Saturday, August 28, 2010

Coast or Pedal on a Downhill

This is interesting. Guess I've been doing it WRONG! ;-)

by Joel Friel

A triathlete asked me some time ago what he should do on downhill portions of a bike course. Should he pedal hard, pedal easy or coast? That was a great question and one that also applies to cyclists doing time trials. It does not apply to runners as their speed is not significant enough to cause substantial drag.

On a bike as your speed increases linearly (a straight line from, let’s say, 20 to 25 mph), the power required to go faster increases exponentially. This largely is because of drag. The energy required to overcome air resistance (drag) is a function of land speed to the third power. So while it is only a 25% increase in speed to go from 20 to 25 mph, there is something like a 75% increase in the energy required to achieve that additional 5 mph.

Why am I telling you this? Because as you go down hill and your speed increases if you want to go even faster than coasting allows the energy “expense” of the additional miles per hour is going to cost you dearly.

The bottom line is an old adage which says that if you are riding on a fast portion of a course (down hill) ride easy; but if you are riding on a slow portion of a course (up hill) ride hard. So when riding fast on a downhill don’t expend as much energy as when riding uphill. The longer the event, the more important this is. For a sprint-distance triathlon or a short time trial you can go much harder downhill than if it was an Ironman or a long TT.

The best advice I've seen for this came from Alan Couzens, an exercise physiologist and triathlon coach. He tried to nail it down for Ironman triathletes with his “50-40-30-20-10 rule.” It goes like this (reprinted with permission of author)….

Coast at >50km/h

Pedal easy at >40km/h

Pedal steady at >30km/h

Pedal moderately hard at >20km/h

Pedal hard at >10km/h

You can read Alan's blog on this topic for an in-depth discussion of how he came up with his rule by going here.

Alan’s Ironman rule may not work for your race distance, but the concept remains the same: Conserve energy when the bike is going fast; expend energy when the bike is going slow. How much energy depends on how fast the bike is going, how long your race is and how fit you are. The less fit you are the more you will need to conserve energy on down hills. Based on this concept you can come up with your own rule for each race distance you do.

So the answer to the athlete’s question in the first paragraph starts with (you guessed it) “it depends.” It depends on speed, race duration and fitness.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

4 Key Hydration Tips for Runners

Runners know it's important to stay hydrated to run their best, especially in the summer. "Being more than two percent dehydrated in warm environments causes a decline in performance," says Robert W. Kenefick, Ph.D., a physiologist with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine. To keep fluids handy, you probably stash a water bottle in a gym bag or leave sports drink in your car. But to really improve performance, you need to be more than a casual sipper. A number of recent studies offer runners smarter ways to stay hydrated while also giving their running a boost. Here's how you can apply some of these strategies to your own hydration plan and run your best.


WHY: In a study in the April 2010 Journal of Athletic Training, runners who started a 12K race dehydrated on an 80°F day finished about two and a half minutes slower compared to when they ran it hydrated. Dehydration causes your blood volume to drop, which lowers your body's ability to transfer heat and forces your heart to beat faster, making it difficult for your body to meet aerobic demands.

DRINK UP: Drink eight to 16 ounces one to two hours before a run. Sports drinks and water are good choices, says running coach Cassie Dimmick, R.D. Iced coffee and tea are fine, too. Didn't plan ahead? Fifteen to 30 minutes before going out, drink at least four to eight ounces of fluid.


WHY: In a study published in 2008 in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, cyclists who drank cold beverages before and during their workout exercised nearly 12 minutes longer than those who drank warm beverages. And in a study published this year, runners who had an ice slushy ran about 10 minutes longer than when they had a cold drink. In both cases, the drink that was colder lowered body temperature and perceived effort, allowing participants to exercise longer.

DRINK UP: Before going for a hot run, have a slushy made with crushed ice and your favorite sports drink. To keep drinks chilled while you run, fill a bottle halfway, freeze it, and top it off with fluid before starting. Running a loop? Stash bottles in a cooler along your route, says Dimmick.

What to drink when: All fluids are not created equal.


WHY: According to a study in the July 2009 Journal of Sports Sciences, when cyclists recorded their plan for hydrating during workouts—including exact times and amounts—they drank more frequently and consumed more fluid midworkout than their nonplanning peers. "Planning helps people remember how much and when they need to drink," says lead author Martin Hagger, Ph.D., of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

DRINK UP: Note your thirst during your runs, and write down how offen and how much you drink.

REVIEW: your notes to help you plan when to drink. Set your watch to beep every 15 minutes as a reminder to consider your thirst. "Drinking smaller amounts at regular intervals can help you absorb fluid more effectively," says Dimmick, "and avoid stomach sloshing."


WHY: Don't feel like downing a gallon of Gatorade? You don't have to. According to a study in the April 2010 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, runners who rinsed their mouths with a carb solution right before and every 15 minutes during hour-long treadmill sessions ran faster and about 200 meters farther than those who rinsed with a placebo. "Carbs trigger reward centers in the brain," says Ian Rollo, Ph.D., one of the study's authors. The brain senses incoming energy "which may lower the perceived effort," he says.

DRINK UP: For shorter runs when you want the benefits of a sports drink minus the extra calories, swishing just might do the trick. It's also good news for runners who get queasy from ingesting a lot of sugar at once. But for runs over an hour, find a drink you can stand to swallow (see "What'll You Have?" below).

Hydration alternatives: Think you always have to drink your liquids?

What'll You Have?

Your midrun fluid needs depend on how long you're going

ONE HOUR OR LESSThree to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. Water is usually fine. For a tough run over 30 minutes, consider a sports drink to give you a kick of energy at the end.

ONE TO FOUR HOURS Three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. A sports drink with carbs and electrolytes will replenish sodium. Prefer gels? Chase them with water to avoid sugar overload.

OVER FOUR HOURSDrink three to six ounces of sports drink every 15 minutes, after which use thirst as your main guide (drinking more if you're thirsty and less if you're not).

POSTRUN Replace fluids, drinking enough so you have to use the bathroom within 60 to 90 minutes postrun. Usually eight to 24 ounces is fine, but it varies based on running conditions.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Stride Rate is the Key to Successful Running

from the blog BobbySez

The forward lean in running is free speed, but the high stride rate, turnover or cadence really is the most important aspect of successful running. The less the amount of time, per foot strike, your foot can be on the ground, the less strength is required, the less fatigue is accumulated & the less eccentric micro tearing in the leg muscles takes place. A hallmark of champion distance runners is a stride rate of over 180 steps per minute – some as high as 208! Count your cadence by counting the number of foot strikes you achieve with one foot in 15sec & then multiply that by 4. This will give you a single leg turnover. The minimum number you are striving for is 23 (or 92 steps per foot per minute, which is 184 for both feet). Your length, leg length or gender is irrelevant. Lastly, do not simply try to move up your cadence by moving your legs faster; this may lead to injury & may not improve performance. Do this by leaning slightly forward from the ankle, staying tall through the hips, bending your elbows 90*, (till you could hold a pebble in the crook of your elbow & not drop it for the duration of the run), punching your elbows rearward slightly &, most importantly, pushing your foot to the ground, (but NOT while on the ground). Do this rather than launching up into the air (pushing off) & dropping to the ground – a recipe for injury, fatigue & poor performance.

Bobby McGee – Bobby McGee Endurance Sports

Friday, August 20, 2010

Break the Law

Six fitness rules that you didn't know you could flout--until now
By Selene Yeager on

In a society where beliefs about exercise are either long-held or fleeting (you know, until something better comes along), it can be difficult to know if we're doing the right thing at the right time. And while some rules of fitness are backed up with studies and research, others aren't as grounded in science. These are the rules you can bend.

THE TRUTH Always warm up and cool down.
THE WHOLE TRUTH While a proper warm-up is a must, especially prior to a race, a cooldown isn't always necessary.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH Researchers at Aberystwyth University, in Wales, found that a warm-up that includes moderate to heavy efforts can improve high-intensity cycling performance by 3 percent. These efforts activate all available motor units so they're ready to jump into action at the start, and leave you less likely to go into the red 30 seconds in. For very hard efforts, a cooldown can help prevent blood from pooling in your legs and causing dizziness, but there's no evidence that it clears lactic acid or helps prevent soreness.

THE TRUTH Drink before you're thirsty.
THE WHOLE TRUTH Drink up, but don't drown yourself.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH A little dehydration doesn't hurt performance or put you at risk for heat stress. In a study from the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, researchers found that runners who drank according to thirst performed just as well as those who drank moderate or high amounts, and they didn't have any higher heat stress or core body temperature.

THE TRUTH When weight training, rest between sets.
THE WHOLE TRUTH Keep moving.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH You're a cyclist, not a body builder. Sitting between sets reduces potential calorie burn. In a recent study from the University of Connecticut, researchers found that lifters who rested for one minute or less between sets experienced nearly double the metabolism boost of lifters who rested for three minutes.

THE TRUTH Crunches strengthen your core.
THE WHOLE TRUTH Crunches don't work.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH Do this instead: Lie back on a mat and lift your legs so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your knees are bent 90 degrees. Extend your arms straight toward the ceiling. Contract your abs and lift your torso off the floor while simultaneously straightening your legs so your body forms a V. Hold for two seconds. Lower. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps.

THE TRUTH Never do intervals on back-to-back days.
THE WHOLE TRUTH Do intervals on back-to-back days--but only if you're training for something really hard.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH If you're training for a stage race or other multiday event, doing consecutive interval days with ample rest afterward helps build top-end stamina and simulates what's ahead.

THE TRUTH Aim for 90 rpm when pedaling.
THE WHOLE TRUTH There is no magical cadence.
NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH You can perform well spinning between 80 and 100 rpm. Choose according to your muscle-fiber makeup and recruitment as well as your fitness level and gear selection.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Running off the bike


If there's anything that truly defines a triathlon it's the feeling of running off the bike. Whether you've just ridden to the shops or an Ironman bike leg your legs feel dead and heavy, and certainly not primed for running, let alone fast running. This form of running should almost have it's own definition with a similar distinction that "long distance running" has from "ultra running"...not to mention the associated sub-cultures that exist within essentially the same sport!!

How well you run off the bike also determines how well you finish, from age group sprint distance tris to ITU racing and up to Ironman. If you falter in the run leg there'll surely be someone running you down. Sometimes a "slower" runner will outrun a "faster" runner when thrown into a triathlon, which is another defining aspect of triathlons - a better **triathlete** can often beat a better **athlete**.

So, what contributes to running well off the bike, and what are the key criteria for doing so? The main components are fitness (bike & run), tactics, running form and psychology. Let's look at each of these.

Fitness is the biggest determinant of your ability to run off the bike. Obviously, if you haven't done any run training then you can't expect to run well, full stop!!

Having said that, your fitness in other sports - swimming and bike riding - can benefit you in running, but consistent with the rule of specificity, the fitness you gain through run training is what will get you through in the long run (pardon the pun).

To contrast the relative benefit of each single-sport fitness - and the relative difficulty of each sport - only a few cyclists could run much further than a kilometre without exhausting themselves. However most runners could ride quite long and hard, albeit not necessarily very well. Running is by far the more demanding sport and by extension running fitness will be more beneficial to running well off the bike than cycling (or swimming) fitness.

How you 'use' your relative cycling and running fitness - your tactics - also has a large influence in how you run off the bike. Most athletes have differing abilities between biking and running, even with similar relative fitness levels between the two sports.

Since the bike leg comes first, strong cyclists are often inclined to ride to the limits of their ability - which is usually faster than most - with small regard for the run leg ahead. Then, the longer the run leg the more they're likely to suffer from the extent of their exertion during the ride. Sometimes these kinds of triathletes can pull it off (eg, Normann Stadler in Kona '04 and '06) but more often than not they'll be passed during the run by athletes who rode more conservatively in order to run closer to their potential.

A simple example makes the point clear...if going 10 mins slower on the bike means you run 5 mins faster, then your overall time will be 5 mins faster. Basically, going a little slower on the bike will usually mean you run faster by a greater amount off the bike. The fact you might be strong bike rider doesn't change this model.

To use an analogy...countries having a nuclear weapon don't ever plan to use it.

Running Form
This is a favourite topic of mine, and as Fitness is related to Tactics, so Running Form is related to Psychology of running off the bike. Running off the bike differs little from 'open' running, although in general it more closely resembles marathon running form than it does track running form. Either way, the basics of good running form still apply - I've previously written about this in "How to run".

In triathlon the efficient runner is rewarded with better running off the bike. Specifically, this includes the following:
* Limiting upper body motion - torso and arms.
* Holding your torso in an erect position which is more efficient to maintain.
* Slightly shorter steps, although this is only to ensure running cadence is around 90-95 per leg per min (generally speaking).
* Minimising vertical movement.

At ITU level it is found that the best runners run at a cadence of about 10 less than they ride at, which links back to tactics on the bike in the gears you ride. It's very difficult to increase your run cadence off the bike, so you're better off riding at a higher cadence in the first place your most recent muscle memory when you start running is at/near that cadence.

The alternative is a slow run cadence, which implies / leads to over-striding which is closely related to poor running form. Because it's a triathlon shouldn't dramatically change your running form.

When things get really tough, such as in and half or full Ironman is where running form can really go to pot, and where athletes can tend to "give in" to the circumstances and go into a survival mode of dropping their head, rounding shoulders and back, tilting hips back and basically neglecting most of the most basic aspects of running form.

Even in sprint and Olympic distance events - which are not long races by any means - there's a large number of people who "cave in". I suspect that numerous people have the mindset that "this is a triathlon and I'd doing it tough", and so their body language follows suit and they're almost waving the white flag before even giving themselves a chance to run well.

In this case a change in perspective would help. Think of a triathlon run leg as just a run with a swim and ride beforehand - it is not a world of torment and torture. Remember the fundamentals of running well, the basics of efficient running form and all the things you've done in training many times over. Concentrate, relax and don't be defeated by the scenario.

Psychology is especially important when the weather warms up. Yes, heat does mean a slower pace but it does not mean that survival mode is the only option. On these days it's the people who run positively and with confidence who stand out from the crowd, both in terms of strong running form and actual running pace.

Psychology during the run leg - as well as the whole triathlon - can make a huge difference to your performance, and how well you deal with situations that arise during a race. For running off the bike, a positive mindset is key to running well.

In summary, running off the bike will always be a little slower than 'open' running. But there are still many similarities and the fundamentals don't change. How well you can perform those fundamentals, and maintain them, is the key to running well off the bike.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Quote for the Day

He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.

Muhammad Ali

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Fitness Fallacy

From Joanna Zieger's blog - Fast at Fourty (which is an awesome blog!)

This article was written with Dr. Phil Skiba, my coach and an extremely nice guy (

“I don’t want to lose my fitness” is perhaps the most commonly uttered statement by triathletes. I have no actual data to support this, but given the number of times I have heard it (and expressed it myself) I am reasonably confident that it must be true.

I think triathletes have a dreaded fear that between the time they close their eyes at night and awake in the morning they have lost inordinate amounts of fitness. A day off is a triathlete’s nightmare – we feel the fitness being sucked out of our bodies moment by moment.

The meaning of fitness varies from person to person. Are you fit because you can ride a century? Are you fit when you race to your potential? Are you fit because you can achieve most of your workouts?

No matter what your definition of fitness is, it does not disappear as quickly as the sunburn from your last race. Breaks in training occur for a number of reasons, whether it is from injury, work, travel or simply some needed time off. And, unless you have taken an excessive amount of time away from training, you are not going to come back as a deconditioned couch potato.

Here are the facts. Most people confuse the terms "fitness" and "performance status". In other words, when we perform well, we typically say we have a very high level of fitness. That is true, to a point. However, it is just a little bit more complicated than that.

When we train, our bodies become more fit, but we also get more tired. In the midst of a heavy training block, think about the yearning for that late afternoon nap or begging off dinner with friends because coming home at 10 pm is too late.

When we train or race a lot, our fitness becomes somewhat "masked" by how beat up we feel. The perfect example is the post Ironman fatigue and soreness syndrome. You couldn’t and shouldn’t train in the days following an Ironman. This time off doesn’t mean you are losing huge amounts of hard-earned fitness. it's just that your fitness is being hidden by tiredness, which would lead to a decrease in performance status if you tried to race again too soon. (It’s also being hidden by the not-insignificant damage Iron-distance racing does to the body. It would not be unreasonable to consider yourself “mildly injured” and in need of recovery immediately following a long-course race.)

To perform well, consistently, you need regular bouts of rest. If you are going out and killing bike ride after bike ride, and run after run, you don't really know how well you can perform, because you are constantly fatigued. This is why athletes sometimes have a great race after a layoff due to that minor injury, work craziness, or interference from other life factors. The layoff allowed the athlete to shed a great deal of fatigue. This is why tapering for a race works. You shed your fatigue, preserve most of your fitness, and are then able to smash a race.

Now, if you were to do some fancy math, you would find that you did lose a small amount of fitness during a training layoff. However, if you are training a lot, this loss is tiny in comparison to how much fatigue you lose. Depending on the sport, the average age group triathlete can shed two thirds of their fatigue in between 2 and 7 days. In comparison, it can take longer than 30 days to lose two thirds of their fitness. Get the idea? Your fitness hangs around a long time.

In my own training, I can attest to this very notion of fitness hanging around. I took a break after the Rev3 debacle for some quality healing time. I started a comprehensive therapy program in the gym and when I restarted training, it was maintenance and sanity training rather than specific race training. Lo and behold, over the weekend I PR’ed a tough run.

It's a different matter if you have suffered through some major illness, of course. 7 days of absolute bed rest with the flu or something is going to have a much more significant effect in terms of loss of fitness and performance status

The take home message is "don't sweat the small stuff". Those couple of days you need to take off when the in-laws arrive probably just serve to help you really crush your next workout!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Hills: Sit or Stand?

by Joe Friel

I was asked in a tweet last week if a rider should sit or stand when climbing a hill on a bike. I wish I could give a one-word answer, but that isn’t possible. As I’ve said so many times here in responding to reader questions, my answer must often start with “it depends.” This one is no difference. Here’s what this answer depends on…

Steepness. Low gradient hills are usually done seated. Steep hills often demand at least some standing. And the steeper the hill is, the more likely you are to stand up. When standing on a steep hill your body weight takes some of load off of the leg muscles. On the other hand, it tends to stress the aerobic system more. As a result you’ll probably breathe harder and have a higher heart rate when standing. But the steeper the hill is the less difference there will be when it comes to muscular- (seated) vs aerobic- (standing) system stress.

Hill length. The shorter the hill, the more advantage you will have by getting out of the saddle. You’ll create more power (again, because of adding body weight to the pedals) and get over it quicker.

Type of event. On low-gradient hills a triathlete or time trialist is less likely to get out of the saddle than a road racer. This is primarily due to the variably paced nature of road racing (as opposed to the steady-state riding of triathletes and TTers). If another member of the group is accelerating up the hill, you are often forced to accelerate to keep pace, or risk being dropped. A quick acceleration on a hill usually requires standing.

Body mass. The lower your body mass the more advantageous it is to stand on a climb. The greater your mass the better off you’ll be staying seated. One quick and simple way to come up with your body mass is to divide your weight in pounds (1kg = 2.2lbs) by your height in inches (1cm = 0.4in). So if you weigh 154 pounds (70kg) and you are 72 inches (180cm) tall your “mass” is 2.13 (154 / 72 = 2.13). I’ve found that for males the best climbers are at less than 2.0. These folks should stand a lot (think of Marco Pantani). Men in the range of 2.0 to 2.3 tend to alternate between standing and sitting a lot (for example, Lance Armstrong). Those men at 2.3 to 2.5 are best advised to sit a lot (like Miguel Indurain). Folks over 2.5 usually avoid hills. Women should use a scale which is about 0.2 lbs/in less (for example, under 1.8 are climbers).

So losing (or gaining) weight may change how you climb – and how well you climb. For example, a 1kg (2.2 lbs) loss of weight (bike and/or body) allows you to climb a 1000m hill with a 10% grade about 3.5 sec faster than when heavier at the same power output. Another way of looking at this is that 1kg is about 3w on a climb (so 1lb is roughly 1.5w).

Speed. At about 12mph (20kph) or faster staying seated and in an aero position if in a time trial or triathlon is usually a good idea. If your speed is less than 12mph then sitting up or standing is often better. This is affected, however, by the wind. A headwind essentially reduces your actual speed. So even if your speedometer says you are at 15mph (25kph) but there is a strong headwind then you are better off seated and even aero. While you may be more powerful above 12mph bike-wind speed when sitting up, your speed return on energy investment is not favorable due to headwind drag.

Fatigue. On long climbs, especially those late in the race, there may be some advantage to alternating standing and sitting to relieve muscle fatigue. Even if all of the other considerations listed here indicate you should stay seated, but the muscles you use to drive the pedals when seated are wasted, you may need to stand simply to give them a break.

Gearing. This is related to steepness. If you are on a hill but your gearing is so high that cadence bogs down you will need to stand in order to keep the gears ticking over.

Mountain bike. Standing causes the back wheel to lose traction when riding off-road on a steep hill on loose gravel or wet roots. So staying in the saddle is recommended for such climbs on a mountain bike. Pedaling while seated produces more even tension on the chain throughout the stroke and helps to prevent wheel slippage.

The good news here is that you can basically trust your instincts on hills in races. In most of the above situations your body will tell you when you need to stand or sit. It’s really not a great mystery – unless you overthink it. In this case, experience is the best teacher.

Training should involve both sitting and standing. Sitting will help to build greater muscular force for riding on flat terrain. It’s a bit like doing squats. Standing may boost your aerobic capacity, especially when the hill takes only two to three minutes to climb.