Category: Endurance Sport

Precursors to Performance

As a coach, you sometimes wonder if your direction and recommendations are being listened to. Do the usual messages of consistency and training with intent, resting, recovering, eating well start to sound trite almost? It’s not matter we take lightly. Delivering a message after all needs to be meaningful and hopefully held in good regard. We see this with messages from the authorities when it comes to warnings about smoking, speeding, and drink driving.

When studying football, coaches look for these precursors that lead to scoring opportunities. Fast play the balls, players in motion off the ball, game plans and players that ca execute those game plans under pressure.

What I have learned over many years is that there are a few key “precursors to performance” that we can rely on in endurance sport and try to replicate for sustainable success.

  • The athlete has had a deliberate progression in their racing and training in the lead up. Million dollar performances don’t just pop up out of nowhere. You see them coming. Make sure you are always trying to build to something. Not seeing the next race as make or break.
  • The athlete has had hurdles they have had to jump over to get to their best. Being exposed to difficult times, whether it be from injury or life circumstances, gives an athlete great coping skills and new levels of resilience. Their difficulty gives them a thirst for success.
  • The athlete is looking after themselves. Or from a counter view, I am yet to see an athlete reach their best by eating poorly, sleeping under 6 hours a night, and generally not taking care of their best assets, their minds and bodies.
  • The athlete becomes positive. Self doubt starts giving way to self belief. That comes fro one thing. Seeing improvement in training. Being able to go faster, or go the same pace but for longer, or even go the same pace at a lower heart rate.
  • They are in a healthy competitive environment. The language they are constantly hearing is that it’s ok to push yourself to be better.
  • Consistency comes to the athlete. As a result of looking after themselves and working on aligning the other forces in their life, sessions start to get done on a regular basis.

Endurance Sport Success

We must remember that success in endurance sport is a multi-faceted area. Similar to motor racing, if it was just the engine it would be simple. It isn’t. It’s engine, suspension, aerodynamics, tyres, hydration, driver skill, mental approach, race tactics etc etc

Time trials aren’t an exercise in going as fast as you can and trying to PB. They are an exercise in being able to practice going fast and thinking about how we perform across the spectrum. How was my skill? What was my mental approach like? What equipment did I use and how did it perform?

“Managing” the heat

From a weather perspective this summer has been a challenging one. Heat and humidity really sucks it out of you at times and I have had to adjust intensity expectations more than a few times. We can drink all the electrolytes in the world and physically adjust, but in the end, the oppressive environmental factors means the Rating of Perceived Exertion punches up through the roof higher than we think. In that respect I’m pleased I can refer back to data and the data is speaking improvement on the whole despite basically feeling a bit rough from disturbed sleep and hot sessions. In raw terms, you might feel like rubbish but your improvement might not. Just adjust the correlation between “feelings” and “real”.

We can put this to good use of course. How many times does it happen that you experience heat in a race and it literally makes your feel like crap. You start to slow and readjust your personal expectations as to a result. Let’s use this time to practice holding pace and power while feeling the RPE climbing due to the heat. What can be a hardship can be a strategic cutting edge against your opposition. Turn it around and bring it in. Let’s face it, we still have at least a month to go of it.

T4 / T5

T5 – As a general rule if I prescribe T5 I will be looking for a top end level. It will have a long period of rest assigned to it also so you can have a good go at the intervals. At a minimum it will be 1:1 work:rest. When doing these have a real go and see if you can better your power / pace for that distance or length of interval. If you are doing a bike set on a smart trainer then switch “erg” off and rip in. I’d prefer you to see if you can set a new level and experience failure in the other reps than protect yourself and hold all reps at an even level.

T4 – this zone is all about race specificity and developing strength at that pace / power / heart rate over a period of time. Holding all intervals at the prescribed zone is the outcome I’ll be looking for is a full set at that level.

Building the Endurance Athlete

How I like to develop an endurance athlete is a question I get occasionally. There’s so much information out there now that it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees. So the answer to the question “How do you develop an athlete?” becomes a question of my personal coaching philosophy. I highlight that this piece of writing is directed toward the age group athlete. High Performance has different nuances.

Philosophy
There’s a bit of a thing with coaching that you’re a “science” coach or an “art” coach. I don’t believe in this. I lean towards the art side but am definitely always working with science.
Generally as a coach I am not driven by numbers, but am guided by them. I think this comes from my experience in the sport from the 1980’s and competing without them. Basically, there’s a time to have them and a time not to have them.
I work on the basic philosophy that if I want to enable the athlete to reach their full potential, then a lot of the time that is by helping the athlete get out of their own way.
What am I building?
First and foremost I take the approach that I am building an endurance athlete that can do most endurance events at any one time. Any one of my triathletes should be able to take on a 70.3 distance triathlon, a half marathon, a long bike race, a long swim, etc etc.
If they wanted to step the distance up to Ironman or marathon, well that should only take a specific 12-16 week block to build some longer km in the legs. If we are specifically heading for sprint or standard distance, then the weekend endurance work gets a bit shorter and possibly the mid-week intensity work can get a bit longer.
The Raw Materials
What am I trying to develop:
  • Aerobic Fitness – everything you do as an endurance athlete relies on the basic premise that you are aerobically “fit”
  • Strength – you need the strength to be able to withstand being on your feet for a long time, climb hills, swim in open water, ride or run into headwinds.
  • Endurance – at any point in time i want you to be able to swim for an hour straight, do a 3 hour ride and run for 1.5 hours
  • Technique – poor technique can the root of all evil, however movement patterns are very entrenched in the age group athlete. I like to work on efficiency and making sure the technique isnt causing injury. technique should be a holistic approach to having enough strength, flexibility and range of motion to allow the body what it needs to do.
  • Resilience / Durabilty – I want the athlete to be resilient to the many obstacles that are thrown their way. Busy work weeks, family demands, etc etc. i want you to be able to continue to train in and around those challenges by adjusting your program – not throwing a week away.
  • Mental toughness – if you aren’t mentally tough, then endurance sports may not be for you. I work with you constantly on this and mostly in the area of believing in yourself. Most athletes are tough in sessions. Most don’t give up. Most get out of bed early. Not a lot will have the self belief but to say to the world “I am an endurance athlete”. They are too worried about what people will think of them.
  • Consistency – to continue a steady “build” in fitness its critical to get traction on your weekly training load. If one week it goes up and the next week it goes down, well its very hard to establish a decent overload / adaptation cycle. I would rather a consistent 10 hour week than 15 hours one week and 5 the next.
  • Communication – a key skill in being coached is the ability to communicate. It’s hard to read minds, but this definitely needs to be a key skill if you are to be any good at this game.
  • Patience – probably the best thing you can have in endurance sport. Maybe a sign of the times that we are generally not as good at it these days?
  • Honesty – for some reason, athletes will hide things from their coach. I am looking for complete and open honesty and am happy to return that favour.
  • Daring – I like athletes that have a crack, as long as they know the consequences. We can play it safe all the time but I would prefer that you occasionally test the waters.
Periodisation
A bit of a buzzword in triathlon. As far as periodisation goes I either work in base mode or race prep mode. Base will be predominantly aerobic but with a small amount of intensity. Race prep mode will have more intervals at race specific pace / power / speed. Come off a race and its back to base.
Build, build, build, recovery is a preference, but if the consistency isn’t there we will wait for the fatigue levels to build enough to warrant an adaptation week.
Some athletes can withstand a lot of fatigue in a build and some cant. Its a matter of applying what is right for the individual.
Execution of the Coaching Process 
All of the above is okay, but what we are dealing with is real people with real lives and many different backgrounds. What works with one doesn’t work with the other. I try to display a huge amount of empathy and take the long road to development by taking it back a few steps to sort things out so they don’t re-occur. Telling an athlete “my way or the highway” can be an easy and quick path, but I will leave it to the ego-driven.
As a coach I am malleable and observe deeply over a period of time. Then I work towards long-term sustainable success with the athlete, which in turn makes you a better person all up.
Hopefully this helps you understand what I am trying to do with you as we work together towards success.

The Race Plan

The Race Plan

1. What outcomes are you looking for come race day ?

2. When will you be travelling to the race and what time to you plan to arrive on race day? 

3. What time is your race start ? 

4. What is your warm up plan ? 

5. What is your race nutrition plan ? 

6. What is your race pacing plan ? 

7. What is your strategy for mechanical mishap on the bike such as a flat tyre ?

8. What will be your pre-race dinner the night before ?

9. What will be your pre-race breakfast the morning of the race? 

10. What will you take to the race for post race re-fuelling ?

11. What equipment will you be using on the day? Is it prepared and ready to go? Have you checked it since last time you used it? 

12. What is the predicted weather on race day?

13. Have you studied the course maps? 

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

It’s quite a normal thing where i will see or hear a comment from an athlete saying they want to be ‘stronger’ on the bike. Or even also in the swim and run. People throw the word stronger around as its a physical ‘thing’ that can be measured. Lets face it we all want to be stronger. In every area we want to be the strongest even.
My approach is this….We as coaches can prescribe more strength work, and indeed we do. 4 x 5mins at 60 cadence, or 5 x 5min seated hill reps are tools to help us deal with getting stronger. But this is contributing in one way to the cause. Another way to getting stronger is actually taking a holistic strength approach across to your riding.
When you are doing your solo aerobic rides during the week or the long ones on the weekend you should be looking for opportunities to improve your strength the whole time. (be smart if you’re with a group). If you come up to a rise, resist switching it back a gear and hold the one you are in the whole way up. When you come to a set off lights, take off in a hard gear. Put a good effort in out of the saddle for 100m. When you turn the corner, punch a few good hard strokes out of it before settling back in. When you are riding home from the next ride take the undulating way and “work the hills”.
The best riders in the world didn’t just get strong by doing strength intervals. They did the strength intervals …. PLUS they worked on being stronger the whole time they were on the bike. The best swimmers do pull and paddles PLUS they take to the open water. The best runners do hill reps PLUS they take the stairs and get in the gym.

Pain

Recently we have been upping the game with T5 in more of the quality sessions. The intensity being prescribed to make sure you are able to tolerate the demands of endurance competition. When things are getting tough at the back end its good to know you have dealt with that in training and are able to endure just that little bit longer. In the back end of the race it’s key to understand your body is doing one thing and your mind is doing another. The mind wants you to stop but the body is more than likely ok to keep going. Your RPE shoots up to 9/10 or 10/10 when the body is working at 7/10. The key with hard training is that it gives you an opportunity to deal with that before the race and set your plan tolerance level higher.

Planning and Preparation

Monday morning and the start of another 7 day “block” of training. Another chance to get a good crack at what is important for you at the moment. That might be re-establishing discipline and routine post big race or it might mean higher levels of accountability with a big race coming up. For those hitting Western Sydney it’s the key period now. Take it a day at a time and give yourself a chance to reflect at the end of the week. Remember to not look for perfection. Dont jump off the wagon and “start next Monday”.
 
A key skill that the best in all sports do really well is organisation and planning. Take it a step up in attention to detail and it not only takes the pressure off you but improves your ability to perform. Thinking ahead will help you. A lot.
 
Yesterday’s High Performance sporting environment of the Bathurst 1000 showed that the team’s that came out on top were the one’s that were best able to manage in turmoil. It wasn’t the ones that had no turmoil. Endurance is a game that demands planning and preparation. If you are ready for the unexpected then you will not only perform bette, but enjoy it more as well.
 
Do what the best in the world do. Plan your week to a level of detail that probably even blows your own mind. Then watch the results come.

Fitness and CTL

One of the biggest misleading things on TP in my eyes is the fact that they call CTL “fitness” (the blue line on your performance management chart). The blue line isn’t fitness – it’s how much training load you have done which is an indicator of where you might sit in your fitness levels

The blue line does give you however, an indication of how you have been training. If that blue line is generally trending upwards it’s saying you are developing great consistency and we all know where consistency leads us. It leads us to success.

The Swim

I have had a few questions lately about the swim. Its clear that the swim can be a frustrating discipline to develop. I usually like to coach these things individually as each individual situation demands different needs. A rookie has massively different needs to a pro.
How much a developing young athlete commits to the swim will definitely be different to another athlete that literally hasn’t got that sort of time to invest in big volume / frequency jumps.
There are however, a few common points that I can push :
  • It’s no use practicing more when your technique isn’t being looked after. Technique should be the dominant driver. Give me 2 focussed, attentive hours over 4 mindless hours anyway.
  • Awareness of where you are at and what you need to improve is key. You cant improve what you aren’t aware of
  • The key areas of the swim are : Good body position, balanced breathing with a good deep exhale underwater, early catch, high elbow pull, strong kick.
  • Keep your rating up at least over 32 strokes per minute. Slowing down your rating means you decelerate between strokes and it needs a lot of effort to accelerate again.
  • Be aware of your stroke count for 50m at different intensities. Pulling “harder” through the water usually ends up as wasted effort due to slipping through the water. A good stroke count starts at the high 30’s. This indicates you have a good pull. If it goes much past 50 strokes per 50m it means you need to work on your pull.
  • An early catch and high elbow pull ensures a good grab on the water. Grab that water as best you can with your whole forearm and pull your body past it. Engage your lats in that movement –
  • Don’t drop your elbow underwater … it means you are only using your hand for the pull
  • The hands should enter the water at the shoulder width and pull back under your shoulder line.
When you get the opportunity to watch elite swimmers on television or for that matter on Youtube, watch with these things in mind
  • From the front keep an eye on the line of their pull under the water. Watch their breathing patterns and head position
  • From below the water watch the exhale, body position, early catch & high elbow pull.
  • From above look for hand entry points, shoulder and hip rotation and timing of the arms
  • If you get a chance, count their strokes per 50m.
  • When they get out of the water look at their bodies and how they are developed. This will tell you a lot.

Running Shoes

Just had a great question from an athlete. “When should I replace my running shoes?”

We can complicate this with many different versions of course but the centre of the envelope answer is around 800km. The variances to this rule would be the amount of trail running you do, how heavy you are, what type of shoe they are etc.

When we had our running night with Ryan Quintano at the run shoe shop he said one of the best things you can do for injury prevention is also to have 2 pairs that you rotate.

The 4 Principles of Training

See the graphic I have created below. Overload, Adaptation, Specificity & Reversibility are the keys to training. I have also added in a Performance Management Chart (PMC). It’s important to note that the PMC is displaying all 4 of those principles.

In the PMC you will note the gradual rise of fitness (blue line) as the athlete is in the overload / adaptation phase. You will also see it drop after a major race as the athlete recovers depicting reversibility.

The blue dots are indicating the specificity of training. You can see on the left of the PMC the athlete is in their winter base with lower fitness levels and lower blue dots. As they get into proper training, the fitness rises and the dots become higher showing training is becoming more intense.

The key to it all as your coach is getting the correct balance and timing right for all these factors as we lead into the races.

 

Training Load

I’m quite often asked how much training someone should be doing for certain events. Answer is always “it depends” , but it’s definitely good to have a ball park figure in mind. I have a few rules of thumb when it comes to training loads.

1. Work out the total number of weekly hours based on experience in the sport.

2. Take into account “life” demands. Family needs, work, study, chill out time etc

3. Make sure we have enough hours to train correctly for the goal event. If the athlete doesn’t have enough hours, shorten the goal event.

4. Once I have my rough weekly hours number I use the 25/50/25 rule. 25% swim, 50% bike, 25% run.

5. If you are doing long course I try to match weekend numbers with weekday numbers. So if you are doing a 4 hour ride on the weekend then I try to get you doing 4 hours mid week spread out over 3 rides. Similar to run. If you are doing a 2 hour long run I’ll try to get you to match it mid-week.

6. For short course athletes I like the weekend long sessions to be all about the aerobic foundations for your mid-week intensity. Weekends can also be a chance to sneak a run off the bike in to train for the demands of competition.

7. I like Monday and Friday to be have a recovery focus. That can be passive recovery by means of a day off, or active recovery by means of easier aerobic based sessions.

8. Apply the 4 principles of training to develop the mix of the hours. This is the “art of coaching” part as it deals with the many issues life throws at us.

Intervals

Its sometimes hard to know how hard to go in a set of intervals. My guide is firstly to remember that we work in a training zone. So T4 is a range between 96% and 102% of your Anaerobic Threshold. Depends on how you are feeling but if you have a set of 5x1km on the track its best to work into them. Start the first one a bit easier and get to the last one by incrementally getting quicker each one.

Being aware of your targets helps this of course. If you know your threshold pace on the run is 4min/km then start at 4:05 and work towards 3:55.

Time Trials

In training, TT’s are a great opportunity to practice race skills. I am looking for 100% commitment to them and I want you experiencing that bit of internal pressure that comes with the territory. I am then looking for you to switch that pressure to a process mindset. Feel the pressure , then get your head around your pacing and technique. Let the outcome be what it is.
TT’s also give me an idea of what your current Anaerobic Threshold is.