A Wicked Perspective on USAT National Challenge Competition by “Wicked” Courtney Connolly – TriCoachGeorgia

(As seen by TCGA’s “Wicked” Courtney Connolly)

Long distance triathlon racing season normally ends late in the year.  Endurance athletes often take a long break, gain a few extra, and then start back as it begins to thaw. What if you don’t want a long break? What if you realize that the key to improvement is consistent training? What would you do then? I used to take a break come back to normal human living for a bit. Maybe walk the dog more, more time to clean the house, spend time with loved ones. Now this doesn’t appeal to me as much. I have found a better thing to do with my time.

I am not an “off” season athlete.  As I have progressed, I have learned that I prefer to maintain a certain level of fitness throughout the year. In 2018 I completed my Ironman and fell in love with 140.6.  This is my place right now, as I love long course. The long hours, the alone time, the mental grind, I love all of it. So that brings into question at the end of my season, what do I do?

Bring on the USAT NCC or the National Challenge Competition. This was designed to keep triathlete’s training during the “off” season. Typically, the NCC starts in December and ends at the conclusion of February. Each month teams across the nation compete in a discipline either swim, bike or run. Then an overall is awarded each month and at the end of the three month period. TriCoachGeorgia has performed spectacularly in the competition the past few years as a team and on the individual level. This competition is a blessing for the long course athlete and for camaraderie amongst your team, which is rewarded by throwing down miles and yards. It’s quite simple and fun, especially with a team that is hungry!

There is a certain strategy required.  It’s basically a game of Triathlete Survivor. In order to play you really do need to Outwit, Outlast and Outplay the competition. Lucky for me my coach, Coach Slayer, is a genius at all of it as he used it to KQ.  We use NCC as part of my aerobic base building. These three months give my body the aerobic conditioning I need to get a jump on IM training for my race season.  Go slow to go fast so to speak.

I am not a naturally gifted athlete like some, so it takes work for me. This competition really sets me up nicely for my race season. I also may never be an Ironman podium finisher like many of my teammates but NCC levels the playing field. It’s not about speed – it’s about endurance.  You can go head to head with the pro’s and actually do quite well if your endurance allows. In fact, in the 2018 competition, I was honored to place 2nd female overall in the nation, a huge feather in my cap as I am proud to be known as a grunt.

It also takes certain level of discipline and dedication to make NCC work for you. You can do your regular training and use it to keep yourself accountable with your team members. Some go for gusto with above and beyond work. I have been known to be on my bike at 3am and I have put in 25 plus hour weeks of training on a regular basis during these three months. The key, I have learned, is live to train consistently, even if that means easy but long days rule the time period of the challenge.

Some have asked me for advice.  It is quite simple.

  1. ALWAYS listen to your coach – (if you have one… and keep them informed on how you feel).
  2. Monitor yourself closely for niggles.
  3. Remember safety, health, and your mental well being comes first.
  4. Don’t be afraid to be different.

On our team we go by the saying, Reap what you Sow. NCC is a prime example of this. The TCGA team fully intends to Reap in 2019. Thanks for reading and see you out there this year.


The Problem with High Frequency Racing – How Often Should I Race? – TriCoachGeorgia

How Often Should I Race?

by Coach Slayer

The Dilemma

I just want to put this out there as y’all are seeing folks racing 5k’s, sprint and olympic triathlons, and multiple 70.3s with little time in between. As a coach, I am frustrated because race results reflect coaching, and we both want the best we can get. Racing frequently may not be ideal and goes against most widely accepted coaching methods of training organization or periodization. Are there outliers? Of course, but most of us are not super heroes. Regardless typical age groupers love to race, and why deprive them of fun?

Optimal performance then collides with fun and social aspects as regards racing frequency. As a coach, and in contrast with my actions to some degree as an athlete (do as I say not as I do), I see the need and desire for fun/socialization but not at the expense of performance or the increased risk of injury. From the athlete perspective, the inverse can be said. There is a loss of some of the immediate payoffs by spreading races out.

I realize there is a difference in level of experience that should be taken into account. Some athletes that are goal oriented and possibly more mature in their athleticism understand that over-racing equates to not focusing on the goal at hand and not trusting their coach or plan. In contrast. “noobs” and some people who have less care or focus on having their big days often do it because it’s “fun” and for the social aspect. No doubt there is experience to be gained from racing. But once you pass that point from novice to veteran racer, you realize it can be more harmful than helpful: hence the dreaded winter marathon for triathletes as an example.

The Background

From the coaching standpoint, we look to the literature and our mentors. I came from a running background as I started my endurance journey and my initial thoughts came from my first running coach (Dr. Chris Ruth who was pre-Shanks) who was a proponent of the venerable running coach Jack Daniels whose team at SUNY Cortland that he had the privilege of seeing train and race.

To sum up what he taught me, he said that Daniels claimed that you are better off with more of a varied approach to building the systems. In other words, more easy mileage and more ‘less than all out’ run workouts (i.e., tempos and intervals) than with racing more because racing requires more down time on the front (aka Taper) and back (aka Recovery) end than workouts. Overall training stress declines and quality suffers.

He also made the point that racing also clearly increases the risk of injury. Nobody would argue that you are more likely to get hurt during race intensity work.

Haphazard Training Organization Hampers Performance

Ruth also worked as an assistant to collegiate level cross country coaches. He would discuss how some coaches would have runners work their way into prime shape during the early races in the season; they would have the athletes start conservatively and increase race pace as the races progressed through the season so that the races didn’t kill them and they could ‘race their way into shape’. He subsequently tried to use that with his athletes and on himself as guinea pig and learned that it never works on race day; athletes always go too fast. In that model, the early season races were seen as ‘tune ups’ while region and conference (and nationals if you could get there) were when it was for all the marbles.

However, this method was flawed because races demand all out efforts where they lost training time to taper and recovery. Training through a race is simply not the way an athlete’s body or mind likes to work. Something about the gun going off makes you go all out or very hard. Thus, the method of training more allowed workouts to be completed with less taxation. You could exert more experimental control with pacing and specificity of training effect when it wasn’t a race.

How does this get resolved?

If you want to race alot because you enjoy it, that is up to you as long as you understand the risks and possible outcomes. From a psychological standpoint (e.g., anxiety, insecurity, social needs, etc), there are good reasons to do that. From a results standpoint, consider the balance and how more overall fitness tends to be positively correlated with better outcomes.

If you want to make gains over the long haul you possibly use a Canova type funnel periodization (i.e., training organization) across disciplines and multi system training like Daniels and work through longer (say 8-12 week) training cycles towards race specific demands (generally Spring and Fall) and aerobic and higher end base building periods (generally Winter and Summer) over seasons and build in some shorter or even longer layoffs between the segments.


While we wish we could say that certain methods of periodization or training/racing organization are best for all athletes, we simply can’t because the huge variability in genetics, environmental stress, and psychological needs. No method has a guarantee.

So race a ton and have fun and expect you might not reach maximum race performance. Race a moderate amount and tolerate something less than your best but with still solid results and the higher injury risk. Or, race less frequently and go along with coaches that have had way more successes than those that are taking bigger chances with their athletes. There are not many (if any) that can truly empirically support methods suggesting it is wise to race year round and very often but it still has its benefits.

In the words of Dr. Ruth regarding racing infrequently, “it isn’t as much fun, it isn’t as sexy and it doesn’t get your name (and picture on social media) as often but it’s what they do” at major collegiate programs and across disciplines like Stanford and Oregon, and many more top schools. The top pro triathletes and their coaches mostly operate this way and many complain of having to over-race to get to Kona via the points system currently employed.

In the end, my advice is to decide if you want to race often for your needs, and are willing to sacrifice optimum results and increase vulnerability to injury for fun. Of course there is a balance, but realize racing for fun comes with costs. Make wise decisions so you can #ReapWhatYouSow

Coach TaxSlayer’s Basic Tips For Triathletes – TriCoachGeorgia


Welcome to the start of race season! As one who is a bit OCD about being a good athlete and coach, I wanted to provide some insight on several things that will make your life and, if you have one, your coach’s life easier. These suggestions should also help you get done faster…

Please read the entire list of suggestions. Ask questions of your friends, coaches, and Facebook groups but don’t listen to all of them as some simply should not be offering input. Try to figure out who reliably offers the most valid input and listen to them, or get a good coach. The more you know, the better you will feel heading into that tough training session or your A race.

Coach TaxSlayer of TriCoachGeorgia

  1. Nutrition:

    Practice, practice, practice. What works for one, may not work for others. Ask questions about what others have done to be successful and try a plan for yourself. Write down what worked and what did not work. List it in the notes section of your phone or anything to tell you how much fluids or scoops or whatever you used when you came up short or nailed it.

    I choose to use Generation Ucan for my nutrition on the bike. Others choose infinit, tailwind, or some other nutrition. No one cares what you use as long as you know it will work for you on race day. That comes from writing down when it worked and replicating it systematically on longer days and race simulations. Do not introduce something new on race day because you did not practice.

  2. Bike Fit:

    Seek out a professional like Micah Morlock at Georgia Cycle Sport or Matt Cole at Podium Multisport and All3sports that will spend the time getting you as comfortable as possible. The better your fit, the better your bike split will be on race day and the easier your body will adjust to the run. Bike fits are not inexpensive, but can be some of the best money you can spend on yourself as you prepare to race.

  3. Training Peaks/Garmin Connect/Other Programs used to Communicate:

    First off, make sure your training zones match up on your different devices or the data will be screwy. That is done by going into the app and looking for zones and adjusting.

    If you have a coach, put in as much information about your training as possible in the comments section. Every coach is different, but I think I speak for most when I say the more information we have the better we understand your workout. For example, put information in about your nutrition, if you felt fatigue or if you felt great. Tell us the tempo was hard or you could have gone harder. Whatever you think we should know is information we want to know. Don’t just say “that was hard”. Say “I struggled to hit the intervals on the last rep of every set” or list the data point that you tried to hit and what you actually hit.

    If you are not a coached athlete, but use TP as a means to hold your workouts, I would do the same thing as coached athletes do. You can go back and review on how you felt about a particular workout. Memories fade, but words and data sets typed out never do.

  4. Devices:

    Many of us use a Garmin 910XT, 920XT, Fenix, or 735XT. Some of you may have the newest version of the watch, the 935. It does not matter which one you have because they all provide similar data to you. Spend a few minutes learning the basics about your watch or computer and ask questions if you can’t find the answer. Visit websites if you want in depth reviews like the DC Rainmaker. Your life will be much easier and you will be more efficient understanding your watch, computer or both.

    Here are some things that I want you to think about when looking at your watch:

    • Activity:

      Every device has several settings to accurately reflect the sport or activity you are doing. Make sure you select the correct sport for the session you are about to begin. I have started a run, in the past, in the bike mode, and it took me awhile to figure out why the data screens for my run did not look like how I set them up. Don’t be like me.

    • Laps Alert:

      If you have a Garmin device you have a function called Laps. Laps provides notification when you hit certain thresholds you set the watch to provide you. I recommend and use 1 mile for the run and some multiple of 7 or 8 miles for the bike. I choose 7 or 8 miles on the bike because both numbers divide evenly into 56 or 112. I use the laps to help me know when to take nutrition on the bike. You can also set it for time intervals as well. Figure out what you like best and talk with your coach or others to see if what you are doing makes sense. Sometimes receiving unbiased feedback can help you make better decisions.

    • Lap:

      This is different from your laps alert. The lap function allows the data to be separated and reviewed more quickly by you and/or your coach. If you have a 4 x 400 run with 400 rest, it’s easier if you hit the lap button at the start and end of each 400 to gather the data you want to review. You can use the lap feature for your interval rides to capture the power data or during your swim so you can track your rest between sets. Lap is a feature that is easy to use. Don’t forget to use it to get the best data possible.

    • Battery Life:

      Every device has a limited battery life. Depending on the device, you may have anywhere from 13-18 hours of useable battery life. If you have a long day coming up, charge it so that you do not run out of battery during or before your workout. If your watch doesn’t get the information, did the training really happen?

    • Heart Rate Monitor Straps:

      Many still use HR straps to gather HR data. Make sure to check the strap for cleanliness so you don’t have any issues with it getting your heart rate. Also, make sure you put the strap on tight enough. If you are seeing your HR drops during a workout, it’s probably because your strap is not on very well. Likewise for the watches with built in HR monitors. Keep them fastened securely.

    • Stop your watch at the completion of a workout:

      When you are done with a workout, please stop the watch. Maybe you set a new record that now is not as impressive as it would have been if you just hit the button. You can always adjust later but it’s a pain so recall to hit stop!

    • Review your numbers after you upload:

      If you know that you just biked for 2 hrs and you upload the data and it says something different, review your watch or computer and make the necessary adjustments in TP. Most of us review the data anyways, so take a quick minute to verify its accuracy. If it doesn’t make sense to you, then it probably won’t make sense to your coach.

  5. Two workouts in a day/Weird Bricks:

    Some of you may see two workouts or weird bricks (combination sessions) on your schedule on the same day. Why do some coaches do this? It’s an opportunity to change the way your body trains. This doesn’t mean that the workouts should be a completed as a brick workout unless that is what your plan says. Ask your coach if he/she wants them as separate workouts. If your plan says complete the workouts separately, leave as many hours in between them as you can. I understand that life can get in the way sometimes, but try your best to complete your day as listed.

  6. Weekend Workouts:

    We all have friends that we like to train with whenever possible. Sometimes the weather causes us to change our workouts too. If this happens to you, communicate with your coach so he/she knows you are going to move your days around. Remember to move your workouts, in TP, so you don’t upload Sundays’ ride on Saturday’s run. When you’re done with your day, put comments in the comments section and let us know what you have done.

  7. Family Commitments:

    Without support of your family, training and competing in triathlons is very difficult and often times not fun at all. Talk to your family about what they would like to do while you race and select races that will allow them to have fun while you race. I chose Ironman Chattanooga and Ironman Louisville because these races have many activities that my kids wanted to do. It made the day a little more enjoyable for my wife to not have to listen, as often, to whiny children. Don’t miss your kid’s activities while you train. Your kids are young for only so long and you will regret missing an important event in their lives. For most people, the swim workout should be the first one to go.

  8. Injuries:

    How many times have you felt a little twinge in your leg when you are running? Have your shoulders hurt while you are swimming? If you have an issue that is bothering a part of your body and it is not a normal feeling. Stop the activity. Find out what you can do to feel better and talk to your coach. If you need to, seek medical help to get this taken care of as quickly as possible. Missing a couple of training days is better than being out for months because you didn’t listen to your body.

  9. Group Rides:

    Now is the time of year that getting outside becomes easier. Make the most of these rides and participate where you can. Many of us don’t train outside often. Group rides can help you feel safer on the open road. Find one and join in the fun. Try to ride with others that put safety first. There are listings at AthensGaBicycling.Com and on the interwebs for more formal or just local rides. Make sure you go with the group that is near your fitness and pace.

  10. The Full Year Racing Schedule:

    If you haven’t sent your coach a written schedule for the current year by now, then do it as soon as possible. Training plans are designed around you and your race schedule. Update your schedule for the current year in TP too. The more we know, as coaches, the better prepared we can have you on race day.

    I am looking forward to a great racing season. Triathlon as a sport (and the team of Reapers) has grown by leaps and bounds since I joined at the end of 2012. Work hard and set your training habits now for a successful year. Always remember to have FUN, get after it and #DoYourJob!

Race Plan 101 – 5 Tips by Coach Longman – TriCoachGeorgia

About three weeks ago many of us competed in Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, and it was a very special day. No, I did not qualify for 70.3 Worlds or set a new personal record. Instead, I met my “big race goal” for the event: to compete with a positive attitude and genuine happiness. I even surpassed my “tiny goals”: avoid re-injury of my rotator cuff and peroneus brevis, pace by heart rate, and finish with a huge smile.

As you can tell from above, I am a goal-oriented and detail-driven person; like most triathletes I have met. It is easier to feel a sense of control and accomplishment if we will just take the time to create and use a race plan. Below are some simple guidelines to use. If you would like more detail reach out to me, Coach Long Man, at [email protected].

Top 5 Race Planning Tips for Triathletes

  1. Set a “big race goal” well in advance; some examples: just to finish, set a personal record, qualify for a championship, to be able to smile for the finish line fans, et cetera. When setting this goal, know your limitations, level of training / fitness, and likely race conditions. Reach high but be realistic!
  2. Two weeks out from the race use the big goal to set specific “tiny goals” for reference during the event. Examples for a long course race might include: swim comfortably within the pack or don’t ever stop swimming, nail 75% of FTP wattage or negative split the bike leg, run at 135 bpm or just walk the sag stops, verbally encourage other racers on the course, hydrate every 15 minutes or eat every 30 minutes, et cetera.
  3. If this is an “A” race also write down a script for the entire event weekend including food you will eat, an equipment checklist, a time table for where to be & when, et cetera. Anything you can do to remove pre-race stress is a good thing!
  4. Share your plan with your coach or a trusted mentor who can provide feedback. They will help you avoid common mistakes like trying a new nutrition protocol on race day or setting too aggressive a target pace for the bike or run.
  5. And of course the golden rule, everything can & will change on race day. Have a mental plan A & B for each leg; especially when doing long course racing.


Coach Slayer’s Top Tips for Preventing and Dealing with Injury and or Soreness – TriCoachGeorgia

By Coach Slayer


It’s often said that Ironman training will exploit your weaknesses. The same is true, to some degree, for most triathlon distances. As humans, we are all vulnerable and triathlon finds the weak physical and psychological spots.

To maximize your true potential, you must avoid going on the disabled list. We are all seemingly just one workout away from a potential season-threatening injury. To prevent this from occurring, you need to utilize both physical and psychological tactics, such as self-monitoring and getting accurate feedback. How can you do this?

Tips for Preventing Triathlon Training Problems

  • Start by following your coaching orders or training plans and don’t race your race in practice
  • Don’t train based on what your friends are doing
  • Ease up when you feel “niggles” in your muscles
  • Use rest, compression, elevation (and ice sparingly) method post-training, strength training, dynamic stretching prior to sessions and lightly stretching post sessions
  • Wear the appropriate gear while training
  • Take good recovery between key sessions
  • Run on soft surfaces
  • Don’t train or race when in pain
  • Don’t add too much training too soon

While these are good guidelines, there are some injuries that you can’t prevent. As a result, we have to do our best to manage or treat them.

Dealing with Problems

First, that means accepting there is a legitimate problem and not pressing on, making matters worse.  Much like the grieving process written about by Kubler-Ross, there are stages you will circle in and out of as you come to terms with the change in your capabilities and the uncertainty of when you will be back to speed. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You don’t go through these stages in a lock step process as was once hypothesized.

Second, you must get a trusted professional opinion and be committed to follow that advice. Experts in these areas include a nutritionist, physical therapist, orthopedist, chiropractor, acupuncturist, sports medicine MD, a psychologist and psychiatrist. People snicker when I say those last two, but we all have issues and these issues have an impact on our behavior, thoughts and feelings, which all, in turn, impact our training.

The Role of Sports Psychology

Sports psychology is a matter that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. As it pertains to injuries, there is particular utility to triathlon. For example, if we view triathlon goals as more of a “destination” vs. a “journey”, we will deal with a lot of frustration during times when our bodies are letting us down. The goal destination (e.g. sub 6-hour HIM) is harder to cope with when you can’t reach it. Therefore, we try to advise more of a journey or process vs outcome orientation where we are constantly learning, keeping a realistic perspective, and modifying in order to achieve what is realistic at the time given the conditions.

Your best point to judge your performance is not always when you finish the race and look at the clock or results online but as you progress through the day of the race. Using some rational, as opposed to emotional, thought, and getting some good objective feedback will be key if you are dealing with injury.

Your thought process should be scrutinized to ensure you’re not allowing your competitive urges to drive the train and comparing yourself unfairly to others.  When you realize that you are embracing pain that will actually be detrimental for your training and racing in the long run, you are showing a personal weakness that is actually helpful/telling in injury prevention. We also need to make sure we are not forgetting that health and strength are key, as opposed to looks or holding onto an ideal of looking skinny to our detriment and creating eating disorders.


All told, we need to examine all aspects of ourselves on a regular basis to prevent and manage injuries and avoid needless stress and frustration. We can contribute to our best performances by making rational and clear choices, retaining perspective, and preventing and managing injury properly. This may mean utilizing a variety of resources and changing the way we think, which can change the way we feel and act. Learn to redirect your energy to other healthy avenues.

As Santayana wrote (in The Life of Reason, 1905): “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (suffering along the way!). Try to be a wise person as you #DoYourJob. Contact us if you have any questions about whether you should step back or plow forward and consider a coach from TriCoachGeorgia as a great sounding board in these dilemmas.

#BostonStrong: 10 Great Boston Marathon Racing Tips From Coach Slayer – TriCoachGeorgia


Many of you have watched, ran, or would love to run the iconic Boston Marathon or another one like it. For Boston, you can get there by qualifying, which gets more difficult annually, running through a charitable organization, or being a bandit. Yes, they even allow bandits to run the race. I’ve qualified three times and run it twice now and would probably need many more to have my best day there as I am a late life “work-in-project” athlete/coach. The good news is I keep learning new lessons and jotting myself notes. The other good news is that there is a better qualifying chance for 2017 because the tough conditions this year will push the cut-off times upwards.

Many of the athletes at Boston self-identify as runners specifically; however there are many that identify as triathletes or Ironman, not to mention the various other types of special athletes that crush the race in wheelchairs and with other challenges. Some of the athletes there have done it many times over, while there is also a lot of first timers. The excitement of most, no matter how experienced, is palpable.

The Boston Marathon is Tough

Like Bostonians who can be brash and direct at first, but super nice as you get to know them, Boston is one of the more difficult courses to master. The difficulty is due to the course profile that lures you into a dreaded positive split with its ever present front-loaded downhills. Wherein most shorter road races, you look forward to descents, here you will learn that downhills are not your friend! Even worse, bigger climbs start past the midpoint when your quads are trashed.

Then there is the varied nature of weather and temperatures, which have ranged from freezing to roasting. Some years you even get a huge shift in temperatures on the same day. This leaves the athlete a lot of variables to plan for, like many races, in order to have his or her best day. I thought it worthwhile to jot some notes down to help others and myself down the line.

10 Tips to have your best (Boston) Marathon

  1. Time Goals Can Be Dangerous – You will need to respect the course as everyone gets punished in Boston. Even more reason that you have to be flexible given all the variables. My best races are when I have lower time demands. Lock yourself in and you will struggle with anything that doesn’t go to plan like heat, wind, etc. A better method would be to manage expectations, and plan to finish, have fun, and do your best. Let the results be what they will be by you having the best day you can have managing the various demands that go along with running 26.2 difficult miles.
  2. Compete With Yourself – Likewise, realize that the competition is not with others (even though some folks may attempt to lure you in) but you getting the most out of yourself and your training. Whether it a chick that a dude doesn’t want to get beat by, or a fellow age grouper, don’t get out of your flexible mindset and game plans. Focus on having your best day. Indeed, I was honored to be beat again by plenty of better runners on the day like the classy Kerry Hobbs.
  3. Cover The Course Beforehand – “Heartbreak Hill” is not just a clever nickname and many races have something along those lines. Learn the hills (up and down) and other aspects of the course profile, quiet and loud stretches, and where your cheering crews will be. Don’t waste important time in the Expo shopping for crap you don’t need on legs that need to rest unless you are buying great products like those from my pals at Generation Ucan. Learn spots on the course like when you are nearing the turn at the Fire Station heading towards Heartbreak Hill, where it crests at Boston College, the finish and when you are on a long climb or flat stretch so you can rest mentally and focus on the physical work.
  4. Have A Primary Caregiver Or Sherpa If Possible – Hopefully, you have someone you can trust even if they are very hairy like my sherpa and brand developer Flynn. Not only can they find you the best coffee in the location like that from Render Coffee in Boston (trust me on that one!), they can find you three bottles of the impossible to find KBS Stout from Founders Brewery or whatever you love. They have to be dedicated to helping you have the best race even if it seems demeaning at times. Also, make a good plan about where they are going to be on race day so you can anticipate and find them in the thick crowds.

    Tell Your Sherpa To Listen – When you see this person during the race, make sure they are listening not yelling “Slayer!” at you. You may need to communicate something of importance first for him or her to relay to your other supporters, before they can send you a positive or harsh message, depending on what you respond better to. It’s also wise to set meeting spot(s) for post-race when everything is a jumble and for them to have some warm clothes for you to put right on afterward when you get cold.

  5. Write Your Plan Down AND Have Backup Plans And Gear – Gloves are not just for warmth if you have a bad gut and the port-a-john is out of loo roll. Likewise, it’s good to limit anxiety wherever possible so write down what you will dress in at various temperatures to help with pack and unpacking, what you will eat or drink when, if you will take salt or caffeine tabs and when, etc. Pack and carry backup items to the start just in case. The more you can plan out and think through with contingency plans, the more focused you can be present in the racing moments.
  6. Feed Off The Fans – If you choose/can, stay or hang with great local folks who will feed you well if you can. Likewise, on race day, not only will the local and distant race fans potentially give you energy, they will give you food, oranges, wet wipes, licorice, and water! Some will even give you a Sam Adams beer. Just don’t grab the warm one or the germ-ridden kids’ options on food and drink. There is nothing worse than getting sick during the event or late in the day!
  7. Smile Even If You’re Miserable – No matter how good or bad your race is going, your pictures often look better with a smile. Some psychologists say you have to fake it until you make it. Basically, you trick your mind to some degree by smiling that you are indeed happy. This all goes back to achieving the 2nd race goal of having fun even if many of your cohorts are suffering the same or worse than you.
  8. Prioritize Your Needs (Pre-Race) – You will have a lot of things to do in terms of visits with friends and family, potential tourist items, etc. Remember why you are there and get into your war mindset the sooner the better. 26.2 miles is no joke. 26.2 from Hopkinton to Boston is even worse! You need to focus up and people will adjust to your requests by and large, knowing what you are up against.
  9. Know and Remember The Pain Will EndThere are many reasons not to run a marathon! However, the pain will end. Moreover, you don’t have to run back to Hopkinton, where the race starts, only to Boston, so take care of the task at hand. Leave it all out there on the course in measured form. #NoQuit This point needs emphasized. No matter how ugly it gets, if you quit early, you have that decision to remember forever. It can undermine your confidence moving forward and force you to create an excuse which potentially makes you look bad. 26.2 miles especially in Boston can create a lot of sore spots on the entire body. Expect them and know that you will just endure it until you cross. When you cross, you can relax and heal, and not until then so keep moving as quickly as you can towards the finish line and even if you do stop make it temporary.
  10. Be Tolerant And A Good Sportsman – Karma goes a long way on race day so don’t be afraid to help your fellow athletes if they forgot something, if they are freaking out, if they are needing weather reports, etc.  You will make friends for life during a marathon that you may never meet or talk to again. Final note as it pertains to the Boston Marathon: please try to send hand and verbal signals if you are crossing a fellow runner’s path to get fluids so they don’t trip and fall. Make sure to be understanding if they accidentally cross your path as well. That appeared to be one of the biggest problems on the course.


So there you have it. These are some good general tips to have a better day at your next longer road race or marathon, or possibly even the Boston Marathon. If I can qualify again somewhere (aka “BQ”), I hope to see you there and for you to have your best day.

Of course, like most everyone else at the end of the race, I said I will never race this amazing race again. But, holy cow do we have short memories when it comes to pain! Moreover, how can you not love the folks of Boston and how they pull together for the event? Let me know if you have other good suggestions to add to this blog and get after it! #DoYourJob so you can #ReapWhatYouSow

Pull the Plug: Top 10 Triathlon Coaching or Self-Coaching Guidelines – TriCoachGeorgia


As a triathlete you need every edge to achieve a goal, for that personal record, and to beat your competition. You probably read everything that looks vaguely appealing from media and social media about training, talk to your friends and acquaintances that have had some success, and try some of the suggestions out. Some of you even reach out for team membership or coaching from the good ones at TriCoachGeorgia.com!

What is Most Important

Quality coaching and your best performance depends on a lot of things. As I wrote before here in this blog and here in this blog, the former is often more dependent on the tight relationship between the coach and athlete then on the nuts and bolts, which, although important, are simply not enough for the vast majority of coached athletes. Thus, improved performance for most coached athletes is dependent on good reciprocal communication.

How it Works

Using a program such as trainingpeaks.com, athletes receive their training schedules ahead of time, execute or fail to execute their training session and then they upload their workout data for their coach. In addition to the data, the coach, also can get a narrative to help describe the session and what went well and what failed. Was pace, power, or heart rate too high, did they have to cut it short due to family or work obligations, did they go out too hard too early and suffer later, etc.? These are some of the bits of information that can help the coach understand how to adjust future training accordingly to get the most our of the athlete.

Communication is Key

As I live or train near many of my athletes, I don’t always have to rely on a narrative. However, many of my athletes are located in distant locations like Oklahoma, New York, and Florida. Therefore, I have to keep open lines of communication and be on the ready to help them adjust on the fly and due to physical and practical issues that have arisen. They can text, private message, email, or call me and I try to get their questions answered in a jiffy. I make the adjustments necessary asap. But I worry that they need to be more independently driven in cases when I can’t be reached immediately. And that is why I wrote this blog.

Yes, I am a worrier. My athletes’ success reflects on our process. I worry about athletes who I have less contact with and who I have ample contact with but don’t communicate well to me what is going on with their mind and body. It is the nature of the beast of online coaching. However, there needs to be some basic guidelines about what to do when things are going wrong.

These are my top 10 communication guidelines to my athletes that will ensure you greatest success:

Top 10 Triathlon Coaching or Self-Coaching Guidelines

  1. Think ahead Use a calendar program, app, or book to stay ahead of the game about what you are doing when and what needs purchasing, service, etc. Don’t blow training because you didn’t take care of something ahead of time.
  2. Keep me posted in advance of all your plans in work, family, travel, last minute race etc. Put it on the calendar so I can adjust and accommodate your needs to maximize your progress.
  3. Review the plans I provided you two weeks in advance so that you know the terminology, flow, and expectations of each session. Question me ahead of time so you will not be left in the lurch if I can’t answer immediately.
  4. Do your job and execute!
  5. Pull the plug if you feel quality is being compromised by fatigue or stress. Live to fight another day and enjoy the extra rest, but don’t overdo it because you are worried about being weak.
  6. Pull the plug if something doesn’t feel right. Don’t compound soreness or an injury. Being tough is being dumb.
  7. Be kind to yourself if things didn’t go as planned. Also, be realistic about your potential. Your returns will diminish over time.
  8. Have a long view of success and recognize that with endurance we are cooking more of a crock pot juicy meal than a quick microwave dried out meal. Anything that compromises consistency is the enemy.
  9. Keep me informed along the way as well as you can about your sense of mental and physical progress.
  10. Finally, remember this is our process. It is your journey. Everyone has opinions to listen to but ultimately in our collaboration the decisions are ours.

Each step and misstep informs us how to get us where you are going. Trust me and keep working hard. Whether you are coached or self-coached, it’s ok to pull the plug on a session. It’s fine to honor your body and mind when they need a rest. Just get back on track as soon as you can because consistency is the name of the game as regards endurance athletics.

Thanks for reading and hope this helps you to understand my thinking process with my athletes who have enjoyed some measure of success. Contact me with any questions.

7 Helpful Triathlon Tips for Beginner Triathletes by Coach LDubb – TriCoachGeorgia


If only I had known then what I know now! My first experience at triathlon was in May 2011 at Clemson University. It was a sprint distance race consisting of a 750 meter swim, 11 mile bike and a 3.1 mile run. I had trained for months doing what I “thought” would get me prepared for Clemson with no particular structure, borrowed a bike which I had never ridden until one week before race day and had never swam in open water in a race like atmosphere with surrounding athletes! Race day was upon me and nerves were out the roof. Hmm, wonder why? I was so nervous that I did not eat before the race. First mistake! I set up transition based on what I had learned off YouTube videos and felt good about my setup. I started with the novice group instead of age groupers. Smart move! Surprised myself with a solid swim and came in 4th in about 20 novices. Next… holy transition! What a disaster! Will get to this later, but always a good idea to know what general direction your bike is based on which side you are coming into transition. After about 2 minutes, I finally found my bike and got my ride on. I had a good ride with no major catastrophes. Proceeded to transition 2 where I was to get off my bike and precede the run. What? You’re supposed to practice bike to run transitions? Also, still haven’t eaten all day…. Couldn’t feel my legs until about mile 2 but was able to finish out the run and become a first time triathlon finisher. Fast forward to 2016 – dozens of triathlons under the belt, 2x Ironman Finisher and Coach for Tri Coach Georgia and I have learned a thing or two and would like to share Coach L Dubb‘s top tips that I hope you will find beneficial before taking on your first triathlon.

  • Tip #1 – Be a spectator at a triathlon prior to racing your own.

    You gain so much knowledge watching and observing athletes. You will get to see the “big picture” including how the race starts, progression through transitions, mount and dismount lines, equipment you may need etc. You will feel better having done this before your race. If you are swimming in a lake, practice open water swims as often as you can! I wish I had!

  • Tip #2 – Equipment to bring to race day.

    This doesn’t mean you need the latest and greatest equipment out there. Basics to get started. Swim – Swim cap, goggles, anti-fog spray, ankle strap that holds chip, wetsuit if temps permit. Bike – Bike, helmet, cleats, sunglasses, bike computer (if you want to measure mileage, speed), water bottles, pump, spare tires, CO2 cartridges, spare kit with tools (sold at all bike stores), gear bag that goes under seat to carry spares and spare kit. Run – running shoes with lace locks (lace locks allow you to not have to tie your laces), bib holder race belt. Clothing – A tri suit or kit is usually made of moisture wicking material that you swim, bike AND run in, visor, sunglasses, and socks. Accessories – YOU HAVE TO PUT ON LUBE to avoid any chaffing or burns from the friction of your clothing. If you’ve never been chaffed before, you DON’T WANT TO GO THERE!

  • Tip #3 – Transitions – practice them!

    Actually stand out in your driveway and lay everything out as you would on race day and practice over and over again. This, for me, involves a small towel that I lay everything on and I put my articles in the order in which I will be retrieving them each time I transition. You want transitions to be quick and smooth so do what needs to be done to make sure all is organized.

  • Tip #4 – Practice “Bricks”

    What is a brick? A brick consists of riding your bike for whatever mileage then getting off and immediately beginning your run. It doesn’t have to be a long run, 15-20 min to start with. Triathlon is not isolated events. It is transitioning from one event to the other while changing up different muscles groups and energy systems. Practicing brick sessions allow your body to better adapt to race day demands.

  • Tip # 5 – Nutrition

    There is no one set way to tell someone how to eat prior to a race. However, not eating at all is not an option. My advice would be to eat a well-balanced breakfast a few hours prior to the event, make sure you have enough hydration with electrolytes before and during the event and to practice whatever nutrition methods work for you in your training so that there will be no surprises come race day. Clearly, the longer the distance of the race, the more critical your nutrition becomes. Find what works for you and PRACTICE!

  • Tip # 6 – Hire a Coach

    Having a coach not only prepares you for race day through testing and detailed, athlete specific training plans, but is there for you before, during and after the race for support, accountability, questions! Most people don’t just stop at one triathlon – they keep going forward and striving for that next goal, that next race. A coach makes sure you do that the correct way while properly training and holding you accountable while also preventing injury.


    As Coach Slayer reminds us often – 3 goals for every race:

    1. Finish.
    2. Do your best.
    3. Have fun.

Common terms and abbreviations that make the first timer say, huh?

Age groupers – Division in triathlon that is categorized by gender and age such as Male 35-40. There are also divisions such as novice, Athena’s, Clydesdales, open.
Body Marking – There will be a body marking station where volunteers will write with a magic marker your race number on both upper arms, lower calf and usually both top thighs.
On your left – Means someone behind you is about to pass on your left, most commonly heard on the bike. When this happens, move to the right and let them pass.
T1 and T2 – These are the transitions areas that we talked about previously. T1 is the first transition from the swim to bike. T2 is the second transition from the bike to run.
Aero Bars – attach to handle bars or stem of bike that allow you to rest your elbows and forearms on the pads and remaining in the aero position.
Sprint Distance Tri – 250-750 meter swim, 10-15 mile bike and 3.1 mile or less run
Olympic Distance Tri – 0.93 miles or 1600 yard swim, 22-26 mile bike, 6.2 mile run
Half Distance Tri 70.3 – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run
Full Distance Tri 140.6 – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run
Mass Start – All athletes tread water and begin at the same time instead of in waves.
Wave Start – Athletes are separated in waves based on divisions and male vs. female.
OTB – Off the bike. Commonly used in training when referring to a run OTB in regards to a brick.
Buoy – Floating buoys that are colored that allow swimmers to see where they are going in a race and when to turn. Usually red, yellow or orange.
Timing Chip – The chip that times your whole race and attaches to your ankle strap. To be worn from start to finish.

Free Speed – Tips to Increase your Triathlon Bike Results – TriCoachGeorgia

Race season is coming quickly or here and many of us like to dust off the cobwebs with some early season Sprints and/or Olympic triathlon races like the awesome Georgia Endurance series we sponsor. Theoretically these race distances are all about going fast and hard from the start. One aspect that provides some benefit to speed is being as light as possible. Another is unobstructed aerodynamics. Supplementary free speed is what we’re looking for here. Let’s talk about your gear.

As I – Coach B.A.M.F. – like to state in the beginning, the opinions expressed within this blog are just that but usually informed by my research and learning. To a large degree, how fast you are is dependent on how hard you work for it. It’s the engine that drives the vehicle. Nothing trumps the work you put in. That said, there are some places where you can find opportunities to help increase it.

Free Speed – Tips to Increase your Triathlon Bike Results


This blog is not referring to fitness here, although that is most vital. One of the most important pieces of cycling is being properly fit on your bike to maximize aero and power positions. If you haven’t done this I highly recommend you seek out a quality local bike fitter in your area like Micah Morlock at Georgia Cycle Sports in Athens and have it done. This doesn’t matter if you’re riding a standard road or TT bike. Getting fit can make a huge difference. There are a wide variety of fitters, costs, and fitting machines in use these days. In addition, if you’ve had fitting on your bike and it’s been a few years, it’s never a bad idea to schedule a refit to check things out. You could even go to the wind tunnel like ORR Carbon Wheels did in this blog, if you are trying to find seconds and minutes.

Fits should be done during the off-season/pre-season so you have plenty of time to adjust and acclimate to the new changes. If you do decide to get a fitting close to race season make sure they aren’t huge changes in your positioning that will cause you to adapt and leave you susceptible to injury or soreness.


One thing that makes me cringe when I walk into a Sprint or Olympic race rack transition area is seeing a bike with 4+ bottles in bottle holders and a picnic basket mounted on the top tube. Or all of that, along with an entire bike mechanic shop bag with tires, multiple tubes and CO2’s, and tools attached to the rear of the seat. That’s adding several pounds of extra weight to your rig. Get out your trusty allen wrench multi-tool and strip it down for short course races. You only need the bare minimum for these races. It’s not a half or full Ironman!


Do yourself a favor. Stand in front of your bike, squat down, and look at it. Then ask yourself, “What does the wind see?” Does your bike have a mass of cables and housings from your brakes and shifters crisscrossing all over the front? All of that is just added drag on your bike. Most of the newer super bikes are going to more of an integrated front fork that houses all of the cables where you cannot see them. If that’s what you have, great! But if you don’t, consider cleaning it up a bit. You may not be able to get rid of all of the cables, but there are safe ways to tie them together. Ask your local bike shop to assist you with doing this to makes sure you don’t mess up any gear shifting or brake tension.


Bike components can a little bit complicated to understand. (Don’t even get me started on front derailleurs!). There are lots of different models, materials, lengths, sizes, number of teeth, ratios. This is interesting if you’re into it, but not a lot of people are. One component I feel is often overlooked by the component novice is the rear cassette. Sure, it looks intricate and complex with all of its individual rings and teeth, but I’ve actually found it’s pretty easy to understand and deal with.

If someone asked you what size is the rear cassette on your bike, would you know? A better question would be, is your rear cassette right for the terrain you’re training and racing on? Most of your off-the-rack bikes are going to come with a standard 12-25, or maybe 11-25 rear cassette. Basically, the first is how many teeth are on the smallest ring of the cassette furthest away from the wheel hub. The second is the number of teeth on the largest ring, closest to the wheel hub.

If you find it difficult to climb steep hills you may want to check your cassette and possible look into getting one that will increase your spin rate. Such as an 11-28 or larger in your rear derailleur is compatible. If you train and race on mostly flat terrain, switching to a smaller cassette such as an 11-23 could provide some additional speed to hammer those flats. Solid rear cassettes are relatively inexpensive. It may be worth investing in a few to have for different terrains. (*If you’re not knowledgeable with changing them out most bike shops will do it for you as a walk-in, as long as they aren’t busy)


Your workload will correlate with your results, so continue focusing your efforts on becoming a strong cyclist through training. Ride more, solo, in groups, hard, moderate, easy, off the bike, etc. That said, hopefully there are some ideas here that could help you assess your current gear and set-ups to find some additional speed during your upcoming races. The only other place to lighten it up is body weight. If you’d like to review some thoughts on that you can read about that here: Going Against The Grain.

What We Learned in the Tunnel – TriCoachGeorgia

What We Learned in the Tunnel

Several years ago, several of the TriCoachGeorgia team, including Master Fitter Micah Morlock from our Sponsor Georgia Cycle Sport in Athens, Ga, traveled to Mooresville, NC to test their set ups in the A2 Wind Tunnel. We learned a lot about what saves time on race day, and many of the things we expected like the Disc always being faster than 404’s wasn’t the case. Helmets, wheels, loose clothing, exposed cabling, head position, body positions, etc. all can be tested to find the easiest way to gain speed without much additional expense. Don’t underestimate the value of a trip to the Tunnel.

As you will read below, our affiliate, ORR Carbon Wheels, took a trip a few weeks back to Scottsdale, AZ to spend the day in the Faster Low Speed Wind tunnel to test the all new ORR Gen3 against a couple of their competitors, including similar price range Flo Cycling, as well as Zipp Weaponry whose prices can double if not triple the price of a set of ORR’s. They were blown away with the results as we were too.

All testing protocol were written and supervised by Independent Consultant and Aerodynamic Expert Mike Giraud and administered by Arron Ross, Faster Wind Tunnel’s Director of Technology. A series of tests were run looking at the aerodynamic drag of each wheel. These tests only include the front wheel of each pairing. The same tire and tube were used, tire pressure was kept consistent at 100psi and valve extender was removed after initial installation. The testing range was a sweep from positive to negative 25 degrees and all conducted using a wind speed of 30mph as well as a 30mph wheel speed.

Charts are pretty but what does this mean???

The test measure grams of drag at a particular yaw angle (angle of the wind). As you notice, the ORR 6.4 and 8.4 consistently outperformed the Flo 60 & 90 and Zipp 404 & 808. So the lower the drag, the fewer watts it will require to propel forward (i.e., less drag = faster wheels). Over the course of an Ironman distance (112 miles), ORR 6.4 is 25 seconds faster than Zipp’s 404 and 40 seconds faster than Flo’s 60 and ORR 8.4 is 2 seconds faster than Zipp’s 808 and 11 seconds faster than Flo’s 90.

As we did when we went to the tunnel, ORR Carbon Wheels learned that you can spend thousands of dollars on “Speed” or you can speed much less and get the same result, or even a better result. Consider your options and think through if expensive means faster and what the real benefits of the bigger names are. We hope you will find time to get yourself to the nearest wind tunnel, and learn the best way to get yourself done the race quickest.

Going Against the Grain – A Diet guide for the Modern Triathlete by Coach B.A.M.F. – TriCoachGeorgia

Going Against the Grain – A Diet guide for the Modern Triathlete

Coach BAMF aka Coach Chuck is all about his athletes racing faster and understands the factors that go into speed and efficiency. He understands there are many ways to achieve one’s goals. However, one of the bigger ones is making racing weight and being healthy and happy. Here he writes about a topic near and dear to him, and one that will assist many IRONMAN triathletes and endurance sports athletes.


Many of you may have heard me, or others use the acronyms “NSNG” (No Sugar, No Grains) and “LCHF” (Low Carb, High Fat) and wondered what it all means. Alternative ways of eating by removing refined sugars and complex carbohydrates that are not new to our low calories, low fat, heart healthy grain culture. In fact, they’ve been around for many years in one form or another. Advocates of this method of eating were considered heretics by so called ‘nutritional subject matter experts and doctors’ because they go against the conventional wisdom of what we’ve all been told was the “right” way to eat. But with the continued year over year increase of obesity rates in both adults and children, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease people are starting to have a paradigm shift in the way they think about, and eat food.


Scientific studies on obesity and removal of sugars and carbs from patients diets to promote weight loss date back as far as the early 1900’s and have been proven to show results. In the late 1970’s and well into the 1980’s people like Dr. Phil Maffetone were promoting this way of eating and helped many legendary triathletes such as Mark Allen, Mike Pigg, and Paula Newby-Frazier achieve great success in training and racing. Even advocates of the high carbohydrate diet for athletes like Dr. Timothy Noakes have done a complete 180 degree shift in their beliefs and views, and have even gone as far as to state publicly that they were wrong. Check out this very interesting Podcast with Maffetone, Noakes, and Allen.


So why do more people not follow this way of eating? Our culture has been engrained to believe that fat is bad, and that we need to “carbo-load” days before events and consume sugary products during them to perform our best in athletic competitions. In addition to this, product marketing is big business in our sport and many athletes are sponsored and required to promote them on a regular basis. Eating a high fat diet and removing all refined sugars is not a popular message.


Our bodies have both a fat and carbohydrate fuel storage tank. The carbohydrate storage holds a max of 2,000 kcals, whereas our fat storage can hold anywhere from 40,000 to upwards of 100,000 kcals at any given time. Even in the leanest of athletes. So the question is why would we not want to tap into that fuel for training and racing?

Glycogen storage can be used up within a shorter span of time based on the level of effort put forth. So in order to maintain performance an athlete must continue to ingest sugar and carbs to top off the tank. This creates blood sugar and insulin spikes in the body and cause a peak and crash effect. It can also be the cause of GI issues many athletes consistently deal with. Learning to tap into your fat storage provides a constant flow of energy without spiking. With time and training an athlete is ultimately able to reduce the number of calories needed per hour which can also assist with controlling stomach problems.


So what do you need to do if you want to try it? This is simple. Stop consuming anything with refined sugars and/or complex carbohydrates. That means all of it including all sugar substitutes and grains that we are all told are “healthy.” It also includes your precious training drink mixes and energy bars. When it comes to the body, it doesn’t know a healthy grain over one considered not good for you. It only knows it as a grain.

And don’t fall victim to sugar. Sugar goes by many names. The problem is almost everything that is sold in your local grocery stores has some form of this in it, especially in the middle of the section of the supermarket. You have to start reading labels. And, you have to start eating real foods. Meats, fish, nuts, nut butters, seeds, eggs (yes the WHOLE EGG!), real butter, (no sugar) dairy products, vegetables, and fats such as olives, olive oils, coconut oil, avocados. Some fruits can be included*


Ok, so you decided to change your diet. Now how do you become a fat burner? This is the tough one for athletes to grasp and apply because many of them have a specific mindset on how they should be training. In order to become a fat burner you must SLOW DOWN. That’s right. You have to slow down. Fat burning takes place at an aerobic threshold pace. Another way of explaining it, you train at your sub-maximal effort.

The switch doesn’t happen overnight. If you’re a regular high carbohydrate eater your body is used to burning glycogen first. It can take several weeks to reverse this process and get your body to tap into its fat stores. You do this by changing your diet and adjusting your level of effort in training.


Let me close by stating there is no one-size fits all approach to this. For example, read here High Carb or High Fat? The Running Diet Debate. About a quarter of the population can consume and process carbohydrates quite effectively. Everyone is different and you have to figure out for yourself where you fall in the scheme of things. If you’ve been following the same pattern for quite a while now and are not seeing success in weight management or results in training and racing, perhaps changing things up in your approach to both could provide a different result.


The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney
Why We Get Fat: And What To Do About It by Gary Taubes
The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet by Nina Teicholz
Fitness Confidential by Vinnie Tortorich

*Much of the fruit that is grown and sold now has been highly modified (genetically) to increase the fructose sweetness, therefore you must be careful and selective when choosing to consume it. The best options are to stick with fruits considered to be low glycemic such as berries, and avoid the ones considered to be high glycemic like bananas.

Find Your Zone and 3 Ways to Do It by Coach Spartacus – Brian Patterson – TriCoachGeorgia

In my last blog I listed four thoughts to off season training. Today, I explain how you determine your heart rate training zones using a lab, a field test or just a little basic arithmetic.


You may be finding this article at the end of your triathlon season having trained all year without knowing your zones, you may know your zones or you may be brand new to zone based training. This article and the articles to follow apply to each of you as we are in the time of year that a large portion of your training should be focused on training in zone 2. I will explain why in my next article. For now, let’s find your zone!

Before I get into ways to find your training zones, some terminology needs to be reviewed so we are all in agreement.

VO2 max – VO2 is an abbreviation for volume of oxygen. What it means to a physiologist, to you and to me (a coach) is it’s the volume or amount of oxygen a person/athlete can use during a minute of activity/work. Endurance athletes produce energy using oxygen, and as intensity increases, the need for oxygen increases. There is an end point, a maximum, and this where energy production stops despite higher intensities because oxygen use is limited by the heart’s blood pumping ability. When your max heart rate is reached you also are at your highest level of oxygen consumption. To keep it simple for training zone determination let’s agree that VO2 max means maximum heart rate. The VO2 max is largely a fixed number based on genetics and cannot be increased very much through training.

Lactate Threshold – You may see this abbreviated as LT, AT, AnT or VT. This is also called anaerobic threshold or ventilatory threshold. When the body is making energy aerobically (using oxygen)during endurance training/racing the lactic acid produced inside the cell is converted to carbon dioxide and is removed through exhalation. This “threshold” is the point where the heart can’t pump enough blood to the lungs so the athlete can’t blow off the accumulating acid, carbon dioxide. This is the red line of endurance training and racing because aerobic energy production is switched to anaerobic energy production. Anaerobic energy production is less efficient and produces a lot of waste that is hard to metabolize so we want to be just below this threshold because going over it increases fatigue very rapidly. Unlike VO2 max, Anaerobic/ventilatory threshold can be increased with proper training.

Aerobic Threshold – If VO2 max is the pedal to the metal all out efforts and LT is slightly harder than a moderate effort, then the aerobic threshold, AeT, is a relatively low intensity level of training. This is zone 2 and the garage where BIG aerobic engines are built! Technically, this is the point where lactic acid is beginning to accumulate and you notice your breathing becomes a little deeper and maybe just two or three breaths more per minute. You will also notice an increase in body temperature and maybe a light sweat on your skin. When you notice this, hold that effort and stay there for the prescribed time. This is also the zone where metabolic efficiency training begins and that discussion is for another time.


Lab based testing for determining heart rate zones


Lab testing to determine your VO2 max, aerobic and anaerobic thresholds is done with a metabolic cart and can be done for running and cycling. This involves wearing a very tight fitting mask connected to a device that measures the volume of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your breaths and your heart rate through either a chest strap or electrodes. A computer program displays graphs of heart rate and ratios of oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) which represents metabolic activity. Heart rate is matched to changes in the ratios of O2 and CO2 and this is how your aerobic and anaerobic threshold zones are determined. Your VO2 max is determined at the point one reaches exhaustion. Once the heart rate thresholds and VO2 max are determined, these can be further distributed into zones 1 ‐ 5 or more depending on the different method of calculations such as the Friel method, the Coggan method or the Karvonen method etc.

Some labs measure blood lactate by analyzing drops of blood taken at intervals during the testing session. The blood lactate values are charted and compared to heart rates to establish the thresholds. Blood lactate measurement can be done conjunction with the metabolic cart or using a handheld device that analyzes the blood without the metabolic cart. Both provide nearly the same result.


Field based testing for determining heart rate zones


As mentioned above, there are handheld blood lactate analyzers that can be used outside of a lab to measure blood lactate to determine the anaerobic threshold. The aerobic threshold can also be closely approximated using the results and comparing the perceived exertion and ventilatory rate of the athlete. Once again the VO2 max , this time max heart rate, is determined at the point one reaches exhaustion.

An even simpler way to get an approximate anaerobic threshold is to do a 30 minute time trial.

This can be done for either cycling or running and can be done indoors or outdoors. If done outdoors, it is important to pick a route that is easily repeated and free from obstacles that could inhibit a nonstop 30 minute effort. All that is needed to perform this test is a heart rate monitor and stopwatch. To obtain threshold paces, one will need to use a gps enabled device for timing. Perform the test as follows:

Warm up 10‐15 minutes to get the heart above resting and the feeling of a light sweat then recover until the breathing returns to normal. Press start on the timing device and begin the test by running or cycling at as hard an effort as one can sustain for 30 minutes. Do not start out so fast that the effort cannot be maintained for 30 minutes. At the 10 minute mark, press the lap button and continue to run or ride until 30 minutes is reached. At 30 minutes, press the stop button. Review the data file and analyze the “lap” you created at the 10 minute mark. Take your average heart rate for that 20 min effort and that is roughly your anaerobic threshold. If this was a running test, look at the whole 30 minute data file and determine your average pace for the 30 min. This average pace is the threshold pace and one can set training zones using pace just like heart rate. These thresholds will become more accurate as one performs subsequent tests and learns pacing.

This same field test can also be used to determined one’s cycling functional threshold power if a power meter is used during the test.

A swim test to determine your anaerobic threshold is also possible. Because most heart rate monitors do not work in the water, the swim test is a fixed distance time trial to determine your average 100 yard/meter pace. I will use yards and meters interchangeably in the article. There are several tests one can use determine threshold swim pace or Tpace. Here are two that are frequently used:

Warm up with 10 minutes of swimming to include drills, kicking and a few short, hard 25’s or 50’s. Cool down so your breathing returns to normal.

Option 1 ‐ 1000 time trial ‐ Have someone time you and keep up with your distance so you can focus on swimming as hard as possible and not try to remember your lap counts or waste time looking at your lap counter on your wrist or finger. When the person timing you tells you to begin, swim as hard as you can for the entire 1000. Don’t start out too fast so that you have to slow or stop to recover mid test. The person timing you will stop you at the 1000 mark when they stop the timer. To determine your Tpace, take the total time for the 1000 and divide by 100. This will give you your average pace per 100.

Option 2 ‐ 3 x 300 on :30 rest interval time trial or 3 x 100 on :20 rest interval time trial ‐ These can be used if a 1000 straight swim is not yet possible due to a lack of swim fitness. Warm up as above then swim the intervals as fast as possible keeping in mind not go out so fast that the distance cannot be completed. It is best if all three intervals are within five seconds of one another and this may require adding a fourth interval. Sometimes the first interval is considerable faster than the subsequent intervals. Adding a fourth will allow dropping the first faster interval with leaving three intervals to average. Tpace is determined by averaging three intervals times. if using the 100 distance, average the three times to determine Tpace. If using the 300 distance, average the three intervals times and divide that time by three to get your 100 Tpace.


Arithmetic calculation for determining zones


There are many methods to mathematically calculate heart rate training zones. The focus of this series of articles is off season training and base or zone 2 training so I will explain one simple way to calculate your zone 2 that may be very close to your lab determined zone 2. This mathematical calculation was developed by Phil Maffetone and it is simply subtracting your age from 180 and further subtracting or adding five or ten points based on illnesses or fitness.

Since this article is most likely reaching folks with a bit of athleticism and fitness, let’s simplify the calculation by subtracting one’s age from 180 then further subtracting 5 to give a low end and adding five to give a high end. This will give a range of heart rates for the calculated zone 2.

Using a 35 year old as an example , the zone would be 180‐35=145. Subtract another 5, 145‐5= 140 and add another 5, 145+5=150 so the calculated zone 2 range is 140‐150. To learn more about the Maffetone method, visit here. To help guide your zone calculations, here is a chart for plotting your zones. Keep in mind cycling heart rate can be ten beats less than running due to the decreased physical effort cycling demands.

Heart Rate Zones for running and cycling

Running Zones

Zone 1 Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2 85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4 95% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Your Zones

less than_____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
greater than_____

Cycling Zones

Zone 1 Less than 81% of LTHR
Zone 2 81% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3 90% to 93% of LTHR
Zone 4 94% to 99% of LTHR
Zone 5a 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5b 103% to 106% of LTHR
Zone 5c More than 106% of LTHR

Your Zones

less than_____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
_____ ‐ _____
greater than_____

Power Zones for Cycling

Zone 1 Less than 55% of FTPw
Zone 2 55% to 74% of FTPw
Zone 3 75% to 89% of FTPw
Zone 4 90% to 104% of FTPw
Zone 5 105% to 120% of FTPw
Zone 6 More than 120% of FTPw


Swim zones use Tpace plus or minus seconds of time. Tpace can also be thought of as race pace so your training sessions may be built around Tpace plus 5, 10 or even 15 seconds which is a slower effort or Tpace minus 5 or 10 seconds which would be fast sprint sets.

To summarize, there are many ways to determine heart rate training zones from the gold standard, elaborate lab tests to simple mathematical calculations. If you know your zones, great! Get to training in zone 2. If you don’t know your zones, you now have the means to get started identifying them. First and foremost, determine zone 2 and get training in it. My next article will discuss the advantages of zone 2 training.