Tag Archives: technique

Good Bones

The Town of Oakville is giving the Oakville Arena – located on Rebecca St – an uplift.  The 64 year old building will have $29 million of renovations, updates, and additions.

Driving past I had to stop and take a few pictures before the original structure was entirely engulfed by the new. I had to capture the construction of the original structure.

Take a close look at the construction of the domed roof… its wood.  Wood from the 1950s.

It got me thinking about structures built well from the start, it got me thinking about athletes who are built well from the start (and conversely those who are not).

Today our primary building block for structures is steel bar reinforced concrete. Problem… as with most things we do these days, we are little concerned about the long term. Steel reinforced concrete allows us to build taller and lighter structures than if there was no steel. Fabulous! We can leverage a plot of land by building floor after floor after floor. What few mention is that steel bar reinforced concrete has a long term issue… the steel eventually rusts, the concrete loosens, deteriorates and falls away from the steel, eventually leading concrete to literally fall off in chunks, or it having to be cleared away, the underlying structure cleaned up and reinforced to prevent the entire structure from collapsing. Wonder why construction on the elevated Gardiner never seems to end, its because it can never end because if it ever did stop… the Gardiner would come crumbling down. All thanks to the go-to solution of steel bar reinforced concrete. At the time of its original construction, the concept of an elevated highway made affordable by using steel bar reinforced concrete must have come across as space age brilliance.  Today, the Gardiner is a drain on the City of Toronto budget to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars (verging on billions if you add up past, present and future commitments).

Funny, eh? The pyramids have stood centuries, the Gardiner cannot last one.  The pyramids were built with solid blocks of rock, yet the Gardiner was built with 21st century architectural and construction technology. So… are we actually progressing or regressing as a result of all this so called technology?

We can erect a structure in no time flat… is that what matters?  Is what matters how quickly we can complete a project, and how many projects we can complete all at once? What about getting one project done, and done well… with quality, with excellence. Nope. No time for that.

We are busier than ever, moving faster than ever, doing more than ever, but are we solving anything or simply creating more problems, while kicking the can down the road for the problems that have already started to boomerang? It seems all that we are doing is loading future generations with debt and with projects that we know today will crumble if not maintained constantly.

I remember the day my daughter came home from school and shared that she learnt on her field trip that First Nations people (she didnt refer to a specific tribe) made decisions based on how that decision would impact multiple generations into the future.  If the impact was negative, even if the here and now stood to benefit, the decision was not approved by the elders.

Just stop and think about that: how many people put any effort into just thinking let alone thinking about how their decisions, how their behaviour today will impact tomorrow, and their children tomorrow? Does anyone consider consequences or costs to today’s actions? How much time do you put into the decisions that will affect your health, your well-being, your performance in life, that will affect the health, wellness and performance of your children? Anything beyond a couple seconds? Anything beyond a poll of what everyone else is doing?

The parallel to sport, to training, to performance, to health is this…

We have our own structures: our body, our brain, our organs, which total as our health.

If we are ‘building’ our health the same way we build buildings… well, lets just say that the epidemics and crises we face should be no surprise. That we live in a society of victims afraid of their own shadow, afraid of being shamed and hated at any instant, so fearfilled that now the average person is not healthy but unhealthy: overweight, obese, addicted to medical prescriptions, recreational drugs, or all of the above. It really should be no surprise based on how we behave.

Its time we stop with the bandaid – i.e. steel reinforced concrete – solutions, which although tempting, and appear to be ideal solutions for the here and now… are not long term solutions.

What do you want your structure to look like, to work like in the coming years and decades? Do you want it to be like the Gardiner? Needing almost a billion in renovations to keep it alive? Seems with all the cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, and health and wellness interventions that that is the plan for most.  Lets continue to bandaid over the crumbling infrastructure despite the fact that the core is rotting. The Gardiner was once a triumph of city planning and construction, now its called an eye sore and a barrier between the City of Toronto and its beautiful waterfront? Is that what you have become? An eye sore, with the health of your body and brain a barrier between you and your potential?

What about being like the Oakville Arena? Built from what many would consider inferior material as compared to concrete, yet the original building is not being torn down, far from it, it is been added onto and more importantly the building is seen as beautiful and worthy of upkeep so that many generations to come get to enjoy skating and playing hockey under its wonderful wooden roof.

FYI… we are cutting the same corners in residential construction.

A firefighter whose daughter swam with my daughter a few years back shared with me one day that he was called out to a fire in a row of townhomes.  Due to poor construction, they no longer enter these buildings for risk of total collapse. The construction these days is so poor – the cross beams supporting the roof are not nailed together but held by thin NON FIRE RESISTANT metal screens – that when a fire breaks out, it literally melts these screens leading to total collapse/cave-ins of the home. He shared that firefighters have been caught on main and basement levels when the entire residential structure above caved in and collapsed on them.

Gee… now why would we skimp on nails, NAILS for crying out loud! Replacing them with thin sheets of metal?

Because some MBA sitting at their labtop hired to figure out how to save a few pennies identifies that nails are too expensive.

Because today… money matters more than human life.

Because today… time matters more than human life.

Because today… now matters more than human life.

Because today… what we want matters more than the impact it has on our children.

Because today… I want what I want, and all that matters is that I get what I want… NOW!

Its time for all the adults to grow-up and start acting and making the tough decisions that adults are supposed to make.  For their own well being, and that of their children.

Worst Innovation in Triathlon [1]

Short cuts, short cuts, and more short cuts… unfortunately the sport of triathlon has become more of a sport of short cuts, then a sport recognizing proper training, proper skill, tactic, strategy and execution.

Instead of years building a base, nope… short cut… go straight to HIIT, to all-out efforts.

Instead of learning how to move with ease, with agility, balancing and coordinating the entire body, doing so effortlessly so as to maximize efficiency, nope… short cut… go straight to swimming, cycling and running at peak effort, peal power, max speed.

Instead of starting with entry level equipment, and learning to differentiate between gains made by training, and those available through equipment and technology, nope… short cut… go straight to top of the line equipment.

Well, the short cuts are finally starting to catch up with triathletes, and if the double pronged and/or cut out seat is not the worst short cut of them all, then I do not know what is.

The double pronged or cut out seat were created it seems for the sole purpose of solving the numbness and the pain experienced by those riding in a time trial [TT] or aero position on a triathlon bike.

To solve the problem of pelvic floor pain and numbness from an engineering perspective: eazy peezy, find the bones in the pelvis, support those bones, cut away everything else and boom… an evolution in seating! But did anyone stop to ask an health professional? Did anyone stop to ask if this problem is a problem that should be solved in this manner? No way, there are just too many triathletes and cyclists with painful pelvic floors, so stop talking and start selling a short cut that is sure to make millions.

But what if you are an athlete who has even the slightest interest in…

  • retaining urinary control in your later years (not becoming incontinent),
  • retaining the ability to have an erection without it being chemically induced,
  • not having a prolapse of the bladder, urethra, or rectum,
  • not having a prolapse of the uterus or vagina,
  • not experiencing pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction,
  • not having to endure any form of treatment or surgery to repair a damaged pelvic floor,
  • not causing and then having to live with damage [that you did to your own pelvic floor] as a result of poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique, then I suggest…

(a) take your pelvic floor pain and numbness issues seriously. They indicate that something is wrong, so seek appropriate, trained, experienced assistance from a registered health professional to heal and recover fully, then

(b) take yourself to a coach who is knowledgeable in anatomy, biomechanics, and physiology, and is experienced in teaching and progressing athletes in cycling technique and take the time to actually learn how to ride with proper technique, and

(c) either get the appropriate bike for your skill level plus a bike fit or if your bike is suitable then get a bike fit with the technique focused coach present during the fitting, so that the fitting reflects your current level: your current flexibility, mobility, and current level of cycling technique and skill set.

Cycling is as technical as swimming, as running, as Olympic Lifting, as any sport. Coaches who do not know the technique of cycling, or don’t have the slightest clue how to teach technique… dumb-down the sport to their level of ignorance teaching that cycling is simply grinding or pounding out power readings.

If you truly are in sport to learn, to discover, to explore your potential, to regain health, to live an active lifestyle, to model healthy living for your family, then start at the beginning… start with technique.

Abdominal Anatomy and Biomechanics Basics

Here’s why and how poor biomechanics and poor cycling technique can lead to pelvic floor damage and eventually dysfunction.

The diaphragm (top black line) is your primary breathing muscle. The pelvic floor (bottom black line) is made up of a collection of muscles which create a concave shape mirroring the shape of the pelvis with a primary role of supporting the internal organs.

Anatomy of the Abdominal Cylinder

Click Image to Enlarge
Image Attribution: GilbertoASanchezA

Between the diaphragm and the pelvic floor are all your vital organs.  Your organs do not compress which means that in order for you to take a proper diaphragmatic inhalation, your organs have to shift downwards when your diaphragm contracts. When your diaphragm contracts it moves downwards expanding the thorax so as to expand the lungs causing air to rush in.

Click Image to Enlarge

When you relax your diaphragm, it recoils back to an ‘up’ position as shown in the image above. Meanwhile, your lungs compress, pushing air out of them, resulting in exhalation while your organs shift back into their ‘up’ position.  This up and down shifting can be called the abdominal piston (see gif image below). The abdominal piston and the breathing cycle are synchronous in an healthy individual. An healthy individual is healthy because they have a proper and healthy breathing pattern, and have proper neuro-muscular awareness, tone, and control of their all their abdominal muscles (including those of the pelvic floor).

An healthy individual is healthy because their abdominal piston moves smoothly, easily, effortlessly throughout its full range of motion.

Click Image to Enlarge
Piston Gif Attribution: R. Castelnuovo

To review… when you inhale the piston head (vital organs) shifts down and when you exhale the piston head shifts up. This is proper use of your anatomy, this is proper and healthy breathing biomechanics.  The result of these healthy biomechanics is that you do not create excessive intra-abdominal pressure, you do not compress and stress your vital organs (e.g. stomach, pancreas, intestines, kidneys, liver, gallbladder, spleen, bladder, uterus, ovaries), you do not stress your pelvic floor, you do not pinch or compress blood vessels and nerves which travel through your abdomen. With healthy biomechanics – i.e. with proper use of your musculo-skeletal system – you do not lock, brace, make rigid any of the musculo-skeletal structures in your core. With healthy biomechanics you do not stop the abdominal piston from moving… not ever.

What Happens When We Use Our Anatomy Incorrectly?

Click Image to Enlarge

We have conscious control over our diaphragm even though breathing to a large extent is controlled subconsciously.  We can allow our diaphragm to be used by our body as the primary breathing muscle, or we can use our diaphragm to do something that it was not designed to do… that is to act as an immobilizer of our lower thoracic and lumbar spines, and as a result an immobilizer of our abdominal piston.

Our body was designed to be dynamic: stable yet simultaneously mobile at all times; never fixed, immovable, or rigid. Elasticity – as in flexible movement – prevents injury. Rigid immobile structures bear load until load exceeds their tolerance and then the only option for those structures is to fail.

Fixed bridges do not bend, they either take the load or they fail and collapse under the load.

Your core is no different. When you brace and lock your core (i.e. your spine, back muscles, gluts, hamstrings, obliques, etc…), you stop the abdominal piston. When your core is locked, when the piston is stopped, your core structures can tolerate a small amount of load. Beyond that point, one or more structures will fail. Which one? The weakest link in the group fails and results in injury to one or starts of a cascading effect where more than one structure ends up strained, sprained, or worse, ruptured. In one person the injury may manifest as an inguinal hernia, in another its spasms in their back muscles and/or gluts, in another it results in a bulging lumbar disc placing pressure on the sciatic nerve. Injury with a locked core, injury with a stopped abdominal piston is not only predictable, it is inevitable.

When you lock your core, the first question is how long will be it before something gives?

The second question is how much damage will you cause to yourself as a result of locking your core?Third question is how extensive will the clean be, how long will it take to clean up the mess, then to heal, then to recover and then to start rebuilding?

Is this what you want? Is this what you signed up for from training, from starting an exercise program, from hiring a trainer or coach?

If all an athlete does is heal from an injury, or worse jumps back into training never retraining how to use their core, then re-injury is as certain as the initial injury. Once an athletes starts on a vicious cycle (aka negative training cycle or doom loop) then they are stuck alternating between being injured and not training or training but in pain, never fully healthy, never truly recovering, never truly rebuilt; that is until they take the time to properly retrain themselves.

Your core is not built or designed to function like a fixed bridge, its built like a suspension bridge with distinct support structures, and structures which have the capacity to move and are supposed to move resulting in a bridge that can bend, twist, adapting to extreme loads (e.g. as with high winds in the image below). Imagine if this suspension bridge was fixed, unable to swing, bend, move… then like the stone bridge or the wooden railroad bridge it would fail when stressed. Suspension bridges will fail at some point as well, but their failure point requires far more load, far more stress, far greater forces in order for that to happen.So, what kind of core do you have? What kind of core is your coach training you to have? Is your coach training you to lock and brace under stress, setting you up to inevitably fail; or is your coach training you to be dynamic, flexible, mobile, able to yield and prevail under extreme stress?

Think about it… competition is a form of extreme stress, business and life both can exert extreme loads and forces upon us, what are you training to do under stress? What is your coach or trainer teaching you do under stressful loads? Prevail or lock up and collapse?

If your children are enrolled in sport… what are their coaches training them to do? Are your children learning skills while practicing their sport which translate to competition, and more importantly into academia, into relationships, into life?  What are your children’s coaches training them to be able to do… prevail or lock up and collapse when stressed?

Attribution of Abdominal Anatomy image from Wikipedia:

  • Link:  https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archivo:Abdomen_Anatomy.jpg
  • Author:  GilbertoASanchezA
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Attribution of Piston gif from Wikipedia:

  • Link: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piston.gif
  • Author: R. Castelnuovo
  • Image modifications: TheAthletesCloud.ca

Worst Meme in Triathlon


Who crawled is not the point, it is “the crawl” itself and the meaning that has been attributed to it that is the focus of this post. From a business perspective the event known as “the crawl” was undoubtedly the best thing to happen for the Ironman brand and the Corporation. From a health perspective, I will argue that it is the worst thing to happen to the sport of triathlon.

“The Crawl”

In 1982, a college student by the name of Julie Moss had a senior project to complete in order to be able to graduate from Cal Poly. ABC’s telecast of the Ironman race from Hawaii (back then there was only the one original Ironman event in Hawaii) served as the inspiration for Julie to sign up, as she proposed the event as a study in physiology to her college advisor.

Back then, there were no sources for ‘how to’ train to complete an iron distance triathlon event.  With a nascent sport, there were neither coaches specializing in it, nor were there former athletes who converted into coaches to guide novices. In short, with no formal coaching, using a couple marathons as test events in the months leading up to the Hawaiian Ironman, Julie Moss completed the race but not before stumbling and staggering from exhaustion, ending with “the crawl” to the finish line. It was “the crawl” that was televised to the world, and was televised year after year, for years, and on occasion still makes it into the annual broadcast of the Ironman World Championships.

“The original Hawaiian crawl by Julie Moss set Ironman triathlon as a mainstream sport and launched the race as a must-do event in the minds of a generation.” IM website


College is a period where most teenagers have their first true freedoms in life: freedom from home, from mom and dad, free to suffer the consequences of their decisions without a life line to dig them out.  That is part of what makes college or university life what it is, making decisions without the safety net of parents. As with all things that we are new at, few of us get all the decisions right the first time, and sometimes we make decisions which are simply irresponsible.

Julie Moss’ decision to compete at the Hawaiian Ironman was and should have remained as one of those “what was I thinking” college decisions, one never to be repeated (along the lines of partying the night before final exams). It should have served as a warning, a caution to anyone contemplating racing an iron distance triathlon that these events are not to be taken lightly, training is a must, proper preparation is needed if you do not want to end up crawling to and across the finish line.

Instead, the crawl became a defining moment in triathlon that led to the rise in popularity of the sport as the thought of an endurance event being so difficult that competitors are brought to their knees became an experienced that those watching, wanted for themselves.

It was a defining moment for the sport of triathlon as it changed the sport from one challenged by athletes, to an ‘experience’ pursued by thrill-seekers, a bucket list item for those willing to risk their well-being, their health by “winging it” in hopes that they too can cross the finish line. The risk of ending up like Julie Moss for thrill seekers is no risk: the story of a near death experience is exactly what they’re after. Whereas thrill-seekers are willing to “ER or PR”, true athletes are unwilling to take such risks. True athletes do not take such risks.

As a case study in business, the images of Julie Moss’ struggling to make it across the finish line are undoubtedly revered as pure gold in advertising and marketing. For those seeking to emblazon a corporate brand, a corporate identify into the minds of millions… this was and still is the jackpot.  It must still be recognized as a stroke of pure genius to re-frame what was nothing more than a student’s attempt to complete a college project into a metaphor for the struggle of life. To parallel the enormity of an iron distance triathlon and the obstacles and challenges we endure in life by suggesting that completing a triathlon is proof of your ability to conquer in life… must be a MBA course in itself in how to herd the masses into a meme.

What business would not want its brand associated with such a message? To own a piece of a brand that communicates that you are a winner? A conqueror of life? A champion? Who doesn’t want that? All it takes is a sizeable fee and crossing one of their corporate finish lines!

Its no wonder why Ironman races [the ones with easy courses] sell out in no time, or why triathletes get Ironman tattoos… its the message behind the brand: cross the finish line and you are branded a champ, a winner, a conqueror, not only of triathlon, but life itself.

Prior to “the crawl“, the Ironman was reserved for those who chose for themselves what it meant to cross the finish line. It was reserved for athletes. It was reserved for those who had a respect for the event, for themselves, for training, for competing, who respected the effect the effort would have on mind, body, and soul, who competed in the spirit of John Collin’s triathlon manifesto.

Post “the crawl“, Ironman became a magnet for thrill-seekers: those who think they are athletes because they complete or survive the event, failing to understand that the becoming occurs in the process of training over years and years, not in the fleeting moment of crossing some arbitrary line temporarily lit up with sponsor banners, spectators, and cameras.

Another byproduct of “the crawl” was that ill preparation, insufficient training, ambition, sheer excitement and enthusiasm were pronounced as “enough” to get you to the finish line. Crossing the finish line became all important, not how you crossed the finish line. Instead of advising years of preparation, individuals posing as coaches saw an opportunity to ‘sell’ iron distance triathlons to be within anyone’s reach, with as little as a few months of “training”. Why not? If a college student could take a stab at it, and after crawling end up not only celebrated but on the podium, well then… how hard can it actually be, right?

In the not to distant past, the good ol’ mid life crisis was solved by a Harley Davidson and a ponytail. Today, iron distance triathlons are the solution… having sacrificed health as a desk jockey in pursuit of fame and fortune, completing an iron distance triathlon has become the ticket to regaining an image of vitality, longevity, health, wellness, and anything else you want thrown in. Whether you achieve any of these is not the point, its looking as if you have that matters to thrill-seeking bucket listers.

With the fitness craze just starting in the ’80s, “the crawl” was the PED triathlon needed to vault it into the dreams of all those aspiring to the extremes of endurance sport, to the persona of athlete without having to put in the years and years of commitment, effort, dedication, sacrifice.

Echos of “the crawl” can be read online at triathlon sites today where amateurs ask pros what it would take to beat them (cause it cannot possibly have anything to do with training). The belief that “the crawl” instilled is that pros win because they have better equipment, more aero or hydrodynamic apparel, or their sports nutrition (i.e. adult candy) is more ‘dialed in’. With pharmaceutical and mechanical doping now verging on commonplace amongst age groupers, the reverberations of “the crawl” continue, echoing the desperation of the masses to regain the health of their youth, or at least look the part as ‘cosmetic health’ passes equally in our society for true health.

In fact, “the crawl” has perverted training to the point that proper training, training that builds unshakeable physiology and psychology and which takes years to develop is looked down upon. Its all about short cutting the process to a minimum. The mindset has been corrupted to where those who train least and still manage to cross the finish, irrespective of how, are the ones celebrated as champs. Training technique, training skill, gaining aerobic and anaerobic capacity through energy system development… has become the losers approach to sport.

As an athlete, a coach, and health professional it both saddens and infuriates me what the sport of triathlon has become. Being involved in the sport in its early years was a time when the joy of training was found in the simplicity of the challenge of excelling in three distinct disciplines. There was a child-like excitement at the opportunity to enjoy a new sport, to play in a new way. Now, to see the sport become a contest between credit cards – i.e. carbon fiber equipment – and impoverished training reveals a desolate landscape where the innocence and beauty of a sport has been strip mined for every possible ounce of profit. It should not be a surprise to anyone that the sport is losing participants and interest… how long could “the crawl” remain significant? Today, Ironman Corp is launching a reality series in hopes that it will revitalize interest, spark another wave of athletes. Will it?

As a parent, I believe the glorification of thrill-seekers is irresponsible. What are we teaching our kids?  That ill preparation, slogging through relying on NSAIDs and painkillers, suffering to glorify excessive effort has anything remotely to do with mental or physical health? That gambling with your health, rolling the dice on life are acceptable in the process of striving, achieving, and living? Its not just careless, its downright irresponsible for a generation to be so consumed with itself that it fails to realize the imprint they are making on those watching. You really think your kids admire you for coming home injured, ill, broken, ‘destroyed’ after a workout? Do you really think the medal matters when your kids just want to be with you, spend time with you, enjoy a bike ride or run at a reasonable pace where you can talk about life, enjoy each others presences, and the beauty that surrounds. If the medals are that important to you, don’t worry your kids will be sure to bury you with them when you pass on.

I believe the sport needs to return to its roots. Back to a time when equipment was secondary, and the basis of competition was identifying the athlete who was able to master all three disciplines, and able to deliver on any given day. It was the demonstration of sheer brilliance in physiological supremacy and psychological superiority that was the inspiration. It was a time when an athlete’s effort would leaving all those watching, and those competing motivated to seek a new level within themselves. It was a time when we played triathlon (as in the words of triathlon pro Eric Langerstrom).

Finish lines are sought after today as some sort of ‘holy grail’, that once obtained will release the finisher from their inner turmoils and distress, proclaiming to the world that they are ‘good enough’. It doesn’t. Its an illusion. An illusion sold because it profits business. Don’t believe me, then read the memoirs and the autobiographies of Olympians who stood on the podium crying not in joy but disappointment that with gold medal in hand while their national anthem played they remain unfulfilled, realizing their pursuit was empty from the start. Finish lines pursued with the wrong motivation always feel that way (problem is, if you don’t believe anyone telling you different, you have to experience it for yourself to awaken to the truth).

Think it was last year when CNBC polled to find out how much money was “enough”. Those with $1million stated $5million in the bank would be enough to feel safe and secure. Those with $5million had no plans to stop working as they responded $10million was needed. Guess how those with $10, $20, and those with $50million responded? Consistently, the need was for double of what was their current bank balance. Yet double was never enough when they got there.  How can the solution be more, if more never satisfies?

If you are not enough to start, there are not enough finish lines in the world to make you enough. Those that realize this after crossing a finish line, but are unable to accept it, deny it and either change sports claiming that triathlon wasn’t challenging enough, or live in denial. To avoid the lingering emptiness, upon completing one goal they immediately sign up for another and another hoping that next time… will be different. It never is.

Training, triathlon, sport in general are all beautiful when used and pursued properly, when the starting point is a search for enlightenment into oneself, as a form of self expression.

When abused, when pursued by thrill seeking addicts, sport becomes ugly. It loses its value as a source of inspiration, motivation, because turned into a battle of conquest, there never are winners.

There is an healthy way to train and compete, and there is most definitely unhealthy ways to train and compete.

Today, triathlon has become u-g-l-y, ugly and it has no alibi. It doesn’t need cosmetic surgery, it needs a fresh start, a do over where fun, play, learning, and training are the starting points, and where thrill-seeking is left to amusement park rides and bucket lists are for those who are dying, not living.

Reference and Links:

Technique Training 103

To all aspiring age group and pro athlete,

If you truly want to explore, strive for, pursue, and discover your potential then quit HiiT (hi intensity interval training) and train the way consistent peak performers, the elite of the elite, the way repeat World Champions train… train technique.

The Island House Triathlon is a 3 day invitation only series of multi sport events held in Bermuda. It is where the best of the best square off against one another in head to head short distance elimination based competition.

If you do not finish in the top 10 after the day two of competition, then you go home early.

How do the best of the best race for 3 days? By focusing on technique. The only way to focus when racing, is to focus on technique. How do you become focused, mentally tough while racing? You train to develop sport specific technique, and then you train rehearsing setting your mind on executing exquisite technique to maintain the highest level of efficiency possible when stressed, when performing at your potential.

Richard Murray, 4th at Rio 2016 Olympic Triathlon, 1st at ITU World Duathlon Championships and The Island House Triathlon 2016 Overall Winner

“I know there will always be a moment where I will feel like I am getting tired or there is some pain involved there… but then I realize that moment will pass pretty soon and a lot of the time I just focus in on technique. Its always being in control of what you are doing.”

Helle Fredericksen 1st at Hy-Vee + Challenge Bahrain Triathlons 2014, and 7th at The Island House Triathlon 2016

“I try to focus on one thing at a time, I feel that when I am racing really hard if I can focus on something that is technique related I can get that pain away and not think about it.”

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian with a total of 28 medals, of which 23 are gold, with 8 gold medals won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics

How did Michael Phelps win gold and set a new World Record at the 2008 Beijing OIympics with goggles filled with water?

He focused on technique. He knew his stroke counts, so he knew where he was in each length at all times, so he knew when the walls were coming up.

He didn’t panic, he didn’t choke, he had no reason too, because he focused on executing his trained race strategy with the specific technique which he had rehearsed over and over.

Athletes who train technique perform consistently, execute strategy effectively, race efficiently, thus end up standing constantly on the podium as gold medalists, as World Record holders, as World Champions.

Question is… what kind of athlete do you want to be?

An athlete who bangs their head against the wall in training and racing by focusing on hard HiiT workouts? An athlete whose strategy is to hope that inflicting upon themselves harder and harder workouts will somehow translate into skill, into capacity, into technique come race day? An athlete who spends more time injured, ill, recovering, in rehab, thus frustrated and disappointed when race seasons starts, and with their race results?

What about becoming an athlete who trains technique, who focuses on becoming better in every workout in some way.  An athlete who devotes themselves to studying their sport, to learning, experimenting, and then developing in themselves the skills, the abilities, and the capacity to execute competitive strategies at will and on demand. What about becoming an athlete whose confidence arises from the consistency, the deliberateness, the focus of their training, who looks forward with excitement to the race season, and their racing results?

Technique Training Case Study [RF]

Track Cyclist Robert Förstemann

He can generate and hold 700+ watts for over a minute, he has thighs which measure 70+ cm, yet he can do the splits.

Combine his exquisite flexibility and mobility with an acute awareness of his center of gravity (CoG), plus a mastery of balance and back squats can be done without having to hold or support the bar.

Technique training does not sacrifice power, speed, or endurance.

Technique training leverages ROM, flexibility, and mobility, maximizing these attributes to generate power and speed sustaining them over distances with the greatest degree of efficiency. That is why athletes who train technique are consistently improving, consistently on the podium, are consistent champions.

Youtube: UCI Men’s Sprint Final Race 1 & 2 – Förstemann vs Phillip

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 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):


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?

All ‘Bout More Base

It’s All ‘Bout the Base [1] & [2] discussed how East African runners, specifically Kenyans, amass 10,000+ km of base training simply by running to and from school as children. This is base training, aerobic conditioning achieved before these athletes go on to any formal training, before they start working with a coach.

In hopes of explaining the success of East African athletes being achieved by anything other than simple consistent base training, and perhaps in hopes of finding an easily monetized short cut that can be packaged and sold, genetic testing has been performed countless times on these athletes. It has been to no avail as no running or endurance gene exists, there is nothing genetically ‘special’ about East African athletes. What is special is that as children they trained, trained, trained and trained not even knowing they were training as they ran to & from school. This is great news because it means that World Champions are not born, they are made, making the podium available to anyone who commits themselves wholeheartedly.

Proof exists in plain sight: children who grow up in Kenya’s cities, children who have access to transportation including children of former Kenyan Cross Country, Road, and Track Champions and Olympians who as a result of their parents’ success live a privileged life of ease driven to and fro, do not become top level runners. To date, all of Kenya’s top runners have come from rural areas, and predominantly from the Rift Valley region.

How then do consistent champions develop? Over time. Slow cooker style. Over years and years, sometimes unknowingly, thru chores (e.g. Usain Bolt), play (e.g. Amanda Beard), and by simply hopping, bouncing (e.g. David Rudisha), running, riding and swimming with friends as part of daily life.

Again, proof exists in plain sight…

At this years Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, German men took all 3 podium positions: 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medalist in triathlon Jan Frodeno held his title as World Champion, former World Ironman Champion Sebastian Kienle took 2nd, and Ironman rookie Patrick Lange took 3rd. Last time the German men took all 3 podium positions was 1997, but since 1997, German men have taken 17 of all 36 podium positions since.

Question: How?

Answer: Its All ‘Bout the Base, ‘Bout the Base.

German Andy Boecherer who placed 5th this year at Ironman WC was asked to explain the success of Germans. Andy replied in a triathlon.competitor.com interview as follows:

“You know I think our bike [legs] are so good because it’s the first thing that we start—riding bikes to school. When I’m in America, I see everyone get dropped off at school. Boecherer’s advice to the youth of America? We [German kids] have like 10,000 km [in our legs] already, so yeah, go out and train!”

No different than East African athletes who run daily to school and end up international level runners; German children ride daily to school and end up international level cyclists.

If this is indeed true, then German success should not be limited to triathlon, but it should occur equally in UCI cycling competitions.  Based on this year’s UCI World Champs in Doha, Qatar, the evidence continues to pile up that it is all about the base. Germans dominated in the U23 TT, and Germany’s Tony Martin won the men’s time trial [TT] for a record tying fourth time. Germans also hit the podium in the U23 Road Race.


Tony Martin TT Doha, Qatar 2016

So… if you think that a power meter, that a new aero helmet or bike, or deep rim carbon fiber wheels are your ticket to cycling and time trialing success, think again. If you want to truly develop as an athlete, irrespective of the sport, it starts with building a base, a massive base, the bigger the better. If your base is measured in anything less than thousands of hours or kilometers, then you are kidding yourself that you can proceed to HIIT training, to power meter workouts, or to any other form of training designed to peak you.  You may set a P.B. doing so, but that type of P.B. is no different than placing in a kindergarten finger painting contest… who cares! It doesn’t reflect your ability, and it doesn’t come close to representing your truest potential.

Take the time to develop your base, the physiology and psychology that arises from years of dedication, commitment, and sacrifice.  You do not develop at the core following a 10 or 12 week ‘learn to’ program.  You do not develop to your potential in one or two seasons of peaking for competition, and you definitely do not achieve anything simply by crossing a finish line.

Want to explore your potential?  Then you need to start at the beginning, from scratch, from where all World Champions arise… consistent low intensity aerobic conditioning woven with skills and drills (non-technically referred to as ‘play’ by World Champs to be).

The amazing and awesome part about starting at the beginning, is that if you are a parent, you can do it with your children, you too can play, have fun, swim, bike, run, play soccer, shoot hoops, play catch.  Do it for hours, lose track of the time, don’t count or log the throws, or baskets, or the time spent.  Just do it, and then do it tomorrow, and the day after and the day after.

Your days of being a World Champion may or may not be over (see TOEST.ca Project Japan 2020 in case your days aren’t over), but you can definitely set your kids up to rise up to being Champions in their own way. Start right, start smart, and you will finish with the success that you truly desire.


  • http://triathlon.competitor.com/2016/10/ironman/behind-germanys-kona-podium-domination_294851#odKvzo84XL6hCGQB.99
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/worlds-germans-dominate-u23-tt-powless-sixth_422484
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/martin-wins-fourth-career-world-tt-title-doha_422719
  • http://velonews.competitor.com/2016/10/news/u23-worlds-norways-halvorsen-sprints-to-victory_422847

To read all the blog posts on the topic of base, using this websites search tool look up “All Bout the Base” or from the tag list in the footer of this website, click on ‘base training’.

Bike Handling Skills for Ironman Hawaii [2]

Southern Ontario is not known for the heat and humidity found out on the Hawaiian Islands.  There is however one aspect of the Ironman World Championship bike course that we do experience here once in awhile, giving triathletes the opportunity to prepare specifically for Kona: Ontario gets on the special occasion an awesome windy day, or if really lucky, a few.

Late September this year saw a string of days that were ideal training for any bike course on which you can anticipate experiencing strong winds (e.g. Niagara Falls Barrelman Triathlon), here are a few gifs from Burlington:

burlington_2016_09_30_windy_1 burlington_2016_09_30_windy_2

Click here for videos [vid1] [vid2] [vid3] from Spencer Smith Park showing the waves crashing over the retaining wall and onto the promenade.

How many triathletes took the opportunity, in the drizzle, in the rain, in the gusty conditions to head out and get in a bike session?  How many triathletes instead remained indoors, heading off to the gym or onto the trainer seeking pristine conditions.  With race day weather unpredictable, and rarely pristine like that of the indoors, getting training in ‘real’ conditions is a must for any athlete pursuing their potential.

Former cat1 competitive cyclist Bill Anderson of Brant Cycle shared with me how back in his day of training and competing, his coach would take every opportunity to send him and his training mates out into the worst weather imagineable.  Was there method or was it simply madness?

Bill shares that at the time, there didn’t seem to be any point of training in cold, windy, rainy conditions, but when it came to racing in similar conditions, because Bill had spent so much time in it, it didn’t matter to him at all that the crit course was slick, that open areas forced riders into echelons, that the wind required experience for the gusts and constant changes in direction to be handled. Being comfortable across all weather conditions allows athletes to focus on racing.  The difference is dramatic on race day as cyclists who hide each time the weather turns rough can’t translate training into racing, sometimes DNF, and whichever the case may be, end up leaving the finish line wide open for those who train across all conditions.

With Bill’s message clear in my mind, my son and I took those wind days as opportunities to train in conditions that we would have avoided in the past.  On one of the days, I headed out on my own to one specific street that amplifies the wind: Marine Drive in Bronte, Oakville.  I call it apartment alley as both sides of Marine Dr have 10+ storey buildings on either side for a few hundred meters. The impact of these buildings is that whenever the wind is from the east or the west, the buildings funnel the wind turning Marine Dr into a virtual wind tunnel. Click here for a Youtube video of the wind in apartment alley.

marine-drThe wind was so strong that holding 10kph on my mountain bike was a challenge, but it was a ton of fun trying to remain vertical, make some horizontal progress, while practicing holding an aero posture amongst the gusts.

Another great location for training into headwinds or with tailwinds is North Service Rd, running from Confederation Park along the QEW.  This road is part of the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail and runs all the way to St Catharines, and onto Niagara Falls.  The road is flat, open, and again, with winds coming from the east or west there are great training opportunities for sustained head and tail winds especially in the Stoney Creek and Lincoln sections where the Trail doesn’t wind through residential areas.

Kona is known not only for headwinds and tailwinds, but also for severe cross winds.  My preferred training spot for cross winds is the beach path that starts at the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge and ends at Confederation Park in Hamilton.  The value of an unsheltered road from prevailing winds becomes clear when the wind is howling off the lake.  During those days in late September riding the beach path felt like I was riding at a 45 degree inclining.  After 5k the work that my core had to do to maintain balance and simultaneously pedal was definitely being felt.  Riding the 5k back felt like I was unwinding as the other side of my core got the workout. A side benefit to wet and windy days… no one is out on the beach path, so you can have whatever is your favorite bike path all to yourself.

When the weather turned unbelievably beautiful on Thanksgiving weekend, with blue skies, a beaming sun, and temperatures in the mid 20s, it made the memories of those wet windy rides all that much sweeter.  In addition to appreciating the warmth of the sun, those wet windy days helped me realize that riding in different conditions really adds a new dimension to cycling and made training all that much more fun. Who knew!

If your training is not growing your enjoyment of the sport, then you may want to consider that you are in a rut… perhaps a weather rut.  Try different conditions and you may all of a sudden realize that its not the sport but sometimes our mindset that limits our enjoyment, and also our progress.

Wet and windy don’t phase me as much as they once did, and now after braving conditions and temperatures I avoided in the past, my outdoor riding season has been extended by at least 2 months.  The outcome of a few days in the rain and wind is that all of a sudden my training volume for October is already double what it was last year and October isn’t half over.

Just in case you are wondering how windy it can get at Ironman World Championships, watch the shirt of the volunteer in yellow, the angle the athletes are having to hold, and the amount they veer gives an idea of how strong the Mumuku winds can blow:

ironman_hawai_2006_wind1-tumblr ironman_hawai_2006_wind2-tumblr

Layering: from Simple to Complex

After a recent TOEST swim workout, an athlete mentioned that the style of my workouts (i.e. the repetition of sets, and the repetition of certain components within a set) can make a simple set, challenging to follow.

Why not just make it simple? Why make athletes think? Aren’t athletes supposed to just train, not actually think about their training? It may seem that my desire is to make complex what could be made simple, but… there is method to this madness.

mona_lisa_by_leonardo_da_vinci_from_c2rmf_retouchedConsider the painting widely considered to be “the best known, most visited, most written about, must sung about, and most parodied work of at in the world”: the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa was painted by Leonardo da Vinci, between the years of 1503 and 1506, and possibly until the year 1517.

Lets just stop there for a moment… the Mona Lisa was not painted in a single sitting, not in one afternoon, not even in one day, but painted perhaps a little bit one day, then allowed to dry, then painted again another day maybe a few days later, a week later, and this process was repeated year after year after year.

Note to all aspiring athletes: Leonardo didn’t bang out the Mona Lisa in a single session, it was repetition, consistent repetition of brushstrokes over years that led to a masterpiece.  No single workout makes a World Champion.

If that wasn’t enough layering, then consider that recent research into exactly how Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa has been performed using various optical technologies and resulted in the discovery that there is at least one if not two distinct portraits underneath the painting we refer to as the Mona Lisa. How many layers of paint does it take to hide one painting within another, especially when individual brushstrokes weren’t heavy enough to cover the layer below? When the total sum of layers is considered, the workmanship, the diligence, the thoughtfulness put into the painting becomes elevated to a level where it becomes difficult to even conceptualize the effort put forth by Leonardo.

But what’s this got to do with coaching, swimming, or any form of training?  Loads.

What we see when we watch any World Championship competition, or the Olympics is not the single brushstroke of an athlete painting a performance, it is the final masterpiece after years and years and years of layering of skill after skill after skill, executed by performing drill after drill after drill.  Its workout after workout, competition after competition, with time in between to reassess, take a step back and stop and look at the entire picture, evaluating what needs specific attention, and then back to drill after drill to build up weak aspects of performance.

Training was performed, rest so that training would ‘dry’, be woven into the neuromuscular patterns of the athlete, into the fiber of their being, blending with all the deeper layers, resulting in a masterpiece with such variation, so many shades and textures, that depth was created, character was formed, a presence was transferred into them, making them larger than life.

An aspiring artists can be given a brush and they will paint.  The drawing will be uni-dimensional and because it is uni-dimensional (i.e. without depth) it will be distinguishable from the work of a legendary artist like Leonardo da VInci.  A single brush stroke by Leonardo is likely of little difference than that of a beginner.  The difference is that Leonardo adds brush stroke after brush stroke, changing modestly the width, the length of the stroke, modifying the hue of the paint just enough to play with the perspective of natural light which is anything but constant.

There is a key psychological aspect to workouts which are layered… it is an attempt to instill in athletes that it is not any single repetition, not any single length, not even any single drill, but the repetition of many drills, in varying orders which layer skills into abilities and eventually into what the sports media refers to as “natural talent”.

When interviewed, Bob Bowman (Michael Phelps’ coach) often shares that Michael is asked whether or not he works with a sports psychologist.  Bob replies “everyday” (as Bowman’s college degree is in developmental psychology).  The importance of weaving the psychology of sport into the daily training of athletes cannot be understated (as the significance is made clear in athletes such as Phelps).  Weaving in patterns of repetition, of complexity through layering is one way of modelling for athletes that there is significant thought required into achieving their potential, and workouts cannot be executed mindlessly. Mindless workouts leads to mindless repetitions, mindless meters, yards and miles, and mindless athletes.  Yet the highest performing athletes are developed mentally as much they are physically, so why wouldn’t a coach take every opportunity to challenge their athletes multi-dimensionally?

If your workouts are uni-dimensional, lack depth, meaning, significance, then perhaps its time to lift your training to a new level, to the level of an athlete pursuing their true potential.

Perhaps some of my workouts could be written out simply, one straight set from beginning to end, but I believe there is value in having athletes think before, during, and after workouts.  I believe it ensures that athletes are engaged throughout, thinking about what they are doing, and hopefully when unsure, asking questions as to why, what’s the point and purpose.

My workouts are written to engage athletes, to present opportunity for athlete and coach to interact ensuring that the end goal is always front and center for both.