Mental conditioning

Coach Tom's journey to Ironman 70.3, Mental conditioning, Training and nutrition, triathlon

Ironman 70.3 New Zealand, the FSA Way – Blog 2

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In the second installment of coach Tom’s blog series on using the FSA Coaching principles to train for the Ironman 70.3 NZ in March, we look at season planning, build up races and structuring the training year.

In the first blogpost in this series, I talked about the 5 principles of the FSA Coaching method.

Those 5 principles, nice and simply, are (in no particular order):

  1. Training should be fun and purposeful;
  2. Athletes should understand their goals and the path to achieving them;
  3. Make the most of your time through intelligent and targeted training;
  4. Train to race through race simulation; and (most importantly)
  5. Enjoy the process!

In this post, I’ll talk a bit about how we use the purposeful training and race simulation parts of those principles to plan a training and racing season.  As with any season, this year I’ve got major goal races, some other races that I fancy doing, small local races that would probably be fun and heaps of other commitments and plans that everything needs to fit around.  This is where season planning comes in.  Season planning is important to ensure our training and racing is optimised, to make sure our triathlon lives are realistic and compatible with the rest of our lives, and to ensure we know where we’re going with the season ahead.

Purposeful training

TrainingPeaks Annual Training Plan

I always use the Annual Training Plan (ATP) function in TrainingPeaks to plan out a season.  It’s an awesome tool for scheduling races, building a season and focusing on individual weekly training needs for a fully-periodised plan.

With the ATP function, you plug in your A (major goal), B (important build up) and C (just for fun) races, work out want shape you want to be in for your A races, and work backwards from there.

Once you’ve got your ATP nailed, you have a roadmap to your goal race.  Each week in the ATP has the areas to focus on clearly set out.  You can then start developing and planning the individual weeks to help you on the way.  Having this  ‘line-of-sight’ from the run session your about to do this morning to your goal race 6 months down the line is the ultimate in understanding your training and making sure it is purposeful and targeted.

Training to race by racing to train

The second part of this blogpost about season planning focuses on the value of lots of racing in the build up to your goal race.  Build up races serve a whole heap of purposes:

  1. Check your current fitness levels in a fun, competitive environment – let’s face it: smashing out a fast aquathlon is waaaay more fun than doing an FTP test in your basement…
  2. Practice race nutrition through trial and error – you’ve all heard “nothing new on race day” before, but that doesn’t stretch to C-priority build up races.  These are exactly the time to try something new and dial in your race nutrition through trial and error.
  3. Minimise the anxiety and nerves through experience and practice – anythingUntitled that reduces the fear and anxiety of a big race through familiarity and experience will help you stay focused, level-headed and confident when the goal race comes around.  For many, this will be getting more open-water swim experience in a crowded, race-like environment.  But it could equally be practicing transitions, running off the bike and anything else.
  4. Have some fun with your mates – Racing short, inconsequential events is fun.  Nuff said.

Too often, I’ve seen Ironman athletes line up on race day having done 1, maybe 2, half in the build-up, almost paralysed by the fear of what’s ahead.  Don’t be that guy/girl.  Race often, race for fun, race for experience and you will feel more confident, more relaxed and more ready to take on whatever the day is about to throw at you as a result.  I guarantee it.

My own approach

So what does this all mean for my own build up to Ironman 70.3 NZ in March?  Well, I’ve dialed in my ATP and I know exactly what I need to do in each training block, each week and each session; I’ll use each session for the specific purpose it has been designed towards the goal race; and I’ll be racing often (Rotorua Quarter Ironman, Kinloch Triathlon, as many of the Wellington SplashandDash events as possible, heaps of 5ks and Parkruns) and not worrying too much about the outcome of those races.

In the next blogpost,  I’ll look at the need for training to be intelligent and targeted.  For many age-group athletes, this means making the most of the time and the tools available to you.  You might call it getting the most bang for your buck.

Never miss a post

If you want to make sure you never miss a post from the FSA Coaching blog, subscribe below and join me on my journey to Ironman 70.3 NZ in Taupō in March!  I’d also love to hear your comments or thoughts on this series of blogs so please leave a comment or get in touch!

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Coach Tom's journey to Ironman 70.3, Mental conditioning, Training and nutrition, triathlon

Ironman 70.3 New Zealand, the FSA Way – Blog 1

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UntitledThose of you that saw my recent Instagram post will have seen that I’m going to be using the principles of the coaching method I’ve developed for FSA Coaching to train for the Ironman 70.3 NZ in March, blogging my progress on the way.  That’s five months to develop my endurance base, hone my 70.3 race skills, strengthen my core and develop my mental aptitude, all while striving to be the best father and husband I can be, working the day job and helping my fabulous FSA Coaching athletes achieve their triathlon goals.  Sounds pretty full on, but that’s where I’m hoping the principles of the FSA Coaching method will help me navigate through this potentially complex maze!

So, in this first blog post in the series, I thought I’d set out just what the principles of the FSA Coaching method are.  As the Instagram post said:

At FSA Coaching, we are all about #triathlon training being full of #fun, #spirit and #adventure. We also believe in maximising #trainingefficiency using #metrics, #tools and #trainingaidsExpect to see lots of #mtb, #TrainingPeaks metrics, #zwift workouts, #timetrial specific training, #openwaterswimming, #100m repeats, #intervaltraining, #trailrunning, build up #races and more.

Nice and simply, the FSA Coaching principles are:

  1. Training should be fun and purposeful;
  2. Athletes should understand their goals and the path to achieving them;
  3. Make the most of your time through intelligent and targeted training;
  4. Train to race through race simulation; and (most importantly)
  5. Enjoy the process!

Hopefully these principles are pretty self explanatory, but in future blog posts I’ll expand on each of these principles and explain how they guide my _IGP5940training and how they manifest themselves in the training week.  They’re a complementary bunch of principles that fit well together, help me get the most out of my sport.

If you want to make sure you never miss a post from the FSA Coaching blog, subscribe below and join me on my journey to Ironman 70.3 NZ in Taupō in March!  I’d also love to hear your comments or thoughts on this series of blogs so please leave a comment or get in touch!

Enter your email to receive notifications from the FSA Coaching Blog

Mental conditioning, Running, Training and nutrition

Winter XC makes you run faster (whether you like it or not…)

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Wet feet – par for the course!

In today’s post, I’m going to give a quick sermon on the benefits of running cross-country (XC) over the autumn and winter for run speed, anaerobic fitness, mental fortitude and a muddy good time (yep, you can get all this and more from XC running)!

Here’s what I mean:

  1. Run speed – you run fast in XC, and that make you faster.  You have to run fast, the distances are usually short, everyone else is trying to run fast.  Trust me, you’ll want to run fast!
  2. Anaerobic fitness – the type of intense high-speed surges and hill climbs you put in during an XC event will get you doing a fair amount of anaerobic metabolising pretty early in the event.  This is not a place you can very easily put yourself in a controlled training session (nor would you want to very often) but there are very really benefits of this type of session for distance running.
  3. Mental fortitude – this is really a product of points 1 & 2.  You’re running fast, you may have been redlining from the gun.  It hurts. But you’ve got to keep pushing.  That way mental strength is formed.  There are many events where it’s possible to think “I can’t keep this up!” but there aren’t too many quite like XC where you’re lungs are burning, your legs are burning, the mud is getting muddier and the hills are getting steeper.  It’s an honest sport.
  4. Muddy good time – you can probably work this out for yourself.  It’s running off road.  In winter.  It’s muddy.  But, as I’ve already mentioned, distances are usually short.  You can race, shower, and still be in the pub for a quick celebratory half before dinner.  It doesn’t get much more fun than that!

After an autumn and winter of this sort of running, you can’t fail to see improvements in your run split during your next triathlon.  If it’s good enough for the Brownlee brothers, it’s probably good enough for the rest of us!

Under starter’s orders…

The good news is it’s not too late to join your local running or harriers club for the season (if you’re in NZ), chuck on a club singlet and some spikes, and start building that run speed, strength and power and mental fortitude to take with you into the next summer’s triathlon season!

If you’re a Kāpiti local, we’d love to see you running with the Kāpiti Running & Tri Club, in our awesome club colours, this XC season!

Mental conditioning

Outcome focus Vs Enjoying the process

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Here at FSA Coaching, we’re pretty big on understanding why our athletes do the sports they do.  We love to understand what motivates an athlete to get out of bed at 5.30am to swim laps of the pool, what drives them to push that little bit harder in a tough interval session and what they enjoy about the competitive nature of triathlon.

Triathlon is a tough sport often requiring huge personal, financial and emotional sacrifices.  A good understanding of why you take part and what you get out of your sport can go a huge way to ensuring a healthy and long lasting relationship with triathlon.

UntitledI often talk about the difference between an outcome focus and enjoying the process.  This blog post explains a little about what these terms mean to us; some of the pros and cons of them both; and how I believe the commitment to a positive attitude and mindset in our sport brings huge benefits to both longevity of participation and racing performance.

Outcome focus

Triathlon, like many endurance sports, is very easily defined by performance outcomes.  It’s an individual sport, primarily based around racing.  We don’t know many ‘non-competitive triathletes’ (i.e. people who identify as triathletes but don’t take part in triathlons).  Others in the sport are usually interested in what time you did for the Ironman, what place you came in the half-marathon, what your PB is and so on.

Couple that with the personality type most often attracted to the sport of triathlon and you end up with a serious focus on performance outcomes.  For many triathletes, both age group and pro, it can be easy to feel like your race results define who you are as a person.  That is the pinnacle of an outcome focus.

There’s so much that can go wrong in triathlon.  From an illness or injury that lays us up for a few days (or worse still, weeks) and affects our CTL score in the build up to an A race, to choppy water causing a slower that expected swim on race day or a puncture on the bike.  These things are often beyond our control.  But the outcome focus doesn’t care about this.

Like the feeling after you’ve summited a high mountain, any outcome achieved, even if you ticked off all your goals, can often be followed by a post-event low that carries many symptoms of depression.  That’s not to mention the feelings associated with not performing to your pre-event expectations.

The outcome focus approach is very easy to define: “I want to go under 5 hours for my half-ironman“; “I want to win my age-group“.  It can be good for short term motivation: you see your mate post a sweaty post-workout photo to Instagram so you go and push that next turbo-trainer session that little bit harder as a result.

Enjoying the process

Enjoying the process, in triathlon terms, means being present in the moment throughout your training and racing.  Essentially, we’re talking mindfulness.  There is an awful lot of information available on mindfulness in a range of settings, including in endurance sport (here’s a great article on incorporating mindfulness into your triathlon training).  To us, it boils down to one simple concept:

We all take part in triathlon for fun, so we’d better make bloody sure we’re enjoying it.

It’s really easy to get caught up in the outcome focus.  That’s OK to a point, but the problem arises when you get so caught up with what you’re watch is saying (or worse still, whether you’re as quick as someone else) that you miss the majesty of the sunset, or don’t notice that elusive feeling when you’re gliding through the pool and you’ve attained swim-stroke perfection, or you can’t go for a ride with your mate because you’ve got to do a 3 hour indoor session to hit your TSS points for the day.

Being present in the moment and enjoying the process allows an athlete to do the hard yards, whilst still immersing themselves in the wonder of physical exercise, nature’s beauty and the social and emotional benefits of training with your mates.  It improves our focus on good form, technique and mental conditioning.  It ensures we’re doing the things we enjoy for the reasons we enjoy them.

Pros and cons

This table sets out a few pros and cons of the outcome focus and enjoying the process.

Outcome focus Enjoy the process
Pros Easy to define goals Leads to intrinsic enjoyment of training and racing
Useful for short term motivation Longer term benefits
Bragging rights when you’ve got a tangible result Training is never (OK, almost never) a chore
Cons What next syndrome – never totally satisfied Can be a difficult mindset to get used to
Failure to achieve goals can result in negative feelings Harder to define short term performance goals
Can led to feelings of inadequacy and/or constant comparisons with other athletes

Practical example

Here’s a little practical example of how the two approaches can play out.

UntitledIt’s race day for your A race of the season.  The swim is in the ocean and training has been going well, but there is a decent chop on the water and some good waves hitting the beach.

  • Outcome focus – “I want to do the swim in 1.15.
  • Enjoy the process – “Woah, that’s some rough water.  Time to put my open water practice in to effect and give it my best effort.

Like everyone else, the swim takes you a while longer than expected.  You swam to the best of your ability, rode the waves coming back to the beach like a boss, but it still took you 1.25.

  • Outcome focus – “I’m 10 minutes down on my target time.  That’s too much to pull back on the bike.” OR “I need to work extra hard on the bike to pull back that 10 minutes.
  • Enjoy the process – “That was really tough, but I caught some good waves, used my open water skills and nailed it in really tough conditions.  Now time to focus on the next stage of the event.

The outcome focus will either have you fretting that you’re never going to make up the 10 minute deficit, or over-exerting at the start of the bike to try and make up the time.  Either way, your race plan has probably gone out the window.  Enjoying the process lets you put the swim conditions to one side and focus on the next part of the event, the bike, staying in the moment and unaffected by your swim time.

Enjoyment begets performance

Photo 014Don’t get us wrong, at FSA Coaching we strive for peak performance and helping our athletes get the best out of themselves.  We’re fully committed to the use of performance measures, training aids and all the functionality of a service like TrainingPeaks (we use TrainingPeaks heaps to set goals and track progress and we deliver our training plans through TrainingPeaks).

But this is only one part of the coaches role and all this data is only useful if you’re getting decent levels of enjoyment out of the training and racing process.  We work with our athletes to fully understand their motivation, their goals and how triathlon will enhance their lives.  To us, triathlon and other endurance sport is, and always should be, so much more than “what’s your PB?“, “what position did you come?“.

For athletes who want to spend more time working on this aspect of their sport, a really good exercise is to take 30 minutes to write down why you take part in triathlon.  Be honest with yourself.  What is it that makes you get up early or push that bit harder?  It may be confronting at first but it will help you to understand your motivation and hopefully increase your enjoyment of the sport.

I’ve spent many years fine tuning my own enjoyment of the process.  For a long time, I was under the impression that my athletic performance was somehow a proxy for who I was as a person.  But as I become an older and wiser(?!?) athlete, and as other pressures in life have required me to take a look at where my priorities lie, I’ve worked long and hard to make sure that training and racing enhances my life and doesn’t increase my stress levels.

Mindfulness may sound at times like you’re just pootling along enjoying the scenery.  But it actually has some huge performance benefits:

  • It allows you to focus on your form and technique right now;
  • It allows you to put any hiccups in your training and racing behind you, without affecting your approach to the next discipline/training session.  The mental benefits of this are huge.

And you can still enjoy the scenery as you go if you like!

Let’s face it, for most of us no one is ever going to pay us for our performance.  We’re here for the love of it and so enjoyment of the sport is paramount.  For me, the realisation of this has resulted in my race performances actually improving.  As I hit my (very) late 30s, I find I’m faster than I was in my 20s when results were everything.

FSA Coaching is here to help you achieve your triathlon goals, whatever they may be.  And we can help you work towards a clear understanding of why those goals are important to you.  Get in touch if you want to discuss your goals or feel free to comment below and start a conversation!