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The Three Golden Rules: Kona

The Three Golden Rules: Kona

As we see on social media many are now at or heading to the big island, excited for the big show.

Each athlete will be champing at the bit to pull out the bike and hammer down the Queen K. There will be three types of athletes there by now.

The ‘Worker Bees’. The guys who have been working hard, saving up their money and holidays so they can be here for the biggest race in Ironman. They will have missed vital workouts, had to shorten others and now think they’ve got a whole 10 days to catch up and get their final work in.

The ‘Long Taper’ Brigade. This group are content ‘knowing’ all the work is done, so they’re happy to just to chill out and relax. They will be well at ease with themselves as most will have a coach who has a dogma for long tapers, and has assured them all will be OK.

Finally, we have ‘Deep Thinkers’. Similar to the ‘Long Tapers’, but are not overly convinced by their coaches and so are worried they’re going to wreck their race by too little work. This group tries to settle down, but on about day three start to think over everything very deeply and decide ‘I do really need to do a little more, if I’m careful it won’t hurt’.

Now, I’m not having a go at anyone in the above three categories and neither am I presumptuous enough to tell anyone what they should do. But this is the advice I give to my own athletes (pro and age-group) who have found themselves on the big island with just under two weeks to go. It has served the Trisutto squad pretty successfully and while it may not make you quicker, it may just save your race.

So, the three Golden Kona rules that don’t change no matter how fast or slow you are.

1) Stick to your own routine:

If that means in London you always swim in a pool, don’t now start swimming in the beautiful ocean just because you don’t have it at home. If you normally swim at 7am, don’t go swimming at 7pm so “I can watch the sunset”. If you usually run on a treadmill, get out and find one in Kona.

2) Stick to your own sets:

If you have been doing 3-months of certain sets, DON’T (you hearing me!?) Don’t start watching the pros and say I’ll give that a bit of a try because it could improve me. It won’t and it could kill your performance. That goes for the swim, the bike, and the run. If the race is over and you still want to try it, then be my guest. But not before the race.

3) Stick to your own nutrition:

Don’t go changing your race food or lead up nutrition. ‘But Sutto, it’s hotter here’. I know that. I also know that the biggest group walking along Alii Drive come race day are those that took steps to change their eating going into and during this race, because ‘Wow! It’s hotter than I thought.’ It is too late to change now. Stick to what you know.

In conclusion, you’ll find the golden rules have absolutely nothing to do with enhancing anything. That’s because when you hit the big island the biggest performance enhancer is not changing a thing. Go with what you’ve got and go knowing ‘this is what got me here in the first place!’

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Cyprus or Gran Canaria.


How to Really Get Race Day Nutrition Right

How to Really Get Race Day Nutrition Right

Athletes training at our Kona ‘Hell Week’ camp in Lanzarote earlier this month. Photo: James Mitchell Photography

Every year pre-Kona I’m inundated with enquiries about race day nutrition, often sparked by articles of ex-athletes giving out advice they didn’t use themselves when they were at the top of their game.

This is not an article to get into the pros and cons of different nutrition strategies, but rather a directive to Trisutto athletes on behalf of your dismayed coaches. Hold the line! Stick with the plan you have worked out with your coach and practiced in the run up to what should be a celebration of your ultimate day in multisport.

The temptation to try something new, or take on tips and advice from people that don’t know you in the misguided belief that it could help you on the big day, when the nerves and insecurities are already starting to bubble, is to invite disaster.

You have planned your feeding, you have practiced the plan in qualification. Now on race day work that plan! If you’re under pressure aid stations should be looked at as islands from heaven.

I can tell you there are more theories, opinions and half cocked research about race day nutrition than you can count. The majority of which would be a compliment to refer to as ‘pseudoscience’. But whatever the potential merits, positive or negative, so close to the race are irrelevant.

At this point in time, the advice of sticking with what you have practiced is the only good advice you’re going to get.

Similarly, changing sessions after hitting the Kona highway or pool because a 55 year old male or female blows past you while you’re on your easy ride is as ridiculous as one can imagine. Yet every year it will happen. They maybe having the best session of their lives, only problem is it’s on the wrong day. Leave them to it.

We open every Trisutto camp with a lecture about the sport. What is Ironman triathlon really?

I make very clear that at Trisutto we believe swim, bike and run come a bad 3rd, 4th and 5th in priority. To me the most important disciplines of Ironman are:

1. Hydration

2. Calorie intake!

No athlete on the second Saturday of October at Kona will be celebrating a great race performance unless you have nailed these two features.

Having a few extra calories will be far more preferable than having too little! You can bet on it.

Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Cyprus or Gran Canaria.

Triathlon: Appearance vs Performance

Triathlon: Appearance vs Performance

As a coach one of my main tasks is to readjust the athletes’ focus whenever they get carried away.

Triathlon is a strange sport! Lots of athletes training and competing sometimes seem more concerned about their appearance than their performance. Well, not entirely. For sure they want to have a good race and it’s everybody’s dream to qualify for the big show in Hawaii at least once in a lifetime. But on the way to that target, many athletes confuse things and end up worrying more about their appearance than their performance without even noticing it.

Rather than by the speed you are moving forward, coaches and athletes judge your swim by technique and the beauty of your stroke. If you’re running like Zatopek, it cannot be good, even if you’re as fast as him. You are measured by the dogmas of posture and cadence instead. And the bike setup has to look fast, even if you’re anything but fast on the bike. Everybody needs a fancy bike with a big drop even if that means that they ride on the base bars 90 kilometers into the race.

However, body weight is the biggest area where appearance and performance get confused.

Go to any race and watch the bike check-in. Everybody looks incredibly fit and confident. Everybody is ripped. Everybody looks fast! But don’t be fooled: A lot of that is fake. Most of this super fit looking bodies only mask a super small engine.

IMG_33815,000 calories a day. Triathlon might not be such a bad sport after all.

Triathletes are obsessed with their body and weight and therefore with nutrition in general. To such an extent that their focus on performance often becomes replaced with a focus on nutrition.

Every time when during one of my talks I describe the typical 6h-training-day of a professional triathlete I get the reaction: “Wow, 6h of training! How many calories do you burn then?” It’s around 5,000 a day. “Wow, so you can really eat a lot!” And you can see the face of your counterpart brightening up by the imagination of the amount of food he will be able to eat. Triathlon might be a really great sport…

Actually, many athletes come to triathlon because of weight issues in the first place. Eating disorders are not an uncommon problem amongst professional and age group triathletes. Many athletes only train more to be able to eat more afterwards. They try to balance their binge eating with binge training.

As a matter of course, there is nothing wrong with eating or training for looking good. Just consider that there might be much more efficient and less time consuming ways to manage your weight than training 12+ hours per week for an Ironman.

Be honest and clear with yourself with what you want to achieve. Eating for appearance is an entirely different thing than eating for performance. For other sports like weight lifting or sumo wrestling that’s very evident. But this is more than true for triathlon as well.

If you have performance goals, don’t confuse performance with appearance. By eating to try and look fast, many athletes forget to fuel properly to actually be fast. As a coach one of my main tasks is to readjust the athletes’ focus whenever they get carried away. I’m in the be-fast-business. A focus on nutrition should only aid the development of performance – and must never replace it.

Always keep in mind: There is no artistic score in triathlon and it isn’t a beauty contest either!

Jo Spindler is a multiple professional Ironman winning coach, who has also guided over 20 Kona and Ironman 70.3 World Championship age group qualifiers. Sign up for coaching with Coach Jo here

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

Project Ironman: The Fundamentals Part 2

In part-one of my blog I covered the importance of having the right motivation and training plan to achieve your Ironman goals. These are just the first steps to success, you need to practice what you will do on race day, this not only includes the obvious, such as nutrition and pacing, but also race mindset.

Mindful Training
To achieve quality IM training with the limited time most Age Groupers have, you must invest yourself in every session, 100%. If you have a 30min easy spin scheduled as a recovery, engage yourself in the process mentally, physically and emotionally, channeling all your energy to accomplishing the aim – promoting restoration. If you get on the bike and just go through the motions, checking your e-mail, Twitter and FB feeds, then you are putting in the famous “garbage miles”. Likewise, if you do the same during rest intervals in an intensity session, you just compromised that “quality” – see my point reference the term…Use every training session to practice staying on task, focusing and concentrating without compromise. If you let the mind wander the body will follow. Ironman is an agonizingly long day. Make each moment count and you will save time and energy.

While it is essential to listen to your body for signs and cues expressing fatigue it is also important to anticipate the need for scheduled rest. Remember that recovery is training. Consider it as a discipline. The body becomes stronger when allowed to absorb the preceding training. With the higher volume demand of IM training, especially as one approaches the race itself, recovery and regeneration become ever more important. Ignore it at your peril.

Work Your TOP
Suffering is part of IM. There is no hiding from it. Therefore as part of your physical and mental preparation you need to work your pain tolerance, or Threshold of Pain (TOP). This may include a once in a while session that takes you well outside your comfort zone. So don’t wait until race day to discover it. Practice it in training to help you develop coping mechanisms.

That also means being able to endure in solitude. While you may be “racing with 3,000 of your closest friends” the fact remains that IM is a lonely, solo effort. Those in particular who need the companionship of others to get their homework done should incorporate long solo HTFU (harden the ….. up)  sessions into their regime. The mental resilience and tenacity gained will help through those dark moments that will inevitably taunt you to quit or feel sorry for yourself. Likewise it will enhance your judgment and decision making when under pressure and fatigued.

This is probably the biggest downfall for some of the most talented athletes. Correct pacing in an IM is key. Rehearse in training what you will execute on race day. Then on race day, have the discipline to stick to your pacing.

Cramping is a common phenomenon in IM racing, and is always addressed under nutrition. I chose to tackle it here as it is more the result of improper pacing than dehydration and electrolyte deficiency. More often than not participants get caught up in the electrifying ambiance of race day and lose all self-discipline and sense of judgement, hammering out of the gates, pushing their muscles to work at an intensity and duration they are unaccustomed to. The muscles become exceedingly stressed subverting the neuromuscular pathways and causing spasmodic contractions. Bottom line – rehearse your pacing, groove it, execute it, stick with it.

Nutrition (including hydration) is the fourth discipline of IM. It can be quite controversial and perplexing given the regular bombardment of contradictory information from the “latest research”. For this blog’s purpose I will only refer to nutrition preparation for IM competition vice daily dietary recommendations.

Like swimming, biking and running, you need to train it. Train your gut to ingest the quantities you need, and do so often under race pace stress, not just during a comfortable rest interval. My best advice is to take in calories frequently, rather than gulping or chewing bigger portions periodically.

One thing to be attentive to is the difference between ingestion (the quantity taken in) and rate of absorption (what is actually be taken up by your digestive system). The two are not the same and what is recommended in mainstream literature may not be suitable to you. There is no magic formula, only your individual requirements. So adhere to these two simple principles – know what you need per hour based on what you can tolerate and absorb, and ingest those calories in forms that suit your palate, and satisfy you physically and psychologically. There is no right or wrong only what works for you.

Know ahead of time what will be supplied on race course and try it. If you are accustomed to Gatorade Endurance and will race in Europe where say High5 is used or Australia where Endura is used, then sample some before to ensure that your stomach can handle the formulation. If not, then you know you need to plan around that limitation. If yes, then train with it so you have the flexibility to safely supplement on course when needed.

In training practice your nutrition and hydration timing. Rehearse it. Drill it in. Make it habitual. But be flexible. Practice and assess your nutritional decisions in training (based on the road profile ahead and environmental conditions) to minimize hesitation on race day.

If you plan to race with caffeine, train with it as well. Not every session, but periodically when doing race specific (long) sessions. Caffeine can also lead to cramping indirectly. Caffeine tempers our sense of pain and stimulates us to perform. Often caffeine is only used in races, and in higher quantities than accustomed to, to get that extra turbo charge. Add this to an already over-excited environment and the risk of pushing one’s muscles beyond what they are able to handle goes up significantly.

Fuel for performance. We have control over our nutrition (and pacing). Therefore there should be no (controllable reason) that bonking occurs, in training or racing. Plan your nutrition to optimize each training session especially on multi-session days. Avoid looking at each session in isolation. Always assess what came before, the demands and aim of the actual session and, what is to come after and when. This way you remain proactive in fueling and replenishing appropriately. This habit will preserve you on IM day because when you start reacting to nutritional needs you are already behind the 8-ball.

There is a lot involved preparing for an IM. But before you focus and obsess on the sexy marginal gains promised by the latest gadget, widget or elixir, follow these fundamental principles as the underlying foundation to your Ironman training and ultimately your race day success.

Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.

Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

The Race Weight Debate

The Race Weight Debate

We are now well into 2017, with a few races completed and some big events on the horizon, many athletes are training hard and starting to increase their training volume. With key races getting closer I have started having athletes approach me to debate “Race Weight”.

Making now a good time to talk about proper triathlon nutrition practice. As Coach Brett says in his article from 2014, ‘Race Weight is very important, but it isn’t something that should run your life based on the latest and greatest diet!’ With all the information out there today, you can’t go anywhere without seeing conflicting information on whether or not you should be Gluten Free, Ketotic, or Carb-Heavy. What seems to be the common occurrence in athletes is they aren’t getting enough fuel to properly execute their training and races. Your body has enough energy stored up as muscle Glycogen to fuel approximately 2 hours of hard effort. I’ve had athletes come to me saying they didn’t have enough energy for that 1 hour endurance ride, or 40-min endurance run. As soon as I see this trend in an athlete, I immediately ask what were they eating the previous 5 days? The general result is…. Not enough carbohydrate, fat and especially protein! Many athletes are effectively starving themselves of energy.

The numbers
Athletes are being told they need to be light weight in order to be fast, this is true only to a certain extent. If you get so light that your muscles have no energy or force, you will fail in training and on race day. Middle distance and long distance racing are strength, not speed sports. General guidelines for highly active athletes are 1.2-1.4g/kg (4 kcal/g) Protein, and anywhere from 25-30% calories (9 kcal/g) from Fat. For a 55kg Female, this would be at least 66g (264kcal) of protein per day. For a 75kg male, that is at least 90g/kg (360kcal). Calculate it yourself, where do you stand? In times of heavy training before a race, you can bet that your body needs upwards of 1.4g/kg or so protein. With fat, if you are eating 2500kcal/day, you need 69-89g (~625-750 kcal) of fat, or for 3500kcal, 97-116g (~875-1050kcal). Look at those numbers! Way higher than I bet many think they need. When athletes start restricting calories, fat and protein are generally the two macro-nutrients that suffer, with this often comes low energy, decreased training benefit, sickness, or injury.

Ok, so away from all the numbers. For short races such as a Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, you can get away with being a bit lighter and using that low weight to be “faster”. As soon as you move to the long course races, it become essential that you maintain your strength, over speed. Find out how many calories you need per hour when training, and make sure that you’re getting enough to fuel your body. When you’re looking at losing weight, try for no more than 1kg (2lb) per week, you need to have the energy to keep going, day after day, and hour after hour on race day.

“You’ll find that you race better in an Ironman with a little too much (weight) than a little too less.” – Coach Brett Sutton.

Don’t shy away from that cheesecake or chocolate when you’re training hard! Make sure you reward, don’t starve yourself! If you enjoy Reeses Peanut Butter Cups or Snickers, then go ahead and eat them, especially if you are training hard or during a race! Find out what works for you, and don’t change it! You’re out there trying to achieve a personal best, please, don’t skip on the essential fuels. If you are practicing Gluten Free, Vegetarian, or Ketotic Diets, then by all means do so it if it makes you feel better, but don’t do it because “they” told you it’s better. Everyone is different and what works for one athlete will not necessarily work for another.

The KISS Principle applies to diet. If you struggle to read the name or number of ingredients, you probably should pass on it. Also, enjoy the foods that make you happy, some more in moderation than others. A maintainable diet in moderation, is the best path to success and consistency.

Click here for an additional blog on the athlete weight debate.
AMERICAN COLLEGE of SPORTS MEDICINE. “Nutrition and Athletic Performance.”Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 32.12 (2000): 2130-2145.

Carson Christen is a Sports Scientist and Trisutto Coach based in Germany
Join Carson at the Sursee Training Camp, Switzerland on March 25. online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.

Lessons from Ironman South Africa

Lessons from Ironman South Africa

Since working more intensively with age group athletes one thing I’ve struggled with is when they have a better and more detailed knowledge of a range ‘instant performance’ products than I do. How to respond when presented with a barrage of statistics on various pieces of equipment and nutritional supplements down to their exact micro usage?

It often takes a day down the coal mine at a race like Ironman South Africa, one of the toughest out there, to expose the realities of what it really takes to develop ‘instant’ performance:

The Success

Rafal Medal has earned his spot at Kona in his first race of the year. Congratulations, Rafal. A great achievement. His pre-season training was done predominately in the dead of an English winter from his living room – through turbo workouts and the run machine.

Historically, Rafal has always had a problem of walking some portions of the run. This race he was able to complete the whole run as a ‘run’, walking only the targeted aid stations to top up his needs. A huge success to see his last 10km, usually the ‘worst part of my race’, turn into the best part on a hot and dehydrating type of day.

The turnaround? Upon investigation of Rafal’s race day diet I thought he may have been an agent for the nutritional supplements industry, such was the complicated group of food products he would consume while racing.

So back to basics: chocolate milk in the bidden, Mars bars in the pocket and a Polish chocolate brand to break up the taste of the same thing for 10 hours.

Returning the focus to the 3 nutritional rules for getting through an Ironman:

1) Making correct nutrition decisions under pressure.

2) Knowing the amount of calories you need per hour.

3) Taking those calories in food stuffs and in ways that you are both physically and psychologically comfortable with.

The Learning Curve

Our second age group athlete, Alicja, was also ready for a great race only to have it taken away by a series of technical difficulties on the bike.

In our sport we see the prevalent use of electronic gear shifters. I don’t like them. I’ve seen too many failures using such equipment for me to feel otherwise. Negligible (if any) improvement in speed, and in return you risk being rendered completely useless out on the race course if anything goes wrong. Such was the case for Alicja.

To those who will inevitably want to debate the use of digital shifters I would point out that one of the greatest road and time trial cyclists of all time, Fabian Cancellara, has long preferred not to use them (or power meters for that matter). Alberto Contador, who we know is not averse to any performance enhancement has also traditionally preferred mechanical. (References below).

Unfortunately Alicja then had to deal with another problem, a faulty seat clamp, or maybe a faulty husband setting up her bike after travelling!

Over the years I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this with the pros. They travel to a race at great expense only to have to pull out with a self inflicted mechanical. A bolt not tightened here or there, gears not meshing, or a dead battery.

“But I had them checked before the trip.”

Take my tip: On race day the booths are full of bike mechanics. Yes, they may be doing another job, but I’ve long found paying for 5 minutes of their time to give your bike a once over, checking the gears, tyres and seat is a great investment. The last thing you want is for it all to come crashing down because you have failed to tighten a bolt to the correct tension.

Alicja, to her credit, battled away in one gear and no seat until she reached a mechanical bay. She kept going and proved her courage by ripping out the best run split in her age group. That takes guts and we salute her fine effort.

Top 5The Top 5 men and women pros at Ironman South Africa.

The Development Continues

Finally, we have Matt Trautman’s recovery effort in the pro ranks. When the Captain first came to squad with high hopes for Kona he was informed that with his current swim he was dreaming. I thought he could concentrate on the lesser events, or alternatively, take it upon himself to get his swim to the point where he could be competitive. He has chosen the latter course and after two separate swim stimulus programs has since improved immeasurably.

He will have no doubt received plenty of advice suggesting that he should be concentrating on his bike-run weapons as ‘What’s the difference if you swim 3 minute faster in an 8-hour Ironman?’

Well Sunday should underline the importance to all pro athletes of an Ironman swim. Straight from the starter’s gun Matty was not in it as against the ‘big dogs’ the race for the podium was over within the first 600m.

He fought bravely to recover and eventually finish fourth, being the first South African home. But we’re about the big picture. If he wants to get amongst them at the big show in Kona then those three minutes are everything to his career.

The good news is I know he will be in the pool this morning searching for those minutes. Like all good captains, you don’t have to show them twice how to navigate away from the rocks.

Cancellara and Contador references:

Cancellara’s bikes otherwise share nearly everything. Like at Ronde van Vlaanderen, his Paris-Roubaix bike goes battery-free, save for the SRM PowerControl 7 computer head. The Shimano Dura-Ace STI Dual Control levers are connected to the derailleurs with actual braided steel cables and there’s no power meter present. Cancellera prefers to race on ‘feel’ and no one is going to argue with that approach as it’s served him very well so far.

Contador’s new bike features an FSA K-Force Light crankset – 53/39T chainrings, naturally – equipped with an SRM power meter. There’s no Di2 here, Contador is running mechanical Dura-Ace 9000. The Spaniard is also using Roval Rapide CLX 40 tubular wheels with CeramicSpeed bearings (also on the headset) to ensure ultra-smooth rolling. The wheels are wrapped in S-Works Turbo Tubular Allround tyres.