roll back up to the group (first dip in team motivation) -- pull the lads for 30-60 minutes. Each time someone comes around you -- let the gap open up to 10 meters and wait until they come back. Pull for some more until another guy takes off.

In June, the lads never came back to me (!). It was lonely but great training! As my fitness increases, I'm able to hang in for longer. Of course, now that The Lads are reading this... I fully expect a concerted effort to work me.

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Yesterday was our second wedding anniversary. After an eight-hour training day, we headed out to dinner at a local restaurant. After a bit of prodding, I managed to get Mrs. Byrn to offer up my key point for Year Three -- asking how she is doing more often.

From the beginning of our relationship, my #1 goal has been to help Monica feel love(d). In fact, that's been top of my list for a while now.

With that in place everything else falls into line.

Cheers,
gordo

Altitude -- Part One


Our photo this week is the Three Amigos (g, BDC and Denny) at 11,000 feet on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park. I mentioned to Brandon that we sure look better than I felt. I had progressed beyond seeing stars to seeing blotches.

It was likely the hypoxia but when Brandon asked me for the location of the nearest water fountain (at 11K) I laughed so hard that I triggered a massive coughing fit. Perhaps you had to be there...

Thursday afternoon here in Boulder and I have just finished the toughest three days of my current training block -- nine days of high volume start on Saturday. In the last 48 hours I managed 30 miles of running (avg elevation ~8,500 feet), ten hours of cycling and 10K of swimming. My final workout was a team time trial session where the lads took me to the point where I "lost interest". Currently, I am moving pretty slowly, especially up stairs.

Hands down, I have the most dedicated crew of homeboys anyone could ask for. Denny, in particular, has total dedication to getting the absolute best out of me on every bike session. I do get a little grumpy when he gives it an extra 30 watts as he pulls through but, hey, that's what I need.

Every coach that I've ever had has told me that it's important to place myself in situations where I'm not in control. Grumpiness is a sign of resistence -- I'm committed to riding more "clearly" next time. To ensure that the lads have an adequate incentive to ignore my pleas for mercy, I shall be offering a $5 cash bonus for anyone that beats me to the KOM point (TBA) in three week's time. They'd probably smash me for free but a little money always make it's more interesting.

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Ghost Wars is finished -- read about your tax dollar at work! Given the popular mandate after 9/11, I can only imagine what the CIA have been up to over the last few years. What was most fascinating to me is the unintended consequences and changing dynamic of US foreign policy. A sure-fire policy ten years ago can seem totally boneheaded later. Stockdale's advice about the nature of military action is well taken -- clearly defined while being publicly supported by all of our leaders. Secret wars are far too easy to leave people swinging once the going gets tough.

I also read, "Where are the customers yachts?" An easy, and entertaining, read. Given my focus on personal excellence for Ironman Canada on August 26th, I've shut down new deal flow -- so this didn't hold quite as much interest as when I considering new deals in 2006. Made me smile though.

Right now, I am reading "The 4-Hour Work Week". This book comes the closest to how I make choices on a daily basis. The title, and promo, are a bit chessy and nearly put me off the purchase. I probably bought it because I wanted to see how I stacked up against the author -- I still tend to compete on multiple fronts.

So far, there are two key things that I've pulled out:

The Role of Management -- educating the team to effectively serve the goals of the company. Empowering employees to become effective, rather than efficient.

Dead Time -- I consider myself highly effective but it is amazing how much dead-space remains in my life. The author's point about relentlessly cutting out; "Not to do" lists; learning to say "no"; and relentless simplification are excellent reminders of the value that can be achieved from considering habits that hold us back. He's down to 60 minutes of email once per week. I'm bringing in a few new strategies to free more time for myself.

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We're launching Alternative Perspectives this week (thanks to Brian Johnson). The first installment is Alan writing about Lydiard and the 100-Mile Run Week. When you read the article, remember that his athletes were likely running at an average of 10 mph. So the base program was ten-hours of max steady-state work per week (for the rest of your life). Interestingly, as a decent age-group ultrarunner, that duration was close to the max that I could handle. Back then we used to budget ten kilometers per hour and my big weeks were likely close to 100km.

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I raced last weekend. Fortunately, my good buddy (Justin Daerr) wrote my race report for me. Just substitute "bike" for "swim" and you have my story. I signed up for a low-key local race and Hunter Kemper turned up! It ain't easy going short when you're a long course guy...

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Altitude
When I prepare for Canada, I like to include a lot of altitude training into my June program. My personal experience is that there is a big reduction in late-race fatigue that accrues to an athlete that has patiently assembled 10+ weeks at altitude.

For this discussion I'll define altitude in five categories. If I was writing to a mountaineering audience then I would change my definitions. When I was climbing high mountains, altitude was pretty much "why bother" until you were over 12K and didn't really start to dig in until over 17K.

Low altitude is less than 4,500 feet
Moderate altitude is 4,500 to 6,500 feet
Mod-High altitude is 6,500 to 8,500 feet
High altitude is 8,500 to 10,500 feet
Very High altitude is over 10,500 feet

Those are rough guidelines based on my personal experience. You could probably go +/- 500 feet at any end.

To give you an idea on how altitude impacts my running...
***Ten (flat-ish) miles at 10,300 was 7:14 per mile pace at 149 bpm (small HR variation)
***Fifteen (hilly) miles at ~8,500 feet was 6:48 per mile pace at 146 bpm (large HR variation)
***Three (flat) miles at sea-level was 5:59 per miles pace at 148 bpm (no HR variation)

I've found that the shortest "altitude" camp that makes sense is seven weeks -- two weeks easy; two weeks solid; one week easy; two weeks solid. The best duration (for me) is ten, or more, weeks.

Most visitors to altitude training locations try to cram too much, too quickly into their programs. The literature talks about low- and high-responding athletes. In my experience, it would be more accurate to classify them as impatient and patient athletes. Athletes that like to do a lot of tough training; tend to make themselves very tired, very quickly by rushing their adaptive periods. Altitude doesn't "work" for them because they are totally shagged when they leave.

I've found real altitude to be far better than artificial. On the artificial side, I've used IHT, low-O2 tents, and low-O2 rooms.

My expereince is that the "sweet spot" for an endurance athlete appears to be in the range of 7,500 to 8,500 feet. That's where I can get my pace rolling (when acclimatized) _and_ enjoy the hypoxic "benefits". At all levels of altitude, I use downhill running to get my cadence and speed up without red-lining my heart rate.

I believe that real altitude works best because, for endurance sports, the most effective adaptive mechanism appears to flow through desaturation that occurs while training at moderate and mod-high altitudes. The interuption to sleep, and slowing of recovery, that occurs from the low-O2 systems seems (to me) to be counterproductive. The delay in recovery that happens from artificial altitude was not outweighed by performance improvement.

I've also noticed that following an extended period of altitude training (say June) -- I am able to maintain my acclimatization with 2-3 weekly sessions at mod-high altitude -- these sessions need not be challenging, merely include 30-60 minutes of steady-state aerobic training. This frees me to do all my key specific prep sessions (July/August) at moderate altitude.

For my "speed" cycles I head down to sea-level. This past Spring, I used two camps (Nevada and California) that fit very well with my desire to boost my top-end performance as well as my Phase Two training (race cycle).

For recovery (including nightly sleep), I like to get as low as possible. It's tempting for athletes, especially those with access to artificial altitude, to crank up altitude stress when training stress is low. My own experience is that this is counterproductive.

Impact on all three sports -- I'm often asked by altitude-trained athletes how they should adjust their efforts for a triathlon at sea level. My own experience (Oly Distance, Half IM Distance, IM Distance) is that you don't change anything, you simply go faster at your 'normal' efforts. For races under two hours, I have found that I can generate (and sustain) higher heart rates, especially on the run.

So that's Part One -- if you have specific questions about altitude then send them along and I'll include them in Part Two. I only check emails on Monday so replies could take up to 14-days.

In order to give myself every opportunity to win Ironman Canada on August 26th, you may find my replies to questions to be a bit brief.

Cheers,
gordo

Nutritional Healing & Genetic Potential


This week, I will discuss some tips on how to frame our relationship with food and share some thoughts on VO2 Max testing.

I know that some readers like to keep track of what I am reading.

The best article that I've read recently is Managing Oneself by Drucker (legit link & bootleg version). It was an absolutely fascinating read for me. The article helped me see how comunication failings (on my part) are often due to the pathway, rather than the substance of, the message.

I also decided to educate myself a bit more about the nature of armed conflict -- an interesting read on this is Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Jet Pilot by Stockdale. I'm a little over halfway through.

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Nutritional Healing

I'm going to keep this as simple as possible to remove any wiggle room that our minds might seek to create.

Training is a process of breaking down the body. Effective nutrition provides the building blocks that heal the damage that training causes. If you are looking for a sustainable, long term performance edge over your competition then nutrition is where you can find it.

Training = breaking down
Nutrition = healing
Training + Poor Nutrition = stress fractures, illness, burnout, injury, early athletic retirement and failure to achieve ultimate potential

When I look at many images of elite endurance athletes, I see highly motivated people mortgaging their future health for a perceived short term performance edge. The media sex-up, then serve, these images in order to market goods and services. [I acknowledge my role here -- we'll tone down the shirt off shots on the new website!]

When athletes share their honest opinions with me there can be an underlying current that they could really achieve something if they could just eliminate their need to eat. I know many people that spend quite a bit of time searching for reasons to malnourish themselves in the name of performance. From time-to-time, I am one of these people -- fortunately, I have a strong desire to eat and low attachment to self-defeating patterns (once noticed by me).

Blood shot eyes, extended muscle soreness, night sweats, slow training recovery -- you might be starving yourself, rather than striving for excellence.

It's a complex challenge and I'd encourage you to talk to your doctor/counsellor about it. You will need a trusted professional to guide you through the psychological and physiological construction that is disordered eating.

If you are sitting on the edge, waivering back and forth, good days and less good days... then here's how I approach my own nutrition. I am far from perfect but I manage better than most.

I nourish my body to maximize its potential to heal itself.

What does that actually "mean"?

***Other than sleep, no long periods without food -- I find that I do best with something every three to four hours.

A classic disordered eating pattern is fasting during and after training resulting (a) slower recovery; (b) lower metabolic rate; (c) weight gain due to inevitable binging on poor food choices; and (d) increased muscle breakdown.

***Eating the least processed, highest quality foods available to me -- that means wild and/or organic "real" food. "Real Food" is food that comes without an ingredients list -- an apple, a steak, a carrot, a bag of quinoa...

Choices that prevent us from achieving what we truly value are not "treats" -- they are patterns of self-sabbotage.

***Protein with every meal and readily accessed protein during all long training sessions. We need to minimize the catabolic effects of endurance training.

***Strength training (functional, traditional and terrain) within my year round program.

***Complete elimination of hydrogenated oils and trans fats.

***Reduction of refined sugar and processed carbohydrates.

***Take the majority of my intake in the form of lean protein, fruits, veggies, unrefined carbs and good fats.

Be wary of our mind's habit of a constant search for "new information" as well as our ego's desire to look for justification of self-defeating patterns/habits.

If an elite athlete happens to win a race after eating pizza for dinner -- there might be other factors involved than cheese and bread!

I will leave you with an interesting article on eating real food.

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Sports "Nutrition"

Novice and low/moderate volume athletes have little need for sports nutrition products -- use them cautiously and in moderation. These products are energy dense, you'll get a lot more nutrition (and satisfaction) from a balanced meal than 5-600 calories of sugar and salt.

There is an multi-billion dollar industry out there trying to get us to "carb-up" and "recover" in ways that add to our waist-lines and their bottom-lines. I use sports nutrition products during and after training for convenience. In my view, the sports nutrition industry over-promotes their goods.

I know world-class athletes that train exclusively on water and real food. However, with long training sessions and busy lives, an element of sports nutrition is useful. Remember that manufactured foods are convenience-oriented, and rarely nutrition-oriented.

Read your labels -- some of these companies are not acting in our best interests! I can't understand why leading nutrition companies market products with artificial sweetners and hydrogenated oils.

Good health is good business.

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Genetic Potential

When I think about genetic potential, I tend to think about VO2 Max testing.

For the record, I've never been tested in a lab. I sense that a certain minority would enjoy finding out that I had a VO2-Max in the 80s -- that might let them off the hook a bit. Well it might, but I know athletes with VO2s in the 80s that struggle to finish their races. So oxygen uptake is merely one factor.

Still, some enjoy these conversations so I'll share a recent email thread...

A.S. asked -- what has your VO2max been at what you consider your peak period?

I replied -- 74 kgs, 75s per 400m, running -- 73 kgs, 400 watts, cycling. Those are my best VO2 pace/power numbers of my career.

A.S. replied -- I estimated it to be around 52ml/kg/min and for cycling around 4.9 L/min or 67ml/kg/min.

I did first the one for running and when I saw that number I thought "No way, this can't be right, it is not high enough". I only started training for triathlon this year, so I can't say that I am experienced enough to judge, so I searched a little bit more to see if there are any measurements for world class athletes. What I found is that the lowest number for runners was Derek Clayton's at 69. For cyclists Lance's was 84 and Indurain's was 88.So my initial thought was more or less confirmed, your numbers are not high enough.

Furthermore after all these years of training you have improved a lot your VO2max which means that it can't increase a lot more.

The thing here however is that you have already ran a 2:48 marathon in an Ironman race and you have done that more than once. So I guess the key words are "high enough". Your numbers are not "high enough" for running these events seperately but on the other hand they are more than enough to complete an Ironman race in 8:30 hours.

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That's pretty much where we left it. I confirmed that his estimate on my running looked reasonable to me (2:46 is my run PB) -- I tend to reference Daniels' V-dot tables. He asked about my thoughts on the cycling number... I have no idea, I've always considered my IM bike ride to be efficient transport to a fast marathon and far from centrally governed.

If you break it down (I have), a blazing fast Ironman race isn't centrally constrained -- you don't need single sport VO2 prowess. Swim 50 min, Bike 4:45, Run 2:40.

Here's what's really interesting to me...

Why test?

A. Some athletes want to test their VO2 to DEFINE their limits. Personally, I've chosen to avoid tests that might give me an excuse, or a perceived limit, in achieving my ultimate potential.

B. Others may seek to understand their potential -- WE HAVE NO IDEA! Here's another set of data -- 85 kgs, 95s per 400m, running -- that data set is the SAME guy... me!

C. Other athletes may test for an external validation of themselves. I suppose that external validation lies in the attraction of competition (or blog writing!). Using people, tests, races to try to achieve more than we thought possible. However, I doubt if lasting satisfaction will accrue from hitting a magical number in a human performance lab.

Still, if we see it as an interesting game, then I don't see the harm in it. Just don't expect to get meaningful information from what a machine tells you is possible. Similar to finance, the trick is maximizing the use of what you've got, rather than constantly wishing for more.

As for thoughts on my not being able to improve anymore... I'll file that under "M" for Motivation. I've got a few quotes in there from strangers and retired world champions.

Until next week,
gordo

Personal Excellence & Pain

This week I'm going to run through some thoughts on recent emails, personal excellence and race pain. I'll then pull it all together with some thoughts on the Bottom Line.

Where You Want To Be


Our photo this time is my buddy, Greg, on top of Everest.

You know, I never really thought about why a guy would carry an Epic Camp sign to the top of the world. However, with a couple of years to think about it... I've developed a theory.

Greg and I worked together for a few years. Looking back, I think that Greg hired me as more of a life and general endurance advisor than a triathlon coach. Greg's got a knack out of getting the most out of his "team" and he very carefully put together the pieces required to give himself a shot at climbing Everest.

Managing a team of people for an individual goal is an interesting concept -- you can apply those skills to Everest; the Olympics or a race like Ironman Canada. It takes many, many people to put together an individual performance. Many don't even realize the role that they play.

So a little story, after IM-New Zealand in 2005, Greg comes up to me at the Awards Dinner, thanked me for my support and said, "g-man, I'm RIGHT where I want to be". Monica was there with me and there was a lot said by our TOTAL silence to that statement.

Greg had just completed the race in 12:30. Knowing a little bit about mountaineering, Monica asked me my opinion about the likely outcome of his expedition. I said that it was most likely that this would be the last time we would ever see Greg. We spent the next few months reading Greg's Everest Website waiting to see what would happen.

What I didn't know what that Greg's "taper" is best summed up by this picture. Not exactly, keeping the feet up. He'd deliberately shagged himself and used an Ironman as a practice summit day.

Crafty fella!

Turns out that he was right where he needed to be -- he got the photo (via the North Ridge) and his team left the mountain in one piece.

As for his tri-coach... I didn't start proper training again until NINE months after that race. Greg should have been worried for me!

An interesting lesson -- I delivered exactly what he wanted without even knowing what was required of me. Further, I thought that he was heading to disaster, while I was actually sliding deep into the valley of fatigue (from a 2nd place overall placing).

My students teach me a lot -- it does take me a few years to learn their lessons...

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Are you where you want to be?

It's worth considering that question from time to time for many reasons. I'll lay out that athletic case this time. Perhaps, I'll write about life philosophy some other time. That's more about being the person that we want to be.

The longer days of April combined with increasing fitness are exactly what many of us will need to tip ourselves over the edge in terms of training.

Before full blown overtraining sets in we have to ignore many repeated warning signals. Here are a few:

***Muscles that are persistently sore to the touch
***Chronic inflamation of tendons or muscle insertions
***Chronic GI distress
***Staleness in training
***Increase/Decrease in sleep pattern
***Increase/Decrease in weight or appetite
***Sugar cravings
***Low/High heart rate relative to effort
***Injury -- true accidents are few and far between

I know a number of very fit people that have lived with the above for multiple years. They are so fit that no one would ever consider that they were shelled.

If you have a couple of these then you can rest now and pull yourself back from the brink. Or... you can keep the same pattern going and end up with the same result. I did for five years and my results were good, very good, better than I ever thought possible! So pushing through things can work quite well... then I was forced to decide if I truly wanted to move to a higher level of performance.

April is when we start to see more frequent "nuked please help" posts on the internet. When they pop-up remind the person to: (a) rest; and (b) learn from what toasted them. I wouldn't spend much more time than that -- most of us (myself included) have too much invested in our existing patterns to change them until we are REALLY ready. It took a six-month nuking for me to realize that, perhaps, there could be another way to play things.

Which brings me to...

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Where I happen to be.

I did a race this past weekend and, in a few days, I'll type up a report for posting over on the Planet-X website. I'll also send along my ergomo data file -- if it downloads OK -- I broke my download cable and am standing by for a new one.

So my build-up and the race went really well. Best case scenario for me -- my one hour bike power and my running vVO2 Max are both at lifetime bests. This off a "stagnated" aerobic run test -- Mark writes about plateaus here...

What would you do if the most versatile male triathlete of all time took the time to write a series of articles explaining how best to train? What if his protocol appeared too simple to be true? What would you do?

I started by reading them -- scroll down on that link to get the articles.

When you read them -- watch how you tend to want to argue with him. How you think you are different. How it might not apply to you. Then ask yourself, "Who is arguing?"

There is deep power in the consistent application of simplicity -- however, our minds find it near impossible to fathom. As I remind my athletes, our greatest challenge lies in learning to over-ride our instinctive desire to screw things up for ourselves.

As I was powering along at life best watts -- the main things on my mind were circles, joy and breathing. There isn't much better than racing through the desert when we are fit.

So what to do next? Well, I'm going to do the most difficult thing possible.

I'm going to stop "trying" to get faster and return to an endurance focus for the next four weeks. It's super tempting to get leaner, train harder and go even faster. My base is deep so there is a pretty good chance that I could be ripping by May.

However... I'm looking for something really special on August 26th and that's going to require some patience. So, just like after Epic Camp in January, I'll ease off, hit the gym and be smart.

I'm telling you exactly what I am doing, there are no secrets and, yet, it is very tough (for all of us) to follow a simple protocol. One of life's little ironies.

Choose wisely,
gordo

Hot Stuff

I thought that I’d share some ideas on training in the heat. I’m currently back on BA, above the Rockies and far removed from the heat and humidity of the Big Island.

I really enjoyed my training camp there and know that it added materially to both my fitness and my knowledge. That island is a neat place – there is a groove that you need to find in order to train well. Of course, we found our groove a little differently than Peter does. We had a condo in Keauhou and a guest pass at the Hualalai Four Seasons spa. That made a huge difference.

Peter living up high makes a lot of sense to me but I doubt they have high speed internet up there so it really isn’t practical when you need to stay in touch. If you are doing an “eat, sleep, train” gig then the commute wouldn’t be an issue and (without central aircon) you’d certainly sleep better up high. I haven’t tried that in Hawaii but if I was true iron-monk then it would have certain appeal for me. Heck, just because Peter does it, there is appeal for me.

I kicked off my training camp with an Olympic distance race. I didn’t swim or bike particularly memorably but I ran great and that must have made me feel a bit bulletproof when it came time to start “training” again. As well, by not gaining a stack of weight last year (when I wasn’t training), I am in the fortunate position at spending most of my time training very close to race weight. It is a HUGE advantage in a lot of ways. The greatest is that it reduces the stress on me because I don’t have to seek to trim down while training stress is high. In fact, I can eat a little bit extra and avoid the risk of depletion training – one of the easiest and most common ways to nuke ourselves.

Anyhow, my first big day was a decent swim followed by a big ride through the Kohala Mountains. I completely nuked myself and wasn’t able to hold anything down from Noon until 6am the following day – threw the entire contents of my stomach up three or four times. It was a bit embarrassing! My stomach completely shut down and things piled up until I threw up. Even after getting sick, I think that my electrolytes where whacked at I kept throwing up until I settled the following day.

Now I could blame my sports drink…
Or my electrolyte caps…
Or the brand of my sports nutrition…
Or the water that they were serving on the course…

However, I think that answer was a lot simpler. I ate too much, went too hard and blew myself to bits. With 90F temps in Tempe, I am sure that a few folks experienced the same thing as me that weekend.

M saw my issue immediately and recommended that I scale my morning intake way back. So I had to make some material adjustments to my nutritional timing. Normally, I like to front end load the bulk of my nutrition. In the heat, I wasn’t able to do that.

Breakfast was pretty similar most mornings – two cups cooked quinoa mixed with four eggs. That was served with a cup of strong coffee. I’m guessing that was probably 50-65% of what I would normally take in and 40% of what I ate the morning that I was sick.

Dave Scott recommends that athletes consider liquid nutrition when racing IM – I’ve tried that but I’ll usually eat a full breakfast on top of that as well. In Kona, I think that the liquid breakfast is a great idea.

As well, I think that highly efficient athletes (like Dave) enjoy a material performance benefit in Hawaii where processing calories is so tough. If you are a big, cold weather powerhouse then you might not be able to process enough to keep yourself rolling – probably best to lean out or stick to cold weather races. Even if you can do it on the bike in training, can you do it trying to stay close to Faris in the water then riding hard up/down Kuakini?

On the bright side, I’ve found that nutrition and hydration are highly trainable. So if it really matters to you then you could come and get a bunk beside Peter. However, most people aren’t willing to do that – and it’s pretty tough to beat an experienced guy that’s willing to do everything (just about year round) to beat you.

When training, I consumed less calories than normal. Sports drinks and gels gave me the bulk of my calories. When I thought that I needed more nutrition than that, I would stop, sit down and eat some real food (while not training). That worked much better and, once adopted, my stomach didn’t give me any more issues. I also used some electrolyte caps but, probably, more for insurance than anything else. I wasn’t particularly well acclimatized upon arrival and wanted to make sure that I didn’t deplete myself too badly. I also supplemented with magnesium each morning.

I’d do all of the above (minus the stopping and eating) if I was racing Hawaii here in October. I came to realise that some of the spectacular blow-ups that we witness each October could simply be too much early food combined with excessive early intensity. It appears to me that (for the guys) unless you are the fittest guy on the planet then going a bit too hard is unavoidable if you want to win, most years. Why? Because you are seeking to optimize your performance within a group of athletes that are following a sub-optimal strategy.

That is a fundamental point about Ironman pacing – there is a lot of social proof available on the swim and the bike that you are going too easy. This social proof comes from nearly everyone self-detonating. If your only experience in Ironman is the death march then you have no deep emotional understanding of the power of being able to run well. For your mind, it simply doesn’t exist. No matter how much I tell you about it, at a basic (animal) level, you won’t believe it until you’ve had the emotional experience. Most will never get there and that is a huge edge that some have.

More on this in a book called Deep Survival. An Ironman is the closest that many of us will come to a survival situation. It’s worth knowing how your mind is likely to react in these situations. Again, this is part of what I seek to program, and experience, in training. It’s probably also part of what Molina means when he talks about racing being a separate skill.

I also walked away very impressed with the athletes that have consistently performed well in Hawaii. The folks that armchair quarterback the elite performances each year should try this simple workout – I would be grateful if you could post this on your favourite internet board at 6am on October 22nd…

Wake up at 5am, eat breakfast and at 6am run to/from the Energy Lab at an easy pace – probably 9 minute miles for most of the critics. Mark and Dave held 6s starting a bit past Noon having smoked the swim/bike. That blows my mind.

In terms of pacing in tropical heat, I had an interesting workout at the end of my stay. Presumably after three weeks (and plenty of training) here I was reasonably well acclimatized. I did five intervals of varying length on the Queen K. I was holding Olympic distance race effort – moderately hard to hard in my lingo. Easy to do when you are in reasonable shape.

I found that my heart rate was about ten beats above normal but it felt pretty easy as I’d had two maintenance days before this session. I imagined how it would feel to go 5% harder when surrounded by the fittest athletes on the planet and completely fresh. Most likely even easier.

Following the main set, I was holding 50-65% of my threshold wattage but my heart rate was at a “cold climate” level equal to 85% of threshold wattage. In other words, I was generating “easy pace” power with “Half IM” race heart rates – not exactly spectacular! It took a ten minute break at a Chevron station for my heart rate to get back to normal.

The main set wasn’t all that demanding either. The total probably worked out to 45-50 minutes worth of just under threshold work.

The lesson for me is that hot weather pacing errors as far more costly than where the majority of us train. Combine that with a “World Champs” atmosphere and it is easy for me to see why each year the bulk of the top male contenders are done before they ever get to the run.

Even if you train in the heat – it’s different in Hawaii. There’s something unique about the combination of the heat, the wind, the lava, the tarmac… it all adds up. I’ll be pretty cautious the next time I race here.

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Finally, how did I make up the calorie deficit from less early day and training eating?

Liquid recovery calories (sports nutrition, rather than beer) and high quality burgers! The Residents Beach Club at Hualalai has an amazing bacon, mushroom, cheese burger. It costs fifteen bucks but the view is fantastic. I think I averaged two per week.

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Pitfalls

A couple other ideas that hit me overnight as I snoozed across the Atlantic.

Intensity – it is very easy to convince one’s self that it is OK to ride/run “one level higher” due to the heat. Personally, I think that this is a mistake. What I was doing with my own training was giving myself a 3-5 bpm cushion in terms of HR zones. Typically, I’ll train at the bottom of all my zones (steady and mod-hard mainly). In Hawaii, I was training 3-5 bpm above the bottom, accepting a lower wattage/pace and remaining outside of my grey zone. To train the higher end of my power/pace profile I would add some mod-hard at the _end_ of my longest training sessions. For long course racing, this approach greatly enhances endurance when moving back to a more temperate race environment. Constantly holding back involves a level of faith (and self-belief) that is challenging at times (but great training for race day).

Tempo – similarly, it is possible and (even more) tempting to make nearly all endurance training a tempo session (when tested by heart rate). I see this quite a bit in reviewing many (most?) athletes’ plans, not just in the heat. Psychologically, we see that we are working “harder” and therefore assume that it is better. While you can get away with that for a couple (or even several) weeks in the heat, I think that it is a mistake. Training a “half gear” too high all the time leaves the athlete flat for key races. You’ll look like a rock star in training but you run the risk of your well being dry when it really matters. You will also be in for a surprise when you go past the seven hour mark on race day.

Hydration – a general observation that most athletes will be chronically dehydrated when transitioning to training in the heat. This results in extended recovery and increased muscle damage from training. In order to correct this situation (I spent my first 7-10 days dehydrated working this out), I needed to place water in my car, beside my bed and ensure a minimum of one liter per hour when riding, drink consistently for 3-6 hours after my long days and through my nights. Athletes that don’t like to stop during training or use depletion practices will find extended recovery as well as low long session quality.

Training Timing – start your key training as close to dawn as possible. We get enough heat stress without training in the middle of the day. All of my running routes were designed with access to fluids in mind and I had three one-liter bike bottles that I used on my bike.

Cooling – we stayed at a place with central air con and had access to a cold swimming pool. Completely eliminating heat stress at couple of times per day helped avoid the foggy feeling that builds up from constant heat stress.

Altitude – Coastal Hawaii is a hot, humid place but it is possible to do some riding at higher altitudes. Riding between 500-1,500 feet is, generally, cooler and subject to more cloud cover. If you do get yourself to the east side of the island, or above 2,000 feet then bring appropriate clothing. These areas are subject to a completely different climate than the lava fields.

Hope this helps,
gordo