The Importance of the Off Season

The off season is the period between the last race of your season and the first structured training session of the next year, it is arguably the most important part of the year for athletes, as our body needs time to rest and recover from the season of hard racing and training.

This is often a period of the year I struggle to guide some athletes through, as they instinctively want to keep training and racing, especially if this if their first few years of racing in multisport. This is partly due to a puppy dog level of excitement, they’ve found this fantastic new hobby and want to keep going, but is also linked to a fear of losing hard earned fitness from the previous year. Here we take a look at why it’s so important to coast your way through the off season and vastly reduce training volume/intensity.

First and foremost, as a species we are not meant to be active for 52 weeks of the year, the winter was traditionally a time of rest and a fight for survival, stockpiling resources and trying to stay warm. While we now have innovations such as central heating and Gore-Tex to get us through these winter months, the body still expects a period of down time each year. This is why the winter is the ideal opportunity to wind down, although if you’re big into your cyclocross and/or duathlon you may wish to skew your year slightly so it starts and finishes later.

It’s natural for us to put on a little bit of weight and take things easier for a short period over the winter, but this doesn’t have to be for the duration of the season, just a handful of weeks. This should be a minimum two weeks, and even up to 6 weeks in some circumstances, which will depend on how well you recover as an athlete. If you are a lifelong competitor in their 30s then you can probably get away with only a couple of weeks, but if you’re a masters athlete or someone who is very new to the sport and feeling run down, a six week break is preferable to throwing yourself back into training too early.

Training and competing in triathlon is hard, really hard, and it’s easy to lose sight of this. When training your body will be in a near constant state of stress, which prolonged exposure to will eventually take its toll. Overtraining is the single greatest threat to an athlete’s progress, and has bought many promising athlete’s careers to a premature end. While we’re probably not looking at fatigue on this level, we still want to turn up to race day feeling fresh and ready to go, rather than beleaguered and nonchalant about our race.

I’m going to take this opportunity to tell you about a friend of mine who I used to ride with, let’s call him Jack. Jack, was and is a very talented cyclist, we both started road cycling around the same time and we both joined a low profile cycling club in the spring of 2013. He spent the year heading out on rides with groups faster than him, hanging on by the skin of his teeth, until week after week it got easier, and he eventually started leading the faster rides himself. When November came many of us took the month off, and restarted training in December with long, easy rides, however Jack declared “I don’t believe in base training”, containing to lead rides every weekend, racing people up the hills and giving it full gas all the way through the winter. When April came Jack was so exhausted that he started suffering from chronic fatigue and had to take the rest of the summer off of the sport he loved while his body slowly recovered.

While this is something of an extreme example, it serves as a reminder of the physical dangers that come with constant training. The other side of the coin is the advantages of time off. You may be keen to crack on with next year’s training, especially if you’ve just signed up to your A race, but training solidly for 11 months ahead of your race is going to involve a lot of ups and downs, a small break of a few weeks will help you come back with a renewed hunger. This is perhaps of more importance to experienced athletes than novices who will be keen to ride the wave.

It’s an important time for goal setting and reflection as well, time away from the pool and the open road will help you remember why you started in the first place, as well as helping you question what it is you want to achieve. You’ve signed up for a big race, but why are you doing it? Why did you pick that race? What do you realistically hope to achieve? This is a good opportunity to sit down with a coach to help choose some realistic goals, and devise a plan for achieving them.

Rather than feeling destitute at the lack of training, use is as an opportunity to spend more time with your family and enjoy other active pastimes. Go for walks with your family, try a new sport which interests you such as rowing, you could even have a go at improving your weaker strokes to mix up your swimming sets. I encourage athletes to do a bit of training here and there if they feel like it, but it should be purely for enjoyment and done at a steady pace.

A coach is there not simply to set you a series of workouts every week, but to get you to the finish line in the fastest time possible, and time off at the end of the year is an important part of the process.

Introduction to Running Injuries

 

Running injuries are, unfortunately, part and parcel of running, with 65% of runners experiencing some kind of injury every year. However permanent damage and elongated time off of running are avoidable, let’s start looking at different types of running injury.

Impact Injuries

These are injuries which are as a result of getting it wrong while running or in day to day life, they can be anything from tripping on a tree root, rolling your ankle off the edge of a kerb or breaking a bone. Sometimes you just drop the ball momentarily or run out of luck and this will result in enforced time off of running. Luckily these are generally easy to treat as the body will heal itself in time and allow you to gradually return to running. There can be complications along the way, especially with complex fractures around the ankle joint, so always follow the advice of a medical practitioner before you return to running. As a result, there’s not too much point me dwelling on them here, so let me move onto the more common kind of running injury.

Overuse injuries

The bane of many a runner, these occur when you run too far, too fast or with poor form. These injuries traditionally affect the tendons and ligaments in the lower body but only occur after prolonged abuse, so learning the warning signs of these injuries is vital to avoid prolonged time sidelined. Let’s look at the most common running injuries

Achilles Tendonitis

This is one of the most widespread running injuries, and can take a long time to recover from. This manifests itself as a pain in the back of the ankle, although can be felt anywhere from the base of the heel to higher up the calf. This is caused by the stretching or inflammation of the achilles tendon, normally as a result of being pulled by a tight calf muscle.

achilles-tendonitis173opt.jpg.pagespeed.ce.bBVtH1XbaK
Image credit Foot Pain Explained

Achilles tendonitis is an especially dangerous injury as it can easily lead to a rupturing of the achilles tendon, which can require a long rehabilitation period or even surgery. The rupture can occur with very little warning, and has even been known to be audible to those nearby! For this reason it is very important to monitor this injury carefully and if in doubt stop running.

If you nip this injury in the bud you shouldn’t have any problems, but leave it for a prolonged period and it can be very difficult to recover from as the achilles tendon is a long way from the heart, so it takes a long time for enough blood to reach the tendon to repair it. Foam rolling and sports massage to loosen the calf is the best treatment, combined with regular icing to encourage blood flow.

Piriformis Syndrom 

The piriformis is a little known muscle that sits deep within the glutes, and prevents the knee from rotating too much. If the piriformis becomes tight it has a tendency to squeeze the sciatic nerve and cause pain when running, which is intensified when sitting.

piriformis
Image credit Back Pain Advisor

Tightness in the muscle is often caused by weak hamstrings, glues or hip muscles, and can also be caused by excessive overpronation, causing the piriformis to work hard stabilising the knee, resulting in tightness.

Treatment involves stretches that target the glutes and foam rolling the area to release tight muscles. If you have a history of piriformis problems, you can use exercises to strengthen the glutes combined with foam rolling to ensure you stay pain free. It may also be worth getting an assessment of your kinetic chain by a coach or personal trainer to help assess whether you suffer with any weaknesses that can be addressed.

Iliotibial Band (ITB) Syndrom 

One of the hardest injuries to shift if left untreated, it manifests itself as pain in the outside of the knee, or in the IT band itself. The IT band is a very large fascial band which runs from the hip down to the knee, and can be pulled tight by a variety of problems which can include tight hip flexors, overpronating or weak core muscles/glutes.

IT-band-syndrome-illustration
Image credit Vive Health

For all cases of ITBS I recommend immediately seeing a physiotherapist to help locate the cause of the pain, as it can come from various sources. To prevent problems ensure you foam roll regularly to keep muscles loose and strengthen your core/glutes to give your body a stable platform to run on, reducing strain on other areas.

Plantar Fasciitis 

A phrase that fills many runners with dread, this is an especially troublesome running injury not because of excessive pain but the difficulty many face in returning to running after suffering with symptoms.

The planter fascia is a strip of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to your metatarsals (long bones that run along your toes). It has the rather unfortunate position of being at the bottom of the kinetic chain, so tightness in any muscles on the lower body could eventually work their way down the leg to pull on the plantar. The function of the planter is to stabilise the foot, which means that those with high arches, which will put the planter under more strain, are at more of a risk.

Plantar-Fasciitis.jpg
Image credit First Aid 4 Sport

The pain will normally manifest itself as a pulling in the heel, although can be experienced along the bottom of the foot towards the arch in rare circumstances. To treat the injury a two pronged approach is recommended, both releasing the plantar itself using a golf or tennis ball, alongside stretching and releasing the calf to reduce any pulling on the planter from further up the kinetic chain. These exercises along with barefoot running can be used to prevent an athlete from developing plantar fasciitis.

If you suffer with symptoms it is important to treat them immediately to stop the injury becoming chronic, which can result in a long time away from running.

Runner’s Knee

Patello-femoral knee syndrome, also known as runner’s knee is a common running injury that causes pain around the knee joint, and is especially painful when ascending or descending stairs.

runners-knee-image-3-1024x791
Image Credit Body Heal

This is traditionally caused by weak or tight quadriceps which will pull the knee tight during exercise, but can also be caused by overactive or weak hamstrings, something a medical professional will have to evaluate.

The best prevention is loosening your quads with a sports massage and regular foam rolling combined with strengthening exercises such as plyometric jumps. It is worth mentioning that unlike other injuries, rest will not help you recover from runner’s knee.

Shin Splints

There are two types of shin splints, muscular and skeletal.

Most cases are skeletal and if left untreated can lead to fractures so it’s important to rest and slowly increase running volume. This is especially common in new runners who increase the load too quickly when their body is not used to the strains that running places on the body. It is also more common in larger athletes who put more strain through their body with every step. There is little that can be done to help strengthen the body to prevent against shin splints, but it may be worth reviewing whether you are getting enough vitamin D.

200px-Shin-Splints.jpg
Image credit physiopedia

If you run your finger along the inside of your tibia and feel the muscle is sore rather than the bone, it is possible the pain is muscular, which accounts for roughly 10% of cases. The best treatment is rest combined with foam rolling of the muscles in the area to loosen them and release pressure. The causes of muscular shin splints are similar to skeletal, running too far/fast too soon.

Hopefully this has given you an insight into the most common injuries, to summarise the warning signs you should look out for:
Pulling on the back of the heel- Achilles tendonitis
Pain on the bottom of your feel- Plantar fasciitis
Pain on the outside of your knee- ITB syndrome
Dull pain above/below the knee- Runner’s knee
Pain in the shin during or after running- Shin splints
Pain deep within your glutes- Piriformis syndrome

Each running injury should be treated in the same fashion

  1. Immediately stop running or drastically lower running volume. If you are experiencing pain when running, it is for body’s way of warning you that you are doing damage.
  2. Locate the cause of the injury, preferably by visiting a professional. They will not be able to cure the injury for you, rather prescribe you with a series of exercises to help recovery.
  3. Follow up on the exercises prescribed by the professional. If there is no improvement after several weeks it may be worth visiting your GP to ensure it is nothing more serious.
  4. Get your running gait analysed to check for any areas of weaknesses that may have caused the injury, or any effects the injury may have had on your gait.
  5. Slowly return to running and try not to adjust your gait to favour the afflicted area, as this will likely cause issues elsewhere. Continue with the stretching and strengthening exercises prescribed to you to reduce the risk of the injury relapsing.

If you have taken time off with injury and are looking to get back into training E-mail Simon@phazontriathlon.com or call on 07515666325 and we can discuss the best way for you to make a successful return to running.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is designed to educate athletes on the symptoms, causes and basic treatment of the most common running injuries and should not be considered to be medical advice. If symptoms last more than a week or you are in any doubt, visit a medical professional for advice on the causes of your injury and a rehabilitation program.

Do You Have What it Takes to Complete an Ironman?

20264893_10101012793168404_2558422238725364078_n

The question rattling around in the back of many people’s minds, what does it take to complete an Ironman? What follows isn’t a comprehensive list of attributes and prerequisites to complete a race, but are worth considering before you take the leap and book yourself a race entry.

Medical clearance to compete

While you do not have to be a perfect picture of health and fitness to complete your race, some ongoing conditions may require careful management during your training. People suffering with conditions such as diabetes, heart angina or even cancer have successfully completed Ironman races, but if you are in any doubt about any conditions you are currently suffering with, seek professional approval before engaging in training, and consider hiring a coach to help you manage your training in an affective manner.

Willpower

Triathlon, and especially Ironman isn’t a case of putting in the training beforehand, turning up on race day and flying around the course. It will hurt, you will think about giving up numerous times, it will push you to your limits and humble you. You are not entitled to an Ironman finish simply because you trained and paid your entry fee, you earn that title after pushing yourself above and beyond your limit, and for that you need willpower in spades.

Capital

I’m not going to try to tell you triathlon is a cheap sport, and there’s no getting around the fact that you need some money to finance your kit purchases. If you’re trying to get through on a budget you’re looking at £150 for a swimming wetsuit, £500 for a bike and £100 for a pair of trainers as the bare essentials. Add onto that race entry fees (up to £400 for an official IRONMAN event), travel, accommodation e.t.c. and you’re looking at the best part of £1500 to go from total beginner to Ironman finisher.

Time to train

This needn’t be excessive amounts, some people can complete an Ironman on 7 hours of training a week, but if you have just become a parent or are about to start a time consuming contract, it may be worth considering whether you have the time to put in the training you need. Ironman as a sport isn’t going anywhere in a hurry so it may be worth postponing for a year when you have more time to dedicate.

A support network

People in your life need to be behind you, from your friends to your partner and your parents to your boss, the more people who tolerate your reduced availability and habit of resembling a zombie at 3PM when the 6AM swim set catches up with you, the better. I hear stories about relationships which have been put under serious strain by a partner feeling abandoned by their other half who is training for a race, however I have also heard about many families who have been bought closer together by the experience, providing a role model for their children. You need people to pick you up when you’re down, kick you out the door when you’re lacking motivation, and to cheer you round the course on the day. Don’t underestimate the impact a strong support network will have on your race and preparations.

Experience in triathlon

I’m not saying your first race can’t be an Ironman, but I strongly recommend against it. There’s much more to the sport than simply stringing together a swim, bike ride and run, many lessons which you only learn on your first time out. If you aren’t interested in shorter events, than at least get a 70.3 under your belt before your first full distance. The more races you have under your belt before your Ironman the more relaxed you will be on the start line and the better positioned you are to earn that coveted title.

Motivation

I’m not talking about the kind of motivation that comes from watching a glossy video compilation on YouTube and declaring to the world that one day you will complete an Ironman, I’m talking about the kind of motivation which comes from forking out the hard cash to enter a race, and getting up at 5AM for a run. Where training for your race is more important than a boozy night out or a visit to a fast food chain. Your race has to mean something special for you to complete it. If you’re anything but completely motivated to get out and train, you’re unlikely to finish. It’s not for the faint hearted, and it’s certainly not easy. Thousands of people complete their first Ironman every year without an athletic background, but they complete the challenge because they’re hungry for it. You can’t turn up and “smash” an Ironman, you need a real hunger burning away inside of you to consistently put in the training and cross that finish line

There are very few people out there who aren’t capable of finishing an Ironman triathlon, athletes in their 80s and amputees frequently make it across the finish line, with enough passion and hunger I have every faith you can cross the line yourself.

Introduction to Turbo Training

img_0136
Image courtesy of Wahoo

Turbo training, or indoor cycling, is becoming increasingly popular among cyclists and triathletes of all abilities, allowing for incredibly focused and specific training with minimal fuss. As the winter approaches and brings with it strong winds, freezing temperatures and rain, indoor riding becomes all the more appealing.

 

I strongly advise all athletes I work with to purchase a turbo trainer to allow them to get specific and focused training sessions. An hour on the turbo is generally worth two hours on the road, and is worth even more when you you include all the time prepping your bike and getting changed for an outdoor ride, and if you live in a city, the distance you need to travel before you can get riding properly. I have athletes ride the turbo not as a last resort in bad weather, but all year round to allow us to fit more quality hours of training in every week. You can also train with specific metrics and monitor power closely, rather than simply going out for a ride to get some miles in the legs. Using Functional Threshold Power (FTP) testing you can accurately monitor your improvements and use the data to train at intensities specific to you.

The words ‘turbo trainer’ strike fear into the hearts of most old school cyclists, and hark back to the days where indoor training involved staring at a wall or watching a video of other cyclists racing while you pedal into nowhere using a heavy, expensive trainer that kicks up enough noise to make a jet engine blush. Turbo training has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, so let’s look at the new generation of training options and what they offer

Smart or dumb?

You’ll hear the phrase “smart trainer” thrown around on various websites, blogs and bike shops, so you can understand people’s hesitation in asking what exactly makes a bike trainer smart. A smart trainer will talk to electronic devices, broadcasting power data to them and changing their resistance based on the feedback they receive from the training software. If you’re riding a virtual course and reach a hill, the trainer will increase resistance, decreasing it when you reach the summit. This makes your indoor riding experience far more immersive and valuable with specific metrics such as accurate power and in build cadence sensors.

Direct drive or classic?

The term direct drive refers to when a cassette sits on the trainer itself which you mount your bike onto (after removing the rear wheel) and start riding. Wheel on trainers work by taking the bike in its entirety and bolting it onto the trainer. A metal drum is then pressed against the rear wheel to provide the resistance.

So which is better? You’d be hard pressed to find someone who chooses a wheel on trainer over a direct drive trainer. Wheel on trainers will rapidly wear some tyres necessitating the use of a specialist turbo training tyre, and the tyre/wheel change that comes with it before every indoor ride. Wheel on also tends to be noisier, and it feels very unnatural to ride compared to the smooth, progressive resistance of the direct drive trainers. Direct drive trainers are coming down in price, so I’d recommend looking at them as they’re so easy to use. If you have to change the wheel/tyre every time you want to ride indoors, it’s a barrier to you getting the workout done and you’ll find excuses not to ride.

Training software

The vast majority of those training indoors will use training software to maximise the accuracy of their ride and stave off the boredom. Here we look at some of the options available to athletes.

Zwift

IMG_0121.JPG

The benchmark in training software, Zwift has exploded in the last couple of years, edging itself towards the world of mainstream fitness. The premise is simple, by turning the pedals you power your rider around a virtual course, providing not only a challenge in the undulating courses they create (including a full mountain climb), but a visual distraction from the monotony of indoor training. Several hundred riders can be found online at any given time varying from weekend warriors to professional cyclists, either participating in races, battling over the various jerseys that can be earned on course, following a workout or simply pooling round the course.

Zwift is an incredibly detailed topic which deserves an article on its own, but can be summarised as the most social and iadvanced platform.

Pros: social, being continually developed, incredible visuals
Cons: only three courses currently available

TrainerRoad

features-guided-workouts-laptop
Image courtesy of TrainerRoad

If Zwift is the excitable 10 year old of the indoor cycling world, TrainerRoad is the surly uncle. It’s been around for longer than Zwift and focuses more on performance. It works on the premise that you are given a series of power figures to hit, and you have to hold the correct power and/or cadence/heart rate for each effort. There is no visual representation of your efforts, it is more of a no frills experience than Zwift, instead focusing on its library of workouts and training plans designed by coach Chad Timmerman. It also has the unique feature of allowing you to minimise the software to watch your favourite film/TV show with essential workout information at the bottom of the screen. Athletes training with me are provided with turbo workouts, so the appeal of TrainerRoad is limited.

Pros: Extensive workout library, ability to minimise workout
Cons: Represents poor value for money compared to other software, no visualisation or social aspect

Bkool simulator

bkool-video-screenshot.jpg
Image courtesy of Bikerumour.com

Bkool are the underdog here, and something of an anomaly as they produce their own trainers as well as software. The Bkool software is unique in that is allows you to ride a huge variety of routes with video/google earth images to keep you engaged, rather than relying on the somewhat limited course offerings on Zwift. This can prove especially useful for those who have a big race abroad and want to preview the major climbs.

It has social elements like Zwift but with far fewer people using it, the scope for racing and training with friends is somewhat limited.

Pros: replicate courses from around the world
Cons: less social than Zwift, not many people use it

Tacx Training Software

large_IT17151

I am including this one as something of a warning more than anything. While Tacx were early adopters of training software, their involvement seems to have fallen by the wayside and it now their software exists as little more than a legacy product. Interestingly it can be used with the Tacx steering column to allow you to pick your way around virtual courses, but this is a pricey accessory that is only compatible with Tacx software. As they seem to have stopped marketing the software or including it with their latest trainers, they have either accepted that their efforts are better spent of manufacturing trainers, or they are planning a complete reboot of their training software (unlikely). While doing a bit of research for this article I noticed on the Tacx website they are now advertising their trainers using Zwift, so it seems the writing is on the wall for Tacx Training Software.

Pros: may have come free with your turbo trainer
Cons: dated, large one off payment to purchase

Accessories

So you have your trainer and your software, do you need anything else? Some of these are optional, some necessary depending on your setup

Turbo Quick Release

tacx-t1402-turbo-trainer-quick-release-skewer

A bona fide essential for anyone riding a quick release bike (so 99% of you) on an indoor trainer. This is a heavy duty rear skewer that can withstand the rigours of indoor training. A standard lightweight QR skewer can be damaged by being pinned in place with huge forces going through it. which can result in failure out on the open road. Every trainer recommends their use and will come with one to use, so please ensure you change your skewer everytime you move your bike indoors to avoid serious injury out on the road.

Training Matt

BKOOL-Turbo-Training-Floor-Mat

A black grippy mat that sits under your turbo trainer, you’ve probably seen them in marketing materials for trainers and at demo stations. Their purpose is two fold, to protect the floor from sweat, and to reduce noise, especially important if you’re using it on anything but the ground floor. They roll/fold up nicely and look the part, but it’s nothing that an old piece of carpet won’t do…

HR monitor

Wahoo-Tickr-X-Workout-Tracker-With-Memory

Hopefully you have one for your normal riding, but some workouts use heart rate as a metric for you to ride to, so they can prove to be especially useful on a turbo trainer. You can closely monitor your heart rate on a turbo to see how it reacts to different intensities, something you can’t afford to do out on the road.

Speed sensor

Wahoo-Fitness-RPM-Speed-Sensor-001

You can use a speed sensor on your rear wheel to give you a virtual power reading even if using a dumb trainer or rollers. Not necessary if using a smart trainer.

Cadence sensor

Garmin-Bike-cadence-sensor-crank-mounted

This little beauty sits on the inside of your non drive side crank and registers how often it passes the seat stay to give you a revolutions per minute (RPM) figure, also known as cadence. While not essential, it is very useful information when riding as it will help you realise when you’re pedalling too slowly or too fast. Some of the sessions that come with Phazon plans specify cadence figures so they’re an item we recommend. Currently the Tacx Neo is the only trainer with an unbuild cadence sensor.

Sweat guard

Cycleops-Bike-Sweat-Guard

When you’re pushing hard indoors with no wind to chill you, it’s pretty inevitable you’ll get a sweat on. This becomes a problem when sweat starts dripping from your face onto your headset, stripping the grease and leaving a salty residue which isn’t conclusive to smooth steering. A sweat guard will protect these sensitive areas from becoming damaged from indoor training. To reduce sweating and make your indoor ride more bearable, consider setting up an fan to keep you cool. I’m sure I won’t need to do a separate entry for this one…

Tablet stand/holder

tacx-t2092-handlebar-ipad-tablet-mount

With Zwift and TrainerRoad offering mobile apps (Zwift is releasing an Android version very soon), many people will choose these over setting up an entire computer and monitor rig every time they want to ride, unless they have a permanent “pain cave” setup. Products are available to hold your phone or tablet either on your handlebars or freestanding in front of you. If you’re running aero or non rounded handlebars you’ll likely need the free standing version

ANT+ dongle

GoPro-USB-Ant-Stick

If you’re planning to run ANT+ then this will be a necessity unless your computer comes with an ANT+ chip built in. If you already own a Garmin watch that comes with a USB ANT+ stick you can normally use the same one to save a bit of cash as an additional ANT+ stick will normally set you back around £30-£40. If you’re using a tablet or smartphone there are legacy products from yesteryear which can make your mobile device ANT+ compatible, but many of these will need expensive adaptors to make them work with modern devices so I suggest you invest in Bluetooth instead.

For more information on ANT+ vs Bluetooth see the section below

Riser Block

Tacx-Skyliner-Front-Wheel-Support-T2590

Most turbo trainers will lift your bike off of the floor slightly, so to accommodate for this manufacturers provide a small block for your front wheel to sit on. Most trainers that require one will come packaged with one. Some people looking to replicate his climbing will often use a pile of books or similar to raise their front wheel more

Wahoo Kickr Climb

Wahoo-Kickr-Climb-Indoor-Grade-Simulator

Specific to the Wahoo Kickr series, you remove your front fork and slot your forks onto the notches provided, the climb replicates inclines of up to 20% and downhills of up to -10%. While it is easily dismissed as an expensive gimmick, it recruits different muscle groups to better replicate climbing, especially useful for those training for mountain events who will spend prolonged periods riding in this position.

Turbo tyre/spare wheel (wheel on trainer only)

Continental-UltraSport-Hometrainer-II-Turbo-Trainer-Tyre.jpg“Do I need a turbo tyre?” Is one of the most common questions I’m asked. The truth of the matter is it’s hard to tell, but if in doubt better to use one. They are an extremely hard rubber compound designed to withstand the rigours of being pressed against a metallic drum and spun around for hours on end. Some people report that they ride on the same tyre indoors and outdoors with no problems, while some find pieces of rubber being flung around their living room as soon as they start riding their road tyre on a trainer. It depends on the combination of your trainer and on your road tyre, but even if it doesn’t start delaminating visibly, you’re still putting a lot of wear on your expensive tyres and will have to replace them sooner. If you use a turbo tyre it it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to replace it.

With regards to the spare wheel, this is vital for those of us who don’t want to change a tyre every time we want to ride indoors. This is not only very time consuming and tricky, but it risks damage to your rim and increases the risk for blowing inner tubes by botching a tyre change. Drop a message on the forum of your club asking if anyone has any old stock/worn rear wheels they never use and can be donated for a good cause.

Bluetooth or ANT+?

The question on the lips of many newbies to indoor cycling, which protocol should they use? I’ll run you through the basics of each.

Bluetooth

The connection everybody has been using for many years, it has been slowly improved over the years but is still not especially long range or reliable. However most computers and devices can read Bluetooth signals so will be able to talk to Bluetooth trainers, making the process nice and simple.

ANT+

The ANT+ connection is generally longer range and more reliable than Bluetooth, however requires an ANT+ USB stick to communicate with your device, which is an additional expense. It is also slower to react to changes in resistance than Bluetooth, with up to 2-3 seconds delay between reaching a hill on Zwift and the resistance increasing. You can also attach the dongle to a USB extension lead to get it as close to your trainer as possible, minimising dropouts.

There’s no real right or wrong answers, I’ve used both over the years and not had major problems with either, it may be worth checking your trainer/sensors before deciding. If you own Garmin sensors which only tend to be ANT+ then it makes sense to use them rather than reinvest in an entire new set of Bluetooth sensors. My advice is to start with what is easiest for you, and try changing if you encounter issues.

Which trainer?

I’m not going to start comparing brands here, but simply compare different kinds of trainer and the advantages/disadvantages of each style

Cheap wheel on magnetic trainers

Examples: Tacx Blue Matic (pictured), CycleOps mag|
Approx £100-£200

T2650

These trainers are somewhat dated and likely to be discontinued in the next 3-4 years as smart trainer become more affordable. The resistance changes using magnets in the rear drum, controlled, by a trigger that is attached to your handlebars. They are loud and feel very unrealistic, but for the triathlete on a budget their are better than no turbo

Pros: affordable
Cons: clunky, unrealistic road feel, no data transmitted to software

Fluid trainers

Examples: Kurt Kinetic, CycleOps Fluid 2 (pictured)
Approx £150-£250

CycleOps-Fluid-2-Turbo-Trainer

These trainers do not change resistance in the traditional sense, but instead follow a set power curve that increases the resistance the more power you put down. This makes for a more realistic riding experience, but a less controllable one. I can’t really recommend them for use with training software

Pros: more realistic ride feel, no need to worry about changing resistance

Cons: very little control makes interval work difficult

Semi smart trainers

Examples: Tacx Satori Smart (pictured), Kimetic Rock and Roll Smart
Approx £200-£300

Tacx-Satori-Smart-Turbo-Trainer

These are magnetic wheel on trainers, but unlike their cheaper cousins they broadcast power to Zwift, giving you a much more accurate reading than the Z power that Zwift calculates using speed sensors and power curves. However they do not change resistance depending on where you are on course, although people will often manually increase the trainer resistance when they reach hills to replicate the slower cadence associated with going uphill.

Smart wheel on trainers

Examples: Tacx Genius, Wahoo Kickr Snap (pictured)
Approx £300-£500

Wahoo-KICKR-SNAP-Smart-Turbo-Trainer-2017

A smart wheel on trainer is ideal for those who want the full functionality of a trainer without the cost associated with direct drive. They tend to be less accurate and can’t create as much resistance as the big boys, but if that doesn’t really bother you then I can happily recommend one of those trainers. They tend to be much quieter at this price point, something which is worth the extra alone. Even if you don’t have neighbours, it’s nice to be able to hear yourself think when training.

Budget direct drive trainers

Examples: Tacx Flux, Elite Direto (pictured)
Approx £600-£800

Elite-Direto-OTS-Smart-Indoor-Trainer

Don’t let the word budget fool you, you’re still looking at the best part of £700 for these trainers, but this is still a significant saving compared to the big boys. They can’t quite replicate the resistance of the top end trainers, but the road feel is vastly improved compared to wheel on trainers and the changes in resistance are smooth. I’d recommend most people invest a bit more and go all in for a top of the line trainer personally, but for those who can’t justify the extra expense these are a solid option. They can replicate a reasonable gradient and are more accurate than wheel on trainers, along with the buttery smooth feeling that comes with direct drive trainers.

Top end trainers

Examples: Tacx Neo, Wahoo Kickr (pictured), Cycleops Hammer, Elite Drivio
Approx £800+

Wahoo-KICKR-Power-Indoor-Turbo-Trainer

These are the top dogs of indoor training, the five star experience for the cyclist who has it all or will be spending vast amount of time on their trainer. They are the most realistic indoor riding experiences available, extremely quiet and able to accurately replicate the inclines on training software and give extremely accurate power readings.

You won’t get much change out of £1,000 if you’re looking at one of these, but if spending a bit more will make the experience more enjoyable and encourage you to ride where you might not otherwise, then it’s money well spent.

The differences between each are pretty minimal, so the best way to make the decision is simply to try riding each to decide which you  prefer the feel of.

ERG Mode

Ergonomic (or ERG) mode works by capping your power at a certain level during structured workouts. Once you exceed the target power for an effort it will lower the resistance to spin your legs out. This is incredibly useful as it allows you to focus on riding rather than staring at the screen trying to keep your power within the set parameters, and is favoured by many (including myself) for following structured workouts as it allows you to focus on your pedalling technique, audiobook or TV show rather than staring at numbers. The only problem is if you decide to stop pedalling or slow your cadence considerably as the ERG mode will whack the resistance up to full to compensate.

Which bike should I ride indoors?

Many people have a ‘turbo bike’ that has been retired from regular service and now sits on a trainer in their garage. This makes sense from a ease of us standpoint, you don’t need to worry about changing tyres or swapping bikes on and off the trainer, but at the end of the day we want to ride our race bike fast, and riding a different geometry on the trainer won’t give us the specific strength we’re looking for. This is especially true for people who have a road bike on their turbo but race on TT bikes, the muscle groups recruited and the demands put on them are quite different so train specifically for the kind of riding you’ll be doing. Many people will do a lot of turbo training over winter when you probably won’t be using your race bike on the roads, so consider bolting it onto your trainer for winter.

And finally… Can I use my carbon frame on a turbo trainer?

It wouldn’t be an article about turbo training without the contentious carbon frame question. The answer is that if your carbon frame is properly attached and you do not throw it around while training on it, you’ll probably be fine. If the quick release or thru axel is done up super tight you increase the chance of damage, but the biggest mistake you can make it doing it up too loosely as this will allow for the bike to rock around, vastly increasing the risk of damage. I know it can feel wrong to bolt your new carbon frame tightly into a static object before riding it, but if the frame is built to withstand the rigours of road use, it can survive being pinned into a trainer.

It’s worth mentioning that some companies such as Specialized currently void the warranty of a product if damage occurred while riding on a trainer. As indoor training increases in popularity you hope they’ll change their stance, but for now it’s worth checking the details of your manufacturer’s warranty if you want total peace of mind. Most of the time a bike suffers damage on the trainer it’s because the frame was already cracked and the turbo training was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

 

Hopefully this has given you an insight into the world on indoor training and allows you to make informed decisions of what setup to run. I’ll be wiring more in depth articles on specific aspects of indoor training over the coming weeks to make sure you subscribe or like our Facebook page to be kept up to date.

How to clean your drivetrain

This may not be the sexiest of blog posts, but as triathletes we have a reputation of poor bike skills, and this extends to the maintenance of our machines. Today we’re going to look at how to clean your chain to ensure your bike is running at optimum performance for as long as possible.

“But I don’t have the time to clean my bike every ride, I put it in for a service every year!” I hear you cry, but do you also tend to acquire a bill for a long list of replacement parts with every service and think “Blimey, this cycling lark is expensive!”? While all components need to be replaced eventually, their lifespan can be multiplied ten fold with a bit of TLC.

After shorter rides you can get away with a quick wipe of the chain, but once every 200KM or so you’ll need to give your drivetrain a proper clean.

I’ve been selflessly letting the chain on my commuter bike get dirty to demonstrate the method to you, and as you can see a large amount of black gunk has started to attach itself to the chain, creating a black paste which will eat away at our components, wearing them away and requiring replacement parts to optimise shifting and performance. A tell tail sign that your cassette/chianset needs replacing is when the notches on the cogs start to resemble a shark’s fin rather than a smooth, symmetrical tooth. If in doubt, take it to your local bike shops, most bike mechanics are honest and will give you an estimation of how long you have left in your components.

To start the cleaning process we first need to give the bike a good wash down with a hose. Cleaning your drivetrain is a dirty job and you WILL get grease on you and your clothes, I’d hate for you to get black specs all over your brand new Ironman finisher’s shirt, so wear something you don’t mind getting a bit dirty. If you don’t have the luxuary of a garden then make sure you carry out the work above a surface you can wipe clean, and substitute the hosing down with a thorough wiping down of the chain. The aim is to dislodge any bits of grit and dirt that my be hiding between the links before we get serious

Take this point to notice how the raised areas of the chain are cleaner than the rest of the chain. This is a result of the chain rubbing against the front mech and reminded me that I needed to adjust the limit screws to minimise chain rub which lowers the life of your chain as well as creating an incredibly annoying grinding sound.

Before we clean the chain itself, let’s the the opportunity to clean all the easily accessible working parts, namely the chainset and the jockey wheels. As you can see below, these are prone to attracting black gunk from the road as they sit right in the firing line

Probably not the best example as I’m generally pretty good at cleaning them and there’s a limit to how dirty I’m going to let my bike get for an article, but it’s important we get rid of this before we clean the chain, otherwise it’ll be black again by the time we get to the bottom of the road. The best way to do this is spinning the crank and using a screwdriver to remove the offending muck

This is preferable to wiping them down as any cloth you use is liable to getting dragged into the workings of the rear mech. Also check the chainset (front gears) for any dirt, then we’re good to start on the chain.

It’s finally time to clean the chain itself, and for that we will need degreaser. Degreaser is perfect for getting rid of pesky grease that builds up on your chain, but also very good at stripping useful grease from your bottom bracket and wheel hubs, so to avoid the powerful chemicals getting into these areas I use a chain cleaning tool, specifically the Park Tool Cyclone pictured. Notice the number of bristles on the inside of the machine, the real problem is not the visible dirt on the outside of the chain but the paste that has made its way into the links of the chain where it is eating away at the metal. The bristles are there to get to the difficult pieces of dirt that you can’t reach simply by wiping the chain down. Fill the tool up to the indicated level with degreaser and then seat the machine over the chain, clipping it closed to sit on the chain like so:

The tool keeps the worst of the degreaser inside its workings, but you’re doing well if you manage to avoid the splatter that can erupt from the end of the roll. I recommend keeping it as level as possible to reduce liquid escaping, but you do need to give the chain a good dozen or so rotations to ensure the bristles do their work on the entire chain. If you don’t have a chain cleaning tool you can apply the degreaser using an old toothbrush, but a chain cleaning tool is a wise investment for anyone who regularly rides their bikes.

The chain is already looking much better, especially compared to the cassette behind it. Next up we need to give the chain a thorough wiping down to get rid of the degreaser.

Give the chain a good few spins through the rag, ensuring you clean every surface of the chain, and we’re rewarded with a nice shiny drivetrain.

We’re already looking a lot better, and you’d be forgiven for wanting to jump straight onto your sparkling steed and heading straight out for a spin, but there’s one more final step to be completed. Remember how I said degreaser removed grease both good and bad? Well we need to re-lube our chain. Notice I used the word lube (pipe down at the back) rather than grease, we need to use a cycling specific product as using standard grease would act as a magnet to grit and clog up our drivetrain.

There are two varieties of grease that are commonly used, wet and dry. Dry lube is much thinner and designed for use in warmer, dryer conditions. Wet lube is much thicker and recommended for use in challenging conditions, so riding in the UK essentially. The reason for this is wet lube is much heavier so harder to displace, but it’s also stickier so attracts more dirt and dust, requiring more regular reapplication. Dry lube tends to be washed out of your chain quite rapidly when the heavens open in my experience.

As I’ll be riding this bike in all conditions I tend to use wet lube most of the time, but may use dry on my race bike when the forecast is good. Whichever you choose, give it a good shake before you apply it to ensure the application agent and the lube bond correctly.

It is best applied at the cassette, slowly turning the pedals while applying the lubricant to the rolling chain, until the entire chain has been covered. We now leave the chain for 5 minutes, so grab yourself a drink and a snack while we wait for it to seep through into the links of the chain.

Remember what I said about wet lube attracting dirt? Well we want to reduce this as much as possible, so after we’ve waited for the lube to seep into the chain, we wipe off any excess lube with a rag. This is very important to ensure you don’t attract more dirt, creating the dreaded black paste.

We now need to wash the bike down once again, and this time go over the whole drivetrain (preferably the rest of the bike as well) with hot soapy water, scrubbing away the excess grit and grime, as well as any remaining degreaser from our sparkling chain.

The eagle eyed among you may have noticed that my cassette in the last couple of photos is matching my nice clean chain. The cassette doesn’t tend to attract gunk in the same way as the other drivetrain components so cleaning it is optional but it’s worth giving it a proper degreasing every now and then, if only for aesthetic purposes.

First remove the cassette from the rear wheel, undo the locking ring and pull the cassette into individual rings (the largest 3 rings are normally welded together) ready to clean. Now we’re away from the rest of the bike we can afford to be a bit more rough and ready with the degreaser. Decant a small amount into a container to avoid “double dipping” and contaminating fresh degreaser. We then take an old toothbrush, load it up with degreaser and get to work on the cogs. As you can see, the before/after results are quite satisfying for the minimal work involved. Once all cogs are cleaned, reassemble them in the correct order and reattach your rear wheel.

Now you’re running with a clean, well lubricated chain you may actually feel a slight difference as it rolls and shifts marginally better, as well as looking the part. Most importantly it will vastly reduce wear on your components, saving your the money and hassle of replacing them. All components have a limited lifespan however, so keep an eye on them. Generally the cassette and chainset will only start wearing significantly when the chain stretches over time, so keep on top of that with a chain stretch tool, which slots between links of your chain to indicate how far it has stretched. Regular cleaning will vastly increase the lifespan of your chain, with some people reporting they can get 10,000+ miles out of a chain.

For more information on subjects such as removing your back wheel and cassette which I can’t cover in detail here, enlisting g the services of YouTube or your cycling savvy friends. If you have any questions, drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Hierarchy of stroke improvement

Whenever people come to me for help with their swimming I do an initial assessment to work out where their swimming currently stands. There is normally a fairly predictively series of faults, here is a list of the most common faults and the order I will correct them in.

TIER1

Breathing

Here I’m looking for a smooth, controlled exhalation underwater followed by a slight tilt of the head to quickly take a breath. Holding your breath underwater increases the build up of C02 in your lungs, resulting in you tiring quickly.

Body position

A flat, hydrodynamic body position is critical for efficient swimming, sinky legs or swimming with your head out of the water make us work considerably harder than we have to due to increased drag.

TIER 2

Arm recovery

For an effective freestyle stroke your arms must exit the water after completing the propulsive phase, as air is far less resistive than water. Ideally we’re looking for a high elbow recovery to set us up for a great hand entry.

Kick mechanics

Many age groupers neglect their legs as wetsuits give us incredible buoyancy, but our leg kick also give us propulsion and balance to our stroke. A subdued, but assertive kick will yield great improvements. Working on your kick is especially important if racing in waters where wetsuits run the risk of being banned.

Tier 3

Hand entry

Your hand should enter the water in a relaxed fashion, just short of full extension. We’re looking for your fingertips (not thumb) to enter the water first, followed by your wrist, and then your elbow. It’s important to stay relaxed as energy used in this phase is energy not being used to pull yourself through the water.

Body roll

Also known as rotation, a slight roll from side to side as you swim will allow a greater extension of your arm, as well as providing a more stable, hydrodynamic platform to pull yourself through the water with.

Tier 4

Catch mechanics

Improving your catch is the fastest way for a swimmer on a plateau to improve. The catch is the short phase of your stroke between hand entry and the pull. When you tilt your wrist and forearm down while bending your elbow to give the largest possible area to pull back on the water with.

Body alignment

Your hands should enter the water in line with your shoulder and pull back, keeping your hands in line with your shoulders throughout. If your arms cross over the centre line of your body at any point this will destabilise your body, and your body will try to counter this with a scissor kicking action.

Stroke rate/length

Ensuring strokes are not to long, and not too short and finding a sweetspot that is sustainable over the distance of your event. A stroke that is too short will not move enough water, but a long, lingering stroke is an inefficient way to swim and promoted bad mechanics such as a wrist first hand entry.

Tier 5

Propulsive power

The majority of your stroke power comes from the propulsive, or pull phase, as your hand travels the length of your body, exiting at your thigh. It is important that the rest of the stroke is as relaxed as possible to ensure our energy is used here more effectively.

Kick timing

Adopting a 2 beat, 4 beat or 6 beat kick is a largely personal choice and different kicking patterns suit different situations, for instance most people will increase their kick rate when they approach a buoy in open water. Finding what works for you and changing things up is an advanced skill but crucial for efficient swimming.

This article has been simplified significantly to pick out areas to improve in, but in swimming every area of our stroke is linked to everything else, and it is the trade of swimming coaches to work to work out how different elements of your stroke are affecting others. If you are interested in a swim analysis session, check out the services tab at the top of the page.

This article is loosely based on a similar model by Swim Smooth.

Life after Ironman

The post Ironman blues are a well documented phenomenon, athletes in training spend every waking moment thinking about their race; training, planning and worrying, drawing up various scenarios in their head and spending most of their disposable income on products that promise to get them round in a faster time. This is completely natural and I’d be concerned if an athlete didn’t give much thought to their race, but after we cross the finish line and the elation has subsided, people end up with a large M-dot shaped hole in their life.

This is often inevitable, but affects different people in different ways. Some people feel a bit empty for a few weeks, other feel destitute, thinking that any training they do would be pointless now they’re an Ironman.

The best way to prepare for this period is to plan in advance, just like you are doing for your race. This doesn’t mean sitting down with a calendar and creating a strict itinerary for the month following the race, but take ten minutes to sit down with a pen and paper to list all the things you’ll have to look forward to with more free time and pencil in a few plans. Here are a few suggestions.

Spend more time with your family/partner

If you’re lucky enough to have a partner who is completely on board with your training, they’ll have been proud to support you, and no doubt been very patient with you and long days alone in the house while you put in the big miles, this is your chance to make them feel special again by spending more time together. Take them out to dinner without worrying about what you’re eating or when you have to be back, enjoy lazy Sundays mornings in bed together and treat them with a long weekend away without packing your bike or running shoes. This will help butter them up for when you announce your plans to complete another Ironman next year!

Catch up with friends

I hate to break it to you, but if you’re in training for an Ironman you’re probably neglecting your friends to a greater or lesser extent. You may not feel like you are, but the times you politely excuse yourself early from a party early or turn down an invitation for a night out in the name of training has probably led to you falling off their radar somewhat. This is your chance to reach out to them, flash around your finishers medal, tell a few heroic stories and remember what it feels like to stay up putting the world to rights into the small hours. Friends are a vital part of your support network so make sure you invest time in them while you can and remind them you care.

Finish that project

Whether you’ve been putting off pressure washing the patio or finishing that art project, these things tend to fall by the wayside in the post workout glow as you fall into an accidental nap on the sofa in front of the antiques roadshow. These little projects are a great way to keep that results orientated side of you in check, replacing the sense of achievement you get from a high average speed with a clean car or finally fixing the the shower.

The next step

This doesn’t have to be Ironman orientated, but having something booked for after your Ironman can help you pick up your feet in the weeks following the race. A cycle sportive is perfect as it’s low impact, affordable and gives you the chance to enjoy a new part of the world without worrying about performance. Give yourself at least a month between your Ironman and next event, to allow you to recharge your batteries both physically and mentally. Whether you ever want to complete an Ironman again is a question only you can answer in the weeks following the event, but having a small goal will help you keep focus.

Remember it’s good for you

Life is all about balance, and months of intensive training must be balanced with periods of total rest. All the best coaches talk about the need for an off season for athletes to get unfit, put on a bit of weight and live like normal people. This will slowly be replaced with gentle, recreational exercise if you start to get itchy feet after a few weeks, and slowly turn into a new base period. If/when you decide to return to training you’ll do so with renewed enthusiasm and energy.

Chat to your coach

The debrief following an Ironman is perhaps the most important conversation you’ll have with a coach all year. This could be your coach or a coach you’re considering hiring, but they’ll help you analyse your performance, look at how it went objectively and help you plan your next move. There are always things that went well, and always areas to improve, your coach will ask the right questions and help you reflect on your race in a constructive way. It’s all to easy to beat yourself up about areas that didn’t go well, but putting things into perspective and help you move forwards.

A temporary drop in mood is common in all walks of life following an achievement, and can be attributed to a fear of being unable to recreate the success, however if you feel you are struggling following a race, during your training or at any point in your life and need someone to talk, you can call The Samaritans free of charge on 116 123 for confidential support.