Gunning for history. Daniela Ryf going for Triple Ironman & Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Photo: Korupt Vision
With close to 10% of the professional field at Kona now training with Trisutto coaches my traditional pre-race preview is getting more difficult. Instead of sizing up our competitors, I’ll be wishing all the best for our coached athletes across the board. We know they’ll be ready.
In the meantime for our followers here’s a short preview of my squad starters:
I’ll lead off with the great Daniela Ryf. After overcoming a difficult season I’m pleased to say that the Bird is back at Kona – injury free and close to her near best. Winning three in a row is a huge feat at any World Championship event, at Kona it makes one legendary with only a select group of athletes having accomplished it:
Dave Scott, Paula Newby-Fraser, Mark Allen, Natascha Badmann and Chrissie Wellington.
So we wish her best mechanical luck on trying to achieve her destiny!
James Cunnama is back at Kona and carrying a few more weapons than his last couple of forays to the Big Island. Armed with a stronger bike and returned run form, if the favourites decide to play games we could see the giant Saffa taking matters into his own capable hands.
Also returning on somewhat of a reconnaissance mission is Reinaldo Colucci. Rei has started back on the journey I first set for him nearly 16 years ago. While he surprised me in the interim by having a massive ITU and Olympic career it was always Kona that Coach dreamed for him. So he is paying his dues this year, but look for the tall timber from Brazil to give it a massive shake in 2018.
Also returning will see the Welsh Wizard Corinne Abraham. After two interrupted seasons with injury, I’m so proud to see her put together an outstanding season that lands her back in the Big Island. While no one is paying her much attention in the pre-race favourite lists, Coach thinks she will be vying for the best run split coming down the Queen K.
It’s a proud moment to announce the prodigal daughter Celine Schaerer will be making her Kona debut. Celine will not just be in attendance, but is going to find Kona very much to her liking. Like Corinne the heat and toughness of the run course is only going to help Celine. And with no massive packs of men bringing the women up to this swim-biker, things could be so different for her at Kona.
Finally, special mention to Jane Hansom who is returning to Kona to defend her World Championship won last year. The Burglar is getting fitter by the day and again will be a formidable foe for any looking to take her crown.
Best mechanical luck to all who are competing!
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Nicola Spirig top 15 in the world just 15 weeks after birth of her second child.
This year has seen an unusually high amount of top professional triathletes taking the opportunity to start families. It’s a subject that’s close to us at Trisutto with no fewer than 6 of my former athletes currently pregnant or who have just given birth.
Over my career I’ve seen many athletes both struggle and triumph with what should be a very happy change in life circumstance.
I understand people’s interest in the performance aspect, so I’ll start with what should be a rather obvious point:
Everyone is individual and will be impacted physically and emotionally post birth in different ways. The reality is some athletes will come back and be just as strong (if not stronger) than before, some will be back but having lost some top end speed, and some won’t return at all.
Athletes making the decision to start families tend to fall into three categories.
- Those who are very firm that if and when they have a baby, that will be the end of their sporting careers.
- Athletes who want to see how they cope with motherhood before making any decisive decision on their sport careers.
- A third group who are very positive and in no doubt about coming back to their sport.
Returning to racing after giving birth really has very little to do with training, but about time and expectations.
I have been taken aback with some criticisms levelled at the female athlete who decide to continue their sport at the top level. While being a top athlete does sometimes mean a level of selfishness in one’s lifestyle choices, starting a family is not a selfish decision. Every athlete I have worked with that had children spent much more time with their children than the average working mum.
Unfortunately that is a stigma that still needs to be broken down.
Trisutto coach Lisbeth Kristensen.
High Performance Post Pregnancy
Many athletes after birth tend to be physically stronger. I have been surprised that with no extra weight training, on return, many are at strength levels similar or above what they were prior to the birth. Similarly short course athletes may have the bonus of discovering a natural endurance they previously never had. It is of course anecdotal, but one sees across sport athletes returning after birth mentally tougher and resolute than before.
Another positive is how new mothers will also tend to become much more organised in their training behaviour and habits! Once training is done, they switch totally to being ‘mum’. This is a huge benefit, as instead of fixating on past workouts and thinking 24/7 about triathlon, the ability to focus on what’s really important in one’s life and training becomes much sharper.
Bella Bayliss (16x Ironman winner) after the birth of her child tended even to drop the warm up and down out of the workouts with a ‘I don’t have time to fluff about now’ attitude! This attitude didn’t have any harm on her performance.
If I’m to list the negatives;
Guilt. I’ve seen athletes suffer huge guilt returning to training hard, one suspects because of societal pressure that is also seen across women in the workplace. Being an athlete and mum can also be a huge stress on the partner, which in turn can make for an unsustainable balance in one’s training and parenting.
Another negative, at least perceived from a female perspective, is that there will be a little gain in weight! This, especially in Ironman should not be seen as a negative and is greatly linked to strength and endurance improvement. Not necessarily just for long course, but we saw Nicola Spirig at the Olympics compete competitively over the short distance. Similarly, I personally think Gwen will be every bit as formidable and perhaps stronger after a season return.
For those returning to Ironman I would caution on two points:
Training for Ironman becomes super difficult from a time perspective.
For short course triathletes, as well as specialist swimmers, cyclists and runners we see it’s not so much an issue – as training times are not as long and with proper time organisation can be overcome. Ironman is tougher. To be at your best there is no getting around the fact one needs to spend long periods of time on the road.
Not that it can’t be done. Rachel Joyce showed great character returning and qualifying for Kona. With time she has built back to have a terrific season and in Ironman winning form.
Rachel Joyce after winning Ironman Boulder. Photo: Jay Prasuhn
Which brings me to the final point:
If you are contemplating a comeback to racing after giving birth, please don’t rush it! Yes, I saw what Nicola did just 15 weeks after birth. It’s not an example I’d suggest others follow! Very few have the level of talent, mindset and support to get back so quickly.
If you take your time, organise oneself, it is my opinion child birth does not harm performance. Over the long term and by it’s very nature has the ability to unleash hidden potential that some athletes just can’t access.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Sursee, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
As we head to the business end of the season, I want to address a big problem for not only age group athletes, but also pros. Putting unbearable pressure on oneself to perform before the race even starts.
Many who join our squad are more than a little surprised that as we enter our race preparation for the big days, how laid back and not revved up they are. Our results on getting it right on the big day are formidable! Thus, athletes looking for the big motivational speeches are duly disappointed!
We keep it calm, controlled and clinical!
As mentioned in previous blogs, we shun the word ‘win’. It has no meaning in itself. It can’t positively effect the outcome where one person or a team can beat another. That outcome only manifests itself if the preparation has been carried out in the best possible way, and on race day the focus is on the process.
We at Trisutto have had huge success with many athletes who before joining us, did not get their job done to the best of their abilities on the day they wanted. As a coach just as an athlete, I do have my process. That is about diffusing expectations and honing the athletes thoughts on having a clear head, to be able to then execute a planned strategy.
Here is a taste of what I try to achieve:
1) I emphasize that thinking of winning is a detriment to performance. We must have the self discipline to concentrate in the ‘now’ and to be able to execute certain skills and actions.
2) The strategy or actions have been laid out, discussed, and agreed well before race week. So it is rehearsed and completely understood as second nature.
3) Have check lists. This is so important, to take any last minute error that can provide extra pressure.
- Check list for travel
- Check list for race gear
- Check list for strategy
- Check list of how to think on the day
How many times have I seen athletes been destabilized because they left something at home! That creates anxiety.
How many times has a piece of race kit been left at the race hotel! That creates anxiety.
Check lists for strategy – when the nerves come (and they do), having something to remind the athlete of their procedure that is physical makes an enormous difference.
Check lists or some written word about how you should view competition is very important.
Quite a bit was made about what I gave Chrissie to settle her down at races – a copy of the poem ‘IF‘ by Rudyard Kipling hit the spot. Nicola Spirig has a different type of list, but it all has the ability to do one thing. The similar job as the other lists. The most important thing you can do as an athlete or coach, is to plan to diffuse anxiety! This is easier said than done. But if you follow the blueprint above, you will be amazed how it can clear your mind to have a positive outcome to your big races.
I wish the best mechanical luck to all Trisutto followers, athletes and coaches. For those who aren’t, we are about the best person on the day winning – it doesn’t have to be us! That is the honour of sport.
It still lives at Trisutto.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Of the many valuable lessons impressed upon me during my time working with Brett, the Doc, there is one that rings true time and time again from professional ranks to age groupers alike. It is to play the hand you’re dealt.
What does this mean? Playing the hand you’re dealt….It could for example mean any of the following:-
- that you started swimming at 40, are 5’4, and not flexible so NO you will never swim like Michael Phelps
- you are riding a TT bike before running a marathon so NO you will never cycle at 120 rpm like Chris Froome
- your GI may not be able to absorb calories like Chrissie Wellington so NO you can’t ignore the vomiting instead slow down and play defense until you can start racing again
- you’re in your 50’s dealing with a history of injuries and crashes that have left you with a body that isn’t able to bend and respond as it used so NO you can’t expect that to change with hoping.
The true lesson is that you accept your own limitations and maximize what you can do with the body you have on race day.
I was able to see this lesson truly and valiantly in action watching my athlete Claudia Kretschman race her way to a 3rd place finish in her age group at Ironman Mt. Tremblant last week.
Claudia has a long history in triathlon racing successfully in the 2000s in Kona as an age grouper and even racing back in the early 90s as a professional. But over her long career, she has faced many setbacks from injuries and crashes that have left her with body in her 50s that isn’t the same as the one she had in her 20s. An accident a few years ago resulted in severe damage to her cervical spine, her C1 vertebra was shattered in 7 places and the ligaments on both sides of her neck were shredded. This injury requiried Claudia to have a fusion from the base of her skull to her C4 and left her with very limited movement in her neck. During her comeback last year, she had another setback as a stress fracture in her heel left her once again on the sidelines. Yet despite these setbacks, Claudia was intent on not only completing her comeback Ironman in Mt. Tremblant but also on fighting to be at the top of her age group.
Claudia’s neck fusion has required her to adjust to a new style of swimming and biking. Rather than focus on what she can’t do, Claudia has improvised. She can no longer sight while swimming by lifting her head, so Claudia has adopted a stroke with a breaststroke stop every 40-50 cycles to check that she Is on course. Most athletes would use this as an excuse to accept slower swim times but not Claudia. She is pushing herself to match and surpass her previous swim times even with this new adjustment that costs her time and interrupts her momentum.
Before the neck fusion, and after, showing how Claudia has adjusted her bike position.
Likewise on the bike, Claudia is no longer able to achieve her old aero position but has had to make adjustments that allow her to maintain an aero position that suits her new limited mobility. While many would use this as an excuse for slower bike times, Claudia is continuing to push herself to get and stay as aero as she can within the severe limitations of her neck flexibility. Claudia accepts the body she has but does not use it as an excuse. She strives to continually challenge herself and raise the bar.
Finally, on the run, despite her heel injury last fall, Claudia has put in the miles and built up slowly accepting that she has to adjust her run training and style to be strong and fit to run off an Ironman bike. While it may not lead to her fastest half marathon splits it has paid off in Ironman where she is strong and efficient to the final steps of the marathon.
We can all learn from Claudia who truly exemplifies Doc’s lesson. Yes she has been dealt a raw hand by the accident and injuries that have left her with a body that is never going to be as flexible or resilient as it was in her 20s. But instead of dwelling on what she can’t do, Claudia focused on maximizing what she can do despite her limitations and triumphed racing her way to a top performance.
Mary Beth Ellis is one of the USA’s most decorated long distance triathletes with 11 Ironman Distance victories and a World ITU Long Course Title. Mary Beth has been a full time Trisutto coach since 2016 after she retired from Professional racing.
Last week I made an honest attempt to defend those developing pro athletes who train every bit as hard as the champions. They have the right not only of our respect, but for the sport’s leaders to provide a pathway for a sustainable career that will benefit both sides.
That aside, the pros do need a sharp reality check – as their predicament is largely self inflicted.
There is still a way to make a small living in triathlon if one is prepared to be disciplined in one’s training and racing schedule.
With the proliferation of new races worldwide – I find it quite concerning the amount of underperforming newcomers who ask about coaching, but then talk about sponsors and fulfilling a travel schedule that looks like a Contiki tour so they can ‘get to Kona’.
That’s all before the standard ‘I can’t afford to get a proper coach’ – despite the coach having a proven track record of delivering exactly what their goals are.
Many are disappointed when instead of producing a magic wand, I suggest they focus on improving their performance to be good enough to earn a pay cheque in the first place. Living out of a suitcase in an airline transit area, competing at races that you are not good enough to be at is the worst possible way to move forward if one’s goals are to be good.
If you have serious flaws in one or two of the triathlon disciplines – ‘joining the circuit’ for 12 months will leave you right back where you started. No money and no improvement.
Sarah Crowley justly rewarded for a long term, professional approach to the sport. Photo: Korupt Vision
Over the past 12 months we have seen the meteoric rise up the professional ladder of Sarah Crowley. Sarah left a well paid corporate job to follow her dream – and I’m proud to say followed a different path to the majority of the inquiries we deal with.
Realising rather quickly that being ‘good’ was more important than the holiday circuit, she got an excellent coach and paid not to go to races but training camps to improve her weaknesses.
A former solid runner at ITU level, she engaged her coach Cam (Cam Watt) who is a bike expert, and they also flew to Jeju, South Korea for swim focussed training. For a month she trained with Daniela Ryf to see how the very best worked.
With improving performances she had the opportunity to get sponsored products – but instead followed her coach’s advice:
“Do not take on inferior products – it will cost you performance and money!”
Losing two minutes over 180km because you’re endorsing slower equipment can be the difference between a win or a fourth. Sarah again wanted what is best for performance. Not to be able to say ‘I have a sponsor’!
Such long term thinking has paid off very handsomely. She is now the current holder of the Ironman 70.3 Middle East, Ironman Asia Pacific and Ironman European regional Championships. For those who were at Sarah’s level two years ago, the improvement is not luck.
Taking The Plunge
It is not to say everyone can make the huge leap she has, but I can identify many others who with professional attitudes have made the step from very good age groupers to real “pros”.
The greatest of them is the legend called, Chrissie Wellington. She took a one week trial with yours truly and then gambled her savings on coaching and camps that would make her the best she could be. She was going to the top or back to a ‘real job’. No grey area.
Similarly, last weekend James Cunnama destroyed the field at IM Hamburg. Writing this I remember James contacting me some 10 years ago and asking what is the best way to become a “real” pro. He was advised to get on a plane and come to camp, so he could get the best possible judgement. Like the others he made the difficult transition with two training oriented seasons – and since then has had eight years career professional athlete with more to come.
For those considering making the jump, please understand it is totally different when you’re racing for a pay check to pay the bills each month. The pressure of racing without a safety net is not for everyone. Though I’m happy to give some free advice for those looking to make the transition from good amateur to hard bitten pro.
1) It takes time. I ask people joining Trisutto for three seasons to be the best they can be. If you come into the pro ranks with the ‘I’ll give it one year’ mindset I can help you right now.
Stick to your day job.
2) Invest in quality coaching and in training to improve and develop all three disciplines. Weaknesses that you can get away with as a good amateur will be brutally exploited when you run into the real thing.
3) Pick races that you can access easily and economically. Ensure after a race you are always able to return to base and get on with the most important agenda – training to make you better.
A professional, long term approach will get you to where you want to go much faster than you’d think.
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen races with less than stacked fields. It’s drawn criticism and has moved us back to a couple of old hobby horse discussions:
Equal numbers for men and women at Kona, and how good does a pro have to be to be deserving of pay?
It’s been discussed many times and my opinion hasn’t changed from what I advised the former CEO Lew Friedland 17 years ago at Ironman Zurich.
Make the pros equal. Invite 25 men and women – all of whom are paid for qualifying for the World Championship. Have 5 wild cards to use at your discretion for injuries or mitigating circumstances for top athletes.
Prize money for the professionals to begin at 20. Split the pro race. Men start at the current times, women later at noon so they get a fair race and to keeps interest through the day.
It would create a much more competitive field and exciting race, but there’s no will to do that because of the second problem:
Pro purses at races.
Ironman’s current policy seems to be pretty clear on this – ‘We don’t want them’ – and are pursuing a rather effective strategy of watering the prize pool to the point where the ‘professional fields’ are so diluted in most races that they are destined to die a natural death.
It is not the correct strategy. It kills the development of the next champions and undermines the very great aspect of our sport where amateurs can compete next to the sport’s best.
The frustration should not be directed at those athletes doing their best.
You are not going to see deep pro fields while ever the prize money is so small that after taking into account travel and accommodation expenses – to place second or third means you effectively lose money. And that’s with the risk of a Jan Frodeno or Daniela Ryf sweeping down on your race and making a podium your best possible outcome.
There needs to be a system in place, which provides athletes – at their level – the opportunity and financial incentive to work their way up.
- Tier 1 – Kona Championship
- Tier 2 – 4 Major Championships
- Tier 3 – 10 Regional races
- Tier 4 – Pro race series
To get into the higher tiered races with higher prize money races would require qualification from a tier lower.
This way an up and coming pro would not run into an Angry Bird or Mirinda Carfrae as they develop up the ranks. It would also give the pros a pathway to success and would allow not just the Top 10 in the world a way to earn a living, but the top 50.
Why no implementation? Because there is no will.
One doesn’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to think that phasing the pros out all together is on the agenda.
Ironman is a company valued at close to $1 billion dollars, but is too cheap to spend $10 million a year on a prize pool for the pro ranks? No, it is clear they are not part of a larger strategy.
In the meantime it is not fair or fun to watch a developing pro get beaten up by Frodeno or Brownlee by 20 minutes. They shouldn’t be there racing those guys in the first place.
Similarly, in answer to the criticism of ‘these guys are not good enough! They are beaten by age groupers!’ you can only shake your head and laugh. Some ‘age group’ athletes are training 40 hours a week and are between 25 and 40 years-old. They race age group for a reason – they can’t handle the heat of being a pro.
So let’s stick to the main problem for now. The current pros do not need a boot. They need a hand and a sustainable pathway so that they can become great athletes over a period of time – without relying on their parents’ gold card.