Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ground Breaking Triathlon Thoughts Debunked

"Eating is cheating"
A friend of mine recently Tweeted, "I'm hungry, but eating is cheating."  I'm pretty sure I know what is holding him back from being an elite amateur triathlete.  Disordered eating is no joke.  Quotes like this are not something I overlook.  You don't need to starve yourself in order to succeed.

While she is significantly bigger than her competition. Her endurance doesn't suffer.  She's an athlete.

I was lucky enough to workout with a few elite females in my early days of triathlon.  The more successful ones ate more than I did.  The less successful one, who dominated her level of triathlon and won several races overall, would go on a four hour bike ride and come back to the condo and eat a fist full of salad.  (She has never been coached by me.)  The next day she was suffering like a dog.  She was completely out of fuel.  She was "leaning out" but not the right way.  Later that season she had a complete endocrine system collapse and has been out of the sport since.  I've started to get some emails from her.  She learned the hard way about proper diet.

Anorexia is a serious medical condition.  A few years ago it seemed a lot of people were too thin in Kona.  Guess what?  The times were slower.  In 2009 people seemed to have more muscle mass as a whole and times were faster on average.  I tell my athletes to be an athlete.  Not a triathlete, more about this later in this blog entry.

"That course is known for drafting."
Allow me to not mince words. Bullsh*t!

Yeah... the course is totally drafting here dude.  How many fouls do you see here?

In five years of being a course marshal for USAT and WTC events I have never issued a penalty to a course.  Not once was the course following too close for too long, littering, peeing on someone's front yard, giving aid to their spouse, cutting the distance it was supposed to do and courses don't blow off the penalty tent.  Nope - all those things were done by athletes.  If the big boys can follow the rules (aka: see the pro men's lead chase pack in Kona) then everyone else can do it if they learn how or aren't blatantly cheating.  The top pro men in Kona are riding VERY HARD (duh) and they ride legally (most of the time) a) because we have a marshal right there b) because there are photographers EVERYWHERE c) because they are that good.  These guys are watching the guy in front of them very closely.  They know where they are in the line and how many watts it takes to stay there.  Hit the SRM website to see what it takes at that level.  

"You need to train harder."
This argument is counter intuitive.  This is where heart rate training (combined with power) becomes king.  Endurance is the number one piece of any triathlete's fitness.  Why is it so "hard" to develop?  Simply, it is challenging because it means that an athlete will have to slow down from balls to the wall (this is actually a flying term - when pilots push the throttle all the way up a ball hits the "wall" of the instrument panel) training that their buddies are doing in order to effectively develop their aerobic engine guided by their heart rate.  I use heart rate and power to guide my athletes.  It works.  There is no argument.  Old, young, fat, skinny - don't care who you are.  Watts are watts and the corresponding heart rate data doesn't lie - EVER.



This means swimming, cycling and running AND checking your ego at the door.  I did this just last week in the pool.  I left the "fast lane" to go down to a lane that would be more suited to where my fitness is for that particular main set.  EVERYONE questioned what I was doing - until the set was over.

If you want to maximize your potential you simply need to listen to that heart rate monitor like it is God.  Without getting all religious on you... your body was programmed by a higher power, so indirectly, you are listening to God. (That was for my mother especially.)

The heart rate monitor will help you shed those pounds and will enable you to do so without ripping yourself in two or starving yourself at the dinner table (aka: the training table).

I come from a swimming background.  In the 1980's we had a big sign in the office, "No Pain, No Gain" motto.  Our coaches gave us workouts that were designed to get our heart rates up and HOLD THEM there for 20, 40, 60 minutes or longer for hours on end.  This is partially why I stayed away from anything resembling organized exercise for nearly 10 years after college graduation.  I was toast.  It would might have been different if my college head coach wasn't an abusive alcoholic.  I remember swimming in a meet after mid-term exams with a 103 F fever.  He put me in the 1,000 Freestyle.  I was second to last (of 6) with a 10:50 or so; I remember that it was just about a 1:05/100 yard avg.  It was 65% effort according to his effort chart based on lifetime best times in the 100.  I sat in a chair and a trainer put a pulse oximeter

At Christmas break, swimmers got 48 hours to go home.  How special.  Then it was off to Estes Park, CO and training at altitude.  Those workouts I remember taking a nap or going to sleep with my body completely numb.  Week after week of punishing intervals sets was my life for four years.  It was all I knew.

I swam in a big regional meet with my club coach.  We were missing fast guys for the 800 free relay and had already paid the entry fee so why not race my coach convinced me?  My best 200 SCY free was 1:43.  The first two guys got us about a 40 meter lead and then it came to me.  I swam a 1:53, easily the slowest on my relay that day. Converted to yards that is a 1:38.92 - call it a 1:40 when you take out a rolling relay start and round a bit upward.  A three second drop in my PR.  We didn't win.  I think we came in third that day.  I was totally ready to get chewed out.  It was no doubt to anyone in the pool that day who the weakest link of the relay was.  Ed shook my hand and congratulated me like we had won.  "What a swim you guys!"  Ed used a system of power and heart rate.  Every person on that relay dropped between one and three seconds off their best.  Pure genius: a) seeing the good in our efforts in spite of "losing", and b) understanding the athletes he was working with.  You know who else Ed trained? Jars Jorgensen - the Ironman Hawaii swim course record holder.

When I entered triathlon, my mentality was to "throttle up" the whole way.  When I got my first coach, the first thing Troy had me do was SLOW DOWN.  The results started to improve.  I got away from that until recently with Coach Jeff.  He is bringing me back.  We come from the same background - NCAA Div I swimming.  The difference?  His coach didn't have him training the same crazy way.

I have one athlete in his early 50s who is coming back from a pretty bad crash and hasn't ridden since June.  He tested in October.  Then again in November and again here in January.  His FTP has gone up nearly 30 points.  Why?  His sessions are aerobic mainly and he is doing adaptation workout sessions which don't force his heart rate sky high.  It can be done.

Nothing about these workouts are sexy, fun - they are rather boring - or cool; however, I'm seeing him pull more wattage at lower heart rates very quickly.  What?! (you may say) Power AND heart rate?  Yes, in this case there is an "Easter Bunny".  I've found it and it is working in my athletes.

Power and adaptation sets, combined with heart rate will get you stronger AND improve your endurance.

"Be an athlete.  Not a triathlete."
A friend from Europe and I had an interesting iChat the other day.  He was calling his group a bunch of "athletes".  Here, I think many people who race triathlon would call their group "triathletes".  The difference?  When I think of an athlete, I think of an Olympic decathlete or someone who is good (or would be good) at just about any sport they do.  THAT is an athlete.

A triathlete is someone who does triathlon.  Maybe very well - but ask them to hit a curve ball, sink a free throw or hit a 2-iron onto a green and they couldn't do it.  Some of my cycling friends/clients are adding things like "handle a bike, change a tire, disassemble a bike" to this list as they read it.

My strength coach Ingrid has me doing things that are making me a stronger ATHLETE.  Look at the picture of Serena Williams above.  Now think about other women's tennis players.  Skills being equal, who is going to win?  At the pointy end of ANY field a better athlete will usually win or at the very least, have a better shot at winning.

Bottom line - build your endurance and aerobic engine first.

I know... these are just crazy thoughts.

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