Tag Archives: triathlon

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

Preface

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

Discussion

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?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In The Lab vs Out In The Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, to pro cyclists centimeters matter, not meters.

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

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

In The Laboratory vs Out in the Real World

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not different, because its in a triathlon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Sanders Stuck? For Now… Yup.

Lionel was kind enough to read and reply to the first post. His response was that the sport of triathlon is at a crossroad, sticking to his guns that the physical draft at 10m is insufficient as it gives an unfair advantage to those who in Lionel’s opinion are not competitive on the bike.

I do not agree that the sport of triathlon is at a crossroad. The 10m draft has been in place for what… three, going on four decades, but now, in 2016, all of a sudden drafting on the bike is the issue. I find it hard to believe that all of a sudden drafting is the defining issue for the Ironman brand, and iron distance triathlons.

As an aside, it is rather convenient to argue that drafting in the bike portion needs to be addressed, but drafting in the swim and run portions are immaterial. If drafting at 10m on the bike gives an unfair advantage then what about drafting in the swim and on the run? Seems rather selective to focus solely on drafting on the bike. Seems to be an issue of self preservation for one or a small group of athletes, not an issue risking the viability of the sport of triathlon.

Anyhow… none of this is consequential to iron distance triathlons, to the Ironman brand, nor Ironman Corporation.

The sport of iron distance triathlons is not at a crossroad, here’s why…

Ironman Corporation has one sole objective:

  • If its a publicly traded company in China, then it must increase revenues, profits and cash flow in order that its stock price appreciates;
  • If its a privately held company in China, then it must increase cash flows in order to return to its shareholders their investment, and then earn them an ROI.

That’s it. Ironman Corporation has one focus: shareholder ROI.  No, not ROI for Sanders, or the other pro triathletes, all that matters is the cash it brings in for its owners.  Ironman Corp ‘cares’ about triathlon, age group, and pro triathletes only to the extent that they fulfill the above goals. That’s it. It is not some charitable entity vested into retaining the history of triathlon, the meaning that triathlons hold for any one athlete, they are in triathlon to make money off it, and off you as a triathlete. If as a pro you help Ironman Corp in its goals, good for you, but that doesn’t mean it owes you anything in exchange. If anything, you already have a career as a pro because Ironman Corp puts on events, so from the boardroom of Ironman Corp. you’ve got all that’s coming to you. Besides, Ironman Corp knows one thing… if any one pro steps down, there are at least ten who will gladly – and without complaint re: draft zone size – step up and take the spot. To Ironman Corp, whether one pro races or not makes not one iota of difference to them.

With this in mind, how on earth is the sport at a crossroad? It isn’t.

Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) owns and operates the Tour de France along with other prolific events in Europe. In operating the cycling events it owns, the ASO complies and upholds UCI (the international governing body for the sport of cycling) regulations, but the ASO could easily run the Tour without the UCI. The Tour de France has become so significant in the sport of cycling, so significant to the corporations marketing and advertising through the World Tour Teams they sponsor, so significant to the career of pro cyclists that the UCI needs the Tour and ASO more than ASO needs the UCI. If the ASO saw that it would be advantageous to set its own rules and standards, to say adieu to the UCI, then there is nothing stopping them. The UCI could threaten not to sanction the Tour, but sanctioning is immaterial. Too many cycling pros feel the Tour is more important than the Olympics.

Ironman Corporation is in an identical position to ASO. It doesn’t need the ITU, it doesn’t need its rules, it simply uses them and will use them until it no longer suits their needs. So what would cause Ironman Corporation to go it alone, and create its own rules and standards of competition?  If generating a ROI for its sharesholders is its priority, then there is only one answer: money.  If there is the chance that the money would roll in if Ironman changed the rules, then I see no reason why they wouldn’t. Widening the draft zone to 20m does nothing except risk declining revenues and profit, so I actually see the opposing argument, one for reducing or eliminating the draft zone in iron distance events:

  • If the goal of Ironman Corp is to add more and more participants to events (i.e. maximize capacity utilization), then that means squeezing in more and more cyclists onto the roads and highways. How is any event going to squeeze more participants, and ensure that those participants are able to compete safely if the draft zone is 20m? The average athlete can barely hold wattage steady, but now you are asking them to surge for 20m to pass another athlete, and if they were polite, another 20m to put another 20m between.  The average triathlete can barely bike a straight line and you want them surging for a relative 40m, which would likely require them to attack over an absolute distance of 400 to 1000m? Are you kidding? If there was a large pack, and an athlete had to pass several riders in a row, then what? Passing would require the athlete to attack for perhaps a few kilometers in order to avoid getting stuck in any draft zone, risk a penalty or a DQ. How does that make the sport more attractive to new entrants? To growing participation? It doesn’t.

Strike one against a 20m draft zone.

  • If the goal of Ironman Corp is to continue to be seen as a relevant sport, then it needs course records to be set on a fairly regular basis.  On the men’s side, there hasn’t been a course record in such a long time that Ironman Corp had to fabricate that Patrick Lange set a new marathon record (2:39.33).  He did not. Mark Allen’s marathon time (2:40.04) includes his T2, Lange’s doesn’t. If you subtract any time for T2 (e.g. Patrick Lange’s T2: 2mins 43secs) from Allen’s marathon time, then Allen still holds the record. Mark Allen and Dave Scott were asked by Bob Babbitt about the lack of course records, what in their opinion is the root cause of the lack of records. Both replied that there is too much accelerating and decelerating by the pros in the bike portion, and that’s with a 10m draft zone. A 20m draft zone would magnify accelerating and decelerating, thereby virtually eliminating any hope of a course record. If Ironman Corp is already straining to remain relevant on televised media, then a 20m draft zone makes no sense whatsoever.

Strike two against a 20m draft zone.

  • If the goal is to maximize revenue potential, then broadcasting iron distance events needs to be entertaining.  The bike portion of iron distance events (for the masses) is boring, its a 6hr snooze fest, where the commentators desperately down play the massive gaps, making it seem that rivals are constantly battling it out for the lead. If Ironman Corp wants to turn its events into riveting, head to head racing that sells advertising then the last thing to do is to widen the draft zone to 20m. If pros from draft legal ITU races start to move up to iron distance races, then the reality is more likely to be that they will bring drafting along with them, selling Ironman Corp on non stop racing from start to finish. How does increasing advertising revenues sound to a for profit corporation in comparison to the plan of a 20m draft zone benefiting a handful of old pros who cannot swim, making watching Ironman worse than watching paint dry?

Strike three against a 20m draft zone.

Lionel Sanders may be at a crossroad as a pro triathlete, but the sport of iron distance triathlons is not (in regards to drafting).  With the Ironman brand recently acquired, there is undoubtedly goals to scale operations, to maximize ROI, and whether Lionel Sanders is competing as a pro is irrelevant to the grand scheme of it all.

As per the prior post, evolve or go extinct, there is no in-between.

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

Significance of the Kick in Swimming [1] – Speed

Olympian Ryan Lochte can kick 50 short course yards (scy) using underwater dolphin kick (UDK) in 20.8 seconds, when converted to meters that equals 23.1 seconds.  Now consider that he swims 50m backstroke in just under 27 seconds.

It would seem that kicking is quite significant to peak performance in swimming…

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Olympian and World Record holder Alexander Popov could kick 50m freestyle in 27 seconds, when his WR for 50m was 21.64 secs.

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When ESPN did a study on Olympian Rebecca Soni’s breaststroke they found that her kick provided around 100 lbs of propulsive force, while her pull provided about 20 pounds of propulsive force. While not many have the propulsion in the legs of Rebecca, the truth is that most of the propulsion from all good breaststrokers comes from the legs, not the arms. The key to a fast breaststroke is to develop a strong kick and to reduce frontal drag after the kick.

Read the full story here.

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Olympian Gary Hall Sr. who now operates The Race Club in Islamorada, Florida writes in triathlete magazine online:

If there is one skill that most differentiates the fast swimmers from the not-so-fast swimmers, it would be the strength of the kick. As a triathlete, one of the biggest dilemmas, given the limited amount of swim training time you have, is how much time and effort you should spend trying to improve your kick. I believe focusing on the legs is one of the best ways to improve as a swimmer.

By doing dry-land stretches and focusing more on your legs in training, your swim will get faster. Having your legs in better kicking shape will not only help your swim time, but will give you more confidence to finish the bike and run faster.

Read the full story here.

At The Race Club, Hall coaches two full workouts a week entirely dedicated to the legs.

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Since swimming a lifetime best (21.32) in the 50 long course meter free at last year’s European Champs, French star Florent Manaudou has been almost unstoppable. In December, he broke the World Record in short course meters, and in 2015 he has yet to lose a long course final in the 50 free.

Manaudou ran that streak to 6-straight meets on Friday at the Sette Colli Trophy in Rome by posting a 21.64 and breaking the Meet Record.

The way Manaudou has been so good is a little contrary to the trend we’re seeing in men’s sprint freestyling: he’s doing it with big underwaters. This is not something new for him: when he won Olympic gold in 2012 in this event, he was the last swimmer up.

Read the full story here.

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How important is a powerful kick?  Here is China’s Tao Zheng (Lane 5) swimming to a new world record in the 100m BK in a time of 1:13.56 (long course).  You decide….

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Gary Hall Sr. wrote a two part article on the importance of the freestyle kick:

A link to The Race Club page on developing ankle flexibility: Power Your Swim Kick

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If the kick provides the momentum to each stroke, timing for the pull, and the stability across the core maximizing the power of the pull, then why are athletes resistant to dryland leg workouts, developing flexible hips and core through stretching, and challenging themselves with massive kick sets?

Bike Handling Skills for Ironman Hawaii

In preparation for any triathlon, especially an athletes ‘A’ race, the opportunity exists to study, review, and train specifically for the challenges each aspect of the race will offer.

Since the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii is a target race for many triathletes, we can use it as a template of how to review a race to identify the bike handling skills an athlete requires to successfully complete the course, and the additional skills required if the goal is to be competitive.

15konabike1

Course Layout

The overview reveals that the start of the bike course is in town with several corners.  Although the technical difficulty is not high, the fact that this part of the course will likely be congested with athletes frantic from the chaos of T1, riding side by side while trying to get feet into shoes or hydrating suggests that one handed riding, one handed cornering and swerving are skills to master. With aide stations on the bike course, one handed riding will come in equally handy when reaching out for water bottles and when hydrating/eating out on the course.

With two 180 turnarounds, slow speed cornering should also be mastered along with efficient acceleration from sitting and standing positions.  The second turnaround in Hawi seems to be on a flat part of the course, but the terrain of the first turnaround is unclear due to the image of the cyclist overlaid on the course profile.  If the first turnaround occurs in ‘the pit’ or similar setting, then slow cornering on an incline/decline should not be overlooked.

Athletes need to allocate time specific to developing and training these skills as these are not gained by riding stationary trainers, in spinning classes, or in group rides.  No, this is not ‘hard’ training, but it is smart training.  It is training which is often overlooked as too simple, too rudimentary, but gaps in these simple skills often leads athletes to misjudge lines through corners on the bike, risking falls and injury.  Otherwise, a lack in bike handling skills can easily translate into exertion miscalculations resulting in athletes unable to race the run portion of the competition as they left too much out on the bike course.

Course Profile

Using the bike course profile athletes can anticipate what style of riding is required in order to master the course…

15konabike - profil

The bike course although televised as flat, is not dead flat.  The profile reveals an undulating landscape, add in the trade winds and those small undulations require planning.  Slight gradients like the 7 mile climb up into Hawi can be deceptive and if exertion is not paced well, then it can come back to haunt the athlete later in the bike, or in the run.

The profile of the course should also be used to decide on chain ring and cog sizes/pairings, especially if the athlete is considering a single chain ring system.  The linked article provides a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of one ring systems, and as with anything new… ensure that there is nothing new on race day.  All changes should be made well in advance of any competition with sufficient time to experiment, trouble shoot, and to assess if the changes are indeed effective towards achieving a desired outcome (i.e one month out from race day is the target to finalize equipment setup).

In reviewing prior years of the Ironman Championships, it is not uncommon for the pros to overexert themselves on the bike, either attempting to make up a deficit from the swim, or trying to create a gap ahead of the run only to misjudge their effort.  Even Ironman Champions such as Luc Van Lierde, Normann Stadler, Thomas Hellriegel and 8 time Ironman winner Paula Newby-Fraser have all miscalculated effort on the bike in one or more races.  If pros do it, then there isn’t an age group athlete that can claim to have mastered pacing and be exempt from improving this skill further.

With the advent of power meters, athletes such as Lionel Sanders approach races with wattage targets to hold exertion to trained, thus safe zones.  But competing as a pro is never that simple as Lionel shares in his blog: making up time lost to leaders on the swim, attacking to create a gap on the bike for the run, for how long and at what wattage to recover cannot be pre-planned as the actions of competitors cannot be predicted.  There is an art to competing: flexibility is required, ranges of ability are required and consistent peak performers do so by elevating their skills of introspection and emotional stability to that of an art-form, as science and power meter data have limits in usefulness.

Course Reconnaissance

Having a map is a definite plus, but taking the time to ride and drive the course repeatedly is performed by those athletes seeking to minimize the unexpected.  To maximize their chances of completing a downhill course with the fewest errors, thus to have the fastest time, alpine skiers take the time to memorize every turn, every bump, every change in terrain so later they can replay it, visualizing how they will take each turn, set up for the next.  Memorizing the bike course to know where strategic points exist carries the value of knowing where to attack so that an escape into the unknown can be made leveraging a physical effort to inflict not only a gap but doubt and confusion into the minds of competitors as to your position.  Equally, knowing strategic points provides insight into where competitors may try to pull a trick of their own.

Course Environmental Factors

Prior races of the Ironman World Championship are available on Youtube.  In reviewing the 25+ years of the event, an athlete will gain insight into the full range of conditions which they may experience, such as…

  • In 1990, the temperature on the Queen K highway hit 110+oF (45oC) for the bike and run portions of the race.
  • In 1993, it rained on the bike course around Hawi.
  • In 1998, athletes faced a 25mph head wind on the way out of Kona.
  • In 1999, cloud cover made for a cooler race and the typical head wind on the way out turned becoming a head wind on the way back as well.
  • In 2001, 60 mph – gale force – crosswinds caused 6 time Ironman Champion Dave Scott to withdraw and slowed the bike splits for the pros considerably, having a dramatic impact on race strategy as the effort required on the bike left athletes weary on the run.
  • In 2005, there was barely any wind on the bike and temperatures were cooler than average.
  • In 2006, Mark Allen stated that he never saw the conditions so cool and calm; there was virtually no wind at the start of the race, with even a little rain falling.  Then the trade winds blew onto Hawaii.  Michellie Jones knew that the ride into Hawi was going to be rough when she saw white caps develop on the ocean.  Crosswinds became so strong, that cyclists and their bikes were lifted up off the road and thrown.  If that wasn’t enough, during the marathon the temperature spiked.

Click on the image for a Youtube video on the Hawaiian Mumuku winds.

Mumuku winds1

 

Training Strategies for Ironman Hawaii

  1. Indoors – training on rollers where instead of using bike gears, the athlete uses their own ‘gears’ (i.e. ability to increase/decrease cadence) to ride across a variety of turnover ranges. Example: train repeats of 5 mins duration riding a 5 point cadence range (e.g. between 60-65), and then moving up to the next 5 point range, up until cadence skills are challenged, then come back down in the same pattern.  Add in a run afterwards and you have a brick variation of this session.  In fact, this one workout has unlimited potential as time spent in each range, size of ranges, jumps between ranges, starting and end points can all be varied to accomplish various objectives.
  2. Outdoors – training to ride one handed on stretches of rolling hills is important because it is required to hydrate and eat on this bike course.  Again, a head or cross wind should not be unexpected, nor should being in a pack of riders all veering with wind gusts where holding a straight line is challenging. If an athlete fails to replenish themselves on the bike because they lack the bike handling skills to do so, then they will pay the price.
  3. Drills – cone drills to practice swerving, obstacle avoidance, hard braking, and to refine line choices through corners are indispensable because counting on everyone else to stay clear out of your way is not a strategy.
  4. Finally, a specific effort should be made to train on days when the wind is howling. Head winds and cross winds are not only possible in Hawaii, but highly probable, and when the trade winds blow, they break even the pros.  Training to pace appropriately with windy conditions, training to learn how to angle and handle a bike with strong cross winds is not only a safety measure, it may prove to be the singular reason an athlete completes the bike course.

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As a coach, I find that many athletes train for the distance of the each event, often at a single speed which they predict they will hold (irrespective of conditions, etc..), failing to consider, thus failing to train for any other dimension of the competition.  Inevitably, unknown factors arise. Athletes who have trained for all the known factors then have to manage only the inevitable unknowns. The fact that athletes participate in competitions without preparing for all possible known factors just doesn’t make sense.  Why invest so much time into training hard, when a bit of smart training can leverage your performance to significantly greater results (even more than a new piece of equipment).

Smart training allowed Michael Phelps to win the 200m Butterfly event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning one of his 8 gold medals, and set a World Record.  His coach anticipated the possibility of his goggles falling off or filling up with water in competition, therefore he trained Michael to swim without goggles.  Without smart training, all of Michael’s hard training would likely not have resulted in this outcome.

4x Hawaii Ironman Champion, Chrissie Wellington shared that she prepares for all possible eventualities, and visualizes scenarios so that she will have not only the physical ability but the mental plan as well on how to handle challenges.  A flat tire is only a flat tire, a drafting penalty is a penalty which has to be served, but if you panic, get peeved, then what was a simple solvable issue can blow up, throwing off your entire race.

The lesson is… take the time to study that which you are training for; not just the distance, but as many dimensions of the competition as possible.  This is yet another benefit of working with a coach.  An attentive coach anticipates – as a result of experience and study – the widest range of ‘what ifs’ that can arise in competition, and adjusts training and race strategies for their athletes accordingly. This applies not only to triathlons, but to any competition whether it is a swim meet, open water swim competition, track meet, road races, or cycling events.  By anticipating, thus eliminating as many variables as possible the enjoyment, the satisfaction, and performance in competing can be far more rewarding.

 

It is easy to adjust training weeks, or better yet, months ahead to make a race the experience that you want it to be.  It just takes a bit of planning.

How to Handle a Bike.. Peter Sagan style

Cambrai - Tour de France, étape 4, 7 juillet 2015, arrivée (B36) (cropped).JPG

Peter Sagan (born 26 January 1990) is a Slovak professional road bicycle racer for World Tour team Tinkoff-Saxo.[3] Sagan had a successful junior cyclo-cross and mountain bike racing career, winning the Junior World Championship in 2008, before moving to road racing.

Sagan is considered one of cycling’s most promising young talents, having earned many prestigious victories in his early twenties.[4] Supporting this view are victories in: two Paris–Nice stages, three Tirreno–Adriatico stages, one in the Tour de Romandie, two and the overall classification in the Tour de Pologne, a record thirteen in the Tour of California,[5] and eleven in the Tour de Suisse. He has won seven stages in Grand Tours: three in the Vuelta a España and four in the Tour de France. He was also the winner of the points classification in the Tour de France, in 2012, 2013 and 2014; as a result, Sagan became the second rider to win the classification in his first three attempts, after Freddy Maertens.

 

Bike Handling Sagan style….

Sagan w road furniture Sagan slaloming swerving Sagan one hand wheelie Sagan skids Sagan drifts through a corner Sagan bunny hops up stairs

Why have handling skills?  You never know when it will come in handy… when a pothole, a slick piece of road, or a spectator steps out and needs to be avoided, preventing a crash, allowing the athlete to remain in the competition unscathed.
Sagan saves it in a corner2
Besides who doesn’t want to be able to do a no-hand wheelie?
sagan no hand wheelie
Peter Sagan has used his bike handling skills to carve tighter lines through crit style finishes of Tour stages which wind through narrow streets of old European towns, moving himself up in position, putting time on the competition, and to win the stage.  He has used his sprinting and finishing technique to lunge across finish lines placing his front wheel ahead to claim victory.

Although the ability to do a no hand wheelie may seem irrelevant, the fact is that this ability reveals the core strength, balance, technique, and form which pro riders need and depend on to ride shoulder to shoulder in the peloton, to avoid crashes or minimize their effect, when descending and cornering at high speeds during TTs and mountain stages, and while riding through cross winds and on the cobblestones of the spring classics.

As competition stiffens across all sports, being able to hold the pace with the leaders becomes only one aspect and winning depends on being the complete athlete: one who can hold the pace, retain enough in the tank to seize the opportunity to edge out rivals when critical moments arise and have the skills to do so.  Developing better bike handling skills will allow athletes to ride more efficiently providing them that spare capacity needed to deliver consistent peak performances.