Training and Racing in Hot Conditions

cycle4
Image Courtesy of Cycling Villa Mallorca

As many of you will have noticed, the temperatures in UK are slightly above average at the moment, as you can tell from the fact newly laid roads are melting and shares in Walls are soaring, it’s unusual to face temperature this warm in the UK (thankfully), but the sport of triathlon takes place over the summer, with many big races in very equatorial climates such as Hawaii and the Mediterranean. While it’s easy to write off training in hot weather as being impossible, there are a few tips and tricks you can use to keep training to the best of your ability in the hot weather.

It goes without saying that if you start experiencing light headedness or confusion you should stop exercising immediately and make your way home. As a result you may be better riding/running in smaller loops, or at the very least taking enough money for a train home should you start to feel a bit wobbly a long way from home.

Hydration

Contrary to popular opinion there is more to hydration than simply chugging endless bottle of water when exercising, ingesting too much fluid can result in gastric distress and actually puts you at risk of a condition called hyponatremia where the blood’s sodium levels become dangerously low, affecting around 10% of athletes at any given endurance event. Mild symptoms may include confusion and vomiting, but in severe cases can result in the athlete falling into a coma or even death. There have been no reported deaths from dehydration during endurance events, but several deaths associated with hyponatremia.

To prevent your sodium levels from dropping too low it is important you top them up with electrolytes, either through dissolving tablets in your sports drink, salt tablets, or salty nutrition. You are at an especially high risk in the heat as your body will be losing more salt through sweat than normal, so make sure your sodium intake is proportional to your fluid intake and sweat rate.

When hydrating little and often is far more preferable than taking large swigs for both absorption rate and your digestive system, running with water sloshing around in your system is far from ideal. That being said, if you are starting to suffer with severe effects of dehydration it is important you take the time you need to ingest the fluids you require.

83481-largest_2013KonaRace14
The heat of the Kona Energy Lab can best even the very best athletes. Image courtesy of Slowtwitch

Stay out of direct sunlight

This may not always be easy, but if you have the choice of running through your local woods or along a sweltering piece of tarmac alongside a main road, staying out of the direct sunlight will not only lower your core temperature but reduce your exposure to harmful UV rays. Always apply waterproof sun protection when training in high temperatures.

Dress Appropriately

Logic may say you want to wear as little as possible in the heat, but there is a reason desert dwelling cultures cover themselves up in lightly coloured fabrics, to protect them from the sun’s rays and allow for cooling.

We can certainly learn something from the Middle East by ensuring we cover our head when training and even considering a very light, long sleeved top if spending prolonged periods in direct sunlight. I would certainly recommend a short sleeved as opposed to sleeveless tri top if competing in warm conditions to protect your shoulders from getting sunburnt.

There are many products available for athletes looking to compete in warm conditions, such as technical base layers and socks that will wick sweat away from your body to keep you getting too sticky, as well as arm coolers to protect your forearms from the worst of the sun’s wrath.

Keep intensity sensible

If you were planning two hours worth of hill reps, it may be worth reconsidering, and going for a shorter, easier run instead. The effect this will have on your overall fitness is minimal and may avoid you having to take days/weeks off with heat stroke. In the UK we are lucky enough to be able to exercise effectively 99% of the time, sometimes you just have to accept it’s not worth the risk.

Train early/late

The sun is as it’s strongest between 12PM-3PM so try to avoid training during this period if at all possible The earlier and/or later that you train the better.

Lower your tyre pressures

Not an issue for the UK at the moment per say, but when temperatures start to peek over the 35 degree mark it may be wise to slightly lower your tyre pressures to avoid them blowing out in the heat, in 2015 the Tour of Oman stage 5 was cancelled due to tyres exploding off of the rims, video with footage here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSv9WKOyHCA

Don’t rely on your smartphone

Most smartphones have an upper limit at which they will continue to work effectively, after which they will shut themselves down to protect their processor, so make an effort to carry hard cash on you and an alternate source of navigation available to avoid ending up stranded.

Look out for each other

Keep an eye out for other cyclists or runners who may be in trouble due to dehydration or heatstroke. Take an extra bottle than normal, both for yourself and to ensure you have fluids to offer those who didn’t share the same foresight as you.

Giro d'Italia - Stage 2
Orica GreenEdge rider Peter Weening taking this concept to the extreme in the 2015 Giro D’Italia. Image courtesy of Cycling Weekly

Consider a swim or gym session instead

If the heat is simply too much to bear, why not embrace it with a refreshing dip in your local pool/lake or do some strength and conditioning work in the gym? Don’t be afraid to deviate from your training plan, for the sake of your wellbeing. Health should always come before fitness.

The futility of new year’s resolutions

how-to-enjoy-running-treadmill
If your new year’s resolution involves one of these, it’s probably doomed from the start (Maskot/Getty Images)

New year is the most interesting time for the fitness industry, we are suddenly inundated with eager new years resolutioners flocking to gyms, swimming pools, parkruns and popular cycling spots determined to “get into shape” or “lose a few pounds”.

The biggest problem here is how vague those terms are, when do you consider yourself to be in shape, and how much weight should you really aim to lose? We need to specify those goals if we want to achieve them, otherwise we’ll just get bored and find the sofa infinitely more interesting than another half an hour running into nothingness on the treadmill or repeating the same exercises in the gym.

A good goal should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time sensitive), so taking the standard “lose weight” goal let’s break it down…

Specific: How much weight do we want to lose? How are we going to lose it?
Measurable: Probably by using a pair of scales, although if we aim to reach a certain % of body fat that could be more complex. Alternatively you could use something more visible like dropping a dress size.
Achievable: Is our weight loss achievable or are we aiming too high? Losing a KG a month with the right training and diet shouldn’t be too hard, so aim for that rather than aiming to lose 5KG a month, as that is unlikely to happen, and you’ll end up disheartened at lack of progress, consoling yourself with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s.
Relevant: Do we really want/need to lose weight? If we’re an arctic explorer, sumo wrestler or shot putter, we may benefit from a little bit around the middle.
Time sensitive: Are you trying to lose weight for a specific date such as your wedding? Is it a realistic goal to be achieved within the time constraints? How much time do you have between now and the wedding? How much time do you have day to day to prepare healthy meals or train?

So rather than simply have a new year’s resolution of “Lose some weight” let’s have a goal of “Losing 1KG per month by running 3 times a week and cutting out ready meals, to allow me to drop a dress size for my wedding dress fitting in June”

This is suddenly a much more engaging goal, which is more likely to make someone reach for their running shoes. However for many people (myself included) this still isn’t enough for long term engagement.

Let’s turn this on its head for a moment, I’m going to set you a new year’s resolution to eat a slice of lemon drizzle cake a day for a year. Chances are your heart just skipped a beat and you’re dying to wait for 1st January to start, the question in the forefront of your mind is probably “Why can’t I start now?”

This is why so many new year’s resolutions fail, if it was something you really wanted to do, you’d have started it by now. The same can be applied to fitness, if you really wanted to lose weight you’d start today rather than putting it off, you want it to feel like an an engaging opportunity rather than a burden.

For the first week or two you’ll be spending all day thinking about your cake, enjoying the moist, sugary textures when you get home from work. After the first few weeks you’ll start getting a bit bored of lemon drizzle and wonder if you could try a bit of carrot cake, or red velvet instead. By March the chances are you’ll never want to see a slice of cake again, and you’ll have failed your new year’s resolution.

Everybody needs variety in life, if you simply run the same route or lift the same weights every day you’ll be sick to the back teeth within a few weeks, even if you enjoyed it initially. We need to take days off, mix the training up, and have secondary goals to work towards, so pulling an idea out the air… we’re going to train for our first triathlon!

Let’s break down our secondary goal using the SMART system

Specific: We need to pick an event which we can afford and can travel to
Measurable: We will have achieved the goal when we cross the finish line
Achievable: We need to make sure we pick a distance within our reach, while it’s possible to complete an Ironman on 6 months training, it’s much wiser to aim for a sprint or olympic distance if we want to enjoy our training and the event
Relevant: We want to lose weight so this will help us achieve that by increasing our physical activity through training
Time specific: This is individual, as it depends on our current fitness and the time we can dedicate to training, but we need to make sure we don’t overstretch ourselves. An Olympic or Sprint distance in the summer should be achievable for all

Now we are focusing on a triathlon, increasing our distances and speeds, chances are we’ll stop worrying about how much weight we’re losing, and instead be in for a shock when our trousers don’t fit anymore or our tights start bunching up. If you choose secondary goals along the way and add variety to your training your focus will drift from obsessing over the scales and move towards positive achievements and medals that you start to collect along the way. When you stop seeing fitness as a burden and learn to fall in love with the process, the results will come thick and fast.

Is Your Triathlon Bike Slowing You Down?

jan-frodeno-ironman-kona
A triathlon bike in its natural habitat of Kona, in the hands of Jan Frodeno on his way to another Ironman World Championship win in 2016

The title of this will confuse many, how could a triathlon bike slow you down? They’re more aerodynamic, which means they’re faster, and all of the pros race them in non draft legal races, how could a triathlon bike slow you down?

If a triathlon bike was the outright fastest and most comfortable way to get round, why wouldn’t people ride them all the time? The answer is a triathlon bike involves a lot of compromises in the way of bike design, and they can be difficult to get comfortable on, something those of you who have ridden one can likely attest to.

For those who need a basic explanation, a triathlon bike makes you faster by lowering and narrowing your profile against the wind. The bike frame itself is also tapered to make it cut through the air as fast as possible, but as the least aerodynamic thing on the bike is you, the focus is on getting yourself lower and narrower. Most have shifters on the bar ends and electronic models also have shifters on the bullhorns to make it easier to change gear when braking, climbing or descending.

The compromise is that to improve airflow around the bike the frame, more material is needed to reduce turbulence, which results in a bulkier frame, increasing weight. On a pan flat course this isn’t a problem, but if you find yourself on an undulating course this can become an issue. Not only does this increase weight when climbing, but it makes the bike less stable on the descents, which combined with the fact that brakes on triathlon bikes are normally less efficient than on road bikes, can lead to you handing over minutes to those on the road bikes on the hills. If you can make that time back on the flats you’ll be faster overall, but if a course is especially hilly you may be better off going for a light, responsive climbing bike.

There is also the question of wheels, most stock triathlon bikes will come with a very basic set of wheels to make the price point more appealing, but most triathletes will upgrade the wheels into something more aerodynamic such as a rear disk wheel or deep section rims. These are not only heavier and slower to accelerate but are a handful in crosswinds, to the extent that certain courses especially prone to strong winds ban them. If you are on a flat piece of road in good conditions they can shave minutes off of your bike split, but they’re not always the right choice.

super-aero-bike
Sure it’s fast, but you wouldn’t want to get caught in strong crosswinds
You also need to be going at a fair rate of knots for the aerodynamic benefit to really kick in, around 30-35KM/H depending on the course. Can you maintain that speed for the duration of the bike course? Chances are that on shorter distances you can, but over half iron or full iron distances you really need to be able to ride a bike well to reap the rewards of a tricked out triathlon bike.

Along with ability to maintain speed is also the question of core strength. While properly setup aero bars can be very comfortable as your weight rests on the elbow pads, you need to make sure you have the core strength to maintain that position for the duration of your race, as you will be in a plank like position. If your core collapses in the bike leg your run will likely be a disaster as your can’t support your body in an economical position, adopting what many call the “Ironman shuffle”.

If you race on your triathlon bike you really need to train on it. That’s not to say that you should bin your road bike, as it is important for group riding sessions (which I believe are an excellent way of building bike fitness), but you should stick your race bike on your turbo over winter and take it out at least once a week in the spring to get used to handling it on the road. You should get used to riding on all conditions in all terrain on your race bike, whether it’s descending down a steep hill in the rain or threading it through a series of fast corners, you need to be confident in your handling ability to minimise time loss in the hills.

You should also put it in for a full professional service at least once a year, clunky gear changes will not only frustrate you but lose you time hand over fist, not to mention the possibility of pieces falling off! I it is also important to re-index your gears when you re-build your bike on race day. Whether your flew it halfway round the world or stuck it in the boot of your car for the local sprint race, it doesn’t take much for your gears to take a knock and play havoc with your race.

Most importantly, make sure to get a proper bike fit to get yourself into a comfortable and economical position. Your aerodynamic position may save you 25W, but if you’re putting out 50W less than on your road bike because you’re not used to the position (which engages your hamstrings and glutes far more than a road bike position) you’re actually going slower than on a road bike. Your position doesn’t necessarily have to be as far forward and as low as possible, look at the picture below of the Great Britain men’s team pursuit squad at the 2016 World Track Championships.

2016 UCI Track Cycling World Championships
Photo credit unknown

Notice the variation in width of the aero bars and the height of the stack, there’s no ideal position as it’s very individual. Of course not all of us can afford £2500 to spend in the wind tunnel finding our optimal position, but notice how they’re not as low and as narrow as possible. I personally find having my bars close enough for the knuckles of my thumbs to rub actually makes me more stable than having them wide, but it’s very individual, and comfort is king. If you’re comfortable you’ll be able to put out more power for longer, if you’re scrunched up and can’t breathe properly, you’re just handing advantage to your rivals.

Just to add to the confusion, a lot of professionals will take a triathlon bike even on a very hilly course. This is because they’re exceptional athletes who can handle a bike better and put out more power than most of us ever will, allowing them to still put out some serious watts on the flats where most of us would struggle as our legs are trashed from the hills. Just because Daniela Ryf can pull it off, doesn’t mean you can.

dniela-ryf-roth
Daniela Ryf climbs the famous Solar Hill at Challenge Roth (Getty Images Europe/Stephen Pond)
In the Tour de France where they use both road and aero bikes in competition, some will even put clip on aero bars onto their road bike to offer the best of both worlds in mountainous time trials. This offers a sizeable advantage without any of the drawbacks of a full aero bike, but when using clip ons we have to reach away from the bars to the STI shifters to change gear, increasing our profile against the wind and slowing us down. They’re a great option for hilly races or for trying an aero position without buying a whole bike, but it involves a number of compromises so should be carefully considered before taking to a big race.

richie-porte
Richie Porte rides clip on aero bars to 4th place in the mountainous time trial of stage 18 in the 2016 Tour de France (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
So to summarise, a triathlon bike will take minutes off of your triathlon time if you are accustomed to riding in an aero position, it is perfectly setup for you, you have the core strength to maintain the position, the course is flat, and you have the strength/endurance to hold high speeds for the duration of the bike. If however a triathlon bike is just something you throw your leg over on race day, the benefits will be much smaller than you expect, and in some cases may even slow you down compared to your tried and tested road bike.

If you have a triathlon bike and are looking to unlock it’s full potential, organise a 1 on 1 coached session with me for only £30. E-mail simon@phazontriathlon.com to register your interest

What We Learned at the Rio Olympic Triathlons

As the dust settles on the Olympics for another four years, we reflect on the two races we were treated to, and what this means for the WTS world title, and the next four years.

Alistair Brownlee and Gwen Jorgensen take worthy titles in spectacular fashion

Both hot favourites and in great shape going into Rio, they also had a lot of pressure on their shoulders, Alistair Brownlee was aiming to become the first triathlete to ever defend an Olympic title, and Gwen Jorgensen went into the race almost unbeaten since 2014, keen to make up for the disappointment of London 2012 where she crashed and came in a disappointing 38th.

brownlee-brothers-rio-2016
Alistair  takes gold while brother Johnny comes home for silver in the background (photo copyright Rio 2016: PA)

Alistair Brownlee sat around 5th and 6th in the swim and came out of the water with a surprisingly select group before taking a slightly more conservative approach to the bike than normal. He could be seen lurking around the back of the group at times and took shorter turns than normal, without making his trademark attacks off the front. Whether he felt confident that he had the run fitness to outrun everybody in the group, or just wanted to keep his powder dry for such an important race, they all came off the bike together but both Brownlees and Vincent Luis went out together. Luis was quickly distanced and moved backwards through the pack with both Brownlees clearly moving into gold/silver positions pending disaster. Brownlee senior eventually put in the winning move on the last lap, taking enough of a gap to celebrate on the blue carpet while his brother takes silver and Henri Schoeman took a surprise bronze for South Africa.

BN-PM428_gwen08_P_20160820123223Gwen Jorgensen takes an emotional win (photo credit Wall Street Journal)

Gwen Jorgensen came out of the rough sea swim right at the business end which immediately sent alarm bells ringing for the rest of the field, their only hope being a successful attack on the bike to shake Jorgensen, but the attacks never came with defending Olympic champion Nicola Spirig for Switzerland sitting on the front and towing the field along. With GB’s Non Stanford sitting 2nd/3rd wheel and occasionally taking a turn, Spirig tried to make a break, gaining a few bike lengths at points, but with no-one to help make it stick, there was no way she was going to take the 30 seconds plus needed to put Jorgensen into trouble. When everybody made it off the bike together Jorgensen made the unusual choice to go out full gas rather than winding herself up as she normally does, the only person who could hold her heels was Spirig. They duked it out, exchanging places, words and accelerations right until KM8, when Jorgensen put in an effort that the reigning champion just couldn’t match. Jorgensen took an incredibly emotional gold while Spirig took silver 40 seconds down, closely followed by Great Britain’s Vicky Holland who outsprinted teammate and housemate Non Stanford for the bronze medal.

You can’t win the race in the swim, but you can lose it

160820163313-rio-women-triathlon-large-teaseLisa Norden, silver medalist in London emerges from the water with the rest of the chase group (photo Mathias Hangst/Getty)

A famous phrase thrown around by age group athletes, this is even more important in draft legal racing, where your position in the swim translates directly into which bike group you come out with. If you’re a strong cyclist but find yourself in a group unwilling, or unable to catch the lead group, your race is all but over. This is what happened to podium favourite Mario Mola who missed the lead group, and with it his chance for a medal.

57b5e3fbeac71.r_1471538178968.0-64-700-424Mola attaches his helmet in T1, but his race is already over (photo credit unknown)

Sarah True is an absolute trooper

Jorgensen’s teammate Sarah True was troubled by her leg seizing up at the start of the bike, resulting in her being forced to dismount. The camera showed her violently massaging her knee, attempting to throw a leg over her bike, before returning to the tarmac, pain etched all over her face. She eventually got onto her bike, started riding before stopping and climbing off again, tears in her eyes. She somehow remounted and dragged herself up the hill, before being lapped out by the leaders the next time up the hill, leaving her to be forced to retire. Never before have I wanted to reach out and hug an athlete more than watching her valiantly climb back on her bike, knowing full well she was unlikely to finish.

A bit of butterfly never hurt anyone

7769726-3x2-940x627The women charge into the choppy waters of Copacabana beach (photo credit abc)

The butterfly stroke strikes fear into the hearts of many, but can be extremely useful for beach starts to help you gain some valuable seconds, many athletes could be seen using a mixture of butterfly and dolphin kick to help them clear the shallows and help them clear the waves until it was deep enough to swim effective freestyle.

Vicky Holland is every bit as quick as Stanford on the run, if not faster

CqULC98WcAA4iOSHolland takes bronze by a comfortable margin (photo credit David Pearce)

Two of my favourite athletes on the ITU circuit, they live and train together, watching them run side by side for the entirety of the bike leg was hypnotic, but all bets are off when an Olympic medal is on the line. Non comes from a running background, and looking at their builds build you would imagine Stanford would be the faster runner, but when it came down to the sprint Holland comfortably edged her out to take the Bronze. When it comes down to a sprint at the end of an Olympic triathlon it’s mind over matter, and perhaps Vicky just wanted it more today.

Javier Gomez was sorely missed

_90384139_javier_gomez_rio_2016_brownlee_getty2
Javier Gomez on the podium at London 2012 (photo credit Getty images)

Personally I was gutted to learn than Javier Gomez, the silver medalist from London and defending World Triathlon Series champion was ruled out of the Olympics after breaking his arm in a bike crash. While it made the gold and silver medals all but hung around the Brownie’s necks, it would likely take away the spectacle of the race, and while I wouldn’t call the race dull, it would have certainly been more exciting if he was there; and while his compatriot Mola is every bit the cyclist and runner that Gomez is, Javier has the edge in the water and would likely have come out with the front group to put Spain in contention for the medals.

Schoeman is a champion in waiting

14064277_498999000290145_8646960268208523905_nHenri Schoeman gets a taste for success (photo credit Kate Roberts)

The biggest surprise of the races for me was Henri Schoeman’s storming performance to take bronze, having never graced the podium of a WTS race before, he came off the bike in a strong position and simply outran everyone but the brothers from Yorkshire at the tender age of 24, race wins, and maybe even world titles seem inevitable.

Nicola Spirig still has it

2016-08-20T154253Z_01_INK131_RTRIDSP_3_OLYMPICS-RIO-TRIATHLON-W
Spirig sits on Gwen’s heels coming through transition for the 3rd time (photo Agrees Latif/ reuters)

If Gwen comes off of the bike with the lead group, she wins. This has been the rule ever since 2012, and while I have nothing but overwhelming respect for her as an athlete and a person, it doesn’t make for especially exciting racing. Gwen has even been known to run down people who had a minute over her coming off the bike, her domination is inspiring and terrifying in equal measure, her long legs striding across the tarmac, looking almost effortless. However today for the first time in recent memory, she looked to be in trouble as Nicola Spirig, rarely seen on the ITU circuit since she won Olympic gold in 2012, immediately latched onto Gwen’s heels and hold on for the majority of the race. We’re not suggesting that Nicola is past it or in bad form, but as we have seen so little of her in short course, draft legal racing it was a pleasant surprise to see her vying for the gold medal alongside Jorgensen, who was visibly shaken to be coming into the last lap with another athlete on her heels. While it is likely to be Nicola’s last Olympics, I think we would all love to see more of her on the world circuit.

Bike for show, run for dough

msj_3715_resize__mediumThe Russians take it up on the bike but were unable to convert into a meaningful result (photo International Triathlon Union)

A popular phrase among those who are on or follow the pro circuit, a strong swim is imperative to put yourself in contention, a strong bike will woo people with your splits and put you in a strong position, but if you want to take home a big paycheque, you need to be able to back it up with a strong run. In the women’s race Caroline Routier lead out the swim but was lapped out on the bike. On the bike Spirig sat on the front and dragged the entire field along for 80% of the race, not really achieving anything as she wasn’t putting a concentrated effort into creating a gap, and there wasn’t an imminent threat from the chase group. Nicola Spirig has been racing triathlon for longer than I’ve known what a triathlon is so I’m not going to tell her how to race, but you can’t help but wonder if she’d tucked into the bike pack and had fresher legs, could she have forced Gwen into a sprint?

The most inspiring performance was by an athlete who failed to finish

web-une-fabienne-st-louis-egypteSt Louis on her way to taking 3rd at the African championship (photo credit unknown)

Fabienne St Louis was diagnosed with cancer in December, and has been receiving treatment since April, but still lined up on the start at Copacabana Beach on Saturday for the elite women’s race. Unfortunately she was unable to finish, although this is currently unclear whether this was related to her condition. At Phazon triathlon we would like to extend our best wishes to Fabienne for a speedy recovery, you can learn more about her story here :http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-37131993

In conclusion it looks like we can expect more Brownlee/Jorgensen domination for the next couple of years, but their rivals are getting ever closer, as they up their game to respond to the blistering pace of the favourites. A lot can happen in four years, so our medalists won’t be resting on their laurels.

CqUnIMsXYAATj-GPhoto Credit David Pearce

Why We Train

Why do we train? We train to get better, everybody knows that if you want to run further and faster, that running more often will help you achieve this, but have you ever stopped to think why this is?

Training for endurance (which is what I’ll be focusing on here) is based on the principle of progressive overload, the idea that the further you push your body, the further or faster it will go next time. This is because as you overload the body, pushing it out of its comfort zone, it starts to break down the muscles as you push the body beyond its limits. After exercise your muscles are actually damaged and your body sets about repairing them, but rebuild them to be bigger and stronger than they were before due to the increased load.

Training will increase more than your visible muscle mass, it improves your cardiovascular system by strengthening your heart to pump more blood to the areas it is needed, as well as increasing the size and volume of the heart used to pump blood around the body faster and more effectively. This allows us to get oxygen to the muscles where it is needed faster and in greater quantities, which combined with an increase in lung capacity gives our muscles the fuel they need to push harder and for longer.

By repeatedly overloading our body in a progressive fashion we improve our body’s ability to deal with the stresses of our chosen sport, making us stronger, faster and able to sustain an effort for longer. As Tour de France winner Greg LeMond famously said “It never gets easier, you just go faster”. You could put my good self and Chris Froome side by side on a turbo trainer and ask us to ride as hard as we can for 20 minutes, it’s going to hurt both of us just as much but Chris Froome will put out more power for longer because of his years of world class training, which of course translates into faster times over a distance.

Training for endurance sports also improves our speed skills, the ability to fly over cobbles or take a corner as quickly as we can on a bike, dropping down a mountain as fast as we dare, timing our braking to perfection. We learn where to place our feet on a treacherous cross country course, how to effectively swim around a buoy in open water and how to quickly switch from one sport to another in triathlon. This is often a result of trial and error and thousands of hours practice, an extremely fit and strong athlete cannot simply switch sports and start competing at a high level without years of refining his technique and ability.

Analysing training data with TrainingPeaks

It also helps us simply toughen up. Chrissie Wellington once said “Racing hurts, and if it doesn’t, you’re not trying hard enough”. As well as increasing our physical ability, training helps us develop mental toughness, to dig deeper when we feel we have nothing left to give, to saddle up when it’s pouring with rain and pushing ourselves to finish our swim with our arms screaming at us. If we toughen up and refuse to slow down or give in, we can outperform better trained athletes using superior equipment, simply by putting ourselves through adversity in training.

We use our training as a way to test everything from new equipment to nutrition strategies, as well as our limits. Athletes spend thousands of hours training for a major event and can’t afford to leave anything to chance, introducing unfamiliar food can cause gastrointestinal issues, introducing a new piece of clothing can be uncomfortable or result in chafing, and a new gadget you picked up at the expo may actually slow you down. Trial and error in training helps us work out what works for us, what doesn’t, and how to pace ourselves on the day.

Practicing group riding around Hillingdon circuit

Although these are all very valid reasons to get up at 5AM to fit a run in, we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t enjoy it. We enjoy the endorphin rush, the camaraderie with our training partners and the sense of satisfaction when you spend the rest of the day on the sofa watching Netflix completely guilt free. Many people train with no intentions to compete, they simply want to improve their quality of life and extended their lifespan. And what better reason could you ask for than that?

Simon Sets new PB at Blenheim Palace Triathlon

After 18 months of struggling with an Achilles tendon injury my knee flared up riding home the Thursday before the race. Guessing (hoping) it was just an overuse injury from the high intensity of my commutes I took the rest of the week off of the bike and restricted myself to swimming. My Achilles generally behaves itself after cycling, but as I wasn’t able to ride my bike, I went 10 days before the event with no cycling or running, less than ideal in every way as I would likely feel flat on race day.
20x30-GENA0001

When the gun went off my arms jumped into action and I headed off with the lead group. “First time for everything” I thought to myself as I settled into a pace. Having improved my stroke enormously by focusing on my catch during the off season I was happy to have put my swim troubles behind me.

However while I had greatly improved my technique the same couldn’t be said for my pacing as I soon found myself being passed and realised I must be slowing. I found another swimmer in a BlueSeventy suit and sat on his hip for the last 300 metres before hurling myself out of the water and along the very long 400M run to T1 where I took quite a few places.

20x30-SWIB0624Sprinting out of the water after my best ever swim

My T1 was relatively efficient minus the standard wetsuit struggles and I was soon on the bike, heart in mouth. My pacing tactics were to sit on my threshold for the entire race and see what happens, not especially advanced or pretty, but after completing a number of sprint triathlons where I’d held a bit back for the run, I applied the formula I’d developed for success at Olympic distance where I throw everything at the bike course and hope that my run legs hold on.

20x30-SUNB2892Out of the saddle on one of the rolling sections

The course at Blenheim was very technical so I didn’t spend as much time on the aero bars as I anticipated, navigating sweeping turns, short, sharp changes in elevation and some tight, tricky corners. I knew I was dehydrated from spending all of the day before talking, and had struggled to re-hydrate in the evening and morning before the race. As it was around midday by this point my body was calling out for water and carbohydrates, but my stomach was still a little unsettled from the swim and sitting on my threshold made it difficult to take on water or gels. I took small mouthfuls of each before the energy gel tried to make a reappearance, causing me to lose time, less than ideal.

20x30-SUNC4067Never trust a man who smiles during the bike leg

At the end of the bike, after playing cat and mouse with a couple of other riders I took to the run course with pretty empty legs, unsure how they would perform as it would be my first fast 5K run of the year due to ongoing injury rehab. I soon got up to speed running around my 4 minute kilometre pace that I traditionally sit on for a 5K run before slipping to a 4:30 pace as my body simply couldn’t push further and wasn’t used to running. I still overtook hundreds of runners and only got passed once myself so can’t complain too much but my run was still a few minutes longer than I’d have liked.

20x30-SUNA1299The bloke behind tried to outspent me. Lived to regret it

750M swim 14:27
19.8KM bike 39:44
5.4KM run 25:15

278/3132 finishers

It was probably my strongest race overall though, I went full gas from the gun and don’t regret anything, except maybe that last mouthful of gel…

Here’s a video provided by the race organisers of a couple of highlights of my race

And here’s a video of my run sped up to 1000%, courtesy of the GoPro clipped to my running visor

The Million Dollar Analogy

Motivation is a funny thing, some people seem to have endless motivation to dedicate themselves to a fitness goal, whereas others would rather juggle hand grenades than pop out for a jog. Those who have less motivation watch cyclists buzz through the streets of London in the pouring rain from the seat of their car and wonder why anybody would put themselves through that, or question why anybody in their right mind would get up early on a Saturday morning to run 5KM with hundreds of others at a parkrun event. The difference is those of us who regularly exercise have realised the benefits a healthy, active lifestyle can bring.

However the majority of the population of the world do not engage in regular exercise, they deem it to be too much effort, or swear blindly that they’d never be any good at it. They try to justify it to themselves by over inflating half truths about the dangers of exercise, persuading themselves that a sedentary lifestyle is safer and better for them than taking the marginal risks that come with exercise.

Now, imagine if I were to randomly stop half a dozen people in the street and tell them that if they could run/walk 26.2 miles in under 8 hours, that I would give them £1,000,000 each. I’m pretty sure I’d have six people lining up on my start line of my marathon, and they’d dig deep enough to finish.

Take that and apply it to an entire city, if I was to place an advert on the tube promising commuters a million big ones to complete an Ironman race this time next year. The swimming pools would be turning people away, the roads would be overrun with cyclists and you would’t be able to move in parks for people working on their run. London would become the healthiest city in the world, the obesity rate would plummet, the life expectancy would skyrocket, happiness levels would spike, the city would save billions.

I want to avoid getting too preachy here, but the fact is most people value money over their health and wellbeing. But why do so many of us dedicate our lives to amassing as much money as possible? Why is it that people will spend their lives slaving away in a job they hate for a big fat wage packet? For the most part people want a better quality of life, they subscribe to the idea that a bigger house and luxuries will make themselves feel better about themselves. But have they ever considered the enormous self confidence and self belief that comes with finishing an event or beating a personal best? When I crossed the finish line of my first triathlon I could almost physically feel the weight that had been on my shoulders for the last four years being lifted.

The other appeal of money is people want to buy people’s respect, they believe if they invite their friends round to their designer flat for dinner or drive to work in a Porsche wearing an Armani suit that people will look up to them. But what about being able to tell someone you are a triathlete? That you have run a marathon in under 3 hours? That you have raced at the Ironman world championships?

As athletes we hurl ourselves at the finish line as if there was a suitcase full of cash waiting for us, because for us the satisfaction of getting the result we want is priceless, and I hope to inspire that passion in as many people as possible.

 

image