In this episode of The Kona Edge we chat to Adam Zucco about what he has done to improve his Ironman run. Adam and Brad look at cadence and the effect that it has on your Ironman run performance.


BRAD BROWN:  Welcome onto yet another edition of The Kona Edge, it’s good to have you with us and we’re joined by a returning guest, Chicago, Illinois, we go to now, Adam Zucco, Adam, welcome back, nice to touch base.

ADAM ZUCCO:  No worries, I’m happy to be back.

BRAD BROWN:  Adam, let’s talk about your run. You mentioned to me that out of the three disciplines, the run is probably the weakest of the three. Although you’re pretty solid, I must say, if you look at your times. I hate to say it, but whether you like it or not, triathlon is a running sport.

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, for sure, it is. I’m reminded of that all the time by my friends. I tend to out bike them and then they chase me down on the run!

BRAD BROWN:  It’s the worst feeling, isn’t it?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yes, for sure and one of my good friends here, his name started with an I and we’re in the same age group. So I was able to out swim and bike him and then I would just do the best I could to run as far down the course as I could before he’d catch me up. And then I’d know I have four minutes to try to not give up.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s superb. Adam, let’s talk about your run performance and things that you’ve done over your career to get better.

Can you pin it down to one thing? If you had to say one thing that’s given you the biggest gains on the run, what would it be?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I can’t pin it to just one but I can pin it to two, if you’d allow me to do two.

BRAD BROWN:  Please do.

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, the biggest advance that I think I made acutely, so very quickly, was I focused on cadence. And that was very important to me because what I was able to do was I had a 10 mile course that I would go run. I would realise that my cadence was very low and so I decided, okay, my cadence should be, so I was running like 86 steps per minute, I’m like, I’m going to go see if I can run this course at 90 or above. Which I would do in some of my fast running, but not all the time.

I just said to myself, I’m not going to worry about how fast I’m running, I’m just going to worry about how quickly I’m moving my feet. And when you think about it, you can move your feet fast up and down, and standing in place, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge effort, just a neuromuscular thing.

I went out on this course that I had just ran 7 minute pace, say, a few days before and I went out on this course, like I’m just going to only look at the cadence on my Garmin and I held that cadence and when I flipped it over I realised I had ran 6:15 pace. So like a 40 second drop.

As soon as I realised I was running that fast, I got tired. That made me think, wow, there’s an emotional investment in what you think you should be feeling, based on the results that you’re getting.

A big breakthrough for my running on half Ironman racing, especially, and to a large extent Ironman racing, was being able to focus on things that I was not emotionally tied to.

When I come off the bike and I have my Garmin set, I literally just see my cadence and I tell myself based on training, I know if I can keep my cadence round this, I can trust that it’s going to be within a certain aspect of pace. But I can concentrate on cadence and not be emotionally involved in that versus, if I come off the bike and I see I’m too fast or I’m too slow or whatever, then I’m going to be oh, I’m off the pace or I need to slow down or whatever.

And so for me, that’s been huge. My fastest and most consistent runs have always been cadence based. And then I combine that with the second thing which I actually got from a mentor of mine and fellow coach, Jim Vance and he’s got this thing, this run that he calls an Envelope Run, that I definitely use all the time.

It’s about pushing the edge of discomfort. Like so you stay comfortable, but you push right to that edge. Right where you were going to push the envelope and kind of get into that uncomfortable range, but you don’t go over. You stay comfortable and you stay controlled.

Then you find ways to go faster with technique. Such as cadence or forward lean or relaxing your jaw. You find if your jaw is tight, your body is tight. You find these things when you try to look at ways that you’re doing things that are not effort based, that are more mechanical based, to go fast.

That’s now how I race most of my races and I try to just go for a run relative to the distance I have left with all my races and I’ll use things like cadence and the Envelope style of running.

There’s obviously lots that go into the run training, but when it comes time for race day, those are the two things that have made the biggest impact on my performance.

BRAD BROWN:  That’s pretty interesting. What would you say is the biggest mistake you see age groupers making in their running careers?

ADAM ZUCCO:  I would say running too fast, too often. I think that they’re kind of, and not only in a race, but also in training. It’s interesting, I used to own a metabolic cart, where we could test athletes fuel efficiency, which is huge for Ironman.

If you have stomach problems or if you want to barf, it all comes down to fuelling. And without getting too specific, within two heart rates, you could change the amount of fat you’re burning by 20-30%, which is enormous.

Often athletes will be like, I’m going to run just a little bit faster than the pace or the heart rate I should be running at, that my coach has told me to run at, so that I can go run with my friends. And that’s good, but then that’s not teaching your body to get stronger and be able to run faster at the right zone and still use the right fuels to do that.

Not only does it take away from that ability to be economical with those fuels, but it causes more muscle fibers to get involved. Which causes more fatigue and more breakdown and then that doesn’t allow them to run fast enough for some of their fast pace. They end up kind of walking around with this chronic fatigue type thing that goes on and so they don’t have any break through.

BRAD BROWN:  It’s so interesting you talk about that chronic fatigue cause that’s one thing that I pick up so often as well.

Yes, you’re going to feel tired when you’re training for an Ironman, but gee, sometimes I just see athletes absolutely flogging themselves over and over and over and they wonder why they don’t get any gains.

ADAM ZUCCO:  Yeah, that’s a big trust thing. I would say I’m casual friends with Luke McKenzie, but I’m friends with friends with him that are very good friends and I say this honoring him. I can tell you that when he had his breakthrough race, if you look back, he had a terrible Vegas 70.3 which was a month out. And I know that he trusted to not over think that performance and relax and rest and do extra rest. Where I think a lot of athletes, maybe even myself included, would have emotionally gone back and be like man, I have so much work to do with not a lot of time.

I think that was extremely mature of him and really gutsy at the same time, to be able to not go do more work. And I’m definitely not saying that you don’t have to do work to do Ironman, right, but you just have to be able to recognize, sometimes it’s not the best call and you go back and just kind of regroup.

BRAD BROWN:  Absolutely. Adam Zucco, thank you so much for joining us here on The Kona Edge once again, much appreciated.

Thanks for your time and if we want to find out more about you, I know you’re pretty active on the website, They can reach out, if they’re looking for a coach, you’re more than willing to help out as well, aren’t you?

ADAM ZUCCO:  Absolutely, it sounds good.

BRAD BROWN:  Cool stuff, we’ll put the links in the show notes to these episodes as well. Thank you so much for your time and we look forward to catching up again soon.

ADAM ZUCCO:  I’m honored that you asked me, thank you.

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