Tag Archives: training

Why diets won’t work

why diets won't work

Why Diets won’t work

When someone says “I need to go on a diet”, my heart sinks. Why? Because going on a diet implies a short term, quick fix. Think about the new year magazine articles promoting detoxing, and going alcohol free. How often have you tried one of these diets or detoxes and then gone back to old habits, sometimes making your habits even worse!

Why does this happen? Because eating is a habit, and habits are hard to change. If you make extreme changes, for example by going on a “detox” or diet, then you will be able to stick to it for a short time (for the length of the diet/detox) then you will inevitably go back to what worked for you in the past. What you eat is determined by so many factors that it needs a bit more thought than just blindly following a plan.

How can I improve my diet?

Instead of going on a diet. I would encourage you to think about what you are eating, and ask yourself some questions

  • Why am I eating? bored, hungry, upset?
  • Am I really hungry?
  • Is it a good choice of food for me right now?
  • Is this going to make me feel better or worse?

This is just a start, your diet is a complex thing and everyone has different priorities and feelings about food. There are no bad/unclean foods. The “clean eating” trend encourages obsession about certain types of foods, and in my opinion, encourages eating disorders.

If you truly want to see change in your diet then be more aware of your eating habits, and realise that there is no quick fix. Change happens gradually, start with one sustainable change and then others will follow, and remember that small changes add up to big changes in the long term.

If you are interested in nutrition advice, then have a look at my packages here

 

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

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Women in training, how hormones affect us.

In her book, “Roar”, Stacey Sims reminds us that, “Women are not small men”. For both men and women hormonal fluctuations cause a reaction in the body that can affect your training and nutrition. But when it comes to hormones, clearly women are different; we go through cycles during our life, our menstrual cycle, the pregnancy cycle, and the menopause. And yet to date, most scientific research on the effect of hormones and sports performance has honed-in on men between the ages of 18 and 30!

In this post I am focussing on what happens during your monthly cycle. I encourage my female athletes, to track their cycle, to make them more aware of the hormonal changes that happen each month. You can use an app like Hormone Horoscope, or monthly info to keep tabs on where you are in your cycle. Even if you don’t use it to inform your training, I still feel it is a useful thing to be aware of. If you’re not convinced then have a read of this article.

Let’s talk about it

I’ve found that some women are keen to get in tune with their cycle, and others just don’t want to talk about it. The messages that we are given in the media are, that it shouldn’t stop us from doing anything. Periods are an inconvenience that we need to try and ignore or take pain relief for. Its great that we can carry on with our lives when we have a period. But we also need to be aware of the effect that our hormones will be having, so that we can better understand our motivation levels, and our training and nutrition needs.

First let’s have a look at what happens every month in a menstruating female.

Women in training, how hormones affect us.

What actually happens?

A womens menstrual cycle lasts anywhere between 21 and 40 days, and it can also be outside these ranges. It is pretty common for there to be variability from one month to the next in the length of your cycle. As long as it’s not wildly out every month, then its normal for this to happen. The picture above assumes that you have an “average” 28-day cycle, (very few women actually do have a cycle this length!)

The first half of the cycle (days 1-14) are from the day that you get your period until the day that you ovulate. Which I’ll refer to as the low hormone phase. The second half of the cycle (days 14-28) I’ll refer to as the high hormone phase. The day that you ovulate is not necessarily day 14, it is usually around midway through your cycle.

During the low hormone phase, and just after you get your period, oestrogen starts to rise. In this half of your cycle you are more able to make strength gains, and your mood will probably be better. You can follow general advice for nutrition and hydration because you are physiologically more like a man at this point in your cycle. If you have your period on race day, its not such a bad thing. There are numerous stories of women performing well when they have their period. In Victoria Pendletons’ book, “between the lines”, she refers to winning races when she had her period. From personal experience I have found that it does not really impact my performance.

In the second half of your cycle, progesterone starts to rise, which may make you feel lethargic. It gets harder to recover, and sessions that felt easy a few days ago, now feel harder. You may have cravings, because your metabolism increases slightly, due to increased basal temperature, and you may also feel bloated as your body retains water.

What can I do about it?

In one study it was found that amongst women trying to lose weight, those who followed an exercise/nutrition plan tailored to their menstrual cycle lost more weight than the ones who just restricted calories. For best performance you need to pay attention to the timing of nutrition and hydration, particularly in the high hormone phase. Stacy Sims recommends 10 to 15g of protein and 40g carbs at this time before any workout lasting longer than 90 minutes, and after sessions. Also hydrating well, and preloading before long, harder races with salt would be beneficial. During the high hormone phase your blood plasma volume is lower, which is why those hard sessions feel more challenging. Your blood is essentially thicker which makes it harder to get oxygen to your muscles, and as your core temperature is increased you will feel the heat more, and therefore need to ensure that you hydrate and keep cool, especially in hot weather.

I’m looking forward to seeing future research in this area, as more women take part in endurance sports, and become interested making their training more effective. Watch this space!

Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon.

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Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

We all have habits and routines in our lives. Some of them are helpful, and some of them, are not so helpful. Becoming more aware of your actions can help you to identify which habits are helping or harming you. As an athlete you will have habits to make sure that you get your training done.

If you need to get up early for a swim you may get your equipment ready the night before, and then set an alarm to wake you up. You then complete your swim session, and may reward yourself with a cup of coffee, or similar.

All habits follow this pattern. First of all there is a trigger, in this case your alarm going off, and seeing your swim kit prepared. then your routine, which is completing the swim session, then your reward which is a cup of coffee. If we take a closer look at the “habit loop” you can see how to implement good habits in your life.

TriggerCreating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

This is something that reminds you to do something. It may be something that you are not aware of, for example every time you open the fridge at a certain time of day you snack. Examples of triggers are; time, a visual reminder, an alarm, or it could be a feeling. Once you identify your trigger then you can change or add on to your habit. You can also create triggers to start a new habit, for example when you put your running kit on you do some core exercises before your run.

Routine

Creating helpful habits, for success in triathlon

This is what you do after the trigger. It could be going to the pool, having a second helping of dinner, drinking a glass of wine, doing strength exercises. This is the bit that you can change, once you identify your trigger.

If you know, that when you finish your dinner you always go for a second helping, even though you are not hungry then you could replace this routine with making a cup of tea. If you want to fit some strength exercise in to your day then you can add this on to an existing routine.

Reward

This is your way of giving yourself a pat on the back, and can vary depending on what your habit is. If its getting out training, then the reward can be knowing that you are one step closer to your goal. Sometimes you may need a bit more than that, and the reward may be a chat with friends and cup of coffee after a group training session. If you substitute your habit for a healthier alternative then you know that it is creating a healthier you, for example substituting your second helping of food for a hot drink.

Putting it all together

So to create helpful habits, first you need to actually want to create that habit. No amount of positive talk is going to help you if you don’t really want to change! Think about if there are any barriers to creating the habit. For example, when I wanted to add core work to my day, I realised that I sometimes wasn’t wearing the right clothing for it. By doing the core work before a workout then I was already dressed in comfortable clothing. Next identify your trigger. If you have a good habit in place already, then you can add on to it, as with the core work example above. It can be helpful to write down what you want to do and how you’re going to make sure that you do it!

If you want to find out more about habits then click here

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Recover better to perform better

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Recovery

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?

Recovery

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.

 

 

 

Scaling workouts to fit in with busy lives

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Scaling Workouts

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

Scaling workouts

Warm up

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.

Main Set

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.

Cool down

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.

Scaling workouts

  1. Remove cool down
  2. Shorten or remove build set
  3. Shorten warm up
  4. 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!

4 things that you can practise in yoga, and training or racing endurance events.

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Mental Training to improve performance.

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

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.

Breathing

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.

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

Acceptance

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.

 

Mental Training

How hard do I need to train?

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.

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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!

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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!

 

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!

Pembrokeshire coast path October

Pembrokeshire coast path October

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!

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Day 1 Amroth to Tenby

7.7miles. Elevation gain 1132ft.

Strava data

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.

After dinner!

After dinner!

Day 2 Tenby to Manorbier

7.3miles. Elevation gain 719ft.

Strava data

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.

Day 3 Manorbier to Broad Haven South

9.3miles. Elevation gain 1312ft.

Strava data

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.

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Day 4 Broad Haven South to Freshwater West

9.4 miles. Elevation gain 367ft.

Strava data

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.

I arrived at Fresh West after an hour and a quarter, so had plenty of time to get changed and stretch before the boys found me shivering in the car!

Day 5 Freshwater West to Pwllcrochan

14 miles. Elevation gain 1457ft.

Strava data

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.

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