IRONMAN and IRONMAN 70.3 Race Day Success

Note: This article is aimed at athletes who are entering official IRONMAN (M-dot) events, not those who are completing the distance at “unofficial” events. If you are completing the distance at an even with a different organiser (Outlaw, challenge, independent), this is the article you need: Triathlon Race Day Success

Hopefully by the time you’re reading this your training has gone well, you’re excited, and feel nervous, yet unstoppable. However, a few mistakes on race day can really put a spanner in the works and leave you disappointed or even result in you failing to finish. All of that fitness isn’t much use if you can’t apply it onto the course, so we’re going to walk you through the confusing and sometimes stressful world of race preparation and race execution, to reduce stress and confusion on the day itself.

The following points are based on my experience of Ironman triathlons, however as the races are run as franchises there may be small differences in how each event is run. Always read the race information and defer to it over the advice I give here.

Long Term Planning

While for some events you can put your bike in the back of the car, drive to the event, pay the entry fee and race, an Ironman event is one you need to put a lot of thought into, and will have likely signed up to many months in advance. You need a long term plan for race day, as at the very least you will need to be there the day before to register. Unless you live very locally, this involves finding accommodation in the area, and travelling down.

I highly recommend you travel down two days before to register. The reason for this is that if you get up at 7AM the day before the race for the 4 hour drive to the registration, and your car doesn’t start, there’s chaos on the railways or even just heavy traffic after an accident, that’s your race over before it’s begun. All that money on the entry, time invested in your training, all of it evaporates as registration closes at 12PM sharp the day before, no exceptions.

Packing

I recommend you pack your gear three to four days before you travel, even if means you’re training out of a suitcase for a few days. The reason is this gives you a chance to get the bike fixed if there’s a problem, to order a new trisuit if the zipper has broken, or new goggles if yours have completely fogged up. Finding these problems the day before the race is a level of stress we can all do without.

Here’s a recommended packing list:

  • Bike
  • Wetsuit
  • Running shoes
  • Cycling shoes
  • Trisuit
  • Goggles
  • Spare goggles
  • Second swim cap/neoprene cap (for cold swims)
  • Bodyglide
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Suncream
  • Socks
  • Race belt
  • Tools for bike (tyre levers, spare inner tube, multi-tool)
  • Running cap/visor
  • Nutrition
  • Bicycle pump
  • Photo ID (for registration, normally a passport/driving license)
  • Plus anything that you specifically may want to take

During registration you will have indicated whether you wanted a special needs bag or not. I always encourage my athletes to say yes, so they can stick some expendables they may need in their bag. This could be a spare inner tube in case you’ve already used your spare, obscure nutrition you just might fancy on the marathon, and anything in-between. As yourself what you normally crave during a hard workout, and pack that.

Use this opportunity to read (or re-read) the athlete guide to familiarise yourself with the course and what you can expect. 

Two Days Before

Registration

Your first port of call should be registration where you will receive the following:

Blue bag– This is for your bike kit, everything that won’t be on your bike in the morning, more details below

Red bag– This is for your running kit, which in most cases will simply be your running kit, more details below

Race number– This is essential to avoid a disqualification, in Europe you need to wear it on the bike, however this is not always a requirement in all territories, so check the race guide. Most athletes will run with a race belt which their number will be attached to, allowing them to spin it behind them on the bike, and round the front for the run as per the rules.

Swim Cap– Pretty self explanatory, this will be what you wear for the swim, and will be branded with the event name. It’s one way to ensure only registered athletes enter the water.

Rucksack– All events I’ve been to will give you a branded rucksack at registration. The quality can be variable, but they’re generally a good souvenir of the event.

Wristband– This will normally be attached by a volunteer, and you will be unable to remove it between now and the finish line. It’s proof that you are a registered athlete, and is your ticket into transition and other athlete only areas.

Become One Wristband– For first time athletes, they will receive a special wristband denoting them as a first timer. These are completely optional to wear, but might get you a few more cheers out on course.

Stickers– You will be provided with stickers that belong on your helmet, bike and transition bags. I recommend you apply these sooner rather than later as failure to do so could mean a disqualification or your equipment going missing.

Bike Check

Take the opportunity to give your bike the once over by riding it around for a bit, changing through all the gears. Your bike will likely need to be disassembled for transport, and in the rebuilding process mistakes can be made resulting in irritating imperfections such as a gear shift being slower than normal, all the way up to a race ending mechanical such as your aero bars coming loose or your brakes not working correctly. All Ironman races I’ve attended have mechanics on site in T1 who will be there to fix any major problems, so don’t panic if you find yourself with an issue you don’t know how to fix. This is why we’re looking into it now.

The Day Before

If you have the time it’s good to get these jobs done two days before (where possible), but many athletes will have only arrived later in the day to register and will want to head straight from registration to get something to eat, then check into their hotel. You have quite a lot of jobs to get done today, so get started early to avoid any unnecessary stress.

Pack up and Mark Your Bags

Once you’ve had time to have your breakfast, it’s time to pack your bags. You will have up to five bags to pack and label with your number.. Your bike bag, your run bag, your streetwear bag, bike special needs and run special needs.

Bike Bag

Here you will need as bare minimum your helmet and race number (for European races at least, other regions do not require a number on the bike) attached to a race belt. The vast majority of athletes will put on socks here as well, and those not attempting a flying mount will have their shoes in this bag as well. If you are looking to add a cycling gilet for warmth, a cycle jersey for storage or any other extra clothing, they will need to be in this bag as well.

Run Bag

Here you mat simply have your shoes, but may will pack a fresh, thicker pair of socks to change into for the run. You may want a running cap/visor and some nutrition you’re expecting to take on at the start of the run.

Streetwear Bag

These are comfortable clothes for you to change into at the end of the event. Depending on the race, they may be found in the finishing area or in transition. Pay attention to the forecast at the time you hope to finish and pack accordingly.

Special Needs Bags

This can be whatever you like, and if it’s your first event I suggest you put in some ‘fun’ nutrition you may need to pick you up at the end such as a bag of your favourite crisps, a soft drink or anything else you may feel you crave once gels and bars get a bit too much. If you plan to be on course for close to 17 hours this is especially important, as it’s far more likely you’ll encounter gastrointestinal issues.

Setting Up Transition

Now your bags are ready and your bike has been test ridden, it’s time to setup your transition area. If you are attending a race with split transitions I recommend you attend T1 first as it’s more complicated.

The first thing you’ll be doing is racking your bike. In smaller triathlons you may be used to placing your bike in the most advantageous position, but at Ironman events you will be designated a spot on the racking. Also, you will be unable to leave anything on the ground next to your bike, it will be a case of arriving at your bike with everything you need, grabbing it and running towards the “bike out” banner.

Once your bike has been racked (you are unable to cover it in any way I’m afraid), you will head to transition, which usually takes the form of a marquee. Here your first port of call should be to collect your timing chip. It is ESSENTIAL that you remember this tomorrow, so I would go so far as recommending putting it on your ankle straight away and not taking it off until you get back to the hotel. Nobody wants to be rifling through their bags trying to find where their timing chip is on the morning of the race.

Once you have your timing chip it’s time to rack your bags, which will be on hooks that may remind you of primary school. Once your bags are hung it’s time to walk outside to the transition area and find the point you will enter transition from the swim. If this isn’t clear ask a marshal. Imagine you are coming out of the water, and practice your journey through T1. You will be walking/running towards the marquee, once you’re inside, where do you go? Walk over to your bag (double check it’s on the right hook) and work out where you will get changed. Will you use the benches, or would you prefer to use the gendered changing areas? Open your bag, imagine which order you’ll be putting everything on in. Is there anything you’ve missed? Once you’ve repacked your bag, find where you will drop it (full of swim kit), then head to your bike. How many racks do you need to pass? Are there any landmarks you can use to help you spot it easier? Once you get to your bike, how are you removing it, and where are you running with your bike?

Once you have finished this, head to the “bike in” banner, or T2 if using split transitions. Repeat the same process here, heading to your racking spot, then to the marquee to locate your run bag and check it has everything you need, before identifying the way out to the run course. This will only take 10 minutes max, but can you time and stress on the day.

Race Briefing

There will be a mandatory race briefing for you to attend, which may be in person or virtual. It’s important you attend to understand the course and any last minute changes. Attendance is mandatory, so make sure you factor this into your day.

Never Stand When you can Sit

You may have spent a few hours on your feet by now, in which case it’s important to take a load off. You don’t want to spend an hour browsing the merchandise tent when you could be resting your legs. I recommend most athletes go for a short, sharp run the day before to ensure they’re not stale for the race, then try to stay off their feet as much as they can.

The Last Supper

What you eat the day before has a large effect on your race, as it will help dictate how much energy is available to you at the start of the day. I recommend something simple and easily digestible. New potatoes, fish and vegetables is a personal favourite of mine, but listen to what your body wants, within reason! Next up, it’s time to head to bed, even if it’s just to lie down with the curtains drawn and your eyes closed, listening to a podcast or some music. Ideally you’d want to be drifting off by 9PM, but this is very difficult for some, so don’t stress yourself out too much, just drift off when you can.

Race Morning

The race will normally start around 6AM, and you’ll want to get to the site for at least an hour before the start to drop off your special needs and streetwear bags, which normally have a cutoff of around 30 minutes before the swim start. This is especially important if you don’t have friends/family supporting who can take items to the finish for you. If the swim start is a distance from the finish line Ironman will normally put on shuttle buses to take athletes from the town centre to the swim start from 3AM. If you are driving, make sure you’ve checked the athlete guide for information on the best area to park, don’t assume you’ll be able to roll up to the swim start and abandon your car next to transition.

Before Leaving

Many big hotels close to races will provide a special early breakfast for athletes competing, but check this explicitly beforehand rather than assuming. Breakfast is a personal choice, but I’ve had more success with gastrointestinal issues since I cut down on the lactose on race morning. We’re all lactose intolerant to a greater or lesser extent, and the emotions of race day combined with the exertion of racing can cause that big bowl of porridge to sit very heavy on the stomach, or even make a reappearance in the swim if you’re very unlucky. If you struggle to eat anything that early it’s worth grabbing something to go that you can nibble on throughout the morning.

This is also a good time to put your trisuit, to prevent having to get changed in a portaloo at the race venue.

Final Preparations

Now is the time to look at the details such as your tyre pressures as well as attach your shoes/computer to your bike. With regards to tyre pressure, it’s best you stick with what you know, but consider dropping them slightly if rain is forecast. Try not to obsessively check your pressure as you increase the risk of damaging the valve, which is a problem can do without.

Next up we need to get our wetsuit on. Leave plenty of time for this if you are new to the sport, as it can be very time consuming, and you don’t want to be panicking that you’ll miss the start. You can find a guide on how to put your wetsuit on here: Choosing a Triathlon Wetsuit

Just make sure you ask someone else to do your wetsuit up for you, as the last thing you want is for your zipper to break in your hands on race morning.

The Swim

What happens next depends largely on the kind of swim start the event is using. Most Ironman events use a self seeded swim start, but there are some exceptions.

Deep Water Start

Image Credit 220 Triathlon

Only used for the World Championship in Kona as far as I’m aware, athletes will self seed themselves (faster swimmers at the front), wait for the gun to go then start swimming. As you are very unlikely to encounter this in an official Ironman event, I won’t dwell on this here.

Self Seeded Rolling Start

The most popular form of swim start at Ironman events, you will be placed in a queuing area denoted by placards showing predicted swim times. Slot yourself in where you think you’ll finish, but don’t get overly optimistic. Your time is taken from when you enter the water, not when the first swimmers starts. If you place yourself too far forward you may end up being half drowned by faster swimmers swimming over the top of you.

Beach Start

These are very rare, and rarely seen outside of Lanzarote. This involves a group of athletes lined up on a beach with a short run into the water. The athletes will wait for a starting klaxon which signals the start of the event, and a very technical, potentially dangerous entry into the water. When the first participants reach the shoreline they’ll be able to run a short distance, before it becomes too deep to run normally. From here many athletes will run and swing their legs our to the side to avoid the waves until the water gets too deep. At this point athletes will do one of two things, they will start with a slightly awkward front crawl in water that’s too shallow, or they’ll break into a dolphin kick, potentially with butterfly arms to match if they are proficient. This is the most effective way to move your body through shallow water, and is the choice of top swimmers. Once you are in deep water, it’s business as usual.

In the Water

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re new to open water swimming. You will want to stay clear of other swimmers where you can, allowing you to focus on your own race without worrying about swimming close to others. However, you also need to be aware of slower swimmers you may be about to swim into, so you can’t afford to swim in your own little world without the risk of injury or going very off course.

You may be very new or unfamiliar with freestyle (front crawl), and after a matter of minutes or seconds, you may feel panicked and need to revert to breaststroke. This is fine, you can breaststroke your way around the entire course if you need to. You can also hold onto a kayak for a rest if you want, although it’s best to ask the kayaker where the best place to hold onto is, as you don’t want to capsize them. Not only is this unpleasant for all involved, this affects the level of safety cover they can provide, and may distract from a swimmer in trouble.

Your primary goal is to make it to the first buoy, which you should have scouted out at the start of the race, and which everyone else will be heading towards. This does create a pinch point however, as everyone wants the best (closest) line to the buoy. If you are surrounded by other swimmers, it may be more beneficial to add an extra 5M onto your swim by going wide rather than swimming close to the buoy itself and risking a kick to the chest or being swum over. 

You will then swim to the next buoy, then the next, and so on until you reach the swim exit. Many Ironman races will use an “Australian exit” where you will exit the water, run about 50M, then get back in for your second lap, to help make the course more manageable from a safety perspective. Even if you are looking to qualify for a Kona slot, by the time you get towards the end of your fist lap the male pros (if racing) will probably be finishing their swim, and come through like a freight train. If you manage to catch a glimpse of them approaching, it’s best to swim slightly away from the racing line unless you want to risk a clout, as they’re not slowing down for anyone or anything, it’s their job to swim as fast as they can.

Swim Exit

Once you reach the swim exit, which should be marked by an inflatable arch, you will need to stand up. This can be tricky if the ground is rocky, slimy or deep mud underfoot, especially after 3800M. Don’t rush this, and take your time to get out of the water, there will often be volunteers to help you. 

Once you are out of the water you can either run to transition if you’re feeling ok and want to be competitive, or you can take it at more of a walk if you feel very disorientated coming out of the water. Better to take it slower and make it to T1 than to rush, fall over and potentially injure yourself. You’ve got a long day ahead of you.

The run to T1 can be long and uphill, so don’t let the adrenaline get the better of you and shred your legs before you even get on your bike. Now is a good time to remove your swim hat and your goggles. I like to unzip my wetsuit and roll it down to my waist so that by the time I get to my blue bag I have one less thing to worry about in the transition area itself.

T1

After walking through transition yesterday this should be a breeze. Grab your bag and find a space to get changed where you won’t feel panicked. The first thing to do is remove the rest of your wetsuit and place it on the ground next to you. Put your bike gear on, stuff your wetsuit, goggles and hat in the blue bag, then drop it off on your way to the bike. Grab your bike off the rack and head straight to the “bike out” banner.

Bike

All Ironman races are held on closed roads (save for a few crossing points), so you generally don’t have to worry about cars, but you do have to worry about other competitors which can be just as dangerous, especially on multi lap courses where you run the risk of reaching the back markers or being lapped yourself. Keep to the left as much as you can, and always check over your shoulder when making a change in direction to ensure you’re not about to wipe someone out. If you are about to pass a slower athlete, take a wide line around them, especially when approaching a corner they may swing out to take the racing line around.

Ironman events all have a 12 meter drawing zone, which means it is illegal to ride less than 12 metres behind another rider, unless overtaking. If you are passed, it is your responsibility to allow the 12 metre gap to re-establish. Don’t draft because everyone else is doing it, as you risk a five minute penalty from a roaming marshal in the form of a blue card.

The bike will be the first time in the race that many of you will feel comfortable, but don’t make the mistake of using this as a chance to drop the hammer as adrenaline flows, you still have a very long day ahead of you. Stick to a pace which you perceive being able to sustain between now and when you cross the finish line.

There will be hills on the course, whether gentle or steep, and pacing these will make a huge difference to your bike split. If you are riding on the flats at a heart rate of 140BPM, then you sprint up a hill at 170BPM, that will be a huge effort and take several minutes to recover from. Make too many of these big efforts on the hills and you’ll be exhausted before you start the run. Instead, it’s smarter to use your gears to ride up them with the minimum effort required to get over the hill. This will still increase your heart rate, but allow you to get straight back to racing once you hit the bottom of the descent, rather than freewheeling with burning lungs for a few minutes.

Nutrition should be at the forefront of your mind on the bike, make sure you keep on top of your calorific intake. You may find it preferable to eat solids in the first half of the bike, then switch to liquids and gels in the second half. More information on race nutrition here

There will be several feed stations on course, and one area for you to access your special needs bag, often close to the transition area. For the feed stations volunteers will stand holding bottles and food out for you and calling out the contents such as “isotonic!” “gels!” or “water!” as you approach. They will be holding the nutrition between two fingers and out at a distance which means you should be able to catch them at speed. You can also ditch your empty bottles here by launching them into the designated littering zone.

Mechanical support is available on the bike, however they will not fix punctures, it is your responsibility to learn how to do this and practice in your own time. Mechanical support is reserved for more serious issues such as broken spokes, tyre blow outs or bent rear hangers. If you require assistance, inform a marshal and they’ll request support for you.

Above all, make sure you don’t let your ego get in the way on the bike. You may be passed by hundreds of athletes on the bike, but there’s every chance you’ll pass them on the run if they’ve gone too hard on the bike. More people regret going too hard on the bike than not going hard enough.

T2

As you approach the end of the bike, it’s time to think about your dismount. There will be a dismount line in the same manner as the mount line, which both your feet must touch before you cross. Failure to do so would result in a penalty. For most athletes, this will be a case of pulling over a few feet from the line, dismounting as normal and running towards your rack where you’ll leave your bike before heading to the marquee.

Once inside the first port of call should be finding your bag and removing the contents, much as you did following the swim. You will then remove your cycling gear and switch into your running gear instead.

For many athletes T2 can be the lowest part of the race. You may have really struggled towards the end of the bike, and the prospect of running seems the least appealing thing currently. I recommend you take the time you need to get yourself into your kit without rushing, but don’t spend any longer sitting down that you absolutely have to as it will only make it harder to get going again.

You will either be placing your run bag back on the hook or placing it in a drop off point depending on the event, which you will then be able to collet the end of the event.

Run

Now it’s a footrace to the finish line, and the simplest of disciplines in many ways, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the finish line.

The run at the end of such a long event is war of attrition more than anything, so if you’re used to running your way through the field at the end of a shorter race, it’s important not to get carried away in the opening kilometres. Unless you are a very accomplished runner there’s a good chance you will have to run/walk the marathon. This isn’t what you want, and it isn’t what I want either, but short walking breaks are preferable to walking the last 10KM, experiencing a race ending cramp or collapsing from exhaustion. This run/walk can be in the form of a regimented strategy such as run 10K, walk 1K, or it can simply be a case of walking the aid stations, which even professional athletes at the highest level will do sometimes.

There will usually be aid stations every mile with food, water and sometimes toilets. I recommend you take something from each aid station, even if it’s just a cup of water to pour over your head to cool yourself. Running past aid stations because you don’t need anything can set you up for a serious implosion later on.

As most Ironman marathons take place over four laps they need an easy way to see who has completed the requisite laps before finishing. This is done via marathon bands, which are coloured and sit on your wrist. You collect them towards the end of each lap, and once you have a full set allow you to enter the finishing chute. If you are flirting with the cutoffs, they will stop giving out the marathon bands for each lap when they consider anyone who is still at that point in the race would be unable to finish.

The Finish Line

This is it, what you’ve been training for, the finish chute experience. At Ironman races you are unable to take anybody down the chute with you, so while grabbing your child to run down the finishing chute with them would be a lovely gesture, it will result in a disqualification. They also have rules on outside assistance, so be careful what you take from the crowd. I don’t mean to be a killjoy, I just want you to end up being denied a medal on a technicality.

Once the MC has announced your new title as an Ironman you will be handed a medal. If you require any medical assistance you should inform one of the finish line marshals, otherwise don’t dramatically collapse over the line for dramatic effect to allow the medical crews can prioritise those who genuinely need help. A volunteer will remove your timing chip from your ankle From here you can make your way into the finishers area.

Here you will be presented with food, which can be anything from pizza to a full buffet depending on the event. There will also be masseurs, and this is where you can connect your finishers T-shirt. Some finishing areas will include your streetwear bags to take home, others will ask you to walk back to T2 to collect your clothes, where you’ll have to head anyway to pick up your gear and head home.

Whether you have completed your first Ironman 70.3 or your 20th Ironman you should be incredibly proud of what you have achieved. If you are in any doubt of your ability to drive home safely, it’s best you check into a nearby hotel, as you wouldn’t want a tired driver on the roads while you were out training on your bike.

Make sure you get plenty of photos of you with your medal and your bike to remember your accomplishment in years to come.

The London Duathlon Race Guide

Billed at the world’s biggest duathlon, The London Duathlon is an annual event in Richmond Park that sees athletes competing over the sprint, standard and ultra distances in Richmond Park, SouthWest London. For the purposes of this article I will be focusing primarily on the standard distance as this is the most popular distance by far. All information in this article is correct as of the time of writing, the course has remained unchanged since the first event (to my knowledge), but the intricacies of how the event is ran may change from year to year with very little notice. Always read all the pre race information to avoid being caught out.

An winter morning in Richmond Park, hopefully it’s warmer on race day!

Arriving at the Venue

Richmond Park is completely closed for the event, so despite the fact there are car parks at the venue, they will be inaccessible on the day itself. You will need to find parking on nearby roads if arriving by car which can be challenging. Your best bet would be to take the train to Richmond Station and ride to the park from there. Bikes are permitted on the national rail, overground and district line, all of which are served by Richmond Station. You will want to be arriving at the event village at least an hour before your start time to allow you to prepare in a calm, methodical way. Nobody wants to be faffing around with their bike with minutes until the start of their run.

Event Village

The London Duathlon event village can be found on the east side of the park, next to Roehampton Gate. It is accessible by a footbridge which you will need to carry your bike up and over. If you struggle with this, there are plenty of individuals present I’m sure will be happy to help. When you enter the event village, take the time to attach your race number to your top, your bike stickers to your bike and attach your wristband. This will be required to remove your bike from transition, so do not remove it until you leave the venue.

Setting up Transition

Your wristband is your ticket into transition, an athletes only area where you will find a number of racks for you to place your bike. The last time I did the event it was a free for all, if this is the case I recommend you place your bike close asp possible to the end of one of the racks, to make it easier to find. You can also place a coloured towel in front of your bike for improved visibility if this helps, but you’re unable to tie a balloon or similar to the rack as an identifier. The run will be the first discipline, so make sure you leave everything associated with the bike leg (sunglasses, nutrition, helmet e.t.c.) with your bike to access it later. Large bags are not permitted, but can be left in the bag drop area.

Once you have your bike left in an appropriate gear ready to go, it’s time to walk the transition area. Find the “run in” banner which indicates where you will enter the transition area following your first run. Walk the route you’ll take to your bike to commit it to memory. Then look for the “bike out” banner, which is where you’ll start the bike leg. Repeat the process for “bike in” and “run out”, there should only be one of each.

The start line

Runners Begin the 10KM Run. Image credit London Duathlon.

Get to the start line with at least 10 minutes before you’re due to start. You will be placed in a holding area, then called forwards into a small black marquee where a pre recorded race briefing will be played, followed by three beeps which signify the start of the race.

Run 1- 10KM

Map of the 10K run

You will start your run on a short grassy section heading towards Sawyers Hill. Yes the race start with a hill. The adrenaline will be pumping and you’ll be excited for the day ahead of you, but remember, you’ll unlikely to finish any faster than two hours, so don’t get carried away. This event is hard on your legs, and going hard on the first 2.5KM up a hill is a good way to kill your legs for the rest of the race.

Once you reach the top of the hill you’ll take a left onto a slightly undulating section, followed by a notable downhill which will allow you to pick up the your feet again after the long slog of Sawyers. This doesn’t last forever however as you then make a left to cut through the middle of the park on a flat section, passing some large ponds on your left. After the ponds, you’ll then make a left hand turn onto a short out and back section which is there to bring the distance up to a nice round 10KM. Here there has traditionally been a water station for you to replace water lost through sweat, which I recommend you take advantage of unless you are carrying your own water. From here you are treated to a final downhill section before you make a left at Robin Hood Gate roundabout and run the last 2KM to the transition area where you’ll begin the bike.

Bike- 44KM

Map of the standard distance event, the bike course is the purple section

As you exit transition you will merge onto the bike course. It’s VERY important you give way to other cyclists who may be travelling at speeds in excess of 30MPH, as you really don’t want to have to cause them to swerve, or even crash into you. Once on the course, it’s important you stay left at all times except when overtaking yourself, and always make a check over your shoulder before you make a change in direction, just like you would with a mirror in your car.

You are treated to a nice section of flat to help you find your cycling legs, before you make your way up the steepest hill on the course, Broomfield Hill. As you approach this, make sure you’re in your smallest ring at the front as you’ll need it, and change down gears slowly as the road kicks up to ensure you don’t find yourself pushing unnecessarily hard. You will run out of gears on this hill, as it kicks up to over 12% at its steepest point. The good news is you can see the top of the hill from the bottom which allows you to pace it appropriately, and remember you have to climb it four times, so riding up it as fast as you can to show off is unlikely to set you up for long term success. If you find the going really tough, you can always get off and push, but please don’t weave around to try and reduce the gradient. You can have up to five riders side by side on the steep sections of the hill, so don’t take up more space than you have to.

Once you summit the hill you pass a car park on your left, before a short downhill. Your lungs may be screaming at you, but it is worth pushing a bit here to get maximum speed on the downhill and carry it into the short uphill which follows. From here you follow a long flat section before you approach a right hander into some dense tree cover. Change into your big ring here if you haven’t already as you’re approaching a decent down Dark Hill, a steep, gently sweeping downhill towards the roundabout at Kingston Gate. Don’t leave your braking too late here as you run the risk of locking up your brakes and taking a one way trip into the hay bales at the bottom of the hill. If you are a nervous descender and like to ride the brakes on the way down, ensure you stay to the left as it’s a technical fast section of the course.

After making a right at the bottom you start another long, but gentle hill. To start with your barely notice it, until you reach a short, steep downhill followed by a short, steep uphill which I recommend you try to carry speed into. From here you will see runners on the 10K making a left down the middle of the park. This means you are now sharing the road with runners, so you only have 50% of the road to ride on. This makes it very tight, and you can find the road blocked by slower cyclists passing even slower cyclists, so keep an eye on your speed and be aware of the possibility somebody may swing out in front of you with very little notice. This uphill continues until you pass another car park on your left, which is followed by a short downhill to a roundabout at Richmond Gate where you’ll make a right.

After turning right, you’ll have a very short, gentle uphill until you descend the hill you ran up at the start, you may even see some of the runners suffering up it as you descend past them on your way down. The biggest issue here is that the runners are still taking up one side of the road, and this is a very fast downhill where some riders will hit 40MPH, maybe even more in a few cases, with very little margin for error. This is the most dangerous part of the course, so I recommend you treat it with respect and check twice over your shoulder that there isn’t another cyclist about to overtake you before moving right to pass a slower rider. The steepest section is at the top of the hill, it starts to slowly flatten as you approach a roundabout, before dropping down again taking you back towards the event village. Do a right at the roundabout at the bottom of the hill and you’re more or less back at the event village, now repeat this three more times!

Pacing is very important here, as it’s easy to get carried away, especially on the hills, and find yourself really suffering on the last lap, losing all the time you made up on the early laps. It may only be 44KM, but with 330M of vertical ascent and four 90 degree turns a lap, you may need to think of it as being closer to the equivalent of 50KM. I can push 4 watts per kilo at FTP, but every time I’ve done the race it’s taken me around 1:20 for the bike. That does’t take into account the bike, weather, aerodynamics or how I paced it, but it should give you a rough idea of the challenge that lies ahead of you, especially if you are relatively new to cycling. There has been no nutrition or water on the course when I have done the race, so make sure you take some with you to avoid running out of gas.

Run 2- 5KM

Once you finish your fourth lap you will be very happy to rack your bike and start your second run. The bad news is, your legs will likely feel like lead, and the run starts with a series of uphills. Firstly you will run up the first half of Sawyers Hill, make a left at the roundabout, then make your way up the Ballet School Hill, which is a relatively steep hill taking you up to the water station you visited on the first lap. It’s highly likely that you’ll develop a stitch or have to walk at this point if your fuelling strategy wasn’t spot on. This can be very disappointing, but focus on your own race, and acknowledge that it won’t cost you more than a minute or two.

Once you get to the top of the hill you can grab a drink from the water station and head back down Spankers hill towards Robin Hood Gate, which puts you within touching distance of the finish line. As you get closer the sound of the PA system and the buzz of the event village should push you on to dig that little bit deeper before you make a left hand turn to the finish. You will have finished The London Duathlon!

Post Race

By this point you should have a medal around your neck and a big smile on your face. There will be water and snacks which I recommend you partake in to refuel and repair your body following your effort. Once the adrenaline has worn off make sure you have something proper to eat that has high protein content, whether this is food you have bought from home or one of the vendors. Once you’re ready it’s time to collect your bike from transition and head home to tell your friends about your achievement and plan your next event.

The Difference Between Road Cycling and Triathlon Cycling

When I started triathlon in 2012 I felt confident I would be able to handle the cycling well as a I had cycling experience. However, this included riding a 12KM loop around the lakes near my parent’s house as fast as I could and not a lot else. When I discovered the world of road cycling I was drawn in. The clubs, brutal climbs, watching pro cycling, the cafe culture. It all felt like a world hidden in plain sight.

However, within these groups there were very few triathletes, and certainly no triathletes of a high calibre. It turns out, there’s a big difference between road cycling and triathlon cycling, especially when you start looking at middle and long distance triathlon. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the difference between the pinnacle of both sports

Image credit Yuzuru SUNADA

This is an image from the 2020 Tour de France. As you can see it includes over 100 cyclists inches away from each other on standard road bikes wearing standard helmets. They’re getting ready for a bunch sprint, where the first athlete across the line wins the stage and takes home the glory.

Image Credit Trevor Clark

This is an image from the Ironman World Championship where the world’s fastest Ironman athletes converge every year to take on the famous course. Riders here are keeping a minimum of 12 metres apart unless overtaking, tackling the course with specialised bikes optimised for aerodynamics, along with clothing and helmets optimised for speed while riding solo. Once they finish their 180KM they then have to run a marathon.

It doesn’t take a sports scientist to notice that these events are more different than a layman may give them credit for. Even if you are taking on a triathlon on your road bike, you still have to maintain the same distance between competitors, and still have to run at the end.

The vast majority of road cyclists aren’t really training. The definition of training is specifically structuring your riding for optimal performance at an event. Most road cyclists are just riding around, enjoying the cafe culture, trying to be the first to the top of the hill, and maybe entering the odd sportive. For them cycling is a way to socialise and see more the local area/world. This is absolutely fine, but as triathletes we have our eyes set firmly on race day, and we need to think about our riding very differently if we want to optimise our performance. Here are a few tips on how to keep your cycling triaining specific. We’ll be assuming for the purpose of this article you’re not racing a draft legal race.

Focus on Steady State

When you’re on a triathlon bike course nobody cares about your ability to sprint, throw yourself up a hill on fresh legs or drop other riders. A triathlon bike course is essentially a time trial followed by a run. Even the very fastest Ironman cyclists will be putting out pretty comfortable power outputs over an Ironman bike leg, knowing that it will start to hurt towards the end, and they still need to run a marathon at the end.

Triathlons either take place on closed roads or on roads carefully chosen to minimise the chance of you having to give way to traffic, and tend to be pretty flat. As a result, there won’t be much, or any chance for respite, except braking for corners or the dismount line. To allow for this, you need focus on a continuous, steady power output for the duration of the bike leg, so as not to accumulate too much fatigue. Especially when the road points upwards.

A highly effective workout for developing fatigue resistance in the base phase

There is absolutely a place for hard intervals to develop your FTP, but without applying your new FTP to longer rides which simulate race day, it’s mainly just a way to show off and inspires false confidence.

Get used to riding solo

I have no problems with athletes who occasionally join group rides on the weekend. It adds a nice motivational boost, especially in the winter with conditions not conclusive to long rides. The issue comes however when athletes become allergic to riding solo, and need someone to ride with them either from a motivational or anxiety perspective. While I don’t want to downplay people’s fears about riding on the road solo, if you ride carefully it’s no more dangerous than walking down the street and it’s something that needs to be addressed if you want to compete in triathlon where you can be on your own for long periods.

Riding solo allows you to focus on your own power outputs, get better at reading the road, and develop resilience to the boredom which can come with long, lonely miles, and results in a lack of focus if you’re not careful. By the time you get to within eight weeks of your race, at least every other ride should be done solo.

Become self sufficient

This is a continuation of the previous point, but in triathlon cycling you need to become self sufficient. You can’t cycle along praying that the puncture gods are on your side. You need to know that should the worst happen, you have the tools and know how to get yourself back on the road.

This also applies to carrying supplies, food and drink. You probably won’t be wearing a cycling jersey, so you can’t stuff your pockets with food and tools. You have to carry all the fluids, food, extra clothing and tools on your bike. There are aid stations providing you with water and selected sports nutrition, and big events will have roaming mechanics, but these can take over an hour to reach you, and won’t help with punctures or other minor mechanicals.

Image credit Tony Svensson 

Aerodynamics

When riding solo, your biggest enemy is aerodynamics. The benefit of group riding is that riders in front of you disrupt the air, where you can slipstream them, in the same manner Formula One Cars will. However, when you are riding on your own there is no windbreak, so you have to do what you can to reduce drag. The best way to achieve this is to narrow your profile as much as possible and use clothing/accessories which allow for the smoothest airflow possible around the rider and bike. The rider creates around 90% of drag, so the primary focus should be here rather than on wheels or handlebars.

The best way to improve this is with a pair of clip on aero bars which can be affixed to the majority of handlebars. This gives you a basic aero position, which will be worth minutes on most courses. This position is very different and intimidating for many, without access to the brakes, twitchy steering and the general feeling of feeling lower to the ground and an increased sensation of speed that comes with being lower down. It may also be uncomfortable to start with, decreasing the hip angle and recruiting more of the hamstrings than you’ll be used to. This is a definite learning curve and unsuitable for beginners, but worth sticking with as the gains will be significant.

Clothing

Choosing the right kit to wear is important whatever your sport, however what you wear during triathlon cycling is of paramount importance. Something like a flappy arm sleeve on a jersey could cost you several minutes over a 70.3 as it disrupts the airflow. Most racers will opt for a triathlon suit which is close fitting, quick drying, and with a thinner chamois pad than you’re used to. Sleeved suits are the choice of many as fabric is more aerodynamic than skin, as well as offering protection from the sun. Your helmet is also an important piece of equipment to get right, as it produces the most bang for your buck out of all aero upgrades.

Getting Intensity Right

Getting the intensity right during triathlon cycling is paramount. If you undercook the effort you give away a lot of time in what is easily the longest discipline. If you go too hard you lose a lot of time on the run. I see most athletes going too easy in shorter events and go too hard in longer events. you can find recommended intensity factors (percentage of FTP) in this article, under the intensity factor section: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/an-introduction-to-trainingpeaks-metrics/

You can use a heart rate monitor if you don’t have a power meter, swapping the power zones for heart rate zones. While power and heart rate zones aren’t completely interchangeable, they’re good enough for me given the variability of heart rate in the first place.

The Importance of Power

If you are a road rider a power meter could be a point of curiosity or something you use to brag to others about your numbers. Unless you are really training with purpose using a turbo trainer, there are probably better places to invest your hard earned cash. As a triathlete however power meters become all but essential if you want to compete at a high level. They are the best way to measure your intensity (see above), and combined with your heart rate mean you stay in the sweet spot for your race.

You will hear interviews with some of the most successful pros out there who don’t use power meters in races or at all, claiming that “racing is flat out”. This is all well and good if you’ve been training and racing for twenty years and know exactly what your body is and isn’t capable of, but if you don’t know your body well, power becomes very important to manage your training and racing more precisely.

Eating on the go

Most road cyclists will acknowledge the importance of eating on the bike, but most of the time this is pretty simple. They’ll often take on the majority of their nutrition while stationary, either at a feed station during a sportive or in a cafe at the halfway point of a ride. Triathletes are afforded no such luxury, and must get used to eating on the move. This may sound simple, but conditioning your stomach to take on hundreds of calories while tucked up in an aero position takes practice. When you get hungry towards the end of a ride you can’t put off eating knowing that you’ll soon be sat in a cafe tucking into a cooked breakfast, you still have the run where it’s even harder to eat, so you need to keep the calories coming.

Riding in hot conditions

This is a sweeping statement, but most triathlons take place in warm conditions, as the combination of water temperature and air temperature must be high enough that athletes are unlikely to suffer with hypothermia. Even if things are a bit nippy first thing, even late season races will warm up nicely an hour or two into the bike. There are of course some notable exceptions, but these are events generally geared towards more experienced competitors.

This means that you need to prepare for racing in warmer temperatures, which in some climates can be very difficult to replicate. If you are training for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, it can be difficult to replicate the humidity and heat in a temperate climate. There are various ways you can acclimatise for the heat, but I won’t go into these here. The main takeaway point for the purposes of this article is that you don’t need to acclimatise to riding in the cold. If you’d like to ride outside through the winter then I’m not going to stop you, but you don’t need to invest in a full winter wardrobe and risk your neck on icy roads as a triathlete as you’ll never race in these conditions.

Conclusion

While the sports of triathlon cycling and road cycling are very similar, there are also a number of differences which you should pay attention to if you want to be competitive. You can complete any triathlon with a road cycling mindset, riding a standard road bike, stopping at feed stations, showing off on the hills, but those who overtake you at 40KPH looking very comfortable manage to do so because they have trained in a very specific way. Focus your training in the same way and you’ll take huge chunks off of your bike split.

To find out the best way to incorporate this into your training and the kind of sessions you can attempt to improve your triathlon cycling performance, check out our Coaching Consultation page.

Choosing a Road Cycling Cassette

Also known as a sprocket or rear block by newer riders, choosing a road cycling cassette is probably one of the most underrated ways to improve your riding, especially on the hills.

So, what are the most important factors here? We’ll look at the following factors:

  • Range of cassette
  • Size of biggest/smallest cogs
  • Cassette weight

Range of cassette

A cassette will either be described by cyclists as wide or narrow. A wide cassette has a large range, meaning the differences between your biggest and smallest gears will be large. This allows you to ride fast on the flats and still ride at a sensible cadence on the hills. Meanwhile a narrow cassette will make it much harder to ride up hills, as the rings tend to have fewer teeth.

If a cyclist is looking for one cassette to use in all situations I recommend a cassette with a wide range. You never know when you might find yourself at the bottom of a leg sapping climb on tired legs with no gears left. A narrow cassette is generally only used for specific events like flat triathlons or time trials. The small gaps between gears helps you find your “Goldilocks” gear while wide cassettes can make it hard to get comfortable if you’re forever in a gear slightly too hard or too slightly too easy.

As an example, an 12 speed 11-23 has rings with the following number of teeth: 11/12/13/14/15/16/17/18/19/21/23. In comparison a 32-11 has 11/12/13/14/16/18/20/22/25/28/32. If I was riding on my 11-32 at a power which suited a 15 tooth cog gear on the back, I’d have to choose between a 14 tooth or a 16 tooth, where if I was riding an 11-23 I could ride in the 15 tooth cog I was after. If you’re riding on rolling terrain this isn’t such an issue as you’ll never be in the same gear for long enough for it to be noticeable. But if you’re taking on a flat course such as Ironman Barcelona, you don’t want to spend 180KM unable to find a comfortable gear.

Range is intrinsic to the size of your biggest ring, which we’ll look at next.

Size of biggest/smallest rings

Cassettes are expressed numerically, such as 12-28 or 11-32. The first number refers to the smallest ring, the larger number to the biggest ring.

If choosing a road cycling cassette for a series of punishing climbs you’ll want to take a 28 at the very least. Potentially even a 30 or 32 if it’s an especially hilly ride.

23 is the lowest number of teeth you’re likely to find on the biggest ring of most cassettes. This is only recommended for strong cyclists riding on flat courses. 25 is traditionally what a lot of professional riders will use, dropping to 28s on mountain stages. For us mortals however 28 is a sensible all round cassette as we don’t have the power to push round a 25 tooth cog on a steep grade without wobbling all over the road.

The smallest rings are generally 11 or 12t (the t denoting number of teeth). These won’t make an enormous difference to your riding unless you’re planning to ride hard on the downhills.

Weight of cassette

Some cassettes cost £50 and some cost well over £300 (Campagnolo we’re looking at you). So what’s the difference? Assuming it’s the same brand and has the same number of gears/teeth, it’s just the weight. You can buy an expensive cassette to shave off a few grams, but that really is it. Shimano’s cheapest 11 speed 11-28 cassette, the 105, weighs in at 284g, with their top of the range Dura-Ace equivalent topping the scales at 192g. The 105 cassette retails at £50, the Dura-Ace at £199, so this is a very expensive way to save <100g. There may be minute differences in shifting performance, but you’re unlikely to notice them if your gears are indexed properly.

Weight data courtesy of https://ccache.cc/blogs/newsroom/2019-road-groupset-weight-comparison

Conclusion

If I were to advise a new road cyclist, I’d recommend an 11-28 at the very least to help them up the hills. As they get stronger or if they live somewhere with very few hills they might consider a 25. I would only recommend a 23 for competition day, or race simulation rides, as the ability to get up a hill efficiently far outweighs the benefit of the smaller jumps in gears for me.

Most road cyclists will acquire a collection of cassettes over the years. This gives them the flexibility to choose the right cassette for different rides. I wouldn’t necessarily swap between a 30 for my hilly training rides and my 25 on flat training rides, but if I had a big ride (100 miles plus) or a race, I’d take the time to choose the right tool for the job.

Technical info

Hopefully we’ve enlightened you to the benefits of choosing a road cycling cassette. But before you go and place your order, some really boring stuff. It’s easy to buy a cassette incompatible with your bike, so make sure you avoid the following pitfalls

Manufacturers are generally not cross compatible. Some Shimano and SRAM products will work with each other, but check with your bike shop before buying. Campagnolo is not compatible with any other manufacturer.

Make extra sure you’re buying a cassette which has the right number of gears. As both 11 and 10 speed cassettes are still expressed as 12-28, this is an easy trap to fall into. To complicate matters, older versions of group sets have less gears, so make extra certain it’s the product you’re after before ordering. Each generation of a groupset will have a code (such as Shimano R7000), so make sure you’re getting the right kit. It’s worth checking with your bike shop if you’re unsure what you have on your bike. As long as you order it through them, they’ll be happy to help.

The cassette that was on your bike when you bought it is often the largest it can take. If you want to go above this you’ll need to upgrade to a long cage rear mech. This isn’t an expensive upgrade, but it’s best to order and install the parts together to save on labour costs if you’re unsure how to do it yourself.

Finally, your cassette is a consumable part and will wear over time. The best way to prevent this is to keep your drivetrain clean. Find out how in our article here

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Should you use ERG mode?

Ergometer mode, or ERG mode as it is more commonly known, is a function of most modern smart trainers which allows the trainer to set the resistance for you. If your target is 200W and you go above this, the trainer will reduce the resistance to stop you from going any higher. If your wattage drops below the target it will increase the resistance to encourage you to put more force through the pedals and get back up to target.

To many cyclists this sounds ideal. It allows them to relax for a bit and watch some TV while they train or listen to an audiobook. Safe in the knowledge that their trainer won’t let their power drift too high or too low. However, it’s not without its problems, which I’ll go into here.

Riding in a vacuum

When riding in ERG mode you don’t have to think about gradients and changing gear. However as your target event is probably outside, this does not prepare you for the realities of racing a bike outdoors. Make sure you do your steady state rides outside of training mode on a virtual course to prepare you for this. This is especially important in the last eight weeks before your event.

The Spiral of Death

An athlete getting caught in the spiral of death, unable to get their cadence high enough to reduce the resistance, resulting in the workout being abandoned.

If your cadence drops significantly or you stop pedalling ERG mode will instigate what many call the spiral of death. This is when it increases resistance dramatically as you’re not putting out enough power. If you’re in the middle of a tough interval, this can feel like riding through wet cementas you try to pick the pace up again. We all drop our chain, have to answer the door or adjust the fan sometimes, so this is something to be conscious of. You may end up having to skip an interval or even abandon the workout as a result.

Problems with Power Meters

If you own a power meter you should be using it for all your training to make sure all the numbers match. This helps to keep your data clean and ensure all your intervals are accurate. There is something of a problem however as the training software will listen to the power meter, check the power output against the target, and then tell the trainer to increase or decrease the resistance. When the device creating the resistance isn’t the same as the device measuring the power, the ERG mode isn’t nearly as accurate or immediate to change reistance. This means you need to focus much more on holding targets, offering the worst of both worlds.

For harder workouts this can be beneficial if you feel you would struggle to complete it otherwise. However I find that more often than not it’s more effort than it’s worth.

Inability to change gear

You can physically change gear in ERG mode, but the trainer will pick up on this pretty instantly and change resistance. If you find yourself pedalling squares desperate to increase you cadence, the only way to do this is by pedalling harder to lower the resistance. If you’re really struggling in a workout however, your ability to hold this cadence may be compromised. This will likely result in your cadence slowing again and ERG mode “carrying” you through the rest of the interval at 40RPM. There is a time and place for this, such as a ramp test, but you can’t get through every hard interval this way. Disabling ERG mode will give you a more authentic training experience.

Lazy Cadence

The inverse relationship between power and cadence in ERG mode as intensity increases (power in purple, cadence in yellow)

Perhaps the biggest issue I have with ERG mode is the way it encourages a slow, lazy cadence. Riders who start to fatigue will naturally slow their cadence, yet ERG will push back to ensure they stay within the power target. This can result in riders associating harder efforts with a slower cadence and ultimately spending most of their time in tempo and sweetspot at 70RPM, well below where I’d want to see athletes riding, even the low cadence advocates will race at 80-85RPM. You can’t afford to spend time fiddling with your gears trying to find the narrow cadence window you’re used to riding in from training.

Uneven wear on cassette

If you do a lot of riding in ERG mode, you will be doing a lot of riding with minimal (if any) changing of gear, which can create a lot of uneven wear on the cassette, wearing one or two cogs excessively which will lead to shifting issues.

The subject of which gear to ride ERG mode in is also continuous in itself, this video from GPlama explains it well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHUOhmG04M8

I’ve given ERG mode a bit of a bad rep so far, but there are some definite benefits to using it.

No need to concentrate

If I have to use the turbo for my steady state rides, I’m happy with the entertainment provided by the scenery and the changing gradient, but that’s me, and I know not everyone is as easily entertained. For many, turbo training is the perfect time to catch up on the latest Netflix series or watch a film their partner isn’t interested in. With a pair of bluetooth headphones they can enjoy some televisual entertainment while riding, and ERG mode keeping them within the power boundaries. This is more useful for steady state workouts than intervals, as most software does not integrate with video, so you may end up being caught unawares by a sudden increase in resistance.

Helps you complete tough workouts

The mental element of training is just as important as the physical element of training, and for many the presence of ERG mode is the difference between them completing or failing a workout. I’d much rather someone limps over the line and completes a workout at a low cadence than they have to give up and bail twenty minutes in because they can’t hold the power without their trainer pushing back. This provides a safety net for many cyclists, and as long as they’re conscious of the shortcomings of ERG mode (not to let cadence drop too low, don’t stop pedalling, e.t.c.) then they should do whatever it takes to complete the workout.

Conclusion

So, should you ride with ERG mode? As ever… it depends. For workouts which include lots of micro bursts or short sharp increases in intensity such as V02 or sprints, absolutely not. If it’s an easier workout where you’re more concerned about going too hard than too easy and want to watch Breaking Bad while you do so, then it’s a good choice.

The difficulty comes with the middle ground, the tempo and sweetspot rides where riders may find comfort in the knowledge ERG mode will help them complete the workout. For this, I would look at how close to race day you are, if you’re six weeks out from your A race, then switch it off and learn how to control the intensity yourself. If you’re nine months away from your next big event and just doing some base training, then do whatever it takes to get you through the session.

If you’re looking to take your cycle training to the next level, have a look at our training plans or coaching programmes

What is a vanity FTP?

Are you struggling to complete workouts? Has it been suggested you may have a vanity FTP? Confused as to what this may mean? I’ll try to explain in this article what a vanity FTP is and what you can do about it. Firstly we need to look at what Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is, or more importantly, what it isn’t. FTP is not (always):

The highest power you can sustain for 60 minutes
95% of your best 20 minute power
Your aerobic threshold
Your anaerobic threshold

The definition of FTP that most coaches and sports scientists now use is:

“The highest power that a rider can maintain in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for approximately one hour” – Andrew Coggan

That’s quite a mouthful, so let’s have a look at it visually on a chart created using WKO5 from two athletes:

Athlete A

Screenshot 2020-04-19 at 11.58.34

Athlete B

Screenshot 2020-04-19 at 12.01.59

What you’re looking at is each rider’s power duration curve for the last 90 days. Without going into the details right now, you have time on the X axis and watts on the Y axis, so you can see that both riders can hold higher power over shorter durations, and the power they maintain drops over time, as you’d expect! The yellow line shows personal bests for each timeframe and the red line joins the dots to create a mathematical model that is used to calculate modelled FTP, or mFTP, which is denoted as the bottom dotted line.

Between around 10 minutes and 60 minutes (depending on the rider) the line starts to level off, this is where we find your FTP, the maximum power you can hold in a quasi-steady state without fatiguing for around an hour.

Rider A has an FTP of 223W with a TTE of 1:02:22, and rider B has an FTP of 215W with a TTE of 32:21. Most riders will have a TTE between 30 minutes and 70 minutes, which gives us an insight into how well trained an athlete is at holding high power. As a coach looking at each of these athletes I can work out how to develop each athlete and improve their training. Athlete A needs to lift his chart upwards, he’s unlikely to get much benefit from trying to increase TTE at this point, so we’ll look to increase his power over shorter durations such as 20-30 minutes, then when he increases his FTP significantly we could turn our attention to increasing TTE again. Athlete B however would benefit from extending the time he can hold his FTP for by spending extended periods at higher intensity (tempo, sweetspot) allowing him to hold 215W for longer, vastly improving his performance over an event such as an Olympic triathlon or standard duathlon.

Now we understand what FTP is, we can start talking about vanity FTP. As a coach I want my athletes to have the highest FTP possible, and every athlete wants to have the highest FTP possible, however this is where a lot of athletes get into trouble, and find themselves training to a vanity FTP, which is an overinflated estimation of what they’re capable of, let’s have a look at this and why it happens.

One of the many benefits of using WKO5 is it estimates the effect the anaerobic system is having on your efforts. FTP is an aerobic effort, as is everything up to around 120% of FTP (depending on the athlete), after which we start working anaerobically. This is where our muscles are demanding oxygen faster than our body can provide it, and we start to create an oxygen debt. This is our body’s fight or flight system and allows us to put in a huge effort up a short hill or sprint for a finish line, but leaves us gasping for air afterwards. As triathletes this is of limited use to us during most events as we opt for a steady, smooth application of power, but we can’t ignore it and the effect it has on our training. This chart for athlete B looks at the contribution the aerobic and anaerobic system makes to their effort.

Screenshot 2020-04-19 at 13.38.10

The blue shaded area represents the contribution of the anaerobic system to the effort, the green represents the contribution of the aerobic system to the effort. As you can see, up to the 50 second mark the majority of energy being used to fuel his effort is anaerobic, beyond 50 seconds the aerobic system takes over pretty quickly, although the anaerobic system still makes a small, yes statistically important contribution beyond this point.

Using 95% of your average power from the standard 20 minute test is designed to account for the contribution made by your anaerobic system. This athlete however isn’t an especially gifted sprinter so at 20 minutes, only 3.3% of his energy is coming from his anaerobic system. Using the standard 95% equation he would only get an FTP of 210W, the 5W he’s lost here could be worth a lot of time over an Ironman and result in them wasting time with ineffective training.

On the other hand you could have a very talented sprinter, who has either come from a power lifting background or is simply blessed with a high number of fast twitch muscle fibres genetically. In this situation, they could well generate 10% of their 20 minute power anaerobically. Let’s say they put in 300W during their 20 minute test. As 10% of their power was generated anaerobically their FTP should be 270W, but using the median figure of 5%, they would get an FTP of 285W. They’d no doubt be able to smash short, hard workouts with their strong anaerobic system, but ask them to spend prolonged time at the high end of their aerobic zones and they’ll really struggle. This is because their FTP is too high, which can result in them working in zone 2 when they should be in zone 1, zone 3 when they should be in zone 2, e.t.c.

Many athletes out there may not have such a problem with this, they think that if they train at an FTP which is higher than their ability level, they’ll get fitter sooner. This is possible, but it’s far more possible they’ll burn out after several days of struggling through easy workouts and failing difficult ones, feeling demotivated and no doubt blaming the training plan for being too hard, especially if they’re following a standalone training plan where a coach can’t spot these trends and the athlete can’t feed back on how hard they’re working.

The bigger issue however is race planning, the vast majority of age group athletes will race to a set intensity factor, or IF. For an Olympic distance this may be 0.9, for a 70.3 this may be 0.8, for an Ironman this may be 0.75, this helps ensure that we get the most out of our bike leg, without burning our legs out ahead of the run. This is all based on the assumption that your FTP is accurate. If you are working to a vanity FTP you’re not willing to lower, you could find yourself riding an Ironman at 80% of your FTP instead of 75%, which is unlikely to end well for you, perhaps even resulting in a DNF. This is all because your FTP is based on the assumption that the anaerobic contribution to your 20 minute effort will be available to you indefinitely.

To understand why this is a problem, think of a racing driver who runs nitrous oxide in his car. By flicking a switch on his gearstick he can get a short, high powered, likely illegal injection of speed, but he only has enough for a 30 second boost. He could post a 1:45 minute lap when using his nitrous oxide, and 1:50 without using his nitrous oxide. If he was pacing a 12 hour endurance race he would be a fool to base his fuelling strategy on the lap time of 1:45, as this is only available to him once. For this same reason, a cyclist would be foolish to base his pacing strategy for a long event based on a figure which don’t account for the anaerobic contribution to their FTP.

This isn’t a perfect metaphor as cyclists will recharge their anaerobic battery slowly, and sometimes you need to dip into that reserve on a steep hill, but it should help you understand the dangers of having an FTP that’s not actually useful to train to or pace with.

Now that you understand why we need to account for this anaerobic contribution we need to understand how to account for it within our FTP. The best way to do this is using modelling software such as WKO5 (my preference), Xert or Golden Cheetah, but these can be truly overwhelming for the novice cyclist. You could use the Suffertest’s 4DP which tests you over 15 seconds, 1 minute, 5 minutes and 20 minutes back to back, to give you a figure which accounts for anaerobic contribution, but these aren’t ideal as you’ll already be cooked by the time you start your 20 minute effort. Finally, if you want to keep it as simply as possible, you can aim to empty your anaerobic tank by doing a five minute all out effort, followed by a few minutes rest, before you start your 20 minute test, of which you can use 100% of the average 20 minute power.

If this is all sounds a bit too complicated but you struggle to complete workouts, try reducing your FTP by 2-3%, a vanity FTP is rarely a conscious decision by an athlete, rather an overestimation by a piece of software or algorithm, and an athlete who isn’t willing to accept the figure may not be accurate.

FTP Doesn’t Win Races

If you’re still refusing to reconsider your inflated FTP, let’s look at why FTP isn’t the be all and end all of racing success.

You would be forgiven for looking at the podium of a time trial or the top three of the bike leg of a triathlon and thinking the rider in first had the highest FTP, followed by the rider in second place with the second highest FTP and so on down the positions.

However there are dozens of other factors which can affect the results of an event, the athlete’s bike, aerodynamics, W/KG, clothing, bike handling skills, start time, V02 max, time to exhaustion, ability to resist fatigue, nutrition, hydration, weight, these are all factors which will affect their finishing position.

Let’s return to athlete A and athlete B from earlier. Athlete A has an FTP of 223W with a TTE of 1:02:22, and athlete B has an FTP of 215W with a TTE of 32:21. They both took part in an 20K time trial yesterday on the same course pancake flat course on Zwift (removing a number of the variables), so who do you think won?. It would probably surprise you if I told you it was athlete B, who averaged 218W for a time of 29:29, while athlete A averaged 210W for a time of 34:16. Let’s start by expanding on the quantitive data:

Athlete A:

FTP: 223W
TTE:1:02:22
V02 Max: 38
W/KG at FTP: 2.4
CTL on day of TT: 55

Athlete B:

FTP: 215W
TTE: 32:21
V02 Max: 61
W/KG at FTP: 3.8
CTL on day of TT: 33

Ultimately athlete B set the faster time because he’s won club championship titles, finished over 100 events, is an Ironman finisher and has been training for eight years where athlete A is training for his first 70.3 distance event. There are dozens, if not hundreds of factors which influence your performance, your FTP does not determine your value as an athlete.

I hope this has illustrated to you that higher FTPs do not win races, and that it is instead a combination of many factors.

To get the most out of your training, you have to be honest with yourself about your ability. Training to an accurate FTP will allow you to really develop as a rider, improving all areas of your fitness quicker, resulting in faster times.

If you would like more help with your FTP, E-mail Simon@phazontriathlon.com for a coaching consultation session where we can analyse your data, ask you to perform additional tests where required, then provide you with a rider profile, along with workouts designed to improve your riding.

 

Aerobic and Anaerobic- What You Need to Know

Aerobic and anaerobic are two words that many in the endurance coaching world including myself bound around on a daily basis, yet for the aspiring triathlete these can cause confusion at first.

The terms refer to how the body generates energy, imagine a six year old at sports day, belting across the school field towards the finishing line. When they finish their run they will likely be breathing heavily, exhausted from the 25M sprint they have just completed. When they move into secondary school and start running the 1500 on the track and cross country they soon realise something, if they want to run longer distances they have to slow down.

Once they run longer distances at a lower intensities they are not nearly as out of breath at the end of the effort. They may be exhausted and collapse in a heap with sore legs and no energy left, but their lungs will not burn in the same way as before, they will not be recovering from what is known as an oxygen debt.

The reason you experience an oxygen debt after short efforts is due to the body relying primarily on its anaerobic system heavily for short, hard efforts, this is where your body creates energy without oxygen. I won’t go into the science of how it works here, but what you need to know is that the anaerobic system can only function for around 2 minutes before the athlete accumulates a large oxygen debt and has to slow dramatically, this is our fight or flight reaction that allows us to escape from danger. Many predators in the animal kingdom rely on their anaerobic system heavily as they sprint after prey, if the gazelle manages to slip from the cheetahs grasp or zig zag enough to tire the cheetah, it can avoid becoming lunch as the cheetah has created an enormous oxygen debt it must recover from, akin to the six year old who has sprinted full pelt over a short distance and has nothing left at the end.

Cheetah_hunting_impala-photo-safari_Masai_Mara_3285.jpg
A Cheetah relies on its strong muscles and high anaerobic prowess to hunt down its prey, but if it mistimes its sprint or the animal escapes, it is unlikely to make the kill (photo credit Federico Veronesi)

On the other side of the equation we have aerobic fitness, this is energy created using oxygen. This is much more efficient and is one of the leading reasons for our dominance as a species, where our prey relied predominantly on their anaerobic system to escape danger, we were able to keep them in sight and slowly run them into exhaustion as they were unable to hold the pace that we were over longer distances.

As triathletes we are focused almost entirely upon the aerobic system, as it is very rare that we will be putting the hammer down and become predominantly anaerobic when racing even a sprint distance triathlon as we will need time to recover from this effort. The exception to this is in draft legal triathlon where you may launch an attack off the front of the pack to try to bridge to the next group, which upon joining you will be able to sit in the wheels of for a minute or so while your body recovers from the oxygen debt.

This is the reason that so much triathlon training is done at an “all day” pace, to ensure we are building and strengthening our aerobic system and not our anaerobic system. The mistake that many athletes make is doing all of their training way too fast and making very little headway on the aerobic development side of things. You may be able to run a very quick 5K, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a great marathon experience, I can vouch for that one personally!

This is where things get confusing, I am a fairly gifted anaerobic athlete, I can push myself harder and go deeper than many others over shorter periods, but tend to suffer over especially long efforts. Normally when I mention that I have a strong anaerobic system and that 5K is my best distance to an athlete a metaphorical finger is waved in my face. “Aha! But a 5K is over 2 minutes, so it’s not an anaerobic effort”. This is of course true, but what people don’t always realise is that your body is never generating energy on a 100% aerobic or anaerobic basis. If that were the case a 100M sprinter could run with his mouth gaffer taped shut and still hit the same time as his rivals.

Anaerobic energy is created in addition to the energy that is being generated aerobically, you are using anaerobically generated energy while reading this. It is only an incredibly tiny fraction of the energy being created (think several decimal places), but is it ticking over like a pilot light, ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice.

To illustrate this more clearly here is a graph created using WKO4 (more information here) that visualises the energy systems used by an athlete at different timeframes. The data is collated using the athlete’s best performances at the time periods listed on the X axis, with the maximum power than can sustain for that period on the Y axis. I use these graphs to help athletes gain a better understanding of their individual physiologies to help us understand where we need to focus our training effort.

Screenshot 2019-01-11 at 12.46.41

Today we want to focus on the green and the blue lines, the green line represents aerobic contribution, the blue line anaerobic. If we start to the left of the chart we can see that at 1 second there is very little contribution from the aerobic system as the body has not started increasing the rate at which it pumps oxygen to the muscles yet, but using glycosides the body can create energy within the muscles and get us moving immediately. As we look closer towards the 10 second mark the aerobic system is really starting to get up to speed now, additional oxygen has been absorbed from the lungs and is being pumped to the muscles to get them fired up.

For this athlete, it is at one minute 6 seconds that the crossover occurs, and the aerobic system takes over as the primary fuel source. The aerobic system has fuel, it can continue indefinitely for as long as it has fuel, the anaerobic system making a tiny contribution that can increase on hills or when accelerating hard.

Looking at the 20 minute data point, the anaerobic system is still contributing 10W of power, which is still a respectable amount, I’m sure if this athlete saw their FTP drop by 10W they would be mortified. Remember, this is looking at the athlete’s best 20 minute effort, not all 20 minute efforts use such a proportion of the anaerobic system.

Going back to the graph, it would look very different for a track sprinter compared to a time trialist (which this athlete is classified as). In a sprinter the anaerobic system would make a much greater contribution, it would continue for much longer before the intersection with the aerobic system as sprinters need to hold maximum power for as long as possible. Their aerobic system will be very weak comparatively and they would struggle to keep up on a gentle Sunday club run as a result.

So now we’ve gone through the science, let’s have a look at the takeaway points, and how a better understanding of the two energy systems can aid your training:

-There is no benefit to developing your anaerobic system for most triathletes. I know an extremely successful athlete who has raced at Kona, yet claims he can’t sprint for toffee (never seen him sprint so can’t confirm this). He doesn’t need to train or develop his anaerobic system, he’s happy to let it fall by the wayside almost entirely to focus entirely on his aerobic system. That’s not to say that he won’t start leaning on anaerobic pathways during some sessions (such as hill reps), but the goal of these sessions is to develop muscular force, not to increase anaerobic ability although this may come as a byproduct.

-You’re never completely aerobic or anaerobic, the body is always using both, even if in very small amounts. Your anaerobic threshold is where you start to produce energy primarily from the anaerobic pathway and should be avoided for the majority of your sessions

-Avoid using large amounts of anaerobic energy in your training. It feels good as it leaves you feeling more fatigued, and changes in your anaerobic system are faster to gain and easier to track than gains in your aerobic system (“I’m 5 seconds faster up that hill!”), but are of little use to the vast majority of triathletes when it comes to race day. I know I’ve certainly fallen foul of this one in the past.

-Many fitness tests require you to use large proportions of anaerobic energy, as triathletes we are not testing you for improvements in these areas, rather trying to assess your current weighting between aerobic/anaerobic energy sources. If an athlete puts out the same amount of watts over a set period as his previous best but the anaerobic contribution is lower then the previous test, this will result in an increase in FTP when uploaded to WKO4.

I hope this has given you a better understanding of the role that aerobic and anaerobic pathways play in endurance sport, leave any questions in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Understanding Your Annual Training Plan (ATP)

When you begin training with us here at Phazon Triathlon, one of the first things we do is create your Annual Training Plan, or ATP. This is a framework which we use to base your training off of, so you can understand decisions we make and can see how your training will progress over the year. However the acronyms and numbers can be confusing so I wanted to take some time to explain the meaning of all the figures you see to help you better understand and use your ATP.

For this example I will be using an ATP I have just written myself for the 2019 season, here is a screen grab for you.

ATP.png

As you can see, there is a lot of information squeezed into a screen here, so let me talk you through what it all means.

The most attention grabbing part of the screen is the chart at the top with various colours of lines and bars. The most important of these is the big blue shaded area that fills the majority of the screen. this is my CTL, or critical training load, which simply put is how fit I will be at that time of year. I am currently sitting on a figure of 44 and am forecast to hit 99 before IRONMAN UK in July. Notice however that the line is not a straight line, it levels off and even drops at points, this is because I need easy weeks for my body to recover, continually building fitness throughout the year is a sure way to burnout.

The mustard coloured shaded area is my form, this is how race ready I will be, as you can see here it peaks in two periods during the year, for my A races. When we train we add fatigue which impacts on our form, we must lower the training load for our form to increase, a process known as tapering.

Our training load for each week is represented by the vertical bars, these are the TSS targets I have set myself for each week. As I complete each week these will become shaded to tell me whether I have missed, hit, or overshot my target for the week. The blue and yellow dotted lines will also start to move around, these represent my actual fitness and fatigue, I can use this to see whether they are closely corresponding to the shaded areas, and whether I’m on track. As you can see from this screen grab I was slightly below target for my first week of the preparation phase, but I didn’t miss it by much and it will make next to no difference to my performance on race day.

What may confuse those of us new to the sport are the period names at the bottom of the chart, these are preparation, Base 1, Base 2, Base 3, Build 1, Build 2, Peak, Race and Transition.

Preparation
This is a very relaxed phase of the training, these is much less in the way of structure here, the only really structured work taking place in the gym where we begin the anatomical adaptation phase (more on this later). Why would you have phase of unstructured training you may ask, especially if you’re feeling apprehensive about your event. Triathlon training is tough, it takes a lot of time and energy to train for these events, it takes a toll on the body and the mind in equal measure. With the preparation phase we give new athletes a chance to get their head around working with a coach, and give experienced athletes a chance to wind themselves back to up to full tilt.

Base 1

The purpose of this period changes depending on your level of experience, if you are a rookie triathlete you will spend this time moving to a more structured programme, focusing on improving aerobic endurance and your speed skills (technique). If however you are an experienced triathlete and are confident in the gym there is a big focus on weights at this stage to build our maximal strength, this allows us to swim, bike and run faster while also preventing injuries. We also use this time to work on our speed skills, primarily our swimming technique.

Base 2
We continue the theme of building on our endurance and speed skills here, stepping back from the heavy gym work to allow us to focus more on our aerobic endurance and speed skills. Lifting big weights is an effective way to improve your performance, but it has an effect on your ability to swim, bike and run in the following days so is generally consigned to the Base 1 period.

Base 3
This is the period you will spend most of your time in, for the rookie athlete who may just be looking to get round their event, the rest of the year may be spent in base 3. For those who are looking to build speed we will repeat this phase until we are 8-12 weeks out of our first A race, so depending on when you start your season dictates how many times you will repeat base 3. You will also return to base 3 after an A race if you have enough time, and will return to base 3 if you have more than a few days off of training at any point in the build phase.

Build 1
This is where we focus almost entirely on muscular endurance work, extending the periods for which you can maintain your threshold and race pace efforts, the exact contents of this phase depend on the distance you are training for, for Ironman athletes it will involve longer workouts set at or around race pace where for short course athletes it will involve much more in the way of speed work. Either way, as we get closer to our race our training must better reflect the demands of race day.

Build 2
This is simply a repeat of the Build 1, but normally with a slightly higher TSS target, the focus remains on muscular endurance with less time spend on long easy workouts.

Peak
This is also known as your taper, the time in the year where we back off of the hard training and allow our body to recover to become race fit. Remember how the orange shaded area (my form) shot up as we approached the races? That’s because I back off training then and my body reaches peak fitness. Training doesn’t make us stronger, anyone who tells you they feel stronger after a long run is telling your porkies, it’s the period after our training where our body repairs itself that we become stronger, a period of peaking (1-2 weeks) ensures our body is well rested and as strong as it can be for race day, you don’t want any lingering fatigue from your training as you line up at the start.

Race
Self explanatory, it’s race week! Very little training, with a focus on intensity one volume to ensure we’re raring to go when we wake up on race day.

Transition
This is a period of rest after an A race, where we take a well deserved rest. You can still train at this point, but it should only be for fun. This is a great time to try other sports and just generally enjoy being active.

Going through every phase is a very lengthy process and so can only be achieved two or three times a year. In an ideal world I would have longer between my A races but as Bolton is relatively easy in the season I couldn’t get a warm up 70.3 in any earlier without travelling to the Southern Hemisphere.

This leads us onto B and C priority races, currently I only have one other event on the cards, my club championship 5K race. I want to perform relatively well to take back my title from 2015, but I’ll be in the base period at the time and I can’t afford to take too much time out to prepare for it, so I’ll perhaps do a few 5K specific workouts in the days before, have a rest day on the Saturday, and see where it takes me. As I’m organising some training around it, this makes it a B race. The final category is a C race which is normally a race entered with friends, to gain experience, or just for fun. They are treated just like a hard workout with no preparation beforehand.

So now we’ve  prioritised our races, and have split our year up into periods, the next step is setting our training volume, which I set as a TSS value for you. This is where things start to become more personalised, TrainingPeaks has an algorithm which can split the year into periods for you and you can set a target CTL, it will do the maths and hand you an automated ATP.

You may have been doing some reading and heard that a CTL of 95 is recommended for an Ironman, so you put a target CTL of 95 in and get cracking with your training. The problem being that you may be a rookie athlete training for their first Ironman and there is no way you can hit those numbers, either you’ll burn out in the first few weeks or even worse you’ll succumb to complete over training later in the season, sidelining you for the rest of the year. You may also be an athlete who recovers more slowly and your recovery weeks need to be easier than TrainingPeaks’ algorithm allows for. By analysing your training history and asking questions we can start to put target TSS values together for you to ensure your TSS targets are realistic. We don’t work to a target CTL for your A race, we instead start by inputting numbers we believe you can maintain, increase them steadily through the year and see what our final CTL value is. If it’s too low we see how training goes and will consider increasing the volume in the weeks and months that follow.

At this point it is worth remembering that the human body is not a mathematical equation, people have got round Ironman races with far less than 95CTL points, and if that’s all you’re looking to achieve then there’s no need to sacrifice your social life upon the altar of triathlon to hit an arbitrary number. These figures are great for helping us to track progress, but they are not the be all and end all.

CTL is probably the most important number, but what we also need to take into consideration is how we increase the number, and for that the form number is an underrated tool to help us ensure we are making improvements and not stagnating. Your form number can sit in the following brackets:

25+ should only be reached in times of transition, or a total rest from training, or perhaps if an athlete is injured and unable to train.

+5 to +25 is the range many will aim to hit for race day. A higher number isn’t always better as you also lose some frying from your legs, and run the risk of feeling empty on race day.

+5 to -10 is a bit of a great area, and where a lot of untouched athletes will sit, they’re certainly doing some training, but probably not enough to illicit enough of a training response for them to get enough to see significant fitness gains. Athletes will often find themselves in this zone on easy weeks.

-10 to -30 is the optimal zone to sit in for a good training effect, you can’t stay here forever as it’ll start to fatigue you, but this is where the best gains are made.

below -30 is the high risk zone where you run a very real risk of overtraining. If you find yourself on the wrong side of -30 which can happen to the best of us sometimes, you need to lift and coast, reducing volume, perhaps even taking an unplanned rest day if you feel you need it. Spending too much time at this level of fatigue can cause long term problems to both your performance and health.

My CTL is set to peak at 99, which is a good CTL for someone looking to perform well at an Ironman race, however the chances of me reaching that exact number are incredibly slim. I may start the build period and feel I’m having to hold back to hit my weekly targets, in which case I could try kicking everything up by 25 TSS points a week, which would give me a CTL closer to 110. By the same token, I may crash my bike on some ice in February and have a week with little to no training, which means I’ll have to readjust my targets.

This is an important point, your ATP is not set in stone, it’s incredibly rare (possibly unknown) for someone to make it through an entire year hitting every target as life happens. Business trips are sprung on you, your kids may become unwell, your bike may have to wait a long time for essential spares, a lot can get between you and your perfect season of training, but the good thing is that an ATP is pretty flexible. Phases can be reassigned, targets can be adjusted and even your target races changed, the important thing is it ensures that we are both on the same page.

Next up is weekly limiters, this is where the experience of a coach and their knowledge of you as an athlete really comes into play as we make each week specific to you.

Using myself as an example, I can break each sport down into strengths and weaknesses to show how an ATP can be curated to each individual athlete

Swimming
I know that as an athlete two primary areas are limiting me in the swim, my technique and my force, or more importantly the application of force which is intrinsic with technique. I can comfortably swim well over 4KM so endurance is not a huge concern for me, but enhancing the speed that I can hold for longer durations is important. This year my focus is going to be primarily on technique with an additional focus on force (improved by using paddles), with muscular endurance and endurance taking a backseat for now. As I live in London where the weather is not conclusive to year round open water swimming I swim exclusively in the pool until April/May at the very earliest as the lakes start to open. Therefore my plan is to focus on technique and force work in the pool, before taking to the open water in the spring and applying the gains I have made in the pool into the open water whilst building me endurance to ensure I can still comfortably swim 4K at my improved pace.

Cycling
I have come to acknowledge in recent months that my aerobic fitness is just not where it should be, and I struggle to replicate my success in short course racing over longer distances, with this in mind my focus throughout most of the year will be on endurance. You may notice that I include some muscular endurance work during the base period which is doesn’t fit in with traditional periodisation. This is because the weather in the UK can be very inconclusive to outdoor riding due to the freezing temperatures and torrential rainstorms we experience, and I don’t have the time to sit on the turbo for three hours every time I want to ride. By introducing muscular endurance work on the turbo this is a way for me to ensure I keep improving when I don’t have enough time to build my endurance. When the weather starts to improve in April/May the focus will shift away from muscular endurance and almost fully towards endurance when I can get regular long rides done on my TT bike out on the open roads. This is known as reverse periodisation, and is a method I have used to great success with my athletes in the past, as it still follows the golden rule of periodisation, the closer you get to race day the closer your training should resemble racing, and when your aim is to ride 180KM, leaving the really long rides to the end of the year makes sense.

Running
My main limiter in running is injury, so the focus is almost entirely on improving force (specifically exercises building my hamstrings/glutes) and endurance runs. I know I have top end speed in spades but struggle over longer distances so the priority is to become injury free to allow me to train for longer at higher speeds. This is achieved by increasing volume and intensity gently, with much less work on speed.

You can see here the adjustments that need to be made to an ATP even for an experienced athlete to make the most out of their training and make it specific to them. The limiters field also includes the ability to schedule tests in advance, ensuring that our threshold values stay consistent and are not outdated, resulting in inefficient training.

The final part of our ATP to decipher is our strength period, there are three options here, anatomical adaptation, maximal strength and strength maintenance. Anatomical adaptation is when we start working in the gym with light weights and a high number of reps, maximal strength is when we start to lower the reps and increase the weight for some high reward strength training. For the rest of the year we focus on strength maintenance which will involve weekly visits to the gym to ensure we do not lose the strength gains we made in the winter.

I hope this has given you the tools you need to understand the importance of having an ATP as well as helping you understand some of the jargon that is attached to your ATP. If you wish to improve your knowledge of periodisation and the way each phase of training contributes to your fitness, I recommend picking up the most recent edition of Joe Friel’s “Triathlete’s Training Bible) which this article was influenced heavily by. If you are interested in having a bespoke ATP made up for you, why not head to our apply page to begin your coaching journey.

Analysis of a Swim Start

For many new to triathlon the start of the race is the most intimidating part. Not only are you about to engage in the swim which is probably the most intimidating leg of the event anyway, but this is done surrounded by dozens of people and hundreds of limbs flailing around. So while at The London Triathlon I thought I’d take a video of one of the starts to show everybody the process and hand out some tips.

As I started filming the first athletes in the water were making their way to the right of the starting area (left of shot) where they all form a small group. Why do you think this might be? Well the race starts with a right hand turn, so by placing themselves to the right they are shortening the distance between themselves and the first buoy, avoiding having to add distance onto their swim by cutting across the width of the swim course for the first turn. Things are much sparser to the left which makes it a good place for newbies or less confident swimmers to start.

The other thing to notice is that the first athletes in the water are treading water for a significant amount of time while the back markers make their way into the water. This is something worth considering if you’re less confident in the water, that you’re probably best being one of the last in the water to reduce your time spent waiting for the start and ensuring you’ll start well clear of the washing machine effect.

However this is easier said that done, back in 2014 when I did the Olympic distance I arrived nice and early for the briefing, standing at what I thought was the back of the pen. However lots of latecomers formed the true back of the group, and when we got in the water I found myself slap bang in the middle of affairs, the last place I wanted to be at the time! To avoid this, arrive at the swim start in good time, but hang right at the back and wait for everyone to arrive before you find out where the back really is.

Back to the swim start in question, as the starting area starts to fill out a bit you can see the spaces between swimmers are much larger as they will not be getting as competitive as the swimmers at the front of the pack, resulting in less chance of a kick or a knock. Nobody will ever deliberately try to kick or punch you, imagine trying to kick/punch someone while swimming, it would detract so much energy from your stroke it would simply not be worth it. A few knocks and bumps are inevitable but to reduce the risk of being caught up in it then star further back from the main pack where the gaps between swimmers are larger.

Four minutes after the lead group take their positions at the front the last swimmers make it in, the air horn finally blasts and the swim is underway. Cue a flurry of arms and legs to the left of picture as the main protagonists try either to get some space between them and their rivals, or to desperately try to hang onto the feet of the swimmer in front of them. The first 150-200M will be very fast as the swim groups establish themselves before the pace knocks back a bit and swimmers settle into their race pace.

By the time the leaders are 100M in, some of the back markers are only just crossing the start line as they start what will be a long and leisurely swim. Take some time to watch the swim strokes of those at the back, a mixture of breaststroke, heads up front crawl and otherwise unidentified methods of aquatic propulsion. It doesn’t matter though as they’re getting the job done and for these mass participation events there is no swim cut off. However what you don’t want to do is start too far back as you’ll find yourself boxed in by breaststrokers and unable to make much headway, it’s very difficult to pick the right place in the swim pack for you, the best advice I can offer is to read the body language of your fellow competitors. If they’re looking impatient and sat in relative silence the chances are they’re planning to go off like a rocket. If they’re floating around and talking about how they’re just hoping to get round or they’re sat in silence with the thousand yard stare it may be better to move forward. If in any doubt start further back as being slow is frustrating, but beats being swum over and a potential panic attack.

As soon as our final white hat has crossed the start line, there is already a wave of pink hats bearing down on them and ready to go. Due to the fact they sound the horn before the last swimmer had even made their way to the start area I’m guessing they were running behind schedule at this point, but it gives you an insight into just how quickly things move at these large events. As I pan left to follow the leaders of the pink wave we can already see a white hat being pulled out of the water and onto a safety craft. It’s never nice to see someone pull out of a race so early in proceedings, but a reminder not only of the great job that the safety teams do, but also the importance of making sure you get plenty of practice in open water before race day.

I hope this has been helpful in your preparations for you race, if you are nervous about the swim leg of your race, why not get in touch with us to organise a coached session?

Heart Rate vs Power

Heart rate and power are the two most popular ways of measuring effort when cycling, but which is the most accurate way of measurement, and which should you use for race pacing? We put the two head to head in different categories.

Accuracy

As numbers geeks, accuracy is probably the number one concern when choosing between the two. In this scenario power easily comes out on top simply due to the data range we have available to us. While an athlete’s heart rate will very rarely fall outside of 40-180BPM, an athlete’s power figure can range from 0-1000W and beyond in the case of exceptionally well trained athletes. This gives us a much greater insight into an athlete’s effort by default, so it’s 1-0 to power at this point.

Reliability

Power meters are incredibly powerful pieces of equipment, but they do require a certain degree of maintenance. Once you purchase and install your power meter they require an initial calibration followed by periodic re-calibration, especially after travelling with your bike. Heart rate monitors are cheap and simple, as long as they have a good connection they will very rarely let you down.

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Wahoo Tickr, the heart rate monitor I recommend due to its bluetooth/ANT+ dual compatibility

Application of data

This is the power meter. Hands down. As a coach, when athlete uses a power meter it gives me a goldmine of information to trawl through. I have a piece of software developed by TrainingPeaks called WKO4 which I use to analyse athlete’s power files to within an inch of their life. It also gives a much better insight into an athlete’s form over time, and due to the huge amounts of data the power meter harvests athletes will find their CTL levels increasing quite sharply as the power meter gives a real insight into every detail of a workout. Even more data can be collected when using a dual sided power meter that collects data from both your left and right side. Most power meters function by taking the power data from your left hand side and doubling it.

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Garmin Vector 3 Pedals, a very popular option for those looking to measure left and right power

Affordability

This one is easy, heart rate wins hands down, a heart rate monitor will set you back around £40, with power meters costing £300 at the very least. If you purchase a triathlon watch it may even come with a wrist based optical heart rate monitor as standard. For the athlete on a budget, heart rate is the winner on practical grounds.

Response time

One of the major downsides with heart rate is how long it takes to react to changes in effort. Your heart rate will often take several seconds to respond to an increase/decrease in effort, as we can see below. 

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The above is a short excerpt from an athlete’s workout. As the power (purple) dips and rises we can see the heart rate takes significantly longer to react, it reacts less evidently (which goes back to our initial point on accuracy), and is still increasing in response to the surge to 350W 30 seconds afterwards. If I only had heart rate data to go off, this graph would tell a very different story.

Effect on Performance

Everything comes at a price, and the same is true with power meters and heart rate monitors. A power meter will add a small amount of weight, but we’re only talking about a handful of grams here, with some brands coming in much lighter than others (for a price!). Meanwhile heart rate monitors will obviously add a small amount of weight by virtue of wearing them, but the main issue athletes worry about is the chest strap. While I’ve never had a problem, some athletes do and find that it uncomfortable. For those who can’t stand the chest strap there are now various optical heart rate monitors available which sit on your wrist or your arm, however these are not as accurate as standard chest strap versions.

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Wahoo Tickr Fit. Image courtesy of BikeRadar

Battery Life

Most heart rate monitors use a standard coin cell battery which can last for many years, where power meters will normally only last a matter of weeks, or even hours if broadcasting data via bluetooth.

Sampling rate

This is a slam dunk for power meters, most will have a sampling rate (the rate at which they measure the power output) at around 50HZ, which is higher than basic heart rate monitors. The exception in this case is heart rate monitors which are used for heart rate variability (HRV) monitoring which have a higher sampling rate and a price tag to match.

Suitability for pacing

Both methods are very useful for pacing, but for very different reasons.

Power data is very useful as it is an objective measure of what is coming out of your legs.  Using Best Bike Split we help our athletes create a bespoke plan that tells you what power to hold at which section of the course. 180W on the flat, 190W at is starts to kick up a bit, 210 on the steep section, it gives us a blow by blow plan to ensure you pace your bike leg to perfection.

Heart rate is affected by a huge variety of factors such as temperature, stress, any infections your body may be fighting, fatigue, you get the picture. While this is its weakness, it is also its strength as it tells you exactly what your body is going through at the time. If your heart rate is sky high your body is trying to tell you something, and you’d do well to listen to it.

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A Best Bike Split race plan calculated with power data. We would never be able to work with such accuracy using only heart rate.

 

This brings us to the underlying point behind this article, and the answer is that they are best used in conjunction with each other. Relying solely on power but with no insight into how your body is coping with the effort can lead to burn out, while only monitoring your heart rate lacks accuracy. This is a subject I will cover in more depth in a future article on aerobic decoupling which I will link to here when completed.