Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

USA Triathlon Level I Coaching Certification: Summary and Review, Part II

For Part I, please go HERE

Day 1 (continued) SWIM: Ian Murray

(Ian Murray was next speaker.  Best part about this talk was providing buckets into which freestyle flaws can be placed for newbie adults: head position, balance, and arm position.  Ian is himself a late arriver to the world of swimming and can relate to what many new triathletes go through in trying to learn the sport, unlike some coaches who were great swimmers at a young age but can’t relate to the early struggles of adults. 

My main criticism with the swim curriculum was that USAT missed an enormous opportunity to bridge the gap with Bob’s discussion on physical assessments.  In the swim talk, we just jumped right in to swim specific technique rather than addressing the physical limitations that predispose adult triathletes to a variety to stroke flaws.  This was a great opportunity for the federation to push skill acquisition in the same direction that other skill-based sports have gone, though I’ll concede that bridging that gap may have been too much for 90 minutes.  Not too many notes here because much of the presentation was spent going over video.)

Didn't learn to swim until age 29

Very specialized focus in his coaching - adults learning freestyle

Demonstrate in water when possible

Two priorities - create propulsion, reduce drag

Three keys to affect body position - head position, lead arm depth, pressure

Some athletes have enough fat to stay buoyant even with bad head position

Showed example of collegiate development athlete he was helping - swam about 20min 1500m, but had poor form.  Can't fix these flaws in masters class.  Need drills.

Be yourself with coaching style.  Catch more flies with honey

Too much verbal garbage = tune out too soon

Don't move on until you own fundamentals

Kinisthetic awareness to complement audio/visual (put hands on people when possible)

Push off progression - sets up the length

Breathing - key for beginners (guided discovery)

Masters - what makes a good masters program?  what makes a great masters program?


Saturday morning

Ian led the group on a short run before the clinic on the roads behind the hotel.  I tacked on a few miles beforehand and attempted to run closer to the Strip, but even at 6AM on a Saturday there was plenty of vehicle traffic.  Welcome to Vegas.  After the main segment of the group run, one of the other attendees wanted to tack on some additional miles, so I was able to put in a few more miles to hit close to 11 for the morning.  Not bad for Vegas!


DAY 2: CYCLING (Ian Murray)

(Overall a good talk.  Perhaps the most important part was the emphasis on safety, as triathlon coaches will be instrumental in teaching new athletes the rules of the road.) 

Always wear helmet - you are a leader even if riding 100 yards to transition area

Help planning routes

Agree on terminology - doesn't matter what it is, so long as it is defined (can be hard-easy)

Heart rate monitor - Governor in the early season, task master later in season

Powertap recommendation - install on training wheel, listen to body when racing

Power is better for regular cycling because it overcomes heart rate delay; HR still works in triathlon cycling due to extended efforts

Power is useful governor when athlete continues to blow up on run

Bike fit - huge short term gains possible (Gets $250/hour in LA).  Make bike an extension of athlete's body 

Discomfort is not permitted in bike fit

Tri position - create pillar for the body to rest on, similar to a plank

Never assume athlete knows safety rules

Cover the basics

  • no-no gears (cross chaining)
  • soft pedal for better shifting
  • tire pressure - match tire pressure with road type

Three keys to good cycling

  • smooth fluid shifting
  • cadence
  • perfect circles

 One legged drills - can get effective 35-40 minute ride of drills

 Comfort - power - aero

 Advanced skills

  • riding on tip of saddle
  • turns
  • attack at top of hill
  • spinups

Bike specific strength = hill repeats



Note: This was a short talk, as Ian left some time for questions after the formal presentation (notes below).

Specificity, overload, recovery, adaptation, reversibility

Open water

  • replicate in pool
  • entry/exit practice

Fast 50 + ez 300 = replicate start of race

Walk the transitions in big races (Chicago, etc)

Smooth is fast

Mount/dismount practice

Catastrophe prep

Bottle hand offs

Mimic course

Group rides - use in moderation for non-draft legal

Do roadies become jerks in cycling or does cycling attract jerks?

Newbie - overdistance on bike is the key workout

Consider using overdistance rides for IM

Key IM workout = 4 x 60mins at IM pace

Run specific - pacing the first 400-1200m

Slow down at beginning to achieve negative split

IM training - build frequency - don't need super long runs

Run-bike-run bricks ---set up bike nutrition early in depleted state

Long ride + long run = too much for one brick

Swim to bike transition = often neglected

  • masters swim + long ride
  • short brick repeats

Some business questions

  • more beneficial to sell DVDs than have a few people wearing kits
  • starting a club - one big partner vs. many small ones?
  • Duplication = challenge in coaching - become more efficient in trying to duplicate stuff
  • IM is major driving force in the sport; more than the olympics



(Bobby McGee took the powerpoint and clicker at this point.  His mental talk had some great messages, particularly given the prevalence of self-pity that many recreational triathletes foist upon themselves.)

Think aspirational - showed picture of Rio stadium (I was the only one who raised hand about working with someone training for Rio)

Spirit built around mental toughness 

Some part of training has to be connected to suffering

We're all a bunch of sick puppies - take part in sport built on suffering 

Establish mindset that leads to habitual effective training and race execution

Usually don't take the best athletes to OG/WC

90pct of athletes underperform on race day

9 pct of athletes race as predicted

1 pct race beyond predictions

Never race in training - back down if they are pushing too hard

Triathlon is voluntary.  No one is shooting at you.  Don't get pity!

85% of training is rote repetition

Daily commitment - how does today's session fit the overall plan to next olympic games

Can be confrontational with athletes - not always good to be friend

US - staff members same age as athletes

Coach-athlete should be strong bond

ABC model - situation reaction response

Response has nothing to do with situation.  Has to do with reaction

Goals vs targets - goals are internal, targets external.  Need to have something that is not impacted by outside circumstances.

Steps for success - has to BE the type of individual for the results

be + do = have

Future based outcome control - Go to a point beyond the race and visualize before the race occurs

Start w outcome and work backward (assess athlete's mental skills)

Move from outcome to process - people have hard time visualizing process

habituate process in training

Pre experience the event - Proper environment, relaxation skills, effective scripts, utilize all senses, habit, practice in real time, remain inside body, experience race feel, trust and enjoy process

HR spikes when shown pictures of portapots

Race feel - overdependence on HR/GPS

If there is no buy in, there is no success in the process

Internal dialogue - recognize, assess, replace, regenerate

Futility of change - positive affirmations

Common self talk errors  - focus on past or future, using the negative, focusing on weakness during competition, focusing on outcome, focusing on uncontrollable factors, demanding perfection

Focus on sensory perception

Energy management - mental, physical, emotional, spiritual

Argument (Stressor) hast he same effect as hard TT before race

Concentration is not lost - it is misplaced

Value of scoring effort with numbers 

Objective focus - "just a dude in the middle of the pack"

Qualitative focus - what do my quads feel like?

Associative thinking - Thinking of something else does not make pain go away - its just effort, the world is not out to get us

Provide experience parameters - its just triathlon, no one is shooting at me,

Become more appreciative - empowering

Shorten focus periods

Have specific actions for which you do specific things

Ditch the drama

Self confidence  - create sense of control/peace (body language exercises)

Embrace fear - it is natural and keeps us alive

Excelling under pressure - Parents never see races, but show up for big meet which distracts athletes

Transfer mindset from top workouts into races

Brain can only deal with one thing at a time

Dealing with pressure in races – Create pressure in practice (i.e. take out lane lines, turn off lights)

Dialogue – “If-then” process.  Make it easy

“I am the McGuyver of triathlon” = I can handle anything

Make things routine.  There is no stress getting in car because we do it all the time.

Praise yourself for getting back on track when you lose focus

Training is not a “hero’s” journey.  Cyclic training repeated.  “Not like P90x”

Takes at least four years to learn to run properly off the bike

Consistency is a skill

Excellence is a habit

Athletes that are naturals have harder time returning from injury.  Grinders come back better.

Won’t make good decisions if you haven’t preplanned your thoughts

You know you’re a good coach when the best performances come during peak



(This was one of the most anticipated talks of the clinic for many people.  Overall, I appreciated Bobby’s no nonsense approach, though I can’t say I agree with everything said.  Nevertheless, it was good to hear someone of his stature speak critically of people chasing high cadence and minimalist running without addressing other factors concurrently.)

Run fitness = bike fitness in triathlon 

Bike pace = what you should be able to hold for the amount of time you are running

38% of AG have neural limitation from cycling that impedes the run

Aim for 7% variance off bike vs open 10k time.  Inside 4% = no brick work.  Train like runner

Swim + run.  Take sabbatical from triathlon to work on weaknesses.

If you haven’t been four years injury free you don’t know how good you can be

Swim = early specialization

Run = late specialization for fitness, early specialization for skill

Upright running = more heat generation (believes Shoemaker has lost close races due to posture)

Running is a skill event.  61% of runners get hurt

Don’t want flexible hamstrings for running.  No static stretching.

Kenyans take a long time off between seasons but don’t halt physical activity

Consistency, patience = Running improves slower than biking

Least amount of training to get optimal results

Taper is as mysterious as love (Randy Wilbur quote)

Taper = non-linear.  Different from athlete to athlete.

Endurance athletes need less taper than power athletes

ITU racers in US run 6-7 times per week; 9-13 in other countries

If running less than 3x per week – Better to not run at all

Mastery approach – more cyclic, rather than phasic

Don’t mess with mechanics if athlete is fit and not injured

Teach running mechanics with feel – five parts elastic return vs. one part power

Distance running is trotting (border collies have four gaits)

Central governor won’t let you max out on the bike

Can’t fix stride rate as primary objective.  Function of doing something else well (posture + foot on ground)

Two common flaws – scraping and two beat footstrike

Great Vibram story – 80mpw runner switched to vibrams and cut to 25mpw.  Boasted he wasn’t hurt.  Wouldn’t the same thing have happened if he cut mileage and pace with any shoes?

Only think about form when fatigued

Teach people to sprint – Get hurt if you do it improperly

Altitude – at first, only go there for adaptations, not training



(It was a relief to hear the curriculum move away from the strictly periodized programs that have defined the sport for the 10-15 years.  These periodization schemes are great in theory, but for athletes living in the real world, common sense and the ability to adapt are paramount.  Good to see the federation moving in the direction of common sense and more toward athlete interaction rather than cranking out workout plans.)

Limitations of the TP/ATP plan – figure out why the system breaks down

Understand how and why to manipulate system

Take everything with a grain of salt – some athletes will blow it up!

Training plan is a communicated thought process – relationships are built when things are going wrong.  Opportunity for bonding

Individualized planning combined with group training does not work

Must perform baseline testing – not just physiological tests – EVERYTHING is an assessment

Understand what systems are being trained.  How each energy system influences each other.

Inefficiency in movement raises fatigue

Overspeed work –recruits more muscle fibers w/o interference with cardiovascular

Interdependence among motor abilities – strength, endurance, speed, conditioning, flexibility

Periodization does not have to be complicated.  More effective if you don’t always change.  Builds confidence. If you are always changing, don’t know what worked

Visual assessments – race vs casual.  How we carry ourselves causally vs. race can vary. 

Strength is baseline for everything

Prevent the neuromuscular system from falling asleep

Be conservative – Don’t hurt people!

Mesomophs – Baby them along.  Have capacity for high contractile mechanisms but tendon insertions not prepared

Speed is required for everything = neural drive

General training age vs. sport specific training age

Open vs closed skills.  Swim (O), Bike (C), Run (both)

Athletes want hard workouts over skill.  Hard work is tied to identity.  If an athlete doesn’t agree with the plan, don’t be afraid to cut them off.  Unsuccessful athlete can badmouth you!!

LTAD – created as a youth model but has older athlete applications

Periodization – roadmap to end result.  Things can happen (detours), but stick to benchmarks as path to destination

Aerobic development takes time.  Neural integration happens quickly.

We have become too conditioned with assumptions about base, build, etc.  Allow for more creativity.

Joe Friel did not invent periodization, contrary to what some think

Living in warm weather can be detriment – no variety

Interdependence of biomotor abilities – Have a thought process.  Doesn’t matter what it is…just have one.

Pre-competitive phase – Put kids on big stage early so they aren’t blown away by nationals

Newbie adults – take them to running race so they can acclimate to the racing scene without worrying about triathlon equipment

Taper- coaches don’t individualize enough with taper.  Include nutrition taper plan.

Stay in touch with neural activation during taper to avoid lethargy

Don’t add intensity if it hasn’t been there before

Transition phase should be planned; not disorganized.  Lose conditioning after three days

3-1 cycle has become too mainstream.  Athletes are individuals.  Ok to deviate from template.  Explore non-traditional cycles.    

Quality of training usually goes down in week three.  Not realistic in real world.     

Think systems beyond cardio. 

Big weekends OK for low volume athletes.  Seize the moments when available.

Rest weeks are not a science.  Avoid the valley of fatigue.  Better to be undertrained than overtrained.   



Hopefully these two summaries provided a brief glimpse into the course.  As noted in the first installment, I thought the course was an effective Level I curriculum but certainly not perfect.  To their credit, the federation seems to be highly adaptable and makes changes as they deem necessary to the curriculum.    However, I was impressed with the depth of the course manual and was a bit disappointed some points covered in there were not covered during the course.    


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