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Nature or nurture?

Have you ever considered why you may not reach the same levels of performance as say Nicola Spirig or Daniela Ryf? You may put it down to not training hard enough or not having the time to put in that much effort. In fact. It may not be your fault.

In general, there are two categories of triathletes that perform at the highest level: the genetically talented or gifted athlete and the athlete with a highly developed capacity to train and a specific training program guiding them.

When athletes perform at the top level they often attribute their success to superior coaching, access to a great training environment or beginning training at a young age. Could their success be attributed to underlying biological predispositions? Genetic traits are thought to account for up to half the variation in performance and the other half in the athletes response to training.

These genetic qualities are not only the inherited characteristics of their parents such as height and arm length, leg length etc, but also muscle fibre type (fast and slow twitch muscle fibres) and the capacity to attain high levels of fitness (maximal oxygen uptake) or inherited cardiovascular traits.

From this perspective, whether you will make a champion or not, is governed by:
a) The type of mix in your anatomical, physiological and behavioural characteristics that you were born with;
b) Proper training, rest and nutrition, and
c) The ability of those inherited characteristics to adapt to the training, rest and nutrition.

Other factors that may affect performance include the trainability of the athlete. There are some people who are what we call “non responders”, who have great difficulty to improve in sport and of course never attain any high performance levels but still find it enjoyable to train and compete. Neuromuscular activity and biomechanics (skill) plays a part in the sport of triathlon but not to the same extent as in single sports. The nature of triathlon does not require perfect skill development. The swim, being in open water and in a group situation does not require a perfect swim stroke to perform well. The bike can be in draft legal or illegal format and does not require the same level of skill as an Olympic cyclist. The run is decided by who is the fastest after the swim and bike, not necessarily the runner with the fastest run time trial. It is often determined by the strongest, fittest runner.


Probably one of the most important factors in producing a high performing athlete is to find individuals who are highly motivated and are likely to persist over the long duration required to produce a champion.

Training over a long period can vary between individuals but could span between 10-15 years. This could be the initial learning of fundamentals of the sport; the building of performance power and capacity; and the reaching of an international level. Once the athlete has reached this level of performance, it is not uncommon that another 6-8 years of competitive experience may be needed to achieve consistent world class rankings.

So taking into account all of the above, there are also the psychological factors. This includes the ability to tolerate pain and fatigue and also dedication and diligence to train and race at such a high level. Other psychological factors that are important include motivation, aggression, focus, the ability to sustain effort, attitudes toward winning and losing, the ability to cope with anxiety and stress, management of distractions, capacity to relax and of course, coach-ability.

Coach-ability encompasses not only following a specific training program but also being tenacious, conscientious, and demonstrating a perseverance and readiness to perform. That is what you need to bring to the table if you wish to improve and succeed in this sport.

Unfortunately there is little that can be done about changing your genetic make up, you will have to live with that, but those people with a highly developed work ethic and a successful system of coaching that is guiding their efforts have a better chance of reaching your true potential.


Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia. Rob is mentor for coaches studying at our Trisutto Coaching Academy online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Trisutto in Guam

Trisutto in Guam

Coach Rob and Manami at the recent Trisutto Camp in Guam.

Manami Iijima began a string of impressive racing with the Subic Bay 70.3 last month, finishing her first race at that distance in 4:53 and placing 1st in the 25-29 age group, and 5th female outright. Two weeks later at the Guam marathon she finished first in 3:23. Another two weeks later the half marathon, 2nd female 1:28.
It is great being here at camp in Guam to see how well Manami is progressing…she is better than I expected….

Having just completed our 2 day camp here in Guam I am very impressed. The training facilities have been superb, and the campers have been so welcoming and enthusiastic. Thank-you for having me, it has been a pleasure.

Well done to all campers in Guam, a superb 2 days.

Race Recap from Coach Mel Mitchell:

Laura (second from left) and Manami (right) celebrating terrific runs in the recent Guam Half Marathon with their friends.

I would like to congratulate Laura Nadeau on a super personal result in the Guam Half Marathon. Laura came on board with me after completing a 16 Week Trisutto Half ironman Program. Upon its completion Laura raced her FIRST 70.3 distance and surprised herself by coming second and earning a place on the start line for World’s 70.3 in September.

Last weekend, Laura competed in the Guam half marathon. She felt confident going into this race, and really wanted to see what time she could do, so I asked her, “what is your plan?”  she said she thought she could run a 1hr.33, holding 4.33 for the first part and dropping down to 4.26’s if feeling good. I thought to myself, hmm, I think closer to 1hr.40 with what her training was showing but who am I to stop her! so I said, get after it, if it all falls apart, don’t worry, we learn more from having a go and failing miserably then going softly and never really knowing!

So with that Laura went out and gave it her all and achieved an amazing 10min PB by running a 1h.36 Half marathon Laura didn’t  hit the 1.33 time she was after, but she was extremely happy with a 10min PB!

Well done Laura, I am super excited about training Laura to see how I can help her going into a world championship event. Laura has just experienced the Trisutto philosophies first hand at the Trisutto Guam Training camp with the awesome Rob Pickard over the past 2 days which will only strengthen our coaching relationship and she will come away a better athlete because of it.

Race Recap from Coach Carson Christen:

A confidence boosting win for Jappas to start the year.

2 races, 2 wins on my side!
Jappas Du Preez had his first race of the season in Southhampton, UK, taking to the start line of the Fast Twitch Sprint this last weekend. This was going to be a good test coming off a bit of a naggy running injury about a month ago, and Jappas didn’t disappoint! Coming out of the 400m swim in the top 10, Jappas then moved to 2nd position off the bike, just a few seconds behind the leader, and was able to produce an excellent test of his leg on the run to take the win! The body is healthy again, the training is consistent and now starting to add some volume ahead of the bigger goals this summer. Great work, Jappas!

Bill Knoedel raced the season opening Elkhart Time Trial Series in Iowa, USA. Not only was Bill able to take the win, but also set a huge 30sec PR over 12km at the first race of the year! With smart and consistent training on the turbo this winter, using a Reverse-Periodization Approach, with low mileage, Bill has already shown he is stronger than ever before! Great job, Bill!

Race Recap from Coach Edith Niederfriniger:

A great test race for Andrea in Cannes.

After knee surgery in December, Andrea Cattabiani (M40-44),was back into regular run training for just a few weeks, but the healing process was excellent and so we decided to give it a go: Cannes International Triathlon! The race has great reputation, beautiful courses and especially the bike course is very though with over 1300+ climbing. Race distance is 2 – 95 – 16km and Andrea finished in 5:44.47 putting together a very constant effort in all three disciplines. So we are very happy with this first test and looking forward to the next races.

Race Recap from Coach Andrew Wright:

Proud coach with his charges in Morocco; Well done Team!

Congrats to Oscar Coggins and James Tan; 24th and 27th at Morocco ITU in the elite men. Boys went fantastic against a stacked field of European athletes. When we bring more intensity into the programme next month they will fly. Full results at this link:

Race Recap from Coach Mat O’Halloran:

A run to be proud of! Congratulations Jong. Photo Credit: Leimomi Pacursa

This past Monday, at the 121st edition of the world-famous Boston Marathon in the USA, top Filipino age grouper Jong Sajulga was in action, competing in his 2nd consecutive Boston marathon. After a solid run focus block, with little racing, Jong once again executed his race very well, and accomplished his target, of running sub 2h50, more specifically, 2h48:56. This resulting in a ~5 minutes PR, established here in Boston last year.

This result is very encouraging for Jong who has been steadily and gradually making progress, over the past few years. Running each of his 4 marathons, slightly faster than the previous. Now, this makes the rest of the triathlon season very promising!

Congratulations to all our athletes competing this weekend. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Using Specificity and Progressive Overload in Training

Using Specificity and Progressive Overload in Training

I’ve often been asked what are the two things that make a great triathlete?  I always say consistency and effort in training. Of course, possessing a great physiology and mental toughness is an advantage as well, but when it comes to training principles, it is my opinion that Specificity and Progressive Overload are the two that are most important.

What is Specificity and Progressive Overload in training?
Specificity in not only the type of training, that is swimming, cycling and running, but also in the intensity of effort. Progressive Overload, is gradually increasing workload volume, intensity, or frequency of training over time.

You probably realise by now that at Trisutto we don’t spend much time on what is not specific to triathlon. Our training routines rotate around those activities that we use when racing, that is lots of swimming, biking and running. Lots of “switching” and “bricks”. Not much stretching, weights, or yoga.

The same could be said for the intensities that we train. While there is the bulk of training at intensities lower than race pace, there is also a prescribed amount at race pace and a smaller amount just above race pace. Rarely do we need to train at maximum intensities.

A good example of this is one of our regular run sessions. I remember discussing with Brett Sutton over 20 year ago, about how he learnt to become a triathlon coach from being a swim coach. His reply was that ‘he knew nothing about biking and running, but just applied the same principles as he had learnt in swimming’. Therefore, his run sets were designed like swim sets, i.e. longer, less intense running with a short recovery. I was taught with running, being a higher intensity activity, the work to rest ratio should be 1:3. Brett just turned that around (3:1) and it soon convinced me that he was on to something that has been a great weapon for coaches who are willing to treat triathlon as one sport and not three separate sports.


Specific overload at Trisutto age group camp in Australia 

Specificity and Progressive Overload Training in Action
As an example, lets consider a running workout on the athletics track.

4 x 200m leaving on 1 minute.

Initially doing 4 repeats of this 4 x 200m, and an additional 30 seconds rest between each of these 4 sets.  We can add an additional repeat each week, building up to 8 repeats of 4 x 200m. Your 200m pace should be approximately race pace for a 5km running race. Over the weeks, we progressively overload through increasing the volume, while maintaining the same rest periods.

Once this is achieved, we can move from 8 sets of 4 x 200m, to 4 sets of 8 x 200m while still maintaining the 60 second send off for each 200m, and still keeping an additional 30 seconds rest between each of the sets.  We do the same number of 200m intervals (32), but have fewer of the 30 seconds rest periods as we are doing them broken into 4 sets, not 8 sets.  

From here we could move to 4 sets of 10 x 200m (3.2km total),  2 sets of 25 x 200m,  and finally to 1 set of 50 x 200m (10km total) still maintaining the same send off of 1 minute for each 200m.

You will notice in this example that the time base has remained the same (1 minute), however the specific overload has increased. The number of 200m intervals has increased from 32 to 50. There has been a reduction in the amount of rest in the workout as we moved from 8 repeats with 30 seconds additional rest between each, then to 4 repeats, then to 2 repeats and finally to 50 x 200m without any additional rest periods.

Yes this is a tough workout, but you are progressively overloading as you become fitter.  You are also resting after every 200m (the time between finishing one 200m and starting the next one), you are working your cardiovascular system, but not completely exhausting your muscular system, as you would do if you ran the same distance (10km) at that same speed continuously. This allows holding better form, with less injury risk, while being able to train the neuromuscular system at ‘race pace’ in a planned and progressive approach throughout the whole year.

The same principles can be achieved running 400s or even 800s. It is all about being Specific and Overload.


Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia.
Rob is holding camps in Guam and Subic Bay, in April online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Ageing and Recovery

Ageing and Recovery

At the 70.3 World Championships. Athletes are competing competitively for longer.

As more and more people stay longer in the sport of Triathlon or decide to try the sport for the first time at an advanced age, then recovery can become an important consideration. In some ways age may or may not be the amount of birthdays you have had, but the amount of training years you have behind you. The more training years you have, can have a positive effect on the age of the athlete.

Less than 40 years ago it was commonly thought that being over 30 was ‘too old’ and athletes should retire. Not only in contact sports but also endurance events. Swimmers rarely reached the age of 20 and continued competitively in the sport. Runners would sometimes hang around a bit longer, but then a Portuguese runner named Carlos Lopes broke the Olympic record to take the Gold Medal in 1984 at 37 years of age. A record that stood 30 years later!

In the sport of triathlon we don’t have to look far for excellent age group performances. Dave Scott finishing 2nd behind Greg Welch at Hawaii when over 40 years-old being one stand out.


Craig Alexander, 3 times Hawaii Ironman winner and record holder in his late 30s now at age 43 has just won at least four competitive 70.3’s in the last 6 months. The list can go on, but the point is I don’t consider 40 as being ‘old or ‘non competitive’. The two guys I mention had been around triathlon for over 20 years and other related sports for another 10.

While the amount of time that Craig Alexander puts into his training now is probably 50% of what he did in his Ironman glory days, he is still a super competitive athlete. He can do this because he has put the miles in previously; his arms and legs have a memory bank of thousands of kilometres. While he still carries out slower rides and runs, he does not do as much. When completing higher intensity efforts he tries to ensure he stays injury free. I remember reading an article back in the 90s where Dave Scott mentioned much of the same.

So I find it highly amusing that some triathlon magazines or coaches will give an example of a triathlon legend’s training program to a “newbie” athlete and intimate that if you follow this workout you will somehow be as good as the legend. Unfortunately it does not work this way.

Training, intensity and recovery is not dependent on age, but time in sport and more specifically time in triathlon. If a coach is not aware of that factor then how can they plan a suitable program? Here at we as coaches set daily programs so that “triathletes can train today so that they can train tomorrow”. It is self defeating if the program on one day is so brutal that the triathlete can’t face up to training the next day. Sure we have recovery days of lighter activity or just a session of swim, but frequent consistency and effort are two important principles of our training.

Carlos_Lopes21984 Olympic marathon Champion, Carlos Lopes.

So, how much intensity and how much recovery is enough? Well that depends on the individual in question. Age is just one factor in many that has to be considered. What I can tell you is that from my own personal experience at 65 years-old, I find that the higher the intensity of the training sessions or the race, the longer it takes me to recover. If I race (Standard Distance) on the Sunday and when I front up for interval training on a Tuesday evening, my legs are still tired and lacking of what speed they may have had. I still do the session but I do it slower! If I race a 70.3, the following 10 days I am still recovering, but I keep training albeit lower intensity, less running and more swimming.

The swim session is used extensively at for a number of reasons, but one being recovery. You can still get a medium to high intensity cardiovascular workout when you are tired without any more stress on your already tired legs (use a pull buoy) and the legs usually feel improved and less fatigued after.

Two other things I have found with ageing are the longer time it takes to get over an injury and how little use stretching is. Two topics I will leave for another time as I know people’s opinion can vary.

Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia. He is an Age Group Triathlon World Champion. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Strength Training and Conditioning

Strength Training and Conditioning camper Derek learning about strength specific work in the water.

‎After the introduction of Rob Pickard to our stable of coaches we have put him straight to work with a blog on the do’s and dont’s of strength training. Rob being an over 60 world champion triathlete can relate to the strength needs and adjustments of, as he puts it, the more ‘mature athletes’ who need to make for optimum health as well as controlling strength depreciation with age. Hope you enjoy ‎his perspective.

In my opinion, Triathlon racing is all about strength. Not how much power a triathlete pushes out in any one or two instances, but how much power the triathlete pushes out over the whole event. This is called strength endurance.

After battling choppy water and other competitors in the swim, then grinding away on the bike for a couple of hours, the last leg of the triathlon does not necessarily result in the quickest “pure” runner in the field winning the race. It is usually the strongest runner.

Two of the most basic training principles in any physiology textbook are:

Progressive Overload and Specificity.

The first is self explanatory. It refers to the build up of training loads (frequency, time and intensity) slowly.

The second means basically to practise what you are doing. That is swim, bike, or run and then repeat, repeat, and repeat!

So how do we build strength?

Well in the swim you can use paddles and a band, plus a part of the program should concentrate on Speed (25m all out efforts); On the bike, get out in the hills, pick an especially nice steep one and do repeats up that. Sit down in the saddle and from time to time stand up and ‘stamp those pedals’. The run is similar – use hills over varying terrain or choose one specific hill.

What about weights?

I do not have a problem with weights, but it means another session of training. It means more fatigue when tackling your swim, bike and run sessions. So at we believe it may be best left for off season work or a minimal commitment during the season.

Brett Sutton discussing strength work being incorporated into the plans.

With that, I think weight training is great for injury rehabilitation and prevention, especially in the ‘older’ or let me say the more ‘mature’ triathlete.

Strength training should be aimed at muscle endurance; Higher repetitions and moderate to light weights. This will increase the ability of the muscle to exert a force over a longer period. Efficiency and force both improve. This a result of fewer muscle fibres being recruited to sustain a certain workload and time to exhaustion is extended.

Using your own body weight exercises are recommended such as push ups, burpees, chin ups, dips, squats and sit-ups. Circuit training (moderate repetitions, low resistance and short rests, several sets) produce slow twitch (endurance) adaptation can also be used. The aerobic gains from such a program are smaller than what can be achieved by training specifically aerobically (swim, bike, run). This is not to say that they can’t be an assistance in cross training, variety of exercise and muscle endurance, but you have to weigh up the cost in terms of time and fatigue.

Muscular strength and aerobic endurance are poorly correlated. Increasing muscle size without a proportional increase in oxidative capacity could be viewed as harmful to performance in an endurance athlete who has to carry that extra weight, especially in the run. Heavy weight training fails to improve the endurance characteristics of skeletal muscle, therefore would not improve endurance.

There are many excellent triathletes and single endurance athletes who have never touched a weight and competed extremely well and there are others who have supplemented their program with weight training. The choice is yours but take into consideration: can I get the same gains from implementing more strength work while I swim, bike and run? If using other exercises, keep it to moderate weights and high repetitions (20-30) or just body weight. The key question to ask: Is this having a positive affect on my triathlon speed and endurance?

View Coach Rob’s full profile here. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.