One day at practice your coach tells you to see yourself scoring that touchdown or crossing that finish line. Some of you have heard of the practice of visualization. Visualization, or Imagery, is walking through a future event using all of your senses in explicit vivid detail but in your mind. You are essentially tricking your mind into thinking it actually living in that moment. The end goal is to prepare your mind for that future event while building confidence and a motivation bank for the present.
There is no way to debate that your mentality has an effect on you performance. No matter how small or large it could be there is something to work on; more than that 1% or marginal gain you will get from buying Nike’s new shoe or that $500 Ceramic Speed derailleur cage. As you will hear from any sports psychologist, the mind is too often overlooked for its performance capabilities. Imagery has a lot of benefits, but just like aerobic capacity and FTP it requires training to develop.
Imagery is a rehearsal for the real thing. The beauty of imagery or visualization is that there are no real world consequences! All you have to do is run through the event again and learn from the last time. For example, you are racing in Ironman Louisville and you suddenly find your rear tire getting squishy. The resistance builds on the road and you begin to feel the vibration of the hard carbon rim rolling on the ground. You slow down and begin to freak out because you have never head to change a tire in a race. If this was prior to the race and you had walked through it a couple of times through imagery you would adapt to his situation and repair the issue calmly and quickly. Brain mapping shows us that even though we are not physically completing the task, we can trick our brains into thinking we are actually there. The brain can learn from just imagining the situation or task. For example, Natan Sharansky visualized chess games while held in prison for spying. He later went on to win the World Championships.
So where do you begin? In a quiet and comfortable location. I recommend quiet because it allows you to focus on the task at hand but Dr. Nate Zinsser of West Point’s Center of Enhanced Performance says some calming music to begin the session can help you calm the mind. After you are calm it is time to enter the event you wish to perform. You want to go through this event in the first person and being as vivid as possible. If you find that you are struggling to get a vivid environment then you can try out this little exercise. I recommend picking out a simple event that recently happened to you, like last night’s dinner or a summer rainstorm. Put yourself in that event and begin to work through all of the senses.
You turn on your television and a news story pops up about the Tour de France. You get inspired and want emulate them and race the bike. Where do you start? How do you find races?
The best place to start is to ensure you are ready for the commitment: financially, physically, and emotionally. Before you do anything exercise related you should always get checked out by a doctor. There are rare instances where the prospective athlete has a hidden heart disorder or ailment that could be worsened through exercise. Play it safe. After you get the green light from the doctor you need to start spending some money.
Necessary Equipment: What is the absolute minimum amount of equipment you need to race?
Once you have the equipment (the expensive part) you need to get a USAC license. USAC or United States of America Cycling is the governing body for all licensed cycling events in America. Every race you do will be licensed under USAC which means the event has met certain safety, support, and course requirements. If you have never raced before you can purchase a 1 day license during registration or on location at the event. If you pre-register make sure you bring a copy of your one day license or annual license. Speaking of annual license. The other option, if you plan to race more than a couple of times, is to purchase an annual license. This opens the door to a couple more benefits like product discounts and roadside assistance.
Finally, you are ready to register for an event. There are a couple of styles of racing. You have your short but intense Criterium, longer more open road race, to an open category gran fondo. There are also other disciplines like track racing, cyclocross, mountain bike, BMX… Either way, the best place to look for certified races is on USACycling.org. If events have yet to receive their USAC permit or just aren’t listed on USAC you can check out one of these other websites:
I have only been posting about races and some life experiences so I figured I should jump into a little bit more of the training metrics. When I started training again after Annual Training my Chronic Training Load was at 50.8 and my Training Stress Balance was at 29.0. Let’s take a quick snap back to last year after Annual Training. My CTL score was at an all-time low of 39.5 which was due to not training at all during AT and deciding to stop triathlon. It took me until 18 August 2016 (7 weeks) to get up to a CTL of 88. That is currently the highest I have ever had my bike CTL up to today. Where am I today? Well I currently have a CTL of 71.5 and TSB of -21.6. My CTL ramp rate is 7.3 points per week which falls along the upper guideline for CTL ramp rate. TrainingPeaks recommends 5 to 8 points per week. Sticking within this range can help prevent overtraining, but remember it doesn’t guarantee you to not overtrain. Yes, these numbers are important to understand but how is that correlating to power numbers and actual fitness?
Power numbers are definitely not top notch right now. I have been struggling to reach that 5 min and 10 minute maximum power records. Back in March, just prior to Joe Martin, I set a 10 minute max of 410w as well as being 3 pounds lighter. Currently, my best 10 minute effort is at 395w but I do plan on doing the same climb this coming weekend in which I set the 410w maximum. I am not too concerned about the weight for Cascade because the opening Time Trial is not a climber specific TT. Aerodynamics will play more of a roll than weight. Aside from the TT, my aerobic endurance feels strong. This past weekend I did a 4.5 hour ride and even with the oppressive heat I still felt strong the entire ride. I could still produce 90% of FTP towards the end of the ride without too much issue. Finally, my “sprinting” power is higher than ever but is still a joke compared to classical sprinters or even bike riders. This is something I am working on but never really too concerned with sprinting. My strategy is to never really duke it out in a sprint.
As we know, there is more to racing then physical strength and endurance. Racing takes a tactical and confident mindset. One week ago I was riding back to work after a quick lunch when I slid out in a non-technical corner. I don’t know how it happened but it definitely shook my confidence. I came out of it with a bruised hip and a couple of minor scrapes but most importantly a shaken confidence. Over the next week I noticed doubts of handling ability started to creep into my head and I would brake more than previous. I needed to put a stop to the thoughts and fix my mentality. What I began to do is first journaling positive affirmations about my handling skills. I am a strong descender and can handle a bike fairly well for a roadie. Descending and handling is all about confidence and pushing the bike and tires all the way up to the limit. After a week of positive affirmations I headed out to Asheville to ride the mountains. I hit some descents and saw some great improvement on mentality. I felt more confident than the prior week. I had my mojo back.
With just over a week left before the opening stage 24km Individual TT my plan is still to continue to build fitness. Due to the volume of off the bike time my fatigue levels are remaining controlled which allows for a quick taper. My taper is essentially going to be starting on Monday before the race and is accounting for the travel days.
What are my goals for Cascade Classic?
Additional Training Metrics
I recently picked up a Garmin Vivosmart HR and have began to track sleep and heart rate metrics. It is interesting to see the breakdown of deep sleep to light sleep and seeing the actual sleep cycles. On top of sleep metrics I am also tracking all day heart rate, thanks to the optical sensor on the watch.
“Post Activity Comments and Enter a new comment.” It is a section in every single TrainingPeaks workout. It is a highly underappreciated tool for the athlete and the coach. Most of the time both people are concerned about the numbers and the pretty graphs in the “analyze” section. Leaving the comments blank and just looking at the objective data only gives you 70% of the picture. Imagine completing a workout in the rain while just coming off of a little head cold. You then complete that same workout in a couple of weeks and go back to compare your results. You open it up and see that you have improved a ton! But you didn’t fill out the post workout comments so you didn’t remember that you had been sick and it was raining that day. You just see that your data is higher which means you are doing something right, correct? As we all know, this isn’t always the case. Comparing workouts without context of emotional, physical, and environmental data reduces the quality of the objective data.
So what should you write in that comment section? In the end it is up to you. I will provide some easy guidelines for you to follow. You can adapt these to fit your style. Just fill in those comments! If you are a coach, challenge your athletes to fill in those blocks.
The one minute comments: Start small. If you are really rushed, tired, or just don’t feel like writing any comments do this:
The in-depth comments: If you have some additional motivation or time to write follow these guidelines:
Everybody loves a local weekday crit or “Worlds” ride. Knoxville is home to a 3 race Wednesday crit called Knoxie Crits. They are hosted in a park inside of the Zoo/parking lot. I missed the first 2 races due to forgetting shoes and annual training. Finally, I was in Knoxville for the last race of Knoxie Crits. The fact that Pro Road Nats was just in Knoxville meant that some guys hung back like Brad Huff (Rally Pro Cycling), the current US Professional Criterium National Champion. In addition to Huff, Jake Sitler a CCB-Velotooler rider also hung back. On top of those two powerhouses; Knoxville is home to the Crit Life team, a first year Criterium focused team that has dominated the US scene so far.
Knoxie Crits are not worth any upgrade points and don’t have podium places or cash placings so this means it is all about having fun and racing until your eyes pop out. I showed up only planning on doing the A race but that was only because I thought the B race was for Cat 4/5 mix. I learned that most of the Cat 3 riders and some Cat 2 guys ride the B race so I signed up too. The B race was filled with attacks but through the work of 3-4 guys the attacks were always brought back. With a couple of laps to go I decided to attack and have some fun. I immediately created a big gap with 3 guys to chase. One of the guys chasing was local Cat 2 rider Dustin. It seems like he did most of the work to close the gap and let the other two jump finish the last little bit of work. After a couple of laps of being solo I saw that they were closing the gap so I decided to ease up and let them come across. There were 2 or 3 laps left. I welcomed the assistance. The race ended up concluding with a sprint between the three of us. The finish was really close between me and a junior rider. We don’t actually know who won but it didn’t matter.
There was a 15 minute break between the B race and the beginning of the A race. Enough time to recover a little. The A race was only slotted for 40 minutes of racing. Three pros on the starting line, one of them being the current National Champion, as well as a mix of Cat 1s, 2s, and lower cats. I was giddy to start the race and see if I could hang on. The race played out like most would expect. The three pros played with the field and attacked at will. It was truly amazing to experience the massive attacking power of the pros. They could open a huge gap within a couple of pedal strokes. I was stuck chasing and closing the gap after each attack. I ended up finishing 4th which was great because I only lost to the three professionals. Since the race was just for fun it allowed me to be more aggressive and get the racing mindset back.
Two weekends ago I got back to racing after a month of on and off again training. This last month’s life events took precedence over training. It all began with the cruise, then a long weekend where I did get to train, finally my annual training for the Guard. I brought my bike to the training but knew that it was going to be tough to find time AND energy to complete anything. My goals going into the two weeks were really just to maintain fitness. Sadly, that didn’t happen.
(I know that this is kind of repeating itself from my last post. Bear with me...)
Annual training, the season of military convoys, sleeping in tents in the heat, and an ever accumulating odor. I recently changed units for a “promotion” which brought me back to my roots in an engineering unit. I put “promotion” in quotation marks because the lovely Army decided to require a certain class in order to get the pay and pin that comes with the promotion. The class is difficult to schedule and the Army knows this fact. This is really just a cost savings measure for the Army because now you have a bunch of Sergeants working as Staff Sergeants but don’t get the pay or actual rank. Brilliant! Rant over and back to engineering. The cool thing about engineering units is that they tend to have a little bit more equipment compared to the MPs. Being a mechanic, more equipment means more stuff to work on there for passing the time faster. Usually the things to work on are just services but any opportunity to get the hands dirty is ok by me. The first week of training was out in the field. The unit was practicing “field” operations and running basic military drills. This meant tents and cots for all of us. I didn’t actually mind the setup this time. I was smart and setup my sleep spot in the FRS (Forward Repair System) which meant private sleeping area. This also gave me an area to knock out some bike training. I was able to get in 5 workouts that first week. When I initially scheduled the training for the two weeks I was quite ambitious. I had 90-120 minute workouts scheduled. I ended up only ever doing 60-80 minute workouts. On top of it being hot, I was constantly defending myself from the horseflies. Every night there seemed to be two flies that came right in the middle of a hard interval.
Towards the end of the first week I began to suffer from some sort of GI track infection. My farts were deadly and my poop was liquid. Luckily (for me at least), those were the only symptoms. I didn’t lack energy or lose my appetite. I did however compromise my immune system which led to a miserable second week. The second week of training we moved over to these more established clam shell huts. They were glorified caves with a little bit of air conditioning. After one night in the new hut I began to feel congested. By the second night I was coughing and could barely breath. This meant workouts were even less frequent. I attempted a couple of workouts but with the increased temperature of outside and the sinus/chest cold I had to bail. I only got in one workout that entire second week. My fitness level coming out of annual training was low. I had just over 1 month to prepare for Cascade Classic. Time to get to work…
What is the best way to jump start some fitness? Racing! The first weekend back I packed up my car and headed to Cincy for the Hyde Park Blast and Madeira Criterium. My expectations of winning or even getting on the podium were low. I just wanted to use the weekend to kick my fitness into gear and get some racing back into the legs and mind. Saturday was Hyde Park blast, a shoe shaped course just outside of downtown Cincy. I registered for the 3/4 race and the P123 race, my first twilight and professional level crit. So Hyde Park Blast is part of USA Crits Speedweekend which increases the prestige and worth but being on the same weekend as US Professional Road National Championship in Knoxville and the final weekend of Tour of America’s Dairyland meant that the upper end of the field was going to suffer. This was actually great news for me! My goal was really just to hang in and gain some experience with the upper end of crit racing.
Let’s get back to the Cat 3/4 race. The field was a decent size with about 50-60 riders at the start. They did call-ups in order of registration, which took a while to finish, but put me in the middle of the pack. The whistle blew and I ended up getting clipped in without any difficulty; victory! After that, I just hung out in the middle of the group with the goal of slowly moving towards the front. The finish line was at the end of a long straight road into a headwind. I figured if I was 8-10 spots back I would be in a good position for the sprint. Position going into the sprint was determined on the little climb half way through the circuit. I ended up being a little too far back coming out of the climb. Being too far back in combination with someone coming unclipped meant I was out of contention. I ended up finishing 11th. I had a three hour break between this race and the P123 race. I decided to quickly hop into the local pub to grab an actual dinner. I finished dinner and got everything ready with an hour until race time.
I decided that I needed a little bit longer of a spin to get the legs going again so hopped out on to the course 45 minutes until the start. I rolled around very easy for 35 minutes before heading over to the start area. They also had call-ups for the P123 race but this time I was stuck at the back. Additionally, I struggled to clip in and that sent me all the way to the back. This is where I stayed the entire race. I mean, I was the last guy or in the last 5 places the entire race. I would move around people who were getting popped off the group but never moved up. This was somewhat calculated but mostly due to the lack of sprint power. Every time I came out of corner I would lose the wheel in front of me. I had to chase the wheel down and by the time I got back to the group I was tired and had to begin to prep for the next corner. I hung out at the back until the final 30 minutes. Then stuff began to get interesting. At the one end of the course there was a wide 180° turn that had a couple of small pipe access covers in the middle of the road. These didn’t cause any problem until the pace began to really pick up and people began to take a little more risk. There were two crashes on back to back laps where a rider slid out on one of the covers. I was not involved directly in the crash but was held up by the crash. I was allowed to restart the race with the group on the next lap. This was cool because it gave me two laps worth of recovery time. In the end it didn’t matter. With 5 laps to go a guy a couple spots up let a gap open up going into the headwind straight. By the time I got around him there was no way I could close the gap to get back onto the peloton. Me and another guy rode off the back until 2 laps to go and then got pulled for safety reasons. The lesson I learned is that it is extremely difficult to move up in the pro field. Starting position matters a lot in the P12 field. If you do happen to struggle off the start then you need to start moving up immediately. It take a lot of energy to move up, especially when the field is 80-100 riders and the front of the race is 20-30 seconds up the road. Don’t just move up all willy-nilly though. You need to be smart about when you move up. Lulls in the pace or when a rider in front of you starts to move up. I learned that I needed to be more aggressive on the day. The funny thing is that I am usually too aggressive and kill my legs. This race, and Sunday’s race, I wasn’t aggressive enough and paid for it. I need to work on finding that balance. I also need to work on clipping in at the beginning of crits.
It has been a long time, over a month I think, from the last time I posted. I can tell you that I did not post because of a lack of adventure. The time since I last posted has seen me travel to multiple states and a foreign country. After my podium finish at the TN state Crit championships I decided to take some time off. I was planning on taking off one week to recoup and refocus. Removing all temptation of riding my carbon steed my wife and I hopped in the car and headed towards the Atlantic Ocean. Back in March I surprised my wife with cruise tickets, in celebration of our 3 year anniversary. We were set to ship out from the hot but beautifully preserved city of Charleston, SC.
“Welcome to Charleston” was indeed a welcoming sight. I’ve visited Charleston a handful of times, whether it be for racing or for relaxation. I always get lost in the beauty of the history and architecture that makes up downtown. My wife and I got there a day early so we could spend some time actually exploring Charleston. My wife hadn’t been to Charleston in a long time (or at all) so I wanted to show her around. Charleston hotels are expensive, especially around the summer time when vacationers flock to the city and beach. Luckily for me, there is an Air Force Base just outside of Charleston that is host to a nice hotel which we could stay at for cheap. For anyone in the military, take advantage of Space-A deals! My wife and I checked into the hotel just prior to dinner. What did we have planned for the night? Some quick research on my favorite food blogs Making Thyme for Health pointed us towards CO Charleston. A modern Asian restaurant with options for the vegetarian (me) and the meat eaters (my wife). I recommend this place to anyone in Charlotte, Charleston, Myrtle Beach, Savannah, or Atlanta. After filling up on noodles and spring rolls we walked down the street to the Carolina Ale House, which is a rooftop bar overlooking historical Marion Square. We had a couple of beers, laughs, smiles, while silently participating in trivia night.
The next morning we awoke in our typical early fashion and headed back downtown to break the nightly fast. We ended up going to Kitchen 208 which ended up being somewhat disappointing, at least in the food aspect. The coffee was delicious but neither of us were happy with our food choices. Lessons learned the hard way. We couldn’t board the ship until 2pm so that gave us 5 hours to explore Charleston. We hit up the major locations like The Historic Charleston City Market, Charleston City Hall, Waterfront Park and the adjacent beautiful neighborhood. We filled the final hours by eating an amazing lunch at Carmella’s and people watching next to the US Customs building.
What I expected to be a long and painful wait to board the ship ended up being a smooth and easy process. Carnival, unlike Walmart, actually used all computers and counter space available to check in guests. The entire process took less than 30 minutes. A tip to anyone that drives down and needs to find parking; there are parking garages around King Street that charge a maximum of $35 or so for “lost tickets.” Park at one of these garages and walk to the dock. Parking at the dock will cost you $60-70. The cruise we decided on was aboard the Carnival Ecstasy, an older and smaller ship, that leaves Charleston and stops in Nassau for a total round trip of 4 days. The entire cruise experience was amazing. Choosing the smaller cruise ship for my first time was perfect. My wife and I are similar in that we enjoy smaller crowds and a slower pace during vacation. Don’t get me wrong, there was always something to do on the ship. We filled our time and never felt bored. The service was spectacular every day. The entire crew was always happy and almost felt like family at the end. We ended up getting really close to a couple of the crew members, especially the bartenders at the Alchemy Bar. We spent time really getting to know the crew members. I am always fascinated by the stories from other humans, especially foreigners (which makes up 95% of the crew). On top of the perfect service was an amazing food menu for every meal. My wife and I ate in the dining hall for breakfast and dinner every day. Every day we were astounded by the flavors, atmosphere, and selections. There was always at least one vegetarian option. We were never disappointed by the food. The only thing that we were ever disappointed by in the dining hall was the morning coffee. The coffee in the dining hall was extremely watered down. Fear not though for we purchased the drink package which allowed us to visit the specialty coffee bar. There we could get our tasty espresso and cappuccinos. Overall, I would definitely do this cruise again.
The week we returned from the cruise happened to butt up against an extended weekend for Memorial Day. I took advantage of the long weekend to put in some big rides and jump start the fitness. So, I actually had intentions to start riding immediately after returning from the cruise but a small fainting episode and a concussion prevented that plan. On the final night of the cruise I ended up fainting after standing up too quickly. I fainted hard into the closed wall closet. I definitely gave myself a concussion because for the next 3 days I could not focus and anytime I had to think my head began to ache. I took it very easy, even reducing hours at work, in order to properly recover. By Thursday I was feeling a lot better and began to train again. I ended up getting in 14.5 hours of riding into 5 days (13.5 in just 4 days). But alas the next weekend began my 2 weeks of Annual Training.
Annual Training is a 2 week period during the summer where reservists go on active duty orders to train up. This time we spend a week in the field and then a week in WW2 clam shell huts. Our objective was to practice some of our basic warrior drills but more importantly grow our unit cohesion. I believe we accomplished the mission and got some really good training. Annual Training is always a tough place to develop any bike fitness though. I ended up getting in a handful or workouts the first week but ended up getting a head and chest cold the second week. The cold was so bad it prevented me from doing any training which caused my fitness level to plummet.
Alright, so what is next for me? The peak of the mountain is the Cascade Classic. The Cascade Classic is one of, if not the top, American stage race. Just like Joe Martin, it brings the top cyclists from around the nation (and world) for 5 days of racing around Bend, OR. Currently, I have just under a month to prepare. I have used TrainingPeaks to plan out an aggressive build up but if executed perfectly will get me to where I need to be to finish in the top 10. Included in the aggressive buildup will be 3.5 race days. This weekend I am making the trip up to Cincy for the Hyde Park Blast (3/4 and P123) as well as Madeira Criterium. Once I return I will do the final Knoxie Crit (as long as I remember my shoes). The final race day in the lead-up will be Hot Doggett 100 which is a Gran Fondo that takes place just north of Asheville. Luckily, in the buildup I don’t have any weekend obligations and major stressors so all I need to do is execute and I will be ready.
Three River Rumble, hosted by Rockwood, TN played host to the 2017 Tennessee State Criterium Championships. The day was set to be beautiful weather, with bright sunny skies and not overly hot. My race didn’t start until late in the afternoon so I decided to volunteer as a corner marshal for a couple hours. I always appreciate the work organizers put into the event and I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to help them out. I parked myself on a corner and helped direct traffic. I learned, yet again, how much some of these rural towns hate cycling and being healthy. It truly was disappointing and saddening to experience the anger and hatred towards us. I had quite a few people not care about the cyclist safety and ignore my instructions to stay off the course. I do not understand how people immediately degrade/dehumanize cyclists once they clip in. What makes this even worse is that the county and city approved the race, and has for a couple of years. If the citizens don’t appreciate the business the race brings to the town then they should go to their town meeting and complain. Do not put the riders’ safety at jeopardy because you are not involved in your local politics. Alright, time to step off my soap box and on to the race.
The story of the day was breakaway. Now, I spent most of the day on turn 5 being the corner marshal so I could not see when attacks happened. None of the attacks happened coming into turn 5 or right after turn 5. Actually, most of the time there was already a break established coming into my turn. I took this as people were attacking on the long tail wind section after turn 6 or going into turn 3. The stretch between turn 3 and 4 was a cross wind which was then immediately followed by a long tailwind. A gap needed to be established before the final turn because it was a long wide open headwind section.
My race had a smaller field, which was surprising for a Saturday crit and the state championship. I felt that my chances were pretty good for a podium and overall win. The whistle blew, and yet again I struggled to clip in. This is something I clearly need to work on because it has caused me to have crappy starting position on every crit I have done this year. Spending the first couple of laps moving up is a waste of energy. The first two laps started out with a medium speed, 24.2 mph. They ended up being below the average speed on the day, 25.6 mph. I averaged 245 watts over the first two laps while the eventual winner, Jeremiah, averaged 215watts. It wasn’t until the 4th lap that attacks really started happening frequently. Looking back at my power data I can see 10-12 attacks over the remaining 30ish minutes of the race.
The payoff for these attacks were minimal. At most I put some fatigue into some of the guys hanging on but it didn’t do much in regards to the contenders. This is one thing that I need to work on, patience. I tend to be extremely impatient in a game that requires it.
It wasn’t until 19 minutes in that the decisive move was made. At this point, I put in a huge attack with the goal of not letting up in order to finally split the field. This dig required an initial 486w 76 second effort which was part of a 5 minute @ 416w effort. This broke the field down into 5 riders. Only two of the riders were really willing to work, with the eventual winner kind of sitting in and doing weak pulls. After this the race was really on. There were an additional 5 attacks, most made by me, in order to reduce the field even more. The digs were usually shorter efforts down the backstretch, with the tailwind. One of the attacks did separate one rider from the breakaway. It wasn’t until the final 3.5 minutes, though, that the real damage was done. This is when Jeremiah’s patience paid off. He went to work and made two significant attacks on the final 2 laps. The first one was a leg ripper going into turn 6 but we all held on. Jeremiah then attacked again into turn 1. I was at the back of the group and the rider in front of me couldn’t handle the attack. I had to slow down and move around him which created a gap between me and the two riders. I knew I had to close that gap so I pushed the pedals so hard (601w for 45 seconds with a HR of 181 BPM. I could feel my eyeballs wanting to pop out of my head. I thought I had closed the gap coming out of turn 5 but at this point Jeremiah attacked again. He opened up a small gap and I had to chase again. This gap was one I couldn’t close. We rounded the final corner, two riders only a bike length or two in front of me, but with a strong headwind it was too much. I did not have enough protection and power to contend for the win.
STRAVA FILE: https://www.strava.com/activities/986304265/analysis
Matt Bach is a storied Age Group Athlete that has a long list of victories, including Ironman Maryland. He has the experience of balancing a normal work life and setting sights on a World Championship title. Along the way though Matt started to notice signs that were not normal to endurance training. Matt couldn't shake the constant fatigue, and he struggled to find any enjoyment in racing or training. Matt, similar to me, suffered from chronic overtraining which lead to some severe low testosterone. Matt dives into his experience and his new found knowledge about low testosterone in this guest blog. You might recognize the name from his appearance on ENDURANCE PLANET podcast, TRS Radio, as well as Slowtwitch and The Wall Street Journal.
Overtraining and Low Testosterone
What it is, how to prevent it, and how to get back into balance
I may look healthy, but I’m not. I am a triathlete suffering from fatigue, low libido and osteoporosis. I have the bones of a 73 year old. I’m 29.
I write this blog so that you might be aware of the issues that can arise from too much endurance training, but also to inform you that it is preventable and reversible. Life is about balance, and I screwed up my balance and my health. You may like what you see in the mirror, but you may not be healthy either. I am a case study for what NOT TO DO, and I hope you will learn from my mistakes.
Symptoms of Low T (<300ng/dL)
It has been shown in numerous studies since the 1980’s that overtraining in endurance sports can cause reduced testosterone levels. The most common symptoms include fatigue, low libido and impaired performance, but low T can impact many aspects of life including energy levels, sleep patterns, mood, sex life, fertility, cognitive ability, frequent illness, bone health and body composition. The symptoms that each person experiences are different; for me, it was fatigue, low libido, and impaired bone health (osteoporosis at age 29), but for other people it could be any combination of the other symptoms that I listed.
Careful! Most people, including myself, write off their fatigue and lack of desire to the rigors of their training, but in many cases, it is something deeper.
If you have low T like I did, know that we are not alone. It is a very common thing for triathletes, and if you have the type A, overly-disciplined personality that so many of us triathletes have (and many take pride in), then you are at high risk for suffering from low T. If any of the below apply to you, then you might be driving yourself into a hole:
It’s not just triathletes that suffer from hormone issues, but other endurance athletes too. Many of you may be aware of Ryan Hall’s story, which has helped to bring the low testosterone issue into the limelight. Ryan ran the fastest marathon time ever by an American in the 2011 Boston Marathon, 2:04:58. He also broke the American record in the half marathon running a blistering 59:43. Last year, he retired from the sport, at the young age of 33, struggling to run just 12 easy miles per week because of the devastating effects of low testosterone.
Soon after I discovered I had low testosterone, I went on a fact-finding frenzy. I wanted to see how common low testosterone is in endurance athletes, and ask them what they’ve done to manage it. I chose to focus on elite endurance athletes, about half professional and half elite amateurs, because they typically take on higher volumes of training, which I’ve come to understand is the biggest factor leading to low T. I polled 22 elite triathletes and an astonishing 13 of them have had diagnosed hormone issues due to endurance training. Out of the remaining 9 people, 6 of them have experienced symptoms of low testosterone but have not been formally diagnosed. Just 3 out of the 22 elite triathletes I polled claim to have never experienced hormone issues! Further, at least 6 from the list have also had low bone density due to hormone imbalances, and bone stress injuries like I have.
Finally, a researcher in the area of exercise-induced low testosterone has informed me that a study will be published soon that reports low testosterone in approximately 50% of male Kona athletes.
Matt Bach, A Case StudY
Below I will describe what I’ve done over the past six years to cause such devastation to my health. I do this so that you might have a better understanding of what it took for me, and you can compare to yourself. We are all different though, and some of our bodies can sustain a lot more stress than others before they break down. Note that you may be training far less than I, and may be getting more rest, but still could experience issues. On the flip side, you might be training far more and sleeping 5 hours a night, yet haven’t experienced any problems health-wise. Lucky you!
How I Dug My Hellth Hole
Overtraining / Under-recovery
2010 – The year my wife and I began triathlon. Spinning classes, some running, practically drowning in the pool, and some killer abs classes at the gym. This was not when I began overtraining.
Weekly Average: 6 hours
2011 – Met a group of tremendously dedicated triathletes in Hoboken while I was living in Jersey City. Saw their knowledge and company as a way to get good quickly, and I was right! Upped my training and they showed me the ropes. I did 3 half Ironman events that year, along with some shorter triathlons and running events. I was self-coached and partook in “leech training” where I would join in on my training partners’ workouts, usually created by their coaches.
Weekly Average: 12 hours
2012 – My body seemed to be able to cope with more training, so I gave it more training, as I was still self-coached. I saw improvements in fitness over the past couple of years simply by increasing volume, so I, like so many others in our sport, figured improvement must be linearly correlated with volume. My attitude drifted in the direction of trying to fit in as much training as possible given my work and sleep schedule. I noticed that if I got under an average of 7:15 sleep per night, I would get sick, so determined that 7:15 was the right amount. While it was not my goal, I missed qualifying for Kona by 1 slot in my debut Ironman going 9:59 at Ironman Lake Placid.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2013 – Seeing how close I was to qualifying for Kona, I was determined to get there. I remained self-coached, increased my training even further, and fit in as much training as possible. In fact, I stretched the limits of what was possible to put into my schedule. I rarely saw my wife during the week, and spent only a handful of hours with her each weekend. Nearly every Saturday for three months, I rode a century+ then tacked on a run afterwards. For a five week period before tapering for Placid, I had not given myself a single rest day. I ended up having a terrible race at Placid, missed Kona by 1 slot again and went 9:58. Frustrated but knowing the fitness was there, my wife allowed me to sign up to race Ironman Louisville four weeks later where I succeeded in qualifying for Kona by winning my age group. Another factor was that Jared Tootell, a training partner and friend of mine, informally coached me after Placid, and taught me the value of the trainer and quality vs. quantity. This was my first foray into “less is more” and likely saved me from digging myself even further into this hellth hole. I competed in Kona 7 weeks later to complete my 3rd Ironman in as many months. This year was the peak of my overtraining / under-recovery, and when my life balance was most out of whack.
Weekly Average: 17 hours
2015 – Having won Ironman Maryland in 2014 in a 51 minute PR of 8:51 on what felt like “light” training, the prospect of going pro became real. I felt compelled to train more this time and see how big of a ripple I could make in Kona, targeting the top amateur spot. A great result there would put me in a good position to go pro either in 2016 or 2017. My volume stretched again and I felt as though some of that extra bandwidth was gone. Then in March, I noticed two symptoms of low testosterone, unusual fatigue and low libido, for the first time, but I didn’t know that’s what my issue was until August when I was first diagnosed. I had total testosterone of 153 vs the “normal” range of 300-1000. By then it was too close to Kona to just stop training, especially when the only things I noticed were fatigue and low libido, and I was continuing to improve performance-wise. In fact, I had a number of massive breakthroughs in training last year and was top amateur at Eagleman 70.3 by over 5 minutes. I kept the testosterone issue in mind, but decided to continue training at a high level through Kona, and then I would address the issue. I placed 72nd overall in Kona, failing to execute the race I knew I was capable of, and then took time off. After 2 weeks, my testosterone levels had already risen to 256, more than a 100 point increase over my known low point, though still not in the range of “normal.” Several more weeks off would help, and learning more about what could be done to improve my levels naturally would set me up well for 2016.
Weekly Average: 16 hours
2016 – This is when I finally started doing a lot of the right things, though it turns out it was too little too late. I developed a stress reaction in my right femoral neck in May due to having low bone density, the low bone density being a result of low testosterone and underfueling. I slashed my training to near zero and after gathering tons of info from doctors, studies, google, Cody Beals, and ancient cave paintings, I decided to pursue a smattering of natural methods to improve my testosterone levels. By September, my testosterone levels had climbed to 599ng/dL, just shy of the “average” T level for 30 year old males of 625ng/dL. I gradually resumed and increased my training throughout the remainder of the year.
Weekly Average: 13 hours until injury, then 0 building to 8 hours by the end of the year
2017 – I was running ~10 miles at a time, or about 20-25 miles per week when I suffered a recurrence of the stress reaction in my right femur. While my testosterone levels were back to normal, my bone density levels were still very low (it takes a lot of time to regrow bone and bone loss is partially irreversible). I stopped training again, then resumed swimming, then had my first child on April 7th.
Weekly Average: 5 hours until injury and baby, then 1
In early 2015, one of the experiments I ran on myself was to see how low I could go before losing muscle mass or feeling like dirt. I had begun employing metabolic efficiency training in 2014, so thought that maybe with my new nutrition regimen, I could go lower than 140lbs and still feel strong. Every pound less I weigh is one pound less I have to carry for 138.2 miles (the swim doesn’t count) through the lava fields right? Right, but it’s not sustainable! My body rebelled and I couldn’t even drop below 145. I pushed and pushed and just couldn’t do it. It turns out that your body’s response to having low testosterone is to retain body fat. Also, by not giving the body enough fuel, it goes into survival mode and begins to draw from other resources in the body (i.e. your reproductive system, your bones, etc). Note that in females, this biological mechanism results in a loss of their period (amenorrhea), but it’s not so obvious for men. It all makes sense now, but I am fairly certain I did some damage during those months.
I’ve always wondered why professional triathletes are all heavier than me, even if they are shorter. I think I now understand the reason why. I think I also understand why Mark Allen said “be fat in July to race well in October.”
Time for a little side story! After Kona 2015 when I was determined to get a handle on my testosterone levels, I met with an endocrinologist. I thought I had a good idea of how the meeting would go…I’d explain that I have low testosterone, and that I thought it was because of overtraining. The doc would say, ok, we’ll slap this testosterone patch on you and you’ll be good to go. I’ll say “no, doc, I can’t do that because I’m an athlete and it’s against the anti-doping rules” and then the doc would say “ok, then let’s take natural measures to remedy this.” Doc would then list a bunch of natural ways to do it that would probably overlap quite a bit with the methods I had already learned from Cody Beals. Maybe I’d learn a thing or two, and would consider the appointment a success. NOPE! We didn’t even get past the first part. I explained that I have low testosterone due to endurance training, and the endocrinologist, someone who is an expert in hormones, wasn’t even aware that the link exists! Needless to say, I walked out and never saw that doc again.
The point I am making with this anecdote is that while hormone imbalance is prevalent, it is hardly spoken about. Barely anyone understands the problem or how to fix it, even among the medical community. In order to help the multitude of athletes dealing with this, I’ve begun offering consultations to help them get their health and performance back on track. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to request my Athlete Questionnaire, which you would fill out and send back to me in order to get started.
Performance Enhancing Drugs
I won’t take supplemental testosterone, and here’s why:
Natural Remedies for Endurance Athletes with Low T
These last couple of years have been a roller coaster emotionally. Though I typically excel at remaining rational, it’s been hard to keep my head on straight. At one point I was on the verge of turning professional in the sport, but have since been nearly driven out of the sport altogether due to health issues that I never even knew could arise because of a sport that I thought was healthy. Am I doing the right thing for me, my wife and my newborn daughter? Should I be trying to be competitive at this sport, at a pro or age group level, if it’s going to be a detriment to my health? Will I find the right balance between training and recovery? Will that equilibrium translate into enough training to compete at a high level? Or should I just throw in the towel?
While I’ve wavered periodically between the two extremes, quitting the sport and pursuing triathlon at a pro level, and everything in between, the place I seem to be settling is that I will do what I can to restore my health and to return to the sport. Whether I am able to compete again or not, though, will not impact my desire to help those suffering from low testosterone due to endurance training. Let’s all raise awareness of this problem so that others can prevent the hellth hole I’ve fallen into, and so that those who are facing the debilitating effects of low testosterone or low bone density can recover. Preserving your health and being competitive at the sport is possible.
What I Hope For You
Get blood work done. It’s either free, or nearly free (just a co-pay) and really easy to get. Simply talk to you primary care physician about your level of exercise and concern that it may be affecting your hormone levels. Routine blood work does not typically call for testosterone measurement, so be sure to have your doctor request it specifically.
If you think you have experienced symptoms of hormone imbalance, do not hesitate to email me at email@example.com and I will send you my Athlete Questionnaire.
Also, if you meet the following criteria, and want to be considered for a research study will be starting in the coming months, then email me. The study will be over the course of a year and will assess endurance training’s impact on testosterone, general health, and performance for endurance athletes.
1.) Male endurance athlete
2.) Average 10+ hours of aerobic activity per week
3.) Have either:
a.) qualified for Kona (or have come close) or 70.3 worlds, with an overall placement that would be considered "elite" (i.e. a 75 year old man who qualifies for Kona, while very respectable, would not be eligible unless he were capable of being in the top ~third of the overall field)
b.) run a marathon under 2:50
c.) raced competitively in 3+ sanctioned cycling events
d.) or have achieved something in an endurance sport that would be considered "elite"
4.) Can commit to testing once every 2 months for 1 year at either Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) or Armstrong University (Savannah, GA)
If you are interested, you can subscribe to my blog by entering your email address in the upper right hand corner of my website (www.ironmattbach.com) and you can follow me at @IronMattBach on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter
Keep your priorities straight. Remember what is important in life! We love endurance sports, but your health comes before training and competition, as does your family, and if you’re not healthy, you’re not going to be there for them.
There comes a time when you have to admit to yourself that you’re on the way to over-training. As most of you readers know, 2017 is my first year focusing completely on cycling. I began with a pure focus on running in 2013, moved to duathlon, added in swimming in 2016, and dropped swimming and running in 2017. I also started to completely self-coach myself. I started out the training season in November of 2016 coming off of a bout of low testosterone and chronic over-training. I vowed to myself that I would not fall back into that trap. Did I fall back into it?
To just answer the question right off the bat, physiologically speaking I don’t believe I am over-trained. Looking at the mental side, also called burn-out, I don’t believe I am at that level either. Now, I do think if I keep going on my current path I will quickly approach both of these levels within a month. There are a couple of obvious signs, besides my flat TrainingPeaks fitness level, that brought me to the conclusion.
The second point is pretty obvious. TrainingPeaks has a tool called the power curve which shows your maximum power from 5 seconds all the way to 3 hours. You can overlay two curves, which I usually choose last 90 days and last 180 days. I choose 90 days because most of the time that chart gives you a good representation of your current maximums. It allows you the ability to capture data from a wide variety of workouts and races while not being too wide of a range to capture workouts that won’t be affecting your today. 180 days out is wide enough to capture the tail end of the previous seasons end as well as this seasons build up. So how do you know if you are doing it right? If you are supposed to be peaking today and your 180 day values are still higher then you probably timed it wrong or are starting to become over-trained. Let’s look into my power curve from February and compare it to today’s. One thing that is obvious is February’s lack of power on the upper edge of the curve. This is completely normal for winter training. I was also just coming off of my triathlon training, where peak power means nothing. Looking at today’s chart, we can see it is a smoother curve, which is definitely one of the goals of training, but my bread and butter power is starting to drop. Over the past couple of weeks I have noticed a little bit more gray. I have also noticed that workouts involving 2-5 minute power have been harder to hit, almost impossible. So do these charts really show any signs of overtraining, not really. I would say I timed my peak wrong but power overall, my power levels are still close to where they should be.
Finally, another important chart to look at for clues into overtraining is the Performance management chart. This chart gives a good picture of your fitness and fatigue. You can see from my chart that I have been stagnant since pretty much November. There was a big drop in fitness at the end of October because of forced time off from a crash. After that I never seemed to have enough volume or intensity to gain any true fitness. Just prior to the crash I was doing 15-17 hours a week on the bike. I was keeping the intensity lower but volume high. Once November hit my volume dropped because the weather got rougher and I was relegated indoors. I didn’t pay a ton of attention to the chart because my power curve chart was showing good improvements. My performance chart was still being affected by the previous year where I was training 15-20 hours a week for triathlon. I had a higher daily/weekly stress score than I could match with just cycling training. The problem is that I haven’t allowed any significant time for the chart to drop and my body to recover and adapt. It is never good to keep your form level in the -10 to 10 range, which I have been stuck in for 6 months. This means you probably aren’t doing as much as you actually could (not taking into account life events and work stress). If you are building you want to be under -10 and if you are racing you want to be above 5. Staying in the one area is a recipe for overtraining because of a lack of variety and stress in training. You are going just hard enough to put some fatigue in your body but not enough to make any real changes in fitness.
What is next? Well I have one more race next weekend, the Tennessee State Criterium Championships. After that I will take just over a week off, go on a cruise with the wifey, and relax mentally and physically. Once I get back I will start a build for Cascade Classic and the second half of 2017. I will end this with my current Power Profile. This compares your maximum power to weight ratio from the past 180 days to what the average Cat 5 - World Tour rider can do. I will use this chart as a stepping off point with the goal to get 1 minute, 5 minute, and 20 minute power up to CAT 1 level by the end of the year. Always keep in mind that raw power doesn’t mean you will win races though, it just helps to be strong as well as smart.