Podcast, Training

Dan Lorang | EP#417

 November 20, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

Dan Lorang - That Triathlon Show

Dan Lorang is the Head of Performance / Head Coach at World Tour cycling team Bora-hansgrohe, and he is the coach of a small roster of world-class triathletes, including Lucy Charles-Barclay, Anne Haug, Frederic Funk and until his recent retirement, Jan Frodeno.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Lucy Charles-Barclay's training progression and changes since starting working with Dan
  • Her final big training block leading into Kona
  • Doing a home-based "training camp" with lots of indoor training instead of going to a warm-weather training location
  • Lucy's heat acclimation protocol
  • Age and triathlon performance - how to be a world-class triathlete in your 40s
  • Performing at middle distance and full distance triathlon at a world class level
  • What pro cyclists and pro triathletes could learn from each other
  • Finding the right training load 

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Shownotes

Dan Lorang background

03:00 -

  • I am originally from Luxembourg and have lived in Germany for a long time. 
  • I pursued sports science studies and have worked in triathlon for nearly two decades. 
  • My primary role is serving as the head of performance for Bora Hansgrohe's cycling team. Additionally, I continue to coach prominent triathletes such as Lucy Charles-Barclay, Anne Haug, and, until September, Jan Frodeno, for example.

Lucy Charles' progression

04:15 -

  • Around two and a half to three years ago, I began working with Lucy Charles-Barclay, a phenomenal long-distance triathlete. Intrigued by her transition from long to short distances and her Olympic qualification pursuit, I approached Lucy and her husband Reese, who was also her coach. 
  • The offer to join their team fascinated me. Lucy was already a high-level athlete with significant achievements in long-distance events, including Kona wins and second place in Challenge Roth.
  • Upon joining, we decided to share roles, with Reese continuing as Lucy's daily coach and me providing a master plan to elevate Lucy's performance further. 
  • While Lucy excelled in swimming, biking, and running, my general approach with triathletes is to enhance their capabilities in all three disciplines, aiming for a more well-rounded athlete. 
  • We achieved remarkable results in various races in the first year, including winning the 70.3 World Championship in Udawashi.
  • Our strategy focused on consistent improvement, pushing the boundaries in each discipline. 
  • However, setbacks, notably a significant hip injury the following year, impacted Lucy's fitness. 
  • We approached the recovery cautiously, investing in swimming and biking before returning to running. The overall goal was always to help Lucy progress in all three disciplines.
  • While we faced challenges, our approach was evolutionary rather than revolutionary. We built upon the successful concepts Lucy had already embraced, adapting my training philosophy to her unique needs, metabolic profile, and mental approach to training and racing. 
  • Over the past three years, our work has been about continual evolution, striving for improvement in every aspect of Lucy's triathlon performance.

Things that Dan changed in Lucy's training

08:21 -

  • Consistency Over Intensity: Emphasised the importance of consistent training daily, even when fatigued. Encouraged the athlete to maintain a steady routine, not just relying on occasional intense workouts.
  • Long, Easy Training Rides: Introduced the concept of longer, easy rides. While the athlete enjoyed intense training and intervals, highlighting the significance of incorporating extended, less intense rides was especially important for someone with a swimming background unfamiliar with prolonged cycling sessions.
  • Balancing Intensity: Stressed the importance of keeping intensity low on certain days, advocating against constantly pushing boundaries. Acknowledged the value of allowing the body to recover and avoiding constant high-intensity efforts in every session.

Lucy's interval training intensity

10:54 -

  • I don't know every YouTube video from her, but I know some of them, and I think they reflect her mentality well—the will to fight and work hard. This swimming mentality is about making it hard for a reason, ensuring it has a positive effect. 
  • That's why there are challenging sessions where she pushes herself. On the other hand, my role as a coach is not to change her personality; it's never my goal. 
  • I aim to utilise her personality, focusing it more on the sessions where it's needed. It's like dealing with a wild horse—you don't want to turn it into a horse that just looks around and does easy rides. 
  • Instead, you use that energy but also emphasise the importance of balance.
  • Having a wild personality means you need to find a balance. I try to use her personality for our goals, adapting the training depending on the type of race ahead, whether it's a 70.3 or a long-distance triathlon. 
  • It's about knowing when to calm that wild energy and when to let it go. Regarding the number of sessions, it varies based on the training period. 
  • Sometimes, it's about the mental side—giving the athlete the confirmation they need, like attempting a new personal best, as was seen in a YouTube video. 
  • When she had a goal in her head, I integrated it into the plan, adjusting other sessions to prevent overload in any direction.

Lucy's last training block leading into Kona

14:09 -

  • In the last training block, she was in the UK, aiming to prepare for Kona at home.
  • The approach involved considering the needs of Kona, such as heat adaptation and consistent, high-intensity training.
  • The training philosophy prioritises consistency and a significant workload for achieving the highest level of performance.
  • The six-week block involved intense, mostly indoor sessions, incorporating heat adaptation through sauna and warm baths.
  • Maintaining intensity control during the six-week block was crucial for optimal results.
  • Mentally, the training was challenging, requiring early wake-ups and adjusting to driving to the pool for sessions.
  • The approach paid off despite the difficulty, providing heat adaptation and physiological benefits.
  • The decision to prepare for Kona in the UK was athlete-driven, emphasising the positive aspects of having family around and being at home.
  • Lucy, for instance, trained around 30 hours per week during that particular block, which aligns with what many other elite athletes are doing. 
  • However, it's not just about the volume but also the quality of training. For instance, a five-hour ride indoors differs from a five-hour ride outdoors regarding mental and physical demands.
  • It's crucial as a coach not to take a one-size-fits-all approach. Each athlete is unique, considering factors such as personality, circumstances, and mental and physical capacity for specific loads. 
  • As a coach, I believe in tailoring plans to the athlete's individual needs rather than copying and pasting a regimen from one athlete to another. 
  • What works for Lucy might not suit another athlete aiming for a world championship. Understanding each athlete's personality, environment, and physiology nuances is key.
  • In coaching, it's a collaborative effort involving various professionals, including physiotherapists, sponsors, and bike fitters. 
  • Together with the athlete and the broader team, we create the best master plan that aligns with the individual's unique attributes and circumstances. 
  • It's about recognising that athletes are human beings with diverse needs, and the road to success may differ for each one.

Key training session examples

20:10 -

  • It's challenging to pinpoint a key workout because no specific routine defines my training. Instead, it's about addressing specific needs at any given moment. 
  • As we approach races, we incorporate race-specific sessions across all three disciplines. For instance, we might focus on 5k runs at race pace, 800 or 1k swim intervals at race pace, or 30-minute to one-hour race pace bike sessions.
  • Apart from race-specific workouts, the training plan is highly adaptable. We might initially focus on building VO2 max, exploring various sessions from 40/20 intervals to longer intervals at VO2 max. 
  • The same adaptability applies to strength endurance, threshold workouts, and endurance strengths. Athletes respond differently, considering factors like metabolic profile and individual reactions to stimuli. 
  • Adjustments are made, sometimes opting for shorter or longer intervals based on how athletes react.
  • Maintaining reference points is crucial. Past workout data provides insights into heart rate, watts, and performance in different conditions. 
  • However, interpreting this data requires nuance. External factors like temperature, humidity, and even where an athlete is in their training cycle can influence outcomes. 
  • While I advocate for comparable sessions, it's essential to acknowledge that results may vary, leading to a psychological aspect in decision-making.
  • Deciding when to push for a comparison session, especially close to a competition, is a delicate balance. While these sessions offer confidence boosts, there's also the risk of introducing uncertainty. 
  • Factors like a higher heart rate with the same watts might not necessarily indicate a fitness decline but could be attributed to various external influences. 
  • Thus, there's a psychological element in determining when to pursue such sessions versus relying on the confidence gained from previous workouts.

Indoor training

25:11 -

  • The primary focus was on adapting to and performing well in heat. Another crucial aspect was the consistency in intensity control that a treadmill provides. 
  • For instance, during hill reps, the treadmill allows precise control over speed and gradient and easy measurement of lactate levels. Adjustments can be made on the spot based on specific metabolic goals. 
  • This control simplifies the session, as runners can follow the treadmill's dictates without worrying too much.
  • However, this advantage in intensity control could be a double-edged sword. While it ensures a consistent workout, it might hinder adaptability to changes. 
  • Training outdoors introduces variables like terrain, corners, and elevation changes, making it more reflective of real-life conditions. 
  • Whether to train on a treadmill or outdoors depends on individual goals and preferences. 
  • Maintaining control over the variables was deemed crucial in this training block, characterised by high volume and intensity.

Indoor cycling

28:10 -

  • If Lucy were to respond, I believe balancing indoor and outdoor cycling is essential. While it's not advisable to exclusively train on rollers and ignore outdoor cycling, indoor training has efficiency benefits. 
  • When time is limited, and factors like pool availability come into play, working on the roller can be highly effective. It allows for consistent positioning, intensity control, and efficient time use.2
  • However, mental well-being is crucial in training. Simply replicating Lucy's indoor program might not suit everyone. The mental toll of extensive indoor training should not be underestimated. 
  • It's not as simple as saying, "Lucy did it, so I should, too." 
  • Mental fatigue can have a significant impact, and athletes should be cautious about pushing themselves to the limit without considering the mental aspect.
  • While Lucy may have temporarily compromised by training indoors, it's vital to acknowledge that this approach may not suit everyone. 
  • For some, the joy of cycling outdoors, experiencing nature, and the mental refreshment it provides is irreplaceable. The decision to train indoors should be personal and dependent on an individual's mental resilience.
  • In sharing such experiences, coaches must emphasise the need for individualised training plans. What worked for a professional athlete like Lucy might not suit everyone. 
  • Coaches should be cautious not to promote a one-size-fits-all mentality, especially for less experienced athletes inclined to emulate professional training programs without considering the potential mental toll.
  • In Lucy's case, the reward was a World Championship title. However, the risks, such as a crash or a lower-than-expected finish, could have affected her mental well-being. 
  • Emphasising the balance between physical and mental aspects of training is crucial, and coaches should be mindful not to encourage practices that might lead to mental fatigue or breakdown. 
  • The takeaway should be that every performance has a physical or mental cost, and individuals must find the right balance that works for them.

Additional training thoughts

32:50 -

  • In preparation for Kona, our primary focus was enhancing the economy to ensure sustained energy performance throughout the race. This involved intensive work on both the bike and run, explicitly targeting Ironman-level intensities.
  • Nutrition played a crucial role, and we collaborated with her nutrition partner to fine-tune her dietary needs. My involvement extended to structuring sessions that emphasised proper fueling, aligning with the comprehensive strategy developed with her sponsors.
  • To address a previous lack of clarity in showcasing her biking prowess during races, we concentrated on Ironman-level intensity training to facilitate a seamless transition from the bike to the run. 
  • This involved a significant training volume, complemented by heat training.
  • Our approach to intensity was conservative overall, especially given the combination of high volume and heat training. Swim sessions tended to be more intense, considering her historical performance advantages and quicker recovery in this discipline.
  • We strategically controlled intensity around Ironman and 70.3 paces for biking and other disciplines. Particular emphasis was given to building strength endurance, which is crucial for solo performance in the lead. 
  • The objective was to maintain consistent power output throughout the race, allowing her to run a successful marathon even with lower run mileage due to a foot injury.
  • Simulated long runs were incorporated cautiously, considering the potential injury risk with a low mileage base. 
  • The training plan prioritised significant work in swimming and cycling while gradually and steadily building up her running capacity to avoid unnecessary strain.

Heat training protocols

38:20 -

  • In nearly every indoor training session, we incorporated heat training. Whether in the pain cave or using the van, the absence of cooling mechanisms naturally led to increased heat and sweat, constituting a form of heat training. 
  • However, it's crucial to exercise caution with heat training, as one can risk overheating. It's comparable to the risks associated with altitude training, where a misjudged approach could potentially jeopardise an entire season.
  • To enhance this heat adaptation, we implemented specific protocols post-training involving saunas or hot baths. 
  • Yet, it's important to note that this was not a daily practice.
  • Therefore, one must approach heat training as a gradual and controlled process, monitoring factors like time spent in the sauna or hot baths and core temperature.
  • Most sessions incorporated heat training throughout the six weeks, and an additional load was systematically introduced. While heat training itself is not a novel concept, the current focus on it in the media is more recent. 
  • Training in hot climates, whether in Lanzarote or any warm location, has been part of athletic routines for some time. What's new is the increased understanding of the physiological adaptations, such as blood plasma volume changes, associated with heat training.
  • Similar to altitude training, there is ongoing debate about the extent to which performance improvements are due to the specific environmental conditions or the controlled circumstances of a training camp, including factors like diet, load management, and intensity control. 
  • The same discussions apply to warm weather training, raising questions about how much-improved fitness is directly attributable to heat exposure versus the overall training regimen, including elements like good recovery, proper nutrition, and mental focus free from external distractions.
  • We opted for indoor sessions without cooling, avoiding the addition of extra layers. Her preference for indoor training was influenced by the discomfort of wearing additional layers outdoors. Specifically, adding extra clothing when training indoors without a ventilation concern is unnecessary.
  • In scenarios where individuals engage in easy indoor sessions, like low-intensity endurance workouts, adding extra layers to elevate or maintain the temperature can be beneficial. 

Training older athletes

44:15 -

  • This is my first time working with athletes in this age group competing at such a high level, which is an interesting and new experience.
  • Peak Age in Endurance Sports: Discussing the concept of a peak age in endurance sports, acknowledging that there is likely a peak age for performance, but determining when it occurs is challenging. It's suggested that there might be ways to extend this peak period in endurance sports, especially over longer distances.
  • Athletes can do much to extend their peak performance over 40, but it's highly individual. The ageing process might gradually fade rather than suddenly decline, particularly in long-distance events.
  • Athletes like Jan are not just athletes in training but athletes in life. Their entire lives revolve around their sport, including training, eating, sleeping, and recovery. They genuinely enjoy the challenges, constantly seek improvement, and remain hungry for success. 
  • To sustain such a demanding routine, athletes must genuinely love what they do, or their mental "battery" will run out.
  • It is required a high level of motivation for the lifestyle - waking up every day, training for long hours, maintaining a healthy diet, and sacrificing time with friends. Without a true passion for the sport, this dedication becomes unsustainable.
  • Not everyone can continue performing at a high level into their 40s. It's a combination of mental attitude, physical capability, and the unique personality of the athlete.
  • Contemporary athletes benefit from more knowledge about how to push their boundaries. Advances in training methods contribute to athletes achieving remarkable feats even in their 40s.
  • It is challenging to balance the energy athletes invest in their sport and the rewards they gain. If the energy expenditure exceeds the rewards, it might be time to reconsider and potentially retire from professional competition.

Training changes for older athletes

49:12 -

  • In the beginning, when working with athletes, especially someone like Jan, I tend to adjust training volume and intensity. 
  • This is because, in my mind, they might need longer recoveries, so I approach it with caution. 
  • Athletes usually sense these changes, and they often come forward to discuss them. I remember having a deep discussion with Jan about this. He expressed his desire to have a program that allows him to contend for the world championship. 
  • If his body can't cope, that's a different story, but that's the goal we set.
  • Anne had a fantastic injury-free season, and when we discussed her training, she emphasised her commitment to having a program that positions her to win races. 
  • Age is not a primary consideration for her; she wants to do all the necessary work to compete for a win. My role involves providing feedback and expressing doubts, but ultimately, we make decisions together and move in that direction.
  • I don't adapt much; athletes take more responsibility for their bodies. 
  • Anne, for instance, works with two physiotherapists who provide feedback and ensure she's ready for specific training. Recovery, nutrition, and sleep become increasingly vital, especially as athletes age. 
  • In long-distance triathlons, the emphasis shifts towards recovery, but it's not just about maintaining; Jan and Anne have achieved new personal bests in their training this year. Anne even set a new run record in Kona. 
  • So, while some might suggest it's time to retire, their decisions are based on their readiness and not an external judgment of their capabilities.
  • The field's density in triathlon has significantly increased over the past few years. It's a natural evolution of our sport. Despite the heightened competition, these athletes consistently deliver outstanding performances, even if it doesn't always result in a victory, as we saw in races like Jan's or the recent one in Kona with Anne. 
  • They are undeniably world-class athletes and continue to participate in top-notch races. 
  • I believe that effective management of the body and having the correct physiology play crucial roles in sustaining performance as athletes age. 
  • While there is undoubtedly a limit, it's challenging to pinpoint an exact number. There comes a point where recovery becomes more difficult, and training volume might need to be reduced. 
  • This becomes particularly pronounced with the influx of new, professionally coached athletes who avoid the mistakes of the past due to a better understanding of training methodologies.

Performing well in Ironman and PTO races

56:05 -

  • The future of triathlon is not solely determined by athletes but also influenced by the organisation's decisions. 
  • The scheduling of competitions plays a significant role in shaping the landscape of triathlon events. 
  • The key question revolves around what competitions will be part of the future of triathlon.
  • From a distance perspective, competitiveness is not a major issue. Athletes can excel in events like 70.3, PTO races, World Class 11, and Ironman. 
  • The intriguing aspect is the inclusion of Olympic distance athletes, as PTO races are gaining attention even in that category. The potential emergence of a compromised distance, where both long and short-course athletes compete to determine the best overall triathlete, is possible. 
  • Physiologically, both categories can perform well in such a format.
  • Predicting the future is challenging due to balancing long-distance world championships and PTO races. The calendar, recovery time, and preparation methods all come into play. For instance, preparing for an Ironman requires a different approach than preparing for a PTO race.
  • The current state of the sport is dynamic, with many variables influencing its trajectory. The abundance of events and the evolving qualification processes add complexity. 
  • While the developments are exciting for triathlon, there's a growing concern about whether spectators can keep up with the changes. Finding solutions to make the sport more transparent and understandable for fans is essential. 
  • The challenge lies in ensuring that the audience comprehends who the world champions are in each discipline amid the diverse events and competitions. 
  • I hope that, in the coming years, the sport will find ways to clarify its structure and rules for the benefit of both athletes and spectators.

Training periodisation for athletes focused on middle and long-distance triathlon

59:25 -

  • I would prioritise an eight-week preparation window.
  • First, Build endurance with long runs and other relevant training and ensure a solid base before entering the specific block.
  • Specific Block (8 Weeks):
    • Dedicate eight weeks for a focused and specific preparation block.
    • Plan strategically, considering the need for tapering, recovery, and transitioning from one competition to another.
  • Tapering and Recovery (Within the 8 Weeks):
    • Incorporate tapering between competitions to allow for recovery.
    • Allocate time for rest and rejuvenation to avoid overtraining.
  • Remaining 6 Weeks:
    • With six weeks remaining, account for an additional recovery week.
    • Utilise the remaining time for targeted training. 
  • Final 5 Weeks:
    • Focus on specific preparation for the 70.3 race.
    • Tailor training to address the demands of the upcoming event.
    • Leverage the work done throughout the year to fine-tune performance.
  • Considering this structured approach, five weeks of specific preparation, following a well-thought-out eight-week block, should be sufficient for a well-prepared and experienced age group athlete.

Using races in the preparation

1:01:14 -

  • The challenge lies in determining how intensely to commit, not just during preparation but also in the race itself. 
  • If you're participating in a full-distance race, where the swim, bike, and run are all demanding, reaching your limits may require substantial recovery time. 
  • Achieving an ideal preparation for races like Kona or any long-distance event can be challenging within a short timeframe.
  • In my opinion, a pragmatic approach might involve assessing your overall goals. It might be a strategic choice if you're content with a solid placement, perhaps in the top five or six, securing some financial gain and maintaining a good standing. 

Things that cyclists and triathletes can learn from each other

1:02:36 -

  • Cyclists could learn a lot from triathletes, especially regarding self-reliance and career responsibility. Unlike cyclists, triathletes often have to manage everything independently with limited resources. 
  • Cyclists, many on teams with support staff, might benefit from adopting a more proactive approach to their development.
  • On the other hand, Triathletes could learn to appreciate the joy of simply riding a bike and enjoying life, finding a balance between intense training and personal enjoyment. 
  • The extremes seen in both groups could be moderated by understanding each other's perspectives and finding common ground.
  1. Responsibility for Career: Cyclists could learn to take more responsibility for their careers, not relying solely on teams and coaches.
  2. Enjoyment of Cycling: Triathletes could benefit from appreciating the joy of riding a bike and finding a balance between training intensity and life enjoyment.
  3. Mutual Learning: Both groups could benefit from understanding each other's mentalities and personalities, fostering mutual respect.
  4. Training Camps: Bringing cyclists and triathletes together for training camps could provide a platform for mutual learning and understanding.
  5. Different Mentalities: Acknowledging and respecting the different mentalities and personalities in both groups can lead to personal and professional growth.
  6. Pushing Boundaries: Sharing experiences about pushing personal boundaries, such as the dedication cyclists show when going on rollers or the norm of triathletes doing three sessions a day, could inspire growth on both sides.

Advice for young triathletes aiming to perform in long-distance triathlon

1:06:38 -

  • My advice would be not to obsess over comparisons with others. Instead, focus on respecting your journey and progress. 
  • You must surround yourself with supportive individuals - a coach, mentor, or other guiding figures—who can provide advice and encouragement. 
  • In the current age, social media can sometimes foster unrealistic expectations, and having experienced individuals around you can help maintain a sense of perspective. 
  • Avoid getting caught up in the training and racing achievements of others; instead, concentrate on your gradual improvement. 
  • Building an environment that supports your growth and truly has your best interests at heart is essential. Having people around who understand how to nurture your development is key, as they can guide you step by step, ensuring you don't feel pressured to match the training regimens of others. 
  • Developing a professional mindset is about creating a conducive environment that aligns with your goals and empowers you to grow at your own pace.

Training topic Dan has been trying to optimise

1:07:56 -

  • Every coach grapples with this, determining the optimal training load to achieve our goals. 
  • It's challenging to pinpoint the exact amount of training that leads to success, whether it's 31 hours, 33 hours, or perhaps 25 hours. Finding the key to understanding how much load is required to produce a world champion is a continuous learning process. 
  • While it's a difficult question, it might be beneficial that there isn't a straightforward answer, as it keeps the challenge and uniqueness in each athlete's journey.
  • Balancing the pursuit of athletic excellence with preserving athletes' health is paramount. 
  • As a coach, my goal isn't just to prescribe as many training hours as possible; it's about finding that sweet spot where we maximise performance without compromising well-being. 
  • Athletes entrust me to optimise their potential, and striking the right balance is crucial. Utilising metrics and tools becomes essential in navigating this delicate equilibrium and ensuring athletes reach their peak performance without risking their health.

How to manage load with athletes

1:09:49 -

  • The most critical aspects revolve around Lucy and the team feedback that provides valuable insights into how they feel, behave, and appear. 
  • It's crucial to understand their training execution, whether they can complete it and how they recover. 
  • Monitoring parameters like heart rate, sleep quality, and body weight evolution also contributes to the overall assessment. Although metrics like HRV and resting heart rate are helpful, they accumulate several factors.
  • Human feedback is paramount, especially from the athletes and those in the immediate environment. 
  • Teamwork is essential, acknowledging that it's a collective effort, with each person playing a crucial role. Objective feedback is vital. However, it's equally important not to jump to conclusions prematurely. 
  • For instance, collecting information first is better instead of immediately suggesting that an athlete looks tired and shouldn't perform certain activities. 
  • This prevents confusion and conflicting advice within the team, ensuring a more positive and supportive environment. 
  • Everyone in the team should express their objective or subjective observations, avoiding hasty decisions and collectively determining the best course of action.

Maximum training load

1:12:23 -

  • It's highly individual; you have to consider what you've done before and what your body can handle regarding workload. Learning from past experiences is crucial. 
  • Experimenting to find your limits is essential, but I don't believe there's revolutionary new knowledge indicating one should train more or less. 
  • Even comparing someone winning Kona now to Yarn winning it for the first time doesn't suggest a fundamental change in training principles. People have trained intensively; for instance, German athletes have reported training for 40 hours. T
  • Evolution lies more in our ability to measure, control, and evaluate performance more effectively, gaining a better understanding of what happens in the body. 
  • It's about recognising individual limits and finding ways to progressively enhance performance.

LINKS AND RESOURCES:


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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