In our last blog we discussed how using the treadmill and turbo could enhance your triathlon. Within our own coaching group we have extended that to commercial swim benches, home made remedies, and swim stretch cords. However, in a lot of European communities since the blog, home detention has now become the norm in controlling this particular virus. One area I didn’t touch on, but I know through personal experimentation and use over many years and that might not be highlighted by the mainstream tri world, is the value in skipping.
Over the years, I have tried to introduce the teaching of skipping to my athletes. The goal to become competent at it, so if they did acquire a certain type of injury, such as hamstring strain, or a bike induced hip flexor strain, then skipping could be an outstanding alternative to still keep the feel of running. It might also enhance ones motor neuron facilitation ability because of the coordination it teaches between arms and legs.
I was not very successful in encouraging athletes to master this skill, as it was viewed as not necessary to have a skipping rope in their kit bag. However when that type of injury arose, I would see athletes run to by a skipping rope, which then wasn’t as effective because their skipping ability was near zero. Hence none of my ‘new’ athletes have experienced skipping programs.
It was my podcast interview with Greg Bennett this week that brought back memories of all the 1990s athletes, who saw me do extraordinary amounts of skipping at every squad turbo session. Being an ex-professional boxer, I can handle a rope, and was encouraged to skip the same amount of time they did on the turbo.
Back in those days turbo was something athletes outside of my group did not do as part of regular training. Yet in the early days we would do group turbo workouts a minimum of 4 times a week, and be on the turbo for a minimum of 1 hour 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours 30 minutes. Seeing me suffer along with the athletes seemed to quell the mutiny of ‘coach why can’t we ride on the road like the others’ debate.
Why I mention this, is because at that time I would run squad athletes only 3 times a week – and I would join them. The run program was 2 x 7km runs a week where we would run easy to 3.5km then turn around and bolt for home. They would also do a 10km run one day a week before swim squad, while we waited for our 1 hour pool lane allocation.
I mention this as full disclosure for all that say you were running a lot more. I’m pointing it out as if I said I only skipped, and did no running, no one would believe me, except for those in the squad that knew that’s all I did. Yet I would beat the majority of them in the twice weekly training runs, and as a non runner do rather decent times when the squad would do a local run race.
The point I’m making is this – I did at times do running only blocks for experimental purposes, even up to 160km a week. But in all cases never ran as fast as when I skipped as the base training.
While this may be anecdotal evidence (n=1), I can say the one or two cases where athletes did skip, it improved their running. The more skill you have the more you can get out of it. However I can assure people that have yet to try the rope, that if you are only half competent, then 1 minute of skipping with varying rests done for 15 to 30 reps, will test the fittest of triathletes! Doing 15 x 3 minutes with a 1 minute break is a workout that will have the fittest, after getting up off the floor, say ‘that’s one hell of a workout!’.
If as a kid you skipped, it will take about 3 sessions to come back to you. So this tool can be an exceptional advantage if you by force of your government are locked up indoors. All you need is a rope (I suggest the plastic variety as then the cadence can be a lot faster), a space as little as 1 square metre, or a hall you can go up and back, and a wooden floor or a rubber mat. This is most important, as skipping on cement or a hard surface can induce shin splints. Done with music, it can be a very enjoyable workout.
Now before you say I can’t skip, I’m hopeless, there is a second possibility, which I can again put a personal stamp of approval. That is running on the spot or pretensions to skip without a rope! Two of my boxing pre-fight training camps were done in a certain gym, where everybody in there was an expert skipper. The boss was insistent, even if you were being trained by another coach, we all did the gym warm up together. The boss was the ‘boss’ in his house and he had about 170 fights himself. So respect was always given to such old warriors in these gyms. If you didn’t show respect…then you got hammered.
So we would do 5 x 3 minutes with 1 min rest running on the spot; in the warm up! What was different than normal running on the spot was the goal had to be 300 steps in the 3 minutes. That was the lowest acceptable amount, and he would walk around with a stick, and actually counted if he thought you were under his lowest acceptable level. The best at it would pump out 400, coincidently or not, these were usually the quickest punchers in the gym without exception.
I remember I could hardly walk for three days when I first entered that gym. I was fit but the tendons behind the knees would just seize up. There was no weight bearing, but the speed of these little 4 cm steps would exert such force on you, if you weren’t used to it just flat out killed the tendons. Now, I say this to warn people that these two innocuous exercises are tough if approached with no respect.
However, the moral of the story is you don’t need to have a track, or a trail to keep your running in good stead. Even without a treadmill in your home, if you go to the skipping or spot running, I can assure you with just a couple of runs outside when the menace has passed, you’re going to be very very surprised by how well you can run after being indoors for a month. I’ll bet on it!
The off-season can mean different things for different athletes.
It can be used as a complete mental and physical break for those athletes recovering after a long season. It can also be an opportunity to hone in and improve a single discipline, or the chance to build on fitness for the next year.
Coaches need to recognise how best to plan the off-season for their athletes on an individual basis, taking into account their individual mental and physical abilities and make up. They must also remember that the off-season should also allow renewed vigour to be taken into the following race season.
Coach Brett gives his thoughts on off-season training options:
While most are content to accept the heavily corporatised product served up to us by the Ironman brand, a for-profit entity, the Olympic ringed ITU should be a different story.
I went to the WTS Hamburg race last weekend and was 20 metres from 2 of the multiple crashes during the women’s and men’s races. These crashes were horrific and seeing the faces of athletes knowing they were going to come down is haunting.
Races are now described as ‘the product’, and athletes as ‘the assets’. These obnoxious terms are used publicly. At Hamburg the assets would be better named ‘the cannon fodder’, in what the ITU call the jewel in the crown of their WTS Series. But the cannon fodder happens now to be the super champs – Murray, Schoeman, Yee, Brownlee, Zaferes. All crashed during the bike course. Even on the run they were falling, Nicola Spirig went down, as did others on the tiny tight turns. This was not bad luck, or bad riding, this was total negligence by the governing body.
On every level (except for hefty license fee paid to the ITU from the local government and the size of crowds), this is the worst race for ‘the assets’ that has ever been devised.
Let me take you through it – – it has to be a sprint race because of the course itself – 6 laps of 3.5km per lap for 21km – do I need to show you the turns…
As you can see each 3.5km lap has two 180 degree stop dead turns, and 8 turns of ~90 degrees, most a maximum of 3m wide, with over 60 athletes trying to squeeze around.
There are cobblestones and pavement bricks in some turns. The course has painted pedestrian lines and painted traffic lines all over it. All of you know how fun it is to negotiate painted lines on the road in the wet! Ever attempted it in a pack of 60 during a race? The only thing missing was tram lines.
The arrogance of the ITU officials didn’t help, as I saw one walk straight into Taylor Knibb – but that can happen…
Being a professional coach and wanting to understand the course to be able to relay details and race tactics to my athletes, I walked the course on the morning of the race. To say I was horrified is an understatement. As well as the already mentioned issues with corners, cobbles, and lines painted on the road; the lake and trees that surrounded the course looked beautiful for the cameras, but only added to the hazards of the bike course. There were 100’s of leaves on the road, on the very corners where the horrific crashes in both men and women’s races occurred.
After 30 minutes picking up leaves from the corners, the rain came and I really got worried. I stopped and left to talk to an official about the danger this would create only to be told ‘this is not my job’. Total apathy and indifference to the danger. I asked one to use their walkie talkie to contact the race referees to explain the danger and request a crew or a street sweep vehicle to sweep the corners. To my horror I was told, ‘that’s the city’s job not ours’.
Thus all the audience was treated to not only a triathlon but a smash up derby that saw at least two athletes leave in ambulances with career threatening injuries. If one remembers back to WTS Dubai in 2016, nobody has learned anything from the horrendous crash that nearly ended the then current Olympic Champion’s career (Down but not Out). Fortunate to escape with a broken hand after hitting concrete ‘street furniture’ only several feet from the course. Since then there have been no course changes, no greater thought to the safety of the athletes, pardon me, the ‘assets’.
After the Women’s race in Hamburg, when one attempted to point out the absolute danger before the Men’s race, they were not so politely told – ‘if you and your athletes feel it’s too dangerous for their skills then they shouldn’t race!’.
This course should never have more than 25 to 30 athletes on it. Simple as that – if they are going to race on it at all.
‘Sutto, you are full of criticisms but short on solutions.’ Just like Ironman racing, I’m full of solutions, for those who will listen. This could be accommodated by heats and finals as it is a two day closed circuit race. So there could have been two races of 30 or even 3 races of 20 athletes, with the best 10 athletes going through to the final to be held on the next day. Then the crowd we so clamour for could see some fantastic racing over a weekend.
I’m pleading with people to start and put athletes first. We as a society of Triathletes need to make the organisations accountable for their actions. Olympic funded sport should not make money the first and only priority. The first priority should always be the athletes and their safety should always be the first consideration.
I have received many congratulatory notes, and wish to say thank you from Daniela and myself.
While people want a race report, I find it difficult to write one, so for now I’d just like to tell the inside story that our athletes at camp see every day. I will let Dave Scott, one of the greatest Ironman athletes of all time, tell you his observations first:
Add to this the fact that in the last 10 World Championships of both Ironman and 70.3 Daniela has won 8.
There is little more to say. However there is so much more from the inside. I have been restrained up to now in calling Daniela the best Ironwoman of all time. I want to clarify why from my personal view of sport.
Winning in any sport when one is just totally superior does not automatically get you the super champion card in the world of Sutto. To receive that from me, one has to show me how they can find a way to win when their superiority is taken away. When their skills are impaired, in short when they shouldn’t win – but they do.
Up until last year I had said Daniela is the fastest Ironwoman of all time, but not the greatest. Unlike most experts I have the facts in front of me, training great athletes like Chrissie Wellington, Caroline Steffen in the long course, and Jodie Swallow and Mary Beth Ellis in the 70.3. I watched the numbers being put down at training every day.
In 2017 Daniela had a very seriously disrupted year. Her race season came down to a single meeting where we discussed that we can’t train for Kona because of her back injury; so instead to get ready for the 70.3 World Champs and we can still win – but only if we keep the training to 5150 (Olympic distance) level. If Daniela had wanted to pull out of Ironman and concentrate on 70.3 Worlds, I was more than happy.
It was decided, we would train for Chattanooga. If the back was then ok and we got medical confirmation we couldn’t do any long term damage, we would start Kona and see if we could do a decent job of hiding our lack of Ironman fitness; try to let her status of being ‘the champ’ fudge the title defence. However, Lucy Charles was having none of it, stood up and tested the wounded bird like never before. We witnessed the bird overcome Lucy’s challenge, but also her lack of preparation for the longer race. It was a step closer to getting coach to say, this is a super champ.
I tell you this because those inside our camp were told, Dani was 25 minutes slower than she can be. Most were skeptical. Only one agreed with me, and it was the only one that needed to be, ‘the bird’ herself. The win was bitter sweet for her. She smiled but on the inside she burned. I said we will take an extended break wether you like it or not. Complete rest for 3 months. Well I got 2 months and 1 week as Dani was going nuts. I insisted we fully reset, and then we will come back and have 3 more years to show how great she can be. It was, and still is my estimation that in 2019 the world will see ‘the bird’ at her very best. 2018 was the reset.
The 70.3 worlds were not on our calendar at all this year. But a bird with no wing damage just got better and better as the season went along. The big break had Dani come back looking stronger than ever. So we didn’t stop training or taper, went to Port Elizebeth and was fantastic. On to Kona with another incident free 6 weeks of training. So we were ready for a very good performance.
However Dani so easily could have not started. But somehow she did. Stung by jellyfish under both arm pits 2 minutes before the race start, both arms went numb and the pain excruciating. Watching the online broadcast, as the athletes strung out early in the swim there was no Dani in the first 15, she was not in the first 20, somethings wrong!
Those who know how Dani is at training, understand ‘very good’ is not near good enough to make her happy. After last years Kona race, every swim session was just was not good enough, no matter how well she swam. Her 5 minutes 30 seconds down out of the water in 2017, what an embarrassment never again, was her mantra. ‘You’re not training me hard enough in the swim’, whether a 6k or 7k swim session. Just not hard enough coach ‘you have gone soft’ on more than one or ten occasions. Countered with ‘you could do backstroke in the swim and still win’.
So when Dani started the bike on race day, I received a few messages from smart arse squad members, asking if she had decided to test out the theory, exiting the water over 10 minutes down. To their credit, they also added that, if she doesn’t have a reaction to the stings we think she can still do it, as no female rides like her.
So it was to be, and for those saying ‘its impossible for a women to ride that fast’, I don’t disagree, if we all didn’t see it every fast workout on the bike in training camp. The most terrifying thing for all the ITU boys is to hear was ‘you ride with the bird today’. The iron men didn’t cry, but they knew the solid day would be race pace all the way, no matter what the distance. Getting chicked by Dani is not dishonourable in our squad. Is she as fast as the top 20 men in a time trial? You bet she is, and any man in our squad will be more than pleased to tell you.
To then run sub 3 hours after such an incredible lone ride is a good achievement. Why only good? Because here is the scary thing, Dani’s race while unbelievable to most, still isn’t her best. She has more improvement. She can swim 7 minutes faster, we would all agree. But I think she can run 7 minutes faster in 2019. Yes I know that sounds crazy but I believe the bird has not peaked yet.
However, last Saturday makes her happy not just for the win but because she again erased any doubts from herself and of lesser importance me, that she is a true super champ. One who overcomes adversity and finds a way to win when others could not. Thus gets my vote as the greatest female long course athlete ever!
As the countdown to Kona begins, the build up is reaching fever pitch. The Triathlon community is immersed in debate, insider tidbits on social media, and as a whole can’t wait for Saturday week. In stark contrast, the ITU in their wisdom, still cling to the theory that making the last race of the convoluted World Triathlon Series a double points race, is what makes the Triathlon communities knees tremble in expectation.
I’m afraid that the ITU executive is now so detached from the reality on the ground, that it’s hard to understand how to even communicate with them. If the ITU didn’t have the Olympics to prop it up, they would sink without a trace. For 9 years now, there has not been a World Championship race.
Here is a simple 1, 2, 3 to explain:
1 – If the best athletes decide not to follow the series, then we don’t have the best of the best racing in the final.
2 – We have in the final race, athletes vying for points, not for victory, to make sure their ranking is not risked.
3 – Outside of the most ardent supporters, the parents and associates of the competitors, nobody knows what is going on at all.
We have the World Series (WTS), World Cups (if you are in Europe), European cup races, and let’s not forget the Continental Cup races.
How do we understand the different stepping stones to the World Series when it is not defined, marketed, or explained to even its own constituency?
If that isn’t a clear enough conflict let’s go a step further. How do you gather new followers, when if you want to watch a race on free to air TV, YouTube, social media, the ITU charges you for the privilege? Nothing more than gouging it’s own supporters for extra revenue. Simultaneously, making very sure that anyone that has ever tuned in to sports on TV on a lazy Sunday won’t discover this brand of Triathlon.
One would think the ITU executive would really know they have an image problem when I know multiple high performance athletes, coaches and past champions who do not subscribe to the pay to view ITU channel. They have zero interest.
So another year has passed. Another year the ITU has no clue who is their best athlete on any given day.
The upside for them of course is they don’t have to market their best athletes, as their greatest opportunity over the last 10 years has passed. Brothers Brownlee were the greatest billboard to carry the sport to a new level. While they are household names in Yorkshire, and known throughout England (great tea advert boys), if you are not a triathlete, it’s a zero. Gwen was allowed to move on without a word being said to her; when the grind of the circuit wore her down. I know for a fact after Nicola Spirig’s Olympic Gold medal win in 2012, that the only word she was sent was ‘you have one day left before you miss the deadline to the next race’. I kid you not!
As all get excited to see the clash of the Ironman titans at Kona, one genuinely hopes that not all on the ITU executive board have gone to sleep, as it is tiring following the circuit they put together – even if you are not racing! I say to them, watch the Triathlon worlds reaction when you give them a World Championship race.
The experiment of who has the most points at the end of a series has failed. Hanging on to it is only making this part of the sport more irrelevant by the season. It’s now time to bring back a World Championship race for Olympic distance Triathlon.