Ten Thousand Squats?

Through the off-season, I’m going to be working on strength, particularly focusing on enabling me to run better off the bike in an Ironman.

If you don’t regularly do enough strength work, it can be a daunting prospect, so to get started, I have set myself a challenge, using a very basic strength exercise that’s great for runners.

The squat.

YouTube is littered with squat challenges already and in thinking of my own, I’d initially thought of 100 squats for 100 days, which for the mathematically talented, you already know is 10,000 repetitions.  I like that number because it has associations with the magic number of training hours in takes (in theory) to reach the pinnacle in a sport.

Those lofty ideas were soon set-aside however, when I realized that during that period, there are going to be days when for one reason, or another, I simply won’t be squatting on that day. So rather than bring you the 97 out of 100-day challenge, I am simply going for the 28 days of my current work rotation in Iraq.

Today was day 5 of 28 and at 5 from 5, I’m feeling confident enough to share.

If 100 squats sound like a lot to you, let me also share that I’m doing it as 10 set of 10, off 1 minute… humm that sounds like a swim set!

Setting off at the start of every minute each 10-rep set takes about 30 seconds, leaving me an equal amount of time to move out of the stance position (in my case to do mini-tasks that get me ready for work), before hitting the next ten. It fits easily into my morning routine and takes just nine and a half minutes to complete.

If stronger running next season is something you’d like to add to your 2019 objectives, why not join me in the challenge?

Here’s a helpful technique video, if you’re unsure how to perform a basic squat correctly:

So you’d like a better run split?

When I first undertook Ironman Certified Coach accreditation over three years ago, I had the good fortune to be virtually introduced to the practice of Matt Dixon at Purple Patch Fitness as one of the six IronmanU Master Coaches, that delivered our training.

Recently, while in Hamburg for the Ironman event, I happened upon one of Matt’s athletes, fully decked out in Purple Patch race kit (yes, she finished well ahead of me) and our discussion led me to listen to  Matt’s Podcast

There are so many podcasts out there at the moment, its sometimes difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff, though I can assure you, this is definitely high quality grain.

In the first one I’d listened to, Matt introduced a term he uses with his athletes and its one I’m keen to adopt and encourage my athletes to use in training and as a tool for race day performance.

Matt’s coaching term – MFP

Yet another triathlon acronym? What’s this one?

My best recollection from Matt’s podcast is that:

MFP = Minimal Form Pace

It’s the minimum pace you can run, in which all elements of good form are present.

OK, so what are all the elements of good form?

The four main areas Matt suggests we look at are:

  1. Posture – stand tall – don’t look like you’re sitting on a bar stool
  2. Shoulders in front of hips – forward lean from the ankles for momentum
  3. Tidy and supple arm carriage, the majority of movement being behind the body
  4. Foot speed – correlated to arm speed and arises from the first three elements.

The desirable though often sacrificial fifth element is Propulsion – pushing through the big toe for better forward propulsion.

Running with good form inevitably causes you to run faster than you would once form has broken down.

I’ll often encourage athletes to focus on running form during a particular session but this checklist of the key elements, provides a simple toolkit, acting as a catalyst to arrive at your best sustainable pace.

For more accomplished athletes, MFP can be used as a recovery pace between hard training efforts. During the efforts, the fifth element – propulsion is overlaid on four form points, creating greater running speed, though it’s worth noting that this can be difficult to sustain for less accomplished athletes.

For athletes earlier in their development, we might use MFP as an aspirational race pace. For longer training sessions, until fitness and athletic ability develop, we can bridge MFP with a walk break, or intentionally remove one of the elements of good form – typically foot speed.

By understanding and being aware of these key elements of good form, we can approach “race pace” more strategically and adopt the method most appropriate to the athlete based on the principles of:

Run as well you can – As long and you can – As often as you can.

Four elements, three principles. Simple, easy to remember, even when under the stress of a long session, or race day.

Look out for MFP in 2019 GI Tri Coached Triathlon training plans!

Please find out more by reference to Purple Patch Fitness  and Matt Dixon’s Podcast.

Paul

GI Tri Coach

 

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

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:

 

img_2656

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.

img_2657

 

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

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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!

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

Brutally Honest

I spent last weekend in North Wales in a role not as a coach but as a member of a support team for a friend of mine, Paul ‘Bear’ Machin.

As you might expect from someone who’s adopted name is that of a large carnivoran mammal, he’s not your ‘average’ bear.  The task at hand (for him at least) was the matter of a double Iron distance extreme triathlon Double Brutal.

Brutal is so tough that unlike regular Ironman, you’re allowed outside assistance. To form his three-person crew, I had been teamed up with Bear’s former coach, Viking warrior princess, Mari and long distance swimming legend Hazel, who’s the youngest person to have swum the English Channel.  No pressure then!

Arriving on Friday evening, I was confronted by the most horrendous weather conditions I could have imagined, having left in my VW T5 day van, which was to be my home for the weekend, in just shorts and a tee shirt.

 

the-camper

With best laid plans Bear had set up a base-camp of tents and van parking positions that should have provided us the perfect on-course set-up to support his epic undertaking.  The weather had other ideas all but destroyed the camp and its content with high winds breaking tent poles like twigs and torrential rain soaking every piece of food, clothing equipment and morale. The only thing standing was the Viking warrior’s tent, which she kindly pointed out to us more than once over the course of the weekend.

The race briefing was a tense affair, the gravity of the undertaking was as obvious as the split in the crowd between the ultra-endurance athletes and their support crew:

double-brutal-briefing

The Brutal (just the single event) was recently voted “The toughest triathlon event in the world”. So for his next trick, Bear was to do it at double the distance.

The 2016 event included three races in one, with a half, full and double distance races all commencing at the same time, with athletes leaving the water and out onto the mountainous bike course in a steady stream, back to the red-capped double brutal swimmers who were the last to emerge.

Having done some long distance swimming myself in the past, I’m somewhat dismissive of the double iron distance swim of 7.6KM but as a start to the day, its challenging enough.  The bike route is particularly difficult, departing Llanberis and heading out on a lap of Snowdonia, that takes in Pen-Y-Pass at 1,178 feet, just the 8-times for double participants.

setting

The nature of the course dictates that ‘normal’ Iron distance cut-off times don’t apply.  Armed with energy drinks, bars, solid food, hot drinks, milk shakes, clothes changes, additional lube, bike spares, tools and a bag of Werther’s Originals to keep the crew happy, we headed out onto the bike course.  Our plan was to drive the route backward to meet Bear at pre-agreed locations around the 29-mile loop.  Almost immediately the main problem presented itself.  We couldn’t get there before he did.  While the long grinding climbs slowed cyclists, they made up much more time on the sweeping descents and once a few hold ups for trucks and busses that were navigating the winding roads were thrown into the mix, we were moving at a snail’s pace in the crew van.

A few hand gestures, gasps of exasperation and ‘informed’ exchanges of information later, we switched to Plan B – leapfrogging Bear (and all the other cyclists), by driving the route.   This gave us at least a fighting chance to reconfirm his requirements, make ad hoc additions to his support and of course cheer him on as he powered past our chosen lay by on non-feed stops.  I drove the van while Hazel and Mari worked the various support needs for each stop as swiftly as possible before Bear rode into view and with F1-like efficiency gathered whatever he needed and rode away again, leaving us to pack up and pass him, in time for the next scheduled stop.  For the whole day and through the night, we continued in this manner, feeding, hydrating, clothing, lighting, maintaining and cheering his ride until finally, he rode into Llanberis for the last time.

The end of the bike felt like a goal in itself.  Anyone who’s ridden a century knows that feeling of a job well done.  This was well over double the distance through extremely tough terrain.  Like all extreme events, the drop-out rate is high!

There was no time for celebration though.   Mari sprang into action and paced Bear on his ascent and descent of Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, posting one of the fastest times of the day before rounding out her own accomplishment with a 5-mile lap of the lake, itself a challenging trail route for the most part.  I took the opportunity to grab a couple of hours of sleep and readied myself to accompany Bear on laps 3 and 4.  The two laps totaled 10.5 miles and I was pretty happy to have made it around without crying.  Hanging my drenched kit out to dry, I chilled out with a milkshake in the company of a couple of athletes I coach, who were also at the event, taking on the Brutal half, which itself includes the ascent and descent of Snowdon as part of the ‘run’ route.

Feeling pretty relaxed, I returned to the event route and our make-shift support camp, to see Bear pass at the commencement of lap 7 of 8.  He was starting to tire and asked if I could pace him around the next lap.  Confirming that he meant me to start running ‘NOW’ I overcame my natural tendency to think of ten miles of trail to already be an acceptable training day. I quickly pulled back on my only set of running kit from earlier, which by that time had the odour of something that had spent time in the enclosures of both baboons and camels and started to tap out a pace that Bear could hold with encouragement. That’s when he slipped in the suggestion that I might help him on the last lap too… In for a penny…in for a pound!

 

We used a variety of run / walk / hike techniques playing the ultra-runner’s favourite mind game of “run from this fence post, to that bush, then we can hike the hill…”

run-course

In what felt like no time, we were around lap 7 and heading out onto the final lap.  As we came through the timing mat we were joined by another competitor also starting his final lap.  Bear looked at me, no words were spoken.  A nod, we picked up the pace and held it.  This isn’t the kind of pace that causes you to hear the sound track from Chariots of Fire but it did say, “there’s no WAY you’re taking this place on the finisher list, buddy.”

When in pitch darkness for the second night in a row, the climbing was over and we commenced the final descent, I began to feel giddy.  Yes. I was pretty happy to have put in a 20-mile day but of course I hadn’t done the whole thing.  I shared the euphoria with Bear “you do realise that you’re heading to the finish of the Double Brutal, don’t you?”  “Yeah, I knew it was in the bag when we were still on the bike.”

“We.”  He did say “we”. We were a team.  Hazel, Mari, myself and of course Bear. For that weekend “we” were Team Bear.

After 37 hours 20 minutes and 8 seconds, Paul Bear Machin, YOU are Double Brutal!