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So you've landed here on my iWillNotBonk.com Triathlon Training Blog and you're probably wondering who the hell this Tavis guy is and what iWillNotBonk is all about.

I'm just an average age-grouper / weekend warrior blogging about Ironman Triathlon Training and this complex puzzle of juggling life, having fun and reporting on my various feats of strength and endurance adventures!

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As a high school runner leading into her freshman track season, Megan, an athlete I coached in cross-country, suffered a stress fracture while leaping off boxes during plyometric drills. Megan was a fast but fragile runner just beginning to develop the skills that would allow her to succeed in future races.

Conferring with her mother, I suggested that we throw Megan into the pool. Not for punishment, but to speed her recovery.

For the remainder of the spring, while her teammates had fun running in track meets, Megan, under her mom’s strict supervision, worked day after day clad in a flotation vest, mimicking running motions in deep water while maintaining fitness and avoiding impact.

Alas, by the time the doctor cleared Megan to run again, the season had ended. Nevertheless, she would benefit from what at first seemed like wasted training. Injured again her senior year, Megan popped out of the pool just in time for the countdown to states in cross-country. A second-place finish earned her a scholarship to Indiana University.

Why pool run?

Pool running works. It cannot substitute entirely for running on roads, but it comes closer to mimicking running than any other cross-training activity. In an article published by Runner’s World, Cindy Kuzma quotes biomechanist John Mercer as saying, “Deep-water running isn’t a new idea. Runners borrowed it decades ago from horse trainers who used it to rehab or supplement their animals’ mileage.”

Citing scientific studies, Mercer suggests that deep-water training not only allows runners to maintain cardiovascular fitness, but also to improve it. Three reasons exist for why runners should embrace pool running:

Recovering from Injury

Running in a flotation vest comes closest to mimicking real running on land. Cycling or using various gym-based machines allows you to maintain cardiovascular fitness, but fails to mimic the running movement. Mercer suggests that the blood-pumping pressure of water actually may speed healing.

Avoiding injury

Runners who flirt with injury by running too often or too fast can cross-train in a pool to add variety to their training. Jennifer Conroyd, founder of Fluid Running, which offers flotation vests for runners under the brand name H2GO, recommends one or two pool workouts a week as the best mix with running.

Maintaining Fitness

Forget performance. Forget injury prevention. One of the best reasons to convert to pool running is to stay in shape. According to author Kenneth Cooper, MD, physical exercise, almost any kind of exercise, has been shown to both extend lifespan six to nine more years, but also to improve the quality of that life.

That has been my goal. My wife and I spend half our year in Indiana, half in Florida. In Indiana, I live across the street from Lake Michigan with its soft, sandy bottom. A regular workout routine is to run chest-deep in water parallel to shore. In Florida, we belong to a club featuring a heated outdoor pool with lanes marked for swimmers. No deep water, unfortunately, so after a workout in the gym, I swim several laps, then run several more. In all honesty, I swim as much for relaxation as for fitness.

Consider the three types of training you can do in a pool:

Deep-water running. This is the best form of cross-training both for healing injuries and for preventing injuries. If my Florida pool had a deep end, I very definitely would add deep-water running to my workout routine.
Swimming. This is a sport that strengthens muscles not used by runners. While too much upper-body muscle can slow runners down, the fact that swimming ignores many running muscles offers a huge advantage for injury recovery and prevention.
Shallow-water running. Shallow in this case would be anywhere from waist to chest deep. Lower impact than running on the roads makes this a great option, particularly to prevent injuries rather than to cure an injury. I love running in chest-deep water, one reason being you can swivel your head and see what’s happening around you.

Incorporating pool running into a routine

Megan Leahy describes what she learned as a pool runner: “I definitely felt pool running was far more forgiving than running outdoors. For example, I would never dream of doing speed work on the track on back-to-back days, but I definitely had no problem doing speed work daily in the pool.”

This was necessary, Megan felt, because she found it more difficult to get her heart rate up in the pool, and this is generally true among competitive swimmers vs. competitive runners. To compensate, Megan removed the flotation belt and tread water in the deep end. “My form definitely was sacrificed, but I was able to get my heart rate up easier.”

After ending her collegiate career, Megan decided to become a podiatrist. Megan Leahy, DPM now practices in Chicago. “I suffered every injury imaginable in school,” she admits,” so I picked a profession where I could help others avoid the same.”

Consider blending pool running with your athlete’s regular running and cross-training, and you may never need to visit Dr. Leahy’s office.

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Get ready for another exciting IRONMAN World Championship

The IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii are finally here, and weather conditions are shaping up to make it another challenging year. First, Dave discusses updated race conditions with Ryan Cooper. Then, Lance Watson joins the discussion to share lessons from his 30+ years of experience coaching triathletes to Kona.


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Being a coach isn’t an easy job. We often work with highly-motivated people living complex lives. It’s our job to help them achieve their potential and actualize their dreams. While planning and prescribing training plans is a large part of what endurance coaches do, ultimately, we are influencing the behavior of athletes to help enhance performance. However, like many relationships, things can sometimes go wrong. A few poorly-chosen words, poor communication, or lack of understanding of the needs of the other person can lead to acrimony, or worse.

“Ideal racing weight” is an important subject because the mass of an athlete affects performance. While it can be a sensitive topic for a coach to address, it’s not one that should be avoided. To deal with it appropriately, knowledge surrounding athlete weight should not be at odds with the facts and it must never be dealt with as a simple physical metric. Rather, the beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives of others may be different to our own and must be taken into account when discussing the subject.

This article explores a real-world scenario of the breakdown of a coach-athlete relationship, in which the coach got the message surrounding athlete weight badly wrong. Fortunately, there’s a happy ending in which the athlete asked for help. That’s when triathlon legend Chrissie Wellington and I got involved.

The Athlete’s Story

It was only a few weeks out from my A-race, the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships, and I was attending a training camp with my coach. My running off the bike had been a concern for a while, but I was really taken aback when my coach said the limiting factor was that I was “carrying too much weight from the waist down” and I needed to be much slimmer.

This required that I took strict control of my diet and that my body needed to be “shocked” in order to lose weight. Intuitively, this felt wrong. I am a 5’ 8”, 61 kg female triathlete who had never considered myself overweight until that point. I was training 20-hours per week and didn’t want to restrict fuel in order to lose weight at this stage of the season. While I may not be the slimmest triathlete, it has always been really important to me to try to maintain a healthy relationship with food, especially when there is so much pressure to be lean. I always strive to find balance in life and feel it is important to be happy with myself.

After two uncomfortable days of me agonizing over whether any truth lie in the comments, the subject was brought up again. Prior to this, I held my coach in high regard, respected her advice and her successes as an athlete, too. However, the experience was very upsetting, and it undermined my confidence and had me questioning my body image.

Thankfully, I have a supportive family and friends who are helping me rationalize what I was told, specifically that I need to lose weight in order to be successful. It really angered me how it was brought up and concerns me that other, potentially more vulnerable, young women are made to feel the way that I have felt. I feel that being strong is more important than being skinny, and am determined to prove that a strong body built by hard work and dedication beats a weak but lean body created from crash dieting.

Chrissie’s Perspective

As someone who has always had a disordered relationship with food, I am acutely aware of, and very sensitive to, the long-term damage that seemingly innocuous throw-away comments about “race weight” might have. While I have only heard the athlete’s side of the story (and her coach may well have a different recollection of events) there are several reasons to question the validity of the advice that the athlete was given.

First, her coach is equating leanness and lightness with speed and, therefore, improved performance. This is an overly-simplistic perspective. Being light doesn’t necessarily make you fast. Successful IRONMAN athletes have a range of different body types. Take Mirinda Carfrae and myself—two successful athletes with two totally different builds. And, Meredith Kessler, with multiple IRONMAN championships and over 60 IRONMAN finishes, is strong, powerful, and definitely isn’t stick thin. In fact, when I lost too much weight, my swimming, especially, suffered. To be a good triathlete we need to be healthy, robust, strong, and powerful.

Second, if someone does want to lose weight, crash dieting is never the answer. Restricting food intake and trying to reduce body mass over a short period of time can severely impact an athlete’s performance, physically and emotionally.

Furthermore, it is narrow-minded to focus on speed and neglect the link between weight, diet, and overall health. An athlete’s health always comes first—emotional health, hormonal health, bone health—and diet plays such a major part in that. If we aren’t holistically healthy how can we sustain performance and be our best selves over the long term?

Proffering such advice could also fuel or catalyze an unhealthy relationship with food. For the athlete to have a balanced and healthy perspective on food, weight and body image is important, and something that should be nurtured, encouraged, and celebrated. To this point, it is vital that a coach understands the athlete’s perspective on, and behaviors related to, diet and fueling; not just their sporting history, training program, and goals. A good coach will invest time in building a clear picture of the athlete’s overall health, injury history, diet, emotional state, personality traits and character, family situation, work life, and more. Then, they should tailor the coaching accordingly. The coaching should be geared toward what is best for that individual in the long term (and in life, not just triathlon).

If, as the athlete suggests, the relationship with her coach has been irreparably undermined by this situation, I would urge her not to blame herself. I parted ways with two coaches, knowing that sometimes two parties don’t see eye to eye, and their philosophies or approaches simply aren’t compatible with the athlete’s goals, personality, or views. It is a sign of strength to realize that a coach is not right for you, revisit what you do need and what is important to you, and look elsewhere for someone who has your holistic welfare at heart.

Andy’s Perspective

Athletes are often drawn to highly-confident coaches, believing this confidence has some basis in reality. This confidence often comes from their stature as a coach, the success of other athletes they have coached, their level of qualification, or previous success as an elite athlete. Of course, such things can contribute to effective coaching. However, the knowledge and expertise required to help others achieve optimal performance takes years to develop and requires an inquisitive mind. It also requires understanding how different athletes think and behave.

Motivated athletes, who are committed to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible, will often do anything they believe it takes to get there; behavior is not always logical or rational. Therefore, coaches must be aware of that, and realize that what they say and how they say it has consequences, sometimes unintended ones that can have lasting damage.

In this case, the credibility of the coach began to untangle because of their erroneous belief that losing body mass was in the best interest of the athlete. Fortunately, the athlete’s beliefs and self image didn’t match what her coach was saying, and she asked for help. Of course, there is an ethical dilemma in intervening with an athlete who is being coached by another coach. However, athlete welfare always comes first. The athlete’s confidence had been clearly undermined and she was questioning her own body image. As Chrissie and I know, the consequences of doing so can become very serious, especially when an athlete does not have the autonomy, confidence, or support network to ask for help.

Thankfully, this athlete did ask for help, a support network was mobilized, and a plan was put in place to build confidence in the run-up to the World Championships. However, the coach-athlete relationship was irreparably damaged. This was because the athlete received evidence to demonstrate that her original confidence in her coach was not matched by their knowledge or ability. Importantly, while we all get it wrong from time-to-time and have important gaps in our knowledge, the athlete felt it would not be constructive to challenge the beliefs of the coach or attempt to rebuild trust.


Coach-athlete relationships do not always work. From an athlete perspective, it’s very important to feel able to ask questions of your coach and have confidence in what they ask you to do. As a coach, you should always be ready to rigorously justify your practices and understand the “whys” of your coaching beliefs. Dealing with issues like body mass requires understanding that “less is not always best” and the skill to work effectively with athletes who may be willing to push beyond their limits in their quest for success. The consequences of getting it wrong here was the loss of a client for the coach. However, there are plenty of examples where athlete health and mental well being have been compromised by similar mistakes.

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The big race is almost here

For some triathletes, making it to Kona is the achievement they have strived for. For others, Kona is yet another chance to test their determination in a challenging, unforgiving environment. Regardless, all of the triathletes will face the same punishing heat, humidity, and wind on a course that is known for testing the best racers in the world.

Dave Schell first discusses this year’s race conditions with BestBikeSplit Co-Founder Ryan Cooper, and then chats with Coach Simon Ward who has guided dozens of athletes to Kona over his coaching career. Simon raced in the Championship last year himself, and is busy preparing this year’s crop of athletes to excel in the race.


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By design, training will gradually fatigue and break down the body. But approximately 1-3 weeks before a race (depending on the distance), athletes will “taper” down the volume of training. This allows your body to fully recover, setting you up for the best success possible on race day. So, just build up training, then rest before your race, and the magic will happen, right? Well, in the famous words of Lee Corso, not so fast! The taper is definitely not one-size-fits-all. Here are three common scenarios that will require a more creative tapering process.


As much as we want to avoid injuries, they do occur, especially as athletes continue to push themselves to reach ever more ambitious goals. To understand how a training plan might need to shift due to injury, imagine a triathlete preparing to race a 70.3. Everything seems to be lining up perfectly when, 8 weeks before the race, she suffers an injury that stops her from running. She can still strength train, swim and bike, which she continues to do while taking time off from running.

Four weeks later, the athlete is 100% healthy and cleared to run—great! But now we are only four weeks from race day. Are we going to stick to the original plan of a two-week taper? For strength, swim and bike, yes: The gradual two-week taper will continue as planned. But for the run, she’ll want to take a different approach, something of a reverse taper.

The athlete above neither needs nor wants a two-week run taper; she’s already rested her run legs for four weeks. It’s now time to reintroduce the stress of running so that her body can properly adapt to the stress being placed on it. Even in the final two weeks before the race, while tapering for strength, swim and bike, her run workouts will continue to build. This build will continue until just a few days before race day, when she’ll take an abbreviated run taper.


Illness, while similar to injury, can present an entirely different package. With illness, all workouts can be affected. To illustrate this situation, let’s say, six weeks out from race day, an athlete comes down with a serious URI (upper respiratory infection) and it takes two weeks for him to fully recover. During this two weeks, he has to put all workouts on the shelf. Like the injury example above, it’s time to get creative, pivot, adjust the training plan and get ready for race day.

Similarly to the triathlete and her run, the weeks leading into the race will now become a build/rebuild of the strength, swim, bike and run. Furthermore, the planned two-week taper will become a much shorter 4-7 day taper. Again, this athlete was already out of commission for two weeks. From a mental, physical and physiological perspective, this athlete is pumped up and thrilled to be healthy again. They are ready to train (not taper and rest), and the shorter taper will set them up for race day success.


Let’s say an athlete is six weeks out from race day and has to head out on an unexpected business trip for two weeks. She is going to be slammed with 12-14 hour work days for the entire trip. Like in the examples above, her original plan was a gradual two-week taper; what should she do? Well, she can try to keep her training volume high during this trip. But by adding in the stress of travel and work, she is definitely going to risk possible overtraining, reduced sleep, etc., which will seriously compromise her race day performance. Time to get really creative.

Since this athlete’s focus for the next two weeks is all business, all the time, she could simply focus on getting adequate sleep each night to stay on task. She could also pepper in a few short workouts over the trip—a run around the conference center, or some strength training in the hotel gym can go a long way. Upon her return, the athlete will be rested, healthy and ready to make the most of the final four weeks leading into race day. Just like in the illness example, her training build/rebuild will lead into a shortened 4-7 day taper—then it’s game on!

In summary, athletes and coaches need to understand that a by-the-book taper will not always produce the best results. Instead, we need to be flexible and creative in order to set ourselves (or our athletes) up for the ultimate success.

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