Bin your detox and get some resolutions that will actually make you faster this year, courtesy of world-beating athletes, brilliant coaches and the new issue of Triathlon Plus magazine (out now!).
You’ve got the festive season out of the way, given up boozing and feasting and you’re ready to become a triathlete again. Whether you’re feeling guilty about a heavy holiday or just fired up about the coming year, it’s easy to get over-excited now. The end of last season seems an age ago, you’ve (hopefully) logged hundreds of miles of base training since then and you’re ready to pick things up. But it’s not quite time to start ‘proper’ race training – yet. So how do you get the balance right? We spoke to pros, coaches and real athletes to find out what you should and shouldn’t be doing to line yourself up for a great 2011 of racing.
We’re not just talking about your ‘A’ race this year. We’re talking about every single morning that you drag yourself out of bed to swim, bike, run or hit the gym. “I am always 100% focused on my goals – and those are to try and win, to win with a smile, and to win in the fastest time possible,” says Chrissie Wellington. “I want to be the best athlete I can be, and that means giving all I have to each and every training session and each and every race.”
LEARN TO FORGET
Athletes are often described as walking a tightrope of fitness: one false move and they could come crashing down to injury. Ramping up training is a common time to become injured, but don’t let past knockbacks ruin this season by hampering your late winter and early spring training, says pro Vanessa Raw. “You’ve got to have that break and work out what went wrong. I feel I spread myself very thin last year. But I’ve played it really safe for the last two winters because of the injuries I’ve had. This year I’m a different athlete, I feel I can get a much better base. For me, it’s more about letting go after so many years holding back. It’s about learning to forget about the injuries and just getting back into training.”
DO YOUR REHAB HOMEWORK
Sadly the one area of triathlon it’s easy to become an expert in is injury. Every summer you push yourself, the same injury comes back, you take autumn and winter off to recover and just scrape enough fitness together to overdo it again the next year. If you’re in this unfortunate position as the new year starts, forget about all your race goals and focus on one aim: recovery. Do everything you can to remain as fit as you can, including re-assessing what you eat, looking at activities you’d normally shun (walking, pool running, yoga) and most importantly investing time and money in expert help. The only people you’ll meet who ever truly come back from serious injuries are the pros, and they do their rehab with the same dedication they do their training. Learn from it!
EXAMINE YOUR MOTIVES
If you’ve been in triathlon for a few years, you may start to feel a bit jaded. Even the prospect of a new year and a new season just leaves you thinking, “Here we go again…” Perhaps it’s time to focus your energies away from achieving a particular time or beating a particular rival. Tri crises can hit anyone, so perhaps tie your sport in with some wider causes to give you that extra push to do well. When Chrissie Wellington was forced to drop out of the 2010 Ironman World Championships, she said her main concern was the possibility of losing her opportunity to do good through the sport. “I am motivated by so much more, and not just the thought of beating the boys! I never take for granted the opportunities I have to encourage others, increase participation in triathlon and other sports and generate interest and support in the media and business, in the UK and around the world. That’s what motivates me – and when I train and when I race, these opportunities are at the forefront of my mind.”
LET IT GO
Whatever successes and failures you’ve had in the past, forget them. This is a new season and needs new goals.
START RACING EARLY
If you’re getting itchy feet from boring base training, or are just the kind of person who needs short-term goals, a few off-season races will help you let off steam without risking your wider training efforts. Short, early pool-based triathlons, off-road duathlons, 10K run races or bike time trials are all good options for a quick blast to keep you occupied. It certainly works for pros like Ironman 70.3 World Champion Jodie Swallow: “I’m doing Ironman 70.3 South Africa in January to keep my motivation current, and I’ll race pretty often after that,” she says. “If I don’t have races to focus on, when I’m just training, I tend to drift into La La Land!”
HAVE AN EASY FORTNIGHT
You probably took a week or two off, or easy, immediately after your last race of last season, and might not consider another break ’til next year. That would be a mistake. Assuming you’ve been diligently putting in the time over winter, new year is a perfect time to take another easy week or two to recover from those miles before beginning your build to the race season.
It’s not quite time to break out your 200m reps on the race track, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck cranking out slow sessions until April. Coach Ben Bright advises doing some “sub-race pace” sessions, where you keep your speed just slower than race pace, to start to build the conditioning you’ll need to go really fast.
“Winter is a good time to work on power on the bike, and speed on the swim and run,” he says. “You can do longer duration speed sessions, like harder hill reps on the bike, overgearing on the bike, tempo runs on undulating terrain, and using paddles for your main sets in the pool.”
BE TRULY CONSISTENT THIS YEAR
If you’re going to make one resolution for 2011, says Bright, you should just aim to be truly consistent. Note: consistent, not constant. “People think being consistent means doing as much as you can, all the time,” says Bright, “but it means doing as much as you can do WELL all the time, without breaking down. If that means you actually have to cut the amount of training you’re doing to do it better, that’s what you need to do.”
TRY A SANDWICH SESSION
Sustained pain is at the heart of a goodrunning performance, and if you’re teaching yourself to deal with it, you’d do worse than to use this session from world-class distance runner Liz Yelling: “Tempo runs are my most potent sessions, and I call this one the sandwich session. It works brilliantly for improving my speed and endurance. You should think of your tempo pace as being comfortably hard. It’s the fastest pace you can maintain for an hour. I use this session for marathon training, so you should shorten it if you’re training for a 10k or less.”
1 mile warm up
2 miles at tempo
2 minutes rest
7 x 2 minutes just above tempo pace
with 90secs rests
2 minutes rest
2 miles at tempo
1 mile warm down
DO LESS CORE WORK, BUT DO IT PROPERLY
Ever tried to follow a core strength routine from a magazine or DVD and thought, “pah, this is easy”? Sorry to break it to you, but that’s not because you naturally have abs of steel. Standard core moves look simple, but maintaining control of your target muscles throughout is what makes you stronger and gives you all those benefits you’ve been promised (fewer injuries, stronger swimming, biking and running and, er, abs of steel). Take the classic ‘plank’: forearms and toes on the floor, body in a straight line, hold for 15-60 seconds. If it’s been feeling a bit too easy, have a look in the mirror. Is your body straight? Is your core really engaged? Try lowering your hips and bum just slightly, while keeping a tilt in the pelvis. Now you should be able to feel it. And that’s why you’re always told you don’t have to spend hours on core work to feel a benefit; doing a few simple moves properly will make a difference.
ALLOW NOTHING TO INTERRUPT YOUR TRAINING
You’ve put in so much work over winter, this is not the time to let life get in the way of a great season build-up. Get organised now so that it can’t. Be ready with a contingency plan for any session: learn how to convert bike rides to equivalent effort turbo sessions in case of bad weather; how to swap round your long and short days in case of family crises; and how to say no to a pint after work…
MAKE A LONG-TERM PLAN
And we mean a really long-term plan. The best athletes in triathlon don’t get to the end of their season and think, “Hmm, what shall I do next year?” They have a longterm plan, covering five years or more, and everything they do in a given season is part of that plan. Sure, it’s good to be flexible, and plans do change when they need to – for example, when injury hits or when you have an unexpectedly good race result that makes you change tack. But if you really want to fulfil your potential, you need to think bigger. “Triathlon remains a constant for me, rather than thinking of it in years,” says Jodie Swallow.
GO TO SLEEP
Training like a world-class athlete isn’t the only thing you need to do to race like one. To be your best in training, and therefore in your races, you need to learn to sleep like a professional athlete. Studies have shown that sleep is essential for strong immunity; and for the processes that help your body adapt to the training you’ve done, such as muscle growth and repair. You might have heard that the marathon world record-holder Paula Radcliffe sleeps 12 hours every day; not exactly a practical approach for those of us with full-time jobs, families and aspirations towards a social life, but if you only make one lifestyle change towards better racing this year, then being strict about your bedtime is not a bad place to start.
This is an extract from Issue 24 of Triathlon Plus magazine – get it every month and pay less!