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