Working out your programme
It is all too easy to get into the habit of training and then looking for races that would be nice to do.
It is also easy to focus on training and forget about recovery, eating the right food, developing the right mindset. In many ways, training is the easy bit. When you're training you feel you're progressing but sleeping, eating, thinking?
Of course, it is those things that set the winners apart from the also-rans. and by winners, I am not referring to those on the podium but to those that consistently improve their PBs.
They have a clear goal for the year, they know their "A" race and they make a plan to get to the start in peak physical and psychological condition.
So if you haven't already done it, select your"A" race (or races) and enter them now.
Next, take stock of where you are now. Read the article below on working out your current state of fitness. You should identify your "limiting factors": which discipline you should focus on and which aspects of your fitness will make the most difference.
Once you have both your goals and your limiting factors clearly in mind you can start planning! And we will look at planning in more detail next month.
Turning weaknesses into strengths
If you are equally proficient in all disciplines of triathlon, I must congratulate you on well-disciplined and balanced training to this point.
However, it’s far more likely you’ll have a discipline that’s not as strong as the other two by varying degrees.
Many factors may have contributed to this. Costs incurred geography, confidence, and natural ability, new to triathlon, safety and practicality to name a fraction.
The most likely reason will be a bias for the discipline you enjoy the most.
Success breeds success!
Human nature dictates we won’t be as incentivised to practise something we don’t enjoy as much and those we do.
We’re far more likely to want to participate in a sport we enjoy, and as a consequence, we’ll become better at it.
If we wish to become quicker triathletes, we need to break the mould and adjust our mindsets to find a way to enjoy our weakest link.
Moral of the story - learn to enjoy it.
Why is it important to work towards achieving an even competence level between disciplines?
Working at our weakest discipline will reap the biggest time-saving gains and not just at that particular discipline. The fitter we are, the quicker we’ll recover for the subsequent element.
Firstly we need to identify the reasons why the differences exist. And then set a plan to become more equally proficient across the disciplines.
Amend your overall training proportions to reflect current fitness levels. Eg if your weakest discipline is the bike leg, allocate more of your available training time to cycling and less towards the discipline in which you are faster.
Its fine increasing the amount of training allocated to your weakest discipline. But are you making it count when you’re doing it? Do you want it enough to push your body to new levels?
Maximise your available training time by:
- 1. Getting coached to improve technique and gain knowledge.
- 2. Joining a club and meet likeminded people who will provide support and motivation.
Monitor your progressions
Proportions of fitness per discipline will change with time so keeping a regular eye on this balance is important. This is done:
- Against yourself.
- Compared to others
We can monitor our personal progression by comparing our split times to the equivalent race the previous year and by performing basic time trials in training and recording the times.
Set a course / distance (e.g. 50-100% of target race distance) and swim, cycle or run as fast as you can making sure you log your results!
Note: Retesting too soon can have the opposite effect because you may not have had sufficient time to train to get quicker.
Give it a month or so before replicating the course and conditions as far as possible.
Against fellow competitors
We can also use race results not just for referencing our improvements but to other participants.
This is best done by checking your split times as the percentage of the field: e.g. you may be in the top 30% for the swim, top 50% for the bike but in the bottom 20% for the run.
From this would conclude that your run discipline is in need of the most work as you aim towards becoming equally proficient across all three disciplines.
Build a good right team around you.
This month I've had it driven home to me just how important it is to have the right people around you.
If you were a professional, you would have a dedicated coach, regular access to specialist sports doctors and scientists, physios, masseuse, technical experts on equipment, nutritionists and psychologists. As amateurs, we can afford neither the money or the time to consult with this army of experts, but we can set out to gather the right team around us so we can call on them when we really need them.
I have had superb support from two such experts this month that have transformed my performance.
I was lucky enough to get a Christmas present of a new bike. I set it up as best I could on my own but didn’t have a proper bike fit for the first month – just lack of time. I thoroughly enjoyed using it – I was going faster and sustaining the pace for longer.
Then Dave Savage did a proper fit for me. I felt the difference immediately, but the real demonstration of the impact came about two weeks later. I approached a busy junction at a spur road from the M27 and changed down to the small front chain ring. Immediately after the roundabout, there is a long hill that gets gradually steeper. I progressively changed down on the back gears, but the effort was greater than I expected - which I put down to the distance I had already covered.
As I got to the lowest gears, I noticed a strange clicking sound, looked down and realised that I was still on the big front chainring. I’d obviously stopped pedalling too soon at the junction and hadn’t picked up on it while concentrating on the traffic.
The point about this story is that I would not have made it up the hill at all on the large front ring before the fit. I have since spoken to another athlete who told me that the power meter on his bike told him that following the fit he was generating 30 watts more power. For most of us mortals that is around a 10% improvement!
The second example of “The Right Team” was a sports masseur. I have been suffering from a chronic Achilles' problem for the best part of a year. I have had a range of treatments by doctors, physios, chiropractors, masseurs even acupuncture. They all helped a bit but did not resolve the problem which kept coming back.
I had actually given up running over the winter to rest it and had only started running about ten day’s ago. Then I had a massage by Chris Cozens. He has an interesting background with huge experience personally of Triathlon (Ironman). After taking a detailed history and examination he massaged the leg and identified the underlying problem – one leg shorter than the other. He also ex[plained why it was causing pain in a different place on the bike.
He has given me some exercises and stretches – nothing unusual. The massage really helped ease the tightness, and it felt really good afterwards.
But more important he gave me some blindingly obvious advice that none of the other experts had thought of. They had all told me to put heel raises into my shoes. Chris told me to take the one out of my left shoe – longer leg.
The result – last night Dave put us through an Itchen Bridge session. For those of you not familiar with it, it involves running up the steps at the Itchen Bridge in Southampton. In my case; total distance 6 km and a climb of about 1500 feet. Very little Achilles’ pain! A week ago a gentle 5 km run had me limping the following day.
The moral of the story is; find that team who really understand you and the sport. Then keep close to them.
By the way: get a bike fit from Dave and if you have any biomechanical problems give Chris Cozens a call. If you register on the Website, we’ll give you his number.
Pigs don’t fly – Thinking about Speed
Over the winter we have been focused on developing Endurance and Power. This month is really the start of the transition to getting ready for competition. As such we are preparing to increase our speed. It is not yet time to switch to a major focus on speed – we are, if you like, laying the foundations of speed. This is reflected in the training sessions provided this month which still have large elements of power and endurance.
The Foundations of Speed
There are a number of components to achieving better speed and now is the time to start thinking about them.
You can consider them under three main headings:
- Body Weight
If you are carrying more weight than you should, now is the time to work on losing it. And make no mistake excess weight alone has a huge impact on time.
It is not too difficult to calculate the impact on the run. On a flat course, the table below gives a good indication for a 12 stone man over a 5km course. If the course involves hills the impact is radically increased.
On the bike, the impact on the flat is comparatively small but it increases hugely as soon as there are any hills. And not only that – the straight energy demand while riding will significantly reduce the energy available for the run.
On the swim, your weight will have a smaller impact since the water bears most of your weight but the increased drag from an oversized body does have a small impact – particularly on energy expenditure.
The problem for athletes is that it is very difficult to train hard when you are also losing weight. Losing weight requires that you have a calorie deficit. This means that you are chronically short of available blood sugar. This, in turn, means that muscles rapidly run out of glycogen and cannot operate at maximum power which in turn means you cannot induce them to make the adaptations that will give you the extra power or speed.
The good news is that it really isn’t too difficult to lose the weight – one ginger nut a day over ten weeks or one bacon sandwich over 10 days equals one pound – or about 7 seconds. And that is without training thrown in.
Poor technique results in slower speeds, wasted energy and potential injury. We should all know that technique is absolutely critical on the swim. Even if you are a good swimmer arrange a review with a good swimming coach now to iron out the mistakes that may have crept in over the winter. A little time spent on drills now will pay dividends later.
Run and bike technique are often overlooked. We all think we know how to do it; we have been running since we were about 2 and as for turning the pedals, how difficult can it be.
Watch many of the runners at any amateur sports track and you will see the wrong body posture, tense upper body and weird arm swings. While it is easy to see in other people it is difficult to spot in ourselves. Once again a good coach can work wonders! If you don’t have one consider getting a 1-2-1 session to identify your mistakes and bad habits.
The most common faults include:
- Shoulders rolled over
- Heel Striking
- Bending forward at the waist
- Not pumping the arms
- Swinging arms across the body
- No drive from the knee
Getting the right form
Head – Keep it up, gaze forward not down. Ears should be in line with the shoulders. We often start running with the head forward and it stays there which affects the entire running posture.
Shoulders – Back and chest open. The muscles should be relaxed. As the run progresses they tend to become tight which will slow you and cost energy.
Arms – Use them. Arms at about 90o at the elbow hands moving from chin to hip, and forward and backwards not across the body. This will stabilise your run and give you more drive.
Hands – Relaxed and loose. It will help to keep the rest of the body relaxed.
Torso – Core tight but twisting as the legs move
Legs – Getting the knee, shin and foot in the right position as they strike the ground is critical. Ideally, the middle of the foot should be in line with the knee and the shin should be vertical as the foot lands. In that way, the ankle, knee and hip are all involved in absorbing the impact energy and you will avoid heel strike, which wastes energy, slows you down and frequently results in injury.
Just as in running, if hips, knees and toes are not in the right position you cannot deliver power effectively, waste energy and set you up for injury. The difference from running is that their position is determined by the way the bike is set up.
If you haven’t had a proper bike fit – get one now. Even if you had one done at the start of last year get it done again. You may well have changed the way you sit on the saddle as muscles change – particularly your core muscles.
During the winter training, many of us will have become set into a particular pace as we have worked on endurance and when working on power we may have been tackling steep hills at a comparatively low pace.
To pick up the speed we now need to be varying the pace much more including higher intensity phases in each session.
We will look at this in more detail next month.
As well as the 3 groups of Macro-Nutrients there is a second group, the Micro-nutrients comprised of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins are largely complex organic compound molecules found in plants and animals, Minerals are inorganic compounds (sometimes single elements). Both are essential to life.
Were first discovered by the wonderfully named Dr Funk in the early part of the 20th Century. He called them Vitamines since he had identified that they were:
- Essential for life - (Vita – Latin)
- Amines – a form of amino acid
It was later discovered that Vitamin C was not an amine at which point the “e” was dropped and they became known as Vitamins.
We obtain most of these vital chemicals from eating a balanced diet of meat, fish, vegetables and fruits and we even synthesise some of them ourselves. Nevertheless in the UK we spend about £500m pa on supplements, some people suffer severe deficiencies while others overdose with severe consequences.
Two types of vitamins,
These vitamins dissolve in water and as a consequence are not stored in the body. This means that we really need to ingest them on a daily basis. If we should take too much of them they are unlikely to have major toxic effects since they are rapidly eliminated from the body through urine.
Their water solubility also means that if the foods supplying them re cooked in hot water some of the vitamin will be dissolved out from the food and thrown away with the cooking water. Which is why steaming, stir-frying or roasting or micro-waving are generally better cooking methods.
The water soluble vitamins include
Fat Soluble - Vitamins A, D, E, K
Fat-soluble vitamins are not be lost when the foods that contain them are cooked.
The body does not need these vitamins every day since it stores them in the liver and adipose (fat) tissue when not used.
However, since the body stores them consistent over-consumption or mega-doses of vitamins A, D, E or K can be toxic and lead to health problems.
All of these vitamins are also available from a normal balanced diet, with one exception, vitamin D.
While vitamin D is available from plant and animal foodstuffs the bulk of the vitamin D we need should be produced by the body in response to exposure to sunlight.
The problem for us is that we live far from the equator, cover our bodies and spend much of the time indoors. The result is that most of us do not get enough exposure to produce optimum levels of Vitamin D.
Shortage of Vitamin D produces a range of unfortunate consequences:
- Impaired immune system
- Fatigue and Tiredness
- Bone and Back Pain
- Loss of bone density
- Depression (and SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder)
- Impaired Wound Healing
- Hair Loss
- Muscle Pain
- Increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment in older adults
There have been various studies of the level of vitamin D in the UK population. These offer wildly different views but it is the only vitamin that NHS England recommend every adult should be supplementing.
What size dose?
This becomes more problematic NHS England and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have different recommendations. EFSA recommend a 50% higher daily supplement.
This is further compounded by the fact that the recommendations are based on musculoskeletal health and there is no good evidence on immune system, wound healing, fatigue or neurological health.
We heard at a recent seminar by Dr Mike Rossiter (Consultant in Sport & Exercise Medicine, Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) that he recommends 1,000 IU. This is actually 5 times the UK RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance or about 3 times the European recommendation. To further confuse the guidance it is only two and a half times the NHS England guideline. Which begs the question:-
What is the safe maximum dose of Vitamin D?
The good news is that Vitamin D toxicity, where vitamin D can be harmful, usually happens if you take 40,000 IU per day for a couple of months or longer, or take a very large one-time dose. (https://www.vitamindcouncil.org/about-vitamin-d/am-i-getting-too-much-vitamin-d/#.XIuAhyj7Rpg)
Vitamin D and Endurance Athletes
There are three problems faced by endurance athletes is the level of stress posed by endurance training.
- It tends to suppress the immune system so we are more prone to minor ailments
- We inflict micro-damage to our muscles when we are training
- The levels of cortisol produced during training can affect our mood
A shortage of Vitamin D will compound these, taking a regular supplement of Vitamin D will help to ward them off.
In a Nutshell
- Eat a balanced diet of meat, vegetables, fruit and pulses
- Do not boil your vegetables to death (ideally steam, stir-fry or microwave)
- Take a daily Vitamin D supplement of 1,000 IU (a year’s supply will cost about £10.)
Goals & Resolutions – Why goal setting is critical
Around two thirds of the population in the UK make New Year Resolutions. About 40% admit to having failed to keep them but more careful research shows that probably 80% have given up in just 3 months.
Top performers, whether in sport, business or pretty much any other field, set goals and follow them through.
So why are most people unable to set goals or make resolutions and stick to them.
Why Goals make a difference
They serve three distinct purposes:
- A focus for planning
- An inspiration/driver when the going gets tough
- A “lens” for visualisation
We will discuss the last of these in a later article but the first two are critical for your training.
We often hear people say, “I do triathlon” and that is the way they come to think. They turn up for training, get up early to plod the streets, they are in the pool at 6.00 in the morning. It has become a routine and these activities have almost lost their purpose.
Alice in Wonderland
Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
And that is just the point. Unless you have a clear idea of where you want to get to it really doesn’t matter what training you do, and you cannot plan how to train.
“A goal is just a dream unless there is a plan.”
SMART Goals and Plans
S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic has been around for many years in the business community to describe what a goal should be:
Typical New Year Resolutions are expressed as: Lose weight, Get fit, Save money, Go to gym, See more of the family, eat more healthily, train harder. These all fail the basic test; they’re not SMART.
Perhaps our resolution is “To be a better Triathlete”. Does this fit the criteria of being a SMART goal?
- Specific; Does that mean able to complete longer distance or finish my current distance in a higher position?
- Measurable; What happens if the Brownlees and Gomez turn up. I might be faster, but I’ll fall down the positions. So I should specify times! How about; “Complete a Sprint Tri in 55 minutes”?
- Attainable; Not really! I took this sport up two years ago after years of idleness.
- Relevant; Does it fit my long-term goals? Does it feel important to me to achieve this?
- Time-bounded; When? This year, next year, in 5 years?
So let me try the SMART Version. Let me give you some context. I am a 63-year-old man who had a heart attack 7 years ago, was diagnosed with diabetes 3 years ago, broke his arm severely 15 months ago – still recovering - and broke two ribs 6 weeks ago.
My SMART goal
I will complete the May 2018, Winchester TryTri in 1 hour 30 minutes. This will prove to myself that I am still able to compete. Even better it will prove to the medical specialists who wanted to put me on drugs and acknowledge that I was going to have to accept my ill health and manage it rather beat it. And more important; it can give hope and help to change the lives of others who are in the same position as I was.
- Specific: I will complete the May, Winchester TryTri in 1 hour 30 minutes
- Measurable: in 1 hour 30 minutes
- Attainable: Doesn’t even matter if the Brownlees turn up and it is challenging but attainable
- Relevant: This will prove to myself that I am still able to compete. Even better it will prove to the medical specialists who wanted to put me on drugs etc….
- Which is important to me!
- Time bounded: May 2018