This past weekend was the Verona Triterium Sprint Triathlon
Triterium is the second of the Wisconsin Tri Series races (Lake Mills being the first), and it was another successful weekend of triathlon racing for me and the rest of Madison multisport.
I recently finished reading Steve Magness and Brad Stulberg's latest book, The Passion Paradox, and have found myself reflecting on it quite a bit. In their guide to going all in, finding success, and discovering the benefits of an unbalanced life, Magness and Stulberg make a compelling case that the most memorable, interesting and otherwise worth-while things in life happen in a state of unbalance.
It is definitely worth a read if you haven't yet. It got the wheels in my head turning again about my relationship with fitness, racing, my work, my family, and all the other things important to me in my life. Magness argues people who leave their mark in this world do so by committing themselves entirely to their passions-- across areas like writing, philanthropy, and even sport. In short, their greatness is profoundly unbalanced.
But what does that mean for the rest of us? Those who don't set out for greatness, or to change the world, but just want to be the best versions of ourselves? Those of us who struggle to balance the demands of our work, our family, our health, and --yes-- our hobbies? Those of us who nibble at the edges of a bigger commitment to something and flirt with the idea of "going all in" on a big goal?
Passion burns like a fire, it turns out. In the right time and in the right place, our hobbies and our goals burn bright and can make us feel alive. Passion can be self-actualizing and our passions come to light up who we are. But left unchecked, passion burns out, and in time, our passions can burn us out. The key, Magness and Stulberg argue, is creating a safe environment for ourselves to pursue our interests and try new things within safe and familiar frameworks.
The challenge is to find the space to fuel our hobbies and interests, but without losing sight or perspective of the cost to the rest of our lives. So how do I weigh the big dreams and stretch goals with their costs?
I'm sure as sh*t not about to quit my job, live out of a van, and train full time (as my wife reminds me any time I float the idea-- and I do so almost always in jest). So I have tried to optimize within the constraints of my life, my work obligations, and my obligations at home, how can I get the most out of my performance and to be as competitive as possible, all-the-while not losing sight of the fun.
Which brings me to something new
At the beginning of the year, I told my coach Steve Brandes that I wanted to try something a little different for the year (I'm sure that he gets tired of my constant, new ideas, and sometimes just wishes I would follow the plan).
When I started racing triathlons in 2015, it was as a way to stay healthy and as a new challenge for me after injuries, fatigue, and boredom pushed me away from running. Triathlon represented new things (swimming, biking), and a chance to be competitive across three different disciplines.
But this year, 2019, is my 5th year in the sport. I'm no longer "new" to it, and while I continue to improve, the gains on race day have come more deliberately and with less frequency. So I worked with Steve to create a space to try something completely new to me: I decided in 2019 that I was going to get into bike racing.
So rather than do a typical build into the season, we decided to "race" our way into fitness by focusing on something totally different on the bike. We laid out a plan that did two things: 1) gave me a chance to dip my toes in the water of a new interest-- racing bikes; 2) gave me a different focus and stimulus for improving beyond the same types of things I had been doing the previous season.
The much-anticipated, Cat 5 Debut
In April, I raced the Rough Road 100k gravel road race in Illinois. It was unlike anything I had ever done before and was super challenging. I had a blast, won a belt buckle for averaging over 20mph in a 100k gravel race (epic event, highly recommend), and built some solid fitness-- both physical and mental.
As an added bonus, I am already thinking about gravel races (Land Run?, Almanzo?!, Barry Roubaix ?!?, Dirty Kanza?!?!) for next spring.
Then in May, I made my Cat 5 road racing debut. Triathlon and bike racing are very different. In triathlon, you are supposed to ride steady. In bike racing, you basically do the exact opposite. You go extremely hard, then extremely easy, hard, easy (and repeat for the duration of the race). It's a lot of fun and very different from anything I had done before.
In La Crosse, I took 6th in an uphill time trial on a Friday and on that Sunday learned the hard way that attacking off-the-front in a criterium is a better idea in your head than in practice. Later in May, I rounded off the month with a midpack finish in a 4-5 road race in Palmyra.
These were new experiences for me-- true pack riding, bumping shoulders in a crit, tactical racing-- but it was great physical and mental training stimulus that brought me into the season fresh and in really good bike shape. All of which leads me to an interesting result in my training and build: even though I have had my best-ever bike split at Lake Mills and first ever AG win at Triterium, I have only ridden my TT bike three times this year.
The first time? A quick spin to make sure that my brakes weren't rubbing and the mech was in working order before Lake Mills
The second and third? During Lake Mills and Tritium themselves. And I'm fine with that.
Keep the rubber side down
I love to ride my bike and I get out as much as I can. I try to get out regularly on the roads with group rides to keep my pack skills up, but given a choice, I will always pick my gravel bike on the military ridge trail and gravel back roads over just about any other type of riding.
And you know what? I'm having a blast doing it, racing triathlon as well as ever with my new approach to bike training, and I have cultivated a new passion for riding and racing as a result.
Next up for me, the Pardeeville and Door County Sprint triathlons in July. So until next time, as they say in bike racing, keep the rubber side down and have fun!
American Triple T was everything I thought it would be plus a few more.
I knew of this extreme grassroots race from Cindi, my friends Justin, Ken, and Tim and always wanted to attempt it but the timing was always difficult. When Cindi gave me the green light I was pumped but immediately fearful. The right kind of stress. New race, new format, big early season fitness. Would I be ready?
140.3 miles of racing over 3 days/4 triathlons. Over 10,000ft of elevation gain.
Day 1: Super Sprint. The theme for me was to keep it under control and i did just that.
Day 2: AM Olympic distance. Friday we discovered that Michael’s di2 rear derailur motor was broken and there was no way to fix it before the race. He was going into Saturday’s race with 2 gears. When we left the cabin in the morning i discovered that my di2 was completely dead. I had 15’ before transition closed to charge it. That 15 minutes was dreadful. I sat on the couch with my head in my hands. I was able to get some energy into it but as i mounted my bike after the swim portion… the battery was dead. 2500ft of climbing in my 53/19, not ideal. I made it to mile 6 before i said “(explicit) it” and turned around. It took me 2 minutes before i turned back around and reminded myself that i was here to challenge myself, not to give up. In these tough moments I often think of Cindi and Lucy. The time i’m away from them to DNF? How could I explain that, you can’t. If you can finish, you finish. I owed it to them as much as myself. I knew i could finish the bike, so i did. I never got too upset. I took it for what it was, a poor mistake. Because some of the hills were so steep I had to walk my bike 3 times while having over 200 people ask me “are you ok?”. As I walked some of the hills I would just laugh to myself and think “I’m now that person who forgot to charge their di2”. I was certain my legs would be toast after riding 25 miles with an average cadence of 50 but they felt good for the run! After the race, i didn’t fret. I was having fun. A shitty day is better than a DNF. Then sense of overcoming a mistake is better than the feeling of quitting. Go Steve Go.
Race 3: Olympic (bike, swim, run)... my di2 was recharged and so was my motivation. I had frustration to burn so I went full gas the whole second race. I was in the hurt box by mile 2 of the bike and loving it. With the swim happening after the bike i chose to wear my Blueseventy Core Shorts. The air temperature was in the 80s so the swim felt refreshing. I loved the swim coming 2nd as it was different and fun. As Michael and I sat in the tent post race, there wasn’t alot of talking. We were both just staring and the occasional chuckle. A chuckle that meant, “What did we sign up for? How are we going to do a half ironman tomorrow?” Our legs were shaking and mentally there wasn’t much left. We just sat there in silence. A solid second day.
Race 4: Half Ironman. I woke up with two feelings, excited and scared to death. I was ready for the challenge of this half distance course, i’ve been thinking about it for months. 4000ft of climbing for 56 miles and 1000ft on the run. We were given all of that elevation gain. At mile 17 I felt the dreaded THUMP… THUMP… THUMP. My second ever flat tire in a race. From what happened with my Di2, a flat tire was nothing. I was in a good mindset that i just got off and fixed it. No frustration, no swearing. I didn’t give up, make excuses or “mail it in”. I got back on my bike and found my rhythm again. I kept telling myself, “let’s keep this challenge going”. The run was hard, that’s when the accumulative fatigue hit me the hardest. The run course was absolutely brutal with the constant hills and sun exposure. I didn’t mind running the exact same route every race, the better I know a route the faster it seems to happen. The 1st loop i was in a mental and physical rut but something clicked the 2nd loop and i was moving. My mindset the first loop was “Oh (Explicit) this is so hard” “My back is killing me” to “I can (explicit) do this” “I feel amazing” “Lets go!”. I ran 3’ faster the 2nd half and it was effortless. When you think negative thoughts, negative things happen. When you refocus to the process the pain can disappear.
It’s amazing what you can put your body through in 3 days. Looking back on the entire weekend I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t physically prepared enough to meet my goals going in. I was too inexperienced. I mainly lacked the strong bike miles to run well off it. My ambitions didn’t match my fitness. I was out performed in every aspect, every day and i knew it during the races i was going strong. I wasn’t even close to where I thought i would be. Days later as i sit and reflect I get more moments of frustration than pride. My thoughts continually switch from “you should be proud of yourself” to “Is what your trying to do even worth it? What’s the point.”
However, this is why we race. This is why we train. This is why we step outside the uncomfortable zone. When you try and take the first step its scary to where you are dangling that leg out thinking “no no no I can’t do it”, but once you center your mind and take that step it’s incredibly freeing. We expose ourselves to reality of success, disappointment, failure, humiliation, criticism which all can turn to growth if you treat it right. This race was outside my comfort level. It was amazing. It was special. It was hard. It was rewarding. It was exactly what I needed.
American’s Triple T is 2 weeks away and i’m officially stressing out.
Here is the layout for TTT:
Friday: Super Sprint
Saturday AM: Olympic
Saturday Afternoon: Olympic (Bike, Swim, Run)
Sunday: Half Ironman
All 4 races will equal an IRONMAN distance. I mean, what the heck was I thinking? Then when you add on the difficulty of the course it adds another level of worry. The bike leg for each Olympic Distance is shown at 1,800ft of gain. The bike leg for the 70.3 shows 4,500ft of gain. Over 3 days of “racing” we will be climbing over 8,000ft on the bike and close to 1,000ft on the run. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
In all seriousness this is exactly what I wanted to spice up my early part of the season. Too many season’s i’ve mapped the same progression with sprints, olympics, then a 70.3, then an IRONMAN. I got bored. I needed a new challenge. I needed to train harder and different. Triple T has provided me the fear needed to be in good shape in June. It’s the best June shape I have been in since 2010! My plan is working!
I’m currently dealing with race anxiety. One way I am seeing this is through wanting to over train and never take a break from hard training. Who needs rest days? Why would i ride my bike under 70% of FTP? Why would I run slower than 8:00 pace? I tell my athletes that the final 8-12 weeks to your A race is when your injuries will happen. It’s because you start to push the recovery runs and rides too hard. You are trying to eek out just a tad more fitness. Stephen Seiler who is one the best sports scientists explains that over training happens when all of your training starts to become “simply hammering” and this is when you lose all training benefits. You’ve lost the balance because you want to feel accomplished only to underperform on race day. I’ve become good at catching myself and sticking to my recovery efforts and using HR on my recovery days and keeping it below 75% of max HR. I also do all my recovery runs with our dog Cedar which includes many walk breaks, pee breaks, and nature viewing. Its a perfect distraction from all the data points.
I was talking with an athlete yesterday about how to avoid underperforming when it matters the most and i boiled it down to two areas. 1) Setting too high of expectations for your race 2) Focusing too much on what you want versus what can you do.
It’s amazing what people imagine or feel they can do versus the physical reality. You can tell everyone your big goals but if you dont have the thresholds or aerobic capacity to hit them then you won’t on race day, and that self realization will creep in. BUT if you go into the race with realistic expectations that you will feel confident. Its like thinking you want to Boston Qualify at 3:00 but have never run a long run at sub 7:00 pace. Or trying to Kona Qualify at your first Ironman. Plus, if your motivation for racing is Boston or Kona than you’re already setting yourself up for disappointment. Your race motivation should be on personal performance, achieving your potential, not BQ or KQ.
How am I getting through these next couple weeks? Simple. TrainingPeaks and visualization. I will look over my previous workouts and see what i’ve done in the past 3-4 months in swim, bike, and run. Then go into the % i think i can sustain off of those. If i race an Olympic at 90-95% of FTP, should I race TTT at 80-85%? I will also visualize the process of my swim stroke, my nutrition execution, transitions. I’m not trying to figure out silly swim, bike, or run times. They don’t matter. Who cares. That’s not the point. The point is execution not end result. Even typing this out helps me relax more than where I was before I started this!
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:
Not every long ride is a chance to prove yourself
Going slightly easier will help you in the long run
If you are always going hard, you really aren’t training hard enough
Have a beer, wine, cheeseburger every once in awhile.
Hope you enjoyed reading!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As we are getting ready to wrap up 2018 and we reflect on the year behind, what better time to look ahead to 2019 and dream up what we want to achieve in the coming year. As you evaluate what went well and what didn’t go well, it’s only natural to think about how you might do things differently in the coming year and set some goals for what you want to achieve. If you haven’t yet sat down to consider what 2019 has in store, NOW is a great time!
Goals are what get us up in the morning for masters swim, push hard through one more interval when we are tired, and focus on healthy eating that supports our training. Goals provide focus, guidance and motivation; encouraging us to move toward them with enthusiasm and desire.
Personal development research and self-help theories offer an over-abundance of goal setting advice. The one thing they all agree on is that goal setting is critical to success. Without getting into all the research here, I’d like to focus on two basic categories I find most helpful when assisting athletes in setting goals.
Two basic categories:
1) Short term and long term goals
2) Process and outcome goals
Setting goals for the short term and long term can take some time, especially if you are new to endurance athletics as we don’t even know what our bodies are capable of achieving and then also what races or experiences might be available to us. The great news is that goals are amendable... you can change them to align with your direction as you grow in the sport.
Short term goals could look something like this:
1) I will drop 5 seconds in my 100 swim time over the next 2 months of training
2) I will maintain my current weight through the holiday season
3) I will run a 1 minute PR this year at my Spring 5K
Notice each of these has a specific time frame for which to achieve the goal in a short term basis.
Long term goals are also time specific, however, will take longer (think years) to achieve and often encourage us to look 2-5 years down the road.
Long terms goals could look something like this:
1) I will complete my first sprint distance triathlon this year and then do that same race over the next 3 years and improve 1 minute in each discipline per year.
2) I will improve my 40K Olympic distance bike time by 2 minutes (or 30 watts) over the next year.
3) I will finish a sprint triathlon this year, an Olympic distance in 2020, a half-Ironman distance in 2021 and a full Ironman in 2022.
Process goals are designed to support both short term and long term goals, as these are both outcome goals. We can establish several process goals that if achieved, will help us achieve a bigger goal, our outcome goal. Process goals are what we focus on day in and day out that lead us toward achieving a desired outcome. Let’s consider one of our short term goals from above.
Short term + Outcome goal:
I will run a 1’ PR this year at my Spring 5K
I will complete all prescribed run workouts over the next 8 weeks
I will continue to work on technique/form improvements through run specific drills
I will wear my HR/GPS watch during all run sessions to make sure I am training at the right paces/zones
A couple final thoughts on goals:
1) Goals need to be in the positive, focusing on what you want (eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day), as opposed to what you don't want (stop eating junk food).
2) Goals are YOU dependent, not other dependent. Notice not a single one of the goals I used for examples above depends on anyone else but YOU. Your main goals should be within your control. It’s fine to say “I want to place in my age group at X event”, however, if a lot of fast people show up, you might not get to achieve your goal. Instead, create a process and outcome goal for that X race that, regardless of your place, you determine if you met your goal.
I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to sit down (this might take a while) and write down your goals for the year (and beyond!), keeping in mind the categories and guidelines above. Once you have these established, solidify them by creating a goal poster or goal road map, putting sticky notes on your bathroom mirror, or setting up reminders in your phone to follow through on your process goals. If you do this, you will have increased motivation for training, excitement as you execute on your process goals, and a grand sense of achievement when you put in the work and see those dreams become reality on race day.
To set up your personal goal setting session with one of our coaches or to learn more about how we can help you achieve your personal best in 2019, click here.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
It is race week everyone, Madison Half Marathon! I am pretty excited since I havent raced anything since Steelhead 70.3 in August. The training has been going very well and when training is going well, you want to race!
The Madison Marathon and Half Marathon is a huge event that starts on the Capital Square. It is one of last races of the year and attracts thousands of runners.
The course is hard because of all of the hills. Short hills, steep hills, long hills. However, what comes up must come down. Don’t think that you cannot run fast on hilly courses, you just have to run them right!
A half marathon is a challenging event to pace because it is close to your lactate threshold, but you cant run directly at your lactate threshold because you’ll bonk. I think of it as running on the point of uncertainty. Can I hold this pace? Yes? No? If I am having self doubt than I am running the right effort. From mile 1 I will be second guessing my pacing.
Also, I will rarely look at my running watch for the entire 13.1 mile race. Running a hilly race requires you to have a good sense of running off effort because your pace will constantly be slower and faster than what you want to average. When you have a constant influx of pace, that can create self doubt. I’ve been running long enough where I know the level of discomfort I can hold for certain distances.
Race week is also interesting because its when you see alot of people self sabotaging all of the work they’ve put in.
Creating less aggressive goals
Creating more aggressive goals
Thinking they can run faster on race day, because its race day
Thinking adrenaline will provide 5% increase in fitness
Going to a Low Carb, High Fat Diet
Going to a High Carb, Low Fat Diet
Binge eating terrible food because your goals “dont matter”
Figuring out your nutrition plan at the expo
Asking your friend what pace you should run
Buy a different pair of shoes because they will be faster
These are all common mistakes people make race week. Seriously. They happen.
Everyone gets nervous race week. Nerves make people do funny things. Things that you would never have done in your lead up to the race.
How do you distract yourself from making these errors? Reinforce your race goals. Remind yourself how hard you worked. Go back and reread your training journal. Visualize your race before bed each night. Go to the expo with a friend to ensure you don’t buy anything silly.
It’s going to be under 30 degrees for the race and that makes me very happy. Running in colder weather allows me to keep my core temperature down so you can run hard. I will be wearing half tights, a tight base layer with a t-shirt over it, gloves, and a breathable winter running hat. I do run with music and i’ve already created my playlist for race day.
My A Goal is to break 1:23. Last year I ran 1:24:XX which was a 6:26 average pace. Breaking 1:23 means I need to average 6:20 pace. That is my A Goal. My realistic goal is to break 1:24 and to do that I need to average 6:23s.
I was blessed with short stubby legs which makes me excellent at running uphill but not downhill. One of my execution goals is to actively push the downhills out of my comfort zone. On a regular basis I get to run with an incredible athlete, Robin, who is shorter than me and is one of the best downhill runners. There is hope! My other execution goal will be to run more confident on the flat sections. If I dont execute these two things…I wont make up the time I lost on all of the uphills.
My cycling and swimming this week will be reduced. This is also a recovery week for me so reducing volume and intensity is making my body feel good and my motivation high.
Lets go have some fun!
Everyone likes improvement!
Something I have been doing is replacing coffee with tea. Why? I drink a lot of coffee, sometimes 10 cups a day. On average I would say 6-8 cups a day. Some would be black coffee, some lattes, some red eyes (coffee and 1-2 shots of espresso). It was getting out of hand and my dad’s side of the family is known for having a bad heart. For almost 2 weeks I have been drinking 1-2 cups of coffee in the morning and then tea in the afternoon. Most green tea or decaf tea. I have felt a significant different in energy and sleeping better.
On most Mondays I go to Cindi’s Masters Swim Class in the afternoon because I get a good level of technical advice on my swim stroke. This is the time of season where you should be fixing your mistakes. Well… you should always try to fix your technical errors.
“All of your mistakes are happening because you are constantly off balance” Cindi told me. After watching the video I couldn’t believe it. When I swim I feel like i’m hitting a home run, on video I look like a gorilla trying to swim through the water. So much energy and extra drag/resistance to achieve these swim times.
Cindi pointed out these errors to me:
1) Wide Catch
2) Not getting full extension
3) Wiggling Hips
4) Splicing Legs
5) Minimal Core Utilization
6) Constant Redirection, Minimal Forward Motion
All of these mistakes are coming from lack of balance on the water. Which means my catch phase sucks and at some point I am losing balance on the water and everything falls apart.
For a reference point, I did a swim set with the group where we did multiple pyramids of 100, 200, 300, 200, 100s. During one of the hard 300s I went 3:59 which is 1:20y average. I was swimming VERY hard to hit those times.
After discussing on what drills I needed to work on to fix my catch phase and balance, I reduced my weekly swim volume by 50% and didn’t swim repetitions over 100 yards. Every swim was focused on executing the swim drill over a 25 and putting it together into a 25 freestyle. More swimming wasn’t the answer to my technical issues.
What did I notice through this process?
My swim strokes per 25 went from 20-22 to 18-20. My swim speeds remained the same at a lower effort.
On Friday I did my first swim test of the season: Max Effort 400 and 200. My 400 was a 5:08 (1:17 average) and my 200 was a 2:29 (1:14.5 average). Putting my threshold swim pace at 1:20y. The 400 was a lifetime best, yay go Steve! And to be honest, It was the “easiest” max effort 400 i’ve ever done. I literally couldn’t believe it. When I got home I told Cindi, “You saved my swimming!”
For years I have been swimming the same paces, never making progress. My motivation in the water was slipping because I wasn’t getting better. But heres the thing, I was the problem. Not swimming. Not the pool. I never really put the time and effort into fixing my swim stroke. I liked to complain about it, but never put the effort into fixing it.
What did I learn?
1) Reduce swim volume when fixing technical errors. You can’t fix technical errors when half of your concern is on the length of repetition. If you keep swimming longer repeats on a broken stroke, you will become a broken record.
2) Go to the pool with 1-2 objectives. Don’t try and fix your kick and your breathing at the same time. You will get confused and upset. The only improvements that will be made is increased hatred of swimming.
3) Don’t just swim drills. Thats worthless and doesn’t translate to holding good technique under higher speeds and fatigue, unless you plan on swimming your Ironman with a closed fist. Execute Drills into Freestyle of varies speeds and lengths.
4) Know your 25 speeds and your 25 stroke count. Every triathlete knows their cycling cadence and power and their running stride rate and pace. Why don’t you know this stuff in the pool. Its an IMMEDIATE display if you’re getting better.
In the Swim Smooth Calculator, it estimates off of my 1:20 threshold I am capable of swimming a 57:40 Ironman Swim. Now that sounds awesome, but I lack the endurance and open water skill to swim that fast. However, it is good to know I have the potential to swim that fast come September.
Hope you learned something from this!
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
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!
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.
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.
I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity to hear the elites in the sport talk about how they train and race. Getting a glimpse into their training, recovery, and mentality is often invaluable. I’m always looking to glean tidbits of information to incorporate into my training and life. Something that has never resonated with me though, is the idea of using your competition as a source of motivation.
For the majority of us, triathlon is a very individual sport. We train to race as fast as we can, maybe set a PR, and hopefully have some fun. I love racing, but (so far at least) I’m not routinely hitting the podiums. I’m usually just trying to be as fast as my fitness will allow, and when it allows, hopefully a little faster than the last time. But I couldn’t tell you what percentile I finished in, or who beat me and by how much. I have no nemeses, it’s just me.
The motivation that some take from “doing what the competition is not,” just never made sense to me. Who’s the competition?
September 1 marked the beginning of a new “season” for me, after taking most of August off to have fun, unwind a bit, and give an injury a little focus. I had a 2-hour ride with 3x15 minute efforts on the schedule for the day, and to make the most of my session, I hopped on the indoor trainer and got ready to work. And as I started my warmup, I realized I do indeed have competition to motivate me, and this year I aim to crush them.
(unfit)Justin. Now (unfit)Justin (aka overweight and out of shape Justin) is pretty sure triathlon is just a thing crazy people do in Hawaii, Gatorade is involved, and sometimes it’s on NBC. He’s sitting on my couch, playing video games and watching Parks N Recreation on Netflix, eating chips and drinking a beer. (unfit)Justin hasn’t actually been real competition for a while, but certainly continues to provide motivation.
(fun)Justin. (fun)Justin skipped the 2-hour ride and instead rode the cross bike around Lake Monona. He still got some training in, and also probably got distracted by TV and or other shenanigans. You might not expect it, but (fun)Justin can still throw down a fast time at a sprint triathlon without too much training. But a little extra beer, M&Ms, and consistent lack of quality sleep will keep (fun)Justin out of contention for any PRs indefinitely.
(unfocused)Justin. No real goals or plan. Is totally committed, except for not really, as there isn’t anything on the schedule. (unfocused)Justin went outside and rode for a couple hours, but “forgot” to do the 3x15 minute efforts. He tries but lacks consistency and commitment and is full of excuses. He’s also easily distracted by (fun)Justin (I mean, who isn’t, that guy is great).
(SUPER)Justin. (SUPER)Justin, despite the intimidating name, overdoes everything. Never misses a session, eats super clean, never eats BBQ sauce or drinks beer, and goes to bed by 8. (No BBQ -what kind of life is that?) (SUPER)Justin is fast, fit, unrelenting. But also cranky, neurotic, and his burnout potential is high. (he and (fun)Justin do not get along…).
The competition now identified, we return back to the trainer, first 15-minute effort underway. I look over to (unfit)Justin on my couch, relaxing.
Sorry (unfit)Justin -that couch does look nice, but I’ve got work to do…
Second 15-minute effort underway, starting to get uncomfortable. (fun)Justin is also now on the couch too, “Wanna watch TV?”
Sorry (fun)Justin -when it’s time to race I’ll be waiting for you at the finish…
Third effort underway, legs are hurting now. (unfocused)Justin is in one ear: “You’ve done enough, no reason to suffer, just call it a day, what are you training for anyway?”
Sorry (unfocused)Justin -YOU call it a day, I’ve got plans…
I finish up my session feeling great, I work on some bonus strength work and even do my PT. I eat and drink focused on recovery. I relish in the mild euphoria that follows a hard effort. And just as I start comparing myself to SUPER(Justin), I instead keep some balance and head out to hang out with (fun)Justin for the night (like I said, that guy is a fun time).
The competition is out there, they aren’t doing what you are doing, and that’s a good thing.
Planning Your Off Season
It’s that time of year when triathletes are finishing their season and transitioning to the off season. If you havent looked into structuring your off season, you should. If your off season consists of 3 months of no training and over 10lbs of weight gain, you are doing it wrong and putting yourself at major risk. Having a successful off season is critical for a number of reasons; injury prevention, mental health, and athlete longevity.
Each year I have new athletes that are afraid to hang up their bikes or swim trunks for a couple months because they feel they will lose everything they’ve worked for, this is completely untrue. Trust me, I’m an experienced coach. If you keep pushing 12 months each year you will start to experience never ending overuse injuries, waves of low motivation, and lack of enjoyment for the sport you love. When you experience all of these symptoms, how can you expect to train at a level that will promote improvement? They wont. With a poor mentality you will fall into a poor training routine which will lead to a plateau of fitness. Doesn’t sound like much fun.
Step 1: Take 1-2 weeks of minimal training. For my athletes, I call them “Free Days and Weeks”. These days consist of 30’ of swim, bike, run, or off day. There is no structure to the training. It gives them the freedom to relax.
Step 2: Identify your weak link. Is it swimming? Is it running? October through December is meant for addressing your weakness. This is when you turn yourself into a single sport athlete. You are swimming 1-2x a week at 50% of your typical swim volume. You are also cycling 1-2x a week with minimal intensity or no cycling at all. The best Fall riding is to the bakery with friends.
I was coaching our Triathlon Swim Class on Monday and one our swimmers is signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2019. Looking at his stroke we identified that he lacked the ability to change speeds. We did multiple 50s at different speeds, but there wasn’t much of a difference between the three speeds. If an athlete wants to see improvement but cannot sprint, their ceiling of improvement is limited. For the upcoming months this swimmer will be focusing on sprinting in the pool with a lot of rest. Think of this work like lifting weights in a gym. If you constantly are doing the leg press machine at 100lbs for 12 repetitions but never increase the load of your exercise, your muscle recruitment will never be challenged. We will be doing the equivalent of 5 repetitions of 140lbs. The goal of doing fast 25s and 50s with equal rest is that it allows the athlete to produce more power than they ever have. Here is an Ironman athlete learning how to sprint to improve their Ironman swim 12 months away. Doing long repeats at a slow pace in September won’t do you any good.
Also, I have never met a triathlete who didn’t want to improve their running performance. The Fall is the best time to become a better runner. When I talk with my athletes about Fall training we always discuss going “All In” with the running. This means we are doing more run drills, more plyometrics, more bounding, and more running volume. We turn into runners. We throw on the short shorts. We sign up for local 5k running events. We run! Athletes love this approach because they can focus on one sport instead of trying to balance two other sports at the same level.
Learn more about our Fall Running Program and Beginner Swim Program Here!
Coach Steven Brandes
I have a confession to make. I am a mentally weak swimmer who’s addicted to their pull buoy. For years I convinced myself that all I needed to do was pull as it replicated the wetsuit. Here is what it really did, it made me mentally weak and unprepared for the hardships triathlon swimming presents. Anytime I would swim without my pull buoy it instantly became harder than I liked. I would grab my pull buoy faster than I do my Oreo Ice Cream. There were times I would forget my pull buoy at home and not even swim! Repeat this process over and over and I developed a dependency that was hurting my swim training as well as my confidence on race day. Sure, after some big swims my arms would be smashed and confidence would be restored (short term) but I never saw the returns on all of the pulling.
Practice what I preach? Nope, didn’t do that. Ive been coaching swimmers from the pool deck for 10 years which means I have coached hundreds of swimmers. In 10 years of on deck coaching, I became very good at connecting body position errors and whats truly effecting it. The more I think of it with the coaching I prescribe in our classes, it rarely has any buoy work.
For years I never USED the rotational aspect of my stroke to improve my distance per stroke. I knew it but couldn’t fix it because I believe that too much pull buoy, or the wrong pull buoy inhibits your ability to use your hips and core in the swim stroke. To improve usable rotation in your swim stroke, you can't use a pull buoy and I wasn't willing to give it up. So what was the result of all my pulling? Better pulling but not better overall conditioning.
Step 1: Cue Rocky Theme Song
Step 2: “Cindi HIDE MY SWIM BUOY"
Step 3: Harden Up
Step 4: Enter Cave Man Swim Training
Cave Man Swim Training (CMST) is literally something I made up. When I think of what the definition is, it resembles going back to the bare bones of swimming with no toys and simply getting the work done. I’ve removed my pull buoy from my bag so it not within reach. All of the my swims are purely freestyle, no toys. The 1st couple swims were exhausting. More open turns because I was so low on oxygen. More internal profanity. The bike and run sessions that followed would suffer because how much energy it took out of me. I didn’t care, I was motivated to break this habit.
Guess what? I started to see improvement. I started to really connect my hips and core into my catch phase. My swim times for a set of threshold 100s went from 1:25s to 1:18s. I like improvement.
Sometimes it is cool to be the swimmer with all the gear on. Snorkel, paddles, buoy, band, fins. It may be helping you or it may not be. Do paddles, band, and snorkels have a place in swimming? Well, duh. Each toy has a specific place within swim training and fixing certain aspects of a stroke. In my case, these toys made me weaker because I started to depend on them too much. To become excellent at whatever it is you’re attempting, you have to have 100% belief in yourself. If you don’t because you rely on something or someone to do it for you, your chances of failure go up. You have to fix you before you can truly accomplish what you want.
The weeks leading up to Steelhead were not an ideal build, and I had no idea what to expect on race day. The last time I felt really “good” in the build up was early July, where I had a great race at Pardeeville Sprint Triathlon. But as the season moved deeper into July, I just didn’t feel quite as strong heading into Door County Sprint. I was happy with my Door County result, but still didn’t feel like I had pushed as hard as usual. Fatigue was building, but I didn’t necessarily recognize it and powered on.
I had signed up for a relay race with Carly and my dad at Door County, and I ran a hot ½ marathon the day after the Door County Sprint. I finished and gave it my all, but it was a huge effort. In hindsight, it was probably too much. From there on, it was all downhill. I found myself getting more and more tired in my training and wasn’t able to complete workouts. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do the work, it was that I felt like I physically couldn’t.
Of course this physical fatigue fed my mental paranoia, and soon I was dreading an impending 70.3. I hit a low point at the end of July-- just 2 weeks before the race. At that point, Cindi reached out to see what was going on and how we could adjust my training. We knew we needed to just get me to the start of Steelhead ready to race. Cindi assured me that I had done the work, so I ended up taking two weeks with a lot of rest days and just a few shorter, lower intensity workouts.
When I made my race plan for Steelhead, I tempered my expectations a lot and made it my main goal to have fun. I threw previous time goals out the window because they were causing me stress, and if I was stressed about workouts and races, why was I doing triathlon?
Race morning rolled around and we got the dreaded announcement that the water was 76 degrees and would not be wetsuit legal. Swimming is my weakest discipline and despite trying to mentally prepare myself all week for this possibility, I was anxious. I had already made up my mind that I would not go in the wetsuit wave at the end. I didn’t want to stand around waiting to start for any longer than I had to. As I left my wetsuit in my transition bag, I was already seriously doubting that choice. By the time I got to the beach and really looked at the waves, there were tears welling up in my eyes. I knew in my head that it was silly to be crying over a triathlon and that I would be fine, but I couldn’t help it. There was not going to be anything fun about this.
Before I knew it, I was diving into the water and quickly taking on water. I stopped a few times in the first 200 yards to cough up lake water as I got used to breathing with the waves. The water was rough and I put the “big arm recovery” from open water swim to good use. I knew I wasn’t going fast, but I was making good progress and keeping my head in a good place. Each time I thought something negative like, “If I stop swimming right now I’m just going to get swallowed up by a wave and end up at the bottom of Lake Michigan,” I would try to shut that out and find a mantra or song to repeat in my head for a few minutes. Eventually, I made it out of the water. I have never been so grateful to be done with a swim.
Getting on my bike, I knew that my ultimate goal was to ride 2:45. In the first 10 miles, I was disappointed because my power numbers were lower than I had targeted. The course was flat enough that it was hard for me to put out big power, but I focused on riding really steady and staying in a good aero position.
My normalized power was hovering around 160 watts. When I had run the numbers in Best Bike Split (accounting for a bit more wind than we ended up having), I thought I needed to ride closer to 180 watts to meet my time goal. But I kept moving and passed a lot of people who swam faster than me, and my speed was faster than I expected.
My watch is set to autolap every five miles and I was seeing numbers that were at or under 15 minutes per split, meaning I was still on goal pace. This motivated me not to let up for the second half. Coming into transition I didn’t get a good look at my watch so I had no idea if I officially met my goal or not of 2:45, but I knew it was close enough to happy with.
Starting the run, I couldn’t believe I still had a half marathon ahead of me. I had just done my hardest swim and riden my fastest bike ever. As I got out on the course, I saw Bobby, who let me know I biked 2:41, and it was a big mental boost knowing I had smashed my goal time. For the first couple of miles, my legs felt good and my heart rate was under control running right around 9 minute pace. Not quite where I wanted to be, but I knew it was a hot day. It was now almost noon and there was no hiding from the sun or heat. It wasn’t going to be my fastest run ever, but I was still in a good place physically and mentally.
I stayed in my positive mindset and tried to say something to each person I passed--”good work”, “looking strong”, “way to go”. This is my favorite way to distract myself from thinking, “you’re tired and slow, you should walk”. I steadily clicked off the miles and fed off of the positivity of the other runners and the fantastic volunteers. But by the last mile of the run, my legs were in rough shape and I couldn’t wait to be done. As I approached the arch, the announcer asked, “Lauren Taylor, are you ready to cross that finish line?!?” I yelled as loudly as I could with a huge smile on my face.
I had done it! I finished with a new PR on a tough day. Not only did I meet my goals, but I had fun and pushed outside of my comfort zone. Safe to say, I was enjoying triathlon again.
Peak Performance: 5 Race Week Don’ts
1) Don’t change your diet the week of the race. This is not the time to go Keto in hopes to lose a few extra pounds of water. We are nervous and rested which means we have extra time on our hands to think. If you simply continue on your healthy meal plan on high quality carbohydrates, fats, and proteins you are set.
2) Don’t pretend you are a camel. If you consistently drink 80oz of fluid a day, don’t think that drinking 120oz will help you have more fluid on race day. In fact, the only performance it will increase if your ability to urinate in the middle of the night. What you should be doing is hydrating at the same amount but add in electrolytes in the form of Nuun, Skratch, or Osmo to your water bottle. These products are low in calories and high in electrolytes. Adding a small level of glucose to your water actually increases your hydration levels.
3) Don’t neglect carbohydrates the day before the race. Have you ever heard of carbo loading and how it’s an out dated method? Its not and its very effective for endurance athletes. If you neglect carbohydrates the day before the race, for whatever reason, your performance will suffer. Your race is powered by your brain, engine and muscles which are all fueled by carbohydrates. Don’t show up to the start line with a tank thats low on energy.
4) Leave your bike alone. How many new mechanics and bike fitters are certified on race week? Too many. When you’re tapering the training volume is down, which means your anxiety is high. You need to burn off energy so you start looking into things to screw up, the week of the race isn’t the time to change your bike fit. Your body is accustomed to stabilizing and producing power in a certain position, thats what you’re doing for hours each week when training. The point of training is to get your body accustomed to producing power in a certain position. Don’t raise your saddle, move your saddle forward, lower your front end, bring your elbows inwards to gain every ounce of imaginary free speed. These changes so close to the race completely throws off your bodies ability to produce power because it completely changes the firing patterns and muscle recruitment that takes weeks and months to develop. However, the bonus on your new fit is you will feel terrible while racing. We’ve all heard countless stories of Professionals doing this before race day and those stories typically don’t end well. Mine is the story of IRONMAN World Champion Sebastian Kienle written by his wife Link to Article HERE
5) Don’t expect miracles to happen on race day, doing so is why people end up underperforming. If you have never broken 2:00 for a half marathon but you expect to on race day there is a 100% chance you won’t, unless the course is short. Tapering and peaking could give you an extra 2-3% on race day but you should expect to do exactly what you’ve seen in training. When you have unattainable goals it will only provide insecurity and additional stress. What your mind is thinking during the race dictates how your body will feel. If you are constantly frustrated that you aren’t performing where you “think” you should be, your expectations are too high. Thinking negative thoughts will create muscle fatigue and your central governor turns on to protect yourself. However, if your expectations are in line with what you’ve previously done you will be thinking happy thoughts. Happy thoughts leads to you crushing it on race day and high-fiving countless spectators. This is such a simple concept but its the root of countless bad performances.
All in all, this entire post can be summarized into the well known saying: Dont Do Anything New on Race Week!
About 400 yards up the road, the brake lights from the lead vehicle snapped me back into the moment. He went straight, I would go left, and I now knew I was close and going to make it. The road was smooth and I picked my line, doing my best to keep turning the legs over as I put in one last dig. I was closing quickly and now heard for the first time the muffled din of music from transition, punctuated occasionally by the PA announcer calling out the last of the swim waves.
Approaching transition, I quickly inventoried all the fancy metrics I had been ignoring-- normalized power, heart rate, average speed and distance. Today, they simply didn't matter. I was riding as hard as I possibly could, all out, and I didn't internalize them, didn't process my data. What mattered was that I was at my limit and just chasing for that little bit of extra effort and speed. This is what makes sprint racing awesome-- the fact you get to chase competitors on the road, not a power number, and those times when you "blow up" are just part of the deal. And today, things were looking up.
Roughly 9 miles earlier in the ride, I had made a big tactical decision at the turnaround. I knew that same tailwind that pushed us out had set us up for a return leg of 9 miles into a headwind and would make for a tough closing stretch for everyone. I had worked my way steadily through the field on the outbound leg, sensing that no one on the road had the bike legs to come with me. I also knew that because it was hot and humid, the run would be a wildcard . Someone from the field might be sitting on blistering 5k-- but I definitely wasn't setting on any 5k PRs today.
So my best play was to put as much time into the field as possible before T2, and I needed to make something happen. I have done a lot of Zwift racing in my training in my buildup this year, and I've launched some pretty big (and definitely some pretty dumb) attacks from the safety of my trainer. I've also learned a lot of lessons along the way about tactics and my own psychology.
Some moves stick, some don't, but that is racing, and that is what makes it fun. Each time, there comes a moment where I inevitably say myself… "screw it, let's do it!" and I commit. That moment came just after the turnaround, where I pulled into first, put in a big dig, and went all-in on the attack. I decided that if anyone was going to catch me, they were going to have to do it on the run. It was going to be a painful 20 minutes of riding if I was going to hold on to T2.
Fast forward then back to the entrance to Frank Murphy park. A small crowd of spectators had formed and in a moment I was on them, hanging a hard left, and rounding back towards bike in. I looked back briefly down the road to see if anyone had stuck around. No one was in sight. The attack had worked. I had averaged just under 26 mph for the ride-- an all-time best ride for me-- and the fastest bike split of the day.
It was a short stretch of pavement from the turn to the dismount line so I had to move quickly. I unvelcroed, removed my right foot, then my left, and I swung my right leg over and behind my seat to set up my dismount. As I have visualized and practiced hundreds of times (I literally do this after EVERY ride, even on the trainer in the dead of winter), I dismounted cleanly and in-stride.
I racked my bike, slid my shoes on, grabbed my cap and belt and was away. I heard the PA announcer as I passed through run out say that "we just heard that the first athlete is in transition and heading out onto the run course," and I grinned ear to ear heading out onto the empty 5k course.
It was a lonely out-and-back run on an exposed and hot country road. I ran scared, not knowing how strong the runners in the field behind me would prove to be. I pushed it as hard as I could, but could feel that I was paying for my bike effort and the heat was taking no prisoners. I focused on a quick cadence and allowed myself to look backwards to see if anyone was behind as I clicked off my first mile in 6:20. Still no one in sight.
I got to the turn-around, and then almost to mile 2 before seeing the next runner on the road. A little mental math told me I was up a couple of minutes, but I knew someone could still come out of the age group waves. My watch beeped 6:22 and I allowed myself passing through mile 2 to finally imagine myself winning the race.
The countdown and mental negotiation began in earnest with just a mile remaining. Just six more minutes! I thought about all of the track sessions, winter runs, and late night treadmill runs while travelling and at hotel gyms that had lead me here. Just 4 more minutes. You love running, I reminded myself. Just half a mile. That's not even a loop of the bike path around the park at home. Just to the arch. So close. Just down the hill.
Finally, I stole one more look back to make sure I wasn't going to get out-sprinted and saw the finishing tape in front of me. I've never broken the tape before, so it was a special experience. Definitely unreal. I grabbed it, slammed it, and took a bit of time to soak in what I had just accomplished. I had just won the freaking race!
I still tempered my expectations a bit, knowing that a winner might still come out of the AG waves, as I had started elite. I didn't let myself get too high until the final results were posted. My time held up, though second place came from a later wave. In the end, I got my crystal lighthouse, capping off a nearly perfect race for me.
Coming in, I knew I wanted to finish under 1:10, and finished in 1:09 high. Based on past results, most years, 1:08-1:09 is good enough to win. Had it turned into a footrace, could I have gone faster? Maybe, but I didn't have to. Ultimately, in that heat, the race was won on the bike. I minimized my losses in the water, raced to my strengths, and held it together on the run.
What a day! What a race! What a weekend!
So what are the takeaways?
- Racing is awesome. Mixing it up, pushing your limits, failing and succeeding are all part of the game. I've learned to embrace each part of it, the ups and the downs, and learn from each time I toe the line.
- Swimming matters: You can't win a race in the swim, but you can lose it. I've been swimming a lot more this year and a lot harder, trying to minimize my losses out of the water. I'm not where I want to be yet, but I'm definitely improving and my swim has kept me in the hunt.
- Zwift (trainer) riding and gravel riding translates well to TT'ing: I choose to ride indoors or off of the roads whenever possible. It's a personal choice, due to both schedule and safety. This means that 3 hour weekend and late night Zwift rides are a staple of my training. We're also blessed with great trails in Madison (Military Ridge/ Badger State) and I'm trying to ride more gravel as a way to get outside.
- The run remains a work in progress and is the next area for improvement: I've been running well, but not to potential. I know this will come with more experience and training.
Next up for me, Tri'ing for Children Triathlon (sprint) and then Steelhead 70.3 in August. Thanks for reading and until next time,
Every race has it’s positives and negatives and it’s highs and lows. My ultimate goal is Ironman Wisconsin 2019 and trying to achieve my best Ironman. Cindi and I have discussed the best path for me to achieve this performance. With all of this planning happening, I’ve found myself wanting to shut this season down, take a break and start the preparation into 2019. However, every time I start to think this way, I question the reasoning and I continue to come to the realization that i am in the process of self sabotage. I’m desperately trying to find the easy way out of this season. Maybe the stress of being a new father has taken more out of me than I expected. I know this because the drive to get in each session isn’t there and I’d rather get more rest than do the important sessions needed. Hard sessions turn into recovery. Simply put, this season hasn’t gone to plan and I haven’t seen the improvements I would have liked. Each races is a reminder of how much fitness i’ve lost. As I do find positives from each race, they seem to be stripping my motivation rather than increasing it. I still have 3 races on my schedule but plan on doing only 1, Steelhead 70.3.
The Days Before:
I felt good going into this race because I was able to put in the bigger, high quality sessions. Everything seemed to be on track. Robin has been building for Ironman Wisconsin and its been nice to ride with her. I’ve also made chances to my bike position that continue to be a positive in regards to having a better second half to my races. The drive to Door County was pleasant. Justin was very helpful with meeting us at the race site to help us put up the tent. We settled back to our place, ate dinner, and relaxed at the pool.
Lucy slept pretty well Friday night. She had a not normal wake up at 4am on Saturday and I was able to get her back to sleep. I decided to just stay up and do work. Being up at 4am is not an ideal thing to do the day before the race but work needed to be done. Saturday was the Sprint Distance and Cindi went down with the team and I stayed back till Lucy woke up. We made it to the race and was able to watch our athletes compete, one of whom won the entire thing! Way to go Bobby! Watching his race certainly motivated me. Lucy started to get tired so I brought her back to the condo for her first nap. My plan was to ride the trainer while she napped. Well, her nap only latest 30’ which meant no ride. I started to get in this panic where I know I needed to get my pre race workout in. It sounds incredibly selfish when I think of it. So I focused on the fact that I was able to stay inside, rest my legs, and relax while it was blazing hot outside. I was also able to have the ITU WTS Hamburg race play in the background. Cindi made it back to Condo and we switched roles. Bike done on the trainer, felt great. Drove to the race site to do easy run and stride, felt good but WOWZA it was hot. Then I went in an swam, felt awesome. Ready to go! Lucy slept awesome Saturday night which meant Cindi and I got great sleep.
The Swim: D+
I sucked and have no clue why. Well, I know why… I dont swim much and still believe I can fake my way to a 30’ swim. NOT THIS TIME. 500 into the swim my arms were completely shot. “Ah your arms aren’t warmed up, they will come good”… They didn’t come good. I also was constantly drifting left. I literally couldn’t swim straight. I was convinced I was going to see 40’. The beauty of endurance sport is you get what you earn. I wasn’t trained for this and I got exactly what I deserved.
The Bike: B+
When you aren’t swim fit you suffer the first part of the bike because you are trying to recover from the swim. I was uncomfortable. Heavy legs. Low power. Alone with no one in sight. Unmotivated. Making excuses. Convinced my brakes were rubbing.
Then… I saw people in-front of me so I made it my goal to catch them. From a distance it appeared these people were drafting which set me off into a hissy, it was exactly what I needed… some motivation. I rode past them pushing well into my threshold trying to create a gap so they wouldn't jump on my wheel. Looking back on this, it was quite stupid but it helped me mentally. Slowly I started to catch more people which changed my mentality. My goal coming into this ride was to execute a better 2nd half of the ride. Be more focused, consume more calories. I commonly see 8-10% of a drop off in the 2nd half which is unacceptable. Poor nutrition and bike fit caused me to slow down. This time it was only 5%. This was my best ride at DC by almost 2 minutes!
The Run: B
I got into transition ready to get after it. Earlier someone told me i was top 10, so after passing people I would thought I was 6th or 7th. When I ran past Cindi, she asked “Are you feeling ok? Jason Landretti is 7 minutes up” (Jason is a good friend and someone I like to race because of the banter back and forth)… However, these are not the words you want to hear. These words mean, you’re farther back then we discussed! Apparently I was in 13th place… note to self, don’t believe some random person’s place count. I went from being fired to running on auto pilot. When I looked at the results afterwards, it appears the front of the race was a draft fest as 4-5 guys were rewarded drafting penalties. One athlete was given 12 minutes!
The only turnaround is at 5 miles and up to this point I didn’t see a single runner. It was the perfect place for someone cruising, no pressure. THEN, I saw two guys coming up on me and one in-front of me. They were coming fast and I didn’t want to get passed. I started to push very hard and at times I had to slow down because I had crossed that lactate level line. “Dont look back, don’t look back, don’t let him see you looking back, it’s a sign of weakness, he’ll know you’re hurting” With 3 miles to go we are essentially on two long roads till the finish. I felt with every step I was losing time but I kept pushing. There is an acronym that sticks with me and its TUF, Toughness Under Fatigue. When you're at your limit, it is no longer up to your legs but your mind. How you mentally handle pressure, fatigue, and lactate determines your race results. I was literally at my limit. 1% harder and my legs would completely flood with lactate, 1% easier and Matt would have caught me. Weak mind? I would have been walking. It always funny because 5 miles earlier i was having a pitty part and now i’m at my maximal effort. The ups and downs. Here we are, 1 Mile to go and Matt was within 30 seconds. With the finish being downhill, I felt I was at a disadvantage because i’m short and Matt is tall. With the short rise before the downhill I had to push hard to get some extra time. I was able to hold him off, but holy moly I don’t think I’ve ever pushed that hard. Competition brings the best out of you.
I joke with people that "every time I cross a finish line is a victory" and the feeling after maxing out is the reminder of why I love to race. Even if it's slower, I'm always chasing that feeling.