Podcast, Training

Luke Watson, NTPCW head coach – Training talk | EP#433

 May 23, 2024

By  Bernardo Gonçalves


Luke Watson - That Triathlon Show

Luke Watson is the performance head coach of the National Triathlon Performance Centre Wales in Cardiff, a development environment for both short-course and long-course triathletes with world-class potential.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • Luke's coaching methodology and training principles
  • The evolution of triathlon and how to adapt to changing demands
  • Periodisation of racing and training
  • Training similarities and differences between elite short-course and long-course athletes
  • Maximising training efficiency for age-group athletes
  • Common mistakes to avoid for AG-athletes
  • How to create a good pacing strategy for half and full distance races
  • Tips for age-groupers to improve their swim, bike and run training and performance

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Luke's background

02:55 -

  • I'm the Performance Head Coach for Welsh Triathlon. On a day-to-day basis, I run the National Triathlon Performance Centre in Cardiff, Wales. We have a diverse squad of national and international athletes, including both student and professional athletes. 
  • While most are Welsh or British, we also have athletes from Barbados, Australia, and Japan.
  • have overall responsibility for the Welsh Senior Program, which includes major events like the Commonwealth Games. Additionally, I work with British Triathlon at various camps and competitions. For the past two years, I have been the lead coach for the World Under-23 Championships, and I recently returned from coaching at the WTS race in Yokohama for the British Triathlon.
  • Besides my main responsibilities, I also coach both amateur and professional athletes in long-course triathlon. In our squad, we have a mix of short-course and long-course athletes. 
  • The majority of our group comprises high-level short-course athletes, both nationally and internationally. 
  • Our squad truly represents a mix of short-course and long-course athletes, both national and international, all striving for excellence.
  • I did work with amateurs a few years ago before starting my full-time job. During that time, I coached a wide range of athletes in triathlon, from kids just starting at the local club to adults training for the Olympics or Paralympics. 
  • I ran swim clinics, provided private one-on-one coaching, and worked with various levels of athletes. So, I have experience coaching different types of triathletes, covering a broad spectrum of ages and skill levels.

Coaching methodology

06:16 -

  • For me, I divide them into two distinct categories: coaching methodology is about how you do things, while training philosophy is about what you end up doing. I take them one by one in that sense.
  • From a coaching methodology point of view, I have a framework I use with new athletes or even at the start of each year with ongoing athletes. 
  • The first step is building the relationship—understanding the person and setting clear expectations about what we’re trying to achieve. It’s important to know why they do the sport because this can impact decisions and how we work together.
  • I believe it’s not just the coach’s job to adapt to the athlete; it’s about finding a mutual understanding of how we’ll work together to get the most out of each other. Even with long-term athletes, it’s crucial to keep revisiting and evolving that relationship.
  • Once the relationship is establishedit’s about understanding the demand: what are they trying to achieve, and specifically, what does it take to do that? 
  • If someone wants to podium at a competition or deliver their best performance at a world event, we need to know the exact speeds, power outputs, and other metrics they need to hit. 
  • Our group does well in being super clear on the demands of competition for each athlete’s goals.
  • After understanding the demands, we move to individual profiling. Where are they relative to their goals? We assess physical, technical, and psychological parameters to get a clear idea of where they stand compared to their goals. 
  • At this point, it’s also useful to re-evaluate if the goal is realistic. Sometimes, what an athlete sets as a one-year goal might need to be adjusted to a two- or three-year timeline.
  • With the gaps identified and the goals confirmed as realistic, we can build the plan. Coaching can vary greatly depending on the athlete’s experience level. For a new athlete, my role might be more instructional—providing direct guidance. For more experienced athletes, it’s more consultative, where they bring their ideas and we discuss them. 
  • Most athletes fall somewhere in between on this spectrum.
  • Both the athlete and I must be clear on how we’re working together. It wouldn’t be effective for me to act as an advisor to someone who needs more direct instruction.
  • Finally, it’s about planning, executing, and reviewing. We constantly reassess how things are going and adjust our targets if needed. 
  • For instance, after COVID, there were significant changes in race dynamics, like higher bike levels and the impact of super shoes on run times, which required recalibrating our competition expectations.

Season planning

12:30 -

  • I'd love to say I have a clear hierarchical setup for my planning process, but that's not the case. We have a broad overview of the year, outlining how things will break down around an athlete's key objectives.
  • As a full-time coach working with many full-time or nearly full-time athletes, I see them often and can quickly adapt plans.
  • I typically plan monthly, setting rough goals for each month, and then detail the plan weekly. However, by the time I finalize a session for Monday, something might change over the weekend, like an athlete being more tired than expected. I need to be ready to make those changes on the fly.
  • I focus more on this level of adaptability rather than creating a detailed three-month plan. Often, unforeseen issues like injuries or changes in the race calendar require adjustments, making detailed long-term plans less effective. Spending too much time on these detailed plans can lead to constantly revising them.
  • Effective decision-making and reacting to real-time developments is where I place my effort, rather than precise long-term planning. If the initial broad planning is done well, you have a clear understanding of your goals, and the decisions you make can better adapt to changes without veering off course.
  • It's like steering a ship toward your destination; you make adjustments as needed without needing an overly detailed long-term plan.

Training Philosophy

15:13 -

  • For me, there are a few key considerations when it comes to training support. While philosophy might seem a bit high-level, it's important to remember that our sport is fundamentally an endurance-engine sport. This is true whether you're racing a short course, a long course, or at any level. 
  • We need to ensure that our engine is optimized for our competition's demands, which typically means having a high threshold. 
  • Of course, technical, tactical, and movement quality aspects are also important, but understanding and meeting the physiological demands is crucial.
  • Managing high-intensity work is essential. I used to call it intensity control, but it's really about managing how much high-intensity work an athlete does. This means anything over LT1, whether you're using a 3-zone or 5-zone model. 
  • It could be zone 3, 4, or 5 in a 5-zone model, or zones 2 and 3 in a 3-zone model. It's important to be clear about what you're doing, why you're doing it, and what specific intensity you're targeting based on the athlete's needs. 
  • Different athletes have different profiles and competition demands, so their training needs will vary.
  • Some short-course athletes might never need to touch high-intensity work because of their enormous anaerobic capability and high VO2 max. Others might need a lot of zone 5 work. 
  • The key is to match individual needs with the demands of competition. This requires creativity in setting up sessions, especially in a group setting, so everyone gets what they need.
  • Swimming presents a unique challenge because it's harder to individualize due to shared lanes. Running and biking are more individual.
  •  For swimming, we try to write sessions that can be done in different waysFor example, tomorrow's session is 2x100, 800, 3x100, 700, 4x100, 600, and 5x100, 500. Athletes with a lot of top-end capability might swim the hundreds a bit easier and the longer reps harder, focusing on optimizing their LT2. 
  • Others might hit the hundreds harder and swim the long reps easier. We arrange lanes based on these needs and have conversations with the athletes to ensure they understand the session's goals.

Strengths & weaknesses

21:33 -

  • I think that's interesting because often people focus on improving weaknesses when they see something lacking. But at the elite level, or even if you're just trying to be successful, you need to differentiate yourself from the competition. 
  • It's not just about minimizing weaknesses but also maximizing strengths.
  • When I worked with Adam and Lothra, we developed a concept we called "red line, green line.
  • The idea was that you need to bring your weaknesses up to the red line, which is the minimum acceptable level, and push your strengths above the green line. 
  • This green line represents the qualities that make a real difference, the things that set you apart from others. If you get everything between these two linesyou’ll be good but not exceptional. You need something above the green line to truly stand out and impact the race.
  • Understanding where each athlete is about this profile is key. For example, there's no point in being an incredible runner if your swim is so far below the red line that you're always in the last pack. You won't achieve your goals unless you balance out these skills. 
  • It's about developing areas of weakness to a sustainable level while also giving enough opportunities to excel in areas of strength.
  • Early in my coaching career, I didn't always get this balance right. I had athletes who were great at high-intensity work but needed to improve their threshold. We focused so much on their weakness that they felt inadequate because they weren't seeing their strengths. This had a negative psychological impact—they started thinking they were just not good enough.
  • I've learned that it's crucial to allow athletes to showcase their strengths regularly. 
  • This boosts their confidence and keeps their strengths sharp for competition. 
  • Balancing psychological needs with physical training ensures that athletes remain motivated and can perform at their best. When they go into a race, they should feel ready to leverage their strengths, not just compensate for their weaknesses.
  • I think that if you get stuck thinking of training zones as discrete things, you're probably oversimplifying it. Everything impacts everything else. You want to ensure you're applying the stimulus in the area where you seek the most effect while also having enough of the other stimuli to get the desired adaptations.
  • I find that one of the most interesting parts of coaching is trying to get that mix right. You might get it right for one athlete and think you've nailed it, but then you have another athlete for whom the same approach doesn't work at all
  • We have 17 athletes in our squad full-time, and what works for one can be the complete opposite of what works for another. It's all about making those individual tweaks all the time to get the most out of each person.

Additional training principles

27:21 -

  • I guess there are a couple more points to consider. First, let's talk about intensity management. The biggest thing is to train where you are, not where you want to be. If you train at your current level, you'll get to where you want to be. 
  • But if you train at the level you aspire to, you're likely going too hard, risking injury, and not getting the desired effect. This is especially crucial when managing a group of athletes. 
  • It's about helping them understand what they need to get out of a session and how to execute it, rather than focusing on outperforming others. 
  • In group settings, it's easy for everyone to push to keep up with the best athlete, leading to burnout and incomplete workouts. Training should be personalized, focusing on individual strengths and weaknesses.
  • Another important point is maintaining a macro perspective. Athletes often get caught up in how each session compares to the last, losing sight of the bigger picture. It's essential to zoom out and look at progress over months, not just weeks. For instance, improvements over two months are more telling than just comparing last week's performance. 
  • Similarly, training volume should be viewed over extended periods. Going all out one week and needing recovery the next isn't as effective as consistent effort over time. We aim to focus on 12-week windows or even yearly benchmarks, like achieving a thousand hours of training in a yearThis requires managing health, sleep, recovery, and life to maintain consistent training.
  • Ultimately, the key is to look at progress on a macro level. Significant improvements are seen over extended periods, not week to week. 
  • As coaches, we often need to remind athletes to step back from the micro-details and see their progress over months or even a year. This helps them understand the work they've done or identify areas needing improvement.

Group training

33:16 -

  • I think you'd find that for every person who has successfully followed a specific processthere's at least one who has been broken by it. This likely stems from an imperfect understanding of the demands and how to improve people. 
  • In my opinion, there will always be someone who is the best athlete in the group, which makes it impossible for everyone to excel in the same way, especially in a sport like ours with three disciplines.
  • The strength of a group in triathlon comes from having different athletes excel in different disciplines. Some are the best swimmers, others the best riders, and others the best runners. 
  • Usually, these aren't the same people in all disciplines. This dynamic allows athletes to feed off each other's strengths. 
  • Everyone has something to offer, an area where they feel stronger and more in control, while there are other areas where they know they'll struggle but will benefit from the group's support.
  • One of the benefits of triathlon is this blend of sports and the corresponding mix of strengths and weaknesses. It allows for a more comprehensive approach to getting the best out of each athlete.
  • One thing I think often gets overlooked is the importance of communication and individualized planning. In our group, we spend a huge portion of our time figuring out what each person is going to do in each session and how that fits into their overall plan. 
  • It's also crucial to ensure that athletes understand what they're doing and why they're doing it. When athletes understand the purpose behind their sessions, they're more invested and less likely to feel the need to follow someone else's plan because they know it's not what they need.

Changes in short-distance triathlon

36:50 -

  • I think the most obvious issue is the length of the race calendar. We used to race between May and September, giving us seven months for training, recovery, and work.
  • Now, races span from February to November, with world championships in Abu Dhabi at the end of November and the 70.3 world championships in December. The WTS season starts in March, making the extended calendar a significant problem.
  • This extended season is particularly challenging for developing athletes. When you're already at the top of your game, you might manage better, but for those still developing, it's tough. 
  • They need time to train and improve rather than just racing and recovering to maintain the same level year after year. The lengthy season limits their opportunity to genuinely progress.
  • Moreover, the range of opportunities now, like the Super League, French Grand Prix, Bundesliga, domestic Super series, and the ITU World Triathlon calendar, complicates constructing a coherent season. Athletes need to meet their goals and targets while also making a living, making planning far more complex than it used to be.
  • Another major theme is the shortening of race distances. For instance, in 2009, the first Elite Sprint Distance Race and World Championships for the Sprint Distance were introduced. 
  • Now, sprint distances dominate the calendar, particularly in Europe, where we might have only one or two Olympic distance races per year out of 11 or 12 races. 
  • We also have relay races, Super League, Zwift e-tri, and many shorter events. Preparing athletes for this varied range of competitions is quite difficult.

How to manage the extended race season

40:20 -

  • I suppose trying to convince athletes that they don't need to race every second week from November onwards is the first step. Planning a year and setting out the different periods is crucial.
  • I prefer back-to-back racing or race blocks. Instead of racing three or four times every two weeks for eight weeks, I'd suggest racing three times in four weeks. 
  • This way, you can spend the other four weeks training and getting fit again. Structuring the year with enough control over the race calendar to allow for these training blocks is important
  • A one- or two-week gap between races isn't enough to do much more than maintain fitness; you need three- or four-week gaps to top up the workload.
  • Another key aspect is managing the taper and recovery process depending on the race's priority level. The goal is to minimize the time lost from training during this period.
  • For a long-course triathlon, with an extended race calendar, I'd approach it similarly, with more race blocks followed by chunks of training. 
  • Middle-distance races might allow back-to-back racing, unlike full-distance races which require more recovery time. It depends on the individual athlete's profile and how they handle the lower intensity but longer duration of these races. Some athletes recover more quickly from long distances because of the lower intensity.
  • For 70.3 races, it's possible to race back-to-back, as many athletes do. However, you need to focus on recovery and nail your execution in races. If you blow up completely in a race, recovery will take much longer. Proper fueling and pacing are crucial to avoid extensive damage.
  • From a middle-distance perspective, the approach doesn't differ much from Olympic distance in terms of training and racing structure. While there are specific demands for each, the overall strategy doesn't need to change massively. 
  • We've managed to have success with athletes transitioning between these distances without significant alterations to our approach.

Training specificities of different disciplines

44:38 -

  • The obvious differences between short-course and long-course racing are primarily in the speed demands and technical requirements. In short-course racing, both the swim and run are faster and more intense. 
  • You have to be skilled in group riding, open-water swimming, and navigating technical circuits. For example, a 70.3 race with 91 competitors has a similar dynamic to pack swimming in short-course races.
  • In contrast, long-course racing emphasizes endurance and muscular conditioning. You need to maintain a specific power output on the bike and have the strength to transition to running effectively. The swim program for long-course athletes is nearly identical to that of short-course athletes, with minor adjustments. Similarly, the run training includes slightly more Zone 2 or LT1 work for long-distance preparation.
  • However, the bike training diverges significantly. 
  • While short-course athletes may focus on threshold-based sessions and high-intensity sprints, long-course athletes engage in longer, lower-intensity rides. These sessions, often lasting 90 minutes to two hours, mimic the duration and intensity of a 70.3 race. 
  • The key is spending time at race-specific power outputs, ideally in an aero position, with proper fueling.

Early specialization in the sport

48:00 -

  • I see more people identifying as triathletes earlier now, rather than transitioning from swimming or running at 17 or 18. However, I don't think early specialization is necessary.
  • In many respects, it might be worse. Athletes who split their training equally among swimming, biking, and running often become just average in all three disciplines, rather than excelling in one.
  • For instance, athletes who have focused on swimming nine times a week and only occasionally run or bike have the potential to develop to a world-class level in swimming.
  • On the other hand, those who start triathlon later, like 25-year-olds aiming for the Olympics, are rare exceptions. While some late starters have succeeded, it's generally not necessary to specialize early.
  • If I had a choice, I would prefer athletes not to specialize too early. Ideally, I'd want an athlete to excel in either swimming or running while being decent in the other. 
  • For example, swimmers who have played land-based sports like hockey or football move better on land, which helps them avoid injuries and improves their overall athleticism. 
  • Similarly, exceptional runners like Alex Yee, who transitioned to triathlon at a young age, managed to develop well in the sport.
  • Athletes who dabble in everything often struggle to develop any discipline to a high level, making it harder to stand out. 
  • This is supported by research, which suggests that early specialization isn't generally beneficial in most sports. People are usually encouraged to try various activities.
  • However, the demands of cycling in triathlon have significantly increased in the last 10-12 years, making it harder for athletes without early bike skills to catch up. 
  • Athletes who haven’t ridden much before will need to put in substantial work to build confidence and proficiency in cycling. This aspect of triathlon has become much more challenging than it used to be.

Junior training knowledge

53:50 -

  • That's a really interesting topic. I'm not sure I'd say athletes are more knowledgeable about training now compared to before.
  • The main difference is the sheer volume and accessibility of information available. As a coach, my job is to help athletes develop a filter and the ability to think critically about the information they encounter. It's easy for young athletes to see what successful athletes are doing and want to mimic it without understanding the context behind it.
  • I help them understand why certain training methods work for specific individuals and whether they would work for them.
  • From my perspective, it's much more enjoyable to work with athletes who are curious and proactive about finding new information. They often come to me with ideas they've discovered, asking if we can try certain methods.
  • Sometimes, I have to explain why a particular approach might not be suitable for them. Working with these engaged athletes, who are invested in both the sport and their development, is one of the most rewarding aspects of coaching.
  • When we started our program here, we had a blank slate. It was an opportunity to explore and experiment with different training methods, creating something unique together.
  • This collaborative approach allowed us to find a direction and evolve our methods. Seeing athletes engage with new ideas, experiment, and grow is a fulfilling part of the coaching process.

Common mistakes of aspiring elite athletes

56:08 -

  • wouldn’t necessarily say that common mistakes athletes make are their fault; ratherit's a coach's responsibility to guide them effectively. If a coach can't convey important lessons, they need to find a new approach.
  • Athletes must understand intensity control—doing too much hard stuff, not the right type of hard stuff, or thinking they're training at one intensity but training at another can all hinder progress.
  • For example, an athlete might think they're doing threshold work but be pushing 20 watts too hard, which means they're not achieving the intended training effect.
  • One significant issue is trying to improve everything simultaneously. Triathlon involves three sports, each with its own technical and physiological demands. It's impossible to improve everything at once, especially for athletes with some history in the sport.
  • For new athletes, any stimulus can lead to improvement, but for more experienced athletes, it's important to be deliberate about what to focus on and why. 
  • For example, if the goal is to improve cycling, running intensity might need to be dialled back. This focused approach, blocking certain aspects of training throughout the year, is essential.
  • Another key point is patience. Athletes often underestimate the time it takes to make significant improvements. Driven and perfectionist by nature, they might not fully appreciate that achieving a major goal, like a significant improvement in swimming, might take a whole year or even two.
  • Athletes, particularly those who aren't yet on world-class funding, face financial and societal pressures. 
  • For example, university graduates might need to support themselves while continuing to train, which can be extremely challenging. Many talented athletes might leave the sport in their mid-20s, just as they're approaching their physical peak.
  • There are great examples of athletes who found ways to sustain themselves through part-time work or other support systems, allowing them to reach their peak in their late 20s or early 30s.
  • However, it's a significant challenge for the sport to support athletes through this period. If we could find a way to help athletes during these critical years, we would likely see many more fulfilling their potential.

Age group training differences

1:02:38 -

  • I think the commonalities between elite and age-group athletes are much more frequent than the differences. Many of the same principles apply to both groups.
  • However, the main difference is time. People often assume that elite athletes have all the time in the world to train, but that's not always the case.
  • In my group, most athletes work part-time or are starting their careers, with only two being full-time professionals. So, it's not as black and white as it appears on paper.
  • For most age-group athletes, time constraints due to work, family, and other commitments are significant. This means their training has to be more strategic.
  • However, this also gives them a bit more balance and perspective on life, which can be beneficial for performance. Elite athletes often have their identities more tied up in their sport, which isn't always a good thing.
  • Another major difference is the breadth of backgrounds, starting points, and goals. At the elite level, the demands of performing at the top are fairly narrow, regardless of the specific event.
  • In contrast, age-group athletes have vastly different starting points and goals, which is probably the biggest difference between the two groups.

How to make training more efficient

1:05:45 -

  • It’s crucial to be clear about the purpose of each training session and ensure it’s effectively executed. If time is limited, focus on the core elements of your main sets and minimize any non-essential activities. This ensures that each session delivers its intended benefit.
  • Planning your week around your key sessions is also vital. For instance, if Tuesday is your busiest workday and you can't train until late, it may not be realistic to schedule a high-quality run session on that day. Instead, optimize your week by placing your most important sessions at times when you can perform your best.
  • Consider all your commitments—work, family, etc.—and fit your key sessions into the optimal slots, then fill in the rest of your training around these.
  • Additionally, don’t underestimate the value of small, consistent efforts. For example, commuting by bike for 25-30 minutes each way can add significant training volume over the week. 
  • These small increments can accumulate a substantial amount of extra riding time without drastically altering your schedule. 
  • If you can integrate such activities into your routine, it can be a highly efficient way to increase your overall training volume.
  • This approach is particularly beneficial for athletes who train around 8-12 hours a week.
  • Adding even a couple of extra hours through these methods can make a significant difference in their training without requiring major adjustments to their lifestyle.

Things age groupers should not focus

1:10:00 -

  • I believe that when you're time-crunched, clarity of purpose and understanding your strengths and weaknesses become even more critical. It's essential to prioritize effectively and structure your week around the most important aspects of training. 
  • This prioritization is highly individualized and depends on your goals and capabilities.
  • For those training fewer hours, the temptation might be to go hard all the time, assuming that fewer hours mean you should push harder. However, physiologically, this approach isn't necessarily effective
  • It's more beneficial to focus on solid aerobic work, avoiding excessive intensity that could lead to metabolic stress.
  • Threshold work is crucial, but it's essential to ensure that you're training at the right intensity. 
  • Methods such as lactate testing provide accurate data, though they may come with a cost. Investing in proper testing yields better results than estimations based on models.
  • I recommend investing in lactate testing or similar methods to determine your training zones accurately. 
  • This investment is more valuable than spending on expensive gear and can significantly enhance your performance by ensuring you train at the appropriate intensity levels.
  • In the context of age group athletes, we often encounter results that are not intuitive. 
  • For elite athletes in long-backed endurance sports, their performance at altitude usually falls within a narrow margin of critical power, often 10 to 20 watts below, which can be effectively gauged through field tests and the athlete's perception.
  • However, for age group athletes, particularly those new to triathlon or coming from a team sports background, their physiological profiles can be quite extreme. 
  • They may have a substantial anaerobic capacity, allowing them to perform above the threshold with ease, potentially leading to overtraining if they are unaware of their metabolic state.
  • Therefore, for age group athletes, conducting lab tests can be more beneficial than for elite athletes.
  •  While I don’t recommend frequent testing—perhaps once or twice a year is sufficient—these tests provide clear anchors and validate training data. 
  • Over time, as training stabilises, historical data and current training metrics can reliably predict an athlete's zones. Initial tests help ensure that the limited training time available is used most effectively.

Pacing strategies

1:17:47 -

  • I would advise getting tested to clearly understand your metabolic state. In long-course events, understanding fuel usage is crucial.
  • The better your understanding, the more effectively you can manage your fuel intake and output.
  • If testing isn't feasible due to cost, estimate your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) or Lactate Threshold (LT2) through fuel tests.
  • Regardless of how you obtain your numbers, calibrate them with practical sessions. It's one thing to perform a five-minute effort at a given power, but quite another to sustain it over a four-hour Ironman bike leg or a two to three-hour 70.3 bike leg.
  • Construct sessions to validate your field or lab test results.
  • A valuable approach is simulation sessions or weekends. For example, you could ride the full race distance and run 10k off it on a Saturday, then ride half the race distance and run a larger portion of the run on Sunday. 
  • This accumulates work and helps determine what is sustainable, providing insight into what is realistically possible on race day.

Two general tips for each modality

1:20:31 -

  • For swimming, I highly recommend joining a club or engaging a coach who can observe and provide feedback regularly. Swimming is technically demanding, and most triathletes, unless they have a strong swimming background, benefit significantly from expert guidance.
  • Technical proficiency is far more critical than physiological strength in swimming. Many young swimmers in clubs can outperform most triathletes due to their hydrodynamics and balance in the water.
  • In contrast, cycling is primarily physiological. Investing in a power meter and, ideally, undergoing physiological testing is crucial. Cycling relies heavily on power output, making it a relatively straightforward physiological task compared to swimming.
  • Ensuring a proper bike fit and the ability to maintain an aerodynamic position over long distances is essential.
  • For running, careful load management is paramount. Consistent aerobic work and frequent running are more beneficial than any specific session. For instance, one of our young athletes significantly improved his performance by focusing solely on aerobic training without any intensive sessions.
  • Consistency and avoiding injuries are critical. It's crucial to have a good injury prevention plan, especially for those with limited running backgrounds.
  • Making prudent decisions to prevent injuries, such as stopping a session at the first sign of discomfort, is vital to long-term success.

Topic Luke is focusing on at the moment

1:27:09 -

  • Swimming, particularly in triathlon, is incredibly complex due to the various facets involved—physiology, technique, race skills, and more. It's the discipline with the broadest range of demands and skill sets, especially in short-course racing. 
  • Athletes need good speed, a high threshold, and the ability to handle group dynamics and transitions efficiently. Additionally, the technical challenges of pool versus open-water swimming further complicates matters.
  • Unlike cycling and running, swimming requires a unique balance of skills and training. Even with extensive swim training, athletes often spend significantly less time swimming compared to cycling, which means they must optimise their swim training efficiently. 
  • The crossover benefits between cycling and running do not translate as effectively to swimming, making it essential to balance these different demands.
  • If I could acquire three magical skills or knowledge, the first would be mind reading. This would be invaluable in coaching and life, allowing for a precise understanding of others' thoughts and experiences.
  • The second would be perfect communication, ensuring that instructions and feedback are understood exactly as intended.
  • Miscommunication often leads to athletes performing tasks differently than expected. Lastly, I would choose a deep understanding of applied physiology, both generally and individually.
  • Combining these skills would make for an unbeatable coaching strategy.

Piece of advice Luke would give to his younger self

1:31:10 -

  • The first important one would be finding a way to internally validate or set criteria for whether you're doing a good job as a coach, beyond just athlete outcomes or results and other people's opinions. 
  • There are so many factors outside of your control that, if you can't validate your process, it's easy to lose perspective. 
  • You might think you're the best coach if your athletes are doing well, or conversely, that you're terrible and know nothing if they aren't. Setting process objectives and being able to validate performance against those is crucial. 
  • A few years ago, I wasn't as good at this, but now I understand its importance.
  • If you have a good team around you, trust them and let them do their jobs. I used to be a massive control freak, which meant I was focused on many things outside my expertise, wasting time that should have been spent on my areas of expertise.
  • We have an amazing coaching and sports science team, and my job is to set the direction and let them excel in their areas.
  • Internal validation, it's about assessing decisions without hindsight bias. Did I make the best decision with the information available at the time? Was I as prepared as I could be? Did I put the appropriate amount of effort into the process? It's similar to what you'd ask an athlete: did you do your best? 
  • Coaching involves less objective outputs compared to athletes, but the principles remain the same.

Luke's favourite books

1:34:16 -

  • When I started in this role, I had a completely blank slate to work with. There was no predetermined starting point other than what I used to do or what we did in previous coaching experiences.
  • Two models that provided a framework for me were Daniel's "Running Formulaand "Training and Racing with a Power Meter".
  • While these models are quite generalistic and we've since moved away from their specifics, they gave us a structure to work with and experiment from. 
  • The impact they had on providing structure and grounding was significant. 
  • The underlying principle of understanding demands, testing to determine levels, and establishing zones remained crucial, and I've carried this principle forward in all my coaching endeavours, even if I haven't stuck with the specifics of the methodologies or sessions.

Would you rather coaching the section

1:36:11 -

Swim Training: Always use 100s for shorter distances or always use 400s for longer distances?

  • I'd choose always using 100s for shorter distances. Swimming is highly technical, and you can be more creative with structuring sessions, rest intervals, and other factors. It allows for better adaptation to athletes' needs.

Bike Training: Only outdoor training with no power meter in good conditions or only indoor training with a power meter?

  • For long-course athletes, I'd choose indoor training with a power meter for its specificity and conditioning benefits. However, for short-course athletes, the technical demands of outdoor training are essential, so I'd opt for outdoor training even without a power meter.

Run Training: Never run on a track or never run hills, always on completely flat terrain.

  • I'd choose never to run on a track. While tracks have their uses, there's plenty that can be done with a decent flat road surface, and the absence of hills would have a more significant impact on training.

Long-Course Racing: Not allowed to use a bike computer or not allowed to use a GPS watch?

  • I'd choose not allowed to use a GPS watch for the run. The bike leg is more impacted by pacing and nutrition, and having data for it is crucial. The run is affected by various factors, making GPS data less critical.

Training Fueling: Always train with zero grams per hour of carbohydrates or always train with at least 100 grams per hour.

  • can't recommend deliberately underfueling, so I'd choose always training with at least 100 grams per hour of carbohydrates, even though neither option is optimal.

Heat Adaptation for Kona: Arrive 10 days before with no other heat prep or arrive 7 days before but conduct heat prep at home.

  • I'd choose to arrive 7 days before and conduct heat prep at home. Three extra days on the ground aren't enough to make a significant difference, but heat prep at home could better prepare the body for the conditions.

Predicting Paris 2024 race dynamics

1:42:44 - 

  • The dynamics of the swim and bike legs, particularly in terms of potential splits and how quickly the field can organize, are key considerations. 
  • For the men's race, it's unlikely there will be a significant split due to the high congestion in the swim and the limited spread of athletes. 
  • Additionally, there hasn't been evidence of the front-pack organizing quickly enough to prevent others from catching up.
  • In contrast, the women's race is more likely to see a split, but the size of the split remains uncertain.
  • Factors such as the performance of key players as well as how quickly they transition to full race pace, will influence whether the race becomes more of a swim-bike-run event or if pure runners can stay competitive. 
  • Regardless, fast run times are expected in both the men's and women's races, with winning times potentially nearing 29 minutes for men and around 33 minutes for women. 
  • This highlights the exceptional nature of past performances, such as Brownlee's iconic run in London 2012, given the current level of competition and advancements in equipment and training.


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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