It’s a busy and sometimes stressful time of year. Everyone wants something done before Christmas, you may have more family/social commitments, and it can be tricky to balance everything. Keeping consistent in your training can be hard work, but if you know how to scale a workout down, then things can become more manageable.
First you need to know if your workout is a key session or not. If you are only doing 2 sessions in each triathlon discipline, then its safe to say that both sessions are key sessions. If you have more sessions then it may be worth checking which ones are key.
If you can only fit in key sessions then you may need to scale them down. This is how I would recommend doing it.
Scaling workouts to fit in with busy lives
Hopefully, you can keep the whole warm up in. It’s an important part of your session, which prepares your body and mind for training. If you are going to be working at threshold, then add some work building up to the level you will be working at. Don’t expect your body to just kick in to threshold work, you need to prepare a bit. If you need to do any activation work, to get your body used to the movement patterns, then now is the time. If you do have to shorten your warm up, then make sure it is still at least 10 minutes long, and if you skip the build work, then expect your first few intervals to be a bit off.
Lets say the main part of your session is intervals and you didn’t build to the interval intensity in the warm up then use the first few intervals to build up to that level. If you did warm up thoroughly, then complete as much of the main session as you can. This is the key bit of your workout. When your session is an endurance session e.g. all at one pace, then you may just need to cut the session short.
If you have time for a short 5 minute cool down, then great. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it, but avoid spending the rest of the day in one position. For example, seated at a desk. However if you do find yourself in this position then try to get up and move around every 20 minutes or so, and try to find time to stretch at some point in the day.
Below I have an example of how you could scale down the swim session shown, in order of priority.
Remove cool down
Shorten or remove build set
Shorten warm up
Shorten main set
This advice will help you to gain the most from your training sessions at this busy time. Enjoy the holiday season, and stay healthy!
Yoga and an Ironman race may sound like 2 complete opposites, but there can be many similarities in the way we practice in both areas. As well as the physical benefits of practising yoga, there are many psychological benefits too.
Imagine you are getting ready to race an event, you feel nervous and scared. Practising yoga will help you to alleviate these fears, here are some examples in how you can transfer your skills.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present. At the beginning of a yoga class you may sit and ground yourself, by closing your eyes and focussing on your breathing, then letting go of what happened to you during the rest of the day and becoming present focussed. You can use this skill at the beginning of a race to clear your mind, and also throughout racing, if something goes wrong, for example you get a puncture, accept it, and calmly do what you need to do, to get going again. More importantly, let go of the feelings of upset, that you may have about having a problem, then you can continue to race at the best of your ability.
During a yoga practice the breath is often linked to movement, becoming aware of how you are breathing is an important part of yoga practice, and this can also be transferred to a triathlon. Before a race you may use breathing techniques to calm yourself down, and whilst racing you need to be aware of how you are breathing, as it is linked to how much effort you are making. Check in with your breathing every now and then, you could even visualise your blood being oxygenated by your breathing.
Mind over matter
Imagine you have been asked to hold a pose in yoga, your legs start to shake and you start wondering when you can release the pose. Your teacher tells you to breathe and relax into the posture, and you begin to feel better in that position. The same thing can happen in endurance racing/training. There will be times when you feel bad, and you don’t want to carry on, just relax into it and know that it will pass. You can’t fight against the feeling, just realise that it won’t last forever, make sure you are not holding tension anywhere in your body/face, and maybe use some positive affirmation.
One of the Yamas of Yoga is Ahimsa (non violence). This is the practice of compassion, and being kind to yourself. This may sound strange when you are asking your body to push itself beyond what it finds comfortable, but you can do it in a compassionate way. For example, you may be going through a bad time during a race. Instead of being unkind to yourself by telling yourself that you are not going fast enough or making enough effort, change the way you speak to yourself. You could have a phrase that you repeat for example “I am the best that I can be” “powerful and strong” This will override your negative thought patterns. Think about how you speak to yourself, are you being kind and compassionate? Would you say those things to someone else? Read more about the 5 Yamas of yoga here
Sometimes, if you are in a yoga class, the person next to you, or behind you, is able to do a pose with ease, and you are struggling. Sometimes what you did one week, feels impossible the next. It doesn’t matter, we are all different, instead of comparing yourself to others, accept yourself and your situation as it is. You may have had a bad training session/race, it happens, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that important. Learning to accept, and move on is a useful skill to develop.
How do you know if you are training in the right zones? It may look confusing but it is actually quite simple. If you have done some testing then you should know roughly where your threshold is for all 3 disciplines.
If I was coaching you, I would give you sessions based on the paces shown in the chart below. You may not always be able to hold the effort level, but it is a goal for you to aim for.
RPE chart, used as a rough guide to help you get to know how hard you need to be working.
When starting out it can be useful to have numbers to go on, and they give me, as a coach, some useful data to look at after you have done a session. As you improve, you will get to know roughly how hard you are working, and you can focus on executing the interval more on feel. This is particularly the case if you are using heart rate as a guide, as we know that many factors can cause it to fluctuate.
I often find athletes worrying about what their heart rate is doing in a session. If is was lower than last time, or higher than last time. As long as you are performing the session to the best of your ability then don’t stress about it. Check in with your breathing and don’t go chasing a higher heart rate if it feels right then it probably is!
The most important thing is to know how your effort “feels” for each particular intensity, so, as you do the session, make sure that you check in with what your breathing is like, and how you are feeling. You need to know that for racing, so you can focus and be present in the race. The other bonus of doing this is that if you don’t have power/heart rate on the day it doesn’t matter!
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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!
The Pembrokeshire coast path is stunning. I have really enjoyed running along parts of it this year, and I needed something to keep me a bit focussed during the off season. I didn’t want to be under pressure, but felt like I needed a goal, so I decided I would try and run sections of the coast path. I mentioned it to my mum and she offered to drop me off and pick me up along the route. I started to get excited about the idea, and checked out a few maps before I found this useful resource that breaks down the sections into distances. I got my notebook out and started planning!
We were meeting a friend in Tenby for a meal out, as it was her birthday, so I asked Patrick to drop me off in Amroth then I could run to Tenby and meet them. I took a picture of the starting point with its plaque, and started along the flat section of Amroth seafront. I chose to go South to North as I thought it would be easier to get to the Southern sections for me, and the terrain gets tougher as you get further North, and also prettier so I thought it would be nice to finish at the most dramatic point! The run was lovely, I had run it recently as an out and back in preparation for The Snowman, but its nice to run to a point and not have to retrace your route. There are some steep steps in the section from Saundersfoot but the view makes up for it! I arrived in Tenby quicker than I’d thought and had time for a shower at the leisure centre before enjoying pizza with the kids and my friends.
I was not feeling great today, as my son has been off school with a cold. I woke up in the night a few times with a sore throat and headache but I was keen to run this section today as my mum will be away next week, she drove me to Tenby and then I said I’d meet her in about an hour and a quarter to an hour and a half in Manorbier. The weather was beautiful today and I loved the views again. When I was about a mile from Manorbier I spotted my mum having a chat with a couple who were out walking, they had been looking at some seals. I got the car keys and ran back for my stretch at the car.
As it was the weekend I was dropped off in Manorbier by my husband, while he took the kids to Broad Haven South where they started walking towards Barafundle. It was a nice day again, but it was starting to get a bit chilly when I got to Broad haven, I spotted the boys and they wanted to run with me for a bit, so we ran up to a gate where Patrick took the boys, and I ran back to the car to get warm, and stretch.
I had to delay the next section, as all of the off road section is closed when Castlemartin range is open for firing. I didn’t really fancy my chances so I waited until the weekend!
The mileage quoted online had been inaccurate so far, and this run was supposed to be 14 miles (it was 9!) Broad Haven South was wet and windy and I was running into the wind the whole way. This is not the most inspiring section as you run along a gravel track for part of the way along the coast and then turn off to run the rest of the route on the road to Fresh West.
A long one today, and very windy, which was fine for the first hour as the wind was behind me, but when I got to Angle the wind blasted into me and it was hard work.
I haven’t run this far for a long time I was feeling it, and wishing that I’d gone with my original shorter route! I could also see where I had to go and it looked a long way, but it was all fine. I found my mum waiting at Pwllcrochan, she had been for a run too and we compared notes! Pwllcrochan was not the best spot to be picked up, as there is nothing much there, but I wanted to get the next section done in a couple of runs, as its though Pembroke, Neyland and Milford.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I wrote a post about tapering a few months ago, which addresses some of the things that may come up in the weeks leading up an event. If you want to take a look then it is here.
Its nearly Ironman Wales race day, and I know how a lot of you will be feeling… nervous, excited, and scared, to name a few emotions, and on top of that you need rest before the big day. The main thing you need to do is let go of these negative emotions. By this I mean acknowledge that you feel a certain way, try to work out why, and then let go.
Have a plan
I encourage my athletes to make a race plan, so that if any worry crops up before race day they know that they have planned for it and are prepared. A plan needs to be adaptable, as unexpected things happen. You can plan for these events to a certain extent but bear in mind that on race day something may happen that you haven’t planned for. Dealing with these events is what racing is all about as you learn about yourself and can develop as a person. So even if it goes wrong you will learn something!
If its a fear about the weather, or conditions then there is nothing you can do about it. Everyone is facing the same thing, you will get through whatever the race throws at you, if you have prepared properly. There is little point in worrying about things that are beyond your control just let go and accept.
Never mind about the weather!
Use the force!
If you are excited, then channel that energy into positive thoughts about the race. Any time you feel a surge of adrenaline then think of a key phrase or song that motivates you. One of my favourites is “I am the best that I can be”, as it doesn’t rely on a result or time to be achieved. You will be the best that you can be on race day whatever happens.
Before the race you may be very nervous and stressed, you may find a relaxation CD, or some relaxing stretching could help you in the days before, if you can’t sleep . On the day I found deep breathing was useful. Last year as I was standing in a group of nervous athletes I told a couple of my friends to try to breathe in slowly then breathe out longer that the breath in (similar to birthing and yoga breathing) A few people turned around when we did it together, but I found it really helped to calm my nerves before I got in the water.
Enjoy the race. Remember how lucky you are to be able to race today, smiling relaxes your body and makes you feel good so I’m hoping to see some happy faces on Sunday!
Stick to the plan? I am a great believer in plans, but sometimes unexpected things crop up that are not part of the plan. I have had a few of these this year, and how you react to these unexpected “challenges” are what makes you you. We can learn a lot about ourselves by observing how we react in these situations. If the way we react is harming us in some way then hopefully we can change in order to develop and grow.
My year I have not had the best year this year. The plan was to have an easier year doing 2 half Ironman distance races with a view to doing Ironman Wales again in 2016. I planned my season around my A race The Wales Triathlon. I was feeling pretty good, I had accepted my DNF at The Titan, (you can read about that here) and improved my FTP by 10 watts this year, a goal I had set myself last year. A week ago I was in the sea with my boys and I jumped over a wave and landed on a stone that impacted in to the arch of my foot, it hurt quite a bit at the time but I thought it was ok, and stayed in the water. When I got out I could hardly walk up the beach. My mum drove me home, and I tried to convince myself that it was fine and it would be ok in a few days. I iced it and rested. The next day I went out on the bike, tried to run and couldn’t so rested again. On Sunday I did a brick session. I ran for 20 mins and felt fine, On Tuesday I tried to run again, no chance, and exactly a week later, my ankle was still swollen and foot hurting. Throughout the week I have had many different thoughts in my head. First feeling I needed to stick to my plan and watching my fitness on the decline as my taper did not go as planned. Then realising that I couldn’t run, so maybe I could just do the swim and cycle, and then feeling like not doing any of the race, but entering a race at the end of September, as I didn’t know if I could face starting a race knowing I wouldn’t be able to finish. I decided it was time to get my foot looked at!
I went in to A&E, the nurse examined it and confirmed my initial thoughts that it was just a bruise on the bottom of my foot that had caused soft tissue damage. This had been aggravated by me continuing to try and train. I told her I had a race the next day and had been training all year for it, and she said that if I did do it then to expect it to swell up again after. So I went away still in 2 minds.
After a lot of thought I decided that I wouldn’t race, my heart just wasn’t in it, I couldn’t run on my foot anyway, (too painful and would cause too much damage) so I would have been going in for just the swim and cycle. My husband has also had health issues the past few weeks and we are dealing with the stress and anxiety associated with that too, so I feel that the stress of not finishing another race may have been too much for me.
How I got my head round it
It is so hard to make decisions like this, especially when your whole season has been geared towards something that you had expectations of. I was really hoping to do well in this race, and my fitness is at a peak, so I have had to let go of that fitness, and my expectations from the race. I have had to accept the decision that I have made, and believe that it was the right one to make, there is always next year, and I have goals for that too.
I have entered The Snowman which is at the end of September so that at least I complete a triathlon this year, my fitness won’t be what it is now because I had planned to have the summer off training, so we have a few camping trips booked, and I won’t be able to train as much, but I’m looking forward to the race and I’ll be going up with Patrick for the weekend without the kids so we get to spend some time together too.
It is important to be adaptable and able to change your expectations.
Remember the positives from the season, if you are in Triathlon for the long term then you have still benefitted from any things that didn’t go exactly as planned, endurance builds up over years so the training that you have done in one year adds to the next years training.
Accept any obstacles that come your way, the sooner you do this the less energy you will waste fighting against an uncontrollable, accept what has happened, you can’t change it, and make a decision that you feel happy with, then stick to it.
Enjoy it, there is always another goal out there for you, and sometimes things are sent as a wake up call to check how much you really want your goal.
Don’t underestimate other factors in your life, you may feel that your stress at work or in your family has nothing to do with triathlon, but any stress impacts on your life and affects your ability to train and race.
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