Training and nutrition

Coach Tom's journey to Ironman 70.3, Indoor training, Training and nutrition, triathlon

Ironman 70.3 New Zealand, the FSA Way – Blog 3

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In the third 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 the use of intelligent and targeted training to make the most of the time and the tools available to you.

Fitting in a high intensity bike session after the kids have gone to bed…

You’re all busy people, right?  You’d love to have 35 hours a week to train, just like the pros do.  Heck, you might even be as good as them if you trained that much… 

But anyway, in the real world you’ve probably got about half the time that you’d really like to train and even then it’s early in the morning or late at night when all the other priorities are sorted.  And that’s OK.  I totally get this.  There are those who are lucky enough to be in a position to put their training above everything else in there life.  For the rest of us, we have to make our training and race work as part of our wider life and responsibilities.

We want to get the most bang for our buck and that’s where intelligent and targeted training comes in.  Intelligent and targeted training, in this context, means:

  • Training at the right intensities (which means a bit more testing than you might like…)
  • Using training time efficiently and effectively
  • Tracking progress and using feedback to tweak and refine
  • Using (but not being a slave to) gadgets, tech and data
Tracking progress with good, old-fashioned data

Here at FSA Coaching, we’re big on the use of data, feedback and testing to get the most from our training. We use TrainingPeaks, which is a fantastic tool for planning, monitoring and tracking progress. It allows our athletes to track their training, see what they’ve got coming up, make sure they’re training at the right intensities and, probably most importantly, provide a subjective comment on how a training session felt.

But as with any data-driven method, the outputs are only as good as the data you put in.  And that’s where the testing and intensity-setting comes in.  As part of any well planned training programme, it’s critical to test regularly to see how things are going and to tweak training intensities.  We try to test every 4-6 weeks (maybe a little less frequently for FTP testing – it hurts…) as part of a regular cycle of periodised training.  Tweaking intensities makes sure we’re always pushing the ceiling up a little higher.

  • We regularly test our athletes for:
    • Critical Swim Speed (CSS);
    • Functional Threshold Power (FTP); and
    • Threshold run pace.

In my build up to Ironman 70.3 NZ in March next year, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  I’ve been swimming my 3x300m CSS tests in the pool, suffering through the FTP test on Zwift and running threshold tests at the track.

FTP testing….brutal

With each test, I’m using the feedback to amend my training zones (hopefully upwards…!) for swimming, biking and running.  I’m using the cold, hard facts of the results from my training and testing to build confidence that the training is working and I’m heading in the right direction.

In the next blog, I’ll update you on some of the early season events I’ve been using to tweak and refine the race plan before the big race goals later in the summer.

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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 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!

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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!

Indoor training, Training and nutrition

Get your (right) gear on

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Anyone that’s watched the Tour de France will have noticed that some cyclists turn their pedals much faster that others.  Scapegoat for a generation, Lance Armstrong, was notorious for spinning a low gear with lots of revolutions.  Chris Froome is the modern day spinner.  At the other end of the spectrum, Jan Ullrich, always pushed a big gear.  For our younger readers, Frenchman Damien Gaudin is the quintessential big gear pusher, with pretty good effect (just watch some footage from this year’s Tro-Bro Leon to see what we mean…)

So why do different riders favour different cadences, and does it matter to the everyday triathlete looking to maximise their performance in the local club race? (The answer’s yes).

What is cadence?

Quite simply, cycling cadence is the number of revolutions of the cranks per minute and is expressed as revolutions per minute (rpm).  Put your bike in a lower gear and you will need to spin the pedals more times to achieve the same distance than if you were riding a bigger gear.  In the higher gear, less revolutions will cover the same distance but more power will be required.

Pedaling dynamics

AA_Wattbike_Polar_View_(539x421)Of course, there’s a lot more to efficient pedaling than finding the right cadence.

We don’t really want to get in to the finer details of pedaling efficiency and technique here.  There are lots of studies and advice pages and forum posts and on and on and… that cover this subject and for now we’ll leave it at that.  If you’re interested, have a look  here or may be even here!

Finding the right gear for you

No two cyclists are made alike.  That’s why it’s important to find the right cadence for you rather than trying to emulate your personal hero (even if your hero is still Lance…)

There is no perfect cadence.  A cadence of 80-100rpm is usually quoted as the normal range.  And most cyclists will spend the majority of their ride time in that window.

In the example below, you’ll see that one of our FSA-coached athletes completing an over/under gear session was working 3-4bpm harder for the same normalised power at a cadence of 75-77rpm when compared to a cadence of 95rpm.  Keeping a lower heart rate to achieve the same power output is obviously the goal here so efficiency-wise this athlete is going to do better at the higher cadence.

These are 4min reps alternating overgearing and undergearing (with 4min recovery). For the same normalised power (260 watts – 95% of threshold for this athlete), heart rate is consistently 3 or 4 bpm higher for the overgearing reps.

Experimenting in your training to see what works best for you is the best way to work out the cadence range that suits you best.  Having power, cadence and heart rate data can really help with this, but it’s also just as worthwhile recording how things feel at different cadences.

Having said all that, training at different cadences will benefit most triathletes by preparing you to cope with a range of terrains, conditions, road surfaces and race situations.  Big gear intervals will develop strength.  Small gear or single leg intervals can help to improve pedaling efficiency.

Other factors

There are a few physical factors, like getting the right bike fit and crank length for your body shape, that also influence pedaling cadence.  That’s a topic for another blog.

Is it different for triathletes?

Cyril-DesseThere is one big difference between cadence for triathletes and cyclists.  At the end of a bike ride, a cyclist will usually hit the cafe for an espresso.  A triathlete has to get off their bike and run anywhere between 5km and 42.2km as fast as they can.  Does this make any difference to what sort of cadence a triathlete should be riding?

You’ll get lots of advice to spin the last few kms of the bike leg to “flush the lactic acid out of you legs“.  I haven’t seen any studies that confirm this and, in all honesty, I have absolutely no idea whether you’re flushing anything by doing this, but I do know from years and years of practice that animating the legs through a higher, easier gear will get them turning over better at the start of the run.

For the majority of the bike leg, I’ve yet to see any real evidence that a higher or lower cadence is really any better for triathletes (when compared to cyclists).  Looking at pro triathletes, you see just the same range of cadence styles as you do in the pro peloton.

Suggested sessions

Here are a couple of sessions that will help you work on your cadence:

Session 1 – High cadence intervals (60 mins)

This session is designed to work on high cadence for an improved pedal efficiency

  1. 10 min easy warm up
  2. 15 minutes as 1 min right leg only; 1 min left leg only; 1 minute easy spin
  3. 2×10 minutes increasing cadence with 5 minute recovery (start at 75rpm and increase by 5rpm every 2 minutes)
  4. 10 minute easy spin cool down

Session 2 – Over and under gear intervals (90 mins)

This session is designed to work on a range of cadences to build strength and efficiency

  1. 15 min warm up – increase effort every 5 minutes
  2. 8x(4min hard; 4 min easy).  Alternate the hard efforts as  odds overgearing <80rpm; evens undergearing >90rpm)
  3. 12 minute cool down – decrease effort every 3 minutes

Get in touch if you want either of these workout as TrainingPeaks or Zwift workout files.  I can e-mail them to you.


Working on optimising your cadence may sound like something only the pros need to worry about, but any triathlete can get benefits from working on building pedal efficiency and strength at a range of cadences, whilst also experimenting with different cadences to work out what just feels right.  Here at FSA Coaching, we can help you with a range of sessions, skills and drills to build your pedaling strength and efficiency.  Get in touch if you’re keen to work with us!

And check out this video from the guys at GCN for some great insight…!

Training and nutrition

Still poked…

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Over two weeks since Taupo Ultra and I went for my first proper leg stretch last night.  I’m still a little bit poked…  It may have been the Melbourne Cup beers but I’m sure the body is still fairly weary from the pummeling it received in mid-October.

I huffed and puffed round a flat and easy 10km loop through down the beach, through Queen Elizabeth Park and home.  I was pretty spent when I got home.

Similar to how I felt post-Ironman, you just don’t know quite how deep your body went until you try to do some exercise.  I’ve read some interesting articles on how to recover properly from serious endurance events but in my view, you cannot underestimate how much these sort of events take out of you.  The secret to a long and enjoyable athletic career has got to be avoiding burnout and I reckon one of the primary causes of that is not letting the body bounce back fully from those really depleted places you put it in during these events.

The older I get and the more I value lifelong participation over flash-in-the-pan success, the more important I think this is.

The moral of the story? Go easy in the post race phase.  Recoup, take stock, drink some wine, make some plans, cook your partner dinner, play Lego and snakes and ladders with the kids.  Your body (and probably your soul) will repay you tenfold when you start asking those tough questions of it in the next build phase.