Friday, January 30, 2009


In the early 1980s I owned a running store and a bike shop. Retail was one of the most challenging things I ever did in my life. In the first year I lost so much money that I could have put myself through Harvard Business School – and it would have been a lot more fun. But a lot of good things came out of this seven-year experience, not the least of which was a trip I won in 1982.

With money going out the door faster than it was coming in the first couple of years I had to learn fast. By 1982 Runner’s World magazine named my tiny store one of the Top 25 in the US. Of course, there were probably 26 in the country back then. But we were starting to do pretty well. In fact, that year our store won a one-week, all-expenses-paid vacation for two to the Bahamas because of how well we sold Tiger (today’s ASICS) running shoes. Only 10 stores across the country were so fortunate. Joyce and I still consider it one of the most fun vacations we ever took.

One of the other store owners who won the trip was Gary Muhrcke who owned the Super Runner’s store in New York City. Gary was the winner of the very first NYC Marathon in 1970. We agreed to run together every morning of the trip. So the next morning I met him in the lobby of the hotel and we went for a one-hour run together. After a brief warm-up he began to pick up the pace. Soon we were running sub-6 per mile pace. It was all I could do to hang on. After that I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the daily runs. So the next morning I came to the lobby with some trepidation. We warmed up slowly and, interestingly, Gary never picked the pace up. We jogged along at an embarrassingly slow pace around 9-minutes-per-mile for an hour. It was a lot easier than I normally ran even when I was tired, which I definitely was that day. The third day was just like the first – tongue hanging out and labored breathing for an hour. The fourth day was extremely slow again. And so it went for the week.

That week Gary introduced me to the concept of alternating hard and easy days. I know that today this is a pretty basic concept but back then it was unusual I came to realize that I could make the hard days much harder if the easy days really were easy instead of moderately hard. My racing times improved. . It was never the same for me again.

Experiences like this one with other athletes, coaches and sports scientists throughout the 1980s helped to shape the way I saw the world of endurance training. It was the best education I could have ever gotten.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Training Bibles

Many athletes have contacted me asking when the new editions and "companions" to the old editions of the Triathlete's and Cyclist's Training Bibles will be available. They were supposed to be out on the first of January. Here's what my publisher has to say about their release...

The new Triathlete's Training Bible should start hitting shelves in another week or two. Amazon orders will probably start shipping early next week and books will begin appearing in bookstores within the next two weeks. Amazon almost always gets them first. I've already begun shipping the Tri Bible to bike/tri shops and to international distributors. It will be the same situation with the Cyclist's Training Bible. I think they will start arriving in book stores around the last week of February.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tests and Measurements

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” – Peter Drucker, management theorist

I recall that in my undergrad work I thought of my Tests and Measurements class as the most boring course I had ever taken. I saw no purpose for it. My how things change. Today I wish I could take that class again as I believe this is one of the most important aspects of athletic training. I’d have a lot more questions and be much more involved.

I now test and measure the athletes I coach in many different ways throughout the season. This includes body composition, aerobic capacity, metabolic tendencies, functional power and pace, heart rate patterns, mental skills, and sport-specific skills.

For most all of these there are numbers that serve as baselines for where we are at a given time in the season. Most of them come from quite precise measurements in a clinical setting with an exercise physiologist conducting the testing. The picture here shows such a test in progress. Others are based on field tests such as all-out time trials or heart rate-regulated time trials. Video recording is used for skill measurement as it allows the athlete to see exactly what I see. It’s amazing how different the athlete’s perceptions of what they feel they are doing and what they are actually doing often are.

Without this testing done about every four weeks I wouldn’t really know if athletes were making progress toward their goals or not. If test results show we aren’t going in the right direction I make adjustments to the program in some way to get back on track. It’s really easy to stray without such controls in place.

What can you do to test yourself? One way to establish such a baseline and get good information about your current conditioning and important training numbers such as heart rate, pace and power zones is to arrange for a VO2max test. You can often find these offered by health clubs, university health and physical education departments, medical clinics and even retail stores catering to runners, cyclists and triathletes. Many coaches also provide such services. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $150 to $200.

Self-testing is also possible and can work quite well if you are diligent about controlling for such variables as rested state, diet, warm-up, equipment, and weather. Since the changes if you test every four weeks are likely to be on the order of one to three percent even small discrepancies in any of the above variables could give you inaccurate information. Chapter 5 in each of my Training Bible books offers suggested methods of self-testing in much greater detail than here.

Getting accurate feedback on how your training is going is one of the most important things the serious endurance athlete can do to achieve high goals. It’s too bad I didn’t realize that 45 years ago. I could have raced better and done a better job of coaching much sooner.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Risk and Reward in Training

First, I want to apologize for the big gap in posts. My last two weeks have been filled with travel and athletes visiting leaving little time for writing or anything else. Things are starting to settle down now so I should be able to get back into a normal routine. (I’ve got three trips coming up in the next month including one to London.) Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to again point out that I post daily to Here I often mention what the athletes I coach are doing in training (along with my mundane thoughts :). Now back to business…

One of the athletes I coach, Seth B., spent the last four days here training, going through physical and skill assessments, testing, getting a bike fit and just talking training philosophy and direction. He’s an analytical like me and likes to dig into the details of sport training. One of our conversations was about the risks and rewards of workouts. “Risk” refers to the potential for injury, illness, burnout and other breakdowns that may occur because a workout or a closely spaced series of similar workouts is so challenging. “Reward” has to do the benefits that may result from training.

All athletes seek to improve their fitness by increasing the stress they place on their bodies. The stress can vary from very low to very high. The lowest-stress sessions are short, slow and low-effort preceded and followed by extensive rest time. High-stress workouts are just the opposite and include either long duration (relative to what the athlete’s normal duration is), high intensity or high frequency. I gave him an example of this latter from younger and dumber days nearly 30 years ago when I would run a marathon in the morning with a friend and then come home and put in 10 more miles that afternoon. Both were slow and low-effort but long duration and high frequency made them risky. I often paid the price for such “training” back then by dealing with extended down time due to injury. That’s how I first came to understand the risk-reward curve.

Here in this diagram you can see what I’m talking about. Change the words a bit and you might make this a guide for investing in the stock market. There it’s common knowledge that stock which has a high potential for a monetary reward is associated with a high-degree of risk. The blue chip stocks, those that have a long history of consistent growth, are generally considered low risk (things have changed though recently, haven’t they?). So as the reward of investing in stock increases, the risk also increases. The opposite is also true. You could become wealthy in a short period of time, or lose it all when “gambling” with high-risk stocks. It’s essentially the same with training.

Athletes who continually experience breakdowns because they “over-invest” in high-risk training will never achieve their potential. Those who only do low-risk workouts will also never come close to their potential. Some risk is required to succeed at the highest levels. You need to control that risk to be successful.

So what is the riskiest training? First of all, running is among the riskiest sports due primarily to the orthopedic stress (“pounding”) associated with it. Runners without a long injury history are rare. Soft but firm running surfaces (trails, grass, dirt) will moderate some of the risk of running. One of the things that also makes running risky is its eccentric contractions. In such a contraction the muscle lengthens as you attempt to shorten it. Visualize a reverse arm curl in which you slowly lower a heavy weight. The calf and quads experience this with every step while running. That’s why your quads are so sore after a marathon. Essentially, the muscle is being pulled apart. On the other hand, cycling and swimming rely primarily on “concentric” contractions, meaning the muscle gets shorter as it contracts. Visualize arm curling a heavy weight from hip high to shoulder high.

Swimming is one of the lowest-risk sports. While overuse injuries certainly occur among swimmers, mostly to the shoulder, the rate of such setbacks is low compared with runners. Poor technique, paddles and drag or resistance devices increase the risk.

The same goes for cycling where the knee is the body part most commonly injured from doing too much. Risk is increased here by, first and foremost, having a poor bike setup. And probably the most common high-risk bike setups I see have the saddle too low and too far forward. Also raising the risk for cyclists is high-gear pedaling, especially on a hill and in the seated position. Inadequate gearing (meaning not enough low gears) is often associated with knee soreness and loss of training time.

Another risky but potentially rewarding activity is plyometrics, especially the kind that includes a lot of landings at the end of downward jumps. This could be jumping over objects or off of high platforms. Jumping from the floor to land on a knee-high box has a much lower risk but also a lower reward. (Read more about plyometrics

Heavy-load, low-rep weight training is also risky, but has a high potential for payoff if done correctly. Others are very high-speed sprints done much faster than is usual, hill training of any type and early season racing before fitness is well-established.

Note that I am not saying to never do moderately high-risk workouts. The key to being successful with them is to build into them gradually by starting with the lower-risk variations and gradually, over a significant amount of time, increasing the stress level. For example, with plyometrics start with upward jumps onto a platform, or low-jump-height movements such as rope jumping (which I use a lot with athletes). The key to increasing the reward while keeping risk controlled is patience. You must allow the body to adapt slowly and gradually. The more you try to force the body to adapt the greater the risk becomes.

(For more on this subject see my previous risk-reward posts
here and here.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Free Webinar Full

Registration for the free webinar on core strength on January 14 is now closed, but it will be available on our channel to be viewed for free at a later time.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Tucson Camp

March 12-15 TrainingBible Coaching will be hosting a training camp for triathletes and cyclists in Tucson, Ariz. Would you believe $300 for non-TrainingBible coached athletes? $100 for our client-athletes. (Does not include housing or meals.) This is a heck of a deal and would give you a nice escape from the ice and snow to get some miles in. Many or our coaches will join me there to assist you with your training and growth as an athlete. And Tucson is a great place to train. For more information contact our Director of Coaching, Adam Zucco at

Archived Webinars

I should have mentioned in the post below that our archived webinars on a variety of topics are stored at Topics include Metabolic Testing, Mental Skills, Triathlon Triathlon Swim Strategies, Paleo Diet for Athletes, and Racing Steady State Events. Most are about 1 hour. The cost per topic is US$15.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Upcoming Webinars

TrainingBible Coaching’s first webinar of the year is on January 14 at 4pm Pacific time. This first of the year is free. Coach and exercise physiologist Dorothy Hamburg will talk about Core Stability: How to Strengthen Your Core for the Demands of Endurance Sport. To register for this free webinar email TrainingBible’s Operations Manager David Warden at Information on how to sign in to the webinar will be emailed to you prior to webinar date.

We also have another webinar on January 21 at 5pm Pacific time on the topic of Biotelemetry: The Management of Heart Rate Monitors, Power Meters, GPS, Foot Pods, and Cyclocomputers. Coach Tom Rodgers, a former NASA bioengineer, explains in lay terms how to get the most of these the tools and gadgets. The cost for the Tom Rodgers e-Clinic is $10 for TrainingBible Coaching athletes and $20 for all others. To sign up go to Since there will be a Q&A session at the end, attendance is limited to the first 50 people, so reserve your space as soon.

How Should I Train?

I recently received the following question from Ross Weinzierl who gave me permission to print it here. I thought it was a good one, especially given this time of year when we reflect over the past season and think about what’s ahead. It’s also apropos because it gets at the issue of stress relative to specificity. Here’s what Ross asked…

Q: Developing my goals for 2009 has given me time to reflect on 2008 and what has gone right and what maybe didn't work so well for me. Not just for training, but, more importantly, my family life. I found that as I drove myself into training, I moved further from my family life. This year, one of my main goals is to increase my ratio of family time to training.

One such idea was to incorporate more high intensity training of short duration rather than put on more miles. I do not want to completely eliminate longer training sessions because I will never know what it really takes to go the distance. But I also want to maximize my output to give me the greatest feedback.

What has been your experience with a greater ratio of short, high intensity workouts to longer, less intense workouts? Can you completely substitute one for the other? What would be an adequate balance?

22 M
4th season triathlete
Married with 2 dogs
Highly motivated to succeed, but not at the price of family...again

A: You bring up many interesting issues here, Ross. It’s difficult to know where to start. I might point out first that what is one man’s “long” is another man’s “short.” So let’s try to nail that down first.

Every event demands some level of aerobic endurance just to complete it. You don’t have to train at the distance of the event, however, in all cases. For example, I never have an Ironman triathlete run 26.2 miles in training. There is simply very little to be gained by doing that and a lot to lose—mostly lost training time due to the long recovery from such a run and the potential for injury or other breakdowns that would also take away training time. But the shorter the race is the more likely one is to train at the race’s distance or even longer.

You race at the sprint (swim ~400m, bike ~13 miles, run ~5km) and Olympic (swim 1500m, bike 40km, run 10km) triathlon distances. So let’s discuss what is “long” when training for an Olympic triathlon. Typically the longest swim when I am coaching someone to race this distance is about 2500m. The common long ride is two hours. And the usual long run is 90 minutes. Could you train effectively with shorter “long” workouts? You most certainly could. It all comes down to what your performance goals are. Generally, the higher one’s performance goals (we’re talking about finishing times here), the longer the long sessions up to about the limits I described above. Many high-performance athletes go well beyond these suggestions in order to race at a level bordering on their physiological potentials. But with a lower goal of simply finishing the race you could train for shorter than the race distances and still be successful. You wouldn’t even need to increase the intensity of training.

Let me give you a personal example of that. Last year I did four, non-competitive cycling events ranging from 100 to 125 miles in the mountains of Colorado. My goal was simply to ride them with a friend and have a good time. Even though these events ranged from well over five to eight hours my longest training ride was just three hours. But I spent a lot of time preparing for the climbs as I knew this would be the real determiner of success for my goal. It worked.

This latter point is part of your question—does substituting higher intensity training for decreased low-intensity, endurance work prepare you as well for an event?

The answer to that question is “it depends.” The bigger your base of endurance fitness is, the less endurance training you need to do and the more you can concentrate on the intensity demands of the event. I’ve been riding a bike very consistently for 30 years. So I knew that if all I wanted to do was comfortably complete these long events the key would be the higher intensity climbs—not the duration. I trained accordingly.

If you have set high performance goals but you do not have a large reservoir of aerobic fitness from years of consistent training then you need to frequently do longer workouts approching the limits I listed above and also do high intensity training.

I share your concern for balancing my life with the many things I have to do while including what I want to do with my limited time on the planet. Family and training are also both important to me. While I love to workout I’ve seen what excessive time spent on the road can do to other important aspects of one’s life—family, career, finances, friendships and more.

I once went to a talk by a successful ultra-distance runner. He talked about how he trained, which was basically every spare minute was on the trails. He ran before work, during the lunch break, after work well into the night and for entire weekends. He won the Western States 100-Mile race that year as a result. During the Q&A at the end someone asked how all of that training impacted the rest of his life. He answered by saying that he lost his job, his wife divorced him and he had no friends. “But,” he said as he held up the belt buckle they award for winning, “it was all worth it!” I’m not sure I’d agree with that, but each to his own, I guess.

I don’t think I’ve completely answered your question here. There are simply too many things I don’t know about you. If I could just tell you what to do with your training without concern for the rest of your life it would be easy. I could make out a list of workouts for you to do over several weeks and could practically guarantee triathlon success in terms of performance. Just do these things—train both long and intensely—and you’ll achieve very high performance goals. Would it all be worth it? Only you could answer that question.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I'm Now Tweeting (or is it Twittering?)

You can now find my daily posts now at