Coaching Project – Part 1

You may have read from my previous posts about how much I enjoy the coaching side of  triathlon. Whether that is coaching myself or other people. My teaching and leadership background probably helps with this as I feel I do (or I should) have a good understanding of what makes a good coach.

This year, I decided to take a further step and dedicate a little more time to helping others in their Tri exploits. It’s always difficult with this as I have my other roles – my work, family life, training and racing myself. There’s a lot to fit in! In a previous blog I introduced the athlete I was working with this year – Miia Amara. She is completely new to triathlon and one that approached me to help her.

I always think with newbies that the easiest thing to do is to basically to get them to train a little more consistently ensuring they swim, bike and run regularly, building up to a distance in which they will complete their event in. This isn’t difficult and there are guaranteed improvements until a plateau is usually reached. The real gains however, come from being a little more scientific and structured in the approach. Now what newbie is going to know this? Not many that’s for sure.

I agreed that I would help Miia on a more formative, in depth level. The only thing I asked from her was that she followed the structure and worked to the programme. I have been asked by others to do this before, although I have always been wary of it. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because it takes a lot of time planning, adjusting and spending time with athletes in testing and analysing data to track improvement. I suppose that is why seeking a coach is fairly expensive, and it takes a committed athlete to want to take that step. I needed an athlete that was willing to give commitment back in order for me to do it and not waste my time. At no point was any money exchanged! I don’t claim to be some amazing coach or possess badges. What I do have though is experience in doing it myself and a lot of knowledge on it. I read a lot on this subject and have applied many of the concepts on myself. It’s great to be able to transfer some of that knowledge to someone else.

How come Miia you may ask? Well I could see she was eager to really get involved and I had her base training for 8 weeks prior to really starting a proper tailored plan. I could see she was dedicated and agreed to help her. Let’s meet our athlete:

Miia Amara

Age: 44 (and she did allow me to display this 🙂

Nationality: Finnish

Work: Airline Attendant

Athletic Experience: New to triathlon although is a keen runner and is part of East End Road Runners.

The Baseline…How we Started…

As with all training plans, a clear bench mark of current fitness and form were needed as a starting point. I spent some time in the pool with Miia looking at her swim stroke and what we needed to do to improve it. We also completed a run test and a bike test a little later on. Miia also committed to purchasing a Turbo for home training and any necessary equipment for the pool. You see, I told you she was keen!

We started in November 2018 together and looked at spending around two months working on swim technique and building up some base miles to build her endurance engine for the bike and run. We also rode together most Sundays on our long rides.

I would be supporting her until her first Olympic Distance Triathlon in June and she would be taking on two events which I would also be participating in. These were the All Nations Sprint and Bananaman Olympic. Miia would be also going for the London Triathlon at the end of July. In terms of what were her ‘A’ or ‘B’ races were, we weren’t overly too stressed about identifying these. I knew if she followed the plan until June, she would be in fantastic shape to take on her first Olympic distance. I’ll say that again – her first Olympic distance race! She will learn a lot about herself in that race and use it to prep for the second Olympic distance in July. I would hope also that by then, Miia would know the workouts to continue in her lead up to that final event. We also had the bonus of the sprint race beforehand in May to get her used to some race conditions.

She is also aware that to keep peak fitness for that amount of time is very difficult. Rest and Recovery are key aspects of training and these have been built into the plan designed for her, but also after her second event in June before she builds up again for her final race.

Run Training

What was interesting was Miia had expressed and showed me a few of her runs she had completed recently. Here is one:

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Miia was surprised to hear that although she thought she was aerobically fit, and had the endurance in her legs, I thought differently. Yes, she can run long, although, if we look at the pace of the run for each mile segment, it slows down considerably as we go on and the heart rate is all over the place. There were no hills on this route. Generally the more miles she ran, the slower you got. Yes this will happen to all athletes eventually, but what I was trying to explain to her was that we want to try and reduce the amount by which each mile slows down and ensure we hold onto the pace a little longer. The aim was to make her run a lot more balanced both in pace and effort.

I introduced Miia to MAF run training. I like and use this for building base miles and training our cardiovascular system to become more efficient, thus putting out a greater output, and in this case we mean pace. In essence, training at this particular HR (for her 145bpm) allows her to become more efficient and so she ends up faster without too much stress. It takes time and Miia has found this one challenging, particularly keeping to the desired beats per minute. It’s also difficult to run with others on this so makes this training a little lonely. If you can stick with it though, it does pay dividends.

We also took some base PBs for different distances and set some goals around these. Here you can see her performance indicator chart with current PBs and Maffetone results:

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We agreed to make these PB times something as a goal in bringing them down over the course of the year. In-fact she has already done this for both 5K and half marathon and I will update further on these in a future post.

Swimming

By her own admission, Miia had expressed that she needed lots of work around swimming. Initial pool tests and swim analysis did show me that she was correct in her own assessment. Like most triathletes, swim is an area of weakness and we had work to do here.  The results of her first 400m time trial are shown here:

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After spending time in the pool with her, highlighting some flaws in the stroke and showing the drills to correct these, I developed a swim plan for her to follow for 8 weeks or so with the drills built in to develop the areas of weakness. You can’t break too much apart in your swim. Little and often is best for improvement as it is one of those technical sports that has lots to think about. Trying to work on two or three things to improve on is usually too much for our brains to cope with! This swim plan mainly focused on the leg end and getting that kick going from the hip and not her knee. She took to the drills really well and got practising them and we took another test before her official triathlon training started at the beginning of February. This was her plan:

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On the 12th January we retested again and here are the results:

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So what do we already notice? Yes a massive improvement already just through improving technique! There is very little in this plan that develops swim fitness and so it is pleasing to see with a little bit of work on technique, we have already seen a big improvement. I expect her to continue on the technique side of things and also work on building some specific swim fitness now. We will retest again at the end of the base period in the plan.

Biking

Miia also undertook the FTP test for the bike to mainly give me the base line of what her current output is, and what she produces both in power and heart rate. I wanted to give her the personal heart rate zones and ensure she was aware of training correctly within these zones and necessary workouts to follow. I must say I was impressed with her on the bike. I worried at first in terms of pace on our endurance rides and whether she would keep up, although she is very comfortable on a bike and took to this like a duck to water! She is STRONG! It was clear that her bike leg is the strongest and strength out of the three disciplines. This is good considering the majority of the race is spent on the bike! I wouldn’t hesitate going on any long ride with Miia.

First FTP Test

Other Considerations:

Miia’s working pattern had to be accommodated here and this usually results in her working either two or three days each week. The working days are pure rest days. There is absolute no way any workouts can be fitted in due to the nature of her job. The plan has been designed to make the most of her time and it averages at around 6 or so hours a week for the base period. Potential athletes are always looking for plans to follow for something in the lead up to an event. I myself have done this in the past. The problem is that they are so generic and do not take into account prior fitness, baseline and are usually not fit for purpose for that particular athlete. No plan should be the same for everyone! Here is a snapshot of Miia’s first week:

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The key to all this though is enjoyment! Hopefully I have taken away all the thinking, scientific aspects and her worrying whether she is doing the right thing. I want her to enjoy her journey into triathlon and continue it long after this. Enjoyment is the number one goal! Performance will come along for the ride also.

I’ve split this blog into three posts, although it may end up being four by the end depending on the reporting and my time management. This of course being the introductory piece and setting the story or scene – whatever you want to call it. I will then write a second to give the updates and tracking of performance (probably after our initial 8 week base period), and either a final piece on the outcomes, although this may be in two parts in which I hope Miia will add a few comments herself about her experience.

It’s a slightly different take on my usual blogs and I do look for content that is both interesting and different. I hope you enjoy this mini-series as much as Miia enjoys her journey into triathlon! I will of course update on my performance and blog the race reports as usual.

Until next time…tail winds to you all!

I leave you with our route for the last easy endurance ride we did. it was blooming freezing although Miia took a 3rd and 4th on two Strava segments! Do give us a follow on Strava!

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A new year…a new me???

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I suppose the way to start my January blog post is to wish you all a Happy New Year, although it seems that line is running a little thin lately! Anyway, HNY all!

If 2019 is going to be anything like 2018, then we have another busy year ahead – both in life and in racing. I thought it was about time to update on the blog considering there were lots of things from the last post that needed tying up and updating on. So if you didn’t read the last blog post, I suggest this would be a good time as a lot of what I write about will be adding to this.

Injury and Base Training

I proceeded with the last two months working on my base fitness. This has mainly been on the bike, and for good reason. I’m also back in the pool after my lengthy shoulder issue. It’s been rehabbing really well and the injection was the best thing to give the physio the kickstart it needed. I was hesitant having this done but I think the guided ultrasound hit the spot exactly.

I’m more or less swimming 2k in one session at the moment and have built this up over the last few months. It means I can now begin a proper swim programme in which I will build the distance and speed again. The shoulder is ready and I am going to continue the physio exercises along with other training to ensure the strength and more importantly the flexibility is developed. I have since been discharged and after a long rehab process, it’s pleasing to see the efforts and medical intervention pay off. Long live the NHS!

I mentioned above about my bike base training but not much on the run side. This is something I don’t want to overly dwell on…another injury maybe? Well, in a word – yes. It’s a strange one, as apart from last season and the shoulder, my body held up pretty well. My foot issue all started in Italy when running – Plantar Fasciitis actually. All I am going to say is I think I’m more or less through it. It is the dreaded of all running injuries, and resting, stretching, rolling the foot and supporting it has made me now get to a position where I have completed 10 runs without issue. Just when one injury started to improve, something else broke down! Frustrating to say the least. I’m currently up to 45mins and just back in time for the actual Ironman training plan.

DATA ANALYSIS

So overall I’m really happy that I’m ready to swim properly now and the bike endurance base is also good. I think there has been around 35 Zone 2 endurance rides since the last blog and have been keeping track of the fitness in training peaks. I’ve upgraded my subscription to this for the detailed analysis and especially now I using the power meter on the bike.  My base rides will continue for another 8 weeks into proper Ironman training, along with developing the muscular force/strength in my legs. These are bread and butter workouts for triathletes and those which I have neglected in the past. Why you may ask? Well they put a lot of strain on your legs in general and injury risk is high especially for a bike workout. I simply haven’t been in the position to do them before, either coming back from injury or not having the time to fit them into the programme.

Not this year though! As this was the year I really wanted to concentrate more on the bike, I’m in a position to do them and have a reasonable base to begin them. They basically consist of short big gear reps. While this will make you breathe hard by the end, its prime purpose is to train your leg muscles not your heart and lungs, so you shouldn’t feel that you are gasping or struggling to catch your breath. I will complete around 6 weeks of this before tackling the FTP workouts.

Fitness Testing

Testing base fitness is important to ensure all the training parameters are set correctly – these being Heart Rate and Power. I completed the 400m time trail swim test last week and was pleased to swim it in 7min 2 secs. Not too bad considering the lack of swimming. I also completed the bike FTP test and it was pleasing to see that even just base training for 8 weeks raised my power and thresholds.

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If you look at the graph above you can see the stable aspect from about half way. This is the actual test after the initial warm up and cool down at the end. Results show improvements all round.

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Without having a true accurate picture of your fitness, it is hard to set workouts and create a plan that builds upon these. I haven’t tested my run for obvious reasons. I will continue to MAF run at the moment for around 8 weeks. There is a half marathon in 6 weeks time I’m entered for as well as the Big Half. The latter race will be used to really test the run fitness. Up to then I will continue to build my endurance and use the fist half marathon as a training run.

TRAINING PLAN

So I am now into my Ironman training plan – one that has been developed myself with the help and guidance obviously from all my reading, experience, fitness tests and data analysis. Here’s a snapshot of week 1:

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There are of course particular swim and bike workouts that go with these. The run volume at this early point is a little on the low side, although this is to ease my foot back in. As you can see, I’m a keen believer in strength and conditioning and always try and build this in at least once a week. I’ve written my first 4 weeks and will complete around 20 weeks until the Outlaw race. I have worked out my periodisation blocks which look like this:

4 week base 1 / 4 week base 2 / 4 week build 1 / 4 week build 2 / 2 week peak / 1 week taper/ 1 week taper + race week

This should see me in reasonable shape for the Outlaw and then I will rest and take a small break before racing over the summer (mainly Olympic Distance) and building again towards Ironman Vichy.

Coaching

Last year I helped out a few people and in particular Jacqueline Fernandez for swimming. You can read about her guest blog here. This year I have taken on one newbie to triathlon who requested help – Miia Amara. I am going to create a separate blog on this  as I have been working closely with her in preparing her for three triathlons this year. Look out for this in a future post. As mentioned before, this is something I really enjoy doing, although I always limit myself in how many people I help due to the time commitment and expectation from both ends.

French House

Oh and if you didn’t know, we are proud owners of our French property now and spent a lovely new year there. The future training venue will be developed.. 🙂

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