Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Ironman training is so time consuming that few athletes have the ability to endure the proper training, on top of their typical work and family commitments without losing some sense of mental and physical balance. So many of the athletes that I talk to get so caught up in their daily swim, bike, and run routines that they begin to operate with complete tunnel vision, when it comes to incorporating other activities into their Ironman training. There are a few unorthodox workouts that, even during the race season, hold merit, are efficient, and are actually quite race specific. One such workout, which is one of my favorites for IM athletes, is hiking.

Now, when I say hiking, I am not referring to a leisurely walk in the woods. I am talking about a solid march, with a focused cadence and some significant climbing. Hiking in this manner is an aerobic activity, which tends to be very peripherally limited. For example, my typical endurance/aerobic run training heart rate (HR) is somewhere between 133 and 143 bpm, but I have rarely been able to maintain an average HR above 100 bpm, on a 12+ hour hike. Long day hikes of 5 to 15 hours allow an athlete to spend large amounts of time on their feet and to practice their race-fueling plan over a long period of time. This is an excellent opportunity to develop both durability (the peripheral system’s ability to take a beating) and the gut (the body’s ability to consume, absorb, and process fuel). Both of these qualities, when developed properly, go a long way towards Ironman success. However, the Ironman athlete should be aware of the potentially negative factors that can be associated with very long day hikes. For one, there is always the potential for acute injury, typically in the form of a twisted ankle, or the like. But, of greater consideration is the fact that these hikes typically require an extended period of recovery. As a result, these hikes really need to be timed properly within an athlete’s schedule, as not to undermine performance at key races. Typically, one or two 10-14 hour hikes, or three to four 5-7 hour hikes, each season, is enough to get a great durability boost (key IM limiter), without being too race unspecific to impact race day readiness (sharpness). Maintaining at least two weeks between a shorter hike and a key race, or five weeks between a longer hike and a key race, will likely allow for adequate recovery from these efforts. Because hiking is a very strength-focused aerobic activity, scheduling these for the base phase of training is ideal, as they will help to both, develop a robust aerobic system and strengthen soft-tissue. To account for a hike’s training volume, we will usually credit the athlete’s cycling and running volumes, EACH with 35% of the hike’s total volume. The remaining 30% is lost (not counted toward the season periodization plan) to a lack of both, aerobic system stimulation and sport mechanic specificity.

It is pretty easy to measure how peripherally limited an activity is by analyzing the decoupling between HR and perceived effort. That is, although you may feel as though you are working very hard, the stress on your aerobic system is very low. This is exactly why a good, focused day-hike is so specific to Ironman racing, or other longer events. If you could observe 95 percent of the athletes racing an Ironman, you would see their HRs significantly drop during the last half of the marathon. The peripheral limitations of Ironman tend to rear their ugly heads during this stage of the race, as “very well-trained” athletes are left to walking on the course, with HRs that are only slightly higher than they would be, were the athlete shopping for new pants at the mall. Even with these relatively low HRs, the athlete is unable to move any faster, because the legs (peripheral system) simply hurt too much (high perceived exertion). In general, the athlete who is able to keep their HR the most stimulated, throughout the day, will typically have the best result, relative to their abilities. One of the best metrics that a coach can use to evaluate an overall Ironman performance is an athelte’s run HR file. Heart rate, during the marathon of an Ironman wraps most of the key factors of the entire day into a single metric. From the run’s HR file, not only is the athlete’s run pacing evaluated, we also get a pretty good sense of how appropriately the bike was paced, the athlete’s general durability, whether or not the race fueling protocol was appropriate, and the athlete’s ability to keep their head driving tha machine forward. A significant drop off in HR can be expected if ANY one of these variables is not executed properly.

I must remind you that prior to setting out on a long day hike, it is very important to ensure that you are properly provisioned. This should not be taken lightly, and it is highly recommended that you speak to an experienced hiker, who is familiar with the route that you will be traveling. You will not want to set out on this adventure until you are very familiar with the type of terrain that you will be hiking, how to manage a situation where you, or one of your party is injured, and how/when to use the gear that the rigors of the hike will require you to carry. When done safely, a long day hike will turn out to be a great experience, playing on the key IM limiter (durability), with tremendous benefits to your IM racing. Go take a hike!

Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite/pro level triathlon coach who founded QT2 Systems, LLC; a leading provider of personal triathlon and run coaching/nutrition. Besides his primary focus of coaching, Jesse is a veteran age group triathlete, and member of the QT2 Elite Triathlon Team. He is the triathlon coach of professional athletes Caitlin Snow, Dede Griesbauer, Ethan Brown, and Tim Snow among others; and nutrition/cardio advisor for professional UFC fighter Kenny Florian. His interests lie in coaching professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. You can track his other coaching comments/ideas via his blog at www.kropelnicki.com.

The Triathlon Fueling Window

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

post1266679923I continue to get asked by athletes and coaches about taking a lower carbohydrate approach to fueling long course events. This concept sounds great on the surface, like Total Immersion-style swimming in triathlon, but as you dig deeper, you discover its pitfalls. I’ll sum this concept up as “Metabolic Efficiency Training – By Nutrition Modification” (low carb approach). I add the nutrition modification piece, as training via proper intensity ranges provides “Metabolic Efficiency” without tinkering with nutrition and is a proven concept. In my mind, there are two major components to the low carb approach: training nutrition modification/impacts and race day modification/impact. The first I discussed in pretty good detail here as“Starvation Workouts”– and the second I’ll discuss in more detail here. I’ll preface this discussion with the experience QT2 has with race fueling. Each year we do about 300-400 detailed race fueling plans for athletes from around the world of all levels. We’ve been doing this for about seven years. I have personally done fueling plans for over 40 PROs (many of whom I don’t coach).


The bottom-line is we do a LOT of race fueling plans, see a lot of sweat rates, and most importantly see just about every issue you could possibly imagine come through the door. I would bet that we do more triathlon-specific race fueling plans than any other group in the world. We get the chance to collect a lot of data, and our team works together throughout the year to discuss issues, and experiences. At the end of the year, we can typically count on one hand how many athletes have issues with their nutrition, after working with us. That is an approximately 99% success rate. You get the picture. Below are the major factors related to this discussion and the low carb approach in general.Training Your Body To Use Less

The low carb approach may train your body to use less over time, which again sounds great – less fuel to carry around all the time, less food to digest on race day, and less money to spend on race fueling. You hear this all the time – the athletes who get to the point where they can ride for 5 hours with only a single Powerbar; amazing accomplishment! Obviously a higher carb in training won’t allow you to develop this efficiency…..but is that a bad thing? I discussed the primary risks in this scenario in“Starvation Workouts”.

Potential Benefits

The potential benefits of training your body to use less are touted as improvements to fat utilization, and therefore performance. I will state that the research I have seen here is very skeptical. Proven benefits of nutrition induced fat utilization are shaky at best, and even if they do exist are on the order of 1% impact on performance in my opinion. Is 1% worth the risks discussed inStarvation Workoutsand what I am about to describe below?

Training Your Body To Handle Less

The MAJOR issue associated with the low carb approach for race day is that over time you are not only training your body to use less, but also training it’s digestive system to handle less; typically the latter at a faster rate. This is the major danger for most athletes racing long course – the primary limiter for many, many age groupers is their ability to handle their race nutrition; whatever it may be. Its not about gaining that 1 percent advantage in metobolic efficiency. I consider this a parallel limiter, enhancing performance maybe, whereas the ability to handle nutrition is a series limiter, meaning it can stop you from hitting other limiters such as fitness itself (which you train and make huge sacrifices for). Anything we can do to remove this as a limiter will only help.The Fueling Window

Below are two figures summering and visually displaying the concept I call “The Fueling Window” which describes what I have discussed above. These figures are based on my experience and not necessarily to scale. This concept is a pseudo-science based on real-world results with thousands of athletes – not a clinical lab study with limited inputs, and limited real-world results.fueling-windowfueling_window_2

What this shows is that with a low carb approach, yes, you may improve metabolic efficiency and reduce the amount of fuel your body requires, but it comes at a significant cost! You also reduce your ability to digest and handle nutrition. Overall, you reduce your available “fueling window” (difference between what your body needs and what your digestive system can handle) and likelihood of success.

We’ve proven this concept year after year with some of the fastest run splits across the age group, and PRO levels, including multiple athletes running sub 3:00 and over 27 Kona qualifiers last year. Our athletes have trained themselves to hit the run better fueled than almost all other athletes on the course…..this is the “secret” to how we do it. This is one of our most important concepts used to get results. The primary issue that athletes have with the higher carb approach, if they have any, is that they don’t practice it seriously enough. This would be like doing an Ironman without training at all, and then after DNFing the race saying, Ironman isn’t for me. To be done right, fueling needs to be practiced day in and day out, every single session from 30 minute recovery runs to 6 hour rides – EVERY SINGLE TIME! If it’s a warmer weather race, and you are a heavy sweater, you should likely be drinking 3 to 4 24oz bottles of Powerbar Perform every hour in training. Yes, this is overdoing it, but it takes nutrition off the table as a limiter on race day – you’ve trained yourself to handle more than your body requires, thereby improving your “fueling window”. I can honestly say that I have never seen an athlete who practices their fueling properly have lingering issues on race day. Some need to practice harder and longer than others.I will say that there is a small percentage of the population that has gotten away with the lower carb approach, even though it is risky. In these cases the athlete typically was born with a fantastic digestive system that can handle a lot of fluid/carbs, and has lower sweat rates. Even at that, it’s a risk they take. By, and large, the primary limiter of age groupers in long course racing is the ability to handle nutrition…we want to practice the ability to digest more, not try and obtain a 1% advantage and instead end up walking the run because our “fueling window” is so small that, we can’t even digest the smallest amount. This is simply not a risk worth taking for 99.9% of the athletes racing long course. This practice in short course racing may have more relevance, because the ability to handle large amounts of nutrition becomes less of a factor, it’s harder to get down nutrition at intensity, and therefore the metabolic efficiency risk may be one worth taking.~ Jesse


Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The main focus of Ironman training and racing is on the improvement of metabolic efficiency. Developing metabolic efficiency is nothing more than training the body to use aerobic energy systems at the highest paces/wattages possible. This is the least costly way to fuel the body during exercise. There is a great deal of debate around how best to develop this aerobic efficiency. I, as most, would argue that training at intensities right around aerobic threshold (AeT) is the most effective way to improve the body’s aerobic efficiency. But, a recent push makes the argument that dietary changes can impact these adaptations. To this end, it has been hypothesized that “starvation workouts” can help to promote efficiency. These are rides and/or runs where athletes essentially starve themselves, in an effort to force the body to use fat as its fuel source. For example, an athlete on a long aerobic ride of 3 to 4 hours would consume only water, throughout. In my opinion the research on this practice is very uncertain, and is accompanied by a great deal of potential detriments, none of which make it an acceptable risk. Some of these potential detriments include:

1) Starvation workouts can be extremely catabolic, as the body is forced to attack lean muscle mass in order to create carbohydrates for fuel. This process of neoglucogenesis is nightmarish for lower BMI athletes, who are already strength limited, and older athletes (females beyond the age of 45 and males older than 50), who by the nature of their age have difficulty maintaining lean muscle mass. This assault on the body disintegrates muscle mass, thus exacerbating an already problematic limiter. Furthermore, depriving the body of the fuel that it needs to train over long durations can set the stage for a compromised immune system, leading to missed training time due to illness.

2) I am a firm believer that athletes should avoid nutritionally limited workouts, at all costs. In essence, never ever bonk! Be it a typical training workout or race day, it should NEVER happen. Starvation workouts create an atmosphere primed for bonking. This means that your workout is likely to be limited by a lack of fuel, prior to the physical energy systems being appropriately trained or stressed. This is in direct conflict with the reason why we do all of this training, in the first place, and focus so much time and effort on effective recovery. The goal of any workout should be to promote an environment where the athlete can have better and better workouts, pushing previous limiters, thus increasing fitness. Too many sacrifices are made, on a day-to-day basis, aimed at improving our fitness and racing, to allow our efforts to be limited by that over which we have 100% control over.

3)At the Ironman distance, training the gut to be able to absorb the nutrients in their intended race fuel is part and parcel to effectively executing their race plan. This is especially so for those with high sweat rates. These athletes often experience races that are limited by nutrition, rather than a true display of their fitness. Starvation workouts do not provide the opportunity to train this very limiter….race nutrition! We end up seeing athletes who are forced to walk through a great deal of the marathon, because they have not trained their bodies to consume and process the calories that will be required to race effectively. Because each of our athletes is equipped with a personalized race fueling strategy, that is practiced every single day in training (I cannot begin to tell you how many Power Bars and Power Gels QT2ers consume throughout the year), QT2 continues to produce some of the fastest Ironman marathoners in the professional and age group ranks.

4) I often hear of athletes using these starvation workouts during the early season base phase of training, while simultaneously in the gym trying to build strength. The catabolic nature of these types of workouts mixes terribly with the anabolic atmosphere that should be created, through a well-developed weight-training program, to create a positive hormonal balance.

Ironman racing has a nice clean series of events, namely the swim, bike, and run, with overtones of race fueling throughout and within each. How well an athlete has fueled their race does not typically become apparent until the run. I have always believed that the best way to approach limiters, in triathlon, is to first deal with those that exist in series with one another. With this in mind, and knowing that an athlete’s inability to handle their race nutrition is what typically undermines their Ironman, I try to first focus on this limiter as it typically occurs earliest in the chain of events. It really does not do much good to focus on a limiter that occurs further down the line, since it may never have the opportunity to actually become a limiter on race day. An athlete’s metabolic efficiency, on the other hand, is typically a limiter that appears in parallel with most of his or her other limiters. The cases are rare that an athlete’s race will come to a screeching halt, due to poor metabolic efficiency. Therefore, not until we are 100% certain that an athlete does not have a nutritional limiter, should we begin to even consider any unorthodox ways of improving metabolic efficiency, that could even possibly undermine the athlete’s ability to consume and process appropriate race fuels.

But, if you absolutely insist upon incorporating starvation workouts into your training regimen, I recommend trying it no more than once a month, and not until you have full confidence in all aspects of your training, racing, and fueling. At this time, there simply has not been enough research performed, on the topic, for me to feel confident endorsing it to any of our athletes. As with anything else in life, whether or not to utilize starvation workouts is really a matter of risk versus reward. In my opinion, the possible benefits of these workouts simply do not outweigh the potential risks.

Jesse Kropelnicki is an elite/pro level triathlon coach who founded QT2 Systems, LLC; a leading provider of personal triathlon and run coaching, as well as TheCoreDiet.com a leading provider of sports nutrition. He is the triathlon coach of professional athletes Caitlin Snow, Dede Griesbauer, Ethan Brown, and Tim Snow among others; and nutrition/cardio advisor for professional UFC fighter Kenny Florian. His interests lie in coaching professional triathletes using quantitative training and nutrition protocols. You can track his other coaching comments/ideas via his blog at www.kropelnicki.com.

Bike/Run Balance and Discipline Specific Training Blocks

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Athletes many times begin their triathlon career and preparation coming from swim, bike or running backgrounds.  This type of a background lends itself to training like a swimmer, biker, or runner versus like a triathlete.  Those athletes that don’t come from this type of a background many times seek to immerse themselves into the world of one, or all of these single sports in an effort to improve their triathlon pro-ness. In this writing, I discuss the use of single sport focus blocks as well as the delicate balance between bike and run stress in any triathlon preparation program.

The most common area I see athletes applying focus blocks is are those that may have run limiters.  Many times they really focus, and in some cases over focusing on their run training volume or run training stress. Although bigger run miles can lead to better running, that doesn’t always lead to faster run times off of the bike in triathlon. How does one know what the correct balance between bike and run training stress for the sport of triathlon?

If you are an athlete that is training for a non-draft triathlon (IRONMAN or 70.3), I never like to see the run volume on a weekly basis much more than a 1/5 of the bike volume in miles. That is, if the bike mileage is 200 per week, we shouldn’t see the run mileage beyond 40 miles per week. This rule of thumb applies where bike training mileage is below 450 in IRONMAN, and 275 in 70.3 (almost everyone!). What this rule of thumb attempts to do is ensure that the athlete has the bike durability required to use their run fitness/strength after a 56 mile or 112 mile bike ride. Although run mileages that exceed this rule may improve open run times, this improvement will likely be negated (and in many cases reduced further) in triathlon running due to the significant impact that the bike ride will have on the athlete – they are simply not in a position to run well off the bike due to reduced bike durability/fitness.

So how does one go about improving their off the bike run times if they can’t increase run volume beyond 1/5 of bike volume? First off, we look at what their “decouple” is…..meaning how much slower they run a 10k, or half marathon off the bike versus during an open road race. Assuming there is no nutrition limiters, and the bike is executed (paced) in a reasonable way, we look for less than 6 percent in 70.3 and less than 12 percent in IRONMAN (this percentage about doubles when you double the race distance). That is, if you run a 1:40 open half marathon, we shouldn’t see 70.3 run splits of slower than 1:46. If we do, than there is likely a lack of bike durability and good running off the bike will come with more bike miles. If the de-couple is less than this, than it’s their open running ability that’s limiting them. In this case, if they have already been running at 1/5 bike volume, we may start to consider a run focused block of 3-4 months where we really focus on the running mileage/stress at the reduction in stress from the bike.  This run focus block would typically culminate in a run race – like a marathon to fully immerse the athlete in that culture. During this block the athlete goes well below the 1/5 rule of thumb to improve open run times, and then goes back to a more balanced triathlon preparation program as they prepare for their next triathlon. The key is to not go beyond the 1/5 rule of thumb while in direct preparation for a triathlon, since any improvements in open run times will likely not translate to improvements in off the bike running due to lack of bike durability – the athlete is simply not in a position to run well when they get their feet on the ground.  This situation many times also translates to slower bike splits given the well-known “pounding” the legs take with large run mileage.  Both of these issues intuitively mean that any run focused period should be kept at least 16-20 weeks out from a major goal triathlon race.  This approach will insure that there is enough time to apply bike stress under a more balanced triathlon program before a big race where the new running speed can be adapted to great running speed off the bike.

Swim focus blocks should be treated similar to run focus blocks and kept about 16-20 weeks out from race day, to insure enough time to build the important lower body durability that comes with cycling and running.  Cycling focus blocks on the other hand can be used a bit more liberally as the cycling stress applies to improving about 50% of triathlon, and also has significant cross over to running well off the bike.  Athletes who decide to apply a focused block of cycling should keep those periods at least 8-12 weeks from major goal triathlon races.  In most cases this period leaves enough time to safely increase run stress to that required for the race distance.

Incorrectly used single sport focus periods are a simple but common mistake for many triathletes. Manipulating training volume is one of the most powerful tools we have as athletes and coaches and the balance of bike/run stress is particularly important and should be approached VERY carefully.


Mastering the IM Run

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This post was written by QT2 Coach Tim Snow, while yours truly did the editing.  It’s a good one!

Like an effective taper protocol, the Ironman marathon remains one of the greatest mysteries of our sport. “A mystery, wrapped in an enigma”, those who have it figured out make it look so easy, and we wonder how and why it is possible to run with such ease, after a 112-mile ride.  They are few and far between, but we see them at every race, running their way through fields of competitors who can only watch as they pass by.

Bike splits get the press.  Run splits define the race.  At the Ironman series events held weekly, the world over, it is not uncommon to see a strong cyclist sneak away from the field, and hold on for the win.  The fields in these races tend to be pretty thin, opening up the door for these uber cyclists to break away and not elicit an effective response.  But, at the big show, on the Big Island, the World Championship wreath has seldom been placed atop the head of an athlete that we wouldn’t easily identify as a strong runner.  Sure, it has happened.  But, rarely!

To the astute observer Ironman is exponential, with a specific pattern of events defined by the masses.  It is not uncommon for Pros, and age groupers alike, to have a decent swim, move up through the field during the bike, maintain that position during the first loop of the run, and then completely fall apart.  After the race, groups of athletes gather together, sharing stories of their day, astonished by the fate of their run’s second loop.  The litany of bewilderment may include, but will not be limited to, “my hamstrings and quads just started cramping”, “my legs simply wouldn’t turnover”, “I think I was low on sodium”, and “my stomach was completely bloated”.  These are just a sample, but you’ve heard it all before.  In fact, many of us have probably used a few of these, once or twice.

So, what are the ingredients of a good Ironman marathon?  What are the key components which, if properly executed, make the difference between trudging through the many miles, and running your way to a Kona slot?

It All Starts In Training

Preparation is key!  Durability is the number one race day limiter for 99% of Ironman athletes.  Your running legs must be prepared for the full 26 miles, after more than six hours of activity.  To this end, many fall into the trap of thinking that this is merely a function of running mileage.  Au contraire, mon ami!  Sure, your legs have to be able to handle the demands of running a full marathon.  But, doesn’t it go a long way, if the bike is not as damaging to your legs?  That seems pretty valid.

Bike volume!  Bike volume is so effective because it not only builds bike fitness, but it also builds durability.  This bike durability ensures that your running legs are fresher at the outset of the marathon.  We, at QT2 Systems, typically like to see no less than a 5:1 bike to run volume ratio, and many times higher for athletes with bike limiters.  Many struggling runners will operate at a smaller ratio, as they increase their running volume, thinking that they have to train more like a runner.  Running actually wreaks havoc on cycling strength.  Too much running volume, relative to cycling, can actually have just opposite of the desired effect.  Cycling, decimated by too much running volume, become less powerful.  Not only does this equate to slower bike times, but it also means that the bike leg becomes significantly more taxing, leaving your running legs in a more vulnerable state.  If in doubt, err on the side of increased bike volume.  Not only will you bike stronger, but you will feel and be fresher, as you set out on the marathon.

Proper Bike Pacing

How many times do we need to watch an athlete making a mockery of the bike course, trying to create their own personal sonic boom, only to be doubled over on the run course?  I have even seen them lying on the side of the road, as though sniped from afar.  Triathletes are smart people.  But, all logic seems to be forgotten, the moment that we straddle our bikes.  Whether we like it, or not, the bike and run legs of an Ironman are not mutually exclusive.  I know that your bike cost $6,000.  Mine did too.  I understand that you believe it to be the “ultimate triathlon weapon”.  Page 83, I read that ad too.  But, that doesn’t mean that you can try to ride it as haphazardly as you’d like, and still expect to run well.  If you want to try to be Aquabike World Champion, I can respect that.  But, you signed up for an Ironman, and an Ironman requires you to run!

The strong runners in an Ironman are the patient athletes.  They build into the bike leg, constantly increasing their effort, and are very easy to spot.  They are the athletes that you are huffing and puffing by at mile five of the bike.  Proper bike pacing is part and parcel to running well in the Ironman.  Over pacing places too much load on the legs, too soon, and often leads to a bike leg that gets slower and slower, throughout.  This can still equate to a decent bike split, but leaves the running legs in a very bad position.  As a result, the legs are too shelled to run effectively.

Fueling on the Bike

The bike leg of an Ironman is an opportunity to fuel the upcoming run.  This is the portion of the race when the bulk of the day’s calories and fluids are consumed.  Proper pacing allows the athlete to ride intensely, but to also focus on fueling the race.  Heart rates are relatively low, allowing for the absorption of these fuels.  If at any point during an Ironman your intensity is not allowing you to consume your fuels, then you are going much too hard!  Slow down!  Back off!  Ironman requires you to think beyond the moment, and a strong run is going to have to be adequately fueled.  Translate feeling good on the bike into opportunities to eat and drink more.  While every one else is leaving T1 with a full head of steam, storming their way towards the front of the race, the runner is front-loading their fluid intake, to ensure adequate hydration.  I don’t mean to give the impression that the bike should be ridden nice and easily.  That is certainly not my intent!  But, the bike leg is so much more involved than simply riding for speed at one given moment.  It is a time to multi-task, and carbohydrate/fluid consumption is one of those tasks very high on the list.  Any level of intensity that stands in the way of multi-tasking should be eliminated, immediately.

Proper Bike Cadence

Strong runners know that their cycling cadence is going to play a key role in defining their running cadence.  Ideally, an Ironman running cadence will fall between 90 and 105 steps per minute, depending upon height.  This minimizes the braking and impact forces of each step.  Bike cadences that vary to much start to adversely affect running cadence.  For this reason, the goal of any Ironman athlete should be to choose gearing that is going to allow for cycling cadences that are as close to 80-95rpm as possible, regardless of the terrain, and be able to do that throughout.  Gone are the days of powering up hills, or through flats, with gearing that grinds the legs down.  This is the equivalent of doing 112 miles worth of leg presses, and then heading out for a marathon.  Not a good plan!  When it comes to cadence, ride how you want to run.

 Proper Run Pacing

It’s not all about the bike!  The run matters too.  Proper run pacing is often defined within the very first mile.  Some believe that the Ironman marathon can be negative split, so they start off very slowly, building into their intended pace.  This is actually one of the very few times when I would disagree with this kind of a pacing strategy.  The Ironman is just too long of an event, and the body is not going to be able to remain stimulated throughout its entirety, without significant peripheral fatigue.  The strong runners in an Ironman will actually take the pace out at about 20-30 seconds per mile faster than what they expect to average on the day.  Knowing that a fade is inevitable, they try to log as many miles as possible, before it sets in.  Once the inevitable occurs, durability and sensible bike/run pacing allow for the athlete to weather the effect, within a relatively small pacing window.  While many Ironman athletes may see the difference between their fastest and slowest mile paces differ by more than two or three minutes, the properly paced runners will realize no more than a minute’s difference in pace.

Naturally, the key to properly pacing the run lies in the application of everything mentioned above.  But, knowing what you are and are not capable of is half of the battle.  Athletes who are limited by durability should feel no shame incorporating planned walk breaks into their run pacing strategy.  At some point, those lacking durability are going to become peripherally limited, and forced to walk.  Better to do so under your own volition, in a controlled and voluntary manner.  Why not spread your walk breaks over the course of the marathon course, perhaps through every aid station?  I’m not referring to a slow pedestrian pace, but rather a solid power walk with run like cadence.  This will allow you to take down your nutrition, such that it can be effectively absorbed, all while aggressively moving forward and giving your legs a bit of a break, and reset.  We have all been out on a run and stopped to tie our shoes or allow traffic to pass by.  Once we resume running our legs feel slightly fresher than they did before.  This is the goal of this particular strategy.  In fact, I know of a certain female who currently owns the second all-time fastest marathon split in Kona, and is still not afraid to pull this out of her bag of tricks.

In Ironman, consistently strong runners don’t just happen.  Their run splits require a great deal of preparation, patience, and premeditation.  Unfortunately, it is not as simple as just training more like a runner.  The bike plays a significantly greater role in the run than it is credited with.  Strong run splits come at a sacrifice, primarily of the ego.  The runner knows that it is not sexy to hold back on the bike, and consider the race as a whole, rather than three independent events.  As an entity greater than the sum of its parts.  The runner knows that he or she will always have to endure the inevitable – “You know, if your bike was stronger…”  Runners also know that you can never count them out, that they always have the final say in a race.  And, that most triathletes are just a few changes away from being just like them.

Tim Snow is a Professional/Elite triathlete and coach with QT2 Systems and Your 26.2. Tim has been racing at the professional level since 2000, including 27 Ironman finishes. He coaches top-level triathletes, through QT2’s 1-1 Coaching service, and manages the day-to-day operations and moderates the Ask The Coach Forum for QT2 Mission Plans.




Training to Get it Done or to Get Faster?

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

I was compelled to write on this topic after years of working with A Type triathletes, who are goal oriented. That is, those folks who will stick to a plan, come hell or high water. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to live life and make progress, but when it comes to your triathlon training, too much of a good thing, can start to undermine progress. Here are a few examples of what I am talking about:

1) Not pulling the plug on a workout – sometimes an athlete may have a key intensity workout planned. They start the session only to realize that they are not doing as well as they did last time they did this session. Continuing the workout at that point has the potential to interrupt the super-compensation cycle. That is, they are not recovered enough to stress the system again at that time.

2) Meeting the season plan – if an athlete or coach is detailed enough to have a season periodization plan, a lot of times, the A type triathlete will meet the volume prescribed in that plan come hell or high water. This may mean moving workouts around which leads to poor micro cycle recovery, or making poor choices when faced with a decision between adequate sleep and workout volume.

3) Too hard on recovery days – many athletes take it too hard on the recovery days which ends up undermining their ability to perform well on the hard days. Recovery days are for recovery, not about seeing how much wattage you can push at the very limit of your HR zone as an example. The Q type triathlete just wants to see big/good numbers….this isn’t the time!

4) Pushing to much volume with life logistics – many athletes overdo volume even though their life logistics don’t allow it. That is, they insist that they should peak at 26-28 hours of training a week, even though their life logistics can only handle 20. This leads to pressure from their family (increases stress), and eventually some combination of points 1-3 above.


By carrying out these “sins”, the athlete is really training to get the sense of accomplishment that they have gotten the training done, or are “getting it in”. This is the train for the challenge of training approach. Most folks that I know are not training to achieve that objective, but rather training to get faster in their triathlon races. Unfortunately, these two items are not directly tied to together…. “getting it in” does not directly translate to faster race times. The proper approach is to do the training that will make you faster on race day. Remember that! Repeat after me: “I will only do the training that I think will make me faster on race day”. This takes courage. Whether your sense of what’s right and wrong is correct, is another matter. Your decision making process and criteria is far more important to master before you get that perfect training program. That is, even the best program is useless if you make the wrong decisions as you work your way through it. Most coaches have enough contact with their athletes, to control most of this, but there are plenty of small decisions that the athlete must make on their own and over time, can make or break that athlete.


How to Qualify for Kona

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

With my finish at IM Utah this past Saturday, I’ve done eight Ironman’s with two of those being in Kona. For the six that were not in Kona, I qualified for the event at five of them (I did not qualify at my first…missed by 10 minutes). Given these results as an athlete, and my experience as coach (last year I coached 8 athletes to Kona), I’d like to share what I see as the most important steps in getting you to the big show. Here are my top 6:

#1 – Patience: I waited 8 years after starting the sport to even give IM a go. I wanted to wait until I thought I had a legitimate shot at qualifying. I knew three to four years into the sport that I didn’t have any super talent, so it would take a bit of time and patience to gain the fitness required. I think these days you see too many newbies, rush into it without proper preparation and/or a shot gun approach with overly emphasized intensity during training. This typically leads to injuries/burnout which derail consistency and long-term progress. Now, there are plenty of folks who do qualify with this approach, but it’s mostly due to some really solid god given talent, and if they took a more patient approach could be even faster over the long term.

#2 – Sacrifice – you need to be ready to make some serious sacrifices for 1-5 years depending on your born talent level. In my experience, I’m quite sure I can put any human on the Kona starting line after 5 years of training…..IF they can make the sacrifices it takes. This isn’t always as easy as it sounds with age groupers having a fairly packed schedule. In my experience, many athletes think they have what it takes, but then find out 4 to 9 months into it that its not as easy as they thought.

#3 – Consistency – this one ties #1 and #2 together and is the absolute key to long term progress. You need to be unbelievably consistent in your training. That is, never miss more than 2-3 weeks of training as part of a planned down period each year. Aerobic progress and fitness in general, respond well to continued stimulation. De-training happens pretty darn quick. In order to meet the intent of this one, you really need to avoid injuries. Injuries put you on the couch, undermine consistency, and therefore kill long term progress. In my example, for 5 years of my triathlon career, I couldn’t break 5 hours at the half ironman, however, after 10 years now, I’ve never taken more that 3 weeks totally off at the end of each season, and have pushed my half IM PR to 4:12.

#4 – Expectations and Pacing – Know what you are capable of. This one is extremely important from both a mental and pacing (physical) standpoint. SO many athletes go into their IM races with the hope, or dream that they will qualify for Kona. Although it’s great that they have this hope, they need to be realistic when it comes to race day on what can be expected. Those, for example who WANT to go 10:15 but are only CAPABLE of going 10:45 end up going out too hard, having trouble with their nutrition, being disappointed all day long, and finish in 11:15…..not even close to their actual potential of 10:45. Pacing and expectations aren’t rocket science. Using your training indicators, you should be able to predict quite closely what your finish time, and race execution strategy should look like. This is the primary reason I built the triathloncalculator 4 years ago……it helps manage expectations and set up reasonable pacing strategies.

#5 – Fueling – this one allows everything else to be effective on race day (ie, fitness, durability, equipment, etc). This is one of the most interesting things about IM racing: you can make all of the sacrifices required in training, and still not be able to use your fitness due to a nutrition limiter on race day…..frustrating for many! At QT2, we don’t tolerate nutrition limited races for this reason and due whatever it takes with our athletes to avoid those.

#6 – Body Comp – using day to day nutrition to tweek body composition for race day and improve overall health and recovery. This is about making sacrifices again and requires the removal of the “I’m an athlete and therefore can eat anything I want” attitude that many have. You’ll find many athletes out there who have the fitness required to qualify for Kona, but just carry around too much weight on race day which ultimately slows them down and causes them to miss a qualifying slot. A good rule of thumb is that 1 pound of EXCESS fat on your body is worth about 2 minutes at IM racing. Goal body fat and weight should be established in conjunction with an experienced triathlon coach or registered dietitian. Obviously, too little fat will hurt you, however most are on the other side of the coin.

You’ll notice that god given talent isn’t on the list. I know many, many athletes who have that quality who never qualify because they lack one of the above. Also, given the huge aerobic nature of an IM…..almost anyone can train themselves to the fitness it takes. You’ll also notice that it’s not about the workouts (although this is what everyone talks about)….its more about the big picture (macro level stuff).

What I don’t like very much are those folks who feel they are owed a slot who don’t clear those hurdles I set above. The best thing about IM is that anyone can go to Kona with the proper training, execution, and determination. However, try not to think that you don’t need a world class level of commitment…these are the folks who always say “I was on pace until…”. Get the work done, take care of the execution details, and you’ll get your slot!


Enough Base?

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Many athletes have realized that a deep aerobic base is the foundation on which a solid, injury free season is based. Now armed with that information, how do you know what’s enough!? This writing outlines the process I’ll take in working with a new athlete:

1) Look at the distance they are racing. Typically the range of base phase lengths is loosely based on the distance they are racing. Shorter distance racers don’t require as much aerobic energy production, and also get in more supra-macrocycles each year (this allows them to get relatively more rounds of intensity work each year). On the flip side, aerobic work is the basis of ironman racing so the base phases are much longer with only 2-3 cycles each year. Here are the rules of thumb by race distance:
Olympic: 5-8 weeks
Half: 7-10 weeks
Iron: 8-12 weeks

2) How should one decide where they fall within these ranges? Although it seems like small changes, a 3 week difference repeated 2-5 times a year may result in a 6-15 week difference at the end of the year, or up to 30 percent of your viable training weeks. Based on that, you must choose carefully! Although this decision can be complicated, I’ll simplify here: a) athletes that are aerobic in nature should be at the lower end of the range. This can be based off of metabolic testing or a lactate test, but the simple way is to ask yourself a few questions…..primarily, do you perform better at shorter distances, or longer distance, and do you prefer doing a long two hour run over quarter mile repeats on the track? If you perform better at longer distances, you are likely aerobic in nature and should use the lower end of these ranges as an example. If the opposite is true, you’d use the higher side.

3) Another reasonable approach is to watch your aerobic paces throughout the base phase. Once these paces start to stagnate at a given heart rate, its time to move to more intense work, or increase the stress through additional aerobic training volume until you have meet the required durability for your event length (see my critical volume postings on the QT2 homepage).

From an IM perspective, I like to see the base phase culminate with the following workouts in one week…….as an IM athlete, if you can work up to these key workouts, you will be in a good place from an aerobic standpoint to move on:
Three aerobic 4K swims

Two 90 min runs, and one 2 hour run…all aerobic

Two 3.5 hour rides, and one 6 hour ride…all aerobic

These are the key workouts, not the only workouts during the week. That is, there should be other short recovery workouts and strength training in between. Now, some folks are not able to work up to these their first year training for IM, but for those not logistically limited, this is a good target for the future (maybe 1-3 years down the road).


The base phase is about developing the energy system in your body that has the potential for long term growth. Done properly each year, you can continue to make long term progress in your racing. Anaerobic energy systems are trained very quickly (in about 8-12 weeks) and are therefore not worth banging on too early in the season, particularly given the risk that comes with these types of workouts. Every athlete that I’ve seen take this approach lacks steady long term progress, and spends a good deal of their season on the couch either sick or injured going backwards with progress. The base phase is also about rebuilding strength and soft tissue durability such that the anaerobic work down the road can be done effectively and without injury. The only value to short anaerobic repeats during the early season is in the mechanical benefits gained from faster movements. This is most critical in the water, and can be done with very short repeats that don’t overtax the system.

Happy base phase…stay patient. As usual, the most rewarding things in life take big patience and sacrifice.


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Racing In The Heat – Part II

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This post is a follow-on to my last post and addresses those things you can do on race day to mitigate the potential detriment heat can have on your race day speed potential.

1) Drink — As I said in my last post, drink enough to pee at least twice in IM and at least once in half IM. The best way to do this is always through a front loaded drinking schedule that has you drink more early on during the bike with a little less focus on catching the guy/girl that’s going too fast in front of you. Once you pee, you know how you are doing with hydration and should continue as required. Conversely, if you get behind, it’s very hard to catch back up late in the bike leg, and typically has you start the run bloated. Peeing during the bike leg is a great barometer of how well you are doing with your hydration and should be the number #1 priority before really starting to pick up the pace.

2) Make sure you have a heat adjusted pacing plan — there are many things you can do that lead to “stomach shutdown” during your triathlons. One of the most common is stress, whether it is from heat, or from intensity (or both!). Based on that, in a hot race you are always better off heading out very conservatively so you stay cool and give yourself a chance at being able to get down the fueling and fluid discussed in number 1. Once you pee, you can start to pick the pace up and slightly descend or even split the ride. It never helps to go out harder than you plan to average, add a bunch of heat and intensity related stress, and have your stomach shut off. No fuel in, means no forward motion, and a bad day.

3) Wear clothes that help you — although heat typically isn’t a big problem on the bike due to the huge amount of cooling wind that you get, it still makes sense (particularly for those sensitive to heat), to use a helmet that’s well vented. As long as you are removing heat faster than you are adding it (or at least equal), everything will be just fine. I call this balance “heat equilibrium” pace. You can really play on both sides of this balance by doing things to remove heat (ice, water, vented helmet, etc), and things to add less heat (light colored clothing, reasonable pacing). Going faster at any point during the day than you plan to average, adds heat quickly and therefore runs the risk of surpassing that heat equilibrium. Once this happens, the additional stress of overheating, many times leads to that dreaded stomach shut down…..the beginning of the end. If you do start to get an upset stomach, and you know your fueling plan is solid (adequate sodium, fluid, and carbohydrate) it’s likely due to exceeding that heat equilibrium. The first priority is to get back to a temperature that’s acceptable to your system so you can digest food. You can’t step the pace back to your heat equilibrium pace (a pace where you are adding heat as fast as you are removing it), since this will maintain your current temperature which is obviously too hot! Instead, you need to consciously slow down by a bunch (maybe 30-45 seconds per mile on the run, and 20 watts on the bike), to create a negative heat balance where you are removing heat faster than creating it. This will get you back to normal temperature, let your stomach settle, and then you can pick it back up to heat equilibrium pace. This takes big discipline, but at the end of the day, it can save a nasty situation before it really gets bad. Most people continue to push on the pace, continue to add heat, and the pace slowly grinds itself down due to the lack of digestion (not at the choice of the athlete). This typically results in a long walk before anything gets better. At best, the walk finally allows the core body temperature to drop a bit, food start to settle, and a good run for maybe the last 2-3 miles. Nip it in the bud before it gets there by following my recommendations above….have the discipline to slow down a bunch when it first hits and you will save yourself the long walk.


I know it’s the middle of winter, but keep these items in mind as the summer race season heats up.


Racing In The Heat – Part I

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Racing in the heat can be a challenging task for many athletes with either higher sweat rates, or a poor ability to dissipate heat. This writing explains the approach I like to take for athletes racing these types of events. In fact, this will be a two post topic with this first post covering the pre-race measures any athlete should take. The second post will cover the things you can do on race day to help further mitigate any damage the heat may impose on you.

Here are the preparatory measures that should be taken:

1) First on my list is body composition — you must get down to a body fat that’s optimal for your gender/age. For folks that have too much body fat, they are racing with a 1/8-1/2″ full body sweater. This has a major impact on both heat dissipation ability and sweat rate.

2) Acclimate for the event — for those who live in warm climates, this one is easy. Spend time during your workouts in the sun, and heat the best you can during the 4 weeks leading into the event (minus race week). For those who don’t live in warm climates, you have a couple of options to acclimate before the event and get the sweat rate and blood plasma changes that occur when properly acclimated. The first is to arrive at the event location at least 2 weeks early, and do your final training during the warm part of the day. If you have access to a refractometer, you can test hydration levels each morning and evening to make sure you are hydrating well, and acclimating to your new atmosphere. Another good metric to use in judging your acclimation, is average overnight HR and variability. Take some readings before you head out to your destination, and then compare them to after you arrive. If you can’t arrive at the race location 2 weeks early, a good approach is to layer up and acclimate at home. This requires a solid 2 week period where almost all rides and runs are done “hot” by either turning up the heat at home, or by layering up. Ideally, this is done 4-6 weeks out and is then maintained by continuing once, every other day acclimation sessions through to race day.


3) Last but definitely not least, is to develop and train a solid fueling plan — the first piece of this is to develop a plan based on sound principals. For me, this means a sweat test, to get an idea of fluid losses, and then an assumption based on your previous history (cramping, etc), for sodium content of your sweat. Most athletes fall between 500 and 900 mg per 16oz of sweat loss. With sweat rates at 80 degrees of about 24oz-60oz per hour for most athletes, you can see how quickly the sodium losses add up. Using the fluid losses from your sweat test, the calculated sodium losses, as well as estimated carbohydrate requirements (based on lean body mass), you can put together a feeding schedule to compensate for those losses. This is a topic I can go on about forever, but the biggest take home for hot races is to develop a fueling plan that supplies enough carbohydrate/sodium solution (sport drink) to pee at least once on the bike in half IM, and at least twice in full IM, and then practice that same plan during every single training session for at least 4 months prior to race day. You’d never go into a race without training your metabolic system……You should never going into a race without training your digestive system just as intensely.

My next post will go into those things you can do on race day to help mitigate the heat in addition to the preparatory items above.


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Body Composition Tools

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

While we’re all enjoying some holiday eating before the New Year, I thought it would be a good time to talk about body composition!

Anyone who has worked with me or understands my approach to coaching knows I take a very holistic approach. That is, I don’t like to leave many details to other “specialists”. I believe that in many cases, a mixed “team approach” of specialists can confuse the athlete and make them feel as though they are being pulled in too many directions. Because of that, I have learned, think about, and develop most pieces of triathlon preparation including nutrition. One major piece related to that area is body composition management which is the focus of this writing. Primarily I’d like to discuss two very important toolsI use in this area (this isalso theevaluation method that I teach QT2coaches and dietitians):

1) Body fat (BF) measurement with calipers. This gives us a sense of what body fat is available to remove (ie, what dead weight we are carrying). The available weight to remove through body composition tweeks is based on current body fat and how low that can go based on gender and age (better to stay conservatively high here versus even a little too low).

2) Calculation of Body Mass Index (BMI) AFTER correcting weight to optimal race weight (based on optimal BF determined in #1) is super useful for determining if an athlete is strength limited or too muscular (more muscle than the sport of triathlon requires to power you forward). This is calculated simple by (body weight x 703)/(height in inches)^2.

The benchmarks I like to use for triathlon are a BMI of 21-23 for males, and a BMI of 20-22 for females, both assessed at optimal BF. The lower end of these ranges is reserved for the elites and world class professionals. Being below these ranges typically means the athlete is strength limited (to be verified by other metrics) and therefore requires strength work with heavy focus on protein while above these BMI’s means the opposite (too much muscle).

As you can see by this, its not one of the two tools that’s useful to make body comp assessments as many think. Instead, its about using both available tools to reach a very educated decision and approach to optimal performance.

Here’s an example:
Joe is 5′-11″ at 160 pounds and 15 percent body fat. He is 25 years old and wants to race elite.

1) First, we correct his weight to optimal BF (where we plan to be on race day). For him, this is 6 percent meaning he needs to lose 9 percent. In terms of weight, this means 0.91 x 160 equals 145 (assuming no muscle loss occurs).

2) At this weight and height, his BMI is 20.2 which is well below the range defined above meaning he requires a heavy strength focus, combined with adequate protein intake to help him gain some muscle mass.

Based on this example, we can see that Joe needs to lose 15 pounds of fat, and try to put on about 5-7 pounds of muscle to race at optimal body composition.

If only a BMI assessment was carried out, we’d think he only needs to just lose weight when in reality, he needs to lose some weight that’s not helping him and gain some that will. If we had just used BF measurement, we wouldn’t have identified a potential strength limiter and the need for a focused strength routine.

I hope this post was helpful in clearing up some of the misconception between these two both very useful body composition metrics. Happy Holidays!


IT Band Friction

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This is one of the most common injuries for runners and triathletes. It can be a tough one to deal with for “A type” athletes because its one you just can’t run through. Yet, every day we don’t run, the season or race gets closer and the training plan numbers back up. To make matters worse, we train ourselves to run through all pain that may be presented to us, and be tough. How do we deal with this?

1) The moment you feel any IT band pain at all, you have to stop running! Take it as a challenge to have the discipline to do this.

2) Start a comprehensive stretch routine daily that hits hams, gluts, quads, TFL, and calfs at a minimum. This routine should take 20-30 min if done correctly.

3) Once you don’t feel any pain at all on a day to day basis, start running every other day. Don’t plan a run time instead, stop the moment the pain becomes worse than a 2 out of 10. If the next run fails to go any longer than the previous, wait 2 days before the next run. If that one again, does not improve, go to 3 days before the next run…etc. Each time you get a better run (longer), you can subtract a day, until you are back to every other day. Once you are able to run 45 min every other day, you are likely good to go. Don’t go to back-to-back days until you are able to run 45 min every other day!

While going through this process, follow the RUN INJURY protocol to help keep fitness through this period. You’ll be surprised when you begin running again that you have lost very, very, little run form.

These little injuries can be frustrating, but with a little patience, they are just another speed bump, to a successful race season and long term progress.


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Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Caffeine can be a great tool for athletes of all abilities used to enhance performance. However, when abused (or not used as a tool), it can be a detriment to your training and racing.

What I typically recommend for caffeine use (if an athlete would like to use caffeine as a supplement) on both a macro, and micro level is as follows:

1) Keep total daily intake below 200mg unless its race day. This is the ADA recommendation (for healthy adults) and helps avoid receptor up-regulation that weakens the affect of caffeine when you really want to use the extra push. It also helps keep you from lying in bed each night with your eyes open.

2) Use it as a tool! That is, save coffee or caffeinated products for before/during, key intensity based workouts. Don’t waist it (and encourage receptor up-regulation) when just sitting around the office. What I have found, is that chronic usage during the day can really impact an athlete’s ability to performance best effort workouts in the evening due to a skewed perceived exertion. Like most drugs, you then need another big dose to even feel like yourself…not a good cycle!

3) During the day while not working out, if you need a pick up, consider using lighter caffeine products like green tea. This avoids the receptor up-regulation described above. Green tea also provides tremendous antioxidant properties which as athletes, is a really big plus to mitigate free radical damage produced by all of the aerobic oxidation that we create.

4) During the final two days before a key event, limit caffeine to 100mg at 2 days out, and 30mg the day before. This ensures that your race day boost is felt in a big way.

5) Increase caffeine intake throughout workouts and races, such that peak serum caffeine levels occur as your peripheral system becomes the most fatigued (ie, at the end of the session/race). Early caffeine consumption on long days (5+ hours) typically results in over pacing the early portion of the event/session and subsequently leads to a significant drop off in pace later in the day as the peripheral system becomes fatigued. Use caffeine to help continue stimulation of your core system as this fatigue sets in.

6) Lastly, excessive caffeine and/or coffee can really do a number on your gut…reducing your ability to absorb key nutrients, and also just plain irritate it. This is a common cause of race fueling difficulty (habitual caffeine intake) that many seem to miss.

In summary, caffeine can be a great, undeniable performance and training aid when used properly. However, it can also be a slippery slope that any serious athlete should avoid being pulled into. I hope these recommendation from both a macro (day to day) and micro (within each session) perspective help clear up some of the confusion (and/or my logic in this area).



Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This is a topic you hear people talk about periodically but don’t really get many logical conclusions out of. Here is the process I have used successfully with many athletes in regard to these two very similar topics: heat and altitude acclimation.

Before an event that’s either at altitude or in a very hot location, either arrive at the venue greater than 14 days out, or as close as possible.

1) Further than 14 days and you can actually begin to acclimate to the conditions. For heat, this means training outside during the warm part of the day and sleeping without AC.

2) When you arrive closer than 14 days, the intent should be to avoid the conditions as much as possible. This means staying inside with AC and training early in the day. If you arrive in the no-mans-land of 2-14 days, the conditions will typically deplete you rather than acclimate you since your body just doesn’t have enough time to adjust and compensate.

3) For altitude, either come further than 14 days out or as close as possible since there’s not much you can do to hide from it.

For heat, arrive further than 14 days out and train in the conditions, don’t use AC, etc. Closer than 14 days and get workouts done in the morning to avoid the heat, sleep in AC, etc. If it’s going to be less than 14 days, ideally arrive very close to the event and take these measures to avoid being depleted come race morning.

I hope this helps shed some light on an otherwise confusing topic.


Carb Loading

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

As I sat on the plane for 15+ hours today, with a mental block on a new blog post, I came up with this beauty as it relates to IM preparation……more specifically, the carb load!

For many, this is the most fun, anticipated, and exciting thing about IM prep. For others, its a dreadful experience of forcing food with a bloated gut. Let’s first review what the purpose of any carb load is: to make sure you arrive at the starting line with fully stocked muscle glycogen. Now, I can do this quite simply be eating a ton of carbs starting 1 week from race day. Why isn’t this a good approach? Because, any potential benefit you get from the carb load (which is small in the first place), is negated by the fact that you put on 3 pounds through the process (worth about 6 minutes on race day). So, its intuitively clear that any carbohydrate loading program should try to ride the line between these two competing interests. How heavily you weigh either one is based on how critical one is versus the other for your race distance. That is, longer races require a longer carb load since the impact of having fully stocked muscle glycogen can be more significant for those races versus shorter ones. This is important, even if it means putting on a half pound (worth about 1 minute in IM which shows how small an impact we are talking about with this whole discussion).

With those interests in mind, I like to start the carb load for IM at lunch time 2 days out, and shorter than that as the race distance gets shorter and the potential positive impact becomes smaller. Sprints require no carb load while Olympic and longer do. How significant the load is (how long it is) depends on the length of the event.

Another, potentially skeptical addition to the proven carb load, is a 1-2 day fat load prior to the carb load for the real long events like IM. An example may look like this:

Monday: Fat Load
Tuesday: Fat Load
Wednesday: Normal
Thursday: Normal
Friday: Start carb load at lunch (half carb load day)
Saturday: Carb Load
Sunday: Race

Fat load definition – have your body weight (in pounds) in grams of fat that day…..very little focus on eating carbs and protein. These days should result in 0-200 calorie surplus overall which defines the amount of carbs and protein we are talking about. Fat choices should be as omega 3 and omega 6 rich as possible while avoiding saturated fats.

Carb load definition – 4.5 times your body weight (in pounds) in grams of carbs that day…..very little focus on eating fat and protein that day. These days should result in a 500-1000 calorie surplus overall. Carb choices should be very low in fiber and nutrition density. Almost no fruits and vegetables (this is about the only time you will ever hear me say that).

I’ve found the fat load to work quite well (based on real world experience) with it’s length also varied by the length of the event. As I mentioned, this one is a bit skeptical (try to look up some of the research), but for the sake of full disclosure, it is something I have been experimenting with for a while with athletes depending on ability and body composition goals.

Happy eating on race week!


Specific Flexibilities, Stretching, and Strength

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This post addresses my opinion on the hot button topic of stretching. I’ve been in the sport of triathlon for about 10 years, and dedicated weight lifting for at least 4 years prior to that with a few year overlap between the two. Based on my experiences as an athlete, and in working with others, this post represents my opinion on the topic of stretching. It IS NOT based on the most recent research paper available in the journals which was crafted to achieve a specific objective. On this topic in particular, you can find just as many papers for stretching as you can against. In these situations you have to rely on your own experiences. In general I think too many people site papers for things rather than making their own decisions….get your own ideas people! Use the papers as input to your decisions……that’s a post topic in of itself. Anyhow, here we go:

First off, when I say stretching, I don’t mean a quick hamstring stretch for 4-5 seconds before you run, I’m talking about yoga style stretching, or 30+ second holds for multiple sets……

1) It never seemed like a natural act to me to stretch…..draping a muscle over a bone and then pulling on it for some prolonged period of time. Tugging on a hunk of soft tissue? Have you ever seen an animal in nature doing this? I’m a believer that this unnatural act creates unnatural muscle elasticity that can actually slow you down due to reduced elastic rebound at the muscle.

2) Having said that, there are specific flexibilities which are required in our sport to achieve proper mechanical efficiency. An example here would be adequate soleus flexibly to achieve proper run form. In this case the inability to achieve proper run form will slow you down more than the loss of elastic rebound in the muscle. The trick with this is to achieve just enough flexibility to meet the objective…..no more!

3) Targeted stretching periodically when you may feel an issue start to arise is sometimes required as a Band-Aid. Realize though, the issue is likely not due to the lack of stretching, but typically the lack of strength. I see this one a lot……someone has a tight calf and is told to stretch it as a fix. This alleviates the problem initially, and then the athlete makes the connection that’s it’s the stretching that they lack in their routine. What they typically then find is a bad Achilles again in 2-3 weeks because the root problem was never addressed….calf strength! My favorite saying on this topic is “a tight muscle, is a weak one.” Basically, when a muscle is too weak to adequately handle the stress it sees, its response is to contract and protect itself…..a tight muscle. My point is that although stretching is a temporary fix for a particular issue, the lack of stretching is typically not the root cause. Typically, the cause is muscle weakness.

In triathletes, there are two major areas where you see chronic tightness which leads to injury….the hips (which can cause it band issues, sciatica, hip flexor pain, etc), and calfs (which can cause calf tears, Achilles tendinitis, planter fasciitis, etc). Many folks think the solution to these issues is stretch the heck out of the hips and calfs….this can work over the short term, but does not address the root cause of the tightness which is typically lack of strength! It’s so common in triathletes, that it’s worth including a standard hip and calf strengthen routine throughout the season as a proactive measure. In many, many cases these same weaknesses are the root cause of run mechanics issues which lead to slower run times.

Bottom Line: hip and calf strengthening can go a long way to reduce common injuries seen in triathletes as well as improve flexibility which both, in turn typically improves run mechanics to some degree. Eccentric calf raises, and the typical hip exercises with a stretch band (glut medias, TFL, psoas) do the trick! Consider this approach next time you go to stretch something that hurts and I bet you’ll find the long term solution as well.


Open Water and Triathlon Swimming

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This post comes from a realization I made a while back…….just finally getting around to sharing it! It’s really just a bunch of points that I think explain a lot of the uncertainty in swim styles and swim stroke approaches among triathletes. I’d have to say, there is likely more confusion or unknown around swim stroke mechanics in the athletes and coaches I meet versus any other topic in triathlon:

1) High Turn Over – Open water swimming, when choppy, requires a strong back end of the stroke and follow-through (push past the hips). Folks that have a strong glide phase to their stroke (from either TI swimming or lots of pool based technical swimming as youngsters) tend to be slowed down by the open water chop while in the glide phase of their stroke. They then get re propelled with each pull phase. Unfortunately, a long glide phase typically results in a slow turnover and therefore not too many pull phases per minute to re propel the forward motion (that was slowed down by the chop). Based on that realization, rough open water swims require a high turnover. Many collegiate pool swimmers have a very graceful glide and strong front end that results in efficient, fast pool swimming, however results in a major de coupling between their pool and open water swim times. This can be frustrating for many pro’s who have a swimming background since they crush their competition in the pool but then take a lashing in the open water on race day when competing with swimmers who are more open water borne. This is particularly true if it’s a rough (choppy) swim.

2) Strong Back End – Triathlon swimming requires mass starts with people sometimes around and in front of you for extended periods of time. Due to this situation, what’s the first part of the swim stroke that gets lost? The front end! Due to people/feet in front of you, sometimes there is no way to get a strong catch and pull during the front quadrant of the stroke. This leaves the back end of the stroke as the critical piece to keep the forward motion. Since the back end of the stroke and follow-through are protected no matter how crowded the swim is, it makes sense to apply focus here for top level triathlon swimming.

These two points explain why pool borne swimmers can look very graceful and be super fast in the pool. It also explains why many pool borne swimmers have trouble translating their pool swim times to open water. It’s the front end focused swimmers with a long glide, strong catch, and low turnover (cadence) that are the most efficient in calm, smooth, non-crowded water. However, this same group gets out swam, time and time again in open water by the “hacks” who have a high turnover and strong back end to their stroke.

I hope this helps! Again, if you are looking for an efficient comfortable way to swim in training and racing, focus on the front end, a low stroke count, and long glide. If you are looking to get out of the water first in your triathlons, focus on a strong back end, and higher turnover. All of which still require good balance in the water of course.

Different swim objectives require different training techniques and mechanics. So when getting swim advice or looking for a coach, make sure you clarify the type of swimming you are looking to do and make sure the advice matches the specific objectives….many, many coaches and athletes miss this point.


Stress & Diet

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Many athletes fall into the following trap as it relates to diet and training. Here’s the scenario:

An athlete has a poor diet (low in protein, low in healthy fats, low in antioxidants and vitamins/minerals). They are training at a fairly low level (maybe 8-14 hours per week). They reinforce their poor diet by saying “well, my training is going fine and I feel fine so why change my diet. I’m also training so much that I get to eat anything, right?”. The periodic cold or illness is never blamed on the diet. Rather, its “bad luck” to this athlete.

Let’s say the same athlete now decides to train for the IM. As training volume increases they begin to notice more and more frequency of illness. They may also experience a prolonged period of fatigue and plateaued or declining performance even though they have the best coach in the world writing tailored plans with a very reasonable training approach. What gives? “Why is my luck so bad” is what they say. “It’s just been a bad season for me”. In my mind, this is a year wasted in terms of log term progress.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again where new athletes to IM with very poor diets end up with a major illness requiring antibiotics, or have major physical burnout/fatigue requiring a long lay off. What many athletes (and sadly some coaches) don’t realize is that as training stress increases the quality of the dietary intake must increase as well. If the super compensation cycle is to take form, it must be supported by very, very, sound nutrition (and other restoration methods) as training load increases.

The basic situation is: the athlete was perfectly fine under low training stress given their current diet. They increase training load and they are then in trouble. The amount of training stress one can handle is not a fixed value that can be calculated by all the new gadgets on the market (TSS, CTL, ATL….etc.). It’s greatly influenced by one’s ability to recover well through nutrition and rest. This is why every great training plan must be dove-tailed with an equally great nutrition and restoration strategy. With out one, the other is just not effective at making us go faster.

Although the lime light is always on training methods with nutrition in the shadow, I focus a lot of attention on nutrition/restoration because that’s what I have to do to make my athletes faster. A single pronged approach (training only) is just half as good. Bottom line.


Lift Like You Mean It

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

I’ve been ranting quite a bit recently (sorry)…..for what its worth, here’s another:

What’s with triathletes and weight training? 99 percent of the triathletes I meet are doing (or being told to do) 20 reps of every exercise in the gym. This is not a sport specific activity, period. As soon as you step foot in a weight room, you are not doing anything remotely sport specific in terms of energy production physiology.

Weight training by nature is very unsport specific regardless of how many reps you are doing. As discussed in one of my previous posts, anything with a duration over a 10k running (as an example) is more than 90 percent aerobic in terms of energy production. Given this fact, our sport is primarily aerobic. For some reason, many folks (and coaches) think that because we are triathletes, we should be doing high reps because its more “sport specific” relative to lifting heavy weights (3-8 reps). The reality is that to get to any energy production even remotely aerobic from weight training, you’d need to do 100+ reps. Based on that, this argument just doesn’t hold water and you should be lifting heavy for the best possible adaptation.

Another one of my favorites to hear (mostly from women) is “I don’t want to bulk….I just want to tone” . I’ll tell you right now, don’t worry about bulking! I spent a good part of my life dedicated to doing that (before triathlon), and I did it, but that took many years of serious focus and some heavy calories/protein (not an easy task). The sad part is that most women have the primary limiter of peripheral system strength and therefore miss out on turning that dial because of the “I don’t want to bulk attitude”. As an aside, the so called “toning” thing you hear all of the time just means gain muscle and lose body fat. Gaining muscle is done with heavy weights (again, tough to do), and losing body fat is done with a solid diet. “Toning” has nothing to do with lifting 20 reps as most of the pop magazines will tell you. Its actually tough work (with heavy lifting and focused diet)….no one wants to hear that.

Back to triathlon…..sadly, 8 times out of 10, most woman should try to become more like men (get stronger), and most men should try to become more like woman (lose muscle mass) to get faster. Are we creating some weird mono-being human here? Hum? I’ll be back with another post on this one down the road since it deserves its own topic.

Let’s review the primary purpose of being in the gym: 1) get strong, 2) build soft tissue toughness to avoid injury, and 3) gain joint strength (tendons and ligaments). Getting strong is best done with heavy weights. That’s what we came to the gym to do, so let’s do it and stay out of the gray middle (12-100 reps) where we neither get strong, durable, or build aerobic efficiency. Sure, 15 reps will build some durability and strength, but its way more efficient to do it with heavy weights and few big compound movements like leg press, squat, dead lift, etc.

One exception to all of this is if you are doing weight training into the race season (mostly for specific population groups like woman over 40, or men over 50). In these cases, the heavy lifting requires just too much recovery time and may start to undermine key workouts or race performances. Lighter weights with more reps is less damaging to soft tissue, and reduces recovery time. Note, this is the exact reason to go heavy during the early season….its more effective (more damaging) which should tell you right there that’s its the way to go during periods where you have the opportunity to get strong.

Lastly, for any heavy lifting period to be as effective as it can be, the training should be properly paired with a focus on protein (extra important for those athletes with low BMI at low BF, and strength limited) and proper nutrition periodization.

This is my last rant for a couple of months….I promise.


PB & Oatmeal

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Peanut Butter, what’s the obsession with peanut butter? It’s as if when a person begins endurance sports they are taught a few things by some seemingly knowledgeable tri god. The first thing they are taught is that peanut butter is the best pre race and pre training meal available. Not that I don’t believe peanut butter is a great source of protein, nutrients, and EFAs….it is, and is a great choice during the day between workouts….just not on race morning! The second one on my rant list today is oatmeal; for some reason people like a good dose of fiber before they start their races and attempt to handle 3500+ calories of race nutrition. Interesting!

Peanut butter: You see folks run into trouble when using peanut butter during pre workout or pre race periods. The purpose of any pre activity meal is to provide blood glucose for the impending activity. This is best done with a carbohydrate that is easily digested. Peanut butter does a great job of slowing digestion in the gut, which is one of the reasons it is so good during the day between workouts….it slows digestion of other foods and therefore dilutes the blood sugar response of anything else you may be eating. This is not a quality you want in a pre race meal where the intent is to get your system cleared to handle your race nutrition. You don’t want something that’s going to linger around in your gut and get in the way!

Oatmeal: Oatmeal is a great food to have on a day to day basis since it has good nutrient density (for a grain), great fiber content, and an overall relatively low glycemic index. However, when it comes to race morning, the last thing you want is a fiber filled treat before you attempt to exercise for 10+ hours and handle your race nutrition! Oatmeal (and fiber in general) is known by its qualities to scrape the digestive system like Brillo pad and remove bile from the gut. Is “Brillo pad” a term you want in your vocabulary for a race day food item in IM?

It’s easy to see how folks get confused with this since both of these items are “good for you” on a day to day basis. What is missed, is that race morning should be only those foods that will help you go faster on that day (and not upset your gut)….not necessarily the most nutrient dense foods. Its okay to eat bland, easily digested foods on race morning because they serve a specific purpose, to fuel the race that day.

The only thing better than using peanut butter or oatmeal for your pre race breakfast, is using them together! I can’t tell you how many people I see make this ridiculous mistake, and its typically an “I’ve been doing this for years” type scenario.

I do a lot of race fueling plans….for folks from the back of the back, to top 10 Kona pros. One thing I can tell you is that this little combination on race morning causes a lot of trouble for many, many folks. This frustrates me because athletes put so much work into their training and then miss a small detail like this, and end up with stomach issues in IM. The other thing that bothers me is just how many people make this mistake. I don’t know where some of this information comes from! The only issues I see as dominate as this one in the clients I work with, are the folks who drink water (as apposed to sport drink all day), or use products with only maltodextrin as a carbohydrate source……we’ll save those nuggets for another day and another porta-poddy stop!