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Helle Frederiksen is a coach and former professional athlete. In her racing days, Helle competed in the London 2012 Olympics, she is the ITU Long Distance World Champion from 2018, and she holds the fastest ever time in women's half distance racing, with a 3:55:50 from Challenge Bahrain. In this interview, we discuss Helle's training and coaching philosophies, as well as the importance of racing to develop, and how to get the best out of yourself on race day.
In this Episode you'll learn about:
- Helle's background as a professional athlete
- Her coaching and training philosophy
- Training on feel
- The importance of racing, and how to execute on race day
- Advice on fitting training into a busy lifestyle
- Differences and similarities in how to approach training between amateurs and pros
- Advice on improving your swim, bike, and run, respectively
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- My name is Helle Frederiksen from Denmark and I am former professional triathlete.
As a triathlete I participated in the London 2012 Olympic, I have won 10 Ironman 70.3:s and I still hold the fastest ever time on a 70.3 among women (from Ironman Bahrain 70.3).
- I also hold a bachelor degree in sports science.
- Nowadays I am active as coach (while I remain active myself).
The training that led to my results
- There is no ”secret recipe” to my success, I would say that continuity and the accumulation of a lot of work (over the years) is the key thing to achieve success.
I also think it is important to basically always leave a little left in the tank during the sessions.
All the small decisions one make every day (should I back off a little bit today or stick to the plan etc.?) are also very important and they add up in the end, which is why it is so important to make the right calls for the vast majority of the time.
- If I would be more specific, I trained between 26-28h per week and had two key sessions in every discipline per week.
- As a coach I really try to get to know the individual that I am coaching and what work-life restrictions he or she has so that I can be adjust the training accordingly to that.
I think it is crucial to balance training- and overall life-stress in a very good way in order to excel.
It’s about being very realistic and find a structure that is sustainable for a very long period of time, I like to start rather conservatively and then maybe titrate the training up when I start to coach a new athlete.
- Also, as a coach I am really trying to emphasize the importance of getting to know your body extremely well, which is why I often prescribe sessions based on RPE.
In races, you can then relate what you’re feeling to what you have done in training and from that make the right decisions.
Especially for amateurs with family and/or demanding jobs, there is so much that can influence the performance of a certain way, and then it is even more important to pay attention to effort instead of fixed numbers such as power or pace.
Differences and similarities between amateurs and professional athletes
- The main similarity is that continuity is the key to success.
- The main difference in my experience is that professionals tend to be very good at handling monotony (same sessions week after week) while amateurs would like to have some more ”spice” in their training.
An example training week of an amateur athlete (training 10h/week and targeting the Ironman distance) that I coach
- They would have three rides per week, one longer endurance ride on the weekends and two shorter more intense rides during the week.
At the moment I highly emphasize over gear work (low cadence intervals) as they build very good strength and endurance.
- On the run, I would prescribe 3-4 runs per week, once again one longer run on the weekends and one more intense/tempo run during the week, the rest would be regular easy endurance runs.
- In the pool, normally I prescribe 2 swim sessions per week, which are quite ”big”, with long main sets with a lot of pull and paddle work in order to build strength (which is very important for open water swimming).
- In terms of ”periodization”, I like to implement regular recovery days every week, one day completely off or ”legs off” (i.e. no biking or running!) and then every 5-6 weeks (a little bit depending on the athlete I use t throw in an easier week or an easier 3-5 days) just to make sure that the body recovers properly.
- Even though I am very much of a ”feel coach”, I use to prescribe a FTP test on the bike quite regularly (once every 2-3 months).
- In the swim I use to prescribe some ”benchmark sessions”, like 10x100 once in a while to see where we stand at the moment.
- However, I think the best ”tasting” is racing, which is why I use to encourage my athletes to participate in smaller local races as often as basically possible.
You always get a lot of experience from every race, which you can learn massively from!
Moreover, races can also be a great fitness booster!
Key pieces of advice per discipline
- I think that many age groupers don’t train hard enough in the pool, it tends to be more natural for people to push themselves on the bike and in the run.
You really need to push yourself in the water to be familiar with the hard effort that will come on race day, and the familiarization is key to have a successful swim on race day.
I like hard swim sets with short rest, like 30x100m that replicate the demands of race day.
Specific tips for open water swimming is to increase your stroke rate and try and lift your head as little as possible while sighting.
- One of my best tips for cycling is to wait to perform your intervals towards the end of the rides in order to get familiar to perform with tired legs.
- My best tips for the run is to vary the surface and terrain of the runs, this is very important in order to stay away from injury.
Also, alternate between different run shoes.
In regards to run sessions, it’s very similar to the bike, I like build runs where you gradually increase the pace throughout the session and perform intervals late into the sessions.
Executing the races
- Try and stay in the moment and make the best that you can in every situation that you find yourself in, then you know that you did everything you could on the day!
What I did good and bad in my career as a triathlete
- I was very good at making the right ”small decisions” every day and was very diligent in regards to body maintenance (foam rolling, stretching etc.).
- After injury, I tended to run too fast too soon, and this I wish I had done differently earlier on in my career.
Moreover, it took me a very long time to realize that running slower in general is actually essential to be able to run really fast when you’re supposed to!
Rapid fire questions
- What is your favorite book, blog or resource related to endurance sports? At the moment I am reading ”Advanced Sports Nutrition” by Dan Benardot, which I am really enjoying, and my own autobiography ”In Pursuit of Victory” is coming out in English in a few weeks time.
- What is your favorite piece of gear or equipment? My massage stick and my treadmill.
What is a personal habit that has helped you achieve success? My daily routine and structure as well as never being a fanatic in any way!