Thursday, April 6, 2017

Training Zones (and other Unicorns)

This is a Unicorn.

We've talked about zones before, but it keeps coming up.  I discuss zones with each and every athlete that I start.  I've put together a document that explains them and emailed that to my people.  Cori does the same.  Cori posted a blog describing the zones in detail.  Inevitably, every month or so, I find out that people still don't understand the zones and are not using them in training, despite every workout I write being zone specific.  I want to go over why they are important and how to measure them, and to provide you the resources to identify them.

A zone is a particular effort level.  They are defined as follows: Zone 1/recovery, Zone 2/aerobic, Zone 3/tempo, Zone 4/threshold, Zone 5/Vo2, Zone 6/anaerobic (and occasionally Zone 7/neuromuscular).  Zone 6 and 7 are rarely used because saying ALL OUT for a specific amount of time (they are defined is seconds, not minutes) is good enough.  A zone is a range defined by specific percentages of YOUR personal capacity for work.  It is an amount of hard, a degree of suck, a level of misery or lack thereof.  It is not a speed or a pace.  It is a definition of how hard you are going.  Just like you can go 30 mph or 5 min/mile downhill with very little effort, an uphill effort might be maxed out to produce 6 or 7 miles per hour or 15:00/mile climbing something very steep.  A headwind will radically change things, as will a tailwind, the bike you are riding, the clothes you are wearing, the condition of the pavement that you are on, how much air you have in your tires, the air temperature, ... and the list goes on.  Also, a zone represents a specific amount of stress on your body and working particular energy systems in particular ways to develop you as an athlete.  They also come with an expected recovery cost so I am strategically placing certain types of workouts in the schedule to rest you as well as work you.  They generally represent the maximum EFFORT that can be sustained for an amount of time taking all factors into account, so they are useful for pacing.  But how do you measure them? How do you know what zone you are in?

Let's discuss...

Okay, so how about heart rate?  Lots of people use heart rate zones for training since a heart rate monitor is a LOT cheaper than a power meter, either for running or cycling. And no matter what sport you are doing, your heart is always beating, right?  Okay, the flaw in heart rate is that it too is affected by many different things.  The temperature, how much caffeine you had today, how much sleep you had, what time of the month it is... and that is before we start talking about things like heart rate drift.  Heart rate takes time to respond to an effort so short efforts will be inaccurate, and it goes up the longer the effort is (heart rate drift), so very long efforts such as races will tend to be inaccurate.  If you work rigidly off of heart rate then you will inevitably slow down over the course of the race and ideal pacing strategies will not work.  This is why you will sometimes hear the statement that heart rate is an input measurement, not an output measurement.  It is an important bit of info for understanding what is happening in your body, but not optimal for pacing or defining a zone. You will have a heart rate range that corresponds to a zone and if it starts to get out of range, that is important feedback from your body, but it is not that accurate as a definition of effort.  It is a measurement of your RESPONSE to an amount of work or effort.  Still, it can be a clue to what zone you are in while you are learning them.

Well, how about RPE (rate of perceived exertion)? Well, perception is very subjective... BUT it is technically an output measurement.  It is a way of measuring how much work you are doing, but like heart rate and pace, it is affected by many things... namely exercise fatigue, nutrition, hormones, adrenaline/race nerves, sleep, etc. It IS a measurement of effort, just a very squishy one.  If I tell you to go medium-hard, you'll do a thing that you associate with that term.  If I tell you to go harder, you'll do that.  Harder still?  You'll start to hate me but you'll pick up the effort.  Now if I tell you to go the SAME amount of hard for a long time, you can do that... you'll go slow up the hills and into the wind, really fast down the hills and with a tailwind, that amount of effort will feel easier when you are fresh and hydrated and harder when you are tired or dehydrated... but you can still tell the difference between how hard you are going and how that particular effort feels.  That is why this is an output measurement, it's just a tricky one to rely on.

Okay, okay... So what do you do??? Well, as a coach, when I am feeling cheeky or unforgiving, the answer is buy a power meter for the bike and the run.  Those are accurate measurements of work that will not change depending on ALL THE THINGS.  A power meter will give you a fixed measurement to get a very accurate pacing and training protocol based on zones that are defined by the amount of work that you do.  This can be compared heart rate and RPE to get pretty good glimpse into what is happening with an athlete’s body. I recently noticed an athlete suddenly have an elevated heart rate for a given wattage... and since she was tapering for a big race, I took that as a red flag and adjusted her schedule to provide even more rest.  Two days later, she was right where I wanted her.  That is why an objective measure of output is SO important.  It can help you to adjust your nutrition or pacing mid-race if you see your body going off the rails long before your race is ruined.  It can help a coach to spot fatigue levels that are getting too high to be productive and can even help us to avert illness by resting an athlete before the immune system gets too suppressed.  It can also tell me if you are sandbagging on the trainer.  It gives an accurate assessment of how many calories are burned in a workout so that a nutritional strategy can be developed that actually works for you.  It can tell me if you need to work on leg strength or leg speed, some can even tell how much your stride or pedal stroke deteriorates when you become fatigued.  Okay, I digress.  Power meters are the schizzle... you got that.  Go buy one.  But I'm here to talk about zones.

What do you do if you don't have a power meter?  Well, you are not off the hook on zone training.  You are just going to have to work a lot harder to know what zone you are in.  So what do you do if all these measurements are flawed and subjective?  You consider all of them. You use training to help you learn to identify how a particular effort level feels.  You can use heart rate to help you find that zone but it should not be the only metric you consider.  It takes about 30 seconds for the heart to respond to the effort so shorter intervals cannot rely on heart rate at all.  You must dial in your RPE.  How?  Through a lot of trial and error, and effort.  By reading the descriptions that I give you of how it feels.  You use markers of respiration and “burn”.  By finding out just how long you can hold a given effort for and understanding that the zones are defined by how long you can maintain them.  If you learn to take cues from your body, then you can be mostly accurate most of the time.  RPE can be the next most accurate marker if you take the time in training to dial it in.  Even if someone has a power meter, I will sometimes assign RPE based effort to keep the feel dialed in.  Why?  Because RPE can bail you out when you power meter dies, it can tell you when you need to change the battery,  it can clue the coach in to when you have gotten stronger and need to retest your FTP (functional threshold power).  If RPE and power suddenly don't line up, then you may need to take in nutrition or fluids, or you may need more sleep or a day off, or it might be the first 5 mins of a race and you are full of adrenaline... or it might be telling you that you have a little more gas in the tank and it's okay to go a bit harder for the remainder of the race.  Oh, also, RPE is free.  Heart rate requires a bit of equipment to measure... and we have discussed reasons not to use an output measurement.  Power meters are VERY spendy. (Yah, I know... super spendy.  Go buy one anyways and make me happy!)  But RPE is free... so no excuses.  EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. YOU.... can train with RPE.

Wait, WHAT?  Are you saying that RPE sometimes trumps power?  Well, yes, I am... sort of.  But only if you have trained your RPE to be an accurate measurement of zones.  And it is more used in conjunction with power to give you a whole new dimension of information, and as we all know, knowledge is power.

(Hehehe... see what I did there?  Knowledge is POWER.. and power is knowledge and round and round.... yeah, okay.  I get it.  Knowledge can be EXPENSIVE.   But GAWD, I do love power data.  Sigh... I digress.)

EVERY. SINGLE. WORKOUT. I write has a zone designation.  If you don't have a power meter, you are responsible for dialing into your body and figuring out how hard you are going.  If it says aerobic, then I do not want you going all out for that span of time.  I want you doing an aerobic effort.  It's only race pace if that race is an ironman or an ultra.  Why?  Because I don't want you racking up too much fatigue for that effort.  If I say tempo, that is a different effort than aerobic.  Tempo is going to start to feel pretty stinky after a while.  Threshold?  That is a zone based on where we think you lactate threshold is... or the maximum amount you can handle for about an hour.  VO2?  Again, a zone based off an estimation of a stepping off point for the body and the max you can hold for about 8 mins. If you are not clear on these zones, you need to talk to your coach.  We can explain it and will explain it until you understand... but then the onus is on you to pay attention and work within the correct zone.

Why?  Well, aside from the fact that it is how we estimate your workload and your fatigue levels to create progressive overload and corresponding recovery to make you fitter and faster, when it comes time to discuss pacing, I am going to tell you what ZONE to be in.  You NEED to know what that means, not just intellectually, but in that deep-in-your-bones way that comes from training with the zones for weeks and months and years.

I am including the write up that I give out to athletes.... HERE:

... and a link to Cori's write up of the zones based on perception..... HERE:

  If you want a third party source for a description, I use the same zones as Andy Coggan describes in “Training And Racing With A Power Meter”.

ZONES... Learn 'em, use 'em, love 'em.  They are the difference between structured training designed to make you better and just “doing stuff a lot”.

And with RPE, you can measure them for free.

You're welcome.

And yes, you should watch this video.

Cori's Epic Post About Zones

Since the original location of this post was in a closed forum for our athletes, I am pasting it here so that the world can appreciate the spicy, sarcastic wisdom wrapped in a warm, fuzzy tortilla of love that is a post by Cori Moore.  Enjoy!

I've had one of my athletes ask me this question... and one of Lora Popolizio's athletes ask ME this question...
"What is RPE?"
Imma try to be nice about this because I KNOW for a fact that most of you have been given a set that has had specific RPE instructions. Which makes me wonder if or how you got some of those workouts done without asking.
RPE = Rate of Perceived Exertion
Always used on a scale of 1-10...1 being next to NO EFFORT and 10 being near death.
So let's line up some lingo that might help.
Aerobic < 4 in RPE
Tempo 4-5
Threshold 6-7
VO2 - 8-9
Anaerobic - you feel at the END of a threshold test or a long VO2 interval.. this is an ALL OUT SPRINT
Aerobic - you should be able to maintain a full out conversation while in this mode. This is a pace you can maintain for hours on end.
Tempo - Steady effort. You'd rather not talk to anyone but you could if you had to. You couldn't hold it for hours but you could definitely hang out in this zone without burning any major matches.
Threshold - this is the max effort you could sustain for one hour, though it's measured in 20-30 minutes tests (95% of threshold). You do NOT want to talk to anyone at all in this zone. Leave me the 'f' alone is what this is. You are focused and you know that it's gonna hurt but it doesn't completely kill you. Time trials are typically performed at threshold.
VO2 - this is the mofo RED ZONE. You CANNOT sustain VO2 for more than 10 minutes (and that's an elite athlete). Most of you are getting 3-4 minute VO2 intervals. If you have been assigned VO2 intervals and you aren't burning from the inside out (lactid acid) or conjuring up mental cuss words for us coaches... then you're not doing it right.
So... aside from making your lives completely miserable... we actually do want to see you succeed. ;) See me being nice there? Sooooo, if you've got gibberish on your TP, please ask. I'd much rather pull a Gibbs from NCIS and pop you on the head for making me repeat myself than you not doing that set and making the gains that I KNOW you're capable of.
(all said with love and complete adoration for all of you)
<3 <3 xoxoxoxoxo <3 <3

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Training Zones- A Basic Primer

The Training Zones

The training zones that I assign are based largely on generally accepted exercise science and the power zones as defined by Andy Coggan.  You need to know what they are, how they feel, and how to identify them through objective and subjective measures.


<55% FTP (functional threshold power) or < 68% FTHR (functional threshold HR)

RPE (rate of perceived exertion) 1-2

This is easy-peasy.  You may be nose breathing.  This is light work designed to loosen you up but not tire you out in any way.  Active recovery should count as time off without the negative side effects that complete inactivity can sometimes carry.  There is a time and a place for both inactive and active recovery.


56-75% FTP, 69-83% FTHR

RPE: 3-4

This is the meat and potatoes of the training plan.  Most work, all long sessions, and races longer than 300 mins will be performed at aerobic.  You are primarily using the oxidative pathway and fat play a slightly higher role as an energy source here than the zone 3 and above.  You should be able to speak in full sentences and carry on conversation, but certainly not sing.  You don't feel like you are going easy.  You are working but you could maintain this for a very long time if fit enough.


RPE: 5-6

76-90% FTP, 84-94% FTHR

This is harder, more deliberate effort.  The effort duration for tempo will be roughly 60-180 minutes before you run out of steam.  This is the 2-3 hour road race, Olympic distance triathlon, half marathon, etc.  You can speak, though your breathing has become more pronounced.  Full sentences are possible still but conversation is not comfortable.  By the end of a long tempo effort, you will feel decidedly fatigued.


91-105% FTP, 95-105% FTHR

RPE: 7-8

This is your 1 hour max.  It represents the highest effort possible before crossing the lactate threshold, the point where your body can no longer clear lactate as fast as it produces it.  Once you go above threshold, you resources are limited.  You can only go over that for so long and so many times before your body will be spent.  Time spent above threshold is call “burning a match”.  When you are out of matches, you are done until you get substantial recovery time.  Threshold will feel like a firm tempo at first but begin to build to a difficult to hold effort where speaking more than a few words is too much work.  You will notice a burn in your legs and your breathing will be heavy and measured.  By the end of even a 20 minute effort, you will be pretty exhausted, winded, and done.

ZONE 5/Vo2

106-120% FTP,  >106% FTHR

RPE: 9-10

This zone is based off of your Vo2 max which is your max oxygen uptake. This effort is only sustainable for about 7-8 minutes. It is barely sustainable and will require you to dig deep before it's over.  Your legs will burn, your breathing will be heavy, you can only get out a word or two (and doing that will not make you happy). Vo2 intervals will usually be less than 5 minutes but can be longer for very fit athletes.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

IM Boulder: A Coach's Race Report

A bit of time has gone by since IM Boulder and I have read each of my athletes' race reports. It was a challenging race for me personally and professionally and, after some consideration, I realized that it was worth writing a race report from a coach's perspective. I've never actually read one so I'm kind of winging it here. I hope you gain some insight from this telling of the tale. Please apply the appropriate amount of tongue-in-cheek tone when reading this.

The iTri365 team car: the Batwagon
When three of my athletes decided to do IM Boulder, Nate and I decided that it would be a good opportunity for a work related vacation. I like to make it to at least a few races every year because it keeps me connected to the emotions of the day that my athletes feel and, without fail, my athletes are always grateful when I can be there. So we rented a little house, loaded the dogs, 5 bikes, and an astonishing amount of luggage into my VW and headed for Colorado at the beginning of August. When we got there on Monday night, I researched ALL THE PLACES!! I would ride and ride and hike and hike and do some coaching too. It was going to be GREAT!

Rainbow over the Boulder bike course: GOOD OMEN!
Tuesday I rode part of the course. I was short on time as storms had taken out part of the day and I didn't make it as far as I would like but I definitely got a feel for a portion of it. That proved to be helpful in planning race strategy and let me bolster the athletes confidence about the nature of the bike course. My plan was to ride the entire course over the course of the week.

Wednesday. Oh, Wednesday. Nate and I found a sweet, non-technical 15 mile mountain bike loop. We headed out after he was done at work and there were 11 fantastic miles before I misread a bit of trail and faceplanted on a couple of big rocks. The result was a badly broken nose, a shattered elbow, and a large abdominal hematoma (seriously the most painful of the injuries). They put on a temporary cast and I had to wait until I returned to Austin for surgery. Nothing about this was in my plans for the week.
It was an amazing ride... until it wasn't!

We can pretty much fast forward from the ER room to the race... it was bed and drugs and not much else. I walked the dogs with Nate for a few blocks once.

The night before I went over to the house that they had rented and had a private conference with each athlete. For each of them, I had concerns and areas of confidence. We discussed the race strategy, the course, and I tried to plant ideas in their heads that may help them if they got into trouble on race day. The theme of all of it was “problem solve”. Most things that go wrong in a race can be solved or improved with calm, clear headed thinking... the very thing that often seems so out of reach when your brain is a soup of adrenaline and cortisol, and your legs and gut are running the show. I believe in the power of planting suggestions though, and did just that. I focused on choosing words that were simple and catchy enough that they might resonate through all the confusion on race day and actually come to mind in the moment that they are needed. I was a bit tickled to read that each athlete felt like she was going to the principal's office though. That was not my intent. My main interest was to not clutter their heads with other people's instructions and since they each had a different race plan, I didn't want them to start in the ego game of comparing themselves to anyone else. In all, the conferences were a success as they each mentioned remembering my words in the heat of the moment. As a coach, those are the little victories that drive you forward.
The mountains made for a beautiful backdrop on race morning!

Race day. I'm not going to say this day was easy. I was not very comfortable walking because everything was raw and intensely painful. I still wasn't eating well and my energy was is short supply. But you know, a major race holds as much adrenaline at the start for me as it ever did, even though I am no longer racing. That adrenaline helpfully gave me the energy to make it to the swim start without falling over. This was a victory in itself. I looked in vain for my three athletes and though I found their waves in the corrals, I never did pick them out from the sea of neoprene clad athletes who all looked the same in their color coded caps. Chances are I looked right at them and didn't realize it.
Kat partied from one end of the course to the other!

I did connect with our group of supporters and stayed with them to watch the swim exit. It was the first time I had gotten any day of info. Keith told me that Gina was not wearing a wetsuit (what??!!! why didn't I know this?) and was freezing cold at the start of the swim. She had been doing the breast stroke to cope and unable to fall into a good swimming rhythm. The next hour felt like 100 years. Ryan was down at the swim exit and the rest of us were further up the chute. Suddenly Ryan was yelling and running... our first athlete was out of the water. It was Kat. She was rocking and dancing out of the water. She looked relaxed and fantastic. Check. One discipline down and she was one swim closer to being an Ironman!

Cori crushing it!
Cori was next even though she went off in a later wave. Cori! Cori who worked SO HARD on her swim... who had so little confidence... who was so worried... had overtaken parts of the wave in front of her. Gina and Kat are both accomplished swimmers who teach swimming on a regular basis so to see Cori right up there trading punches really made me proud. As Cori running up the ramp, I got a look at her face and she looked good at that point. 

I did a little happy dance but was still deeply concerned about Gina. Last up the ramp was Gina. She looked cold and stiff. My worry didn't abate much when I saw her. Even though she clearly had her game face on, it looked like that swim took a lot out of her. I really wished I could get inside her head right then but of course, that can't happen. We screamed and cheered and made sure she knew she was not alone out there. Really, that is all you can do. Once she passed us, we circled to the backside of T1 to see her off on the bike. Heading out on the bike, she looked better. She had her game face on. Her husband and I agreed that she looked solidly determined. She was also moving better. She no longer looked totally frozen. I relaxed a bit. I got to breathe a sigh of relief as all three athletes had successfully departed on their bikes and there was nothing more to do but wait. We had made it through the first set of challenges. I say we because when you coach an athlete through a race like this with months and months of preparation, you are also very invested in the race by the end.

Gina pushing through a very tough swim.

At this point, the pain and nausea caught up to me. The bus ride back from the swim start to downtown felt like a form of torture. After conferring with the crew as to where they would be and how we would regroup, I went back to the house to pass out for a while.

A couple of hours later, after a nap, I mustered some resolve (took more drugs) and headed back out to find my three intrepid souls on the bike course. But before we would do that, we would find all the traffic in Boulder. We turned down a road headed for the “flux capacitor” (a central spot on the course) where the Cobb Mobb tent and a chair was waiting.... and turn right into a parking lot.... no, actually it was a bit of road construction on the road that all the race traffic was shunted onto. It was full stop. After debating the best way to sit in traffic with Nate for about 15 minutes, my phone rang. I looked at my phone.  Ryan. Uh-oh.

“Gina is on her way to the medical tent”

What?! CRAP!! Honey! Turn the car around. We have to get to the med tent now. It's at the finish like. Nate is Batman when it comes to impromptu U-turns and in moments we were speeding off in that direction. The Batwagon whined a diesel-toned objection as we headed back to the same parking garage we had used that morning in a big hurry. There was no way I was going to let her pull out of that race through the med tent and not have me there. I needed to know what was wrong but I needed more for her to not be alone right then.

It was a few blocks of walking and my hematoma (nicknamed the edema baby because a more accurate description was too disgusting to be funny) whined with every step. I felt like a hot mess. Right then, my front zip sports bra, the only thing I could get on over the cast, decided to let fly. By the time I arrived at the Med tent, I had redefined “hot mess”. The security guard had mercy and gave me permission to use the oversized port-o-john so that Nate could help me get... reorganized. Right before heading into the P-o-J, I found Gina coming out of the Med tent. She looked disappointed but largely okay. If nothing else, my predicament provided her with a much needed laugh. We whisked off to the P-o-J, got me sorted, and I stepped out, trying to regain a little dignity and put my coach's hat on before addressing my athlete.
No, No.  No P-o-J pics.
Look at these nice windmills.

We chatted for a few minutes. She had ultimately succumbed to the effects of the cold water a little more than halfway through the bike. I felt so badly for her. Something as simple as a wetsuit, one detail out of place, had robbed her of her day. Her head was in as good a place as I could have asked for.... she wanted another shot. (Fast Forward a few weeks... Gina is a renewed athlete with a focus and single mindedness that I had not seen in her previously. She will get her second chance and I really believe she will nail that race to the wall.) She headed home to change and eat and would meet us at the Cobb tent later.

We knew that the traffic was likely just as bad now as it had been earlier and we decided to walk. The edema baby eventually stopped whining with each step and the walk, while exhausting, felt good. About halfway there, we saw Kat towards the end of the bike leg. I screamed and yelled to get her attention. It worked but I had no idea if she registered that it was me. It was all I could hope for from an athlete at that point. She looked good, strong, and relaxed. She was smiling and was nicely down in aero (YES!). I put another check in the box and kept walking. Kat was doing great.

When we finally got to the tent, I was wrung out but the excitement was overwhelming. Many of the Cobb Mobb crew, friends and acquaintances, were already out on the run course. So was Cori. It wasn't long before she came through the first time. She looked tired but not unexpectedly so. I sat and relaxed waiting for her to pass by again. I don't remember which pass it was that she came through clearly unhappy. The next pass she was in tears. I have never wished I could run so badly in my life. I wanted to pace her for a bit and talk her through this. I call these moments course demons. They lie in wait for everyone. Sooner or later they catch you. Maybe not this race, maybe not the next, but sooner or later, IM tests everyone. They had caught Cori today.

I gave her a quick hug and told her to put one foot in front of the other. I knew she would get through it if she leveled her considerable determination at it. Ryan took off after her and I could do nothing but wait. I chatted with Clay (the race winner) a bit about the challenges of the course and speculated about what went wrong. But of course speculation is useless. It's just a thing you can do when you really can't do anything to help. The next time she came through, eyes were dry and she had her game face back on. She looked grim but she was going to finish... and finish with a huge PR. I knew we had some issues to address and was mentally taking notes for the conversation I knew needed to happen later on.

We watched her pass by the final times. Gina showed back up and proved her quality as an athlete and a team player. She set her own disappointment aside and cheered for her friends. We talked a bit about future plans and that resolve I mentioned was already showing. It was clear to me that she was still in the game.
Gina and her husband enjoying the perks of the location.

Kat was out on the run course and from appearances, making sure that everyone within a mile radius was having as much fun as she was. She wasn't setting any land speed records but she was putting in respectable, even splits. As much as you can ever make this assumption, I was pretty sure she had this in the bag. It was time to head back to the finish and wait for Cori.

I had not been able to eat all day and once we arrived at the finish, I was nearly passing out. Nate ran to a nearby store and returned with a smoothie and some juice. He started to force feed me so that I didn't fall victim to a course demon. In what was literally the longest group of minutes I have ever endured, I stood near the finish and waited for Cori. Finally after what felt like 200 years, Ryan came running up and said Cori was 5K out, holding steady, and gaining on some other athletes that we knew were out ahead of her. Course demons or not, she was making this race her B***h! When she did run down that chute, I was beyond proud of her.

Cori was dehydrated. The problems had been hydration and nutrition. Her gut had rebelled and she had been unable to take in the necessary nutrition. That was why she had fallen apart on the run. It's common for athletes to struggle with this at altitude and she was no exception. She went to the medical tent for an IV and after waiting a bit, Nate and I gave in to hunger and headed to find food.

We found a quiet Japanese restaurant where I was served rice with chopsticks. With my right arm in a cast, that was a cruel joke. I did secure a fork and managed to get some rice and miso soup into my angry belly. Revived we headed back to the finish and hooked back up with the crew. Kat should be bringing it home any minute.

When Kat finally came across the line, it was a celebration. She rocked her way across that line and found us shortly. The emotions that came flooding out of her son, Carson, were incredible to see. She had worked so hard. She had struggled against the idea that this goal was beyond her. She had gotten up early, stayed up late, fought back insecurities, beaten back her tendency to stay injured through correct work and consistency... and she had set an amazing example for her son to see. I remembered when my father ran the Western States 100 in 1980 and how that show of fortitude shaped my adult life.  I think Carson has been given a great gift.
Kat, YOU are an IRONMAN!

Hugs were given and the day was done. I was overdue for some self care (drugs!) and sleep.

This day, this week, was an exercise in managing unexpected disappointments. It was also a chance to be there for people I care about and see my work with my athletes through to race day. It represented, for me, my coaching career. Not every race will be perfect but you make the best of the bad times and go as hard as you can when it's good. With my own racing once again shunted to the back burner, it reaffirmed that I am in the right line of work. I learned, I grew, and I saw my athletes do the same.
Kat, Cori, Gina... iTri365 could not be more proud!

People often ask me why they need a coach. Personally, I am inclined to rattle on about training principles, numbers, science, etc. All that is so true but when someone spends all day thinking about how to make you better and then conveys those thoughts to you in the form of a training plan, you are going to reap the benefits. But it also matters when someone else cares about your success and works towards that end. Objectivity is probably the most powerful thing a coach has to offer. I know, since my athletes all mentioned remembering some piece of advice I gave them out on course, that being there helped them to succeed. Even Gina, who did not finish, made a wise choice and pulled out before endangering her health because she was thinking clearly... because she was recalling the advice I had given her about what to do if the wheels fall off. Gina will race again...  Smarter, stronger, and even more ready than she was in Boulder. Cori PR'd by an hour. She's hungry for the podium. Then info I took away from that race will get digested and end up as ideas to conquer her nutrition issues and make her even faster. She will build on this performance rather than starting back at ground zero the next time she decides to do a race because she has focus and direction rather than just being burned out. Kat had never been able to string together a reasonable amount of time without an injury. We micromanaged her rest, recovery, stress, nutrition, and workload every day and she did it. She came across that line and owned that race. She went to the start pain free. She trained pain free. She succeeded and learned what she has to do to get the consistency necessary to take herself to the next level. All of that? Its the product of objectivity and accountability.  ALL OF THIS... this was my finish line.
Boulder, CO... until next time.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The Difference Between Life and Time Travel

I want to talk about progress.  And backsliding.  And how that is all a part of the process.

This year, I started having significant breathing issues.  I have dealt with asthma for a long time but it seemed like it was getting worse... and changing.  It eventually became clear that I was aspirating my stomach contents when I exercised.  This explained how I could be fine for the first 40 minutes.  It explained why I could never eat or drink easily in a training setting or just before.  This explained how some of my "asthma attacks" seemed more like choking and less like wheezing.  I have had GERD since I was a kid and now it had finally come home to roost.  There is a post or twelve worth of commentary on all of the things happening to try to bring that under control.  But that is not what this post is about.  It is about the side effect of one of the medications and its effect on my life.  And what that really means in the bigger picture.

Years ago I was REALLY overweight.  I've posted about this so you may already know that.  I lost weight while I was in martial arts training through diet and exercise.  I made a lot of mistakes (that post is a different post too) but got about 70 lbs off.  Then I blew out my knee really badly and ended up having to take an enormous amount of time off and never was able to resume my sport.  I slipped into a period of low activity and gained 50 lbs back.  I felt like a failure.  I slipped.  I felt like I went backwards to that heavier place and time.

Then I found triathlon and cycling and I got active again.  When the weight began to come off, the diet followed easily.  I lost the 50 plus 25 more.  But then I started getting sick and getting hurt because I wasn't actually fueling my body correctly.  I worked with a couple dietitians and under their guidance I put about 15 lbs back on.  Then I was the fastest I had ever been.  That was a magical period where I was the right weight, gaining power, fueling my workouts, and responding to training.

But I thought I was too fat so I went on a diet.  And gained 10 more lbs.  Ummm... howzatwork?  Again, I felt like I was failing but this time I did not see myself as a failure.  That is a pretty critical difference and the beginning of a really important shift.

Then I started trying to develop myself as a sprinter and focused more on performance and forgot about the weight for a while.  My weight leveled off and I got super strong.  I valued something higher than being "skinny" and began to see the advantage in the unique way that I am made.

Then this year happened and I got sick.  And then the breathing issues started happening.  I don't know what triggered what.. I only know where it got me.  It got me on a medication that can make it really easy to gain weight.  So I did.  I'm at a weight and size that I am uncomfortable with.  And I am trying my best to avoid feeling guilty or allowing it to erode my sense of myself as an athlete.  I'm not allowing myself to feel like a failure.

I'm at a weird place in the journey.  That is all.

Fluctuations happen.  They are normal.  What isn't healthy is feeling like the sky is falling because you've had a "backslide".  Why do we look at it like that anyhow?  I haven't gone backwards.  I am heavier because of the state of my health and activity right now.  I have not gone back in time.  I am not younger.  I am not driving the car I was driving when I was 245 lbs.  I am not wearing the same clothes I was wearing when I was 190.  I have not lost life experience.  Nope.  None of that.  Fluctuations, even big ones, are a part of life.  They are not failures or a reversal of achievement (I still did that thing, even if it seems more removed now) or a trip back in time to an earlier incarnation of me.

I will not allow this.... become this...

...and especially not THIS!

This is still a part of moving forward and if I choose to go forward more conscious and disciplined with my eating, I will gain less or lose more than if I don't.  Getting active again will be an incremental process as I heal.  The only consequence of some weight gain is that I will return to racing form a little later.  Some days that matters to me enough to really fight it.  (The medication increases appetite- it's given to anorexics to help them gain weight- so it can be a little maddening sometimes.  It makes me feel really hungry, really frequently.)  Other days, I really just don't want to feel insanely hungry and it is more important to me to be comfortable than 5 lbs lighter.  It was a helpful realization that the hunger was an artifice.  I am neither starving nor am I insane.   I am just here... now... not failing... and not traveling in time.

If I want to weigh less, I know what to do.  If I want to be fast again, I know what to do.  I also know that I am not in the best position to chase down those results right now and that will also change.  Or maybe it won't and I will fall madly in love with some other way of expressing myself.  No matter what, I'll go forward to do it because life is a one way trip.

Maybe your "backslide" is weight.  Maybe it is fitness.  Maybe it is financial.  WHATEVER it is, unless you have found a way to travel through time, you did not go backwards... SO STOP BEATING YOURSELF UP!!  You are here, now, and only have your present and future actions to affect change.  You know what to do.

So if you don't have one of these....

...Or one of these...
then you probably didn't go backwards!

I'm not the weight I want to be.  I am not at the fitness I want to be.  None of these things are permanent and keeping my head in a good place is the quickest way to the state of affairs I desire.  The most important thing is realizing that all of it is a part of the journey and none of it is the only thing that matters about me.  Each day will be another step and I will travel in a particular direction.  My choices and actions will determine if they take me closer to my current goals or towards some other heading.  Look forward and look up.  It's good advice when running or on a bike and in life in general.

I will ride my bike down this road as soon as I am able.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


From the 380 mile first date
...and theme of the year 2015

I posted exactly three times in 2014 and this will be my first in 2015.  Change has been the "reason for the season" since I last posted regularly.  This year was so difficult that I mostly felt the need for privacy.  But now I want to share because I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I see that this road is going some where amazing.

So. Much. Change.

This year has brought so much change.

It actually started in November of last year when I met a wonderful man who was as fast on a bicycle as he was intelligent.  We went on a 380 mile ride that had 18,000' of climbing and many miles of dirt roads because... how better to get to know someone than to be pushed to your breaking point in their company? :/
From the tour with Mr Fastandawesome

In December, the love-sick Duck went mountain biking with said fast and intelligent man, henceforth know as Mr Fastandawesome.  Because I'm not so savvy in the skills department, I toppled over at the entrance to a rock garden and accidentally put my hand out.  I tore a tendon in my arm which took me out of work for a while.  I was also diagnosed with advanced arthritis.  This news came at the same time as a call from a friend offering me an opportunity to get involved with a triathlon/endurance start up that would grow into a coaching and timing/events company.  I said yes.  What did I have to lose?  The next thing I knew I was being trained and prepped to start coaching athletes.  I lined up a mentor and before I knew it, I had my first athletes. :my new professional home.

My new professional colleagues

Then in January, my vaccinated self contracted whooping cough.  That had me laid out for two months.  If you have ever had whooping cough, then you know.  If you have not, it is hard to imagine how sick it makes you.

In March, I traveled to Mississippi for work and aside from one little blip in my health that sent me to the ER, I managed to stay pretty healthy.  While I was there had some very cool rides on the beach.  I was able to get some wonderful photos from that trip.  Upon returning, I went to my first stage race with my new team.  We did well.  Despite still being weak from the illness, I placed 2nd in the time trial, won the road race, and was 4th in the GC.  The team put 4 people in the top 5 of the GC and won each individual stage with a different person.  It was a great day to wear green!

Winning the sprint to win the road race at Corsicana

In April, I became sick during a stage race and had to withdraw in the final stage.  The next day, my beloved dog Wilbur was killed in an accident.  That night, my illness turned into a kidney/UTI infection and landed me in the hospital.  That was a weekend that took some time to recover from.  Meanwhile, the man I met had become a cornerstone of my life and cared for me and loved me through this terrible time.

Good Bye Little Man... I'll miss you forever.

In May, I was able to do start working a bit more but I was plagued by repeated asthma attacks.  It was getting terribly out of control.  I raced a few times in a local crit and on the track.  I had mixed result ranging from being very competitive to getting dropped immediately, depending on the state of my breathing on any given day.  My ability to train steadily declined and so did my fitness.  In the last 4 weeks leading up to the state TT where I hoped to defend my title, I was so ill that I was averaging about three hours a week.

The TX state championship finally arrived in June.  I finished the ITT mid pack with a sad time several minutes slower than the previous year.  The next day was the TTT and I was terrified that my body would betray me and I would let my team down.  But I held on.  We finished as a team and won the title.  I was a state champion for the second year in a row, but this time as a member of the winning team.... FRESH racing!

FRESH Racing on the podium!! TTT win!

That was my last race of the year.  I decided to take an indefinite amount of time off to heal and address my issues.  Over the summer, it became clear that my breathing issues were linked to stomach issues that I had made a lifetime career out of ignoring.  The stomach issues were likely reaching a crescendo because of the NSAID therapy I was doing for the arthritis.  I began to pursue answers in that direction as my health reached an all time low.  In the meantime, the coaching business was growing like a weed.  I found myself with more and more clients as my athletes racked up more and more podiums.  The business, iTri365, was a thing... a real thing... and I was starting to believe I had found my purpose.  I was also coming to believe that my ability to make a living braiding had finally reached its end.  I hurt too much, was too sick, and was no longer interested in leaving the wonderful man that I had met to wander around the country from show to show like a vagabond.

itri365 TRIBE!! 
During the month of July, Mr Fastandawesome and I took a vacation.  Like all things this year, the vacation was themed "Get As Far From The Comfort Zone As Possible"!  In other words, he took me to the top of the world!
Mt. Assiniboine

Top o' the Nub

August came and my break from braiding and change in approach to my health started showing some improvement.  Mr Fastandawesome raced the Leadville MTB 100 and I found some glimmers of my old self running crew for him.  It was an amazing experience!!  I found a bit of love and a bit of skill developing as I kept returning to the trails.  But my breathing was still bad and I was very weak.  Still, I figured I had to start back somewhere and I knew what it would take to come through it.  Fitness is no mystery.  It's simply a process.

Mr Fastandawesome being, well, fast and awesome!

In September, after we returned to Austin, I started riding a bit on the road and began a program of light running.  I continued to work with a GI specialist and we started considering a possible surgical fix.  That involved a series of tests to determine if I was a good candidate.  I made up my mind that I would take whatever time I needed and return to health... and racing... next season.  Since my deductible was now paid, I decided to also have my shoulder looked at since I had been dealing with pain and reduced range of motion for years.

I wanted to try the new S5 as the change in the geometry looked promising for me.  I borrowed a bike from the local shop and took it for a spin.  I went to the Veloway to test it in a safe place, free of cars.  As I rolled into the first turn during my warmup, the front tire exploded and I went down.


Ambulance ride hard.

Trauma ward hard.

I had shattered my eye socket and ruined my shoulder.  48 hours later I was in surgery having my face put back together.  My shoulder would not require surgery... or rather the MRI revealed so much arthritis that surgery would have a poor prognosis.  I also had ruptured my bicep tendon and torn my labrum. Not to mention lost a lot of blood.


I have been coming to terms with certain uncertainties.  I don't know if my vision will ever be normal again.  I may never regain feeling in my face.  I have some scars.  My shoulder injuries will take 6 months to heal to a state of pain-most-of-the-time.

I have arthritis in my hands, shoulder, knees, neck.... I will live with pain for the rest of my life.  I have scars, nerve damage, and plates in my face.  And I have met the most wonderful man I have ever known and he has stood by me through these difficulties unflinchingly.  I will never be able to make a living working with horses again.   And I have a great new job that I love.  Wilbur is gone.   And I am raising a delightful puppy named Sprout.  For every black cloud, there is more than a silver lining... there is a wide open door to the future.  I have seen my old life fall away and a new one that is better than I ever imagined growing in its place.

I have no regrets.  I keep looking forward and that is where I will go with this blog.

Where ever I go from here, I don't go alone.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Post From The Summit Of Mt Crazy.

"Oh, The Places You'll Go!"... Cervelo style!
I have really had a tough time lately dealing with the fact that I tried a different approach to diet and it did not work... I gained weight.  I gained some muscle (actually about 5 lbs of muscle) but I also increased my body fat percentage by 4%.  It was a gain that unravelled a years worth of hard work and I ended up feeling like a failure.  I felt so fat that I was a mini trauma every time I walked by a mirror.  Never mind that I was time trialing like a beast (the thing that I was training for and where I was seeing results), my climbing got worse (the thing that I was not training for) and that was suddenly the only thing that mattered.  I allowed my entire sense of self worth to fall off a cliff.

My OH-SO-RATIONAL response to it was to flip out and stop eating enough to support my job related activity and training. It was the 6 year old daughter of another braider that offered a jolt.  She made me a card for my birthday and it had a big picture of me on it.  She depicted me as a normal person... not the fat person I was seeing in the mirror.  Since that ACTUALLY came as a shock and I realized that I had definitely summited Mt Crazy again and was flying my flag from the top.  Yes, I gained some weight. Yes, it hurt my climbing. No, it did not spell the end of my ability to ride a bike or turn me into the slothful behemoth that I was imagining.  Maybe I could let myself off the hook a little and allow a little sanity to break through the clouds.  Time to head back down to base camp.

Sometimes the reality check comes from surprising places.
Nothing quite like seeing yourself through 6-year-old eyes.

After about six weeks of cutting my diet way back, I have gotten a little momentum in getting the pounds back off but I'm could do without getting sick, dizzy spells, and terrible fatigue.  I have enlisted the help of a friend, Susan of The Endurance Zone, who knows a little something about nutrition.  Rumor has it she even advises athletes on nutrition for a living. With her help, I am trying to get myself on a program that keeps supports my training without creating any big excesses.  I've over-corrected and need to level off again but at least I feel like I am back in control of the situation.

The good news is that I am back in Michigan and Little C has finally gotten his Bluff Rd photo opp.  Every one of my bikes has gotten to pose at the overlook on the Old Mission Peninsula. The Ninja Bike still needs his chance but this time I was riding with a friend and I finally got MY photo by the post!!

The photo spot! Little C takes his turn!

Me too!