Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finding the Right Coach, Part 2

The following is Part 2 of 3 parts on finding a coach who is right for you. Realize that some of what I am telling you here is my opinion. You may well disagree with what I think are important characteristics for a coach. In that case, I hope reading this and thinking about the details gives you a clearer idea of what you want in a coach. I will post Part 3 by Friday.

Beyond the rather basic considerations in Part 1, what personal characteristics should you look for in a coach?

Knowledge. While it’s not always necessary, having an advanced degree in a sport science can gives the coach a depth of understanding when it comes to training. But I should also say that some of the best coaches I’ve known had no formal training in the science of training. This is a plus but shouldn’t be a “must have.” Does the coach have experience teaching and refining the skills you need to improve upon? This could be swimming, mountain biking, running, cross-country skiing, or whatever your skill limiter happens to be. Realize that when it comes to teaching skills the coach should live near you.

Experience. Has the coach helped athletes like you achieve goals like yours? Is the coach known for how successful his or her athletes have been? Or perhaps the coach is well known as a competitive athlete. I must say that I’ve known several excellent coaches who never participated in the type of event they coach, so don’t let this point blackball someone who is otherwise excellent.

Compatibility. Personality is very important. Look for a coach who sees the world much as you do. Make sure you can communicate easily.

Trust. You need someone with whom you can comfortably talk about the details of your life. Of course, this won't be the case immediately. But everyone I've ever coached has eventually confided in me things they would usually tell only to a relative or close friend.

Motivation. Do you need someone to hold your feet to the fire? Or are you highly motivated and need a coach who will pull on the reins to keep you from overtraining? Is the coach a cheerleader or a task master? With which would you prefer to work?

Style. Some coaches are scientists. They experiment, collect data, analyze the data, and adjust your program as necessary. Others are artists who ask how you felt in a workout and compare that with their experience base. From this they draw conclusions and adjust your program if needed. There are some coaches who have an interesting mix of both of these talents.

Methodology. Are you more comfortable with one method of coaching or another? For example, there are coaches who are very good at designing programs that are high-volume-based. Others are very good at using variations in intensity to achieve goals. Is there a system of training you like or seem to respond well to? Perhaps it’s from my Training Bible, or from Chris Carmichael’s model, or Mark Allen’s. You can ask prospective coaches about such details.

Having done this now for nearly 30 years I’ve found there are several things I’ve come to expect of coaches. These are little things that I find valuable in guiding any athlete to a higher level.

Frequent contact. If you have signed up for unlimited contact and support from a coach you should expect frequent contact initiated by either of you. This should be at least weekly but daily is better. This could involve reviewing your daily log and commenting on things that stand out and answering your emails and phone calls in a timely manner.

Feedback. A coach who isn’t overburdened with too many clients will often have you and your unique needs on his mind. This is really what you are buying – brain time. It should be apparent that your coach is indeed thinking about you. This is most obvious by the feedback the coach gives you. He or she should be keeping you abreast of where you are right now in your quest to achieve your goals and occasionally discuss alternative routes and suggestions for getting there.

Support specialists. No one can know everything about everything, and yet coaches are often put in situations where they need to do just that. I’ve found that the best coaches almost always rely heavily on the guidance of specialists when facing challenging situations. These specialists could be physical therapists, sports medicine physicians, chiropractors, podiatrists, bike fitters, sports psychologists, nutritionists, and even other coaches.

Effective planning. I believe good coaches are always planning ahead. Knowing what you want to achieve weeks, months or even years from now should lead your coach to create a plan for getting there. Achieving long-term goals is like driving across the country: You need a map to keep you going on the most effective routes. You also need a compass to take you in the right direction. That brings us to the next point.

Data driven. Good coaches typically make training decisions based on two sources – intuition and data. Be careful of coaches who make all decisions because of how they feel you need to be training. Coaches who collect and analyze training and race data are a better bet to take you where you want to go.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Finding the Right Coach, Part 1

The season is wrapping up for most northern hemisphere athletes and the transition period, or what some call the 'off-season,' is about to begin. This is the time of year when you take a 'vacation' from focused training and recharge your mental and physical batteries. It's also a time to review what the past season was like and to start thinking about next year's training and racing. Some will set very high goals for the coming and year and begin to wonder if they can pull it off by themselves. This will lead many to seek professional coaching. The following is Part 1 of three parts on how to find the right coach for you. Parts 2 and 3 will be posted later in the week.

When I started freelance coaching of endurance athletes in 1980 I didn’t know of anyone else doing it. It wasn’t until 1989 that I heard of another coach – Marc Evans. I was so starved for someone to talk with about coaching that I flew out to California just to meet with him for a few hours. In 1992 I came across the second – Rick Niles. By 1997 there were a handful of us in triathlon with somewhat fewer in cycling. That year I met with a dozen or so of the triathlon coaches in Colorado Springs to establish the USAT Coaching Association under George Dallam’s guidance. Last time I checked there were more than 1700 triathlon coaches and over 1200 cycling coaches in the US. And this was only certified coaches – those who have been tested by their national federation and received a license. I’m sure there are thousands more across the US without licenses and certainly others around the world.

Finding a coach is no longer a challenge. Go to a race and grab the first person you come to. This person will either be a coach or has a friend who is. No, the challenge now is finding the right coach for you. Of course, if you don’t care about your race results then about anyone will do, I guess. That’s not to say that there aren’t many good coaches. There are. Actually, I’m very impressed with the quality of coaches I come across. There are lots of very sharp coaches out there. On average, the quality of coaching has risen while the quantity has also gone up. That’s unusual.

Being smart isn’t enough, however. What you need is someone who understands your unique situation and conditions, and can help you achieve your personal goals. That’s the hard part. And there are other lots of other qualities this person may have that are also important. You need to find out all you can about prospective coaches to help with the decision of who to hire. Here are some basics to consider when trying to find the right coach.

One thing you must always keep in mind is that the coach works for you. It’s not the other way around. You need to find someone who matches up with you and your unique situation. The right coach for you is someone who understands and has experience with athletes just like you.

Your sport. There are still coaches out there like me who work with athletes in different sports. But the trend is to focus on only one. Some limit their clients to subcategories within the sport such as Ironman triathlon, mountain biking, time trialing, or swimming for triathlon.
Your experience. There’s a world of difference in coaching a novice compared with coaching an experienced athlete. Some coaches are better with one than the other.
Your age. There are coaches now who specialize in junior, master and senior athletes. If you fall into one of these categories you may want someone who has coached many others who have age-related needs similar to yours.
Your gender. Some coaches focus on working with female athletes. I know of one who prefers to coach masters women who do short-course triathlons. So it can get quite specific.
Your location. If you are a novice you’re likely to need lots of help in developing the skills of your sport. That’s best done by someone who can be face to face with you often. If you experienced and have good skills it really doesn’t matter where you live on the planet any more.
Your equipment. Do you have a heart rate monitor, power meter, accelerometer, or GPS? Do you have powerful software such as WKO+? While all of this stuff is not necessary if you are a novice, such devices can help the experienced athlete achieve very high goals. You’ll need a coach who knows how to use and analyze this data.
Your terrain. Do you live at 7500 feet in the mountains of Colorado or on the table-top-flat coast of Florida? It would be beneficial if your coach had experience dealing with the unique challenges of such terrain.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seasonal Summary

Success in sport is just like success in any other aspect of your life. One of the requirements is careful planning. Deciding where you want to go in the future begins with knowing where you have been in the past. Recognizing trends and evaluating what you’ve been doing are both important steps on the path to racing better next year. This process can be accomplished in several ways. Talking with your coach or a trusted training partner is probably the best way. But lacking such people in your sporting life you can still accomplish the same end by answering some key questions. Here are some I often use. Your answers can lead in many different directions. Ultimately, the reason for such an exercise is to give you more focus when it comes to training and racing. It may even help you to decide why it is you devote so much of your life to training.

Here are five questions to answer at the end of your race season and before starting to prepare for the coming season:

1. What was the high point of your season? Why does this stand out for you? Was it what you thought it would be at the start of the season?

2. What was your greatest disappointment? Why did this happen? Is there anything you could have done to have avoided it?

3. Looking back, do you think you trained as wisely and as hard as you could have trained?

4. What is the one thing you most need to work on for next season in order to perform better?

5. What would you most like to accomplish next season? Is it a good stretch and yet within your reach if you do things right?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Excellence is not for everyone. It’s far too difficult for the great majority of those who participate in sport. In fact, those who seek excellence are often ridiculed because they are different from their peers. And so it isn’t easy to seek excellence either. Humans are social animals; we don’t like being outcasts. It’s much easier to go along with the crowd than to stand out in a crowd. But there are athletes who pull it off, and with great aplomb. Have you ever noticed how young, pro athletes often try to give the impression that nothing about their training or dedication to the sport is unusual? They’ve learned to give the appearance of being “just like everyone else,” even though their performance in competition tells us otherwise. Going out of their way to be laid-back is how they cope with the dilemma and help prevent others from branding them as strange. And that’s a good strategy which I would recommend to anyone who truly seeks excellence: Try not to give the air of someone who is seeking excellence. Appear ordinary in every way you can.

What brought all of this up was a question someone asked me over dinner tonight. We were at a surprise party for an athlete I coach who had just won his age category at his state’s time trial championship. It was clear to my dinner-table neighbor that this state champ had altered his course in the past year and was becoming excellent at cycling. So my new friend wanted to know what I looked for in a person who wanted to hire me as a coach. How would I know if a person could be successful? I started to tell him all of what follows but we were interrupted by party goings-on. Here’s the long list of what I think are the best predictors of excellence in sport, in their order of importance, in case he gets a chance to read this post.

Motivation. This one is more important than all of the others combined. If the athlete isn’t motivated excellence is highly unlikely. In fact, the other predictors won’t even exist without motivation. This goes well beyond giving lip service to goals. The truly motivated athlete is on a mission and has a hard time keeping himself or herself in check. This person really needs a coach to pull on the reins to prevent overtraining, injury, illness and burnout. If the coach has to use a whip then it’s a losing cause no matter how talented the athlete is. The coach will never give the athlete motivation. It must come from within. When I’m interviewing athletes I ask lots of questions to find out how truly motivated they are. For example, I ask how often they train with other athletes versus alone. The low-motivation athlete will need companionship frequently. If you are motivated then all of the following predictors of excellence will fall into place eventually.

Discipline. This is very simple. The disciplined athlete will make daily sacrifices and make due with hardships in order to excel. This person doesn’t miss workouts short of a disaster. Weather is an insignificant factor. The disciplined athlete knows that the small stuff is important. He or she doesn’t get sloppy with diet, recovery, equipment or anything else that has to do with goals. Discipline is not easy. Others can accept motivation, but they have a hard time dealing with people who are disciplined. You’ve got to make light of or even hide your discipline is you want to be accepted by your peers. Good luck here.

Confidence. Some people seem to live life completely with an unwavering belief in themselves and their actions. These folks are indeed rare. I’ve met very few athletes who didn’t have some concerns about how well suited they were for whatever the task at hand may be. There’s a sliding scale of confidence. Most of us are somewhere in the middle. To move closer to the high-confidence end all we typically need is some success. Success breeds confidence. While it’s hard to come by you can create your own. For the athletes I’ve coached whose confidence was decidedly on the low end I’ve suggested a daily confidence-booster. When they go to bed and after the lights are out, I tell them to go back in their memories and find anything in their day’s workout or related activities that was successful at any level. This could be a very small success such as feeling strong going up a certain hill during the workout today, or eating fruit instead of a cookie for a snack. I tell them to then relive that small success over and over until they fall asleep. Occasionally there are big successes. These become “anchors” which they relive often and store away in a vault to be pulled out whenever they feel low confidence coming on, like at the starting line of a race. Thinking of one’s successes breeds success. Success breeds confidence.

Focus. This could also be called purpose; the athlete knows where he or she wants to go in the sport. Daily training is a purposeful activity that will lead to excellence. Each workout (and accompanying recovery) is a small building block that eventually results in excellence. But you have to take it one step at a time, which brings us to the last predictor, patience.

Patience. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers it takes about 10,000 hours for a person to become a master of anything. I had never tried to quantify it in terms of hours, but experience told me that performing at the highest level in sport takes something on the order of 10 years of serious training regardless of when you started in life. So I think Gladwell is probably right. There are certainly exceptions, or at least it appears that way on the surface. But when an athlete comes along who seems to go to the top right away we often find on closer examination that he or she had been developing outside of the recognized success pathways. Patience also has another level that goes beyond this long-term approach to success. This is a more immediate, daily component associated with the ability to pace appropriately early in workouts and races. Athletes who seem unable to learn this skill are less likely to be successful than those who master it.

Notice that I didn’t say anything about innate talent, physiology, skills, or even experience in the sport. All of these things can be developed and learned if the other predictors are there. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t have the capacity to develop each of these mental abilities. As mentioned earlier, the challenge for most of us in seeking excellence is learning how to do it without appearing to be doing so. Watch how most of the pros do it and try to emulate their apparently laissez-faire attitude. Good examples are Chrissie Wellington in triathlon and David Zabriskie in road cycling. In their own unique ways they give the impression of being unconcerned about excellence. But no one achieves their levels of accomplishment without being highly motivated, disciplined, focused and patient.

Labels: ,

Monday, September 21, 2009

Multi-Sport Excellence

Can you be good at everything? Okay, you know the answer to that one, I’m sure. Well then, how many things, like sports, do you think you can be good at, concurrently? I don’t just mean passable at; I mean really, really good at. Like reaching your full potential. Like winning almost every race you go to in multiple sports. Like going to the World Championship in multiple sports. That kind of good.

Does that sound like a dumb question? I hope not because I have lots of people ask me, and they are very smart folks. They simply want to participate in two (or more) sports and do as well as they possibly can in both (or all) – not just finish.

There have been few pro athletes who have tried anything like this. The only one who comes to mind right now is Michael Jordan who retired from basketball to give baseball a try. It didn’t work out for him. But even he didn’t try to play both sports at the same time, even though both involve a ball.

This is what many age group athletes want to do – race in two sports. Not just participate. That is easy to do. Anyone can sign up for races in different sports and have twice as much fun on any given weekend. What I’m talking about is racing competitively and winning at a high level. This is not nearly as common, although a few do manage to pull it off. But very few.

Former pro triathlete Cameron Widoff comes to mind. For several years he was the most successful American at Ironman Hawaii when it comes to consistent top 10 finishes – and he also raced his bike competitvely. Someone else who managed to pull it off for a while was Lance Armstrong who in the late 1980s and early1990s was primarily a triathlete but dabbled in bike racing - and became pretty good at the second sport. And so eventually he gave up triathlon (word is that he’s considering triathlon again for the future). In fact, the athletes who ask me most about doubling up are triathletes who also want to be road cyclists. After all, they always point out to me, both involve cycling.

I really do hate to rain on peoples’ parades, but when they ask me I feel a need to be honest. Sign up and have fun but don’t expect to be the best you can possibly be at two different sports. And the sports of triathlon and road bike racing really are different despite having a bike involved in each of them. Bike racing success depends on anaerobic fitness. It always comes down to three-minute or shorter episodes. Triathlon is a fully aerobic sport. There is no anaerobic in triathlon. It never comes down to a three-minute episode. And the people who are serious about bike racing – your intended competition – ride a lot of miles every week. A lot. They don’t run and swim or do anything else that takes energy and time away from bike training. And, no, there is so little crossover of fitness from one sport to the next that it’s a non-issue. Your running and swimming will not make you better when on a long climb you have to put out 350 watts or get dropped. And that’s what competitive bike racing is all about.

Let me tell you about an athlete I coached for many years. We’ll call him “Ralph.” Ralph liked to be competitive in both sports. At the end of each season we’d have this conversation about next year. I’d ask him if he wanted to stay with two sports or focus on one. And I always assured him he would be much more competitive if he did focus. Ralph was already quite accomplished in both sports with a spot on Team USA for the World Triathlon Championship and top 5 finishes in his state road cycling championship for his age group. He always said that he enjoyed both and wanted to continue training and racing in two. Then in the early spring a few seasons back he came up lame with a running injury that just wouldn’t go away no matter what we did or how much he rested it by not running. So I suggested that he just race his bike to let the injury heal. No more running for a while. He reluctantly agreed. Know what happened? His Functional Threshold Power (an indicator of bike fitness) increased by more than 15% in a six weeks. That’s unheard of for someone who had been riding for decades. The reason why is because all of his training energy and time now went into only one sport. He was no longer a Jack-of-all-trades. He was a specialist. At the end of that season he decided to stick with bike racing and forego triathlon. That was two years ago and he is still going strong as a bike racer.

Ralph isn’t the only one. A few years ago I was also forced to give up running after 50 years. A knee just wouldn’t take it any more. So I became a bike racer also. I had the same experience as Ralph. Even though I had been riding a bike competitively for 25 years I became a much stronger cyclist. Now at age 65 I ride with young guys whose wheels I couldn’t hold just a few years ago. Do I miss running? Sure. It was the love of my life for a half century. But I also love riding a bike stronger than I ever have, and in the seventh decade of my life.

Now I know someone is going to jump to the conclusion that I am a snob who doesn’t think people should participate in sport just to have fun regardless of how many sports that may involve. Please note that this is not what I’m saying. I have absolutely no problem with athletes doing as many sports as their hearts desire. The more the merrier. I used to do that myself. I’m only saying that if you want to excel at sport you can’t spread yourself thin. You only have so much energy and so much time. The higher your goals, the more you must focus on a single sport.

Labels: ,

Sunday, September 20, 2009


You've probably heard of D.O.M.S. - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. This is what you experience two days after lifting weights after several weeks off. You're sore and stiff for a couple of days, but it doesn't happen immediately after lifting.

I think there may be something along the same lines I'd call D.O.F. - Delayed Onset Fatigue. I see this in other athletes and myself a lot. The day after a very hard workout or race the athlete doesn't feel too bad and the training reflects that sensation. But the following day, two days after the killer workout, the fatigue is really a heavy burden. It's all the athlete can do to get through it. I've never seen this discussed before but I see it too often not to be real.

I'm curious. What's your experience? Ever have this happen to you?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Volume vs. Race Specificity

The closer you get to the day of your A-priority race the more like the race your training should become. This seems obvious but it’s easy to lose sight of the purpose of your training and focus your limited energy and time on stuff that is unimportant. The biggest mistake made by athletes before peaking is putting too much of their time and energy into training volume.

Other than changing the mode or sport of your workouts, there are only three elements of training you can modify to build fitness: workout duration (how long), workout intensity (how hard), and workout frequency (how often). The combination of duration and frequency is called volume – how many hours, miles, kilojoules, or kilometers you train in a given period of time, such as a week. Athletes tend to become very fixed on this volume number thinking that it reveals the most important aspect of their training and ultimately determines how fit they are. Some times they are right.

There is no doubt that volume contributes to fitness. Try training only one day a week and see what happens to your capacity for exercise. In fact, early in the training year, as in the Base period, volume is quite beneficial. Racking up a lot of whatever it is that you like to measure from the list above will do wonders for your fitness. But the closer you get to your most important events the less beneficial volume becomes. In fact, it can actually decrease your race performance.

In the last few weeks before your A-priority race, workout intensity and duration become the greatest determiners of how you will perform on race day. These need to take on the characteristics of the race itself. The days when you are not pushing the limits of intensity and duration you need to make easy. That essentially means cutting volume. Instead of riding two hours on a recovery day as you did in the Base period, you may now only ride for an hour - or even take the day off. Why? Because you need to be fresh and ready to push your limits of intensity and duration on the day of your next “breakthrough” workout.

By the late Build period at least one of your weekly workouts should take on the combined intensity and duration characteristics of your A race. You want the stress you experience in this workout to approach that which you will experience in the race. For most endurance-sport events, it’s unlikely that you will make this workout just as long and just as intense as the race. That’s likely to be far too demanding in terms of motivation and the number of days needed afterwards to recover before training hard again. But you can make it just as intense only shorter, or just as long only less intense. Intervals, repetitions and challenging workout segments can be included in workouts of different durations to simulate the stress of the race.

The bottom line is that you can’t have both volume and race specificity at the same time if you want to race well. Each requires too many resources. You can only have one or the other. In the Base period volume is very beneficial. But if you have an important race coming up in a few weeks, race specificity is the key to success.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Estimating TSS

NOTE: Several people raised good questions about the table that originally appeared with this post. Essentially, the issue was at what RPE/heart rate should a score of 100 occur. The points were well made so I've adjusted the chart to what you now see below.

Last week someone asked how I estimate Training Stress Score. My answer was a bit sloppy since the formatting of tables is all messed up in comments fields. This had all started when I posted a blog on how to project fitness and form during a Peak period using WKO+ software. Before getting at the table below to show you how to do this, I should provide a little refresher on Training Stress Score.

Training Stress Score (TSS) is a way of expressing the workload from a training session. It is the product of the workout’s intensity and duration. As either of these increases, TSS also increases. The formula for TSS is (there will be a test on this!)…

TSS = (sec x NP x IF)/(FTP x 3600) x 100

• “sec” is duration of the workout in seconds,
• “NP” is Normalized Power (don’t worry about this for now),
• “IF” is Intensity Factor (a percentage of your FTP; in other words how intense the effort was),
• “FTP” is Functional Threshold Power (your best average power for a one-hour race or test),
• and “3600” is the number of seconds in an hour.

There’s no reason to remember all of this as I’m going to make it much easier for you. But understanding where the numbers come from may prove helpful for some. (The WKO+ software does all of this calculating for you automatically when you download your bike power meter or run GPS/accelerometer device. The TSS data point from the workout is then inserted into the Performance Management Chart you see here.)

If you don’t have a power meter or GPS/accelerometer but would like to use WKO+ to manage your training you can estimate your TSS and input it manually into the software. Many triathletes already do this with their swimming since as of this post there is no downloadable device that can be used to determine swim TSS (I expect to see that change in the next year). And there are also times when the device fails because the battery goes dead or you inadvertently erase the data and so being able to estimate the TSS salvages a data point.

To estimate TSS you must know two things: How long was the workout, and how intense was the workout. How long is easy. You just need a stopwatch. How intense is the hard piece. This is where estimation comes in if you don’t have a power or pace device. To estimate intensity for a workout you need either a subjective Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) or average heart rate. Both of these are far from perfect, but they can give you a TSS estimation which is close. And given that you will use the same method each time you should be relatively accurate (or inaccurate as the case may be).

Some examples may help you to understand how to use this table…

Example 1: A 30-minute workout at an average RPE of 6 would be a TSS estimate of 35 (70 x 0.5).

Example 2: A steady 90-minute workout at an average heart rate of high 2 zone would be a TSS estimate of 90 (60 x 1.5).

Example 3: A 15-minute warm-up averaging high heart rate zone 1 (TSS 10) followed by 30 minutes at heart rate zone 5a (TSS 50) and a 15-minute cool down at low heart rate zone 1 (TSS 5) would produce a one-hour workout TSS of 65 (10+50+5).

And one caveat: Since FTP is by definition 100 TSS for one hour, a 100 TSS workout cannot last longer than one hour. A portion of the workout can be one hour with a TSS of 100, but an entire workout that lasts longer than an hour cannot be at the 100 per hour rate.

Once you have an estimated TSS plug this number into your WKO+ software on the Calendar page. To do this right click on the appropriate workout date, select “Create a New Workout”, click “Save”, and then right click the new workout selecting “Override values” from the pop-up menu. Type in the estimated TSS and you’re done. Easy, huh? Actually, it gets quite easy as you become accustomed to it.

I hope this helps, but if not please let me know your questions.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speed Before Endurance

The following question comes from a reader...

Question: I was wondering if you could write on when it is the proper time to compete in an Ironman. I do not mean so that I can finish one, I mean go there and truly race it for a Kona spot. This is my second year in the sport and I am 23 years old, and have raced Olympic, and half distance with a PR of 4:52:28. I was thinking about trying to step it up to the next level for next year, and race IM Wisconsin and go for a Kona spot. But I have also been told that at my age it would be better to spend some more time in the shorter distances trying to build up more speed before I jump into the big dance. I see the reasoning for this, but just wondering what your thoughts on the subject are.

Answer: One of the best Ironman athletes I have coached was Ryan Bolton. I always thought the way he progressed in the sport was excellent. As a youngster he ran shorter races like the mile. In college he ran the 5,000m and 10,000m and became an All-American runner. He also toyed around with short triathlon events in college. After graduation he began racing Olympic distance. In December of 1997 I started coaching him with our focus on the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After the Games he decided to try the Ironman distance. His first IM race as a pro was in 2001 at Lake Placid. Since this was his first the plan was to just finish and gain experience on which we could build for the following year. I had him race conservatively until the last 13 miles of the run. He took second to Steve Larsen who was also doing his first IM. (Steve recently died.) The following year Ryan returned to Lake Placid and won easily.

From the start of junior high school track racing to his first IM was about 15 years. During that time he was focused more on speed than endurance. I continue to keep my eyes open for young athletes who have progressed as he did from going fast for many years before becoming focused on going long. They have a lot of potential. With some exceptions, this is how most world-class, endurance athletes have progressed.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rest and Recovery Question

The following question was submitted by a reader. Before answering this I'd like to thank those of you who have sent me suggested topics to write on here. There were many good suggestions. The only matter, as always, is available time .

Question: I've noticed that you post ride stats nearly every day on Twitter. I've been finding excellent performance increases for myself when I ride fairly hard for a month or so, then take a week off the bike and do nothing but walk or run and maybe calisthenics (but no trainer, mtb or
road biking at all). The hard month has to be focused training and not just going out and beating around for a while, but if it consists of intervals and hill repeats and long rides, the week off does amazing things. For example, last night was the first night out after a week off, and I could sustain much higher speeds in the face of a 15 mph wind than I was even able to sustain in the middle of last month's training. This is something I notice consistently on the first night back on the bike.

My thought is that much rest would be counterproductive without a good baseline of fitness but I'd be very interested in your opinion on all of this, particularly if you have specific recommendations for rest.

Answer: There's no doubt that rest is beneficial to performance. How often and how much are the key questions. In my opinion there needs to be daily, weekly, monthly and annual rest. In the context of what you suggested works for you, I generally have athletes train at an individually high level of average stress for 2-3 weeks and then take 3-5 days of very low stress to allow for recovery. This often (but not always) includes a day off, as in their other "normal" training weeks.

For seasoned athletes I have found that low stress within their sport is better than no stress. No-sport-specific stress generally means a significant loss of fitness after a few days and psychologically stressful concern about their progress toward their upcoming A-priority race.

There is also considerable difference in how much stress individuals can tolerate. Professional endurance athletes typically have a very high capacity for training stress. Novices have a very low capacity generally. In between these extremes there are many other variables that affect one's capacity for stress such as age, diet, lifestyle, sleep patterns, the nature of the targeted event, current level of fitness, and more. So it really is not possible to set a standard for recovery that works for everyone. The best we can hope to do is determine what works best for each of us. This, by the way, is a moving target. There is considerable variance in how we respond to stress from day to day.

You appear to have discovered what works best for you. That's no small accomplishment. You'll perform better because of this.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Projecting Race Readiness

A unique useage of the WKO+ software is projecting what to expect on race day. Accompanying is a screen shot of a Fitness-Fatigue-Form projection for an athlete I coach who has two A-priority races in the next two weeks - the Record Challenge TT in New Mexico on September 6 and one week later the State TT Championship (click to expand). The horizontal axis represents time from the start of his training season in November of 2008 (and recovery from a crash almost immediately) until September 13, 2009.

What I've done here is to determine what the daily workout Training Stress Scores (TSS) need to be during his Peak period in order to produce a Training Stress Balance ('Form') of about +20. This helped me to decide on workout intensities and durations for each day of the Peak period. You can see here that his Form worked out to +21 for the first race and +22 for the second. So just about spot on.

My other concern in projecting a Peak period is to keep Chronic Training Load ('Fitness') losses to around 10%. For the Record Challenge he will come to the race with a drop from his recent high point of about 10%. For the second race the cumulative drop will be about 13% from the same point. This is quite good also.

Should he have decided on including a third A-priority race a week after the second (he didn't) Fitness would drop even more. This helps to explain why it is so difficult to have several A-priority races in consecutive weeks. Fitness drops each week when peaking. That's because Fitness and Fatigue follow the same general trend. So when attempting to reduce Fatigue, Fitness also declines, just not as rapidly. And the longer the race is, the greater the drop. By the third or fourth week of continued Fatigue reduction, Fitness is likely to be so low that performance is significantly compromised. This is why I encourage athletes to have only about three A-priorities in a season and to space them several weeks apart, if possible. Of course, that's not always possible so you must then be aware of what the consequences may be in terms of race performance in the latter races and set goals and race strategies accordingly.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Functional Threshold

Someone asked on my Twitter feed today what ‘FTP’ is. I had recently mentioned it in a tweet. Since I use that term a lot it’s probably a good idea to define it. A little background first…

Anaerobic threshold. Lactate threshold. Ventilatory threshold. These are terms used to describe points in the intensity spectrum when the athlete is on the verge of or is already accumulating lactate and hydrogen ions in the body’s fluids. This means that the body is rapidly becoming acidic. Scientists attempt to define the above terms very precisely and see each as having unique conditions. Despite their best efforts even they fail to be in complete agreement on what each means.

As athletes we seldom get involved in such discussions. We tend to see these terms as interchangeable and meaning roughly the same thing – you are “redlining.” And for all intents and purposes, that is reasonable since these thresholds occur at roughly the same point and are seldom exactly the same from one day to the next due to variations in fitness and fatigue.

Magazines and books written for the athletic market use these terms when talking about training for endurance sports, also often interchangeably. So we have come to accept and generally understand what they mean, especially 'anaerobic' and 'lactate' threshold. They are less clear on 'ventilatory' threshold since this term is used much less frequently than the other two. In fact, you can simply use the word 'threshold' when speaking with other athletes and they will usually take that to mean a high effort with an RPE of about 7 or 8 on a 10 scale.

Now there is a new term being used to describe this level of intensity – 'functional' threshold. This is largely due to the work of Andrew Coggan, PhD, and Hunter Allen and their book, Training and Racing with a Power Meter (VeloPress, 2006). I like this term for field work because it removes all of the mystery associated with scientific concepts such as hydrogen build up, lactic acid, lactate, aerobic, anaerobic, RER, ventilatory rates, and the like. Very few really understand these terms. Functional threshold solves this problem by defining redlining based on actual output in a field test or race.

Functional threshold power or pace (FTP) is the highest mean average power or pace you can maintain for one hour. That’s quite precise, clear and logical. It even fits nicely with what we know about AT, LT, and VT. When you are in good shape these various measures of intensity can be maintained for about an hour. So rather than trying to describe this phenomenon with biological conditions, we simply define it based on a common output denominator.

Once you know FTP your training zones may be established based on power or pace. WKO+ software does this for you. All you do is plug in your FT power (cycling) or pace (running) and the zones are automatically calculated. Then workout intensity is determined based on pace or power zones. WKO+ will also determine heart rate zones using the system described in my books. Just enter your average heart rate for a one-hour race effort. Of course, this software goes well beyond simply setting zones. It also allows you to see a visual representation of the pace- or power-based workout and graph the workout/race data into several different charts for analysis.

All of this analysis data is based on FTP so it must be kept updated with periodic testing to make sure you have it right. Over the course of a season FTP will change a lot if your training is affective. And it is one of the best indicators of how your fitness and race readiness are progressing. While heart rate remains rather steady throughout the season, power and pace change considerably. That’s obvious since becoming more fit provides several benefits including being faster and more powerful. Training is all about accomplishing these goals. That’s why I keep a close watch on FTP for the athletes I coach and highly recommend that self-coached athletes do the same.

Labels: , , ,