Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Basically Exceptional

"We tend to want to do the exceptional things, exceptionally well, but the basic things only basically well."
- Bill Sweetenham

Think about the high level of goals you have. If you're reading this blog, chances are you have high, exceptional goals. But are you doing the basic things exceptionally well in order to achieve those goals? What are some of the basic things, you ask?

- Recovery
- Nutrition
- Sleep patterns
- Listening to your body
- Swim, pedaling and running technique
- Bike position
- Recording, logging training
- Training consistently
- Transitions
- Mounts, dismounts

These don't cost a lot of money, and in many ways they are free, just need your attention. It's amazing how doing these basic things can make all the difference, allowing you to accomplish the exceptional. That is, if you do these exceptionally well.

Coach Vance

Monday, December 9, 2013

I always thought everyone wanted to win...

When I was competing, from the time I was in high school as a football player, and eventually cross country and track distance runner, I always thought everyone wanted to win as badly as I did. I could only use myself and my own mentality as the measuring stick, and those I beat I thought I was just more talented than, and those I lost to were just better than me.

Then I got into coaching, and my perspective changed entirely. It became clear when I was coaching high school athletes that they simply didn't think like I had, where I was willing to go to the limit or edge that I had always been willing to go to.

When I stood on the start line, I judged myself and my preparation based on the standard of "I am here to win," but what I found out was there are few on the start line that had that same mentality. This is why I beat guys who were much more talented than me, and competed well against guys who I had no business being so close to. I learned at a young age in elementary school that I was not athletic, nor had the ability of many of my peers, but it only drove me to compete harder. I refused to accept losing, or having less talent be an excuse.

I especially try to bring this home with my juniors, that they can choose to win. They might not actually win the race, but if they really want to win, and choose to make the effort to win, they will go a lot further in the sport, and especially in life, if they take the mentality that they race to win.

When you toe the line, you have a choice. Choose to win. Choose to be at the front. Once you truly make that choice, you change as an athlete. And it really is that simple.

Coach Vance

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Kona 2013 Run Data - Pro Women

After looking at the pro men's data, let's look at the women's race in Kona. Of course, we saw the best run female run performance we've ever seen, with Carfrae's 2:50:38, good enough for 3rd best run split overall in the entire race, male or female!

It's interesting how the race broke down, as the leader for the women off the bike, Rachel Joyce, actually ran a faster first mile than the leader for the men, Starykowicz, 6:37 to 7:17, and had a smaller differential from 1st mile split to actual pace than him. Not sure anyone would have predicted that. 

Here's how the run splits broke down: (Click on image to enlarge)

A few highlights of the top 10 women...
Average 1st mile split: 6:37
Average 1st mile to actual pace differential: 29 secs
Range of 1st mile to actual pace differential: 5 secs to 1:08

There are 3 big stand outs in this data to me...

1. Mrinida Carfrae - Just how dominant was she? She ran the second fastest first mile off the bike of all the women, and still only had a 20 sec differential between that 6:11 mile and the 6:31 pace overall that she ran for the race. She was aggressive, but not stupid. Only 4 girls in the top 20 had a smaller differential, but of course Mirinda ran the 3rd fastest split overall, men included. 

As impressive as her first mile was, it was still slower than what she ran in 2011, by 13 seconds! (She ran 2:52:09 that year, so perhaps the slower first mile made a difference). 

2. Caitlin Snow - I'm not sure there's a better pacer in the race than Snow. This is not the first time she has had one of the top female run splits, and I don't believe her lowest differential in the field and 2nd best run split overall are coincidence. I believe her early run pacing was so good, it allowed her to be the only other female under 3 hours for the women. 

She also had 11 women come off the bike in front of her, and moved up to 6th, out-sprinting Meredith Kessler on Alii Drive. Kessler's pacing differential of 1:08 was tied for the highest in the women's race, leaving her no answer for a sprinting Snow down into the chute. 

Snow was one the highest move-ups in place from off the bike, to the finish. Yes, her split helped her, but her early conservative pacing helped her to execute it. 

3. Joyce, Blatchford and Van Vlerken all ran 3:03:XX. Blatchford paced herself quite well, just couldn't close the gap Joyce had off the bike. Van Vlerken ran aggressively off the bike, and paid for it, unable to beat Blatchford, despite leaving T2 less than 1 minute behind her. Her first mile was 16 secs faster than Blatchford's, and by 5K, VV was 23 seconds in front of her. Blatchford ran smart early, beat VV.

Other highlights of places 11-20th...
Average 1st mile split: 6:44
Average 1st mile to actual pace differential: 47 secs
Range of 1st mile to actual pace differential: 14 secs to 1:08

Looking at the places 11-20th, it appears the girls ran relatively the same average pace for the first mile, only 8 secs slower. but their average differential was much higher than the top girls. This tells me these girls were even worse in their pacing than the top 10 girls, with the lone exception of Donovan, who had the 14 second differential. The next lowest differential is Lyles, at 36 secs. 

Overall, I think we're seeing that pacing is getting better among the top women. The margin for error is getting smaller. 

My next post will compare and contrast the men and women, and look at how different they are from 2011. 

Coach Vance

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ironman Arizona Entry and Coaching Package - Coach Vance

If you're looking for an entry to the sold-out 2014 Ironman Arizona, TrainingBible Coaching is a sponsor of the event, and we have limited entries. I am offering a coaching package for those who would like an entry and coaching in one package.

Ironman Arizona Coaching Packing by Jim Vance includes:
- Entry to 2014 Ironman Arizona
- Coaching begins on January 1, 2014 to race day
- 2 time monthly coaching meeting with Jim, (online meeting to discuss progress)
- Video analysis of swim and run technique, (at least 2 of each)
- Training Camp on the course in Phoenix, with Jim in October
- Hands-on coaching at the venue during race week, (Wednesday thru Sunday)
- Professional bike mechanic race-week preparation
- Requires a power meter for bike training, and a GPS for running

Cost: $12,500
- Non-refundable deposit of $1500 required
- Balance due by March 31, 2014
- $500 discount if paid upfront

These spots are VERY LIMITED! Contact Jim at coach jim vance at g mail dot com to secure your spot soon.

Coach Vance

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Kona 2013 Run Data - Pro Men

Two years ago, I wrote a couple posts on the pro men and women, and how they ran the marathon in Kona. One of the tendencies of the race is that the run starts off similar to the bike, with a big surge. Much like the bike has the early town loop with the 2 climbs and everyone fighting to make the lead pack onto the Queen K, there seems to be a similar surge out of T2, pressing to open a gap and break the strings connecting them to the other competitors.

This happens in both races, men and women. In the past, I have stated in multiple interviews and writings, that Mirinda Carfrae likely lost to Chrissie Wellington in 2011 because she paced the run too poorly early on. She played right into Chrissie's hands, possibly missing out the victory which would have validated her entire career from that point on. (Note: She seems to have validated now with Kona course record, but a win over Chrissie is certainly something which will always elude her). Chrissie was running scared in 2011, fighting to catch the girls in front of her for the first time off the bike, and made a big error in early pacing, and Mirinda wasn't able to capitalize, since she made the same mistake early. I wasn't in Kona for the 2012 race to get the data, but would have been interesting to see if she made a similar mistake. More on the women's 2013 run data next week.

It was also close in the men's race in 2011, with Pete Jacobs possibly costing him the title, as he poorly paced himself early on. It'd be a stretch to say he would have beaten Crowie on that course-record setting day, but he would have certainly been closer, and who knows what happens as he gets closer, with Crowie cramping and stopping late in the run.

A lot of people believe that the race is all about the run split in Kona. I disagree. The number one metric for predicting performance in Kona is Total Race Time to T2. How quickly and well positioned in the top places into T2 an athlete is, is their best predictor of how they will do in Kona. The run split is the second best predictor.

With the run split still being so important, and coming into T2 greatly fatigued from a hard swim and ride, there is little room for error in pacing, but a majority of the pro's still make large pacing errors. Whether that is because of a mental boost to drop athletes near them, meaning it isn't an error in pacing, is another debate in itself.

My biggest question is, with the quality of fields getting deeper, are the top performers really fitter, or do they just execute better pacing?

So what happened in 2013? I wanted to look a bit more at how the athletes paced themselves the first mile, but also how the pacing compared as they went thru the first 5K, and their final marathon split. (I've listed a projected marathon time, which is based on their first mile split).

Disclaimer: This requires an assumption that all markers are accurately placed, and the course is accurately measured as a whole. There was a timing mat at the 5K mark, but it might have been off, considering how many athletes ran faster for the 5K pace than the first mile. However, I am confident in the measurement of the 1st mile split, which is what most of the analysis is based off. 

More specifically, this time I wanted to see what the differential off the actual pace they ran for the entire marathon was, compared with what they ran the first mile in. Here's how it shook out, by finish order of the top 20 Pro Men... (Click on images to enlarge)

A few highlights of the top 10 men...
Average 1st mile split: 5:59
Average 1st mile to actual pace differential: 39 secs
Range of 1st mile to actual pace differential: 7 secs to 1:28

Question: Did Fredrik Van Lierde, (FVL), secure the win with better pacing than his closest competitors, like it was shown he did on the bike? 

Only two athletes in the top 20 ran a smaller or equal pace differential for the first mile compared to actual split, than FVL, and of those two, only one actually ran faster than him. Only 3 guys in the race ran faster than FVL, and one of those was by only 11 seconds.

Answer: FVL certainly executed a smart pacing strategy. It wasn't perfect, but it was much better than his closest competitors.

Question: Did the top 10 men just pace themselves better than the 11-20th place men?

Answer: No. First, remember that the top predictor of performance is total race time to T2. You can see in the chart that these guys had slower times to T2 on average. Other highlights of places 11-20th...
Average 1st mile split: 6:19
Average 1st mile to actual pace differential: 38 secs
Range of 1st mile to actual pace differential: 21 secs to 1:10

The 11th-20th places did have the slower first mile on average, but almost identical differential in 1st mile to actual pace, 38 vs 39 secs. Their range of differential shows they paced about the same as the leaders.

The fact the pacing of FVL was so solid, means athletes have to execute proper pacing on the run to win now. I think this is the next trend we will see in Kona, with athletes getting smarter about their pacing on the run, maximizing their potential. We would never encourage an athlete to start off 40 seconds or faster for the first mile of a marathon fresh, so why would we think it is the correct strategy coming off the bike in Kona, in an extremely fatigued and fragile state?

Two athletes heading onto the run in Kona, of equal run ability, and everything else being equal, the one who executes the better pacing will win. If you're not the best runner in the field, you have to be smarter to make up for the difference in ability, preparation, etc. This is the next area of the sport, where we will see an athlete break through, winning or performing better than expected, due to better pacing. (Luke McKenzie wasn't awful in his pacing, either).

Coach Vance

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You Need a Sense of Urgency

While I was in Kona this past month, I ran into a young female who plans to turn professional next year. (I won't state her name or age-group, so she can remain anonymous.) In our conversation she mentioned she had recently started training with power, but didn't know her FTP. This in the final weeks/months heading into Kona. I proceeded to ask her many other questions about her training and fitness which she couldn't answer objectively with numbers.

She told me she felt confident she had 8 years of professional racing ahead, and could do well, reaching a high level by the end of her career.

I told her, "You don't have 8 years, you have 4, at the most." She was a bit offended by what I said, but my point was clear, she needs a sense of urgency. She can't work through it, make some common training and racing mistakes, and reach a high level of racing. This girl isn't going to win an Ironman in her first year, probably not 2 years, at least not at the current commitment level. If she wants to really race at a high level, she needs a sense of urgency and a commitment to match it, right now.

She can't make mistakes in training. She can't waste training days. She can't show up to races and not perform well. If she really wants to make a career out of it, she has to produce right away, because it is only going to get tougher in 2-4 years. If she is happy with small improvements over the next 2 years, she won't last beyond 4. The girls in Ironman are getting faster and stronger, breaking records like crazy, while the men's race is relatively stagnant in peak performance, but depth is improving all the time.

In 2007, Chrissie Wellington and Sam McGlone ran faster than anyone had ever seen a female run in Kona. In October 2013, just six years later, Carfrae ran 10 mins faster than those girls, and 4 other girls in the top 6 ran times that rank as some of the fastest run splits for women ever at the race. 4 to 8 years from now, what we will be saying? What will we see after the next Olympic cycle and many of those Olympic girls realize their short course days are numbered and decide to move up to long course? And make no mistake, the quality of the racing at the Olympic level is higher than it is has ever been. Carfrae left it because she couldn't compete at a high enough level. Those girls are coming, and they will be here soon.

And the thing is, it is not just the pro women's race. The age group races are getting ridiculously fast, with some age groupers going sub 9 and only managing 8th place in their age group! in 2009 and 2010 I put two guys in the top 8 in their age group in Kona, and now they struggle to crack the top 20 in that AG there.

If you don't have a sense of urgency in training and racing, you're going to struggle to stay at a high level in the sport, whether you're a neo-pro, a top pro, or a top level age grouper. The depth and quality of the competition is getting better by the day, so don't waste time.

Coach Vance

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pacing at NYC Marathon

Just thought I would share this excellent example of pacing at the NYC Marathon on Sunday, by one of my athletes. Yes, he slows down late, but never falls apart, because he was patient and executed the correct pace early on. (Click on image to enlarge).

You'll notice only an 11 second difference between his fastest mile, and his slowest mile, on a course known for having some hills, plus wind.

You must be patient in the marathon, because even being patient will bring challenges late in the race.

Coach Vance

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Introducing Formula Endurance

(Formerly known as TriJuniors)

In 2009, I noticed a gap in the triathlon community of San Diego, where development of junior talent, and introduction of the sport at a young age was missing, especially for Olympic-style, draft-legal triathlon. I saw that there were two very large and successful programs in the US, one based in suburban Chicago and the other in Des Moines, IA, and figured if there was a place to be successful with a junior program, it would be here in the birthplace of the sport. I had retired from professional racing, and decided that if anyone was qualified to start a program in San Diego, it was me. After all, I was a school teacher and coach for 6 years before leaving to focus on triathlon professionally.

In 2010 the program TriJuniors was born. That first year we finished 11th in the national championship team standings. In the following 2 years, we would finish 5th each year, despite the massive growth of the sport and more teams popping up all over the US. This past season, we finished 9th, but produced a #1 ranked Junior Male in the US, and the top 13 year old female at Nationals. I am encouraged by the progress and talent of the youth in the program. It's been especially rewarding to look out and see 30 teenage athletes competing at a high level, realizing what was once just an idea in my mind had come to fruition.

With the NCAA set to vote on January 18-19th, 2014, for triathlon to become the next women's sport, and would be set to begin in the fall of 2014, we are at a crossroads for both the swim world and triathlon. Most swim programs around the country are very controlling, expecting athletes to commit to only swimming, and many only want pool swimming at that. They ignore open water, and triathlon. Their interest is only in the goals of the club, not what is best for the individual athlete.

Enter, Formula Endurance.

Formula Endurance's goal is to be the ONLY USA Triathlon High Performance Team and USA Swimming Club in the US, by January 1, 2014. We are already a USA Triathlon High Performance Team, and the swimming part should be completed before that date.

Why is this a big deal? Because when a female athlete finds their path to an NCAA scholarship is not highly probable in swimming, (like most swimmers), they deserve a chance to pursue triathlon. The fact Formula Endurance is both a swim and triathlon club, focused on pool swimming, open water and triathlon, (heck, even supporting training for water polo), means more opportunities for athletes to develop and find the best path for themselves, male or female. We don't restrict athletes, we support them. Swim programs around the country will find if they don't offer triathlon, they will begin to lose athletes to programs like this.

If you are going to be a top level male or female junior elite triathlete in the US and prepared for NCAA and beyond, you need to be serious about swimming, and this will give them the opportunity to do so. This program model will likely set the precedent of what a develop program should be for triathlon, as well as for swimming. 

What happened to TriJuniors? Nothing, it just changed its name to Formula Endurance. Mostly because it was not a good name for a swim club, and I want it to be consistent across both sports. Formula Endurance is still a 501c3, non-profit organization.

I am excited about the future of this program, and the sport. Please support us if you can. Stay tuned!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie - Part 3 - Pacing in Kona

In a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2, I wanted to dive further into the race data and see if we could begin to look at other aspects of the race which might have affected the performance of Luke McKenzie in Kona, and his outstanding 2nd place finish in 2013.

As I have stated, the question I am asking is, "Was Luke McKenzie's change to 90+ rpms on the bike, a big reason for his dramatic improvement in Kona?"

Of course, there are many other factors that contribute to a race, and proper pacing is probably one of the biggest. So let's look and see how the pacing went in these races, and if that played a role in the differences in the placings for Luke in Kona.

How can we assess pacing? In Kona, perhaps more than any other Ironman, the first hour matters a lot. The first hour on the bike matters in all pro Ironman races, but in Kona it includes the town loop, with climbs on Kuikini and Palani, packed with screaming fans, and the desire to make the lead pack onto the Queen K, given the legal drafting benefit, and the mental push of having the athletes around you to keep the pace high.

Considering Luke has always been a top swimmer, he comes out with the lead group and tends to stay with them early on the bike and throughout much of the race. The first hour of his bike will bring him well past the 25 mile mark, meaning they are traveling over 25 mph! In fact, the range of distance covered in 2011-2013 through the first hour is 26.1-27.8 miles! That's fast, and with the early surges and climbs in the town, you can bet there isn't much room for error. So I was curious, did Luke just pace himself better in 2013, than in 2012 and 2011?

Variability Index, (VI), is a measurement in TrainingPeaks which helps us see how much variance there was in the power output of the athlete. It is basically average power divided by normalized power. If the athlete rode perfectly steady, VI would be 1.0, meaning normalized and average power would be nearly identical. If it is 1.12, that means the power varied 12%. A typical pro variance is about 1.05 or less for an entire Ironman bike.

So let's isolate the first hour of the bike, and see how volatile the pace was, with surges up the hills, and staying with the pack. (Click on all images to enlarge)

You can see that usually the pace is quite varied early, and is much more settled down in the last hour. What is really interesting here is that I was expecting to see that in Luke's best performances, he likely paced himself better, limiting the surges. But what we actually see is the exact opposite! Luke's two biggest VI's were in his two best performances in Kona! His worst performance of the three, 2012, was a significantly lower VI and more steady, much better paced, in the first hour.

So what was different about these three samples, that sets 2012 apart in terms of best pacing, but worst performance? Let's review the basic data from the three rides again.

In the above chart, you can actually see that his OVERALL VI was higher in 2012. But don't forget, it also was his largest power fade of the three years. See the next chart. (Click to enlarge)

When your power output drops nearly 30% from the start, and you've paced yourself without surges extremely well at the beginning, the effort to produce the watts is too much to maintain. So was it fitness, or the execution of the ride, in terms of cadence vs. force on the pedals?

Remember, his FTP in 2012 was 360, same as 2013, and he actually produces a lower IF, and lower TSS in 2012 than 2013. Usually, that means less taxing or stress on the body, which would signal a better opportunity to run well off the bike. But that didn't happen in 2012 at all. 

Part of pacing is also knowing that the intensity you're riding at is correct, not just surges. So let's compare Luke's hour 1 VI in Kona, with the IF from that first hour, to see if he just rode too hard, even if not varied.

Here you can see he actually had his highest IF in 2012, in that first hour, but only 4 tenths of a percent more than 2011. And 2011 was MUCH MORE volatile in that first hour. In 2013, he was rather volatile, but the actual intensity of the watts relative to his FTP was lower than the prior 2 years by about 4%. 

Lastly, let's look at how he rode those watts, relative to force/cadence, with a quadrant analysis, isolating just the first hour of the bike each year, and then compare that with the QA breakdown for the entire race.

QA Hour 1

QA Entire Race

Here we can see that Luke actually increased his Q2% in that first hour in 2011 and 2012, compared with how he rode the rest of the race. Remember, Q2 is high force, low cadence, below 90 rpms. But in 2012, he spent a significant more amount of time in Q2, than 2011. In 2013, he actually spent less percentage of time in Q2 during the volatile first hour than he spent the rest of race. He even spent more Q4 time spinning over 90, in that first hour, than the rest of the race, percentage wise. He spent the same percentage of time in Q1 in 2013, in the first hour, as he did the entire race.

To summarize....
- In the most volatile hour of the 2013 race, Luke spent over 76% of the time over 90 rpms, which was more than he actually did for the whole race
- Luke's 2012 first hour of racing, his lowest cadence year, was actually less volatile the first hour than 2011 and 2013
- Luke's 2012 first hour was about the same IF as in 2011, but about 4% higher than 2013
- Luke's Q2 time in the first hour of 2012 was significantly higher than the other years, being more than twice 2011, and nearly 10 times more than in 2013
- Luke's biggest power and cadence fade came in 2012, despite the lower volatility in the first hour, and similar IF to his excellent 2011 performance

Basically, from this data I think we can say pacing made very little difference, as his small VI and similar IF early in the ride don't prove poor pacing on his part. (Although his IF in hour 1 was lowest in 2013, and 4% might have made the difference).

So what was the big difference in the performance? Was it that he was better able to tolerate the volatility based on his higher cadence he rode in 2011 and 2013 in that hour, compared with 2012? Did his mashing, high Q2 time, catch-up with him and sap the run out of his legs?

Yes, the sample size here is very small, but these are questions which coaches and Ironman athletes need to ask themselves.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What do you think elite level sport is?

My recent posts on Luke McKenzie have been both praised and criticized, as is expected when you present ideas and evidence that perhaps the common way of thinking might not be the best line of thinking, or that there may be a way to do things better and more effectively.

The fact some might blow off this sudden jump in Luke's performance, when there is clear evidence of a change in training style and philosophy, shows a mindset which is lazy, stubborn, and facing a ticking clock. If people and athletes who are pursuing elite level sport want to wait until something is proven to the masses, then it is too late. Your competition has likely been doing it for many years, and you've been getting beat frequently and regularly by it.

That's what elite level sport is, trying to find an advantage to see the most effective and best ways of gaining performance and training adaptations, BEFORE THE COMPETITION DOES! If you think you can just do what everyone else is doing and just beat them at the same game, you better be sure you have the best athlete(s).

One example...When I raced XTERRA professionally, during the 2006 season, I knew I was never going to beat the likes of a Conrad Stoltz or Josiah Middaugh, racing the same bike(s) they raced. They were just too good on the bike, I needed an advantage they didn't have. So I went and got a 29er, (they rode 26 inch wheels then), which was a rarity during that time. In fact, many in the XTERRA pro ranks laughed at me, thinking I was just a sucker for the newest fad, as I was the only pro riding a 29er. (I also chose to go to the extreme and ride it fully rigid, hoping the fire road sections would really help me, and to keep the weight down). Unfortunately, some mechanicals and injuries kept me from continuing with the season, and I decided to switch to Ironman. But now you can't go to an XTERRA event and find a 26 inch wheel, practically. That advantage is lost now. Everyone in the field wised up. I didn't take advantage of the situation as well as I could have, but certainly, that opportunity was there for me. If I had used it more effectively, who knows what it would have meant for my career.

Now that everyone knows about 29ers and uses them, it's great that they are proven. But if you were waiting for proof, the opportunity is lost in elite level XTERRA.

Is Luke's change to 90+ rpm's on the bike proof enough for you to change the way you ride in long course? That decision is up to you, but you must also ask yourself if you're willing to give that opportunity of change solely to your competition, because some of them will be doing it. That's what elite level sport is.

Coach Vance

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie Part 2 - Kona 2011-2013

After my last post, many wondered how Luke's cadence was in 2011, when he finished 9th, and ran 3:05 off the bike in the Kona. It was a great question, and I was luckily able to retrieve Luke's file from 2011, so now we can actually compare his last Kona performances.

***I must give full credit to Hunter Allen of the Peaks Coaching Group, for the article he did on Luke's 2011 Kona ride for a now defunct tri magazine, as he supplied the 2 file photos and the actual power file for this post.***

So the general premise of what I am asking with these posts is, was Luke McKenzie's change to a higher cadence, (90+, which is 20 rpms more from 2012 to 2013), one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason for his breakthrough race, both on the bike and for the run?

Before I go on to present evidence, let me say I am not certain of this, as there are so many factors affecting performance, especially preparation, conditions, race circumstances and decisions of the competitors, and more. However, this change in riding style and performance was so great, it is unprecedented, and we must examine it closer, not just shrug it off as coincidence. It is especially compelling when we look at how Pete Jacobs rode to win in 2012.

So let's look at the basic info for Luke's ride in 2011, compared with 2012 and 2013: (Click on all images to enlarge)

Here's an image of his actual power file:

Here's an image of Luke's 2011 QA from the race:

The first thing you'll notice is his higher cadence than 2012, but his overall sample average is still in Q3. Here's the breakdown by quadrant for each year:

Many have said 2011 was a higher cadence year, and they are right. However, looking at the above chart, you can see even though he had more time in Q4, (90 rpms or higher), he still had an average which was weighted heavily in Q3, and his average cadence for the whole ride was less than 90, at 86. His reduction of ~40% of his total ride time for 2013 in Q3 compared with 2011-2012 is incredible.

Perhaps he rode too low still, and 86 rpms just wasn't high enough to see the advantages of the higher cadence. But let's look deeper, and compare what I call Cadence Fade/Power Fade. This is a new measurement I created, where I isolate the first hour and last hour of an Ironman bike, to see how the effort fatigued the athlete. I compare the average cadence and the normalized power for those 2 hours, and calculate the percentage lost or gained.

In the above chart, I have sorted the years by place, with his worst finish, 2012 at the top, 2011 in the middle, and his best performance at the bottom. A few interesting correlations as finish place improves, (albeit this is a small sample size), are:
- Cadence was higher both in the first hour and last hour as place improves
- The percentage loss of cadence fade is lower as cadence goes up, and place improves
- The percentage loss of power is lower as cadence goes up
- Run splits get faster as cadence goes up and cadence fade goes down
- IF goes up, but given the power conditions can play on this, it seems to lack any credibility

Perhaps just as interesting is that TSS for ride, NP entire ride and VI ride show no statistical relevance.

Of course, as place improves in the race, you would expect fitness and preparation to be better. One item of interest is that actually in 2011, Luke's reported FTP was 330 watts, when he got 9th. In 2012 and 2013, his worst and best performances, it is reported at 360 watts. Does this negate the preparation argument, since he had a higher FTP or better bike preparation in 2012 and 2013? Of course not. After all, FTP is only one measurement of fitness. But one could also argue that if Luke made the decision to ride over 90 rpms, (which he clearly did), he made a decision to better prepare himself to do so, and executed that. Which would give credence to the fact his preparation was more effective when he focused on going over 90 rpms.

Was it because he did the race over 90, or that his training to ride at 90+ had a more positive effect on his fitness and preparing his body? Was 90 the magic number where the changes in fitness happened for him?

There are no simple, clear answers, as there are so many variables. In my next post, Part 3, I will look at one variable which may or may not play a role, (I haven't even investigated it fully yet, but believe I should). Stay tuned!

Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Evolution of Luke McKenzie - Kona 2013

If there was one athlete who stole the show in Kona this year, it was Luke McKenzie. His best finish in Kona prior to this year was 9th. This year he stormed out on a break-away which many thought might have been suicidal, considering his company on the break. 

Last year, 2012, Luke finished 24th overall in the race. After that race, I highlighted some of the differences between his riding style and that of the winner, Pete Jacobs. Apparently, whether he read my blog or not, he came to the conclusion that his cadence needed to improve. 

The fact is, Luke changed his riding style from 2012 to 2013, DRAMATICALLY! And I don't use capital letters often to illustrate a point, but I am not sure I can think of a better reason when you see the differences. Before I begin, it is best for you to review this post to better understand QA

Here is what Luke rode in 2012, from a Quadrant Analysis perspective... 

(click on image to enlarge)
Luke's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 0.1%, 2: 36.4%, 3: 58.5%, 4: 5%
Luke's run split: 3:20:32

What this means is Luke rode the race in 2012, mostly as a "masher". His cadence averaged 74 rpms for the entire race. He was pushing slowly, but forcefully on the pedals. I divided his output into the 4 quadrants, which highlight that he spent over 1/3rd of the race pushing that high gear, high force, with low cadence. 

This led to a high Q3 time, which means lower force, and lower cadence, basically lower wattage, because he inevitably fatigued quite a bit. In fact, his total average of all power samples for the ride fell into Q3. He had only 5% of the entire ride at a cadence higher than 90, which would have put him in Q4. 

In 2013, we saw an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT Luke McKenzie. Here's his QA from Kona 2013...

(click on image to enlarge)
Luke's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 6.5%, 2: 7.4%, 3: 16.9%, 4: 69.2%
Luke's run split: 2:57:20

How different was this than 2012? Let's review in a closer look...

Luke entirely changed his point of emphasis when riding, avoiding the lower cadence, higher force quadrant of Q2, in favor of the higher cadence spinning and lower force production of Q4. He was able to dramatically reduce the low force, low cadence Q3 quadrant, as Q3 inevitably means the athlete is not performing well. After all, a lot of time spent at low force with low cadence means low power outputs. Although one might want to conserve energy, there was so much Q3 time in 2012, it was clear that Luke was spent from all the gear mashing in Q2.

Just to help show the difference in terms of cadence, here's what the change looked like in terms of the percentage of time spent below 90 rpms, versus at or above 90 rpms:

To say this is a dramatic change is putting it mildly to say the least. Luke clearly put a new emphasis in his bike training to become a higher cadence rider. This isn't a change an athlete can simply make overnight, even one of his talent level. This took many months with a focused determination to become a different rider. 

Another metric I have started looking at is cadence fade and power fade, where I compare the first and last hour of an Ironman bike, average cadence and normalized power, to get a sense of how much the ride fatigued the athlete. Here's a comparison of 2012 and 2013 for Luke. 

You can see the difference in how much less he actually lost of his cadence, and how well he maintained his power throughout the race, only losing about 4% from the first hour, compared to losing 28% of his power in the last hour of 2012. Did the mashing of the gears tire him out more in 2012? It would appear. 

One might wonder if he just rode smarter in 2013 with pacing, and that had an effect instead of his cadence change. Here's a look at how his numbers were from 2012 vs. 2013...

As you can see, the numbers weren't dramatically different overall, and the fact the conditions allowed him to ride a faster speed also helped raise his IF and NP. There is only a small difference in his VI. 

Lastly, his run split in 2013 was 23:12 faster than 2012, an average of 53 secs per mile faster for the marathon! Could this have just been better training and preparation for the run? The conditions? Sure, it could be that, could just be coincidence. But when you look at how Pete Jacobs rode and ran last year, you begin to wonder if we are onto something here. 

Does this mean every athlete should be riding high cadence, maximizing Q4 time? There is still more research to be done, but it is clear that Luke believed so, dramatically changing the way he rode, and it clearly paid off, going from 24th last year to 2nd this year, putting together his best bike and run in Kona ever.

Coach Vance

Monday, October 21, 2013

Transformation via Training Plan

Here's a photo an athlete shared with me on Facebook, of his transformation after using one of my Training Plans. His name is Peter Prestley, and he used an XTERRA plan of mine to prep for the XTERRA World Championships in Maui, Hawaii this weekend.

Always great to see this type of feedback! If you're using one of my plans as well, would love to see something from you as well.

If you're looking for a training plan to prepare you, please check out mine at

Coach Vance

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Power of Kyle Buckingham

Another article I wrote and is published at, is on the top age grouper in Kona, Kyle Buckingham, winner of the Men's 30-34 age group, in a time of 8:37. If you are interested in how the top age groupers are performing, you will want to check this article out, as I compared his performance to that of the pro men.


Coach Vance

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Power Analysis - Meredith Kessler vs. Linsey Corbin - Kona 2013

Here's an article for Slowtwitch I wrote, on behalf of TrainingPeaks, looking and comparing the power files of Meredith Kessler and Linsey Corbin, both Purple Patch Fitness athletes for Coach Matt Dixon.

Enjoy! I will working on a couple more like this, and then posting a review of the Kona run data.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The 3 Causes of Plateaus in Training

I follow how my athletes are doing in their training, focusing on the output metrics which represent the demands of the race/goals I am preparing them for, at the different times of the year. Sometimes athletes come to me and want to know why these metrics for them are not improving. 

When I'm tracking my athletes, if I am not seeing improvement, it means something has to change, but the cause needs to be determined. There are usually 3 potential causes:

1. Need more recovery, workouts have been too big of a load, or recovery needs to be enhanced/addressed
2. Need more training, training hasn't been consistent
3. The training stress the athlete is under they have plateaued in their response to, time to do something different

Coach and athlete share some responsibility in each of these, but the important thing is that both recognize and understand which one is the cause, and how to proceed with training if there is a plateau in performance.

Coach Vance

Friday, August 16, 2013

It's not one good workout, it's an accumulation...

Recently, I had an athlete who is pretty talented, (clearly in the hunt for a Kona slot in his AG), push his longer race simulation rides, well beyond Ironman intensity. He did this, and was very excited about the numbers. He should be excited, the numbers were impressive.

Then came his 2 key run sessions in the week, and he was so fatigued from pushing the Ironman bike day, he couldn't complete the workouts. By the time he came back to his weekend race simulation ride, he was feeling a lot better and hammered the ride harder than prescribed again. He did even better than the previous week, so he was really excited.

Then came his 2 key run sessions in the week, (again), and he couldn't complete the sessions, too fatigued again. Again, feeling better come the weekend, he hammers the bike ride harder than prescribed in the training log.

Starting to see a pattern here? A few days later, he tries to push his key run session when he is tired. He tells me, "My run isn't improving." He was correct, his run wasn't improving, because he hammered so hard, he missed key run sessions to address it. When he did do it, he had too much fatigue to make them of any value.

Now he has learned, the key isn't having one awesome/amazing/hammering workout per week, it's having a number of solid/quality sessions you can back up together on a consistent basis.

Darren Smith, one of the top triathlon coaches in the world, told me once, "You get a lot more out of 80% consistently than 95% once in awhile."

If you're digging deep in training, realize you'll get a lot farther by backing off a bit and being consistent.

Coach Vance

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Timing of Weight Loss with Training and Racing

One of the topics I'm finding popular with my athletes at this point of the season is their weight. A few are not happy with their weight, wanting to squeeze out another kilogram or two. Here's the problem though, for these athletes that want to do this, right now we are in the specificity part of the training year. We are preparing specifically for the demands of race day, and that means intensity, and a good portion of the total training volume is at that intensity.

For these athletes to be able to handle the load of intensity to prepare adequately, and recover quickly to make the next race-specific workout a success, they can't be actively trying to lose weight now. It must happen passively, without cutting calories and meals.

In my time as an athlete for Bob Seebohar and Joe Friel, I learned a lot about nutrition, but probably most importantly was not necessarily the nutrition, but the timing of the nutrition. I will spare all the details for you, but in general, if you're eating to support training, then eat what you need and want. When you're not eating to support training, such as during a rest day or recovery period, eat only what you need, and make it fruit, vegetable and lean-protein based.

Ask yourself, "Why am I eating right now?" If the answer is you're hungry, or need to pre-fuel or refuel from hard training sessions, then eat without worry or concern, but make sure it's just what you need. If the answer is you're bored, or just because everyone else is eating around you, then adjust it to only what you need, (perhaps not eating at all), and what will support your training and goals, (not junk food, or sugary items).

Another tip most people don't realize, is that for every gram of carbohydrate, (CHO), the body stores, it stores 4 grams of water. If you eat a very starchy-based diet most of the time, the body will horde more carbs, and thus retain more water. Stick with a clean diet of less CHO or processed items when not training, (fruits, veggies, lean protein), and you'll be amazed at how the body can drop weight quickly when it sheds the carbohydrate it doesn't need and loses water weight.

Again, if you're in the high-intensity, race-specific phase of training, now is NOT the time to actively pursue weight loss. Get in what you need and focus on getting the recovery and intensity right. Weight will take care of itself.

Coach Vance

Monday, June 24, 2013

All TSS Points are NOT Created Equal

I've been asked by a number of athletes lately about PMC charts, and TSS. A lot of athletes use PMC charts and combine everything. I know a number of athletes using PMC charts with TSS scores estimated for strength training sessions, swimming, and more.

One athlete I spoke with was asking me, "How much of a TSS should a workout be over CTL, by percentage, to be counted as too much, too little, or just right?"

But let me clarify something which many athletes miss, that all TSS points are not equal from sport to sport. For the purposes of simplicity, let's define each sport and their TSS.

rTSS = TSS points from run workouts
bTSS = TSS points from bike workouts
sTSS = TSS points from swim workouts

I will not even begin to mess with strength training here. Too many variables.

1 rTSS does not equal 1 bTSS nor 1 sTSS, and that is universally true for each sport. Think of it in terms of how you would feel the day after a 100 TSS session, which is 1 hour all-out effort, (FTP).

100 rTSS = This is like racing a 10K or even a half marathon for some athletes! You'll likely be very sore the next day, and running hard again is probably a few days away, at least. Push the envelope a little too soon and injury is just around the corner. The weight bearing aspect of running really beats the body down.

100 bTSS = You could easily go out and do a bike ride the next day, and even race fairly well. Heck, the Tour de France proves this! The athletes hit over 100 bTSS on an almost daily basis.

100 sTSS = You could easily do a 100 sTSS swim in the AM, and come back and put in another big swim set in the PM. The medium of water helps to keep the physically damaging stress at bay.

In the end, if you're combining PMC charts, that's fine, I do it with bike and run, never with swim, (I will explain that in another post.) However, if your goal is to exceed a certain TSS over your combined CTL, this is a bad idea, because the physical weight of the TSS must be considered, or you're likely headed to injury.

For example, if your bike CTL is 100, run CTL is 45, and your swim CTL is 80, for a combined CTL of 225 TSS/day, and you're going to do a big run workout where you want to get 10% more than your combined CTL, then you're doing a run of nearly 250 TSS!!! That's a HUGE workout.

Consider instead the individual PMC charts and where each sport is at in terms of CTL. 10% of your current CTL for rTSS is a lot different, as that would be a 50 TSS workout in this instance, and that's totally doable. 30 percent would be 60, which is also fair and conservative at a 45 CTL.

It's fine to monitor total load, ATL especially, with a combined PMC chart of many sports, but be careful about judging individual sport workouts on that combined PMC's CTL, as the TSS values are not anywhere near equal from sport to sport.

Coach Vance

Friday, May 24, 2013

Commitment is obvious...

I have an assistant who helps me track certain metrics which TrainingPeaks can't do, by putting them in an excel spreadsheet for each athlete. If these metrics are improving, then I know I am doing the right things as a coach. If they aren't improving, then I know something is wrong and must be addressed.

My assistant noticed something, and I had to chuckle at how obvious it was, but the sad thing is I guess it isn't that obvious to some athletes. She said she noticed the athletes who do the workouts as I write them, and complete them, improve in the metrics, those who aren't consistent or don't do the workouts as written, don't see the improvement the others do.

It sounds obvious, and it is, it's commitment. Without commitment, improvement isn't going to happen. The higher the goals, (such as trying to qualify for Kona, trying to podium there, or trying to be top 10 in the WTS rankings), the more important commitment is. When it's there, the results and improvement make it obvious.

Coach Vance

Monday, May 13, 2013

Port Macquarie Training Camp 2013

In September, I am planning a trip to Australia to work with athletes on the Ironman Australia course, and do some speaking in Sydney and Melbourne. You can find out all the info at this link, but here are the main details...

When:  25th – 29th September 2013
Where:  Rydges, Port Macquarie
Costs:  $1,500 twin share (single room supplement available)
Group Size: 20 max – get in quick
*Please note that all attendees must be Triathlon Australia Registered Members for Insurance Purposes
What’s Included:
  • 4 nights accommodation at the Rydges Port Macquarie (twin share)
  • All breakfasts, dinners and lunches
  • Training nutrition provided by Endura
  • Expert training guidance and technical analysis
  • Sag wagon
  • Training jersey
  • The experience of a life time
What’s not included
  • Travel to Port Macquarie
  • Hotel Car Parking
 You can register here...

Hope to see you there!

Coach Vance

Monday, May 6, 2013

Podcast Interview for Triathlon Science

If you're interested in a good podcast, and want to hear more about my new book, Triathlon Science, check this interview out that I did with Triathlete Training, run by Eric Schwartz.

If you have the book, let me know what you think!

Coach Vance

Friday, May 3, 2013

Understanding the Bike Demands of Ironman - Part 1: Kona Pro Men

If you ever use Quadrant Analysis in Training Peaks, (QA), then you likely see how the specifics of a race can really be seen, and the neurological demands on the athlete. I'll avoid explaining the basics of the QA, and instead refer you to here, and dive right into some observations. My hope is to take this one course at a time, and really begin to identify the difference in demands from race to race, course to course, so we as coaches, (and athletes), can train more specifically for the race, as well as learn what might be the best way to ride a course.

With this in mind, let's start with the race everyone is dying to do and know more about, Kona. Obviously this race has the best field of long course triathletes in the world, but there is a difference in the type of races being executed, from the pro's, to the age group competitor, to the lottery winner who is just looking to finish. For this first post on this, I will be focusing on the pro men, courtesy of TrainingPeaks' files of Pete Jacobs, Luke McKenzie and Michael Lovato from 2012.

Ironman World Championships - Kona 
(click on all images to enlarge them)

Most people probably don't know this, but there is about 3000 feet of climbing in Kona, (depending on what source you use to measure), due to the large rollers, and the climb up to Hawi. Add in the quality of the field, and you begin to see the athletes really pushing themselves hard. Let's look at the course profile, because that is a very important aspect of determining training specificity.

So the course is mostly an out and back, with a big climb at the half-way point, called Hawi, (pronounced ha-vee). You can see that there are some other decent uphill sections, with some big spikes within those as well. So there is a constant up and down, never really a flat portion, but the up and down is rarely very steep, as most athletes are able to stay in the saddle for the majority of the race, save for Hawi. 

This is the QA of 2012 World Champion, Pete Jacobs. Pete has an FTP of 370 watts. You'll notice he spent almost 90% in the lower force quadrants. Could there be something to this?

Pete's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 4%, 2: 8.7%, 3: 27.1%, 4: 60.2%
Pete's run split: 2:48:05

Next we will look at Luke McKenzie, who finished 24th in the same 2012 race, and has an FTP of 360 watts, riding only about 3 mins slower than Pete.

Luke's percentage of samples in Quadrants - 1: 0.1%, 2: 36.4%, 3: 58.5%, 4: 5%
Luke's run split: 3:20:32

If we compare with Pete, then quadrants 2 and 4 really standout, as Luke varied greatly from Pete in those. Consider Pete had about 12 times more samples in Q4, which was lower force, higher cadence, and less than a quarter of the amount of samples in Q2 than Luke, which are low cadence high force, (think mashing). Surprisingly, Q1 which means the biggest surges, Pete had quite a bit more in comparison than Luke, but seemed to be able to manage that with such a still small sample, and much less time overall in higher force quadrants. 

Next we will look at Michael Lovato, who finished 25th, right behind Luke. I have estimated Michael to have an FTP of 375, based on the TSS provided by TrainingPeaks, of 274. (Proof that the higher FTP isn't always what matters, but how well you can ride close to it). Michael ran much faster than Luke, but didn't seem to ride near as well, from a time perspective. 

Lovato's percentages of samples in Qaudrants - 1: 1.4%, 2: 13.3%, 3: 49.2%, 4: 36%
Lovato's run split: 3:03:13

Comparing Lovato and Pete, Lovato's Q1 and Q2 seem to be in line with Pete, 14% of samples in those two for Lovato, 13% for Pete. The biggest difference seems to be the Q4 time, as both Luke and Lovato spent the majority of the time in Q3, lower cadence, lower force. For Pete, he spent most of the time in Q4, and about half the time in Q3 that the others did. 

The small yellow triangle represents the average of all the samples, and for Lovato and Luke, they fall in the Q3. For Pete, it falls in Q4. 

So does this mean athletes should be spending more time training with higher cadence, lower force? Not necessarily. It could be that Pete was simply better fit, able to push the gears faster than the other two, and able to run well anyway. Certainly, Pete has been a heck of a runner, having the fastest run split at 2011 Kona. 

I think if there is a conclusion to draw from this, less Q1 and Q2 time is probably best. I do think there is something to be said for having the neurological fitness to be able to hold Q4 for that much of the race. Just for fun I highlighted the samples from the top of Hawi and back for Pete to see if there was a change.

Pete's samples from Hawi and back in Quadrants - 1: 0.9%, 2: 7.9%, 3: 37.3%, 4: 53.9%

Of course, we can expect that he will fatigue, but there really was little change in the percentages for the Q1 and Q2. Q3 saw much more, as it seemed he just couldn't likely hold Q4 as much as he would have liked. (He's racing hard after all!) His average for those samples falls in Q3 now. 

Comparing his cadence from the first hour and the last hour, it dropped by 6.82%. Lovato's cadence fade was actually less, but his power fade for the first and last hour was 10% more than Pete's. Luke had the largest cadence fade, and the largest power fade. See this table which summarizes:

So what does all this mean? It's easy to say athletes should do what Pete Jacob's did, but it's not that simple. This is a small sample size of 3 athletes, and there are a number of factors which could play a role, and athletes are not all the same, far from it. But I do believe this is a small bit of evidence on what it takes to perform well at Kona. It would seem that Pete was trained well to hold a high cadence, and had the neurological fitness to do so. His cadence fade affected his power less since he was still holding a relatively high cadence to start with, possibly saving the higher force outputs for the run. 

In the next part, I will look at some top age groupers from Kona, and see what their QA's look like, if there is any big differences or not. What will we see? Truth be told I'm not sure, haven't gotten that far yet. I would love to do a similar post on the Pro Women, but the data is really limited. Let me know if you find some good files to compare. 

Coach Vance

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The 6 Key Components for Performance

There are 6 key components I have found for high performance....

The first 3 are:
1. Preparation
2. Preparation
3. Preparation

Sounds silly, but getting prepared for the race is what it is all about. Training properly, getting the fitness gains and performance levels where they need to be takes a commitment few are willing or able to give, especially at the highest of levels.

The last 3 are:
4. Execution
5. Execution
6. Execution

Sounds silly again, but perfect preparation is meaningless if an athlete doesn't execute properly on race day. For example, watching the ITU WTS San Diego event here this past weekend, I saw a number of excellent runners go out WAY TOO FAST for the first lap of the run, only to blow up and be beaten by athletes who they are better runners than.

We see a lot of execution errors among amateur triathletes, from pacing to nutrition, and even if they did all the perfect training, highest level of fitness, they become their own biggest hurdle. They likely weren't confident enough in their preparation as well, which brings us back to the first 3.

Have excellent preparation, then execute according to that preparation. They go hand in hand, at all levels, from amateurs to high performance.

Coach Vance

Friday, April 12, 2013

Confident my athlete is ready...

I spent the day watching the Collegiate Triathlon Championships, today being the first ever draft-legal championship race. It was exciting, and a great start to an event which will likely grow the sport exponentially in the US and greatly help our US development. 

I had an athlete in the race today, and he is racing tomorrow. He swam great, out in the top 10, about 17 seconds off the lead. He followed the plan, and dropped out at the start of the run. Tomorrow he races the Olympic distance non-drafting, and he is ready to do well tomorrow. How do I know this? Besides using my own intuition as a coach and my own eyes which show me, his data shows me as well. 

Here's his Performance Management Chart for the bike and the run, which has calculated his training stress, (TSS), from each session we've done over the months.

There are some important numbers which help show how much rest is enough, and how much is too much. CTL is the blue line, basically represents his fitness. His loss of "fitness" during the taper was only, but he dropped so much fatigue that the short term training stress, (ATL = pink line), is now less than his CTL value. This difference is positive 1.7. These values help show he has had an excellent taper, and is ready to go for the race tomorrow. 

Is this perfect? No. Will these numbers mean he is going to perform to his absolute best and win the race? No, but they do increase the odds and probability that he will race to his potential at this point in time. There are a number of things that go into racing well, like mental prep, technical skill, and race execution. But so much of performance comes from training, and putting your odds in your favor that you're doing that right should help your confidence as an athlete. We will see tomorrow how he does.

Of course, if you're not using data, then you're just flat out guessing. We are all guessing and making judgments on what the right amount is, especially coaches. At least this guess as a coach is backed with data and evidence, in addition to my intuition, sight and experience.

Coach Vance

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

"Going by Feel" Part 2

As I mentioned in the last post, there is a disconnect among many athletes, high level triathletes especially, that using data or science means you can't go by feel, when actually, going by feel is paramount at the highest level of sport.

When you're trying to eek out the extra half percent to 5 percent, depending on where you sit on the performance continuum, you have to maximize each training day, and a great sense of "feel" for what is best on the day is critical. Everyone is working hard, those are working smartest and getting the most of every session, (BOTH hard AND recovery sessions), are the ones advancing.

Darren Smith, one of the most successful coaches in ITU history, uses his own metrics of having the athlete tell him how they are feeling before each session. They have to have a number to give him, on a scale. This number is 100% feel! It's a metric though that allows Darren to give the right amount of stimulus on the day.

Those of you who don't have a Darren Smith on deck or at your side for each workout need something to help you assess. Knowing your numbers and how they are responding to the training stress you are giving them, is only going to help the feel process, giving more confidence with evidence of what the right decision is, whether to push or back off, what energy system to train, and how much.

Feel is the best way to train for those last few percentages of improvement, but at the highest levels it is crucial to get it right. Margin of error is too small.

Coach Vance

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Going by Feel"?

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana, Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1

I sat down with a high level professional triathlete last week to discuss goals and where they are headed with their training. When I asked about power data and Garmin run files, the athlete responded with, "I just go by feel usually, no data."

This athlete is confused, like many out there, that somehow data collection and analysis means you can't trust your gut in what the right training is for you. The truth is, high level athletes must still do a lot of training based on "feel", no matter how much data they have. The stakes are so high for this athlete, that they have to become very much in tune with their body. They can't afford rest days which aren't needed, or a stimulus which sets them back a number of days with deep fatigue or injury, affecting consistency.

The collection and analysis of data for athletes is only going to help the "feel" process, by providing objective feedback to better hone their assessment skills of themselves, and actually build confidence in the training they're doing. It helps them to learn from the past, not making the same mistakes over and over.

When an athlete feels tired, and isn't sure that a workout went well, especially on the bike, the numbers can sometimes show otherwise, that the session was a great success with great performance. Time and speed on a bike is not always going to show that, especially in windy conditions. Or when they feel they aren't sure to push on thru a spell of fatigue, data can help provide some clarity, and ease the stress of a decision like that.

When an athlete also goes back and looks at data over many seasons, they can tell what training they tend to respond well to, and thru the years the body will change and need a new stimulus, and possibly a new stress balance, (intensity/recovery). Again, learning from the past with the objectivity of data, helps to prevent mistakes for the future.

I laugh when I read about coaches not letting their athletes use power meters, or GPS for running. These coaches are either afraid of the truth, (that they will make mistakes), don't know or understand how to use these tools and learn from the data, want their athletes to blindly follow them, and/or are lazy.

Training will never be perfect, but those who use all the resources available to get it as close to perfect as possible are the ones who maximize their potential. True athletic brillance is found with both the art of "feel", and science, in training.

Coach Vance