Q & A With Coach Mel

I submitted this article to be published in Her Sports magazine in January of 2007.  Might be useful for some of you starting to plan your own season in the coming weeks…


1. I’m a triathlete and want to become faster in the cycling leg. I have a sprint tri coming up in a month. How can I get fast, quick?

The first rule in all endurance training is that you must be patient.  It takes time to effect change in your fitness.  Becoming a better endurance athlete is not just about becoming technically skilled; it is about becoming a finely tuned endurance machine.  You will not achieve your best potential in one month, period.

That said, you can choose to focus on the cycling leg of your upcoming sprint triathlon and train to have your best possible performance on the bike.  By focusing on cycling for the next month you will have time to discover your strengths and weaknesses.  When you go back to a balanced triathlon program you will be better able to prioritize workouts to either exploit strengths or minimize weakness. 

The first thing that you must do when planning training for a specific event is that you plan backwards from the day of the event to the present when you lay out your training schedule. If you start from race day you need to realize that you cannot gain any training benefits in the last 10 days before an event.  This leaves about 20-21 days until the event that you can use for training.  The last 10 days you will plan a taper where you focus on active rest to help you get the most out of the fitness you have.  The exact training you are able to do in those 21 days will vary according to your ability level.  It would be prudent to break up the 21 days into three seven day cycles with rest built into each one.  More training will not equate to better cycling if you don’t recover from the training.  Planning recovery is as important as planning the training.

My advice would be to focus a bit more of your attention to cycling in order to improve.  You might want to focus on improving your cadence, getting a better aero position or practice riding at race pace to determine your limits.  You are still training for a triathlon so don’t ignore the swimming and running if you want to put together your best overall race. 

To cycle better, you might want to devote a few more speed sessions per week at the expense of some of your run speed sessions.  You will find that increased fitness on the bike translates to a stronger run without extra run training.  Cycling fitness increases with mileage and experience which takes time to develop.  So in the short term, have reasonable expectations and plan carefully for your best results.

2. I’m training for a half Ironman coming up in six months. Should I schedule some shorter races (sprints, Olympic-distance, even 5k or 10ks) before then as practice? If yes, how many and how should I space them out?

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Embrace Winter!

From www.womensadventuremagazine.com.  I contributed a couple quotes on this one… Smile

By Courtenay Johnson and Michelle Theall

Remember snow days? No school. Snowmen. Fort fights. Sledding. You could be soaked to the bone with icicles hanging from your ears, and you’d still fight with your mom to let you stay out a little longer. Baldwin taps her inner child regularly. “I love to ride my mountain bike after it snows,” she says. “Sure you’ll probably crash, but falling in the soft snow doesn’t hurt as much, and you’ll feel like a kid again.” Play. No one says you need to run or bike or snowshoe if these sports aren’t for you. Try a game of snow tag, build an igloo, go ice skating, join a hockey team, or make a snowboard jump in your backyard.

Tip: Play. No one says you need to run or bike or snowshoe if these sports aren’t for you. Try a game of snow tag, build an igloo, go ice skating, join a hockey team, or make a snowboard jump in your backyard.

Find some reliable and fun friends to train with. It makes it tougher to duck out of a workout if you feel you’re letting someone else down. – Chrissie Wellington.

Reward yourself

After she comes in from the cold, Wellington treats herself to a “movie night with warm pj’s and slippers.” While it doesn’t take a PhD to know that positive reinforcement works, sports psychologist Julie Emmerman emphasizes its effectiveness. “It’s a lot easier to get out the door and get your body moving if you know, once you return, there is your favorite cup of hot cocoa, tea, or a hot shower, waiting for you,” she says.

Sign up for an event

If you can’t find friends to hold you accountable, sign up for a snowshoe race like the Tubbs Romp to Stomp. Set a goal and train for it. “But choose goals that are realistic, enjoyable to pursue, and obtainable,” Emmerman advises.

Tip: Before the snow flies, check out www.tubbsromptostomp.com and select the race nearest you. Or try www.active.com for a broad selection of events.

Snowshoeing and skate-skiing give me a great workout in a short amount of time so I don’t have to be outside for as long. – Melanie McQuaid

Limit your exposure

Three-time XTERRA world champion Melanie McQuaid typically chooses activities that are accessible and pack a wallop. “Snowshoeing and skate-skiing give me a great workout in a short amount of time so I don’t have to be outside for as long,” she says. Likewise, Shayne Culpepper, twotime Olympic runner and co-owner of Solepepper Sports, suggests working out right outside your door: “This way you can have access to warm, dry clothes post-workout, and a warm drink isn’t too far away.”

Tip: On the worst winter-weather days, select an activity close to home and try 20 to 30 minutes of intense training.

Hit your favorite summer trails

McQuaid is a fan of finding complements to what she loves doing in the summer to get her through cold-weather workouts. “Find a sport that’s like the winter version of a summer sport you like to do,” she advises. “I cross-country ski the trails that I love to mountain bike. I get to see the trails in a whole new way.”

Tip: Scout a few of your go-to warm-weather hiking and biking trails and think about how you can use them when they’re covered in the fluffy white stuff.

Quality winter outdoor apparel will be a purchase you won’t regret. – Shayne Culpepper


We saved the most important tip for last: Buy winter gear that works and keep it handy. Culpepper suggests spending money on well-constructed clothing that will keep you warm and dry in the elements. “Quality winter outdoor apparel will be a purchase you won’t regret,” she says. “Keeping dry and warm on those cold, wet days will make [your activity] less daunting. There are tons of new fabrics and lightweight pieces out there.” According to Emmerman, having the right gear and apparel also builds confidence and “provides an added sense of psychological reassurance.”

Tip: Assemble a winter arsenal and have it ready to go each morning. Don’t be afraid to wear the same outfit every day. Most base layers come with antimicrobial features and are breathable enough to eliminate heavy sweating

Stewart Mountain 10-Miler

I decided to put one last nail in my coffin this weekend and raced the Stewart Mountain 10 miler.  This after a week that started with me pretty much unable to walk and included one easy run to see if I could run at all.  The XTERRA Run Worlds really did ruin my legs.  So six days later I decided to run another 10 miles.  After my first plyometrics workout of the year. Yep, not so good.  My arse muscles were not at all happy.

So although I could not run uphill fast, I was fine for the flat rhythm sections and managed to run okay when it was flat to rolling.  The problem was the number of steep hills in this race which caused me to catapult backwards through the field at each one.  I also wasn’t saving myself any time by stopping to run around the puddles rather than get my feet wet (I really wasn’t committed to running fast.. only to running) so I think I was passed by at minimum two people every time I took the slow line.  The group that I was running with was pretty large at the beginning.  Unfortunately, my stop and run arounds cost me that pack and I ended up running pretty much alone before the hill and I slowed up considerably as a result.  To add insult to injury, because there was a slower start before us I ended up having to get my feet wet on the way back or wait for my turn to go through the slow/dry lines.  Should have just sucked it up to start with.  Another pair of cute pink Avias covered in goopy mud.

Although I would have liked to have run faster (I didn’t even get my fastest time for this course and I should have been faster) I would not have missed this race for the world.  Why this is not the most popular race on our local calendar I have no idea as it is the most spectacular run through the West Coast rainforest our area has to offer.  If you didn’t get your butt to Thetis to do it this year you should really make a note in your Outlook calendar to make it happen next year.  You certainly will not regret it!  What is 10 miles?  Seriously, you are gearing up for some of the biggest eating of the year.. you should put some miles in the bank in advance.

So anyhow I did manage to squeak the women’s win with Jessalyn O’Donnel taking a ver close second and Lysanne Lavigne in third.  Eric Findlay won the men’s event and we both took home sweet beer mugs to toast the holidays with.  Speaking of which, that race marks my last event in 2009.  It also means that I have gone from the Transition phase of training into Preparation.  I am no longer going to be able to behave poorly as soon I will be back at 100% training.  With Christmas and New Years coming I only have a significant plan for swimming but that in itself makes me behave as 5 am comes early.  We may only have a handful of late night Rock Band evenings in our future.  Well, who am I kidding… if the opportunity presents itself I guess I can have a nap.

Here’s a big fat thank you to Bob Reid for his support locally of my running.  Also to Frontrunners Westshore for putting on and supporting the local events that I think are the most fun.  Thank you to my local bio-mechanics:  Marcus at Leftcoast Health, Paul at Broadmead Orthopedic Physio, Day at Cedar Hill Sports Therapy and Dr. Vanessa Young.  Thank you for keeping the motor running this year!  Thank you to Ross for putting up with me and helping me to win a whole pile of races this year that did not include many of our intermediate sprints.  Thank you to Team Unlimited for rolling out an awesome tour and supporting myself and the other pro athletes in a meaningful and professional way.  I am so looking forward to another year!  Thank you to my sponsors, without which I would not be able to follow my dream of quitting my job to travel with the circus known as XTERRA, making our yearly pilgrimage around the United States.  Here’s looking forward to events in Canada next year!  Thanks to Avia, Specialized, Sundog Eyewear, Shimano, Maxxis, GU, USANA, Profile-Design, Pactimo, Saris, Titec, Nathan, Saltstick, Albabici, Sci-Con bags, Lazer Helmets, Probar, TYR and Genuine Innovations.  I am so lucky to have the opportunities I have.  I would also like to thank each and every member of MelRad Racing, for making the experiences from this year that much more meaningful, fun and rewarding.  I am so honored to have you guys want to race for my team and I hope that you took away a huge amount of experience from this year that will make you that much better next year. 

Which also leads me to our last note which is the 2010 team is in the last stages of selection.  Many athletes on the team are coached by myself but we did massage the numbers so that some really excellent athletes who recieve nominations could also come onboard.  If you are working on a nomination please send it in soon!  The team will be announced in early January!

Happy holidays… enjoy yourselves!


Canada Blocking Climate Change Talks?

If all of this is true, then explain to me why anyone is voting for Conservatives from Alberta to run our country?  I sure didn’t vote for those people…

The Urgent Threat to World Peace is … Canada

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peace-keeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petrostate. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation which has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

The complete article as written for the Guardian newpaperhttp://www.monbiot.com/archives/2009/12/01/the-urgent-threat-to-world-peace-is-%E2%80%A6-canada/

XTERRA Run World Champs 2009 – Where The Dinosaurs Roamed

One of the many downhills in the race with one of the many stunning backdrops.. photo by photowizard Nils Nilsen

This past weekend I flew to Oahu to take part in XTERRA’s Trail Run World Championships at Kualoa Ranch.  This is where they filmed the movie Jurassic Park and also a venue I visited for the Hawaiian Mountain Tour Stage Race when I was mountain biking and one year, the World Cup finals.  This time I went for a 21km offroad running race that attracted a mix of recreational, elite and triathlete runners from around the world (mostly the US) to compete for some cash and prizes.  I got shellacked.  Seriously!!  Despite three weeks of pretty focused running mileage I was just not fast enough to run with the girls at the front because they were all really, really incredible runners.  In fact, I think had I not done that training I would have had difficulty RUNNING the whole thing without walking.  Wow.  Having that experience was super cool and certainly motivating.  I ended up rounding out the top ten which was fine but I feel I have some unfinished business with that race.  The hills destroyed me and I ended up doing long run pace before five kilometers which was disappointing.  I was dead in the first three kilometers and never came back.  If I would like to do better I have work to do.  However, it was SO fun and incredibly beautiful and so, so worth it.  One word:  HILLS.

When you decide to challenge yourself with the hardest half marathon ever, I will give you an idea of what to expect: 

1.       The longest 21km, ever.

2.       Possibly the slowest 21km you will run, ever.

3.       The longest switchbacking climbs in a run, ever.

4.       The most long, switchbacking climbs in a row, ever.

5.       Seriously incredible ocean views from the top of said climbs.

6.       Steep freefalling descents in jungle surroundings.

7.       Foot thick, incredibly slippery mud in spots.

8.       The most heat and humidity you will ever experience in December (unless you are from Hawaii).

9.       The coolest venue:  set for movies like Jurassic Park and the tv show Lost.

10.     Some really fast people and some super chillaxed people but overall a super fun, relaxed vibe that XTERRA is known for.

The race was won by Fiona Docherty in 1:30.  She is a former duathlon world champion now focused on the marathon.  She was followed by Cindy Anderson two minutes later, the defending XTERRA Trail Running World Champion.  I would like to point out the top two were in a class of their own and also were the only two sporting running bum shorts which identifies an “elite” runner from just strong runners, triathletes or recreational runners.  Bum shorts say “my bum is all you are going to see today” and the race illustrated that perfectly.  Cindy is an absolute doll and is a super duper talent and I would say that although Fiona snatched the title with her years of experience, Cindy has incredible potential and is going to be back with a vengeance given she took a whopping six minutes off her winning time from last year.  That also kind of indicates the level of the athletes that arrived this year.. ten minutes faster winning time.  Wow.  Heather Fuhr was top former Ironman triathlete in third at 1:38 with Jenny Tobin taking fifth spot in 1:40.  I was tenth at 1:46 wearing baggy shorts which said “please lower your expectations of me at this event”. 

I thought the most inspiring performance I saw was of Fouad Fattoumy, the winner of the Challenged Athletes Division in 1h45.  Yep, Fouad beat me.  He would have beaten me by a much larger chunk of time if not for the fact we were leapfrogging each other each time he would stop when his leg would go numb and he would wait to be able to run again.  He was hit by a car on his bike and since then experiences spinal stenosis.  Him overcoming these difficulties is incredible.  When he was running he was running SO fast!  I was so inspired.  Although my “race” was over early (I was blowing to the moon in the heat and just didn’t bring it on race day) I was trying to run strong and steady and was just so impressed with the heart and passion that he had in his race.  I was content to just cruise it in, see the course, and wait for a better day in the future.  He was throwing it all down that day.  Awesome.  So, so inspiring and made me feel so guilty in succumbing to a bad day.  I had more in the tank and will use the lesson from him in my coming season.  Do EVERYTHING you can with what you have, even if it isn’t the best you have.  READ MORE….

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