The Middaugh method
Take the leap.As local triathlete Lisa Isom tells it, those were Josiah Middaugh’s words to her in December of 2003. At the time, Isom was at a crossroads. She’d finished second as an amateur at the Xterra National Championship that September in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and was considering the idea of turning pro. Her coach, former Xterra world champion Jimmy Riccitello, told her to stay in the amateur ranks for one more season. She could win the national championship, he said, and maybe get a few sponsors.In pondering her next move, Isom kept coming back to Middaugh’s story. She was intrigued by his rapid ascension from amateur to pro triathlete in just three years after moving to Vail following college. After winning the amateur Xterra national championship in 2002, and finishing third at worlds, Middaugh turned pro in 2003 and began making a name for himself.He recorded top-10 finishes in four out of five races. He finished sixth at worlds in Maui, Hawaii, to close out the season.Says Isom, “I was kind of like, ‘What’s he doing? What’s he doing that everybody else isn’t doing?'”While conversing in December, Middaugh urged Isom to go with her instincts and turn pro. It was a risky move, he said, but she was 32 and hitting her prime. He also proposed something that caught Isom off guard: leaving Riccitello to train under him.Take the leap. Go for it. “A lot of it was that we were kind of on a parallel plane,” Isom says. “Not results wise, but as far as going from kind of being nobodies to doing this amateur thing to trying to go pro. It seemed like everything he did I was kind of right behind him. The astounding results that I had seen from him in a very short period of time just drew me to him as an athlete. I did two things at once. I decided to go pro and I decided to go with the coach who told me to go pro.”Looking back now, Isom says, it was the right decision. She’s still close with Riccitello, who lives in Arizona, but says she needed Middaugh’s prompting to take the next step. Admittedly, she says, what she really needed was some tough love. As a mother of one with a full-time job, Isom says Riccitello would “let (her) off the hook” at times when she complained about how hard it was to complete her daily training.The workouts Middaugh gave her were the most intense in her life, and he was unforgiving in his approach. He was a father himself with a 40-hour-a-week job. He knew how hard it was. Whining wasn’t part of the routine.”If I’d have stayed amateur, I would have won the amateur national championship by like 10 minutes,” Isom says. “That’s how far Josiah’s training pushed me in one season. I didn’t regret it at all. I didn’t look back and say, ‘Damn, I could have been first amateur instead of sixth pro.’ It wasn’t like that at all. It was like, ‘Holy Cow. I can’t believe this was my first year. I was so glad I did this.'”
Middaugh jokingly refers to Isom as “the guinea pig.” As a full-time personal trainer at the Aria Spa and Club in Vail, he had dabbled in some endurance coaching with his clients. He also studied health and fitness at Central Michigan, graduating in four years with a degree in health promotion and rehabilitation.He had never designed a daily endurance training regimen for anyone other than himself, however, before Isom.The coaching came naturally. Isom was motivated and had similar goals, so she was an ideal trainee. Quickly thereafter, Middaugh began to accrue more coaching clients. His roster currently stands at 12 – a load of work that Middaugh manages at night from his home.The list includes well-known local pros like Eagle’s Anita Ortiz, one of the best trail runners in the country, and adventure racer Dan Weiland of Vail. His most famous amateur trainee is Ryan Sutter, whom Middaugh coached last year while Sutter was training for his first Ironman triathlon in Hawaii.Middaugh says coaching appealed to him because he wanted to share the knowledge he had acquired throughout his life as an endurance athlete. Before Isom, he was the guinea pig – constantly refining his methods to achieve the ideal results.”Probably since I was ninth grade, I’ve been trying to find ways to train more efficiently and be faster and stronger,” says Middaugh. “I’m just always looking everywhere for the latest training advice, workouts, theories. I’ve kind of put together my own basic philosophies on training. I’ve kind of used myself as the guinea pig for the last five years, and I’ve seen steady improvements every year.”
The training regimens that Middaugh has developed for his clients all embrace certain core principles but each is unique to itself. The key to successful endurance training, Middaugh believes, is to build around individual needs. Before he begins to design a routine, he asks his clients their goals for the season and how much time each week they are available to train. He also does VO2 testing to gauge his athletes current fitness levels and to compile where their heart-rate zones they need to be during training. He also takes into account previous training history to assess the volume of what his athletes can handle.Says Middaugh, “There’s no guess work involved. … It’s going to be super specific to the athlete and their endurance zones. They know what intensity they’re working at and what heart-rate zones they need to be in. I also do periodic field testing with them. A popular one I do is up Battle Mountain where I record speed, distance, heart rate. We’re gauging improvement. Then we’re also trying to pinpoint where they should be training.”The programs are designed in four-week cycles and sent via e-mail. Clients are also free to e-mail daily, if need be, to check in with questions and provide training results. Middaugh also sends out periodic training tips and articles.The goal, he says, is to hit peaks at the apt time – during competition.Isom says Middaugh’s workouts were the hardest she had ever done when she first started. So hard, in fact, she couldn’t focus mentally at points. She never questioned Middaugh’s intentions, however. Or, if she did, her answers were always sufficiently answered.”The thing about Josiah is there’s a science behind every single thing he gives me,” she says. “I can call him and say, ‘Why am I riding for 90 minutes today doing a hill workout?’ He can say, ‘It’s because X,Y and Z. This is the place you are in your training. This is what you need to work on. This is what your heart rate needs to be.’ There’s never any questions. It’s not like he just threw something at me.”
There’s no questioning the results. Isom finished sixth overall in the 2004 Xterra points series in her first pro season. Her best individual finish was a fourth at the Xterra Central Championship in Keystone in July.Mia Richter, an amateur triathlete who trains in Iowa City, Iowa, says she went “from basically zero to an Ironman Hawaii qualifier in one year.””He’s an unbelievable coach,” Richter says. “Just absolutely a fantastic facilitator.”Paul Davis, 41, a nurse at the Vail Valley Medical Center, introduced himself to Middaugh after moving to Vail in November from Maui. Davis has competed in every Xterra World Championship in Maui as an amateur since its inception 10 years ago. He says, after working with Middaugh for just one offseason, that he expects to post the best times of his career this upcoming season.”I can already tell I’m going to do better,” Davis says. “He sets up a great workout. It’s much more intense than anything I’ve ever done before. When you have a guy of that caliber telling you what to do, you do it. I haven’t missed a workout yet.”Davis also says the monthly flat rate of $150 Middaugh charges is hard to beat.”I’m really surprised at how great it is for what I’m paying for and just for the fact that I’m just a regular guy,” he says. “You read so much different stuff on what to do, and there’s so many different things. It gets kind of confusing. It’s a jigsaw puzzle, so it’s nice having someone do it for you.”This offseason, Middaugh scaled back on his personal training at the club to increase his own training and to focus more on coaching.Still, he says he doesn’t want his list of coaching clients to expand past 15. He also says his expertise isn’t for everyone. “A lot of my coaching clients can’t necessarily afford to meet with me three days a week at the personal training rates,” he says. “But, they’re very dedicated and very self-motivated athletes so they don’t necessarily need someone walking them through their workouts. It takes the right kind of person for the coaching. They’ve got very specific goals. I’m just guiding them in the right direction. Pretty much all of their workouts are on their own. You’ve got to be very self motivated.”Nate Peterson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 608, or via e-mail at email@example.com.Vail, Colorado
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