Athletes training at our Kona ‘Hell Week’ camp in Lanzarote earlier this month. Photo: James Mitchell Photography
Every year pre-Kona I’m inundated with enquiries about race day nutrition, often sparked by articles of ex-athletes giving out advice they didn’t use themselves when they were at the top of their game.
This is not an article to get into the pros and cons of different nutrition strategies, but rather a directive to Trisutto athletes on behalf of your dismayed coaches. Hold the line! Stick with the plan you have worked out with your coach and practiced in the run up to what should be a celebration of your ultimate day in multisport.
The temptation to try something new, or take on tips and advice from people that don’t know you in the misguided belief that it could help you on the big day, when the nerves and insecurities are already starting to bubble, is to invite disaster.
You have planned your feeding, you have practiced the plan in qualification. Now on race day work that plan! If you’re under pressure aid stations should be looked at as islands from heaven.
I can tell you there are more theories, opinions and half cocked research about race day nutrition than you can count. The majority of which would be a compliment to refer to as ‘pseudoscience’. But whatever the potential merits, positive or negative, so close to the race are irrelevant.
At this point in time, the advice of sticking with what you have practiced is the only good advice you’re going to get.
Similarly, changing sessions after hitting the Kona highway or pool because a 55 year old male or female blows past you while you’re on your easy ride is as ridiculous as one can imagine. Yet every year it will happen. They maybe having the best session of their lives, only problem is it’s on the wrong day. Leave them to it.
We open every Trisutto camp with a lecture about the sport. What is Ironman triathlon really?
I make very clear that at Trisutto we believe swim, bike and run come a bad 3rd, 4th and 5th in priority. To me the most important disciplines of Ironman are:
2. Calorie intake!
No athlete on the second Saturday of October at Kona will be celebrating a great race performance unless you have nailed these two features.
Having a few extra calories will be far more preferable than having too little! You can bet on it.
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.
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.
‘Will Power’ training. Undefeated 1500m runner Herb Elliot with coach Percy Cerutty.
Those who follow Trisutto.com will know that we view our age-group athletes the same as pros when it comes to personal performance. Yes, you have less time and more stress with your training, but the parameters to lift performance are basically the same.
I challenge you to think of some of the most satisfying workouts you have done. Let me be presumptuous and say that I bet none of them were the fastest ones you did, but the ones that were a challenge. The ones where you were getting your arse kicked and managed to turn it around. The sessions where you attacked the paper tiger instead of giving in to it.
I once had the privilege of talking with a coach who used to run at Portsea with the great Percy Cerutty (brilliant coach of undefeated 1500m runner Herb Elliot). He told me about an infamous Percy training session. It wasn’t called ‘Speed Work’ or ‘Aerobic Conditioning’ or even ‘Hill Work’ though it was performed up a hill.
The Portsea Sand Dunes.
No, Percy called it the ‘will power’ set. In his eccentric style he’d rally the squad on a Saturday morning and tell them:
“This session is the one that makes you who you are. Defines what you want to be and gives enlightenment to the individual of oneself. You only ever grow as a human being if you’re outside your comfort zone.”
He then proceeded to a sand dune of only about 30-60m and say “up you go”. How many reps? “As many as your will allows you to.”
Now this is the type of workout you’ll no longer find in the textbooks, but it still takes pride and place in mine. I haven’t replaced it with a chapter on over-training or that other myth of the weak – recovery. Because when it comes to performance both pale in significance when pitted against the effectiveness of ‘Will Power’ training.
So as an age-group athlete there is nothing better you can do than plan a session that is not only good for performance, but great for the soul. I’m not saying you have to do it every week, nor does it have to be up sand dunes. Just every now and again when you’ve got time to yourself (maybe the weekend or an early finish from work) set aside some time to give yourself some ‘Will Power’ training.
One of those sessions where at the end of it you sit totally exhausted, sweat dripping off the end of your nose, your heart pounding through the chest like hammer blows. As you sit or lie there close to exhaustion you’ll know that you’re truly alive and that today ‘I made myself a stronger person.’
Pro or age-grouper – isn’t that what we all want?
Join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.
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.
Swimming in a group can be more fun! Trisutto age group camp in St Moritz.
Age group athletes listen up!
As we head into the business end of the season, I have been asked by three different cross sections of athletes struggling with motivation at the very time they expected themselves to be at their most enthusiastic. What are these three cross sections of athletes?
2/ Age group athletes who have, or are trying to qualify for Kona.
3/ Age group athletes who have taken on triathlon as their sport to help with improving their lifestyle.
With each group having a totally different solution I will address each section in separate blogs. We will start by giving the most important group the first response. Triathlon for the newbie can be very exciting, empowering, frightening and frustrating in equal measures. When I’m asked to address diminishing motivation after an exuberant start; or the age group athlete who has been doing the sport for a few seasons and although super competitive their late start curtails podium finishes in their age group; I always point them in one direction.
Back to the future!
When you first started what were your thoughts?
Why did you get into triathlon?
What were your initial goals?
I advise not to brush off the very best thing you can do, which is to break down the problem to the basic truth. You are overlooking all the benefits triathlon has provided, have started to think too far forward, and maybe also too competitively.
The sport begins very encouragingly, but has a propensity to take over from the reality of why we should be doing it! We start out looking to build a healthier lifestyle, to improve our physical condition, to help build improvement in oneself. At Trisutto whether you are a champion, a pro or an elite age group athlete, you are not hounded about winning. Try to let the sport help you grow as an individual – your only competitor is yourself.
Winning does not mean success. We place so much emphasis on individually being a success, however in a world that is built on more is better, faster is optimum, we tend to lose sight of what success is. To me the lack of motivation mostly comes from the results one looks at, rather than the most important part, which is the journey. This is the element where success is built, and self satisfaction can be found for all levels.
I point out on a weekly basis to some athletes who are not happy, that they are failing, and can’t see it. They dispute this very quickly, saying they are now 30 minutes faster, have gone from 30th in their age group to 10th but still want that podium. It’s driving them nuts.
For me, I ask really? Who for? What for? Why for?
They look at me rather strange.
Are you unhappy, never satisfied, having personal family problems because of an insistence on more training time, and find work now a hindrance to your new obsession? Personally does Brett Sutton find this success?
No. This loss of perspective is what is hurting our motivation.
The ability to use triathlon to enhance our lifestyle should not be measured in numbers. Instead how our new hobby enhances not just our fitness but our lot in life. So when you guys get a little stressed about a missed work out, or the need to have an easy day, look back to your original reasons for starting the sport.
Are you enhancing your lifestyle or hindering it?
It takes courage to back off and say this is not about next months competition, but is a plan for the rest of my life. It can’t be defined by such short term thinking. I advise to take a good look in the mirror. Then give yourself a good slap and say wake up! Go back to your original thoughts of what you first wanted out of the sport, and I’m sure your motivation for the future will be secured.
If looking for a motivational boost, join Trisutto Head Coach Brett Sutton at one of his remaining training camps in 2017 in Lanzarote, Cyprus or Gran Canaria.