Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lance Armstrong. Again and again.

Lance Armstrong during his interview with Oprah Winfrey
I couldn't resist writing something about the upcoming Oprah interview with Lance Armstrong.  In light of all the information that has already come out, I've been asked a few times on what my opinion on the whole thing is.

To be perfectly honest I'm kind of shrugging my shoulders at the whole affair right now and am certainly not surprised that he's finally admitting to using PEDs during his reign as 7 time Tour de France champion.  In on of my previous blog posts on the whole thing, I said that the best thing he could do is come clean about it all. Really I don't think he had much of a choice, coming clean is the only way he could make his way back into the limelight.  For a celebrity of his stature, that basically seals the deal, it was only a matter of time.

Since he gave up his fight against USADA, the sanctions placed upon him have prohibited him from racing.  Though he's no longer racing in the TdF, Lance was well on his way to some impressive accomplishments in the world of triathlon, and was looking forward to some badass marathon times.  I think that a big part of his admission involves getting his ticket stamped for a return to racing, and public acceptance as a celebrity figure once again.

Now many internet forums, Facebook posts, and Twitter arguments have come about in the past few days over to whether or not he deserves our forgiveness and a return to racing.  To be perfectly honest, I do hope to see Lance Armstrong return to racing, it makes for good TV and interesting races.  A lot of people seem to have taken Lance's lies pretty personally and seek to abolish him from sport altogether.  I simply can't wrap my head around those people's point of view.

Lance Armstrong has done a lot for cycling.  Like it or not, he brought the sport of professional cycling into mainstream sport in North America.  Were it not for him I'm willing to bet that there are more than a few people who would have never gone out and bought their first road bike.  So people are willing to throw cycling out of where it is today in North America, they can't sit there and say the guy ruined cycling and deserves to be drubbed out of the sport altogether.

Lance Armstrong has also given a lot of people a glimmer of hope.  I would challenge anyone to read "It's Not About the Bike", and say that his story isn't one worth knowing.  At least his story as he battled cancer anyways.  And thats another reason why I honestly believe that the impact of his presence in our culture has been a net positive.

Now the word on the street, specifically the New York Times street, is that Armstrong may be willing to testify against the UCI, international cycling's governing body.  The plot thickens.  I think there are a lot of people in the cycling community that would agree that the only people dirtier than Armstrong in this whole affair are the guys at the UCI, guys like Pat McQuaid.  Under McQuaid's watch doping was rampant and he had no shortage of opportunities to clean up cycling, between Operation Puerto, the Festina affair, and Armstrong, its clear that doping was an infection that was allowed to fester in cycling for years.  (Check out Greg LeMond's comments in December for a bit more context).

Whether you're pro Armstrong, anti-Armstrong, or couldn't care less, I think that if you're interested in a clean future for cycling, there's would be nothing better than to see Armstrong provide some damning testimony to bring the house down.  It would be sort of like one of those mafia movies where the right hand man is given immunity for testifying against the family.

Anyways, those are just a few ramblings of mine ahead of this Oprah interview.  If there's any big winner from this, its The Oprah Network.  I have to call Telus right now to subscribe to a network I never thought I'd ask for.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Lets go 2013

Well now that it’s the new year and I’ve blogged thoroughly about what other athletes should be doing as good practices in the new year, I guess its my turn.  I’m back from a two week vacation in sunny Mexico and besides some lingering soreness from riding a Mexican mechanical bull, and some annoying insect bites, I’m refreshed and ready to go for 2013.

I already feel that I’m coming into this year with renewed focus and energy.  The past couple months of training have been unstructured, but valuable mentally and physically in preparing me for the coming season.

As most of you probably already know, my big race for 2013 will be Ironman Canada- Whistler edition.  I’ll compliment this with at least one but probably two half Ironman races and likely a couple of Gran Fondos and half marathons.  I have a pretty good idea of which races those will be, but I haven’t finalized anything just yet so I won’t talk too much about anything other than IMC.

It wasn’t originally my plan to come back to racing the full IM distance quite this soon.  Until late last season I’d thought I would spend 2013 building speed in the Olympic and Half distances.  But when the opportunity to race an entirely new course in Whistler came about there was no way I was going to be able to not race the full distance.

Over the past few years of triathlon I’ve learned a lot about myself as an athlete and gained a much better understanding of the kind of training regime that works for me.  So for 2013 I decided to do something different I’ll be coaching myself this year for the first time since my first season in triathlon.  Putting my money where my mouth is I’ve also started working with a few other athletes getting into the sport.  I’m doing this for no other reason than to recognize the value of sharing sport with others.  I’m not pretending to be a coach, but just trying to help bridge the training gap between an enthusiastic but fresh athlete just contemplating getting into triathlon, and a rookie with a season under their belt.

Helping me along the way in my never ending goal of peer pressuring people into getting involved in running, cycling, and triathlon, I’m remaining on with the awesome people at Lululemon as a run ambassador.  And this year I’ll also be supported by Ridley’s Cycle in Calgary and Trek Bikes.  I’ve got to say, I’m absolutely stoked to be on board with such amazing organizations.  As anyone short of a household name knows, sponsorships and partnerships don’t come busting down your door.  For the vast majority of athletes, sponsorship is more like getting a date with the girl (or guy) you’ve had a crush on for all of junior high, you have to actively pursue the relationship.  And it’s a heck of a lot easier to do that when you really like that person.  So having those long term relationships with Lululemon and Ridleys Cycle-Trek Bikes, is something that I really am very grateful for.  The staff at both Lululemon on 4th and Ridleys Cycle are amazing people that are passionate about what they do and I really encourage people to visit them next time you need a product or are just in the area.

From a training perspective this will be one of my most focused years.  I’ve resolved to seriously improve my swimming and will be in the pool 4-5 days a week for the next few months doing shorter (under an hour) but more frequent sessions.  For cycling, I’ll be going back to basics over the next while with long easy base sessions a couple times a week, augmented by focused VO2 and threshold work like the infamous 2x20 regime every week.  I’m still of the belief that an Ironman is a bike race with a swim warmup and polished off with a brisk run, so I’m sticking to that methodology.  Running is probably the sport where I’m most comfortable with where I’m at already, but I do still hope to shave some time off my PB’s this season.

I’m definitely coming into 2013 with some serious expectations and goals.  There will be some firsts, but a lot of the races I’m coming back to are races that I’ve done before.  Ironman will be unique, its my second full IM and whenever you get to a certain distance you just want to finish, but the second time you always want to see how much you’ve got.  Its exciting, motivating, and nerve racking all at the same time.  The questions in your head change from “Can I do this?”, to “How fast can I do this?”.

I guess I’m about to find out :-)

Follow me on Twitter here @RafLopez or visit my other blog Keep Calm and Ride On.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Starting the New Year off training right

It’s New Year’s resolution time, which means that many of you are off to start training for your first 5k, half marathon, sprint triathlon, Iron distance race, etc.   As the training ramps up and you start to get into a more regimented training schedule, its important to avoid some of the pitfalls resolutions seem to bring around every year.

In order to make sure you’re hitting your goals in July, its important you get your training dialed in in January.  Here are a few keys points to remember as you get back into training and shedding the holidays pounds we all put on.


If you’re working with a coach, chances are at the beginning of your training cycle they’ve given you a bunch of low intensity bike and run workouts, and some tedious drills to do in the pool to improve your swim stroke.  Your engine may be revving to get some killer fartleks in, and hammer out some VO2 max work, but the best thing you can do for your body right now is to not go out too hard too soon.

Two months ago I got on the bike for the first time in 2 months.  Life had kept me busy and I decided I’d just focus on running through the fall anyways.  My first week back I somehow figured I could hammer out a Functional Threshold Power test, which is a 20 minute, all out, get off the bike and feel your legs buckle workout.  Well I got my ass handed to me and had to throw in the towel after 10 minutes and my results from that 10 minutes were far short of what I could do two months earlier.  I should have known better.

A week or two later I was doing 5 minute intervals at what I can usually hold for half an hour.  It was humbling but I knew that I had to listen to my body.  When getting back into training its important to recognize that as a general rule, you gain back fitness at about the same rate that you lose it when you take more than a couple weeks off.  Assuming that you can just pick up right where you left off when you crossed the finish line of that late September race is just unrealistic and will leave you frustrated and probably nursing an overuse injury.

The tip; Patience is key when coming off of a break from training, be realistic about where you’re starting off and work you way back up to form with focus and professionalism.

Setting Goals

Ever talk to an avid year round gym goer about how they feel about January at the gym?  Most of them can’t stand it. Every January every machine, every treadmill, every pool lane, and every spin class is full.  Fitness facilities burst at the seams with people looking to shed holiday weight and that have a set weight or size in mind as their goal.  But what happens when you reach that goal?  Evidently you get to reward yourself by putting more weight back on because every spring those people are back at the gym trying to get their swimsuit body back.

I like to use times and race distances as goals for the athletes that I work with because you can always go faster or further than the last race.  Weights and sizes don’t afford you that luxury because once you hit your target there isn’t really any place left to go.

If you’re chasing a 2 hour half marathon, or an age group podium at the local 10k, or aiming for your first Olympic distance tri in August, the weight and sizes will sort themselves out.  And you just might find that someone placing a medal around your neck and crowds of people cheering you down the finish chute is a little more rewarding than numbers on a scale.

The tip; Make your goals bigger than just pounds and sizes.  The roar of a crowd beats numbers on a scale any day.  Challenge yourself with what you're afraid to do and the rest will get figured out.

Rest and Work

I come from the mentality that your easy workouts should be embarrassingly easy, and your hard workouts should be painfully hard.  My wife plays major league soccer and played varsity through university.  She used to tell me about how their trainers would work them so hard during intervals that some of her teammates would just keep running after the interval and keep going til they hit the bathroom to go throw up.

I’ve never hit that level of intensity so I figure I’ve never pushed myself hard enough.  In truth it may be that I usually avoid Indian and Thai food before hard workouts.  But it helps illustrate a point, hard means hard, and easy means easy.

When your coach gives you a certain specific challenging workout the objective is to stimulate certain adaptations in your body that will help you later on in the season.  This means pushing your body beyond what’s comfortable.  On the flip side, easy workouts are meant to help your body recover, or help to build your aerobic engine.

Too many athletes fall into the trap of getting their training stuck in this awkward physiological middle ground where they’re never fully rested.  Their easy workouts aren’t easy enough so they aren’t recovered fully when they get to a hard workout.

The tip; Listen to your coach and take the time to learn the purpose of each workout.  This will help you appreciate the design of your training plan and give you a little extra motivation to do what you’re told!


Staying motivated through training in the winter months can be challenging.  There’s a couple things that I always encourage others to do when they’re getting back into training.

First of all, ask yourself why you’re training and racing.  Was there a life event that made you decide to take the leap and get into sport?  Is there somebody or some story that brought you to where you are today?  Perhaps you’re racing to inspire others around you to live a healthier lifestyle as well.  If you’re reasons have gotten you this far, then they’re good reasons, and remember them or even write them down.  It’ll come in handy when you’re dragging your heals to training in the cold winter months, and it’ll push you to the finish at mile 20 of the Ironman marathon.

Secondly, share your goals and your sport with others around you and encourage others to join you.  Ask a friend to come with you on an easy 5k, or join you training for the local super sprint tri.  Whether you know it or not you’ve probably helped inspire someone else and nothing will keep you going better than you’re helping to make your little corner of the world a healthier happier place.

The tip; Sharing your sport and involving others is one of the best way to make new training partners and inspire others.  Nothing is more rewarding watching a friend or family member that you encouraged to join you cross the finish line for the first time.