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Posts Tagged ‘Triathlon’

6 Essential Pieces of Winter Gear for Endurance Athletes

December 7th, 2009

running in winterIf you’re like me, one of the biggest challenges this time of year as an endurance athlete is figuring out how you can continue to do your workouts outside while the days get shorter and colder. I’m a big proponent of cross-training in the winter and taking advantage of what winter has to offer (see my previous post, The Case for Winter: Multisport at Its Best). Whatever outdoor activity you pursue in the winter, you’re going to want to think about the gear that you will need. Being prepared for the cold temperatures, wind chill and mixed precipitation will make your experience in the winter much more enjoyable, whether you choose to workout outdoors or are forced due to challenging conditions to workout indoors.

The six pieces of gear that every endurance athlete absolutely should have as part of their winter collection are:

1. A windshirt- Whether you’re going for a run, a climb, a hike, or a bike ride, a windshirt is the most versatile, practical piece of clothing you can own. (You could also throw in windpants which are made from the same category in with the shirt). In fact, I like to state that a windshirt is the best piece of clothing EVER invented. What makes it so great is that it is lightweight, it protects you from the wind very well (although it’s not designed with a ton of insulation to keep you super warm in very cold temps), it’s breathable, and it dries very fast (which is critical in the winter). I often wear just a synthetic base layer and the windshirt when I go skate skiing or for a run in cold temps and it ends up being all I need as long as I’m moving. My personal favorite is the Marmot DriClime Windshirt, but other companies also make descent equivalents, like REI.

2. Windstopper clothing- If I plan on doing a bike ride in the winter or go downhill or cross-country skiing on a very windy day, I always make sure I’m wearing windstopper gloves, hat (or on the bike, balaclava), shirt, and — ahem– underwear. There are two things to think about in the winter: insulation from the cold and protection from the wind. You often won’t need a ton of insulation since you’ll be generating heat while moving along, but you will need protection from the wind. Windstopper material is specially designed to protect against the biting cold of the wind. It does come with the trade-off that it’s less breathable, so you want to be sure to regulate any excessive sweat build up when using windstopper material. Any wind stopper gloves from REI, Black Diamond, Craft or other manufacturer will do. As for underwear, I’d highly recommend underwear by Craft, especially for men, who will need to protect certain appendages.

3. Running shoe ice cleats- There’s nothing more tedious than relegating all of your runs to the treadmill as soon as the cold weather and snow comes. I’ll often advise my clients to do some of their runs indoors in the winter, but will always encourage them to get outside when possible. After all, the races you’ll be running are all outdoors (unless you’re track & field person), so the more running you can do outside the better. One essential piece of equipment all runners are going to want to have are ice cleats for their running shoes. Ice cleats go on the bottom of the running shoe will help with the grip on icy or snowy trails, as well as roads (although I’d not recommending wearing them on roads where pavement is showing since this will ruin the cleats). Some good brands/models to consider are the Yaktrax Pros, Petzl Spiky Plus, Stableicers Sport, or Icespike. Runner’s World did a nice review of ice cleats.

4. A headlamp- Days are short in the winter and it’s virtually impossible to do your early morning workout or after-work workout with sunlight or at least without starting (in the morning) or finishing (in the evening) in the dark. Headlamp technology has improved leaps and bounds the past 10 years and it’s really easy to find an inexpensive, lightweight model to help light your way. I’d highly recommend an LED headlamp from Black Diamond, Petzl, or Princeton Tec. Something like the Petzl Tikka, Princeton Tec Aurora or Black Diamond Ion are just the right size and strength for nighttime running or skiing. Backpacking Light has a descent comparison of LED headlamps.

5. Bike trainer- Sometimes the roads are just going to be too snow-covered or icy to safely go out and do a ride or perhaps you just don’t feel like hauling our your mountain bike to hit the trails. That’s when a bike trainer will come in very handy. In the height of the winter (roughly mid-December to early March), I do the majority of my bike workouts on a trainer (it’s much easier to get on the trainer at 5:30am on that dark, -15 degree morning). You’re going to want to decide whether you should get a magnetic or roller trainer (I’ll defer that debate to another time) or even a CompuTrainer (which I’d recommend for advanced athletes with a bigger budget). I ride a magnetic trainer and highly recommend Kurt Kinetic or Cycle-Ops.

6. Home gym for strength & power- Okay, so this isn’t just one piece of equipment, but a few (which you’ll need to vary the types of exercises you can do at home). Sometimes the weather is just so crappy (think, 33 degrees and raining), that you have no choice but to workout indoors in the winter or it’s just easier to do the particular exercise or workout indoors (think weight training). That’s when a home gym comes in (if you prefer to go to a gym outside your home, make sure they have the equipment you need). I’m a big proponent of functional movement exercise to simulate the sport you training for, which as an endurance athlete, is not body-building (read: no need to be able to bench press 300+ lbs). Given that, most of the equipment you need for the type of strength and power training for endurance sports you can store in your home, would cost you about 1-2 months worth of gym membership (approximately $100-200, with the exception of a core board, which would run the budget up), and would include the following:

  • dumbbells- get two dumbbells and about 50-60 lbs. of weight per dumbbell (you can always purchase more weight later if you need it). Having dumbbells you can add/subtract weight from will make it easier for changing resistance levels & for storage.
  • physioball- you will use this for a variety of exercises, including balance, and strength. Check the specs to make sure you get the right size.
  • medicine ball(s)- typically one 12lb ball will cover most exercises you’ll do.
  • stretch cords (or resistance bands)- these can be used for simulating a variety of strength and stretching exercises. Make sure you get the right resistance level.
  • core board- a core board is fantastic for core stability exercises and should be part of any home gym. The Reebok core board is perhaps the best one on the market.
  • pad- any foam pad will do, as long as it serves as adequate protection for the floor and cushioning for when you lie on it.
  • foam roller- a foam roller is fantastic for self-massage, which is something I recommend as part of active recovery. The more harder the foam roller, the better it will work.
  • yoga strap or rope- any 8-10 foot piece of rope or yoga strap will work perfectly in assisting with active isolated stretching exercises, which I often recommend as part of active recovery.

Of course there is all the ancillary gear that goes along with the above list to help you do you workouts (such as your bike or skis), but I am assuming you have most of that gear. The items on the above list will compliment those items and allow you to focus on your winter endurance regime much more effectively and enjoyably.

Ralph’s California Half Ironman and The Eagleman Half Ironman: Two Races, One Goal

December 6th, 2009

I’ve been fortunate enough to have have had some really great experiences in my life– from expeditions to triathlon races– many of which I’ve written about, but never have posted online (mainly because they were written prior to the widespread use of blogs or common occurence of writing to the web). I figured now is a great time to share some of these stories on Ascending Higher, particularly as we’re waiting for the snow to arrive and searching for some inspiration to plan out some exciting adventures for 2010. I’ll run them as a series of posts, starting with a narrative I wrote about my trip to Peru in July-August 2001 during an expedition to the Cordillera Blanca. I’ll then follow that with write-ups of my climbing trip to the volcanoes of Ecuador in December 2000, my expedition to the Cordillera Real of Bolivia in July-August 2004, trek to Everest Base Camp in March-April of 2000, as well as recaps of my experiences at bike rides (Harpoon’s Brewery to Brewery) and triathlon races (Eagleman, Ralph’s CA Half). I would love to hear your comments and experiences, so please comment on any of the posts!

This first post was written in June 2003, soon after I had completed the Blackwater Eagleman Half Ironman.

Ralph's CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

Ralph\’s CA Half Ironman now known as 70.3 Ironman CA- Oceanside

After finishing the Timberman Half Ironman in 2002, I was hooked. I knew the longer distance endurance races were why I had gotten into this thing called triathlon. Where else could you suffer for 5 or more hours (in my case at least) completing a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run and call it “enjoyment”? Or perhaps more appropriately, where else could you challenge yourself to reach beyond your limits and to seek your personal best? So shortly after I finished the Timberman I scoured the Internet for more of these endurance gems. Like a drug addict, I needed to know when the next one was so that I could satisfy my inner yearning for more torture. Just as importantly, I wanted the “good stuff”—the races off the beaten path—races with some history—races with some Mojo.

Two races in particular piqued my fancy—Ralph’s California Half Ironman (now called Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside) on April 5, 2003 and The Eagleman Half Ironman on June 7, 2003. These races not only fell perfectly into my training and race calendar for the year, but also fit the criteria for the “good stuff”. The California Half would take me to Triathlon City Central– San Diego, California– while the weather was still cold back east (and ice climbing season was coming to a close) as well as allow me to pay a visit to my sister who still can’t quite figure out why I would want to fly 3000 miles to do one of these things. Likewise, The Eagleman would take me to lovely Cambridge, Maryland (okay, well not so lovely, but the Chesapeake is nice) and allow me to pay a visit to my two year old godson along the way. Always combine pleasure with pleasure I like to say.

The California Half Ironman featured over 2000 athletes from around the world, including last year’s Hawaii Ironman World Champion, Tim DeBoom. (Not that I would ever get a chance to see him since he finished 1 and half hours before me, but it was somewhat cool to be at a race with the “big guns”). The California Half is considered the “kick-off” to Kona, being the first Hawaii qualifier of the season. This fact, coupled with its location, ensured the competition would be stiff. My only goal entering the race was to see where I was at at this point in the season. Being from New England, its difficult to train outdoors in the winter (you get no sympathy from those living in southern California—trust me) so I knew the 56 mile ride over the hills of Camp Pendleton would be quite a challenge. I was praying to the God of Trainers to pull me through!

“Be sure to wear your wetsuit, the water is freezing!”, the Race Director warned us at the pre-race meeting. However, the race day water temperature turned out to be 59 degrees—child’s play! Being in my wetsuit for the first time since last October did not worry me (but it should have as I ended up with the biggest wetsuit hickee ever seen on a human being), as I slid myself into the Pacific. With water temperatures just fine, air temperatures in the high 60s and absolutely no wind to speak of, the swim in Oceanside harbor was the best ever for a race.

The transition areas were all well-run and organized, as I made my way for my bike. Fortunately, the course is closed to public traffic since it’s on a military base (there was actually a threat of a base closure due to the war in Iraq, but luckily that did not happen). The support of the Marines handing out water bottles at the aid stations was a true inspiration, as I was reminded of how lucky we all were to be competing in races such as the California Half because of the bravery of the Marines. I gave it all I had on the ride, but the hills had taken their toll. My time was much slower than I had hoped, but I did have enough for the run.

The run took us along the strand at Oceanside and was quite a flat, scenic course. Temperatures had risen during the double out-and-back run, approaching the mid-to-high 70s by race end. I had been battling a post-tib injury since last year (and still am), so I knew the run would be a true test of mental stamina for me. For me, the run (especially around mile 8 on a half IM) is always “the meat” of the race—the time when you have just got to hang in and pull it through. I had to reach deep to pull it through this time, but I did and was rewarded with a great big hug from my sister and Leslie at the finish line. Victory!

After the California Half, I knew I had a lot of work to do. The Eagleman was two months away and I needed to get outside and train. With the weather now consistently above 40 degrees (and consistently wet) back home, there was no excuse not to get the miles in. I settled into a nice routine of long ride-long run on the weekends and even ventured out into Walden in early May to get some open water swimming in.

June 7th quickly came and race day was already here. The Eagleman Half Ironman, like Ralph’s California Half IM, was a Hawaii qualifier, so a large number of pros (some having already qualified for Hawaii) came for the event, including Tim DeBoom once again, as well as Lori Bowden. With over 1800 athletes, it was one of the largest races I have ever been in.

Fortunately, the rain held off for race day, with perfect conditions of overcast skies and temperatures in the low 70s. The brackish water in the Choptank River lived up to its name, pelting swimmers with some of the choppiest conditions ever seen at the Eagleman. Navigating proved difficult in such conditions.

Eagleman Half Ironman

Eagleman Half Ironman

The heavy rain the day before caused the transition area to be quite muddy. Not wanting to risk clogged cleats, this was the one time I actually left my “coffee shop caps” on my cycling shoes as I ran my bike through the transition area. The ride through the Blackwater Preserve was very scenic and fast. I was able to pull down a descent bike split. The run, on the other hand, would be another story.

The 13.1 mile out-and-back once again took us through scenic and flat stretches of the Blackwater Preserve. Unfortunately, my injury had not improved much since the California Half, so I was limited in my training for the Eagleman. It certainly showed on the run, but once again, I was able to win the mental battle and pull out a solid overall time.

Both races proved to be premier events and “must dos’ in the circuit of North American Half Ironmans. From a personal standpoint, I was quite happy: With two races, I achieved my one goal—to challenge myself to reach beyond my limits and to seek my personal best. And I had it done it at venues that possessed “the good stuff”.

5 Steps to Planning Out Next Year’s Triathlon Season

October 25th, 2009

488308180_9072dc3480The 2009 triathlon season is now in the history books. It’s time to start planning for next season.

Most triathletes enter the off season with no plan or just a semblance of a plan (“I’ll just work out every day– swim 2 times a week, bike 2 times and run 2 times. 2 weight workouts too.”). This type of plan is perhaps okay for someone whose never raced before and just getting off the couch (having a rough plan is better than no plan at all for these folks), but unfortunately, for most triathletes– beginner or professional, this type of plan won’t cut it. You need something that’s going to build on your current athletic capabilities.

Planning, however, doesn’t need to be all time-consuming. If you’re lucky (and smart) enough to be working with a coach, then you’re 10 steps ahead of everyone else. Your coach will make it simple for you and provide the expertise in mapping out next year’s season. If you’re a self-coached athlete, you have a lot more to think about. Even for non-coached athletes, it doesn’t have to be a super-complex and time-consuming exercise.

Get out a piece of paper, a calendar and pen, and do these five things to plan out next year’s season:

  1. Establish your training goals- Having clear, well-defined goals is the key for success in any triathlon season. Goals give you something to shoot for and if mapped out properly, will keep you motivated. Your goals will drive all other aspects of your training (objectives, races, volume, instensity, etc.), so spending the time thinking about them is absolutely essential. Your goals should be realistic and measurable. If you’re an experienced athlete, your goals will probably be a continuation of the goals you had mapped out as part of your macrocycle or multi-year plan. Most of the time, however, even these goals change– it’s difficult to predict 4-5 years in advance what you will be doing, so it’s important to spend the time re-stating the goals to your current situation. Be sure to factor in your assessment of your last season. For beginner athletes, you should spend the time thinking about your larger, multi-year goals, and then map them out progressively over a realisitic time period, which will determine next year’s goals. Typically, it’s good to have about 3-5 goals. They should be a good mix of physiological, nutritional and mental skills goals– in other words, well-balanced. Of course they don’t have to be, particular if you feel that you are strong in one area, such as nutrition. Some sample goals include: “To complete Ironman USA in less than 10 hours and in the top 10 of my age group.” or “To lose 15 lbs. by March 2010″. These goals are realistic (for the given athlete), clear and measurable. Write your goals down!
  2. Outline your training objectives- Once you’ve got your goals set, write down your objectives. Objectives are essentially milestones that will measure how you will achieve those goals. You should have clearly defined objectives that will measure your progress towards your goals throughout the season. For instance, if you state your goal is to “Finish in the top 5 of my age group in the Patriot Half Ironman and Timberman Half Ironman races”, then you’re going to want to have objectives that are going to allow you to measure progression towards this goal. You’ll need to start by understanding what times you will need to achieve to finish top 5 in each of bike legs of those races, then calculate the pace you will need to obtain. Let’s say that it is 24 mph over the course of the 56 miles. At that point, you’ll want to set objectives throughout the season to achieve that goal based upon the period you are in. For instance, in your Base period you’re not going to want to have an overly aggressive objective. Instead, you may have an objective such as “Hold 90 rpm at 350 watts for 15 minutes by January 15, 2010″. You could map that to a specific workout or do it in a race. I typically map out 1-3 objectives per goal for my athletes (all based on personalized and realistic measurements), which I think is fair and achievable. I also don’t map out the objectives until I get a clear understanding of how the athlete performs (typically after the first set of baseline tests I do with him or her), and I also make sure the objectives are fluid– meaning that I will change them based upon how the athlete is executing against his or her workouts. The objectives serve as nice motivators for a coach to motivate an athlete, as well as for a self-coach athlete to have their own motivation and understanding of how they are progressing towards their goals.
  3. Sign up for your races- Now that you have your goals and objectives outlined (and undoubtedly these are tied to specific races or events), you need to go sign up for these events. This seems obvious, but I can’t tell you how many athletes I’ve coached had to change their races (and their goals) for the season because their races filled up. They often think “I’ll do Ironman Canada next year”, but by the time they have thought of that, the race is filled. Triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports worldwide and every year it gets harder and harder to get into races. This is especially true for Ironman races, which you often need to register one year in advance. That’s why it’s important to have a macro plan for your training (or a multiyear plan), as well as a clear and adaptive approach to your next year’s plan. Go to the website for your event, and register online. If the event is filled, check out comparable events that would work for you that may be in the same time frame.
  4. Map out the different periods (or phases) of your year- Now we’re getting in to the “nuts and bolts” of your year. I’m a big believer in the concept of periodization, which provides athletes with not only a strong structure for training, but more importantly, a sound and proven methodology for performing optimally. So, get out a calendar and do the following: mark down your races on the calendar. Circle the “A” races, or the races that you’ll be going all out on (you shouldn’t have more than 1 of these per year if you’re a beginner triathlete and definitely no more than 2 if you are an advanced triathlete). Depending upon the distance of the race, countback 1-4 weeks (for Ironman races, it should be 3-4 weeks and for shorter races less than that)– that period of time is your “Peak” period. From the beginning of the Peak period, you’re going to want to count back in blocks of 4 weeks. Each block will represent a ‘period’ (or phase) of your training where you will vary your volume and intensity (which you will do in step 5 below). The earlier in the training, the less volume and intensity (“Base” periods) and the closer you are to the Peak period the greater the volume and intensity (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods– will vary by name). Once you’ve marked out these periods, you’re ready to figure out volume and intensity you should achieve in those periods for the year.
  5. Assign weekly volume and intensity- Now you are ready to figure out volume (or how much or hours per week) and intensity (or how hard you will go, measured by heart rate instensity (and/or other measures, such as watts on the bike) per period. Volume and instensity are functions of many things– experience of the athlete, races or events planned, time the athlete has to train, and others– so both will vary greatly by athlete. The basic concept is to gradually build up enough volume and intensity over time with your training so that your body can adapt and grow stronger– otherwise known as progressive overload. I’m not going to spend a lot of time addressing progressive overload here, but it’s a critical and fundamental concept that you will need to be familiar with to plan out your training adquately. In general, the earlier in your training (“Base” periods), you will want less volume and intensity and the later in your training (“Build”, “Competition”, or “Excel” periods), the greater the volume and instensity. The “Peak” period should be a time of “tapering” or reduced volume and intensity to get you ready for your “A” race. Assign volume by number of hours per week, and intensity by percentage of total time spent in a given heart rate (you will need to determine your heart rate zones per sport to adquately be able to measure this). For instance, let’s say you are racing a Half Ironman race. In your first Base period, you will want to plan something like 10 hours per week, with an intensity of about 25% in heart rate zone 1, 60% in heart rate zone 2 and 15% in heart rate zone 3. You will want to gradually increase the number of hours (volume) as you progress into the next period (and the period after that), as well as change your heart rate zone percentage ratios. This not only will change from period to period, but may also change from week to week within a given period. You will want to plan every 4th week of each 4 week block as a “Rest and Recovery” or “R&R” week to give your body adquate time to recover and rest. In other words, the 4th week of your training in a given period should have about a 40-50% reduction in volume, and a slight shift in the intensity ratios towards lower heart rate zones. Once you have your volume and intensity efforts mapped out per period, you have successfully mapped out your season!

The above 5 steps will get you to your plan for the upcoming triathlon season. I’ve tried to simplify it down to make it easy for you to create your own plan. That being stated, there are definitely complexities involved that require you to have some level of understanding about training fundamentals. I’d highly recommend reading up on these topics or getting in touch with someone that could help you out. I’m definitely happy to answer any questions you may have or to work with you in creating a plan that works for you.

Looking at Yourself Naked in the Mirror: Assessing Your Season

October 18th, 2009

naked-reflectionNo matter what your sport and when the season for that sport ends, it’s important to look back and do an assessment on the season– what went right, what went wrong, what to do differently next season. It’s a critical step in the lifecycle of a season (mesocycle) and lifecycle of an athlete’s career (macrocycle). If you work with a coach, a season end assessment is an important communication tool to adjustment your training accordingly.

Assessing your season should like looking in the mirror naked at yourself: fully transparent, exposed, and hiding nothing. It’s a time to be honest with yourself and your coach– don’t hide anything. Talk about what you did wrong and where you could improve. On the flip side, give yourself heaping praise when it’s appropriate. No one is perfect and always has room for improvement, which is why the season assessment is done in the first place.

Also, in addition to a self-assessment done by the athlete, I will always provide my own, independent assessment as a coach to my clients. The athletes I work with always get feedback from me throughout the season, but at the end of the season I like to do a ‘final wrap’ and provide pointed areas where I think things went well and not so well. This is often very valuable feedback to the athlete and gives them insight as well as motivation for planning out the next season. On the flip side, I also ask my athlete’s to assess me as a coach. For me, this is a great way to get pointed feedback on what I did well, and what I could improve upon. That’s a topic to drill into another time, but worth mentioning at the moment as part of assessment time.

The key things you’ll want to assess about your season include the following:

  • Season’s Strategy- I always start every season with a planning process with athletes (and if you do not work with a coach, this should be where you begin on your own). There’s an annual plan of how the season will be approached, periodizing the year around selected races. This is the place to start. Every athlete’s plan changes 100% of the time due to family, work, health or other issues. Assess why these changes occured and how you would plan differently next time. Were the goals of the season achieved (why/why not)? Were they the correct goals? Did you achieve the objectives planned throughout the season (why/why not)? Was the volume correct? How about the intensity? Were the races the right ones or far enough apart? Did scheduling work as planned?
  • Physiological training- A general look back at how you performed overall physiologically is critical. The main questions to ask yourself are: how well did I execute? How did I handle the volume and intensity perscribed over the course of the season? I typically ask my clients to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 in their discipline (in triathlon: swim, bike and run), and then provide open-ended feedback as to why they assessed themselves the way they did.
  • Mental skills- Mental skills is one of three main pillars of multisport training, so it’s important to look back and assess your mental performance for the season. Were you relaxed or agitated? Did you think positively or negatively? How did you do with the mental skills exercises perscribed in your plan? Often times mental skills training is ignored, so understanding if this is an area for improvement is critical.
  • Nutrition- Another of the main pillars of multisport training is nutrition, both everyday and race day nutrition. Everyday nutrition is what you eat on an everyday periodized in line with your physiological nutrition. Questions to ask include: did I stick with the outline of total calories, and breakdown of fats, protein and carbohydrates targeted? Did you eat the right quality of foods? Did you develop a routine with your nutrtion so it became an integrated part of your day (often times the biggest challenge for people)? Also, you will want to look at race day nutition, which is fueling for the days preceeding, day of and days after a big “A” race, such as an Ironman, or shorter distance races. I always work to make sure my athletes have a very methodical (but flexible) approach to race day nutrition, but execution is key. Questions to ask: Was the plan leading up to race day work for you? Did you follow it? Did you “bonk”, have GI issues, or other issues the day of a race? If so, why?
  • Race Strategy- Having a sound strategy for each race (particularly “A” races) is key, so looking back on how the planning and strategy execution worked for those races is important. Questions to ask: Did the race strategy planning process work? Did you execute against the strategy effectively? How would you adjust the strategy?

Be sure to document all of your thoughts on the season assessment. Having it in writing is important to capture the data, and a way for you to communicate it to your coach if you work with one. I typically provide my athlete’s a form to capture the input. I have them save it as part of their athletic journal.

Finally, the most important step of the season assessment is to analyze and optimize. It’s one thing to have collected all the data, but it’s another to look closely at it and undertake concrete changes. This seems like an obvious step, but it’s one that surprisingly gets omitted since many folks feel that if they’ve at least documented it (or had the discussion), then they’ve done what they needed to do. In fact, it’s critical that you outline exactly what changes you plan on making for next season. For instance, if in the season assessment you note that “I had difficulties getting my bike speed to where I would have liked. I really think had I spent the time on more bike speed work, it would have made a big difference in my performance”, then you’re going to want to do things to analyze and optimize this:

  1. drill into the why’s behind this (why didn’t you do more bike speed work? Was it because you didn’t plan it or was it because you did not execute what was planned? Or perhaps what you had planned did not work for you– then you should undertand why this was the case. )
  2. what are you going to do about it? Let’s say you did not execute appropriately against what was planned for bike speed workouts since they were difficult for you to hit the splits over the course of the season and you did not accurately measure your baseline bike fitness to set those split times (hopefully this would have been caught while executing at the time, but let’s say it was not). You’ll want to then be specific in optimizing by having a recommendation of “next season I will set my bike split times for my speed workouts based on results from my periodic bike tests.”

Once you have your specific recommendations, you’re good to go for planning out next season. I will be addressing this exact topic– planning out your multisport season– in my next blog post (stay tuned!).

There are certainly different ways to approach the season assessment, and I’ve outlined some ideas that have worked for me and the athlete’s I work with. Perhaps you have some ideas on what has worked for you? What are some of the things you look back on and assess? How do you see yourself when you look naked in the mirror at season’s end?

Getting in Touch with Your Inner Penguin- How to Race in Cold Water Temperatures

July 18th, 2009

refridge-not-freze1 All swimmers need to be in touch with their inner-penguin. Sometimes the water temperatures are more artic-like than tropical-like and swimmers need to be prepared.

How to approach a swim on race day when water temperatures are very cold is not something triathletes and swimmers give too much thought to. Cold temperatures definitely impact race strategy, as I learned first hand this past weekend at the Blackfly Triathlon in beautiful Waterville Valley, NH. This was the first ever Blackfly tri put on by Keith Jordan of Endorfun (although it was not the first time Waterville Valley was used as a venue– the first Mooseman tri was held there a few years back). With all the rain and cool, cloudy conditions we’ve had this year in New England combined with the fact that the pond for the swim is mountain stream-fed, water temperatures for the swim were a balmy 53 degrees. That’s a few degrees colder than most folks are used to swimming in this time of year (at least in fresh water– the ocean in New England can remain quite chilly throughout the summer).

So, what should you do when the water temps for the swim are icy cold (besides pray that they cancel or shorten the swim– in the case of the Blackfly this year, the swim was shortened from two loops to one)? Let you inner penguin come out! Namely:

  • Don the ‘ol tuxedo- Penguins have built-in insulation and buoyancy. You need the same when the conditions are cold, so slap on the wetsuit (full sleeve preferably). Wet suits are legal in USAT-sanctioned and most other sanctioned triathlons (pure swimming races can vary– check with the rules for the event), so wearing a wet suit should be at the top of the list. Not only will the wetsuit protect you from the cold temps, but also provide you additional buoyancy, which will help you complete the race faster. Also, wear a neoprene cap (your race cap can go over this) to protect your head from the cold. This is especially true for the hair-challenged people (like me). Finally, get a pair of neoprene booties that will protect your feet. Neoprene gloves also exist, but are not legal at USAT races and most other tris and swimming events, so leave them at home. Finally, practice ahead of time swimming with the wetsuit, neoprene cap and booties, especially if you know you will use them in race conditions. You want to be sure you are used to the swimming motion with this gear (especially the wetsuit) and not have any suprises on race day.
  • Flap around a bit- When you first enter the water your body is going to go into a bit of shock– your heart is going to try work harder to push blood throughout your core to help warm up your body, which will cause you to feel a bit out of breath initially. It takes a few minutes for this to effect to wear off as your body adapts. In the meantime, it can be a bit uncomfortable to swim. Use this time to gather your bearings– try breaststroking a bit, which will keep your head above the water (freestyle keeps your head under making it a bit harder to breath). You can also try flipping over onto your back, which will expose your face upward. The goal is to keep your face out of the water so you can breath better and get used to your environs. I needed to do this last week at the Blackfly. It not only helped with my breathing, but also helped my face warm up a bit, which was ice cold from the water. After about 30-45 seconds I felt a lot better and swam onward. The few seconds you take to do this will make up for any time you would have lost had you not done it.
  • Get your feathers ruffled- Before you even start the swim, it’s a good idea to get your muscles warmed up a bit (pre-race warm-up should be part of your routine in any case). Warm, loose muscles will perform better when you enter the cold water, helping your body avoid any initial shortness of breath when entering and priming it for a full swim race effort. I would recommend warming up outside of the water by running or biking a bit (probably about 10 minutes until you have worked up a slight sweat). Ideally, you’d do this about 10 minutes before you have to enter water so you don’t cool down prior to entering the water. You could also try warming up by swimming in the water itself– not a bad idea, but it probably won’t be as quick as going for a run or bike.
  • Don’t waddle, but run- When coming out of the water, don’t waddle like a penguin, but rather run! Do a strong run to transition (T1), which will help keep your body nice and warmed up as you get ready for the bike, especially if it is a cooler day. Some races will provide a warming tent where you can get warmed up coming out of the water and before going to the transition area (they did this at the Blackfly). However, unless you are super-cold and see good reason for it, don’t spend the time getting warmed up in the tent. Rather run hard directly to your gear in transition to generate heat as you go to T1 and onto your bike.
Finish line at the Blackfly Triathlon

Finish line at the Blackfly Triathlon

Hopefully it will be rare occasions when you have to swim in water temperatures that are in the low 50s or even lower. If you live in cold weather environments, like anywhere in the northern part of the US or Europe, you need to be prepared. It may not be Antartica, but it is helpful to act like one of the best swimmers from that part of the world, the penguin.

Overcoming adversity like a moose!

June 8th, 2009
Mooseman Half Ironman race finish

Mooseman Half Ironman race finish

One of my favorite races was this past weekend– the Mooseman Half Ironman on Newfound Lake, NH. This was my third time doing the Mooseman Half Ironman (I’ve done the international distance a couple of times before as well, when it was known as Granite Ledges), and this race always seems to pose a major challenge for me. Last year it was the intense heat (90+ degrees and high humidity) and this year it was a flat tire on the bike. The race got me thinking about adversity during the race and how to deal with it (like a moose!).

I love doing the Mooseman for multiple reasons, one of the main ones being that the race organizer, Keith Jordan, does an absolutely fantastic job organizing the race– it’s a ‘must do’ for any triathlete (and worth traveling to if you’re from out of state). Keith really focuses on the little details, which make a huge difference. From entertainment along the course to well-laid out aid stations to a fantastic post-race spread, his events are the best (check out his other events at www.timbermantri.com).

However, none of Keith’s attention to detail changes the fact that it is a very challenging course. With it’s rolling hills-dominated bike and a not-so-flat run, the Mooseman will provide you a good test for you to overcome. The swim is in beautiful Lake Newfound, which is one of the cleanest lakes in North America, but can be a bit on the cool side (yesterday was about 59 degrees) in early June. From the onset, you have to be ready to deal with the challenges of the course.

In my case, my main challenge came when I flatted at mile 40 and had some difficulties getting the tire on and off (new tires tend to be less flexible), which added a bunch of time to my bike and overall results. In the scheme of things, I can’t complain as it’s my first flat ever in a race. Considering how many races I’ve done, one flat is pretty good. Nonetheless, it is frustrating when you’ve trained so hard for the event to have a flat throw a big monkey wrench into your plans.

Bike in Transition Area- Before the Flat Tire

Bike in Transition Area- Before the Flat Tire

Adversity is part of the sport and it’s important to have a game plan for dealing with it. Some things to think about if you find yourself facing an unplanned for adverse situation, such as a flat tire, lost goggles, or even a crash on the bike:

  • assess the situation & put safety first- Before anything else, your health and safety come first. Forget about trying to achieve a specific time or beating your main competitor– none of that means anything if you risk serious injury or worse. If you’re injured or risk further injury that will prevent you from additional training or racing, drop out and seek medical attention.
  • remain mentally focused- When you’ve got a race goal in mind and are cranking along, nothing can be more deflating than an unforseen adverse situation (mechanical failure, etc.). However, it’s not the end of the race. It’s important that you remind yourself that it’s a temporary setback and that you need to deal with it. Keep a positive mindset & reinforce it with positive visualization of you dealing with the adverse situation and continuing on with the race. That’s precisely what I did when I got my flat yesterday– I just said to myself, “I’ll just deal with this and be back on the bike in no time. I’ll be happy with whatever time I get.”. Of course I was frustrated, but I quickly dealt with that and moved forward. Hopefully you have a race strategy for every big race and part of it should be having realistic goals and dealing with adversity.
  • conduct a post-race evaluation- Once the race is over, take some time to think about what happened so that you can pull some lessons from the situation and be better prepared next time. Are there things you could have done differently? (Maybe inspected your bike more closely, swim more defensively, worn blister-prevention socks on the run, etc.). Could you have reacted differently? If you maintain a journal, write down your evaluation and key lessons learned. Apply the lessons learned for future events and try to avoid the situation again in the future!

What has worked for you in overcoming adversity in a race?