cycling

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

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

Race local (and often) to improve your race skills


Your first loaf of bread is never your best loaf of bread. As you try different combinations of ingredients, knead the dough in different ways, and perfect your baking technique, your loaves improve. Racing is the same; your first race is never your best race. You get better with every race until you are working on the smallest of improvements. You move from completing the race to tasting the most subtle flavors.

Most triathletes don’t race quite enough to improve their “race skill” level. They set a big goal, such as a half (70.3) or full distance IRONMAN, and then aim toward that goal for months or years with lots and lots of training but not much racing. They hit performance plateaus, and since they spend so much time swimming, biking, and running, they aren’t sure what’s missing. Sound like you? Then consider revising your long term “A” race plan to include a number of “C” local races along the way to perfect your racing skills.

A “C” race may be a local 5K, a weekly community trail running series, or even a very fast and challenging weekly group ride. Part of the goal is to automate your race day routines and stressors so when your big race day arrives, you can prepare and race with ease, knowledge, and practiced competence. Lining up at the start line for a local race and your out-of-town big “A” race should actually look pretty similar. They both require prepping the night before, managing race morning jitters, a pre-race breakfast, the nerves at race check in (and all the urgent trips to the port-a-potty). They demand a proper warm up, a race plan, and an execution of that plan along with head-to-head competition. Your local race provides a microcosm of your larger race.

The lessons you learn racing these events will build the foundation for your “A” race racing skills -- both consciously and unconsciously. For example, late in a local 10K run race, you might be tailing an equal or slightly faster runner and you see their shoulders drop just a bit. There’s your moment to make your move! Or you work on pacing and impulse control early in a group ride and finish strong instead of blowing up. Even if your race goes poorly, you will learn something that you can improve upon the next time you line up at the starting line. When you finally toe the line at your “A” race, you know what to do.

Should you race every weekend? No. But work in enough smaller, local races to build up your racing skills and resume. Plan out your local races to support your “A” race goals, to leave plenty of time to recover, and to not interrupt your main “A” race training. In the last 12 weeks before your “A” race, focus on training over racing, but there are still lots of weeks left over to race locally and build race skills -- especially during the off season (which is to say, run the Turkey Trot and the Jingle Bell Jog).

So get baking and racing! Those perfect loaves and races are developed on a deep foundation of practice, knowledge, and skill. -Jim


Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.

Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.

Cold weather riding gear & tips for triathletes & cyclists

You’ve been on your trainer all winter and you’re just dying to get out as the salt washes off the roads and the ice turns to mud.  There’s only so much Zwift an athlete can handle! Northern triathletes and cyclists ride four to eight weeks in the spring and fall in temps ranging from 30F (0C) to 50F (10C). And there’s often rain, sleet and snow thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. But fear not! There is no bad weather, just bad gear. Go prepared, and you’ll enjoy your ride! Go unprepared, and both you and your riding pals with suffer misery.

Here are some of our favorites for cold weather riding gear by body part and some general tips for staying warm:

Legs:  A key to riding in the cold is keeping your legs, and particularly your knees, warm. Pros won’t ride with their knees uncovered until temps are over 55F (12C). Follow their lead and cover up. Your knees have zero cold protection. As such, any combination of the following will do:

  • Tights or long bike bib tights. Your regular bike kit with run tights over or under them will work.  If your budget allows, purchase bib tights. You’ll use them 8-10 weeks of the year. Any brand will do. We love our Castelli and Assos bib tights.

  • Leg warmers, which are more versatile than tights but not as warm.

  • Knee warmers. When the temps are hovering in the 50s, these will be sufficient.  Start with them on a cool morning and shed them as the temps hit the upper 50s and above.

Upper body: Nearly all spring/fall conditions require a long-sleeved base layer and decent bike jacket. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but think wool or synthetic warm base layer and a breathable jacket on top. If the temps are really cool, a vest underneath the jacket is a warm addition and can be shed later (or lent to a friend who didn’t bring the proper layers). There’s no need to buy a specific bike base layer, because you probably have a running or hiking layer that will do. A breathable cycling jacket with back pockets will be useful for 8-10 weeks of the year.

Arms:  You can put on arm warmers, like leg warmers, at the start of a cool ride and shed them as the day warms. You will find them useful even in the summer for early morning starts or later afternoon finishes. This is a piece of gear you can use for 4-6 months of the year. Nearly any brand will do.

Feet: Here is where you go full pro. Protect your feet and your ride will be blissful even in the coldest temperatures! And conversely, there’s nothing like cold feet to ruin you ride. Don’t skimp on shoe covers; get the kind that fully cover your shoes and ankles. Toe covers are worthless. Castelli makes a bunch of warm shoe covers with neoprene. Neoprene will also keep your feet warm on rainy days.

Pro tip: Get ski shoe covers for riding on very cold days like these from Yoko. Yoko Boot Cover

Hands: Don’t skimp, get warm gloves. You’ll rarely regret warm gloves. Like cold toes, cold fingers can make a ride really unpleasant. When in doubt for buying gloves, buy the warmer pair.  

Pro tip: Get a pair of Kinco leather insulated gloves - warm and very economical.

Ears / Head: A hat and/or headband is crucial. Nearly anything will do, but make sure your helmet fits over the top of it. Again, look at what you already have for running and hiking and you will probably have something that works.  If you don’t have a hat that fits under your helmet, a headband will cover 99% of the requirement.

Pro tip: A neck gaiter will keep your neck and face warm. You can pull it over the top of your helmet for extra warmth or put around your ears if you forget your hat or headband. It’s worth always having one in your bike bag.

Bike bag:  Any big bag will do. Put all of the above in your bike bag. Staying organized is key. When you go for a ride, it will all be one place. A big bag provides no excuses and centralization.  And more than 50% of the time, you’ll hand out gear to your riding pals who weren’t as squared away as you. Be a cold weather riding hero!

Also… don’t forget to drink and eat regularly! Your sense of thirst isn’t as strong during cold rides, but you are still dehydrating as you go. Drink and eat like you would on hot rides. You won’t stay warm if you become dehydrated and hungry (and you’ll ride like junk).

Have questions about cold weather riding?  Contact Us!

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