I'm Not Improving, Part 1

This is so frustrating. 

I'm putting all of this work in with no return. 

Is this worth it. 

Maybe endurance sports aren't for me. 

I could be doing more with my time. 

I'm so slow.

Everyone is faster than me. 


These are the words I hear too often as a coach. I see them typed on social media, I listen to them whispered to friends, and I see it in athletes' eyes and body language. As someone who spends their day investing in others, listening to other people's stories, it is hard to witness such discouragement. Endurance sports can be enjoyable with the right mindset. Endurance events are an accumulation activity and what you put in, you will get a return. However, you need to be in the right mindset to reap these rewards. 

I was coaching an open water swim class this morning and this topic came to mind. The three main reasons people don't improve boil down to 1) Measuring 2) Effort 3) Expectation; and today I will focus on the foundation point, measuring your fitness.

  1. Measuring

In my experience the people who are discouraged continuously don't measure their training, so they have no clue how fast or slow they are going. They measure their effort off of other people which undoubtedly leads to dissatisfaction. Hot tip, there will always be someone faster than you, so this isn't a consistent measuring point. Using others as motivation is also a short term fix. You are ultimately out there for yourself. 

We coach six swim sessions a week that have ranging abilities. I was working with an athlete who stopped mid-workout to express dissatisfaction in how little they felt were improving. My heart sank as this is a horrible feeling as a coach. I asked, "how fast was your last 100 repeat?" The athlete responded, "I don't know." I took a moment and replied, "How do you know you are not improving if you don't know your speeds?" and the athlete responded, "Well, this person has been swimming faster than me."

Here lies the problem with group training, its a constant measure of your rank, which feels like a measurement of your worth even though it’s not. I am swimming the slowest which doesn't feel good, which must mean I'm not improving. A reoccurring observation is that athletes know their running pace but don't know their swimming pace. This is a reason people don't like swimming.

As a coach I know my athlete's swim paces. I time intervals of each athlete throughout practice and thankfully I happened to time this person's last interval. I reminded the athlete that when they first started, they were swimming at 2:00 pace for 100 repeats and this previous 100 was a 1:50. There was a moment of silence as this information was sinking in. The athlete was improving all along but never realized it. I stood next to this athlete the rest of the practice providing splits for the main set. The motivation for the remainder of the swim was something we never saw before; the athlete only got faster the rest of the class! The only difference was being more engaged in the process of swimming. 

This concept is not rocket science, but you need to know your ability. You are waking up every day to better yourself, and the only way to receive productive feedback is by measuring yourself. If you are an athlete, you should be doing tests in the swim, bike, and run throughout the year. It is imperative for long term success. 

Coach Steve

If you are interested in coaching, click on the link HERE 

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How My IRONMAN Training Has Changed

When I first started with triathlon my primary goal was making the distance, not to “race it”. I talk to my athletes about being able to see the finish instead of swarming yourself with the “how can i complete the swim” mentality. This is very normal with newer athletes because each discipline is daunting and no matter what i say, they simply have to experience the race and distance to feel more confident. Especially for people making the jump to the longer distances. When I did my first Ironman in 2010, even though I had already qualified for multiple 70.3 world championships the distance of the Ironman intimated me to where many of my swims, bikes, and runs were all at or above my desired race pace. I did this to prove to myself that I could accomplish the distance. I was literally searching for confidence every weekend! 


When I trained like this I would determine the outcome of my season through EVERY SINGLE session months in advance of my Ironman. If the session went well I was confident. If my session sucked, I was instantly regretting everything i’ve done and rethinking a new plan. So dramatic! If i was ever hurt I was already on WebMD diagnosing I had a stress fracture. I was an emotional roller coaster!

I’ve heard this phrase “endurance training is alot of general conditioning with a tad of specificity” and I really enjoy it because its how I coach and how i view my own training from a physical and emotional stand point. I never get too emotionally high or too low. If you are too far on the specificity side than you are dialed in too often and that creates injury, burn out, and emotional swings. This isn’t healthy. YES, you should compare and track your sessions but not every week. I find that people go full specificity mode when training starts to get feel good. They get motivated, they’re seeing improvement, then they blast it all of the time, every session! Then they quickly find themselves tired, exhausted, and needing a break. They forgot what type of training got them to this great shape. Think about it…

What training in a more general sense brings is greater enjoyment, more fluctuation of training intensity, longevity with athletes, and fewer burnout. Training in a general sense allows you to just go out and ride! No structured intervals, just ride! This is why in key long rides I commonly split sessions between specificity focus versus kilojoule focus. When its specificity focus it may be something like, 3x30’ @ IM/70.3 Power and when its KJ focus it may be, “get your KJ budget in however you want” and many times people enjoy this approach because you can either go short and hard or long and easy. General training does NOT mean training with no plan, structure and make it up as you go. That’s just an excuse to be lazy. Don’t switch your focus every month off of what you read or whats being spewed by the Youtube experts. Being general means have greater long term approach and higher fluctuation in the intensity you’re training at. Find a coach who doesn’t flip flop like a pancake. The ones that hold steady but are flexible to your situation are the best coaches.

Also, with a more general approach you don’t experience as much fatigue build up from all of the long hard demanding sessions. These are the “look at me sessions” you do to look good on social media. I was as guilty as anyone for doing these sessions. I remember doing a session that was 100 miles at IM watts followed by 13 miles running at desired IM run pace (6:45s). You know where that got me? On the couch for a week. The big sessions don’t create the fitness, the weekly consistency does. Those sessions may feed the lack of confidence, but they increase the physical, emotional, and hormonal damage. Also, these sessions create the greatest fatigue which is the reason athletes underperform on race day. Too many hard long training days, too frequent, too close to the race. You enter the race so deeply fatigue you have nothing on race day. Commonly you see people firing on all cylinders during this phase but miss time the stress dosage and show on race day mentally and physically fried wondering why they couldn’t reproduce the magic on race day. I get it though, you’re fit and ready and want to show it… but don’t show it every weekend in training, save a little. The big training days are OK, just not every week.

Now that I no longer have the fear of completing the distance, I’m more cautious during training intervals and my pacing. That doesn’t mean I don’t train hard, I certainly do at times. It just means I don’t go above my prescribed ranges to prove anything. I also go way easier on my easy and endurance training sessions. This approach seems to work as I never get down after a bad session, I don’t take it personally, I just role with the training to build consistency. When you finally get over the “make every session count” mentality, you open up a sense of relaxation and freedom.


My take aways:

  1. Not every long ride is a chance to prove yourself

  2. Going slightly easier will help you in the long run

  3. If you are always going hard, you really aren’t training hard enough

  4. Have a beer, wine, cheeseburger every once in awhile. 

Hope you enjoyed reading!

Coach Steve

Another Step Forward

Another Step Forward

Since returning from our Arizona Training Camp my training has been going very well. I’ve been putting in 600-800 TSS weeks, 4-5x weekly swims, 4-5x weekly bikes, and 2-3x weekly runs, and 2x strength sessions at Functional Integrated Training. 

First thing you may notice is that i’m not running much. At first I had a hard time with this but ultimately it came down to reality, need, and time of season, and absorption. Outside of the final build to a big race, you rarely you aim to have perfect balance in all 3 sports. Why not? Unless you are very balanced in all 3, you should be focusing on improving one area which means you need to lower another. Commonly swim and run fitness don’t work well together. If you are running alot your swimming will take a dive. It’s hard to go through this compromise but I need to get better and this is the time.

My areas of weakness have always been the swim and bike and I commonly run well off the bike to my fitness level. With all eyes on TTT and Ironman Wisconsin which are both 140.3 miles, the swimming and cycling need the priority, especially the swimming. I believe I can muscle my way through a 70.3 with very limited swim training but the Ironman has been a different story and my constant struggle of endless 3:30-3:40 marathons When I should be at 3:20. The goal with the heavy swim block is to build the durability and pure conditioning so I can arrive to the run having spent much less energy as well as have a stronger 2nd half of the bike. I would estimate between the 3 weekly runs I am averaging 25-30 miles per week. Quality Hill and Threshold workout, Quality Long Run, Easy run. 

Second observation is swim frequency. I can’t tell you the last time i’ve swam 4-5x a week for an extended period. This didn’t take any convincing as I knew I needed to. Doing this was critical for accomplishing my long term goals. No one cares about how fast you swim and bike if you can’t run off it. Early in the block I sent some video to Coach C and we noticed some areas of improvement with my breathing and stabilization. Every stroke I took afterwards was focused on fixing these issues, thats alot of drill work! This past Monday we did the CSS 400/200 swim test. I did this test later last year and set two personal bests of 5:08 and 2:29! The morning of the test I was anxious to the point of shortness of breathe and slight shaking, I WAS NERVOUS! Through my nerves I convinced myself that my body was fatigued, my arms hurt, that this test wasn’t going to go well. Self Sabotage at it’s best! In the warm up I rehearsed the mental cues I was going to execute in the test, keep it simple, focus. 1,2,3, Breathe and Reach were the things I was telling myself. In the counting of 1,2,3 were focused on exhaling and the 4 was my breath. I have a habit of holding my breathe when going fast.  

200 yards into the test the fatigue level was pretty high and there was a moment where I said, “hey, you are ok, focus” and I kept drilling it while focusing on my cues to silence my lactate gremlins. The final 100 I was still holding it together. I finished the 400 and saw 5:05, a new personal best at 1:16 average! The 200 went off and around 75 to go my legs were going numb, it was crazy! I stayed focused on my technique and cues and nailed another personal best of 2:26, boom!

My goal of swimming under 1 hour at IMWI is becoming more real. Now, I need to build up the endurance to have the conditioning to handle 4k of open water swimming. The speed is there.

Thank you for reaching and keep training and believing!

Onwards and Upwards.

Coach Steve

2019 New Years Resolutions

New Years Resolutions


There are two types of people on this subject, you are either making resolutions or you’re not. I don’t think I have ever made New Years Resolutions before. Since starting this blog, posting my workouts on Strava, communicating my goals to the World Wide Web, I have found that it has provided a higher level of accountability. Some people have no problem being accountable to themselves, however, I need accountability. The more accountability I share with people the more focused I remain on the tasks at hand. 

  1. Be more present. When its work time, I work. When its family time, the phone is away. Being an endurance coach its easy to get sucked into this “on call 24/7 availability”. I am getting better at not working as much on the weekends so I can have more family time. Plus…social media can suck the life out of you. It can provide levels of pressure to be someone you’re not. It can also provide constant uncertainty in what you are doing. You can lose yourself and your personal beliefs through it, all for someone to “like” your crap. No wonder depression rates have increased. You be you, not someone else. It can also diminish your focus from whats most important (family, friends, dog, work). I do believe social media can provide good and there are many people who provide positive messages. Lauren Fleshman comes to mind because she is a powerful individual who shares her highs and lows. She’s real. She gets it.

  2. Take Risks. I have so many goals I want to accomplish that I never accomplish any of them. I get side tracked, confused, unfulfilled because i’m half assing so many things. This year I am going to focus on 1-2 projects and do them to the best of my ability. I have acouple long term projects that I would love to accomplish that i’ve always been afraid to tackle. I am starting to talk to the right people, making the correct phone calls to make it happen. 

  3. Be ok with training less. 10 years ago I was fulfilled with how many hours I trained a week. I lived to grow this number. Now I don’t even look at it. I am more fulfilled with being a good husband and father compared to how much time I am spending away from them. I don’t train in the middle of the day. I only train in the morning or at night when my daughter is sleeping. If I train 6 hours or 12 hours a week I am still the same person I was the week before, it doesn't define my dedication or commitment to my goals. What will define me is if I am still married after Ironman Wisconsin. I have big goals, I want to do very well this September. However, what if i don’t reach my goals? What if i go slower than 2016? Oh well! But that’s not the point, what is? Keeping a healthy life balance. Keeping a happy family. Keeping a tired dog are more important than a number or an overall time. 

  4. Stop picking at my hair. It’s a nervous habit, i get it. It’s also making me go bald and I hate it. Not enough Rogaine or men’s voodoo hair products will regrow the hair i continue to pick out. 

If you ever want to take a look at what the training schedule or a Time Crunched Athlete who is trying to Kona Qualify looks like….here it is!

Coach Steve

Anatomy of a NEW Personal Best at Madison Half Marathon

I was so fed up with never seeing improvement. After years of all talk and no action, it was time to act. I was getting tired of myself. Time to change things up and commit. It paid off again at the Madison Half Marathon. 

Sub 1:23 is possible!

Sub 1:23 is possible!


I cannot tell you the last time I set a Personal Best in running. I think the last time was in 2010 at a 4th of July road 5k when I was training for Ironman Wisconsin. That would mean I went 8 years without any improvement. For 8 years I blamed everyone and everything but myself for my poor results. When you don’t see improvement you start to second guess what you’re doing. I would estimate that my drive to improve really tanked around 2012. In 2012, I moved from Arizona back to Wisconsin. I was starting up a new business. I wasn’t improving in athletics. I lost all life balance. However, I continued to do an Ironman each year only to get slower and that was my biggest mistake. The need to just DO an Ironman because its routine won’t make you a better athlete, it made me worse. It killed my motivation.  

Since my recent declaration to stop being all talk I have set two personal bests. One in swimming and one in running. I’ve made myself accountable to coaches, friends, and the internet… and it’s working. Instead of hiding my goals and fears, i’m letting everyone in on them.

In the final 3 miles, a low point for me.

In the final 3 miles, a low point for me.


Coming into the Madison Half Marathon I was training really well and times were showing a PR was possible. The days before the race I started to get nervous and my body got weird tightness and aches which is common pre race stress. When your body knows you are about to punish it, it wants to protect itself. 

In 2017, I ran 1:24:15 with an average of 6:26 pace

In 2018, my goal was to break 1:24


Race Morning 

5:00: Wake up, 2 cups of coffee, 4 pancakes, lots of syrup, 1 fruit smoothie

5:50: 20’ Easy Bike on indoor trainer at 60-70% of FTP

6:30: Arrive at race site having consumed a 400c bottle of carbohydrates

6:40: 10’ Easy run, visualize, breathing, relax, don’t freak out

6:50: Last Portopotty visit

6:55: Check in gear bar

7:00: Try and get near the front, only to start near the 2:00 Half Marathon Starters 

7:10: Race starts. I am no where close to the front “Dont panic, this could be a good thing”

———

Mile 1: “This isnt a good thing, i’m upset, i’m weaving through everyone, i’m wasting energy. My race is over.”

Mile 2: “Ok, i’m done pouting. Focus on your execution goals”

Mile 3: “Ok, this is the long false flat section. Why is my HR so high? Crap, i’m running 6:05s. Slow down its too fast”

Mile 5: “I’m still running 6:05s, this isnt going to end well”

Mile 6: 36:55 (6:10avg)… I’m going to PR today. Holy crap!

Mile 8: “I’m dying. This hill is huge”

Mile 8.5: “This bluff is so stupid. I should just walk. I feel terrible. Everyone is passing me”

Mle 9: “You need to do this for Cindi and Lucy. They have supported you through this”

Mile 10: “My legs feel like bricks”

Mile 10.5: “Dude, stop whining. You’re whining. You can PR today. Toughen up and get it done”

Mile 11: “Oh, there’s Cindi and Lucy. Hey Lucy! She sees me. She smiling and waving, yay!”

Mile 11.1: “I’ve got new energy, bring it on”

Mile 11.2: “Shit another hill, where’d my energy go. This wind sucks”

Mile 12: “Come on! Relax, stay smooth. relax. Keep your rhythm. 1 Mile to go”

Mile: 12.5: “Another hill! Are you flipping kidding me. I’m barely running up this thing”

Mile 12.8: “There’s no way I can PR, i’m dying. There’s nothing left”

Mile: 13: “Holy crap, I can break 1:23. I can still to PR. Effing Push it!”

Mile 13.1: New Personal Best Half Marathon 1:22:58…Boom!

———

I’ve been wondering what has been the secret sauce to my new streak of Personal Bests and i’ve come to a conclusion. 1) Get Married 2) Have a kid 3) start a blog and tell the world your shortcomings and goals. 4) Work with a coach who provides accountability

In Maple Bluff. The hilliest part of the race!

In Maple Bluff. The hilliest part of the race!


But seriously, before Cindi and Lucy I was a free bird with no direction or hurry. I got lazy because I had too much flexibility on my hands to train. In fact, it was so much flexibility I never trained. Now that I am the busiest i’ve ever been I’m the most productive. Now, I make everything count and there is no messing around with training. Every session and race that I do I am grateful for. The pressure to deliver is higher and I like that. This is why I respect Jackie Hering so much, she is a mother of 2, Professional Triathlete, Race Director, Ironman freaking Champion, and she is piecing it together like the rest of us. 

Seeing Cindi and Lucy!

Seeing Cindi and Lucy!


I am beyond happy with how everything is going. On my original goal sheet I needed to get my Half Marathon to 1:22 and ive done it. My swim speed is ALMOST to my original goals. GOAL SHEETS WORK! 

A New Race Challenge: American Triple T

All is going very well on the training front and having a blast. I am finding a good rhythm each day with getting my sessions in. Coffee is set to automatically start at 4:00am, the alarm clock is set for 4:05, I am up by 4:10, working out by 4:45-5am. I am very much a morning person, as you can tell. If I could be in bed by 8pm, I would!

It is only October and I am obsessing over what races I am doing next year. I have been waffling over my first triathlon, Elkhart Lake or Madison 70.3? Both because they are back to back weekends?

THEN, a new challenge was presented to me…

American Triple T

https://americantriple-t.com/american-triple-t/

It is 4 triathlons within 3 days… all totaling an Ironman Distance. There is also shorter version that totals a 70.3 Triathlon.

Friday: Super Sprint Triathlon

Saturday AM: Olympic Distance

Saturday Afternoon: Olympic Distance (Bike/Swim/Run)

Sunday: Half Ironman

Why the change? I’ve done Elkhart Lake and used it as a fitness gauge. Madison 70.3 is local and competitive, but it doesn’t draw much interest to me outside of the competition that would be there.

What’s also nice about TTT? I have inside knowledge into how to prepare and race it. How? Cindi has WON this event. Cindi has always encouraged me to race TTT and having that type of knowledge from a previous champion is second to none.

Importantly, Triple T provides me a lot of motivation. Its going to be very challenging. It’s also different than what i’ve previously done. My interest has been leaning towards adventure races, long trail runs, Canada Extreme, Swissman, Norseman type of events.

My theme for 2019 Ironman Wisconsin and all of the preparation leading into will be “Conditioning, Conditioning, Conditioning.” I have done many Ironmans so I don’t need more triathlon experience. My limiter for most of my Ironmans have been simple: Conditioning. Endurance. Fitness. GET FIT! Triple T keeps me in this mindset over the winter months leading into both races. To accomplish 140.6 miles, broken into 4 triathlons will require a lot of conditioning but not the same as a stand alone Ironman.

Add in that Triple T is under 300 dollars for the entry fee. 4 Triathlons, Race Kit, Finishers Jacket, and much more what what a single 70.3 event costs. The lodging offered is also very affordable. Plus, I love racing smaller races. The feel and environment of these grassroots events is always nice. Door County Half Ironman is also like this.

Until next week!

Coach Steve

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Coach Steve: Working On Run Technique

This week our family took a vacation to Door County. It’s been around 2 years since we’ve taken a formal vacation and with the triathlon season winding down, we packed our bags and headed to the quiet town of Bailey’s Harbor.

Talking with Coach Kevin before I left, I was fired up to get back into hard training after the prior light week. We settled on making this week also pretty easy and he was right. When I go on vacation, my mind does the same. Every morning I am up at 4:30 to work, train or coach. However. when vacation came I slept till the rooster crowed aka Lucy woke up. My training goal was to get in 30’ of running a day, mission accomplished. I was also on vacation and the last thing I wanted to do was be away from my family.

I grew up running from middle school and high school and the first year at college. While I was never a talented runner, I loved putting in the hard miles. I was a coaches worst nightmare. Every run was hard. 6 mile aerobic run turned into 6 miles as hard as possible. 10 mile long run the day after a race turned into a hammer session. Like I said… a true nightmare. I look back on myself and understand why i never saw the improvement other runners saw, I never let my body rest, recover, and grow. I wanted to do more, faster, and more frequent. That’s the path to becoming amazingly mediocre.

Since we’re on the honest bus, Ive never shown much promise in swim, bike, or running. I had to work very hard for the results I’ve achieved. For most talented people, it takes them 3 years from nothing to something (Short Course Nationals, 70.3 Worlds, Kona Qualifier)… for me it took double the time. My parents taught me hard work, but didn’t give me the great genetics. I still love them very much.

So here I am today plugging away at the small details.

When I evaluated my running form. (How do I do this? I put my phone next to me on my treadmill) I notice that my left leg doesn’t recover as high as my right. The effect of this is that my left leg over striders causing me to look like I am cross country skiing instead of running, which causes me to over stride, which causes a lot of injuries on my left leg, which is REALLY limiting my speed potential. If you want to go faster you need to put more force straight down into the ground. When you over stride, you don’t do that.

Some people can get away with bad technique, but I’m not talented or genetically powerful so I need to fix these issues. Running technique is important, if you don’t think so you’re oblivious to the obvious.

If you are talented, more power to you! You have been given great genes and if you combine that with hard work… you’re going places. Talented athletes make many coaches look really good!

Here is what I am doing to fix my left leg, it’s pretty simple. There are so many fancy drills but keeping it simple and knowing the focus is key to learning. Thats what Drills do, they teach you something. How it should feel and how to do it correctly. Drills won’t automatically make you faster, in fact I see many athletes doing drills aimlessly. However, when they are done right they’re the foundation to your improvement.

If I am feeling fatigued I will do these before the run as a muscle activation set. I will always do them after my runs, especially a hard run.

3 Rounds:

20 Butt Kicks (Focus on tightening up my recovery phase to get my foot higher to push down)

20 High Knees (Same Focus on Butt Kicks, just different position)

20 A-Skips (Pull the leg up, FIRE the leg down. Putting it all together)

20 High Elbow Band Pulls (For swimming)

R:1 Minute, repeat.