coaching, Training, triathlon

Notes from Day 2 of USA Triathlon’s Elite Coaching Mentorship Program

As a reminder, these notes are not comprehensive; the merely reflect what I personally found most interesting or helpful. Enjoy!

Daily Training Environment – Ken Axford

USA Triathlon’s Elite squad – current training load volume of ~22 hours a week:

  • 5-6 swims a week (60-75 minutes at 3200-4200 meters) – (Ken’s approach is very technique based)
  • 4-5 hours a week of running (35-45 miles), usually over 6 days a week
  • 6-7 hours a week of biking over 5-6 days a week
  • 5-2hours a week of strength over 2 sessions a week

Crash recovery skills are very important – the Elite squad practices these (e.g., how fast can you change out a wheel, put chain back on, etc.)

The athletes need the OW simulation in the pool, not only for specificity but for CONFIDENCE (e.g., particularly in knowing they can get out fast and hang on to the pace).

Some athletes don’t swim on Saturday because they do fine on 5 days a week and are coming out with the first pack very easily. It’s important to remember the principle of individuality though; for example, Katie Hursey leads the ITU females out of the water and swims only 3 days a week. But when she had a bike crash and broke some ribs, she upped her swimming to 5 days a week so that she could maintain and then increase her aerobic capacity.

KA mentions this is not a formula for every squad; it’s just what works for his group, given their ages, maturity level, school schedules, etc.

Currently, athletes preparing for the ITU race in Monterrey are acclimating by starting trainer rides with sweatshirts and other layers and then de-robing as they get excessively hot. For the ultra-committed athletes, he might have them set up their trainers in the bathroom with a hot shower running to simulate hot AND humid conditions.

How Ken sets up cost for athletes: 20% of race winnings with a minimum of $300/month

On the high end, some ITU coaches are commanding close to $800 to $1k a month and on the low end, $200 a month.

AURUM project – goal is to bridge the gap between Junior/Collegiate Elites and the USAT High Performance pipeline.

How can Youth/Junior programs compete with swim and run scholarships that athletes are being offered? How can those athletes be kept in the pipeline with triathlon as their priority when the allure of these scholarships is so strong?

From Andy Schmitz: Have a thoughtful conversation with the athlete and the parent.  What is the athlete’s priority? There are many considerations, with financial only being one of them. It must be the right environment, with the right style of coach, at the right time, with the right student body, etc.


Barb Linquist – College Recruitment Program (CRP)

Posed the question: If you could methodically recruit swimmers and runners from the college realm, how might that be done? Then someone came along and said, “How’d you like that to be your job?”

Three Arms of CRP:

  • Recruitment (How do we get the word out?)
  • Assessment (Do these athletes have Olympic medal potential?)
  • Mentorship (Now what do we do with them once we believe in them?)

USAT Coaches can help Barb in identifying athletes across the nation. A simple email with a link to a recent race is great. Know the standards, know the testing protocols, and know the goal of CRP: Olympic medalists.

It’s not just number crunching with the swim and run assessments – there are many “intangibles” to consider: Is the athlete coachable? Organized? Do they respond quickly? Do they ask good questions? Do they have to be motivated to do a simple recovery run? Can they respond well to a long email she sends them? (If not then it’s a good “weed out” process).

The Ideal Recruit: swimmer from age 8 to 15 and then in high school at age 15 switch over to running and improve skills to be good enough to run in college. Some mountain biking (or cyclocross) is a plus to develop bike handling skills. This is the ideal situation.

Steeplechasers are now being looked at as they tend to be a bit stronger than the distance-only folks and these athletes tend to be good on the bike as well.

The fatigue index of the best runners is somewhere between 3% and 5%, when doing the assessment of [400m all out, 7-minute rest, then 200m + 1600m].

As of late, USAT has leaned more towards recruiting the runners than the swimmers.

Men take longer than women to develop: women can race WTS within a year of being in the sport while male runners will spend more time developing the swim and bike.


Running in ITU – Lindsay Hyman

Referencing The Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes – There is a chart, given optimal body weight and fitness, which predicts the potential that an athlete can reach for running events of varying distances. (The chart may also account for differing weather conditions and other variables).

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for Continental Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 6:07 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 5:31 per mile to 6:07 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 5:29 per mile to 6:27 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:58 per mile to 6:27 per mile.

The athletes that do the best on the run tend to fade the LEAST, with a 3-5% fatigue ratio (roughly 10 seconds per mile, even though the data can be misleading as it’s more common for the first two miles to be similar in time with the third further off).

Negative splitting on the run is not common in Continental Cups.

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for World Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 5:14 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 5:00 per mile to 5:24 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 5:14 per mile to 5:48 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:38 per mile to 6:09 per mile.

In WC’s it’s not about “fading the least” as much as it is RACING THE RACE.

More tactics come in to play, so that doesn’t always mean racing the “fastest” race.

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for WTS Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 5:19 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 4:43 per mile to 5:09 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 4:53 per mile to 5:51 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:21 per mile to 5:48 per mile.

Going from WC to WTS racing on the men’s side takes about 2 years; on the women’s side it could take as little as 3 months.

Case Scenario: How did your athlete originally get to a 17-minute 5k? Was it volume or was it speed? If we want to get back to that speed, do we use the same approach as before or different?

Considerations for effective running:  head position, arm carriage, forward lean, foot contact position, and range of motion for hips, knees, and ankles.

Many coaches become a jack of many things and master of nothing. Build a team of experts around you and be a master of something and don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself.

Speed before distance. (When LH polled 6 elite ITU high performance coaches in her network, 4 answered speed before distance, 2 answered distance before speed).

Stride Rate – less ground contact time is the goal

It’s harder to run off a volatile bike than off a steady bike (i.e., the more steady they can keep the LT [and the fewer spikes in VO2 and peaks in power] the better).

Athletes that only ride the trainer tend to be more inconsistent on the race course and have higher fear factors on the road.

Peripheral elasticity is critical in turning big engines into running speed. Neuromuscular training is very important!

4 book recommendations (in order of importance!): Science of Running, Lore of Running, Jack Daniel’s Running Formula (book #2), Road To The Top

Cycling Power – Lindsay Hyman

Power = (Force X Distance) / Time

Make sure you use a device that measures the power NOT that calculates it.

Why use power? To track and assess training and racing.

Power meter prices are now coming down. Stages may be most affordable now.

Interesting notes: If a professional in a race has a TV camera on him/her (via motorcycle or car) then his/her power meter may not work (it will cut in and out) because the signals get crossed. At the velodrome, wired power meters are better than wireless because of all of the devices in the crowd that will potentially cross signals.

For intervals, using heart rate is an inferior method when compared to using power.

If you have different power meters on different bikes, then you need to test your power on each bike.

LH always does blood LT AND a field test to create custom wattage zones.

File Analysis Example– WKO+ Scatterplot overlayed with 3 different triathletes:

Being inefficient on 180 degree turns will require more wattage to then keep up with the pack and thus negatively affect the run. Higher cadence and limiting power spikes (to only “when necessary”) are keys to running optimally off the bike.

Example Race Preparation PowerPoint (for Gold Coast): pictures (LH watches TV coverage and takes screen shots AND/OR uses Google Maps) of the start line for athletes to visualize (including counting how many steps it takes to get to the water), pictures of each buoy and how wide the turns are, surface quality of the roads, sighting landmarks, # of turns on bike course and at what angles, elevation charts and visuals of each spike, landmark at which there is 60 seconds to go in the race, and other detailed course reconnaissance. Details details details!

Benchmark Testing and Mechanics Assessment: How Often to Test, What Kinds of Tests, and What to Do with the Data – Lindsay Hyman

We don’t test for the sake of testing. We test so that we can apply and use it in some way in the future. The results of testing should be able to tell us something.

The first rule of testing is to do it often and consistently so that eventually it’s just “another day” for the athlete (and so that test anxiety is a non-factor).

Application of the test – Move forward with the plan? Change training? Add in more recovery? Change system focus?

Goal of LAB testing: be able to control almost every variable (closed environment).

Do lab testing on back-to-back days to minimize the loss of training that occurs due to spreading out the tests.

Heart rate tends to be higher when testing outside vs. testing in a controlled lab environment.

Benchmark testing: not always consistent (the same test every time) but done in a testing environment.

LH makes a year calendar mapping out lab testing, fielding testing, benchmark testing, acclimatization, and racing.

BSX evaluation: Good noninvasive test but doesn’t provide all the information along the way (during the test) that she likes to analyze. It currently only provides break point (and an accurate one, at that). She thinks it might be better applied in a training (not lab) environment.

Showed how she uses VO2 max and LT tests to determine how training plan might be altered based on the results of these tests (i.e., more LT vs. top end work).

Many times when testing reveals that the athlete is not improving, the athlete is doing more training on his/her own which is getting in the way of the actual improvements.

Body composition is really taboo among athletes and coaches, and that’s a shame. When athlete is in a good state of mind for the testing, monitoring is very advantageous.

If you’re on a bike or run focus and you’re not seeing improvements, then after a dedicated recovery phase, you ought to be seeing improvements then.

Perhaps age 15 is the first time a junior might consider doing LT testing and even then, maybe once a year.

Telling someone to hold a certain power number during an LT test is NOT going to produce reliable data! You need a CompuTrainer or KICKR so that you can control the wattage.


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