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...No idea where I'm headed in 2016, but I can't wait to get there...

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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Just like the fashion world, the science world has trends. Fashion trends are often ridiculous. Science trends, on the other hand, increase our understanding of the world and often lead to novel ways of improving athlete performance. The current trend in science is a perfect example: gut bacteria.

First, a short review on bacteria. Bacteria are about a tenth of the size of human cells and are found everywhere in the world, including inside you and on your skin. In fact, you have more bacteria cells in and on you than you have human cells (estimates vary and go up to a ratio of 10:1 (1)).

We all know some of these bacteria can be harmful to humans. However, some bacteria can actually be beneficial. This latter symbiotic relationship is what science has begun to focus on.

The majority of the bacteria located on you or in you, are found in the gut. More specifically, most bacteria (10-100 trillion) are found in the large intestine (1). Not too long ago, we used to think all the valuable digestion and absorption of nutrients had already occurred by the time food reached your large intestine. Now we know that’s only partly true. In the large intestine, some of the food that you weren’t able to digest actually gets digested by bacteria.

In this process of breaking down food, bacteria produce various products that can actually be beneficial to human health. For example, gut bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which the cells of our large intestine can use as energy (2).

Researchers are also looking at how the byproducts from gut bacteria may help exercise performance. You may remember a popular media article suggesting gut bacteria help make better athletes, which led to the term “poop doping.” While fitter individuals do have greater gut bacteria “health” (3), the article was a little too speculative, as researchers don’t know whether one (healthy gut bacteria) causes the other (high fitness level).

No study to date has determined a mechanism for how gut bacteria can directly impact exercise performance. That being said, gut bacteria may indirectly influence exercise performance. For example, gut bacteria produce signaling molecules that assist with reducing inflammation and improving immune function (2). This could help with recovery and overall health, leading to better performance (3).

So, what does “healthy” gut bacteria look like? At this point, no research has found the optimal species of bacteria or distribution of bacteria (3). Instead, a “healthy” gut simply has a diversity of bacteria types (4). This idea can be hard to grasp but can be better understood when thinking like an ecologist. Maybe you’ve seen the video of what happened in Yellowstone National Park when wolves were reintroduced. To summarize, when wolves were reintroduced (an increase in diversity), the overall health of the ecosystem improved. The same happens in the human body.

While a number of things influence diversity, it seems the primary determinant of diversity is diet. Diet can influence diversity in two main ways: introducing different beneficial bacteria types and sustaining these different beneficial bacteria types. It may come as no surprise, but the typical American diet does not promote diversity (U-S-A! U-S-A!). Luckily changing this is relatively easy.

To introduce different beneficial bacteria types, the idea is that you just have to eat probiotics. These probiotics have living bacteria that can take up residence in your gut. There are a number of ways to ingest probiotics. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha all contain bacteria. Probiotics also come in supplement form like pills and powders.

Here’s where things get a little tricky. Probiotics are great for increasing gut bacteria diversity in unhealthy individuals (or following an antibiotic treatment). However, in already healthy individuals, the science isn’t clear that probiotics increase gut bacteria diversity (5). That being said, probiotics have been shown to improve athletic performance. This may be related to gut bacteria improvements but the actual mechanism is not well understood (3).

Now it’s one thing to introduce beneficial bacteria, but the bacteria aren’t going to survive unless they get fed. To sustain your diversity, you’ve got to feed the bacteria. Bacteria can feed off a variety of nutrients but the optimal source is dietary fiber (6). You aren’t able to digest dietary fiber, so it travels through the digestive tract down to the large intestine where the bacteria are then able to use the fiber as fuel.

The primary sources of dietary fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. There are also fiber pills you can take (often called “prebiotics”). However, to best sustain diversity in the gut, you want to consume a diverse diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. An added benefit of this diverse food intake (particularly dietary fiber), is that it also is a way to increase gut bacteria diversity (6). The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the gut bacteria (4).

There are other aspects of diet that can potentially influence the gut bacteria. For example, it has been suggested that animal products treated with antibiotics could influence the gut bacteria in humans (4,7). The USDA sets rules about antibiotics based on levels that appear in the blood of humans but these antibiotics may still influence bacteria in the gut and alter diversity. The same has been suggested of pesticides (4). The best thing to do then, is to eat antibiotic-free meats and organic fruits and vegetables.

Now hopefully this overview hasn’t left you pooped (I held off on the puns for as long as I could). But just like in fashion, it’s exciting to see where this latest science craze leads us. A lot of the research suggests gut bacteria may be the next frontier for improving overall health and possibly athletic performance. In the meantime, keep eating those fruits and veggies.

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The word “fartlek” is a Swedish term which means “speed play.” It is a training method that blends continuous (endurance) training with interval (speed) training.

Fartlek runs challenge the body to adapt to various speeds, conditioning you to become faster over longer distances. Most run workouts typically target one or two paces, and a basic long run is done at a single, steady pace.

Unlike intervals, where you stop or walk for recovery, Fartlek is continuous running. Fartlek running involves varying your pace throughout your workout.

While top speed might not match intervals, your overall average heart rate (HR) should be higher for a fartlek workout than for intervals, because the jogging recovery also means HR does not drop as low during the recovery portions. It is great for a variety of fitness levels and can be customized according to personal preference and current training situation.

Different Ways to Run Fartleks

Fartlek can be structured, though classic fartlek is based on feel and inspiration. “Run hard up the hill to the crest, jog to cross walk, accelerate the short downhill, jog to the intersection, run quickly around the block” versus “run 6-5-4-3-2 minutes faster with 2 minutes jogging recovery,” is an example of a structured fartlek.

Fartlek workouts are versatile. A traditional fartlek is run on the road using available landmarks as guides. If you are the analytical type, take your fartlek to the track and use set distances. Live in the city? Use lamp posts or blocks as distances for easy, medium and hard efforts. Bad weather? Bring your fartlek workout inside on a treadmill. Out of town and worried about getting lost? Fartlek is a great way to make a small loop more interesting. Have a friend joining your workout? Even if you both may run at different speeds you can regroup at certain landmarks or times. Can’t avoid the hills? Great! Hills are effective means to elevate your heart rate and work on strength, speed and endurance. As you can see, fartleks can be done anywhere—it’s convenient and packs a powerful punch of benefits.

Fartlek Improves Your Mental Game

Beyond physical benefits, fartlek also trains the mind, strengthening willpower, sustaining and repeating efforts when you feel like stopping.

We can all probably relate to a race situation when the mind can overwhelm us, questioning whether we can maintain the pace or respond to an opponent’s attack. The more training sessions we do that incorporate this speed variation, the more resistant we become to giving up mentally mid-race. The body can usually go much longer and faster than the mind would have it believe it can.

The Benefits of Fartlek Training

Improve speed
Improve endurance
Improve race tactics; improves your ability to put surges into races and overtake a competitor or knock seconds off your finish time.
Improve mental strength.
Fartlek provides a lot of flexibility, so you can do a high intensity session to push your limits or a low intensity session if you are tapering for a race or easing back into running post-injury.
Fartlek is playful, playing with speed and saying the word often elicits giggles!

Three Sample Fartlek Workouts
Long Run Fartlek

During your longest run of the week, pick up your pace for 1:00 minute every 6 to 8 minutes. This is not drastically faster—perhaps 15 to 20 seconds per mile faster than your normal long-run pace. If you have a hard time returning to “normal” long-run rhythm, then you are running the surges too quickly.

Speed Play

After a 12 minute warm-up jog, plus a few drills and strides
Build for 3 minutes as moderate, moderate-hard, hard each for 1 minute
2 minutes jog
7 minutes moderate-hard
3 minutes jog
3 minutes hard
5 minutes jog
Cool down or repeat

“Surroundings” Fartlek

After 10 minutes of warm-up jogging pick a landmark in the distance—this can be a telephone pole, mailbox, a tree, a building, etc, and run to it at a faster pace. Once you have reached it, slow down and recover with your normal running pace for as long as you need (just don’t fully stop), then find a new landmark and speed it up again. Keep in mind that there are no rules here, so run on feel as you go along.

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article.

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The quick rise in technology has generated a medium where remote coaching is stronger, more reputable and more popular than ever. While there are some cons associated with virtual coaching, the pros of remote coaching can greatly outweigh the cons—especially if the coaching is done right.

What is better than an athlete being able to reach out to you whenever and however? The remote coaching relationship allows the client to train whenever they like—and in today’s busy world remote coaching can provide a support network that in-person coaching can’t. Creating that support network between you and your athlete is key. Here are seven tips on how to further improve your online coaching game.

1. Have Real Life Coaching Experience and Education

One of the best things about remote coaching is that you can apply your in-person coaching experiences to your athletes online. Following your athletes over the years you develop a greater understanding and knowledge bank that you can use to help successfully identify and prevent pitfalls that may occur.

Athletes respect coaches with experience—both in person and out of person. Further increase your experience by continuing or branching out into one-on-one coaching experience. Treat the coaching as a project and not just something to crank out for cash.

2. Overemphasize Communication

You could be one of the best coaches in the world, but yet lack in the ability to communicate with your athletes. Since your physical presence is not possible you need to make up for it by being able to communicate well with your athletes.

Being transparent, concise, honest and understanding when communicating with your athlete is key. Keep things simple with clear-cut information. Make sure to match the athlete experience with the correct level of information.

While less experienced athletes require more communication, they will need less complexity. Athletes whom you’ve previously coached in person might need less interaction and require more advanced training detail and information. Make sure that the amount of communication matches the athlete.

3. Use Technology Advantages

Probably the best and greatest advantage online coaching has over in-person coaching is the consistent, always open doors to getting in touch with your athlete or vice-versa.

You can essentially be by the athletes side in every workout by using data recording devices such as a heart rate monitor, bike computer, power meter, GPS watches, etc.

Online platforms create a massive data library full of information about your athletes training. While remote coaching is still possible without the gear it is definitely not ideal. The more data your athlete can record the better you can assess their training.

4. Constant Feedback

Make the requirement to give feedback and acknowledge your athlete’s training. Require your athletes to give feedback also. Plan on and allow for an open dialogue and reflection of each workout.

Uploading their training along with a brief overview of how the workout went makes the athlete accountable for every workout. Be sure to mention praise along with tips for improvement or what to change for the next session.

Be honest and give all types of feedback—whether its positive reinforcement, advice or discussing what didn’t go well—this is what ultimately helps the athlete grow and is why they hired you. Don’t be afraid of negative feedback.

5. Organized Reminders

Since remote coaching isn’t created at a set time for either you or the athlete, it is imperative to stay on top of what is going on in your athletes training and life.

Make individual athlete profiles for each of your athletes. Include their race bests, goals, thresholds, heart rate zones, etc. Use this to also create notes for their general progression and training.

Additionally, create calendar reminder alerts for your athletes such as when they have a race coming up, birthday, travel, a training camp or work. You want to make sure you stay engaged with your athlete at critical times.

6. Create a Presence

There are so many communication tools to use right now: Skype, FaceTime, text, email, etc. Become as personable as you can as a remote coach. Since you communicate and operate online, increase every aspect of communication and your presence online.

Transitioning from an in-person coach to online coach is made easier if you stick to and enhance your virtual avenues of communication. Be seen through reputable blogs, educational videos—even social media.

Have your athlete do the same by keeping you connected in a similar way such as asking for training videos to analyze, photos of their training session, equipment, etc.

If it is ever possible to meet up with the athlete face-to-face at an event, during travel or passing through, make the extra effort to connect if and when at all possible.

7. Active Motivation

As a remote coach you need to constantly be an active coach instead of a passive one. No matter what you or your athlete’s game plan is, there needs to be a motivational connection.

Whether you plan on organizing general training plans or customize each athlete’s coaching experience, you need to establish a motivational connection.

Highlighting other athlete’s accomplishments or diving into what you’re doing in the sport—whether coaching, at the races or training helps build a community. This is a time where you can really showcase the continual support.

There are so many ways to improve upon your online coaching game. In the end, nailing your remote coaching game comes down to you. It’s about having the mindset in which you prioritize effective communicate, support and follow your athletes throughout their training.

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Kettlebell Training for Endurance Athletes

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It’s April, and the weather outside is a little less frightful. Snow is melting, daylight hours growing and training periodization is shifting from base work to builds.

With any luck—or with solid season planning—you have been following a structured resistance training program for some time and have achieved a base level of strength fitness. With a shift in focus from general strength acquisition to sport-specific work it makes a lot of sense to make room in your resistance routine for kettlebell practice.

The deep history of kettlebell sport is a little murky. We do know that by the mid-twentieth century, the sport saw wide practice in the former Soviet military. The popularity of kettlebell training, at least in North America, is far more recent.

Now it is common to see this training tool in commercial gyms worldwide. There’s good reason for it too. Kettlebell training is a versatile modality that can be readily adopted into the supplementary strength work performed by endurance athletes.

So with swim-bike-run specific demands in mind, let’s look at four kettlebell movements and their application to triathlon. Watch the video at the bottom of this article to see all of these exercises, or click here.

The swing

The swing is a sort-of kettlebell gateway drug. It’s not exceedingly difficult to perform, but not as easy as many assume it to be. Hint: it’s not a squat! The swing is fantastic for triathletes for a couple of reasons:

A well-executed kettlebell swing requires a full range of posterior motion of the hips. Think of this as loaded mobility training. That mobility is key in getting comfortable in a low-front-end time trial position on your bike.
Is your physio telling you that your glutes are asleep? Swings are great for waking them up. When done correctly, almost all of the “pop” of a swing comes from a powerful contraction of the glutes. This is important for both runners and cyclists. What’s more, that contraction is initiated from a closed hip angle. A factor that is very relevant for anyone riding in the steep aero position mentioned above.

The snatch

An evolution of the swing, and one of the two staples of competitive kettlebell sport. The snatch is one of the most dynamic movements out there. Just about every major posterior muscle in the human body has a role to play in powering a kettlebell from between one’s knees to a full lockout overhead. Here are my two favorite elements:

The snatch requires quite a bit of coordination. The muscle firing sequence must be precise for proper execution. That sort of neuromuscular training is wonderful for motor cortex plasticity. The more complex, compound movements an athlete learns, the easier it becomes to learn more. The upshot is increased ability to master the intricacies of other complex movements(like those of a swim stroke).
It’s tough to imagine a better bang for your weightlifting time than the snatch. While the majority of the power delivered to the bell still comes from the glutes, the middle portion of the lift is driven by the latissimus dorsi and rhomboid muscle groups (these power your swim stroke, and stabilize you on the bike and during the run), while the finish recruits postural support groups in the abdomen, shoulder and upper arm.

The circle with stall

This supplementary movement is one of the best functional core exercises I know. It is easier to execute than the snatch, and can be used as active recovery between heavier or more intense sets too. The value of the circle with stall is how it utilizes the muscles involved with trunk rotation. Again, it checks two of my boxes.

The initiation of the movement is hip-driven, trunk rotation. While it’s not a perfect analogue for the cross-body action of a swim stroke and run stride, the muscles involved are the very same.
The stall component of the lift stresses those same muscles in an eccentric manner. As you are forced to resist further trunk rotation, you are training muscle groups that will support your torso on the bike and the run.

The farmer carry / overhead carry

These are a bit of a cheat, as they do not require kettlebells and can be performed with any weight apparatus. Still, these two simple movements are easy to execute and sufficiently useful to include. The big benefit here is postural strength development. The value of which is apparent to anyone looking at runners at the end of an IRONMAN marathon. Strong runners still upright have terrific, fatigue-resistant postural muscles. Want some yourself? Add a farmer carry or an overhead carry after a long run!

This is a good spot for an important disclaimer: While kettlebell practice is perfectly safe when performed correctly, the technical nature of some of these movements and the very fact that the weight often ends up overhead, behooves any would-be practitioner to seek coaching on correct mechanics.

While we are providing a link to a video demonstrating all of these lifts, watching a video is no substitute for qualified, in-person instruction.

Watch this video to see all of the above exercises, as well as tips on proper form and kettlebell swing mechanics:

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5 Spring Trail Running Tips

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Spring is an amazing time of renewal, change, and awakening after the doldrums of winter. Spring for many is a return to trails, and reminding ourselves of all the great runs we had in our recent past. As you pick up your training here are a few tips to keep you (and your local trails) happy and healthy.

Return to running

Many athletes take the winter season as a time to regroup and are drawn outside with slightly warmer temperatures and longer sunny days. Patience is the key to returning to running in spring. Don’t increase your training more than 10 to 15 percent (mileage or time) as you return back to where you were in summer and fall. Playing it smart on your first runs will help you have a long, injury-free season.

Be kind to your trails

The beauty of your local trails requires a lot of early season rain and runoff to produce the amazing wildflowers, tall grasses and greenery that make trail running an amazing experience. This means a few weeks of muddy trails, and a few more runs on the roads or cross training instead.

Multi-use trails are the most at risk for being punished in the wet months —stay off very muddy trails and consider another activity.
If you encounter a big area of water or mud—go through it, not around it (provided that it is safe to do so)! Avoiding an obstruction causes trail widening and trail braiding – making the obstacle bigger and bigger.
Get involved for your next workout—help with trail building and maintenance. Take ownership of your training grounds!

Train in layers

The beauty of early season trail runs can put you in a tough spot if you don’t go out prepared. Getting caught in a cold spring rain, exposed on a windy open trail, or a significant temperature drop late in the day can put you in danger.

A light windproof jacket can save your butt all year long! Pack it with you!
Dress for no more than 15 degrees warmer than you expect to experience. This will keep you from overheating.
Dress in layers for the full spectrum of temperatures you plan on experiencing.

Hydration

Warmer days will have you sweating far more than you did in the colder months. Take the time to reacquaint yourself with your running hydration plan.

Runs over 45 minutes to an hour require hydration. Take it with you!
Electrolytes are important even on training runs—don’t just supplement on race day!
There are so many options for water additives: electrolytes, full spectrum (calories + electrolytes), and more. Find what works for you—spring is a great time to test new products.

Check your equipment

Safety and comfort go hand in hand. Spring is great time to go through your equipment and see what needs replacement before training is in full swing.

Clean out all your water bottles—even that mystery one from your drop bag in September!
Go through your shoe options—do you need to make a replacement for your trail or road shoes? Happy feet, happy body!
Go through your training clothing. Hydration vests, jackets, and more may need repairs and spring is a great time to make repairs or research an affordable replacement.

Spring is a time to set the tone for the rest of the season. Patience in March and April pays off in June and July when you want to be in harder training and racing. Take time now to start practicing your nutrition and understanding how your body operates best.

Lastly, be a good steward on your trails. Our sport is growing rapidly and we are responsible for treating our training grounds with respect. The time is now to preserve and protect our trails—be an advocate for the trails you train on everyday. Get involved!

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