Podcast, Training

Year in review: what we learnt in 2021 | EP#318

 December 27, 2021

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Year in review: what we learnt in 2021 - That Triathlon Show

Scientific Triathlon coaches Lachlan Kerin and David Dhooge join for this special end-of-year episode, where Lachie, David, and Mikael share their thoughts and learnings from 2021.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • What worked well for us in our coaching
  • What did not work well, or things we would do differently
  • What were the key areas or topics we dived deeper into and committed to learning about?
  • Things we changed in our coaching compared to previous years
  • Tips for the listeners to help their training in 2022

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Lachlan Kerin

What worked well in Lachlan's coaching in 2021?

04:37 -

  • One aspect that worked for me and came from my athletes was outsourcing. 
  • We might consider triathlon coaches experts in all triathlon disciplines, but many people are more knowledgeable about different topics. It is essential to use those people and understand what they know about those aspects.
  • By doing it, I developed my skill set and my overall understanding of things and allowed my athletes to receive different inputs.
  • The topics were related, for example, to nutrition and strength and conditioning.
  • They are very individual for the athletes. Concerning strength and conditioning, the first assessment with a professional is crucial.
  • Along with strength and condition, things like physiotherapy and rehabilitation are crucial. The conversations around those topics are between the professionals, athletes and me. It allows for being on the same page regarding the athlete's condition.
  • By doing it, we allow all those processes to move in the right direction.
  • We are to understand that the athlete is in the centre. We are only a cog in the machine. 
  • As a coach, we play a role in athlete development. However, people around the athlete also influence the athlete. (nutritionists, strength and condition coaches, but also family and friends)
  • When you look at things from this view, you play only a minor role in the athlete's life.

Were there things that did not work so well?

07:56 -

  • 2021 was a different year because of the state of the world with the pandemic.
  • I found athletes having many races stacked on a short period. I consider myself an optimistic person, and in those periods, I thought recovery would not be a problem.
  • If I could go back, I would have some difficult conversations with athletes. We would talk about doing specific races instead of doing them all.
  • It was not their fault. It was only because of postponed races. And there was also some races where they would get invitations to do them in 2022.
  • Despite that, now we know the amount of racing we should aim for in future years.
  • Another point to consider for me is time management.
  • I had some study going on in the second half of this year. It is the second priority as it should be. However, there were times where I could have managed time a bit better.

What were some topics that you committed to learning?

10:48 -

  • I returned to the university to do some post-graduate work in data analytics and sports performance.
  • It was a six-month course to learn about treating raw data and getting information from it.
  • With that, I see some opportunities to implement that in my coaching.
  • It will take some time to write the code and build the software. But I also finished the course and have more time to do it.
  • One aspect that also I am looking to is seeing if athletes provide the cleanest data possible.
  • The other good aspect of the course was acquiring knowledge of different sports. It is intriguing to understand how other sports use that knowledge in their workplace. It opened my eyes to work differently.
  • The second thing was the mindset. We learn the reasons why we work as we do with physiology. However, there is a psychological component related to race performance. So, this year, I dig into understanding what an athlete could do. It was for us to understand their actual condition.
  • Therefore, they could be confident in their ability to execute on race day.
  • I did this by talking with athletes. I would provide sessions focused on race pace efforts to build that confidence.
  • Athletes could see they could hold those paces on training. Therefore, there was no reason not to maintain them on races.
  • It is a tough challenge nevertheless. When we talk about triathlons and endurance events, athletes go through a roller coast of emotions.
  • No one expects the experience to be positive throughout the race, but we can develop strategies to overcome those low points.
  • I learned a lot from my experience. But I also learned from my athletes and how they overcame those situations.
  • I had one athlete saying when it starts to hurt, take a gel. You take your mind off the pain and do something that brings you to a better place.

Data analytics potential implementations in triathlon training

16:04 -

  • There has been some work on impulse response models. We want to understand the consequences of doing some things.
  • Many people are developing work on that space, and it is an area I want to explore.
  • Data analytics might highlight that some workload not perceived as too stressful by the athlete might lead to a fitness improvement in the future.

Coaching changes implemented in 2021

17:06 -

  • There is an evolution concerning the topic of nutrition. (especially during races)
  • I have seen many athletes changing their nutrition plans over time. When I started triathlon, everyone talked about one gram of carbs per kilo of bodyweight.
  • After, it became 90 grams of carbs per hour as the absolute limit. However, I have athletes going above 100 grams per hour. (and being successful)
  • I think it is because of the evolution in products available. Also, training the gut has become something athletes often do.
  • It is an evolving topic, and it is intriguing to see how far we can take it.

Coaching goals for 2022

18:26 -

  • I plan to continue building that knowledge base on education. Hopefully, I can take a master's in Exercise Science next year, alongside my coaching.
  • For me, the goals are not sporting specific. I believe having that foundation of knowledge is very helpful.
  • An analogy of this would be developing that aerobic base. (that is the way I look to post-graduation education)
  • I also want to develop my nutrition knowledge to improve athletes' performances.
  •  I want to understand how to implement heat in the process. I have to learn how to use it in training and prepare for hot weather races.
  • My sample size is not enough to take absolute conclusions. But there have been some positive outcomes.

One tip for athletes for 2022

20:55 -

  • It is a tip that is not too different from what I would give in 2021.
  • The first thing is to find a routine and load that we can consistently do and enjoy.
  • It is our foundation for everything we do. From there, you can think of your race plan and how you might have to alter your routine to get the best fitness.
  • It is having an open dialogue between the athlete, the coach, and the team.
  • The goal is to understand what we can achieve and work from there.
  • We have to consider that the routine you implement is everything you can do during the year. And that is also ok.
  • You do not need to add more volume if there is no time.
  • You only need to be creative with training. Again, it comes down to open dialogues with people around you.

David Dhooge

David's Background

23:19 -

  • My name is David Dhooge. I have been coaching for two years with Scientific Triathlon. 
  • My focus in the first year was more on customer support. While I still do it, I am also offering coaching services.
  • I am from Belgium, but I am living in Southern France.
  • I have been coaching for six, seven years. 

What worked well in 2021 concerning coaching?

24:34 -

  • This year was positive, with some good results with my athletes. We achieved some "Personal Bests" and qualifications to the Ironman and 70.3 World Championships.
  • My focus is on having consistent training for my athletes. It means you have to find an optimal load for your athlete.
  • It is a long process, and you have to see how your athlete reacts to the training load. You have to address fatigue after training sessions.
  • In my case, I believe this worked well. I do not work with three weeks of training load, followed by a week of lower training volume.
  • I give my athletes consistent training. Of course, there are some less intense days or some rest days from time to time.
  • I believe consistent training is crucial for your success, and it worked well for my athletes.
  • We show this with our results.

What would you do differently in 2021?

26:43 -

  • Sometimes, you do not reach the results you want. We can see those results as negative points to address. (not achieving your or the athlete's goals)
  • In my case, it happens, and you need to be aware that things might not happen linearly.
  • An athlete might want to reach a goal, and as a coach, you focus on that goal as well. It is not a bad thing because you share the same goals.
  • However, we should not look at those events as failures as well. We learn from failures, and we move on to the next phase. (looking at the results more in a rational manner)
  • Racing depends on many factors. Therefore, the reason the athlete did not perform is not always a lack of fitness.
  • Athletes might not perform because of a lack of nutrition or hydration. In addition, they can have a bad day. Therefore, we have to look at races in a holistic approach.

What were some topics that you committed to learning?

30:02 -

  • This year in Scientific Triathlon, my responsibilities increased with coaching more athletes. Therefore, 2021 was about optimising my coaching philosophy and approach.
  • I went deeper into topics such as training physiology and applied those learnings into my training plans.
  • As a coach, you understand the training you have to give your athlete to obtain the optimal results.
  • In the scientific literature, there is a lot of information. But you have to filter that information into forms you can use daily.
  • Therefore, 2021 was about applying filters to the literature and avoiding extremes for me. 
  • I think we need to use all types of sessions to improve. It is because all sessions have an optimal period to execute them. Moreover, each has different benefits. 
  • With this, I wanted to combine all the distinct sessions somehow. This application will depend on the metabolic profile of the athlete.
  • For me, metabolic testing is essential for an athlete. With it, we can understand the athlete's physiology. And we can apply an individual training approach.
  • For an athlete, a polarised approach might be the best strategy. On the other hand, another athlete might need more sweet spot-based training.
  • The training approach will depend on what we need to work for each athlete. (e.g., changing VLamax, Vo2max or Fatmax)
  • In all, 2021 was the year for me to optimise all these points.

Training changes in 2021 compared to previous years

33:46 -

  • I did not change anything, but I did some optimisation.
  • I think I am more creative than before. 
  • Of course, I am still using some regular training sessions for athletes. (e.g., a 1min on/off Vo2max session)
  • However, I focus on giving sessions more race-specific and keep sessions intriguing for athletes.
  • Athletes might not have much time to train, and therefore, you need to get the most out of each session.
  • It is at this point I improved compared to other years. I am more creative and understand better the physiology and limitations of an athlete.
  • For some sessions, you need already some base fitness to perform them. 
  • For example, when training for 70.3 races, I could prescribe sessions with intervals at 70.3 intensity, with surges at the threshold. I also gave some cadence variations. 
  • I could cover most aspects of racing and the different physiology parameters using this approach.
  • This approach allows the athlete to have more autonomy and make the most of each training session.
  • Our thresholds and physiology change daily. Therefore you need to consider those variations.

What are your goals for 2022?

37:56 -

  • I want to have a strong basis of knowledge and keep learning. 
  • I want to maintain the creativity I developed in 2021.
  • I am pretty democratic in my coaching. It means I like to talk with my athletes and define goals together.
  • It is crucial to remember that you are coaching a human being. Your athlete will gain confidence by sharing the whole process with them.
  • You should take action together and then review and get feedback.
  • It is an approach I want to keep. I do it already, and it works well.
  • Another goal is to keep the athlete's motivation to perform and achieve their goals.

Tips for helping athletes in 2022

40:46 -

  • Even if you are self-coached, you should keep your training consistent. I think this is fundamental to perform in the long term.
  • You should also believe in the process and give it time to develop.
  • Progress does not come overnight, so you need the patience to get to the level you desire.
  • You should not exhaust yourself in training as well. One session does not matter, but what you do daily over a long period.

Mikael Eriksson

What worked well concerning coaching in 2021?

44:21 -

  • First of all, I used more RPE to prescribe training intensities. I think this worked well, especially with experienced athletes.
  • Prescribing workouts by RPE allows experienced athletes to work at the correct intensities for the given day.
  • Athletes might push harder on some days but will also refrain a bit when the body is not responding in the same way.
  • Some athletes struggle because there is more certainty when prescribing sessions with paces or power targets. (they feel they are doing the ideal intensity)
  • However, I think the human body physiology is complex, and it changes from time to time. More and more, targets are a false sense of security.
  • You can use RPE as a number you can follow as well. RPE comes from the brain, and the athlete's brain has all the information you do not have consciously.
  • The brain understands the acute demands of the body and its state. (metabolic, hormonal, muscular and emotional)
  • I do not always use RPE as the guide for intensity, even though it has to be part of the picture.
  • I use it more and more as a guide for intensity rather than power or HR.
  • The second point was adding more autonomy to the athlete. An example would be to avoid saying athletes how many sets of 800 meters they should do. I think this might lead to a false sense of security. Or even making the coach seem more knowledgeable because they know the exact number of intervals you should do.
  • As we do not know how many intervals an athlete should do, I would tell athletes to do between six and eight intervals. (depending on how you feel on the day)
  • With this strategy, we can make the most of a given day.
  • I would only use this with experienced athletes who know their bodies.
  • I still have the habit of prescribing the exact number of intervals rather than the range. Therefore, it is still a work-in-progress for me.
  • But I am trying to make this flexible approach a regular trend in my training plans.
  • If we combine the two approaches (RPE and flexible sets), an example of a session would be: (perform 6-8 sets of 800 meters at 10 km race effort)
  • Another example of autonomy has the credit from David Tilbury-Davis. (he introduced this example in episode: Training Talk: Splicing Workouts, Cognitive Load, and more with David Tilbury-Davis | EP#53)
  • The athlete can splice up the main set. For example, the main set could be 40 minutes long. The athlete has to do 20 minutes at 5km to 10km race pace. The way the athlete divides the session is up to him. (e.g., 20x1min, 1x20min, 4x5min)
  • It allows the athlete to adjust the training as they feel on the day. And it also applies to the phenotype of the athlete.
  • One final point that worked well was more deliberate positive reinforcement. It means consciously rewarding good decision making and behaviours of the athlete. These decisions could be positive on the day, and in future options, the athlete will have to make.
  • For example, we should reward athletes not to run when they feel a niggle. Another example is rewarding the honesty of athletes. (e.g., they had a worse night of sleep and so did not a less intense session than scheduled)
  • On the other hand, we should also reward the athlete when they risk in races. For example, they can decide to ride at a higher power than planned to stay with the group.
  • Whether the athletes achieved success or not, you can praise the decision for being brave and try to hold on with the best athletes. These decisions can pay off or not. 
  • However, when it works, it will be a breakthrough race. If it does not, it is still a lesson learnt.
  • Sometimes you win, and in other times, you learn.
  • The best races I had were those where I did not follow my plan and took the risk. I went faster than I thought I could do before starting the day.
  • If you decide not to be brave, you might lose out on those breakthrough races.
  • Even if the final result is not the best, you can still acknowledge the decision positively.

What did not work so well?

51:24 -

  • Race planning is something I could have done much better. (especially for those athletes who are performance-driven)
  • I think we did not approach race selection properly. (decide which races not to do)
  • The cancellation of races turned out to complicate things even more. However, I do not want to use the pandemic situation as an excuse. It has provided an opportunity to learn from the situation.
  • In insight, it is clear some of those decisions were not the best.
  • In many cases, we did not have a plan at the beginning of the year, as we should have had. It made planning the training blocks challenging. In some cases, we could have done a better job on those.
  • It is something I will change. And I will be more specific about it in the future.
  • I would do it differently if I could go back to the start of 2021.

What were some crucial topics I committed to learning more about in 2021?

52:54 -

  • One area I focused on was different coaching, motivation and communication styles. One concept that sticks out is motivational interviewing.
  • It is a coaching style that originated in rehab facilities in the 70s. Since then, many fields have applied this style.
  • In summary, it is about guiding the athlete to find answers for themselves. (instead of giving them answers)
  • It increases the buy-in and the commitment to the plan.
  • As coaches, we are guides. We do not have the answers because there are no specific answers. There are best practices, but you never know.
  • It is always an individual experiment. Therefore, guiding the athlete to an answer is a technique that makes much sense. (it increases the commitment to the plan, and so, increasing the likelihood of success)
  •  I read an entire book on this topic of motivational interviewing, so it is complicated to summarise it into a few practical tips. However, you can increase the number of questions you ask athletes. (that is a place to start)
  • You could be open-minded about different inputs the athlete might bring. 
  • These steps are the essential steps to this communication/coaching style.

What did I change in 2021 compared to other years in my coaching?

55:10 -

  • As a coach, you are always trying to evolve and improve. So, there are only a few things where my opinion is the same as others. You always find something new, but these changes are tiny. (1-5%)
  • In some areas, the gaps might be smaller, and in others, they might be more pronounced.
  • You are evolving, as nothing is static in coaching. Things I have mentioned above are things I changed in my coaching. However, there are other minor changes.
  • First, I slightly cut down on running volume. (replacing it by bike volume)
  • We had good results, if not better. (fewer injuries)
  • In strength and conditioning, I started incorporating more uni-lateral movements. (step-ups. lunges, split-squats)
  • I have done that in the past as well. However, I would put these exercises secondarily to the primary movements like squats and deadlifts.
  • The bi-lateral movements were the primary focus of a session.
  • This year, I changed that and had good results. It came from a discussion I had with top strength and conditioning coaches. I tried it, and it seemed to work well.
  • Finally, my view on testing has shifted. I have done less physiological testing and more field testing. (or a combination of the two like critical power test)
  • I like to do physiological testing in some cases, but I am not using it as much as I did in the past.
  • It has become more of a plan B or C. If an athlete has stagnated and cannot figure out why we do it. But it is not the first portal call I use in my coaching.
  • I am happy with doing field testing. (especially doing critical power testing) You get a lot of information from those tests.

What are my coaching objectives for 2022?

58:21 -

  • The goal is to have clear objectives with all my athletes. (that are exciting for them and me as a coach) I believe that is crucial to improve the athlete-coach relationship.
  • It is something I felt it was missing the last two years. Of course, that was also because of the uncertainty around races.
  • As we had so many races cancelled, athletes and coaches have struggled with motivation. The reason is there have not been those objective goals to look for in the future.
  • Therefore, having goals is my primary focus for next year.
  • Then, helping the athletes achieve those goals will flow from having them in the first place. 
  • I also want the goals not to be dependent on the race calendar.
  • If you are in a good place when you start working, you will likely be in a good place when you finish.

One training tip for athletes in 2022

1:00:00 -

  • I think getting a coach could be the best tip I can give. It is not to self-promote myself and Scientific Triathlon.
  • Even if you cannot have a professional coach, start using a friend knowledgeable in the sport. Or even a clubmate that could train you for free.
  • I think having a second opinion and advice is priceless. It is impossible to be completely objective with yourself.
  • We all have a bias, and you can solve it with a fellow friend or athlete supporting you.
  • But of course, having a professional coach is the best way to go. It is the best tip to help you get the most out of yourself.


Bernardo Gonçalves

Bernardo is a Portuguese elite cyclist and co-founder of SpeedEdge Performance, a company focused on optimising cycling and triathlon performance. He writes the shownotes for That Triathlon Show, and also produces social media content for each new episode.

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