Come Out of the Pain Cave and into the light

Of all the aspects of triathlon training, the indoor trainer, turbo, flywheel (whatever you use) is perhaps the most maligned.

I rarely hear athletes criticising its effectiveness as a training tool but the mention of an indoor trainer session is most often accompanied with moans and groans of dread – the boredom, the monotony, the heat, the profuse sweating, the reasons go on.

Those that face the inevitability of pedalling their bike indoors, frequently set themselves up with a dedicated indoor training set-up. Perhaps it’s an old winter bike permanently set up on a resistance wheel, surrounded by audio visual technology, often in a garage, basement, or never-otherwise-used spare room? The Pain Cave.

While not being a uniquely male domain, the label does give it a distinctly masculine overtone.  A place of torment and punishment, representative of an ultimate submission of will to the demands of the training schedule. “I don’t want to do it but I have to.  I shall enter the Pain Cave!”

Is this a coach’s dream? An athlete who’s prepared to withstand the suffering for successful delivery of the planned session? The triathlete warrior going into battle one more time…?

All too often the reality is significantly different.  Some use their carefully arranged plethora of audio-visual stimulation not to enhance their focus on intensity or to maintain tempo to within 2 RPM but as a simple distraction from the task at hand, to pass the time.

How often have you heard someone describe their training session as “two episodes of Friends” or that they had “watched Gladiator”?  Losing your sense of time while turning the pedals sounds like a good idea to get you through the session when in fact all its delivering is indoor junk mileage – without the benefits of fresh air and birdsong!

When I’m on the trainer, I’m in silence other than rhythmic breath, the turning of gears and the whirring resistance against the wheel.  My thoughts are on the time – every minute of it, looking for the next change of tempo or intensity.  Sometimes it hurts. I focus on the hurt. I try to pedal more smoothly and that usually alleviates the pain, for a while at least. As you ache and sweat and search for the end of that phase or the blessed beginning of the cool down, think about this –  Your ‘A’ race.

Now is the time to make a difference. When you were last in a race, struggling to hold your average pace, did it make you wish you’d trained with a little more focus, or did you think back happily to how much you’d enjoyed the box set of Homeland?

Don’t get me wrong, audio visual support is great if it’s used in the right way but not if it has you in the wrong HR zone for your training session aims.  My coaching tutor and winner of Triathlon 220 magazine’s coach of the year Simon Ward, at The Triathlon Coach is a huge proponent of virtual reality rides linked to the Computrainer.  Having seen that in action, I am a big fan too, though I haven’t yet made the investment.

If you prefer a low-tech approach and to ride to feel, using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE), taking a few minutes of counting pedal strokes with a stopwatch to establish the feel of 60, 90, 100 and 120RPM will allow you to deliver the appropriate cadence pretty quickly and fairly sophisticated session plans can still be executed without supporting technology.

If you would like a little more focus to your indoor training, look out for my upcoming blogs, which will include session plans written specifically for bridging the off-season, general preparation, specific preparation, pre-competition and competition phases of your season.

However you prefer to train, I’d urge you to focus on the quality of your training session, not the award winning performance on screen.


GI Tri Coach

What’s at Steak?

There is as much dietary advice out there, as there are training plans. This then must be controversial, as to say anything on the topic is bound to contradict many strongly held beliefs and practices.  Rather than promote a ‘right’ way, instead I’d like to pose a question:

While I follow a particular theory, the most commonly given dietary advice, is to eat a balanced diet.  What then, does that mean?

In Britain, the following split of macro nutrients is recommended by government:


The problem with charts like this, is that plates of food don’t easily lend themselves to measuring macro nutrients in this way and the total demand for energy is personal and is influenced by gender, age, metabolism and activity intensity.  What I’ve tried to do below is show in real terms, what an ‘average’ person might choose to eat:

Name: GI Joe

Age: 35

Height 5’10” (178cm)

Weight 12st 0lb, (168lb) (76Kg)

Current activity level: Moderate

Using that data, we can estimate Joe’s resting metabolic rate (RMR) and Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE):

RMR    1645 kCal

TDEE   2879 kCal

Joe needs to consume 2879kCal on a typical day in order maintain his energy balance, giving him enough energy to continue his current activity level and maintain his current body weight.

Let us assume that Joe eats three meals per day with snacks in between and takes in his energy as: Breakfast 25%; lunch 25%; dinner 25%; and intermediate snacks 25%.  This would fit in with the ‘little and often’ maxim that can accompany the balanced diet.

Joe is having dinner and selects rump steak, chips and garden peas as his meal choice. For readers in the states, by ‘chips’ I mean thick-cut French fries, not potato chips you’d buy as a snack food.  Joe needs to get 25% of his TDEE from the meal, which is 747kCal.

Based on current balanced diet advice of 65% carbohydrate, 20% fat, 15% protein (as represented in the pie chart above):

Food Choice Quantity Carbs Fat Protein
Steak 100g 99kCal 110kCal
Chips 300g 444kCal 42kCal
Peas 50g 30kCal 3.5kCal
Totals 728kCal 474kCal 144.5kCal 110kCal

Here’s Joes plate – it looks familiar… Lots of white, not much green and not much meat.  This might be what’s served up as a pub meal in UK.



What if Joe were to meet his energy requirements through an equilaterally balanced diet? By that I mean 1/3 energy from each of carbohydrates, protein and fat.  He can still do this with a steak, chips and peas meal but the proportions of each food changes:

Food Choice Quantity Carbs Fat Protein
Steak 240g 216kCal 240kCal
Chips 120g 178kCal 14kCal
Peas 100g 61kCal 7kCal
Totals 716kCal 239kCal 237kCal 240kCal

That’s the data but his plate would look like this:


Clearly, this shows more steak, more peas and fewer chips.

The idea for balancing macro nutrient energy sources as an interpretation of what a balanced diet should be, came from the properties of whole milk, which aren’t exactly equilateral but are pretty close.

I’d like to think this is neither low carb, nor high fat but more naturally balanced.

I know which plate I’d choose (if I were forced to eat chips).

How about you?


GI Tri Coach

This piece is derived from work originally co-written with Dr. Jennifer Burr, Senior Lecturer at University of Sheffield, UK.

Weekly swim session plan 24 October 2016


This week we build on the catch improvements made last week and transition into the pull phase of the stroke.  The pull is the major propulsive element of the stroke and the difference between an effective and ineffective pull, is significant. Use a pull buoy for this session in order to neutralise the kick and focus on the front of the stroke.

Warm Up:

100 – 200m (4 -8 lengths) easy freestyle

Technical set:

4 x 50m sculling to half way, swim to wall (see coaching points)

4 x 50m doggy paddle to halfway, swim to wall

4 x 50m Head-up life-saver to halfway, swim to wall

4 x 50m Stroke count – try to reduce strokes by squeezing through the pull phase

Main set:

4 – 8 x 50m focusing on what was learnt / experienced in the pull drills

Warm down:

100m – 300m (4 – 12 lengths) easy cool down

Total Volume:

1200m – 1700m

Coaching Points:

Sculling – keep fingertips pointing downward – this ISN’T stunted breaststroke! See the link:

Ensure you can feel the water pressure against your hand (“feel for the water”) before beginning the pull, gradually increasing power through the pull phase.

Keep the elbow high and wide through the pull, as the hand pulls a straight path from catch, back toward the hip.

The elbow of the pulling arm reaches its maximum bend of 90° as it passes under the shoulder

Aim for the leading hand to be approximately at the depth and alignment of the rotated shoulder, during all of the drills and swim strokes.

Breakfast muffins

For those that saw the energy bars post, apologies for not yet delivering on the follow up food related posts but wait no longer!

I’ve been following a low carb diet for around two years now and the biggest complaint I hear from other low carb eaters, it the monotony of the breakfasts.

Here is more of the same, whipped up slightly differently, to convince you just enough, that you’re not eating bacon eggs AGAIN:

Breakfast muffins:

3 eggs

1 rasher bacon  (seriously this isn’t bacon and eggs, honest!)

1 tomato

1 medium mushroom

1 oz / 25g butter

1/2 cup single or double cream

just about anything else you like


Who’s checked the quantity of mushrooms?

Use half the butter to grease the muffin tray.  Chop everything up into small pieces (de-seed the tomatoes) and by the time you’ve done that, the tiny bits of butter will be warm enough to smear around the tin:


Fry off the ingredients in the other half of the butter and once soft split them into six equal portions:


Beat the eggs and cream together and add them equally to the muffin tins. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes on 180C or 350F, until the muffins have risen but have not browned :

Eat them warm, or cold, filled with anything you like.

Of course they’re just mini omelettes really and aren’t muffins at all but who doesn’t love food that you can just pic up and eat? The Ironkid thought they were fun to make and so I thought I’d share!


GI Tri Coach

Homemade Energy Bars

Ahead of my upcoming ultra, I thought I’d have a go at some homemade energy bars.

Not a lot of science went into this project…Clif, High 5 and Powerbar, fear not!

This is not a food blog and it isn’t going to become one but somewhat ironically, this is the first of three food themed posts you’ll see over the next few days….

3-ingredient date bars:

1 cup pitted dates

1 cup toasted almond flakes

1 cup dried cherries

Gaps in the cup of dried cherries filled with chia seeds (well, I had come lying around, so why not? other than there are four ingredients in the inaugural batch!).

Put everything into a food processor, or like I did, spend a good while going at it with a kitchen knife, having failed to make a blender do the job:



When it’s really fine and starting to clump together, use your thoroughly washed hands to form it into a tight ball, then roughly form a slab by repeatedly pressing, slapping a tapping it back into shape:


Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate until you’ve forgotten about it.  When eventually you remember again, take it out.



Cut it into ‘bite size’ squares and wrap in greaseproof kitchen paper.


They’re ready to take on the trail.

Despite looking like something passed by a squirrel, they taste REALLY good!

The second batch sticks to the ‘three ingredients’ principle and uses apricots instead of cherries. This one is ‘rough cut’ as I suspect these will be like peanut butter…. Some people like smooth, others like crunchy. I’ll let you argue over which way is best!

The thing is…. Dates will stick to just about anything, so switching out or adding ingredients shouldn’t be a problem. Just make ‘em how you like ‘em!

Keep running for longer!


GI Tri Coach

Weekly swim session plan 17 October 2016

Last week’s arm recovery set up an improved hand entry.  Let move into the next phase of the stroke, the catch.  The catch is the part at the very front of the stoke, where the hand forms a paddle and imports a positive pressure against the water, setting up the swimmer for an effective pull.

Warm Up:

100 – 200m (4 -8 lengths) easy freestyle

Technical set:

4 x 50m ‘super-slow’ swimming, pausing prior to hand entry, to break at the wrist and form a catch with a flat hand.

4 x 50m 1 – finger drill going up the pool, full hand when swimming back

4 x 50m Head-up life-saver going up the pool, normal head position when swimming back

Main set:

4 – 8 x 50m focusing on what was learnt in the catch drills

Warm down:

100m – 300m (4 – 12 lengths) easy cool down

Total Volume:

1000m – 1500m

Coaching Points:

Fingertips should always be below the wrist (never pointing upward, out of the water)

Think of the catch like a canoe paddle that will help to propel you through the water.

Ensure that the palm of your hand faces the pool wall behind you for as much of the stroke as possible

Optimize its effectiveness through the pull phase, i.e. don’t pull out, across, up, or down but backward)

Watch this short trailer for swim smooth’s ‘Catch Masterclass’ DVD that shows the key elements of catch mechanics (without 2 hours of explanation)

Back to basics

In a recent mail sent to all the athletes I coach 1-1, I reminded them to take this opportunity at the end of the season to break up their routine and have a little fun in their active lifestyle.  This might include some time out on a mountain bike, trail running or hiking.  The most important aspects are to really enjoy what you’re doing and break up the training schedule that you’d followed in the previous months.

In our end of year reviews, one athlete reported that despite planning their session timetable jointly, it didn’t really work for them and that it compromised their life away from triathlon.  Another reported that their plan actually felt stale by the time they reached peak training volume.  Neither of those scenarios are likely to promote the very best performance from the athletes.

There is a great opportunity while enjoying yourself, to re-evaluate what works for you.  Do you still want to do that early morning swim on Thursdays?  Have any other aspects of your life changed in priority such that you really need to rethink your plan?  Keeping a note of the activities you enjoyed the most during the off season and when you like to do them, might help inform your training plan for 2017.

The other thing to think about at this time of year is testing.  It’s important to know where your fitness levels are in order to set your training zones when your structured training re-commences.

Having only just finished my race season (ignoring the ‘just for fun’ ultra I have in a few weeks), one might expect that I’m in my best shape.  For my swim at least, nothing could be further from the truth.  This week I completed a Critical Swim Speed (CSS) test, to re-baseline my swim sets as I look forward to performance gains next season.  What I discovered was quite shocking but having given it just a moment of thought, perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised at all.  My CSS pace is now 6 seconds per hundred metres slower than it had been in Spring.  Why is that?  Well, 2016 has been a transitional year for me, coming back from significant injury that had me confined to crutches for the latter six months of 2015.  What was most important for me, was performance assurance, not pace.  I needed to get in the water and out on the bike, without fuss. In order to do that, I structured my plan to be simply two open water Iron distance swims per week, (Mondays and Wednesdays).  I’d swim in the 1:05 – 1:10 window each time and succeeded in making that a normal outcome.  In my two iron distance races of the season, I swam 1:05 and 1:07 with change, so in that respect, mission accomplished. Having plodded all year though, I shouldn’t be surprised that I plodded through the 400m and 200m time trials that set my CSS pace.  Using this new slower CSS will however, give me a realistic starting point as I work in the pool to make my 2017 goal of a 60-minute Ironman swim, a possibility.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working with athletes to establish their current CSS pace, functional threshold on the bike and lactate threshold heart rate for their run sessions.

If you need help to understand how to set a CSS or establish your bike and run thresholds, comment below and we can look at those in detail in a future post.


GI Tri Coach