Friday, April 24, 2009

Fatigue Indicators

I’ve been a bit concerned about one of the cyclists I coach. He’s in his late 50s and is very focused on his training and racing this season. He's a strong rider. Last week on his Tuesday evening, group ride he was dropped twice. That’s very unusual for him.

He and I could see things weren’t right, and so we cut back on training fairly dramatically for the last three days before his race last weekend. I hoped that would do it. It didn’t. That Saturday, in his first road race of the season, a B-priority, he couldn’t hold the wheel of his chase partner on a climb. So he dropped back to the second group where he finished. It wasn’t a very good start to his season.

Here are some of the things we should have caught earlier and made adjustments. All of these charts come from my
WKO+ software, which I rely on a lot in coaching.

This chart shows the increase in his weekly, cumulative Training Stress Score over the course of this season so far. You can see weeks where we cut back on training to allow for rest. But the big mistake appears to have been in March. There you can see four weeks of fairly high stress sandwiched by two rest and recovery weeks. In retrospect we tried to cram in too much training load to take advantage of some warm days (he lives in a very cold and snow-packed location). That was a mistake. The high TSS week on the right is his race week and most of that spike comes from the race.

This chart shows his power distribution by zones for the last 28 days leading up to this race (on the right) and the same 28-day period from last year (on left). In the right-hand chart notice the spike in zone 3 (“TE”) power relative to 2007’s zone 3. It’s hard to tell without knowing the numbers but what happened here was that his zones 4 (“TH”), 5 (“VM”) and 6 (“AC”) power are lower this year at this time. Essentially, it appears he has been spending a lot of time in zone 3 and less in zones 4, 5, and 6. I expect we’d find that someone who is tired would do that. Working at what feels like a hard effort would produce zone 3 power a lot of the time. His training and workouts during this 28-day period were essentially the same as during last year’s.

Here you can see his Performance Management Chart for the last 24 months. This is perhaps the most telling of all. The blue line represents his fitness (“Chronic Training Load”) while the red line represents fatigue (“Acute Training Load”). The right side of the chart takes him up to the race described above. Notice how his fatigue has been climbing fairly steadily since November. It closely matches what we see in his TSS chart above. The week of the race he was experiencing his highest fatigue of the year, and one of his highest fatigue levels in the last two years. Before this same race last year his fitness was about 22% lower by this same weekend, as was his fatigue.

The bottom line is we made a mistake in his training when we decided to take advantage of the warm weather back in March. And this was exacerbated by a lot going on in his off-the-bike life. There was simply too much stress load without allowance for it to subside. As his coach, this is my fault. It goes against everything I preach about the periodic need for rest and recovery. There’s a lot more to the story, but it’s sufficient to say here that this won’t happen again. He is now resting some more to be ready for this weekend’s race. If this doesn’t do it then he’s in for even more rest next week. It simply doesn’t pay to take shortcuts.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TrainingBible Clinics this Weekend

On Saturday and Sunday TrainingBible Coach and pro triathlete Jim Vance will offer a swim clinic with underwater analysis in Chicago. For more details and to register go here.

And as a reminder from my post a few days ago, I will be speaking in the Los Angeles area at Phase IV this Saturday. I'm told the 30 spots for those who want to attend the personalized clinic that follows are taken but that we still have a few openings for my 10 a.m. talk. For more details and to register go here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ironman Big Day

One of the triathletes I coach did his first Big Day yesterday as he prepares for Ironman Couer d’Alene. We had planned on doing it the previous weekend but he was sick the week before that, so we delayed it a week. He’ll do another of these, only a bit longer, four or five weeks before IMCdA.

The Big Day is just that: Three workouts in a single day with each on the long side and an emphasis on Ironman goal race intensity. I got the idea from Gordo Byrn a few years ago when we were writing our book, Going Long. The following is what I had my athlete do and is typical of the Big Day.

Swim: Warm up: 200 building speed each 50 (slow-mod-faster-fastest). Rest 30 sec. Then 5 x 400 (10 sec recoveries) building speed on each 100 (slow-mod-faster-fastest). Recover 10 seconds after last one. Then swim a 500 time trial. All out. Your average 100 pace for this is your T-time for future workouts. Then swim easy, 300 cool down. (3000m/y)

My Comments: (We don't have the technology to chart data for swimming yet. I'll write about what is needed to do this at a later date.) His swim went as planned. Pacing was on but the final 500 was a bit slower than expected.

Rest: Take a 90 minute break after the swim. Stay off of your legs and eat a light meal.

Bike: Warm-up 15-30 minutes. Then do 6-8 x 20 minutes at power zone 3 (10 min easy spin recoveries). Very aero with head tucked in. Eyes rolled up so you can see ahead. How many you do of these intervals depends on how you are feeling. It is OK to do fewer. If so just finish the ride at whatever effort feels appropriate. Eat/drink on bike just as you will do in race.

My Comments: Here you can see the chart of his bike workout with heart rate (red) and power (black). The yellow bars are the 20-minute intervals. You can see that he did 8 of the intervals. His power for each was in the upper portion of power zone 3. His heart rate stayed in the upper portion of zone 2 on each. And his decoupling was less than 5% on each interval. He nailed the bike workout!

Rest: Take a 90 minute break after the bike. Stay off of your legs and eat a light, liquid meal.

: Run 2 hours at upper HR zone 2. Take in carbs and fluids as you will in the race. Drink to thirst—not a schedule. Our goal is to see what your pace is at this HR and also to see if HR and pace remain coupled for 2 hours. A faster pace but with significant decoupling is counterproductive.

My Comments: The accompanying chart shows that he had a near perfect run. His heart rate stayed in upper zone 2; normalized, graded pace per mile was 7:46; he ran 15.2 miles; and decoupling was almost perfect as you can see in the graphic.

The purpose was to ingrain pace awareness, confirm that aerobic fitness is coming along by checking decoupling of heart rate and power or pace, to see how well the nutrition plan works and to see if he is up to the stress of such a day which is similar to what he will experience in the race. Of course, it’s easier than the race because he needs to spring back in a few days and get right back into training again. If the workouts were longer, more intense, or done with the rest breaks between them he would end up losing a lot of training time in the following week due to fatigue.

The next Big Day in a few weeks will be a bit longer with a 1.25-hour swim, 5-hour bike and 2.5-hour run—if all goes well with training between now and then.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Clinic in SoCal April 25

On Saturday, April 25 from 10 to 11:30am I will be speaking at Phase IV in Santa Monica. This clinic normally costs $75 but since TrainingBible Coaching is tieing it in with a pay-to-attend, 'hands-on,' triathlon clinic to follow, we are opening my talk to the public. The talk is for triathletes, cyclists, runners and other endurance athletes. Due to space it will be limited to 75 athletes. And only 30 triathletes will be allowed to attend the hands-on clinic since it is quite intensive. For either portion of the clinic you must pre-register. Go here to sign up.

We have recently presented this clinic in two other communities, Chicago and San Diego, and both have received glowing comments from the attending athletes.

The public talk is titled, 'Your Best Season Ever.' I'll show you exactly what I do with the athletes I coach to shape their seasons for excellent performances at their A-priority races.

The select 30 athletes who sign up for the second part of the clinic will rotate through five stations in a two-hour period. This is based on a concept developed by the Australian Triathlon Federation. Here are the five stations:

Ask a Coach: TrainingBible Coaches Joe Friel & Jeff Vicario personally discuss your training and any training questions you have.

Bike Fit Assessment: Robert Forster P.T. will check your bike fit. See what small changes in your bike fit can mean for better performance (bring your bike).

Running Gait Analysis: Edwin Tinoco P.T. will assess your running gait. Learn what injuries may occur from running, and what type of shoes will help prevent them and what it means to improved performance (bring your run gear).

Physical Therapy Structural Examination: Ron Berry P.T. will assess your current structural strengths, weaknesses, and imbalances in order to prevent injuries.

Race Performance Nutrition Consultation: Exercise physiologist Sheana Kubicz will review and refine your workout and race nutrition strategies to nail it on race-day!

The cost of the final two-hour clinic is $75 ($50 for tri club members). Again, there is a limit of 75 for the part 1 talk I do (all endurance sports) and 30 for the part 2 hands-on, triathlon clinic. To get your questions answered write to TrainingBible Elite Coach Jeff Vicario at To learn more about the clinic go to the Training Peaks forum.

I hope to see you then.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ironman Power

I’ve gotten three questions like the following in the last week so some of you must just be getting power meters and wondering how to use them.

Question: I heard in a discussion about the concept of using power levels for pacing in the bike portion of a half or full Ironman. I can’t remember all of the details and was wondering if you had any insight into this idea. For an IM race it was something like not exceeding 60% of your CP 60 power levels during the bike ride so that you wouldn’t burn out your legs prior to the run. I am not sure on the numbers but was wondering if you had any thoughts on this. I was also wondering if there were similar numbers that you could use for a half IM race.

Answer: I’ve had the Ironman athletes I coach using power meters to regulate intensity in their races for the last five years. It works well. A heart rate monitor may also be used but the excitement of the day usually creates inflated numbers the first half hour or so of the bike. This just happens to be the most critical part of the entire race, I believe. Go out too fast now and you run a very high risk of having a poor performance or not finishing. I see this happen at races all the time. It contributes to the stomach problems that so many IM athletes experience.

Most can’t understand why their nutrition plan worked on all of the long rides but not in the race. One reason is they simply started much, much faster in the race. The faster you go, the more limited your nutritional choices become. In a one-mile running race it is difficult to get water down. If you are doing RAAM (Race Across America) you can eat a hamburger and French fries on the bike (not that I’d recommend it).

So the bottom line is that a power meter will help you keep the pacing under control so that it matches up nicely with the foods you used in training. Of course, there’s more to the IM nutrition issue than just pacing. But that’s a whole other post for a later date.

So the question then is, what power should you ride at? Rule of thumb: The slower you go the lower your power must be. Not Earth-shaking, huh? What I’m really saying is that an eight-hour IM biker and a four-and-a-half-hour rider are not doing the same race. They shouldn’t train the same way or use the same percentage of Functional Threshold Power (FTP) which is the same thing as CP60 (mean maximal power for 60 minutes).

The sub-five-hour racer will usually ride at 70 to 80 percent of FTP. The eight-hour rider will do something like 50 to 60 percent of FTP. In between finish times will probably be 60 to 70 percent of FTP. Why the difference even though the slower rider has a lower FTP? Simply because you can’t hold a high percentage of a high output for a long time. If the sub-five athlete was going eight hours in a longer distance event he too would have to ride at a lower power output in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 percent of FTP. That’s what I mean when I say that the fast rider and the slow rider are not doing the same race even though both are in an IM.

So what about the power for a half Ironman? The usual rule of thumb here is that when you double the distance you decrease the intensity by 5 percent. So the converse would seem to indicate that you would increase the power by 5 percent over what you would do in an IM. That works really well for short events like 40k vs. 20k time trials. In reality it might be a bit more than five percent from IM to HIM since a two-and-a-half hour, 52-mile race is probably much less challenging than a five-hour, 112-mile race. So perhaps about 8 percent.

A friend of Gordo Byrn once showed me a chart he had put together which resolved these issues of how much power as a percent of FTP based on predicted finishing time. I can’t find it, nor do I have permission to use it. I haven’t checked, but Gordo may have it on his
website. I’m sure someone out there is aware of this and can fill us in.

Monday, April 6, 2009

East Coast Clinics This Weekend

This weekend I will be in Fairfax, VA and Annapolis, MD speaking at local seminars for all endurance sports. Here are the details...

Saturday, April 11, noon-8pm, Fairfax, VA. Contact: Ken Mierke (

Sunday, April 12, 9am-4pm, Annapolis, MD. Contact: Ken Mierke (

It seems that I seldom make it to the east coast. If you're from that area I hope you can make it. Please bring your Training Bible books. I'd be happy to meet you and sign them.

Triathlon Camp Announcement

Joe Friel's TrainingBible Coaching Lake Placid Training Camp will be June 26-28, 2009. Train on the Ironman Lake Placid Course. The Camp will support both long- and short-course athletes. Veterans and newcomers are both welcome to attend. Several of my TrainingBible-Certified Coaches will be conducting the camp: Tom Manzi (USAT Level II), Chuck Graziano (USAT Level II), Keith Cook (USAT Level I). There will be more TrainingBible coaches added later.

For more details see

Learn about the challenging course and how best to race it using the methodology of The Triathlete's Training Bible and my other books. The host hotel is the Northwoods Inn (contact directly at (518) 523-1818). Register at For more information contact Tom Manzi, the Camp Director, at Tom is one of the most seasoned Ironman coaches in the USA and has worked closely with me for more than 12 years. I hope you can make it.