‘Coach, what about racing in other sports?’
The Northern Hemisphere season has kicked off and one of the most asked questions is ‘Coach, I’ve got time before I do my main race. Can I do a race in another sport?’
My answer changes depending on the sport, the amount of time before the main race, and the possibility that doing that race could cause injury that will impact on the main goal of the season.
Let’s start with an open water swim race. The answer is nearly always a yes, great idea. Any time we get to practice open water in a real race scenerio is a big positive for me. If it is not the day before the race I’m more than happy to give it the big thumbs up.
Let’s move to the run race scenario. Again, I like this as a training aid to a better triathlon run. In saying that, we break it up into two categories:-
- To help improve speed, choose a race that is much shorter than race distance. If one is racing Sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, then a 3 to 5 km road race is a great stimulus for future.
- To help improve race pace for long course / Ironman athletes, then races from 10 to 21 km are ideal. My favorite is around 15 km, as I have found it gives a great stimulus of both above race pace and endurance, but without flattening the athlete, or interrupting too much their training due to needing a longer time to recover. When attempting this style of race we insist it must be done negative split, or as a build run. This ensures we don’t build up a lot of unnecessary lactate during what is a glorified training session.
Running Races can compliment our triathlon training well.
I left the bike to last, as when an athlete tells me they would like to join a cycle race, I ask if they would like a broken collarbone before their main event of the year?
In a perfect world I’d love to say yes, but rarely does this occur. Safety must be the ultimate decider of bike racing, and I just don’t see pack riding being beneficial to an Ironman racer. If they ask can I do a time trial race, I’m the first to say ‘what a great idea’.
Let me be clear, if someone asked me to pick between a 1 hour criterium or a 1 hour time trial on a turbo, I would say there is no comparison. (I have only seen one, no two athletes fall off a turbo – but that is for another story!)
Racing other sports I find to be a great benefit if you put them in context with your long term goals, and can help you enjoy your fitness without breaking the bank – financially, or physically.
Get out there and give them a go!
I’ve often been asked what are the two things that make a great triathlete? I always say consistency and effort in training. Of course, possessing a great physiology and mental toughness is an advantage as well, but when it comes to training principles, it is my opinion that Specificity and Progressive Overload are the two that are most important.
What is Specificity and Progressive Overload in training?
Specificity in not only the type of training, that is swimming, cycling and running, but also in the intensity of effort. Progressive Overload, is gradually increasing workload volume, intensity, or frequency of training over time.
You probably realise by now that at Trisutto we don’t spend much time on what is not specific to triathlon. Our training routines rotate around those activities that we use when racing, that is lots of swimming, biking and running. Lots of “switching” and “bricks”. Not much stretching, weights, or yoga.
The same could be said for the intensities that we train. While there is the bulk of training at intensities lower than race pace, there is also a prescribed amount at race pace and a smaller amount just above race pace. Rarely do we need to train at maximum intensities.
A good example of this is one of our regular run sessions. I remember discussing with Brett Sutton over 20 year ago, about how he learnt to become a triathlon coach from being a swim coach. His reply was that ‘he knew nothing about biking and running, but just applied the same principles as he had learnt in swimming’. Therefore, his run sets were designed like swim sets, i.e. longer, less intense running with a short recovery. I was taught with running, being a higher intensity activity, the work to rest ratio should be 1:3. Brett just turned that around (3:1) and it soon convinced me that he was on to something that has been a great weapon for coaches who are willing to treat triathlon as one sport and not three separate sports.
Specific overload at Trisutto age group camp in Australia
Specificity and Progressive Overload Training in Action
As an example, lets consider a running workout on the athletics track.
4 x 200m leaving on 1 minute.
Initially doing 4 repeats of this 4 x 200m, and an additional 30 seconds rest between each of these 4 sets. We can add an additional repeat each week, building up to 8 repeats of 4 x 200m. Your 200m pace should be approximately race pace for a 5km running race. Over the weeks, we progressively overload through increasing the volume, while maintaining the same rest periods.
Once this is achieved, we can move from 8 sets of 4 x 200m, to 4 sets of 8 x 200m while still maintaining the 60 second send off for each 200m, and still keeping an additional 30 seconds rest between each of the sets. We do the same number of 200m intervals (32), but have fewer of the 30 seconds rest periods as we are doing them broken into 4 sets, not 8 sets.
From here we could move to 4 sets of 10 x 200m (3.2km total), 2 sets of 25 x 200m, and finally to 1 set of 50 x 200m (10km total) still maintaining the same send off of 1 minute for each 200m.
You will notice in this example that the time base has remained the same (1 minute), however the specific overload has increased. The number of 200m intervals has increased from 32 to 50. There has been a reduction in the amount of rest in the workout as we moved from 8 repeats with 30 seconds additional rest between each, then to 4 repeats, then to 2 repeats and finally to 50 x 200m without any additional rest periods.
Yes this is a tough workout, but you are progressively overloading as you become fitter. You are also resting after every 200m (the time between finishing one 200m and starting the next one), you are working your cardiovascular system, but not completely exhausting your muscular system, as you would do if you ran the same distance (10km) at that same speed continuously. This allows holding better form, with less injury risk, while being able to train the neuromuscular system at ‘race pace’ in a planned and progressive approach throughout the whole year.
The same principles can be achieved running 400s or even 800s. It is all about being Specific and Overload.
Rob Pickard is a former National Coaching Director and High Performance Manager of Triathlon Australia, and is based in Australia.
Rob is holding camps in Guam and Subic Bay, in April
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.
As we move into February, most athletes are back into their training routines. For those who earned a good off season and are just starting back up, they may be feeling somewhat out of shape. They may have also gained a few kilos enjoying their holidays or simply from training less – which I think is a good idea for most. This is also the time that I see a lot of athletes wanting to rush into getting their fitness back straight away and wanting to see the “old” paces from before their big builds to key races or their “old” numbers on the scale.
Hurrying anything in triathlon in my opinion leads to nothing but burn out, injury and a short life in the sport! I have personally spent five years studying sports science at University, ten years working in the fitness industry helping people get fit and lose weight, six years treating clients as a Massage Therapist and I’ve been coaching since 2009. So, I have LOADS of personal experience learning the best ways to prevent injuries and burn out before they start!
I’m also someone who spent my first two years in Triathlon with several injuries and a stress fracture by not doing things right with my eating and recovery methods. I’ve learnt a lot since then and now as a coach I have built a reputation of helping people come back from injury and burn out. So here are my top 10 tips for preventing injuries before they start:
1. Listen to your body
We’ve all had times when our body gives us little niggles, which are often ignored resulting in a full-blown injury. I’m not saying worry about every little tightness, but if something is causing you to run differently or doesn’t work itself out after 15 min of running or cycling then don’t ignore it! Get a proper diagnosis from a professional and talk to your coach about what should be done.
2. Proper Fueling
It’s important to be well fueled (this includes carbs!) especially during and after intense workouts.
I see this all the time. It’s no coincidence that most injuries occur when weight is dropped too quickly. I see it all the time- muscles can’t fully fire properly without enough fuel, especially for more intense intervals. If you want to go faster, your body needs carbs, your brain works on carbs and you will not only limit your performance but limit recovery as well without them. It’s doesn’t mean we are jamming down massive calories for a 45 min morning jog but for anything over 90 min you should be fueling. There are always exceptions, but I can say that most females under fuel, which is why they seem to be more prone to things like stress fractures etc.
3. Adequate Warm up
Don’t skip your warm up, especially when running intervals.
If you are pressed for time and can’t get your whole workout in, you are better off skipping the cool down rather than the warm up. This is especially critical if you are doing running intervals or some sort of fartlek workout. I’ve seen many running injuries occur with people who hop straight onto the treadmill for their fast 30 sec intervals with zero warm up. Fartlek and faster running needs ALL the big muscles working and they take longer to warm up. The more training you are doing, the longer the warm up. I won’t advise any running intervals without at least a 15 min warm up, unless it’s straight off the bike, in which case the bike is the warm up.
As a side note, for harder run sessions I often prefer my athletes to walk or hop on the bike for a cool-down, as this this is often safer than trying to force a slow run when fatigued.
4. Run Frequency
If you are a female and prone to injuries, I recommend running every second day and mixing it up with the treadmill. Now I say females just because their bones don’t usually have the same strength as males, but this can apply to both. If you are prone to injuries, run every other day and incorporate lots of treadmill sessions. You will recover better and give your bones a rest on the days off.
I have a rule that if you are doing decent run mileage, keep at least 50% on a soft surface, so either track or treadmill. I use to give this advice to my massage clients all the time, then one year I broke the rule myself and ended up with a stress response in my sacrum. For the males or stronger females, we go one day hard, one day easy and one day off running.
This is your best recovery aid on the market hands down. This is when your body repairs, this is when your natural Growth Hormone (GH) is at its best, which is critical for recovery. Pre-midnight hours are your best bang for your buck- so 8 hours from 9-5 is going to be way better quality than 8 hours from 12-8. The more training you do, the more sleep you will often need. It’s no coincidence that you will hear about a lot of the pros saying they need 9-10 hours of sleep every night! Not all age group athletes have that luxury which is why weekend naps or a little extra sleep in on the weekend will massively benefit your recovery and performance.
6. Regular Massage
Get a regular massage. Now this is not me being bias because I’m a Remedial Massage Therapist, but I believe me if you find a good one it makes a huge difference. Especially if you find one who can actually check that all the muscles groups are firing properly (most importantly the glutes!) and potentially stop an issue before it starts. Also, any method that’s moving blood around the body will certainly speed up recovery and help bring nutrients to all the tissues..
7. Bike Position
A poor bike position can lead to many issues. If you are one of those athletes that will stop at nothing to get as aero as absolute possible, but you can barely touch your knees when you bend over; 1) You probably won’t have your full power while being super aggressive, 2) You likely won’t stay in aero for the whole 180 km because it will be too uncomfortable/painful.
Now we are all about being aero, but it needs to work with your own personal biomechanics and the type of riding you do. At Trisutto we do heaps of big gear work, this doesn’t fit with a more cyclist type position and a saddle that’s too high. It will stop you from being able to use the glutes and push the heal down to mash the pedals. Most hamstring issues I see coming from the bike are almost always when saddle height is too high. How do you know? Well your hips rock when you ride, if your saddle is too high and when you push the pace you will likely feel your hamstrings. We like to save the hamstrings for the run, so I advise to lean towards a lower seat rather than a higher one.
8. Run Technique
Pay attention to run form. At Trisutto we pay very close attention to swim, bike and run form. Some may call our methods unconventional, but they work. For running we get off our toes, stand more upright and pick up our cadence to get faster. I have a great athlete from the UK, big fellow, big engine, that came to me last year with calf injuries. I asked him to send me a run video and I could see right away, his 90 kg body was running very much on his forefoot. This same athlete had his saddle to high on the bike as well, so every run and ride he was doing was way over using his calves. We fixed this straight away and he hasn’t had an injury ever since, while having his best runs off the bike ever last season.
Change shoes often, but don’t swap between different shoes. This is especially important if you wear a very protective shoe, such as something with a lot of cushioning or motion control, like the Hoka. Shoes wear down, like anything, and any small change in biomechanics can cause issues. For example, any extra wear down to the outside of your shoe can be just enough to put extra strain on certain muscles.
If I have an athlete saying their shins or peroneal muscles are getting tight (anything lower leg), and they have changed nothing in their training, the first thing I ask is how old are their shoes? Almost always they are completely trashed and a new shoe in the same make and model fixes the issue straight away. Another note is that we like to race in what we train in. I see so many have one shoe for training and a different shoe for racing which I think is insane. We race in what we train in- I made this mistake once and got an injury during a race that stopped me from running for a few weeks after.
10. Slow Down!
Never train through pain, go at a pace where you have no pain. This is critical. I’ve seen so many athletes with issues who won’t slow down and wonder why their niggles won’t go away. If you have an injury and can train easy with no pain then this is the best rehab. If you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, water run. It keeps the muscles from wasting, keeps the neuromuscular system active and is a great way to keep bringing oxygen and blood flow to the area to speed up healing. I’ll never forget my friend, Phil Buchli, who came to a camp in St Moritz. Phil had an Achilles injury and he was fine just jogging all the track sessions and faster running sets. He had no issue putting his ego aside and running 6:30 min/km, when everyone was going faster. I followed him on Strava up until Ironman Switzerland and he just kept it up and slowly got quicker. It was obvious that his Achilles fixed its self- he ended up running a 3:12 marathon off the bike! I know in the past Brett has had some of his pros with injuries, put on a backpack and go for a long hike instead of running if they were injured.
The one thing you should take away from all of this, is to listen to your body and train smart. Nothing in triathlon happens quickly, slowly build your fitness and speed leading into the season.
Michelle Barnes is a Canadian Trisutto.com coach.
Join Michelle in Scottsdale, Arizona for her 6 day Triathlon Camps.
Limited camps slots available March 6 – 11.
Trisutto.com online triathlon coaches are available to help improve your performance here.