Posts Tagged ‘Triathlon’

Shift of Focus and Emphasis

Monday, April 18th, 2011

“Cross Training” – what is it? The simple definition of cross training is, simply put, training in activities that are different than your primary sport.

Physiologically speaking, however…..

“Physiological adaptations in response to physical training are highly specific to the nature of the training activity. Furthermore, the more specific the training program is to a given sport or activity, the greater the improvement in performance in that sport or activity.” – J.H. Wilmore, D.L. Costill, W.L. Kenney

Hmm….ok then, so if the body adapts very specifically to the type of training performed wouldn’t it then follow that “cross training” is mostly a waste of time? Shouldn’t runners just run, cyclists just bike, swimmers just swim, triathletes just swim, bike, run and so on? The short answer:  Yes. The long answer: mostly, if they are getting closer to a peak event or if time is limited but not really, if they are in their off-season or early base training period or when recovering from an injury that prevents or limits training in their primary sport.

So, where does cross training fit in your training plan? Or should it? Well, like the answer to many (most) training questions, how it can and should fit is very individual and depends on a lot of factors.

If we look at a typical training progression, early season or “base training” should be fairly general, late season or “pre-competition training” should be more specific. In this context, particularly during the winter months, when training in your primary sport might be limited or require indoor vs. outdoor training, cross training can be a huge asset and great alternative. Any activity that has an aerobic component is fair game when it comes to building your training base. I.e, more volume, more volume, more volume….. In the spring and summer when the important races are looming in your headlights, cross training should be considered a bit more carefully and judiciously.

Training in a variety of activities that develop the aerobic system or build strength can allow for a much needed break from the “same old, same old” while still moving you toward your goal.   There are so many options when it comes to ‘cross training’. Swimming, deep water running, in-line skating, cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing are among the many possibilities. Play with your kids! Soccer, tennis, kick ball, “catch”, etc. etc.  Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and even shoveling snow are great ways to be outside – either as a supplement to or in place of running or cycling indoor.   All are good options.  As they say, variety is the spice of life.   A recent Facebook discussion brought up the question of whether shoveling snow could actually be considered a “workout”.   I can say, without question, I have made shoveling snow a strength/core workout and at other times an endurance workout – either way, always worthy of entry in my training log!

Ok, ok, fair enough but, seriously, I’m a serious competitor, what about when it’s crunch time and I need to get ready to race and peak for my event(s)?   It is absolutely true that the best workouts are the ones that are most specific to the demands of the event for which you are training.    If I am training to compete in a 5k run, workouts with efforts at 5k goal pace are the highest priority as I get closer to the race. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to include a longer run and other runs at slower paces in my routine.   It’s all about a shift of focus and emphasis.  Likewise, while cross training may not be a top priority when training for a specific sport or event, it can still have a place in your repertoire.  Let’s say you are a runner and just happen to have in excess of 10 hours per week to devote to training.   Not unreasonable for most of us.   Unless you have been building up to it and/or have superior genetics and biomechanics, it is highly unlikely that running that many hours per week, week in, week out is going to be kind to your body.  However, the cumulative of effect of maintaining that volume of aerobic training stimulus will only help, especially if it promotes faster recovery from the more specific training that you do.   If time is limited and it’s already hard enough to get in enough training in your primary sport, then, no, cross training is probably not the best idea.

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when approaching cross training – whether it’s during the general phase or specific phase of your training season.  Because your fitness level really is very sport-specific, approach ANY new activities with caution.  Don’t think that just because you are a super fit cyclist that you are ready to go out and run for any prolonged length of time.   I’ve seen more than a few very competitive cyclists wreck themselves for several weeks by going out for “just a 5 mile run”.   Limit any “first” workout in any new activity to about 15-25 minutes or less and keep it really easy. While, ultimately, cross training can be a great way to add volume to your training week, initially it is better to substitute rather than add a workout or two with new cross training efforts until some adaptation to the new stimulus has taken place. As you do get closer to your competitive season, it is not necessary to eliminate your cross training efforts but it is important to avoid any cross training sessions that compromise any of your key sport specific workouts.

What about days “off”?  Is it better to rest or train easily or cross train when your muscles are too sore for specific training?  In most cases, easy activity that promotes blood flow and avoids causing further trauma or breakdown to muscle tissue is better than complete rest and will enhance recovery.  That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place for a complete rest day. If you are sick with a fever or you have an injury or what feels like the beginning of an injury, taking a day or two completely off is likely to help more than it will hurt. Never be afraid to take a day off. When I was training and competing full time, I found I needed a regularly scheduled rest day – at times it was weekly – at others it was every few weeks – it was as much a need for a mental break as it was a physical break.  Now, because training time is much more limited, I find almost never take a complete rest day.   Easy exercise feels much better than no exercise.   Again, it’s all about a shift of focus and emphasis.

Devlin Coaching partners with Infinit Nutrition

Monday, September 27th, 2010

My history with nutrition and hydration, as it relates to endurance sports, triathlon in particular, goes back as far as 1986. My first “long distance” triathlon (and second triathlon ever) was the Liberty-to-Liberty Triathlon. This was a swim-bike-run journey from the Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell. After six plus hours drinking nothing but water – and likely not nearly enough of that! – the whole race was one long blurr. I don’t remember exactly how I finished or how I did in that event, but even as a neophyte triathlete, with no expectations, whatsoever, I know it was not remotely close to what I was capable. I stuck with shorter races for a while and didn’t give much thought to hydration or nutrition and seemed to do ok.

The next long distance attempts, including one marathon and one Ironman distance event, were all completed consuming mostly water and a couple of figs and bananas. How old school is that? It wasn’t until the Oxford Triathlon in 1988, where I tried a “Powerbar” between the run and bike legs, that I felt like I was actually “racing” from start to finish rather than “surviving”. I remember thinking to myself – dang, I wonder if this is legal? I ended up winning that race and qualifying for Kona. Yes, 4.5 hours on 1 Powerbar and water – oh to be young…. In my first Kona attempt, my plan was to eat several Powerbars (about 1 every hour) and drink water. This had worked well in all of my long training efforts. Unfortunately, I failed to factor in the heat and humidity and the fact that I slowed down and took my time to open the wrappers and eat during training. Chewing and swallow isn’t as easy at 150-160 bpm. Ultimately, I finished the bike course with one Powerbar half eaten and four others in a melted, gooey mess on my top tube. Try as I might, to get something solid down during the run, the best I could do was drink the Gatorade and water at the aid stations. Fortunately, going into it, I had decided to “cruise” rather than “race”. I wanted to see what the event was all about and didn’t want to relive my previous Ironman experience. I stayed very much at a “fat burning” effort level so I didn’t suffer too badly for my lack of fuel, and finished in a little over 9 hours.

I came to realize, the best way to fuel during a race was liquid nutrition – solids and chewing did not work – at least not for me. Over the next two years, in my Ironman races, I attempted to consume and replace the same amount of calories I was burning – all liquid. Yeah, think Carnation Instant Breakfast and Ensure meal replacement drinks. Seriously? Well, at least I was able to get it down. Unfortunately, most of it didn’t stay down. I can laugh about it now but…. It’s kind of hard to believe it took that long to get wise to the fact that one could never replace what one burned while exercising, at least not in real-time and on an hourly basis. Even then, in 1991, I still didn’t get it quite right and was somewhat under fueled – I drank only Gatorade from the start of the bike to about mile 16 in the run. At that point, I ran out of gas. Between miles 16 and 18 my 6 minute mile pace was reduced to a walk while I ate lots of cookies, pretzels, bananas and drank several cups of de-fizzed coca-cola. Once it all “kicked in”, I was able to run well over the last 7-8 miles to finish 3rd overall. (Of course, my wife’s response to that was something along the lines of “What!?! You were in 2nd place and gaining on 1st and you finished in 3rd?!? How did you screw that up?”)

It was at that point that I truly began to study the science behind endurance sports nutrition. Water, Gatorade – not enough. Solid food, 800+ calories per hour – too much, insane really. Carbohydrates, mostly complex, in the form of glucose or “maltodextrin”, electrolytes, protein, branch-chain amino acids, etc. all became an integral part of training for and competing in longer distance events. It took the better part of 6 years to figure out exactly what worked for me, and what didn’t, right down to the grams of carbohydrate and protein, ounces of fluid and amounts of electrolytes per hour. Mixing up my workout “potion” required no less than 3 different products in various portions depending on the intended training session and weather forecast.

I used many different products, successfully, during my last several years as a professional triathlete, as well as during the past 14 years, as an endurance sports coach. Advanced Sports Nutrition, Twinlab, Champion Nutrition and Hammer Nutrition have all been great to work with. All, I believe, make very good products that work well and I thank them. That said, I have experienced problems with them all – both in my personal use and in use by the athlete’s I coach. Most of the products can be used “as suggested” for most athletes, but they often require some “tweaking” to make them more palatable or to get just the right amount of carbohydrate, protein and electrolytes for individual needs. In other cases, athletes are just more finicky than others when it comes to taste, flavor and consistency and won’t drink the product whether it works or not. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have received a call the night before an athlete’s race asking about what should be mixed in each of their bottles and how many scoops of this and how many scoops of that, etc. Worse is the call after the race with the tale of how “I stopped drinking because the drinks just didn’t appeal to me or taste good….” If you don’t drink it, it’s not going to work.

Enter Infinit Nutrition. Infinit Nutrition came onto the scene 7 years ago and, at the time, I thought it was a great concept. Several athletes I coach began using it, loved it and use it to this day. I knew then, it was not just a great concept, but a great product. However, having used Hammer Nutrition products for so many years, I was reluctant to make any changes. As they say, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I would only go so far as recommending Infinit to athletes when they found, after many trials, that Hammer products simply did not work for them. Over these past few years, the number of those athletes has gradually increased, particularly when training for and competing at the Ironman distance events. In some cases, it is a taste or flavor issue, in others it stems from problems with soy protein and what happens to the mix after it gets warm. Other athletes find it too cumbersome and confusing to know which product to use when, which to mix with another or how many pills of this or that to take and how often, etc. The bottom line, IMHO, comes down to OSMOLALITY. It’s a big, hoy-floy word and I know just about everyone starts to glaze over when it’s mentioned, let alone explained. The best way to think of it is this – everything that gets mixed into an energy drink affects how well it can be absorbed and emptied from your stomach. Mix in too much stuff and it becomes more difficult and, potentially, impossible to absorb. Some nutrition experts would have you believe that simple sugars are the “devil incarnate” and should be avoided like the plague. Make no mistake, excessive sugar in your diet or your energy drink will cause problems. However, used judiciously and in appropriate amounts that maintain optimal OSMOLALITY (yes, it can be done) they can make for a better tasting drink AND can actually enable higher absorption and oxidation rates of carbohydrates than a single complex carbohydrate mix.

Infinit Nutrition addresses all of this with truly custom blended mixes, enabling athletes to custom design a drink mix to fit their exact individual needs. The flavor, amount and type of carbohydrate, amount of protein, electrolytes, caffeine, anti-oxidants and amino acids can all be adjusted. And they guarantee optimal osmolality of your blend. Once your ideal blend is determined, it becomes as simple as 2 scoops in a water bottle and be on your way. I like simple.

So, this past summer, I decided to try Infinit products for myself. I think I was “sold” when drinking their “preset” Ride Formula. The taste and consistency made me think it was their version of other basic carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks. It was not “heavy” like other mixes that include protein and it actually tasted good – warm or cold. I was very surprised when I saw that it did, in fact, contain protein in the blend. I have always found that I, personally, perform better with some protein during exercise – really, regardless of the length of the workout or race – a little less for shorter and more for longer. Unfortunately, most of the carbohydrate/protein products available – both premixed and more often for me, custom mixed – are too “thick” to easily get down, especially if they are not ice cold.

I am proud to come on board with the Infinit Nutrition team and call Infinit the Official Drink of Devlin Coaching.   I am currently working with Infinit to develop my own custom blended mixes that will be available soon. Use them as designed or use them as a starting point when developing your own ideal drink.

Is summer really over?

Monday, August 30th, 2010

It’s hard to believe that the kids are officially back in school this week.   Summer seems to get shorter and shorter every year.   The last post to this blog (which I am still not, obviously, in the habit of contributing to) was basically the beginning of summer so it seemed fitting to pick up at the end.   However short, it was, all in all, a pretty good summer.  Summer really started recovering from eye surgery.   I can no longer use the phrase “like sticking needles in my eye” as an analogy for anything painfully dreadful because it really wasn’t all that bad.   Out of commission for a little over a week seemed pretty darn reasonable to me.   Thanks Dr. Ho!   Once recovered, I did a lot of running, biking and swimming which is always a good thing – and that much of it was with my son, daughter and wife made it even better.

In late June, I manned another booth for Computrainer at the Philadelphia Triathlon Expo and managed to get in another long ride under my belt by cycling down to spectate the race.  The entire race weekend was an unfortunate one, however, with the confirmed death of a participant, Derek Valentino, in the sprint race.  A real tragedy.  As a coach, I am well aware that one of the most common fears for first-time and even relatively experienced triathletes is the swim.  I have certainly had to deal with my own “swim anxiety” issues over the years.   How often have I heard, “I’m only worried about the swim, I’ll be fine once I am on land….”?   How many times have I said to an athlete, “you’ll do fine in the swim, just stay relaxed and don’t start off too hard or fast”?  I am still confident in those words of comfort and encouragement but at the same time this tragedy is a reminder that there are always risks and that a little fear, or call it healthy respect, of inherent dangers is not unfounded.    For information about how to help the Valentino Family see and

June ended celebrating my dad’s 80th birthday.   July began with my turning 46.   I can’t say I feel even remotely close to what I thought 46 might feel like when I was 26.  I know “me at 26 or 30” would kick my butt today but I think I’d give “me at 36” a good race.  Some routine 4th of July activities included a couple 5k’s and fireworks.   The Iron Soldier’s Biathlon was next on our agenda.   This consists of an ocean swim – usually somewhere between .5 and 1 mile followed by a run  – usually between 3 and 4 miles.    Although I felt really good and tried my best, I still got whooped by my 16 yr old son and he’d only been swimming consistently for a couple of weeks!   This is a great event, for a great cause, that our good friend, Freddie Klevan, puts on every summer in Ocean City, NJ.  See for more information.

A few weeks later I got make a quick trip out to Colorado to check out the Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike course.  Technically speaking, it didn’t seem that tough, even for a triathlete/road guy who dabbles in off-road occasionally.   However, from a sheer amount of climbing and altitude standpoint and realizing just how long 100+ miles on a mountain bike can be,  it is a beast of an event not to be taken lightly.   I was not surprised to see the number of athletes on the DNF list.  It did rekindle my love for off-road and got me riding my mountain bike again.   Stops in Vail, Leadville and Aspen, great company and mostly great weather made for very nice “business” trip.     Ok – I’ll say it – Colorado is awesome.   Not that I am knocking home in Pennsylvania but….  why we never moved to Colorado still escapes me.

Next stop was a trip to another one of those “most beautiful places in the US”, Lake Placid, for the Ironman where I had a few athletes competing.   My son joined me for this weekend and got to witness an Ironman for the first time since he was about 2 and 1/2 years old.   He’s a “runner” who happens to swim a little and bike a little but wouldn’t call himself a “triathlete”.   However, we did ride a loop of the bike course and swim a loop of the swim course.    His first responses were – “I thought this was supposed to be a hard and hilly bike course?” and “that was a lot more fun than swimming in the pool?” – followed by – “even though I am a runner, I think the run would be the hardest part of an Ironman” and then after the race, “I’m not going to do an Ironman unless I can do it in way less than 9 hours, more than that is much too long….”   For now, it’s back to training for Fall Cross Country…

Other summer fun included getting to several of the Philadelphia Independence women’s pro soccer games and a couple of Phillies games.    We didn’t do a “week at the beach” this summer but we did manage a few days in August and had some great weather.    We thought we would get in one more family mini vacation to visit friends in Boston but no such luck.   The  windows of opportunity began to close too quickly with soccer and cross country rolling into full steam in preparation for fall and school.

Blackwater Eagleman

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I’ve finally got this “new” web site up and running but it’s still a work in progress.   If I waited for it to be exactly as envisioned and perfect, well, it would never be up and running.   All part of my attempt at “stepping out” in 2010 which has included helping my friends at Computrainer at some relatively local expos.   Last weekend I made the trip to Cambridge, MD for the Blackwater Eagleman 70.3   The last time I was there was around 1998 when I went to watch several athletes I was coaching and do a father-son weekend with my, then, 4 yr old son.   We went fishing off the bridge and stayed up late watching Bugs Bunny cartoons, the day and night before the race.  Fast forward to 2010.   He’s now 16 and still remembers it – very cool.   This time I made the trip solo knowing I would be spending most of Friday and Saturday working the Computrainer booth at the expo.   I did get out for my friend, Mark’s, pre-race “reverse tri” – easy run, bike then swim – just to loosen things up and make sure all equipment and body parts are functioning.   I guess it was easy for him but it didn’t feel all that easy to me – I will blame it on standing on my feet for 6 hours the day before and not that I am old and creaky.   At the expo I enjoyed seeing a few faces from the past.   I was fortunate to have the Hammer Nutrition booth right across the aisle to keep myself hydrated.   After breaking down the booth, I had a nice dinner and a few Yuengling’s at the Hamner’s pre-race dinner (thanks Noreen and Sam!)

Race day morning arrived way too early but I managed to get enough fuel from my Holiday Inn Express complimentary breakfast before heading back to Cambridge.   I parked well out from the race site so I could make a quick exit when it was time to hit the road to home (having a date with my daughter for a women’s pro soccer game later that day but also wanting to stay for as much of the race as possible, I could not be delayed).   I rode my bike to the swim start and managed to see everyone before they hit the water.   As I had been in the water the day before I was not surprised to hear that wetsuits would not be allowed.

I watched several of the waves finish the swim and looking at the times I would have to agree with virtually everyone’s assessment that the swim course was rather long – I would guess 1.5 vs. 1.2 miles.  Maybe not significant for the pro’s but some of the slower swimmer’s may have been faced with making a swim cut-off and not.   Rough!  The rest of the time I tried to ride and get to as many points on the course as I could, both bike and run.  I ultimately ended up with about 74 miles on my cycle computer.   Nice.  My longest ride since last summer so I am waiting to feel that “fitness bump” within the next day or two.   It used to come at around 2-3 days after a big workout, now it’s more like 8-10!

I must say, I briefly felt some urges to be out there competing and a few thoughts of…hmm, maybe if I get in one more ride and swim during the week I could duke it out with some of these youngsters in a month or two.  That came and went pretty quickly, though.   Maybe when I turn 50.

All in all it was a lot of fun to be out there and watch and I am looking forward to this coming weekend at the Philadelphia Triathlon where I will, once again, man the Computrainer booth at the expo, so if you are there stop by and say hi.  I’ll try to convince to buy a Computrainer or a training plan and you can try to convince me to jump in a couple races by the end of the summer.

Time to stop rambling….  really, just a test to see how this all works…