Iron School by Gordo Byrn
By Gordo Byrn
Preparing for IM Canada a couple of years ago, my coach (Scott Molina) had me go ‘old school’. Following my Spring 2004 Adventure (swim-bike-run America), Scott thought that it would be a good thing for me to enroll in Iron School. Having written a book on Ironman training, and managed a few solid race finishes – I was starting to feel that I had a solid grasp of what it takes to be a quality coach-athlete-IMer. I was about to be humbled, yet again!
What’s Iron School? It’s my name for Dave Scott’s elite training group based here in Boulder. Dave likes to call it Team World – I suppose that’s because we come from all over the place. I’d heard of Dave’s group last year and had visions of ripped athletes shredding sets like 60×100 on 1:05. I was highly concerned about my ability to survive. However, with over 500 hours of training in my body for the first five months of the year, I figured that now was a good time to give it a go. At 35, I’m not getting any younger.
Scott had warned me, “Dave will challenge you to go pretty hard. But it’s the best coaching education that you’ll ever get and, besides, the chicks are hot.” He was right on all counts.
As it turned out, I recognized Dave from his calves. He had his back to me when I first saw him and I noticed two tanned ripped calves extending down from his shorts. I wandered up and he welcomed me to the crew.
Coming off nine weeks of living in a trainer with the Baron, it was a shock to my system to be doing core work with five hard body babes (HBBs) wearing not much more than sports bras and tri-shorts. That first day the “men” consisted of Dave and me. We did about 45 minutes of core and balance work in a squash court. I’d been careful to arrive in decent shape, but it sure seemed that I had the highest body fat in the room.
Scott gave me clear instructions to take it easy but how can you do that when you are training with five ladies and a 50-year-old six-time world champion? They were crushing me and my ego wouldn’t let me crack. It took me three massages and a week to recover from that first session.
Scott also told me to wait a week before speaking to Dave. You see, I have a tendency to be pretty intense when asking experts about all-things IM. I made it through the first hour keeping to myself. However, after the session Dave asked me a quick question about my results and…. I was off! He got a continuous stream of my triathlon history for the next 15 minutes – complete with splits, paces, heart rates, wattages and anything else I could think of. The main thing I remember from that exchange was his observation, “Gordo, we aren’t training for the race across America.” He’d be repeating that to me a lot over the next little while. It’s become a favorite phrase of mine.
Three weeks after I arrived, I’d managed to convince Dave that I was serious by getting drilled by him and the ladies on a daily basis and coming back for more. Scott told me that most folks only last a couple of weeks with Dave before they find out that it’s all a bit too much for them. Dave sets the highest standards.
Dave and I had a little planning session for Phase One of my IMC specific preparations. Dave offered me some ideas on my key workouts and I diligently took notes. I had an outline of my week, went home and built it. When I did that I saw that it “only” added up to about 30 hours. That’s pretty light for me, so I figured that it would be manageable. Thing is, I had about ten key sessions and Dave gave me a little mission for each session. There was very little truly hard stuff but far, far more moderately-hard (5-12 bpm under LT) work than I’d been used to.
My ‘favourite’ was this run session that Dave recommended – 34K run build to steady over the first 8K then 3×25 min open marathon effort, with steady recoveries. To make it interesting, I’d do this in the middle of the day. Just as I finished my first time through this session, Chris Legh jogged by (he was peaking for IMCDA at the time).
Chris: “Mate, you look shattered”
Gordo: “Dave Scott session. Didn’t want to leave any money on the table…”
I understood the physiology behind the training that Dave was recommending, but the training itself was leaving me feeling pretty nauseous after most of my key sessions. Driving home, I would often ask myself “should you _really_ be driving in this condition?” My fatigue got to the point where I would lie in bed having a conversation with myself. “They won’t break me”. I suppose “they” were Dave and Scott. However, “they” weren’t trying to break me. They were simply giving me the training to meet my goals as I laid out. I’d alternate between “death before surrender” and laughing at the insanity of my life spinning arms, legs and wheels.
I have to hand it to him, though. Dave really challenged me and I just managed to get through each week (daily stretching, three massages per week, zero social life besides a cable modem). In my eyes, Dave is truly “the man”. As tough as he is on us, he’s miles tougher on himself.
After a few weeks of drilling it, I wondered what Dave’s views were on recovery weeks.
Gordo: “Dave, I’ve been going pretty solid for two weeks on the new program.”
Dave: “Gordo, you’re doing great. Keep it rolling, son.”
Gordo: Well, you know, I did two weeks of decent training before we changed my program.
Gordo: “And I rode across the States before that. I was wondering when you thought I should back off.”
Dave: “Keep it rolling until you can’t elevate your HR, then take a few easy days.”
Gordo: “Got it.”
So, I developed a running joke that, eventually, I’d have a true “breakthrough session” where I’d explode and get to take a few easy days. Thing is, I never blew. I don’t have a lot of spare brainpower these days but I seem to keep rolling along. It’s been an eye-opening experience. Dave’s taught me a lot. I’m grateful for being taken into the crew.
In addition to Dave, I’ve learned quite a bit about what it takes to succeed from my fellow members of Team World. Each of the crew embodies an essential trait of championship performance.
The Home Grrrlz
When I started to “speed up” in 2000, one of the best things about racing was running alongside the elite ladies. Running with the top women has always been a pleasure with me. I’ve always felt a deep calm in that situation (except that time Lori dropped me…). Now I get to train with the ladies every day, not bad at all! I find something really entertaining about their attitudes and the little games that we play with each other. Besides, if you’re going to drill yourself, you might as well do it while being surrounded with a selection of the finest bodies on the planet.
Amanda Gillam is one of the crew. Her partner is Michael Lovato – Mike’s bigger than me and wears a skull & crossbones swim cap. So I’ll be real polite here and simply note that Amanda owns the finest selection of mini-sports wear that I’ve come across outside of a Victoria Secret catalogue. She’s not the only reason my new goggles are mirrored, but she might be one of them.
Bella Comerford is another one of my favorite training partners. Bella never, ever, ever misses a session. And the only way that she’ll back off is if she gets a direct instruction from The Man himself. Towards the end of June, the rest of Team World were away doing IM races. It was just Bella and me in the squash court. We came up with a game of “Core War”. Forty Five minutes of alternating core exercises – I choose, she chooses, I choose, she chooses… Is that how compulsive obsessive ultra-endurance-types flirt? It seemed like such a good idea at the time… I didn’t walk straight for two days.
One of the best things about swimming in Kailua Bay is the dolphins. I’ve been lucky enough to swim with them several times when training for Ironman and Ultraman. Dolphins are beautiful, yet crafty, in the water. Moving with effortless ease, they stay just out of reach, tempting you to try to swim with them, to touch them, but you can never quite catch them. Monica Caplan is my daily dolphin, her quiet power reminding me of the special feeling I get when I visit the Big Island.
Joanna Zeiger trains with us. I get a big kick out of her – she’s the only one of the girls that hasn’t teased me about my ‘considerable idiosyncrasies’. Possibly because she understands best what it’s like, what it takes. Some of my favorite Jay-Z memories:
·> Melting the entire top lane at the pool the day we did 4×1000 meters. Jay-Z finished up by holding 1:12s for the final K (at altitude). Everyone, but Lessing, got out of the lane and he was left whimpering at the end. I was two lanes down, with my tongue hanging out, holding 1:25s
·> Two days later, she nearly gave herself an asthma attack swimming “fast 50s”. I asked her what happened and she observed that “Dave said swim fast”.
·> Gym work, every day. I’ve never arrived at the club and not seen Jay Z lifting. I’m sure she takes days off but I haven’t seen them.
·> Track sessions – today Jay-Z asked to run with us. It was a big moment for me. Why? Back in May 1999, I was a newbie staying in San Francisco for the Escape from Alcatraz. Joanna was one of the favorites for the race and was so far beyond my personal definition of “fast” that I couldn’t wrap my head around a person being that quick. At the race, I summoned my courage to walk up and say hi to her. She was really nice and wished me good luck. Five years later, she’s asking me to pace her for a Dave Scott track session. Pretty Neat!
So that’s a brief run-down of Iron School – it’s been a great summer of training with Dave and the gang. Only a few more sessions until Jay-Z and Big G toe the line at Ironman Canada. I’ll try to report back before the race. Dave’s promised that we will be backing off shortly…
See you at the races,