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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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Are you an athlete who isn’t running to their potential off the bike? Are you someone who constantly feels weak when riding hilly courses? Are you new to triathlon and don’t know where to start? If you answered YES to any of these questions—than this is the article for you.

For the majority of athletes, your muscles will break down at some point in a race, but the stronger athletes fatigue less, or they fatigue later.

If you have put in the weekly hours of training than your cardiovascular system isn’t the problem, so when you go back to the drawing board the immediate fix isn’t to add more training volume. Instead, the key to success will be adding workouts geared toward improving your overall musculature.

Triathlon training is broken into two categories, specific training and general training. At all times you should be training both sides of the spectrum. Unfortunately, when an athlete shifts too far to one category, the ladder falls and they lose certain qualities they’ve worked hard to develop.

A good example would be if you are gearing for a hilly race that features short climbs and you spent the final eight weeks only working on your top-end threshold and speed. The good news is that you will develop a great top end, but you’ll also lose the general endurance that holds you together to the finish line.

The same could be said for the final 12 weeks in preparation for a hilly IRONMAN when you focus only on steady aerobic riding and neglect the appropriate intensity that matches the course demands. You will develop the endurance needed to complete the race, but the hills will empty your tank.

If you want to be a successful athlete, you should train more frequently in the general phase, where you’re focusing on developing your durability as well as your speed. As the race season approaches you should include race-specific workouts only once a week.

However, the majority of your workouts should be done in a bigger or easier gear than what you will be racing in. Spending most of your time developing better endurance, muscle durability and overall speed will get you to the finishline faster than others.

3 Winter Cycling Workouts for Building Muscular Strength

Here are three workouts to try to build muscular strength. If you’re looking for a more detailed plan, please check out my free, four-week starter plan HERE.

1. Biggest Gear Flat Sprints

These sprints are done in the biggest gear you have starting from a complete stop. These sprints only last 10 seconds and you are going at 100-percent maximal effort.

The first five seconds I encourage you to be out of the saddle and then sit down once you are up to full speed. Because these are done at a maximal effort, they require full recovery between each.

Start with six repetitions and three minutes of rest between each repetition. The goal of this session is maximal power! If done correctly, you will fatigue quicker when trying to reach your peak wattage as the session progresses.

These sessions are what I call “raising your ceiling” workouts. Your end goal is to is to improve your threshold and if your maximal power is relatively low to where your threshold is, your threshold potential will always remain low.

I find that most triathletes ignore these sessions as they don’t find the value, unfortunately it’s these same athletes who remain slow season after season.

2. Seated Hill Repeats

These are the bread and butter of a triathlete’s training routine and they should be repeated weekly or biweekly depending the phase of training they are in.

The intensity of these efforts should be between 105 percent and 120 percent of your threshold, and your cadence should be between 60 and 70 rpms. You should start with 10, one-minute repetitions with only one minute of rest between each.

As your training progresses, you should add two additional interval repeats every two weeks while trying to maintain the same power output. Your heart rate will not elevate to where you’re out of breathe, but your muscles will experience heavy levels of fatigue.

This session is also very good for teaching athletes how to “feel the pedal stroke” and the correct places to apply pressure. If you are not pushing above your threshold, you aren’t going to get the benefit of this workout.

3. Low Cadence Extended Intervals

As your fitness grows, so does the length of your intervals. These intervals are what we consider “supporting sessions” early on in your training as they support the high intensity sessions you are primarily focusing on. As the racing season nears, they become the focus of your training plan. Starting these efforts at Threshold power, progressing to Sweet Spot power, and finishing them at a Tempo power is the best plan of progression. Triathlon is an endurance sport so when we get to our competition phase, doing longer low cadence sessions are the staple sessions for building the durability needed to minimize fatigue in the later stages of the race.

How To Balance Your General and Specific Training

Some athletes are born stronger than others. If you were constantly picked last for dodgeball, there is a good chance you should be focusing more of your time on Maximal Sprints and Seated Hill Repeats in the early part of your season. The athletes who are gifted with good force production have greater athletic potential than athletes with limited force production.

If you are someone who scores well on the one-minute Power Profile Chart, you should spend more time doing the Seated Hill Repeats and Low Cadence Extended Efforts in the off-season.

The best part of adding these sessions to your training routine is that they will help you run faster off the bike. Simply riding your bike in an aerobic zone does little to condition your body for the demands of your race.

The stronger your legs are, the less they will fatigue. While all of the new indoor riding programs make riding the trainer more enjoyable, they also encourage poor training habits. These programs have a place in an athlete’s weekly plan, but it shouldn’t replace the structure needed to take you to the next level.

In closing, if you have not had a professional bike fit or if you experience knee pain while doing any of these three workouts, then I wouldn’t recommend you do them without consulting a coach, or modify accordingly.

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Triathlon is an ultra-endurance event testing the boundaries of human tenacity. The overwhelming demands placed on the body across the three disciplines of swimming, cycling and running are often the main attraction to the sport.

Unfortunately, reported cases of sudden death in the triathlon have raised concerns about the safety of this event. Despite this, there remains a lack of information about the prevalence and causes of triathlon deaths.More importantly, there are unanswered questions as to if and how triathletes should undergo pre-participation heart screening.

The popularity of the sport has increased tremendously since its origin in 1920s France where it was referred to as Les trois sports (the three sports). Triathlon events and participant numbers have more than doubled in recent times.

In 2011, in America alone, there were more than 500,000 athletes competing in more than 4,000 races, compared to 276,000 participants and 2,070 events in 2006 (1).

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There is only one large study on sudden death during a triathlon. Researchers in the USA studied almost 1,000,000 triathletes competing in approximately 3,000 triathlon events between January 2006 through September 2008 (2).

They gathered data from two large American registries and obtained post mortem reports from medical examiners. Overall there were 14 deaths during this period which corresponds to 1.5 in 100,000 participants.

Most deaths occurred in males (80 percent) and middle-aged runners (median age 44 years). All of the deaths happened during the swimming stage of the race, apart from one cycling fatality, which occurred as a result of neck injuries following a fall.

Only nine of the 14 deaths had post-mortem data. Cardiovascular causes featured heavily as the cause of the death (80 percent); Six had mild left ventricular hypertrophy, including one with a clinical history of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, and one had a congenital coronary arterial anomaly (2).

In addition, recently released data from USA Triathlon (USAT) has provided more information on risk factors. A panel was asked to review information about fatalities that occurred at USAT-sanctioned events between 2003 and 2011.

In those nine years, nearly 23,000 sanctioned events were held, involving more than three million participants.

The overall fatality rate for competing triathletes was approximately one per 76,000 participants. Among the 43 race-related athlete deaths, five were traumatic, caused by injuries sustained in cycling crashes; the remaining 38 deaths were non-traumatic.

Of the 38 non-traumatic fatalities, 30 occurred during the swim, three occurred during cycling, three occurred during the run, and two occurred after an athlete had completed the race.

Several important conclusions were made by USAT. Firstly, the fatality rate does not appear to be related to race factors such as length of the race, the type of swim venue, and the method of swim start (e.g., mass, wave or time trial).

Secondly, victims appear to have included athletes from a broad range of triathlon experience and fatalities were not confined to inexperienced triathletes. Among the major recommendations put forward by USAT to athletes was to “Visit your doctor for a physical examination with an emphasis on heart health before participating.”

There are several possible reasons why the swimming portion of the race is the most dangerous. The beginning of the swim race is the most chaotic part of the event with competitors bumping into each other as they jostle for positions.

Being knocked unconscious in deep water can be fatal, even for only seconds. In addition, diving into cold water is a recognized trigger for sudden death in a condition called long QT syndrome (LQTS).

This is an ion channel disorder characterised by a prolongation of the QT interval on a heart tracing (electrocardiogram). Death is often due to fatal arrhythmias mediated by adrenaline surges such as cold water immersion.

Finally, many deaths are thought to be secondary to a phenomenon called Swimming Induced Pulmonary Edema (SIPE). SIPE is well recognized in swimmers and divers and is caused by raised pressures in the lungs as a direct result of body reflexes secondary to cold water.

The exact mechanism is not fully understood but is thought to be a combination of blood vessel constriction and pooling of blood from the peripheries to the heart and lungs.

Although there is a paucity of data with regards to triathlon, there is ample information concerning marathons. The incidence of sudden death in marathons varies widely from 0.54 to 2.1 per 100,000 participants between reports (3).

Depending on some estimates, therefore, triathlons may be considered more of a risk than marathons. In addition, the major cause of death in marathon runners is coronary artery disease, whereas this did not feature in any of the triathlon deaths mentioned above.

The ultimate question is whether triathletes should undergo pre-participation cardiac screening. Screening is a novel concept in triathlons and marathons, which attract enormous numbers of participants of varying ages and experience.

However, in professional competitive sports screening is now commonplace and even mandatory in some countries. It is endorsed by several professional sporting bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Most of the documented causes of deaths in triathletes are treatable and can be easily picked up by simple tests such as a heart tracing (electrocardiogram or ECG) and a heart ultrasound scan (echocardiogram).

The yield from such testing can be increased in the presence of prodromal symptoms or a positive family history which can be gathered from a simple health questionnaire.

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A widely accepted screening model based on the European society of cardiology (ESC) consists of a health questionnaire, physical examination and an ECG. Should these be abnormal, an ultrasound scan of the heart known as an echocardiogram is performed.

These simple measures would diagnose the vast majority of heart disorders(4). Additional tests such as cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET), cardiac MRI and genetic tests are warranted when further information is required to make a diagnosis or for the purpose of research.

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The Centre for Sports Cardiology and Inherited Cardiac Diseases at St George’s Hospital, London, and the affiliated charitable organization, Cardiac risk in the Young (CRY), are committed to providing cardiac screening to all competitive athletes including triathletes.

There is very little known about the effects of triathlons on the heart. We hope to build a partnership with triathlon organizations, which will foster research into the field and ensure the safety of the sport for many years to come.

Many thanks to Dr. Ahmed Merghani (BMedSci, MBBS, MRCP) and Prof. Sanjay Sharma (MD, FRCP (UK), FESC) for their contributions to this article. Professor Sharma is the medical director for the Virgin London Marathon, Consultant cardiologist for the CRY sports cardiology clinic at St George’s Hospital, cardiologist for the English Institute of Sport, British Rugby League and the British Lawn Tennis Association. Professor Sanjay Sharma is Professor of Cardiology and Lead for the Inherited Cardiomyopathies and Sports Cardiology Unit at St George’s Hospital in London, England.

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Knee pain, unstable ankles, or blown-out quads are common running injuries that I (and many others) have struggled with after racing and training on downhill trails.

After years of thinking through how I feel running downhill (it’s my absolute favorite thing) and working with folks on technique, I’ve learned three simple tips that can really help your downhill running form, thus preventing injury and increasing speed.

For an optimal downhill running technique one should focus on:

Engaging your core
Looking down the trail
Practicing a quick turnover

Engage Your Core

We hear it all the time, but what exactly does your“core” mean, and why is it important? Simply put, our core is comprised of several layers of muscles that connect the upper and lower body.

From the most superficial to the deepest, there is rectus abdominus (the six-pack muscle), external obliques, internal obliques, and transverse abdominus (or TA).

The TA also connects to the pelvic floor muscles that give support from the bottom of our pelvis and are critical for stabilization, so I count them in our discussion as well.

The outer part of the hip is also an important component of an athlete’s core because it houses the following hip stabilizers: gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, piriformis, and several deep lateral rotators.

Why do these muscles matter? Without going into a full anatomy lesson, those deep muscles work together to provide much needed stability while we continually impact the ground and propel forward.

If those muscles are either underdeveloped or on vacation (i.e. not firing at all), our larger muscles provide the stability (or try to), which can lead to muscle tension at best, and alignment issues and injuries at worst.

Furthermore, proper core muscle tension ensures good posture to keep our hips and center of gravity forward on the hill. Especially as surfaces change between stable and unstable (think snow, rocks, roots, mud, etc.), a stable core enables us to move nimbly as if we’re on a solid road.

Look Down the Trail

If we each had to manually direct everything that happens in one second of running, well, it would be impossible. Luckily for us, this is actually happening without us even having to think about it. This is because our brain instantly reads what our eyes see in front of us and responds.

Proprioceptors in our connective, fascial, and muscle tissue send direct impulses to our brain, sharing where we are in space and before we know it, we’re many steps down the trail.

Looking as far down the trail as possible gives our brain and body ample time to respond, and puts us in the best position to use gravity to our advantage.

Take a minute to stand up and look four to six feet in front of you. Next, bring your gaze back to your feet and feel what happens to your hips. Likely they are now behind your center of gravity in a mini squat.

This position does several things: shortens/contracts your quad muscles before even moving; requires more strength in the hips to stabilize joints to keep proper alignment to prevent injuries; and requires more strength in the bigger muscle groups (quads, hamstrings, and glutes) to move.

Being in this position while running down the trail, much like pushing a big gear on a bike, is harder than spinning in the granny gear. That increased tension you feel means your legs work more than necessary, which over time leads to less efficiency, more tension, and potentially more injury (of the overuse variety).

If you keep your eyes down the trail however and engage your newfound core, your hips stay right at your center of gravity where it’s easier for them to stabilize, absorb force, and propel you forward so that downhill running really is “free speed.”

Practice a Quick Turnover

A high turnover of 180 steps per minute (or three steps every second) reinforces the other two tips to make running downhill more fun and less painful. A slower cadence means that you’re landing with your foot out in front of your hips, sending all the landing force of the downhill up through your body; puts undue pressure on your joints; and requires more from your muscles to overcome.

Additionally, if you happen to land on a root or rock while your hips and body make their long journey to the next footfall, you’re requiring a lot of time for your muscles to stabilize.

If you take quick steps and land right under your hips, even if you hit something you weren’t expecting, you have already transitioned to the other foot and your proprioceptors have reacted to keep you upright and stable.

Finally, it’s easier to engage your core and keep your hips forward if you are keeping a quick turnover.

By adding core engagement, looking down the trail, and a quick turnover to your downhill running technique repertoire, you’ll be well on your way to long lasting running bliss.

Downhill Running Technique Drills

So how do you improve? In addition to keeping the cues in mind during your runs, practice these drills and exercises a few times a week. You can find videos of these exercises on our Cascade Endurance YouTube Channel:

Lateral/forward hops: This drill helps with a quick tempo and core stability. The goal with this is to stay tall the whole time and keep your feet glued together. This is not a squat exercise. Start with 20 seconds, and work up to 45 seconds. You can also progress this further by hopping with one foot.

Supine Marching: This exercise will strengthen your core. Make sure you’re engaging the deeper muscles by pulling your belly button toward your spine.

Grassy hill repeats: Find a grassy hill (golf courses or parks work well) and run down practicing quick feet. Using a hill without additional obstacles to start will give you confidence to look farther in front of you; then you can tackle more technical trails. Start with short repeats (30 to 60 seconds), as your brain works hard to form new pathways and learn new movement patterns.

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The majority of triathletes and runners are always striving to be leaner and reach their fastest “race weight,” both within the season and in the off-season. It is absolutely true that the leaner you are, the faster you can run and bike—at least to a point. But eating too few calories can have the opposite effect athletes are shooting for.

Vanderburgh (2006), who created the Flyer Handicap scale, estimates that an athlete can run approximately 20 seconds per mile faster with every 10 pounds lost —and the athlete will see more time gained the further the running distance.

An athlete might also be able to push higher watts per kilogram on the bike, especially advantageous on those pesky hills, with a lower body weight. So, it’s no wonder triathletes and runners are striving to be leaner.

However, not having enough calories to support your training can increase body fat retention and muscle loss. When the body does not know when it will be fed again, it will start conserving energy. To do this, metabolism slows, fat preservation starts, and the body will start getting rid of calorie-demanding muscle tissue.

Fat, an energy dense source, will be the last thing the body wants to get rid of in a calorie-restricted state. This can cause an ugly cycle of restricting calories because of an athlete feeling overweight, then gaining weight because the athlete is not eating enough, then restricting calories more.

This can lead to the Relative Energy Deficit in Sports (RED-S), which can diminish performance, affect immunity along with menstrual function and bone health, and be tied to overtraining syndrome since the body cannot recover, while leading to long term health problems (Eberle, 2015).

Not eating enough is more common than you would probably guess, both among underweight athletes and overweight athletes. I’ve spent eight years working as a personal fitness trainer and nutrition coach, reviewing countless food logs, and the most common issue I found, especially among my female clients, has been not eating enough. Clients would often be well under 1,200 calories.

But these were general fitness clients, triathletes are much better at fueling their bodies, right? Well, not so much. Again, most common among females, I see athletes training 10 to 15 hours per week and barely hitting 1,200 calories per day. This is well below what your body needs just to sustain your everyday activities—let alone to fuel your training.

The general guideline for weight loss for female runners is 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, and 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day for men, but these ranges are higher for triathletes who are averaging 12 to 15 hours of training per week ( and even more for IRONMAN athletes in the peak volume of their training cycle). Generally, a safe amount to lose is between .5-.75 lb per week.

Below is a sample day of a 130 lb female who completed a 90-minute workout in the morning, and is targeting a race weight of 125 lbs. The following diet would give her a calorie deficit of between 300 to 500 calories with her daily activities. This assumes she has a Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) of about 1,350 calories and burned 700 calories in her workout.

Preworkout – Granola bar, Juice (~250 calories)
90 min workout
Breakfast – Oatmeal, handful of walnuts, banana (~350 calories)
Snack – Greek yogurt with cinnamon, berries, and chia seeds (~250 calories)
Lunch – Tuna and spinach on whole wheat bread with carrots and hummus on the side (~400 calories)
Snack – Apple with peanut butter (~300 calories)
Dinner – Chicken breast, sweet potato, broccoli (~400 calories)

Total = 1850 calories

If you are someone who is not sure they are eating enough, try logging your food for a week on Myfitnesspal or Livestrong/Myplate (both free), and see how many calories you are reaching each day.

I do not encourage logging food and calorie counting forever, which can become very tedious, but logging for a week or two can be a good check on total calories along with your breakdown of macronutrients (carbs, fats, and protein).

After you monitor your intake for a week or so, try using your body’s cues and start listening and respecting your body better. Your body is a wise machine and will let you know how much you need to eat—if you’re willing to listen.

Nutrition is the fourth discipline in triathlon, and if you are not getting it right, you will not be successful in executing the swim, bike and run both in training and on race day. You train too hard to ruin your training adaptations and race results with nutrition errors. Fuel that training so you can be your best and achieve those big dreams!

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Winter is the most important phase of training for cyclists; it is pivotal to prepare the body’s aerobic system to build a base to prevent fatigue come mid-season. If periodized correctly, you can ensure your base protects you from whatever the racing season will throw at you.

Base training is the name given to the training that teaches your body to utilize oxygen as efficiently as possible. Base training rides are typically long and steady, undertaken at a moderate intensity, which allows your body to make the necessary adaptations.

Winter, therefore, is the perfect time to build your base. If coupled correctly with specific efforts, utilizing the correct energy systems will guarantee success post-Christmas.

It’s a good idea to always kick-start your next phase of training with an aerobic assessment test, such as the 20-minute FTP test (functional threshold power). This ensures specific training zones going forward and helps optimize success throughout your training.

Typically winter training starts on the first of October for most but this may differ depending on your “A” race next year. I would always recommend a solid foundation of three to four months of aerobic foundation work pre-race season.

However, this needn’t be boring; mix it up and enjoy your cycling, going out with friends, long club rides and most importantly the odd effort to keep your heart guessing is pivotal to your success!

Below is a typical aerobic session whilst keeping your body guessing (Mhr = Maximum heart rate):

25 min build warm up
15 mins @ 75-85% Mhr or 89-94% FTP
5 mins recovery 92-97rpm-Z2 Hr
15 mins @ 75-85% Mhr or 89-94% FTP
5 mins recovery 92-97rpm-Z2 Hr
20 mins Tempo 75-85% MHr or 76-90% FTP
15 min Cool down (92-97rpm)

For those that wish to increase strength endurance a vital aspect of cycling try this workout:

20 mins build warm up
5 mins @70rpm and 85% MHR or 90%FTP
5 mins @94+ RPM at 50% MHR or <54% FTP
Repeat five times, or this can be extended or shortened to reach the desired effect.

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