Hauling water, chopping wood.

“It is not about volume, it is about time commitment.  There are very, very few things you do in life—and we tell our athletes this all the time—there are very few things you do in life that if you put less time into it, you are going to be as successful at.  And you start to think about it.  It deals with relationships.  It deals with your work.  It deals with your hobbies.  If you put in less time, your chances of being as good at it are diminished.  So, you want to learn the skill, and you want to work at the skill, and you put more time in.”

-Gregg Troy, Garbage Yardage and Other Things That Work

It seems that the trend in training for endurance sports seems to swing from one extreme to the other every few years.  First, it’s all about volume and how many yards you can rack up in the pool, how many hours you can ride, how many miles you can run.  Most athletes that I coach know that I love stories about crazy workouts and insane volume, it’s something I’ve been fascinated with for a long time.  An old book that I used to have on swimming defined distance training sets as being “up to 20,000 meters, or when you lose your mind.”  Some people took that pretty literally.  Vladimir Salnikov, the first swimmer to break 15:00 for the mile, swam a set when he was 14 years old that consisted of 20,000m as 400 IM/400 free, non-stop.  That’s 50×400, a pretty darn long workout by any standards.  The swimming world is full of stories of workouts like that one.  Eric Vendt’s 30×1000 on 10:30, Larson Jenson’s 20×1500, those workouts are the stuff of legends.  Most of the triathletes of the early years, like Dave Scott and Mark Allen, grew up in the swimming world of late 1970’s California, where “20K a day” was the standard.  They took that workout ethic into the triathlon and it’s defined the sport ever since, and for good reason.  If you want to race well over the Ironman and 70.3 distances, you’ve got to do a lot of work.

But every so often someone comes up with a new program that promises to make you faster with less work.  These kinds of programs are especially appealing these days in our culture of getting everything you want with the click of a button.  I recently saw a young woman being interviewed on TV about the millennial generation and what they want, and her reply was “I want exactly what I want, exactly when I want it.”  That’s not an attitude that translates well into success in triathlon, or life in general for that matter.

This brings me to an explanation of my title for this post.  It comes from an old saying that John Leonard uses in the webinar for the American Swim Coaches Association Level 3 certification.  I recently took this certification and this saying really stuck with me.  It comes from the idea that for most people, for most of human history, most of life was spent hauling water and chopping wood.  In other words, hard, repetitive work.  If you think about it, it holds true for most of life today as well.  Success isn’t about a few dazzling moments of brilliance, it’s about persistence, consistency, and hard work.  When Michael Phelps won his record breaking eight gold medals in Beijing, it came after seven straight years where he never missed a practice.  Seven years.  And it goes without saying that those were some hard practices.  Swimmers regularly train 20-24 hours per week in the water for events that last from roughly 20 seconds to 15 minutes.  You’re not going to succeed in triathlon in events that last for most athletes from 4 hours to 12 hours, or more, without a lot of work.  That doesn’t mean that you have to embark on a training plan of working out 40 hours a week.  How much training is enough?  My answer to that would be that it depends entirely on the athlete.  Basically, it’s how much training you can recover from.  For elites, that could be a 5 hour ride on the bike or an 8000m workout in the pool.  For most people it’s significantly less than that.  It takes experience to find what you can handle, a good coach and help you with that and speed up the training process by helping you avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

The bottom line is that if you want to be a competitive athlete, and if you want to put together a strong 70.3 or Ironman race (or for that matter, even a sprint or Olympic distance race), you have to be prepared for a lot of work.  A lot of days of hauling water and chopping wood.  Learn to love the training, and love the process.

The Pain Pyramid

When I was younger I had a swim coach who used to give our team a talk a couple of times each year.  Before practice, he would bring out the white board and marker and draw a pyramid that looked a bit like the food pyramid that we’re all familiar with.  The base of the pyramid would contain a “C”.  This, my coach would explain, was the comfort zone.  Comfort was sitting on the couch, relaxed and watching TV.  Comfort had no place in his workout.  The next level of the pyramid would be marked with a “D”, for discomfort.  This was where we were supposed to be during warm ups and drill sets, preparing our bodies for what was to follow in the main set.  The next level up the pyramid was marked with a “P”, for pain.  Pain was what we were supposed to experience for the rest of the workout, if we didn’t push out of “discomfort” and into “pain” we weren’t really working out, we were just putting in junk yards.  But even if we were pushing ourselves to the point of pain, we still weren’t training like champions.  The final step, the top of the pyramid, was marked with an “A”, for agony.  This, my coach told us, was what it took to be a champion.  The average swimmers might feel discomfort or pain, but it we wanted to be winners, it was necessary to experience agony.  Every day.  Every workout.  Years later, I told another coach of mine this story and she said it was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.

Too many of us athletes are conditioned to associate training with pain.  I certainly had to go through a lot of injuries and illnesses before I realized the obvious fact that training isn’t suppose to be agonizing.  I ran through two stress fractures in college, all the while thinking that if it hurt that much, I must really be training hard, working out like a champion…  Think of how tough I would be if I could run on a broken leg!  In the end, I most likely slowed my improvement because of spending so much time dealing with injuries.  Training should be fun, not agonizing.  A healthy mind and body don’t want to constantly be punished, so if that’s your approach to training then eventually you’ll stop wanting to head out the door to work out, or you’ll be so injured that you can’t.

If you want to succeed as an athlete over the long term, and also to reach optimum health, I suggest a change of perspective.  Try working out to feel good.  Try exercising at a comfortable effort where you’re not straining or in pain; there is a comfort zone that you can find even while swimming, biking, and running!  Focus on enjoying the movement of your body through the water or the fresh air, find a place where you feel good and healthy.  This is a mental as well as a physical shift.  When you find this state, not only will you actually be training in a healthier manner, but you’ll also find yourself wanting to train more, and training consistently (and intelligently) is the best way to achieve long term positive results.

Slow down and enjoy the ride, you might actually surprise yourself and find that you’re healthier, and training and racing better than ever before.

Team Ironworks Update

Parris Island

Race morning sunrise on Parris Island.


Despite the cold and rain, the spring racing season is already off to a great start for Team Ironworks!   On March 15th Karla Cook set a new personal best time at the Parris Island Triathlon, consistent winter training pays off!  The same day on the other side of the world, Steve Rees finished strong at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon over the “short distance.”  Only in Abu Dhabi is a 100km bike considered to be a short distance!  Ironman South Africa training kicks off next month.

Steve Rees finishes strong!

Steve Rees finishes strong!

And last but definitely not least, congratulations to Brittany Banker for finally smashing the 2 hour barrier for the half marathon!  It was only a question of when it was going to happen.  Next up for Brittany is the Rev3 Age Group Championships in Knoxville.

Congratulations to everyone, keep up the great work!

Brittany's final time, with an extra .15 miles just to make sure it was official!
Brittany’s final time, with an extra .15 miles just to make sure it was official!

SwimOutlet.com Approved as USA Triathlon Certified Multisport Retailer

Big news for the multisport world!  SwimOutlet.com, which dominates the online retail market in aquatics in the U.S. (disclosure, I have an affiliate store, click on the “Ironworks Store tab above to check it out!), has been approved by USA Triathlon as a part of their USAT Certified Multisport Retailer program.  The certification was granted as SwimOutlet.com has moved more and more into multisport with its product offerings and sponsorships. This year, it announced a partnership with Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker and later this summer will sponsor its first triathlon event with the inaugural Oakland Triathlon Festival.

Having SwimOutlet.com more involved in triathlon will be sure help our sport’s broader outreach to potential new athletes and triathletes since they have such a prominent voice and place in the aquatics and swimming world.  SwimOutlet.com carries a full range of swimming, running and some limited cycling products, I particularly like their Sporti in-house value brand for great quality and incredible value.  USAT members will be sure to receive a discount on certain items, stay tuned for more details!

The Ironworks Review: Sporti Power Swim Paddles

sporti power paddles 1If there’s an item of training equipment that most swimmers and triathletes love, it’s hand paddles.  Okay, some people may love pull buoys and fins even more, but a good set of hand paddles have always been my weapon of choice.  There’s nothing like that feel of gripping the water and extra speed that you get from a good set of paddles, and there are also some great benefits like improved strength and technique.  This is also the perfect time of year to get the paddles out.  The cold winter months make it tough to get out and put in the long miles on the road, so why not hit the pool and build up some strength and endurance?  This is especially valuable if the swim is your biggest limiter as an athlete.


sporti power paddles 2If you’re looking into getting a new set of paddles, the new Sporti Power Swim Paddles are a great place to start.  First of all, the price is just about unbeatable at $4.95.  You can literally spend more on a cup of coffee these days!  These paddles are well made and sturdy enough to hold up to a lot of pool time.  They also have a nice secure fit; you can put these on and pound out a tough set of 50’s or 100’s and be confident that they’re going to stay in place and not slip around on your hand even at high speeds.  I particularly like the ergonomic design that makes the paddles more comfortable and allows you to maintain a better feel for the water.


sporti power paddles 3Of course, like any other piece of equipment, it’s important not to overdo it with paddles.  You don’t want to turn them into a crutch and reach for them every time you can’t make an interval.  Used correctly though, they’re a great tool to use to help you build strength in the water.  When I use paddles, I like to put them on for the first half of a set, and then track my time and stroke count with paddles.  Then, I challenge myself to swim the second half of the set without paddles and to hold my time and stroke count from the first half of the set.

2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker

2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker

And if you’re looking for more great info on triathlon gear and training, be sure to stop by SwimOutlet.com for new features from Olympic Triathlete and ITU star Jarrod Shoemaker!  Jarrod is joining other Olympians like Mark Gangloff, Tony Azevedo, and Garrett Weber-Gale as an expert contributor and will be sharing some of the insights and experiences that he’s gained over his career as a professional triathlete.

As always, thanks very much for taking the time to visit my blog!  Happy New Year’s and all the best for a safe, healthy, and fast 2014.  Happy Training!

Beginner Triathlon Tips: The Off Season.


Champions are made in the off season!

Champions are made in the off season!

Everyone knows by now that the off season is an important time of the year for training.  It’s when you focus on your limiters, improve your technique, and build strength and base for the upcoming year, not when you sit around on the couch, binge viewing old TV shows on Netflix while eating bagfuls of Doritos.

I was talking about this very subject with an athlete I coach earlier today and an analogy that one of my old coaches used came to mind.  He said that athletes should think of their competitive season training as building a big cannon, and that the off season was when you build the ship that you place that cannon on.  In other words, the base miles you put in during the off season form the foundation for the cannon that is the speed work that you do during the competitive season.  So, sticking to the analogy, you can imagine the results if you took a great big cannon and tried to fire it off a canoe.  All the best equipment, nutrition, planning, and speedwork are only as effective as the base training that supports them.  So what kind of ship are you building over the upcoming off season?  When you head to your A race next spring are you going to be on a canoe or a battleship?

SwimOutlet Fall Clearance!

Anyone who’s been in triathlon for a while knows how much you can spend on equipment.  Beyond even the essentials for racing you need all the gear for day to day training.  Having up-to-date and comfortable clothing and equipment makes all the yards in the pool and miles on the road a lot more comfortable and enjoyable.  So when a great clearance sale comes along like the one going on at SwimOutlet you’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity!  Take a moment and check it out, you might find some great holiday gifts for your multisport friends and family, or even pick up an early Christmas present for yourself!

Happy Training!


The Ironworks Review: FINIS Ankle Pulling Band

Finis Ankle Pulling BandWithout a doubt, the training tool most neglected by triathletes is the ankle pulling band.  Most triathletes love their paddles, pull buoys, and fins, all training tools that make swimming easier and faster.  Ankle pulling bands make training harder, and as my old swim coach always used to say, the point of training is to make it harder, not easier.  They’ve been a favorite of Australian distance swimmers for years, and as anyone who follows swimming knows, Australia has produced some of the best distance swimmers in history.  The Aussies are also pretty good at this whole triathlon thing, as Chris McCormack, Craig Alexander, Mirinida Carfrae, and Pete Jacobs have shown the world for the past several years.

Ankle pulling bands are also about the simplest training tool you can find.  My coach used to make them for our whole team by cutting up old inner tubes, but you can buy a much more stylish and comfortable version made by the great folks at FINIS.  Ankle pulling bands are simply a rubber strap that slip around your ankles, requiring you to swim without any kick.  You think that you’re not using your legs when you’re swimming with a buoy, but the buoyancy of the buoy actually makes swimming easier.  In fact, I would recommend using a buoy when you first start swimming with ankle bands.  You’ll understand when you give it a try.

The main benefit of using an ankle pulling band in training is developing strength.  You have to have to produce a lot of force with your upper body and core to overcome the drag produced by pulling your legs through the water without kicking.  I also like the bands for developing feel for the water; if you have a dead spot in your pull it will become instantly apparent when you’re swimming with bands.

Triathlon swimming is more about strength than perfect form.  Think about powering through waves and chop, dealing with swimming in a pack of thrashing arms and legs, and you can see why strength trumps technique.  Include some swimming with the FINIS Ankle Band in your upcoming workouts and watch your swim splits improve!  Here’s a set to get you started:

100 with ankle bands, buoy, and paddles, 30″ RI                                                                     4×25 swim, 15″ RI                                                                                                                 100 with ankle bands and buoy, 30″ RI                                                                                     4×25 swim, 15″ RI                                                                                                                   100 with ankle bands, 30″ RI                                                                                                     4×25 swim, 15″ RI.

Give it a try, and be sure to come back to Ironworks Multisport and leave a comment to tell me how it goes!  Good luck, and happy training!

The Ironworks Review: Sporti Hand Paddles II

Sporti Hand Paddles IIEvery triathlete needs a good pair of hand paddles.  They build strength, help refine technique, and provide some variety when you’re putting in the long yards for your big race.  The biggest issue facing most triathletes when it comes to hand paddles is which kind to choose:  Do you go for smaller paddles designed to correct stroke flaws and improve feel for the water, or do you go for the giant “trash can lids”?  Depending on how much swim gear you want to accumulate, multiple pairs of paddles may be a good solution.  If you’re looking for one solid, all around paddle, or if you have several pairs and you’re looking for a good versatile paddle for daily use, the Sporti Hand Paddles II are a great choice.

Sporti Swim Paddles III’ve been swimming with these Sporti paddles for the past week and have found them to be ideal for triathlon training.  They fit securely, are easy to get on and off, and are very comfortable to wear.  I remember the old paddles I swam with in high school that would leave marks on my hands and wrists after a long pull set, but those days are long gone with the new paddles like these.  The adjustable silicon rubber straps let your hand slip right in and hold the paddles in place without uncomfortable pressure.  The contoured shape of the paddle also helped improve my feel for the water.  The best part for me was how the paddles really made me focus on a clean entry.  Despite my best efforts, I have an awkward entry that my training partners dubbed “The Claw” years ago.  The feel of these paddles encourages a smooth, clean entry which I found very helpful.  Even after taking the paddles off I still found myself focusing on entering the water cleanly.  I also tried swimming with these paddles at various speeds and found that they work well for long, steady state sets as well as fast sprint efforts.

Overall, the Sporti Hand Paddles II are a great choice for triathletes and swimmers looking for a solid, all around hand paddle, and at $8.95 you can’t beat the price.  Thanks for reading, now get out there and work out!

Train hard and have fun,

Coach Land


Triathlon Goggles, Tips From Ironworks Multisport: Sporti Anitfog Cabo Goggles

Sporti Cabo Anitfog GogglesWhen it comes to the swim, one of the most important, and yet often overlooked, pieces of equipment for any triathlete is a good pair of goggles.  In training, they protect your eyes from the ravages of chlorine, and in competition they help keep your vision clear so that you can navigate efficiently around the swim course.  Even the best wetsuit or speedsuit isn’t going to be of much use when you can’t see where you’re going!  Hardly anything can spoil a swim faster than a leaky or fogged up pair of goggles.

This summer I’ve been searching for the perfect open water triathlon goggles.  I’ve tried several pairs, the first of which were the Sporti Antifog Cabo Goggles.  The Cabos are a one-piece soft Silicon design with shatter-resistant polycarbonate lenses, and a split Silicon head strap which ensures plenty of adjustability for a good fit.  I found adjustment to be easy and had no trouble getting the goggles ready to go.  The fit was very comfortable.  The lenses are slightly on the large side, which offers great peripheral vision, but those with a smaller face might try something like the Sporti Antifog S2 Goggles.  I’ve been swimming with the Cabos for the past week and have had no issues with fogging or leaking.

Overall, the Cabo’s are a solid choice for triathletes and swimmers looking for a good pair of goggles for training and racing, in the pool and in open water.  And at $5.95 they offer an unbeatable value!

Thanks for visiting Ironworks Multisport.  Be sure to check back soon for more triathlon training and equipment tips.  Happy Training!