Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Envelope Run

This is an article from Competitor Magazine, which I wrote on a training run I created, called "The Envelope Run". This is a training run I use with a lot of my athletes, and have seen great results with it. Give it a try in your training, and let me know how it goes for you.

The Envelope Run
By Jim Vance

As physical as running is, running fast also requires a mental focus that must be honed and refined like athletes do for physical fitness. But how do we focus and learn about the mental side of running hard? How do we handle pushing the pace and maintaining the intensity? Many times we hear about an athlete’s ability to be mentally tough and tolerate pain, but how does he do it? The answer is simple: he trains for it!

Mental toughness is not really an ability to tolerate pain, but rather an ability to focus on the things that will keep you going fast when you, inevitably, fatigue.

You can train to be mentally tough by including what I call envelope runs in your regular training regimen. An envelope run starts off easy, then works to a quick pace right on the edge of comfort/discomfort. It is at this point when athletes try to push the envelope of comfort and speed - hence the name. Now instead of focusing on the pain and discomfort of the run, the athlete focuses on economy and speed, trying to maximize speed and pace for the energy he is using.

To be clear, this is not a tempo run. Tempo runs are hard efforts at or above lactate threshold, intending to raise an athlete's lactate threshold pace. An envelope run is a sub-threshold, moderate effort designed to let athletes experiment with technique for economy - specifically the mental focus needed to go faster with ease. If a runner can learn to go faster while maintaining the same intensity, those same skills and actions can be applied at faster, harder intensities like races and tempo runs. In a race, it is very difficult to just go harder, since you're already running near your max. This is the point in the race when you need to be able to gain speed with ease, because you can't work any harder.

What types of technique and form items should athletes experiment with when trying to go faster without going harder? This is an important question, because it is here where athletes will learn the key things to focus on when they reach those difficult points of a race. The main technical aspects athletes need to experiment with are:

* Forward lean – What happens to the pace when you lean forward? How does it compare to when you lean back, or stand up tall as you run?

* Cadence – What happens to the pace when you increase the cadence of your footsteps, taking shorter and quicker steps? How does it compare to when you slow down the cadence and take longer strides?

* Head position – How do small adjustments in your head position affect your pace?

* Eye position – Where do your eyes focus? What happens when you focus closer in front of you, or further away?

* Relaxation – How does releasing the tension in your shoulders, neck, and arms affect your pace?

* Foot-strike – How does the position of your foot when it lands on the ground affect your pace? Change to a different foot-strike to compare with other positions. Can you hear your feet? What happens if you land them softly?

Once a runner has begun to experiment with the different technical aspects of their run form, they can begin to see what their tendencies are, and how to improve on them to be faster come the tough parts of the race. This run will force runners to take inventory of their body, and take an active role in the pace, rather than passive. Now they are focusing on how fast they can go for how they feel.

For example, most runners are too upright when they run. As they get tired, they stand even more upright, slowing down. For this run, focusing on leaning forward when an athlete tires will make them faster for the same energy output, and they will clearly see it!

Envelope runs are completed on the edge of comfort/discomfort, because it forces athletes to balance the economy of the movement, and see how small changes in technique affect their speed for a given effort. It also teaches them to focus while under a bit of discomfort, since they are pushing the envelope of comfort, much as will happen in a race, but without the physical stress on the body afterwards. Most runners will find these runs are on the mid to high end of their endurance pace, approximately Zones 2-3 heartrate.

Because this run is sub-threshold, it can be performed a few times per week in your regular training routine. It fits especially well between hard workouts, when another day of rest is too much, but athletes don’t want to kill themselves before their next key workout. It offers a great balance of endurance, speed skill, and mental-focus work.

Because this run is also completed on the edge of comfort/discomfort, it prevents athletes from going too hard, inadvertently turning easier days into race efforts. Though athletes may feel this run after the first couple times, the body should adapt appropriately within a few attempts.

The envelope runs are best done for a minimum of 40 minutes, because it takes awhile for the body to warm-up, and athletes should be starting these runs off easy, working into the pace. These runs can last up to 2-3 hours, but are not recommended beyond that.

If you use a speed-distance device and heartrate monitor, such as a GPS watch, you should record the data of the run, but not pay attention to it during the run. Focus on the feel and taking inventory of your body, and the changes in pace. You can briefly check the watch to see pace changes for feedback on technique variances, but don’t let the watch control you. Remember, this is a run for experimentation and mental focus. If you are holding yourself back with the watch, then you are not experimenting and focusing.

If you use these envelope runs once or twice per week in your regular training, you should notice a big difference in your ability to focus and handle harder, more intense runs, as well as the pace you can maintain for those efforts. Maybe even those who you thought were mentally tough won’t seem as tough anymore. Best of luck!

Coach Vance

Monday, March 23, 2009

Training With Technology - Speed/Distance/GPS Devices for Running

"Bring Your Own Chair" Lecture Series Presents:
Training With Technology
Speed/Distance/GPS Devices for Running

When: Monday, April 13th, 2009

Time: 6pm - 8pm

Place: B+L Bike & Sports
3603 Camino del Rio West
San Diego, CA
(619) 293-9400

Cost: FREE!!!

RSVP: Please RSVP to Bobbie Solomon at

TrainingBible Coach Jim Vance will explain how to effectively use your speed, distance and GPS devices for running to improve run performance, assess and maximize your training and help peak for your best race performance ever!

Refreshments and appetizers provided. A raffle will be held at the end of the event. Don't miss
this FREE opportunity!!!

You can download the PDF flier here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Being Better Prepared for Race-Day, Open-Water Swimming

******I will be holding my last open-water swim clinic for a few months, on Saturday, March 28th, at the same spot. Cost is $50, ($40 for TCSD members, email me for discount code). THIS CLINIC WILL PREPARE YOU INCREDIBLY WELL! Ask around and see what people have to say about it. Register and find all the details here: ************

It’s moments from the starting gun, and athletes are nervous on the sands of the start line. The water lies out before them, and they begin to realize just how different this race is going to be from their pool workouts, from their social, open-water group swims, and their usual intensities. There are hundreds of athletes on the line next to them, and there will be contact. There are buoys in the water, and they are not easy to see.

So many athletes this season will stand on a start line and realize for all the training they’ve done and worked hard for, they are not prepared for the crowds, turn buoys, sighting, drafting, and entries and exits of the water. It’s almost funny how the thought or notion of actually practicing these specific things might have never come to their minds at all. Now despite all their intense and committed preparation, they find themselves feeling quite uneasy about the situation. They realize they have not swum with crowds of people who will be fighting for position. They have not swam hard and intensely in the open water, handling salt water when nearly hyperventilating, and trying to draft while sighting those pesky buoys. For some, when they get to the buoy, turning at it requires a sudden change to doggy-paddle swim motion!

The problem in most athletes’ open-water swim training is the training events are social, easy-paced, and unstructured. Most athletes never practice the skills they will actually use on race-day. They don’t know how to handle packs, bumping, drafting and sighting when going hard, because they’ve never actually tested and practiced this skill, outside of a race itself.
Many athletes will spot their competition quite a number of body-lengths at the start of the race, because they don’t have a high skill level of entering the water. The shame of this is that it doesn’t take much effort to gain these skills; it just needs to be practiced! Athletes would never try a new product or nutrition strategy on race-day without testing it, but when it comes to open-water skills, the only practice they get is on race-day! This situation is both contradictory and maddening.

TraningBible Coaching has recognized this issue among the San Diego triathlon community, and is doing something about it. TrainingBible Coach Jim Vance, and some assistant coaches, will be leading a twice monthly, open-water swim workout at Ventura Cove in Mission Bay, on every other Wednesday evening, throughout the season. The workout will consist of intervals which replicate race situations, and race intensities.

The venue is located next to the Bahia Hotel, on West Mission Bay Drive. Map it at the following link:

Athletes can expect intervals to range from 200 to 800 meters, with surf entries, exits, in-water starts, packs, drafting, turns at buoys, sighting, and even wetsuit exit practice at the end of the session. Local and upcoming races will be stressed and have their swims simulated as much as possible, (in-water starts, left turns or right turns, etc.)

These open-water swim workouts will begin at 6:15 and last until about 7-7:15, depending on light and upcoming events. Athletes should arrive around 6PM, in order to sign the waiver, get on their wetsuits and make the necessary preparations for the workout.

The workout is FREE to all, ALL ABILITIES WELCOME, and is designed to be both fun and challenging. Please contact Jim Vance at, if you have any further questions.

Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog,

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Gadgets" in coaching

I was recently at a forum where I was speaking with other coaches, and local athletes came to hear us speak on our differences in coaching. This was a great opportunity for athletes to see the differences between local coaches, from philosophy to actual practice.

The thing we all agreed on was the psychology of the sport, and the role it plays in athlete success. Beyond that, we appeared to disagree widely. The biggest difference I seemed to have and show between the other coaches is that I use technology, and embrace it.

The funny part was they called it, "gadgets." As if the use of technology in training is somehow a bogus or worthless idea. Needing to use slang, almost demeaning words to negate any help or information power meters, software and speed-distance devices might provide. Technology to them has no place in daily training, despite the role it plays in their daily lives, (from cellphones like iPhones to HDTVs, laptops, mp3 players, flip cams, GPS, bluetooth, etc). Somehow there is a disconnect between daily life and daily training with many coaches.

I'm not wanting to undermine or talk bad about other coaches, as I think that is classless. I do think it is important for me to show a different line of thinking, and challenge the standard lines of thinking. It is the commitment I make as a coach, not only to myself, but to my athletes as well. I have to look for the ways we can do things better, to help them reach their goals. I'm not speaking about the coaches at the forum per se, but coaches around the world.

I honestly believe that as a coach, to not use the best tools available to coach and help an athlete reach their goals, is in some respects, irresponsible. I wish I could put that lighter, or in a better context, but every time I try to do so, I feel like I'm just BS-ing.

If I were a doctor, and decided I didn't need to use MRI's or X-rays to find out more about my patients, some might consider that malpractice. Certainly this is an extreme example, but the line of thinking isn't much different. Instead of using the best technology available to make sure their thinking is correct and prescribe the proper course of action, they just use their general experience and guess. This is what coaches who do not use technology do.

I'm not saying we don't use our intuition and experience to make training decisions, because that's exactly what we do. But coaches are human, (last I checked), and make mistakes. Because of this, they should be seeking all the information and relevant data available to minimize them.

Show me a business which doesn't use technology, and I'll show you a business which is under-performing. Show me a coach who doesn't use technology, and I'll show you athletes who are under-performing.

I agree, athletes should not totally focus on numbers and data as the key to being a good athlete. There is an art to racing, and a feel to pushing your body to new limits. Depending on my athlete's maturity level in racing, I allow them to not look at the power meter or GPS, etc, but I do request that they provide me the information and collect the data. They can cover up the power meter if they are good enough at pushing themselves and don't want the numbers to scare them. Other athletes need the numbers to help them pace themselves, build confidence, etc.

But the point of this post is not athletes using them, but coaches. I am beginning to believe more and more that many of the coaches who downplay the relevance and help of these tools don't really understand the meaning of the data and what it can tell them. It's a lack of knowledge they are trying to hide. If that's the case, then laziness is more the issue, and I hope this doesn't reflect down to their athletes.

Just an opinion, and I'm sure there are those who will disagree. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong. Again, just trying to challenge the status quo thinking.

Coach Vance

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

2009 Ford Ironman 70.3 California, Oceanside Race Preview and Guide

Please note, this article has been updated to the 2010 Oceanside 70.3 Preview. You will want to read that post rather than this one, for the most accurate and updated information.

Coach Vance

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Tri-Fitness Clinic in San Diego, with Joe Friel

On Saturday, March 21st, Joe Friel and Jim Vance will be having a triathlon-fitness clinic at Coastal Sports and Wellness, for any member of the local triathlon community. This clinic based off the Australian Triathlon Federation idea where athletes could come and get a complete overview and assessment done for the upcoming season, in a single day.

The clinic is a set-up as a series of stations, which athletes rotate thru. Before beginning the stations, attendees will be get to hear a private lecture from Joe Friel entitled, "2009 - Your Best Season Ever". After completing the lecture and preparation, athletes will move to the stations. The stations are:

Bike Fit with local bike fitting experts - see what small changes in your bike fit can mean for better performance.
Race Nutrition Planning with Kim Mueller - review and refine your race nutrition to nail it on race-day!
Physical Therapy Assessment with Coastal Sports and Wellness therapists - prevent injuries you don't have yet, by finding out your weak areas.
Ask a Coach with Joe Friel - Discuss your training and any other questions on your mind related to the sport.
Run Gait analysis with UCPT therapist, Gino Cinco - Find out what injuries may occur from running, and what type of shoes will help prevent them.

Each station is operated by local experts, and they will be spending time with each athlete individually, at each station, in order to give athletes a lot of valuable information relative to them, individually. You will not find a more comprehensive clinic to address your needs as an athlete, than this one, (the cost of just one of these stations would be more than the clinic itself. If you're a self-coached athlete, this clinic is invaluable. If you're a coached athlete already, the information gained here can help you maximize that relationship.

The clinic will begin at 10 AM and last until 2 PM. Cost of the clinic is $100, ($80 for TCSD members). It is limited to only 30 athletes, in order to keep instructional quality high. Athletes may register at the following registration page:
http://tinyurl. com/dj4ncb

For those who can not attend the clinic, Joe Friel will be our March TCSD Monthly Meeting Guest Speaker!
http://www.triclubs featuredEvents/ 40912502. html

TCSD members can email Jim at to get the discount code for the event.

For questions, please feel free to contact Jim Vance at jvance@trainingbibl

Hope to see you there!

Coach Vance

Monday, March 9, 2009

Joe Friel to speak to Tri Club of San Diego

Joe Friel will be speaking at the Tri Club of San Diego monthly meeting on Thursday, March 19th, at Road Runner Sports. The event is free, so come out to hear him talk about his background in triathlon, cycling, how he became one of the biggest authorities on training, raising a son who was a professional cyclist, and even ask him questions about training you may have.

Hope to see you there!

Coach Vance

Thursday, March 5, 2009

September Triathlon Camp - Mallorca, Spain

I'll be working a triathlon camp in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, with Joe Friel, in September. Check out the details below. If you headed to Kona, IM Florida or IM Arizona, this will be a great prep camp for you!

Hope to see you there!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tucson, Parvati and Renata

I'm heading to Tucson tomorrow, for the big Tri-Fest event, and will be there for 10 days, since we have a TrainingBible Camp the following weekend. If you're going to be there, stop by our booth and say hello. I'm happy to chat with people.

This season, I'm coaching Parvati Shallow, who won the reality-hit TV show, Survivor. She's training for Wildflower, and some other events this year, and was on the Competitors Radio Show with Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle. If you have the time, it's a funny interview....

This month I also have Renata Bucher here training under me, as she prepares for the upcoming XTERRA season. Renata has finished in the top 5 at Maui three times, won the XTERRA European Tour three times, and is looking to make the jump to the top step at Maui. She recognizes she has some weaknesses, and is here working with me on them.

So far, we've done some testing to see where her weaknesses are, and what she needs to focus on. We're off to a good start, and she has already learned a lot in the first 3 days with me. Our hope is to make her a smarter athlete, not just faster and stronger. I'm introducing her to training with power, and other technological tools.

Renata will be with me in Tucson, enjoying the training environment, and putting in some big preparations for XTERRA Saipan, Tagaman and some of the US XTERRA events. She will be joined by some of my other athletes who I will be coaching at the camp, as well as other TrainingBible athletes, who will be in attendance. I'm looking forward to it!

Coach Vance