Fifty Shades of Pink

I have in the past talked about aspects of motivation and in particular, techniques to help the demotivated athlete rediscover their mojo.

Today, I’m asking a far more fundamental question and propose my own hypothesis.

Why do we do it?

That question is often the starting point for goal setting, if you know why you do, or want to do something, then you are a good way toward setting goals for your achievement and describing the goal or your progression toward it, using SMART objectives. That’s where we can often find our motivation to train – we understand why we do it.

So, just for a few moments, before you read on, ask yourself why you do it. None of us train ‘triathlon’ or train ‘Ironman’ we train our swimming, cycling and running. So, answer that for yourself.

OK, if you have immediately read on to this paragraph, put your hands on your head and stand in the corner of the room. Go on!

So, now we’re alone, here’s what I think.  For the vast majority of us, we do it because we love it.  We love the feeling of moving through water, being out on our bikes, even when the big climbs hurt and we love running, sometimes through the forest but other times just through the paved streets, on our way home.  Is that right for you, or not?

So, if we are doing these things that might be summarised as ‘training’ because we love them, or in some distinctly personal way, gain joy from them, why do we insist on measuring our performance in purely quantitative terms?  We are constantly chasing times, PBs, SBs, PRs, Strava segments, FTP, CSS, KOM, W/Kg, MPH, m/s, m/s/s? If you climb a few places up the finisher rankings well, great but unless you’re a podium contender, is anyone else really taking note of the twenty age group places you’ve gained since the same race last year?

What’s the point? Really?

I hear you trot out that “the you of today is ‘better’ than the you of yesterday”. OK I get that. But is the best way to measure a better you, to know that you ran down ‘Back Lane’ 2 seconds quicker than last time you were out and are now 4th out of those you follow on Strava for that segment? Is that you??

I propose that the better me, is the person that enjoys training today, even more than I enjoyed it yesterday.  If my motive to train is because I enjoy the activities, then surely enjoyment is the key metric to measure my improvement? After all, if I’m enjoying my training, I’m much more likely to want to do my next session and create training consistency, which seems to be the universally agreed predictor for a good race day performance.

Welcome to ER – your new performance metric!

Emotional Response (ER) is the label I’ve given to the joy of training.  It captures the feeling you get while you’re out there, as the sun rises over the hedgerow and it also reflects the feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment you feel when you’ve finished your planned (or unplanned) training session.

So how will we measure it?  I don’t expect yet another numerical scale to do it justice, after all, emotion is personal and the joy you experience from each session is unique.

I propose a colour chart.  What better scale than shades of pink?

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The range is personal to you but I’d suggest that when you feel like shouting “again Dad, again!” like a child who’s just gone down a giant water slide for the first time, then your way out there over to the left.  If you spent most of your session and the rest of the morning wondering why you bother, then you’re somewhere over to the right.

If you find yourself over to the right for several sessions, days or weeks, then you’re either heading for, or are already demotivated, feeling a loss of mojo and skipped sessions and inconsistency are almost inevitable.

That might be a good time to talk to your coach about making some changes to your training that might affect the volume, intensity, location, timing, balance or focus of your sessions and overall plan.

If pink is likely to clash with the colour of your favourite tri suit, then make up your own sliding scale to express for your Emotional Response (ER) to your training sessions.

How does that feel?

Paul

GI Tri Coach

Lovin’ It

As a coach, I am a great believer in athletes performing high quality training sessions. I don’t remember the last time I heard any coach promoting the proliferation of junk mileage, so that in itself isn’t really worth writing about.

What I have in mind is the departure from time to time, from all the structure. Getting away from the metrics of distance, time, speed, pace, cadence, heart rate, stroke length, wattage and personal best performances.

No, sometimes, you have to switch to an entirely new qualitative paradigm – Joy.

If you’re training for an Ironman, depending upon your base level of fitness and experience at the distance, you’ll be training for anything between eighteen and twenty-four weeks, putting in ten to sixteen hours, or even more for some people.  I know some athletes who can tell you to the metre how much swimming, cycling and running they did in 2016.  What I’m left wondering though, is what proportion of those they actually enjoyed.

When we start in this great sport, most of us have a background in one of the three – not everyone but most.  That original sport – let’s say it was running, you did because you loved it.  Maybe you worked your way up to a marathon? You ran and ran and ran because you loved it. Right? Do you remember that time?

Eventually though, you looked for something else, either something more, or something different.  And here we are, on the GI Tri Coach blog…

Training for triathlon, particularly Ironman, is an arduous task.  It usually involves at least one sport that really, deep down, you just tolerate, or endure.  You grind through sessions without loving it, ever dreaming about it, or even looking forward to it.  That’s usually where it starts.  You’re not really looking forward to a session but you do it anyway. Reluctantly.  Eventually though, you pluck up the courage to do it – you skip the session.  Soon enough you don’t only skip the session you hated but another one, that you used to quite like and before long, your training plan looks like a chess board and motivation is something you’re now finding hard to define, let alone locate.

That might sound entirely familiar to you but hopefully, not quite yet.

One of the things I have been doing with athletes lately, is breaking down the structure.  Taking away performance targets or even session durations. Not all the time of course but once in a while – on a lighter week.

I have for years now, used this technique when re-building from scratch, trying to recover an athlete from despondency but lately I have used it with the most consistent and capable athletes.

Why?  Because even the best athletes need a break. Not a break from training but a break from expectation.

When did you last feel the love for your sport?  Swimming through the water, feeling it rush over your body as you slip through a hole in the water so narrow, you thought you’d lost weight?  Ridden toward the low sun and the only sounds were the tyres on the road surface, the chain over your gears and your rhythmic breath and the only thought in your mind was “wow, I love this bike!”?  Been running down a trail, the light casting shadows on the path as it passed though the bare winter branches, birdsong up ahead only mildly obscured by the crunch of your shoes beneath?  The sheer joy of it all.

If you’re planning to go out training this weekend. Try one of those sessions above.

Feel the joy!

It might help you keep to your rigid training schedule for another few weeks, until once more, you say “no more” to structure and “yes please” to lovin’ it!

Paul

GI Tri Coach

New Year, New Plans

More reliable than a fistful resolutions, for the New Year, I give you new indoor training session plans!

Those who read GI Tri Coach regularly, may remember Indoor trainer sessions for the off-season where I shared some good starter sessions to keep you active indoors as you transition between the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Hopefully you’re enjoying an active, injury free off-season and are discovering new ways, times and places to train that you’d like to carry forward into the coming season.

For athletes with mid-year Ironman races, structured training toward your ‘A’ race is only a few weeks away!

If that statement fills you with dread, fear not.  The indoor trainer provides an opportunity for specific focus and for fitness gains that are really difficult to achieve out on the road.  That’s not to say that it negates the need for road riding – far from it.  The benefits of good bike handling and the sheer joy of riding outdoors can never be under estimated.  That said, there is also a strong argument for season-long use of the indoor trainer for maximum gains.

Follow the links below, to four key session plans that you can use to supplement sessions 1-3 over the next weeks and months, as your training volume and intensity increases.

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A word of caution – If you haven’t yet used the earlier sessions, don’t dive straight into these longer and higher intensity sessions, instead use the link to the earlier sessions near the top of this page and start with those.

If you’ve been maintaining your indoor training, as a rough guide, aim for at least two indoor trainer sessions per week, selecting one from sessions 1-3 and one from sessions 4-8 in order to gradually increase overall training load.

After several weeks, you may choose to use two sessions from 4-8 and perhaps use sessions 1-3 during lighter training weeks.

In a few weeks time, I’ll share more sessions that will allow you to train indoors right through specific preparation and pre-competition phases of your race season.

Until then, stay focused more on the sessions and less on the TV.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

 

 

 

Indoor trainer sessions for the off-season

Cycling on an indoor trainer should be no means be the preserve of the Winter months, as it can deliver fitness gains at any point during the season.  Over the last few days however, the weather in UK has become decidedly wintery.  No better time then, to think about realising the benefits of training indoors!

There are some incredibly sophisticated trainers on the market, that can wirelessly sync with your training app and are able to automatically adjust the resistance of the trainer, in order to follow the planned program to the letter. These are great if you have the budget.

For those that don’t have access to the technology, as promised in Come Out of the Pain Cave and into the light, attached are four training plans that you can download and print to use right away, with the simplest of equipment. The longest you’ll be required to hold your concentration is about 10 minutes, or for the TV-while-training people out there, that’s about the duration of programming between ad breaks on commercial TV.  I think you can manage it. Go on, I dare you, focus on the session.

These plans are ideal if you are new to indoor training, or are slowly transitioning back into training during the off season.

If you don’t currently own a trainer but want to reap the benefits that your fellow triathletes are accessing over the off season, I’d recommend looking on an auction website to find one for sale locally to you.  Generally, people only sell a trainer for one reason – they haven’t used it.  You should be able to pick up a current model, low-use trainer at a fraction of the retail price. Use online product information and customer reviews to identify the trainer that’s right for you.

I hope that you find the plans useful.

More plans will follow over the coming weeks with the aim of challenging your endurance and fitness, to accomplish performance gains on the road when training and racing in 2017.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

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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.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

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.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

Event Report – Ironman Barcelona 2016

Most people who write reports after races, tell you in detail of the swim splits, average bike pace and power, the mechanical they suffered, the run that wasn’t quite what they’d expected and the X, Y or Z reason that it all didn’t quite go to plan.

This isn’t that.

What would be the point? Neither you, nor I would learn a thing, other than I’m happy with that day and have already booked another Ironman, with expectations of improved performance.

Ironman Barcelona, isn’t of course in Barcelona but who’s ever heard of Calella?

I’d previously visited the event in 2014, when the morning of the race had been stormy and the sea a dark grey-brown that frankly, made me, as a pretty strong swimmer, feel uneasy.  I’m pleased to report that 2016 was a different story, with a light ripple on clear blue waters being prevalent every day through the race and beyond.  Each afternoon (with the exception of race day), the wind picked up from the South West but was never going to be a real issue.

My good friend Vaughn had found some fantastic accommodation in El Pekinaire B&B.  It’s only two stars but don’t let that put you off.  The rooms were great, light, spacious and with shower heads to cleanse the grimiest on Ironman athletes. Vaughn and I were the only Brits in the place, with all but one room taken by people there for the Ironman. The majority were Germans and Austrians – need I say more? This place was just right.  The thing that I loved most about El Pekinaire, were the breakfasts.  A combination of fruit, yogurt, pastries, cheese, ham and an endless supply of freshly made eggs and bacon.  This place was set up to meet he appetite of an Ironman athlete.

Ironman had really nailed the layout of registration, the expo, swim, start, swim finish, transition and race finish that were all spread across about 1500m of partially shaded beachfront pathway, which would form part of the run course.  A vast improvement since 2014.

Registration and racking were clear, quick and easy, other than a minor pre-racking incident.  Vaughn and I had to spring into action to help a guy who’d blown a tyre on the way to rack and was starting the process of installing his only spare at the side of the road.  Assuring him that the ‘A’ team were on hand, we established that seeing I had a spare, spare, spare of a spare, he could use one of mine.  I could tell that as I disappeared off toward my hotel, he didn’t expect to see me again.  Making haste, I headed back toward transition with the intention of finding him at his numbered bike rack. Thankfully, I chose the same route, as I found the two still crouching over the bike, unable to get the tube into the tyre without pinching it.  The stress levels were as high as the afternoon sun. Handing him his new spare tube and pumping a cupful of air into his tube, I eased the tyre cleanly onto the rim. Disaster averted.  We bumped into the guys after the race (all had gone well).

The course itself begins with a simple out and back coastal sea swim.  With a swim of just over an hour, I managed to avoid the chop, which with a gathering wind, was growing by the minute.  The bike course is both deceptive in its elevation and true to its reputation of being fast.  Fast of course is a relative term.  This year, Ironman has added a simple right turn to the centre of the course, that takes up straight up a four-kilometre drag, before allowing you to fly back down just as fast as you dare go.  I still have a low power to weight ratio, as I fight my way back to fitness, so I found that section quite tough. Vaughn overtook me on that drag and as he passed, he asked how I was doing. I simply shook my head.

The last section of the bike course was straight into a headwind but the grind back was somehow rewarding, in a slightly masochistic kind of way.

The main two things to know about the run are that its pan flat, takes in the beach boardwalk and the support is absolutely fantastic throughout. Yes, I know that’s three things but I’m feeling rebellious.

In the finish area, Paul Kaye, the voice of Ironman European tour had the grandstands whipped up into a frenzy as I ran in.  It felt like I was being met by five hundred friends.  One in particular had managed to talk his way back into the finish area having been to collect his bike, taken it to the hotel, showered and changed, before I came in.  Vaughn. There he was, as pleased for me as he was with his own PB performance.

The short story is this.  If you’re looking for an end-of-season race in Europe, look no further than Ironman Barcelona and hear Paul Kaye tell you that “You, are an Ironman!”

Paul

GI Tri Coach