Ever since I experienced the first miserable bonks on the bike (i.e., ran out of fuel and could barely move my legs to get home) and also saw my first unflattering test results from the Stanford Human Performance Lab in 2009, I’ve tried to figure out how to make myself bonk proof.
What if you could move your “hitting the wall” point from 5 hours to 80 hours of running or riding a bike – wouldn’t that be amazing!? The advice I got was: you need to do plenty of training in your fat burning zone to become an efficient fat burning machine for long endurance events. I disagreed. I had done plenty of that (relatively speaking) and was left with NO fat burning zone anywhere.
Endurance athletes have several performance or effort limiters (lactate, fuel, heat, muscular endurance, etc.) and some scientists still argue whether eventual slow down is caused by our brain (i.e., central governor) or some peripheral limitation, such as running out of fuel in the working muscles. Either way, for practical purposes, I’ve personally found that the following measurable limiters determine most of your performance in a race:
- < 2h race (Half-marathon, Sprint & Olympic distance Triathlon):
Lactate/Anaerobic threshold i.e. who can go hardest until your muscles burn and breathing becomes tough
- 2h+ race (Marathon, Half-Ironman, Ironman):
Fuel limitations i.e. who bonks last
The reason for the fuel problem is quite simple: Our “carb tank” carries up to 2 hours worth of heavy exercise fuel, but even the leanest healthy athlete carries more than 24 hours worth of fuel in his “fat tank”. So the question is: how do you become a fat burner to be able to go longer and faster in a race lasting more than 2 hours? (Of course, in addition, you want to be energy efficient in general, and have a large cardiovascular engine to burn any fuel that might be available)
THREE TESTS: From a Sugar burner to a Fat Burner
What did Stanford human performance lab found out about me in 2009? I was tested using my own time-trial bike on a Computrainer with a “gas exchange” tube in my mouth after an over-night fast without breakfast. I had been following what I thought was the “healthiest diet” i.e. super low-fat and consequently super high carb diet for more than ten years and I already had 5 years of triathlon training under my belt leading into this test:
- I couldn’t burn more than 200Cal/hr from fat after a few minutes
- At the “comfortable” efforts of 250-300W I was burning 900-1000Cal of carbs per hour, which would mean bonking in 2-3hrs (assuming a 2000Cal glycogen fuel tank) even if I managed to eat some.
In short, I was a highly efficient sugar burning machine, who could ride a bike at 300 Watts without much effort, but burning all sugar, and at least theoretically hitting a wall half-way an Ironman bike ride at that effort.
For those who aren’t familiar with bike “watts”, here are two reference points:
- The very best professional triathletes typically average their Ironman races at 270-290 watts (or 3.7 – 3.9Watts per body kg for most, but the less hills and corners, the less the power-to-weight matters)
- At 300 watts, a cyclists with decent aerodynamics moves at ~25mph on a flat course (calculator)
My second, comparable test (same bike, Computrainer, testing equipment and test protocol) is after a three month “pretty high fat”, “moderate carbohydrate” experiment, during which I replaced almost all sugar and added large quantities of nuts, oil and avocado. There was no meaningful difference in my training; and certainly no increase in easy workouts in “fat burning zone”.
Now my fat burning had more than doubled to more than 400Cal/hr. The only visible change in training or lifestyle that I could point to, was my diet.
This spring, a week after winning the Wildflower Long Course triathlon amateur race, I completed my third substrate utilization test. I went into the Wildflower race 20 pounds overweight, with very limited triathlon training and also decided to cut my typical race time eating (= all carbohydrate calories) by a massive -60% — which I knew was a huge risk. Yet, I won the race and my time was as close to the best professional athletes as ever (~8% in overall time). I also felt that I could have kept running at the end. I knew that something had changed for the better to be able to produce that performance.
My third test was done with a KORR device, again using Computrainer and my own time-trial bike. I also used Powertap to double check Computrainer’s power measures.
The results were pretty unexpected. Now my fat burning peaked at close to 750Cal/hr and fat utilization was still contributing 50%+ of the energy at 300W. I had more than tripled my fat utilization from the bottom values. I would guess that this change is part of the reason why I was able to maintain my strong effort at Wildflower triathlon, even though I cut my race-time eating by 60% and came into the race overweight and undertrained.
BURNING FAT: So What and How?
So what’s the significance of becoming a fat burner in endurance sports? Like with most things in life, if you can go longer and harder, it’s usually better. My progress to a better fat burner is clear in the chart below:
I had pushed my “hitting the wall” moment* from 5.6hrs to almost 90hrs at a comfortable 200 watts. And now I could race a full Ironman (8+ hrs) at almost 300 Watts, where as earlier I would have hit the wall just after 2 hours at that effort. To me, this is as close to bonk-proof as it gets.
*) For these calculations I assumed that the total glycogen stores are 2000Cal to begin with and could be supplemented by 250Cal/hr by eating. You can eat more, but it is questionable whether your body oxidizes much more than 250Cal of digested carbs. Maybe ~100Cal more but it wouldn’t change the calculations much either.
What were the exact changes in making this transformation (as a N=1 experiment) in the third test:
- Exercise: No significant change to my knowledge. Definitely no increased volume. If something, more shorter and high-intensity workouts.
- Diet: No sugar, no processed carbohydrates. Roughly ~15% of total daily calories from carbohydrates in the 5-6 months leading up to the last test, most of which came from vegetables and nuts.
- Supplements/sports products: none during training, unless it was a more than a 3-4hrs workout (=which for me is less than once a month) and even then I tried to stick to real food, such as bananas, cashew nuts, etc.
I completed all <3hour workouts with only water, without compromising my hard interval workout performance at all.
Although my N=1 experiment makes no science, I would recommend that if you want to become a bonk-proof endurance athlete, you might want to consider diet first, then adjustments to your training regime. Doubling or tripling fat burning abilities sounds like something that would take 10 years of endurance training, but I did it in months by changing diet.
As a final note about the test result accuracy: the substrate utilization results are quite sensitive to the equipment and preparation, since the test equipment measures small amounts of inhale and exhale gases. Therefore I tried to use the same protocol for all three tests (over-night fast, 5 minute steps in test, etc.) and same type of Computrainer and time trial bike. Additionally, it is also possible that once you become a good fat burner, the results are even more favorable to fat burning if the test is performed after a 1-3hour “warmup” (simulating the second half of a race), and not just after an overnight fast.
On the 10-15 min runs on the other 4 days a week, what type of run are you doing (ie. hr based below lactate threshold, hard race pace, or below training threshold)? Thank you.
Just super easy. For me 8-9min/miles. Not cardiovascularly hard at all.
A couple of weeks ago I became the overall amateur champion of the Wildflower Long Course (=Half Ironman distance) triathlon, now second time. I was 20 pounds over weight (at 201 pounds and barely 6ft tall) and just a month before the race my running speed was almost a minute per mile slower than before. At that point I assumed it would be impossible to be competitive, especially on the run.
A 201 pound triathlete who doesn’t look like he should be running.
I would agree with most (all?) of the running and endurance sports coaches in that the most likely way to achieving maximum running performance in the long run, is a long-term commitment to consistency and gradually developing all areas critical for running: cardiovascular capacity, muscular endurance, strength, speed and technique.
But I also think that you can hack your way to running fitness quickly. Admittedly, my recipe is based on only two experiments, one of which was the four weeks leading into Wildflower triathlon.
This is what I was facing before the Wildflower race:
- Overweight: race week I weighed at 201 pounds (about +20 pounds overweight from my average triathlon race weight in the last 5 years) due some rowing training and the majority of that additional weight was either non-functional (=fat) or in the upper body that is completely counterproductive for running (or cycling).
- Slow running: four weeks before the race I was running almost a minute per mile slower in my test workouts. I expected this would mean up to ~10minutes slower running time in the race.
- No running base: Since January 1, 2014, I had done exactly 2 runs per week on average, of any length. Most of these runs were easy 1 hour jogs and my leg muscles were sore for two days after each run (try running with a 20 pound backpack!).
Within four weeks I turned around my run and got these results:
- I won the overall amateur title.
- Both my half marathon running time and total race time at the Wildflower Triathlon was only about +9% slower than the average time of top four professionals, which is as good as my best performance at Wildflower (I’ve raced the long course 5 times).
- At the Wildflower finish, my legs and muscles felt completely fine and I could have kept going at the same pace.
- In my race week run workout, I had taken 40seconds per mile off of my running speed in four weeks.
- (Also, based on my speculation, if the Wildflower weather was a bit cooler than 90F+, I would have run significantly faster relative to competition; Heat at 90F+ becomes a major limiter when running at 200+ pounds and it was the factor limiting my running speed in the race. But that’s speculation.)
So what is the hack?
It’s a simple four-step protocol for four weeks. My total running averaged 1h 55min per week:
- Develop muscular endurance by running 10-15 minutes every day:
This is important to be able to take 13.1 miles of pounding in the race, especially if you’re missing a solid running base, like I was. The conventional approach is to do a “long run” once a week and increase the distance each week. The downside of this is that it takes a long time to develop the muscular endurance with this one long run and each long run will knock you out from other hard training for 3-5 days each time. You can’t afford to do that when you only have 4 weeks to prepare. I averaged 6 runs per week.
- Build cardiovascular engine with an all-out 10*1min set once a week:
I always do this workout on a treadmill, as it’s perfect for regulating effort. Between each interval I recover for 1 minute, so the total workout length is less than 35minutes with a warm-up included. There’s ample scientific evidence (non-scientific article here) that short high-intensity interval training develops the entire “aerobic engine” rapidly, which is conventionally done by slogging long, slow miles. You can’t afford to do that when you only have 4 weeks to prepare and expect to be fresh race day.
- Plyometrics for quick improvements in running efficiency:
Even highly trained endurance runners seem to improve their running times in a few weeks of plyometrics. I simply do the following ~5 minute routine three times a week:
3 * 12 * explosive box jumps
3 * 12 * jumps for max height (sometimes replace w/ 20X skipping into a hill)
- No long runs, but one 1 hour strength run per week
I continued to run an easy “normal distance” run once a week, typically 50-65minutes, but it was focused on strengthening running muscles by running 3-6minute hills a few times. I tried to run each hill strong, but not anaerobically.
This approach took about 40 seconds (or -10%) per mile off of my best running speed in four weeks leading up to Wildflower. Typically a 5% improvement per year is a huge jump. Also, simultaneously, I gained about a pound or two of body weight so my speed gain wasn’t due to change in body weight (on purpose in preparation for this).
The other time I used a very similar approach was before Ironman Sweden, where I ran a 2h56min marathon - by far my fastest - after riding 112miles.
I’m curious — do you agree or disagree with this approach?
What I hear your asking…
Do you really think your two experiments prove the case? No.
Will this work for everyone? I don’t know, but I would guess that for most.
Do you need a massive “base” before this works? I don’t know, but I would guess you don’t need a massive base, but you need to have basic running fitness and mobility, so that you don’t injure yourself with plyometrics and high-intensity intervals.
Would you achieve the fastest times by continuing this program indefinitely? However you train, if you continue the same plan forever, it won’t be optimal for fitness gains.
I heard you’ve changed your diet significantly too, was that a factor? Definitely for the overall performance, not so much for the last 4 week running turn-around. More about the diet in a later post…
My wife wants to double down on marriage and the global fight against sugar and processed foods. The brilliant idea — that no husband could say no to — is to row across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Hawaii completely unsupported, launching in June ‘14. So that’s what we’ll do: www.FatChanceRow.org.
We only need mental and moral support, but the fight against bad food (and sugar) needs your help too, so please join the battle.
Sami - I went to the screening of "Cereal Killers", and as an endurance athlete, I'm curious to test the high-fat diet. But, I want to make sure I do it right - what resources do you recommend for someone who wants to learn how to get started smartly?
Good question. Since I’m no medical expert myself, I’d highly recommend someone who has researched the topic for 30+ years: Dr. Steve Phinney and his work http://www.artandscienceoflowcarb.com/
His books are excellent resources of scientific information, but written for an average reader.
Athletes have long been focused on their recovery state to optimize training and to arrive fit and fresh at the race start line. This certainly applies to myself as well.
Recovery/stress tracking is also increasingly applied in the corporate world (ex: Spire at LinkedIN, Fatigue Science case studies) and in recreational use, where sleep (or lack of it) typically gets most coverage.
With all this market demand for accurate stress/recovery tracking and availability of cheaper and more accurate sensors, entrepreneurs have sensed the opportunity; I’ve now seen about dozen devices or services focused on measuring one’s recovery/stress state, some of which are still in stealth mode.
After beta-testing or simply using many of these services, I think there are three key design hurdles that these devices have to overcome before they can dream of a real success in the marketplace. Here are the killer app product specs based on my own experiences as both a business (=office productivity) and athlete (=race course performance) user:
- Extremely easy measurement, preferably continuous and automatic.
Except for the most motivated athletes (e.g. professionals or some larger than life goal), it is very unlikely that the user will continue to play around with wires, straps and tools every day, even if it only takes less than a minute or two. That may work for a life-saving device, but not for a recovery tracking tool that may not have anything new to tell you that day.
Great example: Besides sleep, Beddit measures Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability (HRV) every night while sleeping without the need to do anything before, during or after going to bed. Not even clicking a mouse. The sensor is installed once (under the sheet) and it keeps measuring non-stop each night while in bed.
Suboptimal example: Testing the performance of peripheral nervous system via sensors and stickers delivering electrical currents. The test itself is less than 20 seconds, but the setup takes precision and a few minutes. The test itself may be one of a kind, but the testing itself is a high hurdle.
- Consistent and reliable results, preferably scientifically proven.
This sounds very obvious, but I’ve tested several devices while I’ve been truly sick and/or visibly tired, but the service tells me I’m perfectly recovered. You only need one or two of those experiences and you’ll completely lose your belief in the product.
Great example: Restwise is a recovery tool that incorporates a number of both objective and subjective inputs to provide a recovery score. From my personal experience, this tool provides consistently the most reliable results of any service I’ve tested so far.
Suboptimal example: Purely heart rate based solutions that use a short measurement period. Heart rate does react to major stressors, but usually with a 1-3 day delay and sometimes it’s off for other reasons (cup of coffee, excitement, room temperature, etc.). HRV is a step-up from HR as a recovery measurement, but that too has been found to be too unreliable and with a long delay.
- Actionable recommendations, not just data.
This requirement would apply to most of the first generation “quantified self” tools. It is quite exciting to read some data that is coming out of your body, but this excitement wanes quickly, unless it is very clear to the user what to do next based on the measured data. And if this recommendation isn’t insightful enough (e.g., your leg hurts -> don’t run should be obvious) the device isn’t worth the time and money.
Great example: Omegawave has quite a specific recommendation (muscular and cardiovascular readiness separated) based on the recovery status, and not just numbers.
Suboptimal example: Unfortunately almost all the devices and services that I’ve tested fall into this category and the user is left asking, “so what?”.
So, does a killer recovery/stress measurement tool that has nailed #1, #2 and #3 already exist?
The one that I currently consider the best, is based on a sensitive neural network that is also self-learning. It is (1) completely ambient and automatic if properly trained, (2) the results are always consistent if properly trained and it has been scientifically proven, (3) the recommendations are almost always actionable.
That is, the human brain combined with a high level or self-awareness. I’ve written about this before. However, to the credit of the many services and devices I’ve used (especially Restwise), my own self-awareness and ability to detect my mood in a matter of seconds has improved as a result of using these services.
I’m optimistic someone will eventually beat the human brain that can sometimes be too biased and it takes time to train (to become self-aware); if you know a device that meets all of the above requirements, let me know, because I’m eager to start using it and potentially invest in the company too!
Because she’s a very fit and gifted runner and triathlete, unlike most others! Simple and true.
This could be your body at Hawaii Ironman triathlon.
However, there are a few fundamental factors that change the limits of endurance performance at the Hawaii Ironman triathlon significantly and thus make certain athletes much more likely high performers in such conditions. Having just raced at that event the 7th time and seen many write-ups about “optimal pacing in Hawaii” or “how much slower you should expect to go in Hawaii” type of articles, I thought it would be interesting to look at the very specific reasons why Hawaii is different and why race pace recommendations based on “averages” is quite useless.
Human endurance performance is limited by many factors, many of which are still debated and whether it is our brain (=the central governor theory) or our failing peripheral muscles (=the cardiovascular model) that slows us down to our maximum sustainable speed. However, it is widely agreed that extreme heat and humidity negatively affect performance at maximum efforts. Interestingly, heat and humidity doesn’t slow down much if at all in the swim and bike portion of triathlon, which I’ve personally experienced and race simulation research in heat shows that too. So something different happens during the run.
Our bodies and brain try to avoid the destiny of eggs on a hot frying pan and there are two key factors pushing us away and towards this homeostasis while running:
- Heating power that is the result of our human inefficiency. For every 1000kcal we metabolize, we only use about 200kcal (or 20%) to the forward moving motion. The rest is wasted as heat. (Roughly the same applies to cycling too, a cyclist pushing a bicycle forward at 300 watts is actually generating more than 900W of heat in addition to that forward moving power) Interestingly the energy cost of running is independent of our running pace. It takes about 1kCal per body kg to run 1km, regardless of running pace or body size. The consequence of this is that the heating power rapidly increases as you run faster and as you add weight.Wasted heat production (in watts) at certain marathon running paces for athletes of different sizes (weight, kg). Assumes that heat power equals 80% of the total energy metabolized for the movement.
As an example, a 50kg person running a 2:50 marathon “only” needs to get rid of 750Watts of continuous heating. Meanwhile, a 65kg person can only run a 3:40 marathon at the same waste heat level. Fortunately, our bodies can get rid of some of the excess heat, so heat doesn’t always become the performance limiter.
- Cooling power that is primarily a function of convectional cooling and sweat evaporation (not just sweating) from skin. Unfortunately cooling power does not increase at the same rate with excess heat production, as cooling is more closely related to human skin surface area than weight. Secondly, cooling is also very sensitive to ambient temperature and humidity.
So the bad news is that at some running speed, runners should theoretically hit the point at which heating power exceeds cooling power, (soon) after which our bodies either shut down or turn into eggs on a frying pan. This almost never happens in cycling - unless climbing a very steep hill at walking/running pace - because at 20-40mph speed the cooling effect easily exceeds the extra heat generated.
The best approximate for body cooling during running I could find was in Tim Noake’s Lore of Running, in the following chart, which seems to assume strong air flow at max running speeds (about 5min/mile) and large skin surface area (about 75kg athlete).
Considering the average weather in Kona, HI in October is 29.4C and 84% humidity and stays at a remarkable narrow band over the years, I estimated what happens if you run at 2:50 marathon pace in these conditions by using Noakes’ cooling model and adjusting it based on body size (skin area):
It looks like a 55-60kg (120-130pd) runner is not going to be limited by heat for a 2:50 marathon, but anyone larger than that will suffer and overheat at that pace based on average athlete’s heat loss (cooling ability).
So the obvious question is how fast can a runner of size X run in the Kona, HI conditions. Based on the above assumptions and also including a +8% heat acclimatization factor that has been show at least in some studies, I came up with the following:
Estimated best possible marathon performance in Hawaii Ironman based on heat as the limiting factor for different size runners.
From the above chart, if you dream of running a sub 3hr marathon in Hawaii, you shouldn’t be larger than about 72kg (or 160 pounds). For reference, the 2:50 marathon women’s record holder weighs about 52-53kg and many of the top men in the 60-65kg range for this event.
So what’s the take-away for someone racing in Hawaii Ironman and hoping to run really fast?
- Unless you’re very small (under 55-60kg) heat is likely going to be a significant performance limiter on the marathon run (not bike or swim) assuming you’re well trained to run fast otherwise.
- Acclimatize and cool as much as you can on the run.
- Hope for a cool and windy day on the run.
- Watch someone like Mirinda Carfrae (52kg) run really fast every time despite the weather conditions in Kona.
Final note: This analysis was hacked together pretty quickly and I’m quite sure there are missed nuances and potential errors in my interpretation of research data. So use it at your own risk (and entertainment).
I’ve met several lucky tech entrepreneurs, who have built a profitable, self-sustaining business. From these lucky ones, I’ve often heard the question “we are wondering whether we should raise outside money, take a much bigger risk and aim for ‘world domination’ in our space — or not”.
I think it’s a good question to ask, but in my view there’s only one feasible answer: Yes. The reason is simple: the alternative under almost all scenarios is that you run out of business and become irrelevant over time. And why is that?
Contrary to what most people think, I believe there is only one long-term sustainable (if cultivated well) competitive advantage for a tech company: Continuous innovation. In fact, I think that’s the only defensible competitive advantage for any tech company and innovation is the most important output of any enterprise in the fast changing tech world.
In addition, scale in some important aspect of the business (customers, data, marketplace liquidity, network size etc.) can buy some extra time to produce more innovation. But scale as competitive advantage often masks the reality and fools company leaders (especially those focused on operational excellence vs. innovation) to think they have a sustainable competitive advantage other than continuous innovation. Two simple examples of this pitfall:
- eBay: An auction platform and its demand-side increasing returns (the more people join, the more existing users benefit from it) is probably the most impressive example of competitive moat with a built-in network effect. But what happened to eBay in the last 10 years given all its struggles? (According to some ex-employees) the company was laser focused on website yield, profit maximization and true innovation was non-existent. eBay’s still alive, but has struggled against other online merchants, including Amazon. It’s far from invincible anymore despite the untouchable moat it was supposed to have.
- Nokia: Massive scale, strong brand, loyal users. Company logistics and operational excellence became the envy of everyone. Yet, without continuous output of true innovation, competitors forced Nokia to collapse in a matter of few years.
So what choice is a profitable and content tech company left with?
- It has to build an innovation machine that attracts the best, brightest and most innovative people now and in the future, not just for the v1.0 or v2.0 product (unless the aim is to sell a company based on a great v1.0 launch, which is a short term, likely failing strategy)
- It has to also quickly build scale that gives more time and resources to make mistakes and innovate more against smaller competitors.
In other words, you either grow and innovate more, or fall apart. That really leaves only one choice: shoot for the stars!
Related thoughts on innovation as the only competitive advantage:
Niche companies? In some rare occasion there might be a tiny niche in which a tech company can operate relatively safely without growth and radical innovation. However, even this “opportunity” is typically just a matter of time before it is gone. As an example, what might happen to vertical specific registration services (e.g. concerts, sports events, etc.) when a platform like Eventbrite really gets to scale.
Operational excellence vs. innovation? Large tech companies (let’s pick on Yahoo!, eBay, HP, Nokia again) often reach a point in which their leadership changes from the innovation focused, entrepreneurial founder. I have a strong view that when the focus turns into operational excellence even with perfect managerial skills, a tech company starts its inevitable downfall. The larger the scale, the longer the management can mask this downfall, but it is inevitable. Well, look at Yahoo!, HP and eBay for this. Or look at Amazon or Google as counter examples of producing continuous innovation. Or Apple.
A friend had to take a red-eye flight to NYC last night and it reminded me that I (used to) ONLY take red-eye flights in the name of efficiency.
Optimally you’d sleep nicely during the flight and wake up 5 hours later fully refreshed, ready for the 8AM meeting. But that almost never happens - instead, the morning after I feel like crap. Over the years I perfected a hack that has worked like a charm and quite often I heard “really, did you take a red-eye .. you look so rested and fresh!?”.
This is how I’ve killed the red-eye fatigue:
1. Choose early red-eye’s that arrive ~5AM and immediately check in to your hotel, before coffee or breakfast.
2. At your room, drink an espresso or take 100-150mg of pure caffeine.
3. IMMEDIATELY after #2, jump into bed and sleep ~15minutes (MAX 20minutes) with blinds on, so the room is dark.
4. IMMEDIATELY after #3, go to hotel gym for 10-15mins. First 5-10min either run or pedal bike easy/medium effort. Then do twice 1 minute ALL-OUT sprinting.
5. Shower, change and get to your 7AM or 8AM meeting.
6. CRITICAL: Don’t eat any big meals during the day and avoid almost all carbohydrates, especially sugar, sugary drinks, rice, pasta, etc. that might spike your blood sugar and send to a death spiral two hours later. That means focus on protein, fat and some vegetables when you eat.
This routine (vs. three cups of coffee and straight to meeting from airport) works for three reasons, (i) caffeine is a stimulant, (ii) even little sleep helps to refresh, (iii) high intensity effort forces your body to release hormones that keep you alert and up. Just don’t screw it up with a huge burrito for lunch.
I would not recommend this as a long term solution, just a fix for a day or two to get through it.
Sami, I know this post is long past... but looking at your Sub-9 hour secret sauce article... I'm interested to know what's up with all those < 20' runs?
Practically speaking, it’s typically either run to pool(+swim) or some other “commuting”. I do them for two reasons: (1) it’s incredibly time efficient, (2) frequency, even if short runs, is a way to build muscular endurance for long running events without damaging yourself with 2hr runs.
Twenty nights in a hotel, two nights in my own bed, three in a hotel, two in my own bed and tomorrow again three more in a hotel. That’s the last 30 days. In fact, I’ve slept more nights in a hotel than in any of my “homes” since 2007. That’s not something to be proud of, but that’s how it goes.
My keywords for choosing a business hotel are convenience and frugality. I think I can handle almost anything and even as a business traveler have seen it from a basic 1 star to shared bathrooms to plastic sheets to the non-business overly lux, but one aspect has become a true showstopper for me: there must be a gym for training
Unfortunately this great idea and anticipation of a gym often fails to deliver its promise. So for the benefit of hotel general managers and other health-conscious business travelers, here are seven reasons (or questions to ask prior to booking!) for the above-mentioned failure. And in my case, that failure means no future stays in that hotel:
1. Gym opens at 8AM or later with no exceptions.
This is surprisingly common. I could understand this rule at a beach resort, but how many business travelers can workout 8-9am and still make it to their flight or first meeting? Sometimes I’ve managed to talk myself into an off-hours gym through a janitor or by climbing through a window, but those are happy exceptions.
2. False advertising: one treadmill or a 1 mile walk does not equal a gym
Half of the 1-2 star hotels fall into this group. That single treadmill is additionally often broken or already in use by someone walking 20minute miles on it. Some nicer hotels have a “partner gym” which means hiking a couple miles to another location for a workout. These and many similar “false-advertising” cases shouldn’t count as an in-house gym listed in the amenities
3. Equipment doesn’t work and nobody was aware of it
Treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical machine, cables – yes, they all require maintenance. Countless times I’ve “checked out” the gym during check-in, but once you step on your piece of equipment, it doesn’t work and the front desk had no idea about it. Pedal is broken, no electricity, treadmill belt is stuck, and so on. I’ve unfortunately seen it all.
4. Access to the gym is through the lobby, restaurant or a FINE restaurant
I’m sure there are people who are slightly sweaty in a cute way after their work out. In my case, I emerge from the beating looking, feeling and smelling like I had been submerged in a sweat pool, several times. I know I should apologize the hundreds of people who’ve been fine-dining when I’ve crawled through the restaurant back to my room, or the fellow elevator passengers in their suits, but no, I think this is just bad design.
5. No bathroom access from/at the fitness room
This might sound trivial, but after you hydrate well, then hike down from the 20th floor and find the gym from the maze and get to the half point (30-40mins) of your workout, you will NEED that bathroom badly. I should not share this, but not too long ago I was staying and working out at a relatively nice hotel in Geneva, Switzerland and went looking for bathroom outside the gym room. After a few minutes of searching with no luck (my room was a 5min hike away from the fitness room), came back to the empty gym and I had no choice. Those drinking cups came in very handy. Convenient storage for liquids. I am sure that if I have any political aspirations in my 60’s, those security camera shots will be dug out and that’s the end of my political ambitions.
6. No towels or paper towels at the gym
The results of this design failure can be seen or felt on the floor and the sticky surfaces everywhere.
7. No temperature control or a “negative” temperature control
The extreme version of this failure was evident at a Swiss hotel where a sauna(!) was installed into the gym room, next to an elliptical machine. The temperature was well above 100F +(40C+) at the gym room. The lesser version was an L.A. hotel where the gym had a single window straight to the sun, no fan, no A/C and I had to stop running on the treadmill after 30minutes when the sweat went through my running shoes and the belt became dangerously slippery.
With that, happy travels and better designs for the future!
Beautifully curated flash sale sites, “post-Amazon” e-commerce companies and monthly “retail” subscription services, such as Gilt Groupe, Fab, One Kings Lane and Shoedazzle have made big headlines with their reportedly crazy fast revenue growth. Some people think they’re a credible threat to Amazon. And investors are making a case that’s the future of online retail. To me, it appears that the main attraction of these retails sites is beautifully curated retail content, pleasure of discovering new things and to some extent (perception of a) low price.
But my own frustrating holiday shopping experience made me question the future viability of these next gen e-commerce sites as I see them.
I was blessed with a couple gift cards to some of these curated retail sites and finally had to try to buy something. I found it impossible to search and find a product I needed. I literally couldn’t spend the free money I had (and still have) in my hands. I kept asking, who actually buys all this fabulous stuff and where are we headed in online retail and commerce?
Conclusion #1: There will always be need for the “accidental” discovery of new things – maybe not for me and maybe not for all products.
- First, my wife was quick to point out that “You don’t get it, people love to buy stuff for the sake of buying and this is how almost all women shop. We find or are offered things we don’t really need and buy it. That’s how magazines, bazaars, night markets and even malls have always worked.” Fair enough, I just don’t get it, I just search and find.
Furthermore, I looked at the stats for size of U.S. home sizes AND storage business over the past several years. Both growing and expanding fast, per below chart. This seems to support my wife’s claim that “I don’t get it”: Most consumers like to buy stuff they can then stuff into boxes and store and repeat. I would predict this absolute madness will continue, even if this n=1 only buys for specific needs. I believe you can’t “search and find” your way to that madness, you have to discover stuff you didn’t know you needed.
- Second, all buyers are of course in different phases of the purchase funnel (planning/discovery/inspiration vs. transactional/ready-to-buy), so it seems obvious this need for new discoveries won’t change in the future either. Heck, even I look for accidental inspiration for certain things, like these travel and life experiences sites.
Discovery (rather than a specific search) will likely serve well all of the following user needs in a broad range of categories from clothes to movies to travel to cosmetics to furniture to dating.
— Consumer early in the purchase funnel
— Design based or complex rather than a commodity product
— Pure entertainment (window shopping homes, anyone?)
Conclusion #2: Discovery will get more fragmented online and online retailers either need to become an original design product company OR build massive scale off- and online.
So the need for discovery is here to stay in most e-commerce categories, save for simplest commodity products like toothpaste. But will beautifully curated sites and these “discovery services” consolidate online and become the profit driver in e-commerce, at the expense of boring “Search and Find” sites. I think not. (Maybe if there’s a 10X radical supply chain innovation for price or mass customization that others can’t replicate. I just doubt that.)
- First, the paths to “accidental” discovery online will likely continue to be extremely fragmented and people stumble on new products via individual bloggers (Cobra Snake!), niche industry blogs, online forums, tweets, news articles, facebook updates, instagram photos, youtube videos, Pins etc. I don’t see strong forces consolidating discovery online, just the opposite and new cool discovery services are popping up all the time. I would predict that soon you’ll be able to discover and purchase items conveniently from distributed media content, such as pictures and videos.
- Second, Magazines like Elle, Popular Mechanics, CAR’n’Driver or Conde Naste Traveler didn’t morph into manufacturers or retailers of their respective products for a reason: you need massive scale for your store/marketplace and building a huge offline supply chain for physical products is very expensive. And that’s even more expensive if you compete against Amazon.
Who then, will win in the online commerce. is it search or discovery driven retail sites?
Neither. Native “Search and find” will be absolute essential to all online retailers and discovery will consist of dozens of small paths like the thousands of little side rivers feeding the real river Amazon.
Most importantly, I would predict that any retailer must either have massive scale (Amazon) or become an original design product company (Warby Parker, Bonobos), but companies in-between will be squeezed over-time by one of the above two categories. Discovery alone won’t make it (unless you’re a pure media company with massive scale like Pinterest or a niche discovery site e.g. for travel) and Amazon could well “power” all the retail transactions and order fulfilment on product discovery sites.
But one thing, sadly, will remain the same, people will continue to buy crap they don’t even need.
Hi Sami - Love your content, you're an inspiration! I wanted to ask - how do you go about planning your tri season? Also, once planned/mapped out, how do you maintain an overview of the big, 'season-long' picture - by diary, big white board on the wall, calendar? Look forward to hearing back. Thanks Ioan Rees.
I try to create an annual plan by end of mid January each year with the following simple steps:
1. Map my life goals for next year.
2. Schedule vacations, physical adventures and big work commitments for the year.
3. Decide what (triathlon) race(s) matter for the year in light of (1) and (2).
4. At this point, I start to think of the training program (with my coach and/or myself), which has quite a few constraints from 1,2 and 3.
5. Map out the type of workouts at a weekly (not daily) level in 3-4 week blocks leading up to the key events.
6. The end result is a simple spreadsheet with each line representing a week and the main focus (of training) for that week e.g. “recovery” or “Vo2max” or “race like intervals”. It’s pretty easy to stay on track if you have a plan like this….which always must be iterated a few times during the year, though.
I'm very inspired by your training and results. Do you have a typical buildup period in number of weeks to a half ironman or ironman? Interested to hear how your buildup compares to the more traditional buildups that typically range 12-18 weeks or so. Does your training vary during this period (eg a periodisation style) or are the intervals you are doing fairly constant throughout your whole buildup? And do you build on the intervals each week (eg intensity, number, mileage). Great blog
For the most part, when I’m training in a focused way — which certainly isn’t the case 3-4 months of the year — I’m “always” ready to race and fresh&fit enough to do that. I have less of a focus on a specific build up during which I beat myself.
However, towards the most important race(s), my training becomes more race specific 4-6 weeks out from the race. For example, the longer the race, the longer the intervals, etc.
Lastly, of course you want to have progression: body only reacts to increased stress to super compensate. That could be volume and/or intensity. In my case, I don’t want to increase hours invested into training so mostly it means gradually faster/harder (assuming your fitness improves each week).