The racing season has begun and we are barely one month into it and our new group of pros and age groupers alike are making every mistake in the book.
As this is a constant theme for most triathletes I thought I’d jot down five points to help:
a) Using your race as a family holiday.
I personally love this approach, however to travel the week before the race not only diminishes your performance but dampens the holiday as mum or dad (usually dad) are continually putting what they think they need in terms of rest, food and preparatory training first. I would suggest instead going into the race late as possible, and then spending the following week or days enjoying the down time by doing fun things without the anxiety of having the race on your mind.
b) Flying to close destinations instead of driving.
If the race is less than 500km away I encourage all our athletes who can to drive to the destination. It is much less stressful than pulling your bike apart and putting it back together. The risk of bike damage on the voyage also tends to be greater on flights than in the car.
Secondly, while the flight might be only an hour, you put great stress on your immune system. You are in a different environment in the best case and at the worst you walk off the plane with the sickness of the guy 5 rows behind you!
Another rookie mistake is thinking ‘I need to acclimatize as it’s very humid… Or hot… Or at altitude.’ So you have most people arriving 5-7 days early.
This is the worst possible time frame you can do. Yes, the body does start to acclimatise, but it only starts after 48-72 hours.
So you feel OK the first two days, then the body starts to say ‘Whoa, it’s gonna stay hot or humid so I better get used to this’ and the process begins. The 5-7 day range is often when people are at their flattest in the acclimatisation process. 72 hours later you see people climbing out of it shaking their heads ‘What went wrong? I feel great. I did everything right!’
No you didn’t. This is a recurring problem each season and continues to be ignored.
At home do you normally use an air conditioner? If not, this is dynamite. One must adapt to that type of cooling system. And if not it can kill your race by hour 4 of your first night there.
Is your hotel in a quiet area or is it above a pub that has a disco that finished ‘early’ at 2am?
Finally, If you come from a quiet household to staying in a three star hotel with 400 athletes – simple things like going to the buffet can be a stressful new experience. ‘Oh don’t be ridiculous’ I hear you say. But I can tell you having 35 athletes walking past your food looking at what you’re eating can create anxiety for even the coolest of ‘cool cats’ if you’re not used to it.
4) Pre-Race Food
Away from home we at restaurants. I’m sorry to all restauranteurs who are triathletes, but eating out in a new country is inevitably going to cause a greater incidence of let’s say food ‘problems’. I’m not calling it for food poisoning because normally it’s not, but something as little as a different spice on something can send you to the toilet more times than is good for you pre race.
We see many carbo loading with pizza making sure they are completely dehydrated for the next day’s race.
But no! We fight that with about 5 litres of water to make sure they are ‘extra’ hydrated.
This phenomenon usually starts three days before the race. Every race expo is like a competition of who can carry more water bottles, through the day. Meanwhile if it’s just water you are inadvertently washing all the minerals out, so by race day you’re depleted of potassium, magnesium and salt. Here comes the cramps!
We advise all our athletes that from 72 hours keep the food very bland indeed. Nothing spicy, nothing leafy and that waters bottle should have electrolytes in the water!
5) Course Inspection
Most races set out their swim course and make it a point to tell all to enjoy this great venue.
Sickness on race day often doesn’t come from the food but the open water swimming the last two days.
People think that the water is clean and crystal clear then it must be clear of germs. As a cleaner of many pools in my life, I can tell you I’ve seen pools that are crystal clear full of bacteria and I’ve seen pools that you can’t see the bottom of relatively safe. My advice as a coach is to avoid the open water until the day of the race. So then if there is something in it, it takes a day to incubate.
You will have heard many race directors say ‘the locals swim here and are never sick.’ That can be true. But it misses the point. The locals get used to it.
Now of course I’m going to get criticism from this article, but before you send in angry emails about how much I don’t know – consider how many times you have heard ‘I ate something that didn’t agree with me.’ It’s totally common in the Ironman finisher tent.
We call these five points invisible – as all your hard work can be brought undone by falling for one of the above problems that most in triathlon don’t even see coming. Hope it helps.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Melbourne in May, and St.Moritz in June/July, 2018.
“Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out” – R. Collier
It’s officially Spring in the northern hemisphere, and the 2018 triathlon season is now upon us. After scrutinizing last year’s performances, most of us have probably taken steps that we believe will lead to improved results during the upcoming season. One of the steps that we undertake on a yearly basis is goal setting. We identify performance outcomes that are used to define individual success when the dust settles after an event or an entire season. As triathletes, we need goals to serve as incentives for us to remain committed to such a demanding lifestyle of regular physical activity, and to validate the sacrifices that are deemed necessary to our successes. Unfortunately, goals often go unfulfilled due to circumstances that are totally within our control. We often come up short in our pursuits because we set unrealistic goals that are not attainable within our desired timeframe, or we direct our attention more towards the attainment of the goal instead of the pursuit of the goal.
Raise your hand if you, or someone you know has never finished within the top fifty percent of his or her age group in an Ironman race but has declared that one of this season’s goals is to qualify for the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kona. History has shown that you will most likely need to finish in the top two percent of your age group to qualify for a Kona slot, so attaining your goal in one season is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, you download a popular Ironman training plan designed for elite and professional triathletes to get your game to another level because you have a few friends who are doing the same thing, and your ego won’t let you believe for one moment that you aren’t faster than any of your friends. Letting your ego and social influences formulate your goals will sabotage the season before you ever get out of the recliner. You need to take an objective inventory of your skills and determine what you are realistically capable of accomplishing in one season. Since our own biases and subjectivity will always creep in to skew our assessment, it might be best to enlist the services of a coach who will tell you what you NEED to hear instead of what you WANT to hear. Ideally, we want to set realistic “big picture” goals and then work backwards to develop a plan of attaining them. The big picture goals can be viewed as our destination, and we need regular check points along the way to ensure that we don’t get lost. To stay on the correct path, we develop check points in the form of short-term goals with the belief that if we focus only on getting to the next check point we will eventually end up at our destination. Outcome goals represent our destination, and process goals guide our journey.
Coach Robert working with athletes to set and attain realistic individual goals.
Outcome goals are big picture goals that are usually not under the control of the athlete due to their susceptibility to outside influences. Let’s say that your outcome goal for 2018 is to secure a Kona slot by finishing near the top of your age group at an Ironman qualifying event, and you believe that your season will be a failure if the goal is unfulfilled. If you develop the flu a week before your race and are unable to compete at the level required to qualify, then your season has been a failure according to your own definition of success. Your ability to secure the Kona slot is also dependent on how well, or poorly your competition performs, which is entirely out of your control. Outcome goals can also be overwhelming if you continually look to where you are trying to get and realize how far you need to go to get there. Although it isn’t recommended that athletes place too much emphasis on outcome goals, they are very important in serving as motivation to begin the journey.
There is no such thing as an overnight sensation. If you look closely enough you will find that great success stories are a culmination of small successes experienced on a regular basis over a period of time. Process goals enable athletes to train in an environment where they receive steady feedback used to continuously adjust the plan to meet fitness adaptations, and they also serve to facilitate the motivation-success cycle. The premise of the motivation-success cycle is that we set a short-term goal to motivate us to perform at a specific level and once we fulfill that goal we build on our success by setting our next short-term goal, and the cycle continues until we fulfill our big picture outcome goal. Simply progressing from one short-term goal to the next increases motivation and self-confidence on a regular basis. As we continue to progress through our training plan, the greater the likelihood of fulfilling our outcome goal. Although process goals help us build good habits, develop muscle memory, maintain focus, and are entirely within our control, there is one caveat. You must be relentless in your dedication to ensure that each process goal is fulfilled, and your commitment will usually be rewarded with small gains that may not be recognized and acknowledged by anyone other than yourself. Repetitive training doesn’t always have to be boring if you learn to track your improvements and celebrate the smallest of gains. Success is a habit built on doing the little things over and over. Chop wood, carry water. Small gains experienced on a regular basis add up to huge gains when all is said and done.
The greatest virtue a long-distance triathlete can possess is patience. Continuing to grind it out daily with the knowledge that you may see only miniscule gains, if any at all, requires patience and trust. You must have unwavering trust that your plan will get you where you want to go, and you must be patient enough to put in the work and use the smallest of gains to fuel your commitment to get up and do it all over again the next day. You can apply the same logic when developing your race plan. Break the race up into smaller, more manageable segments so you can use feedback to adjust your performance accordingly, and mentally celebrate the completion of each segment as a small victory. The day goes by much quicker when you are only thinking about the next few minutes instead of the next 8 to 17 hours. Whether training or racing, setting short-term goals allows us to celebrate small victories on a consistent basis, and who doesn’t like to win? Create an environment conducive to winning by setting realistic goals that can be attained through small, manageable efforts repeated day in and day out.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Rob in June at his next Triathlon Camp in the USA – Great Smoky Mountains Camp
It’s no coincidence that many triathletes choose Ironman Chattanooga, 70.3 Chattanooga, 70.3 Augusta, or Ironman Louisville as their initial foray into long distance racing. These events have some of the highest first-timer rates in the sport for one primary reason. The swim courses are perceived to be friendlier to weaker swimmers. Each course is either current assisted, a rolling or time trial start, more-often-than-not wetsuit legal, or a combination thereof. Although choosing to participate in races that play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses is a strategy employed by even the best in the sport, most weaker swimmers do so out of fear. They are afraid of failure that could result in physical or emotional harm. Left unchecked, this fear, or more specifically anxiety, can derail an entire performance in the first few seconds or minutes of an event scheduled to last hours. It doesn’t have to be that way. Repetition and simplicity are the keys to reducing or eliminating anxiety, and maintaining control over performance.
Anxiety is a negative physical or mental reaction to situations that an athlete perceives as being stressful. The absence, or presence of anxiety depends on the degree to which the athlete perceives the outcome of the performance to be important and uncertain. The secret to controlling anxiety is actually very simple. An athlete simply needs to reduce the importance and uncertainty involved with an event.
The importance of a performance will be primarily subjective for each athlete, with higher investment usually correlating with higher importance. Perception of importance can be influenced by internal and external forces such as family, friends, coaches, sponsors, etc., but usually boils down to the fact that we are humans who are self-conscious of what others will think of us. Have you ever wondered how young children are able to learn new skills so quickly? It’s because they just want to learn the skill, and they don’t care what else is going on around them when they are trying to learn it. Adults make things more complicated than necessary, but we’ll come back to that shortly. As adults, our level of importance needs to balance out with our level of commitment to success. When performance expectations match investment, anxiety should be low. Or to put things even simpler, don’t write a one-hundred dollar check when you only have five dollars in the bank.
Although we may never be able to attempt a performance with total certainty, we can significantly reduce uncertainty through repetition. Triathletes love their routines. Specific workouts on specific days. Running the same route every week for the long run. Performing the same pre-season conditioning routines that you have done for years simply because they have done them for years. Why? Mostly because doing something differently would require that they venture out of their perceived comfort zone, and that might entail surrendering even the slightest bit of control, and worse yet, taking risks. The routine, or repetition of the routine keeps them in their “safe place”, but more specifically it reduces anxiety. Repetition also builds confidence, and confidence tells athletes that they are in control of a situation.
In a recent Trisutto blog article, coach Brett Sutton wrote about the importance of repetition for achieving exceptional performance. When training cycles and workout plans are structured properly, repetition builds confidence if there is variability to account for adaptations to the training stresses that have been repeated. Small variations in methodology require athletes to extend their comfort zones and accept new challenges, thereby leading to improvements in performance. When athletes are reluctant to variation, repetition will most likely build stagnation and frustration instead of confidence. Much of the blame for adult anxiety regarding learning new training methods is the insistence on “experts” to make the learning process as technical as possible. The reliance on technical jargon and training toys makes learning much more complicated than it needs to be, especially when adult brains are designed to perform, and conditioned to understand how and why things work. Child brains are designed to learn, so wouldn’t it only seem logical that adults might be more efficient learners if they just simplified things?
The major advantage that children have over adults when learning a skill is that they usually don’t have to unlearn poor habits. They get to start from scratch, whereas adults don’t have that luxury. As adults, we can’t simply forget poor habits, so we need to be able to override them and replace them with good habits. The way that we override poor habits is through conscious effort. We must create new muscle memory so that the new skill becomes automatic. The more you practice something, the more it becomes a muscle memory. Practice does not make perfect, it makes permanent. It is the repetition of desired behaviors that brings about desired changes. We also know that the simpler the task, the easier it is to concentrate on doing it correctly. Children focus on learning only what is required to master a skill. They aren’t afraid of making mistakes, and they learn from them. Adults make the process more difficult with our desire to know why and how we are learning the skill. We further complicate things by being afraid to make mistakes because we don’t want to look like idiots. Children will focus on a few simple cues, while adults try to focus simultaneously on any and every aspect of performing the skill correctly. Children also follow their natural instincts and rest when they struggle to maintain a conscious effort to practice the skill. Adults will continue practicing a skill once they begin to fatigue and their mental and physical performance begins to suffer, for no other reason than to complete the prescribed practice session. The key to successfully learning a new skill in the most expedient manner is not just repetition, but repetition of quality attempts. It’s better to take brief rest periods and perform more quality attempts than to perform more attempts of poor quality.
Trisutto methods are based on repeating the desired skill over and over, but not just doing repeats until you reach a prescribed total workout volume. The focus is on performing as many desired attempts in the allotted time. Working hard only makes you tired if done incorrectly. Working smart makes you better. We make things as simple as we can, so athletes can focus only on what is required to get better. It’s more difficult for adults to consciously learn skills, so we structure workouts that provide maximal opportunity for athletes to focus only on what is required to master the skills. The belief is that if you are provided with the proper training methods and environment, you’re going to learn whether you want to or not. If you have children, you know how important repetition is to their learning process, especially when they have a new favorite song. You will hear them play that song so many times that it becomes ingrained in your memory, like it or not. It’s done unconsciously, without requiring you to make any effort on your part to try to learn the new tune. As athletes, mastering new skills can be just as easy if we can simply embrace simplicity. Embrace your inner child. After all, it is still just a game.
Robert Taylor is a professional triathlon coach with over 30 years experience. Join Coach Rob at his January Training Camp in Lexington, South Carolina. and his recently announced June Great Smoky Mountains Camp.
Strength training – low cadence, big gear hill reps for Trisutto camp athletes in Cyprus.
Even after all these years, and all the results I’m still asked by athletes about bike cadence. How come I’m such a proponent for ‘non-biker’ trained athletes to use low cadence? Athletes sit at home and watch the cycling on TV and question why don’t I recommend such spinning.
Let me put it in perspective for you.
Many pro cyclists train from 750km to say 1200 km per week, and do so for 10+ years prior to you watching them on the TV. Many still don’t find the magical feel on the pedals that the top small percentage do. If riders who are pro and spend 6 days a week training a minimum of 4 to 5 hrs a day can’t find ‘a feel for the pedals’ then how can someone with no background, who can only put in a maximum of 200 km a week find it? Yes there will be exceptions. But how many do you think? I don’t train for the exception but instead make adjustments when they do come along every generation or so.
Many field and lab tests have been done to attempt to show spinning is more efficient to the newcomer than just pumping the big gear, or as we call it stomping. These tests results don’t get aired much because the end results nearly always bore out the different conclusion than what the cycling fraternity were looking for in the test. Confirmation could not be given. In fact, most if not all tests showed that subjects who were not trained produced more power and sustainable speed at cadences between 60 (yes you read right) between 60 and 70 cadence. Any higher and the efficiency was lost. I’ve read studies from USA, Australia , England , and even France, and all come with the same conclusion, that over 70 cadence the subjects watt to power endurance was significantly less than the under 70 cadence group. The same riders under the same conditions lost as much as 10% of their vital scores.
In all cases heart rate began to climb at the various cadence levels, and once the riding novices were asked to hold 100 cadence, not only did their performance diminish greatly, but also their heart rate rose to levels approaching 15% below max for the entire tests. Again, across all data, I saw this was universal, and I would hope to any reasonable person not a debatable point.
Low Cadence and Total Body Force riding
So keeping in line with the specific requirements of our sport, I considered that when training for Triathlon:
a) We have to train three disciplines, not one. So our hours are limited for bike training compared to cyclists.
b) Most if not all athletes that I come in contact with are not ex-professional bike riders with an already wound in innate feel of the pedals. Thus ‘spinning’ may be detrimental to them riding to the best of their ability.
c) The race is not over once we hop off the bike. So, riding with an elevated heart rate close to ones anaerobic threshold would not be advisable if one wanted to run at a reasonable pace after the bike.
Yes these were assumptions back then when I formed my opinions, and I would think based on sound principles. Over the years experience has taught me that this judgment was indeed one of my better ones as all riders in the age group classes I have helped have made rapid and sustainable gains on the bike.
I’’m about function over form. What works for the individual is what is right. Watching a 90kg or 198lb athlete spinning down the road at 100 cadence makes me depressed, as does watching a certified level coach teach a 50kg or 110lb 5′ 2″ female to swim like Michael Phelps, who is 6′ 6″ or 185cm and looks like an aircraft carrier. It makes me cry and want to have these coaches certified in another way.
If you are not exceptional or you don’t have an innate feel for the pedals, take my tip: if you want to run to the best of your ability off the bike, and get the most out of it when you are on it, then lower cadences will produce results for you.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton and his squad at training Camp in Cyprus in April, 2018 for insights into the Trisutto Coaching and Training methodologies.
Article Photo Credits: Mokapot Productions
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
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Coach Sutton poolside at our Cyprus base.
With many pro athletes deciding to back up from the Ironman World Championships with 70.3 or even full distance races a couple of weeks apart, a number of questions have been put to me from age group athletes:
- Can I do it physically?
- Should I?
- What impact could it have on my season / career?
For many years we have had athletes not only back up long distance events, but do it very successfully. More importantly they have then continued with a sustained, successful and consistent season (and career) after doing so.
In extreme cases we’ve seen athletes winning back to back Ironman races a week apart.
It is a very individual thing, not just physically but also mentally. I have had athletes who I believe could successfully back up, but others who were as talented or better athletes that I would never entertain the thought of them doing so.
The following rules have served me well:
1.) We would never allow a Trisutto athlete to back up long distance events at the very beginning of a season. This is simply a straight out no!
In fact I rarely sanction an Ironman as the first or second race after after a training break / early season. Instead we build the race season just as we build a training block. We do a lead in race for most Trisutto athletes. This would be a sprint race, then an Olympic distance race, then preferably a 70.3, and only then a full Ironman. A detailed breakdown of how we approach this can be found here.
2.) If an athlete is tall with long limbs, or a big strong unit, then they are different. Even if lean and in good fitness / race conditioning, their size is an inhibitor to success in backing up. So we don’t do it!
If an athlete is a male, then we usually avoid backing up. Ironman racing flattens their male hormone system which then needs time to recover. This is a much over looked fact by many coaches, and a lesson learn’t from training and racing horses.
Female athletes on the other hand recover much quicker than most males, both in day to day training, and also post race.
3.) If an athlete is wired psychologically to prepare for a single race and works all season to peak for this one race, then asking them try to regroup and refocus is a recipe for a poor outcomes.
This is especially true of races only 7 days apart, which in reality is a short 5 days with post and pre-race recovery, travel, and other stresses in order to do battle the following weekend.
4.) The factor that most overlook is if they plan to compete in the double, many athletes can harm their first race by knowing that they have a second race in only 7 – 21 days. This most definitely needs to be taken in consideration. When the going gets tough in the first race and the question is asked ‘how bad do I want it today’, the mind has to be completely focused in the moment and not looking for an escape route of a ‘back up’ race on the horizon!
5.) We only double up if:
– the above has been addressed
– if and only if, the athlete has had an uninterrupted program for at least 20 weeks, and within that 20 weeks has completed an Ironman, and a couple of 70.3 / half distance races.
I am a systems based coach, so for me the above rules are nearly etched in stone. I believe that is the reason why after completing ‘the double’ our athletes continue to be consistent for the remainder of their season, and also their career. The key is, we only go into it with a great deal of training and racing foundation. If we do not have this, then we don’t consider it!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at his remaining training camps in 2017 in Gran Canaria.