A Reflection Piece…

After a very successful season comes the time to reflect. Reflection on everything that has happened; things we have achieved; what we could have done differently or better; and what the future holds and the goals will be for next year. Reflection is an important tool in life in general and something many people do not do often enough. It’s something I bark on about in my professional duties, but also one that I like to think I do myself. Hence this blog. This is one huge reflection documenting a journey into a sport I love and that gives me so much.

I know triathlon, training and racing is not the be-all and end-all. I get that. It can be a selfish sport at times – and hard to manage with everything else that goes on in life. If I had to give it up tomorrow – for whatever reason that may be, it would sadden me and I would miss it. Could I give it up? Well if my family depended on it then hell yes. I love my family dearly and how they support me in what I do, even though sometimes it means an early start for them at some race in the country! They can be as dedicated me! So to reflect just on the training and racing would be wrong. I’m looking at everything that surrounds that. My family are a big part of me being able to carry out this crazy adventure! I’m grateful to them for that.

I look back on this year as a great achievement. By concentrating purely on triathlon this season and being more focused around the goals, it has made for a successful season.

I’ve been really pleased with how my body has held up. I hate to say it, or to tempt fate, but there were no major injuries throughout the season. Why? Well you may remember me speaking about adapting some of my training methods (training slower more often), which I think has had a major impact into me staying healthy. Yes I’ve had a few niggles, mainly older injuries just playing up, but these are managed and we move on. It meant a tweak to training or easing up a little. Nothing that couldn’t be dealt with, meaning I have had the healthiest season so far. Training slower has worked for me…and do you know what? It has made me a faster athlete. My times and performance prove that this year.

Proof I hear you say? Well check the previous blog posts! I often compare my race performances against my previous efforts. My A race this year was the Outlaw half. The middle distance is my preferred event and the one I believe I hold most potential at. I’ve hit personal records/bests at all my events this year. For those I didn’t, it was because of a change of distance or a new event making it difficult to compare. The one result that stands out for me is the Outlaw Half. Previously 6hr 10mins to 5hr 34mins this year. I’m certainly hitting consistent numbers in the olympic distance as well, although I haven’t had a race where the conditions helped this year. The longer the distance though, the stronger I am. I’m no longer scared of the distance, the pain you endure or mental side of it. I’ve also made real strides in managing my nutrition during these longer events. I still think I probably need to tweak a little more on this but everything is moving in the right direction.

So even though I have made leaps and bounds in my performance, the question that always hangs over my head…’How much more can I do?’ I’m not getting any younger.

So I’m going to make a statement now…a big statement. One that takes me out of my comfort zone and one that will challenge me. So here goes:

I AM GOING TO TRY AND QUALIFY FOR THE GB AGE GROUP TEAM FOR THE MIDDLE DISTANCE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

There we are…off the chest! That is the goal for next year. Life is too short to not take risks. I’ve made my commitment and shared it. If I don’t succeed, it’s not the end of the world. It will give me a good indication of how close I can get and whether it is a goal I can achieve. Maybe it is out of reach, but if I don’t try, I will never know. I’ve been completing in triathlon a fair few years now and it’s time to lay down my most challenging goal to date.

What will I need to do?

Well apart from going faster, there are a few things I need to consider. Making sure I train effectively and staying injury free will be a challenge in itself, I mean it always is. There are going to be a few tweaks to my training again and I will make an effort to up my run volume this year considerably. I’ll also have the help of this:

The treadmill (or dreadmill for some) is the new weapon in my training arsenal and one to take a little bit of the impact out of my running. I’ve already had a few sessions on Zwift run, which I must say I have enjoyed. It’s going to be great for the winter runs and my brick workouts.

The training plan is already being devised. It’s not knowing what to do in my training, that bit I believe I have covered. Extensive reading, use of Training Peaks and trialling approaches have meant me being my own guinea pig and learning lots over the last few years. I have a few milestones set that I will need to hit throughout. The length of training time will be increased and I have already started after my three week break. I’m taking a much longer preparation and base period this time out and getting my body ready to train will be key. There will be an element of being a little stricter with my diet also.

What are the qualifying rules?

Hopefully I can explain this a bit clearer than British Triathlon. The idea is that you need to be within a qualifying time of the winner of your age group. This is 115% or in other words within 15% of the winners time. On calculations from the Outlaw this year, the winners time for the 40-44 age group was 4hr 22mins. To get within that qualifying time I would need to be somewhere close to 5hrs. That’s 34mins quicker than I raced this year. You see, it’s tough. 34mins is a lot, although I do believe I can get at least 20mins off just by training consistently as I have done this year. I certainly held back on the bike during the event this year.

You can probably see now why my training has started earlier than previous seasons. It will need to if I am going to reap that extra performance gain. I could do with a slice of luck on the day also. By this I mean it does depend on who turns up. If I get someone racing who is quicker than the winning time this year, then it obviously makes the qualifying time harder as I would need to go even quicker.

You see some of this is out of my hands. The only thing I can do is train hard and consistently and race the best I can on the day. If that happens and I hit my target, I can’t ask for anything more. I can be sure that a 5hr half Ironman is more than respectable and a qualification spot will be a bonus.

The funny thing is, if I do get it then I’m not even sure I will go. The cost of everything age group related isn’t cheap and I think logistically it might be a challenge. I have decided to not worry about this part though and just concentrate on getting in. If I do get in, then we worry about that. So there you have it. My reflection and my main goal next year laid out in full. I could have kept all of this under wraps, although I feel that by sharing it, it gives me added impetus and healthy added pressure.

Only time will tell if I’m aiming for something well out of my reach! There’s only one way to find out so let’s see what this rollercoaster holds in the coming year!

Coaching Project Part 2 and Training

Swim Bike Run

Well it’s been a busy few weeks my end and great to be able to publish this blog post finally. I don’t just think and write these up on the day you know! They do take time and I aim to put good content into them that are worthy of a read. 

So as promised, here’s the update on the coaching project I explained I was undertaking with Miia. I have also given details of performance updates my end as well. Therefore you get 2 for the price of 1 this time! How lucky you all are!

Let me cast your mind back. If you didn’t read the last blog post on the coaching project, you can read it here. I introduced you all to Miia, who is a keen beginner, and has shown great determination and dedication to her training so far. I wanted to provide you with the updates of how she is getting on, but also to show how the training is working. I’m going to break this down into the relevant parts of each discipline. It will be easier taking it one by one and I will also add in my training data along the way. This should put some things explained into some sort of context for you. 

Swim Training

As I mentioned before, without benchmarking and testing in training at different points through the training cycle, we have no idea whether something works or is having impact into our fitness or performance. For the swim, I like to use either a 400m or 1000m time trail. Miia being a novice, we use the 400m time trail until she is at a level where she is swimming the 1000m comfortably and it is worth taking a time from. 

In the last post we documented Miia’s initial 400m time trail. She had a time of 10min 45 secs. This was back in December and she then repeated it again in mid January after carrying out the technique sessions I planned for her. She had improved to 9min 48secs meaning her pace went from 2:32min per 100m to 2:27.  So this improvement only came from working on her technique. Since then we have not only been working on technique, however we also added in fitness sets to her swim. We wanted to build some specific swim fitness and develop that engine in the pool. 

We retested on 26th March. What is her time now you are wondering? Well it stands at…drum roll please…8min 42secs! Amazing! Truly great progress.

Test 1:    10:45          Test 2:    9:48          Test 3:    8:42

Her new time is obviously showing that she is getting faster. She’s knocked over 2 mins off in a short amount of time.

How much faster will she get? Who knows. One thing I can’t do with Miia is regularly get to the pool. Swimming improvements take time and require patience. Some would argue that she would improve naturally anyway just from swimming more – and this I agree with. But the question is how much would she have improved on her own? When would she have hit a plateau? In-fact, you could argue this with all three disciplines. Would she know which sets to do also to improve the swim fitness? This is the advantage with coaching – someone to do the thinking for you!

You see, there is still a lot of work to do with her stroke. There are many aspects that still need to be improved and areas that were highlighted before are better, but could be improved further. This is where the one on one pool coaching is really beneficial. Unfortunately, in this part of the season, we need to balance fitness and technique. Although Miia will continue to improve this year, the question is how much more? Personally, I feel these will be small improvements through the season, however if she puts some work in over the next winter, then I think there will be massive developments again. We need to now continue developing her swim fitness and begin some open water sessions. We are happy at the level of swim so far though.

My training has been going very well in the pool and my 1000m time trail has shown I’m faster now then I ever was. This is what I mean when I say we improve over time. You never make massive jumps, and if you do, they are usually early on. Below is a collation of my times over the last few years for this distance. Whenever I swim it, I swim it as flat out as I can go. A combination of fitness, improved technique and bloody determination has led to this.

1000m Time Trails:

2015:     21mins 33s

2016:     20mins 35s

2017:     18mins 29s

2018:     17mins 45s

2019:     16mins 35s

Fitness, technique is developed over time. The longer we do something, the better we become. I certainly feel Miia will improve further and this year is it about getting a first year baseline. It’s also about ensuring we are carrying out the technique sessions well with good form and not instilling bad habits. The better we become, the smaller the gains we make also.

I know that to improve my swimming times, I would have to swim an extra day a week. I’ve certainly swam more this year, including the extra day,  although probably every other week. Has this helped? Possibly. I’m probably averaging at around a minute less a year over that distance a year, but I also know I am more in tune with my technique than others and know when it feels right!

BIKE

This is a discipline I feel Miia is more naturally gifted in. She is a strong rider and this was noticed early on. We have been riding together when we can on a Sunday to get in our longer ride. Weather has hampered us a fair few times and I gave Miia a particular workout to do on the turbo if that happens. Again she has really followed the plan well and allowed her bike engine to be developed. So let’s explore her results…

Her initial bike test results were as follows:

Starting Bike FTP Power: 141w Starting Bike HR Threshold: 155bpm

Current Bike FTP Power: 171w Current Bike HR Threshold: 162bpm

And there we see it! Training to specific zones and following the plan has led to a massive increase. I think it’s fair to say also that on the second test Miia knew what to expect and pushed a lot harder than the first. I was meant to take a video of it but completely forgot! The more you do this test the better you become at judging the effort, and I was worried she went off a little too hard at first the second time round, although she surprised me and maintained it for the majority of the test.

Many wonder what this actually means, but basically the FTP is the level she could ride and and sustain for the duration of her event. Now, Miia isn’t necessarily going to use all this information, but as a coach, the data is important to allow me to analyse the fitness and performance gains. It tells me whether the workouts prescribed are having the desired affect.

Miia meeting Chrissie Wellington at the Triathlon Show – Excel London

Our longer rides have let her develop the endurance and distance and the shorter workouts at home have pushed the HR up and got her into zones where it is a little uncomfortable. She has taxed her cardiovascular system and will continue to improve in this discipline now that the next part of her training makes FTP workouts more specific.

My performance has also improved here as I’ve pushed my FTP up to 177W at the last test a few weeks back. You may note that this isn’t much more than Miia. The trouble with the test is you need to be able to pace it well, something I don’t think I did well in the last test. A consistent effort required throughout and resisting the urge to go to hard too early on and fading towards the end. The problem – I don’t think I went quite hard enough. You see cycling is based around power to weight ratio. You want to be light, but strong. I always keep a check on my weight throughout training and I’m currently hovering around 62kg. If you are lighter but can produce the same power as a heavy rider, you are stronger. It also means climbing hills you will be quicker. It’s why we see so many skinny Tour de France riders that are incredibly strong on climbs!

I asked Miia to keep an eye on her weight throughout training and before I mention this, I will say she gave me permission to publish this! Her starting weight was 73.5kg and now she is 70.5kg. Probably due from training, but certainly helpful in her bike performance.

Muscular endurance has been a focus for me to build the strength in my legs, and I have only just started to build my ftp with specific workouts. It just shows, bike fitness can come from a variety of ways. Miia also will continue doing this workout in her build phase.

Run Training

I think it will be fair to say that Miia has found Z2 HR run training hard. Not in the sense of actually doing it, but actually sticking to the zone when it feels actually quite slow – even slower than her normal run pace. Patience was key here and initially she was using her watch strap to take the heart rate that actually didn’t help. It was over-calculating it and it was only when she starting using a chest strap she found this out. I think her run has massively improved. We have done very little on speed work but just focused on consistency and trying to develop the engine. Look at these incredible results:

PB Half Marathon Times:

Initial PB: 2h 28mins

16th Dec Half marathon: 2:17:22 10th March Big Half: 2:07:37

Remarkable or what eh? She’s also brought her 5K time down now too. Initially her PB was 29mins which then went down to 27:21 and then 26:54. Miia can certainly see her improvement now and still wants to go closer to 2hrs for the half marathon distance. She will get there with this no doubt. She set out to run 2hr at the Big Half but just run out of steam towards the end. Why? Well I have no doubt she run a lot of that race anaerobically which is fairly taxing on the system and just run out of energy. The positive though is that the more she trains specifically and we look at adding some tempo running, this time will eventually come as her body becomes even more efficient. I’m really looking forward to seeing where this particular aspect goes.

And for me?

Well if there is one aspect of my training that hasn’t gone to plan, then running is it. The foot issue has been on-going and having to manage it means my running is slightly inconsistent. I’ve run two half marathons since and my aim is to try and get that consistent. I’m not too bothered with speed work as my body (foot) is not holding up to additional stress. The important thing, which I’m pleased to add though, is that things are finally starting to look up and the all important brick sessions are now happening. I managed over 20 miles this week without any issues…finger crossed now.

What was apparent recently in my half marathon was how strong I felt at the end of the Big Half. I certainly have the endurance and strength there, I just need to build a little durability in my body for the rigours of running!

Is data everything?

No certainly not! I know many pros and elite athletes who swear by riding on feel and if that works then great. Everyone can have a bad day at a race and not perform or just feel like crap. But what we are wanting to do is not only build fitness, but also confidence in our ability to complete and race events. Going into something knowing you have done the hard work is a much less stressful feeling than turning up and slogging your way around. I certainly hate racing like this. In-fact, for me it isn’t racing. I have no problem with anyone doing this and for many completing an event is an achievement. So it should be. When I started working with Miia, this was her goal. I think if you ask her now, she already knows she will complete it. The question will probably lead down the path of what time?

So I hope you enjoyed the read and the next round of blog posts will be race reports as the season is upon us. I can’t wait! It will be great to update on Miia’s races also. We both take on the sprint triathlon at Dorney lake in 6 weeks time.

Until next time – train hard and train well!

My daughter and I who just did her first 7 miles ride!