Craig Kirkwood - Coach of Hayden Wilde and Sam Tanner | EP#220
Craig Kirkwood is a former elite runner, Kona finisher, and coach of age group and elite triathletes and runners like Hayden Wilde and Sam Tanner. In this episode he discusses his coaching methodology and thoughts on training strategies in particular for draft legal racing at the elite level as exemplified by Hayden Wilde.
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In this Episode you'll learn about:
- IN THIS EPISODE YOU'LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Craig's general coaching methodology
- Coaches and methods that influenced him as a young runner
- The training of Hayden Wilde
- Group training vs. solo training, and why solo training works really well for Hayden
- The balance of volume and intensity
- Advice for age-group athletes
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About Craig Kirkwood
- I have been involved in endurance sports for a very long time.
I started as a youth runner (14 years old) and progressed through my running career eventually ended up focusing on the marathon (2:13 was my best marathon time).
I tried to qualify for the marathon of the Beijing Olympics but didn’t achieve that goal.
- Within the following year (in 2009) I did my first Ironman and since then I have progressed through triathlon.
In my first Ironman (Ironman New Zeeland), I was first age grouper and around 8th place overall (in 9h 9min, with a 2:54 marathon split) and subsequently qualified for Kona.
I have raced Kona an additional two times (in 2013 and 2015 I believe).
Unfortunately I have never been able to do well in Kona, it is very difficult to acclimatize from the New Zeeland winter to the heat and humidity of Kona.
- Throughout my running and triathlon career I was pretty much self coached for the entire time, so there has been plenty of ”trial and error” on the way.
The pros with self coaching was that I learned a lot about myself, training and coaching but with the downside of that I didn’t run very well.
- Currently, I coach around 50-50 in terms of runners and triathletes, and there is a very broad range of the levels of the athletes I coach, from runners like Sam Tanner with a sub 4 min 1 mile pb and pro short course triathlete Hayden Wilde to recreational runners with the goals of breaking 2h on the half marathon or triathletes striving for completing an Ironman.
- Formally I set up my coaching business in 2013, but that was merely a formality of something that I had been doing for a very long time prior.
As early as 1999-2001, in London, I played a role as an assistant coach for Tim McDonald, who coached world elite runners, some of them world record holders and Olympic champions.
One of the overarching things I learned from Tim and my time in London was that as long as you do put in a lot of work at the right time, do it well and make sure you recover sufficiently from it, then most athletes will run well.
This is something I really took with me and try to pass on to my athletes, the small details probably aren’t that important, the big picture is what matters.
- When I was self coached I was really influenced by the Lydiard model and there are certain elements of the Lydiard training principles that I still consider important, such as to make sure to get the milage in and keep at least one longer distance run every week at a reasonably high intensity.
For Hayden Wilde, such a longer run would typically be around 1h 30min and in that time he would cover a distance between 21-22 km.
For age groupers training for the half Ironman, I would typically look at time on their feet rather than distance, a good target for most would be to strive for a total duration on their long run that is pretty similar to what their run split would be on race day (maybe slightly longer for the fastest amateurs).
For the Ironman distance I would typically let my athletes run up to or slightly above 2h, however, that could be coming off the bike making it a 3-4h long brick session in total.
- Hayden probably does 80-90 % of his training alone, sometimes he trains with Sam or some junior athletes, but it doesn’t seem like that affects him negatively, it could rather be the opposite (both from a mental and physical perspective).
- In general, I believe that in terms of training effect, most people would benefit from training on their own rather than going out in groups, it touches upon the Lydiard philosophy of not going too easy on the endurance sessions
- I’m the kind of coach that demands hard work from my athletes, I am pushing them hard most of the time but of course, this needs to be balanced with easier days or weeks.
- In regards to volume vs intensity, I would say I hit the 80/20 ratio between those two, and that fraction is pretty much static for the whole year.
- This time of the year the emphasize is on volume, last week for instance, Hayden did around 150 km of running, spent 8h in the pool and rode approximately 12h (not that much intensity in there though).
- In terms of periodization, for Hayden, Tokyo Olympics is the main focus for this season and the planning is all based on that.
After a couple of weeks of off season, the main focus is and has been big volume base work until February where we start to implement speed work, then a race block is planned in March.
After the March race block he will have an eight weeks window until his next race where we once again will put in a base block of training to ensure that he will ”survive” all the way to the Olympics.
- For most of the time I try and balance the weeks rather evenly in terms of load (volume and intensity), but at least one day of the week is an easier day, which for Hayden still could mean 3-4h of training, but all very easy.
I don’t plan recovery weeks or total days off on a regular basis, but it all depends on the situation and is sometimes necessary.
- When prescribing intensity, I implement a mix of both traditional ”race pace/tempo work” and well above race pace intensity efforts.
For Hayden, a race pace intensity session on the run could for instance be 8x1 km at 3:00-3:05 with 90s rest, such a session would enable him to do a ride later in the afternoon and don’t be too ”destroyed” the day after.
Another type of intensity session Hayden could do is 4-5x1 km at well above target race average pace, i.e. 2:40 min/km, the demand of such a session is much greater and requires plenty more recovery afterwards.
For most of the time, when it is a hard session, I encourage my athlete to really ”empty their tank” and go all out, rather than always ”saving” one last repetition for race day.
- In order to be able to race and perform at races taking place several weeks in a row, you need a very firm foundation of training to stand on, and this base is created during this time of the year.
In general, most athletes can race well three weeks in a row, however, during this time, there is basically no training in between the races.
To be able to maintain a high level of fitness, three such weeks of racing (with no or very little training) needs to be followed by a three weeks block of training, after which a new three weeks race block can take place.
It needs to be understated that the ability to race week after week is very individual, some may only be able to race once a month.
The mental aspect of racing frequently also needs to be taken into account, some athletes thrive on racing often while others need more time to recharge between the races, and this should also determine how often they should race.
Cross performance over the different triathlon distances
- It seems like the strongest riders (e.g. the Norwegians) of the ITU have the best ability to transition into the 70.3 distance.
- In super league triathlon, it’s particularly during the 2nd and 3rd swim that there is a realistic chance of getting a gap, which makes these legs extra critical.
- In order to do well on the run part of the super league triathlon, you need to have the ability to ”go on red” for a long time without slowing down, this means you must have a high capacity to recover between effort and buffer lactate.
- In the future, I believe we are going to see even greater differences between athletes that specializes in either the Olympic and sprint distance, super league and mixed team relays.
- There is probably a clear difference between athletes’ ability to become good at either range of the spectrum of the distances, and those genetically predisposed towards one way will likely have limited ability to acquire the demands of the other range of solely by training.
- For Hayden, the main priority has been to build him strong engine that will carry him through both the ITU and the super league.
Normally there aren’t much time in between the ITU ends and the super league starts up where you can put in some specific training for the super league, and most of that specific work is skill based (like jumping in the water after running very fast and go straight into intense swimming).
The importance of the outside factors (nutrition, sleep, recovery, etc.)
- The most important of the outside factors is sleep, and the second most important factor is probably nutrition, if you take well care of those then you have probably come a long way of building a great athlete.
Many young athletes have issues disconnecting in the evenings, so those who actually manage to go to bed at 9:30 pm and get good quality sleep throughout the whole night have a big advantage.
In terms of nutrition, the less processed food, the better.
- In general, most athletes (both professionals and amateurs) tend to under eat rather than eating too much.
The most common mistakes
- I would say that the most common mistake among age groupers is that they tend to spend too much time focusing on the small details instead of the whole picture.
The highest priority should be to build a as strong as possible aerobic engine, and this is where your main focus should be (basically to go out and swim, bike and run more).
- For professionals (and amateurs as well) I believe the most common mistake would be that they train too fast or hard day out and day in and don’t give themselves enough time for recovery/plan enough easier days.
This is probably mostly athlete driven rather than coach driven, most coaches understand the importance of recovery, but many athletes do not fully adhere to the easy sessions that their coaches prescribe (especially when training in groups).
As a coach, to make sure that the easy sessions stay easy, it is very important to have a firm understanding of your athletes and to be clear in the communication, some athletes may need a pace or power ceiling that they aren’t ”aloud” to go over during these sessions.
Final advice to amateurs
- Enjoy the process!
- Don’t worry too much about the small things that are available, ride the bike a lot, run a lot and sometimes even leave your watch at home.
- Especially athletes who are aiming for age groups World Championships tend to get a little too carried away with such targets and can easily forget to just try and enjoy all parts of the process.
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to triathlon or endurance sports?
Advanced marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger, it’s probably one of the best book I have read around running training and marathoning.
- What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? Running shoes, I just love to put my running shoes on and just go for a run, but I also really love my watch.
- What do you wish you had know or done differently at some point in your coaching career? To choose a better University to go to when I was 18 years old.
Links and resources mentioned
Connect with Craig Kirkwood
Connect with host Mikael Eriksson
Hi! I'm your host Mikael,
I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.
I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show.
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