Wednesday, August 22, 2012


You Only Live Once...

I first heard this acronym from a few of my Teens that TRI team members and it really resonated with me.  Not in a stupid sense but in a more practical, "why not" sense.  In most everything I do, I seem to be that fish continually swimming upstream, rarely relinquishing to standards that others refer to as "because that's the way we do it".  I like to challenge conventional wisdom and by doing so, I have discovered quite a few new opportunities both in my career and my life.

I grew up an athlete (soccer player) and it was always my dream to become a professional athlete someday.  I didn't know what sport and frankly, it didn't matter.  I wanted to know what it felt like to be labeled a "pro".  I wasn't the best athlete growing up but put in the work and got the attention of coaches.  In fact, I was recruited for a few soccer scholarships coming out of high school but didn't take them.  I blame it on the lack of maturity and support I had in decision making but while I do think back about what could have been, I am more focused on what can be.  The athletic path that has paved my life has allowed me to make a career out of what I love doing and I owe that to growing up in sport.

When I first got into triathlon (sophomore year in college), I failed miserably, mostly due to lack of direction and no formal knowledge of the sport.  I swam in cycling shorts (if you can call it swimming!), rode my mountain bike with knobby tires but blazed the run (always my specialty due to my soccer background).  I wasn't last but was pretty close.  However, something clicked in me...the challenge to be better.

Since then, I have developed the knowledge of coaching, physiology, strength training, nutrition and life balance to be somewhat successful in the sport as an age-grouper.  But wanting to be a pro has still remained in the back of my head the past 19 years since beginning the multisport journey.  I did okay in my triathlon hobby, usually placing in the top 20% or so but it wasn't until I left the sport to pursue ultra-running and cycling and came back to triathlon where I realized that I had much more potential for short distances.  Don't get me wrong, I love going long but I am not the quickest out there.  I have noticed that my ability to endure a high amount of pain for a short amount of time (similar to soccer) is a strength and I used that last year by doing mostly sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.

My 2011 triathlon season was spectacular.  I felt great at short course racing, did much more anaerobic training and allowed more time for family and coaching (all pluses in my book!).  Interestingly, my results were much better than they were about 10 years ago and even though there has been some biological degradation due to age, I am much stronger and faster than I was in my youth in the sport of triathlon.

It showed this past weekend when I raced the Steamboat Triathlon.  Similar to my mantra of not being a triathlete but rather a swimmer, cyclist and runner, I pushed my body and while I needed about 1-2 more days of a taper (I keep track of that quantitatively with my training stress), I had a very good race. Good as defined by shaving 6 minutes off of my Olympic triathlon distance PR from last year.  I did something I never thought I could do, which was breaking the 2:15 barrier.  After coming in at 2:11 on a somewhat hilly course at altitude, I re-evaluated my progression in the sport.

I am going to Ironkids Nationals with my Kids that TRI team on Labor Day weekend and there just happens to be a HyVee age-group race the next day.  My son was excited because he says he wants to watch me race but I think he really wants to see the pro's race after me.  Nonetheless, I will be racing but it will be a first for me.  After much thought and counsel from my 11 year-old son, I have decided to race amateur elite.  To do this, you must provide proof that you have done an Oly distance race this season that has been sub 2:15.  There was some initial fear in the decision but as my son said quite eloquently, "Dad, why don't you challenge yourself by racing guys faster than you".  Yes, son, you are so right and you have been listening to your dad/coach.  Of course the 40-44 age-group is screaming fast already but this 40 year-old is going to follow his dream since he had since he was little.  While I will not be a professional, racing amateur elite will provide me a glimpse (and the pain) of what it means to enter a different category of racing.  The young guns will certainly force me to lay everything on the line in an attempt to earn the right to call myself an amateur elite, even if only for one race.

I know I will certainly be giving up a shot at the podium for my normal age-group but as the fish continually swimming upstream, I am all about the challenge that I have set out for myself.  I can only hope others will follow some of their dreams that they have set out for themselves at some point in their lives.  You are never too old...


Coach Bob

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I am not a triathlete

Eye-catching title, isn't it?  I am celebrating my 19th year as an endurance athlete and like most athletes, have learned quite a bit in my progression of the sport, especially considering I grew up playing competitive soccer and basketball for fun.  Looking back on my sport "career" and my recent triathlon training and performances, I have realized quite a few things that I never really paid attention to.

The first is that the body's energy systems do in fact matter when developing a training program.  I received a gift from my parents in the form of more fast-twitch muscle fibers.  While it hurts more, I do pretty well at pushing my anaerobic energy system window.  This is why I have seen so much success the past two years of my triathlon career.  I have focused mostly on short-course racing: sprint and Olympic distance tri's  Luckily, it doesn't involve a ton of training but rather focused, quality training along with smart, well-planned and executed recovery.  Nothing compared to when I was ultra-running and cycling and while I thoroughly enjoyed my alone time on trails and the monster, slower days of training, it did not fit my energy system dominance.   This lower volume of training has allowed me to add more intensity, which I frequently monitor through Training Peaks (this is how I monitor my progression with my stress and recovery so I can promote optimal adaptation).

Admittedly, I almost had to focus on lower volume and higher intensity to keep up with my Teens that TRI team.  These guys and gals are getting fast and I felt compelled to exemplify what could happen at an "older" age if you train correctly with balancing life, stress and training.  No joke, I also wanted bragging rights of still being able to be faster than them (which will likely not happen next year but I will not go down without a fight!).

Now, this shift in focus from slow, long volume training to fast, high intensity training has been quite a mental exercise also.  In my training, I specifically prepare my mental game for workouts so that every quality, intense workout is a race simulation for my mental game.  I show up with my race day mentality at least 3 times per week in sessions and the other sessions are spent trying to stay ahead of or chase my Teens that TRI team.  The latter is very important to note because as I circulate among the Teens that TRI in swimming, cycling and running, I am constantly doing high-intensity, short anaerobic bouts of exercise...further enhancing my anaerobic energy system.

Interestingly, this type of training has also allowed me to focus on my mental tenacity.  When I am training in the pool, I am a swimmer.  I never once think about what I did before I got in the pool that may have fatigued me or what I will be doing after the swim in terms of a training session.  I train in the moment and give it my all.  When I am on the bike doing high intensity work, I never once think of the short and fast run off I have afterwards.  I am a cyclist only both physically and mentally.  When I hit the run, definitely one of my strengths (thank you soccer!), I never think about running off the bike.  I see myself as a 5k or 10k runner, one that has no pain but the mental focus that runners have and the ability to disassociate my mind from my body.  I don't care how hard the bike was and more importantly, I don't make mental excuses about how I fatigued myself prior to the run.  I am not a triathlete.

I had a great conversation with one of my athletes recently and we were discussing "happy places".  I told him my happy place in training (you can think of it as a motivator also) was my competition.  I don't know who my competitors are and frankly, I do not care.  What I focus on during quality training sessions is being better than each one of my competitors.  My happy place in racing shifts from an extrinsic focus of my competition to an intrinsic sense of purpose: my family.  I race to make my family and myself proud.  I want my kids to be inspired by what I do, by how I race, never give up and how I can be extremely friendly before, during and after a race but a ruthless competitor at the same time.  I want to show my family what good sportsmanship looks like while exemplifying the true heart of a competitor.

This strategy in training has led to tremendous success in my triathlon racing the past two seasons and while I know I have not quite mastered it just yet, I continue to perfect my mental and physical training skills to enhance my triathlon career.  The bonus is that I get to pass this knowledge onto the athletes with whom I work with through not only Kids that TRI and Teens that TRI but also my adult athletes at Elite Multisport Coaching.

Develop the mantra: "I am a swimmer, I am a cyclist and I am a runner" and you will reap the benefits of being a good triathlete.  You see, if you approach training and racing thinking you are a triathlete, you will likely be slow because you will always have some type of mental self sabotage where you make an excuse for a poor swim, bike or run session.  Train to your potential without excuses and without regrets.  Train hard and recover smart.

Until my next rant...

Coach Bob