Jim Vance has to be the ideal person to write a Triathlon Training Bible. After a college career as a cross country and track athlete, he turned to triathlon and became an elite triathlete who trained at the US Olympic Training Centre. He switched to Ironman racing where he had many top finishes, including a third place at Ironman Florida with a personal best time of 8:37:09. Since then he has gone on to found and be head coach at Formula Endurance, a USA Swimming and USA Triathlon high-performance team that develops elite youth and junior triathletes for Olympic style racing.
Those are quite some credentials for writing a book on data-driven performance training for Triathlons, an absolute triathlon training bible for the serious contender.
Joe Friel, who was Vance’s trainer towards the end of Vance’s triathlon career, comments “Only three things can be measured in endurance training: frequency of workouts, duration of the workout, and intensity of the workout. Frequency is simple. All that’s required is a calendar. Measuring duration is also easy. Any clock will do. Intensity is the hard one to measure. I’ve been trying to do that accurately for about 50 years. This book reveals the current state of the art in intensity measurement in sport.”
Vance plunges right in with this observation: “Athletes get power meters, heart rate monitors, and GPS systems and look at screen after screen of data from their training, trying to figure out what it all means and where the secret information within it shows what to do next… but in the end it is all about filtering that information so it makes sense for the individual athlete. This is the purpose of this book.”
Triathlon Training Bible: The Glossary Helped Me!
On the first reading, I found the glossary at the back of the book to be one of the most useful sections: Vance has such a wealth of understanding of key metrics, all of which seem to have their 1, 2, or 3 letter acronym that I had difficulty in remembering what they were! But the author is skilled in presenting some technical data and how to use it in such a way that it soon becomes understandable. As mentioned in the previous paragraph about people getting heart rate monitors, he surprised me first by almost suggesting that HR is useless, but qualifies that by stating that it needs an output metric to give it context. For this, he takes NP or “normalized power” and divides it by average heart rate, to get watts per beat, which he calls EF or Efficiency Factor. As aerobic fitness improves, the EF value should improve, either because the NP goes up for a given HR, or if NP stays the same, the HR to maintain that effort goes down.
Once that metric is tracked, Vance looks at “decoupling”. In long course triathlon, aerobic endurance is critical. Measuring power output compared with HR as well as how much HR drifts or rises over time at a constant aerobic output intensity indicates how aerobically fit or “economical” an athlete is. If the two lines plotting power output and heart rate are parallel they are said to be “coupled”; if however, the power graph remains horizontal while the heart rate plot is climbing, they are “decoupled” and the percentage drift gives clues to the extent of a lack of aerobic fitness.
Apart from explaining how to make use of and understand data, Vance also provides tips on planning training with the following steps
1) Set goals
2) Determine speed, endurance & technique weaknesses
3) Examine metrics for weaknesses
“Don’t Train According to Peer Pressure” – the Triathlon Training Bible
Vance observes that many triathletes train according to peer pressure, joining in with whatever their buddies are going to do, and they also do the same group workouts day after day, week after week and so on.
“It seems ridiculous to think that you could do the same training over and over and expect to always improve, but many athletes think just that.”
Periodization is Vance’s answer, with a plan to change the training stress over the course of a season. Periodization is broken down into its distinct phases of preparation, base (which Friel further splits into 3 parts), build, peak (or taper) at the most important time, and transition.
“With no plan, there is no destination or pathway that can be effectively determined, tracked and achieved.”
Vance has the skill to make some parts seem obvious – once they are pointed out! He indicates how to set a CTL (Chronic Training Load) from the Performance Management Chart. By comparing where the athlete is today and where they need to be to achieve the desired result, a difference is arrived at. This can be divided by the number of weeks to the event to get a weekly measurable improvement objective for the athlete’s training and – importantly – presents ideas on how to achieve those improvements for each of swimming, cycling and running.
The fourth & final section of this incredible triathlon training bible concentrates on race analysis for winning results, with sub sections on pre-race preparations, in-race monitoring – with some highly useful thoughts on bike and run pacing – and post-race analysis, where I particularly enjoyed the following quote.
“There are too many factors you have to take into account that you have no control over … The most important factor you can keep in your own hands is yourself. I always placed the greatest emphasis on that.”
Eddie Merckx, 5-time Tour de France Winner
In the post-race report, Vance focuses away from the typical report, talking about the funny instances, the pain & discomfort, and the lows and highs of performances: even these can be enjoyable for others to read. His ideal report would be more for the athlete’s own use as an evaluation tool with a whole catalogue of objective factors to examine and record honestly so that you can be even better next time.
As somebody who has never competed at the levels that Vance did so successfully and never had access to the sort of training that people like he and Friel now provide, I found the book to be a real eye-opener on how the professionals do it and how to make sense of and in particular USE of the mass of data that is available. At around £16.50 on Amazon, this book surely is a great investment for any triathlete who wants to improve their performance.
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