Monday, March 26, 2012

Training isn't perfect, but we can learn to do it better

I came across this PMC chart for an athlete who got hurt a few years ago, and unfortunately was not able to start their Ironman event. Anytime you work with an athlete, you're dealing with a unique experiment of one. You can bring experience from other athletes and training philosophies, but in the end, no two athletes are the same.

From reading this blog, you know I am big on data, and this photo helps illustrate why. This athlete got injured, and I was wondering what might have been the trigger to getting injured. Was there a mistake I made in planning, or they made in possibly not following the plan, that we can learn from for doing better training next time?

In the above photo, you can see where I identified 2 instances where Acute Training Load, (ATL), shows a very large jump, followed not much later by an injury. There's even another moment where the athlete is sick, and identified in the graph.

This information showed me what some key metrics and numbers to avoid with this athlete, and how much risk is reasonable in training, versus just likely to injure them again.

If you're using technology on a consistent and committed basis, you can begin to learn these things about your own "experiment of one". Training is never perfect, but with the power of data and retrospect, we can certainly learn to do it better, making less errors, or at least making training judgments with the odds in our favor.

If you're looking for some help with this, I am happy to review your files and tell you what I see, and what I think. But look for trends yourself, and see if you can learn anything from them as well.

Coach Vance

Friday, March 23, 2012

Technique and Performance

I held my first rack workout of the season last Wednesday night, and I had a few kids attend. I brought my new iPad to start to gather some video and breakdown technique on the spot, hoping to maximize each training session. In videoing 2 girls, I found an interesting contrast of run technique, side by side.

In the image below, I want to highlight the position of the foot of these two girls. (Click on image to enlarge).

The girl on the right is taller than the girl on the left, as she is in the background, and her stride length is thus longer, naturally. however notice the foot-strike difference. The foot on the right is headed for a clear heel strike first. Contrast that with the foot on the left, where the foot is cambered slightly and mostly flat. You can nearly see the bottom of the foot. 

The difference in these foot strikes is important. The flatter foot will be able to bounce back up off the ground sooner than the heel-first foot, which must wait until it has the forefoot on the ground to toe-off with. The foot on the left can also begin to move back under the hips more, providing stability in the right time-frame for the hips. The heel striker on the right will not have the opportunity to bring it back before striking the ground and creating a braking action, in front of the hips, as shown in the next image. (Click to enlarge)

In this image I have combined 2 moments into one image, as their stride lengths don't allow the moment of hip support to coincide perfectly like the foot strike did. What you can now see though is the difference in the position of the hips, relative to the foot upon the weight bearing. Because of this, the girl on the right must overcome her dip, oscillating upward and over the foot. The girl on on the left has less time between landing and coming over her foot, meaning less vertical oscillation, and quicker initiation of the next stride, (faster cadence). 

Though one might ask, if the girl on the left is faster and better, why is she losing? This was an informal stride interval, which they started on their own, not a race. 

Does this mean the girl on the right is slower? No, not at all. What it means is the girl on the left is more technically sound in her run technique, and more efficient. That could mean more potential for quick improvement, but the heel striker could quickly improve her technique and make bigger and better improvement gains. 

Performance and technique don't really have a perfectly direct relationship, until we get to the higher competitive levels of sport. And even then, few athletes have perfect technique, and it is not directly proportional, as differences in other other factors play a big role. But certainly, technique limits the potential of performance and needs to be addressed in all athletes at some point. A simple change in foot strike can dramatically change run performance and especially economy. The more you run, the more important this is, from both a training and a performance perspective.

Notice the girls are both wearing shoes, not barefoot. Barefoot running might help you be more like the girl on the left, but running barefoot is not a shortcut to good run technique, it still requires the knowledge and focus to perform the movements correctly. 

Start paying attention to your technique, like foot strike and see what happens with your performance.

Coach Vance

Sunday, March 18, 2012

2012 Oceanside 70.3 Race Course Preview

2012 Ironman 70.3 California, Oceanside Race Preview and Guide

Hard to believe, but the 2012 season is about to start! The California Ironman 70.3 race is about to kick off the North American events, on Saturday, March 31st  in Oceanside, California. If you have done this event before, I’m sure you’re excited to get back to it again! If this will be your first time, get ready for a fun event with plenty of challenges, but great support from the United States Marine Corps, local residents and triathlon fanatics. It would be rude not to mention the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Ocean and small, but equally beautiful mountains on the Camp Pendleton Marine Core Base.

In order to maximize the experience for you, and especially your performance, there is some critical information you should know before you toe the line. This article is meant to be a tool to prevent any surprises for you on race day, which can easily be avoided. I am confident if you follow these guidelines and keep the following information in mind, you will have a solid race performance.

Let’s start with the basics and go over the distances. Ironman 70.3 consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run, totaling 70.3 miles. Sounds fairly simple, but even if you’ve done a 70.3 race in the past, each race presents its own logistical challenges and physical demands, unlike other similar events. These differences and challenges are important to recognize and prepare for, perhaps just as much as training for months is important to prepare you.

Athlete guide is available for download at the following link:


When you arrive in Oceanside, make sure to get there early. It is always better to have more time than you need, than need more time than you have. Don’t create stress when you can easily avoid it by getting up early and getting to the event with plenty of time. You should be there at least 90 minutes before your wave starts! This may sound like a long time, but with so many people, smaller tasks will take longer. This includes longer lines at restrooms, traffic, body-marking and setting up your transition spot. Chances are you will also see some friends and get talking with them, only to realize time has flown by and your race is about to start. Also, the later you get there, the tougher it will probably be to find a transition spot you are comfortable with. A general rule to follow is to figure out what time you need to be there, and how long you think it will take to be there at that time, and add 45 minutes. This will ensure you have enough time, and not be stressed trying to get to the start.

The transition area opens at 4:45 AM, with the first wave of male pro’s typically going off at 6:40 AM.

From the I-5, you should take the Mission Ave exit, and head toward the ocean. You will see people directing traffic for parking. Since you don’t check your bike in the day before, you will have it that morning. Hop on your bike with all your things in your back-pack and get riding to the transition area. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR HELMET ON! If an official sees you riding to the start without a helmet THEY CAN DISQUALIFY YOU BEFORE THE START! That would suck, to say the least. So put that helmet on anytime you are on your bike.


A question many people have is how much of a warm-up should be completed before starting the race. A great guideline is to never start a race without a sweat going, (full-Ironman events possibly excluded.) Remember the swim is only 1.2 miles, which is not much longer than an Olympic distance swim. If you normally warm-up for the swim in an Olympic distance tri, you should warm-up for this event.

How should you warm-up? If you’re the type who always likes to get in the water and splash around, you’re in for a surprise at Oceanside, because you are not allowed to get into the water until just before the start of your race. You won’t even get to touch the water with your toes until about three to seven minutes before your wave starts! You can’t even get in the water the days before the swim, because of boat traffic in the Oceanside Harbor. So if you are a person who always relies on a nice swim to warm-up, you need to be flexible and come up with a “Plan B”.

A simple jog on the course is a lot easier, and recommended. The event can be crowded with people, making a bike warm-up not only difficult, but dangerous. Plus if you take your bike out you may come back to find there is less space in your transition spot than before.

You do not need to jog far, just enough to get a sweat going and feel warmed-up. Hold back and save the intensity for the long race ahead.

After your run, get your wetsuit on and continue your warm-up by simply staying in motion. Swinging your arms, practicing your stroke in the air, and simply running in place are great ways to make sure your body is ready for the swim ahead. They will have all the athletes corralled in an area near the start and you can expect to stand there for at least 20 to 30 minutes, maybe longer.

Here’s a video from YouTube which clearly shows the the athletes waiting to enter the water, the in-water start-line, swim exit, T1 exit, and more…(Don't pay much attention beyond that, as the course has a new T2 and run course).

By the time they tell you to step into the water, it will only be moments until your wave will start. You will need to get your face and body accustomed to the temperature of the water in order to avoid hyperventilation. Stick your head in the water, blowing air out, lifting up to get another breath, and repeat. Once you feel like you’ve acclimated to the water temp it will not be long and the horn will sound. Make sure you are in a starting position which is relative to your swim ability. This means faster swimmers to the front, and from the left, (inside of the turns), to the middle. Slower swimmers should be more to the right to start.

If you are a slower swimmer, you need to be aware that there may be fast swimmers in the age group wave behind you. Don’t necessarily swim to the left, alongside the buoys, just because most of the people from your wave are in front of you.

If you are worried about the cold water temperatures and don't have a neoprene head cap, you can always put on a silicone swim cap UNDER the cap you must wear for the race. Silicone is great for keeping the heat in from the head, much better than latex swim caps.


(Click on image to enlarge)

Swim waves can be found at the following link:

Once the horn sounds you will swim straight and the course will veer left. All turns will be left, with the exception of the finish of the swim, where you will turn right and go up the boat ramp you came down at the beginning of the swim. Be sure to consult the map to understand the course fully.

The course is marked about every 100 meters, with signs. If you breathe on your left side, you will see the markings on the buoys as you swim. If you are strictly a right-side breather, it would be a good idea to try a lot of bilateral breathing patterns in the next few weeks to prepare yourself to see these markings. Knowing where you are in the swim is a great tool! You can pace yourself better, swim straighter, as well as use it to help recognize a turn coming soon.

If you are a right-side breather, then on the return trip of the loop, you will see all the fans standing alongside the shoreline cheering the swimmers. You may think the course is about to end, but it’s always further than you think it is! Check on your left side every now and then to see how much farther you have to go.

How fast should you go in a half-iron swim? Really, there is not much difference between an Olympic distance swim and a 70.3, only about 400 meters. Therefore, you probably should not feel any difference than the pace you swim in an Olympic distance swim. Don’t worry about burning out before the bike, the swim is really too short, and with a wetsuit in salt-water, it could very well be one of the best swims of your life. Also, the pace on the bike is slower than an Olympic distance ride, so you will be fine.


The first transition is a long run! There will be approximately 300 meters of total running, from the time you exit the water until you exit T1 with your bike. Be careful! It is not uncommon to slip while running on some of the pavement sections, especially the turns. If there is a carpet or turf to run on, that will be much more comfortable for your feet and safer than the pavement.

After exiting the water at the south end of the transition area, run all the way to the north entrance of the transition area. From there you will run to your transition spot, and then exit at the south end.

Before the race, make sure you use some sort of landmark to gauge where your transition rack and spot is. Don’t think when you come out of the water you’ll be able to count racks or read signs for the racks. Choose a landmark which is obvious and preferably not repeated. For example, there are two spots of port-o-johns in the transition area which are only in those two places, and different ends of the transition. In contrast, if you tried to use the white tents on the side, you might be thoroughly confused on where you’re going since the tents go on and on. The less thinking you have to do in the race, the better.

You will have to put your items into a bag, due to a new second transition area for T2, so be sure all your items get into the bag, or you likely will not see them again. More on the new T2 later on in this article.

In the T1 image, only pay attention to the T1 flow arrows, as T2 is no longer here.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR NUMBER ON! Once you exit T1, hop on your bike and get rolling!


(Click on image to enlarge)

Be very wary of the people around you as you start the bike. It can be very crowded and a wreck here can put an early and frustrating end to your day. If you are trying to start with your shoes already in the pedals, use the flat portion of the starting road to get some momentum and get out of traffic before trying to put your feet in the shoes. About 600 meters into the bike you will hit a short, but steep hill. Then it is fairly flat for the next 30 miles.

The biggest test of the bike is not the distance or nutrition, but rather your pacing skills. Because the first 30 miles are almost pancake-flat, you will be tempted to rip up the roads! Be careful, you must save something for the back 26 miles, which will be rolling hills, with three challenging climbs. You may feel fine at 30 miles, but when you see the first large, corkscrew looking climb, you will be questioning how you’re going to feel when you’re cresting its peak.

In order to prepare for this, it is a good idea to conduct a longer or more intense ride with flatter portions at the beginning, and hilly, challenging portions at the end. This will give you an idea of how sharp your pacing skills are. If you like to race with a heart rate monitor or power meter, it’s a good idea to use it to know how hard you can go and still have something left for the backside mountains.

On the bike, you will have your first aid station at about 13 to 14 miles. The second aid station is at about 26 to 27 miles, and the final aid station will be at about 45 miles. The aid stations will be serving water, a still to be determined sports drink, fruit, Powerbars and Powergels. The first two aid stations will happen on an incline, so speed will be controlled by gravity. The aid station workers are not allowed to cross the white line, so you will need to be close to it in order to receive any items.

When approaching an aid station, listen to the instructions they give. There is a bottle toss area first and they will tell you when and where you can get water, gels, etc. If you need to cool off, this is a good time to grab an extra water bottle and poor it on yourself.

At the third aid station you will need to slow down in order to retrieve any items, because the course is flat there, and it’s easy to be going too fast. If any bottles drop and roll onto the street, they can cause a cyclist behind you to crash. Make sure to slow enough to get the fuel you need here. The last 11 miles is flat, but there is normally a strong headwind, making it very challenging.

Later we will discuss nutrition strategies related to the bike and run.

Here’s a website link with the bike course entirely mapped out, from satellite viewpoint:

There is a downhill on the course which you need to be careful on when descending. Back in 2000, a rider was actually killed by riding at too high of a speed and losing control. This descent will be marked with warning signs and is a “Do Not Pass” zone. The speed limit on this hill is 25 mph. They will have officials checking, so just make sure you control your speed. A crash can ruin your whole day and possibly more than that.

As you near the end of the bike, the biggest change for 2012 will become very clear, as you do NOT return to the boat ramp, but instead head into Oceanside for T2 near the pier. Before you moan and groan about having a second transition area, I think you'll like this change. In the past, it has been difficult for families to see their athlete finish, and reconnect with them after the finish, because the finishline and T1/T2 were all on the peninsula of the Oceanside Harbor and boat ramp. Now with the finish moved to the strand and pier, there is plenty of space for spectators, athletes, families and more, and it's a much more beautiful setting than the harbor. Also, athletes won't need to go back to T1, as they will bring everything for athletes to T2. 

This doesn't even account for the fact that all the parking over the past years has always been close to the pier, so now athletes will have an easier exit from the race venue after finishing. It really is a great change!

OK, onto T2...


(Click on image to enlarge)

When you roll into T2, your rack spot is numbered according to your race number. What is your race number? Check your body and bike if you forget, or check here and remember:

If you have committed some violations on the course, then you will need to serve your time in the penalty box. See the 70.3 Athlete’s Guide on the website for all the details on rules and how they are enforced. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE RULES!!!

Once you have put on your shoes and grabbed what you need, head out of T2 and get running. BUT, it is important to note that the run course is different this year and quickly out of T2 you will have to do a U-turn, to put you onto the run loop and going with the flow of run traffic. See the image posted in this section above, which highlights the U-turn and other important info about the run course. 

PLEASE NOTE: You will only do this specific U-turn ONCE! You will not need to do it again, since you will already be on the loop when you start the second lap.


(Click on image to enlarge)

In the past, you would have been hard pressed to find a run course as flat as Oceanside. Though the course has added a few hills by starting a bit more inland and up on a hill, there are still no dramatic changes in elevation, such as a mountain to climb. It will be more challenging than years past, but should still be relatively quick. 

Athletes will enter onto the pier for about 100 meters, and go down the ramp to get onto the strand. The strand is flat, the ramp is up or down.

You will have an aid station approximately every mile, with the first station coming right when the strand begins. This station is normally manned by the Triathlon Club of San Diego, a rather lively group. If you are wearing anything TCSD, you’ll be cheered on like a rock star! Also, if you have your number with your first name on it, you’ll get a lot of cheers from people calling your name. It may seem small and innate, but when you’re dead tired and motoring on, it’s a big help!

The aid stations will be serving fruit, water, sports drink, Powerbars, cola, and cold sponges for cooling off. Double check the athlete guide for any changes in nutrition offered.

The key to this run is very simple, RHYTHM! If you can maintain rhythm by being relaxed, but quick, you will do very well on this run course. If you run with poor mechanics, with your head down and pounding your feet loudly on the pavement, it will be a long day for you out there.

When you’ve completed the two loops you will head into the finish line area and be greeted to stands full of cheering people. Cross the finish line and smile, strike a pose, whatever you want to remember this moment, because they will be taking a photo of you as you cross.

Congrats on your finish! If you want to read more about race nutrition guidelines and post-race events, read on...


Before discussing the post-race information, it’s important to cover the topic of race nutrition. This is always a complex topic which must take into account our individual differences in both taste and ability of our stomachs to handle what we give it.

As you probably know, most of the nutrition during a triathlon of this length takes place on the bike. Figure out approximately how long you will be on the bike, and how long out on the run course. Next, figure out how you will meet your caloric needs based on those estimations of time.

One choice some people opt for is gels during the bike. But why fumble with wrappers and worry about trash and litter? Though you can place a flask in your pocket, or on the bike, they are still small to handle and easy to drop. On the run is a better time to utilize gels and gel packets.

On the bike, most have the ability to hold 3 water bottles, 2 in the frame, and one aero-bottle in the front aerobars. In the aero-bottle it’s probably best to go with strictly water. In the other bottles, store your calories. If the calories spill out of the aero bottle, you’re in trouble.

You can pack one 24 ounce water bottle with the calories you need from your drink mix of choice, and then topped off with water and dissolved. It makes a giant gel-like substance, but easy with your one bottle, and requiring less water than a gel.

Obviously each sip taken from the calorie-packed bottle will need to be followed with a drink of plain water. This you get from the aero-bottle, or other bottle. When approaching an aid station, simply replace or refill the empty bottle.

If you use a clear 24 ounce bottle for calories, you can get visual feedback of how your nutrition intake is going. Since the course is marked in 5 mile increments, you can estimate, or use your odometer on a bike computer. When you hit 14 miles, or the marker for 15 miles, you should look down at the bottle and see that ¼ of it is empty. At 28 miles, or marker 30, half of the bottle is gone, and so on. This is excellent visual feedback, which is obvious and does not require any complex calculations to know if you’re doing things correctly. Positive feedback also boosts your confidence, since you know you are following the plan perfectly. If you are a little off, you can adjust to get back on track. Either way, you’re doing the things you need to do to have a great race.

If you can not store enough calories in one bottle, then you need to come up with some other sources at the aid stations, in order to get what you need. However, this should be minimal and fairly easy. It is good to know what the aid stations have as a contingency plan, should something go awry with your original plan, such as a dropped bottle, spilt contents, upset stomach, etc.

On the run, figure out your plan as well. Taking in a gel at every aid station would NOT be a wise decision. To take a gel at every aid station would give you 1200 calories! OUCH! That’s way too many. Don’t forget that Gatorade has calories in it too, about 50 per 8 ounce cup you consume. (NOTE: The sports drink for the race is still to be determined, so please check and do research prior to the race for caloric count).

Too many calories has negative effects, as your body must send water to the stomach and intestines to break down and attempt to absorb the calories you have consumed. This means pulling water away from the muscles, which need it badly. This is also why liquid calories are great, as they are already partially broken down and easier for the body to absorb. This is why you need to be sure and follow any caloric intake with water, in order to aid the breakdown and absorption process without disturbing the water needed in the muscles.

Whatever you do, DO NOT make race day your first time testing your nutrition plan! PLEASE! Save yourself some hard lessons, (and expensive lessons given the cost of race entry), and learn this stuff in your training. There is still plenty of time to do workouts to see what you can do to tweak the plan. This includes cola on the run. If you’ve never run with flat cola in your stomach, I would not advise doing it on race day for the first time, even though it will be offered.

The nutrition aspect of the race can seem mysterious and a lot to think about, but if you follow this advice, you’ll be able to solve the mystery and make it much easier, not even having to think about it. Less thinking about the peripheral means more focus on going hard and fast!


When you cross the finish line you will receive your well-deserved finisher’s medal and t-shirt. After receiving these, head over to the white tent. There will be the medical facilities to get treatment for anything you may need, (blisters, etc.) Just past the medical area is the massage therapy area. Get your name on the list for massage, but get in a short cool-down of some sort, such as walking or jogging easy for 10 to 15 minutes, before getting on the massage table.

Once you are feeling better, from the medical help or massage, head down further in the white tents and get yourself some food. They will be serving food from 11 AM to 4 PM. They normally serve pizza, salad, drinks and other goodies.

Later in the day, around 4 PM, the same area for eating in the white tents becomes the awards area. If you finish in the top 10 in your age group, stick around for awards because you get one. 

If you want to check for results, they tend to be posted in two areas. One is just behind the finish line, on the side of the white tent. The other place is where the awards will be, further down the white tents.

If you want to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in September, you should attend the awards. Have your checkbook ready because you must prepay for these events at the awards ceremony. There are no IOU’s with Ironman.

After noon, you will be able to go into the transition area and gather your things. Make sure you still have your wristband and number, because security will not allow you to remove your bike without it.

Finally, if you get a chance, take the time to thank the volunteers. They give up almost an entire day to come out and support you in your endeavors, with the fulfillment of the experience as their only compensation. Quite a gesture on their part.

Best of luck, and remember to be safe and enjoy the day.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Another Draft-Legal Tri Power File

Yesterday, I posted some of the different power data seen from different styles of triathlon, draft-legal and non-drafting. Today I came across this power file from Sarah Haskins, which is from the same draft-legal race, but the pro-women's race.

You can see there is more time spent in the Anaerobic Capacity Zone 6, and VO2 Max Zone 5, than yesterday's non-drafting. Part of the reason this one differs from the other draft-legal data in the previous post, is because Sarah was in a break-away group off the front, doing much of the work to pull the group, with less rest than the people in bigger packs.

Sarah's Intensity Factor, (IF), for this output was over 100% of her threshold watts, so it was a high effort. She managed to hold on for 3rd, but was out-run by 2 other girls. 

Again, you can see how having power data helps us recognize the specific demands of the athletes in their races, based upon distance, style of race, and even strategy. The key to performance is recognizing this, and training for it specifically.

Look at your goal races and investigate whether the preparation you're doing matches the demands and goals you have those races.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Power Outputs of Different Triathlon Races - Draft-legal vs. Non-drafting

See the difference of these two power files? They come from 2 different triathlons, and both were excellent performances, despite how different they look. This is because the demands of a draft-legal triathlon and a typical Olympic or non-drafting race are VERY DIFFERENT. So, if you're training for one of these like it is the other's demands, chances are you're not going to do very well. (Click on images to enlarge)

This image above shows the power demands by training zones, of a draft-legal triathlon. This is also what you might see in a group ride, where riders attack and bridge gaps.

This second image shows an Olympic non-drafting power file by an age-group triathlete. You can see the difference in the demands of the energy systems placed on the rider, depending on the race. 

So if you're training for a non-drafting race, by mostly doing group rides, with attacks and bridging, then you can see you are not training specifically. And specificity is the key to high performance.

If you want to train more specifically, get a power meter and start to track the specific demands and metrics, making sure you are training those.

Coach Vance