To Drill or Not to Drill?

This is the question many triathletes ask themselves at this time of year. When reading the different articles on the “off-season” at this time of year the most common advice is to work on a weakness. Most triathletes will immediately think of the swim leg. Since 2011, I have spent the months of November & December working on the “traditional” aspects of “improving technique.” Below is my short discourse on technique/swim mechanics being incorporated into practice for age group triathletes.

A couple of things to preface this article-

1-There is nothing that can replace working with a coach on deck that has triathlon or open water coaching experience. Swimming in pool events is different from coaching triathletes or open water swimmers.

2-Most triathletes and adult onset swimmers need to be careful with using power producing or drag increasing equipment. Examples are paddles, an ankle band, an Eney Buoy with any water inside or a parachute. My prerequisites for using these type of equipment are a swim history-defined as swimming consistently for at least 3x/week for 48-50 weeks per year for at least 2-3 years or swimming faster than 1:30/100 yards or having grown up swimming in high school or college. Even still, there is nothing can replace the advice and watchful eye of a knowledgeable open water swim coach.

Here is a short list of what I think the drawbacks of working on traditional technique & drills are:

1-The lack of athletic awareness of where their body is in the water as well as individual parts of their body. For example, when trying describe to people to push water with their palm towards the opposite wall from the direction they are going I frequently see swimmers pushing water upwards. No matter how I try to phrase this I cannot elicit the change in hand position that I would like.

2-Does two months of working on technique elicit the changes needed to make a difference in technique? Does three? My guess is no.

3-People expect that with “better” technique comes faster swim times or ease of swimming. *Perhaps* over time-but definitely not right away.

4-As my mentor Tower 26 coach Gerry Rodrigues has talked about endlessly, the AG triathlete simply does not have the time to swim 5-7x/week to incorporate daily/weekly technique work. And even if they could-is it the best use of their time?

5-Is there a transfer of technique/drill work to their swimming when they start swimming a set of 10×100(or insert set here) on a set interval at 80-85% or high aerobic effort or race pace effort? Again-I don’t think so. At that point, the athlete is only trying to make the interval without getting completely out of breath.

Do I see any good points about working with drills at any time during the season? The thought is that doing drills can provide a mental( a huge component) and physical break from regular training. Instead of interval training or having that Ironman swim in the back of your mind as you log swim after swim, there is a relaxation that an athlete can “just swim” to focus on one or two points of their stroke.  

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

A Perspective on Our Training

As we start the beginning of March I thought it would be a good time to chat about our purpose of the workouts at this time of year. We are in a phase I like to call “General Preparation.” You may have heard this phase called “Base” or “Aerobic Endurance.” In a periodization model, we are working from a perspective of general fitness towards specific fitness for our particular race. If that race is an Olympic distance race the training is a bit different compared to an athlete training for an Ironman. At this time of year, we are working on building all types of fitness from low aerobic fitness or zone 1-2 to high end fitness commonly referred to as zone 5. As we work at this time of year we have an eye on what the first races of the year are for each athlete as well as the races through the year that are the “A” races.

On Saturday April 16 we will host a Pool-Open Water Swim Event at the Cape Elizabeth High School Pool. For the two weeks prior to the event we switch our focus to incorporate an introduction to open water skills such as swimming in a group, contact among swimmers, sighting and drafting as well as many others. This open water skill phase will go for the next two to four weeks depending on how the athletes progress and pick up the various skills.

Following this open water skill phase we will start to work in the “Specific Preparation” phase. In this phase we look towards specific races such as the Sebago Lake Triathlon, Peaks to Portland Open Water swim, the Casco Bay Otillo and others throughout the year. In the pool, open water, bike and run we will start to make every workout focused on making every athlete ready for their competition. The goal of this phase is to get the athlete ready for that Sprint, Olympic, half-Ironman or Ironman distance triathlon. This phase will last through the summer to one of the pinnacles of our sport-Ironman Hawaii World Championships in Kona. I look forward to seeing everyone through the year!

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

Sarah Piampiano: A Mainah on the Rise

One of the great success stories in triathlon in 2015 has been the comeback of Sarah Piampiano. I met Sarah at a training camp in Santa Monica at Tower 26 in 2011. Sarah is also a fellow Mainah. The first memory I have of meeting Sarah is rubbing elbows with her in the pool doing some fast 25s with no lane lines. I tried to push Sarah into the swimmer next to her and she didn’t give an inch! It was a foretelling of things to come for her in her triathlon career.

Towards the end of 2014 Sarah was racing in Ironman Texas when on the run she felt severe pain in her leg. She limped her way to the finish line. It turns out that Sarah had a stress fracture of her femoral neck. In layman’s terms she had a break in the neck of the ball and socket joint of her leg bone into her pelvis. She could not weight bear for an extended time for a good part of 2014, endured physical therapy and then started training again. All with the knowledge that racing again at her previous level may not be possible. Her training had a very slow progression to ensure that the injury did not come back.

Sarah’s next goal was to qualify for Kona. She achieved this goal but did it mcuh later in the season. She arrived in Kona with a new plan with her coach Matt Dixon. The plan was to back off from her speedy bike pace in the last 40km to save her legs for the run. Turned out to be the right plan. Sarah had the second fastest run of the day in Kona of 3:06:33(Fastest run was 3:06:25!). She was picking off people left and right in the last 10 miles of the race. At the finish line she was 7th at the World Championships. She took some time off and then resumed training for Ironman Western Australia. She turned in another great race and grabbed her first Ironman victory. Her story of perseverance, trusting the process and going for it on the big stage is one for everyone to remember and learn from to apply to their own athletic journey!

Happy Holidays to everyone! Here is to a 2016 filled with chasing your dreams!

Here is a link to a Portland Press Herald article on Sarah: http://www.pressherald.com/2015/12/27/cumberland-native-dumps-smoking-drinking-to-become-pro-triathlete/

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

Oh the seasons they are a-changin’: Winter Words of Wisdom

Stealing a line from a Bob Dylan song-if you have have been training for triathlon for most of the year the Ironman World Championships and Xterra Maui Championships mark the unofficial end of the triathlon season. So what to do now? The best way to spend the end of October to the end of December is with unstructured and unplanned training. It is easier to keep at it a bit through November & December than to take off for two months then get back into it in January or February. Depending on what you have done for training and racing through the year as well as 2016 goals will dictate the amount of time that the athlete will need to take off. Here is a general breakdown of each sport. -swimming: In our workouts at the Cape Elizabeth High School pool, we will be changing the complexity of the workouts.

  • The intervals will get slower. For example, if a lane usually swims 100 yards on 1:30, that interval will be dialed back to 1:40 or 1:45.
  • Technique work: We will do some drills in the water but there will still be a workout for each group.
  • Body tightness: By using swim toys more at this time of year we will work on putting the triathlete’s body in a good position while swimming.
  • Alignment: Through the snorkel, buoy & band triathletes will swim learning to keep their body in one straight line while moving through the water.
  • More non-freestyle strokes: Using butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke throughout the workout.
  • Education & implementation: Learning to use the pace clock, lane etiquette & getting the pace right for different distances.

-cycling:

  • Get out, grab your friends and have some fun riding. No need for time frames or metrics. Go hard if you want or don’t!
  • Practice good posture on our bike. Good habits now breed a good set up when training kicks back in.
  • Do some cyclo-cross or mountain biking.

-running:

  • The first two points from cycling can apply to running.
  • Running takes the biggest toll on the body. Take some time off.
  • When running-run tall. Cue into other good habits to make them automatic by 2016.

-other:

  • Take classes you normally wouldn’t. Whether it is a yoga, pilates or a boot camp class. Go out and do something new.
  • Let loose a bit. Triathletes are known for being a bit serious. About everything. Have fun. Splurge. Spend time with family & friends. Eat ice cream. Everyday. I recommend Gelato Fiasco.
  • Get some rest. Take care of yourself and the people around you.

Heather and I are looking forward to our first full winter here in Maine-snowshoeing, cross country skiing and maybe some fat biking!

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee

My Thoughts on IM Kona

September and October are a great time of year for the tri geeks of the Universe. 70.3 Worlds held in a beautiful setting in Europe. ITU Worlds held in the iconic city of Chicago. And to top it off the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Every year at this time Kona becomes Triathlon Mecca. But for those of us that can’t make it to the IM Championships we are left with the online broadcast of the race. This race coverage has really improved over the past few years. As the sport grows and there are calls for more money from the pro triathletes the focus of Kona becomes even more important as the Super Bowl of our sport. For most of us that are stuck within the tri bubble we can understand a lot of the things that happen on the Kona broadcast. For a possible non-endemic sponsor from the outside looking in what would they think? First, the good: 1-the race is broadcast. We must start here. I had the race on the TV the entire day. You read that right. The entire day. 2-Quarq race site-This was a pleasant surprise for me. If I wanted to see how close racers were to each other this was the place to do it. I am hoping they do more and more with this site with each year. Great stuff from Quarq. 3-The coverage of the race at times is very good. As are the commentators. And now…the bad: 1-The swim: The ITU broadcast has a boat with a camera guy holding a long selfie stick( I don’t know what the real name of this equipment is but you get the idea) with a camera attached to the end to get the pointy end of the race. There are multiple camera angles while the athletes get into the scrum around the buoy. There are replays of important or cool angles that happen. Why hasn’t WTC/NBC done the same? The coverage was better this year with Matt Lieto out on a boat trying to figure out who was who while they were in the water. This needs to get better. There should be split screens with the men’s and women’s race. Why do have to pick one over the other? But more on that later. We also need live split timing comparing the second pack of swimmers to the front pack. And the third pack compared to the second pack. And the time differences when the athletes exit the water. Just like the ITU races. When most of the racers are out of the water but some key players are getting out(think Lionel Sanders, Matt Hanson, Angela Naeth, Rinny Carfrae, Sarah Piampiano and the like) I would like an on screen update of their time back from other racers at the bottom of the screen in the form of a ticker. Just like the stock market. 2-The bike: A long time for a viewer to stay engaged on what is going on. So throw in some filler of interviews with athletes or sponsors, commercials or what is happening out on the course. But always show the race! Why does it have to be one or the other? This is another place where split screens of the mens and womens race can be done. Or the front end of the mens race with the second pack of the mens race. The possibilities are endless. Why do we get stuck with only one view for such a long period of time? 3-The run: Split screen. Does anyone else see a pattern in my commentary? Why can’t we have a split screen of the mens and womens race? Or four screens of the different runners out on course with live splits on each screen? 4-General: Leaderboard on screen. Show the Quarq map with amount of time between packs/racers a la the ITU  with commentators out on course every now and again. Show Rinny dropping out. Swallow dropping out. Sticksy dropping out. We want drama. Look around at the coverage in the other main sports. How about interviews with coaches about their athletes like the NBA does during time outs or MLB does between innings? You can tape them and do a quick edit just like they do. We crave more info. Better info. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Look around at what other sports are doing to create a bigger audience. No more promos about that college WTC is promoting. Enough. Stop it. We get it. In terms of increasing the advertising during the broadcast, put a logo and web page in the corner of the screen as another way for sponsors to get additional eyeball time. 5-The commentators: Generally these guys are pretty good. And their knowledge of history of the sport is better than most unless your name is Bob Babbitt. Going back to one of my first point about non-endemic sponsorships in the sport-what must they think? Does anyone else see this as a problem? Here are the bullet points:

  • Compare the Kona commentators to the commentators of the major sports. Increased scrutiny leading to better commentators is what we should strive for in the long term.
  • Doing interviews with athletes while the top 5-10 men and women are crossing the finish line is a huge no-no.
  • We need more coverage of the age group race. Especially at the finish line. We are selfish people. We want to see the regular guys finish to know that finishing this race is not only left to the genetic freaks of the world. That us regular guys have a shot on the Big Island.
  • Why do we need to watch the commentators with the race going on? Cutting to them every now and again is fine. Watching Welchy and Lovato for any extended period of time made me think of turning the channel. Or hitting the mute button. Which I did.
  • Lastly, Welch needs to stop telling athletes what to do on course. I think Daniela Ryf has a pretty good idea what she is doing out there on course. Not only is she a smart experienced racer but has one of the best coaches in tri behind her in Brett Sutton.

Yes, the complaints outweigh my positive notes on the broadcast. I love this sport. I want to see it succeed to its highest levels. Only 351 days until we get to do this all again! #IMKona #triathlon #WTC

Copyright © 2016 Todd Larlee