Calling time

In approximately 6 weeks time, I’m about to start the most daunting challenge yet. I’m going to become a father.

I’m not going to lie, the prospect is both exhilarating and scary. I’m 39, and was starting to think it’d never happen. Don’t get me wrong, we were trying, but the magic simply wasn’t happening. If you were to believe the doctors, it shouldn’t have been possible, and as such we were waiting for our turn on the IVF wagon.

Thankfully, miracles do happen, and we’ve not needed to do this.

We’re having a girl, and already named her Lilly. I’m looking forward to welcoming my new bff into this world. I cant wait for the time when she’ll be able to show me how to surf properly, and I can show her how to ride a bike. Maybe even eat a worm or two.

For now, my passion for triathlon must take a back-burner. I’m still swimming, cycling and running, eating healthily and doing all the right things. I’m committed to completing a full Ironman, though exactly when this will be is anyone’s guess.

So with this, i’m calling time on this website. I’ll keep it alive, and add interesting stuff from time to time, but don’t expect much magic from me any time soon. I may convert the site into an image blog…Lilly, me and my trusty carbon fibre. 🙂

Farewell my friends, its time to move to the next challenge.

Finis tempo timer pro

A few people have asked how to improve their swim performance. Each time I recommend the tempo timer pro. Hands down it gives precise and immediate assistance while swimming.

Think of it as a bleep test for swimming. if you haven’t hit the pool wall when it bleeps, speed up. Made it before it went? Slow down.

Overtime this allows you to dial in your race pace for a given distance.

Perfect aye?

More about it here:
http://http://www.totalimmersion.net/blog/finis-tempo-trainer-pro-more-than-just-a-swimming-tool/

FTP testing for triathletes

Should triathletes take an FTP test?

I strongly recommend FTP testing!

So you want to do an ironman

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So you want to do an ironman

 

 

Well firstly, let me applaud you in making the most significant step – the decision.  Sure, some people (those who generally haven’t/can’t/won’t attempt an ironman) will be like ‘so it’s like a marathon, right?’.  Yes.  Just like a marathon.  A marathon that’ll take somewhere about 6 hours for a half, and at least 12 hours for a full.

So let me applaud you again on making a significant and life-changing decision to attempt an ironman.

This narrative won’t be a step-by-step approach to going the distance, but it will give you a perspective of the considerations you should make to embark on the journey.  It is provided on the basis that:

  1. Not only do you want to finish, you want to do so knowing that you went as hard as you can without going too hard and over-cooking
  2. Coached services may not be available to you
  3. Your race event may be something never attempted before/unfamiliar to you
  4. You have a natural suspicion to the hype around long distance triathlon, and want to make an informed decision about what and how is most appropriate for your training
  5. Want to get an idea of what your likely finish time is so that you can plan appropriately

Pre-requisites

It goes without saying that training for an endurance event like this is going to be considerable.  You will need a reasonable base level of fitness (i.e. can cycle for an hour, run for an hour and at least swim), be medically OK, and have had the obligatory conversation with your significant other.  This includes the ‘wtf are you mad, I’m going to divorce you’ conversation when you ask for permission/beg forgiveness with the new TT bike/aero wheels purchase.

On the basis that you’ve had the conversations, gained the support from your family, told all your friends, sourced bulk suppliers for clothing, supplies, electrolytes, nutrition etc. and committed (in your head) to an event, it’s time to get on with things.  You will need:

  • Swim suit & goggles
  • A triathlon specific wetsuit
  • A road or triathlon specific bike
  • Cycling clothing, spares and knowledge on how to perform basic maintenance
  • Running clothing & shoes

If you don’t have these items, go back to the important conversations stage and start asking for permission/begging for forgiveness.

 

Training considerations and planning

For at least the next 6 months, you’re going to be training.  Every day, for at least an hour every day.  Even a rest day will be a training day, most likely taken up with massage, physio, stretching, weights etc.  The key factor that you need to critically assess, is how you can optimise your training based on the limited time available without over-fatiguing or getting injured.  During your training, you are likely to feel:

  • Constantly tired
  • Constantly hungry
  • At least one part of your body feeling tight-nearly-a-niggle-needing-medical-attention

This is important to understand – your standard benchmarks for performance improvement may no longer apply.  This means you will question the quality of the training, and highly likely to substitute volume for quality, lose faith, or, both.  If you are aware of this upfront, if it happens, you’ll be in a position to consciously recognise and deal with it.  The key to performance improvement is more largely influenced by consistency than intensity or volume.  Have faith in your plan and record your training data.  As such, it is vital that you enter into a training strategy that provides information that can keep you motivated; the mental game can be the most challenging aspect of the entire process.

When you organise your training plan, it is wise to establish a routine.  Initially, this should be as simple as determining what discipline, when, and on what day.  This could look like:

  Mon Tues Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
AM Swim Bike Rest Run Swim Bike+Run Run
PM Bike Swim Rest Bike Run Swim

To assist in planning your training regime, take a look here for more detailed advice:

https://www.triathlonbox.co.uk/resources

 

Important factors to consider:

  • The weekend is when the majority of training will take place.
  • A long bike ride should followed by a run to get used to the sensation of jelly-legs, and gives an indication of correct bike fit/run speed off the bike
  • A long run should follow the long bike ride the day after to simulate tired legs (i.e. the latter stages of the run leg)

 

Training tools

Like stated earlier, our focus is to train smart rather than to train long.  Some disciplines are naturally easier to monitor pace and performance than others, and improvements are made from technique rather than raw power.  Items in bold, I recommend the following items as critical training tools:

  • Swim
    • Paddles – useful for creating proper body rotation/more efficient swimming stroke/endurance
    • Fins – useful for creating proper body alignment/reducing effort
    • Finis Tempo Trainer Pro – provides audible, adjustable, pacing during swimming
    • Distance/HR/Pacing monitor
  • Bike
    • HR monitor – determines effort zones, enables target based training to cycling LTHR & VO2max
    • Cadence monitor – helps determine sweet-spot
    • Power meter – helps determine sweet-spot
    • Smart wind trainer and software/apps (I use Wahoo Kickr & Trainer Road) – enables target based training to VO2max, LTHR and FTP.
  • Run
    • Distance/HR/Pacing monitor – determines effort zones, enables target based training to running LTHR & VO2max
    • Lactate threshold monitor
  • Simulation software
    • BestBikeSplit.com – enables ‘pre-riding’ the race course – particularly useful if you can’t simulate the terrain characteristics, or aiming to complete the bike leg in a specific time.

In addition, consider the following as part of your training:

  • Diet
  • Massage/Medical/Physio support
  • Data collecting
  • Trainers/Coach/Mentors/Other athlete support

For the duration of my training, I adopted a carbohydrate-heavy (preferably raw) vegan diet.  This enabled me to drop weight while retaining lean muscle mass, recover more quickly, feel less bloated, ensure I was maintaining vitamin and mineral intake to stave off illness.  In addition I found that I naturally reduced my alcohol consumption and increased my intake of consumption of soft drinks and salted chips.  Mostly, these were to provide immediate sugar and sodium for particularly high intensity/cramp inducing training sessions.

As training developed, my body started to struggle, and regular massaging (and compression clothing) helped recovery.

As and when niggles/injuries developed having a medical team to consult quickly helped too.

Having all the data for every training session in one tool was particularly useful for determining load, fatigue and mileage.  I used Training Peaks for this task.

Finally, having someone to talk to about your training, who’s going through or have been through it is very useful; particularly when you’re psychologically feeling weak.

 

Training Smarter with Data – fitness testing and determination of race pace

In order to determine what your training intensity should look like for each of the disciplines, it is vital to have a good understanding of your starting point.  This means for each of discipline, you should undertake a measurement that can be repeated, every 4-6 weeks.

Critical Swim Speed

This is your swimming equivalent of threshold pace that can be maintained for 1 hour.  More about this can be found here:

http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/how-to-use-critical-swim-speed-training

Functional Threshold Power

This is your cycling equivalent of threshold pace that can be maintained for 1 hour.  More about this can be found here:

http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/what-is-threshold-power

http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/functional-threshold-power-the-most-important-power-metric

Trainer Road offers a session to determine FTP.

Running Lactate Threshold

http://home.trainingpeaks.com/blog/article/how-proper-training-affects-lactate-threshold-heart-rate

http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/finding-your-running-speed-at-lactate-threshold

 

Suffice to say, none of these tests will be easy, and you will be a mess at the end.  This is OK.  You will also want to do these tests about 2-3 weeks out from race day.  The results from these tests will determine your race pace – approximately 85% of your respective pacing for a 70.3 and 75% for full Ironman.

A few caveats about fitness testing during training

As noted earlier, you are going to be doing something training related every single day.  This means that you’re highly likely to be fatigued.  Therefore, expect some (or all) of these indications to arise:

  • Resting HR to increase
  • Max HR suppressed
  • FTP and LTHR values lower than their true value
  • VO2max increases higher than measured

Come race day, you’ll be rested, pumped and ready to go.  These combinations will mean your 75-85% intensity will feel significantly easy.  This is OK, and exercise restraint – if you’re still feeling fresh come the last 10km of the run, this is when the race will start!

 

Training principals

In general, your fitness will improve most effectively if you build your training regimen around your threshold paces for each respective discipline.  Commonly known as over-and-under, a session will be interval based training slightly below (<5% below), on and slightly above (>5% above) threshold paces.  Finally, the long cycle ride should be generally at tempo pace (the 75-85% threshold), in the aero position that you’re planning to use on race day.  Later you may wish to simulate the race course and incorporate longer, more realistic, brick sessions.

 

Finally, there’s nothing wrong in mixing it up a little; hitting the hills with your mates, running the trails or swimming open water is completely acceptable to staying sane.  Doing it often, however, is likely to negatively impact your training quality.  Including ‘warm-up’ events (commonly known as B races) is a good way to do dress rehearsals and to gauge your level of ability against others.  It should be noted, that these are not your goal-events, and as such shouldn’t be taken too seriously; getting injured or requiring extensive time to recover will negatively impact your A race.

Race simulation

BestBikeSplit.com offer the ability to simulate the bicycle leg of an event based on your physical attributes, your bike, the terrain and known weather conditions from previous events.  It mixes it all up together and can estimate your likely time, power levels and allows for ‘what if’ scenarios.  With experimentation, it is possible to get accurate predictions.  Finally, you have the ability to download course power files to smart wind trainers/software to simulate the race day course.  This service is provided free, but a paid version provides other tools which you may find useful.  It comes highly recommended.

 

Race nutrition

Nutrition during the race is a highly individual topic.  I would, however, urge that training commences with the adoption of the appropriate race day fuels so as to train the gut to the hydration and energy requirements, and also for you to determine what works and doesn’t.  For example, I found over time that solid foods didn’t work for me, and I relied on non-caffeinated gels as my primary source of fuel.  Standard electrolytes (Horleys Replace, Nuun, Hammer Fizz etc) were insufficient for my needs, and moved to Tailwind/First Endurance EFS instead.  This enables you to determine the optimum timing for gels and bottles of electrolytes per hour, which then in turn determines the quantity needed to be stored on the bike and for transitions.

It pays to attempt to identify and use the fuels provided on race day.  If this is not possible, you should at least aim to carry all your provisions needed on the bike, for the bike leg.  This will set you up for the best chance of scoring your PB for the run.  Relying on pre-mixed who-knows-what on race day aid stations is accepting the risk of not finishing the race.  (Remind me again, how much have you spent to get to this point of failure?)

 

Closing words

How often have you reflected whether or not you could have gone a little bit harder, or should have gone a little slower in an event that could have affected your overall time?  By training smart, you will:

  • Have a clear idea how long each leg will take
  • Know how much energy you’re likely to need
  • What its going to feel like
  • Know that you’ve put the hard yards in and that you can do this

In triathlon, they often say that the race only starts in the last half of the run.  Prepare well, take your time and enjoy the day – remember to go steady, and using tools well, understanding your data and fitness means that you’ll be able to gauge your pacing on race day based on numbers and feel.  This, surely, means you’re far better equipped than simply hoping you’ve done enough.  It’ll mean you can enjoy it!

 

Now get out there and smash it, for you are [nearly] an Ironman!

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So you want to run a marathon

Well firstly, let me applaud you in making the most significant step – the decision.  Sure, some people (those who generally haven’t/can’t/won’t run a marathon) will be like ‘meh..so what..its just a marathon’.  Yes.  Just a marathon.  Those who haven’t run it will simply call it a marathon.  I’ll call it approximately 42 kilometres or 50, 000 steps or 5000 calories or 4 hours of non-stop running.

So let me applaud you again on making a significant and life-changing decision to run a marathon.

This narrative won’t be a step-by-step (pun intended) approach to running the distance, but it will give you a perspective of the considerations you should make to embark on the journey.

A quick reality check

So it’s likely that you’ll have a particular event in mind.  This is good – it will give an indication as to whether or not you should register for this or next years’ event, as your training (if a novice) is likely to require at least 6 months of preparation.  If you’re new to running, you’d want to aim for at least a year.  This is ok as marathons are popular events, and it’ll be around when you’re ready.  ‘But wait! I’ve seen 8, 10 or 16 week plans on Google!’.  Yes you have, but my advice is to take your time to prepare.  Firstly, muscles will gain mass, strength and endurance faster than the ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues.  They will also develop faster in the initial terms than your cardiovascular system.  Pushing yourself to a zero-to-hero in 16 weeks is going to increase the risk of injury, increase the risk of heart attack and general malaise from fatigue.  You want to get to the start line, right?  So start right.

Be selective of your gear.  Despite all of the marketing that the big shoe brands push, I see very few people running in Nikes, Reeboks or Adidas.  That doesn’t mean to say that they’re not up to the job, but street shoes are often heavy, ill-fitting and not supportive enough for the needs of pavement thrashing for the training, let alone the event itself.  Also consider that for each stride, your shoes are going to be subject to impact forces up to 4 times your body weight.  So, for me that’s a nice piece of squishy foam smashed 50 thousand times with a relative weight of 350kg.  Do yourself a favour, and get yourself down to a dedicated running shoe shop, and have a really good chat with the retailer.  A good retailer will provide gait/stride analysis as part of your purchase and will offer a number of alternatives for you to try on.  A great retailer will have a treadmill, a 30-day return to shop-and-swop policy and aftermarket care.  After all, it’s their reputation on the line as well as your comfort and enjoyment. Household names for real running shoes for runners are Saucony, Mizuno, Asics, Brooks and New Balance.  Don’t be surprised if your feet only fit certain brands and very specific shoes.  For example, my run analysis indicates that I’m a neutral runner when fresh, and pronate when fatigued (or in other words..a normal runner).  I’m also on the larger side of the running community at a ‘healthy’ 95kg.  I also have a ‘roman foot’.  As such, I require a shoe that offers slight stability, is reasonably hard and reasonably narrow with a high arch.  The two shoes that I keep going back to are Saucony Kinvara and Mizuno Wave Inspire.  Sure I can use others, but these are my go-to shoes – in these I get no foot pain, no blisters and no chafing.  I simply slip on and run.

With regard to clothing, my friends invest in all-over compression clothing.  Imagine your arm pits after 4 hours of arm swinging.  Or between your legs.  Or for men, your bleeding nipples.  Simply calling it chafing doesn’t even come close to the oh-my-God-what-have-I-done scream you’ll emit when you hit the shower.  Skin tight compression gear removes a lot of risk from chafing.  It also helps with pushing that much needed blood around your body to the muscles, removes lactate build up, reduces the damage caused by footstrike-shock to muscles, and speeds up recovery.  As my friends call it – pick a brand and buy so much gear you’re invited to become a shareholder.  I’ve found that different brands have different compressive factors.  For recovery, I prefer a not-so-tight fight, such as Skins.  For significant training I use 2XU Elite.  For racing, I use the ultra-compressive CompresSport.  Now if you were like me – over 120kg – when deciding to run a marathon, it might be a little intimidating to only wear compression clothing to run in.  I get it.  Its ok, the fashion brigade will not chastise you for wearing normal shorts/shirts over the top.  Just remember to not wear too much; heat is a huge performance inhibitor.  Having jackets, shirts and whatever wrapped around your waist is simply not comfortable or fun.  And it’s extra weight you’re having to haul – so do yourself a favour and leave it at home.

Finally, get yourself a wicking hat, sunnies and some sport-specific sun block.  Neutrogena do a great SPF70 spray on block, and most importantly it doesn’t burn your eyes when sweat gets into them.  Remember, looking like a pro is half the battle to running like a pro.

Restraint is the biggest battle

Your run buddies, friends, family, neighbours and work colleagues (let’s call them your support crew) will all have stories about how they ran for 20 days across 5 deserts on half a cup of water and no gels (or something like that) and did it twice as fast as whatever you’re doing.  The reality is this is your journey and whatever they did is actually irrelevant.  Feel free to immerse yourself in all of the books about running form, pacing strategy, nutrition and hydration etc. but for now you simply need to work out what works for you.  You are, by very nature, your own science experiment.  And we all know that science tends to like blowing things up.  Don’t blow up.  It all sounds a bit esoteric right now, right?  When I say blow up, I mean:

  • Run too fast too soon, causing your heart rate to sky-rocket, your eyes pop out and pop at least one vein in your forehead. It’s not cool, not fun and people will laugh.
  • Run too far that you feel like you need ankle/knee/hip replacements within 3 runs.
  • Run too often. Savour it like a fine whiskey, not a cheap beer.

When I started running, I remembered back to my days in the Army, and how I could run 5km in 25 minutes.  It wasn’t that hard then, and I’d been doing a fair amount of cycling, so I thought naively it should be achievable now, right? Oh how wrong could I have got it!  Sure, I ran my Battle Fitness Test in a reasonably respectable 28 minutes and was able to give myself a pat on the back.  That was all I was able to do, for nearly 3 weeks.  My lungs were still out on the pavement somewhere, my chest and gut felt like it was all sitting around my ankles, and the feeling didn’t return to my legs for at least a week.  And I did an amazing John Wayne cowboy walk.  My second run – once I had recovered – was a much more productive 400m.  Don’t do what I did and go too hard too soon – you risk demotivating yourself before you’ve even got started.  I recommend this combination of frequency, duration and intensity per week to begin with:

  • Two or three times
  • For no more than half an hour
  • At a pace where you can almost maintain a conversation

Your support crew may even spend a good 20 minutes selling you the latest gadget or gizmo that is the absolutely must have running accessory.  Don’t believe the hype – and don’t be one of those runners who stand around for a good 5 minutes (holding everyone else up) at the start of run, just because they can’t get a GPS signal on their really-expensive-but-not-very-smart-phone/watch/gadget.  There is absolute advantage to having some gadgets, but right now you simply need to get out there.  If you absolutely must buy a widget, do your research, buy the best you can afford and ensure it is, or comes with, a heart rate monitor.  Then learn how to use it properly!

Getting going

You’ve got the gear, done the research, done a few ‘test’ runs and feeling good.  Now is the ideal time to make contact with a running group.  Joining a group serves a number of benefits:

  • Other runners are likely to be training for a similar or the same goal as you.
  • They’ll be going through or have gone through the same highs and lows that you’ll experience
  • Can offer sage advice and keep you informed about things that may help you progress
  • Introduce you to new routes and terrain to make you an all-round runner

At some point, you’ll want to draw up a training plan and the run group may be able to help you with this.  Normally, before you commence any marathon plan, there is a pre-requisite that you can run 5km non-stop.  If you can’t do this just yet, then this should be your first goal.  Thereafter, factor in at least 20 weeks for your marathon plan.  Quite often, marathon events have ‘B’ race events leading up to the marathon ‘A’ race itself.  These can be useful as they can be incorporated into your training plan, and help with the all-important dress-rehearsals.

Your training plan should consider three main factors:

  1. Endurance training – commonly known as ‘time on your feet’. This training is generally done at a slower pace and for longer duration.
  2. Strength training – being able to run over a variety of terrain with confidence and maintaining stride effectiveness. This training is done at your ‘natural pace’ or slightly quicker on inclines, roads and trails for somewhere between 30-90mins
  3. Speed training – we all want to get to the finish line faster. This training is done at significantly faster pace, incorporates specific drills and often is no more than 30 minutes in duration.

A 20 week plan is a good idea as the numbers easy stack up – the first 6 weeks generally concerned with endurance training, and building a solid foundation.  The second 6 week block focuses on strength, and finally the last block on the speed, with the last 2 weeks to allow for an easy taper and preparation for the big event.  Each weekend should have at least one long run, and each run should be no longer than 3 hours in duration.  This is to minimise the risk of injury and recovery time.  As your training increases, you may opt to run on both Saturday and Sunday – so that you can train running on tired legs (i.e. the last 10km of the marathon).  Don’t forget your rest day on Monday if you do this.  You should look to incorporate each of the three elements into each week of training.

Keeping going

Weather, family, work commitments and a thousand other things will conspire against you to break the plan and jeopardize your chances of either making it to the marathon, or finishing.  Be prepared to incorporate flexibility into your plan, however ensure you do your best to remain on track.  This could preclude some interesting conversations with your significant other, so best to get their support sooner than later.

As the training increases, it is almost inevitable that you’ll get some aches and pains – notably lower legs, joints and some muscle groups.  While usually normal, it should indicate possible over training.  Ensure you have a physio that you can tap into when needed, a massage therapist and you’re eating/drinking well.  If you find that your mood is changing, can’t sleep, or others notice behaviour/mood changes you’re likely to be over training – cut back on duration, intensity or frequency.

You may look to incorporate alternative forms of exercise as a means of muscle adaptation or recovery.  Cycling is a fantastic means of increasing aerobic capacity without the muscle damage that running causes.  Swimming is good at loosening the joints (particularly the ankles).  I’ll convince you that triathlon is a great sport to get into after your marathon…  If you add these sessions, do them on your off days so that you don’t impact your running.

If you are injured, do whatever the medical professional says!  Do not become the world’s worst patient just because of a race.  It’ll be there next year, and likely if you contact the organisers they’ll defer your entry to that next race.  Don’t do what I did – break an ankle, push medical science to its limits, recover in 6 weeks, run a marathon and re-break the fracture at kilometre 26.  Yes I finished, but I was a mess, am ashamed to show the photos, completely ignored my wife at the finish line (this did NOT go down well) and then needed 3+ months to recover with absolutely no exercise whatsoever.

You’ll find that recovery can be achieved much more effectively by changing your diet.  Simple things like reducing/removing alcohol, dairy, and meat can increasing your intake of fruits and veggies will turn you into a lean running machine, capable of running multiple half marathons in a day and knock out another 10km the day after.  But then, your friends may also look at you weirdly, and ask if you hug trees and bash tambourines as you run.  Do what you feel is needed, and tell only your most trusted friends/family if you think the change will be too dramatic for them.  While every person is different, I’ve found that high protein/low carb diets don’t lend themselves very well to running.  Experiment and stick with what works for you.

And finally

Don’t forget why you decided to run a little over 42km, 50,000 steps or do so for at 4 hours non-stop.  You’re going to experience highs and lows, so keep a wall of fame somewhere to refer to.  Any medals or race numbers you get, put them.  Before and after photos will go here.  Encouragement from your friends.  Route maps, times and weight charts belong here.  Eating diaries.  You get the idea.

And lastly, while it is a race, a marathon is much more than a race.  It is a journey, and a life changing experience.  You’ll make some awesome friends, look fantastic and get fit as hell in the process.  And more importantly, you’re part of that hallowed, Chuck Norris Type ‘A’ 1% of people who are brave enough to attempt this. Bask in that glory, you running legend!

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