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.
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.
As some of you know, I coach Lisbeth Kenyon, the reigning Ironman Triathlon Age Group Champion (40-44 and 45-49), and she has quite a race coming up this weekend! Lisbeth’s “A” race for the season is the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. Norseman is arguably the hardest single day race on the planet, and certainly the hardest long course triathlon. If you are a triathlete or a fan of the sport and are not familiar with Norseman, check out the video links below. Just watching the athletes jump into a 15? C fjord when the sun is not yet up is epic! Here’s the description of the race from the website:
Norseman is the world’s toughest long-distance distance triathlon. It is also the most northern, taking place at the same latitude as Anchorage in Alaska. The race is a travel through some of the most beautiful parts of Norway. It is not a normal circuit-race as it starts in a fjord and finishes at mountain Gaustatoppen at 1,850 meters above sea level. Total ascent is 5,000 meters. The water temperature is normally about 15.5 degrees C, and the air temperature normally ranges from 6 to 28 degrees C through the race day. The first about 160 participants are expected to be allowed to finish at the top of the mountain. The others are allowed to finish at the mountain plateau.
The race is limited to only 240 competitors. The competitors need to bring their own support. Normally about 45% of the participants are non-Norwegians and about 15% are female. The prize to the winner is the same as to the last to finish at the top of the mountain; a fabulous black t-shirt. Norseman is the race any hard core triathlete should do once in a lifetime.The male record holder is Bjorn Andersson (Sweden). He hit a snowstorm at mountain Gaustatoppen, but still finished at 10:30 in 2005. The female record holder is Susanne Buckenlei (Germany) at 13:13 in 2010.”
Bjorn Andersson’s record time of 10:30 gives an instant sense of how hard this race is! Bjorn is normally a ~8:30-9 hr IM finisher, and one of the strongest cyclists in all of triathlon.
Lis is in Norway doing a great deal of course reconnaissance and prep before her race on Sunday. We wish Lis the all of the good fortune and luck that is possible for any one person to have! No one deserves the race gods on their side more than she. We’ll let you know how the race turns out for her too!
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
I thought I’d share with all of you an exchange I had on Facebook that drew a bit of interest.
Susan Ford, one of the triathletes I coach, is inspiring in her unending quest to be a better athlete and to achieve her ultimate goal of qualifying for the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona. She posted a question on Facebook, hoping her friends would chime in with wisdom that would help her answer THE dilemma…
I am looking for ways to be better than my best. – Susan Ford
I read through the litany of responses from her friends, and was fascinated to read what had been posted. “Try P90x.” “Dig deeper.” Someone in the same frame of mind wrote amusingly, “Let me know when you find the answer.” At the end of a long string of responses I posted, “Interesting.” Of course, Susan pounced on that asking, “Give me your thoughts, Coach!”
So here are my thoughts, expressed in an open letter on Susan’s timeline, on reaching goals, dreams, and the next level in our “personal best.”
I hope you and your friends find something of value in my comments, as all of us embark on what Joseph Campbell calls the “hero’s journey.” Yes, I did find all the comments quite interesting. Susan, you work very hard, certainly as hard–or harder–than many athletes out there with whom you’re competing for a coveted Hawaii slot.
That being said, allow me to share what I believe works best when striving to attain the ultimate in our personal athletic potential, and what is a fool’s errand. Trying a fad training program that is sold to gullible masses as some kind of magical “workout” designed–not to create better athletes–but to carve a “six pack” so you like yourself when you look in the mirror, is NOT the answer. In fact, a particular exercise, workout, or piece of equipment, ISN’T the answer. “Digging deeper,” and gritting your teeth while you “dig,” in and of itself doesn’t work either, in my humble opinion. What these programs and platitudes offer are empty promises of ways to short circuit the “grind.” The process. And in my experience, that never works, especially not over the long term. Put another way, while it might sound like a great way to show our “toughness” and desire, hollow promises like “just train more” and “push through the pain” simply cause us to be impatient, as we seek easier or “better” ways to achieve our goals.
Unfortunately–or fortunately, depending how you look at it–it takes a long time to get good in the sport of triathlon. We are all unique, and we ALL have our own unique adaptive abilities–and we are not in control of these abilities, as hard as that is to accept sometimes. Rather than pressing on the gas pedal HARDER and driving yourself more, please think about taking a step back and looking for ways to take your foot off the brake instead. Try to find ways to more deeply enjoy the process–the grind–by first, not looking beyond the task at hand. Take your eyes OFF the results you’re seeking, as hard as it is to do, and become completely present in the “now.” Look for additional ways to balance your life away from the sport. Then, what might be the hardest thing of all, ACCEPT that IF you continue to train smart, work hard, recover harder, and stay the course, you will get where you want to go. You absolutely will.
Of course, the “problem” is that we don’t get to hand pick when goals are reached, or when breakthrough races occur. Life isn’t like that. Mental toughness isn’t only about gritting your teeth and hammering more. It is, on the other hand, very much about learning patience, being present, and not looking for any specific result from the process–with one exception, to do as well as you can each day, and then move on. Know, and believe that over time, the process WILL bear the fruit of the work, dedication, trust, and acceptance accorded to it.
It may be clich?, but learn to smell the roses more. Enjoy the grind. Be present. Be completely open to learning every day, about yourself and about the sport. Accept that you CANNOT control the results of what you do, despite your desire to do so. But you can control how you train, and your attitude toward that effort. And while working very hard, and recovering as hard as you work, let go, and let everything else take care of itself.
Pain in the joints or muscles when exercising is normal.
Being “tough” and training through pain or injury is sometimes necessary, and should be considered a source of pride.
Strength training is not necessary for runners or triathletes.
Stretching should not be targeted to particular areas. One must stretch the whole body in order to be healthy and receive the benefits of the stretching.
The way to get faster and improve future performance potential is to keep increasing volume and intensity.
The way your body moves has no bearing on my training or performance.
I want to to share with you today some thoughts on the challenge of changing beliefs and perceptions in athletes. It’s a view from my side of the fence, the perspective of a long-time coach who has dedicated many, many years to studying movement and the powerful roles strength, stability, mobility, and flexibility play in unlocking ultimate athletic potential.
There is no doubt that some of you reading the statements above think many, or all of them, are “true.” In fact, from my point of view–and the view of renowned athletic movement experts–NONE of them are true. They are but a few examples of harmful and erroneous notions that have deep roots in the minds of most athletes.
Every day at Pursuit Athletic Performance (PAP), my partner, Dr. Kurt Strecker, and I face the challenge of helping athletes discard commonly-held beliefs about training that are injurious and destructive. We ask athletes to open their minds, and let go of outdated and disproved ideas about what it takes to excel in sport.
Our message is a simple one, and it is this:
If you want to perform better, get faster, avoid or recover from injury, have longevity in sport, and have a healthier quality of life you must FIRST restore or develop MUSCULAR BALANCE, and THEN GET STRONG, STABLE, MOBILE, AND FLEXIBLE! Period. You MUST make your body MOVE like a champion athlete, authentically! That quality movement MUST COME FIRST before serious sport-specific training can then take you to the zenith of your potential.
One thing I know for certain: movement patterns filled with compensations lead to dysfunction, and dysfunction absolutely destroys the potential to train and race fast. I have dedicated my coaching car1eer to helping athletes learn this life-altering truth, and break free from perceptions that undermine their true abilities and push attainable goals out of reach It is, however, not an easy task to upend the beliefs athletes consider gospel. It demands a paradigm shift. Some get it, some don’t.
We have clients who, when introduced to the power of authentic movement, “get it” right away. The light bulb goes off and they understand they too can train like a champion. How? It sure isn’t about racking up the miles. These smart athletes learn that they can build strength, balance, and stability INTO THEIR BODIES to MOVE LIKE A CHAMPION. Sure, they know they will never be as fast as a Kenyan, but they understand how their own body can work like a champion’s body. They experience how a foundation of strength, stability and balance produces power and speed within them, just as it does for Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington or Boston Marathon winner Geoffrey Mutai. Those who “get it,” and “own” authentic movement are the PAP athletes who do amazing things they never dreamed possible like getting to Kona, or making that Boston marathon qualifying time. These same athletes never bother to look back and revisit their old beliefs and perceptions.
The uphill battle begins when an athlete is unshakably wedded to training messages that are just plain wrong. Competitors have long been served “easy fixes” that are readily swallowed. How many of you have bought shoes that promise biomechanical nirvana? How many of you have deliberately tried to change your running stride? Did any of it work over the long term? Of course not.
Most athletes still believe breakthroughs in performance come from changes you make on the outside. Sorry, folks, but that simply wastes your time, energy, and money. The missing link is this: Better performance and faster racing is built from the INSIDE OUT.
At Pursuit Athletic Performance we don’t worry about getting athletes faster and stronger. We can do that without question whether you are an elite racer or a novice. It is our ULTIMATE GOAL that proves our greatest challenge–to teach all athletes the essential role of authentic movement in athletic pursuit. The plain, yet simple truth is if you are not strong, stable, and balanced ON THE INSIDE, you will NEVER manifest your goals and dreams on the outside. It is sometimes not an easy lesson for us to teach, but when we are successful, it is incredibly rewarding for us and athlete alike.