Can I qualify for the Boston Marathon?

During today’s running of the 120th Boston Marathon, one of my former athletes sent me a message on facebook.  “Do you think with coaching I can qualify for the Boston Marathon?”

This video was my short answer to him, basically, it depends on what your training has looked like at the time you’ve set PRs for various distances.   Watch the video for a longer explanation. I’ll continue to provide more insight on what the different factors may be in a series of “Can I BQ?” videos!

1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

suzSwimUW1000 Meter Freestyle Workouts for Triathletes

Whether you are looking to swim a sprint distance or an Iron distance triathlon, having a few “goto” 1000 meter or 1000 yard freestyle workouts will help keep you from getting into a rut when training.   For the long course triathletes, do these 1000 meter/yard sets 2 or even 3 times through to cover the distance needed in your training.

Creating a Mini-Project Accelerates Your Progress

You can use these sets to create mini projects or tasks to challenge yourself. It is a great way to stay engaged with your swimming and take control over your own training plan.

For example, a 1000 yd improvement project may look like a sequence of 3 sessions cycled through for 3-6 rounds before retesting.  You can use these 1000 meter/ yard sets as the main set, add a 500yd tuneup or warmup to swim exactly 1500m (a swimmers mile).  If you are swimming in a yard pool, just add on a 150 yard cool-down for an imperial version of the swimmers mile (1650 yards)

If you are looking for a main set that’s longer, such as 2000 or 3000 yards or meters, you can repeat the main set, or combine two of these into one practice.

Suppose you’re looking for 2000yd main sets, you could take these three suggestions below, each at 1000 meters/yards and to them in any of 3 combinations (1 & 2, 2 & 3, 1 & 3).  Rotate through these combos for a unique set of 3 main sets, each having a set that you do twice before taking a break from it.  There are a lot of ways to customize this practice idea.

Here are sample 1000 meter practices sets for you to play with

Pre-project test set: favorite warmup, 1000yd TT with splits & stroke counts, cooldown

Swim #1: 5 x 200

Swim #2: 10 x 100

Swim #3: 5 sets of 4×50

For each of these swims you can choose some element to improve like…consistent SPL across all sets, or consistent tempo (use a tempo trainer). When you gain or if you already have good control, manipulate a variable…like 5 x 200 swimming the first 50 at one SPL, the next 100 at SPL + 1 and the last 50 at SPL + 2. This should result in a build within each 200.

Vary the rest intervals to create a bit of variety. Since the 200s are more aerobic, keep the RI short in that practice. Since the 50s *can* be anaerobic, maybe choose to swim descending 50s with 30 sec rest, rest 2 minutes and repeat that 4 more times.

Then you cycle back to the 5 x 200 set and have some comparison…choose 1 metric to try and improve.

After 3 cycles of this…whether you swim every day, every other day or 2 times a week…you go back to your 1000yd TT and by that time you should KNOW before you swim it that you’ve improved based on metrics from the previous sets.

Maintain Focus on Form and Skill During this time as well.

Be sure to toss in at least 1 swim, possibly 2, of un-timed, form only swim sets, other strokes, or a team workout for variety. Or a water aerobics class.

Comment below with how you are using these sets!

For more ideas on creating swimming improvement projects consider downloading this Fresh Freestyle Sampler for 3 practice swims from our book.

‘Tis the season for spring half-marathons!

Congratulations to our Steel City Endurance athletes & coaches competing in spring running races.  Here are a few photos of our superstars who have been outside dealing with winter training elements including snow, ice, rain, fog, morning & evening darkness and are getting results worth sharing.

Spring races are not only our first chance to get out of the winter training doldrums, but also provide great information on where our fitness level is at the current time, which can help you structure upcoming training blocks for the best effectiveness in training.

Nick Hamilton, Just a Short Run

Nick ran the 13.1 mile distance “Just a Short Run” as a training event and took 4 minutes of of his prior half-marathon time, placing 3rd in his age group!

nick hamilton profile


Ahmed “Doc” Fahmey, New York City Half-Marathon

Doc Fahmey took time out of his crazy clinical schedule to sneak in this cold half-marathon in New York City, while building up to his next two races, Syracuse 70.3 and Lake Placid Ironman.

ahmed nyc half 2016


Steven Benardete, 60-64 yo Age Group Winner, Two Rivers Half Marathon, PA

Steve entered this half-marathon race as a taper event for the upcoming Boston Marathon and took first place in his age group.

SteveB Two Rivers Half 2016

Running Intervals to improve your 5k Times – 12 Week Plan

suzalcatrazrunMany triathletes coming from single sport or team sport backgrounds are used to integrating variety of practices and intensities to improve.   Mile repeats (track) , Auburn sprints (swimming), 3-on-3 scrimmage (soccer or basketball), “around-the-horn” (baseball) are all well known practices in their respective sports.

A challenge for the triathlete is how to continue to use interval training while drastically reducing the frequency of workouts in one sport.   This triathlete expresses the concern well. I’ve removed his actual 5k speed, because the answer that follows is somewhat irrelevant.



I’m new to triathlon but I have been running for a few years now. It’s recently dawned on me after many years of half marathons and that a workout without a purpose is a wasted workout. It’s often not the time you spend on it that makes the quality.

My running is not what I would like it to be over 5k and 10k. Can anyone recommend a decent set of running intervals to do to start me improving my times?  My idea is to do two running sessions a week; 1 long run and 1 on interval / speed work.

A common response to this type of question is to simply run more…4-5 runs a week with most of them being easy miles.  That’s definately an option, but reality for many triatheltes is that they can’t fit in more than two sessions a week of one sport, because perhaps they are limited to 6 sessions a week or maybe they are already swimming 5 days a week and cycling 4 days.

From a coach’s perspective I look for ways to help the athlete get the most out of their training time.  Sometimes it may require that they find time to train more often.  But I’m not the controller of their schedule and in the end, there will be plenty of folks who can only run twice a week.    So what’s the best way for them to use their time?

In the case of this triathlete, it sounds like she is an experienced runner.  Doing interval training once per week and an easy run once per week will probably result in some speed gains or at least prevent speed losses.

Here is an example of a 9-12 week progression, that can easily be extended to a 4-6 month routine if a runner is limited to only two runs per week.   I’d recommend starting with a 5k test or race (keep it fun!) and repeat that at 4-6 week intervals.


12 week plan for 5k/10k interval work

Weeks 1-4

3-4 weeks of 1 weekly fartlek session…google fartlek if you don’t know what it is

Weeks 5-8

3-4 weeks of 1 weekly hill repeat session progressing duration of hills from 5-6 repeats of 30seconds week1, to 45 seconds week2 to 1 minute week 3 and 90 sec week four. Downhill walk/jog recovery. next time through the progression, start at 1 miin, then 1:30, then 2 min, then 3 minute hills.

Weeks 9-12

3-4 weeks of 5k paced 400 repeats. Take your 5k pace, calculate your equivalent pace for a 400 & subtract 2-4 seconds from that. week 1 do 4-6 repeats, week 2 do 6-8 and week 3 do 8-10. Week 4 8-12. The goal is to nail the pace, not beat the pace.


Strong Before Long  – Why this works

This progression is moderate, meaning there is a low likelihood of injury.   It allows you to build playful speed first, then leg strength, the 5k specific speed. This is a concept that is sometimes referred to as “strong before long” by run coach Bobby McGee. Building leg strength functionally with hill intervals, then take that leg strength into 400 (1/4 mile) repeats at your current 5k pace or slightly faster to work on leg speed.  The combination is powerful for building speed at 5 & 10k distances.

If you’re just coming off of marathon training, half marathon training (or half-iron & iron distance) training, the endurance you’ll carry over will also stick around for a little while.  This plan would then help you also run a pretty speedy half-marathon even when cutting your run frequency back significantly.

Even if you can running 3-4 times per week, I’d suggest the above as your weekly “speed” work and let me know how it works!

Steel City Endurance Athletes in the News

Our athletes occasionally make the news due to their accomplishments, fund-raising efforts or interesting local involvement.   Here is an annotated collection of such stories in no particular order.

Sass Memphis in May 2015

Sass, Isabella win MIM Triathlon

Kirsten Sass wins the 2015 Memphis in May Olympic Distance Womens race in a timed 2:02:18:54.  She also won the Sprint race the day before in 1:00.49, for an overall combined winning time in the Amateur Challenge (best time for both races)

Your Burning Triathlon Training Questions – Wednesday Weekly

Triathlon  / Freestyle Swimming - Total ImmersionWe have athletes of all experience levels training with our coaches, and sometimes we take for granted how much knowledge triathletes have. There’s no such thing as a question too simple, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that a question that seems basic was once a question we didn’t ahve answers to.

It’s only through familiarity, repetition and surrounding ourselves with training resources daily that common sense triathlon answers become common sense! (more…)

How Swimming Helps Your Balance

How Swimming Helps Your Balance

Yesterday this interesting article in the Washington post discussed a study linking a decreased risk of falling to the activity of swimming. Men over 70 who had fewer falls also swam more than their counterparts. While the study does not identify a causal link, I have a few ideas that I think are worth sharing.

Swimming may help improve Balance.

Swimming may help improve balance and neuromuscular response, for additional reasons that are not discussed in this article.

The horizontal orientation of swimming challenges the cerebellum & vestibular system in a different orientation than on land…without the risk of injury. Much like a baby learning to walk by falling, catching itself, trying again and again until it “learns” how to balance, a human body in the water is always falling towards gravity…without the impact.

Every time the body rotates or changes its orientation there is an up/down shifting of the body in the water due to gravity…much like the body is “falling”. But as soon as buoyancy equilibrium is found, the body returns to neutral buoyancy.

During these “falling” episodes, humans respond by kicking or flailing or sculling or lifting the head…they are in built reflexes. Overcoming those reflexes forces the vestibular system to deal with a new normal…an new sense of orientation.

Whether a swimmer realizes it or not, swim time is “play time” for the brain and new pathways are be established. Like a baby learning to walk.

A sense of “falling forward” when swimmers get to the positions that are better swimming positions, horizontally balanced head, shoulders & hips, is due to the vestibular system & cerebellum being used to a much more vertical orientation.

If this sounds like you, try this curious experiment. Lay flat on a bed and let your chin be off the edge so you are looking at the floor…do you experience any vertigo? And if you do so then look right and look left a bit…how does that feel? This is the position you should be in ideally in the water…body horizontal, head looking down & aligned cervical spine.

Could be interesting to play with!!

So You Want to be a Triathlon Coach? Here’s your Reading List…

Triathlon Coaching - Steel City Endurance The most common question I get from folks wanting to increase their knowledge is, “What triathlon coaching books should I read?”

While it’s certainly hard to whittle down the list, these were the first handful of books & scientific papers to come to mind.  As they say, always go with your initial instincts!

Caveat…I have an entire bookshelf of coaching books plus many I haven’t read yet, but these are the books & articles I would START with.  They will help the aspiring triathlon coach or self-coached athlete form a solid foundation upon which they can begin filling in with no end of online-self-coaching articles.

There may be some notable absences from this list…it’s not necessarily intentional, but if you would like to add a book to the list, please leave a comment!

Scientific Training for Triathletes, Phil Skiba, MD, $20

The Triathletes Guide to Training with Power, Phil Skiba, MD, $20

Training and Racing with a Power Meter, 2nd Ed, Hunter Allen & Andy Coggan, 2010  $24.95

Triathlon Swimming Made Easy, Terry Laughlin (Discount 10%  “coachsuzanne” at checkout) $9.95 E-book, In Paperback $33 new.

Daniels’ Running Formula-3rd Edition, Jack Daniels, 2013, $21.95

Intervals, Thresholds, and Long Slow Distance:  the Role of Intensity and Duration in Endurance Training, 2009.  Free Download

Endurance exercise performance: the physiology of champions, Michael Joyner & Edward Coyle, 2008, Free Download


So for about $100 you can have 7 excellent coaching & self-coaching references that cover essentials of endurance physiology, high intensity training, run training, bike training, swim training & fitness from some of the most notable and knowledable authors.

One of the fantastic aspects of triathlon is that all of these authors are alive & well and accessible by email, webinar or by corning them at a conference on endurance sports.

What are some of your favorites?



Threshold Testing with Power –  File and Performance Analysis

Threshold Testing with Power – File and Performance Analysis



I tend to be very analytical with my athletes training files, which is part of my job as a coach. I provide supplemental training and guidance on analyzing files to my associate coaches as well.  If you train with Steel City Endurance, you can expect to get feedback like this on a routine basis, but especially around testing periods.

This specific example is a power profile analysis that I annotated and sent to my athlete. The workout was a 5 minute & 20 minute time trial both performed in the same setting, similar to what is recommended by Allen & Coggen in Training and Racing with a power meter.

I’m sharing it  here in full with the exception of the final link at the end as that contains personal information.   Hopefully you can see how the email is somewhat conversational, and I reflect on what I as a coach can do better on as well.   The tone overall is or should be positive and encouraging…after all this was hard work!   I want my athlete to know where he currently stands and how well the testing was performed in order for him to make improvements as we go.

I know I”ve done my job as a coach well when my athletes become their won best self-coaches!  (It must be working well because two current or former Steel City Endurance athletes are now coaching with us as associates! )  Enjoy, and I appreciate any comments or feedback.


Threshold Testing Power Summary Analysis – Coach to Athlete

Overall really nice effort.  Noting the laps with your bike computer is helpful for me and saves me some time.  I’ve noted some features I look at on the graph.  The warmup is nice and easy and follows the protocol I wrote well. In looking at the effort, I’d like to see the HR climb just a little higher, close to your threshold at the end of 15 or so minutes. This lets us know your muscles are “primed” for a good effort, and that you’re not still warming up into a hard effort when you start the first interval.

You noted that the you felt like you were saving something during the 5 minute for the 20 minute effort.  You can see that here in the stepped appearance of the power line.   This 5 min & 20 min test serves several purposes. one of them is to “blow out” your anaerobic energy stores so that the 20 minute effort is more reflective of your true aerobic effort.  I don’t expect that you could go as hard for the 20 minute after  an all out 5 as you could in a standalone 20 minute effort.

The other thing this test does is simultaneously give us a 5 minute best power, reflective of your maximum aerobic capacity (VO2 max).

So this is a good start and we’ll adjust your zones based on it, and retest in a few weeks with the notes I made taken into account:
Let the warm up effort climb to just below threshold effort, before the 5 min easy spin
Go all out on the 5 minute aiming for an even power application
The 20 minute looks great here, again, go for best even effort for duration.

Here are your averages for the 5 & 20 minute sections

5 minute all out effort: 

Heart Rate Power Cadence Power:weight(kg)
Average 153 282 82 3.65
Max 165 323 107 NA

20 minute all out effort: 

Heart Rate Power Cadence Power:Weight(kg)
Average 162 255 78 3.14
Max 173 307 83 NA

5 min Heart Rate
I follow the HR trend as an indicator of how close you are to your potential in performing this test.

Your 5 minute avg HR should be at or near your max Heart Rate. Since your max HR for the 20min was 173, your avg HR for the 5 minute, when done well, should be pretty close to that.  If you were significantly dehydrated by the end of the 20 min that could account for a few heart beats.

Next time around, or whenever you are doing long VO2 max type sessions, see if you can target a HR of 170 as an indicator you are going “hard enough”.  Power may continue to climb higher even if HR is maxed out due to anaerobic energy. That is, the heart doesn’t need to beat faster to deliver more oxygen because there are non-oxygen based energy sources.  Over time I really want to see what you can produce for a 5 minute max in terms of Wattage!  My guess is that a sustained 300W is in you now, possibly much higher since max was 323 and HR was still 5-10 beats below your max.

5 minute Power
Avg power of 282 is most likely below what you’re capable of just judging by the stepped appearance of the graph. We don’t need to worry about the values for now, but just something to keep an eye on for your next test is to really try to get your HR up a bit before the 5 minute effort, then nail a steady hard effort for 5 minutes with HR btwn 160 & 170 as a signal you’ve got it going hard enough. Then let the power be what it is! (can you hit 290-300 steady watts or higher?)

20 minute HR & Power
Your graph shows a general trend higher for each of these and not an abrupt jump at the end which is good.  Overall this looks like a good effort and once you get back into training I think these numbers will “nudge” higher bit by bit.

To calculate your power training zones, I’ll use 95% of this 20 minute average as the basis for your “threshold power”.  Over time the main goal is to improve your threshold power with training.  If this number isn’t getting higher then we need to look at reasons why…it may be OK because you may be getting faster for longer durations even though this value doesn’t move…or you may be getting more efficient by executing this effort at a lower HR value.

A good metric to follow is your “power to weight” ratio.

You can see that your 20 min power to weight ratio  of 3.14 & your 5 min ration of 3.65 puts you right at a “cat 4” cycling level, which is fine, and again over time we want to try and nudge this upwards. As a long course athlete, the 20 minute (& longer duration) power numbers are more important.

At this point I mostly want to make sure that you have a general idea of what the numbers mean and what I’m looking at…that will help you execute your workouts better and know what’s important and what’s less important.

Finally I created a chart with printable zones for your training zones based on this test that you can see here:

The Perfect Ironman Taper ? Following the little blue line

Performance Mangement Chart for a 1 year build to Ironman Arizona occuring 5 days out from the end of the "blue line".   ~10 % reduction from the peak with a positive stress balance is an "idealized" shape of the curve for physical preparedness and an ideal taper.

Performance Mangement Chart for a 1 year build to Ironman Arizona occuring 5 days out from the end of the “blue line”. ~10 % reduction from the peak with a positive stress balance is an “idealized” shape of the curve for physical preparedness and an ideal taper.

Ironman Arizona is a late season race. By the time athletes have arrived in Arizona the months upon months of training have often taken an emotional toll, even if the physical preparation is perfect.

Finding that blend of building fitness, maintaining motivation, postitive mindset and visualization, just enough rest without getting stale…that’s the art of tapering.

The performance management chart is one way of viewing the physical stresses of training and looking at how well an athlete is recovering.

By correlating dips in the chronic training load (the “little blue line”) with the bounce in the balance of acute & chronic stress (the yellow zone or the “training stress balance” or TSB), we can prepare an athlete for an idealized race.

There is more to it for sure, but seeing these shapes emerging the week before Ironman Arizona is reassuring for me as a coach as well as for my athlete. No wondering how well the training prepared him. he is well prepared.

From here to Sunday, it’s all about positive visualization, staying limber, managing emotions and energy, and staying organized and out of the fray of race week.

What’s your interpretation of the “little blue line”?

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