Archive for October, 2017

5 Tips For Racing a Fall Marathon

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Whether it’s your first or your fifth, a fall marathon is the culmination of all your spring and summer training. Perhaps you’re wondering if your training is on track, or if your goal race pace is attainable. Here are some tips I’ve learned over several years of coaching and racing to help you ace your race this fall.

Look at your training before race day

If you’re putting it all on the line, you should take some time to review the course and make sure you have trained for the demands of your race. If it’s a hilly course, then have you trained on hills and done a few hilly long runs? Look back at your last build up – have you made worthwhile changes since then, and worked on your weaknesses?

Creating a progressive training program is hard to do. You need to find workouts that will challenge you, but also lend insight to your progress. You can use a local 5K, 10K, or half marathon as a good predictor.

Practice what you want to do

When you reflect back on your best race, what was your defining workout regimen beforehand? Did it have you running a good portion of your marathon pace? If you find yourself running your marathon pace for every long run, have you set too easy a goal, or, are you training too hard for the results you want?

Specific endurance workouts are a great way to inject pace into your long runs or weekly workouts to make sure you’re ready for the demands on race day. Running a long section at goal race pace is good, but how else can you mimic miles 20 through 26 in your training without running that far? Consider also adding in hills or long downhill sections that mimic your goal race course.

Workouts: Pressure test the system

Coupling a specific endurance workout with a poor fueling strategy is a recipe for disaster! Use an endurance workout to test fueling and hydration strategies for race day. This is your chance to try new gels, and regular hydration, to see what works for your system and physiology. It’s far better to fail a workout than leave fueling to chance on race day.

When possible, test yourself with similar conditions to what you’ll confront on race day. Make note of went well or what didn’t. Don’t just look at what you did in your workout; what did you have pre-workout (all the way back to the meal you ate the night before)? Also, pay attention to what you can learn from your recovery after the workout.

A general fueling strategy: Every 40 minutes, drink to thirst or take a sip after every song. But like I mentioned earlier, this formula will not work for everyone!

Handling the heat

So, what should you do if you live somewhere hot but your goal race is somewhere cool? It may not be feasible to run your goal pace in major workouts. You would want to take a closer look and use workouts to determine a goal heart rate range for your race pace, and utilize this as your “race effort” on hot days so that your body learns the physiological demands on race day.

This is not perfect, especially if pace is significantly slower; leg speed may be lacking in comparison to aerobic ability. However, it is the safest and most effective way to train in the heat. You will also need to hydrate and fuel more regularly to keep up with your body’s cooling demands.

The opposite is also true. If you live where it is cool and will race in the heat then consider adjusting your training so that you are acclimatizing to the heat. The demands put on the body by heat are intensified for every degree over 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dress Rehearsal

We’ve all felt that itch, the rub, the dreaded chafing one can experience on race day; the pressure of blisters, or the abrasiveness of salt on skin. All of these feelings only add to the pain your legs are going through on race day, breaking concentration and putting you further from your goal. So how can you prevent all but the leg pain?

Do at least one dress rehearsal of your race day by wearing the same clothes you plan on wearing, and testing them at nearly the same temperatures and conditions you expect on race day. This is an opportunity to see how that new tank top or shorts fit. Make sure it fits comfortably after 16 miles, not just the first 16 minutes.

The details matter! Do you plan on wearing deodorant on race day? What about a hat and sunglasses? Will you race with headphones? Do you wear a race belt on race day but not in training? Consider all the factors, as they can play major roles in your comfort—or provide a major distraction on race day.

Protect your kit

If you plan on racing or flying for your event, pack your full kit in your carry-on bag. This ensures that everything makes it with you! It’s true you could replace it all at the expo, but, the anxiety and pressure of doing so the day before would create unnecessary tension. This can be eased by simply packing it along with you.

For fall races I always recommend packing the following:

Light gloves – perfect for cold hands, and an impromptu tissue or two (we’ve all been there).
Arm Warmers – Even if you don’t race in them, they are a great way to stay warm in the corral. They’re also easy to throw off after the first few miles so they can help ward off the early morning chill without having to pull a shirt over your head.
Sunglasses – I always pack these, squinting is zero fun!
Hat or Visor – It keeps the sun and sweat out of your eyes. Two things you don’t want in your eyes at mile 20.
Knit cap – if it’s going to be below 40 at race start this is a must, you’re losing heat through your head—keep yourself warm and happy! Another easy to throw item!
Lube – Pick your favorite, I always hit the pain points. Back of the armpits, inner thighs, feet, in between toes, balls of my feet.
Trash bag – The black plastic kind! Not only an easy way to pack all the stuff in your bag, it makes a great way to stay warm on race morning if you find yourself in a pinch.

These are just a few of my recommendations to make your race day a success. Just a few pieces of planning ahead that can add up to a great day of running. However, failure to prepare can lead to a very tough 26.2 miles. A saying as old as time stands true: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Use these tips to help have your best possible race day!

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Can you Convert Pool Times to Open Water?

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While one would think that a basic formula could be used to calculate how your pool splits translate to open water, the variables under consideration here are almost endless.

First, think about not having to reverse course every 25 yards. Then consider the effect of buoyancy if you happen to be using a wetsuit or are swimming in salt water, or both. Are there waves, how about a current in your body of water; are you satisfactory at drafting? Do your times expand when you switch from indoor short course (25 yards) to indoor long course (50 meters)? If so, it’s likely that your outdoor times will as well. Even more so if swimming efficiency is not your strength.

But let’s take a step back here. If you’re like many of us, you came from a running or cycling background and the swim leg is simply the race leg you must endure before transitioning to something you really like. As you’d guess, you’re not alone here.

Perhaps, like one of the triathletes I was asked to profile for IRONMAN this year, you came from a background that included no swimming. You couldn’t swim a stroke! However, now you’re planning on biting off a couple miles of open water madness.

Work on Technique in the Pool

So before we think about performance in this new environment, let’s just make it doable by planning our training to include the skills necessary for a great race experience. The first thing needed is a smooth, balanced stroke.

A good, straight body line, balanced stroke and de-emphasized kick best achieved with a symmetrical body role and bilateral breathing, which if you don’t do already is most useful. Plus you can see both halves of the field, race course, upcoming buoys, etc. if you breathe on both sides.

Do a Pre-Race Practice Swim

Should you have access to open water prior to race day, even if it’s only once, you can do wonders for race-day nerves and ensure your best performance. Having a swim buddy and safety boat lifeguard on this first open water effort will give you the confidence to work on your technique and acclimate to conditions while leaving some of the details to the buddy and guard.

While experiencing this out of pool environment, take a moment to imagine race-day conditions as different from your training swim. Water temperature, wind from a different direction, the presence of the other swimmers in your wave nearby, some very nearby, etc.

Take the sun for example, possibly high in the sky for the orientation swim but coming right across the tree tops leading to significant glare on race morning. For this reason it is optimal for you to practice the course at a time nearest to your own start time as possible.

Get a Plan

Now you need a race plan. From arriving at the race venue to stepping out of the water into T1, you need to have thought this whole thing through. This is where knowledge of your own swim pace can come in quite handy.

The pace at which you moderately pool swim is the pace you’ll hold, mirror actually, as a sustainable effort over the entire distance. We’re not talking 100’s on the 1:30 here necessarily, but a steady, continuous, reproducible effort.

A pace that, in the face of other swimmers nearby, waves, wind, etc. that you’re comfortable with. You want to be ready for anything, right? No black line, the ability to sight having practiced it indoors making it a defined part of your stroke when needed.

This must be true even if the water is a little rough. If it’s really rough, perhaps you (and the race director) may need to reevaluate whether or not you should be doing this.

As you’re making your final plans for open water and are trying to make an educated guess of how it will come out, understand that for faster swimmers there isn’t a significant drop off in actual swimming time in calm conditions. For the rest of us, we need to factor in the following:

Water clarity: Unless you’re swimming in Kailua Bay, Hawaii, the water clarity that allows you to see the black line in your pool lane will drop to just a couple of feet. I’ve always considered this a positive as I’d rather not see what’s on the bottom.
Surface conditions: wind and waves. You’re used to a little lane turbulence, especially circle swimming, so unless it’s pretty windy, which may affect your course line, it won’t really interfere with breathing.
Water temperature: unless it’s a summer swim, the water temp will be cooler than you’re used to. If your pool is, say 82 degrees, it can be eye-opening to take your first few strokes at 72 degrees, or even cooler. While there are definitely swimmers who can go wetsuit-less in 60-degree conditions, most will choose not to.
Navigation/sighting: it’s an acquired skill. The ability to swim straight, and thus not farther by weaving down the race course, just comes from practice. Many suggest seeing how far down a lane you can swim with your eyes closed before touching a lane line. There are a number of good Youtube videos to teach you, but there’s no substitute for just doing it both in the pool and at open water practice.

Prior to race day preparation, imagining multiple scenarios of choppy water, fatigue, cold/warm conditions, etc. allows you to build and maintain your learned, smooth, steady stroke.

That in turn will allow you to remain calm ensuring your success and your fastest swim. So, while there really is no equation for converting pool times to open water times, there’s a very clear formula for having a safe effort and entering T1 with a smile on your face.

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The 10 Essentials of Self-Supported Bike Racing

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Entering your first self-supported race or bikepacking event? Wondering where to start with your training, or what the essential elements should be? Read-on to discover the essential training framework that has helped several athletes to their best-ever finishes in this popular style of event.

Self supported races have seen a healthy increase in popularity over recent years. Whilst this style of racing is not new, much of what we now call professional road racing was originally run to this format. The Paris-Brest-Paris audax can trace it’s roots back to 1891, however the recent rise in media coverage and sponsorship has lead to a situation where new (or relatively inexperienced) cyclists are considering this race for their first taste of cycle competition.

Before we commence training we should first consider exactly what it is we are training for, or to put it another way: what will be required in order to succeed in our event?

With many of the cycling, and multisport events there is a degree of forgiveness for those of us who focus purely on the physical aspect of training.

In a non-stop, self-supported race, often run over several days or weeks, there are so many other factors that impact the final outcome that a reliance purely on fitness can be the undoing of many an athlete.

Many of these events see a huge proportion of athletes scratch from the race. Some of these are inevitable due to the harsh nature of this competition. A fair percentage, particularly those early on in the event, can be avoided by preparing adequately for the demands of this style of racing.

The following elements are 10 of the most important essentials to prepare for in order to cement the key skills, mental attitude and fitness that is required for success in self-supported racing.

1. A loaded bike

Training on a loaded bike prior to the event is essential for the first time bike packing competitor. Whilst most athletes contemplating a self-supported race will be well accustomed to the handling characteristics of their bike unloaded, not all will have ridden a fully loaded bike.

This training is best integrated into a plan at the earliest opportunity as several important considerations need to be hinged off this experience:

Can the athlete climb with current gearing once carrying the extra weight?
Is the daily schedule realistic?

If anything, it would be better to train “slightly heavier,” making race day less of a surprise. In the event that the athlete is coming from a low fitness level I recommend they add weight to the bike gradually as fitness improves.

For all other levels I recommend that training on a loaded bike be done at least once a week through all the major phases of training.


2. Position

Training in position is a serious consideration that should not be overlooked. Many of the race-stopping ailments, such as saddle sores and abrasions, are brought on much earlier by adopting a position on the saddle that has not been adapted to in prior training.

If the athlete is planning on using a clip-on style of time trial or aero bars, then this position should be adopted early in training and used extensively in the time leading up to the race.

A bike fit specific to this new position is a worthy investment as saddle height, fore and aft measurements can vary hugely between traditional road and time trial positions, as can the comfort of saddles and the interaction between pelvis and saddle in some individuals.

Riding in the TT position for prolonged periods can place a huge strain on the shoulders, back and neck, which ends the race prematurely for many.

Training in position is the key to minimizing the chances of suffering needlessly with back and neck issues. I like to see athletes training in their race position for at least 12 weeks prior to competition.

3. Sleep and performance

At pretty much every level of rider we see sleep become a factor in self-supported racing. At the sharp end we take this for granted: It’s hard to win these things if we spend too much time stopped.

But as aspiration is often linked to ability, riders much further down the field have to operate on less sleep as their traveling speed is lower than the guys and girls at the head of affairs.

Rehearsal of sleep-deprived scenarios is a wise investment in training time prior to the event. I like to get athletes to practice very simple tasks that they will encounter in the event whilst in a sleep-sensitive state but safe environment.

A good exercise example would be setting an alarm that awakes the athlete in the middle of the night. The task once the alarm goes off is to don a head torch, grab their pre-packed bike and take it into the garden. There they set about unpacking their bivy and sleeping bag, set up their planned competition sleeping arrangement and then attempt to go back to sleep.

Fear related to sleeping in the wild, remote, or even heavily populated areas should first be overcome in training. Several overnight excursions that replicate the environment likely to be encountered during the race should be factored into the training period prior to the race. Sleep is critical to performance and recovery; and with time at a premium in this style of racing nothing in this area should be left to chance going into the event.

4. Navigation

Finding our own way from point-to-point can add additional time to anyone’s race. Each stop, or indecision, decreases the average speed, which in turn eats away at valuable time for resting and eating.

Practicing navigation, both with GPS and traditional maps is essential to a solid race performance in the main event. Familiarity with your GPS device is crucial, and regular use should be scheduled into the training plan.

Complete some shorter mock events to practice navigation in unknown terrain prior to the event, which will help ensure that the least amount of time is squandered. It is wise to practice navigation on a regular basis leading up to the event, in various weather conditions and at different times of day and night. I like to factor in at least one navigation ride per week for the eight weeks of an athlete’s build phase of training.

5. Power

Much like the GPS, any device that uses (or generates) power, and requires familiarity for efficient use, should be used extensively beforehand in training. This list might include items such as: tracking devices, dynamo hubs and associated charging cables/ports, lights and mobile phones.

6. Fuel

Nutrition for sport is a much studied and often changing area of sports science. Whilst many athletes may have tried and tested solutions for their shorter or supported races the “eat what you find” nature of self-supported racing should be prepared for and practiced.

The rules for this competition dictate that you either start with your food on you or buy it on route. Sending your favorite energy products ahead is not allowed in many events, and finding it from regular retail outlets can range from impractical to impossible.

There is a huge calorie requirement for riding continuously, day after day, so the hunt for replenishment is likely to become a major focus throughout the event. Researching your event, the shops or retail outlets you are likely to come across (a strategy employed by the most competitive athletes in the field) should be employed by all. Know what will be available, what might be available, and also what is not.

By practicing your nutrition regularly in training,you can reduce your chances of encountering gastric distress and cycling discomfort due to unaccustomed eating. This style of eating strategy is easy to integrate into the plan when a navigation ride is part of the weekly schedule.

7. Weather and Terrain

Whilst it’s not always possible to replicate the exact terrain or conditions we may encounter on our race, it’s often the case that we sometimes shy away from great training opportunities in favor of a softer option.

If the desire is to successfully complete a race where several days of rain are the norm, then developing an attitude toward embracing inclement weather in training sets us up for a greater chance of achieving our desired outcome.

Likewise a positive attitude toward terrain similar to that expected in our event, and focused practice in said terrain, greatly increases the odds of a positive result.

8. Realistic timing

My work with many endurance athletes has taught me that a common question, or fear, is not knowing if covering the distance is possible. Answering this question to some degree in training helps to allay fear, improve motivation and improve the chances of success.

To do this with regards to self-supported racing it becomes important to embrace all the previous points and to set benchmarks and tests relevant to the target event.

9. Mental toughness

Much has been written about mental toughness and sports performance. Within the sphere of ultra-endurance, many top athletes attribute a focus on toughening up mentally with the success they enjoy in sport, and often their lives beyond competition.

Understanding the demands of the event, rehearsal of the toughest elements and challenges one faces, and expanding our repertoire of relevant skills, all help to build the solid foundation upon which confidence and resilience are built.

Looking out the window, seeing it’s pouring with rain or baking hot, and saying to oneself, “now is a perfect time to go training for my event,” all help to toughen us up for the challenge ahead.

10. Training for the distance

When it comes to riding and racing long distances it can be easy to fall into the classic trap of believing “more is better.” Performance at all levels is dependent on training being relevant to the athlete, their current ability, training history, and time available to train.

Whilst some long rides may be necessary for adaptation, mind-skills, rehearsal and fun, many of the fastest racers in this branch of the sport cite a focus on shorter and faster workouts being the mainstay of their training and key to their success.

Often they say their longer rides were performed more for enjoyment of their sport rather than essential to performance. The late Mike Hall, multiple record breaker and race winner both off-road and on, and Josh Ibbett, winner of the Trans-Continental in 2015 and Italy Divide in 2017, both went on record in recent years stating that their preferential focus on shorter and higher intensity sessions were essential to their race success.

In years gone by it was somewhat harder to quantify training, fatigue and assessing the effective dose of training. With the more recent advancements in hardware such as powermeters, heart rate monitors, and GPS systems, combined with the powerful tools within TrainingPeaks and ever more knowledgeable and experienced coaches, it has become possible to develop as a competitive ultra-endurance athlete without giving up the day job or never seeing your family.

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5 More Mistakes Cyclists Make When Developing a Training Plan

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In a previous article, I introduced five mistakes many cyclists make when it comes to developing a training plan. These mistakes include not honestly evaluating past performance, failing to set SMART goals, and neglecting to use both outcome and process goals.

They also include setting goals too high or too low, and not modifying goals when necessary. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only training plan mistakes. Here are five more errors you want to avoid:

1. Failing to consistently assess plan effectiveness.

The only way to determine if your plan is working is to evaluate its effectiveness. The simplest way to do this is through ongoing field testing such as the 30-minute time trial.

To do this field test, ride as hard as you can for 30 minutes (after a good warm-up). Your heart rate for the last 20 minutes of this effort is a close estimate of your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR).

Your average power for 30 minutes is a close estimate of your functional threshold power (FTP). Perform the field test once a month and look for increases in LTHR and FTP.

2. Failing to build adequate recovery into the plan.

A lack of proper recovery will have a negative impact on your performance and may lead to overtraining.

There are two steps you can take to avoid this problem. First, consider the length of the training plan mesocycle (a specific block of training designed to achieve a particular goal).

The standard length is 28 days, which includes 23 days of relatively hard training followed by five days of recovery. However, a 21-day mesocycle with 16 days of hard training followed by five days of recovery offers more rest.

Second, make sure you get sufficient rest during your recovery period. I recommend the following approach for the five days: day off, 30 to 60-minute easy spin, day off, 30 to 60-minute easy spin, day off.

3. Being a slave to your training regimen.

Your training plan is an important tool that can help you develop the physiological abilities needed to achieve your cycling goals. However, it is not set in stone. You can make changes.

If you are scheduled to do a hard interval workout but feel tired, skip it. Spin easy and see how you feel the next day. Doing hard workouts on tired legs can lead to overtraining. Always listen to your body and act accordingly.

4. Failing to connect the training plan to the key physiological abilities.

These abilities include aerobic endurance, muscular endurance, lactate threshold, functional threshold power, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power.

Simply stated, your training plan should be designed to improve one or more of these abilities. For example, if you are a century rider, your plan will focus on improving aerobic endurance. If you specialize in time trials, you’ll emphasize functional threshold power and lactate threshold. If you are a criterium racer, anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power become very important. Your plan should highlight the key abilities needed to perform in your chosen events.

5. Failing to periodize the training plan.

While any well-developed training plan is better than none at all, you will get the most out of your training regimen if it is periodized. Periodization is the process of dividing an annual training plan into specific time blocks, where each block has a particular goal and provides your body with different types of stress.

Some periods of training are harder and some are easier to allow for recovery. As a practical matter, this simply means that you should develop training plans that have different priorities at different times of the year.

For example, the endurance phase is designed to improve aerobic and muscular endurance, and therefore incorporates many long rides. Conversely, the intensity phase focuses on shorter, harder workouts that improve lactate threshold and aerobic capacity.

Once the season is over, the recovery phase focuses on rest. Make sure you are clear about what you are trying to accomplish with each phase of your plan.

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Build Triathlon Specific Strength with Functional Isometrics

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Functional isometrics (FI) can be a great way to add some variety to your strength training plan while increasing strength and power within the swim and bike motor patterns.

Isometric movement is defined as when the muscle attachment closest and furthest away from the center of gravity maintains a constant length while force is being applied.

Functional isometrics are used by strength and conditioning coaches in all major sports. By integrating tri-specific FI, triathletes and can achieve higher levels of strength and power exactly where they need it.

There are key positions within the swim/bike/run patterns that require increased strength or leverage. By incorporating FI into your strength plan, you will develop high levels of isometric strength, which will lead to an increase in power and speed.

Functional Isometrics for Swimming

There are three points during the swim stroke in which isometric would be effective. They are:

1. High elbow catch position at the beginning of the pull phase


2. Mid-pull phase when hand is at hip level


3. Extension at back end of stroke


These isometric exercises can be done using either a Vasa Trainer or TRX suspension system so that there is no movement when force is applied. Apply 85-percent effort for three to five seconds per repetition in each of the three positions. Complete three reps per set with a five-second rest between each repetition. Each set will take 24 to 50 seconds to complete.

Functional Isometrics for Cycling

In cycling the point of highest power application is between the 2 o’clock to 4 o’clock point in the pedal stroke. There are two ways FI can be done in this high power zone.

1. Rack Pulls

This first method uses a barbell pulled up against the pins in a power rack at knee and hip angles identical to the powerful position on the bike. Again, hold for three to five seconds per repetition.


2. Squat or Deadlift with Iso Hold

The second method is to do an isometric hold for three seconds at the same joint angle as the rack pull when executing a squat or deadlift. Athletes can use a barbell or hex bar (pictured below). Hex bars are preferred since it places less stress on the back and knees. Use a controlled eccentric (lowering phase), isometric hold for 3 seconds, then lift weight with a fast acceleration.


Functional Isometrics for Running

In running, there is a point in the stance phase that requires high levels of isometric strength at the point of contact with the ground just before take-off. As with cycling there are two ways this can be accomplished.

1. Single Leg Toe Taps

Using a barbell in the back-squat position and standing on one leg in a running posture (knees and hips slightly flexed as if initiating the push off phase of the run stride.) This position is maintained while the athlete does lateral toe touches 4 – 10 repetitions before switching legs.

Watch the video of this exercise here. 

2. Rack Single leg Iso Holds

Hold the barbell in the back-squat position and just like the rack pull exercise above. Pushing up against the pins from a single leg running posture. Hold for three to five seconds per repetition per leg, doing three to five reps per set.


Your Isometric Strength Training Plan

There are several ways you can integrate FI into your strength training plan. Include FI several times throughout the year to increase triathlon-specific power. Below is one example of how FI can fit into any strength plan.

Tri set A (alternate between the three exercises below until all three sets are completed)

Hex bar deadlift – 3 sets of 5 (3 sec isometric holds just off floor on each rep)
Dumbbell chest press – 3 sets of 6
Swim isometric (3 positions) – 3 sets of 3 sec each at 85 % effort

Tri set B

Pull up – 3 sets of 6
Slide board leg curl – 3 sets of 6
Single leg toe taps – 3 sets of 5 taps each leg

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