Setting the Bar.
As I sit here nursing the first virus of the year I have some time to reflect on how my mindset regarding my targets for the year, has been more up and down than the post Brexit value of the pound. The year started with a furious motivation to take on the world, pick up from where things went wrong back in 2015 and start looking at the very front of the race for my goals and motivation. However the reality of having 2 children and the overwhelming avalanche of germs that will cross your path as a result, came home with a series of sharp coughs. It also reminded me of the spontaneous and random time restraints that, like a baby doing a poo in the bouncer, can explode out of nowhere and take away valuable time that you had banked on.
My first two weeks of proper training since 2017 were productive. For one interval Bike session the numbers for the main set were, 5×2 min @ 400 Watts/1 min recovery/10×1 min @ 430 Watts/1 min recovery/1×5 min @ 398 Watts. As a result of this modest above Threshold session my ego started freewheeling towards world domination. The numbers do look good, but the reality of my life situation dictates my potential and not one off training sessions. There is a huge amount of work that needs to be added on top of this session to produce a good IM Bike split.
As I now stare down the barrel of 3-5 days of no training at all and very limited sleep I can start to set the bar for my season with a bigger dose of reality than my ego would like, and I will focus on these main points and how I will personally use them to set my bar for the season. Directly or indirectly I do the same thing with all the athletes I coach and I would recommend everybody does the same.
When I first had a crack at Elite Long Distance racing my goals were (realistically or not) aimed at getting towards the front of races. I had time, talent and the motivation to get there. What I didn’t have was the maturity, knowledge, understanding of the bigger picture or a favorable good luck/bad luck balance, although this was in part due to my choices. Now I have the maturity, I still have the talent, an understanding of the bigger picture and I’m able to put myself in the best position possible to deal with both sides of luck. So trying to calm a brain that wants to dream of glory and fear of failure all within 24hrs, in to something that can set realistic targets for the year, I use these key points to focus on and compare to previous race results and any current goals that come to mind.
1: Physical ability to train and improve
I will be 35 this year and this does have an impact especially in combination with my family life. I can’t train as frequently hard as I used to. I can maintain a similar overall volume but i have to leave more gaps between high intensity sessions. Old injuries require more love and I cannot get away with getting caught up in dick swinging during training. Racing up climbs, pushing Tempo runs to hold someone else’s Tempo or in any way proving your greatness when it means fuck all. There’s no point in going Grey if you don’t wise up. If you’ve had some time in the sport, at this age you do not need as much training as you used to get to your peak level. With accurate fitness building, good recovery and maturity you can reach the same highs that you used to and chisel your way beyond. This will obviously not be the case forever but right now I’m lucky to know without doubt there is more to come from this mind and body. However this time there is no bottomless Well of Testosterone to pick me up off the canvas when I lose my head. Instead the weight of responsibility will press me down and drown me, and by the time I get up it could be all over for my A race and my sex life. Maturity can definitely be an advantage but only if you understand and except your limitations.
2: Time to train and recover
If like me your lucky enough to live with 2 monkeys and a Gorilla, chances are you have less time than you used to. At Elite level everyone seems to be able to train for half the day, with the other half of the day spent preparing Quinoa, lying down whilst watching Netflix and having multiple Baths of varying temperatures. Having worked with a few I now know this isn’t the case, but if you’re a social media stalker it would be easy to think this is the reality. The same could also be said of Age Group athletes putting in over 20hrs per week, going away on training camps and still finding time for more recovery than a Sloth who enjoys a massage. These athletes are extremely fortunate or they are expressing their insecurity by showing you their best side on Instagram. Social media is a fantastic head fuck in this way, and my personal experiences tell me that most athletes don’t always tell the truth online and mind games can start earlier than you think, so don’t get too hung up on 25hr training weeks and chiselled abdominal muscles.
If your time is accurately spent in all relevant Triathlon ways but still limited, talent can bridge this gap. But assuming that to progress up the field you are competing directly with people who have a similar physical talent, work ethic and ability to suffer but more time to train and recover, how can you progress? Im not going to go in to all the usual areas of improvement like equipment choices, nutrition and aerodynamics etc etc. Assuming that all is equal except time to train and recover the only advantage you have is less pressure to produce your best performance more often. This might be interpreted as less pressure to peak multiple times in a season for instance. At Pro level it is a guarantee that athletes will be building and peaking for multiple races, on different courses with different physical and strategical requirements. The same is true of Age Group racing. This is a pressure I personally cannot afford and do not have time for. By peaking for one race in the season you can become the master of that one race. The way you build your engine through the winter can relate very specifically to the course you will be racing on, and having only one peak for one A race can mean that you can say without doubt that no one knows that course, it’s layout and requirements better than you do.
*Print off course maps and relate this to wind directions so you know when to expect choppy water, headwinds and tailwinds. Identify tricky turns and use google maps to identify relevant landmarks.
*Read as many Blogs as you can across all levels of athlete. There is a variety of things that people who are racing at different speeds notice, and it can all be relevant.
*Use social media to ask people who have started the race for guidance and tips. I say started the race because sometimes a DNF can teach more than a podium.
*Memorize aid station locations and aid station content vs how much you need to store on your bike. The more accurate you can be with water/gel consumption vs water/gel collection, the lighter you can make your Bike for longer periods of the race. On climbs or in to headwinds this has lots of value.
*Train your body specifically for the environmental requirements. Training for the heat can be awkward and time consuming but doing it in very small doses, progressively for 6 months can be very effective.
*And most importantly build your engine specifically for the race.
-A Non Wetsuit Swim will mean that the frequency and quality of your sighting technique needs to be very high. But conditioning this and not losing speed is a long process.
-A Bike that has a significant headwind/tailwind combination or any variety of climbing will need a ability to change Cadence and not spike your HR or lose power. If you’re doing 6×5 min intervals @ Threshold why not split them in to 1/2 @ 65-70rpm and 1/2 and 90-95rpm You can apply this principle to any duration or intensity of intervals and make them more specific to your race conditions. It will teach you to be comfortable changing Cadence but it’s very hard and it takes time. If you’re trying to peak for one race it’s time you have and it’s a level of specificity not all of your competitors will be able to go to.
-If the run will be hot maybe consider a pre-planned run/walk strategy. This is very good for maintaining hydration levels and allowing some cooling at aid stations. But to feel comfortable doing it you will need to be very practiced in the scheduling as well as your walking technique. It’s challenging to walk quickly through an aid station when extremely thirsty and drink on the move, without looking like a drunk Nazi storm trooper hunting for a top up. This can be developed by improving walking technique during warm downs (5 mins per week) and the occasional long run (1 per month). Doing fast hill walking (7-7.5kph + 7-10 %) on the Treadmill during warm downs seems to be the shortest and most effective way I have seen. There will also be some crossover to your IM run technique and your ability to use your arms and hips more efficiently.
I will be racing against a much deeper Pro field than when I first had a crack back in 2014. Elite Ironman racing has changed very quickly. Over the last 4 years the fields have become much deeper with the usual suspects in the top 5, but from 5th to 10th and sometimes 15th place, there are now far more athletes competing right up until the finish line. This isn’t being driven by Prize money because that is something that hasn’t changed, but whatever the driver is the Pro ranks are now swollen with lots of talent and as i set my bar for the season, the competition is something I and all athletes should be aware of. If you’re having a good race but are nowhere near your predetermined goal it’s very easy to slip in to a negative mindset, even though it should be a positive one. If you’re racing for a position you need to know realistically where a good performance could place you in the field. Know your competition and know where you could be. My last race in 2017 got me 14th place. This was on my lowest ever training load and highest ever stress load. Even with strong competition my goal this year is to see how deep i can get in the top 10 at IM Zurich.
4:Forgetting your goals.
The last thing that I feel is important in setting the bar is to forget about the bar as quickly as fucking possible. My personal point of view is that these goals can be a major distraction, and actually an important skill is to learn is how to quickly remove these thoughts when they creep in. Once they are established they offer little value and in my opinion lots of distractions. Everybody knows how to truthfully measure their fitness and even the most positive mindset cannot blind you to a slower running treadmill, or a climb that feels like it’s one step from the grave. And when you get in to the repetitive grind of building race fitness, you know when you’re venturing in to uncharted waters of fitness, or at least when you’re able to confidently wear that Tri suit again. You don’t need these goals floating around your head and creating distractions, or at worst leading you on a social media journey of envy, fear and panic training.
It’s important to honestly and accurately establish what you want from the season, and then to forget it and get on with using your time efficiently and effectively while fighting your children, your wife and the avalanche of germs, cooking and moral questions that come your way on an hourly basis. Dedicating your only free time so that you can become very good at exhausting yourself in half a day is a strange thing in many people’s eyes, but it is important to accurately understand your reasons for doing it. However strange it all is my wife knows it brings me happiness so she excepts it with a grimace, but it’s also good to have someone’s perspective from outside the bubble. And actually if you are lucky enough to have family, friends and distractions from the world of Triathlon and Ironman, my gut feeling is that regardless of the time restraints this a secret weapon someone who is all in will never have.