Hello? Hello? Are you out there?
Now that I’ve had some time to fully transition to my coaching role, I see so many of the mistakes I made as an athlete. First and foremost is the: Missing In Action (MIA) Athlete syndrome.
I was impossible to coach because of my lack of communication. I think this is one of the key reasons I was able to train and race infinitely better while in a camp situation where coach could watch me in the workout and get at least a few words of feedback out of me after a session. While away from camp, I would go quiet and when I did sent feedback it was data, as I was reticent to report back how I truly felt.
As an athlete, I thought my job was to do the training and shut up. I didn’t realize that giving detailed feedback, not just the data but also qualitative analysis of how I honestly felt, would help not only me but my coach. I think many athletes fall into this trap. They either only provide their coach with factual data on the workout or even worse give zero feedback at all. As a coach, it is hard to know exactly what your athlete is doing and how they are progressing with no feedback to review. The best tool your coach has is the athlete’s response to training and this is what truly will make the relationship successful. The best training plan in the world can fail if the communication is lacking.
My message to athletes is this. Please do not worry that you are weak or soft if you give an honest statement about how the session unfolded. The data is great, but your perceived effort is better. As a coach, I want to know if your legs felt heavy or you struggled on the hills, if you’re exhausted or you felt amazing. Please tell your coach everything, as this qualitative analysis doesn’t need to be long or overly detailed it just needs to be honest. This information is essential in completing the feedback loop and allows your coach and you to be even better together.
My old motto as an athlete was “shut up and do your job.”
My new motto as a coach is “do your job and let me know how it went.”
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.
Join Mary Beth at one of her upcoming Mont Tremblant Camps in July.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
Don’t let the numbers determine the success of a workout! Trisutto Campers training in Mallorca.
What is an awful workout?
How do we categorise a good or bad workout? Is it a great workout when we hit certain times after we have had 3 days of rest to get ready? Is it awful when we are training hard, start a workout tired, and by the end are going just above a walk? How important is hitting ‘the numbers’?
An athlete I used to coach, Tereza Macel found her best form winning Ironman Canada followed by a fourth place at Ironman Hawaii after learning not to look at, or define herself by numbers. Instead when tired the advice was to focus on completing all workouts she started, never missing one or cutting one short. Instead a new motto was adopted –
‘You start. You finish.‘
Sometimes the finish may be ugly, and the time a slow terrible time, but is this awful training? Or is it a source of inspiration?
Ask how much confidence can grow by not leaving a workout defeated? Can we put a score on the discipline to cope while not hitting our numbers, and instead to keep going? How many points do we score for telling ourself that consistency will pay us back later, even if we can’t see it helping at this moment?
Likewise, our Trisutto Coach Lisbeth Kristensen was another champion athlete who learned the benefits of a no numbers approach. As an athlete and new mum, she had to overcome the little voice that said – ‘I can’t train like I used to’ after missing or cutting short sessions if her daughter was sick or had to be taken to creche.
This lead to self doubt and questioning of ‘I don’t know if I can still do it?’
Trisutto Coach Lisbeth successfully managed training, racing and being a Mum!
However, this was always the subjective side of super mum, as all in the squad marvelled at her antics. Super mum with a baby stroller would run like a maniac through town for up to 2 hours at a time, she’d ride her trusty mountain bike furiously baby on back and swim short but sharper sessions.
Let’s not forget being a mum is training in itself, and who can decide on how to score that? What I can tell you is the score that counts and the only score that means anything is race day. And on that count Lisbeth raced very, very well long into motherhood.
Quality of session or time is not always everything. Sometimes it is just about getting it done. It can be extraordinary what one can achieve when the focus is training to race as opposed to racing to train.
What is good training? What is awful? Like most things, it is in the eye of the beholder!
Lisbeth brings her 10+ years of professional racing and training experience under head coach Brett Sutton, to help athletes of all levels, to achieve their goals.
David achieved a new Ironman PB in New Zealand this year.
Ironman champion or bike mechanic?
When Jo Spindler emerged from his workshop with a metal file in his hand, oily clothes, face and hands, it was hard to tell.
It turns out he’s both: In pursuit of the perfect bike for his partner – fellow Ironman winner Diana Riesler – Jo was busy filing a new seat stem, determined to improve her already astonishing performances, having won IM Lanzarote and Malaysia.
For me, this was an excellent sign; The restaurant manager should know how to boil an egg. And I really like the way Jo understands not just what to do, but how and why. For someone like me with a million questions, Jo is fantastic. Here is someone who had competed at the highest level, triumphed, and now tells age group athletes how to do it.
With Jo and Diana in Mallorca
I began competing in triathlons in 2013, starting at Olympic distance, then 70.3. In early 2016, I was training for my first Ironman in Austria later that year. In fact I already had a coach, who sent me daily schedules, but didn’t pay much attention to any other part of my training life. I was looking for someone or something different.
Training with the Trisutto Mallorca Camp was dramatically different. The schedule was demanding, intense, fast and serious. I remember making porridge every morning, because each day felt like preparing for a 70.3 race. I would order a double espresso between sessions, to be sure I had enough energy for the next challenge. I loved it! The fellow athletes were different to those I’d met before. Mostly German and Swiss, several were high caliber, age group winners or Kona qualifiers, but not all. The standard was high, but there was no sense that slower athletes were less valued, everyone was doing their best and Jo was encouraging everyone equally.
Among the many highlights of that camp were the important lessons on swim technique and training (particularly the underwater hand and arm motion), on riding up hills in the big ring, and on whether to shave my legs. ‘Yes!’ said Jo. ‘You’ll save 10 watts.’ On a practical level, ‘Jo-the-bike-mechanic’ gave me and my Cervelo S5 a new set-up which cured my back problems and significantly increased my speed. It was like getting a new, faster bike.
Riding the quiet Mallorquin lanes and spectacular mountain passes with Diana was another treat. It’s always a thrill to train with an elite athlete, to see them at work and learn from them.
Summer Camp in St.Moritz
Later that summer, after completing IM Austria, I signed up for another TriSutto camp, this time in St Moritz Switzerland, run by the group’s founder and head coach Brett Sutton. This time, there were several Trisutto coaches helping us through the sessions. Brett would make a speech about swim, bike or run training, and the other coaches would add their comments and ideas. Then we’d go off and train in the superb mountains above the town.
Among the coaches was Rafal Medak, a London-based Polish triathlete who is one of the world’s best 40-45 age groupers: He’s competed at Kona for seven consecutive years and finished 22 Ironman races. Like Jo, Rafal is a great student of the sport. He has a sharp analytic mind and is always looking for smart ways to improve training, preparation and performance. Soon after the summer camp, Rafal agreed to coach me and we’ve now had more than six months together, including an excellent result at Ironman New Zealand, where I overcame terrible swim and bike conditions to set a new PB.
Meeting up with Andrea and Roberto at various locations around the word!
Meanwhile, some of the people I’ve met through Trisutto have become friends: Roberto and Andrea Cagnati, for example, are also crazy about the sport and love travelling to exotic locations. We’ve met in Phuket, Mallorca, New York and London, always having a run or a swim together, or competing in events.
When I came back to Mallorca this April, a year after meeting Jo and Diana. It was a real pleasure to see them again, to race with Diana at Porto Colom and to train with them at the BEST Center in Colonia Sant Jordi, a few km away from their home in Felanitx.
These days, Jo has shaved off his beard and I’ve not seen any oil on his hands. But his engineer’s mind and his huge passion for triathlon are as sharp as ever. Thanks for welcoming me to the Trisutto family, Jo, I’ve loved every minute.
David Nicholson joined Trisutto in October 2016 and currently trains under Rafal Medak. Since then he has achieved impressive results at IM New Zealand, Laguna Phuket, and Ironman 70.3 Phuket.
Jo Spindler is Trisutto’s Head European Coach and also a multiple Ironman winning coach. He bases his training squads between Spain and Switzerland
Join Jo at his next weekend camp in Sursee, in May.
Rafal Medak is a Trisutto coach based out of London.
Having just completed a serious of camps in Maspalomas, Rafal is currently planning further Camps in St.Moritz over the European Summer.
‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going’
Mental toughness is the ability to perform to the upper range of your individual talent and skill, regardless of competitive circumstances. We all know that long distance events especially require at least as much mental strength as physical preparation!
Being mentally tough means that no matter how brutal the circumstances are, whether it be your 13th hour during the Ironman race in temperatures well over 35 C, or your 20th rep of a 400m interval session, you’re able to stand the pain and suffering and perform to the best of your skills. The reward for toughness…, a good time, a personal best, a good place, maybe place on the podium of your age group category or even a win, or the satisfaction of ‘just’ finishing. Mental toughness may be the defining factor between finishing at the front of the pack and not finishing at all.
It’s not just the ability to keep moving but to keep doing it in a way that’s engaged and competitive in the environment you’re in, whether that’s competing against the clock or other human beings. It’s easy when you feel good physically. It’s when that physicality leaves you, it becomes the real task. What you’re physically capable of in an endurance environment is more determined by your mental strength than your physical capabilities. Your body can go beyond what your physical perceptions of tiredness or fatigue are. Your brain will be telling you ‘You are tired, stop.’ The mental limitations kick in before the physical limitations, it’s a simple protecting factor.
Photo credit: AsiaTri.com
Visualization is a part of the training that is important. You don’t have to do anything physically, you can be meditating or walking, anything where you’re in your mind, playing it out in advance. You can imagine the start, the course, the spectators, the finish line or those points that your body is saying ‘stop’ or that you’re suffering. You can mentally training yourself to push through those barriers.
You should also be prepared to overcome mechanical issues during the bike leg, a flat tire, loosing you nutrition, getting hit during the swim…the list is long, but the better you are prepared mentally to those, the better you will handle the real situation, if it occurs on race day.
If you spend too much time being down about it, it can throw your race completely. You have to keep yourself in a place that’s not a dark, panic one. It also comes back to core faith, for me it always was my family and the people that are closest to me, I raced also for them and gained strength and positivity, knowing they will wait at the finish line or follow me online for several hours back home.
Another thing is, of course is the training; in many ways harder than the event itself in terms of the hours you’re putting in and no one is cheering for you. You have to get comfortable in your pain cave. It’s a place of prolonged suffering. You know you’re going to experience it, but you have to find a way to know that it’s not going to last forever.
Try to focus your mind on the positive of completing. When you’re in immense physical pain, try to dull the pain as much as possible or the opposite, try to welcome to pain!
It’s up to you, remember, everyone is different! But once the pain enters your head, you start to legitimize ways of pulling out. There’s a difference between ‘bonking’ and hitting the wall mentally. When you really bonk physically (nutritional issues for example) in most situations there is less you can do about it, you will loose a lot of time or even not be able to finish. But how long you hit a wall mentally, depends on your own thoughts, mantras, to what your brain is saying to you and how you handle these.
There can be a bad 20 or 30 minutes, but you can still have a pretty awesome race.
Don’t feed into your fears or worries or concerns. You have to feed into your positive thoughts, those are the ones that are going to get you through. This can definitely be practiced during your very intense training sessions.
I know, it’s easier said than done, but
Edith Niederfriniger is a Trisutto Coach based in Italy.
Join Edith at her Tuscany Training Camps in April.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
In the last weeks and months there has been much interest in how many of Triathlons top female athletes have opted for motherhood at the peak of their careers.
From the ITU, post Olympics, we have Nicola Spirig, Helen Jenkins, Nicky Samuels, Gwen Jorgensen, Yuliya Yelistratova, Alexandra Razarenova and Melissa Stockwell.
At the end of the Olympic cycle, it is only natural to reassess priorities and I believe women have a much better reality detector than men.
The number of women taking this path may be helped in some small way by the successful 4 years that the 2012 Olympic champion has produced after having a son in 2013. By any measure Nicola is a better athlete at the end of the 2016 Olympic cycle than in 2012. While most won’t have the same tools at their disposal to deal with the obvious complications of their new reality, Nicola has shown a path that can be followed in the future. Having a family can be a positive on ones athletic career.
Recently ‘The Honey Badger’ Mary Beth Ellis also retired from racing to follow her life long dream of a family. We are very happy for her, however we also recognise that Iron Ladies have a more perplexing decision. Most (not all) are already on their second triathlon career having started racing in ITU prior to embarking on Ironman which is a second phase to their sporting life.
Here are the list of recent publicised pregnancies: Mary Beth Ellis, Sarah Haskins, Liz Blatchford, Mirinda Carfare…
Ignoring the separate debate of what is the best age to do Ironman, instead let’s focus on how does an Ironman decide when family priority is more important than a performance level? Given the demands of training for an Ironman, these women have less of an opportunity to resume racing both because of age, but also because of time constraints the new arrival places.
I know first hand Nicola trained less and made compromises during her 3 years comeback after her first child. It has been pointed out to me that many runners have returned from having children. However runners don’t do as much training volume when compared to Ironman training – in fact at least 70% less. They don’t swim or ride prodigious hour sapping schedules, with twice weekly ‘long’ runs of 90 minutes or if preparing for a marathon 2 hours. Other runs between 45 minutes to one hour. Most females in Africa don’t run more than 1 hour 15 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes for their big runs.
So we have to understand the time factor in preparing for an Ironman is a huge differential when comparing to other sports.
Just as we have Olympic cycles, Ironman has its cycles to – if you observe the records. I call these ‘Champion Cycles’. Great champions come and go, but while they are on form they dominate. Paula Newby-Fraser, Natascha Badmann and of course the great Chrissie Wellington flew in and out of triathlon like the hurricane she is, leaving athletic devastation in her wake. The fireball running of Mirinda Carfrae blow torching the fields and now as the wave builds Daniela Ryf looks to be a tsunami in the making. Like Chrissie she might only be here for a short time, but while she is here, we are seeing an athlete with no weakness in any of the disciplines.
Thus, the Ironman athletes have their own cycle to deal with. Do I put off having a family while I look for that last 2% in performance? Or do I attempt a post child comeback with it’s challenges?
Women in high level sport have, or have placed upon them, much more societal responsibility. At Trisutto we always discuss life and sporting goals with our professional female athletes. It is their right to decide what path they want to pursue when it comes to having a family. However, sometimes the quest of chasing athletic goals can blind an individual to what their life goals were, and part of coaching is to remind the athlete of these.
At Trisutto we celebrate all the pregnancies and the happiness they will bring. If debating the pluses and minuses of an athletes decision, we should remember that it is the most personal of life decisions and those on the outside looking in should respect what a difficult decision it can be.
At Trisutto we wish every one happiness and health and applaud their decisions.
In part-one of my blog I covered the importance of having the right motivation and training plan to achieve your Ironman goals. These are just the first steps to success, you need to practice what you will do on race day, this not only includes the obvious, such as nutrition and pacing, but also race mindset.
To achieve quality IM training with the limited time most Age Groupers have, you must invest yourself in every session, 100%. If you have a 30min easy spin scheduled as a recovery, engage yourself in the process mentally, physically and emotionally, channeling all your energy to accomplishing the aim – promoting restoration. If you get on the bike and just go through the motions, checking your e-mail, Twitter and FB feeds, then you are putting in the famous “garbage miles”. Likewise, if you do the same during rest intervals in an intensity session, you just compromised that “quality” – see my point reference the term…Use every training session to practice staying on task, focusing and concentrating without compromise. If you let the mind wander the body will follow. Ironman is an agonizingly long day. Make each moment count and you will save time and energy.
While it is essential to listen to your body for signs and cues expressing fatigue it is also important to anticipate the need for scheduled rest. Remember that recovery is training. Consider it as a discipline. The body becomes stronger when allowed to absorb the preceding training. With the higher volume demand of IM training, especially as one approaches the race itself, recovery and regeneration become ever more important. Ignore it at your peril.
Work Your TOP
Suffering is part of IM. There is no hiding from it. Therefore as part of your physical and mental preparation you need to work your pain tolerance, or Threshold of Pain (TOP). This may include a once in a while session that takes you well outside your comfort zone. So don’t wait until race day to discover it. Practice it in training to help you develop coping mechanisms.
That also means being able to endure in solitude. While you may be “racing with 3,000 of your closest friends” the fact remains that IM is a lonely, solo effort. Those in particular who need the companionship of others to get their homework done should incorporate long solo HTFU (harden the ….. up) sessions into their regime. The mental resilience and tenacity gained will help through those dark moments that will inevitably taunt you to quit or feel sorry for yourself. Likewise it will enhance your judgment and decision making when under pressure and fatigued.
This is probably the biggest downfall for some of the most talented athletes. Correct pacing in an IM is key. Rehearse in training what you will execute on race day. Then on race day, have the discipline to stick to your pacing.
Cramping is a common phenomenon in IM racing, and is always addressed under nutrition. I chose to tackle it here as it is more the result of improper pacing than dehydration and electrolyte deficiency. More often than not participants get caught up in the electrifying ambiance of race day and lose all self-discipline and sense of judgement, hammering out of the gates, pushing their muscles to work at an intensity and duration they are unaccustomed to. The muscles become exceedingly stressed subverting the neuromuscular pathways and causing spasmodic contractions. Bottom line – rehearse your pacing, groove it, execute it, stick with it.
Nutrition (including hydration) is the fourth discipline of IM. It can be quite controversial and perplexing given the regular bombardment of contradictory information from the “latest research”. For this blog’s purpose I will only refer to nutrition preparation for IM competition vice daily dietary recommendations.
Like swimming, biking and running, you need to train it. Train your gut to ingest the quantities you need, and do so often under race pace stress, not just during a comfortable rest interval. My best advice is to take in calories frequently, rather than gulping or chewing bigger portions periodically.
One thing to be attentive to is the difference between ingestion (the quantity taken in) and rate of absorption (what is actually be taken up by your digestive system). The two are not the same and what is recommended in mainstream literature may not be suitable to you. There is no magic formula, only your individual requirements. So adhere to these two simple principles – know what you need per hour based on what you can tolerate and absorb, and ingest those calories in forms that suit your palate, and satisfy you physically and psychologically. There is no right or wrong only what works for you.
Know ahead of time what will be supplied on race course and try it. If you are accustomed to Gatorade Endurance and will race in Europe where say High5 is used or Australia where Endura is used, then sample some before to ensure that your stomach can handle the formulation. If not, then you know you need to plan around that limitation. If yes, then train with it so you have the flexibility to safely supplement on course when needed.
In training practice your nutrition and hydration timing. Rehearse it. Drill it in. Make it habitual. But be flexible. Practice and assess your nutritional decisions in training (based on the road profile ahead and environmental conditions) to minimize hesitation on race day.
If you plan to race with caffeine, train with it as well. Not every session, but periodically when doing race specific (long) sessions. Caffeine can also lead to cramping indirectly. Caffeine tempers our sense of pain and stimulates us to perform. Often caffeine is only used in races, and in higher quantities than accustomed to, to get that extra turbo charge. Add this to an already over-excited environment and the risk of pushing one’s muscles beyond what they are able to handle goes up significantly.
Fuel for performance. We have control over our nutrition (and pacing). Therefore there should be no (controllable reason) that bonking occurs, in training or racing. Plan your nutrition to optimize each training session especially on multi-session days. Avoid looking at each session in isolation. Always assess what came before, the demands and aim of the actual session and, what is to come after and when. This way you remain proactive in fueling and replenishing appropriately. This habit will preserve you on IM day because when you start reacting to nutritional needs you are already behind the 8-ball.
There is a lot involved preparing for an IM. But before you focus and obsess on the sexy marginal gains promised by the latest gadget, widget or elixir, follow these fundamental principles as the underlying foundation to your Ironman training and ultimately your race day success.
Ed Rechnitzer has over 28 years experience in triathlon and has completed multiple Ironman events, including Kona. He is a Trisutto Coach based in Calgary.
Join Ed at one of his three Mont Tremblant Camps in July.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.