Sunday, December 27, 2009

Doing the right thing

Being an observer of the sport, I follow what is going on with some/most of the top performers. I read their blogs, follow them on Twitter, it's part of the job.

One of such athletes is Sarah Groff. I never met Ms. Groff or even talked to her on email, but I've been following her career for some years. It was quite puzzling to see her form crumble when it was crunch time to get the qualification for Beijing. She strikes me as an athlete that does have what it takes to make it as a top performer, but it seems that there is that last 1% missing. Her race at the WCS Final was a good example of that. My coaching bias attributes this pattern of underachieving to her coaching options these last few years.

For all this, I was happy to read her last blog. I was happy to see that she is breaking up with an environment that is not conducive to high-performance (Colorado scene, US triathlon "coaches", etc) and go work with one of the best coaches in Triathlon, that runs a very successful squad. But above all, I was happy to see someone show the commitment it takes to do the right thing.

Very often I see athletes make terrible decisions that keep them further from achieving their goals. Very often I see athletes choose what is comfortable. Very often I see them choosing the lifestyle over the commitment to be your best. So when athletes do the right thing, they deserve to be praised. Well done Ms. Groff.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Opposite

"George : Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but ... I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party. It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat ... It's all been wrong."

In one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, George comes to the realization that he should try to do the opposite of everything he usually does, since what he usually does is wrong. By following this principle, his luck changes and everything begins to go his way including getting a girlfriend, a job with the Yankees and moving out of his parents' house.

I often think that most coaches should follow this principle: do the opposite of what they think is right, and maybe they will start doing things the right way. I was reminded of this principle when reading the last entries to this blog.

I would think that it would be well understood that running and walking are two distinct types of human locomotion, with different kinematics and kinetics. This difference comes from the different duration of the stance phase in the two gaits, Cappellini et al (2006). This obviously has implications when it comes to specificity of endurance. Simply put, endurance gained while walking has little to no impact in running performance, and vice-versa. This is the reason why traditionally race walkers only run during the off-season and do most of their training as race walking.

Perhaps more important is the different kinesthetic awareness that these two different modes of movement promote. While one mode (walking) promotes a long, heel-to-toe, stance period, the other (running) should promote a short stance period, since there is ample evidence that running economy is increased when support time decreases and peak forces increase.

Lastly, it seems obvious to me that if an athlete, any athlete of any level, has the time and energy, he/she should be running more, not walking. Not only walking increases overall fatigue, it doesn't promote run-specific endurance, while emphasizing movement patterns that are not related to running.

So that's my positive, constructive message for the holiday season: Do the opposite.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Yes, more football...

I read this bit on Peter King's column on, I thought it was pretty good. About Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis:

'1. Marvin Lewis is not kidding around. Not many things I see on video make me sit up and say, Whoa. But when HBO's "Hard Knocks'' captured Lewis ripping the tar out of his team after a sloppy preseason loss to St. Louis, I thought, Marvin's tired of getting pushed around.
Lewis screamed at his team to "be f---ing pros!'' And it not only got my attention -- it got his vets' attention. "Oh, I remember the moment,'' said cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "His message was pretty clear -- whether it's the preseason or regular season, he's not going to tolerate us playing like that.'''

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


After USC's surprising loss at Oregon, USC coach Pete Carroll responded to critics with the following:

"We don't change our philosophies after something like this, because we believe in what we're doing, and we believe in the stuff we've done over the years. How we respond is to go back to the truth of who we are and demonstrating resiliency. It's not about changing -- it's about recapturing."

I like it!

Monday, November 2, 2009


Some months ago I was reading a piece in Runner’s World (!) and in it, Marty Liquori explained the reason why his training group lived in Gainesville, FL: It was a cheap place to live, with good weather year-round and decent places to run. And I immediately thought, how many pro triathletes would be caught dead in Gainesville, let alone live there?

I coach athletes that live in Alabama and Louisiana. When they mention that, they might as well have said they lived in Iraq or Afghanistan, given the scorn they receive from other triathletes. It seems that in our sport, unless you are living in Boulder, San Diego or Tucson, you are a loser. If you can’t live in one of those places, then at least it needs to be a place with at least one Whole Foods (Boulder has FOUR!) and several independently owned coffee shops populated with thick-frame glasses hipsters and fixies. All this because, in triathlon, the established culture tells you that living the lifestyle is more important than performing. Living the lifestyle is more important than winning.

But let’s face it, unless your name is Matt Reed or Laura and Greg Bennett, or you work 60 hours a week or you’re independently wealthy, you can’t afford to live the “cool” lifestyle. If you coach a few athletes and you’re spending more money traveling to races than winning in prize-money, you can’t afford to live the lifestyle. And you end up having to make options in order to live the lifestyle. You compromise and every day you’re further away from your goals.

There is a lifestyle culture in triathlon that is detrimental to (high) performance. Because it tells you that being cool and living in the right place is more important than doing what it takes to be successful, to win races. But one thing I’ve come to realize, not every elite athlete is interested in winning, which is somewhat puzzling. The subject for a future blog.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Problem? I don't see a problem...

I was just reading this, and came upon this section:

"At the risk of dismissing its value, the coaches probably gained enormous value from other coaches' presentations - Bob Bowman (Michael Phelps' coach) would have heard some valuable tips from Terrence Mahon (Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor, among others), and vice versa, but I dare say that the science would not have changed the way any of the coaches are approaching altitude training for their athletes. They already had a strategy, and I doubt whether the science showed them anything to improve or change it.

And this is a typical problem (...)"

Is it? I don't see a problem with success. Here are some of the most successful coaches in the World explaining some of the methods that got them this success, and for (some) sports scientists, it is a problem if it goes against the science, which when it comes to endurance training still has huge gaps.

The problem I see is scientists that instead of looking for the scientific basis for success that I am sure is behind the success of those coaches, prefer to throw rocks from their precariously founded ivory towers.

The author goes on to expand on how he sees coaching as "the ability of the coach to engage in a scientific process", which is something I strongly disagree, and it shows the traditional lack of understanding that (some) sports scientists have of the coaching process.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paulo's Mailbag

Reader "hal_jordan_1" posted this on the comments section of this blog:

"ok, this is unrelated to your post but it's something that bugs me. You should seriously rip this guy appart, he is loosing it. Not only Wellington has shitty technique, now all the TBB's that have gotten FISTed by him got good results because of him, starting with Biscay.


Dear "hal_jordan_1",

Thank you for pointing me to that thread. So you mean to tell me that someone with zero coaching credentials or creditability is posting nonsensical and delusional pseudo-advice??? You mean to tell me that someone is wrong on the Internet???? My goodness... that almost never happens, especially on that site... ;-)

Whenever you get riled up by what some people write, I recommend you to read the cartoon below. I find it very soothing :-)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Not that I am keeping score...

Back in January, I wrote some blogs regarding the USAT HP program, and it turned into a UK versus US competition. Not that I am keeping score, but I thought this article was a good follow-up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Culture of excellence

I was reading this article, and I noticed the following quote from Shane Sutton, the British Cycling Head Coach:

"Dave [Performance Director for British Cycling] always said if we’re not in the top three in our field we shouldn’t be in the building.”

When looking for world-class results, it's not only up to the athletes to strive for excellence. The culture of excellence should be present from top to bottom and be a mission for every single member of the organization.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I sometimes hear the word "generous" to compliment this or that coach. Someone compliments this or that coach saying that he/she is generous with their knowledge.

And I always find this funny, because the best coaches I know are not generous with their knowledge. In fact, when talking to people that are not their athletes, they hardly talk about training or coaching. Of course, some of them are somewhat secretive. But most of them know that without in-depth knowledge about an athlete and his training background, it is very easy to just give out the wrong kind of advice. So it is better to just keep your mouth shut.

What most people don't realize is that those that offer unsolicited advice and are always eager to share their "knowledge", are either doing it in order to generate business for them or because they seek validation from these interactions with athletes. Or both. They are not doing it for you, they are doing it for them.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

And today's rant is on testing

"When there is some sort of test that improves performance, I will do it. Most of those tests only serve to either be another service that you can charge athletes, or a way of justifying pseudo-scientific work and/or jobs. If I thought lactate tests were helpful, I would do them myself. I STOPPED doing lactate tests back in 2003. VO2max tests are interesting, but with little value to the training process. Not to mention that there is research that found no correlation between lactate test results and performance. What happens is that everyone is SO happy to do that kind of testing, they feel good about the pseudo-scientific side that adds to training. My personal favorite is doing tests at the beginning of the season, so when you repeat the tests a few weeks later, there is so much improvement, you feel so good about yourself! So it's not that I am old-school, or ignorant about these matters, it's just that when it comes to training I am only interested in performance".

Monday, August 3, 2009

My coaching philosophy...

From now on, every time someone asks me what is my coaching philosophy, I will express myself using this poster...

Friday, July 31, 2009

For the millionth time... weight training...

Reader Tom E from Penticton, BC asks:

"Paulo, I know you are a smart guy and I want a serious answer. Have you ever read anything correlating athletes doing weights vs those that don't and the prevelance of injuries in each group? Trying to prevent injuries is the only reason I do them... and I think they do help keep the injuries to a minimum (for me). Absolutely nothing to prove it though so thought I would ask."

Hello Tom, and thank you for your question. The "injury prevention" argument in order to do weight training is really the last hope that the proponents of that kind of supplemental training have. For years they have tried to convince us of the performance gains from that kind of training, only to be proven wrong by the overwhelming scientific evidence.

The "injury prevention" argument is a great snake-oil selling point because it is so hard to prove. You would need to a pretty extensive study, done over a long period of time, in order to prove something that we already have a pretty good idea of the results. That is, it would be a complete waste of time (and money).

So how would this injury prevention occur? By increasing the strength of muscles and tendons? Well, as with the the argument against weight training and performance, when it comes to weight training and injury prevention we bump into the most pervasive concept in exercise... Specificity. Weight training develops strength in a non-specific way, while over-use injuries occur in a very specific way, as the result of the repetition of a specific movement.

Therefore, if you believe that increasing the strength of a muscle/tendon structure will help you prevent injuries, I would suggest you did that in a specific way, i.e., while performing the specific movement. The classic examples of this for swim/bike/run are:
- Speed* swim sets
- Speed* cycling sets
- Hill running repeats

Hope this helps and thanks again for your question.

* The correct definition of speed, any effort that elicits the alactic anaerobic energy system.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


"You play to win the game" - Herm Edwards

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Since the ITU circuit was in my neck of the woods (sort of..), I made the trek down to our nation's capital to watch the third leg of the ITU World Championship Series (WCS). And it was well worth the trip because I got to watch two amazing races.

The first thing you notice is the atmosphere that surrounds the event. Everything about it breathes elite racing. The start line is not composed of a few elite athletes with a lot of part-time "pros". It is entirely composed of elite, professional athletes. Athletes with Olympic aspirations, competing for very good (for our sport...) prize-money. Because of the level of the athletes, everyone watching either at the race site or at home through the Internet were treated to two very competitive races, with constant changes in the dynamics of the race, which made them both interesting and very fun to watch.

When I got back home at the end of the day, I checked how Ironman Coeur d'Alene was going. And the contrast with the ITU WCS race was evident. With extremely weak fields, both men's and women's race were far from exciting, with second place for the men being 10 minutes behind the winner and third place almost 20 minutes down (!). The women's race was a little more "exciting", but just for the battle for second place. All this for the first Ironman race of the year in US soil.

The writing is on the wall: professional Ironman racing is dying. This is not new, it's been a slow death, brought on by stagnating prize-money purses and the increased number of races, causing a watering down of the competition. But this slow death is somewhat puzzling given the growth of the sport in the last years. With its logic of maximizing the profit out of the events that runs, the WTC is showing an incredibly narrow focus that is hurting the sport as a whole. This effect might not be noticeable right now, but it will be in the future.

Going back to the ITU World Championship Series, it seems to be a risky bet that is paying off. Having the best athletes perform in great stages around the World is a great idea, and one that is advancing triathlon more and more into being a worldwide sport. The race in DC is a perfect example. Just like having the Tour de France ending in the Champs Elysees, the streets of downtown DC were the perfect backdrop to bring triathlon into the mainstream. Big kudos to the ITU and the local organizing committee.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Running off the bike

Blog reader DanO sent me an email with a question regarding running off the bike in training:

"Hi Paulo,

I just read this thread on slowtwitch and I was curious why you said what you did. Is it your belief that it is not effective to run after biking in training? Only at certain times in a training cycle? Never? I always thought it was part of the sport specificity in triathlon training. I'm interested to hear your thoughts.



Here's my reply:

Running off the bike is specific to triathlon, it's just that running off the bike all the time is not specific. Running off the bike is not different from pure running, and there is even evidence to prove this. So in order to have a good running performance in triathlon, the main goal is to build fitness on the run. If you are running off the bike too much in training, you will take away some quality from your running training, thus preventing you to build your running fitness.

Certainly running off the bike is a skill that needs to be worked on, especially for those just starting the sport. But for the more experienced athletes, it is less important and running off the bike should be done maybe one time during the week. The exception to this is for time-constrained athletes or for ITU racing. In ITU racing, athletes run their fastest pace of the whole run right out of T2 and at the end. So learning to transition to run your fastest pace right off the bike is important. But again, this can be trained by doing specific workouts, not by running off the bike all the time.

As a general comment, I will remind you that specificity, as with the other training principles, is a pretty complex concept. It does not mean that training should emulate racing, it means training should reflect the needs and skills required by racing.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Good quote, worth at least $3.66

"The irony of commitment is that it is deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life".

Anne Morriss, by way of my TGIF grande cappuccino.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Caveat emptor

That means 'buyer beware' in Latin. To illustrate this concept, at least 3000 years old, I thought I would leave these two links for your consideration:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Joel Filliol appointed as the new Head Coach for BT

"After a world wide search to find a leading international coach with a proven track record of success, Canadian Joel Filliol has been appointed as the new Head Coach and will provide support to athletes and coaches identified in the Olympic Podium and Academy Squads to convert them into medal winners."

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bringing back the dead head coach

Mr. Schnitzspahn comments brought a lot to the discussion and I would like to thank him for that. There are some issues I would like to address, in order to clarify my position here.

First off, maybe there is some kind of terminology misunderstanding here, but when I talk about the Head coach position, I don’t see it as a position that is primarily devoted to coaching athletes, but mentoring and coaching the coaches, as well as providing objective and unbiased performance review and analysis of athletes and selections, and coordinating the overall coaching strategy and program delivery, including competition schedules, camps, etc. It is mainly a person that provides high-level technical input to the program. That is the profile of the person that BT and TriNZ are looking for.

It should be noted both BT and TriNZ Head Coach position are new positions, in a review of their structures both Federations deemed as an important one, to improve their chances in 2012. I feel this is an important aspect, since in an extremely competitive environment like Olympic Triathlon, doing things like before and hoping for things to happen is not the way to have success. It goes back to the classic definition of insanity. I wouldn't even say that BT and TriNZ have centralized systems, since their top athletes
train in different locations across the country, with different coaches. But both Federations saw the need to hire high level, experienced technical leaders. We also need to look at the context in which these Head Coaches will work. Both NZ and GB have great overall systems in place, with people with a high level of expertise in their jobs. It is my opinion that this is lacking in the US.

The question here is not the competence or ability of the people in the high-performance program, or themselves personally, so I don’t see any reason for anyone to be insulted. It is the fact that most of them are getting experience in their roles as things move along. This sort of “in-job training” is not in line with wanting the US to regain its place as the best Triathlon nation in the World. In the case of the high-performance director position, wouldn’t USAT profit from having Mr. Schnitzspahn take a step back and be in charge of hiring a true Head Coach along the lines I mentioned above? Wouldn’t USAT profit from doing an international and widely publicized job search for the coaching positions that the system in place has? I am sure that if the people that hold the position now are the best in the World, then they would win those job searches.

I didn’t want to turn this discussion as a GB vs USA contest, but since Mr. Schnitzspahn decided to compare both programs, I would like to comment on that. Looking at the list of results, it does seem that both programs are on an even keel. Now let’s look at the ages of the athletes that are getting those results: The truth is that the results from the US were obtained by a smaller number of athletes at an older age. The truth is that most of the US athletes that obtained those results will not be racing in 2012. If we further compare both programs, I have a question: Where are the US versions of athletes like Alistair Brownlee and Hollie Avil? This is the generation that will dominate the next two Olympic Games, and not a lot is being done in the US to bring up athletes with this profile. This is an issue that goes beyond personal vs centralized coaching, it goes to the core question which is: Is there a system in place in the US that allows to find and nurture the American versions of Alistair and Hollie? The answer is clearly no.

The issue of marketing and being known as a good coach is different from my inability to name a high-level US coach. I know who Darren Smith, Joel Filliol, Bill Davoren are (just to name a few), even if most people don’t know them. And even then, I would be hard pressed to name a good, high-level US coach. A coach with a history of developing several athletes to world-class, at least 4 years of coaching at ITU level, that maintains a training squad, just to name a few requisites. To sum it up, someone from the real world of coaching. Instead, the US bases all their medal hopes for 2012 in what a group of under-trained and under-experienced coaches can do in their spare time from (hopefully) full-time age-group coaching. In my opinion, this is just not enough.

Now, contrary to what Mr. Schnitzspahn might think, I am a big proponent of the de-centralized system. I think that is the best system if there are good local coaches that focus on working with juniors and under-23 athletes and that are always on the lookout for new talent. I think that is the best system if there is a strong club system, a system that provides support to development athletes and their coaches. The problem is that the US doesn’t have either, which means that any de-centralized system is based on little more than… hope. Hope that the next Sheila Taormina or Andy Potts will pop up.

This means that USAT needs to have a system in place that makes up for the lack structure in the sport. A system that, for example, has regional coaches with full-time training squads for junior and u-23 athletes. A system that rewards the coaches that work with Elite athletes. A system that creates more accountability at every level. My ideas regarding this will be the subject of my next post.

Lastly, I have had some people ask me, since I am not an American, why do I care about the direction USAT is taking its high-performance program? As a triathlon coach that currently lives in the US, I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that the Federation is not more pro-active in doing all it can to have a system in place that will discover, nurture and develop the 2012-2016 triathlon gold medalists. Throughout the World there are nations that with a lot less resources (not GB!) that are able to produce athletes at a higher rate than the US. With the resources available in this country and the huge talent pool there is, I can’t help feeling that more should be done.

Friday, January 16, 2009


The Sport Performance Director for USAT, Scott Schnitzspahn, was kind enough to comment on two of my posts. I thought that since most of the readers of the blog don't follow the comments on the blog, it would be a good idea to publish Mr. Schnitzspahn's comments here. I will address his comments in my next post.

In response to this post, this is what Mr. Schnitzspahn had to say:

"Paulo- You've got my attention. I'm the high performance director for USAT. You make some great points, but are missing a few facts I would like to point out.

Starting with this post, TriNZ is advertising to fill Stephen Farrell's old position of High Performance Director but renamed it national coach. If you read the job description you should note two important points that indicate that TriNZ is not going to a true National Coach model-

• Build on the existing culture of excellence and inclusiveness with personal coaches involved in coaching our high performance athletes.
• Ensure that personal coaches of athletes in the programme are fostered and developed alongside their athletes in accordance with the coaching pathway

I can argue for the USAT decentralizing model all day if you want, but I'll keep it to this comment on your post for now and address the BT one separately."

In response to this blog, there were his comments:

"Hi Paulo- you bring up some of my concerns as well- a very limited number of high performance coaches in the USA and a to of age-group focused coaches who do not care for high performance athletes. However, I do not believe that a true national coach model is the best model for the USA. You can read all about it in our High Performance Plan if you like or I can debate it with you sometime. I would like to comment on a few things about your post though.

First, the you reference the success of British Triathlon who is looking for a new national coach. The fact of the matter is that USA has 1 more medal in Olympic Games history than BT, and BT has none. Since Worlds for elites went draft legal in 1995, both countries have won 11 medals each. Here’s the scorecard:
2008 1 1
2007 0 1
2006 1 0
2005 0 1
2004 0 2
2003 0 1
2002 3 1
2001 0 2
2000 0 0
1999 1 0
1998 2 0
1997 1 0
1996 1 0
1995 1 2

Total 11 11

If you look at the names of those athletes and you know who their coach is, you’ll see that most, if not all of them, are products of their own will and determination and a personal coach, not a national coach (Simon Lessing, Tim Don, Sheila Taormina, Siri Lindley, Laura Bennett to name a few). So, I would not use BT as the model of success for a national coach. Our top athletes who have been Worlds and Olympic medalists have all had personal coaches. I believe most if not all of the BT athletes have worked with a personal coach as well, instead of the national coach. I would add that all of these athletes benefited from coaching support and other sport science resources from their federation coaching staff though.

Second, you contradict yourself saying that the best coaches in the world are unknowns because they aren’t out there marketing themselves, then says the fact you can’t name a high level USA coach is concerning. I will admit that it also makes me sad that 99 percent of our certified coaches do not work with high performance athletes. But, this is a problem in all individual Olympic sports that do not have a strong university program. Without a salary, there is no way to make a living for a high performance coach in Olympic sport. It’s either private or university. Since there is no such thing as a university triathlon coach (salaried), our top coaches make a living with other jobs, many of them coaching age-groupers, including you. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Just because you coach a few age-groupers does not make you a “hack.” And, I believe we do need a Level I coaching program that is introductory in nature to give some guidance to those coaches servicing our 115,000 age group members and 200k+ non-members. Level III is for elite focused coaches and will continue to be. We are going to be revamping Level II this year to be more focused on developing those coaching pursuing Level III.

Finally, to imply that the staff at the OTC is limited in knowledge is insulting. Cliff is a great coach and very knowledgeable, but Cliff was so busy with the day to day coaching that he was not able to coach the coaches. A true national coach that is doing their job really can’t be that available to develop future coaches. Additionally, when a coach does a mentorship program at the OTC, they are spending time with other top notch individuals at the OTC, not just USAT staff. These people are some of the best in the world at what they do. I’m sure you have never even spoken to any of our current staff.

So, in closing, I’ll just say that you make some good points about the limited number of high-performance coaches in the sport in general and the proliferation of age-group coaches who do not have high-performance experience. However, you are uninformed about the staff and athletes succeeding at the international level in the USA and Great Britain, and you do not offer a plan to improve, other than re-hiring a national coach. I think if one is to really get to know the athletes winning medals in the various triathlon nations they will find a very mixed rate of success for both national coach and personal coach models."