PhysFarm Athletes Triumphant!

It has been a strong early season for the athletes of PhysFarm.

David and I have been hard at work engineering our athlete’s training programs to exacting standards, and the athletes have been on top of their sessions day in, day out, for months. Put these things together, and you get performances without equal from two Iowa Hawkeyes, Matt Hanson and Lesley Smith. (Well, Matt teaches at a different college, and Lesley now lives in Boulder, but they are both from Iowa. So there’s that.)

Matt Hanson crushes Ironman Texas

Saturday, May 16 saw Matt come out of the water at the Ironman North American Championships in Texas with a solid swim. He rode with the second pack on the bike, conserving his energy for what would be a blistering run. We would love to say that the run was filled with drama, but Matt simply set the pace we new he could run and he laid waste to the field. Matt banged out a 2:45 marathon to not only win the race, but claim a new course record.

Meanwhile, Sunday morning opened with Lesley Smith of Boulder, CO toeing the line at Challenge Knoxville. The Challenge Series recently began establishing footholds in the United States after many years of hugely popular races elsewhere in the world. Unsuprisingly, a field of heavy hitters turned up, including Rebekah Keat, the Wassners, and Rachel McBride.

Coming off the bike, Lesley was almost 10 minutes out of first place. It was time to unleash her secret weapon. Lesley ran 1:23 on a day when no one else broke 1:30. She was more than 4:30 out of first place with 3 miles to go. Catching McBride with 200 yards to go, she lit the afterburners and took the win. The race was so close that the Challenge twitter feed mistakenly named McBride the winner at first.

Lesley Smith triumphant in Knoxville

Other notable performances came from Heather Lendway. Knoxville was her first ever half-iron distance race. Despite this, she won the swim and finished the bike in 3rd place. She wound up finishing 8th, a strong showing for someone who has only run above 13 miles about 4 times in the past year. There are great things to come from Heather…watch this space. There was also PhysFarm amateur athlete James Haycraft, who netted an age-group win at the Xterra Southeast Championships, qualifying for Worlds.

Now, earlier in this article, we mentioned that PhysFarm engineers athlete performances. We mean that in the strictest sense of the word. Using advanced mathematical tools and algorithms, we are able to tweak the training programs of athletes with a precision others cannot. For example, we are able to use the GOVSS algorithm to understand runner power output and analyze course contours, so that we understand how our athletes will run on the flats, and on the hills. We use the Apollo system to adjust training in order to ensure an athlete is capable of a particular necessary power outputs and paces on race day.

As my British colleagues like to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. With this in mind, it is worth taking a look at what our combination of training and technology does for our athletes. Lesley ran a 1:23 half-marathon (3:58 / kilometer pace) in Knoxville on a day when no one else could run under 1:30. What did our system predict? I’ll let a screen shot tell the story. Tasty, eh?

We predicted Lesley would run 3:58 / k. She ran exactly 3:58 / k. And won.

Game. Set. Match. PhysFarm.

Of course, we build these models for all of our athletes. (You can build them too! Download a free trial here). Sometimes, however, it’s fun to get under the hood. We did some lab testing on Matt last winter. Athletes are sometimes a bit nevous when they see all those toys for the first time. (Treadmills and carts and ergometers, oh my!) Matt was totally into it. He’s got a PhD in exercise physiology. Here’s a pic Ruth Brennan-Morrey took that day.  Matt’s incredible running has surprised a lot of people. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

People often ask me how we get these kinds of performances out of athletes. Yes, we know a lot about training. Yes, we use a lot of advanced technology to target specific performances through engineered workouts. However, the most important advice I can give you is this: You must only open up your “can of whoop-ass” during the race. If you are constantly shredding yourself in training, you will not have anything left to do something special during the race.

Matt, hauling buckets on the treadmill and collecting data.

As you train, you will improve, and as you improve you you will know you can go faster. You will feel it in your bones. You will be tempted to start crushing workouts. Resist this urge. Crush the race. Trust me on this. Or just ask Matt. Or Lesley. Or Joanna. Or Cat. Or…

Well, you get the idea. We could go on like that for quite some time around here.

We want to help you set your next personal best, whether that is on the podium of a world championship or a 10 second improvement at the local 5k. When you are ready to do something extraordinary, we’ll be ready for you. Get in touch with us at coachphil at

See you at the races!

New Journal Article

Today, Dr. David Clarke of the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT and I

A bit of page 1.

published a journal article that reviews the current state of the art in terms of the use of mathematical tools to inform the way we train. It also provides resources to help educators teach their students about these models. You can get a free .PDF of the paper at this link.

Any of you who have followed my work over the years know how much I like using these techniques to help athletes improve. Whether through my books, other articles on this website, or my grassroots or academic lecturing schedule, I think it is important to communicate these ideas and methods to the people who can best put them to use. Although triathletes tend to be early adopters of almost everything, those of us who actually work in both elite performance and academic exercise science can tell you that relatively few practitioners use these methods in other areas of sport and, importantly, in the health and fitness industries. Dr. Clarke and I decided that it was time to try to change that, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, academics have a responsibility to regularly and rigorously assess our collective knowledge, to find the strengths and the weaknesses, and to report them. Science advances because someone with a keen mind is inspired by one of the holes in our understanding, and subsequently attempts to fill it. We need to foster that process. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to expose our thoughts to scholarly criticism and suggestion. It is in this way that we improve our science. Finally, we each have a moral responsibility to try to make our own corner of the world better, and we in science and medicine can do that in particular by improving practice, and by providing helpful resources to those who teach that practice to the next generation.

Modern technology provides an immediate platform to anyone, and Dr. Clarke and I could have published our work in any number of places, including a simple blog post. With the above thoughts in mind, we chose an educational journal produced by one of the very best scientific organizations in the world. We also paid extra (out of our own pockets, not institutional funds) to ensure that the journal article would be available to anyone interested. In short, we believe you are deserving of science that has been rigorously reviewed by a panel of other scientists, even if (and especially if) you don’t work in a university or academic setting.

As the inimitable Professor Cornell West once wrote, “I am a jazz man in the life of the mind, and a blues man in a world of ideas.” Here, Dr. Clarke and I try to remix and communicate the threads of what we know and what we don’t know, and strategies for teachers to get these ideas across to students. It is our hope that this bit of ‘academic blues’ will move the field forward, and bring new people into the discussion who will have unique ideas and fresh perspectives to share.

Endurance Medicine Clinic

Effective November 19th 2012, I’ve taken a position as the Program Director of the sports medicine fellowship at my alma mater, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital, in Chicagoland. Built by my friend and mentor Dr. Bill Briner over the past 20 years, the sports medicine program here is among the most respected in the world. It is an honor and a privilege for me to have the opportunity to direct it.

Because of the academic nature of my new practice, I have been presented the opportunity to do something I have always wanted, which is develop a sub-specialty clinic to address the unique medical needs of endurance athletes. When you ask how an injury or illness will affect your track workouts versus your endurance workouts versus your master’s swimming program, is your doctor able to give you clear advice? The fact is, most physicians aren’t lucky enough to see a significant number of patients who are seeking both health and performance. Oftentimes, this leads to athletes receiving very safe, but not necessarily state-of-the-art guidance in terms of recovery and return to sport. Moreover, many physicians don’t have significant experience dealing with issues that are common in endurance athletes, but very rare in the rest of the medical (even sports medical) world. This can lead to shuffling from specialist to specialist with no clear plan.

In contrast, my goal is to cater to you, specifically. I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career providing coaching, testing, and medical consultation to world champion, world-class and amateur endurance athletes from all over the world. This unique mix of roles allows me to approach your medical care from the inside out. I take into account your real-world needs as an athlete interested in performing at the top of your abilities. I coordinate care with your coaches, physical therapists, and other allied professionals in order to get you back into sport as safely and quickly as possible.

Athletes making appointments at the clinic will be scheduling to see me, personally. Initially, we’ll be up and running Wednesday afternoons starting on December 5, at the Nesset Pavillion. However, rest assured that if you are traveling a long distance or from outside of the United States, I can also make accommodations for your schedule. (Note that my office is only 10 minutes from Chicago O’Hare International Airport). Whether addressing a troublesome injury or the management of another medical condition and the way it affects your ability to participate in sport, I’d love to see you. Just be sure to bring any existing tests, films or relevant medical records along for your visit. We have radiology and diagnostic ultrasound in-house, and I also direct our state-of-the-art human performance and physiology laboratory, which allows us to immediately perform any necessary testing.

The practice accepts most medical insurance policies, so you shouldn’t have too many hassles there. Give us a call at (847) 318-6020 and let me show you the difference that world-class sports medicine can make.

Important Note: The sports medicine program and Endurance Medicine clinic remain totally separate from my coaching and professional sports consulting work. Please contact me through this website for access to those services.

Dr. Phil on the BBC

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to appear on BBC’s Bang Goes The Theory. The host, who was an aeronautical engineer in a previous life, was interested in building a human-powered airplane. He rocked up to our laboratory at the University of Exeter for a bit of physiological testing in my MRI machine. I wish I had better news for him!

Dr. Phil on Bang Goes The Theory

Interview: Jason Kilderry

Jason has worked with me for 5 years, and has an inspirational story. I’m going to let him tell it.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Clementon, NJ with my Dad.   Those years were, hands down, some of the best memories of my life.  I was outside every day running around in the woods, playing basketball, or stirring up trouble with some of my friends.

What sports were you interested in/did you play as a kid?
Growing up, the two main sports I played were baseball and basketball. As much as I love baseball today, basketball was always my favorite sport. When I was in the 6th grade, all 5′ 2″ of me was certain I would play in the NBA.

Were other members of your family athletic, and did they support you in your athletic endeavors?
My brother Dennis was the stand-out athlete in our family. He was a very good pitcher from northeast Philly who at one point in his career was invited to an open workout held by the Florida Marlins. All of my family has been super supportive of my athletic endeavors, especially my dad. He would be at all of my basketball and baseball games when I was growing up. During my college years, he came to as many cross country and track and field meets as he could. When I picked up the sport of triathlon, he was there for every single one of my races.

When did you first realize you had polycystic kidney disease (PKD)?
It was the summer before my freshman year in high school. I did what most teenage boys do now and again and got in a little fight. During the fight, I got kicked in the side but did not think much about it. A few days later, I complained to my dad that I had some pain in my side. At the time I did not know it, but because my dad also has PKD, he knew right away that most likely I had PKD and had ruptured a cyst on one of my kidneys. I was admitted to the hospital for tests, and a CT scan confirmed that I had the disease.

How did the diagnosis of PKD impact your life in general, and your athletic training in particular?

At the time of my diagnosis, I was really too young for it to get me down. My dad told me to live my life but take it easy with the roughhousing with friends or doing stuff like wrestling and boxing. All in all, I lived a normal life. A few times I would pop a cyst and be on bed rest for a few days. That was never fun, because the pain is like someone stabbing you constantly in the back.  I had to take a few blood pressure medications due to the disease and the doses got heavier when I was a little older and in college, despite running competitively and taking on the sport of triathlon. Around age 22 or 23, the disease began to progress a bit more quickly, and I started to notice the effects on my training.

You received a kidney transplant in 2009 with a donor kidney from your good friend, Nick DeSantis. How bad had things gotten by then, and how did it come about that Nick donated a kidney to you?
Things were pretty bad at the time Nick let me know that he was a match and going to donate his kidney to me.  At that point, I was on dialysis three times a week for 4 hours at a time.  I had four surgeries, including emergency surgery to remove a piece of my intestine that had closed off due to complications from the first kidney surgery.  They had to install a colostomy bag and they said I was very lucky to live. This is when I started dialysis as well.  Dialysis was tough, because it was not only physically draining, it was also mentally draining.  I’d have to say it was more mentally draining, because I was spending a lot of time around people who were chronically ill. When you are in your early 20′s, you still feel invincible. Seeing the basic frailty of the human body staring you in the face like that, day after day, can be really scary. You see some people who didn’t take care of themselves properly, but you also see the others who did everything right. You wonder if you are going to end up the same way, no matter how hard you try.

The doctors wanted me to start looking for donors in late 2007.  They would not be able to test for a donor match at that point, but they knew it was only a matter of time.  As soon as my kidney function had dropped past a certain point potential donors were allowed to test.  My doctors had never wanted me to be on dialysis, but my kidney function dropped too quickly, so it was necessary for me to be on dialysis to keep me alive until I was able to have the kidney transplant.

Check out the rest of Jay’s interview on our Facebook page!

Cat Morrison: 3 Races, 3 Wins

Catriona took her third win in 3 races at the Texas Ironman

There are athletes, and then there are athletes.

I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best athletes in the world. At Cat’s level, you get all sorts. There are the athletes for whom every setback represents a catastrophe, and those who tough things out besides discomfort or injury. And then you have Cat. I once joked that Cat is the sort of athlete who could suffer an amputation mid-race, and would call me afterwards and say, very calmly:  ‘Yeah Phil, my foot fell off halfway through the run, but I tied it off with a bit of shoelace and kept running on the bloody stump.’

Catriona has had an amazing season so far. She had great wins at the Texas 70.3, a hat-trick at St. Croix, and now this. There are all sorts of lessons to take from our approach to training and racing. The most important is the benefit of a calm mind and a rational approach. Two weeks before this latest race, Cat emailed me pictures of an outrageous blister on her foot. In all honesty, it was one of the worst I have seen in my medical career. It wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted to see when an athlete is trying to get in their last big workouts before one of their biggest races of the season.

The thing is, nobody freaked out. Cat, though a bit nervous, was basically calm where other athletes have called me in similar situations in hysterics. I assured her that this was no big deal, that there was plenty of training in the bank, and with a bit of adjustment of the taper using RaceDay Apollo, she would still smash the Ironman, which she did. There was no attempt to train through the injury, and there was no panic-fueled attempt to squeeze in extra training at the last minute afterwards. We simply decided it was a non-issue, and that recovery needed to be the main priority if we were still going to race well. We used the data we have carefully recorded to adjust the plan going forward to account for this setback. Problem solved.

Maintaining a calm outlook is also of great importance while in the thick of the race. Cat and I were both trained as scientists. The beauty of this is that we are able to dispassionately review and evaluate data. By keeping careful track of her training and racing, we know exactly how hard she can ride, and how long she can ride that hard for. We know how she will run after riding at different power outputs. This knowledge lends a certain amount of security. The other competitors in the race become a non-issue. People rode past Cat with their hair on fire, and we were happy to let them go. We had a rational plan and we stuck to it because was  supported by data, not the emotional reaction to what others are doing. You can see the results every time Cat walks up that podium.

The take home message is this: Learn to separate your emotions from the situation you find yourself in. The best athletes, firefighters, doctors, or soldiers succeed under pressure because they are able to dispassionately assess very stressful situations and then act accordingly. This is a learned skill. Get out there and practice it :-)

Cat Morrison 3rd At Abu Dhabi

Cat ran her way into 3rd place at Abu Dhabi!

Catriona had a great season opener at the Abu Dhabi triathlon this weekend, capturing a 3rd place finish.

Most importantly, due to some off season gait tweaks and training adjustments, she was running comfortably. This bodes well for our upcoming big races. Well done, Cat!

PhysFarm Kona Results

Madame Pele Giveth, and she Taketh Away...

As always, Volcano Goddess Madame Pele giveth and she taketh away…

Winning her AG at Oceanside 70.3 earlier this year, PhysFarm athlete Colleen Capper was looking for the race of her life in Kona: a podium slot, and the coveted wooden bowl trophy. We trained, and devised the plan down to the watt and minute per mile. Colleen swam 1:34 and biked an impressive 6:04, but it really all came together on the run. She held back and ran steadily for the first 17 miles of the run, allowing her competition to beat themselves up in the heat. Then, she put the hammer down, dropping her pace by almost 1.5 minute per mile. No one was able to answer her, and Collen crossed the line with a 3:51 marathon. It was not only a Kona PR, and not just a marathon PR: Colleen ran faster than any of her previous stand-alone marathons save one. Colleen finished 5th in her age group, collecting the magic wooden bowl. She’ll be eating her Wheaties out of that from now on. Or possibly drinking her mai-tais from it…

Colleen is pretty hard-core. No, seriously. I know you think you’re tough and all that, but check this out: Colleen broke her wrist in a crash in the middle of September. Undaunted, she got a gore-tex cast that she could swim with, made some adjustments to her aerobars to accommodate the cast, and just kept training. The cast came off three days before the race. Unreal.

PhysFarm athlete (and BPC Coach) Joe Donahue also had a fantastic race. Last year, after a rough bike leg, I watched he and Pele duke it out to a painful 11:18. This year, he was looking for something more, and asked me to coach him to the finish he knew he was capable of. Once again, it all came down to the run, but this year Joe came out swinging. Joe swam 1:05, and rode a strong 5:31 before setting out on the run. Joe hung tough for a 3:45 marathon in the Kona heat, which was good for about a 45 minute PR!

Unfortunately, Pele was not so kind to some of the other competitors. An obnoxious head cold was making the rounds, most notably taking out Kona Queen Chrissie Wellington, but also PhysFarm athlete and podium hopeful Catriona Morrison. Cat was feeling well enough to toe the line on race day, and was able to execute the plan through mile 80 of the bike, but there just wasn’t enough left in the tank to throw down her storied run. She was forced to abandon shortly after the bike leg. It was a tough pill to swallow, after picking up the Swine Flu on the plane to Kona last year, but doubtless she will be back next year to look Madame Pele in the eye once again.

ComeBack Coaching Package

ComeBack Coaching

This program is designed specifically for athletes who are returning to training after a serious illness or injury. Once your acute issues have been resolved by your medical team and you have been cleared to resume vigorous exercise by your physicians and therapists, Dr. Skiba works one-on-one with you to specifically engineer your return to best possible racing form.

The program begins with an in-depth initial consultation to determine what your abilities were before your setback, as well as your training history and experience. We will then review your medical history and treatment, response to treatment, and current regimen in detail. Finally, we will carry out a detailed evaluation to determine current functional status. Using this information, we determine a set of reasonable goals and then devise the optimal coaching program to achieve these goals. We will optimize your nutrition and recovery strategies, and will manage every aspect of your training.

Throughout the process, we will confer as often as necessary by telephone, internet, and in person when practical. We will also communicate regularly with and provide reports to your physicians and other health care providers as needed.

This program is most appropriate for athletes recovering from a serious medical illness or injury. Examples include people recovering from cancer, recurrent orthopedic or musculoskeletal injuries (including major trauma), or heart disease.

Please note that this service does not include medical services or treatment. We will not prescribe medications or order medical testing. People interested in medical care should contact Dr. Skiba for more details.

Please note that travel expenses are additional.

Ready to sign up? Interested in learning more? Click here to contact us.

Premier Coaching Package

Premier Coaching Package

This program is designed for the athlete who requires more hands-on work and individual attention from Dr. Skiba. It includes everything seen in the Traditional Coaching package, additional services, and the ability to customize the program more fully. It is most appropriate for middle and front of the pack athletes who have very specific goals and are willing to work hard in the pursuit of those goals, or anyone who is interested in achieving his or her maximum possible performance status.

The Premier Coaching Package includes, but is not limited to:

  • Exercise testing and training level determination
  • Analysis of previous performances
  • Specific training advice to improve weaknesses
  • Periodized season plan based on your goals
  • Weekly workout schedules, adjusted on a daily basis as needed
  • Athlete/Coach communication by e-mail on a daily basis as needed
  • 24/7 access to Dr. Skiba via his personal cell phone number
  • Event specific advice and strategy
  • Daily analysis of training logs and power/heart rate files
  • Intelligent performance modeling, prediction and event targeting using our proprietary systems
  • Dietary analysis, recommendations and meal planning
  • Swim stroke form analysis and improvement
  • Bike fitting, including unlimited adjustments
  • Supervised workouts
  • Gait analysis
  • Coordination and communication directly with your other fitness consultants
  • Coordination and communication directly with your health care consultants
  • Coach attendance at races (max. 4 per season, travel expenses are additional)
  • Discount access/admission to PhysFarm Training Camps and classes
    (Travel / lodging expenses not included)

Ready to sign up? Interested in learning more? Click here to contact us.