Remember Everyone was a Beginner Once .....


 …. or so said Chrissie Wellington. Here’s Molly’s account in her own words of her first ever triathlon - will she qualify for the ITU World Standard Distance Championships? Time will tell.

30th June Leeds Castle Standard Distance Triathlon - Standing on the banks of the Leeds Castle lake, looking out at the carefully placed orange buoys that marked the swimming course I generally had no idea what to expect. Not only was this a standard distance triathlon, but the GB age group qualifiers for World Championships. And I was out of my comfort zone – I’d never done a triathlon before.

Only days before had I ridden my bike for the first time, practice clipping in and briefly discussed how triathlons generally worked with my Neil my Coach. I also was wearing cycling shoes that were too big, a helmet I had stuck padding into so it would fit and goggles that I had tied onto the back of my head because days earlier I had pulled them too tight and snapped them. I had confessed only the day before to Neil that this was my first ever triathlon and I had never swam in open water before.....was this a good idea?

The Swim

We all lined up on the banks of the lake, as instructed by my Coach, I was stood right at the front (surrounded by girls in GB kit and a lot of experienced triathletes). I remember waving to my parents and looking around with a huge nervous grin on my face….bang, the starters gun went off, I was immediately overtaken by girls who once entering the water performed a beautiful dolphin dive into the water…. I tripped and face planted the surface of the water and did the one thing my mum told me not to do….drank a huge gulp of green pond water. I started to swim front crawl and immediately settled into a nice rhythm…despite changing my breathing pattern as discussed with Neil to every 2 breaths rather than 3. When I looked up to breathe I realised I had clear water in front of me…I was winning I knew I was alright at swimming but I had no idea I was this good and this fast! Was I going to win the triathlon??!!….but then I realised I was looking to the left – I was heading to the second buoy, the complete wrong direction to the first buoy! I immediately changed course, catching up with the other girls and began to navigate my way around the course. In the last 200m (roughly) I could see a lot of heads in front of me…I was swimming as hard as I could but immediately felt my heart drop, I was at the back of the pack. However when I drew closer I realised they were in pink swimming hat…the wave that were behind me and still on their first lap! In fact, there were hardly any orange swimming hats…so either I was so far behind all the girls in my wave had vacated the water and were already making their way down the 40k bike course, or I was actually one of the faster girls! I soon passed the last buoy and started to half skip/wade out of the water. Once on dry land I started to knock all the water out of my ears as I knew this would give me a headache after…however just as I started to do this the camera man started clicking away so my swim exit shots looked like I had had an accident in the water and sustained a broken neck…I mean they do say race phots are never that flattering! 

The Bike

I ran as fast as I could to the transition area, and after locating the porta loos I located my bike! I carefully put my helmet on, race belt, socks, shoes and sunnies and grabbed my bike and trotted over to the mounting zone, closely followed by two other girls. Rather than performing a ‘flying mount’ like the two girls (who now where in front of me) I stopped my bike, said sorry and thank you to the marshal, clipped one foot into the pedal, kicked off with the other foot and rather wobbly, I started the climb up through the Castle grounds and out on the main road. 

I don’t think anything prepared me for the burning sensation I felt in my legs during that 40k! I pedalled as hard as I could but despite this, I soon was getting overtaken. However, rather feeling frustrated I was more in awe at how smooth and fast the other girls were on the bike and how well their bikes were moving. As I had only just started to get used to mine, only having ridden it the day before, it was fair to say I lacked the sleekness the other girls had. 20k later, I (carefully) navigated the roundabout, saying thank you to the marshal on my way round, and begun the final leg. The next 20k went a lot better than the first, I had started to pick up a good rhythm on the bike, had begun to catch up (and even overtake) a few of the girls in front and soon was riding back through the Castle grounds. I think I gained a little too much confidence because on my way back I misjudged a rather steep speed bump…and well lets’ just say thank goodness I used to horse ride and was used to ‘bucking’ as I nearly was thrown off! I was a little more careful for the remainder of the ride however much to my disappointment, this was captured by the camera man and after reviewing the photo it looked like I was on a nice little jaunt enjoying the beauty of the castle grounds, rather than racing to qualify for GB!

Minutes later, I approached to the dismount area. Safely unclipped and ‘ran’ with the bike to the transition zone…when I say ran I mean hobble. Because I wasn’t used to wearing cycling shoes I found the action of running, whist holding a bike and looking for my ‘rack’ a little tricky! The camera man also captured that (well they captured me grinning from ear to ear after I has seen and heard both my parents and my Coach!’ I racked my bike, pulled on my trainers and after being told to ‘turn my racing number round’ (of course I had already forgotten to do!) off I went. 

I knew I had a lot of ground to make up and knew how hard I needed to push on the run but the support from my parents and Coach I knew I could make up that critical time. And all I had was 10k between me and the finish line….well that and a lot of hills…

 The Run

Generally, I’m not a bad runner and usually, I am good at running of the bike….well not today! As soon as I passed the crowds and entered the fields full of mini Everest’s (covered in grass and not snow) my legs once again imploded with fire..actually they felt like they had been turned into concrete and then set fire too! I adopted a ‘trot’ which seemed to work as I started to catch up and overtake those in front and whilst I couldn’t do my usual long stride, I managed to summit each hill and soon I was into my last 1k!....then pop, a blister which had formed on the inside of my foot burst and boy did I feel it?! Although, I should have expected this to happen as the shoes I picked (Hoke One One) had never failed to give me a new blister every time I had worn them so really this was my fault and another rookie error on my behalf! But despite this, I could feel myself straightening up, I could hear the roar of the crowds and soon I was sprinting towards the finish (I say sprinting, it was more of a fast limp!)

 I can’t explain how proud I was when I crossed that line, to hear my name being called out as I crossed the finish and to see my team mate Jas waiting for me and Chris crossed the line shortly afterwards and the Performance Edge Racing Team were reunited! I was so proud of everyone. 

 After collecting my official race time and placing I felt my heart sink and the pride slip away. I had come 8thin my category and whilst to some it is a fantastic achievement, I knew I had not done enough to get to qualify for Worlds and whilst this was just my first triathlon I wanted to qualify so badly. I knew that both my inexperience and ability and strength on the bike had let me down, I knew this would have happened before I had even started, but nothing prepares you for post-race feelings and how disappointed one can feel despite doing so well when looking back over the whole experience. Half of me felt I had let my Coach down, and the other felt ashamed that I hadn’t performed or get the result that I should have done. However wheeling Spider (my newly named bike) back to the car I thought, how lucky I was to have so much support from my Coach, my parents, my friends and fellow team mates and actually regardless of qualifying or not, without them I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to compete in such a thrilling, exhilarating and challenging event in the first place. 

 A few hours later however, I received a text. It was from my Coach, Neil. It read …I have news…my heart leaped…I read on….Neil explained how I still stood a chance of qualifying and whilst we had to wait for the official decision to be released, it was looking very promising. The race was on Sunday and now it is Thursday and we still are awaiting the release of the results. Between the both of us, I think we have refreshed the results page over 100 times but despite still not knowing whether I will represent GB or not, I still cannot comprehend how proud I am to represent my team, and to have the Coach I have. I am one of the luckiest athletes ever. 

Chrissie Wellington once said ‘remember, everyone was a beginner once’ and in all honestly, her words are just perfect. I think it is all too easy to get worked up on outcome, to rate how the race went simply by looking at the numbers, and whilst yes, where you come, how fast you swam/cycled and ran, it is much more healthy and constructive to evaluate the race by looking at performance. I nearly let outcome ruin what I believe was the best race of any description I have ever experienced because I got too caught up on my placing. Looking back on the event a few days later (and with the help of my Coach and friends) I can see how well I performed. I pushed myself physically and mentally, I put myself out of my comfort zone, I did not let nerves get the better of me and I listened and did the best I could do, and for me that is the biggest victory. 

 Whilst representing Great Britain at World Championships is a dream, with all my heart I hope this will be one that turns into reality, the adventure I am about to embark on is just one that I am completely overwhelmed with excitement about. 

 My race advice: Believe in yourself, never give up, listen to those who know you best and just go for it. 

The qualification process should be ratified by British Triathlon next week so we’ll see if Mols qualifies for the Worlds in her first ever race - until then we are planning the next few races.


Zen and the Art of Running


If you are as old as I am then you will remember the title even if you have not read Robert Pirsig’s seminal work, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  In it Pirsig describes a journey he and his son make from Minnesota to Northern California and the book among other things explores the meaning and concept of "quality".  A term he conceives ultimately as undefinable but he feels is a sensation that exists between the subject and the object.  His hypothesis being that to truly experience qualitywe must both embrace and apply it as best fits the requirements of the situation. So what has this trip down memory lane of books I read in the 1970’s have to do with running or triathlon? 

 As a Coach I often hear athletes effectively talking about the quality of their workout. “That was a great run” or “that was an awful swim” but what are they using to define that quality? More often than not they are looking at times and distances. If the set workout was an 8km run at 5 min per km pace and they run at 5:10 per km that can be viewed as lesser quality - and even for some athletes as failure. However if they ran it at 4:50 min per km they may view that as success - however it is as far from quality as the 5:10 if the aim was to run at 5:00. To consider the quality of our workout perhaps we need to look not at the subject and the object but to consider the sensation in between. I’d counter that if I go for a beautiful run down by the River Tay, and enjoy the experience but run 5:10 then argueably that has greater qualitythan going out and battling to maintain a 4:55 min per km pace.

 Whilst we are on the Zen pathway we should consider the concept that almost every martial artist knows something about, the Chinese theory of yin and yang.  Chinese philosophy perceives the universe as the interaction of complimentary opposites such as day and night, male and female, hard and soft, life and death, yang and yin. The dynamic cycle of creation and destruction, embodied in the life cycle of a flower, is seen as a continuous process of change. I believe it is helpful as an athlete if we can view our workouts as this continuous process and to allow for and accept this ebb and flow without fighting against it.

 So if you are fixed, as many westerners are in concepts such as black and white then starting to grasp the theory of yin and yang will help to serve that gap and to allow you to see the flow that exists in your training from time to time as the natural order of things. The next time you do a workout consider that space between the subject and the object to truly comprehend the quality of the session and allow for that yin and yang flow.

The Psychology of Climbing a Mountain Part Two


In Part Two of her article, Kim Keegan discusses the detachment, discomfort and humour that was required as part of a 14-member group that set out on a 30-day trip into the Himalayas included an attempt to summit Mera Peak (6,476m), a cross over the Amphu Labtsa pass (5,780m), and the final summit of Island Peak (6,189m). These ideas are very much applicable to all aspects of endurance sport and may be applied to your own performance-related goals. 

1)   Allow yourself to be vulnerable.It was taken for granted that on a trip of this nature each of us would face daily personal battles however we did not predict how differently these would manifest in each of us. While some doubted their fitness, others struggled with the distance from loved ones. Physical strength, motivation and resilience will naturally ebb and flow. Personally, I learnt that in the times you need help - take it. Similarly, if someone needs your support - help them. 

2)   Detach (somewhat) from home.For the first three weeks, team members were focused on the task at hand. However, there came a time for each of us when we seemed to allow our thoughts to become preoccupied with the family, home comforts, work or troubles we had left behind. This shift was clear to see, it was as though people had physically turned around in their mind and started their journey towards home. Try to ensure this happens at the moment of your choice. Before this point allow home comforts - music, pictures, family – to provide enough meaning to carry on but not too much to change your mind!

3)   Accept discomfort.To resist something will only give it more power to eat away at you. This may be physical fatigue, a frustrating team mate, or an indefinite wait. Our daily personal limits fluctuated depending on a range of different factors. However, it seemed that those amongst us who expected a certain level of discomfort could more effectively embrace it when it occurred.  

4)   Find humour and capitalise on it.One thing this experience showed me is that suffering and happiness can occur in close proximity to one another and may even rely on one another. The extent of the oppressive bitter cold could be fully appreciated with the contrast of the warm dancing sunlight. In a situation where risk and hardship were dominant it helped to compliment the serious with the silly. 

5)   Be willing to learn.It is through testing ourselves that we can learn to fully know and trust ourselves. However, with every test comes the risk of defeat. Perceived failure can bring up difficult emotions and reactions in all of us. The month was a rare opportunity for each of us to dedicate a significant amount of time to look towards ourselves and ask important questions. Don’t be afraid to be honest with yourself about the things you find challenging. Exposing yourself to failure is an admirable endeavour and one that can grant you access to untapped potential. 

If you would like an initial consultation with Kim then please just contact us here.

The psychology of climbing a mountain - Part One


Last autumn our own, Kim Keegan (a Clinical Psychologist), was part of a 14-member group that set out on a 30-day trip into the Himalayas. The itinerary included an attempt to summit Mera Peak (6,476m), a cross over the Amphu Labtsa pass (5,780m), and final summit of Island Peak (6,189m). This two-part article captures Kim’s observations of the traits and techniques that characterised this group’s journey. These ideas are applicable to all aspects of endurance sport and may be applied to your performance-related goals. 

 1)   Focus on the journey not the summit. Beginning our mountain expedition with an acclimatisation trek through a dark and damp forest seemed to challenge our group; we longed to leave the leeches and rush to the glory of the glacier. However, this was the journey and just as important as the time spent climbing higher up. Unbeknown to us, this time was our training and an important time to rehearse the psychological skills that would condition us for summit day. Patience, perseverance, and positivity were needed to survive both ends of the physical spectrum from a monotonous rest day to a strenuous summit push.   

2)   Keep your mind in the present. Long days spent walking in silence can give your mind the opportunity to jump ahead of itself. This was most evident when thoughts became preoccupied with summit day. How cold would it be? Would the weather allow us access? Did we each have the strength? We had a long way to go and we could not know what lay ahead waiting for us. It seemed most helpful for our group to break things down and focus on one task at a time. This way objectives could be overcome hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and with small victories came greater confidence. 

3)   Be a team player. At times, it was difficult for us to stay connected as a team; individuals had their own ideas about how we should be progressing which led to a wish to separate from the shared needs of the team. However, it was vital to remember that we were part of a bigger picture. This consisted of the UK-based expedition team who had meticulously planned our itinerary and acclimatisation; our mountain leader; and the Sherpas, porters and kitchen staff who made it possible for us to even spend one night on the mountain. Although it was necessary for each of us at times to withdraw inwards and find the personal resources to withstand the hard times, we existed within a networkand were stronger because of it. It takes courage to let your team and your leader truly know you, and for you to come to know them; but in doing so, the connection you build will give you a deeper understanding of what the other needs from you. 

4)   Keep an open mind. It became an emerging pattern that predetermined expectations, rituals and routines could interfere with flexible adaptation to the situation at hand. The weather will not always conform to forecasts, favourite socks will not always dry, and available food may not always be to your taste. Be prepared, but also be prepared for those plans to change. 

In Part Two, Kim will explore detachment, finding humour and how to capitalise on it.

Thinking about Performing Well versus Thinking about How to Perform well


In this article I wanted to discuss how what you think about and focus on might apply to and help you on the rollercoaster that is an improved performance, whether that be a ParkRun PB or Ironman World Championship Qualification.  I will start from an academic perspective - without getting overly geeky (I promise) – and will move to the Practical Implications discussing why I get all the athletes I coach who are looking at any goal but particularly a big goal like World Championship Qualification to be Process Orientated and focus on How to Qualify not on Qualifying which is an Outcome Orientation.  

 In text books the Ideal Performance State is often quoted as being that mood where an athlete feels completely focussed on their performance and is confident they will achieve their best. It’s often likened to being on autopilot – the problem being though that for most triathletes, not least in an Ironman event lasting between 8 and 17 hours, this can be quite elusive.  In an event that long, the skills and abilities that represent this Ideal Performance State: mental preparation; complete concentration; self confidence; high motivation; ability to control activation and anxiety and ability to cope with pressure and anxiety are going to be tested to the limit. 

 There is solid research in this area for example, Gould, D.. Eclund,, R., & Jackson, S. The Sports Psychologist (1992), and also Hardy, L., Jones, Gould, D. (1996) Understanding Psychological Preparation for Sports suggests that the Ideal Performance State is related to adoption of a process goal.  Further that whilst the process goal helps an athlete - that an outcome goal (eg win/loss, position) actually hinders them from achieving peak performance.

 In other words triathletes who primarily focus on just the outcome of qualifying may be distracted by how well they are performing compared to others and focus on the anticipated outcome of their performance rather than the immediate tasks that need to be mastered for successful performance. Whereas if a triathlete adopts a process focussed, personal best approach then she or he is more likely to achieve a peak performance.  

 So what do I mean by this and how does it manifest itself in the real world.  Let’s take your upcoming Running Race or Triathlon; you could have two types of goals: firstly an outcome goal – I want to come in the top 10, I want to qualify etc or you could have a process goal and concentrate on that process – I want to swim efficiently with good stroke rate, I want to cycle at X Watts and keep aero and then run at Y min per mile pace with high hips and good form.  

 With the latter you know you’ve been swimming steady 1:40 per 100m in training in your 4k sets; you know that without any external uncontrollable factors, punctures, strong winds, you can hold 21 mph on the bike at that power and if you run well an 8:00 per mile is possible based on your standalone 3:00 marathon time. Those processes coupled with a couple of slick transitions may get you to your goal but will allow you just to think about those tasks and allow you to remain calm.

Athletes who primarily focus on just the outcome may be distracted by how well they are performing compared to others and focus on the anticipated outcome of their performance rather than the immediate tasks that need to be mastered for successful performance.  In the example above, if the triathlete is cycling at 21 mph and is process orientated they can relax even if it feels that everyone in the field is overtaking them as they know they are performing to their limit and there is a long run to come – the outcome focussed athlete will be in a state of anxiety which usually leads to negative thoughts: I’m so slow; I got my training wrong; I’m going to change my coach.  Further you have no control of other competitors – if there is only 1 entrant in your AG then you will qualify.  If you are of a certain age and 4 former Elite triathletes show up, think Molina, Tinley, Allen and Scott etc and decide they want to qualify and race AG then I suggest you will come outside the top 4 but you can’t control those factors.  The process focussed athlete will or will not achieve their goal regardless.

 Take home message: Focus on How to Win not just Winning Itself

 In one research study, Howitt, B., & McConnell, R. (1996), 88% of athletes reported an outcome focus during their worst performance.  Read that sentence again!  By examining worst performances it becomes clear that an over emphasis on outcome goals prevents athletes from performing well.  The focus during best performances should be primarily on skill mastery and be process centred.  If our triathlete is cycling along at the X Watts that they have trained to do and their HR is in the right zone, they are comfortable, and they are appropriately aero then they can relax.  They don’t need to expend energy thinking - every few minutes they can run through the check list and if all is well then they can just relax or modify anything that isn’t ideal.

 The bottom line is that if a triathlete adopts a process–focussed, personal–best approach then she or he is more likely to achieve a peak performance.  

 So what are the Practical Implications of being Process Orientated.  Above I’ve discussed why it is important for triathletes to understand the distinction between task (process focussed) goals and outcome (win focussed) goals – and the enormous impact that their goals have on their performance.  As a Coach I work hard to encourage athletes, such as Joe Webley who went from non swimmer to the 70.3 World Championships to develop a task-goal orientation, since these goals are related to the skills in which the triathlete must be competent in order to perform well and the only goals she or he has control of.

 During the actual race situation it is vital that the triathlete primarily adopts a task goal; however that does not mean she/he should not ever be focussed on the outcome. Winning is not a dirty word. I want all the athletes I coach to win but during actual performance I want them to primarily focus on how to win.  The whole point of competition is to determine who is the best so it is natural that athletes want to compare their competitive ability with others (an outcome focus).  Such a focus is not necessarily bad. An outcome goal can provide motivation and incentive for training just as much as a task goal.  Dreaming of Kona is what may get you out of the door when others are still sleeping.  However during the race itself the triathlete must be primarily task focussed to get into the Ideal Performance State and achieve peak performance.  There are some great recent examples of executing this process focussed approach one is Cat Morrison's 2010 Lanzarote win where she describes how she felt as an out of body experience – you can read about that race experience here Another example would be Chrissie in 2008 in Kona after she punctured.  Both these athletes sat at the side of the road, and could have thrown in the towel and then just kept with the plan and worried about the outcome later.

 It is this state that contributes to both success and enjoyment in sport. However, it doesn’t occur by chance very often – you need to plan to get there more often. You need to learn how to switch on your autopilot (perhaps this is Cat’s out of body experience) so that the Ideal Performance State becomes second nature.  The ideal is to get into that wonderful mental rhythm and flow where you barely need to think - you just do.  I love this quote from one of the Coaches I looked up to when I was making my way in Basketball; and I think it sums up for me the Ideal Performance State: 

 ‘That’s when I come alive; on the basketball court. As the game unfolds, time slows down and I experience the blissful feel of being totally engaged in the action.  My mind is completely focussed on the process but with a sense of openness and joy…That’s when you realise that basketball is a game, a journey, a dance – not a fight to the death…It’s just life as it is’

Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers basketball coach and nine times winner of the NBA Championship)

 So practice being more process orientated in training, practice turning your autopilot on and execute that on race day and maybe, just maybe if you focus on the process you might find yourself on the Big Island in October

Top Tips for Celtman Success


A good friend of ours, Andy successfully raced the iconic Celtman Scottish Extreme Triathlon this year. The Celtman is part of the Xtri World Tour and takes place in June in Wester Ross, Scotland and is centred around the stunning Torridon Mountains. Make no mistake - when they say this race is extreme they mean it; a 3.4km swim in cold, deep, jellyfish infested water, a 202km ride on the scenic but challenging Scottish roads and to finish a 42km run through an ancient drover pass up and over the Beinn Eighe mountain range. Being fit is only part of the equation for success; slick teamwork; specific preparation and an ability to adapt are all required. Following his success in the race we asked Andy for his top 5 tips for completing The Celtman and these are detailed below. 

 1. Firstly pick your team carefully and schedule in a training day a few weeks before the event.  Andy chose a team of three with different strengths, his fiancé for emotional support, a friend who is a great runner and whom Andy had done most of his Munros with, and a friend who is a long distance kayaker who has bags of experience with extreme events that require support.  Two weeks before the race the whole team had a day where they simulated the event in miniature so that the team could practice feeding him, clothing him, helping in transitions etc.  This does not have to be at the race venue and indeed in Andy’s case wasn’t. This was a three/four hour session which was purely for the team to practice; Andy threw in on the spot challenges for them throughout the day like changing clothes, pumping up tyres etc. so they were fully prepared.  In Andy’s words the first 30 mins were a disaster and if it had been race day he’d have been extremely stressed.  By the end of the session they had it totally dialled in and knew exactly how to support me as a team.  I can't recommend highly enough doing this session; there were plenty of ill equipped teams on race day!

 2.  Know the course like the back of your hand. By race day Andy had recced the bike course twice, once riding it and once in a car with a GPS looking for decent feed stops. He'd also been round the whole run course with his support runner. The first section of the run is in extremely rough terrain with the high likelihood of going off track, definitely worth checking it out before the big day.

 3.  The swim is cold and jellyfish filled. Wetsuit boots, gloves and under vests are allowed and it's worth considering using them. In the race Andy used all three but if he had to do it again he'd ditch the gloves. He practised a lot with them but felt they held him back when actually on the course.  His thinking was that they would protect his hands from stings but despite seeing loads of jellyfish, that wouldn't have been an issue.  The boots and under vest worked well though, and are well worth thinking about.  Despite there being hundreds of jellyfish Andy reported that he didn't actually mind them once I got going; they don't bother you and actually look quite amazing when you're swimming over them.  If you can practice swimming at the venue before the race you should, although in Andy’s case he didn't get the chance.

 4.   Shieldaig is a small place and it's very busy with cars on race day morning. If you're staying in the village this isn't an issue but if you are not, it's worth giving yourself an extra 30 mins to get into the village and parked on your way to transition.  Nothing worse than a rushed start to the race!

 5.  Celtman is not Swim-Bike-Run, it's Swim-Bike-Run-Hike. It's a 3.4km swim and a 202km bike and there's nothing you can do about that.  But the run is split between running and hiking and you should take that into consideration.  You have 11hrs from the start of the race to get to T2a and the cut-off for the high course, (to be awarded the coveted blue t-shirt) and the low course.  That means once off the bike you have to run 16k to get to T2a; after this it's impossible to do anything other than hike up Beinn Eighe, it's too steep to run. So in training after a big ride Andy would focus on a 16k run at a decent speed, rather than a slower 30k run for example.  Know your timings and what sort of pace you need to be doing once off the bike.

 All in all Celtman is a must do race for every triathlete’s bucket list. It is over subscribed so they run a ballot each year. If you are one of the lucky few that gets a slot then these tips will help you, and your team, be properly prepared.

Travel Tips for Triathletes


Having just returned from the fantastic Ironman 70.3 World Championships I have some recent experience of travelling with athletes and seeing the toll on the body that the travel takes.  Whilst travelling to a race is a necessary evil, and perhaps many of you are not going as far as SA, there are things to you do to ensure that you arrive in good shape to race.


  1. Wear your compression socks. Triathletes love compression gear! So I probably don’t need to encourage them to wear them however during a flight or a long trip, along with for recovery there actually is some science to suggest that they will help blood circulation and minimize swelling of the feet. There is pretty much no science to suggest that compression gear will improve performance however so I’ll save that rant for another post!

  2. Move. If you are flying to your destination race then get up and walk around every 20 minutes and avoid sitting too long. Stretch your calves while seated and standing. If driving or being driven try and stop every hour for a little walk around and stretch off the calves, quads and hip flexors.

  3. Food Choices. I’d bring my own healthy snacks on the trip, good airlines will allow you to book your food choices before you fly with meals being provided for special diets so make sure you do that. Stay hydrated but not overly saturated on the trip and avoid alcohol particularly on flights.

  4. Timing.Depending on the distance of travel I would always advise getting out to the venue early, in our case we flew on Monday and arrived on Tuesday ahead of the Women’s race on the Saturday and Men’s on the Sunday. Clearly for a more local race you don’t need to arrive this early but for the bigger 70.3/Ironman distance  type races I do feel this helps. 


I was lucky enough to meet six time Ironman World Champion Dave Scott in South Africa and one of the things we chatted about was training after a flight.  We had elected to fly through Doha, Qatar which actually has a gym and a pool so our Performance Edge athletes were able to get a little workout there during our 8 hour hold over and we incorporated some of the sets below.


When you book your trip ensuring you either have a pool at the destination or nearby and checking opening times can be a great help before you fly. If you can get a little swim in after arriving

The rationale of this swim set is really to shake off from the flight so keep the session short and keep the reps short. So swim 25s or 50s with a good 15-20s rest in between. Mix up the strokes so as well as freestyle, include some breast stroke and backstroke. Just keep the intensity nice and low and feel the benefit of being in the water after a long travel day.


Once you have build the bike then getting a little ride in after your travel day is also a good way to get rid of some fatigue from the travel

Again this is not a session more it is an opportunity to firstly check your bike mechanicals over and to ensure all is working correctly. If not you have time for yourself, or a local bike shop or expo mechanics to help correct the issue. Secondly it is a chance to blow away some cobwebs from the flight. Again keep the intensity low but I think on the bike including a couple of short pick ups of perhaps 20 – 45s is a good idea and also standing as well as sitting whilst riding to stretch the hip flexors. One thing Dave Scott mentioned was to drop the heel to stretch the Achilles and soleus.


A little shakedown run perhaps the day after a travel day can help to get you race ready. I know Ironman World Champion Peter Reid used to do a run straight off the plane when he got to Hawaii but this could be too much for us mere mortals so I’d advise triathletes to wait a day if they can 

Similarly to the swim and the bike the rationale of the run is to get a little stretch in or the major muscle groups that will have tightened on the trip. Like the bike I would add some 20s pick ups into the run but the majority is just a gentle jog. Dave Scott again talked about the Achilles on these runs and felt that walking backwards dynamically stretched the Achilles and hamstrings. During the run don’t be afraid to stop once warned up and have a gentle dynamic stretch of the calves, quads and hip flexors.

Finally when you are at these more major races you will see athletes in the days befor e the race going way too fast in their workouts. Stick to these post travel sessions and you’ll give your body the best chance to recover from the travel. Take it easy, make healthy food choices and you’ll feel more refreshed and ready to go for the next race. Which is the day you have trained to go fast!

Never Do More Than Is Necessary

all you need.jpg

For the ambitious athlete with equally ambitious training consideration should be given to their motivation and their specific goal. A solid motivation is to concentrate on the process and not the outcome and aim to be the best that athlete can be and the goal should be whatever target the athlete places the greatest value on. With runners and triathletes I would encourage them not to place too much emphasis however on the goal too early in their athletic career. It takes time to achieve appropriate levels of sport specific excellence and athletes should be allowed this time to develop, grow both physiologically and psychologically and potentially change direction.

In terms of the objective it is key that one should never do more than is necessary to achieve it. So programmes should not just build to a maximal training level and hold an athlete there, rather any programme should take into consideration all aspects of an athletes life, work, family and social commitments and ensure that there is a quality to the training that is fitted in around these aspects such that the athlete develops.

So when one looks into the specifics of training whilst mileage volume at a slower pace is needed to establish the cardiovascular base required by the aerobic sports that most participate in it should be limited to again being just enough to achieve the aim and no more. More is not necessarily better – for the triathletes I am tempted to repeat that! The risk of any over use injury should always be limited. When we conduct anaerobic work or the powerful stimulus of interval training it can quickly bring an athlete on but equally quickly can bring about fatigue and injury so it is monitored and used sparingly – no more than necessary for the individual athlete.

The harder the training or the greater the ambition of the athlete the more a Coach has to consider. Athletes should be encouraged to appropriately discover their limits but this must never be at the risk of pushing an athlete too far and if the mantra of Never Do More than is Necessary is heeded you give the ambitious athlete the greatest chance of reaching their goal.

The Polar Circle Marathon


It's quite common for us to have athletes racing all over the world but when one of my athletes, Jen came up with The Polar Circle Marathon on her event list this was something new and presented a number of challenges. I'm happy to say she overcame all of those and her race report is below.

"I saw this marathon advertised many years ago, and it became my dream. Never once did I think I would be fit or strong enough, physically or mentally to take it on. But one year into being coached by Neil Scholes, my strength and confidence grew to the point I saw it as possible.  2017 saw me on the start line.

The race presents many challenges, mainly due to the unpredictable conditions. For the first time this year, there had been little snow in the preceding week, so what little snow there was had become icy on the gravel road. The ice cap itself was just that, ice! No soft snow to give grip.  A recce out on the route the day before showed us all how difficult the ice cap was to stay upright on. Crampons were a necessity. The temperature was unseasonably mild, but the wind chill was unpredictable. The big questions all the runners asked each other and debated were: 'how many layers to wear?' 'Goggles or not?' 'Where to put on crampons?' and 'Will my gels freeze?' I quickly realised this was more than just running a marathon. It was going to be a mental game against the elements and adapting as the game changed.

The morning of the race came and still no snow. The big 4x4 truck buses were ready at 7.00am to transport us to the start. It was dark and cold. Most of us sat in silence for the hour and a half journey. At the start we left our drop bags with spare clothes/food etc to be transported to the various aid stations. They didn’t keep us hanging around for long. Dawn broke, and we were off.

The first few kilometres of the race were up a steep hill (not my favourite way to start a race! ) I had planned to wear three layers on my top: base/fleece/windproof and two on the bottom: base/windproof along with a buff and goggles. I struggled to breathe through my buff, but without it pulled up, my lips and nose became SO cold. The goggles protected my eyes completely from the wind thankfully.

Running on the ice was actually SUCH fun. The crunch of crampons in the otherwise beautiful silence was unique. I have never been anywhere so barren and exotic. I felt so happy and privileged to be there. My core strength kept me upright on the ice as others around me fell  (Thank you Motion Health! ) I was having a ball.

Coming off the ice cap and getting onto the gravel road was great, it was downhill! But very soon I realised how much I had sweated on the ice, and I was way too hot. At the 10k station I removed my soaking midlayer and just kept the base and windproof. Goggles came off, thin gloves went on. Unwanted items went in a labelled bag to be taken back to the finish line.

At this point I suddenly felt lightheaded and a bit nauseous, but an electrolyte gel soon righted that. Setting off again I was full of doubt as to if I’d made the right garment choices. I worried the weather would turn, or I’d get cold if for any reason I had to slow to a walk. Neil’s race advice rung in my ears, ‘Run the bit of race that you are in’.  Probably the best bit of race advice I have ever been given. This advice fits so well with the Inuit language and culture where there is only a present tense. What is past doesn’t matter now, what is in front you can't yet control. All you can do is live in the moment.  I switched my attention to the scenery, the amazing freedom and silence around me, and I did what I love. I ran. 

It was slow, or rather, I was slow, but every minute of that race I was running grateful. Occasionally I caught up with other runners, ran alongside for a while or walked up a hill together. The friendliness was above anything I’d experienced before. Runners from 26 countries were represented. The language of running was the same for us all.

Regulating temperature was the hardest part. I got way too hot in two top layers, but too cold in just one. I also didn’t get the fuelling quite right. I sweated a lot more than I expected, and I didn’t take on enough, so energy levels dipped a few times.  However, I was honestly sad to see the 41k marker as I realised my race was almost over. Many locals had come out to see the finish, and the cheering and flag waving was really appreciated. Crossing that finish line gave me the best feeling ever... a dream realised.

As an adventure marathon I’d recommend it. It was extremely well organised. The support from the marshals along the route was amazing. Warm drinks and snacks were available frequently. Standing out for those hours in zero temperatures can’t have been easy. Medics were available on the ice cap itself. I can’t fault the encouragement they gave. It was very welcome, as needless to say, there were no supporters along the route! From flights to accommodation, transport around, optional tours, Albatross Adventures had it all covered."

We'd love to hear about your races in far off climes so don't hesitate to contact us here

The Starman Night Triathlon


Last month it was my privilege to crew at The Starman Triathlon, an event that my neighbours Andy and Caz from True Grit Events were putting on. The Starman is a unique triathlon in the Scottish Highlands as it starts at midnight with a 1.2 mile swim in Loch Morlich; which for those unfamiliar with the location is about 10 miles east of Aviemore – where you will find the nearest street light. The 56 mile bike that follows takes you through Speyside and finishes with a tough climb up to the ski station car park at the base of Cairn Gorm where you start the final leg a 13.1 mile run. This run is no less challenging than the previous two disciplines as not only do you start by running up Windy Ridge to the exposed summit of Cairn Gorm you then have to run down and finally up and over Meall a’ Bhuachaille to finish at Loch Morlich.

As a Coach, crewing at this event gave me not only the distinctive advantage of viewing the rigours of completing a middle distance triathlon at night but also how each of the competitors adapted and coped (or didn’t) with the nuances of the event thus allowing me to form some advice for participants in not only the 2018 version of the event but also events such as this that take place when the sun goes down.

I think the first most obvious aspect of the race is that start time of midnight. Questions will arise in athletes’ minds as to whether they should, if possible, alter their daily schedule prior to the race and go nocturnal. I think a close second will be questions about eating and how to plan meal times around the race.

Looking at nutrition first, I would aim to eat 4 times on the day of the race making my last ‘meal’ around 21:00, i.e. 3 hours before the start, and I would make this my normal pre race breakfast. So if you were to race a marathon or a normal middle distance triathlon and you would usually have say a bowl of porridge and a banana for breakfast before it then that is what I would aim to eat at around 21:00. I would then work backwards through the day and perhaps eat my dinner slightly earlier knowing I’d be eating at 21:00 and also lunch and breakfast. One aspect to consider for this particular race is the venue and how you are going to make that bowl of porridge or whatever you are going to eat at night beside Loch Morlich. The majority of competitors were in tents so not too much of an issue but worth considering if your normal pre race meal was steak, eggs and broccoli.

With regards to the midnight start it is only one night so I definitely wouldn’t try and alter my life to try and be nocturnal. Anyone who has worked shifts, or has had children or even remembers back to their clubbing days knows that you can cope with one night with no sleep. Having said that I would look to perhaps trying to get a nap maybe in the afternoon or post dinner then get up for the 21:00 “breakfast”/Last Supper and then stay up.

I think the next and again obvious thing about the race is the darkness. It’s called the Starman, there is a clue there, and you see the stars when it’s dark. However living in rural Perthshire as I do we are perhaps more used to and accustomed to the dark. I have a head torch in my van for example so I can walk from it to the house at night, as our nearest streetlight is 3 miles away. The race venue is, as I have said is an even greater distance from artificial light - so when it’s dark it’s really dark. This leads to a number of aspects that need consideration: how will you cope mentally not only swimming in a Scottish Loch but out on a bike course in the pitch black potentially on your own; how will you cope practically in terms what lights will you utilise in order to see and be seen, and how aspects like looking at your bike computer which in the daylight are simple all of a sudden become a more awkward evolution.

Like many things in racing this comes down to practice. In the swim the competitors were issued with 3 cyalume light sticks, one on either side of their swim caps and one on the back of the wetsuit and each buoy was beautifully lit up. But if possible getting a few open water swims in the dark or even fading light would be useful but if not even just shutting your eyes for a few strokes in your local pool can help. Kitting your bike out with some great lights that give you great vision is paramount but also putting a light on your helmet works well as you then have vision where you turn your head. This is important to spot race and road signage, to look at bike computers and also if you glance to the side you illuminate there. Racing with lights in the dark can lead to a tunnel vision effect and this in itself can lead to feelings of motion sickness and nausea and a few competitors certainly reported this. However having some good lights and also trialling these if possible under similar conditions can eliminate it. Of course lastly, as with any triathlon, it is the responsibility of the competitor to know the route so if possible get to know the path the race takes and therefore when visibility is low you at least will have some recollection of where you are. At least one of the competitors had actually cycled the route at night - go to the top of the Coach’s class for perfect preparation!

There is definitely a discomfort element to racing at night. Your mind can and will play tricks on you and innocent shadows take on new forms. Keeping your mind quiet and in check is definitely part of night racing. It is very typical in races to have negative thoughts that you should have stayed at home and I think these are amplified when it’s at night. So yes there is a warm bed you could get into but you still can once you have finished and have that finishers medal! Again getting out for a few training sessions in the dark will bring some familiarity to the effects and allow you to stay focussed as you become more comfortable with the environment. There is also a beauty and stillness to racing at night and that feeling of dawn, especially as you descend Cairn Gorm, stirs something primeval in all of us.

I think lastly from a coaching perspective one aspect that often goes awry in any race is pacing and this is simply more difficult at night. Athletes these days are very accustomed to reading metrics such as heart rate, power, speed, pace, average pace etc from a multitude of devices but of course you may not be able to read them in the dark. Couple this with your visual perception being altered often leads to thinking you are moving quicker than you actually are. At night with the reduced vision, objects appear very quickly and it is this that leads to the assumption that you are travelling quickly. The answer, as in during day races is to get used to ‘feeling’ what a particular pace of effort feels like internally. So rather than relying on visual cues or even cues from devices that at night you may not be able to read well, practice instead getting in tune with your body and understanding what efforts feel like. Like everything practice, practice, practice.

Overall The Starman 2017 was a phenomenal inaugural event, I’m only sorry that I was crewing and not competing (although with a dislocated collar bone I didn’t have much option) and it is one that should be on every triathletes bucket list. 

Race Advice


Triathlon is a global sport and here at Performance Edge we have athletes racing throughout the year in a variety of locations. This week is no exception with father and daughter Chris and Katie H racing Ironman Wales, Chris R is also racing Ironman Wales for the 6th time, Faye is looking to put down another PB at the Clapham 10k having PB’d in 5k, 10k, Half Marathon and Marathon this year and Rosie is across in Chattanooga, Tennessee racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

So an assortment of races this weekend in a variety of locations and I’ll be pacing around like an expectant father checking various trackers; however despite the multiplicity there are actually many similarities in some of the advice I offer up prior to these events. I discuss specifics with the athletes but in general the advice below will stand you in good stead.

First up is to relax. Not just say it to actually physically practice it. I want my athletes to try and still their thoughts. Six-time Ironman World Champion Mark Allen used to talk about having a quiet mind and American fighter pilots in WW2 were trained to relax in the heat of battle. They got it so effective that they could relax in a room and even sleep when someone was firing a machine gun. So don’t let negative thoughts creep in and in your own races just relax and perform.

As a Coach I place no outward expectations on the athletes, I know they will do their best and work hard. They have already worked hard to get to race day and the actual race is merely an expression and a celebration of that hard work. That is all I ask so we don’t talk about times or placing or aspects we have no control over, we concentrate on the things we can control.

In the military we talked about the six P’s; Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance so plan everything. Plan what you will bring to the race and plan for every eventuality, consider how a perfect race would look and visualise that, plan the “action on” in other words what you would do if you had a puncture, if your goggles get knocked off in the swim, if you feel sick on the run. Consider it, make a plan, make an alternate plan and then race to those plans. If you were undertaking a long drive today you would actually plan it, you would make sure your car was full of diesel or petrol, you would buy some healthy snacks, you would plan a route or set the sat nav and I can tell you that the plan would change! You’d hit traffic, or be diverted so you’d have to adapt the plan. Same when you are racing in endurance sport, you’ll be out there for a considerable time and things happen. So plan for the unexpected.

Those of you who race know there is a lot of pre race posturing at the race venue, particularly in triathlon!  Other athletes always look fitter and stronger than me when I race but I know it all counts for nothing when the gun goes off. Other athletes will look more muscular, more lean, have better kit a better bike an aero helmet, a disc wheel than you but it means nothing. In fact staying out of this environment if it stresses you out a bit is always worthwhile. I encourage my athletes to spend as little time around others that are racing as they can. They go to register, they wander round the expo once, they go to any compulsory brief and check out the course, in triathlon they look at the flow through transitions and all aspects we need to know but we do all of that efficiently. I want them to keep themselves in their own world. In your own races resist expending any physical or mental energy that you don’t need to. Perhaps even listening to a Yoga Nidra podcast or soothing music might help - not heavy metal or the theme from Rocky! You don’t need to be amped up!

During the race itself concentrate on the process and not the outcome. Try and maintain that quiet mind and never give up. Just live in the moment, the moment is now. I emphasise this in training, I encourage athletes not to stress about a run on the Thursday when it is only Tuesday. Likewise in triathlon don’t worry about the bike when you are swimming, or worry about the run when you are cycling.  Just be the best you can be in that moment.

In an endurance event, nutrition wise you must keep the intake of carbs up. You need the energy to run and most people run out of energy on the run due to lack of nutrition and/or hydration. If you feel bad then go to water, for 20 mins and let your stomach settle. If you run out of energy go very easy for 5 mins and eat everything and you'll come good in about 20 mins. Better to lose 5 mins than 25 mins due to feeling bad.

Lastly I wish my athletes good luck; I always wish it because we all need it. Concentrate on the process and only the process and enjoy the finish line.


Long Course Weekend (Wales) 2017

One of the staple events now on the UKs multi sport calendar is the Long Course Weekend where every July since 2010, Tenby in Pembrokeshire, Wales plays host to what was a unique 3 day event, but now with the addition of LCW Mallorca and Jervis Bay is a growing family. It has grown from humble beginnings to now accommodate 8500 athletes over the weekend across all 3 disciplines and many utilising it as the perfect preparation and build up to the Ironman Wales event in September.

Beth has completed the event three years on the trot and this was my second time at LCW.. There are a number of options for each discipline but to qualify for the Long Course and that elusive fourth medal you clearly have to do the full distance in each event. The weekend kicks-off on the Friday evening with The Wales Swim. There are two options a 1.2 mile and a 2.4 mile swim and it takes place on Tenby’s North Beach. The Long Course athletes have to complete 2.4 mile swim. Whilst busy coaching one thing I have been doing in recent months is swimming and the weather was perfect for the swim this year. The course is a two-lap swim, for the full distance, with a so called “Aussie exit” and goes in a clockwise direction. The first buoy was reportedly 800m away but it seemed to take forever to reach it as the current was against us. However having turned at the buoy you could really lengthen the stroke and feel a slight push “downstream.  This event feels different to an Ironman branded event, with very little of the testosterone fuelled hype at the start and a much friendlier atmosphere. So straight away I liked it when I first did it. We had stayed in the same B&B in Tenby that we stayed at last year so we just walked down to the start in our wetsuit and used the bag drop for a change afterwards which was all very efficient. It was also quite nice to just do the swim and go back to the B&B rather than the thought of getting straight onto the bike.

On Saturday the attention turns to The Wales Sportive, and 112 miles of “undulating” Welsh countryside lined in parts with enthusiastic crowds. There are also shorter route options. This ride is extremely tough and some of the “undulations” are full blown hills. The weather this year was great and no sign of the rain we had last year and that made the descents much less sketchy.  I rode my road bike as opposed to my Tri bike as we are off for some cycling in France after the event but there are certainly large parts where you can get nice and aero on the tri bars.

To finish the weekend, the athletes have the small task of completing the 26.2 miles of The Wales Marathon, which is quickly establishing itself as a fantastic event in its own right. There are 5k, 10k and Half Marathon options with the latter two starting after the marathon. The Half for example starts 2 hours after the marathon start so if you are quick enough you will be cheered on by those runners waiting to start the half. I had a great run last year but not so this year, the weather was warm and sunny but I just did not have the run legs and I was not alone in this.  You can tell which event runners are doing by their bib colour and both spectators and other runners alike were appreciative of the Long Course athletes.

All in all I can thoroughly recommend the Long Course Weekend. It is challenging but more than that it is a well-run event with none of the drama that goes with the Ironman events, so no huge race briefing, no racking of bike or dropping of bags and it is conducted in an inclusive and friendly atmosphere. As long as the organisers keep a cap on numbers it will remain so. With the pick and choose nature of each discipline there is something here for everyone. For those doing an Ironman later in the year you could do the full swim and bike and perhaps just the 10k to save your legs for example. Entries for next year are open and if I was you I’d get on it. Lastly if I haven’t convinced you yet then perhaps the fact you get LCW branded beer in your goody bag might just do it!

If you have any more in depth questions about our experience of the event just contact us.


Some Race Advice from The Greatest

As a Coach there is one quote out of the many fantastic quotes that Muhammad Ali said that for me sums up the attitude that triathletes and runners should embrace come race day - “The fight is won or lost far away from the witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road; long before I dance under those lights.”

For me I think that sums it up well, you think about all the time you have got up early to swim up and down a 25m pool following the black line, you think about the hours on the turbo trainer and out on the road running and riding, you think about the logical hooks you have created, and all the times you have taken in the past to push yourself and not hold back. You put all of this together and when you are standing on the start line looking at the water and around at your other competitors you can tell yourself that you have done everything that you can do. You do not need to feel nervous or anxious about your performance, you have essentially won or lost the “fight” already. ALL you need to do is to be out there and enjoy it and rely on the skills you already have as you are not going to improve on them that day you are merely going to use the skill set that you possess.

So relax and enjoy it! After all it is meant to be fun!

If you train specifically and appropriately in your time “away from witnesses” then one day you might be able to proclaim, as Muhammad Ali did after beating Sonny Liston, “I shook up the World! I shook up the World!”


Eating & Sleeping Ain't Cheating

Having just finished our Performance Edge Triathlon Specific Camp in Mallorca I thought that I would write down some thoughts on training camps in general and why perhaps our camps are different to others and how we expedite the training.

The first aspect of the camp we have to address is the endemic overtraining that age group triathletes seem to embrace and then publicise that overtraining on various social media outlets. Conversely the dichotomy here is that camps actually are a vehicle to embrace greater volume of training. However it is the downtime that facilitates this. The first instruction the athletes are given is that the camp is about Eating, Sleeping and Training ….. in that order. It is the former two that allow the recovery and adaptation necessary to enable the latter. So whilst the athletes on the camp will train more than at home, the reason they can is that we have taken them away from work, family duties, social occasions and placed them in an environment where the down time, the eating and resting allows the recovery, adaptation and ability to go again.

With the swim we primarily look to increase the athletes frequency of swimming. In fact in our 6 day camp the athletes actually touched the water on 6 separate occasions. However these were not 6 eye balls out swim sessions. They comprised a mix of 3 early morning swim sessions to get the athletes used to the early morning start of triathlon and to get that discipline installed in them however at all times we were working on giving advice on timing and rhythm to give the athletes a nice, efficient, triathlon specific stroke. Once they had that their stroke was not altered and we just got them swimming and used to tapping out the rhythm over the given set. On other days we utilised the swim as recovery post bike session and these sessions are there to keep the frequency up in terms of touching the water but also to start the recovery process prior to the next day.

We schedule our programme to achieve a good equilibrium of hard work and easy sessions. Primarily this can be attained in our bike rides where a simple way of achieving this is to follow a hilly bike day with a more flatter ride or even a shorter recovery type ride. This protocol allowed us to ride 350 miles in the 6 days but without it really taking too much out of the athletes. Cycling on good, quiet roads in great weather is a very safe way of achieving a good volume of training and our athletes often comment that they couldn’t or wouldn’t get those rides in at home. In fact one of our campers, a medical Doctor, decided on returning home after the camp to extend her 8 mile cycle commute to 30 miles. She would not have been able to achieve that had we over trained the athletes!

Lastly we keep running to an appropriate level, with some recovery runs off the bike and other run sessions. The run days are typically separated by a non run day as on a camp any over running is certainly a recipe to smoke yourself. As with the bike and the swim sessions we mix up slower shorter sessions with faster shorter sessions with longer sessions and it is the mix that brings results.

So the take home message is that if you go on a training camp or do your own at home then yes do an appropriate level of training and remember that it is the recovery that facilitates the adaptation and allows for the increased level of work so your mantra should be Eating and Sleeping Ain’t Cheating!

I've started so I'll finish

One of our athletes, Ian Jones has written a nice piece about his thoughts on what it takes to stand on the start line of an Ironman and has linked it to how competitors must have felt on the show Mastermind. So without further ado over to Ian for his general knowledge round.

For 25 years Magnus Magnusson struck fear into the heart of any competitor that dared to sit in the black leather chair. I’m talking about the popular BBC game show called Mastermind where competitors battled to answer questions on specialist subjects such as ‘The history and genealogy of European royalty’. There could only be one winner in a season and they would be the one adorned with the title of Mastermind.

In many ways, the Ironman triathlon is exactly the same as Mastermind. Each and every competitor stood on the start line is struggling to breathe, not from their overly tight neoprene wetsuit but from fear. Fear of the challenge ahead, fear of failure, fear of Magnus appearing and telling them that their time is up. Everybody seems to know someone who has completed an Ironman and they all have varying tales of torture ready to distil, mostly revolving around the swim - “My friend Joe had 5 teeth knocked out during the swim.” Despite these stories, completing an Ironman is still a ‘bucket list’ item for a lot of people. Unfortunately for most, the ‘bucket list’ is where it will remain as the prospect of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles in under 17 hours seems ludicrous, a challenge too big, too daunting and one where failure feels very real. The feeling of the spotlight being on them is too much and they don’t have the luxury of a nice black leather chair to sit in!

In reality, the single hardest part of completing an Ironman is not sitting in the chair waiting for the start, it’s the preparation involved in getting there. If you can stand on the start line fit and healthy then barring a mechanical issue or just plain bad luck, there is nothing to stop you crossing that finish line and hearing the sweetest four words in triathlon – “You. Are. An. Ironman!” I appreciate you may be thinking that my comments are flippant or that I have lost my mind but there is a solid reason behind this argument. If you are stood on the start line of an Ironman, you have gone through the training, you've regularly set your alarm to wake you up at a time you didn't think existed and done numerous early morning swims. You've cycled in every type of weather condition possible and had parts of your body you weren't aware of go numb. You've ran like Forest Gump and done numerous 'brick runs' – this is just a fancy term for running 'off the bike' with very wobbly legs. You've spent hours trawling through the internet learning how to swim like Phelps, cycle like Froome, run like Farrah and have spent more money than credit card 1, 2 and 3 can cover. All in all you've become a finely tuned early bird with no money, ready to tackle and complete the long course.

In 2016, there were 2,094 athletes entered into Ironman UK. While that's not at the levels of perhaps a big city marathon such as London or New York, it is awe inspiring to see so many individuals who have gone through a tough, demanding training program. Completing an Ironman is most certainly not a walk in the park, it’s tough and extremely challenging. You may not have a specialist subject and you could be worrying about what happens next but just remember, the beeping you can hear is not time up, it’s most likely your Garmin reminding you that you’ve started so you might as well finish.

the importance of Endurance in Performance

Performance in the majority of endurance events is in the main determined by the maximal sustained production of power over the set competition distance. So to achieve a performance of running a sub 40 minute 10k you need not only to be able to be able to run sub 4 minute km pace but you need the trained energy systems in place to maintain that pace and power over 10km. At the end of the day it is the athlete that covers the set distance in the shortest time possible that wins the race. To achieve the best result requires an athlete to be in the best physical condition for the event and indeed many studies conclude that this it is this pure physical conditioning that is of primary importance.

To achieve this level many aerobic endurance athletes look to copy programmes from other successful endurance athletes or to select a generic plan from a magazine. This may actually be successful, if you are lucky and if your strengths and weaknesses exactly match the successful athlete’s programme you are copying. A better strategy would be to have a specifically designed programme constructed that is based on solid training practices and the principles that will bring about success. I further discussed Specificity of Session in this article.

The first part of any plan when it comes to physical conditioning for Endurance Events involves building that very endurance that the athlete needs. This concept has been utilised I suspect by about 95% of the most successful athletes.  Working daily with athletes I see the need to emphasise this endurance prior to working the speed endurance but this is not a new phenomenon. Indeed this approach was used by Walter George – who I hear you ask? – well Walter George was the world mile record holder back in 1896, but, as reported by Steve Ovett’s Coach it is an approach that has been used successfully through the agesfrom Sydney Wooderson (world 880 yard and mile record holder in the 1930s) through to Arthur Lydiard’s group in the 60s and 70s and indeed by Ovett himself.

It takes a long time to develop endurance which is why we stress it first and foremost and recommend a long, gradual build up in the first stage or a training plan. It is no good being fast in April or May if you can not hold that pace because you are short of endurance. The first priority in any endurance race is the ability to last the distance at a good pace. By working your endurance you will improve your oxygen uptake and this factor alone will mean you are better equipped to tackle the speed/endurance phase so particularly at this time of year in late January don’t forget that endurance aerobic work.

[1] Astrand, P.O., K. Rodahl, H.A. Dahl and S.B. Stromme. Textbook of Work Physiology 2003.

[2] Wells, C.L., and R.R. Pate. Training for Performance of Prolonged Exercise. In Perspectives in Exercise Science and Sports Medicine. 1995

Steady Runs - What Speed should you go?

When we are working with athletes we use a number of metrics to designate their sessions. With new runners we always start with describing the session in terms of the words: Easy; Steady; Tempo and Fast. These are to get an athlete to feel how they run; the actual pace will be determined by how the runner is feeling that day. If they’ve had a bad day at work or they are tired from an overload of social, family or work commitments and it’s cold and raining then a tempo run is potentially going to be slower than if they have just had a pay raise, the sun is shining and they are full of the joys of spring. However both are tempo runs in terms of effort it is merely pace that is different.  As a Coach utilising these words is useful because when athletes are tired we don’t need to make things worse by showing the runner that they are going slowly.

To explain the above runs in terms of effort Easy runs allow the runner to see improvement without breaking down. These should feel relaxed with easy breathing and the ability to hold a conversation whereas a Fast runs need no explanation and we will use these over short intervals or repeats.  Tempo runs are where runners start to stretch their physical boundaries. They are often described as controlled discomfort and require concentration.  You can utter a word or two but no more!  As you get fitter and stronger you constantly will push the envelope on these runs - they never get easy you just get faster!

Perhaps the most difficult runs to get to grip with are the Steady runs.  These are the bread and butter sessions, the "miles in the bank". These runs build your aerobic base that acts as the foundation for the rest of your training and are usually found to be on or around marathon pace. Conversations are possible in short sentences rather than a long conversation. One thing with these runs I believe is not to go too slowly but the idea is to FEEL what steady is.

As a runner progresses and looks to achieve a certain goal however then of course accurate pace sessions will come into the equation.  After all if a marathon runner is looking to break 3 hours 30 mins then they need to understand what 8:00 min per mile pace feels like, and to train at and around that exact pace. Here we would look to ensure that whilst some of the steady runs are to feel some of the long steady runs are not conducted too slowly and are to pace. For meaningful Steady Runs a useful metric I find is to take the time per 400m of the runners best 1500 metre time and add 20 seconds. So to explain; if we take our 3 hours 30 mins marathon runner I would expect them to have a best mile time of around 6 mins 30s or 98 seconds per 400m. Thus 98 + 20 secs = 118 secs = 7 mins 52 secs per mile as a steady pace in those meaningful shorter steady runs which is not a million miles away from their marathon pace of 8 mins per mile.  As a coaching tool it is a good ready reckoner to use in some of these shorter steady sessions.

By incorporating easy, steady, tempo and fast running into your own training whilst mixing up the use of feel and actual pace no energy system is ever neglected.  Throughout the year almost every system, whether it's aerobic, anaerobic, or neuromuscular, is worked on and we do this with our athletes from middle distance athletes to those running ultra marathons.  We do however emphasise different elements during different phases of training. So why not calculate your own steady pace using the formula above and give it a go and let us know how you get on.


Coach Jess Asks - What makes Kate Jayden tick!

Jess: So you’ve just finished Ironman Wales how are you feeling now? Are you still buzzing and how is recovery going? 

Kate: Recovery is going well but surprisingly this one took it out of me more than normal. After Ironman Bolton in July I was straight back to training a couple days later. Wales I really needed time out after. I did Chester marathon a couple of weeks later as a recovery run and even when I did my final 100 mile this weekend I could tell my legs were still not 100%. 

Jess: As a vegan what are your nutritional choices to promote recovery?

Kate: I really keep it simple. Loads of veggies and simple proteins. I actually love Tofu, but straight after a race I usually down a hell of a lot of chocolate soya milk! My next meal usually involves mostly protein such as tofu or beans and carbs. I usually have what I fancy after a big race. 

Jess: On average how much sleep do you get and do you think this helps or do you have any other speedy recovery tips for us.

Kate: I always make sure I get my 8 hrs. I've never had an injury and I put it largely down to this as well as efficient running form and good food. 

Jess: What would you say was a key session that prepared you for Ironman Wales physically / mentally that made you feel like "you got this"?

Kate: It helped having done Ironman UK two months before, but being petrified of the sea, the key for me was getting in the sea with my friend several times and my final sea swim a few weeks before really helped mentally. I also cycled London to Paris over 3 days for my birthday 5 weeks before and then again sub 24hrs 3 weeks before Ironman Wales. It really helped me realise distance was no issue. I wouldn't recommend so many events and neither would my Coach, Neil but I came to Ironman having already planned some events this year and I'm very much used to crazy levels of endurance events now and seem to thrive on it. 

Jess: If you feel comfortable can you recap on your decision to raise funds for the mental health charity, Mind and your history of anxiety attacks? 

Kate: I decided to fund raise for a mental health charity called Mind this year. This was because originally I was supposed to be going for a great PB at Bolton in July but I really struggled with panic attacks which became quite debilitating at times, looking like seizures and fits at their worst. Suddenly my goals of a PB looked bleak and I was just seeing my fitness and improvements I'd start making falling away. I had to take medication to help keep these under control. Beta-blockers cap the heart rate though which raises when adrenaline is released. A side effect of this was that in my fast runs I struggled, as I couldn’t reach my normally higher heart rates, instead it stayed lower than normal. I decided to be open about the depression and anxiety and the panic attacks I faced. I decided that there was only one way to tackle Ironman and it was to simply turn it into a positive. I decided that maybe it would help others to see that I wasn’t just some invincible warrior and that I was facing a very real struggle but still getting on with it and hopefully with a positive attitude. I decided to raise some funds to help others facing similar scenarios by raising charity funds. 

Jess:  Over the past few years you have completed a huge number of events. How do you pick your next challenge and how do you fit in your training and racing schedule around work?

Kate: Two weeks after Ironman Wales I ran the Chester marathon just as a slow recovery run and to socialise with friends. I then had autumn 100 mile run with Centurion Events on 16th October. It was the finale of the grand slam, which are 4x100 mile non-stop run events in 5.5 months. I finished and got my belt buckle for finishing the race as well as the series! I started with a marathon 5 years ago pretty much to the date and that was Chester marathon. I just loved it and saw it as quite social. I found I loved the way it changed my outlook on things and helped keep me focused on the positive recovery I'd made from an Eating Disorder. I never looked back after that. In 2012 I ran 14 marathons, 2013 I ended up doing 69 and broke the British record at the time for marathons ran in a year by a female. The following year I broke the same record again with 79 marathons and my first 70-mile ultra. I then ended up doing a 24hr run in the September 2014 and accidentally won. I never thought it possible but when I realised I was winning I ran my heart out and carried on to run 100 miles. That was the start of the ultra running that I now love. 

Now I have a good few weeks off to spend time with loved ones, friends, family and a few trips here and there too. On my longer weeks I trained 10 x per week including shorter sessions of 40 - 60 mins right up to a long 3hr run, 4hr ride or long swim potentially and on some weekends Coach Neil sets me all three. It's nice to have a few weeks down time now and with a full time job it becomes hard to balance everything. I sometimes work away form home and when I was at the start of this season I was living a few hours away from home in the week so training was actually easier to fit in as there was so little else to do after work being away from home. Now I work closer to home on a new project and I commute by train an hour each way to work in addition to the walk either side. I'm trying to use the time constructively to start writing a book! So far I managed to write the first chapter and accidentally delete it. Yes I'm that quality at IT!

Jess: Wow that is a lot of events. Were you sporty as a child?

Kate: I fell into it all really by doing a bike ride to Paris August 2011 on a vintage 5 speed bike complete with wicker basket. It was so heavy I couldn't lift the thing! That was for charity. I then agreed last minute to do Chester marathon in the October, with 3 weeks to go and I'd never run in my life. I was terrible! The most sport I ever did was tag rugby at age 14. However I should have realised I'd be a triathlete when on a caravan holiday and had a bike accident whilst cycling to the pool in my swimming costume! Perhaps I should have realised I'd be an ultra runner when one time in primary school age around 9 or 10 they set up a route for us to run in PE and I was the last kid to want to come in. I wasn't naturally sporty but had always been very mentally strong. That had been built into me at a young age through various life events. It would be that element that would push me into endurance events really in the long run. I've never really stopped in the last 5 years. I've always set myself a new challenge each year, largely something that seems ridiculous or impossible. I try and push myself and always seek out my boundaries. I'm a big believer that you don't know how far too far is until you go there. This is my life. It's my social life and where I get my enjoyment and see friends. It does take up almost all of my spare money and I don’t get paid holiday days in work due to being essentially self employed. I honestly don't feel I miss out on anything, in fact I feel like others are missing out on so much! I always make sure I eat well, sleep well and make time for other things too, especially important people in my life so I keep a balance to my life. 

Jess: How do you go about picking the event you do and what are you looking for in an event? Does the being signed up for an event motivate you to get out there and train when you are tired and the weather is grim?

Kate: It's simple for me. I set myself a challenge so big I'm not sure I can achieve it, and that is so big that I have no choice but to train for it. There's only so far mental strength will get you - even if that is most of the way! “Most of the way” is a DNF; “all of the way” is a finish! So when it rains or snows I just see it as winter miles make summer smiles! I knew I'd stand on the start line knowing I'd done my training well and deserved my place there. In an event I always look for a new challenge and to find my boundaries. I do a lot of events as often I see some of them as just part of training. Let's be honest if you're running 100 miles the marathon suddenly seems like a training run! I take holidays that often revolve around cycling, running or triathlon, but I did just do a beach holiday for 8 days. I failed miserably and managed a day at the beach, two days snorkeling, a day on a boat, a day out quad biking and a day in Cairo and Luxor, so ended up quite active still but I didn't pack my running shoes! Break through!

Jess: Do you have any tips to get out there when you really don't feel like it i.e. do you knock back a coffee and get some pumped up music in your ear phones? What is it that makes you keep going when you really don't feel like it and as you write in your Ironman Wales Race Report "your mates are down the pub"?

Kate: My tip is always to have a goal so big that you have to grow into it. A goal so big it scares you off the sofa and out the door. I actually gave away my TV recently as I wasn’t using it enough and it's too much of a waste of time and distraction. I'm less inclined to melt into the sofa then although I don't suggest you give way your TV of course haha! Always have a goal and focus though, a reason to want to get out there. I have a favourite playlist and will try new routes to keep me entertained. 

Jess: Do you have a magic snack or meal before key sessions and races?

Kate: Ironically I often have no breakfast at all before events and simply go straight into nutrition in race. Sometimes I will have vegan yoghurt and breakfast bar or something like that. Usually an espresso works well for me too and I do use caffeine in races at key distances or timings too. I have many various weird and wonderful favourite snacks for running in ultras or Ironman, including vegan salami, vegan sausages, vegan cheese, cereal bars, nuts, dark chocolate and dried fruit. I tend to fuel early on with carbs (alternating between complex and simple carbs having high and low GI) and later on switch to more fat based fuels in ultras. When it all goes wrong though sometimes you have to eat what you can. 

Jess: What has been your favourite event?

Kate: I love 24hr runs specifically as I find I complete in those instead of simply completing. I love the buzz of competition with other runners, trying for a place on the podium, but equally I love the events where I’m simple grateful to finish such as Ironman Wales, so I'd say Equinox 24hr run and Ironman Wales as well as Thames Path 100 as it was my first point to point 100 miler. 

Jess: Have you had a race when everything went wrong and it was miserable? Ever thought hmm I need a bit of a break from this and some time to do something else, as it's a huge time commitment to put in all these hours?

Kate: Oh indeed I did Thunder Run 2014 as my first attempt at a 24hr event and ended up with severe heatstroke, and lost all liquids and solids through sickness and the other end too! I had to sleep for a good two or three hours, which meant I lost my plan and eventually did get up and carried on but did 80 miles in the event which was a struggle. I do find time for other things though such as music, photography, painting and the odd pint! 

Jess: What made you sign up for coaching with Performance Edge and in what way has it helped you on your incredible journey?

Kate: I decided to ask Neil to become my coach when I needed some focus. My problem is I'll try anything and am a little fearless at times in terms of challenges. I wanted to really improve my Ironman time and Neil managed to help me do that despite us facing hurdles that my anxiety kept throwing at me as well as some life challenges. We decided Ironman UK was my A race. The grand slam of 100 milers was not my A race and he agreed to me doing them simply because I couldn't realistically cancel them and I couldn’t commit to doing them again the following year as it was such a big commitment. I didn’t have the long runs to train up to these but had a background of running these kind of events the year before so we knew I could just go and complete them rather than competing for good times. A lot of the events we treated as long training days. For 2016 we targeted a spring marathon during my Ironman training leading up to Ironman UK as my A race with Ironman Wales as my B race. I do feel I have compromised my Ironman potential by doing the ultras this year but I knew I had to do that this year, so Ironman was the priority and Neil trained me for that over and above all else. I don't train with a Tri club as I have specific sets for swims, runs and cycling that Neil sets me, but sometimes I have company on runs or rides if they are similar speed. I have a friend who often shares long rides with me which helped. 

Jess: So what’s left on the bucket list?

Kate: I have a few events I’d like to do but I tend not to have a bucket list as such but just do things as I feel and when I get chance. Some dream events are Everest marathon, Great Wall of China marathon, Ironman Kona (but I'd want to qualify instead of just going), Boston marathon (because I’d love to qualify for it), the Inca Trail ultra marathon and a whole heap of others mostly revolving around travel since that’s the only limiting factor. I have a Florida road trip planned in January which will take in a few marathons including Miami marathon, the Bahamas marathon and a skydive marathon starting with a 12,500 ft. sky dive! I tend to just decide I’m going to do something and find a way!

Jess: What would you say is the greatest thing you have learnt and got from this journey? 

Kate: Friendships and self-confidence as well as the ability to show others that the impossible really isn’t all that impossible. I've done a lot of things that most people scratch their heads at and say but how? When they see I'm a typical ordinary Northern lass who works full time and has a beer and eats cake, they realise maybe the things I do aren't so crazy.

Jess: Do you think the journey has changed you as a person?

Kate: Yes it's changed me for sure. I've learnt so much about myself. I've learnt I'm so much stronger than I ever knew and I'd always said I was a very strong determined person. It's also taught me I'm committed and focused as well as fun loving and happy!

Jess: Any funny or otherwise interesting story to tell us?

Kate: I ran my first marathon after agreeing to it after a few cocktails with a mate at the time. I'd never run in my life!

Jess: You clearly never sit still so what is next for you?

Kate: I've just ran my final 100 mile of the year which completed the grand slam (4x100 milers in 5.5 months May to October) which is the end of the season for me. Rest next and do the housework I neglected for 10 months and then back to training. Next year is mostly about ultra running for me. My main race will be TR250 a 250 mile non stop run, or more likely a long walk between buffet stations haha! I have a few other plans for ultras and a DIY challenge, which is 1000km London/Paris/London by bike and running. I'll probably do another Ironman but treat it as a holiday rather than competing or going for a massive PB. 

Jess: Lastly what is one thing about you almost none knows?

Kate: I actually love to sing, but funnily enough people are really surprised when they hear me singing full pelt at about 3am on the trails in 100 mile events, especially if it's a song I can hold a tune to whilst running too! Other runners sometimes remember me as that one who was singing and smiling


The Illuminator Run

I think it was Richard Askwith who said that there was ‘more to running than staring at a GPS and NOT eating cream cakes’ and I agree with the sentiment in that there are far greater aspects to running than merely worrying about losing weight and being a slave to watches. One of those greater aspects I feel is getting out into the countryside and running in some inspirational scenery. We are lucky here in Scotland that we can run by rivers and coastlines, go up hills and through glens, cross barren Highlands and weave between Lowland trees and the Winter is a great time to get out and do this type of running.

Just getting out on the trails is extremely accessible and great runs can be found almost anywhere and everywhere. You can combine the speed and ease of road running with the fresh air and open spaces enjoyed by hill runners. You can either just get out on a trail yourself or enter a Trail, Fell or Cross Country type race. Next week that’s exactly what we are doing as we are entering the Illuminator Run, a 15-mile trail race at night through the ancient pine forest at Glen Tanar in the Scottish Highlands. This is a beautiful run and without any light pollution it is pitch black and therefore good head torches, along with the mandatory emergency clothing, are absolutely essential pieces of kit!

Running in an event like this you can become extremely in tune with your running and can sense intensity levels and increase self-awareness and proprioception, sense niggles and how hard to push rather than trying to fulfill what a piece of paper or your GPS is telling you. We’ll let you know how we get on!

So this winter why not get out on the trails for a run; the most novice of runner can tackle many routes whilst others can provide challenges for the most experienced of runners. Trail, Fell or Cross Country running are activities that will hone the skill set and increase the practical strength of all runners and when you’ve finished the run why not have a cream cake!