XTERRA Couch to Trail – The Benefits of Running Hill Repeats

XTERRA racing is fun and challenging! Developing off road running skills especially on the hills will add to your enjoyment of these great races.

One of the greatest tools to becoming a better XTERRA and off-road racer is running hill repeats. There is a tremendous amount to be gained from doing moderate and fast uphill running. It forces you to have good form and to develop strong calf and quad muscles.  Furthermore, it’s great practice to run hard while being tired, as you’ll definitely be tired at the top of a hill.

Here are some questions you need to ask yourself: Are you doing hill repeats at the proper time in your training cycle, and are you doing hill repeats properly? Without a doubt, hill repeats, next to aerobic conditioning, can be the single most beneficial part of your training cycle to make you a more efficient and stronger runner.

Over the years the biggest mistake I’ve seen in runners is incorporating hill repeats too early in their training cycle when getting ready for their XTERRA race, and performing hill repeats with bad form. Hill repeats should be added to your training cycle at the proper time in order to ensure that you’re going through the proper muscular adaptation process. As part of that muscular adaptation process there are two types of hill repeats that we’ll look at in this article.

First: Moderate effort, short hill repeats with a downhill circuit

Incorporating moderate effort hill repeats after you’ve come out of your aerobic base period of training is a great way to start conditioning your body for the harder phases of training to come. I like to have athletes repeatedly run a short, steep hill that takes about 10 to 30 seconds to climb in it’s entirety at a moderate effort.  This type of repeat allows you to work on your running form and proper foot plant.  It helps you strengthen your calf muscles, strengthen your Achilles and prepare your body for the harder hill repeats and speed work that you’ll do later in your training.

This is also great time to incorporate what I feel is one of the most overlooked aspects of running – downhill training. So many people take it easy on every downhill they come across in training, that when they encounter one in a race they feel awkward and unsteady. Downhills should be a place where you gain time! Downhills force you to turn the legs over faster than normal. One of the major keys to being as fast as you can be is to spend as little time on the ground as possible. For that reason, running downhill strides is especially awesome for those of you who weren’t blessed with a lot of natural speed.

Here is how to execute this workout:  Do an easy 10 to 15 minute run, allowing your body to warm up sufficiently. Then incorporate a few dynamic stretching exercises before you begin your hill routine. When you’re ready, start at a moderate effort and focus on body position, lifting your knees with a mid-foot plant for 30 seconds up the hill. Then turn around and practice running down the hill, again focusing on good form, with light fast feet landing under your center of mass. Try to have minimal ground contact. Practicing this is especially important for trail running because of the unpaved nature of trails.  You will undoubtedly encounter loose rocks, dirt and crevices forcing you to concentrate not only on your form but on where you are placing each foot.

Second: Long, hard gradual uphills

Incorporating long, hard gradual uphills into your training cycle is a key ingredient to becoming a stronger, faster runner. Again, after a nice easy warm-up and some dynamic stretches, start your repeats. You want the hill to be steep enough to be a challenge, but not so steep that one time up leaves you completely spent.  Remember, this is just one piece of the workout! I like to see my athletes do this workout at a pace that is about five seconds faster than their half marathon pace, or at your aerobic threshold. You want to maintain your race “effort” up the entire hill and then feel good enough to quickly get right back to your race “pace” as soon as you crest the top. Practice makes perfect.

Once again, incorporate running that long gradual downhill as well. You don’t want to do the downhill as hard as the uphill. The effort on the downhill should feel faster than you would on a normal run, but you should still be comfortable. Again the key focus on the downhill should be excellent body position, light fast feet, and keeping them under your center of mass so you’re not burning out your quads.

Always remember, no matter which type of hill repeat you’re doing, when you get to the top of the hill, practice running hard up over the crest. This will really develop your confidence and help you recover back into your race pace faster.

Developing your hill running skills by adding repeats will definitely make your XTERRA race faster, easier and more fun. Nothing puts a smile on your face like cresting a long climb with energy to push forward and attack the downhill on the way to your strong finish.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.

MORE TRAINING ARTICLES

XTERRA Couch to Trail Webinar

The XTERRA Couch to Trail training series is getting interactive with its first free webinar scheduled for this Tuesday, April 18, at 5pm PST (8pm EST).

Join the conference today for free, by registering at:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4948831849818822147

XTERRA Couch-to-Trail Coach Jeffrey Kline will engage with XTERRA elite racer Chris Ganter and amateur champ Mimi Stockton on how to prepare for your XTERRA race day.

One of the advantages of the live webinar is the ability for you, the XTERRA Tribe, to ask questions directly to the coach, the champ, and the pro!

Conversation topics will include training, nutrition, equipment needs, mental preparation, and creating pre-race and race-day needs lists.

Kline, who has been coaching runners and triathletes for 20 years, is also organizing XTERRA Portland this year and has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve.

Ganter, who placed sixth in the XTERRA Pan Am Pro Series last year, is one of America’s fastest (and favorite) off-roaders, while Stockton, a mother of three and winner of four XTERRA World Titles, is also an XTERRA ambassador.

Join the conference today for free, by registering at:

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4948831849818822147

Note: If you can’t join the live chat a recorded version will be available soon as a podcast on iTunes soon.

 

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Swimming Part 3 : Open Water

Presented by Suunto

You’ve mastered the breathing techniques and body positioning required for freestyle swimming and your swimming times are dropping in the pool, but you just hopped in your first race and swam the same pace or slower than you did last year. Anyone who has been participating in triathlon long enough has experienced this frustration at some point. So how do you put it all together? We think these pointers will help you excel in your next open water swim:

1. Open water stroke with high turnover

Pool swimming and open water swimming are very different. In the pool, stroke length is generally a key to success and stroke rate depends on body size and race distance. There is a certain body type that comes to mind when you think of Olympic sprint and middle distance swimmers.  These swimmers are very good at maximizing stroke length with propulsion and streamlining and this style of swimming requires not only perfect technique but also great strength.  However, long distance open water swimmers are at the other end of the continuum and often sacrifice some stroke length and focus more on tempo, rhythm and timing.  It may seem counterintuitive, but this style of swimming can be very efficient with less muscling of each stroke and a less propulsive kick.  In the pool, water is very calm so there is less penalty for over-gliding, but in the open water it is more important to keep your momentum and avoid the pauses in your stroke.  An increased turnover helps you keep your momentum especially when there is a current present or the conditions are choppy.  An easy way to increase stroke rate is to take away the dead spots in your stroke by initiating the catch a little sooner and spending less time on your breath.  Think about your hands always moving, so the hand pierces the water, extends and then immediately the hand tips down, with fingertips lower than the wrist, wrist lower than your elbow. Keep in mind that whenever you are gliding you are slowing down.

2. Sighting

Sighting is key to a successful open water swim. Familiarizing yourself with the course so that you know exactly where you enter, exit and which direction you swim helps make sighting easier. Often times, each turn is marked by a different color buoy that is bigger than the rest. Know this buoy so you’re not wondering where to turn. If easily visible, you can sight off the turn buoy, but if it is not visible, then sometimes you can look for a contour on the horizon above the swim buoy like a hill in the distance or a saddle.  Scope this out during your pre-swim the day before the race.  The exit is usually marked with banners or an arch or both. Practice swimming back to the exit. If you have trouble sighting the arch look for large landmarks behind the exit such as tall trees or buildings that can easily be seen if your goggles start to fog or you have sun in your eyes. Most swimmers sight every 6-12 strokes. Sighting more often will slow you down and break your rhythm, but swimming in a zig-zag adds unnecessary distance to your swim.  Each time you sight you lose momentum because most swimmers pause their kick, drop their hips and legs and change their stroke. To keep your momentum, you must keep your kick going near the surface of the water so that your hips and legs do not drop. Practice sighting during pool swims, not just during open water swims.  One idea to simulate sighting in the pool is to swim eyes closed, except for when you sight above the water.  This way you practice both sighting and swimming in a straight line.

3. Drafting

Drafting is free speed. The best place to be is right behind someone and slightly off to your breathing side so that you can feel their wake, but you do not need to be tapping their feet with every stroke. This can often make the lead swimmer upset causing them to slow down or veer slightly off course. Swimming on someone’s hip is another good place to be, but it does slow down the leading swimmer. This could be a strategy if you know the swimmer is faster and you will likely get dropped if you move to their feet.

4. Staging

Staging or where you line-up to start your swim can have a huge impact on your performance. If you are a strong swimmer, you should start towards the front, slow swimmers towards the back etc. It sounds simple, but there are many athletes that start in the wrong place. They either don’t like the pressure of starting in the front and start back only to find they get stuck swimming easy most of the race because they can’t get around those in front of them. There’s also the slower swimmers that hope to grab some fast feet so they start up front only to get run over by the swimmers behind them causing panic and an even slower swim. You probably have a pretty good idea how you stack up. Ask those around you what they plan to swim. In many XTERRAs you know your competition well. Remember, swimmers will all converge on the first buoy so the more nervous you are of contact the further you should start towards the outside, especially if the first turn buoy is close. Are you in the top 5%? If so, starting in the front towards the inside is probably best. Just outside the top 5-10%, you can probably still start on the front line, but on the outside or if you don’t mind contact start in the second row in tight and catch the feet of those in front of you.

5. Warm Up

A good swim warm up is always important if you want to have your best possible swim. Your body needs to be warmed up and ready for the intense start of the race so that you don’t get 200 yards into the swim and have to stop because of a panic attack. When the water is cold a warm up is even more important. If you know it is cold, run for a few minutes in your wetsuit first and then get in the water for your warm up. Get in a good 5-10+ minutes of continuous swimming with a few pick-ups, warming yourself up from the inside out. Often the biggest shock is putting your face in the water. While waiting for the start, put your face in the water and blow bubbles to simulate swimming. If you get called out of the water before race start, but already performed a proper warm up, the second time entering the water will be much less of a shock.

6. Getting through the shore break

Getting through the shore break takes timing, but you have no control over the start of the race so your swim start can be tricky. In general, you want to run out until you are about knee deep and then dolphin dive. As a wave is about to break dive under it until you find the calm spot under the wave. As the wave goes by dig your fingers into the sand and pull yourself forward and up. This may have to be repeated several times, but keep moving forward, and do not try to take on a wave head on. If you are running out and are only ankle to knee deep, dive over the wave instead of under. This takes practice, but it can be a ton of fun!

7. Swimming straight

Have you ever had someone come up to you and say, “That swim was long. I had my gps on and it says…”? Maybe it was long or maybe they zigged and zagged so much that they made it significantly longer. We all know the fastest route from point A to point B is a straight line and it’s easy to follow the lane line on the bottom of the pool. Open water is a whole different beast. For many races, the water is so dark you can’t see a thing unless you are sighting. Think alligator eyes!  You want to lift your eyes up out of the water just high enough to see, but the higher you lift, the more momentum you lose. Don’t lift enough and you end up having to sight twice slowing yourself down even more. The best way to get better at swimming in a straight line is to practice. Use landmarks or buoys in open water and practice swimming towards them sighting as few times as possible. In the pool, close your eyes and swim ten strokes and then sight so that the only time you can see where you are going is when you lift your head. Pick a lane with no one in it and see if you can get so that you can swim right down the middle with your eyes closed, but please don’t smack your head on the end of the pool! Just remember, you will likely have to lift your head higher in open water to sight than you do in the pool.

Open Water Take-a-ways

  • Incorporate a higher turnover and concentrate on the front end of your swim stroke.
  • If you’re gliding, you’re slowing down.
  • Keep your legs and hips up by continuing to kick up and down when sighting. Don’t pause your kick!
  • Find landmarks that will help you sight.
  • Staging yourself appropriately will make the swim less chaotic.
  • To swim well you must get in a proper warm up, especially for less experienced swimmers.
  • You must practice your open water swimming skills in the pool and the open water if you want to get faster.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for more than a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

Running 101 with World Champ Michael Fussell

A few weeks ago, we were running over ice and snow. Now, we are slogging through mud, joyfully shedding layers and looking forward to summer. After all, longer days mean longer runs.

However, as XTERRA heats up and heads south for next weekend’s races at XTERRA Victoria Bryant (Royston, GA), XTERRA Myrtle Beach (Myrtle Beach, SC), and XTERRA ATX (Austin, TX) it’s important to respect the heat and train accordingly for warmer weather and increased humidity.

To dive deeper into this subject, we caught up with the 2016 XTERRA ATX Trail Run men’s champ Michael Fussell who will be heading to the race a day early this year, not to walk the course, but rather to provide medical assistance for the XTERRA ATX off-road triathlon held the day before.

“Most difficulties in a race come from not training properly,” said Fussell, a Registered Respiratory Therapist. “Neither the course nor the body lie. If you’re training at a nine-minute pace, you shouldn’t start running at an eight-minute pace just because it’s XTERRA Worlds.”

Fussell knows firsthand what he’s talking about. The 2016 55-59 division XTERRA Trail Run World Champion started running in the 1970’s when it wasn’t just a sport but a movement. Think Bill Bowerman, Steve Prefontaine, and Joanie Benoit. He set records at Hagerstown Junior College and the University of Georgia and raced against greats Frank Shorter, Bill Rogers, and Marty Liquori. In 1980, he was a rabbit for Alberto Salazar as he tried to break Pre’s 5K American record at the Martin Luther King games in Atlanta.

Currently, Fussell works as a consultant to a medical device company that provides therapy to a failing heart, helping restore a more normal function.

He measures the success of the device the same way he measured the success of the high school runners he used to coach: by recording VO2max, which is the maximum oxygen uptake by muscles during intense activity.

“VO2max is another way of saying cardiac output,” explained Fussell. “If you bring more oxygen-rich blood to the muscles, you have less lactic acid.”

Just as diseased hearts can become healthy again, normal hearts can become fitter and better able to handle the physiological stress of an endurance event. “And the better a body is at undergoing muscular stress, the easier it is to run faster in difficult conditions like heat or altitude.”

The bad news is that increasing fitness takes as long as it takes, which is anywhere from two weeks to acclimate to heat and altitude and three months to significantly increase VO2max.

“During the first 90 days of training, intensity has very little to do with improving fitness,” said Fussell. This is because it takes a minimum of 90 days for the body’s biological systems to react and adapt to new or additional stress. “Your body won’t respond faster than it can inherently respond.”

The good news is that we don’t have to kill ourselves to get stronger.

“Start where you are,” advised Fussell. “Run or jog at a pace so that you can carry on a complete conversation – not just a few words or half a sentence. Enjoy your time running, because you won’t continue something you don’t like. Whether you are just starting to run or you are running at a hotter time of day or in a warmer climate, go easy on yourself to avoid heat exhaustion, dehydration, and injury.”

Next, Fussell suggests signing up for a trail run. “Sign up for the 5K at XTERRA Victoria Bryant or XTERRA Myrtle Beach. Start small and see where you are. Test out your fitness by kicking the tires.”

Then, ask questions. “Everyone at an XTERRA trail run is there because they like trail running and healthy living. It’s a wonderful community and most runners want to share what they know and what they’ve learned.”

Fussell adds that most runners are happy to help you find trail shoes, locate running groups in your area, and share training tips.

Finally, Fussell recommends that runners sign up for an XTERRA regional series. “Most of the same people come to the races in a series and you’ll have a whole new set of friends. When you’re at that stage, fitness isn’t work but a lifestyle and something you will look forward to every day.”

Find an XTERRA race near you at xterratrailrun.com.

XTERRA Couch to Trail – Preparing for the Swim

By Mimi Stockton, 4x 40-44 Division XTERRA World Champ

When I competed in my first XTERRA Championship race in 2009, the swim was my biggest fear and ended up being one of the worst experiences I’ve had.  I panicked upon plunging into the 58-degree water, started hyperventilating in my too-tight wetsuit and was unable to keep my face in the frigid, black water.  I switched over to backstroke and floated on my back for what felt like hours.  All the others went by and there was nothing I could do but watch them.  I eventually made it out of the water, but I was mentally and physically exhausted from that 25-minutes of flailing and trying to survive.  I repeated to myself, “Never, ever again will I be in this situation.”  I completed the race that day and finished with a hellbent determination to conquer the swim and my fear of the open water.

Coming up with a solid swim training plan and preparing mentally in the months and weeks leading up to the race will allow you to feel confident the morning of the race and can help to squelch almost all your fears (except of the sharks).

Training

You have all the gear and have chosen a pool, but now it’s time to actually get to work. You can’t show up on race day and think it won’t be that big of a deal. If you’re unprepared, prepare to panic. It’s that simple. When it comes to swimming, you should focus on three things: technique, speed, and endurance.

Of the three sports, swimming is undoubtedly the most technical, and focusing on good technique is paramount when you first start swimming.  Some athletes believe they need to churn out lap after lap in the pool, but this usually does not equal a strong swim on race day. These same athletes sometimes find that they are not as prepared for the conditions they face in the open water.  Add in cloudy water, strong chop and currents, or flailing limbs of hundreds of other swimmers, and all that pool training suddenly seems less useless.

Although increasing endurance is indeed a significant factor in racing successfully, it’s only part of the story. Developing a strong technique should be your primary emphasis if you are a beginner swimmer, or if you are not as strong in the swim. This will allow you to gain efficiency, which is a key factor to making the water’s resistance work in your favor.  (Read Josiah’s tips on breathing patterns here).

Developing efficient technique will also diminish some of the anxiety that accompanies the open water swim. You will be able to maneuver around other swimmers more effectively, swim straighter and stay relaxed and balanced in the water.  Focusing on efficient swimming will also help keep your heart rate lower.  One of the best things you can do for yourself as a beginner triathlete is hire a swim coach.  He or she will analyze your stroke and assign you specific drills to help make your stroke smoother and more efficient.

In addition to developing technique, your pool training should include strength and endurance work using a combination of drill and interval-based swim sets to diminish both strength and skill-related anxiety potential on race day.  Practice swimming the distance you will be completing during the race and incorporate longer swimming sets into your workouts. Implement drills that are targeted at fine-tuning open water skills, such as turns, sighting and drafting. If you’re able to swim with a group, try removing the lane lines and swimming together to at least partially simulate the chaotic conditions you will face during the swim. The pool serves as an excellent home-base for specific training, so be sure to spend some time there even if you have access to open water year-round.

Finally, practice in open water, ideally with others, whenever possible.  Many swimmers face anxiety in the open water simply because they haven’t familiarized themselves with race-day conditions.

Swimming in a clear, calm pool with a lane all to yourself is a far cry from the open water, where crowds, choppy conditions or extreme cold can lead to disorientation and subsequent panic attacks. In order to minimize the discomfort you will be feeling during the swim, you need to prepare for the potential scenarios you’ll face by practicing in the open water.

Mental preparation is also something you need to focus on when it comes to open water swimming. Some mental tactics are acquired through experience; while others can be learned and utilized by the time your first race rolls around. The purpose of these tactics is to build a level of race-day confidence that will allow you to optimize your abilities. Treat race day like a training day. This doesn’t apply to your physical performance, rather how you approach the event mentally.  Keep in mind that training has placed you in situations involving swimming, biking, and running before. There should be no reason why you can’t execute these situations on race-day. If anything, race-day is just another long workout, one that you’re completing with a bunch of other athletes.  Speaking of other athletes, you will be dealing with a bunch of them in a small space where physical contact is expected. Be ready for body contact, and sometimes lots of it, as well as frigid water temperatures. Jumping into cold water can send a wave of shock through your body, but if you mentally prepare for the experience and know what to expect, you may not psych yourself out as you would have otherwise.

Race Morning!

On race morning, get in the water!  Get a feel for the temperature.  Put your face in and swim around.  Warm up your muscles and prepare them for the race.  At the very least, swim for 5-10 minutes with a few short bursts to get your heart rate elevated.  Don’t stand there on shore swinging your arms back and forth like Michael Phelps and expect to have a great swim.  If you are a slower swimmer do not start on the front line.  Instead start back and on the outside to avoid the masses at the first buoy.  Remember, just because the gun goes off, that doesn’t mean you have to dive in and swim as hard as you can. Stop and breathe for a few seconds and then take the plunge.  Athletes often get so caught up in the moment that they all out sprint the first 200 meters, forget to breathe and swim the next 400 in panic mode trying to calm themselves down.  It’s okay go out hard, but back it off quickly and concentrate on your breathing. If you do feel panic coming on, slow down, tread water for a few seconds, get your bearings and press on.  Stay calm and keep swimming.

Keep in mind that every triathlete has had a first race in their career, and has felt anxious about the swim.  Each race is an invaluable learning experience, and when it’s over, you will walk away with more confidence and something new to take with you to the next race.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.

MORE TRAINING ARTICLES

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Breathing During the Swim Part II

Presented by Suunto

Proper breathing is a fundamental skill for freestyle swimming.  For adult-onset swimmers, breathing can be problematic since it is dependent on stroke rate, can throw off body position and alignment, and disrupt timing.  Part I focused on breathing patterns, whereas the focus of this article is to improve your breathing technique in order to minimize drag forces, keep body alignment, and maintain momentum with a higher stroke rate.

Stay on the long axis

Think of your head as an extension of your spine.  You will be more streamlined if you can keep all body parts except your stroking arms aligned and rotating around an imaginary skewer down your long axis.  As with most sports, your body tends to follow your head and when your head deviates from the long axis, the rest of your body will compensate.  When you take a breath in, you should only allow one goggle out of the water and you sneak a “Popeye” breath in the bow wave.  Two common mistakes:

  • Raising your head forward before or as you rotate to breathe. Underwater you will see the swimmer look forward and lift the head just before or as they initiate the breath.
  • Lifting your head toward the sky to breathe. In some cases the head comes completely out of the water, the stroking arm presses down on the water and hips and legs drop.

Two examples of head not in line with the long axis

Head reset point

Drag is minimized when your head is aligned with the rest of your spine and your gaze is straight down or slightly forward.  Your head should be completely or mostly submerged in this position, imagining just a small circle on the back of your head out of the water the size of a tiny yamaka.  Imagine holding your fist between your chin and your sternum while keeping your neck and head aligned (slight chin tuck).  This is the position your head should be in most of the time except when you rotate to breathe.  Reset to this point as soon as possible and be careful not to “wag” your head with your stroking arms.

Example of the head reset point

Move head independently of body

Although the head stays on the long axis, it does not always rotate with the rest of your body.  Between inhales, your head stays in the “reset” position while your body rotates on the long axis.  When you rotate your head to breathe, it is most natural to move it with the body’s rotation.  After your inhale, return your head to the “reset” position quickly and independent of the rest of the body.  One cue is to get your head back into the water before you see your recovery arm.

Focus on the exhale

This is the most fundamental skill and should be mastered first.  A common mistake is to hold your breath for a moment while your head is underwater and continue the exhale while you are rotated to breathe and you end up both exhaling and inhaling while your face is out of the water.  One telltale sign of is to see water spray out as the mouth comes out of the water.  Another is to see breath holding even as the face comes out of the water.  Instead focus on blowing bubbles while your face is in the water so your exhale is longer and more complete.  This allows the inhale to occur quicker and more passively.  A simple drill is to practice bobbing in the water and exhaling the entire time you head is underwater.  This drill is also taught as a survival technique and you should be able to bob in the water for hours, expending very little energy.

You can see this swimmer still holding her breath and has yet to start her inhale.  She is lifting her head toward the sky to breathe and scissoring legs to balance.

Keep your Timing

For most swimmers, breathing slows down your stroke and disrupts timing.  The tendency is to pause during the inhale, lay on the outstretched arm while the elbow drops, and often the legs scissor to balance.  Timing and momentum will be greatly improved if you can keep your head on the long axis, sneak your breath and get you head back in the water faster, and initiate the catch of your outstretched arm quicker.  A beeping swim metronome such as the Finis Tempo Trainer can give you an audio cue to keep your timing.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for more than a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles

XTERRA Couch to Trail – Scout it Out!

XTERRA is known for their epic courses that traverse all sorts of demanding terrain. Unlike their asphalt cousins, no two off-road triathlons are the same, which makes every swim, run, and bike course unique and challenging.

Consider XTERRA Oak Mountain, with its fast and wild ride highlighted by the notorious “blood rock” section; or the tight, twisty urban rollercoaster that is XTERRA St. Louis; or the nail biting, cliff-hugging trails of XTERRA Southern Indiana; or, of course, the sugarcane singletrack, mud, log jumping, and unending climbs of the XTERRA World Championship course on Maui.

With so many differences at every turn, it’s important to ride and run (and even swim) the course routes at least once before the race.  Scout it Out!  Ideally, you can do this one or two days before the race, not the morning of!

For the swim, get a feel for the water temperature and practice sighting. Unique to XTERRA, a lot of the swims are two loops with a short run in between.  Be sure to check out the area and plan where you want to enter and exit the water.

For the bike, taking the right line down a steep descent or properly rounding a corner with soft sand can make the difference between staying upright or going down.  Also, while organizers do their very best to mark the courses in a way that is easy to follow (blue arrows for bike, red arrows for run) things still happen.  Someone could endo and take out an arrow, a cow could eat it, or a mischievous park user could toss it into the bushes or even worse, point it in the wrong direction!  Your job is to know the course, and you don’t want to train for months for a race only to show up on race day with no knowledge of the course and miss a turn.

The same can be said for the run course.  Some people think, “I don’t have to check-out the run course because there will be plenty of people to follow.”  Perhaps, but what if you come to a fork in the road with an arrow that is upside down?  It’s also important to know the course so you can pace yourself.   I’ll use the old Richmond course as an example.  All the hard stuff was in the second half of the run, including a nearly vertical wall, a long rock-hoping section and a hilly island loop.  But the beginning was flat, and it was easy to take off too quickly out of transition only to struggle over the second half.  Having this intel beforehand will make you less anxious on the day of the race. You demand a lot from your body during the race so being able to remind yourself of what lies ahead and how you will handle it allows you to keep mentally focused.

Bottom line: know the course, race to your strengths, come up with a plan, and rehearse it in your mind the day before so that you are prepared for race day.  Just the mental process of coming up with a plan allows you to go over many different scenarios that could occur during the race.  Then, if something new is thrown at you in the race, you will be much more equipped to handle it.

The XTERRA Couch to XTERRA training series is presented by SheriAnne Little, Jeffrey Kline, and four-time XTERRA age group world champion Mimi Stockton of PRS Fit.  Their new 12-week “Couch-to-XTERRA” training program is designed to do just that, get aspiring athletes off the couch, into training, and to the start line of an XTERRA.  Read past training articles from PRS Fit at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/couch-to-trail and learn more about their coaching programs at prsfit.com.

MORE TRAINING ARTICLES

Going the Distance – Your First 50K

Finishing a marathon or longer ultra race like the XTERRA Shepaug 80K takes serious endurance. Ultra runs are considered to be any distance beyond the marathon, and typically, held on trails. While gaining much popularity throughout the running community, ultras still remain an enigma to most.

“Do I pin my bib on my shorts? Is that even legal? Those guys look fast. Maybe I should move back. What’s that on his head? A light? Am I the only person holding a flashlight? Do I need a drop bag? That guy has a drop bag. Crew? I need a crew? Aid stations have real food? What about all these gels? Should I carry a water bottle? Hydration pack? What kind of shoes are those? Why is everybody smiling and joking around? Wait… is that toilet paper in a ziplock? Why does he have toilet paper? Toilet paper? Do I need toilet paper?”

However, while much longer than a 10K, training for an XTERRA ultra run isn’t radically different than training for a shorter race. Online training plans are becoming more prevalent and XTERRA trail runs are offered at longer distances in more places. Speed work still plays a major part in training. Maintenance runs and long runs still hold equal value. Strength training and core work remain a solid must. The biggest difference is time. A marathon plan may peak with 50-55 miles and 7-8 hours of running. A 100-mile training cycle may peak with 110 miles and 15-17 hours of running. During marathon training, most will work up to and run a 20 miler a couple of times. Any ultra distance training will cover that distance several times and a runner looking forward to 100 miler will become so comfortable with the distance that they will be thankful to see an “easy 20” on their schedule.

David Murphy, head ultra coach of PRS Fit and XTERRA’s new “Couch to Trail Program” advises athletes to keep it simple. “Find a plan or coach to get you there,” Murphy says. “Become comfortable being uncomfortable. Walk the line smartly between tired and injured. Learn how to eat real food and drink more than you think you should. Buy a headlamp. Carry toilet paper. Collect finisher medal or buckle. Brag on social media.”

Murphy adds that when you have a simple but solid training plan, you can devote your attention to mindset, which is a key element of a successful ultra. “It gets lonely on the trail,” says Murphy. “There can be stretches of solitude that last for miles. Walking becomes part of the race and is no longer something to be embarrassed about. Learning how to walk and, more importantly, when to run again is not easy but is very necessary.”  A small hill that would be easily conquered even in the late stages of a marathon become giant mountains and a welcome opportunity to walk. Effort-based training becomes your best friend as pace based training can lead you astray if relied upon as the sole factor during training runs.

“The key to mindset is knowing that you will finish before you even start,” continues Murphy. “Fear is good. Even necessary. Fear will keep you hungry and fighting. But doubt is the destroyer of dreams and will either kill your day before it starts, or prolong the agony to levels of pain you have never known. Before embarking on an ultra, you need to resolve to go the distance.”

Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun

David Murphy is the Head Ultra Coach at PRS Fit. His personal accomplishments include:

5 x sub 24 100 mile finishes
MO AG State Record 50 miler
Sub 3 marathon PR
Numerous ultras and marathons
For more information on Ultra Training and Racing

MORE TRAINING ARTICLES

Middaugh Coaching Corner – Breathing Patterns During the Swim

Presented by Suunto

Breathing is problematic in swimming freestyle.  The primary issue is that breathing is dependent on your stroke rate and the type of breathing pattern you adopt.  The most streamlined position has your head in alignment with the rest of your spine, the water line hitting the top of your head with it mostly submerged, and your gaze aimed straight down or just slightly forward.  The problem is that you can’t breathe in this position unless you are swimming with a snorkel.  Unlike running or biking, breathing while swimming needs to be timed with your strokes.

There are only a few options for breathing.  One option is to inhale once every two strokes so that you are breathing on the same side every time (one breath per stroke cycle).  Another option is to inhale once every three strokes so that you are bilateral breathing or alternating your inhale from one side to the other.  Other options have you breathing even less frequently, such as a 2-4-2 breathing pattern, or breathing every 3,4,5 or more strokes.  When we watch the great Olympians swim short distances, we often see them breathing very little in an attempt to minimize drag and swim as fast as possible with the tradeoff being hypoxia and extreme oxygen debt.  They train to swim this way but cannot sustain it for long distances at intense paces.  When you watch distance swimmers during the middle portions of their races (not usually seen because that’s when NBC goes to a commercial break) you see much more frequent breathing patterns.

A case for breathing every two strokes

Although it is not well documented, your breathing rate varies with your relative intensity of steady state exercise.  Seasoned runners know this and may be able to tell you that at low intensities they tend to breathe in for about 2-3 steps and out for about 2-3 steps.  At an endurance pace they may switch to 2-2 pattern, and around threshold it will be 2-1 or even 1-1.  This happens pretty naturally and they don’t need to think about it.  At an easy endurance pace, most athletes will breathe 20-30 times per minute.  Near threshold intensity it is common to be 35-45 breaths per minute.  Untrained people will peak out at about 45 breaths per minute, but elite athletes can hit around 60 breaths per minute for a maximal effort.

 

Breathing rate during a relatively easy endurance run, averaging 26 breaths per minute (movescount.com)

Breathing rate during threshold efforts, holding closer to 40 breaths per minute (movescount.com)

With some simple math, we can easily figure out breaths per minute swimming if we know your stroke rate and breathing pattern.  Most triathlon swimmers are comfortable somewhere around 50-60 strokes per minute.  At race intensities, this might only increase to around 65-70 strokes per minute.  If you look at lead pack swimmers, you will commonly see stroke rates around 80 strokes per minute and some elite ITU swimmers could be around 80-90 strokes per minute.

Case study 1 is an adult-onset swimmer with a stroke rate in open water of 60 strokes per minute.  If this athlete sticks to bilateral breathing, then he/she will be limited to 20 breaths per minute.  With that breathing pattern and stroke rate, this swimmer will be relegated to an easy intensity for the entire triathlon swim.  By breathing once every two strokes, then he/she will be able to breathe 30 times per minute, which could allow the swimmer to sustain a tempo-threshold intensity for the duration of the swim.

To truly race a 1500-meter swim at a threshold intensity at 30-40 breaths per minute you either need to have an incredibly high yet efficient stroke rate while bilateral breathing, OR you need to breathe every 2 strokes (breathing on the same side every time).  The three exceptions are the swimmers with the super high stroke rates, the incredibly smooth swimmers that don’t need to swim hard and can swim at an endurance intensity and still hang in the front group, or the triathlete not planning to race the swim portion of a triathlon.  Another option for those few exceptions is a 2-4 breathing pattern.

Bilateral breathing still has its place in training.  It can help balance out your stroke by promoting symmetry.  It can also be used for breath control and to ensure you are swimming at easy-moderate intensities when designated.  I like to bilateral breaths during easy swimming such as warm ups, during short sets where it is ok to go into oxygen debt, or during long pulls where you don’t have the high oxygen demand.  Noteworthy, breathing every 2 strokes does not mean that you have to breathe to just one side 100% of the time.  Ideally you are breathing to one side for a period of time and then switching to the other side.  It is still a good idea to have the ability to breathe to both sides especially for open water swimming.

You may find that your form suffers when you breathe more frequently, so you many need to consider ways to improve your breathing technique.  Part 2 will focus on tips to improve your breathing in order to minimize drag forces, keep body alignment, and maintain stroke rate.

Josiah Middaugh is the reigning XTERRA Pan America Champion and the 2015 XTERRA World Champion. He has a master’s degree in kinesiology and has been a certified personal trainer for 15 years (NSCA-CSCS). His brother Yaro also has a master’s degree and has been an active USAT certified coach for more than a decade. Read past training articles at http://www.xterraplanet.com/training/middaugh-coaching-corner and learn more about their coaching programs at http://middaughcoaching.com.

About Suunto

Suunto builds the tools to help you reach your goals. With an award-winning line up of GPS sports watches, heart-rate monitors, and mobile apps, Suunto helps athletes train smarter and perform better. Sophisticated design and rugged construction ensure each Suunto watch is ready to tackle whatever you (and mother nature) throw at it.

Learn more at www.suunto.com.

More Middaugh Coaching Corner Articles