A year can be a long time – and yet feel like no time at all! In mid August, I celebrated having had Tri Coaching as a company for a year, and now having done only the third race myself in that time I thought I’d look back on it.
This time last year I was working full time – for bike distributor Velotech – and doing the coaching on the side. From there it gave me a stable point to grow my client base; I’m extremely grateful for the help people have given me in promoting our services here and passing on recommendations. Since March I’ve been able to coach full time across all the services that I offer. It hasn’t been an easy journey, but with 14 athletes now on rolling coaching plans, and new people coming for swim and run lessons on a weekly basis, this gives me a point to say a massive thank you for the support. Also this gives me the chance to build up the services and knowledge that I can offer to everyone! It seems that my swim and run blogs on a Tuesday and Friday have gone down well – and long may they continue… I’m constantly looking for new things to add, so if anyone has any particular questions do give us a shout!
Racing has taken a slightly different trajectory to the coaching aspect – but I think it’s important to share. Not only my results, but also the experiences that I have learnt from, and what I can pass on. This time last year I had just started building training back up having finished 5th in age at the Euro Age Group standard distance tri in Turkey and then missing out on the Worlds in London but a small amount. Having a break was great, it gave me a chance to recover mentally and just get back to enjoying training. Unfortunately I rolled my ankle in a local 5km race pretty badly – it was the first time I’ve done that and with some serious ligament and tendon damage I wasn’t able to run until after Christmas. Even cycling and swimming were painful so it meant that I wasn’t doing much of my own training while I was preparing everyone else for their assault on 2014! Slightly frustrating, but gave me the time and energy to work on Tri Coaching.
Heading through the February and March I was pain free and starting to train again – but in doing what I try to stop my athletes from doing, managed to give myself a minor stress fracture in my shin in April – racing my warm up event at Burnham, a super sprint caused a lot of pain and soreness. Unfortunately this stress fracture wasn’t really diagnosed until the summer – but with the soreness and pain, I didn’t run for yet more time! I cancelled entries to events at Dorney and Ellesmere Port, and focussed on trying to race well at the Euros in Austria. After things going so well in 2013 for me, Austria wasn’t quite the same success. Vomitting twice on the bike with my HR sky high was a low point, and after that just getting round felt like an achievement. Needless to say it wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, however given the lack of real preparation it wasn’t a major surprise.
Post Austria called for a stress and guilt free relax from training, heal up mentally and physically and the last 6 weeks I’ve had fun with training. Pain free and smiling, training when I want to, I entered Warwick triathlon in Stratford upon Avon this weekend just to enjoy a race. The swim was great, even if it was short. The bike was ok (on my commuter, after some mechanical issues with my race bike), and I smiled and was pain free on the run. Not the fastest but it really didn’t matter. It was so nice to see may people new to triathlon smiling and enjoying races, high 5ing people and waving. It certainly reminded me why I do triathlons, and why I race.
So what have I learnt this year?
– Do what your coach tells you! I’ve spent a lot of this year reassuring athletes that they don’t need to do more, and that it doesn’t matter that they are missing sessions etc, only to start running too hard and too much and cause myself another needless injury.
– Race for enjoyment. We aren’t pros, our livelihoods don’t depend on our races. If you don’t hit your targets, it’s not the end of the world. Review it, work out what went wrong for sure. But remember why you started racing in the first place.
– There is more to life than sport. Time out to recover and relax has helped me build my business. I’ve also seen my girlfriend struggle with an invisible but occasionally debilitating illness and yet still be one of the happiest and most positive people I know – read her blog here.
I have been really lucky to have had all different sorts of success stories across the board with my clients this year. From Rich, Louise, Liz and Kathryn learning to swim from the start, to Tim Lewis doing his first triathlon at Wimbleball and following up with IM Wales. Sam King has gotten over some real knee niggles and issues to run pain free now. Ash and Rita qualifying and then smashing it at the World Age Groups in Canada and Andy Lewis having storming successes on the ITU Para Tri circuit. 2014 has been an exciting year for me and I hope I can deliver for you guys into 2015.
Autumn is upon us far too quickly but most of you will have enjoyed the race season, be pleased with your race performances and looking forward to resting and relaxing – maybe treating your long-suffering partner to a specially planned (or cooked!) meal, booking romantic weekends away, working your way through the list of neglected household chores (storing up more training and racing time for next season) and spending quality time with those important people who get neglected.
Some of you may be tapering in preparation for your main race of the season? Others may not be so pleased with performances this season and may benefit from a boost in motivation by taking on another challenge to try and beat that PB or boasting work colleague (we all have them!) before the season is over! Or, will you be beating your self up, getting more earache from friends & family, not addressing that recurring soreness in your foot and not having that much needed break?
Whatever level you race at a break should be a priority at some point in the year, same as within every week, and every training cycle. You should be reviewing your season of training and racing so far and learning from the experiences.
Reviewing the season
What were YOUR goals and which ones did you achieve?
Why, what went well?
Which ones didn’t you achieve?
Why, what didn’t go so well?
What have you learnt that you can take into your next race and next season?
Answering the above questions and acting on them will help improve your performances on any remaining races this season and also prepare you better for next season. Being able to quantify goals is really important, so that you can be critical about what went wrong – and right! – about them. You can explain away issues or point to holes in your training, or work commitments that have caused issues. Or if things went well, then how you can build on what you’ve been doing!
Autumn and winter planning
Most of you will be looking at dates for next year already and decided from your race experiences this season what distances work best for you and no doubt already entered popular events that fill up quickly for 2014. But how many of you have thought about making time to plan your autumn and winter training? When you ‘eventually’ enter your R & R period you need to sit down and plan how you are going to spend your time over the coming months.
What areas do you need to work on?
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Most of us need to spend more time in the saddle, so why not schedule in some mountain biking in with friends or enter an off road duathlon. Cyclocross is also great fun through the winter and races are no more than an hour long, so great to fit in with family stuff. These events can be great motivators over the dark months especially when you beat your ‘traditional’ cycling friends that are always saying ‘triathletes can’t ride bikes’!
If you need to improve your swimming, book in for video analysis or 1-1 session with a coach (hopefully me if you’re local!) and cross-country and off road running events are great to maintain running fitness and strength over the winter.
Top tips to stay motivated over the darker months
Enter some events for fun or simply because they are different to what you normally do, maybe try a new sport? There are plenty of options!
Try a cyclosportive. These are organised bike events where the emphasis is less on time and more on getting around
Help prevent injuries and hit the gym for strength & conditioning (if you don’t have time or access there are plenty of exercises you can do at home that will benefit, do ask me, or someone that you trust)
Get together those Sunday ride buddies that may have been too busy over the summer to ride, ride for coffee and cake!
Make the most of the daylight over the weekends
Take a break to allow your body to recover and motivation rise naturally for the next season
Make time for friends and family!
Above all make sure whatever you do in the next few months is fun. If you’re planning for the new year, the last thing you want to be doing is slogging your guts out and draining yourself mentally, and feeling burnt out when spring comes around and the sunshine is back!
Its Taper Time
What is a taper?
In the context of sports, tapering is the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. Tapering is common in many sports and for many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more.
In simplest terms, what you are trying to do when you taper is recover from all of your hard training, so that you are well rested and ready to put the training to the test. When you have trained and “peaked” properly, you should experience increased power, reduced lactic acid buildup and fatigue, increased blood volume, enhanced work capacity, increased fuel storage, and renewed interest in participating in your event (if at any point you were verging on overtraining). You should feel like you have plenty of “pop” or “spring” in your muscles, and you should also feel a bit antsy, as though you cannot wait to get going again. The most common mistake people make leading up to their event is to think that “more is better” and to train hard right up until the day before the day of the race or climb. As difficult as it is to remember, fitness actually improves with rest, and you want to be well rested to perform optimally. Equally, for fitness gains to take place, the body adapts over 3-6 weeks, so hard sessions 2 weeks before will have no performance benefits! My old swim coach used the analogy of training (and your body) being like money being put in the bank. By the time you come to your event – and your taper – it’s time to take out the interest.
How It Can Feel! Be Strong!
Although there is now considerable agreement on the value of a taper, there is not a tremendous amount of information on what is actually happening to the body during this time. Investigations have focused on two broad categories, physiological and psychological. It is understandable that many initial scientific studies focused on physiological variables. After all it is inherently easier to measure glycogen in a muscle biopsy than it is to understand the inner workings of the human brain. Recently, more investigations into psychological processes have been done with interesting results and the promise of more for the future. In any event it is important to keep in mind that both physiological and psychological adaptations are important since neither alone can fully account for what is observed when athletes race. As explanations continue to develop, one need not wait to reap the benefits of a good taper. Enjoy!
Although a complete discussion is beyond the scope of this article, here are a few interesting highlights of scientific investigations into adaptations that occur during a taper. Although some changes are small the summation can have a strong effect on performance.
1) VO2 max, the best measure of aerobic performance, can increase during a taper. Some studies reported up to 5 – 6 % improvement.
2) Muscle glycogen has been shown to increase during a taper – provided the athlete is consuming a carbohydrate rich diet (~75% of caloric intake)
3) Improved economy of movement (the oxygen cost of exercise at a given submaximal exercise intensity) can also improve during a taper.
4) Improved mood and better sleep quality have been documented during a taper.
5) Rating of perceived exertion may decline during a taper. In other words athletes’ self-rated perception of effort indicated they felt less effort at a given workload (note: this is always a nice feeling).
How do I taper for an event?
For endurance athletes, “tapering” refers to a decrease in training volume (amount) leading up to competitions. In the past, most coaches had athletes reduce both the volume and intensity (effort) of training prior to competition, but all that changed when a group of researchers at McMaster University in Canada conducted a ground-breaking study on the affects of various tapering strategies. The results of this work, and more that followed, showed dramatic endurance benefits in runners who drastically cut their training volume but added high intensity interval training sessions in the week prior to competition.
Tapering can lead to odd thoughts about your fitness or potential niggles.
Most tapering strategies today use this research as a foundation, but there are a variety of methods and schedules available for every athlete and every competition.
The length of your taper depends upon your current level of fitness and experience, but a good rule of thumb is the one-hour rule. This means that if your event will last an hour or less, use a one-week taper. If you event is going to last more than an hour, your taper may extend to a full two weeks prior to the event.
It’s important to pay attention to your body during the week before a competition. If you are fatigued, or feel any aches or twinges of pain, it’s best to stop your training and recover. It’s always better to stop your workouts for a week than to push through pain and suffer on race-day.
It seems that no matter which tapering strategy the coach and athlete decide on, there will almost certainly come a time close to the race when the athlete doubts the strategy. This is perfectly normal. The weird physical sensations that accompany the change in training that the taper brings, coupled with the stress of the situation make for some fertile ground for doubts to spring up. Without a smart strategy and a firm resolve, these doubts often breed silly decisions.
So, what constitutes a smart taper?
A smart taper is optimally timed to coincide with that very brief sweet spot where the athlete has the the best combination of the freshness that comes from “freshening” while still not losing too much of the fitness that comes from training. Timing this peak is a very delicate dance made even more fragile by the fact that the optimal combination will be different for every athlete.
The elements that combine to create the perfect taper recipe for a given athlete are:
Fitness – The greater the aerobic base of the athlete, the shorter the taper generally needs to be
Race type – Paradoxically, the shorter the event, the longer the taper
Gender/Body type – The bigger and more muscular the athlete, the longer the taper
Surprisingly, perhaps, the most common silly decision that I see in super-fit, highly competitive triathletes is ignoring the first rule above and tapering too often – there is no point in tapering for every event that you do throughout the season – assuming that you will race upwards of 4 events in a year. If you taper for every single event that you plan to race, then you never end up building on your fitness throughout the season. Pick your 2/3 A races for the year and taper properly for them. Your B races may have a slight drop off, but not the same as your A races. C category races are training events. Go and race them, but don’t expect PB’s or fantastic times, look for something more internal – technical, emotional or strategy based.
On the flipside of the coin, under-tapering occurs when athletes fail to taper long enough to exploit the full performance benefit of freshening. This is especially common in new athletes who are nervous about dropping fitness leading into the event. This attitude is especially damaging during late race week when it becomes important to drop training load below the athlete’s chronic training load to allow supercompensation of glycogen stores to occur. Put more simply, in the last 72 hours pre-race, you want to be making deposits into your body’s glycogen account, not withdrawals.
As you peak, decrease your overall volume. If you have been doing 3 hr rides and 4x 400 meters running on the track do 90 minutes in the saddle, and 2 or 3x300m intervals. You want to stay fresh and sharp but not worn down. Workouts should be short and sweet. They might burn but you should recover fast. By maintaining or even increasing your intensity, your body thinks that training is still on full blast and your body will continue to adapt full blast. But… you have decreased the volume and by the time it realizes that you have actually done less your body has over compensated and your flying. Further hone this adaptation with race specific workouts in a race specific environment and you will be more ready on race day than you ever imagined.
While this decreased training time will be nice you should still treat yourself well. Treat yourself like your still training hard. Get that recovery drink even if you feel you don’t need it. Get plenty of sleep and keep up on stretching, etc…
The other item you will need to keep busy is your brain. Don’t think too much. Go over the race plan, make sure the tires on the bike are in good shape and just go. You have done this in training so you can do it in the race. Remember there is not much you can do to get faster in the week or three before the big race but you can do everything to blow it. So stay the course. Take care. Eat the extra pasta. Skip the morning swim if your feeling tired. And don’t be afraid to light it up a few times. Show your stuff, whether in a race or a short hard work out with the training partners. You have been looking at your heart rate and power meter all season staying in “your zone”. Time to see how far you can push yourself!
Peaking for an event optimally remains an art form, trying out the suggestions above might afford you a significant leg up on your competition. It’s not always the fittest athlete who wins.
Last weekend I took a trip over to Lisbon in Portugal, to recce the area and facilities of the company who approached us to run training camps. Lisbon South is the brain child of Antonio Barbosa, a bike shop owner and keen cyclist, who didn’t see why athletes weren’t coming to Portugal as much as they do to mainland Spain, the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands for warm weather training. What he has done is put together a package that hopefully will suit athletes of all levels from novice to elite, individuals, groups and families.
Lisbon South is situated in Alcochete, a little village on the south of the River Tejo. When I arrived at the airport in Lisbon, rather than taking the 20 minute drive over the river to the hotel initially, we went and explored west of Lisbon, toward the beautiful Cascais, Guincho beach and Sintra. It is this side of town that Antonio has his bike shop with his business partner Joao, and as a Trek bike dealer gives him the opportunity to rent out top level Trek Madones – as well as offering lots of other support (spares, mechanic, sports nutrition, GPS etc). Unfortunately you can’t ride over from the base to this area – bikes aren’t allowed to be ridden across the Vasco de Gama bridge, but it can be arranged to transport bikes over to Sintra to ride around the region. What really struck me was that even in the car, at rush hour, once we were out of the city itself, the roads were almost empty bar cyclists!
While I was in Portugal I had the opportunity to swim, ride and run. One of the services that the Lisbon South package offers is guides for bike routes – and at speeds to suit! If you are an experienced, high end athlete, Joao will lead you a merry dance across the varied countryside – he has raced at Portuguese elite national championships on the road and mountain bike. Don’t let this put you off however; if you are just starting out or feeling more circumspect on a bike, Antonio knows the area well – and his good humour and knowledge will keep you interested on whatever rides you feel up to. If neither of these options are up your street, and you just want to explore, Antonio can furnish you with a GPS unit to help point you in the right direction and route maps for if you find yourself lost! Being out on the road was a pleasure having had some interesting experiences at home – the roads were 95% smooth, and where there were potholes there wasn’t the need to swing right in to the road to avoid them. Even the biggest roads were quiet by British standards and there was a real variety of terrain and views.
East of Alcochete is prime breeding ground both for bulls and horses.
Running around Alcochete was good fun – predominantly flat with a few gradual climbs – but plenty to do both on road and off. Running along the river was lovely, especially early in the morning when no-one was around! Because this part of the river is the estuary, you can swim in the river here, it’s great for open water swimming. Alternatively there is a great 25m pool facility a short travel from the hotel for the more tri minded athletes. Finally for the athletes looking for a full training programme will be pleased to know that a 2 minute walk from the hotel is a gym with a full complement of equipment – machines, free weights, TRX/stability equipment – and a sauna/steam room! The gym also does sports massage for those coming out and doing hard training weeks and in need of a little assistance with recovery! Outside the gym is a 60m sprint track as well for athletes wanting to do some power work.
Alcochete is a picturesque little village with plenty of places to eat, drink or just chill out. Because it is quiet, its great for downtime between training sessions, though on the edge of town there are places to go out dancing if your training week is more about balance than all out work!
Alcochete is like a view out of a postcard
Having been out to Lisbon South, I’d happily go again as an athlete – no questions asked. The flight is short, the weather is fairly guaranteed, the area is lovely. Its a minor downside that not all the facilities are right on base – but given that its all pretty much within walking distance for gym or pool swim from the Hotel Alfoz, its certainly a competitive option to elsewhere on the continent.
The intention for us is that we can run camps for Lisbon South – for varying levels of cyclist or triathlete – and also run camps/training weeks under our own banner, hopefully encouraging some fun in our usual way with training but also giving the option to go and see the sights, get some culture!
We are very pleased to announce that we will be running training days with Events Logic up at Lake 62 in the Cotswolds! Initially the first events will be familiarisation sessions for novices and intermediates, but we are looking to expand both in numbers and also into more intense “training days” for varying abilities.
The benefits of the days that we will be running will be that you can come along for any of the 3 sessions – or all 3! The idea is that we want the day to appeal to individual sports athletes as well as someone wanting to learn more about all three disciplines.
If you are new to the sport – or slightly longer in the tooth and wanting to improve some skills, come and have a look!
Welcome to Tri-Coaching, based in Bristol. Welcome to our little part of the world and of the internet! Have a look around, hopefully we can help. If you have any questions, or think that we might be missing a trick, get in touch via our contact page.