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 www.tpmassageball.com. 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 www.texastricamp.com.

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