Performance Improvements and Success Stories

Recently I've written a couple of blog posts discussing the importance of improving athlete limiters and the proper development of energy systems. The goal being to ensure not only the improvement of said limiters of an athlete but to further develop their strengths as well. With that in mind I thought it was time that we highlighted a few of our athletes here at Podium Training Systems to show not only the scope of racing that happens amongst our athletes, but also the type of improvements and success they've had and how we achieved those gains.

I reached out to a small number of my athletes to see if they would be willing to share their experiences over the past season or two and provide me with what they felt were their biggest improvements.

Joe N. is a triathlete and duathlete on the west coast. Last year he competed at the USAT Duathlon National Championships in Bend OR, and qualified for world championships in Canada (coming up in just over two weeks time). He recently competed in this years Duathlon National Championships (again in Bend OR) and once again qualified for duathlon worlds next year in Denmark. His input:

....at Du Nats my times this year [compared to last year] were: Two minutes faster on the 10k, eleven and a half (!!) minutes faster on the bike, and two and a half minutes faster on the 5k.  Even though the bike is the biggest improvement (both in terms of raw time and percentage time) I'm actually happier with the run improvements.

What did we prescribe to achieve these gains? Aerobic endurance wasn't the issue. We needed to improve speed (pace) and speed endurance. For the run we upped the amount of speed work at the track, as well as the amount of anaerobic threshold work. Fartlek, and K-Pump sessions were also frequent guests to the party. On the bike we had similar additions. High aerobic and anaerobic threshold sessions with quality VO2 efforts mixed in. We also added workouts to focus on power output. 

Brian J. is a long course triathlete here in Colorado who's targeting Ironman Wisconsin this year. His primary limiter was the swim leg. His thoughts:

My swim workouts have improved a ton over the past year.  I feel stronger and more efficient in the water.  My confidence continues to grow in the water each week.

Brian is a strong cyclist and runner, but had some mechanical issues impacting his swim efficiency which thus caused high fatigue rates. We first took underwater video and broke his stroke down to determine what mechanical limiters needed to be worked on. Then it was a matter of scheduling regular one on one swimming sessions to work on drills, form, and stroke mechanics. Brian's base 100 times have improved by over 10 seconds in 4 months, and his endurance levels have improved to the point that 3,500 - 4,000+ meter swims are now the norm.

Finally, Zachary S. is a triathlete on the Carolina coast competing in short course to 70.3 events. While we had improvements across the board Zach found that, even with great swim improvements, the run and bike gains stood out:

I went from normally running a 9:00 min/mile pace to sub 7:00 min/mile pace in a matter of months. Focusing on improvements in form made the largest difference. And on the bike the structured workouts changed my performance from a 3:20 bike leg at Beach to Battleship to a 2:45 at Rev3 Quassy. 

IM NC.jpg

I think that Zach's bike improvement is the most telling gain here. Ironman NC (previously Beach to Battleship) has 823 feet of climbing. Rev3 Quassy has 3,000+ feet of climbing. To achieve the gains he experienced we focused again on speed endurance and power, as well as adding in quality strength endurance and power workouts. Structuring his bike workouts properly was a also a key factor. Each workout had a main set containing efforts in the middle of his long ride that were faster than race pace - usually pushing anaerobic threshold - and then recovering back down at target race pace / output. This built up his lactic acid tolerance and trained his body to create a new "normal" for his racing outputs at all his race distances

I'm absolutely thrilled with the performance of all my athletes, and I'm proud of how hard they have worked to achieve the improvements mentioned above. 

The Importance Of The Swim

I hear a lot of people (coaches and athletes alike) state: "You can't win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose one in the swim". 

I've heard numerous athletes declare: "I just need to survive the swim".

I disagree with both statements. As a coach these are the first things, should an athlete of mine say such a thing, that we remove from the conversation. You can indeed win a triathlon by having a good swim. Just as you can win it by having a good bike, or run. But you have to be strong across all the disciplines to ensure that your good swim effort holds up at the end. 

Just surviving the swim? That's a great way to lose time, waste energy, and ensure you have a harder bike and run leg than is necessary.

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On Writing Workouts

During all of my various coaching certification clinics the discussion around the creation of workouts was covered in detail. The main points of interest?

  • Specificity
  • Energy systems
  • Athlete understanding of goals of workout

Of course the importance of a good warm up, cool down, and dynamic stretching, was covered as well.

Let me clarify: Did we cover 'everything' in granular detail? No. You can't cover everything in a weekend-long clinic. You need to continue your education beyond the initial course. But, all that said, the three points above have been resonating with me lately. Why?

I'm seeing too many triathlon coaches prescribe workouts that have no specifics around energy systems, and no way for the athlete to know what the goal of the workout is. In some cases guaranteeing that the athlete do nothing but train their body to run long and slow on race day. A couple of examples that I've seen (posted online) lately:

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It's Never Too Late To Learn

I was at the pool a couple of days ago -  getting in a short workout of my own - when one of the managers of the aquatics center stopped me in the middle of my set. He said: "Hey Dave, can I tell you something that I'm seeing in your stroke?"

Now, I'm a good swimmer. And I'm pretty comfortable with my stroke. But this gentleman has been around the swimming community for a long time. His wife is the head coach of a college team here in Colorado Springs. And he did his own share of swimming back in the day. So I knew he must have seen something.

He told me what he saw (it was something my left arm was doing during the recovery phase of my stroke). I made a change, and immediately felt a difference. He then commented: "Yep, that was it. Looks much smoother." I swam a little more and could tell there was definitely a positive change that was made. I thanked him for his input.

The message here? Always be open for constructive feedback. You never know where good advice might come from, and it's never too late to find ways to improve your performance.

Training Nutrition Facts and Fiction

Some time ago, I wrote an article about how training for a triathlon was not a diet. There's a fine line between maintaining a healthy training and racing weight and an unhealthy weight. And this topic is gender neutral. Men and women alike are equally susceptible to an unhealthy diet and nutrition plan whilst training for an endurance event. 

Using myself as an example, my worst race occurred when I weighed the least. It was very early in my triathlon 'career', and I was at a goal weight which I though would help me perform better. In truth I was under-weight, as I was spurned on by all they hype around "getting lean" and "losing an extra few pounds for the next race".

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