Monday, February 1, 2016


Water, water everywhere…

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

Nutrition for Performance

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

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.

Race Period Concerns: Over-Tapering/Under-Tapering

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

So, what constitutes a smart taper?

Getting Used to the Heat

The first true day of summer is just around the corner and hot weather racing is becoming the norm for most of North America.

Here, we're revisiting some hot weather training and racing tips from Coach Marilyn Chychota McDonald.

The Art of the Warm Up

The prime North American race season is starting to ramp up, with many big races already on the books in the South. Now seems like a great time to revisit an earlier article from Justin Daerr on training warm-ups and developing your pre-race routine.

Ironman Lanzarote

Our course profile for Ironman Lanzarote in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain, provided by Russ Cox.

High Performance Cycling - Specific Stamina

The platform on which your race rests is built with long blocks of sustained endurance work.

These workouts are best done on flat terrain, with very even pacing with very few stops.

Seek to build your endurance so that you can complete steady cycling volume equal to your total race duration (swim, bike and run).

Course Profiles

With years of experience and a network of the sport's top competitors to draw from, this section features our best advice for approaching some of the biggest races around the world.

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!).

Leveraging Your Strengths

When you identify yourself as a triathlete you are often asked, "What is your strength? What background did you come from?"

For some it's obvious -- swim, bike or run. For others it's less obvious -- strong stomach, ability to endure tough conditions, mental capacity, durability or ability to absorb high training/racing load without injury or illness. And then there are those who are well-rounded as triathletes with no particular discipline as a specific strength, but the strength itself is that all three events are strong and balanced.

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.

Does the Heart Get Tired?

Last month an article on Slowtwitch entitled, “Heart Tired Revisited”, stimulated an online discussion among some of my triathlete friends about whether or not the heart “gets tired.” I cast a vote for NO and I’m sticking with at least a qualified NO. But the conversation got me to thinking and reading about the broader issue of exercise-related cardiac fatigue. That’s a real concept with implications for every endurance athlete.

Show Up and Blow Up

I am sure I heard the phrase that is the title of this column somewhere in the past, but the first time I acknowledged it is when it popped in my head during a Masters swim session in Boulder. Time and time again, I have watched people show up, blow up (in the main set), then linger on the walls as others finish the workout. I am not criticizing the process of blowing up, as I think its part of learning your limits, but repetitively training to failure is not productive. One reason is it inhibits a training plan’s volume/load/consistency/etc. The other problem is that the athlete no longer understands what it is to really blow up. By continually failing in training, the athlete already has that plan in his or her head and will probably pull the pin simply when things get difficult as opposed to “impossible.”

Shut up and Improvise

My hobby of triathlon takes as much work as my actual work. To quote Vince, a fellow team member/business owner at Endurance Corner, “I am a professional triathlete and a part-time business owner.” Doing both, triathlon and business, requires my personal priorities to be perfectly aligned:

  • Family/Friends
  • Health
  • Business

A Broader Perspective on the Past Year

When we look back and reflect on the season, the practice usually encompasses jotting down a list of what worked, what did not work, what training you enjoyed, and what training you forced yourself to get through. We may analyze every number all the nifty gadgets and testing told us about our fitness, and adjust our training so the coming season will result in better execution and less injury or training burnout.

When I look back, the lessons of my year are deeper than anything to do with training, racing, and coaching. In actuality, while it’s a “deeper” lesson, it’s much broader in perspective.

Considering Your Winter Training

There are many different ways athletes approach their overall annual plans, but most have similarities they follow when thinking of their upcoming year. Terms like "prioritization" and "repeatable week" are all commonly used in endurance sport. Most know there needs to be an element of pacing the year and ramping up to specific work as the main event approaches.

With 2013 training kicking off for everyone, it's time to consider how you approach the winter.