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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

The New Year

The new year.  Here it is.

And right on cue, my social media feed is filled with everyone’s intention to cleanse, detox, juice fast, low carb, no carb, elimination, announcing a Facebook sabbatical or some other bizarre form of restriction that – let’s face it –  lasts about a week before our willpower becomes completely exhausted from resisting the dozens of urges we get throughout the day.

It strikes me as odd to start the new year this way.  By design, we set ourselves up for failure.  Think about it – when you take something away whether it’s sugar, carbs or alcohol, it seems a strange way to treat yourself.  It implies you’re not to be trusted, you’ve been bad, you don’t deserve said thing.

It reminds me of the other day when I told my 6 year old and 2 year old to share the iPad.  I know, sometimes I dream big as a parent.  What seemed simple enough soon escalated into a ferocious tug of war that abruptly resolved when I said:

NOW I’M TAKING IT AWAY!

Think about your new year resolution or whatever journey you’ve embarked upon January 1st.  Does it involve taking something away?  What does that say about yourself?  Are you not to be trusted?  Did you do a bad thing?  Is _____ really the enemy?

More importantly, does this extreme effort at eliminating things we think are bad actually work?  In The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal describes how dieters who try to suppress thoughts about food actually have the least control around food, experience more intense cravings and are more likely to binge eat. Not surprisingly what you think will be most effective (outlawing certain foods or food groups), is the most ineffective.  Restricting a food actually increases your craving.  The more you try to avoid a food, the more you become preoccupied with it.

What to do?  McGonigal suggests that instead of saying “I won’t” – what about saying “I will”?

As we enter the new year, I thought to myself – what if instead of making a list of the foods we’ll avoid or the things we’ll stop doing (drinking, staying up late, wasting time on social media), we make a list of the things we will do? Asking ourselves: what will I add?

Imagine the possibilities:  What if you added 15 minutes of sleep every night?  One more serving of vegetables each day?  Read a book for 10 minutes.  Wrote a thank you note once a week.  Started each day with 5 minutes of meditation.  Wrote down 3 things you were grateful for.  Took a 10 minute walk in nature.

This list seems kinder, more motivating than a list of things we’re going to take away.  No sugar!  No wine!  No Facebook!  Yikes!  When you make a list of things you can do it seems to say I care about you so much that I want to add value versus I’m taking this away because you don’t deserve it, you’ve been bad.

I’ll unashamedly admit that I have no intention of giving up wine, pizza, sugar, high end beer, overrunning my easy runs, lane line pulling for backstroke, fins, paddles, replacing my power meter battery every time my power reads low, getting my news from Twitter moments, texting my friends ridiculous cat memes when I should be reading The Economist, going to Walgreens for a prescription — > leaving with a chocolate caramel-filled Santa, paying $2.44 every morning for a cup of coffee I very well could make at home – I could go on but it’s not necessary.  If these are my “bad” things and “failures” so be it.  I’ll own them and the consequences.  Rather than plotting how I’m going to get rid of them, I’ll manage them with realistic moderation and look for value to add:  enjoying good foods, cultivating meaningful relationships, talking kindly to myself.  Maybe by focusing on putting more good things into life, we’ll feel so satisfied that those “bad” things lose their power, meaning and attraction.

More green beans, less room for chocolate covered caramel Santas, right?

I’ve got a year to find out.

What will you do this year?  What will you say yes to?  What will you add?

Stay The Path

I want to be fit.

I know I don’t need to be fit.

I want to be fit.  And I want that fitness NOW.

I know I just had a baby 5 months ago.

I know that I’m 41 years old.

I know that my big races are still many, many months away.

I know that I should be patient.  Stay focused on the process.  Not measure my progress day to day.

As a coach, I know all of that.  But as an athlete, I want fitness.  Not in a few months.  Not tomorrow.  Today.  Too late – YESTERDAY on that run where I was shuffling along at x:xx pace.  Again.

Some days, my two year old daughter walks around the house shouting: I NEED SOMETHING!  She frantically searches around for something, anything, that thing which will satiate whatever random, impatient need she has.  She grabs a toy piano.  A dry erase marker.  A baggie.  Clutching the item to soothe her anxiety about whatever it is two years olds get anxious about.  Like most of us, she needs things for security.

Right now, I need something.  I need my fitness.  But like my daughter doesn’t need a baggie, I don’t need fitness.  However, I might just feel better if I walk around with a baggie.  Just in case.  Just in case my fitness runs by and I need to hold on to it should it try to escape me.

The other day, I was out running.  The weather was perfect for faster running.  High 30s.  Overcast.  First workout of the day.  I found myself running along slowly.  Thinking to myself: honest to god, how can I still be THIS slow?  Did it take this long last time around.  I check Training Peaks.  Comparison is the quickest route to frustration.  You’ll never be as fast, good, effortless as you were in your memory.

(so why do you obsess about it?)

I kept running.  And got to thinking.

What if I were fit right now?  What the heck would I do with that fitness?  Lay it all out here on this path for who to see?  How would that fitness feel?  Amazing, yes but I’d feel over-confident, dare I even say invincible.  I’d win training.  Worse yet: I’d get complacent, perhaps stop working or managing my details.  Do I really need any of that?  What’s the hurry towards fitness anyways?

Sometimes Coach Liz talks to Athlete Liz.  She looks in the mirror.  Fedofsky (I talk myself in the maiden-named version of myself & use a voice a-la Jen Harrison), get a hold of yourself, you don’t need to be fast.  Stop chasing your fitness.  Let it come to you.

The problem with starting over again this little word:  comparison.  It’s poison to the process.  I find myself comparing where I am now to where I was last time around.  Am I ahead?  Behind?  A few days ago, I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast in which he talked with his own coach, Chris Hauth.  Rich was embarking on his own journey to compete again after some time away.  Hauth in his slow-roasted, calming voice reminded Roll as he started out on his new journey to avoid chasing the former version of himself.

Spectacular advice for anyone come back from injury, baby or simply moving forward in life (you know, aging).

Having done the sport since 1999, there are many former versions of myself: new athlete Liz, twentysomething Liz, thirtysomething Liz, pro triathlete Liz, child-free Liz, one child Liz, etc.  Each of those segments of my life had many magical athletic moments.  I realize, too, that I left some of my best memories and best splits in my early 30s.  I realize I may never touch some of my PRs again.

What keeps the fire burning, then?  I think about this every day.  As I sit faced with the choice of getting on my bike or taking an afternoon nap with the kids (a temptation that can often be very real, friends), I have to look inside and ask myself – why bike?  Why run?  Especially when I find myself pedaling at lower watts, running at slower paces.  Can I find the process of putting in the miles and building fitness as rewarding as the outcome?  Even if that outcome doesn’t get close to the outcomes before?

Often I just need to set myself in motion.  Getting started is the hardest part.  But once in motion, you tend to stay that way.  The feeling of swimming, biking and running is – for the most part – the same.  I let my mind wander to those brief, fleeting times each year when you’re find yourself with amazing fitness.  I remember a few year ago, towards the end of the summer, swimming laps at the quarry and feeling magical.  That feeling where everything is effortless and comes easily.  Telling myself bottle this feeling up because you know it’s fleeting.  I work all year for that feeling.  It feels that good.  That powerful.

A few days ago, a Training Peaks notification can into my inbox.  An athlete had completed her run workout.  Uploaded her data and filled in her post-activity comments:

I’m waiting for the day when I will unhitch my wagon.

I told her to be patient.  To trust that when she needs to the fitness, it will be there.  I could have written the email to myself.  I’m also waiting.

Fitness will come when you need it.  Often not a day sooner.  It will sneak up on you, be that competitor running right on your shoulder, breathing.  Matching your steps.  Enticing you to take it up a notch and trusting you can handle it.

The road to get to that point is a long one.  And it’s not a straight path.  There will be ups and downs, detours and dead ends.  But give it time.  It won’t be easy.  It will be worth it.  And, perhaps my favorite piece of advice ever – one that grounds me in life, work and sport daily:  stay the path.

 

 

 

 

 

November 2016 Featured Athlete

Multisport Mastery is pleased to announce the November 2016 Featured Athlete:

Meredith Gordon img_0311 

We caught up with Meredith after she set a new PR at a 4 miler race on Thanksgiving.

What do you enjoy most about working with a coach?

I love that I don’t have to think.  I don’t have to design my workouts and my approaches to races.  I don’t have to figure out what paces I should be running for different races and workouts.  I love having someone to be accountable to.  I like to think of Liz as my own personal cheerleader who is always in the back of my head telling me to get my ass moving and to suck it up buttercup.  I have been working with Liz since 2008 and cannot imagine working with anyone else.  She understands my injuries, my time commitments, my goals and desires, etc.  I cannot recommend her enough.

You recently committed to making a change with your daily approach to eating – tell us about that?  What have you changed?  How has it changed you and your running?

I have been pretty lucky – running pretty fast because of my size and ability.  But I am getting older and quickly approaching the time when PRs may never be possible again.  Before that happens I want to see how good I can get.  The missing piece of the puzzle has been my nutrition.  Honestly, I know nothing about good nutrition.  And I certainly don’t know what good nutrition is for an athlete.  I grew up on fast food; I crave sugar!  And after working with Liz for years I thought it was time to ask for help.  I logged my foods for her and she started setting weekly goals for me.  We started with breakfast.  We fixed it to include healthy options that would provide me with energy and sustain me until lunch.  This has been the easiest fix for me.  And it’s worked.  I usually feel great throughout the morning.  Next we cut out sugary drinks.  I struggle with this one the most.  I’ve replaced sugary drinks with sparkling water and Nuun.  Then it was time to add in some vegetables.  We have also made sure to include adequate protein.  And now we’re working on my sugar intake.  I have only been following this plan since the middle of October and I’ve already seen changes.  Firstly, I’m not as hungry.  I’m getting better sleep.  My body looks leaner and more muscular.  And I set a HUGE PR (80 seconds!) at a four mile race last week.  So far, so good.img_0312

How has becoming a mom changed your approach to running (Meredith has an adorable 3-year old son, Anderson)? 

Becoming a mom changed my running drastically.  It’s not been so much about time management as much as it is about my mindset.  I used to be super competitive – with others and with myself.  If I didn’t accomplish a goal I was devastated.  When I did not finish Ironman twice I was completely messed up.  My whole world was shattered.  I had failed.  But now, there’s a cute little boy who tells me to “be brave mommy” and cheers me on with his cowbell.  Seeing his face at my races puts into perspective the real things in life.  Yes I want to race fast and win, but at the end of the day I’m mom and that’s more important.

What have been your accomplishments this year?

Overall female winner at a local quarter marathon (6.55 miles)

New PRs in 10K and 4 miler

Top 20 at the aquathlon world championship

What are your 2017 goals?

I want to dream bigger in 2017.  I’ve always considered myself locally competitive, small race competitive.  I usually place in my age group and sometimes get lucky and place overall.  I would like to take it to the next level.  I want to get on the podium of a big race.  I also want to qualify for Boston 2018 and the 2018 aquathlon world championships.

You’ve been a long time runner – what keeps the fire burning?

This is an excellent question and one that’s hard for me to answer.  Honestly, I struggle with motivation almost on a daily basis.  I guess I just want to see how good I can get.  I am quickly approaching the magically age of 40 where, for a runner, things star

img_0313

t to go downhill.  I want to see how fast I can be before I can no longer be fast.

Anything else we need to know?

I have a goal to run a race (doesn’t matter distance or type) in all 50 states plus DC.  Right now I have 21 and hope to pick up a few more in 2017.

From Coach Liz –

Meredith has been one of my long-time athletes.  She’s always been a good solider and hard worker but this year she really bought into the dream of how good can I get?  She’s tried new approaches with her run training (including using technology more consistently & slowing down on those easy runs), overhauled her nutrition and dug in a little deeper in many ways.  This being our 9th season together, it’s a fun challenge for me, as a coach, to find new ways to elevate Meredith’s performance.  To, the missing link seemed to be her nutrition.  We’ve found a way to make changes that has worked for the both of us and in a short time, we’re both pleased with the progress.  Meredith, I’m looking forward to guiding you towards your 2017 goals.  Let’s do this!

 

 

 

Learning at the OTC

This past week, I spent 4 days at USA Triathlon’s Endurance Coach certification program in Colorado Springs.  I wanted to share some of the highlights of my experience.

usoc

Like you, when I hear “Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs” I imagine a state of the art training facility nestled into the majestic Rockies.  Instead, you drive by what from the outside looks like a gated compound amidst a busy urban intersection of auto parts stores, Taco Bells and gas stations.

Scenic it is not!

But look closer and you see the Olympic rings adorning multiple buildings that house Wrestling.  Weightlifting, The swimming hall.  The shooting center.  Walkways lined with flags.  Pictures of past medalists.  Motivational quotes.  It’s hard to walk through the OTC without feeling inspired.

Day one started with a talk by Alicia, one of the USOC sports dieticians.  Alicia’s message was simple and evidence-based.  In her words, always go back to the basics.  Start by thinking about the function of food (energy, recovery, repair, growth, thermoregulation, reproduction).  Then, think about using fuel for optimal performance by way of proper energy availability, hydration, supporting energy metabolism, improving muscle strength, maintaining bone density, supporting immune system integrity.  When it comes to teaching athletes, she said it’s best to use visuals – not numbers.  Telling an athlete to eat a serving a protein is less effective then showing them.

hard-training-race-day-plate

Alicia talked about the role of glycogen and how in endurance sports, glycogen is the limiting factor.  In discussing carbohydrates, she stated they are the most efficient form of energy.  And if your performance goal is not performance, limit carbohydrate (read that again, folks).  She emphasized the importance of restocking glycogen in the recovery window.  As for recovery nutrition, she prefers real food to get in 20g of protein plus 1 gram of carbohydrate for every 1 kg of body weight.  Being endurance athletes with multiple workouts a day, she stated the importance of recovering after every workout to promote better eating overall.  She also defined the recovery window as “ASAP” versus the traditional 30 minute post-workout (in her words, if you tell an athlete they have 30 minutes, they will wait 30 minutes and then eat).

Alicia then talked about supplements.  The first thing she asks with a supplement:  is it safe?  Remember, the FDA does not regulate supplements.  If it works, there’s plenty of research about it and behind it.  But rather than use supplements, she reiterated the importance of eating well.  In her view, you need to earn the right to use supplements; performance enhancement starts with a proper diet.

Alicia reviewed proper hydration – how most athletes are dehydrated and do not realize its impact.  With as little as 2% loss, performance will be compromised.  Hydration is critical for delivery and recovery (by way of excretion).  She gave us her secret tip for how to improve athlete hydration.  Let’s just say I’m excited to launch my own trial with the 2017 Ironman Wisconsin Training Program at Well-Fit!

Next up was Bobby McGee’s presentation on run training and pacing in long course.  Bobby is the run advisor to many Olympians (including Gwen!).  His presentations are always full of interesting information as well as nuggets from his own experience.

  • The run is a very internal conversation. You cannot compare or look at others around you.
  • Many doing long course will disconnect how they feel and what they need to do.
  • Most athletes will be either centrally (engine) limited or peripherally (form) limited.
  • No one negative splits a marathon; go out at an even pace.
  • You need to train how to fast walk; many cramp while walking in an IM because they are not prepared.
  • Look at your fatigue index (how much do you slow down when doubling the distance; elites typically slow down by 3% – ie., double their 5K time & compare to actual 10K time, it will be < 3%).
  • Most women are power limited. Most men are heat management & energy limited.
  • Power is critical for long course racing (not just endurance).
  • Training goal is to make the cardiovascular system efficient but also must be able to resist fatigue & prepare fascia of the legs to withstand stress.
  • If someone is “engine”-limited; work a variety of paces.
  • If someone is “form”-limited; work at a slower pace to prepare the connective tissue.
  • Our relationship with food/fuel during a race changes how it acts in the body (research supports this)
  • Pros are obsessed with going fast. Age groupers are obsessed with how they look.  (think about that!)
  • Better to overdo your taper than underdo it.
  • When selecting pace capability, remember: expectation vs reality
  • Know your open run abilities & how fast you CAN run by doing open run races (5K, 10K, 10 miler, ½ mary)
  • At 65 degrees, climactic influences on pace are significant.
  • Don’t base goals on your “mythical or once former self.”
  • Quality run training is still important in long course racing (pertains to placement of long run & type of running you’ll do).
  • If you want to improve your run, you cannot always run fatigued, you must run fresh.
  • Learn to adapt proactively to conditions (look at weather forecast & be brave enough to say “today is not a PR day”).
  • Most run injuries are caused by biking (make sure you have a proper fit, shoe, pedal system & cleat placement).

Later in the afternoon, we heard from one of the USOC sports psychologists, Peter Haberl.  This one really connected with me (and reminded me of many of the principles put forth by Garret Kramer in one of my favorite books, Stillpower).  Having heard Haberl before, his talks are filled with powerful and supporting quotes from athletes.  In this talk, Haberl dug into Bradley Wiggins mindset leading up to the individual pursuit, sprinkling in plenty of quotes from Wiggins’ book.

wiggins

Here are some points that he shared:

To get to that next level or to master your performance in sport, it all starts in ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness can be practiced every time you swim, bike & run.

Many athletes have ideas on how they want to feel & don’t want to feel at their goal event. What they don’t realize is that the best athletes, the Olympic gold medalists have the same self-doubts & negative feelings as the rest of us.

The difference is they don’t let these thoughts influence their performance. They don’t chase a feeling of being calm, cool & collected – that feeling doesn’t exist for most athletes.

Remember, you cannot control your thoughts and feelings.  And, in turn, your thoughts and feelings do not have the power to control you.  This is critical for learning to perform well at long course racing where you often subject to yourself, your thoughts and your feelings for up to 17 hours!

He talked about ‘psychological flexibility’ or the ability to put your attention to the task at hand or ‘being present.’ Attention is the currency of performance, not thinking. We all have thoughts that float in & out of our head. Some are negative, some are positive – neither matter. What matters is your ability to bring back your attention to something that matters. What matters? The moment.

Think about your best race and your worst race. Ask yourself about your worst race, “was I focused on appropriate points of attention or did I get lost in the story of my head?

The best athletes can to return to their anchor points of attention. They don’t waste energy battling their own thoughts. They bring their attention back to where it matters. It’s the ability to say “can I put my mind where it needs to be.” Coming back to an anchor point that you can control. You CANNOT control thoughts or feelings. You can control attention, on being present, on being open to the right here, right now.

On the third day, we went to the Sports Science lab housed inside of the beautiful strength and conditioning facility – compete with an indoor track, a few sprinting lanes, an incline walk, weights, machines, ropes, ladders – wow!  The lab itself was even more impressive.  Imagine a room for your workouts where you could change the temperature, elevation and humidity?

One of the USOC’s sports physiologists took us into the lab to talk about testing.  She talked us through the different tests used but emphasized this point – at some point, the workouts become testing.  Most of the athletes only test in the lab every 6 months.  Beyond that, their workouts and races become the tests.  Another important point that she made was that the more elite or experienced you are, the less your FTP is likely to change.  This goes along with something I often have to remind athletes about progress is not always linear nor infinite!  She described how many of the top elites don’t improve their FTP.  Instead, they improve their ability to hold it longer.  She also walked us through how to interpret an athlete’s workout or season based on some of the charts available.  For example, looking at a mean max power curve over the course of the season – what can it tell us?  How can we used things such as kilojoules burned to design workouts that meet race demands or improve our ability to run?

Later that day, Kris Swarthout presented on the swimming, strength training and, my favorite one, the business of coaching.  There were 11 other coaches taking the course.  And since I was first certified (Level I back in 2007!), the field of coaching has changed.  Now when I look around the room, I see a much more diverse mix of ages and abilities.  Each coach had a business but how they ran their business and their target audience was entirely different.  One worked mostly with a corporate wellness triathlon program.  Another had a fierce slogan for their athletes – do your job!  Another was a pro triathlete with his own coaching business.  A young guy.  A woman who had been on the podium at Kona.  A dietician to celebrities.  There were coaches who set their athlete limit at 15 athletes per season, some at 40, some at 90 and one coach who billed 180 athletes each season!  What was clear was that each had their niche.  And this is important to note.  To become successful at coaching, you have to be yourself!  Don’t aspire to be like another coach or take on someone else’s business model.  If you don’t like working with beginners, it’s not your niche, it doesn’t have to be.  If you aren’t a fluffy cheerleader, don’t worry!  Be YOU.  People who will work well with you, will come to you.  Those who won’t will move on to one of the 200+ Level II coaches out there (and one of the – yikes – 1000+ Level I coaches).

In between the spaces of classroom learning and lectures was where the real value was found in these experiences – the informal conversations, connections and observations.  In one evening, I had the opportunity to formally meet and talk with an athlete who I have “known” in the sport for years – Blake Becker.  Like myself, Blake has been around triathlon a long time!  He’s also competed at the pro level for many years.  He willingly let me ‘pick his brain’ on his experiences in working with Brett Sutton, Cliff English, Bobby McGee, Siri Lindley, Gordo Byrn.  As many of us know, the “what” that all of us coaches is doing is not much different.  It’s the “how” we do it that sets us apart.  For some athletes, our “how” (whether our psychological how, physiological how or a combination of both) clicks with them and delivers them to that next performance level.  Our conversation reinforced what I’ve felt for a long time – our best resource is learning from and reaching out to each other.

One my final evening at the OTC, I was running around the indoor track, simply watching.  What struck me first was the different body types.  A huskier young woman walking the treadmill at an incline.  Another woman who appeared half my size squatting at the rack.  The skinny guy on his wind trainer in the corner of the track spinning out sprints.  Weightlifters, boxers, judo athletes, fencers – pushing plates, doing bands, foam rolling.  Here it was almost 7 pm in the evening.  All day these athletes had been doing just this – being athletes.  That was their job.  They were simply doing it.  And they were still doing it this late into the evening.

cycling-quote

Remember a few months ago – that little race called the Olympics?  Shouldn’t they be on some sort of mandated break eating ice cream and watching bad movies?  Off seasoning?

You realize that when you’re at this level of performance, there is no off seasoning.  There’s no cake.  No ice cream.  It’s a day in, day out commitment.  24 hours a day.  365 days a year.  4 years until the next Olympics.  Day one of training started the day after you DNF’ed, did not qualify or, in the case of the rare few, stepped off of a medal podium.  You’re THAT committed.

Now, 99.9% of us will never get to that Olympic level.  But we can apply the same mindset.  We can go all in.  We can do more than just talk the talk but back it up with our beliefs and actions.  It goes back to what Jamie Turner, coach to Gwen, said a few weeks ago – it’s was a series of decisions she made every day for 4 years.  Your race might be in 4 months – what can you do today to get yourself closer to that goal

I have not yet decided what my next “adventure in learning” will be (or where it will be) but I valued this trip and appreciated the support and flexibility my family gave me to make it happen.  Though a lot of what I learned I already knew, a wise coach once told me that if you can walk away from these experiences with one new thing to apply to your coaching approach, you’ve succeeded.

 

 

Notes from the Art & Science Symposium

This past weekend, I traveled to Atlanta for the USA Triathlon Art & Science of Coaching Symposium.  Over 200 coaches were in attendance to listen through two days of assorted lectures from some of the biggest names in triathlon.

Friday started with Neal Henderson (coach to Olympian Flora Duffy) speaking on how to develop triathlon specific cycling fitness.  In his words, “it’s not just about watts or watts/kg.”  Instead of talking us through secret sauce bike workouts, TSS and power, Neal focused on the basics: you cannot generate power (and performance) on your bike until you know how to ride it.  A refreshingly simple thought but also timely as so many focusing on pushing up FTP through smart trainers indoors and wonder why performance isn’t matched outdoors.  It’s important to create training situations where you practice basic cycling skills; cornering, steering, posture.  Some other key points:

  • Your performance is influenced by your capacity to perform (training, rest, genetics), your execution and tactics.
  • Use data as information – allow it to inform you on the athlete, then translate that to the athlete to transform their performance
  • Understand the demands of the competition & design training to meet those demands (terrain, weather, course design, effort)

Favorite takeaway:  Focus is important, refocus is critical.

Next up, strength training with Carwyn Sharp, a strong proponent of lifting heavy for endurance athletes.  Carwyn cited several studies showing the benefit of resistance training for cycling and running (results with swimming were less clear).  Resistance training through heavier lifting engages the Type II (fast twitch) fibers which are recruited once the Type 1 (slow twitch) fibers become fatigued.  The biggest benefits of resistance training for triathletes:

  • Improves neuromuscular capacity (getting things to fire in the correct sequence)
  • Improves anaerobic power & capacity
  • Improves movement efficiency and economy
  • Improves rate of force development

Progressive overload is required to get an effective and safe adaptation; start with bodyweight exercises and eventually progress to heavy lifting.  Incorporate plyometrics along the way.  Ultimately, power lifting is the goal because power is the goal.  Carwyn advised that strength should be periodized through the season and always take place after your swim/bike/run sessions.  Of course, proper form is critical when starting any strength program.  Meet with a skilled personal trainer who can observe and correct proper form within each set.

Favorite takeaway:  Muscular endurance comes from swimming, biking and running; use the gym to gain power.

Jesse Kropelnicki spoke on using data with athletes.  Jesse has been coach to many top pros including Angela Naeth, Linsey Corbin and Cait Snow.  He’s known for his engineering-influenced approach of protocols, formulas and calculators in training.  Jesse talked through some of this approaches to using data in training at the micro and macro level.  He reminded us that the purpose of utilizing data and analytics is to produce results.  You can have perfect charts and graphs but if those numbers don’t produce results they aren’t meaningful.  He admitted that he has learned, the hard way, about the drawbacks of relying too heavily on data and numbers.

Favorite takeaway:  There’s a level of detail that you may apply to a human that doesn’t lead to performance.

Next, registered dietician Lauren Antonucci covered best practices in nutrition.  Lauren communicated a very straight up, practical view on sports nutrition.  A few tidbits:

  • Focus on energy balance (the combination of energy intake and energy expended) – in her experience, many endurance athletes get this equation wrong (eating too little for the energy they expend)
  • Remember, the gut always wins (you can be highly trained but if your nutrition plan doesn’t work, you won’t perform well)
  • The average sweat rate is 1 liter (33 oz) per hour
  • Avoid starting a race with an empty stomach (better digestion with a little something in stomach)
  • Avoid fructose in sports food (hard to digest)
  • Consider chicken soup race morning or the night before

A great follow up to Lauren was listening to Alan Lim, founder of Skratch Labs, speak on hydration. Alan boiled down a highly technical topic into a fun presentation with hand drawn pictures and practical suggestions.  Some of notable points:

  • For every 100 calories burned, 78 are lost to heat (we are not very efficient & this is also why pacing is important – higher intensity/more calories burned = more heat created that must be dissipated)
  • Keeping cool is the focus; allows more blood to flow to working muscle
  • Increased aerobic fitness leads to increased ability to dissipate heat
  • Most of what we sweat is salt
  • Precompensate for loss of salt by drinking a saline solution prior to racing (similar to chicken soup suggestion above)
  • The goal is not to replace everything lost (this will maintain hydration but not sodium & can still lead to hyponatremia)
  • Sodium is the only electrolyte you need to replace when exercising
  • Average sodium loss is 1000 mg/liter
  • When you’re drinking but keep on urinating, especially late in exercise, you need more salt (not more water)
  • GI distress occurs when stomach empties faster than small intestine can absorb
  • Pace your calories going in (consistent trickle of energy)
  • Acclimate for hot conditions & stay as cool as possible in competition through use of cooling techniques

Favorite takeaway:  Find your individual formula of how much water and sodium you need to minimize performance loss due to dehydration

Saturday kicked off with a high performance panel.  A very informative look into the college recruitment linksprogram, how USA Triathlon identifies and develops talent.  While there are many performance-related benchmarks these athletes must reach, it was legendary coach Bobby McGee who explained the importance of mental skills and mindset.  Of particular interest was this slide on the “links of the chain” that must be present in a high performing athlete.

Ian Murray gave an engaging talk on the business of coaching, in other words the business of people.  He gave simple suggestions on subtle things you can do to improve your service and connection to athletes to acquire and retain athletes.

Favorite takeaway:  It’s communication, it’s empathy, it’s understanding – it’s the human interaction.

High performance coach (and Olympian) Barb Lindquist put together a very informative presentation on the art of writing engaging swim workouts.  In her words, she’s an artist and the swim is her tapestry.  Science is the foundation (she uses the ASCA/USMS zones & terms for swimming) but it’s the art of applying that science into creative and challenging swim workouts that makes a difference.  Here are a few takeaways:

  • Technique is important (especially high elbow for catch)
  • Frequency is critical for the non-swimmer; more “touches” on the water matter (even 15-20 minute sessions are high value)
  • Learn to use the clock as a training partner (no Garmins; athlete should know how fast they swim every repeat & how to read the pace clock)
  • Balance masters and solo workouts
  • Swim open water no more than once a week (not a sub for pool swimming, too much can make you slower)
  • Mix in IM (all 4 strokes) to improve strength & teach you how to find rhythm in your stroke (similar to how you need to find your rhythm in open water after disruptions)
  • Practice race simulation sets (work on “get out” speed as well as race pace)
  • Open water skills can be practiced anywhere (surges, drafting, sighting, getting touched/touching)

Favorite takeaway:  Creativity counts; how you give workouts is an expression of who you are as a coach.

Finally, what was perhaps the most valuable session of the weekend – Jamie Turner, coach to Olympic gold medalist Gwen Jorgenson.  Turner was refreshingly down to earth, funny and humble with a quiet ferocity and passion for coaching.  He engagingly told his story about becoming a coach and the story of Gwen becoming a gold medalist.  I’ll do my best to capture what he shared.

How did he get into elite coaching?  A series of odd jobs: you do the work & opportunities present themselves.

What is coaching?  Coaching is a commitment, first & foremost.  It is a ruthless pursuit of excellence.  Athletes want to know: will you work for them?  A coach is objective, an expert, believe in your athletes.

How do athletes come to get coached by you in the squad environment?  It’s about performance, not training.  It’s about setting up a performance focused environment. 

What does process mean?  To have an ability to do your shit when other shit is going on around you.    Athletes must invest in the process.

How did you work with other “experts” when coaching Gwen?  Surround yourself with those who will live and die by the athlete’s performance.  Then, give them ownership of that part of the process.  If you want someone to do something well for you, here’s what you say – “I believe in you.”  These people are part of her ‘footprints of success.’

How did Gwen stay healthy with so much racing this year?  Focus on body composition.  She needed “bulletproofing” to sustain her health and the racing.  She needed to gain mass (muscle).  She works with a nutritionist who would make suggestions (ie., make your oats with milk).   

 Talk about Gwen’s path:  Success isn’t that linear path that you think it is.  Gwen DNF’ed her first race after joining the squad.

On building self-esteem and confidence:  Gwen journals every day, ‘things I did well’ and ‘things I could do better.’  After a particularly tough race, she felt she had lost her ruthlessness and willingness to win.  She wanted to talk with a sports psychologist.  Sometimes the answer is already there.  The athlete needs prompting to go search for the answer that is already there internally rather than seeking answers externally. 

Gwen’s traits:  Gwen trained ferociously for the OlympicsThese are the traits that focused Gwen on becoming an Olympic champion:

  • Consistency is king
  • Get the most of the least
  • 99% right is 100% wrong
  • Process builds confidence
  • Competition raises the bar
  • Investments not sacrifices
  • She doesn’t want to do stuff that won’t make her better
  • Self-aware/be in the moment
  • Be diligent
  • Wants to know the why, the rationale
  • Turn up every day & do what you do can
  • Don’t have to have great days, good every day is better
  • At the Olympics, just had to do what she’s done before

How did you prepare for Rio?  Sought the advice of the great Craig Walton (who coached Emma Snowsill) and asked how to prepare Gwen 200 days out, 100 days and 50 days.  At 50 days, Walton said her main goals were to stay composed and stay with her winning process. 

When was the moment he believed Gwen could win the goal medal?  WTS in London, Gwen raced with an upper respiratory infection (approved by her doctors).  Snot dripping from nose yet she was still able to execute the process under stress & deliver a performance.

What’s the best thing Gwen’s parents did for her?  Teach your child to have good habitsDon’t give your child the answers, teach them to find solutions to problems.  To make his point, Jamie held up an empty roll of toilet paper.  He explained that when your child sees that, they have a choice.  And it’s up to the parent to teach them what to do.  He said he doubted that you would have seen an empty roll of toilet in Gwen’s house growing up.  This example might seem silly but it demonstrates how champions have mastered the simple things which come from a foundation of setting good habits and making good choices every single day.

How did Gwen prepare for the Rio course, specifically the bike?  Nothing magic ever happens in the comfort zone.  Gwen needed to expand her vocabulary of speed, broaden her understanding of velocity, she rode on the back of a motorcycle at high speed down twisty roads to prepare for downhills at Rio.

On preparing for the Olympics:  Olympics is about excellence every day for 4 years, not excellence for 1 day in 4 years.   

My final thoughts on the symposium:  Ten years ago, I set out on the path of full-time coaching.  In that time, our sport has changed.  There are more races, more tools, more athletes.  Coaching has also changed.  No longer is the coach simply providing workouts to shape fitness.  Athletes want a well-rounded coach able to advise on equipment, sports nutrition, mental preparation, race planning, course selection, strength training, injury prevention, recovery modalities, etc.  It is easy for the coach to become overwhelmed by (and with) a lot of stuff. 

But does that stuff matter?

We are also now in a world as coaches where you can seemingly measure everything.  Every week I see a new product or service testing something else; your blood, your sweat rate, your vertical oscillation, your swim stroke rate.  However, as many presenters warned, it’s important to focus on what really matters: the human interaction, the athlete.

We, as athletes, are more than FTPs, formulas and TSS scores.  While data, graphs and numbers can help us understand trends and make loose predictions, ultimately we are coaching a person.  A dynamic person with physiological and psychological strengths and weaknesses, fears and needs, comforts and discomforts.  A person who sometimes rather than being told what percentage of FTP to hold in their next race simply needs to hear I believe in you.

While data, calculators and formulas can often make us feel like magicians (especially when it all comes together!), the real magic comes from how we work with our athletes and how that work inspires and supports them to be at their best.  Therefore – in each talk from some of the biggest names in triathlon, it was apparent that while science can support the art of coaching, it will never replace it.  The wise coach knows the science but also knows that the art of coaching – of bringing out an athlete’s best through training, preparation, the process – is what ultimately paves the way for the possibility of optimal performance.

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