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The Road to Ironman Triathlon – Laurent Labbe’s Story

The Road to Ironman Triathlon – Laurent Labbe’s Story
Biking in the land of Genghis Khan.

At age 57, senior triathlete Laurent Labbe continues to prove both to himself and others that he is young in heart and body by competing in Ironman triathlons.

But there is more to his story than a personal enjoyment of endurance sports. Laurent has found a way to engage his family, using triathlon to build relationships with his children by training and participating in races with them. See Reason 3 of “15 Reasons for Those 50 and Older to Do Triathlons”.

It Started With Swimming and Biking In The Alps

As a child growing up in France, Laurent Labbe developed a love for the outdoors and for swimming through holidays and vacations with his family in the Alps and central mountains of his home country.

In his early 20’s, he was introduced to mountain biking. His attraction to mountain biking led to rides in many countries throughout Europe, including France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, and Belgium.

Then in his 30’s, Laurent began running. In addition to enjoying endurance sports, he found it easier to run than bike while traveling around the world for work. This led to him completing the Paris marathon twice.

“The best run of my life” came as part of a work-related team building exercise in the Gobi desert. One of the activities involved walking more than 30 km (18.6 mile) each day during three days. On the last day, Laurent decided to run, instead of walk, in the desert. Starting at 5 am, he completed a 22 km (13.7 mile) run with a GPS and headlight to guide him in the pre-dawn.

“Running across the dunes in the fresh air and with the sun rising was magic, so beautiful”. 

Transition to Endurance Multisport

During this time, he also connected with a group at work who competed in races involving biking, running, and kayaking; one form of triathlon today.

In 2011, Laurent and a friend participated in the King of Grassland race in Inner Mongolia. This three-day endurance race was across grassy hills and fields populated with herds of sheep and horses and consisted of:

  • Day 1: 60 km (37.3 mile) mountain bike,
  • Day 2: Full running marathon (42 km/26.2 miles) in the morning and 45 km (28 mile) mountain bike in the afternoon,
  • Day 3: 100 km (62 mile) mountain bike.

Laurent described this race as an “exhausting but amazing experience”. In fact, they completed this race two more times in the following years. However, when King of Grassland was canceled during years of drought, Laurent and his friend decided to look for another race.

Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the beach in front of the swim course at the Strongman All Japan Triathlon.
Laurent Labbe and his oldest son on the beach in front of the swim course at the Strongman All Japan Triathlon. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

Discovering Ironman

His friend finally convinced him to register for the 2017 IRONMAN 70.3 Taiwan half Ironman held in March. It was time for another bike – a carbon fiber road bike.

Training for the race, especially for the bike leg, was a challenge. During this period, he was living and working in Shenzhen, China, a city of 13 million. He used the commute to bike to and from the office ‘rain or shine’, somehow managing to survive the horrendous traffic, heat, and pollution.

“You cannot imagine how dangerous it can be biking 22 km per day in a city like Shenzhen.”

His training for this triathlon proved to be effective, remembering that the bike ride went well. Sadly, however, during the run he mistakenly forgot one of the three loops that made up the run. The DNF (did not finish) was frustrating, especially after the months of training.

“I was so upset that I missed the last 4 km of the run and received the DNF. I decided to run the final 4 km in the rain, just to be able to say I had completed the distance.”

Laurent Labbe on the bike at Ironman 70.3 Xiamen, China
Laurent Labbe at Ironman 70.3 Xiamen. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

“Overall, I like the challenge [of long course triathlon]. Doing Ironman is magic and it was a new experience. I’m not young anymore but I like to try to do new things.”

Laurent Labbe

A Family Affair

With this experience in long course triathlon, Laurent was hooked.

To illustrate just how much he was smitten by this new challenge, Laurent completed Ironman 70.3 Bintan in Indonesia (August 2017), Ironman 70.3 Thailand (November 2017), Ironman Colombo in Sri Lanka (February 2018), and The Strongman All Japan Triathlon in Miyako-jima (April 2018) – four Ironman distance races within a year.

It was also during this period that Laurent involved two of his sons. His then seven-year-old son competed in the IronKid event that was part of the Colombo, Sri Lanka half Ironman. Then, his oldest son, age 30 at the time, joined him in the Japan race.

To top it off, his daughter was in Japan to cheer on her father and brother. She also caught the ‘triathlon bug’ and shortly thereafter began to train for her first triathlon.

Laurent acknowledges that he is “very lucky to have a wife who supports all of this travel, cheering me on and helping wherever possible”.

Favorite Ironman Triathlons

The races involving his sons have been his favorite so far.

Of the Strongman All Japan Triathlon held on a small island called Miyako-Jima, Laurent noted “I never saw a race with so many people along the road encouraging racers. I think every inhabitant of the island – young kids, school-age kids, old people, disabled people, hospital people, everyone – was on the road from the first competitor to the last one. The course was beautiful and challenging, especially for the bike. And, the organization and volunteers were exceptional.”

Ironman 70.3 Bintan was second favorite, again because of the venue – biking around the island and a beautiful run around the lake – and his younger son taking part in the kid’s race.

Laurent Labbe and son on the final dash to the finish line at Ironman 70.3 Bintan, Indonesia
Laurent Labbe and son on the final dash to the finish line at Ironman 70.3 Bintan. Picture courtesy of Laurent Labbe.

Sport is good, for the body and also for the family.”

Laurent Labbe

Lessons for Ironman Triathlon

Laurent has learned some valuable lessons for others in our age group who may be interested in long course triathlon.

Training

  • Sign up for a race. There is nothing like it to motivate you to train.
  • Train seriously. Laurent trains as much as possible, using many opportunities (going to work; family outings; skipping lunch breaks) and always, ALWAYS with a heart rate monitor. Laurent says “The heart is our motor. I believe we need to listen to its rate, not staying too long in the ‘red zone’ (high rate) and train to make it stronger and more efficient in the endurance zone”. (Look for a future article on triathlon training, including with a heart rate monitor, especially for those age 50+.)
  • Do not force yourself or train beyond your limits.

“We need to take care of our body after age 50. I want to continue for at least another 15 years.”

Laurent Labbe
  • Train – and race – with a friend. Friends will push and give advice to each other.
  • Restart training almost immediately after, even the day after, the race. “If we stop training, we go backward. It also helps to have another race in sight.”

Triathlon Gear

  • Find the right shoes, the right ones for your body and running mechanics.
  • Properly fitting bike – any road bike can be used but aerobars can really help by making the ride more comfortable. Most important is to have the right bike ‘fit’ (settings of the seat, handlebars, aerobars, etc.) to avoid back or knee pain.

Racing

  • During the race, find a balance between pleasure, effort, and pain. Laurent recalls several times during the swim looking at the fish in the water and thinking how fortunate he is to be able to do such things. Enjoy each moment. Feel free to take time to shoot some pictures.
  • Race to finish. “There is no shame in stopping and walking during the run or even the bike if it becomes too hard. Remember that our goal is to finish a race, which is far more than 90% (or more) of people in our age range are able to do.
  • Be prepared to repair a flat tire. “Flat tires happen sometimes. On one race, it’s happened twice to me. Twice, because in the hurry, I replaced the bad one with a bad one. Fortunately, I had a good one in my pocket.”
  • Don’t rush the transitions (this is especially relevant to Ironman triathlons). “Keep cool during the transition. There is no need to rush. The effort on the legs during the swim and bike is so great that the legs can easily cramp. The best way I found to avoid cramps is to go slowly. Remove the wetsuit smoothly and put on the running shoes smoothly. And, be sure there is not a single stone in the socks.” 

Eating and Drinking During the Triathlon

  • Avoid drinking or eating food you don’t know during the race. Focus on water and your own food. Laurent indicated that he has become sick from bad drink or food before and during races.
  • “I learned from Chinese people to avoid drinking cold or ice-cold liquids, instead taking drinks at ambient (or ‘room’) temperature. These are better assimilated than ice cold drinks. For example, during a race in Dubai it was impossible to get ambient temperature water and I had a lot of stomach pain from drinking only cold water.”

After the Race

  • Always spend time after the race to think about the race. Identify the good, bad, and how to improve next time.

One More Thing

  • A healthy lifestyle is key. Laurent does not smoke or drink alcohol. With the help of his wife, he is also careful about the food he eats. “My Chinese wife is very picky on the balance of vegetable, fish, amount of oil. And, we never eat fast food.”

Just Getting Started

This year, Laurent will compete in Ironman Vietnam and the Ironman Championship in Nice, France with his oldest son. Before his first race, Laurent will be training with a younger son (8) for a kid’s triathlon in Hong Kong. And, during this time, Laurent’s oldest daughter (28) will finish her first triathlon in France.

He is also looking for a way to better connect with other senior triathletes in Hong Kong (where he is currently living) and the surrounding region to share experiences and maybe even train together.

Watch for Laurent to be competing in triathlon for many years to come, including ones in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, also be on the lookout for his children to appear in more races as the next generation builds on their father’s passion for triathlon. In fact, Laurent is looking forward to completing a triathlon together with all five of his children.

Questions? Comments?

Include your questions or comments below or send them to seniortriathletes@gmail.com.

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Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear

Favorite Swim Training Tools & Gear
FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

What if you are not from a swimming background though want to be more competitive in the triathlon swim? One answer is to add more structure to your swim training.

I Want To Be A More Competitive Swimmer

There are many triathletes whose goal for the swim is to “just get through it so that I can get on the bike”.

I am not one of these.

Swimming is enjoyable to me. I have spent many hours reading books and blog posts and watching videos about swimming in order to be a faster swimmer. I have also gotten advice from my son, a former college swimmer, on how to improve my swim.

As with most sports, improvement comes by developing better technique, a more efficient form, greater full body strength, and aerobic fitness.

Increasing Stroke Rate Using the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

According to Swim Smooth, there is an ideal relationship between swim speed (time per 100 m) and swim stroke rate (strokes per minute). A swimming stroke that is too high (RED zone) hints at too short a stroke. On the other hand, a slow stroke rate typically indicates too much glide with each stroke and a tendency to create a hand position in the latter part of the stroke that causes one to slow.

My swim currently falls in the upper left portion of the BLUE region. Using my FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro, I am training to increase my stroke rate while paying close attention to the catch phase.

Graph showing the ideal stroke rate for various times for swimming 100 meters.
The ideal range for swim speed vs. stroke rate chart is in white between the blue (too low stroke rate) and red (too high stroke rate). Source: Swim Smooth

About the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro is a waterproof metronome. The choice of one of its three modes depends on the training plan. For example, one mode allow you to set a time per lap for use with interval training.

I set the device to transmit an audible tone for each of the strokes in the targeted pace. For example, I set the Trainer to beep every 1.0 second for a stroke rate of 60 strokes per minute.

The pace is adjustable in 1/100th of a second increments giving plenty of resolution for every situation.

The small, waterproof device easily secures beneath a swim cap and transmits a clearly heard, audible beep. It floats in water to help avoid it being lost in the pool or open water.

The Tempo Trainer Pro also comes with a clip for ‘dryland’ training. For example, it is used in bike (cadence) and run (foot turnover rate) training.

The FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro includes a replaceable battery. I have had the device for more than five years and replaced the battery one time by taking it to a local BatteriesPlus store.

My journey toward becoming a better swimmer continues by working to increase my stroke rate. With strength training and more structured time in the water, I am confident that I will be more competitive in the triathlon swim.

You can find the FINIS Tempo Trainer Pro at SwimOutlet.com

Or at Amazon.com

Check Back Next Month for Reviews of Other Swim Tools

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Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout

Optimal Stretching Pre and Post Workout
Pre- and post-workput stretching is a fundamental of triathlon training for seniors. Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

By Victoria Ward, Contributor

We’re all aware of how important stretching is before and after our workouts, so why is it that we decide to skip those crucial exercise steps? Well, besides being time consuming, a lot of people, myself included, think stretching is boring, and easy to skimp out on. That’s why it was only after a laundry list of injuries that I became consistent with my pre and post workout stretches.

But it was by stretching often that I learned how to do so effectively and make it enjoyable. Here, I’m going to lay out the exact stretching regimen I personally use, step by step, so you can try it yourself. Don’t be lazy like I was and wind of injuring yourself—some injuries never go away, like my elbow tendonitis. So be proactive and put the work in.

 

Warming up

For those who have access, dynamic movements in a warmed pool, such as those in aquatic physical therapy, provide a fantastic way to warm up. The warm water promotes blood circulation and loosens the muscles while the aquatic medium allows stretching to be done without strain on the joints, tendons and ligaments. This is ideal for most athletes, especially with taxed or worn joints. It would be smart to perform aquatic physical therapy at least once or twice a week for general wellness and joint health.

Those of us without an in-gym pool will have to perform our dynamic stretching routine on ground. It burdens the joints somewhat more in this setting, but it can be relatively safe provided you move slowly and precisely through the movements. I suggest finding a whole-body dynamic stretching routine and performing it before every workout session.

It is usually recommended to perform each movement for 10-15 repetitions, though I sometimes perform as many as 20-30 if my muscles feel tight.

After dynamic stretches, I’ll get in some band work, which has worked great for improving my joint health. Taking a low-resistance band, I’ll mimic the exercises to be performed that day and hold the band in a static position for 30 seconds, or until I feel ‘loose’. Something that’s helped my wrist and elbow health, which nobody seems to be talking about, is using rubber bands. I put my fingers through a rubber band and then open them so the band stretches. I do this for perhaps 100 repetitions in each hand a couple times a day and it’s made a huge difference in my elbow and wrist pain.

 

Cooling down

After your workout, you may find your muscles much tighter than usual. To remedy this, we utilize what are known as static stretches. Unlike dynamic stretches, static stretches involve holding a certain position for some amount of time—usually 20-60 seconds. To make static stretches interesting, try pulling just a little bit farther each session. As an example, try touching your toes—if you can, then your hamstrings are pretty flexible. Now try working up to pressing your hands flat on the floor. Once you can do that then you’ve worked up some serious flexibility.

The last step is jumping into a cold bath before massaging out the muscles to break up any knots, fascia, and reduce swelling. Using a foam roller, tennis ball, your knuckle, or anything else you could think of would be a good idea. This stops muscles from getting tight and ultimately prevents many injuries. Following this you should make sure to get plenty of rest so your body can recover. Don’t make the same mistake I did—do your stretches and do them often.

 

Victoria Ward is a freelance writer with a profound interest in psychology, holistic health, and fitness. Her hobbies include tennis, cooking, writing, and yoga. When she’s not working, she can be found playing with her corgi, Milo.

 

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Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

Review of Mark Allen’s Strength Training for Triathletes

(updated August 13, 2019)

After competing in sprint triathlons for eight years, my training had become sloppy.  I had lost the discipline of the early years.  I had nearly stopped strength training, focusing instead on cardio and endurance training.  And to top it off, my performance was poorer.  I was slower than ever and struggling with knee pain while running.

 

Credible References for Strength Training

So, the article entitled “Mark Allen’s 12 Best Strength Exercises” jumped out at me as I skimmed my emails on a recent winter morning.    Having read about triathlon for over eight years, I knew of Mark Allen and considered him a credible source of information.

I became even more interested in the plan once I realized that this strength training plan had also been a turning point for Mark.  In the first full season after following this strength training program, Mark won the three international multi-sport endurance events, including IRONMAN World Championship in Kona-Kailua, Hawaii.

Around the same time, I read about Judy Cole, a 73-year-old ultra runner.   Judy had started running every day during her early 30s.  However, early on, she had problems with her knees.  Following the advice of her running partner to strengthen her quads and hamstringsbecame a game changer”.

Judy’s experience sounded oh-so-familiar , so I committed to Mark’s plan.

 

My Initial Experience with Mark Allen’s Strength Training Program

This post is a journal of my experience with Mark Allen’s strength training program. 

I first published this post after completing four sessions of the first, or adaptation, phase.  I eventually finished eight sessions.

Now in the second, or endurance, phase, I am continuing to feel stronger.   Exercises that were especially difficult in the first sessions are now easier.  And, for the first time in months, I am running without knee pain.

 

Mark’s Best Strength Training Exercises

The table below lists the twelve exercises in this program.  The table also shows the triathlon event(s) most impacted by the exercise.  The original article includes videos that show how to perform each of them correctly.

Exercise Helps most with . . .
Lateral Pull-Downs Swim
Leg Extensions Run
Leg Curls Bike, Run
Bench Press Swim
Squats Bike, Run
Lateral Dumbbell Raise Swim
Calf Raises Run
Dumb-bell Pullover Swim
Backward Lunges Run
Bicep Curls Swim, Bike
Tricep Extensions Swim
Leg Press Bike, Run

 

 

Strength Training Restarted – Warmup and Cooldown

I start each session, no matter the Phase, with core exercises and 10 minutes of cardio to warm up.  In August 2019, I made some changes to the core exercise routine based on the recommendation of Tri Swim Coach.

The latest core exercise portion includes one minute each of:

  • Plank — one minute.
  • Side plank — one minute on each side.
  • Bridge – one minute.
  • Abs — one minute of bicycle crunches – go to 3:00 in the Tri Swim Coach video.  (Before August, I did a static crunch sitting up on the floor with the back at about 45 degrees off the floor and legs extended and on the floor.  This is an alternative to crunches that have recently fallen out of favor with trainers.)

Before starting with the weights, I spend 10 minutes to finish warming up.  This involves walking, jogging on an elliptical machine, or riding a stationary bike at an intensity high enough to break a sweat.

Throughout the journey, I have recorded the number of repetitions and weights for each of the exercises of each session in a Google Sheet.  I have also noted when I could use a heavier weight in the next session and any pain or soreness I felt during or after the session.

After each session, I complete another 10-15 minutes of cardio.  I then complete a sequence of static stretches of my hamstrings, quads, calves, and upper and lower back.

Progress is coming – slowly but surely.  I have increased weights while doubling the number of repetitions.  The amount of soreness in the days after the session has been much less.  And, I have started to run again.

Periodically, I re-read the original article and watch the videos to make certain I perform each exercise using the correct form and breathing.

Leg exension exercise machine

Machine used for the leg extension exercise. Mark Allen’s program involves a mix of exercises that use free weights, weight machines, dumbbells, and body weight.

 

Endurance Strength Training – Phase 2

The main difference between the first two phases is that Phase 2 involves two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions (“reps”) of each of the exercises with 90 seconds rest between sets, rather than one set in Phase 1.  As in Phase 1, I completed two sessions per week with at least one day, but usually three days, between them.

During Phase 1, I selected weights for each of the exercises for which I could complete 15 repetitions with good form.  For some of these, I was able to increase the weight slightly during the four weeks.

In transitioning into Phase 2,  I used the same weights as at the end of Phase 1.   However, in the first two sessions, I completed only 12 (rather than 15) repetitions in each of the two sets (except for the squats for which I completed 15 repetitions).   I did this following the principle of injury prevention that calls for increasing intensity gradually.   

Increasing the intensity, time, or type of activity too quickly is one common reason for a sports injury. To prevent this, many fitness experts recommend that both novice and expert athletes follow the ten percent rule, which sets a limit on increases in weekly training. This guideline simply states that you should increase your activity no more than 10 percent per week. That includes distance, intensity, weight lifted, and length of your exercise session.”  Source: Very Well Fit

Continuing with this principle, I increased the number of repetitions to 15 for the first of two sets in week 2; the second set still involved 12 repetitions.  In week 3 and beyond of Phase 2, I completed 15 repetitions for both sets. 

 

Restarting to Run

Also, early in Phase 2, I ran indoors on the LifeTime Fitness track for 10 or more minutes after weight lifting and before stretching.  Another pleasant surprise has been the absence of knee pain during the run.  This seems to confirm the theory that my knee pain resulted from weak hips and other leg muscles that are being strengthened in this program.  How motivating! 

Throughout this phase, I have increased weight gradually when appropriate following this guideline – whenever a weight is ‘easy’ in two consecutive sessions, I will increase the weight for the next session by 10% or less.   I have increased the weight for some, not all, of the exercises balancing adding more weight and avoiding injury.

During this phase, I took a two-week break from the program because of illness, not injury.   I expect to resume the schedule within next week.  However, I expect to have lost some ground but also to regain it quickly.  Stay tuned for the next update.

 

Lessons from Strength Training for Triathletes

I have learned some important lessons while using this plan:

  1. Be patient – the results one should expect from this training, and all training may seem to come slowly.  Keep at it and you will eventually see results.
  2. Become familiar with the specific equipment you will use in the program.  I did not seek an introduction from a trainer and found that I was learning how to adjust it by observing others, experimenting.  I learned some things by accident, like how to add weight in 5 lb. increments on the machines.
  3. Add weight when after a few sessions (minimum of two) the weight seems easy.  You can tell that it is easy when you can maintain good form throughout all the repetitions.

Interested in Joining Me?

If you would like to join me in following Mark Allen’s strength training program for triathletes, comment below or email me at seniortriathletes@gmail,com.  I will share the Google Sheet with you so you can record your results and we can track our progress.

 

New to Strength Training?

You may be interested in this article from Silver Sneakers with advice on how to begin a strength training program.

 

To Be Continued . . .

This post was first published on March 14, 2019.  The latest update was published on August 13, 2019.

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