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Three questions for coach Gordo Byrn, a past champion of Ultraman Hawaii.
How do you get over a DNS (did not start)? With the months of preparation you put into preparing for your A race, getting injured or sick at the last second can be devastating. The decision to drop out before things get worse is not an easy one, considering the time and money invested.
First and foremost, give yourself time. It can be tempting to make a quick decision: to push through an injury, to sign up for a “redemption” race or to change direction. Wait a while before making any major decisions.
After some time passes (I recommend at least two weeks), you will gain perspective on the true cause of your DNS. Learn from the experience so you can adjust your approach. Even seemingly random events, like bike crashes, can stem from a deeper root cause of pushing ourselves too hard.
The next step is to focus on recovery. Whether you were derailed by a crash, an illness or simply lack of preparation time, the answer is not additional stress. Use the planned setback of the DNS as the start point for a deep “unloading” block of at least four weeks’ duration. Stay active but resist the urge to do any real training. If you are recovering from an injury, create space in your work and family life. Once you have your health back, focusing on a non-triathlon project can be an excellent way to channel your energy.
If you were derailed due to a stress fracture, consult with a sports doctor who can help you evaluate your approach to nutrition. These injuries are often signals related to your relationship with food.
The first few days after a setback are never much fun. For a couple of days, give yourself some time each morning to recognize your emotions. Then, set a fresh goal and start the journey anew.
What do you see as the biggest nutritional mistake among age-groupers? Reward eating—especially with foods that contain a lot of sugar. Rather than eliminating foods with sugar, seek to reduce your intake of processed foods and replace with a simple diet of real food. I can meet all my nutritional needs from three basic meals and supplement with nuts and fruit. My meals: scrambled eggs with quinoa and olive oil; large salads with good fats, nuts, seeds and lean protein; wraps with hummus, lettuce and lean protein. Use a mirror and your mood to tell you how you’re doing. Don’t worry about perfection; just improve a little bit each season.
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What are the best interval sets to improve speed on the bike? These three sets specifically address the limiters that I see most often when working with athletes.
» To improve your performance on the flats, do Big Gear Intervals: Try 5×8 minutes in a big gear with 2-minute spinning recoveries.
Aim for 60 RPM in your TT position.
Use a threshold effort, where you build to a burning in the legs then back off a touch.
Keep your head up when riding fast!
» To improve your ability to boost effort then recover at race pace, do 12/3s: Alternate 12 minutes at race-specific intensity with 3 minutes one zone up (if you’re racing Ironman, do your 3 minutes at half-Ironman race pace).
Olympic-distance athletes can build to 45-minute sets (3×12/3 continuous), 70.3-distance athletes can build to two 75-minute sets (5×12/3) and iron-distance athletes can build to two 90-minute sets (6×12/3).
Most athletes overestimate optimal bike effort, so start a little easier than you think you need to.
For an added benefit, change your cadence in the middle of each 12-minute segment. For example, alternate 92/60/92 RPM for each 4-minute chunk.
» To improve your intensive aerobic ability, do Lactate Threshold (LT) Intervals. LT intervals are intense, aerobic efforts where you can hear your breathing but do not feel burning in the legs. A monthly 40-minute LT test serves as a good benchmark to track fitness.
Aim for a cadence of 92 RPM, build your effort gradually and stay just below the point where you feel burning.
For the technically minded, 80–85 percent of functional threshold power (FTP) is optimal, and you should cap your heart rate at 8 BPM under FTP heart rate. With experienced athletes, the duration of LT benchmarking can increase up to 2.5 hours (use very sparingly).
Gordo Byrn is the founder of Endurancecorner.com, the co-author of Going Long and a past champion of Ultraman Hawaii.