Posts tagged triathlon
Q and A with Boulder Triathlete and Coach Michael Lovato
Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

1.     How did you initially get involved in triathlon as a competitor?

I was a freshman at the University of Texas at Austin, and I had been uninvolved in competitive team sports for the first time in my whole life. I was doing some running, a bit of weight lifting and generally just missing out on the camaraderie and challenge of doing sports with others.  I saw that UT had an intramural sprint triathlon, so I signed up, was challenged immensely, and was hooked. I raced for the next 22 seasons!

2.     What are some of your career highlights as a professional triathlete?

My first Ironman win was special. It was 2003, and I had been an up-and-coming pro up until that day. It gave me confidence I could compete against the world’s best, so that was a true highlight for me. Other highlights include my three Ironman wins, three top-ten finishes at the Ironman World Championship in Kona, and above all, meeting my wife at a triathlon in 1999!

3.     What role did treatment including massage, physical therapy, etc. play in your weekly training routine?

I got injured once in 1999, and was so terrified it was going to happen again that I did everything I could to research recovery and preventative work. Throughout the peak years of my career I got massage twice per week; I consulted and utilized some of the top PT’s in Boulder and Austin, typically at the first sign of a problem.  Due to this, I was able to stay almost completely injury free my entire pro career.


4.     What motivated you to make the transition to coaching at the end of your professional career?

I had been coaching part time for 12 years, and that coincided with my peak years of racing professionally. I always loved the teaching and motivational aspects of coaching, so when I was done racing, it was natural to channel all my time and energy into coaching full time.

5.     Lovato Performance Coaching is growing with both amateur and professional athletes, what separates your services from other coaching services in Colorado?

I don’t know too much about how other coaching services work, but I can say that I truly thrive on putting a lot of time and energy into each of my athletes—from professional to amateur. I find it immensely satisfying to see my athletes reach their goals, and to see them grow confidence along the journey.  We also have a lot of fun. I believe the sport should be fun, and that we should be serious athletes without taking ourselves too seriously!

6.   Do you have a favorite type of athlete or individual to work with?

I don’t think I have a favorite type, because I do get equal satisfaction out of seeing my top male professional win his first Ironman as I do seeing my oldest athlete do things he never believed he could do.

7.     As a former professional athlete and coach are there common mistakes you see athletes make in regards to training, competition, or recovery?

Yes, I believe that people vastly underestimate the importance of having a good, yet balanced diet. I believe athletes need to sleep more.  And I believe that most athletes struggle to rest enough, and they tend to push too hard—we should only ever give 100% on race day, not in daily training.

8.    Where do you see the sport of triathlon in 5 years?

I hope to see our professional athletes have a better chance at making a living. To find a way for the sport to be better marketed to the masses, and to draw in the interest of the general public as a healthy way to live their lives.  I believe there is a win-win with the right companies who could invest in triathlon as a means to make our country healthier.  And I hope we get more challenging races—I believe we have seen too many folks just want flat and fast—it’s not all about the PR, folks!

Q and A with Boulder Professional Triathlete Nicole Valentine
PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Torres @ATV Photography

PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Torres @ATV Photography

1. Can you tell us a little bit about what got you into triathlon?

I grew up as a swimmer and then switched to cross country running in high school and college. At the time, I had friends who were doing triathlons and always thought that if I could get my hands on a bike, it would be fun to try one. While living abroad in Costa Rica after college, I finally bought my first bike – a mountain bike and did my first triathlon there after a few years of endurance mountain bike racing. It was an absolute blast and I ended up placing first female by a decisive margin. I was hooked.

2. Were you competitive in other sports?

Yes, I grew up playing every sport possible – soft ball, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, swimming.

3. What are some of your career highlights in endurance sports?

In 2015, my last year as an age group athlete, I came in 5th at the Ironman World Championship in Kona and 3rd at the Xterra World Championship in Maui two weeks later. I won the Outrigger Double Award for the second year in a row for the fastest combined time at Ironman and Xterra World Championships. What was particularly memorable about this accomplishment is that I actually fell and crashed on the mountain bike midway through the Xterra race and broke my collarbone. Determined to finish the race if I could, and defend my title, I got back on the bike. I finished the technical mountain bike course and then was able to overtake some of my competitors on the run to place third. Standing on the podium with a sling on my arm was my proudest moment to date in endurance sports, as I knew I had given it everything in that race.

4. What brought you to Boulder for training?

In 2015 I had my sights set on trying to obtain a pro card in Xterra off-road triathlons. I had heard about what a great place Boulder was for training due to the altitude, ample roads, trails, and mountains for running and biking, as well as sports injury specialists and support facilities like MEND, and of course, the number of elite athletes and training groups. I convinced the firm I worked for to let me work remotely, and came out to Boulder for eight months to try the lifestyle.

5. Tell us a little bit about your training philosophy, especially in relation to staying healthy and injury free.

I’m finding that the training itself is just one slice of the pie and in order to support the elite athlete lifestyle and heavy training, you need to put as much emphasis on nutrition, recovery, and injury prevention, otherwise the training cannot happen.

6. What's your favorite recovery food?

Sweet potatoes and Healthy Skoop protein powder. I eat sweet potatoes pre workout, during training for fueling, and for post workout recovery – I love them! I’ve been switching over to a vegan diet and have found that Healthy Skoop plant based protein powder has been amazing for ensuring I’m getting enough protein in and I love the taste.

boulder-triathlete-lovato performance-nicole valentine

PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Torres @ATV Photography

7. How important are the small things, like stretching, weight-lifting?

I’m finding this year that all of the small things – sleep, nutrition, recovery, stretching, pre workout muscle activation, strength training, massage, PT, etc. make the difference between just getting the workouts in (and constantly battling oncoming injuries), and nailing every training session consistently and making huge fitness gains as a result.

8. What role does Physical Therapy play in your training?

Physical Therapy is a critical piece of the recovery puzzle. Whenever I feel that my body is taking a hit from the intense training load, I know that I need to get PT work done in order to keep training going and prevent a full blown injury from happening.

9. How many workouts a week are you doing?

On average, I have 2-3 workouts a day and about 16 workouts a week. It’s a very high training load.

10. If you could be successful at any other sport, what would it be and why?

I think I might be good at Ultra running. I’d love to give it a try! I know so many amazing runners in Boulder and am so inspired by the mileage they put in!

11. What's the hardest decision you've ever made?

Leaving a successful career in marketing for a financial services firm on the east coast to turn professional as a triathlete and move to Boulder. It has been a bumpy and incredibly difficult transition, but I am happy to be pursuing my dream. I know that this is what I’m meant to do.

12. Who makes you laugh more than anyone?

My coach, Michael Lovato. He has a great sense of humor which is so appreciated when we are jumping in the pool at 5:45am for swim practice. I wouldn’t be able to endure such a tough lifestyle without his great coaching support and the camaraderie of my Lovato Performance teammates.

13. What are some of your competitive goals for 2017 and 2018?

This year, my goal has been to place on the podium in Ironman races and so far I’ve been quite lucky to do so with 6th place at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico and 5th place at Ironman 70.3 Peru. I’m finding that nailing the nutrition, injury prevention, and recovery is making the difference. I hope to keep climbing the podium steps in the pro field!

Which Disciplines Contribute Most to Triathlon Performance?

Triathlon athletes have varying distances to compete in from shorter sprint races to longer Ironman distance events.  As the events progress from sprint to Olympic to Ironman distance the percentage of time spent in each discipline (swim, bike, run) adjusts with the distance.  Research has shown when comparing the Olympic and Ironman distances athletes will spent a greater percentage of their time running with the longer races while the biking percentage stays relatively stable (Lepers et al. 2013).  Not surprisingly, an athletes time spent during the biking and running sections, due to their duration, has the greatest impact on an athlete's time and performance.   These are often the areas where athletes can have the greatest impact on their overall performance.  

A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the impact of each of the three disciplines on Olympic and Ironman triathlon performance (Figueiredo et al. 2016).  The authors analyzed performances from the top 50 male and female triathlon finishers over a 26 year period.  Within the Olympic distance races the authors noted significant decreases in both swim and run times, but both bike and run times significantly became faster within the Ironman races.  Within the Olympic distance, the run followed by the bike discipline showed the greatest impact on overall performance, but these disciplines had similar contributions to performance in the Ironman event.  

This study indicates the importance of focusing on run performance in the Olympic distance, but Ironman athletes should focus on both the run and bike disciplines to improve their performance.   

High Intensity Interval Training Improves Endurance Performance

Among Boulder endurance athletes many training variables are utilized to promote beneficial adaptations within our bodies.  These adaptations to the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems lead to improved future performances in practice and competitions.  One training variable includes interval training where athletes complete portions of endurance exercise at a high intensity followed by a recovery period.  As these intervals are completed, athletes are able to train at this intensity for a longer cumulative duration (multiple intervals) than if they tried to complete the same intensity and duration over a single bout.  High intensity interval training (HIIT) programs, where the intervals are held close to maximum efforts followed by recovery periods, are gaining momentum among endurance athletes.

A recent article in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research examined the impact of HIIT programs among triathletes (Garcia-Pinillos et al. 2016).  Athletes were timed on a sprint triathlon before being divided into two groups: one continued their current triathlon training and the second continued their training except substituted their run training for HIIT.  Athletes in this group completed 3-4 sessions of HIIT/week consisting of 100m and 400m distances, as well as, 30-120 second run intervals over 5 weeks.  At the end of the 5 weeks all athletes were tested again on their sprint triathlon performance. 

The authors reported improved run and swim performance after the HIIT leading to faster times among the trained group.  This study adds evidence to support the use of high intensity, low volume interval training among endurance athletes. 

Swim Pacing's Impact on Triathlon Performance

Swimming is the opening leg of the triathlon race and many athletes utilize this leg to establish position for the upcoming bike and run events of the competition.  Swimming remains the hardest and often most dreaded of the 3 triathlon components for many competitors.  For this group of competitors, a race strategy for the swim should be considered improve their performance and place them in a stronger position to enter the cycling event. 

A recent experiment was conducted to determine the impact of pacing on triathletes' swim performance.  Wu and colleagues (Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2016) examined competitive, trained triathletes placing them first through a 750 meter swim time trial.  After the trial, athletes were placed in three pacing groups during 3 different sprint distance triathlon events.  Authors matched the swim time during each of the 3 triathlons but adjusted the pacing in three ways: even pacing, gradual increased speed (90 to 70% of swim trial times), or gradual decreased speed (70% to 90% of swim trial times).  

The authors reported improved performance and lower fatigue levels in athletes who started at 90% and moved to 70% of their swim trial time.  In addition, these athletes had better cycle times and overall triathlon performances than those in the other two groups.

Athletes should consider utilizing pacing during their opening swim legs to improve performance and decrease perceived exertion.  

Is my endurance training enough to build strength and muscle mass?

Triathletes have no shortage of aerobic exercise each week as they train for all 3 components of their sport, but often what they leave out is strength training.  Strength training has been shown to reduce injury risk and improve performance in swimming, cycling, and running.  The impact of this training is most noticeable in the athlete’s economy during each component of the event allowing them to sustain a higher power output, at a relatively lower level of aerobic capacity, compared to individuals who do not strength train.

In an older study authors examined the impact of strength training on muscle strength and muscle size among athletes who completed resistance training, running, or swimming for at least 10 years (Klitgaard et al. 1990).  The authors reported older athletes who completed resistance training had muscle cross section area and strength similar to younger sedentary individuals.  Surprisingly, the subjects who only competed running or swimming activities had similar muscle cross sectional area and strength to their sedentary peers.  The authors concluded that the regular performance of only endurance exercise was not able to prevent the loss of strength or muscle size associated with the aging process.

Endurance athletes are encouraged to perform regular strength training to slow the effects of aging and to improve their performance within their sports.  To learn more about how to incorporate strength training into your workouts contact a local Physical Therapist.