Lessons from “The Eighty-Dollar Champion”


Recently I read the book The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts. I originally saw the book awhile back when it first came out and meant to pick it up soon after, but forgot about it. A couple of weeks ago I was wandering around in the clearance section of BAM and saw the book for $5.00 and picked it up. I’m a sucker for books with horses on the front! Old habits die hard…

The book is based on a true-story of the National Horse Show Champion Show Jumper named Snowman. Snowman was an old plow horse that was rescued by the Dutch immigrant Harry de Leyer for $80 from the slaughterhouse truck at an auction. Harry brought the horse back to his small farm on Long Island to be used as a lesson horse at the girls boarding school where he taught riding lessons.

Snowman was a gentle-giant. He wasn’t the thoroughbred Harry was looking for to be a solid show jumper. He made a good lesson horse and Harry was able to make a few dollars off of him when he sold Snowman to a neighbor. However, Snowman had other ideas. During lessons Snowman had no potential as a jumper. He would hit his hooves off poles on the ground. But, much to Harry’s surprise, he would find Snowman back in his stall the next morning with a fence board in tow. Snowman could jump.

Harry re-purchased Snowman and put the gelding into training. The horse could fly. Harry would bring him to all the big shows on Long Island during the summer where the wealthy showed their expensive thoroughbreds. Snowman and Harry would be laughed at until he won against some of the top horses on the East Coast. Show after show Harry and Snowman brought home the blue ribbon qualifying themselves to compete at the National Horse Show held at Madison Square Garden in November. Snowman was the underdog. No one expected him to win against the top horses in the world in show jumping, where the fences often reached over 5’6″ high!

It was 1958. America was in the midst of the Cold War. Snowman won the title that year and in turn inspired a nation. He was deemed the Cinderella Horse. He won again the following year. Snowman and Harry de Leyer changed the sport of Show Jumping for the United States and succeed in inspiring the “common people” that anything is possible.

The story begins with the quote by Christopher Reeve:

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

Lesson One: Nothing is impossible

Snowman was a plow horse. He did not have the fancy, expensive blood-lines of a champion Thoroughbred, but the horse had heart. Harry was able to see the potential in the little horse that jumped pasture fences for fun. The rich elite that ruled the Equestrian lifestyle during the 1940s and 50s laughed at Snowman at shows. However, Harry and Snowman showed the world that with a little heart and faith, anything is possible. 

Lesson Two: There is something extraordinary in all of us

One of my favorite quotes in the book is “Snowman and Harry showed the world how extraordinary the most ordinary among us can be. Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us” (page 280). Snowman was an ordinary horse with an extraordinary talent. The story of Snowman teaches us that even though most of us consider ourselves to be average, there is always something extraordinary in all of us. Perhaps it’s our ability to sing, or play a sport, or even to care for others. Find that extraordinary quality in yourself and own it.

Lesson Three: Hard work trumps everything

One of the main reasons Snowman became a champion was Harry’s hard work and dedication to his horse, his family, and to the sport of show jumping. Harry recognized something in Snowman, but his talent and skill was only able to appear after Harry put in a lot of hard work. Harry had to teach the horse how to be ridden first before he could even become a jumper. During the National Horse Show the other horse farms had hired grooms, riders, etc to care for the horses, but Harry only had himself and his family to clean and braid Snowman for the show. Hard work really does make a difference and can get you far in life. Money can only buy so much.

It’s not every day that a champion is born. But, nothing is impossible. We each have a unique gift that with a little hard work can shine though. Harry de Leyer and Snowman showed the world this during the 1950s. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it if you’re looking for a fun read.

~ Happy Training!

Hello Again!


Remember me?

I use to blog here…

Yup, I’m back!

Last week I put out a couple of book review posts, but haven’t really mentioned what I have been up to in the past couple of months. Well, September is my favorite month of the year! However, the weather in Maine this year as been a bit hit or miss. This past week I was hit with a cold plus allergies since Mother Nature can’t make up her mind whether she wants to be 90 degrees and sunny or 50 degrees and pouring rain! It’s been a bit of a snot fest…

Anyway, I have big news!!! I got a new job! Finally. It’s been a long and frustrating process. I came close for a couple of jobs that I would have loved but no cigar. However, I tend to think that everything happens for a reason and my new job is going to be awesome and a good first step in my future career path. I’m so excited to start a week from today. 🙂


What have I been up to lately? Here’s the short list:

I’ve watched a lot of this on Netflix lately while drinking tea…

I totally love Gossip Girl so don't judge me...

I totally love Gossip Girl so don’t judge me… (Source)

My new favorite show... I want to be Olivia Pope when I grow up!

My new favorite show… I want to be Olivia Pope when I grow up! (Source)

I’ve done a fair amount of running lately. All my running has been zone 2 easy runs to build my baseline running fitness back up again since I really wasn’t able to do much running all year-long due to my knee/hip issues.

I’ve played and hiked with my dog, Reagan, a lot lately. She has also joined me on a majority of my shorter runs.

Playing fetch in the backyard

Playing fetch in the backyard

View from a top Pleasant Mountain

View from a top Pleasant Mountain

I’ve shopped for new clothes for my new job since I actually have to dress up and look presentable now. Not that I looked like a homeless bum at my lab job (well, that may be debatable because I often wore my winter hat while at work since it was cold), but when you work in the lab you learn not to wear nice clothes because chemical spills and your cashmere sweater are not friends. Trust me on this one!

New shoes, new nail colors, new jewerly, and just about new color blazer from J. Crew

New shoes, new nail colors, new jewelry, and just about every color blazer from J. Crew


I’ve also been doing a great deal of reading lately.In the past few weeks I have probably finished close to 10 books. I recently finished (finally!) an autobiography of Lance Armstrong that I started 2 years ago. I won’t be doing a book review on it since Lance isn’t worth my time. All throughout the book when it was telling his Tour de France victory stories all I could repeat in my head was “DOPER.” I mostly just wanted to get the book off my “to read” bile. I’m currently reading Maryn McKenna’s Beating Back the Devil, which is about the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service. The EIS is an elite group of medical and public health professionals that on a drop of a pin must jet off to where ever there is an epidemic breakout of disease. I plan on applying to the EIS after I earn my PhD in the future.


So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Nothing super exciting, just nice and relaxing for a change of pace. Half marathon training is going to begin shortly! 🙂 Until then…

~ Happy Training!



Book Review: Fat Chance

Looking for a good book? This is one MUST READ book! I enjoy listening to podcasts while working sometimes. My favorite podcast is Vinnie Tortorich, America’s Angriest Trainer. I HIGHLY recommend you listen to his podcast and then go out and buy his bestselling book, Fitness Confidential. I will be doing a book review of that very shortly. Vinnie has always recommended Dr. Robert Lustig’s Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease on his podcast and after IMLP I finally had some free time to pick it up and finish it.

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

I’ve read a lot of books within the past month and Lustig’s is by far the best one to read. I think this book should even be a required reading book in high schools and college. That’s how much I think everyone needs to read this book. Go buy it. Now!

Who is Dr. Lustig? Well, he is an internationally renowned pediatric endocrinologist who has spent the past 16 years treating childhood obesity at some of the top hospitals in the world, such as St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital. Sooo… I would say that he knows his shit better than those Jillian Michaels and Dr. Oz characters.

Dr. Lustig became famous for his at-the-time, very controversial you-tube video called “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.” And, yes, I think you should watch that too. Fat Chance documents the science and politics that have led to the current obesity pandemic that no longer just affects the United States, but the entire world. I went on a medial mission to Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 2011 and I was surprised beyond belief the number of overweight and obese people and the number of fast-food joints in those countries. Hell, Costa Rica has a Denny’s!

Lustig reveals and outlines all the bad research that has been conducted over the years by the government and big food. Personally, I think a lot of those scientists who were involved in many of those studies should have their PhD’s removed. It’s rather disgusting how many people will sell-out to the food industry and politicians. Ok, end rant.

The book begins by setting up a valid argument why the government’s view of “calorie in, calorie out” is bullshit. I hate that term. When discussing food with my clients I always ask them “what is a calorie?” No one has yet to answer correctly. It’s because we have been brainwashed over the years to think of food as calorie in, calorie out. That’s how you’re suppose to lose weight, right? Wrong! Believe me, I was one of those people for a long time too, but the more I read (from reputable and educated sources!!) the more I learn that I have been completely duped all my life. Lustig is an endocrinologist meaning that he is a specialist in hormones and the biochemistry of the human body.

Lustig talks a lot about hormones, ya know, since he gets hormones. Hormones have a profound effect on our metabolism and how we view food. Fat Chance outlines ways to readjust our key hormones that regulate hunger, reward, and stress. That is done mainly by eliminating sugar. Sugar is an addictive toxin to our bodies. We live in a society today that thinks dietary fat is bad. Low-fat this and low-fat that. Well, guess what happens when you remove fat from food products? The food tastes like crap and the manufactures pump it full on sugar. Read the book and find out why sugar is bad for you. I’m serious, do it.

The evolution of nutritional science is what really fascinates me. Back in the early to mid-1900’s we got the science right. And then big food and some idiots got involved. The leading cause of death today in the United States is heart disease, but in the next decade or so we will see that shift to diabetes and other metabolic-related diseases, which heart disease can be considered one. In 1957 John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, postulated that a dietary component caused heart attacks. By 1964, through natural observation studies he theorized that the consumption of sucrose was associated with heart disease. Yudkins published numerous papers on the biochemistry of sucrose and was the first person to warn us that excessive consumption could lead to heart disease, diabetes, GI diseases among other diseases.

Now, back in the United States we have Ancel Keys, a Minnesota epidemiologist. In the early 1950s Keys spend some time in England where we witnessed a large rise in heart disease. The typical English diet consisted of high fat and high cholesterol items, such as fish and chips. He noticed that those who are well fed in both the US and UK were those who could afford meat, but also seemed to suffer the most from heart disease. In the 1960s and 1970s Keys published numerous studies indicating that heart disease patients had higher cholesterol levels than non-heart disease patients. In 1980 Keys published his “Seven Countries” study, a 500-page paper that concluded that dietary fat was the single cause of heart disease. Which, the United States government and medical community has since run with. However, there are four major problems with his thesis.

The first being that his Seven Countries study started out as a Twenty-two Countries study. The seven countries he used in his study were: Japan, Italy, England, Wales, Australia, Canada, and the US. The relationship between dietary fat and heart disease looked quite convincing when the data was plotted. However, when he plotted the other countries (Austria, Ceylon, Chile, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland), the correlation was almost non-existent. He also actively chose not to include indigenous tribes, such as the Inuit, Tokelau, and Maasai and Rendille, who eat only animal fat and have the lowest prevalence of heart disease on the planet. How’s that for science? Second, the role of dietary fat in heart disease is complicated by trans fat, which has signficant scientific studies to link it to metabolic syndrome. The use of trans-fats peaked during the 1960s and most likely were not considered a variable by Keys.

Third, if you look at the correlation itself, it is a problem. Japan and Italy eat the least amount of saturated fat and have the least amount of heart disease. But, they also eat the least amount of dietary sugar out of all the countries included. How do you know if it’s the sugar or the fat causing heart disease? Fourth, Keys admits that he correlated sucrose with saturated fat, but it was not important enough to him to remove sucrose from the equation. When one completes a multivariate correlation analysis, a common statistical tool that determines whether A causes B regardless of the impact of C, D, and E, one has to do the calculation both ways. In other words, Keys would have had to hold sucrose constant and show that dietary fat still correlates with heart disease. Basically, Keys used bad science. And then the government took it and ran with the idea.

This is just one of the studies Lustig discusses in his book. He discusses many more that are just as interesting. The end of the book concludes with two sections. One is on the personal solution and the other is on the public health solution. I absolutely loved the public health section because I am a public health professional. In society today we have this notion that obesity is an individual problem. That person eats too much, doesn’t exercise and it’s their fault they are fat. Lustig will tell you that’s rarely the problem. The public health section discusses ways as a society that we can conquer the impending obesity pandemic.

Overall, you will be crazy not to read this book. Out of all the books I have read this year, this is by far one of the best ones out there. It will change your view of nutrition and the obesity epidemic. Lustig gives you the science that backs up his claims. This isn’t a diet book written by some bimbo Hollywood trainer on how to lose 10-lbs in 10 days. It’s a real book based on real science that will open your eyes and mind to the current nutritional crisis in the United States.

What are you waiting for? GO BUY THE BOOK! 🙂

~ Happy Training!

Book Review: Run or Die

I have major “reader ADD.” I have a huge stack of books sitting on my bed stand waiting to be cracked open for the first time or partially read and just waiting to be loved again. I will start a book and then hear about a better book and read that all while my “to read” books pile up. I’ve made a good dent in my pile this summer (ok, maybe only in the past couple of weeks) and then I go to the book store or Amazon and buy more books. I think I seriously have a problem!

Source: Amazon

Source: Amazon

Anyway, while browsing some of my favorite blogs I found a book review on Kilian Jornet’s Run or Die book that caught my attention. I quickly added the book to my ever-growing “to read” list I keep in my purse, even though I had no idea who the heck Kilian Jornet was. I just knew he was an ultra-runner from Spain who is only 25 years old. Interesting. Last week I had some time to kill before meeting up with a friend so I went to Books-A-Million. I like Books-A-Million, but can I say that I totally miss Borders?! My first stop in any bookstore is always the sports and fitness section to see what the store has on triathlon and exercise physiology books. And then I head over to the science section. Yes, I’m a proud science nerd! Surprisingly, BAM had Jornet’s Book so I picked it up.

I finished the book in a couple of days. It’s short (less than 200 pages) and is a quick and fast read. The book was originally written in Spanish and then translated into English, which at times makes the writing a like awkward at times. Now, who is Kilian Jornet you may ask. Good question! He is a 25-year-old world champion ultrarunner and ski mountaineer who grew up in the Catalan Pyrenees. He began his skiing, running, and mountaineering career at a very young age. By age 5 he had completed the ascent of Aneto, the Pyrenees’ highest peak with his family. Now, that is pretty awesome if you ask me!

He has won the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a 168K trail race around Mont-Blanc with over 9600 meters of climbing that must be completed under 46 hours. He has won this three times. He also won the 2011 Western States 100 in California. He has also set the speed record on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak and my number one bucket list item! I’m a bit jealous!

As you can see the kid is pretty spectacular and an amazing athlete. With that part set aside, what I really enjoyed about his book is his maturity and worldly view of his life and what he does. His descriptions of the scenery he sees on his runs and his feelings are very real and keeps you turning the page for more. Through his story you can tell that some of his biggest life lessons have come from running. Clearly this kid is very well-disciplined. Heck, he goes out a runs for 5+ hours for fun!

One section in the book was about Alba, a girl he met on a bus back to his hometown who he fell in love with. From his writing and her mention in the book you can tell that she profound effect on his life. One of my favorite quotes of the book comes from his questioning himself as a person after he and Alba break-up: “It motivated me to find strength and inspiration from those around me, because the winner isn’t the strongest, but rather the one who truly enjoys what he is doing” (page 124).

Chapter 9 entitled “what I think about when I think about running” is the chapter that really hit home for me. As a long-course triathlete it is often hard for my friends and family to understand why I think swimming, biking, and running hours on end each day is fun. Kilian hits home exactly my stance on the issue:

“When thoughts sail through my head and can find no way out, I always go for a run to free up my mind. I find that then I can see everything more clearly, and that my problems are put into perspective. Running is the best way for me to disconnect from routine and to find the solutions to my problems, which I struggle to see even though they are often staring me right in the face” (page 173).

I tend to solve all my problems while I’m either running or biking. I often train alone because I need that time to sort out life’s problems. I have solved many of the world’s problems in my head while running, now just to make them tangible… 

In a nutshell, I recommend this book. It’s a quick and fun read. Kilian is very wise and mature for his young age. He has done some truly remarkable things thus far and I’m sure he is on the path for more greatest in the sports of running and skiing. And perhaps he’ll let me crew for him when he makes a speed attempt on Mount Aconcagua!

~ Happy Training!

Summer Reading



The Tower of Books

There’s no denying it, but I LOVE to read. My bookshelf is over flowing with books. Most I’ve read, but some I have not (yet). I have a bad habit of starting a book, but when a new, more interesting book is released then I jump ship and begin the new one. So I have a huge stack of half-read books sitting on my table next to my bed just begging me to finish their half-read stories.

I’ve decided I’m growing to tackle that ever-growing book stack, mostly because I’m afraid it may tumble over on me while I’m sleeping. Somehow death by book does not sounds like a fun way to go. So without further ado here is my summer reading list…

Summer 2013 Reading List

1. The Time Between by Karen White – I actually finished this book late last night. I read the entire book within 24 hours and it was just released this past week. I discovered Karen White a couple of years ago randomly at Borders. Her book The Lost Hours caught my attention because it was about horses. Anything about horses tends to get my attention. I purchased it, read it, and fell in love with her writing style. She is a Southern writer and writes about the South. I’ll be honest, I’ve always thought that I should have been a Southern girl. There is something about Charleston, South Carolina that just appeals to me. I’ve ever been there, but hopefully I’ll make the trip there soon. White’s stories are easy to read and fun. A perfect beach read in my opinion.

2. The Color of Light by Karen White – I just picked this up this week too because I haven’t read this one by White yet. By time this blog post posts on Monday I will probably have finished this book too. Love her writing!

3. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Philip Maffetone – I started this book this past week but got interrupted by Karen White’s new book and thus put this book on hiatus momentarily. Maffetone is an internationally recognized researcher, clinician, coach, and author in the fields of endurance training, nutrition, and biofeedback. He was six-time Ironman winner Mark Allen’s coach for a long time. I’m interested in his philosophy of training and I plan on implementing some of his theories in my own training this coming Fall.

4. The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance by Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney – I’m a huge fan of podcasts, especially Vinnie Tortorich and The Fit, Fat, Fast Podcast. Both podcasts discuss living no sugar no grains (NSNG) lifestyles. The lifestyle intrigues me and I’ve been spending a lot of time recently researching the topic and will most likely making the change to my diet after Ironman Lake Placid. The Fit, Fat, Fast Podcast highly suggested this book and I look forward to diving into the research behind low-carbohydrate diets this summer.

5. Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes – This book came highly suggested by Vinnie Tortorich on his podcast. I started reading it and then got distracted by a couple of the above books. So far I have loved this book! It is easy to read, but yet contains a ton of scientific research. I’ve been suggesting this book to a couple of my clients because it is an eye-opener book.

6. Fit Soul, Fit Body by Mark Allen and Brant Secunda – I picked my signed copy of the book last year at the New England Triathlon Expo in Boston. Allen was the guest speaker. I read the first chapter and then put the book down for a while. I look forward to picking it up again this summer.

7. The Healing of America by T.R. Reid – This was actually a book that I read excerpts from for one of my public health classes. The book discussed various health care systems worldwide and what we can do here in America to make health care more affordable and better. I look forward to reading the book from cover to cover instead of specific chapters.

8. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot – As a science geek you’re surprised I haven’t read this yet. It’s been on my list to read for a while now. I just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Henrietta Lacks is the source of the laboratory cell line used in hundreds of laboratories across the global for years called HeLa cells. They are actually considered a “lab weed” now because they often contaminate other cell lines. I’ve worked with cancer cell lines before and cell culture is an amazing tool used in research today and we can thank Henrietta Lacks for it. However, she and Henrietta’s family knew nothing about her “immorality” until 20 years after her death.

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I’m a huge fan of the classics and have been making an effort over the years to read a majority of the most popular ones. This one I picked up when I was in Montana in 2011 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

10. 1984 by George Orwell – Another classic. I started the book a couple of years ago and I guess got distracted again. I loved Animal Farm so I’ve decided that I need to read his other most known work.

11. Lance by John Wilcockson – I started reading this over a year ago. Got half way through it and just stopped. I’m not much of a Lance fan anymore. I wonder why? However, I still would like to finish reading the book. He definitely lived an interesting life; however, now I know how things end. Thanks Lance for giving away the ending.

12. How to Master the Art of Selling by Tom Hopkins – Part of being a personal trainer and coach is knowing how to sell yourself. Some people view people who sell themselves as not being humble. Well, if you want to make a living in this industry you have to be able to market yourself and tell people how much of a badass you are. I don’t have any sales background and it doesn’t come easy to me. My boss at the gym suggested I pick up this book and read it. I probably should have read it back in January, but this summer sounds like a good time too…

13. The Fate of Africa by Martin Meredith – I picked this book up during Border’s going out of business sale. I had the intentions of doing my internship for my masters in Africa, but unfortunately I couldn’t make that a reality. However, I am completely fascinated with Africa and hope to travel there soon. One of my main interests in public health is HIV/AIDS and global health. I have read about a quarter of the book, but it’s well over 700 pages long. Lots of history! It’s kind of a dry read, which is why I took a break from it. But I do love history. Hopefully, I’ll make progress in the book this summer.

14. GRE and Word Smart GRE – Yup, I’m studying to take the GREs again. I’m not 100% sure what my future plan entails. I just had an interview for a public health position that I would absolutely love and I’m crossing my fingers that I get the position! However, I am considering the option of going back to school if I can’t find a public health job soon. I took the GREs 5 years ago and now my scores are too old and thus have to re-take them. Yuck!

I have a feeling that I will probably find some other books to read in there somewhere (like Vinnie Tortorich’s book when that comes out!) and will probably not get to some of the above books. However, I really need to get through that stack before it becomes the leaning tower of books! Yikes!

What are you reading? Any good recommendations for summer reading?

~ Happy Training!

Book Review: The Powermeter Handbook


So I like to read if you haven’t figured that out. Especially about triathlon and exercise physiology related things. Yes, I am a total geek and I will own it! 🙂

Last April I decided to spend a lot of money to buy this little thing called a powermeter for my bike. Best investment ever! So in an effort to better understand what my powermeter tells me when I upload data to TrainingPeaks, I decided to invest in a couple of books. My first purchase was Hunter Allen and Andrew Coggan’s Training and Racing with a Powermeter. I excitedly told my coach about my purchase and she suggested that I read Joe Friel’s The Powermeter Handbook because it is easier to read and geared slightly more towards the triathlete. I have yet to read Allen and Coggan’s book, but it is in my ever increase stack of books to read. I’m current reading Joe Friel and Jim Vance’s Triathlon Science book. It was just released a couple of weeks ago and I am already over half way through it. Definitely a worth while investment if you’re a coach and/or serious athlete. And perhaps a total trigeek like myself! 🙂

One of my favorite quotes thus far in Triathlon Science is from Hunter Allen’s chapter on Triathlon Training Technologies. According to him “the powermeter does not lie, so workouts can be mentally challenging when fitness is not high as desired. Triathletes tend to be critical of themselves, so having a ‘truth meter’ on the bike might not be the best idea for hyper-self-critical triathletes (page 150). So fucking true. My powermeter is certainly my “truth meter.” I whined over and over again last year to my coach (and really anyone who would listen) about how crappy a cyclist I truly am. I always thought that I was a strong cyclist and easily finished in the top percentage of my age group, but through riding with a powermeter I learned that I completely suck at actually riding a bicycle. I was a gear-masher. My cadence was way too low. And I just plain sucked at riding consistently. We’ll talk about this at another time. Let’s get to the book review!

I’ve always been a huge fan of Friel. I like his writing style. It’s easy to follow and he explains things well. The book is divided into three parts: (1) what is a powermeter and how can it help me?, (2) how can I train more effectively using my power meter?, and (3) how can I use my power meter to improve my competitive performance?.


The first section was good. It discussed how a powermeter works. Exactly what I needed. So what is a powermeter and what does it do? Well, lets first answer why power. Training based on heart rate and intensity or rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is fine, but power on the bike is really the top dog. Most athletes believe that heart rate is proactive, but in fact it is reactive. It responds to what the muscles are doing. As Friel says, it is not the “engine”, but is simply the “fuel pump.” Friel points out that muscle is where nearly all the fitness changes take place and focusing on the rate at which the blood is pumped to the muscles is not the most effective way to train. Heart rate can also vary on a day-to-day-basis because of outside forces such as diet, race-day excitement, and psychological stress. Heart rate is also delayed meaning that if you are doing intervals then your heart rate will lag slightly behind the intensity pick up. Certainly heart rate is good to train with if that’s all you have. Speed is not the best way to gauge your fitness because obviously it varies on a multitude of factors, namely wind and hills. Feel or RPE is another method of training. Some people just prefer training by feel. It works for some, but for a majority of us, we prefer numbers. Most of us train by a combination of the above indicators.


So what is power? Friel defines power as “how much work you are doing and how fast you are doing it.” To physicists power is equal to work divided by time. However, in cycling terms we can define power as “power equals force times velocity.” We can break it down to “force is what you put into the pedals and velocity is how fast you are turning the pedals” (page 24). So power essentially tells you how much work you are doing at any given moment. As I mentioned above, powermeters are “truth meters.” A powermeter works by detecting force and cadence. Most powermeters have a magnet that is placed on a crank arm and a magnetic sensor on the frame or some combination of the above. Cadence is measured by how long it takes for the cranks to make one full revolution. Some do it electronically by measuring sine wave. Yeah, don’t ask me how. I only got a C+ in calculus. To calculate force, a powermeter has this thing called a “strain gauge” and is the most expensive part of the powermeter. According to Friel, “a strain gauge is a thin, flexible strip of material with a metallic foil pattern inlaid on it. As force (torque) is increased on the pedal, the strain gauge is very slightly stretched, thus changing the shape of the metallic foil pattern. When the pattern deforms, its electrical resistance changes. The amount of this change is an indication of how much force (torque) is being applied” (page 26). Okay Friel, I’ll take your word for it since physics is not my thang.


Friel then goes into describing the different training zones, etc. But, what really interested me was his section on economy. Economy is HUGE in Ironman training and racing and thus it peaked my interest because it’s relevant to my goals this year. Economy is a huge determiner of performance in Ironman racing. An Ironman is generally raced at about 70% of anaerobic threshold (AT), possibly less for triathletes new to the distance (as in Moi!). Obviously, 112 miles on the bike requires a constant pace and effort. Burning matches is an extremely bad thing and can lead to a horrible run and a possible DNF. A powermeter can reign in an athlete from doing stupid things.


Part two of the book gets more into the nitty-gritty stuff of the powermeter and training with one. The first chapter of this section is on power zones and how to determine your functional threshold power (FTP), which happens to be one of my favorite things to do. NOT! Power zones are very similar to heart rate zones: active recovery (zone 1), aerobic endurance (zone 2), tempo (zone 3), lactate threshold (zone 4), VO2 max (zone 5), anaerobic capacity (zone 6), and sprint power (zone 7). The primary difference between heart rate zones and power zones is that power zones are a percentage of the FTP instead of the percentage of maximal heart rate.


Friel tells you how to determine your FTP. Once you have calculated this then he tells you how to ride with intensity. The biggest thing that I learned about in this chapter was the variability index (VI). I knew a little bit about it via my coach who yells at me about my piss-poor VI. VI is the comparison of your normalized power and average power. What is normalized power? According to Friel it is the “average power normalized to reflect the metabolic cost or sensations of fatigue experience during a ride” (page 79). In other words, NP compares the range of variability of power during a ride with the average power of the ride. So if you ride inconsistently then your normal power will reflect this. It is actually telling you what the workout felt like. A perfect VI is 1.0, meaning that you rode very consistently at the same average power. If you a bad cyclist like me then your average VI for rides tends to be in th 1.15-1.25 range. I get a big fat F for my VI. My horrible VI tells me that I ride inconsistently and I often burn too many matches. My workouts feel a lot harder than they actually should be. This is very bad for Ironman racing. My big goal this is year is to learn to ride my bicycle better and work on having a “perfect” VI.


The most interesting thing I found in this book is Friel’s 50-40-30-20-10 Rule. The concept actually came from Alan Couzens, an exercise physiologist and triathlon coach. The essence of the rule is to conserve energy when the bike is going fast (i.e. downhills; think descend into Keene on IMLP bike course!) and expend energy when the bike is going slow (i.e. uphill; climbing the Three Bears). Friel then goes on to talk about this theory on burning matches. I highly suggest you pick up the book for these two tidbits. Burning too many matches = bad bad bad!


The remaining part of the book discusses how to design workouts using power zones and Friel gives examples of workouts for the triathlete at various distances and the cyclist for various sorts of races. Again, I suggest picking up the book if your interested in this portion of the book. Overall, I do believe it is a worthwhile investment if you have a powermeter. I certainly learned a lot about my powermeter and how it works. Friel doesn’t get super technical like I guess the Allen and Coggan’s book does; however, I think it’s great for someone like me who isn’t really a fan of calculus and physics. I still am looking forward to the Allen and Coggan book though. Friel’s book definitely answered a majority of my questions and also made me understand and connect the dots of why my coach assigns certain workouts for me. I’m very much a “why person” so I like to know the why behind everything. Yes, I was totally that kid who would constantly ask why. 🙂


Verdict: Buy the book if you have a powermeter!

~ Happy Training









Book Review: The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery


Last month I read the book The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery by Sage Rountree. The book is all about recovery methods for athletes, primarily endurance-based athletes. Rountree is an experience yoga teacher and is also a certified USA Triathlon and Road Runners Club of America coach. She teaches regular yoga classes popular among athletes of all levels and is a frequent contributor to many publications, including Runner’s World, Yoga Journal, and USA Triathlon Life.

The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery is described on the back of the book as:

“The Athlete’s Gudie to Recovery is the first comprehensive, practical exploration of the art and science of athletic rest. Certified cycling, triathlon, and running coach Sage Rountree guides you to full recovery and improved performance, exploring how much rest athletes need, how to measure fatigue, and how to make the best use of recovery tools.

Drawing on her own experience along with interviews with coaches, trainers, and elite athletes, Rountree details daily recovery techniques and demystifies common aids such as ice baths, compression apparel, and supplements. She explains in detail how to employ restorative practices, including massage, meditation, and yoga. You will learn which methods work best and how and when they are most effective.”

I enjoyed the book, but I wished that it included a bit more scienitific study results. Of course as a biochemist by training I rely on peer-reviewed studies for my knowldge; however, Rountree wrote the book for a more general population so I understand why she did not bring a lot of studies into the book.

The first part of the book dicusses why recovery is an important part of the training cycle and ways to qualitatively and quantitatively to measure it during your training cycles. One of my favorite quotes from the book is “recovery is where the gains of your training actually occur, and valuing your recovery is the key to both short-term and long-term success, no matter what your sport” (page 4). Last year I really learned the importance of recovery during my training cycles. I have always been in the mindset that no pain, no gain or go hard all the time for the biggest improvements in my performance. However, I learned that is completely the wrong mindset to have. When working with my athletes and clients I always make sure to stress the importance of recovery. For the longest time I was under the impression that during workouts is when your body gets stronger and faster, but in reality it is AFTERWARDS during periods of recovery that your body repairs itself to make it stronger and faster. Rountree stresses this in the first part of her book. She states that “it’s the balance between the work and the rest that keeps us healthy and strong” (page 5). Rountree discusses the physiogologic adaptaion process well in laymans terms for those of us that may not be a super science nerd like myself. She also breaks down the perodization training cycle in words and figures for the reader to help them understand the concept easily and how recovery fits into each part of the cycle. One point she makes in the first chapter is that “your successful approach to recovery will depend on two traits: patience and faith” (page 13). I found this to be a strong point. Lord knows that I am one of the most impatient people. When I want something I want it now. I know as an athlete that I need to take the time and put the work in and I will see results. I will not become a top of the podium athlete overnight. I may never become one, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t put the work in and have a little faith that if I am patient that it will happen. You have to be patient with recovery and trust the process. Sometimes we all need a little time off. Certainly my body told me I needed time off this past Fall to heal from my nagging right hip issue and also the plantar fasciitis that results from that damn piriformis. Can I evict my piriformis yet?

Part two of the book dicusses recovery techniques. She discusses 12 techniques, which she breaks down into time, cost, accessibility, and confidence (she calls this “Sage’s Gauge”). Here is my take on each technique:

  • Active Recovery – is exercise at a low intensity. Easy, stand-alone active recovery workouts, such as an easy zone 1 spin or jog/walk, can elevate the heart rate just effort to increase blood flow to muscles to aid in recovery. However, these workouts must be light and easy enough to not tax the muscular and cardiovascular systems, aka 65-mile “recovery” rides are not really recovery rides. Who knew? Active recovery also includes proper cool downs during more intense workouts.
  • Stress Reduction – Let’s face it, we all live in a stressful world. Work, school, family, training, etc. According to Rountree the key to reducing stress is being aware of where it comes from. Okay, so my main source of stress is work. Mainly in the past month not knowing if I still had a job. Now that I know my job is a little more secure now my stress levels has gone down; however, I am prone to getting stressed trying to figure out how to fit work and train clients while completing my training all within 24 hours and then rinse and repeat. Welcome to being an age-group athlete, right?! Rountree suggests learning the ability to say no (definitely a major problem I have. I can be guilt-tripped into just about anything and I will probably regret ever saying that…), making realistic goals and periodically checking in on them, and planning a head.
  • Sleep – YES PLEASE! I think we all know how important good quality sleep is! Rountree suggests that we should sleep until you wake up satisfied without the use of an alarm clock. Naps are also a good idea. All great ideas but a little unrealistic for a majority of us real people working in the real world.
  • Nutrition and Hydration – Drink water and eat real foods. Enough said right? Recovery snacks are important for our bodies.
  • Supplements – These are designed to cover deficiencies in your diet. See above for what is really important in recovery, i.e. real foods and water! However, taking a multivitamin and a fish oil pill can help. Personally, I take a multivitmain to cover my bases incase I don’t have a good eating day and I don’t eat a ton of fish so fish oil pill a day is good for me. Fish oil has been shown to help reduce inflammation. NSAIDS, such as Ibuprofen can actually interfere with the body’s recovery process so it’s best not to swallow an entire bottle (or any at all) after a tough workout.
  • Cold and Heat – Ice bath party anyone? I started to use ice baths this past season after tough long brick workouts. I think they helped some. Mostly I felt like a badass sitting in a tub of cold water and ice cubes drinking my recovery smoothie (okay, sometimes it was a beer. Don’t judge me). Cold can be used to counter inflammation and to numb pain. Ice baths help with this and also to move waste products from the muscle. Some people also use heat. Rountree suggests eating a warm snack while sitting in an ice bath.
  • Home Remedies – Compression gear. I was interested to see what her stance was on the issue because it is currently debated in the scientific literature if compression gear actually works or if it’s more psychological. Either way, I like my compression gear. Rountree suggest based on studies that compression socks are more effective than calf sleeves. She also suggests that compression gear is more beneficial during recovery than while training or racing. That is my opinion also. However, compression gear intrigues me so I plan to look more into the topic.
  • Technological Aids – Got a lot of money? Yeah, me either! Thanks SallieMae! You can buy things like ultrasound and electrostimulation therapy or Normatec MVP boots.
  • Massage – Another, yes please! I think we all know that massages are beneficial to the body.Rountree discusses when massage should be scheduled in your training and racing cycles. During training she said scheduling will much depend on your budget. Once a month is probably fine for most people. Rountree suggests a good massage at least 3 days prior to an event would be good and then a really light quick massage after the race to flush-out muscular waste. A good deeper massage should be scheduled about a week later.
  • Self-Massage – Is your foam roller your best friend? Well, it should be!
  • Restorative Yoga – Restorative yoga is a gentler form of yoga and focuses on releasing tension in the body. Poses are held as long as 10-15 minutes. I’ve done one restorative yoga class. It was tough, but my body did feel good afterwards. Rountree gives pictorial examples of poses that are beneficial to the triathlete.
  • Meditation and Breathing – Similar to restorative yoga. Just taking time out of your day to relax and forget about the stresses of the day. Rountree states that the “goal of meditation is not to stop thinking; it’s to become aware of the thinking and to return to focus without getting swept up in thought” (page 168).

Part three of the book discusses recovery protocols. Rountree gives some ideas of how to string the techniques together along with training. Personally, I think everyone is different and different things work for different people, thus people should pick what works best for them. Overall, I did like the book and thought it was helpful. I personally would have liked to have seen more peer-reviewed studies included in more chapters, but I believe Rountree was targeting a more general population rather than the total trigeek like myself.

Have you read this book? What are your thought? What recovery methods work for you?

~ Happy Training!


Nutrition Tuesday: Nutrition Book Review

I love to read and will read just about anything. For the past couple of years I have been reading mostly public health textbooks and the classic novels; however, the past 8 months I have been focused on reading nutrition and endurance training books. Some are better than others so here are a list of my favorite books to pick up and read.

  1. Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, 3rd Ed. by Monique Ryan – This book is by far my favorite. It is packed full of the latest cutting-edge research on all the relevant topics that are important to endurance athletes such as carbo-loading, fueling for workouts, effective recovery, smart weight loss, and other topics. One thing that I really enjoy about this book was the fact Ryan addresses the unique needs of runners, cyclists, triathletes, and swimmers. Her view of nutrition for athletes is not the typical “one size fits all.” Athletes are individuals with individual needs and she does a good job addressing the various needs of everyone. Ryan provides a lot of the nitt-gitty science stuff, but without the big science terminology that makes some books hard to understand and boring. I highly suggest picking this book up!
  2. Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes by Bob Seebohar – I purchased this book two years ago and read it but never really understood any of it. It sat on my book shelf collecting dust for a long time until I decided to pick it up again this past spring. I actually really read the book and implemented a lot of the information on nutrient timing into my training and it made a huge difference! The first few chapters provide information on nutrition basics such as metabolism, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, etc. The good stuff is in chapter three where Seebohar breaks down nutrient periodization and how it can enhance sports performance. The book is only about 165 pages so it’s a quick read, but packed with the important information that every athlete should know.
  3. Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 4th Ed. by Nancy Clark – This book is a classic within the sports nutrition field. It’s one of the first sports nutrition books I purchased. It’s packed full with all the information you need to know about sports nutrition. Clark also provides some great and simple recipes at the end of book.   
  4. Racing Weight: Quick Start Guide by Matt Fitzgerald – I have not read the first book, which I hear is good. This is a book aimed at quick starting a diet plan for endurance athletes. It does not provide much of the background information on nutrition, but does give the information on what to eat and how to train to lose 10 pounds in a month. I haven’t followed the plan so honestly I’m not sure if it works or not. What I do like is how it tells you to calculate lean body weight and the ideal race weight. If you want a book that tells you what to do to lose weight then this might be a good book for you.
Do you have any good books that I should pick up? I love learning new things!
~ Happy Training!