THE GLASS BOX

"Approach your season with foresight and realize there are consequences to actions. Place yourself into a glass box, then proceed carefully through your training to race day. This element of training execution will translate into high performance." 

-D Ciaverella
 

Productive week Bend Oregon, spending some time with Mitch Gold of Counterpart Coaching. I used this week as a "motivator" to get me going for IMAZ in November. The swimming in the outdoor 50m pool is always great and the trail running in Sunriver is fantastic.  Had a reasonably good week of 250 miles on the bike and some good runs.  Had a couple of good rides with Matt Lieto, Luke McKenzie, Amanda Balding, and Mitch Gold. Luke and Amanda to race Hulaman, while Matt is heading up to Lake Stevens 70.3.

Summer 2009

The final day of my bigger week spent here in Portland riding with a small group of men though the west foothills of the Cascade range, Saturday the day before Hulaman Half ironman. Riding out 70 miles or so, with 30 to go couple of guys rode off the front and missed a turn. I eventually caught them, told the other guys to start riding back while I did so as to not blow them up in the chase. Once caught we circled back at fairly hard effort to catch the other guys. After about 5 miles I realized they must have turned off and were on a different route home. So, now being in a tempo mode, we started off with myself leading the line on a shortcut back home. The corner we turned is typical for me to enter at 25 mph or so, and I do like going into the 45 degree turn on the inside then holding the bike against the yellow line at the apex of the turn. I do this nearly every time because I know the turn opens up on the other side and its easily manageable.
Well, I didn't realize I hit this turn at 25 and the apex of the turn was wet from the house on the road watering their lawn, despite dry road on either side. So that was it, the bike went down, slammed my hip and slid into oncoming lane about 20 feet and into a driveway on the other side. My speedplay pedals did not unclip and I was subsequently pinned by my bike as I slid along the asphalt and into the gravel. In the end, after realizing my leg wasn't broken, and bleeding all over my bike from my leg and 4 fingernails that were cracked and finger tips rubbed raw from my hands clawing at the asphalt while sliding....I was "happy".
More so in that the car that rounded the turn from the other side as we entered just barely cleared us and we slid behind it. 5 seconds sooner and we would have slid in front of the oncoming car and things would have been worse. Scott Benjamin on my wheel I suppose was trusting that I knew what I was doing here and of course went down with me, sliding equally behind me, with similar injuries. So, we cleaned up and single leg pedaled the next 18 miles to the coffee shop where we waited for Mitch Gold to pick us up. Climbing the final 1000 ft climb to my house was out of the question. After 6 days totally off, I was finally able to stand and put weight on my injured leg. Painful, but at least I am able to bear weight on it. The road rash on my ankle, knee, hip, elbow and shoulder is now scabbing over. So, I suspect I'll get into the water at day 10 and I should be able to spin on my trainer in Zone 1 in a week. Running is the big question, maybe in another 2 weeks.

3 days before my Bend trip, riding out from Athletes lounge in Portland, I took off in typical fashion. The beginning of the ride goes down a short but steep hill with a traffic light at the bottom and a 30 degree left turn through the light. I saw the light was green, saw clear traffic so bombed down the hill in excess of 30 mph as I went through the green light and made the turn. Well, a pickup truck had passed me on the way down going 35 and beat me to the turn. Immediately out of the turn, he slammed on his brakes as he decided to make a sharp right turn into a store parking lot with me 10 feet to the right of his rear bumper going 30. This happened so quickly I barely remember, but I didn't even have time to yell or hit my brakes. All I had time for was to yank my bike to the right, jumping a 9 inch curb, missing a telephone pole by inches. Fortunately he had slowed to make his turn which saved me because I scooted by his right front bumper at about 20 mph, my left knee skimming  his front bumper as I scooted by his headlights. He slammed on the brakes at this point and I fell just on the other side of the truck. I leaped up off the asphalt to throw him some F bombs and I immediately saw his face in shock and it was obvious he never even saw me as he passed me on the hill. He was quickly apologetic and this calmed me down. So, I just said, look man, you have to be aware when you turn right without a signal when you pass a cyclist! He was even more apologetic and at this point realizing I was alive with no broken bones, gave him a quick hand shake said, "it's cool man", and went on my way. When I got onto my bike and began to pedal away, my rear wheel fell off. The curb I hit knocked my skewer right out of my drops. So, put it back on and finished my ride with minor bruises.

The Glass Box

I have mentioned this to my own athletes from time to time. Those who have children, esp in day care...carry hand sanitizer, don't let your kid cough on you, keep the hugging to a minimum in the few weeks before your race! Ride through your brakes on the downhills! Most importantly, stay in your power and pace zones! I have had athletes with leg injuries occur within 2 weeks of a key event because of running too fast or biking too hard, and swimming every single swim interval in zone 5.  Yes I know, its fun to go fast, but we have to stay in the glass box as the race approaches. This means being constantly aware of things we are doing and how they may affect the outcome of the race we've trained 6 months for.  A goal pace of 8 min per mile in an IM marathon for example does not require that we do intervals sub 5:30 pace, and especially going into the final weeks to your ironman.
I really don't care who argues with this....they're wrong.  I can say this with confidence because not only have I been coached by one of the fastest runners on earth (world record holder in 25k), and 3 time Olympic marathoner, I have been competing at a high level for 26 years, and currently have whom I believe is the most experienced ironman coach in the sport. I also carry a doctorate in Medicine.  Yes, I have the pedigree and I am just stating the facts. Whether you want to believe them, lie to yourself,  and convince yourself that the risks are not real, is your decision.

The Formula

Running faster than IM goal pace at times is of course important, as well as structured speed work, but there are limits. Training in anaerobic zones carries the risk of injury and breakdown with little gain when it comes to IM. Proper speed work during long runs and tempo's done at the right time can greatly benefit your marathon.  But, becoming comfortable at running significantly higher than your goal pace is more important than running near your maximum in workouts. This is why we use HR zones as a guide, and if you ignore them, then throw your watch away because you have no need for it. Running well, and more importantly, strength at a given pace requires 4 major factors. Long runs, Speed work, Hills, and Recovery. The order in which an athlete does these...and the frequency...can greatly effect the outcome of their race, either positively or negatively. Similar on the bike;  time trials, hills, longer rides and recovery are essential to ride well in an IM or HIM. The timing of these, and most importantly the duration and level of intensity are extremely important. Misguidance in utilization can undermine your key race and 6 months of training...out the window. This holds true for long rides being too long and too slow, speed-work being too long and too fast, and the tendency to attack the hills at 200 watts over your IM goal wattage. These athletes cant seem to understand why they fail to make improvements IM after IM, season after season. If coached, and you're doing exactly what your coach tells you to do....exactly...and fail to improve or be happy in your performance, then its your coach that fails to understand these principles. In addition, those athletes who decide to do their ironman event in a workout 2-3 weeks prior to their actual race? You are rolling your dice and are at high risk for failure. I know this from experience of over-training, then lying to my coach about it. Yes, that's right...I know most of you do it because when I was a dedicated runner I did it, and I threw away potential stellar races. We are all human, and mistakes are made. However, those who have the ability to learn from them will have the higher probability of success.

Know your Limits

I know there are limits and some of us reach a plateau and can no longer improve from there. These are realistic possibilities and if you've tried more than one coach as well as more than one method of training and are failing to improve then you may very well be near your limits as an athlete. Understand this, and try to improve in other ways. IM racing is complex and there are numerous ways to improve your race. You may reach your limits in the bike and run...so get a swim coach. Improve your nutrition, transitions,etc.
Try to max out every avenue available to you. When you do this...even if you PR by a few minutes, you'll be far happier with the outcome of your race.
Why? When you know you've executed well...in training and on race day, and you can look at yourself in the mirror and know you did the best you could, using all the available resources to you, then you'll be satisfied. Of course, this is something we chase and you will find that no matter how well you perform, you'll find those minor flaws on which to improve next time.

When you're in the glass box, be careful in everything you do...every move you make. Most importantly, be aware of things around you that may shatter the box. This is part of training execution and is a natural progression to proper race-day execution. One of the most difficult concepts I've seen as a coach, is convincing athletes that nobody remembers what you do in a workout. However, they remember what you do on your key race day.

Keep in mind, when you're talking and not looking in front of you on the bike, leading a line and bombing into turns, and racing downhill. You may influence someone around you, and it may not be your race that is at risk, but one of your teammates.

-Dave Ciaverella