CBCG athlete Andrew Nelson heads off to the Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon

My road to Norway, by CBCG athlete Andrew Nelson

You're not the only athlete here at Jeff Davis

On November 13th, 2016 I scanned my inbox and nearly missed the most monumental message I've ever received: “Andrew Nelson, Welcome to The Iskbar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon.”  I had entered the lottery for Norseman every year since 2011. Six years ago, however, I held a naive concept of what the race would entail, let alone what it took to train for and compete in long distance triathlon. Today, now that I miraculously got an entry, I'm a completely different athlete. I'm infinitely more prepared, and correspondingly more terrified.

To contextualize my original naïveté, in 2010 I spectated my first Ironman in Coeur d’Alene, and was captivated. The following day I registered for next year’s race.  I was that guy: training on a fixed gear city bomber bike for my first race, which happened to be a full distance event. Not only was IM CDA my first triathlon, it was also my first real open water swim, and first time going the distance on a road bike (not even a tri bike), borrowed from a friend. In hindsight, I was comically unprepared.

In a way, I feel similarly three weeks before toeing the line at Norseman. In the years between that first race and today I’ve acquired a fancy bike, lots of spandex, and worked with exceptional coaches who've empowered me to advance from a novice participant to a bona-fide competitor. But the legendary extremity and epic nature of Norseman bring me back to those original days in the sport, questioning want I've gotten myself into.  

After my ill-advised, but relatively successful debut at CDA, I thought “Eh, I did one, I can do any of them.” Since I started big, I sought out another potentially absurd goal: the legendary Norseman. I annually tossed my hat in the ring, and in the meantime, I found myself developing as an seasoned triathlete. I spent four years completely burning myself out physically, trying to go faster. I went two more years hating endurance sports and not racing a single multi-sport event, barely excited to ride my bike unless it was to get drinks. But I made huge strides and kept entering that damn lottery.  

Then on that pivotal day in November, I got said email message.  Here's how it looks:

So nonchalant; so matter of fact.  Here you are now, with a major life event on the horizon. With the invaluable support of my CBCG coach Chris Boudreaux, I dove back into the most intensive training of my life over the past eight months. My personal life has been chaos, my work life has been a roller coaster, and most of my training was in the trainer dungeon or on a treadmill thanks to the worst Portland winter in 24 years. Looking back, though, I’ve reveled in every minute of it.  It’s been fly by the seat of my pants, hanging on for dear life fun.  

Despite being terrified of the race, living in a new house that barely has running water with my girlfriend Alana and new one-year-old terrier puppy, navigating the logistics of flying across the globe for a race,and myriad other First World problems I won't bother to document, I’m more amped up for this race than any adventure I’ve done to date.  

For once, time goals are on the back burner. My principal goals are to not poop myself; to enjoy the wild new country, landscape, and culture; and to revel in the support of my amazing girlfriend Alana. She's sacrificing an estimable amount of time and energy to travel with me. Despite having an allergy to waking up before 9am, she’s on board to wake up at an insane hour, act as Sherpa, drive the support car all day, and deal with, well, the unknown.

Lastly and most importantly, this race wouldn’t have happened without Chris Boudreaux. Bagg connected us shortly after I received the aforementioned email about Norseman, and his approach and coaching style turned out to be the PERFECT fit. I’m really so confused by coaching and training plans, and am honestly confounded why certain workouts show up on on my plan (despite reading/listening A LOT about it). But I completely trust Boudreaux, and everything has worked like mercury - the variable paces, the intensity, the volume, and of course, the surprising but appreciated recovery. I’m a bit of a set-it-and-forget-it athlete, but I had feedback about damn near every workout, and always the right feedback. He doles out a tiny bit of snark when needed, and then is a stalwart during the pity party moments. I can’t thank him enough for working with me for the last eight months.

The next few weeks are going to be packing, obsessing over not forgetting anything, bike tuneups, and all the madness that comes with a destination race (and follow-on vacation).  I’ll check back in after my day of competitively exercising with some photos, stories, and recommendations if anyone else is nuts enough to go do this race.

The Battler: Meet Donna Phelan

by Jay Prasuhn

Ed. Note—Donna Phelan is the newest CBCG coach, and we couldn't be happier to have her. Donna has worked with every big name coach in triathlon, and has raced all over the world, competing in disparate formats and distances. She brings a wealth of knowledge to the company, and we can't wait to start matching her with athletes. Read on to learn more about her journey over the years—she's faced a lot of adversity in her career, and that struggle can be your benefit, as you learn from one of the best—and toughest—coaches out there. This article originally appeared on the Wattie Ink. website.

There are probably few athletes that have worked under Barrie Shepley as a first triathlon coach (Canadian head coach), then Bill Davoren (Australian head coach), Brett Sutton, Paula Newby-Fraser, Siri Lindley, Dave Scott and Julie Dibens. There are also likely few athletes that have raced an Ironman three weeks after breaking an elbow. Or finished on the podium at Wildflower after having a rib broken at an ITU World Cup the weekend before. Fewer still with a career laundry list of injuries that include bilateral hip labral surgeries, bilateral illiotibial band surgeries, foot surgery and chronic hamstring injuries. And there’s just one that has gone through that hell for one reason: to race against the best.

There’s just one Donna Phelan.

If you’ve followed the pro scene, you may or may not have heard the name of this Canadian. But she’s done it all. She trained with the legendary TeamTBB under Sutton for five years. She swam in the famed Fishbowl in remote Borrego Springs, California under Siri Lindley. She’s called Chrissie Wellington, Hillary Biscay, Mirinda Carfrae, and Leanda Cave teammates. Not bad for a girl from Canada’s island province of Newfoundland, with a doggedness that has earned her the nickname “Diesel.” 

Phelan began her competitive streak quite early. She began swimming at age 8, and competed in the Canadian Olympic Trials at age 16. She continued to swim through college at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University while earning a physical therapy degree. Upon graduation, she sought out something that would feed her competitive drive, and found triathlon. “I worked in Corner Brook, which is a big triathlon city in Canada, and did a swim relay for the Corner Brook Triathlon and loved it. I’d run cross country in high school, and it dawned on me it that triathlon would be the next way to keep being a competitive athlete.”

Success came quickly; she did her first tri in Corner Brook in 1996 and qualified to race her age group at ITU Worlds. She finished 30th there. The next year, 17th. Then fourth, third, and second. In 2000, it was time; she turned pro. And her successes continued at that level, as she finished second elite at Canadian National Championships that same year. From 2000 to 2003 she competed internationally, representing Canada on the ITU World Cup circuit. Those were deep years for the Canadian national team, which comprised Jill Savege, Tereza Macel and Samantha McGlone, and Phelan's shot at an Olympic start was a long one. Her coach at that moment, Brett Sutton, presented her with a moment of reckoning.

“He told me he would stop coaching me unless I raced long distance,” Phelan recalls. “He entered me in Wildflower in 2002, and I fought him on it, because I’d never biked 56 miles in my life." The then-unknown Phelan beat Lori Bowden and Heather Fuhr to take third at the iconic California race in her first half ironman. It represented an awakening: long-course would be her path.

From there, she moved to Ironman, finishing fourth in her debut at Japan in 200, and qualifying for Kona. But it would also be her first dealings with the taxing effects distance racing had on her. Pain in her right knee that year led to iliotibial band surgery in 2004, and then rehab and stop-and-start attempts kept her on the sidelines for nearly two years. She made it back to racing in 2008 and saw results instantly, posting a second-place finish in 2008 at Ironman China. Later that year she raced Ironman Switzerland with a broken elbow sustained when wet train tracks took her down three weeks before, and then raced the Hawaii Ironman World Championships to wrap her year.

In the summer of 2009, Phelan raced Ironman Switzerland, and then the famed Alpe d’Huez Triathlon the following weekend. The kicker? After racing to a 5th-place finish in Zurich, her coach had her ride with her team from her base camp in the tiny ski village of Leysin, Switzerland to the town of Huez. Two days, 80 miles a day, over French Alps passes made famous by the Tour de France.

Phelan at Oceanside 70.3 earlier this year (photo Jay Prasuhn)

Phelan at Oceanside 70.3 earlier this year (photo Jay Prasuhn)

The next day, back in Leysin, her coach prescribed a track workout. “I attempted it, but knew my left IT band was in trouble.” Off to race again a few weeks later at Eireman in Ireland, she was leading the race halfway through the marathon, and the knee forced her to pull out. “I couldn’t bend my knee anymore and running with a straight leg wasn’t going to get me to the finish.” Another surgery. Another rehab. Another comeback.

The 2010 season showed promise. She did three Ironman races but another injury popped up: her hip this time. A cortisone injection in her hip flexor got her through the race in Kona, but the pain persisted. In 2012, an MRI revealed a labral tear. Soliciting medical advice, she was sent reeling. “Doctors and physiotherapists told me I would never run or do triathlon again, not even at a recreational level,” she says. One doctor, however, believed he could fix it. She had surgery in June, rehabbed and was told two months later that the right hip needed surgery as well. It meant ten tedious weeks on crutches, a year gone, and a career in question. 

Eight months later, however, Phelan was racing, taking third at Leadman Tempe. She did a handful of 70.3s with mixed results, but by the end of the year had a new problem: her foot. “I felt like I was running with a marble in my shoe at the end of 2013 and early into 2014,” she says. Another MRI, and this time it revealed a partially torn plantar plate ligament that needed repair, and a neuroma (inflamed nerve) that had to be carved out. “Doctors said it’s usually the size of a piece of wet spaghetti, but that mine was the largest he’d ever seen, that it was diameter of a quarter.”

One more comeback. She won Rev 3 Venice, Florida half in the fall of 2014. It was the one bright star prior to rather middling 2015 and 2016 campaigns where she battled chronic hamstring pain. She was near her breaking point. “I questioned whether I should continue racing, whether my hamstring would let me run competitively again, whether I should retire or if I should switch and race age group. It had been 12 years of ongoing injuries, and I felt like it was finally the last straw.”

Last fall, Phelan learned that former ProTour cyclist Tom Danielson had begun coaching. It was a risk. She’d worked with every top tri coach in the game. Why a name new to the sport? “I thought perhaps a change of coaches, to someone with a different background other than triathlon would be worth taking a chance on,” she says. “I’d had every top coach in the world coach me the last 15 years, and felt I had nothing to lose by trying something different.”

The change began to pay off. Within six weeks of working under Danielson, her biking was lifted to a new level. She placed second at the RAAM Six-Hour Time Trial World Championships, covering 212 kilometers (131.5 miles) in six hours.

Photo Jay Prasuhn

Photo Jay Prasuhn

“The biggest difference, without a doubt, in Tom’s coaching was his belief and confidence in me,” Phelan says. “I didn’t feel like I was just another triathlete on a team where there were numerous triathlon superstars. Finally, I felt like someone else had more belief in me than I had in myself. That made more of a difference to me than any coaching program in the world could ever make.” 

2017 has been off to a great start so far, despite one setback. Triathlon Canada requires minimum time standards annually to maintain professional status, and Phelan's barren 2016 meant she didn't qualify. Despite her long pro resume, she was relegated to racing age group this season, as she tries to regain her pro card. It’s not what Phelan wanted or expected, but she’s rolling with the punches because she's finally able to race. She competed at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside to open her season, finishing second age grouper and winning her age group by six minutes, which, as a top-three overall, earned her pro license per USAT rules. The result, though, was short lived. She discovered after the race she'd been disqualified, cracking the speed limit on a short section of the Oceanside course. She would have to try again. In early May she raced St. George 70.3, winning her age group by a huge 11 minutes, but missing the overall podium by a scant two spots.

This summer, Phelan rides a wave of confidence, believing her roughest patches are behind her and the best in a long time is yet to come. She heads from her San Diego home to Boulder to train with Danielson and her teammates, aiming for a big result at that Colorado town's 70.3 in August. “It’s a frustrating process after racing pro for 17 years, and beating pros in my last few races by as much as 20 minutes” she says. “Qualifying to race pro is harder than maintaining pro status; there are a lot of age group women that would be competitive in the pro field. I want to race against the best women in the world. I think it’s more ambitious to challenge myself rather than be in a field with an easy win. I want to know I have a race on my hands with the women on my left and right. It brings out the best in me. My old teammate Erica Csomor from Hungary once told me that if you want something bad enough, you have to knock on a door three times to prove you really want to enter and go down that path,” Phelan says. I’m hoping that my third attempt this year will be that open door.”

Athlete Report: A Big Kid Playdate at the Ultimate Playground

Kirk at the top of Madera Pass, somewhere near Nogales

Kirk at the top of Madera Pass, somewhere near Nogales

by Kirk Lacko, CBCG Athlete

"Hey Kirk...you looking forward Camp?" "Umm...I’m so friggin stoked I can’t keep the lid on my jar of #campawesomesauce from last camp!” Remember Summer Camp as a little kid? Well CBCG Camps are really no different as a big kid, save for the, you know, hours of grueling training. As a three-time CBCG camper about to embark upon my sixth, I continue to prioritize the economic and time commitment, since each one keeps getting better in terms of social, emotional, and training benefits. Invariably, the first day has defined one of the most special times at Camp. It’s a super-charged atmosphere, with peeps with whom you will laugh, sweat, cry (yes, cry), and envision dreams turn into reality. I liken it to the first day of school, only coaches= teachers, and campers = classmates. It’s thrilling!

Infinity X Infinity (training benefits)

The benefits of camp are 10 to the power of 10, 100, 1000 or maybe even infinity (remember infinity x infinity as a kid?). It’s impossible to gauge just how insanely beneficial camp can be...that is, until you need it most. Strategically placed as an early season jump-start, or at critical juncture of your season, 100- mile days in the saddle, painful 800-meter interval runs, or 400 time trials in the pool pay huge dividends later, especially as stacked-up workouts.

Case and Point (confidence on race day)

It’s incredible just how much confidence camp can deliver on race day. Case and point: I participated in the Inaugural Wattie Ink. CBCG Dream Camp in Tucson, training alongside pro's Heather Jackson and Rachel McBride. Three weeks later I competed in my first race of the season at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. In the past, during tough moments in an early race, I'd slide down the slippery slope of negative questioning, wondering if I had ridden long enough, or run hard enough. Fortunately, not only did Camp mega-boost my early season conditioning, building endurance and increasing run-off speed, but it totally reinforced my mental advantage and competitive edge. Check! Check! Check!

Nice Rack!

Only at CBCG Camp can you meet great people, make lasting friendships and walk away with the highly coveted “Nice Rack Award,” or make the “Game Night” podium. Every day at CBCG Camp you learn through informative coach and guest pro talks on everything from race nutrition, to recovery, to mental prep, in addition to having a TON of fun. Speaking of nutrition, CBCG Camp meals are prepared by head chef, doubling as head coach, which is to say an awesome coach that can seriously cook: Chris Bagg. His high-quality and lovingly cooked meals are equally pleasing to the palette and MyFitnessPal. I’m sure you’re still wondering how one receives the "Nice Rack Award," so I'll divulge that it was partly because I purchased a sweet new Thule bike rack using a killer discount during our exclusive shopping spree at the Trisports.com retail store. The other part is Amy VT’s (pro-triathlete and Bagg’s wife) sparkling imagination regarding too many indie jokes that occurred during Camp to cover sufficiently.

Little Kids Become Big Kids at Camp

By now you should recognize a resounding theme regarding why I keep investing in Camp. Kids who grow up to be triathletes simply become big kids at Camp. During my most recent experience at Tucson Camp, I got to swim, bike, and run with Heather Jackson, the 3rd place woman at Ironman Championships in Kona last year, solidifying Camp as a big kid playdate at the ultimate playground. It's not always easy to schedule the time off or make note economic investment, but it's' so invaluable to my trading in and solicsl life that I'm heading to my fourth Camp in Bend, OR this month, and I'll keep coming back, which will keep this big kid a Happy Camper for years to come. See you at #CampCampCamp.

8000 feet! Top of the Mt Lemmon climb

8000 feet! Top of the Mt Lemmon climb

How Camp?

Clay Trails run workout at the QT2 Pro Camp

Clay Trails run workout at the QT2 Pro Camp

I'm sitting on a plane from Orlando to Denver, where I'll grab a flight to Tucson later today. The QT2 Systems Pro Camp just finished up yesterday, and I'm traveling camp-to-camp, getting ready to run the first CBCG Tucson Dream Camp later this week with eight lucky and motivated athletes. As one camp ends and another one hurtles towards opening, I thought a brief of review of how camps work for an athlete would be in order.

I've been attending big professional spring training camps for five or six years, now—at least half of my racing career. They've become an essential part of my preparation for each season. Camps have also surged in popularity for age groupers, as coaches and athletes have realized their benefits. Camps provide a ton of benefits, such as (but not limited to!):

  • Time spent with someone looking at your swim/bike/run form and being able to make adjustments to it (preferably, this person is your coach, but it doesn't have to be)
  • A monastery-like environment, where you can focus only on training, eating to support that training, recovering, and learning
  • A burst of enthusiasm for your sport, as you brush up against people you haven't trained with, some of whom are faster than you (motivation) and some of whom you can outpace (satisfaction/confidence)
  • A big dose of stimulus (training) that, given time and recovery, provides a transformation of your athletic abilities

Well, that's great, Chris, you're saying. That all sounds wonderful, but how about some more guidance? How should these be set up? That's a very sound question. Camps should push you beyond your current abilities (in any or all of the areas of endurance, speed, or technique) without putting you in so deep a hole that you are A) injured or B) burnt out. Figuring out where that line is, though, can be quite challenging. Many triathletes—type A personalities that love making lists, tracking data, and "knowing" stuff—want to know exactly where that line is. Unfortunately, I can't give you the complete answer. If the answer were in a dark room, I would love to be able to throw a giant switch and turn on the lights, a theatrical pop and electrical buzz accompanying the illumination. I can, perhaps, give you a flashlight with which to explore.

Over the course of the 17 days at QT2 Camp (February 17th through March 5th) I:

  • Swam 69,942 yards/28,800y per week (about 1600y short of what was planned for me)
  • Rode 785 miles/323 miles per week (managed not to miss any riding)
  • Ran 85.33 miles/35 miles per week (about 30-35 miles short of what was planned for me)

Just so you don't think I'm getting all humble-braggy (or, come to think of it, actual braggy), I'm putting these numbers up there for a reason. Towards the end of camp (the Thursday of last week) my right calf twinged and flared while running up a small hill. It's one of those come-and-go injuries that recedes for about a month, and seemingly returns out of nowhere. I know better than that, especially given my past year's struggle with the various muscles and nerves of my lower body, and I'd ascribe the injury's reappearance as part negligence on my behalf, and part training stress beyond what I've been used to. Over the six weeks coming into camp, I've averaged:

  • 17500 yards per week in the pool
  • 156 miles per week on the bike
  • 23.7 miles per week of running

Those probably seem like relatively modest numbers, but those six weeks were the beginnings of my real training for the year, and include the various zeros that afflict problems with averaging data in the first place. But you can see some general forms taking shape. Camp basically meant multiplying my swim volume by 1.65, doubling my cycling, and should have seen a similar doubling in my run volume (if I'd completed all the prescribed runs, I would have ended up at 120 miles of running over 17 days, or 48 miles per week). I'd say that camp revealed the fact that my swimming and cycling durability is good right now, but my running durability still needs work. 

Gosh, you're saying now. He just keeps talking about himself! When is this going to get pertinent to me? I get it, you're absolutely correct. Here's how I would think about this data, taking into account the fact that every athlete is different and can absorb different kinds of training loads.

  • During a camp or period of higher training load, you can probably absorb up to twice the volume you've put in on your two stronger sports over the previous six weeks. This is such a vague estimate that I'm hesitant to even write it, but the additional rest and recovery and focus that camps provide allow you to get away with this.
  • Your weaker sport, or whichever sport has some injury history in it, should only experience a 1.5 multiple during camps or periods of higher training.
  • Swimming is the safest sport to add volume, as long as your shoulders are healthy
  • Cycling is the next safest sport to add volume, as long as you've had a bike fit or a fit update within the last year
  • Running is the sport most likely to damage you all the time, so be cautious with it.

So, if you're showing up to a camp this week (hint, hint) or have one in the near future, do a little number crunching and come to camp armed with some data for the coaches running camp. It's their job to watch you and get a sense of how you're doing and to pull on the reins a bit, if necessary, but why not make their jobs easier? If you let them know what you've been up to over the past six weeks, they can even better tailor camp to your needs. Remember that camp is not a race, not a competitive event; the person who "wins" camp often ends up injured not too far down the road. Camp is supposed to push you and you alone up to the "stimulus edge," where we're getting maximum benefit without injury. If you get caught up in trying to "tick the box" of every session, you're not training by your needs, you're training by someone's guess as to what your body can handle. As with any coaching relationship, it's up to you and your coach together to locate that stimulus edge, so why not give them a hand?

 

Tucson Dream Camp: Two Days Left!

This Could Be You This March, Training Alongside Heather Jackson...

This Could Be You This March, Training Alongside Heather Jackson...

Camp is closing! Yes, we need to get started making the custom kits you'll be wearing alongside Heather Jackson in Tucson, Arizona this March. This camp is going to be incredible; not only do you get HJ, who finished 3rd at Kona this past fall, you get Rachel McBride, Sean "Wattie" Watkins, Amy VanTassel, and a few other special guests. But it's not just about who you'll meet, it's more about what you'll do. Camp will provide a big boost in your spring fitness, basically getting you an extra week or two of fitness while removing any other stressors in your life. For five days, live like a pro!

 

Speaking of which, you might be wondering how you'll get your bike to the 2017 Inaugural Wattie Ink. Tucson Dream Camp.

You're in luck! Our key sponsor, TriSports.com is offering campers an awesome deal on renting a high-end tri bike for camp. Or, if you'd rather ship or travel with your own ride, TriSports.com is also offering bike assembly at a special price.  

Don't forget the other killer events we have lined up with TriSports.com during camp: a tour of their home base, gear talk by the legendary Seton Clagett, swim analysis session in their endless pool area, various hand-ups and swag, and a special wetsuit try-on and shopping time just for us!

So register here with only two days left for the 2017 Inaugural Wattie Ink. Tucson Dream Camp. In addition to your own custom Wattie Ink. kit featured below, you'll get to enjoy nightly beer pairings from Tucson's finest craft brewery and our camp closing party!  Make your dreams come true in sunny and warm Tucson with CBCG, Wattie Ink., and TriSports.com

Camp Files: Rachel McBride Joins Tucson Dream Camp

McBride at Oceanside 70.3 2015

McBride at Oceanside 70.3 2015

Guess who else will be at the Inaugural 2017 Wattie Ink. Dream Camp in Tucson!  Yup, the "Purple Tiger" herself, pro triathlete Rachel McBride, will be training alongside us in the Arizona sunshine. Rachel recently added to her impressive resume with a 5th place in her debut Iron-distance event at Cozumel this past November.

Registration is closing in nine days, so don't miss out on your opportunity to train alongside Heather Jackson and Rachel McBride, no matter what your level. Just because they are world-class competitors doesn't mean you have to be. Check out our previous participants' testimonials:

"I heard so much about CBCG Camps, but I was more than slightly apprehensive. Not only was I really worried about keeping up with people, but I was most afraid of looking like a total loser. I was so relieved to meet the other campers, who were not only supportive but also encouraging - including the pros!" - Jennifer F.

"Before my first CBCG Camp, I was nervous because I was new to the sport and I didn't know anyone who would be there. The minute I walked through the door, though, I felt immediately welcomed. Thereafter, the time flew by! It is so well organized, and the accommodations and food are above expectations. I'm so glad I took the leap!" - Jake M. 

"Camp is my favorite weekend of the year! The videoed and coached swim sessions provided feedback I used the rest of the year on every swim, and the rides and runs totally gave me confidence when I lined up for my next Ironman!" - Jenny G. 

Only ten days left to register, so don't miss out on your dreams for 2017. Join us for the Inaugural 2017 Wattie Ink. Dream Camp in sunny Tucson, Arizona

Coach Molly Presents: The 2016 Casco Bay SwimRun

Molly and Ed (Team Shitshow), Prepared for...Battle?

Molly and Ed (Team Shitshow), Prepared for...Battle?

by Molly Balfe

On a foggy morning in August, my friend Ed and I stepped off the Chebeague Island Ferry, somewhat prepared for the inaugural Casco Bay SwimRun USA. Ed had been accepted to the event through his success in the dubious sport of winter open water racing, and I had been tapped as his replacement teammate, his original partner sidelined due to the birth of twin girls. Let me back up a moment. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, SwimRun (somewhat unsurprisingly) pairs open water swimming with overland running. Teams of two navigate from island to island while following a predetermined and often unmarked course, all the while tethered to each other by a ten-meter cord. That’s right: you race this event through unfriendly, unclear terrain literally tied to another human. This is one of the odd elements of SwimRun, but by no means the only one. Ahead are my reflections on my first of what I hope to be many SwimRun races. I hope you can benefit from a few of my mistakes. There are many to choose from, but I’ll start with what I did right:

Partner Selection

As I mentioned above, SwimRun is truly a team event. You cannot ignore someone fastened to the end of a rope that is, in turn, fastened to you, and your most critical decision will be choosing that person. I was lucky enough to be racing with an old training and racing buddy, and I suggest you do the same. For your first SwimRun, picking someone who you know, like, and can frequently forgive is of paramount importance. We made a lot of mistakes; we slowed each other down; we got lost; we got frustrated; through it all we had a pretty great time. Ed and I went into this race ready to have fun and learn something about the sport, and I think that attitude served us better than any of our training (this fact is partially because we did a very poor job of training for this event, but I will cover that in a later section). It becomes obvious early on in this kind of racing that you can only go as fast as your weakest team member, so I would urge choosing someone who runs and swims at around the same speed as you. Even with similarly-able athletes, however, a significant potential looms for one person to slow down due to fatigue, gear malfunction, or moment of unparalleled grumpiness. Race with someone whom you trust to watch you fall apart, and with whom you can laugh when things get tough. You will spend a long time with this person (and did I mention the tether?), so you better get along with them. Ed is a significantly faster swimmer than me, and I am a slightly faster runner. This ended up mattering very little, in the end. Ed and I being able to laugh our asses off while ensnared by deadly sea grass ended up mattering quite a bit. 

Gear Selection

My background is in triathlon, so I am no stranger to the endless possibilities of racing gear. That being said, I had no idea what I was in for when I signed up for this event. There are no transition areas in SwimRun, so you carry everything you need for the duration of the race. The water is frequently cold (SwimRun traces its birthplace to Scandanavia), so you need a wetsuit. Running in a wetsuit feels like being inside the hotdog machine at a 7/11, so you cut the wetsuit off at the knees and elbows. You run on trails (I use both “run” and “trails” as a kind of poor translation to what you end up actually doing, and the surfaces you end up doing it on), so you have to wear shoes. Shoes are difficult to swim with, so you bring a pull buoy to help keep your hips up and buy shoes that drain well. Paddles SHOULD make you go faster, so you strap them to your wrists with rubber bands to keep them attached to your body while you’re running. The course is covered with poison ivy in Maine, and probably other stinging foliage in other parts of the world, so compression socks come in real handy. Also, you need a cap, goggles, compass, whistle, waterproof map, tracking beacon, tether, and nutrition. By the time you round up everything you need, you look like a damn fool (see picture, above).

We spent a fair amount of time talking about (notice I didn’t say “training with”) what we should use and figuring out how to securely attach it so it didn’t float away to sea. We ended up tying buoys to our thighs with bungee cord, which worked out really well. Thankfully, Ed had actually tried this in water and found that the cord expands when wet. Tie those ropes up tight! In general, we were incredibly and undeservedly lucky with the gear we chose. My brand new IceBug Acceleritas had about 9 miles on them, and they got through the swim and run portions like gang busters. Ed was smart enough to recommend using Injinji toe socks, and we were both surprised that we were blister-free at the end of our day. Blue Seventy generously sent us fantastic wetsuits, which we defiled with scissors and super glue. The only real mistakes that we made were:

1) The tether – swimming with a tether sucks. We didn’t anticipate that, so we went ahead and never practiced. Not practicing was a mistake. You want the tether to be long enough so that the slower swimmer can draft (or so the crabbier swimmer who threw away his paddles can draft… more on that in a second). You don’t want it to be so long, however, that it gets stuck in the aforementioned sea grass or traps other swimmers as they try to navigate around you. We cut our tether too short, so the drafting/crabby swimmer had to swim right on top of it in order to complete a full arm stroke. It also meant that drafting/crabby swimmer got constantly kicked by the leader’s brand new SwimRun shoes.

2) The paddles – I said it before, and I’ll say it again: Ed is a significantly faster swimmer than I am. I now know, however, that if you want to slow a faster swimmer give him dinner-plate size paddles that he hasn’t trained with and ask him to swim 4 miles in choppy ocean water. Smaller paddles are a much better option: they cause less fatigue and don’t interfere as much with your stroke when swimming in open water. These reasons make it significantly less likely that you will rip them off and throw them away two-thirds of the way through the course (ahem; see above).

Training

I did not train enough for this race. Also, I did not do the right kind of training. My training plan was geared towards the longest swim (which was just over a mile), and it should have been at least a 5K plan. I didn’t train enough with my paddles, so my arms fatigued quickly. This became a major problem as the current in the channels started to pick up. I spent far too little time running on trails and the trails I ran on weren’t comparable to the boulder scrambles where we lost much of our time. Most importantly, I didn’t train enough in race-like conditions with the equipment I would be using on event day. This is a classic mistake of overconfident athletes, and I am appropriately shamed.

Trail "Running"

Trail "Running"

Nutrition

We knew that there would be water and sports drink out on the course, so nutrition wasn’t a huge focus of our race plan. Ed and I both shoved a few gels in our wetsuits in case we needed them, mostly as an insurance plan. We ended up out on the course for several hours longer than we intended, so we did need them and we should have brought more. A few hundred calories would have made a big difference in our day, and would have commuted the number of nasty things we said to each other. Enough said. Moving on. Be prepared, scouts!

Expectations

This sport is new to the United States (Ötillö races have been popular in Scandinavia for years), and there isn’t a lot of information available about it online. I say this to help explain the absolutely unreasonable expectations I had for the race itself and my performance in it. The main thing I should have realized is that the requirement of carrying a map and a compass means you should probably learn how to use them. We were extremely lucky that we raced on a day when the bay wasn’t socked in by fog, so we were able to see points of land to aim for while swimming. We could easily have had to rely on our nonexistent navigation skills, and I have no doubt that poor conditions could have ended our day early. I wasted time worrying about trivial details, like water temperature and the etymology behind Shark Island, and didn’t take advantage of readily accessible information about tides and terrain. We raced on a perfect day, and this was still a challenging course with difficult conditions. It is a mistake to underestimate this event, and the next time I compete I will be better prepared.

This reflection is meant to pass on some of the knowledge that I gained in training for and participating in this event and to remind me of what I learned. Under no circumstances should it dissuade capable athletes from participating. The Casco Bay SwimRun is absolutely one of the most incredible racing experiences of my life. We had the chance to explore islands that few people have ever set foot on and see ruins of WWII artillery fortifications. We were supported by locals who fed us, directed us, and helped us out of the water when we lost our footing. We swam and ran in some of the most beautiful terrain that I have ever been privileged enough to experience. We were given fresh lobsters and canned beer after a challenging and exhausting day. This sport is a little odd, but I can’t wait to suit up again. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long: The 2017 team selections were just announced, and Ed and I are going back for the long course!

Your Author's Reward

Your Author's Reward

Mid-Season Hill Sessions

CBCG athletes attacking hills at our Bend Spring Training Camp

CBCG athletes attacking hills at our Bend Spring Training Camp

by Chris Boudreaux

Hill Repeats constitute a part of almost every training plan I’ve seen.  There are many benefits of hill training: run specific strength, good form (running uphill naturally puts your body in “proper” run form), high intensity quality efforts, so there’s not much reason to write an article touting the benefits of hill running.  But when (and how!) to incorporate hill training into your run is what I’d like to discuss today.

Coaches often prescribe hill work early in the season. Typically short in duration (one to three minutes per interval), usually at a fairly high intensity, they are a great way to start introducing harder work into the initial months of an athlete’s new year. Once April or May rolls around, however, it seems that hill sessions make way for tempo work, speed work, race pace specificity, and hills often get set aside until the following year. This is a mistake. Around 6-8 weeks out from our key races, I will typically bring back the “hill repeat” workout, as a way of sharpening athletes’ race pace work.  Tempo work (steady, longer efforts at or around various race distances do constitute the majority of “in season” work, as it’s the biggest indicator of success at a given race distance, and I set up these intervals to reflect that intensity. The hill adds a degree of difficulty, and doesn’t let the athlete back off the way he or she might be able to do on a track or out on the road.

These hill repeats are typically done as five-minute intervals, on a moderate hill (a 4-5% grade—similar to what you would see on a highway offramp).  We have a great soft surface hill in Portland (Saltzman Road), and I have a designated starting point, arrived at through multiple iterations of this workout.  It was something I found with Terenzo Bozzone (mulitple triathlon world champion), when he used to train here in Portland during the summers.  The five minutes are long enough that sprinting isn’t possible, but short enough to give a very honest effort (right around your 70.3 goal run pace, or open 10k pace). Recoveries are relaxed downhill back to the starting line. 

The total distance and efforts of these runs make up for a solid tempo run—not a true speed or total aerobic efforts. Remember that you will probably have close to a similar time going downhill, so these runs are fairly long (typically 75-100 minutes). As far as a progression week to week (assuming the athlete is absorbing the workouts well and recovering), we don’t increase the time of the interval.  For some reason, to me, 5 is the magic number.  It is a great distance for that uphill effort, allowing you to have a repeatable distance to compare each effort, and efforts from past sessions.  Instead, we increase the number of repeats we do, as well as adding some complimentary work, such as very short pickups to improve leg speed, or some downhill tempo work to make sure we’re not running with the brakes on.

I really love these workouts as one of our key sessions leading into key races.  They are difficult workouts, so I would caution against doing too much.  I wouldn’t prescribe these sessions all season, but at the correct time they can provide a huge boost in performance, just as you’re coming to your “A” priority race.

Sample workouts:

#1

20 min warmup with 6x:30 pickups
4x5 min Hill effort (70.3 race effort) with downhill recovery back to start
Last downhill at tempo effort
10-15 min cool down

#2

20 min warmup w/4x:100 pickups
4x5 min hill efforts (70.3)
After final interval, find a flat section of road or trail
4x2:00 fast (sprint distance effort) w/ 1:00 recovery
10-15 min c/d

#3

20 min warmup w/ 4x1:00 pickups
3x5 min hill effort (Olympic dis effort)
1x10 min flat tempo (70.3 pace)
1x downhill interval with great form
10 min c/d

#4

20 min warmup w/ 4x1:30 building efforts
7x5 min Hill repeats at Ironman effort
w/ last 2 intervals downhill tempo
10-15 min c/

Chris Boudreaux is CBCG's high-performance coach, with more than a decade of racing at the professional level. Check him out here.

What's Your Logistics Plan?

CBCG Pro Andrew Langfield takes the start at Ironman Canada. He's right behind Trevor Wurtele, in the Orca Sonar wetsuit. Andrew finished 10th place in 9:07, bettering his previous Iron-distance PR by about ten minutes.

CBCG Pro Andrew Langfield takes the start at Ironman Canada. He's right behind Trevor Wurtele, in the Orca Sonar wetsuit. Andrew finished 10th place in 9:07, bettering his previous Iron-distance PR by about ten minutes.

Triathletes (well, most athletes, actually) like to talk about plans: pacing plans, nutrition plans, mental plans. There are excellent reasons to do so. Planning structures the future, and allows you to rehearse ahead of time what you want to occur. Even though planning may seem like a pedestrian activity, it's actually a sophisticated mental skill, a close cousin of visualization.

But something I often see athletes leaving out is a logistics plan. They say "Eh, I'll just do what I always do on race weekend," forgetting that the schedule is somewhat out of their hands. These athletes are putting their races at risk by not taking the time to write down the logistics of their particular weekend. One CBCG athlete, recently, showed up at his race only to discover that he hadn't checked when registration closed—it turns out he was an entire day late, and spent the whole day before the race running around, trying to convince the organizers to let him race. He got in, but how easy would it have been to simply read the race schedule for the weekend and have a plan in place ahead of time?

One of our pros, Andrew Langfield, had a breakthrough race a few weekends ago at Ironman Canada, posting the most consistent performance of his career: aiming to swim 59 minutes, he swam 55; aiming to ride 4:50, he rode 5:00 (but built his heart rate perfectly over the ride); aiming for 3:05 in the marathon, he ran an impressive 3:04:51. In the final week before the race, I asked him for a logistics plan for race morning. Andrew is a laid-back guy, and has often rolled into race weekend casually. That's great for being relaxed on race day, but, as pointed out above, you can leave some things to chance. Whistler is a logistically challenging course: there are two transition zones; there is a shuttle you have to get on before the start; the race starts early. Here's the plan Andrew came up with:

3:45 - wake up, eat applesauce/banana, load up
4:00 - in the car
4:45 - arrive in Whistler village, drop off special needs bag, go put banana in run gear bag
5:00 - in line for the shuttle
5:30 - hopefully at T1 by now, drop off bike gear bag, go put shoes and gels on bike, top off tire pressure
5:45 - quick run
6:00 - porta-potty, start getting into wetsuit, caffeine pill
6:15 - in the water
6:30 - out for a gel, kiss Elena
6:45 - race starts! (I'll be a 2.5 out of 5)

I love this, especially the fact that he put his energy level goal (2.5 out of 5, which is the arousal level we aimed for). On race day, he simply walked through this schedule, never worried or freaked out, and arrived at the start line ready to perform. 9:07 later, he'd put up the race of his life.

Garmin Best Practices

Garmin Best Practices

Someone a lot smarter than I am told me, once: "If you don't ask for what you want, you'll never get what you're looking for." As race season builds into a flurry of race plans, race reports, and weekly workout updates, your CBCG coach is swimming in data. Now, we don't mean to be picky, but there are ways you can set up your Garmin devices (well, any devices, but Garmin is the big player in this field and—full disclosure—a sponsor of mine, so they get top billing today) that make it easier for your coach to interpret your data and get you the best feedback possible.

Sharpen, Don't Taper

The author, fit and sharp, at Challenge Atlantic city in 2014, where he finished 3rd

The author, fit and sharp, at Challenge Atlantic city in 2014, where he finished 3rd

By Chris Boudreaux

“Taper time!  Time to put the legs up and relax till race day!”
“The hay is in the barn!”
“Last long run done! Time to chill…#tapertime”

How often do you see (or say) something along those lines in the last few weeks before a big race, like an Ironman or a marathon?  Pretty much all the time, especially if you’re on twitter and follow a bunch of other distance athletes.  And it’s not that they are completely wrong.  Of course, if you’ve been doing a big training block leading into a major event, you will reduce the training load.  And there will be a focus on rest and recovery and making sure you’re 100% on race day.  But there’s a key word there many of us miss- FOCUS. 

There are a ton of articles and opinions on an ideal taper leading into events, but I’m sorry, over the years I’ve seen tons of different ways to approach a race as far as the % of workout reduction, specific workouts, etc…that have all worked.  I’m not saying that there isn’t good, bad, great ways to taper, but I think the mental focus during that time is the most important.

When you think of a “taper," we think of down time, less work, more rest, basically a little off-season.  But what happens when you take your off-season break?  You won’t lose a ton of fitness over a few weeks, but try to go run a great track workout in the middle of November or December a month after your last race…Not fun, right?  There’s some physical sluggishness, but it’s overwhelmingly mental.  Your body and your mind are just not ready to work like that.  You’ve told your body that we’re resting, and guess what? That’s exactly what it wants to do.  So when we do the same thing in the last 2 to 3 weeks before our most important race of the year, why are we surprised when we feel flat and sluggish and “off” on race day?

It’s not that exact of a science to be already to go for a 8-17 hour event.  You just don’t need to be that perfect.  You need sharpness, but not as much physical sharpness as if you were running the 100meters (or even the 5-10k).  You need to be healthy, engaged, and be ready to work.  Think Sharpening VS Tapering.

When you think about sharpening over the last few weeks, you think of more focus, more attention to detail, more time spent preparing for the event.  So while that includes a workload reduction, that doesn’t include less preparation and attention to detail then what you’ve done over this 8-12 week block to prepare you.  You should get dressed the same, warmup the same, eat properly, everything you’d do for that huge ride or run a few weeks back.  Total focus and concentration on the task at hand.  Sharp. Focused. Ready to give 100%.  So even your 20 minute run w/ 30 second pickups has the same level of focus and attention that the 2 hour run with Ironman intervals did.

When you sharpen, everything you do over those last few days or weeks is preparing your mind and body for the task at hand.  When you feel like you’re resting and relaxing for 2 weeks, then asking your mind and body to be “on” for a huge event, it’s a recipe for disaster.  Use that time to be fully prepared, and then “taper” into your off season, the real time to relax and check out.

Things to Think About, Chapter One: The Book of Tri

Our author, on one of his many multisport adventures.

Our author, on one of his many multisport adventures.

I took part in my first triathlon in 1983. I was young and eager to race, and tried to find a race every weekend. I breathed the sport. Back then news about events, results, professionals, and products lurked in corners of the country. Still, I found my way to as many as I could find, going off of rumors and tips. I could not get enough. Still, even accounting for my obsession, I never dreamt that the sport would become such a big part of my life. Yet here I am, running a triathlon store, coaching triathletes, and promoting the Portland Triathlon each fall. The sport has become my life—and not simply from an athletic perspective.

If we’re lucky we get many chapters in our book of life. I’m very lucky to count Chrissie Wellington as a friend, and when she retired a few years ago, many of us were shocked. But Chrissie reminded all of us that there were many things she still wanted to do with her existence, and she’s attacked her list with the same verve and commitment that made her one of the best athletes of all time, regardless of sport.

Since you’re reading this blog post right now, I’m guessing that you’re still firmly in the triathlon chapter of your life. That’s awesome! I’m glad you’re here. I get the honor of meeting many athletes like you, and they all come to the sport with some kind of goal: perform, participate, or connect. Regardless of the goal, something I often see in the store is that people come into the sport, throw themselves into it completely for a few years, and then move on to something else, to some other chapter. I don’t see much middle ground.

For athletes like Chrissie, it made sense to move on from the sport—it was time, she literally had nothing left to prove; she’d accomplished everything she’d set out to do in the sport. But comparing ourselves to athletes at that level can muddy the waters for the rest of us. The real question is what do we want to accomplish in the sport? What, many years from now, do we want to feel proud of? Having goals for races is great, but triathlon can supply us with life goals, as well, keeping us healthy and active well into our later years, and arming us with a career of memories we can deploy with our friends, enriching the lives around us.

When I picked up the sport, I had no idea where it would take me, but here I am, many years later, having made a life partnership with triathlon. Like any long term relationship, there have been good patches and bad, sickness and health, but its companionship has shaped my life for the better, as long as I respected and honored it in return. I’ve gone through periods of obsession, and periods where the sport lived on the fringes of my existence; through it all, though, I’m happy to say the relationship has been balanced, and the things I’ve gotten back from my investment—things like lifelong friends, beautiful memories, and amazing places visited—have lingered long after my results have faded from memory.

Meet Molly

Molly Balfe has coached across the country, in many different capacities, for over a decade. She's participated in triathlon and swimming, but keeps looking for new and cool events, such as swimming 10k across the Bermuda Sound. Passionate, caring, and deeply knowledgeable, she's a perfect fit at CBCG.

Molly Balfe has coached across the country, in many different capacities, for over a decade. She's participated in triathlon and swimming, but keeps looking for new and cool events, such as swimming 10k across the Bermuda Sound. Passionate, caring, and deeply knowledgeable, she's a perfect fit at CBCG.

When I met Molly Balfe, over a year ago, my first thought was "How have I not met this person in Portland's triathlon community?" She struck me, right away, as fun, committed to improving her athletes' abilities and her own coaching knowledge base, and sharp as a tack. I couldn't be happier, then, to announce the fact that she's accepted a position at Chris Bagg Coaching Group, bringing her years of experience to our body of coaches.

As with many of the CBCG coaches, Molly draws upon a strong swimming background, coming from a US Swimming history in her youth. She leveraged that knowledge into teaching swimming and water safety in the New York City public school system, and then continued her work with kids here in Oregon and Washington, increasing physical activity and improving nutritional choices in those educational settings.

Molly is passionate about triathlon as a sport but also as a lifestyle, she told me. Time goals are good motivators, she notes, but really she wants to encourage genuine enjoyment and personal development in all the athletes with whom she works. When I heard her say this, I knew she'd be a great fit, as those are the values we hold dear at CBCG: going fast is part of our DNA, but having fun and being nice make up a crucial part of our working ethos. Molly is committed to helping athletes find a balance that pushes them to exceed their goals without sacrificing their overall happiness. She's coached for Team In Training, JackRabbit Sports, Asphalt Green, and our own partner Tri Team PDX. 

Doesn't this sound perfect? Yes, I think it does, too. Molly will help you meet your goals, and make you a happier, more well-rounded person. If you want what she's able to give you, go visit her coaching page here and start that journey today!

The Cuban Missile

Ivan Dominguez is one of the most decorated sprinters in the professional peloton over the past fifteen years. He can be your coach, too. Ivan's mix of knowledge, professionalism, and empathy make him a perfect fit at CBCG—a model of how we want our coaches to work. Want to learn more? Visit his coaching page and get started today. This article originally on the Wattie Ink website, where Ivan now races professionally as a triathlete.

Ivan Dominguez is one of the most decorated sprinters in the professional peloton over the past fifteen years. He can be your coach, too. Ivan's mix of knowledge, professionalism, and empathy make him a perfect fit at CBCG—a model of how we want our coaches to work. Want to learn more? Visit his coaching page and get started today. This article originally on the Wattie Ink website, where Ivan now races professionally as a triathlete.

In October of last year Ivan Dominguez, a Cuban-American who’d recently taken up triathlon, nursed his new car—its transmission failing—through the outskirts of Las Vegas, less than 18 hours ahead of his first half-iron, Silverman 70.3. He managed to pick up his packet and drop his run shoes at T2 before limping to a local dealer, who told him the repair would be $4000. Not having the time to make a suddenly expensive decision, Dominguez rented a car, piled his bike into its trunk, dropped it off at T1, and managed to get in the water for a short swim as the sun was going down. “I didn’t get to the hotel until after eight o’clock,” he told me.  “I was totally wrecked from the day.” He choked down some food and went to bed, sleeping fitfully, and rose at four.

            After a solid swim he banged out the second fastest ride of the day, only sacrificing one second to that year’s eventual professional winner,  Drew Scott. “After going crazy on the bike I was feeling pretty wasted,” he said, but ran strong enough to win the amateur title by four minutes. He came in 7th overall, beating a handful of strong professionals. After the race he realized he had no way of retrieving his rental car, and finally bummed a ride back to the lake at 6 pm, hours after the race had concluded. He returned the rental and crashed on a friend’s couch for three days, waiting for his own car’s repair. “You cannot plan on being late,” he told me, reprising the whole affair. “You have to be prepared, though, for lots of crazy things to happen. You have to go with the flow.”

            Dominguez is no stranger to crazy things and trying to stay relaxed. An elite road and track cyclist in Cuba, he traveled to the United States in 1997 for one of the track World Cup races. Upon returning home to Cuba after the race he bumped into one of his friends who, surprised to see him again, said “You didn’t stay there? Why didn’t you stay?” Dominguez told me it hadn’t occurred to him before the trip, but now his friend had planted the seed. “I saw the other older racers in Cuba—once they stopped getting results, they didn’t get any support any more from the federation. A lot of them ended up with nothing, working in the street. I started making a plan.” He came back to the States in 1998 for the Goodwill Games and called his uncle in Miami. The first thing his uncle asked him was “Are you going to defect?” His uncle gave him a number to call of a friend in New York, who agreed to meet Dominguez at seven in the morning, a few streets from the hotel where the Cuban team was staying. The friend was late. “I started seeing police cars on the streets, headed for the hotel. Lots of flashing lights. I thought ‘Those guys are looking for me!’” Eventually—an hour after the arranged time—a van pulled up, the window rolled down, and a man inside asked “Are you Ivan? We’ve got to get out of here.”

            A week later he was in Miami, living with his uncle. He took one of the newspapers with his picture on it (“CUABN CYCLIST DEFECTS!”) and his passport and went to immigration. “It was easier for Cubans, and an easier time for immigration in general,” he said. “I showed the woman my stuff and she said ‘Oh, cool. OK, here, sign these, and you’ll get your green card in a few weeks.’” He got his green card, got a job, and didn’t touch his bike for nine months. “I was so tired from cycling,” he said. “From 1993 to 1998 I would race eight to ten week-long stage races a year and ride on the track full time. I was the best rider in Cuba, but I was trashed.”

            He worked quietly, lived with his uncle, learned English, and started riding again about a year later, winning local races on “almost no training at all.” He joined the Saturn Professional Cycling Teamin 2001 and then embarked on the journeyman career of a pro cyclist in the United States: different teams each few years as the teams folded; not much in the way of prize money; tons of time on the road. Despite the conditions, Dominguez won at almost every major race in the US, winning bunch sprints all over the country for a handful of teams, earning the eventual nickname “The Cuban Missile.” He retired in 2010, closing out twenty years of racing on the bike.

            “In Cuba,” he told me, “The offseason for cyclists is different from here. Here you guys don’t do much—maybe lift some, or do some skiing. In Cuba we just swim and run in the offseason, maybe lift a little. So when I thought about doing triathlon I already knew how to swim, how to run.” He started racing in 2014, found success quickly, and qualified to race professionally after Silverman. “If I was going to do it,” he told me, “I wanted to do it really well.”

Learn more about Ivan and his coaching here.

Losing It

As athletes who enjoy the act of moving and competing, we all tend to focus on the training side of sport's equation, working towards getting faster or more enduring. This tendency is good: it keeps us thinking about the positive and fun aspects of triathlon, cycling, running, or swimming. We think about technique, interval sessions, improving our functional power, our catch-and-pull, our mile repeat time. At a certain point, however, we realize that there are other avenues to improvement. Strength training is one example. Mental skills are another. Today, though, we're going to talk about weight loss.

To paraphrase some professional cyclists, losing five pounds was always preferable to any kind of fitness gain (legal or otherwise). Changing your body composition (for running and cycling, at least) provides the biggest change in performance possible. For every pound you lose, you can expect a .62% and .42% improvement on the run and bike, respectively (data from the excellent QT2 Systems). This assumes the athlete has fat to lose—if you don't have fat to lose, then stop reading this post. So what does that mean in real numbers? Well, if you lose ten pounds, you'd expect a 6% improvement in your running performance and a 4% improvement in your cycling performances. Let's consider an 11-hour Ironman athlete with a six hour bike and 3:45 run. After having lost the weight, he or she now rides 5:45 and runs 3:30—a 30 minute reduction!

Yeah, yeah, you're saying, easy for you to say. Losing weight is hard. Well, yes. Losing weight is hard. As athletes, we're used to doing stuff, instead of not doing stuff (which is what losing ten pounds means: not doing a lot of the stuff you're used to). So I'm going to use an actual case study, here. Greg D is pictured above late last summer at around 164, and then to the right last week, before his PR-performance at the Boston Marathon, where he weighed 152 pounds. Greg qualified for Boston last April at the Paris Marathon, running 3:09:24 on a pancake flat course. Last week he ran 3:08:32 at Boston, which is not pancake flat. Boston is a brutal marathon course: you run downhill for almost 16 miles, and then you cycle through a series of hills in the town of Newton (the infamous Heartbreak Hill is really a group of five hills). Usually, you'd expect to run five to six minutes slower than your PR marathon, so probably around 3:15 for Greg. Instead, given the ten pound loss (and an excellent training cycle leading into the race—let's not forget that you have to do the work, too), he ran close to seven minutes faster than what we'd expect, given his time at Paris last year. You can see how much skinnier he looks above, despite the Beer Mile t-shirt he sported to the Boston Expo.

So how did he do it? Well, Greg and I measured his body fat at 20.4% in early January, which meant he definitely had body fat to lose. Given that number, his body weight (low-to-mid 160s), and his training, we targeted 2300 calories per day, of those about 50% carbohydrate, and an even split of fat and protein. He was supposed to get his carbohydrates primarily from fruits and vegetables, with his high glycemic carbohydrates (breads, grains, rices, pastas, cereals, quinoa, etc...) coming only before and after workouts. We used MyFitnessPal to track his food. I suggested a two-week period, but Greg got really accustomed to tracking his intake and never stopped. He was really hungry for a week, and then his body adjusted, and weight started to come off. By early April (two weeks before the marathon) he was a much leaner 12.5% body fat.

The key to Greg's success, I'd say, was making the food logging a habit. Research shows that if you do something (floss, quit drinking, bilateral breathe) for 21 days, you're very likely to keep doing it for a long time. Greg committed to the food logging, and to hitting his target every day. Now, he says it's simple. We gave him a night off his plan once a week, so he stayed in the game. But more than anything it was just this commitment to developing a new habit—once he did that, the whole question of "willpower" wasn't pertinent any more; he had simply changed his habits.

Bend 2016 Camp Update: Beer Parings, Ride With GPS, Powerbar, TYR, Nuttzo

Camp is almost exactly seven weeks away! How did that happen? Regardless, we've still been working steadily to make the experience awesome, and here are some highlights.

Beer Pairings!
Two local breweries, Deschutes Brewery and 10-Barrel Brewing, have offered to pair their beer with five nights of food at camp! Here's what you'll be sampling along with our trademark amazing food:

  • Friday, May 27th Carnitas Tacos and Vegetarian Tamales with Deschutes Brewery Hop Slice Session IPA
  • Saturday, May 28th Coconut Pumpkin Curry and Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter
  • Sunday, May 29th Pork Belly (and meat-free) Gluten Free Macaroni and Cheese with 10-Barrel Sinistor Black Ale
  • Wednesday, June 1st Roast Chicken with Beets and Sweets and Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale
  • Thursday, June 2 Pork Green Chili with 10-Barrel Joe IPA

Ride With GPS
All joking aside, someone does usually make a wrong turn at some point during camp. We haven't lost anyone yet, but this year we're taking things a step further. Ride With GPS, a Portland-based route-planning company, is offering everyone at our camp a premium membership for the month, through their club option. You'll be able to download routes ahead of time to your bike computer, watch, or phone, and navigate no matter if you have cellular service or not!

Powerbar is back! Nuttzo Nut Butters, and TYR Sport Join as Sponsors
I'm very pleased that Powerbar is returning as nutrition sponsor. We'll be well-outfitted with bars and gels all weekend long. Nuttzo Nut Butters, an awesome and conscientious company, will be providing every single participant with a 16-oz jar of their incredible product. We'll be using it in some of our dishes, too, so you'll get to see it in action. Finally, TYR Sport is providing a set of Mentor Hand Paddles for everyone at camp.

Not yet registered for camp? We'd love to have you. There are 5-day and 10-day options, and you can register here, via Athletepath.

Why Camps?

This article originally appeared on the Fuse Lenses blog

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 right now, 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 are putting 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. Five or ten days of hard training, amazing lectures, incredible home-cooked meals, lodging in beautiful Bend houses, and community unlike any other camp. Join us here.

Sick Happens

Well, not sick, but she DOES have an IV line in.

Well, not sick, but she DOES have an IV line in.

Some of my athletes are sick right now. That's not too surprising, given the late-winter date on the calendar, the incessant rain in Portland (not that I'm suggesting cold and wet weather leads to sickness—that is a hard-to-kill old wive's tale; cold and wet, however, does promote an environment for the viruses that may be hoovering around your particular airspace: more noses run, more snot is left unwiped on door handles, more fluids and molecules get exchanged than normal), and the fact that, if you're reading this blog, you're at greater risk for sickness, given the extra stress you're putting on your body through training. So let's imagine that you've come down with something.

First of all, it's totally understandable that you're worried. You've been training hard throughout the spring, building your threshold power on the bike, improving your run endurance, and working on technique in the pool. Your first big race is less than four weeks away, and you feel like you're on track to better your performance from last year, which was a strong performance in the first place. And then you get sick, and not just congestion/head-cold sick, but, like, Influenza sick, like if-it-were-the-1920's-there's-a-50-50-chance-you-would-die sick. You can't go to work for days; you can't really get out of bed. Your boss calls you up and, rather than thinking you're skipping work, he ends the conversation concerned for you. You're out for at least a week. What do you do?

This is where this blog post takes a bit of a turn (or, at least, I hope it does). There is a real guideline to follow with sickness, which I'll lead with here: If you're sick, wait until you feel COMPLETELY NORMAL (100% back to normal), and then...WAIT ONE MORE DAY. Yes, you read that correctly. Wait until you feel perfect, and then wait another day. I can't tell you how many times I've told this to athletes, and then heard something like "Well, I think I'm OK. I've still got a bit of a sore throat and a head cold, but I could probably train." A week later, the cold is back, and the intervening week of training is pretty much wasted.

But I get it. Not training feels calamitous. It feels as if you're sliding back into your pre-season lack of fitness. You've spent money on travel, on a race, on a coach (I hope). The thought of doing nothing for a week is terrifying. And here's where I hope you'll learn something from this blog. The basic guideline is simple (wait until 100%; wait one more day), but the execution can be excruciating. Here's a chance to do some mental training, while you're sick.

  1. Why is it excruciating? What about losing a week of training threatens your sense of identity as an athlete? Or, to put it more bluntly, what are you afraid of losing?
  2. Now that you've admitted what you're afraid of losing, keep following that thread. If you lose that thing, what's next? What else will you lose? What's at risk if you take a week off of training?
  3. Keep heading on down the ladder, until you get to the very bottom. It'll probably be something you didn't expect, something like "people will know that I'm a fraud," or "everyone will be proved right about me."
  4. Now take a step back and see how far apart Point A (taking a week off from training) and Point B (everyone knows I'm a fraud) are, in fact. This greater sense of perspective might expose to you that the only person making this training interruption calamitous is, in fact, you.
  5. Sorry about that. Didn't mean to make you feel worse. It's important, though, that you recognize this is coming from your own personal demons.

Now it's time to start the journey back up. I hope that by forcing yourself through that exercise you may see that your reaction outstrips reality (is taking a week off of training really going to change how anyone thinks about you? Very likely not; in fact, those people you're worried about really aren't thinking about you that much, anyway; probably something like 30-60 seconds per week, max). With a little perspective you can start seeing the fact that your season is quite long, and a week's interruption won't change much. And if you rush back and get sick again, you've just created a much bigger and longer interruption.

So I (or any one of the CBCG coaches) can say this to you until we're blue in the face, but what we really want is to get there alongside you. There's a great saying in coaching and teaching: "tell me and I forget; teach me and I may remember; involve me and I'll learn." What we're after, here, is mastery of your particular sport. What is mastery? It means, well, literally mastering your sport, being able to direct your ability and your intent on your own, in the moment, without someone else's direction. As coaches (and, in particular, endurance coaches) there is nothing we can do for you while you're in competition. You are largely alone. So what we want for you is the ability to make decisions on your own, respond to new information, and thrive no matter the environment. Learning how to deal with sickness can become a microcosm for being a better athlete. The first few times you get sick you'll want to rush back. Your coach will remind you, gently, to wait. The first few times you won't listen, and you'll be sick again in a week. Then you have a chance to take control of it yourself, owning it and taking the break you need to take. Together, with your coach, you monitor your situation day-by-day, and make the call to come back after a full day of feeling 100%. You don't get sick again. You go on to have an excellent sharpening period before that big race. You do better than you anticipated, probably due to the rest you put in while convalescing (the sporting world is full of stories like this). So that's nice, but the real benefit is that you've taken a step towards mastery of the sport. You're on your way to becoming more of a collaborator with your coach, rather than a mule who just does what's he or she is told. This is how every high-achieving, high-level athlete I know works. They are happier, more confident, and freer in everything they do, inside and outside of sport. They have mastered not only the sickness thing, but they've probably mastered most of their craft, as well.

Coconut Squash Panang (Nuttzo) Curry with Tofu

IMG_3953.jpeg

One thing endurance athletes always struggle with is getting enough quality food. Amy and I do this thing sometimes when we get home from training that we call "Garbage Eating." I'm sure you're already getting a sense of what we're talking about. We come home, famished, from a swim/bike/run/lift, open the cupboards and the refrigerator, and start eating everything. We're soon full, but who knows about the quality of what we just ate?

A few years ago, Amy left me a recipe clipping somewhere, physically or virtually, for a coconut panang curry with tofu. It got me thinking about this amazing pumpkin curry I ate, in all seriousness, in The Dalles three years ago. The recipe she'd left me didn't feature a vegetable, so I picked up a butternut squash while doing the shopping, and came home to give the curry I try. Panang curries are usually milder, sweeter dishes than the fierier red and green versions, and often include peanuts or peanut butter in their construction. After cooking the recipe for a few years, and after discovering Nuttzo Nut Butters, I thought about changing the recipe again to accommodate the new ingredient. The result is a nutrient-dense, filling, delicious, one-pot meal. As a side benefit, it's vegan, if that's important to you (but check your curry paste for fish sauce!). Amy and I aren't vegan, but meat consumption is pretty ecologically disastrous, so we keep it limited.  We'd been eating this for about a year before realizing it was not only vegetarian, but vegan, so our Portland cred is a-ok.

Coconut Squash Panang Curry with Tofu and Nuttzo Nut Butter

1 shallot
1" peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons turmeric
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon panang curry paste (I use a brand called "Thai True" that is local to Oregon and kicks ass)
1/4 cup Nuttzo Power Fuel Nut Butter
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 cup water
2 14 oz. cans light coconut milk
1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
zest of two limes
juice of two limes
2 14 oz. packages of firm tofu
Thai basil or cilantro
Limes, quartered

Chop shallot into fine dice. Grate ginger on a box grater or microplane. Heat oil in a large, deep pot. Sweat the shallot and ginger, stirring frequently to keep the ginger from sticking. Do not brown the shallot! Once the shallot has softened and turned translucent, add the spices and curry paste. Cook for a minute, continuing to stir, until the mixture is fragrant and sticky. Add the nut butter, the brown sugar, and the water. Stir until well blended. Turn heat to low and add the coconut milk and chopped squash. Add a good amount of salt, probably just north of a tablespoon. Add the lime zest and lime juice. Let mixture come back up to a low simmer. As the squash cooks, the curry should reduce and thicken somewhat. You're aiming for a consistency that will coat the back of a spoon. Once the squash is cooked through (probably 15-20 minutes) cut the tofu into 1/2" squares and add to the pot. Let the tofu heat through completely (remember the cardinal rule of tofu: very hot or very cold—never warm) and serve over white or brown rice with chopped thai basil or cilantro, adjusting your seasoning as you take it to the table. Leave each diner with a quartered lime.

Where Do You Want To Go This Year?

I’ve been listening to the podcast Startup a lot, recently, and by “a lot,” I mean I’ve been chain-listening them, making it through five to six episodes a day, like a Battlestar Galactica fan on a bad jag. Maybe don’t click away from this blog post, just yet, if you’ve never listened to Startup, but as soon as you’re done here, go there. I’ve been obsessed because, like any narcissist, I can’t look away from something that reflects my experience. Startup follows, well, a podcasting company called Gimlet Media as it moves through the throes of starting up. Here at Chris Bagg Coaching Group I’ve been fascinated and terrified by all the same things, recently: how do you expand? How do you hire employees? How do you find athletes for your new employees? How do you manage communication? Compensation? How do you stay true to what you’ve done that’s gotten you to this point in the first place? How do you navigate the law? What does a business plan even look like?

Whenever I start to lose my way in the forest of these questions, I do something my wife, Amy, suggests: “Look at your to-do list. I know it’s too big, OK? We all have too much to do. OK, are you looking at it? Pick THREE things, three things you know you can do today, and commit to getting them done today.” Sounds easy, right? Well, it’s 5:54 on a Monday evening, and “FINISH BLOG POST FOR NEW WEBSITE” is burning a hole in my conscience. Where has the day gone? Well, that’s easy. There’s training, talking to athletes, answering emails, managing finances, having meetings with prospective coaches and prospective athletes. If I stick with it, I’ll get this post finished and make good on my list for the day.

So what’s at work here? It’s pretty simple, actually: it’s just another version of goal-setting, something athletes everywhere are doing in this inaugural month of the year. January is a magical month for athletes, I think. The ashy vestiges of last season, December, are gone, and a whole clean year stretches ahead, punctuated by races you and your coach have picked out for 2016. There’s a reason TrainingPeaks calls this time of year #dreamingseason, a wonderful description of that feeling that anything is possible, and achieving your goals is simply a matter of articulating them and then letting them occur.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Your athletic year, my athletic year, like my business, requires not only clear goals but obvious steps along the way to those goals. I’ve worked with athletes who treated goal-setting as simply writing down “get top-ten at Nationals,” and then say they’re done. Goal-setting is a dynamic exercise: the end result stays the same, but the manner of getting there changes regularly. My sports psychologist, Brian Baxter, at SPINw (Sports Pyschology Instiute Northwest: go look them up, he’s the best), has a great way of setting goals that I’ve adopted (many of my athletes, reading this, will say “Ah, that’s where he got this). Ready? OK, here we go.

Grab a piece of paper. At the top left, write “Long Term Goals, to be completed by ______________.” In that blank, fill in something like “End of season 2018.” That’s right. We’re setting goals that you won’t accomplish until just under three years from now! This is a great chance for you to think about this. Just what DO you want to accomplish by then? Complete your first Ironman? Qualify for Kona? Upgrade to a certain cyclocross category? Lose ten pounds? This is a super long term goal, but it should be your BIG goal, maybe the one you don’t like saying to people. Here are mine:

Long Term Goals (by end of season 2018): 

• Win AT LEAST one big race (Any WTC 140.6 or 70.3, Wildflower, Challenge Penticton, or Challenge Almere).
• Develop a race-to-win mentality
• Qualify for Kona as a professional.

Those are pretty lofty goals! They scare me, putting them out there, but that’s what your long term goals should do: motivate you, provide a sense of purpose and perspective.


Next, right down “This Year: 2016.” Write down what you’d like to have accomplished by the end of 2016. Imagine it’s a year from now; you’re sitting by your fireplace, drinking mulled wine and eating a candy cane. What have you done that you’re incredibly proud of? Has it moved you in the direction of your long-term goals? Because that’s really important: this year-end goal has to have moved you a step closer to your big, long-term goals. 

My 2016 goals:

• Win Wildflower
• Threshold bike power to 400 from 373.
• Run 2:55 at Ironman Mont-Tremblant
• Swim sub-25 consistently at 70.3, and sub-51 at 140.6 distances, respectively.


Next, write down “Monthly: by ____________.” In the blank, fill in the date one month from today. Set three goals. Each one should set you on a course to one of your yearly goals.

My January Goals (by 2/11/2015):

• Make every Tuesday/Thursday C-Velo class (a high-intensity bike studio here in Portland; check them out, because it’s awesome).
• Weigh 176 pounds (down two pounds from my current 178).
• Swim 4900 yards in the USMS one-hour postal on 1/31.


Now, write down “Weekly: by ______________.” In the blank, fill in the date one week from today. Write down 2-3 things YOU KNOW you can accomplish (full-circle, right?) this week that will put you on course for your monthly goals.

My Weekly Goals (by 1/18/2015):

• No dessert!
• Fuel your bike sessions properly (25-50g of carbohydrate in the hour beforehand, and consume a recovery drink afterward!
• Workout first (before other work like email) on 1/11, 1/13, 1/16, and 1/17.


Finally, write down “Daily Habits of Mind.” These aren’t goals, per se, but things you want to remember during the week, to repeat, like a mantra. Mine, recently, is “Why not me?” Why shouldn’t I win a race? What do my competitors have that I don’t? Possibly quite a lot, but I’ll never know if I don’t honestly think I can win a race.

There we go. Done. Now comes the tough part: repeat this exercise once a week. Sound onerous? Just give it a shot. You’ll be amazed what the you of next week thinks of your goals from the previous week. You’ll also be incredibly proud of the goals you managed to accomplish, and the ones you didn’t will leer up at you from the sheet of paper. Your long-term and yearly goals are unlikely to change, but don’t take the cheater’s path of copy-and-pasting them to this week’s goals sheet. Completely rewrite them, so you get the experience of seeing yourself making the goal. They’ll become more real (and more scary) each time you commit them to text. Your monthly and weekly goals, and your daily habits of mind are likely to change each time you do the exercise, but make sure you don’t let yourself off the hook with those monthly goals as you make new ones!

So this is what I’m doing, then, in my sporting life, but also in my business life. CBCG is growing. More then a decade ago, talking with my dad about what I wanted to do, eventually, I said something like “I don’t know…I guess I’d like to own my own business.” Here I am, having completed a long-term goal for my life. I have goals for each of my coaches this year, and goals for my athletes. Taken together, they make a marvelous map, like those “where we fly” maps in the backs of airline magazines: so many destinations, so many routes, all of them wonderful, all of them taking us, inexorably, into the future.