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John Burroughs


(See ViF content index sidebar below - Quotes, Training Videos, and Articles of Interest)

ViF - Featured Motivational Quotes

"Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
Lou Holtz - College Coach Great

"If you set a goal for yourself and are able to achieve it, you have won the race. Your goal can be to come in first, to improve your performance, or just to finish the race - it's up to you"
Dave Scott - Six Time Ironman World Champion

Long Course Triathlon Training - for a "Real Person" in the "Real World"

Victors' Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann share Long-Course Triathlon Training for the "Age Grouper" and "Real Life"
(A three part series worth the read!)

5 Keys to Long-Course Triathlon Training: Part I - The focus you put on your training will determine how prepared you are at the start line.

By Rich Strauss and Patrick McCrann of Endurance Nation

We'd like to share with you our distilled summary of what long-course triathlon training is all about, learned from our nearly 20 years of long-course training, coaching and racing experience. Our goal is to bring you years and years up the learning curve, saving you tons of time and experimentation. In short, we've made all of the mistakes so you don't have to.

In Part I we'll discuss keys one through four. In Part II we'll discuss the fifth key. Finally, in Part III we'll contrast our approach with the conventional long-course training wisdom.

The Five Keys are entirely a function of the need to both maximize and reserve your training time investment for as long as possible to meet real world constraints.

Everything we do—the workouts, the structure, everything—flows backwards from the fact that you are an age-group athlete living in the real world. Period. We feel very strongly that any discussion on how to train that does not begin, in the first sentence, with defining how much time you have to train, is largely invalid.

In other words, we can't talk about what goes in your training box without first talking about how big your box is.

Life - not a spreadsheet, not a coach, not a book—dictates the size of that box. This is an absolute, do-not-pass-go thing you gotta get through your head. This is all just a game and it must fit within your life.

Endurance Nation's -

Five Keys of Long-Course Training

1. Real-World Volume

2. Maximize Return on Time Invested

3. Fitness = Ability to Perform More Work

4. Intensity = Most Flexible Tool to Manipulate Training Load

5. The Best Predictor of Performance is Pace/Watts at Functional/Lactate Threshold

1. Real-World Volume

Your training plan is a box of workouts. Your life is also a box. You insert your training plan box into your life box. Any discussion of what goes into your training box without first discussing the size of your life box is inherently flawed.

In our experience, there is very little you, the real-world athlete, can learn from the training of a professional triathlete (genetic freak) with relatively unlimited training and recovery resources. His weekly training plan (frequency + volume + intensity) reflects the reality of being able to train 25 to 30+ hours a week and sleep nine to 11 hours per day.

Your training plan must reflect your reality: training one to two hours per workday, max, with consistent three to four hours per day available on the weekends, maybe. Oh, and don't forget those pesky work, family and personal life commitments.

We discount or ignore any coaching protocol that is either not framed in this perspective from the start, or is framed from the perspective of 18+ hours per week. That is not the real world. We begin our training plan and coaching conversations with this very simple question:

What is the training week (frequency + volume + intensity) that works for 95 percent of age-groupers 95 percent of the time?

2. Maximize Return on Time Invested

What time returns on race day are you getting for every minute of training time invested?

10 minutes to pack a bag + 15min. drive to the gym + 45min. weight session + 20min. shower and change + 20min. drive X 2 to 3 days per week

What exactly are you getting on race day for that significant time investment? What are the true costs of that time, to your work, family and personal life? If you can achieve the same results with a 1:30 ride as you can with a 2:30 ride, why waste an hour of your day? More importantly, why would you want to compromise the more important parts of your life (work, family, etc) when you don't need to in order to reach your race-day goals?

Within this point, recognize that the cost of your time, your primary training input, is highly variable across the season. For example, a four-hour ride on the trainer in a cold basement in January before your son's 9 a.m. hockey game is much more costly than a four-hour focused, race-specific ride six weeks out from your event.

Our advice to you here is: Don't nickel and dime your life and your family for one to two hours here and there, week after week, for months before your race. Instead, keep the volume as low as you can for as long as you can, spending those training hours and the associated Spousal Approval Units (SAUs) closer to your race, where they can do you the most good.

3. Fitness = Ability to Perform More Work

The measure of your current fitness is the ability to do work: to move the mass of your body through space via wheels, water, or shoes, at X pace/speed/watts for Y distance/time. "Fitness" as you know it is simply your body's ability to perform work at a specific work rate. Don't worry about what is or is not going on inside your body, or how fit you are. Instead, focus on the output of that fitness, which is your body's ability to perform the work of pedaling a bike at 20mph for two hours or to tick away 9:00 miles on the run.

Training Overload

However, your body is very efficient and will only adapt itself to the stresses that you place upon it. If all you ever do is ride 20mph or run 9:00 miles, your body will not be forced to adapt to perform more work. Any training session, therefore, is nothing more than an opportunity to make your body do more work than it's accustomed to.

The cumulative effect of this increased stress applied over a week, a month, a training period, etc, is that your body is forced to adapt to this ever-increasing stress. The expression of this increased adaptation is: The ability to do more work = You can go faster and/or longer. Essentially, you have become more fit.

In summary:

• Fitness is the ability to perform more work.

• My body is currently adapted to perform work at a specific work rate.

• I introduce my body to increasing levels of stress and it adapts.

• The expression of this adaptation is the ability to perform work at a higher work rate. Thus, I go faster for longer.

4. Intensity = Most Flexible Tool to Manipulate Training Load

The vehicle in which you do this work and apply training stress to your body is your training week. To express your training week as a simple equation:

Weekly Training Stress = Frequency x Volume x Relative Intensity

Frequency: Number of swims, bikes and runs per week. Largely dictated by your real life and is relatively static. You can ride three times, run four times and swim three times per week because life says you can. Once you reach the frequency that life lets you have, you're done.

Volume: The length of these sessions, measured by time. Volume is relatively flexible in the short term, becoming inflexible in the long term. That is, your Wednesday run can go from 30 minutes to 45 minutes to 60 minutes...but then becomes fixed, as life only gives you 60 minutes to run on Wednesday.

Likewise, your life can accommodate a two- to three-hour long ride relatively easily, week after week. However, the life cost of the ride rises very quickly above three to four hours. Therefore, your ride tops out at a consistent three to four hours per session because this is the volume that life says you can get done, week after week, while still wearing your husband/wife/father/mother hats on the weekends.

Your job, then, as a self-coached athlete is to maximize the work
you get done in the time that life gives you

Relative Intensity: How hard you go for each session. Intensity is infinitely more flexible, as you can manipulate training zones, paces, etc to achieve a variety of goals.

In summary, intensity is your best tool for manipulating weekly training stress because it is so flexible and is often the only tool you have.

Frequency: Life says you can only swim x, bike y, and run z times per day week. Done.

Volume: Life says you can only run 60 minutes on Wednesday, or ride consistently three to four hours on Saturday. Done.

Intensity: But there is no end to the variety of Zone This, Pace That variations I can do within these fixed inputs of frequency and volume.

We'll leave you with this thought: Traditional long-course training focuses on volume as the primary training input. Frequency is fixed, intensity is always low, so the only way to introduce a training overload, forcing your body to adapt, is to manipulate training volume...up and up and up.

A three-hour ride becomes three and a half, becomes four, becomes four and a half...becomes a 14-hour week, becomes 16 hours, becomes 18, becomes 22 becomes...what? Divorced? Jobless? Homeless?

Think about this: If training volume is your primary training input, and life puts a limit on that input, what do you do then? Remember, the training box fits within the life box.

The answer is to change your perspective from "training = time" to "training = the application of work to the time that life gives me". Once you've made that mental shift, you've now freed yourself to do more work, in less time, getting much faster while retaining the delicate time balance between work, family, training and lifestyle.

5 Keys of Long-Course Triathlon Training--Part II: Lactate Threshold Training

In Part I we introduced you to our 5 Keys and discussed one through four. To review, the 5 Keys are:

1. Real-World Volume
2. Maximize Return on Time Invested
3. Fitness = Ability to Perform More Work
4. Intensity = Most Flexible Tool to Manipulate Training Load
5. The Best Predictor of Performance is Pace/Watts at Functional/Lactate Threshold

In this article we'll discuss why pace/speed/watts at functional or lactate threshold, not training volume, is the best predictor of performance at all race distances.

Let's begin with a quick review of Key No. 3: Fitness as the Ability to Perform more Work. As we discussed, the functional expression of your fitness is the ability to pedal your bike, run or swim at given speed—to perform the physics of moving the mass of your body through space.

In order to force your body to adapt, you need to make it perform more work. But let's talk about what happens inside your body as you ask it to perform more work—to ride, run or swim faster.

Slow- and Fast-Twitch Muscles

Your body begins by recruiting slow-twitch muscle fibers. These fibers:

• Are good at performing relatively low force contractions.
• They can go and go and go for a long time. They are fatigue resistant.
• They recover quickly.
• Primarily burn fat for fuel. At ~3,600 calories per one pound of fat, even the leanest triathlete has a nearly endless fatty gas tank.
• Muscles fibers only adapt when you recruit them and make them do more work than they are accustomed to. The more often you recruit your slow-twitch fibers (the more exercise you do), the better they become at doing slow-twitch stuff: They adapt to produce more force, go longer, and become more fuel efficient. Remember that your body is lazy and will only adapt to meet the load you place upon it. The more stress you place on this system, the more it is forced to adapt.

As the workload increases (you go faster and faster), your body recruits a more and more slow-twitch fibers to chip in. At some work rate (speed), you begin to run out of slow-twitch fibers to recruit and your body begins to call in fast-twitch fibers to do the work. Fast-twitch fibers:

• Perform high force contractions.
• Tire easily and take a long time to recover. One and done, or need to rest a good bit before being put back to work again.
• Burn glycogen for fuel. The well-trained, well-rested endurance athlete only has about 1,800 to 2,000 calories of glycogen stored in the muscles and in the liver, much more limited than our fat reserves.
• Same adaptive jazz as above: The more often you recruit fast-twitch fibers (force them to work), the better they become at doing fast-twitch stuff. Better still, some of them can begin to take on the characteristics of slow-twitch fibers, increasing the number of fat-burning (unlimited energy source) fibers you have available to swim, bike, or run.
 • Produce lactate as a byproduct.

Lactate Threshold

Which brings us to lactate threshold; a term you may have heard of. This is the exercise intensity at which lactate levels in the blood rise above a certain level, as more and more fast-twitch fibers (which produce lactate) are called upon to work.

It's called a "threshold" because we can exercise for a long time at or just under this intensity. However, above this intensity, lactate levels increase, we rapidly fatigue, and are eventually forced to slow down.

At lactate threshold intensity we can say we have recruited most or all of our slow-twitch fibers, and a good bit of our fast-twitch fibers, forcing them to adapt and become better at their respective roles. Finally, we can remain here for a long time, exposing our fibers to this workload and forcing them to adapt to meet it.

We summarize all of the above by saying that "Fitness is in the muscles." That is, a workout is nothing more than an opportunity to recruit a high percentage of muscle fibers, forcing these fibers to adapt and become better at what they do. As they become better muscles, they can do more work, the expression of which is "I go faster." We remind our athletes of this by including this phrase on our cycling and racing kit:

Work is Speed Entering the Body

Let's now talk about the real-world training implications of all of this:

Training Zones Determined Relative to Lactate Threshold (LT): Because lactate threshold is such a powerful place, we want to define our training intensities relative to LT. No big secret here, there are many systems for doing this, but hopefully our explanation above sheds more light on just why this is so powerful.

Zones 1 and 2: You're not really making yourself faster, at least not in a time efficient manner. If all you do is exercise at Zone 1 and 2, you have entire squads of slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers that are never recruited, never forced to adapt. In other words, you'll get very, very good at riding and running very slowly!

Yes, you can get faster by riding and running a lot in Zone 1 and 2. However, in our experience, the volume required for this to happen, especially for cycling, is just not realistic or sustainable for the average age grouper.

Zone 4 (Lactate Threshold): Maximum exposure of all fibers to a training load, forcing them to adapt. At Zone 4, all of my slow-twitch fibers are recruited and forced to adapt; many of my fast-twitch fibers are doing the same.

This is a very efficient place to spend your training time because you get so many go-longer and go-faster adaptations. And not much time is required. For example, in our experience, as little as 40 minutes of LT work per week spread across your cycling can dramatically increase your speed on the bike.

Fitness Adaptations Occur Within a Range of Intensities: The either/or of aerobic/anaerobic exercise described by triathlon culture is simply not correct.

The summary of all of this is the Fifth Key: Pace/Power/Speed at Lactate Threshold is the Best Predictor of Performance.

That is, if we can improve your 5K, 10K, or half-marathon time, we can make you a faster half- or full-Ironman runner once we then put some endurance and durability under those faster running legs. If we can improve the speed at which you can ride for an hour from 19mph to 22mph, that similar speed increase will be expressed at 56 and 112 miles, assuming we put some endurance under it.

In other words, "a rising tide lifts all boats." We target, test, and track the "tide" of our athletes, as we know from that experience that fast at short is fast at long, once we put "far" under that "fast."

Five Keys of Long Course Training, Part III: TeamEN vs Traditional Approaches

In Part I we introduced you to the Five Keys, and discussed one through four. In Part II we discussed Key 5, lactate threshold training. Finally, in Part III, we summarize how the “TeamEN Way” is different from how you’ve probably been accustomed to thinking about long course triathlon training.

Let’s start by reviewing perhaps the foundation of all endurance training: Progressive Overload

Your body is lazy, only adapted to the stress that you place upon it. The objective of training is to impart greater and greater stresses on your body, progressive overload, forcing it to adapt and become more fit. Traditional long course triathlon training ignores or obfuscates this fundamental principle. Instead the focus of the discussion is:

Magical, tasty, aerobic adaptations that happen at Zone 1-2 and do not happen in Zone 3 or 4. All you need to do is just punch the clock (a lot) in these zones and your body will be ready for the race…which it will, no doubt. But this approach ignores the science of human physiology, which says that increased fitness is the expression of adapted muscle fibers. These fibers are recruited, and forced to adapt, across a range of intensities, such that work in Zone 3 and 4 also accomplishes your Zone 1 and 2 objectives…while also making you significantly faster and decreasing your overall time investment.

Training volume required for the distance. In our experience, volume has been at the center of long course triathlon discussions, training plans, and lore, becoming deeply anchored within the culture of our sport: “How long does my long bike/run need to be before I’m ready for a successful race…how many total hours do I need to train this, that and the other week…I read/heard that Joe Pro/The Local Fast Guy does 20-30hrs per week!”

The fundamental flaws of these perspectives are:

• The purpose of training is to introduce greater and greater stress on my body, forcing it to adapt. But…

• The only intensity I’m allowed to sit on is Zone 1-2 because that’s only where the good stuff happens. But…

• If my intensity is to remain static, the only tool I have left to manipulate training stress is training volume. But…

• If I’m a real person in the real world with real world time constraints, and volume is my primary training tool…what happens when I run out of volume?

After working with age groupers for so long, we’ve learned age-grouper-specific perspectives and tools:

Divide your training week into Weekday Hours and Weekend Hours:

• Weekday Hours: what is the amount of time each day that life gives me to train while still meeting all of my other (more) important obligations? If the answer is 1hr on Monday, 1.5hrs on Tuesday, 45 minutes on Wednesday, etc, THAT’s the box that life gives you. Fit your training within that box and then focus on the details, particularly the appropriate intensity of each session, to ensure you’re getting the best return from your training time investment.

• Weekend Hours: what amount of training volume is repeatable (physically, mentally, family-ly) week after week after week? Maybe it’s a 2.5hr ride on Saturday and 1.5hrs on Sunday, but anything over this begins to quickly place a lot of stress on your other obligations. That’s fine, it is what it is. We recommend you “Keep the volume as low as you can for as long as you can.” Set the expectation that, about 8-10wks out from your race, you’re going to be asking for a few extra hours of training on the weekends because the race distance requirement a larger volume investment. So, rather than nickle and diming your family for 2+hrs of extra, high life-cost training every weekend for months and months before your race, bank those SAUs (Spousal Approval Units) and ask, months in advance, for permission to cash in those chips on a small handful of very valuable weekends much closer to the race, where the race-specific volume will do you the most good.

Recognize the Variable Cost of Training Hours

Not all hours across your season have the same “life-cost.” Training hours far away from your race, especially in the winter, have a very high motivation, sanity, and family cost. Anyone who has ridden a trainer for four hours at 4am in January, 9 months before their A-race, knows what we’re talking about. Training hours closer to your race can be a little easier to get (more daylight, better temperatures, a greater sense of urgency), but are extremely valuable. How much money would we have to pay you to skip your long ride four weeks before your Ironman? We thought so!

Our mantra’s of “FAST before FAR,” “keep the volume as low as you can as long as you can,” and the concepts of the Spousal Approval Unit (SAU) and Return on Investment (ROI) are the results of our recognition of the variable time cost of training.


Perhaps the most unfortunate misconception in the tri-space is the notion of aerobic and anaerobic training zones. This has created a culture that believes that in Zones 1 and 2, we are developing “these” fitness components. As we move to Zone 3, a switch is flicked, we stop training the Zone 1 and 2 stuff and are now training Zone 3 stuff. At Zone 4, we are no longer training the Zone 1-3 goodness and instead beginning to enter the “anaerobic zones,” the purview of speedy folks looking to race shorter distances. These hard divisions between zones and their associated fitness components are then combined with the notion of race specific fitness. The training conversation goes like this: “On race day I’m going to spend a LOT of time at a Zone 1-2 effort. Therefore, I need to spend all of my time in Zone 1-2 so I/my body gets really, really good at Zone 1-2 work. Further, if I stray outside these zones I’m actually hampering my Zone 1-2 fitness!

Instead, we focus on the science, which says that increased fitness is the expression of the cummulative adaptations of individual muscles fibers. These fibers only adapt when stressed, when they are recruited, and recruitment happens when I go harder, making more and more muscle fibers chip in and contribute to the work.

Training zones are then “Muscle Recruitment Zones” and the conversation with our athletes goes like this:

• Zone 4 = just at/under lactate threshold. You’re recruiting a LOT of your muscle fibers, both slow and fast twitch, making them each better at what they do. This is your “get faster zone,” but you’re also getting lots of tasty Zone 1-2 adaptations because nearly all of your slowtwitch fibers are being recruited. This is a very time efficient zone, since as little as 40 minutes of Zone 4 across your cycling week and 30 minutes across your running week can make you significantly faster.

• Zone 1-2 = your “race-specific” zone for Ironman racing. As we get closer to your race, the volume of your training increases, intensity must therefore decrease, and we spend more time in Zone 1-2 as a consequence. We also want to make you more comfortable, confident, and familiar with all the things you’ll be doing on race day at this intensity (hydration, nutrition, bike position, etc).

• Zone 3 = a very valuable place to spend a lot of time. You’re recruiting lots of slow twitch fibers, many of your fast twitch fibers, and you can sit here a long, long time. The result we seen, through analyzing the power and pace files of our athletes, is that they are able to significantly boost the training stress (see Progress Overload Principle) for each session with the same time investment. This is a REALLY time efficient training zone.

The net is that we view training intensities as tools to be applied to your relatively static Weekday Hours and slightly more flexible Weekend Hours. The application of that intensity is a function of where you are in your season, which we define as OutSeason, General Preparation, or Race Preparation:

Out-Season: cost of training time is very high = volume goes WAY down, intensity goes WAY up and you get MUCH faster.

General Prep: volume can go up (more daylight, warmer) = intensity comes down a bit. But volume is limited by what your life says is repeatable. In other words, your Saturday ride is 3hrs because that’s what is repeatable, not because your Ironman says that your Week 6 long ride needs to be 3hrs

Race Prep: volume goes up again because the distance of the race requires it. Intensity comes down a bit so we can get you better at doing the things you’ll do on race day.

FREE Virtual Seminar: Long Course Training—Interested in learning more? We've created a free virtual seminar learning opportunity for you. Participants will receive practical tools for planning and managing their training, as well as opportunities to win free training plans and copies of our Four Keys of Ironman Execution DVD. Go here to learn more and register today!

Endurance Nation is the world's only 400-person long-course triathlon team. Visit Endurance Nation to take advantage of our free virtual seminars, ebooks, podcasts, videos and much more!

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