Life update - IM training, Lake Placid, change of plans, first race as a pro.

As was the case last year, my mid-summer plans included a long block of training into an Ironman/Olympic two week race block. 


Training 

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The training portion of this plan was a very enjoyable seven weeks of IM specific work, with a move to Tucson, Arizona thrown in the middle. Having just come off of three 70.3’s I was eager to return to the training needed for long course specific fitness. Although still a strong race, Eagleman was less than satisfying and for me nothing helps move on from a poor result more than hard work. New Zealand seemed a long time in the past and I knew my running and strength on the bike had come a long way since. After a relatively cool spring in Southern California, it had started to warm up significantly and practicing race nutrition and hydration seemed constant at times. Although, I knew I was about to move to Tucson, so my gauge of what is hot was about to be shifted again. Looking back on the block I think I am most satisfied with the progression of my running. Not only have I been able to stay healthy through an increased running load and strong work in the other two sports, but I have also started to find the hints of speed I will one day need. I know there is still a long way to go, but it has been encouraging to see the progress. It continues to amaze me how much longer running has taken to come around to where I think it should be in relation to biking and work in the pool. After about a month of training post Eagleman, Nyssa and I packed up all of our things, loaded a U-Haul, convinced the cats it was time to get in a car and we were off. Thanks to a lot of help from Nyssa’s dad, Cary, things went off without a hitch and one day later we were living in Tucson and it was right back to work. I spent the first week here finishing the bulk of my Ironman training, unpacking and organizing from the move. Followed immediately by repacking everything for a three week trip to the east coast. 


Lake Placid

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My travels to the East Coast started off with an early morning trip to the local Tucson airport, only to quickly return home having had my flights canceled and pushed back a day. Luckily, I had a scheduled day off for training to make it across the country so I was able to flip days and make the shift back into training mode for one more day back in Tucson. The next day I tried again and all went to plan until I arrived in Manchester, NH and was informed one of my bags had not made the same journey. Somehow, Southwest still does not track bags and I will leave it at that. One of the goals for this travel experience was keeping my cool and although I thought I did a better than usual job, my lack of patience was tested multiple times. Luckily, I have people like Nyssa and Jim in my life to keep me calm and in Jim’s case save me from an equipment point of view while my bag, as it turns out, was hanging out in Cincinnati. It was an eventful few days of travel, make do training and after a lot of calling Southwest, mainly by Nyssa if I am honest, all was resolved. As I mentioned above, I was happy to be in great company as well as in a great location, back in the upper valley for a few days before heading out to Placid. Despite all of the small setbacks, the most important things, such as energy levels, my health and my fitness were all best to date, so it was easy to stay relatively positive. Having moved more or less all over the country over the last two years, it is amazing to see just how different climate, flora and fauna can be across this country. Every time I go back to New England I am appreciative of the foliage and changeable weather, although I suppose the opposite reasons are largely why we moved to Arizona. Nyssa arrived to New England late on Wednesday and I think we both enjoyed the scenery during our drive the next day through the Adirondacks and finally to Lake Placid, New York.  

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For this race, we decided to stay a few miles out of town at the Hungry Trout resort. Our room had a small kitchenette so I was able to more or less maintain a consistent diet and eat on my own schedule. Our place was right on the rolling uphill portion of the course back into town so I was able to practice on the course twice pre-race without much hassle or wasted time. I have learned to prioritize being able to get my sessions done quietly and spend as little time on my feet and around crowds as possible in the days leading up to a race, I think we got these things just right this time. Another good sign is a new ability to sleep the night before a race. Historically, I have struggled with the night right before a race, whether it be nerves and an upset stomach or worrying about my temperature and staying hydrated; they were rarely real nights of sleep. This time I slept remarkably well, I was ready to go. 

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Race morning was smooth and I had the sense that I knew my plan and there was nothing to stress about. We arrived at the right time, I had all the right things in my bag, I timed my trips to the bathroom and crowd avoidance well, I was never in a rush and was even able to hop in the water for a splash before race start. Once I enter the water for a warm-up the nerves are usually gone, today was no different. I made my way to the front of the 50-1:00 swim group and waited for the start. Even in an Ironman, the pace is always too hot for my liking off the bat, there is really no option other than to play the game, so I swam hard with the pack. One athlete got away from the pack early and I had no desire to chase so I found the underwater cable and a pair of feet and largely sat in for the whole first lap. I felt smooth and controlled, it is amazing how much of a difference not picking your head up to swim makes. Especially with a wetsuit on the effort is very rewarding. Lap two was chaos. All those things I said about being in control and not sighting disappeared, the front pack and I were immediately into a sea of swimmers on their first lap. Of course most want to be on the cable but you were not allowed to cut to the inside of the buoys, so I found myself constantly switching between the inside and outside of the pack, repeatedly convincing myself I saw clear paths, only to run into feet three strokes later. Maybe I am crazy but why can’t we just swim on the inside for the first loop and the outside for the second loop? There is still a cable, the lengths can of course be slightly adjusted, the flow naturally feeds outwards on the second loop, makes sense to me. Anyway, I eventually made it out of the swim in 52:02, I then spontaneously and for the first time decided to use the wetsuit strippers, kinda nice actually and made my way down the lengthy jog towards the skating arena. I avoided many of my previous mistakes, including but not limited to, grabbing the correct bag, getting everything in my back pockets securely and putting on my helmet prior to touching my bike. I may have even passed a few people. Out on the bike I immediately felt strong and in control of my numbers. My plan was to normalize no more than 260 watts and keep the effort capped at 280 on the steeper sections or if the situation called for a bit more pressure. Over the first few miles a group of four athletes including myself formed and it took about ten more miles for us to sort things out with one rider heading off the front, I settled into second and the other two faded after their initial surges. I was happy to let the leading athlete go as I was already controlling a lot to keep the power at 260 and all I wanted was to run an enjoyable, strong marathon. I came through the halfway point in 2:24, three minutes off the leading rider and feeling very comfortable with my situation. My nutrition was still on plan and my stomach was processing everything I was consuming. Core temp was under control and unlike most races, I had not dropped anything.  Only a few minutes later, my race was more or less over. On one of the sweeping turns out of town my stem broke under the compression, my front bottle then hit my wheel and flew off and I was left with handlebars that, although thankfully still attached, had a solid two inches of vertical play. I had been using an adjustable stem with no issues for the past two months but for whatever reason that corner on this day was too much and the teeth sheared off. Luckily, I was able to control myself and slow down, strangely right near a bunch of policeman and corner workers who very kindly started digging through their gear bags to find an allen wrench as soon as we figured out what had happened. It was difficult to control my emotions, but I stayed calm. The volunteers were being so helpful, I almost did not have time to be upset. After a few minutes of scrambling around trying to find tools, I finally was able to get some pressure on the screw with an allen wrench and a pair of pliers. Quite sketchy, and I did not have a lot of confidence in the strength of the fix, but I got back on and did my best to resume the race. I told myself this is no different than a flat, you are still in control, even a ten minute gap is nothing on the run if things go well. I had also lost my only source of water when the stem broke so was very thirsty by this point. I tried positivity, but my bike was broken and I was not going to wish that away. When I finally got to the first aid station near the cross country center the volunteers had what seemed like an entire bike shop setup on the side of the road. They took the front end apart, cleaned out all the shavings, torqued it all back down, but I could still move the bars and it was unsafe to continue. My reality of my race being over settled in once the rush surrounding actually fixing my machine was over. Tough feeling, but the volunteers at that first aid station really kept me together. Watching them give people support as they went through for the next 30 minutes was very impressive to watch. I was unhappy to be there but could not help but smile watching them sprint to give everyone bottles or whatever they needed. I was also able to borrow a phone and call Nyssa to make sure everyone knew there was no crash or what not, just race over. 

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Nyssa and my coach, Andrew Yoder get a lot of credit for controlling the next few hours. I was pretty upset once I was back to a quiet place and the last hour or two of shifting emotions and mindset started to settle in, but it did not take long for the three of us to figure out a new plan and shift my mentality to the next race. Again, thanks to the help of some very nice people I was able to get my elite license and register for the Ironman in Mont Tremblant, Canada. As I mentioned above, my plan was to race two weeks later at Olympic Nationals in Cleveland, Ohio and spend the middle two weeks relaxing with family and friends in New Hampshire, Connecticut, NYC, and Lancaster. The big downside to the change of race plans was missing the time to relax and see all of my east coast people. However, once everything was finalized race wise my mindset had shifted and it was time to get back to work. 


Training


One day later and much earlier than originally planned, Nyssa and I were back in Tucson and it was straight back into a short block to get some work back in the legs and keep everything I had in the tank heading into Placid ready to go for Mont-Tremblant. As you might expect, it is quite hot in the desert at the moment and properly training here has required full focus from a hydration, nutrition and heat management point of view. Even though it has not actually been that long, I have really enjoyed my training here in Tucson. The bike path is a huge upgrade, we are surrounded by mountains and even most normal roads have great shoulders. Spending as little time in and around traffic is a big focus for me and so far Tucson has allowed me to get great sessions while rarely using open roads. Easy and endurance rides have been outside pretty much regardless of the heat with intervals or more specific work on the TT bike indoors on the trainer. Running has been either very early in the am or during the sunset hour in the evening. All bike rides start with a camelback stuffed with ice and a little water. Even if they are frozen bottles on the frame are hot within minutes but the water on my back has been staying cold through most of the first two hours. Moving to Tucson has brought the morning person and morning trainer in me back out after a year of slightly more sleep filled mornings. It has been really enjoyable getting up pre sunrise most days and getting to work right away. 


It goes without saying that I am pretty excited for my first race as a professional. I have been thinking about and working towards this specific goal for most of my adult life. I knew there was no chance of anything professional as a swimmer but I always knew I was willing to do the work at endurance athletics in general and triathlon has proven to be the outlet that best displays that work ethic. Racing as a pro has been somewhere on my mind from the very first race I ever entered, back then it was a crazy thought. Then, during my time at Dartmouth things started to click but it also became obviously I could not perform at a high level as both a college swim coach and a high level triathlete. The more I trained and raced the more the idea seemed a lot less crazy. I vividly remember when I decided I would make this happen for real. I was on training trip with the Dartmouth swimmers in Hawaii and was on my typical morning jog. The contrast of what I was currently spending most of my time doing and what I felt when I trained had never been so obvious and I decided I would make it happen. It took another 15 months to finally leave coaching and another 15 months of full time training and racing to make it happen, but it worked and now I get to race as a professional. This is obviously not the finish line and now I am looking forward to maximizing every aspect of my life to be the best long course triathlete I can be. 


It is not lost on me that this is a pretty unique opportunity that most people will never have, I fully intend on making the most of it. It is also worth repeating and repeating a few more times how appreciative I am of all the help I have gotten along the way. Whether it be financial support, coaching and life advice, solid training buddies or just people who decided I was not kidding when I said I wanted to do this, I am really appreciative of your assistance. Onwards. 


2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report

2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report by Katie Clayton

IRONMAN Lake Placid is done and dusted! After dreaming about crossing the Placid finish line for over a year and a lot of training (in 2019 alone I ran swam 296,222 yards, biked 4397 miles, and ran 932 miles), I’m pleased to report that IRONMAN Lake Placid was a success. I finished with a smile and punched my ticket to the October IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. Here are my thoughts on the course, the experience, and my plans until the next one!

Taper: I have a tendency to go into big training weekends and even some races with some built-up fatigue, but Jim made sure that I was fully rested for Placid. After months of 18+ hour training weeks, it was a huge change to go out for a 45-minute spin and call it a day, but I knew that the rest would pay off. I made it my priority to sleep a ton, eat a ton, and de-stress, and seeing my heart rate nice and low on the workouts confirmed that the taper was working. By the time we left for Placid, I was antsy and ready to channel all of my pent-up energy into the race.

Swim: Fast forward to the line-up for the 2.4 mile swim in Mirror Lake. Matthew, Chris and I got as close as we could to the front of the corral so we could start the swim in one of the earlier waves. Jim told us that most people tend to overestimate their swim time, so it’s best to start out up front. Chris lined up with the swimmers under an hour and Matthew and I were right behind him in the 1:01-1:10 group. The gun went off at 6:40, and we were in the water with the rolling start by 6:41. 

I was immediately struck by how many people were near me, but I tried to stay calm and find the underwater cable as soon as possible. There was lots of splashing and thrashing going on and I was kicked a few times as everyone found their groove. Once I got on the cable, I was surprised to see how many people were swimming to my left (avoiding the cable) -- it seemed just as crowded over there. I kept my eyes down and tried to swim smooth without overdoing it. 

The one disadvantage to swimming on the cable is that if you don’t sight, you won’t know when buoys are approaching, so I was pushed under a few of the big yellow triangles as I tried to swim through them. It was a little jarring at first but I tried to do a better job of picking my head up occasionally and/or not breaking my stroke if I hit a buoy. 

By the time I reached the first right hand corner, my left goggle had filled with water so I quickly picked my head up to fix it. Then as I made the turn I momentarily lost the cable, and it took me a little while to fight my way back onto it. Once I did, I came back around, finished the first loop, tried to fix my goggles again as I exited and then re-entered the water, and started all over. 

The second loop wasn’t as strong as the first; I felt fine, but most of the people around me on the cable seemed to be going much slower than they had on their first loop and I felt like I was at the mercy of the speed of traffic. I tried to fight my way around people who were particularly slow or who were splashing a lot or kicking too hard, but I ultimately decided that the energy it took to do that wasn’t worth the seconds I would save. After getting kicked and tangled in the turn buoys at least three or four more times, I backed off the pace and tried to just cruise in for the bike. Swim time was 1:11:06, and while I would have liked to go under 1:10, I really was at the mercy of traffic and I was just happy to be out of the water. 

T1: Once I got out of the water, some awesome wetsuit strippers helped me get my wetsuit off, and then I jogged down the blue carpet to transition. I passed the entire crew of Dartmouth supporters who were awesome and totally put a smile on my face. I grabbed my bike bag, got some help from some volunteers in the change tent to put on shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses, and before I knew it, I was on the bike course.

Bike: My heart rate was high as soon as I started the bike, and unfortunately it never really came down. I’m not sure if it was the swim, the excitement, the caffeine, or some combination of the three, but I kept seeing my HR in the 150s even though my watts weren’t out of control. Usually it stays fairly low in training (at The Endurance Drive Ironman Lake Placid training weekend I averaged 140 on the 112-mile course at race watts), so I was a little concerned about it and unsure whether to trust my HR or watts. I ultimately decided that watts was a more reliable metric so I focused on aiming for a normalized power (NP) of 160-170 watts - our race plan. Those watts came easily in the first hour on the climbs out of Placid. I focused on floating the uphills and crushing the descents (especially the Keene descent) and was happy to see that I was riding alongside some fast-looking people. Overall, the first lap felt good and was largely uneventful, and I came back into town in 2:52 (almost 20 minutes faster than my training weekend) with 164 NP for the lap. 

I stayed on top of nutrition with a bottle of Skratch and a Larabar in the first hour, a bottle of Infinit in the second hour, and a bottle of Skratch and a Clif bar in the third hour. I switched out my bottles at bike special needs for two Infinit and one Skratch after lap 1 and headed out on lap 2, where I was excited to see the entire support squad at Run Aid Station #2 cheering me on and my parents in the car coming into Placid from Sleepy Hollow near River Rd. It was after leaving town again that I started to feel the first loop, though, and I decided to back off the pace and watts so I could try to get my HR down. I was getting increasingly worried about the run because my HR had been in Zone 3 for most of the day, and I didn’t want to end up walking the marathon. I got it down to 150 and below, but my watts were definitely lower by then and I knew my pace wasn’t as strong as the first loop.

Morale had been pretty low from the Haselton Road turnaround to the top of the Papa Bear hill. I kept up with nutrition and hydration (one bottle of Infinit during hours 4 and 6, a Bonk Breaker and a bottle of Skratch during hour 5), but there was a strong headwind from Haselton Road to the end that made me feel like I was riding a trainer. I ended up making friends with a couple of people who were struggling along with me and commiserating over we were all so ready to get off the bike. After my loop 2 from hell, total bike time was 6:01:34, 159 NP. 

T2: Coming back into town at the end of lap 2 was awesome - the spectators were fantastic and I was SO HAPPY to give my bike away to the volunteers in transition and get my run shoes on. I made a quick stop at the port-a-potty, switched shoes, grabbed my gels, race belt, and hat, and I was off.

Run: My legs felt a little bit like jelly as I came down the hill by Lisa G’s, but they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I was able to throw down a few 8-minute miles without my heart rate spiking and I got a huge morale boost with all of my friends at the mile 2 run aid station. I saw Jim soon after that and he let me know that there was one girl in my AG who was 27 minutes up the road. That was actually pretty comforting because I didn’t feel like I needed to push it to catch her (the lead seemed way too big for an AG win to be realistic), and I was happy with a second-place AG finish for my first Ironman. I continued on down the hill and turned left onto River Rd., jogging through each aid station to grab hydration and nutrition.

I had a little bit of a side stitch and was feeling nauseous, so I couldn’t easily stomach the gels I had brought with me. I grabbed coke and base salt at the aid stations instead, and those went down easily. Unfortunately, my HR was spiking above 160 and it was getting really hot out, so I decided to tone down the pace to see if I could get my HR below the 155 cap Jim and I had planned. I ran an 8:45, then was above 9:00/mile, and I was feeling pretty bad but determined I could hold a pace in the 9s at a reasonable (155-160) HR. I continued to grab coke and salt and not walk the aid stations because I worried that if I started to walk, I wouldn’t start running again.

After finishing up the River Rd. section, I jogged back up the big hill and ran into Jim at mile 9ish. He informed me that the age grouper ahead of me was running 11s and 12s, and her lead had shrunk to 16 minutes. He told me to just keep doing what I was doing, running 9s without my HR blowing up and taking in whatever I could at the aid stations, so I did. I grabbed ice to throw down my shirt and dumped water on my head whenever I had the chance, and I kept the pace and HR steady. I ran up the Lisa G’s hill (which honestly was not as bad as I thought it would be), did the Mirror Lake Drive portion and saw more friends and family, and then headed out for lap 2.

I realized my shoe was untied at mile 13, so I stopped right before going back down the Lisa G’s hill to tie it and nearly fell over, but I righted myself and kept it up. When I saw Jim next at mile 15, he said I was only 6 minutes behind my competitor. If neither of our paces changed, I would catch her. But I was hurting big time, and walking sounded more and more appealing with every aid station. I also missed the coke at a few aid stations and only took in ice water with poor hand-offs, so I was worried about my nutrition and hydration status. Still, I gritted my teeth and kept running with my eye on the number on everyone’s calves for someone in my age group.

As I came down River Rd., I got a little bit of a second wind and continued to throw down 9s with a little less pain. Finally, just before the turnaround, I saw the girl who I thought was my competitor ahead. She was running, but my shuffle was faster than her shuffle, so I passed by her (we both gave each other some encouragement) and hit the turnaround. I didn’t look back after that, but I picked up the pace by a little bit out of fear that she would chase me down. 

By the time I made it off River Rd., I knew I had built up a bit of a lead, but I was really worried about my hydration and nutrition status. I was starting to feel dizzy and I didn’t want to pass out or DNF with so little to go. For the first time on the run, I walked up half of the hill after River Rd. just to keep my HR in control. I started running again as soon as I reached the top and met Jim and Connor around mile 22. While I couldn’t smile, I was happy that they were blasting my favorite songs on their portable speaker. Jim yelled that I had an 11-minute lead and reminded me to keep fueling, keep hydrating. I was pretty close to my breaking point but I continued on, ready to taste the finish.

By the time I got to the Lisa G’s hill I was pretty much done, so I speed-walked up part of it to avoid passing out and clocked my first 10-minute mile of the day, but I was able to pick it up again after getting to the top. My parents and friends were cheering on Mirror Lake Drive, and as I made it to the out-and-back I knew that all I needed to do was run another mile - just one. I rounded the corner, picked up the pace to sub-9s, and laid down everything I had left. I entered the transition area, rounded the track, and saw all of my friends and family along the finishing chute. I somehow managed to smile, and I crossed the finish line with a run time of 3:59:51. I then promptly semi-collapsed into Matthew’s parents’ arms (they were volunteering at the finish) and was carted into the med tent where I made friends with some amazing volunteers who were the first to hear me say, “I think I just qualified for Kona.” Total finish time: 11:22:19.

After: I was fine after I cooled down and got some fluids in me, and getting to hang out on the grass with my friends and family, watch Matthew, Chris, and Julie finish, and relive the whole experience for days after was arguably even better than the race, which was physically and mentally agonizing. Despite the agony of 140.6 miles, I decided to take the Kona slot, because I think that after a few more days of relaxing and active recovery only, I’ll be ready to get back into training mode. After all, this is the IRONMAN World Championships we’re talking about! It’ll be a little crazy to balance more Ironman training with a move out to California in a month and the start of my PhD program in political science at Stanford, but come on - it’s Kona!!!

Thanks a million to Jim and the tribe for everything they have done to support me on this journey. I’m pumped that it isn’t over yet! - Katie Clayton

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The strong athlete

Successful athletes are strong athletes, and strength comes from a focused, intentional, weighted strength program. Let’s break down what that means. As endurance athletes, we have three primary physical systems to improve:

  1. Aerobic: 80% of training is Zone 2 aerobic foundation work, while the other 20% is harder efforts. Endurance athletes love to move their bodies, so they check this box easily with a proper, periodized training plan.

  2. Metabolic: This goes together with Zone 2 aerobic training. Athletes improve their fat to carbohydrate burn ratio with a combination of focused training and healthy eating.

  3. Muscular: Sports science shows that a robust, weighted strength program is critical to improve endurance athletes’ athletic performance. Increased strength means more power, force, and speed. Elite athletes know this, too. So, why is there so much confusion and skepticism from citizen athletes about picking up something heavier than a craft beer? Let’s pull this apart!

First things first: The strength routine you enjoy and do consistently is a check in the “win” column. It may not be the most effective strength program, but if you are doing something, you’ve started down a positive path. That path might include exercises that use your body weight, resistance bands, yoga, pilates, TRX, and/or bosu balls. A routine like this can be helpful, because it helps maintain your fitness and activate your core. But if you are not getting appreciably stronger with this routine -- and if it feels “comfortable” -- there is lots of room for improvement. 

The “meat” of a weighted strength program

A weighted strength program moves beyond core activation exercises and incorporates weights, resistance, and machinery to help you build power. Ideally, the exact routine you follow should be determined by a professional and tailored to your weaknesses, imbalances, range of motion, and sport goals. With that said, you can count on your program to incorporate some of the following full-body compound exercises or variations thereof:

  • Squats, leg presses, deadlifts & lunges.   

  • Lat pulls, rows & pull ups.  

  • Bench and shoulder presses. 

  • Back extensions and bridges.

You should always warm up with some light aerobic activity followed by some body weight or lighter weighted exercises, focusing on executing your perfect lift technique. Start with reps of 10-15 with lighter loads and then progress the weight and decrease the reps to 5-8. Take plenty of rest (90 seconds to 2 minutes). The goal is to execute your best form at increasing loads, not to get another cardio workout. 

Use whatever equipment is readily available: barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and/or machines. If it’s heavy, it will work. There are a thousand things you can lift, and a thousand weighted strength exercises. Pick the ones that challenge large muscles and draw on your full body. When your routine feels easy, it means it’s time to change it up (usually every 6-8 weeks). 

Your goal is to move heavy things 2-3x per week for 30 to 60 minutes. This shouldn’t be an epic session; get in, lift heavy, get out. Recent studies have shown that one set of 5-8 reps per large body part 2-3x per week will increase strength.  

When should I lift?

Plan 9-10 months of the year to lift heavy and 2-3 months for a core/maintenance routine. It won’t be beneficial if you gain strength in November but your “A” race is in July. Schedule heavy strength in the off season and Base period, and taper it for the Build/Race season. This means you should keep that gym membership active year round -- or build yourself a fancier pain cave!

How do I incorporate lifting?

An effective strength program follows this general arc:

  • Find and hire a professional: a strength & conditioning coach, Physical Therapist (PT), or a personal trainer with competent weight training experience.

  • Work with your coach to assess your range of motion and identify body weaknesses and imbalances. This will prepare you to start a strength program. Your coach should teach you proper lifting technique with body or lighter weights at first.  

    • Plan B: If you don’t have access to a local professional (nearly every gym has an instructor available), competent strength coaches post tons of videos on YouTube. (We’re happy to help you sort out who is legit and who is not.) You’ll need to proceed carefully as you won’t have the benefit of in-person technique feedback. But armed with a full length mirror and knowledge, you can make progress. 

  • Start your program gradually, adding load and progression over time as you gain strength.  After a few introductory sessions, your workout should feel challenging to the point of “wow, that was a super hard 8 reps!”

  • Try to separate your aerobic sessions from your lift sessions. Aerobic activity can lessen the effects of strength training. But if you need to go back-to-back with an aerobic and strength session, don’t let the goal of perfection stand in the way of progress.

Benefits of going heavy

If a new drink mix enhanced your body with the below traits, you would gladly pay a hefty monthly fee to access it. The benefits of a proper weighted strength program are the following: 

  • Improve force production. If you increase your ground (run), pedal (bike), water (swim), or pole (ski) force, you increase your speed. You will have more lasting power throughout your workouts and races, allowing you to finish strong.

  • Increase lean muscle and shed body fat. Who doesn’t want to look good? That’s half the appeal of endurance sports!

  • Improve efficiency and economy. Go faster with less effort. 

  • Eliminate muscle and tendon niggles and prevent major injuries. This alone should send you sprinting to the gym! 

  • Like Zone 2 training that builds your aerobic engine, lifting provides the muscular foundation for all physical activity. Big aerobic fitness pays huge dividends in endurance racing, and the same is true for a robust, strong body. Stack the two foundations and you have an endurance castle.

  • Stepping back further, some of the most important benefits of being an athlete are long-term health and longevity. A strong body will serve you not only on course, but leaning into the car with grocery bags, shoveling the driveway, or moving furniture. We want you strong now, in the future, and in all aspects of your life.

Additional reasons to pump iron

If you hired a coach and completed their swim, bike, and/or run program but never got faster, you would fire them. The point of training is to improve. If your current strength routine does not result in a stronger, faster body, why would you continue with it? Don’t settle for status quo strength. Become the athlete you are meant to be.

On race day, you should be most afraid of the competitor who is less aerobically trained than you are but is much stronger. Strength, like big fitness, allows an athlete to do things on the race course that weaker athletes can’t. It allows you to animate and control the race.

Finally, if you were to describe the characteristics of your favorite athletes, strength would make the top five. Whether it’s triathlon, ultrarunning, swimming, cycling, soccer, dance, or wrestling, the best in sport are super fit, skilled, and strong. 

Who should do weighted strength?

Everyone should lift weights! But if you are a novice, Masters, or aspiring Front of the Pack (FOP) age grouper, lifting is all the more important. If you are in your mid 20s to early 30s with a significant athletic background, your biggest challenges tend to fall in the aerobic and metabolic efficiency buckets, so you can make aerobic efficiency your first priority -- but don’t forget to lift sometimes.

Will I get huge like Arnold?  

No. Period. End of story. You will, however, start to feel and look great. As a time crunched athlete, you will love the return on investment: the speed, the power and look. If you are a 40+ year old athlete, you will start to look and feel 10, 20, or 30 years younger. Convinced yet?

A progressive, weighted strength program will round you out as a complete athlete and healthy person. Lifting will give you an edge and forge a sword to take into race battle. Plus, who doesn’t like to hear, “You look great! You’ve been working out?!” So get strong and don’t forget to flex! - Jim

Reference Papers: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29249083

https://journals.lww.com/acsm-csmr/Fulltext/2012/07000/Resistance_Training_is_Medicine___Effects_of.13.aspx

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21854344

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-016-0486-0

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Triathlon in the midst of tragedy

Describe this weekend in one word: eventful. The Endurance Drive crew and several Dartmouth club athletes traveled to Franconia, NH to race the White Mountains Olympic triathlon. The weather was perfect and our big fitness showed—despite a heavy training week, little to no tapering, and not really warming up, we grabbed nine spots on the podium including four top age group finishes and second overall on the women’s side. Although we were excited to have a great race, the weekend was most memorable because of what happened on Friday. On the drive to Jim’s house in Randolph after picking up our race packets, we were one of the first cars on the scene of a horrific crash on Route 2 that killed seven motorcyclists and injured three others.

Around 6:30 pm on Friday, a pickup truck with a trailer jackknifed into a group of ex-marines on motorcycles who had just left their hotel. We arrived just after the crash to find motorcyclists and other witnesses stumbling around, metal and pieces of motorcycles scattered all over the road, and the pickup truck on fire with all of its airbags deployed. No emergency vehicles had arrived.

It took a minute for everyone in our cars to realize the gravity of the situation, but we then jumped out of our cars and sprang into action to do what we could to help. We called 911, tried to help move survivors and witnesses off the road and away from the burning truck, ran back down Route 2 to stop other cars from trying to get through and make room for EMS vehicles, took some video footage for the police, and tried to help people who had witnessed the crash calm down. However, we quickly realized how much the situation was far out of our hands. We would later describe the scene as walking into the aftermath of a plane crash, with bodies, machine parts, and fire on all sides. Ultimately, we had to come to terms with our helplessness in a horrific situation unlike any we had experienced before.

We left the scene as the first fire trucks were arriving and drove another hour to get around the site of the crash. Everyone was in some degree of shock. One moment we were going through life, cracking jokes, singing in the car, and getting ready to race a triathlon. The next we were transported into a nightmare, witnessing tragedy, death, and raw human emotion. All we could do was try to remain calm, clear the area for emergency responders, and try to provide support for survivors in varying states of emotional distress.

We got to Jim’s late Friday night, hugged each other, ate some pizza, and packed up for the race. After living through the aftermath of a crash that the NH state police captain called worse than any he has ever seen, all we could do was move on and try to live life with a greater appreciation for our health, the experiences we get to have every day, and each other. Our thoughts remain with the victims and their families.  - Katie & Matt

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Top Characteristics of High Performers

What separates the average person from a top performer?  Sure, some athletes hit the DNA lottery -- but that’s rarely the differentiator.  Most top athletes are regular people with effective habits, detailed schedules, big goals, and a superior mindset. The following twelve traits summarize their success:

1) Accountable:  High performers are accountable to themselves, their coach, and their support network. They set realistic expectations, negotiate time “on” and “off” with their family and friends, and remain accountable through successes and downturns.

2) Clarity: High performers have clear goals, strategies, and tactics. In an age of overwhelming information, they focus on “best practices” and timeless wisdom. Understanding that passion is a paradox, they use it to elevate their performance and navigate away from distractions and false summits.

3) Confident: High performers balance ego, competence, and humility to display a healthy confidence. Top performers know their boundaries and how to push them. Their confidence comes from internal motivation rather than external wins.

4) Curious: High performers read, listen, and learn from top coaches, scientists, writers, and peers. Engaging with their craft, they seek specific and general knowledge to improve their performance. They leverage knowledge from one discipline to another. For example, they can seamlessly transfer the technique skills they pick up in the pool to their posture and efficiency while running.

5) Disciplined:  Time is the scarcest resource, and time discipline rules high performers’ days. They patiently add volume and consistency, the primary athletic performance-drivers. They develop routines to rise early, place their “big workout rocks” first, and make every waking hour productive. They schedule meals, sleep, and recovery. On a micro and macro-level, their training plans are focused and mindful.

Don’t think you have time to workout? Read this:  ‘Not Just a Maid’: The Ultra-Running Domestic Workers of Hong Kong

6) Driven: High performers rise to the challenge daily. They are comfortable being uncomfortable. When something is difficult, they work harder rather than back off. (You might say they have an endurance drive!)

7) Integrity: High performers act with integrity when people are looking and when they are not. They and their tribe value and promote strength of character. Even when training alone, they will not cheat or take shortcuts.

8) Optimistic: High performers maintain a positive outlook. They consider challenges and failures to be learning experiences. Their outlook on sport and life is a long-term game with an upward, positive trend. To paraphrase Naval Ravikant, optimists build a skill set that “looks like work to others but feels like play to them.”

9) Organized: High performers anticipate their needs for the next workout and prepare them well in advance. They remember their bike shoes, arrive on time, know the route and workout goal, bring snacks, and have a post-workout dry shirt and meal prepared.

10) Present: Shiny objects and shallow games do not distract high performers. They immerse themselves in their craft and their relationships, developing deep connections with the task at hand and the people around them. In the pool, they don’t stare at the black line; they focus on a taut core, proper hip rotation, and the catch and pull position. They know that every second presents an opportunity to improve.  

11) Principled: High performers establish principles to process information, handle a variety of situations, and arrive at sound decisions. They know that low mental friction facilitates action, and a clear personal philosophy steers the ship to calm waters.  

12) Rational: High performers understand context and make logical decisions. They know that taper and rest periods are the “other side” of the fitness formula. They know which data metrics to monitor, and when, and which ones to ignore given the training cycle and goal. In other words, they know when and what to obsess over and when to let go.

Encouragingly, the above skills require no additional physical effort. They represent working smarter, not harder. These mental strategies work like compound interest, with dividends rolling in long after the habit has formed. So get out there and be accountable, seek clarity, maintain confidence, think curiously, practice discipline, find your drive, act with integrity, stay optimistic, get organized, be present, define your principles, and act rationally. Do all that and you’ll be a high performer, too! -Jim

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Tracking & Planning Your Life Stress Score (LSS)

TrainingPeaks allows athletes and coaches to track workouts and performance with a physiological stress metric known as Training Stress Score (TSS; a detailed explanation is here). In brief, TSS is a metric that takes into account the time and intensity of your workout relative to your threshold heart rate, power, or pace. For example, an easy 2K swim might yield 35 TSS. A 40K bike time trial or a 15K run at your race pace equates to about 100 TSS. A 20-mile all day hike with big elevation could be as high as 500 TSS. TSS is a useful data tool for short- and long-term planning, and the patterns it reveals can help both athletes and coaches make training and racing decisions.

But if TSS only cares about the duration of our workout and our threshold performance values, how do we account for the other stress in our lives when making decisions about how we train and race? The psychological strain that comes from a busy job, a hectic household, travel, or demands from school can all have huge impacts on our overall well-being. To account for mental stress in our overall training plans, I employ an original metric: Life Stress Score (LSS). The goal of LSS is to capture and anticipate stress that isn’t always physiological, but has an equally large impact on your physical training and race performance.

How does LSS work in practice? When an athlete is heading into a stressful work period, a major family event, or significant travel, we scale back the time and intensity of their workouts to free up mental and physical resources. For our student athletes preparing for final exams, we plan a recovery week with fewer sessions and less intensity, and delay longer workouts until after the tests are done. We keep physical activity at a maintenance level, or minimum effective dose, during this time, but we communicate with our athletes about which types of workouts will serve as academic performance enhancers (easy run with friends) and which will add to the stress (hill repeats at 6 am). This dialogue provides athletes with the physical and mental space they need to study and ace their engineering final. It’s a key part of our person first, athlete second approach at The Endurance Drive.

If you are training for a major endurance event (IRONMAN, IRONMAN 70.3, ultrarun, SwimRun, bike stage race), travel to the event can be another major LSS factor that drains athletes. Combine packing lists with coordinating time off with unfamiliar environments with inadequate sleep, and you run the risk of feeling much more frantic and stressed than usual. To feel both physically and mentally fresh on race day, you should plug in LSS, along with your TSS, into your race week plan. Scale back your workouts, don’t be overly ambitious about getting sessions in on days when you’re in transit, and do everything you can to stick to your routine. That, in combination with a close look at TrainingPeaks’ Training Score Balance, will help you arrive at the starting line at an appropriate level of mental and physical preparedness.

How much LSS you should assign to travel, work, school, or other stressful life events is more art than science. But by listening to your body during times of stress, you can begin to associate them with equivalent workouts. For example, after overnight air travel, I feel like I just ran a half marathon, which equates to around 150 (L)TSS. Figuring out what to pack and other logistics the day before a race might be 50 (L)TSS. Athletes tend to become attuned to their TSS scores for any given workout. You can use that same sense to think through your upcoming stressful events and input some LSS into your plan.

Stress is stress, whether physical or psychological. It all pulls from the same limited resources your body has. Your body hourglass has finite grains of sand each day, and every stressful event pulls sand at a greater rate through the funnel. When the top of the hourglass is empty, it’s empty. So sprinkle some LSS into your training plan for a 360-degree view of endurance event planning. We hope it helps you arrive at your big training weekends and race day physically and mentally prepared. -Jim

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IRONMAN Lake Placid Simulation Weekend

The Endurance Drive crew traveled to Lake Placid, NY, in early June for an IRONMAN simulation weekend to prepare for IM Lake Placid in July. The weekend included two loops on the bike course (112 miles) and one loop of the run course (13.1 miles) on Saturday, and the second loop of the run course (13.1 miles) on Sunday. Cool temperatures and thunderstorms in the forecast kept us from swimming in Mirror Lake, but we came out of the weekend with a ton of race knowledge and a fitness bump that will carry us through the next eight weeks of training. Here are some key takeaways from our simulation:

  • Have a plan going into any training weekend or race. This means that you know beforehand what bike watts and/or heart rate you will aim to sustain during your ride, and what pace and HR you know you can hold for 26.2 miles on the run. Don’t experiment with going harder in the first half of either leg -- you’ll certainly pay for it later.

  • Bike pacing is key. It’s important to focus on having a smooth and sustainable bike pace if you want to run strong off the bike. This means that the first 56 miles should feel like a walk (or bike) in the park. The two loop course at IRONMAN Lake Placid is advantageous in this regard; when you come back into town for the first time, you want to feel fresh.

  • Nutrition can derail your race in a matter of minutes. On the bike, you should be drinking a few sips every 10 minutes and eating a few bites every 20 minutes. Fuel early and often on the bike because it’s easier to take in calories and carbs there than on the run. Also: if you don’t want to end up doubled over on the roadside and losing the contents of your stomach, always take gels with water!

  • You can be familiar with a course without being familiar with a distance. If you drive an IRONMAN course or bike or run parts of it, that’s good, but the bike and run are whole different animals on the second loop than on the first.

  • IRONMAN Lake Placid in particular is a challenging course. The bulk of the hills are in the second half of the bike loop. Most people lament the climbs from Wilmington back to Lake Placid -- the climb up Whiteface, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears -- but the truth is that the hills start as soon as you finish the descent into Keene. Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time in and out of aero, fighting your way home.

  • IRONMAN is a mental game. Your mind will go to some dark places, especially during the second half of the bike and run. Develop some strategies on hand that will help you get out of those dark places -- high five someone else on the course, repeat a mantra, think about all of the movies you like, force yourself to smile. Know what will help you boost morale and hit your mental second wind. Force yourself into these dark places by participating going long.

  • IRONMAN is hard! Just because a lot of people sign up for these races doesn’t make them easy. The reality is that most people do not properly train, and end up in survival mode from late in the bike or early in the run to the finish. To truly race an IRONMAN, you must be super fit and super tough -- well beyond what you thought you were capable of and what you thought was necessary.

  • Despite the challenge, IRONMAN is extremely rewarding. There is something very special about sweaty hugs, Strava caption brainstorming sessions, and burgers and ice cream to celebrate shared endurance accomplishments. Just think how great it will feel when you can share this feeling with the thousands of other racers and your entire support network on race day.

After a little bit of much-needed R&R, we’re excited to jump into another eight weeks of training this week. Our simulation weekend taught us that IRONMAN will be a challenge -- but we love challenges, and we’re confident that this is one we want to tackle head-on. Lake Placid, get ready, because the Endurance Drive is coming back to town. -Katie and Jim

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You can / you should: Ten endurance miscues and calibrations

1. You can (easily) sign up for an Ironman or an ultra run; you should consider your experience and time commitment to train for that distance.

2. You can add another interval; you should stick to the workout plan, finishing with energy.

3. You can increase weekly training time; you should follow your overall training arc.

4. You can run (considerably) faster; you should focus on aerobic efficiency in zone 2.

5. You can race faster in the first half; you should pace wisely and aim for negative splits.

6. You can produce higher power than IRONMAN watts; you should train at IRONMAN watts (and distance) as you get closer to your race.

7. You can swim five minutes faster in an IRONMAN; you should swim with ease and comfort considering that it’s a long day.

8. You can perform a long workout with minimum food and hydration; you should have and execute a personalized and best practices nutrition plan that will carry you through race day.

9. You can add workouts to your recovery or taper week; you should recover and adapt.

10. You can eat a pan of brownies post workout; you should eat your macronutrients (and a brownie).

We have many opportunities to “can,” but disciplined athletes know how to “should.” “Can” is the easy path, while “should” trends uphill. Which road will you choose? -Jim

***

Bonus calibrations from Coach Katie:

You can do all of your mid-run speedwork on downhills so it feels easier; you should incorporate race pace into flat and uphill terrain to better prepare for hilly races.

You can ignore a niggle during your workout and tell yourself that you’ll deal with it when the workout is done; you should back off when your body is telling you something is wrong.

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You Belong in a Tribe

Humans are pack animals. We have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to work together in tribes as a matter of survival. In the modern era, it’s common to live a mostly isolated life. We no longer rely on the people around us to help hunt and gather food, provide group safety, and enforce societal norms. But that doesn’t mean we never feel anxious or alone. If you’re missing a sense of community -- or you’re missing something that you can’t even identify -- consider joining a tribe.

If you’re an endurance athlete, you’re lucky. There are tribes everywhere. In our younger years, school sports teams and clubs form our first athletic tribes. Those groups take many shapes and sizes in life after college. A local Masters swim group or a weekly group ride are a type of tribe. Tribes can be informal, too -- the “crew” you meet up with for an early morning run on Tuesdays, or the group you can call when you’re hankering for an outdoor adventure. The point is, you need one. Considerations for why you belong in an athletic tribe:

  • Tribes provide a sense of belonging and purpose. They serve a common goal, foster accountability, and offer learning opportunities. Would you do those hill repeats in the cold rain if you hadn’t planned to meet your friends there? Probably not. Collective action gives us the courage to tackle and embrace hard physical activity.

  • Tribes help us connect to our primal roots. We need and thrive on physical proximity to others to escape our evolutionarily unnatural modern lifestyle. Exercising alongside our peers makes us dig deeper and work harder than we ever would alone. We need this communal activity to maximize our performance and optimize our health.

  • Tribes afford an environment that invites action. Ease of action facilitates habits that help us move forward toward our goals. The less we need to think about logistics and schedules, the less friction we will encounter on this road. If we know the tribe is training, all we need to do is show up.

  • Tribes are a top three performance enhancer (after sleep and nutrition). When endurance sports light up our brain, the tribe throws gasoline on that fire. There is nothing quite like a hard group run or ride to send our brains and bodies into a brilliant, fully alive state.

  • Tribes favor a close, communal connection where we are judged not by our externals such as the family we were born into, our education, or our societal status but rather the hard work and respect we bring to our sport and into the group. The best tribes are egalitarian in a modern, media-driven world of stratification and division. We are genetically encoded to protect and be fair within our tribe.

Be judicious about which tribe you join. Listen to their narratives and learn what type of tribe they are. Choose people who will positively challenge and elevate you. And if a tribe doesn’t exist in your community, build one. It takes time and effort, but the reward for uniting people with common goals outweighs all those emails, logistics, and meetings. Besides, a good leader always gives more than they take. Your leadership will be contagious and you will soon attract people who will happily help build the community.

You are needed. You are valued. You belong in a tribe.  -Jim

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Cold spring weather could be killing your summer “A” race

Cold spring weather got you down? Except for the skiers out there, most of us in New England and Canada have reached our cold limit. It’s not really “spring,” it’s “less winter.” And this awkward “less winter” season could be killing your summer “A” race. Despite the clickbait-like headline, cold spring weather is a legitimate concern.

From base to build

Most long distance triathletes (and ultrarunners) are now getting out for supporting rides during the week and long rides on the weekends. Big “A” races like IRONMAN Lake Placid are 10 weeks away, with IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant not that far behind. Athletes are now moving from their base period to their build period. A build period training strategy involves dialing in to what we call “race specificity.” In other words, you start to train as you will race.

The build period includes long training rides with race intervals where you work on race-specific intensities to train your aerobic and muscular endurance. But what you are also trying to train is your environmental durability. Environment durability can be thought of like this: go out on your lawn with a handful of Gatorade bottles and gels, hang out there for the day, and see how well you feel after 8+ hours in the sun. Then try to run your best marathon. If you work inside, especially in an air-conditioned office, your environmental durability most likely needs improvement. The most common comment after an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 is, “It was so hot out there!” Guess what? It’s hot out there nearly every day. You’re just not used to spending the entire day outside.

Humans are well-oiled machines. We adapt well and quickly to our environments. But when spring temperatures are cold, we lack that warm, challenging environment that we need to train our bodies to withstand the heat, stay properly hydrated, and manage thermoregulation (i.e., staying cool at race pace). Cold weather means less opportunities to gain the adaptations that are required for summer “A” races.

How do cold springs affect race day?

We had another cold spring a few years ago in New England. A few of The Endurance Drive crew were racing IRONMAN Syracuse 70.3 in mid-June. The weather stayed cool through the spring except for one very hot and humid day in May. I had 4 x 20’ race watt intervals scheduled. I did one interval and quit the workout. It was simply too hot and humid, and I had a total of zero days to acclimate to the conditions. The temperatures dropped again after that day and didn’t rise until the race.

As luck would have it, race day brought temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, and the humidity and pollen were through the roof. What happened? Most of us cratered on the run.  During the first mile, one of my friends quit the race. He was an overall win contender but the heat was just too much. I tried to run my goal 7:45 race pace but looked down at my watch after the first mile to see a 9:45 pace and a very high heart rate --  and I was going downhill! I only stayed in the race because I was fascinated with what type of carnage the extreme hot and humid environment would bring upon the racers. The entire run played out in slow motion.

Lessons learned

We were all in the same boat that day. Without an impromptu trip to Florida during race week, it would have been tough for athletes from the New England, New York, or Canada areas to prepare for that early summer heat and humidity. The point is, environmental durability matters a lot, and it can’t be properly trained on 40-50F temperature rides. No matter how fit you get (and big fitness is the best hedge against everything that can happen during a race), training for the heat is a major success factor in your “A” race.  

So what practical steps can you take to train for the heat when Mother Nature treats us to another mid-May snow storm?

  • You can head back to your pain cave, crank up the heat and enjoy more Zwift.

  • If you have an early southern “A” race and are coming from a cold environment, it’s ideal to have 2-3 race plans based on the environmental conditions (and other race day factors). Your Plan A could hinge on moderate weather. Having a Plan B and Plan C that are ready for less-than-ideal racing conditions can help you adjust your goals based on the environment.

  • Or you can wait it out; it will get hot and humid soon - I promise! (And then try to resist the urge of a true New Englander to complain about that, too!)  Don’t quit during those first few hot workouts, stay hydrated, and aim to get heat-adapted to do well at your summer “A” race. -Jim

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