2013 Season

After a somewhat disappointing end of my season, sidelined, sick for 3 weeks, I’m getting ready for a pretty solid season for 2013:

1. Lubbock 70.3, June 30. Not an exciting course, but guaranteed to not be cold.

2. Leadman Bend 250, September 21. An exciting course, but guaranteed to be cold. Hmmm…

3. PumpkinMan, late October. Henderson, NV.

4. Ironman Arizona, November 17. The race filled up in record time. Apparently, after on site registration was over, the race filled up in 40 seconds! Somehow, I got in, and so did Jeff and Corey, two new recruit for 2013. Definitely a less scenic course than Los Cabos, or even Embrun, or Canada, but probably one of the most spectator friendly WTC races out there.

As Arizona filled up, I also filled up all my coaching slots for 2013.

On the calendar:

Ironman Mont Tremblant in August: Kristoph, Dan, and Mike will all be racing, with a clear goal for Kristoph: Kona!

Ironman Canada moved from Penticton to Whistler: Stefan and Owen will be racing.

Although there are no Ironman plans in the work for Maya, Shane, and Jon right now, I still have Rob (for whom I’ve kept a coaching slot, just in case), and Tona on the fence about Ironman next season. All I have to say is: you’ll be ready! Just sign up!


To Lift Or Not To Lift?

On a very regular basis, the question of lifting weights comes back to the table. To be honest, this question is still subject to debate in the exercise physiology and exercise science community, to some extent. However, numerous general public articles throw out rehash of old write-ups about weights, some being presented as a panacea to dealing with injuries, or ‘running faster without running more’. They are invariably of poor quality, and as we all know, getting better requires hard work. If it didn’t, we would find something else to do, something that we can be proud of, because we know it took time, dedication, and effort to get there. There, I’m off my high horse now, and we can tackle the weight question. I will make the assumption that people asking ‘should I lift weights’ are asking because they want to swim/bike/run faster, not because they want to look buff. If you intend to look buff, then weights are definitely far superior to running 120mi a week.

I’ll ignore swimming because, first, I have not looked carefully at the literature on weight lifting and swimming, and second, most triathletes are usually very average swimmers, and could just get in the water more to get better. When it comes to cycling and running, there are two main ways to get faster: you can either improve your VO2max (the size of your engine if you will). Or you can improve how efficient you are.

In ‘Effects of concurrent endurance and strength training on running economy and .VO(2) kinetics.’ (GP Millet et al.Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2002 Aug;34(8):1351-9.) demonstrate that ‘additional heavy weight training led to improved maximal strength and running economy with no significant effects on the .VO(2) kinetics pattern in heavy exercise.’ on a population of 15 triathletes. It was particularly interesting since Millet is not only an exercise physiologist, but has also been involved in triathlon coaching for as long as I remember, so he has a truly vested interest that goes beyond publishing yet another paper.
When it comes to cycling, the conclusions of Ronnestad et al in ‘Effect of heavy strength training on thigh muscle cross-sectional area, performance determinants, and performance in well-trained cyclists.’ (Eur J Appl Physiol. 2010 Mar;108(5):965-75. Epub 2009 Dec 4.) are similar, except that they demonstrate an increase in VO2max, while ‘Maximal strength training improves cycling economy in competitive cyclists.’ by Sunde et al. (J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Aug;24(8):2157-65.) demonstrate improved economy from heavy weight training.

However, the population in question are not recreational athletes, and as ‘Effects of a concurrent strength and endurance training on running performance and running economy in recreational marathon runners.’ suggests in J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2770-8., there seems to be no impact of heavy weight training on running economy when it comes to average runners.

So, what does this mean? The first studies I presented focus on relatively advanced athletes. Not elite, but what the triathlon world would call very good age groupers. They are often athletes who have been training for a while, and who are relatively talented, so a fair amount of optimization of their training has taken place. In the study pointing to no improvement, we have a group of runners who are just not running enough yet. I am simplifying a bit on purpose.

In essence, unless you are already running and cycling a lot, chances are you will not improve or not much (i.e. no statistical difference in performance) by lifting weights. What this means is that, if you have an hour to spare, you’re better off going for a run, or a ride, if you intend to improve performance. For instance, a run with high intensity hills will help improve your running economy. At the pointy end, and provided you have the time to include weight training and still recover, the studies seem to indicate that lifting could give you that extra edge. One thing to take into consideration though: there is an increase risk of injury with heavy weight training, especially if you cannot do the sessions under the supervision of an experienced trainer, who understands your goals. The conclusion is that from a practical standpoint, for the immense majority of age groupers, weights are not on the to do list. Use your time well. Spend your time honing your skills by swimming, cycling, and running, and work on strength doing sport-specific sessions (paddles+elastic, big gear workouts, hill repeats).

As the season concludes…

I have to say, as a coach, this was an amazing season, and my athletes made me really proud. These guys are awesome. Every weekend, I sit down for a couple of hours, on Saturday and Sunday, and wonder ‘what in the world could I do to make their lives totally miserable?’ Usually, I don’t lack ideas, so I just write that, send it to them, and off we go. Sunday evening is usually when I get most of my hate mail. So, I don’t check my email anymore on Sunday night. I have better things to do than read all that whining and all. By Wednesday, they are too tired to send emails anymore, so it’s pretty safe, and I can go back to my usual online activities, which resolve around sarcasm and correcting grammar and spelling. Anyhow, all joking aside, they did fantastically.

Arnaud Chevallier reached all his goals. Started by improving his marathon time by about 30min, in January with a solid 2h56 run, untapered. It was followed by a strong 10h15 at Ironman Texas, over an hour faster than 2011 on the same course, and finally this past weekend, a 4h45 Half Ironman at Oilman, for 3rd AG in the very competitive 35-39 AG.
Ironman Texas Swim

Jon D. started with me last year. He could barely run because of a foot injury. We built up progressively, and despite difficult family and work constraints, he turned a good performance at Ironman Mont Tremblant with a 14.22, 30min faster than his previous Ironman (Arizona). And needless to say that flat Florida isn’t ideal to get ready for a course such as Tremblant.

Kristoph Kocan also had a stellar season. I don’t think any of my athletes race anywhere near as much as he does. He’s pretty much the Petr Vabrousek of age groupers. Since there are just too many races to list, and with an age group podium at pretty much all of them, I’ll just mention the finale of his season: a 9h56, at Rev3 Cedar Point, on a tough course, over 90min faster than his previous Ironman time, beating the next 40-44 age grouper by 29min, followed 2 weeks later with a 5.10 Half on a course hard enough that this gave him 4th overall. And let’s not forget the main goal: top Brian Stover aka Desert Dude in the National rankings!

About to finish Rev3 Full in Cedar Point

I didn’t coach Rob for the entire year. But what started as a bet, became something a bit more serious. Rob is relatively new to the sport, and has a blog titled ‘Tales of a Wannabe Triathlete’. Well, with a 5h47 Half at Soma, his first half Ironman, entered pretty much as a bet, I think it’s time his blog gets renamed! Soma Half was a few weeks after a PB over the Olympic Distance, under 2h30 in San Diego, and was followed with a 7min PR over the Half Marathon, the following week!

Unlike Jan Ullrich, Rob learned that Xentis wheels have a trailing edge.

Gretchen McElroy is a long time triathlete. And pretty much like Rob, she entered Ironman Texas as a bet. Despite many years of racing, this was her first full Ironman distance. And she just killed it. With 35 seconds to spare, she broke 12hrs, and went straight from the finish line to the medical tent. One tough lady, who I think has a sub-11hrs in her legs without the medical issues.

Tona Mendoza asked me to coach him about a year ago. I haven’t seen Tona since he was taking one of the classes I taught in Computer Science at UTEP. So it was a unique opportunity to make him suffer physically after torturing him with ridiculous questions about how to build a context-free grammar for a language, and how to apply the pumping lemma, or Rice theorem. As a matter of fact, as a testament of how much Tona likes me, here is our discussion a couple of days ago when he heard I was out of Ironman Arizona, because I was seriously sick:

You feel the love

You feel the love?

Anyhow, Tona’s main goals were Pigman Half and Hy-Vee triathlon (OD). 40min improvement with a 5.03 at Pigman. And a 10min improvement at Hy-Vee! Amazing season, and we’re far from maxing out his abilities!

Brooks Vandivort had a relatively short season for a variety of reasons. Life getting in the way being one of them. But he steadily improved, had a solid showing at the Duathlon Nationals in Tucson, made Team USA, and also had a strong sub 1.35 Half Marathon just a week ago at the Flying Horse Half in El Paso.

Maya…Ahhh…this one is special. Well, she had a really solid season too. Her first duathlon, at the Nationals mind you. A 1h44 Half Marathon at the El Paso Half (good enough for second in her AG). She managed to squeeze in a wedding and a honeymoon in the middle, a 3h ride on the trainer, a 2h run on the treadmill, mixed in with a lot of smiles, laughter, food, and love!

Enjoying Hapuna Beach

Octavio is last. Not that he doesn’t matter, but he hasn’t raced yet. His goal is the HITS half Ironman in California early December. Last I heard, he was scared. He doesn’t know yet that he is doing plenty enough training to get this done and more!

So, thank you to all of you for putting your confidence in me for this season, even if for a punctual event. I truly appreciate. Many of you are continuing for the next season, and several have jumped on board: Mike, Dan, Shane in Ireland (I’m not sure he realizes I don’t coach rugby), Jeff who is incredibly unlucky and will have to race in Whistler, BC, a terrible desination, Corey, and Stefan. I’m looking forward to seeing you all improving next season, train and race hard, and enjoy our sport.

PS An apology to all those whose Facebooks were robbed of a picture!