Category Archives: Injury Prevention

Physiology of tapering – in brief

It’s about that time of year where you will be racing soon if you haven’t already.  Leading up to your race, you will probably want to know or learn about tapering.  This excerpt from Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1

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main aim of the taper is to reduce the negative physiological and
psychological impact of daily training. In other words, a taper should
eliminate accumulated or residual fatigue, which translates into
additional fitness gains. To test this assumption, Mujika and
colleagues (1996a) analyzed the responses to three taper segments in a
group of national- and international-level swimmers by means of a
mathematical model, which computed fatigue and fitness indicators from
the combined effects of a negative and a positive function
representing, respectively, the negative and positive influence of
training on performance (figure 1.1). As can be observed in figure 1.1,
NI (negative influence) represents the initial decay in performance
taking place after a training bout and PI (positive influence) a
subsequent phase of supercompensation.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2

mathematical model indicated that performance gains during the tapering
segments were mainly related to marked reductions in the negative
influence of training, coupled with slight increases in the positive
influence of training (figure 1.2). The investigators suggested that
athletes should have achieved most or all of the expected physiological
adaptations by the time they start tapering, eliciting improved
performance levels as soon as accumulated fatigue fades away and
performance-enhancing adaptations become apparent.

The conclusions of Mujika and colleagues (1996a), drawn from real
training and competition data from elite athletes but attained by
mathematical procedures, were supported by several biological and
psychological findings extracted from the scientific literature on
tapering. For instance, in a subsequent study on competitive swimmers,
Mujika and colleagues (1996d) reported a significant correlation
between the percentage change in the testosterone-cortisol ratio and
the percentage performance improvement during a 4-week taper. Plasma
concentrations of androgens and cortisol have been used in the past as
indexes of anabolic and catabolic tissue activities, respectively
(Adlercreutz et al. 1986). Given that the balance between anabolic and
catabolic hormones may have important implications for recovery
processes after intense training bouts, the testosterone-cortisol ratio
has been proposed and used as a marker of training stress (Adlercreutz
et al. 1986, Kuoppasalmi and Adlercreutz 1985). Accordingly, the
observed increase in the testosterone-cortisol ratio during the taper
would indicate enhanced recovery and elimination of accumulated
fatigue. This would be the case regardless of whether the increase in
the testosterone-cortisol ratio was the result of a decreased cortisol
concentration (Bonifazi et al. 2000, Mujika et al. 1996c) or an
increased testosterone concentration subsequent to an enhanced
pituitary response to the preceding time of intensive training (Busso
et al. 1992, Mujika et al. 1996d, Mujika et al. 2002a).”

Ageless Athlete: 52 year old enjoys her 17th Ironman

An amazing story but aren’t all Ironman stories amazing in some regard? It’s about the personal stories, the obstacles, the triumph over themselves if nothing else.

This excerpt is reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.


Laura Sophiea (born in 1955) plunged into Kailua Bay for the first
leg of the 2007 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii and followed a
friend through the chaos of arms and legs splashing through the water.
Almost immediately two men-“big, rude, and mean,” as Sophiea put
it-swam over her. She panicked and began to tread water. Then she found
a pair of quick feet and followed them until the three-quarter mark
where she was kicked so hard in the nose and lips that she saw stars.
She checked for blood and kept going. Sophiea always expects tumult in
the swim of the Ironman and trains in the pool by swimming fast at the
start of her workout and then backs off a bit in the middle before
piling on strong intervals at the end to mimic the mad rush at the
conclusion of the 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim. 

Next up, the bike. The 112-mile (180 km) ride is famous for its heat
and winds, and in 2007 it was worse than usual. Aside from a 7-mile
(11.2 km) stretch when the coastal breezes were at her back, Sophiea
was buffeted by headwinds and crosswinds over the entire course. She
saw one rider get hit by a car. Sometimes the wind was so strong over
the lava fields that it pushed her bike at will. Usually cyclists share
their annoyance as they pass each other. But on this day, they were

The marathon is what worried her the most. She had torn her
hamstring some three months earlier. Sophiea was 52 years old and this
was her 17th Ironman. She has fared remarkably well over the years
while training for one of the toughest endurance events in the world.
True, there was the time in 2000 when she competed in Ironman with a
broken back. And in 1991, she wondered whether she would be suitably
hydrated if she had to pull off the course and breast-feed her youngest
daughter. But the run would be a test. She had spent hours getting
massages to speed the healing of her leg. And she had practiced
visualization to help her run pain free. She had backed off on her
running from 35 miles (56 km) a week to 20 (32 km) in the final run-up
to the race. She wondered whether the lower mileage would hurt her
endurance or if all of the pounding would harm the hamstring. 

It turned out it was the front of her legs, the quadriceps, that
seemed tired as she transitioned into the run. She had already logged
nearly an eight-hour day on the course. She was in first place in her
age group. But the woman in second was only eight minutes behind.
Mentally, miles 7 to 14 were the toughest in years-there was still so
much ahead. As the miles droned on, so did the self-doubt. Why had she
taken this on again? 

She tried sipping a Coke, which helped her pick up the pace. In the
final miles, she began feeling better and started to enjoy the race. As
she neared the end, she could hear the music playing. I watched footage
of Sophiea finishing the race on Ironman’s Web site. Thousands of
people lined Alii Drive in Kona and cheered as the athletes passed. The
pace quickened as Ironman announcer Mike Reilly told the runners the
clock was closing in on 11 hours.

The men and women around her were all younger. Most of the finishers
seemed to ignore their fatigue and were bounding for joy as the end
drew near. One man brought in his children for the final yards as
athlete, son, and daughter held hands and crossed the finish line

“Laura Sophiea from Birmingham, Michigan,” Reilly shouted over the
loudspeaker as she rounded the corner and came into view. Sophiea was
running strong, wearing a white sleeveless top and black running

“Way to go, Laura! Course record holder right here, 50 to 54! Laura Sophiea! Breaking 11 hours!” 

Sophiea had won her age group in the Ironman again, coming in at
10:59:32, maintaining an 8-minute gap on her closest challenger. She
pumped her arms triumphantly and smiled and waved to the crowd. 

Then suddenly she veered sideways and started to fall. Two
red-shirted attendants grabbed her and threw a towel over her
shoulders. Then came a third, a fourth, and a fifth-all of them
struggling to hold her up. In a moment, her joy turned to pain; the
sparkle in her eyes grew as distant as a fallen prizefighter’s. 

Medical personnel rushed her into a tent, where two liters of saline
dripped into the vein of an arm. An hour afterward, she vomited what
little remained in her stomach. 

For Sophiea, it was a typical Ironman finish. For all of her
training and experience, each year she always bonks at the end, sapping
every ounce of energy until it doesn’t matter anymore. She told me her
collapses at the Ironman do not bother her. She even viewed the extra
liter of saline she received as a bonus-a gift-that helped her get back
in the groove for her next race a month later in Clearwater, Florida. 

Ordinarily, she would have flown back to Michigan a day after
Ironman and sleepwalked her way through work for the rest of the week.
But it had been a momentous year. She had taken a leave from her job as
a librarian and media specialist at a middle school. Afterward, she
stayed an extra two weeks in Kona to recuperate and resume training.

MIT’s “Chemistry of Sports” online course using triathlon

In the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Chemistry of Sports course, they “… will be focusing on three sports, swimming, cycling and running. There will be two components to the seminar, a classroom and a laboratory. The classroom component will introduce the students to the chemistry of their own biological system. Since we are looking at swimming, running and cycling as our sample sports, we will apply the classroom knowledge to complete a triathlon.

With Course Goals

  • Apply the principles of chemistry to studying sports. These principles include: atomic and molecular interactions, thermodynamics, acid/base chemistry, bonding, electrochemistry
  • There will be weekly reading of scientific literature related to the topic of the week
  • Understand the chemistry of their own biological system through observations written in a training journal
  • Study the science of a triathlon (swim, bike, run) from molecular/chemical/biological point of view
  • Improve your own personal fitness level by training for the Mooseman triathlon (either Olympic distance or half-Ironman) and earn PE credit or by maintaining you own exercise program.”

All materials are in PDF format and it’s worth a read if you’re interested, like I am, in the science behind your training.

Click here for the MIT course.

The Weeks Before a Triathlon Race

What do you in the couple of weeks before a race?  Taper?  Test out nutritional intake and timing?

If this is your first race, your mind is likely racing, pardon the pun.  If not your first race, your over your first time jitters and just want to have a better race, faster time, or move up in distance.

John Mora published Triathlon 101 for those new to the sport and those wishing to get an edge in their training and in their next race.  In this 2nd edition of Triathlon 101, you’ll find topics such as:

– Choose the best equipment for your goals, terrain, and budget.
– Create your own triathlon program for various distances and events.
– Know how, when, and what to eat and drink when training or competing.
– Prevent overtraining and recover from common injuries.
– Swim and navigate in open water.
– Smoothly and quickly transition from one leg of the

What do you in the couple of weeks before a race?  Taper?  Test out nutritional intake and timing?

If this is your first race, your mind is likely racing, pardon the pun.  If not your first race, your over your first time jitters and just want to have a better race, faster time, or move up in distance.

John Mora published Triathlon 101 for those new to the sport and those wishing to get an edge in their training and in their next race.  In this 2nd edition of Triathlon 101, you’ll find topics such as:

– Choose the best equipment for your goals, terrain, and budget.
– Create your own triathlon program for various distances and events.
– Know how, when, and what to eat and drink when training or competing.
– Prevent overtraining and recover from common injuries.
– Swim and navigate in open water.
– Smoothly and quickly transition from one leg of the race to the next.
– Taper your training for peak performance on race day.

With permission from Human Kenetics, below is an excerpt regarding, “What to Do in the Weeks Before a Race.”

“First things first: Congratulate yourself. You are a few weeks away from what might be one of the most rewarding efforts you’ll make in your life. You’ve made it this far, and you’re still standing (hopefully). Training for a triathlon, even for a sprint distance, is no small task. It takes commitment, self-discipline, and an unfaltering capacity for bearing with aches and pains.

You’ve made it through the scorching hot and humid summer runs when garden sprinklers were few and far between. You’ve weathered the chilly spring mornings on your bike, when you wished your helmet had a heater. You’ve tolerated inconsiderate toddlers invading your lap swimming lane. You’ve come a long way and are probably in better shape than 99 percent of the population. Take pride in your accomplishment. You’re ready to complete your first triathlon, up the distance, or go for a personal best. Whatever your goal, congratulate yourself on just getting to where you are now.

But don’t pat yourself on the back for too long. You’ve still got a few weeks to go. Even if your training hasn’t been perfect or you’ve overtrained a little, the next few weeks are the critical zone, a period where it’s essential that you pay attention to some vital details.

Complete Your Last Long Run

Running takes the greatest toll on your body, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to recover before your race. You should do your last long run, but not your longest, approximately 14 days before the race. Run a distance roughly equivalent to half of your longest previous run. Some triathletes run their longest run on this day, but elite runners have ideal muscle composition for running (predominantly slow-twitch fibers) that allow for quick recovery. The majority of triathletes require more time, so your longest run should be three to four weeks before race day.

Stick to the Tapering Schedule You’ve Set for Yourself

If you’ve been following the training advice in part II, tapering will already be built into your training calendar. Triathletes often find this phase of training the most mentally difficult to deal with. The thinking usually goes something like this: “I’ve been training hard. My body has adapted well. I’m in great shape for the big race. Why in the world would I want to let up?”

Believe it or not, if you’ve trained as hard as you think you have, your body has to recover from the cumulative distance you’ve put on your feet, legs, and arms. Although you might feel just fine, there are likely microscopic tears in your muscle tissue, tears that need a few weeks of easy training and a few rest days to completely heal.

If you have any doubts about the value of tapering and are itching to just ditch this part of your training plan, consider a little scientific evidence. A study at Malaspina College in British Columbia and the University of Alberta shows how necessary tapering is to triathletes. In the study, 25 athletes trained for an hour five days a week for six weeks at a high-intensity level of 75 to 85 percent (Mora 1993). After six weeks, seven athletes tapered for three days, cutting down on volume (not intensity), and a second group tapered for six days. A third group tapered by doing no exercise at all for four full days, and an unfortunate bunch in the fourth group exercised at the same intensity and volume until test day (equivalent to race day).

The results showed a 12 percent increase of the lactate threshold level in both the three-day and six-day taper groups. (For the purposes of this study, the lactate threshold is a measure of how long the athletes could maintain a certain exercise intensity before too much lactic acid, a waste byproduct of exercise, builds in the blood.) The no-exercise group made no improvement, and the train-to-death group decreased their lactate threshold level.

Glycogen levels were also measured. (Remember, your glycogen storage is like a fuel tank; the more glycogen you have, the longer you can go.) Glycogen storage levels soared by 25 percent with the six-day program. The three-day and the no-exercise groups showed an increase of 12 percent. Once again, the train-to-death group smelled of overtraining: Their glycogen levels dropped 12 percent.

“My focus was the cellular level, finding the physiological results of tapering. Of course, everybody wants to know about performance,” says J.P. Neary, PhD, who headed the study. “The results determine that a little extra rest helps cells work more efficiently during exercise.”

Neary emphasizes that tapering is subject to a host of variables specific to the individual and the training event. For example, a half-Ironman distance race requires longer, slower training than used in the study, and older athletes tend to require longer recovery times. Thus triathletes training for longer distances might do better with more tapering; older triathletes might also need more tapering. The point is to stick to the tapering suggestions and sample tapering charts presented in chapter 7. Don’t let the excitement of the pending drama or your impatience ruin your chances of having a great race.

Watch Your Diet

There are a few important areas to consider concerning your diet in the weeks preceding the big event:

    * If you’ve been following the recommended 65 to 70 percent carbohydrate diet for a triathlete, your pantry should be well-stocked with pasta, grains, fruits, and vegetables. (If not, do some shopping.)
    * Are you staying away from high-fat foods like cheese, whole milk, and butter? Make an effort to fine-tune your diet. If you haven’t been a good boy or girl, make a commitment to get your nutritional act together in the coming critical weeks. You’ve come too far to let diet stop you from being your very best. The key word here is fine-tune. Don’t make any last-minute drastic diet changes that will be hard on your body.
    * If you have a deficiency of protein in your diet, integrate some legumes, egg whites, and low-fat dairy products into your diet.
    * Are you keeping well hydrated? Make sure you drink 6 to 10 eight-ounce (240 mL) glasses of water a day.

Try Some Mental Training

You’ve come far in your physical training, but have you trained your mind with positive thoughts and visualization of the finish line? If not, devote some time to this important, but often overlooked, detail.

Begin to set aside 15 to 30 minutes every day in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted. Close your eyes and relax. Take deep, slow breaths, inhaling through your mouth and exhaling through your nose. Visualize every phase of the race, from starting line to the glorious finish. See yourself relaxed and confident on the day of the race. You’re calm and cool within the hustle and bustle of the crowd. See as much detail as possible, and feel an eager anticipation to meet the challenge that awaits you. If you’re not used to meditating, visualizing might seem difficult at first. Persist, as you’ve done with your physical training.

Test Your Prerace Meal

The weeks before a race are a good time to experiment with your ideal prerace meal. Try eating a high-carbohydrate snack, such as a bagel and banana, 60 to 90 minutes before a moderate to long workout to ensure you don’t experience nausea. Another good prerace meal is an energy bar containing about 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrate with 8 ounces of water 60 to 90 minutes before the race. If you do experience nausea, your stomach might be sensitive. Try something else, or try timing your prerace meal so that you eat it as long as two hours before you start exercising.

Some sports products are specifically designed to be easily digestible, such as several of the products we covered in chapter 8. You might want to test out some of these as preevent meals during your training:

    * A carbohydrate loading and recovery drink
    * A balanced nutrition shake with plenty of carbohydrate, moderate protein, and low fat content
    * Carbohydrate gels and energy bars

Practice Your Transitions

Now is a good time to practice your swim-to-bike transition, known as T1 in tri-speak, and your bike-to-run transition, known as, you guessed it, T2.

Practice your T1 transitions on a beach. Set up a mock transition area at an open-water swim site and have somebody watch your stuff while you swim. Lay everything you’re going to need on a towel, just like you will do at the race transition area (I’ll give you a checklist later in this chapter). Don’t make this a long workout. Swim a short distance, practice getting out of your wetsuit (if you’ll be wearing one), change into your bike gear, and go for a short ride.

Practice your T2 transition on another day. Again, set up a mock transition area, but this time you can set it up on your doorstep. Go for a short bike ride, and then change into your running gear and go for a short run. Although you should have already done some brick workouts, these practices should help you make smooth transitions and get used to the gear and clothing (if any) changes. You should also decide how you want to approach the transitions. Essentially, there are two ways of transitioning: the fast way and the comfortable way.

The Fast Way

The fast way means racing in your swimsuit. The benefit is obvious: a quick transition. The drawbacks are also obvious: saddle soreness and, if it’s a cool day, goose bumps. As I’ve mentioned before, most competitive triathletes competing in sprint- or Olympic-distance triathlons choose to go this route. Riding in a swimsuit is tolerable for most people for these relatively short distances, and if you’ve wisely purchased a triathlon swimsuit with some padding, that will help as well.

The Comfortable Way

If you have personal reasons for not riding and running in your swimsuit or feel that bike shorts will make a big difference in terms of comfort, then by all means, take your time and slip them on over your swimsuit. (Most triathlons of shorter distances don’t have changing areas, and being naked in the transition area is cause for disqualification and possible arrest!) Feel free to stop and don cycling shorts, cycling jersey, and any other clothing that you feel will help you maintain comfort. Of course, all that extra dressing will add to your transition time. But if you’re just doing the triathlon to finish, who cares?

Whether you run with or without socks depends on how sensitive your feet are. Again, most triathletes forgo this for shorter distances, but that doesn’t mean you have to. An inexpensive and helpful item to make your running shoe transition quick are lace locks or similar quick-locking laces devices. These attach to your shoelaces and make tying your shoes as simple as tightening the laces and pulling down. They are surprisingly solid and dependable, tightening your laces as well as a double knot. Some specialty triathlon running shoes come with something like this built in, but if yours do not, consider it a low-cost, time-saving investment.

Unless you feel an insatiable need to show off your new duds, there’s really no need for running shorts. One exception may be if you’re wearing bulky cycling shorts, which may chafe your groin area and be a nuisance on the run. If that’s the case, go ahead and put on those running shorts over your swimsuit (most short- to medium-triathlon transition areas do not have a changing area, although ducking into a port-a-potty is always an option, albeit a nasally offensive one).”

IronMan not enough for you?

Most everyone has heard of the Iditarod – the famous 1100 dog mushing race from Anchorage to Nome Alaska.  I recently returned from Alaska where I learned of the “Iditarod Trail Invitational“, tagged the longest winter ultra race in the world.  You have two routes you can follow, a 350 mile and the original 1100 miler.  The main difference are the modes of transportation.  You can race on bike, snowshoe or on foot. And it’s held in March where you it can be 30 degrees below zero with blistering winds.  There are sometimes days between rest cabins or villages so you have to carry a sleeping bag and food with you.  Visit the website here to learn more about it and read some of the competitor’s blogs.

How about the “Great Divide Race” which follows the US Continental Divide for  2,490 miles of cycling?

How about a Deca IronMan with a 24 mile swim, 1120 mile bike and a
262 mile run
?  Here’s their website.

Having never attempted one but from what I can gather, finishing depends a great deal on your mental fortitude; how tired you feel, how exhausted you are, and how the cold and hot plays games with your mind.

Assuming a high level of fitness and training, part of these finishes might be determined by nutrition – have you practiced your nutritional in take on road and in all sorts of weather.  Which leads me to this excerpt reprinted with permission by Human Kinetics.  The book is “Endurance Sports Nutrition“, by Suzanne Girard Eberle.

“The biggest danger with multiday rides, runs, treks and tours, cycling classics, sports camps, and climbing expeditions is incomplete recovery—

you slowly become glycogen depleted as each day passes and thus become increasingly fatigued. You find yourself less and less able to respond quickly or maintain your desired pace, and mentally you find that your commitment and enthusiasm start to wane. (Of course, chronic fatigue can set in as early as day 2 or 3 if you haven’t trained adequately with long back-to-back efforts, but you can’t do anything about that now.)

When it comes to eating and drinking, think before, during, and after. Fuel up every day before you start with a carbohydrate-rich breakfast to maximize your glycogen stores. If you’ll be pushing the pace or racing (working at moderate to high intensity, above 60 percent of VO2max) you’ll need to eat and drink at the earlier end of your acceptable breakfast window to start out on an empty stomach and minimize digestive problems. Drink again as near the start time as you can or top off with an energy gel taken with water. If the day is going to be more of a long, slow effort, then it’s generally OK to eat closer to the start (say, two to three hours beforehand) and to include fattier foods that take longer to empty from your stomach and be digested.

During the event or race, you’ll need to drink regularly (every 15 to 20 minutes) and refuel (every 30 to 60 minutes) from the onset so that you consume at least 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per hour. Sports drinks are the rehydrating beverage of choice to replace fluid and electrolytes. Along with sports drinks, a safe approach is to rely on energy gels and well-tolerated carbohydrate snacks during faster-paced efforts. Be prepared with salty foods or electrolyte tablets to help keep pace with your sodium needs. On long, slow days, incorporate real food, especially for the mental boost that it provides.

The key is to drink and snack regularly as you go, keeping pace with the
calories that you’re expending. Unless you have a four-hour or longer break
planned, eating a large amount at any one time, such as a lunchtime meal or a meal during a rest stop, will divert blood away from working muscles when you resume exercising. You will feel lethargic and unresponsive and end the day lamenting how much harder the second half was.

When you’ve stopped moving for the day, your job is not done. You must
consciously take advantage of the carbohydrate window, particularly the first
15 minutes, to maximize the glycogen replenishment process (see chapter 4 for a review). Ingest a substantial amount of carbohydrate calories immediately— at least .5 grams of carbohydrate per pound (~1.0 grams per kilogram) of body weight. (Even better, take in .75 grams per pound.) Remember, these are carbohydrate calories, not just calories from anything, like beer, nacho chips, or a candy bar. A recovery drink or meal replacement beverage can make the job easier (see the chart in chapter 5), and a small amount of protein may help reduce muscle soreness.

Each evening eat a high-carbohydrate meal that includes a good source
of quality protein (for example, 20 to 30 grams as supplied by 3 to 4 ounces,
or 85 to 112 grams, of meat). If need be, eat another carbohydrate-rich snack before bedtime.

Weighing yourself (if feasible) before you begin and right afterward can be
very useful because you can quickly ascertain how well you are doing at meeting your fluid needs during the event or race. Over the next few hours, drink at least 2.5 cups of fluid for every pound (or 1.3 liters for every kilogram) that you are down. If you’re down more than a few pounds, adjust your drinking plan for subsequent efforts and pay attention to your sodium intake too. Losing weight from day to day (especially in events and races lasting longerthan three to five days) and having sore or “dead” legs that are struggling to respond are prime signs of chronic glycogen depletion. Your job is to stop the damage from occurring before it becomes too much to reverse by eating more (especially carbohydrate calories), taking more time to recover, or most likely some of both.”

Five training phases for triathlon success

It’s not often I can do this but the following is an excerpt from an upcoming book (currently only available as a pre-order), Triathlon 101 (Human Kinetics, due out March, 2009). In this updated edition reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Triathlon 101, you’ll learn the five training phases for triathlon success.

“Training in phases, or cycles, has long been considered the best way to condition the body to the rigors of endurance exercise safely and effectively,” says Mora. “Each phase has a very specific High-Tech Cycling book coverobjective, and the workouts are thoughtfully designed to fulfill that objective.” Mora suggests beginners approach training in five phases:

Initiation phase.
Specifically for beginners, the initiation phase allows the body to learn a new activity never or rarely performed before. Depending on the level of experience, this phase could take up to three months. “This phase may try your patience because you’ll be learning at least one activity that you’ve never attempted before,” Mora notes. “It is a time for your body to adapt gradually to new activity and to overcome the inevitable discomforts that go with triathlon training.”

Base phase.
This phase creates a foundation of training with gradual, safe adaptation to a physical activity and consists mainly of long workouts done at a slow pace. According to Mora, the focus of this phase should be on gradual increases of the length of workouts of no more than 10 percent per week, a rule that is especially crucial for running and helps in avoiding common overtraining injuries. This phase can last from three to six months, depending on current conditioning, skills, and the distance being trained for.

Speed and technique phase.
This phase increases the pace you can maintain and the efficiency of your exercise. According to Mora, the speed and technique phase is for those who have already run a few races and would like to hone their skills. However, for those running a triathlon for the first time, Mora recommends dismissing any expectations of finishing in a certain time and instead focusing on simply finishing the race.

Race simulation phase.
This phase helps boost race-day confidence through completing workouts similar to those done on the day of the event. According to Mora, many first-time triathletes have questions about transitioning from one sport to the other and the transition’s effects on the body. Race training improves performance on race day and provides the confidence needed for race day. “Workouts known as bricks combine two sports in a single session and are instrumental to any racing success,” Mora explains. “If you complete workouts that simulate what you will be experiencing during a race, the shroud of mystery surrounding your upcoming first triathlon will soon begin to evaporate.”

Tapering phase.
Tapering involves a period of decreased activity in the days or weeks before an athletic event. According to Mora, tapering allows the body ample time to recover from the previous months of training and refresh the muscles in order to be primed for racing. “Although there is much debate about the ‘perfect’ tapering schedule, it really depends on how fast your body recovers from training, how long you’ve been training, and what you are training for,” Mora says. “And although there may be some disagreement about how to taper, experts do concur that you need to taper in order to perform your best.”

“Hailed as a must-read for triathlon rookies, Triathlon 101 covers all the steps necessary for triathlon training. The updated edition also offers new chapters on what to expect on race day, information on off-road triathlons, and information on recovering to compete again

Psychological Skills – triathlete mind training

In this terrific excerpt reprinted with permission from Human Kinetics, Championship Triathlon Training, you’ll learn a few techniques to keeping your mind sharp and on task, a DEFINITE skill used by top athletes.

Psychological Skills
Many areas of life can produce psychoemotional difficulty or anxiety. Whether
it be flying in an airplane or speaking in front of a crowd, people admire those
who can perform without apparent difficulty. It’s often assumed that demonstrating
such skill and enjoyment in a task must be a God-given talent and not
something you can achieve for yourself. Yet a large body of scientific evidence
suggests that this is not the case. Those who do things with less anxiety and
more pleasure than others often have certain psychological skills specific to the
situation. These are skills you can set out to systematically develop and apply
in a given situation—often drawing on your own experiences in other areas of
life in which you have been successful. Typically these skills include the ability
to see potential outcomes with realistic optimism, to create sustained positive
behavioral change, to control and use positive self-talk in times of difficulty
or unexpected change, to enter a meditative state that can allow movement to
occur most effectively, to be able to produce physical relaxation and the full
expression of abilities, to develop a high level of self-efficacy regarding tasks
associated with sport, to deal with physical discomfort when desired, and to
be adaptive and able to change your perception of initially difficult situations
as you experience them.

High-Tech Cycling book cover

You can develop psychological skills by employing a systematic process
very similar to that used in developing physical skills. You begin by isolating
the skill and practicing it in an environment free of distractions and in which
you have maximum control, just as you might learn to hit a forehand shot
in tennis by banging a ball against a wall by yourself. If feedback on your
performance can be provided, the learning process progresses much more
quickly. The frequency of errors can be reduced and that of successful repetitions
increased. Hence you can focus on positive outcomes. In the example of
the tennis forehand, you are able to increase the number of hits and keep the
ball in play longer against the wall by making adjustments to your stroke and
seeing the immediate impact. As you strive to do better, the process becomes
its own game.

The same development process can be brought into play in the psychological
realm once you have defined the application of a skill and created measurable
outcomes that provide feedback. You can then extend the use of those skills
into progressively more challenging situations, ultimately extending them
to real-world applications. As you intertwine this psychological skill practice
into triathlon training, you will achieve the dual benefit of enhanced physical
and psychological responsiveness. For example, consider achieving physical
and psychological relaxation using a breathing technique, taking a slow nasal
breath over five seconds of inhalation and five seconds of exhalation. Feedback
on outcomes could be provided by measuring your heart rate in response and
creating an awareness of your self-talk. You could start the practice by performing the breathing in a comfortable environment with few distractions, with
the intent of lowering your stress level, using your heart rate as the measure.
You could then use the technique in more distracting environments, such as
during work, and then apply the technique to your movement during training
and ultimately to racing.

Examples of specific psychological techniques that are useful to triathletes
include realistic optimism as an approach to goal setting, performance visualization
and imagery to learn and refine movement skills, nasal and “belly”
breathing patterns combined with imagery to induce more effective respiration
and relaxation, desensitization to overcome anxiety-related aspects of training
and performance, belief systems and positive self-talk, and meditation to deal
with performance discomfort.

Realistic and Optimistic Goals
It’s easy to be optimistic when things are going well and within your control. It
becomes more difficult when things are not going well. However, multisport racing
and training do not always go well because, as in all life, some variables cannot be
anticipated. The realistic optimist in a given situation not only focuses on a positive
outcome but also immediately sets out to determine what factors he or she can control to get that outcome to occur. (Note that realism is essential to this total approach to training and racing. Thus, it is referred to repeatedly in this book.) This mind-set allows you to constructively respond to even very difficult situations. It also helps in determining the specific nature of goals you might set for training and competition. The mind-set can be created by planning for the accomplishment of challenging tasks associated with triathlon. Examples might include the completion of specific training efforts or challenging races. Developing a task orientation to success, in which you focus on the factors you can control, will help you meet your goal – whether it’s simply to finish a race or to beat your personal best time.

Creating Performance Expectations and Behavioral Change
Let’s say that you want to run a faster 10K race segment. You might determine
that to achieve that goal in training, you will need to achieve a faster 400-meter
time. Thus you will need to engage in a new or additional training process or
behavior, such as running some 400-meter target velocity intervals. Further,
you need to run those intervals regularly for a period of time before your target
race, thereby incorporating a series of short task goals in training that are likely
to help you achieve your long-term outcome goals. If you have positive experiences
in running intervals, making the change at this time will be quite easy
because you already have experienced the value of doing so. However, if you
have never run them before or have had negative experiences or beliefs associated
with pain, injury, embarrassment, or lack of effectiveness in running, the
task will be more challenging. Two things will be required: a stimulus for the
task and something to immediately reinforce the behavior. A location, training
time, and partner or coach make for excellent stimuli. The latter can also
be reinforcers if you choose the right people—those who can help you see the
positives in the process and who have value to you. But to continue to perform
the task over time, you must get intrinsic value from it in a way that offsets
potential negatives or drawbacks.

In a typical scenario, you might choose to run as fast as possible for 400 meters
several times until fatigue causes you to stop. While there may be an immediate
feeling of satisfaction in completing a difficult task, that is often offset by the
fatigue that occurs either immediately after the bout or later in the day and the
memory of the pain felt during the session. In later sessions of this unplanned,
unregulated type of training, cumulative fatigue will often prevent successful
duplication of the task. You end up failing on one or more levels again.
An alternative approach is to establish a realistic expectation of target times
or velocity for a realistic number of intervals. This should be based on abilities
or recent accomplishments in training rather than on the expectations of others.
Performance testing and a knowledgeable coach are helpful in identifying realistic
expectations. In this scenario it is also better to be conservative initially.
It’s much easier to set progressively higher goals in a training session (at the
microlevel—“Gee, I feel good today; let’s go a little faster than planned”) and
over the course of a training program (at the macrolevel—“Gee, I think that
I can set a lower time goal for the upcoming race than I did a month ago”).
Going backward—lowering expectations and reducing goals—is more difficult
and might have very negative long-term effects.

Run the intervals at the projected target velocity and distance and within
your current comfort zone, thereby meeting your basic training goal for the
session. Doing so provides the first significant intrinsic reinforcement. A key
will also be to reduce the inherent punishment of the situation—to accomplish
this kind of work without creating unacceptable pain, injury, or fatigue.

Objectively measure your efforts with a heart rate monitor and sense of
exertion to provide feedback. (Chapter 5 contains details on this.) In future
sessions, either increase the pace or run more intervals, but only as doing so
becomes easier to achieve. Make adjustments in small increments. An important
aphorism here, and actually for training in general, is “Gradual change
leads to permanent changes.”

The refinement inherent in training this way allows a high level of training
pleasure and is also a more effective approach physiologically, as discussed
in chapter 1. A strong coach or training partner can further the process by
providing external encouragement of your ability to meet the goal of running
a given pace and time rather than running as hard as you can. With
appropriate timing and recovery you will see progress in the successive sessions
in the form of lower effort and heart rate, improved recovery between
work bouts, and less fatigue as you perform the work. That way, you create
numerous intrinsic reinforcers in the process. You can further this reinforcement
by reviewing the outcomes in your training records. Finally, adapting
to the training will lead to improved race performance, possibly the strongest
reinforcing factor of all.

Periodically, however, issues you cannot control may interfere with your ability
to complete a task. Maybe one day the temperature is extremely high and
your heart rate is elevated. At that point you should be flexible in evaluating
your progress in your goal. If you do not modify expectations to match changed
environmental conditions, you may view such a session as a failure, which can
lead to a downward spiral of lack of motivation and the perception that you are
therefore a failure as an athlete. This can lead to the plan-disruption effect: If you
drop out of a planned workout just once, you consider the plan and yourself to
be failures. The program is broken and no longer exists for you. Consequently,
you give up on the new behavior.

To deal with this problem, outside assistance and technical expertise can be
very useful. An informed coach, for instance, will be able to reinforce the idea
that a given performance in more difficult conditions may be the equivalent of
actual improvement. Or you might conclude that you failed to get a good night’s
sleep the night before. Giving up in a hurry would be both a training mistake and
a missed opportunity to improve by developing a new skill. For instance, you
might need to focus on developing improved consistency in sleep and recovery
by modifying the sleep environment so that you can adapt to similar training
in the future. Of course, that would require additional behavioral change. Once
mistakes or failures are viewed optimistically as opportunities for improvement
through change rather than as failures, motivation can remain high. Another
way to put it is “When something that seems to be bad happens, try to use it
for good.” Alternatively, if you can see the “mistake” coming, by realizing early
that you are not ready for the set or session as it occurs, then you can also end
or modify the session, essentially making a midstream adjustment that will be
a more successful use of your efforts in the long run.

Training – Controlling Emotion and Thought

Race season is starting, you’re getting “geared” up, maybe a little anxious or nervous, maybe a little excited. Perhaps you are WAY nervous and excited, especially if this is your first race, not knowing what to expect. Before I go on let me tell you to expect to have fun.

This an appropriate excerpt for this time of year as your body has adapted to training and your mind wonders about the race. It’s an excerpt from Timothy Noakes’, The Lore Of Running.” If you’ve ever read or browsed the book you know it is a THOROUGH book on everything running.

Controlling Emotion
It is well documented in psychology texts that there are seven basic emotions: joy, sadness, anger, love, fear, shame, and surprise. Other emotions are regarded as combinations of these basic seven. The emotions you feel in any situation and how you respond to them will depend on four factors: your basic personality, how much control you have over your emotions, your emotional reactivity, and your flexibility. Control of these emotions is achieved by controlling the thoughts that cause them.

Renowned sport psychologist Thomas Tutko, formerly a professor of psychology at San Jose State University, has developed a technique to identify a person’s emotional profile and to indicate how that person will react according to seven separate psychological traits—desire, assertiveness, sensitivity, tension control, confidence, personal accountability, and self-discipline (Tutko and Tosi 1976).

1. Desire is the measure of your intent to be the best or to do your best. Those with low desire express an “I don’t care” attitude; those with high levels of desire are perfectionists. Both extremes are problematic, but it is the perfectionist who is more likely to persist in sport. Because perfectionists set goals that are unattainable, they live with a constant anxiety. Since they never achieve their goals, they are never content with their performances. To overcome this, perfectionists need to reassess their (unrealistic) goals and to realize that they are the cause of their anxiety. In turn, they need to focus on short-term goals, not the final results.

2. Assertiveness is the measure of the extent to which you believe you can influence the outcome of what you do. Those with low assertiveness are easily intimidated. They feel inadequate when someone else succeeds at their expense and they tend to support underdogs. Those with high assertiveness are known as killers. They frequently see sport participation as a “savage battle rather than an enjoyable challenge” (Tutko and Tosi 1976, page 68). Such activity is usually defensive since it is a front to protect a low self-esteem and the fear of being threatened or humiliated.

3. Sensitivity is the ability to enjoy sport without becoming overly disturbed at the outcome. Those with low sensitivity are known as stonewallers. Nothing can influence how they respond to any situation. In contrast, the supersensitive respond inappropriately and consider each failure, however slight, as a personal affront. The supersensitive must learn to separate the event from the emotional response that each evokes. Consequently, they are the most in need of training in emotional control.

4. Tension control is the measure of your ability to remain calm and focused under stress. Those with poor tension control are the nervous wrecks. They are unable to control their physical responses to stress. Because their motor function is impaired, they become relatively ineffective in sports that require high degrees of motor coordination. Those with excellent control are known as icebergs. Excessive tension control is detrimental if it prevents athletes from taking risks, from enjoying their participation, or from undertaking efforts to improve.

5. Confidence is the measure of your belief in your ability. Those with little confidence are insecure. Those with too much confidence are cocky. People are cocky either because they use bravado to cover an inner lack of confidence or because they truly believe that they are so talented that they need not work to achieve success.

6. Personal accountability is the measure of the extent to which you accept personal responsibility for your actions. Those with low personal accountability tend to hide behind alibis. Those with high personal accountability act as if “sports means always having to say I am sorry” (Tutko and Tosi 1976, page 84). Like the perfectionists, they feel guilty for everything except a perfect result.

7. Self-discipline is the measure of your willingness to develop and to persist with a personal game plan. Those with low self-discipline are known as the chaotics since they are unable to stick with any plan. Those with high self-discipline are known as the lemmings since their mental rigidity prevents them from changing their plans.

By grasping the extent to which each of us expresses these different traits, we gain a better understanding of our personal foibles and, in turn, learn how best to control our specific personalities in the heat of competition.

Controlling Thought
The thoughts we experience in sport are influenced by our concept of or attitude toward our opponents and ourselves. Attitudes are collections of thoughts and emotions that we have concerning others and ourselves, and these attitudes help determine the emotions we feel at any time. This can best be exemplified by returning to our previous example. The arrival of another athlete at your shoulder 10 km from the end of the Olympic marathon could stimulate two possible lines of thought that would result in quite different outcomes in the race. Clearly, the athlete who thinks, “This year I really thought I had it. I have worked so hard and now I have blown it. I really am a loser . . .” will drop off the pace and fall back. However, there is a far greater chance of success for the athlete who thinks, “Well, here she is. The woman they call the best marathon runner ever. And she has only been able to catch me after 32 km. I will just tuck in behind the about-to-become ex-number one, let her do the work for a change, and see if I can break her later. After all, my 10-km time is as good as hers, and in a close finish I have the crowds behind me as they always back the upstart.”

The difference between a strong or weak belief system is determined by your self-concept (what you believe about yourself), which is, in turn, established by your record of past performances, your body image (what you honestly believe you can achieve in sport), and the attitude that the significant people in your life (such as your parents, partner, friends, and coaches) have toward you and your participation in sport. The self-concept can be further divided into what you really think about yourself (your real self) and what you would like to be (your ideal self).

How the significant others in your life influence your performance can be shown by extending the imaginary example a little further. Had you fallen off the pace in the last 10 km of the Olympic marathon, your coach or other important person in your life might have said the following to you, “You really were awful. We were sure you had it sewn up and then you let that overrated athlete beat you. How could you?”

This type of verbal abuse is likely to stimulate one of the following responses: “He is right. I really am a loser. I will never win a major marathon,” or, “No, he is wrong. I ran my heart out. But he couldn’t know. Now I am more determined than ever to show them what I can do.” (A third response may be to rid yourself of any persons who could be stupid enough to express themselves in that way.)

Our next step must be to analyze the self-concept and to discover how it is possible to improve those areas in which there may be specific weaknesses.”