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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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What To Do When Your Taper Doesn’t Go as Planned

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Tapering is the icing on a cake baked from countless hours of race prep and laser-focused training. It’s the time when final preparations are made, fitness is fine-tuned, and fatigue is diminished. It’s also a time when, given an athlete’s proximity to their race, can be fraught with hurdles and roadblocks if and when things don’t go as planned. Even the best training can be derailed if the taper isn’t executed properly. So what can you do to manage these inevitable tapering challenges?

More Fatigue than Expected

Every athlete wants to be as fit as possible going into a race. This means trying to execute the appropriate workouts, at the right time, to prepare the body for the rigors of race day. But for some athletes, the fear that insufficient fitness has been gained causes them to “cram” fitness well into their taper period.

But if you find yourself in a position where you’re close to race day and feeling more fatigue than expected or desired, all is not lost. First and foremost, prioritize rest over all else! Regardless of the tune-ups or shake-outs scheduled, no amount of effort is going to compensate for an over-fatigued body on race day. Instead, work on stretching, foam rolling, and active self-care to try and assist recovery and muscle repair.

As always, you’ll also want to focus on proper sleep, hydration and nutrition to give the body the tools it needs to recover. While skipping planned workouts may seem stressful, know that rest will be what gets you to the start line as healthy and fit as possible.

Schedule Doesn’t Go As Planned

Any athlete knows that even the best-laid plans will change when it comes to balancing life and training. The taper period is no less susceptible to these disruptions, and every athlete will eventually experience an unexpected event that will cause the original taper plan to change. When this happens it’s important to know what to prioritize so that race preparation remains on track.

First, rest days should always take priority. During the taper, the bulk of an athlete’s fitness should have already been gained, so squeezing in final workouts typically only serves to add more fatigue than necessary. Then, depending on how prolonged the disruption is, prioritize any workouts deemed critical or necessary, like sessions scheduled to finalize race day set-up or gear selection—these final touches shouldn’t be skipped.

As you get closer to race day, remember that individualized interval workouts become less important than rest and mental preparedness. One of the biggest, and most often overlooked side effects, of a disrupted schedule is the mental component. Make sure you’re dealing with these changes mentally and emotionally to ensure you’re 100% prepared for race day.

Fitness (CTL) Lower Than Predicted

As mentioned earlier, the goal of every athlete is to come into race day with as much fitness as possible. We can quantify this fitness with performance metrics like Chronic Training Load (CTL). CTL tells us how much fitness an athlete has at any given time. The goal of the taper is to keep CTL as high as possible while minimizing Acute Training Load (ATL), and bring Training Stress Balance (TSB) into the positive.

This process is often as much art as it is science, but the key to a productive taper is to not prioritize CTL above all else. This “fight for fitness” only serves to produce an ATL that’s too high, and Form (TSB) that’s too low. While a high CTL can be a good indicator of overall fitness and race preparedness, too much fatigue and bad Form can derail a race much easier than a slightly lower CTL than planned. If at all possible stick to your taper plan regardless of how CTL is tracking. The taper is not the time to be gaining fitness, but rather allowing your body to come “into form” so that it’s ready to race.

The taper can be a tenuous time for many athletes as they try to balance fitness, fatigue, and mental preparation. Much like the training that leads up to the final taper, these closing weeks and days require focus and perspective. Whether you experience schedule mishaps, feeling overly fatigued, or not seeing the level of fitness that was planned, any number of circumstances can force you to adjust. But if you consistently lean towards rest and recovery over fitness, even a less-than-optimal taper can be rewarding come race day.

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Three Workouts for Runners to Guarantee Race Success

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I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “Guarantee success? C’mon. Is that even possible?” Well, that depends.

If you are a believer in doing the right work and making incremental improvements, then yes, what I am going to discuss will lead to success. But if you are a “glass half empty” athlete, then you might have a hard time finding success, regardless of the workout. Certain adaptations will help you no matter how you gain them, or what your event is—but your success will always depend on your mindset.

So are you a speed demon? Are you an endurance-only athlete? Are you a combination of the two? No fear. There are great workouts that fall under both distinctions.
Let’s focus on three that can certainly lead you to great fitness and race success, no matter what type of runner you are. These three workouts are challenging enough for any fitness level, and can be tweaked to fit your program and progress. Let’s begin:

30/60/90 Run Workout

I came across this workout during marathon training in the 1990’s. It worked great then and still applies today. Even better, you can use this workout for any form of race you are training for.

Start out with a 15-20 minute warm up. Then proceed to run 30 seconds at 5k pace or quicker. Your recovery is a 30-second slow jog. Next up is a 60-second push at 5k to 10k pace. Recovery is a 60-second slow jog. And finally, you wrap up your set with a 90 second run at your goal race pace, if not a tad quicker. Your recovery is a 90-second slow jog.

Getting in four sets of these is ideal for shorter distance races. If you are training for a half or a full marathon, shoot for five to six sets.

1,2,3,4,5 Run Workout

I read about this workout a while back. What makes it great is that it has speedwork mixed in with endurance. You can even turn it into a ladder if you’re daring enough. It’s simple in nature yet oh-so-challenging.

Start out with a 15-20 minute warm up. Then do a 1-minute interval at 5k to 10k pace. Recovery is 2 minutes at a slow jog. Unlike in the last workout where recovery matched the interval, in this workout you’ll do a 2-minute recovery after each repetition. Next up is a 2-minute interval (again at 5k to 10k pace) and recover.
Next up is 3 minutes at tempo pace and recover. Your 4-minute interval will be at goal race pace. Tempo is okay too. Shoot for the same for your 5-minute set.

You can ladder it down, repeat it or just do one set. All is your call. In the end, it’s a great, doable workout with lactic threshold and recovery benefits.

One Minute Interval Workout

This is a simple workout that will test your speed and endurance: just run hard for one minute, then rest for one minute, and repeat.

Warm up for 15 to 20 minutes. The one-minute interval should be at 5k-10k pace. Your recovery is a 1-minute slow jog. The key to this workout is to stay even in your timing—meanint don’t blow out the first few and having nothing left for the end. In fact, it’s better to start off at a slightly slower pace and kick it into a higher gear towards the end.

Your goal should be 12 repeats. If you can, work up to 16-18 of these—the ideal duration for longer events.

There you have it. Three workouts that have been proven to lead to success. Like anything else, stay focused and watch your progress. As another coach once said to me: “If you feel like you are working hard then you are,” but you can monitor your effort, your progress and if possible your heart rate to help with your perspective.

There are a multitude of awesome training sessions at your disposal, and if you ask 20 coaches for some you will get 20 different responses. In this post, I’ve proposed just a few to get rolling. In the end, find what works best for you and play with it. Best wishes for your success!

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Should You Include Pool Running in Your Training Plans?

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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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CoachCast: Kona Race Day with Lance Watson

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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.

Resources

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LifeSport Coaching

2018 Kona IRONMAN World Championship

Ready, Set, Kona!

Our 2018 IRONMAN World Championship coverage has race-day predictions, athlete insights and training takeaways straight from the Big Island.

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Coaching “Race Weight” Intelligently: A Case Study

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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.

Conclusions

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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