Friday, February 24, 2012

Personal Update: Milestones

Well, this week some milestones were made in my world.  Dismiss this if you will, but I'm seeing marked improvement with the attention to detail in my training, diet and most importantly rest and recovery from training sessions.

Lowest body weight since 2007
Lowest body fat percentage since 2007

Fastest 400 IM since 1991
Fastest 200 BRST since 1991
Fastest 500 Free since 2003
Fastest 11 mile run at Home Eco since 2003

Highest sustained wattage in a computrainer session since 2001
Highest weekly running mileage since 2005
Highest weekly swimming yardage since 2003
Highest weekly cycling time (indoor) since 2003

While all this is exciting, I understand that I have a long way to go in my own athletic development.  I am making progress toward my goals.  Amazing what happens when you train with a purpose and monitor what you are doing.

There's the key.  Monitor what you are doing.  I always have a heart rate monitor on except in the pool.  Those who swim with me know that I'm taking my pulse during sets all the time in the pool.  So I'm watching what I'm doing.

During computrainer sessions, I am lowering (or raising) FTP thresholds as this changes the amount of work the riders do.  It makes a difference in the heart rate and helps you control the training dose.

Most importantly, I'm using  Wednesday I felt fine.  Upon waking, I put my data into Restwise.  Then make a decision on how I'll approach today's workout sessions.  As I'm approaching my mid-40s I recognized that something had to change.  The old "diet and exercise" wasn't enough.  I had to be smarter in my execution.  I've used compression gear, a tense unit, more sleep, a heart rate monitor, a computrainer (monitoring my power) and Restwise.

I'm finding that I'm not slogging through my training sessions like I used to.  My feeling is these sessions now are having a greater impact on my overall fitness.  I don't have the time to train that I did when I was younger.  Even if I did... I'm not sure I would do it.

Who knows where I rank among other people my age.  I don't really care.  I'm more excited about getting fit.  With fitness come results.  I'll just get more fit.  2012 "races" are just participation events.

I'm not a kid anymore.  Recognizing that and making changes in my training AND RECOVERY plan has made a significant difference.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Training for Longer Races Ironman & Ironman 70.3

I won't be "breaking new ground" with this blog entry, but it needs repeating.

Nothing... about Ironman is fast.  The race is about not slowing down.  Really.  

Since 1997, I've seen the same thing.  Someone is going to "train a new way" for Ironman, or "train only with power" (guilty myself in 2007).  Save yourself the embarrassment of walking during the marathon.  Don't do it.

There are two energy systems in your body.

1) Aerobic - "with air" generally considered to be 80% of max heart rate or less.  For RPE, stay under 16 (out of 20).  Monitoring your heart during exercise is the most effective way to train for an Ironman. (*along with power on the bike - we'll get to that)  Changes in your heart rate correspond with changes in oxygen utilization by your lungs, breathing rate and lactate accumulation in your muscles.  Most athletes cannot determine when lactate begins to accumulate and the exact point that they "go anaerobic".  

The body prefers to burn fat for fuel when you workout.  This is most efficient at aerobic heart rates.  Aerobic exercise improves oxygen utilization and uptake and is the chief predictor of endurance performance.  Aerobic exercise is energizing to the body.  

If you are training for an Ironman 70.3 or full Ironman race - the BULK of your work needs to be HERE. 70-78% effort and average heart rate to your workout sessions.  

NOTE: If you are doing an Ironman or 70.3 - your average heart rate will be 70-78% average for the entire day.  Promise.

2) Anaerobic - also known as A.T.. This is a physiological state where your body starts to accumulate lactate (lactic acid) in your muscles.  Go hard enough and you actually stiffen up.  This pace may not be "all out" but it is very strong.  Usually between 85-95% effort.  Once you are in this zone, you've got about 30-45 minutes before you will need to slow dramatically.  

What is the zone between 78% and 85%?  
I refer to this zone as the "grey zone".  How long you can stay there is part genetic.  Part training.  Part years of experience (read: training).  If you are training long... avoid it (in general).

Some general rules for training: 
1) ALWAYS wear a heart rate monitor.  Even if you are training with power.  You WILL want to know what your heart is doing for the entire workout session as well as when you do intervals.

2) Breathing- most individuals do not breathe with the efficiency necessary for maximum athletic performance.  Put your hand on your belly button.  Take a breath.  Did your hand move?  If not, you are shallow breathing.  The diaphragm is a flat, parachute-shaped muscle under the lungs.  It works like a bellows.  As you inhale, this muscle contracts drawing air into the lungs.

After my first Ironman the muscles that hurt most - the intercostal muscles that run between the ribs and just under my ribs - the diaphragm.  Basically... I hurt from BREATHING.  The other muscles didn't hurt by comparison. 

Diaphragmatic breathing is a great way to get your heart rate down in a set.  

The body will follow the mind.  If the mind is in control, it will not allow breathing to become irregular.  Focus on deep breathing (diaphragmatically). This is a very powerful, performance-enhancing technique.

It's a common error for exercise instructors to tell you to "tighten the core" or "pull in your abs tight" - even during sprinting.  This will hinder your most optimal breathing.  

**READER'S NOTE: If an instructor EVER tells you to do that a) ignore them, b) after the class - ask them for the physiological reason why.  Then listen as they make up a reason.

A real life example of keeping the heart rate down.
One of the students in my computrainer class has been training at 155w (watts) FTP.  She tested at 167w, but couldn't hold that level of power in sets.  I lowered her FTP and told her not to worry about it and "trust me".  For the majority of every session, I had her FTP (in the CompuTrainer MultiRider program) down at 155w where she was able to keep her heart rate down around 75-78%.  During the "power" portions of the class each week, I'd bump her up to her tested at FTP.  This was about 15-20 minutes of work.  How'd she test?  Well... she opened up her FTP test averaging 185w for the first 15 minutes and then negative SPLIT the session, bringing her FTP avg for the session UP to 193w.  

Ironman and Ironman 70.3 isn't about what happens in the first two hours, but what happens in hours 3+.

If you are a first time Ironman racer - wear a heart rate monitor and obey it like it is God.  Practice with this leading up to the race.  Pretty soon, you'll know what heart rate you are at when your breathing changes.  This assumes that you can heart your breathing and you aren't training with an iPod on.

Talk to your coach or an experienced athlete to help you plan how to get stronger both aerobically and anaerobically.  This will help your next race.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coaching and a Coach's Athletic Success

An anonymous poster to the blog (called himself "Ralph") questioned if a coach who hasn't won races him/her self is a "good coach."  I put the question to my Facebook friends, many of whom are gold medalists at various competitions, NCAA champions, and hard core, bad ass MFers.

Great coaches - in my opinion - get their people ready for races physically and mentally.  Additionally, they get their folks ready for "the experience".  There are some coaches who are world champions: Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Karen Smyers, Tim DeBoom, Luc van Lierde, Jimmy Riccitello, Siri Lindley and Peter Reid - just to name a few.  So, if that is your benchmark for a "good coach" those folks are out there for you.

Here is what I stated/asked....
Interesting comment from a blog reader asking if someone who isn't in the front of the pack (FOP) should be coaching. By that logic, Lou Holtz never should have coached football at Notre Dame at 5'6" and 130# and I don't see them giving back their national title any time soon. How many of any of us are FOP in our field?

Here are their responses: 
Nate:  The best at anything tend not to make the best coaches, anyway. Sure, some do. But, leading/mentoring/coaching is a 180-degree mindset compared to being the best individual contributor. The majority of the best coaches were categorically not the best players. But they were typically the best students of the game.  

Nate is a multiple time NCAA Div. III Champion, has won the Chicago Triathlon (fastest amateur) and raced as a pro triathlete before turning to pro cycling events.

Mike J:  What a naive thing to say. Being an athlete and being a coach are very different disciplines. Success in one is no predictor of success in the other.

Mike is a successful business owner and finisher of a staged cycling event that was as follows 100km, 200km, 300km, 400km, 500km.

Jay A: The best coaches know how to inspire and get the most out of the talent they are working with and how the competition will perform at the event. Those at the front of pack had a coach, most likely the a high caliber one, not the best at the performing in the sport.

Jay is a successful business person and rapidly improving amateur cyclist. 

Laura D:  To be a coach implies a selfless act: you are putting aside energy that could be spent on your own athletic pursuits, instead you give that energy and direction to others . It is the highest form of athletic achievement.

Bob, I wouldn't have had any success at Ironman had it not been for the coaching expertise I got from Mike McCormack, Gordo Byrne and your swimming and running knowledge. Now, 10 years later, I am struggling with the effects of menopause and age and I realize that impartial guidance will help me achieve modest athletic goals . That requires coaching. Your blogger obviously lacks the ability to see that talent in coaching requires more than a podium place at a random moment in time.

Laura is a multiple Ironman finisher including New Zealand, Lake Placid, Canada and Kona - and I'm sure others that I'm forgetting.  

Omar A: You'd be a great coach, Rob, I hate an idiot that says good athletes should be the only coaches. I hate Internet trolls.

Omar is a professor and former teammate of mine at the Univ. of Missouri.  

Brian M:  ...ask your Blog reader to name one FOP athlete now coach and he will have an answer his question. Of all the Olympic coaches I have met I don't recall one of them being an FOP athlete...above average and even really good some but not one FOP I should say successful coach.

"Brian" is world class swimmer.  His records at the high school he went to stand 30 years later - and are in no danger any time soon.  He was nearly on several Olympic swimming teams, meaning he was one of the best swimmers in the world.

Tamirra S:  Coach Bob became my coach after a pro triathlete, who shall remain nameless, gave up on me. He/She was a pro and yet a very poor coach. Coach Bob, however, coached me right after that when I was right on the edge of giving up on myself. I figured if a pro doesn't believe in me, I must not be any good. BUT through Coach Bob's support, I stayed in triathlon and have since finished three Ironman races. I will say that as many times as I need to. Pros do not necessarily make good coaches.  Oops. Not to toot my own horn but I finished four, not three, Ironman races. I swear I'm not correcting this to be narcissistic; I'm just a copy editor. Going on five in three weeks!! Yikes!! No bike crashes, eh Coach?

My own results: 

For my own results, I feel I should respond to dispel any misinformation.

For the record, (we'll just look at Ironman races for the ease of data) my finishes at Ironman races have been pretty good.  So, I'm not sure if the swipe at MOP finishing coaches is at me or not.  But, if it is... here are some facts... courtesy of  #1 = Ironman Canada, #2 = Ironman USA Lake Placid, #3 = Ironman Wisconsin, #4 Ironman Triathlon World Championship

My finishes at Ironman races (the one missing from this graph was Great Floridian where I was 138th overall in a real "learning experience" Ironman.  That graph is below.  I went off course and ran a few extra miles on the marathon.  My fault.  I knew which way to go and didn't question the volunteer when guided onto the 1/2 IM course.) The red represents who I was behind.  The blue - who I "beat".  Ironman #4 here is Kona.  Where I was housed - reader's note - this was my first Ironman and first marathon.  

In triathlon, I qualified for the Inaugural Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, FL.

In swimming, I've won open water races of 1 mile, 2 miles, 6 miles and 9.5 miles.  I had the 1 mile record at Lake in the Hills at one time.  (Probably was beaten the following year.) 

Here is a view of just St. Croix 1/2 Ironman (now 70.3) finishes... St. Croix is a race LOADED with Ironman hopefuls from the USA, South America and Europe.  It is a truly difficult race in conditions and 
competition.  How did I do?

In cycling, I've never won anything, but I've done pretty well in some time trials and two man time trials against hard core cyclists.  Still...

Hardly MOP. 

Since 2006, I really haven't worked out with any regularity.  I've been coaching and working too much.  Life requires balance.  I haven't had that for at least six years.  Arguably, since 2003.  It's easy to get lazy.

Lastly, I know that some coaches "taper" for every race as they are worried about their "reputation" as a racer.  Personally, I don't give a shit.  I train for my most important race and other races are truly "training races".  I'd rather put it all into one race and have heavy legs in other events.  Winning the local 5k or Olympic distance triathlon isn't that important to me.  

In my opinion, 

#1 is the health of my athlete, 
#2 is that they had a great experience (as well as their family/friends), 
#3 they learned something, 
#4 results.  

I know I'm not the coach for every athlete.  I'm good with that.  My athletes and alumni athletes refer a ton of business to me, so I must be doing something right.  Find the right coach for you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chicago Marathon MANIA

This past week the Chicago Marathon filled up in just about one week.  My friend Mike, who writes for Bloomberg news (and is a 10:20 Ironman in his FIRST Ironman) wrote a great article here.

Combine the crazy increases in race entry fees fueled by "bucket listers" and you get a closed race in no time.  This is both good and bad.

Good - races will take more planning to give the value and "customer experience", small, local races will get more entrants boosting grass roots races, you can demand better from races - better courses, better swag bags, better perks.

Bad - race fees will go up with demand, you may get shut out of races.

One (several) thing(s) for sure...

  1. I refuse to pay entry fees over what is "reasonable" to run the race.
  2. I'll support races that are well put together versus crappy convenient races.
  3. I'll avoid (and encourage others to avoid) garbage races that are unsafe.
On a positive note, the fees in New York have kicked a lot of people into action for other races like Chicago and the coaching industry just got a lot busier - I have 25 people as of today in my Chicago Marathon training program.

Triathlon is Changing: The Lance Factor

Unless you live under a rock, by now you've seen Lance Armstrong racing in the Ironman 70.3 Panama.  Lance beat some pretty big names - and beat them like a drum.  To me this is a testament to a few things: 1) Lance's talent - the guy is a gifted athlete who works his ass off.  (That part usually gets left out.) When talent and preparation combine you get great results. 2) Triathlon is changing.  It's getting a shit load (technical term) faster.  If you intend to be in the pointy end of any field (pro or your age group) you had better have some speed behind that endurance. 3) This is very good for the sport of triathlon and cycling. (As well as the debate of who is fastest between all of our comrades in these different sports.)

1) Lance Armstrong is good for triathlon and will bring sponsors, media and positive attention to the sport.  In my opinion, this is excellent.  This is critical for prize purses to grow and television audiences to grow.  Lance as a personality, is good for the sport.  Face it - he is exciting to watch.  Even my mother knew that he was racing the Ironman 70.3 Panama and she asks me to help her "turn on the Internet, but not the world wide web part".  (Love you mom.) 

- with attention to the sport - it brings fans - fans bring money - money brings sponsors and ultimately live television.  Imagine watching Kona live... all day, from anywhere in the world.

- the sport of triathlon gets better whenever a great athlete enters.  Even a not so famous one.

- prize money will continue to grow.  Extremely important if the game of triathlon is going to come out of the "fringe sport" view of the popular media and into the main stream.  This had been starting to change a few years ago, but now is building into a tsunami.  

- Kona, post Ironman, went back to being a fishing village known for marlin fishing.  Now, it is a training destination where triathletes are showing up on a regular basis from all over the world.  Post race "after parties" are big events.  Even the "TGINR" party is huge - (Thank God I'm Not Racing).  Face it - Kona is evolving.

2) Last October in Kona we saw the pros set new levels of competitiveness.  What I noticed is the age group races now require an athlete to be well balanced and fast.  For example, if your goal is to be on the "podium" of the Kona stage - hope you can run a Boston Marathon qualifying time after swimming 2.4 and cycling 112 miles in 137 F temperatures.  

Fast is redefined.

3) Training must change.  Pro or age group you'll need to change "what always worked".  This is the really cool part about sport.  Don't change?  Become irrelevant.  Stay on the cutting edge and keep pushing the envelope?  Keep winning.

As an athlete, marshal and local race director - I think Lance racing is great.  The marshal in me doesn't give a shit (technical term) who is racing.  When I have the marshal stripes on - I only see bodies and actions.  Ask my friend Jeremy who got a penalty in Kona from me.  (It was legit.  Left side riding until we caught him while he passed nobody.  That is a text book position foul.  Gotta call what I see mate.)  Even Jeremy admitted he had no idea what the hell he was doing at that moment.

This begs my final question for you: 

How have you changed as triathlon has evolved?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Perception of Training Performance

Something seldom talked about is the perception of "good training" versus actual "good training".

What I noticed is that I feel good if I do a little more than half of my scheduled workouts (53-65%), but I'm not getting the complete training stimulus that I need to make measurable jumps in progress.

I'm a metrics guy.  (Data to most.)  The data never lies.  It's raw and emotion less.  An objective eye combined with data- watts, heart rate, miles, times and things like weight, own index and body fat tell me right where you are (or where I am).  When I take all the data and objectively look at them together (along with consistency of training sessions) it give me an accurate view of what's going on.

During winter, you have to look for every marker to adjust your workouts and this is best done by a coach, advisor or someone who won't believe your BS that you are "hitting all my sessions".  If you are hitting them all, you'll start to see progress very quickly.

I love hearing from athletes who aren't consistent and then tell me about what a great training session they had. (not really)  They had a great session because they have been resting.  I like the kind of call I got this morning.  A female athlete of mine who works a ton and is coming off some stomach flu called.  She had a "breakthrough session" where her sets just "felt easy".  Now, her data has been consistent (even with bathroom breaks during training sessions)  - not endorsed by the way.  Her data had a bit of a dip during her illness, however, not my more than 1-3% in all three sports.  That's exciting.

That said, none of this is "easy".  Make sure you don't miss a critical marker in your training.

If you have the right coach or advisor and you pay attention you can be the next big thing.  Don't take 2-4 days off and then tell your coach how great you are doing.  It's a false "reading" of performance.