Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Faster Swimming? SURE!!!

So many people think swimming is complex. Swimming is all about the following:

  1. Technical Skill
  2. Strength and Fitness
  3. Mental Toughness/Focus

These are not necessarily ranked for importance in this order, because for many, one is so much more dominant than the others, that they have mixed-up the order. For example, I have heard many say Andy Potts is not a technically sound swimmer, but obviously he has some other skill sets which make him one of the fastest, (if not the), swimmers in the sport of triathlon.

I want to examine each of these items, and discuss what they mean, and how you can get better at each one. Today, we’ll start with Technical Skill.

The definition of Technical Skill is the ability to maximize strength for propulsion and to reduce drag. These two key concepts should be the basis for everything you do in the water, and try to do in your training.

How do we develop the ability maximize strength for propulsion? According to Coach Paulo, ( infamy), he claims the catch, (or the amount of water held) is the most important aspect. Certainly, if we look at the biggest difference between faster and slower swimmers, the catch is most visible by the position of the elbow, relative to the rest of the body. A high elbow holds a large amount of water in the carriage of the hand, forearm, upper arm, and chest. As soon as the elbow drops, this volume of water is decreased, and therefore the ability to maximize your strength with a large volume of water to displace yourself past, is lessened.

Though I agree this characteristic is probably the most common, this doesn’t help to address the problem effectively. If simply keeping the elbow higher was that simple, everyone would do it. The issue is the steps to the elbow position are not effective from the beginning in poor swimmers. This makes fixing the problem at the point of elbow position difficult, if not impossible.

The root of the poor catch begins before the catch even happens. Too many athletes do not understand, nor value, length in the water. First off, with length the swimmer gains lift, reducing drag. (This is why speedboats are long and fast, and tugboats are short and slow). Once an athlete has maximized their length, they naturally have a high elbow! Too many athletes enter the water with a goggle-line entry, (preached in some swimming camps). They end up shortening their stroke, never giving themselves much volume of water to hold on to, and/or end up creating a low elbow position to begin with. When they get tired, this shortened stroke is only exacerbated further!

Notice the length these two swimmers achieve? It puts the elbow high to begin with.

Notice the higher elbow, and length?

The longer the arm goes out in front, the greater size of the lever to catch water with, and better maximizing of strength with your catch and push/propulsion.

Alan Voisard, who in 2007 became the first person to successfully swim Catalina Island, the English Channel and Swim Around Manhattan Island all in the same year, told me recently when he swam, “75% of my energy is directed forward, while only 25% goes to actually pushing the water back.” Though some think distance swimming is not the same as what we try to accomplish in triathlon, (although he could make the front pack of nearly any triathlon in the world), his goal in long distance swimming is the same as ours, efficiency! (Show me a triathlete who wants to be dead coming out of the water, and I’ll show you a bad triathlete).

Length is your friend in the water, and if you focus on it, you will find many benefits, including improved elbow position to maximize your strength with a great catch, and reduced drag from increased lift.

The other side benefit you will find is a decreased stroke rate, and stroke counts in the pool, because your glide time will be increased from reduced drag.

So what can you do to improve your length? Good question! Here are some tips:

  1. Put your hand entry point much further out in front of you. Too many people enter the water shortened up, and as they get tired it only gets worse. Make yourself long by having the hand enter WAY OUT in front of you, with it ALMOST fully extended.
  2. Throw that energy directly forward! If your hand and arm are headed down in the water, your energy is going down. You don’t want your energy going down, you want it going FORWARD! Last time I checked, all swim races were forward, never down to a deeper depth. You want the hand and arm to be just below the surface tension of the water. Refer back to the pictures above, and look where their arms are relative to the surface of the water and their bodies. It's not deep!
  3. Work on your range of motion and flexibility in your shoulders and scapulas. If you can’t move them, your length is diminished.
  4. Practice lowering your stroke count per length in the pool, but able to keep the same time, by getting length. Once you see the result first hand, you will value it, I PROMISE!
  5. Don’t waste your time with drills. Doing a bunch of drills only makes you better at drills. Too few people understand how to connect drills to actual swimming. Most swimmers would benefit from simply swimming slowly and focusing on the aspects they need to improve on, which is probably LENGTH! Drills are just a tool, designed to help “turn the light switch on” for you to understand the concept the drill is stressing. I shake my head when I see people spending most of their practice time doing drills.

So that’s the LONG, (and short), of swimming’s Technical Skill. Certainly, there are all sorts of other technical aspects, specific to each individual, but this is the most common flaw, and I believe the most important.

Stay tuned for me to address the strength and fitness, as well as mental/focus aspects of swimming.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is heartrate alone, a good enough training tool?

One of the bigger questions asked by athletes is, "Do I need a heartrate monitor?" Certainly, a heartrate monitor is a great tool for increasing the quality of your training sessions, but heartrate alone is nearly worthless.

To give a better example, let's consider building a house, and the only tool we use is a drill. You certainly could build a house, but chances are it wouldn't be a high-quality home without also using a saw, hammer, level, etc. A heartrate monitor is a single tool, in what should be a tool chest of training tools.

Many athletes judge the quality of a training session based on the activity of the heart, specifically the heartrate they reach. A common saying is, "I wasn't able to get my heartrate up," or "I got my heartrate up and it stayed there!"

The problem with these statements are that heartrate is extremely variable, based on many, many factors outside of intensity. Whether heartrate is able to rise might mean great intensity, or it might show a lack of fitness. If heartrate doesn't rise, it might mean you're tired, or that the body is fit, and able to effectively handle the load you're giving it.

If we take an unfit person, and put them under physical stress, their heartrate will rise exponentially. This doesn't necessarily show a quality session, only that their body is not fit. Again, this illustrates how heartrate alone does not give you much useful information.

So why use heartrate at all? Remember, heartrate monitors are a single tool in a toolbox of training tools. Heartrate is a great indicator if it is compared to something objective, such as watts or pace. If your heartrate goes down at the same watts you rode 2 weeks earlier, then you see fitness! If we judged on heartrate alone, we would be wondering if we were any fitter than 2 weeks prior.

Inversely, if we rode at the same watts as 2 weeks prior, and our heartrate was higher, it would show itself as fatigue, or possible sickness. If we judged the ride strictly as being able to raise our heartrate, we would be hard pressed to understand that possibility without a power meter.

But what if heartrate raises and watts go up? Well, then we can take a ratio of average heartrate to average watts, to see how the workout went. (We can generally replace watts with pace for all these examples as well, whether running or swimming.)

What about heartrate compared to perceived exertion? Good question! Remember, heartrate needs to be compared to objective measurements, and perceived exertion, by definition, is subjective. You may feel great, but that is not an accurate picture of what is going on.

The more information you collect, and the more variables you are aware of, the better picture of fitness and quality training sessions you will have. Certainly, knowing your heartrate is a great thing, but heartrate alone is not enough information without something objective to compare it to.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Budget Considerations for Triathletes

This damn sport is expensive! Sometimes it’s frustrating to think about how much money we spend toward it. One reassuring thought is all the money we spend is an investment in our health, if we are consistent and committed to this wonderful sport.

Some people have no issues with budgets and costs with our sports, especially those who are in the demographic of our sport, or those who exceed it, but many who are considering the sport and still feeling it out are not quite willing to commit the dollars required to see success.

So what if you don’t have a lot of money? One of the biggest questions I’m asked as an elite athlete and coach is “With a limited budget, where should I invest to get the most return for my money?”

Although there is no direct and simple answer for each person, there are definitely certain principles which are worthwhile and helpful for us achieving our goals within the sport of triathlon. It is these principles which should be addressed first, no matter your budget.

Here are my rankings on the best items you can invest in for the money, if you’re on a budget. I have broken these down according to your commitment and experience level with triathlon, and assume you have the basics of a wetsuit, bike, and bike trainer. And of course, this does not take into consideration entry fees and travel expenses to races, as these can vary considerably per athlete.


1. Bike Fit – If you are just joining the sport, you haven’t probably put much time in the saddle, and as you increase your time riding your bike, injuries will begin to happen. What seems comfortable for an hour is not necessarily comfortable after 2, 3 or up to 5 hours on your bike. Invest in a quality bike fit which addresses your biomechanical issues, deficiencies, and/or tendencies, and you will find enjoyment in your increased time commitment, rather than injury and frustration.

2. Physical Assessment – Much like you see a bike fitter to address and expose your biomechanical deficiencies with regard to cycling, your increased running will take an even bigger toll on you if you have certain issues which need to be addressed. Go see a physical therapist, or strength coach to find out what your biggest issues are and what sort of specific exercises and routines which will help to address and alleviate them. Why is this not before bike fits? Well, most beginners spend a lot of money on a bike, and therefore tend to want to put more time in on their bike than in their cheap running shoes. Besides, running isn’t as glamorous as cycling.

These two items are the best things you can do as a beginner, because they address your basic needs to enjoy the sport, no matter the further extension of your commitment, and should you decide to dive further, these will provide the basic foundation for future success.

If you’re past the beginner phase, and are moving up in the triathlon world, here are your next considerations:

  1. Get a Coach – If you’ve increased your commitment to the sport, and are ready to advance up the results page, then you need to begin organizing your training to meet your goals. Most people train according to how they feel, or what their friends are doing, without purpose or physiological direction. This mixed style of training normally leads to inconsistent performances, burnout, injury, and frustration. A quality coach provides the proper training direction, as well as accountability for you to complete the workouts, (or complete rest sessions!), and education for success which otherwise would only come with experience. If you can pay for a coach, DO IT! If you aren’t sure you can afford one, shop around. Ask people in the community for a recommendation, and talk with potential coaches. There are plenty of good coaches out there, and you normally get what you pay for. If you can’t afford a quality coach yet, invest in a training plan, but realize these plans do not address your individual history, limiters, needs, goals, and schedule, as well as lack an opportunity to modify the program should something arise, such as injury or travel. It is always best to have a coach you can ask questions to, use as a resource, and help with race-specific preparation.
  2. Get Techno! – If you don’t already utilize technology in your training, you are certainly not maximizing the quality of your training. In fact, you’re just guessing. The affect technology is having today on athlete training is PROFOUND! WKO+ software allows coaches to quantify the stress of training sessions on athletes like never before, and therefore allow us to better assess fatigue, form and fitness levels. The absolute best thing you can do if you’re serious about your success level, is to have a coach who uses WKO+ and TrainingPeaks software, while you utilize a power meter on your bike and a GPS and heartrate system for running, such as the Garmin 305 Forerunner. (No, I am not sponsored by Garmin, nor TrainingPeaks, but am considering asking them!). Seriously, as a coach I have yet to find a better combination for the serious athlete. Until they create power meters for running and swimming, (which is coming soon), these are the absolute best tools you can utilize! WITHOUT QUESTION!
  3. Get Specific Coaching – Though there are plenty of other limiters, such as weight and time constraints, we all have a weak sport in the swim-bike-run triad. In coaching, we call this your “performance limiter.” If swimming is your limiter, you would certainly benefit from an underwater video session with a coach, and perhaps from joining a masters program, with a coach on the deck working with you consistently. If running is your limiter, you certainly could benefit from a video and drills session with a coach, addressing your economy and efficiency issues. If cycling is your limiter, a bike fit, pedal stroke analysis, (spin-scan), strength training and/or aerodynamic assessment are all ways to specifically address your limiters and make them strengths!
  4. Massage Therapy – Consistent training will certainly lead to the breakdown of muscle tissue, despite our best attempts to address the biomechanical issues you may be predisposed to. Talk with any elite athlete, and you’ll find that CONSISTENT massage therapy is one of the most important tools of their training. But as we all know, massage therapy is expensive. What do I recommend? I recommend getting it as often as you can!!! Chances are if you search around, you can find affordable massage therapy you can utilize once every two weeks. Look for some massage therapy schools to get started, but try some more expensive therapists once in awhile to make sure you are aware of the quality differences. Believe me, there is a big difference! If you can’t afford massage therapy, your best bet is to get a toolkit which will help you do quality self-massage. My suggestion, even if you get weekly or bi-weekly massage, is to get the TP Total Body Package with Ultimate 6 Guidebook, which comes with a DVD and manual to help you use them properly. These items work incredibly well, and I use them in my own training, (and I am a weekly massage therapy guy!) You can get the full kit at Type in JVANCE in the coupon code area to get a 10% discount. (No, I am not sponsored by them, but I do believe in their products and have negotiated a discount for my clients).
  5. Product Upgrades – The last step in the process is product upgrades. This is where you look at your wetsuit, frame, wheels, helmet, bike weight, run shoes, and other items which can provide you with the other seconds, possibly minutes, you’re ready to take back on the course. You’ll notice these are last on the list, but first in most people’s minds. Yes, you can buy speed, but you can never buy as much speed from these products as you can from the giving proper attention to the prior 4 items. Remember, the engine is still the most important factor!

Remember, there are plenty of free resources out there too, such as this blog! You can also talk with coaches in your area and gather plenty of free advice. Don’t expect them to write out a free plan for you on the spot, but a quality coach will be happy to share their general knowledge with you, as it helps show their ability.

If you’re on a budget, consider these items and your commitment level, and you’ll be able to maximize your experiences. Best of luck!

Coach Vance

Monday, November 19, 2007

Zoot Shoes Part 3 - Drainage

In part 3 of this review, we'll review the drainage feature of the new Zoot shoes.

Most everyone has run in shoes in wet conditions, and dealt with the feeling of bricks for feet from water weight. Certainly, the longer you have to run in these conditions, the worse it is. Some people have high enough sweat rates to deal with this issue even when the weather isn't wet! (Put me on that list, especially on long runs, made even worse in hotter conditions.)

Studies have shown the average shoe can retain more than 30% of its weight when wet! Take a racing shoe which is 9 ounces, and in wet conditions it becomes 12 ounces. This equates to every 5 steps lifting an additional pound of weight. If you are wearing cotton socks, you’re talking about a nearly 50% gain in weight due to water retention, and it’s down to 3 steps for an additional pound. Multiply this by the number of steps you have to take in a half or full Ironman, and you’re suddenly considering chopping off your feet.

Of course this may sound helpful in a rainy triathlon, but it's not very often we find ourselves in one of those. But let's just consider full and half-Ironman races. Even if it's not raining from the sky, if it's hot or hydration is a big need, you will be pouring water all over yourself. Where does all that water go if not into your mouth? That's right, it drains to your feet. If it's raining, hot or even perfect temps, your feet will get wet from water and sweat, and that means you will be dealing with heavier feet for anywhere from 5-20 miles, maybe longer!

And how many people can stand to wear a light weight racing flat in an Ironman or half-Ironman? Not many, so your shoes are probably heavier than the 9 oz example given above.

Think about XTERRA races, and how many of them end up going thru mud, or running along the beach at Maui.

Or consider an Olympic distance race in hot conditions. Even though these races are shorter, the intensity demands are much higher, and if your feet get wet, you slow down, without fail. In fact, in a recent Men’s Health online article, they state Zoot claims the shoes will make a 40 sec improvement in a 10K due to sweat and water drainage alone. (The author could not find this stated anywhere else, nor find what speed of runner could expect this size gain.)

Alright, water in the shoes sucks, we've established that. Are the Zoot shoes waterproof or something? No, not exactly. The Zoot shoes have established a smart drainage system though.

First off, the upper is a mesh, which doesn’t absorb water. It’s thin and breathable, allowing for water to pass thru it quickly and easily, as well as have sweat able to evaporate from the foot easier.

See the mesh-like upper?

The insert of the shoe has many small holes to create a vent-like passage for the water.

The inserts of the shoe aid in the drainage process.

The shoe also has a downward tilt of the sole, letting gravity pull the water toward the toe box, where it drains out thru the series of holes in the forefoot.

Notice the tilt of the shoe? This produces a gravity flow of water toward the forefoot.

Holes in the forefoot provide simple exits for the water.

Ok, so now we see what the shoe is designed to do, but how does it do in the field? Well, I never noticed weight as an issue with the shoe, and that is the point. Even at Kona, when I wore a thin ActiveFit sock from Zoot, the shoe drained plenty fine in the hot conditions, and orthotics didn’t slow the drainage process.

I am a profuse sweater, and during all my training runs, I never felt sluggish in my feet, like I’ve felt in the past with my trainers. Nor do I have the squishy, squeaking noise from the water and sweat in my shoes.

So are there any negatives? Well, if you wear the shoes regularly, you'll notice the holes in the forefoot are not one-way. By this, I mean water can go in the holes just as easy as it can go out. In a race though, it won't matter, and water exits easily still.

Zoot has done well with the drainage system, and the further your race distance, the more important this feature becomes.

Texas A&M Camp and Wind Tunnel

Aerodynamics and wind tunnel guru, John Cobb, discusses a few of the basic principles, before the testing begins.

I know many of you have been wondering how the camp went, and let me tell you, I learned a lot! It was pretty awesome to be at the wind tunnel and see how it all worked. Working with and learning from John Cobb was a unique, and insightful experience. It was great to ask him a bunch of questions and get explanations I could use and understand.

The control center, where all the data is configured.

One really cool thing was when we pretty much had the clinic portion over, covering all the basics and our questions answered, only to have about another 75 mins of tunnel time left. Then Cobb asked us, "Well, what do you guys wanna do? The tunnel is ours to do whatever we want with!" It was being given the keys to a Ferrari, when you just got your driver's license.

This Texas A&M triathlon team member was our test dummy for our aerodynamic drag tests. You can see the smoke and how it shows the direction of the air flow, as well as disruption as it comes in contact with the rider.

The tests we did were really cool, and what I expected to get as a result happened about 50% of the time, while the unexpected result happened the other half. Sometimes I was shaking my head, other times I felt like I knew what I was doing. It just goes to show there are certain principles of aerodynamics, but for every principle there are plenty of exceptions, based on the rider's position and equipment.

The two biggest results/learning experiences/memorable moments:

1. Testing the Texas A&M tri-team member, and finding that even with his Limar aero helmet, he was faster with his face down, tail up in the air, than the traditional position of putting the tail on your back. (Lots of reasons for this, but still an important distinction.) Then we tested another team member, and his result was the exact opposite.

2. Cassidy Phillips took the young man, and did a little bit of loosening up his quads, psoas and piriformis with his TP Massage therapy items, and his hips were able to rotate slightly forward, reducing his drag by quite a bit, a pound! I'm talking a difference of nearly 2 mins for 40K! It also equated to nearly 6 mins for an Ironman. And this was done with about 5 mins of loosening exercises to get the hips to come forward. This didn't even take into account how much better he could breathe or how the leverage of the new position could provide more power to the pedals.

Visual of air flow disruption with the head face-down during the testing. Believe it or not, the air flow was worse with the head up!

We also used a smoker, in order to show how the air moves around the body when it hits the cyclist. It was quite cool to see.

So what can we learn from this? More than anything, aerodynamics are related to flexibility! Combine quality flexibility work with a good fit, that follows a lot of the principles of aerodynamic flow, and you've got a good amount of free speed.

Of course, I learned a lot more than that, but I can't give away everything!

Coach Vance

PS - If you want another cool blog to follow, check out John Cobb's.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Texas Camp, Training with Purpose

I am feeling like a real professional coach right now, as I just got back last night from a week in San Francisco for the USAT Level 2 course, and on Wednesday I will leave for Texas A&M, for the Texas Tri Camp.

I am really excited about the camp, as I will have the opportunity to get into the wind tunnel and learn all the important factors of aerodynamics from one of the gurus of the game, John Cobb. Joe Friel will also be speaking on power and power meters. Also scheduled to speak are Tom Rodgers and Chuck Burr.

You can check it out at

Since working with Joe, I've learned a lot, and this should be another great opportunity for me to learn.

One of the biggest concepts I've learned from Joe has been "training with a purpose." Even when he first told me that, I thought, "Of course I train with a purpose, the purpose is to get faster!" It wasn't until he further explained to me that training with a purpose means training with a focus to train and monitor physiological adaptations, not just checking off workouts from a training plan.

So many times as an athlete and coach, I've thought, "All this person needs are these workouts," or "they need to get in X hours," or "they need to put in X miles." Now I understand, the athlete needs to train to the specific physiological demands of the race, and the training needs to be periodized and measured to meet those demands with the body's best possible performance. Even if you can't exactly measure the adaptation at times, you need to be monitoring it consistently, and making sure the athlete is progressing toward their goals. If they are not, then the program needs to be altered, in order to meet the goals.

So many athletes just go out and train without cause or purpose. They go do the group rides because everyone is doing it, never periodizing their training to meet the demands of their major races. They run a loop they like out their door because it's convenient and scenic, instead of working on their turnover. These are just a few examples.

Some people don't know how to train with a purpose, or understand where to begin training with purpose. That's why I have a job, because I understand it.

So think about your training, and make sure you are training with purpose.

Coach Vance

Thursday, November 8, 2007

USAT Level 2

Sorry for a lack of posts, but I am in San Francisco, at the USAT Level 2 coaching clinic. I've been swamped with information for hours and hours, but enjoying it! It's been two 12 hour days, Tuesday was 6 hours, and tomorrow is another 12! Lots of great speakers, ideas, and theories.

Another great thing about this clinic, there are plenty of topics I'm finding I can write about!

Stay tuned, because I promise I will be adding a lot of cool stuff in the coming weeks.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The new Zoot shoes - Part 2

In part 2 of this assessment of the new Zoot shoes, I am going to discuss feature #1, "Sockless Wear," and see how successful Zoot is with this feature.

The idea of sockless wear is nothing new, and is practiced by many already, but many a triathlete has experienced the negative consequences of such a choice in a race or training. Bloody, mangled feet, limping down the home stretch, a DNF or even possibly pain for weeks depending on the severity, are just some of the issues one might face if running without socks in a race.

What makes sockless wear so important? Well, speed of course! It's certainly faster to eliminate the process of putting on socks during a transition. How much faster depends on the overall dexterity of the athlete, but a fair estimation would be 20 to 30 seconds.

So how much value does 20 to 30 seconds have? This again returns to the basic premise of being relative to the dexterity and ability, but also in this case the length of the race. Obviously, if you're an athlete competing for a podium spot at the USAT Nationals, then 20 to 30 seconds can mean the difference between top of the podium and not even being on it.

This doesn't even take into consideration what a blister can do to your time, or better yet, what a lack of blisters can mean for your overall time! Certainly limping in the final mile of a 10K will be slower than turning on the jets and really getting after it, pain free.

Certainly, the more competitive you are, the more important this feature is to you. If you've ever lost a race by a few seconds, or missed a Kona slot by the same, you certainly would appreciate anything which could help give you back those precious few seconds. There are also plenty of people who just don't like to wear socks in a race, whether they need the seconds or not.

Ok, so now you've determined what the value of this "sockless wear" feature means to you, now what the heck does it mean? What makes this shoe so special that you don't need socks?

The first thing Zoot did with their new shoes is make the entire upper fit like a sock, with some elasticity and smoothness. (The upper is the part of the shoe which encases the foot, above the sole.) This upper is a single piece, unlike traditional shoes which have a tongue, and quarter panels on the sides. This single piece not only helps with the snug-fit, it offers a great side benefit of no seams. (Interior of shoe shown below.)

Normally, when we get blisters from running without socks, it comes from high friction points between our feet and the shoes. This lack of seams virtually eliminates high friction points within the shoes, as there is no single place rubbing more than any other.

Zoot added a very cool secondary support item for this feature, what they call a "friction-free coating" was added to the interior of the shoes. This is actually a small layer on the interior of the upper, which acts as a constant lubricant within the shoe. This further reduces the impact of rubbing within the shoe.

So that sounds great in theory and all, but does it really do what it claims?

When I got these shoes and heard about the features, I was excited. Then honestly, I was very skeptical of it. As a competitive triathlete, I certainly valued this feature, and have faced many of the negative consequences of sockless wear in regular shoes. I always just accepted it as something which was a necessary evil of the sport. I also have some mutations, (you could say), on my feet, which makes even a good shoe have some increased friction points which may not even happen for most people. (I will spare you the details and photos of my mutated feet!)

The first thing I did was walk around in the shoes without socks. The shoes claimed to have great breathe-ability, with the sock-like upper, and I thought maybe my shoes wouldn't smell if I didn't wear socks. I was wrong on that aspect, the shoes still smelled bad after walking around in them without socks all day. In fairness, I am a heavy, profuse sweater, and my feet are no exception. If you are not a heavy sweater, you may have different results.

However, I had no blisters. First test for blisters, and the shoes passed.

If you read Part 1, you know I mentioned the shoes run about a half-size large for me, but I wear orthotics. I decided for a more accurate test though, I would run in the shoes without my orthotics. I did this also because I did not want the orthotics to create any seams and therefore cause a blister themselves, as this would be unfair to the shoe.

The fact that the shoes were already running a half-size big would be compounded by sockless wear though, as the size of my foot would therefore be reduced without a sock.

My first runs were my typical bay loop here in San Diego, approximately 10K, about 40 mins each time. No blisters, each time. Impressive so far. It seems clear so far that if I were to use the shoes in an Olympic distance race or shorter, I would be fine without socks. The next test would be to see how things went over the longer runs.

The first long run I did was 90 mins, and no issues with any blisters, but I did begin to get a hot spot on the inside of the left Achilles, just above the heel. I believe these spots came from the fact I am a severe pronator, being a big guy, who was running without his normal orthotics, and in shoes which were about a half-size big. It seemed pretty clear that extra space within the shoe allowed for extra rubbing, along with my running style. This certainly made clear the importance of fit for a pair of shoes, much like many claim for bikes.

The other long run I did was about 1 hour and 45 mins, and included a 4 mile road race on flat roads, in the middle of the run. This run had about the same results of the previous run, with a water-filled blister in the same spot on the inside of my left foot. Later this blister popped, and became a sore spot on my foot.

I also used the shoes with runs following these, with socks and with my orthotics, and no issues. At Kona, I made the decision to run with socks and orthotics, and had no issues with my feet on the run. Afterwards, in the evening, I noticed a small spot on the lower, medial part of my heel, where it had a water-filled blister, but it was small and no pain. (It probably didn't help that I ran over 4 hours for the marathon, but the fact it didn't hurt was impressive.)

Ok, so based on these experiences, what would I suggest? Here are my thoughts:

1. If you're doing a short course race, sprint to Olympic, possibly XTERRA, you should be able to run without socks, and without issue.
2. If you're doing a half-Ironman, you should consider how long you will be on the run course. If you're looking at more than 2 hours, you may need socks still, but this can be tested in your training. If you running close to 90 mins, and you don't have mutated feet, (like I do), you should be just fine without socks.
3. If you're doing an Ironman, the need for an extra 20-30 seconds is greatly diminished, yet the need for avoiding a blister is heightened, so I would suggest wearing socks for this distance.

You can also get a better sense of if you need socks by training in the shoes for your long runs.

All in all, I would give the shoes a B+ in their ability to provide a shoe with "sockless wear", but I reserve the right to change this grade to an A- if I am able to run in shoes which fit me better.

Coach Vance

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rest is So Underrated!

At the XTERRA World Championships today, one of my athletes from the past 2 seasons, James, had the race of his life. He finished 39th overall, 4th in the 25-29 AG, and was only 1:19 off the winner's time in his AG. His time was over 20 mins faster than last year on the same course, in hotter, and windier conditions.

It was the first time he ever finished in front of the women's winner, as well as beat many people in his age group he has never really been close to. He told me today that he couldn't believe who he had beaten, and how he road away from riders who he has always believed to be better than him.

James certainly worked extremely hard, as that was never what was holding him back. In fact, the struggle with him was always trying to get him to rest enough, to really peak for the big races. He could never back off. I would have to actually scold him a little at times, because he would add workouts to the schedule while he was in a taper. As a coach, I was pulling my hair out!

His other best race of his life came after being sick, and him being forced to stay in bed for nearly a week. This time the air quality issues of the terrible fires in San Diego County forced him to keep his workouts indoors, short and to the point. He was only able to try and just stay sharp with short workouts, not risking damage to his lungs.

Not surprisingly, as my previous article in this blog stated, the fires forced him to rest and let his body utilize all the fitness he has spent many months developing. Come raceday, his body responded and he produced beyond a level he could have imagined even possible.

Even today, he agreed. I was happy to hear it!

Congrats James! You deserve the success, but not just because of your hard work, but because of the work you didn't do. You did it with rest.

Rest is so underrated!

Coach Vance

The new Zoot shoes - Part 1

Disclaimer: The author is a sponsored athlete of Zoot Sports, and the shoes given to the author are NOT the completed, production models.

As an athlete who demands the best in products and performance, I was excited to hear that Zoot was attempting to the raise the bar in shoe performance, with the first triathlon-specific footwear line. The features of the shoe are definitely advances in the right direction of trying to meet the specific needs of triathletes.

Zoot has determined and focus on 4 big needs they claim triathletes have, and their shoes address:

  1. Sockless wear for quicker transitions
  2. Improved drainage of water from the shoes to reduce weight
  3. Speed of entry for quicker transitions
  4. Biomechanical differences of running off the bike versus running fresh are attempted to be addressed.
This is the first part, in a multi-part assessment of the new Zoot shoes, and how well their new shoes do in accomplishing the goal of the meeting the above 4 needs they claim to address.

I received my shoes a few months ago, and got some really funky designs, but nonetheless functional, and cool. I was given 2 pairs of size 11.5, with an all-white upper, and burnt orange tongue, (think Texas Longhorns). On one pair I decided to experiment a little, and actually traced the Zoot graphic on the outside of the shoe with a black Sharpee marker. (Notice in the photo.)

A few weeks later I received a more official pair, with the logos more clear, and more production-like.

My initial observations:

1. The shoes run about a half-size big. I ordered 11.5's, but it was clear they were a little too big for me. I wear orthotics though, so this may end up being about right.

2. The shoes are fairly comfortable, just walking around. I found no issues of discomfort.

3. The shoes look pretty good, not awkward on my feet.

4. The new lack system is clearly visible with it's differences, and for walking around, almost not even needed, as the shoe itself fits like a sock.

Those are the initial observations, and I have much more to discuss in the coming blog posts, as I will break down each of the 4 aspects of the shoes.

Stay tuned for more...


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Training During the Fires

If you live in San Diego County, there is no doubt you are facing some tough decisions with the fires, as to whether or not you should be training.

Obviously if there is smoke outside your windows, you're not too concerned with your training volume and schedule. However, if you've been displaced or are not in immediate threat of flames, chances are you're looking outside your window and considering training.

So what are your choices, and what is recommended at this point in time? This situation is rare, and most people don't fully know or understand the situation, or more importantly, the consequences of training in these conditions.

As a coach, I called all my clients this week and told them NOT to train this week, aerobically. I live in Pacific Beach, where we have not been threatened with any flames or worry of evacuations, but I can look out my window and see ash covering my truck. If I sat and watched out my window, I could see the ash in the air. It's important to recognize, if you can see particulates in the air, chances are there are plenty more you can't even see.

A great website I checked for confirmation on this decision was:

Last check on this website, had all beach communities, from Oceanside to Downtown, and even inland areas, listed as "Unhealthy", and measurements not far from "Very Unhealthy".

The other key item to consider is your season. I am done with my season as an athlete, since Kona was my last race. But if your last race is the 70.3 Worlds, or some other race, you need to consider your training.

Here is the biggest tip I can give anyone still worried about training, REST IS YOUR FRIEND. Chances are, you can use this situation to your advantage, and use the downtime to rest and prepare for your finale.

The most important thing during rest and peak time is intensity. If you maintain intensity, you can keep your fitness. If you need to workout, you need to be working out indoors, with your sessions being quick and to the point. Warm-up, get in the race intensity you need to simulate your race, and then cool down. Down worry about endurance training, your whole season has prepared you for that, now is the time to focus on rest and sharpening.

Also realize, a few simple workouts in this air quality can leave you coughing for weeks, and certainly affecting your ability breathe in the big race you're worried about.

So check out the air quality in your area, and make the smart decision. Either bag it, or make every effort to do your workouts indoors, but brief.

Best of luck!

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Welcome to Tri Tech Review!

***This blog was imported, as I found when it stood alone I did not utilize it enough.***

Welcome to my other blog, which is devoted to the review of products and technology I am exposed to, as an elite triathlete. The products are not limited to anything specific, only that they might be used in training, racing or some other capacity for the sport.

I hope to use this blog to bring lots of cool reviews, thoughts, and opinions on new products you may be considering purchasing, or even just wonder about. This blog will be updated based on opportunities, but I am pretty sure a weekly or bi-weekly contribution is likely.

Stick around, because this should be very cool!

Thanks for tuning in!


Introducing my new coaching blog!

This is a blog I'm excited about, and I decided I needed to create months ago, but was too busy. Now I have the time and am commited to making the most of this cool idea.

I already hold a blog as an elite triathlete, (, and I realized there were times that blog did not have a clear direction, as I was writing a lot of coaching-like posts, and other items. So in order to keep that blog clear in its focus of the trials and tribulations of a professional triathlete, I have started this blog as an opportunity for people to learn from me, as a coach.

I hope to post many articles here, or provide links to articles I will write for other publications, and provide some unique perspectives in our sport. This blog will not be updated as much as my athlete blog, but certainly I hope to make weekly contributions.

I'm also starting a third blog, (, devoted to review of new technologies, or some of the cool products I get exposed to as an elite triathlete. I think this will provide some cool insight, as well as possibly help my sponsors, (I say "possibly" because I will be honest in my assessments, and I don't like everything my sponsors bring me.)

The new blog is called Tri Tech Review, which I think is a fitting name.

So stick around, and check back in, as I hope to make this worthy of visits!

Coach Vance