Exploring the Coach-Athlete Relationship with Adam Pulford and Alison Tetrick

Exploring the Coach-Athlete Relationship with Adam Pulford and Alison Tetrick

Queen of Gravel, Alison Tetrick & Coach Adam Pulford chat about their relationship as well as recovery, quarantine intervals & learning from failure.

An athlete like Alison Tetrick brings a lot to the table. Not only does she have a long history of athletic ambition (playing NCAA tennis and dabbling in triathlon), but she is also an absolute beast on gravel.

Her coach Adam Pulford matches her completely. He calmly helps her navigate healthy recovery practices and enables her to be her truest self, even if that means turning a blind eye to her riding seven hours when she was prescribed a two-hour workout. Together, they make an undeniably successful team and a killer CoachCast episode.

Stand-out Quotes

  • “When I bought my first bike, I didn’t know how to clip in, I didn’t have any cycling clothes, but I needed a power meter. Cause that’s what triathletes need.” 
  • “I didn’t want any training after Dirty Kanza last year. I trained into it, but it was a really just a rough, mentally and emotional year for me… when I reached out to him, I said, ‘I want to train with you.’ And he’s like, ‘Okay, are you actually going to communicate, are we going to do this again?’ And that’s what’s wonderful. I mean, he accepts me for who I am and understands what I need.”
  • “We have the canvas right now. So we’re doing some experimental stuff….This week, I wove it in because I could see and hear and listen and I saw the power. She’s taking care of herself. She’s back to sleeping well, the recovery times in between. So I’m going to say, okay, let’s weave in some of this anaerobic capability.”
  • “Go ahead, fail forward, is kind of what I’ve told you before. Cause if you fail forward, you go, you explore, you learn about yourself…When you push up to that edge and truly try to do something you’ve never done before, whether it is 90 seconds or 12 hours or whatever, that’s when you really start to learn the good stuff.”
  • “It’s not just about that training program, in the details and the specifics, you have to understand how the athlete perceives a training block, perceives intensity, perceives the test.”
  • “In my feed zone or checkpoint or whatever, I have everything under the sun and it looks like I’m a 12-year-old kid at summer camp with what I have there. Cause I don’t know what my body’s going to want at hour eight and 110-degree headwind at Emporio Kansas.”
  • “So my TrainingPeaks… It’s like a 12-year-old’s diary. I’m like, ‘Adam, so this happened today and then this happened. And so I felt like this, might’ve been hungover. Probably shouldn’t have had that last whiskey, but you know, I still did my effort, my heart rate’s a little elevated due to that.’”

Episode Transcript

Dirk Friel: 

I’m happy to interview coach Adam Pulford and one of his professional athletes, Alison Tetrick, to get the inside scoop on what makes their relationship so successful. Adam has been coaching for 15 years and has a Bachelor of Science degree in exercise physiology, and has a ton of experience managing both road and mountain bike teams. 

Alison was a professional road racer and won a bronze medal at the 2014 World Championships in the team time trial. She then changed her focus to gravel racing and became the queen of gravel by setting the woman’s course record at the 200-mile long Dirty Kanza. She is also a two-time gravel world champion, having won the Worlds in 2017 and 2018. 

Okay, well on today’s show, we have uber-gravel/everything-else-cycling-related athlete, Alison Tetrick, and her coach, CTS Coach Adam Pulford. Thank you guys for joining me today.

Alison Tetrick:

Thanks for having us. We’re excited.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, thanks Dirk. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. You know, I’d love to know how you guys got to this, this time. You’re both, top of your class in your professions. Alison, you have a very diverse background even before cycling, so I’d love a little background in terms of how you got to cycling and what kind of led you to the gravel.

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah, so I grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern California, and didn’t really play sports until high school—picked up tennis. And I ended up playing NCAA tennis at Abilene Christian University and was an All-American Scholar athlete there. Super fun, just graduated and still was really competitive. Tennis was pretty frustrating because unlike endurance sports, the more you train at tennis, like I actually didn’t get any better. But doing something like running, the more you ran, you know, the faster you get each week. And so I had a little competitive edge and I was working in chemistry research and drug discovery at Amgen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and just ran up and down the Charles and I thought I was pretty fast. And then, it turns out you can’t run 10 miles every day for a year—I’m a little obsessive-compulsive.

So I needed to do some cross-training and my grandfather, raced bikes and well into his eighties. He didn’t find the sport until after the age of 50, but he was like a 17-time Masters National Champion, and he at 80+, you know. And I got to go and cheer him on, but he used to tell me, “Oh, you should take up cycling and you could go to the Olympics, Allie, you know, try the sport.” And I thought it was super dorky. Like, you wear tight clothes, you look funny, it just looks complicated. And then when I needed to find some cross-training, I picked up a triathlon. So I bought a bike, drove to Colorado to surprise my grandfather that I bought a bike—didn’t know how to clip in. 

And, you know, he takes me to a bike race…from there it was just history. I got invited to the Olympic training center, talent ID camp. And by the first three months, after I learned how to clip into a bike I think, I was racing in Europe, the USA National Team, and my grandfather got to follow that career as I raced all over the world for about nine years. And I just loved the sport. I think endurance sports in general are super exciting. And then after racing for so long, I was finding that I… and Adam met me through this too, but just, I wasn’t inspired about the races I was attending and something that sounded new and adventurous was the Dirty Kanza. So that was my first gravel race. And I was still racing on a UCI world tour team at the time. And I entered Dirty Kanza, I’d never raced gravel, never had ridden over 120 miles and set the record and rode 206 miles in one. And then from there I was like, well, these are my people.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, and along the way, Wildflower? I mean, you won Wildflower? You didn’t even mention triathlon in there.

Alison Tetrick:

No, I mean, I did. I did win the Wildflower Triathlon

Dirk Friel:

Okay. Okay. Okay. Been there, done that.

Alison Tetrick:

Oh, I love it. Yeah, that one actually was really fun. I’m not a super-fast runner, but… I’m not like, a particularly small individual. So like, if it’s a really fast leg-speed thing, but that, that course was good for the run cause it’s a trail run and it’s kind of a power course, and I love that course. And the cycling, the bike portion as well, just really like power…good stuff!

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Yeah. Super. Awesome. Adam, your turn, tell us a little about your, history and why coaching?

Adam Pulford:

I grew up in Northern Minnesota kind of the team sport model, but even before that, I was the fat kid on the school bus that people were making fun of. And my brother was very athletic and he was the one that kinda, you know, inspired me or goaded me into like, “Hey man. Like if you’ve got all these big aspirations of doing things like in football…” I think at the time it was, “You gotta change, you gotta change your habits.”

And I remember that it was like fifth grade or something, and I started to explore that, I started to run. I started to lift weights, and just threw myself into training. Like I just started reading everything that I could about it. And meanwhile, kind of found my athletic self and again, throughout high school was on all team sports.

I wrestled, I wrestled through college and that’s where I had a really unique experience with coaching. I was a chemistry major at the time and I didn’t know where I was going with that. I was this jock in the chem labs, breaking everything, blowing stuff up and titrating stuff from one petri dish to the next. And I was like, what am I going to do with this? 

So I talked to my wrestling coach and he said, “Talk to Carl Foster, he’s the exercise phys professor. And he was president of the ACSM at the time. He was Eric Heiden’s speed skating coach. And I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool!” So, cause he knew I loved to run and I was getting into bikes at the time. And so I sat in on one of his classes and I was just captivated. I was like, sold, cause it had the science, but it had the athletic part. So I switched my major, everything carried over really well. 

And so I was able to work with Dennis Klein, the strength coach, developed different strength training strategies for the Olympics, which is super fun. I was holding a clipboard and you know, moving one weight to the other. But you know, I was involved. [I] did an undergrad research project, studying the effects of Olympic style weight training, plyometrics and endurance athletes and got an internship at CTS after that, [it] turned into a job. 15 years later, here we are, talking on a virtual podcast about coaching and training. 

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Super cool. Thank you so much. So Alison, have you always had a cycling coach? I mean you had tennis coaches, but when you got into endurance all on your own, was it your grandfather? Tell us something about, you know, expert instruction here.

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah. So, I think this is how we met Dirk, but I am a kind of a data junkie. I’m a little dorky, I have obviously a biochemistry background and a Master’s in clinical psychology and I just like numbers. And when I bought my first bike, I didn’t know how to clip in, I didn’t have any cycling clothes, but I needed a power meter. Cause that’s what triathletes need. And, initially, I moved to the Bay Area because I had another job offer for chemistry research. And I sat in that office in my little lab coat, with my name embroidered on it, looking outside at everyone, running, riding bikes on the path in South San Francisco. And I thought, I don’t want to have to work to play, I want to play at my work. 

So I pulled out that magazine Competitor Magazine or whatever the free magazine is you get at your running shop or something. And in the back there was this ad for the Endurance Performance Training Center. And I call them up, I’m like, “I want to work for you.” They’re like, “You can work at the front desk for 15 bucks an hour.” I was like “Sold!”  My parents are like, “Noooo!” 

And so yeah at my first… I didn’t have Charlie Livermore. He actually works with the BMC team, which is now CCC, something like that. He’s also a CTS coach, but at the time he was at Endurance and he’s just like, “Al, you gotta learn how to ride a bike, you can’t keep falling over.” And so he actually said, “You also have to learn pedal over 70 RPMs.”  You know? So he was kinda my first coach, just like in a mentoring [sense], helping me learn how to ride a bike.

And that was fantastic and we’re dear friends to this day. And then I was doing podium presentations at the Tour of Colorado for the men’s race. And I got bored, cause I realized you have to drive from the start to the finish. And it takes just as long to ride your bike from the start to the finish because of transfers. And so I thought, well, I’m just going to ride from the start to the finish and then do the podium. And then I get to ride my bike all day and still do my little thing. And I realized that CTS was doing those, you know, these bucket list events. So I’m like, “Hey guys, my name’s Allie, can I join your ride?” And so I met Chris through that. And I’m like, “I need a coach.” He goes, “Yeah, you do, cause you’re crazy.” And so he said, “I have just the person for you.”

So I worked with Dean Golich for many years, met Adam through that, and Adam and I are quite kindred spirits and understand that as well. So I’ve transitioned to working with Adam in the last several years and it’s been amazing to have that support. But there’s something, I mean, that’s applicable to the time period that we’re in right now with COVID-19 and a lot of people are sheltering in place that, the structure has been amazing. Like I did go through a period where I didn’t want any structure, a little burned out from road racing and poor Adam’s like, I gave you training, are you going to do it? And like, “No, instead I rode eight hours.” And he’s like, “Ugh, gosh, you’re not getting fast.” And so to have structure, I think I highly recommend coaches for that. I’ve used TrainingPeaks since 2008 and so yes, I have all my files from then. But using a coach for that structure, it makes your two-hour ride really efficient, or 90 minutes or 45 minutes or whatever you have. And I think that really helps life balance.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. Wow. That’s awesome. So now coming into the year, what were your goals? How have they changed? This is a big topic, so if we go back in time to maybe December timeframe, what were you guys chatting about in terms of, what does a 2020 successful season look like?

Alison Tetrick:

I wrote my goals down on paper with a pen. 

Dirk Friel:

And what did that say?

Alison Tetrick:

I just have to give you a little background. I’m kind of terrified to say it because I took a step back last year and I told Adam, I didn’t want any goals. And I just wanted to ride my bike and do as good as I can and be able to have a glass of wine or two at night and have fun. And this year I thought, “Okay, no, I’m ready again.” And he’s like, “Cool, when you’re ready to talk, call me.” And so this year “My goal is to/was to win Dirty Kanza, have fun and look for the pivot points and learn to say no. So those were my goals.

Dirk Friel:

Nice. That’s good. Realistic.

Alison Tetrick:

And I took a picture of them and I texted it to Adam, didn’t I?

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Yes, you did.

Dirk Friel:

So Adam, how’d you feel about those goals going into the season? 

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, you know, I think with an athlete like Alison and somebody who has raced and performed at, at the top of her class and also been doing it, for as long as she has, I mean, you got to give the bandwidth to the athlete when they need it, right? And so it was one of these things, where making the transition from road to gravel and then this time period where, I think Alison just needed some space, right? And I knew that the motivation was in there. I mean, she’s still riding, I saw all the files coming through. She logs everything. She makes comments on TrainingPeaks. And so, I mean, literally without even talking for I don’t know how long, I knew exactly where she was the entire time, right? And then when she did reach out, give me a call or text message. She’s like, “We’re doing this.” I’m like, “All right, we’re ready.” And I knew right then and there, and I knew exactly what we needed to do. 

Dirk Friel:

And what time frame was that? What month was that? 

Adam Pulford:

When was that Alison?

Alison Tetrick:

I think it was around October, November

Dirk Friel:

Okay. So you guys had a good, solid winter focus?

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah, I didn’t want any training after Dirty Kanza last year. I trained into it, but it was really just a rough, mentally and emotional year for me. Some of it’s pretty private with my family, but it was just a hard time and I just was struggling with balancing it and expectations. And so Adam, he didn’t push me further than I was able to. He gave me enough structure and if I failed, that was okay, which is wonderful about him. And he also understands life balance, which is really important for athletes. And it’s funny, when I reached out to him, I said, “I want to train with you.” And he’s like, “Okay, are you actually going to communicate, are we going to do this again?” And that’s what’s wonderful. I mean, he accepts me for who I am and understands what I need. But I said, “Yes, I am. I’m ready, but give me six weeks to just like, give myself some grace and get ready.” And so I did like my own prescription of intervals with him watching, of course I’m uploading everything and telling him what I’m doing, but I just I’m like, “I just need some time to like reset and see where I’m at.” And I was totally ready. And then we did game-on and we’re doing great.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. It’s perfect. And she, like I said, when you have that background that Allie does, you know what you need to do, kind of get the threshold up there, she’s a time trialer phenotype. So she goes and does her 20-minute efforts and hill climbs and all this kind of stuff. So then, the FTP gets up and then we get to work, which is working on that next level, working on the VO2, working on some anaerobic power, which, with some of these gravel events, you don’t necessarily need anaerobic power or sprint to win, you need it to get that for a group and you need to be more resilient. So the structure in place right now is nested within the overall plan. And that’s what we’re working on.

Dirk Friel:

Got it. Yep. So talk me through the last three months and we have the COVID crisis. Dirty Kanza is now obviously virtual, what have those conversations been like between you two?

Alison Tetrick:

We’ve discussed some ideas. We definitely have some cool ideas in the pipeline. Whether it’s a record or just a superior challenge just for myself though. I don’t really want to put pressure on other people in this time to feel challenged. Honestly, I’m having a lot of fun training. And when I see some of these challenges called out, I feel bad. I don’t want to do them.

I hate the VO2s but I like doing them right now because I’m getting better at them. I like to see the effects of training and I have never been home in the month of May. I have always been on the road at the Tour of California to racing. I’m home with… I haven’t been sick since, I don’t know when.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah. So Adam is the training the same now as if there were races, how have you been planning for Alison? 

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. So the focus is the same, cause the end goal for me, for Alison and kind of the end goal with us working together on the same thing is performance, right? And that’s where I always start with an athlete. Whether you’re doing your first century or you’re trying to win Dirty Kanza it’s, I want performance out of my athletes. Now, how you do that is very different based on the athlete’s past experience. With this unique time period we’re in right now, we just have more time. We have more time to do the training. We have more time to recover between the training and we have less variables going on from plane rides to all the other, you know, crap in life.

So it’s actually a fun time period to really focus on developing Alison for what she could potentially do. And this is probably the most like, the most concentrated focused training block she’s done since she came off a world tour. And like she said, I mean, we’re hitting some powers that we haven’t seen in a while. To me, the end goal, sure, winning and seeing that performance come out—that’s awesome. And then we move on, we get back to the process and to me that’s the most exciting part and we have the canvas to do it right now. 

Dirk Friel:

So you’re having more time to work on the specific abilities thoroughly? It sounds like? You can actually do what you intended to do in the training program instead of, “Oh, I have to travel Friday and Monday and I have this and that…”

Alison Tetrick:

You know, my hours aren’t any longer. They’re not any shorter, but they’re very focused. And before your factoring in travel days, product launches, I did all my product launches week. We launched a new Specialized Diverge. I was on zoom for probably 12 hours and I really do like the, well, I like monotony. I’m not going to lie. I like structure. So I highly encourage that. And I know people are asking like, “How do you find motivation?” But it is fun to watch… I mean, endurance sports are so unique that way. I mean, you can watch that direct relationship of very focused training and your performance increasing with appropriate rest and balance.”

Dirk Friel:

So what does a typical week look like?

Alison Tetrick:

Hmm. Well, right now Adam hates me haha

Adam Pulford:

Very true. 

Dirk Friel:

How’s that? You’re not following the script?

Adam Pulford:

No, no. Tell him what’s on, what’s queued up for the week.

Alison Tetrick:

We’re in kind of a high-intensity phase. So we’re doing some V02 work. Because if I’m left to my own devices, I ride 30 hours a week and do a bunch of hill repeats at threshold because that’s fun. So Adam makes me do short efforts now that are really hard. And so I had two VO2 days, yesterday I did 6×3 minutes all out with no huge spikes in power, but sustained very high power and it’s doable. But definitely well above your FTP. Today, I worked on some FRC, so 15×20 seconds sprints then followed by some sticky high tempo endurance riding, which feels a lot harder after doing 15×20 seconds, although the last one I ignored by the way, Adam, sorry, it was three and a half minutes I sprinted and then I just kept going and then I died and I hit 192 heart rate, I’m sorry.

Dirk Friel:

Haha new max, any recovery after those, 20-second sprints, it sounds like?

I did one 20 second sprint every four minutes, basically. So three minutes and 40 seconds of recovery until I did the lap. It was on number 15 though, Adam, I went for the QOM and I got it.

Adam Pulford: Perfect, I love it.

Dirk Friel:

Okay. And you mentioned, did you mention VO2 efforts? Like five, six minute?

Alison Tetrick:

I did 6×3 and then tomorrow I do 7×2, and those are pretty short for me. I usually do three minute VO2s, so he’s just really working on that high, high end. So these are just a hair higher. I think I did about 10 watts higher than my three-minute last week. And so, we had a three-week block of that. And then on the weekends, I’m riding pretty long, like five and four hours or whatever, but he gives me grace. He says, ride between two and four hours. See how you feel. But I mean, I kind of like just the adventure and getting outside with my quarantine partner.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. And I’ll chime in there cause for those listeners hearing that, I mean, that’s like, VO2 sprints then VO2… I wouldn’t recommend that for just anybody. And I’ll put the asterisk and star and caution…

Alison Tetrick:

And you haven’t worked out what it will look like tomorrow, so good luck to me. 

Adam Pulford:

That’s right. Because they say, we have the canvas right now. So we’re doing some experimental stuff. Seeing where, last week we did the same three and two, but I had a day in between of just endurance work. This week, I wove it in because I could see and hear and listen and I saw the power. She’s taking care of herself. She’s back to sleeping well, the recovery times in between. So I’m going to say, okay, let’s weave in some of this anaerobic capability. I don’t think that the VO2 power’s going to be changed because again, it’s steady, so the anaerobic thing in between, and having 12 hours should work out, I could be wrong. I don’t know. 

Alison Tetrick:

But you also added in another V02 as well. So there’s that. Last week was like five and six and this week is magically six and seven. I don’t understand that.

Dirk Friel:

Progression. Yeah, that’s right. Steady overload for how many weeks of that overload?

Alison Tetrick:

Three, I think?

Adam Pulford: 

Yup. Yup. So we’re in week two right now? Is that right?

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah. And he uses TrainingPeaks Dirk as well for my rest days. At one point he put profanity in there.

Adam Pulford: 

Yeah, we don’t talk about that.

Alison Tetrick:

Because I wasn’t resting cause I still uploaded my ride. It said rest day and it’d be like a two and a half, three-hour ride. And then the next week he’s like, “Look at TrainingPeaks.” I’m like, “All good!” And he’s like, “No, look at TrainingPeaks.” And it had some very direct expletives to how I should rest.

Dirk Friel:

You can report that to our customer support team. 

Alison Tetrick:

No, I loved it. I was like, you’re funny, but I’m still going for a ride.

Dirk Friel:

Okay. So I’m hearing a little bit about testing, pushing the limits in here. Tell us about that. Now that we don’t have racing, was that the testing and now you have a different type of testing or…?

Alison Tetrick:

He doesn’t make me do a lot of those tests and I appreciate that and love him for it because it would really stress me out and I would lose sleep. Because I think the testing usually does come in races. You can do your all-time, usually do your all-time, highest 20-minute power in a race or an event versus what you can do in a controlled environment when you’re stressed. But a couple of weeks ago he had me do a max 90-second effort just to see, and I lost so much sleep over it. I was very stressed because…

Adam Pulford: 

Part of that was my fault… I pulled the Jim Miller actually.

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah. Well, okay. So he put the, I don’t know, the percentage of my FTP wrong and the calculations for what I could do for 90 seconds. And it was, what it was at 541 watts or something like that?

Adam Pulford:

For you it turned out being 575, cause I built it for like 250% of FTP, which just means max, right? So I build that for a lot of athletes, I say, max, for some people I’ll get prescriptive and then I’ll just adjust that percentage and put it in there. And I said, max, but yet she’s looking at the number and she’s like, “I can’t do that.” And of course, without texting me or calling me, she’s asking everybody around her. So like, “What? Is this possible?” And it’s terrible.

Alison Tetrick:

I told my boyfriend, I was like, “I have to do 575 watts for 90 seconds.” And it was in a week and a half. And Dirk, I didn’t reach out to Adam. Okay. Note to everyone listening, communication is key. 

So, like literally, he makes me coffee in the morning. I’m like, “I can’t do 575 in nine days!” He’s like, “Nope, you can’t do that.” I go, “Okay. I can’t.” And then finally I go, “Maybe Adam’s just trying to teach me to fail?” Because Adam is wonderful & understanding. I’m a perfectionist and an overachiever. And so I try to always prove him wrong. And so I thought maybe he’s just teaching me like, he tells me it’s okay to fail, which is wonderful advice when you’re doing a workout, cause I get nervous. I’m like, “I don’t know if I can do that.” And he goes—what do you say, Adam? You say something about it’s okay to fail? It’s not perfection, it’s progress? Or some sort of quote you give me? You say something like that.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. I say, go ahead, fail forward is kind of what I’ve told you before. Cause if you fail forward, you go, you explore, you learn about yourself. You explore your edges in a… and I’ve talked about this in other podcasts, but when you push up to that edge and truly try to do something you’ve never done before, whether it is 90 seconds or 12 hours or whatever, that’s when you really start to learn the good stuff and you’re going to fail along the way, you’re going to hit brick walls and slide down. But sometimes you break through.

Dirk Friel:

Right. I just read about failing forward in the book, The Happiness Advantage. 

Adam Pulford:

Yeah, great book. 

Dirk Friel:

Which I’m reading right now, and that was a great portion of the book, failing forward. I absolutely love that. Like seeing your limits and learning from that and you can fail to not be a failure, right? 

Adam Pulford:

Yep. That’s right.

Alison Tetrick:

So finally it took me… so as far as testing, Dirk, I think might be secretly testing me. But he knows that since I’m a good test taker and you know, valedictorian and 4.0 student, my entire life, if not 4.5, cause somehow that happens. He doesn’t test me as much as he pushes me in a healthy way so that I don’t get stressed. And then when he gave me the correct number, I wanted to prove him wrong really bad. And I did buy like one watt. So I’m pretty proud of that.

Dirk Friel:

Nice. 

Adam Pulford:

But yeah, by the time I did make the course correction cause I was like, “Shoot! Gosh darn it!” And so I changed it to about what she could do on a good day and yeah, she got within one watt. Which again, speaks to what she can do and also the power of communication, right? 

Dirk Friel:

So we’ve been talking a lot about all-out efforts. How about the other side of it? Talk to me about working on rest, or the rest weeks? Do you hate rest days

Alison Tetrick:

I’m Adam and I have a very good philosophy on that. And I guess I do trust you with that one Adam. I don’t think he’s ever told me I had a rest week, cause that would stress me out. So I think he just feathers in rides [based on] how I feel. And I know enough throughout my career, not to dig myself in a hole. 

And moral of the story, if I have a three-hour endurance ride and I wake up and don’t want to ride my bike, am I hungover? Am I just tired? And jet-lagged? Am I, you know, emotionally distraught from some personal situation? If I don’t want to ride my bike, I don’t ride my bike. And I know Adam will not need an apology for that. He says for me, since I’m such a go-getter and I ride a lot, the rest is really important.

So if I want to rest, then yes, we listen to my body because I’m not lazy or trying to like, hide from workouts. So he does give me rest weeks I noticed, but I pretend to ignore that he gives me rest weeks. But sometimes it’s for freedom-of-mind, a bunch of endurance rides from, he’ll do like one-to-four hours, however you feel. And then I will go out and I’m like, “Oh man, I feel awful. He’s right.” And then I notice I do need a rest week.

Dirk Friel:

Is there any threshold work during those weeks, Adam? 

Adam Pulford:

No. No. And that’s the thing like, we’re sitting here talking and Alison gives her perception about how it goes and I sit here and listen and I understand. But I think what a coach… what I do anyway and what I think a lot of coaches do is, you understand that it’s not just about that training program, in the details and the specifics, you have to understand how the athlete perceives a training block, perceives intensity, perceives the test. Cause I test her all the time, but yet I test her at no time, because you have to understand what the word test will do to her, versus Joe Schmo, versus Jane and Sallie Mae or whatever. So it’s how you communicate what you look for and how you develop the program.

Meanwhile, when I know I’ve been pushing her a lot with intensity, because of her training history and the way she kind of thinks and feels, and also again, takes care of herself, she sleeps well, she doesn’t do all these extracurriculars and stuff. We have an understanding and a trust that okay, an easy week means no intervals. And I’m going to advise you to bring the volume down, especially for a block. And because she doesn’t have other things going, she doesn’t have family, she doesn’t have kids, she doesn’t have all these other things that factor into like, a master’s level racer—they need a good five-day block of like not doing too much, right? A couple of rest days, a couple of easy days. Whereas her, she’s a mover. She’s a very kinesthetic person. And so to not have that in the program, is actually kind of a stressor in itself. Decrease the intensity for sure, but keep her moving because that helps in the recovery process physically and cognitively. 

Dirk Friel:

So Alison, talk to me about routines. Do you have specific daily routines? Weekly? When it comes to recovery?

Alison Tetrick:

Well, first of all, I actually love recovery days. Cause that’s when, I mean, maybe it sounds bad but I put on a flannel and ride around town and drop off mail, go to the UPS  store, you know, just cruise around for six miles. Or it’s super weird, I have a great Wahoo setup indoors. And I love doing recovery rides on the trainer cause I can multitask and I do. Adam sees them. They’re like six TSS, 40 minutes. And I’m just spinning on Zwift at 50 watts getting passed by a lot of people giving me thumbs up though. So it’s nice, but I like moving my legs just a little bit and I update my Instagram and stalk on Instagram or something while doing it, or take a conference call that I don’t have to speak in. So I do love, actually, I love rest days.

I think they’re wonderful. I can lay out, I can get stuff done around the house that it’s amazing how much time riding bikes takes. And then your whole day is full of a bunch of other things. So, my routine usually is to wake up between 7-7:30. I work until maybe about 11. Sometimes I text Adam to tell me to go ride, cause I get antsy so I can tell, once I can’t focus anymore at the computer, I’m not writing, I’m not being efficient and I start pacing, bugging people. I’m like, okay, so it’s to go ride, kit up and go, and then it’s wonderful. I’m back by two. And then I’m still working hours. I log back in and I work till whenever. Yeah. Routine for me is pretty simple. I ride, yeah, probably about between two and three hours every day. And in between a time of work where I can still be really efficient and as soon as my efficiency is gone. I go ride and I come back, eat and work again. So it’s not bad.

Dirk Friel:

So what percentage of your training is on gravel versus road or the different bikes?

Alison Tetrick:

I’m going to admit, I mean 90% of my training is on road. I live in Petaluma, California and I have amazing riding and I live in downtown Petaluma. I have one stop sign and I can ride for seven, eight hours on the most amazing Sonoma coast roads. I mean they’re bumpy and you need tubeless and 30-millimeter tires, but it’s very little traffic, great training. I know those roads, like the back of my hand, I’ve trained on them [for] so many thousands of hours and I don’t have actually gravel… something that I would need a gravel bike, I don’t really have in my backyard from my door. And I don’t really prefer to drive to ride if possible. So I do most training on road, but I think that’s pretty common. I mean, even mountain bikers, if they want to admit it, do most training on road and road is predictable. The gradients are usually more steady. So you could do very concentrated efforts. And I can move quickly and do a hundred miles in five hours.

Dirk Friel:

How about nutrition in these long races? I know you’re sponsored by GU. What else do you like to eat? What are your tips? What’s going on in your head to stay on top of this intense nutrition that you need to be taking in at Dirty Kanza?

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah, so Dirty Kanza, of course, for those listening, is a very long event. I think my record is 11:40, so 11 hours and 40 minutes, that’s 206 miles. And it can take people anywhere from, the men’s winners at 10-11 something or people spending 18 hours out there. And for me though, I have a unique perspective to how I approach a race like Kanza. And I don’t recommend it for everybody, but the one mantra I do recommend is ‘eat early and often.’ It is difficult at the start to eat and drink. I wear a Camelbak Chase Vest, so I’m very stressed at the start. You’re starting with our thousands of your closest frenemies. And it’s terrifying and everyone thinks they’re gonna win Kanza. And so it’s very fast and chaotic. So the hydration pack helps me at least drink.

And it’s also six in the morning when you start. My goal usually is a bottle an hour and I did that through my whole road career, just a bottle an hour, ideally if it’s hot and humid, you need more, but when it’s cold, we tend not to eat or drink or it’s early, you have coffee or breakfast is still in there. 

So eat and drink early and often. And I aim for 250 calories an hour. And so I do put calories into my bottle because then I’m killing two birds with one stone, but usually, those events do start at a much higher intensity. So I do the opposite, what I did in road racing. So that’s the interesting part, Dirk, is in road racing, you know, the race starts, you got the first attack, you know, the break forms, blah, blah, blah.

So you’re eating bars, you’re eating paninis. And then, like an hour and a half to go, it hits the fan and you’re like gels! Blocks! you know, but gravel is different cause it starts out, because everyone thinks they’re world champion at the start and you’re going to finish hours in front of people, and just calm down! Like you’re going so hard! So I do the high-intensity fuel, which is just simple carbohydrates for the first five hours. I break Kanza up into two centuries and for the first five hours, the first century, I am doing a road race for five hours. And then I like, say, you know, “Ciao” to the front group of men. And then I’m like, I need pizza, potato chips, a donut, anything I want. So then I kind of can switch to more complex, you know, with carbs, protein and fat.

And I still do have GU Electrolyte of course, in my hydration pack and bottles. And I can still take the gels, but I just also want to know what my stomach wants. Cause sometimes your stomach can’t handle all of that, but I do think it’s ‘eat early, eat and drink early and often.’ And then just forward progress, take care of yourself. So you just need to look and make sure you’re having those bottles. Are you moving forward? And then in my feed zone or checkpoint or whatever, I have everything under the sun and it looks like I’m a 12-year-old kid at summer camp with what I have there. Cause I don’t know what my body’s going to want at hour eight and 110-degree headwind at Emporio Kansas. So I just have options and sometimes gels work great at other times, your stomach just starts feeling like, too much sugar. You’re looking for salty. And you kinda just go with what your gut literally says.

Dirk Friel:

Absolutely, Adam, how about advice for a 50-year-old like myself? 

Adam Pulford:

Well, what Alison said was pretty spot on. I like to think about it in terms of, like calorie heat mapping sort of thing, in terms of the intensity, because when intensity is high, you’ve got to do quicker absorbing foodstuffs, when the intensity is lower that’s when you want to put it in, assuming you’ve got a good stomach for it–meaning you can eat more complex things when the intensity is lower because you’re in the aerobic, energy state, right? You’re not burning glycogen. You don’t have all these other weird things going on. So she’s definitely right in her approach with both road and in the gravel scene, because if you listen to that, what she was saying is, she would eat more when the intensity was less and she would drink more, consume more simple carbohydrate when the intensity was high.

And so I would definitely encourage that. One thing that I like to work with, some of my athletes, rather than like a calories-per-hour, I like to look at a percentage of output for intake. Meaning, I look at calories burned in kilojoule. If they’re running a power meter and say it’s 500 an hour, we’ll figure it out in training, but it could be anywhere between 25-35% of whatever you burn for your intake. Meaning that could span from 120-250 calories, like Alison said, sometimes even 300. But you’re looking at a percentage of intake per the output. And that’s how I use data to make those nutritional decisions

Dirk Friel:

And work that into training, I mean, you have to practice that as well.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. You don’t want to figure that out on race day. You figure it out way before. 

Dirk Friel:

Alright, so Adam, I heard you conduct one of your own podcasts by the way. Why don’t you go ahead and plug that now?

Adam Pulford:

Sure. It is the Train Right Podcast and our topics and guests and discussions are all about things that further the endurance athletes performance. 

Dirk Friel:

Okay. And I saw you within one of those interviews, you ended on a kumbaya moment, which we’re going to have now. And the question you posed your guests were, what do you each appreciate about each other?

Adam Pulford:

I appreciate how she takes care of all the other stuff that my athletes don’t. Meaning like she’s really good at recovery. She’s really good at putting the files into TrainingPeaks, making the comments. If there’s like two files, she’ll delete them. If she notices there’s a bad spike in data, she’ll delete it, so I don’t have to. And I know that when I pull up my WKO5, pulls from TrainingPeaks, I know that everything coming through is going to be clean data and I can just absorb it, interpret it, and then start to develop my training strategy and decide whether I need to talk to her that week or not. And it’s just very clean, concise, and simple. And I really appreciate that.

Dirk Friel:

The perfect data geek.

Alison Tetrick:

Well, thank you. I am, I definitely am. So my TrainingPeaks… just never log in Dirk. Cause it’s basically a diary. It’s like a 12-year-old’s diary. I’m like, “Adam, so this happened today and then this happened. And so I felt like this, might’ve been hungover. Probably shouldn’t have had that last whiskey, but you know, I still did my effort, my heart rate’s a little elevated due to that.”

Dirk Friel:

That’s important stuff.

Adam Pulford:

“Yeah, one time I told you, I said, “We learned from wrestling that, if that’s what happened on Friday, you still got to come in on Saturday and do your practice.” And then you learn how to monitor yourself on Friday.

Alison Tetrick:

Yeah. I love that Adam understands and accepts me. And so it gives me a safe place to fail, to write my diary into TrainingPeaks. [He] also lets me be an adult and independent and make my own choices. And he’s never going to text me, he said five hours and I rode six and a half. He’s just gonna be like, well, the workout is going to stay the same tomorrow, same thing like drinking too much whiskey, he’s gonna be like, well you rode an hour and a half longer than I said, but then show up tomorrow and do those intervals. And he doesn’t even say it though. He just doesn’t change the interval. So then I had this innate ability to like, want to prove him wrong, but I can still do it even though I feel awful. 

And then also understanding when I need rest. So I think for him, he understands my personality, where we’re very much alike in a lot of ways and very different, but we communicate well when we do, I have a ton of respect for him. And that’s how this happened—I mean via CTS and friendship, but having a safe place to fail, to succeed. And to literally…sometimes I write him and I’m like, “How can I still drink, ride and look good in photoshoots and do all these things? And can you just make a training plan for that for a second?” And he’s like, “Oh goodness, you’re a nightmare.” But he never tells me I’m a nightmare. He goes, “Yeah, I got you.” You know? And so it’s a place to be vulnerable and fail and he humanizes the sport for me. So I appreciate that.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, super. Well, I would wish that for any athlete, you know, that safe space. I appreciate it guys. That was awesome. Alison, we were supposed to meet up at Steamboat Gravel. That’s been put off for another year. Adam, we were probably gonna meet up at the Endurance Coaching Summit. That’s virtual now

Adam Pulford:

In London, yeah, we were.

Dirk Friel:

Yeah, exactly. So those times will come back, but I love the focus, the energy. And thank you guys so much for being on the podcast.

Alison Tetrick:

Thanks for having us. This is the most I’ve talked to Adam in a long time. I’m just kidding, I talk to him a lot.

Adam Pulford:

Yeah. Thanks Dirk. This was awesome.

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