I’ve been using HRV4Training for a while personally, and am now using it with the athletes who I coach.
It gives me some useful insights, and I often coach age group athletes who work shift patterns, so it can help us to see how well they recover from their overall daily stress.
Training stress is not the only stress in life, and age groupers trying to fit triathlon training in with their work patterns often underestimate the amount of stress life throws at them!
Seeing a recovery score can help them, and me, to make decisions about their training, and with the recent paper showing VO2 improvements in groups who used HRV guided training, it makes sense to track and learn more about how our bodies respond to stresses.
The paper is interesting, as it does mention sex differences, and the need for more research. I think as women start to approach menopause, heart rate variability, along with tracking fatigue and other symptoms will really help them to adapt to the changes that are happening in the body.
Case study – mid 30’s female athlete
I have been working with an athlete who works 12 hour shifts for the NHS, so we are using HRV4Training to track stress and recovery. She seemed to be coping with the training stress, and had entered a virtual race.
But…..the week before the event the athlete started to complain of sore joints and fatigue, she had been working a shift that day, so she had a couple of easier days after that.
I recommended more rest in the week leading up to the event, as her readings were low, and she was giving some negative subjective feedback, but she continued to train up to the event. The day of the event she felt bad, and raced anyway, then tested positive for COVID-19 the week after. You can see her recovery below, after the event.
Luckily she seemed to bounce back quite quickly, but this shows how her HRV was impacted by COVID-19.
You can see how her score reflected the illness, but she didn’t record after the race, so you can only see when her score began to pick up again around 10 days later.
It’s always a challenge to get consistent readings with athletes, but when you can see the data it helps us to understand what happens to our bodies when we get ill, and we can then make better decisions around training.
You’ve heard it before, but recovery is a critical part of your training. If you are aiming to improve in triathlon, then you need to make recovery a focus. If you don’t, then training will be, stop start, frustrating, and can make you ill.
There are many ways of recovering, but one which often goes by the wayside when people are trying to fit in training, and a full time job, is sleep. You may try and cram in a session late in the day, and this can affect your sleep for the night, then you may want to get up early to “fit in” a swim, already you are compromising your recovery for these sessions.
So what actually happens when you sleep?
Your body releases growth hormones.
These hormones help your body to increase muscle growth, you need to get sufficient sleep for this to happen. If you are sleep deprived your body also produces the hormone cortisol, which can break muscle down.
Your body repairs itself.
When you do a training session your muscles get damaged and get micro tears in them. When you are sleeping your body can repair the damage, this is how muscle grows and rebuilds, making you stronger.
Your metabolism stabilises
If you are sleep deprived, then your blood sugar levels are not regulated as well, and this can cause weight gain, as your body fails to respond to carbohydrate ingestion. You may still feel hungry, even when you have eaten a normal meal.
What can I do?
So, what can you do about it? It’s important to go through all the stages of sleep for adaptations to happen. If you are not getting enough regular sleep (around 7-8 hours, maybe more!) then you need to identify why this is happening. Is it because you are trying to do too much? You may be better off scaling some sessions back, or looking to re-prioritise a few things. Think about what is essential, desirable, or could be removed from your daily routine. It may be that you are spending too much time in front of a screen or bright light before bed, there are many studies to show that this impacts the quality of your sleep and your ability to get to sleep. More on this here
Addressing these things, can help you to create habits which are not only beneficial for your training adaptation, but also for your overall wellbeing.
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!
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.
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.
I decided to get a proper bike fit, as I have been messing about with my saddle and seat height without having a clue what I was doing, and have also been getting a stiff neck on my long rides. I have been following someone on Facebook whose husband does Retul bike fits, they sounded interesting so I googled it and found someone in Carmarthen doing them.
After a look on Facebook at reviews I decided to book a fit with Andy at Cranc cyclesports. When I arrived Andy got me a drink and generally made me feel very welcome before we discussed my main events this year. It turned out that we were both doing Ironman Wales this year for the first time! I then did some flexibility tests and was set up on my bike, warmed up and had the sensors placed. Andy made quite a few changes, he raised my saddle 18mm, and moved it back 29mm. The cockpit was lowered 5mm, and my stem was shortened to 80mm. This has resulted in a comfortable but more aggressive position. I’m looking forward to testing it out on a long ride.
The whole way through the fit Andy explained what he was doing and why, I would thoroughly recommend him, he even drove out to my house to fit the stem, as he didn’t have one in stock.
The end result!
Typical that on a rest week the weather is the best its been for months! Never mind I spent a few days in Bath with my mum to celebrate her birthday, and made use of the Roman baths, which again I can thoroughly recommend!
Spring like weather
When I got home I did an FTP test urggh. I got a free month of premium membership on Strava with my power meter so I thought I would make use of the Sufferfest FTP test while I still had the membership. I was 10 Watts higher than when I did the test in April last year, which is great, but also could be down to being more motivated by the video, or a different power meter, or bike fit, however I felt strong so I’ll assume that I have improved!
My Garmin has an intermittent fault with the elevation, which I am trying to sort out, I didn’t realise until I uploaded my ride and run to Strava how bad it was! Managed a couple of 20 min runs last week though so good news 🙂
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