Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Transition Season

In my early years of triathlon training and racing in the late 90's, I would typically race from May to September in a normal year.  My Autumn was usually freckled with a trail race or two and then I would enter what some refer to, and what I used to refer to as my "Off-Season."  Off-Season, or what I now refer to as transition season, is a time of year that ought to be characterized by just as much strategy and intentionality as any other phase of ones training year.

Transition season, as its name indicates, is a phase of the training year when the body is allowed to deconditon at a controlled and intentional rate; an intentional transition from fitness to inactivity.  Typically one's transition season depends on the level of intensity and competition the athlete was competing at during their season as well as the distance of racing, the age of the athlete and the depth of tenure in the sport and mode of training.  Depending on these variables a transition season can be anywhere from 2-8 weeks.  Some athletes will take an intentional two weeks of no exercise followed by 4 weeks of non-sport related general fitness or a non-triathlon sport like cyclocross racing or single track mountain bicycling. This gives the body time to heal itself of any injuries one may have been keeping at bay during the racing season.  If it's your first triathlon racing season maybe you'd benefit from 4 weeks of non-activity, while for a seasoned veteran, two weeks might do the trick.  Whatever the amount of time you take away from the sport, allow it to be a time to recharge mentally, physically as well as relationally.

Training can have positive and negative impact on your family and personal life.  Make sure to keep loved ones a top priority during your off season and transition season. Talk with your coach or trainer about how much time off is right for you.

As always, Train Smart-Keep Balanced!  

Friday, September 21, 2012

Ain't No 'Round of Golf

In addition to being a multisport coach I also work at a bicycle shop in town.  I wear many hats there, but some of the more interesting roles I assume are bike fitter, triathlon specialist, and assistant buyer.  I share these roles with a few other colleagues, but see a wide range of diversity within our client base.  In our preliminary interviewing questions before we fit someone on their new bicycle, we ask questions like: "what will be your primary use for the bike; do you plan to do any racing with the bicycle; will you be participating in any multisport events with the bike-i.e. triathlon" and so on.  Of the clients I work with at the shop I would guess at least 75% of the individuals I fit have some kind of interest in triathlon, most of whom have only participated in a sprint distance race or competed as a leg of a triathlon relay.

Droves of individuals are taking on the challenge of completing a multi-disciplined competition for the accolades of friends and family and/or identity of "triathlete" or "ironman."  Among this immigration there are numbers of peoples who are leaving inactive or sedentary lifestyles for the pursuit of accomplishing something great…something they’ve never done before that stretches them beyond the limits they had previously set for themselves.  Although many of these athletes-in –the-making should get a gold star for tenacity and motivation, many of them have not considered the prior approval and permission of a licensed healthcare professional to participate in such an event.  

All this to serve as a preamble to sharing the experience I had competing in an event, this summer,  in which one participant did not cross the finish line; this individual an active person by all friends' account was an avid cyclist and runner certainly one who had prepared and trained for this event, but for difficult circumstances or freak cause of nature, did not make it to T1 alive.  My heart goes out to this family who lost their husband, father, son, and friend at such a young age.  Looking back on the event it has been sobering to think that while I was out there thrashing in the huge waves of this large body of water, there was also another man out there thrashing in what would ultimately be his last breaths.  I am still uneasy about all of this and have wondered about that day on so many levels, and from so many vantage points.

As a coach, I work with athletes of various ability levels and athletic backgrounds and see firsthand the variety of folks that attempt to compete in a multisport event.  In no way to I want to draw a direct correlation from the tragedy of this young man at the race I competed in, and my own experience with clients training for competition;  there are however some trends that I see which could save a lot of folks some hassle and help to make potential participants cognizant of the precautions one must consider in training and racing for a triathlon.

Triathlon is no round of golf; with necessary training and preparation however, it can be a fun and safe sport in which to participate.  Maybe this summer you participated in your first triathlon.  Possibly you didn’t even participate in an event, but were a spectator for a friend or loved one who competed in a multisport event.  Whatever your  level of participation or interest, this article is about thinking through some of the concepts that will move you in the direction of preparation and training for your future endurance efforts.

Some basic guidelines to consider as you recollect how this season went and how you will plan for future training and racing:

1) Hire a professional to help you assess what is reasonable for you, given your background, current health status, and plans for future competition.  I am bias in this area, because I am a certified coach and personal trainer.  I have worked with a couple clients that I have had to pull the reigns in on.  Last summer I had a client that was preparing for his first international distance competition.  In our interview and introduction consult we looked over his background and discussed any of his apprehensions about his goal of competing in an international tri.  One of his concerns was that this was his first triathlon competition and that by doing some swimming on his own, he wondered if he would be able to complete the 1.5kilometer swim that is required for an Olympic distance event.  Hearing this concern, we worked on not only continuous distance swims in the pool, but also continuous distance swims in a nearby lake.  We discussed the reality of possibly switching his entry registration from the Olympic distance to the sprint if necessary.  As race time approached I felt comfortable with his progression and gave him the green light on participating in the Olympic distance.  We admitted that he would likely have to do some backstroke and possibly some sidestroke, given his discomfort with rhythmic breathing, but that he had come far enough that it would be safe for him to race without anxiety.  Other athletes have not been in the same boat…in some cases we chalk it up for “next year” and advise the athlete just compete in the sprint and save the longer distance for the future.

2) Training intensity and modality should mimic racing conditions.  Two years ago I directed an indoor triathlon at the Downtown YMCA.  It was called the “Dip Ride & Dash.”  The race was a tremendous success and we had an awesome turnout including over a dozen participants that had never completed a multisport event.  One of the interesting conversations I had was with one of the dozen tri-newbie’s, a gal in her mid 40’s who looked like she was as fit as Paula Newby Fraser (multiple Ironman World Champion).  This lady thanked me for putting on the event and explained that the reason she had never competed in a triathlon is that she has an irrational fear of open water swimming.  Thankfully this woman knew her fear before starting an event in a lake.  Others have swam hundreds of laps in a pool only to put their foot to the line on a beach somewhere and discover 50 yards later that swimming in murky water with weeds, fish, and turtles is nothing like swimming in a pristine chlorinated pool.

3) Talk to your doctor before training, but especially before competing in a triathlon.  Most multisport coaches will require their clients to sign a waiver that acknowledges that risks and inherent liabilities associated with training and competing in triathlons .  This waiver will include a line that indicates the participant has received a physicians approval to participate in training and is not currently diagnosed with any condition that would limit their ability to stress the body beyond low level aerobic activity.  The inclusion of this kind of wording is not intended primarily to serve as a limiter in restricting individuals from participating or to limit liability that the coach might incur, but more as an encouragement that anyone who exercises on a regular basis should  be in routine dialogue with their primarily healthcare provider about the modalities they are using for exercise.

Working in the multisport industry, I am so encouraged at the numbers of people who are discovering the way that multisport training and competition can positively impact wellness and quality of living.  Working with athletes of all ability levels and intensities of competition, I am blown away by how inclusive the sport is and how a self-employed IT consultant couch potato can take a physician’s prodding seriously and get some coaching from a dietitian and tri coach and lose 180lbs over one year and discover a new way of life. 

Although results may vary, we all have come to the sport in part due to an ounce of intrigue and a little insanity.  With a little sage advice and some guided training one can lower their handicap and safely enjoy this different kind of stroke.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

5 Reasons for a Swim Evaluation

Many athletes are winding down their transition season or "off-season" and gearing up for base and prep phases of training for their 2012 race season. I have already worked with a few athletes who have expressed confidence-deficiencies in their swim stroke, and have inquired about scheduling a swim analysis and evaluation. When I work with athletes on their stroke development, swim video analysis is one of the first tools I utilize to diagnose problems and , prescribe solutions. Swimmers are often surprised at how easy it is to identify inefficiencies and flaws in their technique with a simple 30 minute video analysis and a 1-3 page overview/evaluation.

1. Drill selection! A swim evaluation can serve as guidance for selection of technique and training drills for pool workouts. Most coaches will use specific drills that are aimed to address a specific flaw or inefficiency in your stroke. These drills vary in difficulty and work to correct an underlying body position, pull, or kick issue in your stroke. Many of my athletes will share how they've experienced negative splits late or even close to the end of an individual workout set, even after high intensity intervals, just because they focused on their technique. As we fatigue our technique gets sloppy and so will our splits. Focus on technique will improve efficiencies-even when we're tired.

2. See yourself swim. Most swimmers have never seen themselves swim! This seems obvious but actually it goes deeper than just the fact that we can't see ourselves swimming while we're swimming...I don't know of any pools with mirrors on the walls or bottoms. With any technique-intense sport, it's important to assess one's own technique by self analysis. Football teams do this, skiers do this, synchronized swimmers do this, and even bowlers analyze their form-so it makes sense that swimmers ought to also see what they are doing and be cognizant of what they need to change.

3. What are you doing wrong? Many swimmers have one or more gross technique flaws. What I mean by this, is that most swimmers have one or two technique errors that even a somewhat novice swimmer or coach could point out without too much digging. This might be something like whipping the head back and forth in and out of the water for your rotary breath, it may be a huge splash with the entry of one or the other arm on your extension, or it may be asymmetric kicking or pulling.

4. Room for improvement. Swimming is a sport that can take a lifetime to master. Even the master's swimmers at the Y that I coach will pick apart each others stroke, and many of them are have been swimming the majority of their lives. Maybe it's learning to breath on the other side, learning how to do flip-turns, or maybe it's identifying a muscular deficiency that needs to be corrected in your strength routine...everyone has room for improvement and a swim evaluation can point this out and identify areas for improvement.

5. Humility is good for the sport! Triathlon is a sport that is continually evolving and changing. When I did my first multi-sport event over 12 years ago I was amazed at the variety of athleticism, fitness, and body types that make-up our sport. Triathlon is truly a sport of all peoples and it's one that celebrates the wonder and amazement of the human body and mind, and the magnificent ways we are able to harness their potential. Over the years viruses of pride and arrogance have emerged in the sport. This saddens me. Triathlon is a highly individualistic sport-one in which an athlete tests their abilities and seek to push themselves towards new personal bests! At times I find myself thinking I have arrived in one area or another of the sport-and I need to assess my own ego. Don't get me wrong I am not finishing on the podium or maintaining elite status, but I too can get arrogant about my successes in the sport at times. Submitting to the guidance of a coach or athletic mentor might seem humbling, but it is also the place that improvement and new levels of performance are reached.

Give a swim evaluation a tri. Feel free to contact me if you are interested in setting up an appointment with me or a coach in your area. TriathlonCoachK (at) gmail (dot) com.

Train Smart, Keep Balanced,
Coach K