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Endurance Exchange: Unpacking Science & Strategies for Beginner Triathletes

Endurance Exchange: Unpacking Science & Strategies for Beginner Triathletes

Continual learning is a core value in my personal and professional life. Each year I choose one conference to attend where I can enhance my skills as a coach. When I read that USA Triathlon’s Endurance Exchange is “a community-driven platform that fosters collaboration, innovation, and inspiration” it aligned with my goals for this year so I was all in! I’m excited to share what I learned with you.

From Technical Talk to Practical Tips: My Mission

As I listened to research about cellular metabolism, advancements in understanding HRV and how Olympians train, I noticed that most of the presentations were geared towards experienced and elite athletes. I took that as my invitation to break down the overwhelming technical talk in a way that beginner and less competitive athletes can understand and apply to their training. 

If you’ve already done a few races, you know that training for triathlon or other endurance sports is very process driven. Coaches incorporate specific objectives at different cycles of your training plan and review data like pace, power and heart rate to identify progress and opportunities for improvement. We then create the next training cycle to gain new data and the pattern keeps repeating. After 12 years of training and coaching I love to geek out and analyze things, but I know that beginner athletes are looking for more practical information like fitting triathlon gear into your household budget or how to read a swim workout. 

With that in mind, let me summarize information from a few key presentations at the conference.

Beyond “Go Hard All the Time”: Using Individualized Training & Lifestyle to Impact Performance

In his Keynote address Dr. Inigo San Millan walked us through scientific testing for metabolism and VO2max as well as muscle bioenergetics. At first my head was spinning trying to grasp these concepts, not to mention that most athletes may never have access to these kinds of tests. I recognized the information that applied to most a

Here are the 2 big takeaways that every athlete needs to know:

1. Training plans should be individualized with a variety of different training zones that allow the body periods of work and recovery, within each workout and over the course of training cycles. This is a promising message to replace the old “go hard all the time” approach.

2. Performance is driven by more than training and data analysis. Coaches must consider the impact of genetics, nutrition, mental health, injuries, lifestyle, and daily stress when creating training plans. 

More Than Metrics: Unpacking the Human Side of Elite Performance

In the Olympic discussion panel we heard from Ryan Bolton and Derrick Williamson from the USA Triathlon High Performance Team along with Olympian Taylor Knibb and Paralympian Mohamed Lahna. We got a look into their daily training. It wasn’t surprising that an overwhelming amount of time and resources are needed to train at such a high level. You may be surprised to know that you are more like an Olympian than you think. 

Williamson shared that how Lahna feels and reacts to his schedule along with what is happening with his family and work life is more important than stats alone. These human factors are often what drives the schedule. Lahna agreed, indicating that good communication with his coach helps him train for success. 

Bolton went on to say that being a high performing athlete isn’t a prerequisite for being a good coach, rather it’s the people skills and ability to coach an athlete. So next time you are interviewing a coach, I suggest you focus more on how they can help you versus what they have accomplished. 

Reading Your HRV: Trends, Context, and Avoiding Data Overkill

With the increase in popularity of wearable devices like smart watches and rings Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is at the forefront of discussions among endurance athletes and coaches. Dr. Paul Laursen presented findings on using HRV in your training and how to raise it. 

Let’s start with the most basic question : What is a good HRV number? A higher HRV generally indicates that you are ready for intense or HIIT training while a low HRV suggests that you should stick to low intensity or rest. Work on increasing your HRV over with zone 2 training, proper nutrition, adequate sleep, socialization and my personal favorite – cold water immersion!

Now that you know what you’re looking at, keep this in mind when analyzing HRV:

  • Compare your HRV relative to your historical norm
  • Use a rolling 7 day average vs a single reading
  • Look at the big picture: higher isn’t always better and don’t freak out by single values that are way out of line.
  • Unusual trends can be explained by big changes in nutrition, sleep or stress 

The final truth bomb came when Laursen was asked “What about when you feel good but your HRV is low or vice versa?” He replied without hesitation that how an athlete feels always overrides the data. 

Coaching Beyond the Numbers: Finding the Right Fit for You

The overarching message throughout these sessions and other presentations that I attended: Be A Human! Give yourself permission to dial down the intensity when needed and talk to your coach like a person instead of a statistic. I’ve been applying these principles with my athletes for years. If you’d like to explore coaching opportunities at B*REAL coaching, schedule a connection call today. 

Bonus: Diversity & Menopause in Triathlon (Instagram Discussion Link)

I had the honor to team up with Adam Turrey, coach at Lucid Motion Fitness and fellow RunTriBike Community Leader to discuss our takeaways about Diversity in Triathlon and coaching athletes through the Menopause transition live on Instagram. You can listen to that conversation here.

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