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Meet the Ironcouple: Rafal & Alicja Medak

Meet the Ironcouple: Rafal & Alicja Medak

By Vinnie Santana, ironguides Coach – Bangkok.

The Ironman World Championships, Kona, shifted our focus to the training and racing of our qualified athletes. Among them were ironcouple Rafal and Alicja Medak. These Kona qualifiers have an inspiring story, especially when it comes to combining a successful (and demanding!) professional career as investment bankers, with high-performance training and racing.


Age: 38 (Alicja), 40 (Rafal)

Weekly work hours: 50-60

Location: London, UK

Relationship: Married – no kids

Weekly training: 14-20 hours

Coach: Vinnie Santana

Qualifying Race: Ironman UK

Rafal: 9h53 — 3rd M40-44

Alicja: 10h45 – 3rd F35-39

Training overview (Coach’s comments):

I started working with the ironcouple back in November 2010. Rafal was already familiar with The Method and our approach as he had been an ironguides athlete a while ago. He started triathlon training in 2005, while Alicja back then was only supporting and taking pictures. Alicja decided to learn to swim the front crawl and entered her first race in 2007, coming last out of the water but gaining plenty of ground after a decent bike and run to finish in the middle of the pack.

Alicja is a very talented athlete. But since she is relatively new to the sport, she had no experience in setting up a race (and training) strategy to suit her strengths and give her a better chance to achieve her goal (Ironman Hawaii slot). Our first step was to determine what course suits her best and where she should be spending most of her efforts come race day.

Rafal, on the other hand, had the experience and background, but was never able to nail the back end of his Ironman marathon, falling short of securing an Ironman Hawaii slot in his previous attempts. So that part of the race became our focus for him.

As in any new coach-and-athlete relationship, it took us a while to develop a deeper understanding on what were their strengths and weaknesses. Another worry was to keep them both relatively fresh and rested since their day jobs can be extremely demanding and stressful, with some intercontinental business trips here and there.

The first race was early in May at Ironman 70.3 St Croix. It was a disaster when it came to results, but great feedback on race strategy—we knew we wouldn’t be using that one ever again! The athletes stuck to the original goal, never doubted the coach’s strategy, and continued on their quest to the perfect race.


Then things started to fall in place at Ironman 70.3 Honu in June. We found what seemed to be a better race strategy, then tweaked it a bit before a half Ironman race on July 4 in the UK: the result was great. Right there we had found the strategy to be used at Ironman UK. The instructions were clear, “Just repeat it!”. On race day at Ironman UK, they both did a great job of executing the plan and we knew Kona slots would be only a consequence on how stacked the field would be that day.


What it Takes

The ironcouple approach comes down to a “No Excuses” mindset in their training. The two examples below are often shared with our high-performance athletes as a reality check of “This is the kind of athlete you will be racing against.”

– Rafal was on a weekend bike ride, got into a crash with a car—nothing too serious but it involved enough bruises and blood to leave anyone scared. He also had a cracked bike to boot. Rafal got home and, determined to complete his training, finished his session on his spare bike on the wind trainer.

– When the couple went to Italy for a training weekend, their Sunday long ride didn’t leave enough time to do the run they were supposed to do. They packed their gear, headed to the airport, checked their bags—and finished the brick run, running around the airport car park.

When you approach your training with the determination and willpower as Rafal and Alicja, come race day you are relaxed because your confidence couldn’t be higher. The ironcouple knew they did their best, and that their results would be only a consequence of training. Importantly, placing is something we tend not to worry about since we have no control over which other athletes choose to race as well.

For more information about the ironcouple and training via The Method, send an email to ironguides:

By Vinnie Santana

Vinnie Santana



* * * Your best is our business.™ * * *

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Ironman Busselton Course Review

Ironman Busselton is a common choice for triathletes based in Asia. In fact, it is the Ironman I usually recommend to many of our athletes doing their first one. The relatively easy access to Perth, similar time zones and mild temperature are some of the benefits of racing in Busselton.


And the course is very, very fast. Winners usually get close to the 8-hour mark, which is definitely the benchmark for a fast course. Since this race made its debut in 2004, pros have had to finish in 8:16 or faster to secure victory. The exception was 2005 when stormy conditions slowed the overall times—the top time that year was 8:27.


Swim (3.8km)


The one-lap swim takes place at the stunning Busselton Jetty. Athletes start on one side of the jetty and swim around it (which, incidentally, is fantastic for spectating friends and family). It is a wetsuit swim with a deep water start, which is something all athletes should be ready for. Swimming in a wetsuit, although it feels generally easier due to the extra flotation the suit provides, is also harder on your shoulders.


Training in a wetsuit is recommended to strengthen your specific swimming muscles, and to get used to the feel of the suit and the extra strain on the shoulders. However, athletes based in the southern Asian locations such as KL, Singapore or Bangkok, face another problem: they only have access to warm pools. The hot weather and water make training in a wetsuit not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous due to risks of dehydration and overheating.


A great way to simulate a wetsuit swim, without using the suit, is by swimming with a set of paddles and a pullbuoy. The buoy simulates the buoyancy of the wetsuit, while the paddles add the extra strain on the shoulders.


A long swim with the pull gear, broken down in short repeats, is a perfect workout to simulate race day, such as the following:

LONG SWIM – Strength + Endurance


25-35x100m, swum as:


* First 4 easy warmup

* Last 2 easy cooldown

* The rest ALL SAME SPLIT (meaning: start easy and hold the split)

* Maximum SUSTAINABLE pace

* NEVER burning lungs

* Aiming for DEAD ARMS

* Use XS or small Tyr Catalyst paddles + pull buoy (biggest you can find)

* 15sec rest after each


Don’t aim to destroy yourself aerobically in these! The goal is to swim steady—not to set best times—holding your best time that is sustainable for the entire set.


This set is about swim strength. You keep your heart rate down by using the paddles, while the pull buoy gets you positioned properly so you can focus on arm technique (which the paddles help with as well). It’s not a lung scorcher, so you are nice and recovered aerobically. Breaking the session down in shorter repeats gives you the same aerobic benefit as a straight swim but the short rest is enough to allow you to swim faster and with a better technique, teaching you good habits.

Bike (180.2km)

The three-lap pancake-flat H-shaped bike course can be fast and furious. In some years strong winds have been present.


As confusing as it sounds, the biggest challenge of this course is that it’s 100% flat. The problem lies in the fact that you get no break or resting period at all, as opposed to hilly or undulating courses on which you can coast and rest a bit when going downhill.


Busselton requires some serious bike endurance and strength, both leg and core, since you are supposed to ride on your aerobars for the entire bike leg.


It is important to do most of your long bike sessions on a flat course to improve your endurance and specific racing needs. If you live in a hilly area with very limited access to flat roads, an indoor trainer is a great option to work on endurance since it simulates the no-rest-or-coasting conditions of Busselton.


Apart from riding long and on a flat course on your weekends, a great way to simulate the later stages of the bike leg is by doing a negative split ride on the trainer in your time trial position, as described below:


1hr negative split ride as:


20min easy

20min moderate

20min hard


**race cadence (70-80rpm) and on your aerobars for the entire workout
Run (42.2km)

The new four-lap run course along the Busselton foreshore is also flat, which only adds to the neuromuscular fatigue of your already tired biking legs. At Busselton, there are no hills but there is also no rest!


Your muscles are firing at the same rate and your stride is exactly the same for the entire course. Unless you are a very experienced triathlete who is aiming for a placing, I highly recommend using a run:walk protocol, which provides you with a neuromuscular reset every so often.


In racing, aid stations may be our saving grace in more ways than just the opportunity to refuel. They give us a reason to stop or slow down for a short period of time. This, it appears, is enough time for a rest in neuromuscular patterns to occur. Many professional Ironman racers will walk through aid stations. This is simply because they have learned that taking on fuel is easier after walking while they also feel better when they resume running. These breaks seem to ward off fatigue.


A great way to simulate this scenario is by structuring your long runs with walk breaks to fuel, which will also give you the opportunity to run with a better technique, at a faster pace, and it decreases injury risk.


Long run structured as:


2hr20 to 2hr40 (depending on level, background, goals, etc) as:

9min run at 90 steps per minute

1min power walk for refueling


To sum it up, Ironman Busselton is a great experience, both for the first-time ironman and the veteran looking for a PB, but make sure you develop your endurance, learn how to use muscular resets on the bike and run, since the flat course can be extremely challenging.


Enjoy your training.

Vinnie Santana

Coaching Tips: Races in Asia – Ironman Western Australia

 – By Vinnie Santana —

ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

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Profile: Bevan & Vanessa Colless – Kona bound

ironguides Coach Alun ‘Woody’ Woodward:

2013 sept newsletter bevan and vanessaBevan and Vanessa Colless from Australia run a couple of physio clinics in Japan and have recently set up practice in Singapore. They also train and compete at the top of the age group ranks and are both heading to Kona this year. Both athletes are very focused and goal-oriented and have worked hard since taking up triathlon in 2005 to get to this point.



My first race was Phuket Tri in 2005. My first Ironman was Vineman in 2009. I have finished 10 Ironmans, started 13.

My background was in soccer and rugby. I first started with ironguides in 2009 when we signed up for our first Ironman.

I never swam at school but, like all Aussies, I swam in friends’ pools and on family holidays at the beach, and I would body surf a lot on holidays. Never did laps though.

My Dad was/is a bicycle tragic. His house has little model bikes everywhere—people give them to him as presents all the time now. He had a bike printed on his wall for years, cycled to work every day for 30 years and took us all (six kids of which I was the youngest) on bike holidays;  my Mum would drive the wagon and the kids would ride point to point from campsite to campsite. When I was 16, Dad and I did a charity ride from Sydney to Melbourne (1,000km).

I was a cross-country runner at school, top 10 in the state (NSW) for most of my high school years, until I discovered beer, girls, and played soccer and rugby for 20 years.


My first triathlon was in Phuket in 2006. My first Ironman was in Western Australia in 2009.

At school I did mostly gymnastics and diving. I loved doing sport so I participated in many other sports—tennis, water skiing, track & field, netball. After leaving school, I continued some kind of fitness by doing a few weights at the gym and running 20 to 40 minutes twice a week. I had never done any endurance type of sport. The longest run I had pretty much done was 10km.

I started triathlons in mid-2006. This was after I found this email in my inbox saying “Thank you for entering Laguna Phuket triathlon…”

My husband had kindly entered me without my knowledge!

I had seen my husband doing triathlons over the past year, so I knew a little bit about what was involved. I was a little concerned as I had not swam since school sports classes and I did not have a bike. So the next day I went to the pool and swam the distance. My confidence grew.

I thought I will buy a bike and start training, then decide closer to the race if I will do it.

The triathlon came before I knew it; I thought why not give it a go, my husband is doing it.

I really had little idea at this stage, I don’t recall taking any nutrition, I just had a drink bottle. I completed the race with a reasonable place in my age group. This was the beginning of a new lifestyle. I could see there was room for improvement so I wanted to do more triathlons: I loved the idea of doing something healthy, it is a good way to make an excuse for a holiday, and it was also something my husband and I could do together.

2013 sept newsletter bevan and yuki treadyAlso, our dog loves the training: he swims alongside me when I am in open water. He runs with me outside, and on the treadmill next to me when I am biking on the Computrainer.

I did mostly local Olympic-distance triathlons in Japan for the first two years. At this stage I thought Ironman distance was totally amazing—I never thought it would be something I would ever do.

My husband was slowly getting more serious in his training and increasing the distance of his races—and entering me in these races as well so I was also increasing my distances.

Before I knew it, my husband was now thinking of giving the Ironman distance a go. It was around this stage we joined ironguides. ironguides certainly changed our training and improved our performances.  I completed my first Ironman in Western Australia in 2009. It was a big day but not as hard as I imagined.  Since then I have done at least half a dozen Ironmans around the world (Roth, Challenge Copenhagen, Ironman Austria, Ironman WA three times, Ironman  Regensburg twice, Ironman Japan, Kona—wow that’s the first time I have actually put them down and counted, 10!).

I had a hiccup in 2011 when I had a bicycle accident the day before Ironman UK. I had to have a lot of teeth reconstruction work. My confidence to continue in the sport was crushed. I had lost confidence on the bike, I was worried about being hit in the mouth in the swim and I had lost fitness. My coach Woody slowly rebuilt my confidence. I returned to training pretty fast and decided that if I am going to return, I want to return to do well.

My goal to get to Kona only really developed after coming close to qualifying.  When I could see that it was within my reach, my drive to get it developed. I qualified in 2012.



When I started working with Bevan and Ness, it was clear very early they were high performance athletes and willing to work very hard to achieve their goals. While Bevan was quite clear on what this target was, Ness was more reserved in her goals!

As I have found with all such dedicated athletes, they are always wanting to do more and go faster in training: my main challenge as a coach was getting them to train at an appropriate volume for their development and put a program in place that would see them improve year after year and maintain motivation and health so they could achieve their goals.

Also, due to their jobs and a lot of traveling it was important to have a plan that could be flexible around travel but always working on a basic template to ensure development. I think we did a great job of this over the years and avoided injuries and illness.

From the very start, development of strength—not endurance—was my goal. Most athletes think endurance is what they need for Ironman. It was good to start with them early in their triathlon careers and see how well this approach has worked.

Tools of the trade

Bevan and Ness are very different in their approach to training: Ness will follow effort and time and does not use a Garmin, power meter or heart rate monitor, while Bevan likes to see the numbers and uses tools to his advantage—more to stop himself going too hard than as a guide in training!


Racing for Bevan and Ness was about enjoying travel and doing iconic races to start with. They did some great races and when seeing the level of performance they were capable of, the focus moved to looking at qualification races. I think they are both very versatile racers and capable of qualifying in most races but weather was a big factor in performance for them both.

With Ness weighing just 42kg and very little body fat, racing in the cold was just not going to work: this factor has affected many of Ness’s results over the years but a hot race in Kona is perfect for her so I am excited to see what she can do this year!

Bevan on the other hand is a heavier athlete and suffers in the heat so a cooler race, especially on the run, was always going to suit best in order to prevent the big fall-off in pace over the last 20km of the marathon that we typically see in hot races as core temperature just goes too high.

Another factor we had to look at with Bevan was natural speed. He is a fast athlete and it’s too easy for him to go too fast when feeling good, which impacts him later in the race. We use a Garmin on the run to limit the pace, especially over the first 5km of the run—when this plan is followed, a good run and race tend to follow! Using a power meter as a limiter recently has also seen Bevan produce some amazing bike splits.


With the nature of Bevan and Ness’s work we have used training camps a lot over the years. They would typically be 10 days of focused work where life was JUST triathlon—these really worked well for boosting endurance and confidence heading into their main races.

One of my favourite camps was for Bevan in Hawaii last year—he missed qualification in 2012 due to his choice of not carrying tools with him in more than one race, so he was punished when watching Ness race in Hawaii.

This camp was a little harder than sensible for sure but the form Bevan was carrying coming out of the camp was amazing, to the point that he was making some of the pros question their career choice when riding with them!


Ness qualified winning her age group in Ironman WA by an amazing 30 minutes, just a solid performance over the whole day.

Bevan secured his qualification in Canada with a devastating swim and bike performance coming off the bike in 14th place overall and then just needing to cruise around the run to qualify!

Alun ‘Woody’ Woodward, Certified ironguides Coach –

* * * Your best is our business.™ * * *

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What to expect from the new Ironman in Fortaleza, Brazil

Our Head Coach and former professional triathlete Vinnie Santana shares with you the secrets of a course he knows well. While Ironman Fortaleza, Brazil, has only just been announced Vinnie won an Ironman-distance event in Fortaleza back in his professional racing days.




A second Ironman race in Brazil was announced this week: the location is Fortaleza in the north east of the country and the date is November 9, 2014. The new race was announced by Latin Sports and published by Brazilian triathlon website mundotri, the event management company that has been running Ironman Brazil since 2001.

I’ve raced and won an Ironman-distance event (non Ironman brand) back in 2006 and it was to this date the most difficult race I’ve done among some other challenging courses including Kona and Korea. The article below will help you understand what to expect and how to get ready for this brand-new Ironman event.

Unlike the current Ironman in Brazil in Florianopolis, you can expect a palm-tree, hot-weather, tropical-feel type of event. Be aware as well that Fortaleza and its neighbouring towns are known globally as one of the best kite-surfing spots in the world; in other words it translates to possibly the windiest ironman race on the planet.

Wind tunnel conditions with the temperature of a sauna, this is Ironman Fortaleza.

While those conditions may not be appealing for athletes who want to PB over the Ironman distance, if you understand how to make the most of them, you will have a great experience and may place ahead of many of your competitors, especially those who are better suited to cooler climate events in locations that are far less windy.

Experienced Athletes

If you are an experienced ironman triathlete, you can expect a total finish time that is about one hour slower than on the traditional faster courses, where the winners typically come in between 8h10 to 8h30

The race I won in Fortaleza in 2006, I took 9h47 and that was coming off an 8h52 only four months earlier at Ironman Brazil. Be very conservative with your goals regarding time improvements and PBs when coming to Ironman Fortaleza.

Which athletes will do well on this course?

A runner who can handle the heat. This will be the difference between a decent race and a great race. If you can run a fast marathon off the bike in Fortaleza without walking (except through aid stations), you will place you very nicely in your age group.

Being a decent swimmer will also be more relevant here than in other races since the water temperature will likely be too high for a wetsuit swim. On the bike, aerodynamics will be of a great importance due to the wind factor, especially when it comes to bike fit; being able to also generate a high power to weight ratio will be key in this race. Show up lean, fit and ready to handle tough conditions and you will do well.

Let’s look into each discipline in more detail below.

Kona Slots

If you are chasing an opportunity to qualify for Kona, and you fit the description above, this could be your ticket. Unlike most other, faster races where any mistake or mishap can cost you that Kona slot, in a race like Fortaleza this is more unlikely to happen since it’s not so much a matter of “racing the man” but more a “racing the course” type of event. You may have a slow swim, get a flat on the bike, but if you can pull out a fast marathon, you are still very well in contention for a Kona slot, especially as — typically — age group triathletes aren’t fast runners.

If your goal is a Kona slot, I suggest you ignore what your competition is doing and face this as an individual time trial. Take all decisions based on the goal of getting to the finish line as fast as possible, and be patient if you need to give up a few minutes at various points during the race if that means you will save another dozen later on.

Getting used to the heat  

Be careful when trying heat acclimation techniques. Understand that your main goal in training for this event is to be consistent — doing things like running at the hottest time of the day, or training indoors in cold-weather clothes may hurt your ability to stay consistent for days.

Also, your ability to handle heat is something that you don’t fully control. Some athletes are genetically gifted to handle the heat better than others, regardless of where you come from or train at.


If you are coming from overseas, there are a limited number of direct flights to Fortaleza but they are worth it, since flying from Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo can be challenging as you will need to stop in Brasilia and there are only so many flights at reasonable hours. It’s not uncommon to board flights in the very early morning hours (1-2am) in São Paulo to make it to Brasilia before you get to Fortaleza. Study your itinerary and options carefully.

When in Fortaleza, make sure your accommodation provides you air conditioning in all rooms as some of the hotels can be basic. Stay out of the sun and avoid running between 9am-5pm at all costs as that it will take a lot out of you. Instead, stay in the AC and run early or late in the day.


Likely a non-wetsuit swim, with very choppy waters. You may want to train specifically for those conditions both in terms of technique and fitness. We like to use traditional pull gear such as paddles, pullbuoy and ankle bands to add a higher strength load to swim training.

Technique wise, aim for a higher stroke rate and higher hands on your recovery, because this is the most efficient way to swim in choppy waters.


While the specific course hasn’t been announced, we can expect a lot of wind — it will be strong regardless of the direction. In terms of the course profile, it will be relatively flat with some rolling hills thrown into the mix but no major climbs.

I remember from the race I did back in 2006 that the last 40km were brutal with a very strong head wind and smaller climbs, — you want to be ready for all sort of conditions, ready to tap into your strength when the legs are already deeply fatigued.

Pacing also becomes an important part of the equation. If this will be a two-loop course, it’s unlikely the wind direction will change, so pay attention to what you deal with on the first lap and expect the effort to increase on the second lap.

In training, you will need to do a lot of strength work pushing big gears, both at the end of your long sessions and also throwing in smaller sets in the middle of your rides, to simulate the conditions of the race.

It’s important to learn how to ride with all cadences since you want to maintain a good momentum both in a tailwind and headwind situation.

Road conditions can be very, very rough!

Choose your equipment carefully, especially those that can impact you negatively in windy conditions, such as disc wheels. I wouldn’t be surprised if the organizers decide to ban the use of discs on race day. I would also recommend you ignore all wind tunnel recommendations when it comes to hydration and go with what will allow to best stay fueled: I used a Camelbak in 2006 and it was a great choice!


Your goal for this marathon is to slow down the least! Your training and race day strategy should be based on that.

Walk every aid station to make sure you get enough fuel and electrolytes — a few seconds lost in each of those stations may save you several minutes if it helps you avoid bonking.

Aim to run with a faster stride rate, a more efficient technique in warmer conditions that will bring slower marathon times. If you can do a quick shuffle, you will build a “bonk-proof” run style.

Be also careful with your run training: doing a lot of speed work, while it does build general fitness, is not too specific and won’t help much on race day, the priority of your training should go to where it really matters for this day, as listed in this article.

And finally, be very patient on race day: while the course conditions will be extremely challenging, this also creates a great opportunity for those that can understand and play with it!

Vinnie Santana
Vinnie Santana, Head Coach
* * * Your best is our business.™ * *

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From broken kneecap to Sub-10 Ironman debut

Rodrigo TostaBy Rodrigo Tosta, ironguides Coach

When we pull the trigger and sign up for an Ironman race, we know planning and dedication will be crucial in the preparation for this lengthy race distance of an 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. Having a background across various types of sports such as mountain biking, adventure racing, boxing and rowing is a great start: not only because that means discipline has been part of your life, but also because your aerobic system is developed to a decent level.

This was the scenario of Bruno Simao, who registered for Ironman Brazil in May 2012 in the M25-29 age group. Once we started working together and I got some training splits, I realized he had good potential for a first-time ironman performance.

While planning his long term strategy, I made sure he would spend a lot of time training next to other, more experienced ironguides athletes in his home town of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, as Bruno—being a young, fast and inexperienced triathlete—had his issues with pacing. I knew the veteran ironguides athletes could teach him a few lessons during the training sessions as these guys collected several Ironman titles and Kona qualifying slots.

Things were going well a few months into the training program and he was achieving his training goals and improving his pacing strategy. Then, I got a very emotional email from Bruno as per below:

“It was my last hard session one week out before the Caioba Half Ironman, which is 8 weeks from Ironman Brazil. I had 10 laps of 14km to do that day and when I was closing the 9th lap, a car made a sudden left turn into a smaller road without seeing me, as I was riding fast and on the aerobars. There was nothing I could do, all I remember was flying over my bike and the car, and hearing all sort of noises from breaking glass to loud snapping, and I almost could hear something breaking inside my knee as I hit it very hard against the car.

“The MRI results came back: I had a cracked kneecap. The initial diagnosis was 10 weeks with no cycling or running, and my Ironman Brazil dream was over. It was depressing and hard to accept, I wanted to quit triathlon. However I got so much support from my friends and family that something strange happened: I grew a lot stronger and I was able to learn several different lessons with that accident.”

Since finishing Ironman Brazil was out of the question, we decided to start the race and do a Swim+Bike brick, doing only the first 90km loop of the bike course. With that in mind and considering the no-run and no-bike training for a while, it was a good opportunity to work on his weakness: the swim. I got him on a swim plan, sessions every day of the week with a lot of pull work (using the pull-buoy to avoid kicking). That was how we maintained his aerobic fitness while letting the kneecap heal.

Two weeks from Ironman Brazil we shifted the focus to the bike, and his plan had several double-bike days. Since his legs were not fit enough to push hard for too long, the double bikes were a great way to build bike fitness without stressing the kneecap, and it would be just enough to provide him the endurance needed to last the 90km of the bike course.

Race day came and along with it a lot question marks in Bruno’s mind. We weren’t sure if his knee could handle the swim and the first half of the bike without pain. Our idea with this race was to provide him the experience of being a first-timer in an Ironman event, but without pressure to finish the race or achieve a good result. Before the crash, we had a goal of swimming around one hour, to ride the 180km in about five hours, which makes it 2-1/2 hours per lap.

We were happy that on race day he managed not only to finish the swim+bike combo, but also within all the target splits.

During this Ironman trial, he could also learn a few race-day strategy tricks: we aimed for a fast swim start to get away from the crowd, and he would benefit from fewer people on the bike course, while those that were around him were experienced and fit athletes.

But the key learning experience was being able to watch the rest of the race. Some of his friends or training partners went out a bit too fast on the bike and ended up paying the price during the last half of the marathon. Bruno has always been an over-confident person and that lesson was crucial for his success in his first proper Ironman race.

The day after the race, our excitement about the success of Bruno’s trial Ironman was huge. We agreed we would find another Ironman in the 2012 season so he could finish the whole event and achieve his dream of being an Ironman finisher. Ironman Florida was a good opportunity for him, as it has a similar course profile as Florianopolis and, held late in the year, it would also provide us time to get him fit enough after a full healing process.

From that day we had 22 weeks of planning, I aimed to boost his confidence by setting him up on a bike-oriented training plan while doing some solid maintenance work in the swim and slowly building the run training to the point where he was back on target for our original goals.

The hardest part was that he spent the whole year, instead of the usual half year, in Ironman training mode. That can be difficult for a young professional like him but making a successful debut was a top priority for Bruno, who to break 10 hours, so there wasn’t an easy option.

The big day arrived and he mentioned being surprised about how relaxed he felt, smiling during the event and high-fiving the spectators on the course. Bruno said he felt he was “floating” during the whole race, and that it was one of his happiest moments of his life.

We had built a race-day strategy in which he would swim as fast as possible, considering we massive work in the pool for a year, and that would set him up among the top competitors on the bike. It worked well and he finished the swim in 61 minutes and top 20 in his age group.

bruno_florida_finishOn the bike our goal was a moderate approach as we wanted to make sure he would have something left in the tank for the run. Even then he rode 4h59, moving up seven places in his age group. Out on the run we planned for a conservative strategy, in normal conditions we aimed to hold about 3h30 marathon pace, which would get him to the finish line within the 10-hour mark.

Nine hours and 42 minutes after the start, he heard, “Bruno, you are an Ironman!” It was a very well executed race and that got him 6th place in his age group.

With the race done and dusted, the question now is “What’s next?” He understands what it takes to perform at a very high level in ironman and we agreed we would get on a two-year maintenance plan so he could focus on his newly-launched construction business. We will schedule short-course races to keep him honest and focused, and that will also build towards his next ironman race. When the right time comes, he will be a much faster and strong athlete. Once we add some volume on that newly gained speed, he will be on fire!

Congratulations Bruno on your dedication and setting an example to all of us. You can be sure many other achievements are on the way.

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Gustavo Moniz: A life dedicated to triathlon

By Vinnie Santana,

Over the past decade as a coach, I’ve worked with hundreds of athletes from all backgrounds and with all kinds of goals. Those who achieve success in this sport are neither the most talented athletes nor the ones who fully immerse themselves in training for a couple seasons. Instead, athletes winning your age group at all levels of races are likely to have adopted triathlon as a lifestyle, training consistent for many and many years, while also carrying a sustainable and balanced lifestyle with work and family commitments.

This article tells one of those stories. Gustavo Moniz is your typical age group triathlete: has a full-time job; has family and kids; lives in a big city (in Brazil); and deals with all the challenges of anyone of the same profile. But his passion for the sport and his consistency in training have made him one of Brazil’s strongest M45-49 age group triathletes


Moniz started in triathlons in 1986, at age 18. He found the right balance of his teenager days with his new working career. Since then, he hasn’t ever been away from training for too long. There were times when training would take a back seat. Moniz shifted to “maintenance mode” for a couple years, when he started his business and had his child, while at other times training would pick up and he managed to find that balance for two decades, winning some local events, racing internationally and he also got to do some races as a pro.

Gustavo’s overall win in 1993, Vinnie watching the race

My first contact with him in triathlon was in 1993. At only ten years of age I was at a friend’s weekend house and inside the complex there was a triathlon event. We went to watch and the winner was this guy who ran barefoot due to blisters problems—that was Gustavo Moniz in action!

Fifteen years later we met via a mutual friend and started working together—the mission was clear and simple: to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Ironman Hawaii and the 10-year anniversary

For Moniz, Ironman Hawaii is the pinnacle of triathlon. Aside from being the world championships and attracting the fittest triathletes, pros and amateurs alike, to the start line, the race also carries a huge story of this sport.

In 1999 his opportunity to race in Kona came with the lottery system. While it was his first Ironman and there wasn’t much of an expectation in terms of results, he did not consider the mission fully accomplished. Moniz wanted to go back to the island the proper way, qualifying as a top age grouper in the very competitive M40-44 division at one of the Ironman races around the world.

The Attack Plan

Before we started the training, we aimed to get him from 11h54-Ironman shape in 2006 to a Sub-10 performance. And while being a Sub-10 Ironman is already decent enough, it doesn’t guarantee Kona slot—we had to pick a race that would suit his strengths while not exposing his weakness.

For a combination of reasons, we decided to go for a fast course with cooler weather, preferably a wetsuit swim, and flat to rolling hills on the bike, followed by a flat and fast run course. Our strategy was to hit the swim and bike as fast as possible, saving just enough in the legs for a quick shuffle on the marathon. Getting him into the top places by T2, we knew that if he were virtually running inside the Kona-slot placing, he would not give up his spot easily—he wanted it more than others. One of those times when heart is more important than legs.

With the race plan in mind, training had to follow. We tailored his sessions to fit in those race day situations, including a fast swim start then settling in the pack, and a solid hard bike with several smaller time-trial sections especially later in the ride, when he would be making up, or gaining, most of the time on the competition.

Run training was also adapted to the strategy he would be the prey, rather than the predator, on race day. He had to be mentally ready to hang on and hang in there for the whole marathon knowing there were fast runners coming from behind trying to catch him and his Kona slot.

Anyone who has done an Ironman knows that, regardless of how you paced your race, the last third of the marathon will be very painful—and being in front is a mental advantage, while being virtually qualified for Kona also raises your pain threshold.

The Calendar

Ironman Austria 2008: 9h45 – 33rd place

We started with one of the fastest possible courses, which was also a very competitive event. Our goal was to learn how to race fast, pushed by fast athletes! A Sub-10 was also important for a confidence boost that he was now a new athlete racing in a different league.
We achieved these goals with a new PB and, while a bit down in the ranks, we knew the plan was coming together.

Ironman Arizona 2008: 9h55 – 13th place

Arizona was the first serious shot for the Kona slot. The race was almost perfect, except for a flat tyre.  Moniz was ONE MINUTE from the so dreamed Kona slot, a huge disappointment, and the obvious “what if I hadn’t had a flat…” crossed his mind.

While very disappointed, we say we can only control the controllable, so after some time off to recover from the training and racing of 2008 and the mental effort of focusing on Kona qualification, we moved on to the 2009 season.

Ironman Brazil 2009: 9h50 – 5th place

The mental cost of being so close to Kona at Ironman Arizona was huge. We decided to shift our focus to the process, rather than the result, for our next race in Brazil. Instead of racing for the slot, he would be racing for the best executed day he could possibly do, and be happy with whatever outcome that would bring, be it a slow or fast day, a win or last place, Kona slot or not.

On a magical day, Moniz finished the event in 5th place and finally got his Kona slot—the dream was achieved, mission accomplished.

Ironman Hawaii 2009: 11h33

“Ten years later” was the motto for Ironman Hawaii, to celebrate the 10-year anniversary since he first took part in that event. While there were little expectations in terms of results, a slower-than-expected finish time didn’t go down so well, we left the island with a certain “unfinished business” feel.

Ironman Brazil 2011: 9h24 – 6th place

Two years after his last Ironman race, we shifted the focus again to Brazil. In a perfectly executed race Moniz earned his new PB that day and placed sixth, qualifying once again for Kona.
Ironman Hawaii 2011: 10h13

As a more experienced and confident athlete this time in Hawaii, he had a smoother race with very few mistakes. With a new PB by more than  one hour, the mission was accomplished.

Gustavo riding in Kona 10 years his first Ironman on the island

Gustavo riding in Kona 10 years his first Ironman on the island



What’s Next?

In his own words, “My motivation is to keep on improving both my own personal times and within the age group ranks. My goal is to be able to sustain some sort of training forever.”

Moniz is the perfect example of how dedication, consistency and patience are crucial to a long-term success in this sport.

Enjoy your training,
Vinnie Santana – ironguides Head Coach


ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

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Triathlon training with diabetes — What is different to non-diabetics: Rest days and rest periods

When it comes to certain aspects of training, diabetics needs to be aware that “we are different”, and the normal approach doesn’t apply.


Days off or resting phases is one of those situations. At our training plans, we don’t schedule days off unless there is any specific situation with each individual, with our approach you should be training every day, and let the days off comes naturally, be it for a professional or social commitment, or if you feel just too tired on any specific day(s), for those situations is OK to take the rest.

And how does this differs for Diabetics athletes? Why can’t it be just the same?

If the diabetic athlete trains everyday, to a point that he is forced to take a day off, that means this athlete was training hard or long enough to really create a huge insulin sensibility, than out of a sudden, you take the day off, only sit on the coach and have a few extras snacks.

This is aggressive for your body to handle, and your blood glucose levels won’t be very stable at all, since in a matter of a day, you are shifting a healthy/fit routine, to the couch potato one. Is very likely that for the later meals of that day, you will require more insulin than the usual, and is likely that you will need more insulin over night, or your blood glucose levels will be fairly high in the morning after, which creates that tired feel, and you think you need one more day off, and this can get very hard to get out.

How to handle the deep fatigue then? Active Recovery!

If you are into a consistent training routine, one training session, seven times a week, you will be way better by taking 2-3 easy days, than a complete day off. The active recovery workout only needs to be 20-30min long, if possible, include some short 20sec all out effort to work on your hormonal balance and increase metabolism (which helps insulin sensivity), stick to the diet you are used to, don’t overeat thinking that the extra calories will restore your glycogen stores, as with the reduced training and the usual diet, you will be carboloading anyways, no need to force it.

Then after 2-3 days of very easy training, see if you can get back into your plan, focus on getting the volume done first, then slowly build up the intensity to normal levels.

Other than keeping your blood glucose levels down, this approach has also benefits for the non-diabetic athlete. You get something done every day, this avoids the athlete to make up for the lost sessions, as highly motivated athletes are likely to train harder after a forced day off.  You also keep your metabolism high, avoid that bloated feel, and stay loose, which makes easier for your return into the plan, then once you are settle into it, avoid to get into that deep fatigue level again.


Taper is nothing else than freshening up for a race. You can do it in many diffent ways:

1) Reduce training intensity
2) Reduce training volume
3) Decrease training frequency (session per week)
4) Taking extra days off
For diabetics, this order is exactly what you should do for your taper. You should be able to taper based on #1 and #2 until 3 days out of race day, then you can do less sessions, especially if the race requires tapering, and of course, as always, avoid the days off, even a 15min easy jog is much better than completely rest.

For that reason, since you can’t have an aggressive resting period, you might want to start your taper a little bit earlier, we usually do a 2 week taper, so for diabetics athletes, I would recommend starting reducing intensity with 2 ½ week to your race day.

All in all, just make sure you don’t follow general training guidelines that you feel are not right for diabetics, as a diabetic, you are different, and requires a different training approach, let your coach knows all the ins and outs of diabetes and don’t be afraid to create something that works specifically for you, but is not “right” in terms of conventional approach, since you are different in a way!



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Triathlon Training with Diabetes: Tapering and Insulin dosage

Have you ever noticed how you feel sluggish when you are tapering on race week? Even with a reduced load, you feel tired all the time, hungry and that create a huge self doubt if you are fit enough for the race or you won’t get enough time to rest.


Why does that happens?


When we switch into ‘taper’ mode after a long period of consistent training, we make a journey from one state of physicality into another. What is happening is that your body is moving from “fight” mode into “heal” mode. The training systems that were on fire are shutting down because you are no longer subjecting your body to the physical training (stress) stimuli.


This change means that the balance of hormones in your body is changing. The level hormones secreted to sustain your high levels of physical exertion during training is dropping, while the level of “restoration” hormones is increasing. This change translates to a sensation of fatigue in the body.


One of those hormones that are changed is insulin. You were training hard and long, your muscles cells were always on the need of glycogen, it means that a tiny amount of  insulin, was enough to refill your cells.


But as you decrease training hours and intensity, you will need more insulin to cope with the ratio of grams of carbohydrate & units of insulin.


Basically, I had to use 3 times more insulin on the day before a race, compared to what I was using on normal training days. Of course that to realize that, I had many pre-race Saturdays of high blood glucose levels, it took me a few tapers to understand what was happening with me, why I needed so much more insulin for the same size and sort of meals.


The basal insulin mentioned below is above is supposed to cover only the sugar that is released by your liver during the day and night. The healthy athlete produces only one sort of insulin, while most diabetics that are not in an insulin-pump treatment, are on 2 or more types of insulin. On the top o the basal insulin, that I injected myself every night I had to take a “bolus”, that is, a super fast-acting insulin that would cover all my meals.


The numbers are scary, here are some examples:


  • Units of Basal Insulin and blood glucose released by your liver.

–I needed 10 units per day in normal training days


–For a race on Sunday, I would need to increase this

number by Wednesday to Friday up to 20 units (100%)


–As I usually take a day off on Friday, by Saturday, my insulin reception was so poor, that I would take up to 30 units of ‘basal’ insulin (that’s 3 times more than the normal!!!)


  • Units of fast-acting insulin and Grams of Carbs:

–A normal breakfast with ~100g of carbs, required 5 units of “fast-acting insulin”, that was usually after my first training session in the morning (more about timing of meals coming out soon!)


–The same 100g of carbs in the morning before the race, required up to 16 units of fast-acting insulin.



Remember that for your next taper. Don’t over eat, as your body is already under a huge load and hormonal change, rest properly, sleep well and let your muscles get full replenished with CHO for the race day.



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Triathlon Training with Diabetes: Stress, Adrenalin, Insulin and blood glucose levels

No, those are not butterflies in your stomach when you toe the line at a triathlon start and are waiting for the gun — that is one of the symptoms from adrenaline: when one is nervous, blood is pulled away from the stomach and sent into the muscles.


Adrenalin is a “fight” hormone, and plays a central role in the short-term stress reaction. It is released from the adrenal glands when danger threatens or in an emergency. Such triggers may be threatening, exciting, or environmental stressor conditions such as a triathlon start!

When secreted into the bloodstream, it rapidly prepares the body for action in emergency situations. The hormone boosts the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles, while suppressing other non-emergency bodily processes (digestion in particular). This reduced blood flow, in turn, causes the stomach to temporarily shut down.

Adrenaline has the opposite effect of insulin.  The resulting rise in blood sugar enables the fermentation of glucose in the muscles. Adrenaline furthermore reinforces these effects, because it increases the secretion of glucagon (a hormone with the same effects as adrenaline) and decreases the release of insulin.

As a diabetic, I had no natural insulin to counter-effect this process when I was racing (who doesn’t get nervous before a triathlon anyway?), so it took me many races of super high blood glucose levels to really understand that no matter how low my sugar leves were BEFORE THE START, once I was on the bike, it had skyrocketed!! There were a few times that my glucometer read “HI”  — that means the levels were so high that the meter couldn’t read it.

Once I was 100% sure this wasn’t a one-off process, I started to give myself a huge amount of insulin as soon as I jumped on the bike — to be more precise, eight (8) units of fast-acting insulin, more than enough to cover 120grams of carbohydrate in a “normal” situation. Now if you are diabetic you understand why it took me so many races of high glucose levels to be confident enough and inject 8u of insulin before even testing that. Outside of racing it would have killed me or at best, put me in a hypoglycemia coma (no sugar available for the brain).

Once with this part figured out and controlled, I got into that “steady-state” in pacing where I had no more pre-start tension and was focused on the race; my blood levels were not affected my adrenalin anymore and I could go back to my good old “calories VS insulin” combination.

And what can the “non-diabetic” learn from this?

— Race start: Don’t over do it in the gels and sports drinks. Even if your sugar level is low, it will raise some in those last 5 minutes before the race start. I remember when I first started racing, I use to wear a Heart Rate monitor, 130bpm while just there, standing waiting for the start, wasn’t a surprise.

— First few minutes on the bike: DO NOT EAT – No calories at all, not even sports drinks or energy gels, not only there is very limited blood that will access your stomach at this stage to digest and absorb anything, but since capillaries in arms are open and in legs are closed, your heart is forced to work hard to pump to legs. Start the bike EASY (VERY EASY if in an ironman) for the first few minutes to let capillaries in arms shut down and legs open up; blood sugar get stable, adrenalin loses effect, then eat/drink.

Be aware of your hormones, race faster!



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Challenge Laguna Phuket Course Review


Learn by doing! Join our next ironguides The Method training camp in Phuket 2-3 November, 2013 — Clich HERE for more info.

Video from ironguides Phuket Training Camp in 2012

The traditional Laguna Phuket Triathlon, is a well-known event among triathletes based in Asia. It provides a mix of a destination race on the beautiful island of Phuket combined with the challenges of a middle distance course with heat and hills, add to that a party atmosphere and you have a very unique race.


Back in 2010 the organizers have announced an Ironman 70.3 event on the following weekend of the traditional race. This has added spice to the event as now beginners can step up and try the half ironman distance, and this year the race will become a “Challenge” event, same course as an Ironman, but from different organizers and branding. Challenge has a better reputation within the athletes.


Swim (1.9km)

Apart from being one hundred meters longer, the swim lay out is exactly the same as the Laguna Phuket Triathlon.


A beach-run start is always a fun way to begin a race. However, unless you are trying to place in your age group, take this run relatively easy: otherwise you will spike your heart rate and it will take a couple of hundred meters in the water to catch your breath.


The first half of the swim is held in the beautiful waters of Bangtao Beach. There are usually no currents and waves which makes the first part of the swim relatively easy.
Then you run another 100 meters across the beach to dive into the resort’s lagoon. This is a challenge since the ocean water has a higher density than the lagoon (or a swimming pool), so there is a sinking feeling for the first few hundred meters of the next swim section.

You can simulate this change in training with the following swim set:

Choice warm-up
[3x100m hard with the pull buoy – 10sec rest
3x100m hard without pull buoy – 10sec rest
2x100m very easy recovery – 60sec rest]
X2-3 (do the set above two or three times, depending on your experience)

Swimming with a pull buoy helps you float better. It also changes your balance and technique in the water. When you take the pull buoy off and do another several hundred meters of repeats at race-pace effort, you will feel the difference in terms of how high you are in the water—exactly the same way you feel when you switch from the ocean to the lagoon in the Phuket swim!

Bike (90km)
Once done with the swim, the transition is very straightforward and simple. You will be directed to the mounting line. The bike course is well marked and safe (for Thailand’s standards anyways).
Describing the course can be a challenge. We can’t say it is hilly, since you spend most time on flats or very gentle undulations, however we can’t also consider it flat, as there are two sets of short but very steep hills, the first one is around the 40km mark, while the last set is at the 75km mark, each set of hills last for almost 5km and the downhill’s are just as steep.


It is very common to see athletes walking while pushing their bikes up these hills. To avoid that, you want to have a large cassette (i.e. 27+) or compact cranks.

In terms of fitness, here are two ways to improve your climbing abilities. The first is by climbing more! If you have access to hills, do hill repeats at a hard effort. If you live in a flat area, you can get stronger by riding in a very low cadence, and doing intense and short repeats. You are basically doing leg presses on the bike. See the set below:

Choice warm-up
10-20x [1min at 40 to 50 cadence HARD RESISTANCE / 1min VERY EASY recovery]
Choice cool-down

You can also do the set above at the end of a long bike ride, since it will be very specific to race day.

Run (21km)
It’s a very straightforward run, mostly on the golf course. The golf course’s undulations are not significant. The only special consideration for this course is the terrain, as the mix of grass and dirt road makes it a bit slower compared with a hard surface.


It is important to focus on a very high stride rate and learn how to build your effort as you progress into the run, and to prepare for this we suggest the following set:

Long Run – 90 minutes negative split as:

30 minutes easy at 90 steps per minute

30 minutes moderate at 92+ steps per minute

30 minutes hard at 96+ steps per minute

Since many Asia-based triathletes live in big cities, make lemonade out of lemons by using the treadmill for the set above because it is an excellent training tool. How does a treadmill contribute so much to improved run skills?

In basic terms, running on a flat treadmill enables you to run at the same aerobic load as you do on land, but to run at a faster pace for that aerobic load. Meaning: You can run faster for longer, which means you are training neuromuscular patterns to fire at a rate that equates to a faster run pace. The aerobic training component in either case is the same.

Running at a high cadence is a very specific triathlon technique that focuses on efficiency. You also want to use a mid-foot strike, which helps to achieve the faster stride rate. Ideally you want to run at 90+ steps per minute (counting one foot only). The above session will challenge you with fast sections at 96 steps per minute.


You also want to get used to aiming for a negative split, which means picking up the effort as you progress into the run.

These tips should give you a good idea for the challenges you will face in Phuket.
Enjoy your training.


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