Category Archives: Mental Aspects and Preparation

Form Training with the 4 S’s

In the last few months, I’ve been really into Total Immersion and their teaching method. Swimming is one of those activities which require mastery of so many little details that trying to learn swimming all at once is very very difficult. So they do a great job of breaking down technique with drills, and enforcing focus on only one thing at a time so that you can master that without getting confused by other things you’re trying to learn. Thus, I’ve spent the last many months, and plan on for the better part of this year, in breaking down exactly what is wrong with my stroke and working on each individual part one at a time.
This has led me to believe that its teaching concepts in the area of form training can be applied to any other physical activity, especially in the case of cycling and running for me. In thinking about this, I thought I could encapsulate it in the 4 S’s of form training:
1. SYSTEM: You must have a system for identifying problems, removing bad habits and imprinting new and correct habits. With TI, they’ve done all that for you. Running has some great methods now (ie. ChiRunning, Pose Method) that strive to break down running so that you can focus on parts of your form. I have not found that to be true yet of cycling and would love to be pointed to some that discuss cycling form.
Without a system, you will inevitably try to do too much at once and see little or no improvement as old habits remain ingrained, and you can’t imprint new correct ones. It also means that you are hampering your brain/body’s ability to imprint new habits; someone once told me that you have to do something about 45 days or so to imprint a new habit. This means that you have to perform the new habit in the new way that many times exactly!
2. SENSITIVITY: You need to develop and have a sensitivity to what you’re doing wrong and also what you’re doing right. When habits become ingrained, they become commonplace and we don’t even notice when we’re doing something. This is both good and bad. Correct habits ingrained means we’re unconsciously performing optimally and not exerting excess energy and brain power to maintain activity. But if we’ve ingrained a bad habit, we may actually not know we’re doing something wrong because we’ve been doing it that way for so long. So we need to develop the body awareness to know how are bodies are moving both when we’re moving slow and especially when we’re moving fast. Slow is much easier, but when we’re cycling our arms and legs fast this may become too much to easily discern how and where are body parts are moving. Once we can know when we’re doing something wrong, then we can take steps to fix that.
3. SUSTAINABILITY: Once we ingrain new habits, we must be able to sustain them over the course of training and during the long hours of a race. Thus, we must be constantly wary of falling into old bad habits especially when we get tired and/or we lose our mental focus. Training only good habits and extending them over time will ingrain good form that is sustainable over a long time, ensuring an efficient race (and probably also injury free).
4. SYMMETRY: One thing that gets sometimes overlooked is the importance of symmetry of habits on each side of your body. We humans are built with two halves, both mirror images of each other. But unfortunately, we often perform the same activity differently on each side of our body due to old habits, favoring our strong side, muscle inbalances, etc. So while our form may be great on one side, we may find that the other side is challenged. Therefore, training to make sure that we even out both sides to equal form is important or else bad form on one side can actually affect performance on the other side.
Going back to the first S which is SYSTEM, it may be hard to find a system for your activity. TI does a great job for swimming and there are some running ones, but for cycling it may be hard. But finding a great SYSTEM will enable SUSTAINABILITY and SYMMETRY more, and help you train your brain to be more SENSITIVE.

Intermediate to Advanced: The Different Types of Training

In my interactions with my coach M2, I have learned that there are 6 types of training. These are:
1. Neuro-muscular – training of the nervous system to do something either differently, better, or to some form which maximizes efficiency and minimizes effort. Example: super short high speed treadmill intervals for 15-30 seconds per interval, form focus workouts for swimming.
2. Speed – training that results in being faster. Examples: swimming speed sets, sprinting track workouts for running.
3. Strength – training that results in you being stronger, and to put out more energy at the same effort. Examples: hill climbing in running, hill climbing or more watts on the computrainer in cycling.
4. Endurance – training for the ability to race or produce energy output for some length of time. Example: gradually lengthening the duration of a long run over a period of weeks.
4b. Stamina – I make this a sub-section to endurance, which is the ability to maintain a level of speed/strength for a long period of time. Example: gradually increasing the time of your intervals and reducing your rest periods while maintaining the same wattages during Computrainer bike interval workouts.
5. Recovery – stimulation of blood flow by raising heart rate and circulation but not raising effort to flush the body of exercise by-products and promote healing. Example: cycling on a computrainer at negligible watts, but high RPMs for about 20-30min.
It is somewhat obvious that whenever you go out to train, you’re most likely training more than one of these areas simultaneously. However, I wanted to point out:
1. You can train to focus on only one of these areas.
2. It’s good to have a mix of all 6 areas as you’re building for a race. The mix depends on where you are in your training schedule.
3. You have to be aware that potentially you could be detracting other areas if you’re not focusing on these areas.
Let’s talk about the first point.
Focusing on one thing is possible and many times desirable. Of the 6 training types, I’ve focused on mostly neuro-muscular, strength, and recovery. It’s all based on what you individually need.
For example, over the winter, I did a lot of treadmill training where I’d warmup with track drills, ie. kick backs, skipping, and then started doing 30 min intervals at super high speed, building from 6 MPH to as much as 11 MPH (where the interval drops to 15-20 seconds due to the fact that the treadmill takes too long to accelerate to that speed). By the way, I have not found a gym treadmill that goes faster than 11 MPH, although I have heard that you can actually get treadmills that go that fast. What this achieved for me, is not necessarily the ability to maintain an 11 MPH/5:27 min/mile pace over a race. It does help train my neuromuscular system to fire my muscles quicker so that I get used to running at a higher turnover rate, at paces I can maintain. This results in me being faster simply because my body is accustomed to moving my legs faster.
For strength training, over the last 2 years I started climbing and doing laps on Old La Honda and Kings Mountain. These laps have built up my leg strength considerably and increased their resilience on hill climbs, where I was defeated utterly at Ironman Austria a few years back.
I am also a big user of recovery workouts. I figure out if, for a given workout, I need to back off. If I do need to back off severely, often I’ll do a recovery workout. An example of this is a pedaling efficiency workout involving a lot of high RPM one-legged pedaling drills at minimal wattage. It doesn’t stress my muscles from a power standpoint, but it raises my heart rate and circulation so that blood is flowing through my muscles and the flushing effect helps my recovery so that the next day I’ll be able to perform a normal workout.
Second point: The mix.
Training all in one type means that you’re not gaining the full benefits or reaching your potential for a race. If all you’re doing is sprinting workouts on the bike, you may not be able to last an entire century. If all you’re doing is running at endurance pace every workout, you may find that you aren’t increasing your speed, or you don’t have enough strength to pass someone when you want to.
You need to mix it up and include all types and improve on them all. You can figure out, as I have, where my deficiencies are, and do some focus on improving some areas. But overall, you need to train all 6 types as you build through your season to the big race.
I tend to focus on neuromuscular workouts during the offseason, as they don’t stress my aerobic system and are great for recovery workouts. Then I move from neuromuscular focus as my training season starts to building speed and strength with a lesser endurance emphasis. This is because endurance is easiest to build, but speed and strength take lot more time. As I hit mid-season, I am adding more endurance and stamina into the mix as I try to extend the speed and strength I’ve built up to longer times.
Third point, watch out for what you’re not focusing on and don’t let it slide.
As you’re focusing on certain aspects of training, you have to watch out that you don’t reduce other aspects. An easy example is that as you build endurance, you may find that your form (neuromuscular aspect) gets really messy as you get tired. This is very bad! The trick is to maintain form even when you’re butt tired, and as you focus on building endurance. Otherwise, you could injure yourself through poor form, as your muscles are tiring and you engage other weaker muscles to compensate.
Another example is when you’re supposed to be doing a recovery workout, but yet you feel energized and so you try to push harder and do something with more energy. But then all of a sudden, half way through the workout, you find that you burn through that initial burst of energy which fails you later because you weren’t fully recovered and you don’t have enough stamina to continue. Recovery when you have to and don’t force yourself to do something your body just isn’t OK for.
Yet another example is not gradually increasing your workout intervals to improve stamina. You mentally don’t feel like doing fast intervals beyond a certain point, and thus your stamina never improves. You hit race day and you find that as you try to maintain speed, you can’t and you’re slowing down as you move through the miles.
While training typically involves the simultaneous training of all 6 types of training, I think that there is a lot of benefit to identifying where your personal needs are, and coupled with where you are in your training season, you can focus on specific areas which need improvement and advance them greatly. Categorizing the different types of training really helps in thinking about training and how to race faster.

Training HOT Update

Since I began this heat acclimatization training back in June, I’ve finally begun to see some nice results. The Bay area has experienced some truly unbelievably hot weather this summer. I’ve never seen it reach 90+ or even 100 degrees in Palo Alto until this year. However, it’s perfect for preparing my body for hard efforts during Ironman.
Every Friday, I’ve chosen to run mid-afternoon at my favorite park. It’s immensely hot, and sometimes I feel foolhardy for training in such hot weather. I prepare my drinks and put extra electrolytes in them. I also back off considerably on pace or else I know I won’t make it. Hydration is extremely important and I begin hydrating before I feel thirsty. This has worked well to keep me going. Thankfully, I have also not felt dizzy or nauseaous during running, so a combination of hydration, electrolytes, and heat adaption is definitely working.
This last Friday was a big moment for me. I went out in 95+ degree heat and ran 2:28, finishing 5 loops of my favorite hill loop. I am finding that my mental endurance for the heat has grown a lot, and I don’t feel like quitting so much any more due to the oppressiveness of the high temps.
On loop 3, I did begin to worry. One of my discoveries during training in heat was that my legs tend to stiffen up. I think my fascia is protesting the heat and the extra stress it’s putting on my body and it starts to lock up and make bending my legs during running a sore affair. I try to loosen up always with some kickbacks during my running and that seems to help. So on loop 3, my legs begin to lock up and I’m worried because I’ve got 2 more loops to do and I’m wondering whether or not I’m gonna make it.
Miraculously on loop 4, my legs loosen up completely. No more tight fascia at all. Weird. In fact they loosen up so much that I’m able to increase pace for both loops 4 and 5 and am able to complete a nice negative split workout.
All this in 95+ degree weather. Very happy!
I’m not sure that Ironman Florida will be a hot affair. In past years, I’ve been really lucky at Ironmans that the days have been relatively mild, with the exception of Ironman Austria where the temps were in the mid 80s. But surely I am prepared for a hot race day, as I usually hit the run around 2pm where the day is the hottest.
High temps have been the bane of my racing career and for the first time I think I’m relatively prepared for a hot race day. And if not a hot day, then I’ll enjoy running faster in cooler temps.

Training HOT

Global warming is in full force this year. These last few weeks in Palo Alto have been in the 90s, which is really unusual as Palo Alto tends to be much cooler than San Jose. This morning, I got to Rancho San Antonio by 830a and it was already 82 degrees by my car’s thermometer. By the time I finished my run 1.5 hours later, it was showing 88!
In years past, I have avoided training in hot weather. I would go do treadmill runs in air conditioned comfort, or train in the early mornings when it was cooler. I’d almost never be out midday when the temps run much higher (California weather is very much like desert weather; it can be in the 50s in the early mornings and it shoots up to the 90s midday). It was just too hard to train then.
Lately I’ve changed my opinion about training in hot weather. I’ve done 4 Ironmans and numerous smaller races. The longer the race, the more likely us racers will experience the hot temps of the midday sun and that’s where our spirit and our bodies break down in the face of heat.
With global warming playing havoc with our weather systems, I think we’ll be forced to race in overly hot conditions more and more. Acclimatization will be key.
So now I skip the comfort of air conditioned gyms and early morning cool temps in favor of training midday under the blazing sun. The more I condition my body to produce effort in those temps, the better off I will be come race day. I have already had my body shut down due to high temps and high humidity. I’m not normally a person who can function well in those conditions. But I hope that this year, by training more in hot weather, I will be better prepared for a hot race day which will still be hard, but hopefully I’ll also be able to perform in case race day is cool.
No more air conditioning in my home – I just sit and swelter in my room to help continue the acclimatization outside of training (it saves on my electric bill anyways). And I schedule around training outdoors in the middle of the day.
I love to sweat now, and enjoy the pain of forcing my body to perform when it feels like collapsing. I risk heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Nice. All in the name of Ironman.

The Dreaded DNF

Watching my friends race Ironman China yesterday was really painful. The heat index reached 115 which is a combination of temperature plus humidity. It was an unbelievably hot and humid day on Hainan Island and for the 500+ racers, it was a nightmare.
One of my buddies DNF-ed. He was feeling blurry eyed in the heat, not able to take down any nutrition at all. Even dumping ice water on himself didn’t do enough to get his body out of this heat trauma. Add to that the nausea of almost throwing up really made him wonder about the reality of finishing. Reaching T2 where inside the changing tent it was 100+ degrees, he wandered over to the medical tent and called it quits.
In a painful email to me, he relayed to me how he felt. Although I haven’t DNF-ed yet, I could definitely relate.
Often times, I have wondered whether I would stop during a race, either due to injury or the body just calling it quits under the conditions. Under any circumstances, Ironman is extreme and you never know how your body is truly going to be on race day, even after physically preparing for it for months before. But I just can’t imagine stopping….ever.
The image of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line, never calling it quits no matter what, has always inspired me. I saw the spirit of Ironman embodied in that crawl and resolved to never quit in Ironman no way no how no matter what. In my first Ironman, my call to arms was “Stopping is not an option.” It kept me going even when I almost stopped and my resolve just fizzled.
However, sometimes our resolve and desire to reach the finish line aren’t enough. If our bodies just aren’t up to finishing the race for whatever reason, there is nothing we can do. Whether we are not able to take down nutrition and keep throwing up, we got sick right before the race, we’re not acclimatized enough to the heat, or if the weather is so bad that we cannot continue safely, we have to stop because dying in an Ironman is probably not worth it.
But man it feels like shit.
You just spent the last 6 months preparing for this event. You’ve used every weekend going out and riding for hours, beat up your body on long runs and swims. All that time and mental energy spent preparing for the race, only to reach race day and not make it to the finish line.
Where is “Stopping is not an option?” Julie Moss didn’t quit; how could I?
All that time and energy just wasted. Down the tubes. No finish line, no medal, not even a damn finisher’s t-shirt. All that money wasted on the plane tickets and hotel. Food. Time off from work. Fuckin’ A.
Even knowing all that, I know that someday, at some race, I too will DNF. Probability says that it will happen the more I race. I’ve been lucky so far, racing in pretty decent conditions and my body never letting me down….yet.
So as painful as it is, I mentally prepare now. I say to myself, “Someday I will DNF. It will suck. I will hate myself. I will feel like shit.” Then I go out and race. Somehow, repeating this to myself makes me feel better about DNF-ing, if it happens. Or so goes my theory. Let you know the day after I really do DNF….

Iron Resolve

It was shocking to see/feel my mental resolve fizz away so suddenly. I had experienced lapses in resolve before but never as large as this time, half way through the marathon of Ironman WA.
In the past, my resolve has weakened at the “wall” of a marathon, where my body just seems to get really tired. But here there is definitely more physicality involved where my body is getting to that point where between shifting from the previous way of burning energy and the next.
At Ironman NZ 2005, I hit that point with about 3-4k left in the run, but bust through it knowing that my friends were waiting at the finish line for me and would bust my butt if they knew I was walking to the finish. At Ironman Austria 2006, I was too busy dealing with cramping leg muscles to worry about disappearing mental resolve. Likewise, at Ironman Brazil 2007, my poplitius muscle being really sore made me walk through much of the run until I initiated the Ironman shuffle. But I didn’t feel a lowering of my resolve, perhaps because I was distracted by pains?
This year at Ironman WA 2007, it was really miserable. I got to 20k in the run (about half way) and my mental resolve just disappeared. Poof. Vanished. It was a shocking moment. I could not run at all. I would just run a bit and then resort to walking. And it was definitely mental. My legs were OK, except for some cramping in the right hamstring which seemed to go away later. Every time I did actually run, my pace was quite good, so it couldn’t be a physical thing.
I think it was a combination of factors.
My coach M2 thought it might be because of the long season, and this being my second Ironman of the year. Also, it was on the heels of another key race for me, the NYC Marathon. And not to mention all the other smaller races between IM Brazil and IM WA. These all could have sapped my ability to maintain focus.
I also think it was the bike leg during IM WA. I had to focus so much on maintaining constant wattage output with virtually no breaks that by the time I reached the run, my mental endurance was already lowered greatly.
This being my longest race season to date, and a full one too, I am somewhat not surprised to find such an issue popping up towards the end of the season. I am hoping as I race more, I will get tougher mentally as I encounter problems like these for the first time, and then I will be better forewarned and armed next time around.
Maintaining iron resolve through an Ironman is super tough and I look to train my mind smartly in 2008. I hope to train well physically to remove those barriers where my mind needs to deal with declining physical resources, and then my mind can focus on maintaining physical output through the entire race, especially when I hit the run.

Shaving for Triathlon

A few years back, I got hooked on the notion of shaving my legs for triathlon. I remember hearing about it and the supposed benefits of shaving my legs. Some of these were:
1. Biking – if you get in a crash and you need to put a bandage on, pulling it off is less painful due to having no hair.
2. Biking – aerodynamics is improved by not having all those pesky hairs on your legs to create minor turbulence in the air as the air flows past your legs.
3. Swimming – less resistance through the water with all those hairs on your body creating drag.
4. General – It looks better than having hairy legs, and more consistent with the look of a healthy, motivated triathlete/cyclist.
One morning in 2003, I decided to shave my legs in the shower. It was a messy affair. Fumbling about with shaving cream and a women’s razor, I proceeded to take clumps of hairs off my legs and watch them slowly go down the drain (I hoped that my shower drain wouldn’t get clogged!!). I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking that it looked very weird to not have hair on my legs any more and that it felt almost…more naked.
The day after, I jumped in the water for a swim and I recall having this funny sensation of “feeling” the water more. I felt faster in the water, and unfortunately had no conclusive proof that I was faster than with hair on my legs. But I did feel better when I swam.
As for cycling, I somehow felt more like a real cyclist, and it’s funny that I noticed guys who didn’t shave their legs more out there on their bikes and thought they looked very…well…non-cyclist.
Then in the July-August 2007 issue of USMS Swimmer magazine, there was an article called “The Naked Truth About Shaving Down” where they give some scientific basis for why shaving is good for swimming. They claim that it helps swimming by reducing the amount of stimuli that your nervous system is receiving from the environment and that your motor output is improved when you remove that stimuli through shaving. So I guess this means that you control your muscles better through your perception of what is required to be slippery through the water and your ability to feel the water when you stroke. While I was definitely more sensitized to the water environment post-shaving, I cannot verify if my motor output is improved simply through shaving. And because I shave every week, my body has since gotten used to environment with my no-hair-on-my-legs level of sensitivity and I don’t perceive any additional sensitivity due to shaving now.
In the sidebar, there is reference to a study that showed that blood lactate accumulation was reduced significantly. If I were to read this small snippet correctly, does this mean that I am being more relaxed and efficient through the water simply because of the positive feelings that one gets while swimming with shaved legs (and/or body)?
Who knows. I try lots of things and don’t have conclusive evidence that everything I do improves my performance, such as taking certain supplements or the research that shows that having protein in your sports drink is better than not. Some of it is just insurance. That which does not hurt me might just help me.

Discovery Channel Shark Week DVD Set: Yikes!

I was walking through a supermarket last week and saw a boxed set of all the Discovery Channel Shark Week series. Being a lover of these types of documentaries, I bought one thinking it would be cool to learn more about sharks.
Last week, I went to get my haircut and while waiting for it, I was watching this big plasma TV which had the Discovery Channel on and apparently was rolling through all the Shark Week episodes. This particular episode showed some recreated shark attacks. There were repeated scenes of tourists jumping into the water while somewhere offshore of a tropical island. They frolick in the water, and then somebody gets a tug on their leg and down they go! The water turns red, lots of thrashing about, and then they pull the survivor out of the water usually with a missing limb.
First, I told the person who was cutting my hair that I didn’t know if it would be good for business if they kept showing all this bloody water caused by big fish biting limbs off people because there were kids sitting around waiting for haircuts too.
Second, I realized that while it would have been cool to watch this DVD set when I got home, I realized that I was better off not watching it.
Triathletes are always swimming some kind of course in the ocean. We try to cross from Alcatraz to San Francisco, we swim from one end of Waikiki Beach to the other, or we’re just doing 2.4 miles off the beach as the first leg of Ironman. In some sense, we’re not worrying about the OTHER occupants of the sea; we’re just trying to get to the finish line. But sometimes, when you’re swimming, you either can see for a long ways around you since the water is crystal clear, or the water is just this dark, murky mystery.
In either case, I remember my mind sometimes wandering off and imagining seeing some dark form swimming around and then getting closer and closer, maybe seeing the triangular fin break water close by. It doesn’t matter if it’s clear or murky. When it’s clear, you start wondering when the form is going to show up. When it’s murky, you start dreading that godawful tug on your leg when something takes a bite of you and starts dragging you down.
But once you do a couple of races, you tend to get over it and focus only on the race. Otherwise you’ll go crazy. It does take some time to get used to though. Wild animals in the ocean are no fun. I’ve been accosted by a monk seal while snorkeling at Captain Cook’s bay in the Big Island of Hawaii and gotten scratched and nipped by a 800 lbs, 6 foot long huge wild animal! That took me a while to get over it but I still won’t go to Aquatic Park in San Francisco, after hearing that the seals there are getting more aggressive around swimmers.
So I could watch Shark Week but it would probably just make my anxiety level go sky high for ocean swimming….just what I don’t need!
Alas, my Shark Week DVD box set will stay unopened and I will hopefully remain blissfully ignorant of those toothy predators that inhabit most oceans, right where we triathletes like to swim and compete…


I have a racing buddy with a lot of rage. It’s kind of amusing actually. You can hear him yell at other slow or poor drivers around him when he’s driving. He also yells at himself during races to motivate him to move faster, ie. “C’mon you w**sy, you can go faster! You’re such a p**sy, get your ass in gear!”.
There have been some articles written on the use of rage and anger as a motivator during a race. If you can maintain such anger, anger at yourself, at the world, rage to get you to the finish line with gritted teeth and razor focus, pushing harder than you thought you could.
I think it’s something I’ll have to think more about. Personally, I’m a pretty calm guy. I like harmony, not conflict, in my life. Rage doesn’t come easy to me as I like to look at life without anger. But I think there is something to it. Anger at all the elements in your life which get you down, but during a race is where you can symbolically beat every one of these obstacles plaguing your present or past. It gives you tremendous energy as you strive to defeat all of these negative influences, as you push to your limits to reach the finish line.
Perhaps I should practice by raging at the idiot drivers around me on the California highways…?

Attitude: Getting Up at 5am

One other note about getting up at 5am. If you have the right attitude, it’ll make gettnig up easier.
Every morning I pop out of bed knowing I’m on the journey to my next Ironman. I know that every workout I put in adds fuel to the tank and trains my body and I love the training so much that it makes me want to get up immediately and get to the workout.
It is with this energy that I wake every morning, and gives me the impetus to leap out of bed when it’s only 5am and dark outside.
On the flip side, having a poor attitude only makes it worse. Dreading every morning to get up and get to your workout will guarantee you will never ever get up easily at 5am.