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. "