The day before my first Ironman, I was a nervous wreck. I’d feared the mass swim start almost every day for the previous year. In less than 24 hours I’d be in the scrum with 2700 other swimmers and I was still searching for ways to relax.
I could hardly sleep the night before, but as stood on the cool concrete staring at the water on race morning, an extreme sense of calm washed over me. Every ounce of fear and doubt was gone. But why?
That experience has happened many times in my my life, especially with sports, and makes me of the saying “90% of life is just showing up.” I’ve always liked that logic, but always wondered why that is the case?
Steve is the head coach for the University of Houston Cross Country team and also works with several professional runners. His writing, philosophies, and podcasts have established him as one the most sought after minds in the endurance world.
To say Magness is passionate about sport physiology and psychology is an understatement. He dove into our questions with childlike enthusiasm that rekindled my fire for sport, and frankly made me feel better about always wanting to know “why.”
He’s a cool guy, too. Due to conflicts on our end we had to move the interview several times and he just rolled with the changes. Then, 30 minutes before the podcast I was stuck in traffic, so Robbie started without me and Steve wound up recording the podcast for us. I joined after 10 minutes.
Here are a few of the topics we cover today, but there is a lot more and we could have talked for five hours.
– Accepting anxiety in order to boost performance
– How and why training gets overcomplicated
– Why he think a lot of us would be better off leaving our Garmin’s at home
– Why coaching is usually more mental and emotional than physical
– Why we sometimes perform best when we feel bad
– Our bodies survival skills at work when we race our best
– The breakdown on Steve’s new book “Peak Performance”
– We ask about the differences between his college and professional athletes
– Biggest differences between coaching women and men
– The best piece of advice Steve’s ever gotten from a coach
– His take on the Sub 2 Marathon Hour Project
– His favorite runner of all time
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I have been strictly focused on training for the Leadville Trail 100 for about 10 full weeks now. I originally had this blog post tagged for just a typical update. Leadville this. Leadville that. Why I cannot understand everyone’s obsession with running in a flat bill trucker hat…. etc. The fact of the matter is, the only real “update” I have is that I have just been doing a ton of running. 🙂 My typical week has had 2 “recovery” runs, 2 quality sessions split between speed and hill work with 1 long run per week. I have also committed to serious strength training and injury prevention sessions to compliment my running. Ultimately what this blog is going to be about is how I was able to take off over 1:30 in my 5k in just 10 weeks by doing the old “long slow training.” I have included a lot of data/graphs/charts to hopefully better explain how I was able to achieve this. It is a lengthier blog so I put this carrot at the front in hopes you will read the entire article and apply it to your training.
Test results (10 week span)
Jan 10 – 5k test – 20:58 (6:46 pace) Avg HR – 178 , Max 185
Mar 13 – 5k Test – 19:22 (6:15 pace) Avg HR – 174, Max 184
If you have listened to our podcast called “Running slow to get faster” (embedded below) you already know why I am such a huge fan of this approach. It might not be “fancy” and FB worthy every day but it works and getting faster is the only thing I am concerned with. The chart below will show you some good data on how I have sprinkled in my runs the last 90 days. Even before signing up for Leadville and doing my initial 5k run test I was already accumulating some pretty good frequency. As shown in the chart you can see that outside of a few “recovery” gaps my runs have all stayed quite frequent but have just gotten longer in both duration and time. Before taking my first big recovery cycle this last week I had built up to a long run duration of 2:40 and a long run distance of 19 miles. You will see in the early March block that immediately preceded my recovery cycle I had 2 really long runs fairly close together. For the record, I do not recommend placing them so close together but I gambled and did it because of family obligations that weekend. I ended up accumulating a little over 54 miles in a 5 day span so my recovery block was a welcome rest period.
Overall Run Summary for last 90 days:
Established HR Zones for chart below:
Z1- 118-151 – Recovery
Z2 – 152- 161 – Endurance
Z3- 162 – 170 – Tempo
Z4 – 171- 177 – Threshold
Z5- 178 + – Aerobic Capacity
As you can see I spent the majority of my time in both Zone 1 and 2. To be exact I spent 39.5% in my recovery zone and 43.6% in my endurance zone for a total of 83.1% of overall training. That came out to about 54 hours of the 58 hours I spent running strictly focused on my Z1 and Z2 work.
Established Pace Ranges for chart below:
Z1 – 8:44 and slower – Recovery
Z2 – 7:43-8:43 – Endurance
Z3 -7:10- 7:42 – Tempo
Z4 – 6:46- 7:09 – Threshold
Z5 – 6:45 – faster – Aerobic Capacity
Again, as you can see here as well, most of my time in pace zones was directed towards Z1 and Z2 totaling about 86.1% of my overall training. There will always be some discrepancy in time allotted to each specific HR and corresponding Pace zone due to wind, temp, terrain, etc.
Ultimately, what I hope you take from the pace/speed graph is that while I was able to go from running a 6:47 to a 6:15 pace for my 5k test I only spent a VERY small percentage of time even below or at threshold (less than 6% under 6:45 pace). In order to run fast, or run FASTER you do NOT need to spend all of your time running fast and doing endless amounts of interval work. Too much fast doesn’t beget fast. FAST BE GETS YOU INJURED! The right dose of easy and endurance running combined with the appropriate amount of speed work can really produce some solid benefits. So far I have been able to perform better, for longer in my endurance runs AND as shown, I am also increasing my top end speed. It is a delicate balance but incredibly important.
Sometimes the hardest thing is to not change when others are changing around you. I made this mistake a few years ago when “high intensity – HIIT” became trendy. Combine that with Strava and Garmin Connect and you have a recipe for disaster. The daily training temptations are always there and it can be hard to convince yourself that running slower is both safe AND beneficial in becoming a faster runner. So next time you are tempted to go out for a home-run workout ask yourself “is it worth it?”
I used to be the poster-child for swim anxiety. Every time I got out of the water in a race, I felt like my chest would explode. Then I’d spend the first 5 miles of the bike getting back to normal.
This went on for a few years, then I discovered the power of frequency.
Before Ironman Louisville I spent nearly 3 weeks swimming every day. Not terribly long, but usually 1500 or so.
Two things happened:
– I got very comfortable and relaxed in the water
– I got faster
I’m a firm believer the latter is deeply connected to the former, and I think this holds true for all three disciplines in triathlon.
The more you do it, the more comfortable you are.
I swam a 1:06 that day in Louisville, by far my fastest Ironman swim. The main thing I remember was how patient I was in the water. I wasn’t trying to “race” but stay in my box and relax.
Frequent swimming gave me the confidence I needed to get out of the water fresh. I still remember the feeling I had running to my bike after that swim. I had a genuine bounce to my step.
Now, what happened after that swim on a scorching hot summer day in Louisville is a different story, but that had more to do with neglecting the bike and run in training. Hence the eternal dilemma of triathlon and why it’s so difficult to build confidence in all three sports.
On our latest podcast we take a deeper dive into swim and cycling anxiety, building overall triathlon confidence and silencing the critics who can seem threatened by your growth.
We appreciate all the email to CrushingIron@gmail.com and the great reviews on iTunes. Thanks for listening.
We are very unexcited to announce our first Dog Cast. It’s basically Mike droning on about some of his dog’s quirky habits. There’s already been positive feedback, but hopefully this is a one-time event.
In fact, since the release of this Dog Cast we have hit our listener email goal, so we may be releasing an actual triathlon podcast later today or tomorrow morning. Thanks for listening to the Crushing Iron podcast . . . and Dog Cast!
I’ve always thought triathlon is a good metaphor for life. The highs, the lows, the successes and struggles. The perpetual, and complicated grind that makes us understand simplicity and inclusiveness is usually the best strategy.
It occurred to me this analogy also applies to blogs and podcasts about triathlon. They begin with a youthful energy and a hope that someone actually cares about what you’re saying. But for true evolution, at some point that process has to include the community.
I started this blog in 2013 on way to my first Ironman at 50-years-old. Nearly 1,000 personal posts and videos about that journey can be found on these pages.
Last year, Coach Robbie and I launched the Crushing Iron podcast and now have over 30 episodes. The podcast is much more about “you” in the sense that we’re tapping Robbie’s coaching experience and a lot of the more informal things I’ve learned as a triathlete.
Both the blog and podcast will continue, but we understand the importance of community energy and ideas. We encourage input, questions, and feedback, but want to make sure this is genuinely a two-way street.
So, I guess what I’m saying is we will always drum up topics, but want to put more of the focus on you. Building more podcasts and blog posts based on your questions, philosophies, and ideas.
We’d also like to share your stories.
That’s the thing, right? I think if triathletes have one common character trait, it’s the insatiable need to evolve. What is so powerful that it makes you change your life?
My first Ironman experience was as a spectator at Ironman Louisville. Aside from how nuts I thought everyone doing the race was, the most pressing issue on my mind was the mind boggling logistics of such an event.
Nearly 3,000 athletes, bikes and timing chips. 65 miles of closed roads for the bike, thousands of volunteers, and 3 sets gear bags for each athlete. Cops everywhere, endless streams of water, ice and fruit and pretzels and on and on and on. My head was about to explode.
I made a silent vow to never criticize a race director and that lasted about one race. It was probably something to do with scheduling something too early in the morning or something stupid, but I think it had more to do with the fact that I was just generally unhappy or stressed about the race.
I’ve done four full Ironman races now and am still fascinated with race production. As a generally unorganized person, the whole race directing thing seems like a recipe for disaster. I’d surely have nightmares about forgetting to order water.
That’s why it was so cool to talk with Stephen Del Monte, race director for Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City, along with several other races. It took about two minutes before I realized why so many people told us he’d be a great get.
I mean, how many race directors do you know that make videos by paddling out into the water to show you sighting points on your way back to shore? Or walk you through the layout of transition? Or visually show you changes or tricky parts of the bike or run course? Really cool stuff you can check out on his video channel.
He is very transparent with his customers and promptly admits when he makes a mistake (often in his video series “Confessions of a Race Director”). He told a story of a race he produced where there was a 4 inch lip in the road that caused 42 flat tires. He immediately admitted fault and gave each of the athletes free entry to the next year’s race.
I was kind of blown away by that and asked how he handles bad weather that cancels a swim or bike and his answer was fascinatingly logical.
We could have talked for a couple more hours, but we hit on a lot of cool stuff and it’s listed below. His passion for triathlon is contagious and I really hope it catches on in the sport.
Here are some of the topics we cover in our interview (embedded below) with Stephen Del Monte:
The secrets to producing a great race
The one thing that upsets triathletes most.
He addresses the Ironman critics and explains why Ironman is the best event company there is.
He also explains how the Ironman relationship works with local race directors.
Why many triathletes are intimidated by Ironman Branded Races and why they shouldn’t be.
What he thinks is the best Half
The ONE THING Race Directors cannot get away with
Your number one concern as an athlete entering any race.
Why Ironman gets so many volunteers
How he deals with weather cancellations and shortened courses
How Ironman is putting pressure on grass roots races and why that’s a good thing.
I’ll never forget the first time I was on a triathlon TT bike, I felt like an idiot. It was nothing like my childhood days of riding to pool. It was a stiff, awkward, and uncomfortable experience . . . never mind trying to lay down in the aero bars.
Eventually my body adapted and I learned to “tolerate” riding on my fancy new tri-bike. But I made a lot of mistakes that could have made my cycling a lot more enjoyable.
Cycling is probably the most complex of the three sports in triathlon. It also takes the most time, which is why it’s important to simplify as much as possible.
In today’s podcast we dive into the nuts and bolts of cycling in a way that helps you become a better cyclist without all the confusion.
For example, it’s not uncommon to spend hours researching and buying an expensive helmet that will do far less for you than getting a good bike fit. We also talk about a major mistake most people make when training in effort zones. There’s some good stuff that I think will re-callibrate your riding senses.
Also covered in this podcast:
– Choosing the right bike
– What results you need from a bike fit
– Solid Baselines for your training
– Understanding Zones 1-5
– Why you’re likely making a common training Zone Mistake
– Training with RPE, HR, and Power Meters
– Picking the right helmet
– Buying a suit
– Hydration set up
– Race Wheels
I swim with a pull buoy all the time. It’s like a little safety net in the uncomfortable world of swimming. You just stick it between your legs and everything seems just a little easier. But, “making it easier” isn’t the real benefit, a pull buoy allows you to focus on improving your stroke without the complications of waggly and sagging legs.
In our podcast, How Not To Suck At Swimming podcast (posted below), Coach Robbie said something that I think is great advice: “If you’re struggling in the water, stick a pull buoy between your legs, swim 3-4 times a week and call us in a month.”
That’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately and the results are undeniable. I’m getting stronger and incrementally faster, all while re-learning to relax in the water.
If you’re out of swim shape it will seem a little harder at first, but in a few short pool sessions you will start to find a rhythm and build enough strength to turn a 2,000 meter swim into a piece of cake.
I never like to exhaust myself in the water because it tends to deter my enthusiasm for the next swim. As I re-build, I go to the edge of my fitness, and stop. That may be something as simple as doing a 1,000 meters in the beginning (of re-discovering swim-shape). Then building by doing 1,500 as 3 x 500. The next time I may try to do 1,500 straight. Then 4 x 500, then 2,000 straight, etc.
I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but I’ve had my moments, and they are always related to confidence and my ability to relax in the water. As far as I know there’s only one way to make that happen: swim a lot.
For my money, the pull buoy is the best way to make swimming more manageable, frequent, and enjoyable. This is especially true if you’re doing a wetsuit race because it simulates your body position.
I’ll admit that back in 2014, when I did Louisville in the summer, I was a little concerned. I’d mainly swam with a pull buoy but wouldn’t have the buoyancy of a wetsuit in my pocket. It turned out to be my fastest Ironman swim (1:06) and the one thing I remember most was how relaxed I was.
Triathlon is so much about figuring out ways to help you enjoy the training. For swimming, the pull buoy is my Holy Grail.
Check out one of our most popular podcasts: How To Not Suck At Swimming.
One night in early December I was up with our 5 month old, Hayden, at about 2am. This was a month where he flat out refused to sleep through the night, so both Allie and I were running on fumes.
I remember laying there with him thinking…. “Come on….. PLEASE go to sleep I have a trainer ride in the morning and I want to have the energy for it……” Pathetic. My “goal” race at the time was more than 6 months away and here I was stressed about a workout where I would literally sit on my bike, alone, and not go anywhere. It was sad then, but comical to think about now.
Later that day I read this blog post from a man a greatly respect named Gordo Byrn. The title is pretty self explanatory “Who sees my best self.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks and I encourage you to read it, especially if you are a parent or in any type of meaningful relationship. I was able to relate to every word and this phrase in particular changed my whole thought process, “The only place you could find my best self was training for triathlon.”
For an athlete like myself that not only trains by himself, but also coaches himself that meant that the only person who saw my “best self” was me. I did not have a coach on deck, or other regular training partners to share it with. It was just….. me.
I wanted that to change, so I sat down and began to make a list of how I could grow and stretch myself both physically and emotionally all while ensuring that both Allie and Hayden were the ones seeing my best self, or even better, they were participating in as many of those moments with me.
Trainer rides, long rides on the weekend by myself, hours and hours staring at the black-line in the pool just did not fit. What did fit was running.
Running met every single criteria for how I wanted to grow and evolve in 2017, not only as an athlete but as a person. It is something that Allie and I can do together, and that Hayden can participate in as well as I push him in his fancy little jogging stroller. It meant for the most part, I did not have to choose. Stay home with my family, or leave alone to push the limits of my abilities.
Now, it was time to find not just a running race but an “experience.” Something that was more about “us” than it was for “me.”
There are many things I love about triathlon but the loneliness of racing and the inability to share that experience while you are actually in it has always bothered me. You are required to cross the finish line alone at an Ironman or you will receive a DQ.
I was shocked at how pumped she was for me to do it. It also meant it was time to “break-up” with triathlon for 2017. Like a lot of relationship enders it is more of a “its not you, its me,” break-up for now.
I am sure I will come back to triathlon but not willing to say when. For now, I am going to immerse myself into this journey. I will have my wife and 2 best friends with me in Leadville to help pace me the last 50 miles. I will have them all with me, Hayden included, for the last mile and I honestly cannot think of a better way to end an experience,race or journey.
I have learned A LOT in just the last 6 weeks. I have talked to some past LT100 finishers, read a lot, studied the course, etc. First and foremost, I made the most important decisions when choosing to run an ultra. I bought a trucker hat, a life-time supply of Tailwind nutrition, and dusted off my compression socks to wear on every long run. :). Kidding, but you know its true.
I am sure some will think that the altitude and mountains will just spit me out and laugh at me and that I have no business attempting this with such little experience. I think that’s probably a valid thought. While I do not have “ultra” or loads of trail running experience I do have a lifetime of experience when it comes to suffering both physically, mentally and even emotionally.
Most importantly, I know what it is like to persevere and succeed amidst turmoil and seemingly impossible circumstances. I might be naive but I feel like I am well suited for the demands of ultra racing. We will find out in August when I line up for the hardest race of my life just how suited I really am. But for now, I’m just enjoying the journey and I hope no matter what you are preparing for, you are too.
Yesterday I was driving by the YMCA and decided to go for a swim. It was a chilly day and I stood in front of my locker in underwear, shivering.
My gym bag and swim trunks were sitting on the floor and I was literally 30 steps from being in the pool. That’s when my mind started with the games.
“Maybe you should just go for a run, or better yet, hop on the trainer in the warm living room when you get home.”
I was dumbfounded by the ridiculous, but powerful dialogue that nearly convinced me to get dressed and leave. Thankfully I remembered Steven Pressfield’s book “Do The Work.”
Pressfield talks about what he calls “resistance” and how it’s on a constant mission to keep you separated from your dreams and goals. He labels resistance as: fear, self-doubt, procrastination, addiction, distraction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing, perfectionism, etc.
Somehow I managed to beat resistance by simply reaching down, sliding into my cold shorts, and walking toward the pool. What happened next turned into one of my better swims of the year.
How do we go from having virtually zero physical desire to excelling in the swim, bike or run that follows? It made me wonder if in those moments we are holding onto massive tension in the form of pent-up energy that is disguised as lethargy and disinterest.
It was different than “being tired” or feeling overworked. I felt more tense and constricted. That cold-kinda-feeling that says, “stay in bed.”
It was a perfect example of “not” listening to my body, but more often than not, I do.
I have a long history of stopping a workout when I know that I could go further. Yesterday’s swim was a good example.
I’m still working back into swim shape, so I set out to go 2,000 meters. A comfortable, controlled swim to re-gain form and confidence. Around 1200 I felt an excellent rhythm and decided to stop while I was ahead.
Two thousand meters felt like it was in the bag, but I wasn’t in the mood to risk any kind of exhaustion. It was all I needed and in the Ironman-game, pulling back is one of the toughest things to do.
It’s kind of like wearing a watch to make sure you go slow enough.
Finishing an Ironman doesn’t happen in one day. Sometimes it takes years to do it right, but a lot of us, including me, tend to rush it. Not only the first, but the next and next. This is a sure fire way to burnout.
On today’s podcast, we talk about long-term progression, maintaining the spark, and when putting off Ironman for shorter races is a good decision.
We also talk about why Lionel Sanders (the man with the fastest Ironman time in history, 7:44:29) is passing on KONA in 2017.
And, there’s Mary Keitany of Kenya who’s won the New York City Marathon three consecutive times, but seemingly scoffs at the idea of any real “formal” training.