Training talk and better triathlon run training with Jason Koop | EP#166
Jason Koop is the Director of Coaching at Carmichael Training Systems (CTS) and a wealth of knowledge and experience in endurance sports coaching. We dive into a wide variety of triathlon training topics in this interview, including getting specific on how to improve your triathlon run training.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- How much (or how little...) fitness should you lose in the off-season?
- Why you must know the purpose of every single workout and block of training.
- How should triathletes structure their run training to improve their running?
- Common mistakes triathletes make in their training.
- Current fads in triathlon and endurance sports.
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About Jason Koop
- Jason is the Director of Coaching at Carmichael Training Systems.
- Jason has a wealth of knowledge in endurance sports coaching having coached a lot of age group triathletes, runners and cyclists.
- He is also one of the most reputable ultra-running coach.
Jason's background in endurance sports
- My background is in running - I ran throughout high school and also at collegiate level.
- I started coaching youth track and field athletes in my earl 20's.
I then transitioned to coaching all different types of endurance athletes: mountain bikers, triathletes, ultra-runners etc, in the mid-2000's.
- I dabbled in cycling myself but not to a significant extent.
- I was fortunate to have an incredible array of high quality mentors when I started coaching.
- I had a degree in biogenetics and chemistry from a major university, I was an incredible student of all different types of endurance sports and I had a lot of National governing body certifications.
I thought I knew i all, but what I learned quickly in the environment at Carmichael Training Solutions (CTS) is that there's no substitute to having high quality mentors helping to guide you.
How much fitness should you lose in an off-season?
- All athletes need down-time. Whether this is a transition phase, off-season or regeneration phase.
- I keep the athletes I work with within 10% of their peak fitness, which is what I've seen athletes react best to over the years.
It prevents an athlete from needing to dig too far out a fitness hole when the next season starts.
- This decline can happen over the span of weeks or months - the time frame is inconsequential, the absolute amount is important.
- It doesn't take much to hold on to that 10%.
Holding on to fitness in off-season
- I don't like athletes taking a lot of 'no training' days in a row - a week to ten days is okay, but no longer.
- It doesn't take much to keep the fitness - even a 45 minute bike ride can help.
- I like to bring everything down in an off-period - volume, frequency and intensity.
- I want them to do activities that will regenerate their enthusiasm.
Going through the grind of a season can get to athletes, so this transition phase can serve as a regeneration of their enthusiasm for racing and training.
- Off-season sessions are really simple: 30 minutes of easy running, or 40 minutes easy cycling for example.
- I typically prefer sessions to be aerobic activities, rather than power activities, but the point is to do things the athlete feels will rejuvenate their enthusiasm.
- Sometimes it's about reducing the volume by 75% - and that alone can reignite the fire under them.
Maximising the benefit of workouts
- One of the ways my early mentors had an influence me is they relentlessly asked me the questions 'why?' - with everything I was doing.
E.g. why was a recovery one 45 minutes? Why was this workout 5x3 on/3 off and not 6x 3 on /3 off?
- This forces you as a coach to ensure that whatever you are prescribing to an athlete is being done so very intentionally.
- It's not about maximising the amount of work that is being done - anybody can pile on work - but it's maximising the intended benefit for what you're trying to do.
- Choosing a different workout architecture can mean you have a completely different consequence.
- For example, a progression run. I'm generally not a fan of progression run because the amount of quality work being done is always less than if you design the same run with the quality work at the start.
If you ask an athlete to do a 6 mile progression run at the end of their 13 mile long run, and compare this to putting the 6 miles of effort at the start of the run.
The 6 miles on the latter session will always be faster because they are in a pre-fatigued state. You can also do more work - you can probably do 7-8 miles at the same pace if you put it at the start of the run.
- You can also see changes in how you design the specific workload. You can take two workouts with an identical amount of time at intensity that have completely different results.
For example, 15 x 1 minute hard, 1 minute easy - so they accumulate 15 minutes hard intensity throughout the workout. Or you can prescribe 5 x 3 minutes hard, 3 minutes easy.
There's the same time at intensity for both workouts but the 5x 3 on/3 off will be the workout that really stresses and maximising the cardiovascular system and taps into the athletes VO2max.
- You have to be certain that your rationale fits with the way you are designing the workout for the athlete.
- As a coach, prescribing a workout based on your personal experience is not a good reason. I strongly encourage our coaches to have a better reason than that - you need to know what the purpose is and the way it's designed needs to fit that purpose.
Where to start when planning training
- If you look at an entire season, you're typically trying to tap into physiology that's least specific to the event, furthest away from the event.
We then tap into the physiology that's most specific to what they are training for, closest to the event.
- Most of the time in an ultra marathon setting, that means your high intensity stuff is early, and your high volume low intensity work is later.
- Going down to the week/phase of the training, you have to look at whether the goals match the architecture you've set up in the training.
- In a very concrete sense, we take a zoom out, zoom in, zoom back out approach.
We set up long range architecture, then check the weeks, then zoom back out and make sure those weeks fit what we want the athlete to do long-term.
- The decisions will be based on many factors, such as how experienced the athlete is, what their goals are, how long a phase is, how fatigued they are etc.
- We have coaching round tables here where we can take 90 minutes to go over a week of training for an athlete.
We force our coaches to dig into the detail in an effort to ensure they know why they're doing what they're doing.
- The athletes history is also a big input factor.
Structuring run training for triathlon
- Most people can just stand to run more!
- If you were to prioritise all the training that you want your athlete to do, the total volume of training must be the thing that rises to the surface.
- Most triathletes or runners have a ceiling after which they start to breakdown - and most experienced athletes will know where this upper limit is for them.
- I then have athletes focus on that quality of rest they get and the nutrition they're taking in, because these serve as the building blocks to reinforce all the work.
- After they've maximised volume and optimised rest and nutrition, we then start to look at the specific training structure within the micro cycle, or year as a whole.
- It does come in that order though: volume, rest/recovery, nutrition, mini-periodisation schemes.
- Generally, if I'm trying to improve an age group triathlete I would start with the run - it's the most important component of triathlon and gives you the biggest bang for your buck.
- Some athletes have a specific need with a different discipline, but for a generalist athlete I would always steer focus to the run.
Rest and nutrition
- First and foremost you need to make sure an athlete is resting and taking in adequate nutrition.
- Increases in fitness will not manifest if you're not getting adequate rest.
- If you're getting 8 hours of good sleep a night and your macro and micro nutrient intake is good, then you can look at training habits.
E.g. deciding between 14 miles run off the bike versus 12 mile run off the bike.
- Athletes are not good at knowing what they need to eat from a macronutrient stand point.
- We start with basic nutrition education:
E.g. If you have a 3-hour run (ultra-runner) that will burn around 700 calories per hour - this is an extra 2100 calories you'll need on top of your standard 2000 calories per day.
Your recovery days are completely different - you have your 2000 calories and maybe an additional 600 for a recovery run.
- There's a big discrepancy between hard, long days, and easy days.
- We start by mapping out how many calories you need per day, and then break down what that means per meal.
- Our recommendations boil down to simple ideas: meet your caloric needs, don't excessively eat junk.
Applying lessons from ultra run coaching to triathlon
- I think endurance athletes are more similar than they are different, so a lot of lessons I have learnt aren't necessarily specific to ultra running.
- Athletes have to have a very acute and tuned in sense of purpose - they need to know why they're doing what they're doing.
The training is hard. Athletes demand a lot of themselves, and I demand a lot of my athletes.
It's not always about training - sometimes I'm prescribing my athletes to really focus on their rest.
- When athletes have a clear sense of purpose, they will then do what they need to do to be successful.
I don't think this is different to any other endurance sports.
Common mistakes in run training
- One of the things that is both a positive and a negative that triathletes bring is that they're first adopters.
Sometimes this is great, you can find things that take years for others to catch up on, but sometimes it's nonsense.
- For example, I think the low card high fat in triathlon needs to go away in all endurance sports, and we need a more pragmatic take to nutrition!
- Stryd, the running power metre company based in Boulder is quite near where I work. I've been in touch with them ever since their kickstarter campaign.
I think the better utility with the Stryd pod specifically is that it can measure the path of the foot.
Using something on your foot to estimate metabolic power that is required of the athlete has too many faults to be useful for training prescription.
I think if somebody can solve measuring force at the level of a foot, this would have some utility for training and analysis perspective, but I think we're a little ways off this.
- I divide the running power meter thing into two categories: motion at the level of the foot, and motion at the level of centre of mass.
Measuring movement at level of the foot it has more utility in biomechanics, rather than workout intensity.
- For ultra runners I use RPE when prescribing workouts.
This is because the external conditions on trail and ultra runs all affect heart rate and create background noise, so prescribing anything to heart rate isn't effective.
- When I first started coaching cyclists in 2000/2001, on board power metres were just starting to become more available to the public.
As coaches, we gradually started to switch prescriptions from heart rate to power. We found that when prescribing watts, heart rate was getting higher and higher, and we found that we were probably prescribing incorrectly before then!
- For a triathlete I prefer to use pace on the run, then RPE, then heart rate.
- For cyclists I would use power, then RPE, then heart rate.
General advice for age grouper athletes
- For self-coached athletes - don't over complicate it!
You'll get 90% of it right based on your own intuition, and the last 10% you'll need a coach to do.
- Also enjoy the process - we often get caught in the grind of training, but if you don't enjoy it you won't benefit from it.
General advice for coaches
- One of the ways that we bring mentorship to light is follow the right people on Twitter, and do it in a relentless fashion!
Use it as something you are going to learn from.
- When I first started managing and mentoring coaches we'd have interns, and a big part of their job was to pull research for our coaches.
This has largely been replaced by following the right people on Twitter.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favourite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports?
- What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success?
- Being organised.
- Who is somebody in endurance sports that you look up to?
- David Goggins. He's a former Navy seal, ultra runner based in the US. He has an incredible life story - he grew up impoverished, abused, largely uneducated. Go read his book 'Can't Hurt Me'.
Jason's list of people to follow on Twitter
- Always have a very clear purpose for your sessions.
This can be done by diving a couple of layers deeper to your first answer of 'why am I doing this?' Keep asking questions to deeper your understanding of the purpose.
- For example: VO2max intervals. Why am I doing this? To increase my VO2max. But don't stop there, keep going deeper:
- Is my VO2max limiting me?
- Can I already sustain a large percentage of VO2max for a long time and I need to raise my ceiling to improve my performance?
- Am I far from, or close to my genetic potential of VO2max improvements?
- How does VO2max play into the specific demands of my goal race or event?
- Is the risk/reward ratio of doing this type of workout better than doing something else like threshold intervals or muscular endurance intervals?
- You don't necessarily have all the answers, but asking the questions makes you think and this helps you make better decisions when planning training.
- The second takeaway: in terms of run training, run more!
Keeping that volume up over time, slowly but surely will improve your running.
Links, resources and contact
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Jason Koop
- Twitter - @JasonKoop
- Instagram - @JasonKoop
- Train Right website for coaching camps.
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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Great episode, Mikael!
I was thinking about what you were saying about knowing the purpuse and how to target the different sessions better. How can you find out your primary limiters; if it’s vo2max or treshold (or muscular endurance)? Is there any good way to figure this out without doing a lab-test?
I’m sure you have this covered in a previous episode, but I can’t remember at the moment.
I think you should do a lab test 🙂
Of course, you could also get some insights by doing more and better field tests (e.g. an all-out 4-minute test will give you a fairly good estimate for your power at VO2max) and not just rely on a 20-minute FTP-test. This will already increase your knowledge about your body, physiology and metabolism, although you won’t get the complete picture.
But in order to make the best decisions, you would want to have the complete picture.
I think that with many of the things that we can measure today, and that athletes do measure, we are putting the cart before the horse if we don’t even have the vaguest idea of our fundamental physiological make-up from even just a lactate test.
Thank you Mikael! Maybe it’s about time for some labtesting:)