Which way to Go?
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to from here?’
‘That depends a great deal on where you want to get to’
‘I don’t much care where –‘
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I love this quote, especially at this time of year when most athletes I coach are thinking about next season and I am starting to put training back into their plans after their month of recovery. As a coach it is so much clearer to work with an athlete who knows where they want to go over the next 12 months or longer than the athlete who does not know what they want from me as a coach. Finding that place an athlete wants to be is something that as coaches, is part of our remit, but it also has to be somewhere the athlete wants to go and that its possible for the athlete to get. It is a team effort!
To some, this may seem quite daunting, although most age group athletes start having formal coaching because they want to improve. As a coach this is a good place to start as we can then look back at the previous season and start to put some goals together. Reflection and evaluation is an important part of the process. Not just by analysing what could be better, why and how, but also by taking time to appreciate achievements. By nature, triathletes are type A personalities, and with that goes being hard on themselves about their performances! As a coach, my job is to get them to acknowledge their successes and be proud of their achievements!
The next step is to start to put these ideas, good and bad into a framework to plan the next season round. The good to maintain or further improve and the areas that need work to dig a bit deeper to find why they need some work and start from there to start to formulate goals, both long and short term; season goals; performance goals and process goals.
So we start with the long term season goal. It may be to complete or it may be to compete, depending on the athletes background and experience in the sport. The nature of triathlon is that it can be a long term process as there are so many variables between the 4 disciplines. From the season goal, its then realistic to look at what the performance goals need to be and from that look at how realistic they are. An example for those who love the long distance races, the goal maybe to qualify for Kona. This then requires some homework, how many slots are available in their age group, what sort of times won their age group in previous years. From this an idea as to the performance times in swim, bike, run and transitions can be set as goals.
By reflecting on the detail of the previous season by breaking down each discipline into smaller parts, it starts to become obvious how these performance goals can be achieved and these details built into the training plan to set as process goals. By setting shorter term performance goals the athlete and coach can keep track and confirm they are on the right path. Testing is part of this as it gives feedback to both the coach and athlete which can then be reviewed and new short terms goals set. Making them specific, measurable, achievable, reviewable, and time based will all help to motivate athletes and give them direction to their training.
Sometimes the goals aren’t discipline related. A holistic approach to training and racing will also include psychology, time management, nutrition, hydration, stress management, illness and injury prevention. Each athletes needs are different, which is one of the things I love about my job in that the work I do with athletes varies so much. Currently I am working specifically with some athletes on just one of these aspects, which if we reach our goals, will have a beneficial impact on their training and racing.
Personally, after a season out of training and racing, as an athlete, my goal is to shed the kilos I have put on by the end of the year. Here my ‘performance goals’ include calories in, macro distribution and hydration on a weekly basis, with the process goals of planning and recording what I eat on a daily basis (weekly planning for the shopping!). Like my athletes, I have a coach who is pointing me in the right direction, advising me when I am stuck and keeping track with me. While I could do all of this myself, as I do with the athletes I coach, having the support and advice of another coach to me is invaluable.
Back to Alice in Wonderland. To know where you want to be is an important part of knowing how you can get there. As coaches, our role is to help you not only find the way, but also to help you find where you want to go, and give you access to any tools you might need on the way.
Six years ago after my best ever 70.3 race I was all signed up to race what was then Challenge Barcelona on my 50th birthday. It was not to be. Soon after the best race of my life, I found myself physically in pieces with slipped dics and a degenerative neck condition that virtually rendered me useless at times.
In the interim years with lots of physio, I managed a few good races, but always in a world of pain and I would really suffer afterwards. I gradually learned to manage the pain and my life style (as my job at the time exacerbated it) as well as learn a whole load about recovery, making it perhaps one of my pet topics as a result!!
Fast forward to Sunday 2nd October. I stood on the start line of Ironman Barcelona, just 6 years late, but I was there. I felt in the best shape I’ve been in for years having managed my condition through a mix of strength and core work, diet and rest. Lots of rest (exhaustion last year taught me the importance of listening to my body and not to ignore fatigue until its too late). I also did some swim, bike and run training. I have written before about some of my bike sessions including the value of velodrome sessions (perfect training for the Barcelona course as its nature means you have to pedal all the time). Running was limited in the latter weeks from a banana skin moment 6 weeks out when I purchased some new run shoes, wore them for 4 hours max to officiate in and triggered plantar fasciitis. For the last 4 years I have been using Nike Free shoes to run in, I can feel my feet and they have not caused me any issues, except as runs got longer I could tell I needed a bit more cushioning. Hence the unsuccessful trial of different shoes. On reflection, I had probably left it too late to start experimenting with the newer breed of shoes on the market. I guess I just hadn’t anticipate them aggravating me so badly in such a short space of time. I was still debating which shoes right up to race day and even had a spare pair packed in my run bag just in case.
The weather was very warm and the sea a really barmy 22.5 degrees with wetsuits being an option. I have raced a lot over the years non wetsuit (in my early years of triathlon I didn’t own my own wetsuit!) and have swum all summer without one and loved it. I stood on the start line without my wetsuit unusually calm about the swim. The advantages of no wetsuit included a better chance of not getting dehydrated too soon. My swim times are roughly the same with or without a wetsuit and so the time gained in transition would also be a bonus. Normally in the swim, I ‘get through’ the first bit to the 2nd buoy, but lined up with Rob, one of my athletes, seeing my friends Alan and Lucy as we went in the water, along with other close friends nearby, I enjoyed the swim from the moment I got in the water. It helped that the sea was so much calmer than in May, but also the rolling start of just 4 athletes in the water at a time made a huge difference (thanks Ironman!). The water was relatively clear and so I enjoyed the view of fish and jelly fish basking on the bottom. It was a long swim for me, but I knew from my training that my swims weren’t on the pace I have produced in the past. However – the big difference was just how much I really enjoyed it!! Not sure if it was the lack of pressure knowing my swims aren’t where they usually are or the non wetsuit – or both.
Out onto the bike I had a plan. Or rather I had a plan A on my right thigh and a plan B on my left thigh!! My back pockets and top tube bag were packed with goodies – sweet stuff on the top tube and savouries in the back pocket. Marmite sandwiches (always served me well in the past), peanuts, dates, homemade energy balls, croissants – a veritable picnic. My plan was to enjoy the nutrition on the bike! Zero tablets for water (I knew the important thing would be to avoid dehydration as much as possible). I had divided the bike mentally into 4 parts – with each one having its own target time and pace. The first part was up to the turn round at the far end (54km) – I was ahead of plan A (back wind), so I backed off as much as I could, but still arrived ahead of plan. The next section was a head wind an so I did have to work a bit harder to reach the next turn round – but was still ahead (gulp – this wasn’t in the plan) – was careful on the next section to not go too hard so that I could TT the last 39km back to transition. 2 stops for water (the water was in the bottles they retail in and so I had to stop to put the zero tablets in). I was totally amazed to arrive at T2 within a minute of plan A. Very happy and on to the next bit.
The run was always going to be the hard part for me but an hour ahead of plan B, I knew I had an hour more leeway for the run. I was going to get there, no problem! I started the 42km walking as fast as I could. I knew that running all the way might be a bit too much demand on my body, especially my feet, but walking was comfortable. At 5km I thought I would start to run/walk with 1km of each – partly because I knew I could as my feet had warmed up and partly as a mental aid to get round the 42km and spice it up! 400m after starting my run I managed to trip, fly through the air in slow motion then skid along the beach getting some good carpet like burns in the process! For some odd reason this inspired me to run more – not less!! The strength and conditioning I have been doing just came into its own. The run can be a dark place, especially at the back of the field, but seeing people I knew, both within the race and supporting, made it just as enjoyable as the rest! 3 laps of the run and it was my turn to take the right hand turn down the red carpet – several friends in the grandstand to high 5 – thank you Duncan and Claire for the photo and Alan and Lucy – I crossed the line in 14:59:58 –and just before midnight and my birthday! I couldn’t have written it better!!
So many people made the day happen as it did. There supporting and helping to sort my entry out, Alan, via Paul Huddle (also there on the finish line as well) and Lucy (plus Alan’s mum and dad who helped me out with my pre race beer when a ‘cerveza grande’ resulted in a 2 litre glass). Getting me in shape and ready to race, Elaine, of EAST Soft Tissue Release, who has managed to get my neck moving, my legs moving and generally got my body working better than it ever did before. Mary, my training partner who dragged me out early on and got me loving the hills and my bike again. Other training partners – Cat who also dragged me out when I could barely keep awake – and introduced me to the velodrome, which formed a key part f my winter training. Dan and Jenny for being with me in spirit (and I knew you were – I could hear you say ‘run tall’!), Neill and Tracy for sorting out my accommodation and being there on the course. Rob, also racing – and Michelle for the support out there on the course. I am sure I’ve missed people. It’s a team effort and goes back to long before I put my entry in.
Preparing for the next phase using F.I.T Clean 9
Having read quite a bit about the Forever Living Clean 9 programme, and wanting to try to boost my energy levels a bit (they have gradually improved after last year’s fatigue and exhaustion but know with 3 busy weekends in a row, they will take a hit and maybe it would be a good way to help me through it.) So I returned from Strathclyde Sunday night, fatigued, was kind to myself Monday when I felt I had been hit by a bus and was back on it all on Tuesday with a busy day bike fitting and Time Trialling. The fatigue hadn’t quite gone though. I had spoken to Sara, my Forever sponsor about doing the clean 9, read a bit more about it and when I saw her on Wednesday decided this would be a good week to do it as I plan to restart serious training at the end of June once all my officiating is out of the way. If I could just start the next block of training with a bit more energy, maybe I could achieve just that little bit more. Last year I was introduced to the Forever products by my Lanzarote friend Fiona, who suggested the pure Aloe juice to help my fatigue. It certainly did and am sure it made a difference. Unfortunately at the time, I wasn’t in a position to do any more as all my funds were needed for more urgent buiness matters!
Plus, as a new Forever business owner I wanted to try one of their top selling products and learn more about it first-hand. My Forever business is going to link closely to the rest of my business, with my focus being on their fitness products in particular.
The Clean 9 comes with a box of the various Forever products that supplement the clean 9 programme and a couple of booklets. The main booklet is very comprehensive, containing meal ideas, how to take the various supplements, exercise ideas plus a diary. Its important to realise this isn’t about starvation and the aim is to eat clean. The supplements are Aloe based and all provide a source of nutrients that combine with what you eat to help boost your system. I am a great believer that you need to get as much from your diet as you can, but sometimes its just not physically possible to eat everything you need all at once.
How did I get on?
I probably chose the worst week possible to do the clean 9 with events during the 2 weekends, where its always a challenge to stay well hydrated and eat something other than sandwiches! Days 1 and 2 were relatively easy for me as I was working from home with no training planned. Day 1 I measured not just my weight, but also inches and fat %. Other than frequent trips to the loo, the day went well and I started to feel good. My exercise that day was some steady stretching and core work which I interspersed among work. Day 2 was similar and as I headed up towards Leeds for the ITU race I managed to get 2 lots of fresh fruit and vegetable crudites to keep munching! I even managed to find an item on the menu that evening that was almost all the free food at Pizza Express in the form of their Superfood salad. I did stray a bit with a couple of drinks that evening (I am human and it was a long day with over 10km of walking!). Days 3 and 4 were to be the most challenging. If you have read anything about the event in Leeds or were there you might understand what I mean! As much as I could I tried to keep to it, but the cold on the pontoon and very little sit down time did lead to a few additional bits to keep me going! At the end of the day, the job in hand is the priority.
For the last few years, and especially since the big bout of fatigue last year, my real problems have been the day after a weekend like this. I usually lose it completely as they have totally wiped me out and it’s a day I usually book nothing in to allow me to have a duvet day if required. Surprisingly, despite the weekend probably being one of the most stressful of my officiating career, I woke up on the Monday ready to go far sooner than I expected!! I was still tired, but nowhere near the levels I would normally be and managed to actually get some work done! Tuesday saw me do the club 25m TT champs. Wondering how I could manage this on the Clean 9 was also a challenge (I said I had picked the hardest 9 days!). So I ate my evening meal at lunch time and used the protein shake as a recovery drink and added some of the free fruit and nut milk, as well as a tablespoon of peanut butter and greek yoghourt (I saved the calories from my meal at lunchtime). I was expecting this one to be tough and my time to be a bit low, but surprised myself with a good time, despite the toughness of the race (25s are always tough and there is always a head wind in Lincolnshire!).
The rest of the week was equally manic, with a wall of bike fitting, coaching and travelling, but I had more energy than I have had for a long time and made it to the end of the 9 days feeling a lot better than I would have normally.
I have already mentioned how much better I felt; this for me was the key really and my primary objective in doing the Clean 9. Instead of losing the last 2 Mondays to the duvet, I have been able to function normally – a bit tired, but a 4/10 instead of the usual 10/10! I also lost a couple of inches off my waist and thighs and lost 2% fat. Despite the week being as it was, I also managed to lose 1 kg (a bonus as weight loss wasn’t really my reason for doing it). I have managed to keep this off too in the week since I finished.
My other reason for doing it was so that I could work with clients who might be interested in doing it and understanding it first hand. Its really important to realise that its not a starvation diet, but a means of kick starting some healthy eating habits with the support of the aloe products. The key to success with it is to eat as many of the free foods from the fruit and veg list as you can, raw or cooked. Drinking plenty of water also really helps.
I have since continued to drink the Aloe Juice as I am sure that is benefitting me and helping my fatigue. I am also including the protein powder in my recovery drinks now after a hard session.
If you would like to know more or give it a try, please PM me and I can get you going!
Rest and Recovery
One of the most important parts of training is rest and recovery. I once heard it likened to training is the architect. The rest and recovery is the builder. That’s the time when the body adapts to the training load. When athletes don’t recover properly the signs are there, times go backwards, injuries occur and the immune system is compromised and its easy to pick up colds, stomach bugs etc, Triathletes by nature are quite work driven and taking time out to recover feels very alien as there is the fear that all that hard work is lost.
The ideal formula for rest and recovery is 1 day a week without training (in an ideal world, this might also be a non work day, but its not always realistic), then a lighter week (half the training load) every 3 or 4 weeks depending on how fit the athletes is, how old they are and what the training load has been before. Then every year I also make athletes have a complete month off from training at the end of the season. This part they usually really do not enjoy. Training for triathlon, no matter what distance, is time consuming. Most people have family and friends they have not had time to see and this is an important time to put these important people first as they have been there supporting you through the rest of the year.
I have just raced and because my next 4 weeks is going to be quite busy, then training is going to take a bit of a back seat, but not my recovery. One of the most important things to do was to go to see Elaine, of EAST Soft Tissue Release. I see Elaine every week, as she has been a very important part of my training since I got going again after my fatigue last year. When she first started to treat me last year, I was in a lot of pain in my right side of my neck and shoulder. I put this down to the prolapsed discs and my neck just not really functioning properly. Over the months of weekly treatment we have worked on my pecs and with a lot of assisted stretching and other techniques, my neck and shoulders are ‘normal’ – something I never thought I would experience again. Over the months we have loosened up other tight areas, hip flexors, glutes, calves, hamstrings – all typically tight areas for triathletes that often get neglected. Every athlete should have an Elaine (and if you live anywhere near Newark, then Elaine herself) in their life.
In addition to seeing Elaine once a week, once a month I also try to go to see Clare of Clare Ella Aromatherapy who as well as being a fabulous aromatherapist, has an amazing cycling background. The relaxation I get from the massage and oils really helps me to regenerate. There is always some oil to take home, and last year especially when I wasn’t sleeping very well, this really helped to me to relax and sleep better. The oils are also specially selected to help whatever issue I was needing some help with at the time. Everyone needs a Clare too. Sleep is such an important part of the recovery process and again is often a bit neglected, but again, when sleep eludes for whatever reason, then athletes can be more susceptible to sickness and injury. Its probably no coincidence that during the period when I wasn’t sleeping and my stress levels were sky high as a result of my then office landlord massively overcharging me for utilities causing me financial stress and worry (and ultimately part of the cause of the resulting fatigue) that I badly sprained my ankle walking a friends dogs. Clare has helped me a lot through aromatherapy to recover. Like an Elaine, everyone also needs a Clare in their lives. Clare herself if you are anywhere Saxilby!
Another piece in the recovery jigsaw is diet. The body gets damaged during training and racing and needs the tools to repair itself. I am currently working quite closely with a couple of athletes around diet and have always had an interest in diet and food since I was at school. The main building block for tissue repair are proteins, yet so many athletes neglect them in their diet in favour of carbohydrates. Of course, they too are essential as they provide energy, and often instant energy. But long term energy comes from fats as well, which are often cut from the diet in the misbelief that they can cause weight gain. Of course hydration is also important for all these to work; this is something that triathletes in general are pretty good at. The other aspect that can be neglected are minerals and vitamins. My friend here is Myfitnesspal as it usefully calculates what % of carbohydrate, fats and protein. Whether you are trying to loose, gain or maintain weight, it’s a handy tool to keep track. So this week I am trying to make sure my protein intake is a bit higher than usual as I know there is a bit of repair to be done. Meat, eggs, fish at least twice a day, along with nut milks, nut butters (good fats too) are staple, along with as many different coloured fruit and veg as I can find (easiest way to think of getting different vitamins and minerals in the diet), seeds will all play their part in helping the tissue to repair and build ready for more training and racing.
These are just a few of the things to do to help recover. Thers quite a bit I’ve missed, such as stretching, yoga, physiotherapy, refloxolgy, osteopathy, active recovery, these all have a part to play too.
Rest and recovery is essential in order to improve as an athlete. Its not just about putting your feet up, and to suit the triathlete mind set of always needing to train, how about you consider it as training just as you would that brick session? Going for that soft tissue release, that massage, planning and eating your food and sleeping. By incorporating it as training, it might just be that push needed to rest and recover properly!
The Secrets of Cycle Strength
At long last after nearly 10 years of working hard this week I managed to break the magical 30 minutes for a 10 mile TT on a soggy, very wet, cold Tuesday night! The last time I managed a good sub 30 was 10 years ago. This Tuesday it was 28:59! If you read my blog a couple of weeks ago you’ll know that I also look at my times in relation to others. It was a good night for everyone, as the wind was very favourable and in relation to the winner my time was a bit slower but this week I will focus on the time! Even better, because of the rain I decided to race on my Boardman instead of my new bike, and so felt that the time was down to my hard work.
Afterwards club members have been commenting on how well I’m riding this season and what have I done differently? Was it my bike fitting? I have a much greater understanding of the biomechanics and application of it on position on the bike and running off that position (something to consider as a triathlete). I did have a bike fit 18 months ago when Dan was bike fitting with me and that made a big difference, that was 18 months ago and I have been building on that since.
More recently, Derby opened up its Velodrome and it seemed an ideal opportunity for me to get some track cycling in. I had been previously, about 15 years ago to Manchester and knew how much I had enjoyed those sessions and so found myself going along to the alternative Monday night Women’s only sessions. Over the winter, the regular track riding, the skills learnt and the hard efforts have all contributed to a much better pedalling technique which has translated itself into my road cycling. I would recommend this to anyone who lives near enough. The coaches are fabulous and the Women’s only sessions full of support as well as challenging enough to feel well worked out. I replaced my muscular endurance turbo sessions with the track.
I have always found that social sessions such as the track and time trialling provide a fabulous means to train. As age group athletes, its about enjoying our training as much as we can – we don’t get paid to race, it is a hobby and enjoyment has to be part of the goal!
The other thing I have been lucky enough to do differently is a bit more riding during the week, which has meant that each week I have succeeded in getting a longer ride in (no longer feeling guilty at riding mid week when I am working at the weekend!). Regular riding has inevitably has also helped, along with my friend Mary taking me on the hardest climbs she can find locally! Hill work has always been in my mind one of the best ways to gain leg strength and anyone who knows me will also know that I am a great fan of hill repeats.
I have also been lucky enough that I have been able to cycle on my training camps this year as well as get two weeks in of my training. Last year I was driving the support vehicle much of the time (especially after I sprained my ankle between camps 1 and 2!). This year I was more able to join athletes on the road and ride with them on some of the camp.
So the answer is that its not a quick fix, but plenty of hard work doing a mix of sessions over many months combined with a good bike fit to get the maximum out of my position. That was my base. The short intervals and hard riding on the track on a fixed wheel has helped my pedalling technique , VO2 and muscular endurance (good all round training). The hill repeats have built strength and the longer rides have built endurance. I have tried hard to support this with core strength work (never enough), stretching and massage. Listening to my body when I’m fatigued to take extra recovery days.
Over the summer I will also continue to include as many track sessions as I can along with the regular weekly time trials, and plan to do longer ones too as the last time my cycling was really strong, the longer TTs (25s and 50s) featured in my training. A triathlon and cycle coach friend of mine always used to advocate 25m TTs to build endurance for sprints; 50m TTs for standard distance triathlons and longer for the longer events.
Next week its race week!
Age Group Athlete Dilemmas
With two weeks to go to my A race I decided that this would be my last big week of training. In my head I had various things planned (the disadvantage of being self coached as a coach is that I never actually find much time to spend on my own training plans. They remain in my head rather than actually get committed to Training Peaks. I miss having someone to answer to that has spent time putting training in for me, as on days like today I would look at what is in my plan and go and do it without thinking!). It has however, got me thinking about racing and training as an age group athlete.
This week my plan (in my head) was a bit like this: I wanted to achieve 3 swims; 3 run and 3 bike sessions, with strength and conditioning at least every other day. Swims I wanted to include a speed, strength and endurance session as I am conscious that this has been neglected and if I get it together, can be my strength! My bikes I wanted to add up to about 200km and include a long bike; a hill reps session and a tempo session. Running – if I could get 20km in without aggravating my calf I would be pleased! Sounds simple enough. The weather is glorious and no excuses.
My week started well enough on Monday. I even managed a double run day (albeit short runs) with some strength and conditioning in between. My plan with the double run is to build distance without aggravating the calf to split my runs into 2 with one morning and one evening. Its worked before and something that I found has helped to build up my mileage. Tuesday went equally well with the planned swim speed session. My lack of fitness in the pool has meant that the plan in my head didn’t quite get completed. This is the disadvantage of no coach. With only myself to disappoint when I cut it short as I fatigue I will often just do that.
So far so good. I had 1 and a half days without appointments and the freedom to fit training in with my admin and appointments. As well as coaching and bike fitting, I am also a technical official for British Triathlon and for the last few years have been the main official for the RAF Try a Tri series. Yesterday was the first of their seasons races and so I went down to RAF Odiham in Hampshire. It was a fabulous day and I even managed to sneak in a very small run. The breakdown of the chlorination plant meant a last minute change to a duathlon and so I went to test out the new second run course (another 2.5km in the bag! Bonus!). I love officiating at these races. Novices mixing with quite experienced athletes, and the opportunity to give them a great first experience in the sport I love. These events are about educating rather than penalising and as a result of a great briefing, there wasn’t even a helmet violation to stop and have a chat with!
I love these days out, but I do pay a price. This morning I struggled to wake up, fatigue was paying me a visit and my plans for a swim and bike have had to be shelved. As age groupers we all lead busy lives with jobs that sometimes mean we don’t finish until late and we find ourselves fatigued the next day. The dilemma – to train or not train? With my coaches hat on I would advise the athlete to look at their metrics. So I go through mine. Sleep quality – great, like a log; sleep duration – 11 hours (!); fatigue – very high; muscle soreness – average (same as usual); stress – OK. These are all indicators along with resting heart rate (40bpm) as to how training will affect me. With my A race just 2 weeks away my athlete head says get out in the sunshine and train. But nagging at the back of my head is that I have a busy few days ahead with work. I need to prioritise that, A race or not, I need the energy I have to deliver coaching plans, coaching sessions, write reports, sort glitches with the DR J Perform app, a mobile bike fit. I also have to remind myself that last year I was exhausted and that I can little afford to go back there. Of course I’d love a great race in Barcelona. But if I don’t swim, bike or run today – will it really make that difference? If I push it though I could end up sleeping and sleeping for days on end as I did last year. I know what I should do. I’m an age grouper. My result in Barcelona won’t pay my bills. Nor will sleeping for days on end as I did last year. Today will be a rest day; one where I sleep as much as I need to, eat as much varied fruit and vegetables as I can to boost the vitamins and drink plenty. My job, like every other age group athletes pays my bills (and funds my sport) and being fit and well enough to do that has to be my first priority, with my sport helping me to be fit and well, rather than draining my limited resources on a day like today when climbing the stairs tires me out!
The Race Plan
Its three weeks to go to my biggest race for 3 years and I am now starting to get my race preparation under way. How I do this is to first of all review previous races. First looking at the numbers (as discussed last week) and then going through each part of the race from travel through to post race, reviewing what went well, what went wrong and what I could have differently. This forms the basis of my next race plan.
My race plan isn’t really about numbers (I look after but don’t plan before) as this can put impossible expectations and can easily go out of the window depending on the weather and other conditions ( and this can work both ways – IM Lanzarote a few years I was 30 mins ahead of my target half way time… only to find on the way back I had (unusually) had the wind behind me and was then into a head wind.
If not about numbers and target times, what does it contain?
I start off with travel. Which races have had the best starts because of good travel? Have I started fatigued because of travel? The answer to that question is yes, I have. Driving a long distance to a race is now a no no unless someone shares the driving. Carrying a bike bag for miles in an airport and onto trains has been replaced with a bike bag that wheels. Adjusting to time zones is dealt with by travelling earlier. So flights are booked and bike bag on wheels are at the ready.
Pre race preparation – making sure equipment is all good. This means the essential bike service and new tyres for big races. My first iron distance event I punctured 3 times. My blind faith that my tyres would be great was misfounded and cost me a lot of time and almost ruined my race had it not been for the mechanic van who gave me a new inner tube and pumped the tyres for me. Since then, important races always equal new tyres! In another (very early in my 26 years of racing), on the old Cleveland Long Course route (where the bike began with a climb up Blue Bank), my rear cassette just completely broke. Race over. A pre race service would have ensured this was in working order. For this race, I am on a new bike, so tyres are new and it just needs getting used to rather than servicing (although with Di2s, I must remember to pack the charger and overseas adapter to make sure its ready to go on race day!).
Staying healthy is key at this stage 3 weeks out. Banana skins can come along and are more likely to the closer you get to race day. Sprained muscles, popped ribs, colds have all plagued me prior to big races. Could they have been avoided? Can I plan for these? Yes, I can. Regular massage and sports treatment, not neglecting strength and conditioning and stretching. Watch those niggles. Deal with them and get help if you need to. All these things should be a part of a regular training schedule. Training often creates a reduced immunity to bugs but steering clear of people for an hour immediately after a hard work out, regular hand washing, plenty of rest and a very balanced diet can all help the immune system!
Other pre race preparation has included looking at the course profile and maps. When racing abroad, this is so important as it helps to identify what sort of training you need to put in beforehand – so this bit of prep is months ahead. This can also help you visualise the race, which I find an important part of my pre race preparation (more of that later).
The next part of my race plan is the days leading up to the race. There’s a bit of training that involves a course recce, ideally a short bike session on the course and a swim recce and pre race sets. Planning when to do those the day before to fit in with eating, rehydrating, registering, attending race briefings, racking the bike. It’s a busy day, and so planning is essential to make sure that no unnecessary energy is taken up with faffing about. The race schedule is an essential tool for this part of the race plan. Food and rehydration need to be taken into account. Its usual to not sleep the night before a big race – often its just rest, and so the night before that is the one to focus on for good sleep.
Controllables and uncontrollable are the next to consider. What might happen that I can’t control? This weeks unseasonably cold weather is well out of my control. How might this affect my race? Water temperatures are dropping, this might mean a duathlon rather than a triathlon. Am I prepared that this might happen? I have been to 2 ITU World Long Course Championship events that have been duathlons not triathlons. So while I may not be able to control the weather, I can control my approach to the race. Be prepared for change. Mentally have a back up plan in case its not the race you thought you were doing. Plan for a duathlon, just in case. If the water/air temperatures allow a triathlon, its still cold. Clothing choice is the key to a good race. AT IM Switzerland a few years ago 2 days before race day we were so hot we thought it might be a non wetsuit swim (something else to be prepared for), but the day before, thunderstorms and heavy rain dropped the air temperature from upper 20s to 15/16 degrees. Arm warmers and rain jacket came out but did not prevent me getting hypothermic on the bike. Another long sleeved jersey would have been sensible and additional socks. Hindsight is a great thing and they are now on my kit list! Along with squares of space blanket to put inside my cycle shoes!
Nutrition can often be the downfall of a race, especially longer races. This needs to not only be planned, but practised to check the effects on your gut as there is nothing worse than gut issues in a race. If you are planning to use the races official nutrition, have you tried it? Have you run off the bike having used it? Once you start running it can increase your gut motility and something that works on the bike, might not be great for your running. At my first ever iron distance I panicked on race day about hitting the wall. At every (20 miles apart) feed station I took on a banana – with disastrous consequences on the run! No one wants to spend time in the portaloos. Plan nutrition and hydration and practice it on the bike and run off it to check it won’t have any ill effects!
So far no target times, they are secondary. Its all about planning for those things that can spoil your race. After months of hard training its what the race is about. Write the plan down. Share it. Use it as a check list. Plan for the controlables – and what you can do to ensure the uncontrollable don’t spoil your big day.
Happy training and racing!
Motivation when racing
Its that time of year when racing is underway and we go to look at our results and are either delighted with a PB or disappointed to not get the times we hoped for no matter how hard we’ve trained. Looking at times in isolation can often be demotivating, yet how many athletes look at the results in context?
Two weeks ago I did our club 5 mile time trial. It was a perfect night. Not much wind (a rareity in Lincolnshire) and not too cold. As always I was racing as hard as I could and was rewarded with a PB.
This week, the race was a restricted gear 10 mile TT (I love our club TTs as they are always varied, often have a little twist and the company always good). The restricted gear this week was a relatively low one, which meant a high cadence to get anywhere! Not only was it a low gear, but there seemed to be a headwind at every turn. I think I can hnestly say my legs have never spun so far, for so long!! My time was pretty slow and far from a PB.
So which did I race best? This weeks TT! How do I figure that one out?
It really does help to look at results in context. Two weeks ago we all had great conditions – so we (largely) all did well and were pleased with our times. I looked at my result and compared it to the winner. I was some 137% behind the winner. This week, looking at the winner, I was just 127% behind. No where near a PB, but so much closer to the winner – afterall we were all affected by the wind – and we were all racing on 68 inches.
No two races are ever the same and so to compare times directly with when we last did that distance, or even course, doesn’t always tell the full story. Wind, rain, air temperature – they all affect us, whether its cycling or running (or even swimming in open water). Far more motivating is to keep a log as to what % you are behind the winner. It might surprise you!