Bike/Run Order

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Here’s a topic that’s commonly debated:  Is it better to run on tired legs throughout your week’s workouts, or to run on fresh legs?  That is, is it better to do most of your runs as transition runs, or as separate workouts the same day.  Like many topics in triathlon there is no one answer to this question.  Let’s take a look at the two scenarios:

1) Running on tired legs typically results in a peripheral system limited workout.  That is, if maximum effort is applied, speed would be capped by peripheral system fatigue vs. core limiters (oxygen uptake/delivery, etc). For triathletes that focus on Ironman racing a peripheral type of limiter (in training) is exactly what you are looking for, since for 99 percent of the folks their race is limited by the lack of peripheral system durability.  Based on that, this type of training is very race specific and provides an opportunity to train the most common limiter hit on race day.  Another way of saying this is that most people don’t meet their speed potential curve (run what their 5k times suggest they should) while racing IM due to lack of durability.  Running on tired legs improves durability which is the exact issue most face in IM.

2) Running on fresh legs allows a core system limited workout, which improves speed potential.  For athletes racing Olympic distance where durability typically isn’t an issue (most athletes meet their speed potential curve) the limiter is speed potential, which is improved by pushing core system limiters during workouts. Based on that, for the short course racer, it makes more sense to run on fresh legs most of the time so that the runs have “better quality”.

Given these two explanations, it is easy to see that for Ironman athletes it makes sense to run on tired legs since durability is the major limiter on race day.  Conversely, it makes more sense for Olympic distance athletes to run on fresh legs so that core system limiters can be pushed in training as they are on race day.  Of course in IM training there are days when you run on fresh legs to improve speed potential (core targeted workout) and of course there are transition runs involved with Olympic distance training. However, at the end of the week, the IM program should have more T runs than fresh runs and the Olympic program should have more fresh runs than T runs.  As I have said before, proper training programs are all about race specificity in training.


What it Takes

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The following figure represents what it takes to improve your half iron time from 6:05 to 4:10 and what it takes to go from a middle of the pack triathlete to the Kona starting line. This is my “life histogram”. That is, my weekly training volume over the past 8 years. 


I think too many athletes don’t have the patience, willingness to make sacrifices, or the time to allow this progression to unfold. Too many try to increase volume or intensity too quickly and/or have unrealistic expectations of what it actually takes to reach their goals. The purpose of this figure is to show what it takes for someone who was not born fast to become fast. Some things to take away from it:

1) You’ll notice I never took more than 3-4 weeks each year totally off (with a minimum of 3). This allowed me to build upon each year’s fitness level without becoming too out of shape each year. Many people make this mistake and take all year just to get back to their previous fitness level. A good rule of thumb is that is takes 3 times the duration you took off to get back to where you were in terms of fitness.

2) A fairly linear, gradual build up in volume without any major acute increases. Many people make this mistake and end up injured or sick.

3) Never a missed week following the 3 week break each year. This was made possible by using sensible training techniques & very detailed periodization planning which never had me sidelined with injury or sickness.

All of this allowed extreme consistency over an 8 year period. In addition to this figure was also an unrelenting focus on diet which allowed my weight to decrease from 195+ down to 155 over this period. Of course this weight decrease also helped performance but the majority of 2002-2005 was spent racing at 160-170 where I made good progress with racing speed.

A couple of other interesting things to note:

1) I didn’t race IM until I met about 2/3 of critical volume which is about 20 hours at my speed at that time.  This helped me have a good experience and a 10:09 my first time out….also my IM worst to date.

2) The average improvement in race performance is about 2.5% per year….consistently.


The O2 Theory

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Many of my thoughts/writings are very quantitative based and hard-wired to numbers with specific inputs and outputs. I believe that this approach to training/racing is a great object, performance based way to look at things and force progress. However, for those who have met with me, for any of my services, know that I like to also approach things from a qualitative direction. In my experience, most people are either very quantitative (math teachers, etc.) or very qualitative (English teachers, writers, etc.). This writing is for those who are qualitative in nature and addresses the fundamental approach of what I believe drives long term athletic progress…no numbers or critical volume (Critical Volume) mumbo-jumbo (believe it or not!).

The concept is very, very simple: just pass as much O2 through your body as possible each year. Now of course there are mechanical efficiencies to address, sport specificity, and a host of other things but this is probably the single most important simple concept not to lose track of. Let’s look at a couple of possible training methodologies that could be used to achieve this objective:

1. Go very easy all year with super high volume. This approach has the athlete sacrifice sleep and recovery time due to huge training time requirements which both have the potential to undermine consistency. Off time due to injury/burnout means no O2 coming through. Remember, in this concept, the athlete with the most O2 through the system at the end of the year makes the most progress.

2. Go hard often with low volume. Many inexperienced athletes think this is the way to go. It is very potent and effective given a short period to prepare for a race. However, because of the obvious risks of injury/burnout involved in this method, again consistency can be broken which puts a huge hole in O2 consumption for the year. Most athletes that follow this approach tend to be inconsistent with very little long term progress.

An athlete’s training methodology, in my opinion, should foster long-term progress and therefore fall in-between these two approaches carefully. That is, carryout the majority of your training at a moderate intensity with a training volume that can be tolerated by the particular individual (defined by sustainable volume from the previous year). This moderate intensity is at approximately the QT2 Z1 (HR Zones). This allows an athlete to pass a good amount of O2 through their system per minute without much risk of injury (balance of #1 and #2). This also helps avoid injury/burnout and allows good consistency with a good rate of O2 passage. Total Volume of O2 (driver of long term progress) = Training Volume x O2 use rate. Volume is optimized to an individuals sustainable volume and rate is optimized to the highest possible without injury/burnout. Increasing rate (exercise intensity) or volume beyond normal is effective but can only be used for short periods or injury/burnout can occur. The QT2 protocol typically limits high intensities to 12 weeks max to avoid this scenario.

Weight training, periodization planning, nutrition, and sleep are really just support systems to allow O2 to be passed through the system on a consistent basis:

1. Weight Training = Helps keep you injury free by increasing soft-tissue toughness and strength.

2. Periodization Planning = Helps avoid burnout when used properly since a reasonable approach to cycling of overload and recovery can be utilized.

3. Good Nutrition = Allows recovery of soft tissue, refueling of the metabolic system, and increased immunity. All of these allow workouts can be completed with good quality and O2 coming through on a consistent basis.

4. Sleep = Allows recovery of both the physical system and emotional system so workouts can be completed and O2 coming through.

5. Massage = Helps identify/fix soft tissue problems before they become an issue that may have you miss a workout and the O2 consumption associated with it.

Obviously there are other uses for these concepts but this illustrates how they apply to this O2 theory. Let’s look at a few of the common questions I get about the QT2 protocol how they can be answered with this theory:

1. Why do I train at a high level even without a major goal race on the horizon? The answer to this one is obvious when approach from the O2 theory….the focus is on long term progress so the more O2 that can be pasted through, the more progress that will be made over the long term.

2. What if I have a time cap in my life where I can’t train beyond X hours per week? Once this cap is reached through a reasonable build up, a greater volume training can be used by training at that cap for more weeks throughout the year. Then, a greater volume of higher intensity workouts can be added each year to allow increases in total O2 uptake. This is a riskier approach, however for some this is the only option. Its best used by folks that have significant experience in the sport and have the associated durability to avoid injury.

3. Why does the protocol work? Our sport is a primarily aerobic activity; even at the sprint level. Passing oxygen through the body through exercise improves aerobic efficiency, soft tissue toughness, and mechanical efficiency. By passing more and more volume of O2 through each year through increased volume or intensity results in continual adaptation. This combined with a diet high in nutrient dense foods and antioxidants (Core Diet) allows optimal recovery as well as reduced oxidive damage to soft tissue. The aerobic system uses fat oxidation for ATP production and therefore results in oxidative free radicals that a lot of athletes miss as a cause of soreness and reduced long-term progress. A diet high in antioxidants can really help mitigate that issue.

Of course this theory doesn’t explain the whole training process. It’s just another way of looking at how to achieve long term progress and how the QT2 protocol addresses that. Now, just stay healthy with consistent O2 coming through your body in order to realize your potential!! It all sounds so easy doesn’t it? The trouble is that too many people don’t have the patience it takes and therefore want to pass O2 through at a faster rate (through high intensity workouts)….again this works over the short term but typically results in injury which undermines long term O2 consumption totals. There’s no O2 coming through when you are sidelined on the coach with an injury. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; consistency is king!


The Monster

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

In preparing for IM, there is one swim set that I just love to use as a benchmark of how my (and other athlete’s)  swim speed potential and durability are coming along. Its also a great indicator of what your swim time will be in IM.

On a separate day, do an 800 time trial to determine your base interval for the monster set. Once you have this, you set up the workout as follows:

This example is for someone who swam 10:40 for the 800TT. Based on that pace, the base interval for the monster set will be 800TT pace plus 10 seconds per 100. So, 1:30 per 100.

1000 pull on 15:00 easy
9×100 on 1:30 at sustainable best effort
4×200 with paddles on 3:00 at sustainable best effort
7×100 on 1:30 at sustainable best effort
600 pull on 9:00 easy
5×100 on 1:30 at sustainable best effort
2×200 with paddles on 3:00 at sustainable best effort

All of this should be completed continuously on a 1:30 base (800TT pace + 10 seconds). What you will find is that the average pace you can hold for the 100s and 200s is very close to what your IM swim pace will be with a wetsuit. For example, if you average 1:22 pace for the 100s and 200s, you can expect to swim: 42.5 x 1:22 = 58:05 in IM.

Try it out!


3 Quick Things

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This is a simple one. I was thinking last night about the biggest concepts required to lose weight and in general eat for performance. Based on all of the folks I’ve worked with, these are the concepts that are most important and most commonly missed by folks trying to either lose weight or eat for performance. I’ve boiled it down to 3 of them:

1) Eat often. Like clock-work, never ever go more than 2-3 hours without putting something in the tank. The exception is sleeping of course but even this window should be as short as possible by eating the moment you wake up and the moment before bed.

2) Eat at least 10-25 grams of protein with every single feeding other than your preworkout meals or workout fueling.

3) Eat a fruit and/or vegetable with every single meal unless it’s a preworkout meal or workout fueling. And even there, some low fiber fruits like banana or applesauce could work. The only exception to this rule is if you use a meal replacement bar during the day for convenience such as: Luna Bar, Builder Bar, or TLC Bar.

That’s it! It’s that simple; make these changes 100% of the time and you will almost definitely see a major improvement in body composition and overall athletic performance. Although its only three concepts, they are very powerful when employed 100% of the time. Again, I’m not a registered dietitian or nutritionist so take these comments for what you believe they are worth.


Pre/Post Race Week Volume

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This is a tricky one. Many folks go into their races either over rested or over worked. To hit it just right takes a detailed approach that’s really like walking a tight rope. My thoughts here don’t address the whole race taper but rather just a piece of it…..the last week. They also address the short-term recovery period.

1) For any A or B race where you’d really like to do well, you should not have any intense or overly long workouts within 10 days before the event (especially running). The definition of long is relative to your particular training volume and typical sustainable weekly volume. Its also relative to the race distance you are doing. If you’ve been turning over 6 hour rides every weekend for the past 10 weeks, than another one of these one week out from a sprint (up to half iron) is no problem. For iron, you don’t want to take any chances and should therefore cut this ride back.

2) For any race, you always want to do as much race specific training as you can the week of the race, without going into the race too fatigued. As you can see, this is why I emphasize good rest and nutrition on race week so you can train more without becoming fatigued. For short race distances, you should do much more volume on race week (relative to long races) in order to stay sharp. That is, its okay to show up at the starting line a bit fatigued since you will get more benefit from the sharpness you’ve gained from training more closer to the race. It’s all about sport specific feel right when the gun goes off. For longer distances, it’s more important to be 100% rested than it is to be sharp. Any edge that’s lost from not being sharp is easily gained from being rested with a long day ahead. Typically for half and iron distance racing, this means the day before the race is totally off (more important to be rested than sharp). For sprint and olympic racing, this typically means two days before the race is off and then the day before is 30-60 min of light workouts in all three sports (more important to be sharp than 100% rested).

3) Be as race specific as possible on race week. That is, all bike and run workouts should be bricks with rides completed in the aero position. Again, it’s all about race and sport specificity the closer you get to race day. This applies to your overall season periodization plan as well as at the micro level here on race week.

4) A pretty good rule of thumb for a very important race is to do nothing within X days before your race that you wouldn’t do X days after your race. Race week completed backwards (as a general concept) after your race isn’t a bad recovery technique either as long as race week was approached properly. In terms of a race recovery, a good rule of thumb is to not do any intense or overly long draining workouts within one day for each hour spent racing triathlon. For running races, I like to use 5 days for each hour spent running since the damage is much more with higher velocities and more impact.

I hope these help you arrive prepared this race season. Stay tuned to the QT2 website homepage where I’ll soon have a comprehensive race spacing and recovery tip.


Sudbury Race Report and Thoughts

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts, Race Reports

Well, Sunday was the Sudbury Spring Sprint Triathlon. I enjoy doing this race since it’s a great check on triathlon specific speed potential from year to year. This was my 8th time doing the race. Here are my finish times over those attempts:

2000 – 42:53 (35th OA)
2001 – 40:06
2002 – 39:51
2003 – 38:31
2004 – 37:48
2005 – 36:53
2007 – 35:40
2008 – 35:16 (3rd OA)

I have PR’d it at every attempt. As you can see, I was not born fast nor did I start this sport fast (also note that I had been racing triathlon for 3 years prior to this). But, slowly and surly, I became faster through solid training protocols, sacrifice, and consistency. I think these results illustrate how consistent training from year to year can really result in consistent improvement. During this period, I never had an injury or sickness that sidelined me for more than a day or two and I only took off 3 weeks each year to recover at the end of the season. I just kept passing oxygen through my system for 8 years while slowly building weekly training volume from 8 hours per week to 25 hours. Gradual build-up and proper training intensity was the key to not being sidelined with injury. Most people think they can go from 8 hours to 25 hours much quicker than this but then realize that they were wrong while sitting on the couch sidelined with an injury. It takes patience. The QT2 training protocol is based on two major components: speed potential, and durability. My Sudbury results illustrate speed potential improvement from consistency. Durability on the other hand comes with volume and years of experience. Although these results show an 18% improvement over 8 years, you would see that my half iron times over this same period improved much more. Why? Because of the additional durability gained through volume and experience over that same period. At Sudbury, durability doesn’t factor in at all….that’s why I like it. It’s an objective look at speed potential. At the half iron distance, durability does become a factor and therefore over this period those results show a much larger percentage of improvement (due to training volume getting much closer to critical volume).

How’d the race go? Great! I PR’d by 24 seconds. This race is quite a shock to the system when you haven’t yet done any speed work other than a few races. It goes something like this: push off the wall in the pool, then cross the finish line and wonder what happened in between.

Next Up: Mooseman Half where I’ve struggled in the past to have a good day. My most recent performance indicators point me to a 4:12-4:14 goal, which would be a 14+ minute PR on that course. We’ll see in 3.5 weeks! It should be a great weekend either way with a whole bunch of QT2 athletes racing and getting to see the results of their sacrifices over the winter.

Race Week Fueling

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The following outlines what is in my opinion the optimal way to approach race week in terms of fueling:

1) In general, keep your diet consistent with your typical routine. No major changes until 1 or 2 days out (depending on race distance). The only exception is a large meal at dinner about 5 days out which will serve the purpose of ensuring that the final workouts on race week are approached fully stocked in terms of calories and glycogen. The whole idea is to keep glycogen as stocked as possible on race week without overdoing it with calories.

2) Pre-fuel workouts within an hour before with a bit more carbohydrate than you normally would.

3) Drink a recovery shake after ALL workouts even if you feel you don’t need it.

4) Begin carbohydrate loading 1-2 days out depending on race distance with about 10 grams of carbohydrate per day per pound body weight.

5) The day before race day should always start with a large meal and then taper throughout the day such that the last meal is light and low fiber. The idea is to begin clearing your gut. There is nothing that you will do between breakfast the day before the race and the starting line that will deplete muscle glycogen.

Hopefully these tips for race week will help get you to the starting line as fresh as possible.


The Final 10 Days

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

In my book, the final 10 days before a major race represent that critical period where everything counts. That is:

1) Sleep – every single night should be the best it can be. I shoot to average at least 7.8 hours during this final period.

2) Hydration – at least half your body weight in onces each day in addition to workout losses.

3) Food – eat within the core as much as possible (I.e., fruits, veggies, lean meats, nuts, and seeds) other than the final day where the focus is low fiber grains to begin clearing the gut.

4) Workouts – nothing hard or overly draining. No interval workouts or overly long workouts.

5) Workout Recovery – have a good quality recovery shake after all workouts.

With the race season around the corner, hopefully these tid-bits will help provide “fresh” legs on race day.

The Paradox

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The paradox I speak of is that which exists in an athlete’s training objectives. The ability to improve speed potential and the need for durability clash. Quality in one’s program gives them good snappy speed potential at moderate race distances when using a moderate volume approach. Athletes that race those shorter distances such as Olympic athletes don’t need mega durability so tend to settle their training around 20 hours max with a greater focus on quality of workouts. Because there is more quality and more recovery, they typically end up with better speed potential over the shorter distances. For IM athletes, this approach just doesn’t do it because volume is too low and doesn’t give the required durability to extend their speed potentials to the longer distance. Therefore, the IM athlete must train longer hours to get that durability since it will have the largest impact on their race day. The trick is to build volume for durability and still figure out ways to get quality in with adequate recovery…..the two of these concepts don’t mix very well. Unfortunately the two things required for solid long distance racing: 1) good speed potential, and 2) good durability, are tough to optimize in parallel. I believe this is one of the reasons we have seen short course racers make such a presence at IM distance racing recently. They have developed unbelievable speed potential first with quality and lower volume. Then, move on to add durability through higher volume in preparation for an IM event. This allows them to have solid speed potential and the ability to extend it to longer race distances.


Weight Loss

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

I received the following question this week from one of our athletes:

“Losing weight – I’ve got 4-5 pounds I want to drop over the race season – in the 4 months before IM/CdA. During the base phase I’ve put on a couple pounds mostly from over fueling/refueling. I don’t binge, just seem to eat a little more than I need to make sure I keep my energy levels
up, which I think has helped in fitness gains, but I’m carrying a few extra pounds around I want to drop. So the questions are:
– When is the best time in the season to lose weight and how quickly?
– Where do you cut the calories? I presume you want to keep your pre-exercise, exercise and post-refuel intake at optimal levels.”

First off, its great that you are forcing some calories and fluid in training which will train and prepare your gut for the huge amount of calories you will attempt to put into it while racing IM. No matter how well you train your gut to handle calories for race day, you will still be at a deficit, so the better you can train yourself, the better off you will be. Sorry to get off track. Here are the typical scenarios:

1) For folks that have more than 10 pounds of fat to lose (which we have established through body fat testing) before race day, I like them to do a focused calorie deficit type diet right off the get go during the base phase. Since there are no intense workouts to recover from, and moderate overall workout volume, the deficit won’t impact the quality of the workouts. The higher protein intake with the diet also coincides quite nicely with the lifting being done in the gym and meets the protein recovery demands of that. The objective is to get within 4-10 pounds of race weight by the end of the base phase.

2) For folks with less than 10 pounds to lose, I like them to be within 4 pounds of the goal race weight at 6 weeks out. Typically that last 6-week period is so intense that the weight comes off on its own with just a minor focus on total intake. If you are at about 4-10 pounds over race weight at 16 weeks out from race day, the best way to get down to that 4 pound number is very linearly from now to 6 weeks out through minor changes in habits. You’re right that cutting calories from workouts and workout recovery is never a good idea since this is your one chance throughout the day to restock muscle glycogen. Instead, focus on the window following your workouts that’s as long as the workout was to not over eat. Instead make whole grain choices and focus on “clean foods” during that period.

In both of these scenarios the maximum amount of weight loss each week should be no more than 1 pound. By limiting the weight loss rate to this number, eating frequently, and keeping protein up, significant muscle and power loss on the bike is avoided.

Again, I am not a Registered Dietitian or nutritionist; these thoughts just represent my experience as an athlete and coach. Take them for what they are worth.


Base Phase – Cooked Peripheral System

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The following is an add-on to my previous post about workout frequency during the base phase. I’ve received a couple of questions about HR zones and difficulty in being able to reach the specified HR zones during the base phase. The following addresses why this happens and how it should be dealt with:

This is very common toward the end of the base phase due to frequent workouts and an improved aerobic pace. Bottom line is that fatigue of your peripheral system due to workout frequency and accumulated fatigue begin to make zone 1 type efforts feel much harder. If you recover for a few days, the perceived effort at zone 1 will be back to the normal 4 out of 10 range (e.g., for a race). The peripheral system becomes the limiter as it becomes fatigued and the cardiac system becomes more efficient and robust. So, not only are you running faster because of improved stroke volume at a given heart rate, frequent workouts and accumulated fatigue make the peripheral system feel fried. Here’s how to handle the situation if you feel this:

1) During the base phase since almost every single workout is a zone 1 effort, there is no real risk of injury. The whole purpose is to build aerobic capacity and durability. We address these two objectives by:
a. Keeping the same relative workload on the body from a cardiac standpoint, by following your HR zones as fitness improves…..this means a faster pace at the same zone.
b. By pushing to these zones even when feeling fried peripherally which will build durability. This is the exact situation  you will face in the IM run. Again, since there are no key intense workouts to be ready for where the objective is to push core systems, and the intensity is relatively low, there is no real risk for injury/burnout.

2) During the build and race phases, since there are key intensity sessions, the objective is to have a very fresh peripheral system going into those workouts in order push previous bests. This is why every workout during the build phase besides the key intensity sessions and long weekend workouts are in zone R. The purpose of the base phase and associated frequent workouts is to improve recovery time and durability in preparation for this build phase. This brings us to the only time you should not force your HR higher into zone: recovery (zone R) workouts. If you feel you need it, feel free to stay below zone in order to be 100% for the key workouts. The best effort key days don’t use HR zones at all. However, if you feel you will not beat previous bests during one of these workouts, back the workout down to a zone R or zone 1 effort. All this means is that your peripheral system is too fried to push on your core system effectively, which is the purpose of the key workout. The purpose of the weekend workouts is again durability and are therefore worth pushing your HR into zone 1/2. To make the whole system work though, the athlete must recover well on recovery days by sticking to zone R or lower, and take care of nutrition/sleep.

Another thing worth noting: in my experience, the folks that stick with their HR zones (zone 1 and 2 when prescribed) no matter what the WHOLE season, make the most progress. If they let it slip for just a couple of workouts (i.e., stay under zones because it feels tough to get up to zone), it can be VERY hard to get it up to the proper range going forward in future workouts, if not impossible. Without a doubt, forcing your HR higher into zone 1/2 when required (during base phase and long weekend workouts), results in the best adaptation with the few exceptions above.

Base Phase Workout Frequency

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Here’s a benefit to base training (zone 1/R training) that you typically don’t hear about but I believe is a very important component to the build up process: frequency of workouts (i.e., building durability and recovery ability through high workout frequency). Because the base phase (about 8-12 weeks) of each season is spent primarily in zone 1, the risk for injury is low. We take advantage of that fact by doing very frequent workouts. For most athletes training for IM, this typically means 2-3 workouts per day with about 1 day off per month. What this does is:

1) Build great durability, physical and mental toughness – running and being on tired legs all the time teaches you to keep form together when the going gets tough and prepares you for the demands of IM racing. Since intensity is low and there are no best effort workouts, its okay to have a fried peripheral system most of the time; you don’t need your legs to push on previous bests during key intensity days. Instead, the intent is to just pass the amount of oxygen through your body by workout volume that your season plan calls for.

2) It teaches you to recover faster – due to the frequency of workouts, your body is forces to adapt and learn to recover faster from workouts. This is a great quality to have once into the build phase as the higher intensity work begins to kick in and you need your peripheral system for key workouts day after day.

3) It allows you to build volume safely at a slope much steeper than could safely be done with intensity training or few very long workouts per week. Typically the long workouts are placed at maximum of 35%, 35% and 45% of the week’s swim, run, and bike volume respectively.

4) It prepares you for rigors of the high intensity build phase where key workouts are almost every other day. The volume base that has been laid down through workout frequency, including weight training has prepared the soft tissue for higher intensity work with great resistance to injury.

I hope this has helps open your eyes to some of the benefits of base training that may not be advertised a lot of the time with other proponents of this method.


Anything That Kills Consistancy Isn’t Worth Doing

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

I think I see this one more than anything else: People training too hard or doing stupid things that kill consistency. This is the “magic bullet” type approach that doesn’t bowed well for long term progress or meeting one’s potential. Just like everything in life, people try to take the easy route. Here are some points to consider while thinking about training protocols as I have seen them relative to the various athletes I’m in contact with:

1) Most people train to hard most of the time and not hard enough the rest of the time. Most people never allow themselves to develop significant training volume for their race distance. Durability is the name of the game in ironman, which comes through volume (and experience). If you train too hard most of the time, you’ll never build enough volume to get the durability you need without facing injury or burnout. Also, since you go too hard between key workouts, your peripheral system ends up too cooked to push previous limiters on the quality days.

2) Training too hard most of the time leaves you sick and injured. Sick and injured means no training. ANYTHING that kills training consistency is something that’s not worth doing. Consistency is the absolute key to long-term progress.  Its simple….put large amounts of oxygen through your body over years. Sure, you may have a great race here or there with constant intense training but no consistent results and almost no long-term progress.

3) Most people that train too hard are looking for short term results without proper focus on the long term. Sure, if you were out of shape and looking to race a 5 miler in 8 weeks, your best route to success is probably higher intensity work. However, if you are looking to improve year after year and PR each race distance each year by 2-3%, this is no way to do it. Stop focusing your training on a race-by-race basis and give it some longer-term perspective. If you try this approach and tone things down a bit, at first there will be a net reduction in training load due to the reduction in intensity; you may actually get slower at first. As your body becomes more efficient in aerobic energy production you will almost always catch up to and surpass previous PRs. This process typically takes about 10-15 weeks to start seeing benefit.

4) This is a topic you see studied very ofen: they take one group of athletes and do intervals over a 12 week period and take another group who does double the volume in aerobic zones only. Over 12 weeks of the study the interval group is better shape. Now let’s take that same test and run it over two years having the interval group do high intensity work every time they step out the door. They’d be lucky if they can run at all at the end of the 2 year period! High intensity training is very potent and should be used sparingly.

5) Of course its more fun to go out and hammer every run, and race the guy on the other side of the street that you know is trying to out stride you. This is another situation where I’ll use the term “sacrifice”. Instead keep focus on the long term and hold your aerobic zone….save it for race day.

In my own experience at triathlon when I first started racing, I was slow. People were beating me in my age group for years at all distances….I wasn’t born fast. These were folks that were either born fast or trained hard and intensely for about half the year and did nothing the other half or were injured. Most of these people now either don’t race because of injury/burnout or finish well behind me. It took patience over 6-8 years of consistent training with no more than 3 weeks off each year, no injuries that side lined me, and big sacrifice. I was happy with a steady progression of 2-3% improvement each year and PRs EVERY SINGLE YEAR at EVERY race distance. Believe me, it feels much better to PR 5 races a year than just “finish” 10 and crush every training partner you have on training days.

These people who train for the short term glory some how don’t see there vicious cycle over the long term: 1) train hard and intensely for about 8 weeks and then race well (or so they think), 2) get injured and miss about 8-12 weeks of training, and 3) train hard and intensely for about 8 weeks and race well again at about the same level they did last time…. very little long term progress.

This same argument goes for those that just do stupid high volume without any focus on progress or performance. More doesn’t always mean better.

There is no magic….


Listen to Your Body?

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

You hear this one all the time: “listen to your body”. What I say is: “listen to your body, and figure out what you did wrong”. Many athletes use the 1st line thought process over and over again and believe they are making the right, intelligent training decision and stop training because they feel slogged. This works over the short-term but over the long term results in two things:

1) Less training consistency because of missed days.

2) The root of the problem not being solved (i.e. bad training protocol, bad nutrition, or bad sleep).

If you have a solid training protocol set up at the correct stress level with the correct cycles of recovery (meso, macro, and micro), and you cover the details (sleep and nutrition), there’s no real reason to feel slogged in the first place. If you do, go back and review what went wrong; don’t just blindly take an off day. Was it missed sleep, bad nutrition, hydration, bad workout fueling….etc? Athletes that think they are smart by taking days off when they feel crappy actually made a mistake somewhere in the details and then back it up with a missed training day. This sounds like the average Joe; eating bad food, not sleeping, and not training. It doesn’t sounds like a top triathlete.

I see it all the time with the athletes I coach. While talking to one of them on the phone, the athlete says “I just didn’t have it on Sunday so I took an off day to recover”. Most would reply, “good move, it happens, I’m sure this allowed you to recover and the next workout will be great. Way to listen to your body…keep up the good work”. Instead of that, I reply: “What did you do wrong in the days or hours leading up to that session that caused you to feel that way? Was it lack of sleep, bad pre fueling, bad recovery nutrition following the previous workout, or bad workout fueling? We know your training protocol is good so there is no reason for this to happen if you are covering the details”.

In summary, two wrongs don’t make a right. If you take it to the extreme, an athlete eats bad and never sleeps, so gets rewarded with an off day training. Does that make sense? For you, if this happens, go back and review what caused the sluggishness and make it never happen again so you don’t miss a training day. Remember, consistency is king.


Critical Volume Again

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Here’s a qualitative look at what critical volume is:

You have a friend that you can beat at the 5k, a 15 mile bike ride and a 400 TT in the pool even though that friend trains much more than you. However, when you go to the half iron distance he successfully beats you by 10 minutes. This is where critical volume comes in; he has gained the durability (through volume) to extend his speed potentials to longer race distances. What critical volume does is suggest how much training is required to gain the majority of the durability required for your race distance. At long distance races, this lack of durability is the major determiner of time loss for most people. Meet critical volume, and you will beat most people around your speed potential even though they may be faster than you at short distance racing. This is even more the case in IM racing where almost no one except some in the pro wave meet critical.

A lot of people misunderstand my critical volume posts to mean “he says you must do these huge training mileages to do well in IM…..that’s crazy”. That’s not what critical volume is about.


Heart Rate Zones

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Many coaches use a very wide array of confusing heart rate (HR) zones. You’ve seen them I’m sure: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5a, 5b, 6….etc. All of these ranges represent various intensities of training and are meant to elicit a certain physical response. What I find is that:

1) Any HR over anaerobic threshold is best used for track repeats, etc. and is very difficult to monitor and stay steady at. While running 5 or 6-minute miles around a track, the last thing you want to be doing is looking down at your watch trying to figure out if you are in the right HR range. You’ve got bigger problems like thinking about form, and how not to throw up. These areas are better trained without an HR monitor and instead with a focus on performance indicators such as speed, wattage, etc. The various intensity zones can be addressed with varying length intervals done at best sustainable effort. These should be chosen based on race distance and get more race specific as race day gets closer. Just get good and tired and the workout will be effective. The added focus on performance will drive progress.

2) HR rate ranges below TH are useful to help keep athletes capped at aerobic intensity zones. This method is much better than the pace or wattage method since as improvements occur, the body adapts to the workload by producing a lower HR at the same pace. Because of this, the pace is increased by the athlete to stay in the HR zone. This allows the workload or stress on the body to increase and continue to elicit a positive response from the training. With pace only, as the body adapts, the pace stays the same and therefore results in a reduced relative workload. The only way for this to work is very frequent testing to help keep the ranges up with the fitness of the athlete but still won’t be as real time as the HR method. The other issue with pace defined ranges versus HR defined ranges is that the athlete has no reason to focus on efficiency. If I tell a pace defined athlete to run his zone 1 8:00 m/m pace, that’s what he is going to do. He may have arms flailing around, etc. If I tell the same athlete to run at his zone 1 HR range of 140-150 bpm, he’ll do everything he can to go as fast as possible in that range. This includes relaxed breathing, loose shoulders, etc. These are all good things that promote efficiency.

3) The HR zones used below threshold don’t need to be overly complicated. In fact, 3 zones is all I typically recommend; one recovery, one base work, and one tempo. More than this and an athlete is more likely to get confused and not follow or drop the whole process. No matter what, consistency and compliance with the program is the most important piece of athletic progress. Anything that undermines these, even if totally scientific, should be avoided like the plague.

4) Most athletes don’t have accurate enough threshold data to make ranges in such minuet detail. In my experience getting athletes from other coaches, TH heart rates and therefore ranges can be extremely wrong depending on the frequency of testing, the type of test, and the person operating the test. Because the TH heart rate can be off by as much as 10 beats from these tests, it is crazy for these coaches to have six heart rate zones defined in 8 beat increments. The operator of the test is probably the most important aspect of proper heart rate zones. An experienced coach can get TH heart rate fairly close with almost any piece of data or test protocol assuming its accurately recorded. Also, the whole process of identifying an HR for threshold is indirect. They are not linked to one another as many think. All we try to do is find the HR we happen to be at when our body begins to use the glycolic system at a much larger percentage. This is convenient since HR is easy to monitor during exercise.


Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Multi-vitamins are funny….most people scurry around trying to find the one that’s got the most of every vitamin hoping they will get some magical benefit from all these vitamins. In fact, it could hurt them. This is the “more is better” fallacy that many athletes suffer from. Really, with the exception of a few of the antioxidants once your body has what it needs the rest is useless. Another problem is that many of the vitamin brands are not reputable and don’t have what they say they have. For most of my athletes, if they don’t take a vitamin I usually don’t recommend one since they are all on sound diets (or should be) and take their fair share of performance bars like cliff builder bars, power bars, endurox, etc. Most of these supplements are like multivitamins already because they are so heavily fortified. So, given that, if they are already taking one, I typically kick them down to 1 serving every other day. If they aren’t taking one, I usually don’t make them start unless there is a specific deficiency. Also, because of the fact that they all have sound diets and take all these other supplements, getting some ridiculous mega multi really doesn’t do much but waste money. However, in some cases where diet may be in question, it doesn’t hurt for insurance to take one to fill any holes that may exist. While choosing a multi, the focus is on a reputable brand, not the vitamin list. Since many athletes should be fine already (through diet and performance fuels), there’s no need to have overkill but rather a vitamin that has what it says it has. Believe it or not, a simple vitamin like Centrum Performance will get most athletes what they need, is reputable, available, and won’t break the bank. Spend the extra money on fruits and veggies.


Assessing Progress in the Early Season

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

During the off season the typical training focus is base work and therefore its tough for most to get a gage on how their speed is or how they would actually do in a race. I feel its important to have a gage on this throughout the season since it gives you much more focus in your workouts and overall life style. Its analogus to someone trying to lose weight and using the scale as a means to track progress. Typically those dieters who hide the scale in the closet for months because they are afraid to get on it, gain the most weight over time. This is also true of athletes who don’t get an objective check on progress throughout the year. When the spring comes, they are almost always disappointed with how slow they are compared to what they had thought and wish they had trained more/harder. Its important to have that objective look at progress for a reality check. This reality check can be a slap in the face that motivates you to be more consistent over time and therefore make more progress. Here’s what I suggest as a means to track progress during the off season and even compare to where you were racing during the previous season:

1) Use short efforts to look at your speed potential (I call these performance indicators). Its a 400 TT in the pool, a 5k race, and/or a 20 power test on the bike. These efforts are short enough to not derail your base training and provide a great glimpse to what your current race potential is. Each of these should be completed once every 4-8 weeks. I favor a monthly 5k and 400TT, as well as a 20 minute power test once every 12 weeks. Once armed with these performance indicators, and body weight, the triathlon calculator can be used to assess current race potential.

2) Use your zone R or zone 1 pace as a daily check of progress. That is, constantly check your pace or power at a specific low intensity heartrate. You should see consistent progress over time with these paces and have an idea as to how they compare to what they were during the previous race season. These zone 1 paces can even be used to estimate the performance indicators in #1 above through the triathlon calculator.

In summary, the use of performance tests and aerobic zone paces, can be a tool to get an objective look at current race potential and can be used to estimate expected improvements for the current season such that when race season comes, there are very few surprises. This is a good thing…

Ironman Run Pacing

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

This discussion has many people confused: do you go out and negative split the run, or do you get time in the bank early?

Here is what I recommend for most folks that have met critical volume for their event:

Olympic: 1st mile @ goal pace minus 7 seconds
Half: 1st mile @ goal pace minus 15 seconds
Full: 1st mile @ goal pace minus 30 seconds

The reason I use these baselines is that you routinely see the best run splits in IM drift no more than 1 minute from the 1st mile to the last. An example is if you have the ability to average 8:00 M/M for your race, run the first mile at 7:30 and drift no more than 1 minute to the last mile. Your goal pace should be that determined from the calculator which already takes into account durability and gives you a realistic expectation. The reason many people go out way too fast is that they may have great speed potential (great 5k times), but lack durability through volume and therefore the early pace feels easy but the lack of durability catches up with them later in the day and they lose serious time. They’d be much better off accounting for their lack of durability and pacing it accordingly from the start.

The reason I recommend heading out faster than the average race pace versus even or negative splitting like a straight running race is that you already have a significant amount of peripheral damage from the bike that will compound during the run and slow you down later on no matter what pace you head out at. This peripheral damage is less at shorter race distances and is the reason why the recommendation gets closer to even splitting the race at those distances.

For folks that have not met critical volume, I typically recommend 5-15 second walk breaks every 2 miles right from the beginning of the race. Their run pace should still use the above protocol but also factor in the time for the walk breaks.