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,
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.
Triathlon and other endurance sports demand both physical and mental strength as athletes strive to excel in challenging conditions. All too often, endurance athletes focus solely on the physical and neglect the mental side of the sport. This observation applies to both racing and training. Many times, athletes allow the mental ups and downs of training to negatively affect their physical preparation. Keeping an even mindset to both excellent workouts as well as workouts where you struggle can help to set up a great race season and your training on track.
One tool to employ to strengthen mental resilience is the Rule of 3rds. This rule was recently described by Alexi Pappas, an Olympian and Greek record holder in the 10K. She credits her coach with describing the Rule of 3rds during her training run up to the Rio Olympics. When she was struggling on a particularly tough workout, her coach told her it was ok because of the rule of 3rds. For ⅓ of the workouts you will struggle, ⅓ of the workouts go great, and finally ⅓ of the time the workouts should just go average. Looking at these distributions of emotions can offer valuable insights into an athlete's progress and areas requiring improvement. If an athlete consistently has an excess of good days, it may indicate a lack of pushing themselves to their limits. On the opposite side of things, an abundance of bad days may signal the need for adjustments in rest and recovery or training load and intensity.
These ratio’s become more and more important as your goals become bigger and bigger. In other words, the closer you get to pushing your boundaries, the more you will need to “be ok” with “struggling” some of the time. For most driven triathletes and endurance athletes being “ok” with struggling is a foreign concept. However, it is just this acceptance that keeps training going well. It is important to remember that the moment of unpleasantness that the tough workout brings on is part of the growing process. Being able to not get down after a bad workout and comeback again and again to challenge themselves is what separates the top tier athlete from the pack and enables big athletic breakthroughs.
Embracing the Rule of 3rds fortifies mental resilience, a vital attribute for achieving success in triathlon and endurance sports. Mental resilience enables athletes to remain motivated even when facing challenging training blocks and workouts that do not yield the desired results. Learning to accept challenges and see them as opportunities to grow are the best thing that an athlete can do. Every single athlete on the planet has had hard days. Realizing that this is all part of the process to getting better, is the best mindset that an athlete can have. By accepting the inevitable ups and downs, athletes can maintain focus, determination, and a positive mindset throughout their training journey.
I hope I will be forgiven for writing this athlete case study about myself. A feeble excuse perhaps is that I also coach myself. I am going to write about all the athletes who have and are racing Iron Man who are around my age, a small cadre, as you will see. I hope by the end you will understand why we should be considered both lucky and crazy. Lucky that we can still do this stuff and crazy for not finding something better to do in old age.
Back in 1998 at the ITU world championships a friend Dick Wilson and I stood up to cheer the top finishers in the older, 65+, than us, age groups. We looked at each other at some point with the same thought, if we were ever going to get on that podium, we were just going to have to outlast our competition. Dick did race a few more years doing well, but finally “retired” as did several other friends to spend more time with their growing family of grandchildren. Other friends have been forced into retirement and sadly, I have lost a few friends and competitors.
I expected in my early days of triathlon that we would see a huge increase in the numbers of older athletes competing when my generation made it into their 70s. We are part of the post war baby boom so there were simply more of us. The increase has been significant at all distances from my observation and in the case of ironman the data is easily available. Last year, 172 people over the age of 70 and 3 over 80 finished an Iron Man. In 2012 and 13 the numbers were 81 and 75 with four over 80 finishers in those two years (one of those 80-year-olds was sister Madonna Bouder, and I believe she is the only woman over 80 to finish an Iron Man, she is still racing shorter races in her 90’s). Sister has a small group of fellow athletes that age, all setting new records each time they race.
The two big things as you get into your 70’s is recovery and slowing down. Both are hard to accept but there is no avoiding it. Up to age 50 recovery does not change much and neither does speed for those who stay healthy. In my own case I did not start serious competition until my late 40’s so up to 60 I was getting faster. One of my best improvements being transitions, never underestimate the importance of transitions. Here are some statistics showing my slow down since hitting 65.
The drop in power in 2021 has an easy explanation, covid. The drop in run pace that year was also easy, a sea level event. My Peak Run in 22 was also at sea level.
Trends in one race such as Kona is harder to analyze because of the variables. I have included the pacing for two winners, Hans in 16 and Bob in 18. Hans retired that year when we both aged up giving me a chance in 17 to win which I did. Bob almost set a record when he won in 18, conditions were amazingly mild that year. He is gunning for another win this year in Nice. Clearly my swim pace has hardly changed at that distance. Bike even trended down from 16-18, thanks in part to lower wind speeds. 2021, actually May 2022, was in St George, the hardest hilliest IM I have ever done.
I have had the privilege of getting to know some amazing men and women. Last October I was at the finish line when Cherie Gruenfield set the record for the oldest female finisher, if you want to learn more about her click here or here to learn how she got into the sport here. After struggling to finish last year in over 16 hrs she announced her retirement.
One of my early role models was a WWII much decorated Vet, Army Ranger, ambassador and Mad Dog #10 (Mad Dog was at one time the biggest Triathlon club in the US). He was one of the first to attempt Kona at 80 and set the record when he finished at 77 (my age this year). I spent the best part of an hour with him after he had won the USAT Nationals in 1999 more than ten times. I tucked away his best advice, be sure to adjust your rest time as you get older, you will need more and more, it's frustrating but necessary. And you will need lots more sleep than non-athletes.
My toughest rival in more than just racing was Stephen Smith. He was the man to beat, and very few did for much of my 30 years racing. His last words to me in 2014 was go win a big bowl, in reference to the first-place trophy handed out in Kona. He died after fighting a brain tumor for three years just before I headed to Kona that October. I did as he suggested two years later, and he was with me through the run.
I have shared the podium at the IronGents dinner, an annual event in Kona for anyone over 60, with Bill Bell who almost made it to become the first Kona finisher over 80. I traveled down Ali’I drive with Lou Hollander, then 81, after an almost race ending bike mechanical in 2009. It was as good as running with Elvis, I was with a rock star and the crowds on the course new it. Lou, Cherie, Stephen, Jim, Bill, and others are my inspiration to keep going.
Compared to the total number of people who finish Iron Man the numbers over 70 are still incredibly small. After my first time in Kona, I met an athlete on the beach the next day, who I had watched crossing the line close to midnight. I told him I was blown away by his effort, I could not get my head around being out there for 17 hours. And could not imagine doing the same thing myself (I survived almost 16 hrs in St George). That I think in a nutshell explains why my cadre is now so small. But if you’re lucky, you can still do this stuff when you reach my age and are crazy enough to want to do it then you will. I hope the information I have shared will be helpful and like to think that I am now inspiring some nutcases like me.
For many athletes, the highlight of their day is the smoothie. Many of us spend countless hours perfecting our smoothie recipes for pre-workout, post-workout, and nutritional supplementation with numerous combinations of ingredients. The blender is at heart of smoothie perfection, the kitchen device that sits proudly on many a kitchen countertop.
Two leading brands of blenders are Vitamix and Blendtec, with other brands available on the marketplace. High-end blenders often come with a hefty price tag exceeding four-hundred dollars. However, with that price tag, you’re getting a machine with a powerful motor that can generate very high RPMs to make short work of frozen fruit, ice cubes, and leafy vegetables. There is comfort in knowing that a blender jar stuffed with spinach, kale, ice cubes, and a frozen banana will quickly be deliquesced in short order with my Vitamix. A less powerful blender will have difficulty churning the ingredients and gaining smoothie perfection.
Customizing your smoothie recipes are part of the fun. I’ve experimented with various greens, including beet, dandelion, and rhubarb. You can add healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and avocado to your smoothie, with avocado adding a unique texture to the smoothie. The combinations of fruits are limitless, so experiment with what’s available at your local supermarket. I generally always keep frozen bananas, strawberries, and blueberries in the freezer as a baseline for my smoothies. Experiment with your ingredients and have fun achieving your smoothie perfection. Post your favorite smoothie recipe on the D3 Facebook page for the team to see your creations.
Links to a few smoothie recipes:
For those not living in the summer hemisphere, or close to it, we are dusting off our wetsuits and getting ready to jump in the open water. After many months of following the black line, usually indoors, the freedom of getting outside is so exciting. And not only a break in the winter routine, but there are so many different workouts we can do that are more tri-related without the lane lines. Also, we now have the opportunity to refine our open water skills we will need for our races. Below are some ideas for open water skills to practice with a few ideas of workouts/sets you can do. And remember, if you are training for a triathlon, the more people the merrier for your open water workout so you can simulate the bumps and chop of a typical triathlon start.
Specific skills to practice in the open water are sighting, race starts, buoy turns and drafting. Drafting practice can also be practiced in the pool, so we’ll focus on the first 3. For sighting, 2 main areas to focus on are what to sight with and how to be most efficient when sighting. The best thing you can find to sight with would be large and non-moving, many times not in the water. As you are looking at your target (usually a buoy), look beyond that to something obvious on shore that is lined up with your target that you can find quickly when you are sighting. Buildings and taller trees usually will stand out and work well. This will minimize the time you need to spend with your head up looking and maximize the time you are looking down, a much more body position. When you are sighting, lift your head as little as possible to lock in on where you are headed. For very calm water, you’ll only need to lift your head to goggle level (crocodile eyes). For chopper water, you may need to take a few breaststrokes to get a good look. That’s ok, be sure to get your head back down as soon as you look and correct your course.
As any triathlete knows, race starts can be chaotic and stressful. The more we can practice this and be comfortable with so many people swimming over us, the better. Grab a group of swimmers and practice starts together, either starting on the beach, in shallow water or in deep water. Pick a target to aim for and then have everyone start with 30 strokes FAST, 30-50 strokes race pace then stop. It is sometimes interesting to see where some swimmers end up! Swim easy back to start and repeat. Once you have a feel for whether you veer off to right, left or stay straight it will give you a good idea as to which side you would like to start. Then take this knowledge with you to the races.
Buoy turns are also a good skill to practice, even better with larger groups of swimmers. Some swimmers get fancy with a corkscrew stroke, in larger numbers this may not be as helpful. The key is to keep moving and not get bogged down in a mob right at the buoy. Sometimes going wide is the best bet, even if you end up swimming a few extra yards.
These are some of the main open water skills that you can practice. If you have a few other swimmers with you of about the skill level, do some drafting practice where each swimmer takes so many strokes in the front of the line and sights, pulls over, then drops to the back of the line while the second swimmer takes the lead. Practice some swimming with your eyes closed (not if it is crowded) and see which direction you tend to drift. Or simulate your own race by marking out a course that you can swim throughout the season to gauge progress.
Open water swimming is a fun break from the pool, enjoy!
An endurance athlete’s primary goal is to train in a fashion that allows optimal performance gains without harmful effects. The motivated athlete often balances a fine line between maximal training stimulus and overtraining. The importance of a defined recovery practice in the athlete’s overall training plan should be designed and implemented to aid in recovery to gain maximal benefit from their training load. Training volume should increase gradually, and rest periods should be planned. However, for many athletes a beneficial recovery practice is often an afterthought in their training until overuse injuries occur. Many athletes often suffer an injury associated with overuse and a lack of appropriate recovery. Common overuse injuries include patellofemoral pain syndrome, iliotibial band friction syndrome, tibial stress syndrome, stress fractures, Achilles tendinitis, and plantar fasciitis, to name a few. In addition, the lack of adequate recovery can also lead to psychological fatigue resulting in a lack of motivation and a loss of performance.
A properly designed training plan can balance training stimulus and recovery correctly, but an injury can still occur even with the best training strategy. Many athletes live by the more is better philosophy of training, never listening to their bodies. I try to enstill in my athletes the confidence to say they are tired and need time to recover from hard training. You would be amazed at how hard it is for some athletes to take an extra rest day when required. Every athlete’s ability to recover differs, and the recovery amount should be individualized for each athlete. Work and home stress can also take a toll on an athlete’s recovery. The amount of stress an athlete experiences from work travel, project deadlines, or family life is difficult to quantize, but it can take a toll on an athlete’s recovery.
Several tools can provide insight into an athlete’s recovery practice and aid in establishing an effective recovery protocol. A key data point that every athlete should track is their resting heart rate (RHR). A normal RHR is between 60 and 100 beats per minute, and the well-trained athlete may have a normal RHR in the 40 beats per minute range. As we age, our RHR will increase, but generally, a lower RHR indicates a more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness. For the most part, RHR will remain consistent when the athlete’s recovery rate equals their training stimulus. However, when the athlete is over-trained or ill, RHR often increases from its baseline. Many of my athletes upload their daily RHR into their Training Peaks account, and it’s incredible how often I see an increase in RHR. Then a day or two later, the individual has trouble completing the workout, or indicates they are not feeling well.
Another excellent tool for tracking recovery is heart rate variability (HRV). HRV is the amount of time or variation between your heartbeats, and this period fluctuates slightly. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system that regulates heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The autonomic nervous system can be subdivided into two subcategories the sympathetic nervous system or fight-or-flight mechanism and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the relaxation response. The stimulus that can affect the autonomic nervous system is stress, poor sleep, lack of or too much exercise, and a poor diet, to name a few. When you have a high rate of HRV, it means your autonomic nervous system is balanced, and your body is ready to perform at its best. However, if you have low HRV it is, your body’s way of telling you it is working too hard, and generally, your sympathetic nervous system is overloaded.
There are several excellent options for tracking HRV. Examples are an App based product called “HRV for Training” and a wearable called “Whoop,” both products will give you valuable information on your rest and recovery protocols. Overall, tracking HRV can aid the athlete on in effective recovery strategy.
RHR and HRV are easy data points that every athlete should record daily. Equipped with this information, the athlete has a toolset to help them understand how they recover from their training volume. Perhaps the best recovery protocol an athlete has is the ability to listen to their body. RHR and HRV can provide additional insight to guide the athlete on when to add recovery to their training. The correct amount of hard training for the athlete will improve performance on race day. Still, performance gains will be impacted without proper recovery, and the risk of injury will increase. Remember, go hard on hard days; go easy on easy days. Train smart and use RHR and HRV to help you in your recovery protocol. Good luck with your next race.
Are you a balanced triathlete where your swim is as strong or as fast as your run?
I noticed several years ago that what I could swim per 100’s short course yards (SCY), is the same that I could run for 400m on the track. What I could swim for 200 was the same as running an 800m and a 400swim would equal my mile time.
This is typically both tied to an all out effort as well as what I could do on an interval basis although with different recovery due to the nature of each discipline. Swimming can have a much shorter swim recovery and send off due to waters cooling effect and buoyancy.
I can tell if one discipline is not as fit as the other when 100 swim repeats are not correlating to my 400 run repeats. I decided to take a deeper look. I asked some of the athletes I coach, they thought about it and most of them tended to agree with the correlation.
I looked at World Record times
Now I know this is not an exact science, and technically women probably can swim slightly faster than they can run. My recommendation if you want to get a bit more accurate would be for women to give a 7% difference between swim and run correlations.
However, It might be a good correlation as to your relative strength as a triathlete. This will also have a factor as to your ability to swim SCY vs a meter pool.
Overall, I think personally this is a fun game to play. You can often do track workouts as swim workouts and vise versa accommodating for different recovery and send offs. So, the question is, as a triathlete, are you a better runner or swimmer. Which one do you need to work on?
Just an idea, something fun. Always consult with your D3 coach and train safe!
You have many walks of life. You are perhaps a parent, certainly child to your parents, a colleague, an athlete. Each of these walks of life offers you the opportunity to think about your persona—how you want to present yourself to the world.
Each athlete has a persona, presence, a manifestation of the athlete as a human being in the world. Which leads to you. You are an athlete, and also a human being. So, what kind of athlete persona do you want to have?
At the one and only Ironman New York City in 2018, the winner of the female 50-54 age group, Carmen Grosse, waited at the finish line to welcome in her competitors in the same age group, congratulate them, encourage them about their performance and check on their well-being. She had won her age group by nearly one hour, yet hung around to be a one-woman welcoming committee. That’s a very classy persona indeed.
When you think of yourself as an athlete, you can make a conscious decision what athlete persona you want. A triathlon coach and former professional triathlete in the Boulder area decided that he wanted to be very competitive and also be known as one of the nicest guys in the sport. This was his conscious decision.
So he decided which behaviors he would consistently engage in to demonstrate this persona. Competitive: he showed up early to workouts, executed his workouts as directed and consistently, did his bodywork and watched his nutrition. He raced with ferocity and determination and purpose. Nice: he always greeted his competitors, helped age group athletes getting set up in transition, smiled and thanked the volunteers, smiled back at the spectators, and always thanked the race director.
You decide for yourself. How do you want to come across in your training sessions, before, during and after races, at home and with your friends? It’s your choice.
The secret to all this is simple. You don’t actually have to be your desired persona. You just have to act that way. If you really mean it, your actions will come across authentic and genuine. And we all know that practice leads to perfect. Keep doing those things in line with your persona, in all your walks of life, and it will become yours.
There are two events that I have observed that told me my long-held understanding of how to pace the bike in a triathlon, or’ Time Trial’, is correct. The best way to describe this is you want to dish out the power in the most balanced way possible. That power level is determined thru testing and is a topic I won’t cover here but here is another short description. In a triathlon it is the power you should target that will also let you run to th3 finish at your potential.
The first time I saw this rule being violated badly was watching the first IM in St George in 2010. The bike course was like the WC last year but with even more climbing. It had two identical loops up to Veyo with about 1,500ft of elevation gain over 45km each. After about 38km you were entertained with just over a km of climbing at 8%. I positioned myself on that hill to watch what happened when athletes went up the first and second time.
On lap one the efforts were epic. Quite a few were out of the saddle early on and for the rest of the climb. I was at the top and could hear the respiration rate as the crested the hill, it was painful to listen to. Lap two was just as painful looking for many and they were breathing hard but far fewer were out of the saddle for as long and going much slower.
I did that race the next year and again last year. The last steep section did not require any out of the saddle work, with the right gears.
In 2017 an acquaintance was racing in Kona with me. We had a similar swim split, he is 20 years younger, and we found ourselves riding together about halfway to Hawi on the rolling hills near Waikola. He would power past me going uphill out of the saddle, I would shortly pass him going down the back side. We kept that up until the long haul up to Hawi where we lost contact. If I remember correctly, I had a modestly faster bike split at the end and a significantly faster run. He had been trained by a coach I know well who would have never advised him to try and kill the hills. He was working so hard going up that he had nothing left to power over the top, which is what I was doing, and catching him.
If you believe in the guidance given, I think by all coaches to keep the power in a very narrow zone its easy on a flat road. It should also be easy on a steady uphill course, even if there are several downhills as well. The hard course is one with lots of short rolling hills. The kind that has just enough uphill to significantly slow you down without a lot of unadvisable high-power effort.
My strategy with the rolling hill courses is a modification of the rule being discussed. This is very much dependent on the race distance. In an IronMan I follow this idea very carefully; in a sprint I almost ignore it. The trick is figuring out how many matches you can afford to burn over the distance.
Here is how I deal with the down and uphill at the north end of Boulder on Hwy 36, It is part of many triathlons in Boulder ranging from sprints to 70.3 so I know it well. It comes after a steady 5.5 km climb with an average grade of 1.7%. I try to keep the power just a bit over my goal power for those 5.5 km. As I get close to the top, I start breaking the rule, in a sprint I would be in Zone 5 for about 30 sec to get going downhill fast. In the middle of the down I would be back at my target power. As the road flattens out, I put the power up again to maintain speed until I get to the meat of the next climb where I back off a bit to allow me to push hard over the top.
The only way to figure out how many and how big a set of matches you can burn, without ruining the rest of your race, is IMO to find a route that approximates your upcoming race, or ride the course, as I can. Indoor training Apps like FuilFGaz and Rouvy can help if you can’t get to the course pre-race. The magic of us humans is we are all so different. Simply doing a time trial to determine your Functional Threshold and then applying some rules is a good start but it is not enough.
Training Peaks has a metric to help determine how good you are at keeping the pacing smooth, their Variability Index. (VI).
VI is just what you might think it is, it’s the amount of variation in your power output over a period. Training Peaks formula is. the ratio of your Average Power to what they call Norm Power. Norm power is another formula of theirs that is a bit more complex. The easy description is its "an adjusted (normalized) average power for a ride or segment of a ride that accounts for the increased physiological cost of varying the power demands for hills and wind”. A VI of 1 means that the average and norm power are the same, easy on a flat road with no wind. They suggest a target range for a Triathlon on a flat road is 1.00-1.04, and hilly course 1.00-1.06, not much more variation. You might think you can’t do that on a hilly course but you would be mistaken. Most of us can with the right gearing on a course that’s not extreme. Even on the St George course last May my VI was only 1.18, that was an extreme course.
For some more information take a look at this article from Training Peaks
Over the past six months Mark Lemmons has embarked on a pretty amazing journey with his running. We all have a different “why” as it relates to endurance sports and our training. In this month’s issue of the Extra Mile Mark shares insights to his “why”, what this experience has meant to him and the positive impact it is having on his life. At 53 years young, Mark’s passion and commitment to better health are a great example for all of us. His “A” race for the year is the Kuai Half Marathon in September.
Q: Can you share a little about your background and history with running/endurance sports.
I have never thought of myself as an athlete. I have a vivid memory of the President’s Fitness test: 1 Mile Run, when I was in 3rd grade. My recollection is literally being last in my class, and from then on I told myself I couldn’t run, and I didn’t. I did lots of skiing and hiking, but never from an athlete’s mindset. Fast forward, my kids both excelled in various endurance sports. My son Phillip did triathlon at CU, and my daughter Hannah has run marathons and works as a personal trainer. They opened my eyes to the power of consistency, and exposed me to the positive benefits of it, and in short, it became a family thing. My son got me to do the 100 for a 100 challenge on Slowtwitch for the first time I think in 2018. This is where you try to run 30 minutes or 3 miles every day for 100 days, and I went from never having run to the first time I tried it running 55 days in a row I think, and of course getting myself injured. I kept trying that without much success, but through this process I fell in love with running and trail running, and that brings me to this year’s challenge. My goal was to get through a slightly modified version of the challenge without getting injured, and Phillip suggested I connect with Brad and I did it. I ran 40+ out of the hundred days, without injury, and I managed to run 187 miles and I was 226 out of 600 participants. 479 of them had at least 1 run. So, yeah, I am an endurance person it turns out. I may not be fast, but I can do hard things, and my kids taught me this.
Q: What was the main motivation to start running again and work with a coach?
In a nutshell, health. Run for health. I wanted to improve my long-term cardiovascular health. I didn’t want to get injured, and I wanted to be able to enjoy a hard trail run. Also, I wanted to be able to lose weight. Put this all in a box and It’s all about using something I can do anywhere, any time (running) to get healthier, and it’ already paid so many dividends. I’ve lost 23 pounds since October, my resting heart rate is 56. I can run a long run and not be wrecked for the rest of the day. I can just tell I’m stronger and healthier and I feel so much better. I wanted to do something sustainable and not get injured, and coaching is key in this regard. I don’ know why, in retrospect, I thought I could do something this hard without access to support, expertise, and structure, but wow, it’s the key to the process. I don’ have to think. I’m doing a 45-minute easy run today because it’s part of the plan that my coach set. I know it’ part of the long-term plan to achieve my goals. Would I be running today without the plan? How long? How far? How fast? How effective? These are all questions I answer with my coach, and this works for me.
Q. What has been the biggest surprise for you with the training process and what do you enjoy most about it?
I was just telling my wife this, that I don’t think of myself as a person that thrives on structure, but clearly, I do in some ways. So, the surprise is how important the structure is on which your goals and objectives and everything sits. It’s like the foundation. In more direct terms, I think the surprise is how much work you have to do, how consistent you have to be, how patient, and therefore how important that foundation is. As the saying goes, nothing worth doing is easy, so this must be extremely worthwhile. Yeah, this is hard, and I was bouncing off my goals in the past because I didn’t have the foundation in place either metabolically or from a plan standpoint, so the surprise is this becomes sort of a good thing if you give it time. Once you realize you are making progress, and because you have the foundation of the structure in place, you start to see your progress and it builds, you become more committed and more attached to the life of all this, and its deeply wonderful. It’s a deep joy that directly relates to how hard it is. How is it that I can realize how hard it is and how slow the progress can feel, and this can actually be more supportive of higher commitment over time? I don’t know, I am learning, but applying this to other areas of my life and deepening my commitment to other things that I might have bounced off before, because yeah, I can do hard things over the long haul, which is where the deepest value is. Also, I should have said this first - I love that my whole family is part of this journey, and a big part of why I’ve had some sticking power.
Q. What has been the greatest challenge for you with your return to running and how have you managed working through this?
Patience. It’s part of endurance. I want my body to go faster in all regards, and I have to be patient. My impatience is the biggest challenge. Sometimes I’ll be on a run and I’ll just be like a vandal. I can hear Brad in my ear telling me to keep it light, aerobic, conversational I couldn’t run at all and not redline in the beginning. This is the hardest thing for me is wishing I had built this foundation sooner, so there’s some regret there but only if I spend time looking backwards. Your eyes are on the front of your head for a reason. So I’m just going to keep going.
Q. You have made some impressive gains with your overall fitness and weight loss. What do you attribute your success to and has it been a combination of the training and adjustments with your daily nutrition?
I have to be honest with this. Have I adjusted my diet? Yes, but not as much as I should. I would say my nutrition is ok but I have a few vices, and I still do, but I’ve tried to keep it sustainable. You can’t change everything at once. I do know before my weekend long run I crave a certain breakfast with these greens that I love. I can definitely feel the impact of better nutrition vs lesser nutrition. I am motivated now, seeing the results, and I am taking more ground as I’m able in this regard.
Q: What role does strength training have in your program?
I train with my daughter Hannah at Core Progression in Arvada twice a week, and the training is oriented to support my running and trying not to get injured, and I think it has been another key aspect of why I could get through the 100 for a 100 this year without issue. I feel much stronger than past years where I didn’t have this component, and I haven’t had some problems that were just chronic before. I also had some hip issues that have resolved since I started the strength stuff. Bottom line, running is high impact and I think you need to round out the narrowness of running with core fitness and I think it’s a big part of both doing what I’m doing without injury, but also sustainability. If I miss it for some reason, I miss it - I know it’s supporting me on the journey and view it as integral. Hannah is really good at what she does, specifically listening to what’s going on, what are areas of concern, and fine tuning what I’m doing. This has shown me some gaps that I need to watch as I get a bit older, where strength is ebbing and I need to focus. Anyway, it’s a real joy to me that my adult kids and my wife have helped me on this journey, and it’s just been a family thing.
Q: Tell us about your successful completion of the 100/100 challenge. What are you most proud of with it?
I am so excited about getting through it this year healthy. My approach was, almost pretend the challenge isn’t happening and use Brad’s plan to be my runs, and it really worked. The challenge was modified this year to be 20 mins or 2 miles per day. You run as much as you can. So this year I did more runs than any year except the first year I tried it, but I ran far more miles this time, I think about 32 more miles, with like 9 fewer runs, and I really learned the definition of fitness. To me it’s the quantity of work you can output over a given time. My fitness this year just went so far up, and I felt so much less tired. You could see this on my Training Peaks dashboard, I was able to sustain the same pace as I ran before (it’s slow!) but at a far healthier heart rate. I ran the first day of the challenge and the last. I’m just so proud that I completed it uninjured. It’s a huge mix of people in the challenge year to year, but I would have never considered myself an endurance athlete before, but in a way I am, and this proved it to me. I may not go fast, but I do go far! It’s just fun. I couldn’t have done it without you Brad, thanks.
Q. What advice do you have for anyone who is looking to make healthy lifestylechanges?
Get a coach. Don’t wait. Be honest with yourself. Time is ticking so do it! Beyond that, understand the deep value of expertise. Any journey worth taking deserves a guide. The power, support, and protection of the right guide just cannot be overstated. I can’t believe I ever tried going it alone. What could be more important than health and energy? Pair the right guide with lights out commitment. Let nothing stop you.
Final comments and thoughts
Thanks for this opportunity to share my story, and brag on my kids. In all seriousness, I Wouldn’t have done this without insights and introductions from them, and the support of my whole family. I’m still in the early stages of what feels like a long journey that I am excited to keep going on. Next stop - Behind the Rocks