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

Real World Running Rehab

The Endurance Corner Archives are being cleaned out.

Here is an article from a few years ago — the article has helped a lot of people so I’m saving a copy here…

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PART ONE

After two running injuries last fall, I asked our team doc, Jeff Shilt, for a running rehab program. He shared his elite athlete rehab protocol, it was an excellent program:

  • Drills
  • Functional strength
  • Flexibility
  • PowerCranks
  • Gradual ramp of load and intensity

Considering the time commitment required for Jeff’s program, I knew there was zero chance that I’d be able to execute it. Rather than fail, I searched for an alternative plan.

So I asked Jeff, “What is the minimum running load to derive a structural benefit?” He wasn’t sure so I pulled 20 minutes out of the air.

Knowing that it takes me four to six weeks to injure myself I gave myself a target that would take at least three months.

My plan was to insert 20 minutes of slow running with excellent technique. I would handle my aerobic fitness via bike training. I would handle my strength training in the gym.

Over 12 weeks, I managed 50 easy sessions of 20 minutes. I ran mostly on a treadmill with a 1% grade and max speed of 10 minutes per mile. My rehab speed was more than three minutes per mile slower than what I can deliver in a 70.3 race. While I have always been willing to run slow to achieve my goals, my previous goals were closer to 100 mile weeks than quarters!

The 50×20 protocol seems to have worked and my next phase is five-mile runs every other day for 12 weeks. I continue to run slow but have increased my pace cap to eight minutes per mile. I’m off the treadmill and happy to be back outside.

Phase two will take me to June when I’ll shift back to two-mile maintenance runs while I prepare for the Leadville Trail 100 bike.

As an aside, I’m applying the 20-minute target with my reintroduction of swimming. It is early days and a typical workout looks like:

  1. 500 easy with pull buoy
  2. 4x alternate 100 IM no gear with 75 Choice with pull buoy

I managed to keep my large muscle swim strength in the gym but suspect that my little muscles, particularly around my scapula, have atrophied.

Like most of us, my athletic memories and prejudices can cause me to injure myself. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to experiment with slow and steady rehab. I came very close to quitting running and am glad I kept trying to come back.

When more stops working, remember to try less.

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PART TWO

Let’s recap Part One.

  1. Start by completing 50 runs of two miles — took me three months
  2. Shorter of five miles and an hour — every other day for another three months

The above will progress you to 7×45 minutes per 14 days. This works out to about 2:40 per week and will give you a base of about 160 minutes per week that you’ll want to repeat for at least six weeks before adding my tips below.

Once you’re ready to add load, you’ll find that 8-16 minutes worth of threshold/VO2 (combined) per week gives you a performance benefit with very little biomechanical risk.

Adding duration doesn’t give you much — keep every session under an hour. I’ve yet to run 10K.

Adding frequency via supplemental, easy, two-mile runs would make sense if you were a runner, rather than a triathlete. Aside from a couple of back-to-back run days (when traveling), additional running means I swim less. I need my swimming more than I need slow running.

So my recommendation is increase running load by adding intensity wisely. Here’s how:

Create some 5K and 5-mile route options. For my basic running, I prefer flat routes. For my weekly dose of intensity, I prefer hills.

Look for two types of climbs. The first is a climb that flattens at the top. The second is a climb that steepens at the top. Both climbs should be 6-12 minutes long; my preference is 8-10 minutes.

Alternate the climb that you use by week:

  • For the climb that flattens, build pace with the goal being 90 seconds Very Quick at the top.
  • For the climb that steepens, build effort with the goal being 90 seconds Very Intense at the top.

For both climbs, be patient, if you’re recovering from injury then you’ve proven that you can hurt yourself. You want to create a new habit of healthy running.

For both climbs and the descents focus on a quick cadence. Achieve speed via quickness — you should feel like you are taking baby steps.

Follow each day that’s biomechanically challenging with a light day. I’ve been traveling weekly so my total volume (SBR and strength) is down. Therefore, my intense running is done on fresh legs.

A weekly dose of 10 minutes of fast uphill running will give you what you need.

Six months of smart rehab will contain five to eight of these sessions in the final two months. At that stage, you should be better off than you started and ready to incorporate intensive aerobic training (Mod-Hard) as well as extending the duration of your longest run.

Replace the habits that lead to breakdown.

 

Aging Athletes on the Kokopelli Trail

FullSizeRender 2I spent early October riding the Kokopelli Trail in Utah.

I enjoyed the trip more than I expected and want to share ideas to increase your athletic satisfaction as you move into, and beyond, middle age.

High performance is not about health, but long-term athletic satisfaction is most certainly correlated to health, strength and mobility.

As a cohort, our group of 40 to 60 year olds was the healthiest population that I have ever trained alongside. I am using health in a classical context – body, mind and spirit.

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Here in Boulder, I see many friends “age-down” their training partners, seeking younger and younger peers. Heck, we even race our kids as soon as they are fast enough to give us a push.

If you feel compelled to hang onto your youthful performances then be sure to try the opposite, at least some of the time. Age up your pals, teach children and be kind to beginners. Pay close attention to how this makes you feel.

As one of the the “youngsters” on the trip, I learned a lot from listening to the veteran athletes talk about their lives.

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Usually, a training camp involves a 5:30am alarm, wolfing down a breakfast, training all day, eating two massive dinners and sweating myself to sleep. Repeat for six to ten days.

Dropping into a guiding company that was celebrating 25 years of trips, I realized how little I knew about what (normal) people want.

On the first morning, the guides had a chuckle when I arrived in the lobby with my helmet, shoes and full riding kit. It was POURING rain and they gently broke it to me that we weren’t riding for a while.

2015-10-05 11.32.21This pattern, of gently breaking it to me, would continue for the week. Eventually, I capitulated and decided to (attempt to) be a model guest.

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I was surprised by the aspects of the trip that I enjoyed the most — the relaxed mornings and evenings.

I commented to a friend, “This trip is a good workout spread across a great day.”

2015-10-09 08.18.50Bottomless coffee and massive fruit salads in the mornings. As Wes-the-guide can attest, there is something truly satisfying about eating out of a mixing bowl.

FullSizeRender 3Casual dinners and beers around the campfire in the evenings. Our guides taking a well-earned break after a 13-hour day taking care of us.

FullSizeRender 5Stunning camping venues. Wine and cheese at a remote desert campsite.

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I should remember that the health, strength and mobility required to enjoy unique experiences in nature is FAR less than what’s required to train alongside high-performance athletes that are half my age.

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Old habits die hard.

I’m changing slowly.

Less Little Lies

bear2A friend asked what it has been like to step back from athletic competition. Much of what follows applied when I left jobs, peers or habits – any of which might not have fit my life anymore.

The immediate impact is usually relief and a realization of the unnecessary cost my choices where imposing. Quite often, the relief is followed by sadness at leaving old habits, even negative ones.

In terms of “what’s it like” to compete less – it’s exactly the same, just less fatigue and soreness. All my “issues” follow me wherever I go!

What is available is an opportunity to look at the impact of a competitive, or corporate, lifestyle.

I often cloak a selfish reality with talk of benefits outside myself. Shareholder value, national prestige, competing on an international stage, earning money for my children… these little lies are repeated until they become my reality.

Fooling myself isn’t necessarily a problem. I spent my teens and twenties solely focused on my personal outcome. It worked at the time.

In my 30s, I broadened my circle to help other people assist with achieving my personal outcome. It still worked for me.

That lifestyle was a form of greed – more more more.

With a spouse and kids, the lies have to increase to justify continuing the choices of my youth.

Long-term competition isn’t a problem. The problem is the thinking that results from turning away from my spouse, my kids, my family and my community.

We tell ourselves that we will change when we have X, or achieve Y, or become Z.

What I’ve done is tell myself…

I’m going to look directly at my flaws, a diseased friend, a homeless beggar, a hysterical child or a demented hospice patient.

Whatever it is that scares me. I’ll look at it.

I’m going to acknowledge that I can’t fix the situation but I’ll try to do something small to make life better.

Working towards overcoming the difficulties of my inner life is similar to the pleasure of overcoming others through competition.

The reward is just as sweet and others do not pay a price for my success.

 

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).

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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.

Better Than Expected

tea_partyLast week, a speedy age-group athlete asked me why I hadn’t been racing much.

I’ve been thinking about my answer. What was said, and what was unsaid.

Here’s what I said,

“You have to remember that I was far better than I expected to be.”

The peace I feel with regard to sport is something that I didn’t expect.

Part of the serenity comes from the experience of giving my absolute best for many years.

Another part is understanding what was required to exceed my expectations, and realizing that’s not advisable.

I have been thinking about my attitude of “better than expected” for YEARS.

I’ve noticed it is spreading into other areas of my life.

  • My marriage… better than expected
  • My kids… better than expected
  • My day… better than expected
  • My life situation… better than expected
  • My health… better than expected

Some of my serenity can be traced to a long-term campaign to jettison anything that stresses me. However, living with preschoolers is stressful and they don’t seem to be spilling into the rest of my experience anymore.

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What was unsaid was the insanity of spending time, and a lot of money, reinforcing the worst aspects of my personality.

What do I mean?

At the edge, I discovered narcissism, sociopathy, isolation and a disregard for long-term health.

In addition to endurance competition, I have the potential to be very good at all of the above!

These attributes are everywhere in society. However, they are easily seen in people at the pinnacle of their fields (even narrow niches). Indeed, many champion athletes would see these traits as necessary, and desirable.

As a true believer, it was extremely valuable to lock onto athletics. It strengthened much of what’s good in me. It’s one of many paradoxes in my life.

I’ll end by paraphrasing a coach of mine…

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone is to give them the confidence to leave.

…and life has been far better than expected!

🙂

The Middle-Aged Athlete

ec_hatLast weekend, a bunch of my pals were in Hawaii for Ironman. Watching from a distance, Ironman is a reminder that the human body can do some incredible things. While the race is neat, what’s most impressive is the training load that the competitors put themselves through. The physical output, over many years, is impressive – sitting here, I can’t believe I was able to do it!

I’ve had success coaching men between 40 and 75 years old (as well as women from 40 to 55 years old). Interestingly, it’s the guys who are most prone to saying, “I wonder if I’m getting old.” Top amateur women just keep on rolling, about the only thing that slows them down is injury and illness.

On the other hand, guys get really tired. I like to joke with my wife that I get Man-Fatigue – like man flu – it’s a whole different level of fatigue from what she experiences.

What follows isn’t for my pals, who are still crushing it. Keep doing what you love for as long as it makes sense. I miss those days, and you will too! It’s for the rest of you – particularly, if you were a top athlete in your 20s and 30s.

When it comes to aging, I hear this a lot…

  • Age is just a number
  • You’re only old when your age is an excuse
  • 40 is the new 30

These sayings are linked to the first phase of aging – holding on against the natural progression of time. I’m more fond of saying, “this is what 45 looks like and it’s not so bad!”

In my peer group, characterized by exceptional will, a few can extend the “holding on” phase into their 50s and, extremely rarely, their 60s. You can find examples of these special humans (!) on the Big Island each October. I know a few and they are amazing people.

What lies hidden is the psychological, and physical cost, from living an unnatural life. When we put ourselves together in a peer group, that consists of much younger 1%’ers, we’re left wondering… what’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like XXXX? Am I getting old?

I used to think that I’d be hanging on. Now, I’m not so sure. At first, I thought it was my kids making me tired but there seems to be something deeper at work. Time will tell. Maybe I’ll get a second wind in my 50s! 🙂

When I catch myself thinking that a return to my 20s/30s will improve my life – I say…

  • It’s amazing how much exercise I was able to do
  • I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to compete at a high level

Wonder and gratitude are effective antidotes to mourning the past.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is I get an excellent mood response from small doses of exercise. I have to remind myself of this A LOT so I don’t fry myself.

With exercise, generosity, novelty…happiness links better to frequency than intensity, or dosage.

How do you know if you’re holding on too tight?

  • Ask the people closest to you
  • Pay attention to frequent orthopedic injury
  • Pay attention to frequent depression, or anger

If you aspire to performances that were extreme when you were 10-25 years younger then be sure to spend time with people your own age, as you age.

Trying to be the 1% of the 1% can lead to a rough ride as the years roll on.

Choose wisely.