Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Not just a blow dry

Earlier this year at the ITU World Championships we saw both race winners reach the finish line first in what many would consider unusual ways.  First, in the women's race, American Gwen Jorgensen came off the bike over a minute behind the lead pack of 18 athletes but nonetheless proceeded to run her way to first place.  It also might not have been possible without help on the bike from teammate Sarah Haskins.  Then in the men's race Alistair Brownlee, defending Olympic champion, broke away with two other riders toward the end of the bike leg and built a lead of over a minute to start the run that he held on to despite faster runs by his brother Jonathan and the two Spaniards, Gomez and Mola.  Both of these results challenge the stereotype of draft legal racing, which says that in order to win you need to get in the lead pack out of the water, simply stay in it on the bike and then be the fastest runner in that lead pack.  Lance Armstrong once called draft legal triathlon a "shampoo, blow dry and a 10k".... others have called them wet 10ks and claim that the bike leg is meaningless.

This is a topic that I've considered writing about for awhile, but now that ITU has announced that it will soon be converting the AGE-GROUP Sprint World Championships to the draft-legal format, it's an issue that suddenly affects a much larger portion of the people who might be reading my blog.  The point of this post is to discuss draft legal triathlon and how it fits into the sport as a whole.
To be clear, I'm not trying to make one type of racing out to be better or worse than another, or to argue that one type of racing is more of a "true" triathlon.  Personally, I enjoy racing, coaching and  following both formats.  The point I want to make is that the different distances and formats are simply different and fans of triathlon should appreciate them for what they are rather than argue about which is better or more of a "true" triathlon.

The first issue I want to address is the idea of what constitutes a "true" triathlon.  Many people who use this term watch an ITU race and don't like the fact that the outcome of the bike leg is not solely based on an individual's ability to produce power in a time trial. (which is very true).  Because of this, and the fact that the swim becomes relatively more important in determining who an athlete starts the ride with, they decide that the three disciplines aren't equally weighted and conclude that non-drafting triathlons are the "true" triathlons.  But here's the problem with that.... please show me a non-drafting triathlon where the three disciplines are equally weighted.  I don't know of one.

Let's use the (non-drafting) 2013 Ironman 70.3 World Championship race as an example.  We'll look at two big names in triathlon: Andy Potts and Sebastian Kienle.  Looking at their split times, Andy swam 8.6% faster than Sebastian.  Sebastian then proceeded to bike 3.7% faster than Andy and then run less than 1% faster than Andy.  So if that's all I told you, who would you think won?  If you said Andy, you'd be wrong.  Sebastian Kienle was crowned World Champion and Andy Potts finished 4th; off the podium. Why? Because the swim only accounted for ~10% of the race by total time.  Not exactly equally weighted.  Does that mean that Andy is actually a better triathlete or that he somehow got cheated?  Some might argue yes but I will point out that both athletes knowingly signed up to race a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and 13.1 mile run event.  The approach in training and the approach on race day are going to be different for that race vs a 1.5k swim, 40k draft legal bike and 10k run.  To succeed, you have to race these two events differently and you have to train for these events differently.  Also some athletes are going to be naturally better at one or the other depending on their skill sets.  Sebastian was a faster triathlete that day at the 70.3 distance and format, and Andy would very likely be a faster draft legal triathlete.  (In fact he used to race that format very well)

The second issue I want to discuss is the importance of the bike leg in a draft legal triathlon.  Is it important? How is it different?  Sometimes, when watching an elite WTS event, the bike is neutralized by a large pack that forms soon after the swim which contains most of the field, resulting in everyone deciding not to try until the run.  However this is actually becoming more rare due to the tactics of some of the riders (the Brownlees changed the game when they showed up and made everyone else work on the bike), and seems to only ever happen at the very highest levels of triathlon.  That's because the athletes are all so good there's not much of a spread in the swim, even over 1500m, so it's harder to get separation.  Personally, I'd love to see hillier, more technical courses for the pros but at the collegiate and junior elite level, that is never really an issue.  In fact, the bike has been a very important factor in the outcome of the race at every collegiate and junior elite race that I've participated in or coached.  Instead of the enormous, 30+ person packs that many think of when they imagine draft-legal triathlon, in reality, when you're not at the absolute highest level of the sport the packs are usually between a handful of riders to groups of 10-20 at most.

The cycling leg often relies less on sustainable power, but more on technical riding ability.

What results is an exciting chase where the bike leg is very important in determining how an athlete does.  It's just not the same as a solo time trial.  Instead of individual riders making their way through the field and opening or closing gaps, you have motivated packs moving up and down through the field as a group, popping people off the back, swallowing up individual or small groups of riders and small group breakaways throughout the bike.  Where threshold power is at a premium in non-drafting triathlon, the skill set of a successful draft legal triathlete involves bike handling and technical skills, tactical skills, teamwork and/or communication skills with the other riders in your group, VO2 and anaerobic power and the ability to recover quickly from hard efforts.
At the Girl’s Junior Nationals race this year, the four top swimmers worked together to increase their lead from 15-30 seconds out of the water to 2 minutes ahead of the next pack (of 8) by the end of the bike.  It took someone from the second pack running a sub-18 minute 5k in order to catch the slowest runner in the lead pack, and those 4 girls finished 1, 2, 3 and 5.  The top 3 runners were untouchable to the rest of the field because of how they used the bike leg to their advantage.

In Richmond this year, one of my athletes, Sofi Nehring, came out of the water in a group of 6.  Over the 20k ride, her well organized group spit a couple riders off the back, swallowed a couple more individual riders who were caught between packs, and on the final lap bridged up to combine with the group of 10 or so that started the ride ~45 seconds earlier.  I use both of these examples to show how the bike can be a very important, even a race defining, part of the event.  It's just not in the same way as a non-drafting event.

You also get to dive in.

Of course, it isn't always that way.  I used the example of Sofi's very organized group in Richmond, but she had a couple other races where the other girls in her group simply didn't want to work or weren't strong riders, which resulted in a frustrated ride where no time was made up or time was lost vs other groups.  That's one of the variables with draft legal racing... who is on the start line, as well as how the athletes approach the race can drastically change how the race turns out.  For some people, that's a terrible thing because they like to fully control their own destiny, but others like the unpredictability of sport.  Of course, both formats have a degree of unpredictability... we don't race on paper by comparing our fitness markers... but that degree is much higher in draft legal racing.

Think about cycling for a minute... there are 3 formats: road racing, criterium and time trial.  All are different, all require different skill sets, all are exciting in their own ways and some riders will naturally be better suited to one vs another.  But it would be laughable to claim that one is real cycling and the others aren't.  I think that as triathletes, we should look at our sport, with its variety of distances and formats, in the same way.

As draft legal racing becomes more popular, age groupers will probably have more opportunities to race if they desire.  Hopefully this will help athletes decide if draft legal racing is for them.  It's not going to be for everyone, but I also hope that more people will drop the negative attitude towards it and learn to appreciate it for what it is... a different, exciting format of triathlon that is not better or worse than any others.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mid season/early season Update

On one hand, the season seems to be flying by.  On the other hand it's just getting started.  For most triathletes who have been racing since June or earlier it's the middle of the season and I'm starting to prepare many of my personal athletes for their "A" races and the end of the season.  For me, I just had my first triathlon of the year a couple days ago.  

It's been great to see my athletes in action so far this year.  Lots of hard work has been paying off on their part.  One athlete was selected to represent her home county of Brazil at the Pan American Junior championships and qualified for Junior Nationals.  Another is currently ranked #1 in the state in his age group.  Another just finished her first half Ironman triathlon, making huge progress from one year ago.  Another just won her age group in a 5 mile open water swim!  I could keep going, but long story short my athletes are a constant source of motivation and excitement for me and it's an honor to help them work toward their goals.
It was a proud coaching moment when Robbie won the overall at Rev3 Dells

I love coaching and it keeps me busy, and for most of this year I've done a good job of making sure that my own training was balanced in well.  By that I don't just mean getting in the workouts.  I often tell my athletes that the best way to get the most out of your training, if you had to sum it up in three points, would be this:

1. Do your sessions as written, when they're written*
2. Eat well
3. Sleep enough

*Given constant communication/feedback with your coach, not blindly following a plan written far in advance

In my experience coaching, the athletes who do these three things consistently are, practically without exception, the ones who see the biggest and quickest improvements.  In my experience as an athlete, I have improved most when doing these things, and have stagnated when I have neglected one or more of them.

Fairly simple concept, but I also realize and tell my athletes that life happens while you're going through a training plan.  Everyone needs to decide where their training falls in their list of priorities.  That's something I can't decide for someone. What is going on outside of training effects what goes on with training.  Sometimes we control those things and sometimes we don't.  I just had an athlete have an unexpected two weeks off leading into a half iron this past week.  Was it ideal for her race prep?  No.  But it was for more important things than triathlon so I don't fault her at all.  My job is then to work to try to make any adjustments as smooth as possible and re-adjust race plans if necessary.  That's what we did and she had a great race day.

That's kind of how my recent chunk of the season has gone.  As of my last post things were looking good.  My threshold power was at an all time high and climbing.  I finally felt good in the water again.  Running legs were almost back.  Then mid June rolled around and from that time till now, one thing after another pulled me away from my well-oiled system.  First sleep went, and when that went I wasn't recovering enough to handle the workouts I was doing so they had to be cut back.  The past month has actually seen very minimal work on my part and I was feeling it.  In the past this would've bothered me a lot.  Especially having taken my elite card with the intent of opening up the season better than ever.  I think a big difference the past two years that is a big part of why I was able to have a good season last year and start my training off so well this year is that I put triathlon into a little bit different perspective.  I feel more secure about what I'm doing and why.  I want to be the best I can be.  I'm just not willing to sacrifice the rest of my life for it and it doesn't define me personally so if I have a bad race I don't feel bad about myself.  I put my training above all trivial things and have learned to say no when I feel pulled in too many directions at once.  At the same time when truly important things are going on in life I no longer have qualms about dropping workouts or sacrificing my own training.

So knowing that my fitness was substantially down going into this past weekend's half iron race, instead of being flustered by it I changed my race plan and was ok with not contending for the top 5 spots.  I knew my original time goals I set earlier in the season were out the window, but with a different approach I thought I might still be able to PR.  Going hard for over 4 hours was not going to work this time without a self destruct on the run, so instead I decided to swim easy, bike somewhat conservatively and then run hard.  I felt I could at least work hard for an hour and a half.  

Basically it seemed like things were going to plan up until mile 45 or so on the bike.  The swim was easy and although I was pushing a higher power than I have before for this distance it felt in control and smooth.  Then the road quality changed and regular jarring bumps for the next 10 miles had my lower back absolutely killing me by the time I rolled into transition.  I felt like I couldn't run and my back didn't let up until I was 10 miles in.  At that point I didn't really care any more and jogged it in.  Now I do realize that everyone rode the same course and not everyone had this problem.  I think my lack of fitness was a part of it, that and I have traditionally struggled with that on flat courses of that length when I'm trying to hold aero for so long.  I was actually doing better with it this time until the road changed, probably due to improved strength from my work at FIT this year.  Unfortunately it just meant that I finished the race never breathing hard and 10 min off of my PR.  Legs were shot though. 

So I'm not going to sit here and pretend that it's the race I wanted to have, but there were some good takeaways from the race.  I rode better for that distance than I have before and did it at below my usual half IM heart rate.  That tells me that the strength gains I've worked hard for this year have paid off despite a lower current fitness level.  It's different for everyone, but for me it takes a lot of work to gain strength and speed but relatively less work to develop endurance.  I think it's partly just how my body is made up and partly due to almost 10 years of aerobic training which has built an enormous base.  It will take much less time to get my fitness back than it would to get stronger or faster so I feel that bouncing back, while it will take significant work, is something that is definitely possible this season.  And for me at least, the season is just starting.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Exciting Triathlon Things!

I should be getting back to Madison right about now.  It's been a little over 30 hours since we left Tempe and the Collegiate National Championships, but unfortunately some car trouble (not my car) has left me temporarily stranded in Meade, KS for another day or two.  If you have no idea where that is, I don't either. I'm writing this at the "Moon Mist Motel" which features a goat chilling out on the front lawn.  That's probably the highlight of Meade.

Anyway, at least the internet has made it out to this tiny town so I can get some work done and write this blog.  Although not my ideal way to end it, the race weekend was fantastic and I am really proud of the Wisconsin Triathlon Team for their performance at Nationals.  I've been coaching the team for the past two years and with the support and organization of the team officers and the hard work of the athletes, the team has been steadily and kind of quickly rising through the ranks on the National stage. In 2012 our combined (mens/womens) team rank was 27th, in 2013 we were 16th and this past weekend we finished 12th.  This has happened at the same time the sport itself has gotten faster.  For example, last year a 1:55 in the mens race was 30th place.  This year it was 52nd place on the same course.  The super sprint mixed relay, which was just introduced last year for the first time, is not included in the overall team score but in 2013 the team's relay finished 26th.  This weekend our relay got 5th in a very tight sprint finish (which we won!).  Needless to say I'm really excited and couldn't be happier for the team.  They've worked really hard this whole year.  Team improvements like that wouldn't be possible without it.
Andrew to Katy at exchange #2 of the mixed relay.  This is a very exciting new event in triathlon, and I hope that ITU can get it added into the olympic program. (I'd also like to see a longer course, non drafting event as triathlon grows more popular)

Some of the team with me in Tempe after the olympic race.

Coaching at SBR has also been going well.  My personal athletes are gearing up for the racing season to start and the swimming group that I've been leading has been looking better and better.  The annual Winter Cycling Relay Challenge raised a lot of money for the new exhibit at the Zoo and SBR held the first annual Winter Wonderland Triathlon, primarily a collegiate race but also open to the public.  I'm excited for all of the athletes that I'm working with and also looking to pick up a few more for the summer season.
The Winter Wonderland Triathlon at SBR.  750m indoor pool swim, 20k computrainer ride, 5k outdoor run

As for my own racing, I officially received my USAT Elite/Pro license in mid-January!  At that time my off season came to a screeching halt and for the last 2.5 months I've been hard at work getting back into shape.  I didn't let myself get as out of shape as I did prior to the 2013 season, and as of right now I'm happy with how things are going.  This past week at Nationals has been less training and more unhealthy eating with the long road trips, but with the exception of this week I have been eating much better, sleeping better and incorporating a good strength program consistently, something that has always fallen by the wayside as things have gotten busy in past years.  The result is that I feel better in general, I've gained almost 5lbs of muscle (I'm the heaviest I've ever been in my life, and that is a good thing!) and my FTP is already 5% higher than my previous lifetime best despite starting the season down 20%.  Chasing Andrew Nielsen for a week around the foothills in South Carolina a few weeks ago also certainly helped get my cycling fitness back.  I'm also setting PR's in the pool like crazy on kick sets, which means it won't be long before I'm swimming better than ever.  If things continue to move forward as they have been so far I should be in a good position to kick off my rookie pro season in June or July.
Training camp in South Carolina with the tri team.  It was spring break for them and a (fun) business trip for me.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Holy Grail

A few years ago, I was working with a runner who had come into the store looking for some shoes.  After looking at his gait, I brought out three shoes that I thought would work well with the shape of his foot and the way he ran.  “I’ll try that one”, he said, pointing to the Newton, “but I’m not wearing those two, they don’t make you run better.”  I explained to him that while this Newton may help him feel when he is running correctly, it won’t change the way he runs.  I explained that he would be able to run well in all three shoes I brought out if he changed his stride mechanics, but that I brought these three specific pairs out because they would not cause him major pain in case he didn’t fix his stride.  Some other shoes wouldn’t be as forgiving of his stride, which was exclusively hip movement with no knee bend at all.

But he had come in to find a magic cure for his knee pain, and a golden ticket to faster race times without effort on his part.  Only willing to try certain shoes that he had read about in a magazine, each time he would get up on the treadmill he’d ask if he was running better.  Each time, I told him his knee still isn’t bending and that he needs to try moving his legs differently.  Not believing me, he checked the video I had been taking and sure enough, his footstrike hadn’t changed.  He found lots of shoes that felt comfortable, and in all of them he ran the same way, refusing or unable to change his stride, and refusing to believe that there isn’t a shoe that would make him run better with no effort on his part.  Finally he put the first Newton that I had originally brought out back on and decided that he felt that he was running better in it.  I showed him the video that proved he was still significantly over-striding, but he insisted he was running with better form.  I encouraged him to work on his form on his runs and gave him some pointers and drills to try.  Then I explained that he was in a good, comfortable shoe that would absorb a lot of the shock and spare his knees as much as possible if his current stride doesn’t change.  He bought the shoes, but didn’t seem too happy with me.

This is an extreme example of an athlete looking for that “Holy Grail” of their sport, in other words, that elusive secret that if it could just be found, would catapult the athlete to the top of the podium.  “After all, how did the pros get up there?  They must be doing something that I’m not, or have something that I don’t” the thinking goes.  Unfortunately for those looking for it, the Holy Grail does not exist.  Well, there actually is something that the pros are doing than some others aren’t.  However, it’s not the type of Holy Grail that many would like because it involves a lifestyle, not a quick fix.  I am sure that at least 90% of elite triathletes have made it to the level that they have because of consistent hard work over time, a good plan that is followed faithfully but also intelligently, and the understanding that what they do outside of practice time can have as great an influence on their race times as what they do in the pool, on the bike or on the track.  For example, most elite triathletes consider their diet a vital part of their athletic ability.  Most age groupers, in my experience, do not.  The majority opinion among age groupers is that they train so that they can eat whatever they want.  The majority opinion among elites is that they eat well so that they can support their training.

I realize that I am making sweeping generalizations, and there are definitely exceptions on both sides of that, but it’s largely true overall.  It also might make some laugh that I’m preaching the importance of a good diet to athletes when I have been known for my love for Culvers, among other less than perfect food choices.  I just want to say a quick word about that before getting back to the point, so I’m not accused of being hypocritical.  I do love Culvers, it tastes good, and I admit that I haven’t always made the best nutrition choices… especially during the off-season.  This has affected my athletic ability at times.  It should be known that although I might have Culvers or pizza for lunch sometimes, what isn’t seen is the breakfast of eggs, peanut butter on toast, and yogurt and the dinner of grilled salmon or chicken, steamed vegetables and a garden salad that probably goes with it for the day.  And this past season, my most successful yet, was also my best season nutrition-wise. 

But back to the point… elite triathletes aren’t elite triathletes because of what shoes they wear, or what recovery drink they use, or what bike they ride, or whether they swim with a shoulder driven or a hip driven freestyle, or what coach they have, or anything else of that nature.  A few possess a Holy Grail in the form of raw natural talent, but that cannot be purchased or learned, and by far and away most became elite triathletes because they chose to consistently work hard and make their lifestyles supportive of their athletic goals.

This goes for any sport.  Jordan was known to shoot 1000 free throws after practice ended for the day. 

It’s important to be clear on what I am not saying.  I am not saying that it doesn’t matter what shoe you wear, or what recovery drink you use, or what bike you ride, or how you swim, or who your coach is.  Those things all matter, but they will do nothing for you if you, the athlete, don’t use them in the right way.  I already described how a shoe choice can support a good stride.  A bad shoe choice can definitely injure an athlete, but the best shoe choice will not realize its full potential unless you run in it with good mechanics.  And the best shoe depends greatly on the individual.  

The same goes for bikes.  I raced in the Chicago Triathlon in 2008, and due to unexpected circumstances, I arrived at the start line not having slept at all the night before.  Despite my aero tri bike and aero position, race wheels and aero helmet, I was passed often by men in their fifties who were seated upright on their road bikes.  I just didn’t have the engine that day.  My fast bike setup could only help me when I was fit and strong.  Unfortunately some spend so much time on their bikes shaving seconds that they don’t have time to work on their engines and lose minutes.

It does matter if you adequately replace your fuel after a workout, and it does matter how you swim.  These are very important things, and poor workout recovery or poor swim technique can put a stopper on an otherwise good training program.  However, if a person has a perfect diet, they may be extremely healthy but that doesn’t make them aerobically fit.  Hard work needs to be put in to develop aerobic fitness.  If a swimmer (assuming already has the basics down) finds their perfect stroke, it will only lead them to minimal gains if they don’t work to develop the fitness to maintain good mechanics for the duration of their event.  Hard work cannot be faked.  Proper stroke technique can greatly enhance a swimmer’s ability, but cannot replace a strong engine built over time.

If you do search for the Holy Grail, just make sure you watch out for the killer rabbit 

It also matters who your coach is, but I don’t want that statement to be taken the wrong way.  If you’re on a never-ending search for the best coach, switching each season, you’ll never reach your potential because there’s no consistency.  When I swam in high school, I had four head coaches in four years.  In my opinion, every one of them was a good coach, and I loved being a part of the team.  But from a performance standpoint, it wasn’t the best situation for the swimmers.  Each year, the new coach took at least the first month of the three-month season to get to know us before much personal attention could be given.  They all trained us a little differently, and we could never pick up where we left off. 

In track I had a similar situation with one coach for my first two years and another coach for my second two years.  These coaches were both good, but trained us very differently.  As a 1600m runner in high school, my coach the first two years was big on developing aerobic fitness.  I worked hard under this system and steadily brought my time down from a 6:00 at my first freshman meet to a 4:58 at the end of my sophomore year.  The next two years I trained under a coach who put a much greater emphasis on speed with less on longer, aerobic runs.  I worked hard here too, and eventually I adapted to this program. I finished high school track running faster than I ever had, but my entire junior year was a step back from my sophomore year.  I believe this is because I had never developed the speed to run well under the new training plan, and it took time to get there.  Had either of these two coaches been my coach for all four years, I believe I would have run faster as a senior than I did by training under one style for two years and then another for the next two.

So it is important to trust your plan, give it time, and trust your coach.  As triathletes we can choose our own coaches.  In my opinion, the three keys to a finding a good coach are education, experience and personality.  The personality component means that the best coach for you might not be the best coach for someone else.  Ideally you will pick a coach that has all three, and if so you have likely found a great coach.  You can probably have some degree of success if your coach has two of them, and you’ll likely experience only frustration if your coach possesses just one. 

Once you’ve chosen your coach, it’s important to trust them and allow the plan time to work.  It’s also important to take control of your training, and recognize when something isn’t working to make a change.  Sometimes it’s clear that the coach/athlete relationship isn’t working.  However, if you feel that you’re not progressing the way you think you should be, and your coach has a strong education, knowledge, experience coaching and as an athlete, and works well with your personality, you should look in the mirror first before making the decision to change coaches.  Make sure you’re doing everything right before making the decision to switch.  This is harder for people to do than to blame someone else, and certainly sometimes a great coach and a great athlete (in their ability to work with their coach, not their athletic ability) just don’t fit well together, and sometimes a good coach can do a poor job for whatever reason.  But I have seen many athletes stagnate under good coaches and good plans due to their unwillingness to put in the work or to make lifestyle changes.  I’m not excluding myself as an athlete here at some times in the past.  I’ve seen athletes struggle to understand why they aren’t improving despite their training, but refuse to give up eating fast food 2-3x per day.  I’ve seen other athletes wonder why they aren’t improving as fast as their training partners are, but neglect to work on their mechanics despite clear instruction.  I have personally improved at times, and stagnated at others, on the same plan, depending on my stress levels outside of practice.  Make sure you are putting in the work first, otherwise it’s not a fair assessment of a coach’s ability. 

Consistent communication is the number one way to get the most out of your coach/athlete relationship.  I admit that at times in the past I have failed at this, and it followed that I would perform better when Blake was getting consistent, specific updates about how my workouts were going versus times when he just had to assume I was doing them.  So I understand that sometimes it’s inconvenient to fill out training peaks on a regular basis, but I assure you that in order to get the most out of your coach you must do this. (Or use whatever avenue of communication your coach uses)  I believe that as a coach, I have both the knowledge and experience in the sport to guide triathletes to success.  (I’m by no means the only coach in the area who can say that)  That being said, I’ve had varying levels of success among athletes.  In my experience there has been an almost perfect correlation between the level of improvement and the amount of data and communication I get from the athlete.  The athletes that improve the most are those who respond to my emails regularly, enter their pace data on training peaks for all their workouts, and initiate conversation with me if they have questions.  Those who do not see more modest results, almost predictably. 

As an example, I just had an athlete, who was already at a high level, complete a round of test sets and in 20min worth of work she has improved by over 1 minute compared to 3 months ago.  If the same degree of improvement was seen in a ~1hr sprint distance triathlon, that’s over 3 minutes better.  It’s the equivalent of a 30min improvement in a 10hr Ironman.  For most athletes who are already at a competitive level, I would consider that very successful for an entire year’s worth of training.  This athlete will see higher than average improvement this year because of her commitment to training and her communication with her coach.  She works very hard, thinks about how her choices outside of practice influence her performance, her diet is fantastic, she gets enough sleep, she always updates training peaks with specific data when needed, she asks whenever she has a question about something, and lets me know on the very rare occasion that she misses a workout.  In those cases I can then decide how much, if any, to make up and when.  If someone didn’t know the consistent work she put in, her commitment to the training plan and the lifestyle choices it took to achieve those results, they might be tempted to try to search out her Holy Grail.  “Is she training with a heart rate monitor or power meter?  Which brand?  What bike is she riding?  Does she drink protein smoothies? Soy or whey?  Does she run with a heel strike or toe strike?  Does she run in Vibram five-fingers? Are those zero drop? (they’re not)  Is it her coach?  Maybe I should change coaches, but I’ve been seeing improvement with mine…” These are all points that an athlete should consider in making the most out of their own training, but if they replace the fundamentals of hard work, consistent training and creating a performance lifestyle, they will not create the easy gains that the athlete is looking for.