Thursday, October 29, 2009

Preparing for the 2010 Season, Part 3

Seems like when ever I say 'periodization' someone else says 'rigid' or 'inflexible.' I don't know why that is. I think some people just have a lot of emotional baggage associated with planning and assume the worst. Planning for peak performance is like planning a long car trip. You need a route drawn out on a road map. Along the way you may find some roads closed and so you will detour. Or you might decide to see a point of interest off the planned route. It's doubtful you will follow the planned route with no change. And so it is with periodization. I have never in 30 years of doing this followed a training plan without change. That doesn't mean the plan was wrong or some how bad. It just means that the situation has changed some how. I wrote about this topic about a year ago. If you believe that planning your season is doomed to failure based on something you've read about its rigidity or lack of flexibility please read that post.

Here are the next two steps in laying out your Annual Training Plan (ATP).

Step 3: Set Annual Training Hours
At the top of the ATP there is a space to indicate your “Annual Hours.” This is how many cumulative hours you will train over the course of the season including all of your sport-specific workouts (triathletes-swim, bike, run; cyclists-ride; runners-run; etc), weights and cross-training time.

One way to determine annual hours is to look back at how much time you trained in the 2009 season. You may be able to add 10 to 15 percent onto this number for 2010 if you successfully and easily managed that volume. Another way of estimating annual hours is to determine what your normal training hours are for a week and multiply that by 40. A third option is to base annual hours on your longest race and general goal for that event using the Annual Hours Table.

Step 4: Prioritize Races
Next, on your ATP, write in all of the races you intend to do in the coming season in the column labeled “Races.” Place them on the ATP in the appropriate weeks based on their usual dates. For example, let’s say that you have an event scheduled for Saturday, January 30, 2010. It would be listed in the row marked 'Jan 25' since that row includes all the dates from January 25 through January 31. If you have two races the same weekend list them both in that row.

Once you have listed all of your planned events designate each as 'A-priority, 'B-priority,' or 'C-priority' by writing in A, B or C in the 'Pri' column next to the race name using the accompanying Race Prioritization Table.
There are two more parts to this rather long topic. I'll post the next in a day or two.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Preparing for the 2010 Season, Part 2

I've received a number of comments and questions in regards to my recent post on Training and the Transition Period. What really stands out from these is how many of you are unwilling, or perhaps even unable, to relax at the end of the race season and take a break. There is obvious concern about gaining weight and losing fitness. I suppose this is to be expected. I can only tell you that you will never achieve a really high level of fitness until you learn to accept low levels of fitness. As with many things in life, the lower your lows, the higher your highs. Let go and relax for two to six weeks after your last race. You'll race better next year. I've seen it happen many, many times before with athletes who were reluctant but forced to rest. Now back to the business at hand...

Two days ago I posted Part 1 of this overview of how to plan out a season. I also suggested that you download a free Annual Training Plan (referred to as an 'ATP' below) at TrainingBible Coaching or sign up for an account at TrainingPeaks where all of this ATP heavy lifting will be done for you by the VirtualCoach I designed. Now back to the planning process...

Step 1: Determine Goals for 2010
At the top of the ATP are spaces for three seasonal goals. I’ve found that three is about right. When there are too many goals something gets neglected. You can have fewer, but I’d suggest no more than three.

Goals should be event outcomes, not vague statements about your dreams of success. They should be well-defined by including one basic element — what exactly you want to achieve in given races. Goals such as to lose weight and improve power or pace are actually training objectives, not goals, which we’ll get to in a while. These are things that will help you to race better in some way. If you are training to race then state your goals around what you want to accomplish in those races. If you don’t care about the outcomes of races (or other events such as century rides) then you can make your goals whatever best fit your interests.

Goals should also be measurable. It isn’t enough to set a goal of “Race faster.” Goals should be more along the lines of, “Complete the XYZ Time Trial on May 7 in less than one hour.” The more tightly you define your goals the easier you will find it is to work toward their successful accomplishment. I've always been a firm believer that the more precisely you state your goal the easier it will be to achieve.

Of course, a goal to win the local road race or triathlon has a lot to do with who shows up that day and how fit they are. It is often better to set a performance-related goal, such as a time or strategy that you believe will win the race. The exception is when you know exactly who the competition is likely to be and what they are capable of doing in a race.

Write your three goals for 2010 in the spaces provided at the top of the ATP.

Step 2: Establish Training Objectives
Can you achieve your goals? There should be at least a seed of doubt in your mind or the goal is too easy and won’t really be fun to achieve. If there is no question at all about your potential for success then the goals aren’t going to challenge you and training will have little purpose.

Here’s something for you to ponder: Why can’t you achieve your goals now - without even training? If you knew you could achieve them now we’d call them accomplishments rather than goals. Since there is uncertainty about your capacity to perform at the level of the Big Goal there is obviously something lacking that stands between you and immediate success. The purpose of your training is to ‘fix’ this performance ‘limiter.’ The sub-goals that will lead you to doing this are called ‘training objectives.’

A limiter is not merely a weakness; it’s a race-specific weakness. For example, you may have a weakness when it comes to racing on hilly courses. But if your A-priority races are all flat then this weakness is not a limiter. If we know what your limiters really are and you train in such a way as to make the limiters stronger then you will be able to achieve your goals. It’s that simple.

The key question is, what are my limiters? Answering this question is the single most important thing you can do right now to move toward achieving your goals. Most athletes never ask this question. They train absentmindedly doing whatever seems right at the time. If they are strong believers in hill work they do lots of hills. If long, slow endurance is their favorite way to train then that’s what they do. It never dawns on them that until they improve whatever it is that is holding them back there will never be a performance breakthrough. Continuing to focus on strengths while ignoring limiters means there will be little or no change in performance.

So, what are the possible limiters? They are nearly endless including everything that affects athletic development in such broad categories as training, lifestyle, nutrition, time available for training, athletic equipment, training environment, support, susceptibility to illness and injury, poor tactics and strategy, lack of race experience, poor body composition, insufficient sleep and psychological stress. While you need to examine yourself in terms of each of these categories, we will concern ourselves here primarily with limiters that can be strengthened with training.

Training is something we do to improve performance abilities. In The Triathlete’s and Cyclist’s Training Bibles I describe six abilities that determine how successful one is as an athlete. They are
Endurance — the ability to keep going for a very long time. Improved by doing long workouts, especially in zone 2.

Force — the ability to overcome resistance. Improved by training with weights, on hills, against the wind, and in rough water.

Speed skills — the ability to make the movements of the sport in an economical and effective manner. Improved with drills, fast repeats of a few seconds, plyometrics, and high-frequency training.

Muscular endurance — the ability to go for a moderately long time at a moderately high effort (at or just below lactate/anaerobic threshold). Improved with long (6-12 minutes) intervals with short recoveries, or long (20-60 minutes), steady efforts done in zones 3 and 4.

Anaerobic endurance — the ability to go for a relatively long time (a few minutes) at a very high effort (well above lactate threshold). Improved with short (2-4 minutes), fast intervals with about equal recovery durations done in zone 5b (CP6).

Power — the ability to sprint at very high outputs for a few seconds. Improved with very short (less than 20 seconds), max effort sprint intervals with long recoveries (several minutes).
For novice athletes the first three, the ‘basic’ abilities, are the typical limiters. For experienced athletes who have devoted three or more years to improving endurance, force and speed skills, the common limiters are the ‘advanced’ abilities — muscular endurance for longer events, anaerobic endurance for shorter events, and power for sprinting. The power ability is seldom an issue in triathlon.

The following are some examples of training objectives listed by ability. These may give you some ideas about what yours might be. Give this some thought and then list your training objectives at the top of the ATP below Goals. There is room for five. You’ll need at least one objective for each limiter. Be sure to indicate when you need to achieve the objective. That will keep you honest so they don’t just become ‘maybe’ dreams. This date should be in advance of your most important race for which that improved ability is needed for success.

Endurance Objective example: Within a six-week period complete six, four-hour rides in zone 2 with the last on July 8.

Force Objective example: Freebar squat 1.5 x body weight by January 7.

Speed Skill Objective example: Complete a 5k running race with an average cadence of 88 by August 12.

Muscular Endurance Objective example: Take 30 seconds off of 3km run done at a heart rate 10 bpm below lactate threshold by September 2.

Anaerobic Endurance Objective example: Improve CP6 to 330 watts by June 17.

Power Objective example: Average 800 watts for at least 12 seconds by August 30.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Preparing for the 2010 Season, Part 1

If you're following the suggestion in my last post to allow for some downtime in training after your last race of the 2009 season then you may be feeling a bit guilty about not working out seriously. I understand. It's hard to let go of hard-earned fitness. My clients often feel that way. In fact, one of them got carried away with his uncoached Transition period and managed to create his second-highest fitness of the year in four-weeks. I've given him a hard time about this because my concern is that he'll wind up mentally wasted and not be able to focus on challenging workouts and high performance when it counts next spring and summer. His first A-priority race is six months in the future. He's on his way to being a 'Christmas Star' - an athlete who performs great in the middle of the winter but fades as spring comes around. He's made it more difficult - not less - to be in top form on that race day. I hope you're not doing this, also.

Instead of training hard, now is a good time to do some planning for the coming season. In this and the next five posts I'll walk you through this process. It's also covered in greater detail in my Training Bible books.

Planning is at the heart of success in nearly every endeavor in our lives. In sport the most commonly used method of planning is called periodization. This simply involves dividing the training season into periods with each having a purpose. And those purposes all point in one direction – the best possible performance in a few events within a season or series of seasons.

The basic concepts of this method have been around since the early 1900s when Russian sport scientists developed and later refined it. It wasn’t until the 1970s that western athletes began to understand and use periodization. Among the earliest adopters was the Finnish distance runner Lasse Viren who won gold medals in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter races at the 1972 and 1976 Olympics — the only endurance athlete to ever accomplish this track and field “double-double” in Olympic history.

Periodization isn’t just for elite athletes. If you have been training somewhat randomly or repetitively, using periodization in training has the potential to produce a higher peak of fitness for your most important races. There are four guiding principles that are key to your success using this method:

● The closer in time you get to the race, the more like the race training becomes. This is called “specificity.”

● The best determiner of success for experienced athletes is race-specific intensity — not volume. Heart rate monitors, powermeters, accelerometers and GPS pacing devices greatly improve your chances of getting training intensity right.

● Training is purposeful. There is a reason for every workout. If you don’t know why you are doing it then perhaps you shouldn’t.

● Training follows a planned pattern of alternating stress and recovery to avoid overtraining. This is done at all three periodization levels — weekly, monthly and annually.

Keeping these guiding principles in mind will point your training in the right direction, but there is still the possibility of failure. There are three common reasons for failing to succeed when using periodization. The first is a failure to be flexible with recovery. If you are feeling completely wasted it’s time to rest regardless of when the plan next calls for a break from hard training. The second is failing to set aside time each week to plan the details of the coming week. Once you get a training routine established this will take only a few minutes. The third, and most likely cause of periodization breakdown, is other athletes. You may have designed the perfect plan but then you hook up with another swimmer, cyclist or runner and the next thing you know you are trying to “win” the workout. Planning and purpose go out the window.

In the following seven steps I will guide you through the development of a training plan for your 2010 season that is unique to your abilities, needs, race schedule and capacity for training workload. This training plan will serve as a “road map” for your season. If you refer to it weekly you will stay on track for a stellar season.

Having a template — an Annual Training Plan (ATP) — to guide you through the process helps. You can use TrainingPeaks for this. Or go to TrainingBible Coaching's Free Resources where you will find a free, blank form for your sport (if you're an athlete other than triathlete use the 'Cyclist' form). Guidance in how to set up a training program may also be found at TrainingPeaks where a 'Virtual Coach' will quickly and painlessly create an ATP for you using the same instructions that follow (you must become a member of TrainingPeaks to use this service). That may serve as a starting point for the seasonal plan which you can then modify to better fit your needs.

In the next five posts I'll walk you through the steps of laying out a personal periodization plan.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Training and the Transition Period

Most northern hemisphere athletes have started or soon will be starting their Transition periods. This is a time often called the “off season.” And that’s probably as good a name as any and descriptive of what this time of the year is all about — taking time off from training. That doesn’t mean, however, that you just sit around eating potato chips while watching Oprah, even if that is sort of what elite Kenyan runners do. Well, maybe not chips and Oprah, but most of them do indeed stop running and gain a few kilos. Porking up by 20 to 30 pounds has even been reported for some Kenyan harriers in their off seasons. They take seasonal rest seriously. You should, too. You’ll race much better next season if you get some serious rest now.

Although I wouldn’t recommend gaining that much excess flab in a few week’s time, you really do need to let go of your hard-earned, high fitness level. Trying to maintain it will not be beneficial to your next season’s results. It simply isn’t possible to be in top shape every week for the entire year. Trying to do so will likely lead to mental burnout if injury, illness or overtraining doesn’t get you first.

Give up on the idea of staying in race shape all winter. Instead, decide when it is you will want to have an excellent level of fitness in the coming season. It will probably take you, at most, something like 24 weeks to achieve such top-end race-readiness again. If you have more than six months until your next A-priority race relax your training regimen for a few weeks.

In fact, let’s not even call what you’ll be doing in the Transition period “training.” Call it “exercise” instead. Training is focused and has a purpose. It’s far too serious for now. On the other hand, exercise is something you do because it feels good while it keeps your bathroom scales under control.

Exercise as much as you want in the off season, only don’t create a plan. Don’t even think ahead. Just do what you feel like doing every day. That includes doing nothing. If you decide to exercise keep it easy. Give your body a break. Don’t be concerned with power, heart rate, or pace. Avoid other athletes who are already training hard. You know the type. They are doing intervals and hard group workouts when it doesn’t count for anything. They’re “Christmas Stars” and won’t be around next spring. They shine brightly now but will fade in the new year.

Be creative with your exercise. Do something different from what you might normally do. Go for a hike with your spouse instead of running. Attend a yoga class instead of going for a ride. Just have fun.

It will soon be time to get started training again. You’ll know when the time is right because you won’t be able to stand going easy any longer and you’ll be constantly thinking about next year’s races. When the time to train hard again comes there will be little room for anything else in your life. You know how it goes. So now is the time to do some of those things you wish you could do the rest of the year if you were a “normal” person.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ironman: Run a Marathon? #2

I received the following question from an athlete today.

Q: I just finished reading a
blog you had on your website from December 2008 with your advice against doing a marathon as preparation for an Ironman race. I have a follow-up question.

This is my second year doing triathlons, and I am currently doing Half Ironman distance races as my A races. I contemplated signing up for an Ironman in 2010 but have been told by another athlete, whom I respect and has been doing triathlons for over 12 years, that I should do a marathon before signing up for an Ironman. My friend suggested waiting until 2011 to do an Ironman.

For 2010, I again plan on choosing Half Ironman distance races as my A races. My first A race will be Wildflower Long Course in early May 2010. I would like to do a flat marathon in late January 2010. This would be my first marathon, and it would be a great accomplishment for me. Do you think doing the marathon would inhibit my training for Wildflower?

A: By all means, if you want to run a marathon do it. The biggest risk is that you will become injured with a lot of running and lose some training time before Wildflower. There is also the issue of how serious you get about your time for the marathon. I'd recommend keeping your finish time low key and continuing to bike and swim pretty much as you normally would for a half Ironman. Just increase your longest weekly run and aim only for finishing the marathon.

The other issue you bring up here is if the marathon training will benefit an Ironman. My point in that blog was that training for a fast marathon is likely not to be beneficial. If you've never run 26.2 miles before doing a marathon may help with the mental issues, especially if you just run it slow and easy. But physiologically speaking, running for a fast marathon time and running the final leg of an Ironman are otherwise not similar. Your pace in an Ironman run will be very slow by your marathon racing standards. The training to race a marathon would be greatly different also. That is not the way you train for an Ironman run. Then there are the issues of time spent training for a marathon in regards to swim and bike training time (cycling for most is really the critical sport in an Ironman), and also the time needed to recover from a marathon with an upcoming Ironman. And finally, as mentioned, the risk of injury is high when training for a serious marathon.

Your friend may run marathons and believe it is making him better for the Ironman. Who knows, it may be doing that some how. There are a lot of variables when it comes to sports performance. I also know of athletes who hardly run at all and still do very well. In the last few years two pros broke 3 hours in their Ironman run splits running less than 20 miles per week. One did a single long run of 12 miles, yet he still broke 3 hours and won an Ironman. It worked, but I wouldn't recommend this either.

I also agree with your friend that is best to delay the Ironman until 2011. But I'd suggest that simply because you are so new to the sport. You need more experience before attempting a full Ironman. Instead, as you seem to be suggesting, do several races in 2010 including a couple of half Ironman races. But realize that a half Ironman is more like a 'double Olympic-distance' than half of an Ironman. Ironman is in a category all by itself.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Peak Performance Predictors

Is it possible to predict with a high degree of confidence how you’ll do in your most important race every season? I believe it is. Of course, without a crystal ball you’re never going to be able to predict with 100% confidence, but I think it’s possible to get a strong sense of how well you will do. There are three predictors I’ve found that hold the secret to how you are likely to do in the big race. Assuming you have the physiological potential to achieve a realistic but challenging goal, here are the three questions to ask to predict your success.

#1. How did your training go in the 12 weeks leading up to the race? By this I mean how consistently you trained in the final, critical 84 days. During this period you must avoid gaps in training for any reason including the most common ones: unusual commitments (your spouse and boss will love this one), injury, burnout, illness, and overtraining. Any of these will put your chances of success well below 50-50. It’s not great workouts during these 84 days that do the trick; it’s consistent training. You simply can’t miss workouts. Ever. The trick is moderation and the wise expenditure of energy. You must be smart enough to keep from digging a deep hole of fatigue. Yet at the same time your training needs to increasingly simulate the race in some way one to three times each week. It’s a balancing act and difficult to get right. But if you pull it off your chances of success in the race are greatly enhanced.

I’ll give you a good example of this. An Ironman triathlete I coached this year became sick 87 days before his Hawaii qualifying race. The illness lasted for about 10 days and then there was a period of about a week in which he transitioned back into normal training again. Altogether, about 17 days of focused training was lost. By the time he was back to normal again there were 70 days until the race. We were unable to make up that lost time and he failed to qualify.

So then we aimed for a second qualifier 10 weeks later. We allowed for seven days to partially recover from the first Ironman race and gradually began to work our way back to normal training during the following seven days. Now there were eight weeks left. However, two of those weeks would be tapering and peaking. So actually we had six weeks to train. We were unsuccessful a second time. He certainly had what it takes to qualify and had done so before. Basically, and entire season was lost because of a 10-day illness during the critical 84 days.

#2. How well do the course and conditions match your strengths? For an example of this predictor see my recent blog about this year’s Hawaii Ironman. You may not have control over this predictor since some events, such as championships, are tied to given courses. You must then train to do as well as you can on that course by improving your limiters and taking advantage of your strengths whenever possible. But if you have the option to choose a course, be sure to pick one that matches your abilities. Considerations would be length, hills, turns, terrain surface conditions, altitude, and weather - especially rain, snow, heat, humidity and wind.

Your other condition concern is competition. You have no control over who shows up in your category, but with some research and past experience you can probably make an educated guess about who is likely to be there. In some events, especially road bike races, your outcome is very sensitive to the strategies and tactics of the other competitors. Knowing who they are and how they generally race may help you make a decision about which race to select. If the competition is time trial-based, such as a triathlon or running race, then knowing who is likely to be there and how well they race are critical pieces in the prediction.

If the course and conditions don’t suit your strengths then your chances of success are again less than 50-50.

#3. How much do you want it? A peak race performance will take you to your limits. In other words, it will hurt. Are you willing and able to suffer to achieve your goal? Hard races have a way of showing that of which we are made. When the time comes to take it to the limit do you have what it takes to hang on or do you often crack? I know this all sounds very macho, and maybe it is. But that’s a big part of what competition is about. It takes great motivation to continue when your muscles are screaming at you to stop. Some people seem to be very good at this. It may be as much a physical ability as a mental one. Some may simply be better suited physically to tolerate pain. Then again, it may be something that their lives have prepared them to handle. Do you tolerate pain well and are you highly motivated to succeed? Then your chances are good.

Before your biggest race of the season ask yourself the three questions above. If all answers are positive predictors then your chance of achieving your race goal is very high. I’d be willing to place a bet on you in Las Vegas in that case. Even better, think ahead in order to control as many of the variables as you can by planning and preparing for each of them long before the event. Now is the time to start this process for next season.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Ironman Courses and Performance

On Saturday Australia’s Craig Alexander won Ironman Hawaii for the second straight year. The win came just as it did last year with a strong run to make up a big gap off of the bike. In 2008 he came off the bike 11:13 down. Last Saturday he was 12:13 behind Chris Lieto starting the run. Alexander turned a few 6-minute miles early in the marathon and caught a fading Lieto by mile 21 going on to win by more than two minutes..

This M.O. is not unusual in the Hawaii Ironman. With few exceptions this race is typically won on the run. The bike course terrain (note that I’m not talking about wind or heat which is a different topic altogether) simply isn’t hard enough to make it the determining factor.

A few years ago I compared all of the North American Ironman courses to see if I could determine what the best predictor of the race outcome would be – the swim, the bike or the run. I narrowed the focus to the top 10 male finishers in each race that year and compared their swim, bike and run placements with their finish placements. What I found was that the bike course had the most to do with predicting the outcome. When the course was hilly, such as Lake Placid, the bike performance was highly predictive of the outcome. The flatter the bike course became the more likely the run was to be predictive of the outcome. Florida turned out to be a runner’s course. Swimming, by the way, was never a good predictor of race outcome.

I did not look at the overall predictability of the women pro’s or age grouper’s swim, bike and run splits. It could be different from the male pros, but I doubt there would be a significant shift. It makes sense that hilly bike courses would favor strong cyclists and that flat courses would favor the better runners.

Does this have any implications for you? It might. When choosing a race at which to qualify consider your strengths as a cyclist, especially in terms of climbing, and also how good of a runner you are compared with your competition. This seems like a given, but I frequently talk with people who have obviously made the wrong choice. Qualifying for Hawaii is hard enough without making it even more difficult.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thoughts on Kona

I arrived in Kona, Hawaii yesterday for The Ironman. I started coming here in 1989 to watch the race and support friends, TrainingBible Coaching athletes, and my own client-athletes. This is one of the few years I don't have a client racing. So I'll be free to be an outside observer this time around. As an impartial observer a couple of things have already become apparent to me.

The first is that it is HOT! Really hot. The temperature in the early afternoon is around 90F and the relative humidity is the same - about 90%. I walked a couple of miles to buy groceries today just so I could get some sort of exercise today. I was dripping sweat by the time I was back to the air conditioned room. I'm from the Phoenix area where 105F is common but our humidity is much lower. Phoenix heat is nothing like this. Heat is also a much greater burden than moderate altitude. I spend my summers in Boulder where the altitude is about 5000 feet and train a lot in the mountains at 7000 feet and higher. The physiological 'cost' is nothing like the heat here. I feel very sorry for the athletes who come here from places like Denver (where they have already gotten snow), Minneapolis, Chicago and other cities north of 40 degrees latitude. It's very difficult to adapt to weather like this when it's chilly and threatening to snow. But there are ways. Some day I'll write about them. Too late now, however.

The other thing that has stood out for me so far is that triathletes spend a lot more time on their feet in the days before a race than road cyclists do. Roadies tend to lay around a lot in the days before a race. Of course, they often have team support which takes care of getting groceries and drives the riders to meals. Triathletes could learn a lot from roadies in this instance. I've seen triathletes today walking long distances, and it's less than 48 hours until the start of their biggest race of the year. They need someone to come along on the trip and take care of them. This could be a spouse or a hired 'gofer' (roadies have a nicer for them - 'soigneurs'). In the last few days before a race athletes should never walk when they can ride, never stand when they can sit, and never sit when they can recline. Rest is the key now.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Question: How Should a Novice Train?

I just received the following question from Sean Lemecha which was posted in reference to my piece on Seasonal Summary. It’s a good question so rather than answer it where you might miss it I thought I’d bring it up front.

Q: Joe, those are some great questions to ask yourself. I just completed my first triathlon last month (Nation's Tri) and really look forward to jumping more into the fold next season with many more races. As a newbie/novice/beginner to the sport, what are some of the most important things I can be doing this winter to prepare for next season (after I have the answers to your questions above, of course)?

A: Sean, as mentioned in my Training Bible books, the most important abilities to work on in the Base period are also the ones that novices should also concentrate on for most of the first couple of years in the sport. They are…

Aerobic Endurance. This is the ability to maintain a low to moderate intensity for a long time. Once this is fully developed the more advanced abilities (Muscular Endurance and Anaerobic Endurance) may be built on its foundation. To improve this ability do long, steady workouts in the heart rate, power or pace 2 zone. For triathletes aerobic endurance must be separately developed in each discipline. (To find a wealth of information on this topic do a Google search on “aerobic decoupling.”)

Speed Skills. This is sometimes also called “economy.” It’s the ability to make the movements of the sport in way that doesn’t waste energy. Some of the components of this ability are posture, technique, flexibility, core stability, joint stability, and muscle recruitment. To improve this ability do frequent, short workouts in a particular sport with an emphasis on drills and skill development. Speed skill is a foundational ability for the advanced abilities of Anaerobic Endurance and Power.

Force. This is the ability to overcome resistance. Having this ability well-developed means you can easily cope with hills, wind and strong water currents. To develop this ability lift weights or do other strength-building exercises, run and/or ride on hills, and swim with paddles or drag devices. Work bouts should be very short, as in a few seconds, and done at a very high effort to challenge the muscles. Force is a foundational ability for the advanced abilities of Muscular Endurance and Power.

Muscular Endurance. ME is the combination of the Aerobic Endurance and Force abilities. After a few weeks of AE and F training you are ready to introduce a type of training in which you do long, steady intervals at a slightly higher effort, heart rate, power or pace (as a percentage of threshold being sure to stay below the threshold) than you did in AE training. These should be done with somewhat less force than in F training, which may mean using a bigger gear than usual on the bike, or by running or riding up low-gradient hills, or by swimming long sets with small paddles or minimal drag devices. The intervals are typically 6 minutes or longer with short recoveries (about one-fourth of the interval duration). ME training intensity will continue to increase into the Build period.

Once into the Build period (meaning you have about 12 weeks until your first A-priority race) training should increasingly take on the characteristics of the goal race. That means being certain to make both the durations and intensities of your workouts similar to those of the race. But that’s a whole other topic for another time.

How TrainingPeaks Came to Be

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of TrainingPeaks. Needless to say, I’m quite proud of how it has progressed. It came about, in part, because I was on vacation and bored…

In the fall of 1994 I was on much-deserved vacation with my wife on Grand Cayman Island. We were staying a cottage on Seven Mile Beach, still one of my favorite places on the planet, and every day we would spend at least a few hours just lay on the sand watching the waves come in. I got a little bored of this after the first day and started messing around with my laptop under a palm tree. I had been wanting to come up with a better way of communicating with the athletes I coached. But time to work on the project had been limited. Now I had some time. I had been painstakingly typing documents and faxing or mailing these daily workouts and weekly training overviews to my athletes for many years. It was a bit time-intensive.

On my laptop I had a software program called FileMaker Pro which I used that week to create a layout with several fields. Each field had a drop down menu with associated macros for sport (swim, bike, run, etc), workout descriptions, workout durations, coach comments and fields for the athlete to record details such as time by heart rate zone and diary information.

By 1999 my son, Dirk, had joined me as a coach so he was also using the FileMaker Pro form I had come up with in '94 and had since refined a bit. We were still faxing and mailing the training schedules to our client-athletes. We tried attaching them to emails but that didn’t work too well. So it was still a tedious process for us and the athletes, but it was better than typing out all of the workouts and other details for every day's training.

That year Dirk became a bit frustrated and suggested there had to be a better way. He asked if he could pursue improving the system with the help of a close friend - Gear Fisher. Gear was a local whiz with html stuff and Dirk thought he may be able to streamline the process for us.

He did. In a few weeks Gear had a web-based program set up designed just like the FileMaker Pro layout I had come up with five years previously on the beach in Cayman. This was basically what we today call the "Classic View" for TrainingPeaks.

At first this program was just for our coaches and me, but it soon became apparent that it had a lot of merit and, even better, no one else had anything nearly as powerful. It was unique in many ways. So in 2000 we decided to take it public by selling subscriptions. Gear kept his day job and worked on it at night from the computer in his bedroom. In the spring of 2001 I wrote out the first payroll check to Gear and we felt like we had a business rather than just a hobby. It's been growing strongly ever since.

I have continued to focus on coaching and had very little to do with the operations of the company. The credit for our growth goes to Dirk, Gear, our CEO Donavon Guyot, and our employees over the last several years. They have grown TrainingPeaks well beyond what any of us imagined in 2000 when we took it to market. I am still in awe of what it does for coaches and athletes. And the things I see coming down the line are even more amazing. The best is yet to come.

You can find out more about the origins of TrainingPeaks

Finding the Right Coach, Part 3

Here is Part 3 of 3 on how to go about finding a coach.

What services do you want from a coach? This has a lot to do with how much attention you get. The most common complaint I hear from athletes about coaches they have had is that their coaches had too many clients and the athletes were overlooked. With this in mind, here is what you can expect as far as basic service offerings from coaches.

Unlimited contact and support. With this level of service the coach won’t quite become your mother, but will indeed be like a big brother or sister. You and the coach will get to know each other quite well. There are some coaches (like me) who only offer this highest level of service because it is very effective. This is always the most expensive service offered.

Limited contact and support. Some coaches offer less expensive programs that set a limit on how often you may contact him or her. If you are on a budget this is a good option. You’ll still get a customized plan. It just won’t be updated frequently. You’ll have to be your own coach to some extent to make this work.

No contact or support. This is usually a basic training plan or a program with some customization. The coach assesses your needs, builds a training schedule for a set period of time, and sends you off on your own to fulfill it. You must be good at coaching yourself to make this work. The advantage, besides low cost, is that you get a personalized plan. If you are good at self-coaching, you can implement and modify it as conditions warrant. Don’t expect the coach to check in with you for this type of plan. You’re on your own once the plan is in hand.

Training plan. Many coaches offer training plans that you may purchase on-line. These are generally written with a specific type of athlete in mind, such as first-time Ironman triathletes, or a base period plan for a category 1-2 road cyclist who trains 12 to 18 hours per week, or a 12-week plan to run a 3:30 marathon. Here again you’ll need to be your own coach to make decisions about changes, but this is a very inexpensive way to get a training program prepared by a professional coach. You can find a list of my training plans here.

What should you expect to pay for coaching services? Fees vary a lot in the field of coaching - from free to a couple of thousand dollars a month. As with most service offerings, you will probably get what you pay for. Fees ranging from $200 to $500 a month are common for unlimited contact and support. This is a wide gap with the higher-priced coaches having a lot more positives checked off from the categories described in all three parts of this post. Higher-priced coached will generally have fewer clients which means that you get more personal attention.

If you find a coach who doesn’t charge a fee you are likely to have big gaps in the program when you are on your own and may often find your phone calls and emails go unanswered. But I am occasionally told of free coaching services that are excellent. They’re rare so don’t expect that to be the norm.

Freelance coaching has come a long way in the three decades I’ve been doing it. What started out as a hobby for most progressed to a loosely run, single-coach shop and is now becoming a professional career field. The field is still evolving. For the last few years coaches have been joining forces and merging to gain buying power and increase market visibility. This is ultimately good for you as an athlete as it means a more professional approach and consistent quality of service. Big companies, however, are not for everyone. Most coaches still work as individual service providers and do a great job for their clients.

So how do you find a coach? The starting point is to search a list of coaches for your sport. The following websites will get you started:

These are all coaches who use TrainingPeaks to communicate with their client-athletes.

Here you will find a search page for US-based, USAC-certified cycling coaches.

This is a directory of triathlon coaches who are certified by USA Triathlon.

Treat your search for the right coach as if you are hiring an employee for a crucial position in your company. Don’t just sign up with the first coach you happen to come across. Finding the right coach will take some time. Allow a couple of weeks. But be aware that the best coaches often have a limit on how many athletes they work with at any given time and typically fill openings by the start of winter. So don’t wait too long to start looking. Now is the right time. You can find information about all of the topics described in this three-part post by reading about the coach on his or her website, by doing a Google search, by talking with athletes coached by this person, and, most importantly, by interviewing the coach.