Category: Triathlon

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?

Again – don’t just think success is all about the size of the engine. There’s so much more to it than that !

“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 Athlete

How I like to develop an 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. At HPT we will take Garmins away from the athlete at times to help build “feel”. Devices can definitely help us become faster, but also I tend to think it can take some of the beauty away from sport at times.
I work on the basic philosophy that I want to enable the athlete to reach their full potential. 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.
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 3-4 hour ride, run for 1.5 to 2 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 – 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 coaching 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.
  • 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.