Skinny Fat

Ever heard of this term?

Most people have a different idea of what the term means. On Urban Dictionary, the term Skinny Fat is defined as

A person who is not overweight and has a skinny look but may still have a high fat percentage and low muscular mass. Usually these people have a low caloric diet, that’s why they are skinny, but are not involved in any sports activities or training’s and that’s why they don’t have any muscle. Since between the bone and the skin those people only have fat, the skin can be deformed easily because the skin layer is on an unstable matter (fat).

I am not sure I buy that description. When I think of the term Skinny Fat I think of people who are thin, and appear in shape but eat or behave in such a manner that, metabolism aside, would make an average person overweight. We all know these people. These are the runners who average 8:00 miles and post all over Facebook and Twitter how they scarfed down a pint of Ben & Jerry’s as a “reward” (how undoing all the work you just did is classified as a reward is beyond me). They are the ones that scoff at your No Sugar No Grain effort because, well, it doesn’t affect them in the same way.

The body is a lot like a database … Garbage In Garbage Out

What these people don’t realize is that looking in shape and being able to perform at a high level, the way they are inside, fueling themselves with unhealthy food, is affecting them in ways they may not see for decades.

Listen, folks … according to research stated in several sources (“Wheat Belly”, “Fat Chance”, “Good Calorie Bad Calorie”), only 20-25% of people can process sugar correctly. That means for every 4-5 people you know, only one can afford to eat sugar filled food and process them in a way that it will not affect them health wise. In a triathlon with 3,000 people that is 600. And most of them are the elites at the start of the race. Want proof? Go to a longer distance triathlon (Olympic or a 70.3) and watch the finish line. The elites are coming in under three hours, and they are all fit, fuel with sugar (not all, but most), and train like animals. Then near the end, you see the rest of us. We train hard also, we struggle through the race and finish, but we are overweight.

And where did we make our mistake?

We make mistakes by trying to emulate the professional triathletes eating and training habits. Pick up a magazine and leaf through it. Most are filled with “Training Plans of the Top Pro’s at Kona” or “Mirinda Carfrae’s Nutrition Plan”. We eagerly scoff this stuff up and fix our plans to match the pros.

And it fails 80% of the time.

I was (am) one of these people. Through my first season (2011) I ate like I had been eating to lose the initial weight and dropped from 313 pounds to 236 (between May 2010 and September 2011). Then, because I was now a “triathlete”, I changed my eating and fueling habits in Season 2 (2012) to match what the elites did. I started using sugar filled crap to refuel (chocolate milk anyone??) and added carbs back to my diet. My races got progressively worse through the season and I went from my low of 236 back to 263. Today I am at 278.

I learned my lesson, but here in 2018, I am still struggling to find what I lost in 2011. My weight is still in the 280-pound range and refuses to budge (though most of this is my own fault). The difference is that I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2014 and it has affected my training load. So, even with my healthier eating lifestyle, I am gaining weight. I am finding more and more that even a little bit of processed food, no matter how healthy I think it is, affects me in a negative way. My energy levels have fallen and I find it harder and harder to get it there to train unless it’s a weekend and I have a team obligation, and even then I am finding it harder.

So what is the takeaway?

The people you see running these amazing race times and scarfing the sugar crap may be part of the 20%. And if they are not, it will catch up to them at some point. Some of these people may never be fat or overweight. They may go through life judging their fitness by what they see in the mirror and on the race clock, oblivious to the damage they are causing internally until they drop dead of a heart attack at age 45. Stick to your guns and stay the course. Don’t be swayed by the ads and the magazines. If these athletes and/or celebrities were honest they would tell you that they don’t really use half the crap they are shilling.

Have you ever seen a pro scarfing chocolate milk right after a race? Didn’t think so!

Yes, there are people who are reading this and saying “there’s nothing wrong with sugar. Your body needs sugar. I eat sugar all the time and never have a problem!”, and more than a few that will comment on how they, in fact, use chocolate milk. As I have said, there are people who can do it. There are also people who smoke their whole life and never get cancer. Doesn’t mean that smoking is healthy.

The problem is that most do not see sugar addiction as a valid addiction

As an ending note, I am not talking about anyone specifically. In these types of posts inevitably someone I know thinks I am talking about them. I am not. If you want to eat crap and feel it’s OK, then have at it, but please … PLEASE … don’t characterize it as “healthy” or “OK”.

This is what my base issue is. On a social media post, someone who was having trouble with sugar cravings posted that it bugged them that a gym (in this case Lifestyle Family Fitness, now currently out of business … go figure) would have donuts on Wednesday for their patrons, and how she felt it was detrimental to those struggling. A valid point, and one that I share. Of course, there is always one person who chimes in with the “eyes on your own plate” metaphor. The respondent’s point (and I quote) was “if you want a doughnut just eat a damn doughnut. One doughnut won’t kill you”.

And there is the problem. People do not see a sugar problem, or over-eating, as a real “addiction”. If someone had written “I am a recovering alcoholic and seeing booze all the time is really bothering me” you wouldn’t tell them “hey man, eye’s on your own plate. If you need a drink then have a drink. One drink won’t kill you”.

Or would you?

I think the point is if you think I am talking about you, then maybe you need to really read what I am saying.

Stress and the Modern Human

Stress can be a hard thing to describe to people, especially if they are one of the few that either (a) handles stress well, or (b) has very little stress in their life.

Most people can do neither, and those that are (b) are known as psychopaths.

We ALL have stress in our life. To say we don’t would be, as they say these days, #FakeNews.

Stress is a silent killer. It causes all kinds of problems physically and mentally, but the thing with stress is that it takes a long time for it to kill you. Often it sneaks up slowly over the course of years. People that report having little to no stress are often the most stressed when tested.

But also, while stress is inevitable for all of us, suffering is not.

Our bodies are built to handle stress. When a threat is perceived, the amygdala surveys the scene and determines your response, be it curling into the fetal position or just “letting it go”.  When the amygdala detects a threat it activates the sympathetic nervous system or SNS. The SNS can raise blood pressure and blood sugar to prepare your body for that stressor being perceived. So, like a chain reaction, the amygdala alerts the hypothalamus, which alerts the pituitary, which tells the adrenal gland to release cortisol.

Cortisol is your friend and your enemy. Acute, short-term release of cortisol is necessary and actually good for you. It increases vigilance, memory functions, and immune functions, and redirects blood flow to the muscles, heart, and brain. Our bodies are designed to accept this release is short bursts and small doses. This is what allowed our ancestors to escape attacks from wild animals. But what has happened these days is the stressors are constant. We no longer have wild animals to worry about sporadically, but we have 8-10 hour jobs and endless lines of creditors calling between the hours of 7:30 AM and 9:00 PM. Because fo this constant barrage of stress, our adrenals are pumping cortisol into our bodies without rest. This is what can kill you. Your blood pressure remains high, your brain on constant alert. Eventually, even the fittest person will succumb.

Chronic stress affects your ability to think also. We all have the part of the brain that keeps us out of danger or subconscious, but when constantly under stress and being pumped with cortisol the ability to reason is effected, allowing you to do crazy things that, in a normal state, you would not do. Did we have road rage incidents in 1960 or 1970? Probably, but I am betting that there were much fewer examples, but now when someone cuts you off in traffic or snags a parking spot, or even cuts in front of the line the instinct is now to “lash out” instead of “letting it go”. This is due to stress building up and preventing self-control from taking over.

It also causes the loss of cognitive control, or the ability to inhibit the drive to seek pleasure. This is why those under the highest amounts of stress, usually the lower socioeconomic classes, are the most likely to become addicted to drugs. It is no shock to learn that those lowest on the socioeconomic scale have the highest rates of disease and of cortisol levels.

Now, this is the bad part. Readers of this blog and listeners to the podcast usually have found us because they are either an athlete or aspire to be one. As stated earlier, our bodies are built to accept short bursts of cortisol to remove us from danger, but what if we elevate our blood flow on a constant basis by engaging in endurance sports? You bombard your body with stress, in this case, both mentally and physically, which releases cortisol on a constant basis through long training sessions and 7+ hour events. This can lead to adrenal fatigue, and that can take a while to recover from fully.

But I am not saying you need to stop. What I am saying is that we need to be aware of these issues, and to find balance in our lives. We cannot work 10-12 hours days in a high-stress job, only to leave and put our bodies through 3-4 hours of high-intensity training sessions and not expect that eventually, our bodies are going to quit on us. Be smart and find that pleasure in your life to counter the stressors. Saying to remove stress is a fool’s errand. It cannot be done, and for me to write a list stating that “these are the highest stress-related activities”, though you can find a few of those online, is all ridiculous because stress is a very personal thing. We all perceive it differently.

Be kind to yourself.

The Best Way to Lose Weight

Disclaimer: This is one of those posts that people reading either scream “YES!!!!” or scream “What an Idiot!!!”. Let me start off right away by stating this … if you disagree with anything I am about to talk about, or if it doesn’t jive with what you have seen or experienced, let’s take it at that and move on. Everything … and I mean everything … I write about on this site or on my various social outlets are an n=1 issue. 

I will start by saying this … I have been having a hard time with my weight again … and it has gotten to the point where I have had to take a hard look at what I have been doing vs. what I was doing when my weight was dropping in 2012-2013. After reading through my past logs and postings, and comparing them to what my current practice is, I have found some large differences, and the bottom line is that it all comes down to self-sabotage. I knew what worked in the past, and I have actively gone against what worked, for whatever idiotic reasoning has been in my head. It is time to halt this train and get my head straight again, and this posting is part of that, so bear with me as I share what I have found works and doesn’t work, for me.

The Best Cardio for Losing Fat

Here it is in a nutshell. If you are training for a long course event, say a marathon or long course triathlon (70.3 and up), you are going to have a hard time losing weight. These events and burning fat do not go together. Long form cardio is not effective as a foundation for a weight loss program. Many people and sources have told me this over the past 8 years, from Vinnie Tortorich personally, to books by various authors, but I have fought this concept. I have fought it at my own risk. When my training went from sprint triathlons and half marathons to marathons and 70.3 triathlons I started gaining weight again. Not only did I start gaining weight, I also started getting injured, and the heavier I got the closer I was to getting hurt at some point. A vicious circle.

So what is?

The exact opposite.

The first two years all I was doing was the sprint and Olympic triathlons, and my weight was dropping. My weight was dropping because my training program consisted of 20-mile bike rides vs. 40-50 mile rides. It consisted of swim workouts of 100 meter splits to “long sets” of 400 meters. Runs were 3 miles, not 6-10 miles.

And you know what else I was doing?

I was lifting weights.

But more on that in a little bit.

So when doing shorter, higher intensity, work I went from 303 pounds down to 235 pounds. Then I started adding distance events, marathons, 70.3’s, even attempting to train for a 140.6, and my weight started creeping up again. The most frustrating thing? I KNEW better.

So, What Should I DO to Lose Weight?

So if long course training should not be the foundation, what should be?

The exact opposite. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This means a short burst of energy with short breaks in between.

This means an hour bike ride that is broken up into bursts of 10 minute, out of the seat, sprinting followed by a 1-minute spin, and then hitting it again. This means 1:00 running as hard as you can and followed by a 30-second walk, and then going again. It means sets of 100-meter pool sprints with a 15-30 second rest in between while maintaining race pace as best you can throughout each set.

It also means WEIGHT training.

When I was going to Powerhouse with a co-worker at lunch a couple of years ago, my weight was dropping fast. AND I was getting stronger very quickly. When my psoriatic arthritis flared up for the first time I stopped going, and my weight has been a struggle ever since. I am starting to think that the foundation of a weight loss program should be strength training, even before HIIT. But it has to be done correctly.

I have a history of lifting. It started back in my days playing football and as a member of the weightlifting team, but continued well into my naval service as a way to escape the monotony of being at sea for 6-7 months at a time, and the funny thing is, the lessons that were taught to me back then are proving to still be the most effective.

Muscle hypertrophy is when the metabolic effect happens, and subsequently, weight loss occurs, so the idea is to get into that state and stay there. Hypertrophy happens when the muscle is under tension, so “time under tension” (TUT) is the key. What this normally means, for most people, is the following:

0 – 20 seconds – strength is being built
20 – 40 seconds – strength is being built with the beginning of muscle hypertrophy
40 – 70+ seconds – no strength is being built and the muscle hypertrophy is constant

So, if you load up a bar with 200 pounds and bench press it three times, you are building strength and strength only. If you load the same bar with 100 pounds and bench it to failure, say 30 times, you are into hypertrophy and are starting to burn fat. It’s the old “High Weight Low Rep” to get strong method. Still seems to work.

The additional point is TIBS, or “time in-between sets”. Most people in gyms take forever in-between a set. They lift the weight for 30 seconds, then talk, or text, for 4 minutes before doing the next set.

This accomplishes nothing.

In order to “keep the burn” on, your TIBS should be under 45 seconds.

OK, So I Need to Lift Weights … What Weights??

This is easy …

When you walk into a gym and see all the fancy equipment lining the walls … ignore them… and head straight back to the free weights.

I know that is scary because that’s where the monsters live, but trust me … you only need 5 exercises to gain strength and lose weight.

  • Bench Press
  • Dead Lift
  • Squat
  • Barbell Row
  • Overhead Press

Yes, there are machines where you can do these exercises, and in a pinch, they will work, but free weights not only give you the weight to lift, they also cause you to balance the weight, which makes it a better exercise all around. Machines take the “feel” from you.

When I was going to Powerhouse we split these 5 exercises into two workouts. They were:

  • Workout A: Squat, Bench Press, Barbell Row
  • Workout B: Squat, Overhead Press, Dead Lift

The key, as is true with most thing, is FORM. Make sure you have the form down before adding more and more weight to the bars (and one more reason to use free weights over machines). This might mean lifting only the bar itself, but in the long run, it will save you from injury. If you feel unsure about asking for help, YouTube (and Endurance for Everyone has our own channel HERE) has plenty of video’s showing form and function. Kelly Slater is a valuable tool on there.

So .. That’s ALL There Is?

Of course not. As I stated in the beginning, everyone is different, so feel free to play with this a bit. The core is sound, however. Long Course Training should not be your base for losing weight. You will end up frustrated and injured. I know this for a fact, even if I don’t practice what I preach.

You also MUST watch what you eat. Just like a computer, if you put crap in you will get crap results. Eat no processed food, including sugar and grains (I know I will get comments on that one). Naturally occurring sugar, like in fruits and vegetables, are fine but cut out the artificial sweeteners, the Dixie Crystals, etc. If you need carbs, then fine, but it doesn’t mean eating pasta unless you can lead me to a pasta tree.

I hope this helps some of you.

A Triathlon Primer

I have been asked many times about how I got started in triathlon, and more importantly, how would I recommend others getting started in the sport. I have written numerous times about what led me to triathlon, and my issues with each discipline as the last 8 seasons have unfolded, but it occurred to me that I have never put it all together in one post. I’ll attempt to do so with this one.

Being certified doesn’t mean I know anything more than I did before, but I have a pretty certificate now and I’m a bit lighter in the wallet

I earned my Ironman Coaching Certification in May 2016. That doesn’t mean I know anything more, but I have a pretty certificate now and I am a bit lighter in the wallet. I have a Masters in Public Administration and an MBA, along with a BA in Psychology and a certification in Six Sigma (green belt) and Lean Design. Everything I write about is taken from my personal first-hand knowledge and experience, with some additions from a few clients I have worked with the past two years. If your experience or knowledge differs from mine, more power to you. As you all know I come from a perspective of someone who has had cancer, was over 300 pounds at one point, and deals with psoriatic arthritis every day. I am not in this to “win races” and I more than likely will never see a podium, and I am OK with that, but that doesn’t mean you have to be the same way. I don’t even consider triathlons “races” anymore. A friend stated recently that he only calls them his “events” because the only person he is competing against is himself. I am trying to adopt that mindset.

The first thing I would tell you is to read … everything. Magazines, Nutrition Books, first-hand accounts like those of Macca and Wellington. Anything. Ingest everything about the sport.

Then promptly forget everything you read.

These are meant for elite levels and professionals. They will have little to no bearing on how you will train, how you will eat, or how you will race. Keep in mind that many of these athletes, especially the pro’s, are paid by companies to promote their products and gear. Have you ever actually seen a pro triathlete drink chocolate milk after a race? Didn’t think so. While the advice they write about is inspiring, they have the time and the paychecks to do the type of training they talk about. It has nothing to do with you. The biggest mistake I made/make and that I see others make is trying to gear their workouts to meet those they read in magazines, and this includes routines in magazines like Flex and Muscle & Fitness. They are at best personal workouts the pro’s use, and at worst cookie cutter routines. Don’t do them. Move on.

The Swim

Swimming, by FAR, is the discipline that causes the most anxiety, with veterans and especially newbies. Most triathletes do not come from the swimming discipline (though there are some) and you will find that the best swimmers are not those winning the events. Swimming also comprises only 2% of the total event (in most distances), so it often takes the back seat to bike and running. Do not underestimate it because of this reason.

This is a mistake.

While being a good swimmer will rarely put you on the podium, what it will do is set the tone for the race. Learning to swim efficiently is key to a good race, and learning to deal with the inevitable panic attack is even more important. A good swim, not necessarily a fast swim, will let you enter T1 with a clear head and not have to spend 3:00 of your precious time trying to get your head clear.

My training advice on swimming is to forget about the drills. One armed drill, closed fist, etc. will help you become a better and more efficient swimmer but you, as a beginner, need to swim … just swim. Use a race snorkel if needed to get your breathing down but concentrate your efforts on being comfortable swimming, especially open water (though never go into the open water alone. Always practice safety and if alone use one of THESE). Practice panic attacks. Learn how to get yourself through them. Have your partner grab you and pull you. It will serve you better than all the 100m kick drills combined. I will also say to become very comfortable in the pool before going to open water. Be able to swim 800m, 1600m, without stopping before going to the lake or beach.

All that being said, the race is always different from practice. Pre-race jitters will take their toll on you at some point, especially in the beginning, so breathe deep and try to stay calm and relaxed. When the race starts, count 30 seconds and then go into the water (if able to depending on the start methods), stay to the outside away from the fray. There will be bumping. People will grab you. Just move away and race YOUR race.

The Bike

The bike is the largest portion of the triathlon. You will be on your bike for HOURS in long course races, so anything you do regarding training should be geared toward that. Forget about speed. Speed will come. Your focus should be on getting your ass used to sitting on that seat for long periods of time. Period.

The other focus is to train like your race. If you are racing Chattanooga, for example, find hills and climb, climb, climb. If you’re racing Florida in Panama City, find long flats, get into aero position and stay there. If it is possible, try to ride the actual course (easy if you only race close to home). Those of us in Florida have trouble finding hills, but contrary to popular belief, Florida is not everywhere. In Central Florida head to San Antonio or Clermont. I would challenge anyone to ride Clermont, for instance, and still try to claim Florida is flat.

Nutrition is also important during this phase, as you will be, like I said, on the bike a long time. I personally cannot handle solid food while training long and hard. My stomach cannot handle it. When you are in full training mode the blood in your body is being routed to your muscles, leaving very little, if any, available for such little things like digestion. Ever hear triathletes, and especially runners, complain about GI issues while training? Now you know why. But everyone is different. I cannot handle sugar so I don’t eat it. I would argue your body really doesn’t need sugar (especially those downing multiple packets of Gel during a sprint race or a 5K), but I recognize some think they need it so I will leave it at that. I have resorted to Coke during a grueling session where I bonked, and it does work, but once you start throwing sugar in your body you have to keep feeding it.

It’s like a fire.

If you want a fire to burned fast and hot you throw pine needles on it, and you keep throwing pine needles on it to keep it going. If you want the fire to burn not as hot, but last a long time, you throw on a log. If you just MUST have carbs, try a product like UCAN in your water bottle. It’s a super starch (a lot like corn starch) that gives you the bump you need but doesn’t spike your insulin, so doesn’t affect you like the sugar does. Not the best-tasting stuff in the world (flavor it with sports drink) but I have found it works and works well. Plus Meb likes it so it HAS to be good right??

A quick note on Nutrition. Your body burns about 1g to 1.5g of carb per minute when in physical activity. That is 60-90 grams per hour. Your body is able to store about 2,000 calories of carbohydrate (400 grams in skeletal muscle, 90-110 grams in the liver, and roughly 25 grams circulating through the bloodstream for a total of 550-600 grams). Burning 60-90 grams per hour means about 10-12.5 hours. Replenishing carbs at a higher rate than your body can burn means it will SIT in your GUT and cause Gastral Distress. Get out of the “I need carbs” mindset.

And one last thing … learn how to change a flat

… the back tire too.

Seriously.

The Run

By reading my blog, I am going to assume that most of you are heavy, or at least used to be heavy, so you will all know this one simple truth: the run hurts more than any other discipline. Light people look at me like I have three heads when I say this to them. They LOVE the run. The run to them is the best part of the triathlon. But for the heavy triathlete, the run can be deflating, and painful. My most recent race was a good example. I killed the swim, did well on the bike, but because I hammered my hardest on the bike the run was done. My HR was pegged in Zone 5 and would not come down until mile 1.5. In a sprint, where the run is only 3.1 miles, the race that looked promising was one of my slowest.

Pushing through a run when feeling pain is not the right way to go

The thing is this, the run is an evil that must be done, and must be practiced, but nothing ravages the body like running … even if you’re a little rubber person. It jams the feet, ankles, and knees, all of which is multiplied 10 fold if you’re overweight, and the kicker is this; nothing will make you lose weight faster than running. The trick is finding the method that works for you and sticking with it. I have found from trial and many errors that pushing through a run when feeling pain is not the right way to go. I have also been accused of not pushing hard enough on my runs, and there is some truth to that. I have a fear of injury, because I know an injury in running will affect everything else, so I plan ahead a run/walk pace and I stick to it, even if I feel I can push harder (until the very end, of course. Once I see the finish line I move as fast as I can).

My training advice goes along with George Sheehan’s advice, that training should be done according to time and not miles. Sheehan never ran more than 15 miles to train for a marathon. There have been a few recent articles written stating that a 20 mile training run actually does more harm than good for the majority of runners, the basis is that the laws of diminishing returns hit at around 2.5 to 3 hours (meaning the risk of injury after that outweighs the increase in strength, which is minimal). This was, of course, met with a great discussion on boards and social media because, well, how DARE someone challenge conventional wisdom.

So that’s my view on getting started. Let me leave you, though, with a few of my extra thoughts:

Focusing on your weakness in training is fine, but where people (myself included) go wrong is that they don’t adjust the rest of their training to meet the new need. If you do 2 hours of swimming, 5 hours of running, and 7 hours of biking a week for a total of 14 hours and decide that your swimming needs work so you add another 2 hours, now your total training is 16. Your body can only handle so much stress and will become overworked. Focusing on one discipline is fine, but adjust accordingly.

Race … as much as you can afford to. Training is fine but nothing prepares you better than actually racing.

Find easier races to start. If you’re in Florida a great sprint triathlon to try is in Crystal River (400m/15miles/3miles). The course is flat and fast. For more of a challenge in the Sprint Category try Clermont Summer Series (400m/12miles/3.1miles). The hills will get ya!! As far as a 70.3 I would recommend Ironman Augusta (even though it’s a branded race) if you can get to it, just because the swim is “current aided”, or the HITS series in Ocala or Naples.

I hope this post was helpful. As I stated in the beginning, it is only my point of view. I am certain there will be disagreements (especially about the sugar thing … people seem to really get upset about that for some reason) but I have found, as a Fat Slow Triathlete, these things seem to hold true. Please share your thoughts (as long as they are constructive), and join us for discussions on this and other Endurance Sports on the podcast Endurance for Everyone.

A Coaching Philosophy

When I was working on my coaching certification one thing became clear. I was getting incorrect answers during the practices exams in the areas where my personal feelings and experiences, did not mesh with the conventional wisdom presented in the course sections. I knew that I would not fully agree 100% with everything I was going to read, so this was no real surprise, but I found that, like most things, I have a hard time putting my own beliefs aside in order to “answer the questions correctly” so when presented with a question I drift to what I believe to be true, and not necessarily the correct answer according to the curriculum.

This is a necessity in order to pass the course, which I did, but probably with a lower grade then I would have had if I had gone back and looked up the answers when I was confused (although I’d argue in a few spots that I was not the confused one). Since I was able to take the Part 1 Test twice, I figured I would answer them the first time without resorting to the “open book” and see how I did, then if needed take it again. Since I passed I had no need to go back, which means (1) I retained what was taught pretty well, and (2) most of what I feel to be true actually does match.

But what doesn’t?

Part of the course teaches that through your coaching career you will develop your own philosophy. Since my beliefs are based on what I have personally experienced in the 8 years I have been training and competing, and are focused on the types of people I want to coach, my philosophy is geared in that direction and doesn’t always jibe with the coaching principles outlined, which tend to be toward the elite age grouper. I will more than likely not coach many at that level of athlete. The people I will be coaching are probably going to look like me, or at least what I looked liked when I started.

So, as I worked through the final section, I started thinking more about what my philosophy is, and this is what I have come up with as of today. These may or may not change over the next years as I gain more experience.

The basis is the same as the mantra on the back of my shirts, and what we say in the Endurance for Everyone Podcast; Swim Calm, Bike Strong, and Run Steady. But what does this mean to me, and how do I express that to a coaching client. This is what I have in my head right now:

Swim Calm

  • The importance is placed on the mental aspect of the swim and developing form
  • Speed comes as the athlete becomes more comfortable with form and being in the water
  • Time in the pool builds confidence
  • Racing builds confidence
  • When at all possible get into the water at the race venue you are training for. This will calm anxiety once it becomes a “known” entity. No surprises on race day.
  • Do what is needed during a race to maintain calmness, including starting in the back and to the side and not getting in the middle of the scrum. Use the rules as you need to. If you need to stop and stand (if you’re able) then do it. If you need a rest, grab a kayak or buoy. You cannot win a triathlon in the swim, but if you go out too fast or get panicked, you can ruin the whole experience.

Bike Strong

  • Weekday training based on intense intervals over long rides
  • Longer rides on the weekend based on saddle time over speed, i.e. getting the body prepared for being in the saddle 4-7 hours.
  • Again, speed comes as endurance builds
  • Train the course of your “A” race. See #5 in the swim section. Familiarity breeds calmness and promotes confidence.

Run Steady

  • As heavy athletes, the run can be a painful experience.
  • Form over speed
  • Run/walk intervals, gradually increasing run sections over time as the body allows. Emphasize that walking is not defeated.
  • Zone 2 training on longer runs.
  • Brick sessions after all bike rides, even if it’s just a light ten-minute walk/jog
  • No runs over 70% of race distance. This is due to injury and recovery issue. As heavier, or older, athletes a long run of 20 miles can create a recovery need of 3-4 days afterward, which is 3-4 days of no training. By keeping training to a manageable distance the athlete is able to train to the plan and reduces injury occurrence.

Nutrition

This is the place I really deviate from what the course teaches. I do not believe in the high carb needs that are taught in the course. I believe we can train our bodies to be fat burners even during a race, by training in the same manner.

  • Fat adaption during training should result in the ability to race with minimal need for carb intake
  • Real food only
  • Nothing … NOTHING … processed … this includes gels, gu’s, etc.
  • As Dawn Blatner teaches, no C.R.A.P. This stands for no Chemicals in the ingredients, no Refined sugars or flour, nothing Artificial – including sweeteners, and no Preservatives. In other words … REAL FOOD

This is just a start, and I know some reading this are not going to agree. There are still proponents of calorie counting, calorie in-calorie out theory, 65-70% carb eating, etc. If that works for you, fine … have at it … but I know as a heavy athlete it doesn’t work this way, and most of the others I know in my same situation react the same.

Realistic Goals and the Problem of Groupthink

In past podcast episodes, we talked a little about training partners and whether or not they can actually hurt you. The bottom line in the discussion was if the partner you choose to train with is not on your level, or does not have the same goals as you, then they can hurt your preparation in the end.

We have all been there to some extent. As social creatures most of our instincts are to be with others, not solo, so when we choose to run or bike or swim or hike we naturally want to go with someone, or with a group. It’s human nature. The issue arises when you happen to be in a training plan for, say, a marathon and the person you run with is only out to socialize and take it easy. Nothing inherently wrong with that at all, except when your training for that has a purpose that is now affected because you (1) want to hang with your buddy, and (2) don’t want to hurt their feelings by leaving them behind.

Groups are notorious for this, and I myself have been guilty of giving the wrong impressions at times.

For those new readers out here let’s have a quick recap of the blog and the associated podcasts.

After a year of co-hosting a show called “Ironman: Year One” Andrew Weaver and I decided to rebrand and changed the name to “Back of Pack Endurance”. We kept that name for over a year, and when Andrew decided to move on I once again rebranded the show to match the name of this blog, “Fat Slow Triathlete”. Six months into that I received input that some were “scared off” by the name, thinking it was a triathlon only show, so once again we rebranded to “Endurance for Everyone”, a name that came from an off-the-cuff remark by the co-host at that time, Randy Messman. Four different names but still the same show.

And here’s the thing, the names we chose for each of them had a specific purpose but was never considered to be a “requirement”, although I think some out there see these names as such.

Ironman: Year One was not only for those seeking to accomplish 140.6 miles of pure triathlon joy. Yes, at its core it was a chronicling of Andrew and my journey to that goal, but the show was about the pitfalls we all face, not just in triathlon.

Back of Pack Endurance was not only for people that ran in the back. We had guests on ranging from one end of the spectrum to the other. “Back of the Pack” was not a GOAL, but a MINDSET. But that fell on deaf ears to some.

But nothing compared to the issue I encountered with the name Fat Slow Triathlete.

The term “Fat Slow Triathlete” had little to do with weight, quickness, ability, or even triathlon’s. It was meant to provide an inclusive atmosphere for the adult-onset athlete, where support and acceptance can go a long way in bringing everyone to a healthier lifestyle. It’s a way of thinking that doesn’t allow for obstacles to get in the way of the things you want to achieve. If you’re “fat” … so what? “Slow”? ….so what? It’s a way of saying, yes I am Fat (or obese, or overly tall, or old, or young), and I am slow (or injured, or tired) but I can get off the couch and train, and I can compete in and complete any race I set my mind to complete.

It is not, nor ever was, the GOAL to be Fat or Slow.

Again, it’s a MINDSET

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

It was shared with me this morning the same issue in another group. In one episode I talked a little about this group and a bad experience I had with some of them back in 2015. While that opinion changed at Runners World, the gist of my issue with the group reared its head today.

The Sub-30 group was founded by Ted Spiker and was named as such because that was HIS goal, a sub 30:00 5K. All well and good. But there are some that take that goal literally and strive for it in a sometimes unrealistic manner. Case in point was a member stating that they “HAD to get under 30:00” because a race was named in their honor. Not in of itself a bad goal except for one thing; their current best was 39:30 and they had 2-months before the race.

Now, if they had 6 months, a year, absolutely realistic. Go for it. But trying to drop 9:30 off your personal best in 60 days is a recipe for injury, and while most of us would never want to dissuade someone from a goal, there has to be a point where people can be honest with unrealistic expectations. Remember that goals have to be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. In this case, it IS specific (sub 30:00), it IS measurable, it IS achievable (technically), and it IS timely (2 months).

But it is NOT realistic.

And here’s the other issue these days; telling someone that a goal they have is unrealistic is now met with disdain. When did it become that way? I can understand if you’re being an ass about it, laughing at their ideas, calling them an idiot. But what is wrong with stating to someone that their goal is admirable but probably not realistic and then helping them set another goal that works toward that one? In that string on social media the first responses were the normal “go for it!” types before someone, finally, said the truth, that the goal was probably not a good idea in the amount of time they had.

A voice of reason in the crowd.

So, once again, a SUB 30 is a mindset. YOUR “sub-30” could be breaking 45:00, or doing a run/walk split of 4:1. It is not always specifically a sub 30 minute 5K.

Find YOUR goal instead of letting others define it for you.

Remember, everyone’s visions are their own.

10 Ways to Improve Your Triathlon Swim

I know, John is writing about improving a triathlon swim?

Oh, how times have changed.

To the uninitiated, my swimming has always been the Achilles heel of my triathlon racing adventure. I CAN swim, but it is the single most anxiety-provoking portion of my race no matter how many hours of pool and open water time I spend. That being said, however, I have learned over the years a few ways to reduce it, at least on the physical side of things. The mind? Well, another whole story.

So here are ten ways that I have found greatly improves your swimming in a triathlon. No particular order.

Swim Often

Starting off with a no-brainer. The ONLY way to get better in ANY triathlon discipline is to do it as much as possible. Unlike the bike and the run, which can be done inside or outside in all kinds of weather, swimming requires a place to swim, which is not always the easiest thing in the world. Even here in Florida, contrary to beliefs, everyone is not right next to a beach or lake, so a pool is required. And let’s be honest, many pools in a gym are not the best in the world. If you go to a YMCA you will have to be mindful of the beginner swim classes, the children and adults treating it like a recreational pool and not a place to train (the horror!), and some that just don’t know pool etiquette (please let them know you are getting in a lane they are swimming laps in). Swimming once a week as part of a team or Masters class is NOT going to prepare you for race day. It just isn’t. If this is a weak area, or like me, causes stress and anxiety, you should be in the pool at LEAST twice a week, and probably more. Figure it out. Get in the damn water as much as possible.

Learn Multiple Strokes

If you are like me there will be a time during the race that you might tire, or get hit, have goggles knocked off of you, and any assortment of fear-inducing, cringe-worthy, moments. You have to prepare both mentally and physically for these occurrences. As my Team in Training coach puts it, “It’s not IF someone is going to grab you, it’s WHEN”. You must learn ways to kick through a grab to your ankle, a way to keep going if someone whacks you on top of the head, or if you just get tired from going out too hard.

The two strokes outside of the freestyle that has helped me the most are the side stroke and the backstroke. I will warn you to be cautious of the backstroke in open water, especially in a rough one, because water will go in your nose and your mouth. Again, practicing in the pool goes a long way to get over that fear. The side stroke allows you to keep moving forward and moves your face away from any swells that might be happening. Learn this also. It could save your race.

Hand Entry

Go to any pool and watch how people swim (especially novices) and you will see splashing. Here’s a tip:

If you are splashing while you are swimming you are doing it wrong!

A good swimmer glides through the water with hardly a ripple. This is a matter of working on form.

Your hands should be entering the water in front of your goggles in a downward motion, then moving straight down your body, and exiting out the back with force.

Imagine that your hand is creating a hole in the water. Stab it, and then slide your body through that hole. Your hands should never cross over your body. Straight in, straight back.

If it feels wrong you’re probably doing it right. Keep at it. I promise you it will become easier the more you do it.

Head Position

No Tarzan swimming allowed!

A Tarzan swim is when you have your head out of the water all the time. Go to the aforementioned YMCA and this is how you will see most people swimming.

Don’t do it.

The head goes into the water and should be looking straight down. Your body should “roll” with each stroke, so your face should roll out fo the water also. Breathe out through your nose, roll your head out WITH your body, take a breathe as it rolls back in, then breathe out.

In the pool, this is easy because you normally have a black line you can look at, which you will not have in the open water. That’s OK. The more you train yourself to look down the easier the transition will be once you get out there.

The flatter and more streamlined your head is to your body the more your back end will “float”. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in the pool do a Tarzan stroke and notice how your backend sinks. Now put your face straight down and notice what happens.

See my point?

Pull

The past few items all work together, but I thought it would make more sense to separate them out.

The “pull” is how you get through the water. As stated before, the hand enters the water and go straight down your body, exiting to the rear in a strong stroke. You need to imagine that there is a barrier in the middle of you that will not allow your hands to cross over. Keep your palms flat, fingers together, and imaging “grabbing” the water as your arms move down the length of your body. If it helps, especially at first, make an effort to HIT your hips as you hand moves toward the rear, and out of the water. Your palm should be very visible to anyone behind you. As my old coach used to instruct, imagine you have a smiley face on your palm and everytime your hand leaves the water show the people behind you your “happy face”.

Sounds silly I know but that visualization helped me.

If you use a Garmin you may notice there is a measurement called the “SWOLF”. it stands for “Swim Golf”, and much like golf, the object is to get that number as low as possible. The SWOLF measurement is derived by adding the time it takes to do one length (i.e. 25 yards) plus the number of strokes it took you. So, for example, if you go 25 yards in 30 seconds, and it takes you 12 strokes, your SWOLF is 42.

Easy right?

So to get that number UNDER 42 you can do one of two things: take less time using the same number of strokes (improving power), or using fewer strokes in the same time (improving efficiency). My opinion is to improve efficiency, so the aim would be to get across the pool in 30 seconds but only needing 10 strokes. Your time might stay the same, but you will be considerably less fatigue by the end.

A SWOLF of 42 (30 seconds in 12 strokes for 25 yards) equates to @ 70 lengths for a mile. This also means you are taking 840 strokes in 35:00 (assuming you stay constant and don’t tire at all).

Decreasing the SWOLF to a 40 (30 seconds in 10 strokes for 25 yards) equates to 700 strokes in 35:00.

140 fewer strokes in the same amount of time = a much less tired triathlete entering T1.

Kick

Stop kicking.

Seriously.

A swimmer kicks. A triathlete does not.

The kick is there to keep you straight and to aid in the roll of your body. Period. If you are kicking like mad during training and during a race, I promise you that your legs will be dead by mile 5 of the bike.

Triathlon is not a Swim, then a Bike, then a Run.

It is a Swim Bike Run.

All of these components drive the next one. Your optimal goal is to learn each discipline as it relates to the next one.

Your swim needs to be done efficiently so that you enter the bike portion with minimal fatigue (and likewise your bike needs to be done in a way to minimize the fatigue on your run).

The last thing you need to be doing in a swim is tiring out your legs.

Flutter your feet and legs to aid you, but not to propel you.

If you want good examples of this, check out Total Immersion Swimming. Loads of videos on their site and on YouTube.

Intensity

Heart rate is talked about often in the cycling and running portions, but not much in the swimming world.

And that’s a mistake.

Most of that reason is that there are not many ways to get your heart rate in the water. Technology has improved in this area, however, and Garmin has a special strap now that gather information and upload it’s after you are out of the water.

Nifty right?

Much of the anxiety is caused by elevated heart rates before the swim, entering the water and pushing too hard, etc. Like with everything (in my opinion) you cannot learn how to deal with something if you are not even aware it is there.

Swimming heart rates are normally lower than the other disciplines due to a number of factors; people just don’t “sweat” in the pool.

Again, this is a big mistake.

As with running and cycling, there needs to be a workout where you are pushing yourself to higher stress levels. There’s a tendency with swimming to zone out. The rhythm of the strokes, the breathing, even the feel of the water, tends to relax us and force us into a less strenuous training. But without hard data, we are mostly unaware that this is even happening.

You do not want to learn what it feels like to hit Z4 in a swim for the first time during a race. You should be learning to hit that zone in the pool.

Force yourself to be uncomfortable. If it gets too bad the end of the pool is never further than 25 yards (meters) away.

Breathing Hypoxy

In line with the last area, breathing is always the biggest fear of swimming.

Because we don’t breathe water.

Amazing right?

But as with everything else, we need to learn both HOW to breathe while swimming, and how to ADJUST that breathing when it is needed.

If you are training in a pool and always breathing to the right, for example, you are going to have a very bad race if the swells or waves are coming from the right and you have to switch to the left.

Training to breathe in both directions is essential.

The way I do this, to keep myself honest, is to always look at the lane dividers. So on the first length, I am breathing to the right, and on the return length, I am breathing to the left.

I also would recommend that you do some forced hypoxia training, that is learning to go longer than you might be comfortable with.

Do a few laps where you breathe on the 3-5-7-9 stroke.

Not fun I know, but this will come in handy when in a race and you come up for a breathe and see that wave in your face and you have to duck back in.

As with all things, learning to deal with these issues in training goes a LONG way on race day.

Open Water Swimming

The easiest one for last …

Open water swimming …

Do it …

Often …

If you live close to the race course, do it there. If not, do it in the type of water the race will be in.

There is a difference between ocean and lake/river.

If the race is wetsuit legal, swim in the wetsuit before the race. Swimming in a wetsuit may seem easy, but it can be claustrophobic if you are not used to the tightness of the suit. Do NOT enter a race in a wetsuit if you’ve never worn it. Trust me on that one.

If you can stand the cold, don’t use one. It is much easier, even with the buoyancy issue.


So that’s my input for swimming a triathlon. We can do a deep-dive into any of the areas I wrote about for sure, but I think it gives a good overview of most issues.

I hope it helped.

I will finish with a good swim workout for you!

Warm Up: 300 EZ

Main Set: 4 x 100 (swim/kick/swim/kick); 100 EZ; 4 x 200 (:30); 100 EZ; 2 x 400 (sprint last 25)

Cool Down: 300 EZ

Total: 2800

Make sure to listen in on the show (Endurance for Everyone) and leave comments!