Podcast, Training

Bex Milnes | EP#429

 April 5, 2024

By  Bernardo Gonçalves

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

Bex Milnes - That Triathlon Show

Bex Milnes is a triathlon coach of age-group and professional athletes with over 15 years of experience in endurance sports. She has helped multiple athletes and teams achieve Paralympic and Commonwealth medals, as well as pro and age group podiums in Ironman and Ironman 70.3 racing. In this interview we discuss the training of age-group athletes training for half and full distance triathlon.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • How to train efficiently on a limited time budget
  • How to maintain consistency and make good decisions
  • How to combine family, work and training
  • The importance of an aerobic base
  • How to get your race preparation right
  • How to execute on race day considering the typical dynamics of AG racing
  • Comparing specific race preparation for Kona and Nice Ironman World Championships
  • Considerations for perimenopausal women
  • Listener questions
  • ...and more

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Shownotes

Bex' Background

03:30 -

  • I'm primarily a triathlon coach, though I also work with ultra-distance runners to some extent. I've been delving into coaching runners, an exciting new venture. My main focus, however, remains on triathlon coaching. I work with a diverse group of athletes, ranging from age groupers to professionals, primarily emphasising 70.3 and Ironman racing.
  • My home base is in Loughborough, UK, where I live with my partner, Nicki Bartlett, a professional triathlete. Triathlon is not just a job for me; it's a way of life. I've been immersed in the sport for nearly two decades, sometimes making me feel like a veteran.
  • Before transitioning into coaching, I had hands-on experience in various aspects of triathlon, including power triathlon and draft legal ITU racing. My journey in the sport has been diverse, and I continue to explore different facets of it as I progress in my coaching career.

Age Group Training

05:21 -

  • I've learned a lot about age group training since stepping into this side of coaching. It's complex whether athletes aim to complete or compete. Success in endurance sports, especially triathlon, often involves consistency over long periods. While there's no magic formula, I've seen certain practices significantly impact both the short and long term.
  • First and foremost, clarity is essential. Athletes must define their goals clearly and stick to them. It's easy to get sidetracked by shifting definitions of success or becoming overly focused on metrics. Without a clear anchor, it's easy to lose sight of progress and joy in the journey. So, I always emphasise the importance of setting specific, realistic goals that serve as a guiding light throughout training.
  • Once goals are established, planning and periodising the training year is crucial. Despite its technical terminology, periodisation simply means laying out a roadmap from where athletes are now to where they want to be. It helps structure training to ensure athletes peak at the right time and avoid burnout or injury.
  • So, if we consider a typical age group athlete aiming to race a sub-10h30 Ironman, let's delve into how I'd approach their training plan. 
  • This athlete likely has some triathlon experience, consistent training habits, and juggles a full-time job and family responsibilities. With their target race in July, I'd structure their preparation into three phases.
  • Firstly, I'd focus on the final phase, the lead-up to the Ironman itself. In the months leading to the race, typically May and June, we ramp up training intensity and volume, honing in on Ironman-specific workouts. During this period, social commitments and other non-essential activities may need to take a backseat to prioritise training and recovery.
  • However, laying a foundation of more balanced training and life priorities in the preceding phases is crucial to ensure sustainability and balance. There are times in the training year when we can focus on other aspects of life and enjoy training without the intense pressure of Ironman-specific preparations. This balanced approach makes it more manageable to commit fully during the critical race build-up phase.
  • One common mistake I've observed is athletes diving into intense training immediately after their off-season break, fueled by newfound motivation. They go all-in during November, but without the necessary balance, their enthusiasm wanes, and they struggle to maintain consistency as the season progresses.
  • The critical takeaway is to clearly understand your goals and plan your training accordingly, ensuring that each phase of preparation aligns with your objectives. By striking a balance between focused race preparation and periods of more relaxed training, athletes can set themselves up for long-term success.

Goal setting

13:18 -

  • Engaging in triathlon while juggling a full-time job and family responsibilities requires a strong support system. It's crucial to share my goals with those around me and ensure we're all on the same page. With so much happening in life, making sound decisions and prioritising effectively are essential.
  • Decision-making plays a fundamental role, and I strive not to be driven by guilt or the notion that more training is always better. It's about considering the bigger picture of life rather than getting overly fixated on day-to-day training routines. Triathlon draws you into a tunnel-visioned mindset, so I consciously try to step back and gain perspective regularly.

Balancing life around triathlon

15:24 -

  • It's all about being open and transparent about involving family in triathlon. I understand that the sport can seem overwhelming to those unfamiliar with it, even professional athletes from other disciplines. So, I believe in explaining goals and aspirations honestly, considering the dynamics within the family.
  • The key is finding a balance and being willing to compromise. By planning, we can identify times when triathlon takes precedence and times when it doesn't. During less intense training, we use commuting time to squeeze in extra sessions or integrate training into family activities like trips.
  • I've noticed that stress tends to arise when we try to classify triathlon from other aspects of life. But in reality, they're all interconnected. When everyone is on the same page and involved in the planning process, it not only eases my mind as an athlete but also strengthens family support.
  • Additionally, I want to highlight that triathlon offers a wide range of race distances beyond just Ironman and 70.3 events. For example, Sprint and Olympic distance races may offer more time efficiency and flexibility, allowing athletes to balance training with other commitments more effectively.

Typical time inefficiencies to eliminate when in a time budget schedule

18:53 -

  • What I've seen done well is finding efficiency in training, mainly through work commutes or flexible scheduling around work commitments. 
  • I have an athlete who cycles to work daily, which adds to a significant amount of riding time throughout the week. This builds fitness and makes weekends more manageable for longer sessions. Thinking outside the box and maximising time when you're not occupied with other tasks can pay off.
  • Conversely, I've noticed inefficiency when athletes become overly fixated on session specifics and rely too heavily on technology. 
  • Sometimes, spending precious training time troubleshooting tech issues can be counterproductive. In these situations, I often advise athletes to simplify and just focus on getting the work done with basic tools like a stopwatch.
  • Planning is critical, and that extends beyond just training sessions. A solid nutrition routine and strategically incorporating fueling into your day can significantly enhance performance. 
  • Eating while commuting or during breaks can ensure you're adequately fueled for training without adding extra time-consuming steps when you get home.
  • Ultimately, success in training comes down to effective planning and realistic expectations. Knowing when to adapt and make decisions on the fly is crucial for long-term consistency. Life happens, and adjusting your training without being solely driven by data on platforms like TrainingPeaks is essential for maintaining balance and sustainability.

Consistency

22:12 -

  • Inconsistency often stems from poor decision-making and, in some cases, a lack of motivation. Poor decision-making can manifest in scenarios like missing a planned session due to unexpected circumstances and then trying to make up for it by sacrificing sleep or recovery, leading to illness or injury in the long run.
  • These seemingly insignificant decisions, made at the moment to squeeze in a workout, can ultimately compromise consistency.
  • Another factor is setting overly ambitious goals and pushing too hard and quickly. It's essential to be patient with training progressions and not bite off more than you can chew. In my experience, injury or illness usually disrupts consistency rather than a lack of motivation.
  • However, sometimes, a lack of motivation stems from unrealistic expectations of success rather than pure laziness. It's crucial to reassess goals and expectations to maintain consistency in training.
  • One of my key roles as a coach is to empower athletes to make decisions for themselves as they gain experience. When athletes ask me for advice on adjusting their training due to work commitments or other factors, it often indicates that they already know the answer deep down. They just need confirmation and encouragement to trust their instincts.
  • My approach is to affirm their decision-making and reassure them that adapting their training schedule is okay based on their circumstances. 
  • I always commend athletes who take proactive steps to modify their workouts on platforms like TrainingPeaks, whether due to a busy day at work or unexpected responsibilities. It's gratifying to see athletes problem-solve and take ownership of their training.
  • Encouraging athletes to recognise and address potential challenges in their training regimen is essential for long-term success. 
  • Over time, athletes develop the skills to make informed decisions independently, ultimately leading to better outcomes. It's a learning process, but cultivating this ability to make sound decisions is crucial for athletes' growth and development.

Recovery periods

28:09 -

  • It's an excellent question, and it's essential. Again, it plays a massive part in that consistency piece. My stock answer is, "It depends." 
  • And I think it depends on a few different things. So I have some very clear athletes: they need a rest day once a week because they just need that mental switch off and to know that they've got space in their week to recover. And then I have athletes at the other end of the spectrum who say, "Don't give me a rest day; I hate rest days; I feel plodding coming off them, and I don't feel like they just make me more stressed." 
  • Both approaches are absolutely fine. For me, it's about working out the best training formula that allows you to repeat it weekly without inconsistency.
  • But I think it's vital for me to understand the demands of work and family life because they are included in my mind in the total stress load on an athlete. It's not just a case of training load in isolation and assuming that because they've got a recovery week from a training standpoint, that's translated into a more peaceful home life. Often, if you put a recovery week in training, home life goes wild because they've got more time.
  • So, I think it's about figuring out what each athlete's week looks like and then making space. It's about understanding and coming together to understand what recovery looks like. For some athletes, walking the dog before or after work is their form of recovery; it re-energises them. For others, it's sitting on the sofa doing absolutely nothing.
  • That's probably the most significant difference between age group athletes and professional athletes: professional athletes are much better at sitting and doing nothing. 
  • Age group athletes constantly compromise, trying to do enough training to elicit a stimulus, a response, but then having the recovery afterward to adapt to that response. 
  • I always try to reinforce that adaptation happens in the recovery phase. So you need to ensure that you're doing that and doing it well. But it's certainly not easy and is probably the most significant area of compromise that I see.
  • It's crucial to incorporate easier days into your weekly training routine. I typically aim for at least three to four aerobic, easy days. Sometimes, I'll disguise a rest day by including light activities, allowing athletes to feel productive while prioritising rest. 
  • Expecting consistency without any days off is unrealistic. Recovery is essential for achieving optimal performance.

Training distribution

33:02 -

  • For the most part, unless I'm in a very privileged position where I'm either retired or don't have to work, I base most training prescriptions around the most efficient.
  • So, swimming tends to be the most challenging aspect of a busy work and life schedule because it takes up a significant amount of time. Therefore, I tend to lean more towards a cycling and running-heavy program, especially when athletes are far from racing.
  • The training focus may shift as athletes progress closer to their races, but acquiring aerobic volume remains paramount for middle-distance and Ironman performances. Aerobic robustness is crucial in races, and while maximising physiological profile is essential, the timing of such efforts must align with overall volume.
  • However, suppose athletes have the luxury of ample time to train, such as those who are retired or have flexible schedules. In that case, I may prescribe training more from a performance perspective rather than focusing solely on efficiency. In this scenario, I can set a more evenly distributed structure across swim, bike, and run, provided athletes can guarantee adequate recovery.
  • Ultimately, the training approach depends on the athletes' goals, ability to commit to training, and capacity for recovery.

Training intensity

36:24 -

  • In my experience, intensity plays a crucial role when preparing for an Ironman race. Typically, during an Ironman, I operate around zone two's upper end and zone three's lower end, which is still very aerobic. 
  • This serves as a solid stimulus for performance. Moving up, there's the second threshold, often associated with FTP on the bike or sprint distance race intensity. Crossing this threshold incurs a high cost, demanding adequate recovery.
  • For Ironman and 70.3 races, the training intensity typically falls between these thresholds. This is where I focus the majority of my training efforts. 
  • However, I assess an athlete's thresholds when looking further out from a race, say around 12 weeks or more. If the second threshold limits performance and the first threshold is close to it, I work on shifting that boundary. 
  • This may involve higher-intensity workouts but with increased recovery periods to facilitate adaptation.
  • As the race approaches, workouts tend to become more prolonged but less intense. With well-conditioned athletes, the overall cost is lower, allowing for higher volume with lower-intensity work. 
  • This gradual tapering of intensity helps optimise performance while minimising the risk of overtraining.
  • In my experience, maximising the efficiency of a limited training window involves more than just pushing hard for the sake of intensity. It's about understanding the athlete's specific needs and focusing on what will truly enhance performance.
  • When an athlete has a short hour to train, it's crucial to consider the immediate gains and the long-term impact on subsequent sessions. Rushing through a high-intensity session might seem productive, but it could compromise recovery and negatively affect future workouts.
  • Instead, I prioritise identifying the athlete's limiting factors and tailoring the session accordingly. 
  • For example, if cadence control or aerodynamics are areas of improvement, I might design a session focused on cadence variations or aero drills. 
  • These targeted workouts address specific weaknesses and ultimately contribute to better race performance.
  • By training smart and strategically, rather than simply chasing high intensity, athletes can maximise their gains and optimise their overall performance. 
  • It's about being thoughtful and intentional in our approach to training rather than just trying to force progress through sheer effort.

Work Travel training

41:27 -

  • Travel can tax the body, especially when it involves long flights or significant distances. From a training perspective, it's all about assessing capabilities and adjusting the program accordingly. 
  • We need to consider the impact of travel both before and after travel and make necessary adjustments to maintain the current fitness level.
  • One of my biggest concerns when travelling is the risk of illness. I always prioritise hygiene, especially in busy areas like airports. 
  • Even if it means getting strange looks, I'll use hand sanitiser and a mask to protect myself. Consistency can be challenging for athletes with frequent travel commitments, so integrate good hygiene practices and prioritise sleep into the routine.

Strength Training

44:33 -

  • Strength training has always been the first to drop off for me when prioritising sessions. I've noticed that this tends to depend on age, especially for women approaching pro-menopausal age or men ageing into their 50s. 
  • Up until that point, I view strength training primarily as a means of injury prevention. It's not a universal requirement for every athlete I coach. Still, for those with vulnerabilities to injuries, such as recurring niggles or asymmetries affecting their running or cycling technique, I emphasise the importance of implementing a strength and conditioning plan.
  • However, as individuals reach these life stages, particularly around the 50s, I see strength training becoming even more crucial. At this point, its significance extends beyond triathlon performance and becomes integral to overall health as we age. 
  • Lifting heavy weights becomes essential for maintaining strength and function and can significantly contribute to one's well-being in later life. As long as it's done consistently and with proper form, incorporating strength training into your routine won't hinder triathlon training but can enhance longevity and quality of life. 
  • The growing body of research supporting the role of strength training in ageing reinforces its importance in maintaining health and vitality as we age.

Perimenopause's impact on performance

47:15 -

  • As a coach, I work predominantly with female athletes, and over the past year, I've delved into educating myself about the challenges they face, particularly as they approach midlife. 
  • One of the most challenging aspects is identifying the symptoms of perimenopause, as many of these symptoms can easily be attributed to the demands of endurance training. Symptoms like feeling fatigued, mentally foggy, experiencing irregular periods, heightened stress, and emotional fluctuations are often brushed off as part of the training process.
  • Navigating through these symptoms and understanding whether they're related to perimenopause or training fatigue can be a complex process. 
  • As a coach, I've learned the importance of listening closely to my athletes' feedback and being attuned to subtle changes in their well-being. However, resources on how to train effectively through perimenopause are scarce, which makes it even more challenging.
  • My advice to athletes experiencing these symptoms is to consult with their GP. While doctors may not immediately recognise perimenopause, requesting blood tests can help confirm hormonal changes. 
  • However, even after diagnosis, deciding on treatment options like hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can be daunting due to the abundance of misinformation.
  • One significant impact of perimenopause on athletes is the toll it takes on their self-confidence. Many female athletes derive confidence and value from their sports performance. 
  • When their performance declines or they struggle to meet training demands, it can lead to self-doubt and frustration. It's essential to reassure athletes that they're not alone in facing these challenges and that seeking medical help is a proactive step towards addressing them.
  • Fortunately, valuable resources are available, such as https://www.thewell-hq.com/, an educational website founded by women's health and sports experts. 
  • However, more work is needed to raise awareness and provide comprehensive education and support for female athletes navigating perimenopause and other women's health issues in sports.

Training changes in this period

52:29 -

  • I've worked with a few athletes who have chosen to undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It can be a period of adjustment for some, but the transformation has often been remarkable for those I've worked with. They transition from feeling out of sorts, struggling emotionally, and lacking energy to suddenly feeling like their old selves again. 
  • Once hormone balance is restored, prescribing training becomes much simpler because the athlete feels more like themselves and can continue training effectively.
  • However, managing athletes who are either undiagnosed or unmedicated can be more challenging. It's ultimately a personal choice whether or not to pursue HRT, and some athletes may opt not to go down that path, which is completely understandable. 
  • In these cases, it's crucial to be highly attuned to how they feel daily, including their energy levels, sleep quality, and overall well-being. Adaptability to training plans becomes essential, as adjustments may need to be made based on their circumstances.

Common training mistakes age groupers do

54:13 -

  • One common issue I've noticed lately is underfunding, which often happens gradually over time due to juggling family, work, and training demands. It's not always easy to spot because it's not necessarily intentional but rather a result of constantly moving from one task to the next without properly refuelling.
  • Addressing this issue is straightforward once you become aware of it and take steps to ensure you're adequately fueled for training.
  • Another mistake is people prioritising high-intensity workouts when they're short on time, thinking that pushing harder will yield better results. While this approach may work in the short term, it's not always the best choice for long-term progress. 
  • It's essential to balance intensity and volume, considering what's sustainable and effective over time.
  • While I appreciate the benefits of technology and data in our sport, I've observed some athletes becoming overly reliant on data without paying enough attention to their feelings. 
  • While data can provide valuable insights, listening to your body, prioritising your feelings, and managing your training load are equally essential. Both data and intuition have their place in effective training.

Over-reliance on data

57:33 -

  • It's also important to be transparent about the use of technology. There's so much data available nowadays, and it's tempting to track everything we do. 
  • But about 90% of that data ends up sitting in TrainingPeaks, unused. While the technology on the market is fantastic and will only improve, we need to ensure it serves a purpose and is used in a way that benefits us.
  • We might cross a line if we collect data because we can. The key is understanding what we are collecting and why. If it's not serving a specific purpose or helping me improve, then it's probably not worth tracking. When it comes to data collection, it's about quality over quantity.

Age group racing dynamics

59:02 -

  • I tend to consider various factors when approaching races, and one thing that stands out to me is the rolling swim start, which seems to be a common feature in most races. It's both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. 
  • While it allows me to focus on my performance, gauging where I stand in the race without external input can be challenging. However, understanding this aspect and preparing accordingly is crucial.
  • In age-group racing, the bike course often plays a significant role. The terrain, whether flat or hilly, significantly impacts race dynamics. 
  • On flat courses, especially multi-lap ones, navigating through other athletes becomes a key aspect, requiring strategic decision-making and bursts of power. 
  • Training for such scenarios involves a stochastic approach, incorporating intervals that mimic race demands.
  • Regarding running, the race dynamics typically have less impact than the bike leg unless the course is particularly congested. 
  • However, having an experienced guide or being prepared to race into the unknown can mitigate potential challenges.

Preparing different races

1:03:01 -

  • If I were preparing an athlete for Kona, I would emphasise managing the conditions, heat, travel, and race strategy. Kona's course isn't overly demanding in terms of profile, but the brutal conditions make it challenging.
  • I'd advise travelling at least ten days before the race and incorporating a heat preparation block. Multiple heat exposures throughout the year help the body adapt better. 
  • Even in the early morning swim, smart equipment choices and cooling strategies are crucial to prevent overheating.
  • For Nice, with its sea swim and mountainous bike course, I'd focus on preparing for choppy waters and Alpine descents. Prioritise races or training camps that offer experience in descending and climbing. 
  • While heat preparation is still necessary, the emphasis may shift slightly depending on potential race-day conditions. 
  • Both courses present unique challenges, requiring thorough preparation for the world championships.

Tapering

1:08:01 -

  • It is crucial to understand the cumulative life stress of athletes who train for eight to ten hours. Incorporating tapering into their training regimen is also essential. I believe there's a natural tapering effect when travelling internationally for races. 
  • The commitments and activities during race week naturally provide opportunities for recovery by limiting training. For instance, the day of flying out to the race often becomes a write-off due to travel fatigue and pre-race preparations.
  • In my experience, the effectiveness of a taper varies depending on the athlete's physiological characteristics. Athletes with a more punchy, anaerobic capacity tend to respond well to a traditional taper, characterised by a gradual reduction in intensity and volume leading up to race day. 
  • On the other hand, athletes with a diesel engine-like capacity, lacking top-end range, require more careful planning around travel commitments. 
  • It's easy for them to feel sluggish if they rest too much, so I tend to initiate their tapering process earlier, around ten days from the race.
  • During this period, I focus on providing robust recovery while ensuring they maintain good immunity for travel. 
  • As race day approaches, I gradually reintroduce intensity to prevent them from feeling sluggish and ensure they're mentally and physically prepared to perform at their best. This approach helps them avoid feeling lethargic on race day and ensures a smoother transition into competition mode.
  • Many athletes, especially in the pro field, seem to adopt this approach. Compared to five years ago, there's a noticeable trend among aerobically gifted athletes accustomed to higher volumes and consistent training leading up to race day. 
  • For these athletes, tapering too much can potentially do more harm than not resting enough, provided they're adequately fueled and well-rested. 
  • They thrive on consistent training and are often ready to perform at their best, even without extensive tapering. In contrast, anaerobic athletes may see a significant difference in performance if they're not given sufficient rest before a race.

Common race execution mistakes

1:12:48 -

  • I often see the most mistakes made before the race rather than necessarily during it. Athletes are usually willing to invest a lot of time in training but often overlook the days leading up to the race. Ideally, for important races, I recommend giving yourself three to four days ahead of the race to travel, settle in, and maybe even recce some of the course. 
  • While this may not be feasible for every race, it can be incredibly beneficial for critical events. Familiarising yourself with the course and ensuring you're settled can help reduce pre-race stress.
  • Another common mistake I notice is with bike maintenance. Many athletes travel with bikes that haven't been serviced or checked beforehand. Given the time invested in training, experiencing a mechanical issue during a race due to neglecting bike maintenance can be disheartening. 
  • I highly recommend thoroughly checking your tyres, ensuring you have a fresh chain, and ensuring your bike has been appropriately serviced and built.
  • Underfueling is another prevalent issue pre-race. This can occur due to busyness with race logistics or concerns about feeling too heavy in the stomach before the race. 
  • However, not consuming enough calories or carbohydrates before the race can significantly compromise performance. If you struggle to eat solid food before a race, consider consuming high-carb drinks or other easily digestible options to ensure you're adequately fueled.
  • As for in-race mistakes, they often stem from not anticipating the race dynamics. 
  • For example, on a flat course where athletes may plan to maintain consistent power, they might become overwhelmed by the busy race environment and struggle with decisions like overtaking or staying with a pack. 
  • Preparing for the race dynamics and sticking to your race plan can help mitigate these issues.
  • Many athletes tend to back-load their fuel intake, starting with a standard breakfast and increasing intake throughout the day, only to realise they're behind on fueling and end up overcompensating with a massive dinner. 
  • This can leave them feeling uncomfortable and unprepared on race day.
  • The key solution is to fuel adequately two days before the race. During this period, liquid carbohydrates like melted gels, Coke, or gels with toast and jam can be effective. 
  • By tapering down fuel intake after lunch the day before the race, I aim to return to a standard, lighter meal regimen typical of rest days. 
  • This strategy ensures that I'm adequately fueled without feeling weighed down by excessive intake close to race time.
  • Understanding that the body takes time to absorb and utilise the fuel, especially for muscle glycogen replenishment. 
  • Relying solely on last-minute meals before or after breakfast on race day can be insufficient.
  • Another thing that's often overlooked is race course efficiencies. I'm talking about how you handle hills when to stay in the aero position, and when to sit up. These small decisions can make a big difference in your overall race time. 
  • Transitions, too, are crucial. Although the clock might appear to stop during transitions, time is still ticking away.
  • Many athletes can gain significant time on the race course without improving their fitness level. It's all about being focused and mindful of your race execution on the big day. 
  • It's challenging, especially in an Ironman race where you're out there for so long, but it's essential.
  • People often get too caught up in bike power numbers when speed is actually the critical factor. 
  • You need to find the right balance between power, heart rate, and technical considerations like your riding position. Your training and understanding of how to maintain speed efficiently should inform this.
  • Power targets are often set optimistically, assuming everything goes perfectly on race day. But it's better to ride a bit easier and save energy for the run. 
  • The gains you make on the run from conserving energy on the bike far outweigh any time lost. Finishing strong on the run and feeling in control is a much better outcome than struggling through because you overexerted on the bike.

Listener Questions

Working on top-end

1:21:15 -

  • It depends a little bit on what you're training for. So, let's work on the assumption that by "top end," you mean above the threshold and that you're training for a 70.3.
  • I would tend to do that top end work at the start of the training process and raise the aerobic ceiling as much as possible, then slowly move into more specific Ironman work later into the season. 
  • But at the other end of the spectrum, if I were racing sprints or coaching sprints or standard-distance athletes, that would be flipped. 
  • So I would do predominantly more aerobic work and more like real top-end stuff, which you don't need to tap into for Ironman and 70.3 stuff earlier on and then build your more traditional intensity second threshold work closer to racing. Still, it very much depends on what you're training for.

Strength training vs additional endurance training

1:22:50 -

  • I recommend incorporating strength training into your routine. By strength training, I mean lifting weights and progressively increasing the resistance. 
  • From a triathlon perspective and an ageing standpoint, there's a lot to be gained from this. However, for proper adaptation, it's essential to be mindful of recovery after these sessions. 
  • Simply swapping out a session for strength training and assuming it's enough might not be sufficient. You may need to allocate extra time for recovery following your strength sessions to maximise their benefits.

Rest periods between sets

1:24:29 -

  • Rest intervals in swimming are crucial, especially considering the lower heart rate experienced during swimming compared to biking and running. 
  • Because the heart rate is lower, the time needed for recovery between intervals is typically shorter. 
  • For threshold swimming, I generally follow a rule of thumb for work-to-rest ratios, with around 15 seconds rest for 100-meter reps at threshold pace, increasing to 20 seconds for 200-meter reps and 25 seconds for 300-meter reps.
  • However, if an athlete struggles with inadequate rest, I recommend prioritising pacing over increasing rest intervals. Threshold intensity in the pool should feel around a seven out of ten, gradually building from a six to an eight throughout the set. 
  • Slowing down slightly can help maintain the desired intensity without compromising the quality of the session.
  • Using perceived exertion (RPE) can be beneficial in estimating threshold pace, as traditional tests like the 200-400 Critical Swim Speed (CSS) test may overestimate threshold pace. 
  • Adjusting CSS test results by adding a few seconds per 100 meters can provide a more realistic estimate of the threshold pace. 
  • The goal should be to accumulate the desired volume of threshold swimming, even if the pace is slightly below the true threshold intensity.
  • While some athletes may benefit from longer rest intervals to address muscular endurance limitations in the arms, ensuring that the rest duration aligns with the individual's training needs and goals is essential. 
  • In most cases, athletes tend to swim threshold sets too fast, so focusing on appropriate pacing is key before considering longer rest intervals.

Test protocols

1:28:10 -

  • Generally, consistency is key when it comes to testing. Whether you're using established tests or repeating sessions that hold meaning for you throughout the year, the important thing is to maintain consistency in your approach.
  • In terms of swim testing, I typically lean towards the CSS test, which involves a 200m max effort followed by a 400m recovery and then an 800m max effort. 
  • This gives a good indication of endurance capabilities. For cycling, I usually opt for either a 20-minute FTP test or a critical power test involving efforts of three minutes, 12 minutes, and so on. 
  • The choice depends on what aspect of the athlete's performance I'm trying to assess. 
  • Following the test, I like to validate the results with structured sessions to ensure accuracy.
  • Regarding running, I often rely on race performances or repeated sessions to gauge progress. 
  • For those considering between the ramp test and a 20-minute test, I believe the 20-minute test is better suited for assessing threshold improvements, while the ramp test may be more suitable for early-season VO2 max-focused periods. 
  • However, I prefer the critical power test or the 20-minute test for threshold assessment.

Advice for athletes going through difficult periods

1:33:26 -

  • In tough times, I find it helpful to open up to someone I trust and share how I feel. Just talking about what's bothering me can be a relief in itself. 
  • Often, articulating my thoughts helps me find solutions or insights on my own. Having someone who's a good listener can make a big difference.
  • It's also essential to have that conversation with myself to try and understand the root cause of my struggles and see if there's anything I can do to address them. Sometimes, there are actions I can take to alleviate the situation, but other times, I just need to accept that things are tough and show myself some compassion.
  • In moments like these, triathlon might need to take a backseat. Self-care and understanding are critical, even if it means adjusting priorities for a while.

Fatigue when training

1:35:11 -

  • It's pretty straightforward: rest until you feel motivated to train again. When I stumble or hesitate a bit, it's because the context is unclear. 
  • But if I consistently experience periods where I don't want to train, if it's becoming a regular occurrence rather than just a temporary lack of motivation, I need to delve deeper and rediscover why I'm doing what I'm doing.
  • If it's just a matter of feeling tired and sleepy on a particular day and I don't feel up to training, I permit myself to skip it unless I know I'm being too easy on myself.
  • A lack of motivation can be a red flag for triathletes like me, who are typically good at staying consistent and motivated. 
  • It could indicate that something is off in my stress balance – it might not be training-related issues at work, in my personal life, or elsewhere. So, if I usually have strong motivation but lack it on a given day, I take it as a sign to prioritise rest.

Intensity of endurance training

1:37:17 -

  • The emphasis on training intensity depends mainly on the athlete's goals and physiology. Consistency reigns supreme, and focusing on aerobic training can be highly beneficial for long-term success. Aerobic training places less stress on the body and promotes metabolic and muscular development, which is essential for endurance.
  • For most athletes, most training should occur in zones one and two, as this is where significant gains in endurance capacity occur. This approach aligns with the principle of building a solid aerobic base, which serves as a foundation for performance improvements.
  • However, the training intensity distribution within these zones may vary depending on individual factors. 
  • Athletes with a more "diesel" engine physiology may tolerate higher zone two training volumes. In contrast, those with a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibres may benefit from focusing more on the lower end of zone two or even zone one to aid recovery and adaptation.
  • Ultimately, the key is understanding one's physiology and goals and tailoring training intensity accordingly. Balancing the emphasis on aerobic development with individual preferences and race priorities can lead to optimised performance outcomes.

Mikael Takeaways

1:40:30 -

  • Firstly, I want to emphasise the importance of good preparation and organisation during race week or the final few days before a race to achieve peak performance on race day. Especially when travelling, the more I wing it, the less I set myself up for success.
  • What I do in the days before the race significantly impacts my performance. This applies to nutrition and factors like rest, sleep opportunities, time on feet, and managing stress. If I'm not organised and planning these things, one or more factors may negatively impact my race day performance.
  • I want to highlight the importance of considering total life stress in my training equation. While many of us understand this concept, there's often a gap between awareness and action.
  • It's essential to adjust training for changes in life stress, being mindful when total stress levels fluctuate. This awareness is crucial for making intelligent decisions and preventing burnout.
  • Finally, decision-making plays a crucial role in the training process. I've found that actively making decisions, rather than passively letting things happen, is vital. For example, if I feel a niggle during a hard run, I must actively decide whether to continue or stop.
  • Taking ownership of my decisions and minimising reliance on luck is also important. Analysing past successes and setbacks helps me identify critical decisions that led to those outcomes, allowing me to learn and improve.

LINKS AND RESOURCES:


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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