Coach Al here with some further reflection from my time spent at the Ironman World Championship. I have not been to Kona since the last time I raced there eight years ago. I can say, however, that having raced the event several times, and now watching from my perspective as a coach, it is the hardest Ironman triathlon on the planet. Getting to the finish line in Kona is an incredible achievement. Huge congratulations to all the athletes.
In the video below I outline my thoughts about three major things that I think truly impact a successful Ironman race:
Nutrition, salt, and STRENGTH
What is the limiting factor on very long race days like Ironman? It is what happens to your body. Nutrition and salt play a major role, for sure. But it is STRENGTH that also helps the wheels from coming off. The struggle in the Ironman marathon always comes from things like cramping, muscular fatigue, and pain in areas that make it difficult to keep race pace. Keeping a consistent and steady aerobic pace in an Ironman, without breaking down, can bring you to a very high age group placement. The marathon definitely becomes a battle of resisting fatigue, and you need the STRENGTH to keep it all together.
I recommend you Ironman athletes out there have a listen and take these messages to heart. Taking action on your strength issues NOW, can help to insure the wheels stay on in your next long course competition.
Coach Al here, and I am having a wonderful time at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona. Two of the athletes I coach are racing here today. Lisbeth Kenyon is defending her 45-49 age group championship and course record. (Go Lis!) Susan Ford is making her Kona debut.
I was so pleased to have a chance to sit down with Susan for an interview. I knew our talk would center around a discussion of dedication and perseverance, two qualities imperative to athletic success. Susan, without question, possesses both those attributes more than just about anyone I know. Her passion for the sport of triathlon, and long-course racing in particular, drives her relentless pursuit to be the best she can be.
Susan unfailingly believes there is always a way to reach her goals. The word “can’t” is not in her lexicon. She is always willing to listen and learn, facing her gifts and limitations with the kind of truth and honesty I discussed in yesterday’s post. This allows her to set increasingly higher standards of personal excellence.
Susan is so deserving of the opportunity to race here in Kona. To say I wish her the best is an understatement. She will earn her PhD in triathlon out there today–another step in the evolution of this incredible athlete and friend.
Coach Al checking in from the Kailua-Kona on the eve of the Ironman World Championships. This is such a magical place, and those of you who have visited or have had the honor of racing here, you know what I mean.
Thoughts about truth and honesty that I want to share with you today came to me while walking through, of all places, the race expo. I was struck that the biggest challenge facing my partner Dr. Kurt Strecker and me, as we work to build Pursuit Athletic Performance, is that we tell the TRUTH. This may sound harsh, but the hard fact is the expo is full of products of little value, coupled with vendors hawking pseudo-science and false claims all in the service of THEIR agendas. In fact, telling the partial truth has become so common place, we have been domesticated into believing the partial truth IS the truth.
At PAP, we offer the honest truth, to every person who walks in the door. We walk the talk. We do what we say. We have no fancy gadget or magic fixes–we start with a simple mirror. We ask each athlete to take a hard look at what we uncover through their gait and movement analysis and face the TRUTH. It may be difficult to hear, it may not be what you want to be told, but we ask you to see your own “raw reality.” We know it is not easy to look our weaknesses squarely in the eye. But once you do, the reward for being honest with oneself is nothing less than the chance for incredible growth, and an explosion of your performance potential.
Susan Ford and Lisbeth Kenyon are two incredible athletes I coach who are racing here in Kona. Lisbeth, in fact, is here to defend an age group championship for the fourth year in a row. I can tell you that both of these incredible athletes looked into that mirror, faced the truth, worked hard to erase their liabilities, and have reached truly amazing performance peaks. The truth can do the same for you.
This is always an exciting time of year at Pursuit Athletic Performance! Pursuit athlete Lisbeth Kenyon will soon be on her way to defend her age group championship at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on Saturday, October 13. Not only is Lisbeth the two-time defending champion in the 45-49 age group, she is also the record holder having shattered the previous mark by more than 20 minutes.
Lis and Coach Al have been working together for a number of years. Not only did they tackle Lis’s preparation for Kona this year, but Al also coached her to a record-breaking performance at the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon this past August.
The Ironman website recently ran a preview of the Age Group Women’s Champs, and we just had to share Lisbeth’s comments. This is a phenomenal athlete who works incredibly hard at training to her ultimate potential, yet never loses site of life’s priorities while keeping a sense of humor!
GO LISBETH! We are in your corner all the way, and will be cheering!
[Lisbeth] says her strength is definitely the ability to be in more the one place at a time and her second hobby is laundry. A quick glance at Lisbeth Kenyon’s “typical” day and I would have to agree. At the crack of dawn, Kenyon begins to wrestle her three children out of bed. Two are driven to school and the other catches a bus. The family dog is along for the car ride as she is deposited at daycare so she is not alone all day. In between working and training, Lisbeth delivers her kids to saxophone lessons, swim practice and golf. The kid’s activity time is her chance to go back to the office and catch up on work before she retraces her steps to gather up the clan to head off for dinner and homework time.
For Lisbeth, it is all about family first so it was no surprise to see she scheduled in the Norseman Xtreme, which takes place near where her family live in Norway. After reaching the top of the mountain and earning the coveted black t-shirt, she took some time to be with her loved ones before she changed gears and focused back on Ironman training.
Besides having her family in Hawaii, Lisbeth says she is most excited to reunite with the pull apart cinnamon buns at Lava Java.
In the video below, Ali’i Drive: Strength, a number of Ironman triathlon champions discuss what they define as strength, where and who they draw it from, and how they apply it in their own lives. I think it is a great video, and the messages are powerful ones.
Without question, there’s a huge mental component to training and competing. We all know it. The athletes in the video believe as much as 70 or 80% of it is mental. Meredith Kessler quips as she points to her head and then to her body, “If the upstairs doesn’t match the downstairs, it’s almost impossible to prevail in a race.” Personally, I’m not sure what the breakdown is of physical vs. mental, but I do know that when we race, the fitness has to be total if we’re going to achieve what we seek to achieve. Sometimes the hardest thing to do “mentally” is to be willing to step back and take a close look at ourselves. Are we truly all we believe we are? Can we be even better? Sometimes the effort to push oneself in training is relatively easy compared to the effort required to look straight into the mirror.
Similarly, there is no question the drive to excel and the fortitude to do the “little things,” as Craig Alexander alludes to, is huge. Learning to handle the discomfort associated with going “to the well,” is very much a mental piece. Embracing that discomfort, as Macca tells us, helps unite us and make us who we are.
Let’s talk today about fast athletes. They are the speediest competitors who wow many of us with their superior athletic performances–triathletes who race Ironman in 10 hours or less, runners who break 40 minutes in a local 10K, and marathoners who complete the distance in well under 3 hours. These athletes are gifted, no doubt. Much of that gift lies in winning a genetic lottery that endowed them with a Mack truck like engine that is often housed in a Volkswagen body.
In my work as a coach and as a movement and strength expert, I look at these fast competitors a little differently. And I have some questions. The first among them is…
Where is the speed coming from?
What do I mean?
If a very fast athlete is relying solely on their genetic gift of being able to consume tons of oxygen and race very quickly because of that engine, but they ARE NOT MOVING WELL, are not strong, and present with some level of dysfunction and compensation, I contend they are NOT PERFORMING AT THEIR ULTIMATE POTENTIAL.
That’s right. If a nine hour Ironman finisher comes into out gait analysis lab and presents with dysfunction and compensation in their movement patterns, has little demonstrable functional strength, I say that same athlete can go A LOT FASTER. I would bet they could go 8:30, maybe even faster! But without a frame that is truly functionally strong and built under the umbrella of quality movement, the chassis of this gifted athlete will absolutely break down. Top performers often compensate better and can perform with dysfunction for longer than athletes with fewer natural gifts, but injury is in the offing. Once the chassis is in pieces, the athlete’s enormous engine will no longer be able to apply the same force to the ground or the pedal stroke. When that inevitably happens, what you see is those fast times ebb, plateaus begin to set in, and predictable injuries start to creep in, first as a minor “tweak” or niggle, and soon as outright pain. Longevity in the sport rapidly declines. Athletes of all abilities seem to accept this as inevitable and normal. It is neither.
By contrast, if an athlete with a much smaller engine and much less innate natural speed and talent moves well and stays on top of that quality movement to eliminate dysfunction and compensation while becoming more functionally strong, stable, and balanced, that athlete can get better and better over the track of many years. The fast athlete can do the same, but often feel they are already at the pointy edge of their ability when, in fact, there is room for continued significant improvement.
Of course there is a limit to how fast any athlete can go. Improvement is never infinite. But I believe most athletes, even the most gifted among us, sell themselves short. At the end of the day, what I ask to myself is, how much faster can that athlete be?
So to all athletes–including the fastest among us–I say this…
Take the time to learn what it takes to unlock true speed and powerful performance. You can begin your study with our free ebook, Unleash Your Potential 101. Invest in a gait analysis by a reputable provider, then commit to their prescription for better movement quality and functional strength development. Understand worn out, destructive training paradigms. Find a coach who will properly design progressive, challenging, and effective training–but with a focus on health, durability, and results over the long term.
By taking the steps outlined above ANY athlete–whether Kona bound or at the back of the pack–can experience the thrill of athletic triumph far longer than they ever dreamed possible.
Today’s blog post is, I believe, the most important one I have done to date.
Coach Al Lyman, CSCS, FMS, HKS
The video below not only elucidates the passion my partner Dr. Kurt Strecker and I share in the tenets at the core of Pursuit Athletic Performance, but it also gives you a look at how that philosophy formed the foundation of the coaching program I put together for Lisbeth Kenyon’s training for Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. Lisbeth had an amazing result at the world’s most difficult long course race coming in 3rd woman overall, and together with the first two finishers, smashing the existing course record. I am getting a lot of questions about how she trained.
Lisbeth Kenyon at the finish of the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon
There are four principles I talk about in the video that are, in my opinion, the cornerstones of effective, results-oriented training. These four keys are at the basis of the coaching program I design for EVERY athlete, Lis included.
1. Movement Quality First
This is the baseline for EVERYTHING–your training, your racing, getting faster, unlocking your true potential, and reaching your goals. It is the reason for our gait analysis system, and why all of our athletes undergo the process. (If you want to know more, I gave an entire lecture on the topic of “Quality Movement First” that you can download here. )
2. Quality over Quantity
Training is more than just going “hard,” or “hard before long,” or any other coaching catch phrase out there today. It’s also not about maxing out “training load,” but, rather, it’s about building your work capacity under the auspices of quality movement. If that’s not the focus or the strategy of the training you do, you will be forever limited in your development. That’s just the simple, hard truth.
3. Strength, Strength, Strength
Looking for a magic bullet? Strength is it. True functional strength designed to shore up YOUR personal weaknesses and compensations is not just something “nice” to have. It is truly the foundation for all athletic accomplishment, regardless of your ability or your sport. We created the image posted here to bring attention to the widely-accepted belief that we need to run to get in shape. Actually, the truth is just the reverse. You need to get in shape–and get strong–to run. Strength is the limiter for any athlete in any sport, and the most important determining factor for your success.
4. There Is No Short Cut–No Easy Way
There are no special shoes, no magic workouts, no short cuts that lead you to outstanding achievement. Unlocking your personal athletic potential must be done from the inside out–you can’t impose it from the outside in. Lis understood this on a cellular level. It’s not always fun or sexy to work on the fundamentals and skill development, but it always circles back to the basics when striving to reach one’s potential.
It truly is an incredible honor to coach Lisbeth Kenyon. It is humbling to have an athlete of Lis’s caliber believe in our philosophy, put her trust in it, wrap her arms around it, and then work very, very hard on the training prescribed for her. The victory at Norseman is surely all hers. Lis’s result is a testament to her talent, physical and mental toughness, and unwavering dedication.
But Lis is YOU. That’s right, the fundamentals that I talk about here are essential for ANY athlete no matter your ability, experience level, your age, or your sport. At Pursuit Athletic Performance we see the four principles outlined above take athletes to levels of performance they never thought possible. Hope this video is helpful to you.
Train strong, train smart,
P.S. A great photo album of Lis’s day on the race course can be seen here.
Norseman Series: Coach Al’s Debrief: Four Principles Guiding Lisbeth Kenyon’s Training for Norseman Xtreme Triathlon can be accessed here.
Pursuit athlete Lisbeth Kenyon shared some of the photos taken during her race at the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon on Sunday, August 5 in Eidfjord, Norway. I think you will enjoy them.
Lisbeth had an outstanding day racing in the most challenging long course triathlon on the planet. She was third woman overall, finishing in 12:47:42, and together with the first two women finishers, demolished the existing course record. Needless to say, we are still on cloud nine–so happy for, and so proud of her.
These photos also give a glimpse into the kind of athlete she is to coach–upbeat, funny, and very, very determined!
3:15 am! Lis readies to board the ferry that takes the athletes to the swim start. Athletes jump off the ferry deck into the Hardangerfjord when it is barely light for an in-water start. The water temperature during the 2.4 mile swim was 56F. “Not bad at all,” Lis said, “someone smart told me being cold is just in your head, and he was right.”
Said Lis, and I quote, “Too late for regrets.”
The end of the swim in the Hardangerfjord.
The bike is 112 miles from Eidfjord to Austbygde. The race organizers warn, “Don’t push too hard during the first 40 kilometers.” The first hill takes you from zero to 1,250 meters above sea level. The ride wends through the Hardanger mountain plateau before the riders hit 45 kilometers of steep climbs and descents. The last climb is up the “Imingfjell” mountain, peaking at 1,200 meters above sea level, the steepest part of the bike leg. A 30 kilometer descent brings the athlete down to T2.
Said Lis, “I rode through all kinds of weather and temperatures ranging from pelting rain and bone-chilling cold to pleasant, sunny sections.”
Climbing is the word for the Norseman marathon. After 25 kilometers the steep hills begin featuring a 10.5 mile climb.
Always full of spirit, she says, “If you can’t cry, you might as well smile!”
Says husband Todd Kenyon of TTBikeFit–”Norseman run…this pic says it all: 23k into run, and the massive Gaustatoppen looms over a tiny Lisbeth. She/we are headed to the very top edge of picture over the next 19k – a mile vertical.
4752 meters from the top. ‘Nuff said.
“The mountain is not really a mountain, but more of a pile of rocks,” says the race manual. But the path is steep and difficult, and competitors are not allowed to walk this part alone. It takes the average competitor about 1 hour and 20 minutes to make it to the finish line from entry of the Gaustatoppen.
“An unbelievable journey,” says Lis. There is no doubt about that!
So what could possibly be next, you wonder? Lis will continue her incredible race year defending her age group title and course record at the Ironman World Championship in Kona on October 13. Stay tuned!
We at Pursuit Athletic Performance are very proud to share this story of our client, triathlete Susan Ford, who will be racing the Ironman in Kona this October! The Ironman website featured a great article about Susan, a 15-time Ironman competitor, who was chosen to receive a Kona “Legacy” slot for the race.
The Legacy program is new, and is designed for athletes who have raced 12 or more IRONMAN races over the years–”These athletes make up an important part of Ironman culture; though they may not be fast enough to officially qualify for the marquee event, their dedication to IRONMAN was worth acknowledging with a chance to race on the historic course.”
You can read about Susan, her history, and her training here.
Susan also gave Pursuit and Coach Al a nice shout out in the piece saying, “I’m coached by Al Lyman at Pursuit Athletic Performance. He has helped me make enormous gains in my performance and ability to resist injury.”
Said Coach Al, “No one is more dedicated or works harder than Susan. I am looking forward to seeing her through her training, getting her stronger and faster still, and cheering as she fulfills her dream of racing in Kona.”
One of our clients, and a triathlete I coach, had a terrific day at Ironman Coeur d’Alene on June 24. Her super finish is all the more sweet when you consider that she came to us last winter a seriously BROKEN athlete. For the previous few years she had followed a training plan that focuses on daily intensity, actively discourages athletes from strength work, and promotes a “just train more” philosophy. Like most athletes, our triathlete did OK for a while on this kind of plan, putting up gains and getting faster.
But then the inevitable kicked in.
Without proper strength, stability, mobility, flexibility to support ANY kind of training–much less the kind of program she was on–our athlete fell apart. She could not absorb the training, she was not recovering, and her times got slower. End result? Injury. (Unfortunately, we see this scenario in our Gait Analysis Lab every day.)
Our triathlete came to us for a gait analysis last winter. Through our findings, we went to work to rebuild her, and then train her hard, but sensibly, for her Ironman. She took our work together seriously. As the months passed her body became functionally strong, durable, and resilient. She was able to train with appropriate intensity, absorb the training, and recover. She made serious gains in power and speed. And as we said, she had a great Ironman race day.
But take a look at how she feels now, only a few days out from the race:
“I have to say that this has been my must amazing post race ever. I was walking and sitting yesterday like it was 2 or 3 days post marathon. Unbelievable. It’s strange, every time I sit or stand I brace myself for pain but it isn’t there. I guess this is what being healthy, balanced, and functionally strong is all about! Essentially pain free post IM. Un-frickin-believable!”
This athlete emailed me to ask WHY she felt so good? Here the reasons, all of which are very obvious to me.
1. She was not remotely injured going into the race.
2. She was and is stronger than she has ever been. Hence, her body was able to deal with the stress of race day much more easily.
3. She was more balanced and more “fit” in a holistic sense, than ever before.
4. For the first time, she went into a race with a training plan that was designed to bring her fitness along smartly, rather than destroy her into injury and poor health submission.
My partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, and I are thrilled for this client. We know how far she has come from the broken athlete that walked into our Gait Analysis Lab last winter. As her coach, I am thrilled at where she is at this point in time. Now, FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME, she can now unleash and get faster. Why?
Strength, stability, muscular balance, and good health are the basis for a training program designed to get you fast. That’s right, it’s not punishing intensity or the latest-and-greatest secret-sauce training. Movement quality FIRST is the only way to get fast, stay fast, and get faster over time.
It’s like we tell athletes all the time, when your body is working as it should, it will race well AND also recover quickly and completely. It’s how our athletes race again and again, year after year.
We wish every competitor, from Ironman to 5K runner, the same sense of accomplishment and good health our triathlete here is experiencing. She has a heck of a post-Ironman glow, and we are so happy for her