Friday, July 31, 2015

Marginal Gains in Long Course Triathlon: Not what you might think.

I will start this with a bit of an admission, I love marginal gains and think the concept in theory is a great one. Its something that I have used in my cycling days to help me to reach the level that I did. They are also something that I have ended up replying on way to much which has cost me good performances as it distracted me from focusing on doing the basics right. I will use marginal gains throughout my training and racing, but they key is I understand there limitations better. In fact I didn't use any of the marginal gains that I tend to use in training or racing in my last 2 Ironmans. Why? 2 reasons. The big one being that it was simply not in the position to justify there use. The other was to see if they actually worked.

Marginal gains are in most cases not the answer to you problems especially in long course racing. This is something that I have not only witnessed in my own career but in a large part of the triathlon community as a whole. Generally speaking most athletes don't understand the actual concept or why it came about in the first place. The full name of the concept is the aggregation of marginal gains, key word being aggregation. It means that you look at every little detail and aim to improve it a little bit. It was implemented to help discourage professional cyclist from doping and give them the mental edge that everything possible was being done to gain an advantage over the competition. It was designed to compliment the basics and not replace them. These athletes were also already competing at a high level and had access to items the average punter cant get a hold of easily.

When you really start to look deep into marginal gains for Long Course Triathlon, you tend to no longer see marginal gains. What you see are ether large gains or gains that are not worth the trouble. I feel this is due to a idea I call the “compound interest effect”. Basically due to the length of the race a small mistake at one time can have a large effect later in the race. The margin for error is also tripled compared to cycling where the concept was born. With this in mind, any marginal gain made can be wiped out in no time if you cant do the basics right.

Now its not to say there are not are not marginal gains that you can use. What they should do ideally is compliment and add in maximizing the return you get from doing the basics. These could include the following:
  • Upgrading to business class for long flights when traveling to major races.
  • Arriving a few extra days earlier to a race venue when large difference in time zones and/or climate.
  • taking your own pillows with you when traveling.
  • warm weather training camp where race in is warmer climates that you train in.
  • Heat training.
  • Altitude training.
  • Paying for someone to clean your house so you have more time to train/recover.
  • using meal/food delivery services so you have more time to train/recover.
  • Pre making recovery drinks so they can be consumed straight after training.
  • taking extra time off work to allow for more training in the lead up to major races.
  • paying for babysitters so you can train more.
I wouldn't really call these marginal gains, as there impact could be actually very significant to performance. I consider these more optional performance gains. Now these are really only something to be worth looking into if you have the means to pay for them. I can tell you from personal experience, spending money randomly on possible marginal gains only leads you in debt. If I knew 5-6 years ago what I know know money would have been spent totality different and end result is anybodies guess.

There is one big area where I see marginal gains miss used. That is when it comes to equipment. There is virtually no marginal gain to be achieved through equipment. Pretty much most of your competition will be using high end race gear so all you are actually doing is levelling the playing field. There are 3 ways to gain and advantage when it comes to equipment. One is to go to a wind tunnel and test every possible equipment set up to see whats fastest for you. The other is getting custom made parts made up. Both usually cost serious $$$$$ to be done right, which in most cases could be better spent on some of the items I mentioned earlier. The last one is the cheapest and more what I call an anti gain. It is to go out and buy some 32 spoke box section training wheels, put some heavy and slow tires on them and stop training on race wheels. Not really a physical gain that one but is a big and underestimated psychological gain come race day.

I hope someone gets something out of this. These have just been a mix of my personal experiences and observations over the last 7 or so years and by no means the only way to do things. The big thing to remember is that you do the sport voluntarily and you need to be able to live your life.


Monday, July 27, 2015

A Long Overdue Update

Its been over 9 months since I last posted here. A fair bit has happened in that time including finishing 2 Ironman triathlons. First off was Ironman WA. The race plan here was pretty simple, one of patience. Things went to plan right up until the run where the goal pace was thrown out the window early as I started to struggle with the heat. I came out of that race with bad sun burn on my arms and legs, cold burns on my lower stomach and most importantly the confidence that I can follow a race plan.

With this confidence and after pulling up race in fairly good condition, I decided to race Ironman Melbourne. Looking back at this decision now, it may have not been the best option but a number of important lessons were as a result. The race started going down hill around 100km into the bike when back and hip issues started to flair up once again and finished with me in the medical tent on an IV.  After Melbourne I was pretty much destroyed both physically and mentally. I went deep in both the leading to the race and on race day to finish.

Once I started to recover it was time to start looking for answers. Looking back I made a few big mistakes with the basics. This is something that I am improving with, but just not quickly as I would like. With this in mind and discussing this with my coach, it was decided that it would be best if I took some time off from the Ironman distance and focus on racing over shorter distances. The idea behind it was simple, practice doing the basics and gain more experience.

This decision was made easier once I learned what the probable cause for my hip and back issues. Long story short I have Femoral Anteversion (google it) which pretty much makes the perfect shit storm for things going wrong in my lower back and hip muscles. Its something that I’ve known I have since I was a kid but now aim only learning the complications associated with it.The good news is that its something that is completely manageable. To over come these issue its a fairly simple concept, improve strength in the muscles effected as well as muscles above and below the area effected and work hard on keeping a good range of motion in the hip joint and lower back. While this is considered somewhat optional for athletes, it becomes one of the basics that I now have to do to perform. Thankfully through the network of coaches and sponsors that TEAM tri coaching have, I am able access to people that can help guide me though this on going process.

With this new information in mind and to help keep me motivated long term, I have been giving the chance to race Powerman Zofingen again in 2016. This is a race that motivates me like no other and will keep me focused to do the basics to a high level. Now on paper a 90kg athlete has no right to perform at a race like Zofingen, but I’m not going to let that stop me trying. I deep down believe I have the ability to perform here as long as I do things right. For this reason planning for the race started a few months back and is continuing forward. I have already found some areas where I can make some major improvements over past performances with relatively minor changes.

For me now its to start building back some fitness after a few minor setbacks in the past 3 months. Depending on how I progress, I may make it back to racing for the end of the duathlon season and then it will be onto some short course tris and maybe a 70.3 over summer. I will aim to keep updating here from time to time as I progress throughout the next 13 months until Zofingen. Finally I would love to see more Aussies across racing this event, so if you are interested or want to know more feel free to contact me.

Until next time

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders: My story

Over the past month or so, theres been a bit of talk around body image issues and eating disorders in our sport. It’s not only our sport where we can see these issues, as they are also present in day to day society. Most of the talk and information is aimed towards female athletes, but also with the non-athletic population. Now, what a lot of people may not recognize, is that body image issues and eating disorders are just as much of an issue in male endurance athletes. For this reason I’ve decided to tell my story of my not so standard issues and what I have seen others go through. I am quite sure this will probably cause a bit of back lash, but I’m just calling it how I saw things.

The issue with it is that in male sports, people either don’t recognize there’s an issue, or if they do, just sweep it under the rug and choose to ignore it. I’ve read about it and seen it first hand. Larger athletes with huge potential and ability all of a sudden fall off the face of the earth. Trying to lose a few extra kilos is often one of the factors to it. With the depth in male sports, these athletes are easily forgotten about pretty damn quickly, usually before there is any time to ask questions.

I can say I am an athlete who has suffered with body image issues and eating disorders on and off for pretty much most of my life. My issues first started around the age of 7-8, with me stopping eating my lunches while at school thanks to endless bullying about my size. Fast forward through my high school years where this habit continued on and off. This mixed with depression often lead to it being mixed with binge eating of junk comfort food creating the ultimate vicious circle. At my lowest points, I would force myself to throw up the junk food that I had just consumed.

Once I finished high school, I started competitive cycling again (I stopped for a bit due to school commitments). Thanks to raw power and a half decent engine, I found myself progressing through the grades and then competing in A grade and NRS races. Now, all through this time my weight was always a issue in the back of my mind, but was something I was able to get around due to the racing I was doing. The big issues came when I started to step up. Suddenly weight wasn't only an issue on the hills, it became an issue on the flats. I just couldn't continue to go with the accelerations. It wasn't that I didn't have the raw power, it was that I was just having to use so much more than others to get up to speed. What made issues worse was that I would find myself with light, skinny riders in team kits getting dropped with me on climbs.

All this lead to me trying just about everything to drop the extra weight, and ended with me at times going to some pretty extreme lengths. One of the stupidest things I did was go as low as 800 calls a day while still doing full training volume of 15-20hrs a week. I lost a little weight but not enough to warrant the effort I was putting in, and ultimately slowed my metabolism down to nothing. This made me even more depressed resulting in binge eating again which lead to weight gain which lead to more starving. The vicious circle again. In the end I think this was one thing that burnt me out from cycling.

The thing is, I never actually got skinny and never got to the weight I “should have”. This was the hardest pill to swallow. The lightest I got was 85Kg, giving well over 80% of the peloton a minimum of a 10kg head start. This is massive in a sport where power to weight is a key factor. If I was 85kg and pure muscle and 7% body fat would have excepted it. I kinda understood my physical limitations, but the leanest I got was around 13% body fat. That's pretty healthy and normal for the average male, but hardly lean for a endurance athlete.

My move to triathlon has helped me deal with these issues a fair bit. No longer was weight a major factor in my performance and results. Sure its still going to be a factor, its a power to weigh sport. I’ve learn to except the fact I’m never going to be light and I’m never going to be narrow. My frame will just not allow it. My size is something that still comes up in conversation and is made fun of. The majority of the time its only meant as a joke, but it’s still not an easy thing for me to deal with at times. Most of the time I try to beat others to it as a way of limiting damage. On the odd occasion I’ll slip back into old habits. These habits don't last long enough to cause any damage. I still have plenty of days where I’m self conscious about how I look. These are things that I’ll have to deal with for the rest of my life. The moment I let these thoughts get the best of me is the moment that it start to do more damage.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back to Racing: Hazelwood 100 race report

Last Sunday saw myself take part in my first triathlon in 10 months, the Hazelwood 100. Firstly a big thanks to Noel Fenn and his crew at LaTrobe Vale Tri Club for putting on the weekends racings.  Now onto the race report.

The race started with a solid swim for me. Fairly happy with my time resulting in just over a 7min PB, I’ll take that. With small numbers in the race and my still weak swim ability meant that i ended up swimming the whole way not sitting on feet so was a good test to see where I was really at. First lap was ok, didn't swim the straightest and sighting was fairly poor. This improved on the second lap and started to gain a few positions. A positive sign moving forward.

T1 was rusty to put it nicely. lack of racing defiantly showed there. Onto the bike felt fairly flat in the legs. Just one of those days where it feels like an effort to keep the speed up. First 3.5 laps of the 5 lap bike went well and were very closely paced. After that had a few structural issues show up again in the later half of the bike which was a bit of a disappointed but was much better to find these things out now rather than closer to IMWA. T2 was quick and smooth. The legs never got going on the run mainly due to the issues that popped up on the bike plus due to a bit of training fatigue. Nothing to be to concerned about at this stage.

Overall I was fairly pleased with the race. Got one into the legs and found out a few important issues that now have to be worked through. Big thanks to my coach Xavier Coppock and a few of my training partners for keeping me on track and helping change a few things mentally that I’ve had to get through. Its also been great to see so many of my training partners and T.E.A.M. members racing well over the last few weeks with some pretty big results. No real surprise here that those results have come, the training environment that has been created around the squad is top rate and shares a lot of the same qualities that top programs around the world are reported to have.

Now its back to the training track for me as I start my main training block for Ironman Western Australia. Still plenty of work to be done in the 9 weeks before I reach taper time.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Long Time Between Drinks

Its been around 6 months since I’ve last updated on here and a few things have changed. February and March consisted of very little training once again due to work load. Nothing I could do about it except just re look at the plans and change it up to make things work. End result, going back to cycling was going to be unrealistic. I was already facing a large enough battle to get my cycling back to where it needed to be and another 8-10 weeks of hit and miss training was just not going to cut it.

So moving on its back to focusing on triathlon once again. First race back will be the GDF SUEZ Hazelwood 100 run by the Latrobe Valley Tri Club. As I’ve said before I’m a big fan of local run “grassroots” races so am looking forward to getting down there and having a race. Then most likely Murray Man will follow later on in the year leading into my goal race for this build, Ironman Western Australia. Have had my eyes on this race for a few years now, so after talking with Xavier we decided to give it a crack this year and get a IM under my belt.

On the training front things have been going pretty well. Other than missing a week training due to sickness and a small shoulder issues that stopped me doing any stroke work for a few weeks, I have managed to get some solid constant training in since easter. Fairly happy about how things are progressing and think I’m a little further ahead than I thought I would be at this stage. I’m even enjoying swimming at the moment, to the extent that when I wasn't able to do any stroke work I racked up around 10km of kick only sets. It hasn't all been highs. There has been a few bad habits creep back into my training which I’m looking to stamp back out quickly.

Now that there is a few races coming up, I’ll be updating things here a little more regularly

Until next time


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Year Ahead

Wishing everyone a belated happy new year! The start of the year hasn’t exactly turned out they way I had planned. Training’s been inconsistent and I had have to make the hard choice to not race both Challenge Melbourne, and South West Sufferfest. I made the choice based on the fact that I’m not interested in going to races at 50%, and that I believe in giving a race distance/event the respect that it should. The reason behind the lack of training is current work load thanks to Melbourne’s heat wave and and the industry I work in. Nothing I can do about it, you have to take the good with the bad, and I have learnt to deal with it.

 As for the year ahead, there’s going to be of a change up with racing and focus. For the next few years, I’ll be going back to focusing most of the year on cycling, with a block of triathlon racing thrown in towards the end of my season. There are a number of reasons driving this choice. One being I love to race and cycling is the easiest way for me to race often. The other is that the peak of triathlon season and the peak of my work load clash. It’s all about making work, life and sport work together as best I can throughout a year.

I’m currently still working with my coach on planning out my season and race program. At this stage it will feature a number of Club, State, and NRS races on the cycling side with a few long course tri’s thrown in late in the year. As for training, its about getting on the bike whenever I can, and practicing the thing I haven’t had to worry about over the past few years, like sprinting. Believe it or not, sprinting is not as simple as just stepping on the pedals as hard and fast you can. There’s a lot of little things like body position, gear selection and timing of when you apply force to the pedals, that slowly add up to gaining some critical meters.

Well that's all for now, until next time

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting Back into the Swing of Things and Moving to the “Dark Side”

Its been a few months now since the events of Powerman Zofingen and my last update. Not a great deal has been going on since that race. Trainings been inconstant with back to back races thrown in for fun and experience. 

The first race of of my back to back weekends was MurrayMan long course triathlon. The plan for the race was simple, get through the swim, have a solid bike as a test for the following weekend, get through the run without to much muscle soreness and most important of all finish! I can say that I achieved all of these points. One thing I can say about the event as a whole is that its a must do race. Its a relaxed, well run event.

The following weekend it was off to Shepparton 70.3 where i was doing the bike leg in a team. the plan for this race was even simpler, ride a solid even paced 90km and dont go out like your riding a 6km prologue. I was over the moon with my ride based off, a) hitting my targets and b) riding 2:15 based of the current fitness levels. Also was able to gain experience working with other riders legally, and I mean legally. I was sitting around 15m back from the wheel in front just to be safe. This is usually something that I don't get to experience that much with how far down I’ve come out of the water in the past and my bike strength.

Looking forward few the next 6 months, my race schedule is just about locked in. My next race is Challenge Melbourne, then its followed by Southwest Sufferfest, maybe Challenge Batemans Bay finishing up with Cairns 70.3 being the goal race for the first half of the year. Each race building up to Cairns is about gaining experience and executing the goals set out.

Motivations been up and down since coming back from Zofingen for one reason or another. Today was the best session I’ve had in a few weeks after dealing with being on call. Strangely enough the motivation came from hearing about to new Powerman events in europe and watching video from this years Powerman Zofingen. I guess long course duathlon is what still really drives me the most, unfortunately I don't see myself being able to get across to europe to race anytime soon so its up to me to find new motivation points.  

Ok time to move to the big change Ive made recently in an attempt to improve my performance. My Diet as been turned upside down and I have decided to give the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) approach to eating a serious go. Now Im not going to go into the whole argument about why everyone should or shouldn’t do this but I will explain some of the driving factors in why I have gone down this road. If you want to know more about it all, I’ve found Dr Tim Noakes is probably  one of the best sauces of info on this subject. There are plenty of podcasts out there where he goes into great detail in a non complex way about the subject.

First driving factor behind this was during exercise fueling. This never used to be an issue for me until the last big stage race I did as a cyclist. Suddenly I was struggling getting in the fuel on the bike and actually had better results from taking very little to nothing in. Now move to triathlon, its still something I’ve had issues with and now that I’m racing over 4hrs all the time it becomes important to get it right. Eating and adapting to a LCHF diet will  basically allow me to race with minimal carb intake during an event, virtually eliminating the chances for GI distress and minimizing the chances of bonking.

The other big driving factor is weight or more correctly body fat management. I have always had to high a body fat % for the level that I was competing at. the leanest I’ve ever gotten was around 15% in my cycling days, which at my body weight still meant i was lugging around 7-10kg of excess body weight thats doing nothing for me. This diet should allow me to help reduce my fat stores as my body will be primly looking to burn fat as an energy sauce.

There are a couple of cautions to this diet that I will point out that I’ve come across. Firstly its prob best to start this way of eating in the of season. It takes time to adapt, upwards of 4 weeks, so start slowly on the training load as your body will still be looking for glycogen to fuel it. Your performance will also potentially go backwoods for starters as well due to this but once adapted should the increase above previous levels in most people. This is something I’m testing, its going to take time but everything I’ve seen on it the mid to long turn gains outweigh the few short term losses.  
Until Next Time