Tuesday, October 18, 2011

You CAN Train Less to Achieve Ironman Success

“Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst.”  
~Willaim Penn

Having fun on Alii Drive.
Long bike rides, runs and swim workouts blend together week after week as the training hours add up.  You review your training log notes and suddenly realize that, combining preparation and travel to and from workout venues, you’ve committed over 20 hours per week of your precious time to your training for your upcoming Ironman.  This happens week after week… after week. Have you ever asked yourself if you can train less and still accomplish your Ironman triathlon goals?

I used to ask myself this question frequently in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when Ironman racing was considered extreme, even among endurance sports junkies.  I consumed article after article on long distance training and read about what the top pros were doing.  High volume was in vogue and the stars of our sport at the time were reportedly spending 40 hour (and more) weeks on the roads and in the water, swimming, cycling and running.   25,000 yds. of swimming, 400 miles of cycling and 60 miles of running were common weekly totals.  The more, the better... you had to pay the price.

And the truth is, in order to be successful at events like Ironman,  it does require boatloads of training and consistency… don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  I discovered this first hand when I ramped up my cycling workloads in my late 20’s to see “what I could do” on the bike and it paid off… I finally cracked the 4:45 bike split barrier on a couple of occasions.  Higher volume works when it comes to Ironman training, but how much volume is ideal for you and what are the sacrifices you'll need to make?

The issue is time for the age grouper.  I don’t know about you, but nowadays as a father, business owner and generally all-around busy guy in my early 40’s, the luxury of “training lots” is out the window. And honestly, even if I had the desire to “train lots”, I probably wouldn’t out of fear of getting injured, an inability to recover well due to age and just plain old guilt! I mean, let’s face it…. your 7-hour long day of training could be spent doing much more rewarding and productive activities like: a. playing with your kids, b. volunteering to help others or working on your next business project or c. “smelling the roses” and relaxing after a hard week of work.  I hear rumors of top amateurs who train 25+ hours per week and I can't help to wonder if the sacrifices they make to go a little bit faster is worth it.   I need more results out of a lesser time commitment… and I bet you do too.

As a coach and long time athlete with lots of personal experience, I’m convinced that you can get pretty darn close to your athletic potential, within a few percent, with lower volume and more focused and consistent training, certainly in shorter races and even for distances as long as Ironman.  I just proved it to myself again in Kona this year as I posted a 9:22, only three minutes slower than I did exactly 20 years ago with just around half of the weekly training volume! Even my best time in Kona, an 8:54 in 1993, required a huge jump in weekly workloads to eclipse my time of 9:19 in 1991.  An increase in weekly training time of 30-40% yielded a result that was only about 3-5% faster on race day.   If I was racing as a full-time pro to put food on the table, that sacrifice might be worth it.  However, if you’re an age grouper training and racing for personal satisfaction, it makes less sense in the all important "time / pay back" equation.  How much is YOUR time worth on an hourly basis and what is the “cost” of training more than you need to?

I have compiled a list of a few “nuggets of Ironman Wisdom”  on the topic of training less and getting more out of it that you may wish to consider.  And if you find these compelling and thought provoking, you might want to consider some personal coaching down the road to help you execute them in your program.

Determine:  What size Engine is under your Hood?
Top Ironman Pros in the 8 hr 15 – 30 min. range have an 8-Cylinder with a Turbo.  Those from 8:30 – 9 hours have an 8 Cylinder without the turbo.  Elite Amateurs have an inline 6 with a supercharger and mid-pack athletes are sporting a nice, steady 4 cylinder.  We are all born with a certain number of cylinders and it’s our goal as endurance athletes to maximize the horsepower they can generate.  Come to grips with the size of your engine and do your best with it.  After a few years of consistent and steady Ironman training and racing, you’ll get a good sense of your time at the distance, or where you rank.   I've found it takes around 5 Ironman races to discover it.  At that point, if you’ve been training properly for Ironman all along, It’ll likely take huge increases in volume and intensity (or other extraordinary changes to your training plan, and lifestyle) to realize relatively small gains in performance.  Is it worth it?

Frequency Frequency Frequency Frequency…..
The best runners in the world, the Kenyans, run 3 times a day.  The best swimmers do doubles daily and the best cyclists spend 4-6 hours per day on the bike during key build phases.  Frequency is the key. Swim, bike and run…. In small doses each and almost everyday. 

Base is the Key
You are always building base.   Like bricks stacked one on top of another in strong building foundations, your aerobic base is accumulated through miles in the legs (and in the pool).  Year after year, you should focus on changing your physiology to get the most horsepower out of your engine as possible. Athletes I coach, especially newbies, see a focus on base early on... and often times comment how that approach helped them reach higher levels several years into their tri careers. 

Point of Diminishing Returns
Every workout has a point of diminishing return where the longer you go, the more fatigue you create and the more open you become to injury.  Of course, this is different for everyone, and only through trial and error will you discover that “point of diminishing returns”, but in my experience, most age group athletes go over it regularly.  Will a 4-hour aerobic run benefit you any more than a 2.5 hr aerobic run will? How about a 7 hour long ride compared to a 5-hour long ride?  Or, will the extra training break you down and reduce the quality of the workouts during the rest of the week? Remember, training adaptations are a result of chronic, cumulative stress/recovery cycles… as an age grouper, mega-workout sessions should be reserved for rare occasions and for race day.  For me, 4 hour rides tend to be my maximum “long ride” and 2 hours my maximum long run.  I recover just fine and can bounce back to train well for the rest of the week.  Find yours. 

Think about the Day before and the Day After
Always think to yourself, “how will this workout today be affected by yesterday’s workout and how will it impact tomorrow’s session.”.  Be aware of how one workout fits into your week, relates to the workouts around it and if it’ll set you back, or help move you forward.

Small Daily Doses
Try keeping your volumes lower in each sport while training each sport more regularly throughout the week.  Instead of doing three, 3000 yd swim workouts, try doing four or five 2000 yd workouts a week.  Or instead of riding your bike 3 days a week, ride 5 days a week for shorter distances while making your quality days even higher quality.  I know of these cool indoor workout videos called Spinervals, designed specifically for this purpose. ;)

Intensity Counts… but not Too Much
You don’t have to obliterate yourself every time you do an interval session! In fact, the rule of thumb is to always finish a quality workout feeling as if you could do a little more. Remember… think about how today’s workout will affect tomorrow’s workout (or the workout later in the day!).

Pay Attention to the Details
In addition to training smart, you need to focus on the other areas of your life that have a direct impact on your performance (and overall health) including your nutrition, recovery and your mental well-being.  By training with less overall volume and not flogging yourself constantly, you’ll find that your mind is clearer for other important things in your life, and your body won’t be tetering on the edge of breakdown all of the time.

Discipline Yourself to Go Easy
Aerobic training is not hard training, yet it’s probably the most important training sessions you’ll do as an Ironman athlete.   As a coach, the hardest part of my job is convincing a serious athlete to slow down!  Avoid allowing every aerobic workout becoming a race pace session somewhere in the “gray zone” and don't overdo the hard intervals.  This is counterproductive in developing your aerobic base for long term gains!

Train Year Round
After your season is over, give yourself a break of a few weeks. When it’s over, jump back on the horse and start building your base again.  Focus on technique in the area’s where it’s needed most. Near the start of your season, a training camp where you spend 4-7 days of higher volume training is a good idea to give you a 1-2% boost in aerobic capacity and set the tone for the rest of your season.

Have a well conceived Plan
Your Ironman training cycle should include a block of higher volume training sometime during the 8-weeks leading up to race day.  Workouts don't need to be epic, but a little longer than your normal workloads.  You'd be amazed of what even 3-4, 2-3 hr days in a row of aerobic paced riding can do for your fitness.  Again, consider how one day rolls into the next and impacts recovery.

Know Thyself
Dial in your paces and your zones. Know what makes you tick through using a HR monitor or powermeter to maximize the purpose of each session.  In Kona this year, I knew that I had to race within myself to achieve my goals and I leveraged my HR monitor as my personal tachometer as a result of training consistently with it... hitting my splits close to perfection on the bike and the run while staying within my engine size and not needing medical attention at the finish line.

Train Indoors More
Boring, yes. Effective, absolutely! That hour on the trainer or 40 minutes on the treadmill will force you to focus on what needs to be accomplished during that particular workout session.  Even here in sunny Tucson, I spend 2-3 days indoors on the bike and/or treadmill doing short, focused workouts.  It's amazing how fit you can become with a 45 minute trainer ride followed by a 30 minute treadmill run! 

Be clear, if you commit to Ironman training as your second job (or first job) and put in the big work, you will go a little faster... probably about 3-5%, and that might be what you're looking for.  However, I'm convinced that you can get pretty darn close to your Ironman potential (and meet your short course potential) while maintaining some balance with an approach that emphasizes smart training that's consistent and that maintains your health and life balance.  Good luck and feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. 

Train smart, 
Coach Troy

Troy Jacobson is the Official Coach of Ironman, creator of the Spinervals Cycling series and the head triathlon coach for Life Time Fitness. A former pro in the 1990's, he now competes as a Masters athlete while coaching other age groupers throughout the world.  For other Ironman related articles and race reports, browse this website. And for more information about his training plans and personal coaching, visit www.coachtroy.com

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

My 2011 Kona Race Report | Goals MET!!

Hi and thanks for reading this relatively brief race report on by IM Kona 2011 race experience!

Running down Alii Drive with a smile.
In a nutshell, it was GREAT and probably the most relaxing and enjoyable Kona experience I've had in my 8 times competing in the race.  From my companion (Jen, the world's best triathlon significant other) to the Ironman official coaching partner experience and helping many athletes succeed to actually doing the  race itself, I left the lava fields of the big island with lots of fond memories this year.  This race really has a way of keeping one both humble and grounded.

I had the goal of finishing within 10 minutes of my time from 20 years ago, 9 hrs, 19 min. (read it HERE) and I did just that, finishing only 3 minutes slower in a time of 9:22.  It's very satisfying to not only meet a goal, but to also be able match a physical performance achieved many years ago in a 22 year old body.  I'm a lucky guy to have had that experience, and I don't take it for granted.

The race started with the most frenzied and aggressive mass start swim anywhere.  2000 of the best triathletes in the world fought for position as the canon signaled "go time".  I don't think I found any clear water until about a mile into the swim, and that only lasted for a short time. Constantly surrounded (and kicked and punched) by my competitors, I exited the water feeling steady and under control in 1:07, a few minutes slower than I'd hoped.  I guess I shouldn't expect any better in a rough non-wetsuit swim on only 5000 yds of total swimming per week.  duh.

T1 was incredibly crowded! I was the 633rd person out of the water and I think most of them exited the water with me.  :)  We worked our way to the bikes.

Once on the bike, I immediately remembered my strategy of staying within myself and trying to enjoy the race day experience... and not get caught up in trying to ride as fast as I could. The legs felt horrible at first for unknown reasons, but in retrospect, this was good as it forced me to slow down, averaging around a 135 HR (target race pace HR = 145-150) for the first hour.  Perfect.

Packs (Pelotons) on the bike were as enormous as they were on the swim. So many strong riders do Ironman now and can ride around 5 hours, it's almost impossible to break away unless you are an exceptional rider.  I give people the benefit of the doubt most of the time and realize that sometimes drafting (and some penalties) is/are inadvertent as you jockey to stay legal when passing and then getting over to the right, but some of the drafting was blatant.  I screamed at a few people who were just sitting on wheels.   Kudos to my fellow masters competitor and Spinervals Elite racing team mate, Thomas Brunold, who rode a strong and clean race for a podium finish.

My strategy for this race was to manage the burning of my matches and to stay within my limits all day.  I don't train high volumes (long bike = 4 hrs, long run = 2 hrs, long swim = 2000 yds, time per week = 10-12 hours avg. of weekly training), so I knew my ability to go "deep" and recover wasn't like it was when I was training 2-3 times more in my 20's.  I also didn't want to suffer on the run as I have in the past. I can't begin to tell you how many bad memories I have out on the Queen K, thinking that each step would be my last for the day.   I split a 4:59, hitting a steady 22.XX mph at each time check. Perfect.

I ran out of transition with the race clock at about 6:15, feeling pretty good about my chances to crack 9:25.  The legs were a little bit tired as expected as the asphalt reportedly heated up to over 130 degrees under the intense Kona sun, but the cheering spectators and seeing Jen and my other friends kept my spirits high.  I didn't feel blazing fast, but felt steady and my HR was where it needed to be, between 145 and 150 bpm (my LTHR is around 165).  I was reeling people in quickly while staying within my limits.

Once out on the Queen K, I knew that my legs and feet were going to get very sore due mainly to my minimalist approach to Ironman training.  Every aid station was a small blessing as I slowed a little to dump ice water on my head and drink water and Perform.  I also had a fuel belt filled with bottles of salty water to sip from, to prevent cramping. It worked, no leg cramps all day.

#1 Support Crew, Jen with me
at the finish line.
As the miles wore on, each step hurt a little more and required more focus to maintain stride. I remember feeling fully in control at all times however and never "out of it" as I did so many other times when red-lining it in Kona.  I even slowed a little on Alii Drive as I approached the finish to soak in the experience ... something I might have missed in the past.  I crossed the line with very sore legs but 100% "together" to finish in 9:22 and 131st OA out of 1918 finishers. (Results are HERE at ironman.com).  I'm thrilled with my result and feel so grateful to be able to race at a fairly high level without treating my training as a full time job, but as a daily 1-2 hr  habit.  There are lots of different ways to train for successful Ironman racing, but if anyone wants to know how to get the most performance out of the least amount of training time, let me know by clicking HERE or by visiting www.coachtroy.com   It comes down to consistency and dedication day-in and day-out while having a game plan, staying within your limits and executing your strategy flawlessly.  You can do it too!

Thanks to everyone in Kona and online (FB, etc.) for your support and well-wishes! I'll be setting some new goals for 2012 and I hope you are too.  And if you'd like to see more pics from my race experience, feel free to check out my personal Facebook page.

Best wishes,
Coach Troy

Troy Jacobson is the head triathlon coach of Life Time Fitness and the Official Coach of Ironman. This was his 8th time racing in Kona since 1991 with his best placing in Kona of 20th OA as a pro in 1998.

Friday, October 7, 2011

My Pre-Ironman Perspective | T-24 Hours

Training on the Queen K. It's a long hot road to that finish Line.

As I’m writing this, it’s less than 24 hours until the start of the 2011 Ironman Hawaii! First, I wanted to thank everyone for their well-wishes and support! I really appreciate the positive vibes … thank you!!!  Here’s a little bit of an update on how things are going and my thoughts about race day, as well as my goals.

I did Ironman Hawaii for the first time as a 22 yr. old back in 1991, accompanied by my Dad and sister.  Back then, Ironman was still very much a fringe event in the world of endurance sports with only a handful of Ironman distance races throughout the world. Flash forward 20 years and Ironman is an internationally known brand and a huge commercial entity generating Millions and Millions of dollars in revenue.  My, how times have changed!

After 1991, I went on to do Ironman Kona six more times and carved a unique career out of the sport as a coach and athlete.   Needless to say, the sport and this event in particular means a lot to me and I feel it’s an honor and a huge privilege to be able to toe the line again 20 years after my first time…. This time as a masters athlete.

Many have asked me about my goals for the race.  Well, my first goal, as always, is to finish without needing medical attention.  In fact, Hope, my 7 yr. old, asked me on the phone from Tucson to try not to get hurt.  She apparently still remembers my mangled body and broken bones as a result of crashing at the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike race last year. I told her not to worry….that daddy would be fine.  She was happy to hear that.

My second goal is to be within 10 minutes of my time in 1991, when I was a young 22 yr. old buck.   That time was 9:19 and breaks down to approximately a 1:03 swim (2.4 miles), 5:10 bike (112 miles) and 3:05 run (26.2 miles).  Although I noticed another gray hair this morning, it would be awesome to try and defy age by beating my former self! I think it’s a possibility. Even though I’m not as physically capable 20 years later, I know I’m a smarter racer.  In addition, back in 1991 I raced on a road bike with clip on aerobars, changed clothes during each transition and supplemented my sodium by eating salt encrusted powerbar chunks. Technology has come a long way!

Also, now I race for a time as my strategy, not to ‘win’.  Ego and the desire to win seem to drive many of the younger athletes, especially testosterone powered males.  That makes for a long day on the race course for many as they “Burn their matches” early out on the Queen K and then blow up in spectacular fashion. I know… been there, done that.  Nowadays, I try to focus on staying within myself, doing my own race and being steady all day long.  If the day goes well, I hope to hit the following time goals on this historically difficult race course.

Swim:  1:05-1:08
Bike:  5:10 – 5:15
Run:  3:10 – 3:15
Transitions 5-7 minutes

If I can deliver upon these time goals, I’m pretty close to my 1991 time of 9:19 … 9:30 ish! :)

My third goal, or “perfect day” goal is to podium with a sub-9:15 time.  I think I have the engine to do it, given my recent results over the past two seasons, if everything goes perfectly well.  The masters division is incredibly competitive this year with several former pros toeing the line, so it’s possible that a good day will enable one of the old guys to crack the 9 hour barrier.  We’ll see very soon!

In any case, it’s incredible to be here again after investing so many years competing here in the 1990’s.  Although I’ll be incredibly anxious and nervous before and during much of the race, I’ll also be smiling a lot with thankfulness and gratitude for the ability, good fortune, support from my family and friends (Jen, thank you!) and good health to still be participating in this unique sport at this level for so many years. 

I wish everyone doing the 2011 Ironman Kona good luck and to finish in good health.  3-2-1 GO!!


Troy Jacobson is the creator of the Spinervals Cycling series, official coach of Ironman and the head triathlon coach for Life Time Fitness. Learn more at www.coachtroy.com