Sunday, October 6, 2019

"Overtraining" in the News

An NPR article caught my attention last week. John Hamilton's article, "Too Much Training Can Tax Athletes' Brains" was effectively instant click-bait to me. And it has provided much food for thought over the last few days.

Hamilton interviewed the authors of a new study exploring the effects of training induced fatigue on exercise performance, cognitive fatigue, decision making, prefrontal cortex activity, etc... You can read the full text of the cited article in Current Biology here.


What's it all about?


The study divided 37 "competitive" triathletes into 2 groups - a control group maintained its normal training volume and an overreaching group (OR) that increased its training volume by an average of 40% for a 3 week overload period. Both groups were given a psychometric questionnaire every 2 days to assess subjective fatigue/mood. Brain activity was assessed via MRI pre- and post-training period. Subjects were also asked questions to assess decision making abilities. The questions were designed to assess whether athletes were more likely to seek immediate gratification or long-term reward. Questions like, "would you like $10 now, or $50 at a later date?" Essentially, what's the athlete's discount rate?


They found the OR group was more inclined to choose immediate gratification rather than seek the long term reward - in other words, they became more impulsive and chose the "easy-out." The MRI results showed that the OR athletes exhibited less activity in a prefrontal cortex area that's thought to be involved in complex decision making.


So What?


One issue I have with the article is the bias to recognize overtraining syndrome as a syndrome. Instead of calling it "overtraining" can't we just call it fatigue? In fact, most sports scientists are starting to use the term "overreaching;" overreaching can be further divided into functional and non-functional. Obviously, there are ethical and health constraints that prevent scientists from trying to truly overtrain athletes in the lab, but if your study is supposed to address overtraining, can you do that if you don't have overtrained subjects? Is it fair to assume that overtraining, or non-functional overreaching, is just a more extreme version of fatigue?


If you'd like to read the European College of Sports Medicine and American College of Sports Medicine's joint consensus statement on overtraining, you can see the full text here.


Overtraining, fatigue, a shift in priorities?


The abstract of the latest article starts with, "Overtraining syndrome is a form of burnout, defined in endurance athletes by unexplained performance drop associated with intense fatigue sensation." Well, if you've ever been several weeks into a block of hard endurance training, you know you're tired - you may experience "intense fatigue." But does that mean you're overtrained? I'm not sure it's that easy to define. If you believe you're doing good work and the work will pay off in the form of a strong race performance, you might be able to justify the pain and suffering of training and continue on. But if you start to believe the work is not worth the reward anymore, and you give yourself the excuse of being "overtrained," does that mean you are? Does it become a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading you down a road to sub-par performances because you think something is wrong with you?

I take issue with a few points from the NPR article and the study. But I recognize I am biased - I don't like to acknowledge "overtraining syndrome" as an actual syndrome. Primarily because I do not think that there are any physiological parameters that can indicate someone has overtrained. One cannot simply take a blood test or strap on a heart rate monitor and determine whether he/she is overtrained. We can test for and athletes can feel fatigue, but fatigue is reversible given adequate rest. Rather, I think that "overtraining" or "burnout" is often a state of mind - it's a loss of interest and a lack of motivation. It's the point where the athlete believes the reward for suffering through hard work and training is no longer worth the sacrifice. But what I find interesting about this study is that it links physical and mental fatigue. It appears that when you're physically exhausted, your brain may not work in the same way.

I used to love listening to Mike Creed's "Open Mic" podcast - and one of my favorite episodes was an interview with coach Dean Golich. Golich has coached multiple Olympic and World Championship athletes. My favorite quote from the podcast is Golich's take on overtraining. He states,

"When people say that someone 'over-trained' or got 'burnt-out'... I don't know if that's the case. It's that you come to the realization of what it takes to succeed and you're just not willing to do it anymore."

And I think this sums up some of the findings from the article - at some point, athletes can no longer justify the work, the suffering, and sacrifice. And when they're tired, it's that much easier to justify stopping.

This is not to say that athletes cannot do too much. They certainly can and do. Fatigue is real and overuse injuries happen. But this has become my view of overtraining - it's not so much a physical ailment as it is a lack of motivation and will to continue fighting; to continue suffering and sacrificing to be the best athlete you can be.

But continuing the fight requires a lot of discipline and mental energy - and perhaps this latest study sheds some light onto why people stop. Physical exhaustion is also mentally taxing - and when you're exhausted it's a lot easier to say "enough."


Improved performance through overtraining?


Another issue I have with the NPR article is that it incorrectly uses the term "overtraining." In the overreaching group (OR), the athletes increased their training volume by an average of 40% for a 3 week "training overload" period. We can only say they acutely increased their training loads. This training overload resulted in fatigue - but fatigue often is necessary to provoke a desired training response. In fact, after a two week taper the OR group's performance improved from baseline. This follows the traditional model of supercompensation in biological systems - stress may weaken a system initially, but the stimulus usually provokes a response for the system to adapt. You could say, the 40% increase in training volume was an effective training intervention - not overtraining. If a group of athletes was truly "overtraining," by definition - you would not expect to see their performances improve.


Other implications of fatigue


The authors of the study also propose extreme fatigue could leave athletes susceptible to doping. And I can believe it - I've read this excuse a few times. Some athletes are just looking for something to make training and racing more bearable. Regardless, no matter how tired you are, I don't think there can be any justification for cheating. It's worth noting the study was funded by the French anti-doping agency. 

What I took away from the article - "Overtraining" is largely a mental game and your decision making and reasoning abilities may be impaired when you are physically and/or mentally fatigued. This could highlight the importance of scheduling mandatory rest periods during the year to stay fresh and setting multiple short term goals. Short term goals could provide opportunities to get "immediate gratification" every now and then. These goals could make it easier to stay focused and motivated a few days or weeks at a time and serve as stepping stones towards a bigger goal. If you've got a benchmark training session or race every few weeks, you'll be motivated to do your best to be ready for that test. But if you don't have anything on the schedule until 6 months at a time, how are you going to keep yourself accountable? Are you going to be able to justify suffering and sacrificing for the next 6 months? Will you when you're really tired?

Monday, September 9, 2019

Don't believe everything that you read.

Leave it to Twitter to get me riled up. A tweet caught my attention a few days ago. It read:

"Greater improvements in cycling performance parameters following HRV-guided vs. block training."

I was intrigued, so I read the abstract. I didn't have access to the peer review journal at the time, but I could see in the abstract, "Between-group fitness and performance were similar after the study."

So I called out the original "tweeter," saying there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups. Claiming one is superior, misrepresents the study's findings. By this point I noticed the individual is a  professor and researcher and maintains a blog devoted to heart rate variability (HRV) research - which surprised me. If he's a professor, surely he understands statistics - I couldn't help but think he was misrepresenting the findings to support his bias in favor of  HRV-guided training...

After I pointed out there was no difference in performance between groups, the tweeter responded with a screen shot of a figure from the paper:


From the figure, yeah - it looks like HRV-guided training does outperform block periodization... but looks can be deceiving. Again, there is no statistically significant difference between the two groups. You can't say that one training method is superior to the other. So that's what I said - Where's the difference?

The original poster, responded:

"One group showed a mean time trial improvement of ~6%, the other, ~3%. If I’m investing the same time and effort into training either way, I’d opt for the method that might give me an extra 3%."

And most people would agree - Who doesn't want an extra three percent?

But it doesn't work that way - we don't know if that 3% difference was due to error or random chance. If the experiment was done again, you may very well find a different result. The difference between the groups was not great enough to be statistically significant. You'd think a PhD educated professor would understand that. And you'd hope he wouldn't misrepresent research to support his own bias for HRV gadgets and training.

This is all public, you can check my Twitter if you have nothing better to do. I don't have any animosity towards the individual, and this is not a critique of HRV-guided or block periodization - I just wanted to take the opportunity to remind people to be critical and don't believe everything that you read.

Bert

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Different Disciplines, Different Tapers?

When I was at Appalachian State, Dave Morris had us read all about glycogen, glucose and carbohydrate. I still remember reading about how muscle damage can impact muscle glycogen resynthesis. That is - the replenishment of glycogen stores in skeletal muscle following exercise.

Muscle glycogen is a glucose polymer that is stored in muscle cells. When you exercise, particularly at high intensities, it's the primary substrate used to create ATP. Maintaining or preserving glycogen stores can delay fatigue and even preserve economy.

Given glycogen's positive relationship to endurance performance, athletes and coaches often employ tapers in an attempt to maximize glycogen stores prior to competitions. But as Costill et al. noted back in 1990, glycogen resynthesis may be inhibited following muscle-damaging eccentric exercise.

Eccentric exercise is any exercise that involves "active lengthening" of muscle fibers. Sports that include running, and jumping are eccentric dependent. With running - every footstrike requires absorbing an impact through active lengthening of muscle fibers. That lengthening action can damage the muscle. And little by little, as your run progresses, you accumulate more and more muscle damage. It's not necessarily a bad thing - the muscle will repair itself. But the damage may be evident when you're sore the next day. This damage and the subsequent inflammation may inhibit glycogen resynthesis.

When compared to running, cycling and swimming do not rely nearly as heavily on eccentric muscle contractions. That's one reason why cyclists spend so much time on their bikes - fewer eccentric contractions, less muscle damage, less soreness...

So then, how could this knowledge of muscle damage and glycogen resynthesis impact how the runner, cyclist, and multisport athlete approaches a taper?

Perhaps the runner should take a longer or more aggressive taper than the cyclist. This way, the runner would incur less muscle damage as the important competition approaches - ensuring that glycogen resynthesis is not negatively impacted. And the multisport athlete may want to reduce running volume more aggressively than his/her cycling and swimming volume.

If you're interested in reading more about glycogen resynthesis, I recommend you check out this review by Burke et al.

-Bert

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Pain in the Heel

     In the last eight months, I've had some good stints of training. But for the most part, I've struggled to find consistency in running. I've taken time off - up to six weeks at a time. Two months ago, out of desperation - I got a cortisone injection in my heel. The cortisone worked really well for about six weeks, but as it wore off, I started having problems again. I've attempted three or four different comebacks, but each time, the same plantar fasciitis has come back. 

     When I started the year, I thought - Once I get over this foot pain, I'll have enough time to train for duathlon nationals. Then nationals came and went, and I didn't even make it to the starting line. I never thought the problem would persist so long that I start to question whether the World Championship (in September) could be in jeopardy.

     And I never imagined something so small would have me questioning why I race in the first place. When you make sacrifices, you do so expecting to get returns on your sacrifice "investment." In reality, sport doesn't follow that logic. 

     I'm certainly not the world's most gifted athlete. I'm a mediocre runner and a decent cyclist on a good day. But dammit - I have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into being the best duathlete I can be. So to set some lofty goals, make the sacrifices, etc... then when it fails to pan out, it leaves me feeling pretty empty.

     This week, I decided to cut my losses and focus on finally letting my foot heal before trying to train for another event. It was a tough decision - I won't be going back to the World Championship this year, but at the same time - finally making a decision takes a lot of pressure off. And I hope removing that pressure to get back to training will allow me to get the rest I need - I won't be tempted to rush it this time.

     In the meantime, I've been enjoying doing more mountain biking, gravel riding, and social rides. I also hope to sponsor one (possibly two) elite athlete(s) by providing a travel stipend for him or her to race in the elite field at Powerman Zofingen. I've said it before - I think the US has some of the best multisport talent in the world. But there is so very little support or incentive for US athletes to travel to Switzerland for the long distance duathlon world championship.

     I estimate I spent $2500-$3000 on travel last year. I won ~$1550 after taxes. So I was out of pocket over a thousand dollars. After that experience, I decided I wanted to support at least one elite athlete from the US - because these races shouldn't be contested between the financially elite, they should be for the best athletes. I can't completely level the playing field - there are several barriers to entry into the privileged world of multisport, but I can at least try to help someone. So, it would bring me a lot of satisfaction to support an athlete who otherwise wouldn't be able to make the trip. I'd also like to show the Europeans that Americans are pretty damn good at duathlon.

Bert


Tuesday, March 5, 2019

An Overdue 2018 Goal Review

I know, it's March and this is far overdue, but I still wanted to review the last year and put my goals in writing again.

Objectively


The Good:

6th at Powerman Zofingen/ITU LD Duathlon World Championship
USAC Cat 2 upgrade

The Not-So-Good:

No PRs
5th at USAT Standard Distance Du Nats
DNS Long Course Nationals

Subjectively


It's messy. Yes, I had a decent year. It wasn't stellar, but I felt like I made another step forward as an athlete and person. I gained a few Watts and I gained some perspective.

I realize I should just be thankful I've had the opportunity to pursue some crazy dreams, and thankful for the support I've had from friends, family and people I don't even know. So I want to make it clear that I am thankful and I know I'm privileged - but I also hold myself to high standards. So if I sound crass or unthankful - it's only because I want more (Ok, I'm also greedy). But once you're in it, there's a phenomenon like a positive feedback loop - where the closer you get to the top, the more you want it. At the same time, the lesser results become "devalued" even though they may still be good results.

My one obvious result was 6th at Powerman Zofingen - and I'm proud of the result, but it is hard to condense a year's worth of work into just a few hours for one result. I'd like to get a bit more return on my investment this year and have more results to point to when I look back on this year. 2018 was the year of Zofingen, but outside of the personal experiences I had while training, that one result is about all I have to show for it.

The Positives


Another year, and it was another year of developing. I'm 30 now. So, I'm right there in the middle of my "prime years" as an endurance athlete and I feel like I am beginning to realize my strengths, particularly on the bike. This past year was a great year of consistent training from late February to late August. I logged more miles than I ever have on the bike (nearly 11,000 for 2018). And I felt it paying dividends in my ability to hold power during those 3-4 hour training rides.

Running didn't progress quite as much as my cycling, but it was still a good year. I ran more and more consistently than I ever have over the summer. I also felt stronger - I didn't have to nurse myself through week after week. I just ran and I was able to recover from the long runs and interval workouts better than I have in the past.

No doubt, the endurance I built up through this consistent training helped me through Powerman Zofingen.

One thing I think I did well was adjust workouts from day to day depending on how I was feeling. There were some days where I was dead tired - and I modified the workouts or just skipped them all together. Of course, you can't always do this - Part of the training process is having some really, really hard days on tired legs. You can't always feel sorry for yourself and bail-out. You have to be a bit mad to voluntarily put yourself through hell (and be accountable only to yourself). You have to be able to balance fatigue with quality of training and weigh the possible benefits against the possibility of injury.

Last year, a friend asked me, "How do you have the energy?" I responded, "I eat a lot and sleep a lot."

And I do - the occasional espresso shot also helps. But really, it's not a question of energy. Eat enough, sleep enough and yes, you have the energy. The human body has vast reserves of energy - thousands and thousands of Calories. The difficult part is making yourself do the work. It's getting your tired and sore ass out the door and putting the work in when you feel like shit. That's the most challenging part of training. It's not an energy problem - it's mental fortitude and motivation. If you're properly motivated, you'll find a way to get it done.

Fatigue does happen, though. And I think I did a good job of modifying workouts in 2018 to meet daily goals, but also meet my physical capacity on any given day. I used to write out my own training 2-3 weeks in advance and stick to the plan, but now - It's day to day. I make season plans - each week has a focus, but the day to day details may not be determined until after the warm-up. I think my education and experience has given me the ability to properly adjust workouts for a desired stimulus. And I'm always learning more about what I can handle - but I think I did a good job of adjusting last summer.

I really enjoyed working with a massage therapist regularly in 2018. Suzanne Kaplan at Roots Nutrition and Massage helped me tremendously last year. I tried to see her at least once every two weeks for some specific work (usually my back, low back, IT bands, hip flexors and lower legs). And I think she kept me feeling good and injury free for so long. It was really nice to have a knowledgeable "physio" in my corner.

I think I did a better job of eating and drinking during long rides and workouts. Thanks to GU Energy, I was regularly taking gels and sports drinks which helped fuel me through training bouts and formulate nutrition plans for racing. I feel a lot more confident now about my nutrition strategies now.

I also experimented with longer (4-4.5 hr) rides and longer intervals (as long as 60:00). I'm not totally sure these bolstered my fitness, but they did help me get more comfortable at riding around that aerobic threshold or "Powerman Power." I'll continue to include long steady-state reps in training, particularly late in the build as I approach race day.

Not-so-positives


While I was able to have a great stretch of training for 7 months of the year, I did struggle with a few injuries. I started the year with lingering plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which led to a disappointing result at USAT Duathlon Nationals. I had a brief scare with some popliteal tendonitis right before racing in Switzerland, but that was a minor hiccup. Then in October I did something to my left foot to trigger plantar fasciitis. The week after that, I fractured some ribs in a bike crash (ouch!). The combo of those two events kept me from going to Long Course Duathlon Nationals in November and from enjoying a productive fall of running. I hoped to take a shot at <15:00 5K, and I think I had a good shot at it if it weren't for that damn heel!

I had also planned to retest 20 minute power in the fall - regrettably, that never happened.

Moving Forward: 2019


Objective goals:
  • Top-3 @ Powerman Zofingen/ITU World Championship
  • Top-3 @ Standard Distance Nationals
  • 20:00 @ 400W
  • <15:00 5K, <31:45 10K, OR <70:00 half marathon
  • Work on the second run - particularly hills for Zofingen
  • Work on TT position (comfort and aerodynamics) 
Less tangible, non-performance oriented:
  • Stay healthy
  • Respect my competitors, race organizers and volunteers
  • Continue to promote duathlon, especially here in the US (it's a fun sport!)
  • Live a healthy, balanced lifestyle as a husband, brother, son, coach, friend... and not just an athlete

Top-3 @ Powerman Zofingen may sound like a lofty goal - maybe it is. But, I know what it takes and I think I can do it. I know I can ride with the best there but I have to be smarter tactically (it would help if officials would enforce the drafting rules). I also have to improve my run, no doubt. I expect to be a dark horse again - but I like that. I'll show them Americans can "do the du" with the world's best. Just because triathlon dominates the multisport scene here doesn't mean we're not any good at duathlon. The only reason Americans don't come to Zofingen any more is because (on top of a $400 entry fee) it costs an arm and a leg to get there. Funny story... but I digress.

Like I've said before - it's easy to be critical. It's easy to say shoulda, woulda, coulda... the hard part is recognizing what you need to do to correct the mistakes you made or prevent yourself from repeating those mistakes all over again.

Fortunately, I think the mistakes I made this year should be easy to avoid in the future:

I was taking risks descending on a gravel road when I crashed my bike into a ditch and broke my ribs... It was a spectacular crash. I can't say I won't crash my bike in the future, these things happen.

But for the plantar fasciitis, I need to stretch my calves/achilles and feet more regularly. I also need incorporate more calf and foot strengthening exercises, especially early/off season. I've also discovered cross-frictional massage which seems to help a lot. Admittedly, I also rushed back into training a bit too quickly after Zofingen. I was excited about potentially running a 5K PR and racing Long Course Nationals - and this excitement drove me back to training just a couple weeks after the Powerman. In retrospect - I should have taken more downtime to rest. For the second run - I need to do more brick workouts. I think longer long runs will also help me with the 30K after 4.5 hours of racing. I also want to include more long hill reps in my build up to Zofingen this year.

With all the snow we have had recently, I've had to do A LOT of training indoors on the turbo. It's dreadfully boring, but it has given me an opportunity to work on getting comfortable in the aero position and practice holding it for long periods of time. I've busted out the GoPro camera a few times and gotten some footage for analysis. I'm certainly no expert on bike fit, but I am learning and I feel like I am finding a good position that is hopefully more aerodynamic, more comfortable and just as powerful. Perhaps I'll post some before and after images sometime... I also have a new rear disc wheel to race with this year.

Long term goals are difficult to evaluate at the moment - My wife and I do not know where we will be living in the fall. I don't know whether I will find a real job... I'd like to - but I'd also like to continue training and racing at the highest possible level. I still want to return to collegiate coaching - but I'd love to find a position that would allow me to continue to train for duathlon.

I think that about does it. The pieces will fall into place as the year progresses - Right now, I'm still working through some plantar fasciitis, but I have been able to run a few workouts in the last 3 weeks and the foot seems to be tolerating the increase in training load well. I believe Duathlon Nationals in Greenville, SC will be my first race of the year (April 14). I'll see what I have given the circumstances.

I have been working on a tentative racing schedule. Possible races include:

April 14 - Duathlon Nationals (Standard distance)
April 28 - Mount Rainier Duathlon
May 5 - Powerman Michigan
May 11 - Penticton Bare Bones Duathlon
May 18 - Run for the Hill of It (Lewiston, ID)
August 10 - Coeur d'Alene Duathlon
September 8 - Powerman Zofingen ITU LD Duathlon World Championship

Bert

Friday, September 7, 2018

Powerman Zofingen World Championship

Third time's a charm.

This is the third time I've sat down to write about Powerman Zofingen.

The first time, weeks before the race, I started writing about my goals for the race:
  • A Goal: Podium
  • B Goal: Top 5
  • C Goal: Top 10
Before I could publish that, I thought I strained my calf - and the whole trip to Europe was in question for about a week. 

So, the second time I started writing about Powerman, I was writing about the injury and how sorry I was feeling for myself...

Before I could publish that, my calf started feeling a lot better.

Now that the race is over, I don't have any excuse not to publish this blog.

Brass Tacks

I finished 6th in 6:25:52 and I nearly met my "B Goal." I'm very happy with the result - I had a good day out there, but there is room for improvement. Suffering through and finishing the race was immensely satisfying, but the process; the preparation was something more.

Link to the results with splits: https://services.datasport.com/2018/tri/zofingen/rang207.htm

Thanks for the photo, David.

That Process

It all started last year when I raced Alistair Eeckman at Standard Distance Duathlon Nationals in Bend. I didn't know Alistair at the time, but we raced and I saw that he was an "elite" duathlete. That is - he was a card carrying USAT/ITU professional duathlete. It surprised me - I didn't think many Americans were still trying to compete in international duathlons at the highest level (there is very little incentive to do so). But I really respected his commitment. Shortly after nationals, he went to Zofingen, had a great race and finished 10th. That got the wheels turning in my mind.

If Alistair could do it... Why couldn't I?

In December of last year, I set my goals and made Zofingen my "A Race" for 2018. I emailed Alistair and asked him how to get there, when to get there, what to expect... etc. His responses were very helpful. At a race that is always dominated my Europeans, I couldn't wait until we put 2 Americans inside the top-10 and showed Europe, and the rest of the world - Americans can run-bike-run with the best of them.

Some of you know what happened to Alistair. Two weeks before the race in Zofingen, Alistair was killed in a collision with a vehicle while cycling in Austria. His absence in Zofingen weighed heavily on the weekend. But the tragic event also drew us duathletes closer together. Many efforts were dedicated to or inspired by Alistair. When I was suffering up the hills in the second run - I thought about Alistair and I knew I could suffer just that much more for him. And if I could just pass one more guy... I could do it for Alistair. It wasn't until after the race I realized that my number (27) was the same number he raced with last year.

I wish he was here so I could thank him. Thank him for the inspiration to go for it at such a crazy race; the motivation he unknowingly provided me with while training, and for the encouragement to keep pushing. Thanks, dude.

The Training

Of course the other part of the process, the training, also made this a memorable Spring. Lingering plantar fasciitis and tough weather conditions made for a slow start to January and February, but things started to click mid-March. I didn't have a great race at standard distance Nationals in Greenville, but it motivated me to get my ass in gear.

I think I had the longest, healthiest, most productive stretch of training I've ever had from March to late-August. I was in something of a flow state of training - super focused on just being an athlete. And day after day, I surprised myself.

Side note: I realize I am tremendously fortunate to be able to wholeheartedly pursue athletics. I have to thank my dad for supporting me in everything I do. Multisport is not a cheap hobby. And like I said, there is very little incentive to pursue duathlon. For example - I didn't even win enough in Zofingen to cover the cost of my wife and I's plane tickets to Europe and back. It's only the support of my dad, my wife, my family and my friends that has enabled me to do what I love to do. I know there are other, better athletes out there; but without substantial support, they may not be able to focus solely on training or able to travel to Europe for some silly pissing contest.

I don't have any sponsors - and honestly, I don't expect any. I get a few pro deals from companies (thanks Gu Energy, Williams Cycling and Pearl Izumi), but duathlon is not a sustainable profession. When USAT asked me to submit sponsor logos for my race kit, I almost told them I didn't have any. But then I thought about my biggest financial backer - my dad. We have a family business back home in Georgia. My Grandad, Albert E. Harrison, purchased Ellijay Telephone Company in 1956. And over the years, it's evolved to provide telecommunication services to a large portion of North Georgia. My dad and his siblings inherited the company from their dad and it is still a family run operation in small town Georgia. So, without even asking for permission from Ellijay Telephone Company (ETC), I found one of their logos online and submitted it to have it screen printed onto my race kit. I was really happy to be able to represent the one company I can completely believe in - a company that has supported me, indirectly, more than any sponsor ever could.

End side note...

Like I was saying, training went really well. I had several key long workouts and things kept progressing. It all culminated with a standard distance (5K-40K-10K) duathlon in Coeur d'Alene three weeks prior to Zofingen. It was a small race, but a good opportunity to go through a "dress rehearsal" and put in a hard effort. I ran steady 5:30's and rode ~ 315 Watts. The day after that, I rode 5 hours with 2 hours over 300 Watts - and felt really, really good doing it. I was very confident after that big week.

But a couple days after that, I had sharp, crampy pain in my left calf. It got worse as I went for easy runs... I feared I had strained my gastroc. I moped around for a few days... stretching, icing, going on short easy rides. I was really emotional. I thought I had totally blown it. But after a few days, I noticed stretching my calf wasn't doing much good. Instead, stretching my hamstring and the back of my knee seemed to hit the spot. The more I read, I began to believe my problem was my popliteus (back of my knee). Then I remembered, I had moved my saddle up two weeks prior to the onset of the pain... And it dawned on me. As soon as I figured out my popliteus was the problem, I started stretching and icing it and I lowered my saddle. It improved rapidly. The popliteus ordeal was a minor setback - it made for some added emotional stress and a weird taper. I missed several workouts, then once it was feeling better, I crammed in a few workouts up until about a week out from Zofingen - at which point we left for Europe.

As far as training goes, I wouldn't do much differently. I believe the injury was largely a result of improper bike fit. Which... maybe I should go get a proper bike fit...

Perhaps I would do more and slightly longer long runs next time. My longest run in this build was only 25K. I'd like to edge that out to 28-30K next time, but probably only twice in the build up. I would also run more hills off the bike. That was the most difficult part of the race - grinding up the hill three times. Another one of my weak spots - downhill running. I'm slow downhill! And this hurt me in the opening 10K. I would catch guys on the flats and uphills, but get gapped coming back down. The gap after the first run would prove to be pivotal to my race day - but I'll talk about pacing and tactics later.

Europe...

We left Sunday morning, one week before the race - flew to Seattle, then non-stop Seattle to Frankfurt, arriving Monday morning. I slept no more than 20 minutes on the plane; so I was wasted when we got there. We promptly picked up our rental car and hit the German autobahn.

Which was terrifying.

As I fought to keep my eyelids open at 130 kmh, Porsches, Audis and BMWs must've been coming by us in the left lane at 200+. I learned real fast - keep right.

Somehow, after a couple very stressful hours, we made it to our hotel in Strasbourg, France. It was too early to check-in. So, we stashed our bags and went out for gelato. The rest of the afternoon is kind of a blur. We walked around the old town. There was beer, charcuterie, flatbread... and a stop at a market with really good fresh figs. I slept hard that night.

Jet-lagged American's in Europe...

My kind of breakfast...
After pain au chocolat and cappuccino the next morning, we left for Luzern. On the way, we drove through Zofingen. So, we stopped and ran on the course. Because of the 9 hour time difference, I felt like we were running in the middle of the night. We ran back into the forest, climbing out of town on dirt and gravel paths - it was lush and green. It was a welcome change from the dry, dusty, exposed gravel roads of the Palouse. We stumbled onto some of the course... really hilly.

We had lunch at some pizza place (yeah, more pizza) and continued to our hotel outside of Luzern, Hotel Restaurant Hammer.


The hotel is an old wooden house, built by the Hammer family, in the remote Eigenthal Valley. It sits way up on the side of Mount Pilatus. I'd been up Mount Pilatus when I was in high school, and I knew it was a nice place. We had three days there in Eigenthal… It's a very relaxing and beautiful place. There are trails right out the front door - great for running, hiking or mountain biking. The road riding wasn't bad either - as long as you didn't mind climbing mountains (I don't, I just wished I had a normal road bike and a 32T cassette). We had one sunny afternoon and morning before rain and fog moved in. I made the most of it, with one final tune-up workout.

The view up the Eigenthal Valley
Riding towards Schwarzenberg the next morning.
After 3 days in the Luzern region, we took off for Zofingen. I rode a lap of the new bike course Friday afternoon in a misty rain -- Rough roads, road work, sharp turns... and the climbs were really mellow (short and not very steep). I'm still not sure this is the best route for the race; but what do I know? I had expected more climbing and steeper climbs... but the course had a lot of long, flat sections where absolute power and aerodynamics were going to trump power-to-weight. It was an "all-rounder" course. You and your equipment needed to be and stay aerodynamic, and you had to be able to put down power on the long flat sections, but you had to be able to handle a few climbs too. My 66 kg frame and lightweight Cannondale Slice TT bike would have preferred more climbing... but there was nothing I could do about it.

Pre-race

The pasta party Friday night was a welcome break from the routine of searching for restaurants, navigating unfamiliar places, menus and struggling with communication barriers. It was comforting to see Americans in a foreign place. I caught up with Keith Jackson and stuffed myself full of tortellini.

In the pre-race briefing Saturday morning, we were told we could not receive any nutrition support (bottles, gels, bars, etc.) from our coaches unless our coaches were "accredited." This was an issue because I had planned on taking bottles and gels from my wife on each lap of the bike. The Athlete Guide published to the race website stated that elite athletes could take feeds in the marked "coaching zone" on each lap, but it didn't mention anything about coaches accreditations... So, now they're saying I can't take any bottles from my wife because she doesn't have some sort of certification? Seemed like some bullshit to me. Apparently, others thought so too as there was an uproar amongst the elite athletes. Like myself, several others had planned on using the feed zone to take bottles from coaches or significant others. Some athletes asked if they could get their coach "accredited" that day. The ITU officials just scoffed. After the meeting, Marc Widmer and I stayed to talk to the organizers. The head ITU referee said the Athlete Guide was wrong -- and I promptly told him that's no excuse. If he or the other ITU officials made a mistake, they should own it. We athletes should not have to pay the price for the ITU's mistakes. I got so flustered, I just walked off. Marc kept a cooler head, but couldn't get the ITU to back down.

I went back to the hotel to rethink my nutrition plan. I ended up concentrating four servings of GU Roctane in my small aero bottle, filling a GU flask with five servings of GU and taping one SIS Go Energy Electrolyte Gel on my top tube. This way, I could just take water from the neutral aid stations. I'd take a swig of the concentrate or a shot of GU and a few swigs of water. No problem - it actually worked really well. I ended up taking 75-80 g CHO/hr and a total of ~3L of fluids while on the bike. For the run - I had 3 gels... but I can't remember how many cups of water and isotonic sports drink I took from aid stations. Thankfully, the weather was overcast and cool - so hydration was pretty easy to stay on top of.

After a week of nerves and stress, I finally felt at ease the day before the race. I finally felt like I'd made it to race day. I slept really well Saturday night.

Race Day

The late 9:00 am start made for a relatively relaxed morning. Up at 5:30. Breakfast was carb heavy - a Bobo's Oat Bar, a GU Stroopwafel, a banana, coffee, milk, GU hydration drink mix and some muesli from the hotel. 

Bike check-in, a short warm-up jog and we're on the line.

The gun went off and there was a sprint at the front. I watched the front runners pull away as I shadowed the second group, or was it the third? I took it out really conservatively. By the start of the second lap, my confidence was building and I was feeling pretty good. I caught up to a group of 5 guys on the flat section through town and brought back a couple more as we climbed the hill out of town for the second time. I was strong on the uphill - I'd gap guys, but they'd come flying by my as we hit the steep downhills. Like I said, this is something I need to work on.

Chilling through run 1. Note the ETC logo.
I had told myself if I got to the bike within two minutes of the front group, I could bridge up. In part due to a horribly slow transition, the gap was closer to three minutes by the time I got my leg over my top tube. I felt good - but that gap would prove to be too much.

Roll out...
I pushed the pace on the bike and I was bringing guys back slowly and surely... but I never caught a glimpse of the leading group of eight. And while I was surely bringing guys back. I was also pulling a few guys with me.

Powerman is not draft-legal. There is a 12m draft zone... but neither ethics, nor the threat of penalty seemed to deter guys from sucking wheels. After ~30K, we hit the bottom of the Wiliberg (the main climb on the course) and I waved guys around. Several came by and I badgered them - "How's the draft back there? Enjoying the free-ride? I bet you are!" No one responded. I continued to yell at them as they rode just feet away from each other's wheels. At one point a motorbike with a camera came alongside and yelled something in German. It seemed to separate the group for a few minutes. I shadowed the group for a few miles before deciding the group was not going fast enough - and if anyone was going to bring back the leaders, it was going to be me. It was do-or-die. So, I went back to the front and kept grinding, sure that someone was just sitting on my wheel.

A camera bike came alongside near the start of the second lap and got some footage of yours truly. I'll put a link to the recorded livestream HERE. Footage of the group begins around 3:14:00 and continues on and off for ~30 minutes. Here are a few screenshots:













As you can see in the photos, the 12m drafting zone rule was frequently violated - and this is while we were in plain view of the camera! Some guys were worse than others - I have very little respect for the Slovenian (red helmet) who sat on the whole time, only to ride away in the last 10K and outrun me. His lack of guts was apparent -  His lack of ethics, severely disappointing.

After watching the race footage, it doesn't appear things were any better in the front group.

The lead group on the climb... so much for 12m.

8 guys within 5 seconds on the climb... Yeah, nothing to see here...
I'm sorry if you think my criticism of others is unprofessional or unsportsmanlike. But drafting is cheating and cheating cannot be tolerated. Cheating is the ultimate form of disrespecting the sport, the organizers, the fans and your competitors. So if I can shame others into racing fairly, we're all better for it.

I did learn from the experience -  next time, I'll hit the climbs harder to try to shed the lazy, dead weight, gutless cheats and I'll push on alone. I also learned that I need to transition faster and keep the lead pack on a shorter leash in the first run to ensure that I can bridge up.

The most economical way to race would be to hold an even or progressive effort through the whole 6+ hour effort. That's what I set out to do. Unfortunately, that was not how the race unfolded and I never made up the gap from the first run.

I ended up normalizing 272 W, average 261 - almost on par for what I thought it would take to ride with the leaders and what I had trained for. I never looked at my Garmin during the race. After we hit the cobbles through Zofingen, my hydration system rattled backwards on my aerobars and completely covered the Garmin, so I couldn't see it. I didn't mind. I figured normalizing 275-280 W was within my capability, and I was pretty close to that just riding off of effort. And I was feeling good.

Into transition
I came off the bike and out of transition in 11th - and I felt pretty good running on the flat section through town. Then we climbed out of town on the trails. I struggled on the uphill - but I think everyone was feeling it. I caught up to the Aussie, Alister Caird, and we jokingly exchanged a few words about how grim our situation was. But we worked well together to move up. It only seemed appropriate that his name was Alister. We caught a few guys, and a few guys, who probably spent too much energy on the first run and bike, dropped out. I felt like I was just barely surviving, but somehow I was moving up!

Misery loves company. I'm glad I had Alister there to push me and keep me honest.
Hold it together...
I struggled in the second lap and started to feel a little light headed, so I backed off and let Alister go. I had another gel and grabbed a couple cups of sports drink at the aid stations. I was feeling better by the start of the last trip up the hill, and I was starting to bring Alister back. I pressed on, caught and passed him at the steepest part of the climb. I felt like I was hauling ass that last half lap and I could see I was securing 6th place. The last sprint down the hill back to town was very enjoyable.


Sometimes it's really nice to be taken to your limits and still get your teeth kicked in. That was Sunday.
That was, by far the most challenging athletic event I have ever experienced. It demanded intense focus and a constant effort for 6.5 hours. It took intelligent pacing, energy and nutrition management. It took confidence and it took so much perseverance. Of course, it also took months of preparation, sacrifice, sweat and suffering. And it took a lot of support from friends, family and people I don't even know. The Powerman really was an awesome experience.

Overall, the trip and the race was a great experience and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants a real difficult challenge. I'm already plotting a way back next year. It was incredibly satisfying and motivating. If I can do it again next year - I'll do more bike course recon, stay closer to the leaders on the first run, and try harder to attack and drop the wheel suckers. I'd also like to try to get an air-bnb or a homestay where we can cook our own meals... because living out of hotel rooms and having to dine out for most meals can be difficult and contributes to added stress pre-race. It's also expensive.

In training - all I would do differently is run more hills (up and down) and just a few more longer
runs.

I might also look into getting a more aerodynamic TT bike... My Cannondale Slice weighs 17 lbs. It goes uphill really well, but I know it's not the most aero machine. Like I said, the course did not have as much climbing as I thought it would and the hills were not that steep.

Support the Du

Someone asked me what Team USA does or does not do well...

In my opinion, racing in Europe is a severe handicap to anyone from outside of Europe. The travel, the language barrier, the unfamiliarity of being in a foreign country. Not to mention the cost. What Team USA does well is bring the numbers. There were 24 male athletes entered in either the elite or age group championship race. For comparison, there were only 21 Swiss athletes, 15 French, 23 Germans... So, the US does a fine job of recruiting participants - although I cringe when I attend the award ceremonies at nationals and they urge the people who "qualify" to immediately go into the hall and put down a non-refundable deposit. Sometimes I wonder if those people know what they're getting into. USAT does a great job of making "qualifiers" feel special. But guess what - the slots for this race are never going to fill up. If you completed a duathlon this year, and you want to cough up a few hundred dollars for the race entry fee, you'll probably qualify and USAT/ITU will gladly take your money. But that's the thing - a lot of American multisport athletes can afford to go race in Europe.

What Team USA lacks is some sort of support system that could help strong athletes get to races. The athletes left at home are the ones who can't afford to be there. It's not because of a lack of talent, effort or commitment. With lodging, food, entry fee, and flights, it's a commitment of at least a couple grand to get there and back with a bike. And for what? There's no guarantee of a pay day for elites. And for the age group athlete, it's just the opposite - a guarantee that there will be no prize money. So, that's one thing I would like to see in place, but I won't hold my breath. USAT is not going to support elite or age group duathletes. That's why you will see multisport athletes (age group and elite) setting up GoFundMe pages just to get to races or get through another season.

If you have the opportunity and financial ability to support others, I would urge you to do so. I would really like to see more individuals sponsoring others to pursue their passions - because for some, multisport is very difficult to finance. I know there is plenty of money inside multisport, but the majority of it is held by older athletes who have had time to establish careers, not by the young, aspiring elites. Even if you can't do it financially, you can help by donating gear, mentoring juniors or volunteer coaching.

If you want to see American athletes on international podiums, they're going to need support.

With that, I'll sign off. Thanks for all the love and support. See you in Miami, November 11th for Long Course Duathlon Nationals.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Year-End Review

In college, my coach required every athlete to recap each season with a goal review. The goal review was an opportunity to assess your season - if you met your goals, why or why not, and set or adjust your goals for next season. They weren't always performance goals - they were also academic, spiritual, social, etc. But at the end of each season, you reflected on your progress, gave yourself an honest evaluation, and made plans for moving forward. It keeps you accountable, but it's also a very cathartic process.

It's been a few years since undergrad, but I still find value in writing goal reviews. I attribute much of my success in the past year to having made goals at the end of 2016. I'll admit, I don't always write out my goal reviews, but I want to this year - I have a lot to review and plan.

I feel like sharing this with others will help keep me accountable - but one great thing about a blog is - if you don't want to read my self-centered, narcissist ramblings, you don't have to.

2017

Broken

At the beginning of the year, I was recovering from a sacral stress fracture (the second in a six month span). I knew if I was ever going to meet my goals, I had to be able to train consistently - I couldn't afford to continue getting injured and missing weeks, or months, of training at a time. I talked with my doctor about the fractures - I had blood tests and bone mineral density tests, but nothing was ever abnormal. Regardless, she suggested I take more of a calcium, vitamin d and vitamin k supplement. I also switched medications from Warfarin to the newer anticoagulant, Eliquis. I've written about the negative impacts of Warfarin use on bone health in the past. By switching to Eliquis, I was hopeful that I'd be less likely to develop stress fractures.

Patience

I hit it hard in 2016 - Perhaps, a bit too hard. I realized by the end of last year, the training I was doing was not sustainable (at least, not yet). I was trying to train on a level I wasn't ready for. So, in 2017, I tried to be patient and focus more on consistency. If I did 5 sets of intervals in 2016, I'd do 4 sets in 2017. If I ran 12 miles in 2016, I'd run 10 in 2017... and so on. I also did fewer brick workouts and fewer hard double workout days. In 2016, it was fairly common for me to run a hard interval workout in the morning and ride a hard interval workout in the afternoon. I still did a few brick workouts and hard double days in 2017, but they were much less common. Instead, I spread my hard efforts out over 2-3 days. For example:

  1. AM - Bike: 5 x 5:00 (5:00) + Lift/Core      PM - Run: Easy 45-50:00 with 4-6 x 100m strides
  2. AM - Run: 8 x 800m (2:00)                        PM - Bike: 90:00 with 4 x 30s openers
  3. AM - Bike: 4-5 sets of 2 x 3:00 (60s) + Easy Run of 30-40:00 + Lift/Core
A three day block like this was usually followed by a complete rest day followed by two light/recovery days of training. In 2016, I would have crammed another running workout into the brick on day 3. Sometimes this year, it was difficult not to do more. Even though I wasn't always exhausted, I had to trust that I was getting stronger (and not getting hurt).

I never set any training volume goals for a year, but I do keep a log and I keep track of how many miles and hours I log every year. Because I was able to stay injury free, I logged more miles than I ever have on the bike (8900). I also ran more than I have in any year since college (1502).

I also took several breaks through the year. I took a week off after long course nationals in May, 10 days of vacation in Peru after standard distance nationals in July, 3 weeks of reduced volume after Penticton (Aug-Sept) and 2 weeks of reduced volume after the JAX half marathon in December. I think these regular forced breaks helped keep me fresh mentally and physically.

Strength

This was the first year where I had regular access to strength training equipment year-round - and I was very consistent with it. I lifted 2-3 times a week. After I strained my hamstring in March, instead of trying to add more and more weight every couple of weeks, I worked on being consistent. I squatted 135-165lbs a countless number of times - not exactly mind blowing numbers, but I was doing it consistently, and feeling good about it. I never felt like I was hindering my cycling or running. It's possible that lifting also helped me stave off another stress fracture... can't say for sure, though.

I tried hard to gain weight this year. In combination with lifting, I ate to my heart's content and I drank a lot of protein shakes. I managed to add about 1.5-2 kg without negatively impacting my power to weight ratio on the bike or my running. My W/kg was exactly the same from my two power tests (Feb. and Nov.) but I added an additional 13 Watts. My running  performance only seemed to improve with the added muscle mass. I think I also noticed I was recovering from hard efforts faster, I had good energy, I was less sore and my mood was improved from years past. Of course, there are a lot variables at play - but I think lifting more, eating more, and gaining some weight improved my performance and wellbeing.

Brass Tacks - Objective Goals

2017 Race Goals

  1. Win long course duathlon nationals
  2. Win standard distance duathlon nationals
  3. Top 3 Overall at ITU age group world championship draft legal sprint duathlon
  4. Top 3 Overall at ITU age group world championship standard distance duathlon

Outcomes

  1. First
  2. First
  3. Second overall, first in age group
  4. First overall
Those were the only goals I set at the beginning of the year. I met all of them. I never set any specific performance goals for the year, but I did two 15:00 power tests - one in February and one in November. 
Feb - 15:00 @ 384 W
Nov - 15:00 @ 397 W

After Penticton, I decided to try to squeeze in one more duathlon for 2017 and go to Powerman Florida. Training was going well, but two weeks prior to the race, it was cancelled. Once I found that out, I reduced my cycling volume and spent three weeks preparing for the Ameris Bank Jacksonville Half Marathon. I capitalized on my fitness and ran 71:44. Despite running a 2:00 PR, I wasn't completely satisfied with that race. I wanted to run 71:00.

My friend Phil convinced me to do more USAC (cycling) racing early in the year. I'm glad I did. USAC made me race Cat 3, but I learned a lot about the tactics of bike racing and I became more comfortable riding in a group - I also whooped up on some Cat 3 riders... Some of that experience was helpful in the draft legal race in Penticton.

2018 Goals

  1. Win standard distance duathlon nationals
  2. Win long course duathlon nationals
  3. Top 5 overall at ITU elite long course world championship (Zofingen, Switzerland)
  4. Upgrade to USAC Cat 2 (pending race goals)
  5. 20:00 @ 400 W
  6. 5K @ <15:00 OR 10K @ <31:45 OR half marathon @ <70:00
  7. Run 7-10% more
Other, less quantitative goals include balancing a social life with training; being a husband, son, brother and friend; having fun and staying healthy. I hope to get back to collegiate coaching by the fall. I also want to do something to help promote duathlon - I'm open to suggestions.

Long Term Goals

I have a hard time envisioning what I want to accomplish in or with sport over the next 10 years. I want to stand on the podium at an elite world championship, but if that doesn't happen this year -- I'm not sure I'll have the desire to try again in 2019 or beyond. Duathlon is a great sport, but being a full-time duathlete is not always fulfilling. Not to mention, it doesn't pay. In a non-Olympic sport where race entry fees can top $250; there is rarely a prize purse and even fewer endorsement or sponsorship opportunities - I can't expect to live on duathlon money for a few days, much less the rest of my life... It's comical to even think about.

To fill the void, I want to get back to collegiate coaching. I would like to feel like I'm having more of an impact on other people and building my own value in some way. More importantly, I want to share sport with other young people. Power records and half marathon PRs are initially satisfying, but they're not relevant outside of your own cycling and running. Every time I accomplish one of these self-centered goals, I have to think about the cost. How many hours did I spend by myself, churning my legs in vain? How many friends did I blow off because I was out training or too tired to meet up? There will always be an opportunity cost, but the lack of relevancy and fulfillment eats at me.

Getting the most out of duathlon training and racing, requires a lot of sacrifice. Training 20-25 hours a week leaves little time for professional development. It also leaves you feeling pretty damn tired.

Long term, I hope to continue training and racing in duathlon, running and cycling - but maybe not at the same level. I hope to shift my focus towards helping others.

Needs Improvement

It's one thing to put down a bunch of goals and say, "I want to do this." It's another to recognize you have to make changes to get there. Here's what I'll change for 2018:

More running volume
While I ran more this year than I have in any other year since college, I know I'm capable of doing more. I was recovering from a stress fracture into February - I didn't really hit my stride until May. I think I need to run more to accomplish my running goals, and these running goals will help me be a better duathlete.

Mobility and regular massage
I run better when I'm feeling good and I feel better when I take care of my legs. I think a little more maintenance stretching and massaging could go a long way. It's just a commitment to do more, taking care of the little things. I would like to find a good massage therapist (one of the pitfalls of living in a small town) for a weekly massage. Problem areas - feet, calves, glutes, hip flexors, TFL/ITB

More specific (longer) workouts - in pace/power and duration
I've spent years working on 30:00 power (pH threshold) and I've improved a lot - but I think there is room for improvement if I work on stretching out that power over a longer period of time. I can ride 400 W for 15:00. And while I think a 15:00 effort can serve as a valid indicator of aerobic fitness, maybe 15:00 efforts aren't always relevant in time trial races that last 2-6 hours. I'll continue to work on maximizing 30:00 power. But this year, I want to include more long intervals and threshold runs (I've never been a fan of threshold runs).

Practice and tweak race day nutrition more often
Truth be told, I rarely practice taking gels on the bike or drinking while running. And I know I should get this dialed in, especially for longer races.

Wrapping up

I've received my USAT elite duathlete license, I've joined the Timex Factory Racing Team, and I'm eager to get started on 2018. With these goals, I know I've got my work cut out for me.

Tentative race schedule:

Jan -
Feb - Powerman Arizona
March -
April - USAT Du Nats, Mount Rainier Duathlon
May - Powerman Michigan, Sartell Apple Duathlon
June -
July - ITU Sprint World Champs?
Aug -
Sep - Powerman Zofingen/ITU LC World Champs
Oct -
Nov - USAT LC Du Nats
Dec - Jax Bank Half Marathon