Triathlon

Mr Klein's IM Lake Placid Race Report

Expectations and Pre-Race Thoughts

Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) had the distinction of being both my A-race and my first race of the season. After taking a year off from triathlon, I had been feeling anxious to get back into race mode. I was also excited to see the results of actually training for a triathlon. Coming off a collegiate swimming career, I had previously relied on endurance from distance training and natural fitness to get me through triathlons. This was my first time working with a coach, and I knew that my training over the last seven months was well thought out. I was ready.

The Plan 

  • Swim. Approximately 1:00 – 1:05 on the swim. Be aggressive, but do not expend any energy. If possible, find someone at a similar or slightly faster pace and draft off them to conserve energy. Keep the cable in sight. Use the swim to get the pre-race jitters out of the way.

  • Bike. Maintain a normalized power of 160-170 for the bike. Keep heart rate under 150 bpm, but ideally closer to 140 (or lower). Keep head position steady. Eat every 20 minutes, and drink at least every 10. 

  • Run. Cap HR at 155, but try to stay between 140-150. Do not blow out the energy in the first few miles – it’s a long race. Maintain hydration. Hope that the leg cramps decide not to show up today. 

  • Nutrition. I used Science in Sport (SiS) electrolyte powder, carbohydrate bars, and gels.

Swim

Although my goal swim was in the low 1:00 mark, I placed myself in the sub 1:00 group. IMLP’s swimmers have a reputation of seeding themselves faster than they will actually finish, and so I wanted to get ahead of any athletes who were a bit…overeager. Additionally, I wanted to get ahead of the mass pack which would no doubt involve a fair amount of aggression as swimmers would jockey for a spot on the cable. 

The first 1000 yards went off like any other open water swim. There was a fight for position during the first 500 yards as the lead bunch formed into a pace line. Rounding Turn 2 (~1000 yds), I made my only ‘mistake’ of the swim when I got too comfortable with the reduced need to spot and overshot the turn by about 20 yards. Not a big deal, but it was a fitting mistake considering that a sense of direction was never my strong suit. 

I was able to find a swimmer slightly faster than me to draft behind for the second 1000 yards. This was my strategy going into the swim, and I was able to stay on his feet for most of the straightaway. I was surprised by how many people were swimming off the cable – some by over 25 yards to the left. Yes, this would reduce the traffic they would encounter, but swimming away from the pack seemed unnecessary given that we were still on the first lap and had clear, open water in front of us. 

Lap 1: 29:14

The first half of the second loop went about as well as the second half of the first loop. Although I continued to draft off the guy ahead of me, we were caught by a chase pack which had engulfed the two of us by buoy 5 (~2900 yds). For context, the IMLP swim course is a rectangle with eight yellow buoys on the way away from the start, two red buoys to mark the turns at the other end of Mirror Lake, and eight orange buoys on the way back to shore.

By the time our group rounded Turn 2 and was on the homestretch, I encountered probably the hardest challenge of the swim: the slower age groupers. The open water quickly devolved from an organized pace line to an ‘every-man-for-yourself’ maelstrom. Sighting was required, but mainly to look out for other swimmers rather than check if we were on course. I had to figure out who was ahead of me, if there were gaps to shoot, and if it was easier to swim through or swim around the athletes ahead of me. As rushed as it may seem, that chaos is one of my favorite things about open water swimming – it requires more thinking and aggression than swimming in a pool. 

Before long, I saw an orange buoy with an “8” followed by a red buoy with a T3, meaning I had reached the end of the lap. I was feeling really strong, not out of breath, but strong. The race was on.

Lap 2: 30:14

Total Swim: 59:14. 1:00 goal complete.

Transition #1

The transition involves a long-ish run (at least a quarter mile) from Mirror Lake to transition. This was the first time I had ever used a wetsuit stripper (and the first time I had ever used a wetsuit), and so the process of being told to lie down on the ground as a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off my legs in one smooth motion was interesting, but efficient. I entered transition, grabbed my bike gear bag, and ran into the changing tent.

The volunteers were great, and I was fortunate to be in the changing tent with relatively few athletes (most were still in the water). While I was putting on my socks, shoes, and rubbing some chamois cream on my thighs, the volunteer was getting my glasses, helmet, and gloves ready to go. Transition times were significantly slower than every other triathlon I had previously done. What I thought was a really slow transition was actually 5th in my AG. Taking an extra minute or two in the changing tent doesn’t mean too much in a 10+ hour race.

Transition 1: 6:03

Bike

I read a sentence on a blog post somewhere which stuck with me throughout my longer training rides: “In Ironman, do the bike you should, not the bike you could.” I knew it was important to keep a consistent pedal stroke and monitor my power output, but I also wanted to ride a race I could be proud of. This meant that I would race to my plan: not an easy ride, but not an over-aggressive ride that would destroy my run.

The climbs out of Lake Placid are inconspicuously long, and I’m thankful that I came out in June to practice the course as I knew to take this section slow and smooth. I saw a few cyclists absolutely pounding the opening hills, and I remember thinking that they were insane – we still had 9 more hours of racing left!

The downhill screamer to Keene is one of my favorite parts of the course. I hit a new speed record for the year, and it was nice to have a section where I could bank some free miles. Then came the flats to Wilmington and soon, the severely underrated climb out of Wilmington. Again, some bikers were flying up the hill looking like they were cranking more watts than a professional cyclist on a hors catégorie mountain. Later, I saw several of them walking on the marathon…

Even on the long climb back to Lake Placid, I was feeling good – much better than I was expecting. My power was at my goal watts, my body was feeling fine, and I was hitting my nutrition. When I rode into Lake Placid, I looked down at my computer to mark the lap and saw a 2:54 – more than 20 minutes faster than my anticipated lap split (3:15). Rather than excitement, this actually caused a good deal of anxiety starting the next lap, and I worried I had killed the rest of my race by taking the first lap too aggressively. But I was still feeling strong, I was having fun, and the crowds were cheering me on through town. Riding down Mirror Lake Drive, I pounded my chest and yelled with the crowd, rejuvenated by the energy of the spectators lining the streets. I saw my parents, grandparents, and a friend from college who came up to watch me race, all recognizable by their matching blue shirts with a picture of me printed on the front. The anxiety quickly disappeared. 

Lap 1: 2:54

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

But sure enough, the problems started on the second lap. Earlier than in my training runs, my body started to reject the carbohydrate bars I was eating, and my electrolyte drink seemed less and less appealing with every sip. I started missing scheduled eating and drinking periods. On what began as a cloudy day, the sun started to break through the clouds, and brought with it rising temperatures on the exposed roads. 

Finally, on the climb passed Whiteface, I cracked. My quads cramped up several times, requiring me to pull over to the side of the road and try to massage them out. But worse than the cramps, massive headwinds, absent on the first lap, hampered any forward progress I was making when I would resume my rides. My two training partners, Matt and Katie, both passed me as I was trying to massage out a cramp, and, truth be told, I took relief in seeing familiar faces. Although I appreciated the “are you ok?’s” from concerned cyclists as they rode passed me parked on the side of the road, it was a little demoralizing recognizing that I still had to make it to Lake Placid in order to even start the run. 

After finally getting back on my bike, Mile 100 is where I hit my low point. I was well aware that mental toughness was necessary to finish this race strong, but I was not expecting to have my attitude tested so early in the day. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got to the top of the Northwood Road climb (the short, sneaky climb after the three bears) and enjoyed the coast to transition. Even with the pain, I still finished the lap ten minutes over my anticipated lap split. 

Despite all of the negative emotions mentioned in the previous three paragraphs, I was still having fun. In a sense, nothing was awry…yet. Ironman is a hard race, plain and simple. I knew I was going to struggle with the bike, and although it wasn’t perfect, I made it. Every problem I encountered, I anticipated and had a plan. Race day preparation is an undervalued benefit of having a coach, and as a result, panic mode never set in. Instead, I was ahead of schedule, I was faster than my training rides, and I was still feeling strong enough to run a marathon. Furthermore, I wasn’t hurting alone. Pictures may speak louder than words, but facial expressions in Ironman are an open book for describing how an athlete is feeling. Based on the emotionless faces and glassy, empty eyes, my pain was in good company.

Lap 2: 3:23

Total bike: 6:17. 6:30 goal complete

Transition #2

After crossing the dismount line and handing my bike off to a volunteer, I decided that the path to the changing tent was more deserving of a walk than a run. My legs were hurting, and all I could think about was getting out of my biking shoes. In the tent, I took off my helmet, swapped my socks and shoes, threw a bag of sodium gels in my pocket, quickly downed some fluids, and headed off on my run. Just like in Transition 1, I thought I was moving slowly in T2, but my time was actually above average for age groupers. 

Transition: 5:43

Run

Despite all of the pain I had felt during the last 20 miles of the bike and heading into transition, I actually felt great for the start of the run. I set my watch to focus solely on my heart rate. I used the opening downhills to lengthen my stride and stretch out my quads and calves. I was moving, and with my speed came energy – I was back to having fun! 

One aspect of the race I haven’t touched on too much yet is the crowds. I’ve never seen more support in a race than from the fans and volunteers in Lake Placid. Coming out of transition, I heard more cheers of “let’s go” and “come on, Chris” than in all of my previous races combined. It felt very personal, like they were cheering for me instead of the usual casual clap as spectators wait for their athlete(s) of focus. There were also the fans who tried to be more…unique. The spectator on the ski jump hill at Mile 2/9/15/22 who high-5’d everyone with Facebook foam fingers. The fraternity squad at Mile 1/10/14/23 who cheered for everyone while parading around in their underwear. The aisle of fans on Mirror Lake Drive who tried to motivate the nutrition-depleted runners as they “death marched” to the completion of their first lap. Their energy was contagious and set a new standard that I fear will never be matched by another race nor another crowd. 

But outside of Lake Placid and down Riverside Drive (Miles 3-9 and 16-22), spectators could not easily watch the race and the non-athletes were limited to the volunteers working at aid stations and the medical tent. The lack of cheering fans shouting encouragement diminished the environment to the sight of expressionless runners trying to get to the next aid station and the sounds of running shoes shuffling down the road. The course, on the other hand, was shaded and pretty with the road running adjacent to a small stream.

Early in the run, I was still feeling strong. I was holding around 8:45’s but my HR was starting to rise, still within the 150 range. Many athletes had started walking (my assumption being those who tried to overdo the bike), and truth be told, the number of runners I passed in those opening miles was encouraging. I linked up with another runner who was holding my pace and we chatted for the next 5 miles until the run turnaround when the exhaustion finally caught up to him and he resorted to the ‘death march.’ 

Chris_Klein_IM_Lake_Placid_Run

For me, the struggle began around Mile 8. My heart rate had started to creep into the 150s and low 160s, and even though I eased my pace to 9:30’s, I had a hard time getting my heart rate to come down. I spent the aid stations trying to get as many calories and fluids as I could into my system – water, Gatorade, bananas, chips and pretzels, more Gatorade, more water, ice to hold in my hands and mouth – but my irregular nutrition patterns on the bike had started to wear me down. Mile 9 was the ski jump hill climb, and after walking up the hill I found I couldn’t engage my feet to run again. I was stuck. Then came the cramps: calves, quads, hamstrings, even my groin. My state could best be described by my stop at special needs (Mile 12) when I had a seven-year old volunteer named Gio and his dad help me change my socks. The cramping in my legs was so bad that I couldn’t move/engage the small tendons and muscles without my body wrenching in agony. One of my favorite pictures taken at Lake Placid was on the run where it looks like I’m laughing and shrugging my shoulders. In reality, my dad had yelled to me, “You’re almost there!”, to which I responded, “Dad, what are you talking about? I’m shuffling like a tap dancer, and I still have a half marathon to go!”

Lap 1: 2:07

The only aspect of the race for which I did not prepare was the amount of GI distress that I would encounter, and I do not think I could have prepared for that type of pain. From the start of the second lap, I felt sick, and I knew that throwing up would only deplete me of the electrolytes my body had yet to process and desperately needed. At Mile 14, I found Coach Jim on the course and even asked him if I should throw up – he advised against it. After 9.5 hours of work, my body was fighting back, and I was about to head back out to the isolation of Riverside Drive. 

As it turns out, a bathroom break was really what I needed at the time, and when I came out of a porta potty at Mile 15, I saw Matt about 50 feet ahead of me looking like he was in a very similar condition as I was. We made a pact to finish the race together, and our pacing switched to three minutes of running/jogging/shuffling followed by one minute of walking. Between the GI distress and the ever-present leg cramps, the hurt was real. We both knew the key to finishing was to keep moving, even if it meant a slow walk. Looking around us, the ‘death march’ present on the first lap had evolved to a ‘death march of zombies,’ but the three minutes of running/consistent movement and the mental relief of running with a training partner gave me the strength to keep going. Around Mile 21, Matt and I were joined by Julie Smith, another Upper Valley triathlete, and the motivation and positive encouragement present in the Upper Valley progressed the time, both physically and mentally.

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

As we climbed back into Lake Placid, the crowds brought us to the finish line. Spectators lined Main Street and Mirror Lake Drive, and the high-5’s and screaming fans were moving. My legs were starting to give out from the cramping, and Matt waited for me to briefly massage them out while Julie finished her own race. From the final aid station, Matt and I decided to make one final, consistent run to the finish line. 

As we entered the Olympic speed skating oval, my emotions kicked in and I started tearing up. Every step brought back a memory from this year’s training, from my initial struggles with a six-mile treadmill run to my first bike over two hours. Unfortunately, I do not remember Mike Reilly saying my name as I approached the finish line – I was too busy taking in my surroundings. Matt and I put and arm around each other and crossed the line. We gave each other a hug. A volunteer put the medal around my neck. I bent down and allowed some tears to fall. The hardest race I had ever done was over. I found Katie, and she, Matt, and I took a group picture. My friend from college helped me out of the oval and up a hill to where some spectators had camped out, and I promptly fell into Jim’s arms in a half-hug/half-collapse. He kept repeating in my ear, “You are an Ironman, buddy.” After 45 minutes, I hobbled into the medical and massage tents to receive some much-needed care on my legs. 

Lap 2: 2:52

Total Run: 4:59

Final Time: 12:39:44

Closing Thoughts

I allowed myself a week before attempting any sort of workout. After seven months on the grind, my body deserved a break. 

Although I was hurting during the final part of the bike and most of the run, I do not regret many of my in-race decisions. Could I have eased off the power on the flats during lap one of the bike? Maybe. But then maybe I would have been hit with more of the headwinds. Should I have taken the opening miles of the runs easier? Probably. But my heart rate was in my target range. I finished in a competitive time, and I am proud of my accomplishment. I’m also proud to have finished the Lake Placid course for my first Ironman – those hills are no joke! 

Now we know how to adjust the training if I were to race IMLP again. The majority of the training this year was spent building a fitness base. Now, the base is there, and I will improve my stability and power on the bike, and to add in some appropriate IM pace work on the run.

My next race, SwimRun Casco Bay, is soon, only two weeks after Lake Placid. I’m excited to incorporate some speed in place of aerobic work, and race in an event which combines my two stronger legs of a triathlon. Plus, a 13-mile race is much shorter than an Ironman. After that, Lake George Olympic, so the distances only decrease from here!

I couldn’t have finished this race if it wasn’t for the Endurance Drive tribe, and so a massive thank you goes out to Coach Jim & Endurance Drive teammates Matt & Katie. 

Keep on driving  – Chris Klein

Chris finished SwimRun Casco Bay with an overall second place finish in the solo division. Great work, Chris! 

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

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

Strong Athlete

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

White Mtn Triathlon race report

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

Triathlon cycling training

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

Hawaii_Pool_Life_Stress_Score

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

Ironman_stop_light_lake_placid

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.

stop_trail_sign_10_endurance_calibrations

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

Endurance Drive Triathlon Tribe Run

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

Cool Spring riding claudia katie bruno blog pic

Injured. Now What?

We try to prevent injuries, but getting hurt is often an unavoidable part of the fitness game. If you’ve pulled, sprained, broken, or overused a body part, now what? How will you react?

Your initial reaction might be to experience some or all of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There will be plenty of denial and anger to kick start your time on the injured roster. You might bargain with yourself, thinking about what you could have done differently. Some degree of depression can follow, especially if you’ll be out for a long time. While injured it does feel like all your friends are out on a long ride, laughing it up and building a huge fitness gap between you and them. Watching your friends disappear for an adventure turns the stomach like a bad breakup. If you are like most Type A athletes, accepting that you are injured won’t be easy.

The important thing to remember is that most athletes will go through one (or several) major injuries throughout their athletic journey. I recently did too, and once I finally was able to accept being injured, I learned a lot of important lessons.

  1. Fitness does not define you as a person. It may seem that way as athletics and identity are often tightly wound. But no amount of mileage in TrainingPeaks determines who you are.

  2. Race results do not define your self worth. Sure, it’s super fun to do well at a race and gain recognition in front of your peer group. But that moment of glory passes quickly and then you are back to being you. Hopefully, that “you” has a purpose-filled personal and professional life. You’re better off, injured or not, when you remind your ego to stand down.

  3. An injury provides an opportunity to step back and evaluate your larger athletic and life goals. When athletes are deep in training, they rarely take the time, or have the head space, to zoom out and look at their sport and life arcs. When you’re injured, you do. Ask yourself: Are my race goals still in alignment with my life, or do I need to re-adjust my training when I’m healthy? Is the effort I’m putting into training commensurate with the enjoyment I’m getting out of the sport? Am I still keeping the “recreation” in “recreational athlete”? As Chris Hauth always says, we’ve all gone pro in something else besides athletics.

  4. Conversely, if you are not injured currently but have a training partner who is, regularly check in. Let them know they are, regardless of their athletic status, a valued member of your tribe. The bonds and love we build with our athletic tribe go well beyond the next training session or race.  

Here’s to an injury free season. If not, you’ll be OK. You might even come out the other side changed for the better.    -Jim

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.