Iron School

Had an interview request asking about my big training days — rather than trust my memory, I went into the archives.

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Iron School by Gordo Byrn

August 2004
By Gordo Byrn
8/13/2004

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.

Day One
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.

How Fast?
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.
Dave: “And?”
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,
– gordo

Do It Right

I’m in Week Nine of my get strong journey.

I was reminded of a few things…

Do It Right – be an exemplar via action…

Look closely and you will see that the entire system has been set up for us to succeed – we don’t need to cut corners and we should remember our good fortune with every interaction we have with other folks

With regard to strength training… even starting seven months out from next ski season… it’s tempting to rush my prep!

The next lesson is a good way to prevent injury.Work Before Work Rate – as a coach I asked my athletes to show they could do, before we worried about what they were doing.

I’ll use my squats as an example…in maintenance a squat workout might look like 2×20 @ 100 pounds (4,000 pounds of work).

In my initial phase, I asked myself to “prove” I could get through 4×25 of an exercise and not be crippled with soreness in the next 48 hours.

So the goal of the first six weeks was to get comfortable with 4×25 @ 100 pounds (10,000 lbs of work). Within the exercise, as I gained comfort, I expanded my range of movement.

Add reps & increase range.

The 100 repetition exercises have been working for me so the week seven change was 5×20 @ 135 pounds with 1 minute rest between sets (13,500 pounds). The exercise takes about 12 minutes so my work-rate has come up naturally.

Why Bother – have a specific goal, keep a log, share progress – I’ve been at this game for a long time and still benefit from peer pressure and public accountability.

Create superior lower body power endurance, across my full range of movement with strong connective tissue.

So I can… ski all day, with anybody.

Fatigue Isn’t Fatal – Focused work generates fatigue.

Specifically, when muscularly-tired heart rate will be suppressed. Remember…

  • movement is more important than performance
  • use perceived effort, rather than pace/power/HR targets
  • be willing to slowdown
  • keep my mouth shut

Pick And Stick – the most common reason we fail… we are seeking to do too many things at once.

It is not possible to improve strength, become a better lover, lose weight, improve my personality, lower my marathon time, increase work flow productivity, get promoted at the office, increase my social network, improve my relationship with my kids, write a novel and give up chocolate…. at the same time.

Six Weeks

2017-05-14 20.51.55A useful heuristic from @mdotdoc

It takes six weeks to create an overuse injury

This rule of thumb works very well and has a number of implications – particularly if you are sick or injured on a six-week cycle!

Before undertaking a new initiative, I remember the good doctor’s advice and ask myself…

Do I think I can sustain this initiative for six weeks?

Here’s an example…

I want to do a lot of skiing next winter. I know that my limiters are quickness, anaerobic endurance, balance and “all-three-at-the-same-time”.

I spent an afternoon researching my options to address my limiters. In researching the plans, I realized that I lacked both the will, and the capacity, to do what was required.

Circling back to the six-week heuristic… I came up with a plan — 12 traditional strength workouts and 12 plyometric workouts. Each session is 15-30 minutes long.

The total commitment is 8 hours out of 42 days.

Seems tiny.

Three weeks in… I’m getting it done, just!

Long-term progress comes from keeping small promises to yourself via daily action.

The habit of one positive step, daily, is more important than the height of the step.

Default Emotions – parents dancing with anger

A mother shares a story about her struggle with hate. Specifically, she is troubled by the thought that she hates parenting and, possibly, her preschooler.

She’s not alone.

Living with someone from birth to high-school graduation, I expect to feel every emotional state.

Hate, anger and rage are powerful, and unpredictable, emotions. In Boulder County, they are socially taboo when directed at children.

Therefore, as a parent, you’re likely to remember when you feel these emotions around children.

You are feeling everything.

You are remembering hate.

What’s your default emotional state?

Thinking about the five people closest to me. We default to…

  • Tears (flight)
  • Confrontation (fight)
  • Fear (flight)
  • Emotional shutdown (flight)
  • Anger (fight)

Within a preschooler, I can see all of the above within a ten-minute span!

Combine a rainbow of powerful emotions… with a lack of sleep… it’s easy to drop into my default emotional state.

In my case, I tend to pause and address later, when the energy has left the situation.

Take stock of your consumption of external emotions.

  • Media
  • Situations
  • Peers

How do the above make me feel?

Replace the negative with self-care.

  • Are you sure?
  • Are you sure you are feeling hate?
  • Are you sure your child is the reason for the emotion?

Frustration at my lack of skill can feel like anger.

How do skilled teachers feel about my child?

Negative emotions (hate, anger, rage) indicate a need to up-skill for the essential and out-source the non-essential.

Your mommy-guilt might be leaving you tapped out.

Being tapped out means your children, and your marriage, never see your best self.

Tapped out is a tough way to spend a decade.

 

Who sees my best self?

2016-12-12-15-26-09Another component of the price I pay is to whom I direct my best self.

The answer cuts through all the BS I tell myself.

What do my kids actually see?

What does my spouse actually experience?

2016-12-14-10-43-23When I was trying to win an Ironman, my coaches and training partners saw my best self. These people were essential to my success and we had a great time doing what it took to improve.

Not coincidentally, I met my wife while training. During the summer of 2004, the only place you could find my best self was training for triathlon.

With the birth of my first child, success was frustrating remote. My internal life was frazzled, angry and exhausted. If I opted out then I would strain my marriage.

So I asked for help and studied experienced preschool teachers.

I paid attention to what was required to present my best self to my kids, and my spouse. [the list I shared]

I paid attention to the conditions present when I fell short (noise, conflict, hunger, fatigue).

Noise and conflict are inevitable with young kids. However, there are many opportunities to get support and stretch my emotional limits gradually.

2016-12-07-06-56-12Like the rest of this series – it makes more sense when we invert the advice.

Good people won’t stick around in the face of our worst selves.

 

Managing Exceptional People

2016-11-18-15-12-34While certain personality types tolerate constant correction, it’s corrosive to a relationship with an Alpha Child.

Here’s what works…

One Thing – What one thing, if it happened, would take performance to a new level? Pick your battles (or you will be constantly battling).

Default Position – When managing the highly competent, what’s your default position? Is it frequent, small doses of approval backed by admiration? It should be.

Skill Acquisition – Your Alpha Pups are keen to please by learning skills and completing tasks. ABC => Always Build Competence.

Mistakes – Make mistakes visible, teach a different approach with better outcomes then get back to your One Thing. Learning to forgive your own mistakes will help you forgive others.

If in doubt keep my mouth shut and work on my own one thing.

2016-11-22-07-14-18If you were taught constant-correction management (particularly in childhood) then it’s going to be tough to change.

Keep It Simple!

Pause.

Ask yourself…

What’s my One Thing, here?

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With my oldest…

  • One Thing – reading
  • Default Position – let things happen
  • Skill Acquisition – swimming, camping, sailing, enjoyment of nature, aerobic capacity, strength, reading, math, writing, persuation
  • Mistakes – teach via mantras AFTER the energy of conflict has left

The main thing people need is love.

Damage Limitation Strategies – Nutrition

2016-12-09-16-30-38My mind has the tendency to ascribe meaning, and narrative, to my daily choices/actions/words.

Properly managed, this desire to “make sense” is a powerful tool for positive change.

2016-12-08-08-27-44Nutrition has NOTHING to do with nutrition.

What we end up eating has a lot to do with appetite, habit and availability.

I’ve watched nutritional science change so often, and so dramatically, that it has lost its credibility with me.

Here’s what I’ve noticed…

  • Exercise is the best medicine I can give myself
  • Excessive stress results in poor choices
  • Prior food choices, sleep and exercise impact my neurochemistry

The above can work together in a positive, or a negative, feedback loop.

Regardless, they are always working.

2016-12-07-11-23-01Why does “Eat Huge Salads” work?

  • Buying healthy food makes you a healthy person
  • Preparing healthy food makes you a healthy person
  • Unlike ice cream, cold cereal or beef chili with rice… I have to chew a salad – chewing slows me down (habit creation) and increases my satisfaction beyond the next meal (appetite moderation)
  • A mixing bowl of salad makes subsequent poor choices physically painful (adverse consequences)
  • Large amounts of fiber keep me regular and there is a emotional release from good elimination
  • Salad is the food choice with the lowest number of calories per bowl
  • It works because it works – while my explanations might be back fit-BS, the results are real

Whatever you eat for the next three years, you will come to believe that your choices are delicious. Don’t believe me? Listen to people who think differently. We are hardwired to believe in the merits of our prior choices.

Pay attention to your mantras – what you say after you eat, what you say about food, what you say about yourself.

Choose wisely – our minds are always watching, listening, rationalizing.

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Apples!!!

Two to three apples is a quick way to get a similar effect to a salad.

Displacing a poor choice is easier than resisting one.