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Learning Through Failing - The Best Way?

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

“No man is free who is not master of himself.” -Epictetus

With this mindset, I started an experiment of self-coaching this past January. Having been fortunate enough to work with several high level, accomplished coaches over the years, I’d had a taste of different coaching “styles”; some more effective on me than others (the ineffective ones are the ones you usually learn most from). On top of that, my main passion has always been learning about exercise physiology and how endurance performance can be maximized. So, with some experience to draw on, always increasing knowledge, and a constant urge to be in control of my own fate, I decided to take a risk and go for it.

In my first blog post in March, I gave a lot of detail about the training I did before CLASH Miami, if it was effective, and what I’d focus on for the next 8 weeks leading into the next race (70.3 Mallorca). Now, it’s late-July and I have 3 more races under my belt. I also have a good bit of self-prescribed training under my belt and have learned a lot along the way. Below, I’ll give a brief rundown of what I’ve done since March, how it turned out, what I learned, and how I’ll move forward. Enjoy!

Lead up to 70.3 Mallorca:

In this 8 weeks, I did exactly what I said I’d do…with just a slight hiccup to note. I did ~4 weeks of focusing on LT1 training by doing 1-2 sessions/week/sport spending a good bit of time just under that LT1 intensity (~1.1-1.4 mmol for me) . On the bike, this meant a lot of reps at 200 watts. In the water, a lot of time around 1:28/100 meters. And, on the run, a lot of time at ~6:30/mile. Now, none of those paces are hard, but I was surprised at how fatiguing some of those sets were. Because you can do a lot of time at LT1, I ended up racking up burning quite a few calories there! I then started to add back in LT2 workouts to prep for the race. After 3 weeks of LT2 work in all 3 sports, it was time to race.

Note: A mistake I made was adding back the LT2 work without cutting back on the LT1. This lead to a spike in fatigue, which was easily remedied by a couple easy days and, more importantly, switching the LT1 sessions back to proper easy sessions, well under LT1.

So, how’d it go? Well, a mix. For the swim, I learned that too much LT1 work makes you able to swim efficiently for a long time at moderate speeds, but it does limit your top end if you don’t address it enough in training (it lowers your VLaMax too much). I swam decently in Mallorca and was able to push hard the whole swim without being wrecked at the end. But, I just didn’t have that needed top gear for the first 200-300 meters. Because of this, I missed the big group of guys that ended up being critical to make due to extreme drafting on the bike (just like every other race in Spain, where 12 meters means 6). For the bike, my fitness was pretty good in Mallorca and I was able to ride ok. I was right around 250 watts and was able to ride around 260 in the last 1/3 of the ride when the road straightened out and there was no more climbing/descending/very twisty roads. I was also able to hold good power between 280-300 on the longish climb in the middle of the course. Despite not being what I’d hoped for, I saw that the bike must have been actually been pretty easy for me since I was able to run a PR (1:11:57, 300 watts on the stryd power meter) and feel really strong there.

On to Font Romeu for 6 weeks of training leading into Challenge Walchsee and 70.3 Andorra. Here, I started out with 5 days of recovery. I then went straight back into an LT2 focus, planning on upping things and trying to fit in as much volume at LT2 (two sessions per day, every other day), as well as overall volume, that my body could handle (turned out to be around 25hrs/week;). This was my first real “learning through failing” experience of self-coaching. After a week of this work, I had a freak back injury that I believe was a bad strain in my rhomboid or a proximal muscle. This was from a thoracic mobility exercise I was doing with a broomstick and managed to immobilize me for a few days. Finally, after 6 days of being limited to easy spinning on the trainer, I jumped back right where I left of. To summarize, the first 2 weeks were great. I was doing my best numbers ever on the bike during LT2 sessions (example, 8’ reps at 270 watts at 1,600 meters at 2.1-2.5mmol). Likewise, my swimming was going pretty well and I was able to do sets Ike 5x500 w/ 1’ rest at 1:21-22 pace at 2.1-2.5 mmol. Running was limited to mainly doing uphill workouts due to the terrain, but the power on the stryd told me I’d be doing 5:30 pace on flat roads and this was also in the low 2s for lactate. I finished the camp with a run workout on a flat road and was mid 5:21-5:27 for 5x1 mile and was 2.4mmol for lactate, my best run workout to date (at altitude). Despite the solid first few weeks of constant improvement, I began to really drag in the last 2 weeks. Energy was low, I had to push subjectively very hard to hit the power outputs/paces even though the lactate was still low, and my overall motivation was waning a bit. I was just hoping race week would get there faster!

So, after a week of tapering and adding some hard sprints to get the anaerobic system back to life at least slightly, it was time for Walchsee. Swim - fine. Decent feelings and not too hard. Bike - not able to push very hard. Subjective feelings were pretty bad and my watts were quite low (240avg). Run - terrible. Unable to push hard and absolutely flat. Now on to 70.3 Andorra. Swim - actually quite good. Only lost 2.5’ to Amberger and the effort was pretty relaxed the whole time just following the feet. Bike - I thought I was riding well (275 watts on the long 50’ climb) but it turns out I was loosing minutes to the leaders. Average power of 240 and NP of 250. Again, no better than I was doing 3-4 years ago. Run - felt sluggish and tight the whole time. Was actually not far off the better run splits but I felt I could have gone 3-4 minutes faster had I just felt ok.

What did I learn here? Well, there were a few key things that I’ll separate for clarity.

1- Periodization is key. After ~6 weeks, the body stops making decent adaptations to the training stimulus you’re giving it. With this in mind, you really ought to change your primary training objective every 5-6 weeks, which requires some good planning well ahead of time. If you do not do this, you will see a disappointing plateau in your response to training - whatever the stimulus. And no, you can’t just “do more” of the same and hope you’re some sort of exception to human physiology. This, however, leads me to my next point.

2- Know your physiology! By this, I could mean several things, but the key thing can be boiled down to a power-duration curve. If you have a high VLaMax, you will be able to do high power for short periods of time but have a lower LT2 and not be riding very efficiently (burning too much carbohydrate) at lower powers (70.3, Ironman…). Knowing this, you know you can and need to focus on training that will extend your power and energy over longer efforts, like LT2 or LT1 training. However, if you already have a low VLaMax, your curve will look much flatter. Your short duration power (seconds to a hand-full of minutes) will be not-so-impressive, but your LT2 power will be good (relative to your VO2 Max power) and you will be efficient over long durations. This is good, but it’s important to know when you’re at this good balance point. Why? Because if you already have a low VLaMax/flater power-duration curve, you really need to be careful with the training we all love, LT2! If you ignore (or just don’t know) your VLaMax or don’t have any way to estimate this (lactate, time trials, INCYD), then you run a huge risk of overtraining. This is exactly what I did leading into Walchsee and Andorra. I came into the Font Romeu training camp very close to “peak fitness”, aka a good fractional utilization of VO2 Max, yet I ignored this and continued on with my LT2 work. I was already nearing my ceiling of potential (VO2 Max…which is not big for me…mid-60s to low 70s) yet I continued on my path of LT2 work (not changing the training stimulus) and driving VLaMax lower (it was already low…now too low). Along the way, I was probably training too hard without realizing it (lactate seemed “good”/low, but it was simply due to a suppressed anaerobic system and probably low glycogen stores). All this to say, had I been wiser or done some sort of testing to determine my power-duration curve, I would have done intense VO2Max work for the first 3 weeks to bump the “ceiling” up a bit, then switched back to just ~3 weeks of LT2 work to get “race ready” and get my good % utilization of VO2 Max back up to where it was entering the camp (but now with a slightly higher VO2Max).

3- A more minor point that I’ll still mention is centered around run economy. Thanks to doing endless drills, plyos, hopping, etc when I was just entering running around age 14-15, I developed what I assume to be a pretty good run economy. This has since stayed with me because I run more miles (shifting fiber type) and continue to do the types of drills and exercises that I think help run economy (explosive movements that mimic the running stride as well as plyomotric exercises to increase leg stiffness, also hip mobility to increase stride length in the back). While in Font Romeu, I ran nearly exclusively on hilly terrain. Not just hilly, but proper “trail running hilly”… sometimes power-walking because the trail was too steep to run easy on. This, I’m sure, worsened my run economy a bit. I lost hip mobility from getting “jammed up” in the quads/hip flexors and also didn’t get the impact-effect of normal running due to the crazy terrain. All this to say, don’t forget to work on your run economy! It’s extremely important in triathlon-running because we’re not really running that fast, even when running sub-1:10 for a half. We simply need to be able to run slightly quick but be efficient enough to hold that pace after pre-fatiguing our legs and metabolism for a few hours.

Now, I’m back in Florida while I figure out my living situation for the rest of the year (campervan!). With my realization of the overreaching I incurred in Europe, I have decided to take a good bit of time to correct the mistake before racing again. With 70.3 Cozumel being 11 weeks away from my return to the US, I have time to do a VO2Max block of 5-6 weeks followed by a race-specific (LT2) block of another 4-5 weeks. I think this will give me a good re-bump of VO2Max that I can then take advantage of with the LT2 work. I know that without the VO2Max block, I would simply stagnate even further at this disappointing level I brought to my last two races.

I hope you enjoyed and learned something from reading this. If you’d like to know any more details, feel free to message.

For more information on testing, coaching, or consulting, please feel free to email me at or message on Instagram (@robbie_deckard).

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