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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Change your words - change your attitude.

As a coach I often receive messages from people stating that they can't make it to a session.  Usually these messages are quite simple.

"I cant make it to track tonight"

"I can't make the swim squad as I have to work late"

Quite simple and valid, but imagine rephrasing these statements to actually reflect what you are doing.

"I cant make it to track tonight" becomes "I am making the choice that something else is more important.  I acknowledge that if I don't achieve my goals it is because of these choices"

"I cant make the swim squad as I have to work" becomes "Work is more important and again I acknowledge that if I don't achieve my goals it is because of these choices"

That is not to say that the choice to prioritise one thing over another isn't incredibly important and needs to be done frequently and typically the reason IS more important but the difference in the wording is accountability.  By acknowledging that you have made the choice to give your training a lower priority in this case you are also acknowledging that you are accountable for the outcome of missing sessions.  Life happens and we cant hit 100% of sessions but must also acknowledge, and be accountable for, the fact that if we consistently prioritise one thing over another than the goal related to the later is compromised.  

We cannot have a goal that requires 'xxx' work, do only half of the work and expect to achieve the goal.  It is interesting people that don't do the work, don't achieve the goal but then blame others. As a coach clients sometimes leave because they are not improving at the rate they expect but when looking at their logs they miss a lot of sessions.  They change coaches but still don't improve - the issue isn't the program but their lack of accountability.

When people tell me they cant make a session as they are working a simple question comes to mind.  "What if you were going to your daughter's wedding ?", "What if it was a doctors appointment for a serious issue?"  Would you make those commitments ?  Again it is not the case of one thing preventing another but rather acknowledging (and being accountable for) the fact that you are making a choice. And again that choice may be absolutely valid.

Once you start becoming accountable for your decisions and acknowledge the impact of your choices you'll be amazed how much more thought you put into them and into your priorities. One of the biggest traits that defines successful people is not their VO2Max but their ACCOUNTABILITY.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Know Your Place

The Internet is full of wonderful motivational quotes.  If our success was based purely on implementing exactly what we see in those quotes then we'd all be mega-successful.  Many of those quotes are based on visualising success - on seeing ourselves as being successful, behaving as though those things are a fatal-completes.

Two of the most common quotes are the one in the image - what matters most is how you see yourself and to act like the job you want not the job you have.

In the corporate world these quotes often cause more problems than they create the next Donald Trumps.  Imagine a waiter acting like the restaurant owner ?  Well while he's doing that who's actually serving the customers?.  It's not about pecking order but rather about developing the skills and experience at a given level before progressing to the next level.

And therein lies how it relates to Triathlon (or indeed any sport).  It's not uncommon to see athletes behaving like they are Pros (or at least how they think Pro's behave) - strutting about and going on about their 'sponsors'.  The trouble is that, like the waiter, they focus more on behaving like a Pro and forget about the basics.

A simple rule is "Know Your Place"

It's great to have aspirations to be a Pro but at any given time you are where you are.  It's not uncommon to hear athletes say to their mates "Yeh - I'm a sub 10 hour Ironman".  In their mind they are the lion in the mirror but their race results and tests mean they are, in reality, the kitten.

And therefore need to do what the kitten needs to do to become the Lion.

A fourteen hour ironman needs to do what a fourteen hour ironman needs to do to become a thirteen hour ironman.  An eleven hour ironman needs to do what an eleven hour ironman needs to do etc.  Theres no point the fourteen hour athlete spending all their time doing the sub-10 stuff if they haven't yet developed the basics.

A simple task is to look at your last 3 results relative to the field.  That is where you are at NOW. You may be able to come up with an excuse but an excuse is really just something you havent developed yet.  It was hot ?  It was hot for everyone - some people have just developed the skill of dealing with it whether that be a physical or mental skill.  Frankly drop all the excuses and just look at the data.  THAT IS WHERE YOU ARE AT.  Then, like our 14 hour ironman, look at what THAT athlete needs to do to make the next step.  Yes it may be boring and not 'glamorous' but it is what someone of YOUR level needs to do.

Dreams and Goals are important and great motivators but unless you know your place you'll never achieve them.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Training Peaks

Training Peaks is an incredibly powerful tool but can be a bit overwhelming to begin with.  Here's a guide to get you started !

When you first login you can see your schedule for the week - scrolling up and down lets you see past and future weeks.

When you click on a scheduled workout you'll see the details of the workout - the description of what you should be doing and sometimes some hints/tips/suggestions in the pre workout notes.

When you have completed the workout just fill in the relevant details - the time/duration etc but more importantly the Post Workout comments.  What you enter right in here is automatically emailed to the coach.

You can also upload off different devices such as Garmin or Suunto.  When you upload from these the metrics such as duration are automatically filled out.

If you are going to be unavailable - work, travel, family commitment etc then just enter these in.  On the day of the event click the [+] side and add a Workout type of 'Other'.  Note you can also add an event such as a race and also your Metrics like weight, resting Heart Rate.

When entering unavailable times it can sometimes help to be descriptive ie "Away in Sydney for work but will take running gear"

You can also do all of this (except for uploading) via the iPhone or Android Apps which are available free on their stores.

Monday, 18 May 2015


It’s no coincidence; given Triathlon is essentially a summer sport that the ‘off season’ occurs over the colder and darker months.  A time when people’s moods are often lower due to lower levels of Vitamin D compounded by less daylight hours. Many people comment that they lack motivation over this time.  Indeed there is a ‘syndrome’ called P.I.S.S - Post Ironman Sadness Syndrome based on people training hard for an event for many months culminating in a good or bad performance and then that feeling of having to ‘start again’ for their next event.

Here are some tips or suggestions for maintaining or even building motivation in the offseason.

Take a Break.
People in full time work are given four weeks annual leave.  Most companies will insist that you take this.  Annual leave gives you a chance to take a mental and physical break from work and to (hopefully) come back refreshed. From the corporate world it was not uncommon for people to resign after taking leave as the break allowed them to “see the forest for the trees” in terms of motivation.  So why not take a break from training? This doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing - there is a difference between physical activity and training.  Spend four weeks not worrying about structure, not worrying about doing ‘x’ runs or swims a week.  If you wake up and it’s a nice day and you feel like going for a ride then do it.  If you feel like going for a walk or surf then do it.  If you feel like staying in bed and reading a book then do that. If you feel like trying something new like Yoga or a dance class then give it a try.  The point is to avoid the pressure of structure and do what you feel like. Four or six weeks isn’t going to massively impact your fitness especially if you are doing some fun aerobic activities. I often say the best time to start again is when you start to miss it - and then wait one more week..

Define your Motive.
This is something that you can and should do during your break.  One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t have Motivation without Motive”. The suffix -ation means creating the action of.  Motivation is the action associated with YOUR motives.  In other words define YOUR reason for doing this. YOUR is highlighted because it needs to be YOUR reason - not someone else’s.  It may be something that might sound silly, trivial or even narcissistic when said out loud but that doesn’t matter.

“I do this because I love the company of my friends"
“I do this because it provides an escape"
“I do this because I want to prove I can"
“I do this because my ex partner/friend said I was too xxx to do this"
“I do this because I want to make my friends jealous"
“I do this because I like to look good"
“I do this to set an example to my children"

The key is the reasons have to be your reasons.  For me it is a desire to prove people wrong.  To prove unhealthy beliefs such as you can’t do endurance sports without sugary gels and you can’t do well in triathlons without training 20+ hours a week wrong.  These may sound silly to some people but they are MY reasons.

Sit down with a pad and pen and write down why you are doing this.  What you may find is that the motive no longer exists.  For example if you wanted to prove to your couch potato friends that you could do an Ironman - and you have done that - that the motivation no longer exists.  If that is the case, and a new motivation that is important to you doesn’t exists then it may be worth acknowledging this and not forcing yourself to continue.  The key is to be very honest with yourself as to why you are doing this and whether that reason still exists.

I use this in races too.  When things get tough (and they will) or things go wrong (and they do) then it is this ‘reason’ that keeps you pushing on and remaining focused.

Set some short-term goals - and link them.
I am not a fan of goals as they often define limitations.  Set a goal of going sub 11 hour in an ironman and you may achieve it and finish in 10:59.  Commit to every day going harder, faster or heavier at the gym and you may do 10:30.  But there is no denying short terms goals help support motivation. Using the SMART systems (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely) set a goal of, for example, improving your Critical Power on the bike by at least 5% over the next 6 weeks.  THEN define and, more importantly, link your training sessions to this goal.  Weights, indoor trainer sets - even diet in terms of watts/kg can be linked.  Then understand that by NOT completing a session you are directly impacting that goal.  If you miss a session you compromise your chances of succeeding.  A more important way to think about it is that you will fail. For many fear of failure is a more powerful motivator than success

Phone a Friend.
Having a training buddy is important but triathletes are typically competitive people so recruiting a frienpetitor is more valuable.  Create a competition with a friend based around either a short-term goal like the Critical Power or a race.  Define a wager to create more pressure. Then ask yourself, if you wake up and don’t feel like doing something, whether your frienpetitor is out there doing it..

Many coaches will say that you should enter off-season events.  There are, for example, plenty of running races during the triathlon off-season.  Whilst these can be great ‘goals’ to use they don’t necessarily provide motivation especially if, for example, you know you can cover the distance already.  A focus on defining your motive as the root of motivation and then creating some pressure (called eustress) provides a far better impetus to be accountable and to get out of bed when it is cold and dark.

Friday, 6 February 2015

The No Fuel Triathlon

“In theory, everything works in Practice”
Yogi Berra

First of all I understand there will be a lot of nay-sayers or people trying to dismiss or disprove this and I’ll admit some of it is a work in progress. Probably cause it goes against everything that you have been led to believe in books, magazines, seminars or what you have tried for yourself.

Second of all I can’t fully explain the mechanism of action of all of these products or techniques. I reflect back on the study that a Swiss professor did in the 1930’s on how bumblebees fly and showed that, in fact, bumblebees can’t fly (this study is often incorrectly accredited to NASA). Just because the theory isn’t clear doesn’t mean you should discount the fact the outcome worked.

Thirdly I studied and am certified in Sports Nutrition and know what you ‘should’ do.

And therein lay the issue.

Sports nutrition, especially for endurance events such as triathlon, focuses on inputs and specifically max inputs. Things like the maximum amount of glucose or fructose that can be absorbed by specific receptors such as the Glut II (Fructose / Glucose / Galactose) and Glut IV (Glucose) receptor. They focused on managing gut issues based on maximum inputs and how to manage that by looking at things like combining minerals to enhance absorption, balancing osmolarity etc. etc. They focus on managing the bi-products or damage from burning sugar. In short trying to overcome some of the issues of trying to take in large amounts of sugar based fuel. There are also issues around the impact of heat on digestion of sugars and generalisations on what the brain and muscles need. 

Too many athletes have their day ruined by gut issues due to having to consume large amounts of gels etc.

As an ageing athlete who was working to regain health I was also concerned with the long terms dangers of high sugar diets and the impact of glycation end products both for my clients and myself. Everything from tooth decay to Type II diabetes - even cancer. This created a contradiction as to how to live sugar free but train the stomach to utilise gels and sports drinks when competing. This is a very common dichotomy for athletes balancing long term health with athletic performance.

So overall, as Albert Einstein said, you can’t solve a problem using the same thinking that created it.

As a coach I read a great amount of articles and studies and a number of articles had attracted my attention. One in particular talked about how different fibre types used different fuels. That is, that fast twitch fibres burnt exclusively glycogen whereas slow twitch fibres burnt fat. A separate, but related study, which formed the basis of my article here talked about how higher cadence used predominantly slow twitch fibres which mean by utilising a higher cadence I could spare the biggest limiter to aerobic performance - glycogen.

Glycogen is stored in our muscles and liver and typically provides around 1200 calories worth of energy. The issue is that once this store is exhausted then it takes time to reload - around 24 hours. In the past I have experienced ‘dead-legs’ on rides. Looking at these studies showed that these dead legs were caused by:

a) Relying on fast twitch fibres
b) Running out of fuel (glycogen) to power them.

So if I could do the ride using a higher cadence I could spare glycogen for the run.

The second article(s) were from people like Tim Noakes around the Central Governor theory and how fatigue comes from the brain before the muscles. Many studies such as this one had shown, for example, increased time to fatigue in cyclist using BCAA’s. I extrapolated that into a theory namely: -

The brain is focused on self-preservation. If it is breaking down its support system (the muscles) then a self-protection mechanism kicks in to slow the body down - fatigue. BUT - the body uses protein (amino acids) to rebuild so by providing these it would placate the brain. That is, the brain would think “Well I am breaking down my vessel but I’m getting the building blocks I need therefore it’s all good” Or thoughts to that effect...

So putting these things together meant that by focusing on slow twitch muscles I could manage glycogen and by placating the brain with amino acids I could mitigate fatigue.

So where does sugar come into this?  What about fueling the muscles with gels etc. that we all know is mandatory. Short answer is that gels and sugar doesn’t play a part in this strategy. Muscles can be fuelled by fat as part of the standard Kreb cycle by converting fat into Acetyl CoA and even as a lean athlete (more about that later) I still knew I had about 63,000 calories available as stored fat including about 3000 stored in inter muscular fat. Far more than the 1200 calories in glycogen. If people think that fat isn’t stored in the muscle go have a look at a sirloin steak at your local butcher..

This is not something I decided on race day (and I would strongly suggest that you DON’T just try this). This formed the basis of a two-month plan that was incorporated as part of a training, nutrition and supplement strategy. I should mention that prior to starting this I basically hadn’t trained for ten months due to an Achilles operation and excess cortisol from stress that had created related issue around blood sugar (and weight gain)

Training was focused on two things.

1. Recruiting more slow twitch fibres
2. Emptying the glycogen tank to make the body more efficient at using fat to reload it and to fuel performance.

Therefore my training incorporated heavy, supersetted weights. This meant that I was burning glycogen but also that the fast twitch fibres were fatigued. Then, and this part was NOT fun, I would go ride long steady hills on the bike. Without fast twitch fibres I forced my body to recruit more slow twitch (or fall over). This was definitely a case of check the ego at the door. Similar with the run my focus was on functional strength rather than volumes. As mentioned I had been recovering from an Achilles op

Prior to the event, my longest ride in training was 30km. My longest continual run was 4km. The race distance was a 90km ride and a 21km run.

Nutrition was based primarily on hormones. Insulin is quite an anti social hormone. Hormones and enzymes like Hormone Sensitive Lipase, Lepton, Testosterone, HGH are all happier when insulin (or elevated blood sugar) isn’t present. So my diet wasn’t Paleo, ketogenic or anything like that - it was purely focused on keeping my blood sugar down and therefore insulin down so the hormones and enzymes I wanted would come out to play. Keeping my blood sugar down also helped with making my brain less reliant on glucose for mood. I also used a high amount of protein. Firstly to help build muscle/strength post weights and strength sessions but also to make the body more efficient at gluconeogenesis - producing the blood glucose it does need from protein.

I also incorporated intermittent fasting again to drain glycogen and enhance fat utilisation but also to balance hormones, enzymes and inflammation. Ironically the fasting day (Monday) was also my hardest training day including the hilly bike ride, a weights session and also a short power swim.

I used three supplements.

Carnitine. Shown in some studies to increase fat utilisation. In my reading I saw articles dismissing it based on the fact there were ‘No long terms studies proving its effectiveness’. But there weren’t any disproving it and it makes sense that a relatively new (for endurance sports) product won’t have any long terms studies.

Branch Chain Amino Acids.
To test the theory/effect on fatigue and make sure they didn’t cause any gut issues. I used these during my weights sessions and also during bike ride. The difference in my strength during weights was immediate. I knew, metabolically and physically I wasn’t suddenly stronger (unlike creatine etc.) so knew this was an increase in ‘brain’ strength.

Apple Cider Vinegar
This has become a new super food for me. Assisting digestion, lowering blood sugar and providing additional aminos all made this a ‘no-brainer’ for me. Even when I had a cheat meal with my friends like a pizza (we all need to live..) I would accompany with a glass of diluted apple cider vinegar to blunt the blood sugar response.

I followed this plan for 9 weeks. Was I 100% compliant?  No. Like I said we have to live (not to mentioned Christmas and New Years Eve in that time..) but was pretty close. What I found interesting was that I dropped 10kg of body weight over that time BUT virtually all of that was body fat. I only lost about 1kg of power producing muscle. I normally don’t recommend trying to lose weight so close to an event as most people drop muscle and end up weaker but this high protein, high fat strategy teamed with the listed supplements seemed to work well !

Come race day my strategy was simple. I never recommend using speed on the bike as you never know what the conditions are going to be like. And the conditions couldn’t be worse !  30-50km winds on the bike. I’d made the mistake of only driving over (the race was 700km from where I live) with a disc wheel that messed with my head a bit but a short ride the previous day in the same wind settled those nerves. On my Garmin 510 I had two metrics displayed. My cadence and what gear I was in. I love the way the Garmin 510 can display gears from the Shimano DI2 system. My strategy was simple. When my cadence dropped below ninety (which I knew meant glycogen) I changed to an easier gear. When my cadence went above 100 (neural fatigue) I changed to a harder gear. In my water bottles (two) I had 6000mg of Branch Chain Aminos mixed in 750ml of water. Every ten minutes I had a big swig of the mixture. My average cadence ended up being 94 but with very little deviation.

The one thing I noticed after riding the 90km on the bike was how fresh my legs felt. I believe this is due to exclusively using slow twitch fibres and never muscling the bike plus the brain placating BCCA's. I had recently switched to shorter cranks using 165mm cranks which meant less load on my hip flexors and quads.

When I got off the bike I looked at the clock and worked out if I ran my ‘normal’ run I could go sub 5 hours but that wasn’t the point of the test (but it will be the point of my NEXT race). Again focusing on leg turn over rather than speed and the same water BCCA mixture. But in hindsight I realised that if I still had a ‘full’ glycogen tank then running a sub 100min half marathon was realistic.

After completing the race I noticed two things. My stomach felt perfect - no bloating or compelling need to hit the port loo from excess sugar. No muscle soreness or fatigue. I put this down to the fact that burning fat produces very different bi-products than sugar so I had less oxidisation and glycation of cells.

Forty-eight hours post race I felt full recovered with no muscle soreness.

As mentioned this was a case study of one and I am sure people will pick holes in my theories but the one thing I have taken away from this is how good I felt during the event (despite the worst conditions I have ever experienced) and how good I feel afterwards. The next step is to use this strategy to hit a top 10 age group finish.

I don’t expect this strategy will necessarily lead to faster times - although people tend to run better when they don’t have gut issues, but if it means less long term damage to the body then maybe it is worth exploring further ?

Maybe it is time we started to look at sports nutrition based on what our particular cells (muscle and brain) need rather than trying to solve the problem of what is the maximum amount of sugar and other damaging products we can put into it ?