Past Articles Listed On This Page

I've recently been archiving some of the my past articles that were written for Endurance Corner and/or other websites over the years on this blog page. Some of these articles are 10+ years old and have not been updated so if certain aspects read strangely, that is the likely reason. I hope to organize some of the content in the future, as well as add some of my articles that never went live or sat as notes/drafts. However, for now it's somewhat unorganized, but hopefully you all can still find it helpful.

-Justin

Kona Qualifier: Ray Picard (Part 2)

Over the last 18 months, I have written several articles about Kona-qualifying athletes with details about their training, their strengths and skill sets and their race selection and execution. The purpose of these articles has been to show that while the goals of various athletes might be similar, the journey is unique to each individual. The first KQ article I wrote was about Ray Picard’s qualification in 2015; Ray recently qualified for Kona at Liuzhou 70.3, winning his AG in a time of 4:06:44. In this second edition, we’ll cover Ray’s final preparation leading to his most recent KQ.

Since the WTC was acquired by the Wanda Group in 2015, there has been a major expansion of races in China. Additionally, a number of these new 70.3 races include Kona slots which presented a unique opportunity for Ray to qualify for Kona. Ray still lives and trains in Hong Kong, which certainly presents plenty of challenges for training, but its proximity to these new race venues makes for easy travel.

This season Ray is targeting IM Cairns as his first IM of the year and we planned to shoot for a Kona slot at this event. In the lead up to this race, Ray planned to race Liuzhou 70.3 and Vietnam 70.3; 10 and 5 weeks out from IM Cairns. Qualifying for Kona at Liuzhou 70.3 was initially not something we were targeting as it was going to be his first race in almost six months, was likely going to be highly competitive, and pretty much had no room for error as he would need to win his AG (M35-39) to qualify.

However, as training progressed in the spring, we were starting to see some really solid sessions. In late February, Ray had a weeklong business trip to the U.S. In the middle of the week, he joined a group ride with more than two hours of very fast riding. Seeing his performance within this ride made me believe that he was in a position to compete for the AG win in China.

Ray had done a few 70.3 races in 2016 and had consistently ridden right at 270 watts and had done a good amount of running in the 4:00/K range (~1:24 HIM runs split). I wanted to see him try and bump the power up close to 280 and get the run off the bike into the lower 1:20s.

Three weeks out from the race, I had Ray to do a test workout to get a feel for where we were in relation to the goal output. For this session, I adapted a workout I got from Gordo Byrn many years ago; it involves a run/bike/run brick session. I’ve changed it up a bit over the years and I always tweak the 2nd run based on what the athlete is trying to achieve. In Ray’s case the session looked like this:

10K run; first 5K @ sub 150 HR; second 5K @ 150-160

Start bike as soon as possible; ride the following set as one continuous block:
40 minutes 250-265 watts
20 minutes 280-295
30 minutes 250-265
30 minutes 280-295

Finish set as close to home as possible; then run
Three rounds of:
1K @ 4:10-20/K
2K @ 3:45-55/K

5-10 minute cool down.

This session is a solid workout and I use it quite sparingly; typically only when an athlete has gone a long time without racing and we need to get an honest assessment of how they might race without causing too much overall stress. I always look at how the athlete responds in the final 30 minutes of the 2-hour ride and how easily they can change pace on the second run.

In Ray’s case, he managed to nail the first 90 minutes of the ride, but fell just shy of the goal output in the last 30 minutes. However, he nailed the second run and even beat the pacing targets I suggested in a controlled, even manner. With three weeks remaining to race day, we set about to complete a few key workouts to bring all the fitness pieces together. These included:

Two track sessions; one with a main set of 6×800 on vVo2 on 1:1 work:recovery; then another 12×400 set with the same pacing, but off a 2:00 send off; making for closer to a 2:1 work: recovery ratio. Ray also completed one solid longer run where he ran steady for 70 minutes and finished with a fast 5K, paced by feel.

For cycling, we kept most sessions in line with what we would normally do, except one longer session that included a main set of 7×10 minutes at 280-300 watts (slight over target of HIM watts). The goal here was to simply get Ray more comfortable in this tempo range without making anything too long or taxing. I also included a couple rides that had him surging and recovering which was meant to help simulate some of the power output changes that occur on crowded bike courses.

Ray’s swimming training didn’t deviate too much from normal with the exception of joining a local swim squad once in the middle of the week. This squad uses Swim Smooth’s CSS to design sessions and they proved to be effective for Ray, as he was able to hit better times in these training sessions than he could when swimming solo.

Coming into race week, all looked well. The workouts were all coming together nicely, but the weather forecast and water temperature were a bit of a concern. The water temperature was in the 50s and the weather forecast was calling for cool weather with a potential of rain. Ray has extensive experience in warm/hot weather racing, but lacked experience under these conditions. He opted to use both a neoprene cap and booties to help with the water temperature and I told him that this weather was an opportunity for him to run faster than usual as overheating will not be a factor.

Race Day
Swim:
25:18. I was unaware, but the swim was actually down current so Ray posted a fast time. However, post race he told me he had some major trouble with his neoprene cap which caused him to lose a good amount of time as he kept adjusting it throughout the swim. Fortunately the conditions were so fast he didn’t lose much time, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind for future races.

Bike: 2:14:39. Ray was spot on with his pacing; with a normalized power output of 283 watts and an average power output of 278. This was a really nice bump up from his racing in 2016 where most bike legs had him sitting right around 270 or just under.

Run: 1:20:27. Ray told me the course was a bit short so his time might have been closer to 1:22 given the pace he was holding. Again, this was a really nice bump from his 2016 run splits, aided both by improved run fitness and ideal running conditions.

Final time: 4:06:44; winning the 35-39 age group and securing a Kona slot.

While this snapshot of Ray’s training is an interesting look into what eventually led to a successful race, it needs be kept in context. Ray’s success comes from what he has been doing every week, every month, every year for years and years now and not simply what he did in 3-4 weeks. However, it’s always interesting (to me, at least) to look at the final weeks of what resulted in a successful performance.

Kona Qualifier: Walter McCormack

In this article, we continue our series at looking at one individual athlete and his or her journey to qualifying for Kona. We recently covered two other athletes, Ray Picard and Rob Mohr, who have interesting stories about their Kona quests.

Walter and I met via email in the fall of 2014 through a mutual EC-coached athlete (who had also qualified for Hawai’i). I started to formally coach him following Austin 70.3 in October of 2014 and we set out to make a plan to qualify for the World Championship.

Walter lives in New York City and has a job that requires him to travel rather extensively, sometimes overseas and for long durations. He does have the flexibility to train a good amount, but it still requires working within the logistics of a big city.

Walter’s Background
Walter is in the M45-49 age group and most of his life has involved athletics. He was a rower in college and got into both running and cross country skiing in the years after college. He was introduced to cycling as a method for cross training for skiing and he found that his aerobic engine transferred nicely when pushing on the pedals.

Walter made the transition to triathlon in his 40s and had competed in all distances including Ironmans. While he had some success in these first few years, he was still a good 60-90 minutes off the qualification standard and was hoping to close down that gap.

Walter’s Training
Walter is one of the most unique athletes I have ever worked with. He is by all means a “big unit,” standing at 6’4” and  approximately 190 lbs (a touch lower near season’s end), but he responds and bounces back from training unlike any other big unit I have worked with. Walter is a competitive person by nature and as such, he has a tendency to push sessions, sometimes when it is not really called for. When I see this happen with athletes, I often let things play out a bit until the athlete begins to fall short on future sessions and learns to hold back when it’s called for.

However, with Walter, he did not really fit the mold in that respect. He was able to handle challenging sessions placed fairly closely together and could almost always hit the targets I laid out. We would see a reasonable amount of fatigue from travel, but even then, he often bounced back after a good night’s sleep. He has an exceptional ability to recover and that is clear advantage to his competition.

One disadvantage, however, is having to do the majority of his training in New York City. Fortunately, Walter can handle the mental challenges of indoor cycling as he rides almost entirely indoors while in the city. His run training is a mix of indoors and outdoors in Central Park and his swims are typically done in 25-yard YMCA pool. The pool can sometimes get so crowded that his workouts become a bit compromised.

While in the city, his training volume typically sits at 15 hours per week or less. This can be extended in the summer months when he gets out of the city on the weekend and can ride outdoors for longer durations. I don’t typically assign trainer rides above 2.5 hours so the outdoor riding options add a few overall hours when it makes sense.

Additionally, just like Rob and Ray, Walter inserts training camps into his preparations. In 2015, Walter attended the EC Tucson and Boulder Camps (six days each) and also did his own high volume cycling block, of a similar duration, in Florida while visiting his parents. These blocks typically put him at about 25 hours in a week so they nearly double his standard training weeks.

One additional component to the overall training plan is having to work around his travel schedule. Walter can have periods of time on the road that make training rather difficult. As a general rule, I typically try to only schedule enough training to bridge the time spent away from home to the next training block. In other words, I do as little as I believe to be reasonable so that when he returns home he can get back into a good training routine. Therefore, we do not add fitness on the road and we do our best to avoid getting sick. Additionally, I back off hard training a day or two before trips and also allow for an easy day or two on the return.

Race Selection and Execution
This is probably the more complex part of the journey. Initially, we targeted Ironman Boulder as a potential Kona qualifying race. Through the swim and bike, the race progressed very well. Walter exited the bike top 10 in the overall AG race, but unfortunately the race ended in a DNF at the halfway point because of bad stomach problems. In analyzing the post-race data, I did not feel that he paced the bike outside of his fitness, but sometimes you can do everything right and things still do not work out.

Walter decided to race Ironman Wisconsin six weeks later, but less than a week after Boulder he had a major bike crash in Central Park. Even though he did not break anything, his hip swelled up to the point where training became very problematic. Initially we could do very little running and had to do all swimming with fins to take some of the pressure off his hip.

Walter decided he wanted to give Wisconsin a shot anyway, despite the setbacks he had been working through. Following a better-than-expected swim, he went out on the bike in good spirits only to find himself with a mechanical that caused him to have to wait on the side of the road for more than an hour (combined, not straight through). He eventually had to ride a compromised wheel forcing him to have to treat the bike very gingerly. However, not wanting another DNF, he managed to get back to T2 and set out to run a very respectable 3:42 marathon and ended the day on a high note.

Following this event, he expressed his desire to give one more IM a shot for the season. I was a bit hesitant about that idea; not so much because of the physical toll, but I felt like the last six weeks had been very challenging and was wondering if his mind would be willing to go through another build.

Eventually we decided on racing Cozumel in December. Between Wisconsin and Cozumel we had to work through a lot of travel, but the sessions Walter was completing were encouraging and we felt he had the opportunity to put together a successful race.

Race day played out as follows: The swim went well, finishing right around an hour. On the bike, Walter felt a bit flat and rode somewhere around 10-20 watts below what we had projected, but as he made his way onto the run, he found himself feeling pretty good. Cozumel is a rolling start so it can be difficult to know where you are in your age group on race day. As such, Walter found himself more focused on his own race execution and put together a 3:37 marathon on a hot and humid day. He did not realize it at the time, but this was good enough for 2nd in his age group and was less than 60 seconds from winning his age group outright.

In hindsight, I believe that the rolling start and slightly underperforming on the bike benefitted Walter in the long run. It allowed him to really focus on his own race and when that happened, he managed to put it altogether.

Sometimes it can be challenging to not be overly influenced by what happens around you on race day and this was a great example of how maximizing whatever the day brings you can result in success. I have often said that race day is not a magical day, it’s just a day. Making the most of those days is what makes an athlete successful.

Well done Walter. Thank you for all that you have taught me and for letting me be part of the process.

Sleep: The Fourth Discipline

Recently, I saw this tweet pop up from one of my (very fast) friends Cody Beals:

 

I have had the pleasure of training with Cody through a few camps and he tends to be doing one of two things: stealing all your KOMs or sleeping. Cody lays down so much fast training that I am convinced that his bike shocks him any time the speed falls below 40 kph.

Sleep has been making the headlines more and more as of late. Plenty of people can offer you studies that support that basic fact that sleep aids in performance. There are some differences in the most effective way to sleep (i.e. broken and longer versus shorter and straight through), but I think it’s safe to say that any improvements in sleep, either in volume or quality are going to be better for us; not just for performance, but for general health.

A few years ago, Gordo Byrn made a statement at a presentation that every athlete in the room should try and find a way to average 30 minutes or more of sleep/night versus trying to find room for an extra or harder training session. In other words, get more out of the work you are currently doing by showing up to the sessions fresher and more recovered. A month ago, when I was presenting for Tri Shop in Texas, fellow presenter (and AG winner at IM Louisville), Jim Brown, told me and everyone else that the key difference in his recent success came from averaging an extra hour of sleep per night, and not from any major changes in his training plan.

Now, this is not to say that better training does not lead to better results as well. It just means that better training is only attained when an athlete is capable of properly absorbing it. I believe it’s fair to say that many athletes are not maximizing their sleep and recovery with the training load they are currently undertaking. Therefore, the overall quality of that training ,and the subsequent fitness (or lack thereof), is compromised.

Over the years, I have had to face a number of challenges when it comes to improving as an athlete. There are many things that I have little control or influence over, but I have always felt that if I found myself under-fueled or sleep deprived, it was on me. I have never been someone that does well on little sleep. After a couple days of compromised sleep, I am not only terrible at training, I am terrible at life. Not only that, but living at altitude requires about an hour or so of extra sleep (for me) than I seem to require at sea level.

With the above considerations, you will find a list below with some things that have helped me to get more and better sleep over the years.

  1. Darkness and temperature: We use blackout curtains to get our bedroom as dark as possible and we keep the sleeping temperatures cool at night. Most months of the year, I crack the bedroom windows an hour or so before I go to sleep to get the room temperature down.
  2. Bedroom is for sleeping: My wife, Brooke, used to like to watch TV in her bed as she went to sleep each night. She has been kind enough to do away with that habit over the years. I do not watch a TV, tablet, computer, etc. in the bedroom in the hours leading into when I/we go to sleep. I have always kept the two rooms separate and I always seem to fall asleep very quickly.
  3. Use an alarm clock, not a phone: There are a lot of recommendations on limiting the usage of your phone or computer just before going to sleep. I personally don’t have a time limit on that, but I do leave my phone in a different room when I go to sleep. If I need an alarm I just use a clock and not my phone. This always helps with the temptation to check anything “one last time” before going to sleep or from being interrupted by late or early calls/texts.
  4. Caffeine usage: I drink a lot of coffee. This makes my situation a little different from other people as I do not seem to be as sensitive to caffeine as others. Having said that, I generally do not take in caffeine after 3:00 in the afternoon if I am not planning to do another training session. If I have training scheduled, consuming caffeine before a late session has little effect on my sleep. This is certainly not the case for others. Bottom line, if you choose to consume caffeine, understand its effect on your sleep habits.
  5. Avoid high intensity into the evening: I generally have the flexibility to do my training early enough in the day to avoid this issue, but occasionally I do not. In the past, I have taken part in evening races (time trials, aquathlons, etc.) and they often don’t conclude until 7 or 8 at night. While I actually perform pretty well late into the evening, I have a very hard time winding down and falling asleep on those nights (and hardly more than an hour or two after an Ironman). With this in mind, I tend to stay away from high intensity training in the late hours of the day unless it’s a special occasion. When it does occur, I try to really get in a longer, low intensity cool down to help bring my heart rate down.
  6. Have a sleep back-up plan: There are times when I have trouble sleeping, either in initially falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night feeling stressed or simply “thinking too much.” I am sure that this happens to many people and there are likely a variety of ways to cope with this problem. For me, I simply move somewhere else. For whatever reason, if I find myself wide awake at the wrong time I go somewhere else and almost 100% of the time I fall asleep rather quickly. I do not think this is something that you want to be doing night after night, but when the odd occasion occurs that you find yourself incapable of falling asleep, try going to another bed, or couch or wherever. It just might serve as an effective short term fix.
  7. Keep routine hours: Generally speaking, I go to sleep and wake up within a one hour range on either end. If I plan to get more sleep, I find it better to go to bed earlier, rather than waking up later. Even if it amounts to the same hours, the effectiveness of the sleep always seems superior when tacked onto the front end.
  8. Get a pet: I sleep better with animals around.

You might notice that I have not addressed napping; this is because I can rarely fall asleep during the day and so I always look to maximize my sleep at night. I am well aware that napping can be an effective component of recovery, but I will leave it for someone to address as it is not part of my routine.

Kona Qualifier: Rob Mohr

Last fall I wrote an article about one athlete I coach, Ray Picard, and his journey to qualifying for Kona. As I mentioned in that article, there are plenty of resources out there about qualifying for Kona, but looking at one athlete, and his or her journey, can often lead to many lessons that we can all learn from. In that continued spirit, I am writing another article about an athlete that qualified for Kona: Rob Mohr.

Rob and I met in Hawai’i in 2014, a couple days after I raced the event. He and his girlfriend had traveled over to the island for a vacation and to view the race. Rob was, and is, a fan of the sport. He wanted to personally witness a race that he aspired to join.

Shortly after meeting, I started to coach Rob. At that particular time, he was working a full time job for a PR firm in Manhattan with intentions to make a life and career change in the middle of 2015. Rob had intentions of moving to the West Coast and would be phasing out of his professional role in New York City by the year’s end.

With all this in mind, we made a goal of racing Ironman Mont Tremblant at the end of the summer and Ironman Cozumel at the end of the year if he did not qualify in August for Hawai’i.

Rob’s Background
Rob has an athletic background, but it was primarily made up of explosive sports like football and lacrosse. Additionally, during his time in college, and the years shortly after, he made it a point to get in the weight room fairly frequently and eventually bulked up to 180 lbs, which is pretty solid considering his height at 5’8”. When I met him, he had made some drastic lifestyle changes as he shifted to doing some running events and had almost converted to an entirely vegan diet (and weighed in around 140 lbs). As he later described it, he came to me as a “decent runner who owned a bike.” He certainly had already displayed an ability to run, but there was still a lot of upside to the swim and bike.

Training Details
2015 was a very mixed year of training for Rob. The first half of the year was spent in Manhattan, while the second half of the year had two blocks of training in Boulder, Colorado. While in Manhattan, we kept the training at a moderate level and used the blocks in Boulder to up his volume well above baseline.

Rob’s NYC training typically consisted of four swims/week in a 20-yard pool, mostly indoor riding and a mix of outdoor and indoor running. Since the training was primarily indoors, I often broke up his trainer ride into 2 x 1-1.25 hour sessions and only went longer during one ride on the weekend. Even then, I typically capped the total duration of that session at 2.5-3 hours when indoors. When the weather eventually warmed up, he did some longer rides in New Jersey. His run training consisted of running off every bike workout (but just once on double ride days) and key workouts taking place on Wednesdays and Sundays. We rarely saw more than 15 hours of training per week while in the city and probably never saw more than 10-12 hours when he was still working full time.

As the year progressed and Rob was looking to make a career transition to the West Coast, I suggested that he consider doing a training block in Boulder prior to IMMT. He had the flexibility to work remotely and I felt that even if he had more free time in NYC, he was still going to have to train within NYC and the logistical considerations that come with that. Rob decided to come to Boulder and during this time we were able to string together three weeks in the 20-25 hour range. One interesting observation Rob made to me afterwards was that he didn’t realize he enjoyed riding bikes until he got to Boulder. Most of his riding had always been indoors so riding a bike was always “training” as opposed to simply being an enjoyable activity.

Following Ironman Mont Tremblant, Rob went back to NYC for almost two months and then returned to Boulder for four weeks of training leading into Ironman Cozumel. While this time the weather in Boulder was no longer sunny summer, it was still much more logistically convenient for training than being in the city.

Race Selection and Execution
Rob raced Ironman Mont Tremblant with the intentions of trying to qualify for Kona. He came very close with a 9:38 finish which resulted in a 5th place finish in the M25-29 age group. As it turned out, that time would have qualified him in any other age group. Nevertheless, it was still a 2 hour PR from his first Ironman in NYC in 2012.

The second race Rob attempted was Ironman Cozumel. We felt that the windy, flat bike did not necessarily play to his strengths, but the hot, humid run certainly would. Rob put himself into a good position coming off the bike and as the run progressed he slowly worked his way up the field. Cozumel is a run course consisting of three out-and-backs, but it also had a rolling start, so while he could see his competition, he wasn’t sure where exactly he was in regards to their starting time.

On the final out and back, Rob caught the leader of his age group and they ran shoulder to shoulder to the finish line. Rob realized they were the top two in his age group so his spot was solidified if no one caught them, but he still pushed all the way to the finish line and forced a sprint out of himself that had him breaking the tape first. In the end, he had almost a minute lead, but he later told me, “If this was the only chance I ever had to win my age group at an Ironman, I didn’t want to let it pass me by.” He ran a 3:03:59 marathon and finished in 9:26:02, winning his age group.

That final quote speaks a lot to Rob’s character and to how he approaches the sport. He understood the opportunity he had in that moment and also understood that it could pass him by. Racing presents a lot of discomfort and 2nd place would have still been pretty darn good that day. Finding the self-talk and motivation to not settle is an intangible that I see in many of the athletes that I have helped get to Hawai’i. They know when and they know how to fight when they have to. It has, and continues, to inspire me in my own racing.

Bridging Ironmans: Redux

Recently, I decided to race back-to-back Ironmans across a 21-day time period: Ironman Canada-Whistler and Ironman Mont-Tremblant in Quebec; finishing 3rd and 2nd respectively. At the end of 2013, I did back-to-back Ironmans (Florida and Cozumel) across a 29-day time period. I wrote about that experience in an earlier article.

In that previou article I made several conclusions including:

  1. I would only do double IMs with at least four weeks between them. I broke that rule.
  2. I would only do double IMs at the end of the season. I broke that rule.

Breaking those rules came from circumstances I could not have foreseen when I wrote them. In the spring of this year, I became very ill and eventually developed pneumonia. This caused a major setback to my racing season and I did very little racing across a 10-month period. This led me to the start line of Ironman Canada-Whistler.

The reason for backing up that race so quickly with another event came from the racing options in the latter months of the year in North America. With fewer events to choose from, I felt that IM Mont-Tremblant was the race that featured a course that would suit my strengths the best. With that in mind, I decided the give the three-week bridge a try.

Based on past conversations with other athletes that have tried the three-week bridge, I knew that most felt that it was less-than-ideal. Most athletes I consulted with have preferred to either place the events closer (i.e. two weeks) or further (four-plus). The general consensus seemed to be that the three-week events were far enough apart that simply “floating fitness” with recovery training was not possible and balancing enough training in the interim was challenging. Additionally, EC’s Alan Couzens mentioned to me that he saw many of his athletes hit some of their peak IM fatigue levels three weeks post-event.

Not ideal.

With that in mind, I made the following goals:

  1. Return to light training three days after the first event.
  2. Emphasize a swim/bike focused training block from 14-5 days out from event 2.
  3. Try to hit 50% normal run volume in week two with a long run of 10-12 miles 10 days out from event two.
  4. Don’t get sick.
  5. Don’t complain about being tired (a tip from EC’s Marilyn Chychota on positive thinking).

I managed to essentially achieve all those goals, but the major hindrance I was having had to do with my hamstrings. Ironman Whistler had been a very cold, wet race and it caused my hamstrings to tighten up on the run unlike any other race I have done. It took nearly a full two weeks post-race for them to return to 100%. That caused me to have much less running than planned and most of what I did do had to be quite light. My swim/bike volume did return to somewhat normal levels, but I was only able to raise the quality of the sessions in swimming, cycling was primarily capped at an easy-to-steady intensity, based on how I was feeling.

From four days out from the event, I did the same routine I had put together in Whistler. I didn’t feel as fresh, but I did feel motivated to race which I thought was a good sign. As for the race itself, it broke down as:

Swim: I felt good. I managed to have a better overall performance than Whistler, exiting the water in fifth around 2.5 minutes off lead swimmer. I also came out a few seconds behind the eventual race winner.

Bike: I rode much more conservatively than Whistler. I felt as though I lacked the same fitness level and I opted to do my own thing and ride controlled, hoping that would help me close out the race with a better run. What I cannot know is whether my performance was lower because of actual decreased fitness or from having pushed hard three weeks prior; probably both. Regardless, I did not ride as well as Whistler.

Run: The start of the run felt quite smooth and the opening splits seemed to be right on target for a good run (low-2:50s). However, as I neared the halfway point of the run, I began to think that this double was a bad idea. I was hitting a low spot and was struggling to pull myself out of it. Fortunately, I managed to get my head back in the game and went through a roller coaster of highs and lows on the second half. I moved into second place around the 25K mark, but up until the very end it was a very close race for second to fifth; making me have to push the whole way. We had pretty hot and humid conditions at that point which likely helped turned the second half of the run into more of a battle of attrition, which I tend to do better in. This run ended up being a slightly better time than Whistler; though I felt quite worse (hamstrings aside).

The race as a whole: Even with the extreme conditions in Whistler, I felt that Mont-Tremblant was much more difficult overall; both physically and mentally. I think what ultimately helped me the most was not having specific expectations on the day. I was doing something I had never done before and I was just focused on trying to make the most of whatever the day brought me. Staying process-oriented versus results-driven is always better, but these particular circumstances likely helped make that a little easier to do.

In the end, this IM double proved to be a successful one, but with hindsight, I can say that the three-week double is much more challenging than a four-week bridge. I suppose that I can’t say I would never do it again, but I would prefer a bigger gap to allow for a better chance of successful consecutive events. Both the four-week and three-week double have been great learning experiences and have certainly broken down the barriers to what I thought was possible. No matter how long I have been racing, I always enjoy trying and learning new things.

Kona Qualifier: Ray Picard

Last year EC athlete, Dan Dungan (Dan-O), qualified for Kona after racing Ironmans for 15 years. Dan-O is always a fan favorite at camps and races and seeing him succeed brought a lot of joy to our team and to his long time friend and coach, Gordo Byrn. Interestingly, most people (myself included) were very surprised to find out this was his first qualification because he always seemed very fast.

And he was/is. It’s just that qualifying for Kona is challenging. (You can hear more about Dan’s story and training on this Triathlete Training Podcast).

This leads us to this article about Ray Picard. Ray is an athlete in the M30-34 age group, who lives and trains in Hong Kong. This year, Ray qualified for Kona at Ironman Japan in August and then raced Kona 7 weeks later finishing in a very speedy, 9:54. Ray and I have been working together since early 2012 and, like Dan, he was always a solid athlete, but it took us almost four years to get that Kona qualification.

There are a lot of articles that have been written about how to get to Kona. You don’t even need to go to Google, you can find plenty right here on the EC website in our library. However, sometimes we can learn a lot by just looking at one athlete and what it took for them to get to Kona.

Training Details:

  1. Ray’s median training week entails about 14-16 hours in total in the meat of the season. Sometimes, there can be a slight bump by extending one weekday ride by 1.5-2 hours, but this is not sustained for more than a few weeks at a time. What makes Ray successful is his week to week, month to month and year to year consistency.
  2. Weekly Day Off. Ray routinely takes Sunday off from training. Not only that, his long ride on Saturday usually starts early which mean he is finished with all weekend training before noon. This leaves a lot of extra time off on the weekend to recover and spend time with his family.
  3. Training Camps. Typically, Ray has 2-3 high volume blocks per year that last about 6 days on average (a few a little longer) where his training volume nearly doubles, mostly through cycling volume. This year, he did a cycling camp in France during the Tour which saw an extreme amount of cycling for one week (40+ hours), but very little swim or run volume. This was an exception to his normal overloads which are more moderate and balanced in nature.
  4. Extended “Low Season.” I believe Brady DeHoust first used the term “Low Season” to describe a time of year that Off Season did not seem to adequately describe. I really like this term as I see it as a time of year when an athlete is still training, but not as hard as they could. Ray’s company is based in Mexico (he is originally from there) and he typically returns there for about 8-10 weeks each winter. During this time, he rarely trains more than 7 hours/week or about 40-50% of what he might normally do. I believe this moderated time of year really helps him to regroup and handle the more challenging training later in the year.

Ray’s Strengths

  1. Training Response Time. Alan Couzens has written articles on the EC website about athlete types and Ray would qualify as a “ Quick Responder” (even more info on that topic on Alan’s personal blog). What I found with Ray was that he would start to get very fit, very quickly when I cranked up the intensity in his training. Initially, I gave Ray qualitative training blocks that turned out to essentially be far too long. Over time, I learned that we could (and should) hold off on making a training ‘push’ until he got closer to his key event. While being a quick responder has a lot of advantages, it can also be detrimental when athletes hit it too hard, too soon.
  2. Heat Tolerance. Doing well in Kona certainly requires this, but qualifying for Kona might not, as the race where an athlete might qualify could have temperate conditions. However, in Ray’s case, the weather in Hong Kong is hot and humid for most of the year which means he has to be able to train in these conditions, not just race in them. Ray has an exceptional ability to not only train, but train well, and recover in hot and humid weather.
  3. Positive Attitude. Ray always seems to have a positive outlook on life, training, etc. A bad training session never seems to linger with him.

Race Selection and Execution

Earlier this year, Ray and I discussed him racing Ironman Malaysia because we felt he would have an edge over the competition because of a hot and humid marathon. However, this summer he did a major cycling camp in France in July (mentioned above) and we felt that his fitness had improved dramatically because of it. With this in mind, we looked at Ironman Japan at the end of August. Japan was a unique race because it had almost 2400m of climbing and an extremely difficult marathon with a lot of vertical in the opening 10K (check out the course profile). We also believed that his swim fitness was a bit below where we wanted it to be, but that would be less crucial in a race where the bike and run would be so difficult and take so long.

Ray ended up finishing as the 3rd Overall amateur in his race, but this also amounted to 3rd in his age group and there were only three slots in his age group. Even with an exceptional race, he was still on the fine line of making it to Kona. Late in the run he found himself in 4th place (in his AG) and knew he would have to make a push if he wanted to qualify. All that training and all that prep came down to the final moments of a race where he had to find something extra in himself if he wanted to succeed. Great training and great fitness only give an athlete the opportunity for success, not the guarantee of it. They have to want it and fight for it.

I have learned a lot from Ray over the last four years and it has been a real pleasure to help him in his athletic progression. I expect there is much more to learn from him and I look forward to doing so.

Eat to Perform

As an athlete, I frequently get asked a variation of two questions:

  1. What supplements do you take?
  2. What does your diet look like?

The answer to the first question is simple, so let’s get that out of the way. I take a 65 mg of iron each day (I permanently live at altitude) and 2-3g of fish oil. That’s it.

The answer to the second question is not really that complex, but it’s not as simple as listing two items. If I were to make a broad generalization, I believe this question is primarily asked in order to find ways to be skinnier. I think the better question might be, “How can I eat better to get faster?”

Athletes who tend to focus on weight as the primary indicator to performance tend to train to eat, instead of eating to train. I see a couple common traits with these kinds of athletes.

  • They tend to always define their current fitness based on their current weight as opposed to their current training.
  • They rarely, if ever, have their best performances (at least in IM racing) when they are their lightest. It usually occurs when they are “heavy.”

This is not to say that body composition and good nutrition are not key components to performance. However, eating for performance is not the same as eating for appearance. Developing a nutrition strategy that allows for the best consistency in training and in recovery is what I try to seek out for myself. This applies to both the types of foods that I eat and the timing of when eat.

In an attempt to answer the second question above, I am going to highlight some of the observations I have made about my own diet. This is not meant to be a guideline for others, just a reflection of myself.

  • I never count calories. I simply try to eat good foods until I am satisfied.
  • I tend to take in more calories during training than others might. This primarily consists of sports nutrition products, similar to what I use when racing. I want to avoid depletion training that might force me to take in a lot more calories when I’m not training.
  • I stack training sessions togethers and eat bigger meals before and after. If there are three sessions it might look like this: Meal, session one, small snack, session two, meal, break, meal, session three, meal. In the past, meals one and three were the biggest, but I have since moved to taking in more in the latter half of the day. While many do the exact opposite, I find this to be the better answer for me.
  • I do not eat a low-fat diet. My diet regularly includes whole eggs, avocados, nuts and nut butters, some cheeses, salmon, dark meat, olive oil and butter.
  • I do not eat a low-carbohydrate diet. While I hardly ever eat pasta or dry cereals, I do eat (white) rice, potatoes, oatmeal and bread on top of regular doses of fruits and vegetables (LOTS of onions and tomatoes).
  • I eat protein at every meal.
  • I weigh myself every morning, but not as a way to avoid weight gain. Instead, I look to see if there are any big fluctuations from a median morning weight. If I see big shifts in weight loss, I might be low on glycogen or possibly a little low on fluid. If its high, its likely from a long day of training before and usually the result of not eating enough throughout the training (but tons afterwards). When I’m training well and eating well, I usually see really consistent numbers every morning.

The list above is not meant to be anything more than a simple observation of a sample size of one (i.e., me). Just remember to ask yourself: “Am I eating in a way that supports the training I am trying to achieve?” If you can answer that question with “yes” then there is no better way to eat for you.

Embrace the OFF

I started doing triathlons after my freshman year in college and over the next three years I began to train more and more. Nevertheless, I always kept one off day which was also called “game day”. Attending a school with a large football program tends to make Saturdays a bit more of a holiday/party atmosphere than you might find in some other towns across the nation. With these kind of distractions each fall, it was easy to take a day away from studying and training.

It was when the spring semesters came around that I started to see the value in these Saturdays away from training and school. The difference was that it was no longer really “forced” upon me. It was up to me to draw the line on a time when I would shut down from production in order to recharge physically, emotionally and mentally. It is often more difficult to decide for yourself when enough is enough. I know I can get caught up in trying to fill any down time with production. But just like alternating easy and hard training, I needed my off time to allow for more qualitative “on” time.

Fast forward a decade or so and I still need these moments of complete shutdown. My two jobs, EC Operator and Pro Athlete, allow for a great level of flexibility. I can often decide how and when I want to get work accomplished. This is a beneficial situation to have; but it can also lend itself to always being “on.” There is no reason I can’t always be available or working in some capacity with this flexibility. If I don’t draw the line, I find that I lack the mental capacity to focus (at my highest level) on the task at hand. In order to ensure some down time still exists, I set specific priorities to each day of the week. Typically, each day will prioritize one of three things: training, work or recovery. When recovery is at the top of the list (still typically Saturdays for me), I try to keep myself away from production. By shutting down and recharging entirely, I can handle my “on” days at a better and higher level.

We all live busy lives and we usually only place structure and goals around tangible things (work, training, errands, etc). If you strive on to-do lists, then I would suggest you formalize some moments where you can completely shut down, whether it’s for a brief — or extended — period of time.

Resist the urge to check the Blackberry every time it vibrates and start to embrace the off.

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.

The tricky part of a midseason injury is that they often occur near the point an important race (or races). As such, athletes push to try and find ways back into form more quickly than they might have had the injury occurred in the offseason or early in the year. In my 12 years of racing, I’ve had my fair share of bike crashes, running crashes (seriously), rolled ankles, overuse injuries and illnesses. However, I have always managed to put myself back together in a timely manner so that I can return to normal training.

Below you will find some tips on getting yourself back in the game as quickly as possible:

  • Do not go into overcompensation mode. As triathletes, it can be easy to justify an excessive increase in training one or two of the disciplines if the other is put on hold. Often times, this is seen with running injuries. Athletes immediately move into heavier cycling and swimming loads because running is no longer an option. I believe, at least initially, that this is a mistake. When you are in the acute phase of an injury, I would hold steady with the training you are currently doing, or better yet, reduce the overall load. Use the extra time you have freed up to rest and rehabilitate instead of trying to train more.
  • Train under your tolerable stress level. This is a tip that I have learned from Endurance Corner’s Dr. Jeff Shilt (he has helped many athletes with injuries). Injury requires rest and rehab, but eventually there is a return to running, cycling or swimming (or all three) and as you do so, you need to establish a training stress level that is tolerable and repeatable. More often than not, I see athletes try and rush back into normal training as their symptoms subside. This often leads to one of the worst scenarios: chronic injury.
  • Continue rehabilitation beyond the cessation of symptoms. Any time a doctor has prescribed antibiotics to me they always tell me to keep taking the medicine until it is finished, as opposed to when I start to feel better. The same can be said when your injuries begin to heal. As pain and discomfort subsides, don’t discontinue all of the rehab and prehab routines you have developed. By doing all the right things when you are healthy, you can avoid the pitfalls of injury because of neglect.

Injuries are never fun, but they are not the end of the world. By applying due diligence to your rehab, like you do with your training, you will be back to racing in no time.

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?

I see complacency, in the context of sport, as a belief that a protocol for training, racing or otherwise is essentially maximized. Again, I do not believe this is a conscious line of present thought. You will often hear an athlete admit to becoming complacent after a failed or lackluster result; certainly not before. It was not until they lost, or simply underperformed, that they came to realize they let their guard down. It was assumed that if they kept doing what they had always been doing that success would be inevitable. The problem with looking to past success is that everyone is going to look there as well. Once certain barriers have been broken, you have to look to the next one.

Looking back is something I found to be an obvious blind spot for me. My personal improvement in the sport has been consistent, but so has the improvement in the sport itself. In past years, I might have seen what it took to do well at a race and designed a plan to achieve that. The problem is that I was training for where the race had been and not for where it was going.

If complacency is an afterthought, how can you actually avoid it?

In some ways, I think complacency can be part of the overall process of becoming better. It is not uncommon to hear an athlete find a new level of motivation after getting leveled by his or her competition. There might not be a better impetus out there.

Having said that, I do think there are a few things athletes can do to avoid becoming complacent with themselves or their preparation.

Race more
It can become easy to feel good about yourself when all you do is train. I find racing to be one of the best reminders of what I need to be doing to get better. I don’t expect every race to be a PR or perfect in any way, but I do expect it to help sharpen my focus and direct my training. Its helps me find that desire to take what I’m currently doing, and do it better.

Find a group of trusted observers
While most people only realize they are complacent after the fact, I do believe others can see it as it happens. Having objective points of view — whether it’s a coach, friend, or mentor — can really help you avoid falling into this trap. They will help you realize your potential short-comings and what is sitting in your blind spot(s). However, to really maximize their contributions, you need to open up to them first. Don’t wait for them to start the conversations.

Do not dwell on the past
Learn from the past, both in terms of what worked and what did not, but do not base all future decisions on past results and success. New variables are always in the mix and they will be what shapes future outcomes.

Get Better

A number of years ago I was sitting around after a race chatting with a few people. The conversation trended towards upcoming events and someone asked my buddy what he needed to work on before the next race.

“Everything. I need to get better at everything.”

Everyone chuckled, but I always appreciated that answer. It might seem vague, but I believe it conveys the notion that improvement is a fluid option regardless of how good you (and everybody else) thinks you are. Nevertheless, we need to bring this broad application into a simplified focus if we are ever going to actually ‘get better at everything.’

Any time I seek to achieve something new, particularly with racing, I start with a blank sheet of paper. In many ways, this signifies an infinite amount of possibilities of where you want to take yourself, but as soon as begin to write anything down, you narrow your scope and begin to focus on what really matters to you.

I start with this simple process:

What is the goal?

Write it down.

Okay. Now, how do we get there?

This is where things become a little more tangible, but its also where you can get lost. I keep things basic as I only have one sheet of paper to work with. I want to be able to see everything I want to achieve, and have to do, at the same time, all the time. This might include goal workouts, collective training goals, mental training, etc. You should be able to fit everything on one piece of paper and you should be able to read it from several feet away.

I can remember being in high school and having a math teacher that allowed us to bring in one sheet of paper with anything we wanted on it for our final. People spent more time writing down as much as possible instead of actually learning the material. The more they wrote, the worse they did. Their preparation lacked application.

This is my way of saying: don’t say too much. If you have too much to focus on you will end up focusing on nothing. Instead, use this exercise as way to clearly see what you need be doing every day to become a little better at everything. Once you achieve that, set new goals and move on.

Key Race Selection

It’s currently dumping snow in Boulder while I’m writing this, so it’s an opportune time to start daydreaming about next season. Even if it’s not snowing in your neck of the woods, you are probably getting antsy sitting on your hands waiting for next season to come around.

Ideally, this might be a time to start giving some thoughts to what races you want on your calendar, but with the popularity of Ironman races, your key races of the season might have already been decided. Nevertheless, whenever you decide on adding a (key) race to your calendar, you should use the following suggestions to narrow your choices down.

  1. Does it motivate you? This, in my opinion, trumps everything else. I can talk about some of the objective components to choosing your race (and I will in a second), but if you are not excited about racing, you certainly won’t be excited to do the training. I would advise an athlete to race an event that did not quite suite them as well as another if the less-than-ideal event had them motivated to get the work done.
  2. Time of year. This has more to do with what time of year you will be doing your training as opposed to the actual time of year of the race. If you have a real winter, placing a race early in the year is going to create training difficulties. If you live in hot, humid climates with long summers, then I would stay away from races in the later half of summer. The most ideal time of year to train will most likely result in your best races.
  3. Terrain. Do you thrive in wetsuit swims or non-wetsuit swims? Do you race well in cold or hot? Do you race well in the hills or the flat? Do you prefer technical bike courses or ones that rarely deviate from straight? Ideally, you will be able to simulate the conditions and terrain of your key races on your home training grounds. If you train in Florida, you might not excel in a race in the Alps.
  4. Competitiveness of the event. This has a connection to my first point, but it applies directly to your motivation_while_racing as opposed to training. Some athletes find themselves more motivated if they can place well in their AG at a smaller, low key event. Others, particularly those at the tippy point of their age groups, might find that they get the most out of themselves at highly competitive races.

The Mental Game of Running Fast (Off the Bike)

The number one cause of a failed race plan for the age group (or pro) athlete comes from underperforming on the run. The longer the race — and run leg — the more you start to see athletes falling apart. I am sure this is no surprise to many of you reading this. The question is: Why does this happen?

We should start with the obvious answers first:

  1. Swim and bike fitness – With a lack of either; you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins.
  2. Swim and bike pacing – Spend all your mojo on the swim and bike and you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins.
  3. Lack of nutrition – Fail to eat/drink enough during these longer events and you will find yourself pretty wiped when the run begins (or somewhere down the road).

Now we move onto the less tangible side of things. If you want to be a high performing age group triathlete, then you will need to master the three above components. However, once you get to the pointy tip of the talent pool, you are going to have to master something else. You have to be able to mentally manage your fatigue and discomfort.

The fact is, even with great fitness, great pacing, and great nutrition, you are still going to find yourself fighting fatigue and discomfort on the run (and the swim, and the bike…). Sometimes you might only have to fight it for short bouts, other times you might be fighting it all day. I believe the best off-the-bike runners don’t allow themselves to think about how tired they are coming off the bike. Instead, they focus entirely on the task at hand (running) and completely immerse themselves in the moment. It is not uncommon to hear an athlete say, “I felt totally wiped coming off the bike” and yet they had a great run, and subsequently a great race. They did not allow their feelings in that moment to determine how they would feel for the rest of the race.

It’s a misconception that good training and good pacing will lead to easy racing. There is a great point made in the book, Complete Condition for Swimming: “Remember that the feel does not determine your performance… Regardless of the feel, your body has been prepared through systematic training and will give the desired result, but it might not feel great.”

This is one of the greatest points made in any book I have come across relating to sport. You cannot expect great performances to come easily, you can only expect that with the right training, the right pacing and the right nutrition you will have the opportunity to put together a great performance. When that opportunity presents itself you have to trust in your preparation and make it happen for yourself.

Before every race, I like to tell my athletes (and myself) that someone is going to have a great race today. And it might as well be you. Make it happen!

If I Could Just...

“If I could just…”

This phrase often accompanies some sort of comment about trying to fit more into one’s day, week, month, lifetime (I know, because I’ve used it too). Most people visiting the EC site most likely find themselves concerned with the topic of trying to finding more time to train.

For most age groupers, training more likely means racing faster. I do not want to contradict that statement, but for many of us, training more may not be our reality. When folks ask me about improving their diet, I usually tell them to focus on “eating better, before eating less.” A similar concept can apply to training: “train better before training more.”

Most athletes, particularly those “young” in athletic years, will almost always improve with more training. The problem is that finding the time for that training might lead to the rest of their lives falling apart. If they’re cool with that, then this article may not apply to them. If they like their lives as is, but would prefer to be a little faster than their training buddies, then this article might apply a little better.

If you are pressed for time, I would suggest the following:

  1. Get in the habit of running off the bike every time you ride, even if only for 10-20 minutes at a time. Your body is warm and this will easily lead to a better run frequency program. While it might only add up to an hour of extra running per week, it will still increase the frequency of your weekly runs.
  2. Trainer rides might make more sense for athletes living in urban locations. I know many athletes that live in areas that require long ‘commutes’ before they can really “ride.” If this is the case, then your sessions lasting 90 minutes or less will probably be better served on the trainer. Computrainers, power meters, cycling videos, etc should be a regular part of your program to keep you on your game.
  3. Join a gym/pool that makes your life easier. Sometimes you get what you pay for. Hopefully the most convenient gym is also the most affordable, but if the gym close to work or home is more expensive, I would free up the budget elsewhere to allow for gym membership that will get used. Having a gym/pool near your home or office will allow better execution of workouts. Also, be sure and look at the pool schedules to make sure you will be able to access the facility at the times that work for YOU.
  4. Be consistent with the time that you wake up and go the sleep. You’ve made a commitment to everything else, now make a commitment to going to sleep, as well as to waking up. Invest in the extra couple bucks a month for a DVR and watch your favorite late night shows the next morning on the trainer. I promise they won’t change overnight.
  5. Cook large meals that produce extra leftovers. Many working athletes need to fit workouts in early in the morning, during their lunch break, or after work. They also need to eat. Having food readily available at all times eliminates much of the time involved in cooking, preparing, or even purchasing individual meals each time you eat.

Train Cold, Race Hot

A couple weeks ago I raced Ironman Texas. They chose to host this race near Houston on the third weekend of May. Given the fact that Houston has a nine-month summer (I know, I’m from there) I knew it would be a warm one! While I was in town, I must have had the same conversation about training more than a dozen times with the people that live there. Whether they were racing or not, they wanted to know how I could prepare to race in such hot, humid conditions when I was coming from a still-cold Boulder. The same questions were asked in Wanaka, New Zealand, last year when I came straight from snowy Boulder and posted the fastest run split of the day, despite a high temperature around 90 degrees.

A couple other conversations come to mind, but they were not about me. First; a conversation that I’ve had with Marilyn McDonald, who won Ironman Malaysia in 2004 while training through a Calgary winter. The second was a conversation I had with Greg Bennett when I asked him about sweeping the Lifetime series in 2007 while training exclusively in Boulder. All of his training was done in a temperate, dry climate, but all of those races, less LA, were done in warm and humid climates.

Greg told me that the key to racing well in the heat is getting yourself as fit as possible. He did not mention anything about getting to the race venues early or doing lots of heat training or anything like that. When I lived and trained in Texas, I certainly was “used to” the heat, but there is no way I was training optimally when it was 95 degrees outside. My point is: living in a cooler place allows for faster training and faster training leads to be better fitness. Period.

Okay, but clearly racing in the heat should involve training in it, right? We need to be ready for race day conditions.

Marilyn addressed this issue pretty nicely when I talked to her about Malaysia some time ago. She told me about doing indoor trainer rides without a fan and doing some treadmill runs with some extra clothes on. However, none of these warm sessions were extensive or overly stressful (high intensity) and they were not done during her longest sessions of the week. Do some warm training, but don’t make it the main focus of your training. In my own training, I find that doing some short, moderate-paced treadmill runs without a fan keeps me comfortable with being warm.

Regardless of how fit you get or how acclimatized you are to the heat, I think there are a few key points that have helped me execute good runs/races in warm climates.

  1. Call it “warm,” not “hot.” This might seem trivial, but I try to never use the word “hot.” It seems to convey a predetermined level of discomfort. Being “warm” usually has a positive ring to it.
  2. Logistics become more paramount than ever. You cannot skimp on hydration in a warm race and you cannot play catch up. Long distance triathlons are reliant on a good nutrition plan to begin with, but they are even more important in warm races that require you to stay on top of hydration. I always slow down more than usual during aid stations to take in extra fluids during warm races. If I get too caught up in the racing and forget to look after myself, I fall victim to the heat just like many others.
  3. Be careful with pacing errors. It’s a lot easier to handle some hard efforts on cool days, but the heat makes the recovery from each effort much more prolonged. It also makes nutrition intake more difficult which leads to similar problems to my previous point. You must be very strategic with your matches on the warm days.
  4. Keep moving. If it’s a warm day, I almost always make up the most ground late in the day. It does not come from running faster, it simply comes from continuing to run. Carnage can be your best friend if you just stay in the game.

Happy racing this summer!

I'm Young, I'm Fit. What Could Happen?

I never went to the doctor. This was not a principle-based decision (in other words, I think they’re pretty smart people), but more of a tendency to be reactionary instead of progressive and because of the cost.

Last August I was asked who my doctor was. I did not have an answer.

In fact, I had been to a hospital or doctor’s office so few times in the last 12 years that I can actually remember each visit:

  1. In 1999, I went to the Texas A&M clinic because of strep throat (antibiotics prescribed).
  2. In 2003, I went to the ER to get stitches after cutting my ankle with my chainring on my bike (eight stitches).
  3. In 2004, I got x-rays on my ankle after an accident (nothing broken/hurt).
  4. In 2007, I went to an Urgent Care in Boulder because of serious stomach conditions lasting two weeks (tested positive for Giardia contracted from open water swimming).
  5. In 2008, I went to the ER to get x-rays after crashing on a trail run and driving my knee into a boulder (no broken bones).
  6. In 2009, I went to a dermatologist to check an area of road rash that seemed to have healed in a gnarly fashion (everything okay, but gnarly nonetheless).

That comes to six visits in 12 years and only to address acute systems of a specific problem in each case. I’m not trying to give you a brief snapshot of my medical history, but instead, I’m trying to show that from the age of 18-30 Inever went to the doctor for a routine exam. Until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had a physical exam since I was in high school (I’m 30). The only time I would make my way to the doctor’s office was because I had no other option.

This might have continued without having come across Dr. Larry Creswell, a heart surgeon from Jackson, Miss., who reached out to me several years ago for triathlon coaching. In the beginning our conversations were one-sided, but eventually he became the expert and I began to ask questions related to general, and my own, health. I gave him the same synopsis I gave you all: I went to the doctor when I had to, but I avoided any other visits. My monthly premiums for a high deductible insurance plan was all I was willing to dish out. Other things took priority after that; as is the case when our day to day lives tick over without incident. Additionally, I didn’t really have anything to complain about; physically I generally felt fine.

However, I started to hear more and more about athletes with (heart) problems and I have personally attended numerous races where athletes have died from cardiac arrest during the event (however, none were as young as me). We’ve also seen several triathletes retire from our sport (Greg Welsh and Torbjorn Sindballe), and in one of the most tragic cases: Ryan Shay passed away while racing the Olympic Trials Marathon in November of 2007. He was 27 years old.

With all this in mind, I made a deal with myself that I would step up and make sure I was healthy. I was no longer going to assume that I was healthy; I was going to know.

I asked Larry what I should do to answer two questions:

  1. Is my heart healthy?
  2. Am I healthy (as it relates to a 30 year old male)?

He suggested I do the following given my 12 year hiatus:

  • Have a physical exam with an overview of my health through some questionnaires prior to my visit (general health)
  • Have blood work done: a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP); a complete blood count (CBC); and a Fasting Lipid Profile (general health)
  • Do an EKG (heart)
  • Do an echocardiogram (heart)

After all was said and done, I’m okay. I’m healthy by all of the above standards.

This is probably not going to convince any of you to go out and do what I did since everything was okay. I suppose if I had come back to relay some really bad news it would spring more of you into action. Unfortunately (well, actually fortunately), that is not the case. The only thing I can tell you is that I can rule out particular risks for heart disease at this point in my life (and athletic career) and that my overall health is good.

While it might be nice to know all that, I have to be honest and tell you all that these are out of pocket expenses for me since they are not “approved” by my insurance company and they won’t even apply to my yearly deductible (I’m speaking specifically to the heart exams; not the blood work or physical). I saw this as an investment in myself and was willing to deal with it as such. However I do have some suggestions for paying for this type of preventive health care if you choose to do so:

  • If you have a high deductible plan (like me), you likely qualify for a health savings account (HSA). You can deposit money into this account pre-tax and apply this to the above costs. Do your research on these accounts, because I’ve see a lot that charge monthly fees while others do not. If you make it a habit to deposit small amounts every month, it will begin to add up quickly.
  • Check with your employer to see if they offer a medical spending account (MSA) benefit. If so, these allow for pre-tax contributions, but they do not roll over from year to year (unlike HSAs), so you will want to plan ahead for your visit.
  • Look for local health fairs in your community. These fairs offer a plethora of free screening while offering heavily discounted rates for other types of screenings. This is probably one of the best options I’ve seen for keeping tabs on your health while on a tight budget. Even without the heart tests (most expensive) you can still get a broad examination of your overall health on the cheap.

Okay, so what now?

I asked the same thing to Larry. If I’m healthy now, what do I need to do going down the line to make sure that is still the case?

Here are the suggestion he made to me:

  1. Make a trip to the dentist every six months (he explained that untreated dental disease can cause serious heart-related problems in young people).
  2. Have a yearly doctor’s visit for a physical exam and review of any changes to my health.
  3. Check my blood pressure on some sort of a consistent, established basis (monthly is okay).
  4. Do a testicular self exam once a month.
  5. Keep my tetanus shot up to date.

All in all, the yearly checkups going forward are really not of much cost. The initial office visit and physical exam was about $125, but follow-up visits are less expensive. I plan to have future blood work done at local health fairs (approximately $30-$50) and blood pressure check ups are free. In all honesty it’s more about putting myself into action than anything else.

I can almost guarantee that if you are young, and you are an athlete, and you are reading this article, you probably don’t have a physician and don’t make it a regular habit to visit one. Lets all take a step forward and do our part to change this so that we can remain healthy, keep racing, and enjoy our lives for the years to come. There’s a lot of racing still to be done.

Top Three from Me

I had a little debate with myself (in my head, not out loud) on what I wanted to cover that might help EC readers have their best racing season. I never really came to any one conclusion, so the following is a synopsis of the top three topics that seemed to win out amongst all the random ideas floating around in my head.

  1. Avoid media distractions.

    Let’s face it, there are so many fun ways to waste your time: TV, internet, social media, etc. The problem is, there are so many options that you end up placing little value on what’s available. This makes it incredibly easy to waste what little time you have available for training, family life, work, around-the-house commitments, etc.I’m not trying to get you to buy a “kill your TV” bumper sticker and check out, but I do think you should question how much dead time in your day is devoted to watching TV or surfing websites that are ultimately of little interest to you. If you have favorite shows, or favorite teams you want to watch, by all means, get after it. However, most working-athletes are always sleep deprived so ditch the shows that have no value and catch some Zs.

  2. Take off/easy days on the easy days of your life.

    This is a hard one to hear. I remember speaking to a triathlon club in Houston a couple years ago. When I suggested people take an easy and/or off day on the weekend, they just about passed out. (Frankly, I might disagree with me as well if I had to drive to and from the city limits just to get a ride in).Its makes rational sense to go “easy” on a work day when you cannot devote time to training, but your body is still in “go” mode as you hammer away at your work day. When you take an easy day on a day off from work you can actually relax and have a moment for yourself that isn’t directed towards production.

    I realize this can be difficult for working athletes (and athlete-athletes) to take to heart. Typically, successful working athletes (in sport and otherwise) like to fill their lives to the brim and cannot allow for empty spots in their schedule to go unutilized. However, I would be willing to bet that the upside to allowing yourself to have some downtime will not go unnoticed. It will likely lead to better consistency, which leads to longevity, which leads to long term fitness gains, which leads to fast(er) race times.

  3. Direct your training

    I say this a lot, so if you have read some of my articles and blogs from the past, then you might be familiar with this. However, I think its one of the most important components of training.I like to use my study methods from college to help explain how I apply this idea of “directed training” to triathlon. Most of the classes I took in school had essay question exams so I used to sit down with a blank legal pad before I ever started studying. From there I would write down everything that I “knew.” After that, I had a better idea of where my studying needed to be focused. I was not going to spend excessive amounts of time going over what I already knew; instead I was going to spend the majority of my time and energy on absorbing new information. Periodically, I would go back to that legal pad and test my knowledge until I felt that everything I needed to do well on the test was in place.

    The same can be said for training: ask yourself what the races are going to ask of you throughout the season. What do you have a good handle on and where can you improve? After understanding what is going to be needed for a successful season, make sure that the time you spend training is working towards the tools needed for faster, better racing. It can be easy to do what you want, but make sure you spend time challenging yourself in ways needed for your next breakthrough. Don’t get stuck in only doing what you like and what you do well.

Happy racing.

Winter Training Camps

When I first started triathlon, I was living in College Station, Texas. We typically experienced a handful of days each winter that really embodied that season; and even then, those days rarely occurred in succession. In reality, the winter months were the best months of the year to train in that part of the country. Our challenges came in the summer months (which is about eight months of the year in that part of Texas), but even that was a little more manageable than long periods of cold, dark, snowy days.

Until 2007 I never spent a winter in a cold climate. However, when I made the move to Boulder full time, I had to learn to adapt to this new season. All of a sudden, it was snowing, the sun was setting before 4:30 p.m. and it seemed as though I spent more time putting on clothes than I actually spent training. In fact, I was finding little reason to get out the door on some days. What appeared to keep me honest was scheduling a winter getaway in the desert in the middle of winter. I knew my training was somewhat subpar, but I kept at it, doing my best to ensure I wouldn’t show up to this camp completely out of shape.

Even though I had scheduled this training camp, I didn’t think it would be very effective at getting me fit. I hardly saw how one week would have much of an impact on my overall fitness, particularly since I wasn’t in very good shape to begin with.

What I actually experienced was totally different. I found it amazing to learn what I could actually accomplish, in one week’s time, when I actually surrounded myself with other motivated athletes in a warm, sunny locale. I had gone there for the weather, but what I actually learned was the effectiveness that a training camp environment provided. The weather certainly allowed us the opportunity to train big, but it was the effect of the group dynamic that led to the real gains.

Since then, I’ve really come to appreciate what a training camp can provide for an athlete. Since joining Endurance Corner in 2008, I’ve directed, attended, and coached at more than 10 different training camps. The more I take part in these events, the more I believe in the positive impact they have on the athletes that attend them.

A Season Without Rhyme or Reason

How do you determine a season’s success or lack thereof? It probably involves going faster or placing better at one or more races throughout the past year. I’m sure there can be much more to it than that, but let’s assume that we all want to be a better athlete by season’s end and race results will be the deciding factor.

For the first few years of triathlon I never needed to think too much about what I would have to do to achieve success. I could knock seconds, minutes, and even hours off my times because consistent conditioning was leading to consistently improving results. This is often the case for any novice athlete (that likes to train) in their first few years in the sport.

Around my fifth year in triathlon I took on a coach who actually made me write down goals, refer to these goals and train to achieve these goals in races. This was a little bit foreign to me because I was accustomed to simply training lots, then seeing what would happen when I raced. However, I took on to this new constructive line of thinking and my ‘A’ race of the season went like clockwork. I had set goals, trained with these goals in mind, and then achieved these goals on race day (and throughout the season leading up to it).

The following year I had a similar plan of action. Write down some goals, work/train with these goals in mind, and then race to achieve these goals.

It did not work out.

In fact, things really, really did not work out and I was left looking back at the past year/season and scratching my head. This is not to say that I had never had bad races. I had plenty of sub-par, or even downright ugly, races, but never when it mattered to me. I could flop along all season at lower priority events and then nail the day that really mattered.

But not this time. I didn’t really know how to deal with this, because of all of sudden the season had ended and everything had not worked out like I had planned. In my mind, I had trained all year only to go slower. It was wrong of me to let one day (or one race) define me, but without precedent, I took it rather hard.

What followed the next season was the opposite of what I might have expected. I worked all spring and trained sporadically, I had a family emergency overseas midseason and took a multi-week break, I contracted giardia when open water swimming leading to several weeks of illness… and then I finished the season with a major breakthrough race. Everything about the season was ‘wrong,’ but the result was right.

I like to provide this example because sometimes we don’t get the chance to realize our goals on the day (or even year) we hope to do so. You might be sitting here relating to all of my story, or maybe just the first part — “the hard part.” Don’t let it get you down. This sport is like a roller coaster ride and I always have to get through a (new) valley to get to the next peak.

Stick with it.