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There are many things we do in order to be faster at our next race. It may be purchasing a lighter or more aerodynamic part. Training longer, or training more intensely to improve your fitness might work. We may even change our diet to include special foods or supplements. All of these potentially have huge expense in either time or money. The return on investment however may be very miniscule, but even miniscule gains may be necessary.

There are so many ways to save time in a triathlon that require very little investment. Practicing specific skills can make a big change in your overall race time without challenging your financial or time budgets. Even one second can make a difference. Sometimes this is obvious, but often it is not in triathlon where there are wave starts. I lost to a friendly rival by 1 second at Ironman California 70.3 without realizing it until I saw the final results. “Where could I have made up that 1 second” has run through my head many times.

Med Fit Racing has been practicing some drills to improve efficiency, technical skills and to overall become better triathletes. Drills can be the primary focus of a workout, or just a component mixed into the workout or warm up. This last week we practiced the “circle of death”. Sounds ominous, but it is merely trying to go as fast as possible through two opposing U-turns. The distance between our U-turns was just long enough to get up to high speed before entering the turn. Another version would be to keep the turns closer, and just focus on higher overall speed since there is not as much opportunity to accelerate out of the turn.

Although this was called the “circle of death”, obviously you don’t want to get hurt while doing this. Falling and injuring yourself is definitely not going to make for a faster race.

Getting through U-turns quickly is a super important skill to have if you want to do a fast triathlon. Event organizers go through painstaking detail to make course lengths very accurate. Many athletes have GPS tracking, so they know if the course distance is off. Out and back U-turns are pretty common in triathlon to help make the distance close to the advertised distance. Some races have a lot of them, and most have at least one. Hopefully the U-turn was designed well, in that the exit of the turn is as wide as the entrance. If you are going into a turn at a fast pace, take a quick glance at the exit. If it is narrower than the entrance, you are at risk of sweeping too wide, which could bring you into a dangerous area such as a car or pedestrian zone.

To take the turn quickly, follow the steps below. Note that many of them are happening simultaneously.

  • Stay wide going into the turn. This will helps you maintain momentum through the turn.
  • Slow going into the turn just enough using both brakes. Of course your hands should be on the bullhorns, not in aero!
  • Keep the bike upright as much as possible. By keeping the bike upright you will have better control if you hit gravel, trash or other debris. If you do start to slide, let go of the brakes for a split second.
  • Keep your weight on your outside pedal which should be at the 6 O’clock position.
  • Bring your face down as close to your turn-side hand as possible while looking through the apex of the turn at where you want to go. This will drive your turn.
  • Accelerate out of the turn. You want to reestablish your momentum so that you can get back to business in the aero position.

Nathan.Bike.IMCdA2015 Nathan Duncan at IMCdA 2015

Practice to gain confidence and to refine your skills. Practice with others as during triathlons there is usually a bottle-neck effect at these U-turns. If somebody is trying to pass you during a turn, focus on your own turn. If you try to think about what the rider behind you is doing you’ll end up sacrificing a lot of speed and probably some safety as well. Having the confidence and skills to execute U-turns quickly in a race can give you a huge advantage over your competitors.

Sign up for our email list and join us for our next set of drills.

Besides U-turns, where do you feel you are losing ground during your races?


A question I received recently was “I was wondering what your opinion was on long ride/long run workouts back to back (for example: Long ride-brick on saturday, Long run on sunday). I have read mixed pros/cons about doing them back to back and was just wondering what your opinion was about it.”

This is a common question, with arguably no right answer. One advantage of having a coach is you can work with your coach to determine when to schedule these workouts.

I feel that the long workout(s) are the most important ones in the week for endurance athletes. Every workout I write is important, and has a purpose, but if you had to prioritize the workouts the long ones come out on top. If a workout is not important, then maybe it shouldn’t be scheduled because rest is also important. Where to place each workout in the week can be a challenge because it has to fit into your schedule where work, school, or other obligations also have to fit in. Most of these other obligations are not very flexible, so the 5-15 workouts per week need to be fit around everything else.

For a lot of athletes there is more time to fit in long workouts on the weekend. The weekend also is a time when it is generally easier to do group workouts, and long workouts can be much more fun with company. I end up scheduling most of my triathletes for a long ride on Saturday (possibly a brick workout), and a long run on Sunday. This combination works because I really want them to get a lot out of the Saturday workout before being too tired, and then do the long run on tired legs. Triathletes have to be familiar with running on tired legs. After this huge training load I will try to give their legs a rest day on Monday. Rest days are relative to the athlete and where they are in their training, so this might be a complete day off, or a swim, or an easier bike ride.

Is the heavy weekend load ideal? Maybe not. A long run during the week might allow the athlete to get more time on the bike with Saturday and Sunday rides. This can be a good approach especially if the long run has a lot of Zone 3 and 4 running in it where I’ll want the athlete to have fresher legs. If I really want to answer the question of what would be ideal, I would have to assume that there were no other obligations, so that long workouts could occur on any day, and there was time for naps and/or relaxation between workouts. Most competitive triathletes are trying to fit in a lot of workouts with an already busy life.

This challenge isn’t unique to triathletes though. Competitive athletes of any sport can also find themselves doing multiple workouts a day. It is pretty common for swimmers to swim an hour in the morning, and two-three hours in the evening. Runners with high mileage may run an easy run in the morning, and then have a focused run in the evening. Cyclist may need to have several workouts during the week that are two-four hours long in addition to long weekend rides.

The question on when to schedule your long workout becomes much more complicated in that you have to schedule all the other workouts too. There may be drill focused workouts, speed days, tempo workouts, recovery workouts, recovery days, core strength and cross training days. Every coach has some of their own preference, but I have found every athlete has a different schedule that can benefit from having personalized plans written and monitored by a personal coach. If one approach isn’t working, then have that discussion with your coach. Below is a (simplified) sample plan for a triathlete with 11-12 workouts per week.

Mon 

Tues 

Wed 

Thurs 

Fri 

Sat 

Sun 

Swim distance 

Run speed 

Run drill

Run tempo 

Swim drill

Long bike

Long run

Or day off 

Bike tempo 

Swim speed

Bike drill

Bike speed

Transition run

 

I have written about this workout previously:

https://jeraldcook.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/20-second-intervals/

https://jeraldcook.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/13-x-20-sec/

https://jeraldcook.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/8-x-20-sec-intervals/

Why write about this now? It’s pre-season, and I am putting this workout into some of my athletes’ workouts. I also am doing 20 second intervals. Looking over these posts I see that I was doing them in preparation for Superfrog Triathlon on 9/11/2011. My race report is here. I did well in the race. These intervals weren’t the only reason why I did well, but they were part of the early prep to my build up for a peak Half Irondistance event.

Intervals of such short duration and high intensity are not the core of long distance triathlon. To race a triathlon (that is not draft legal) well you really need to have a high Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and a big aerobic engine. This allows you to maintain a high power over a long period of time. The triathlon does not have a lot of surges or sprints that require a high power. If all training is focused on zones 2-3 this does not improve your peak power, which is a significant metric for strength.

During the early season I focus on getting a lot of zone 2 work in. This improves aerobic fitness which is essential in order to tolerate the high workload that will be necessary later in the season. Mixing in some very high efforts, such as 20 second intervals, early in the season provide some stimulus outside the heavy zone 2 work without taxing the athlete so much that it interferes with recovery and other workouts.

Another consideration for early season, or base training period, is high cadence work. Having the ability to spin a high cadence provides the athlete with more gears. Ramping up the cadence before shifting up is more efficient and effective than just shifting up and then pushing that heavy gear. I like doing these 20 second intervals with a higher cadence, usually 100+ RPM. I usually get a couple intervals in that are at lower cadence, like 60-80, but feel that the rapid turnover is valuable practice during the early season. With the lower cadence there is more torque because it requires more force per pedal stroke to generate that power. The force though is still relatively very low, although it doesn’t feel like it. There are other workouts that are better at generating max force.

Thanks for reading. If you are interested in joining our team and/or looking for a coach, we are getting ramped up for the 2014 season. Leave a message or send me an email at CoachJerry@medfitracing.com

Visit http://www.medfitracing.com


March 10, 2012. It seems ridiculous that it has taken this long to get out on a Saturday for a good ride. Actually it is ridiculous. But here in the Midwest, cycling is not quite the same as Southern California.

I am not sure why I hesitated when I saw a post from my new team, Activator Cycle Club, that there were criteriums just 20 miles up the road over the next three Sundays. I suppose it’s because I haven’t been riding hardly at all, and don’t exactly feel in racing shape. It could be that I am a little in disbelief that we are entering spring. Mornings of 20 degrees and 20 mph winds haven’t been that unusual. Occasionally the sun does come out during the day, and it looks warm through the window, which is completely deceiving because it is rarely above freezing.

Finally I realized I’ve been waiting for the weather to become tolerable, and I’m not sure how much longer I can wait. Today is was 28 degrees in the morning, but at noon it warmed up to 48 degrees, so Molly and I joined in with Activator Cycle Club on an easy spin before tomorrow’s races. The winds were still fierce, but it felt good getting back out on the road.

Details of today’s ride are here. Tomorrow should be interesting. Who starts their training with a race?


For most of us, exercise should be a part of our daily routine. I find people are much more likely to say they have no time to exercise than they are to say they don’t have time eat, sleep, use the restroom, bathe, etc. Of course not doing one of those essential activities would have major consequences. Lack of exercise also has consequences, many of which are easy to ignore until years later.

Yesterday I had two encounters where I was asked by triathletes how I train for an Ironman. The question initially struck me as odd, because training for an Ironman is much like training for any other triathlon. Basically it begins with a lifestyle of daily exercise.

Three weeks ago Molly and I arrived to our new home in Great Lakes, IL. We have never been in this part of the country, and knew nothing about the area. The day we arrived I spoke with Marty Taylor who has been here for a while and he told me about a Tuesday evening ride with Alberto’s Cycling. I showed up there, unfamiliar with the route and the group. I tried to keep things mellow, but fell into the pace line rather quickly, which consisted of about 6 of the fastest riders. I hadn’t done a lot of pace line riding in San Diego, so it was pretty fun riding the flats at 27-30 MPH, until I was in the front and missed a turn (I didn’t know we were turning!). Time trialing at 30 MPH then wasted me for the second half of the ride. I was accepted into the group, and they told me about their weekend rides.

That Saturday I rode 11.5 miles to Alberto’s. Minutes after I started it began to sprinkle then pour. I arrived soaked, and chilled. Two people (one of the owners and an employee) were there, and said that because of the rain they weren’t going to ride. In a way, I was relieved, but I also realized that the ride was conditional on the weather. They even said that the Sunday ride probably wouldn’t happen. I rode home and got 25 miles in at least.

Sunday morning actually looked good. I rode to the shop to see if the ride was happening. Sure enough, no rain, and the ride was on. About 2 miles into the ride and it poured. A flat in the group had us huddled under some trees while the rain dumped on us. I saw rain coats start to come out, but all I had was a rain sponge. To my surprise I saw a couple other groups riding by in the pouring rain as we stood there. Flat fixed and we went on. I was waiting for someone to pull the plug. It sucked, I was miserable, and I would have gladly followed someone else’s suggestion of calling it a day. Hmmm… that never happened. It wasn’t even suggested. Sixty miles of not being able to feel my waterlogged toes (toasties don’t do a good job keeping water out of shoes) I finally made it home, and soaked in a tub for 40 minutes to defrost. I think the last time I took a bath like that was… probably never. I would have used bubbles if I had them.

Out of the tub, still wrinkled (I don’t think the bath helped with that), I got online and ordered a Computrainer. It was only September, and the Midwest weather was likely to get worse.

A few days later Molly and I toured some of the local bike shops. Activator Cycles, just 2.2 miles from us in Lake Bluff hosts a fast mountain bike ride Thursdays from 6-8 PM, year-round, regardless of weather. This caught my attention. A group that is close, late enough to make after work, and a ride I can rely on. That and I have a 3 year old mountain bike with less than 100 miles on it. The first Thursday we had high winds, 25 MPH with 60 MPH gusts. Molly questioned my sanity (a regular occurrence), and I shrugged my shoulders and replied “they said regardless of weather”. Sure enough, there were about 8 of us there, and it was brutal. The wind was one thing, but the trails were flooded, and it was dark-dark-dark. I worked to keep up, but was gapped rather quickly and I just couldn’t catch up. Nick, the owner, fell back and decided to show me the route since it was my first time out.

The next day my Computrainer showed up, and so did the sun. It was gorgeous out and I did some exploring of some new routes that I found on ridewithgps.com and mapmyride.com. Molly and I did a Tandem ride west of us on some decent roads and also took bikes on the train into Chicago where we started orienting ourselves to this amazing city. Then I did a 108 mile ride north of us. I was surprised though when I rode about 70 miles in Wisconsin without even a glimpse of a convenience store or a service station. The roads were great, very little traffic, and a few nice rollers. The day was warm though and I went about 90 minutes without any water or food.

The following Thursday’s Activator ride had great weather. I was determined to stick with the group, but my lack of experience and poor handling led me to going off the trail into a ditch. My chain popped off and I tried to catch the group, but never even got a glimpse of them. I finished the ride with Dean who had also fallen back. This Thursday, my third time out, it was raining, windy and cold. I contemplated using the Computrainer for the first time, but remembered my resolve to stick with this group through the year even if it was my only ride outside some weeks. Four of us headed out and again I was dropped. This time I got lost in the trails since I was riding by myself. The trails were covered with leaves and I went off them several times because it was hard to make them out. So far it’s been rather humbling, but I figure the only way to get better is to stick with it.

This morning even though it was only 48 degrees and raining slightly, I figured the weather was bad enough to give the Computrainer a try. First impression: very nice. I still have a lot to learn about the programs, but I can tell that it will be a great tool to keep me in shape through the harsh winters here.


It is now just a week and a half until the Superfrog Triathlon. I haven’t posted anything since the Camp Pendleton Triathlon. Up to Camp Pendleton I had been seeing incredible progress in my training. I was establishing new running threshold paces and new cycling threshold power almost every week. Things have since leveled out a bit, which is to be expected. Since I wasn’t seeing the same breakthroughs in my workouts, I decided to not post the results of workouts that seemed a bit pathetic in some cases. My effort for the workouts has been good, but the paces and powers weren’t really conveying that effort. If I was training without the technology of GPS and power meters, I wouldn’t be able to guess that though.

Even though I say the results seem a bit pathetic, I actually have had some great breakthroughs. During my last track workout, the final 400 meter repeat I did at 1:21, about 7 seconds faster than I’ve done on any 400 meter run this year. On 8/8 I set a new best 2 minute power at 475 Watts, during a 3 minute interval. My previous best was 461 Watts on 9/22/2009. That’s right, two years ago! On 8/20/2011 I set a new best 5 minute power at 412 Watts, the previous being 409 Watts set on 8/1/2011. Also, I’ve started swimming up a lane, with a 1:20 base instead of the 1:25 base that I had been swimming. Although the progress I’ve seen is slowing down, it is still there. Now that Superfrog is so close, it’s not so much about setting new PR’s in training, but preparing mentally for the race and feeling just rested enough to race hard.


Today I started my final six week block of training before Superfrog on September 11. My swim with Mission Valley YMCA Masters was great, with a lot of threshold and suprathreshold work (300’s and 200’s). This evening I was struggling finding the motivation to get out on the bike. I was starting something new (5 minute intervals), I hadn’t selected a section of road to do them on, and it was fairly hot out. I knew I needed to be psyched, because the workout was going to be tough and require a lot of effort and focus. I really wanted to do these intervals up Torrey, a nice steady climb that would provide me a great place for a steady effort. Instead I opted for something close to home. Although it was mostly up hill, the climb is gradual, with some flat and downhill sections too. It required me to shift gears frequently to keep the power up. Overall I thought it was a lot of fun doing these intervals because it required different skills such as changing cadence and position on the bike as well as shifting frequently. Although these intervals hurt, I found I enjoyed them a lot more than the shorter intervals. Below are the results:

Interval

Power

Max HR

1

409

152

2

385

152

3

391

153

4

384

153

5

388

155

6

374

150

7

400

156

Mean

390

153

 

Today I set a new Personal Best for my 5 minute power. My previous best was 404 watts, done on 6/25/2011 and 9/6/2009. I am planning on doing these intervals again in four weeks, so I’ll have another opportunity to surpass the 409 watt mark.

These intervals are rather timely since Joe Friel just posted on his blog about improving endurance through High Intensity Training (HIT), which he goes on to describe as VO2 Max training. Endurance athletes are limited by their VO2 Max, or the amount of oxygen they are physiologically able to deliver from to their tissues. Age and genetics are definitely factors in how high your VO2 Max can actually be, but HIT has proven to improve you VO2 Max.

For my threshold power (337 Watts), my VO2 Max Zone (Zone 5) is 357-407, which you can see I was at the upper end of. In the wattage group there has been a lot of discussion of how long of interval is ideal for VO2 Max training, 3, 4, or 5 minutes. Longer than 5 minutes is considered too long to be able to hold the VO2 Max power. Shorter than 5 minutes isn’t considered effective either, because the beginning portion of the interval is actually bringing your heart rate up, and you are just warming up to the point of physiologically being at your VO2 Max. The argument then becomes, if it takes 2 minutes to get to your VO2 Max, with a 3 minute interval you are only getting 1 minute at VO2 Max, but with a 5 minute interval you are getting 3 minutes of benefit. It’s interesting to a point how coaches, physiologists, and athletes can argue such points. I do agree though that the longer you can maintain a high power the better. Three minute intervals however should be done at even a higher effort than the 5 minute intervals.

Since at 5 minute intervals I was able to be at the high end of my VO2 Max zone, it makes me wonder if my threshold power is going up. That is the ultimate goal of all this training (whether long or short), so it’s a nice thing to ponder. This coming Saturday is the Camp Pendleton Sprint Triathlon, where I will be able to test my threshold during the 30K bike leg.


Interval

6/23

90 s Hill

6/27

90 s Speed

7/7

90 s Hill + Heat

7/14

60 s Speed

7/22

90 s Hill

7/29

90 s Speed

1

445

451

425

473

482

431

2

412

407

445

451

494

407

3

412

423

399

424

483

351

4

405

411

410

466

467

343

5

442

432

387

443

434

363

6

448

395

409

449

410

349

7

   

395

483

413

337

8

     

474

439

325

Mean

427

419

410

458

453

363

For completeness I am posting the last of my 90 second interval set. The results are dismal, but it does show that you can’t have breakthrough workouts every time you want them. A breakthrough workout is essentially one that pushes you beyond what you have already adapted to. These are stressful workouts that provide the stimulus for improvement. Even though I schedule a couple such workouts each week, the breakthrough sometimes cannot be planned. You just have to be ready for it by giving what you have at the time, and occasionally you’ll achieve that higher power output, or faster pace. During this workout I was experiencing a lot of fatigue in my legs. Although I wasn’t able to deliver much, it was still a great workout because I had to try to focus enough to push as hard as I could, and push to just finish the workout.

I had a very similar experience on Tuesday, 7/26, when I tried doing a threshold workout of two 18 minute intervals. My power for the two intervals was 320 and 290, much less than my 337 threshold power. The drill was good, trying to keep the power up even though my legs were fatigued and I was struggling. Interestingly though, later that same day I went and did the TCSD track workout with Jim Vance and had a great workout. Jim’s workouts are fantastic. He really emphasizes the need for flexibility, technique and rapid turnover to run efficiently and fast. Following a long warm up, dynamic stretching and drills, the workout was 12X400 meters with a 100 meter active recovery (very short/incomplete recovery). I struggled to finish, but managed to keep my intervals at 90-95 seconds for the entire workout. This isn’t real fast, but it is the best I’ve been able to do for a long time, and was definitely a breakthrough workout.


During my current block of training I’ve been doing intervals, alternating one week with hill climbs, the other week with speed on flats. Today I did another series of 8 intervals on the same sill that I did the previous two hill sets on.

Interval

6/23

90 s Hill

6/27

90 s Speed

7/7

90 s Hill + Heat

7/14

60 s Speed

7/22

90 s Hill

1

445

451

425

473

482

2

412

407

445

451

494

3

412

423

399

424

483

4

405

411

410

466

467

5

442

432

387

443

434

6

448

395

409

449

410

7

   

395

483

413

8

     

474

439

Mean

427

419

410

458

453

 

Today my best 60 second split was at 493 Watts, better than the 483 Watts I did last week when I was focusing on shorter intervals. My best 90 second split today was even higher, at 494 Watts. I was putting out a lot more power today. I was hurting big time, and as you can see I was fading fast on the second half of the workout. Even though the second half felt horrible, the power was pretty close to what I was doing the first day I did these intervals.

If I just look at the first half of my intervals today, compared to the best four intervals on 9/23, the averages are 482 vs. 437, a 10% improvement!

Next week will be 90 second speed intervals. This will be the last of 90 second intervals, and then I’ll be moving on to something different.


The last three weeks I did 90 second intervals. This week is a rest week and I did 60 second speed intervals. I expected the power to be a little higher since they were shorter intervals. My all time best 60 second power is 573 on 9/15/2009, and my recent best is 479 on 6/23/2011, with a new ‘recent’ 60 s best of 483. Not great, but I’ll be hoping that next week I surpass my 6/23 powers when I do 90 second hill repeats again. Here are the results:

Interval

6/23

90 s Hill

6/27

90 s Speed

7/7

90 s Hill + Heat

7/14

60 s Speed

1

445

451

425

473

2

412

407

445

451

3

412

423

399

424

4

405

411

410

466

5

442

432

387

443

6

448

395

409

449

7

   

395

483

8

     

474

Mean

427

419

410

458

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