Some more results

First, a big congrats to Owen S. who improved by a solid 20min over the Half IM distance, last weekend, at the Shawnigan Lake Half Ironman, dropping to a 4h55 personal best. After a somewhat slow start this season, and a couple of setbacks, this is going in the right direction at last.

This weekend, Mike C. decided to race against coach’s advice, but still did pretty good. Nowhere near where he should be, but after some unexplainable health issues, straight out of the X-Files, it’s good to have him back racing and moving. Jeff B. took 14th OA at the ripe age of 65, and managed to improve by 4min40 over a sprint distance, 11min minutes from the 25yo winner. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me! Little disappointment for always consistent Kristoph who tackled Quassy Rev3 Half Ironman, and just had an off day. It happens, yet, it’s very difficult as a coach to take this as anything else but a failure on our end. Was there too much work done, not enough rest? Did I overlook something important? Surely, Kristoph and I will talk in the coming week to figure out what happened. Finally, Corey took 6th OA at the Great South Bay Sprint Tri, with a very solid run, as usual this season.

All in all, a pretty good coaching week.


IMTX and Zofingen

Two big races this week: Ironman Texas and American Zofingen, and definitely not the same conditions.
Arnaud was tackling Ironman Texas for the 3rd time this year with very realistic goals to break the 10hr mark by a handful or minutes. However, Ironman racing doesn’t let you always do what you want. After a swim 4min faster than last year, Arnaud posted a solid 5.12 bike split, despite a flat costing him about 7min. A bit faster than last year without a flat. Unfortunately, a uncooperating diaphragm made the run much slower than anticipated, and despite big improvements on the run this year and a low 2.50 marathon in Houston, Arnaud was reduced to slow running and walking, in very hot conditions. Nonetheless, he still clocked a 10:30 for 19th in his AG (same as last year). It’s only a matter of time before he can smash the 10hr mark, without breathing issues, and in cooler conditions. The quote of the day post race was this: “Thanks for everything, François. I’m a little disappointed by the run, as I don’t think it reflects all the progress we made this year, but it’s been a lot of fun getting here.”

A couple of thousand miles away, Corey was recovered from a 2.53 Boston Marathon, and ready to tackle the middle distance of American Zofingen. For those who’ve never raced a duathlon, 2 things: 1) they are much tougher on the legs than triathlons. 2) American Zofingen is a classic and a must-do, in New Paltz, NY. Hilly on the bike, hilly on both runs. Cold. Corey raced conservatively, and went a full 40min faster than last year, despite just starting more tri specific training, versus the more run oriented training of the past few months. Very promising with IMAZ coming in November. Good enough for 6th OA and 3rd AG.

It’s not about whether women should or shouldn’t run…

Recently, I read an article titled ‘Why women should not run’. Initially, I found the article amusing. But then I found it really started rubbing me the wrong way, and I decided to answer. What is in the article? Well, essentially a long list of reasons why endurance workouts at the gym are useless, and don’t yield benefits. And then this is followed by a long list of articles supporting the claims.
What is the main idea? The argument is this: too much endurance will lower certain thyroid hormones (T3, T4, TSH, … ) which in turn makes it impossible to lose weight, regardless of physical activity. And that’s where the wheels start to fall off.
Indeed, it is well established that hypothyroidism is often associated with weight gain. However, to reach these levels of low thyroid hormones, you need to be in a very heavy training phase, typically seen at the elite level, where being lean is not an issue (although there are issues associated with being too lean, among women).

This is where things get interesting. The first article cited is “Resting thyroid and leptin hormone changes in women following intense, prolonged exercise training” (Baylor LS, Hackney AC. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2003 Jan;88(4-5):480-4.) The group considered in this study consists of females participating in running, rowing, and weight lifting. Yet, the article singles out runners. Interesting. The article also explains that post-heavy training, the thyroid hormone levels go back to normal. But, still, the interesting part is that it includes women who lift weight, and row (which is far closer to weight lifting, crossfit, etc, than to running), and these women show the same drops in thyroid hormones. I look at the entirely literature list actually. Many articles are not women specific, so they are not appropriate to support the article’s claims. Some are rats/mice models. Good try though. Others are well known biochemistry results linking thyroid hormones and thermogenesis regulation. One actually discusses thyroid hormone levels and sleep-deprived young men (I’m still trying to get the link there…) But what thing is missing…

So, the author doesn’t like running, I get it. He wants people to do CrossFit types of training? Fine with me. They are actually pretty decent, provided they come with adequate warm-up, which is something lacking, at least in the sessions I have done and witnessed. The issue I have is when he claims that one training is better than another. Or that his approach is the ‘best in the business’. So, what is missing is well if crossfit, HIIT, etc. is superior (based on the single thyroid hormone levels criterion, which is very debatable…) I guess those who engaged in these activities don’t see drops. Wrong! The author conveniently ignored the work by Pakarinen et al. (88, 91, 93 — pubmed is your friend) showing that the same (reversible) changes occur in weight lifters and other such activities. The article takes a whole bunch of other shortcuts which are more or less entrenched in selective and confirmation bias. Disingenuous at best.

What is the bottom line? All physical activities are good. What is not good though is to present your system or approach as the best there is. Something triathletes used to be guilty of (and still are). And something we see over and over again on the CrossFit fora. All physical activity coupled with appropriate nutrition will help you lose weight, provided of course you don’t overestimate calorie expenditure, and underestimate calorie intake, you balance proteins, carbs, fats appropriately etc. But if you want to be a better runner, running will do the trick much better than CrossFit (see my previous entries on weight training, and the Q&A). If you want to be kind of good at everything including lifting, jumping, being explosive, etc. then CrossFit will do that much better than running.

So, find something you like, move, eat well and be happy.

New article on doping

Occasionally, I write in French. Very occasionally actually. First because it’s a pain to put the accents, cedilles, and other Frencheries. And second, because it feels pretty rusty. Anyhow, if you do read French, here is an article I wrote for Trimes, on doping, ethics, and what our goal should be. If you do speak French, I recommend reading the google translation. It’s a fun read 😉

More early season racing

The last few weeks have seen some pretty solid racing.
Corey who is gearing up for Boston Marathon is just 8 days ran a very solid 25km at the Caumsett Park race, with a 1:38:23. This was good enough for 4th overall:
Very solid hopes for a low 2:50s in Boston.

After posting a solid 1:35 Half Marathon in Fort Langley, BC, Stefan went on with a 2:41 Olympic distance, also in BC on March 11. 41st overall, 3rd AG, 1st podium finish, and 15min improvement. Although you could ask for more (you always can), that is very promising for the rest of the season, especially now that Stefan spends more time swimming/biking/running, than playing football (soccer, for you Americans…)

Shane G. goes on with the Irish duathlon season and took a 6th place with a strong field, just 3min behind the winner. He will just have to work on making sure the battery of the powertap is ready to race also.

Dan T. went 40:17 for 10km on March 16, in rather horrendous conditions, with the end of the race turning into holiday on ice, and followed this with a 1:25:23 at Cook’s forest half marathon, in the 45-49 AG. His email started by ‘HELL YES!!!!’ so I guess he was pretty stoked.

Owen S. went 1:34 at the Comox Half Marathon in BC. 11th in his AG. A bit disappointing, but in pretty tough conditions. Let’s see how a cure of sushi, beef, and riding on a trainer in a tiny Japanese apartment for a month works out for him.

Chris D. took 5th overall and 1st AG at the Vistancia Sprint in AZ, while preparing for Ironman CDA, and is gearing up for Leadman Arizona next weekend. Let’s see if he can actually taper, and not add training sessions here and there all week…(I got spies Chris…)

Eventually, Arnaud dropped the guitar and his Kirby sur Seine partner, both pictured there:

to post a 4:35 Half Ironman at Galveston 70.3 in windy conditions. Arnaud is steadily improving his swim, and then clocked a really nice 2:25/1:27 bike/run combo to take 11th in his stacked AG. We can already smell the sub 10hrs in The Woodlands next Month.

Coming next week, Chris tackles Leadman, Octavio heads to HITS Napa (which is a triathlon, not a drinking contest), and the week after Tona is racing a half marathon, and will probably send me a bunch of hate messages at some stage.

Motivation and goal setting

Yesterday, I gave a lecture titled ‘Exercising: Where Do I Start? What Should I Do?’ The lecture, as you would guess based on the title was really targeting an audience of people who would like to exercise, but don’t really know how, what, where, etc. However, some of the questions I had were very similar to what my athletes ask me on a regular basis, and for the most part can be summarized by a unique question ‘How do I motivate myself?

Here are a few of its forms: I want to start liking to run, how do I do that? I can’t seem to break the 1h mark for the Ironman swim, what should I do? I know I should run more if I want to break the 3h mark in the marathon, but man, it’s hard’. ‘My FTP is only 3.1w/kg, and all my friends have an FTP above 5.2w/kg,I’m demoralized’.

Yesterday during the lecture, I gave a few tips, and these tips apply just the same to seasoned veteran triathletes as they apply to beginners.

1.Measure. Have objective measures of where you are. A 10km race, an FTP test, a 20×100 swim test, weight and skin folds, etc. Use a measure that is validated, and is appropriate to assess what you want to improve, and one that can also be replicated in identical conditions. Don’t go test your swimming improvements in ‘what seems to be roughly 1mi’.

2. Once you know where you are, then set short term goals. Short term goals are far easier to manage psychologically. Thinking about your Ironman that’s in one year can be daunting and leave you flat half way through your preparation. Choose your objectives wisely. For instance, if you are currently swimming 20×100 on 1.30 hitting 1.18, then aiming for 1.15 in a month, while pushing your swim volume from 10mi a week to at least 12mi a week is realistic (discuss it with your coach, or friends if you don’t have a coach). If you aim to swim 1.12 without changing anything else, it may be less realistic. Similarly, losing 4lbs in a month, while raising your FTP from say 250 to 260w may be realistic, whereas going from 250 to 320 is not. And tie your objectives to actions. Having goals and no action will achieve nothing.

3. Set long term goals, and use the milestones set before to change the aims if need be, either extending the deadline, or making the goals higher if you realize you’re going farther than anticipated (the advantage of setting short term goals to the big goals). The adjusting may be necessary simply because it’s actually difficult to know how far you can really go.

4. Remember to focus on the process of improving. This will help if you realize you are not meeting your targets exactly. As long as you are improving, and you focus on the experience of improving (or trying to improve) then it’s never wasted time and effort.

5. Have a small network around you. Make your network aware of your goals. Maybe some are training partners who are a bit faster and can help you reach your objectives. Your partner can tell you to that maybe that 8th oreotella won’t help you reach your race weight (Maya, don’t even think about it…) Think about a small network around you that can support your endeavor, and that will be honest with you.

Happy Training!

PS And I knew I had another point to make…Your friends with 5.2w/kg FTP need to either check their weight more accurately, or the calibration of their power meters. Or (most likely) both.

What’s your number? (totally random rambling…)

Recently, I read an article about ‘your number’. No, not the number referenced in that horrendous movie with Anna Faris, the number to just stop working completely, not necessarily because your job isn’t fantastic, but just because there are many amazing things to do, and with the time we have, we need to prioritize. A quick back-of-the-envelop calculation told me that with around $4M, I’m good. Invest $3.5M at 3% gets you $105,000 per year, and with the remaining $500K, you buy a nice place, pay all outstanding debts. Easy. Still have to pay taxes, medical insurance, plus a bunch of other stuff, but you live very very well the rest of your life and still leave a pile of cash to your kids when you say farewell.

I tried to finance it with Texas Lottery, but the odds are slightly not in my favor. But the real question is not about the number. It’s about what would you do if you hit your number? I just checked our bank account, so I know that I’d see a lot more RueLaLa orders, and I would get a powermeter for my road bike, a mountain bike, a fixie in case we moved to Portland (it’s illegal to live in Portland and not own a fixie, and a bunch of recycled stuff). To go back to the original question, you have to ask yourself: what makes me really happy? For me, it’s rather simple. Spend time with my family, chatting with Maya, trying to have a discussion with Gabriel without wondering if he is a human copy of Hammy the squirrel from the excellent “Over the Hedge”

and of course, be training long hours, be healthy, having the time to go to the market get fresh produce, time to cook, and time to smell the roses, and preferably some place that looks like this:

or like that:

That’s for the obvious. I thoroughly enjoy the time spent coaching. It’s a really nice feeling to build a relationship with a person (whether a Kona qualifier, or a complete beginner just starting triathlon to lose weight), to design a program to reach specific goals, to witness the improvements, the excitement of reaching the goals, and ultimately to realize that you contributed partly to someone’s health and happiness. This year, I have 15 athletes I am working with. Some are crazy and run entire half marathons on the treadmill because they can’t read a calendar right. Others send me hate messages in the morning, and love notes in the evening. And some have an incredible passion for life, and I am honored to coach them (Megan, that’s you). But whatever the reasons they got into the sport, coaching is one thing that will stay on my list of things I do when I hit my number.

So you signed up for a half-marathon?

This past weekend was the 7th edition of the El Paso marathon, including a half marathon, and a 5km. As always the organizers put on a great event. Although, I am sure a few of us would love to have it a bit later, mid March when the weather warms up a bit! Just like last year, I received a few emails after the race along the lines of ‘huh, it’s harder than I thought, how do I get ready for this thing?’ So, here is the short answer, in the form of a 12 week training plan, with the usual disclaimers: 1) see with your primary care physician if you are ready to start a running program; 2) see with your partner if getting up at 5am will endanger your relationship 😉 ; 3) be seen, be alert, run safe; and of course 4) hurry slowly.

Who is the plan for? For those who have done some running already. You run relatively regularly, or you have entered a couple of local 5km (3.1mi) or 10km (6.2mi). And you are attempting a half-marathon for the first time. If you have trouble with distances: a half-marathon is 13.1mi (or 21.1km). So, if you get on the treadmill at 6mph, that’s a little over 2h10. That’s just to put things in perspective. Here it is:

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 9.29.49 PM

What does easy pace mean? If you have some rudimentary knowledge of training, see this as aerobic pace, e.g., you can talk while running, not continuously, but pretty close. It actually corresponds to a range of pace. Sometimes you’ll be at the lower end (very easy), sometimes at the upper end, where you can still talk a bit, but it’s a lot more broken.

What are strides? They are short burst of speed. NOT a full sprint, more like an 800m. You focus on being light on your feet, have a relaxed upper body, and a quick stride, but it’s not a sprint. The efforts are just 20 seconds to 30 seconds, and you can rest fully (jogging) in between, say 2 to 3min easy jog in between.

What is tempo? To simplify, consider tempo pace anything from 10km to half marathon pace. You’re not just running easy anymore. It’s mildly uncomfortable to uncomfortable. Since the plan is geared for those who have raced a bit, you should have an idea.

What is the long run? It’s exactly what it says. At the start, it won’t be that long, but it will. And it’s the most important run of the week, so if for some reason, you can’t do a couple of runs during a week, try to keep this one on your schedule.

Happy Training!

Early season racing

The last few weeks have been pretty busy for everyone. This past weekend, Chris raced Ragnar in the Phoenix area. Here is a very brief summary: “Ragnar was good. In short, I had a great time and put in solid runs on all 3 legs(7.1, 7.2, 9.0 miles). My quads are sore as can be today and I can’t do a squat to save my life.” The response to these types of races is overwhelmingly positive. They offer a really fun racing environment, in great locations. I really hope the race series thrives. This is probably on the menu for later this summer.

Maya and I ran the El Paso Half Marathon yesterday. I was doing the pacing, and let’s face it: I did a horrible job. Running without a watch was not a good idea. Anyhow, still a PB, and a 3min improvement over last year.

For the record, just as last year, she beat me to the finish by squeezing her chip just ahead.

Owen was a bit frustrated with a slower than planned 10km (43.23). And that is a good time to remind folks that training is a process. You get a new coach, the training methods change, you are more tired than usual for a bit, and it sometimes takes longer than expected to get the results corresponding to your hard work. Bobby McGee wrote about the process of training recently. And it’s extremely simple:

Over the pond, in Ireland, Shane is enjoying a ‘sunny Irish winter’ to do some really serious work and reap the benefits in races. He took 13th out of 160 or so in a short distance duathlon (4k-14k-4k), averaging 300W on the bike, and a second run within 18secs of the first.

Last, but not least, Arnaud shaved another 3min at Houston Marathon. Last year he improved by close to 30min from 3.27 to 2.56, so it was hard to reiterate. But despite a slightly subpar preparation, Arnaud ran a 2.53.50. That is some very serious running, and there is hope for a 3.10 run off the bike comes Ironman Texas.

Next to race are Corey, running a 25km as a preparation for Boston, Stefan (racing an Olympic Distance in BC — yes, the swim is indoor), and Shane will be racing another duathlon in Sunny Ireland.

Plyometrics and distance running

When it comes to endurance sports, there is a limited number of variables you can address to get faster. You can improve your maximal oxygen uptake with training (VO2max), up to a certain level; you can improve technique in some sports, like swimming; and you can improve your economy.
Running economy is usually defined as the energy required to run at a given (submaximal) speed, and is measured as the rate of oxygen consumption for a given speed (and respiratory exchange ratio). To simplify, it’s your mpg, and you want it to be as low as possible, without lowering your power output (or running speed). After many years of training it becomes very difficult to change your VO2max, especially since you’re also fighting time (after 20, your VO2max declines gradually). Anyone who has spent a decent amount of time in the pool knows that it’s very difficult to change your technique (albeit not impossible). So economy remains. What can we do to improve running economy? Well the good thing is that, there are many things you probably do already that are factors improving running economy. For instance, just running more will increase (to a certain level) mitochondrial density and oxidative enzymes, which in turn are factors positively affecting running economy. You can also go train at altitude, which improves some metabolic processes that essentially help you use O2 more efficiently.

Another thing you can do is plyometrics. There are two (not so recent studies) that show plyometrics will yield improvements in running economy in well trained athletes as well as less trained athletes. Spurrs et al. in show an increase of close to 3% in just 6 weeks in a group of 17 Australian runners who have been training for 10 years or so, and ran between 38mi and 50mi a week. In the 3k test (just under 2mi) that amounted to an average improvement of 17secs in the test group, with no change in lactate threshold or VO2max.Turner et al. in showed similar results in less trained athletes. It was hypothesized in both papers that the improvements were due to increase leg-tendon stiffness, resulting in improved store/return of elastic energy. This was confirmed in subsequent studies. Both studies came from Australia…Not very surprising:

The ultimate plyometrics training partner

The ultimate plyometrics training partner

So, practically what does this mean? You can’t just go out and start jumping off of boxes, benches etc. because plyometrics are quite taxing, and the risk of injury is high. There are a few books available online that describes good plyo sessions for runners, and if you don’t have a coach familiar with plyometrics, the best thing to do is probably to get familiar with them prior to starting.

If you decide to go ahead:

1. Incorporate them in 2 easy / aerobic runs during the week (maybe just once per week if you’re injury prone). Here is a pretty good list of some of the exercises you can try.

2. Start easy. 15min easy jog warm-up, 15min session, 15min cool down.
– 3x20secs running bound with 1min easy in between
– 3×5 repeats of double leg forward hops with a min easy jog in between
– 3×20 reps per leg of single leg forward jumps with a min easy jog in between

3. Test the first session and see how your legs feel the next day. If fine, then try a second session in the same week.

4. Be careful when increasing the repeats, and adding other exercises.

Your last option is wait for 6 weeks and see if I’m injured or faster.