Wednesday, March 23, 2011

New Video Project: 10 Weeks to Ironman | Training Tips

This is a new video project we're working on and starting taping last week... a compilation of Ironman distance training and racing tips to be used each week during the final 10 weeks prior to race day.  Used in conjunction with a systematic training plan (found here or elsewhere), each week will serve as a reminder of what your focus should be along with other issues to think about and consider in preparation for your Ironman race.

I'll be posting several sample rough drafts as we edit each segment. I hope that you find them to be helpful as you get ready for your big day.

Train smart,

Coach Troy

Monday, March 21, 2011

Smart Run Techniques for Faster Times

QUESTION FOR THE COACH:  Most people I train with say that 180 strides per minute is the optimum stride rate while running long distances. Whenever I check my cadence I'm usually between 150-160, and I've had trouble finishing off the final miles of my marathons strong. I'm wondering if my cadence might be what's holding me back and what I can do to pick it up. A few guys have recommended plyometrics and water jogging -- do you think that would help? 


This is a great question and addresses a very important issue for the triathlete when it comes to the run leg  (especially long course racing) and that’s the overall economy and efficiency of their running form. 

Unlike ‘open’ running races, triathlon runs are done on tired legs with waning energy reserves.  Even the best triathletes in the world, who are running 2:41-2:50’s (Male) and 2:53-3:00’s (Women) marathons at Ironman are well off their potential open marathon times due to this fact. Foot strike, posture, arm swing and stride rate are all factors when it comes to one’s running economy and their importance is magnified when running off the bike in a triathlon.  As you improve each of these technique variables, you’ll be able to run faster while using less energy. 

Stride rate is of particular importance because it’s indicative of one’s overall running form.  Athletes with ‘loping’ running styles tend to have a lower foot strike frequency, taking longer strides and tend to get more ‘air’ (bounding) between each footstrike meaning more energy is going vertically as opposed to horizontally.

On the other hand, athletes with higher foot strike frequency in that 180 +/- range, tend to be more forefoot strike oriented with greater horizontal velocity (as opposed to vertical bounding), take shorter strides and have better posture.  Ultimately, their more efficient form yields faster overall running spilts on fatigued legs.

There are several ways in which to improve your running cadence.  National Run Training Director for Life Time Fitness, Rebekah Mayer, recommends incorporating ‘stride outs’ into your running program once or twice per week.  This involves warming up for 10-15 minutes, performing some dynamic stretches and run drills then doing a series of 6-12 100 Meter runs where you gradually build speed throughout each effort until your running at around 95% of your maximum speed while focused on executing perfect form. Another means to achieve a greater footstrike cadence is to run on a treadmill once or twice a week at your aerobic pace and to set your incline at 3-6%.  Focus on taking shorter, quicker steps as you run uphill, counting your footstrikes and making a conscious effort to nail that 180 stride per minute range.  Start with doing this for only a few minutes and progress to more as your technique improves. 

Last but not least, anyone who does my Spinervals workouts knows that I’m a huge proponent of developing the ability to spin the pedals smoothly at a high cadence of 90-100 rpms.  I believe, as do many other coaches, that your ability to spin quickly and smoothly on the bike translates to a higher, smoother and more efficient leg turnover on the run too. 

Give these ideas a whirl, improve your footstrike cadence and you’ll likely run your Ironman marathon PR this season! And for more insights on how to run a faster Ironman marathon, read this article HERE.

Good Luck!
-       Coach Troy

Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of Ironman. A former pro in the 1990’s, he’s back to racing again as a Master’s athlete and set his marathon PR at 2010 IM AZ with a 2:59:55 incorporating the techniques described in this article. For more info, visit

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Training for The Leadman Tri Epic 250

Ah, yes. The thrill and challenge of training for a long course endurance event. Will someone please knock some sense into me and stop me from doing this Leadman thing?! Just kidding.  I think it's hard-wired into me since I did my first IM "distance" tri over 20+ years ago at the age of 20.  Anyone remember the Lake Sunapee Ironman Distance Triathlon?  What a great New Hampshire based race back in the late 1980s and early 1990's!  Hilly and brutal, but great nonetheless. I won it overall in a time of 9 hrs 46 minutes along with a check for $1000, which I think I spent on beer when I got back to college the following week.  That was back at a time when there were only a few 'ironman' races in the world and it was rare to see someone with an 'M-Dot' tatoo. My how times have changed!

So now I'm getting ready for this new challenge, the LeadmanTri in Vegas. I thought I'd share some of my training log notes with you for a peek behind the curtain. Please keep in mind that the way I train for an event is often times different compared to the way I might train someone else.  In other words, "don't try this at home" and "do what I say, not what I do." ;)

Here goes (starting Mon. March 7th):

Monday: Bike 1 hr easy aerobic (zone 2), run 30 minutes aerobic (road, slightly rolling hills.), swim 1250 yds (technique and some paddles)
Tuesday:  Bike 70 miles (approx 3.5 hrs) aerobic endurance ride, steady pace on road bike. Stretch cords, 4 x 25 reps
Wed: Swim 2500, Run 45 min., aerobic effort with 6 minutes of hard tempo (first 'hard' running since IMAZ last year)
Thurs: 1 hr easy spin (legs were sore from the run!), 30 min easy aerobic run, 1250 straight swim
Fri:  Swim 2000 yds (got humbled by 'real swimmer' lapping me doing kick sets, yikes! ;)., 1.5 hr aerobic bike (first ride on tri bike since IM AZ. Felt awkward as expected, gotta tweak position.), 30 min. easy run
Sat:  3 hr aerobic bike (on tri bike, z2 and some z3 muscle endurance work. Bike is feeling better already), 4 mile easy aerobic run

I've been putting in regular 10-12 hour weeks all winter after IMAZ (working with some knee pain) so this was a bump up to around 15-16 hrs (including tomorrow, Sunday).  I will likely peak at just around 16-18 hrs of training over the next couple of weeks with the cycling and tri camps coming to town.

Although I do have a general sense of weekly training volumes and what I want to accomplish, I do what I call "Intuitive Training". In other words, I listen to my body and train day to day according to how I'm feeling that day, but within the general parameters of my weekly goals.  I have found that I'm no longer able to handle lots of high volume training days  (100 mile bike rides tire me out and bore me to tears), and am most effective training as if I'm preparing for an Olympic distance race, even when doing longer stuff.  I try to train almost every day of the week and let fatigue or work commitments (travel in particular) dictate when I take a day off from training.  I also believe that success at triathlon is based on your year-round commitment to swimming, cycling and running and not simply on what you do in your build up for your 'big race'. Your 'aerobic base' is something you constantly need to build and maintain.  Oh, and quality is key...but not too much of it, especially if you are an 'aging' athlete.  I've found that 10-15 minutes of high intensity training in a workout (per sport) usually does the trick without wasting you or making you too sore to train the following day. Small but frequent doses.

So there you have it!  For Leadman, I'll do a handful of 3-4 hr rides and perhaps, if my motivation and time allows, a 5-7 hr ride... but I doubt it.  For the 3.1 mile swim at LM, I might work up to a 4000 yd workout to build confidence, but given my history of disliking swimming, I'll probably stick to my shorter sessions.  I've found for myself that big workout days are not the key to successful long distance racing...rather, it's the cumulative effect of training day after day, week after week, month after month , etc followed by a long and disciplined taper.

I'll keep you posted on my progress as I tackle this season. I hope you glean a thing or two you can apply to your own training plan! And if you're interested in signing up for coaching with either me or one of my associate coaches, go to my website here.

Train smart,

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Playing with Pain!

Frozen peas on my bad knees for 10 minutes
after my run.

Ugh, does it ever seem like a chore just to get out of bed in the morning?  What about standing up to get out of a low sitting chair?  If you are a competitive athlete, you deal with the consequences of pushing your body beyond its normal limits everyday. For those of you with the attitude that you’d rather “wear out than rust out”, keep reading.

I grew up playing football.  From the age of 10 through my freshman year in college, I spent the fall and winter months on the practice field and playing games.  While many practices were focused on teaching the fundamentals of proper tackling and blocking techniques at ‘half speed’ (not full contact), most were at full speed with ‘live’ drills and scrimmages.   Games were “all or nothing” physical confrontations with the other team’s players.  And even though we were well protected with helmets and pads, minor injuries were a common and expected outcome of playing football.   As a little kid, you learned quickly that you needed to ‘play with pain’  (minor pain, not serious injury) to gain the respect of your coaches and your teammates.  The kids who couldn’t handle it either sat on the bench or were quick to quit football and join another sport.  Mental toughness, focus, discipline and the importance of teamwork were attributes drilled into our little brains.

When I finally ended my football playing days after my freshman year in college at a Division II school, I jumped right into triathlon.  I learned quickly that many of the same skills I had learned being a “hard-nosed” football player (a term used for being tough on the field) could be applied to the competitive triathlete.  To race well, you need to drive yourself during training, tolerate various levels of physical discomfort and train when weather and other conditions are not ideal. (Who likes diving into that cold water for swim practice at 5 am or heading out for a cold, wet training run?).   You also have to deal with a slew of aches and pains that might force a ‘normal’ personal to call-in sick and stay in bed all day.  This is what I consider playing with pain… working through minor aches and discomforts in order to continue progressing your fitness to that next level.  The question every triathlete driven to succeed needs to ask themselves is “how much pain is too much pain and when does pushing through pain actually create additional problems?”.

Unfortunately, there are no black and white answers to this question as it must be dealt with on an individual basis.  To help arm you with bigger decision making muscles, I’ve asked for some feedback from Dr. Mark Klion, a multi-time Ironman finisher, Orthopedic Surgeon and creator of the BodyWorks MD Injury Prevention and Treatment DVD Series and Tony Schiller, a former pro and top Masters triathlete. 

Let’s face facts; young athletes have it easy.  You used to be a young athlete, so you know what I mean.  They can load huge volumes of training on their bodies and adapt quickly with little or no repercussions.   A young athlete can even get away with having poor technique and avoid injury, but this all changes as an athlete ages.  As noted by Tony Schiller, older athletes (we’ll say 40+ for the sake of this article), don’t have that same luxury.  Even though the aging athlete still thinks they are 10, 15 or 20 years younger and might even feel that way, their bodies tell a different tale (not to mention the mirror).  As such is the case, the aging athlete must work harder to avoid injury by changing their perception of how much volume and intensity to incorporate into their plan while also focusing more on good biomechanics.  Tony said,  “... the biggest mindset change you (the aging Masters athlete) need to make is from a "volume-based" workout schedule or plan to a "recovery-based" workout plan. This goes against everything we've always done. You still can outline your ideal volume planner, but give it far more time to achieve than your past schedules allowed. Then humble yourself by not carrying it out in a pre-set schedule of days/weeks/months. Instead, let your body dictate its own schedule based on when it's recovered. In other words, the 100 mile ride you might have done while tired and sore at age 30 gets delayed as many extra days as are needed until your fatigue lessens and your energy returns.”   

This is a great prescription for reducing your chance of incurring a debilitating and season ending injury. But what about the normal, day to day aches and pains that most every serious, hard training athlete must endure regardless of age?  Using my own example, I am aware that every run I take can be the one where I land funny and tweak one of my (bad) knees or get an awkward strain in my hip.  Post workouts, especially long or intense sessions are almost always followed by residual soreness in various areas of my body for the following 48-72 hours.  How do we manage these consistent and minor, yet potentially devastating aches and pains?

Dr. Mark works with competitive athletes from various sports at all levels. One of his ‘red flags’ to look for is swelling in the injured area. Swelling indicates the surrounding tissues are damaged and likely requires immediate attention.  In most cases, trying to ‘train through’ pain that causes swelling is a very bad idea and can only lead to further complications down the road.  On the other hand, discomfort that lessens after warming up might be a sign that one can continue with their training, but only at a lower intensity and by taking precautions like running on a softer surface or spinning a lighter gear on the bike.  It’s my experience, both as a coach and as an athlete dealing with discomfort from training, that most of these nagging “ouches” ebb and flow depending on the day and how hard the training has been over the past 48-72 hours.  Following the good doctor’s advice, I have found that icing the affected area for 10-15 minutes several times a day (never applying ice directly to the skin!), elevating the limb, using compression technology, light post workout massage, strengthening the surrounding muscle groups through resistance training and taking ibuprofen as needed (or with a prescription from your physician to knock out inflammation) all keep the machinery in good working condition. And don't forget stretching for greater flexibility. A good pre and post workout stretching routine is a must for any serious athlete. (A topic for another article. In the meantime, check out our series of Flexibility Videos.)

Based on the valuable insights given by Dr. Mark and Tony, I suggest that all athletes look carefully at their training plan and make sure there are rest days and lower intensity ‘active recovery’ days scheduled throughout, and frequently.   Also, especially in the case of the aging athlete, consider hitting your weekly training volume goals over a 10 or even 14-day period, rather than the typical 7-day cycle.  Add an extra day or two of recovery training after a hard session.  Train intuitively and don’t just finish a workout in order to be able to log the miles for the sake of logging miles.  If you feel like you need a day (or few days) of rest, it’s probably because you do.  And don’t over race.  Listen to your body because it’s always going to tell you something.

Also, spend more time working not only on your conditioning, but on your technique in each sport. By doing so, you’ll improve your efficiency of movement and will use less energy to cover a given distance. This is especially important to the Ironman and other long distance endurance athletes.  Remember, it’s not just about how big your engine is and how much horsepower you can produce … it’s how you use it, so developing better technique and efficiency is a key to success.

In summary, all competitive athletes must learn to deal with some level of pain and discomfort. This means ‘playing with pain’ much of the time.  The smart athlete plays with pain, but also does everything possible to manage it and to minimize its negative consequences on their health and performance.

I want to thank Dr. Mark and Tony for their contributions to this blog.  If you’re injured, were injured or are planning on becoming injured some day in the future, check out his line of DVDs at  And if you’re a stud triathlete who lives in the upper mid-west, just know that if you’re beat by a man almost twice your age, it’s probably Tony. Learn more about him at

Good luck and train smart,
Coach Troy

Friday, March 4, 2011

LeadmanTri Epic 250 & IRONMAN

The other day I registered for the Leadman Epic 250K Tri in Vegas in mid-May. Here's the link for any of you fellow type 'A's out there who wish to give it a shot,

As some of you know, I have worked for Life Time Fitness, a large publicly traded health club company (NYSE: LTM, going on 2.5-years now in the capacity of head triathlon coach. Life Time is run by a true visionary who seems to have a crystal ball when it comes to forecasting trends in the health and fitness industry.  The LeadmanTri Life Time Epic 250 is his brainchild and promises to give long course endurance athletes an alternative to the very popular Ironman distance.  We'll see over the next few years if the athletes 'vote with their feet' and give this new concept a shot.  I feel that this new distance and the Ironman distance can compliment one another and together, bring even more athletes into the world of ultra distance triathlon racing.

What makes it unique compared to the ironman distance?  The distance of this event includes a 5K Swim, 223K bike and a 22K run.  For those of you rushing to the google metric conversion calculator (I did!), that's a 3.1 mile swim, 138.56 mile bike and a 13.67 mile run.

Let's analyze the potential race times for the pro Ironman distance athlete should they attempt to race the Leadman.  By going through this drill, you'll start to see STRIKING similarities in the energy (and time) needed to complete both distances.

First, a 'good' pro (let's call him Racer X) can race an Ironman in just under 9 hours. We'll say 8:50ish, for the sake of this article (all values are approximate). This could translate roughly to a 54:54 swim (~1:18/100 yd pace) - 4:52:10 bike (~23 mph pace) and a 2:59:00 run (~6:50 min/mile pace).  Include two 2-min. transitions and you've got ~8:50:07 at the finish line. Now, let's extrapolate those same paces (this is questionable however as the athlete would like modify pace in each leg, but serves to illustrate a point) to the LeadmanTri 250K under similar conditions.

3.1 mile swim in 1:10:55 (~1:18/100 yd pace) - 138.56 mile bike in 6:01:27  (~23 mph pace) and 13.67 mile run in 1:33:24 (~6:50 min/mile pace) for a total time of ~8:49:48.  WOW!!!

Racer X
Ironman Time:  8:50:07
LeadmanTri Time:  8:49:48

Of course, the strategy in racing a Leadman might be somewhat different than racing an Ironman in that the savvy Ironman athlete knows that one must be more conservative on the bike if they wish to hold pace through the last 6-10 miles on the run.  Many Ironman races have been won or lost in that last 5K when the wheels are falling off and the stronger runners take the top podium.  My guess is that the competitive long course triathlete will need to push the pace on the bike and risk 'blowing up' in that last hour in order to hit the run in contention for the win. Also, the run, given it's shorter distance, will likely be taken out much faster and at a higher percentage of lactate threshold then when running the marathon in an Ironman, but this all remains to be seen as race strategies for this new distance will evolve over time.

For the age group athlete, since so many overall finish times are slowed by the 'ironman shuffle' in the second half of the marathon, I would anticipate overall finish times at Leadman to be perhaps a little faster given the longer bike and shorter run (i.e. not enough run left to 'bonk' and on)... but all of this is speculation at the moment.  Apparently, the Leadman course and conditions in Vegas will make it very challenging.

The interesting and appealing thing about this new Leadman distance, as compared perhaps to the Iron distance, is how much less it'll (potentially) contribute to the wear and tear of the athlete, due mainly to the shorter run distance.  As anyone who does Ironman distance races knows first hand, the training for the marathon and then the actual race day itself can take an incredible toll on the body in terms of the pounding, sometimes lending to overuse injuries and overtraining.  From a recovery standpoint,  the IM distance race itself can take literally weeks (months?) to recover from when you've 'gone to the well' in those last 8 miles of the marathon.  Resuming steady training takes at least a couple of weeks post IM and racing again with any good form (at least for the Age Grouper) might take as long as a few months.  Add to that the focused preparation for the Ironman distance and the long(er) miles of run training involved (and the related pounding), age group athletes doing IM tend to race less often in the course of a season and just train, train and train.

I see the new Leadman distance as a way to test your long distance tri racing prowess and even use it as a training race for a key Ironman distance race without 'beating yourself up' with excessive run mileage.  Even though the swim and the bike are considerably longer compared to the IM distance, the potential negative implications on the body (from the running leg) are lower.  And from a competition standpoint, while it's true that the strong swimmer/cyclist will have an advantage perhaps over the strong runner (due to the shorter run, relatively speaking), all athletes still need to race smart by managing their nutrition and pacing or the extra miles will turn the run into a 'walk', regardless of one's fitness and experience.  After all... ultra distance endurance events always reward the 'smarter'  and more patient athletes, not necessarily the stronger ones, right?

So, I'm doing this inaugural Leadman Tri for a few reasons as listed below:
1. It's a great challenge and a unique format.
2. Life Time puts on a great triathlon experience for the racers and their families / supporters.
3. I get to crank up my cycling miles without worrying about doing over-distance or higher volume running, thus avoiding potential run related injury early in the competitive season.
4. I anticipate being able to recover in only a few weeks after the event (due to less run recovery) and be 'race ready' again quickly thereafter.
5. It fits well into my schedule this season in preparing for Ironman Hawaii in October, giving me a 'dose' of ultra-distance racing without the recovery time required after running a marathon.
6. It's 'cool' to be involved in a first-ever event.
7. I broke my collarbone and a couple ribs last year at the Leadville 100 Mtn bike race, a close cousin of Leadman Tri... so I need to conquer at least one of these darn 'Lead' races!

If you're interested in taking on a new and unique challenge this May, join me and a hand full of other pioneers in racing the Leadman Tri Epic 250.  It might be one of the coolest and toughest things you'll ever do.

And if you're interested, in a future blog report I'll let you know more about my Leadman training experience and how it might compare to preparing for an Ironman.  Check back soon.

See ya!
- Coach Troy