Understanding Ironman Performance


Today, I’ll share some ideas about an area where I have direct personal experience.  What it takes for regular people to go from ordinary to extraordinary.  Like you, I enjoy reading the blogs of top coaches and world champions.  However, your body might have more in common with my journey than what we might read in the magazines.

On Tuesday, I shared some thoughts on good vs great on the main Endurance Corner site.  One of the neat things about life is we never really know what is going to happen until we give it a shot.  For a guy that never thought of himself as an athlete, triathlon was a fantastic find.  Keep searching until you find your thing!

January is the month where we can come up with really silly ideas.  Two errors that I’m seeing a lot:

#1 – the desire for an “intensity block” // nearly always with an athlete that’s been sick, or injured, or both (!) in the last eight weeks.  It must be an occupational hazard that triathletes dream up crazy stuff when they are flat on their backs.  I’ve been there, myself.

#2 – requests for validation for training at higher heart rates // “because I’m rested.”

To those requests I’ll remind you that you can only sharpen the base that you’ve created (via @alan_couzens) and heart rate is a proxy for stress (via me).

If you want to improve then you need to be thinking strategically about what’s required to achieve your objective.  Mindlessly blasting yourself because you’re scared that you’ve detrained a little is a complete waste of time.


Let’s review the physical requirements for athletic success:

  • The ability to apply force in a sport specific manner
  • The capacity to sustain the application of force
  • The skill to perform the activity quickly

In Joe Friel’s performance triangle, he calls these force, endurance and speed.  Remember that force needs to be specific; and speed is quickness, not velocity.  

To those three I would add – durability – the capacity to sustain load over time.  To enhance our durability, in the winter, we can:

  • Avoid material weight gain
  • Improve whole-body strength
  • Limit losses of lean body mass – it might not matter in 2011 but it sure will in 2031
  • Adopt a high frequency, moderate intensity, run program

You’re going to be tempted to recover your late season fitness.  However, if you chill out and focus on the basics then you are guaranteed to get back there.  The only thing that can screw you up is illness, injury or burnout.  If you can simply stay-in-the-game you’ll return to last season’s performance.  It’s normal, but irrational, to expect that it’s all gone unless you take drastic winter action.

By rushing, you’ll be right back to your “decent” fitness far too early and limit your ability to breakthrough to a new level.  

Do you have any (!?) idea about what’s required to achieve your goal performance?  Most of us know more about what (we think) it takes to win Ironman Hawaii than to achieve our own goals.

I’ve known for a long time that I needed to be able to output 275 watts for four hours (swim/bike/run) to get under 4 hours for a 70.3 race.  That was a key consideration for what drove my training in 2009/2010.  

Do you know what it takes?  Are you putting the pieces in place for what it takes?

Ask the questions because spending the winter seeking to bump your FTP by 7% might be a complete waste of time.  You’d probably be better off with a few really big swim weeks; or getting strong; or improving your run technique; or just about anything else that’s liked to the fundamentals of IM performance.

Work in a way designed to improve the specific result you want to achieve.  I do a lot of general preparation because it is the best way for me to absorb load and prepare myself for the sessions required for success.  It’s also really safe – I get tired, I bounce back, I repeat the process.


On Tuesday, I did my first benchmarking test of the year.  The results are above, and typical for when I’m de-trained.  The test is simple, start at a low power level (125w in my case); use 5 min steps; and make step height small enough so you get to “see” each intensity zone (15-25w for most of us).  Note your average power and max HR for each step.  Also note your breath and effort markers as intensity increases.

In-season, I’ll get an extra 25w for each step of the test.  For example, I’ll have a max HR of 120 bpm at 200w (rather than 175w, last Tuesday).  

Each time I test, it’s a little depressing because I have lost so much performance.  If I wasn’t used to this process then it would be tempting to put in a layer of highly intense training to recover my “lost” top end.  Frankly, this is where your ego, and your powermeter, screw you up!  If you are chasing last season’s numbers then your consistency will suffer (especially if you’re a big unit).  If you have been sick or injured in the last eight weeks then you are haunted by the performance of last season and over-doing-it.  I guarantee it.

It’s clear to me from perceived effort that all my zones have dropped 30-40 watts… …and I had a week long training camp in Tucson to start off January, as well as riding across Florida in December.  

I’d probably be down 50 watts if I’d stayed in Boulder the whole time.  FWIW, I dropped 50 watts across the board when my daughter was born in 2008.  Interestingly, they all came back over the following 18 months and I had the fastest bike splits of my life in 2010.


In 2011, my main goal is Ironman Arizona.  An average power of 240w will get me a great result.  I know that I’ve had good results with power outputs in the low 220s.  That knowledge places the test in a different light.  “Raising my roof” merely makes me tired.  For Arizona, what’s going to make me fast is the seven bullet points above – specifically the capacity to roll 200-260w of output for nine hours.

Ironman is about the depth of our fundamentals combined with the total load that we can handle.

Our best competition knows what needs to be done.

Do you?

Rental Property Economics

In May 2008, I wrote up an article about my search for an investment property – makes interesting reading about the state of the market, as I saw it, back then.

My criteria in mid-2008 (just before we hit-the-wall) were:

  • Climate opposite to Boulder, CO
  • Would enjoy using during vacant periods
  • Less than 1% annual holding costs
  • Forecast net yield (after all expenses) 10% over treasuries
  • 50% capital upside over a ten-year view
  • Entry price less than $200 per sq foot
  • Superior location in a prime destination
  • No leverage purchase — don’t reach financially

To a property guy, “prime Arizona” is Scottsdale not Tucson but… “prime” for me means prime cycling and friends!  If that means I trade a little capital appreciation, then I’m OK with that.

Given that I’ve been explaining the Tucson property market to my pals, I thought that I’d run through the case study for you.  When all the smart money says that a market is going to fall 20%, it’s a good time to consider buying.

I’ve been looking at Tucson for three years, mainly to address my goal of winter cycling fitness.  While I’ve had great success with seasonal migration to Australia/New Zealand, it is a very expensive option for my family.  So I’ve been looking to change my winter cycling “cost” into property investment “income”.

Because of my personal, and corporate, position, my downside is a lower cost location to ride with my pals.  This is where my business (Endurance Corner) enables me to protect my downside scenario.  I know other people that do similar things – by locating their company’s office inside a commercial property deal.  You can often create strategic benefits to your investment life, from your working life.

I had considered buying a house in Tucson (still would like to) but the holding costs are too high and they are far tougher to manage for investment income.  I even know the exact house but can’t bring myself to increase my personal overheads.

When adding up your uses of cash be sure to include:

  • Purchase Price
  • Transfer Fees
  • Taxes – I pre-fund the first year in my mind
  • Insurance – if you pay HOA then the external building is probably covered, but you’ll need coverage for the inside and your fixtures/fittings/furniture
  • HOA Terms – most places have restrictions on property use, read these as they can bite you in the bum – similar to taxes, I pre-fund a year’s worth of taxes in my calculations.  Make sure the seller is picking up HOA and tax arrears on the property.
  • Furniture – depending on taste, you’re looking at $5-20 for a reasonable specification.  My advice is “under buy” on furniture for a rental property.  It will get trashed and it’s worth NOTHING if you have to sell it.  If you buy more than one condo (for investment) then consider leaving one unfurnished so you have a fall back in case you need to unload one of your units.
  • Repairs – I’ve been looking at foreclosed properties.  Often these have damages and require extensive repairs.  Estimate the cost to repair, double your estimate and subtract that from your bid price.  Also, double the time that you expect the repairs to take.  Budget your holding costs (HOA, taxes, utilities) for the extended repair period.
  • Closing Costs – about $1,500 for a standard completion, seek to split these with the vendor.

Taking all of the above into account, Tucson is currently selling for ~$70-90 per sq ft (furnished).  That’s cheap.

It’s cheap for a reason, there are relentless foreclosures because mortgages are oustanding at $150 per sq ft.  While the foreclosures work through the market, there will be no capital appreciation and it will be near impossible for a non-bank owner to achieve a decent price.  

When estimating your prospective return remember to include:

  • Water – often covered by your HOA, which surprises me in a desert.
  • Telephone / Cable – if you go for direct TV make sure you can mount the dish with a southern aspect and your HOA allows dishes.  Have the Direct TV guy wire the dish into your cable system (already wired in your condo probably).
  • Electricity – if disconnected allow for getting a city permit to reconnect.
  • Appliances – if missing then make sure your dryer door will open when installed – we had a little snafu with on of our purchases.
  • Vacancy rates – take whatever vacancy rate you think you can achieve and increase it by 25% — still OK with the deal?  Also, how are you going to rent the property off-peak?
  • Own use periods – Southwest has $49 one-way flights to Tucson from Denver.  Sounds cheap, but… $50 bike fee each way and $70 per week parking fee (for my car at the airport).  So it’s a minimum of $270 per trip for me to head down.  Closer to $500 with taxes and a car rental.

Other issues:

  1. Make sure you’re clear with the agent about your intended use – some foreclosed properties are sold on the condition that it is our main residence.
  2. To get the best pricing, you’ll want to offer a cash deal, quick completion and buy on a “as is” basis.  
  3. It is very tough to raise debt finance for investment property but it won’t be that way forever.  While I wouldn’t count on it, I suspect that money to refinance will be available down the road, after you have a three to five year track record of rental income.  Within my own projections, I can see a scenarion 
  4. What can go wrong – consider your exposure to long vacancy periods, fire, theft, furniture damage, and aircon bills.  You will get hit with all of these eventually.
  5. Banks are under pressure to unload foreclosed properties and bankers are handling a huge number of transactions.  Therefore, it makes sense to increase your margin of safety with your bids.  As we move out of peak season, the banks know that they will be looking at HOA, taxes and maintenance for the entire low season.  Mid-summer could be an excellent time to pick up SunBelt real estate at highly attractive prices.

Remember that property is “easy in” but “difficult out.”  Make sure you are able to hold for at least five years.  It could be a rough ride but it looks like a good bet to me.

Tweet me any follow up questions and I’ll try to cover.

Disaster Scenarios

I wrote this following the Four Mile Fire in Boulder.  I held off on publishing out of respect for the local people that lost their homes in the fire.  This piece is a reflection on my life and not connected to the fire itself.


I was placed in an interesting position recently when we were told that we might have to evacuate our house in a few hours.  There was a nearby fire and the forecast called for sustained winds blowing directly from the fire to our neighborhood.

We never know what we are actually going to do until we’re put in a situation.  This is why it pays not be placed in situations where we might make a decision we would regret!  Avoidance is an effective strategy for enhancing an ethical life.

There was no avoiding the fire – it ended up burning down close to 200 houses — so it was interesting to experience my reaction.

My first reaction was to wait and think a bit.  What’s in the house that would be a pain to replace.  I whacked my tax records, checkbooks and ID into a small suitcase.

Next up was borrowing Monica’s phone and wandering around all the rooms, with Lex in tow, and photographing everything that we have in the house.  If the place burned to the ground then that would help with the insurance claim.

Insurance gives me considerable piece of mind.  I have comprehensive policies that cover: my family’s health; general liability; our house; and any material assets.  I favor high deductible policies because my main concern is Black Swans.  I spend a lot on insurance but it’s worth it for peace of mind.

So with the house documented, Monica/Lex secure, and a bit of time to think… I couldn’t come up with much else that mattered to me.  That surprised me.  What surprised me further was a thought that I’d rather have a check in my hand for the value of my possessions than my possessions themselves.  It would be an inconvenience to have my life burnt to the ground but strangely, I felt relieved at the prospect.

This really drove home the value of insurance for me.  Also, be sure to read your exclusions/limitations on your policy.  In the past, I’ve caught myself taking comfort from a policy that didn’t cover what I thought it did!

Zero hardware reliance — the other thing that helped relax me is having set my life up so that I can run everything from any computer in the world.  I’m more efficient on my main machine but I have zero reliance on hardware.  If my home office was levelled then I could be up and running by tomorrow morning.  It took effort to achieve this but the feeling of relaxation, when faced with a disaster scenario, was an unexpected payoff.

The lessons so far — high deductible, comprehensive insurance and off-site backup for all digital info.  

I should probably scan up the documents that I felt necessary to put in my little suitcase.  Then I’d be in a position to grab my ID and walk out the door with my mobile phone.  

Holding hands with Lex & Monica… waiting to see what happens.



Big Steel Challenge – Opener

I’m not going to blog each workout but this is a good example of a base period strength session where I apply myself.  I’ve been prepping for about six sessions using the protocol that you saw last time.

173.5 weigh in

  • Squat 23@45′;25@100’x2
  • Push-ups 20;20;20;20;20;20;20; Convert @33%
  • Leg Press 25@100’x3
  • Single Leg Press 50’@10/10/10/10
  • Standing shoulder press 45’@10;10
  • Standing cleans 45’@12;12
  • Leg Ext 12.5’@15/15/15/15;25’@5/5/5/5;
  • Palms away chin ups 6/6/4
  • Dead lift 100’@15;15
  • Standing straight arm 13’@30/30;30/30
  • Single leg calf raises 12/12/12/12; Convert @10%
  • Single leg hip bridges 12/12/8/8/4/4; Convert @15%
  • Seated row 50’@20;70’@20
  • Dips 5;5
  • DB pullovers 15@10′;15@15′

41,290 lbs in about 45 minutes.  Probably about what a powerlifter does in a single exercise!

Will feel that on Monday.