A lot of shenanigans in the world of anti-doping have occurred recently, including a big bomb about Alberto Salazar and his precious NOP (Nike Oregon Project). Tune in to hear it all distilled down and to draw your own conclusions.
There's a guy at the gym where I lift, who prepares to squat by doing about five minutes of static stretches covering all aspects of his posterior chain. While his head might be in the right place -- attempting to limber up before doing his heavy squats -- precisely how he is stretching pre-lift is misguided.
Growing up as a competitive swimmer, being more flexible was drilled into us. We would spend a good 15-20 minutes limbering up before every practice. The thought at the time was two-fold: 1) being more flexible reduced the risk of joint injury; and 2) increased flexibility helped us swim faster. In college, I would keep this practice alive by heading down to the pool a solid 30 minutes ahead of time and take myself through a pre-workout stretching routine.
The jury still seems to be out on whether or not stretching enhances performance. Part of this is due to the various types of stretching – static, dynamic, ballistic … you name it. Part of this is also due to people not knowing how to properly stretch or which stretches will elicit the best results. Despite the simplicity of the act of stretching, there is a bit of confusion around it.
I’m not here to advocate for or against stretching. Largely, athletes know whether or not the act of stretching makes them feel better or not day-to-day. Personally, I like stretching. I go through a short 10-minute routine as I wind down for the night. Going through a series of static stretches – ones that I hold for 20-30 seconds each, is a perfect way to relax the muscles and transition into my bedtime routine. And, during a strength session at the gym, a few seconds of ballistic movements pre-lift at least feels like it activates the muscles about to be engaged.
If you do choose to stretch, there are definitely some “do’s and don’t’s” to which you should adhere. For example, static stretching should not be done during a workout or prior to a competition. Studies show that holding a pose for an extended period of time fatigues the muscles and inhibits proper neuron firing. The punchline of this is that fatigued muscles do not perform optimally. And, if you stretch after your warm-up and before your main set, you open yourself up to potential injury (especially in the case of something like a track workout in running). If you feel the need to do some sort of stretching during workouts or before competition, resort to ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching is when you hold a position for just a couple seconds or less. A classic ballistic stretch is one that swimmers do, when they cross their arms in front of their chests and then arc them behind their backs and clap their hands together before swinging them back to the front and then back again, over and over. With ballistic stretching, you are effectively taking a muscle through its full range and back to the starting position, quickly but in control and multiple times in a row. Ballistic stretching awakens the muscles and prepares them for the rigors ahead. That said, ballistic stretching isn’t the best form of stretching for winding down at the end of the day; static stretching is.
Dynamic stretching can be thought of as yoga or similar practice. Think of it more as a workout in-and-of-itself. Dynamic stretching can have great benefit and complement your primary sport. It can increase balance and core strength, and help reduce fatigue in the latter stages of a race because your body is providing you with the structure and support you need to continue pressing your effort.
Probably the greatest benefit of stretching is that you’re moving the body in non-linear ways. The majority of sports we do typically operate in one plane and force us to move linearly. By moving the body in other directions, we better open it up and ensure we are flexible beyond the range of motion required for our preferred sports. In the end, this is the key and probably answers the question as to whether or not you should consider stretching a valuable addition to your day-to-day routine. That is, are you flexible beyond your required range of motion? If you are, then stretching may not hold any benefit for you other than helping you “work out the kinks.” If added flexibility is needed, then stretching is a great way to create that additional range of motion.
The 70.3 Worlds just occurred. If your race did not go as planned or projected, compare what you did in your final prep to this suggestion; maybe you will find a different approach which could yield different results. We also have some big season-ending Ironman races -- the World Champs in Kona, IMFL and others. For those still awaiting the big day, hopefully you will find this insightful.
The easiest part about training for a key race is the training. The closer athletes get to the big day, the more jittery they become and the more questions arise as to how to ensure they get to the start line feeling fresh, sharp and ready to tear into the race. Athletes swear they can feel their fitness melting away during a recovery day or a complete rest day. When during high-volume training they were excited about some R&R, during taper time that same R&R freaks them out.
What’s challenging to remember – but, also critical to remember – is that all the hard work has been done. Before you even start tapering, you’re ready to tackle the distance. You’ve logged the endless miles and you’re super fit. The taper is about adding some freshness, some spring to your step, so that you can cover the distance even faster because you have less fatigue (not less fitness) built up in the muscles. Instead of partly drained, your battery will be fully charged.
So, here is a blueprint for the final 10 days of training heading into your key long-distance triathlon event. If you need to rejigger a couple of days, go ahead. The point is that this provides you with a nice mix and balance of S/B/R, providing enough stimulus to keep the body humming without allowing it to start hibernating, so you hit the start line feeling ready to go rather than sluggish. You can also set your mind at ease and not fret about whether you’re doing too much or too little – this approach will be just right.
I find this approach to be of particular value to Masters athletes, who tend to have fuller lives and more stressors than their younger counterparts. With kids of various ages, higher stress jobs and typically more financial responsibilities, it is easy to let mental and emotional stressors overflow and drown out the added energy from reducing the physical stress during taper time. Following this plan will at least allow Masters athletes to combat the potential for heightened mental and emotional duress, which can be more fatiguing than a hard day of training.
Final 10 days heading into an Ironman or Ironman 70.3
10 - swim 45min, include 500-1,000 of race-specific pace work, broken into 50s-100s
9 - run 30min with the middle 20 being steady, strong L2. No higher. Swim 20min easy and relaxed, emphasizing some kicking
8 - bike 2-3 hours. Include 2-3x30min efforts at or slightly faster than race day pace. For example, if your goal is to hold 20mph average, then shoot for 20.5-21mph here (but not 23-24). Simulate the race course as closely as you can
7 - swim 40min, mainly relaxed L1-L2 working on form. Can include 8x50 L3 with 10-15sec rest before cooling down
6- run 30min relaxed L1 with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
5 - bike 75-90min, middle 50-60min done as 8min L2/2min L3; last of the tuning up
4 - swim 20min easy and relaxed; run 20-30min easy and relaxed with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
3 - bike 60min mainly L2. Keep the aerobic engine tuned but avoid pressing the effort. Settle in
2 - pool swim 20-30min relaxed, to limber up, rejuvenate and burn some nervous energy
1 - Race!
There you have it. The critical component of the taper is having full confidence in your final approach and not questioning or second-guessing the final 1-2 weeks of preparation. Affirm that you are fit, that you are indeed sharpening your sword, and that when the gun finally goes off you will be flying through the race course.
Math is a funny thing.
Math is true. It is immutable. 2+2=4 and forever will.
Math is timeless. It is identical today as it was in the past; and it will be identical into the future.
Math is testable and repeatable. And, in this, we find understanding, comprehension and comfort. Our understanding and comprehension also extends to some of the less rigid aspects of math. As stated above 2+2=4. This is rigid. However, while also true, saying a three-digit number is greater than a 2-digit number is a general statement accepted as true. We still find comfort here, because we are provided with a nice, neat little package of data.
We accept mathematical terms for what they mean and what they define. We trust it.
Where we run into problems is when we mistake probability for fact. Or, more precisely, when we mistake probability for lack of fact. Take the cliché of a room full of law students and the teacher saying, “Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won’t be here next year.” While not a mathematical fact, the probability of this being true is based on historical statistics which render it true. While the law students may not find comfort in this prediction, they would find it difficult to argue against its accuracy.
The same can be said about cheating in Sport. We know, for a fact, that cheating occurs. We also know, for a fact, that the percentage of athletes who cheat is greater than the percentage which gets caught through OOC and IC doping tests. While we may not find comfort in these facts, we do find enough comfort to not dispute these facts.
Where things start to get murky is at the intersection of science (the testing), culture (the acceptance of doping and athletes who dope by each society), and morality (each athlete’s resistance to the temptation to cheat, or lack thereof). When we layer nationalism on top of this – “the pesky Russians are cheaters, but athletes from MY country would never cheat” – then we are set up for an emotionally-fueled argument which lacks reason on both ends of the pendulum swing.
On one end, we have those who say, “All elite athletes cheat.” On the other end, we have those who say, “Unless an athlete fails an anti-doping test, then he/she is clean.” While the concept of cheating is necessarily black-and-white – you either cheat or you don’t – neither of these stances is valid and neither holds any water. Statistically speaking, we know, for a fact, that stating an athlete is clean and should be believed if he/she has not failed a test, is an untenable position to take. With it being largely accepted that up to two-thirds of all athletes cheat, the pool of clean athletes is indeed very small. However, we do not know for a fact that all athletes are doping. The statistics do not support this, either. If you had to choose one end of the spectrum or the other to embrace, it would unfortunately have to be the “all athletes dope” end. The reason is because, statistically, the only thing we know for a fact is that all athletes being clean is false.
I’ve said it many times – patterns are proof. When we see performances and athletic feats which cause our jaws to drop and our eyebrows to raise, these knee jerk reactions come from deep inside each of us. Rather than skepticism or cynicism, these reactions are borne out of an innate sense each of us has to discern fact from fiction. Reality from fairytale. Yet, there is a population which demands testable and verifiable evidence as the only proof an athlete has transgressed. Statistics do not support this type of rigid stance. Because the anti-doping system is fraught with failure points through which we could drive tanks. So, if you are relying on an indefensible system which cannot provide ironclad proof of innocence or cheating, then you believe the anti-doping system is a mathematical problem like 2+2=4. But, we know for a fact that it is not. Not even close.
We know that more athletes cheat than get caught. And, the margin between those cheating and those getting caught is not a little, but a lot. The discrepancy is in orders of magnitude.
There is mathematical truth. There is mathematical accuracy based on statistical evidence – even in the absence of hard evidence (like a failed doping test). Given what we have historically seen across Sport – the cheating, the corruption, the buried tests, the silent bans, the physical transformations, the warping of facial features, the lies and deceit – there is literally no reason at all to think athletes today are training and competing any more cleanly than they ever have.
Statistically speaking, of course. Because in knowing the anti-doping system is broken beyond repair, we also know we will never close that monumental gap between the sheer volume of cheaters and the paltry few who are actually caught.
More and more, we hear how today’s generation of athletes – pick any sport – is competing clean. That they better understand the ills of doping and would not dare think to cheat. We are woven a tale of:
We can dissect each one of these and realize they are all simply and wholly PR Spin. The public, which is largely ignorant of – and nearly wholly apathetic to – what goes on behind the scenes in sports – the cheating, the corruption, the match fixing, the silent bans, the pay-offs, the mob influence – laps it all up. They cheer blindly for their favorite athletes, teams and sports as if these things are hermetically sealed within an impenetrable bubble of virtue.
Well, they aren’t.
Let’s take a step back and look at humans as a species. Cheating is a survival instinct. It is hard-wired into who we are at our most basic level. Without turning this into an anthropology lesson, prior to sedentary civilizations, humans didn’t know where their next meal was coming from or when it would come. Desperation and starvation forces people to act – in this example, to steal from others in order to survive. And what is cheating, if not a form of robbery?
Competition is a modern form of combat. Humans are also hard-wired to fight, to survive, for me to show that I am stronger and more dominant than you so that it is my DNA which gets propagated and not yours. So that my lineage lives on. Simply because we are now monogamous, and procreation is no longer a matter of species survival, does not mean our hard-wired tendencies disappear. They are very much alive and firing in our brains. Every day.
Speaking of monogamy and marriage, people cheat every single day. More than half of all men cheat in their marriages and nearly half of all women do. And, if we look at students, anywhere from 75-98% of college students admit to cheating in high school. Another study about college students breaks it out a little more granularly – 64% admit to cheating on tests, 58% admit to plagiarism and 95% admit to some form of cheating – on tests, plagiarism or copying homework from another student.
The examples of the extent to which humans cheat is endless. So, what happens when we up the stakes? When fame and fortune are folded into the mix, as is the case with sports? When egos get stroked and pockets get lined, it brings out the worst in humans. Yet, as I stated at the beginning of this, we are spoon fed that top-level athletics is a nirvanic Utopia of cleanliness.
How and why do people believe this astounding level of horseshit? How are journalists not openly questioning it? It is frighteningly bizarre.
We hear about magic pillows and mattresses. We hear about hand sanitizer. We hear about training harder and smarter. We hear about innovative coaches being pulled from underneath rocks and put in influential positions to affect change. We hear about swimming 7 days a week instead of 6 because that extra 52 pool sessions a year makes all the difference between 1st and 2nd. We see videos of athletes pushing themselves to their limits in workouts, especially weight lifting workouts. We see clean cut, smiling faces in front of the camera talking about passion and dedication and the reward of single-minded dedication to a goal.
We are told this from and about individual athletes, teams, coaches and owners. We are warped with feel good stories meant to inspire us and create affection between us and them. Our heart strings are pulled. And, you know why? Because back at that primal level, humans are also meant to be followers. The select few who are the biggest, fastest and strongest are meant to lead. The rest are meant to put their trust in those leaders to keep them safe, feed them, protect them – to help them survive. This is why people are so fervent with their sporting heroes and will defend them to the proverbial death.
So, we know humans are inherent cheaters. Almost unanimously. Yet, we suspend this reality when we look at sports. Why? Why is the sporting world impervious to cheating? Sports encapsulates every survival instinct hard-wired into humans – all of which trigger cheating – and, yet, we are told the best of the best have achieved their results without even the smallest hint of impropriety.
Does this sound rational? When the stakes are highest, our moral compasses suddenly point True North and don’t deviate. Does this sound even remotely plausible?
NO! Of course, it doesn’t! Yet, we’re told it is the truth. Too many times and too often from too many individuals and organizations that “clean sport” has become the biggest cliché on the planet.
When people use to get caught stealing, punishment would range from hands being chopped off to imprisonment to death. Today, litigation and obfuscation of the truth has led to diluted punishments and absolution to the extent that the benefits of cheating far, far outweigh the associated risks.
When we see a national class athlete transform not only into national best but also world beater; when we see an athlete with zero Grand Tour pedigree become the best GT rider on the planet; when we see bodily transformations in either direction which defy logic; well, shit, it ALL defies logic. We are seeing way too many once-in-a-millennia athletes across too many sports to think any of this is happening within the protective bubble of ‘clean sport.’ So, those who spout that we are have to believe the general public is a bunch of stupid idiots. But, has the general public given them any reason to think otherwise?
The point of this is that hard-wired human nature cannot be overridden. We see fantastical feats in Sport because they are unbelievable and not because they are incredible. They are, in fact, uncredible.
The concept of "clean sport" goes against every human survival instinct hard-wired into our species at the most primal level. To think that at the highest level of sport, when the fame, fortune and glory are at their highest potential, that the rewards of cheating do not outweigh the risk is patently naive. If clean sport is what we are truly after, then the current system, as it stands, needs complete dismantling.
People participate in sports at young ages for a multitude of reasons: it’s fun to play; competition is healthy; sports can be great teachers for life’s lessons; because parents need to get kids out of the house; camaraderie; learning to overcome adversity; learning to work well with others toward a common goal; fostering a feeling of accomplishment; and so on. And, as we get older, the seriousness with which we approach sports escalates, naturally and deliberately. It is as if young athletes get on an elevator going up and decide at some point which floor is theirs and when it’s time to get off the ride.
The vast majority of athletes will never compete professionally. In fact, very few will. And of the few who do hit the big time, even fewer will be good enough and lucky enough to make a long-term solid living at it. Which begs the question: Why? Why do athletes who realize they will never make it as a pro continue to compete through high school and collegiately? For some, it is the love of the sport. Indeed, these athletes continue to compete in their sports beyond college as recreational or serious Masters athletes. But, my gut tells me the majority of athletes who continue competing in school and beyond do so borne out of a sense that they “have to” keep training and competing. That they are doing these things because the wheel ruts are well worn. That they would be lost without being a slave to the grind.
On my ride this weekend, taking in some of the steep and long gravel climbs Boulder can serve up, I was just settling in and not worrying so much about effort. On a particular pitch, I got out of the saddle for about a quarter-mile, feeling good and enjoying the rhythm of the bike rocking beneath me. It was exactly then that I realized I would never again ride a bike as fast as I have in the past, even as recently as last year. And, that whatever KOMs and Top 10s I have on Strava were dead man walking results. Which then got me to thinking, “Why am I doing this?”
Why am I still working out and challenging myself. After deciding that last year was my last for bike racing, I don’t train nearly as much. A long ride is under 3 hours rather than 4-6. I’ve also started running again, after the better part of 15 years, aside from the odd cross-training while traveling or what have you. I have found that I put a greater value on my leisurely time than on my training time. I simply do not want to do a 100-miler on a Saturday. Nor do I want to burn an entire day or weekend traveling to a race, racing, waiting for awards and then traveling back home just in time for dinner. That grind holds no appeal to me anymore.
Instead of heading out the door at 0-Dark-30, I want to enjoy a quiet morning coffee with my lovely wife, be it a weekday or weekend day. I limit myself to 45-75 minutes for a workout Monday-Friday. Saturday is in the 1.5-3-hour range. Sundays are completely off. And, cardio workouts are secondary now. Primary is strength training. I hit the gym 5 days/week, lift first and then do a short cardio session directly after. In-and-out in roughly an hour.
Which has put me in touch as to the underlying “why” into which all of us should tune. The underlying “why” is not about competition. It is not about accolades. It is about well-being. It is about ensuring that when we hit our Golden Years, our bodies are holding up, that we are strong and sturdy and moving like people two decades our junior. It is so the back-half of our lives can be filled with just as much quality of life as our front half. And, let’s be honest – we worked so damn hard for so many years that it is a complete dereliction of duty if we hit retirement and move like a brittle piece of deadwood. Because then what the hell was all that sacrifice for?
Being physical has been an intrinsic part of my life since age 5. Being the best has morphed into being the best I can now be. I still put myself in the hurt locker plenty. When I feel like it and not when I don’t feel like it. And I no longer measure my output. Riding indoors will never happen again. I ditched my power meter and my KICKR. My bike computer is smaller than the face of my watch and is bare bones. I ride the gravel bike when I feel like riding it; I run the Boulder trails when I feel like running. I don’t care how many rides or runs I do in a given week. In cutting my weekly training volume in half and with the primary focus being on strength training, I feel healthier than I have in many years. And I feel more balanced. I would not change a thing.
I’ll never again swim a 5,000 for time and hold :58-:59 per 100yds. I’ll never churn out 5:00 miles for a 10k at the end of an Olympic Distance triathlon. I’ll never have an FTP well above 300 watts. What I WILL have is a more capable body — more mobile, stronger, heavier and leaner than at any time since I left college. The parable I like to use is that I just hit the turnaround in the TT of Life. It is critical there is enough left in the tank so that I’m hitting the finish line at full throttle, not running out of gas with a quarter of the race still to go. Because this is when life becomes a battle. This is when years of use, abuse, attention and neglect start being brought to bear. It has become time to focus on the daily grind that risks decimating us should we not give it the respect it well deserves. So that when we are finally on our death beds, we have allowed ourselves to wring every bit of quality out of this one life that we possibly could. That we regret nothing.
This is what motivates me now. This is the “why”.
As endurance athletes, we’ve largely lost our way. In our quest to become bigger-faster-stronger (legally, I hope), we’ve been fooled by very compelling – and expensive – marketing tactics and strategies. Despite being completely debunked, shills are still making money off the concept of Marginal Gains. Sure, they give it a new skin, but it is the same BS. Like Blackbox Thinking is the key to unlocking the door to reaching our true potentials. Please.
But, it doesn't end there. Gadgets, the latest discovered super food, sexy supplements and hacks (oh, how I utterly HATE that word) are the trickeries, the shortcuts that if we use – no, that we MUST use – we will reach new heights previously deemed unattainable. And, if we don’t use them then we will fail at our own peril.
But, why is addressing the final 1-2% of the improvement equation more important than first addressing the other 98-99%? By focusing on the 1-2% -- the tiny, tactical, insignificant details – we end up largely ignoring the strategic foundation of the 98-99%. Think of building a house. The structure itself can be constructed of all the latest-and-greatest materials and have all the modern efficiencies possible. But, if that house is built without a foundation, then it will fall apart like a house of cards at the first strong wind or storm. Putting together a sound training plan is no different. Without first establishing a strategic and sound foundation, the possible gains you could receive from addressing that final 1-2% is a useless exercise. For example, if you’re not sleeping enough (foundational), then no superfood or magical supplement is going to provide you with more energy or better performances.
And, here’s another dose of reality. For the vast majority of endurance athletes, the Marginal Gains are immaterial. They don’t matter. At all. Unless you are already at the top of the athletic pyramid where 0.5-1% is all that stands between winning and finishing off the podium, then obsessing over the minutia does us little to no good. Rather than spend $1,000 or more on the fastest, most cutting edge wetsuit to shave time off your triathlon swim, instead work on your stroke technique to gain efficiency and log more time in the pool to increase your endurance. Because then the $300 wetsuit will serve you just fine (really, it will). For the same type of analysis on the bike, you can read another article I wrote on the Cost v Benefit of Aero Equipment. Even with running, where the cost outlay is straightforward and less costly than either swimming or cycling, the premise is identical. Do we really need that super space age $150+ pair of shoes to prevent injury or to run longer and faster?
It's time for a dose of reality. It’s time for endurance athletes to shift their focus to the structural foundation of what they do – to the 98-99%. Unless you can unequivocally say your foundation is as strong as bedrock, then forget about the minutia. The more solid your foundation, the more you will be able to build upon it.
The biggest challenge is that we exist in a world of immediate gratification. The gadgets and the hacks and the super secrets of the pros are very attractive because they provide us with the promise of shortcuts. Why train multiple sessions a day and put in many hours of dedicated work every week if instead we are promised the same results in less than half the time? Where the argument of the quick fix falls down is that it assumes or even portends that innovation and creativity occur in the absence of a basic foundation, when in fact it is precisely that foundation which unlocks the power of the innovation. The foundation is prior or existing knowledge; the innovation is a potential iteration of that foundational knowledge. See what I mean?
If your diet is terrible, then the best supplement in the world will only start to make up for the holes in your diet plan. It sure won’t boost your performance. If you heel strike and hunch over like Quasimodo when you run, better to work on your form before you invest in expensive shoes. If you ride an ill-fitting bike, then you must first address your position before you slap on a set of $2,000 race wheels. Yet, we are programmed to do the complete opposite. We look for improvements in all the wrong places. Because the investment of money is so much easier to rationalize than the investment of time.
The focus on the final 1-2% has created quite a problem. There are only so many final touches – legit and mythical – which we can perform before we very quickly reach our limit. And therein lies the irony. The Marginal Gains, by definition, account for very, very little. And, no, there is no mathematical aggregation of those minuscule things. Ten 0.1% minuscule "gains" will not add up to 1%. The returns on those gains are so small and are maxed out very quickly. Yet, what happens when we hit the ceiling? We exacerbate the problem by searching for the next Magic Bullet, the next magic pill, the next hack (oh, that fucking word).
To be clear, nearly all endurance athletes are not at a point in their progression where worrying about the 1-2% makes any sense. You must first master your craft before you focus on becoming the best-of-the-best. It is in that pursuit of ultimate excellence when focusing on the minutia will yield measurable return. Understand the basics and why they are important. Nail them. Come back to them frequently, even as you iterate on your training plan one year to the next. That’s the path to real success for just about anyone but the elite of the elite.
And that path is very simple to both find and follow – sleep more; eat better; train consistently and tick all the energy system boxes. The problem is that the best advice isn’t sexy. It’s not sleek and shiny and full of buzzwords. So, it doesn’t sell.
Which is unfortunate.
Regardless of the sport for which you train and in which you compete, whether it is a single-sport endeavor such as cycling or a multi-sport endeavor such as triathlon – or even something like a Spartan Race or Tough Mudder competition – it is critical to strive for the proper balance in training. The nature of your key races will dictate to a degree what balance you need to strike and how that balance evolves over the course of your training cycles. For example, the key training sessions for a cyclist focusing on criteriums will be different than those for one who focuses on time trials. In simplest terms, athletes strive to properly balance endurance, strength, power and speed in their key sessions, and then inject the proper amount of rest so that they can then bring all that hard work to bear in competition. We all know these various factors are complementary. It’s understanding how and when to best utilize them that is the tricky part.
The way I view training is that its ebb-and-flow should resemble and EKG readout. There should be persistent peaks (hard bouts of training), valleys (rest and recovery) and some mid-height blips (endurance sessions). What is to be avoided is putting a training schedule together that more resembles a flatline. This is how I think about things when creating an athlete’s training schedule – week-to-week, cycle-to-cycle.
The order in which I listed the characteristics is important to note. They flow from slower and more distance-based to faster and more explosive-based effort. Using the cycling example again, a 4-5-hour ride will fall squarely in the “endurance” bucket, while 10-15-second all out sprints will fall squarely in the “speed” bucket. Time trial-specific intervals would mainly be “strength”-related while short VO2max efforts would lean more toward “power”. And, there are plenty of examples of workouts which stimulate a blending of multiple areas of this continuum. For example, you could start with a long interval at SST (just below threshold) followed by a series of 60-second efforts at L5 (VO2max). The key is to understand what stimulus each type of workout is meant to elicit and how the stimuli ties in to the type of racing in which the athlete wants to excel.
The key is understanding the athlete’s goals. It’s incumbent upon the athlete to think ahead, to look at the race calendar and start to formulate how many races and what types of races he or she will do over the course of the racing season. And, which of those races will be labeled as “A” (100% ready to go); “B” (important but only a couple days backing off); and “C” (training races). This is how the coach comes to understand how to best structure the athlete’s training program – starting at the athlete’s first key race and counting backwards from there to today – and strike the proper balance between endurance, strength, power, speed and recovery.
On top of all this training, it’s important to understand each athlete’s propensities. With the track and field world championships happening now, let’s use running as an example. A 100m/200m sprinter is going to respond very quickly to power and speed work, much more quickly than a marathoner because he or she is genetically predisposed to that type of running. The sprinter is “built for speed.” Likewise, the marathoner is going to be a better responder to endurance and strength workouts.
While we can’t necessarily ensure athletes are being provided with the absolute best balance of training stimuli, what coaches can do is ensure an effective balance is provided. There is not a “one size fits all” for a given type of athlete, but there are intelligent guidelines to follow and from there tweak given each athletes response to the stimuli.
Based on where athletes are in their training regimens in relation to their key races will determine what sort of balance among the training stimuli needs to be struck. In simplest terms, the farther away athletes are from their key races the less race-specific the training should be; the closer athletes get to the key races the more race-specific the training should be. Being fully honest, as coaches we sometimes get the approach spot on; other times we’re off by a little bit; and yet others we’re off by a lot. The best coaches will identify and admit when their athletes’ plans are off-the-mark, quickly make adjustments and put the athletes on a more effective path to success.
Direct feedback from the athletes is of critical importance, as are race performances in the lead-up to the key racing. The impact of races and key workouts manifests in three different ways – immediate, short-term and long-term effects. In dealing with the different effects of and among several multi-hour races, it is key to provide athletes with enough recovery yet also with enough stimuli so that fitness is either maintained or increased when racing starts to critically interfere with prep time (training).
Sometimes races don’t go as planned or as hoped, and it’s clear the disconnect is based on the preparation coaches provide to the athletes. Typically, it is based on too big an emphasis on the non-race-specific training. By taking the athlete’s feedback and laying it over the training schedule, I can quickly identify where we missed the mark, make adjustments to the go-forward plan and fairly quickly elicit the desired training responses. Remember, race-specific stimuli elicits responses in athletes very quickly. A sprinter needs only a few sessions to get “the snap back”. A time trialist needs only a few TT-specific sessions to get into “drone mode”. And so on. In other words, missing the mark by a little bit does not mean the season is ruined like so many athletes think.
Yet, sometimes, I find we’re ahead of the curve in an athlete’s trajectory. We’re getting to a peak in fitness too far ahead of the key races. In these cases, it’s critical to pull back from the training stimuli which are creating the accelerated responses. This can be accomplished by cutting down the number of key workouts by half (rather than cutting down the amount of hard work done per key workout, which is more in-line with tapering into the key race). As a replacement for the key workouts, sessions that are considered complementary but “opposite” should be included. For example, a criterium specialist would be prescribed more L1/L2 steady aerobic rides, maybe focusing on pedaling efficiency, in place of an L5/L6 session. Or, the Ironman athlete might replace a high-volume weekend with a fraction of the hours at higher intensity.
The biggest challenge to overcome here is lack of perspective. Self-coached athletes are challenged to take that step back and objectively look at their approach to identify the gaps in preparation. In many cases, they also lack the foundational knowledge and expertise to do so, regardless of how many “how to” books they read on training (many of which are questionable in their actual value). On the flip side, you have coaches who either who ignore the patterns because they function with a one-size-fits-all mentality or are too busy to provide athletes with the individual attention each deserves.
Balancing training is a simple concept, but one that is challenging to implement and get right. There are many variables that ebb-and-flow over time and which also need consistent attention over time. This is why I say training plans should be written in pencil, not pen, and come with a big eraser. Because despite how effective the first pass at the training plan is, it won’t be perfect and will require adjustments over time for any one of a multitude of reasons – sickness, injury, too much or not enough stimuli, and so on. It’s incumbent on each coach/athlete relationship to monitor progress and make the necessary adjustments along the way.
From 2010-2015, 224 British athletes missed providing drug testing samples due to ABP (Athlete Biological Passport) Whereabouts violations. Those who complain that this is not current news complete miss its relevance -- cheating is a timeless problem endemic to all of Sport. To marginalize this and to report that "this in no way implies guilt or suggests wrongdoing or cheating" only serves to further perpetuate the omerta and excuse the cheating.