Guest Post – The Recovery Run

If you have worked with a coach you may have seen the workout on your training plan that states “Recovery Run, Bike or Swim.” Many athletes seem to be very diligent about keeping their legs spinning and their watts or speed low when doing a recovery bike session or subsequently, with the swim, keeping the focus on drills and really easy swimming but when it comes to the Recovery Run, that can be a whole different story.

Often, we see athletes doing their recovery run only marginally slower than their Z1 or Endurance run efforts. If I am looking at pace alone, this tells me that they have either been doing their Endurance Runs way to slow (dogging it) or their Recovery Runs – way too fast. This is where using a heart rate monitor can help to paint the real picture. For Recovery runs – heart rate should be ideally, anything less than 76% of Threshold Heart Rate while Z1 Endurance Runs should be between 80-86% of threshold heart rate.

Let’s take a step back and define what Threshold Heart Rate is. This is the average heart rate based off approximately one hour of maximal intensity effort that can be maintained (also known as Functional Threshold). To help determine this, and if we stick with running as our example, there are a few different methods that can be used. A field test such as race might be a good starting place since in most cases you will be putting forward your best effort.

If using a 5km Fun Run to determine your threshold, determine your average HR (generally based off your watch) and then subtract 15 beats to extrapolate the result to be based off a one hour based effort. Alternatively, if you have completed a recent 10km race, then subtract 10 beats off the average HR and for a Half Marathon subtract 5 beats. Another method that works well is a 4 x 1 mile test (with 1.5 min recovery) and then subtract 2 beats off the average HR.

The Karvonean method which takes into account the maximal and resting heart rate is also a nice way to approximate threshold HR. Since most athletes will know what the highest heart rate is that they have seen and are also familiar with their resting heart rate, this is an easy method to try. Using these numbers they can be applied using the following formula: .81*(Max HR – Resting HR) + Resting HR = TH HR.

You may decide to use one of the above methods or try each of them to approximate your Threshold HR for running. Keep in mind that due to differences in the nature of running and cycling and athletic experience, threshold values are generally different for each discipline and therefore should be tested independently.

Once you have determined your Threshold value then HR training zones can be established. Using our HR training zone system and also that adopted by USAT, heart rate training zones are as follows:

ZR: (Recovery/Pliability) Everything below 76% of TH HR

Z1: (Aerobic) 80-86% of TH HR

Z2: (Tempo – Sub Aerobic Threshold) 86-83%

Z3: (Tempo – Sub Lactate Threshold) 93-100%

Z4: Best Sustainable Effort

Now that you have a basic understanding of Threshold HR, let’s return our attention to ZR Recovery Runs. I am sure you are asking so what is the purpose of doing a Recovery Run. The recovery runs purpose is not necessarily to derive direct “fitness” gains; instead, a recovery run is Active Recovery. It provides an opportunity to actively engage the soft tissue: muscles, tendons, and ligaments by promoting blood flow without the catabolic effect of over stressing muscle fibers. The low-intensity active effort helps to flush the muscles of accumulated by products of lactic acid. Mentally, the recovery run also gives an athlete the opportunity to recharge, a mass volume and subsequently, add to the durability needed for long course racing.

Athletes that struggle with injuries such as chronic Achilles Tendonosis and Plantar Fasciitis tend to respond well to inserting regular short recovery runs into their training as opposed to simply having long periods of rest between runs. Since tendons receive very little blood flow it makes sense that keeping the tendons actively engaged but not overly stressed helps promote blood flow to the area and help with the recovery process.

So, what should a recovery run look like? A good rule of thumb is to keep the run under 35 minutes and while HR should be in the ZR range this would generally equate to a pace of at least 1.5 to 2 minutes slower than current Z1 pace. Interestingly enough some of the fastest runners have the biggest differentiation between Endurance and Recovery paces. Just look up some of the Kenyan runners and you will see just how easy their recovery runs are. Keeping the cadence high will also help ensure that you are keeping the feet under you as you run and not overstriding and placing additional stress on the extremities.

Next time you see a Recovery Run on your schedule remember the many other benefits associated with it and embrace the challenge of going slow.

Karen Allen Turner is a coach for QT2 Systems for both the QT2 and OutRival Racing brands and has been involved in the sport of triathlon as both a participant and a coach since 1986. As a regular national presenter for the USAT coaching certification program, Karen’s ability to draw on her many years of coaching experience and ongoing quest to expand her understanding of the sport provides a valuable resource to new and experienced coaches alike. For her athletes, the combination of her analytical approach, teaching methods and her ability to look at each athlete as an individual with unique needs has lead to her success as a coach.

Guest Post – Mental Fitness: Goal Setting

Goals are one of the hottest topics discussed in training circles and online forums throughout the triathlon community, but who really knows what they are? There are variety of opinions on what they are and what they mean. A common understanding is that a goal represents the purpose, or objective, towards which an endeavor is directed. The intended destination of a journey, if you will. The achievement of a set goal can be one of the most rewarding accomplishments that an athlete (or any person, for that matter) will ever realize.

Falling short of a set goal can have just the opposite effect. For that reason, it is vitally important that the goal-setting process be regarded in a manner that ensures realistic and achievable results. At QT2 Systems we use a very structured approach to the goal-setting process that addresses and drives both short- and long-term progress. This helps to supplement an athlete’s mental fitness toolbox. Like training itself, appropriate goal setting can help to keep an athlete motivated. Inappropriate goal setting can leave an athlete feeling lethargic at best, and at worst like a failure.

The Framework

The goals we conjure up for ourselves as athletes can be placed into one of three categories:

Objectives – Things over which we have nearly 100 percent control, such as “I am going to be tough”, “I am not going to give up, no matter how hard things get”, “I am going to follow my pacing plan”, “I am going to follow my fueling plan.”

Targets – Things over which we have a bit less control, but are directly related to our training, and can, therefore, be pretty closely predicted. Examples: “I am going to average 250 watts on the bike,” “I am going to produce a very even power profile,” “I am going to run a 7:45 pace.”

Outcomes – Things over which we have the least amount of control, such as age group or overall placing, race time, Kona slot qualification, etc.

Goal setting should always take a top-to-bottom approach, where we place the greatest emphasis on that which we have the greatest amount of control, and reduce the focus as we must relinquish more and more control. Athletes should consider the framework of their goals to exist in a series, where objectives receive the greatest amount of attention, targets the next, and lastly the outcomes.

Unfortunately, many athletes invert this process, asking the question “What must I do to achieve my desired outcome?” This most typically takes the form of Kona qualification. They set the goal to qualify for the World Championship, calculating where they will have to place within their age group to be able to punch their ticket. The next logical step is to determine the targets (wattages/paces/speeds/etc.) that will be necessary to do so. Objectives are often lost in the shuffle, and can become very dependent upon whether or not the athlete is hitting his or her targets from day to day.

When this inversion takes place, a great deal of mental capital ends up being paid to meaningless outcomes. “I didn’t outride Mary Sue!” or “Bobby Joe dropped me late into the run!” We have no control over how Mary Sue and Bobby Joe train and race. Therefore, the comparison is invalid, unfair, and sets up an unhealthy mental pattern.

Athletes tend to be most upset by not meeting their desired outcomes, though the far greater transgression is in not meeting their objectives. Outcomes are very much dependent upon the actions of others, while objectives exist wholly within the individual athlete. When focus is concentrated on appropriate objectives and targets, the desired outcomes will typically be met. To this end, objectives should slowly incorporate suitable targets, depending upon the athlete’s mental fitness. Athletes who are motivated by the achievement of potential success will often be more receptive to trying to transform their objectives into more concrete targets, because they view their targets as a challenge. The athlete who is motivated by potential failure, however, may view their targets as just another opportunity to fall short of their goals. For this reason, it’s often necessary to spend more time and focus on the outlined objectives, keeping their targets more subjective in nature.

Prior to setting the outcome goal of wanting to qualify for Kona, for example, athletes must ask whether that’s even a possibility. Do you possess both the mental and physical toughness to endure the training? Have you been able to execute a race plan time and time again? Do your performance indicators and durability put you in a plausible Kona-qualifying position? These are the most important aspects of successful training and racing, and cannot be ignored when considering the focus of an upcoming season.

Applying it All to Race Day

While we have already discussed the structure of goal setting from the overall training perspective, the very same structure can be applied to race day itself.

It’s not uncommon to see the Queen K highway littered with marathon walkers late into the run portion of the World Championship. This is typically indicative of over pacing the early portion of the race, which then exposes the athlete to a strong potential for difficulty in handling their race day nutrition. This dovetailing of completely controllable factors will leave athletes cooked, physiologically speaking, and able to muster little more than the infamous Ironman shuffle. Why? Unfortunately, when the cannon sounds, on race day, most athletes do not know what kind of a performance that they are truly capable of. They set out on the day guided by what they would like their race outcome to be, as opposed to an execution strategy that is built around their training and capabilities.

Stay away from negative mental patterns on race day! These will typically come as a result of focusing on outcomes, which reside at the bottom of the goal list. If you find yourself focusing on your position, relative to Mary Sue or Bobby Joe, wondering why you are fifth in your age group when you would like to be in third, then a quick redirection of your mindset is essential to success.

Objectives are right there at the top of the goal-setting list. Remember, these are things that we have the greatest amount of control over. “I am racing tough.” “I am executing my pacing plan.” “I am following my fueling plan.” Once you have shifted your mindset to this more positive approach and are successfully implementing it, it’s then time to move into your race day targets: “How is my wattage compared to what my training indicates?” Not wattages that you would like to push, or paces that you would like to run, but wattages and paces that are clearly defined by your training results.

Only athletes who are competing at the elite level, or those who are in the closing miles of an event should consider the race’s outcomes. Most of the time it’s only worth considering these outcomes once you have crossed the finish line. But, in the final 5 to 10k of the run, when mano-a-mano with a fellow age group competitor, it may be necessary to put your targets by the wayside and just race. Having said that, when all is said and done, if an athlete has stuck to their objectives and hit their targets, then it’s very likely that realistic outcomes will have taken care of themselves. Even so, an athlete can have the race of his or her life, and still not realize the desired outcomes. Why? Because placement in the age group or overall time are affected by so much more than only the athlete. There are always factors that can’t be accounted for, such as heat, humidity, and wind. Barring all of that, you simply cannot control who shows up on race day. To determine that you would like to place in the top-five of your age group at an Ironman event, is quite arbitrary. What if that particular race becomes your age group’s championship showdown, with a Who’s Who of competitors? Is that desired top-five placement still appropriate? What if nobody shows up? Is that desired top-five still worth its weight?

This ambiguity is exactly why it’s necessary to give race day outcomes the least amount of weight when assessing race day success. There are certainly no shortage of athletes who have missed out on Kona slots despite having the races of their lives. That doesn’t make their race any less successful. Though significantly fewer, there are also no shortage of athletes who have earned a Kona spot despite terrible management of their objectives and targets. This doesn’t make their race any more successful. In the end, Kona typically has the final say in determining that, and rewards those who race according to their objectives and appropriate targets. Those who fuel their day with thoughts of outcomes are often left wilted beneath the starry skies of the Big Island.

With Kona just a few months away, those toeing the line may want to carefully consider, or perhaps reconsider, the genesis of their particular goals. Approaching this race with a clear set of objectives and targets can really help to maintain a positive frame of mind throughout the day. Let the outcomes fall where they may. Out on the Queen K, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of instantly comparing yourself to others, be it appropriate or not. It’s not uncommon to see athletes whizzing by, within the first 20 miles of the bike, and start to feel a bit despondent. But, you don’t know what kind of training they have done. You have no idea if they are pacing themselves properly, or are racing according to desired outcomes. Fear not! It’s a long day. Those who have put in the work, and pace themselves according to what they know they can do will truly enjoy the experience and finish strong. Those who race according to how they want to place run the extreme risk of getting their money’s worth out on that run course.

After making so many life sacrifices during your training, it doesn’t make sense to set yourself up for a disappointing day. Mental fitness requires that you take a very holistic approach to your training and racing. A mindset that builds from objectives into targets, and lastly into outcomes, is one that is certain to put you in the perfect position to succeed. After all, mental fitness is nothing without success.

Guest Post – 5 Keys to Open Water Swim Success

Don’t just survive your next open water swim. Here’s how to nail your swim when it takes you outside the (chlorinated) box.

Transitioning from the pool to the open water is one of the toughest—and most important—lessons a triathlete must learn. Swimming back and forth in the pool, alone or with your fellow Masters swimmers, simply isn’t the same as toeing the line in a full field of competitors. Whether the race features a mass or wave start, the outdoor environment brings unexpected anxiety and requires different skills. The good news is that knowing what to expect can help you remain calm and cool in the great washing machine.

Austin-based Playtri head coach Ahmed Zaher is an eight-time IRONMAN World Championship finisher with a 52-minute Kona PR swim. Zaher developed these five keys to open-water swimming in 2000 and has been perfecting their execution with clients for the last 18 years. Hop on board and watch your lake/ocean/river time get faster than ever.

Key 1: Warm-up and visualization

Research shows that athletes will not perform to their potential, and are even more likely to panic in the water, if they don’t warm up properly. Warming up allows your body to get used to the water temperature, get a feel for the water and get your core muscles nice and loose and ready to move.

Studies also show that visualization enhances your performance greatly. Be sure to take a look at the course map before the race, then spend a significant amount of time in the days leading up to the race visualizing yourself swimming the course and executing your strategy.

Key 2: Start position

Zaher always says that where you start on the swim won’t help you win the race, but it can make you lose. One of the most important things he teaches triathletes in regards to the start position is to stay away from the “washing machine,” or area where all of the athletes are on top of one another. This is usually the spot athletes think is the shortest distance to the buoy. The best thing to do is to start up front on the outside of the start line, on the opposite side of where you breathe. Doing this will allow you to take advantage of the other swimmers, but stay clear of the chaos.

Key 3: Sighting

Your first sighting target is right next to you: other swimmers beside you. Sighting off a swimmer next to you allows you to maintain the natural, in-line, swim position and minimizes the amount of sighting you’ll have to do to the front. Sighting from the front forces your core and hamstrings to engage as you try to maintain your body position, which can negatively impact your bike and run.

If you cannot sight off of another swimmer, then sight off a bigger object behind the buoy markers, such as a tree or building. If you cannot sight off another swimmer or landmark, sight off the buoy marker.

Key 4: Continuous swim

Even if you bump into an athlete or a buoy, keep going and do not stop. You might have to adjust your stroke a little, but definitely avoid stopping. At a recent Playtri swim clinic, athletes reported saving anywhere from two to four minutes in a 700 meter swim by maintaining a continuous stroke during their race.

Key 5: Drafting

Drafting can be a huge advantage during the swim. The general rule is to position yourself behind the feet of another swimmer in clear water. In water where visibility is low, the best position is to the side, off the swimmer’s hip. When you are drafting, you don’t have to waste energy sighting, which allows you to maintain a streamlined, efficient position in the water.

Zaher says an average triathlete can save several minutes off his/her swim time by following these five pillars. However, at the end of the day, practice is the most important tool in your arsenal.

Playtri has six locations across the Dallas Fortworth Area to meet your swim, bike run needs. Connect with them today at

We’re #1!

In 2015, we began organizing our annual team race for Team TBT. Our team lives and races across the country, and around the world, and after five years of never really getting to know one another, we really wanted an opportunity to bring them all together once a year for fun and a little friendly competition. So far we’ve raced IRONMAN® 70.3 Puerto Rico, IRONMAN® 70.3 Boulder, IRONMAN® 70.3 Victoria and for 2018, we chose IRONMAN® 70.3® St. George in Utah.

On May 5th, Team TBT had 17 individuals and one relay team toed the start line with the rest of the competitors in St. George, UT. Following a brisk swim in the Sand Hollow Reservoir, they headed out on the scenic, but challenging, bike course, before entering St. George’s historic town square to begin the run.

When the dust settled, St. George was a ton of fun, and an incredibly successful race. Not only did we have five team members qualify for IRONMAN® 70.3® World Championships (including our Founder, Marc Lauzon), but the team also won the IRONMAN® TriClub Program Division V championship.

Aside from racing, the team got to enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of St. George. We even capped the weekend off with a team party filled with pizza, beer, and ice cream following the race.


Guest Post – Helping your children succeed in triathlons

We all know how important a role model parents are, particularly when we’re children. Children are watching their parents’ every move and want to emulate them at all costs — for better or worse, sometimes — and our little mini-mes often want to do the same thing, or something similar, simply because mom or dad (or auntie, or uncle, or whomever) are doing it.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, that if our children see us training for a triathlon, they, too, will want to do one, too. After all, swimming, riding a bike, and running — the three components of any tri — are part and parcel to most children’s childhood experiences. They might not do all three sports in quick succession on any given day, but chances are good that most kids like to go swimming, go for bike rides, and play tag or chase with others.

How can we as parents go about being supportive of our children’s interests in, and endeavoring to, completing a triathlon? How young is too young? What type of goal(s) should our children have as they work toward completing their first youth triathlon?

Below, I’ll chime in with some insight about tips to help your children succeed in tris, based on my own personal experience of getting my oldest child, aged 6 at the time of her first tri, into the sport.

Some tips to help your children succeed in triathlons include the following:

Talk to your pediatrician first. If you have any doubt whatsoever, I’d always encourage you to talk to your child’s pediatrician. Doing so can help you get your doctor’s “blessing” that it’s safe for your child to do a triathlon, and it’ll also help assuage any doubt that you have or any concerns that may come up.

Listen to your child, and follow his/her lead. Remember how we said earlier that kids want to emulate their parents at all costs? The same goes for their parents’ attitudes and emotions. If you’re a nervous wreck about your kids’ tri, then chances are high that your kiddos will mirror that same emotion. Similarly, if you’re really anal about everything and are not in it to have fun but instead, to be ultra competitive and win at all costs, your children will probably also mirror that same (crappy) attitude. I bet your kids are interested in trying out the sport because they’ve seen you do it and you seem to have fun, so they, too, want to go have fun. Keep it simple for both them and for you. They’re kids, for Pete’s sake!

“Train,” but don’t worry about training. If your children are already playing on a regular basis — think recess, riding their bikes, playing tag, and periodically swimming — then I’d bet that your kiddos will be ready to go at any time for the race. If your children are older and thus will have a larger distance to cover in their youth tri, then for sure, I’d recommend doing some sort of formal training program with them so they’ll be prepared to handle the distance on race day. For the younger kids in particular, though, it’s really more about the fun and the spirit of the day than it is about the competition — shoot, for most little kids’ races, parents are even allowed to run alongside them, help out in T1 and T2, and even swim next to them (and/or the kids can wear swimming implements to make the swim easier) — so don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember: it’s not about you. It’s about your kids.,

The goal is to finish. Finally, when you’re talking with your children about their race day goals, I can’t encourage you enough to emphasize fun and doing your best. Kids can be competitive — they’re human, just like the rest of us! — but particularly if they’re young and/or if this is their first triathlon, as a parent, I’d be sure to emphasize that simply finishing a triathlon is an accomplishment in and of itself. Sure, it might be nice to win a trophy or a ribbon — if they’re even offered for the kids — but everyone’s a winner who shows up and tries his/her best. That’s enough.

Youth triathlons are so fun to participate in, of course, but as parents (or relatives or supporters), they’re also a ton of fun to spectate! Don’t be surprised if you get a little emotional toward the end when you see your child really beginning to dig deep to finish, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything… More than anything, enjoy the special accomplishment that your child completes, and be sure to take lots of pictures to document the occasion.

AUTHOR’S BIO: JANE GRATES Sports lover and a hiker. Producing at the crossroads of beauty to craft an inspiring, compelling and authentic brand narrative.

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