Thursday, November 15, 2018

Coaching Myself: Part 1

I've kind of always wanted to try coaching myself. First of all, I am a coach, so in theory it makes sense that I should be able to coach myself. However, I've consistently had an underlying doubt in my ability to follow through with it, which is primarily because I'm a pain-in-the-ass athlete and coaching me seems like a task that someone should get paid to do. My second source of doubt stems from my ability to be extremely convincing, specifically about a belief that I've developed and thoroughly rationalized in my head to the point where I now consider it a fact. I hold certain beliefs about myself as an athlete, and my strengths and weaknesses, and I'm afraid that I'll hold myself back by getting so wrapped up in my own head.

To remedy this situation, once a week I'll meet with Ryan, who doesn't know much about triathlon coaching, but does know about all of my subconscious manipulative tendencies, and how to call me out on them. He'll look at me with this face, and I'll have no choice but to own up to my bullshit.

Yes, this photo is from our wedding... I guess he wanted to make sure I was serious about it.

The reason why I've recently turned a corner in my confidence in this endeavor is because I believe I've reached a level where:

1.) I've grown significantly as a person throughout my racing career, and I can at least acknowledge my personality flaws.

2.) I have enough coaching knowledge and experience to successfully coach such a challenging, pain-in-the-ass athlete.

Also, at this point in my career as an athlete, it feels like I have something to prove. I'm not sure what, or to whom I feel like I need to prove something, but it's an extremely motivating feeling so rather than questioning it, I'm just going to run with it (... and swim with it, and bike with it).

I'm only 1 week into this endeavor, and so far, I've been compliant to the plan. Since my minimum goal for myself is only to make it through February, I'm off to a great start. By that point, I'm sure I'll be losing my mind, but for now, I'm still at my baseline level of insanity.

Some of the things I'm working on are:

1.) Developing my aerobic fitness- I'm an extremely anaerobic athlete, even though I've been racing Ironmans for a few years now. I still burn primarily sugar even at low intensities, so I'm working on staying disciplined enough to focus on keeping my HR down, and staying slow and easy. (See Importance of Zone 1)

2.) Balancing my body and developing efficient muscle recruitment patterns- I'm already pretty in-tune with my body so I have some ideas of what I need to work on.

Side note: I've been reading a lot lately about the importance of strengthening your hip flexors rather than just stretching them to death. I'm guessing a lot of triathletes have tight hip flexors, given the position on our aero bikes. If you're stretching all the time, are you actually seeing results in your flexibility? Try strengthening them.

3.) Maximizing my swim technique- I'll be using an underwater camera to focus in on some minor details and then incorporating some swimming with a snorkel in order to focus on what I'm doing with my stroke.

I have plenty more to work on and I'll share those as I put more emphasis on them, but this is what I'm starting with.

Also, at the end of every week, I'm going to ask myself if I did my best that week. I'm going to answer that question as honestly as I can, and then track it week to week. Before every race, I think most athletes have a fear that they didn't do their best in training. You get to the point where you're tapering and you can't do anything else to build fitness and you're left alone with your doubts. You just have no way of knowing whether or not you did your best and you start questioning everything. That feeling is something I want to eliminate. One of the biggest goals that I have for myself and my athletes is to race without fear. I believe that that's the only way to ever reach your potential, and I'm hoping that tracking my best effort over time will help lead me to this goal.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A Case for Zone 1

Zone 1 is commonly known as the recovery zone. We don't think of it as a "training zone" like the rest of them. Usually zone 1 is described as "extremely easy", "embarrassingly easy", "gentle", and "slow". It's basically one step above sitting on the couch. None of these words make us feel like we're getting any work done so we tend to avoid zone 1 because it's typical descriptors devalue it's training worth.

In a study from the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance*, that compared training intensity distribution during the course of an ironman season, statistically significant performance increases were shown when training time was spent primarily in zone 1, compared to zone 2 and higher. For the purpose of this study, zone 1 corresponds to heart rates below aerobic threshold, and zone 2 corresponds to heart rates at and above aerobic threshold (but below anaerobic threshold), which is the intensity in which an ironman is primarily performed. The participants that spent the majority of their training time above their aerobic threshold (zone 2), had comparatively slower competition times than those who trained mostly below their aerobic threshold.

Some of the key benefits of zone 1 training include increased endurance, durability, fat utilization, and oxygen efficiency. Training below your aerobic threshold builds capillary pathways that transport oxygen to your muscles, and carries lactate away from your muscles, which is the key to efficiency. The argument for spending a majority of your training time in zone 1 is most effective when paired with minimal training in higher intensity zones (above your anaerobic threshold), rather than staying stuck somewhere in the middle. By spending more time in zone 1, the quality of your training above your anaerobic threshold will improve and you will be able to go faster. This model is referred to as polarized-training.

The study suggests that performing about 75% to 80% of all training sessions at an intensity below your aerobic threshold can maximize your performance, combined with a certain degree of moderate to intense training. In addition to zone 1, athletes can benefit from additional training above zone 2, rather than within it. One of the best ways to keep your speed sharp, while focusing on building your aerobic fitness, is to add in short 20 to 30 second bursts of speed, or "striders." These can be added into the middle of a zone 1 workout, with plenty of recovery between each effort. This polarized training model not only increases speed, but it reduces the risk of overtraining due to less overall stress on your sympathetic nervous system.

In terms of putting this into practice, the off-season is the perfect time of year to slow down, and develop zone 1. One of the most common challenges for athletes starting to develop their aerobic fitness, is the inability to keep their heart rate under zone 2, especially when running. It is important not to fall into the trap of wanting your pace to be faster, and compensating by running in a higher heart rate zone. Developing zone 1 requires patience, which is why you should start now. If your heart rate is excessively high, it may require mixing in some walking intervals in order to bring it back under your aerobic threshold. For more fit athletes getting back into training, begin this process by focusing on RPE (rate of perceived exertion). Make sure that your effort feels easy (yes- to the point of embarrassingly easy). When you feel your fitness coming back around, then pay attention to your heart rate staying in zone 1. Even though it seems counterintuitive to train at a slower pace than you intend to race, staying disciplined and getting comfortable in zone 1 will have a significant effect on your race results.

* International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 2014, 9, 332 -339 © 2014 Human Kinetics, Inc.

New Bio, who dis?

As I've witnessed myself shift and change, I've been experimenting with some new coaching strategies. Most of my athletes know that ...