Monday, May 30, 2011

Long Distance Tri-Training Tip | "MUST DO" Interval Sessions to Avoid the Rut

While training for long course triathlon competition, falling into a training rut can be easy to do.  Long, steady-state aerobic endurance workouts in the saddle or on the run become monotonous both mentally and physically, and after awhile, motivation wanes as you ask yourself, "do I have to do yet another 3-hour bike ride?".

Building your endurance with extended moderate intensity workouts is important.  These sessions build stamina and metabolic efficiency, while also preparing your brain for the demands of an arduous day long race experience.  However, too much of a good thing can backfire on you, as some athletes discover with too many consecutive long steady-state training workouts.  It's important to mix it up and keep the body guessing  and adapting to new levels of training stress.

This is why interval training should be an integral part of your weekly long distance tri-training plan, if even in small doses.  Not only will going hard shake things up and give you much needed variety from monotonous, steady-state training, it'll also target key energy systems and recruit muscle fibers/motor units necessary to boost fitness to the next level.  The good news is that an almost endless number of interval sets can be created.  Here below are examples of a swim, cycling and running interval session I have found to be effective for long-course athletes, when performed once every seven to ten days in the 10-weeks before race day.  You can also find several other free workout ideas by clicking HERE.

Swim Workout Description
(Note: 100 base pace is the interval you can hold when swimming moderately hard/ consistent for a set of 10x100's.)

Warm up 200-300 yards (or Meters) Freestyle
Drill Set: 6 x 75 (25 right arm, 25 left arm, 25 swim) @ 10 sec. rest
3 x 50 kick (25 front / scull, 25 back / arms over head) @ 10 sec. rest
Main Set: 6 x 200 (at 100 base pace)
3 x 50 fast @ 30 sec rest
3 x 25 sprint @ 30 sec rest
Cool down 200

Bike Workout Description
(Note:  This workout can be done on a flat or rolling stretch of road but is best performed on the trainer when using a heart rate monitor or power meter.)

Warm up 10-15 minutes easy, 3 x 30 sec. 'openers' @ 30 sec. rest
Main Set:  3 x 2 min. tempo (95-100% of Lactate Threshold Heart Rate) @ 1 min. rest
1 min. recovery spin
3 x 90 sec. tempo (95-105% of LTHR) @ 45 sec rest
2 min. recovery spin
3 x 60 sec. hard (100-110% of LTHR) @ 30 sec rest
Cool down for 10-15 minutes easy

Running Workout Description
(Note: You can do this workout on a flat or rolling section of road, on the track or on the treadmill.)

Warm up jogging for 5-10 minutes easy. Perform some dynamic stretches, then jog and perform 3 x 30 sec. striders @ 30 sec. rest
Main Set: 4 x 90 sec. (5K race pace) @ 30 sec. rest (jog easy)
Jog easy for 2 minutes.
4 x 1 min. fast (10-15 sec. faster than 5K pace) @ 1 min. rest (jog easy)
Cool down 5-10 minutes easy

Hit the turbo switch weekly with a dose of interval training and you'll take your performance to the next level by avoiding the rut associated with long-distance endurance training!

Train smart,
Coach Troy

Coach Troy is the Official Coach of IRONMAN and the Head Tri Coach of LIFE TIME FITNESS. For more free sample workouts, click HERE or visit And to learn about the leading indoor training video collection of cycling and running workouts, go to

Monday, May 23, 2011

Self Awareness | Key to Tri Success

What's a primary difference between the experienced triathlete and the newbie? A keen and highly develop sense of self-awareness.  It's that intangible quality that's critical to success in long distance endurance sports events that often times makes or breaks a result.

Self awareness is trainable, just like lactate threshold. And just like training other components of fitness, developing a highly tuned sense of self awareness takes practice and patience.

Now with modern training technology, you can monitor every fitness metric and analyze it to death with sophisticated software. While this data crunching is effective (if used properly) and plays an important role in learning more about how your engine runs, it's still important to not overlook signs that your body is plainly communicating to you... signs of fatigue, over use, burn out and just plain 'blah'.

The self-aware athlete is the one who notices the twinge of discomfort in the calf while warming up for a track workout and decides to go easy with a zone 2 aerobic run workout instead, and then stretches and rolls it out post workout.  She's the athlete who notices a change in appetite and increases or decreases caloric intake to meet daily energy demands from training.  And on race day, she's the athlete who knows how best to 'burn through her matches' to suit the distance and difficulty of the race course and conditions.

Self awareness is a key component to success in triathlon and all endurance sports. Listen to what your body is telling you regardless of what's on your training schedule that day or showing up on your power meter. It's usually right on task.

Train smart,
Coach Troy

Monday, May 16, 2011

Insanity... Redefined. The Leadman Tri EPIC 250

"The greatest failure is the failure to try."
- William Ward 
(American Writer, 1921-1994)

Inaugural Leadman Tri EPIC 250 Trophy
Triathlon is a tough sport, no matter what the distance, and Ironman Hawaii has become the standard measure for extreme, one-day endurance sport challenges.  Now, there's a new kid on the block that takes the cake as the ultimate one-day ultra-distance race in which only the toughest survive to cross the finish line.... The Leadman Epic 250 (5K swim, 223K bike, 22K run).  This is a story of my personal experiences at the inaugural event that took place in the Nevada desert on May 15th, 2011.

I'm not 'green' when it comes to ultra-distance racing.  I did my first Ironman-distance race in 1990, the brutally hilly Lake Sunapee Ultra Distance Triathlon in New Hampshire.  So hilly was this race in fact that the run finished at a ski resort.  My second Ironman - distance was Ironman Hawaii in 1991.  The event lived up to it's reputation with the heat and the extreme winds providing the challenge, along with the long gradual 'false flats'.  Baking under the sun on the lava fields of Kona in the Natural Energy Lab portion of the run will always give me nightmares.  I've done Ironman Kona 7-times to this point.

In 2001, I did a short lived race called the Mohican Pineman, in Ohio. This small Ironman distance event included the most challenging bike leg I've ever experienced in an ultra-distance tri. The hills were steep and non-forgiving.  It's no wonder this race disappeared... it was just too hard.

Overall, I've competed at a fairly high level in 15 Ironman-distance events in my 20+ yr. career and in over 25 "half distance" races.  To date, I've never experienced an event as challenging as the Leadman Epic 250.

The concept is interesting, conceived by the Athletic Events Division at Life Time Fitness.  That is, create a one-day event in which just making it to the finish line is the primary goal for most people, focusing on the swim and bike legs and without the demands placed on the body of running a marathon.  It makes sense, because as anyone who trains for Ironman or marathons can attest to, your always walking that tight rope of injury.  This is especially the case for the typical ultra-distance endurance sport athlete who tends to be a little more 'mature', in their late 30's, 40's and 50's.  Now that you have some of the background, let's get into race specifics.

Swim start area, Lake Mead.
The host hotel and event registration was located about 30 minutes (Green Valley Resort) from the race site near Boulder City.  The night before the race, everyone gathered at the pre-race party at a restaurant near the hotel and enjoyed a carbo loading dinner of pastas and potatos.  Pros and age groupers alike attended the dinner.   Tri-Industry vets including Dan Empfield of fame, Jan Caille (Race Director of the Chicago Triathlon) and Seton Claggett, owner of were there as well (Dan and Seton did the half and full distance, respectively). The mood was light, calm and enjoyable.  After all... we were all part of this new experience, and it felt more like and event than it did a race. 

The race started at 6 am on Saturday morning at Boulder Beach in Lake Mead.  With only 49 hardy souls competing in this first - ever event (Full, Half and Relay's combined), the atmosphere was very relaxed.  The transition area included astro-turf and chairs in the changing tents for each athlete. The race announcer was Jerry McNeil, an encyclopedia of athlete information, and he did a great job of adding color to the race commentary.  The pro list included Ironman Champion, Jordan Rapp, one of the top cyclists in the sport, as well as Matt Lieto.  On the women's side, Hillary Biscay and Shanna Armstrong, both former Hawaii Ultraman competitors/winners, were there as well as upstart and top IM 70.3 racer, Angela Naeth and veteran Ironman distance pro, Tara Norton.

The swim began with a mass start of all athletes in both the half and full distance.  The views of the mountains were breathtaking as the sun was slowing rising, and after the playing of the National Anthem, a calm filled the air as we all felt that we were about to do something special.  The canon fired.

Exiting the water.
The lake was calm with water temps around 68 degrees, perfect for a long sleeve wetsuit.  The swim course, dictated by the National Parks folks, was complicated with several turns (almost like a 'Z') and included two loops for the full distance athletes in which you had to exit the water after the first loop for a quick 'medical check' in which they asked how you were feeling before you jumped back into the water.  I exited the water after the first 1.55K (just over 1.5 miles) in around 40 minutes. I felt ok, but knowing that my typical swim workout is only around 1250 yds (or about 20 minutes), I was a little bit concerned about my stamina for the second loop.  I just focused on staying with a good rhythm and tried to maintain my form and must say that I was both pleasantly surprised and happy to exit the water in just over 1 hr 22 minutes.  

T1. 138 miles to go!
In the changing tent for the swim to bike, I took my time and put on socks, cooling arm sleeves sunblock. It was going to be a long day of cycling, so it didn't make sense to be too hurried.  I hopped on the bike and started out of transition up to the main road out of the park... a hard climb to start after a 3.1 mile swim!  I had my new SRM powermeter and JOULE computer installed on the bike, but it wasn't working properly.  I could see only my watts, and I was at 300-320, so I immediately dialed it back to a more modest 250 watts.  139 miles (some people measure 142 miles at the end of the bike) was a lonngggg way to ride.... something I've never done in training or a race! My strategy... have patience... be smart... don't die.

I started eating and drinking immediately on the bike because the energy required for a 5K tempo swim is considerable.  Knowing that I've struggled with cramping in the past, I had over 30 MetaSalt capsules with me, as well as several bars and gels stuffed in my jersey pockets.  

The bike course was beautiful with mostly smoothly paved roads and started off with a slight tailwind in the 'cool' morning as the temps hovered in the upper 70's.  I didn't get a chance to pre-ride the course, but I had heard rumors of the long flowing climbs and descents.  I monitored my output during the gradual climbs using my perceived effort and my power meter... keeping it dialed back below 280 watts and with my cadence in the mid-80 range.  

The bike course was very lonely and challenged your ability to stay focused on this long day. With so few competitors and with such a tough terrain, things spread out very quickly.  Aid stations were a welcomed site every 15 miles or so, as were the USAT Race Officials on their scooters, as well as the race photogs and the few spectators who went out on the bike course to see their athletes race.  Long descents at 35 mph flowed into equally long climbs at 15 mph.  The day was heating up and the winds were starting to pick up as we headed north to the Valley of Fire.

At around mile 60 and now over 4.5 hours into the race, the layers start getting peeled off slowly and surely.  What started out as having high energy and being in a good mood starts to nose dive slowly as the blood sugar destabilizes, the heat picks up and your body becomes generally uncomfortable at all levels.  That, plus knowing that you're not even half way through the bike plays games with your mind. It's time to start digging into your 'suitcase of courage' at this point.

As I enter the Valley of Fire (A state park), I'm so impressed with the beauty of my surroundings but focused on my 'gauges' and keeping myself together.  The first significant climb is about 1/4 mile long at around a 16% grade. I stood to climb as my worn down quads (and very sore knees) barked at me with huge loads of lactic acid burn.  I was burning my matches, and still had many more miles to go in the Valley of Fire with these short but steep climbs before the turnaround.  I saw Jordan Rapp in the lead heading back at this point and was extremely impressed with his riding abilities.  Matt Lieto was not too far behind him at this point, but looked a little tweaked (he ended up dropping out due to 'exhaustion').  

Once out of the Valley of Fire (thank you Lord!), it was back to the gradual false flats and extended climbs.  Unfortunately, the course profile had us going uphill more on the way back... into a stiff headwind!  You see, the slight tailwind in the morning had increased intensity as the day wore on and began blowing steadily stronger and gusting.  I was grinding the uphills in my small ring / 25 going 12 mph and going downhill at times only slightly faster.  Life was not good, especially with a disk wheel as the bike was all over the place.

Temperatures were riding into the mid-90's and I started feeling twinges of cramps starting to happen in my inner quads. I'd been following my electrolyte and nutrition regimen pretty close to plan, consuming my metasalt capsules like Pez and drinking as much as possible, and was frustrated by my body starting to let me down.  I noticed that whenever my power crept over 270 watts on the climbs, I'd start to feel the 'twinge' of a cramp coming on... so I kept my climbing power in the 250 watt range to play it safe.  Turned out to be a smart move.

As the winds picked up even more, I hit mile marker 100 on the bike. It was sort of a sinking feeling knowing that there was another 40 or so miles of suffering to endure before hitting the run.  At mile marker 110, I thought that the Ironman bike would be over in a couple miles.  I hit the 112 mile point in over 5 hours 30 min... my PR on the bike at Ironman Canada, a mountainous course, is 4hrs 45min. Ugh.  The biggest fear I had was going into full-on cramp mode and once your in it, it's hard to escape. I was riding with that fear the rest of the way and slamming 3 metasalts at a time every 15-20 minutes, hoping to keep my shit together until the run.

T2. Glad that's over with!
Once I hit mile 130, I was just pissed off. The wearing down of the day's effort was taking it's toll on me and as anyone who does this stuff knows, you get irritable and a little angry.  I was mad at the wind, the heat, my bike, my legs, the race director for creating this god-aweful bike course and the VP of Athletic Events at LTF, Ken, for 'suggesting' that I do this damn race. :)  I kept it steady and tried to remain focused on my cadence. I finally hit the bike to run transition with a  7 hrs 14 minutes (19.1 mph) bike split. Get me off this f'ing bike!

I was stiff and my knees hurt so much. I felt my age and wondered how I was going to run 14 miles.  I sat in the transition tent and the volunteer did a great job helping me get my run gear on.  I shuffled out of the tent and my left knee forced me to limp/jog out of transition.  I wasn't going to quit, so I wondered if this run would cause me long term damage to my knee.  (My years of playing football and wrestling as a kid through college and then my years of triathlon racing/training have taken their toll on my joints).  Who cares, I thought..."this is Leadman and it's about persevering and getting to the finish line at ALMOST any cost."  The first part of the run out of transition was uphill and about 1/2 mile, similar to the old start out of T2 at the Kona Surf in Kona... for any of you who remember that.  Not fun and I shuffled slowly.

Limping out on the uphill shuffle to Boulder
Once up the hill, you go onto a path for the point to point run that ends at the finish line in Boulder City. Again, to add insult to injury at this point, the wind was a headwind as you ran up this gradual uphill grade.  It wasn't super steep, perhaps only 2-4%, but at that time of the day and with so many hours of swimming and cycling in your legs, the effort was significant.  I stopped at the aid stations to take my time and drink while taking my metasalt capsules.  I was so crusty with dried salt, it was unbelievable to me. Fortunately, the cramping situation was still under control.

The run wound up to the Hoover Dam area as we ran through the tunnels on the rocky trail of the out and back portion. The views were spectacular, when I took a second to enjoy them periodically.  After over 8 hours of racing in the heat and wind, I finally had to stop and pee. NOT GOOD! Despite my efforts to consume upwards of 50-60 fl oz / hr on the bike , I was sooo dehydrated.  The dryness of the desert and the winds suck the moisture out of you like as vacuum. It's incredible.

Once back on the pavement and concrete, we continued to wind our way uphill to Boulder City. The uphill grade and the headwind was relentless and it was difficult to really stride out... I'll call it the Leadman shuffle, as it was more of that than a run.  At mile 13, you could look up and start to see the area of the finish line.  Unfortunately, it was up a hill that I thought was just a cruel joke placed there by the race directors and that someone would come up to me and say, "Just kidding! You don't have to run up there... run down this hill instead!".  Nope, most of the final mile was uphill, damn them! I continued to shuffle. My run time, 1:52:31 (8:12 min./mile)

I crossed the finish line in 10 hrs 33 min 24 sec, good for 3rd overall.  It was the hardest race I've done in my life in terms of course terrain and the elements.  

Stick a fork in me... I'm done!
I want to thank my girlfriend Jen, for her unconditional support throughout the day and during my training. I wouldn't have attempted it without her being there.  I also want to thank Chuck (aka Chuckie "V"), a fellow pro competitor from the 90's who raced head to head with me on many occasions, for his support on the course as he cheered for his athlete and winner of the female div. (And 2nd OA), pro Angela Naeth.  Finally, I want to congratulate everyone who had the guts to take on the Leadman on short notice (the race was announced about 8-weeks ago!), and especially those who crossed the finish line.  It was an EPIC Day. Congratulations! 

I'm so proud to be a LEADMAN now. It's a new badge of courage that everyone passionate and dedicated to the sport of triathlon must have on their list of accomplishments.   I hope that you become one someday too.

Best wishes,
Coach Troy

Dried salt on back and shorts at finish line.
For photos, complete race results and other information, visit

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ironman Training Tip | 10 Weeks until Race Day!

Training for an Ironman is really a year-round process. The best athletes commit several years to perfecting their 'craft' before reaching their true potential.  Long course endurance athletes need to develop their physiology to handle the stresses of training and racing the Ironman (or other long distance tri's) and it takes time and patience.

In this short video, I talk to my athletes as if they are 10-weeks from race day and discuss the need to develop a consistent weekly pattern of training, as well as to monitor themselves carefully for signs of over reaching and over training.  It's a delicate balance between pushing to achieve your potential and getting sick and injured.  Sometimes, it's better to toe the line healthy and slightly undertrained than to be on the edge and overcooked!

I hope that you can use this tip and the many others out there that we offer when navigating the rough waters of Ironman distance training and racing.  If you'd like more information about my affordable 16-Week Ironman Distance and 70.3 Training plans leveraging the TrainingPeaks coaching platform, click here.  Feel free to email me your ideas, fears or thoughts at

Train safe and Train smart,

- Troy