Ironman Lake Placid 2017 Debrief


Congrats to Jon Fecik Coached athletes who race the last couple of weekends!

For IMLP...
Kam Shahid 10:14 1 hour PR. 
Ted Breault, 10:49. 
Stephanie Mismas battled a mechanical but finished anyway. Adriana Castillo got sick pre race but gave it her best shot.

James Michael Harrington crushed the Nantucket sprint for a 6 minute PR.
Corey Heinz ran 45 miles at Spitfire. Wow!
Amy Margolis was just off PR pace in her marathon.
Gene Vaca dropped a 30 minute PR on the Olympic distance.
MichaƂ Rawrot crushed his OD race. Well done crew! It's an honor to work for you!

Pre Ironman Lake Placid 2017 Q&A

Chattanooga 70.3 Race Report Sponsored by Complete Human Performance

The Lead Up:

What I’ve discovered about myself in the last year working with Marilyn is that I’m a fast athlete, but not necessarily a strong and durable one. I can move pretty fast (although I always need to get faster), but I break down and slow down pretty easily. Ironman racing requires you to be very strong and it requires you to sustain your speed for a very long time. The main overarching goal has been to build strength across all three sports, but especially in my swimming and running.

To address this issue with swimming, we decided that I just need to swim more. I’ve been swimming more weekly yardage than I ever have (I previously did roughly 15,000 yards or less a week, this year I’m swimming about 25,000-35,000 yards with some 40,000+ weeks). I’m also swimming with masters in addition to doing a lot of resistance work with tools like the band and drag suit. 

To address this issue with biking, I’ve been doing more overgears than I have before (peddling between 50-60rpm, sometimes for 4 hours straight). We actually reduced the overall biking volume since I seem to be able to hold my bike fitness for a long period of time.

To address the strength issue with running, I’ve been doing more long runs, more long bricks off the bike, more trail running, and more weekly volume (averaging roughly 35-40 miles a week compared to the 20 that I was averaging last year).

I also lifted more than I ever have this winter, but the strength training volume drops a bit as the endurance—and namely the run—volume increases. In triathlon, there is only so much you can work on at one time and you have to choose how to load to produce the best outcome. Thus, my strength training is periodized. It decreases in the competition phase of training. I do a set of core and light weight exercises 1-2 times per week, but it’s mainly to maintain the strength that I have.

There is always some risk involved as you increase training load or change what you’ve done in the past. We’ve built my training slowly and carefully, but sometimes the body breaks when pushing the limits. This time, my foot broke down about 4 weeks before the race. At this point, I did a 70 mile ride at IM race pace followed by a 17 mile hilly run at IM race pace. I felt tired, but not out of the ordinary. I followed this up with two days of active recovery and no running. On the second day, my foot felt a little tight but I didn’t think much of it. I had a short 3 mile run three days after the brick and a slightly longer run the day after that (about 8 miles with some intensity). After the 8 mile run, I felt some soreness in the top of my foot. It was enough that it warranted getting checked out. I rested it immediately and got it checked by my first go-to for any injury, Dr. AJ. AJ said he didn’t think it was a stress fracture, but noticed that a tendon near the cuboid bone was “pretty jacked up.” I rested it for another week and the pain came and went for what seemed to be no apparent reason.

All the while, I did some pool running to keep in the best neuromuscular shape that I could. When the issue didn’t seem to get any better, I decided to see a podiatrist, Dr. Jeff Delott, to get an x-ray just to make sure I wasn’t harming myself with more running. The x-ray confirmed that I did not have a fracture and that I could continue to use pain as my guide as the race approached. I continued to alternate running on the road with pool running going into the race. I took one full week off of running, ran 10 miles broken up over the next week, ran 16 miles broken up over the following week, and ran 4 miles the week of the race. Almost all of this was at a low to moderate intensity which wasn’t optimal, but it was the best that I could do without risking further injury.

The Race:

I went in with my best swim fitness ever. My goal was to race the swim as hard as I could unless I found myself in the front pack. If I swam with the front pack, I would sit in. If not, I would swim hard on my own no matter if I was pulling other athletes or not.

The race started off normally. I pushed hard at the beginning and got dropped by about 350 meters or so as we swam up river. Although getting dropped is never my goal, I was happy to see that I got further with the main group than I ever have before. I took that as a win and got to work pushing as hard as I could.

At the end of the swim, I knew there was one guy was behind me because he touched my foot occasionally as we went along. When I got out, I realized I ended up pulling the whole second group along with me (about 6 other guys) including Matt Russel who would eventually go on to win the race. I came out of the water a minute and thirty seconds behind the main group which is a personal best for me. Usually I come out with a 3 minute gap in a wetsuit swim and a 3:30-4 minute gap in a non-wetsuit swim. This shows that the increase in volume is helping. I know I worked hard because after the race, my shoulders and latts have never felt so sore.

I came out of the water with Russel and another athlete named Blake Becker. Russel and Becker ran slightly ahead of me into T1. I wasn’t 100% sure of running in bear feet, so I admittedly took the first part of the run on the conservative side.

I had a fast transition and came out of T1 first. Russel came around me hard in the first mile. I lifted my pace to stay with him. At this point, I think there were 4-5 guys in the group plus a race official on a motor cycle. I was second. As I struggled with my shoe dials for a bit, Russel pushed forward and Becker came around me. I sat behind Becker and got myself together, getting my shoes adjusted. I looked down to see my power meter wasn’t working. After playing around with it for a minute or two without getting it to work, I just disregarded it and focused on the race.

We dropped 1-2 riders behind us and Becker kept in close contact with Russel for about 15-20 miles. At that point, Becker started to slow a bit and Russel pushed on. This was about the first time where I looked at my HR and saw it was about 155 or so. The effort felt about right, not too hard, but not easy either. With this information, I made a conscious decision to let Russel go and stick with Becker. It was down to three of us plus the official. Although the effort felt easier and easier (and based on my HR info where my HR drops throughout the entire ride, the effort actually was getting easier…HR 165+ out of T1 dropping to 150 towards T2), I decided to hang behind Becker. This was a tactical move that I committed to for the rest of the ride with the idea that I would conserve energy and have a better run. At about mile 50, 2-3 guys came around us, but I chose to stick to my plan.

With a little less than 2 miles from the finish, I went over a rail road track and got a flat in my front tubular. I decided to roll it in. Obviously, this slowed me down and I got gapped quickly. I did what I could to conserve time and ride into transition as safely as possible. As I got into transition, I was happy to see that the main group of runners weren’t too far up the road. I was about two minutes behind them.

The run was a big question mark. I knew that I would be able to run, but I wasn’t sure if I lost speed or strength due to the premature lift of the running load a few weeks before the race. It turned out that I had a lot of strength, but not a whole lot of speed. I made sure the first mile wasn’t too fast and then ran by perceived effort for the rest of the race. I know I couldn’t have run much faster because my HR avg was roughly 179 with a max HR of 190 towards the end of the race. The heat wasn’t too awful in the high 70’s to low 80’s, but the humidity was very high which made for a tough run.

Concluding Thoughts:

Overall, I was the 15th pro. Considering how I felt going in, I think this race was a descent reflection of my training. My swim was my best ever, my bike was solid, and my run was strong, but not fast. I chalk the slower run due to the humidity and lack of speed training in the final lead up. It’s also challenging to prepare for the heat of the south when I live in Connecticut (it was 50 degrees when I left), but I’m getting better at training for this. I am not discontent with how I raced, although I always want to be faster. I’m hoping I can carry this fitness over to my race in Raleigh on June 4th. Stay tuned for more updates! 

A big thank you to the Rivers family for hosting Amber and I!

Looking for a coach? Don't hesitate to contact coach Jon with any questions at Also check out for more information about coaching in all areas of performance. 

Six-Week Brick Workout Progression

Jon originally published this on USA Triathlon's Multisport lab... 
Brick workouts are a tool in your workout arsenal to help you become a better duathlete or triathlete. At a basic level, a brick is a workout where you ride your bike and follow it up with a run. It gets its name from the feeling you get in your legs as the muscles transition from one discipline to the next. Ideally, your legs feel awesome coming off the bike, but more often than not your legs will feel like bricks!
Example: A good starting point for a brick workout would be a short aerobic run off an aerobic bike. You can make it more challenging by upping the intensity or adding in a run prior to the ride and finishing off with another run.
Basic Brick Sample: 45-minute aerobic ride + 15-minute aerobic run
Advanced Brick Sample: 5-minute run at 10k race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 40k effort TT effort + 5-minute run at 10k race pace effort

What does it do?

Brick workouts have a variety of benefits. From a physiological perspective, you will benefit from the aerobic or anaerobic exercise that you do as you bike and run. This will increase your overall fitness. You also build sport specific muscular strength from running off the bike on tired legs. From a skill point of view, you can practice your mount, dismount, transition and pacing at the beginning of each discipline or close to race pace intensity. From a mental point of view, you can build your confidence in both your transition skills and your ability to transition and run well off the bike without stopping.

Who’s it for?

Brick workouts are somewhat controversial in the elite world. Some professional athletes do bricks often while others don’t do them at all. If you have never done a brick, it’s a good idea to do one before your first triathlon/duathlon to prepare for the “brick” feeling and practice for race day. If you have been doing triathlons/duathlons for a while and have had trouble with transitions or running well off the bike, it’s a good idea to do them in order to build more sport-specific preparation for race day. If you need a muscular endurance workout alternative to running hills, it’s also a good way to build muscular endurance. If you don’t have trouble with these things, you may choose to work on something else instead.

Key Points for Brick Workouts

1. Warm up well — you can always extend the warm up if needed.
2. If possible, do this workout on the week day and time that your duathlon or triathlon will be held. This will allow for enough recovery time in between weeks. This will also help your confidence going into the race since you’ve done a number of dress rehearsals on same day of the week.
3. Follow the same nutrition and hydration plan in training that you will follow on race day. That way you will know if your fueling plan works well. It will also give you time to change something if the fueling plan needs tweaked in the first couple of weeks.
4. It’s better to be conservative in the first round. You want to see a steady improvement in power or speed as the workout progresses. If you find yourself failing at the end of the workout, you may have gone too hard.
5. Run and ride at or slower than the power/pace that you plan to run/ride on race day; you don’t need to go faster. Leave the true speed work for another day.

Turning the Brick Workout into a Six-Week Progression

Warm up (25 minutes total)
5-minute walk
5-minute jog5-minute build to race pace effort by the final minuteJump on bike for 5-minute easy spin5-minute build to 105 percent of race pace by the final minute5 minutes easy back to “transition” area
Main Set
See week progression below.
5-10 minutes of easy walking, jogging or spinning
Main Set Week 1: Get the Process (25 minutes)
  • 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 85 percent of race pace effort + 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
Main Set Week 2: Build the Effort (50 minutes)
  • 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 85 percent of race pace effort + 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 95 percent of goal race pace effort + 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
Main Set Week 3: Build the Effort and Volume (75 minutes)
  • 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 85 percent of race pace effort + 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 95 percent of goal race pace effort + 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at goal race effort + 5-minute run at seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
Main Set Week 4: Build the Effort and Volume (75 minutes)
  • 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 95 percent of goal race pace effort + 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 95 percent of goal race pace effort + 5-minute run at 15 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at goal race effort + 5-minute run at seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
Main Set Week 5: Back Off, Maintain Confidence (50 minutes)
  • 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 10-minute ride at 85 percent of race pace effort + 5-minute run at 30 seconds slower than goal race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
  • 5-minute run at 10 seconds slower than race pace effort + 10-minute ride at goal race pace effort + 5-minute run at race pace effort + 5-minute easy walk or jog
Week 6: Race Week

This brick progression is one great way to prepare both mentally and physically for race day. You can always modify the progression to meet your specific ability level and goals. Good luck and enjoy the process.

Complete Human Performance Sponsored Training Update

I have had some ups and downs this month with my training. All winter I piled up the swim and run miles, basically doubling, and in some cases tripling, the volume that I’ve done before. Based on some workout “tests," I made some really good aerobic and strength gains in these areas and I’m happy with where I’m currently at prior to my first 70.3 race next month in Chattanooga.

My winter block of training culminated in a really great training camp with Endurance Corner. Although I was an assistant coach, I still clocked roughly 29 hours over the course of 7 days. Prior to camp, I found myself with a low grade cold which most likely came from the flight down to AZ. I was able to train through it, but wasn’t feeling 100%. When I returned to CT, I realized that I needed a solid couple of weeks of rest. Usually I only take about one week of a spring “break” but this year I was still feeling a little run down and demotivated going into the second week post camp. I ended up taking about two weeks training on the low end of my aerobic endurance which allowed me to overcome my cold. I am feeling much better now and have had a real upswing in my training over the last 10 days. It helps that the weather has improved in the north east and I’m finally getting to spend some more time building my speed!

I thought I would log some of the notable things I've done in the past month…

Hardest workout:
6 mile TT up Mission Rd in Tucson. I have not put that sort of effort up for a while and ended up misjudging the effort and coming up about 2-3 minutes short. I pushed my way through those last minutes anyway and ended up throwing up my breakfast! But… I did not get passed by Ironman Champ Justin Daerr, he didn't know we were racing…but in my mind we were racing.

Heaviest Volume Week
29 hours

Lightest Volume Week
13 hours

Longest Ride
Kitt Peak- 114 miles  

Longest Run
20 miles 

Longest Swim

Favorite Workout
5:30 Brick as…
4 hour ride including two rounds of (6x4 minutes (1:30) at OD race pace + 5 minutes easy + 40 minutes at IM-HIM race pace effort + 10 minutes easy)
Fast transition to 1:30 run as (20 minutes easy + 10x3 (1) minutes at 10k race pace effort + 5 minutes easy + 15 minutes at HIM race pace effort + 10 minutes easy cool down

Most Calories Burned In One Day
7,000 calories for workouts + 3,000 calories to live = 10,000 calories

This Month’s Netflix Binges
The People VS. OJ Simpson, Rectify, That 70’s Show

Books Read/Am reading
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris, 1776 by David McCullough, The Hybrid Athlete by Alex Viada

Favorite Beer this Month
Left Hand’s Milk Stout- need to get my last Stouts in before the Spring Beer Season gets rolling!

Thanks to the Linder Family for allowing me to stay at their house while in Pheonix! They went above and beyond and I felt part of the family! 

JJ, Nina, Luke, and Kara Linder. Each one has done a triathlon. Currently, Luke and Kara are World Class Junior Fencers. 

Kara Linder Kicking Ass! I didn't make it to a competition, but Luke and Kara helped me learn a few steps during my stay. 

I love elite performance in all sports. I love watching other athletes crush it!

Run with Jon Fecik Coached Jennifer Landsdowne at camp.

Happy after finishing a very steep climb. 

Most important session of the day... Katy Perry's Music Video Review...Verdict...Good Form...

Loved swimming in this pool!

Wake up, smile, workout, eat, sleep, repeat.

The Views in Tucson are extraordinary.

Ironman Pro Lisa Roberts, left, and my Coach Marilyn Chychota, right. 

Waiting for that next interval...and the next...

Best part of the swim sessions...chatting...

Run up to a great view!

Promising young pro Laura Mathews getting stronger.

IM Winner Justin Daerr (laying in blue) is already tired...and we haven't done Lemon yet!

Fun up Lemon. It took about 2 hours to ascend this time.

Outdoor pool, under water action!

Bringing the Branford Road Race to AZ!

Another beautiful view captured by Jeff Fejfar

Dive start gunning for a 50PR!

Ironman Champ and Coach Marilyn reminiscing about the time she would allow herself to eat more than one donut hole. 

Walter McCormack pulled me up Lemon like a Mack Truck! 

Final ride with some new friends.

Rolling around the CT Salt Marshes and feeling better post camp!

Almost time to swim around the island!

Thanks to Endurance Corner for having me on as an assistant coach. Thanks to Jeff Fejfer for so many great camp photo's. 

Looking for a coach? Don't hesitate to reach out. Don't worry, I wouldn't prescribe you as much volume as I do! I coach each person as an individual and prescribe workouts in a way that will help you get the most out of yourself! E-mail me at for more info.  You can also check out the Complete Human Performance Website at


Congrats to Amy Margolis on a PR in her 50k this weekend. She's on her way to a 50 mile race and the big dance at Ironman Kona! How does she do it? She trains consistently, she is open to new training approaches, she lifts for strength, and she shows her mental toughness on every one of her workouts! Way to go Amy!

Congrats to Tom Burland who had a great 4 mile race in NYC! Despite some challenges in race week, he still squeezed out one of his best 4 milers yet! 

Looking for a coach? Don't hesitate to reach out to Coach Jon at 

Training Update

I always think it's cool to see what sort of training Pro athletes are doing. This is just to give you an idea of what a pro athlete's week might look like. My average weekly load is around 15-23 hours which is probably the average to the lower end for a Pro triathlete. My training is swim heavy right now because I'm trying to improve my muscular endurance in the water. Most of my training comes from Coach Marilyn Chychota, but some of the swim workouts are from Yale Masters. 
Note: I would not ask just any athlete to handle this type of load. My training over the last 10 years has allowed me to do this. But... I think its cool to see what is possible.

2:45 minute ride:
Warm-up: 20min easy ;
- 5min, build to HR of 150 bpm ;
- 2min easy ;
- 4 x [30sec fast / 1min easy] ;
- 2min easy ;
- 4 x 15min HR 150-155, 80-90rpm, 5min easy between.
Cool down: easy
Power was around 280-300 watts for the efforts, easy stuff is around 100-150 watts.
45 minute run off the bike
Build each 15min
Start out nice and easy and each 15min build pace and effort. Last 15min should feel like relaxed steady work.
Descended from 8-6:30 pace
AM Run 1:30, HR 140, 8 minute pace
Mid-day Swim Set 1 hour
200warm up
8x 25 every 4th fast :30
6x 25 every 3rd fast :30
4 x 25 All fast :30
20x 50 paddles only :50
400 swim steady
4x 25 All fast :30
6x 25 every 3rd fast :30
8x 25 every 4th fast :30
400 pull steady
25's fast were around 13 and 50's I was coming in on :30
PM Run 30 minutes easy with 4x15 second pick ups
I descended from 12 minute pace to 8 minute pace over the course of the run.
40 minute run around 7 minute pace
25 minute circuit with weights
1:15 swim set by feel
12 x 25 Kick Dec 1-6 :45
1500m Buoy / Band/ Towel
1500m Snorkel, Fins, Paddles
1500 Swim Descending each 500m
12 x 25 kick fast with fins :30
100easy back
1:30 Ride including
 - 8 x 2min ;
- 60-65 rpm,
- Aero bars,
- HR 155-165
- 1min recovery.
- 5min easy ;
- 10x 1min power singles ;
- 53/11, stomp down and crank for each one.
- 1:30min recovery.
Power was 350 for the 2 minute efforts and 450 for the 1 minute efforts. All this felt pretty easy and my legs felt strong. 50-150 watts for the easy stuff.
Swim with Masters: 1:40 swim
8 x 100 Choice on 1:30- loose and easy
Kick 4 x 100 Choice on 2:10
Pull 400 Free - focus on technique, still head, good body roll to gain distance per stroke
Swim 8 x 25 Choice on 40 (odd 25s - Build; even 25s - Fast)
Swim 6 x 300 Free on 4:10 - Descend 1 to 5, Swim #6 loose & ez to recover
Swim 16 x 50 on 55, 1:05, 1:15
1-4 Choice not Free
5-8 Free
9-12 Choice
13-16 Free
On all reps, focus on strong underwater kick off walls
Finished with about 2000 pulling for a total of 6k
1 hour run
Jog to track (10min jog warm up)
Strides and drills- Butt kick, Side Side shuffle, High knees, Frankenstein walk.
Track: 10 x 200/200
Jog to cool down
200's done at 5-5:20 minute mile pace
3 hour aerobic ride, watt average about 190.
3 mile run off the bike

1:15 treadmill set
including rounds of 2 minutes at 2%, 2 minutes at 4%, 1 minute at 6% all at 7:15 mile pace.
Swim with Masters: 1:40 swim
Swim 600 Free
Swim 8 x 50 (2 x around the IM) on 50
Swim 6 x 25 Free on 30 building each 25
(100 Free on 2:00 - focus on great technique first time thru, descend to 95% on 4th time through
4 x (200 Kick on 4:10 - strong effort
(300 Pull on 4:50 - focus on technique each time, allowing legs to recover from kick and preparing for next 100 Free
Swim 1 x 100 Free all out [following 4th 300 pull] on 2:00
Swim EZ 100 Recovery on 3:00
Swim 12 x 25 Choice on 30 - odds: technique, evens: FAST
Swim EZ 150 Recovery
Swim EZ 150 Recovery
1500 paddle pull descend set from 1:15-1:10 pace at the end for a total of 6k
25 minute lift circuit
Easy swim with Masters, 1:20, legs day off

Swim 15 minutes loose and ez
Kick 5 x 150 Choice on 3:10
8 x 100 Choice on 1:30 - Go 50 Choice Drill/50 Swim focused on technique
3 x (4 x 50 Free on 40  then EZ 150 Swim on 3:00) 
3 x (4 x 25 Choice on 30 (40) then EZ 150 Swim on 3:00
Swim down
4.5k total

Looking for a coach? I have some openings on my roster. Don't hesitate to reach out to Coach Jon at 

Reaction to Poor S&C Coaching at Oregon

Reaction to poor S&C coaching at Oregon:
1.) When you are screaming, it's hard to listen. When you aren't listening, you are missing something important. When you are missing something this important, you send athletes to the hospital. When they are in the hospital, they can't practice and get better.
2.) Mastering sport demands consistency. No one workout makes you that much better. The structure and timing of many workouts over the course of months and years does make you better. When one workout wrecks you for the rest of the week (or longer), then it just got in the way of the process which makes you better.
3.) Cultivating internal motivation within athletes is challenging for coaches, especially when working with team sports, but it will last longer than a single practice full of yelling. Yelling to motivate is just a band-aid that doesn't resolve a deeper issue.
4.) Yelling leads to a sense of dependency on a coach.It tells athletes that they need a coach in order to yell at them to motivate them to practice. This does not create robust athletes. Great athletes should want to get better-- master skills, eat healthy food, practice good sleep habits-- if the coach is present or not. Coaches should not be dictators that tell athletes when they are allowed to breath. Coaches should be supportive figures that help athletes learn to listen to their bodies and make better decisions that lead to positive performances.
5.) On being Tough: "People have a misconception on what toughness is. It isn’t about gritting your teeth and powering through an obstacle. It’s not about mud runs and silly things that look difficult but aren’t. Toughness is about making the right decisions under stress and fatigue. It’s about having the ability and wherewithal to slow the world down, make the right decisions or choose the correct coping strategy."
6.) Read this article:

Three Health Benefits of Triathlon Training

“Oh no, are we out?” I asked my wife after I got home from a run. “Yes,” she said. “OK. I will be back.” I sprinted out again, this time to my car to speed to the grocery store and buy three packs of Hershey’s Chocolate Bars. Why? Because I like them. Like, REALLY like them. As I stood in the checkout line waiting for what seemed like forever, I found my attention zeroing in on a copy of Men’s Health magazine. There is nothing like a picture of a ripped, healthy looking dude next to the words “27 ways to get healthier” to make you feel a little guilty about going to the store to buy three packs of chocolate bars.
Shoot, I thought. Am I unhealthy? I generally think of myself as a healthy person. I do eat, on average, one chocolate bar a day, but other than that I eat my vegetables, I rarely get sick, I have the energy to do the things I want, I train daily, and I race triathlons at a professional level.  
As I savored the milky richness of my chocolate bar on the way home, I pondered over the question some more. If I am healthy, what makes me healthy? I always assumed that triathlon made me healthy, but does it? I came to the realization that health is made up of a whole lot of things that are constantly spinning through time; things like genetics, nutrition, physical fitness background, physical fitness ability, lifestyle choices, environment and even relationships. The one way triathlon primarily impacts my health, however, is through physical exercise. Exercise is fundamental to our success as triathletes. We exercise and we exercise a lot compared to the average American. We need to exercise in order to go as far and hard as we do on race day. When we exercise in an intelligent way (i.e. train), our bodies adapt to the stress. They become stronger and more resilient. In turn, we get healthy side effects such as a stronger heart or more efficient lungs.
Now, I am certainly not oblivious to the fact that triathlon training and racing can negatively impact your health due to things like overtraining, overuse of specific tissues or simply pushing the body too hard in hostile conditions. Athletes hire me as a coach, in part, to help them avoid these things. With that said, triathlon is a healthy sport to participate in due to its positive impact on our cardiovascular health, brain health and bone health.  
1. Triathlon Training Promotes Cardiovascular Health
A good working cardiovascular system is essential to our health. Our arteries are the blood vessels that take blood away from the heart and toward the muscles. It is very important for the arteries to work properly so they can bring nutrient-rich blood to our organs. When we are young, our arteries are elastic, flexible and open. As we age, however, our arteries become thick and stiff. Through a process called atherosclerosis, the arteries become blocked up with a substance called plaque. This plaque is the buildup of fats such as cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids. Plaque restricts blood flow to organs in the body, contributing to heart disease, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the leading cause of death in the United States (National Center for Health Statistics, 2016).
In triathlon, we do a substantial amount of training to support our racing. One major benefit of this training is that it staves off atherosclerosis by preventing and, in some cases, reversing plaque buildup. This works because of how exercise impacts the number of little carriers that deposit fat and remove it from our cells. These carriers are called lipoproteins. There are the low density lipoproteins (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol,” which deposit fat into our cells. There are also the high density lipoproteins (HDL), known as “good cholesterol,” which remove fat from our cells. LDL can attach and deposit fat into the arterial walls creating plaque while HDL can remove the plaque from arterial walls. When we exercise as much as we do to prepare for triathlon, LDL levels decrease and HDL levels increase. The fat carried by the HDL is taken to the liver and repurposed. Ultimately, this process helps us maintain our arteries. Although our triathlon training does not necessarily make us immune to atherosclerosis, it helps to slow the process and sustain normal blood flow to organs like the heart and brain.
2. Triathlon Promotes Brain Health
The same exercise that helps us maintain good arterial health also supports our brain. When we exercise, studies show that the body increases blood flow to the brain, which contributes to positive structural and functional changes.
A study in Physiology looked into the impact of physical activity on adult rat hippocampal neurogenesis (AHN) or, more simply, the creation of brain cells in the area of the brain associated with memory and higher thinking skills. Researchers tested three groups of rats, modifying their exercise program. The researchers compared a control group of sedentary rats to a group that did high intensity intervals and another group that did aerobic training. The scientists found that where there was no significant change of ANH in the sedentary rats, the high intensity trained rats showed a modest increase, and the aerobically trained rats showed the most significant increase. This suggests that the aerobic training we do as triathletes could possibly increase brain cell numbers and improve our ability to think.
Two other studies, both using human subjects, found that physical exercise is associated with improved white matter integrity. White matter is responsible for the speed, coordination and connections between parts of the brain and the rest of the body. Breakdown of white matter has been shown to be associated with diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s (Bergland, 2014). Another study found that aerobic activity improved white matter integrity in active children between the ages of 9-10 (Chaddock-Heyman et al., 2014), while Zu et al (2014) found that aerobic activity improved integrity in “low fit” participants ages 60-78. Regardless of the age we begin training, the aerobic training we do to prepare for triathlon can help improve the structure of our brains.
Another study looked at changes in brain function by using the long-term data of a human study called Coronary Risk Development in Young Adults (Neurology, Burzynska et al., 2014). In the 1980s, participants did a treadmill test to exhaustion. The same participants repeated the test roughly 30 years later and followed it up with cognitive testing. This cognitive testing required them to remember lists of words and distinguish colors from text. The results showed that those who were fitter at a young age performed better on the cognitive tests later compared to those who were less fit at an early age. This is, perhaps, the most convincing study that suggests that the fitness that we build through triathlon, especially if we start early, can actually improve our memory when we are older.
3. Triathlon Promotes Bone Health
A third way that triathlon supports our physical health is by helping us build strong bones. Our bones are constantly remodeling themselves, which means they are continuously breaking down and building back up. When we are young, the body builds bone quickly, which leads us to have strong, dense bones. As we age, bone replacement slows and osteoporosis, the process where bone replacement is slower than bone removal, can occur. In fact, one in two women and one in four men over the age of 50 will end up getting osteoporosis fractures (Lawrence, 2011).
One way to prevent low bone density is by doing load bearing exercises like the strength training and running that we do to prepare for our triathlons. In their review, Layne and Nelson (1999) show that the majority of studies on load bearing exercises and bone health create denser bones and prevent fractures. Lifting weights is likely the best exercise for building bones and we can add this into our training once or twice a week. Just as exercise does not necessarily prevent the occurrence of atherosclerosis, weight bearing exercise does not necessarily prevent osteoporosis; however, if we eat nutrient-rich foods and do weight bearing exercises, we can help lower our risk of disease.
One thing that sets triathlon apart from other sports is that it has both weight bearing and non-weight bearing components. While other sports such as running or basketball require you to put force on your bones almost all the time, triathlon does not put as much stress on the bones since the training is divided between swimming (non-weight bearing), biking (non-weight bearing) and running (weight bearing). On the other side of things, triathlon training improves bone density unlike sports that are primarily non-weight bearing such as swimming or cycling. On top of this, if an injury that could lead to a stress fracture occurs, triathletes can modify their training by decreasing the volume of running and increasing the volume of swimming and/or biking. This keeps the athlete engaged and contrasts to other primarily weight bearing sports that might require the athlete to take time off from their sport.
A Final Note
Too often, I see people in the gym trying to get healthy and waging a war against their body to do it. I see them pounding out miles on the treadmill and limiting their calorie intake. They clearly hate every minute of it. One great thing about sport is that it can refocus your mindset. You come to your workouts with a purpose that goes well beyond improving your health. You work out in order to master a set of skills like ascending a hill or improving your catch to help you reach your goals. The focus toward mastering skills and improving performance holds our attention much longer and is more fun than working out for the sake of being healthy. Further, when you train as an athlete you begin to look at your body not as an enemy but as a tool. You listen to it and it teaches you what is healthy. You start to understand that it needs fuel, sometimes even Hershey’s Chocolate, in order to energize your workouts. You learn that it needs a certain amount of rest so that you can continue to improve. And when you don’t fuel your body well or give it enough rest, your body lets you know.
When we focus our eyes on sport, good health becomes a byproduct. This does not give you a pass to disregard your yearly checkup with your doctor or to avoid all fruits and vegetables because you can get by on just white bread; however, the great thing about triathlon is that, when you train consistently, you will improve your cardiovascular health, your brain health, your bone health and many other aspects of your health without really thinking about it.

Looking for a coach? Jon Fecik races as a professional triathlete, is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach, and works for Complete Human Performance. He guides a vast spectrum of age-groupers, from those who finished their first sprint triathlon to those who qualified for and competed at Nationals, Worlds, 70.3 Worlds and the IRONMAN World Championship. Follow Jon on FacebookTwitter and Instagram
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Chaddock-Heyman, L., Erickson, K. I., Holtrop, J. L., Voss, M. W., Pontifex, M. B., Raine, L. B., Hillman, C. H., & Kramer, A. F. (2014). Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 1-7.
Lawrence, Jean (2011). Building stronger bones. Web MD. Retrieved from
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National Center for Health Statistics. (2016). Health, United States, 2015: With Special Feature on Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. Retrieved from
Nokia, M. S., Lensu, S., Ahtiainen, J. P., Johansson, P. P., Koch, L. G., Britton, S. L. and Kainulainen, H. (2016). Physical exercise increases adult hippocampal neurogenesis in male rats provided it is aerobic and sustained. Physiology, 594, 1855–1873. doi:10.1113/JP271552 

Zhu, Na, Jacobs, David R. Jr., Schreiner, Pamela J., Yaffe, Kristine, Byran, Nick, Launer, Lenore J….Sternfeld, Barbara (2014). Cardiorespiratory fitness and cognitive function in middle age. Neurology, 82(15), 1339-1346.