Tag Archives: ironman

Backwards Racing

How do many athletes race backwards? By first looking to the future, to an event they want to participate in, and then by signing up for that event and then go about planning the training to survive the event, is to backwards race.

Backwards racing leads to backwards training, or as I prefer to call it: cramming, no different than the cramming we all did at some point at school.

Backwards racing results in what you typically see at the finish line long after the pros and top age groupers have completed the event: athletes who are walking, crawling, hobbling towards the finish line in hopes that they will make the cut off time, that they will make it to the finish line, that they will survive to tell the tale of yet another near death experience. Its athletes who have bitten off more than they can chew, yet so sold on the meaning of the finish line that they refuse to acknowledge their lack of training, their lack of preparedness, their lack of real health. Their hope is that the finish line will prove their fears wrong, their hopes right: that they are indeed healthy and fit enough, to show up and complete any race they select.

[A study performed at Ironman Brazil revealed that 2/3rds of all triathletes took NSAIDs the day prior to the event, and 1/3rd took NSAIDs on the day of the event. If triathletes are so healthy, why the need to pre-medicate? If you have trained properly for the event, there should be no need for prophylactic medication. That is of course unless your standard of health has been reduced to the point that relying on medication implies nothing about your lack of health.]

Time after time, I hear of athletes who compete in marathons and triathlons, and despite months passing, still have not fully recovered, still are dealing with physical and mental repercussions of the effort put into completing the competition. Suffering from anxiety, depression, pain, immune system, sleep, digestion, and/or muscle and joint dysfunction, they refuse to acknowledge that their body malfunctioning is connected in anyway to the fact that they were not healthy enough, not fit enough, not sufficiently prepared to take on the challenge of competing in whatever event they signed up, yet proceeded to torture themselves through it anyhow.

Backwards racing is comparable to going to a loan shark for money: its using the threat of broken knee caps, swimmin’ with the fishes, or wearing concrete shoes to serve as a kick in the arse to force yourself to put in the necessary effort to payback the loan. There is no difference between a loan shark and backwards racing: (a) the piper always comes to collect, and (b) the piper will always collect even when you have nothing to offer… your health is always up for grabs.

What I do not comprehend is why do athletes, time after time, gamble with their health in this manner?  Why do they put health up as collateral, simply for a finish line medal or photo? Is that medal really worth more than your well being? What does a medal or finish time prove if in the process you hurt yourself, inflict pain, harm yourself with injury arising from overextending yourself attempting to accomplish in weeks what needs months or years of training.

Racing is supposed to be about testing the progress you have made to date in training. It has to be an honest test for it to have honest meaning. Backwards racing is not a test of anything, its a form of gambling: spin the wheel, pick an event, place a wager (by registering) and then hope that you can pull off the training that at best will allow you to finish the race standing, and at worst puts you into a med-tent or an ambulance.

Backwards racing sets the athlete up to lose, and continued losing. Albeit for the delusional athlete, over-reaching for an event that you have no business attempting, and then surviving in some strange way may serve as a win (especially when the agony of recovering for weeks or months is denied as being related).

If you are not improving as an athlete, then my bet is that you are backwards racing, and training backwards, aka cramming. In fact, you are probably not only failing to improve, I would bet also that you are regressing in some way… in flexibility and mobility, in fitness, in health, as cramming causes athletes to become more prone to injury, to illness, and susceptible to the systemic diseases of prolonged over-training, and over-racing.

In the moment, hyped up, delusional images of grandeur that arise by seeing yourself at a competition – hoping that you can pull it off with weeks or months of training – is just as it sounds… a setup for failure, where pain and injury are the likely outcomes, and health is the account into which you will dip to pay the piper.

If you need a race in order to get training, in order to get motivated, then you are not training, you are threatening, guilting, fearing, scaring yourself into doing what you say you should do, but are clearly not inspired or motivated to do without some sort of doomsday scenario playing out in front of you.

Do you honestly think that health, true health, can be based on emotionally manipulating yourself into training for an event?

Why do this to yourself? Why subject yourself to the pressure, the negative motivation, to the endless reverse psychology of overextending yourself and then hoping that you can cram in enough to pull yourself out of the trap you set for yourself?

Why not take the time to do it right? Start from scratch, learn how to train, learn how to plan to train, learn how to plan to race, and learn how to race so that you can make it a lifelong journey of enjoyment and exploration. Otherwise, you can continue with the hokey-pokey in and out of being active, suffering through training and a race one year, then waiting until you regain some mild level of interest to put myself through the torture of training and racing yet again.

OK… so some triathletes, some athletes race backwards… big deal. No, its not some, its the majority. How do I know? Two sources:

  1. Race Directors – just ask how many register, then how many actually show up to events, especially triathlons.  XTerra Race Director James Kowalewski shared in one post that triathlons – across the industry – have a 25% no show rate. Think about that… athletes shell out anywhere from $100 to almost a thousand dollars when entering iron-distance triathlons, and 25% of them don’t even show. Why? Because they booked their epic event first, and then second tried to figure out how to train to survive the event = racing backwards.
  2. DNFs – review iron distance triathlon results and you will be as shocked as I was at the staggering number of athletes who never make it past T1, past T2, across the finish line. In some age groups I have seen as many as 25% of all the athletes DNF!

So 25% don’t show, another 25% don’t finish… so approximately 50% never complete what they set out to do and then there is a significant number who crawl, stumble across the finish line either after the cut off time or perhaps before but finish their event in the medical tent because they overextended themselves well beyond their capacity. Why? Because racing backwards is the norm, and healthy training and racing is the outlier.

Final story… last year an athlete who went with a local triathlon club to Arizona for a spring training camp returned to share this story. While out on a ride, there was a crash, a serious crash with one athlete in particular suffering a severe concussion. Instead of focusing on the athlete’s well-being, the coach who was also riding in the pack (but did not crash) came to the injured athlete and immediately started to promise that he would get the athlete to their event (which was coming up in a number of weeks). Seriously! A severe concussion and instead of placing health as the priority, encouraging the athlete to recover fully, reminding the athlete that there are many many races available this year and in following years… hell no! Like Monty Python’s Dark Knight… “tis only a flesh wound [Dark Knight is missing both arms, and a leg], come back here, I can still fight you!”

Where does the backwards (cart before the horse) mindset arise from? Coaches who should not be coaching because they have no clue… about what is truly important in life. Find yourself a coach who values health – and your life – over their own ego. The above coach being so obsessed with their own ego could only see themselves as a failure if the injured athlete failed to compete; meanwhile the fact that an incomplete recovery and that a second concussion poses a threat of sudden death doesn’t cross the mind of the coach. Clueless!

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:

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.

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

It’s All ‘Bout the Base, ‘Bout the Base [6]

Case Study: Apolo Anton Ohno

Apolo Ohno, 8x Olympic medalist in short track speed skating  trained and competed in the 2014 Hawaiian Ironman World Triathlon Championships.  In order to train properly for this event, Apolo was coached by 8x Ironman World Champion Paula Newby Fraser.apolo 02

Amateur athletes should note that an Olympian, in fact an 8x Olympian, Junior World Champion and World Champion had the humility to seek mentorship, wanted to be coached, despite having two+ decades of experience at the international level of training and competition.

How many amateur athletes, after reading a few online articles, a book or two from the library, after following a discussion thread or two, after training for and completing a few events arrive at the conclusion that they know how to train, know what training is, and deem themselves experts in everything from nutrition, to rehab, to hi-performance.  Meanwhile, an Olympian and World Champion with the medals to be arrogant, rejects ego and pride. How is it that Apolo Ohno is unwilling to DIY, but amateur athletes who lack training fundamentals, basic technique, and base think they can DIY a 5k, a sprint triathlon, or any other event?apolo 03

During the airing of the 2014 Hawaiian Ironman, Apolo receives training zone heart rate limits from Paula:  Paula advises Apolo that his training would need to be “well below” a heart rate of 150 beats per minute (bpm).

Apolo was born in 1982, and when training for the 2014 Ironman was 32 years old. Although theoretical max heart rate [HR] is not an ideal physiological metric, we can estimate that Apolo’s was approximately 188 bpm (220-age).  Training at a heart rate of 150 bpm represents an 80% effort of max HR, an effort level often associated with lactate threshold [LT].  When Apolo’s extensive experience is taken into consideration, its entirely likely that his LT is north of 150, meaning that Paula’s training recommendations were for an effort well well below LT.

Apolo started athletic training at the age of 12 for short track speed skating (i.e. in 1994) and won a gold medal at World Juniors in Montreal in 1999 at the age of 17.  He continued to compete, winning medals at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, 2006 Turin Olympics, and 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  Ahead of the 2010 Games in Vancouver, Apolo challenged himself by starring in Season 4 of Dancing with the Stars (DWTS). In addition to winning the mirror-ball trophy with partner Julianne Hough, he gained ball room dancing technique, developed agility, balance, and coordination, and cross trained for short track speed skating.DWTS Apolo Ohno

Safe to say, leading up to training for the 2014 Hawaii Ironman, Apolo had already been training for close to 20 years, with no less than a decade at the highest levels of competition. At the Ironman World Championship triathlon, he competed completing the event in a time of 9:52.

How many amateur triathletes would like to complete an iron distance event sub 10hrs? How many amateur triathletes would want Paula Newby-Fraser, 8x World Champion as their coach?


How many would actually listen, hear, and follow the recommendations made by Paula? To train well well below Lactate Threshold [LT, aka Anaerobic Threshold].

In my experience, the amateur athletes I see at the gym, in the pool, on the track, out on the road are nowhere close to being “well below” their lactate threshold.  Have a look around next time at the gym, the pool, or outside on a run or ride…  almost all are red faced, huffing and puffing, desperately trying to grind out a best time each and every training session as if its an indication of ability, progress, or proof of potential. In my experience, the typical amateur athlete trains almost entirely at or above their lactate threshold, session after session. Training through pain, injury and nagging colds, while complaining of low to no improvement, flat performances at meets, difficulty in achieving personal bests. In the end, they place their hope that a racing suit or carbon fiber rims will offer them a PR.

Pro triathlete Lionel Sanders wrote in his blog that he runs repeats of 5km intervals at 145bpm…

Lsanders quote

In his book titled Blink, Malcolm Gladwell references former lieutenant colonel Dave Grossman’s book On Killing that our optimal state of “arousal” occurs in the range of 115-145 beats per minute (bpm). After 145 bpm Grossman writes “bad things begin to happen. Complex motor skills start to break down. At 175, we being to see an absolute breakdown of cognitive processing.”

To defeat 6x Ironman WC Dave Scott, Mark Allen changed one aspect of his training leading up to the 1989 Hawaiian Ironman: he lengthened a handful of training sessions out to 8hrs in order to have the capacity to compete for the entire duration of the Ironman.  Not HIIT, not CrossFit, not Tabata, not weight training… the triathlete who went undefeated for an entire season at every distance of triathlon needed a wider and deeper base to win the one event which eluded him for almost a decade: the Ironman World Championships.

Chrissie Wellington, 4x Ironman World Champion, undefeated in 13 iron distance triathlons, WR holder for the iron distance started every season when competing as a pro with a month of play: one full month of unscripted, non-triathlon specific, fun, unlogged unanalyzed training.

How is it that a champion marksman, a pro triathlete, a World Record [WR] holder, and an Olympian coached by an 8x World Champion train “well below” threshold, yet amateur athletes refuse to believe that they should train at low intensities, lower RPEs, lower heart rates [HR]?

Elite athletes train to produce power at lower and lower HRs.  Their extensive base of training has helped them already achieve exceptional levels of efficiency, but higher levels of performance require even greater efficiency. Its the years and years, and thousands and thousands of kilometers of training – in isolation, or at least out of the spotlight – that developed their efficiency, technique, form, and skill, so why do amateurs equate training with HIIT? Why do age group and amateur athletes reject base training?

The attitude that success is up for sale, that there are short cuts to peak performance, that HIIT is the short cut, reveals the extent consumerism has corrupted sport. Personal athletic excellence is no longer the ‘pursuit’, nor is it the goal of being a champion; instead its competing for who looks like a pro. This attitude is summed up perfectly in the following Q&A from triathlon.competitor.com where an amateur triathlete asked pro Sara McLarty

Q: How can I beat you out of the water in a race?

A: It’s never going to happen! I am thousands of hours ahead of you thanks to my years on a club team in Daytona Beach and at the University of Florida; however, you can improve your personal swim time.

If a child asked this question, it could be forgiven as naiveté and unbridled enthusiasm.

If an adult asked how they can improve, then recommendations could have easily been made.

The fact that an adult asked “how can I beat you” is a testament to materialism in sport, to the ignorance of what is peak performance, what it takes to be a champion, how excellence occurs in sport, and in life.  It reveals how sport has changed from internal and individual measures of success in overcoming doubt, fear, disbelief, and how obstacles, roadblocks and challenges were met, to external measures defining success by equipment used, nutritional supplements consumed, of medals, podiums, finish lines, and names of defeated opponents.

That is great for advertising, marketing and corporate revenues, but it has nothing to do with the meaning, purpose, and the nature of sport, and has absolutely nothing to do with personal excellence, wellness, nor health. Why do we allow ourselves to be robbed of the richness and fullness of these experiences, of the deep and meaningful opportunities sport has to offer?  We are stripping the meaning from sport, showing children that its not what you become, its all about how you look, and looking like a pro being more important that attaining the skills, the abilities, the mindset, the fitness, the attitude of a champion.  Its a deplorable uninspiring example adults are setting for children and goes a long way to explaining the drop out rate amongst teens from sport and physical activity in general.

If you start the journey from the finish line, then you will be caught in other people’s definition of success, buying everything that everyone will sell you just so you look the part.

If you start the journey from the beginning, then you will be on your way, on your own unique path of discovery where there is no definition of success as the path is yours and yours alone.

Stop settling for the fitness industry’s definition of success, set your own.


NOTE: Heart Rate [HR] training zones are physiology dependent and vary with age, training experience, medical history, illness, and across sports (i.e. heart rate zones and thresholds are not identical for the same athlete across different sports).  The HRs mentioned in this post are based on professional athletes in their late 20s/early 30s. All athletes are encouraged to review training goals with their health professional to ensure that training will neither create nor compound medical conditions, and to undergo physiological testing to identify appropriate training zones.

It’s All ‘Bout the Base, ‘Bout the Base [4]

Where Amateur (and Pro) Athletes Go Wrong

After Chrissie Wellington won the 2007 Hawaii Ironman triathlon, amateur athletes heard that it was her rookie year at Worlds, that she only had a few months of formal triathlon coaching and training.  So what will amateurs assume? If Chrissie can show up to Ironman, race and win without much ‘training’, then there is no need to put in serious training.

Amateur athletes heard in the 2009 Hawaii Ironman triathlon that it was Mirinda Carfrae’s first Ironman marathon, so what will they assume?  If Rinny can just show up to the Ironman and race the marathon for the first time, then there is no need to prepare thoroughly. Why train?

Where amateur athletes go wrong is that they discount the history of base training that Chrissie and athletes like Chrissie have obtained.  Amateur athletes, pros, trainers, coaches and even exercise physiologists discount the role that simple informal unstructured healthy activity (aka play) plays in the development of champions. Champions who seem to drop out of nowhere, and win, consistently and constantly, have extensive training backgrounds (aka play). Because their background doesn’t look or sound like training, no one considers it ‘training’. Besides to admit that play is training would be a massive hit to the ego of many athletes, coaches, trainers, and exercise physiologists. Plus the fitness industry would have to accept that we don’t need all the equipment, gadgets, apparel… all we need to train is a great attitude and a vivid imagination.

Informal training (aka play) is discounted because its unplanned, doesn’t require hi-tech equipment or a top end training facility, and because it focuses on quality, not quantitative measures.

Read the biographies and autobiographies of Olympians and World Champions and you will find that their winning ways started long long ago, as children who simply played and enjoyed themselves. At some point, the play (or work) becomes focused: Michael Jordan cut from his high school basketball teamed devoted himself to training.  He trained without a team, rising to the stardom that he is still remembered for to this day.


The stories of Amanda Beard, Michael Phelps, the Williams sisters, Pelé, Greg Louganis, Silken Laumann, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Chrissie Wellington, Paula Newby-Fraser, champion after champion all start in a similar manner… they participated in fun family activities, played one or a mix of sports from as soon as they could walk. The stories of champions arising from impoverished nations is similar… they worked from the moment they could walk.  Without the conveniences of Western life, they milked goats, worked in the field, carried water, ran to/from school. No matter if its play or work, out of a love for being outside, being active, for the challenge of being challenged or out of necessity to put food on the family table, they all started early.  The play or work continued through tween, and teen years, day in day out. In her book titled “Open Heart, Open Mind”, Clara Hughes refers to the period when she started to seriously train as hermetic.  Then at the age of 12, 14, 17 or whenever these athletes appear on the national scene, their performance is written off as ‘talent’ or ‘natural ability’. Why? Open Heart Open MindBecause its uncomfortable and inconvenient to believe that a child played, worked, then trained, sacrificed, and devoted themselves for over a decade to a singular goal. A child!?  The fact that a child can commit and persevere exposes the uncomfortable truth that anyone can experience their own potential. Its easy to overlook effort, to excuse sacrifice as a ‘gifted ability’, to default success as destiny, but that doesn’t mean we should. Some may want an out instead of confronting the truth, but that doesn’t mean that those who have should be disrespected or their effort demeaned.

‘Talent’ and ‘natural ability’ are favorites of sports media, but ‘talent’ and ‘natural ability’ are simply a way to describe anyone who has committed to training to the point that they flow. Reality is, its a process which takes years, thousands of repetitions, of yards, of km or miles and to which there is no short cut. Its a reality the fitness industry and sports science seem to deny.

Despite the consistency amongst elite athletes who have years of fundamental training, developing skill, technique, and long hours of aerobic conditioning, ask amateur athletes how they define training and it is consistent… it plays out like an advert for sports equipment, sports nutrition or fitness apparel. Workouts are make it or break it situations, training is performance thus effort must be all-out, anything less is deemed a failure, a loss, a waste of time, or worse, a display of weakness, a lack of willpower, an intolerance of pain.

Amateur athletes go wrong when they fall for commercials preying on their insecurities that by training all out they can make up for their lack of athleticism, that by acquiring the equipment to look like a pro, they will be lifted to the level of pro, covering up weakness and inability.

Amateur athletes go wrong when they fall for sports media go-to explanation for success, namely ‘talent’ and ‘natural ability’, and the belief that success comes to only those who train as if super-human or those who source short cuts.

There is a process to peak performance, it is documented as the Long Term Athlete Development [LTAD] model.  This model reveals that to perform at one’s peak potential is a process, with numerous sub-processes existing as progressions for every skill, every drill and technique. The ‘short cut’ is the LTAD model. This is the path to peak performance, yet we continue to seek short cuts to the short cut.


Short cutting the short cut leads to one result: a short circuit, with that athletes blow up injured or by maxing out, burning up.

There are no short cuts, no loopholes, no workarounds, there is no alternative to the years and years of training, to a log book with thousands of hours, of repetitions, of yards, of km or miles. There is no ‘magic’, there is no point where skills raindown from the sky.  Any athlete who has not performed training at a specific level (e.g. FUNdamentals, Learning to Train,…) does not have the skills of that level, and they will fall back to untrained levels until all gaps are filled in.

Amateur athletes go wrong when they believe that training at higher levels implies that skills at a lower level are automatically acquired or can be bypassed.

Amateur athletes go wrong when they believe that a lack of progress means that they aren’t training hard enough, that even harder training is called for.

Amateur athletes go wrong falling for false marketing that “learn to” programs (e.g. Learn to Run 10k, Train for a Triathlon) can cut the learning and training curve from years and thousands of repetitions, meters, and kilometers, to a matter of weeks.LTAD - TAC05

The process to peak performance is clear…  the higher you want to go, the wider you need to build out the base. The higher you want to go, the higher all lower peaks must go. To develop the lower pyramid peaks to new highs requires the base of each pyramid to be built wider.


When Chrissie Wellington started to compete in triathlons as a pro, she was starting from a base which was three (3) decades wide.LTAD - TAC09a

  • As a “sporty” child, Chrissie developed the layer of FUNdamentals across numerous sports such as gymnastics, running, and swimming.
  • As a competitive swimmer at both the club and university levels she expanded the Technical level, grew the pyramids of FUNdamentals and Training to Train, and was introduced to the Strategic level through the Training to Compete pyramid.
  • As a casual runner, she grew the Train to Train pyramid, expanding the existing pyramid built by swimming.  Her casual running became competitive when she competed in the 2002 London Marathon finishing in 3:08.
  • Cycling in the foothills and across the Himalayan mountain range on mud and gravel roads on a $500 bike developed the FUNdamentals of cycling, gaining bike handling on various surfaces and weather conditions ranging from blizzard to sandstorm.
  • Cycling in Nepal widened her Training to Train pyramid by adding countless miles.  With those miles at altitude, her aerobic base widened even further developing superb physiological efficiency and psychological narratives for tenacity, perseverance, and stamina.
  • Participating in events such as the London marathon and the New Zealand Endurance Event exposed Chrissie to the Learn to Win pyramid preparing her up for her dramatic rise in the sport of triathlon, allowing winning to be a realistic goal from the outset.

To peak for Ironman S.Korea and Ironman World Championships 2007, Chrissie needed only months at the Train to Compete and Train to Win level (of HIIT).


When Chrissie’s base training is put into this perspective, it stands to reason that being able to progress immediately to peaking as a pro triathlete was no stretch.  With a massive training base, the fact that Chrissie was undefeated in competition is also no stretch simply because few pros had or have today a base anywhere close.  Mirinda Carfrae has been the only athlete to break Chrissie’s Ironman World Championship course record, and only Mirinda and Daniela Ryf have broken the 9hr barrier in Hawaii. It would appear that only these two female pros have a comparable base to Chrissie. The other female pros may want to win, but in reality, if they don’t have the base, then the probability of them peaking to win is [highly] unlikely, or will come at such significant cost to their health that the success will be debatable.

Pro triathlete Belinda Granger complained during an interview at 2009 World Ironman Championships that Chrissie doesn’t look like she hurts in races, arguing that the winner ought to fight [through pain] in order to win. Fact is, Chrissie usually smiles her way through races, and why not… if Belinda had Chrissie’s base then she would be smilin’ too.  If you don’t have the base, aren’t willing to put in the base, are in a mad rush to peak, to compete, then all you can do is struggle, fight, suffer injury and hurt all the way to the finish, doing so frustrated, angry, and jealous of those who are smilin’ enjoying the experience, and winning.

What will you do?  Complain or build a wider base?

Instead of developing a base, developing FUNdamentals, what do amateur and even a few pro athletes do?   They proceed to the tip of the training pyramid, straight to training at the ‘to Win’ or ‘to Compete’ levels, straight to peaking.  Lacking basic form, fundamental skills, sport specific technique, even basic understanding of training principles they get jealous of the success of others, mad at the difficulties they seem to have to endure, as if life is unfair, or that life is bent on making it different and difficult for them. Amateur athletes often prepare for competition – peak – as if they have three (3) decades of base meanwhile they may have at most three months, maybe three years of base.  Then amateurs are shocked that their performances are subpar, far from their peak potential, frustrated that training leaves them flat, that progress is hard to come by, even harder to sustain, that motivation and mood rollercoaster, and are baffled that they are constantly sore, stiff, in pain, battling injury.

Incorrect assumptions, incorrect expectations always lead to unsatisfying outcomes, no different in sport, at work, in life.

The majority of training has no numbers, no spreadsheets, no timelines, no peaks, no valleys, no extreme effort.  The majority of training needs no degree in exercise physiology nor sports psychology, instead it needs advanced research in play, in fun, the capacity to enjoy oneself free from the pressures of performance expectations, deadlines, and goals.  Performance goals are required for peaking, not base training, and the majority of training is base training: simple day to day effort at heart rates that rarely exceed 100-110 beats per minute (bpm) challenging the athlete to execute sport specific technique with increasing efficiency.  Its training that isn’t perceived as training by many, yet it is the most important training of all.

Without a base, there is no peaking, as there is nothing to peak.

If you are an amateur athlete who is chronically sick (i.e. colds, runny nose, highly susceptible to the flu, viruses, infections), who is constantly managing injury (e.g. strains, sprains), who is dealing with chronic pain, inflammation, stiffness, soreness, relies on pain meds, muscle relaxants, NSAIDs and rehab/massage appointments to get by, who is battling sub-clinical depression or anxiety in the form of low energy, fatigue, a lack of inspiration and motivation, then it is entirely likely that it has everything to do with how you are exercising.

There is a right way and a wrong way to exercise.

If you are exercising beyond your abilities, at a training level for which you do not have the base, then all the positive effects that you seek are impossible as you are draining and compromising your health.

The wrong way leads to pain, to injury, to suffering, to negative self talk, to a negative training spiral, to health issues, to dissatisfaction, and eventually to giving up and quitting altogether as the load to carry on becomes a burden not worth dragging.

The right way leads to progress, to enjoyment, to fulfillment, to satisfaction, to increasing skill level, to gains in health, in fitness, to fun.

There is a proper way to train.  There is a process to training.  There is a right place to start, there is a right pace, there are appropriate and inappropriate targets at each stage.

Train the healthy way, seek training partners who want to train healthy, seek a coach, club, or a team who teach healthy – physically, mentally and emotionally – training methods and you will find what you truly seek.