Coaching Elite Performers

Rolling strong at the swim meet

A coach is someone who can offer correction without causing resentment

– John wooden

When I notice someone has been triggered, I stop.

My life goals do not require me to change other people.

Inverting, being prickly reduces the world’s ability to help us out.


If you struggle to learn from experience then ASK…

  • What is it going to take for me to trust the process?
  • What is it going to take for me to trust the coach?

For me, It was watching Nils & Johan take everything I learned about sport and make it better. I wanted to take my knowledge to the next level.

In February, one small choice by Johan, set off of positive chain that brought us together.



What’s it going to take for you?

If you have no idea then that’s OK!

Think back, who gets through to me, without resentment?

Combine with goals & VALUES alignment, and you have the ingredients for a valuable long-term relationship.

  • My marriage
  • My investment committee
  • My close friends
  • My board

All contain people who are able to get through to me. I am surrounded by elite coaches.

In our lives, we will come across people who have the capacity to make us want to improve, and the vision to make incremental suggestions that we can implement.

Pay attention when you feel their positive influence.


Johan’s 2022 Scorecard

Each adjustment, I had been unable to implement previously.

Inside, I feel like I volunteered for all of them.

And I did.

But someone was the catalyst.

Share your story => someone needs to hear it.

A Swedish Approach to Athletic Excellence

Link to YouTube

I’ll link my prior writing on NVDP at the end of this piece.

NVDP had a childhood dream of being a great athlete, I had a childhood experience of being a horrible athlete.

Proving right, proving wrong…

Childhood experiences can be powerful motivators!

What’s YOUR motivation? Why start this journey?

My answer “I was born to train.”

Tapping into core motivation enables sustained work.


  • As a coach…
  • As a parent…
  • As a child athlete…
  • As a collegiate athlete…
  • As a world junior champion…

What’s it going to take?

Nils & Johan explain the performance puzzle:

  • The Project: a multiyear journey to the top
  • The Work: a LONG apprenticeship
  • The Block: a multi-month period of increasingly specific focus
  • The Session: one session, repeated, involving the specific requirements of the goal

Project : Work : Block : Session

Nils & Johan speak clearly about these four aspects. Can you?

In order to bring laser focus to the Block and the Session, one needs both: (a) a deep reservoir of aerobic fitness; and (b) plenty of mojo.

Keep the Work phase enjoyable and don’t sweat the pace/power. Base training is about kilojoules. Kilojoules by any means necessary.

The Block phase lasts ~17 weeks – NVDP uses Swedish 5:2 loading implying (at most) 85 days “on” and (at least) 34 days “off”.

Across each Olympic Cycle, there are “85” days that are special. The other days are foundational & recovery.

Intense internal focus => at times, never for long.


Even for Superman, life mostly happens outside the arena

Some nuggets in the podcast:

Threshold Block:

  • early-week longer intervals set the work-rate across the week – recovery is added to preserve a good enough work rate – when work rate cannot be hit, recover
  • seek to gather TIME “fast enough” rather than progressing targets – key attitude for error prevention

Coaching expertise can help quantify “good enough.” NVDP carves most everything else away.

++

Repeat The Week:

  • NVDP knows key sessions, by DAY, inside his 5:2 week
  • There is an early week expectation, and a late week expectation
  • Higher work-rates not always better – experience with bicarb letting him train “beyond the limit” forcing additional recovery the next week – [For me: a reminder to respect natural limits.]

++

The Bike: I suspect we will see more athletes using supplemental cycling for fitness (metabolic, aerobic, threshold) – this would work for both running and swimming – if you are a “large” runner or a swimmer with limited access to pool time… then the bike seems life a useful supplement to your plan.

People are going to figure this out. Might you be one of the people? Athletes lead the process.

Clinicians: before you add “running”… keep the “walking” and add “cycling.”

++

Always watching has a cost.

As NVDP says in the Manifesto… “There is a cost of everything.”

How much of my watching is making my team faster?

Might constant monitoring of The Work be creating a net-negative cost?

There will be times when you need to trust yourself and resist the urge to count.


In our own lives:

  • Project – where do I want to take myself?
  • Work – a long period of enjoying what it takes, with ample recovery
  • Block – 2-4 month focus-periods, every 3-4 years, intense focus, ample recovery
  • Session – what one thing, if you get right, will change everything?

The above approach, with buy in from your family, is VERY sustainable!


Prior NVDP Material


The Flowchart of My Project

The Work is #1 and I’ll be there for a long while.

A Vision Quest of Fatigue

Hilton Head, end of the trip

Archive Saturday is an extract from my diary when I rode across the USA (March to May 2004).

This entry was written after the end of a big block. That morning, I had briefly fallen asleep swimming. Woke up when my head hit the bulkhead!


Barry was a favorite guest. At the time, we were eating out of buckets.

My buddy, Barry, had saddle sores so bad, he used his menthol lip balm for relief.

Never borrow lip balm from a vegan called Barry!

As an elite endurance athlete, there will be days when the best thing that happens is rolling a stick of lip balm onto your balls…

…and those will be some of the greatest days of your life!


There’s tired and there’s “lie down on a tarp, covered in mosquitoes and immediately fall asleep tired”

Here’s the thing about fatigue, at first we panic a little, eventually we accept it, then we find a way to relax and dance with it.


A BIG motivator with my Project (to get back in shape) is being able to do adventures with my son.
This is the morning we decided to swim to North Carolina and run up to road to meet our support vehicle.
Clas “the Baron” Bjorling in the middle & Ben on the right.

From back when the magazine business was a business…

They’d be out of business if we just put JFT on the cover and ran the adverts…

Social media wasn’t a thing in 2004 but the “attention economy” endures.

Be wary of sacrificing the quality of your work to offer novelty to the masses, most of whom will never follow your advice and gain The Knowledge.

The Knowledge doesn’t reside in textbooks, blog posts or podcasts.

Just Keep Training


Sam, me, Barry the Vegan // 8 weeks (and most of the USA) between this photo at the one above.
Fuel the work and don’t be a weight nut!
Always remember, NEVER borrow lip balm from Barry

Monday’s blog will be about A Swedish Approach to Athletic Excellence – it’s about creating a life that puts you in the position to do The Block.

The Block – a period of 4 months where you take yourself to the top.

The first half of my “Block” was swim/bike/run across America – 9 weeks.

The second half was a summer inside Dave Scott’s Team World in Boulder.

Barbarian Days!



gRAAM – Trans USA Day Forty-Eight
camden, tennessee

In the end, we were a bit tired to be much entertainment for Andy, but we left him a couple of souvenirs to show our appreciation of his hospitality.

We didn’t exactly rip out of bed. I managed a weak jog to the pool. The swim was even more lackluster. After 2,000 yards, I nearly fell asleep in the water (not a good sign at all). I managed to squeeze out 3,000 yards, but the last 500 was done in broken 25s at easy pace. Not pretty. I got out of the water and sat in the hot tub for a bit (memories of cracking post-Epic NZ #2).

I shuffled back to Andy’s place, where Baron and I conferenced and agreed that the overall run distance was 5.5K.

We had 180K on the ride agenda and I was starting the day highly whipped. Fortunately, we had tailwinds forecast, but there were a heck of a lot of rollers heading my way. I drank a half litre of gordo-brew, straight-up – nothing happened, not even a ripple in my system.

++++

So what does one think about when riding, totally wasted? Here’s a selection – as you can tell, I wasn’t feelin’ the love the whole way…

Jimi and me – hey, there’s a lot going on in the background of those songs. He’s laughing and joking the whole way through. Kinda like a my training days.

Dolan – Tom “Mr. Swimming” Dolan trained 100+KM per week in the water for an event that lasted four minutes. How could anybody reasonably expect to perform a 8-9 hour TT on a low-volume program?

Track Sessions – Who’s %^&*$#@ idea was that anyhow? I’m blown to bits and for what? …and the guy tells me to eat light at dinner. Man-o-man, isn’t he reading my reports? Eat light?! Bet he’s drinking a beer right now.

Training Regime – OK, you come and sit on my wheel for two weeks and then we’ll talk training protocols. Far easier to talk than to do what it takes. Two weeks in my big ring and counting.

Mr. Andersson – The guy chose the large jersey. I had the medium with me and he waived it off. Then he diss’d my gift on my site? Sponsor management? Dude, you can just mail that jersey back to me and I’ll find another home for it.

Lance – People diss the guy on the pride he has in his preparation. I’m shelled to s&*# and I’m a wee minnow compared to those guys. Everyone trains hard at the top? No way, only a few people truly apply themselves in ANY endeavour. The ability to persist beats ability. But they wish it was the other way. They wish that there was an excuse, any excuse, to avoid personal responsibility.

Scientists & Experts – I bet I couldn’t find one expert to agree with my training today but, I bet I could find a dozen world champions.

Coach – Don’t fool yourself. Coaches don’t make athletes. Athletes make athletes. Structure, motivation, objectivity, belief. The nature of a session? Doesn’t matter. JFT.

Fatigue – We’re looking for a new kind of fatigue out here. Something deeper, a pure fatigue. Not one of those bush league fatigues. A whole new kind of fatigue.

Balm – You know, that balm I put on my nads is probably going to be the highlight of this day. The menthol aspect lasted for at least forty minutes. That was nice. My only action is medication for my bag – all part of the elite triathlete lifestyle. Funny old life I lead. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Rights – What am I doing out here? I am exercising my right of self-determination. Perhaps just self-termination.

Tri Mags – It would be pretty thin if you simply put JFT on the cover then ran the adverts. So much time, so much energy, so much money spent on items that have nothing to do with true performance.

I can’t really remember if those were before or after lunch. I do remember that we had 105K on the clock at lunch and my hands were shaking badly on arrival in Bells, TN.

B – I think that we should ride an extra 30K if we feel good.
G – More than 200K?
B – Yes, a good idea?
G – Why not.

So we headed out at 4:30 pm for a second leg of 125K, or so. Somewhere out there I got tired enough to simply relax and resign myself to my fate. Just like the winter storm day. Only this time it was different.

Baron was so shelled that he was pouring water on his head to keep himself from swerving too much. I think we were both beyond caring and feeling – we were simply going to ride until we got to the end or cracked. Neither of us expected to crack, but you can never really be sure.

…perhaps that’s why I did this trip. Because I wanted the knowledge. Yeah, that’s good to know. This could be as close as I’ll be able to come. My personal sixty quarters. Shared with the Baron. The same knowledge but different. I wonder if he understands? He certainly understands but he’d be no more able to explain it then I can. When you have the knowledge you don’t really need to explain it. You just lean back and smile while everyone else hangs at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Molina has it, sure, but why is he telling me to eat light as well. Is he playing some kind of joke on me? I’m way past simple bean dip fatigue – isn’t he reading these reports. Maybe he’s taking me on the next step. Just keep riding…

…Guess it’s like the quiet power only deeper. If only a few have the knowledge then I wonder why so many of them don’t have the quiet power as well. Perhaps it’s difficult to transfer it across an entire spectrum. Flashes of enlightenment. Wonder how long this will stick with me. Probably be gone tomorrow. But it was nice while it lasted. Keep on riding…

…it’s not the insanity of cities, or the silliness of debate – it’s the total futility of everything. To fight every battle as if it was our last, all the while knowing that it’s really one big joke. A lot of warriors get the first bit but miss the second. Keep on riding…

We rolled into our campsite as darkness fell. Wy asked me a question and I said something along the lines of “I’m OK”. She noted that my reply wasn’t convincing but how to explain without sounding offensive or strange. My own vision-quest exploring the depths of fatigue.

I think we are going to make it, but who’s idea was that track session?

g-man

Even Super Humans Start with One Big Slow Day

This is the way

I’ve been having fun reading NVDP’s training approach (link is to his site).

I felt deep satisfaction seeing an athlete improve on a protocol that was taught to me. Fun to be part of a lineage that extends backwards, and forwards, in time.

A personal confession, there is a twinge of sadness when I read the document. Sadness because I had the passion to do the work, but lacked the courage to recover.

I will teach this to my children, and offer it to you.

Recovery is what truly scares the highly motivated.


Kids have a capacity, and desire, to get very strong at a young age

Where does it all begin?

Skeletal muscle mass – do you have enough muscle to generate the aerobic power for your goals?

Let’s be clear what I’m really talking about => self-starvation risks your ability to be an exceptional athlete.

I lift weights to have aerobic capacity for many tomorrows.

The foundation of wherever you want to take yourself is skeletal muscle mass – very important to get this message through to girls & boys.

Youngsters – ride the natural build up

Oldsters – preserve, and hopefully, build upon your current position


A long slow day to the top of Mt Huron (14,005 ft)

The value of a long slow day

I’m extremely consistent with my aerobic training.

My consistency has resulted in great health, but it has not translated to superior metabolic fitness.

Consistent, moderate aerobic exercise doesn’t translate to superior metabolic fitness.

I do wish it was otherwise!

My lack of metabolic fitness doesn’t impact my body composition, or my life. See my article on training middle aged docs.

Looking forward, metabolics might be a limiter.

Here’s the progression:

  1. At first, moving around all day is tough enough
  2. Next, noodling around, at any speed, for 4-6 hours, is tough enough
  3. Then, maybe we add some jogging, or combine with some cycling
  4. Then, we try to keep easy, constant pressure on our long session

The first time I did 1 to 4… it took me ~5 years

Slow ramp of load.


Know where you are trying to go.

  • NVDP was seeking to break the world record for a 10K skate.
  • I’d like the option to do expeditions with my 15-18 yo son.

The concept of 5s pops up in NVDP’s plan.

  • 5 Days On, 2 Days Off
  • 5x >5,000 kj on the bike
  • 5 days of mind-blowing threshold sessions

The toughest expedition I can imagine can be structured as:

(5x) One Day On, One Day Off => ~5 big days in a two-week block

Thankfully, I don’t need to string 5 days together, like a world champion.

All I need to do is build the capacity to do One Big Slow Day, Rest then repeat.

This was the key lesson of my 20s: the capacity to do one big slow day changed my life.

What is your goal?

Share the journey with people you love.

How To Build A Summer Training Program for Fit Teens and Athletic Kids

“Yes, Sweetie, that’s me”

Last month, my daughter was asked:

Do you have a Dad?

In Boulder, that’s a loaded question.

She smiled and said, “Yes, I have a Dad.”


The question has come up before.

I stay invisible around my kids’ sports.

I do this with intention.

I want them…

  • to be INTERNALLY motivated
  • to keep our RELATIONSHIP separate from their athletic success, or otherwise
  • to INTERACT with them – I’m a player, not a spectator

Living in a town that places excessive glory on sport, my actions:

  1. Support Internal Motivation
  2. Lower Athletic Stakes
  3. Focus on Shared Experiences

My daughter put me in a bind when she asked me to coach her.


Top Five Hug, all-time, right there

Remember my advice to place the RELATIONSHIP ahead of performance

In January, we started a simple program – 20 minutes, done every Sunday, I’m not in the room

This went well – she loved it

For the summer, I asked myself…

What do we want to achieve?

  • For next season => get off the wall FAST
  • Over the next 1,000 days => set up capacity to go heavy at 16 yo

I came up with three 20-minute sessions per week:

  1. Continue the dryland program
  2. Street sprints
  3. Gym skill development & personal limiter mobility work

Let’s look at each

DRYLAND => keep what’s working, an all-around program she enjoys => good enough


Uphill is an effective place to coach speedy run form
AND
Bio-mechanically safer than other alternatives

SPRINTS => to get her off the wall FAST => choose an activity with close to max lower body recruitment

Uphill, street sprints – with casual walk downs

This tweet from Gerry explains more – it was a reminder of techniques we used in New Zealand.

Review & consider Gerry’s graphics – Hierarchy of Sports Performance and Motor Unit Recruitment

To set up the street sprints, she’s doing intramural track right now.


What’s your pleasure?
80#, 60# and 15#

SKILLS => with ~8 swims a week, street sprints and dryland… plenty of load.

A 1:1 session gives me a chance to assess her fatigue while teaching:

  • Squat Variations
  • Cleans (I have a 20# “kid” bar)
  • Sandbag Variations (I have a 15# “kid” bag)
  • Hip flexor openings
  • Eccentric rehab techniques

Let’s pull together the key points:

  • KEEP what works
    • maintain the sport-specific schedule from last summer
    • her load is increasing naturally by getting faster
    • she’s enjoying the 20-minute dryland from YouTube
  • Train general SKILLS – often missed at the sport-specific level
  • PICK ONE thing that would make a difference
  • RAMP LOAD GRADUALLY

Be patient – three summers until she’s 16.

As AC/DC remind us, it is a long way to the top (if you wanna to rock ‘n’ roll).

🤟

Chronic Endurance

2019-06-17 13.27.54A friend’s question gave me a nudge to flesh this out.

My pal asked, “am I damaging my health by pursing my endurance dreams?”

The science seems clear => you are very, very unlikely to screw up your health by exercising. Most everyone could benefit from exercising a little more often.

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However…

My demographic is different than the general public.

Call us the “screw the limit” exercisers.

What about us?

+++

I’m fortunate to have a group of endurance mentors that are moving through their 60s, 70s and 80s with many, many, many (!) years of chronic endurance training under their belts. Some of their hearts, and joints, are coming off the rails.

It’s tempting to “blame” exercise for their issues but that ignores the problems they avoided through exercise (high blood pressure not received, depressions not experienced, diabetes not developed, harmful addictions successfully managed).

+++

That said, whenever I find myself asking a question about excess, the fact that I’m asking is, in itself, part of the answer.

If you’re already exercising daily then you’re not going to find any doctor to advise you that you need to ramp that up by a factor of 2-5x.

…and you may find yourself reaching out to someone like me to get comfort that it’s OK to do a little less.

In doing a little less, but continuing to exercise daily, you will reduce your risk of ruin.

“Ruin” being the loss of the benefits from daily exercise.

Risk of ruin is what encouraged me to do less.

Immune system failure, bike crashes, lower leg injuries, death by avalanche/car accident… each is extremely inconvenient.

In doing less, I discovered unexpected benefits of eliminating chronic endurance => improved sex drive, better cognitive ability, happier joints, less cravings and additional muscle mass.

If you’re under 50, or pre-menopausal, then my benefits list will make more sense in a few years!

+++

What about that Tour de France study about longevity? (abstract linked)

While extreme, I’m not writing about Tour athletes.

Chronic endurance is about chasing podiums for decades after your elite career.

It’s not surprising TdF athletes live longer than their peers. The constitution required to get to the start line creates a special cohort.

A better cohort to review is “masters age-group champions” across 10, 20, 30, 40 years and compare them to “daily exercisers”.

There’s not much money to be made studying healthy people so I wouldn’t hold your breath on seeing my alternative study!

Frankly, I wouldn’t expect there to be much difference in longevity. You’d be studying two healthy populations.

Our findings underpin the importance of exercising without the fear that becoming exhausted might be bad for one’s health.

Lifespan isn’t the point.

Being exhausted is horrible for our relationships.

Look around and you will see that relationships are what we lack in later life, particularly if our favorite hobbies involve being alone… 😉

Quality of life and keeping a lid on my risk of ruin… that’s what interests me these days.

None of these benefit from chronic endurance.

 

Managing My Endurance Passion

G-BoraRecent media reports have linked “extreme” exercise to shortened lifespan (versus moderate exercisers). There is not an agreed definition of what constitutes extreme but, even at my current noncompetitive level of activity, I qualify.

My endurance pals have responded like Charlton Heston at an NRA rally.

If you want me to change then you can pry my fitbit from my cold, dead hands…

Ultradistance athletes are the true believers of endurance sport (links to classic book).

Many of us have replaced a previous passion, sometimes a negative addiction, with endurance sport.

Some of us are managing our “bad habits” via exercise.

All of us are terrified about the implications of change. Listen to our thoughts about anyone with a normal BMI.

Having watched friends revert to previous lifestyles, and having no desire to make a return myself (!), I thought I’d offer some practical ideas for managing our passion.

As always, I start by asking myself questions:

  • Where can things go wrong?
  • Is a multi-decade strategy to continually rip the legs of my aging competition wise?
  • What’s the minimum change required for maximum harm reduction?

Hands down, the worst thing that can happen to any aging athlete is losing the ability to train. Physically, strength losses are slow to return. Mentally, we are prone to depression via inactivity.

I’d be willing to compromise quite a bit to protect my ability to keep on trucking!

You are not going to get a lot of lifestyle modification by telling me that “strenuous” exercise isn’t good for me.

Not going to happen!

You see, I know how I was living without exercise in my life.

You might get me to change a little by pointing out the risk of:

  1. Dying via bike crash
  2. Orthopedic damage
  3. Concussion risk
  4. General malaise from soreness and fatigue

In fact, you didn’t have to bring it up. I see it all around me and have modified my lifestyle to take the above into account.

  • Highway riding avoidance
  • Adding front/rear lights for improved visibility
  • Rarely train in a group
  • No more bike racing
  • Main bike is full-suspension mountain bike

These small changes have improved my risk profile but I have ignored them when training for an event that required them, and when spending time with friends that could care less.

So, like any behavioral modification, my changes are only as sticky as my ability to choose wisely with peers and events.

I’ve written about low standard deviation training HERE and HERE.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  • Aim to train every AM and PM
  • Workout defined as leaving my house
  • Focus on frequency (AM/PM), not duration, not load
  • Wide variation in effort, from walking to max
  • Lots of hills
  • Don’t measure (other than a weekly weight check)

I end up with 11-14 doses per week and remain inside the “extreme” segment of recent physiological studies.

I’d estimate my current plan at 30% less hours, 60% less load and 90% less fatigue/soreness.

I exercise a lot, but less than I used to. I suspect the taper will continue as I age.

The small changes have improved my risk profile and increased the non-competitive benefits I receive from exercise (mood, motivation, creativity, sex drive).

++

I don’t expect you to change…

…but this is an alternative that reduces the chance you might have to shut down your endurance passion

…or end up replacing it with a prior negative addiction!

In times of injury, stress, divorce, despair… I hope you will remember this article.

Exercise has been a very good friend to my family.