Podcast, Training

Jim Vance | EP#382

 March 20, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Jim Vance - That Triathlon Show

Jim Vance is a San Diego based coach, author and sports technology consultant. He is most well-known for his work with Ben Kanute (second at IM70.3 World Championships 2022 and 2017), but he also works with developing athletes focusing on short-course racing on the Olympic pathway, and he has a long background as a swim coach.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Jim's coaching philosophy and methodology
  • Key principles and specific examples of how Jim approaches swim, bike, and run training in triathlon
  • The two-day rule
  • Working with Ben Kanute, and Ben's training leading into his 2nd place at the IM70.3 World Championships in 2022
  • Strength training
  • Jim's top advice for age-group triathletes

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Jim's background

02:15 -

  • Since the Rio Olympic Games, I have been Ben Kanute's coach for the past six years.
  • I wrote Run With Power, Triathlon 2.0 and co-edited Triathlon Science with Joe Friel. 
  • I had a brief professional racing career.
  • I did 8h37 for the Ironman distance, but coaching was my passion.
  • I'm a teacher by trade, so that's where I got into coaching.
  • I also consult with companies that bring technology into endurance sports. My biggest customer is Today's Plan.
  • I was coaching even in college, whether it was little middle school cross country and track and field, basketball or high school cross country, athletes.
  • I was a runner at the University of Nebraska.
  • So I still had a lot of competitive fire.
  • By the time I graduated from Nebraska, I had taught in schools, trained independently, and did some racing. 
  • I got into triathlon and quickly ascended into the sport. 
  • I won Xterra Amateur World Champion in Maui in 2004; in 2005, I was ITU Age Group World Champion.
  • When I started having that success, I got the offer to move to the Olympic Training Center here in the U.S. and train with the national team. 
  • They introduced a lot of new technology (power meters). 
  • Joe Friel was coaching me and introduced me to this new software TrainingPeaks.
  • As a teacher, I had an excellent knowledge of using these tools, and people were hiring me to learn. 
  • I was making more money coaching on the side than I was teaching.
  • I left to start my professional career.
  • After a few years of racing, I focused on growing coaching and started doing some camps worldwide with Joe Friel. 
  • There were many opportunities when I was growing my coaching business. 
  • I wrote a book about the questions athletes were asking me (Triathlon 2.0).
  • It is a book that walks athletes and helps coaches but takes complex tools and makes them simple.
  • It teaches athletes to use a power meter, GPS, and heart rate monitor to accomplish their goals. 
  • If you're a 40-year-old male who wants to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, the standard training is much higher than a 70-year-old male who wants to finish an Ironman. 
  • I helped bring some numbers to it and guided athletes to accomplish their goals. 
  • I stopped coaching Coronado High School in 2019. 
  • I probably could not devote the time required to run a successful program. I had about 50-60 swimmers at that high school.
  • That high school alone has produced three Olympians in water polo, so it was a great program.
  • The junior program was difficult to continue, especially in the U.S., because many pool policies changed with COVID. 
  • The whole area had to adjust their swim schedules, and coordinating triathlon practice became difficult.
  •  So I focused on a few high-level juniors, and one finished fifth at the Junior National Championships last year in the U.S., and another female is in NCAA tri at one of the power five programs. 
  • I'm a father. I have two sons.
  • Triathlon is a big commitment, and I wanted to spend time with my children.
  • I'm still readily involved, and I'm not against restarting it. 
  • I spent a month in Europe this past summer. I was with eight athletes, two of which were directly my athletes.
  • We went to Coimbra, Portugal, Kitzbuehl, Austria, and finished in Holten in the Netherlands.
  • However, that's also one of the reasons why I had to step away from junior racing. (the time away)

Coaching Philosophy

12:01 -

  • The first premise is that I always start with the end in mind with an athlete.
  • The demands you need to reach depend upon age, genre and goals. 
  • That determines the population that you're going against to be able to achieve your goals. 
  • If you want to lose some weight, be healthy, and get some stress relief, I'm likely to train you differently than someone who wants to qualify for the Ironman World Championships. 
  • Then I work backwards from there. Where are we right now? And how does that journey look? 
  • Then I try to build things slowly. 
  • I've done my job if an athlete can come to the start line healthy, happy and excited to race. 
  • That's the most important thing because I can write the perfect training, but if they don't show up to the start line healthy, happy and excited about it, they'll never perform to their potential. 
  • If I can peek into the minds of every athlete on a starting line and listen to their internal dialogue, I can tell you who will do well and who isn't.
  • I do whatever I can to make sure that that happens. 
  • Ben Kanute doesn't have a job that he has to balance. 
  • Now, he has some contracts that are stressors.
  • But for the most part, his job is training and racing.
  • Take someone who's retired, racing and wealthy; they're empty nesters whose demands differ slightly.
  • You have to learn about the person and understand their goals 
  • If I do things right, I've progressed training and timed it perfectly to date on the calendar. 
  • Pick a day on the calendar and say on this day right here, we will show up and be fitter, faster, and better than ever. That is the biggest challenge in sports. 

Achieving peak performance

16:23 -

  • Injury is usually the number one thing that does not allow you to achieve peak performance.
  • And so, I have a strict philosophy that I'm doing everything possible to reduce injury risk in our training.
  • I progress slower than some coaches.
  • I look for ways to reduce injury risk. I'm a big believer in the run-walk. Ben Kanute does a lot of run-walking to reduce that injury risk, so we can handle that run volume much better.
  • An athlete training for 10km doesn't go out and race a hard 10K every time they have a crucial session. 
  • They fractionise it. That load becomes something that they can tolerate better.
  • You can do more volume with an athlete if you insert walk breaks and keep them healthy and consistent, allowing for building fitness.
  • They're having success in the key sessions and enjoying the training journey. They get excited and confident about the race when they get to the start line.
  • The rest is the specifics of how we structure that. 

Two-day rule

18:44 -

  • You want to progress so that the athlete will not peak early.
  • You want to ensure you have a successful journey to that date. 
  • The two-day rule gave me a way to verify that I was doing that successfully for the athlete. 
  • And the two-day rule is: If I need to give you more than two days of recovery, I'm probably giving you too much. 
  • I give you two light days.
  • Then the third day should be a home run. It should go excellent. And if it doesn't, that athlete carries too much fatigue. 
  • So I must either slow down or step back on the training load.
  • I've heard many coaches say you do a two-week up, one week down, but I don't believe in that. 
  • You're losing fitness if you need three days of recovery or more.
  • I believe in two steps forward, two more steps forward, two more steps forward. 
  • That two-day rule has become a great principle, and I don't waste time. 
  • I avoid providing too much rest to athletes that way, and we can consistently improve.
  • Athletes who succeed on that third day believe in the training more.
  • It builds that confidence that builds that enjoyment of training.

Implementation of the two-day rule

22:40 -

  • I can do things with Kanute differently from those who have to work full-time.
  • With Kanute, I might do a 10-14 day cycle. I would time it with some of these age groupers based on learning what that stress and recovery cycle is for them. 
  • And if I start to notice a point where I've missed the stress and recovery, it allows me to know and understand why they failed at a specific workout.
  • We all have lots of stressors that we could claim. 
  • You have to learn that pattern individually regarding stress and recovery back to where they were. 
  • A common one might be a 14-day cycle that ends or starts with a very light day. 
  • I try to learn about an athlete's world and life stressors and work around them. 
  •  So if I've got some design block, I will probably throw in a two-day recovery after that block.
  • When we start the next block, it should start well. 
  • If it's an athlete like Kanute, I've gotten into some trouble with doing more without proper recovery, so I try to have set block periods of rest. So he's probably a little more finite was where some of the other athletes are. If I'm seeing athletes have success consistently, a key session not going well is a clear sign they need two days of rest. 
  • If it's not very good or not what we expect in terms of quality after two days, we generally need to recognise that we've overdone it. 
  • The two-day rule doesn't mean I'm always successful at hitting it. 
  • You can fix it before you're a deep hole that you've screwed the athlete over. 

General Training Principles


27:52 -

  • It depends on the goal we're trying to hit.
  • A perfect example is Canote, who gets away with two to three days of swimming most of the season. He still will be very close to first.
  • We choose periods and times when we accelerate the swim load to make him feel sharper. But for the most part, he does not need that.
  • I coach an up-and-coming pro named Annie Fuller.
  • Annie is a fantastic runner, and I'm impressed with her cycling.
  • She swims six days a week, sometimes twice a day because we have to, and she wants to make the L.A. Olympic Games.
  • I will do more technical work, aerobic base, turnover, t race fitness with her. 

How to improve swimming performance

29:44 -

  • The time of year is critical for that.
  • Annie came off the World University Games in September, and she came into the summer hurt from her track and field season in college. (she had a stress fracture)
  • She also had a few other injuries when she came to me through the summer. 
  • We gave her two months off after the World University Games 
  • After, we started with a strength focus, rebuilding her body. 
  • During that time, I couldn't do anything in the pool of quality because of the strength load.
  • We had to stick with technical, easy swimming and work on her catch, rhythm and timing. 
  • I could not give her anything above aerobic intensity.
  • As the season started, we reduced the strength load. 
  • Strength was the priority back then because we had to rebuild her body to ensure she could stay healthy for the season. 
  • Now, the training is much more technical: her technical ability when she's tired and her technical skills to stay with a faster turnover. 
  • I introduce more race specificity as we progress into the next part of the season. 
  • But you can only do about two to three challenging swims a week.
  • In her warm-ups, I'm having her do high-turnover work, checking the watch to see what the turnovers are at those quicker efforts where we're still warming up.
  • The stroke cycle is the time between her hand entering the water out in front of her and reentry in the front. 
  • If she's at one point over faster, she's fresh enough that we can probably do more that day. 
  • Many people don't have a coach to adjust the whole training.
  • If an athlete is tired, you will find it in the pool first and foremost, especially if they don't have a swimming background.
  • For an athlete like Kanute, he needs to look at some technical things once in a while. He can give me feedback about his needs, which is great because I don't see him in person. He lives in Scottsdale, Phoenix, and I'm in San Diego.
  • We have the same philosophies. He knows the checklist of decisions we must go through to form a decision about training.

Working with an age group remotely

36:11 -

  • It would be best to have an honest conversation with an athlete as a coach. (motivations)
  • Many enjoy the social aspect of the sport: the ability to go on rides with friends and show up to a pool for a swim group.
  • So I'm always looking at how important that is to the athlete.
  • If athletes lock themselves in a room and train alone, they don't enjoy that journey.
  • So my goal of getting them on the start line healthy, happy, and excited to race probably will not happen.
  • So I'm always looking at what the athlete needs to be successful.
  • Swimming is such a technical sport that you might not have the improvements they desire.
  • Some athletes train too much and need to back off. 
  • However, they might enjoy going on long rides with friends, so if that's important to you, we need to rank up the priorities. 
  • For example, I do not like to go to the pool alone. I became a good swimmer in the sport when I left, But I always like that feedback from someone.
  • Of course, if an athlete tells me they swim 2min/100m and only swim by themselves and want to qualify for Kona, I will tell them that it is hard unless we make significant changes to their swim approach.


39:25 -

  • The more time you have, the less risk you can take in training.
  • It's important not to come into that risky period with injuries. 
  • If some athletes come to you and are strong riders, 
  • you should train them a little less. 
  • I find athletes who come to me that have been racing Ironman for a while and plateaued.
  • I need to train the athletes like short-course athletes to bring a new stimulus and change things. 
  • We can adjust the calendar. But always looking at the new stimulus and checking how we can use that adaptation response curve to our advantage in cycling and running.
  • If an athlete's been riding in flat areas, we can send them to places with many climbs.
  • Running takes a long time to improve. 
  • You have to be patient because running probably causes the most injuries.
  • You can't just say you believe in volume training because you can't keep going until the athlete breaks down.
  • After six to eight weeks, an athlete's VO2max will not respond well to high-intensity training. They're probably not going to raise their VO2max anymore. 
  • If an athlete comes to me and they've not held anything over 30 miles a week, an increase in volume will bring you quick changes. 
  • If an athlete comes from a running background, you can focus more on riding. 
  • Athletes do not need to do a long run every week, especially more experienced athletes. 
  • If you've got that run base, we can only do maintenance. 
  • Everything depends on the athlete.  
  • I'm changing what I do as a coach and focusing more on coach education. I'm working on many webinars and courses because I have a different approach. I've had Kanute come from many of those premises we already discussed.
  • Therefore, people could learn something because most coach education courses are generic.
  • We're telling people how to coach instead of using their experience, judgment, risk and learning. 
  • We tend to put athletes into a template instead of using experience to create one for that athlete. 
  • My decisions with Kanute would not make sense for an age group.
  • I didn't read the two-day rule in a book.
  • The lining up of things becomes challenging because everyone's world is different.
  • I've always wanted to see a conference where we take a coach who's accomplished something and get them up in front and say what they did and how. 
  • You start to understand the core beliefs of that coach and how to view problems.

Ben Kanute training leading up to 70.3 Worlds in 2022


  • I asked him about his goals when we talked in Kona in 2016 after the Rio Olympic Games. 
  • He wanted to win a 70.3 World title and an Olympic medal in the mixed relay at the Olympics.
  • We're talking about an entirely different type of stimulus and fitness.
  • The mixed relay is approximately a 20-minute race, and a 70.3 will be under four hours, depending on the course. 
  • I was in a position where there was no template to follow.
  • I looked at things like conjugate sequence periodisation, block periodisation or reverse periodisation.
  • You also have a race schedule you don't control because it depends on points.
  • And mixed relays do not base on qualification. You could show up to a race and wouldn't even know if you would get to race it or what leg you were doing.
  • I adopted a philosophy of focusing on his volume first and then more intensity, race-specific intensity for the super sprint.
  • Once I got within six weeks of the 70.3 World Championships, I just went all in on 70.3 Worlds and took a risk in training.
  • If I've done everything correctly in the build-up to there, I'm generally on point and well connected with the stress and recovery cycle of the athlete.
  • The Olympics in Tokyo have happened. Ben did not make the team, 
  • unfortunately. 
  • He said at the end of 2021, and he wanted to focus on 70.3 in PTO.
  • We were more secure in our race calendar, so we could take more risks in training.
  • We got away from the model we had worked on and went to an entirely recovery-on-demand cycle. It just didn't work, partly because he got COVID. There were a lot of stressors. 
  • He finished well at Oceanside early in the year, right behind Alistair Brownlee. 
  • But he lost a lot of base that winter.
  • By then, I tried to throw more in on more risky training.
  • Instead of balancing things out with focus periods, 
  • I went all in.
  • We had to perform at Chattanooga, but he was cooked during race week. 
  • Then, he started to develop an infection. 
  • He got on some antibiotics, and we understood we failed in training.
  • We went back to what worked with our focus periods. 
  • He started to see improvements despite the race results not showing it. 
  • He kept seeing improvement every session. So even though the race results weren't there, he still had confidence. 
  • We were doing a lot of heat adaptation, preparing for Dallas. 
  • After Collins Cup, he went to St. George and did about a four-week camp. And in that four weeks, everything came together.
  • We were quiet about it. 
  • So one of the tricks I've used with athletes is when an athlete comes to the start line healthy, happy, and excited to race. They're not nervous about race because there is no doubt in their mind. They know that they're going to be successful.
  • When you have those types of athletes on the start line, they don't create failure. They don't sabotage themselves. 
  • They express their fitness. They follow their plan because they're so confident in their preparation. 
  • You can see that in an athlete (the way they walk, their mannerisms, they don't get too excited, do not get down). 
  • I asked them to write a letter to themselves, especially after the race and say why they knew the race would go so well.
  • In 2022, we knew it would go well. And that's why after St. George, we also decided to do Ironman Arizona. And there he goes, 7h51. 
  • I asked Dan Plews for tips because we only had three weeks between the races. 
  • We showed the templates and approaches we built out for his work. His confidence and self-expectations have improved.

Training leading to St. George

1:00:09 -

  • We go in phases where we alternate some volume, more aerobic efforts with more intensive efforts. Once we get inside that window, everything is all in. It's all race specific and above. 
  • We have some recovery days and some maintenance work.
  • But all the key sessions deal with ensuring you are prepared for the race. The one workout that Kanute always judges himself well with is a 4x30min with a five-minute recovery at 70.3 power. We know if he can do that in that workout, he can produce that on race day.
  • I take a different tapering philosophy into a world championship. I give him almost two weeks. Whereas during the regular season, I might only use our two-day rule: if we have two easy days, we should be able to hit this 70.3 well.

  • It is one of the reasons Kanute is one of the most consistent guys in the world. We can use that two-day rule. He was generally very successful on race day, taking two days' light into a B or C-level race.
  • We want to perform well, but we still have tools in the toolbox to continue building and progressing.
  • Early in his career, Kanute was only getting ready for 70.3 races with little bike work. He was only doing about 50 miles a week. Now he does 65 to 70 miles a week.
  • This year I will try to get him more consistently at 120K a week running. 
  • I don't look at training from a weekly standpoint.
  • I use the miles per week to understand, but I generally try to take out 10-day samples. I try to look at a 10-day sample rather than a seven-day sample.
  • When he's doing well and building his fitness in a 10-day block, he'll do about 40 hours of work. 
  • It would include some of his rest days. 
  • Once you start going over 40 hours in that ten-day block, you're risking a lot. 

Race-specific work leading to Worlds

1:05:06 -

  • I want to get the athlete to the start line healthy, happy, excited, and confident for the race. 
  • So the way that I get them to that point is with successful, consistent training. 
  • I always ask myself where I place this athlete's key sessions and recovery cycle.
  • When athletes look at their watch and do not expect to go that fast, they get motivated. 
  • Not all sessions are race-specific, but it doesn't mean they don't serve a great purpose.
  • Ben did intervals of Snow Canyon in the morning. 
  • It was three times Snow Canyon. 
  • The first one was steady. He goes 14min30s at 386W, which is 5.4W/kg.
  • The second, he pushed harder. He did 13min30s s at 416W, 5.8 W/kg. 
  • For the third one, he did 13min15s, 412 at 5.7W/kg.
  • We did not only do race-specific but also went above it to give him that extra. 
  • Then he was doing all his 4x30min out on the course through the rollers, really trying to get it down. 
  • He did a lot of training on the diagonal on our tempo efforts to know and understand how hard was too hard. 
  • Everything was particular in that regard, building his confidence and sense of pacing.

Strength training

1:10:18 -

  • First of all, again, I go back to what's the goal. 
  • If somebody wants to get off the couch, lose weight, finish a race, and live a healthy lifestyle, they do not need strength training. 
  • I can tell you what we've done with Matt Pendola. 
  • He joined the project with us in early 2021 as part of the team.
  • The team is Bobby McGee, Matt Pandola and myself for Kanute.
  • I operate as the head coach who oversees all the phases and insertion of sessions relative to Ben's needs and time of year.
  • Bobby's been very particular in looking at Ben's biomechanical analysis. 
  • We identified weakness areas in some muscle groups. And Ben receives protocols that address all of those areas. 
  • Pendola has specific metrics and exercises that he believes an athlete should be able to obtain based upon their goals.
  • For example, jumping off the land and getting a vertical jump. It can tell us about the ability and elasticity to absorb that tension.
  • When he identifies the areas and muscles we need to work on with Kanute that will help his running or bike power, he chooses the exercises that focus on improving those areas.
  • His first 70.3 was in Puerto Rico in 2017. And he finished third behind Taylor Reid of Canada and Andy Potts. He ran a 1h19min56s. 
  • He just ran 1h11min56s at St. George 70.3 Worlds for the third-fastest run split. 
  • Those courses are close in terms of how challenging they were. 
  • If I showed you a video of him in Puerto Rico, that's not even the same person. 
  • Strength training has been fundamental because we've been able to change the quality of how his foot lands and springs off the ground.
  • The higher your goals are, the more you must include strength training.
  • I don't have every athlete doing strength training because of the timeline to their goals.
  • If you're changing the training stimulus a lot, strength training isn't necessary as often unless they've got some sort of historically weak areas of their body that need addressing.

Kanute's strength training


  • For example, St. George is hilly.
  • In 2021, when Kanute got sixth at 70.3 Worlds, he was 82 seconds from third place.
  • We tried to prepare him for the steep downhill.
  • We did an eccentric muscle contraction training phase to prepare him for the eccentric load we would face on the run in St. George.
  • And he was nowhere near as sore as he thought he would be.
  • There are times of the year when it's a bit more plyometric for sharpening.
  • But we also do much more like we do; we'll look at training phases with everything. 
  • In the off-season hits, Matt Pendola takes the responsibility.
  • I only write training that supports what Matt's trying to accomplish.
  • We agree on a timeline for switching that focus based on the race schedule as that forms through the year over the off-season.

Three pieces of advice to age groupers

1:20:50 -

  • Be honest about your goals and understand that the higher they are, the more work you will put in. 
  • Don't train according to peer pressure.
  • The athletes must look at their weaknesses and what's preventing them from achieving their goals. 
  • Then do an assessment. Are you coming to the start line healthy, happy, excited to race and confident in your ability? If you're not, then your preparation needs to improve. 

How Today's Plan fits in with your coaching


  • I help develop many of the tools we try to build for coaches and discover what makes the coach so unique. 
  • I'm not a TSS coach. My I.P. is more on the well-being of the athlete.
  • So we use many subjective wellness tools in Today's Plan that I like to use.
  • I can see when workouts and make sure that workouts go well when they go well.
  • I'm a data guy, but I'm very much about the mind and ensuring that things are successful, and data is my tool. 
  •  I'm just passionate because I love talking with coaches about their businesses and seeing what makes them succeed.

Rapid fire questions

1:24:31 -

What's your favourite place to train?  

I live in San Diego for a reason. I enjoyed a Tascadero San Luis Obispo. Boulder or Mallorca, and Tenerife are excellent spots. (Costa Brava of Spain) If people haven't checked out any of 

And what is a bucket list race or event you want to do? 

We're doing Roth. I'm so excited. No American has ever won that race. 

If you could acquire an expert level in any skill in the world instantly, what would that be? 

Psychology in general. I believe that our perception and mind mainly control everything in our lives. If I can find ways to enable people to embrace that power for good, that skill positively impacts the world.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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