Part 3 - Building an Athlete - Will the real key data points, please stand up (thanks for that line Eminem)Read Now
In the last 2 blogs we covered everything you need to know to get you to this point. Now, how to present that to an athlete that isn’t necessarily pleased with their build or race execution. Utilizing the data points that I mentioned in the last post, I will shape it for you in the terms that are easy to understand that we see in the data.
Pretending that the course and conditions are equal (we know they are not but bare with me here) here is what we see:
For IMWI this athlete rode a 5:39 bike on 215w NP. For their previous Ironman, 2018 IMTX, they rode a 4:58 on 196w NP. The one before that, 2017 IMChoo, they rode a 5:33 on 196 NP.
Now basic math tells me more is more. In this case more doesn’t equal faster because of varying conditions and terrain but it shows me that the athlete had more bike fitness than we assumed going into IMWI (goal race power was actually 185-195 NP due to the fact of the big question mark from the training build, issues along the way and the data from 2 key, back to back centuries) We knew we were being a little cautious on the bike but Paul blew that number away with his monster 215 NP for IMWI. Lesson #1 learned for me the coach.
Now onto the more fun/sexy aerobic decoupling (Pw:Hr). To me this is a true metric of progress for a long course athlete. Let’s look at the numbers first:
Pw:Hr data - (from athlete’s device)
2017 IMChoo - 10.45%
2018 IMTX - 9.94%
2019 IMWI - 7.86%
WHOA...hold the phone. You are telling me that this athlete rode more NP than ever before and had an all time low aerobic decoupling?
Yes. That is what I am seeing and saying. How does that happen? Well that is where I am current standing and trying to discover. Obviously there are things that can impact this that are outside of our control. Heat/humidity (I know these were different), 1-2 years more of aerobic development through training, athlete nutritional execution (can partially file this with the heat/humidity topic) and potentially something I still have not learned.
Either way, the final breakdown is while the athlete did not go “faster” on the day, he performed the best he ever has and his body responded better than ever before.
There’s a lot to read here but I hope it helps you to take a step back and re-evaluate the way you judge your performances
Far too often athletes get caught staring at data points that will just leave them down a slippery slope. While at times the data points they like to reference or have a little bit of understanding of can't help them and are of value but often times they can lead you down the wrong path. all of this is said with bated breath because it is definitely a double-edged sword when it comes to data and which parts matter when.
I am going to present to you a very simple way that I look at an athlete's progress based on where he is an athlete and data points that to me, are black and white that are a good example of fitness and/or gains.
For this particular example I used to data points to compare races over time. I utilized normalized power and aerobic decoupling during the race.
In the three races that I sampled, two of them where what most would consider hilly and one of them was what most would consider flat. Ironman Chattanooga features more longer sustain climbs with a little bit of rollers, Ironman Wisconsin has some sustained climbs but is more rollers and Ironman Texas has a few small inclines but is majority flat.
Course Difficulty Rating -
2017 IMChoo -
Swim - River
Bike - 1.5
Run - 3.1
2018 IMTX -
Swim - Lake
Bike - 1.2
Run - 0.4
2019 IMWI -
Swim - Lake
Bike - 2.2
Run - 1.6
Total Bike Elevation (as recorded on his Garmin) -
2017 IMChoo - 4,808 ft gain
2018 IMTX - 1,224
2019 IMWI - 4,120
Bike Split Times - (from athlete’s device)
2017 IMChoo - 5:38 (115 miles)
2018 IMTX - 4:58 (110 miles)
2019 IMWI - 5:39 (112 miles)
The common recurring theme with most athletes is they will look at their bike split time and immediately judge their overall performance for that portion of the race. Often times, they struggle to be able to make fair comparisons of course difficulty, weather conditions (wind, water temps, humidity, air temp) and immediately assume slower is just in fact that, slower.
In all actuality slower is slower, until it is not. Confused yet?
What if an athlete was more aerobically efficient but slower finish time? What if an athlete rode an all time NP PR for a race of that distance and was slower? Are they then still slower? It all depends on your definition of growth and/or success.
Aerobic fitness can be seen in a few different ways but for this race I chose the aerobic decoupling (or Pw:Hr)
(you can learn more about that here: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/how-to-use-aerobic-decoupling/)
Aerobic decoupling will give you a great snapshot of the athlete’s aerobic fitness as it pertains to long course racing. 0% being even and a delta of 10% or more as a flag of overexertion or lack of aerobic fitness (this can also be indicative of dehydration/nutritional issues, impending sickness and a few other factors)
The other data point I am using for this is Normalized Power (NP). NP is defined as Essentially, normalized power, is a weighted average of the pedaling you have done during a particular ride. This metric gives extra emphasis to high-output efforts and accounts for surges or spikes in power. In other words, a great metric to see the true work being done.
In the next blog post I will show you what I discovered and why it matters more than a finishing time.
The proof is in the pudding...or so the saying goes. I like proof and I like pudding this seems like it would be a good start to a little real talk conversation.
Plain and simple I absolutely love what I do as a coach. What are the biggest struggles that I have is when an athlete does not see what I see is a coach. In my growth as a coach I have learned new ways to use the analytics to help paint the picture for an athlete. Any good politician can spin anything to make it look one way or another. Data is not much different. However there are some points of data that are straight black and white and cannot be spun. I try to seek those out when I'm presenting an athlete with results or progress or regression.
As a coach I have to hold myself accountable for an athlete's progress and also hold the athlete accountable for equal progress. Undoubtedly, there have been times that I have made a mistake and I always try to correct that mistake, admit it and learn from it.Equally, there are times that athletes make mistakes and we work on those and move forward. But that's not what this blog post is about. This blog post is showing you the proof that I have found in the pudding.
How do you address an athlete who is clearly making progress but doesn't see it. That is one of the great mysteries and struggles of coaching but it is one of the things that we should strive for, as coaches, to help unlock the athletes mind.
I present to you, exhibit A, Paul Miller.
Paul Miller is an 8x IM finisher with aspirations of a legacy spot to Kona and, one day, seeing 10:30 on the race clock. In the past 2 years he has had an all time PR and multiple finishes under 12 hours so the progress is definitely there.
In his last build up to Ironman Wisconsin, he admitted that he didn't have a great build because of a couple of very strange issues that we had to take a little bit of time off for, which is very uncommon for him. Leading into the race there was frustration in his perceived Fitness level and part of that is because of a shaky build and perhaps his overall goal setting and appreciation of the variation of course difficulties.
In an attempt to try to settle everything out and figure out just what was going on in if this athlete actually progressing, I just decided to pull a few bike numbers from Ironman Chattanooga in 2017, Ironman Texas in 2018 and his most recent race at Ironman Wisconsin in 2019.
In Part two of this blog series I will lay out which data points I targeted and why. In Part 3, I present the data findings from this athletes performances and what we can learn from them.
Numerous studies have shown that a lack of sleep is extremely detrimental to your health and performance and this seems to be something that a lot of people are pushing aside.
However, unless you pay attention to the amount and quality of sleep you get, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.
Not the training you do, not the food you eat, not the supplements you take, nothing. Sleep is literally the simplest and most effective performance enhancement you can do. Want to lose weight: Sleep. Want to gain muscle: Sleep. Want to go faster: Sleep. Want better cognitive performance: Sleep.
If you look at what professional athletes are doing to improve performance, extend careers and set new records, the number one answer is sleep. They are putting as much work into sleeping more and better as they are in the weight room, on the bike, on the track, ect. Think I’m making this up, check out Instagram and see how many athletes have mattress sponsors. Get on the internet and see how many professional teams have sleep coaches on staff.
Next, remember that sleep is a productive activity. You are recovering, growing, sleep is an anabolic state. After you’ve been asleep for 1 hour your body releases testosterone and HGH. These hormones are integral for muscle and bone growth. For each additional sleep cycle you have at night, you increase the amount of time these key hormones are at an elevated level in your body.
Lastly, your sleep needs to natural. “Sleep” induced by medications like Ambien, or assisted by alcohol is not productive sleep. Ambien puts you into a state of unconsciousness that only resembles sleep on the outside but on the inside, might as well be awake. As for everyone’s favorite drug, alcohol, it is a depressant that disrupts normal sleep cycles and suppresses REM sleep.
I can literally go on for hours with what I’ve learned about sleep from reading “Why We Sleep,” but this seems like a good place to start.
The scary facts:
What can you do to improve your sleep:
- Coach Mike
The next step in doing the basics at an extraordinary level is to focus on just one of those basic things at a time. I realize that this seems to be completely contrary to the world we live in and it is. Ask yourself though, how has that multi-tasking been working for you. Do you feel stressed, overwhelmed, like you’re not doing the best job you can?
You can admit it, we all feel that way sometimes. There are so many things vying for our attention, so many things that work, life, and kids (fur or human) need done each day, it is almost impossible to not feel this way.
There is one thing you can do to help with this, one thing you have control over. Focus your attention, do just ONE thing at a time.
That’s right, if you stop multi-tasking, you will start to escape those feelings of being overwhelming.
Doing just one thing at a time will help you improve the quality of the things you do. Listening more intently, will help you grow the depth of your relationships.
Will you get the same amount of things done? Quite possibly. But even if you don’t, the things you do complete and accomplish will be of a higher quality, so it will have more value to you, your job, your family, your friends.
How do you do this:
- Coach Mike
Chattanooga is a beautiful city that is tucked between the mountains. It is one of those cities that really makes you appreciate life (if you have never been you should go). It had been a good 9 months since the last time I toed the line against the top competitors in our sports. I had my normal pre-race nerves.
Ok, Ok maybe a little more, I was probably talked off the edge of those mountains twice. See, sometimes I feel like I belong with those guys and sometimes I feel like I am not in the same stadium. My head kept rushing back and forth between the two, and I couldn’t control it, until the pro meeting.
The pro meeting was nothing special it just put all the professionals (man and women) in the same “room”, but after that meeting I came out calmer, more focused and ready to jump. We (the wifey and I) know that I get this way, so instead of sitting around we plan to do some family activity, so in Chatty we spent all day pre-race at the Aquarium.
Race morning went off without a hitch, coffee, breakfast, coffee and Transition set up. Swim Start was .9 miles up the Tn River from transition. So, I decided to walk to mentally get ready for the pain that I was about to put myself through. The swim was 350 meters up stream and then the rest down the river back into transition. I was the most confident I have ever been at this race about the swim. I have put in many yards this year to make this weakness and weapon.
The cannon goes off and we (the male pro’s and I) go from fighting the current to stay in place to a mad dash up stream. I was immediately in a pack of swimmers fighting for some clean water. The good news about swimming upstream is the strong swimmers had all separated from the pack about 100 meters in and by the turn buoy (350 meters) we had well established packs. I was pulling what seemed to be the forth pack (by my estimates) with the third pack literally a body length in front of me. Two guys behind me realized that I was swimming hard to close it but wasn’t closing it fast enough so they surged to pull us on the feet, were I am happy to report, that we stayed the rest of the way down the river.
Coming into T1, I realized that the plan JB and I had written up for the swim, was executed flawlessly because I was in the pack with some of the targets we had set to pull as along on the bike. I mean mugged my way through transition to not lose my targets and boom we were on the bike.
The bike course at Chatty is pretty simple it’s an 11 mile stick out of town a large circle and then a 11 mile stick back into town. There is a really good climb at mile 26 and 44 outside of that it’s a simple course. At roughly mile one I went over some train tracks and one of my bottles popped out. I made the decision to turn around and pick it up. At that moment I lost sight of my targets and never saw them again. Somewhere within the next ten mins I lost that same bottle again. I knew by 5 miles in, that my target bike power wasn’t happening. I was pedaling as hard as I could and the power was just not coming.
Typically, in the situation I give up. Things weren’t going my way, but I shifted my focus onto my run. Knowing I was going to have relatively fresh legs I tried to keep reminding myself that the power number didn’t matter.
Rolling into T2 I was about 8 mins or so off of my targets (according to the wifey). I drilled the first half of the winding course through the north and south shore of Chatty, but by 7 I completely checked out. I wasn’t having fun, the cramps were setting in and I couldn’t settle my heart rate. I finished the race and my head wasn’t in a good place.
Despite not having my legs, we accomplished the majority of what we came out to do. We had a great swim and my targets were right there. My mind stayed positive and alert for a majority of the day. Lastly, we finished our first pro race of the season. All that being said, I still made some bone headed mistakes and I am reminded that even though I have come a long way mentally the mountain top is still way up there.
Overall, I am torn with the performance. There is a lot that went right but also a lot that we can improve. One of these days we will put it all together and when that happens, watch out. Until that day though, we will keep entering the arena.
Stress & Recovery
In my previous post, I wrote about doing the basics at a high level and maybe this post should have been first but it does continue the theme of doing the basics extraordinarily well.
The basic piece I want to focus on today is RECOVERY.
The equation for improving any aspect of our lives is STRESS + REST = Growth.
This is a really simple equation and simple to see that if you remove either of the variables, the product is negated. Also, if one of the variables is weighted too heavily, the product will be compromised.
In terms of athletic performance, the primary stress is training, rest or recovery is time completely off, training at a very low intensity and volume in comparison to your normal load, sleep, and the use of recovery modalities such as massage, ice baths, compression therapy, and contrast plunges. Lastly, growth is your improvement toward your goals.
Here’s the tricky part for most of us though, our stress is not limited to our training and your brain and body do not and cannot differentiate between intervals on the bike and running late for work while stuck in traffic.
Our modern lives run deep with stress on a daily basis, and this over abundance of stress is likely the reason you aren’t getting faster, aren’t loosing those last 5lbs, aren’t building muscle. Besides elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol (which causes weight gain or maintenance), the use mental energy to deal with stress reduces our ability to make good choices and perform cognitive functions (put down the Oreos).
So what can you do to help yourself your reach your goals?
Focus on you to truly unlock your potential!
- Coach Mike
F*ck you!!! I knew you were coming many months ago; you were the bad train wreck that I couldn’t look away from. You were about Survival.
See April, you hurt me, in more ways than one. Physically you took me away from the places I wanted to be and when I dreamed about those places you came shattering down. You filled my waking hours with crazy schedule that made it nearly impossible to accomplish my goals.
Mentally you took me places I never imagined, from the darkest depths of the ocean to the brightest places on the sun. You made me question what I was doing. When I was doing it, my mind was always somewhere else. You even had me questioning my why and made me think about hanging it up.
Yeah April, you had me against the ropes. You knocked me down more times than I care to admit. You knocked my breath away, kicked me, punched me and you definitely left scars.
But you know what April, I am still standing!!!
You underestimated me. Did you not expect me to get back up? Did you not expect me to throw hay makers when the lights went out? You didn’t see those coming did you? When I was suffering, I was growing, and when I failed, I learned. You left me a little glimmer of hope April, and you never give a fighter an opening.
So April I say thank you. Thank you for the trials, for the suffering, for the pain. Thank you for the tears, the anger, the blood. It added to my fuel. Because of you, I overcame the dark times and grew into someone I needed to become.
April, next time, because we all know there will be a next time, bring a bigger army because you f*cked with the wrong human!!!
This is the first in a short series of Optimizing Yourself.
Do the Basics with Expertise:
In this day we can see all the fancy, crazy, cool, secret workouts that professional athletes do almost immediately on social media.
We get to drool over all of the cool equipment and technology that their sponsors hand out to them. Then, we want to try these workouts, buy that cool gear, be just like those elites. However, that is not the answer to becoming the best athlete and human you can become.
Almost without exception, those elite athletes that you look up to did not get where they are today by doing anything that that would look cool on the internet or using some high tech piece of equipment. They got there by doing the basics at an outstanding level.
They learned to squat, lunge, and hinge (usually without added weight) properly before they clean or do some crazy battle rope routine.
They learned how to shift, corner, and pedal smoothly before they learned how to those things in a Cat 1 pack or in the aero position.
They did thousands of yards of drill before they could consistently knock out 59 sec 100’s with flip turns that make them look like a dolphin.
But most importantly, they learned to do the basics of life at the highest level.
If you don’t have these aspects of life dialed, you are short changing your potential. If you want to get faster, be stronger, perform better in all aspects of life, this is where you should start.
In the following blog posts, I’ll lay out the equation for optimizing yourself but start here:
30 min more sleep/night
Drink 2 more cups of water/day
Eat 1 more serving of vegetables (green leafy things) each day and one less processed thing each day
Try to only breathe through your nose when you aren’t working out.
- Coach Mike
So I’ve always thought of myself as generally a pretty healthy eater. I pride myself on feeding my kids a vegetable, a fruit and a protein every dinner. I eat left overs which consist of the same and deny offerings of sweets at work easily. I’m not a saint by any means.
I have yo-yo’d between bread, no-bread, bread phases throughout the years depending on what I’m training for. I’ve tried high sugar products on training rides and during races which worked well for me. I’ve tried vegan, vegetarian, and plant based diets.
These changes are usually triggered by a new movie that is coming out talking about health benefits and I go 1000% in because I believe what’s on the tv must be just as real as what’s on the internet. So I change... and drag my sweet, forgiving family with me.
My kids and Jeremy, for that matter, will roll their eyes yet roll (Tide) along with me. The problem is I hate to cook. Hate it. And I hate hate, but I hate cooking more than I hate hate. So that’s when my new “lifestyle change” (we use quotes when we say it in my house) happened.
When I visited my friends, Juliana and Steven in Pensacola this past summer, they were eating keto. Plant and meat based diet. I thought, this I CAN DO! She was cooking bacon, spinach, eggs (This was my for sure sign bc I have been eating 2 eggs every morning for at least the past 10 years. I know it’s crazy), nuts...all things that I already eat and love. BUT no bread. No sugar. No WINE. No Wine? Wait, I’m not sure I can do that. I have boundaries.
I grew up on a meat based diet so I do love meat but I also know how important veggies and fruits (side note, huge pet peeve of mine is when people say “I’m not eating fruit bc it has too much sugar” then they eat processed sugar free foods that are worse for your body than nature...off my box) are and how of little importance sugar is.
I cut out everything...except wine, of course. I thought, I’ll see if this works even with my wine habit.
We start eating basically the same as we were without any processed foods. No chips (hard to do when drinking margaritas) No tacos. No tortillas. No fries. No popcorn. No bun with my burger. No more bread and butter. No more toast and jam. No more...you get the idea. I don’t even like jam.
So we were 100000% in. Then...I get on the bike. The bike that I had worked sooo hard to improve. The bike that I loved to be on.
And the bike...that now I hate. And you know how I feel about hate.
I felt sluggish. More than sluggish. Weak, irritable and frustrated. Not hitting power numbers set after set for over a month. Over a month. Seriously. What is happening. I have IMFL in 6 weeks. I’ll never be back to where I was.
Detox was happening. Sugar detox. Time was what it was going to take to get me passed this stage.
Who has time? Not me. I have a family and work and training numbers to hit. I can’t wait. I should eat sugar, bread, Oreos. Yes, Oreos. This isn’t working.
But I fought that urge. Mentally I had to buy into it. I had to let go of the present and look toward the future. My logical brain told me this was right. This is best. So I fought. And slowly I recovered quicker, got stronger, less irritable, well, less ups and downs AND I was losing weight.
Here’s the deal. I NEVER use a scale. It’s in my garage just so I don’t ever step on it. My logical, very logical brain says the numbers don’t matter and honestly they don’t. My dad says we have “big bones” and muscles scientifically weigh more than fat so what matters to me is how my clothes fit. I don’t buy clothes. I’m not a shopper. I hate cooking and shopping equally. This “lifestyle change” is now increasing the lifespan of my clothes. And that to me is pure bonus without effort.
Now, I realize every body’s metabolism is different. I know logically and realistically this might not work for everyone but this HAS worked for me. There’s definitely times I’ve fallen off. Eaten sugar and lots of it, but coming back is a mind set.
I have to remind myself of what’s important. My health. My training (Which keeps my mental health in check) and most importantly my family. I am happiest when I am healthy and my family is happiest when we are all healthy. Love. Health. Happiness.
- Kendall Gill
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