Caffeine and Watts Tackle Belgian Waffle Ride—Triathletes Trying New Modes of Suffering

Riders at the start of this year's Belgian Waffle Ride

by Chris Bagg

Ed. Note—all of us have been there at some point: an injury or desire for something new has moved us away from triathlon for a spell, and we look for some way to spend our hard-won fitness. Longtime Wattie Ink. professional triathlete Chris Bagg is spending much of 2019 racing for sister company Caffeine and Watts at gravel races around the country, and competed in the iconic Belgian Waffle Ride last weekend. He joins us to explain how triathletes may want to give this "new" kind of racing a shot.

I’m sitting on a flight home from San Diego to Portland trying to describe endurance fatigue. For me, it feels…fuzzy, as if my skin had an extra layer or film on top of it. Not unlike the early warning signs of coming down with something, my body seems to want to get away from itself, to molt like a snake or a lobster in search of a new home. Why the attempt to catalogue fatigue? Well, I spent this past Sunday (and the preceding weekend) on a new kind of bicycle, the “gravel bike,” a chimera that incorporates aspects from road, cyclocross, and mountain bike design. At this point, you’ve probably heard of gravel racing, maybe even seen pictures of grim, grime-faced riders toiling through clouds of dust, stretches of mud or sand, spread across both lanes of blissfully car-free roads. Gravel or mixed-terrain racing, despite the moment-in-the-sun it’s enjoying, is no new thing. What is Paris-Roubaix, after all, other than a mixed-terrain race? Or any of the Tour de France stages before, say, 1960? There are long-toothed gravel road races right here in the states, such as Western Massachusetts’ D2R2 or the venerable Battenkill-Roubaix (now Tour of the Battenkill), have been kicking around since the late 1990s or early aughties. Gravel racing, really, is just an acknowledgement by many that roads don’t have to be perfect, and that additional adversity is something to be welcomed.

That was a long preamble, wasn’t it? Apologies—it’s easy to get rambling on this sort of subject. I’ll return to the subject at hand: fatigue. It’s a deep, abiding one, because I participated in the 8th Belgian Waffle Ride this past Sunday, on the heels of the Cascade Gravel Omnium the week prior, which may be the first race of its kind in the United State (Rebecca’s Private Idaho probably got to “Gravel Stage Race” first, but a points-scored omnium is something new). I’ve been taking a bit of a hiatus from triathlon thus far this year, trying to fix a recalcitrant hip and hamstring, and have been lucky to land a spot on the new Caffeine and Watts Gravel Racing team, which will participate at some of the bigger gravel races throughout the year: Belgian Waffle Ride, Dirty Kanza, SBT GRVL (Steamboat Springs), and the aforementioned Rebecca’s Private Idaho, with smaller races scattered throughout. Lots of you reading are triathletes, so I’ll tailor my BWR report to speak to what you might experience, should you decide to dabble in this kind of racing.

Caffeine and Watts rider DeLayne Hart, on a recon ride the day before the race

The Belgian Waffle Ride is what you get when you’ve got a taste for longer rides, you live in Southern California, you’re a bit sick of the usual road routes, and you love the road races that take place in Belgium and northern France from February to April: hard, long races with plenty of short, sharp climbs (“bergs”) interspersed between tiny cobbled roads and hamlets. The first edition was in 2010, and it grew from a curiosity into a segment-leading model. While not a true gravel race, it features (this year at least) 46 miles of dirt and single-track inside its 134 mile length. The 2019 edition saw many legitimate road cycling professionals stick a toe into the water, resulting in one of the faster/harder races yet. I was there to experience it, but also to get a big day of racing in my legs ahead of (gulp) the 209 miles that await me in Kansas at Dirty Kanza in just a few short weeks. BWR begins with an eleven mile “neutral” roll-out that devolved, unsurprisingly, into an all-out sprint for the first section of dirt. I knew positioning would be important, and did what I could to be near the front of the pack, but 300 riders makes for a dynamic, shifty field! If you are a triathlete coming across to this style of racing, I would find some local road races to get comfortable with this sort of pack riding. It is fast and cutthroat, and you have to keep your wits about you and be comfortable with some amount of contact. If that’s not for you, simply drift to the back, knowing that you’ll be behind some traffic jams once you hit the dirt. I managed to be in the middle third of the field (I think) when we first hit the dirt, which separated me from the front of the field (not that I would have been able to stay up there on the road sections, either), but meant I wasn’t too far back once we completed the first two miles of single-track, which is called Lemontwistenberg, probably due to the small, hand-lettered, ancient sign advertising “Lemon Twists” about a mile back along the main road. This section of dirt did what it is supposed to do: break the 300-person field up into groups of 30-40 riders, and it was with one of those, along with teammate James Walsh, in which I settled into the rest of my day.

One of the dirt sections of the BWR

And what a day it was! I won’t bore you with all the particulars, but I can’t remember having as much fun on a bike. The vibe at BWR is “racy with a hint of irony,” as died-in-the-wool road racers, mountain bikers, cyclocross-istas, and the occasional semi-retired professional triathlete all rub elbows in a challenging yet fun setting. Here are some things that will stand in your favor as a triathlete-become gravel-racer, should you decide to give this a crack. Teammates James Walsh and DeLayne Hart are also both former triathletes, so the three of us could exchange histories of all things triathlon: peeing our cycling shorts (a big no-no in the cycling world; the chamois are thicker, so you really end up with that full diaper feeling), the pain of the final 13 miles of an Ironman, and enough nutrition science to launch a small startup.

  • Your endurance will really help. In the gravel races I’ve done so far, I’ve discovered that as long as I keep pedaling steadily, the road racers around me (not used to the constant muscle tension that triathlon requires) tend to simply fall away as the day progresses.
  • Your understanding of race fueling. Triathlon is more of a logistical and mental challenge than a pure athletic challenge, and if you’ve come up with a successful fueling plan for a half-ironman or Ironman, you’re going to be prepared for the “out there all day” nature of these rides. Eat and drink early, but learn how to pee while riding your bike (sorry, ladies), so you’re not stopping all the time.
  • Your capacity for steady discomfort. Road racing, while featuring short, repeated bouts of actual suffering, also gives you long breaks while you roll along in the comparative comfort of a peloton. As a triathlete, you’re used to doing it yourself, and this well help you deal with the accrued pain of 6-7 hours of riding (heck, for most triathletes, this is only about half our racing day!)

Bagg and Walsh at the finish

Of course, the cup is not all full. Although you may be more suited to jumping into a gravel race than a classic road race, there are some things your multisport background won’t provide, and you’ll want to bone up on them before your first gravel-staganza.

  • Riding in groups. Nothing screams former triathlete more than not being able to ride in very close proximity to other riders who are moving quickly. Unless you’ve done some draft legal triathlon (good for you), you’ll need to find some places to practice this. Your usual training ride probably won’t cut it, as it could be full of triathletes doing all sorts of verboten things (sitting on the front too long, half-wheeling, letting gaps form). Maybe your town has a road-bikes-only ride, or a weekly training race that has categories for beginners. Do not skip this step! Doing so will place you (and the people around you) at peril.
  • Bike handling/riding off road. Triathletes get a bad rap where bike handling is concerned and—let’s face it—that reputation is fairly well-earned. Our sport doesn’t require a whole bunch of handling skilz, so we tend to disregard them. Buck the trend and instead of being “that guy” take some time and get good at the things roadies shame us for: improve your descending; try out some track-standing; stay off your brakes; discover how much you can lean your bike before it starts to disappear out from under you. A great idea, here, would be to take a mountain bike skills clinic, or a cyclocross class, which should be easily findable in your area. You’ll scare fewer people, and you’ll actually get faster upon your return to triathlon, as you carve through corners and descents with greater grace.

The weekend prior to BWR, I mentioned that I’d taken part in a gravel omnium, out in Bend, Oregon. I was joined by Wattie Ink. professional Rachel McBride, who went on to post a perfect score in her race, winning all three stages: a short, Friday evening time trial on a rocky road outside of Bend; a technical, lower elevation 70-mile route on Saturday; and a glorious, long-climb, plush gravel 65-mile course on Sunday. Here's what McBride had to say about gravel racing:

"Triathlon prepared me for gravel racing in a couple different ways. First, gravel racing is a super tough endurance sport, so I use my ironman mental toughness and grit to get to through those hard miles. I also need to keep cool with things go wrong - gravel racing is hard on the body and bike and you’re usually out in the middle of nowhere with support a long walk away. In triathlon with 3 different sports and transitions, there’s a lot of room for error or malfunction so you have to have the ability to handle different situations, improvise, go with the flow and not get too worked up about it. Triathlon also helps when the climbs are so steep you have to run your bike up them!

Triathlon does not prepare you for the bike handling skills you need. Every gravel race I do, there is new and different, challenging terrain that I may have never experienced before. There can be gloriously smooth-packed roads, but that usually doesn’t last long. Expect washboarding that will shake your teeth loose and numb your hands, technical rocky roads that drive you batty as you bounce around and can’t find a rhythm, and big washouts and sand traps that got me this time at the Cascade GG. Oh and don’t forget the potholes that come out of nowhere to pinch-flat your tires (game changer: ride tubeless!). So go out and ride some trails first to try it out, take a cyclocross skills session (or better yet, race it!), or take up mountain biking (because we all need yet another bike, right?!).

This may sound a little scary and not so much fun. Well, I can tell you it is sometimes scary, AND it is some of the best fun I’ve ever had. The gravel community is pretty chill and rad. You are destined to come out of any race with some new friends. The courses are always epic, on roads few have travelled at times, and usually packed with beautiful views. And of course my favourite, it’s almost standard you’re supplied with a few pint at the finish. Sign me up!"

McBride on the podium after her Perfect Score

Riders traverse some lonely, open expanses of Central Oregon; image courtesy of Adam Lapierre

Day one saw some deep, technical, sandy descents; image courtesy of Adam Lapierre

The men's lead group on Day Two—your editor promises he is just out of frame on the right; image courtesy of Adam Lapierre

In short, gravel racing is fun, low-key, hard, safer than riding on the road, and tends to take you to places normal paved roads don't traverse. It's something you should add to your calendar right now. Interested? Head over to Caffeine and Watts to learn more about the Wattie Ink. linked gravel team.

10 Things NOT to Bring to Your First Triathlon

by CBCG athlete Amy VT

If you scroll through our past blogs, you’ll mostly find vernacular, topics, and discourse geared towards experienced endurance triathletes. Indeed, the majority of CBCG Athletes are Iron-women and -men with decades of experience, looking to progress to that proverbial “next level.”

This week, however, we bring to you a refreshing change of pace. If you’re a vet triathlete, share this with that pesky coworker or cousin who’s peppering you for advice. If you’re a beginner yourself, read on for ways to streamline your first race. 

You’ve likely already gleaned a litany of tips from magazines, online forums, and other triathletes. Is your head spinning? Perhaps less is more when packing up for your first tri. 

If you watch a pro athlete transition from the swim to the bike, she’s only doing two things: removing her swim gear, and putting on her helmet. That’s it. Here’s a refreshing approach to your first race, suggesting what you don’t need, in the spirit of simplifying your transition and your headspace, in general. 

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1. Gloves

‘Nuff said. Cycling gloves, whether half- or full-finger, are designed for protection against abrasions in a crash. They also absorb shock, which is advantageous for longer rides. It’s not worth the time during races, however, to remember, stage, or put them on, which is why you never see gloves in triathlon. 

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2. Towels 

Some transition areas, particularly the more rookie setups, colonize upwards of five square feet with spa amenities. Foot pails, towels, bath mats, bags, dinette sets...When did the memo go out that T1 is the prefect time for a pedicure? 

True, wet, sandy, and dirty feet might portend blisters, but transitions are too frenzied for perfection. A quick one-two Tinder swipe of your bare soles against your opposite calf should suffice. Perhaps during a half- or full-Iron distance it’s more important to take a few seconds to clean your feet, but a sprint or Olympic isn’t long enough to worry.

That stated, if you just freaked out reading that advice, then a smallish towel in T1 is fine so long as you don’t spend too long with it, that you don’t colonize beyond your area, and that you don’t flip if it’s not there when you get there, or your neighbor already used it. 

3. Sunblock

SPF is extremely important. CBCG Coaches recommend applying and reapplying for all activity in the sun. For race day, you should obvi apply liberally before the race, which should be enough if you use a thick or waterproof variety. It’s not worth it, however, to take the extra time to reapply from your own tube in transition, which might be futile since you’ll be soaked from the swim. Most races in blazing sun offer reapplication on course, so don’t complicate your transition. 

4. Body Glide

Ditto. 

5. Nutrition for the Bike

It should all be on your bike. During sprint or Olympic tris, you’ll only need to eat one-to-three times on the bike, and it should all fit on your frame. If you don’t have a “bento box” for your top tube, then you can attach bars and gels with electrical tape. Rehearse a ton: practice finagling the packages, and consuming them while you’re steering and cycling fast. 

Festoon your bike with all your stuff on it and then take it for a shakeout ride before your race.  Indeed, this means sleeping your bike overnight bedecked with your nutrition. (Let’s not broach the hilarious practice of adhering open bars to your top tube, just plastering on sticky little squares without their packaging.) 

There is one exception to this rule: if you are super quick and adept at grabbing a handful of nutrition and shoving it in your race kit, pockets, or sports bra. If that works better for you than bike storage, then ensure you’ve practiced rushing through the process with precisely what you’ll be wearing on race day. 

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6. Hydration for the Bike

Ditto. It should all be on the bike. In fact, most triathletes pack too many bottles on their frames, seats, and aerobars, rendering their ride unnecessarily heavy. Exactly how much to carry is highly race- and athlete-dependent, so discuss with your coach, but there’s no need stage extra bottles on the ground in transition. 

7. Frame Pump

Again, many triathletes load up their beautiful bikes with unnecessary weight. Of course bring an extra tube and flat repair, but learn how to use CO2 cartridges (or tubeless repair), and practice to the point of confidence before race day. (Let’s not broach spoke reflectors.)

8. Hand-held Water Bottle for the Run

Especially for a sprint or Olympic tri, there will be ample hydration on course. If you’re worried about spilling, getting enough down, or picking up the right thing (water or electrolytes), then it will be more worth it to slow down through aid stations than it would to set up your own bottle in transition, which might disappear, and it will definitely get hot.

9. Tons of Nutrition for the Run

Ditto. For a sprint or Olympic tri, you will only need to eat one-to-three times on the run. It may be be more worth it to adapt to what’s on course than it will be to set up your own buffet, save for a baggie or pile of a few gels, bars, or blocks. Fuel belts are contraptions we usually reserve for longer events, but they can be convenient when they double as race number bib belts, so that one comes down to personal preference. Bottom line: keep it simple and try to rely as much as you can on aid stations. 

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10. Helium Balloon

You’ll see at least one at every race. It’s a self-centered, if not egregiously rookie move when a triathlete marks the coordinates of her transition area with a balloon so that her crazy, hazy, post-swim eyes can hastily locate her rack. What a spectacle if everyone did that! Selfishness aside, c’mon people, memorize your bike coordinates.

Many triathletes over-think their first race. If you have studied up via magazines, online forums, and other triathletes, then hopefully you’ve imbibed the most salient words of advice: have fun. The adage is a bit hokey, but if you can’t have fun stumbling through your first triathlon, why do it? And if you simplify things by minimizing your stuff in transition, there will be less on which to stumble. 

Women’s Cycles and Triathlon: the Real Effects on Training and Racing

The author and CBCG athlete Amy VanTassel chilling in The Dead Sea

The author and CBCG athlete Amy VanTassel chilling in The Dead Sea

by CBCG Coach and Co-Founder Molly Balfe

Several years ago, a fellow coach referred a female athlete to me for help with what he called “women’s issues.” In my experience, as it relates to triathlon, this term typically applies to one of the following: whether you are supposed to wear underwear under your tri shorts, or how to train and race throughout your menstrual cycle. This athlete fell into the latter category; after spending the better part of a year training for her first Ironman, she realized that she would almost certainly get her period on race day.

CBCG Athletes Becky Matro and Cher Vasquez at our yearly Tucson Training Camp

CBCG Athletes Becky Matro and Cher Vasquez at our yearly Tucson Training Camp

Her understandable concern was exacerbated by a lack of reliable information, not to mention the nuances of approaching her male coach about the issue. Within the last century, a lack of understanding about female anatomy combined with outdated ideas about gender roles gave rise to the absurd belief that a woman should not participate in sports lest she rattle her uterus loose. It was this type of thinking that contributed to the ban on women’s ski jumping, which persisted until the 2014 Olympics in Sochi!

This history of misinformation has also contributed to a lack of evidence-based research about the specific needs that female endurance athletes have regarding nutrition, training, and racing. A recent article on USAT’s website about “Fueling the Female Athlete,” cites that “when all 2015 publications from the three leading sports science journals were analyzed, women made up only 3 percent of the 254,813 participants in 188 studies.” The unsurprising result of limiting women’s representation in sports science research is that traditional recommendations for endurance athletes are often appropriate only for men.

The good news is we are starting to see some progress. In the past few years, more resources have become available to help equip women with the tools they need to work with their physiology. Stacy Sims’ book Roar provides a tremendous amount of information for women on how hormones impact performance throughout their lifetime. The book clearly states that “women are not small men,” and therefore should not assume that fueling and training based on recommendations that were developed for men will work equally well for them.

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The book also details how hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle can impact training. Surprisingly, the athlete who came to me because she was worried about racing while she had her period had little to worry about regarding her performance. The biggest hormonal challenges for female athletes present themselves during the high hormone luteal phase of their cycles, when blood sugar levels, breathing rates, heat tolerance, and mental focus can all be impacted. Once the low hormone phase starts on the first day of their period, performance potential and pain tolerance tend to increase.

Research about women’s specific training needs is still being done, but here are a few key points to think about when developing a plan that works for you:

Fueling

For long-term training and racing, it seems pretty clear that most women will not thrive on low carbohydrate diets. As Sims’ book says, “Low-carbohydrate diets increase fatty acid oxidation during exercise and encourage intramuscular fat storage. The body is smart; if there isn’t enough primary fuel to support the stress it’s under, it’ll go for a secondary source—in this case fat—then store more of it for the next time it encounters that stress. But this does not translate into improved performance.” Female athletes are also at risk of undershooting their protein needs, especially in the post-workout recovery window. We urge all of our athletes to consume protein in the post-workout window, but for women this is extra-important: the window is shorter than for their male counterparts.

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Recovery

No doubt your coach has told you that recovery is a critical part of training. Strength and speed gains happen when we work and then rest, so a good training plan should include periods of lower intensity to allow you to repair the damage done to your body during periods of heavy training. Moreover, women’s ability to access stored carbohydrates is typically lower than men’s, and lower still when our estrogen levels are high, so you and your coach should develop a recovery routine that allows you to reap the gains of all your hard work. 

Aging

Postmenopausal athletes may find that they need to adjust their nutrition plans for optimal performance. Increases in insulin resistance during this time may require a move away from traditional high-carb endurance products to regulate blood sugar and prevent GI distress. Postmenopausal women should also consider adding more high intensity training (along with commensurate recovery!) to their training regimen to support muscle strength and to fight muscle atrophy/loss. 

Summary

The author on deck at a recent training camp, image courtesy of Dylan Haskin

The author on deck at a recent training camp, image courtesy of Dylan Haskin

Even with recent additions to the body of research on how women respond to training, there is much work to be done. I found a lot of the information in Roar to be extremely valuable for determining possible solutions to common issues that female endurance athletes face. I also thought it was somewhat limited in its discussion of how athletes respond to the hormones used in contraceptives and hormone therapies. My recommendation to all of my athletes is to evaluate your sources of information and find what works for you.

Our sport requires balance, and finding that balance means being clear about your goals and your needs. So tell your coach about your period! In fact, all CBCG Coaches condone tracking your cycle in Training Peaks, so if your coach is male and demurs at “women’s issues,” show him this blog post.  

CBCG Hosts Swim Smooth at Nike WHQ: Our Single Best Technique Session

Swim Smooth Co-Founders Adam Young and Paul Newsome, and CBCG Coaches Chris Bagg, Molly Balfe, and Josh Sutton at the Swim Smooth 3-day Coaches Education Course

Swim Smooth Co-Founders Adam Young and Paul Newsome, and CBCG Coaches Chris Bagg, Molly Balfe, and Josh Sutton at the Swim Smooth 3-day Coaches Education Course

There’s been a lot of swimming on the blog, recently, but springtime always feels like swim time to us. It’s the perfect time of year to think about technique and to focus on the stroke faults you have in order to optimize your performance at races later in the season. At CBCG we deeply believe in the importance of the swim so that the rest of your race can go the way you’d like it to go. In that vein, we sent coaches Molly Balfe and Josh Sutton to the Swim Smooth 3-day Coaches Education Course at Nike in Portland this past weekend, in order to flesh out their already impressive coaching abilities. Professional development is a huge part of coaches continuing to improve their games, and we’re happy to be able to provide that support.

What is the 3-day Coaches’ Course like? Well, there’s a lot of material, for sure. Adam and Paul know they have a lot of material to cover, so they get right down to it, putting coaches in the water for a CSS test (like finding FTP on the bike) right off the bat, and then following that up with video analyses of each coach’s individual stroke. Molly, for example, set a new CSS pace, but was surprised (and motivated) by her video session: “I’ve got some things to work on,” she averred afterward.

Paul Newsome stalking the deck, running the “Single Best Technique Session”

Paul Newsome stalking the deck, running the “Single Best Technique Session”

One of the sessions Paul and Adam teach the coaches is the Swim Smooth “Single Best Technique Session.” This session helps swimmers focus on posture and alignment, hand entry, and breathing, ideally recognizing afterward which of those three areas is holding them back. If you’d like to give it a crack, the session is below:

Warmup

100 breathe right only
100 breathe left only
100 breathe bilaterally

Build Drill Set

4x100 with fins as 2x(25 kick on side, 25 swim), :15 rest.
---When kicking on side with fins, focus on the following things:
1) lead hand is 8-10 inches below the surface of the water and straight ahead
2) wrist is above hand, and hand is above elbow
3) eyes are straight down
Video here

8x50 Javelin Drill. 1-4 paddle on right hand. 5-8 paddle on left hand (ideally using a Finis Freestyler Paddle)
1) focus on feeling the water during the first 25. Ideally you feel water on the back of your hand, not on your palm.
2) on the second 25, focus on not crossing over, and on starting your catch even while breathing away from the catching hand.

Main Set
3x100 moderate breathe only right side, get time. :20 rest
3x100 moderate breathe only left side, get time. :20 rest
3x100 moderate breathe both sides, get time. :20 rest.
Which side was fastest?

Optional Set
400 pull + paddles breathe slowest side, :30
300 pull + paddles breathe bilaterally, :20
200 pull + paddles breathe slowest side, :15
100 pull + paddles breathe bilaterally

Happy Swimmers are our Favorite Swimmers

Happy Swimmers are our Favorite Swimmers

Ready to make a change in your swimming? You can now book Chris directly for a video swim analysis right through the scheduling site, here.

Two Great Peak Week Swim Sessions

by CBCG coach Molly Balfe

Spring is finally here! The snow is melting and triathletes are making the slow transition from their trainers to the open road. With the improvement in weather comes the indisputable fact that race season is upon us. Athletes everywhere are testing out their flashy new kits, ensuring their nutrition is dialed in for race day, and (hopefully) adjusting their workouts to allow them peak for their first important race. A good training plan should include a few weeks, or at least a few days of decreased volume to rest up for the big day and provide a chance to heal from the physical and psychological stresses of training. 

Simultaneously, workouts during these “peak weeks” should also include a bit of higher intensity work in an effort to stay fresh as volume decreases. Perhaps more importantly, training sessions are great opportunities to simulate the unique challenges of race conditions, practicing coping mechanisms for when things inevitably get tough. To get ready for the swim leg of a big race, triathletes should ideally seek out open water swims to acclimate to that exciting sensory depravation experience that accompanies swims in murky water without convenient walls for unscheduled rest breaks. This preparation is invaluable, but there is so much more you can do to make sure you are ready to have your best swim possible. 

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Race starts are specifically engineered to be exciting, if not completely chaotic experiences. The music pumping, the announcer amping everyone up, nervous athletes shimmying into their wetsuits, and everyone panicking about lines for the bathrooms... All of this hyperactivity comes to an apex as the gun goes off and athletes heart rates are potentially higher than at any point during the entire race. If you do not prepare for this eventuality, you may well end up taking out the first few hundred yards of your race at a categorically unsustainable pace. 

Have you ever found yourself struggling to breathe, 100-200 meters or so into the swim?  Perhaps you can’t even tell how fast you’re swimming since everything is so wildly different from the pool? Maybe you’ve even faced anxiety or panic?  This scenario is one reason why I love giving athletes fast start intervals as they start to taper for a race. Mimicking race starts is an essential practice from the beginner to the pro, as every triathlete must be ready to swim the frenzied start with a semblance of grace, and then drop back to a strong, but sustainable pace for the entire swim. 

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The following two workouts are among my favorite “peak week swims.” The first is a pool sesh, and the second should ideally be done in open water. I typically prescribe the pool workout early during the week before a race, and the lake or ocean swim later, preferably on Sunday after their long run (which tends not to be very long that weekend).  I’m cognizant that it’s not always convenient for everyone, but I do recommend prioritizing finding open water for that week prior, since nothing simulates race conditions like finding a buddy, zipping up each other’s wetsuits, and swimming with the fish. 


Fast Starts / Pool

400 easy swim – use a buoy if you are preparing for a wetsuit legal race (no paddles)
8x50 build (:10 rest)
+++++++++
4x250 as 50 fast/200 race pace (:15 rest)
500 @ race pace
+++++++++
200 cool down

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Fast Starts / Open Water

10 minutes easy swimming
+++++++++
5x(20 strokes fast/hard, 50 strokes easy)
10 minutes steady, just below race effort
+++++++++
5 minutes easy cool down


Remember, competence comes with preparation! If swimming in open water is outside your comfort zone, don’t expect that to change on race day. Comfort comes from familiarity and confidence, and the A-#1 best thing you can do to minimize race day anxiety is to mimic race conditions. How about this: make a stretch to have your next swim start more cool, calm, and collected then ever. Your coach will be able to tell from your heart rate file, and you’ll be able to overcome unexpected challenges if you incorporate the above workouts. We CBCG coaches are here to help you not just get physically fit, but also mentally fit to make your next race, and this season your best!

What the HECK Does RM Mean?

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Since returning from Swim Smooth Camp down in Perth, I've been using the somewhat foreign "RM cycle" more and more in your workouts recently, and it always gets some questions. I know that it seems odd at first, but this way of training is excellent for one reason: it standardizes the amount of training stress that everyone on the squad experiences, which means we all get faster, more efficient, and more comfortable at new paces together. Here is how it works.

  1. Take your CSS (or Threshold Pace)—for this example, let's use Salvo who swims in lane three or four at my Nike squad as our example. His CSS is currently 1:37/100m

  2. Round up to the nearest even number = 1:38/100

  3. Split that number in half = :49 seconds

  4. This is now your "RM 0" number. By adding seconds to it, you can use it like a send-off that is more tailored to your present fitness. When we're using RM cycles, we use the Tempo Trainers (those little yellow torture devices) in mode two, and we're usually trying to "beat the beeper," i.e.: finish the interval before the beeper beeps, and leaving the next time we hear it beep. If you were to do a set on RM 0 (using your CSS pace as your send-off base per 50), it would be very hard indeed, since you would have to swim faster than your CSS pace to get any rest at all! That's why you will usually see a number after the letters RM. Here's what to do with those.

  5. Say I give Salvo a set of 200s on "RM 5." He adds five to his RM 0 number, arriving at :54 (:49 + :05 = :54). The beeper will now beep every :54 seconds, meaning that if wants to get any rest, he'll try to get farther in front of the beep every time he finishes a 50. Salvo goes out a little fast and swims :50 per 50, finishing :20 ahead of the beeper in 3:20, which he uses for his rest, and leaves on that next beep (which sounds on 3:40, or 4x:54 seconds). He sets off on his second 200, a little winded from his first effort, and only manages :52 per 50, this time finishing in 3:30. The beeper simply marches on, though, beeping :10 later, signaling him to begin again.

  6. Whenever we use mode 2, we are “beating the beeper,” which means you try to finish ahead of the beeper ever 50 (getting farther and farther ahead in longer intervals). It’s like a pace clock made for you!

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Why don't we just use traditional send-offs?

I'm guessing this will be my biggest obstacle in implementing this system. We've been used to traditional send-offs, like completing a set of 100s on a send-off "base" of something like 1:45/100. The problem with this system is that it shoehorns everyone in the lane into something that doesn't account for individuality. Salvo's CSS is 1:37, but Tracy will also swim in his lane, and her CSS is 1:43. On a set of 100s swum at threshold, using 1:45 as a send-off, Salvo gets 8 seconds per 100, while Tracy only gets two! That is a very different set for the two swimmers! Using RM cycles standardizes the set across participants. It also frees us a bit from "the tyranny of the pace clock," leaving whenever we hear a beep rather than having to wait for intervals of :05 or :10 on the clock. For those of us who grew up with a pace clock, this is an adjustment, I know, but I know from personal experience how effective this kind of training is, and how quickly you'll pick it up if you give it a fair crack.

The other reason is that it really allows us to give a swimmer the correct dose of training stimulus during each session. When we just use multiples of five seconds on the pace clock, we aren’t optimizing our time in the pool, as we’re usually getting too much or too little rest. This way we can figure exactly the correct rest number, and adequately prescribed training stress, too.

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What are the other modes for?

Yeah, good question. We use mode one when we want to stay at a certain pace, such as CSS/TP + 3”/100. With mode one we program the beeper to beep every certain number of seconds, so we can use it a pace check. Say Salvo wants to swim at CSS +3”/100 for a set of 400s. He takes his threshold of 1:37 and adds three seconds to get 1:40. If we want it to beep every 25, we have to divide that number by four, right, since the 1:40 is per 100 and we want a reminder every 25? So take 1:40 and divide by four. This is easy, since 1:40 = 100 seconds. Divide 100 by four and you get 25:00. Set your tempo trainer to that number, and you have a device to perfectly pace you through your set.

The third mode, mode three, is a stroke rate beeper, and useful for other things. We’ll discuss it another time.

Diversity in Triathlon: A Few Radical Ideas

CBCG athlete Morgan Spriggs, photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

CBCG athlete Morgan Spriggs, photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

by CBCG Pro Athlete Amy VanTassel

Moments before the start of Challenge® Penticton (R.I.P.), I helped an African American athlete named Anthony zip up his wetsuit.

“See you out there!”

“How will you recognize me?” Anthony quipped, and we both laughed without having to confirm why it was funny. He was probably the only black man competing that day.

Less than 1% of the entire sport of US participants in triathlon are African American.1 Albeit a staggering stat, are any of us surprised? Look around at any race, anywhere, and it’s egregiously evident that triathlon is predominantly a white man’s sport, fueled by the affluent, and uninviting to minorities since its nascence for the following reasons: 

Why it’s so reason #1 - socioeconomic and sociocultural realities

To truly affect long-term and lasting change, we need to get comfortable discussing, and more importantly, addressing uncomfortable topics. The issues surrounding lack of diversity in triathlon stem from deep-rooted discrepancies in privilege, wealth, culture, perceived social constructs, and actual social behavior. It’s daunting and complex to unpack these phenomena, and, like trying to turn a colossal barge, it will likely take time, and a lot of effort, to see a sea change. 

Why it’s so reason #2 - the swim thing

Another sensitive issue is the converse correlation between African Americans and swimming culture. Similar to socioeconomic nuances, we must stare down this factor and get comfortable discussing it.

Triathlete Magazine reveals, “Seventy percent of black adults in the United States cannot swim, a fact attributable to a complex mix of political, cultural, economic and geographical factors limiting access to pools, and the ramifications of generations lacking a strong swimming culture.”2

More boldly, The Conversation US reveals, “...learning to swim is one of those intersections where race, space and class collide. Black peoples in the United States drown at five times the rate of white people. And most of those deaths occur in public swimming pools.”3

CBCG athlete Morgan Spriggs offers his insight, “What occurs to me as I reflect on my [triathlon] journey so far was how little did I know when I began. All three sports have a language on their own, community norms and customs and basic competencies that have to be integrated. Quickly, I learned of the myth of African Americans and swimming, a task that seemed nearly impossible based on misconceptions.”

Morgan on looking strong on the run, photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

Morgan on looking strong on the run, photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

Why it’s so reason #3 - there are ridiculously few role models

Perhaps the most reparable problem is the fact that young athletes of color have little-to-no reason to be inspired about triathlon. There are staggeringly few exemplars who look like them, and it’s doubtful they’re watching Ironman World Championships® on ESPN-23, or wherever it’s broadcast. (Ed. note: even if Kona was more publicly broadcast, one might note the skewed coverage of men at the front.)

Triathlete Magazine interviewed Sika Henry, slated to be the first black female professional triathlete, “I truly believe that you achieve to be what you see. When I don’t see other people who look like me in this sport, it’s difficult—a little like being an outcast in a way.” In the article, Sika refers to Max Fennell, the first black professional triathlete, who inspired her by “...seeing his journey, his story and having that image.”1

Max Fennell, the first African American triathlete to turn pro, and elite triathlete Sika Henry; photo: usatriathlon.org

Max Fennell, the first African American triathlete to turn pro, and elite triathlete Sika Henry; photo: usatriathlon.org

Impressive strides made #1 - USAT and the NCAA

Last fall USAT announced a major initiative: to continue to monetarily support historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) to increase diversity in triathlon. They jump-started the  pledge with the women’s team at Hampton College in Virginia whose team was made possible through a $225,000 grant from the USA Triathlon Foundation.4

 “USA Triathlon is planning a number of other initiatives focused on HBCU community engagement, including an indoor triathlon series at HBCU campuses, an HBCU triathlon combine to identify multisport talent, a campus rep program and a professional development program...part of USA Triathlon’s larger mission to increase diversity in triathlon.”4

 Strides made #2 – more cash from USAT

Moreover, the USA Triathlon Foundation awarded a grant to Maryland-based group International Association of Black Triathletes. The IABT is the only international African American and women-owned non-profit organization in the multisport industry. Moreover, the Foundation proffered their exclusive “Volunteer of the Year Award” in 2017 dually, to the IABT and Dr. Tekemia Dorsey, its CEO who champions developing under-served populations in discovering triathlon.5 

My radical idea #1

USAT’s strides are impressive, indeed, and continued monetary support will be clutch in creating change. USAT and the ITU are non-profit organizations, however, and cannot shell out the kind of coin that some political candidates seem to solicit in a single day, which led me to my first of a few wild ideas.

What if for-profit companies followed USAT’s lead? There are ample corporations with deeper pockets associated with triathlon, such as race companies (the World Triathlon Company® springs to mind), the bike industry, publications, and title sponsors. In terms of the latter, we’ve all heard Matt Lieto and Michael Lovato dutifully include title sponsors in race announcing, as in, “The Hoka One One® Run Course” at Kona. And this year’s lineup of major races has room for more than one car sponsor, including Mazda, Ford, Toyota, and Subaru.

Perhaps most salient was the “Amazon Ironman® World Championships.” So we know there’s a relationship with these major corporations; what if they could be cajoled to donate or grant developmental programs for triathletes of color? Perhaps they could name a college scholarship and award it to black triathletes at Hampton College. The possibilities are boundless.

CBCG long-time friend Rebecca McKee with an impressive finish at World Championships

CBCG long-time friend Rebecca McKee with an impressive finish at World Championships

My radical idea #2

Whenever I see a need for a seemingly impossible sea change, I think of “affirmative action,” due to my career in college admission. In the context of the allocation of resources, Google defines affirmative action as “the practice or policy of favoring individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously.”

In higher education, this practice was adopted by most college admission offices several decades ago, giving a relative leg-up to applicants of color or at least African American and Native American students. The topic is rife with nuances and controversy, such as the most famous case of Grutter v. Bollinger and the University of Michigan Law School Office of Graduate Admissions.7

There have been scores of similar cases since, and the topic remains highly contested, but in my professional opinion (I do still work in the college admission industry), affirmative action in the allocating resources is seemingly the only way for to affect staggering discrepancies as quickly as possible, and I stand by my statement.

What if major race companies practiced affirmative action?  What if the WTC offered free race entries to athletes of color?  It wouldn’t have to be all entrants - they could offer a lottery or figure out another way to manage the cost. How about providing travel or home-stays? What about a special Kona entry system for African Americans? 

There are limitless possibilities for race companies to favor triathletes of color, but affirmative action is a strategy to not only make change now, but to impact the pipeline. So what if youth swim programs offered free facility use, lessons, or team membership? Or, perhaps the Olympic Training Center could host a free summer camp and fly-in young African American triathletes.  Or, perhaps the most sought-after elite coaches could reserve at least one spot for a triathlete of color, which would directly mirror the efforts of affirmative action in college admission.

What it will really take

We must acknowledge the nearly insurmountable underlying issue behind this topic: there are vast racial divides - predominantly socioeconomic and cultural - in the US. I, personally, can only envision true equality in triathlon when these divides are leveled, which saddens me since I doubt that will be during my lifetime.

I do see a glimmer of hope, though, stemming from three pathways: increased support for African Americans in the sport, a continued effort to squash the myth of African Americans and swimming, and significantly increased visibility of high-level black triathletes like Sika and Max.

Morgan nods to inspirational exemplars who combat all of the above, “Without my friends and mentors who knew the culture and ignored the stereotypes, I wouldn’t have had access to the necessary training resources nor been loaned the necessary equipment to begin my investment in each sport. It is so cool I can ride any distance, hop in a pool and swim and go out my front door to run.”

We at the Chris Bagg Coaching Group would like to celebrate Black History Month and offer a special thanks to Morgan for being an exceptional CBCG athlete. 

Morgan in the field with CBCG teammate, Sue Moote; photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

Morgan in the field with CBCG teammate, Sue Moote; photo: Darcie Elliott Photography

Using a Break to Groove that Habit You've Been Chasing

Quick, what are the habits you wish you had, but don’t? Get up earlier? Go to sleep earlier? Floss? Do your PT? Get to the pool? Spend ten minutes writing in your journal? Nail that morning routine Tim Ferriss keeps talking about? Has it been eluding you for months, even years? What is it costing you, NOT making that behavior habitual? For me, it might be an exaggeration, but I think not having a solid routine around physical therapy cost me the end of my professional triathlon career. For the past four seasons I’ve battled something in my left hip (diagnoses abound: crappy feet; crappy glutes; sciatic nerve entrapment; lumbar stenosis; high hamstring tendinopathy), and the consistent result has been poor or nonexistent runs off the bike in 70.3 and Iron-distance races.

Want to guess what hasn’t been consistent? Yeah, you’re right, my attention to physical therapy. Sure, I went to my physical therapy appointments, nodded along enthusiastically with my PT, and then went home and didn’t do nothing, but did fairly close to nothing. Here’s a good accounting. In the fall of 2017, deeply frustrated with this continuing pattern, I tried really, really hard to get my PT done. I scheduled it into my TrainingPeaks account. I made room for it in my life. There were about six weeks between my first visit with my PT, in October, and my second, just after Thanksgiving. On my way to see him I counted my PT sessions, hoping to proudly display what I’d done. It felt like I did PT almost every day, but after the final accounting I had…seventeen sessions in 47 days. Barely one session every three days! It felt that I’d been doing it pretty much every day, so I was surprised and aggrieved. Which brings us to our first step…

Get Real and Keep Score

“It all starts with keeping score,” says Al Gore, and that face remains true, whether discussing the imminent end of the world and tracking carbon pollution, or if you’re tracking anything you want to control. First you have to know (and accept!) the reality of what it is you’re presently doing, and for this you need to keep track, and, like, really keep track, not “oh, I’ll just remember what I did,” because science tells us that you won’t, in fact, remember accurately. SO WRITE IT DOWN. People who have been trying to change their eating habits have told us this for years, and they’re right. When you write something down, you make it real. Knowing that my strike rate for PT compliance was barely one-in-three (when I was aiming for two days out of three) revealed to me what I was actually doing, and how far I actually had to go in meeting my goal.

Make a plan for what you want

You know what you want, right? Or…maybe you don’t? I thought that what I wanted was a better PT routine, so that I could return my racing to it’s pre-injured potential. But as I thought about it more, I realized that what I wanted was more focus and more satisfaction. Racing better could certainly achieve the more satisfaction goal, but the thing actually standing in my way of doing my PT was that I had let my life (running two small businesses, a two-days-a-week blog for an apparel company, training for professional-level triathlon, running a Masters swim team, and being a halfway decent husband) devour my time and focus. I moved from one task, workout, and meeting like a whirling dervish, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. I arrived at the end of each day exhausted and frustrated, feeling as if I hadn’t accomplished anything of note, even though I’d been “Getting Shit Done” all day long. The big goals in my life (finish writing that book, increase the number of athletes in the company, and win an Ironman) seemed as remote as ever. I realized that what I wanted was a little space—a part of the day I could call my own, where I could address (in tiny steps) those big goals. In that tiny clutch of time, here’s what I wanted:

  1. Four PT exercises (banded arm pull-aparts, banded arm circles, thoracic mobility John Travoltas, internal- and external-rotation clamshells), taking no more than 8 minutes—the time it takes our coffee maker to go from dormant to pleasing.

  2. Three-to-five minutes of journaling. I’m stealing from Tim Ferriss and Best Self Journal, here, since both their routines mirror each other. Write down:

    1. three things for which you’re grateful

    2. your long-term goals

    3. three things that would make today a win for you

  3. Ten minutes of writing in any area: this blog; the novel I’ve been “writing” for years; something for Wattie Ink.; the Output Speedlab blog—anything.

shift from your normal environment and routine

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Easier said than done, I know, but everybody has some kind of vacation each year, right? In my case, at the end of each year Amy and I crash out of Portland, fly to Denver, drive over the Rockies, and spend two weeks camped out with her brothers and sister-in-law in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This was where I chose to make my stand and make some changes. But first I had to clear away my usual routine, which had been getting in my way. With little fanfare, here’s what my morning routine looked like:

  1. Wake up, make coffee and breakfast

  2. Read the news while eating (I try not to work and eat at the same time—it’s not really great for you)

  3. Get distracted by an email

  4. Lurch into putting out fires/starting to work

Not great, huh? The first change I made was the breakfast right away. Even though I usually wake up hungry, I suspect that that hunger is both emotional and habitual, and it turns out I was right—I can wait 20 minutes for my usual egg-and-avocado tacos each day. The second change I committed to was the PT RIGHT AWAY, like, as the coffee was brewing. I tried to “beat the coffee maker” each morning in order to gamify the experience. Third (and this was the big one), I had told my athletes before I left that I would be on vacation during these two weeks, and wouldn’t be responding to workout notifications with my usual alacrity. That’s the work that I usually move to right away in the morning, so by removing that urge I made some space to establish my new behaviors.

So I had made two big changes: environment (not Portland, where there is always work for me to do or commitments I could fulfill) and routine. Now came the real work: making it stick.

Get Habitual

Science tells us that if we can hit a new routine for 21 days, we’re pretty much in the clear. I had fourteen days available to me in Glenwood Springs, so I could make a good start on it that way. As I established the new routine, I discovered several things:

  1. It didn’t take very long at all. 20 minutes, max, so you can ditch all of those people who want you to spend an hour on your morning routine. Going from 0-60 (literally) minutes will just make you discouraged—it would be like sending a non-runner out the door for an hour run, and we all know how that ends!

  2. My normal experience of time and urgency changed. My usual mindset in the morning is a frantic chimp brain screaming at me that if I don’t work as soon as possible, my business will fall apart and people will realize I’m a fraud. Instead, by hitting a routine and doing the things that are important to me, first, it made the work that came after it more meaningful—I understood what I was doing it for. That made me understand what was actually urgent, and made time seem more like a resource to spend than a terrible doomsday clock I could never beat.

Reflect when you fail

Too often, when people establish a new routine, they treat it like the train schedules in Fascist Italy. Don’t succumb to this temptation! A new routine is intended to make your life work better and serve you, rather than becoming a new hurdle or stressor. If you miss a day, spend your time figuring out why you missed, rather than beating yourself up for missing. The original obligation to stick to the new habit still stands, so you’re not off the hook when you miss a day. Relapse, as they say, is part of recovery. Figure out what happened (not necessarily what went wrong), and be on the lookout for those circumstances again in the future. Fail again. Fail better.

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Hey, CBCG Coaches, What's With the Pancakes?

The Classic CBCG Pre-Race Breakfast Explained by CBCG Athlete and Chief Marketing Officer Amy VT

CBCG head coach Chris brings his own real Maple Syrup

CBCG head coach Chris brings his own real Maple Syrup

“The Grand Slam breakfast already comes with pancakes and toast, sir.”

“I know, I’d like an extra tall side of pancakes and additional serving of toast. Oh, and do you have real Maple Syrup?

Well, it was Denny’s so they didn’t have real maple syrup (we now travel with our own), but our server was clearly more confounded by our breakfast order, in general, than the syrup request. If you’re a CBCG athlete, then you’ve been prescribed the standard colossal pancake breakfast the day before your race. It’s not necessarily a widespread practice throughout the long-distance triathlon community, though, so what gives?  We’re committed to this pre-race nutrition plan, and if you wonder if there’s any proof in the pancake batter, then note these success stories who’ve followed the same ritual: Justin Metzler, Heather Jackson, and Linsey Corbin, among many others. 

Why breakfast for the carb load?

Someone got the memo in the end of the 20th Century that you should have a huge pasta dinner the night before, and eat oatmeal the morning of your race. Head coach Chris Bagg has studied endurance nutrition for decades, and has, with the influence of myriad experts including Jesse Kropelnicki of QT2 Systems®, determined that the latter is problematic because oatmeal can be fibrous and high(er)-glycemic. He’s confident debunking the former, too, because it’s not necessarily the best idea to load up your furnace before bed the night before a race. 

Chris states, “It’s proven that you need to load up on carbohydrates the day before a race to bolster your glycogen stores. It doesn’t matter, however, when the carbs go in during those prior 36 hours, so breakfast makes the most sense for your biggest intake. That way, you get it done before your busy pre-race day, and conquering the feat as early as possible ensures you can process it all (and expunge it all) before the start line.”  

#CBCGathletes Sebastian Pastore, Doris Steere, Devin Salinas, and #CBCGcamper Jeff Rippey pre-Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene 2018

#CBCGathletes Sebastian Pastore, Doris Steere, Devin Salinas, and #CBCGcamper Jeff Rippey pre-Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene 2018

Why Denny’s?

We’ve done the math: roughly 75% of major half- and full-iron-distance events take place in a city with at least one Denny’s. It’s reliable, convenient, fast, and easy. Moreover, it boasts a kitschy novelty that makes for awesome memories and photo ops. The first time my coach proposed it I was appalled by the company at the joint: redolent of the endemic American nutrition issues that lead to widespread health issues. The last time I went there I was giddy and skipping before we opened the front door. 

It obvi doesn’t have to be Denny’s, though. My fave memory of a non-Denny’s pancake breaky was at Kona when Wattie of Wattie Ink. flipped a gajillion chocolate chip pancakes over the griddle as he was nursing Foster’s 40-can and we were swimming. Can you imagine how stoked we were to come home to that smell and taste?  I’m drooling just thinking about them. My fave story of an athlete adapting to a non-Denny’s environment was when CBCG athlete Greg Dufour was in Paris for the marathon and found a crêperie and ordered eight crêpes. 

CBCG coach Josh Sutton and CBCG athlete Greg Dufour improvised while camping at the Wildflower Triathlon Festival 2018

CBCG coach Josh Sutton and CBCG athlete Greg Dufour improvised while camping at the Wildflower Triathlon Festival 2018

What if I’m gluten free?

You can do it!  You might not be able to revel in the glory of Denny’s, but most North American locations should have some local breaky joint with GF options. Better yet, if you’re staying somewhere with a kitchen, then just pack some ridiculously affordable Trader Joe’s® GF pancake mix. They even make punkin’ flavor in the fall.  If you don’t have a kitchen, then pack or buy some GF frozen waffles and toast them in your hotel lobby. My mom hoarded some for me all summer, which she protected for me from my ravenous brothers. 

My mom’s effort to protect my GF waffles, planned ahead for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2018

My mom’s effort to protect my GF waffles, planned ahead for Ironman Mont Tremblant 2018

How do I fit it into my busy pre-race day?

Great question. I always say: if I’m in my room watching the Bourne Trilogy by 4pm, I’ve done it  right. It’s so hard, though!  Having to “shake-out” all three sports and check in your bike snd bags and everything can be involved. Once, at Kona, I left for bike check-in at 10am and got back at 3pm!  

But we can’t skip breaky, so the biggest trick I’ve learned is to either do my run or swim (depending on logistics) as soon as I wake up (even before coffee!), and then report to breakfast by 8am. If you get one quick workout in before breaky, you should only have one or two little shake outs, bike check-in, and bag drop off for the rest of your day. Prepping everything the day before is clutch: your bags, nutrition on your bike, and mixing and filling ALL the bottles you’ll need the next morning. You’ll be maxin’ and watching a movie marathon before you know it. 

Taunting my brother in Mexico: mandatory breakfast = perfect forced downtime with family and friends

Taunting my brother in Mexico: mandatory breakfast = perfect forced downtime with family and friends

Send us your pics!

CBCG athletes and coaches thrive on community, and the mandatory pre-race gorge sesh is one of our fave ways to get together. In fact, it makes for some forced moments of relaxation before things start goin’ down for reals. By the end of 2019, we hope to amass an individual pic of every single CBCG athlete in front of a plate, er, plates of pancakes. If you’re a current athlete, alumnus, friend, or family member, send us your pics, and safe travels to #CarbTown.  

CBCG athletes Doris Steere & Marc Nester courted over pancakes, and now they’re soon to be married!

CBCG athletes Doris Steere & Marc Nester courted over pancakes, and now they’re soon to be married!

Swimming Spotlight: Scott G.'s Path from Bambino to 1:25 Ironman Swim

Scott G. back in December 2015—a textbook “Bambino”

Scott G. back in December 2015—a textbook “Bambino”

by CBCG Head Coach Chris Bagg

Whenever we have an athlete perform at a new level, we hear from that person’s friends: We’re so amazed by _________’s swim/bike/run! What did you do differently for that person?" Today we’re going to use one of our proudest examples, a recent breakthrough swim for CBCGer Scott G., who swam 1:25 at Ironman Arizona in November 2018. 1:25 not seem super fast to you? Well, let’s consider where Scott came from, which was a total alien in the water, only three years ago. As you can see in the video above, Scott was what we would call (using Swim Smooth’s terminology) a “Bambino.” These swimmers have a bunch of issues, many of which are apparent above. They are:

  • Poor water feel: Bambinos usually haven’t spent much time in the water and they just don’t “get it.”

  • Sinky, jittery legs: Bambinos often have their legs sink behind them, and display a leg kick that jitters—usually they kick from the knee instead of from the hip

  • Holding their breath: one of the reasons Bambinos struggle so much is that they tend to hold their breath underwater. This fault causes their chests float and exacerbates the sinking leg issue. Breath holding also makes the swimmer feel very anxious as carbon dioxide builds up in his or her blood.

  • Poor rhythm and inefficient catch-and-pull: Bambinos tend to display little rhythm and “oomph” in the water, usually due to a catch-and-pull that mostly pushes down on the water, instead of back on the water.

Now, let’s look at Scott when we did his yearly swim analysis (something all CBCG athletes get) in December of 2018:

Quite different, yes? When Scott joined us, it would take him more than 45 minutes to swim 1500m (an Olympic-distance triathlon). At Arizona, he swam two-and-a-half times that distance (3800m), in 57 degree water, in less than twice that amount of time (1:25). Here’s how he did it:

  1. Consistency of approach. Yep, you knew this was going to be here. Scott has been uniquely focused on getting better at triathlon since he joined us in 2015, coming over from a mostly-cycling background. He has lost weight, dropped his open half-marathon time to 1:29, and committed to improving all aspects of his game. He has been in the pool 2-3 times a week, every week, for close to 150 weeks straight, now. That is the kind of commitment that improving at swimming requires. We’ve said it a bunch of times: swimming is more like golf than cycling or running, and it rewards patient skill acquisition.

  2. A focus on fitness. Even though skill acquisition is important, it is far from the whole enchilada. If you can’t swim 200 meters without getting gassed, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got good form for that amount of time/distance: you simply won’t be able to maintain it even in your workouts, let alone your races! We focused on Scott’s swim fitness, giving him lots of sets with long intervals, forcing him to build his aerobic capacity in the water.

  3. Addressing his limiters. For Scott, our hierarchy was:

    1. get rid of the breath-holding!

    2. improve the kick: use the glutes not the quadriceps to straighten his leg, so he’s actually getting some body lift from his kick

    3. improve the catch-and-pull to generate more force, which will both make him faster AND reduce drag (with more propulsion, his body sinks less)

  4. Practicing pacing. As with many cyclists, Scott likes to go fast. He often started too hard and blew up early, reverting to bad form and slowing down drastically in the second half of the swim. He now approaches swims at the pace he knows he can hold, aiming to swim harder in the second half of the leg rather than the first half.

  5. Growth mindset versus fixed mindset. We hear, so often, triathletes say things like “I’m a 1:15 swimmer,” and abandon any plan of improvement, forgetting (or not realizing) that even if you swim the same speed, you can do so and expend less energy. These swimmers tend to struggle over the whole race, even though they focus on the biking and running. They simply give up too much during the swim, due to their lack of training. Scott has consistently focused on the fact that he can improve, and been patient with that process. Scott’s goal is to qualify for Kona, and that’s going to require slicing another 15-20 minutes off his Ironman swim, and getting their will require belief, confidence, and patience, but most of all the mindset that change IS possible.

And that’s kinda it. No silver bullets, magic drills, or mystery pull sets that will transform your swimming. Unsurprisingly, it takes understanding what you’re doing wrong (analysis), a plan to move those faults up the competence ladder (from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence), and commitment to that plan. That’s what we do every day at CBCG, for every athlete. If you’d like to talk to one of our coaches as to how you’d be able to pull off this kind of improvement in your own swimming, you can inquire here.

The Ultimate Top Ten Gifts for the Triathlete Who Has Everything

by CBCG Athlete Amy VT

Triathletes are pretty particular about their gear, if not certifiably hyper. The latest models, lightest material, freshest colors, and most inventive bells and whistles describe another kind of race, and personal preference and style can make gift-giving seem nearly impossible.

So what do you get the triathlete who has everything?  Here are some sure-fire bets, with a range of cost, that any triathlete would thank Santa for, no doubt.

#1 Swim Video Analysis

From the first out of the water at Kona, to those who just learned to swim and are worried about cut-off times, everyone, we repeat everyone could benefit from a personalized analysis by an expert coach. With a CBCG Swim Video Analysis, CBCG coaches go the distance by offering a one-to-one session complete with video coverage from three angles, a sit-down analysis, individualized drill prescriptions, and a takeaway thumb drive of your footage, comments, and visual overlay graphics.

Even if they already underwent an analysis, most athletes renew this invaluable service once or twice a year to encourage continued development.

CBCG coaches film three angles of swimmers for their analyses.

CBCG coaches film three angles of swimmers for their analyses.

#2 Camp

Dream gift!  If you purchase a slot in a triathlon training camp, you’re giving the gift of training, camaraderie, coaching, and an ultimately memorable experience. There are tons and tons of camps of different styles, durations, and foci, all throughout the year, and all over the world. Check out our CBCG Camps for a few ideas.

Of course you’d have to be certain the Camp dates and timing work for your athlete, so this one may require some research and sneaking, or some transparency making it not so much of a surprise. If you do want it to be a secret, we recommend surreptitiously asking your athlete’s coach and boss if the dates and timing are feasible.

Happy Campers at our Bend Camp in May…registration is still open!

Happy Campers at our Bend Camp in May…registration is still open!

#3 Super rad socks

Show us a triathlete who doesn’t want some rad new socks, and we’ll show you...um...err...something that doesn’t exist. In fact, I dare you to shop for super rad socks and not want some for yo’ self at the same time.

No one can have too many socks, especially triathletes, and finding a hip or wild graphic will make your gift personal. We recommend The Athletic®, which also has a drool-worthy brick-and-mortar store in NW PDX.  Their best gift option is their “The Athletic Sock Club.” If you drool so uncontrollably you just gotta get your own, consider their “Surprise Sock Pack” grab bag from last season deal.

Of course we’re going to reco some Wattie Ink. socks, too, which feature the added benefit of compression particularly conducive to racing. Check out those purple confetti “Prism Socks.”

The Wattie Ink. “American Punk” mismatch style are currently on sale!

The Wattie Ink. “American Punk” mismatch style are currently on sale!

#4 Travel-sized torque wrench

You’ll have to check to ensure your giftee doesn’t already have one. If not, and if you’ve got the coin, drop everything and order a travel-sized torque wrench right now.  Don’t even read the rest of this list.

Torque wrenches are crucial to triathlon and TT bike maintenance, since carbon frames and seat tubes, and complex headsets require a specific measure of Newton meters for tightening. As triathletes travel all over the world for races, it can be dangerous guesswork to make adjustments without a torque wrench, or a hassle to find a mechanic at the race site.

Any brand that looks relatively like the below pic is ideal, so long as it’s sold by a reputable cycling retailer, is relatively lightweight and compact, and has at least eight attachments. Borrow a paint pen or label gun (my mom has both) because everyone will want to swipe your athlete’s new prize possession.  

Anything that looks roughly like this wrench will do!

Anything that looks roughly like this wrench will do!

#5 Imperfect Produce subscription

Great idea, right?  All off us need viteys, and busy triathletes who focus on quick carbs for fuel and quick protein for recovery might find it challenging to hunt and gather the recommended rainbow spectrum of fruits and veggies.

Every major city in the US offers a CSA-like weekly subscription to a box of farm fresh produce, and some focus on a rad idea: delivering to you the mis-shapen or over-harvested fruits and veggies that grocery stores won’t accept.

Imperfect Produce® in Portland and a few other cities is radical. They fight food waste by finding a home for “ugly” produce sourced directly from farms, and deliver it to customers' doors weekly for about 30% less than grocery store prices. They support good farmers, create good jobs, and get this: they donate their extras to food banks. Win-win-win-win-win.

We got this motherlode last week forcing us to get creative with turnips and persimmons.

We got this motherlode last week forcing us to get creative with turnips and persimmons.

#6 NormaTech® recovery pumps

Like Camp, this one would be more of a splurge, but it’s a definite winner. “Do you have NormaTechs?” is a frequent question from those who own them and are ready to gloat. It’s like the triathlete community is bifurcated into two bastions: those with, and those without NormaTech® recovery pumps.

If you’re uncertain what they are, imagine the sleeve around your bicep as you’re getting your blood pressure tested. NormaTech® pumps zip up over your entire legs, delivering an intense and scientifically-controlled measure of compression to aid in recovery for fatigued muscles, utilizing the “compressed air to massage your limbs, mobilize fluid, and speed recovery.”

Most importantly, this gift would be one of self-care. It’s like a gift cert for a massage, only this one doesn’t need to be scheduled, and it lasts forever. Athletes relish sitting in their pumps, multitasking, watching Netflix, eating cereal, or being forced to do nothing since you have to be prone for a sesh. Dream gift.

I always multitask in my pumps, which often entails peanut butter.

I always multitask in my pumps, which often entails peanut butter.

#7 A super rad swimsuit

“I could never get her a swimsuit because I don’t her size or style.”  WRONG! That’s just plain lazy. All it takes is sneaking into her or his drawers, double entendre intended, and finding the size of her or his other suits. Or ask a best friend or training partner. For a girl, also determine if she prefers one- or two-piece suits. If you’re still unsure, buy two and return the other later.

Then, report directly to the Wattie Ink. swimsuit collection. You’ll find both some phenomenal sale prices and some fresh graphics that will make for a perfect and personalized gift. Pro tip: add a silicone cap to complete your bundle of joy.

Rachel McB and Amy VT rocking the W.

Rachel McB and Amy VT rocking the W.

#8 Hipster instant coffee

There IS such a thing!  I betchya if you get some for a gift, you’re gonna get your own. Triathletes travel a ton, and especially in foreign countries we can’t always rely on good coffee to be avail. Enter the Instant Coffee Revolution.

We used to equate the concept with a brand that rhymes with waynka, but now some of the highest quality roasters are offering up little travel packets of rocket fuel that actually taste good, too.

Our fave: Stoked Roasters® out of Hood River Oregon. Stoked Instant Coffee is 100% Certified Organic, and comes in medium or dark roast, in packs of eight. Pro tip: add a full bag of their espresso beans to your gift bundle.

So cool, right? Those cute little packets pack a mean punch and are perf for travel!

So cool, right? Those cute little packets pack a mean punch and are perf for travel!

#9 A tub of Fieldwork Primo Smoothie®

The Lamborghini of protein powder. [Fieldwork Nutrition Company® synthesizes a science-based concoction of ingredients with remarkably good taste. Athletes honestly find themselves making smoothies with Fieldwork® just for a treat, and I know a friend who topped one with whipped cream and a cherry.

The best feature of a quality protein powder is the inclusion of stuff we need, but often fail to get elsewhere. In addition to 20 grams of clean protein from grass fed whey, Fieldwork® also packs in healthy fats and omega-3s, vitamins D, E, C, magnesium and iron, curcumin from turmeric and probiotics, creating their signature orange color. A tub of their popular “Primo Smoothie” powder is what we recommend.

Imagine wrapping that huge tub of quality protein powder. Big hit, fo sho.

Imagine wrapping that huge tub of quality protein powder. Big hit, fo sho.

#10 Recycled inner-tube gear

Eco-conscious gifts always deliver that special dose of love. So even if your giftee already has a saddle bag, drop kit, wallet, zip pouch, or shoulder bag, it won’t be redundant to get another.

Check out the suite of Wattie Ink. recycled tube gear, and if you’re in PDX, check out the brick-and-mortar shops that carry Alchemy Goods® gear like Tender Loving Empire.

Sweet saddle bag! All recycled. All awesomeness.

Sweet saddle bag! All recycled. All awesomeness.

We recommend avoiding these items: hydration systems (too many options), wetsuit (you’ll get the wrong size), goggles (too individual), bike travel cases (unless you’re pozzy you know exactly what they want), magazine subscriptions (the quality varies), bumper stickers (if you have to ask...). Gift cards are also always a winner, in which case we recommend Wattie Ink. or your local grocery store.

The above list, however, should give you some much more exciting ideas for your giftee, or maybe you, yourself, in which case you should just forward this message to your whole family. If that’s too blatantly hinty, send us their email and they we’ll forward it for you.

Happy Holidays from the Chris Bagg Coaching Group!

How to Come Down from Caffeine

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by Chris Bagg

It’s 2:34 PM, thirteen days before my last Ironman of the year, and I’m breaking my commitment to stick to only two cups of coffee a day. Great way to establish credibility, right? And you thought you were here to learn about how to kick the habit, huh? Well, we’ll get there (I hope). First of all, though, why am I even trying to get off of caffeine in the first place? And why so far out from the race, too? Wasn’t there a study, like, just last year, that established you only needed three days to get clean from caffeine?

It’s a well-established fact that caffeine is a performance enhancer. WADA (the World Anti-Doping Association) toyed with the possibility of putting caffeine on the banned list a few years ago, before basically the entire cycling industry lost their collective shit. So we do know that it improves performance, but—as with anything—it’s important to know how caffeine improves performance, and under what circumstances. Caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system, and one of its effects is to block a chemical reception that triggers the onset of drowsiness. So, first of all, you get less tired/sleepy. Not too many athletes get sleepy during their events, but a little more alertness never hurt anyone. The next helpful effect of caffeine is that it helps us utilize fat as a fuel source, especially as we run low on glycogen. For any athlete doing an event longer than 90 minutes, this is hugely helpful. Thirdly—and probably the most pertinent—caffeine changes our perception of effort. Think about that again. Most of what drives our performances out on course is our perception of how things are going, rather than how they are actually going (this is a whole other blog post). If we can change our perception of effort, it is possible we can rewrite our entire experience of the endurance event at hand, perhaps turning in a performance we never even thought possible.

Before you head to the store, though, to stock up on beans, a very important caveat. As with any drug, we build up tolerances. And, like many Americans, we tend to already drink two to three cups of coffee a day, numbing our response to the popular drug. And if you’ve ever had to go until noon without your fix (or if a clever spouse switched the decaf on you), you know that the withdrawal symptoms of caffeine addiction are no joke: lethargy, terrible headaches, irritability. That aforementioned study on coming down from caffeine breezily posited that only three days are necessary for the body to be rid of its addiction to this particular drug. I’ll bet that those freaking study authors drink tea, and herbal tea, at that. Try to kick your habit three days before a race, and you will be so miserable in the days leading up to the event you may decide to DNS.

But it IS important to get off the drug. If you don’t, you’ll need caffeine simply to bring yourself up to your normal level of ability. For some, that may be fine, but if you are looking for that extra zip on race day to nab that Kona qualification, then getting off of caffeine may really help. If you’ve ever managed to get away from it for a stretch of time, you know what that first cup back is like: speed in a mug. How is this legal? you may think to yourself, and I’m not sure if I should drive right now…caffeine to the virgin (or, at least, scoured out) system is fairly amazing, and it can really power great performances on the race course.

OK, I hope I’ve convinced you. So how do we get there? Here’s the system I usually put into play while getting down from caffeine:

13 days out: 1.5 cups of coffee in the AM, with the freedom to have half a cup around 2-3 PM
12-9 days out: repeat the above process
8-6 days out: 1 cup of coffee in the AM, with the freedom to have half a cup around 2-3 PM
5-3 days out: 1 cup of coffee in the AM, nothing else
2-1 days out: 1 cup of green tea with only 35mg of caffeine in it (one tea bag, steeped for three minutes)
Race Day: nothing with breakfast, 100mg caffeine pill 45’ before race start

Why no coffee itself on race day? Well, the tannins in coffee can mess with your stomach on race morning, moreso than the caffeine, so I avoid the drink entirely, take my 100mg of caffeine pre-race, and am usually absolutely flying by race start.

Why Camps?

This article originally appeared on the Fuse Lenses blog. We’re reposting because it’s camp season, and that means our Tucson and Bend Camps are open for registration. Regardless of whether or not you’re coming to one of our camps, you can follow the below structure to give yourself a boost of fitness if you can set up your work schedule to allow for it.

Why training camps? Each spring (or whichever season describes the early part of your competitive year), athletes of all stripes head to different locales to train in groups, in better weather, or to spend some valuable time with his or her coach. But how much really changes? My old training partner, Olympic-probable Eric Lagerstrom, often points out that when other athletes talk about camp, they’re really just describing their normal training in a new setting. This is quite true. I’m in Carlsbad, California right now, with Amy and my training partner Heather Jackson, posted up in a beautiful house in the San Diego County hills. We’ll be here for twenty days, and training doesn’t look too different from normal: big days Wednesday and Saturday on the bike. Big runs Sunday. Long hard swims Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Short but hard runs sprinkled throughout. Easier rides wherever they fit. So why pull up stakes, go somewhere else for three weeks, spend a bunch of money on renting a house, driving the entire length of I-5, find coverage for our jobs and businesses?

That might seem like a stupid question. Sure, the weather is nicer in Southern California than it is in Portland during the winter, but training effectively in Portland isn’t hard at all. It’s wet, yes, but the temperature is fine, the running is always top-drawer, and you can swim anywhere, really. The real value of a camp is not in the amount of training you can get in, or the convenience of nice weather, or the company of strong athletes—the value of a camp is the efficiency it provides: you can do more than you normally can, not by freeing up more time to train (there’s always more time to train, it just depends on how you feel about running/riding/swimming before light or after dark, or when you’re exhausted from work), but by freeing up more time to recover and rest.

When Amy and I are back in Portland, chaos basically reigns. We both run our own small businesses: my coaching company has five coaches and 55 athletes, and Amy counsels high school students through the byzantine, competitive world of college admissions. Like most long course triathletes, amateur and professional alike, we fit our training in and around our work commitments. I think most small business owners will sympathize that you can always work—if you’re not careful you find yourself logging 80-100 hour weeks. Training camp gives me, for a wonderful three weeks, the chance to fit my work around my training, and fit my training around my rest. Long course triathlon also requires a bunch of hours (Heather and I put in 25-30 hour weeks; Amy is in the 21-25 range), but all that training requires a ton of recovery. Stepping away from Portland and getting out of my business bubble allows me to really focus on the work hard/rest hard equation. Here’s what a week looks like, coupled with appropriate recovery blocks.

And that’s basically it! Wash, rinse, repeat for however long you’re at camp, and then schedule some time to really rest the week after camp. We’ll be here for three total weeks, putting ourselves in a pretty deep hole by the end of March. That kind of heavy training requires heavy resting afterward, cutting training volume by 50-70%, depending on how exhausted you feel. Many athletes train hard enough, but don’t rest hard enough, and they find themselves getting tired and slow by mid-summer. Camps are great for training stimulus, but you don’t get faster until you let that stimulus soak into your body. As my first cycling mentor, Captain Dondo, once said: “Riding your bike isn’t training. Lying on the couch afterward—that’s where everything actually starts to change.”

Want to experience the highs and lows of camp yourself? Come to our legendary Bend camp in May, or our Heather Jackson/Wattie Ink. Camp in Tucson, where YOU get to train with Heather Jackson for five remarkable days.

How to Race in a Radically Different Time Zone from Your Own

by Amy VanTassel

Someone once said (was it Confucius?) that to properly adapt to a new time zone, you need one restful day in your new location per every hour difference. Ergo, if you’re heading for the Gold Coast of Australia, with a nine hour difference, you should arrive nine days in advance to get a shot at adaptation. For athletes attempting to actually compete abroad, it should probably be even more.

CBCG friends Rachel McBride and Steph Corker traveling to compete in Ironman World Championships, 2018

CBCG friends Rachel McBride and Steph Corker traveling to compete in Ironman World Championships, 2018

Not every athlete, however, has the luxury of showing up on site several weeks in advance. So, as CBCG athlete and five-time participant at CBCG Camps Don Geddes discovered, there are strategic ways to prep for races abroad. The strategies begin at home, well in advance to flying overseas.

“Before I left for Worlds in Australia, I read an article from University of a Sydney professor, Steve Simpson. Since the time difference to Portland was seven hours behind, I had already started staying up a bit later every night, but after I read this research I committed to practicing the following:

CBCG athlete Don Geddes at the 2018 ITU Age Group Standard Distance Worlds in Australia

CBCG athlete Don Geddes at the 2018 ITU Age Group Standard Distance Worlds in Australia

1. I began going to bed 90 minutes later every day until I was staying up until 3-4 AM, ultimately getting up around 11 AM - 12 PM in Portland.  

2. My drastically later wake up time put me in sync for a 4 AM wake up in Australia, which was pretty much in line with my wake up time on race day. 

3. I started doing my workouts close to when my actual race times would be - real time in Australia. Since I had a late wave start of 8:23 AM, that meant shifting my workouts to 3-4 PM. 

4. In turn, I needed to adjust meal times by having lunch around 4 or 5 PM, and dinner around 8:30.

5. To shake out the stiffness and cobwebs for sitting so long on the 14-hour flight I opted for the formal Aquathon offered to all competitors, which was a 750 meter swim and 5k run the day after arriving. I felt this was really helpful as it let test the water and shake out the legs. Doubtful that a similar event is available for other races, at least I recommend discussing your shakeout routine upon arrival with your coach. 

Don ended up 3rd American in his age group that Sunday, in the triathlon!  He has clinched multiple PR’s and impressive podia positions in his time working under CBCG head coach Chris Bagg, which is principally due to his diligence and perseverance as a world-class triathlete.

Geddes on his way to 3rd American and 15th in his Age Group in Australia

Geddes on his way to 3rd American and 15th in his Age Group in Australia

We at CBCG recognize that such adjustments may be relatively easier for Don, or any athlete who doesn’t hold-down a 9-5 career, but there should be some universal takeaways from his experience. So, in addition to Don’s above sage list of tactics, we offer some general rules-of-thumb for anyone planning to race in a significantly different time zone:

1. Talk to your coach. Whether or not you can get ready in terms of training and fitness, it’s half the battle to ensure you can realistically thwart for the ramifications of jet lag. The best-trained athletes in the world are no good if they’re not acclimatized, so ensure you can meet the afncdd requirements to set yourself up for success for your dream race on the other side of the planet. Your coach can help.

2. Talk to your family. If you’re combining racing with a family adventure, which is a fantastic idea, let’s make sure you’re not throwing them under the bus. If you’re phasing into a new time zone, so should they, at least a little. If they cannot phase-in at least some degree of sleep change, you’ve got to consider the impact on both your racing, and/or their vacation.

3. At least do something. Again, if you’re all, like, “Yeah, must be nice to get to go travel a few weeks in advance, but I gotta work!” at least practice some behaviors while still holding-down your day job. Going to bed just a littler earlier or later, depending on the location, will do wonders. And then controlling your sleep on the flight and upon your arrival will be key, which many people don’t realize is largely controlled by other daily practices...

Eating and training closer and closer to your global race time will be increasingly valuable, so check out Don’s advice and the article he engendered. Talk to you coach and fam, an consider if traveling to Nice, France for 70.3 World Champs or something similar is right for you!

CBCG head coach Chris Bagg waiting for a train in Strasborg

CBCG head coach Chris Bagg waiting for a train in Strasborg

Service Spotlight: How to Do a Swim Analysis

Here at CBCG, every new athlete gets a free swim analysis included with their coaching subscription, and we update that swim analysis each year at our CBCG Bonanza, held each December in Portland (with other locations around the country coming soon!). Why is getting a swim analysis so important that we make that the first thing we do with a new athlete? Well, swimming is more like golf in terms of technical requirements than cycling or running. So many things need to happen at the same time for you to move in an alien orientation (horizontal) through an alien medium (water). Our swim analyses look at you from each pertinent angle, letting you know where you’re doing things correctly and where you could make some improvements. We’ll roll through our six angles in order below, and you can watch, above, as I go through an analysis of one of our athletes.

Angle One: Side View Above Water

This is usually the most flattering angle, so we tend to start here. When we look at a swimmer from the side, we’re watching the following aspects:

  1. If the swimmer lifts the head to breathe

  2. How the breath is timed to the stroke (early breath/late breath)

  3. How the arm is recovered over the water and how it enters the water (want to read an entire POST about this subject? You can do that here)

  4. We also watch for the rhythm of the stroke. Some athletes look like they’re trying to attack the water, flailing down the lane. Others are very “polite” and probably take too few strokes, thinking that fast swimming is about trying to disturb as little water as possible.

Angle Two: Side View Below Water

This is usually the least flattering angle to swimmers, since it reveals what odd things their bodies are doing underwater. When we look at a swimmer from the side below the surface, we’re tracking these qualities:

  1. If their legs sink behind them

  2. How much/how little they kick

  3. The quality of their catch (from hand entry until the arm is directly below the shoulder) and pull-through (from end of catch to hand exit)

  4. Where they look in the water

We tend to really focus on the quality of the catch, here, since that is going to have the biggest impact on other aspects of the stroke, in particular if the swimmer has sinky legs. Usually those sinky legs are a result of a so-so catch and pull-through, so if we can fix that issue of propulsion, then the legs tend to correct as well.

Angle Three: Top View

The top-down angle reveals many other crucial aspects of the swimmer’s stroke. Here, we are looking for the following qualities of the stroke:

  1. Do the swimmer’s hands cross an imaginary centerline, drawn through the spine, out in front of his or her body? If so, this is going to ramify down through the body, usually leading to a swimmer snaking down the pool (or swimming off course in open water). A crossover in front often leads to our next issue…

  2. A scissor kick. Created when the swimmer rotates too much or creates instability at the front of the stroke by crossing over. You can see this happening when a swimmer’s legs spread apart behind them in a wide “V.” A scissor kick is essentially deploying a parachute behind you, so fixing this issue is crucial.

  3. Breath timing. Top down gives us another chance to watch the swimmer’s timing of the breath vis-a-vis the stroke. We want the swimmer to finish her breath before her hand passes her face above the water (on its way towards re-entry). If the swimmer isn’t doing this, it’s a clue that they’re not getting enough air out while their face is under water.

  4. General lack of movement. You’re supposed to rotate along a long axis while doing freestyle, which means your spine, hips, and shoulders should be aligned, and there should be a relative lack of movement as they rotate.

Angle Four/five: 3/4 view front

When we watch from the 3/4 front angle, above water and below, we’re watching to see the swimmer’s breathing patterns. From above the water, we’re looking for the mystical bow wave. What’s a bow wave? Well, OK, some nautical terminology, here. If you’ve ever seen a boat move through the ocean or a lake, it makes a little pile of water right at its prow. That pile of water has to go somewhere, so it flows “downhill,” creating a small trough right behind the boat’s nose. Here’s a good example:

bow-wave-of-a-ship_4wsuh5a9g__F0000.png

You can see that depression, right behind the bulge of water out in front of the boat, right? Well, we make that, too, as long as we keep our heads still as we swim forward. That trough is a really nice place for us to breathe into, as there’s air there that we don’t have to lift our head for. So when looking at the swimmer above the surface, we look to see if they are making that bow wave AND making use of the trough behind it. When we go underwater, we look to see if the swimmer is holding his/her breath. In the video above, you can see our swimmer isn’t creating a bow wave (or is making a very small one), and therefore having to lift her head to breathe. And when we go underwater, you can see that she’s not exhaling regularly—we should see a steady stream of bubbles coming out of her mouth while underwater. Instead, you can see that her mouth is slightly open, with no bubbles. This swimmer is holding her breath, and making it much more difficult on herself! As yourself this: would you ever hold your breath while running?

Angle Six: Front

And our final angle: directly in front of the athlete. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Is the angle of the swimmer’s arm, measured from the elbow, between 100-120 degrees? This should result in the swimmer’s hand being about 2-2.5 feet below their body and directly under the shoulder.

  2. The hand should not sweep under the body (the dreaded “s-curve,” taught in the 1980s and 1990s to swimmers such as Yours Truly.

  3. The swimmer should rotate in a 90 degree arc, from 45-50 degrees to the horizontal of the pool floor, to 45-50 degrees on the other side. Anything more than that is over-rotation and will cause breathing and stroke timing issues. Anything less than that is under-rotation, and will cause issues of not being able to recover the arm properly over the surface of the water.

Summary

So that’s “it.” We get it—there’s a lot there to think about! Swimming really is very technical, and you shouldn’t be daunted by the amount of information above. Improving at swimming takes a long time, and is more akin to improving at golf than cycling or running—you simply must put in the practice time AND the fitness time. If you just get in the water and do drills, you’ll never build your fitness to a place where you can actually get through a practice without falling apart and watching your form suffer. If you never work on your technique, you won’t progress much in terms of speed. You’ll become more enduring, which is good, too, but speed gains will elude you.

We offer 1-2-1 video analysis here at CBCG, and if it’s something you think might benefit you, you can contact us about it here!

How to Choose the Right Triathlon Coach for You

Head Coach Chris Bagg working with CBCG athlete Devin Salinas at our 2017 Bend Training camp

Head Coach Chris Bagg working with CBCG athlete Devin Salinas at our 2017 Bend Training camp

by CBCG Partner Coach Molly Balfe

So you’re ready for a coach. You’re committed to taking your triathlon training to the next level, and you’re cognizant that expert guidance and accountability is the best way to get there. Hiring a coach provides you with an ally and guide who can help you achieve your goals, manage your time, and take the guesswork out of your training, but the complex worlds of triathlon training, racing, gear, and nutrition can be overwhelming for new (and seasoned) athletes. For the self-motivated athlete, there is no shortage of info available online and in print, but you will quickly find that not only are there are several different schools of thought, but many of those theories directly contradict each other!

How should you proceed? If navigating the online options for coaching can be overwhelming, then how could you even begin to search specifically for the right person with whom you will forge a meaningful relationship? How do you find a good match? What is a good match?A cheerleader or a drill sergeant? Someone who pushes you or reins you in, or both? Whether you’re looking for someone to help you out for a few months as you find your bearings or are set on finding a long-term coach to help you continually improve, it can be tough to begin this process.

#CBCGcoach Molly Balfe working with camper Sarah Barkley at our 2017 Bend Training Camp

#CBCGcoach Molly Balfe working with camper Sarah Barkley at our 2017 Bend Training Camp

We at the Chris Bagg Coaching Group are passionate about the coach-athlete relationship. We love this sport, and we want you to find an ideal coach who doesn’t just have that love in common, but whose style and approach creates the best rapport to empower you to be the fastest, happiest, and healthiest you want to be. To help you along your way, we compiled a list of suggestions that we think will help you identify a qualified coach who is the right match for you.

Dive in. The first thing we recommend is to stop second-guessing your desire to hire a coach. We are inundated with disclaimers from athletes about not being fast enough, young enough, fit enough, strong enough, or whatever enough to take their training seriously. In all honesty, very few coaches make their living working with elite athletes. Most coaches were drawn to this profession because they are passionate about the sport and want to support athletes as they work towards their goals. Athletes participate in triathletes for a myriad of great reasons; they want to stay fit, get healthy, challenge themselves, and create a healthy lifestyle. These are all serious reasons, and we take your commitment seriously whether you are looking for podia or finish lines.

When you have made the decision to hire a coach, begin with a self-assessment. Define your reasons for seeking assistance so you can articulate them to the coaches you meet with. Here are a few recommendations to help you clarify what you are hoping to get from your coach: 

Know your limiters. Where do you struggle the most? If you aren’t sure, take a look at your recent race results and where you ranked in the swim, bike, and run (and while you’re at it, check out those transitions!). If you had the fastest bike split in your age group, but you ranked 30th in the swim, your coach may well want to focus on what is happening in the water. If there are big improvements to be made, it may help to spend a few weeks or months focusing on one sport, as it is extremely difficult to make considerable gains in all three sports at the same time. Many coaches use the “off” season to spend targeted time on the sport that holds an athlete back. This way, as the race season approaches, the plan can focus more on intensity and volume across all of your training.

Identify your short- and long-term goals. How will you know that your season was a success? Where do you want your training to be in five years? You and your coach need to be on the same page about where your training is headed, so tell them what your goals are and ask for their feedback about whether they think your goals are achievable. If your goal is to complete a race, you may only need a season of training to get there. However, improvements take time (and the faster you become, the harder those minutes and seconds will come by). Most coaches are looking for athletes who are in it for the long haul and hoping to get stronger and faster each year. The longer we work with you, the more we know about your specific needs and how you respond to training. Short-term goals can be extremely motivating, but should ultimately move you toward where you hope to be in the long-term.

The Author, Molly Balfe, in her Element, Working with Athletes on Swim Technique

The Author, Molly Balfe, in her Element, Working with Athletes on Swim Technique

Consider your capacity. Think about how much time you have to devote to training. We all know that life gets in the way of training sometimes, but it is helpful to be aware of whether an athlete’s job requires frequent travel or if they have other obligations (family, other hobbies, getting the band back together) that will determine their available time for training. Especially for longer races, the weekend time commitment can be significant, so make sure that you have the support of the people in your life. If you do travel frequently, you should expect to integrate your workouts into your travel schedule so your training isn’t derailed. If your schedule is typically flexible, but you know you have a few busy weeks each year, make sure you communicate that in advance so your coach can design your plan with these periods in mind. Every coach-athlete dynamic is different, so after you have determined your needs, we recommend embarking upon your search by taking into account the following: 

1.  Strengths – Make sure that the coach you choose has the sport-specific knowledge to help you improve on your limiters. If you are one of the many triathletes who struggles with their swim, make sure you choose a coach who has a history of helping swimmers become more competent in the water. If you know nutrition is holding you back, make sure the coach you select can provide you with the information and feedback you require to help you manage your diet and race needs. Most coaches can provide some level of guidance in each of the three sports, but if you are hoping for specific improvement, make sure you find someone with specific expertise. Likewise, if you already have a long history in one of the three sports, make sure you find someone who is able to provide you with workouts and training that will match your ability and experience.

2.  Availability – How often do you need/want/expect feedback? Are you looking for a static plan with little or no direction or do you want to be able to communicate directly with your coach about a schedule that is tailored specifically for you? Regular email and/or phone communication allows coaches to make real time decisions based on how their athletes are responding to training. In person meetings are rare, and are typically more expensive (especially if they involve evaluating your technique, which is generally a consultation and comes with an additional fee). How frequently you hear from your coach should be explicitly agreed upon by the coach and athlete. The amount of access you have to your coach varies considerably - be clear about what you expect and what your coach is offering.

3.  Style – Are you looking for a cheerleader? Someone to tell you to get off your butt and stop making excuses? Some combination of the two? Know what keeps you motivated and look for someone who can work with you in a way that you find motivating and productive. If possible, talk to some of their former or current athletes to find out more about their experience. If a coach has a reputation for being hard on athletes and you know you need a little fear to keep you motivated, this could be a great match! However, if you know you tend avoid conflict, you may well end up hiding from this coach so you don’t get in trouble. This is not an effective form of training, and does not benefit you. Find someone who works with you in a way that will best ensure your success.

4.  Experience/Education – Make sure your goals align with your coach’s interests and expertise. If you are new to the sport, ask whether a coach has worked with beginners. If you are hoping to qualify for Kona or get your pro card, make sure your coach has a specific plan to help get you there. If you are hoping to balance a busy schedule while getting fit and having fun, choose someone who knows how to be flexible and supportive. Great coaches never stop learning about the sport – they want to be aware of the best new techniques and any worrying trends that are emerging in triathlon. Ask your coach how they stay sharp and increase their sport-specific knowledge. Many coaches hold certifications in the sport; these do not mean that they are more skilled than other coaches who do not, but it does guarantee a baseline level of knowledge.

5.  Cost – There is a lot of variation in coaching fees. In general, coaches who are the most experienced and accessible (meaning how often you can contact them) are also the most expensive. These are typically career coaches who give a good percentage of their time and energy to their coaching business. They work with several athletes and tend to have a great deal of experience. The most economical choice is typically buying a static training plan, but you lose the benefit of a coach’s guidance. When making decisions about cost, be honest with yourself about how much you can afford and how your investment aligns with your goals.

6.  Location – If you want to be part of a triathlon team or are hoping for one-on-one evaluations, it can be helpful to look for a coach that is nearby. However, with the constant evolution of new internet-based evaluation tools and techniques, this may less critical. Many coaches are using video analysis to determine where their athletes can make improvements. Phone and Skype communication can also help bridge the geographical gap between you and your coach. If there is someone who you really want to work with, location can often be overcome.

Finally, we maintain that the absolute best way to know whether a coach is right for you is to talk to them. Much like finding the best house, car, bike, or trainers, sometimes if you simply feel like you click, and you like what they have to say about their style, that should indicate that you will work well together. Remember that you are accountable for at least 50% of the relationship between you and your coach. If something is missing, or if you feel like you need additional help in a specific area, make sure you ask for it clearly. Coaches are highly invested in their athletes’ success, and we want to see you happily and healthily participating in this sport for years to come.

The athletes at the Chris Bagg Coaching Group are all bound by the same goal: to become faster, happier, healthier people. It's an ethos shared by all the coaches at CBCG, and nicely wrapped up in our motto: Go Fast, Have Fun, Be Nice. We think that keeping these three principles in sight at all time lead to strong performances and happier lives.

We are taking new athletes! Our roster of experienced coaches is ready to form a relationship with you, and help you get better, faster, happier, and healthier for your next training and racing season, so meet the coaches , learn how it works, and become a member of the CBCG family, if, and only if, we’re right for you

What To Expect When You're DNFing

by Amy VanTassel

I came all this way and spent all this money! All my training was leading up to this race. This was my last chance to qualify, and now it’s gone! My family even traveled to support me...all for nothing.

There’s arguably no worse feeling than DNF-ing a major race. Perhaps it was the classic issue of not being able to run, thereby facing the awful decision of whether to walk it in or step off the course, or an uncontrollable like major mechanicals on the bike. Or maybe it was a “biomechanical,” like a wrecked knee/ankle/glute, heat stroke, or hypothermia. It can be dreadful to bear a DNF on race day and beyond, so what can we do to cope with the awful feeling? As someone who’s grappled with the sitch more than once, I’ve given it a ton of thought and rendered the following humble advice.

COPING WITH YOUR DNF ON RACE DAY

CBCG Head Coach Chris Bagg down for the count

CBCG Head Coach Chris Bagg down for the count

1. Don’t even think about it for a nanosecond!

Distraction is paramount for the rest of the day, so every time that demon named Regret rears its head, think. “Squirrel!”  You basically have two options to distract you from going to the Dark Side: staying at or returning to the race scene, or partying with family and friends,

If you change out of your chamois and return to the scene, your new job is to become the best spectator evah.  If friends are competing, holler to them that you’re fine, and then go bananas spectating them. Maybe there’s still time to see what’s happening at the front of the race and assure your favorite pro that there’s no one behind her or him. Personally, my jam has always been cheerleading for the back of the pack, high fives and encouragement all-around. The last finishers are remarkably inspiring, especially midnight at a full, proving convenient since you should distract yourself right up ‘til bedtime (and even then you should read a Dostoyevsky novel or play Angry Birds until lights-out). 

There is a potential risk with spectating, though: seeing your own gender athletes whom you perceive to have been your close competitors. Sour grapes can be fierce, so in the spirit of distraction, I say turn around three times, and then look at the shoes of the next racer and decide if you like that color. 

If you’d rather flee the scene, you should bond with your friends or family. Are there go-kart around?  How about the beach?  Wine tasting? Or perhaps there’s a fascinating nautical museum in town. My preferred pastime would be watching a game at a brewery, which leads me to my next point...

Go Karts are available just a few minutes walk from the famed race course in Penticton, B.C. Photo courtesy Penticton Herald News

Go Karts are available just a few minutes walk from the famed race course in Penticton, B.C. Photo courtesy Penticton Herald News

2. Go directly to #carbtown

You might be tempted to wallow in self-loathing restriction, especially if you dropped out early and didn’t get to burn all those pancakes, but you should treat yourself - think of it as coddling yourself - all day.

If it’s safe and not too heathenish for you, I recommend finding beer immediately if you don’t need to drive. If you don’t drink or don’t have a driver, I’m sure french fries are less than a block away, and ice cream is even closer. If you’re in Canada, now’s the time for poutine.

In addition to hitting a brewery, avail yourself of local #carbtown delicacies, such as Canada’s poutine

In addition to hitting a brewery, avail yourself of local #carbtown delicacies, such as Canada’s poutine

3. Make zero decisions. 

I recognize my cardinal rule of distraction is easier said than done. I bet the moment you knew you were going to DNF you considered your racing future. What now? Register for another race ASAP? Never race this stupid sport again?  I’ll tell you “what now?”...nuthin’. Put a moratorium on any judgments, decisions, or plans, and see below for how long. 

4. Ugh! The money I spent!

Regarding the inevitability of negative thoughts creeping in, it will likely occur to you sooner than later that you spent a shit-ton of coin on race entry, travel, and, well, everything leading up to your race. Allow that sucky thought to surface, but remember how much you lived and learned a lot during all your training. And you still got to hang out in a cool place and maybe can tomorrow. More esoterically speaking, consider the cost of the race is more like an entry fee for being a triathlete in general. OK, that last idea was weaksauce, but seriously you got to go to Couer d’Alene, or wherever. 

5. Nuh-uh...no social media, fool

If you need to tell the world you’re OK, I urge you to just text a few key people. Even if you think you can handle checking your accounts, risking seeing race-related garbage, I promise you you’d glimpse some little post that will make you feel regretful or envious. And for the love of God, please no “Not my day...” race reports, IMHO. 

CBCG Athlete Doris Steere spectating Heather Jackson like crazy at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

CBCG Athlete Doris Steere spectating Heather Jackson like crazy at the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

COPING WITH YOUR DNF AFTER RACE WEEKEND 

1. Disappointment is mythical 

Nobody, I repeat, nobody is disappointed in you! I have personally cried, worrying my brother would see it as a waste to have traveled to Mexico for nothing. I’ve been anxious my coach would feel let down, or my husband would feel like we tossed all that coin down the toilet. (Imagine if your coach and husband were the same person.) 

Simple solution: envision yourself in their shoes...would you be disappointed?  True, you might feel disappointed in yourself depending on the race circumstances, in which case you should check out #4 below. 

2. Modify your social media. 

I know it’s radical, but I personally suggest not engaging in any race-related content after your DNF. The worst thing to do would be to check out results in an effort to guess where you would’ve finished. Um...point in that?  The two exceptions are congratulating friends who raced or giving shout-outs to your sponsors, but you know that feeling when you check out Instagram and you feel a little nauseated? I guarantee you get that pang if you travel down the rabbit hole of content specific to your race. And I know I covered this above, but it bears repeating: please spare the world from the “Not my day...” post?  Please?

3. No decisions for a week

When you catch up with your coach, I bet you a million bucks she or he will point to what actually went well that day. CBCG coaches certainly will postmortem everything you nailed leading up to the gun, and depending on how long you made it until you dropped out, your successes and takeaways from the first legs. 

I also bet you a million bucks your coach won’t be frantic with plans for your next race, especially if you’re thinking “replacement race.”  VT’s rule: no new decisions for a week. The only exception would be if race registration is time-sensitive alá and early race reg invite, or a race being at risk of selling out - but don’t do anything without your coach’s blessing. 

4. On to the next!

That being stated, when you get the next race on your calendar, or perhaps there already is another, try to transfer your regretful emotions from your DNF to motivation for your next. This rule might seem the most obvious, but I also find it to be the most effective coping mechanism of all.

CBCG Athlete (and your author) Amy VT crashing out of a cyclocross race. Photo courtesy of Jenny Greeve

CBCG Athlete (and your author) Amy VT crashing out of a cyclocross race. Photo courtesy of Jenny Greeve

For a lighter take on DNF’s, check out my article about dropping out of a ‘cross race published on the Cyclocross Magazine site. Back to sparing the world from a “Not my day...” post, think about that pic of you in your go-kart race or demolishing some poutine. 

Your 12-Week Sprint Triathlon Training Plan

by Molly Balfe

Ed. Note—CBCG Coach Molly Balfe checks in with thoughts as to how to prepare for your first sprint-distance triathlon. The former president of Tri Team PDX, coach for Team in Training, and current globe-trotting triathlon expert joins us today with both a complete 12-week plan for your first triathlon, AND a complete, free guide to the process, which you can download from our website here.

So you’ve just signed up for your first triathlon!

Whether you were reluctantly roped-in by a spandex-clad friend, or the feat has always been on your bucket list, we, the CBCG coaches, would like to congratulate you on deciding to try your first tri. Unlike stepping into a simple running race, triathlons take an exceptional deal of courage, likely testing your comfort zones in at least one of the disciplines, and this plan will help you along your way. So here is some expert guidance that our CBCG athletes have valued while preparing for their first races.

CBCG Athlete Don Geddes on his way to winning his age group at the 2018 Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove

CBCG Athlete Don Geddes on his way to winning his age group at the 2018 Rolf Prima Tri at the Grove

Necessary Gear

If you’ve begun to gather information for your first tri, you’ve encountered a seemingly endless array of toys and tools you can spend your money on. The fastest and lightest gear may help you at certain points in your triathlon career, but we recommend starting out with the basics. That way, if you conclude that triathletes are nuts, you didn’t waste your comic; but conversely, if you find you‘re up for more triathlon adventures, you can slowly fill your gear closet as needed, with smart gear appropriate for you.  That stated, a few pieces of equipment are necessary to train for and complete your first race:

  • Bike – Repeat after us: “I do not need to buy a race bike for my first triathlon.”  Pretty much any bike with working gears and brakes will get you through your first sprint. If you already own a mountain bike, hybrid, or entry-level road bike, that will work! True, a heavier bike may slow you down a bit, but you’ll have the chance to experience your first race and see if you want to invest something more sport-specific. 
  • Helmet – This one’s a non-negotiable. All bicycle training and racing should be done wearing a CPSC approved helmet. Same thing as above applies, though: it would be total overkill to invest in a race-specific “aero helmet” for your first one.
  • Running shoes – Want to know which running shoes are the best?  Guess what: it totally depends.  CBCG coaches  highly recommend you visit your local running store to have someone help you select a shoe that works for your specific stride and biomechanics. Fashionable fitness shoes may look rad, and deals on online warehouses can be a steal, but they might not protect you from injuries. You’ve likely been running already, so you shouldn’t make any major changes in terms of going minimal or more structured.  In fact, the only major change you should make is considering quick-draw laces.  Invest in a pair of running shoes, and break them in a bit before your race.
  • Swimsuit, cap, and goggles – Think about where you’ll be racing when you pick your goggles. If you’ll be in a pool, or a foggy or cloudy lake, get clear lenses. If you’ll be staring down the sun at dawn, go for something tinted. Try them on for at least the distance of your first race, and when in doubt, get something pretty.
  • Watch – While this one isn’t entirely necessary, a cheap running watch can make a big difference in your triathlon training. You don’t need bells and whistles, but a watch that can show total time elapsed (and ideally lap splits) comes in very handy. Many people use their smartphones for this function, but we believe it’s best to keep your smartphone technology far away from sweat.

Following the Plan

CBCG coaches have created a plan that contains two workouts per week in each discipline (swim, bike, and run) as well as one strength session. See to treasure yourself to the plan, empowering yourself to perform your fastest, happiest, and healthiest first triathlon possible! Ideally, you will complete each workout as written. However, CBCG coaches are hugely understanding of life getting in the way, so if you’re time-limited, focus on completing the two workouts for the sport you struggle with the most (do it!), and at least one workout each for the other two sports. 

We also included a few “brick” workouts in this plan, instructing you to run right after you ride. “Bricks” should be considering key workouts: they’re a perfect time to practice your bike-to-run transition, and grow accustomed to how your legs feel right off the bike. These workouts are also great opportunities to practice your race day nutrition (more info on nutrition below).

If you need a day off, or you’re just feeling blasted, take a day off! If you’re unsure, we suggest at least attempting the workout to see if you just needed a warm up to blow out the cobwebs. If you start the main part of the workout and it’s just not happening, then call it quits.

The majority of these workouts will be at an easy effort, especially during the first 6 weeks of training. In order to safely build up your endurance, you need to gradually increase your training volume. Even if you feel good, keep the effort level low unless otherwise indicated.

CBCGer Devin Salinas putting in some miles

CBCGer Devin Salinas putting in some miles

Nutrition for Training and Racing

Your diet makes a huge difference in how you feel during (and after) your workouts. It is important to pay attention to what you eat while training and what you eat during your regular life. A lot of newer triathletes make the mistake of training to eat, instead of eating to train. While a workout in this plan may feel difficult, it probably hasn’t created a caloric deficit that only an entire pizza can fill. Conversely, if you have been restricting your caloric intake, you may need to eat more to ensure that you are meeting the needs of an increased training load. 

Perhaps most importantly, if you find yourself feeling depleted throughout the day, take a look at your total caloric intake to ensure that you are eating enough. Fueling with training and recovery in mind can help ensure that you enjoy your workouts and feel strong throughout your day. When in doubt, maintain a healthy diet focused on vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. 

While training and racing, you’ll probably need to explore the sugary world of sports nutrition. For any workout over an hour, you should plan to take a bottle of sports drink to help replace calories and replenish sodium. You should also plan to practice using gels, chomps, or beans during a few of your longer runs, since they are what athletes typically use during races. 

Your nutrition needs for the race itself should be relatively low (provided you aren’t dehydrated or under-fed at the start line). Plan to use a bottle of sports drink during the bike, and take sports drink at each aid station on the run. You can also take a gel or other 100-calorie snack towards the beginning of the run – many CBCG athletes including coach Molly prefer the type with added caffeine.

CBCG coach, and author of this blog and the training plan, Molly Balfe practicing good nutrition

CBCG coach, and author of this blog and the training plan, Molly Balfe practicing good nutrition

Preparing for Race Day

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with USA Triathlon’s rules and regulations prior to your race, especially their most common violations.

On race day, plan to arrive early enough to set up your transition area. Transition is where you will rack your bike and transition from swim to bike and bike to run. You do not have much room for your equipment, so pack only what you will need during the race. For reference, here is a picture of a well-organized transition area:

An exceptionally, if not obsessively well-organized transition area

An exceptionally, if not obsessively well-organized transition area

While it may seem obvious, make sure you know the layout of your race, including where you will enter and exit the water and where you will enter and leave the transition area for the bike and run legs. Knowing where you are headed will save you valuable time during your race.

A Final Word of Advice

Have fun! We love this sport, and we hope that you will love it too. Triathlon is an individualized sport, with a lot of potential hyperactivity and focus on expensive gear, so it can be easy to allow yourself to get caught up in the pressure, anxiety, and competition of training and racing, so remember that we do this for fun. Be generous with your gratitude and give copious high-fives. The more fun you allow yourself to have, the more likely it is that you will continue to come back to this sport for years to come. In fact, it’s been empirically determined that if you smile during a race, you will go faster. Happy training!

How to Adjust (and Not Adjust!) your Triathlon Training: the CBCG Coaches' Best Practices

by Amy VanTassel

Pop quiz: can you spot the workout adjustment below that was a good idea?

  1. “I missed a run earlier in the week, so I ran twice the distance today.”
  2. “I didn’t know if I could hit those watts, so I mashed my intervals as uphill repeats.”
  3. “I felt so thrashed after work and felt a sore throat coming on, so I skipped my run and went straight home to dinner with my family.”
  4. “I wasn’t making my sendoff in the pool, so I just got out early.”
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Adjustments to training schedules are inevitable. As coaches and athletes develop their relationships and communication, ideally an athlete should feel increasingly empowered to make judgment calls as life’s inevitabilities happen. Still, even the most experienced athlete questions how to adapt when a workout isn’t going as planned, or can’t happen at all, so we asked our CBCG coaches for their sage insight on what makes for both wise and obtuse decisions on the fly. Here’s what they had to say:

CBCG Coach Donna Phelan

CBCG Coach Donna Phelan

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“Changing an easy taper run of 30 minutes into an hour long run with intervals! Yes, one of my athletes did this not too long ago; doubting your fitness race week and trying to cram at the last minute is never a good thing!”

What is your best example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that exhibited smart adaptation based on conditions?

“The best example is an athlete stopping a workout early because they feel a niggle coming on. Better to cut one workout short rather than to be on the sidelines for the next couple of weeks with an injury.”

What’s your worst example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“That would have to be an athlete doing a run interval workout one day, and then moving their long run from two days later to the next day—just not enough time for the running system to recover and be ready for a hard stimulus again."

How about your best example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“Feeling a cold coming on and taking a rest day to let their immune system recover."

CBCG Coach Ivan Dominguez

CBCG Coach Ivan Dominguez

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“I haven’t get any of those yet, but I’m sure few of my athletes would love to add some crazy stuff to their training plans.”

What’s your worst example of a weekly adjustment in schedule?

“Not training for few days for whatever reason, then attempting to make up for it all over the weekend, trying to do what they were supposed to do few days ago. Basically cramming in a week of training, or close to it, in just two days.”

CBCG Coach Molly Balfe

CBCG Coach Molly Balfe

What is your worst example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that was a horrible idea?

“An athlete saying ‘I felt good, so I pushed harder than I was supposed to.’ This is especially troublesome with long runs, which are often used to build volume. When unintended intensity is added on top of that, athletes are significantly more fatigued, which can get in the way of upcoming workouts (or even contribute to injury).”

What is your best example of an athlete making an adjustment to a workout that exhibited smart adaptation based on conditions?

“The best adjustments I’ve seen happen when athletes let go of their pace expectations and work with their current conditions. This is already a really hot summer, so I’ve seen athletes make smart calls like slowing down their repeat paces for longer intervals on a hot track. Your run pace is really impacted by heat and your body takes some time to acclimate to it. Cut yourself a little slack when conditions are extreme (and HYDRATE).”

CBCG Coach Chris Boudreaux

CBCG Coach Chris Boudreaux

What do you never want your athletes to do when adjusting workouts?

“Big thing for me: putting back-to-back hard same-sport workouts right next to each other. Like missing a Wednesday or Thursday tempo run, then going Friday tempo run/Saturday brick session/Sunday long hard run...just never do that.”

How about the worst bike workout adjustments you’ve seen?

 “Going way above the watts ‘because you could.’ Not every workout is a test of your max ability for that session. Ironman and half-iron races are a lot about that uncomfortable pace - neither all out nor easy - and you need to feel that in training. Additionally, there may be other reasons a workout keeps you from going all-out, like other key sessions coming up. I usually give a range, so you can have freedom to be on the higher or lower end, but ideally not much more. So if an athlete feels a workout is too easy, I’d way prefer she or he should send me a message and ask the purpose, and never just blast it ‘because you could.’”

CBCG Coach Chris Bagg with CBCG athlete Matt Feldmar

CBCG Coach Chris Bagg with CBCG athlete Matt Feldmar

And finally CBCG Coach Chris Bagg chimes in with some universal words of wisdom on how to adapt when a workout isn’t going as planned, or can’t happen at all:

"What we're after, at CBCG, is that you develop mastery of your sport. Mastery doesn't mean performance—it means understanding the sport, and how to alter your behavior when things don't go as planned. Being able to make sensible adjustments on the fly results in more consistent training over time, which leads to more consistent race results. As consistency improves, you'll see your results improve, too, as you build a pyramid of strong performances. So how do you get there? Well, the secret is understanding that your training plan is not the Ten Commandments (or Code of Hammurabi, or whichever literally carved-in-stone set of precepts is your particular jam). Slavishly sticking to a training plan, despite being sick/injured/depressed, is the mark of an athlete who wants his/her race to be a paint by the numbers experience: if I do everything, then I can't fail! This is, sadly, not true. It's actually the athlete who can adjust who will have better results over time. The athlete who just does everything, or plays catchup, usually can't deal with it during a race when the plan goes out the window, since there isn't any catching up available during competition." 

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So, we should all remember that every athlete has to make judgment calls as workouts aren’t going as planned, or if life gets in the way of a perfect weekly schedule. Perhaps the above sage advice from our expert coaches will prep you better for your next adjustment, and if you recognize yourself in one of the above examples, give your coach a virtual hug today. 

Better Swimming for Those with Tight Shoulders (Hint: Probably You)

Since triathlon became a thing, and well-intentioned triathletes have been showing up at Masters swim groups all over, we've all gotten used to hearing a whole bunch of swimming orthodoxy: try to limit the number of strokes you take per length, make that elbow point at the ceiling, glide, do fingertip drag drill to open up your shoulders. Happily, Paul Newsome and Adam Young at Swim Smooth have been hard at work debunking the "fewer strokes is better" myth for years, and have also done good work with tossing Fingertip Drag out the window. I'm going to hitch my rhetorical wagon, today, to their argument against Fingertip Drag, but extend it to what I've seen in my swimmers at Nike and at the triathlon camps we run every year. 

As Paul and Adam point out in the Fingertip Drag post, it's a bad drill because it forces the whole population of swimmers into a position they can't achieve. People who have been swimming their whole lives (as kids, in high school/college, and then later as Masters swimmers) tend to have hyper-mobile shoulders. They can do fingertip drag in their sleep, as well as maintain perfect streamline position off the wall. They've just done it for a million years, and when you can't do it, they'll look at you the way a native English speaker looks at a confused tourist. "You can't do this? Sheesh." It's not their fault—their bodies have changed over a long period of time, and they simply assume that all humans can hit that position. We all do things like this (how did you treat that new hire at your company last week when they didn't know how to run the coffee machine? OK, so cool it on the outrage), but the answer is never just slamming the new swimmer into a position they can't achieve: it's like speaking English louder at the person who doesn't speak it—there's only one person who looks foolish in that situation.

Just so we know what we're talking about, here, here's a picture of a swimmer deploying the classic high-elbow, fingertip-draggy recovery:

Brian Side View.png

When doing swim analyses, this is what we look for: when the upper arm is vertical vis-a-vis the camera (i.e. the biceps is pointing at the sky; it's not really pointing at the sky, but due to the miracle of perspective it's a useful landmark) we like to see the lower arm in line with the upper arm. If that's confusing, here's what we DON'T like to see:

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In this case, the upper arm IS vertical (pointing at the top of the picture frame), but the lower arm is WAY out in front. We see this most often with people who have come to swimming later in life (90% or so of triathletes), and it's usually due to a very understandable misconception: triathletes think swimmers swim with their hands, when really swimming comes from the hips. More on that later, but since they think it's all about the hands they try—desperately—to get those hands forward as soon as possible, leading them to lead with the hand. They're also probably trying to get into that high elbow recovery, but since their shoulders are too tight they have no choice but to bring the lower arm forward, low over the water. Here's what happens:

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This is a swimmer who is headed for a crossover in the next few moments of her stroke. She probably doesn't mean to, but with an elbow angle that acute, she's got no choice. The crossover in front (when a swimmer's hands cross the centerline of his/her body) is an agreed-upon issue in the swimming community, so we don't have to do too much debunking there. So that's not great. But there's another issue. Since the swimmer's shoulder's are tight, as she tries to bring that hand forward, angling the elbow, her shoulder is effectively in her way, and to alleviate the tension she has to move away from that tension, shifting her body to the right. Here's where she was only a few moments earlier:

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This is just before the picture taken two above. This swimmer is about to finish the pull with the left hand and start bringing it forward. Her body is straight, here, but then let's go back to where she ends up:

Screenshot 2018-07-17 16.46.55.png

Her body is kinked, right, where it was straight only a few moments ago? That's because she's had to move her torso away from the source of the tightness in order to actually bring the arm forward over the water. Her torso moves to the right, and that yaw translates down to her legs, which wash back and forth behind her. Watch some swimmers in the pool: when you see people's legs fishtailing back and forth behind them, it's usually because they've got this going on behind them.

OK, great, you big jerk, how do I fix it? Two ways, both of which are simple but not easy.

1: Straighten the arm a bit

Before you freak out, swim coaches, go and read Paul and Adam's comments in their posts above. Just straighten that arm out during recovery and flop it out over the water, landing it in front of you in line with your shoulder. Doing so will alleviate tension in your shoulders AND make you a better open water swimmer.

2: Open up those hips!

If you look at the picture above, where our swimmer is trying to bring the arm forward, you can see her hips are pretty flat in the water—she's not tipped up on her side at all. In swimming the hips and shoulders need to move together, and in this case the shoulders are trying to roll while the hips are staying behind. Swimming is more like golf than like running or cycling, and never more so than at this moment. If you rotate your hips a little more (without over-rotating), opening them up to the side of the pool, you'll suddenly find you have more room to swing that arm forward over the surface of the water, and you don't need hyper-mobile shoulders any more!

3: Loosen up your shoulders!

What? I thought this whole post was about swimming even though I have tight shoulders! Well, sorry, Buttercup, but you still need to do your homework and eat your veggies. Having more flexible shoulders will help you be a better swimmer long term (and a healthier human being, which is really a big part of what we're after with this whole exercising as competition thing, right?). But I'll return to this subject in a subsequent post. For now, stop trying to bring that arm forward! Just open up the elbow angle a bit, rotate your hips more, and stiffen up through the core!