Podcast, Training

Richard Laidlow | EP#403

 August 14, 2023

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Richard Laidlow - That Triathlon Show

Richard Laidlow is a coach from the UK based in the south of France who has been involved in triathlon for more than three decades. He coaches both professional and age-group triathletes, notably his son Sam Laidlow (second in Kona 2022) and Ironman Lanzarote winner Arthur Horseau on the professional side.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • What's it like coaching your son?
  • A detailed breakdown of Sam Laidlow's training
  • The challenges of hydrating for a 3 l/h sweat rate
  • The importance of muscular endurance training for Sam
  • Richard's coaching philosophy
  • Strength training, testing, recovery patterns and more...
  • Advice for age-groupers on how to improve the swim, bike, and run components of their training
  • Advice for time-crunched athletes

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Richard's background

02:41 -

  • Our base is in France, near the Spanish-French border, between the cycling hub of Girona and Perpignan.
  •  I've been living in the southern part of France for 22 years now. I was introduced to triathlon at 14 but got seriously involved around 17 or 18, transitioning from a swimming background.
  • My coaching journey started in the military, where I worked as a physical training instructor. 
  • This was when I began coaching triathlon and individuals in general. 
  • After a while, I left the military and ventured into lecturing. I met my now-wife, Michelle, a lecturer in art and design. 
  • As they sought sports science and physical training lecturers, I started lecturing at a further education level, from 16 to 60-year-olds. This continued for about seven to eight years.
  • Eventually, we both decided to relocate south of France and establish triathlon training camps there. 
  • Over the past 22 years, we've been actively engaged in this endeavour, introducing numerous individuals to the triathlon world through our training camps. We also introduced Sam and his brother Jake to triathlon through this journey.

Richard's training camps

04:29 -

  • It's like a second home for athletes here. 
  • We keep the numbers smaller during the training camps, usually not more than 20 or 30 athletes at a time. 
  • We don't go for large groups with multiple coaches. Athletes come to us individually or in small groups. 
  • I coach them directly or provide guidance depending on their needs and circumstances.
  • When athletes come here, they become part of our close-knit family. They stay with us at the house, sharing meals and getting integrated into our daily routine. 
  • Michelle takes care of their dietary needs as if they were in their own homes. 
  • Unlike traditional training camps with standard accommodations, we offer an experience that's more personal and homely.
  • Athletes get to witness the life of a professional athlete from a unique perspective, living as part of our household rather than in a separate training facility.

Coaching Sam Laidlow

05:56 -

  • The advantage is that I have the opportunity to interact with him daily. 
  • While statistics like HRV might be positive, having face-to-face communication is crucial. 
  • This is what we experience during training camps as well. Daily interaction allows me to assess their fatigue levels and adjust training accordingly. It's the same with Sam; seeing him in the morning lets me gauge whether he'll perform well that day, enabling me to adapt to training daily.
  • Arthur, who won in Nice again, benefited from this approach. His progress was noticeable when he could be observed daily. 
  • Feedback received in person is far more valuable than data analysis alone. Arthur and Sam are currently training together, and Jake will join us after his summer holidays. 
  • We're planning to homeschool him starting in September. We've also included a young French triathlete from the region. 
  • This community we've formed allows them to train together, despite their varying levels of expertise. They all have individualised training routines tailored to their strengths and weaknesses, making pool swimming and running more engaging.

Features of Sam's training

07:56 -

  • I follow a consistent training structure for Sam, keeping in mind his evolving needs. The weekly plan is tailored based on these needs. Here's an overview of our routine:
  • Mondays: We focus on swimming sessions, usually targeting the Ironman race pace. Adjustments are made depending on upcoming events. Recently, we've incorporated more speed work in preparation for the PTO Championships in Singapore. After the swim, Sam engages in a two to four-hour bike ride. During these rides, athletes often ride together, drafting off each other's wheels, or split up based on individual speeds.
  • Tuesdays: A "brick" session is scheduled, involving a bike ride followed by a run. The bike segment is geared towards Ironman training, while the run incorporates speed work such as VO2 max training. We also incorporate stability, strength, and proprioceptive training to enhance stabilisation during swimming and running.
  • Wednesdays: This day emphasises endurance training. It begins with another swimming session, focusing on endurance and pace, followed immediately by a long run. The long run includes segments at Ironman pacing, helping Sam adapt to the conditions and work on hydration and nutrition strategies due to his high sweat rate.
  • Thursdays: We concentrate on a long bike session, especially given the upcoming Ironman World Championships in Nice. This session involves hill climbs, focusing on muscular strength and endurance while maintaining aero position on the tri bars.
  • Fridays: A relatively lighter day, yet we still prioritise technique in the swim session. This may not be perceived as more accessible by athletes, as technique work requires focused effort. A run session follows, consisting of drills and strengthening exercises.
  • Saturdays: We alternate between flat and hilly bike rides, employing Ironman intervals. Stabilisation and proprioceptive training are continued to address specific needs.
  • Sundays: The week wraps up with a fourth swim session, often an endurance-focused swim. This is followed by an LT2 (lactate threshold) run and an easy bike ride for recovery.
  • It's important to note that while I have a general plan, I don't rigidly adhere to it. I prioritise Sam's body's response to training over sticking to the plan. 
  • If his body isn't responding well, we might adjust or change sessions accordingly. 
  • This flexibility ensures that the training is effectively absorbed, which is the key objective. 
  • The outlined structure provides a guideline, but Sam's response guides our training decisions on any given day.
  • Currently, Sam's weekly training volume has reached approximately 30 hours. 
  • Considering the principle of progression, we have been gradually increasing his training load this year. Sam is still young at 24, and it's important not to overload him, as it's essential to consider the sustainability of his training over the long term. 
  • If we push him to, let's say, 35 or 38 hours now, we need to question how much more he would have to do in the coming years to maintain this progression.
  • To provide some context, if we look at the average training hours over the past year, it was just under 20 hours per week. 
  • However, we've increased that average this year to around 21 hours per week. This upward adjustment has been a gradual process, with variations occurring weekly.
  • Breaking down the training distribution over the last year, around 50-55% of the time was allocated to cycling, 20-24% to running, 20% to swimming, and roughly 4% to strength training. 
  • This balance ensures a comprehensive approach to his training program.

Race preparation work

14:49 -

  • Sam possesses a substantial aerobic base, which has been a consistent attribute. 
  • The primary goal is not to enhance his aerobic capacity, as it's already robust. Instead, we focus on improving his sustainability at higher power or speed levels. This emphasis shifts towards enhancing muscle endurance and strength. 
  • We meticulously assess the quality of his training and his body's responsiveness to it. 
  • This involves making his muscles more efficient, enhancing factors like mitochondria count, and effectively using fat sources.
  • My approach involves a distinct perspective: the focus isn't solely on achieving the highest speed but on minimising deceleration during races.
  • For instance, while Sam demonstrated the ability to maintain 320W in Kona, the key is to sustain that effort and still have energy for the subsequent run. 
  • This approach doesn't revolve around delineating specific aerobic and threshold zones like LT1 and LT2. 
  • Instead, our training is meticulously tailored to the Ironman distance event itself.
  • Rather than aiming to elevate his threshold or LT2 to maximum levels, the strategy is to push his LT1 as close to LT2 as possible. The objective is to enhance efficiency for long-distance performance. 
  • The training methodology revolves around optimising his performance for the Ironman distance.
  • Our program's approach to strength training may seem less conventional, as our focus is primarily on stabilisation and engaging smaller muscle groups. 
  • We emphasise working with ligaments, tendons, and other smaller muscles, with a significant emphasis on proprioception and stabilisation.
  • We don't typically engage in traditional weightlifting routines, like squats or lunges, at least not in isolation. Instead, we integrate exercises that can directly transfer to the specific sport. 
  • For instance, our training methodology involves identifying the weakest aspect within each discipline, such as ankle or knee stability, and then tailoring exercises to enhance those areas.
  • Rather than aiming to make significant muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, or glutes as strong as possible, our approach revolves around strengthening the weakest link. 
  • This strategy contributes to overall better functioning and enhances the performance of the primary muscles involved in the sport.

Specific characteristics of Sam's training

17:59 -

  • Sam has always possessed a remarkable aerobic capacity, evident from his childhood. He achieved significant feats early on, like completing a hundred-kilometre bike ride at nine. 
  • Over the years, we progressively increased the challenge, reaching milestones such as a 220-kilometre ride at age 13 and even a half Ironman distance training session at age 14. 
  • These experiences demonstrated his exceptional aerobic ability.
  • Given Sam's robust aerobic foundation, my training focus for him is on building strength. This approach aims to enhance his ability to handle intense workloads without risking physical breakdown. 
  • In long-distance triathlons, such as Ironman races lasting around seven and a half hours, athletes increasingly prioritise strength to maintain the pace without compromising their bodies. 
  • Contemporary athletes like Ditlev and Kristian exhibit significant power and strength, a departure from the lightweight build of the past.
  • In terms of training, our strategy emphasises strength-oriented swimming and cycling. 
  • Sam's location offers diverse terrains, with hills, flats, and even climbs up to 2300 meters during winter, providing an ideal training environment. 
  • Consequently, our training regimen aims to harness his aerobic prowess while fostering physical resilience for extended endurance events.
  • They might acknowledge having a solid aerobic capacity yet experiencing a significant slowdown. 
  • In the case of Sam, although he excelled in swimming and cycling during short course races, he lacked the necessary top-end speed for a sub-15 minute 5km run, a requirement to win such events and perform well in the WTS.
  • Sam was part of the French system, where he competed against athletes like Kristian Blumenfeld, Alistair Brownlee, and Johnny Brownlee. 
  • Despite his potential, he didn't particularly enjoy developing top-end speed, and it became apparent that concentrating on his strengths was more beneficial.
  • In Sam's experience with the French Federation system, high-intensity training was emphasised, which affected his recovery and overall energy levels. This led him to seek a coaching approach aligned better with his physiology. When he approached me to coach him, we shifted away from excessive VO2 and LT2 work, as those methods did not suit his recovery profile. 
  • Instead, we tailored his training to suit the demands of Ironman and reconsidered the necessity of LT2 and VO2 training for such races.

Swim training

22:31 -

  • Sam trains four times a week for swimming, with sessions ranging from around 5,500 to 6,000 meters. 
  • My main goal is to have him finish the sessions with his arms feeling exhausted, essentially dragging along the ground. 
  • While Sam possesses good technique, he lacks the strength to maintain it consistently. I incorporate a lot of paddle work into his training regimen to address this.
  • A unique aspect of our training approach involves using stones in the water. Sam uses 500-gram stones during sets to enhance his strength, technique, and adaptation to swimming with added resistance. 
  • This method boosts his physical strength and refines his technique, particularly for swimming in a wetsuit. 
  • This approach has been a cornerstone of my training methodology for many years.
  • This approach effectively enhances strength and swimming ability. 
  • It's a dimension often overlooked in training routines but can significantly affect performance.

Swim workout structure

23:57 -

  • It all boils down to assessing an athlete's morning condition and tracking their daily progress. 
  • Additionally, the training approach is influenced by the time of year, the stage of the season, and the athlete's goals. 
  • My training strategy is highly tailored – I don't focus on zone one or zone two work or generic threshold training. 
  • Instead, I fine-tune the training to address the specific demands of the upcoming race. This precision is crucial to enhancing performance.
  • I also tend to intensify training to a stricter level than the actual race demands. 
  • Pushing boundaries during training makes race day easier for the athletes.

Run training

25:05 -

  • Consistency is a crucial element in the world of Ironman and long-distance triathlon. Athletes in these events can't race frequently due to the toll it takes on them. 
  • Often, we enter races to assess our current performance level, understanding that any race outcome can be uncertain.
  • Regarding Sam, there's a perception that he tends to struggle during the run phase, which I believe is a bit harsh considering his achievements. 
  • He placed fourth in both PTO races last year, and a few years prior, he completed a 2-hour 42-minute marathon in a smaller event. 
  • He certainly can run well, but during a 7 to 7.5-hour race, even minor issues can have significant consequences when pushing the limits.
  • Sam has faced challenges this year, including a liver infection from open water swimming before Lanzarote and a calf muscle tear during the Roth race. 
  • His run is consistently on the edge. We prioritise consistency and make things as manageable as possible to address this. 
  • For instance, we work on making a 3-minute 40-second per kilometre pace feel comfortable on the bike, so he can maintain it during the run. Aiming for a 3-minute 50-second per kilometre pace from the previous year can be a strong strategy. 
  • However, even the slightest variables can create significant changes when operating at the limit.

Dealing with Sam's high sweat rate

27:45 -

  • It depends on the temperature, so my approach is to consume as much liquid as possible while also focusing on cooling my core as effectively as possible. 
  • In races like Kona, for instance, I've been seen grabbing large bottles, drinking from them, and pouring water over myself to manage hydration and temperature. 
  • I'm willing to slow down at aid stations to ensure I get enough fluids, even if they only offer cups.
  • In Kona, I calculated that I was taking in about two litres of fluid per hour, consistent with races like the PTO Championships. 
  • However, in some instances, like Lanzarote, I might have overdone it due to overestimating the heat. In Lanzarote, I consumed around two and a half litres of fluid per hour during the bike segment to prepare for the run.
  • Adaptation is critical during the race. It's not a fixed formula of "drink two litres per hour for the entire race." It varies based on race conditions and temperature changes. 
  • The main goal is to keep my body cool, especially since I sweat heavily.
  • In the past, I've explored various strategies regarding sodium intake and its matching with estimated sodium concentration.
  • I've found "Sweat," a book about understanding human body sweat and its replacement, particularly informative.
  • Ideally, I aim for a balanced approach, even though achieving perfect balance isn't always feasible. 
  • Fortunately, Sam doesn't have highly salty sweat. 
  • However, maintaining a balanced sodium level is crucial, considering the significant sodium loss when losing three litres per hour. When the body's sodium balance is disrupted, it often tries to rectify it. 
  • This can lead to frequent urination during a race or an urge to consume salty foods like crisps or peanuts while running. 
  • I've personally experienced these effects and recognise the importance of achieving a proper mineral balance during endurance events.


31:51 -

  • Training and racing strategies vary among individuals, and perspectives have shifted over time. 
  • From Sam's point of view, a few years back, racing was crucial for financial support, sponsorship, and gaining recognition. 
  • However, with developments like Kona and the PTO, the necessity for excessive racing has diminished, though understanding race preparation remains vital.
  • Regarding races, we usually focus on one or two critical sessions in a season. 
  • The majority of races are used as assessment tools. We analyse outcomes, adapt strategies, and ascertain whether adjustments are necessary. This approach allows us to understand what's working and what isn't, which is especially important now that the PTO offers additional support. 
  • This approach also maintains positive relations with sponsors as we ensure visibility through screen presence.

Being competitive in different distances

33:15 -

  • Considering the current state of the world, with athletes like Gustav and Kristian emerging, it's evident that one can excel in both short and long-distance triathlon events. 
  • The influx of faster athletes from short courses or WTS events is a factor to consider. However, being competitive in both types of races is feasible. 
  • My focus has always been on more extended events like Ironman races, which remain the primary goal. We participate in shorter sessions or events to gain experience and visibility, but Ironman races take precedence. 
  • It's also important to note that the enjoyment of racing is a fundamental aspect of becoming a professional triathlete, whether in Ironman or other formats.

Richard's coaching philosophy

34:20 -

  • The complexity of triathlon as a sport lies in its diverse participants at various skill levels. This necessitates a personalised approach, understanding each individual's goals and adapting accordingly. A philosophy I embrace, which Dan Bingham introduced, involves aligning an athlete's long-term and short-term goals with their current level of performance. 
  • This allows for the engineering of their training to facilitate goal achievement.
  • When working with athletes, I assess their training history over the past four to five years. This analysis helps me understand their progress, focus areas, goal attainment, and any setbacks they may have faced. 
  • By doing so, I can tailor their training to their unique circumstances. Unlike a one-size-fits-all approach like a polarised training method, each athlete's training plan is individualised.
  • Considering external factors such as family, work, and personal commitments is crucial, particularly for age group athletes. A comprehensive approach is essential. 
  • I start by identifying an athlete's goal and then reverse engineer their training plan based on their current fitness level. This allows us to progressively build towards their goal in a highly customised manner. 

How to program training for an average Ironman triathlete

36:44 -

  • My approach with athletes is to consider the whole picture, including their work, social life, and family commitments. 
  • Time availability dramatically impacts how much training an individual can realistically undertake. 
  • Sometimes, individuals set ambitious goals but have limited time, like wanting to achieve a specific outcome with just six hours of training per week. 
  • While achieving such goals might be possible over an extended period, it's often not feasible in the short term.
  • I prefer to take a realistic approach. For instance, if someone aspires to qualify for an event like Kona, I assess their training history and needs. 
  • Data and information are abundant and available to guide us. Focusing on making an athlete stronger, faster, or more fit can increase their chances of reaching their goals. 
  • This might involve analysing their past race results and adapting their training accordingly. 
  • We look at how their previous races went and strategise how to enhance their performance for the target event, tailoring their training to address specific weaknesses or capitalising on strengths based on their training history.

Tips for improving swim training

38:32 -

  • Avoid Overtraining: Often, I've observed that people put a lot of effort into their swimming without seeing much progress. This could be due to training too frequently without allowing sufficient recovery time. Swimming multiple times a week for short sessions might lead to short-term improvements but can result in plateaus. Instead, I advise swimming longer and stronger but with fewer sessions. This allows your body to recover and adapt, leading to better results.
  • Prioritise Recovery: Recovery is a crucial aspect of training. Just as you wouldn't run every day to improve running, swimming should also involve recovery periods. Cycling and running, being more impactful on the body, contribute significantly to the aerobic capacity of triathletes. Swimming, on the other hand, requires a different approach. Pushing too hard in every swim session might not be necessary and could hinder overall progress. Swimming should leave you fatigued, emphasising the principle of overload.
  • Rather than continuously pushing for higher aerobic capacity in swimming, focus on making the distance feel manageable. This is where technique and endurance play a significant role.
  • A common challenge is performing well in training but struggling during races. This can often be attributed to insufficient physical strength for the task. 

Top tips for cycling

41:14 -

  • Utilise Hills for Strength and Skill Improvement:
    • Incorporate hill training into your regimen for bike strength and skill enhancement.
    • Climbing and descending hills teach efficient bike handling.
    • Avoid attacking hills too aggressively during long rides to maintain consistent power output.
  • Prioritise Proper Fueling:
    • Ensure sufficient fueling for optimal performance.
    • Consuming around 45 grams of carbohydrates per hour during training is crucial.
    • Relying solely on fat metabolism may hinder performance; proper fueling is necessary.
  • In terms of training, I would recommend focusing on endurance rides for at least three sessions a week. If you can manage four, that's great, but remember to prioritise recovery. 
  • Comparing this to the conversation with Sam, who was training about 21 hours a week on average, many age group athletes tend to do more training without adequate recovery. 
  • Aim for three to four training sessions a week to ensure proper recovery.
  • Regarding training content, utilising hills for strength training would be beneficial. Additionally, integrating turbo training sessions can be practical due to their intensity and efficiency. These sessions are short yet impactful. 
  • However, it's equally important to work on the actual cycling skills. 
  • Practising downhill riding, especially at higher speeds of 40 to 70 kilometres an hour, can help you become more adept at handling the bike and increase overall cycling enjoyment.
  • Utilising power alone is not an intelligent approach to training. 
  • Many variables come into play, so using heart rate and perceived exertion (RPE) alongside the power to monitor cycling effectively is essential. 
  • Heart rate and RPE provide additional context, and temperature can affect heart rate readings. 
  • For instance, during summer, you might experience a decrease in power output while your heart rate remains consistent due to external factors. 
  • Despite slower speeds, training intensity could still be on target.
  • To achieve comprehensive training insights, leverage multiple data sources like heart rate, RPE, and, if possible, tools like the Moxie sensor. 
  • Some athletes also incorporate lactate measurements. For age group athletes without access to advanced tools, relying solely on power is not advisable. 
  • Integrating heart rate and calibrating heart rate zones against power zones is crucial. 
  • Adjustments must be made if discrepancies occur between power and heart rate readings. 
  • This approach ensures a more accurate understanding of your performance, guiding decisions on whether to slow down, speed up, or make other necessary adjustments during training.

Tips for improving running performance

46:17 -

  • The training approach varies according to an individual's goals, strengths, and weaknesses. It's crucial to analyse their focus for improvement. 
  • For instance, it might not be necessary for speed-oriented athletes to emphasise VO2 or LT2 work heavily. 
  • Instead, building an aerobic base could be more beneficial. Often, people dislike running at slower paces, but these "slow" runs can contribute significantly to progress over time.
  • This concept aligns with the ideas of Dr Phil Maffetone and the Maffetone training method. 
  • Slowing initially helps redefine a slower pace, eventually translating to improved speed. 
  • Dr Inigo San Milan also discusses Zone 2 training, which might seem fast even though it's classified as the lower intensity zone.
  • For instance, running at a pace of 3 minutes 40 seconds per kilometre in Zone 2, as in my case, is relatively quick. It's important to consider external factors like weather and location. 
  • People often underestimate the effort required for this type of training. In triathlon, especially in long distances, the aerobic aspect is paramount. Hence, focusing on building the aerobic base is crucial. 
  • Following this, efforts can be directed towards improving VO2 max and LT2.
  • It's crucial to establish a solid aerobic base before pushing harder. 
  • A common mistake is not knowing how to pace oneself properly until aerobic capacity allows for increased effort.
  • Regarding heart rate drift, monitoring the upward trend of heart rate against power or pace is crucial. 
  • This helps in controlling running effort during longer sessions. 
  • Adjustments are needed if the heart rate rises significantly while speed or power drops.
  • A significant factor in this is nutrition and hydration, especially for longer runs. Proper hydration and fueling can delay heart rate drift significantly. 
  • Monitoring heart rate drift becomes a sign of endurance limits or fatigue resistance, although nutrition plays a key role.
  • For professional runners, support staff often ensure proper hydration and nutrition during training. This is more challenging for age groupers. 
  • Investing in running vests for carrying fluids and nutrition can be a game-changer.
  • However, carrying excess weight can affect performance. Carrying 1.5 to 2 kilos of fluids and nutrition can slow the pace and affect performance.
  • While investing in proper running gear is crucial, it's also essential to consider the added weight's impact on performance. Running with extra weight affects the pace and overall performance. 

Periodisation of age group training

52:08 -

  • Our training is highly adaptable and tailored to the specific needs of each athlete. 
  • Periodisation is based on the individual's circumstances and performance level. We analyse strengths and weaknesses through field tests and discussions. 
  • Training is then structured in blocks to target areas for improvement, gradually transitioning to race-specific preparation.
  • I focus on consistent training rather than rigidly following high and low weeks. 
  • Rest is incorporated when needed, as my primary concern is an athlete's overall consistency and well-being. 
  • I prefer avoiding fixed three-week build cycles followed by one week off, as it may not suit everyone and could hinder progress.
  • Reverse engineering guides our approach. Training is tailored accordingly if the goal is a 180-kilometre ride at 240 watts. 
  • If absorption becomes an issue, adjustments are made. 
  • Similar to Formula One, where constant refinement trumps downtime, we emphasise consistent effort over scheduled breaks. 
  • While acknowledging the necessity of occasional downtime, we prioritise year-round consistency.
  • Though we incorporate easier days, it pertains to intensity, not duration. 
  • We rotate training days during winter, encompassing LT1, LT2, easier sessions, and an own-choice day. This rotation aligns with individual strengths and weaknesses, avoiding pre-planned approaches and favouring adaptability.

Strength training

55:28 -

  • The approach depends on several factors. Firstly, the time availability of the individual plays a role. 
  • For effective stabilisation and proprioceptive training, I prefer to work directly with people to ensure the exercises are performed correctly. Although I've created instructional videos, I can't guarantee correct execution without direct observation.
  • Some athletes enjoy strength training, so I incorporate it into their regimen if it aligns with their preferences. 
  • However, the necessity of strength training is determined by the specific goals. 
  • If an athlete's objectives involve riding 240 kilometres in 180 minutes or completing a three-hour ten-minute marathon, then I assess whether strength training will contribute to achieving those goals. 
  • If it's beneficial, it's integrated; if not, it's omitted. Ultimately, the decision hinges on whether the training directly contributes to the desired performance outcome.


56:35 -

  • My testing approach varies based on the individual's available facilities and needs. 
  • Typically, I begin with a standard step test, evaluating heart rate against power or pace. I focus on identifying the two deflection points in the heart rate curve. 
  • Another method I use is the Maffetone test, which involves monitoring heart rate drift during continuous exercise at a specific heart rate.
  • I might initiate a test for running and cycling where the individual maintains a constant heart rate within their mid-zone two range while cycling or running, observing how the heart rate drops during both activities. 
  • A preferred swimming test involves a 5x500 progressive set to determine when the swimmer's performance declines.
  • However, the tests applied are highly adaptable and depend on an individual's physical condition. Some may not be capable of specific tests due to their fitness level. 
  • Therefore, the specific testing methods employed can range from a standard critical swim speed test or a 1000-meter all-out effort, allowing me to gauge their current limits accurately.

Tips for time-crunched athletes

58:04 -

  • Training goals must be particular and tailored precisely to the athlete's goal. If the objective is to simply complete an Ironman event, the training approach should focus on maintaining an aerobic pace to successfully endure the competition. 
  • However, if a specific time goal is in place, like completing the event within 12 hours, the training must be finely tuned to target that particular timeframe. 
  • When resources such as time are limited, there's little room for wasteful or non-essential training. Every aspect of the training regimen must align precisely with the desired outcome.

Things that changed in Richard's coaching in the last five years

58:47 -

  • One constant in my coaching approach has been the commitment to learning and evolving. 
  • One of the main reasons I coach is to absorb insights from others continually. 
  • Whether from coaches, athletes, or even visitors like yourself and Andy, I see each interaction as an opportunity to grow. 
  • Over the years, with the thousands of athletes we've worked with, I've always picked up valuable nuggets of wisdom from them.
  • There's no definitive "right" or "wrong" approach. Every individual is unique, which I've come to appreciate deeply. I often use the analogy of asking a room full of people to scratch their heads – everyone does it differently. 
  • As a coach, I've learned to adapt how I communicate and teach based on how each athlete understands things. It's not about forcing them to conform to a specific way, but rather understanding their perspective and helping them grasp concepts.
  • When I started coaching, I fell into the trap of insisting on my way as the only way. 
  • However, I've learned that tailoring my coaching to how each athlete comprehends things is far more effective. This personalised approach leads to better outcomes because an athlete's interpretation of instructions might differ from mine. Understanding their unique viewpoint is critical to bringing out the best in them.
  • Another significant shift in my coaching philosophy has been recognising athletes as performers and individuals with lives outside of sport. 
  • The external factors they deal with – work, family, etc. – play a crucial role in their training. Without proper support, these aspects can disrupt their progress. 
  • Hence, I've evolved into developing them as athletes and supporting them as people. I aim to be there for them, whether addressing personal concerns, work-related issues, or sports-related matters.

Pieces of advice Richard would give to himself when he was racing


  • One of the most crucial pieces of advice I can offer is to invest in a top-notch coach. A skilled coach is invaluable, often more so than the expensive gear like bikes, running shoes, and wheels that many athletes prioritise. 
  • A coach supports you as a true athlete, guiding you towards success. Throughout my swimming career, I experienced the tremendous benefits of having a coach by my side.
  • When I transitioned to triathlon, there were fewer specialised coaches available, and I had to rely on running coaches who knew triathlon. 
  • However, finding a coach who truly understands your needs is paramount. 
  • Investing in a good coach is well worth the expense. A coach's worth is reflected in the results they help you achieve. 
  • If your investment isn't yielding positive outcomes, it might be time to search for a coach better suited to your needs.
  • Looking back, having an external perspective from a coach could have been transformative. While it's hard to say precisely what they would have changed, I believe they would have advised me to modify my training approach. 
  • I came from a swimming background where excessive training was the norm – swimming between 60 and 120 kilometres a week, coupled with frequent running and weightlifting sessions. 
  • This level of training led to overtraining and illness. If I had the guidance of a coach back then, I think they would have emphasised the importance of balanced training and likely reduced the overall training volume.

Bad practices triathletes tend to do

1:03:18 -

  • In my experience, a significant aspect is how people comprehend instructions. 
  • This becomes particularly crucial when you're swimming. For instance, if you're told to throw the water behind you, it's essential to understand exactly what "behind you" refers to. 
  • Each position has a distinct biomechanical impact on your body's movement through the water. The challenge lies in grasping this distinction.
  • A common issue is when swimmers develop bad habits due to a lack of complete understanding. 
  • This could result from not fully comprehending what someone is trying to convey or the reverse scenario where the speaker might use terminology that the listener doesn't fully grasp.

Three tips for age groupers to improve their performance

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  1. Nutrition: Focus on fine-tuning your nutrition during training and outside of it. Opt for a healthy, well-balanced diet, ensuring you eat the right amounts. When you finish a meal, ensure it's nutritious and appropriately sized. During training, fuel yourself adequately to teach your body how to digest food effectively while exercising. Remember that the "60 grams of carbohydrates" guideline might not fit all, as everyone's needs differ.
  2. Create a Strong Support System: Surround yourself with ample support. Build a network of family, friends, physios, and other professionals who can help answer questions and provide solutions when facing challenges. With a robust support system, you can tap into various perspectives and decide on the best action.
  3. Prioritise Consistency: Consistency is critical. Strive to maintain a steady routine week in, week out. Avoid sudden changes or deviations. Even when faced with obstacles, work around them while staying consistent throughout the year. This steadfast approach contributes significantly to your progress and performance.

Rapid-Fire Questions

1:04:58 -
What's your favourite book or resource related to endurance sports?

Lore of Running - Tim Noakes

The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing - Phil Maffetone

What's an important habit you've benefited from athletically, professionally or personally?
Who's somebody that you look up to or that has inspired you?
My dad. He has coached for several years. My wife Michelle has been supporting us and helped us work as a team. And Roman Brooke, a person that got me into triathlon.


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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