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Do I “really” need to do an FTP test?

FTP testing, how do you feel about it? Do you dread it? Or is it an opportunity for you to show how you have progressed? However you feel about it you may find that you are asked to do some types of tests, or time trials during the season.

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There are a range of tests that I might ask athletes to do, and they each have their own value. As a triathlete I may ask you to do a cycling FTP (functional threshold power) test, or a swimming CSS test, or a running threshold test. Over the course of the season we can perform these tests at fairly regular intervals, and it can provide motivation, or affirmation that training is on target.

However it doesn’t always work this way, as we are humans, with lives outside of triathlon. There are so many variables, that need to be controlled, if you were to have a completely accurate result. So they are used as a guideline. Your threshold can change from day to day depending on, what happened at work, what you ate for dinner, how much sleep you had, how much training you did the day before, the list goes on.

Testing will also come in the form of racing, or time trials as it is easy to see progress, or any areas that need work on. It also provides race simulation which helps athletes to get used to the mental ability to compete, it’s no use being able to do a great CSS test, but then unable to transform that into swimming in a group of triathletes in an open water swim start!

These progress markers provide me, as a coach, something to work with, so that you have specific goals to aim for in training sessions. You may not hit those goals all of the time, and if you were, I would be wondering if your test results were up to date. Bear in mind that these goals are a moving target, and what you may have been able to to one day, may feel impossible or easy the next.

When you have done any testing, it is essential to give feedback, especially when athletes are being coached from a distance. If I don’t see you performing the test then it is vital for me to know how you feel it went. Many people get demoralised or upset if they do not see improved test results, (I’ve been there myself) But remember that the best test, is achieving your goal on race day, and that is the ultimate aim.

Reflections and moving forward

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How do you come to terms with a race that didn’t go as planned? Usually it’s fairly easy to put the race in the past, as you know there will be other races and opportunities to shine, but when the race is Kona it is a bit different, as I know I won’t be going back there any time soon. One way of dealing with a disappointing race is to go and do it again, and a lot of people will be doing just that, by getting fired up to race in Kona again, taking the lessons they have learned with them. As that is not an option for me, I have had to find a different approach.

So if you had a disappointing year this is what I recommend you do,

Be thankful

Now that I’ve unpacked my bike and seen some of the damage done to it, I am feeling grateful that I finished the race. That was the main goal, and I am lucky that I didn’t have a worse injury. After reading other peoples stories who DNF’d or had bad crashes. I feel that, although I was disappointed, I did the best I could on the day, mentally it was the toughest thing I have ever done.

Even if you DNF’d there is always something to take away, and being thankful for what you have achieved, or gained is a positive way of moving forward.

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Spend time doing other things

If there are things that you have been putting off doing, then do them. I have spent a bit of time working on my website, and I need to make decisions about our barn conversion which I can now think more about.

 

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Just need to hide the neighbours falling down shed!

Think about what you love doing. What has made you happy? What is it that you love about triathlon?

Thinking about what I love, I have realised that I love being outdoors, and being in new places. I enjoy different terrain which makes me feel close to nature.

Once you have spent a bit of time doing these things then you may have more of an idea about what it is that you want to focus on. Go into the season doing what you love, and you will be successful!

2016, what are you planning?

2016, what are you planning?

Recovery time

This is about the time of year when most people have finished their season. You may have big plans for next year, or you may not even want to think about it yet. If you have been racing up to this point then I believe it is important to give yourself a break from your routine. Make sure you have several weeks off from structured training. Have fun, and do the things that you have put off in favour of training.

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You may like riding and running off road, yoga, hitting the gym, gardening, climbing, walking, whatever floats your boat, get on and enjoy it, without any pressure to achieve anything. When you feel like you are itching to get back to structured training then your body and mind will thank you for this break.

Looking back

I like to look back over the year. This helps with planning for the next year as you will see what worked for you and what didn’t. Be honest with yourself. Celebrate your successes, and learn from your mistakes.

A cunning plan

Whatever you are thinking of doing next year, you are more likely to achieve it with a plan. But before  you enter a load of races, ask yourself why?

It is essential to have a good reason for competing in a race. This is what will drive you to complete workouts to the best of your ability, and be the best that you can be. Notice I say the best that YOU can be, not the best that your friend or training partner can be. Think about yourself before you hit the “enter now” button. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Will the race suit you? Is it something that gets you excited? Or, are you doing it just because if you don’t, it may sell out? or because everyone you know is doing it? Make sure the races fit in with your season and your lifestyle, and that you truly want to do them. Its tempting to get carried away when race organisers are putting on so many quality events now, but remember there is always another year. Focus on what is really important to you and you cannot fail.

The season ends

The season ends

When life throws the unexpected at you.

Its been a tough year for myself and my family. At the beginning of the year my husband (Patrick) went to see a doctor about an ongoing medical problem, (which is probably due to BPH (benign prostate hyperplasia)). It has been a time of waiting to get appointments and the stress associated with this. When Patrick did get to see the doctor, he was fitted with a catheter, which caused a lot of discomfort, infections, and limited his mobility and lifestyle. As an active person its been really hard for him to adjust, but we carried on with our plans for the summer anyway, camping and going away to France. In fact we have probably done more this summer than we have for a long while, and ended up pretty tired by the end of the holidays. You can read about what he has been through here

Knock on effects

This has also had a knock on effect on everyone else. If you have followed my posts you will see that this year my racing has not worked out as I would have liked, and its no coincidence that this has happened at the same time as stressful events in our life. I didn’t expect this to happen to Patrick, and it has made me think about my priorities in life. I had planned to have a nice easy summer without training, so I could enjoy going away with the family, and I made sure that I didn’t try to cram in lots of training even though I had decided to enter one last event “The Snowman Triathlon” (click the link to go straight to the race report) I felt I really needed to complete one event this year, and continued to train a bit over the summer, but it wasn’t my priority, so I lost fitness, but it didn’t matter. I really enjoyed our breaks, and we seem to have been blessed with good weather every time we have been away. Patrick has had his ups and downs but we have managed to do a lot of fun things this year.

Expressing my frustration!

Expressing my frustration!

How we deal with setbacks

Before the race I stumbled upon a blog post about how to deal with setbacks called “pain and the second arrow”. I am really interested in how our mindset effects us, and this couldn’t have come at a better time. The original post is here, but I will summarise what happened to me, and how I used the advice. On race day my chain came off the front derailler, and got jammed up against the frame of my bike. The same thing had happened to me at Brecon and initially my thoughts were “I can’t believe this is happening again” “I won’t be able to finish” etc. The article describes the incident as the “first arrow”, and how you react to the incident as the “second arrow”. I quickly realised that I was starting to shoot second arrows, and was much faster at fixing my bike and getting back on the road than I was at Brecon, partly because it had happened before so I knew it was fixable, and also because I refused to shoot those second arrows. So when you find yourself in a difficult situation step back for a moment and listen to the voices in your head, you can choose which ones to listen to and this is how life changes are made. This can be applied across your whole life, and one of the reasons I love racing so much is that it provides us with opportunities to grow, and to learn to deal with whatever life throws at you in a better way.

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4 up TT and The Titan Triathlon

On Thursday it was the Port Talbot Wheelers 4 up time trial, our team only started with 3 so we had less of a break from riding on the front, but it was a similar team to last year, Mel, Kirsty, and myself. Lats year we had Clair, this year we were meant to have Karina, but she couldn’t make it. We arrived and unpacked, I think we were all a bit nervous and Mel nearly started riding with a piece of insulating foam attached to her bike, then as we were practising we were turning right and slowed down, and Kirsty, who was behind me on her TT bars came off and got some nasty road rash and swellings! Not the best start, and we were a bit twitchy on the first section of the course. We soon settled in though and seemed to work really well together, we were only a few seconds off last years time (with fewer riders) and came second female team, so won £80 between us :-) Results are here

Photo courtesy of Il Mio photography

Photo courtesy of Il Mio photography

The weekend saw us camping at Parc Bryn Bach so that I could compete in the Titan Triathlon. The week before the race I didn’t run at all as my knee had been hurting and locking up after running for more than 40 minutes, so I really wasn’t sure if I would be able to complete the run anyway.

My diary entry

My diary entry

As it happens I had a mechanical on the bike which took the decision away from me to a certain extent, (its funny how these things happen) You can read my race report here. Things didn’t go to plan but my plan was not really fixed as I was unsure about my knee. I always think there is a reason that these things happen, so I’m thankful that I didn’t complete the run, it could have been a lot worse! Anyway we had a lovely weekend away and ended up climbing spiral staircases in a castle after the race, (this seems to happen frequently, Caernarfon, Dinefwr, and now Caerphilly!) Then the next day we walked up a 500m peak with the boys, and picked bilberries. (not enough recovery for me!)

Tasty pickings!

Tasty pickings!

The highlight of the walk was at the top when Devon found a sock, and announced this to the people who arrived at the top just after us. They didn’t seem too impressed, so he shouted “I bet you won’t find a sock”! We giggled just a little bit 😉

Why women don’t participate in sports

Forums and chat As a regular forum user, and competitive female athlete I am often frustrated and upset by comments that are made on forums regarding womens participation in the sports that I enjoy. As a minority in these sports I also feel intimidated to post a response, even when I am offended. This is why I decided to write this post. If you choose to read it hopefully some people will take the time to think about their words and choose them a bit more carefully. One of the reasons that I don’t challenge comments that frustrate me is that I don’t want to upset anyone, but obviously some of the men posting on these forums do not feel the same way as I do. Twitter_chat_image My experience I would consider myself to be a reasonably confident woman, but when starting out at Triathlon I often felt that I was not “good enough” to participate in time trials and I waited until I was at a fairly high standard before I attended one. I know I am not the only one to worry about this, women that I have spoken to are often concerned about coming last or being too slow. I also participate in mountain bike events, which are very poorly attended by women. I am usually faster than men uphill but slower downhill, but instead of just riding in these events at my pace, I will let men go ahead, as I have been conditioned to believe that men are faster and better than me. I have discussed this with friends and they also react in a similar way. In the pool, I worry about getting in peoples way if they are faster, and I frequently see women giving way and jeopardising their session in order to let someone faster go ahead of them. I recently watched a poem being performed called take up space it is about being yourself and allowing yourself to take up space. If I sometimes feel like I can’t take up space then imagine what women with lower self esteem must feel like. Sad-Depressed-Silhouette-The-Trent-e1390586144853 Facts Obesity and low self esteem are a growing problem, girls and boys are subjected to stereotypes and social pressures from an early age. I am going to look at this from the female angle, as I am female, and I feel that women are often overlooked and marginalised by sports, we have to fight to get recognition, and equal opportunities, as the world has been run by men for so long. There are systems in place that are unfair to women purely because men are the people who made the rules, and often they do not consider women, for example; the Time Trial scene. A look on their forum reveals some attitudes that, frankly, belong in the dark ages. Usually there are less prizes for women. The reason being that there are less women competing. How this encourages participation is beyond me, when you don’t even get recognised for your efforts, and believe me, the women that compete in these events DO put in the effort. Generally speaking the women who enter these events are highly committed, they have to be, to overcome gender stereotypes. However these women are a different group to the group of women who need to be encouraged in to sport. A Sport England Report identified areas in which women aged 15-19 are dissuaded from participating in sports, and found that what one group disliked about sport and physical activity were “feeling intimidated and self-conscious, and the competition associated with doing sport.” This would support what I have seen in a local time trial where results are not published from the event. I saw more women at this time trial than I have seen at any other time trial in the area. “This research also investigated the role of three main determinants upon participation in sport – the environment, lifestyle transitions, and psychosocial issues. Overall it was found that: Young women did not consider environmental issues, including the provision of facilities, as very important when explaining their current level of sports participation. Transitions, including lifestyle changes for example from school to college or from education to employment, had a negative impact upon sport participation, due to a decrease in levels of spare time, money, and energy. This finding was consistent regardless of current level of participation. Psychosocial issues were very important when explaining levels of sport participation. In particular, family and friends were considered to be the most important factors influencing participation in sport, regardless of participation level. Furthermore, complex psychosocial issues such as self-confidence, and perception of personal ability, were also found to play a significant role in the decision to participate in sport.” 3120882.large What to do There are a lot of good campaigns out there to empower women to participate in sport and break through stereotypes, for example This Girl Can, we just need to bring these attitudes and ideas into clubs at grass roots level and not just pay lip service to “there should be more women participating”. Women will not respond to bullying or male banter, they need acceptance and encouragement. If clubs really care about women participating then they would do well to read the report by Sports England and implement the recommendations. They could also consider the words used on public forums and think about how these may affect other people.

Rest and recovery

Wow what amazing weather we have been having. It makes it so easy to train and motivate yourself when there is sunshine, and it also makes it easy to get over enthusiastic and overtrain. Sometimes training gets tiring, and its difficult to know if you should take a break, or keep pushing on. I think most of us know when we need to take a break, but we can also sometimes get attached to our training plans (guilty) and feel that we need to tick off everything that we have set ourselves to do. It is useful to keep track of your training then you can see what you have been doing and there is evidence to show that you may have been overdoing it. I use training peaks which gives me a TSS (training stress score) which is explained here. This explains why I’m feeling tired at the moment, and had to abandon my turbo session! Screenshot_2015-03-25-18-49-32 Training is stress that we put on our body, and it is good to do this, if we didn’t then we wouldn’t get faster or fitter, BUT if you don’t rest and recover then the body does not have time to repair itself and your performance either stagnates, declines, or in the worst case scenario you get to the stage when your life is negatively affected by your overtraining. If you need more recovery time your body will let you know, you just need to listen and be observant if you have any of these signs.

  • You feel sluggish and tired for consecutive days
  • You lack motivation to complete workouts
  • You can’t sleep even though you are tired
  • You get ill more often

There are a lot more symptoms of overtraining which can easily be found if you google them, remember though that everyone is unique. We all have different tolerances for training loads and recovery times, so what might work for your friend will not necessarily work for you. There are ways to monitor how recovered you are by checking your heart rate in the morning, amongst other things. I will leave it for the experts to explain here. Don’t underestimate the power of good quality sleep, and staying hydrated. Recovery is taking care of yourself. Sometimes we can be our own worst critics, if you catch yourself beating yourself up about missing a session or feeling tired then listen to what you are telling yourself and ask if you would talk to someone else in that way? It is important to nourish yourself with positive words and by allowing yourself recovery time. It is not a weakness, and can make you stronger in the long run.

Nice to go away, but nice to be home, The Big Cheese.

February and March

We have been away twice in the last month, and it is beginning to take its toll! Much as I love visiting friends and family it can also be tiring, and my immune system has taken a battering. During half term we went to visit family in Sheffield, I was looking forward to visiting Ponds Forge, and having a swim in the 50m pool, but there was a gala on so I had to sneak out early in the morning and go to the nearest pool at Graves leisure centre. I enjoyed it anyway, I used to work in the school next to the centre, so it was good to be in familiar surroundings. The next morning I managed a run, and bagged a QOM.

My brother in law is KOM, he does lots of fell running.

My brother in law is KOM, he does lots of fell running.

 

I have discovered that its quite easy to get out first thing and do a workout if you are visiting people, they don’t even notice you are gone, especially if you have small children who wake up early! This is also who I blame for the run of colds that I’ve had, 2 days after returning from Sheffield I came down with a cold, and I am now suffering again after going away to visit friends in Cheddar at the weekend. I have come to the conclusion that disruptions to my sleeping, weaken my immune system, it could also be the 15 mile off road race that I did with Rachel on Sunday, called The Big Cheese, read more about it here.

 

Base training

This video was posted on my clubs cycling forum, and it brings up some really good points

I think one of the points that it brings up, about knowing why you are doing a workout is really important. If you have a good reason to do a session then it will be beneficial, for your mind as well as your body. If you are just doing it just to get the miles in then it may be the wrong reason.

You need to know what your goal is and work towards that. 

It is important to have a focus for each session, and when I plan workouts for my athletes I always  describe the focus of the session. This works in 2 ways, firstly you go in to your session with a focussed plan, and you are also programming your mind to believe in what you are doing, so that when it comes to race day you will know that you have done what it takes to prepare your mind and body, remembering this will make you a better athlete.

A snapshot of one of my coached athletes plans

A snapshot of one of my coached athletes plans

It is a good idea to visualise your race whilst you are training too, think about how you will feel when you are racing. All of this will help prepare you for the big day.

There is no doubt that High intensity sessions will increase your fitness, but you must also do race appropriate workouts too, and in the study that is quoted the participants did high intensity (that means all out efforts) for 30 seconds until exhaustion, or worked at 80% until exhaustion.

I am believer in balance and variability. If you do the same sessions week in week out then you will not improve as much as you will if you progress, and work in different intensities, the more time you have to train, the more you can mix it up. You also need to know when to back off. Ask yourself, what benefit am I getting from this session? Sometimes its better to recover and try again another day.

Its that time of year again….atchoo

Illness and injury can happen at any time, so it is useful to know what to do if you can’t train.

If you have an injury then you need to get professional help as soon as possible. Don’t think it will go away, admit to yourself that there is an issue and start managing it. If you don’t intervene early then it could turn into something worse. You may need to do rehabilitation, make sure that you listen to advice and act accordingly.

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It is now the season for colds and flu, if you do succumb to “the lurgy” then make sure you hydrate well and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, avoid dairy produce if you can, as dairy can increase mucous. This tweak of your diet will help your immune system get back on track.

 

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As far as training goes:

“A neck check is a way to determine your level of activity during a respiratory illness,” says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai Medical Centre in New York. “If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and tearing eyes, then it’s OK to exercise,” he says. “If your symptoms are below the neck, such as coughing, body aches, fever, and fatigue, then it’s time to hang up the running shoes until these symptoms subside.”

I would still be cautious about exercising when ill, your immune system is taking a battering, and you may find that exercising makes you feel worse. If in doubt go out, but take it easy. You really need to use your own judgment on this, sometimes going out when you are not recovered can set you back more than resting and allowing your body to balance itself.

If you do miss training due to illness then these guidelines (from Don Fink) will help you to work out what to do

1 day missed

Just skip your workout. Missing one workout will not matter in the long run.

2-3 days missed

Skip the lost days and rejoin your normal training, but on the first day back do half of your scheduled workout. Resume normal training on the second day back.

4-6 days missed

Rejoin programme skip the missed days. Do 1/3 of your scheduled training on first 2 days back, and 2/3rds on next 2 days back. Resume full training on the fifth day back.

7 or more days missed

You may need to reconsider your goals depending on when this happens. Speak to your coach, if you have one, and modify your training plan.

As I said these are guidelines, and I think that it is more important for you to decide what the best course of action is. Only you really know how well you are recovered.

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