Thursday, December 18, 2008

My endurance reads

John Kuhlman over at The Outdoor Journey asked me what are my top five endurance reads, you can read them here. (I didn't pick the picture...)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Beating the dead head coach position

Still on last week's subject, I was sent the ad that Triathlon New Zealand put up to fill the... you guessed it, Head Coach position (link). The ad itself is a pretty good definition of what the job entails.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The real world of coaching II

In this post I talked a bit about what I called the “real world of coaching”. Some comments to that post prompted me to expand a bit on that concept and what can be done here in the US to create and nurture real coaching.

The usual American attitude regarding any commercial activity is that the free market will regulate itself. When it comes to triathlon coaching, the general thinking is that after the period of huge expansion we’re going through now, a sort of triathlon coaching bubble, the market will sort itself out, weeding out the bad coaches and keeping the good coaches. This process will reward the coaches that are successful in the existing market. But the market is based on the age-group athletes, and the successful coaches will be those that have an effective business catering to this market. These are often the coaches that can market themselves better, not the best coaches. And obviously all this process alienates high-performance coaching.

This is a problem for the development of elite athletes for two reasons. First is that coaches that might be more geared to high-performance coaching will either have to have a business catering to age-group athletes (or maybe an unrelated professional activity) to support their “habit”, or they will not be able to make a living out of the sport just by working with elites. Second is that developing elite athletes might make the mistake of working with the (perceived as) successful age-group coaches, with the negative implications that this will have in their proper development through the sport.

The lack of real coaches in the US is already hurting the sport, and it will continue to stall elite athlete development in the long run. This is a problem for one institution: USAT.

USAT’s whole action should be geared towards promoting a healthy and successful high-performance program. The core of that high-performance program should be the (real) coaches. USAT has the ability to directly impact the development of the elite program through the coaching certifications and that should start right at Level I. The Level I certification should not be aimed to certify the army of personal trainers looking to broaden their client base, but it should have an elite development perspective. Its main focus should be on junior development and transition to elite ITU racing. It should include a basic outlook on draft-legal racing and the Olympic qualification. But above all, it needs to be more thorough and train coaches that will effectively contribute to the high-performance program.

This way of thinking should be kept on subsequent levels of certification. This means that Level II and Level III should only be accessible to those coaches that already work with junior or elite ITU athletes. This ensures that in order for coaches to aspire to the highest levels of certification, they have to make an effort to work and support elite athletes, thus contributing to the high-performance program. With this in mind, it is obviously a waste of resources to support the activity of those coaches that are perceived as being successful coaches without bringing anything to the high-performance mission. The current effort to bring coaches to the OTC ends up being misdirected if those that are not committed to high-performance just show up in order to be able to market themselves as high-performance coaches without effectively working with elite athletes. The fact that the knowledge-base resident at the OTC is severely limited since Cliff English left also contributes to the relative uselessness of the initiative.

The high-performance-centered efforts would obviously decrease the number of coaches that apply for the certification clinics. However, it would serve to put the pressure on the coaches to seek out and work with elite athletes, which would improve the quality of the high-performance program.

Another important aspect of a high-performance program is strong technical leadership. The model that was implemented at USAT since the Head Coach position was abolished relies heavily on the individual athletes and their respective coaches. This would work well in an environment where there is a very strong coaching community. But let’s face it: In order to be a strong nation in triathlon, qualifying 6 athletes for the Olympics and obtaining at least one medal, there needs to be a pool of 10-15 athletes at world-class level. If we’re expecting that these athletes all have their individual world-class coaches, we’re talking of at least 10 world-class coaches in one nation. The problem with this is that 10 is about half of the world-class triathlon coaches in the World. So clearly, this model will not work, because most of the good athletes in a nation will be working with coaches that simply are not qualified for the job. So even if the talent is there, relying on a model based on the individual athletes just breeds mediocrity.

Having a highly qualified Head Coach is the model that most top nations follow. A good example is British Triathlon, which at the beginning of another Olympic cycle are searching for their new Head Coach (link). The job description in that ad is a good example of the role the Head Coach plays in a well organized and very successful institution like British Triathlon. The way BT works and the results its program has obtained teach us valuable lessons on how to build a successful program.

So, the question that is left to ask is if real coaching is limited to high-performance coaching? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Only at the highest level of competition are the coaching skills tested at their maximum. There are maybe thousands of people that can coach successfully at the lowest level of competition, e.g. helping a newbie finish an Ironman race, but only a maximum number of 6 coaches every 4 years get to celebrate winning an Olympic medal. I will let you decide which is harder to accomplish.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Simon says

Simon Whitfield on his latest blog post touches a subject with which I agree 100%. It's good to see an extremely successful athlete expressing this opinion, since when a coach does it, most people think that it's just the coach tooting his own horn.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


Today is the World Philosophy Day. I did not know this before I started reading the BBC News website tonight, it was just after reading about Copernicus' skeleton and a navel-less model.

But let's go back to Philosophy. First a simple definition:

Philosophy is the study of general problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, truth, justice, beauty, validity, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing these questions (such as mysticism or mythology) by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on reasoned argument.

Given that definition, anyone would be hard-pressed to argue for the mere existence of something like “coaching philosophy” (even if there is a good case for the existence of a coaching mythology). So if there isn't such a thing, why is the expression everywhere? Why is it that every coaching website for a triathlon coach has this little paragraph where a “coaching philosophy” is described. It's usually a collection of general and empty pseudo-concepts, that really doesn't say anything. However, its use is so entrenched, that the every coach feels the need to have their coaching philosophy. And every athlete looking for a coach feels the need to ask a prospective coach what is their “coaching philosophy”.

Here is an idea: if you are looking for a coach, don't ask them what is their “coaching philosophy”. Ask the coach what is his/her coaching practice. Their practice is their results with athletes of similar ability and personality. The way they work and how they interact with the athletes. To sum it up, the way they coach. It's not philosophy.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It almost looks like a real sport...

The prize-money breakdown for the Hy-Vee ITU World Cup in Des Moines, IA just came out (here). The fact that it pays prize-money to the top 50 athletes (!) and the winners get $200,000 represent an enormous step forward in consolidating triathlon as a true professional sport.

In comparison, the "Ironman World Championships" pays $110,000 to the winners, and 10-deep. As for the "70.3 World Championships", they pay $20,000 for the winners and only 5-deep...

What's "real triathlon" again?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The real world of coaching

Listening to John Cook’s interview (here) was an inspiration for me as a coach. John Cook is a real coach, he talks like a real coach and more importantly, he coaches like a real coach. On top of an impressive resume as a college track and field coach, he qualified 3 athletes for the Olympics and got one medal (Shalane Flanagan). You cannot get more real than this.

There are several reasons why listening to him was an inspiration. First of all, the way he talks is refreshing. He tells it like it is. There is no kissing ass, no bullshit. No look-at-me-I-am-so-good and by the way, buy my plans/book/dvd/clinics/camps. He is a professional coach, not an amateur marketing exec. Second, he is not afraid to assume his responsibility as a coach. During the interview, he admits that he regrets some decisions that he made that had direct impact on the performance of his athletes. And third, he is not afraid of telling the truth about the state of middle- and long-distance running in the US. One of the great quotes of the interview is when Cook describes the attitude of certain athletes and coaches as “trying to race Formula 1 with a NASCAR attitude”. The same could be said about the US elite triathlon scene.

Where are these real coaches I am talking about? Well, they are hard to find. Many of the best coaches in the world have no website and are relatively unknown. You don’t hear about them on Internet forums. With professionalism growing in Olympic sports, many of the best coaches in the world do not even work in the private sector. This is one of the problems for coaches in the US. The fact that coaches need to make a living steers them away from fully focusing on elite athletes, since there aren’t a lot of them, and most of them can’t afford coaching. This is especially true in triathlon. The US “system” of relying on commercial coaches to do high-level coaching fails because coaches are not focused on that niche “market”. The fact that anyone would be hard-pressed to name an American high-level triathlon coach makes USAT’s strategic decision not to have a National Coach very hard to understand.

One thing that makes me sad about the state of triathlon coaching is that I see very few people committed to real coaching. Years and years of anti-ITU attitude and focus in Ironman racing in the US are two of the culprits for the creation of the hack industry. Everyone is too busy trying to create a business, not in becoming coaches. So up-and-coming coaches go out and copy the successful hacks, mistaking them for the real coaches. So we have an army of aspiring hacks, when we should have an army of aspiring real coaches.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can

This might not mean much for those outside the US, but I've just listened to Obama's speech and I am under the influence of the supreme confidence of the man.

Mind you that I used the word confidence and not optimism. Optimism is an attitude that sees everything as good and beautiful, that in the end things will work out for the best. Optimism is wishful thinking, belief. In contrast, confidence is a state of mind that is the product of trusting your judgment and abilities. Optimism is innate or inherited, while confidence is learned and gained.

In sharp contrast with the culture I was brought up in, people in North America (yes, this means you Canadians too) are innately optimistic. Even if this makes for an extremely positive social environment, it does have a negative side. Having a strong belief that things will have a positive outcome makes people underestimate the likelihood that things will go bad. This affects the way they approach things and might cause them to under-prepare or to overlook the warning sign of incoming failure. All this to state that belief is not a substitute for preparation.

On the other hand, confidence is a more ethereal state of mind. It comes and it goes. For most it is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. However, when you have confidence, a confidence, it allows you to exceed yourself, your expectations and what you can achieve. Confidence also needs to me cultivated, to be maintained. So many times in our lives we live such great moments and fail to ride the wave of awesomeness (thanks Will) that follows it. Most times we forget to give due importance to successes and attribute too much importance to failures. This breaks the chain of events, of emotions that brings confidence.

Yes we can.

I am back to Obama, but just for a bit. That’s obviously a slogan that exudes confidence. But it’s also a collective slogan. And for those of you that read this blog not for the cheap philosophy but for the triathlon-related content, here it comes. For all of you that think that the word “collective” does not belong in this sport, the individualistic triathletes out there, for all of you that like to spell trIathlon, I have a reminder.

Not acknowledging that being part of a group, that having help from others, allows you to achieve a higher level of performance is taking one step away from achieving your goals. This is also about confidence. The confidence you have to have in yourself to be around others of a different ability than yours because that will help you. The confidence you have to have in others that they all have the same goal of personal excellence.

The 2009 season is upon on us, and it’s time to start working towards our goals for next year and beyond:

Yes we can.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Interestingly, I wrote this piece last week, before Hillary Biscay, Belinda Granger and Chrissie Wellington announced they were leaving Team TBB and coach Brett Sutton, and even before I heard the rumor about it. Even if this piece is not about that situation specifically, I will let the readers decide if my thoughts also apply to that particular situation.

As a general observer of the pro triathlon scene, I am often surprised by the amount of bad decisions that some athletes make and that have a significant impact in their progression in the sport. It is quite common to hear of an athlete that after a successful season fires her coach. Or on the opposite side of the spectrum, the athlete that, after years and years of underperforming, doesn’t change his attitude and/or approach to the sport.

Along with the principles of specificity or diminishing returns, there is another training principle that is very important: If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it! I would think that this is common sense, but then I remember Voltaire’s quote. Staying with what works and what has brought you success before is paramount when trying to progress from year to year. The training process is nothing more than an empirical process where you try to find out what works and discard what doesn’t work. However, it only takes one bad decision to discard EVERYTHING that works.

Even if these bad decisions don’t make much sense sometimes, they need to be seen under the right lens. And that is that successful decision-making is an integral part of “what it takes”. Many athletes have the genetic talent to be top athletes, have the right mental outlook to approach training and racing, but if they lack the skill to make good decisions (or not make bad decisions), they will never fulfill their potential.

Sometimes coaches have an important role in these bad decisions, by giving bad advice to athletes. However, it all comes down to the athlete and the choice the athlete made to hire the coach in the first place. Choosing the right people to advise you is also an integral part of “what it takes”.

When things are broken, complete lack of decision in order to change a bad situation is a problem too. We all know examples of athletes that after a successful stint, never again replicate their former success. Instead of looking for new ways to get out of the slump, they keep insisting in their old ways, sometimes wasting a whole career foolishly trying to be successful again.

Decisions – Choose wisely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Beating the cheaters II

“Certainly the game is rigged. Don't let that stop you; if you don't bet, you can't win.” - Robert Heinlein

This is an interesting quote, since it represents the dilemma that drug-free Ironman athletes have before racing. They know there will be cheaters starting the race, but if they don’t race, they cannot have a shot at winning or placing.

The truth of this matter is that if you toe the line to win the race, you have to prepare yourself to beat the cheaters too. In a sport where doping controls are rare and enforcement of the drafting rules is lax, when you toe the line you have to be prepared to beat all those that will suck wheel into the podium, or those that are only finishing the race because there won’t be doping control at the end.

Beating the cheaters is part of the game. We all know who they are. We know those that only finish races that don’t have doping control. We know those that mysteriously withdraw from races citing an injury, but it was really a “treatment” course that didn’t clear in time. We know the multiple Ironman winners that blatantly drafted their way into multiple victories. We know those that are walking doping wikipedias and those that join the "training group” to get a bit of the information. If you want to win, you have to go out there and beat the cheaters.

Beating the cheaters is part of the challenge. When you start a race, you’re agreeing to the unwritten rules of the race. And those say that you’ll be racing against people that will do EVERYTHING to win. This includes doping, drafting, using illegal equipment, etc. And the challenge is to beat them, not at their game but at your own game. The game of fairness and sportsmanship.

But if you want to be fair, you need to be fair all the time. This includes either delivering or shutting up. Nobody likes a sore loser and there isn’t such a thing as the drug-free or the draft-free divisions. You either put up or shut up.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beating the cheaters I

One thing needs to be said about Ironman racing in the US: Cheating is allowed. Be it by having very few races with doping control or the non-consistent enforcement of drafting rules, many athletes are taking advantage of the huge holes in the system to win in a fraudulent way.

The doping issue is particularly puzzling. From all the Ironman races this year in the US, only Hawaii had doping controls, or at least I hope it did. In a time when anti-doping makes sports headlines almost on a daily basis, the anti-doping practices in the Ironman circuit date back to the early 80’s. That is to say that since the inception of Ironman as a professional sport, the anti-doping procedures haven’t changed.

Who is to blame here? Even if Ironman races are sanctioned by USAT, you can understand why the Federation does not go in and test at Ironman races. Why would a Federation spend their own money to test a group of athletes that has no control over, and from which receives no benefit? The negative consequences of having any triathlete test positive would affect the whole sport, not just Ironman, with some of the fall-out landing on USAT. Going in and testing systematically Ironman athletes would be like entering a mine field, one that USAT would likely never come out in one piece. For the race organizers, having a positive test would be bad for business and it would hit their bottom line. It’s also expensive and time-consuming, so not having doping tests is a win-win situation for race organizers.

The enforcement of drafting rules is also a big issue, even if it doesn’t impact races the same way doping does. The biggest issue is the lack of consistency in the application of the rules, depending on the particular marshals working the race. It seems that things are different at different races, with head marshals many times worried about secondary questions and creating new absurd rules. I often get the impression that marshals are trying to be nice guys instead of simply enforcing the rules.

Is this situation changing in a near future? It certainly doesn’t seem likely. At the moment, in this society, the scale still tips heavily in favor of money, at the expense of fairness.

Friday, October 17, 2008

One year

It’s been one year now that I’ve started this blog. It’s been an amazing experience, since the blog allowed me to put in writing some of my coaching thoughts and concepts. It also served as motivation and reference not only to the athletes I coach, but to several readers too.

During the last year I have also ruffled more than a few feathers. I’ve killed TSS and chewed a lot of fat. I busted some myths and made some people feel threatened. Some responded in a rather vicious way, which even if it caused me some sadness, did expose them and their little ways. This also showed me I was in the right path, I am at my happiest when poking at the establishment.

Enough “I’s” and onwards to another year of The Triathlon Book!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Intellectual dishonesty

Just a quick blog to call your attention to these (yet again) excellent posts from the guys over at the The Science of Sport blog:

This situation reminded me something I wrote some weeks ago:

"[Some people], besides being the Internet champions of the “evidence-based” methods, choose to ignore the scientific evidence in favor of their own beliefs. It seems that science only exists when it serves their interests, and that their ego-driven pseudo-science is more important than the peer-reviewed real science. If you add to this the public ad-hominem attacks, it all amounts to a classical case of intellectual dishonesty."

Friday, September 5, 2008

SwimmingPeaks 2.0

I was glad to see that the absurd of my imaginary presentation was realized by most readers of the blog. For most, it doesn’t make much sense to religiously record your swim workout “data” and to analyze it using specific software. It is also absurd to say that until you’re doing this kind of analysis, your stopwatch is completely useless.

So why do a lot of people out there feel a powermeter is in any way different from a stopwatch in a controlled environment? It makes me cringe whenever I read that it is not worth to get a powermeter unless you use it the “right way”. The right way, of course, is to record the data for every workout, to analyze every session on CyclingPeaks (tm), to religiously record all of your training hoping that you can get nice long term plots on the Overtraining Manager (tm). I can understand this kind of approach if you’re a pure cyclist, but when it comes to TRIATHLON training, this kind of bike-centered approach to TRIATHLON is totally unacceptable.

A powermeter is nothing more than a device that accurately measures cycling training intensity, and just that makes it a useful training tool for any athlete. Just the same way a stopwatch is useful when swimming laps in a pool or running in a track.

Coherence of methods when approaching swim, bike and run training is important in triathlon because the training for the 3 disciplines is equally important. Focusing in one discipline is admissible for a short period, but return to a balanced program with a balanced approach should be a goal for athletes of all levels.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

SwimmingPeaks 1.0

Today I am presenting SwimmingPeaks 1.0. This software package is the way to go if you want to apply scientific principles to your swimming training. In order to use SwimmingPeaks 1.0, all you need is a heart rate monitor with download capabilities. Then you need to use your HRM at every swim session, and record the time for each repeat/rest interval by pressing the split button every time you start/stop. After each swimming session, all you have to do is to download the file from the HRM and upload it to SwimmingPeaks 1.0. The software then calculates such important training metrics as:
- Swimming Time (ST) – the time you actually swam.
- Work/Rest Ratio (WRT) – the work/rest ratios for both the whole session and individual repeats.

SwimmingPeaks 1.0 also allows you to input the swim workout description, which means you can have all sorts of valuable metrics associated with what we define as the Index of Variationality (IV) ratio, i.e. the distance covered over time.

In addition to these, all important metrics related to HR are also automatically calculated by the software. Among these, the important marker HR/IV, which we called Fitness Tracking Score (FTS).

On top of working with all the major brands of downloadable heart rate monitors, GPS watches and stopwatches, SwimmingPeaks 1.0 also allows for manual input of your valuable workout data. So you can use your trusty Timex Ironman stopwatch to scientifically track your swim training.

SwimmingPeaks 1.0 offers a set of tools that will quickly bring you up to speed on training with power IN THE WATER! Using the information given in future blogs and your copy of SwimmingPeaks 1.0, you will be able to effectively train and track your fitness, power and performance throughout the season and beyond! SwimmingPeaks 1.0 allows you to train right! This is the information that DIDN'T come with your stopwatch or HR meter! Your stopwatch is about to become more effective!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The meaning of words I

client (plural clients)

1. A customer or receiver of services.
2. (computing) The role of a computer application or system that requests and/or consumes the services provided by another having the role of server.
3. Person who receives help or advice from a professional person (ex. a lawyer, an accountant, a social worker, a psychiatrist, etc).

athlete (plural athletes)

1. A person who actively participates in physical sports, possibly highly skilled in sports.

Let's get one thing straight. Whores and lawyers have clients, coaches have ATHLETES.

As you were...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Can I borrow a bit of your credibility, please?

It seems that when it comes to triathlon coaching, name dropping is not just a bad habit, it’s a whole way of doing business. I have gmail, and those that have gmail know that it picks up on the keywords of the emails you get. So because I get lots of emails with the words “triathlon” and “coaching”, I also get a lot of sponsored links about triathlon coaching. I usually follow some of those links, because well, I am curious by nature. The other day, I followed one of those links that took me to a triathlon coaching website that I had never heard of before. Clicking on the “About Us” link got me to a page with a list of the coaches. Each coach had a small bio about themselves and their coaching philosophy. And next to the bios, they each had pictures of themselves next to a triathlon celebrity. One of them was with Mark Allen, another with Greg Welch, Dave Scott, etc. It was pretty obvious that the coaches didn’t have anything to do with those triathlon celebrities, they were just trying to cash in on the credibility that being next to the celebrities gave them.

Some coaches get their credibility from having studied under a famous coach. It’s like the triathlon version of the martial arts world. However, in the martial arts world, this usually means that someone spent years working with a master before going on his own. The triathlon version of this is that a coach goes and spends a weekend with a known coach, exchanges some emails occasionally and suddenly… he’s a disciple. Some former athletes of famous coaches also try to capitalize on the credibility of their former coach. However, the only thing they learned from the coach was what workouts to do, not why they had to do them. So in the end, they have a pretty good collection of workouts, without much knowledge on how to apply them to athletes other than themselves.

There are also those that pay to achieve that credibility. I am sure most readers are aware of the huge percentage (more that 50%) the large coaching outfits charge to their associate coaches. But there are also instances where coaches pay top athletes to just use their name. A couple of years ago, I heard the story of a triathlon coach that paid a multiple World Champion $10,000/year just to say that he was coaching the said athlete.

These examples illustrate a whole way of doing business. Instead of building a practice through hard work and most importantly, results, it seems most aspiring triathlon coaches go for the easy way. They think that, by name dropping, by using somebody else’s credibility as their own, they can quickly achieve the status of expert coach, without the knowledge and the experience to support that perception. All this at the expense of athletes of all levels.

Monday, August 4, 2008

All aboard the BS bandwagon!

After Chrissie Wellington’s spectacular win at Ironman Hawaii last October (Veni, vidi, vici, for all you Asterix fans out there), it seems that a lot of people in the triathlon community are scrambling to get on the newest bandwagon: the Brett Sutton bandwagon. This bandwagon has been around for a while now, but before it was basically composed of those that merely model themselves after the master, but lack BS’ experience and, more importantly, results. Now there’s a mob of people trying to hop on the BS bandwagon.

Last week I was with some friends, and one of them had this month’s editions of the two tri-rags. They both had stories about BS, about his “secrets”, what makes him so special. The Inside Triathlon piece is the one that goes into more depth. In that piece, the writer noted that Chrissie Wellington was riding with a very low cadence, that might be the secret right there, let’s make a note of that! What surprised me more was that, some things that I assume that every coach would know, are presented as novelties, as secrets. I also had a coach friend of mine email me, asking about what I knew about BS’ approach. He wanted to know what swim workouts he prescribed, how a typical week was structured. Slowtwitch is publishing a two-part interview with BS (it’s got to be in two parts, there’s so much to learn!). Stay tuned for the second part, they’re going to talk about training! Hope everyone has their pencil and notebook ready!

What is funny about all this interest in BS is that here is a guy that’s been a high level triathlon coach for close to 20 years. Here’s the coach that produced such amazing athletes as Greg Bennett, Joanne King, Siri Lindley, Lorretta Harrop, Emma Snowsill and now Chrissie Wellington. And for the Kona-centered triathlon industry, because he coaches the current Ironman champion, it’s like he just arrived to the scene.

Even with all this interest in BS’ methods, the real question here is: All those that are jumping on the bandwagon, are they learning anything from the man? Are they going to go to a remote location and focus solely on training? Are they going to do the 50-60k swim weeks full of paddles and band swimming? Are they going to throw away the powermeters and GPS’? Are they going to remove the small chainring in their bike? It seems to me that they want the success, they want to hang out with Chrissie, Belinda and Erika, without having to put in the work and go through the sacrifices that are the reason for their success.

I have been a triathlon coach for close to 12 years now. I have learned a lot in these years, and many of the things I have learned are the same I was reading on that IT piece: The importance of squad training, of having little distractions outside training. The importance of strong leadership and trust in the work you’re doing. The importance of understanding the psychological makeover of each and every athlete you work with. I wrote about some of these things on this blog before. The things that make the true core of what coaching is.

When you’re solely interested in performance, in being the best you can be, the things that are the basis of BS’ approach are the things you need to focus on. And these are the things you learn as a coach when all it matters is to bring out the absolute best out of your athlete. These are the sort of things you learn when you coach athletes, not clients. These are the things you learn when you’re interested in performance, not keeping everyone happy and paying the monthly fee.

So what’s the downside of this approach? The downside is that everyone likes success, but very few are prepared to deal with failure. And when you search for absolute success, you have to have the abyss staring at you. You have to take risks and walk a fine line. And this makes for a terrible triathlon coaching business plan. And this is the reason why we have very few coaches like BS, but a lot of bs coaches.

Friday, July 25, 2008

What is it good for?

In the last post, I presented P_TRIMP, a power-based version of TRIMP for durations larger than 1 hour. The fact that it is directly based on TRIMP makes it a considerable improvement over other approaches, since it is directly based on the scientific evidence on this subject.

It is ironic that some people that have never done any studies on this subject, besides being the Internet champions of the “evidence-based” methods, choose to ignore the scientific evidence in favor of their own beliefs. It seems that science only exists when it serves their interests, and that their ego-driven pseudo-science is more important than the peer-reviewed real science. If you add to this the public ad-hominem attacks, it all amounts to a classical case of intellectual dishonesty.

But all these metrics, the impulse-response models, training load quantification, what is it good for? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!

Very often, the ones that see using the impulse-response model based training load quantification as the absolute right way of coaching, operate under the assumption that those that do not use these methods, do so because they have a difficulty in understanding them. With this series of posts, I tried to show that there are a number of coaches (because I am not only not alone, but belong to a large “silent” majority) that understand the subject to the point to know how useless it is for training and racing.

Using training load quantification tools has very little to do with coaching. It might be a curiosity for some that are not interested in performance, or maybe a way to distinguish themselves from a marketing point-of-view, but it is certainly not the way the top endurance coaches operate.

All this emphasis in meaningless “metrics” forgets the most important part of the equation: the athlete. Athletes are not simple systems that can be modeled by a few variables. This is something that good coaches have identified throughout the years as the main aspect of coaching. And while those coaches work to prepare their athletes for the biggest stages in endurance sports, the pseudo-scientists post away on Internet fora.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Death of TSS

Like I mentioned in this post, although TSS is inspired on Dr. Eric Bannister's heart rate-based training impulse (TRIMP), it has the downside that, unlike TRIMP, it has not been validated in any scientific studies.

The biggest downside of TRIMP is that it is heart rate based, which means that in the context of quantifying training load in the impulse-response model of training adaptation, the input is itself a response and not a direct measure of the stimulus.

TRIMP is calculated as

TRIMP= Duration (min) x fraction of heart rate reserve x exp(1.92 x fraction of heart rate reserve)

Now if we equate the fraction of heart rate reserve, an indirect measure of intensity, with IF, a direct measure of intensity, we will have as input on TRIMP a direct measure of the stimulus in the impulse-response model.

Given that under controlled conditions heart rate will vary linearly with power, we can assume that IF=1 will correspond to a percentage of heart rate reserve. In the following discussion, it was assumed that IF=1 corresponds to 90% of heart rate reserve. This was a number thrown around frequently back in the days when the “Karvonen formula” was used for the heart rate corresponding to what we call now Functional Threshold (IF=1). Also some of the assumptions made are only valid for durations over one hour.

By equating heart rate reserve to IF, we can define a power-based training impulse as

TRIMP_IF= Duration (min) x 0.9 x IF x exp(1.92 x 0.9 x IF)

In order to compare it to TSS, we can use the value of TRIMP_IF that corresponds to FTP, i.e.,

TRIMP_IF(FTP) = 60 x 0.9 x 1 x exp(1.92 x 0.9 x 1) ~ 303.99

in order to scale what we called TRIMP_IF. So we can define a new training load stress score, that we are calling P_TRIMP, for Power_TRIMP:


P_TRIMP has the advantage that is directly based on TRIMP, which means it is strongly correlated to the considerable amount of scientific evidence that supports TRIMP. Furthermore, it uses a direct measure of intensity as the input on the impulse-response model of training adaptation.

Figure 1 shows the curves for P_TRIMP =1, 2 and 3 respectively. For comparison, curves for TSS/100=1, 2 and 3 are plotted, as well as a universal Power vs Duration curve.

As we can see, the P_TRIMP-constant curves differ considerably from the TSS-constant curves, with the difference being greater for longer durations.

Figure 2 shows a comparison between P_TRIMP and TSS, using as input the above mentioned approximation for the Power vs Duration curve. Therefore, what is shown are the curves for the maximum TRUMP and TSS possible for a given duration.

It is clear from the comparison that TSS overestimates the training load for increasing durations. This somewhat agrees with the sentiment by those that use TSS to quantify training load that it puts an excessive weight in duration vs intensity.

Conclusion: A new training load estimator directly based on TRIMP was presented. Further validation through scientific studies is needed in order to warrant its use. However, the fact that it is directly based on TRIMP means it is already a considerable improvement over TSS.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

It’s not hard work

Those that work with Excel know that it’s not that hard to make a plot of a set of data points. So that was what I just did this morning with the world famous Endurance Nation set of “data”. I confess that I was a bit disappointed with it, since it only consists of about 20 data points, with 1/5th of it generated by one single athlete. Interestingly, this single athlete is also the person that subjectively decided about which races were successful or not, but I digress…

For those that are looking for an effort budget, which really means an energy budget, to race the bike leg in a triathlon, you would think that the average work performed would be the first candidate. As we know

Work = Power x Duration

If we define a reduced work (Wr) by scaling it with FTP, we’ll have reduced work as a function of IF

Wr x 3600=W/FTP= IF x Duration (h)

Figure 1 shows curves of constant Wr as a function of IF and Duration, along with a typical Power vs Duration curve.

Figure 2 shows the EN “data”, along the above mentioned typical Power vs Duration curve and the now shown useless TSS=300 curve. The thing that is curious about the “data”, and that a very small number of the readers of this blog might find interesting, is that it falls along a curve of constant Wr. So it would appear those athletes were all spending the same energy (scaled with individual FTP) during an Ironman bike leg.

Unfortunately, the reduced number of data points along with the subjectivity in picking the data set, renders this “conclusion” virtually useless. It is very likely that this constant-work hypothesis is just the result of this particular set of data points.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Final notes on the use of TSS for triathlon bike leg pacing

In the last post, through the use of two very simple examples, it was explained why TSS should not be used as an effort budget and it was shown the reason why TSS-constant curves appear to yield IF’s that translate into correctly paced Ironman bike legs.

The post generated quite a bit of discussion, and I feel that some of it was useful. Among the useful bits was the evidence on the exact shape of the Power vs Duration curve. Figure 1 shows the Power vs Duration curves for constant percentage drop-off for double the duration, i.e., log(t) curves for 11, 9 and 7% drop-offs, respectively. To those curves, within which the vast majority of the individual Power vs Duration curves falls, the TSS=300 curve was added.

As we can see yet again in this example, the TSS-constant curves “cut” across the possible intensity levels, with an obvious "disregard" for the Power vs Duration curve. Even for the durations that served as basis for the development of the “method”, the 5-6h range, the “TSS method” gives IF ranges for the cap or the starting point or whatever anyone wants to call it that are simply too big for such a small variation in duration (0.71 < IF < 0.77).

So how did TSS get involved in pacing strategies? Likely, just because it was there (Another "metric" that happens to be there is VI - another metric that is nothing more than a curiosity). Those that think that looking at numbers is the same as producing relevant data noticed that TSS fell into a nice range for triathletes that were subjectively considered to have “ran well”. While doing that, they forgot that TSS is used to quantify training load in the rather simplified impulse-response model of training adaptation, used to model training-induced changes in performance. This obviously has nothing to do with pacing strategies for a triathlon.

It should be self-evident to all that when we are talking about pacing strategies for triathlon, the only overall metric that makes sense to use is IF. On top of being an overall measure of exercise intensity, only IF is directly related to the Power vs Duration curve.

The use of IF is also very intuitive. In order to be able to run well off the bike, a triathlete reduces the intensity, IF, of her effort on the bike from the level of effort she could do in a maximal effort, given by the Power vs Duration curve. Only the Power vs Duration curve is “real”, in the sense that it relates to a maximal effort for a given duration. A triathlete uses a fraction of that effort in order to be able to access her running fitness, with the ultimate goal of minimizing the overall race time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

TSS-related rambling

Training Stress Score (TSS), is a training load estimator for cycling invented by Dr. Andrew Coggan, and is modeled after Dr. Eric Bannister's heart rate-based training impulse (TRIMPS). It takes into account both the intensity (i.e., IF) and the duration of each training session, and according to the author, it “might be best viewed as a predictor of the amount of glycogen utilized in each workout.”

TSS has the advantage that it is easy to calculate and that it is based on the direct measurement of the applied stimulus (power), unlike TRIMPS that is based on heart rate. However, unlike TRIMPS, TSS has not been validated in any scientific studies, which means that its use by many comes from believing that it is a good tool to estimate training load.

The definition of TSS is

TSS= IF^2 x duration(h) x100

By definition, TSS’ units are time and therefore TSS is a equivalent training time at FTP. If we leave out the constant 100, we will see that in reality TSS is nothing more than equivalent training time in hours at FTP. So a 200 TSS ride is a training load equivalent to 2 hours at FTP (if that was possible in one ride).

So from the definition of TSS we can see that it was created and should only be used as an estimator of training load, and using it as some sort of “effort budget”, besides going beyond the scope of the definition, is fundamentally wrong.

For a given duration/power level, the individual (Power vs Duration) curve gives us the maximum power level possible for a given duration. For durations above one hour, and if we non-dimensionalize power with individual FTP, it is likely that the individual curves (IF vs Duration) for well-trained endurance athletes fall in a very narrow band. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s say that there is an exponential relation between duration and IF. In order to “anchor” this curve, the upper end is obviously FTP (1,1). The other point that defines the curve can be a common intensity estimator for maximum efforts lasting 2 hours – IF=0.95 (2,0.95). Figure 1 shows the non-dimensionalized (Power vs Duration) curve, as well as curves for 95% and 90% intensity, respectively.

Now if we turn our attention to the problem of pacing the bike leg of a triathlon, the issue of running off the bike is going to be dependent on the intensity of the bike effort. It is not a big conceptual stretch to think that there is a threshold of effort above which an athlete won’t be able to run up to his full potential (the answer to what constitutes “running to its potential” is a whole different world). If we express this concept using the (Power vs Duration) curve, for a given duration, there will be an intensity above all running off the bike at a pace according to your running specific level of fitness will be impossible. That intensity threshold should be somewhere between 90 and 95% of the maximum effort for a given duration.

This means that a correctly paced Ironman bike that lasts 4:30h will have an IF between 0.75 and 0.79 and that a correctly paced lasting 6:00h will have an IF between 0.74 and 0.70.

Some approaches to the determination of correctly paced ironman bike rides use TSS as an effort budget. Like it was mentioned above, this does not make much sense, since using TSS as an effort budget goes beyond the scope of the definition, not to mention not being supported by any kind of evidence.

In order to illustrate this, let’s take an example using the above (Power vs Duration) curves. According to some sources, a common range of TSS scores that represent a correctly paced IM ride is between 265 and 290. Figure 2 shows the TSS-constant curves for 265 and 290. So for this range, we can see that for a 4:30h ride we have an IF between 0.77 and 0.80 and for a 6:00h ride an IF between 0.66 and 0.69. As we can see from Figure 2, even if using this approach the values for IF are not far off from those from the approach I delineated above, it is clear that the shape of the constant-TSS curves doesn’t make sense from a pacing point-of-view.

It is clear from the figure that this approach prescribes decreasing IF’s for increasing durations, which makes for extremely conservative estimates for the slower riders. On the other end of the spectrum, for the fastest riders it prescribes high IF’s that are clearly above what is generally accepted as a correctly paced IM bike ride. Above all, the increase in IF with decreasing duration doesn’t make sense from since in the limit we would have IF’s above the maximum (Power vs Duration) curve.

Of course the relative proximity of the TSS-constant curves to the Power/Duration curves is dependent on the “slope” of the (Power vs Duration) curve. If for example, we anchor our maximum curve to a different point, the TSS-constant curves will be closer/further from the (Power vs Duration) curves. Figure 3 shows the comparison for the points (1,1) and (2,0.94), meaning an athlete that for a maximum effort lasting two hours has an IF of 0.94.

For this example we can see that a TSS between 265 and 290 will be in the right range of IF’s for longer durations, but that the IF’s for the shorter durations are grossly overestimated.

In conclusion, through a simple set of examples it was shown how using TSS to choose the intensity to race an IM bike has the potential to either grossly underestimate or overestimate the effort needed. The fact that the 265 to 290 range has come up is likely because it is based on a set of data for durations between 5 and 6 hours. The said range is the product of the correctly paced rides, and does not represent any sort of effort budget. I would suggest that if we’re looking for a realiable effort budget, the actual work being performed for a given duration needs to come into play. But this is hardly a new concept.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Good stuff

Jordan Rapp's latest blog entry is really, really good (and not just because he quotes me a few times). I urge you all to go read and think a bit about your individual approach to triathlon.

As for the original entries on this blog, I promise they will be back next week. I just decided to join Team Silence for a few weeks.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I admit that I don’t follow professional cycling as much as I used to. I could get on a high horse and say that it’s because of all the doping scandals, but really it’s because I don’t have Eurosport anymore. Therefore, only today I realized that professional cycling team Lotto has a new sponsor for this season, a company called Silence.

And I just thought to myself, what a great sponsor to have, Silence. I just thought, what if I could have a triathlon team sponsored by that company, Team Silence. I like the ring of that.

All this to say that too many people talk too much. Popular lore says actions speak louder than words, but a lot of people don’t follow the advice. So they talk, and talk, and talk. Empty words, without substance. A whole lot of talking, but not enough action to back it up. They think that because they talk a lot, they will be more popular, better known and better heard. But in reality, they are just hurting themselves by talking too much, when they should be focusing on achieving their goals.

It's not bragging if you can back it up, said Muhammad Ali. He was right, but the operative word there is if. Up until the point that you effectively back it up, I don’t care how much you believe in yourself, do everyone a favor and shut up.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chewing the fat

Apparently, the fat utilization myth is alive and well, thinking from the reactions I had to my previous post on the subject. I had several comments to the original post, as well as questions on email, so I thought I would write a mini-FAQ about the subject. Here are some questions I was asked:

How do you explain the fact that some people burn a lot of fat and others don’t?

Because some of the determinants of the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) are dependent on individual characteristics. Research shows that there is a large interindividual variability in resting RER that persists during exercise of increasing intensity. Research also shows that the major determinants of RER included muscle glycogen content, training volume, proportion of type 1 fibers (only rest RER), free-fatty acids and lactate concentrations in the bloodstream, and % dietary fat intake. This last item is an important one, because it shows that changing your % of dietary fat intake will change your RER results.

I have recently repeated my baseline O2 Metabolic Assessment test and it showed that I had improved my fat utilization. How do you explain that?

Along with the initial O2 Metabolic Assessment test, the myth followers usually give nutritional advice that advises athletes to remove sugar and starch-rich foods from their diet. The consumption of “good fats” is also advised. What this does in practical terms is to reduce the CHO content of ones diet, and increase the fat content. So when you repeat the test, even if your fitness hasn’t improved, just because you increased your % dietary fat intake, your RER will show that you are now burning more fat.

How can my level of fitness be a factor on my fat utilization results?

Like it was mentioned on the original post, research points to the fact that two athletes, with similar levels of fitness, that exercise at the same relative intensity (relative to lactate threshold) will oxidize a similar mix of substrates. This means that as you become more fit, for the same absolute intensity, you will burn more fat, even if diet is maintained.

Should the results from O2 Metabolic Assessment tests be used to guide my training?

The answer to that is no. The goal of training is to improve performance, not % of fat burning. And contrary to what the myth believers will tell you, improved fat burning does not translate to gains in performance. Improved fat utilization is the consequence of becoming more fit and not the other way around.

Do you think the use of O2 Metabolic Assessment tests is a scam and the people making money out of this quacks?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that, as I'm sure that many people that use these tests have a strong (unfounded) belief in them. However, it is important to stress that using O2 Metabolic Assessment tests to guide your training is a self-fulfilling prophecy. After you do the first test, the usual advice is to train at your “maximum fat burning zone”. Often you also get nutritional advice that in reality increases your % of dietary fat intake. When you repeat the test, you will be likely more fit and have a diet with more fat. So the results of the test will show that you’re better at burning fat at absolute intensities. The “obvious” conclusion is that the advice that was given was spot-on and you’re better at burning fat. But in fact, you’re just more fit or/and are consuming a higher % of dietary body fat. So basically, repeating the test will always have the same result, because the repeat test is affected by increased fitness and changed diet. Even if an athlete never trained in the “maximum fat burning zone”, as long as her fitness improved or/and her % of dietary body fat increased, she would still have improved fat burning ability at absolute intensities.

Can I really burn 100% fat at rest?

The answer to that is NO!!! We burn approximately 55% to 65% fat and 45% to 35% CHO at rest.

Some references:

Coyle EF, Jeukendrup AE, Oseto MC, Hodgkinson BJ, Zderic TW. Low-fat diet alters intramuscular substrates and reduces lipolysis and fat oxidation during exercise. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2001;280:E391–398.

Coyle EF, Jeukendrup AE, Wagenmakers AJM, Saris WHM. Fatty acid oxidation is directly regulated by carbohydrate metabolism during exercise. American Journal of Physiology. 1997;36:E268–275.

Goedecke JH, Gibson AS, Grobler L, Collins M, Noakes TD, and Lambert EV. Determinants of the variability in respiratory exchange ratio at rest and during exercise in trained athletes. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 279: E1325–E1334, 2000.

Helge JW, Richter EA, Kiens B. Interaction of training and diet on metabolism and endurance during exercise in man. Journal of Physiology. 1996;292:293–306.

Phinney SD, Bistrian BR, Evans WJ, Gervino E, Blackburn GL. The human metabolic response to chronic ketosis without caloric restriction: preservation of submaximal exercise capability with reduced carbohydrate oxidation. Metabolism. 1983;32:769–776.

And for the last question

McArdle WD, Katch FI, Katch VL. Essentials of Exercise Physiology, 2nd Ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.

Monday, May 26, 2008

A (very) brief discussion about success

"Success is not built on success. It's built on failure. It's built on frustration. Sometimes its built on catastrophe" - Sumner Redstone

That quote was on a friend’s blog. An athlete I coach copied it and posted it on her blog, she liked it. I don’t. I don’t like it at all.

I thought maybe it was just me, so I asked a couple of friends of mine what they thought about it. They both didn’t agree with the quote. One said:

“Success is built on success”

The other one said:

“Success is build on all kinds of shit”

(I’ll leave you to guess which one is a coach…)

I tend to agree with these last two quotes. Success is built on success. SUCCESS, all caps, achieving an important goal, is built on smaller little successes. The everyday victories on the everyday battles we all have to face. You might not win them all, but you have to win most in order to succeed.

Failure might be a starting point for success, it might provide the frustration that turns into motivation to get back on track towards success. But without the everyday little successes, the daily little victories, you will never succeed. You can’t expect to go from failure to failure and in the end, miraculous succeed.

The second “quote” is also true. There are a lot of factors that will influence success. Sometime success will come from unlikely conditions. Sometimes it will be unexpected. But looking back, if you look closely, you will see all those little victories lined up behind it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The other day I found that one of my posts here was linked on another blog and tagged as "mythbusters". That kind of sums up what some of the blogs I write are, since sometimes I try to deconstruct training myths that are – often wrongly –ingrained in the triathlon community.

One myth that once in a while still surfaces is the fat-burning myth. Not the most particular representation of the myth that states that you should slow down to burn more fat, hopefully that one is dead and buried. I'm talking about the more general one that sees fat as some sort of untapped source of fuel that we need to access in order to become more "efficient". For the myth followers, "teaching our body" to ”optimize fat burning” by way of this or that type of training is the way to increased endurance.

This seems attractive! I can use this stuff around my waist to go further and faster! I can have a training plan taylored to ME and to the needs of MY body! I am a snowflake, and no other human is like ME!

Central to this approach is the O2 Metabolic Assessment test. From this test, we can determine the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) for a given exercise intensity. The RER is the ratio of carbon dioxide (CO2) production to the oxygen (O2) consumption and serves as an indicator of the nutrient mixture being utilized.

This is great, I can know what type of fuel MY body is burning at a given intensity and perhaps have my training designed so that I can burn more fat!

While googling around to write this post, I came across this interesting quote from none other than Dr. Andrew Coggan. Apart from being known to troll, er, frequent, triathlon internet fora and just having coached one person in his life, in real life Dr. Coggan is an expert in substrate utilization during exercise. On the relevance of performing an O2 Metabolic Assessment test, Dr. Coggan had this to say:

"Interesting, perhaps, but I don't really see much relevance to training prescription (…) Although the measurements are highly reproducible, I certainly wouldn't rely on such information to modify someone's training program."

I decided to dig in a little more and went to PubMed for a search on this subject. The evidence points to diet being the factor that has a major impact on the mix of substrates oxidized during exercise. And not just long-term diet trends, but also the composition of foods consumed in the days leading up to the test. So even athletes who generally consume high-CHO content diets will have the ability to oxidize mostly fat if they switch to a high-fat diet for a short period of time prior to such a test.

The scientific evidence also points to the fact that two athletes, with similar levels of fitness, that exercise at the same relative intensity (relative to lactate threshold) will oxidize a similar mix of substrates. This means that fitness and diet, not training, will determine how much fat you will burn.

The reason why the search for "efficient fat burning" is a red herring is that is not because an athlete is efficient at burning fat that he is fitter. Fitter athletes have undergone a set of training adaptations that are superior to other, less fit, athletes. Among them is an improved ability to oxidize lipids at a given absolute exercise intensity. Improved fat utilization is the consequence of becoming more fit and not the other way around.

For all this, the next time someone tells you that doing a O2 Metabolic Assessment test is the only way to understand your body, taylor your training to your needs and get to the next level, remind them that a review of the literature on the subject is in order. And go spend your money elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Flavor of the day coaching

I was feeling particularly lazy today and did not have the energy to write a post about one of my favorite red herrings, the quest for improved fat burning. So I thought I would recycle an old post of mine on Slowtwitch, one that I feel is still very actual.

"You can divide coaches in many categories, according to age, level of experience, school of thought (if that exists in triathlon coaching at all), nationality, etc. One of the most common divider, especially in the US, is between coaches that are competitive athletes and those that are not.

For some reason, most people think that a successful athlete will be a successful coach. Not only that is not true, but in my opinion that almost never happens. I often see those coaches that are competitive athletes as "flavor of the day" coaches. Because they are too involved with their own training process, they easily take the tree for the forest and see all other athletes as "clones" of themselves. Because they are not bound by a long-term plan, athletes by definition have difficulty with focusing on long-term plans, they focus on what seemingly works here and now. Because they constantly change their methods, they lack the consistency in methods and processes you need in order to improve.

As a coach, it is very easy to spot these athletes/coaches because they say they are coaches, but talk like athletes. When discussing training, they discuss their training and their experience and have difficulty with abstract/general concepts. When justifying past setbacks, they always act like they were wrong then, but NOW they are right. Whatever is the "flavor of the day" is the absolute

All the truly great coaches throughout the years were not and are not competitive athletes. The great coaches are the ones that have the ability to detach themselves from their own experiences and live the experiences of the athletes they coach. The experienced coach is the one that throughout the years learned through the experience of many athletes. The experienced and successful coach is the one that used what he/she learned throughout the years to build a consistent and coherent system for success. "

Friday, May 16, 2008

Content II

One of the (many) criticisms I received regarding the blog was that it should have more content. By content, it was meant that the blog should have more direct instruction, more concrete examples. I am sure this opinion is shared by a lot of readers. Perhaps the more cynic among you will think that I don’t talk in more concrete terms because the blog is for free, and the direct instruction I save it for my clients.

In one previous post I shared one of Jonathan’s training weeks from last year. As I expected, it was a popular post which beat the blog’s previous visits record. I somewhat expected this result. For all those of you that found that schedule interesting, I have a question: What did you learn from it?

The answer to that is pretty clear: nothing! Nothing can be learned from looking at one schedule from one athlete. A lot of people are curious about knowing about workouts, weekly schedules (especially from pros), when the lessons they can learn from reading this or that schedule has virtually no impact on their own training.

In my opinion, posts like this or others that I write, or sometimes stuff written by others that I quote here, represent real content because they address the one key aspect of success: Attitude towards training and racing. Having the right attitude towards the day-to-day of training, and subsequently racing, is one of the most important aspects that defines the best performers.

Some of you walk the Earth looking for the secrets of training and racing. You read the sites and the blogs. You listen to this or that self-appointed guru. You pay attention to the smallest details. But yet, you leave out the bigger, more important picture. And by missing this, you will never find The Way.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What's an individual sport?

Go read this.

Next time you think you're better off by always training alone, by doing your own thing, think again.

The workout that Paul Tichelaar was able to accomplish today would be impossible to do on his own. It's a good example that shows that nothing pushes you more than being challenged on a daily basis by those with a similar ability and goals than you.

So you think triathlon is an individual sport? Think again.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Content I

I thought the readers of the blog would be interested in taking a look at the schedule of a pro triathlete. Below is the toughest week for Jonathan Caron before his second place last year at Ironman Canada. Enjoy!

Mon 30-Jul
Swim SWIM!
Run 50min Zn2

Tue 31-Jul
Swim SWIM!
Bike 4:30h Zn2 with 1:30h Zn3 (divide this as you want)
Run 50min Zn2

Wed 1-Aug
Bike 1:30h Zn2
Run AM: 2:15h Zn2 PM: 50min Zn2

Thr 2-Aug
Swim SWIM!
Bike 4:00h Zn2 with last 1:00h @ Zn3
Run 50min Zn2

Fri 3-Aug
Bike 1:30h Zn2
Run 50min Zn2 + 8 strides with walking rests (do the strides!!!) (AM)

Sat 4-Aug
Bike 2:00h Zn2 (PM)
Run 30min Zn2 + 50min Zn2 building to Zn3 + 10min Zn2 (AM)

Sun 5-Aug
Swim SWIM! (OW)
Bike 6:30h with 3x30min Zn3 + transition +
Run + 20min Zn2-Zn3 + 10min cooldown

Friday, May 2, 2008

USA Triathlon Olympic Team selection

There's been a lot of talk during the last months about the many puzzling aspects surrounding the selection of the USA Triathlon Olympic team to compete in Beijing, and the team itself.

Because I am on the outside looking in, I will definitely refrain from making public comments. However, the whole thing reminded me of a nice piece of dialogue from Oscar-winning film, No Country for Old Men:

"Deputy Wendell: It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell: If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here. "

Monday, April 28, 2008

Is it going to be Javier and Vanessa?

After watching the total domination of World Cup competition over the last two years by Vanessa Fernandes and Javier Gomez, we might be tempted to just call them up, give them the Gold medals and have races in Beijing for Silver and Bronze. The fact is that the races in Beijing are not done deals and there are plenty of contenders, both in the women’s and men’s races but especially in the men’s, that can pull off an upset win.

World Cup racing is different from big Championship racing. In order to have a good World Cup campaign, athletes need to be at a good level during large periods of time during the season. In order to achieve this, their level of form needs to have very little variation. Of course this leaves out the possibility of achieving a peak performance at a given race. For most races, this is not a problem for athletes like Javier and Vanessa, since their average level is still well above the average level of everyone else racing against them. Their problem arises at big Championship races, when their main competition are athletes that are looking for a peak performance. In that instance, their average, even if at a pretty high level, it’s still not enough to beat peak performances from other athletes. Good examples of this was Daniel Unger winning Hamburg Worlds, Rasmus Henning winning Des Moines last year or the close races that Vanessa has had at Worlds in the last 3 years.

Another factor to consider is that Javier and Vanessa win a lot because… they race a lot. Racing a lot of World Cups is very stressful. There’s the flying and the airports and the time away from family and home. All this stress also represents time away from training. Those that race a lot, don’t improve as much as those that build up towards a few goal in each season. Those that race a lot build their fitness during the off-season and in between races, and (hopefully) maintain it when racing. So we can say that, even if they’re at a higher level, they are not improving as much as they could (a “scary” thought, having an even faster Vanessa!).

Of course that it’s not like Vanessa and Javier, and more importantly their coaches, are not aware of these factors. And I’m pretty sure that they want to win in Beijing pretty badly. But all this is to say that it’s going to be two amazingly competitive races, with no anticipated winners. And why? Because… IT’S THE OLYMPICS!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Listen to your heart? The answer might be yes.

In my last post, I ranted about how common misconceptions regarding heart rate are still in use in the triathlon community. Does that mean that you should throw away your heart rate monitor? The short answer to that is no. The longer answer follows.

Even if heart rate is not an accurate means of defining exercise intensity, that does not mean that it is a useless control parameter. As long as heart rate is assessed at its true value (through the use of a heart rate monitor), with all its possibilities and limitations, it is still a valuable parameter.

Heart rate is of great importance to teach athletes about the benefits of varying training intensities. Coupling training tasks to different heart rate zones encourages the athlete not to train at the same intensity all the time. It also serves as a guide to learn how to accurately determine perceived exertion. Perceived exertion is the best racing tool there is because it allows you to bring out your best effort on race day. It accounts for weather conditions but more importantly it accounts for athlete conditions. It is based on the “now” that makes racing, not on the effort you put in during your testing sessions. Perceived exertion is the only way to race up to your full potential at any race, and heart rate can help, within its limitations, to zero-in your sense of perceived exertion.

The fact that heart rate reflects more than the metabolic reaction to exertion means that it can be used as a means to evaluate, with a degree of subjectivity, the general condition of the whole organism. Heart rate can tell us a bit about how well the body handles training in combination with other factors as health, level of fatigue, acclimatization to altitude, etc. A higher than usual morning heart rate is a sign that there is something is up, which might or might not be related to training. If it persists for three or more days, a thorough analysis of the training process and the athlete’s environment should be made. Also higher than normal heart rate during low-intensity exercise, combined with lower than normal heart rates as exercise intensity increases clearly indicate fatigue or health problems. These symptoms are not important when isolated, but they might indicate that something is wrong when they persist.

Now that we went through some of the situations where heart rate can be valuable, some of you that do not use a heart rate monitor are probably wondering if they should get one. My opinion is that they are better off by staying away from a heart rate monitor. For the experienced, successful athlete, starting to use a heart rate monitor will only bring unnecessary complexity to the training process, with the possibility of overthinking that comes from it. And if you allow me to quote myself, overthinking is synonymous with underachieving.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

“The 90’s called: They want their training plans back”*

Sometimes when I hear some athletes or coaches, when I read some training articles or blogs, it seems like I am thrown back to the 90’s. The same misconceptions, the same misunderstandings, the same urban myths are thrown around now, like they were 10-15-20 years ago.

The myths that are more prevalent are the ones connected with heart rate. It all comes from the myth that listening to your body means listening to your heart (the anthropological ramifications of this myth are also interesting). From this central myth, comes the common misconception that heart rate is an accurate measure of exercise intensity.

In the beginning of the 90’s, as heart rate monitors became readily available for everyone, it seemed that heart rate was a great training tool. From a scientific standpoint, the emergence of heart rate training and testing started with Conconi’s paper and the Conconi test. From then on, considerable research used heart rate, proving it to be a good indicator of exercise intensity, but only under controlled laboratory conditions.

The triathlon world was perhaps the endurance community that embraced more the use of heart rate monitors in training and racing. Mark Allen changed the way he raced Ironman Hawaii by using a heart rate monitor, going on to win 6 times the race, and that served as evidence to everyone of the superiority of the heart rate based approach to training and racing.

Now it’s time to put things into perspective. Polar launched its first HRM with recording capabilities around 1990, that was 18 years ago. The last time Mark Allen won Ironman Hawaii was in 1995, that was 12 years ago. However, the misconceptions that were born so long ago still persist today, which is something that is quite puzzling. Since the early nineties until now, here’s some things that we have learned:

- Heart rate is not a direct measure of exercise intensity. It is a measure of… wait for it… the amount of work the heart, not skeletal muscle mind you, is performing at a given time. This seems simple enough to understand, but it’s a starting point that many simply don’t understand.
- Heart rate is severely affected by factors like temperature, humidity, altitude, fatigue, hydration status and many more. The day to day variation can be quite significative.
- The Conconi test is now seen as either a nicely crafted scientific fraud, or the result of a highly unprobable sample of athletes (Shame on the coaches that still use it, charging more than $200 for wasting the athlete’s time and money).
- Maximum heart rate is a completely useless metric.
- Rest heart rate is not a measure of fitness or an indicator of overtraining.
- Heart rate is highly individual. Even though it generally decreases with age, any formula that relates any definition of a lactate-based or respiratory-based threshold with age makes no sense whatsoever.
- Any test protocol that uses heart rate to determine intensity is essentially flawed and should not be used to track progress (Homework assignment: write a two-page essay on why the MAF test should not be used as a testing tool).

All the facts stated above, and many more, are supported by scientific evidence. So the question is why do we keep hearing the same things over and over again? Why are we so often thrown back into an ignorant time warp? More than the difficulty that some coaches have to understand basic concepts of exercise physiology and keep up with the scientific literature, I think that business interests are what’s at stake here. Many coaches have built solid businesses out of spewing out the same misconceptions over and over and OVER again. And because that works, meaning that puts food on their table, they are not willing to change a “winning” formula. At the expense of the best interests of their athletes, obviously.

By now, all of you that use your heart rate monitor as your friend and companion, your little window into your heart, must be panicking. What are you going to do now that heart rate is not what you thought it was? Well, even if it is not the trustworthy measure of intensity that you thought it was, it is still a decent tool that can help your training. In my next post, I will talk a bit about how you can make the most out of the information that your heart rate monitor is giving you.

* © Danois Montoya, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Residual fitness

This past weekend I was lucky enough to witness two world class performances based on “residual fitness”. Even if one of the performances was from an athlete with less that 4 years of high-level training, and the other was from a veteran in the sport, both of them overcame less than perfect build-ups towards their race in order to perform well.

The term “residual fitness” can be a little misleading, since it might lead us to believe that even if your preparation was far from perfect, you still have a little something left in the tank. However, we should call it not-so-residual fitness, or just plain fitness.

Fitness is the weighted sum of all the training adaptations an athlete collected EVER. Of course that the catch is that time is the variable that weighs in the sum, and that whenever an athlete stops training, a relatively rapid loss of the acquired adaptations starts to occur. For example, half the increase in mitochondria from 5 weeks of training can be lost in one week of inactivity. Since the number of mitochondria is substantially related to the endurance capacity of an athlete, it is obvious that one week of inactivity will have a marked effect on endurance. It is required nearly 4 weeks of training in order to recover from one week of inactivity. However, coaching experience throughout the years have taught us that the rate of detraining of the endurance capacity depends on the time that has been spent in building up this capacity. Or in other words, the more time an athlete spends building up his fitness, the longer his fitness will be mantained, even if he/she drastically reduces training. Another consequence of the fact that fitness is a function of time is that the training an athlete does in the last 6-8 weeks is the most important do determine his/her current fitness. But all the training an athlete did before those last 6-8 weeks is of paramount importance, as it determines your fitness entering this period. And that is the residual fitness.

There are many practical implications of what was stated above. The first one underlines the importance that consistency has in the training process. Consistency over weeks, months and years is what brings your residual fitness up, guaranteeing long-term development. Even if your fitness peaks a few times a year, residual fitness determines the starting point from which racing fitness will rise. The second implication is that when approaching a race with a less than perfect final build-up, an (extra) effort to stay focused on the big picture should be made. As long as the training period preceding a period of inactivity due to injury, illness or life was continuous and long enough, there is no reason to panic. The athlete will be able to regain his/her level of fitness in a short time. Residual fitness will carry you on race day, as long as you gear your last weeks before race week to tap into it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

You can blog later...

I confessed in another post on this blog to being an old-school coach. But according to my definition of what is old-school, I try hard to keep up with the new (meaningful) trends. One of such emerging trends is coach/athlete communication through... blog.

With an increasing number of athletes having a personal blog these days, it seems that the passive-aggressive attitude of sending little messages through blogs, for which I am as well guilty as charged, has invaded the coach/athlete universe. For a lot of athletes, the question pops in their mind: Should I email my coach or just write a blog and expect him/her to see it? And a lot of the times, the blog wins. The problem with this is that what athletes put on blogs is their version of things for public consumption. And what coaches need to hear is the real thing, the nitty-gritty, the straight dope.

There is an obvious difference in the type of information that you share with your coach and the information you share with the outside world. And the only way a coach can do a good job at coaching you is if he has the right information to work with, not a distilled, digested version of your training and your life.

So go and email your coach. You can blog later.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Getting the work done

Jonnyo “invented” that expression: “Getting the work done”. And slowly but surely, the expression and the attitude behind it was adopted by everyone in the posse. I use the word attitude because there really is an attitude behind “getting the work done”.

“Getting the work done" is about trusting what you are doing and focusing all your energy into execution, both in training and racing. The sport of triathlon is full of overthinkers. They overthink everything: nutrition, equipment and of course training. Proof of the existence of these overthinkers is the popularity of triathlon forums, with their endless pages of often pointless discussion. What makes overthinking an issue is that when athletes overthink, they lose focus. Focus on the truly important things: consistency, patience, long-term approach to development. This is a problem for many athletes, but I see it worse when coaches suffer from it. Too many coaches out there overthink their processes and “infect” their athletes with superfluous questioning of every step of the training process. The bottom line is that overthinking is synonym with underachieving.

“Getting the work done” is about consistency. Every athlete has days where it is hard to get out the door for the next workout. Most of the times this is a mental issue that is experienced by athletes at every level. One way of helping the athlete with these issues is to build the schedule around training sessions that do not need a lot of mental energy to accomplish. I like to call them “bread-and-butter” sessions. They are usually short in duration and low-intensity, but are still a very important part of the overall training program. They do not ask much from the athlete in terms of mental commitment and all he/she needs to do is to go out and get the work done.

“Getting the work done” is about expanding your personal boundaries. In order to do that, you have to go to your limit and then past it. You will be in a place where fatigue will cause you to doubt everything you are doing. And you are at that point, the only way is up and for that you need to get the work done.

Finally, “getting the work done” is about commitment to your goals. A lot of people have very lofty goals but hesitate when it is time to do the work that will allow them to accomplish those goals. For the large majority of athletes, what keeps them from achieving their goals is to get the work done.

Now get out there and just… get the work done!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


As some of you have noticed, I stopped posting on my blog for quite some time. It was for me a time of reflection. A time to look back and evaluate my coaching methods and my training philosophy. During this month, I have come to accept the shortcomings of my approaches to triathlon training, and be more open to what others have been using successfully for so long.

Therefore, I have made a list of measures that will become effective immediately for the athletes coached by me:
- From now on, all training should be done with a HRM. The use of a powermeter on the bike will no longer be encouraged. For those that, for curiosity, still want to keep their powermeter, I will instruct them to use power as just an auxiliary metric, with HR being their primary way of measuring intensity.
- The use of a Garmin and a motionbased account will be mandatory for all athletes.
- I will build personalized playlists for my athletes to listen on their iPod while running.
- I will have my own definition of lactate threshold. It will be based on a way of measuring your lactate through your breathing. I will call it pLT.
- I will create my own version of the basic concepts of exercise physiology. This is not totally developed yet, but I think that the next big thing after aerobic/anaerobic is going to be paraerobic.
- Having a long ride on Saturday followed by a long run on Sunday will be one of the staples of my program.
- Another staple of the program will be the mandatory weekly day off.
- Walk breaks during long runs will also be mandatory.
- I will discuss race strategy with my athletes solely based on bike pacing.
- I will stop asking my athletes to do “all-out” or “best average” sets.
- Everytime my athletes have a bad race, I will remind them that there isn’t such a thing as failure, just feedback.
- I will make an effort to read more books about training. When reading those books, I will look for what makes them unique and individual, instead of looking for their common points.
- I will watch Full Metal Jacket at least once a week, always searching for new ways to apply the teachings of the film to my coaching practice.
- I have come to realize that having myself reply to the emails I get from athletes is a practice that belongs in the 20th century. I will now have an apprentice coach to reply to the emails like it was me. Interested coaches should apply to the position and screening will go on until the position is filled. The tuition fees for this apprenticeship will be low, as to allow anyone to have the priviledge of learning from me.
- I will constantly remind myself that triathlon coaching is a business, and that as such, the customer is always right.
- I will take every opportunity to mention the names of the pro athletes I coach, only because it fills me with pride to work with such talented people.
- In order to fulfill the requirements to become an Elite Level Coach, I will write articles and post on Forums demonstrating this new approach to triathlon training.

This is just a small part of all the changes I will be making to my coaching in the following months. It will be a hard process, but I am sure a new, better Coach Paulo will emerge from this.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A little bit more about the constant fatigue “model”

I got an email from another highly respected coach (he asked to be called that!) asking me to elaborate a little on how to implement in a weekly routine he constant fatigue model that I talked about here, and how it differs from other ways of scheduling training.

In order to talk about this, it might be helpful to define a subjective, qualitative training stress score that I will call TRS, Training Response Score. For a simple definition of TRS, let’s say that the total training load that any athlete can handle in a week represents 700 TRS, which means that the average daily TRS is 100. With this average daily TRS defined, it is easier to qualitatively explain the constant fatigue level model, and even compare it wth other scheduling models. Given that TRS is a measure based on adaptation to training, it is closely linked to the state of fatigue/recovery of the ahlete. Therefore, constant fatigue levels should be obtained by aiming to have daily TRS’s of around 100.

Even though for the sake of simplicity, the time frame of one week was mentioned, we need to remember that adaptation to training occurs in periods of 6-8 weeks. So when we are talking about the 700 TRS an athlete can handle in a week, we really should be thinking of the amount of training load an athlete can perform in a 6-8 week block, 4200-5600 TRS. This training load is something that falls into a very narrow interval.

As we all know, specificity has, or should have, a big impact when designing the training plan. Therefore, specificity requirements might deviate us from the “perfect” implementation of the constant fatigue model. This is particularly true for Ironman training, where for specificity, it is often needed to schedule days which will bring a TRS in excess of 100. To give an example, a training session that is common for IM athletes to do, a 5 hour ride followed by a 40min run, is a session that might have a TRS of over 150 for some athletes.

So how do you couple the constant fatigue model with the specificity needs? I feel that the best approach is to have a hard day/easy day approach, where you seek recovery, hence adaptation, in the short term. In terms of TRS, this would mean that following a 150 TRS day, you would schedule a 50 TRS.

An alternative way to schedule training is to center microcyle planning around 2-3 “big days” in a week. Let’s try to see this with the help of the TRS. A “big day” might represent some 150-200 TRS and 2-3 days can mean a training load of 400-500 TRS. Because we have a “budget” of 700 TRS for the week (or more important 4200-5600 TRS for the block), and because such stenous sessions require significant recovery in the following days, a good part of the week is comprised of low TRS days. The practical consequences of what was stated above are pretty straightforward. There is only so much and athlete can handle inside 6-8 weeks. So if you are seeking adaptation to training, something that apparently is not a goal for some, if you are going to do “big days” or “big weeks” of training, they will be followed by small days or small weeks in order to balance out the adaptation equation. And this is the important detail that never makes it to athlete’s blogs.

Some of you must be asking right now this: What is the difference between the two approaches, providing you respect the same TRS during a 6-8 week block?
The main difference I find is the predictability in response to training that you get by using a constant fatigue/recovery model. By seeking to find the training load that induces a constant recovery timeframe, you can easily answer one of the more important questions when scheduling training: “Is the athlete recovered in order to be able to complete the goals of the next session?”

As mentioned in an earlier post, the training process can be loosely modeled as a series of sequenced processes composed of:

Training Load (session) -> Fatigue -> Adaptation(recovery) -> Performance

By trying to maintain constant the load/fatigue part of the process, we can more easily predict the effect that the scheduled sessions have in the overall training plan and hence the impact in performance.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Run like Sergio

Wim de Doncker asked me to write a little piece about Sergio's run training. You can read it here.