Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Season Review

The end of the season is the perfect time to reflect back on the past season and then look ahead.  Before you can even start thinking about where you want to go next year, honestly assess where you went and how it went for this year.  A simple way to review your season is to answer 3 basic questions: what worked, what didn’t work, what needs work.  You can also break down your season into categories; swim, bike, run, racing, training, consistency, recovery, testing/progress, nutrition, equipment, mental.  Answer the 3 basic questions for each category to get a snapshot of how things went.  Sometimes just taking the time to ask yourself the question generates obvious answers that are easily within your control to change or improve.

Let’s now take a comprehensive look at everything that plays into your season’s success.   


Take a look at your training log and ask yourself: how did it go?  Get in the habit of keeping subjective and objective details of your daily training.  Read through a few weeks – were there trends that indicated you would soon be tired?  What led to your best sessions?  Were the busiest times at work also where you got that little niggle in your ankle?  Do you have less time for training when your kids are on summer vacation?  Was there a pattern to your training, balancing work with recovery?  Start to put together your formula from the patterns that emerge. 

Also ask: what were the most helpful sessions?  What did you enjoy the least?  Was there a pattern to your weekly workouts that left you feeling energized?  Do you do better with a long run during the week or on weekends?  How about intensity?  It’s easy for everyone to enjoy intense sessions but did they leave you feeling overworked?  Were long sessions to depleting? Which workouts did you fear the most? Which did you look forward to?  Answers to these questions will help you and your coach better understand the best path for you next season.

Step back and assess the "big" picture.  What’s your plan for training?  Is there a plan or is it haphazardly based on the weather or available time?  Having a master plan helps you define not only where you want to go but how you’re going to get there.  Your training should have specific cycles based on your strengths, your weaknesses, when your peak races occur and the demands required for them.  There should be clear weeks of work and clear weeks of stepping back.  Training should be progressive, building upon what you’ve done in the weeks before.  Plan how to do the right training at the right time. 

Swim, Bike & Run:

How did your swim go this year?  Did you improve your swim pace or did it stay the same?  If your swim held you back, consider your swim form, fitness and frequency.  If form, hook up with an experienced swim specific coach to work on your stroke, once a week for 8-12 weeks.  If fitness, consider joining a quality masters program and learn to work at varied paces.  If frequency, SWIM MORE.  December is a good time to try a swim heavy month: swim 5-6x a week for at least 30 minutes at a time.  More advanced athletes should consider one day where they swim twice.  A powerful punch of swimming like this often boosts an athlete to that next level, at a time of the year where there’s really not much else going on!

How did things go with the bike?  What’s holding you back?  Equipment, fitness, strength or frequency?  If fitness and strength, GET A POWER METER!  An entire winter’s worth of trainer work will take on a whole new level with a power meter.  Include 1-2 shorter, more intense training sessions during the winter where you work on improving your FTP.  If frequency – just ride!  Ride to work, ride to the coffee shop – time in the saddle works.  If equipment, now is the time of the year to look at year end closeouts for deals on equipment upgrades. 

What about running?  What’s holding you back?  Durability, frequency, fitness or speed?  If durability, work on your body composition, look to changing your shoes, strength train with purpose, consider running more off road to protect yourself.  If frequency, simple: run more frequently – short, frequent runs add up!  Even shorter, twice a day running adds up to more running (which sets you up for more speed).  What about speed, is that holding you back?  Stop running long and slow, it will only make you run long and slow.  Do some 5Ks.  Run hills.  Include strides.  All of these things will improve your speed without doing intensive speedwork.  Is fitness holding you back?  Base your training on current heart rate or pace zones.  Stop following heart rate guidelines that were not specifically designed for you.  Heck, stop using your heart rate monitor and run by feel for a month and learn how to trust your inner dial. 

Testing & Progress:

Over the course of the year, you should see progress in your swim pace, bike power and run pace.  What we’re looking for are consistent ways to measure your progress.  Using race splits or bike speed or open water pace are not necessarily useful as these are influenced by things beyond our control; course measurement, wind, hills, current, waves.  Compare what you can accurately and consistently measure.  Doing a bike test on the trainer is something we can replicate over and over again.  If you’re not seeing measurable progress, ask yourself why.  Training?  Illness?  Injury?  Motivation?  If you see a pattern of under-performing or missing your race goals, look to yourself but also look to your training plan.  Also, be sure you are realistically evaluating yourself.  The more of a beginner you are, the bigger the gains you’ll make in progress.  The more experienced you are, the harder you have to work for every single second!


Fitness and progress come from consistency over time.  The more interruptions you have in your training, the less you will continue on an upward trend of gaining fitness.  Illness, injury, work travel, vacations, periods of low motivation – these are all interruptions to overall consistency.  Look back at your year of training and racing – note any interruptions and then reflect on why.  Missed races, missed training days, big weeks that got derailed.  Think about why it happened and then create an action plan should it happen again.  

Travel presents an inconvenient interruption for many working athletes.  With a little research into what’s available and planning, you should be able to work around any days away.  Never underestimate the power of a 20 minute workout on a day when you think you won’t be able to get anything done.  A 10 minute out and back run is better for consistency than taking a day off.  Body strength routines, climbing stairs – you can fake a workout just about anywhere without having too many holes in your schedule.  Plan major work trips or vacations around “step back” weeks so you don’t have as much pressure to train and can lessen your workload. 

Illness is another costly interruption.  Most illness comes from compromised immune function.  Improper diet, poor recovery, excessive training, lack of sleep, stress – these will impair your immune function.  Commit to make changes to not only how you train but how you recover from your training.  Take on only as much training as you can realistically handle with balancing your “real” life demands.  Furthermore, respect your body when it’s sick.  It’s a signal that your body is fighting and needs some rest.  Listen to it and don’t push through. 

Avoiding injury is the goal of every season.  Like illness, there’s always a reason for injury – too much training, too little recovery, poor diet, improper equipment.  Look at when, where and why your injury occurred.  Form an action plan on how to avoid it – commit to spending 10 minutes each night on self-massage, schedule a bi-monthly active release therapy appointment, go to a weekly yoga class.  Address your problem areas, be sure that your equipment is suitable for your body, form, experience level and training load.


Assess your race results.  Write them all out in a chart where you list splits, placement, data.  With all of these numbers, a pattern should emerge.  Were you moving up in your age group percentage?  Was your bike pacing improving in similar races on similar courses?  How about your power output?  Were you able to hit your race ranges?  How was your variability?  How was your execution of a fuel plan?  Did you demonstrate ability to troubleshoot and make sound decisions within the race?  Make some notes next to each race about: what worked, what didn’t work.  Keep these notes on record to review next year before your races.   If your race results improved over the year, congratulations, that is the point of training.  If your results stagnated or worsened, ask yourself why?  If you excel at training but struggle at racing, learn how to put together a race plan and then execute it.  Learn how to troubleshoot and strategize while racing.  Plan a routine for the days before the race, night before, morning of and post-race.  Preparation is confidence.  Confidence is PERFORMANCE in racing!  .  


Understanding the connection between what you eat and how you recover/perform is key to better performance.  Look back at times you had your best races, times you got sick – what was your diet like?  Learning when to remove fiber, timing of your meals and how to fuel before/during/after workouts and races is something you must commit to for progress and recovery. The best approach to nutrition is one that is simple and sustainable.  If you are stressed about how to make your special “diet” happen, it’s not worth it.  Furthermore, separate media, glamour and what everyone else is doing from what is actually right FOR YOU.  While there may be outliers who can tolerate extreme diets, in general keep your diet simple, sustainable, well-rounded, wholesome and high quality.  If you’re struggling, consult with a professional to learn how and what to eat. Go to and trust the experts – and learn who is an expert, someone with the letters “RD” behind their name! 

Look at how your weight trended over the past season – did you gain?  Lose?  What about body fat percentage?  Many athletes get stuck on the idea of “race weight” pulling some magical number out of the sky that they have always wanted to see on the scale.  Your race weight is the weight at which you recover and perform the best.  You might run faster at a lower weight but if you are not healthy at that weight, it is not your race weight.  Moreover, understand that you should achieve race weight by race day and not a day earlier.  And, your goal should not be a number on the scale, rather a pattern of eating and health that allows you to train consistently, recover and improve throughout the year.  Be realistic about your weight.  


Want to get faster?  Improve your recoverability.  Here’s how:  Train smarter.  Eat better.  Sleep more.  Stress less.  Compression, supplements, massage, recovery boots – all of that stuff is nice fluff to add on top of the other things that you actually must do to recover better.  The quicker you can recover from a workout, the more work you can do.  Take an honest look at the recovery needed to make gains from your training sessions.  Most age group athletes can handle 1 – 2 “key” sessions in a sport per week.  Sometimes “key” means “race specific pacing” while other times it means “intensity”.  Just because something is “hard” doesn’t mean it’s effective training.  Athletes tend to fall into patterns of two days of work, two days of rest or alternating hard and easy days.  Neither is right for you unless it actually works for you.  Learn to listen to your body’s rhythms and cues.

Aside from your pattern of workouts, sleep is critical for recovery.  Not just quantity but quality!  Consider the quality of your sleep during your biggest training blocks in the past year.  If you had frequently interrupted sleep, you perhaps reached too far or recovered too little.  This is useful information in planning out your next season.  If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep, consider doing workouts earlier or spacing out meals further from bedtime.  If you wake up between 1 – 2 am, this is a classic sign that you are not meeting your recovery carbohydrate needs.  Learn to fuel properly before, during and after workouts.  If you wake up around 4 am, this is indicative of disrupted cortisol patterns which can arise from stress (either personal, training or the stress or improper fueling).  Lessen that stress load (which is often most easily done and quickly repaired by removing the training stress).

Nutrition is the other major piece of recovery (I’ve already covered that!).


You might need some help with this one, as it’s not often easy to see our own weaknesses.  How’s your head?  When you get stressed or tired, where do your thoughts go?  Did you have any workout failures – what happened in your head?   How do you handle setbacks, failures or tests?  How do you feel on race morning?  Do you need to work on your confidence, focus, your perspective?  The mind is easily ignored but the driving force behind your best training and racing.  How to improve your mental game?  Read books, articles weekly on how to become a better athlete.  Put what you read into practice.  Believe in yourself and your abilities.  Stop overthinking.  Stop worrying about what other people think.  Disconnect from social media, learn to listen to the thoughts in your head.  Practice having a quiet mind once a day.  Visualize the athlete you want to be – in training and racing.  Truly “be” the athlete you want to be.  Commit to training your brain at least once a week starting today. 

Motivation also falls under the mental category and can be a major interruptive factor that ebbs and flows throughout the year.  Did you frequently suffer from motivation lows?  Low motivation can be a red flag that you are under recovering.  As your body gets stressed and hormones get imbalanced from training, work stress, personal stress – you get “tapped out” in a sense and find it hard to find joy or desire in doing things you once loved. If you find yourself approaching that edge, respect it and take a step back until you find your fire again.  What about timing – were you on fire in the spring and cooked by the summer?  Some athletes are naturally more motivated to perform well early in the season while others can sustain focus long into the fall.  Consider the type of athlete you are and arrange your next season’s schedule accordingly. 

An honest look at the season behind you is the only way to improve the season ahead of you.  Share this review with your coach to launch a valuable conversation on how to keep striving towards your best performances.  Or, consult with a coach to see how they can help.  Above all, consistently seek to improve yourself!  This means a willingness to change and accepting that change is never easy.  In his book, The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer says, “In order to do things we’ve never done before, we’ve got to do things we’ve never done before.”  A simple way of saying: if you want change, you’ve got to change!  Look at your season to find ways you can change (and improve) what you’ve been doing to get closer to your success!  

Monday, October 22, 2012


Last weekend, I visited family out in Seattle.  On the way back home, I picked up a book in the airport, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by Sian Bellock.  Initially flipping through it, I worried that it would be too technical.  A few hours later after finishing it, I found it to be one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

As a coach and athlete, I am very interested in the science of optimal performance.  In other words, how people perform at their best when it matters most.  Certainly this has a lot to do with art and science of an athlete’s training and physiology.  But I’ve found it has even more to do with cognitive science – the mind.  How does an athlete perform their best under pressure?  And if they fall short, why? Choke seeks to answer that.

It helps first to define what it means to choke.  According to Bellock, “choking under pressure is poor performance that occurs in response to the perceived stress of the situation.”  Highly stressful situations cause the athlete to either overthink something that is usually automatic or under-focus on something that needs more attention.  For example, the athlete thinks so intently about their run form during a race that they forget to pace themselves.  Though the athlete may have practiced both pacing and fueling in their training, the stress of the situation caused changes in their own behavior that led to choking.  Bellock explores how and why that happens.  

Stressful situations cause worry.  Worry and self-doubt can impair the brain’s ability to function properly.  When we worry, we try to exert control on actions or processes that are automatic.  For example, a basketball player making a free throw.  Shooting the ball into the hoop is not necessarily difficult – it’s something they do in every practice and game many, many times.  The action has become automatic in their brain.  But unique feelings, pressures or perceptions of that athlete or the situation can turn this very simple task into a choke.  Often because the athlete tries to exert control on the outcome.  In other words, it’s the game winning shot, you’re at the free throw line, the crowd is hissing and your team is relying on you.  At a time when you should just go with the flow and do what you know how you to do, you try to control the outcome and focus intently on making the shot, going so far as to tell yourself don’t miss this shot.  What you don’t want to happen often happens – you choke. 

How then does an athlete prepare for this?  One of the more interesting concepts was pressure training.  Many athletes are able to perform well and execute their plan in training.  However, come race day, they get completely derailed.  Studies have shown that when people practice in an environment with no pressure, when they are put under pressure, they indeed will choke.  Stressful situations, like a race, tend to increase your self-awareness and propensity for trying to control the outcome.   All of a sudden, the “pressure” of your finishing time or nabbing that Kona slot throws you off your game.  You’re hyperattentive to every move you make, you become more rigid, you overthink, you overanalyze, you get scared.  What you’ve done a few dozen times in training – times, paces, strategies, go completely out the window because of the stress. 

How, then, do you prepare for the stress of race day?  Practices where mild levels of stress are stimulated teach the athlete how stay calm, cool and collected.  If you’ve ever read about Michael Phelps’ coach snapping Phelps’ goggles and then making him compete – this is pressure simulation.  Triathlon, being outside and combining 3 different sports, has many opportunities for highly stressful situations – chop in the water, rain or wind on the bike, heat on the run.  Training in low pressure situations (ie., always indoors) does not prepare you for how to handle the stressors.  Getting out there and dealing with conditions can familiarize you with how your body responds to stressors and how to work through them.   Moreover, racing ‘less important’ or smaller races throughout the season gets you used to the physical, emotional and mental pressures of racing – confronting them and learning new strategies for dealing with them. 

Not surprisingly, high performers tend to have difficulty downplaying the importance of high pressure situations which interferes with their ability to succeed.  Often, high performing athletes place a lot of pressure on themselves to succeed in order to live up to the expectations of their fans, sponsors and family.  In the case of a professional, their performance may impact their financial situation.  When so much is riding on their performance, it’s easy to overestimate the importance of your performance and therefore try to control it.  Therefore, perspective, or understanding that you are not defined by one dimension, alleviate some of the pressure you may feel.  Taking a few moments to think of your value from many dimensions, not just as an athlete, may show you that success or failure does not impact who you are permanently, it’s just another part of your experience.  In my own experience, this is why I feel many athletes are better athletes after a major life event (ie., injury, childbirth) – it simply reinforces that there is more to life than triathlon and whether they succeed or fail, it doesn’t impact who they are.

Some of the highest performers can also be the most self critical.  Thinking of yourself negatively or stereotyping leads to poor performance.  For example, perceiving yourself as a poor swimmer or a slow runner can become a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to choking.  Before races, setting aside a few minutes to reflect on your positive qualities has been shown to improve performance.  In fact, disclosure via expressive writing reduces negative thinking.  When you disclose your fear or worries, your brain has the ability to work better and you feel better.  Giving labels to emotions or reactions tends to lessen the emotional distress you may feel from pressure.  Subsequently, this frees your mind from unwanted thoughts and gives you something to focus on other than the negative.  Research has shown that writing about worries or stressors in your life for 20 minutes, every week, helps you focus on the tasks at hand and lessen the incidence of intrusive thoughts.  And intrusive thoughts are exactly what can lead to choking. 

Along the same lines as self-critical, the self-conscious athlete is also prone to choking.  The more you worry about what other people will think, the more anxious you become and the poorer you perform.  In the past few years, I’ve noticed an interesting trend among triathletes.  With the increase in social media, we tend to overemphasize the importance of what we’re doing and constantly place ourselves under the scrutiny of 789287489 followers.  Prior to big races, I encourage my athletes to disconnect from social media to alleviate this “imagined” pressure and focus on what’s really important – performing to please themselves.    

Choking can also be brought upon by spectators.  Athletes are more likely to focus on themselves and their performance when watched by a supportive (friends and family) audience which can lead to a poorer performance – although the athlete might feel like being watched by a supportive audience is actually less stressful.  The reason being that falling flat on your face in front of people you love can be very disappointing.  In other words, we want to impress our supporters.  To make sure we are successful enough to do this, we try to control what we’re doing so we can control the outcome.  When we try to control the outcome, we are more likely to choke.  Some athletes thrive when surrounded by their entire family on the sidelines.  Other athletes tend to choke.  Look back at your race history and decide who you perform better around. 

One of the challenges of triathlon coaching is that we are often working with what I call adult-onset athletes.  Working with someone who learned how to swim as an adult is completely different than working with someone who learned as a child.  Bellock discusses how the later someone learns, the more vulnerable they are to choking under pressure.  Children use a different type of memory for learning.  Adults try to control their performance in such a way that it actually disrupts it.  They overconcentrate and get stuck.  Paralysis by analysis.  When you learn something new, your brain is firing all over the place, trying to make connections and ingrain patterns.  As you approach more of an expert level, the brain calms down, with decreased activity in areas involved in action or performance.  As learning of a new skill progresses, your brain becomes more efficient and works less.  The skill becomes more fluid and less in need of control or attention.  When an athlete overthinks or tries to overcontrol, this interferes with automated skills.  Swimming is a great example as it is largely automatic.  The more an adult thinks about it, the more they tend to become rigid and cause the opposite of what they are seeking. 

Another interesting point: the more time you have to prepare for a performance due to a schedule change or delay, the more likely you are to choke.  During this time, you have time to overthink your performance.  In triathlon, race delays due to course safety or weather are common.  Having a distraction or calming strategy is key to not allowing this time to ‘throw you off your game’ or try to change your plan.  In other words, find ways to keep yourself from thinking (or overthinking) what should already be automatic. 

What happens if you’ve choked?  Those with a history of failure are, not surprisingly, more likely to choke.  As an athlete fears reinforcing negative expectations, they tend to overanalyze and interfere with performance.  So what to do?  The easy answer to preventing a choke is to simply tell someone to relax and let it flow, right?  Wrong – telling someone to relax often causes the opposite of what you are seeking.  Instead, it may help to learn meditation.  Meditation is effective at training the brain to discard negative thoughts.  In other words, when a stressful thought arises – acknowledge it, name it and then let it go.  Don’t try to change it, ignore or take action because of it.  Understand that it does not need to interfere with your performance.  We also know that negative self-talk or thinking about what you might lose from yet another failure can impact performance.  If you’ve choked in the past, don’t dwell on it.  Instead, rewire your brain.  Learned helplessness occurs when you revisit your failures without reworking them.  To get past this, revisit your failure.  Then, write about how you feel.  Next, think about what went wrong.  Lastly, plan performance changes for the next race. 

One of the key points that Bellock makes is, “holding on to thoughts and worries under stress leads to an inability to perform the tasks you are faced with, and learning how to control your mind so that you are able to hone your attention on what matters (and only what matters) is the real key to success under pressure.”  The major takeaway from Choke is that you can tie up a lot of your brainpower with unnecessary worry and perceived pressure in stressful situations.  Learning how to trust your stuff and not try to control the outcome is often the key to high performance.  Throughout the book, Bellock offers a lot of strategies for how to do this – ie., meditate, write about your worries, practice under pressure, reaffirm your self-worth, find a key word, distract yourself or think about the journey versus perseverating on the outcome. 

Bellock presents a lot of fascinating research and many more strategies to help you achieve optimal performance. I’ve barely scratched the surface here.  If you have some time, take a look at Choke to how it can make you a better athlete.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Taking a Break

‘Tis the time of year to take a break.  The off season.  A controversial topic.  As soon as you say something about taking an off season someone inevitably chimes in with there is no off season!  It’s time to work on your weakness.  Improve your body composition.  Get a head start on next year!  There’s a lot of mixed messages out there.  Knowing what to do and – more importantly – what not to do can be confusing.  

Every September or so, I start to gently encourage my athletes to go away.  Take some unstructured time away from coaching.  It’s as good for the coach as it is for the athlete to take some time off.  During the fall, I look forward to a lighter workload.  Every coach needs time to step away – to find new ideas, to read, to think, to rekindle their passion for coaching.  By the time November rolls around, I’m as charged up about another year of coaching as my athletes are about racing.

Around the same time, as an athlete, I give my body (and mind) downtime.  This time is critical for your physical, social and mental health.  As much as I enjoy structure, there comes a time each year when I enjoy stepping away from structure, from “having” to do something to only doing what I want to.  I lessen the training volume, frequency and intensity.  I forget about how far or how fast and instead think in terms of how fun.  I put away my Garmin, I turn off my power meter, I don’t even look at the pace clock.  I don’t worry about what I eat.  I drink a lot of wine.  I reconnect with friends and family.

After being in this sport many seasons, I can assure you that when you take an off season, you emerge on the other side with the renewed energy and health for your next season.  But this is not easy.  There's the fear of getting fat, unfit and losing feel for everything.  No one believes that you can take time off and still improve your fitness.  But it does happen (it just take patience and confidence).  The more confident, the more experienced, the more successful an athlete is, the more they accept (and look forward to!) the off season.  They take time to recharge their body, reconnect with friends/family and tune out triathlon for a few weeks.  They see rest as a stepping stone to that next level.  Some of my fastest years were years I took about 3 weeks off - completely.  Nothing.  No swim, no bike, no run.  No core.  No yoga. 

“deep rest”

This is not easy.  Triathlon can be a sport of hard-driving, overachieving, more is better and better WINS attitude that has you firing on all cylinders all year round.  Rest is a dirty word.  But the athletes who have been around the longest – consistently cranking out performance year after year – they have mastered the art of rest.  The athlete who struggles with the off season usually falls into one of the following categories:

Insecure: It takes a great deal of confidence and trust to rest.  In order to rest, you have to trust that you'll have the ability to rebuild your fitness to a point beyond where you are at now.  You have to let go of any fear of losing fitness, getting fat or slow – these are all things that may happen to some degree but they can all be turned around once you start training again. 

If lack of confidence is your limiter, take that extra time you have from not training and work on your mental fitness.  You might also consider talking with a coach to find a plan you fully trust so you can let go of these fears and insecurities.  

Losing Fitness:  Many athletes fear losing fitness.  They go from Ironman to marathon to early season half Ironman.  Eventually, they end up producing one stale, underperformance after another.  Or, they get injured.   Any advantage they gain from keeping the momentum going is usually lost through the inconsistency that comes with illness or injury.  They simply never give their battery a chance to recharge.  Hormonally and energy-wise, they get tapped out and plateau (or even start to go backwards). 

Research has shown that deconditioning occurs after just a few weeks and fit individuals do take longer to regain their fitness than those less fit.  However, I’ve done my own research.  And my most impressive gains in the sport came after a long period of time off – pregnancy!  This experience gave me more confidence that you can take time off, rebuild and then exceed your past fitness.  Time off, especially for endurance athletes, is not something to fear or avoid.  Often, it might be just what you need to reset your system.

Obsessive:  This sport attracts a lot of athletes with obsessive-compulsive needs to tick off points in their training log rather than seek performance.  You have to decide which category you fall into.  If you are interested in performance, do what you know you need to do rather than what you think you need to do.  In addition, the obsessive athlete usually has disconnected from other outside interests.  They’ve abandoned other hobbies and their social life.  So the thought of stepping away from triathlon feels isolating and boring.

Obsessive athletes who struggle with the off season tend to focus more on what they can’t do versus what they can do.  I make a list of everything I can (and want!) to do in the off season.  This list contains family festivals, social engagements, work projects, weekend trips, classes and household chores.  I plan out these events as I would my races!  Pour that obsession into something else! I also focus on what I can do that I can’t do at other times of the year – yoga, long walks, family bike rides.  It’s also a great time to try something new.
Eating Disorder:  Eating disordered behavior is very prevalent in this sport, in men and women.  Disordered behavior can be restricted eating, obsession with the details of what they eat, eating too well or too little or binging/exercise purging. 

This category is a struggle for many athletes.  So many of us feel that eating as we wish or eating dessert a few nights a week is one of the “perks” of a higher load of training.  And especially with the holidays coming up – it’s hard to exercise restraint or not feel guilty if you’re not burning it off!  But, if you’re training for permission to eat – you’re not training for performance.  Learn to separate how you feel about training with how you feel about food.  Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself, for both training and eating.  There is nothing wrong with “just” doing a 30 minute run and calling yourself done for the day.  There is also nothing wrong with eating a piece of pie (or two) on Thanksgiving – food is fun, food is family, food is comforting.  Let go of the guilt!

So how do you properly implement an off season?  Depends on what happened this past season.   

If you’re coming off a typical season of up to 8 races of mixed distances (not an Ironman), take a few weeks of light, unstructured activity.  How many weeks?  Depends (see below).  And what is a light activity?  Let’s talk about what it is not.  It’s not going out for a 3 hour group ride.  It’s not joining your friend who’s training for the marathon for a 17 miler.  It’s not jumping into a cyclocross race followed the next day by a 5K.  It is going for an easy spin with a few spin ups.  It is running a new trail with a few strides.  It might be going for an easy swim with a few short and fast 25s.  Keep some short “speed” work in there to maintain or improve feel or form for faster movements.  Avoid long and slow.  As endurance athletes we do plenty of long and slow – and for most of us, that is not our limiter!  And, ease into a consistent functional strength routine that is purposeful and specific to the sport.  Don’t just do stuff that makes you tired or sore – do stuff that makes you a better triathlete.

If you’re coming off a late season Ironman, avoid taking time completely off.  Instead, do a cool down to your season.  Your body is used to a certain stimulus of workouts and to “pull the plug” so to speak can create hormonal havoc.  Athletes who completely stop after Ironman tend to get sick or injured upon returning to workouts.  Take 7 to 10 days after Ironman to do light (20 to 40 minute) swims and bikes to cool down from the year.  Then, take some time off completely (if you mentally or physically feel you need it) or slowly rebuild your training.

If you were frequently sick, take a few weeks of light, unstructured activity and consider gaining a few pounds.  Immune function is influenced by diet, sleep, inflammation, improper recovery – and, more importantly, hormones.  If you are frequently getting upper respiratory infections or illnesses, it’s a sign of a system stressed.  Especially female athletes who are smaller, follow a restrictive pattern of eating or train excessively get into a situation of low energy availability where they simply cannot replace what they are burning quickly enough.  They try to exist in this state all year, maintaining race weight at times when it’s not appropriate (nor necessary!).  They become depleted and this creates stress.  Stress impairs immune function. Studies have shown that gaining a few pounds can counteract the stress of excessive exercise, even without making any changes to your exercise routine.  Consider carrying more weight throughout the year for overall health and immune function.  Remember, race weight is only worth it if you can get to race day healthy and ready to race.

If you were frequently injured or had a niggling injury throughout the year, take some time off from the offending activity.  The goal is to fully heal (and further prevent) your pain by getting to the bottom of your injury.  Most injuries are caused by the wrong training at the wrong time, by doing too much too often, poor recovery/diet or by using improper equipment/form.  Consider which category you fall into.  Explore massage, active release therapy, yoga, physical therapy, new equipment, professional fittings, form analysis – hit it from all angles so it doesn’t carry over into another season.  If your injury was a stress fracture, consider evaluating your overall training load, structure and especially your diet.   

Lastly, if your season felt like a series of great training days followed by not so great races – take some time completely off.  You’re probably carrying around too much fatigue.  This might be solved by better training, better tapering but first you need to rest.  This is a hard sell as these are the athletes who are often the most resistant to rest, feeling that hard work or old habits are the key to digging themselves out of the rut.  Don’t keep digging.  First, get out of the hole.  These athletes also tend to be self-coached, lacking the clarity (and restraint) needed to see the most simple solution to their problems – rest! 

Do you need to take time completely off?  Maybe.  But after about 1 week of “nothing” I feel ready to do “something” again.  At that point, I assess my body and mind.  Are all of my aches and pains from the season gone?  Am I sleeping well?  Am I emotionally level?  How does my skin look?  How’s my appetite?  Keep in mind that all of these factors are also influenced by hormones.  Endurance sport is very hard on your hormones.  As our hormones rebalance, we feel a sense of well-being, we feel more rested, our body returns to a more normal state.  Give your body a chance to get there!   If you constantly exist in a stressed state even through the off season, you risk burn out and plateau.  

Before I begin “training” again, I also consider: how’s my motivation?  Am I truly ready to jump back into the swim, bike, run?  Early morning workouts?  The pressure of “having” to do something?  And, can I keep this motivation going through to my peak race?  Motivation is tricky – we have to be sure our motivation to move isn’t fueled by one of the categories I mentioned above: obsession, eating disorder, boredom, etc.  You must consider: what’s the rush?  What are the benefits of starting now versus starting by December 1st?  What are the risks?   If you’re like most triathletes, you put a lot of pressure on yourself to perform.  That pressure can be very motivating causing you to focus, sacrifice and work for your goal.  But this same focused intensity can be very draining.  Be careful not to jump back in too soon.   

When you do plot your return to training, make sure it’s timely.  If your peak race is next October, you might want to hold off on jumping in too quickly.  Athletes tend to be eager to jump on board, fired up to train for their peak race and that burning motivation can easily fizzle by April – before racing even begins!  Most athletes can sustain energy and focus for about 6 to 9 months of structured training.  For athletes who want to return before its necessary, I give them a loosely structured schedule, ask them to set aside technology for that time and give them permission to skip, move or shorten workouts as needed.  The goal is to get to the point where you need to start training with as much energy and motivation as possible.  Don’t burn it up too soon!  

There is definitely value in pre season work, consistency in training and limiting the deconditioning process, yet I think there is even more value in taking a step back, recharging your battery and breaking out of the endurance sport world for some time each year.  The amount of time depends on a lot of factors.  But one thing is certain: don’t rush it because you are unconfident, insecure, afraid or want an excuse to eat more.  Take your time.  Rebuild your health.  Gather fuel for your motivation fire.  If you’re truly interested in performance, look at the overall picture of what it takes to succeed – fitness and health.  And see rest or an unstructured break at this time of year as an integral part of gaining fitness, maintaining good health and becoming a better athlete.

To the off season!  (raise your wine, or cupcake, or bacon...I've eaten bacon every day for the past 5 days...really)    

Monday, October 08, 2012

Winning Mindset & Performance

A few months ago, I was contacted for an interview.

Loren Fogelman, founder of Expert Sports Performance, had come across my blog and wanted to interview me about mindset for winning athletes.  After reading a little about Loren, I was intrigued.  Her story is much like many of the athletes who come to me for coaching – what I call adult-onset athletes.  With no prior history of competitive athletics, Loren turned to rowing at age 40.  Quickly she realized she was indeed competitive.  But training alone wasn’t enough to excel.  To be at that level, she needed to work on her inner game – once she did, she took off in her rowing.  Wanting to share what she learned with others, Loren’s been working with athletes as a sports performance consultant.  Her website contains many relevant articles and strategies for athletes looking to take their own inner game to the next level. 

You can read more about Loren here.

The inner game is something I get a lot of questions about.  Working on the inner game is accessible to any athlete regardless of age, speed or experience.  In fact, working on the inner game is free speed.  Now is the perfect time to plan how you will improve your inner game to up your performance for the 2013 season.  There are countless books you can read to learn strategies for improving your inner game.  Here’s a list I compiled from my own bookshelves:

Freedom Flight by Lenny Bassham
With Winning in Mind by Lenny Bassham
The Mental Edge by Kenneth Baum
How Winning Works by Robin Benincasa
Go Girl by Natalie Cook
The Winning Point by Loren Fogelman
Stillpower by Garrett Kramer
Finding Your Zone by Michael Lardon
Running Within by Jerry Lynch
Mind Gym by Gary Mack with David Casstevens
Becoming a True Champion by Kurt Mango
Magical Running by Bobby McGee
Embracing Your Potential by Terry Orlick
In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick
Mental Training for Peak Performance by Steven Ungerleider
The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training by Jim Taylor and Terri Schneider
Bounce by Matthew Syed

As you can see, the interview with Loren was timely as she just released a new book, The Winning Point. 

The interview took place in August.  Prior to the interview, Loren sent a list of questions to help organize my thoughts.  Below, you’ll find the preparatory text for my interview which will offer some insights into winning performance and mindset.  Hopefully you will gather some new ideas on how to improve for next season!

What led you to do what you’re doing today, coaching athletes on their performance?

I spent over a decade in the educational field; first as a program manager at a group home for children with autism, teaching children, staff and parents how to teach children with special needs.  Then, I moved on to being the manager of youth and family education at a local museum.  From these careers, I developed a strong passion for the process of education.  At the same time, in my non-working life, I had always been involved in sports, both formally and informally.  After college, I started competing in running races, duathlons, triathlons.  Over the next few years, I found myself satisfied with my job but also looking for a new direction to grow.  Coaching was the answer, merging my passions for education and sports.  I left my career and started my own business in 2007, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Once I put it out there on my blog that I was going to start coaching, I was overwhelmed by the response.  Being open and honest about my life, my feelings and experiences on my blog resonated with people so much that they wanted me to help them in their athletic journey.  I felt honored with that responsibility, looking back I’m not sure how I wasn’t scared – but it was a decision that came from passion and confidence, not a fear of failing.  Since then, I haven’t looked back!

Like most of us, you are juggling many different responsibilities between work, sports and family. How do you do it all?

As a parent, wife, business owner and individual, this is a very important question and one that any successful person must answer – sometimes on a daily basis. 

First, I have a strong sense of commitment to the life I’ve chosen to lead – balancing my own business, stay at home parenting and managing a household is not easy but it was my choice.  It’s the hardest “job” I’ve ever had but I’m also grateful for the opportunity.

Second, on a daily basis, I have a plan.  I learn to prioritize what needs to be done (foremost, taking care of my child), then my work, my workouts and even making time for myself.  There are things I “want” to do – social commitments, etc – but if they don’t fit into the framework of what I “need” to do, I say no (for now). 

Third, in all of this, time management is critical.  I live my life in tightly packaged compartments of time for work, play, etc.  From early on, I set a schedule with my child and whether he was “easy” enough to follow it or just followed it out of consistent practice/habit, it’s worked.  I keep a very consistent, and yes – boring, daily schedule.  But this predictability allows me to get things done and minimizes any stress that might come from how am I going to get all of this done.

Lastly, I have strong support system.  People often asked why we stayed in Illinois given our lifestyle and the lack of areas to easily enjoy our lifestyle.  My answer has always been: family.  We rely on our family for babysitting and general support.  This alleviates any guilt and expenses.

In general, set your life up to be successful.  Make choices and put yourself into situations – personally, geographically – that allow you to live the life you want to live the way you want to live it.  Learn to be selective with your time and energy.  Commit to what’s important to you and learn to say no.  And know that success breeds more success.  A well managed day leads to another well managed day.  It can all be done, you just have to pave the way for it to happen.

When it comes to performance, whether it’s an athlete preparing for an Iron Man or a tri-newbie, How much of an athletes performance do you believe has to do with physiology vs psychology?

There are basic principles of training and physiology that must occur for progress and performance to happen.  That’s about 50% of the equation for success.  The other 50% is a mix of managing the peripheral factors (ie., nutrition, sleep, recovery) and then managing your mindset.  I often tell my top performers that they are going to be as good as they make up their mind to be.  It’s funny how when you bring that idea up, most will agree.  The light bulb goes off and they realize their performance is 99% within their control (the other 1% might be weather, other competitors, uncontrollables).  I tell my athletes, control the controllables – their mindset being one of the biggest and most influential pieces of that.

When swimming tension shortens the stroke and you end up fighting the water. So you’ll have more speed while swimming if you’re relaxed. Which seems counter-intuitive. How do you teach your athletes to remain relaxed during the swim leg of the race?

This largely depends on the distance of the event.  In a sprint distance triathlon, they need to give a violent effort in the swim, whether or not it feels good!  The longer the race, though, the more I tell athletes to view the swim as a warm up – it sets you up for the rest of the day.  It’s the idea of if you find yourself fighting against the current, turnaround and go with the flow.  This is very true in swimming.  Position yourself away from others, find rhythm in your breathing pattern, relax, reach, roll, slide, glide.  I find “cue words” are very effective in swimming.  Thinking about smooth swimming – how it feels, looks, sounds, is a good way to set yourself up to be relaxed enough you don’t channel unnecessary energy into fighting the water or other competitors; instead you access that energy for actually moving forward.  And, you can’t forget the value of practice. Keep your preparation as race specific as possible by getting into the open water with others at race pace efforts.  The more you do it, the more you know what to do on race day. 

Now I’ve come across many athletes who are physically gifted, but when faced with unexpected obstacles just crumble. Suddenly they lose focus and can’t seem to regain their edge. There’s rarely a perfect race when it comes to triathlons. What has been your strategy for helping athletes overcome unexpected obstacles?

Preparation.  Make sure your preparation is specific to the racing situation where these obstacles can occur.  Putting them into training situations that might have any number of obstacles.  This is why training needs to be as race specific as possible.  I’m a big fan of the quality, consistency and safety of indoor training but we don’t race indoors so get outside in the lakes, on the roads, on the paths and get into situations with obstacles that could occur in a race – weather, potholes, choppy water, wind, hills. 

Then, as part of their race plan, having them anticipate anything that can go wrong.  I believe triathlon great Paula Newby-Fraser once said “expect anything, prepare for everything.”  Obviously we cannot prepare for EVERYthing but we can think through all of the “what ifs” of things that possibly could go wrong and then plan our response to them.  This preparation is easy to access on race day if it’s been stored in the mind beforehand.

Underlying all of this is confidence, a can-do attitude that they can handle anything that comes their way.  Even if they haven’t prepared for it.  Psychologists call this self-efficacy, believing in their abilities.  This comes from within, from the language you speak to yourself with on a daily basis and how you evaluate yourself/performances. 

Let’s talk about strategy, because I’m sure it’s not one size fits all. What are the most important components to creating a tight race plan?

A solid race plan lays out a map of where you can expect to go and how you’re going to get there.
  • Timeline – when will things occur, what will you do from the days leading up to the race to the day after the race
  • Pacing – heart rate, power, paces, goals times for your best/likely/acceptable scenario
  • Fueling – what you’ll eat & when
  • Mindset – mantras, cues, refocusing strategies
  • Troubleshooting – thinking through what can go wrong, “what ifs” and what you’ll do to respond

From there, you just have to execute your plan – no matter what.  Easier said than done.  To execute you must have:
  • Confidence (confidence in training and in yourself)
  • Consistency (in training/preparations, in your commitment)
  • Preparation (you’ve practiced your pacing/planning over & over again in training until it’s automatic)
Sometimes you just feel flat the day of your race. Since my focus is all about mindset, I realize how closely tied your mindset is to your performance. What have you found is the best way to turn things around.

Separate how you feel from the outcome.  See yourself as part of the process but not needing everything to be 100% perfect to achieve your goal.  When speaking with world champion Craig Alexander a few weeks ago, he talked about how during this second win at Kona, he did not feel good that day.  Yet he still achieved his outcome.  Understanding that “perfect” is impossible in athletics because our bodies, the outdoor component, the race can be highly variable.  Above all, keep executing your race plan – and troubleshooting it.  If you feel flat because of a nutritional issue, know what you can do to perk up.  If you feel flat because you just think you feel flat – remember, we are about as good as we make up our minds to be.  Stay the path, fake it ‘til you make it, act as if you’re already where you want to go.

As another way to avoid feeling flat mentally, only choose things to do that you are interested in doing.  Motivation is like momentum; hard to gain but once you have it, easy to sustain.  You gain motivation by being genuinely passionate about and invested in your pursuits.

One of the things I teach my athletes is that success requires a willingness to fail. What was one of your biggest failures and what important insights did you gain from it?

Back in 2008, I turned professional for two years.  Many times throughout the two years, I felt like I was completely failing, wasting my time.  I was always finishing at the back of the professional field, I was not “improving” my times.  Yet now I look back and see it as one of the most valuable experiences for me as an athlete and a coach.  I learned what it really takes to be successful, I learned how to develop athletes to that level and then help them manage the experience from there, I learned more about the physiologyl of fatigue, the psychology of failure.  I gained a wider perspective of sport – I was so used to winning that I had no understanding of falling short and how to manage that.  Going through that made me a much more experienced and wise athlete and coach.   

When you’ve been racing, and getting great results, some athletes begin to ease up a little. Complacency and taking things for granted is the downfall for many athletes. What do you do to keep things fresh for you? What have you been doing to change things up?

Continually raise the bar for yourself.  When something starts to feel too comfortable, mix it up and throw in a challenge.  I took up short course racing this year because I knew it would make me uncomfortable.  After 13 years in this sport, I need to continually find ways to grow, learn and develop.  Gone are the days where “just” training will make me fast!  Find new ways to develop your experience, redefine what’s uncomfortable and work your weaknesses.

Mindset is huge. Is there a specific mental game challenge you’re working on right now? What is the biggest obstacle you face when it comes to racing?

The idea of “don’t be afraid to be fast.”  Don’t fear hurting or being a success.  Don’t play it safe.  Don’t be afraid to take risks and surprise yourself.  We get comfortable, we get complacent, we wait for our moment to shine.  You have to make those moments, create them and not fear the consequences – good or bad. 

What is the one best piece of advice you have concerning the mental game of triathlons

Train your brain like you do anything other muscle in your body.  During my most successful seasons, every Sunday I would sit down and think through my week behind and week ahead.  I would read a chapter in a book or find a quote and relate it to my experience. I would write out or reflect on my key training sessions.  I logged all of this in a journal.  Each year, I start a new journal and bring that journal to every race.  On the first page, I list all of the outcomes I’d like to see that year – might be placement related, time related, etc.  I look back through it for confidence, proof that I deserve to attain what I set out to do.  I write out my race plan and years later, go back to those plans to avoid making the same mistakes and remember what worked for me.  Be present in and reflect on the process continually, work on your mind by engaging your mind.  Don’t sit back, train and wait for results.  From every angle, work on what you can to improve yourself.   

I encourage you to visit Loren on Facebook for more interviews, articles and other thoughts for winning performance.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Last Try

Last week, I found myself easing into the off season.  I ate ice cream.  I ate chocolate.  I drank wine.  I ate very few vegetables.  I spun around easy on my ‘cross bike.  I got a massage.  I got a pedicure.  In an effort to not ruin said pedicure, I avoided the pool for all but one day.  I went on a run that was 35 minutes and that was my “training” – for the day.  In fact, I wasn’t training.  I was just moving so I could feel less guilty about doing all of the other things I did. 

On Thursday, I started to think.  I should have ruled out all thinking during the off season because it is often thinking that gets us in to trouble.  You see, Chris was racing on Sunday.  The race had a long course and a short course.  It was within driving distance.  I was feeling good.  I was motivated.  I still hadn’t taken off my race wheels….are you thinking what I’m thinking?

The answer was obvious.  Put the off season on hold and race.

Saturday late afternoon, we drove a few hours into southern Illinois for the Last Try.  Literally, the last triathlon.  Know that anyone from the Chicago area considers anything south of Kankakee southern Illinois but we actually were within 1 hour of Carbondale which many know is truly deep, deep south within southern Illinois.  Guns.  Bait.  Triathlon. 

That about sums up my I-57 experience.

The night before the race, we enjoyed life as two adults with no child.  My sister in law was gracious enough to watch Max in a plan to give her own two year old a playmate for the weekend.  A plan that might have backfired when they decided to go surfing in spilled milk and moments later her daughter was holding both her and Max’s diaper in her hands.  Both two year olds covered in milk, running around the kitchen naked.  Meanwhile, Chris and I went out to dinner with two goals: sit for the entire meal and take longer than 6 minutes to shove the food in our mouth.  Ah, childless adult life. 

Remember that?

With a 9 am start time, we were able to leave the hotel the next morning at 7:15 am and – besides – Chris assured me that the race site was only 5 minutes away.  Forty minutes later, we were still not there.  Something about the scale of the map being wrong.  You know, because maps are usually wrong like that.  But I was relaxed.  I said something highly overcaffeinated but much less lippy than my usual WE ARE GOING TO BE LATE  tirade.  After all, this was a nonrace race.  Just going there for fun.

There is very little truth in that.

Truth be told, I had some goals.  I decided to race the short course version of the race, a modified sprint with a 750 m swim, 21 mile bike and 5K run.  I checked the results from the past few years and knew it might be time I could check something off of my triathlon bucket list.  I’ve never won a race outright – meaning, beating all of the women and men.  I knew the times I would have to hit in order to do that. And felt like this was the race where I could do it.

The race took place at Rend Lake, a beautiful natural area.  The weather was perfect.  I signed up about an hour before the race started, then got myself situated in transition.  The race was small but well-organized.  I warmed up in the water – it was as flat and perfect as could be.  Then, we waited.  A long time.  The race was delayed about 30 minutes until the EMS arrived. 

Finally, they sent off the long course athletes.  After their second loop, they lined up the sprint women in the water.  I lined up far left, front and knew the second the gun went off, I had to bolt.  My plan was to swim and bike as hard as I could out there.  In these small races, I know that not too many can swim with me and I needed to minimize any damage on the bike from a faster male.  I also knew coming off a half Ironman, my run would not feel great no matter what I did.  Time to take some risks out there.

The gun went off and I bolted.  This was one of the cleanest, easiest lines I’ve ever had, swimming clear buoy to buoy.  I felt great out there.  I exited the water far ahead of the other women but with no idea how far behind us the men started.  The run to transition was again – long, which seems to be the theme for every race I’ve done this year!  This is why I’m a proponent of the running before the bike.  Some of these transitions have been 400 meters long!  Not only are you running up a beach, you’re in a wetsuit and going HARD!  It pays to prepare for that. 

The bike course took us 21 miles around the lake on low traffic, mostly smooth roads.  It was FAST.  I was flying by some of the slower men from the long course race when I found myself mostly alone.  I gave myself a range of watts and stayed on the low end of it until the half way point.  When we hit halfway, I went chasing watts.  This is not a strategy I recommend unless you are in control of the race and racing a short distance.  I always believe in the most speed on the least effort, when possible.  But today, I was chasing after every watt I could get.  By the time I got near transition, I was at the top end of my range.

I rolled into transition, the first athlete overall.  The long course athletes still had one loop to go on the bike and no men from the sprint had caught me.  And here’s where I made a critical mistake: I forgot to preview the bike in segment.  I had the choice of following the small cones to the left or the large cones straight ahead and for whatever reason, missing the giant BIKE chalked on to the ground, I went left.  A few spectators shouted at me, I turned around and returned to the proper bike in.  A mistake that cost me about 30 seconds. 

Remember that.

While my legs felt great on the bike, I could feel last weekend’s half Ironman lingering in my run legs.  I just didn’t have my zip out there.  I felt heavy, wheezy and flat.  There is where true racing takes place – if I wanted to win, outright, I had to push through this.  Every second counted.  The course was either slightly up or down along a paved bike trail.  I was entirely alone out there except for a race staff leading me out on a bicycle.  Pedaling so so so slowly. 

Watching someone pedal 40 rpms in front of you is always a great confidence builder.  If you’re running backwards.

At the turnaround, I asked him how far the men had started behind us.  He said 30 minutes.  Clearly we were not speaking the same language so I just kept pushing it.  Finally, I see the first male heading towards the turnaround.  I had a 3 ½ minute lead on him.  I didn’t know if this was good enough so I just kept pushing.  The long course men and women were separated by 1 minute so I assumed they started the men about a minute behind me.  But I was soon to find out otherwise.  As the third male ran towards the turnaround, I asked how far he started behind the women:

4 minutes

4 minutes!  This was going to be close.  I pushed.  It hurt.  Was the lead male running faster than me?  How could I tell?  Did I look like I was running fast?  I looked at my legs.  AH!  A week of eating ice cream and chocolate – look away, LOOK AWAY!  I pushed it into the finish line, crossing in 1:30:46.  I waited.  And waited….

A few minutes later, the first male crossed.  In 1:30:16.

Safe to say, those will be 30 seconds I will never forget.  Or the 30 seconds which will remind me to always preview the course, every inch of the swim in, bike in, bike out – ALL OF IT, every single time I’m racing.

And now it is done.  The 2012 triathlon season is over – officially.  Besides, I’ve run out of races around here.  It’s October which means any day now it could snow and we could all go into hibernation until May.

So it’s the start of the off season – take two.  I’ve done some serious damage in peanut butter cups, my race wheels are still on my bike with no plans to take them off until I need them again and I have depleted my entire stock of Power Bar.  I am now on sabbatical.  I raced 11 times this year – raced short, hard, fast and had so much fun racing that often.  I learned a lot.  I became my own science experiment in coaching.  I’ve learned more about what works, what doesn’t work and most importantly, whatever I’ve done, I still really love the sport of triathlon and cannot wait to train for another season.  Any time you can emerge from a season saying that, I feel like you’ve done good out there.