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:
If you’ve ever watched beginning tennis players, you might have noticed the lengths to which they will go to avoid using the backhand stroke. They expend valuable energy doing everything within their power to run themselves into a position to hit a forehand because they lack confidence in their backhand. In tennis, this practice is referred to as “running around your backhand”. It’s no different in triathlon. Most triathletes enter the sport with greater experience in one discipline, and running seems to be the gateway activity more often than swimming or cycling. Because we tend to gravitate towards activities in which we excel, tri newbies will usually seek out opportunities to participate in their strongest discipline and avoiding activities in which they perceive themselves as inferior. Failing to address a weakness early in training will result in the athlete arriving at a dead-end on the road to progressive improvement. Every athlete enters the sport with at least one weakness, or limiter, which must be addressed for improvement to occur.
Recently, one of the athletes that I coach was telling me about a local triathlete that he described as being a very poor swimmer, an average cyclist, and an above average runner. When my athlete suggested to him that learning to properly swim for triathlon could greatly improve overall performance, the athlete responded that he wasn’t going to waste time on swimming next season and was going to focus his efforts on becoming an even faster runner to offset his weakness in the water. Employing this strategy would be the triathlon equivalent of running around your backhand. By the end of the tennis match you struggle to even hit the forehand proficiently due to the excess energy previously expended to avoid the backhand. Because triathlon is one sport comprised of three interrelated disciplines, your inefficiencies in one discipline will affect your performance in others.
Triathlon is one sport, not three. Training must be structured so that all three disciplines interact to facilitate maximum fitness gains, while at the same time promoting optimal recovery between workouts. Every athlete enters the sport with at least one limiter. Professional, elite, and top age group athletes may have limiters, but they are still highly proficient in each discipline. They do whatever it takes to eliminate their limiters, with the knowledge that they may only improve enough to minimize the damage done by competitors who look to exploit their weaknesses. Athletes who train for triathlon as one sport not only improve performance in their weakest discipline by addressing their limiters, the increased efficiency also allows them to redirect previously wasted energy to their stronger disciplines. For example, improved efficiency on the swim results in fresher legs on the bike. Stronger bike fitness combined with a more aerodynamic position will result in fresher legs for the run. Everything that you do in one discipline will impact what you do in the others.
The predominant limiter for triathletes is the swim because the sport is so technical, and most middle-age adults with jobs and families can’t commit the necessary time required to become proficient at using the traditional mainstream swim techniques. Even if they did have the time, the return on investment is relatively small in comparison to the time requirements for such minimal gains. They simply accept being weak swimmers, and register for triathlons that are wetsuit legal and/or include a current-assisted swim. Another option is to increase swim volume and continue to use the same inefficient form. The problem with this is that although you may experience a slight fitness bump from the extra time in the pool, you will also continue to reinforce weak swim form. Since most athletes only have a limited amount of training time, the extra time dedicated to swim volume detracts from the time that may be spent working on the bike and run.
Improvement on the bike is another matter altogether. Unlike swimming and running, athletes can buy speed on the bike. Aerodynamic carbon-fiber bikes, lightweight wheels, and aero helmets are purchased by athletes under the assumption that it is possible to shave minutes off Ironman and 70.3 race times without exerting any additional physical effort. What they don’t realize is that these technical innovations were designed by engineers for athletes who have maximized gains through training and proper bike position, and are searching for the extra seconds or minutes that only technology can provide. Fortunately for equipment manufacturers, the middle and back-of-the-pack triathletes are looking for these types of shortcuts to speed in lieu of training to improve their bike prowess. Is there anything more ridiculous than someone sitting up on a ten-thousand-dollar bike with a disc wheel, while wearing an aero helmet and riding 14 mph? Save yourself thousands of dollars and just learn to train and ride the bike properly for triathlon. As with the swim, some will attempt to improve bike fitness simply by increasing their training volume. Again, you may experience a slight fitness bump due to the increased volume, but you are reinforcing inefficient form and detracting from the time that you could have been swimming or running.
Let’s say you came from a swimming or biking background and the run is your limiter. You avoid addressing the issue by packing on lots of extra pool time, or time in the saddle to offset your running weakness. The problem with running in Ironman or 70.3 races is that you begin the run already tired. Those athletes who are stronger swimmers and bikers have the luxury of being less fatigued if they pace properly in their stronger disciplines. Spending inordinate amounts of valuable training time learning to run like a runner will not address the specific task of running in long distance triathlon. Neither will performing run technique drills designed for short and middle-distance runners. Your run success isn’t based simply on your run volume. It’s also dependent on swimming and biking proficiency, and how those workouts are structured to have crossover training effects on your run. The form that you will use in a long-distance triathlon will in no way resemble the perfect running technique taught by the experts for decades. Long distance triathlon running is not about going fast, it ‘s about going slow. Why would you train to race fast if you know with certainty that you will be running slow for the entire event? If you are going to address you run limiter do so in a manner that is specific to the needs of the events for which you plan to race.
How do you address your limiter without sacrificing the gains that you have made in the other disciplines? Obviously, you need to increase the quality time spent on your limiter to improve, but the trick is to do so without increasing your total training volume, while at the same time dedicating quality time to the other disciplines. The answer is a stimulus plan. Stimulus plans are designed to focus more quality training time on your limiter, but not at the expense of the other disciplines. The plans are followed for a brief period, and then you return to normal training with improved skills and a newfound confidence. Most coaches use stimulus plans in the off-season, pre-season, or just prior to an important training block. If you want to be a well-rounded triathlete, make the choice right now to stop running around your backhand and incorporate a stimulus plan into your early season training. If you want something bad enough, and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it, the possibilities are unlimited.
Ironman distance racing is ultimately about energy management. How you control and distribute your effort throughout the day is essential to a good finish. The ironman bike leg plays a crucial component to this end, as it normally represents the bulk of one’s total race time. Regrettably many still race the bike leg as if nothing were to follow, either caught up in the excitement of the day or on the quest for that new bike split PB. Yet the success of the subsequent run (assuming adequate training preparation) is very much predicated on what you do on the bike, from energy expenditure (pacing) to energy intake (feeding).
Here are three simple suggestions to help prepare your bike leg to have a positive impact on your run.
Technique – Practice Feeding
I will take a road less travelled. No talk about goal TSS, IF, cadence, peddling foot motion or about ideal head, back, hand position etc. Instead, a crucial fundamental – practicing the mechanics of getting nutrition from its storage place on the bike, or on your person, into you while staying comfortably in control of your bike.
This may sound presumptuous to many but forgive me. There is reason. I have personally encountered/witnessed individuals who were committed to an IM, kitted with slick race bikes, yet (in training) refused – literally – to reach for a water bottle (from a seated position let alone from the aero position) unless at a full stop, one leg on terra firma. All will agree that feeding is imperative in ironman racing. It is the 4th discipline. However, all the best nutritional advice and formulations are for naught if it remains affixed to the bike frame by T2.
It all starts with the set up – using kit or makeshift solutions that suit your comfort and ability/experience level. It is all fine and dandy that the latest trendy slick water bottle mount between the aerobars will save you 45s to 1min over 40k (in a wind tunnel). It is of little value to you aerodynamically in an ironman if every time you have to drink you need to break position by sitting up or you lose directional control of the bike, because holding course with one forearm is precarious for you. In this instance, perhaps using a refillable aero bottle may be more suitable. Yes the wind tunnel numbers may show +0.0001g more aero drag on that straw than the former set up. But if it helps you minimize movement on the bike while drinking then you will feel more comfortable to sip regularly whilst holding a better aero position for longer (win-win). And don’t feel belittled…. remember our World Champ…
Chrissie in Kona
Therefore comfort of access is crucial. If you are apprehensive to reach for items the more likely you will not eat or drink sufficiently. If you have a seat mounted cage, practice reaching back extracting and returning while keeping your eyes on the road. If you have a refillable bottle between the bars, practice refilling from another bottle on the fly. Likewise, practice ripping off gels taped to the top tube, reaching into your top tube food box or your jersey back pocket using either hand. Being ambidextrous is also advantageous. Should you race in a country where they drive on the opposite side of what you are accustomed to back home, the aid stations will likely be on that “new’ side. [Tip – practice your feeding mechanics while riding the turbo as well instead of having a buffet table alongside.]
So, whatever set up you chose for hydration and nutrition, you must practice using it as you would on race day. Learn to reach for things, and place them back on the move. If you are reluctant to do so, you may very well miss crucial feeding and begin accumulating a potentially unrecoverable energy debt before starting the run.
Training – Holding Race Pace Under Fatigue
Everybody is a hero coming out of T1. Some even act like it’s a BMX race start Don’t believe me? Go to Kona and observe the sprinting and jostling of some age groupers not even 50m up the hill from the King K hotel – utter lunacy! What matters is how you can sustain your race effort on the back half, to one-third of the course. This is where the real (smart) heroes shine.
In practical training terms this means first ingraining the necessary restraint at the outset of your long rides that will target race pace. No sense in beaming about your watts for the first 50k only to fizzle and falter by 80 km. Second, include progressively, longer continuous segments at target race pace effort at the back end of long rides when you are fatigued. These could start at 30 minutes and progress to 2 hours at the tail end of a 3 – 4.5hour ride. Don’t be afraid to try. Remember this is ironman race pace, not 40km time-trial pace.
Daniela has perfected the art of race pacing
The second component to these race-pace segments is cerebral – applying a race mindset, making tactical decisions as you would on race day. This will further amplify the value of such race-pace segments especially when facing undulating terrain with a tailwind. It will likely be difficult to hold a target power number. But you can still put out a “race effort” by doing the right things – i.e. holding tight aero and speed on descents, pushing a touch harder up a grade or into a momentary head/cross wind, deciding when to fuel based on terrain ahead and time etc. That is still relevant race-pace specific training.
Intervals are great for developing your race-pace. Long continuous segments will really train your physical and mental stamina and confidence to perform when tired, including making the right tactical decisions. The more you practice this in different conditions, the better positioned you will be come the run.
Race Preparation – Building Race Specific Stamina
Every ironman course is 180km (+/-), yet each one has its challenges – a climbing course is daunting for many, while holding aero position for hours on a flat course is unbearable for some. Barring an opportunity to ride the course in vivo, see it on a map and study the profile provided by the race or using Google Earth, Map My Ride or such. Appreciate, understand and then train to task…for the benefit of the subsequent run as well.
To highlight, consider Ironman Whistler. The course features approximately 2000m of cumulative climbing. There are about 20km’s of leg sapping, undulating terrain before the first major climb ~12km with 8-10% pitches thrown in. The last ~35km back to T2 is pretty much a sustained climb. In between there are lots of high-speed descents.
Obviously, climbing strength and descending skills should be incorporated into one’s bike training regime. With respect to race specific preparation within the last ~12 weeks, it would be beneficial to choreograph rides that accumulate a similar total elevation gain (or more) and periodically include a long sustained climbing effort on the back end, and then doing so before a transition run. This will achieve at least two things.
You will need to diligently work your effort and fuel management to best position yourself energetically for the run. This may not be as straightforward as when riding a flat course.
It will accustom your body to run with substantial climbing fatigue in it, which for some may be quite difficult as compared to a flatter course.
Likewise, if a course happens to have a lot of corners, you would want to plan rides that regularly disrupt your rhythm with frequent direction changes. Cumulatively this will have another unique effect on your disposition before the run.
Whatever the course you chose, study it, know it, train for it.
Incorporate these three tips into your ironman bike preparation to ensure you keep the “fuel flow” going, to remain on task as fatigue sets in and to bolster your confidence in handling the challenges of your chosen course. Doing so will increase the chances of a successful run.
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.
Jane Fardell: Retired from a successful triathlon career that included podiums at ITU and Ironman level. After a five year break returned to represent Australia in Athletics at the IAAF World Champs in Moscow.
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to announce Jane Fardell has resumed training with the trisutto.com squad for the upcoming season.
Jane has the dubious honour of being my earliest pro athlete still racing.
I received a letter from a 16 year-old Jane after she saw me giving a talk at the State Titles back in the late 90s. Jane comes from the country town of Dubbo (a six-hour drive inland from Sydney) and wrote that her goal was to make the State team, which she did a year later for both triathlon and cross country running.
After corresponding through mail she eventually attended a training camp where she was advised that if she wanted a chance at ‘making it’ she needed 12 months of straight swim training. A big decision for someone just starting to break through as a runner and triathlete, but one she committed to. Moved to Canberra and did very little but work her arms off in the pool for the next year.
This was to provide Jane with the base to launch into senior triathlon:
In 1998 she was 3rd at the Australian Junior Champs.
In 1999 she won the World Junior Age Group title in Montreal, Canada.
She then had a couple of seasons on the ITU World Cup circuit, where she bagged a couple of podiums before being crowned French Grand Prix Series Champ in 2002.
Turning to Ironman races Jane then had five top six finishes in a year including a brilliant 2nd at Ironman Switzerland along with a win at Powerman Malaysia.
A breakthrough year for a developing Ironman athlete as I’m sure most would agree.
Still owes herself an Ironman win. Triathletes need to start hoping that she doesn’t bring a bike with her to Europe.
Yet she retired after this outstanding season. Why? Because being a feet-on-the-ground country girl she explained that despite her ‘great year’ when considering living and travel expenses against prize and sponsorship money she had still ended up losing $13,000. ‘It’s time I went home and got a real job’. An unfortunate reality still keeping many talented pro athletes out of our sport.
So Jane retired and returned to real life. After a five year break away from all sport and wanting to get fit again she entered a local marathon. She won. Thus started a new career in Athletics where over the past few years she has won over 20 Half Marathons, has placed top 10 in the Paris Marathon and most recently took 2nd at the Australian Marathon titles before going on to represent Australia at the IAAF World Champs in Moscow.
Since then Jane has been plagued with some injury issues, which she flew to Switzerland to talk with the old boss about along with the possibility of retirement. She did a couple of runs and a bit of swimming and I’m proud to say Jane is now doing anything but retiring. The last four months on the run stimulus program have addressed those injuries and Jane will restart her sporting career with the Paris Marathon in April before staying the summer in St Moritz.
Jane still owes herself an Ironman win from her earlier career and so triathletes need to start hoping she doesn’t bring her bike with her to Europe. Not many are going to fancy a 2:37 runner chasing them down.
Welcome Jane. We’re very proud to have you back!
Jane has just joined Twitter. You can follow her here or ‘Like’ her Facebook page here.
Building an Ironman: Matty Trautman celebrates victory at Ironman 70.3 South Africa. Photo by Chris Hitchcock.
Since the launch of my online coaching plans we’ve received a lot of inquiries about our different coaching philosophy and the build up we use in training. While we do our best to explain and advise people on how to get the most out of our method and plans, I thought it may be of some help to demonstrate by way of example.
Matty Trautman (IM Wales, IM 70.3 South Africa Champion) is a textbook case of the kinds of training we use. By laying his preparation out for all to see I hope to show how you can integrate the trisutto.com system of training on your way to producing a personal best result:
Matty joined camp in St Moritz last year where we changed a few techniques and honed a couple of things that I thought would be required to do well in the build up to his eventual win at Ironman Wales.
However, this is where we start the learning curve.
After Wales he was on the start-list to do IM Barcelona a few weeks later. Had his tickets booked, hotel paid for and was mentally prepared to race. Physically however, we decided that he hadn’t fully recovered from his maiden win so better to return home, regroup and start planning for the 70.3 in South Africa. Now for fledging pros this can be a very tough decision, so I was very happy that he took the professional option.
From here this is how the build up looked:
Part 1: Recovery
In this period he did only one session a day to keep body ticking over. This was needed to help recover physically after a couple of very tough European races and the Ironman victory at Wales.
Part 2: Lead In Training
We then moved into what we call lead in training.
Here we built the number of sessions back up to normal (usually twice a day) but without the volume or speed. Although returning to twice a day training, the sessions were for much shorter periods than normal.
Part 3: Stimulus Training
Matt then went on a Sutto stimulus program to work specifically on his swim. It’s Matt’s goal to get Top 10 in Kona. He has been told this is totally unattainable if he doesn’t make huge improvements in his swim over the next two seasons.
As his run is fine and his bike is pretty strong, swim stimulus was an obvious choice.
He did stimulus training for 4 weeks and during this period he kept his bike and run fitness ticking over while we drilled his swim. He was putting in to 8-9 swims a week.
Part 4: Short Course Training
We then moved on to an Olympic distance program where we added all his speed work in. Yes, it is early season and no, no mega miles were used as a base.
This phase was short, it was sharp and like many of our new recruits, he also doubted its effectiveness coming from the ‘early season is for the base’ school. We aimed his work towards his first training race of the season – an Olympic distance triathlon. This was to see how his swim was progressing and where he was physically. He smashed the race and totally surprised himself, not by winning, but by how good he felt with the new training.
Reverse Periodisation for Triathlon training.
Part 5: The Half Iron Distance Program
Here we lengthened the bike and run hours, along with the length of efforts. The long run got longer as did the long bike.
His swim workouts stayed the same.
The over distance component was still at a minimum and we started to cut his rest on the faster aspects of the work.
Part 6: Race Preparation Phase
I don’t like to call it a taper as too many people misapply the word, so we refer to it as the Race Preparation Phase.
Within this phase traditional methodology has everybody cutting their distances and resting.
We also rested but didn’t cut any distance of training in any of the three disciplines. Matt still rode at least three hours on the Tuesday before the race and on the Sunday still ran his long run. His long runs are very long, but no effort at all. On Wednesday he did a mid-week brick 5km swim session. The day before the race, he didn’t sit and rest but did a light workout on all three disciplines.
After recovering from his victory at South Africa 70.3 he has now embarked on the lead in to Ironman training. The number of sessions is back to normal, with a few added active recovery days. He will do this for 9-10 days until he links up with coach in Gran Canaria.
Part 8: The Iron Distance Program
For the first time Matty will start to do the training that most associate with their early season base work. The longer aerobic components will be built into the program and he will do four weeks of this work.
Part 9: The Iron Distance Program Continued (adapted if necessary)
Once back in South Africa after camp in Gran Canaria we will monitor his recovery from the flight home before continuing with the Ironman program through its duration.
Part 10: Race Preparation Phase
The race preparation phase where we rest but do not cut the distance of training. This final phase leading into our Ironman will include a long run and a minimum 5 hour ride.
He will then race his next Ironman.
Matty’s preparation has been a textbook example of how our squad works in the early season. I just left the gym after watching the Olympic Champ Nicola Spirig run 8x400m on a treadmill and swim 30×10 second efforts on a stretch chord while preparing for her first early season race. We practice what we preach.
We do not overdo the long, over distance work at the beginning of our prep like mainstream triathlon and if you are smart neither will you.
Let’s all watch Matty finish his full preparation and see if he can take on the world’s best and fight for a podium at IM South Africa. The field is stacked and on 2014 form most wouldn’t give him a chance. My thoughts? I don’t need to talk the talk because my business is walking the walk. We’ll see you race day.
To all my followers and customers I hope this example can show you how to get the very best out of the products you have bought from us.
While many North American and European pros have migrated to warmer weather for either training or early season racing, the trisutto squad are bunkering down in the Engadin mountains to do stimulus work on their weakest leg of triathlon.
I’m sometimes subject to veiled (and not so veiled) criticism about how much racing my athletes do. However, it’s rarely mentioned how much of an extended break I give the squad before they even toe the start line when beginning a new year.
I believe an extended off season is golden. Not because it gives us time to do more and more of the training we already did through the year, but because it affords us the opportunity to have a specific focus on each of the individual disciplines and place them in a program that will allow us to maintain an advantage in our stronger legs while improving our weaknesses.
Given that the temperature was -22 degrees in St Moritz yesterday, it will come as little surprise that we are using the next three weeks to focus on swim stimulus. The sports centre is 28 degrees, as is the water, and we’re able to mix our workouts with X-country skiing and some light treadmill running. It’s a fantastic change of scenery and while some will call this cross-training, I like to think of it as refreshing the body and mind before a new season.
Nicola and Reto enjoying some X-Country skiing.
Since we started our winter camp I’ve been asked frequently by age-group athletes and onlookers:
‘When do you do your distance stuff? I’ve been watching your guys swim and it doesn’t seem to be that long. Where are the “killer” sets and aerobic conditioning?’
Firstly, it’s not long because the key word over our current training bloc is ‘stimulus’. Most of the work is therefore drills, but with a different emphasis of what a swim drill is. Our focus during these periods is to do work that stimulates great technique (through use of paddles, pull-buoy and resistance chord) and concentrate on making each arm stroke a great arm stroke.
Now is my favourite time of the year to coach, as it should be for athletes to train, as you have time to try different things for individual strokes without the pressure of racing. This is not just for swimming, but for the bike and run also.
Within our pro group we also have a set stimulus workouts, so that when I’m not there my athletes can follow and repeat. After being asked about it so often I’ve structured a less complicated but still challenging version for age groupers should they wish to follow and copy.
The main point I want to make with them is this:
If we are hitting the water two times a day every second day then we don’t need to do the big miles because our arms, if we are taking the good strokes, will be dead.
During this time only every 3rd session is swum as a normal swim set.
The other two sessions are a mixture of 25 metre efforts, 17.5 metre efforts and a lot of 15 metres hard 10 metres easy type sets. We also do a bunch of what we call in swimming HVOs – high velocity overloads. The distance of these little gems is 10 metres or sometimes only just 13 strokes. This may explain why onlookers are sometimes confused when they see the Olympic champ swimming sets that look like they were designed for the kids lane.
Using the stretch chord for resistance training.
As mentioned, during this time we use all shapes and sizes of paddles and pull-buoy, and stretch chords (2 metre, 3 metre and 10 metres) which we use for resistance training. This way we can achieve Total Body Force swimming through a set of drills. The key element of the session is to get the motion with the swim equipment before taking it off and implementing in a swim set. We do this again and again, mixing it up so it doesn’t get boring.
I’ll leave you with this morning’s work out as a New Year’s present, as I believe it is worth its weight in gold and takes so little time to complete:
10 minutes of 15 metres fast (all out) 10 metres easy. (Paddles)
10 minutes of stretch chord, swimming against it until stationary and then floating back.
10 minutes straight swim (no equipment) transitioning the good strokes into our race “boat”.
5 minutes rest then we do it all again.
1 hour and we’re done. We’ll come back in the afternoon and do 30 minutes of 25 metre dive sprints (one third fast swim, two thirds rest). That’s all.
The day after we may swim 6km with plenty of aerobic function as a reminder of the real world, but it doesn’t change the fact that the off-season needs to provide stimulus to our weakest disciplines in a way that still refreshes us for the race season. To do that well you have to be innovative.