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…

Damage Control

Written by Jesse. Posted in Uncategorized

Chrissie and I are in Key West, FL this week for our anniversary. No bike, and limited swimming will give me a solid run focus week. However, New Year’s in KW is a tough time to eat well and get solid training in.  Therefore, this week will end up being an exercise in damage control more than anything….

Following the New Year, it will be laser like focus for me to Oceanside 70.3 and the rest of the season.

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.

Walter’s Run

Written by Jesse. Posted in Uncategorized

Well, my first race of the 2008 season was cancelled on Sunday due to a nasty Nor’easter. I was forced instead to complete the Central Park TT on my computrainer. The result?  Four watts better than my first attempt 4 weeks ago and 3 pounds lighter….moving in the right direction. Looking forward to my first race with other people to race against.

Making the Best of the Time You Have

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

First off, a refresher on critical volume:

Swim – 9/3 of the goal event distance per week
Bike – 8/3 of the goal event distance per week
Run – 7/3 of the goal event distance per week

All of these recommendations and those below apply to the final build weeks before your major “A” race. Everything leading up to that should be placed at a gradual slope starting at about 35% of the peak weeks 30 weeks out from the race. Some precautions: available volume during the peak weeks = the lower of:

1) The volume you can fit into your life logistically.

2) The volume you can handle at the beginning of the plan based on the fitness you currently have and the start volume that the above 35% gave.

3) 20% greater than your biggest weeks last year.


1) Take your available volume and allocate it to the swim bike and run using critical volume ratios. That is, if your race is IM, than when your bike mileage is at 200 miles, the run should be 40 miles, and the swim at 9,000 yards. This case is 2/3 critical volume for all three sports. This is also what I typically recommend as a minimum for any race distance; 2/3 critical. If your previous training does not put you in a place to hit this safely, you’re better off choosing a shorter race distance.

2) If critical volume is met in all three sports, add additional volume to the swim and bike up to 1.5 times critical in each. When bike hits 450, swim should hit 18,000.

3) Any other remaining volume should be added to the run up to 1.3 times critical there.

4) If there is still volume left, it should be added to all three sports equally using crtical volume ratios. However, at this point, you have gained the best advantage you could in terms of durability and any additional volume would be added in hopes of bettering speed potential. A more reasonable alternative is probably to increase intensity and leave volume as is.

Although, most folks have weaknesses in one of the sports, in my experience it still results in a better overall race result to work all three sports equally (assuming you have been doing triathlons for a while). Just work the weakness with a bit more focus. Chances are, that if you have a weakness, its just because you were not training it equally in relation to the others.


Sensible Choices

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The holidays are a tough time to keep fat off and make good food choices. For those with early races its even more difficult since the focus is typically to lose weight. Here are some tips that I recently went over with some of my athletes:

1) Since the weekends will typically be a gauntlet, do your absolute best to be perfect during the week days. This will allow some slips on the weekends without excessive weight gain.

2) Once put into a compromising position, don’t just throw in the towel. For example, if you are put into a position where you must eat pizza, don’t just throw in the towel and say “hell, I’m already eating pizza so I might as well eat a half pie”. Instead say “well, I’m already eating pizza, so I will be more diligent on my serving size and limit it to 2 slices”. This will go a long way to limit the damage these compromising situations can have.

3) Try to position potential big eating situations following your longest workouts. This will help use excessive calories for restocking a depleted body instead of restocking your waistline.

4) While at holiday parties, do your best to choose foods with a low carbohydrate to protein ratio. This will help limit (or dilute) the blood sugar response of the meal and will therefore avoid weight gain.

5) Curtail drinking to the weekends only. Making good choices here can go a long way. None at all would be best, however, if you must, Red wine and light beer are your best choices while eggnog and classic beer are your worst.

Hopefully these tips will get you from Thanksgiving to Christmas with the same body fat or even a bit less than what you started with. This would be a fantastic accomplishment considering that the average American gains 7 pounds through this period!

Weight Training

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The start up of training for a new season typically comes with the start of weight training. I usually recommend a 12 week focused cycle for all athletes regardless of age or gender. In most cases where strength on the bike isn’t a limiter, weight training will slow you down (very unsport specific). This is why its best done early on in training. However, weight training will make you much more resistant to injury during the hard workouts later on that WILL make you faster. Injuries kill consistency, consistency is the key to long term progress. Being triathletes, running tends to eat away at muscle mass throughout the season. Weight training helps put this muscle back on during the off season so we stay triathletes and don’t turn into runners. Many bike coaches believe weight training isn’t necessary for bike power…I agree, for cyclists. As triathletes the running component will kill bike strength over the long term if muscle mass isn’t rebuilt annually. You may have noticed this within each season; as the season goes on your bike speed weans as your run speed gets better. For some, one strength session per week is beneficial throughout the whole season if strength is a limiter on the bike. This is typically for older athletes (over 50) or woman (over 40). Also note, strength plans should be just that; strength plans. This includes heavy weights below 10 reps. Again, stay out of the grey middle. If the objective is to get strong, than get strong. There is no good reason to be in the 12-20 rep range. Many think this is better for endurance sports. In reality, this rep range will do nothing to stimulate either the aerobic system or glycolic systems (energy systems used in triathlon). Therefore if you are going to lift, you might as well expose the muscle tissue to very high force and make it resistant to injury.

Trainer Time Factor

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

You hear all sorts of factors for what you should multiply your trainer time by to make it equivalent to outside riding. I’ve spent many hours over the past few years thinking about this since I spend over 50 percent of my bike time on the trainer. It also pertains to some of the calculator inputs so has a double meaning to me. What I believe is that in terms of speed potential improvement (ability to increase 20 min power/weight ratio), the factor should be about 1.3. The reason for the factor is that if one sets someone sets out to ride 1 hour at Zone 1 on the trainer, they can set their HR at the middle of the zone for the duration and just crank along…no interruptions. When riding outside, due to stops, down hills, etc, your zone 1 ride will result in an HR at the bottom of the zone (if ridden properly without going into zone 2). These 4 or so BPM extra on the trainer represent addition oxygen passed through the system and further aerobic development. Based on what I have seen, its about 30 percent more development. Now, its not that simple otherwise I wouldn’t be discussing it. Anyone who understands my training philosophies knows that I believe in a two part equation for race success. One, is increasing speed potential (through fitness, body comp, efficiency, etc), the other is durability through volume for your race distance (meeting critical volume). The durability allows you to meet your speed potential curve at longer distances. What I have found is that in terms of durability, you just need to sit your butt in the saddle for at least the time suggested by critical volume. This is independent of if you are inside on the trainer or outside. Therefore a 1.0 factor should be used when working on the trainer in terms of durability. So, what does this mean? What I have done is use a 1.0 factor during the final 6-8 weeks leading into a major race when durability is important for race day. Prior to that, I use a 1.2 factor so that when I switch to the 1.0 during the final 7 it doesn’t become too much of an overload. I hope this helps and doesn’t further confuse things….

Grey Middle Off Period?

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

The period that athletes take off following their season (2-4 weeks), should be executed with the same focus as any training session or race. What’s important is that the athlete is fully rested both physically and mentally. At the end of the period, all the athlete should want to do is swim, bike, and run…this indicates a successful off period. Similar to taking rest days easy, this long term period should be taken easy. I think many folks end up doing too much by cross training with hikes, rowing, etc… This easily ends up making the whole off period a sort of gray middle type effort. We take easy days very easy to make the quality days great. On the same token we should take the off period (on a macro level) very easy to make the next season a quality effort. Without this, the next season is approached tired, and without the focus it will take to make it another 49 weeks of solid, consistent effort; which is what’s important to long term progress.

I just finished my off period and all I want to do is swim bike and run……

Poor Training Protocol

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Poor training protocols will typically give an athlete durability through the volume they are doing but lack the improvement in speed potential that their efforts may suggest. This results in the ability to extend their speed potential curve to longer race distances but leaves them with the same speed potential curve from year to year. Durability (ability to meet speed potential curve at long distances) is developed simply by “getting the volume in” however, improvements in aerobic pace and pace at TH, take a more detailed approach to optimize. Obviously, if someone’s training protocol is poor, injury is more likely to occur which will derail the volume and dig into durability. However, for those who don’t get injured and put in huge volume under a poor training protocol, you typically see good race performances at the longer distances and sub par performances at the shorter distances relative to what their training volume may suggest. This concept can be see by older folks doing really well at the longer distances due to years of volume and resulting durability. So, even as their speed potential erodes as they age, they can still perform relatively well at the longer distances (because most folks at IM don’t meet critical volume and therefore lack durability). A solid training protocol results in improvements to speed potential curves in all three sports. Durability to extend those speed potentials to longer distances comes with volume over the long haul. If you find your shorter race distance performances staying stagnate, chances are that your training protocol can use some work.

IM Kona Race Report

Written by Jesse. Posted in Race Reports

With all the hype surrounding this race I really wanted to do well and get through the day strongly by racing conservatively. Race week went well as I executed my typical nutrition plan leading into race day and a few light workouts on the Big Island. Race morning came and I was up at 3:30 to eat what seemed like 3 gallons of unsweetened apple sauce among other things.

Swim:I lined up about 5 rows back from the front figuring at least 400 people (5 rows back times 80 across is about 400) would out swim me at the world championships. After 15 minutes of treading water without a wetsuit, the cannon went off and all hell broke loose. This swim was as crowded if not worse than the other IMs I have done. However, the visibility was unbelievable complete with tropical fish, corral, etc… My thoughts of about 400+ folks ahead of me proved to be true as I exited the water in 1:06:35, 595 place.

Bike:After a carefully executed transition (even waited on line to get sunscreen), I was off on the bike duking it out with at least 500+ other athletes on the Queen K. Early on I held back considerably and as usual had racer after racer pass me. As the ride continued up to Hawi, I began reeling people in slowly as I increased my perceived effort. The climb up to the turn around was brutal with a heavy head wind and scorching heat. Throughout the ride I was drinking more than I normally do but without the normal peeing. Based on this, I knew it must be ridiculously hot and figured most people would not drink enough and then fall apart later in the day…this proved to be true. The ride back from the turn around had a head wind the whole stretch through the lava fields and made it difficult to make up much time. After averaging 20.2 up to the turn around, I arrived at T2 in 5:26:10, 503rd bike split, and 536th overall which was about 20 minutes slower than I would have liked, but given the conditions was probably the best I could muster and still run a solid marathon.

Run:Ate a banana and a gel right out of transition and was off running. First few miles came through at 7:15 which was where I wanted to be at that point in the run. Solid IM runs are typically executed with a drift in pace no more than 40-50 second per mile from the start to finish. Therefore, based on my first mile, I would try to run no miles slower than 7:55 all day. The run was tough with hot sun and zero shade. The fact that most people hadn’t drank enough, and paced too hard on the bike began to show with more and more walkers as the run went on. This was surprising to me as you would think that the best in the world would have paced and nutritioned correctly throughout the day….not true. After the turn around in the energy lab, I was struggling to hold my 7:55 pace but managed to do so and passed a couple of hundred walkers along the way. The last 10K I really tried to pick it up but probably only succeeded in the last 1/2 mile as the crowds picked up and I made the turn onto Alii Drive! No other feeling like that in triathlon racing. Total run time was 3:22:52, 248th run split, and 346th overall.

All in all, I was happy how the race came together and how I executed it without a glitch. I’m looking forward to giving it a shot again next year (hopefully) and being a little more aggressive. What an amazing opportunity!!

Thanks to everyone who sent me emails before and after the race. Also, thanks to all of those who have to deal with me on a daily basis in order to provide me this opportunity. Especially my wife Chrissie…without her help and understanding, it would be impossible.






Forcing Improvement

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

During my off time each year, I spend some time reviewing how I will change the following basic areas in order to see improvement the following year:

Body Composition– Make changes to my diet to better my body composition. No need for extra weight from fat….this improves running potential at about 0.62% per pound lost and also power to weight ratio on the bike (assuming you diet correctly and hold power output constant). Just don’t go too low on fat!

Training Protocol – I look at the previous year to see what worked and what didn’t and then make changes to next year’s plan based on what I see. Ideally, I complete this on a Macro (month over month periodization) and Micro (workout by workout) level and only works if you keep detailed records on training volume and intensity but illustrates the importance of a training log.

Equipment – I look at my equipment and try to find areas where improvements can be made such as aerodynamics and/or weight. Bike fit also fits into this category.

Technique– I look at areas where technique can be improved in order to increase efficiency. Then, I do drills to improve these areas. Typical drills include running mechanics drills, swim drills, and cycling drills. Improvements here have you go faster at the same effort…this is good.

The interesting thing here is that 3 out of 4 of these translate to “free speed” and not fitness improvements. However, most people don’t emphasize those 3 enough. With the effort they put into fitness, the others are a no-brainer. Either way, doing something different this coming season in order to improve each of those 4 areas will practically guarantee progress next year. Doing the same old thing results in the same old results. I see a lot of the folks I race with make no changes and make no progress year after year.

Down Time

Written by Jesse. Posted in Coaching Thoughts

Each season I take 2-3 weeks totally off and another 1-2 weeks very light with no more than 2 or 3, 30 min sessions running and biking.  I feel this period is essential to year over year progress.  As someone once said, “you need to get out of shape in order to get back in better shape.”  When I start back up, I typically make more progress during the first 12 weeks than I do at any other point during the season.  I think the length of the off period should be adjusted to match how demanding your season was and if you have any on going injuries to clear up.  So, I’m looking forward to the next 2-3 weeks totally off before starting up for 2008!

Still in Kona

Written by Jesse. Posted in Uncategorized

Still in Kona for another few days.  Most of the IM buzz has left which leaves a great town to vacation.  A matter of fact, Chrissie and I liked it so much that if I qualify next year at Placid, I think we’ll be back…


Written by Jesse. Posted in Uncategorized

Well, after much resistance I’ve finally given in to starting a blog.  No guarantees on how often it will be updated but my plan is to share my coaching and training thoughts here informally before posting them to the QT2 tips area.  I’ll also use this as a place for brief race reports and other none quantitative info about what I am doing.  Thanks for checking in!