FIRM Racing News: January 2012


A Message from Wendy and Bill: New Year’s Resolutions


Happy New Year! January, a time of resolutions and new beginnings, is a wonderful time to begin planning your upcoming race season. Whether your goals focus on conquering your weakest segment in the sport, placing higher in your race category, or moving up to a longer distance event, be sure to include goals that support your original reasons for doing the sport—to stay healthy and have fun.

At F.I.R.M., our new year’s resolutions center on offering a wonderful race series that helps area triathletes meet their goals in a fun and supportive environment. And we plan to enjoy ourselves tremendously while doing it.

Here are just some of the highlights for 2012

  1. Extensive race calendar including sprint, Olympic distance, and half ironman distance triathlons, pool swim triathlons, duathlons, and 5ks at some of the best race venues in New England.
  2. FREE race--Race five F.I.R.M. triathlons/duathlons in 2012 and get a free sprint triathlon or duathlon in 2012.
  3. FREE entry--Register yourself and four of your buddies for one F.I.R.M. event, and receive a complimentary entry in that same event.
  4. $10,000 cash and prizes at FirmMan Rhode Island
  5. Reasonable entry fees for all race categories including the relay division
  6. TWO sweet Quintana Roo triathlon bikes as the grand prizes in the F.I.R.M. Race Series Sweepstakes
  7. Ask a Tri Coach—Email access to a USA Triathlon Certified Coach to answer your specific triathlon questions. Email questions to and include 'Ask a Tri Coach' in the subject line. 
  8. Great sponsors—Fuelbelt, Vmps, Quintana Roo, Steve The Bike Guy, NRG Bars, Hammer Nutrition, Marathon Physical Therapy, Much Ado Marketing, and



Tis the Season to Lose Body Fat

By Elaine Vescio, USA Triathlon Certified Coach with Vmps

While it may add buoyancy and keep you a little warmer during cold open water swims, excess body fat slows you down in races. If you want to improve your triathlon results in 2012 (and put the hurt on your training buddies) lose excess body fat now.

The reason I say ‘now’ is because losing weight is stressful on your body. You want to avoid combining the stress of weight loss with the stress of your more intense, in-season training and racing, otherwise you may end up with poorer workouts, impaired recovery, and disappointing race results.

So how to go about losing body fat? Well, there are a slew of diets out there with a variety of ‘benefits’ according to their advocates. There are diets that assuage metabolic inadequacies, speed up your metabolism, teach your body to preserve glycogen and use fat for fuel, allow you to lose weight without feeling hungry, and avoid sugary highs. Many of these diets are unnecessarily restrictive or complicated; most are based on pieces of scientific research and anecdotes. In the more than two decades since I studied Human Nutrition at the University of Massachusetts, I have seen plenty of diets come and go, and well come and go again. Yet one simple equation that has never stopped working often gets ignored. 

Calories Out > Calories In = Weight Loss

Eat fewer calories than you burn in your daily activities and workouts if you want to lose weight. To better fuel your body and promote overall health, you should base your food choices on nutritious foods—whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, lean dairy, and nuts. Sounds a tad too simple, right? The science of weight loss is remarkably simple; the challenge is maintaining the discipline to make better food choices over the long term.

For quite a few years, I have been helping triathletes apply the same determination that they use in their training and racing to make the dietary changes needed to reach their race weight and to better fuel their training and racing. Here are ten tips I have found to be effective for most people.

10 Tips for Triathletes Looking to Lose Body Fat

  1. Log all food, drink, and exercise in a nutrition software application that tabulates calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein, and provides a nutrient profile of the diet over a specified period of time. Yes. It is a pain to track everything, but it makes you more cognizant of what you are taking in and how well you are (or aren’t) fueling your body.
  2. Weigh yourself once a week on the same scale and at the same time of day. Track your weight in your nutrition software application. This way you can determine if you need to make additional adjustments to your diet to achieve your weight loss goals.
  3. Establish long term goals and interim objectives. For example, goal--lose 10 pounds by April; weekly objective--lose 1 pound each week.
  4. Plan your tactics for reaching your goals and objectives. For example, decrease calorie intake by 500 calories a day or no eating after dinner.
  5. Be accountable to someone with your weight loss efforts--a coworker, diet group, nutritionist, or coach can help you stay on track when the novelty wears off. A significant other or friend can be helpful in this role if they are trying to lose weight too, otherwise they may look the other way if you start to falter in your efforts to lose weight.
  6. Expect that you will feel hungry at times. When you are in negative calorie balance, your body will send signals that you should eat—growling stomach, slightly light headed. This is nature’s way of trying to keep you from starving to death. It’s normal, so have a plan on how to deal with it such as eating a low calorie snack, drinking water, or keeping busy with work or housework.
  7. Immediately get back on track if you over indulge rather than deciding that the day is blown and you will start anew in the morning.
  8. You may not be able to adequately fuel your workouts if you are training a lot while in negative calorie balance. It’s simple math. You need a certain number of grams of carbohydrate, protein, and fat to adequately fuel your body. If you need to restrict calories to lose weight, it may be impossible to get in adequate amounts of these macronutrients. That’s why it is better to avoid dieting during the race season, and it is extremely important to make nutritious food choices given the calorie limitations.
  9. Use sports drinks, energy gels, and recovery drinks immediately before, during, and immediately after workouts as a way to try to offset the macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein) deficit described in #8. Usage before and during workouts helps to minimize reliance on glycogen stores for fuel; usage immediately after helps to take advantage of the limited window following workouts when your body is most efficient at restoring glycogen levels.  
  10. View losing excess body fat as an essential component of your triathlon training. Small decreases in body fat can result in big improvements in race splits and can decrease the likelihood of injury.  
As you plan for your race season, consider whether losing body fat would help you reach your triathlon goals in 2012. If the answer is ‘yes’, then try incorporating the ten tips listed above in your efforts and find out for yourself that the simple weight loss equation listed earlier in this article really does hold true.

Vmps Biggest Loser Contest

Sometimes You Got to Lose to Win!


Check out this fun way to stay motivated in your quest to achieve your weight loss goals.

Click here for more information


Smart Swimming This Winter

Smart swimming this winter can transform you into a stronger and more confident open water swimmer for the triathlon season. The goal of this article is to help you plan your winter swim training. First we'll take a look at the most common swim training mistakes made by triathletes, and then we'll cover the smart way to swim this winter.

Top Three Swim Training Mistakes

(1) Too many drills

(2) Too much slow steady paced swimming

(3) Too many master's swim sessions
Doing too many drills leads to slow, drill-like swimming, and does very little for developing your aerobic or anaerobic systems for swimming. There are those who promote the notion that some type of horrendous neural memory will become imprinted in your brain if you swim imperfectly. Don't worry; it won't happen. The really fast swimmers got fast by swimming fast, not by endlessly doing drills.
The next mistake is endlessly swimming slow, steady laps. You will remain a slow swimmer, and will most likely get breathless and somewhat freaked out during the swim starts of triathlons if all you do is slow, steady swimming in the pool. 
And the final mistake is relying on traditional master's swim programs to get you faster. These programs work well for triathletes who were competitive swimmers in high school or college; these athletes tend to have good swim form. Most masters swim programs don't provide enough work on form and mechanics to help a person without a competitive swim background improve his/her stroke or swim form. 
So What Should a Triathlete Do? 
Work on form and speed. This time of year each of your swim workouts should include drills in the earlier part of the workout and fast intervals in the latter part of the workout. Include at least one workout each week where the drills take up more than 50% of the workout time, and at least one workout each week where the drills take up about 25% of the workout time. The non-drill part of the workout should consist of fast intervals with a brief rest in between each interval. 
Examples of Two Useful Swim Drills
Hand-Lead Side Balance Drill teaches you to balance on your side while swimming instead of swimming with your body flat on the water, and how to lengthen your body in the water. 
Lie on your side with your belly button facing the pool's wall, your lower arm extended in front of you under the water, your other arm flat against the side of your body, and your face either to the side or in the water. Use a flutter kick to move your body through the water and press with your lower arm to raise your hips so that your upper foot is barely breaking the surface. When you reach the other side of the pool, swim the next 25 yards on your other side. Focus on balance and elongating your body throughout the drill.
Underwater Switch Drill teaches compact swimming and the correct timing for one arm to initiate the pull while the other arm recovers to the front. The recovery for this drill is done under water. 
Begin with the Hand-Lead Side Balance Drill with your face in the water. Sneak the top arm along the side of your body to the front keeping it close to your body. When you see your palm in front of your nose, spear that recovering arm to the front. At the same time, initiate the pull with the opposite arm and push the hand back until it reaches your hip. As you spear the recovering arm, roll your body all at once so that you are back to the original position, but on your other side.
Examples of Freestyle Interval Sets
4 x 125 yards done as 25 yards fast arm turnover, 25 yards strong kick, 25 yards medium pace focus on form, 50 yards fast (10 seconds rest after each 125 yard interval)
3 x 200 yards done as 100 yards at a strong pace, 50 yards at a medium strong pace with a focus on form, final 50 yards fast (15 seconds rest after each 200 yard interval)

For additional help with adding form and speed to your winter swim training, check out the Vmps Power Swimming Program, coached swim workouts that incorporate this training philosophy. So change up your swimming this winter with a focus on form and speed. Then reap the benefits of being a stronger, more confident swimmer next triathlon season.




Vmps Power Swimming


These coached swim workouts are designed to help you become a stronger, more efficient swimmer. One class emphasizes improving swim form; the other emphasizes improving swim endurance and speed. Choose the class you need most or take both to really fly.




Registration is Open

Registration for most of your favorite FIRM races is open. Remember to sign up early for the Sudbury Sprint Triathlon and the Littleton Appleman Triathlon as those races sell out quickly. You spoke, we listened….based on feedback from our athletes, we returned our Holliston Triathlon to its original distances—0.5 mile swim, 15 mile bike, and 5 mile run.



Win a Quintana Roo Triathlon Bike


We are pleased to announce that two lucky participants in the 2012 FIRM Race Series will win a new Quintana Roo triathlon bike. That’s right, two winners! Quintana Roo, the official bicycle sponsor for the 2012 FIRM Race series, has donated a new QR Seduza triathlon bike (MSRP $2,299) for one lucky gentleman to win, and a new QR Dulce triathlon bike (MSRP $2,099) for one lucky woman to win. So don’t despair if Santa didn’t leave a little something with two wheels, aerobars, and Shimano components under the tree. Thanks to Quintana Roo, you just might win one this season without having to be good all year long.


 A Basic Training Log

By Don Vescio, Certified USA Cycling Coach with Vmps
There is a lot of software and publications that enable athletes to track their training information.  Over the years, I found that:
  1. Many athletes initially are too ambitious and attempt to capture a significant amount of data for each training session, only to have their logs fall out of date because they are too complex or time intensive to maintain on a regular basis.

  2. Even when data is collected, it seldom is reviewed with any regularity or consistency in approach; while there may be a lot of valuable information recorded, it is not used to assess performance and evaluate future schedules.
What I've suggested to many athletes over the years is that it's better to keep a simple, consistent record of their training in a format that is not burdensome to use.  What follows is a checklist of items that one might want to include in a simple daily training log.

Data Collection

Collect the following information in your training diary.  Use a spreadsheet’s graphing function to make it easier to see emerging patterns.  Items with an asterisk are optional.

1.    *Hours of Sleep

2.    *Waking Pulse

3.    *Body Weight (nb, record once per week, same day, same time)

4.    Type of workout session (eg, 5 minute big gear intervals; hill repeats, etc.)

5.    Time of session in minutes

6.    Average heart rate for session

7.    Training Stress Score: product of time of session and average heart rate (tss=time * avg hr)

8.    Perceived Effort (see graphic below)

9.    Brief notes/comments

10. *Advanced Training Stress Score: (for those looking for more granularity in their data)

 atss=(time*avg hr*perceived exertion)/100


Perceived Exertion

Probably one of the most useful ways to gauge the intensity associated with a training session or race is to record one's perceived exertion, which is a relatively subjective assessment of how one felt during exercise.  Use the following modified Gunnar Borg Scale to record the intensity levels of your training sessions and races.  Over time, variances in evaluation will normalize to a personal standard that will remain consistent throughout the season, and from year-to-year.

10Maximal:  Almost impossible to continue; completely out of breath; unable to talk
8-9Extremely Strong: Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity; can barely breath and speak a single word
6-7Very Strong: On the verge of becoming uncomfortable; short of breath; can speak a sentence
5Strong: Heavy breathing; conversation punctuated by gasps
3-4Moderate: Moderately heavy breathing; can hold short conversation
2Light: Can exercise for hours; relatively easy to breath, can hold a conversation
1Very Light: Basic movement and activity

A Sample Log Entry (click image to enlarge)

What Do The Data Mean?

On December 15, I slept a total of 6.5 hours and my waking pulse was 36 BPM.  I monitor my waking pulse for variations--if there is a significant spike in my waking pulse, I assess whether I am on the onset of an illness or whether I might be fatigued.  If the spike continues for more than a couple of days, I may consider adjusting my training sessions, either decreasing their intensity or their overall duration to assist in recovery.  Similarly, I track body weight on a weekly basis to see if there are any emerging patterns that might necessitate attention.  Rapid weight loss is a potential flag for over-training, among other possible issues.

My Workout Session column contains my planned workouts.  In this example, my planned workout is to do three big gear, low cadence (~50-60 rpm) intervals, each of which is nine minutes in duration.  The Comments field confirms whether I completed my workout as planned, along with any additional notes.

The data fields contains the duration of my workout session in minutes (I generally round to the nearest five minute interval), my average heart rate for the session, and my perceived exertion.  TSS refers to the stress, or intensity of the session.  The simplest way to obtain this value is to multiple session time by average heart rate, which will provide a basic measure of exercise intensity over time.  I like a little more granularity in my training data, so I record an advanced training stress score (see item ten, above).  Advanced training stress is the product of session time, average heart rate, and perceived exertion.  In order to make this number more manageable, I divided this product by 100.

Acute and Chronic Training Stress
While factoring in perceived exertion into TRIMP calculations (whether the TRIMP calculations are based on HR values or wattage values) does a pretty good job in getting an accurate sense of the intensity of a specific training session, it only provides insight into a specific point in time.  Athletes tend to forget that the effect of training is cumulative, which can lead to exhaustion and over-training. 

There are two different types of training stresses that we need to consider: acute and chronic.  Think of acute training stress as the short-term impact of a training session.  For instance, we know from practical experience that we will be tired the day after an interval session, so we try to build in easier workouts between intense workouts to facilitate recovery.  Similarly, chronic training stress should be regarded as the cumulative effect that training has on use over an extended period of time.  For instance, most good training programs will be based on a pattern of relatively intense of training cycles that might extend over a period of a month or two, followed by one to two weeks of light activity, again to facilitate recovery.


Putting It All Together
Successful coaches and athletes consider the following variables when developing and updating weekly, monthly, and annual training plans:

  • The duration of training sessions
  • The physiological stresses of training sessions
  • The short-term (seven day rolling average) acute physiological stresses of a training program
  • The long-term (say, forty day rolling average) chronic physiological stresses of a training program


For multisport athletes, it is critical that metrics are used to do like-kind assessment within specific sport sessions, as well as metrics that can assess the overall impact of multiple sport training session.  What is important to keep in mind is that whatever method being used to calculate session stress  should be considered over short and long-term horizons and that individual session scores have value only when taken in aggregate.   The easiest way to see emerging patterns is to graph acute and chronic training stress over time:

The chart above tracks both my acute (blue) and chronic (red) training stress for the months of November and December, 2011  Note the significant variations in intensity as signified by the peaks and valleys described by the blue line; this line is marking a pattern of intense workouts, followed by recovery sessions, on a weekly basis. 

What is more informative is the pattern described by the red—the chronic—line in that accumulated training stress has been gradually increasing since the beginning of November.  Based on my annual plan, I would anticipate that the red/chronic line will continue to rise for the months of January and February, after which I have scheduled two weeks of easy to moderate training to prepare for my next macrocycle.  As I accumulate more data as the season progresses, the peaks and valleys of these initial curves will flatten, making it even easier to track long-term trends.


A good coach will help you collect and interpret data associated with your training sessions.  It is not enough to gather lots of information; it is important to both collect data that will be useful, and carefully analyze the data on a regular basis within the context of your short and long-term goals.


Vmps Computrainer Classes



Group Computrainer classes are probably the most effective way to train for cycling, especially when they are designed by Don Vescio, a US Cycling Certified Coach and a world class time trialist. Check out the expanded winter class schedule, and train smart on the bike this winter so you can 'ride like Don' this summer.


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Race Highlight: Wrentham Duathlon



A perennial favorite, the Wrentham Duathlon is this region's multisport season opener. With its festive atmosphere and carefully planned race course, this professionally organized event is a wonderful way to kick off your race season.


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