Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Becoming a Progressive Athlete

A new article of mine is up at

Liberate Your Training: Become a Progressive Athlete

By Jim Vance, for

Stop for a minute to think about the training you're doing this week, and compare it with last week. Compare that with last month, and then last year. Do you see a distinct difference in the training you did then, and the training you're doing now? Check your training log for the past few years, and look at the differences in training. Are there any differences?

Many athletes find themselves doing the same training over and over, week after week, season after season. Whatever weekly group workout they can find, they might do simply for the sake of routine. Or they do it for the fact that it worked once to help create better fitness, so they think it will always continue to work.

The body must be considered a learning machine, much like the mind. If you repeated the eighth grade over and over again, your mind would never have progressed. Similarly, repeating the same workouts doesn't progress the body's ability to learn and adapt to physical stress.

Read the rest at

Monday, April 27, 2009

Wildflower Tips

Here's an article I wrote for Triathlete Magazine's website....

Avoid basic mistakes to guarantee a successful race at California’s premier triathlon event.

The biggest festival in the sport of triathlon is nearly upon us! Thousands of triathletes, media, vendors, college students, volunteers, fans and families will descend upon the Wildflower Triathlon Festival at Lake San Antonio, in the hills, vineyards and plains of Monterey County, California. The May 1–3 event is known as much as for its fun—with three different races—as it is for its challenging courses. Whether you’re planning to experience this great event for the first time or the twenty-seventh (it’s been around that long!), there are certain pitfalls and mistakes every competing athlete should avoid.

Read the rest at Triathlete Magazine.

Coach Vance

Monday, April 20, 2009

Underwater Swim Video Clinic this Weekend in Chicago

Just a reminder that I will be in the Chicago area this weekend for an underwater swim video analysis clinic. I'll be conducting the clinic on both Saturday and Sunday, (whichever day works for the athletes), and the clinics include a presentation which will explain the key factors and technical aspects of swimming, as well the physics of the movements, so athletes can better understand what it is they want to accomplish in the water.

I have a few spots remaining, but time is running out. You can find all the important info and register here:

Hope to see you there!

Coach Vance

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Renata Bucher wins XTERRA Saipan

Renata Bucher captured her 5th straight XTERRA Saipan Championship yesterday, her 3rd win in 4 races this season. In doing so, she beat Julie Dibens, the 2-time defending XTERRA World Champion, and Shonny Vanlandingham, who finished 3rd in Maui last year, 17 seconds in front of Renata.

It was a very strong performance for Renata, as she continues to show herself as factor to be considered in Maui come October. She is the only female to beat Julie Dibens anytime in the last 3 years in XTERRA, with victories in 2007, 2008 and now 2009. Julie had defeated her 2 weeks prior to Saipan, at XTERRA Guam.

After her victory at the SuperFrog Half in San Diego, we knew she would probably be too tired to beat Julie at the race in Guam, since there was only 5 days between them, (4 with crossing the International Date Line). We discussed all the options and felt a victory at SuperFrog would be better financially for her, when compared to the money available at XTERRA Guam. There was still 2 weeks between Guam and Saipan, giving her enough time to recover, still put in some quality training, and get the win against the tough field at Saipan, with the much bigger prize purse. This is the decision we made, and it played out just as we planned it.

Most athletes want to win every race, and Renata is no exception to that rule. Getting second was a tough pill for her to swallow in Guam, but she stuck to the plan, and it paid off. She trusted in the science and approach we took, and it came through for her.

Athletes need to see the bigger picture sometimes, and not get caught up in the smaller, C-priority races. Focus on the races which matter most, since those are what you truly evaluate your success and season on.

Coach Vance

All photos courtesy of Nils Nelson

Friday, April 17, 2009

Hurdle drills for improvement in range of motion

I've recently taken over the Tri Club of San Diego's weekly Tuesday night track workout, here in San Diego. I knew when I took over the coaching session that I would be faced the challenge of coaching athletes with multiple ability levels. As a former school teacher, I have the philosophy of trying to meet each athlete's individual needs, and weaknesses, no matter the size of the group.

One of the biggest challenges I've found facing triathletes is tension in core region, specifically the hip flexors, glutes, and piriformis. This area is the key to good performance, not just for running, but also for the bike.

I ran cross country and track at the University of Nebraska, focusing on the steeplechase for outdoor track. If you're unsure what the steeplechase is, this video will help:

When I first arrived to campus, I struggled with injuries to hip flexors. Once I started focusing on doing hurdle drills, and improving the range of motion in my hips and the surrounding area, my injuries disappeared and my speed improved rather dramatically.

One of the big things I see athletes coming to me with is a desire to improve their running, and the ones who have started to do these same drills I did as a collegiate runner have seen significant improvement in not only their runs, but their biking as well.

I went ahead and set-up some hurdles the first night I coached the Tuesday track session, and my suscipions were CLEARLY confirmed. We had the hurdles at the lowest heights, and still many of them were struggling just getting their knees lifted over, much less their whole legs and feet.

It was this clear area of weakness which prompted me to get back to including these in my athletes' training, and write this article for Check it out, and give them a test. I'm sure you'll feel it in the hip flexors and glutes with just a few tries.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Test workouts for cyclist without power meter

I am coaching a cyclist who doesn't use a power meter, and I will admit, this has been hard for me as a coach. I've gotten a little spoiled with power meters for most of my athletes. He has been preparing for Sea Otter since January, and this weekend he will be racing the road race and circuit race.

One of the toughest things for me as a coach, has been trying to track whether we are on track and seeing improvement. With road racing it can be very hard, because poor tactics can mean as much as poor fitness at times. Judging how you're doing in terms of fitness is hard if you're comparing to where you finish in a peleton. The variance of conditions isn't reliable at all.

Instead, we had to use some creativity to find ways we could measure fitness. One of the ways we did this was a few test races, which included doing a lot of attacks off the front in a criterium. He was able to attack off the front in the crit more than he ever had, and hold it for longer than he expected. All good signs.

However, well before this I knew I wanted more objective signs. So after a discussion, we chose a test workout which we felt was objective, and repeatable. The test consisted of 3 times up a local hill climb, which took in total close to 30 mins of effort, (3x10 mins). We would record time to the summit, and average HR data to compare over the season. This was the easiest way to see a power to weight ratio improvement, and improvement in HR/watts over a duration which seemed to matter for his race goals. Too often, wind or groups can affect speed, but not as much when someone is riding uphill.

So here is his the compilation of his test workouts we've been recording and the date:

TT Test Climb - Friday, February 6, 2009 Time HR
#1 9:08 177
#2 9:24 174
#3 9:30 174
Average 9:20 175.00

TT Test Climb - Friday, February 25, 2009 Time HR
#1 8:59 182
#2 9:12 183
#3 9:28 180
Average 9:13 181.67

TT Test Climb - Thursday, March 19, 2009 Time HR
#1 9:15 175
#2 9:25 176
#3 9:37 177
Average 9:25 176.00

TT Test Climb - Friday, April 10, 2009 Time HR
#1 8:28 179
#2 8:42 178
#3 8:57 178
Average 8:42 178.33

You'll probably notice his third test went horrible! We were both scratching our heads, wondering what happened. Luckily, I was able to review his training, and went with my intuition that we were fine, and it was just an off day. Clearly, his fourth and last test before Sea Otter was a clear sign that we have been doing things right. He experienced some very strong performances in some group rides like he never has had, and his recent race test was also a precursor of what we expected to see in this last test.

Whether you like power meters or not, can afford one or not, here is an easy way to test and track fitness. He is now beaming with confidence, and that's something you can't buy!

Coach Vance

Thursday, April 9, 2009

New Tapering Strategy Pays Off

This past Saturday was the California 70.3 Oceanside race. I had one athlete who came to me this year, Adam Zucco, who performed exceptionally well, winning the Men's 30-34 age group. He has been wanting to improve his run, which we have focused on and resulted in a 1:25 off the bike, a 2+ minute PR.

Adam claimed to have tried the traditional taper many times, yet always seemed to perform poorly. Luckily, he had been collecting his data from power meters and a GPS for his running, so we were able to go back and see how his tapers in the past were conducted, and see if what he said was truly accurate. His assessments on his performances from traditional tapers were fairly accurate. (This is yet another huge advantage of using "gadgets" in training and coaching, but that's an older post).

I have been working on a big change of focus for Adam's training. Because he's been an Ironman guy for so long, he needed to change to more and higher intensity in his training. Knowing this change, and tracking his improvement in his running and cycling from it, I didn't necessarily think his past taper issues would still be a problem with the change of emphasis in his new training, but sending him to the start line with the same old taper he has had in the past would have probably hurt his confidence in both me and his race readiness. Instead, I came up with a different taper strategy to prepare him, and we discussed it. We both agreed it would be a gamble, but the fact we agreed in the principles of the taper, meant he would at least be fairly confident in it. (Never underestimate the effect of the mind on performance!)

If you look at the standard taper found in most plans, and with most athletes' training, it's a regressive and steady decline in volume and intensity. Or another way of putting it is to say it's steady and progressive with rest and recovery. Adam claimed this rest made him feel flat, which is common, but he was never able to perform near his potential despite these flat feelings.

The basic idea of a taper is to remove fatigue from the body, while trying to maintain as high a fitness level as possible, and allow the body to perform well. When you remove fatigue, you lose some fitness, and most people have trouble understanding that. Without fatigue, there can't be fitness gains. So too much rest, and the athlete loses too much fitness to perform to their potential.

Oceanside was a B priority race, but it was the first of the year, and the opportunity to get to Kona made it more like an A-/B+ race. This meant we wouldn't do a complete taper for a peak race, but certainly wouldn't train thru the race.

So my dilemma with Adam was trying to find a way to remove fatigue, but not via the traditional means. Adam has traditionally been very resilient, with impressive ability to recover from hard efforts rather quickly, so this was something I needed to use to his advantage. He was coming off a big training camp in Tucson, 3 weeks out from the race, and when he got back to Chicago, he would have to meet his work and family obligations, so training would be lower in volume.

Normally I find 2 days of light activity are sufficient for getting athletes recovered and ready to perform well. 3 days with the third day out having some small amount of intensity works even better. So we decided we would do 1.5 weeks of normal taper style of reducing volume, maintaining intensity, followed by 2 blocks of 3 days light, (a little intensity on that 3rd day out), with a 3 day block of intensity in the middle of them.

The plan was to reduce fatigue with the light days, then keep sharpness with a short 3 day block, then remove the fatigue again.

(Click on photo to enlarge)

This photo shows how the taper looked in the WKO+ Performance Management Chart was not steady and smooth in its decline of fatigue, but rather staircased and jagged, but still holding fitness. His CTL went from 117 to 110, so only a 6% decline in fitness, where up to 10% is considered acceptable.

On Tuesday, when we did a controlled, triple-brick interval workout, Adam was doubting the strategy a bit. On Saturday, for the final mile of the race, he was celebrating his first major win and a Kona slot!

Would he have performed better with the traditional taper? We'll never know, but I think he is happy with the result.

This is what I love about coaching, and what a coach is supposed to do. I would not conduct this taper strategy with every athlete, because each athlete is different. The job of a coach is to learn all they can about each athlete and choose strategies which will benefit them, and are specific to them. I was pleased to accomplish that with Adam at Oceanside.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Triathlete Mag, catching up, and Oceanside on Saturday

It was a pretty successful SuperFrog/SuperSeal as a coach this past weekend. Renata won the women's race of the Frog, while Adam was 5th in the Seal, which were solid performances. Carrie had her best Olympic distance time ever, despite the wind and long transition run, and Parvati finished her longest triathlon ever, with a smile on her face!

New article on Parvati on

If you saw this issue, you know I wrote the big article mentioned on the cover. You'll also notice the Sunday's don't quite look right on my article, "Training for a Long Distance Triathlon on 10 Hours a Week". The Saturdays and Sundays got jammed together. I'll post a correct chart here soon. (Not sure what happened with the color in the photo I'm posting above, but you'll see it correctly at the site.)

I'll be at Oceanside watching the 70.3 race this Saturday. I'm normally all over the place, until the run, then I settle in just about 100 meters south of the first aid station on the run. This is close to the 1 mile mark, and the aid station run by TCSD. My athlete Adam is in contention for a Kona slot, and I'm testing an entirely different and new tapering strategy with him. We will see how it goes. Check back here, because if it works well, I'll be talking about it. If it doesn't, it's back to the drawing board, hahaha. I have a few other athletes competing, who I'll be supporting. Should be fun!

If you're going to be out there, come say hello. If you're competing, look for me around that mark of the run course, and say hello as well.

I've received a lot of emails and text messages from friends and clients who have received the latest issue of Triathlete Mag, for the month of May. The article is called "Dreaming of Kona". It analyzes what it actually takes to qualify for Kona, on a statistical basis, and which races tend to best for qualifying. I was glad to see they took my title idea! Here's a photo of it, but you'll have to get the issue to read it and see the rest!

Otherwise, I've been busy with clinics and running some workouts locally, on the track and in the open water. If you haven't been out to either of my track workouts or open water swims, you're missing out!

Tune in for more announcements, as there are a lot of cool things in the works. That's all for now though!

Coach Vance