Monday, February 1, 2016


The Complaint Race Strategy

One thing I love (and hate) is when my business receives complaints. Why do I love a complaint? It shows someone cares and they want to give us a chance to retain them as a customer. Sometimes they just want to help us make our business better. Conversely, I hate complaints because it means we screwed up.

A couple of years ago, I realized that the same thing applies to my racing attitude.

Race Planning for the Age Group Competitor

Nobody should ever start an ironman without a plan, but come race day most athletes turn the plan into a suggestion and end up deviating -- towards disaster at worst and sub-optimal at best. These deviations happen pretty early on in the race and almost always involve going too hard. Why is that?

Prescient Ironman Execution (PIE)

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

The Athlete vs. the Coach

It is reasonable to say that my recent sporting performances have not lived up to past standards. While I could give many reasons for this, at its heart is the quality of my preparation: I am not training sufficiently to achieve peak performances. It reflects changes happening in my life that mean, at this time, my own triathlon performance is not a priority. Inevitably there are periods in life when sport takes a back seat and we focus our attention elsewhere, but when triathlon is also your business it raises the question: How important is a coach's personal performance to his athletes?

Race Planning

Race planning is an often an overlooked aspect of racing, with many athletes showing up and deciding to “wing it” on the assumption that their fitness is all they need to race well. I have seen “A” races blown to bits before the race even started due to a lack of a solid race plan.

Returning from Injury

If you are an athlete with a permanent injury that hinders your ability to run but you still have the love and desire to do triathlon, then this column is for you!

Most will tell you that your time is up and you should quit. I don't believe in that! I think it's the easiest and weakest way out for the person telling you to call it quits. The fact is, they just don't know what to do.

Tips and Memories from Italia

I recently wrote about my training trip to Italy and I thought I'd share some further tips based on that adventure. It turns out that week was the biggest week of cycling that I’ve ever done. At 43, these weeks become more and more precious to me.

Race Strategies and Race Simulations

I love to strategize, and like many triathletes, I have dreamed up countless ways to out-think the competition on race day. However I know deep down that time spent strategizing is almost always better spent improving my fitness. Luckily, there is a way to do both at the same time: the race simulation.

Going Old School

Having just returned from a week of training and racing on the Big Island, I thought I’d share my experience of racing after a week of John Newsom’s Kona Epic Camp.

In fairness, the camp was titled Kona Epic Camp Lite, as it would not involve the insane volume that Epic Camp is known for, and we were not subject to a points system or any other internal competitions within the camp. The idea was to go old school: get some big training done in the famous Hawaii lava fields, and then tackle the Hawaii 70.3 on the last day of the camp. I had no idea whether it would work, but as I boarded the plane to Kona I found myself hoping the camp would be more “Lite” than “Epic.”

Racing or Pacing?

by Chris McDonald

"So, are you really going for it and racing? Or are you pacing things out over the day?"

I get asked this question a lot when chatting with age groupers and particularly from guys and gals looking to make the next step in their racing careers.

There are many answers to this question and I could honestly go on about it all day.

The short answer is yes, I am pacing things out over the day. Hell, it is an 8-or-more-hour day and you really cannot just throw caution to the wind for that long. The long winded answer -- and what I believe is a key to breakthrough performances -- is sometimes you need to race and not pace.

One of the greatest breakthroughs in my career was my last age group race at Ironman New Zealand in 2004. I had a goal of trying to win my age group in the 25-29 category but had decided no matter what I was going to race whoever was nearby. That year I found myself getting off the bike with the lead pack and was leading my age group by more than 20 minutes.

This is were the mentality for breakthrough performance came in (or racing, not pacing). Yes, I was pretty sure I was going to win my age group, but I wanted to see where I could go with the day. I ended up finishing 7th overall that day and broke the 9-hour mark. I could have settled in and run very conservatively and just executed the original goal of winning my age group, but I was looking for a breakthrough performance.

Another example might be Craig Alexander this past year in Hawaii. Craig had won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009; and then in 2010 his competitors put a plan together to change the race execution and take the race to Craig. That year Craig had his fastest time to date but finished 4th.

Nine Interesting Facts About the Athlete’s Heart

No catchy lead in here, just nine interesting facts worth knowing about the athlete's heart.

Tips for Planning Your Race

We train to race. This is the reason we do set after set, day in and day out. The race is the big day, the test, the party. It's where we get to head out and truly see where we are.

A lot of factors come into putting a race together: physical, mental, experience, equipment, conditions, courses, goals. You need to consider all of those factors when planning your race.

Spend Time to Save Time

In business, I’m constantly looking for ways to spend time to save time. I spend my time learning how to do repetitive tasks more efficiently. As a consultant, I’m conscious of every shift, click and keystroke. Little changes, multiplied by the millions of shifts, clicks and strokes we will do in our lives, can be powerful.

Racing to Kona

Through the years, I have had had six direct competitors in my business. Two of them were national chains within throwing distance. Why did we prevail?

We knew our business.
We knew our competition.
We knew the market.

I used a similar strategy to prevail at Ironman Texas this year.

Will Ride for Gelato

Last year, a buddy went to Riccione, Italy, for a bike camp and had a blast. This year, I joined him and want to share some observations specifically about Italy and camps in general.

Beyond the Fatigue Curve: Bringing Lab Testing to the Field - Part I: Fat Oxidation

As regular readers will know, I’m a big fan of using fatigue curves as an indicator of the relative top end power versus submax endurance strength of an athlete. By looking at how an athlete’s power decays as event duration increases, we are able to make some conclusions as to the endurance capacity of that athlete and we are able to extrapolate down the curve to make some pacing goals/predictions for event durations which the athlete may infrequently attempt. This is especially useful for ironman athletes.

However, despite the usefulness of the fatigue curve, it still only represents a general impression of the athlete’s endurance.

Don't Rely Too Much on Technology

by Chris McDonald

In today's day and age of smart phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and on and on, we all feel the need for constant feedback or information from the outside world.

I don't think things are a lot different in our sport of triathlon. There is more information available than we know what to do with. Back in the day, after a basic watch, there was the simple heart rate monitor. Now, we have a power measuring system for swimming, GPS and power for the bike, and GPS for running on top of heart rate for all the above. Then you have to master a training tracking system to collect and sort all that data.

Don't get me wrong, I think every one of these devices has a great purpose, and I use them for my training, racing and recovery sessions. However, I think one tool that is massively under-valued and under-developed today is perceived effort. There is nothing like good old kinetic feel.

People have become so reliant on feedback in every aspect of their lives that they just forget what things feel like. What would happen if you were heading to your big race for the year and you forgot the head unit for your power meter? Or you hit a pot hole during the ride and it comes off? What about if the batteries go flat or for some unknown reason it just doesn't work? Maybe you lose your watch in the swim portion of the race. Believe it or not, these are all scenarios that have happened to me .

Taking those scenarios into account, we need to use some sessions every week to train our kinetic feel -- our perceived effort.

You can use your gizmos to do this very simply by:

  • Playing a simple game: What power does this feel like? When you look down at your meter are you close?
  • Covering the power meter or HR monitor and doing a 20-minute effort where you attempt to average a certain power or HR number.

Managing Your Coaching Relationship

As dedicated long-distance triathletes we spend a lot of time, energy, and money in realizing our goals. I believe that one of the key ingredients to success is how well your training program works for you.

A good coach is important to a strong and consistent training program for those of us who are not going the self-coaching route. In my brief time as a focused triathlete I have found that there is more to it than just how good your coach is. In the first two years I worked with two coaches before joining Alan Couzen’s roster and losing my “coaching wanderlust.” Having finally found something that works has helped me realize what’s important to me in a coaching relationship.

Breaking It Down For A Breakthrough

When attempting a breakthrough, whether it a race performance, mental barrier or physical barrier, it’s often best not to put an exact time limit on it. The reality is we need to set up our training and our programs so that we are doing things to improve on a daily basis. If we do that, and assuming the plan is guiding us in the proper direction, breakthroughs will happen. Quite often you’ll feel the change and sense something is coming and other times it may surprise the heck out of you. What follows are few ways and items to consider on your path to breakthrough training and performances.

Training for Life

I started writing this month's column while sitting in the airport on my way to Italy to meet Gordo for a week of training. That’s big travel to connect with the guy who provides me with my training plans. Somebody asked me what I was training for this year and I didn't have a clear answer at the time. Actually, I still don’t have one. I'm wondering if my big training month will gives me some answers.

Workout of the Month: The Big Loop

Pretty much everybody who decides they want to do an ironman knows there are going to be some long rides. It usually varies on how many or how often for different people and different programs. Each athlete's ability and experience level also dictates the length of the long ride.

I am a cyclist at heart. I love riding my bike. The beauty about cycling is generally the more you can ride, the better you get. There does come a point where the work rate itself within the total hours of riding becomes key, but nobody can argue the importance of the big epic ride within the ironman build. It gives you the chance to practice pacing and nutrition, builds durability and endurance, and helps you embrace the mental challenges of being out there a long time.

If You Want To Grow: Seek Out Intimidating Life Experiences

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

Coaching Success

Last month was mental toughness month on EC. Being an athlete that gravitated away from the searing nature of short duration racing, it’s natural that I feel an affinity for competitions that hinge more on execution than pain tolerance. Knowing that I’m somewhat "weak" is one of my strengths as I’ve had to learn other ways to win.

“Before Breakthrough Training, Chop Wood, Carry Water. After Breakthrough Training, Chop Wood, Carry Water”

I borrowed today’s title from the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment, chop wood carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

What is breakthrough training? For me, it is about viewing it the right way: it is a continual quest with no end date and no real peak. When the goal is to qualify, it is not fair to the coach or the athlete to pick a specific race or year.

Break Through the Walls in Your Mind

Breakthrough training is often interpreted as a sort of magic bullet. I still hope for the day when I'll wake up to find myself swimming consecutive 1:15 100s and 6-minute mile pace doesn’t take any real effort. It hasn't happened yet though.

What is more important are the breakthroughs I’ve had in my head, and those are what I’d like to share. Those moments -- like the eureka moment we all get when we solve a math problem -- really do feel as if walls have been removed in our minds, and where things that seemed so separate and incompatible suddenly become dualities, two sides of the same coin.

The Battle Against Complacency

After a failed attempt at a first draft of this article, I went back to the drawing board. In other words, I logged on to Google. When I entered the word “complacency” I got a page full of websites listing official definitions. I read through a number of them and even ventured to Urban Dictionary to see if someone had a clever offbeat definition (they did not; though it was in there). The online dictionaries all had nearly the same definitions and two words seemed to be the most common: “self-satisfaction” and “unaware(ness)” What this tells me is that complacency is essentially always an afterthought. It is not something felt in the present, but something that a person likely identified in themselves when trying to find out what went wrong.

So what exactly is it?

Breaking Through is Hard to Do

I’ve been reading quite a bit recently on the subject of creativity, as it seems to be vogue in the literature of business, education and even neuroscience. It’s a subject that has interested me for some time and our research group at Stanford was looking at measures of enhanced creativity in patients with bipolar (manic-depressive) disease 15 years ago.

There is no question that breakthrough solutions (that is to say bursts of creativity) develop from at least two separate strategies.

Backing a Breakthrough

In the six years since I started ironman I cannot think of a single breakthrough training day. There have been many memorable sessions -- some for the scenery, others for the company, some where I went further than I had before and others where I worked harder -- but no individual session stands out for leading to a breakthrough in my performance. I'm not starting another article on consistency -- it is important -- but just being consistent wasn't enough.

So when I look at six years of (mostly) consistent training, what made the difference? What took me from being another focused age-grouper to being a faster, focused age-grouper?

Bouncing Back

by Chris McDonald

I am pretty sure that most of us have had a disappointing race or athletic performance in our career. If you have not, consider yourself lucky!

A lot of us tend to throw our toys out of the crib and blame it on the conditions or someone else. I think there are several things we need to do when we have a disappointment in a race. First thing is give yourself at least 24-48 hours before you make any rash decisions

Your second step should be to take a step back and look at what happened!

  • In your mind did you under perform for your current fitness level?
  • Did you overestimate your current fitness level?
  • Did you have a lot of life stress leading into the race?
  • Was it your execution of the race?

I think it is very important to differentiate if it was a mental collapse while racing or if it was something physical. When athletes expect to do well and do poorly instead, it is very important to determine whether the reasons for the poor performance were within their control or not.

There are many many things that can lead to a poor performance and it is very important to take a look at it from an outside perspective. Then, come up with some solid conclusions as to why you under performed and make the necessary changes.

  • These could be as simple as aligning you goals with your commitment level.
  • Reduce the amount of commitments you have outside of work and training (this can be difficult with family and if it is, you need to look at your overall goal).
  • Work on the mental aspect of your racing. Come up with a plan or system that you can turn to when things start to get tough.

Mental and Emotional Pacing

I had a conversation with a training partner last year about mental toughness during which my friend suggested that we can always become tougher, and should seek to do so. I was reluctant to agree with that outlook, but it sure got me thinking. Like any athlete, I have experienced both sides of the mental barriers to performance; situations in which I gave 100% of what my body was capable of, and others in which I know in my heart that I did not. Sometimes I have experienced both of these states in the same race! So what was the difference?