What’s In & What’s Out: Triathlon 2016

Welcome to 2016! You’ve already set your goals, hired your coach, fired your coach, hired a different coach, and locked in your race schedule. What’s left to do? Keep your pulse on what’s hot for this year and what we are leaving behind, of course.

Out: Altitude masks.

In: “Brain Training”18585901024_ef411b5461_o

Go ahead, take off the Bane mask. Most of the claims that got us all excited about them came from this study, done in 2014, with 14 subjects. And it showed effects on high intensity interval training, which is great for fitness but pretty far from what most triathletes are doing. Further research hasn’t come out to provide support, so unfortunately, you may have to actually go live at altitude to get the benefits of altitude. #Sworry

What’s hot? Training your mental game. From fighting cognitive fatigue to improving attention and focus, brains are all the rage. We’ve learned that your brain taps out before your body has actually reached its limits, and the question is now how to push out that mental fatigue time-point. Expect to see an increasing number of devices and apps aimed at athletes that will do just that – from transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to brain games and meditation training. The recently released HeadTrainer, although aimed more at team sports, is setting the stage for what’s to come. And in the meantime, try these strategies for building mental resilience and resisting cognitive fatigue.


Out: Inhalers and thyroid meds.

In: Marij215523075_071e6f1046_ouana as a PED

Steroids, beta-agonists, and Synthroid (and whether or not you have a TUE for them) are so last year.

Instead, go get yourself some cannabis – where and while you can. Traditionally, freestyle skiers, snowboarders, and surfers have notoriously combined marijuana and sports, but endurance athletes are increasingly joining their ranks. Researchers haven’t been able to nail down the exact reasons for THC-associated performance bumps in endurance sports, but the potential mechanisms are many – from natural endorphins and anxiolytic effects to decreasing airway resistance. THC – the active ingredient in marijuana – is banned by the IOC and WADA, but only “in competition” and at a fairly high level – leaving significant room for debate over its acceptability as a training aid. The trifecta of a growing ultra-athlete community, evidence that it’s enhancing your long run for physiologic as well as psychologic reasons, and increasing ease of access in the USA (particularly in states like Colorado, a mecca for endurance athletes), could make good ol’ pot 2016’s hotly-debated PED.


Out: Tweeting every single workout.

In: Zwift trash-talk.

Oh, but we can hope. Or at least that 2016 will be the year when folks finally figure out how to un-sync their social media accounts, such that we only see someone’s Garmin data once instead of five times. #unfollowed

What’s in? Zwift. The startup out of Austin, TX has revolutionized the trainer scene by allowing you to virtually ride a route with friends and/or random internet strangers. Whom you’ve now become insanely competitive with. All from the comfort of your own living room pain cave. Even the pros are doing it.


Out: An increasing number of local, independent races. Because Ironman bought them all. Oh, and Challenge USA.

In: Rev3. And of course, Ironman.10566970623_2231ce7469_o

So you wanted to do Beach 2 Battleship? Sorry! It’s now Ironman NC, and double the price. 2015 was the year of acquisitions – Ironman by China’s Wanda group, and our beloved previously independent races by Ironman, including Vineman and Beach 2 Battleship. But hey! Rev3 is back, baby. After the disaster that was Challenge USA in 2015, we’ll see how Rev3 competes in the 2016 market. They’ve started by announcing an “interesting” prize purse structure for the pros, and you can once again race at classic venues like Quassy, Cedar Point, and Knoxville.


Out: Hating on macronutrients.

In: Strategically “training low.”

First we feared fat, then we threw away all our carbs. Low carb-high fat became all the rage in 2015, and inspired many a twitter rant. We had the Jeff Volek study, which showed that elite ultra-endurance athletes on a 70% fat/10% carb diet burned twice as much fat during a 3 hour treadmill run (compared to comparable elites on a high carb diet). On the other side, there was the argument that no one on the podium at Kona is restricting carbs – plus emerging research that your optimal carb/fat consumption for health and performance is likely determined by your own metabolomics, and maybe your microbiome. Now that the dust is settling, complete shunning of macronutrients is out for 2016 – don’t eat like an a#$^hole and you’ll be fine.

What should you watch out for this year? More people using metabolic adaptation strategies without the restrictive diets – such as low-stress aerobic sessions in a fasted state. In other words, like we’ve used altitude – strategically “training low”. A flexible metabolism has its advantages, even though the extremes don’t seem to be performance-enhancing.


Out: RV’s

In: Tiny houses.

It used to be that broke, aspiring professional triathletes took up residence in an RV whilst in pursuit of their dreams. After all, it worked for the Wurteles. Now there’s a new option: tiny homes. Cropping up in increasing numbers and already embraced by those in search of a more minimalistic lifestyle, the tiny house seems the logical way to go in 2016 for those willing to ditch all their other worldly possessions – or maybe just in search of a second base camp. Sprout Tiny Homes is developing a community in Colorado – the perfect option if you can’t live in Siri Lindley’s basement. Can’t relocate? You can even get your own tiny house DIY kit ($29,000 for materials).


Out: Just your average Ironman.

In: Ultra, extreme races, off-roading.

So you’ve done an Ironman? That’s cute. Some dude did 50 of them in 50 days last year (ellipticalling notwithstanding). 140.6 may not be enough to impress people this year, and there are new challenges around every corner. Ultrarunning has quietly been gathering steam, and events in the 50 – 100 mile range are increasingly attracting triathletes – possibly to the dismay of the traditionally laid-back, down-to-earth ultra-runner community. But Ultraman may be the logical step up for many – it’s just a really, really long Ironman, right? Then there’s Norseman, Sea to Summit, and Celtman for those seeking to battle extremes of weather and terrain. And once you’ve survived driving rain, freezing water, and mountain running on your own,  why not let a bunch of Green Berets take you to collective mental and physical exhaustion during a GORUCK Challenge, for which you will receive a patch at the end (to complement all your triath-a-lon medals).



photo credit: 188: I sometimes forget how to breathe. via photopin (license); dark via photopin (license)Legal Hemp in UK via photopin (license); TCT_Spring_2010  2710 via photopin (license)Wilmington, NC via photopin (license)

About the Author

Adrienne Taren
Adrienne is a MD/PhD in Neuroscience researching stress, your brain & the neuroscience of mindfulness training. She is also a fairly decent triathlete/runner/writer and an average ultra-distance swimmer, if there is such a thing. Visit her blog: http://www.adriennetaren.com/. Follow @SeeSpondyRun