For many athletes in the middle of winter, race day feels far, far away. And yet, this is the time of year when races are won and goals are achieved. Athletes who get in their off-season training build the platform for the increases in intensity and volume in the months ahead. And that’s how they achieve their goals come race season.
But…the races seem just so—distant. And it’s cold and wet and the days are short and the nights are dark. It’s easy for you to lose focus on the race calendar and skip some workouts or decide not to execute your workouts as planned. In addition to breaking your coach’s heart, your veering off your training plan now will catch up with you later, when it’s too late to make up for what you could be doing in the months before race season.
How do you maintain the focus and exercise the resolve to do right now what you will wish with all your heart that you had done come race day? Let’s talk about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
Our friend Polly had signed up to climb Kilimanjaro, highest mountain in all of Africa at 19,340 feet above sea level. It’s a long, sustained hike to the top, and a long, sustained walk back to the start. Polly had never done anything like this and didn’t really know where to start to prepare for the expedition. So we put together a training plan aimed at giving Holly the physical stamina to make the summit (and return safely—key point and main goal). The plan included the mental stamina for long days of climbing in the increasingly thin atmosphere.
I asked Polly what she would do the minute she reached the summit. Polly burst out: “I will throw my arms up in the air like this!” So, we included, in every single workout, when she got to the top of the hike or turnaround point in the climb, that Polly would throw her arms up in the air like this just as though she had summited Kilimanjaro. Polly imagined what it would feel like to attain the summit and how happy she would be—like this!
We also trained Holly to throw her arms up at the end of every workout, just as she would when safely back down the mountain.
This little technique—making an image of what it will be like to attain your goal and linking it to every single workout—helped Polly through the months of training for her distant goal.
You can do the same. Here’s how.
Step 1. Right now today, make an image of how you want to feel at the end of your race (first race, most important race—you pick). See yourself having achieved your goal for that race. Feel the sensations of accomplishment.
Step 2. Select the gesture that you will make after crossing the finish line—arms in the air like Polly, blowing kisses to the crowd, shaking hands with your competitors. Right now, do that gesture-like this!
Step 3. At the turnaround and at the finish of every workout, do that gesture. If you feel embarrassed to do it if there are people around, do a smaller version or find a private place to do it. Do this at the end of every single workout.
That’s it. It really is that simple. Your brain will get acclimatized to this little victory and help you focus now on your distant goal.
Ask Polly. She made it to the summit of 19,000-foot Kilimanjaro strong and fit and returned safely. Like that!
It’s the end of the year and the beginning of a new year!
For many of us, our primary race season is now over. It might be time to reduce load, volume and intensity, and maybe restructure to a winter, or off-season, focused training block. This might be a good time to be a single-sport athlete and focus on a specific discipline.
Before you move on, reflect on 3 questions from your 2023 season.
What went well or what did you enjoy about 2023?
What did you learn? No matter the experience level, we always learn something.
What would you do differently? “Back to the lab again, yo.” Get healthy- mentally and physically. A mental check could be your mindset about things you don't love doing. For example, if you hate swimming, guess what, you will not improve in it. If you have a negative hang-up about something, that’s not going to help your cause for being your best self. Change your mindset for more positivity and envision your best self doing doing that task with efficiency and gratitude.
I’ve been doing this racing business for 25 years. And I must say I simply can not copy and paste one training season’s plan to the next. Subtle changes always require me to move forward and adapt and change. I do believe this is a great thing.
One thing I want to point out is to never take your fitness for granted. I have, on several occasions, just assumed I could build off one season or improve from the previous year.
For me, 2021 was a pretty darn good year, but I didn’t recognize it as such. You see most of us always want a little more; that’s the nature of this business. But its also important to appreciate what you have at the same time, because you never know when that might change. Show appreciation to yourself.
New year… New You
Now as we roll to 2024, you can start with the last question of what would you do differently.
Are you willing to take different risks? Try something new?
For me, maybe it's some epic gravel bike races. I’ve always wanted to bike from Fort Collins to Durango, CO
State your goals, mottos and motivations, what’s your why? Again, this is not a rinse and repeat from previous years, because what got you out of bed at 5am in 2023 might be stale and worn and it’s time to find a new you and new reason- a new fire.
Have you been plagued with injuries, maybe chronically getting a cold, or schedule conflicts have limited your improvements. What can you realistically handle and change in your life to be a better version of yourself? Maybe that’s a change in race distances or disciplines to accommodate a change in lifestyle.
Goals that are written down increase the chances of achieving them by 42% Lastly, write down your athletic and personal goals for 2024. Maybe individual sport-specific including strength (deadlift 10% more than last year), and maybe triathlon as a whole (break 5 hrs in a half).
Then list a sub-set of what steps you need to take to get there.
Saying you want to swim faster is fine, but what are you willing to do differently to get there?. Maybe going from 2-3 days to 4-5 days a week. Maybe it’s joining a masters program 1-2 days a week. Getting some professional help with swimming is not a 1 and done process. Commit some time and energy to your cause.
I also recommend doing something different or trying something new. Maybe it’s a trail race or a team relay race. Maybe it’s biking across your state. (Unless you live in Texas :-)). I also recommend working on all-out speed in each discipline. Have you ever done an adult swim meet, an all-out 5k best effort, or done a local bike race or time trial? Ditch the Garmin and go for broke and see what you can really do.
Write or type your goals out and print them out.
Post them where you WILL see them everyday. Not just white noise. Maybe it’s at your coffee maker, or in your bathroom. Or next to your shoes.
Print it out short and sweet so its to the point and fires you up!! Small daily executions of a new habit will compound into big changes.
Dream In Years
Set Goals in Quarters
Plan in Months
Evaluate in Weeks
Meet D3 athlete Matt Szymaszek! Matt is coming off a strong season of racing setting PBs at both the 70.3 and IM distances. Enjoy learning more about this husband, father and former collegiate runner turned triathlete.
1. How are you able to successfully maintain a healthy life balance with your family, work as an ICU physician and training/racing?
Truthfully, if it was not for my wife allowing me the freedom to get the training and racing in, I would not be doing half of the workouts required. We have a shared calendar and all of our appointments, work schedules, boys activities, etc are in there. Having that framework to build training has been key. Brad has been great in adjusting my training weeks around my work schedule because if I tried to keep a normal training load when I'm in the ICU something would suffer, typically sleep, and I have found that burning the candle at both ends for any length of time is typically not worth it.
2. You have a background in running. Please tell us more about this and your journey into triathlon.
I started running cross country in high school to get into shape for hockey season and then ultimately stopped playing hockey to run more. I then ran in college at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY and one of my teammates was able to earn his pro card in triathlon following graduation and that was my first introduction to triathlon but never gave it a thought to try myself. After I graduated I started running longer distance and ran Boston and Philadelphia marathons twice through medical school/residency and it wasn't until 2019 when another one of my former teammates completed IM Wisconsin that it peaked my interest. I figured if he could do it, so could I, and I could do it faster. I then purchased a training plan from D3 and started training on my own. My first ever triathlon, which also was my first ever open water swim, was 70.3 St. George in 2020, and I was fortunate enough to get a roll down spot for Worlds. Since then I've been hooked!
3. Your consistency is super impressive. What motivates you to get out the door each day and do the work?
Triathlon has made me realize all of the things I've done wrong over the years preparing for other endurance endeavors. Reflecting on the 20 previous years of over-training has motivated me to get it right and hopefully reach my potential. The other motivator, and it may sound cliché, are my two boys. I can see they are inspired by the work I do and this has lead them to take up swim team, cross country, and they too want to be Ironmen. They even join me in the pain cave on their stationary bikes or on the treadmill while I'm grinding it out on Zwift.
4. You raced at the 70.3 World Championships in Lahti, Finland this past year nearly besting your PB set earlier in the season at 70.3 Boulder on a more challenging course. What was that experience like for you?
Lahti was such a great experience and really opened my eyes to the talent that is out there and what it's going to take to make the next jump. It was rainy and cool on race day which I think helped because I do not do well in the heat. The atmosphere was supercharged with anticipation and excitement and everyone there was stoked to compete making the practice swims and other training rides/runs enjoyable and less anxiety provoking. Also, getting around on the abundance of scooters also made for a good time.
5. What is one of your favorite workouts?
I do love myself a good 70.3 paced brick. I always finish those feeling so confident in my fitness. I could do without swimming forever if I could.
6. What do you enjoy the most about the training process and race day?
It's the steady progress and measurable gains that I enjoy the most. Training for three different disciplines is so much different than when I was running alone. Comparing prior workouts and seeing actual improvement from week to week, month to month and using that information to predict outcomes fairly accurately is encouraging and that trusting the process works. There's so much planning that goes into race day from nutrition, to watts and pacing, weather outlook, etc I think I get wrapped up in the build up and forget to let go sometimes, nearly psyching myself out before the race has begun.
7. Any big races or notable goals planned for 2024 you would like to share?
I might try to scale things back this year from 70.3 and IM and try my hand at some shorter distances. 70.3 Boulder is just too close to pass up and I've tentatively committed to the Steamboat marathon so I can get another Boston qualifier for 2025 and run it with some former teammates. I'm still looking for that elusive Kona spot but that quest will probably have to wait until 2025. My wife is actually getting ready for 70.3 Oregon so I'll be helping her out with that since she's given me so much freedom to pursue my goals it's only fair I reciprocate.
FROM THE MAILBAG:Question:
I have, in my schedule over the next year, to do a full marathon on December 10th, with a half mary in late November (as a training run), and IMAZ on April 15th, 2007. Its a very ambitious goal, I know, but I have no doubt that I can do it. I have a decent bike and running base, (80-100 mpw and 12-15 mpw respectively). Anyway, I have a training program for the IM that officially kicks off in late October (24 weeks), so I have up until then to build more base and add in swimming. My question is; how should I go about training for the marathon while also building base in the other two events? Currently, I have it worked out to where I run three times a week, bike three times a week, and will add swimming two times a week here in the next month (Monday is rest, or it might be a swim day). But doing this seems like its causing me to break the 10% rule in running. Is this ok, if I'm rotating out events (less risk of overuse injury?)? I'll post my tentative training schedule as soon as I finish, but would love some input.
Many times when I start working with an athlete they are usually stronger in one event than the other two. Typically I introduce them to something I call 'Sport Rotation' Whatever the weakest event is I have the athlete start a training cycle that helps them address this weakness specifically. You can read more about Sport Rotation here: .
In the case of this athlete, the first thing to be addressed is the amount of volume they are training. Most of us have limited time and this case is no different, however, cycling volume for an IM should be closer to 150 miles per week, and 25-30 miles per week running. For someone with a strong swim background, three swims per week is adequate, but if this is your weaker event, then maybe four to five swims might be better. So as this athlete gets within 18 weeks of their Ironman race, I would suggest at least 3 hours per week of swimming, 8 hours of cycling and 4 hours of running (for the bigger weeks of training).
In order to be able to handle this volume, the athlete will have to slowly increase the volume; and this where the Sport Rotation method can be applied. With a December marathon on the schedule you can kick start the run focus in September. This will give the athlete plenty of time to build up running frequency (how many times per week) and running duration (how much time for each workout). Starting out with something as simple as 1 longer run of one hour, 1 shorter run of 30 minutes, and two to three fifteen to twenty minute runs will do the trick. Over time you will add ten minutes per week to the longer run, and eventually bring the shorter run up to one hour. The fifteen to twenty minute runs eventually become thirty to forty five minute runs as well. Yes, you break the 10% rule but if you want to improve you cannot do everything by the book.
While in the run focus, swim 2 days per week, one day focused on technique and the other focused on endurance. The cycling in this period should be one day of strength (hills) and one day of endurance if possible.
After the marathon, I would focus on swimming as it will be easier on your body. Just as you did with the running, I would swim more frequently, as much as five times per week. Make one day purely drills, two days of endurance, one day of swim pacing, and one day of speed. Keep off the run legs for a few weeks, but add in some extra biking, something like a day of race pace, and a few trainer sessions focused on high Zone 2 work or Zone 3 if you are an experienced cyclist. This is where a smart trainer, like a Wahoo or Garmin Tacx comes in great for the bike workouts. I would keep the swim focus going for four to six weeks.
Once you are ready to move into your last Sport Rotation phase on the bike, you should have plenty of power, so you'll need to keep that rolling and add in some endurance rides. From mid-January to early March, the focus should be on the bike. This would include continuing with the focused trainer workouts at ironman effort, some pedaling drills one time per week, and some mid-distance rides and one longer ride. Maintain the swim with two-three swims per week, and by this point running should be up to speed at three times per week. The runs should consist of one longer run (2:00), one tempo style run, and maybe one brick.
Once you hit the last six weeks of training you can go back to a balanced approach of three swims per week, three runs per week, and probably four bikes per week. This is the time to focus on race pace in all three events, and riding and running on a course similar to what you'll be racing on. Its also the time to work out your pacing and nutrition plans and dialing in your heart rate zones. Good luck with your Ironman quest!
This month’s Athlete Interview is with Marc DeCaul. Marc is a former ITU racer but now with a family and limited time to train and he has to get creative with his training. Enjoy the interview with Marc!
D3: Marc, where do you live? And when did you start working with D3?
MD: I live in Grenada, a small island in the southern Caribbean. I started working with D3 with Mike in early 2017.
D3: What does a normal day look like - work, family time, etc?
MD: I break my day up into segments - training, work, kids/family/wife. I try to achieve a lot each day so I try to make sure whichever segment I am in, I am truly focused on it. I find that better than always working on all things. My typical day starts not very early, I'm much more of a night owl. I get up and get myself ready for my daily workouts and get them out of the way. I find once I get into other things, I get too busy and end up having to skip workouts which I hate. It also gets hotter as the day goes on so it's harder to workout later.
Once the workouts are done I get started on work. I don't like to work long hours and I have worked hard to be as efficient as possible, with little distractions, and just trying to be as productive as possible. I get a lot done in a short amount of time. For instance I mostly only answer work emails once a day. I see them on my phone so I can respond if there is something urgent or quick but apart from that I have a time when I do them and then move on.
MD:Work ends when I have to pick the girls up from school, mostly at 4pm depending on whether they have dance, tae kwon do, tennis, or music. We (me, the girls, and my wife, when she finishes work) then spend the afternoon hanging out, we sometimes go ride our bikes, go to the beach or pool, sailing the Hobie cat, Kayaking, playing Monopoly or just watching a Disney movie. About 6:30 I get the kids fed, showered, brush their hair, read a story and put them to bed at about 7:30. Then have dinner with my wife and then we relax before bed, often watching Netflix. There are days where I don't get all my work done in the day and jump back on my computer and put in a few more hours of work after dinner.
D3: Are the weekends the same - same routine?
MD:The weekends are similar except I work less and hang out with the family more. I will head out with friends with kids of similar ages and we all go to the beach most of the time.
D3: Do you have to travel for almost all your races?
MD:I more or less always have to travel internationally to race. At one point I was the organizer of a big event here in Grenada with internationals coming in but as the race director I never got to compete at the event. I wasn't able to put it on in 2017 and lost the momentum for a few years. I scheduled to start the event again in 2020 but that didn't happen obviously. There are a few races here in Grenada currently, but they are fairly small and not having races for a few years has meant that the level of competition and depth of field is quite low so they don't really satisfy my drive for competition very much. There are a few youngsters that I am coaching that are getting quite fast so the racing is getting a bit more interesting locally.
D3: How did you get started with triathlon? ?
MD: I did a few races locally as a kid. There was very little in the way of organized sport on the island growing up, not events nor people with experience or knowledge to do any coaching. I however loved riding my bike, it was just a cheap MTB but I rode every chance I could. Not for sport or training particularly. It was just a method of transport and freedom, a way to explore and I loved going fast. I was asked in school what I wanted to be and I said I just wanted to ride my bike. Not that I thought it was a profession, I just want to do it.
I left home at 16 to live in the UK for a couple years of high school and then on to college. I did my first race in the UK the first summer and got hypothermia in the swim. I had never experienced water that cold. I couldn’t put my head in the water. I think the swim took me nearly an hour, just doing doggy paddle for 1500m. I finished the race but I shivered the entire time. I didn’t race again for 3 years.
It was finally when I got to college, they had the UK college champs and they were in a pool and I figured I could handle that. For some reason, I went into the event thinking I was a medal contender. I finished 63rd out of 64 athletes (male and female). Most of the field were UK pros. I did not take it well. I couldn’t believe that I did so bad. I spent that entire night, maybe 6 hours analyzing the results, comparing every timing point to every other athlete and working out percentages. I worked out that had I been 5% faster in 1 of the disciplines (I can’t remember which now but it was the one I was the worst at likely) I could have gained x places. I signed up for another pool based tri 2 weeks later with the goal of just improving that and I did. I then set another achievable goal of 1 thing to improve and raced again 2 weeks later. I did that all summer and at the end was much more competitive.
I went to triathlon expo in early 2003 and Steve Trew was doing a talk. He had coached one of the female Olympians and written a couple books on training. As usual I had zero perspective on where I stood, I knew where I was planning to stand, and that was what I saw about myself. I went to speak to Steve after his talk to ask him to train me. You can imagine the look on his face when he asked who I was and my experience. I explained I had basically been racing sprints but intended to go to the world champs that year. He suggested I buy his book and get some of the basics and some more experience. I insisted and eventually he caved and invited me to a training camp in Malta. I think he thought I wouldn’t make the commitment but I did. That is when things changed again.
There were a couple elites that Steve coached that came to the camp. That is when I found out that there were pro athletes and all they did was train all day. I got to live that life for 2 weeks in Malta. Wake up and train and eat until it was bed time. That was when I decided that I was going to race full time. That year I didn’t make top 5 at any of the qualification races for worlds but I was close. I did qualify for Euro champs in Czech and I ended up qualifying on the roll down for worlds. That year they had the qualification for 2003 and 2004 and 2004 was so early in the year. 2003 was on short notice and I hadn’t been training. 2004 I believed I was going to win, I put in so much work but my tire went flat in transition, loose valve core. I didn’t have a spare so I only did the swim. I was very upset. I don’t think I was as fast as I thought I was though anyway.
From there I basically started making my plans to race full time. I knew everyone trained in Australia over the winter so I started looking in coaches. I found out about a coach name Bill Daveron on the Gold Coast. Like my usual unaware self, I called him to explain my plan and his role in it. He had a similar response to Steve Trew but ultimately complied and agreed to let me join his squad and organized a homestay for me. That November I moved to Australia and started training full time. It was about my 3rd or 4th run with Brad Kahlefeldt that I found it he was ranked number 1 in the world and I realized I had once again skipped a few steps. At that point I still had no idea about the process. I was laughed at 60 mins into a Sunday run when I remarked “wow, you guys run for long, I have never run this long before”. I spent 6 months there doing the work. I was still very green though, I definitely took on too much too soon. Their philosophy was to do lot’s of training and I couldn’t always recover. In fact I think I was permanently over trained.
Basically somewhere in there my goals were short course elite ITU races, going to Commonwealth Games and qualifying for the Olympics. I was a bit more realistic about what it would take and knew where I really was. From Australia I ended up in Ontario, Canada training under Barrie Shepley. I was racing ITU draft legal races and went to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and then Central America and Caribbean Games later that year. I also raced at the PanAm Games in 2007. I was very strong on the bike, could control the bike pack. My run was not great but my real issue was my swim. I was not really good enough to get out the water in the packs so my run didn’t really matter. By 2007 I started being able to handle the training and learning how to really push myself and what I was capable of. I started making big inroads on the swim and was able to stay with a pack by late 2007. I had also gained a bit on the run. I ran 17:12 for a 5km road race on a rolling course. Not fast enough to make me a threat to anyone but I wasn’t slow. Unfortunately though, it was my last season and I had to stop right when I was finally starting to adapt and make progress.
Around 2017, I really missed racing and the competition though and got in touch with Mike in 2017 to give me some direction.
D3: Do you train with partners?
MD: I pretty much never train with partners but I definitely miss having people to train with. It would make it so much harder to miss a workout, it would certainly help on the days that it doesn't seem to be going well and most importantly, the social aspect just makes it more fun. Unfortunately there isn't anyone here that wants to train to my level and for me to balance family, work and getting enough sleep at night, I tend to train at times that don't work with other people's schedules. I do get people to join me for some of my long runs sometimes. There are about 3 or 4 people that will run with me but they are not consistent. Often I get at least 1 of them to show up on a Sunday morning.
D3: What is your favorite workout?
MD: I don't know if I have a favorite workout really, but I know it is probably on the bike. I do enjoy long group rides but the group part is hard to achieve here. Generally though I like workouts with short, tough intervals or big climbs. I think I'm just a husky deep inside and just need to be worked.
D3: Name one area where you've improved while working with D3?
MD: I think my discipline has improved the most with D3. The direction has been so important. I want to do the work. I just need the structure and being told what to do each day. I'm like a robot with a directive and I go to bed and can't wait to get up the next day and execute the command. I think this is especially important as I train alone, I have no group to meet, no set time I have to be at the pool or the track, and no one relying on me. In general I really struggle with not completing a goal, I stick at tasks way longer than I should just to see them through. I am unable to let go of my mind if I haven't done the workouts in TP. Before D3, I would create the structure but it was open to subjectivity from me. If I was tired, I could wake up and rather than getting going and realizing I just needed to warm up, I would justify that I needed a break and change the workout or just not do it. I would be motivated still but didn't have the discipline to always stick to it. Of course I have to have total trust in Mike because whatever he says to do, I do.
D3: What does a typical training day look like?
MD: A typical training day during the week is normally either a bike and gym day or a run and swim day. I try to get them done back to back as best as possible because as the day goes on the less likely I am to be able to get the second workout done. I try to prioritize the workout that I need to do before it gets too hot the most. Even the pool swims can be brutally hot later in the morning. I do most of the bike rides on the trainer, it's just more time efficient and I can ride the exact numbers in ERG mode. There are no flat roads here, the hills tend to be quite steep but short, so it is impossible to stay in the right zones. I do my runs on the roads in my neighborhood rather than having to drive somewhere to run to save time. The exception may be for the long runs on a Sunday as I have a bit more time and the change of scenery is a plus. I swim in an odd shaped hotel pool 5 minutes away,
D3: Thanks so much for talking Marc and good luck this upcoming season!
With winter fast approaching in many parts of the country, are you prepared to continue training outside? You can maintain outdoor training with the appropriate clothing and footwear, even when temperatures drop below freezing. To run or ride a bike in the cold, you need a well-thought-out plan to ensure you stay warm and comfortable to maximize your training effort. Layering your clothing is your best option to stay comfortable when exercising in the cold; this approach will allow you to add and remove layers, depending on the temperatures and the conditions.
First, start with a base layer made from synthetic materials that allow moisture removal from the skin. Never use cotton as a base layer since cotton has no wicking capabilities and will absorb water. A 3/4 zip turtleneck is a good option. The zippers can allow for venting if you begin to overheat. Next is a mid-layer that provides insulation. Synthetic materials or wool are good options, but you want to choose a material that will continue to provide insulation even when wet. Again, zippers that allow venting are vital to the mid-layer. The last component of your layering system is the outer layer. The outer layer protects you from the elements, whether wind, rain, or snow. The outer layer should be breathable, allowing moisture to escape, and made from waterproof material to protect you from the elements. Once again, zippers are essential in constructing the outer layer to aid in temperature regulation.
Keeping your head, hands, and feet warm and dry is crucial to having an enjoyable workout on cold, windy, and wet training days. Gloves that block the wind but are still breathable are essential. It’s a good idea to have a pocket in the layering system to store your gloves if you overheat. The same is valid with headgear. I opt for a headband to cover my ears and add a synthetic or wool cap as needed, as with the layering system, thermal regulation is critical. Wind and water-resistant running shoes and cycling shoe covers are essential when temperatures drop below freezing.
When training in the cold, a well-thought-out layering system allows you to regulate your body heat and adjust to varying temperature changes and wind speeds, making cold weather training an enjoyable experience. So, get off the treadmill and bike trainer and enjoy the winter. Good luck with your training and your future racing schedule.
In my youthful days, an Old Geezer referred to a man over 50. These days, as I am 77, I would not define an Old Geezer as much less than 65. And, while calling a woman an Old Geezer would have been insulting back in my youth, I suspect today's women are not so sensitive. So here are some thoughts from one Old Geezer to others on what it takes to race long when your non-athletic friends think you are crazy.
But first, a nontrivial question. Why would you want to keep doing long-course racing into your 60's and 70's. It's a question you should ask yourself when you first get the idea of doing an IronMan, AKA long-course race, at any age. It should be an annual question to ask yourself until you stop. It's a huge time commitment to do well and enjoy. It means not doing some things that perhaps you should be doing. You need to bring the family along for the fun. This does not change because your children are grown up and or you are retired. And racing short-course is enough to stay healthy with more time for other stuff.
A day in a young athlete's life should not be much different than for an old athlete. Advancing age does not alter the workouts you should do but does change their frequency. At any age, adequate sleep is essential, strength and mobility workouts are crucial, and a healthy diet is not negotiable. Finding the balance between enough and too much training gets more challenging with age.
Here are my priorities.
Over the years, I have heard several work colleagues claiming they can get away with less than 6 hours of sleep a night. None were athletic. Science says around 7.5 hours is needed consistently, which is sleep, not time in bed, to stay healthy. Most top professional triathletes get 8-9 hours and nap daily. Since I retired, this has been my routine during the peak training months. If other priorities in life limit you to 7 or fewer hours a night, short-course racing is the way to go until more time is available.
Yes, you can have a crappy diet and still compete reasonably well. The diets of some Olympic athletes are far from good. I think one argument is they are young. But what is that doing to them? Are they reaching their best potential? And, more important for this audience, health problems in old age. Bad diets tend to go along with excess body weight. You won't and perhaps can't get to a healthy body weight with exercise alone. I weighed almost 20 lbs more than I should have before improving my diet and limiting alcohol (tough, I love my Guinness). Those extra lbs probably accelerated the developing arthritis in my knees. Fortunately, I lost that weight before training for long-course racing.
Strength and mobility
I am not a good example to follow regarding this topic. My problem is the lack of consistency. It is hard to work this into a training plan when you are also swimming, biking, and running. But it is vital to being healthy in old age. Working this into your daily, weekly, and monthly routine should be considered when considering long-course racing. The best way to address this is to find a strength and mobility coach focused on overall health and endurance sports. Get them to evaluate your current condition and develop a routine that takes about 30-40 min to complete. You could do this after a recovery workout in one of the three sports.
Workout Frequency and Intensity
The best advice is to read Joe Friel's Fast after 50. Here are some of the things you would learn from it. Most training plans follow the standard seven-day week. Youngsters can keep a challenging training schedule with one easy or rest day each week and a recovery week after three weeks. Sometime after 50, but it could be later, this will become too much.
My early solution, when still working, was simple: 2 weeks with appropriate high-intensity and long workouts, then a recovery week. Friel's solution is a nine-day or even 10-day week with two recovery days. Eventually, you will get to where I am, two nine-day weeks and then a nine-day recovery week.
When you consistently struggle to progress with LT and or Vo2 workouts, then it is time to spread things out.
Advancing age has one significant benefit: you have learned a lot. If this knowledge includes many years of triathlon or one of the three sports, you should be able to recognize the signs of overtraining. And, you have the gained wisdom to know that backing off or taking a rest day is not going to wreck your training. Stick with a 7-day week or work up a plan as Friel suggests, but either way, be prepared to adjust it daily or weekly.
To summarize, what does it take? Consistent training gets more critical as we age, and you won't be consistent if you don't look after your health. Fitness helps your health, but it does not guarantee it. So, a healthy diet, limited alcohol consumption, adequate sleep, and more rest days are the magic formula. Oh, and being on excellent terms with your medical support team.
Most athletes perform workouts at a single intensity. They will warmup, do a single intensity effort, and then do a cool down. If they are particularly inspired, they will do multiple reps at a single specific intensity (interval training.) This approach, while convenient, can often leave gains on the table. Running at multiple paces within a workout can have many benefits.
First, it can teach your body to deal with how races play out. It is rare for races to be raced at a single effort. There are uphill segments that may require higher efforts or downhill segments which give a chance for active recovery. The Athlete may need to cover a move of another racer if they have podium aspirations. By training at different paces, we teach our bodies to handle the different paces that can occur during a single race.
Another advantage of running multiple paces in a single workout, depending on the paces chosen, is you can teach your body to utilize lactate as a fuel. By working at paces faster than your lactate threshold and then changing paces around that threshold you can begin to teach your body to be more efficient at utilizing the lactate generated by the harder paces at the beginning.
These workouts take getting used to if you are an athlete who is used to single pace, zone 2 and 3 training. Tackle each workout in order and plan on at least one active recovery day following the workout. Lactate shuttling workouts can be effective training for all race distances from the 1500 to the marathon if utilized within a well thought out training plan.
Three Workout Progression.
Important main set workout notes
15 minutes last 3 up-tempo
Drills and Strides
Repeat 4 times
10 minutes easy
15 minutes last 3 up-tempo
Drills and Strides
Repeat 4 times
10 minutes easy
15 minutes last 3 up-tempo
Drills and Strides
Repeat 4 times
EACH SET FLOWS IMMEDIATELY INTO THE NEXT. There is no rest, the 90% threshold is active recovery.
10 minutes easy
This is a hard workout!
In today’s high-tech world of wearable devices coaches and athletes can track, monitor and analyze just about anything to help improve performance – heart rate, power, pace, HRV, glucose levels and so much more. When looking at improved running performance over time, two closely intertwined metrics I like to monitor with my athletes are ground contact time (GCT) and vertical oscillation (VO). Both metrics are captured by many GPS watches when connected with a chest heart rate monitor, pod or running power meter such as Stryd. Within the Garmin family they are referred to as Running Dynamics. Improvement with either or both metrics will improve running efficiency which ultimately boosts performance. Keep in mind much of this is individual and specific to your personal physiology and physique. We should be careful to avoid chasing the “perfect number” and avoid comparing ourselves to elite athletes, our friends and training partners. Likewise, I always caution my athletes to not be too over analytical when sifting through these and other metrics.
Ground Contact Time (GTC) – the measure of time in milliseconds that our foot is in contact with the ground with each step while running. Most athletes are typically in the 200-300ms range while elite runners will often have values that are sub 200ms reaching down to 175ms. Generally speaking, the faster you run the less amount of time your feet will spend on the ground. For anyone who consistently has values above 300ms there is likely room for improvement. A sub-metric related to GTC is GTC Balance which measures the symmetry between your left and right sides. An acceptable range is 49-51% with a differential greater than 2% often considered to indicate poor symmetry. This metric is important as good symmetry will help reduce risk of injury and improve efficiency.
Vertical Oscillation (VO) – the measure of how much our torso moves up and down or how much “bounce” we have while running. The sweet spot for most athletes is 5-10cm (~2-4’’). The goal with running is to be propelled forward as efficiently as possible while moving both vertically and horizontally. VO reflects how much energy is being spent driving us up and down. Too much bounce or a VO above 10cm often becomes inefficient as we waste energy and does not contribute to effective forward motion. Too little VO, below 5cm, indicates lack of “flight time” or time spent in the air and an increase in GCT. Factors that contribute to having an excessive bounce include not having a slight forward lean and mistiming the take-off phase of your stride. A low VO typically reflects lack of general conditioning/fitness and lack of strength, especially in the glutes. Like many variables, VO will change relative to terrain and pace. Honing your sweet spot is kind of like the porridge in Goldilocks and the Three Bears kid’s fable – it shouldn’t be too hot or too cold, but just right!
How to improve GCT and VO:
Here are some of my go-to plyometric exercises with video links which I recommend mixing in as part of a year-round periodized strength training program:
Run like the wind,
As the race season winds down for most of us and we transition to our off-season or early base training, here is one of my favorite indoor cycling sessions for this time of year. It provides a stimulus across a variety of energy systems with just enough dosing of modest intensity to keep things honest and interesting while not leaving one feeling totally gassed.
Activation exercises - knee hugs, lateral lunges, etc.
WU: 15' easy.
-->5x(20'' moderate + 40'' easy) as primers to wake up the legs.
MS: Progressive Power Pyramid. Recovery is half the work rate and an extra 5' easy spinning between rounds. 2-3 total rounds as time permits:
-->4' @ 80% FTP (RPE 6) + 2' easy
-->3' @ 90% FTP (RPE 7) + 1:30 easy
-->2' @ 100% FTP (RPE 8) + 1' easy
-->1' @ 110% FTP (RPE 9) + 30'' easy
Remainder of time easy spinning.
Based on a recent experience volunteering in a kayak at a 70.3 race, I want to share a few items that are quick and easy for every level triathlete and will result in a guaranteed (yes, GUAR-AN-TEED!!) reduction in your swim time with no additional training.
Follow these tips for free (or at least, inexpensive) race day speed.
With the off-season fast approaching for many athletes, our attention turns to cross-training opportunities. One great option for the offseason is snowshoe running. Generally, you can run in any snowshoe; however, some models are designed specifically for running to meet the US Snowshoe Association and World Snowshoe Federation technical standards. The legal standard is a snowshoe no less than seven inches wide and twenty inches long. Running snowshoes are small and light compared to backcountry snowshoes designed for flotation in deep snow. The footwear used for snowshoe running is typically a pair of waterproof running shoes paired with a set of gaiters, and you are ready to go.
Once geared up, head to your local park or golf course and start having fun. It’s best to get started on hard-packed snow or groomed trails; many cross-country ski centers have trails designated for snowshoeing. Snowshoe races can range between a 5K and an ultramarathon if you’re looking for some competition. You can find local races and gear in the links below.
When I start working with an athlete, one of the first things we accomplish is a series of tests to determine training zones to establish intensity and volume levels to maximize future training benefits. The test protocol that has become an industry standard when using bike power is the functional threshold power (FTP) test. FTP is a critical metric for establishing power-based training zones. When Dr. Andy Coggan developed the FTP performance metrics, he originally defined FTP as “the highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour.” Within the past few years, Dr. Coggan has redefined FTP to “the highest power a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing.” The basic test is 20- minutes to caclulate the highest average wattage over the entire period, minus 5%. I predominantly use the 20-minute test for athletes without past training logs or athletes new to the sport. With conditioned athletes, I use a testing period starting with a 30-minute test and often extend to 60-minutes using the highest average wattage over the entire period to establish FTP. When the test is complete, we can set FTP and divide the result into specific training zones. When athletes train in distinct zones, they apply a measured amount of intensity, improving targeted areas of their physiology. For the endurance athlete, building and maintaining fatigue resistance is the primary goal of most of our training.
Once power training zones are established, we recognize each zone has a particular psychological response, with each zone allocated to an explicit training phase.
If we do some research online, we will discover many variations of power zones with varying degrees of intensity, which may confuse the athlete. I use an eight-zone system when coaching my athletes on the bike, but you may find other protocols with seven, six, or five levels of intensity. There is also a good argument for the old-school methodology of easy, medium, and hard as a good judge of intensity levels. The primary reason for such diversity in training zones is physiological overlap within certain zones. For example, we have similar physiological benefits with zone four sweet spot and zone five threshold, including increased lactate threshold, muscle capillarization, and stroke volume. So even though physiological benefits are similar between power zones four and five, the athlete generally recovers faster from a sweet spot workout, so if the goal is to increase fatigue resistance I will typically prescribe a sweet spot. However, if we’re trying to raise FTP, I will see greater returns by prescribing threshold workouts, keeping in mind this may impact the next day’s training. Even though the zones have the same physiological benefit, the zones are quite different from the athlete’s perspective and the desirable outcome.
Another example of a more targeted approach to training zones is to look at zone three tempo 77% to 86% FTP. Zone three is typically the zone many athletes are racing the half-ironman distance at if their power zones are accurate and the athlete is conditioned. However, as many of you are aware, there is a big difference between riding fifty-six miles at 77% of your FTP or 86% of your FTP on race day. Again, the physiological benefit is primarily the same across the zone, but a few percentage points can make a difference in training, recovery, and race day performance.
When preparing an athlete for a race, the training is less specific at the beginning of a block. The workout may have a wider margin within a particular zone, like 76 to 86% of FTP. As the race gets closer, the training may only have a gap of a few percent. For example, the workout may be written at 85 to 86% of FTP, increasing the volume until we are near the race distance. Then, I use a power duration model to gauge the increase in fatigue resistance at the prescribed power output.
This specific training is not for everyone. Maintaining exact power numbers when riding outside with varying terrain or in heavy traffic is often challenging. It also takes a fair amount of discipline to crank out hours on the trainer. However, the data provides vital insights into an athlete’s fatigue resistance at a specific percentage of FTP. The goal is not to see any decrease in power output during the race and still be able to run at or below the predetermined race place.
Research has shown the value of training in given zones to increase performance on race day, and we know there is an overlap of the physiological benefits between certain zones, with every athlete responding to training intensity and volume differently. However, using power is an exact indicator of your performance, and fine-tuning your training zone may provide a more significant increase in performance and fatigue resistance than training within a broader power zone.
Thermoregulation: the maintenance or regulation of temperature – Meriam-Webster
Thermoregulation is a process that allows the body to maintain its core temperature in a state of equilibrium. While it is important to maintain this in both cold and hot environments, I want to offer some strategies specifically for training and racing in hot environments. As warm temps continue to extend into late summer and early fall, effective heat thermoregulation is a key to maximizing your performance.
There are four main mechanisms to aid thermoregulation:
While the body can work to thermoregulate itself through sweating, excessive heat stress causes fatigue which will ultimately have a negative impact on performance. Beyond knowing your sweat rate and applying an effective fueling & hydration strategy as highlighted in D3 specialty coach Nick Suffredin’s Extra Mile article, here are my go-to strategies to aid thermoregulation:
Recently, two athletes died at the Ironman 70.3 Ireland, which was run concurrently with the full Ironman. I participated in the latter. It is premature to be making what might be considered critical comments about participants and race organizers. I don’t want to do that. However, from what I have read about their obituaries I don’t think either of them would want us to not learn from their experience as soon as possible. I don’t know much about either athlete but from all indications they have been putting in the training and I hope that you won’t take from this that I am guessing at what caused their deaths.
Swimming is statistically the most dangerous part of a triathlon. This is well documented. Think about the risks involved. You are going out into the water where help might be slow to get to you and slow to get you somewhere where you could be helped. If you are unconscious or can’t wave for help the wait will be longer if it’s rough water, there will be even more waiting. You don’t know, even if you have visited your doctor religiously like I do, if you are harboring a problem that could be fatal. A condition might only just have reached the breaking point. So if you decide to do a race that could have conditions like Ireland and don’t have the experience in shorter races, you may want to get that experience first. Honestly, if you don’t have the experience, you are really rolling the dice.
Some advice on the last point first. I have never coached an athlete preparing for an Ironman who has not done shorter races, and I will now not coach a 70.3 athlete who has not done several shorter races in similar waters to the 70.3 race they plan to do. There is another good reason for this. It’s better to get fast first before you try to swim long. If you take 2 hours to finish the swim in an Ironman, you are doubling your risk compared to someone who can do it in 1 hour.
Being fit does not mean being healthy. How many people do you know who visited their doctor about a rather minor problem and the examination produced some unexpected results. My brother-in-law, TP, was a farmer in Ireland, tough on his feet all day and athletic in his younger days. He beat me in my first 10k race in our 40’s, and my mother was horrified. He visited his GP for a minor problem about 10 years ago. As they chatted after the examination which took a while, his friend/Dr asked “any other problems TP”, and he said he had a minor tummy ache. “Let me take a look”, said Dr. Mac. TP was told he should go to the hospital NOW, as he had a dangerous aneurysm. He wanted to go home to do some work on the farm but finally got the message from Dr Mac. If he had gone swimming with that condition he would have died. Sadly that health scare was the beginning of related problems and he died last October. TP’s story is far from unique in my circle of friends.
So let’s assume you have been religious about your health and your check ups have been very positive. You have finished several shorter races and can hold a 2:30 pace in smooth conditions, pool or open water. You still do have that slight chance that something might be lurking inside you and you want to make sure you stack the odds in your favor in your first longer open water swim, a 70.3 or longer distance.
First pick a venue that you feel comfortable in. Lakes, smaller ones like Lake Placid, Arizona, Boulder are nothing with a couple of miles or more in a straight line. Waves get bigger the longer the wind is blowing in the same direction. They will get choppy in a shallow lake. In the deep ocean they become giants, mountain-like when you swim in those conditions. They can get big in lakes like the Great Lakes between the US and Canada.
How do you deal with big rolling and breaking waves? First don’t be first in the water, and don’t go in before you have watched at least half of the participants get well under way. I did that in Youghal and it was quickly obvious that the strong wind from the west was creating a current flowing east and we had to swim across that current. It is hard to judge how fast a current is flowing, and it is impossible to compensate for that, by just looking up at the next buoy. You need what is called a range marker in the world of boating. Range markers can be man-made specifically for a river, but you can make your own by using landmarks behind the buoys, or the next buoy on the course. If you are lined up so that the buoy furthest from you is blocked by the first one and you are right on course have you drift to the left you need to turn right to get back on course and vice versa. In Cork, I made a SWAG (engineering terminology for a ‘scientific wild ass guess’) and pointed myself about 45° from the street line to the buoy when I launched into the surf. It worked as I can see on my Garmin tracking It was me going straight out to the buoy the shortest way possible. I think you can learn that trick if you practice it wherever you do your open water swimming.
Next problem in Youghal was dealing with the waves. That is easily explained. If you go under a wave that is close to breaking or breaking, attempt to get under the turbulence. Practice helps and there’s no better place for that when you go on vacation to the beach when you’re not racing. When you encounter big rolling waves, you do have to swim over them. The other thing to get a good at in ocean swimming is body surfing. It can compensate quite a bit for the struggle getting out through the waves.
Last thing to learn, and I started this too late in life to get good at it, but learn to breathe comfortably on both sides. If it had been much rougher, when we started swimming parallel to the waves in Youghal, I would’ve been in trouble. Obviously have your breathing on the side that the waves are hitting you. If one of them breaks on your mouth while it’s open it can be a little uncomfortable. Fortunately, that only happened once to me last weekend. And I have learned another trick that seemed instinctive: I was able to close my throat before my mouth full of water got further down my windpipe. It was a close call, but those are the kinds of problems you face in any open water swim when the wind is up
I hope the take-home message you’re getting through this is to be thorough in your preparation. Never leave the proverbial stone unturned. Those who rock climb up El Capitan have a serious background in the sport and lots of practice on much lesser challenges. Just because some friend survives doing their first triathlon at an Ironman event does not make it a good idea. Besides, if you do get fast at the shorter events first, when you do your first Ironman you’ll be much better prepared to have, hopefully, an uneventful swim. Be safe out there!
Progression and marginal gains
I began coaching Keith Graham in May of 2017. At the time, Keith was in the 45-49 age group. He lives in Texas and had received some prior coaching but did not have a long history in triathlon. Our work was across the board improvement in all three disciplines and the importance of setting up a routine for consistent growth and improvement. Keith had good access to an on-deck swim masters coach as well.
That year we had a short build up to USAT Nationals in Milwaukee. And in a sense, it was a baseline for what would be to come.
We improved run performance without huge mileage; a focus on getting done what was needed without extra miles on the legs.
This article is not necessarily about improvement through training, but what changes in lifestyle, nutrition, and advancements in aerodynamics he has made to help further increase his gains.
I will rank this based on most substantial gains first.
First and foremost, Keith is a consistent athlete. He does the work week in and week out- he gets nearly all the requested training in. He knows my style, and rules, my expectations and better yet, he knows what works for him.
Second, and likely the biggest major factor was that he reached out to Megan Forbes for nutritional consultation. After a few months, Keith reported his weight was down to college levels. His nutritional plan was a sustainable lifestyle change.
He was feeling great because of these lifestyle and sustainable changes!
Third, Keith upgraded his chainring to a 56T ovalized 1x chainring this past year. Thanks to his recommendation, I did as well. We are both loving the way it feels and how easy it is to remain at high speeds with sustained power.
Along those lines he took my recommendation and upgraded his TT bike front end with Tririg TT bars with a tilt kit, improving front end aerodynamics.
The big picture is Keith has been working with me for 5 years, he is also 5 years older- now in his 50’s- and yet, he’s not slowing down. His swim speed is up, indicating good technical changes. His bike power has improved and his W/Kg has increased. His weight loss also helps dissipate heat in hotter races. His run fitness has improved and although the 10K was not a PR off the bike at nationals, it was ranked as one of his best off-the-bike 10K’s ever and his PR runs off the bike all came in the last 1-2 races seasons.
Do we have more work to do? Yes!
This is where the coach-athlete relationship comes in. We come up with a game plan and execute it each season.
Keith actually thrives better with a little negative TSB for races. He thrives better with a slightly higher run mileage and not running in 108 degrees ;).
The idea here is that the marginal gains are not being wasted, and in fact they do provide benefits. Swim, bike, and run is about 90% of your fitness gains. However, the keys to maximizing performance should also include good nutrition, reduced stress and improved sleep - these are obvious choices along with mobility and stretching. However, a clean aero bike using the best components for the most comfortable setup should be next on your list.
Where can you make changes, where are your marginal gains? If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at my email. I’d be happy to chat with about the changes you can make to improve your times. Happy Training, Coach Jim
If I had a nickel for everyone who has told me while hanging out after a race that they had a good swim and bike and then blew up on the run, I’d have bags and bags of nickels! But in most cases, what these people think happened is probably not what actually happened. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions associated with the outputs on race day. If you want to improve, it’s critical that you engage in thoughtful reflection on what actually caused what happened.
An important part of performance improvement is learning from your training and racing. This article focuses on race review, but you can use this model for assessing more than just races (and more than just triathlon).
The after action review (AAR) was originally developed and implemented by the U.S. Army and is now used throughout the military and increasingly into the business sector. There are many variations of the AAR, but they all come down to an analysis of what happened, what should have happened, and what needs to change for next time. Note that AARs should be employed consistently–not just after bad performances.
My recommendation for using the AAR to assess your triathlon performance follows these steps.
In general, I think athletes are pretty good at making these kinds of lists, at least mentally, if not on paper. (Some athletes are really good at the item 2 list…) Here’s where you take this exercise from a list of things to actionable steps.
Note that in some cases, some time may need to pass between your race and your ability to dispassionately complete your AAR. In general, the days following a race are the best time to sit down and complete this exercise. Immediately following the race (e.g., that afternoon) is often clouded by emotion/fatigue/exhaustion–not your best time for thinking. But waiting a week or more after a race will allow memories to fade and the actuality of what happened to become clouded or even rewritten.
My wife likes to say “make new mistakes”. Even after 35 years in the sport, I’m still doing that! Implementing the AAR process keeps me from making the same mistake again.
We have all heard that nutrition is the 4th discipline when it comes to triathlon. The longer the distanced race, the more important it becomes. Since race season is upon us, let’s take a look at some reminders for race day.
Here is an idea of what a dinner might be before race day:
Pasta with chicken and tomato sauce with mixed greens and olive on the side
Breakfast before race:
Oats, whey protein, banana, PB, water
Pre race hydration:
Sip on sports drink up until race start, some people like taking in some fuel about 10 minutes before starting the swim.
Everyone has an individual approach to race day and sports nutrition. Find YOUR best approach and go with it.
Tapering for a big race is a mix of art and science. The rest an athlete needs going into an event is dependent on many factors, some of which are: physiology of the athlete, years of race experience, length of event, volume of training going into the race and how important the race is (A, B or C Race). It may take time working with your coach to figure out what taper works best for you. Rest is the key during taper, but it is best that the athlete do some short workouts with an injection of speed to stay sharp the week prior to the race. I have a favorite brick workout that I like to give my athletes 3-4 days prior to a race. This workout works well for Sprint and Olympic races, and with some modifications, could also be used for 70.3 or a full Ironman.
Set up T2 so you can practice race transitions.
10 min easy jog
10 min easy bike w/ cadence around 90 RPM
3x(8 min bike neg. split: 1st half aerobic, 2nd half race effort, quick transition, 4 min run: 2 min race effort + 2 min easy)
Easy spin or jog to c/d (total time = 44 min + c/d and the time to set up transition)
It’s a simple workout but gives the opportunity to practice a quick transition from a race pace bike to a race pace run to feel sharp without getting worn down.
This is usually the last hard effort workout prior to the race, then rest up and be ready to PR!
Would you consider investing 25 seconds to make your workouts more effective?
Executing your workout as specified by your coach is important. Your coach has designed your training plan specifically for your individual needs, current situation and race calendar. Not all workouts are interchangeable and following the plan is your best bet toward a successful and fulfilling and healthy race season.
Here is one simple, fast and effective tip for optimizing your workouts.
Before starting your workout, answer for yourself this question: “What do I have to do to make this workout go perfectly?”
Once you have your answer, go start your workout.
That’s it. Really.
Invest 25 seconds in your next few workouts and see what happens.