Archive for Musings on Training

Are you helping or hurting your chance for a great race with your pre-race meal?

I've seen it happen so often over the years - you've trained hard for weeks and months, doing everything you can to be ready to have a great race. And then your stomach goes south - at the worst possible time during the race.  It sucks when that happens. There's nothing more frustrating.

Gastrointestinal intestinal (GI) distress has ruined more than a few race days for some otherwise very fit, very prepared athletes. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter how fit you are...if you are having GI issues, you know? You can't race to the max if you're sick, nauseous, or vomiting.

The first step in fixing problems is to accept that most races are, first and foremost, "eating and drinking contests."


It matters what you eat before a race...

I shot a 10-minute video (with a somewhat gross demo - sorry!) to discuss what I see is perhaps the most common mistake a triathlete or runner can make with their pre-race meal. Click on my picture to the left to check it out.

What are some of the important take home messages?

* Eat your pre-race meal at least 3 hours before race start.
* Make sure you eat simple, easily digestible foods which you've practiced eating prior to training sessions.
* Avoid taking in any calories between the meal and the start of the race. (Do continue to hydrate).
* Less is more - be kind to your stomach.

If you're racing this weekend, good luck and have fun! (And eat early and light!) 🙂

    Train (and eat) smart!

    To your success,
    ~Al

    Triathletes: Have We Needlessly Overcomplicated Training Intensity?

    "K.I.S.S."  - Just about every experienced smart person ever 

    Back in the late 90s, in my very early days as a triathlete, I worked with Coach Troy Jacobson. Troy taught me a lot about how to train. One of my earliest “lessons” came when I went to one of his (well-known at the time) weekend triathlon workshops in Baltimore. The weekend began with a Friday evening gathering. It started out friendly enough - you know, the usual (slightly forced) smiles, hand shakes, and nervous chatter.

    Not long into our evening however, things started to get serious. “Up on the wall,” he said - for a winner take all, wall-sit. His intent was clear: to find out who was REALLY serious about improving - who was willing to suffer and hang on until no one else was left.  (I managed to be the last one "sitting" that night on the wall. Somehow. I mean, you know….he didn't know me. And since I’d recently hired him as a coach, I wasn’t about to give in or give up. He needed to see I was ready to get to work to do whatever it was going to take).

    The fun got even more serious the next day when Troy led our group out to a rather “famous” hill (to his previous campers and the local riders) for some all-out, no holds barred, bike hill repeats. It was a massively steep hill that was about 200-300 yards long. It’s all a little bit of a blur as I look back, but I have vivid memories of three things (beyond that I suffered immeasurably):

    The first was Troy speaking to the group beforehand with a very serious tone – everyone was nervously staring as he said “your goal today is to go as hard as you can up the hill, in the biggest gear you can turn, and then turn around and get down as fast as possible so you can do it again. Keep going until you can’t go anymore.” Naturally there were a lot of nervous laughs in the group – everyone knew ahead of time what was in store. There was no hiding.

    The second thing I remember was him riding alongside of me up the hill literally screaming at the top of his lungs for me to go harder. And I mean screaming. No mercy. He spent his time during the repeats, circling up and down the hill encouraging all of the riders. (It’s worth noting that at the time, Troy was the top amateur at Ironman Hawaii and one of the best long course triathletes in the country; he'd soon become the half-iron national champ. And his strength as a triathlete was cycling. Bottom line, the guy was fit and could ride!).

    Not that it matters to this blog post, but I was the last one left that day.

    So what was the third thing I remember? He gathered the group together afterward and congratulated everyone, then looked at me with a grin and said, “well, Al, I guess there are some hills up in Connecticut, huh?”


    Learning How To Train

    That weekend taught me a lot about what it meant to go HARD. But that’s not all I learned. It also taught me about what it meant to go very easy, too.

    You see, Troy had 28+ mph half-iron bike speed in his legs, but despite that bike strength, he’d also be very comfortable in an easy ride situation averaging 15 mph or so. On a flat road no less. We had the occasion every so often to do these kinds of rides together in those early years, during which we discussed how important it was to keep it easy in those kinds of situations. In other words, he knew when it was time to keep it EASY and was very willing to do it.  He didn't let ego lure him into a too hard effort. And similarly he also knew when it was time to go HARD. He taught me the difference between the two, in real time.

    The same lessons were emphasized in running. And in the pool.

    Differentiating intensity. Making sure easy was easy. And making sure hard was….well…VERY hard.  Not just giving the concept lip service, but actually putting it into action on a daily basis.

    Of course, I’d learned the value of differentiating intensity and effort from my competitive running years much earlier. The difference with triathlon is important though – with a higher overall workload with more training hours and more skills to develop, the risk of training at the wrong intensity carries with it greater consequences: Over-training, staleness, injury, and sub-par race day performances, to name a few. All of which leads me to the title of this post:

    Have we made training intensity too complicated? 

    Troy had a very simple system for setting up heart rate and RPE based training zones. He used the simplest possible approach, using basic colors we're all familiar with to represent THREE different intensities.

    • Blue was aerobic (which is easier than most endurance athletes think!).
    • Red was HARD (which I’d guess many have never really experienced in the way I did on that hill).
    • Gray was the dreaded "no-go" zone in between the two.

    You're Getting Tired, But Are You Improving?

    He and I discussed this gray zone quite a bit. This is the intensity you generally want to avoid like the plague. It’s the intensity that will tire you out and that feeds your ego, giving a short-term ego boost, but in the long run (no pun intended), isn't likely to help you reach a new, higher level of fitness and performance.

    Here's a couple of examples:  (You'll have to adjust pace based on your own fitness level right now - regardless, I hope you get the point).

    • How about going out and running a 5k race and averaging a 7-minute per mile pace. Then going out in training and doing the majority of your “aerobic” running at around 8:30 pace.  Assuming that 7-min average was on a fair course and your best effort, your true z2 pace is much closer to 9:00 (or slower), than to 8:30.
    • What about going out for a group ride on a course you know you could honestly ride at ~16 to 17mph average speed and have it be truly, comfortably “aerobic,” yet the group you join has some stronger riders with egos (doesn’t every group?) so you work hard to hang on the back of the group and end up averaging 18 or 19mph for the ride. Sounds like you’d improve from that, right? I mean, you worked very hard, right?

    I think it's fair to say you deserve some kudos for hanging on. You certainly went hard enough to tire yourself out. But the really important question to ask in my opinion is, did you go hard enough to truly lift your fitness to a new level after some recovery? I'd bet my wallet that Troy would say no. And I’d agree with him.

    So what are a few of the most common training errors I see that are related?

    • You could guess this one: turning “aerobic” z2, into semi “tempo” or moderately hard.  (Ego, ego, blah, blah)
    • Not making easy z1, easy enough.
    • Not taking time to warm up into sessions from the start. Your first mile should be your slowest, most of the time. (The exception might be a “race specific” session where you’re working on a specific skill or ability that dictates you go harder from the beginning).
    • Letting ego or your training group dictate how you train.
    • Not running or pedaling or stroking easily enough during "recovery" intervals that separate "work" intervals.

    Most folks will read this and nod their heads. “Yup, I guess that makes sense.” But very honestly, most will only give it lip service in the heat of the moment, because egos are powerful! 😊


    Troy was one of the best triathletes in the country at the time I worked with him and he ended up giving me my start as a coach when he created the Triathlon Academy. He's one of so many that have taught me so much along the way.

    Above all else though, he reinforced in me a concept that I’ve repeated a thousand times to others as a coach:

    The hard days should be easy, and the easy days should be hard.

    In other words, when you train easily on the days you should, you’re actively resting and preparing for the next hard effort, when you’ll be ready to go, precisely BECAUSE you didn’t go semi-hard the day before.

    Similarly, after a truly hard day (like it was for me on that hill), you’ll be forced to go easily the day after. And because of the effort you expended, that “easy” session will actually feel hard. You’ll run “slow,” pedal “slow” and feel like you’re moving through molasses.

    All you need is some smart recovery and you’re ready to get back after it, bringing everything you’ve got and getting every ounce of benefit out of the session in the process.


    Sometimes Simpler IS Better

    Despite all the cutting-edge graphics and charts on platforms like Training Peaks and others, all of the discussion among coaches and athletes about TSS (Training Stress Score) and the detailed zones courtesy of Andy Coggan et all, the reality is...some things don't change as much as we might thing, as time goes on. And sometimes, simpler is better.

    Blue is blue. Red is red. Gray is gray.

    The take home? Spend most of your time being blue. When you are red, you should be ready to rock, so don't hold back. And, avoid the gray as much as you can.

    Train smart!

    To your success,
    ~Al

    Rock Your Wall!

     

     

    I love the analogy of building a wall when it comes to how we should build our fitness, don't you?

    In some important ways, our body is a lot like a house...

    If you're going to age gracefully and remain durable as you prepare for your races this coming season, you'd be smart to remember that you need to build your own "athletic" foundation, similar to your home's foundation.

    Think about it...if you're driving down the road and you see a house that is leaning off to the side with a crumbling foundation, you sure wouldn't want to buy that house, would you?

    Even though you and I would desperately LIKE to be able to, we can't build true ironman, marathon, or ultra-running fitness by just saying it, OR by taking it ALL in one bite. Just as Will said, we need to start by laying that brick, one at a time, as perfectly as we can, day after day after day.

    If we do it right, soon we'll have that great foundation - one that is stable and straight and strong and that will support OUR "house" in any kind of wind, or more specifically, as the weeks, months, and miles add up!

    Which brings me to the main message in today's blog post:

    Any smart season-long training plan and progression BEGINS by:

    1. Restoring health and balance and fundamental movement quality, and then...
    2. Establishing a solid foundation that will support all the training that is to come. 

    At Pursuit Athletic Performance, we call this first training phase, Restoration and Foundation.

    So what's YOUR story?

    During this time period, it's about learning as much as you can about your body - it's about self-discovery, from a movement point of view - learning your "story" as an athlete. That might sound a little strange but as a coach, I can't express just how important it is.

    Try on some of these questions to get to the heart of who you are as an athlete:

    • Where do you feel tight? Why?
    • Where do you feel weak? Why?
    • Are you routinely fighting some kind of virus? If so, why?
    • Do you struggle frequently with constant nagging pain or injuries? If so, why?
    • Are you a strong, fatigue-resistant swimmer or a weak, slow swimmer? If you're a weaker swimmer, why?
    • Are you a strong cyclist who can climb with ease, or do you struggle to push a larger gear? If you struggle to push that larger gear, why?
    • Are you a strong, durable runner or would you consider yourself injury prone? If you're not durable, then why?
    • When you get tired out on the race course or during long training sessions, do you struggle to maintain efficient form?

    Now if your house is about to blow over in the wind, or if that foundation is crumbling and starting to show some cracks...well then, the color of your window shades doesn't matter very much, ya know?

    Your body and your fitness are the exact same thing. 

    Get started NOW. Answer the questions and take action, and you'll be on your way to building the biggest, baddest, greatest, fitness "wall" that has ever been built!  It won't happen any other way.

    As always, if you have questions, leave a comment of email me directly and let me know. I'm here to help.

    To your success!
    ~Coach Al

     

    The Truth About Staying Young

     

    If there's one thing that came through loud and clear from a survey I sent out a few weeks ago to the athletes on our email list, it's that a lot of runners and triathletes are worried about losing fitness and their ability to "play" as they get older. They're worried about injury, too, particularly aging related injury.  Reading some of the responses made me think of that old saying, "Father Time always wins." UGH.

    Do these worries ever trickle into your head and keep you up at night?

    It doesn't have to be that way. In fact, although Father Time ultmately wins, I believe that we CAN race him toe for toe until the very late stages of our lives. The key is the right kind of approach to training (and a little bit of luck!).

    Ask yourself this question: When it comes to your body, what is the ONE thing you've lost (besides your hair!) 🙂 as you've gotten older?

    If you're like me and most others, you'll agree it's the ability to move freely and easily without any kind of restriction...just like you used to when you were a kid.

    Simply put, what we most lose is mobility. 

    The effects of aging (along with piling up the miles) are tighter, shorter, and stiffer muscles, connective tissue, and joints. What used to be SO easy to do, like squatting down to the floor to pick something up, suddenly and exasperatingly becomes much harder.

    That tightness and stiffness makes us much more prone to injury, too. Unfortunately, our body and its tissues become like that cracked and dried out elastic band you took out of your junk drawer that broke as soon as you stretched it.

    Losing speed? Take the brakes off...

    If your goal is to go FASTER, lost mobility really hurts that too! Think about sticking brake pads on your bike's wheel - makes it a lot harder to pedal and slows you down, doesn't it?

    While no one can truly beat Father Time, the secret to staying younger and feeling better as you age, is simple. Not necessarily EASY mind you, but it is simple.

    The secret is to HOLD ONTO that youthful mobility (if you have it), or if you've lost it, do what's required to get it back!

    To that end, today I'm sharing a video with you that I know is going to help. This video shows you a simple movement that you can use to both assess your present level of mobility as well as how to get back on the path to restoring it, if you've lost it.

     

    Click on the image to see the video

    Click on the image to see the video

    We may not be able to literally turn back the clock...but we don't have to act our age either! We can look AND feel younger than ever if we're willing to commit and do what is required.

    Do you want that bad enough?

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: I almost forgot: Here are some important TIPS on how to get the most from using this video and practicing this movement.

    Start by asking yourself this important question: Where is your primary limiter?

    Are you unable to keep your feet completely and totally flat? Are you able to easily keep your chest up and maintain a nice long spine, or are you hunched forward? Are you fairly comfortable, or the reverse -  just plain unhappy down there?  These are the critical questions to ask, for starters....

    So what to do next?

    Follow my guidance on the video and get started NOW.

    Remember what well known strength coach and mentor, Dan John, and others have said: "if it's important, do it every day."

    Here are some tips that reinforce what I share on the video:

    • Do these barefooted, or if foot protection is necessary for you for whatever reason, use minimalist shoes that do not raise your heel.
    • If you're unable to get your feet flat or you're unable to sit up straight, use a light weight to "counter" balance. Use the LIGHTEST weight you can get away with. Start with 10 lbs, 20 lbs or 35 lbs.
    • As time goes on, work to reduce the need for the weight. You'll do that by increasing your calf length/ankle mobility, and hip mobility, as well as improving t-spine mobility.
    • You could also place a small book or 2x4 type support under your heels to start off with, if you're unable to achieve good posture without it. Make it your goal to remove the need for it with diligent practice, stretching, and dogged determination!

    When you can DEEP SQUAT comfortably and without the aid of any device, you'll see a concurrent improvement in your running comfort, and overall athleticism. You'll feel great!!!

    Enjoy, and oh yeah, please send me some pictures of your BEFORE/AFTER progress!!

    PSS: If you can do this movement really easily, then mobility isn't YOUR limiter. But stability and strength might be....

     

    No One Wants To See How The Sausage Is Made

     

    "That which is easy to do, is also easy not to do." - Jim Rohn


    If I've become known for one thing more than any other, it's speaking the truth.  No, I'm not always right, but I do care. And because of that, I'm always going to be straight with you and tell it as I see it. Like it or hate it, it's what you get from me.

    Now listen, I know that's not popular these days. People don't want to hear the truth, especially when it comes to building that fitness "wall" one brick at a time, or mastering the basics and fundamentals first.

    No one wants to see how the sausage is made... 

    Folks want cheering and applause, pats on the back, smiles and rah-rah.

    Now that's all fine, don't get me wrong.  When it's truly deserved, that is. When it's EARNED.

    Are You Bored?

    I went to a National Strength and Conditioning Association coach's clinic last weekend. During a panel discussion, a presenter chimed in and said something that did NOT go over well with the group. I found it fascinating.

    The guy who spoke up is a successful trainer. He was talking about how he’s recently had to change the way he does things. He said he's been forced to cave-in to the wishes of many of his clients, taking them beyond what they're really ready for at any given point in time. His words: "More of them are now routinely scouring Youtube videos - if I don't give them what they want, they get bored and move on."

    All I can say to that is...wow.

    No one wants to see how the sausage is made... 

     

    Are You Self Sabotaging?

    A benefit of having been a long time coach is recognizing trends that are typical for developing athletes, whether they are the novice, weekend warrior, or experienced pro.

    One of the most common things I see (is it human nature?) is the tendency to self-sabotage the potential for massive long-term improvement in order to reach short term gain.  

    A perfect example is the triathlete who fails to really focus on technique, instead choosing to log more yardage in order to build swim “fitness.”  Once you know you can FINISH the swim leg (especially with the aid of your wetsuit), why not decide to work relentlessly on the one thing that will make the greatest impact on how good you can be?  (Which is skill and technique!)

    Whether you're nodding your head in agreement or not, if you're like most, you'll forsake that advice and just go swim, mile upon mile, grooving poor skills and trashing your shoulders in the process.

    And if you're like many others, when you finally do decide that your skills are subpar, you’ll be faced with the fact that you’ve now hard-wired that poor form to the point where change is nearly impossible to achieve. 

    No one wants to see how the sausage is made...

    Want some other examples of how impatient athletes short circuit their potential for massive long term gains?

    • Building running mileage with the primary goal being an impressive running log, without first identifying imbalances and weaknesses in the body and addressing them head-on.
    • Signing up for long course races (70.3 or 140.6) without first developing a solid foundation of fundamental skills and experience at the shorter distances.
    • Spending $5,000 or more on a state-of-the-art triathlon bike before even owning a road or mountain bike or possessing any basic bike handling skills.

    I know, I know..there are a lot of "reasons" why many athletes approach things this way. I've heard most of them.

    Some feel they need more confidence to just "complete" the distance. Some are fired up by their newfound enthusiasm for the sport, and think they can jump on the "fast track" to improvements in durability and speed.

    I think many take the easy way out by downplaying their own potential for improvement, or sell themselves very short when it comes to how good they can actually be.

    No one wants to see how the sausage is made...

    No one wants to hear the truth...

    So let me ask you, do you REALLY know how good you can be? (Hint: NO, you don't).

    Whether you like it or not, the truth is that YOUR greatest possibilities are built upon a solid foundation, AND mastery of the basics and fundamentals. It takes a long time to truly get good, which is one reason why I encourage folks to really embrace the process and enjoy the journey.

    So who do you want to be? The athlete logging miles to get some additional "confidence,” or the one who is willing to pay their dues to achieve true, long term, massive gains in performance potential?

    It’s up to you.

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: If you aren't one of our email friends, you're missing out. We share a lot of awesome discounts and training information, so sign up if you haven't. Click HERE and as a bonus, you'll get instant access to my 5 TIPS for upgrading your off season NOW!

    Rock Your Wall!

     

    I hope your Tuesday has started off great!

    I sent out an note to our email friends last week that included a reference to a fun Will Smith video. In the email, I shared my SSQ and how important it is to review this past season before moving on to the upcoming season. If you missed that email, here's a link so you can read it in your browser. Check it out - it's VERY cool!

    That email got me thinking about something else Will said that I absolutely love, and that is central to my coaching philosophy. One reason I love it so much? It's one of those quotes that isn't just about training, it has as much value for life in general.

    I love the analogy of building a wall when it comes to how we should build our fitness, don't you?

    Your body is a lot like a house...

    It also reminds me of an analogy my partner, Dr. Strecker, refers to when discussing how we need to build our OWN "athletic" foundation. He says,"if you're driving down the road and you see a house that is leaning off to the side with a crumbling foundation, you sure wouldn't want to buy that house, would you? One big gust of wind and the house might blow right over."

    Even though you and I would desperately LIKE to be able to, we can't build true ironman, marathon, or ultra-running fitness by just saying it, OR by taking it ALL in one bite. Just as Will said, we need to start by laying that brick, one at a time, as perfectly as we can, day after day after day.

    If we do it right, soon we'll have that great foundation - one that is stable and straight and strong and that will support OUR "house" in any kind of wind, or more specifically, as the weeks, months, and miles add up!

    Which brings me to the main message in today's email:

    Any smart season-long training plan and progression BEGINS by:

    1. Restoring health and balance and fundamental movement quality, and then...
    2. Establishing a solid foundation that will support all the training that is to come. 

    At Pursuit Athletic Performance, we call this first training phase, Restoration and Foundation.

    So what's YOUR story?

    During this time period, it's about learning as much as you can about your body - it's about self-discovery, from a movement point of view - learning your "story" as an athlete. That might sound unattainable, but I can't express just how important it is!

    Try on some of these questions to get to the heart of who you are as an athlete:

    • Where are you tight? Why?
    • Where are you weak? Why?
    • Are you often sick? If so, why?
    • Do you struggle frequently with nagging pain or injuries? If so, why?
    • Are you a strong, fatigue-resistant swimmer or a weak, slow swimmer? If you're a weaker swimmer, why?
    • Are you a strong cyclist who can climb with ease, or do you struggle to push a larger gear? If you struggle to push that larger gear, why?
    • Are you a strong, durable runner or are you injury prone? If you're not durable, then why?
    • When you get tired out on the race course or during long training sessions, do you struggle to maintain efficient form?

    Now if your house is about to blow over in the wind, or if that foundation is crumbling and starting to show some cracks, the color of your window shades doesn't matter very much, ya know?

    Your body and your fitness are the exact same thing. 

    Get started NOW. Answer the questions and take action, and you'll be on your way to building the biggest, baddest, greatest, fitness "wall" that has ever been built!  It won't happen any other way.

    (One more thing, if you haven't yet checked out this blog series "Learn How You Move" we did a while back, take a look - it'll be worth your time, trust me).

    As always, if you have questions, leave a comment of email me directly and let me know. I'm here to help.

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: If you aren't one of our email friends, you're missing out. We share a lot of awesome discounts and training information, so sign up if you haven't. Click HERE and as a bonus, you'll get instant access to my 5 TIPS for upgrading your off season NOW!

    PSS: I almost forgot to mention, I just had two coaching slots open up for working with me one on one. If you're interested in learning more, reply to this email and I'll get you some information and a questionnaire. Rock on!

    Should You Take A Break?

     

    Shortly after the 2012 London Olympics, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal outlining how some elite marathoners were planning to take an extended complete break from any kind of training after the race. (A complete break...really?). In that article, one of the world's fastest runners, Bernard Lagat, was quoted as believing that "inactivity was one of the reasons for his success." He said he always "takes the time to be lazy."

    That doesn't sound like the kind of relentless intensity and focus we would expect from a world class runner, does it?

    Does Bernard know something we don't, or is the fact that he is an elite the reason he feels a break is justified?

    What is the right approach for the average age-group athlete who has a job and many other demanding responsibilities on top of training?

    It depends...

    My initial response when an athlete asks me if they should take a break is usually the same: It depends.

    Yes, I know that sounds like the classic "side-step," but honestly, there are a lot of factors that each of us need to consider as we decide how to approach this time of year.  We really are all an experiment of one, and the consequences of our choices will have a huge impact on what's to come.

     

    Be honest: did you drill yourself into exhaustion or are you truly feeling good?

    Recovery and rejuvenation come in many forms and is different for each of us. Stress comes in many forms, too, and depending on our lifestyle, work, and training goals, it can take a huge toll. Some of that stress is good, and some of it isn't so good.

    The serious consequences of week-in, week-out, 3 (or 4) sport training for months on end, combined with busy, high stress lifestyles (and too little sleep) is a deep level of fatigue that for many borders on exhaustion, and in some cases, can paradoxically become addictive.

     

    Consistency matters...

    Even though Bernard Lagat preferred a complete break, I've traditionally believed that for the majority, a simple change from the normal training routine can be a good approach.  At the same time, as I've gotten older I'm reminded that there are few things as important as training consistency, especially as we age.  Like many things training related, there's always many viewpoints.

    • Is a "complete" break from training the best approach for short and long term mental and physical rejuvenation? If so, how "complete" is complete?
    • Could a simpler primarily unstructured approach be best, where we just go "how we feel?"
    • Is it better to turn to other activities that aren't typical for us in order to maintain some "fitness" while getting away from the sports we most often train in?
    • If we take a break, do we risk losing hard-earned fitness gains that will be difficult to regain?

    Deciding in which direction to go and discussing these aspects can often generate as many questions as answers! Here are some additional things to consider as you ponder whether a break is the right choice for you...

    1. If all else fails, trust your intuition. If your gut feeling is you "need" that break, you probably do!
    2. If you have been nursing an injury, STOP now and do what is needed to determine the root cause. NOW is the ideal time to resolve injuries once and for all.
    3. The harder and longer your races, the greater the likelihood you'll benefit from some extended recovery and rejuvenation.
    4. The older you are, the smaller the margin of error you may have for taking complete time off.  To put it another way, as we age, we need more than ever to keep moving. Don't "stop" and rest just for the sake of it.
    5. The best "break" may simply be a change in training routine. For example, if you are usually on your tri-bike, put that away and get on your mountain bike or cruiser instead. If you're usually running on the roads, get off road and onto a trail. Ease off on the pace and re-establish your aerobic base at a conversational training intensity. If in doubt, try a relaxing hike, ski, roller-blade, or simply sleep in!
    6. If you're like many and could use to improve skills in some areas, now might be the perfect time. Lower intensity, and technique focused!

    Whether YOU need a complete break from structured training or not depends upon you - how healthy and durable you are, what you've done over the recent past, and what your upcoming goals are.

     

    Plan for recovery year round...

    Planning regular periods for recovery throughout the year is arguably more important, especially as one training phase builds to the next.

    Whether you're an elite (like Bernard), a weekend warrior, or a competitive age-grouper, if you've recently established some training consistency and feel mentally energized and motivated, AND you aren't carrying deep fatigue from a long season of racing and training, there is absolutely no reason to stop now simply because of the calender.

    Happy trails!
    ~Coach Al

    PS: In a series of future posts, I'm going to lay out my philosophy for how to build fitness progressively in the off season. Stay tuned.

     

     

    Is STRAVA The Newest Coaching Tool?

     

    I was chatting recently with an athlete I just started working with about an upcoming marathon she had planned to run. I am excited about the opportuity to be working with her; regardless of how talented she might be, she is eager to learn and understands that contrary to popular belief, it doesn't take gobs of talent OR huge sacrifice to pursue our dreams and goals and approach our ultimate potential.  All it really takes are four things:

    1. a willingness to be honest with ourselves
    2. a never ending desire to learn
    3. a commitment to relentless, smart work 
    4. the patience to do things the right way and stay the course

    As she and I discussed whether she should follow through with her plans to run the marathon, which incidently was only a few weeks away, I decided that reviewing the plan she had been following would give me a sense of her preparation, so I asked her to forward it to me.

    As I looked the plan over, I instantly recognized what I believe is the most serious and common flaw of many marathon training plans.  

    I have to admit I wasn't that surprised to see it - I've seen it over and over again in many different plans written by many different coaches.

    What is that flaw? Simply put, it is completing that last long run too close to race day. 

    When I brought up the topic of this all-too-common mistake, she replied: "...all I have to say is, it's really incredible how hard it is to undo mass perception like that!  To be honest, while it makes complete sense, I had never heard that before!  The proliferation of social media and Strava in particular, gave me some insight into how some of my friends train who also race, and they certainly haven't applied this approach." 

    I thought to myself, WOW...have we reached a point where Strava, is now not only a place to race for an "FKT" or fastest known time, but is now also a coaching tool?

    • Are you an athlete who decides how you should train by watching what others do (often total strangers) and apply what you see them do, to your training?  
    • Do you assume that because someone might be faster, you should train like them?
    • Do you believe that there is a "one size fits all" when it comes to training?

    It seems to me that with the popularity of Strava (and other social media), the inclination for some to follow others or see what they do and use that as coaching guidance, without really understanding how that might be helping OR hurting, is an ever increasing problem.

    Who knows why others are doing what they're doing, or whether THEY might go even FASTER if they employed a different approach?

    If you've shown up on race day with tired legs and performed below your potential as a result, give this topic some serious consideration. Resist the temptation to blindly trust the plan or the "expert" giving you advice.

    Learn. Think. Train smart.

    For a much more in-depth review of what I believe is the best overall approach for tapering into your marathon or iron distance triathlon, check out this blog post I wrote prior to last year's Boston Marathon entitled "Old Habits Die Hard." 

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al

    Which Is It: Strength Or Endurance?

     

    I received this email question the other day from a reader of the blog:

    "I keep having this argument with a friend of mine who is an ultra-runner and believes endurance is a lot more important than strength. Our goals are the same, to live an active life and also do some racing. I strength train 3 times a week, he runs 6 times a week and does a little bit of circuit-type weights once a week. We each think the other one is doing it wrong. What do you think, Coach?"

    Can you relate at all? Without a doubt, different types of athletes love to debate this question. To get to the answer, let's start by defining these two abilities and then let's consider some questions.

    Strength is the ability to produce force and to overcome. Endurance is the ability to resist fatigue, persist, and endure stress for a long period of time.

    So, quiz time...Who do YOU think will be more successful in these instances, the athlete who trains primarily for strength or the athlete who trains primarily for endurance?

    • Which triathlete will finish the swim leg of a triathlon with greater ease, and therefore have a better chance for a faster race finish?
    • Which cyclist will have an easier time climbing that really steep hill?
    • Which trail runner or mountain biker will more easily and confidently navigate those gnarly obstacles on the trail or that steep downhill?
    • Which runner or triathlete will be the most successful approaching the very last stage of their race?

    The answer is simple: endurance is only possible to the extent that one is stronger than the task at hand, be it the chaotic conditions in the open water or the steep hill you’re trying to climb on your bike, or the gnarly uphill or downhill you're approaching on the trail.

    Think of it this way: Carrying 150 pounds up a hill will be an easy act of endurance for the person who has the strength to carry 300 pounds, but an impossible task for a person who can only carry 75 pounds.

    It's also 100% certain that the person who has the strength to lift 300 pounds at least once will have no trouble lifting 100 pounds many times over. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee that a person who can lift 100 pounds many times over will be able to lift 300 pounds even once.

    • The stronger we are, the easier everything else becomes; weakness inhibits everything we do and makes everything harder.
    • Resisting fatigue isn't simply about enduring, it is also about your body's ability to handle and absorb shock from impact and contact, as well as repetitive motion.
    • We lose strength as a "natural" and unfortunate by-product of aging, which in turn leads to less endurance and stamina.
    • Strength is a skill. Better skills improve efficiency, which in turn improves endurance.
    • When we increase our strength, in the process we've increased all of our capacities.

    Strength is the foundation upon which everything else is built. Increasing strength also increases endurance, but not the other way around. Strength prevails.

    So how'd you do on the quiz? Do these thoughts and concepts apply to your sport?

    Please let me know what you think. Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al

    PS: There are many ways to get stronger and not all of them are sustainable or productive long term. I've got a plethora of future articles and smart offerings planned to help YOU get and stay strong, with the ultimate goal of keeping you healthy and improving your performance. Stay tuned!

    What Is The ONE THING You Need MOST To Be Successful?

     

    Recently I had a conference call with a group of triathletes who were seeking advice. I asked them point blank: as athletes, what was the one thing they needed to do, or pay more attention to, that would help them realize their ultimate potential? Of course this highly competitive group of high achieving type-A athletes, all with big future aspirations for racing, enthusiastically dug right in and started bantering back and forth.

    They tossed around lots of ideas including reflecting  on their experiences and what they've learned. We talked about hard work, their desire to learn and the need to be increasingly honest about things like movement quality and maintaining life balance.  They agreed that the stakes have been raised and along with it, the external and internal pressure to go faster or farther and make it look easier, is increasing like never before.  (Are you feeling it?)

    One thing they collectively agreed on was that training and racing (while maintaining life balance) are different now and in some ways, more challenging than ever.  The "game" as we might have known it once, has clearly changed.

    Athletes and coaches now have access to more information than in the past. There are more "experts" than you can count, and because of the growth (and pervasiveness) of social media, we know more about what each other is doing than ever before. (Is it me, or do you also feel like your Facebook "friends" are running, swimming, or riding faster, easier, and farther than you are?)

    Technology (equipment, power meters for bike and run, GPS devices, etc.) continues to advance at an incredible rate of speed, and along with it, the software to analyze what the technology is telling us about how "good" we are.

    Still, they all struggled to identify that one thing which would make the biggest difference?

    When I sensed that they were getting frustrated, I shared with them what I thought the key was.

    From my perspective, more athletes than ever before want IT, NOW, whatever "it" might be at that moment in time. Think of it as instant gratification.

    I explained how frustrating it sometimes is when I talk with an athlete and realize that while it is clear they can see what it is they need to do, they rarely perceive or understand. 

    What do I mean by that? Because you look at something or think about it, doesn't mean you truly perceive or understand it. Because something is instantly available to your vision doesn't mean that it is instantly available to your consciousness.

    Seeing is direct, immediate, uncomplicated. To perceive the details, the order of things, the connectivity and integration, takes time.

    And time... is the one thing we just don't afford ourselves of, anymore.

    Listen...I know what you're thinking, and I get it.

    Life is short, there's little time to waste.  You'd better jump now or your chance might slip away....right?

    The problem is, very often in a well intentioned effort to achieve or do more, we end up with a lot less.

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    • We rush through, refusing to take the time to work on basic and fundamental skills. We're more inclined to just hammer away and attempt more volume, and then wonder why we get injured or never go as fast we would like.  
    • We don't take the time or have the patience to hold our effort in check early on in training sessions, races, or entire seasons, and then wonder why we fatigue more quickly or finish slower than we had hoped, sometimes crashing and burning all together.
    • We "want" things like a kettlebell swing, barbell deadlift, pull up, or good health and movement quality, NOW, so we skip the process that's required to learn and develop these difficult-to-obtain abilities and attributes.
    • When injury happens, we don't have the patience to get to the root cause of it, preferring instead to just treat symptoms so we can rush back as soon as the pain subsides, only to discover that the injury inevitably returns, causing even more frustration. genius-is-eternal-patience-quote-1(In an even worse case scenario, we do something stupid which ends up permanently shortening our athletic lifespan).
    • When it comes to racing, as endurance athletes we think it's normal to go from racing shorter sprint distance to longer distance events almost overnight, disrespecting the longer distance and the time it takes to build the requisite skill and stamina to do well. What often results are much slower performances than we are capable of, and injury (again), accepting either as "the norm. " 
    • Some are now so short of patience, that after a race goes bad or they end up injured (again), they try to justify the poor choices that led to the predicament they're in with self-deprecating and/or self-defeating talk (most often to themselves). a712ca9973609f97a6e93bd92e51697e
    • We never seem to take enough time to work on ourselves or have patience with ourselves, OR take the time to develop a foundational philosophy that reflects our core values and will guide us when things get hard. We just leap from one thing to the next, or look to the next fad, secret sauce, or quick fix, hoping that it will be THE thing that finally leads us to success.

    a-man-who-masters-patience-masters-everything-else-quote-1Ironically, in a world that now seems to be speeding by at 1-million miles an hour, the thing that we need most to be successful and reach our ultimate potential, is patience...

    ...patience to do things the right way and stay the course...patience to perceive, not just see...

    ...patience to truly enjoy the journey and not just focus on the destination...and patience to embrace the process of learning and growing into the person & athlete that we were truly meant to be...

    Happy trails!

    ~Coach Al