Friday, 21 September 2018 16:43

The Long and Short of it…

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With your fall race goal in sight, you will need to start your steady build of weekly miles. The long run is the cornerstone of an endurance training program and serves as the key to a good late season half marathon or fall marathon. The long run has been emphasized as the building block of training for over 30 years. Famous New Zealand Coach, Arthur Lydiard, and many others have made it the base component of training programs for distance runners. All of today's programs, including Hal Higdon's and Jeff Galloway's, highlight the importance of the long run. However, even if you are including a long run into your training plan, you don’t need to stop doing shorter runs or races. In fact, short distance training (especially running), allows an athlete to improve a muscle’s ability to use oxygen and in turn can improve mitochondrial density. On the technical side, “Mitochondria are muscle cells that help produce Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is the body’s fuel that supports muscle contractions. If you improve a muscle’s ability to use oxygen for shorter distances – you can see big benefits for a long race.” 

One of the biggest positives about training for a triathlon is the opportunity to mix from a choice of swim, bike or run sessions so after a fast or long run you can stay off your feet the next day with a swim or bike ride. The stronger you are physically, the better your running economy will be toward the end of a race. This comes from both long endurance runs but also from running at fast paces. Track work is a staple for runners just like shorter swim sets are for swimmers. As a triathlete you can use 5K or 10k running races to help increase your leg speed, efficiency and aerobic running pace. 

Once you have the shorter distance runs integrated into your plan either as a training session or race, your long distance aerobic running will seem much easier because the pace will seem slow. Consider doing your long runs at about 70% of your Max Heart Rate or 1:00-1:30 slower than marathon race pace. In marathon training, it has been found that as few as four runs of 18-22 miles over the 8 weeks prior to the marathon will enable a runner to run the entire race distance. If a runner is able to string more than four and up to six with a few weeks of tapering prior to race day, they will be that much better prepared come race day. 

Prepare for your long training run as if it is marathon day. Try to take an easy or rest day the prior to your long run and ensure that you eat well, hydrate and get an adequate amount of sleep leading up to your run. On runs over 90 minutes, pre-position water or use a Fuel Belt to carry your own. Think about using a gel every 45-60 minutes to help condition your body to adjust to a higher caloric intake. Success is found in a series of long runs that build upon each other from the start of your training through race day.

Just like the short run, there are many physical positives that the long run accomplishes besides just increasing your total miles including: 

  • Strengthens the heart - larger stroke volume. 
  • Strengthens the leg muscles - endurance is developed. 
  • Mind Work - mental toughness and coping skills are developed. 
  • Develops fat burning capacity. 
  • Increases capillary growth into muscle fibers. 
  • Increases muscle fibers. 
  • Increases aerobic efficiency. 
  • Increase in Maximum VO2. 

You build a base for endurance training by doing lots of miles at a mid-range heart rate effort. However, it takes some tempo and intensity to develop speed. Always keep in mind that success is not immediate but developed by a well-planned training program that includes Base, Tempo, Intensity, Rest then a Taper before racing. Skipping or not completing any of these phases will most likely result in a less then desired performance. So, when it comes to doing your long run, don’t forget about doing the short one as well. Sometimes it will hurt even more then slogging away for a few hours.   

Contributor: Doug Marocco has been participating in endurance events since 1986 and has competed in over 400 races around the world ranging from Ultra runs and Ironman Triathlons to the Mile.   

Sunday, 12 August 2018 20:06

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

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What simple things can you do to make yourself a better triathlete on race day? The sport of triathlon is more than just three separate sports. It also involves moving seamlessly from one to the other in the form of transitions or changes. How can you make the change (transition) compliment your state of fitness and allow you to take advantage of time saving methods to gain an advantage over your competitors? There are numerous opportunities to save time on the race course. The following suggestions are just a few to think about.

Review the Course

Whenever possible, review each segment of the course before the event takes place. Even if you can’t train on it, know key areas especially on the bike course such as difficult turns or hills. You can review course maps or GPS tracks from previous years’ races online that may help you on race day. 

Review the Transition Area

  • Review the route from the swim exit to where your bike is racked and then to the run out area. If there are two separate T/A’s this adds complexity but should still be practiced in the same way.
  • Envision your transitions prior to getting there. As you are nearing the end of the swim think about exiting the water and running to your bike. The same goes for the end of the bike. Prepare for the dismount line and your movement to your bike location. This can prove to be more difficult depending on how many bikes are already racked or have not yet returned to transition. The view can be much different from the time you left after the swim. 
  • Keep your T/A area simple and clutter free. 

Swim

  • Prepare for wetsuit or no wetsuit swim. This can include wearing a full sleeved wetsuit if the water temperature is below 75 degrees or a sleeveless if it is between 75-78 degrees. A wetsuit should ALWAYS be faster and a full suit is fastest. If this is not the case for you then you are not wearing a suit that fits correctly. If the air temperature is colder than the water temperature, it is also beneficial to wear a suit to remain warm while waiting to start the race. If the water temperature is above 78 degrees and wetsuits are not allowed per USAT rules, consider having a swim skin to wear over your race kit. This will be a much faster option then wearing a kit with pockets and also allows you to wear a race number belt while swimming since it will be covered.
  • A swim warm up is vital in order to race hard from the starter’s horn. I try to do my swim warmup following the course in reverse and will swim out to the final buoy into the finish exit so that I can see what it looks like before I come to it during the race.
  • Swim the shortest, straightest line. Make sure to find an object in the distance to sight on it. Depending on the course this may require several sighting points.

Bike

  • Be mechanically prepared: Have your bike in working order and know how to change your own tire in case you have a flat on the race course. Make sure that you are in the correct gear to start the ride out of transition. If you are starting on a hill, be ready to be in your small chain ring from the start.
  • Knowing the course helps but even if you don’t, look ahead to see where other competitors are preparing to turn or climb a hill.
  • Nutrition requirements are important but vary depending on how long you will be racing. Do you really need 3 full 20oz bottles or a camelback on that carbon bike for a 2.5 hour race? Especially if there is a bottle exchange provided on the course. 

Run

  • Use a number belt and elastic shoe strings with quick slides.
  • Pace yourself from the start. It is not about how fast you go but more about not slowing down. Make each mile as close as possible to each other regardless of the race distance. Consistency is important. 
  • Take aid at every aid station even if it is just a sip or a splash to the body.
  • Run to the next runner and then the next until you finally run through the finish line. Since most races consist of wave starts you never know where other competitors are on the course. The last year I qualified for the Hawaii Ironman, the three spots in my age group were separated by only 10 seconds. It’s a time trial, but also a race.

Training will only take you so far. Having knowledge of other ways to save time is like a bonus. If you get the chance to watch the professionals race, pay attention to how the do things. Every detail matters and they practice them over and over because seconds count for them and for you too!

Doug Marocco is a former age group National Age Group and Military Triathlon champion who has been racing in endurance sports for the past thirty plus years as is evident of his USAT (formerly TRIFED) membership #1039. 

Sunday, 24 June 2018 14:43

Run-ning

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“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours” says Forest Gump, “and then I stopped.” Running is the basis of most land sports. Some people train by running sprints and others with longer distances. Forest did both. However, regardless of the sport you do, running in some way usually matters. Being a triathlete requires a focus on running (as well as swimming and cycling) because it makes up about 30-35% of your effort for almost any race distance. 

Today’s athletic culture has added weights for all around strength with CrossFit and Spartan type races now being the flavor of the day. The best philosophy for overall fitness is everything in moderation. However, this type of training makes you fit and moderately good at many things, but not exceptional at anything specific. If you want to improve your triathlon performance, you need to train specifically for the distance you are competing at. This is critical in endurance events when races can last from 1+ hour for a sprint up to a seventeen-hour cutoff for Ironman. It would be nice to get in peak shape doing something for the shortest possible time but this isn’t the case for triathlon or any of the three disciplines that make up the sport. The key to any repeatable action is to do it as long as possible until your form deteriorates. Once it gets sloppy, you should no longer continue with the activity because it creates bad habits. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do long runs or “Brick” runs, but to build them up slowly over months so that you can cover the distance with good form. There is no sport or skill that I know of where less is better because repetition builds power and speed if you train properly. However, you can only throw so many pitches or hit so many balls before your arm has issues. Similarly, the problem with running is that you can only do intensity or long distance runs every so often before two things happen: 

  1. You get hurt
  2. You no longer improve

The way to eventually get faster is to add distance to your intensity so that you can stay faster, for longer. Even 100 meter runners run a decent amount of miles (30+) and some 1500-5000 meter runners run 100 miles a week. Running on its own has the potential to work in a way where “less is more” if your plan is precise and followed correctly.

As I have discussed on a number of occasions with the 3X3 Training Plan construct, a basic run portion of your triathlon training should consist of 3 runs per week. One run at 45 minutes, 1 run for an hour and another for 75-90 minutes for all distances other than Ironman. This will cover a shorter fast (Intense) run, a middle distance (Base) run and a longer Endurance (Build) run. If you can add additional Base running you should be that much better of a runner and triathlete. There is a distinct difference between running as a solo sport and running in a triathlon. A triathlete is required to start the run portion of the race in a fatigued state with about 65-70% of the event (time-wise) already completed. This would be similar to running a much longer stand-alone run distance like a half or full marathon. With the run portion of the race being last, it often takes place at the hottest portion of the day. This alone takes special training and athletes should make it a point to do at least one of their weekly runs in the midday time period. 

I would be the first to say that running a marathon is not ideal for most people because the training to complete the race is often why athletes get injured--not during the race itself. Week after week of training, especially long runs, often causes injury and the runner doesn’t make it to the start line. In this case, more is not better because too much for too long eventually creates overuse injuries at some time in the training program. However, the counter to that is in order to get faster a runner must develop physiological changes by putting the body through physical stress. Although every athlete is different, a standard rule is around 40 plus miles per week to be considered an adequate foundation. Then and only then can you add more miles each week to a point that you eventually don’t improve. The stronger your base, the more endurance you have which is evident with better capillary development which in turn allows more blood to flow and increased cardio output. Keep in mind that the best runners in the world are running 120-160 miles per week to be at such a high level. In fact their taper weeks of limited volume is about 40 miles and most triathletes don’t hit that mark on their biggest weeks. A big reason for this is that trying to juggle three distinct sports is time consuming in itself but it also means you don’t need the volume of a single sport athlete. Always know that the heart doesn’t know what event you’re doing, just that you are doing something. A proper rotation of swim, bike and run training will ensure that you are getting sessions in on a regular basis but not over doing any single sport. 

In your training world, look at a single run session per day to 4-5 times per week along with your other workout sessions. In the end it is all about consistency. Build a base, refine it and maintain. Then recover and build more. In any case, the most important thing is to do as much as possible but stay injury free. It is better to have a lifetime of something then a short term action. This may be contrary to Neil Young’s famous lyrics, because as far as running goes, it’s NOT BETTER to burn out then fade away. 

By Doug Marocco 

Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a former USA Age Group National Champion who likes to work out (a lot).

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 08:59

Brick Layer

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Triathlon is an endurance event that consists of three separate sports. This is obvious for those that train and participate in the sport. However, most triathletes don’t condition themselves well enough to actually “race” a triathlon. For the most part, they train to complete a swim, bike or run session but on an individual basis. “BRICK” workouts can be used as a key endurance build in your training plan and race preparation. It also can be used to maximize time constraints and help reduce the chances for injury. 

The traditional and standard “BRICK” is the Bike-Run. This helps simulate what it feels like on race day to transition from the bike to the run. Moving from one sport to another is what makes triathlon so different than performing the sports on an individual basis. Mastering this feeling allows for breakthrough races because the time from struggling to running freely is cut down to hopefully just the first mile or two of the event. The more you become accustomed to the feeling, the better you will be with adapting and overcoming it. For some triathletes, half or even all of the run seems like you have legs of stone and are just plodding to the finish line. If you work at this type of “BRICK” on a routine basis (at least 2x per month), you will eventually become a better runner off the bike. The Bike-Run ‘‘BRICK” should be in proportion to the distance of the race to you are competing in. If you are doing sprints and Olympic distance races consider doing half to ¾ of the event as close to race pace as possible. For an Ironman and Half Ironman, after a ride close to race distance, consider having a focus on running about 7-10 miles for the half and maybe 13-15 for the full distance. 

Another type of “BRICK” to consider doing is the Swim-Bike. This “BRICK” is race specific for triathlon and also if you are considering an Aqua-Bike event. This is popular with those participants that don’t want to run or are dealing with a run related injury. You still are able to swim and bike as a competitor with a separate category and starting wave. USA Triathlon even has a designated National Championship for this multi-sport race. Without the run, it allows an athlete to really push the swim and cycling to their highest level since running off the bike is not required. Training for this is as simple as completing your standard swim session and after changing over consider doing short intense sessions or an extended ride right from your swim location. For those that are competing at a high level, it is common for triathletes to do multiple swim then bike sessions (poolside on a trainer) in order to replicate the intensity of short course racing. This is especially true with draft legal events where the pace is at a maximum for the entire race.  

Another “BRICK” often overlooked is the Run-Bike or Run-Bike-Run (Duathlon). This workout has a big plus side for several reasons. First you are able to have a typical run that is higher quality because you are running on fresh legs. When you move to the bike session your body is already warmed up and you will be able to have a more intense ride in a shorter period of time. Second, the real positive of this “BRICK” is that you don’t need to be on the bike as long as a stand-alone ride because you have some cumulative fatigue from the first run. Also by combining the two sessions you are able to do both sessions in a shorter period of time with an equal or greater benefit. If you decide to add an additional run (just like a Duathlon) you will experience the Bike-Run “BRICK” feeling just like a triathlon. This type of “BRICK” may also reduce your chance of running injuries because you can divide your long run into two parts with a recovery period in between while you are cycling. 

Six-Time Hawaii Ironman Winner, Dave Scott recommends the Run-Bike-Run “BRICK” especially for Ironman competitors to avoid injury that occur from the traditional long run. He explains, “during long runs, the repetitive eccentric load is what causes joint and muscle damage. You probably know it well: that stiff, sore leg feeling. Whether you realize it or not, as your legs fatigue during a long run you risk altering your normal gait. This can lead to injury. By splitting the long run in two session within this brick, your legs can rebound during the bike, you can finish the workout with a biomechanically solid run and recover faster. You’ll be tired on the bike. This is good! By running first you’ll pre-fatigue your legs for the bike. This is beneficial because you’ll need to focus on maintaining good form while cycling. This means activating your glutes (not your quads!) during the bike. Ultimately run-bike-run training will improve your strength and get you to the starting line with less chance of injury”.

Any type of “BRICK” will help you transition from one event to another. Of course racing is the best form of “BRICK” training but this is not always possible or positive to go an intense level week after week. Most importantly, a “BRICK” will take you from a single session to multiple sessions strung together that will develop a strong endurance foundation just like a race with less intensity (and less cost). Think of it as a true Brick Layer would when he builds a wall, brick by brick and row by row. Eventually you have a strong base foundation. Training is really no different. So if you don’t currently have some type of “BRICK” scheduled into your training plan you are missing a key component that will make you better than your competition. 

By Doug Marocco 

Doug is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and a former USA Age Group National Champion who likes to work out (a lot).

Saturday, 05 May 2018 19:46

Ready or Not, the Triathlon Season is Here

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The first major triathlon races of North America are upon us. Well, at least in the warm weather states like California and Florida. If you are so inclined, traveling to a warm destination race to test your winter training against those that have been fortunate to only wear one layer of clothing year-round is a good way to stay motivated. It does take some out of the ordinary planning to prep for an event that is 30 degrees or more warmer than your average daily temperature from November to March. If this seems a bit much, then consider doing something local as early as possible to get in some race pace action. Be prepared for obstacles like cold water and air temperatures. However, racing will provide an indication of what fitness level you’re at since the previous year’s final competition. Keep modest expectations of your finishing time and know that you have a full season ahead to improve on them. If you’re a fair weather fan like me, it may take another few months to get into the triathlon spirit but rest assure another triathlon season will be here before you know it. 

DEVELOPING YOUR SEASON PLAN

We are at the point where if you have not already done so, the planning for the upcoming season has arrived and the chance to make a tentative schedule for the year. Once the schedule is planned, you can decide on a general training program to best prepare for important events. Please note that it is vital to check with the schedules of everyone else that is involved in your life including friends, family members, co-workers and your employer before paying that big Ironman entry fee. Of utmost importance is to try and avoid weddings, births, anniversaries and class reunions on your priority “A” race day. Remember that even if most of your friends have dates etched in their mind like the 4th of July, NASCAR or the Washington Nationals Schedule, most people are not aware of the triathlon calendar in any way. The following suggestions will help in your season planning: 

- Be realistic in what you can do on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Your season goals should be identified, measurable and attainable, but still be a challenge.

- Partner up. The team allows for training partners to help you progress. Triathlon is often a very solitary sport and training with people of your level or higher on occasion will make you better. If training with others is not possible then substitute shorter races as a way to get faster. 

- Identify seasonal goals. Limit this to three or four items and they could be something like: place high at a local race, qualify or compete at Nationals and complete a long-distance event.

- Develop several long term goals that can be accomplished over a period of years such as improving on your current times or overall placings. 

- Create excitement by traveling to and competing in a high profile event.

DETERMINE TRAINING OBJECTIVES

It is important to determine your training objectives and put the plan to paper. By taking this step you will have clearly identified your racing goals and a way to reach them. If you are unable to do this, there are a number of outstanding coaching programs that offer an individualized Annual Training Plan or detailed full-time coaching service to help you with this. This is especially useful for new athletes or athletes trying to reach a higher level of performance. However, regardless of whether you go it alone, pay for an annual plan, or go with a full time coach for more constant support, motivation or interaction, the results are inevitably up to the athlete because no one else can actually put in the work. 

As I have stated several (numerous, but it’s important!) times in the past, a proper training program will use some form of the PERIODIZATION concept in which your year is divided up into phases progressing from general to specific. You will first develop a BASE PHASE in each event putting in long and slow distance training. After a determined amount of time (8-12 weeks), you will gradually build on the developed base and progress to a SUSTAINMENT PHASE. This is followed by some INTENSITY PHASE to sharpen the base and finally reaching a PEAK PHASE at a pre-determined event. After a proper REST PHASE or less intensity the method is repeated several times throughout the season.

SELECT PRIORITY RACES

For competitive people, racing can be considered the test for all of your many training hours. Race day can be a nervous time that causes performance anxiety due to the stress of the preparing for, getting to, and actually competing in the event. Be positive and put yourself in a position to succeed. Although it is a day to test your current fitness level, it is also a reward to swim in the open water, ride on traffic free roads (hopefully) and pound the pavement or trail to a potential personal record. There are many ways to prepare for race day and make it the best experience possible.  

- Compete in events that highlight your strengths. If you swim and ride well but don’t run so well, then you may want to stay away from hot hilly run courses. On the contrary, slower swimmers that are fast on land should gravitate toward events that are held on tough bike and run courses. Half Ironman and Ironman events are much better suited to the athletes with strong bike and run backgrounds because of the relatively short swim distance. This will allow you to compete against the competition and the clock with your best possible performance.

- Plan out your competitive calendar by placing an emphasis on several important (Priority A) races that are spread out over the season. Try to use the first half of the season to gain experience and then concentrate toward your goal events. 

- Select races that you have the ability to prepare for and can actually attend. This is becoming more difficult to do with races selling out almost a year ahead of time. However, barring unforeseen circumstances, a quarterly race plan will allow you to emphasize training with some higher intensity tempo work as well as a taper to maximize race day performance. 

- Race more. It is logical that the more you race, the better you will become at putting together the three distinctive sports of triathlon. Racing sharpens your skills with open water swimming, technical bike skills. Transition changes from swim to bike and bike to run, and running after an intense ride. Sprint and Olympic distance events are excellent opportunities to practice what you train at a faster pace. 

Triathlete’s know that being fit and healthy is a benefit of living the multi-sport lifestyle. If your goal is to ____________ (insert whatever you want) then create a plan, stay diligent and focused and you will be on the right path to success. Good luckand enjoy!  

Doug Marocco, is a 9X Hawaii Ironman finisher and former USAT Age Group and Military Triathlon National Champion. Any questions send an email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018 16:49

New Year, Same You

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With 2018 upon us, the time to start scheduling your races--and in turn the training to prepare for them--is imminent. If everything went well for you in the past year, then you have the potential to be even better this year, or at least continue to be the same you. This is especially important as athletes age. I can truly say that at 54, if I could have the same season that I had a decade ago or even five years ago that would be awesome. So maintaining the same level is not always a bad thing. 

When starting your season plan, looking at what made you successful the previous season is a good place to start. Develop your plan by making small tweaks or adjustments to build upon your past accomplishments and continue to assess. A simple way to look at a training plan is to follow the basic concept of PLAN, PREPARE, PEFORM and REPEAT. Once you have results from a few quality training sessions or more importantly an early season race, a plan can then be shaped to make changes that would develop even more speed, strength or endurance. Eventually your fitness level will plateau and usually only a change in volume or intensity will allow for further improvement.   

VOLUME and FREQUENCY

This will vary based on available time and the length of the upcoming event. A training plan should progressively move you toward being comfortable with the distance you will be racing; in the early season this most likely will be sprint or olympic distance events. It is possible to have the endurance for these races but maybe not the speed or sharpness that comes through several periodization cycles. Ensure that the early season is used to gradually build a fitness base, with emphasis on listening to what the body is feeling like.  

As the sport of triathlon continues to grow, athletes have many opportunities to race any distance at any time through the year. It has become more common for athletes to start off with a half or even a full Ironman. Even if an athlete is motivated to do a long distance event, in most cases they have not accumulated enough mileage required for a race of that distance. The cumulative effect of training and then racing at a long distance can prove to be very taxing on the body and may create fatigue for a late season “A” race. It’s not impossible to have a quality long distance race in the spring or early summer, however, most athletes are at their best with a full twelve weeks of focused training and there may not be enough time to reach the level of desired fitness at this time of year. The plan to delay longer racing until later in your season will also allow most athletes to feel stronger and in return avoid injury so that they can actually make it to the start line. 

Weather and daylight have a noticeable effect on early season training. Consider starting off with shorter distance events and push any longer races to August through October when you will potentially have the best chance for race day success. This especially holds true for athletes that need to accumulate more swim sessions. Summer provides a chance for outdoor pool access and open water opportunities. Of course, if you live in a warmer climate, the scenario is much different and early season racing may produce your best overall placing and fastest results due to reduced competition and cooler weather. 

MEASURED IMPROVEMENT

Training improvement can be measured in time and distance spent in the water, on the bike and on your feet. A good way to seek improvement is to add small increments of distance each week and eventually the volume required will accumulate to be ready for your planned event. Consider 500 more meters in the pool, 10 more miles on the bike or another mile on the run with each session to see identifiable differences in volume over time. This is a much easier way than comparing faster race times throughout the season because course variations often make it difficult to determine if improvement has been made. If you plan to use race day results as a way to measure fitness gains, look at using the same race separated by a year to see what gains or losses have taken place.  

By having a number of events spread throughout your season, you will be able to measure your improvement while preparing for one or two culminating year end races. Following these guidelines provides an overall concept of planning. Success comes from implementing the daily, weekly and monthly sessions that make up the plan. Skipping or shorting training phases will result in inconsistent and mixed performances.

REST and RECOVERY 

Only through changes in your program, followed by rest, will you see improvement. The off-season is the first real rest from the previous year and “spring training” will be the time to start building an endurance base. Be patient with a program to see eventual gains. Most athletes are not able to be in race shape in a few days or even weeks because it takes consistent training over a period of time. By making adjustments to the volume, frequency and intensity of your training while incorporating a period of rest, improvement should be noticed in both training and racing. Don't be confused and think that rest means "no activity"; it means an active period with less volume, frequency and intensity. This period will allow your body to adapt to heavy load of the base phase, and speed of the intensity phase and rebuild it for another step up of your periodization training. 

All the push to use the New Year as a way to be inspired to set goals is not a bad thing but sometimes the “old you” is a great place to start. Each piece of the puzzle completes the picture and if you do things the right way, hopefully it ends with a picture on the podium! 

Saturday, 07 October 2017 00:08

Your Championship Race

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The sport of triathlon is full of people with different goals and aspirations.  One thing that seems to be a constant for endurance athletes, especially in climates with seasonal changes, is that people generally build their schedule toward a culminating event.  After months of training and numerous races, the race that you have been waiting and planning for all season is finally (or already) here.  Have you done what you needed to meet your goals? In truth, it takes a reason bigger than just a workout to see where your fitness is.  Most likely only a race against other competition will tell you that.  It is your test, your final exam of the season.

Whether you are new to the sport or a veteran, racing is the best way to measure your improvement from the beginning of the season to the end and from year to year, especially if you do a number of the same courses.  Most training plans take into consideration that the spring time is for building a base of miles as the weather gets better from a less active winter.   As a new triathlete way back in 1986,  I followed the lead of others and after a few years of training and racing developed my own plan that added specific races to provide a measuring stick for where my fitness level was leading up to toward my most challenging event. Usually this means an event that is longer in distance but it also could be an event that has the best competition.  For some of the best in the sport, the end of their season has involved travel to a far off tropical island.  Although the pinnacle event of the triathlon world has taken place annually in Hawaii since 1978, any race can be  "Your World Championship”.      

As I have stated a number of times before, my theory of endurance training for a healthy athlete wanting to be successful in the sport of triathlon is to plan a schedule around three workouts in each sport during a seven day block of training. More specifically, the week would consist of a short (intense), medium (tempo) and long (sustained) effort in each sport. In the Base and Build phases you would want to ideally have four workouts per sport to focus on expanding your endurance but three is what makes up the foundation of the plan.

In 1990, I competed in my first of nine Hawaii Ironman World Championships.  For the better part of four years I went from an athlete that competed in high school and college team sports (football, basketball and baseball) to doing running races and eventually shorter distances triathlons.  After a few years I progressed to a number of half Ironman events and eventually set my sites on Ironman. This progression is not unlike most triathletes.  Not only does it mimic our progression in the sport, it also is the suggested way to plan your season.  Start small and go faster/longer as your fitness grows.   Leading up to my first Hawaii Ironman I planned both a summer marathon and a full Ironman event to be ready for what Hawaii would be.  I figure that if I was going to be riding 112 miles and running a marathon then I should see if I could do them individually beforehand.  The six months of specific training with long rides and runs were invaluable to be ready for nine plus hours of racing.  I developed my 3x3 Method of Training over this time because with a family, job (and second job) I had limited time to devote to training but knew that I had to cover the basics to be ready for October.  Living in southern California I heard about the famous Tuesday runs and Wednesday rides that many of the area professionals took part in.  Following their lead, my weeks were built around a full day of training on Wednesdays to ride with a large group along Pacific Coast Highway and followed that with a 90 minute to two hour run.  I took a vacation day most Wednesdays from the end of May through September and trained like a pro.  Surprisingly it was easy to do with work not missing me for a day and all my training was done by the time I would have normally arrived home from work so as not to interfere with my family.  I left when our children went to school with the goal to be home before they arrived back.  Training with athletes better (much better) was really helpful and my abilities grew tenfold over my first summer of this type of training.  I sublimated my midweek training with a middle distance (50-75 miles) Saturday ride and long Sunday morning run.  My long run which was coincidently 20 miles home after church, was the key to a break through marathon of 2:34 on only my second attempt. I guess not knowing better than “hitting the wall” for 12 consecutive weeks would have such big results.

Sometimes being ignorant of the event’s true requirements and over-planning (without getting injured) can be a benefit come race day. Like all training plans, I was walking a thin line of overstressing my body to a point just before breaking.  As the summer passed, the marathon provided a stepping stone to my first Ironman (the inaugural Vineman) and as grueling as the day was, I was very close to my predicted times in each event and went 9:43.  For me, a systematic approach to training worked.  At least for my first go around. I found out with numerous additional attempts (17 total Ironmans) that training methodically for the race was not the issue for me.  Executing on race day was.  With initial success I was set on improving from my first taste of the Ironman distance.  That first year put me a spiral of doing races to qualify for Hawaii as well as competing at USAT National Championships, Military Championships and ITU World Championships as an age group athlete.  Each year my training schedule would revolve around developing a base in the spring, racing shorter races during the summer and then building for another attempt and the perfect race (from me) in Hawaii.  All that Periodization Training for more than a decade with a culminating October event made me better, but at the cost of often not being rested enough to perform at my best for many other races during each season.

In retrospect, my single focus with the goal of qualifying for and then racing in Hawaii was short sighted. It wasn’t that I didn’t race other races, in fact I raced a lot with 15-20 triathlons of varying distances each year. It’s just that I didn’t specifically train for events and only tapered for a few days here and there. Can you say “Cumulative fatigue”? It meant that when other big races came throughout the year I was not sharp. Although the results often looked like success, (winning 2 age group National Championships and 4 Military Championships) they were not at the level they possibly could have been with proper rest. At the professional level, this is one of the reasons the sport of triathlon has become so specialized.  ITU, non-drafting, Xterra, and Ironman/70.3 all have their specific athlete followers and rarely do they cross over. A notable exception occurred over the past two weeks with the IM 70.3 World Championships and the ITU Grand Finale when Javier Gomez and Ben Kanute went one-two at the IM 70.3 in Chattanooga and one week later raced in Copenhagen at the Olympic Distance World Series Championship.  Gomez represented himself with a top 5 overall finish but lacked the speed to compete down the final stretch of the 10k.  Of course his effort one week earlier that included a 1:10 half marathon to win the World Championships as well as the travel back to Europe took its toll and could be the explanation for not winning in Copenhagen. Over-training and over-racing will most often lead to a less than desired finish, but sometimes the experience (whether you’re a pro or age group athlete) is worth more than the race result.

All this is to say that each person should seek out their own “Championship Race” in order to have an event to focus their season on. It doesn’t have to be a World Championship, National Championship or even a highly recognized race. It just need to be “Your Championship Race”.  Sometimes it’s more enjoyable and affordable to be the “big fish” in your community race than just another Kona Qualified athlete in Hawaii.  Even if you are fortunate enough to go to Regional, National and World Championship races, don’t miss out on your local event because you had to do a long bike ride or run.  Show support for the event and the athletes participating by being there to compete.  The people doing their first race will have questions about how to do things and the veterans will be enjoying going head to head with an accomplished athlete.  It may be the only triathlon that some people will do and they return year after year.  That alone makes it their “Championship race” and although it make not rank highest on your season schedule, it’s a “Championship Race” whether you think it is or not so you better be ready—or your neighbor will have beaten a top athlete just “training through it.”

TIPS FOR HAVING YOUR BEST CHAMPIONSHIP RACE:

- When life stress takes over and it seems there is not enough time to train, remember that you must have a good balance to be successful so get things in order across the board and your training will fall into its rightful place depending on where it is on your “real” priority list.

- Take time to allow your body to heal from any injuries before they impact your entire season.  A short rest can also help you extend your racing schedule from early spring to late fall. By rest I mean doing a session that doesn’t cause additional impact or injury. Rotating your sessions should allow adequate rest of a few days or so in order to take care of any nagging issues.  

- Sleep more.  If that means doing workouts later in the day on a weekend then do it.  This doesn’t mean skip workouts (NO DOUGHNUTS). Just ensure that you have adequate sleep to perform your training at a high level.  During this time, use a few hours that would have been devoted to training to ice, massage, and heal your soreness.

-  Realize that you cannot race your best at every race, but your effort and attitude on race day can be the best you have for the day.  

-  Support your local and regional events. You don’t have to only chase the National Branded events to be a triathlete.  Often times you can do two or three events for the price of one and racing more often will make you a better triathlete.  Experience can be gained from event to event and carry over to “Your Championship Race”.

Friday, 11 August 2017 20:51

Nutrition: A Race Day Experiment of One

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Many times I have gone into Ironman races (I have done 16) with great fitness, only to be done in by a poor race day plan. Sometimes I would get caught up in the race and have too much intensity, other times I would take on too many calories and sometimes just the opposite, not enough. My experience has taught me that each race is different just like each person is unique and in reality we are an experiment of one.

As an endurance athlete, nutrition plays a key role with your everyday fitness and this is especially true at long distance events. Training and racing more than three hours requires an athlete to conquer an additional obstacle, nutrition. The natural progression for a new triathlete is to start with sprint and olympic distance races and after a few years of experience, move up to half or longer events. Along with increasing training volume, an athlete will also need to develop a nutrition plan. Deciding what works best for you is often a trial and error experience that needs to be tested in training and then executed on race day. What works for you may not work for another person. More maddening is that what once worked for you, may not work the next time you try to replicate it. Even a small change to your nutrition plan can potentially have a dramatic effect on your finish.

The common thought for fueling your race performance is to intake between 250-350 calories per hour (solid or liquid). This is dependent on a person's body size, intensity of the event and weather. It should be noted that solids require more liquid to digest and this is one reason why some athletes prefer to rely on sports drinks or gels and pass on solid food. In my early days of racing, Pedialyte, baby food and honey were common fuel for long distance racing. Of course over time endurance training and science have progressed to a point that testing can determine exactly a person’s nutritional requirements for an event and several companies have developed plans specifically for an athlete’s needs whether they are a professional or novice. However, don’t be afraid to develop your own nutrition plan by what foods work for you.

As a competitor of 30 plus half ironman distance races, I have only had a few instances of poor nutrition that affected my race performance. Racing under 5 hours doesn’t require continual fueling and refueling so poor nutrition isn’t as reflective in your finishing time. Additionally, when you are racing at shorter distances they don’t usually include extensive periods of walking like at an Ironman event and this can dramatically affect your ironman time. If you have to walk a combination of four miles over the 26.2 marathon, a racer will add about one hour to their finishing time. By managing your fuel intake, you will hopefully be able to have enough energy to finish the final leg with a steady pace. You can often get by with just a few gels and bottles of a sport drink on the bike plus water on the run at each aid station and you should be fine. When you have decided to take on the ironman distance, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t will take time to figure out. Nine times I raced in Hawaii and all but the first time (I was very naive) did nutrition play a major factor in my finish. One memorable time, I was walking up “Pay and Save Hill” about mile 9 of the old course and a spectator kiddingly offered me a burrito (Taco Bell was on the corner) and I took it. I know outside assistance is not allowed but I was totally bonking. Since it was 1991 I am way over the statute of limitations so I freely provide this as a fueling strategy if you are fortunate enough to get to Kona. As I walked up the rest of hill, I consumed the bean burrito along with a cup of Coke and by the time I got to the top I was ready to run again. Sometimes any calories that you can consume will help when you are on the brink of falling apart.

 

The real issue for race day fueling comes down to processing the calories that you take in compared to how many calories you burn per hour. For most people, they are only capable of digesting about 250-350 calories. Therefore the problem of burning more calories than you can consume puts an athlete in crisis mode after a few hours of intense racing. This is especially true the longer the race distance and the more extreme the weather conditions. Heat and humidity create a bigger obstacle than your competition because it is even more difficult to process calories when your body is trying to cool itself through perspiration and blood flow. Both of these functions take away water that would normally be used to digest your fuel intake.

It can be helpful to use foods that you are comfortable with and have been using on a continual basis for training. If you have not been using sports drinks or gels then ensure to train with them before implementing something different on race day. Consider using 1-2 gels per hour along with a sports drink (12-16 ounces) for middle to long distance races. It doesn’t mean that a candy bar taped to your seat post won’t work because pictures will confirm that the best women’s long distance triathlete ever relied on a Pay Day and Snickers Bar during her 112 mile ride on the Queen K. Additional calories can be taken in by liquid or a PowerBar type of solid nutrition. PB&J works wonders too. However, don’t overdo a good thing. Consuming too many calories in too short of period can result in an upset stomach, and a shutdown of your digestive system. If you have been exclusively using sugar products then you can also have a shutdown of processing these calories. If you then are unable to take in any calories because you don’t feel well, you will soon find yourself in a difficult struggle to continue racing. Another issue with racing longer events is that you may just get tired of eating. If this happens and you go off your nutrition plan, you may not be able to recover from it quickly. It will take a good 20-30 minutes once you take in something for it to make a noticeable difference.

Your long distance race day nutrition plan should start days before the event. Make sure to eat responsibly and take in liquids. However, I personally think that drinking too much water days before a race can be a detriment to your performance because it flushes sodium from your body. This can prove vital on a hot and humid day. On race morning consider taking in 500-700 calories several hours before the start. If you are able, have another 100-150 calories (a gel works well) about 30 minutes before the start of the race. Once you are out of the water and on your bike leg start taking in calories about 20 minutes into your ride. This allows for your blood to transfer from your upper body from swimming to your lower body for cycling. About every 15 to 30 minutes you will want to intake 50-75 calories all the way up to the last miles of the bike. For the Ironman distance, even at the 100 mile mark you still have 30-45 more minutes remaining before you start your run so it is vital to top off your fuel because it is much easier to take calories on the bike than the run.

Most often you will only take a few gels for the entire run plus what is on the course for liquid and food sources. Salty items like chips and pretzels are offered at most IM courses and can be a way to add sodium into your plan but do require water so plan accordingly. Sometimes fruit is another favorite food and its water and sugar content proves to be very helpful in refueling. One of the most difficult parts of long racing is to balance the food consumption with digestion. Too much means bloating and stomach distress...you get the picture. Practice makes perfect but it is not easy to practice (simulate) a 5-10 hour or more day of racing and have it ever go the same.

Best of luck with your experience of one.

Doug Marocco is a 9-time Hawaii Ironman finisher with a IM PR of 9:23:04, USAT Age Group and 4X Military Triathlon National Champion.

Sunday, 20 March 2016 15:14

Make the Early Season Count

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The month of April marks the start of triathlon race season for many people on the east coast and soon summer in all its hot and humid glory will be upon us.  Just as professional baseball players go to “spring training” or football players compete in the “pre-season,” triathletes often use their races at the beginning of the season to work on increasing their fitness level, sharpen transitions skills and get the feel for going from one discipline to another at race pace. 

Spring is often the time that many triathletes train by just logging lots and lots of miles without any real plan. They are “just getting into it” and since their goal “A” race is months away, they will not start toward it until the weather turns more consistent. Although it is important to accumulate miles during the Base Phase of Periodization, an athlete still needs to have a plan that will provide an adequate foundation (Base) to progress into the next two phases (Sustainment and Intensity). Each phase is a building block to the next and taking shortcuts or not having actual accountability for what needs to be accomplished to reach Peak Phase will not allow a person to reach their full potential or at a minimum improve on past race results.

The basics of how an athlete gets ready to race in events from the Olympic distance all the way up to Ironman is about the same. Many athletes that are new to endurance training are not sure of how much (volume) and how hard (intensity) they can push their individual or string of workouts along so they continually exercise in a moderate heart rate zone. For those that are new and exceptionally motivated they often train in the highest HR and power zones which taxes the recovery system and has a real potential for injury. In either case, they are doing only one phase of what is required with Periodization. Maximizing performance for all athletes starts by building their aerobic base and then progressing through the additional phases of a Periodization cycle.

A simple way to look at a training plan is to follow the basic concepts of plan, prepare and perform. Once you have results from a quality training session or race, then you can assess and re-do your plan to make any required changes to prepare better than the past time period. Even if everything went well, you will have to continually tweak or make adjustments to build upon past accomplishments because your base level will plateau and a only a change in volume or intensity will allow for improvement.     

PLAN

Ensure that you use your early season to gradually build your endurance while you listen to your body and discipline yourself to recover effectively. Build intensity only sparingly as well.  It seems common for many triathletes to consider doing an early season half or even full Ironman race when in most cases they have not been able to accumulate the mileage required of the event due to various factors including weather, daylight, etc... You have to seriously consider if you can be ready both physically and mentally to race the event. Even if you consider a long distance race a "training event" it is still important to be training for the distance and have a quality result to build confidence.

PREPARE

Your training cycles should progressively move you toward being comfortable with the distance you will be racing so volume and frequency are important. This will vary based on your available time and the length of event that you will be focusing on.  Be patient with your program and you will eventually see gains. You will not get in shape in a few days or weeks, but over consistent planned training.  By making adjustments to the volume, frequency and intensity of your training while incorporating a period of rest, you will see improvement in your training and racing.  Don't be confused that rest means "no activity" moreover; it means an active period with less volume, frequency and intensity.  This period will allow your body to adapt to heavy load of the Base Phase, and speed of the Intensity Phase and rebuild it for another step up of your Periodization Training.  When I develop a plan for a working athlete, I rarely build in rest days because I know that life activities require days that have less or no training. Those days become your rest day and thus you shouldn’t have another rest day that week built in. Sure, you could swap them but most people are better off with low intensity than total rest. Real rest comes from quality sleep so make that a priority when life stresses built up. 

PERFORM

The sport of triathlon is unique in that it is often difficult to measure improvement on the race course since times vary from course to course due to a variety of factors like properly measured distances, weather conditions and terrain. Rarely is a course measured exactly to meet its labeled distance. They may get the run correct but swim distance and especially the bike are dependent on the whim of the venue.  When you hear that everyone is happy about swimming a PR, most likely it was not measure properly or you were swimming with the current. The best way to  see improvement is in your training sessions.  You will know the time and distance spent in the water, on the bike and on your feet over courses that you have repeatedly done. As the season goes on, you will feel stronger and have more endurance.  The goal should be to add another 500yd in the pool, 10 more miles on the bike or another mile or two on the run. Eventually you then build on that step up and so on. It's all cumulative.  However, realize that a person still only has a certain amount of time and endurance to train. If you shift focus from one sport to another, something usually gives. Running or riding more may make your swim training sessions become slower because you have increased volume in another area and are tired. You only have so much to give and when you are spent it's time to recover and then race. Your performance should be at its best right after a peak in training followed by a short recovery phase. Depending on how it goes is how you adjust to do it all over again.

By planning out your early season training and racing through shorter more intense events you will have laid the groundwork for an epic half or full Ironman later in the year. Most importantly you will feel much stronger and avoid injury so that you are able to actually make it to the start line in September or October.  So plan, prepare, perform and make the early season count!  

 

About the author: Doug Marocco is a nine-time (9X) Hawaii Ironman finisher with a PR of 9:23:04. In addition, he has been a USAT All-American for the past two decades while winning two (2X) National Age-Group titles and four (4X) Military National Championships among his 47 overall wins. An accomplished Marathon runner, Marocco has a PR of 2:33 in his 37 finishes at the 26.2 mile distance.

"Junk miles" have often been given a bad name. If you are an aspiring triathlete, you will need to put in some time to get better and that includes "junk miles". Most age group triathletes, even competitive ones don't do enough miles to compete at their highest possible level. Life and responsibilities take priority and that is completely understandable since it is not ones chosen profession.

Anyone that is new to the sport is able to make quick gains because they are increasing time and distance in one, two or even three sports and the effect on improving endurance is immediately noticeable. However, after the initial months̶—and then years—of training have transpired anathlete will eventually reach a plateau. After that, most athletes need to be doing more. That is when the real work to get better actually begins.

We are each an "an experiment of one." Myy knowledge and experience gained over the past 30 years has proven to me that "racing" a high quality half (70.3) or Ironman distance (140.6) event requires as much 15-20 hours a week to be competitive on a high level. To consider being among those athletes battling for a slot to IM  Kona you may be doing somewhere in the area of 25-30 hours during a big block period of training. Realistically, that probably means 10,000yd in the pool with 15,000yd or so on some occasions. This is 3 to 4 sessions weekly. Since cycling makes up most of the event (if you run the run) you are looking at 200-250 (or more) miles on the bike and if you plan it right (take some Wednesday vacation days) that would be include mid-week and weekend long rides. You can add another 100 "junk miles" in somewhere else during the week for a 300 total if it's possible. This kind of volume will give you conditioning and most importantly the confidence that you will be ready for a long day of racing.

The run is another story. I consider 40 miles as a baseline and more is better except that more usually brings on injury. This can be accomplished with a long Brick (following your Wednesday long ride) and a long weekend run and another one or two shorter runs. The fine line of balancing injury and further conditioning is usually the "junk miles". Hence, more is better…until it isn’t. Yes, one more long run on tired legs may mean the difference in finishing the race strong. Or string a few of these in a row and you may end up hurt and not get to the starting line at all. Because we are an experiment of one, what someone else does may not be what works for you. However if you don’t reach that point on the edge, you just won't ever know.  

This all seems very basic and self-explanatory for a race that will take somewhere between 8 and 12 hours. Do this for 3-5 years and you will be ready to train for racing an IM. Then all you need to do is a quality 12-16 week buildup and you will be ready to do well at IM. There may be a few people with the talent to get away with less, but most can't. If you are able to do the other things right like massage, nutrition, sleep, work or life issues (no spouse/sig other or children) and the disposable income you will be even better. Combine all that just right and you could be up front for an Age Group spot on the podium in Kona!

If you break down your week with another view of 20 hours, that may consist of 10-12 hours riding (say you ride an average of 20mph)that gives the magic 200. If you can add 5 hours of running at 7-8 mph, you’re at 35-40 miles and then another 4-5 hours of swimming (with intervals) gets  you in at 15,000. Those miles are hard to sustain with a normal life that includes work, family, children, housework and so on. The real killer is having those as averages for 8-10 weeks prior to the taper for Ironman. Sure, you can surge and get a 300 mile week on the bike with a Monday holiday, but if the next 2 weeks are at 125 miles then the 3 week average is under 200—and that is short of the goal. For amateurs, it becomes a great big compromise and pressure to get in the miles needed to do well. If you don't get adequate training, or worse, you try to sustain the training without a solid winter base, or some overtime at work then fatigue, slop, and/or injury will inevitably show up.

Everyone's view of the details is slightly different, but no matter what, it is going to take time, dedication, sacrifice and perseverance. All those things most people already know, they just don't realize how much of all of it is really required. You can get by with a 75% effort and finish. The more you do the better you will get…up to reaching the fine line of doing the most you can, to be the best you can be (and then nothing more because everything over that breaks you back down). So be an experiment of one for a decade or so and see where it takes you. 

 

About the author: Doug Marocco is a nine-time (9X) Hawaii Ironman finisher with a PR of 9:23:04. In addition, he has been a USAT All-American for the past two decades while winning two (2X) National Age-Group titles and four (4X) Military National Championships among his 47 overall wins. An accomplished Marathon runner, Marocco has a PR of 2:33 in his 37 finishes at the 26.2 mile distance.