Tag Archives: coaching

Technique Training 101

“They say the world’s most intuitive swimmers can sense the water catching in the whorls of their fingertips.”
Gold in the Water, P.H. Mullen


The concept of technique training applies equally to all strokes, strides, and swings. Be it a swimmers stroke, a runners stride, a tennis players or golfers swing, or as in this case a cyclists pedal stroke: the more fluid the movement, the more efficient it will be at utilizing energy (i.e. endurance) and more effective at generating power (i.e. speed).


Ever receive the training advice that its important to have a smooth cycling stroke instead of a rectangular (up/down) or square pattern?

Ever receive the training advice that in order to smoothen out your pedal stroke all you have to do is think about it, or do a few drills – e.g. one legged cycling – and the roughness will be worked out?

Its typical training advice, but as with most ‘typical’ advice, its incomplete or just incorrect.

To smoothen out a cycling stroke requires refining the movement to higher and higher degrees of quality. Higher degrees of movement quality depends on three biomechanical components: range of motion (ROM), flexibility, and mobility. If you do not have these three or if you are not training to improve these three, then there is no amount of repetition that will simply cause you to improve the quality of any stroke, stride, or swing. Case in point: there is no amount of riding on a flat tire that will make it full again; the problem needs to be corrected before you go any further.

To improve in technique starts with improving range of motion, flexibility, and eventually putting it altogether as mobility. The role of flexibility and mobility in sport specific technique can be illustrated using the following shapes…

Using the corners of each shape to represent one (1) joint and its surrounding muscles, we can visualized the role range of motion (ROM), flexibility, and mobility play in movement.

A triangle represents a movement which uses three (3) joints and the muscles surrounding those three (3) joints. For example, imagine that your cycling stroke is generated entirely from the following three (3) joints: the ankle, the knee, and the hip. The smoothness of that stroke can be visualized by imagining how well a three sided object – a triangle – rolls on the ground.  Imagine you had a bicycle wheel shaped like a triangle… how much fun would that be to ride? Not much. Bumpy, rigid, uncomfortable, and on occasion rough enough that you could be thrown off.

If you pedal using only three (3) joints, if you are limited in your ROM, flexibility, and mobility such that you can only recruit the muscles of those three (3) joints, then can you see how training in the sport is guaranteed to eventually lead to injury?

Worse, despite being limited in movement, athletes train or are coached to train speed, distance, and worst of all, power. Imagine training on a bicycle which has triangle wheels and your coach instructs you to perform hi intensity intervals over and over. Besides being unsafe, what value is there to trying to hit higher wattage on triangle wheels when your competitors have refined their technique so they are riding on hexagonal or octagonal shaped wheels?

The fact that it may be hard training, and hard to train on triangular wheels doesn’t mean that the training is going to improve you as an athlete, it just means that you may improve your ability to ride on triangles. If that’s your goal, then great. If not, then who cares how much training you do, or what peak power data point you can generate on triangles. Its meaningless training, and meaningless data if your goal is to become efficient, because like riding on a flat tire, training power will never result in improvements in ROM, flexibility, or mobility (in fact, HiiT will slowly reduce ROM, flexibility and mobility setting you further back).

The outcome to training with insufficient ROM, flexibility, and mobility is predictable and consistent: gains, which require increasing amounts of effort to achieve and to maintain, eventually yield pain, injury, or illness (i.e. you decimate your immune system from the repeated HiiT sessions trying to achieve and then maintain a peak speed or power level). Time spent recovering from illness or in rehab results in the athlete losing the majority of the gains made. The athlete – who fails to resolve their ROM limitations – who returns to training repeating the cycle over and over, eventually becomes either so injured, so ill, or so disappointed and frustrated that they either change sports or quit sport entirely.

There is another way: its called smart training (aka technique training).

Imagine the athlete above who wants to improve their cycling and instead of fixating on power, finds themselves a coach – who knows how to coach technique, hence ROM, flexibility, mobility, core & breathing – and teaches the athlete how to add just one (1) more joint to the movement of their cycling stroke. Instead of a triangle (3 joints), the athlete now has a square (4 joints). A bicycle with square wheels is not amazing to ride, but it is way way better than triangles, and its a step towards learning how to round the wheel further so that it eventually becomes… a beautiful round smooth circle (as in a beautifully balanced efficient round pedal stroke).

From this example, can you start to see how progress in technique can make cycling, or any sport, easier? Can you start to see how grinding away trying to force more and more power from a limited number of joints and muscles (e.g. a triangle) is a recipe for disaster? Can you see how pointless all the recovery tactics, sports nutrition, foam rolling, and compression clothing are when you do not have proper technique? Of course you need it.  Who wouldn’t need the full assortment of recovery tools after riding a bicycle with triangle wheels for a few hours, or swimming with a triangular stroke after a few thousand meters, or after running any distance with a triangular running stride. No wonder why you have DOMS, ache, suffer from chronic pains or injuries… simple, you do not have the ROM, the flexibility, the mobility to train in the way you are training, to train as hard as you train.

To elaborate on the concept of technique training, lets discuss power (i.e. watts) as it seems to be all the rage today amongst amateur and pro athletes…

Going back to our example of a triangle and a cyclist using just three (3) joints… if that cyclist is using only those three (3) joints, that means that all of the power, all the watts that that cyclist wants to generate has to come from just the muscles around those three (3) joints.

Stop and think about the ramifications of forcing just those muscles around those three joints to cough up more and more watts. Now consider an athlete of comparable conditioning but who has just a tad more flexibility and mobility and is able to use four (4) joints and the surrounding muscles of all four of the joints to generate power. See the problem? There is no amount of conditioning (i.e. hard training aka HiiT sessions) that the athlete with three (3) joints can do in order to generate anywhere close to the power the athlete who has four (4) joints (or degrees of movement) at their disposal.

If the goal of an athlete is to become a cyclist who can hold more watts over more distance or time, then training watts makes sense only after they have come close to reaching their full flexibility and maximum level of mobility. Meanwhile, countless athletes and coaches do just the opposite… relegate flexibility and mobility to the background as if it is backup training, or rainy day training. Yet it is just the opposite: any athlete without full range of motion (ROM), must have flexibility and mobility as their primary form of training.

Let’s use an example to elaborate on how range of motion impacts energy system usage, hence the ability to generate sustained power. Consider three athletes who all have the target of holding 300 watts x 3hrs (e.g. half iron distance triathlon bike split):

  • Athlete ‘A’ has 3 joints (and all surrounding muscles available), so to generate a total of 300 watts they need to generate 100 watts per joint/surrounding muscles.
  • Athlete ‘B’ has 4 joints, so they need to generate 75 watts per joint.
  • Athlete ‘C’ has 6 joints of flexibility/mobility, so they need to generate 50 watts per joint.

Ever wonder how Olympic level athletes make their performance appear effortless? Having trained to generate movement across so many more joints and muscle groups than the average athlete, let alone average person, international level athletes simply spread the load across so much of their body, that the execution of their sport specific technique truly does become effortless. Its not talent that leads to the podium, its diligent consistent focused training of technique that creates consistent peak performers.

Of the three athletes above, who do you suppose…

  • Will be able to sustain 300 watts for 3 hours with the greatest ease?
  • Will come off the bike able to run with the greatest ease?
  • Will be able to train more consistently without risk of injury, burn out, or max out?

Any question as to why training power without flexibility and mobility is a waste, why hard training is a waste of time, effort, and resources?

Any question why training hard, harder, and harder still is dumb, dumber, and dumber-er?

Now imagine if the athlete with 6 degrees of flexibility/mobility works on gaining even more flexibility and mobility… say 7 or 8 degrees of movement. They will continue to spread the workload of 300 watts over more and more joints and muscles, further reducing risks of injury, reducing the max effort any single muscle must give, increasing the wattage at which they hit lactate threshold, while simultaneously reducing the strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, increasing speed, endurance, and power.

Can you appreciate, that for the athlete who spreads the workload over more and more of their body, that performing their sport at higher speeds is easier, not harder compared to the athlete who has less ROM, less flexibility, less mobility! Not only is it easier, but the athlete with more ROM, more flexibility, more mobility has to put forth less effort in order to hold similar speed or even higher speeds than an athlete limited in their freedom of movement. You cannot compete with that by training harder; there is no amount of hard training that will level the playing field between two athletes who have different ranges of motion (ROM).

For any athlete serious about competing, serious about competition, and who has not considered the role of ROM, flexibility, and mobility on performance, this should be game changing. Yet, we have not even begun to discuss the impact ROM, flexibility, and mobility have on raising an athlete’s aerobic and anaerobic threshold!

Consider that the three athletes above all reach their anaerobic threshold at 75 watts per joint. If all three athletes are asked to produce 400 watts of power, how long will each athlete last?

  • Athlete ‘A’ with three (3) degrees of freedom can only generate at threshold 225 watts (75 watts per joint x 3 joints), so they may be able to produce 400 watts for a few seconds, maybe half a minute.
  • Athlete ‘B’ who has four (4) degrees of freedom can generate 300 watts of power, so they may be able to last for a minute or two.
  • Athlete ‘C’ who has six (6) degrees of freedom can generate 450 watts of power at threshold, so to produce 400 watts is not an issue and theoretically, they could last hours.

Ever wonder how athletes like Phelps, Froome, the Brownlees, Jorgensen, Duffy et al. can dominate, I mean absolutely dominate for years with their next competitor nowhere close?

Because they aren’t obsessed with hard training. They train smart. They have always trained smart and they continue to train smart. Eventually, they just got so smart in their ability to move that they entered a league all of their own.

You know why Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf doesn’t use a power meter while competing… because she doesn’t need one. She is nowhere close to redlining while biking at a speed which drops the entire field of pro women. What’s the point in weighing her bike down with a power meter? Ryf can cruise along on the bike while everyone else struggles, puts in a massive gap between her and her competitors giving her the freedom to run within herself. Now that’s training to win, vs hard training which is… training to suffer, to maximize pain, its training to lose!

If your coach has you participating in spin classes, all-out sessions on your trainer, doing hills repeats and track intervals until you puke or taste blood… still think it sounds all that smart?

Your current coach may be a ‘good guy or gal’, with good intentions, well meaning, they may even have built a name for themselves as a coach, but it doesn’t mean that they have any clue how to actually train an athlete to their potential, progressing them consistently while making them healthier and happier all at the same time.

Your coach may prescribe you hard, even insanely hard workouts, but I hope after this post you will appreciate if that is all that they know, it ain’t anything worth sticking around for as the results they can generate only lead to a dead end.

If you want to swim, ride and run with speed, then find a coach who themselves are not riding around on triangles in life. A coach who understands how to smoothen out wheels until they are round can teach you how to round out your own making traveling in sport and life, easier, faster, and way way more fun.


“They say the world’s most intuitive swimmers can sense the water catching in the whorls of their fingertips.”
Gold in the Water, P.H. Mullen

Think about that for a second…  while swimming are you so aware of all your joints, all your muscles, all the movement happening in and around your body that you not only feel but understand the significance and meaning of each vortex coming off each finger?

What about while cycling?

What about when running?

Are you aware of the the vortices coming off you as a cyclist, and how changing your body position changes your drag coefficient? Can you change your position to maximize efficiency on the fly? What about ground reaction forces while running? Can you feel? Do you feel how to land on the ground so as to minimize braking and impact forces, instead maintaining momentum so that you glide, not plod or pound?

Its no different in any other sport. Swimming is not more technical than any other sport. Cycling, running, tennis, golf, the martial arts, all sports have nuances that the best of the best in the sport study and train so as to be able to execute in competition.

The opportunities are endless: with over 300 joints in the human body, synchronizing your body to operate in a manner never before considered is available to us all. The chance to create a new way to execute technique, tactics, strategy are waiting for those who want to be pioneers.

Question is… are you going to continue banging your head training hard, or will you open your mind up to training which challenges you to be smarter, even smarter than your competition?

Is VanderLinden Healthy?

Background

Stress is the basis for 80-85% of all diseases and medical diagnoses. We cannot eliminate stress in life, therefore it is the inability to manage the  stress of life that is the source of almost all major ailments, injuries, illnesses and diseases.

The corollary is that health is the ability to manage stress: physical, mental, and emotional stresses under varying circumstances and durations.  Health is a level of robustness, a type of flexibility that allows us to rebound from stress. It is a state of anti-fragility achieved by balancing training and rest, while developing and rehearsing strategies in preparation for the next time that we do engage a stress/stressor.

It stands to reason then that a professional athlete should be an expert in health as the entire focus of a pro athlete is to develop themselves to handle the physical stress of training, the mental stress of competition, of competitors, of juggling their sport organizations, sponsors, of home and work life, and the emotional stress of failing forwards in order to achieve their goals.

For a professional athlete to be unhealthy, to have failed at managing stress is a contradiction of states, its an incongruency. To be an athlete and to be unhealthy is to fail at the exact skill set that you are supposed to excel, to model. For a pro athlete to compromise or sacrifice health to achieve performance goals contradicts the very meaning of athleticism. To be a pro athlete means to be equally adept at planning and laying out appropriate timelines for goals, preventing over-reach, ambition, desire, and covetousness from taking over.

As a coach, to have an athlete who is unhealthy is to have failed in the role of teacher, mentor, advisor. It is to have overexposed your student to stress without appropriate preparation, with insufficient training and/or rest. It is to have demanded too much of your apprentice too soon.

I believe that we have forgotten what it truly means to be an athlete, what it truly means to coach.

To be an athlete used to mean pursuing your potential through exploration, learning, skill acquisition and development. Now the objective seems to be all about sourcing the short cuts which will deliver desired goals, where the attitude is anything goes, including the sacrifice, compromise, gambling and leveraging of health to cut the process to a minimum regardless of consequences and repercussions. We go so far as to call this approach active, healthy, balanced living.

As a health professional, a coach and athlete, I see swimmers, cyclists, runners, and triathletes all trying to achieve ‘healthy’ using this mindset, but instead of developing robustness, flexibility and capacity, they have become brittle, fragile, rigid, inflexible, chronically injured, ill, and overweight. Instead of gaining and enjoying freedom, they have become jailed and debilitated by their training and racing. The belief at the root of this dysfunction is that if we only try harder, push harder… the health which has eluded us will finally arrive.

Discussion

In a 2016 Triathlon Magazine Canada article, pro triathlete Alex VanderLinden shared that this summer he dealt with ” low energy, poor recovery, lack of motivation” and having some blood work done was informed that he had a B12 deficiency and low testosterone.

Pro athletes who are unhealthy tend to make it seem as if their issues are mere inconveniences, ‘flesh wounds’ as in the Monty Python Dark Knight skit, not an indicator of anything significant.

To be injured, to be ill, to be unhealthy is a state that a pro athlete cannot be in. It is no different than a bank going bankrupt… its not supposed to happen, banks are supposed to be impenetrable institutions, no different than the body, mind, and spirit of a pro athlete.

When things don’t go as planned, we should stop.  We don’t.
Instead we resume training, typically training even harder.

To progress, an athlete must honestly evaluate training, recovery, competitions, appraising the value of each and every aspect to adjust upcoming cycles. When an athlete begins to suffer pain, dysfunction, injury, illness, or ends up developing symptoms to a syndrome, or a full blown medical condition training should come to an absolute halt so that a thorough autopsy is performed to ascertain what went wrong.

In Formula One, Indy, and World Tour racing, the cars and bikes used by the athletes are routinely stripped down to the frame. Every screw is examined, regreased, and retightened exactly to spec. Cables and fairings are inspected, repaired or replaced, and engines or gears and chain are taken apart, then put back together. Nothing is left to chance, absolutely nothing.

Apparently we respect cars and bikes more than we respect ourselves, more than we respect our bodies, minds, and spirits because how often do you hear athletes taking such care of themselves? How often do you hear of coaches analyzing training and racing to such a degree to improve performance while preventing over-training, injury, burn out or blow out by their athletes?

Instead, we have set our narratives of athlete and coach precluding us from seeing what needs to be seen, preventing us from stopping. Our narratives as they stand now:

  • Athletes are models of health, of vitality, of physical, mental and emotional capacity.  To be an athlete is to be healthy.  Athletes achieve this health, by training. Therefore, to be an athlete is to train. It follows then that not to train, implies that you are not being an athlete, that you are not pursuing health or are not healthy since you are not training.
  • A coach is someone who is educated and experienced to train athletes, hence coaches are reservoirs of information and wisdom in how to achieve health: physical, mental and emotional well-being. To coach is to train athletes. If a coach is coaching, then their athletes are training. It follows then that athletes who are not training, are not being coached.

See the problem? These narratives preclude stopping, resting, recovering.  As a result, athletes cannot rehabilitate fully, cannot rest, recovery or heal completely, because not to train means not to be an athlete.  We have cornered ourselves where we cannot stop even when continuing on causes us pain, causes us injury, causes us illness… we are driving ourselves into disease and cannot stop because we are trapped in a negative spiral, a doom loop of our own creation.

We can be on a handful of medications, need regular medical appointments, require taping, bracing, medical grade compression stockings, receive regular adjustments, massages, and therapy, we can ever suffer a heart attack or stroke, but as long as we get in our training… because of these narratives, we are convinced that we are truly healthy.

In psychology, a state of contradiction is called: denial.

Bent on upholding that our lifestyle, our training, our coach, and our lack of recovery is healthy, athletes will injure themselves, drive themselves to extremes of over-training with the resulting physiological and psychological chaos written off as bad luck, bad genetics, or just bad timing.

Bent on upholding our narratives, by refusing to question the status quo:

  1. Training is never questioned, never doubted, never evaluated to ascertain if it is truly delivering desired goals without undesirable consequences;
  2. Coaching is never questioned, never doubted, never assessed to determine if the philosophy is capable of delivering desired goals without undesirable consequences; and,
  3. Rest, napping, sleeping, downtime, real recovery including appropriate pre-hab & rehab, total rejuvenation, full healing are all impossibilities because none exist in the narratives we use to define health, wellness, well-being.

As an athlete or coach, to have your training methodology questioned is one thing, but to have to consider your training methodology as wrong… well, that’s just not going to happen, and if it does happen then there will be no admission to being wrong.  Too much rides on being right despite the risk of harm that we refuse to admit ignorance or incompetence when it comes to our own health, hoping that ‘good intentions’ will insure us against unwanted side effects.

In psychology, the term describing the refusal to challenge and confront narratives, thus to live in contradiction (i.e. denial) is: cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive Dissonance:  The mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time; performs an action that is contradictory to their beliefs, ideas, or values; or is confronted by new information that conflicts with existing beliefs, ideas or values.[1][2]  [From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

Cognitive dissonance regarding our health and the resulting lack of health is our new normal. How else do you explain the popularization of the adage “no pain, no gain”? We deny the deep pain we live in, we normalize inner turmoil to the point that we inflict harm to ourselves to override the divide, to deaden the inner conflicts we struggle with when we refuse to deal with our fears.

OVER-TRAINING in the best cases, DEATH in the worst.

Ask athletes or coaches if their athletes over-train, are over-trained and the reaction will be… get outta here, no way, never! There can be no such thing as over-training because by our own narratives over-training is synonymous with being over-healthy. No one would admit to being ‘over-healthy’ therefore over-training is an impossibility.

Physical injury, mental impairment, and emotional fragility should suffice as clues to an athlete and their coach that something is wrong. But nothing is ever wrong in a society where “no pain, no gain” is the reigning mindset towards life: you weren’t wrong, you just didn’t suffer enough, you didn’t try hard enough. Its a society where crawling across finish lines is heroic (instead of mindless), where inflicting and tolerating pain is a testament to manliness or womanliness.

Where does it end?

Stage 1 Over-Training ends typically with an injury, an impairment, or illness of some sort. If proper rest and recovery or rehab are provided, then the athlete can return to a balanced state, a state of being healthy, truly healthy, but these days the mindset is screw that, get adjusted, get taped, foam roll, wear compression clothing, add a brace, get a prescription, pop the pills, get back out asap to training as these imply health. Its cosmetic health, but hey, cosmetic health is good enough because at least you look healthy. As a result we skip Stage 1, and we speed right along into Stage 2.

Stage 2 Over-Training is marked by weight gain or weight retention due to increasing and/or unmanageable levels of stress and the subsequent flooding of cortisol into our blood. The availability of so-called sports nutrition products (i.e. candy for adults) gloss over the signs and symptoms of Stage 2 leading most to continue along, unaware of the damage they inflict to their physiology and psychology. The fueling with gels, sports drinks, and every other sugar laced product power the adrenalin-cortisol hyped workouts and state of mind, ushering the athlete onto Stage 3.

Stage 3 Over-Training starts with diminishing or negative returns from training as the credit account of health is nearly depleted, leaving nothing further to leverage. Stage 3 is when athletes start to suffer from issues such as metabolic disorders, food sensitivities and intolerances, hormonal imbalances, neuro-endocrine fatigue, arrythmias, anxiety, insomnia amongst other signs and symptoms. Whereas in Stage 2 athletes start to underperform in competition, in Stage 3 athletes start to dislike, even hate competing. The stress of competition simply overwhelms them, but being so far gone these athletes come to the conclusion that they are simply bad at racing, good at training, so they train even harder as a compensatory reaction. Stage 3 makes its presence known in a myriad of ways which is why it confuses athletes, coaches, even health care professionals: multiple signs and symptoms develop over a period of time dilute connections. Signs and symptoms pop up across all 3 dimensions: physical, mental, and emotional, and to further confuse the matter, pop up in combinations. Stage 3 asserts itself when the individual finally breakdowns, often ending up with a physical or mental medical diagnosis (a diagnosis that they fall on as a crutch to explain their condition, as opposed to realizing that how they have trained has resulted in this condition). In the worst scenarios, the individual never makes it to an health professional until after they suffer a heart attack, a stroke, fall into severe depression or worse, skip right to the final scene: dead.

I encourage all athletes to consider… if your training, if the coaching you are receiving is not moving you towards your goals and improving your health, then what is the end game of the path you are on?  Think about it now, before you end up any farther down the path, and hopefully long before you end up in an hospital Emergency Room.

Here are links to a series on the topic of Over-Training from the website breakingmuscle.com:

  1. Part 1 – Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stage of Overtraining
  2. Part 2 – Overtraining Can Kill You: The 3 Stage of Overtraining

VanderLinden isn’t the only pro triathlete with health issues… fellow pro triathlete Cody Beals shared that he faced similar issues earlier in 2016, and now pro Matt Bach wrote an article on these exact same health issues. Question is how many more pros are there who are not healthy, but are training and racing as if they are? How many are pressing on like Monty Python’s Dark Knight believing that “tis only a flesh wound” and that they are fit to fight? For their own sake, and for the sake of all those that these pros serve as role models… I can only hope that they are awakened to the fact that they are hurting themselves by how they are training, that how they train is what is inflicting the damage. Health and returning to training and racing healthy is possible, but not on the path that they are currently on.


P.S.  An acquaintance shared that they heard of a young guy, 40’ish, a husband, a father of two who recently played a game of shiny. After the game he had an heart attack and died. What would we have said if he was 70? Likely, sorry, that is sad, but considering his age an heart attack is not entirely unexpected.  If he was 60 we would have said, oh, that is unexpected. If he was 50, we would be shocked, saying wow, that is young. So what do you say when a 40 year old dies of a heart attack? It says our definition as a society of health, of being healthy, of exercise, of being active and fit are wrong, totally wrong wrong wrong. It says that how we are pursuing health, fitness, performance is incorrect. Think about it. Know anyone who was too young to die?

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World [2]

This post is not a review of the Ventum One. The purpose of referencing the review of this TT frame is to draw the parallel to training and racing concepts formulated “in the lab”.


ventum-one01According to the company, the Ventum One frame is so fast, so aerodynamic that when testing was performed in the laboratory setting of a wind tunnel, the wind tunnel engineer himself did not believe the results.

“In the lab” against top frames from other bike builders, the Ventum One tested to be the fastest.

“In the lab” results pointed to the Ventum One being the bike upon which athlete after athlete would rewrite record after record of bike course splits in triathlons.

Then the bike was taken out of the lab, out of the wind tunnel, and exposed to reality…

In reality… to compensate for a stable two triangle frame being replaced with a Z frame shape, the reinforcements of the chainstays, the seat tube, and toptube add 1kg / 2.2lbs of weight. Considering that athletes seek to shed ounces and grams of weight, adding back a kilogram to overall weight may not hamper wind tunnel tests, but in the real world that load matters, alot.

In reality… wind never blows head on for more than a few moments (as it does in a wind tunnel), and even when it does athletes do not hold a straight line, resulting in the front end of the bike veering to the left/right or being angled to the left/right changing constantly the airflow over the bike. As a result, reality diminishes the value of eliminating the downtube, especially when firmness and stability get compromised. The lab fails to offer these insight. Despite all of the technology of the lab, you have to leave the lab to learn the true nature of the frames performance [important to note that the same applies to you and your performance].

In reality… if the frame is unable to handle the torsional stress of a rider climbing, because the rear wheel rubs against the frame, you have to ask yourself… do the lab results really matter? If so, how much? Perhaps the frame is fast… but the conditions to when it is faster than another frame need to be accurately and honestly disclosed (e.g. on a dead flat bike course, and only if the rider doesn’t stand to attack for any extended period of time).

The point of this post is not to review the Ventum One, the purpose is to highlight again that “in the lab” matters only if bikes were raced in a lab, only if triathlons were raced in the lab, only if life was lived in a laboratory.  It isn’t. None of it is, ever. No competition is held in a lab, nor in lab-like conditions, so there is no point to lab results unless they are balanced with real world testing, then testing to assess whether or not the results apply to the athlete: to you.

This applies to aerodynamics, and it applies to everything else: training concepts, sport specific technique, nutrition and hydration strategies, competition tactics, recovery tools, …everything.

Lab results dumb-down reality [to a single variable].

In the lab, the goal is to hold all but one variable constant so that changes in that one variable can be isolated and measured. In reality, never does everything remain constant. In reality, everything is changing, and constantly so. Therefore taking lab results and applying them indiscriminately to all athletes, all conditions, all the time is simply dumbing down sport, training, racing as if all that has to happen is that one number, one set of conditions must be met for everything to work out perfectly, all the time. If it were that simple, then winning Olympic gold would already be written into an algorithm and sold as an app available to all. It ain’t because success does not follow a cookie cutter pattern. You cannot download a one size fits all spreadsheet detailing your path to success.  Success is individual.

Athletes and coaches must appreciate that training and competing can only be based on ongoing evaluation of every aspect of performance because the only experimentation and the only results that matter to the athlete, are the athlete’s own.

Training and competing need to be approached as one ongoing experiment, where the athlete is n, n=1, and all that matters to n are the results of n. Lab results, studies, research findings are great starting places but they are not definitive for anyone or anything. Everything has to be applied to n, to evaluate if there is a net benefit to n, and if so, how much, under what conditions, with what consequences in the short-term, and in the long-term.

Its no wonder that amateurs and professional athletes train in circles, failing to improve despite countless hours in the pool, on the road, in the gym. If “in the lab” results are indiscriminately applied to the training and racing of an athlete – in a flavour of the week fashion – then failing to improve, failing to progress, failing to achieve results should be expected, not a surprise.

In reality… when the Ventum One was tested against an Orbea frame, the Ventum One did not only underperform, it was slower. This comes as no surprise to those who take “in the lab” results for what they are: a starting point for further testing and experimentation. Nothing more, nothing less.

Here is the entire rundown of the Ventum One provided by Procycling Magazine.

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World

I was recently 2015rio-road-race02reviewing the Rio 2016 Olympic Men’s Cycling Road Race, with the intent of studying the various strategies and riding styles. It just so happened that I came upon this tidbit of information…

Former pro cyclist and World Tour team Cervelo-Garmin rider Christian Vande Velde was a commentator for NBC’s broadcast of the Rio Road Race. At 56.8km to go in the race, these were his words:

“Chris Froome was in 2nd place earlier, [where] you don’t get as much draft especially off a small rider like  Jonathan Castroviejo.  So its better to let yourself go back, so now Chris Froome is back in 6th or 7th place… now that’s a better draft.  See now Vincenzo Nibali does the same thing… you don’t want to be sitting there with all that wind in your face.”

2015rio-road-race03Vande Velde says that drafting wheel to wheel behind another rider is not enough, especially if that rider is smaller than you. To maximize the draft, to minimize the effort, to hold an easy position, pro cyclists wants to be at the back of a pace line, at the end of a row of 6 to 7 riders.

On the other hand, pro triathlete Lionel Sanders argues that 10m of dead and empty space between riders is still insufficient, that there is a draft effect, and that a proper draft zone needs to be enlarged to 20m to eliminate drafting entirely.

Vande Velde states that pro cyclists want to be shielded, fully, not partially by one single rider, and definitely not by a rider who is smaller than them.

Sanders says that there is a significant draft even when there is 10m between riders, even when those riders are cutting small cross sections with aero frames, aero helmets, and riding aero, making minimal turbulence.

To put 10m into perspective, I measured my road bike end to end: it measures 66″ or 1.67meters. A gap of 10m is equivalent to the space that 6 road bikes, wheel to wheel take up.

How is it that for pro cyclists a few centimeters in stature, a few kilograms in size, and a few centimeters in distance is enough to diminish the draft effect that its value becomes debatable, but to a pro triathlete 20m – as in meters – is needed to diminish the draft. That’s a factor of 100x between what pro cyclists and pro triathletes consider significant drafting.

Something does not add up. Let’s consider another scenario…

In cycling races, when the riders are preparing for the final 500m sprint to the finish line, a lead out train (i.e. a pace line) will form to get the team sprinter up to max speed, with the intent of firing them like a rock out of a slingshot past competitors to the finish line. Watch any race where Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Griepel, and Peter Sagan are racing and you will see how in the final kilometer these sprinters are paced and then fired off towards the finish line. A determining factor in this stage of the race is often the extent a sprinter is able to catch a draft off another rider. To lose a draft – i.e. to loss the wheel of another rider by as little as a few centimeters for even a second – can make the difference between having the speed to finish first or second or completely out of contention.

Again, to pro cyclists centimeters matter, not meters.

Sanders may have a point, but lets consider the setting when an empty gap of 10m between riders may offer a statistically significant draft effect: conditions would have to be perfect. The wind would have to be blowing exactly head on, without any variation in its direction, the road would need to line up perfectly with the wind, without any changes, no inclines, no declines, no turns. The riders would have to be perfectly lined up, one behind the other, without any deviations in their lines, for periods long enough to impart a real value in the draft. There would have to be no trees, bushes, houses, nothing that would alter the direction of the wind, the road and riders would have to be completely exposed. When exactly does this happen? When it does, for how long? Long enough to give an athlete the advantage to win an entire iron distance triathlon? That’s a stretch by any imagination.

If triathlons were raced under laboratory conditions, then maybe Sanders has a point. Maybe.

In The Laboratory vs Out in the Real World

Why would a pro triathlete and a pro cyclist differ so greatly on the topic of drafting. Here’s my take using clinical trials of new drugs as an analogy…

In a lab, an experimental drug can work ‘perfectly’, delivering the desired end result. Just because a drug works in a lab does not mean it works in ‘real’ life, does not mean its ready to be sold to the public. Experimental drugs have to go through numerous sets of clinical trials to prove that they in fact work, over time, consistently, in different scenarios, with different people. A lab experiment proves only that the drug is ready for testing beyond the bubble of a lab, out in the real world. How many drugs make it past clinical trials? Not many, usually because bad stuff happens, like people die as a result of taking the drug (despite it working ‘perfectly’ in the lab).  When a drug does pass trials, almost all come with long lists of side effects ranging from nausea and anal leakage, to cancer, to the risk of dying. That’s life in the real world; it ain’t all neat and tidy like a lab where conditions (and results) can be faked.

Triathlon seems to want to prove that it exists in a bubble, that the real world doesn’t apply, that the laws of physics apply differently to it than the standalone sports of swimming, cycling and running. Instead of leveraging decades of history, of experimentation, of tried and tested training and racing results, of real world experience which exists in each of the sports, triathletes are in the lab starting from scratch. Why waste training and racing to relearn what is already known?

Case in point… how long has the meme been in force that swimming in triathlon is different than the swimming that occurs as a standalone sport?  For this to be true, this would mean that the physics of movement, the laws of motion, the density of water, the forces of buoyancy and drag change. The laws of physics do not change, that is why they are called laws. So why not consider the training performed by top swimmers? Nope. Instead, a pro triathlete or a triathlon coach decided to dumb-down the sport by starting the meme that triathletes need to ‘save their legs’ for the bike and run, and triathletes obeyed en masse repeating the mantra “save the legs, do not kick in the swim”. In the lab it may make sense, it may even be proven in a lab to be true, but in the real world, “save the legs” makes no sense whatsoever. With races held out in the real world, not labs, guess what research truly matters… real world experimentation, not lab results.

The kick is integral to balancing body position, to maintaining and changing posture to achieve the highest level of efficiency: the ‘pull’ of the swim stroke leverages the power of the kick to maximize propulsion.  You know what happens when you don’t kick… you weaken the pull of the stroke, you eliminate the torque generated by the hip drive, you make swimming incredibly inefficient, maximizing the amount of work needed to swim.  Don’t kick, ‘save your legs’ but destroy your cardio-respiratory system and burn through two, three, or four times as much energy? Penny wise and dollar foolish. Meanwhile, triathletes are surprised how gassed, spent, exhausted they are after every swim, returning to coaches who prescribe more pull sets, adamant enough pulling wasn’t done, and that kicking and kick sets are a waste of time.

Now the sport has a pro triathlete who wants to dumb-down the sport even further, where racing has to occur under idealized conditions so that their idealized laboratory training will deliver them to the podium. If triathlon keeps dumbing itself down to whatever nonsense dribbles out of a pro or coach, then eventually the sport will be one no one wants anything to do with anymore. Triathlon will no longer be perceived as the challenge it once was, it will no longer stand as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles in life. Keep dumbing-down the sport, and sooner or later, iron men and women won’t be crossing the finish line, it’ll be iron babies.

It is not different, because its in a triathlon.

Here is a short list of the dumbing-down in iron distance triathlon over the years…

  • Swimming has been dumbed-down to paddle and pull buoy sets without a kick set in sight because of the ‘save the legs’ meme, resulting in widespread dependency on wetsuits. Instead of learning proper technique, athletes are taught to drag themselves thru water, to fight water, turning the swim portion of triathlons into MMA battle royales where athletes switch between fighting water and pummeling one another.
  • Cycling has been reduced to generating numbers on a power meter, as if the majority even understand how the number is obtained, what it means or how to improve it other than to hammer harder on the pedals. Cycling has become a contest of FTP maximums, not actual riding ability. Bike handling skills have been replaced with the belief that there is only one aspect of cycling that matters: being aero, where aero arises from spending money on aero stuff, not actual training to develop the flexibility to be aero.
  • Running, well there is little running in triathlon as the majority swim-bike & walk. Loads of shuffling, trudging, even crawling, because training has been dumbed-down to nothing other than HIIT workouts, to the point athletes are too injured to run and are so under-trained that few have the capacity to make it to the run portion of a triathlon, let alone run.

When training gets dumbed-down, racing also gets dumbed-down. Pro triathlete Cody Beals states that there’s been a progression of dumbing races down these days, so that they are easier and easier. What’s next… races that are only with the current, only with tailwinds, and all downhill? We are already on our way! Any race which has a challenging course is being cancelled or rerouted to be made easier. That’s progress? That’s not evolution, its de-evolution.

What made triathlon great was the complexity of mastering all three sports.  It was the fact that you could not master the sport in a year. It was the fact that it took training across three distinct disciplines which served as the basis of John Collins’ original question… who is the ultimate athlete?

Sanders is a pro triathlete who admittedly does not train outdoors. He trains almost exclusively indoors in fixed conditions, in a fixed position and state; Sanders trains in the equivalent of a lab. He has been riding for no more than a few years, so his experience in cycling is limited to say the least. He admits to having next to no bike handling skills. He trains solo, without worthy training partners or competitors to challenge him. His total outdoor mileage cannot be far off his total racing mileage.  In summary, Sanders’ appreciation for ‘real world’ conditions is immaterial; his cycling experience is predominantly theoretical, and no more than that of the average German child who rides to and from school. And the sport of triathlon is going to listen to him expound on anything that has to do with cycling?

The result of this type of training: Sanders’ ability to translate training into racing is predictable. Under ideal (i.e. lab comparable) conditions as at Ironman Arizona 2016 he can deliver a world record performance. Under non-ideal conditions (e.g. Ironman WC 2016) Sanders has difficulty, instead blames the real world for preventing him from achieving the results his lab predicted.

Lab rat training creates fair-weather athletes: athletes capable of performing only when real world conditions match those of their laboratories.

On the other hand, consistent peak performers, year after year champions are capable of performing no matter what is thrown at them. Michael Phelps’ goggles filled with water in the finals of the 200m FLY in Beijing 2008. No matter, he wins Olympic gold and sets a WR.  Silken Laumann while warming up at Worlds, weeks before Barcelona was hit by another boat, which ripped her calf muscle clear off the bone. Multiple surgeries, hospitalization, rehab, no problem, 10 weeks later she stands on the podium with an Olympic bronze medal. Chrissie Wellington in 2011 found herself 21mins+ behind Mirinda Carfrae coming out of T2 at Ironman WCs. No worries, she runs to win, remaining undefeated at iron distance triathlons.

What do you want you to be? A lab-rat/fair-weather athlete or a consistent peak performer?

If triathletes train like lab rats, then what is real training?

Simple, take the training of a typical pro cyclist: they start riding young, riding to and from school on a handed down or beater bike, accumulating a mileage log resembling that of a long haul truck odometer before starting any ‘serious’ training, before upgrading to anything anyone would consider top equipment, before any FTP or VO2 max efforts.  It is with such a base that pro cyclists progress to training in every climate, every terrain, in every set of weather conditions conceivable. They train at altitude, in the mountains, on snow covered peaks, in freezing temperatures, challenging their energy systems, pushing their energy systems to the limits while delivering peak output, while executing specific race strategies. Pro cyclists train together learning how to pace, draft, work as a team, to read one another & the peloton, learning when and how to attack, how to handle their bikes in the rain, the sleet, the snow, desert heat, and rainforest humidity. Pro cyclists learn to ride with tailwinds, and against headwinds and crosswinds that would send an average rider off the road, they train echelons, holding and rotating positions developing uncanny efficiency regardless what the environment throws at them. Pro cyclists learn the tactics of how to ride when spectators are in your face, cheering, booing, running alongside, getting in the way. Pro cyclists develop such a wide range of skills that they are equally capable of racing individual and team time trials [TT], and many also compete in mountain bike and/or cyclocross events to further develop their skill set.

I can only imagine a pro cyclist being asked what they think of a 20m draft zone… I bet we couldn’t get a straight answer because they would be rolling on the floor laughing that a pro triathlete needs 20m to prove themselves as a cyclist.  To athletes for whom centimeters matter, asking if 20 meters matters is like asking if they are going to ride the Tour de France with training wheels on their bike, or on a tricycle.

To triathletes… its time to get outside, time to train like an athlete, not like a lab rat. Get out of the laboratory, off the labtop, put down the spreadsheets, walk away from the online training websites, skip the hamster wheels of trainers and treadmills… get outside and have some fun, start to play, learn how to move, learn how to train, get out into the real world.

Is Sanders Stuck?

In posts on his blog, Lionel Sanders has complained that legal drafting is occurring on the bike portion of triathlons amongst the pro men. Does Lionel have a point or is he just complaining that his go-to race strategy is not serving him in international level competition as it does at regional level races? Does Lionel have a point that the playing field is unfair, or is he wasting his time, his energy, complaining that he is missing an advantage when he should be instead training out defined weaknesses and devising new race strategies?

You can read Lionel’s arguments re: legal drafting (i.e. triathletes remain outside the 10m draft zone thus not illegally drafting, but still gaining an advantage as Lionel believes 20m is required to eliminate drafting completely) here and here on his blog: lsanderstri.com.

I believe Lionel is wasting his time. Here’s why:

Ever watch an international level track & field meet? Ever noticed in track events that there is often a runner who takes the lead right from the starters pistols shot, sometimes even running a few meters ahead of the main pack? Ever noticed that this runner does not complete the race, instead drops out a lap or two before the final lap? This is called a pace runner or a rabbit.  They are hired – paid to set a specific pace in those initial laps – to push the field of runners with the aim that a record is set.

This happens in track, it also happens in road racing. Its legal, and when the race organizers do not hire a rabbit, an athlete representing a country often takes on the role of rabbit for their team pacing their teammates in the hopes of helping one of them, thus their country win. [Drafting on the run offers the equivalent amount of drafting advantage (i.e. 2%) as aero rims, an aero helmet, or a skinsuit in time trial cycling.]

In cycling, sprinters such as Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and Andre Griepel rely on a lead out train of riders from their team who they draft off (again, legally) and use it as a slingshot to send them to the finish line in hopes of besting all the other sprinters.

The value of a lead out train, pacers, a rabbit is more obvious in cycling then in running, but the effects are similar. In cycling the drafting effect is critical especially when the speed of sprinters is exceeding 50 or 60kph. A draft at that speed is an aerodynamic must-have advantage if the sprint strategy is to pay off at the finish line.

In running, there is a physical draft effect but its benefit is insignificant in comparison to another aspect of pacing strategies: mental drafting. Mental drafting is the result of not having to think about pace, about effort, about anything. Mental drafting allows an athlete to conserve energy, saving their mental faculties for when the race becomes truly challenging. An athlete who has spare mental reserves (i.e. drive, determination, focus due to less mental fatigue) will be in a position to leverage these reserves in the final stages of the race.

In cycling and in triathlons the focus is almost exclusively the physical aspect of drafting, with the mental dimension underappreciated, thus undertrained. To draft mentally, you do need to be in a draft zone (i.e. within proximity to another athlete), but that proximity does not necessarily mean drafting physically. Ever run side by side with another runner and had time fly? Ever ride with a friend, only to look at your bike computer and have to double check to ensure that the speed you saw wasn’t a mistake? That is the benefit of mental drafting.

[Interesting to note that pro triathlete Kirsten Marchant in her blog post  “Moving Forward” where she discusses 70.3 Miami, remarks that: “About 55km in, a fellow Ontario pro, Miranda Tomensen passed me and I knew that the best way to stay focused was to sit behind her (at 12m). I did this all the way back to T2….”.  Seems that Marchant is aware of mental drafting and uses it to her advantage. Also, interesting is that she makes specific reference to being 12m behind Tomensen. Why would that be?]

Go back and watch the track running events from Rio, you will see that in many cases the eventual winner is rarely leading the pack at the start.  Mo Farah, winner of both the 5,000m and 10,000m sat at the back of the pack, rested both physically and mentally, taking the lead only when required to win.

Sanders argues that the 10m draft zone is insufficient, that’s not the point.  The point is that the lead pack of men are not cheating (as is relevant to this post), they are benefiting from mental drafting, legally cooperating to blow every slow swimmer/fast biker-runner up. Sanders is not part of the lead convoy of triathletes out on the bike course because he comes out of the swim minutes back, so he is not able to benefit from the mental drafting that the leaders share. His ‘solution’ to this unfairness is to try and level the playing field by increasing the physical draft zone to a ridiculous size. Seriously?

How bout this… improve your swim technique to the point that you come out with the leaders, ride with them, so you can give a lesson in how running of the bike is supposed to be done. How bout that?

Don’t believe in the benefits of mental drafting? Watch any stage cycling event (e.g. the Tour de France) where a group of as few as 3 or 4 riders attacks, breaks away, and sustains a gap that cannot be closed by the peloton, a peloton made up of the worlds best cyclists even while having 150km+ in the stage to do so.

Point #1 – If a rabbit is used to help athletes attempt a World Record in running, then the value in a convoy of cyclists must be exponential. The issue then is not why do packs form… the issue is why isn’t every pro training their swim in order to be up in the lead pack? The days when you could ‘survive’ the swim in a long course triathlon and still be competitive are gone.


How do you quantify mental drafting?  How do you quantify the energy saved by an athlete not having to think about pace, an athlete not having to invest considerable effort into reading their exertion level? How do you calculate and convert into wattage the boost in confidence, the sense of empowerment of being in the lead out train, in a breakaway group? You cannot.

Not everything that is measured matters, and not everything that matters can be measured.

The statement above is undoubtedly heresy to most amateur and pro athletes as well as their coaches these days as training and competing paradigms are centered around spreadsheets and online training platforms, and loads and loads of numbers. Problem is that denying reality does nothing to improve you as an athlete.

Sanders’ power meter data does not validate his argument because selecting one data set because it supports an hypothesis while denying all other relevant data is bias. Its like going to a Gatorade – parent co. Pepsi – sponsored hydration lab to find out if consumption of sports drinks is necessary? Is there any doubt what a professor working in a university lab sponsored by a line of products significant to Pepsi’s sales hence stock price, will conclude? No doubt. The effects of mental drafting may not appear on a power meter but that doesn’t mean the effect does not occur, is not real, or that its impact is insignificant on performance.

Competition at the international level is anything but uni-dimensional (i.e. raw power and nothing else), instead they are multi-dimensional efforts requiring athletes to utilize every skill and strategy across all faculties – mental, emotional, and physical – to prevail.

Furthermore, complaining that a race strategy works at the regional level but doesn’t at the international level doesn’t correlate to everyone at the international level cheating; it does suggest though that the athlete relying on one single strategy, is stuck.

When all you have is a hammer, all your problems start to look like nails.

Conversely, when all you see is nails, all you have in your shed is a hammer.

If world class athletes such as 2x Ironman World Champion Daniela Ryf and 4x Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington do not depend on power while racing, instead rely on developed skills of self awareness to guide their efforts then that should be an indicator that it ain’t enough to be able to grind out watts.

Point #2 – The value of “mental drafting” cannot be calculated; despite the fact it doesn’t appear on power meters doesn’t render it void, nor does it turn everyone into a cheat.

Point #3 – Maybe its time to build a new tool? Every problem cannot be solved with a hammer.  Sometimes a saw, a screwdriver, a chisel… is more efficient.


Sanders has knowingly or unknowingly mentioned mental drafting in his blog when referring to how he overtakes athletes on the bike: he blows past (e.g. Mt Tremblant blog). Why? Sanders knows that when passing slowly there is the chance that the other athlete could ‘latch’ on to the pace. Marchant took advantage of this phenomenon at 70.3 Miami, helping her make it into T2 far faster than if she pulled herself along alone; or if not faster than at least less mentally spent.

What is latching? Its mental drafting: the athlete who latches onto another, gains the ability to conserve mental energy by not having to focus on pace & pacing, thereby translates this energy into physical energy to be able to hold a pace that they could not on their own.

Its not illegal to translate one form of energy into another.  So why is Sanders complaining about it when he takes specific steps to thwart it being used as a weapon against him? Is it because his race strategy leaves no room for cooperation, is it because his strategy has no response to this form of legal “mental drafting”, is it because he cannot thwart the advantage of group think when used legally?  It is definitely not the problem of the pro field of men, its Sanders’.

Point #4 – Charles Darwin stated that survival of the fittest comes down to those who are able to adapt. Its not watts that will win, its creativity in strategy. What Sanders’ is crying about is that the sport of triathlon is evolving; problem is that as powerful as dinosaurs were it didn’t prevent them from going extinct. Winning at the highest level of competition is about adaptation, not mano a mano measures of physicality. Physical capacity is a given at the World level, Michael Phelps even says that, but its mental and emotional flexibility, nimbleness, creativity, self awareness and flow which are the tools of consistent World Champions.

What happens when an athlete is passed, and unable to latch onto the pace? Often you can see them crumble, collapsing at the core, their body language communicating… defeat. This is an incredibly powerful strategy and to write about it is not gaining you any support Lionel, you are only serving to strengthen your competitors, opening up and offering to them your Achilles heel.


Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield won Olympic gold at the inaugural Olympic triathlon in 2000, and won Olympic silver in 2008 in Beijing. In preparation for the 2012 Olympics, Simon Whitfield believed that he had to evolve his racing strategy in order to remain competitive, in order to be able to stand atop of the podium.  To do so, Simon took a strategy from running: use a rabbit.

Partnering with fellow Canadian triathlete Kyle Jones, the strategy was that Kyle would serve as Simon’s rabbit. This strategy was to offer the following benefits to Simon:

  1. If Simon came out of the swim behind the lead pack of men, Simon would be able to (legally) draft off Kyle on the bike, Kyle being Simon’s lead out man would pull him up to the leaders.  Simon would expend less energy to catch the leaders with Kyle’s help, then if he was on his own. This strategy would offer him the chance to still have legs on the run.
  2. If Simon came out with the leaders of the swim, then Kyle’s duties would be to attack on the bike causing the lead men to have to expend energy to reel him in after each attack, allowing Simon to chill out, expend less energy than his competitors, resting in preparation for the run (while watching Kyle make everyone else play cat and mouse).
  3. If Simon and Kyle were both in an attack position at the end of the bike, then together they would be a formidable force in the run. Kyle would be in position to rabbit for Simon, giving Simon the mental rest to focus for attacks from competitors, for a final sprint.

Point #5 – To complain about drafting is to complain against the strategy that Simon Whitfield devised as a strategy to win Olympic gold. A strategy now making its way into long course competitions.

Point #6 – To complain about drafting is to complain that the sport of triathlon evolving: where athletes cooperate creating individual advantages for themselves, without that cooperation being premeditated.

Point #7 – Of course there is power in unity, why wouldn’t the lead swimmers in a triathlon unite to force stronger cyclists and runners to have to expend energy to take the lead? Its called smart racing as it is a smart strategy to force the hand of a competitor if able to do so, and it communicates loudly who is in control of the race.


Triathlon may be an individual sport, but that does not mean there isn’t teamwork or that teamwork is impossible or illegal during the race. Consider that in the sport of cycling there are powerful teams, with huge sponsors backing them, yet riders in a breakaway are more often than not from different teams yet they work together in order to try and win the stage. Is that cheating? Is that violating any loyalty to your team, teammates, team manager, or sponsors? Not at all. Its called race strategy.

If nothing else, the team sponsor of the rider in the breakaway gets millions of dollars of TV time advertising their brand, and that’s when the athlete doesn’t even win the stage.

What about this…. how long will it be for a Whitfield-Jones strategy arrives in Kona? A multi-athlete sponsored team already exists (Bahrain Endurance)… so how long before those athletes are organized no different than a World Tour cycling team at the Tour de France, where domestiques protect and guide a team leader positioning them to take the win? At the Tour de France, one cyclist stands a top the podium in Paris, but its a team that carries them to it. No different, winning in Kona can remain an individual success, but nothing stops a team of lieutenants from legally pacing and drafting a team captain in the swim, bike, and run portions.

Then what? Either Sanders will become good enough of a swimmer to be on such a team to serve as a lieutenant, or become a contender for the podium serving as captain (which again requires top level swimming ability), or…. or what? There are no solo riders in the Tour.

What about Kienle and Frodeno working together during the 2016 Ironman World Champs on the run portion? Did we witness an unspoken German alliance out on the run course? What if they were working to push the pace together? Are Kienle and Frodeno guilty of anything? Absolutely not. That is unless you are bent on making creativity in race strategy a crime.

Point #8 – There is a difference between teamwork and teaming up in an individual sport, and cheating. If an athlete is out of their league as a result of having only one strategy – go solo – it doesn’t mean everyone else cheats because they unite in an effort to push each other to their potential, or to leave others in the dust.

Point #9 – Craig Alexander was ganged upon by his long time adversary McCormack at Ironman WC 2010 with the intent of weakening him before the marathon. This race strategy was no different than Simon Whitfield’s for London 2012, except that McCormack had a hit list with one name on it: Alexander. So Crowie’s endorsement of the draft issue fails to make it valid. In fact, its a threatened athlete that has to round up a posse to try and take down a competitor. Alexander should stand tall that it took Macca and the entire pro field of men to prevent him from winning. In my opinion, on that day in 2010, Alexander didn’t lose, he was crowned World Champion by his peers, far more significant than by some announcer at some finish line. When you cross a finish line first… maybe you were good, maybe everyone else had an off day, no one really knows. But, when everyone gangs up to try and hold you back… there is no denying you are good, no matter when you cross the finish line.


In a recent Slowtwitch.com interview with former pro cyclist and husband of 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist in triathlon and multi-ITU Champ Gwen Jorgensen, Patrick Lemieux responded as follows to a few questions:

In response to whether or not he believes ITU athletes would be competitive as pro cyclists, Lemieux responded that they would be all fantastic cyclists.  Not only do they have the physical level of ability, but they are equally mentally prepared, calling them “savvy.”

In response to whether or not he believes there has been evolution in the sport of triathlon, Lemieux replied that 2014-2016 ushered in a new era where if you were not in the lead pack of swimmers, your chances of a podium became next to nothing.

Point #10 – Gwen Jorgensen was an All American swimmer and runner, cycling was her weakness.  Did she complain? Nope. She trained. Now her husband believes that she would be competitive at the Cat 1-2 level of cycling because she focused on becoming better.  Ahead of Rio, ahead of a bike course which scared her, Gwen pushed further into her fears (instead of complaining that the bike course was technical and unfair):

http://www.si.com/olympics/2016/08/18/gwen-jorgensen-triathlon-rio-olympics


Lionel if you want to raise your game, rise to your potential, here is some unsolicited coaching:

  1. Stop looking backwards, start looking forwards.  Triathlon is not going back to the way it was when you started in 2010.  If you are training and racing staring in the rear view mirror, then you are preparing to win yesterdays races, not tomorrows.  As a result, you will constantly be on the defensive as you will be unprepared for the tactics and strategies of your current competitors, and utterly blindsided by new competitors.
  2. Start planning for tomorrow, start planning for what happens when top ITU athletes of today start migrating into long course racing, bringing along with them not only their speed but their strategies… a long list of strategies completely foreign to any athlete who has not competed short course (like yourself). If you are not studying short course racing, you are going to be blindsided by these competitors. Jan Frodeno is just the beginning… just wait for Gomez, the Brownlee brothers, Mola, Murray or whoever joins in. Just wait, the guys who can swim fast, then ride fast, then run fast are coming. Iron distance races haven’t seen anything yet.
  3. Start plotting your evolution. This requires giving up your status quo…
    • Do It Yourself (DIY) solo training got you to where you are and that’s great, but it ain’t gonna take you where you want to be. Gwen Jorgensen got out and trained with top cyclists to become a top cyclist, and trained with top coaches specific to disciplines in which she was weak.
    • Do It Yourself (DIY) racing got you to where you are and that’s great, but it ain’t gonna take you where you want to go. You will need to open your mind to new strategies which will require you to start studying all triathlon events. I would encourage you to start also study the tactics used in the standalone sports of swimming, cycling, and running. Who knows who the next top competitor will be in triathlon, and what background they will have. Why not have an edge that they don’t expect you to have?
    • Surviving the swim and attempting to recover on the bike – like all strategies – works until it doesn’t.  This year may mark the end of success with this strategy (maybe I’m wrong, but with top ITU pros coming up to long course, I don’t think so). Its time to become a swimmer at a level equivalent to that of the men who are leading the swim, who are winning the events you want to win… like Frodeno.
    • Swimming undisturbed is possible when no one sees you as a threat, what happens if you run into a Harry Wiltshire intent on swimming on top of you? Becoming an OK swimmer isn’t enough, you need to be competitive with the best, and that includes having the capacity to handle swimmers trying to swim on top of you.
    • You have no choice.  You revealed your hand by complaining about legal drafting, you revealed you have no other cards to play… to remain relevant, you have to evolve.
  4. While racing, if you are expending any and I mean any amount of energy grumbling and mumbling to yourself about how unfair triathlon is, consider:
    • Whether you are building your love of the sport, or are you sowing the first seeds of hate, envy, and jealousy… seeds which when full grown lead you only into darkness. Do not turn the light which brought you out of the darkness, off. Figure out how to get that light to burn brighter in you… that is the path.
    • The energy you are wasting thinking about your competitors, is energy that would be far better spent focused on your own race. You are giving away your training, allowing your thoughts to sabotage and steal your training, your energy, your joy and pleasure of being alive and being a pro athlete from you. You are giving away podium positions, for what? Anger? Enjoy the process, because when you do turn the tables on your competitors, consider how you will want them to respond to your success? With anger, or happy for you, happy it was you who won? No one wants to celebrate alone.
  5. Training and racing are not uni-dimensional, physical only, efforts.  Sport at the highest level is a multi-dimensional competition: only the top physically, mentally and emotionally win consistently. If all you are doing is training physically, then prepare only to win regional races, not against an international field. If you want to win consistently at the international level, you need to train multi-dimensionally. Widen your net so you may cast a wider net.
  6. Want to reward your sponsors Lionel? Then become a fast swimmer, because the fastest swimmers have the chance at the longest TV coverage by being out in front. Technically you could offer your sponsors a full hour of TV coverage (whether you win or not in Kona) because if you came out of the swim in the lead, you would be on camera from that moment until the end of the race based on your cycling and running abilities.  Think about that Lionel… whats an hour of TV worth to a sponsor whose logo is plastered on an athlete in the lead pack of the Ironman World Champs in Hawaii? Then on triathlon websites the world around. Then on a box of Shreddies. Hmm…. it may actually pay better to train out a weakness, instead of continuing to pound on a strength. Marginal returns or maximum returns? What do you want? What do your sponsors want?

Finally, drop the drafting issues. Its not whether you are right or wrong, its about the issue stealing your potential. I do not believe you want to be remembered as the pro who became obsessed with legal drafting violations, and who as a result failed to make the podium in Kona.

Refocus on why you love the sport. Zone in on your weaknesses, train them til you have eliminated them, and you will make leaps that you wouldn’t believe were possible.

Plus… what happens if you develop or refine a strategy, like Michael Phelps with the underwater dolphin kick, which renders you the most decorated triathlete of all time?

Do you want to be called a cheat and loathed for developing a new strategy or a genius and respected as a legend in the sport?

Skill Acquisition/Learning [5]

On the left is your brain when it has enough oxygen, like when you train aerobically.

On the right is your brain when it doesn’t have enough oxygen, like when you train anaerobically.

brain oxygenationGuess how much learning the brain on the right is capable of versus the brain on the left.

Exactly.  None.

When you are performing Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), when you are in the red zone, when you exceed the capacity of your core muscles, when you can no longer breathe diaphragmatically, when you are working at a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) of at 8 or higher… you are training anaerobically.

RPE 2016-01How ‘smart’ do you think you are when your are training at this intensity, training HIIT?

Exactly. You aren’t. There isn’t enough oxygen available to the higher functioning/executive decision making parts of the brain for you to be smart (hence why any child diagnosed with attention deficits and/or learning impairments in either academic, athletic or performing art environments should have their breathing assessed).

How ‘smart’ do you think your decisions are when you are in such a state?

Exactly. They aren’t. How can they be when you aren’t thinking, when you are reacting, when you are in survival mode depending on flight-fight-freeze reflexes. Ever reflect back on a moment while training or competing and wonder to yourself what was going through your mind that made you… run a red light through an intersection, cross a road without checking twice, taking that double black diamond trail, doing that extra interval, that extra hill, that extra rep with extra weight? Now you know.

How ‘smart’ do you think you’re becoming at executing skills, at learning strategy, at refining awareness and performance evaluation, at coordinating patterns of movement to move with greater ease, with greater efficiency, with greater agility, balance, speed, strength, and with greater endurance?

Exactly. Not at all. You aren’t improving in any facet of the execution of sport specific technique in an anaerobic state.  You are resorting to hormonally induced surges of power to attempt to cause yourself to lift heavier weights, to run faster, to pedal harder, to last longer. And we call this… fitness? Fitness is not based on training the neuro-endocrine system to pump out more hormones while temporarily inducing a state of perceived stress. That’s blatant ignorance, all out stupidity, and not only is it unhealthy but it it risks causing cardiovascular accidents in the short term, and cardiovascular disease in the long term. If that’s our definition of fitness then we truly are walking around with blue brains (i.e. no oxygen reaching the brain).

HIIT is not training because you cannot and will not gain any skills, nor will you improve in the execution of any skill while performing HIIT.  HIIT is peaking for competition, that’s it. HIIT is last of the last bit of training, to push the needle just a bit into the red zone prior to competition. It is not a lifestyle, because it leads to lifestyle diseases.

If you want to improve in sport, its not about how much adrenalin you can force your adrenal glands to puke up mid workout by resorting to getting all psyched up, ramped up, or by how deep into beast mode you can go.

If you want to improve in sport, then its all about skill acquisition, and skill acquisition happens at low RPEs, at low intensity, where oxygen and blood are in abundant supply to the brain, muscles, all vital organs and when the conditions are non threatening ensuring that survival instincts are not triggered, when the athlete is able to oscillate between diffuse and focused mindsets, when learning, attempting, experimenting, and then evaluating, tuning, refining, and applying the lessons to be smarter are possible.

Smart training leads to a mentally nimble, physically flexible, and emotionally stable athlete who is able to evaluate moment by moment while training or competing all aspects of both their performance and that of their competitors leveraging all their skills simultaneously and consistently to deliver peak performance after peak performance. Smart training yields resilient, robust, dynamic, capable athletes who can translate their skill set from sport, to academics, to the arts, to business, leading a life that is as dynamic out of sport, as it is in sport.

Hard training leads to a hard body, hard muscles, a hard heart, hard arteries, hardened joints, a hard head, and an athlete who is hard fixed in their belief that every problem is a nail, and hitting those problems harder and harder with a hammer is the definition of training. In time, this athlete will suffer either a self inflicted injury, heart attack, stroke, breakdown, melt down or will simply blow up. Because of their hardness they are blind to see that they have done it to themselves, not because they are lacking in anything, but because they have hardened themselves to the point that they have become fragile, brittle, the exact opposite of what they wanted.

Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [4]

Training with the goal of competing should be about crossing a finish line by delivering your best possible performance.  Mark Allen calls it “tests of completion”.  Perhaps that is why so many pro triathletes return to Hawaii at some point, usually as an age grouper, a few years after their career as a pro ends. It may also explain why many masters athletes return to the sports they trained and competed as children or teens, as they too seek a redo.

Why the need for a redo?  Perhaps there is a need to return to race in a manner where we do it not for a quantifiable target (e.g. top finish, prize money); instead we race for ourselves, in a manner we always wanted to compete: where the quality of how we compete is the priority. We return to race, to race as we dreamed as children, as teenagers, when the spirit of training and competing was in the process of who we were becoming, not in what we would win, nor found in which competitors we beat. We return to race as we always imagined racing… free to have fun, freedom in self expression, in the inexplicable oneness we feel when uninhibited.

Unfortunately, wherever there are athletic competitions, there are athletic careers littering the sidelines where athlete’s failed to reign in pride and where coaches failed to bring an end to a moment which would have spared their athlete.

At the 1997 Hawaiian Ironman World Championships… pro triathlete Chris Legh collapsed within sight of the finish line, unable to complete the event he was taken unconcious to the med tent, laid on a bed of ice, and when finally sent to the hospital had to have a large portion of his colon taken out because it died due to a lack of oxygen. In that same year in Hawaii, pro triathletes Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham also collapsed and crawled to the finish line…

Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_01 Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_03 Sian_Welch_Wendy_Ingraham_04

Is this what we now define as healthy? This is competition amongst the healthiest athletes? Is this how pros envision themselves competing? Seriously? To me, it shows nothing that utter disrespect for our bodies, our minds, a willingness to gamble and sacrifice our health. For what?

Chris Legh and Wendy Ingraham were able to recover and continue to compete, but not all athletes are as fortunate. Worse, age group and masters athletes seem to have started to associate these types of efforts as heroic, with the media hyping these moments as tests of mental tenacity, determination. The “PR or ER” mindset has become a training and racing motto perceived not only as acceptable, but desired, as it has been falsely turned into some sort of perverted evidence of health. That the “PR or ER” mindset is emblazoned on t-shirts may explain why injuries and prolific use of drugs (e.g. NSAIDs, painkillers) are considered congruent with athleticism. It would also explain why athletes compete without training sufficiently, because if they do end up having to drag themselves across the finish line it will be applauded nonetheless. It also explains why athlete deaths are easily written off as statistical norms.

Where are the coaches?  Where are the kill-switches? Is there anyone left who possesses any limits? Are there any coaches with the guts to throw in the towel and pull athletes away from the ring, away from their own demise, from a preventable death? Or has the addiction to gambling with our health become so inescapable that the mere suggestion of ever slowing down or stopping sounds ridiculous?

Ask yourself… Why do I train?  Why do I compete?  For health or death?

An integral coach, one loyal to the well-being and long term health of their athlete, to the nobility of competition, and to the roots of sport maintains an objective perspective on the athlete’s training and racing, assists in the development of realistic goals, to balancing training and racing with the challenges that arise both in and outside of sport, and prevents athletes from taking on excessive risk, especially risks which unnecessarily place their health, their livelihood, and their life in jeopardy.

Without an integral coach, athletes seeking peak performance have to know when to call it a day themselves.  Without an integral coach, the athlete has to be their own rev limiter, kill switch, in order to prevent excessive over-reaching, to reel in ambition.  But this is where problems develop… athletes seeking peak performance train not to stop, train to an extent that they are not in a mindset of self-preservation and cannot be counted on to think rationally (hence the ease with which they can be manipulated into doping). Peaked athletes lack the ability to stop no different then Natascha Badmann during the 2007 Ironman WC. The end result of pursuing one’s potential without a dedicated coach is injury at best, and at worst, disaster…a medical crisis, doping, death.

Take the time, to research, interview and ensure that you have an ally, a partner in the form of a coach to join you on the journey to your peak performance goals.  It takes time to perform the due diligence to find such a coach, but for athletes seeking the best out of themselves and the best for their children, the value of a trustworthy coach is immeasurable.

Don’t look for a good coach, look for an honest coach, a coach with integrity, a coach who respects not only athletes, but the meaning of sport, and has an unwavering loyalty to the spirit of competition, and would walk away in an instant from a career in coaching then continue on in an environment where anything except athletic excellence is the operational standard.

Seek a coach willing to leverage every aspect of training – load & rest – so that your progress is consistent and healthy and focused on the long term.

Seek a coach willing to admit that they know less and less as discoveries in human anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and peak performance reveal themselves on deeper and deeper levels.  Seek a coach who continues to believe that they are mere students, who continue to spend countless hours reading, studying, and learning.

Seek a coach willing to identify that they too have limits, and they will seek partnerships with other coaches, with health professionals, to navigate their athletes towards their potential.

Your coach must understand that they have the responsibility of Chief Engineer, as your Kill Switch both in training and in racing, and it falls to them to pull the plug on anything that poses long term risk to you, even if throwing in the towel comes with the risk of being misunderstood, even if it comes with the risk of being fired as your coach.

Take the time to invest in finding a coach who meets these standards.  When you do, then you will have found yourself not just a good coach, but a coach who you can trust with your goals, and most importantly your health, your well-being, and your life.

Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [3]

Is the self-image of pro athletes so poor that they need to see the pain of others to feel better about themselves, to feel better about their win?  Why do pros demand those who win do so in pain, by suffering? If an athlete is sucking their thumb because they aren’t first, then who cares if they drop out or remain in the race?  If an athlete is whining because they have to decide between a DNF or an undesirable finishing place because they under-trained, over-trained, didn’t execute a pacing or race strategy in competition, or because their expectations of winning are being replaced with an unpalatable reality as competitors fly by, then boo-hoo.

Fat_Bastard_Boo_Hoo

If an athlete is suffering for any reason, no champion would demand the athlete to continue on, instead they would want that athlete to drop out, recover, and train to compete again at their fullest on another day. No champion would consider besting such an athlete as any sort of victory.  Champions want to compete head to head with the best, at their best.

We confuse the position of 1st place with the qualities of a champion, they are not the same: one is given to you in the form of a medal or trophy, the other is something you become, you cannot win it nor lose it.

Do the pros not realize that there is a generation watching them, listening to everything they say, retaining everything they see, idolizing them (rightly or not).  Is this how pros want age group athletes to engage in competition with one another, emulating a contest of egos not athleticism? Is the goal that 12 year olds must bloody each other in competition to feel true victory? Has ambition numbed everyone to the point where “one for all, all for one” is dead?

What’s going on?  Are coaches not serving as the kill-switch and are thereby encouraging this mindset, or do athletes not realize that they require a coach to balance short and long term objectives, so that the goals which underpin training – those of health, longevity, well-being – are and remain the true focus at all times.

What is going on in sport where ‘PR or ER’ is seen as a triumph, instead of recognizing for what it is… an impaired mental state?

PR or ER

This mindset does not reflect a healthy balance of training and competition, it reveals a mindset of gambling… all in, I will PR or ER, I will hit that finish line, or else. Or else what? Race beyond my abilities to the point that I injure or drive myself so far that I hospitalize myself, or end up on the verge of death, or entirely dead? Based on the VeloNews article titled “Cycling to Extremes”, masters athletes don’t even need competition to drive themselves into the ground, athletes are training themselves into needing pacemakers all the while thinking that they are training appropriately, for their health, for longevity.

Cycling to Extremes: Are endurance athletes hurting their hearts by repeatedly pushing beyond what is normal?

When did hospitalization become synonymous with health, fitness, with athletic ability?  Our heads are so far up our asses that we have lost any last shred of perspective. Has all the HIIT, the sugary sports nutrition, and lack of sleep finally and completely impaired our capacity to think and feel to the point where we no longer make reasonable decisions? It would seem so. Whatever the cause, we need to wake up from our mindless state which is passing for health.

The media showcases acts of ‘fighting til the bitter end’ as courageous, as tests, as opportunities to learn who we truly are… maybe, but maybe human pain makes for good TV ratings, and good ratings make for good advertising revenue, and nothing more.  If athletes are submitting to the push and pull of media, then its only a matter of time before all sports are striped mined of all their spirit, and are left hollowed-out, ending up as some sort of reality show. Competitions will no longer be athletic, they will be staged events, performances scripted, manipulated for the sake of confrontation, with ‘athletes’ selected not on athletic ability but by ‘likes’.  Sport, if it hasn’t already become a mindless form of entertainment is on the verge with the athletes and their coaches to blame.

If forcing success was limited to professional athletes, then perhaps it could be contained, but it isn’t.  The books by Mark Hyman (‘Until It Hurts‘ and ‘The Most Expensive Game in Town‘) reveal that the trickle down effect of monkey see-monkey do is now placing inappropriate expectations on children athletes where (e.g.) surgery in the sport of baseball is seen as the gateway to pitching stardom. Meanwhile, the reality is that in the vast majority of Tommy John surgeries the outcome is the opposite… its a baseball career curtain call, not a Hall of Fame invite.

In my own experience, hearing children ‘retire’ from sport of swimming at the age of 13 or 14 seemed preposterous. But after witnessing coaches and parents push athletes to their limit, then exclaim that they are weak, unmotivated, or untalented when they fail to produce results, indicates that kids are retiring out of self-preservation, and have more sense then their parents and coaches combined. Kids dropping out of sport reveals that adults have lost all contact with reality, with what is healthy, as their well-intended but insatiable ambition for their children sets both their children and themselves up for a fall of epic proportions.

There is healthy striving and pushing of limits, and then there is the desperate drive for results as if forcing and causing results somehow guarantees a child’s success throughout life and absolves the adult of all their insecurities of whether or not they were a good parent/coach. Driving children towards a finish line which holds the illusion of panacea for adults doesn’t do anything for children.  If anything it leaves children resentful, hating sport, sometimes hating their bodies, doubting their potential, misunderstanding what exactly is an active, healthy lifestyle, and unable to distinguish between failing as a step in a process of learning, versus being a failure. It leaves children and adults with the illusion that “healthy” comes by crossing a finish line no matter the cost (i.e. PR or ER mentality).

What have we done to sport, that it has so little semblance to healthy living?

Sports media has glorified the ‘all-in’ mentality, and there is something to that… at the right time, in the right place, in the right context, performed in a balance manner with a coach acting as a safety net, as a kill-switch.  But ‘all-in’ 24/7 100% of the time is neither possible, nor healthy.

As a coach, my viewpoint is that the byproduct of the anxiety of ‘keeping up’ and ‘being good enough’ is that both athletes and coaches have abandoned actual coaching and with it any sense of balance, of sustainable training or competing, as anything less than ‘all-in’ 24/7 100% is deemed unworthy.  Where is the need for a coach when there is nothing other than all-in all the time? What is there to coach? Anyone in the role of coach in this arrangement is no coach, they are a taskmaster, their objective is not to improve you, its to push you until you break irrespective of the physical, mental, and emotional cost.  With this mindset passing as coaching, anything and everything becomes an acceptable tool: berating, yelling, screaming, diminishing, taunting the athlete to cough up another rep, to drop another second, to push for another centimeter. And we call this exercise and healthy no less? Its none of the above.

Sports media has lifted the expectation that sacrifice is expected in almost every competition.  If an athlete could only lose an arm, a leg, or both and still compete… wow, now that would be ‘good’ entertainment.  No different than in ancient Rome, where the bored and blood thirsty masses would go hungrily to the Colosseum to witness gladiator fights hoping to be entertained by the death of slaves. Matches would end when the Emperor would thumbs-up or thumbs-down the final blow… thumbs-up the opponent would be spared, allowed to live as a result of the quality of their fight; thumbs-down and the victor would kill his opponent on the spot.

Gladiator_Are_You_Not_Entertained

Without coaches to serve as kill-switch, to throw in the towel, to pull an athlete, we are leaving the end point of competition up to new emperors Sports Media and Social Media and with that, competition is less and less about athletic excellence, and more and more about entertainment value irrespective of the cost placed on athletes, (e.g. concussions suffered by NFL and NHL players in the name of entertainment revenue and profit). Our hypocrisy comes full circle when we exclaim in shock that in order to entertain the masses, an athlete dopes or cheats.

I do not know exactly when the health and well-being of athletes became secondary, but with it we demonstrate a collective lack of respect for each other, for sport, and for life.

I salute all athletes who do in fact train and compete clean, for not bowing to the gods of money and media may challenge athletes more than any training that any coach could throw at them.

Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [2]

No true competitor, no true champion wants to race an opponent who is in a weakened state. So why is there this belief that crossing a finish line is a must, even if it poses harm to yourself?DNF

Perhaps a DNF (Did Not Finish) is the lesson an athlete needs.  Perhaps being pulled out of competition by their coach is required so that once and for all the athlete learns that there are limits to poor training, consequences to poor pacing, to egotistical racing, to not following race strategy, or because the athlete is frankly unable to retain emotional stability in competition. There is a time to throw the towel into the ring, and no, its not a sign of weakness, it can be a sign of self-respect, as well as a sign of respect for both competitors and the spirit of competition.  It reveals an understanding that training is a continuum, and that competition is simply a means to assess how far along that continuum the athlete has traveled.

True champions and their coaches understand that the point of competition is to engage in a test to assess who was most prepared to endure the challenge of the event, and the efforts of competitors on a particular day.  Where is the glory in a win which arises from a competitor falling, by a competitor failing the test? There is no glory in such a win, so why is there any expectation that finishing no matter the cost is obligatory.

A champion would prefer to lose then to win dishonorably.

During the 2003 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong’s bike handlebars caught a spectators souvenir feed-bag jack-knifing his bike, throwing Armstrong to the ground.

Tour_de_France_2003_Armstrong_Ullrich01

Germany’s Jan Ulrich (green jersey) who was trailing Armstrong at the time in the overall standings by only 15 seconds didn’t attack. Ulrich in fact, “slowed to wait for Armstrong to pick himself up, dust himself off, and get back in the race.” Now that’s a true competitor.  That is the spirit of competition.  When all lights were green to take advantage of Armstrong, to take advantage of an unfortunate situation, the true champion refuses.

Tour_de_France_2003_Armstrong_Ullrich02

True champions want to engage their opponents head to head, not win due to disqualification, by default, or failure on their competitors part to execute on their training. How else does a true competitor know in their heart that they were the victor on the day if they win in a questionable manner? They wouldn’t, and such a victory is no victory and that is why Ulrich waited for Armstrong.

“It’s OK lose to opponent, must not lose to fear.”  -Mr Miyagi

Now juxtapose the actions of a true competitor such as Jan Ulrich in the 2003 Tour de France against Macca (Chris McCormack) and Normann Stadler during the Ironman World Championships a few years back. In a follow up interview, 6x Ironman Champion Mark Allen commented that Macca and Stadler seemed to be competing not against the others athletic ability, but they were each trying to beat up the other [on a personal level]. Allen reflected on the disrespect that has developed amongst the pro men. Looking back on his own competition with Dave Scott which played out during the 1989 Ironman on the Queen K, Mark Allen states: “we had a respect for each other (Allen vs. Scott) athletically, and we were competing against the perfection that the other one was going to bring into the race, that’s in my opinion a healthy rivalry, it brings the best out of you.” In the same interview, Dave Scott shared: “I don’t think there was the internal friction that we see today with the top guys.” The difference…  Scott and Allen competed against the training of the other, not the ego of the other. It was noble, there wasn’t anything personal, because they didn’t see it as a zero sum game.  Today its personal: if you win, I lose.

Not long ago, Lionel Sanders in his blog shared that he completed a race despite being in a state where he questioned the value in continuing. Apparently Sanders had no kill-switch, so he continued despite concerns over his well-being, because he felt like his competitors were owed.

Owed what? Lionel pointed to a Youtube video of Sebastian Kienle in which he states that competitors owe it to each other to continue on, to race. Really? When did competing to the point of self-inflicted injury become an unwritten rule of competition? When did self sacrifice become a demand of competition? Why do athletes need to win so badly that they demand their opponents press on despite being in a weakened state, in a state which could be detrimental both to them as athletes, and as human beings [and their life outside of sport]?

Any athlete who demands such sacrifice out of competitors is not a worthy adversary. To take a win when your opponent is injured, to claim victory when your opponent is grounded, when your opponent is not at their potential is cowardice. The fact that another athlete feels that he has to sacrifice himself in order to be considered worthy should sound an alarm that something ain’t right. When peaked, athletes no different than Natascha Badmann will jump back on her bike, because they have trained to be unstoppable, but sometimes stopping is the right thing to do. If you as an athlete know you will not make the right decision when competing, then for the sake of yourself, your future, your family take on a coach so that you do have a kill-switch. It could end up saving your professional career, if not your life.

Unfortunately, it seems pro athletes today along with age group and masters athletes who emulate them cannot see the point in competing unless it is to win. This is because they aren’t training or racing in the spirit of striving for their potential, its training and competing to build the biggest ego. The problem when you compete with your ego is that you cannot lose. Because you cannot lose, you cannot learn anything when you do lose, because your ego won’t allow it. An ego cannot take a loss. When you compete with your ego, if someone else wins, you by default lose (in every sense of the word). The outcome of this mentality, is that retaliation is required: if you win and I lose, thus you hurt me, therefore I must hurt you back.  To inflict pain on competitors becomes the point of competing, retribution becomes the focus. The outcome is as an unhealthy mindset as you can imagine. Its a mindset that winning must happen, will happen at any price… leading to the rationalization of using PEDs, techno-doping, or self sacrifice to make it happen. It may make for good TV, but good TV has nothing to do with leading an healthy life, with achieving or becoming or discovering your potential.

In contrast, competing with a steel sharpens steel mentality, is not a zero sum game, because when you lose with this mindset, you commit to training more effectively, more intelligently, with even greater attention to detail, with greater respect for your body.  With this mindset, athletes focus on the nuances, seek meaning, significance in the process, drive to uncover abilities, skills, determination, and attributes they never realized existed, and would never have experienced if they had won.

For champions, losing and failing are looked upon with reverence: losing and failing are experiences to be studied, dismantled, dissected, recreated, reviewed, analyzed, assessed, and then reconstructed so that every ounce of learning can be withdrawn. This is how we grow in life, proceeding with greater knowledge, wisdom, understanding, appreciation, and most importantly respect for ourselves, and one another.

Duty of a Coach: Kill-Switch [1]

An experienced coach is an unrivaled asset when decision making is blurred by stress, fear, and conflicting priorities. Value comes from a coach who has a vested interest equally in an athlete’s short term goals, as well as their long term goals, their health and their overall well-being.

Why?  Because when athletes peak, when athletes are stretched to their limit seeking to deliver their potential, in pursuit of a peak performance in competition, they are not in a state of balance, they do not have a mindset of self-preservation.  Training performed by athletes to push past limits, to overlook discomfort and pain is a double edged sword: beneficial when it comes to pursuing peak potential, but devastating when not tempered with the ability to appreciate the long term detrimental effects of when pushing through is the absolute worst decision.

With athlete’s focused on the short term, the need exists for a coach who places the short term within the context of the long term.  In a way, athletes pursuing peak performance give up perspective, but you cannot live abundantly nor succeed consistently and honestly without perspective. The fact that so many pros, age group and masters athletes overtrain, become injured, fail to achieve their goals only proves the point that a coach is an indispensable asset for those seeking to explore their potential (in an healthy manner).

In 2007, the 6x Hawaiian Ironman World Champion Natasha Badmann crashed during the bike portion of the race damaging her bike such that a replacement bike was required, and injuring herself to the point that standing unsupported was an achievement all on its own.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann01Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann02With help, she remounted her bike as any World Champion would, she continued racing because quitting was eliminated as an option on account of the peaking training.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann03Her pain was palpable when she reached for a water bottle causing significant discomfort that Natasha had to take a few moments before trying to painfully bring it to her mouth.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann04

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann05Due to this programming – the do not give up, the do not quit mindset – it is the coach who bears responsibility of retaining perspective of the short term and long term in the midst of such moments to ensure that the athlete doesn’t compromise their future athletic potential by straining to cause or force success.  It was Natasha’s coach who after catching up with her on the bike course, pulled her from the race.

Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann06 Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann07How is it that minutes before Natasha could ride in competition mode, yet now requires arm slings bilaterally? In the heat of performance, athletes have been conditioned to deliver an all-out effort, there is no other thought allowed. Point is: athletes DO NOT make good decisions, rational, healthy decisions in competition, hence the need for a coach. What if Natasha had no coach to pull her out of the event? As an health professional, I cannot begin to imagine the permanent damage (worse than it already was) that Natascha would have inflicted upon herself.Kona_Hawaii_Ironman_2007_Badmann08Natascha’s injury required surgical repair, a steel rode inserted to support the bone, and ligamentous repair, followed by months and months of rehab.  One year later, in 2008, she was unable to complete the Ironman in Hawaii due to the lack of a full recovery.

What if Natasha’s coach didn’t have the guts to do the right thing, and pull her out, out of World Championships no less? What if Natasha pressed on in 2007 causing further damage?  What if in a ridiculous narrative that to cross the finish line was imperative no matter the cost, Natasha did fight to finish?  What if her coach permitted Natascha to damage her body to the point of permanently losing function, not only in sport, but impairment in activities of normal daily living?

Where is the glory in destroying your body? In a destroyed body?

The importance of the kill-switch is critical to any attempt at a peak performance.  Whether it is in the test flight of a new aircraft, launch of a new manned rocket, an attempt at a land speed record, or any other record, there is a checklist which is followed and at any point where parameters are violated, the Chief Engineer shuts down the experiment.  It is no different in sport.  In sport, coaches are the Chief Engineers, the kill-switch to ensure that the long term goal is never sacrificed so that a short term objective can be achieved.

Plus, it is the kill-switch which lends confidence to the test pilot, the astronaut, or the athlete seeking a championship when pushing the limits. Knowing that there is someone looking out for you, ensuring that you do not push past reasonable pre-established barriers frees you to race with abandon, to leave it all out on the race course in an healthy way, a way that ensures that if anything does happen you are able to return and race another day.

If the long term outcome to training is health, then destroying one’s body in the process makes absolutely no sense.  Sacrificing your body on the altar of competition because it appears noble, is foolishness and nothing other than a display of immaturity both on the part of the athlete and coach (that is if the athlete has a coach).