Mind Over Matter
My 2016 training started this week after taking some time off after the big 2015/2016 that I had. As I mentioned in earlier posts I was struggling a little bit to do minimal training. I have been back into it this week and with some big races and big goals ahead of me I was ready to rip right in and start burying myself with serious volume. My coach, Ben Hammond, works for a company called Today's Plan which is an advanced training program for planning and analysing my performance. I was excited to get going and when I saw the first week of training I was, well... a little surprised. The week was easy. Very very easy. My first thought was that it was too easy. I am racing the World Championships this year. I see what other athletes are already doing. I need to be smashing myself. I am however a model athlete who does exactly what their coach orders (most of the time) and followed the plan perfectly.
The toughest session for the week was going to be an FTP test. This is a test on the bike to determine your functional threshold power which is the highest number of watts you are able to sustain over an hour period. Watts are the amount of power you generate when riding a bike. To get an idea of how these numbers work watch this video of a cyclist powering a toaster. I am a pretty good cyclist and was convincing myself that despite the time off I would still be able to see an improvement on my last result. I was wrong. The test was horrid and I barely managed to keep going. My score was 30 watts (which is a lot) lower than my last test in December... Regardless I still felt like I should be doing more training. This week we also had new carpet installed in our apartment and it has been very full on with the removal of our existing floor and basically moving all of our furniture out of the apartment. It wasn't until yesterday when I realised that while I wanted to train longer and harder, my body was absolutely exhausted. My sessions yesterday were literally a 40 minute low heart rate run and a 60 minute low hear rate ride. I was so tired I struggled with even that. On my run my heart rate was all over the place. So while the mind was willing and able and ready to go the body was not being playing ball.
Something I notice with other athletes when talking to them or seeing their sessions is that triathletes are chronic over-trainers. How many people do I see doing all of their work at threshold or above. The answer is a lot. How many of these people struggle with niggles and injuries? The answer is also a lot. How many of these athletes are relatively new to the sport? Again the answer is a lot. I have been racing triathlon for a while now and I know that I should not go and smash myself every session but despite that knowledge, I still wanted to. With my body feeling the way it did yesterday I am confident that if I was training myself without a coach I would probably be injured or sick right now. I would have gone too hard too quickly and hurt myself.
My swim sessions have been particularly frustrating. I know I am a 1:20/100m swimmer and while I have been swimming this week I feel like the technique is good. When I get to the end of the 100m I was annoyed because the times were always around the 1:40/100m mark. How did I lose 20 seconds in 3 weeks? Seriously, count 20 seconds. It is a long time. Old Tim would have tried to swim faster. The technique would have become more erratic and the efforts would have become harder. The new training program means that my coach can literally see exactly how the session went. So I almost had his voice in my head saying to ensure it is an easy set. The internal battle between my mind which wants to train hard and my body which is not where it was a month ago is something that many people probably struggle with.
What gives me confidence though is knowing that there is a plan in place. As my training continues I know that the intensity will come back. I know now from experience that the swim times will come down and will improve to new levels I have not achieved before. The power on the bike will go up and I am expecting to see it grow well above where it was last year. I have faith in the program my coach has given me. Why wouldn't I? The improvements I have seen under him are all the evidence I need to know it works. The funny thing to consider though is that 2 years ago, I struggled to get my swim times under 2:00/100m. My power would have been significantly lower and my average run pace was probably 30 seconds per km slower. While I feel like I am training slow and not hard enough, my base is significantly better than it was 2 years ago or even 12 months ago.
I am excited to see how our much more technologically advanced approach will work this year. I am also excited to start training with power. I am honoured to be partnering with Pioneer this year and will be excited to see how training with power will change the way I train and race. I have been a chronic over-rider in the past. By now having all the tools to ensure that there is next to nothing left to chance as well as a coach utilising state of the art technology, I am expecting to train harder and smarter than ever before and as a result I will race harder and faster too. 2016 is a big year with a number of big races. I started this year with cracking the 4:30 barrier. Who knows where I am going to end the year but I am confident it will be significantly faster.
At the end of the day it is ridiculous to assume that after a break you will come back exactly where you left. You take a break for a reason. I am racing a half marathon this weekend with a friend of mine and I am expecting absolutely nothing. I was entered as a birthday present and am going to try and enjoy the experience. My friend won the marathon last year so I am just hoping to finish as quickly as possible so I can then cheer him on. But if you are reading this and are feeling tired or are constantly dealing with injuries maybe you need to look at taking some time off. Look at all of the best athletes in the world. They do not train 12 months of the year. They have certain races they peak for and others where they are not in the best condition. When you do come back to your training make sure that you ease back into it. By going too hard too soon you will not become a better athlete. Instead you will probably hurt yourself and be forced to take time off which will set you back even further. It might seem hard but it is absolutely the best option.
Train smart, don't rush into it and remember to TRI!
I Love it, I Love it Not
Challenge Melbourne represented my last race for the 2015/2016 tri season and my coach instructed to me to take some time off after the race to get the body ready for the huge build we have planned leading into the 2016 World Championships. After a big 12 months of training, travelling and racing I have been really looking forward to the break. So once I get into my scheduled time off training do you think before I started to miss it? I reckon it took me 3 days before I started getting the itch to do some training again. Since then I have started to get moving again. There is no structure to my training and I am definitely not following a plan or anything. I am simply trying to stay active. I just find it funny that while you are in the middle of a big period of training all you want is a break and then when you get it, all you want is to train! There are probably people reading this who never have this issue and I imagine there are some people who either have never gotten to a point when they want to get back into training or wish that they could make training such a part of their life that they need a break. But what it comes down to is that all of us, whatever our level of fitness, have some sort of love/hate relationship with exercise.
So why do people 'hate' to train. I think the main reasons for this is that it can be hard. When you are starting to get active your body is not used to the load and while we know that you should ease into any form of activity, most people will go too hard too quickly. This combined with the fact that the majority of people have imperfect technique regardless of their chosen activity can lead to injury, pain and will ultimately mean that exercise becomes associated with pain or discomfort. An ideal example of this is running. When people have an epiphany that they want to run a marathon or a 10km race do they think about laying the appropriate foundation in their fitness, strength and technique before they start to pound the pavement? I would guess the answer is no. One of the first things I try to teach people who want to start running is the basics of run mechanics. As always, I do not pretend to be an expert in this field but you do not need to be a World Champion runner to know the basics of running. The other thing you often find with people starting exercise is that they are not aware of their weight being a limiting factor. This can go both ways. Some people do not believe that the extra kilos will impact on their ability to train and can actually mean certain types of exercise become dangerous. There are also others who use it as an excuse. The whole 'I am too fat' excuse can have some merit, but it does not apply to every training session out there. There is always something that you can do to start getting active.
Another reason why I think people can see exercise as a negative thing is simply because of ego. Ego does not have to mean that we want to think that we are the best but there are lots of people who I know who do not want to train because they are worried about looking stupid. I guarantee you that in your own circle of friends you will know a person who does not want to train at a gym because they feel intimidated. They are worried that they will look stupid or ugly when they are sweating. One of the things that absolutely bamboozles me is when I see women wearing makeup to a race or training session or when blokes do their hair with gel. I have a friend who used to do his hair before a soccer match and refused to head the ball because he didn't want to ruin his "fresh look". Apart from the physical idea of ego there is also the competitive side of ego which comes back to injury. People who need to win. Have you ever been running, lifting, swimming and had a person next to you speed up to either pass you, outfit you or not let you pass them? EGO! When you are starting out training it is critical to master technique which means that the load has to be less. When I tell people they either have to focus on a low heart rate or adopt a walk run strategy I always have to couple the instruction with a dire warning, "Leave your ego at home". When I was first introduced to low heart rate running by my coach he told me the exact same thing and it is true. I could be 'running' along at a pace which allowed my heart rate to stay below 130 and be overtaken by a group of elderly runners jogging past talking about the latest episode of the Bold and the Beautiful. It became frustrating and annoying. Eventually I started to see the benefit and make improvement but man, my ego took a beating.
The other big issue I see why people often grow to hate training or exercise is the idea that you need to go hard or go home. People will train so hard all the time. Pushing the red line is important sometimes but there is now a significant volume of research which promotes the 80/20 split. 80% of your training should be easy and 20% should be moderate to intense. This is even more true when talking about beginners. One of the biggest limiting factors for people getting to the start line of a race in good shape is not because they have not trained hard enough. It is because they have trained too hard. If you are a person who is always racing injured I suggest you either look at your intensity, make sure your technique is sorted or fire your coach or trainer. My Dad is a funny example of this and I know he will get a kick out of this because I know he reads. I had no idea but my Dad would go out and do every run as hard as he could. It wasn't until after Christmas we did the Bay Run (An iconic 7km run around one of the inlets in Sydney Harbour) where I ran with my brother at a good pace and Dad ran with his friend Stephen at a relaxed pace. Dad went away after that run and the next time he ran he felt amazing. In a complete shock my dear sweet father actually turned to me for some advice. I laughed at him. I could not believe that he did not know this. Of course the easy runs are important. One of the key sayings is train slow to race hard!
So that is some of the reasons why I think people can have a negative experience when it comes to training. February is the month of love and this weekend it is Valentines Day (I think it is impossible to miss this fact unfortunately) so I better talk about why people can love exercise. The first and most obvious answer is the endorphins. the feeling post exercise is amazing. You feel like a million dollars and you know that you have done something good for yourself. that feeling of positivity can flow into your personal life as well as work. When I used to be stuck on an issue I would go for a run with no music or anything and just think. After my exercise I would come back and be able to get stuck into whatever issue I was facing. Exercise can also be an incredibly social event. I love to see groups of like minded people join together to start healthy habits. You do not need to be athletes either. I much prefer doing PT sessions with 2 people instead of 1. I am able to instil a sense of teamwork and camaraderie. I might even sometimes introduce an element of competition between them. But if you can get together a group of people you will often start training together, then get coffee together and before you know it, this group of people becomes a key part of your social life.
The other reason why I think people learn to love exercise is because of the benefits associated with it. In this day and age it is a sad thing to assume that there are far less people who regularly exercise than those who do not. If you are lucky enough to be one of the people who has successfully managed to overcome the hurdles and barriers to this healthy lifestyle then you also get to reap the benefits. Some of those benefits include looking good and having clothes that fit you well. But the other benefits may include self-confidence. Not because you think you look good but for me I am no longer daunted by tasks which may appear hard or difficult. Losing 50kgs was insanely difficult but now that I have done it I think that I am able to have a crack at most things. These other benefits will be different from person to person but more often than not there will be lessons which can be applied to other areas of your life. Patience, perseverance, compromise and time management are all skills which will need to be mastered to ensure a successful exercise lifestyle.
So while there are many reasons why people may have a hate relationship with exercise and training there is no real issue which with some help or hard work can not be overcome. There are a plethora of resources out there which will help people to make smart choices whatever your goal maybe. Once you are able to accept that there will be times when you hate the hard work you will be able to get through it. One of my favourite running quotes is that it is the hardest thing to start doing. But once you have started, it is the hardest thing to stop. So next time you are having an internal debate as to whether you should or should not get active, focus on the positives. You have two choices, the easy way or the right way. Then after a while you may be in a situation where all you want is a well earned break from training only to get three days in and realise you miss it!
That will do for this week. I am not trying to preach to anyone here and in fact this blog kind of changed while I was writing it. However I think the message is true. As to me, I will continue to struggle through my training break with the occasional swim or run. I have been trying to do some strength work in the gym as well. You gym junkies out there! I take my hat off to you! It is hard man.
Train, train, then train again and remember to TRI!
Man am I excited to write this race report!
When I started this blog about 18 months ago I was chasing a number of goals but the longest had been to go under 4:30 for a 70.3 (half-iron distance) triathlon. I had assumed that I would write the tantalising recap of my destruction of the race over 12 months ago and since then I have come frustratingly close too many times. But before we get to that I want to rewind the clock to a little over 2 years ago. In November of 2013 I went for my first training camp in Thailand. The camp was run by Chris 'Macca' McCormack as part of his race team, Team MaccaX. To assist with the camp Macca enlisted the help of a young Australian pro called Ben Hammond. I met Ben there and liked him straight away. Maybe it is something about being Australian but the first night I met him we ended up out until all hours of the morning on the froths. He was down to earth and obviously loved triathlon. It was about this time that I also started thinking about enlisting the help of a coach. Anyway I came back to Australia and in January I raced Challenge Melbourne. I had just got a brand new Giant TT bike and I was ready to go fast. That day I rode my fastest ever 90km and ran surprisingly well off the bike. But I had swum over 42 minutes for the 1.9km. This meant that instead of smashing a new PB I had barely scraped one in. Standing around after the race I got out my phone and sent Ben an email: "Ben I want to go under 4:30 for a 70.3 and I want you to help me do it!"
Now when I say that I have come close before I mean close. On the Sunshine Coast in 2014 I went 4:33 and in Forster that year I managed a 4:31. Even December last year I managed a 4:34 in Taupo and in Bintan I was well on track to go under 4:30 before I had my crash. I realised that this had become a massive psychological hurdle for me. I know what I am capable of doing and it is well under 4:30. So why was it that I just could not do it? After Taupo and my incredible 3 podiums in 3 races I messaged Benny and said that's it. I just want it done. He told me to pick the fastest race I could find and make it my last race of the season. I think he wanted it done as badly as I did. I knew Melbourne was the course to do it. We backed it off a little over Christmas and come the New Year Ben put the hammer down. When he sent me my program for the week, the email subject was week 1 of 2 shit weeks ;-). He wasn't lying. I actually believe one of the only reasons why I was able to maintain the volume I was doing was because of the high quality products from True Amino that I had started using. Ben set my the work and I went and did it. In the weeks leading up to the race I knew I was finding some form of a short build. I ran a PB for park run and my swim splits were becoming a joke. I thought surely this is it. All that was left to do was actually go out and deliver the result!
In the lead up to the race I felt really good. I was running, riding and swimming fast and it felt easy. Dez and I decided to drive to Melbourne instead of fly. I was so sick to death of travelling with my bike bag and airports I would have rather handled a 8 hour drive than the flight. We had a very easy drive down and the weather was good. On Saturday I went out for a ride and run and was concerned because my legs felt rubbish. If you are a cyclist you will know that feeling where you are sure your brakes are rubbing. I must have stopped to check 3 times. I decided to run off the bike a little harder and while it was hard at first I found some speed and finished strong. I was also incredibly nervous about the weather. Last year at Challenge Melbourne was hideous. It was rainy, windy and cold all day and I was sick for weeks after. I was becoming a little obsessed with checking the forecast. The forecast for Sunday was not looking good. On Saturday night I got a message from Ben with how I was to approach the race. Not go too hard on the bike in the first 30km and not run anything faster than 4:15 pace for the run. We were aiming for nothing other than under 4:30. Ben also told me to take my ego out of the equation. Not to let other people passing me affect me. I went to bed nervous and was terrified when I awoke to some of the heaviest rain I had ever heard. I was devastated that it would be a repeat of last year. When I got up at 4:15 the first thing I did was go outside and while it was overcast it wasn't raining. I could even see some stars.
Pre-race was normal. I was greeted by several people who either read this blog or follow me online (if you were one of them thanks for saying G'Day!). It looked like the weather would be good. I said goodbye to Dez and made my way to the swim start. This was my first race in my new 30-34 age group and it meant I was in the first wave AG wave start 5 minutes after the male professionals and 3 minutes after the female pros. It was time to perform.
The course was a big rectangle which you had to swim out to so one left turn then 3 right turns. As soon as I hit the water I wanted to try and get away from all the bullshit and I was very happy to do so. I had a really un-eventful swim. No rough stuff, no one kicking or punching me. The water was flat and it was so easy to sight. What's more I was feeling incredible. Honestly, paint some gils on my neck and put a fin on my back I felt like a body shark. I don't remember too much about what was going through my mind in the swim. I know my shoulder started to give me some grief towards the end and I also thought to myself not long before exiting the water that there is no way I would want to do that again. I guess IronMan isn't too high on my hit list at the moment. I came out of the swim and didn't even have any dramas getting off the top half of my wetsuit. I was sure I smashed the swim. When I looked at my Garmin I was gutted to see it say 32 minutes. After the race I checked my file. I swam 2345 metres instead of 1900m I am not sure if I swam way of course or if the course was long. But my average pace was 1:20/100m which meant if I swam 1.9km I would have had a time of about 25 minutes. Regardless I got the result and I knew I had swum well. That swim was actually the biggest take away from the day for me. I was finally able to put in a solid pace in open water, out of the pool. TOTAL SWIM TIME - 32:06
There is a little bit of a run up to T1. Once I got there I had no issues getting ready I got my wetsuit off and helmet on. Grabbed my bike and started the run to the bike exit. The last two years this has been quite a trek. When you consider there is a perfectly good access point right near the majority of bikes. I seriously think that hike adds a minimum of 60 seconds to your time. TOTAL T1 TIME - 2:07
Ahh the bike. My friend the bike. I knew what I was told to do by Ben so I really tried to focus on doing it. Maybe it is something about the raw speed of my Giant Trinity but I had to focus on not overdoing it during that first lap. I was overtaken by several people one in particular who was BLATANTLY drafting. He would play a bigger part in my day later on. The conditions for riding where perfect. No wind, not too hot and smooth roads. Looking at my bike splits, of the 6, 5 of them were all 23 minutes. I definitely was riding consistently. The main focus remained for me to focus on my own race and not get caught up in other people's races. This was hard sometimes with some riders passing me only to slow down again. But I think I did well to stay consistent. On the second lap of the bike I noticed the wind was starting to pick up a bit which made the riding harder. God knows which direction the wind was going because one second I was riding 60km/h and the next it would be down to 30km/h. The course hugs the coast so there were some points where a real gust would hit. I had played the first lap safe and knew that because my swim had been a fair bit slower than I had expected I was going to have to ride something faster than 2:25 to remain in contention for the 4:30 barrier. My effort definitely increased but at the same time I was conscious about saving something in the legs for the run.
Now back to my drafting mate. I caught up to him during my second lap and passed him as he had obviously been dropped by the faster rider. This became a cycle which would repeat itself. I would pass him and ride only to be overtaken by a rider from a team relay (these blokes were moving) and guess who would be sucking their wheel. My mate. Overtime he would pass me I would catch him again 10 or 15 minutes later after he was eventually dropped. On the last lap as I passed him I thought it would be for the last time. He was obviously riding above his skill level trying to draft. After I passed him and maybe 10 minutes had passed I turned around and what did I see? The bloke was sitting on my back wheel. Not 5 metres no, he was right there. I was quick to turn around and tell him to fuck off. He obviously didn't like this because as soon as another rider came past he jumped on their wheel. I yelled that he was a cheat and a disgrace as he passed. He just shook his head at me. Right. I decided then and there that he would not cross the line before me. I came into T2 with sore quads. I had pushed quite hard at the end of the bike to give myself the biggest window of opportunity to hit that sub 4:30. I knew I wasn't going to ride another 2:19 but that wasn't the plan. The plan was 4:30. I was actually very happy with my bike split considering how tough I found a. conserving on the first lap and b. the wind on the second two laps. TOTAL BIKE TIME - 2:22:42
T2 saw me endure the same long run with the bike. I had come in behind my mate but was not too worried about it. I have put some serious work into improving my transition thanks to the help of a new pro and triathlon coach at Thanyapura, Clint Kimmins. I racked my bike got my gear on and raced out while putting on my hat (backwards of course), sunnies and race number. TOTAL T2 TIME - 1:57
By my calculations I had to run under 1:31 to hit sub 4:30 and as Ben had told me, to do that there was no need to run faster than 4:15 pace. That became my obsession and while my first km was a bit faster I made sure not to focus on the other runners who were passing me. One of whom was, yep you guessed it! My mate from earlier. While these runners pulled away I focused on my own race. The run course is three seven km loops. Simple, do each lap in 30 minutes and I should be golden. There was a stretch of the course which was maybe a little over a km which was trail and mostly mud and sand. It was very windy and I became worried because it was near impossible for me to maintain my pace in that section. Instead I would attempt to make up the pace a little on the top 3.5km section which followed the running path. My first lap was almost exactly 30 minutes and I wasn't doing it tough. I thought I had it in the bag. I was elated to see Dez and my Dad out on course and even a number of my friends too. I also noticed I was starting to pull back some ground on my mate. The second lap was much the same with my pace dropping down through the trails and increasing on the top half. I don't know where I got the number from in my head but I was convinced I was on track for a 4:27. During the trail section on my second lap I managed to pass old mate again and thought that would be the last I saw of him. My second lap was a little slower than 30 minutes but it wasn't over 31. I was doing it.
On my final lap at the first aid station I attempted to grab a coke and the guy fumbled meaning I grabbed an empty cup. This legend of a volunteer grabbed another cup of coke and ran it up to me. Random little story but it was another highlight of the day. This is also where my day became a little fun. I had noticed my second lap was a bit slower so I was going to need to pick up the pace a bit. At the same time the guy who had been battling with me all day came around me almost like he was sprinting. It actually put a smile on my face. He was racing me as much as I was racing him. He had worked to stick with me after I passed him and was now trying to drop me. The timing was perfect because he provided me with someone to keep pace with. I knew he was trying to drop me too because he kept looking over his shoulder at me. We were not setting the world on fire with our pace (about 4:25 at this point) but I had a feeling it was hurting him. As we turned to make the little climb for the last time he slowed right down and I went around him. I was up onto the trail section again only this time my pace was much slower. I was telling myself to get it together. This was the perfect opportunity to break 4:30 and not to stuff it up. I couldn't pick up the pace through the trails so thought that instead of picking up the pace for the last 2km like I try to do in every race I would do it for the last 3km. As I made the turn at the far end of the course I passed another competitor who asked "Are you Tim?" He read my blog and told me enjoyed it. Again, the timing was perfect. Nothing like an ego boost as you go into the hardest part of the race. I zipped up my tri suit and made my final assault.
Those last 3kms were not going as fast as I thought but I felt like I had plenty of time. When I got inside my final km of the run I started thinking to myself, man the finish line is still pretty far away. I decided to flick my Garmin from my run split to total time. Thank Christ I did this. It read 4:28. I hate to think what my HR did when I saw this. There was nothing to do but grit my teeth and go for it. I gave it everything and managed to cross the finish line with 42 seconds to spare. I screamed "COME ON!!!!" as I crossed the line with fists clenched and was happy to see a familiar face at the finish with Jo Baxas being there. She gave me a hug and directed me to Dez who was there too. The back half of this season saw me shift from racing in different shoes to the shoes I train it and my run splits have improved time and time again. The Mizuno's are doing the job brilliantly. TOTAL RUN TIME - 1:30:24
It took a while for me to realise what had happened. It was finally done. I had aimed to go under 4:30 and I had done it. Could I have gone faster? Possibly but that wasn't what the race was about. The race was about ticking the box and getting the monkey off my back. I gave Dez one of the biggest sweatiest hugs she has ever gotten. I was also happy to see old mate cross the line after I did. I gave him a smirk and while I do not like the way he rode the bike, he actually helped to get me to the finish line as quickly as I did. The first person to call me after the race was Ben and I love what he put in his blog post this week "this weekend was one of my most stressful, anxious and happiest days as a coach." As always I was blown away by all the support I received. It is so funny to see all the conversations people are having about you while you are racing. TOTAL RACE TIME - 4:29:18
So Now I suppose the big question is what is next? The big focus for this year will be the 70.3 World Championships on the Sunshine Coast. But as always I want to go as fast as I can. I will start focusing on going under 4:20 and will keep setting new goals until I hit that 4:05. It is one-step closer today than it was last week and while it took me a little longer than I expected it to it has made the achievement even more satisfying.
I think this is a good spot to leave it this week. Set yourself big goals and never stop chasing them and remember to TRI!
I lost 50kgs though triathlon and completed the 2016 70.3 World Championships. Aiming to hit 4:05 for a 70.3, the same time it took me to complete my first Olympic Distance Triathlon. I want to bring as many new people to the sport as possible. Whether you are fit and active or want to make positive changes to your life.