Thursday, June 8, 2017

Why do amateur athletes love to race?

Professional athletes race to make a living. The sport of triathlon for professionals is brutal. Unless you are in the world top 10 rankings, making a living from race-award money is a tough pursuit. At the professional level, sponsors will provide endorsements of many sorts but the single most important thing to pay the bills is winning. And although there are many races out there that give options to the athletes, the level of competition just seems to get faster every year.

At the amateur level, elite athletes usually race with a different motivation. Since amateur races do not provide cash rewards, why so many amateur athletes line every year to the start of hundreds of local, national and world races?

One may categorize the amateur athletes in three groups. Athletes within each group have a completely different motivation for racing:

1. The "enthusiastic starter" type of athlete: this is probably the majority of the amateur athletes. They start with great desire to train and race, they typically invest quite a lot in equipment, they tend to race either for health purposes or for winning the local sprint race that typically has 4 participants in each age category. If the stay in they sport for more than 1 or 2 years, they tend to "yo-yo" in their training and personal performance results. Triathlon is not their priority but they love to race because it keeps them healthy, relatively fit and it gives them the local race medal and a sense of accomplishment.

2. The "I want to give this sport a shot" type of athlete: this is probably a small percent of the athletes from category 1. that decide to invest a bit more time in the sport and train more systematically. A lot of these athletes love to race to either achieve better results in bigger races (I call those the "wannabe" athletes) or they are purely enjoying the competitive side and want to explore their own limits. These athletes usually stick around for 4 years or so.

3. The athletes that are here for the "long-haul": these are the few athletes that have matured through categories 1. and 2. and simply enjoy the lifestyle of training and racing. Being healthy, fit and competitive does not have a time limit or age for those lifelong athletes. They have survived injuries, setbacks, family commitments, psychological roller-coasters and other life instances and somehow, they still find the energy to get out every day and put in the work. Medals are optional depending on the goals - but medals don't matter at this point. These guys are here for the "long-haul".

Which category you think you belong? Which do want to end up at the end?

Share your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top benefits from learning and practicing flip turns

I am definitely not the fastest swimmer in the field but I work hard, smart and persistently to improve my weakest discipline: swimming. Since I started triathlons, I had one and only one motivation line:

"If you want to get better in a sport you have to be an athlete of the sport".

Do you want to be a better swimmer? Then, you need to do what swimmers do. 
Simple and straightforward.

I understand that there is a lifelong debate whether triathletes gain benefits from learning how to flip turn or not. I am not a high-performance coach nor a high-performance triathlete to make definitive claims here but this is what I have gained over the years of practicing and doing flip turns consistently and constantly.

Practicing flip turns will make you incredibly faster on race day!

1. You maintain the continuity, the momentum and the rhythm of your swim. To give you an example: comparing flip turns with open turns or with stopping at the end of each lane is like trying to run a mile around the track and having to stop momentarily every 200 meters!

2. You actually get more rest. This is because when you flip turn you streamline and you rely on momentum getting in and out of the wall!

3. You practice breath control. This way you get more efficient on maintaining high intensity speeds in the water during the race!

4. You get a better feel for the water and gain better awareness of your body and speed. You become more efficient overall!

5. It is an awesome workout for the core ~ why spent hours at the gym when you can just practice flip turns and execute them while swimming?

Good luck!

Here is my little flip turn here:


Monday, March 27, 2017

The six elements that prevent most age group athletes from being professional

Age group athletes share more characteristics with professional athletes than you may think.

Age group athletes also lack quite a few features that professional athletes have mastered to perfection. In actuality, these features play a much more significant role in success than physical parameters such as VO2 max, economy, lean muscle mass, metabolic efficiency and mental toughness.

First, let's just define success. A successful athlete, amateur or professional alike, has nothing to do with their number of podium wins. Podium wins are irrelevant. Whether you are an age group athlete that has just started the sport or you have been doing it for a few or many years, whether you are a tier 2 or tier 3 (newbie) or a tier 1 (top 10 in the world) professional athlete, the podium does not define you. You can always find a relevant race somewhere in the world that you can probably earn a podium spot, regardless of your experience, level or ability. This alone does not make you successful.

Success is careful planning and execution along with consistent and long-term progress. 

Let's just now talk about the characteristics of success that age group athletes oftentimes lack compared to professional athletes. The six elements of professionalism:

1. Professionally outlined plan

Whether they have a coach or not, true professional athletes always have a well outlined plan. Tailored to their individual strengths and weaknesses, a well outlined plan has specific goals that are usually challenging but achievable.

2. Professional execution of the plan

True professional athletes are committed and relentlessly persistent. They execute the prescribed workouts at their best of their abilities. And they stick to the plan. They have No excuses. They just make it happen. And when it's time to back off or take an extra day off, they adjust with no extra drama.

3. Professional attitude during injuries and other set-backs

Everybody gets injured at some point. And it is never easy. True professional athletes deal with injuries setting timelines and following the prescribed rehab plans. No excess emotion or depression. It is what it is and they just have to go over it. Oftentimes, they may utilize the injury to take a break and work on some of their weaknesses as long as whatever they do does not affect the rehab and does not slow down the progress of getting better faster.

4. Professional attitude to failure

Everybody fails at some point. Failure is a good thing. Winning is also a good thing but failure is better. Failure unveils the true athlete. The way a true professional handles failure exposes their true character. True professional athletes know how to embrace their failures. They analyse them in detail so that they do not repeat the same mistakes again.

5. Professional commitment to strengthen the weaknesses

Who doesn't feel strong and powerful on their element? In case of triathlon, athletes usually come from different athletic backgrounds or from an individual sport. Therefore, inevitably, they have weaknesses. True professional athletes focus at prolonged and consistent times on their weaknesses. They just outline whatever they need to do in order to get better and then try to nail them down to perfection.

6. Professional passion for the sport

True athletes love what they do. There are no sacrifices while training and racing. There are only future investments and tons of excitement in every step that makes them better.

Always remember that almost every professional athlete started by competing at the amateur level. Some made the transition to being professionals faster, others slower (for various reasons). Others had equipment and resources and others did not. If you really want it, you can make it happen. You should not complain for not having this or the other - athletes make it work with what they have.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tech talk simplified: how a smart GPS multisport watch can enhance your athletic goals without distracting you away from them

Triathletes tend to be extremely focused, hard-core determined A-type personalities that relentlessly strive to make the best out of what they give in their training and racing. They are passionate about their sport but oftentimes, they tend to drift away from the value of the actual training and get absorbed with the latest technological equipment that will give them some advantage over their competitors. 

I am not going to lie: I am one of them and I have fallen into the tech pitfalls many times. Nonetheless, having been successful in the sport for quite a few years now, I have learned that technology is not here to distract us but instead it is here to help us.

When it comes to multisport GPS watches, with so many options on the market, online reviews, tons of data, and overwhelming advertisement, it is hard to select the best for your needs. However, whether you are just starting or you are a seasoned athlete, the fundamentals of training and data principles you need remain the same.

Assuming you have the basic equipment (i.e., bicycle, helmet, running shoes, swimming suit and goggles), perhaps the single most important additional equipment you may need is a watch that tracks distance, time and heart rate. These three parameters represent the fundamental data that give you an indication of your effort and perceived exertion and they help you track your progress over time. These fundamental parameters are simple and easy to digest, however, the current multisport GPS watches have a lot more to offer.
Over the years, what I have come to value in a multisport watch are five elements: quality, accuracy, simplicity, price and athlete support. Taken all these combined, the Polar V800 has been a stunning winner.

You can use the V800 as a simple distance-time-pace-heart rate device or you can take advantage of the additional features and the extensive athlete (and/or community) support without breaking the bank, without losing accuracy or quality and without being lost and distracted. As a seasoned athlete, apart from the basics, I have found that one of the most interesting features to track with this watch is the running index and the training volume. The running index displays your running fitness level from your first recorded run till the current one by taking into account your personal data, running volume, intensity, elevation and time. The training volume gives you the valuable information for those days that you need to push through or just take a step back and rest. There are many more features into this super-watch for you to explore, like training programs, fitness tests, running and swimming efficiency parameters (and many more!).

At the end of the day, the principles of effective training remain the same no matter how much data you collect. Remember that the data are out here to help and quide you, and not to distract you. An intelligent coaching system and a multisport watch can provide everything you need to be able to read your internal clock and become successful. Understanding your internal clock is critical and it takes time to develop but once you master it, you can pace yourself, train more efficiently and race more successfully. This is because mastering your “athlete from within” will make your perceived exertion, effort, pace, heart rate and power output feel “linear”. So that a 60% effort for example would reflect a 60% heart rate, a 60% pace, a 60% power and a 60% feeling. You can learn how to control this in perfection by spending time with a good coach, and with the simplicity, accuracy and quality of the the Polar V800.

Get out there, dare to tri and dare to win!

Find out more and order yours here:  Polar V800

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women, Weight, Sports Performance and Body Image

Women are strong, power-houses and when it comes to truly endurance events, they have shown at many occasions that they are capable to come close to men's performances.

How does scale weight, fat percentage, body image and diet tie into such incredible performances?

Women tend to be somehow more image-conscious than men. Their concerns could come from coaches pressure, peer pressure, athletic body stereotypes, modern society standards or just marketing, social media and advertisement.

Here, I will not be the first nor the last to touch upon such a multi-angled topic and heavily discussed issue. I will talk briefly about weight and sports performance rather than weight and athletic image. These are two completely different things. If you are a female athlete and you are exercising to lose weight, this article is not for you at this point. If you are a female athlete and you are exercising for performance, hold on tight and read on.

First and foremost, performance takes into account the duration/frequency/intensity of the competition and associated training, it differentiates the scale weight from the fat percentage, and it takes into account the individuality of the athlete. All these parameters are hard to put into numbers and precise percentages. For women in triathlons for example, there is a vast variability of the duration of events and there is also a big range among body fat percentages and scale weight-to-height ratios of top performers. There is not one fixed athletic body stereotype that performs better than others.  When you take a look at the professional sprint, olympic, half or full triathlon distances, some elite women (on the same event) tend to be short or tall, lean or a bit more muscular. The reason behind this could be genetics, different training schedules and habits, different diets or some combination of the above.

From my personal experience, I have never followed a strict diet plan throughout my 5 years of training and competing at the elite amateur triathlon level. I have always followed general healthy guidelines like eating regularly fruit and vegetables, eating meat, fish, bread, butter, ice cream and wine in moderation. Mainly, I have allowed my training load to make the necessary body adaptations and I have stayed consistent and loyal to my plans - even during injuries and setbacks. In simple words, I eat whatever makes me happy and not heavy ~ whatever does not compromise my training and I stay put to my regime. I know the foods that work best for me in terms of digestion and I also know the foods that make me happy and full of energy - and I keep those latter in my A list! And although my diet has not changed much over the years, my training has changed a lot. I am  now putting more hours a week and with more intensity compared to 2012 when I started, and surprisingly, my body has acclimated to bear the load.

2012: lean but not strong
2012:my body went through
a series of adaptations
My first year in 2012, when I started biking, running and swimming regularly, my body went through a shock. I started losing weight dramatically. I was trying to stuff myself up with food and extra fatty treats but my body was refusing to absorb anything. My body image looked lean and muscular but I was not feeling strong, I was not having the endurance or the speed that I wanted. I was concerned but I let it be! Over the following years, as my body and muscles were changing (and it was a slow, gradual change!), I developed a better musculoskeletal system and a stronger physique. My body can now absorb more hours of training, I feel more energetic every day, a whole lot stronger and with a much bigger aerobic engine.

The bottom line is that
WOMEN: do not abuse your bodies. Let your bodies adapt to the training load gradually. Give it time ~ adaptations happen in the long run (metaphorically and literally!). Changes will happen ~ Do not rush anything! You may lose fat, you may gain scale weight and muscle mass but since every one of us is unique, just let it be and enjoy the process. It doesn't help worrying about being too lean or too big or too muscular or too short or too tall. Just look around you and you will see world and olympic champions in different lengths and widths!

2016: more muscles, more strength and endurance, faster times
If you are training towards an endurance event and you are trying to lose weight through diet because you believe it will elevate your performance, either you need different coaching advise or you are concerned too much about some stereotypes or you are not training long enough to let your body adapt to the distance. Just stick to the foods that work for you and make you happy and train appropriately for the distance you are aiming to race and perform!

Stay healthy, stay happy and stay true to yourselves!

See you out there ~

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What's up for 2017

My goals for 2017 summarized in two sentences: I am racing my first marathon and I am aiming for a top place at the 2017 ITU long-course World Championships!

After sitting down and assessing the 2016 season, Dave asked me the magic question: what do you want to do in 2017? I said, I felt I had a good race at the 2016 ITU long-course World Championships, but for some reason, I have an unfinished business out there. I did well but I did not feel I raced the race. So, we looked at the data and he decided that I lacked running training...he actually said that my 19mi run at the Worlds was not as bad as I thought to be taking into account my 20-25 mi weekly averages during my preparation.

Dave said that the best way to put some volume on the run and let your body adapt to longer distances and that way be ready for speed work in spring/summer is to prepare for a marathon race.

So, we divided the season into four chunks:

1. Pre-marathon volume build: Run: increase the weekly volume slowly and steadily up to 60mi (~shy off 100 km). Bike: keep the volume low and at recovery pace. Swim: speed work at high intensity and high volume. Weights: 2-3 times a week with emphasis on low weight/high reps.

2. Marathon race (end of March): first race of the season with the aim to arrive at the race healthy!

3. Post-marathon volume and speed work: Volume and intensity increase for all three sports throughout summer. One 200+mi ride, One distance open water race, One half marathon race.

4. Tri summer season with taper for the World Championships (end of August): One Olympic and One half-iron prep races before the 2017 ITU long-course World Championships on August 27.

I can't wait to become a better, stronger, healthier runner and smash the 2017 ITU long-course Worlds!

(more about our periodization plan here:

Be safe, stay healthy.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Why First Endurance is NOT just another nutrition company

If you are an endurance athlete and you have not tried the First Endurance products yet, let me clarify that what you will read below is a truthful opinion of my personal experience on collaborating with the company and on using their products. It is not biased  and it does not serve any kind of advertisement purposes.

If you are an endurance athlete and you have tried the First Endurance products, you know that these products are made of high-quality ingredients and they actually work.
I joined the First Endurance Research Board back in the early 2013 and since then, I have been loving every moment of scientific, non-scientific, athletic and non-athletic interaction with the company.

My role in First Endurance is to conduct research on various topics that span the nutritional science and deal with the dietary demands of the endurance athlete. I am part of a bigger team that consists of an interesting mixture of MDs and other scientists who are also endurance athletes. This team was created so that First Endurance can rely on external scientific consultants to contribute in their product research and development process (see more here:

I am truly privileged to be part of such a deeply research-oriented company. Throughout the past 4 years, I have had the chance to interact productively with other members of the Research Board, with sponsored professional athletes and with the owners of the company in order to deliver research literature results, write articles to educate the athletes and push the boundaries of quality and novelty in endurance sports nutrition.

First Endurance focuses on few products that are aligned with the endurance athlete demands. The company is extremely transparent on the quality and the integrity of research behind every single ingredient they are putting in their bottles. They do not need to produce fifteen different flavors and twenty different products. They do not need to produce clothes, accessories or print and mail monthly magazines for advertisement - because they focus only on nutrition.

They keep it simple and efficient.

This is why they are brilliant and why they differentiate from the mass.

Robert Kunz, one of the two founders of First Endurance, has been one of the most amazing and intelligent individuals I have ever met. Well-educated, friendly, articulate, with tremendous experience in the nutritional science and supplement production, and with a splash of witty humor, he is no-wonder a huge part of the success behind the business. He has been extremely supportive of my research work for First Endurance, supportive of my own, personal research work and supportive of my athletic endeavors.

Robert Kunz finishing the 2016 Houte Route "the toughest bike race in the world"

I love First Endurance. They listen to me. They support me. They support their athletes - They support you. They do not carry bells and whistles. They do not need flashy advertisement.

They are just simple, innovative, and efficient.

I can't wait to see more evolution in First Endurance.

Hold on tight...

There is always something new on the mix!

For more info, visit: