Monday, February 1, 2016


The Hero Taper

Last month, Marilyn shared different taper strategies that you could use to get yourself race ready. Now that I’m optimizing my life, ahead of my athletic performance, I want to share the strategy that I used for Leadville.

In a nutshell, I took my 3-year-old daughter on the road for seven days and placed race day in the middle of the trip. My wife thought I had lost my mind!

Many athletes use sport and work as a socially-acceptable way to spend time away from the kids.

When I was younger, much of the attraction of big training was a willingness to do things that seemed too difficult for others. In considering race week, I realized that my training volume was going to be way down. I figured that building my relationship with my daughter and being a hero with my wife was a good investment.

Mastering Race Week Nerves

After months of work race week creeps up on you and you realize there are only seven more days before it's all over. Nerves hit. You know there is nothing more you can do, this is as good as you get, but you fear that there is something that might happen in those remaining few days to derail your goal. Panic builds. Each day that brings you closer to the race also brings increasing doubts and fears.

This is perfectly normal and with experience you learn many ways to better manage the stress. Here are some things that work for me.

Dial In the Early Run Miles

We often train it on a weekly basis, and maybe even multiple times during a week, but do we really get it right in training? If we don’t get it right in training, will it magically happen on race day? I’m talking about transition runs and using key training days to work on the skill of pacing the opening few miles of the run during your race correctly.

Be Prepared

Like many kids growing up, I participated in Boy Scouts. I learned many valuable skills from that program, but if there was one take-away lesson I remembered, it was their famous tag line to “be prepared." The value of this simple statement is particularly noticeable during race week.

Race Week - Self Management or Self Sabotage

While following the Olympics in the beginning of the month, I found myself wondering how the athletes who competed in the final days handled the weeks leading up to their events without being distracted by the excitement, hype, and hassle of travel, the Olympic Village, the media and every other disruption. Certainly the seasoned, more experienced athletes have mastered self-management during race-week. Just as certainly, there were some athletes that experienced “self-sabotage” in the weeks or days leading up to their events.

Race Week in Your Happy Place

Early in my career as a business owner, vacations were rare. The few that I took involved stressing about the vacation, making the travel plans for the vacation, scrambling to get everything done for the vacation and spending a sleepless night packing to leave at an evil hour the next morning.

I quickly learned this process was not going to work as I spent multiple vacations with some type of illness. Irritating to me and annoying to my family.

It is no coincidence many triathletes end up sick during race week as they juggle the finishing touches on their preps/tapers, meeting work deadlines and family commitments.

Developing a Race Week Routine

The final days leading into a race are not a time to build fitness, but it is still a time where your decisions can maximize -- or hinder -- your upcoming performance. We all respond differently to things like travel, stress and training, so learning your individual right balance of everything in the days preceding a key race is critical to successful racing.

Here are five tips to help you establish race week routines.

Racing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB

One of the challenges for an athletic parent is maintaining excellence in the face of the realities presented by a growing family. Some quit competition, others get squirrelly, a few get divorced... I tried a summer of cycling only.

Being in my 40s, even when I have the time, I often can’t recover from what my mind tells me is “proper” training. In preparing for Leadville I dropped my running for the summer (close to zero) and was able to train (on the bike) like my 30s.

Many of us delay the realities of age by changing sports -- pro cyclists coming to ironman, triathletes learning to nordic ski for the Birkie or regular folks trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Eat, Drink, Worry a Little... and Have Fun

The last days before a big race are hell. I dread them. The training is in the bag, tapering has me edgy and wanting to move; ironman preparation is very long, making the stakes high; getting it wrong really stings. It seems it’s the same for everyone, though, and unfortunately that tends to show. Smiles are few and far between, people size each other up, and ironman racers are generally not the friendliest bunch in the days before the starting gun goes.

My recipe to dealing with the stress of race week comes down to four things: planning, routine, withdrawal, and a healthy dose of fun.

Three Times You Want to See Your Little Blue Line Take a Nose Dive

Athletes who use the TrainingPeaks Performance Manager Chart effectively have a potentially huge advantage over their competition in their ability to see the big picture at a glance. A large part of this big picture perspective comes down to being able to track changes in fitness by looking at trends in Chronic Training Load (CTL).

The “little blue line” on your performance manager chart offers a good proxy for your general fitness at any point in your training plan. As such, a common (and generally valid) goal is to see a steady and consistent increase in this CTL number as your training progresses. However, as a coach who looks at a number of these charts over the course of a season, I can tell you with a good level of certainty that there are times when you will actually want to see your little blue line take a nose dive, or put another way, there are times when you will want to make the decision to give up a little short term fitness in the interests of long term results.

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.

Race Week Taper Options

There are a lot of different ways to approach your A race taper. But whichever way you choose to lead in to the race, your number one goal in the final week should be to feel rested, focused, excited to race and organized.

I'm going to lay out two different example of taper weeks going into a race that you might consider applying to your own approach.

The Power of Change

Last month I ended up with Marilyn McDonald as my new coach after being guided by Gordo for three seasons. What's different?

Remember the "Race" Part of "Race Week"

by Chris McDonald

For most folks, traveling to a race can be very stressful, especially in the cases of those who do not do it very often throughout the year.

I always tell people that in the last week all you can do is mess it up! What I mean is in the last 7-10 days you can no longer add “fitness” to what you have already built up. It is time to relax, recuperate and get ready for your big day!

Some of the things that often come up during race week that can wear you out are:

  • Meeting up with friends every night for dinner and staying out too late.
  • Shaking a lot of people's hands, where you can often pick up a bug.
  • Getting too caught up at the race expo every day and spending too much time on your feet.

But the most common mistake I see...

Most people are used to squeezing in their training around work, kids, family and other commitments. Then, they take the week off to travel to an IM and all of a sudden have a full day to do about two hours of training. They're also fresh and rested. Often times people start adding in a little extra training here and there and turn that easy 70 min spin into a 40k TT effort without realizing it.

I have always said I think the biggest difference between race week for an amateur and a professional is the professional does less training and spends more time preparing for the race.

So how would you combat getting caught up in these situations? Make a plan!

Write down what you want your race week to look like so you can fit in your small amount of training and other commitments. Then talk to your family about it.

Some ideas:

  • Get your registration done in the quiet time (not at noon the day it opens).
  • Visit the expo at the same time you do your registration.
  • Only do one swim on the course (around the time the race will start) and do the others at a local pool.
  • Leave your ego in the hotel room when you go out to train!

Simplify Your Race Nutrition

Race fueling is all about knowing the maximum about of carbs you can can ingest in an hour, eating that amount and going as quick as you can without burning through your glycogen stores until the last mile of the run. Simple.

Going Gluten-Free

Much attention has been given in the press lately to the gluten-free diet. Thousands of gluten free products have hit the market, and many athletes are asking themselves if going gluten-free could offer a performance edge. A number of professional triathletes have eschewed gluten, and some of the pro cycling teams eat gluten-free when racing.

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!?”

Finding Your Nutritional System

I’m not a nutritionist but I have stayed at a number of Holiday Inn Expresses before races. The reality is, a nutrition protocol, and the application of it, can make or break a long distance race and all the training in the world isn’t going to cover a nutritional screw up!

Coping with Midseason Injuries

With the triathlon season in full swing, many of you will be putting down some of the most intense training of the year in pursuit of personal bests, age group victories, qualifications and other goals. The push for performance is an admirable pursuit, but it often leads you teetering on the edge of what’s possible. When you find yourself on this edge, you may end up tipping over it and landing yourself with a midseason injury.

Getting Started: Where to Focus

While many people who read this site have some background in triathlon already, we're always getting visitors who are just starting out -- either as new entrants to iron-distance racing or those who are completely new to triathlon. I want to share some tips as a sort of primer for the inexperienced and as a reminder for experienced triathlete. Even if you've been at this a while, you might have drifted away from a basic principle.

The Power of the Baked Potato

These days, endurance athletes have an incredible variety of race day sports nutrition products from which to choose. Drinks, bars, gels, blocks, and beans are just some of the products on the market that help deliver carbohydrates, electrolytes, and sometimes protein to bodies in motion. There is still, however, some “real food” options that work very well for training and racing. One of my favourites is the baked potato.

His and Hers

by Vince Matteo

Disappearing for hours upon hours without responding to emails, calls or texts might be considered suspicious behavior in some relationships but in our house, we call that Saturday.

Training for ironman is something that popped up after my wife and I met but I didn't need to explain being obsessive or competitive -- she was well versed in both...

(Yes, I know -- my wife is a badass!)

She was immediately intrigued by triathlon and she traded in her leathers for spandex -- we've been swimming, biking and running ever since.

As she worked her way through the distances, I wondered if she would get to ironman. We had talked about it a number of times but past injuries seemed to be the biggest obstacle which interfered with her ability to train for a marathon.

It appeared as if ironman would always be on the horizon but never close enough to reach.

Last year while racing in Coeur d'Alene, my wife in a somewhat threatening to do something voice" said, "I think I'm signing up for next year."

There was no argument from me and I was thrilled with the idea even though I understood the obstacles. I don't remember my exact words but it was probably something along the lines of, "Screw it, sign up!"

And so she did.

Over the next 12 months, there were moments when we felt like it wouldn't happen because as we all know, even the healthiest of athletes have issues and the question of getting to the starting line becomes unclear at times.

She made it though and she crossed the finish line of her first ironman this past June.

As I reflect back on the final days leading into the race, I thought I'd share my thoughts for those of you considering a race together.

  • Two Bikes

Lessons Learned

A new kid is soon arriving in Gordo's house so it is easy to support him by swapping over to a new Endurance Corner coach. Over the years I've learned a lot from G, but I'd like to share five key things that stand out from his lessons that I think can benefit everyone, whether you are a coached athlete or not.

Eat to Live and Win

I have posted this photo for a credibility check. I am about 18 years younger in that picture. Things to notice (besides the bad fashion choices and the cute baby) are my weight and the bag of Cheetos behind me. Not pretty.

Unfortunately, that is not pregnancy weight. I actually adopted my daughter and managed to put on weight in the process!

I keep this photo next to my computer in my office to remind me where I have been and to reinforce my choices today. I was carrying almost 40-50 pounds of extra weight in that picture. Today I celebrate that I am a healthy weight and very fit.

Rhabdo - What You Should Know

Looking at the title, you might think this is about a Vietnam-era special forces dude who’s been wronged, but it’s actually about what can be a life-threatening medical condition. There has been a lot of interest in this condition recently in the mainstream media. Are endurance athletes at risk?

Take Your Team with You

“You need to take your team to the finish line with you.”

I use that saying often when talking to people people about building a team for success.

You could use an example that a CEO might sit down at a boardroom with his team of directors and he gives them the grand plan. He would then talk about what he needs from his team and how they go about executing the plan. Each director has a roll and they all go to the finish line together!

When you are looking at taking on the challenge of something that takes as much commitment as an ironman you need to consider the same approach for yourself.

It is important for your team to:

  • Understand the goal
  • Understand what that goal means to you
  • Understand how much commitment it will take to reach that goal

You might want to sit down with your family and loved ones and make them feel like they are a part of the “team.”

If your family is not familiar with the large workload that is involved consider having a family calendar with your training schedule on it so everyone knows what is coming up.

A few other quick ideas:

  • Plan to finish a long ride at a park or cafe and meet the family there for lunch
  • Have you spouse/partner join you on your short easy runs
  • Use a jogging stroller to take the little one along for a run
  • Have your family join you at the pool during the summer. This will give you time to play a little and then squeeze in a quick swim. It may also give them a better appreciation of what you are doing if they can see how hard you are working.

When things get tough on race day and you are looking for motivation to keep pushing you can think, “I am not the only one who has sacrificed for me to be able to pursue my goal.”

No matter how you do in your race, knowing you have fulfilled your goal of taking your team along on the journey will make crossing that finish line even sweeter.

Releasing Expectations

As we start to hit the meat of triathlon season many athletes are fast approaching their key events. In the months and weeks leading into those events we plan to execute training based on expectations of how we would like to race on the “big day.”

More on Big Unit Fueling

As a tall and relatively heavy (85kg) guy I need to produce a lot of power to get around an ironman course, which means a big energy need. Due to my size, my energy stores are likely bigger than average, but like for everyone else, they are far too small to get me to the finish line.

I will start a race with somewhere around 3,000 calories in my stores, but will need around 9,000 calories to get to the finish line. This means I need to get 6,000 calories from other sources -- either fat or race day nutrition intake. So when I look at fueling, I look at energy production and fuel intake during the race.

Becoming a Mountie

by Gordo Byrn

To prepare for the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race, I’ve been riding my Super Fly 100 FS around the mountains of Colorado. The single best advice I’ve received was to ride my mountain bike as much as I can and get out on the Leadville course to learn the descents and turns.

Climbing on a road bike is all about power generation -- in riding a lot of dirt, I’ve found that power transfer is often more important than the absolute watts that I can produce. On steep terrain, in loose terrain and at altitude: the ability to get power to the trail can be more important than the ability to generate watts.

I went with a full suspension bike for the simple reason that Bruce at Fair Wheel Bikes told me that I’d crash less often! As it turned out, I’m quicker on steep, loose, high-altitude climbs with my suspension open and the pro-pedal on my rear suspension means that I’m virtually the same speed going uphill as on a hardtail. Strava is great for benchmarking against other riders on similar segments.

A common error in ironman racing is crazed early pacing, which leads to nutrition and cramping issues late in the day. Reading Leadville race reports and listening to the advice of friends and forum dwellers, this appears to be universal across ultradistance events!

A very smart friend told me that the optimal race strategy for him was 90 minutes all out to start his day. When I asked if he truly went max-effort, he said yes. Well, I went out and did a 53-mile simulation ride on the course and recommend that you show a lot of respect to the route!

Qualifying with Preschoolers

Kona is tough… raising children is tougher.

When Gordo suggested I write this article, I laughed out loud. Who am I to provide advice on this topic? Yes, I qualified for Kona, but I hardly think I’ve mastered the art of juggling preschoolers with Kona goals. On the day I started writing this column, I overslept and missed my run (up all night with a screaming toddler), I ate a less-than-nutritious breakfast with one hand while holding a baby bottle in place and I left the house for work with two kids in hysterics. At some point, I think I passed by my wife and said, "Hi." On second thought, I think we just grunted at each other. The bottom line is that I have no brilliant gem of advice. I feel lucky to be going to Kona this year. So this article really isn’t about “How,” it’s about “Why.”