Winter is always a time of digging deep and putting in the ground work for the upcoming season. We all struggle to find motivation for a 3 hour turbo or a late-night run but it’s important to remember your goals and keep going. Medals are won in the winter after all!
My winter training has been proceeding well. I’m managing to juggle studying whilst getting solid blocks of training in, which is easier said than done. It’s my first year in Manchester studying dentistry and the initial adjustment to living away from home combined with a demanding course was hard but I seem to have it under control at the moment...Just about.
Unfortunately, Manchester University doesn’t have its own triathlon team but I haven’t let that hinder my training.
When I first arrived in the city I trained to get a grasp of life up north. It’s not easy motivating yourself for a 6am lonely swim session so I soon signed up for the City of Manchester Swim Team and have been training with them for the past few months. The coach at City is great and has given me a whole new meaning to the word swimming... I didn’t know a kick set lasting an hour could exist!
I’m also training alongside the University's cycling and athletics clubs which is definitely pushing my capabilities as a multi-sport athlete, although I do have to admit that this winter I haven’t been very brave and a lot of my bike miles have been spent on the dreaded turbo.
I have my fair share of mental battles when it comes to training so I thought I’d share some top tips for staying motivated this winter:
1) Set your 2018 season goals now and use them as motivation when you are about to snooze your morning alarm or head home early from a long run or ride.
2) Join a triathlon team or join multiple single discipline clubs to enable you to train with others.
No one is ever going to be up for a 3 hour bike ride alone but add in friends and a cafe stop and riding has a whole different meaning.
3) Plan your week and follow a structured programme.
It’s a lot easier to stay on track with training when you have your weeks mapped out, planning for your work/study/social life. You will soon get into a good routine and pre-planned days off remove any feelings of guilt that us triathletes suffer from.
3) Get the right kit!
There is nothing worse than getting in from a run and having no feeling in your hands and feet or leaving the swimming pool shivering. Invest in some good warm kit this winter and make training in the cold that little bit easier. I know I can always rely on my trusty Sundried kit to keep me toasty.
4) Sign up for some races! Just because the triathlon season is over it doesn’t mean you can’t spice up your weekend with the odd cyclocross and cross-country race.
5) Most importantly, have fun!
It’s easy to get caught up in the triathlon trap of training because you feel like you have to. Treat training as a chance to unwind from work, make memories, and spend time with friends.
That’s all from me for now.
Have a great winter’s build and keeping smiling!
If you spend a lot of time training at high altitude in a mountainous region, would your performance be better racing at sea level? How do you train to race at high altitude? These questions and more will be answered as we explore the performance differences between training at high altitude vs sea level.
How does altitude training work?
Altitude training works because the air is thinner. As the air is thinner at high altitude, with every breath you take you are delivering less than usual amounts of oxygen to your muscles. Your muscles need oxygen to work optimally, so less oxygen means your body needs to work harder to get the same results. There have been many studies done to try to determine if altitude training works, and if so, how high an athlete would need to train, but research is ongoing.
So what is considered 'high altitude'? There are many differing opinions, but the most common is that any altitude above sea level beyond 3000m (9840 feet) is considered “high” altitude, with 500-2000m being “low” altitude and 2000-3000m being “moderate” altitude. Anything above 5500m (think Mount Kilimanjaro) is considered “extreme” altitude!
There are cities in South America, like La Paz in Bolivia, which are situated at this 'extreme altitude' where the air is much thinner than at sea level and the locals have adapted to the conditions. So, if an athlete were to train consistently in a city like La Paz, would they be faster when racing at sea level because of their better conditioned lungs and muscles? Well, in order to imitate the conditions found in such extreme altitudes, many athletes train with altitude masks. So, do they work?
Do high altitude training masks work?
Altitude training masks work by reducing the airflow to the lungs. In reality, they don't actually simulate high altitude because they do not reduce the atmospheric pressure, and instead simply reduce the oxygen intake in the same way running with a straw in your mouth would (definitely don't do this!)
It would take months or even years of training in a high altitude city like La Paz to notice the benefits of high altitude training. Unfortunately, training in a high altitude mask would not have these effects. There actually isn't any evidence whatsoever that training in an altitude mask benefits your athletic performance. However, actually training at high altitude can.
How long do the effects of high altitude training last?
Experts have agreed that training at 2200m for 4 weeks is optimal altitude training. Once you finish your training, the effects of the reduced oxygen on your blood and muscular endurance can last up to 2 weeks. So, is it worth it? Well, if you're a serious athlete looking to push your own boundaries and are looking for any way to improve your training, finding a training camp in the Alps or other mountainous regions could be beneficial, but the effects will wear off eventually.
It is a sad time of the year when we reach the season of dark nights, cold weather and indoor training. Since racing the Hever Castle triathlon I have had a few easy weeks where I suffered from the first cold of the season and spent my evening cleaning my house and not getting up at 5 in the morning. This sounds like a lovely break, but in reality I was bored after a few days.
I dragged my horse out the nettles to do some show jumping as he had been looking a bit fat and lazy, so I thought it was time to get him out and about. In return for the lack of attention I had shown him, he went to his first competition behaved very badly.
In my opinion, the only good thing about winter is cross country running. It is a great chance to race and be part of a team. Last weekend saw the first league race of the season. I have done virtually no running since Hever but wanted to go and have some fun with my friends from the running club. One of the first problems was finding all my kit and it turns out storing your spikes covered in last year’s mud outside in a garage does not do them any favours! The race was taking place at Writtle College in Essex and the ground was pretty solid and there was no mud at all. I enjoyed most of the race but failed pretty dramatically to tie my shoelaces up. When the first one came undone after mile 1 I thought, "I can deal with this" but the other one came undone after mile 3 so I carried on with my spikes virtually falling off after every step! I kept my shoes on to finish 6th girl which I was pretty happy about having done very little running and given that I almost lost both my shoes.
I am now getting back into the swing of training although a lot of it is indoors. I suspect by the end of the winter I will have watched the whole of Netflix on my turbo! I am looking forward to a “holiday” to Cyprus in a couple of weeks to train with ETE training camps and my coach Perry Agass. Fingers crossed that there is plenty of sunshine!
It’s that time of year when most of us have finished racing for the year and we are spending our time recovering, reflecting, and reviewing.
It’s always easy to be critical when it comes to our own performances and much of the time we over-focus on what we didn’t do rather than what we actually did. However, it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate our achievements, however small they may be, in order to feel rewarded, fulfilled, and motivated to carry on.
Achieving The Sub-5 Dream
For me, I achieved a huge milestone this year; something I had been chasing for a number of years. The coveted sub-5 hour half Ironman triathlon. Having only started triathlon in 2012, at the time unable to swim even a length of front crawl, it has been a pretty arduous few years to get myself up to an even remotely respectable standard.
I am a fan of an early-season race. As someone who likes to race quite frequently to keep the fire alive, I have, in the past few years, opted for a January race to kick start the season. This year I flew out to Dubai to race the IRONMAN 70.3 the day after my birthday. Hoping a flat course and warm weather would play to my strengths, I worked hard to see what I was capable of.
I felt like I would be very borderline when it came to the sub-5 hour goal, however on race day, I managed a 4:54 finish; a full seven minutes inside my goal time. I was ecstatic. Finally, something I had dreamed of for so long had materialised.
Ironman 70.3 Texas
Repeating that, in my head, was highly unlikely due to the extremely favourable bike course in Dubai. But three months later I was heading out to Texas to race the notoriously flat IRONMAN 70.3 course.
During the bike leg, I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I felt like I had nothing. I battled on and during the run I was close to quitting; I felt like I was just jogging round in survival mode. I was bitterly disappointed, even with a 5:01 finish time, which I would have been over the moon with the previous season! It was time to find out what was up.
Under Active Thyroid Diagnosis
After a few weeks of recovery back in the UK, I was still feeling awful: exhausted, mainly, and as such, I ended up having blood tests. We quickly got to the root of the problem when the blood tests revealed that I had an under active thyroid – and had done for years.
I was prescribed thyroxine as a hormone replacement, and gradually started to pick up. Before I knew it I was back to normal training again. Not without missing a race though. I had signed up for IRONMAN Mallorca 70.3 but decided to head out there and just train and support friends instead. It was the right decision to manage my health first and foremost, and ensure I was back up to consistent racing again. My training was consistent, and I had also lost 5-6kg as a result of the thyroxine helping to boost my metabolism. A month later, it was time to race.
In June, I raced IRONMAN Luxembourg 70.3 and I couldn’t have asked for a better race. I got a huge swim PB, a power PB on the bike, and a run PB. What’s more, I managed to go sub-5 again with a finish time of 4:56. It was so rewarding to see all the hard work paying off, and I knew that my sub-5 in Dubai wasn’t a fluke, because I had managed to repeat it. I was also coming around top 5 in my age group every time, but that was almost secondary to the result.
Fugitive Olympic Distance Triathlon - Marlow Triathlon
In July I raced in Marlow. I was feeling great, hitting all the numbers, and was excited to go for a shorter sharper race to test the water before my next 70.3. I managed to take the lead half way through the bike and hold onto it for the remainder, including the whole run. I finished eight minutes ahead of the second place female – this was such a result for me – someone who was coming close to last in triathlons only a few years ago.
I knew I was in good shape and it just seemed to keep getting better. I had not only managed to retain my power despite losing weight – I had actually managed to increase it slightly.
Ironman Gdynia 70.3
I’ve raced IRONMAN Gdynia 70.3 the past three years, and it’s a firm favourite in my race calendar. In fact, it’s my favourite race ever – there’s just something about it that ticks all the boxes. I was back in 2017 with my parents there to support me, I couldn’t wait.
Everything mostly went to plan and I was seeing some year on year improvements throughout the course, until I got onto the run. I suffered from stomach cramps on the first lap and wondered if my race might even be over at one point. However, it seemed to subside after the first lap so gradually and tentatively, I pushed on. I carried on increasing my pace, knowing that somehow, miraculously, I was on for a very good (for me) run split. I ended up getting a run PB of 1:37 and was absolutely flabbergasted. Plus, yep you guessed it – another sub-5 and top-5 AG positioning. I couldn’t have been happier.
Ironman 70.3 World Championships Chattanooga
Everything was building up to my A-race of the year – the coveted IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It felt like ages away but as always happens, it sprang up on me out of nowhere and after a hop across the pond, it was suddenly race day.
I felt like I was in the best shape of my life so there were no excuses here.
A slow swim. A slow bike. And an even slower run.
The course was brutal (is that an excuse!?) – but everyone was in the same boat. Most people were a lot slower than other races – in fact only six females in my age group went under five hours (and there were about 150 of us in total).
My time of 5:13 wasn’t what I expected – my plan had been to go sub-5 here too but the toughness of the course was reflected in most people’s finishing times. I can’t say I was hugely happy with this result, but on dissecting it with my coach later on, we realised that I couldn’t have got much more out of myself on the day. My coach was really happy with the performance and it proved true to where I was at physically.
It had been a year of ups and downs, but on reflection, it was mostly ups. It’s natural to always strive for better but as far as triathlon goes, I would say it has been by best season ever, and I am going to hold onto that.
I have worked hard to see the results transpire and cherishing that is important – it’s why we do what we do and it’s what keeps us motivated to carry on and do more.
I’ll be going into next season with a huge confidence boost and even more energy to push towards the next big goals. But for now, it’s time to absorb that feeling of contentment and enjoy a well-deserved off-season.
"Replace Open Water Anxiety with a Cocoon of Calm" Terry Laughlin
It is hard to practice open water swimming and most of us could do with more training. When it comes to swimming in a pack, for many of us it will be the first time this year, maybe something you do a few times a year, or perhaps your first time ever.
When it comes to the first few minutes of being in the water, breathing slowly and calmly is the most important thing you can do. Try to remember that unless you are planning on winning, there is no need to panic. You can swim, you do swim, and you have swum hundreds of times before. The chances are your buoyancy is better than ever in a wetsuit.
If you start to panic then reach for the reset button. 10 seconds, 30 seconds. A minute out just to recover will make a massive difference. Probably not to your overall time, but definitely to the way you feel. Add in a few slow breaststrokes and bring your heart-rate down.
What does it feel like to be outside the cocoon?
So many triathletes have experienced (many times more than once) the uncomfortable feeling of being in the water questioning if they can swim. Your breathing feels all wrong. Other swimmers are too close. Everything can go wrong. Even experienced athletes will have a bad swim now and then.
In a triathlon, if you are going to be weak at one of the events but still do well overall, then the swim is the most likely to be the weak event. But being a weak swimmer and being a swimmer outside their cocoon (or in distress) are different things. You can have a really enjoyable swim if you manage to settle down appropriately. If you have trained with a wetronome then it doesn't hurt to use it in the event, but you have to actually listen to what it is telling you. The urge to swim faster on race day than your normal training pace is completely normal, but being out of breath is not the best thing when your face is plunged into the open water for the first time that year.
Things To Avoid In An Open Water Swim
- Swimming at a much faster pace than you can maintain
- Kicking twice as hard as you have planned
- Changing your swim cadence from 60 strokes per minute to 120
- Putting yourself right in the centre of the pack thinking it may save a bit of time
Counter all of these points, calm things down, and try and stick with the race plan. The best thing you can do in your first open water swim is to swim the same way you have been in training and try to stay as relaxed as possible. It may not be your best time ever, but it is better to leave that for another day when you're feeling more confident or you are more experienced.