Podcast, Training

David McNamee – training, racing, and insights from 18 years in triathlon | EP#435

 June 5, 2024

By  Bernardo Gonçalves

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE HERE:

David McNamee - That Triathlon Show

David McNamee is a two-time podium finisher in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, ranked 17th in the PTO World Rankings, and a T100 contracted athlete from Scotland, living in Girona. In this interview we talk about his season, his training, and learnings from 18 years in the sport about what works and what doesn't.

In this episode you'll learn about:

  • David's plans for the rest of the year
  • Racing like in the T100 World Tour
  • David's training setup, including home base, coaching, training groups and partners, etc.
  • A full week of training in preparation for T100 San Francisco
  • How David prepares for Kona
  • Insights from 18 years in the sport: what has David found works for him, and what doesn't?
  • Overtraining
  • Best coaching advice ever received

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Shownotes

Fun facts about David

03:49 -

  • I'm very Scottish.
  • For the last 10 years, though, I've lived in Spain, which feels like home now. This is something some people know, but a lot don't.
  • I've been living here since 2015, but my first visit was for a training camp in 2010 with British Triathlon when Joel Filiol was the head coach. His squad is based here.

Good and bad things about living in Girona

05:08 -

  • I think in general, the road surface in Spain is much better than in the UK, especially in Scotland.
  • The roads in Scotland are terrible for cycling, mainly due to the harsh winters. In contrast, the road surfaces in Spain are perfect, and I love the overall atmosphere here.
  • It's a very outdoorsy country where people enjoy going out for walks in the town and socializing. In the UK, especially when I visit, it feels like people spend too much time indoors. I much prefer meeting someone for a quick drink; it's just more sociable here.
  • For training, the sunshine in Spain is the biggest difference.
  • One of the main reasons I left Scotland was that being an Ironman athlete there, especially during the winter, was very challenging. It wasn’t impossible, but it came with a lot of obstacles that I didn't want to keep facing year after year.
  • So, I came for the sun and stayed for the lifestyle.
  • There were a few challenges when I first moved here. English wasn't widely spoken, which has improved massively over the last 10 years, but during the first six months to a year, it was tough to understand things.
  • Learning Spanish and Catalan was also difficult. There might be a bit more bureaucracy here, but apart from that, there's not much to complain about. Driving on the other side of the road took some getting used to, but after a few months, it became second nature.
  • I do miss some foods from back home, like scones and the easier access to porridge in Scotland, but these are minor things.

David's plans for 2024

07:44 -

  • With the T100 contract, I'm committed to six events during the year. However, I've decided to participate in seven events to give myself the best chance of doing well in the series. I think it's a fantastic series to be part of, and I hope it continues to grow over the next couple of years.
  • The series starts in San Francisco in just over two weeks. After that, I'll be following the T100 circuit throughout the year. The only event I might miss is Las Vegas because it's the week before Hawaii, and I want to go back to Kona.
  • I've had great memories on the island, but my last two attempts were disastrous, so I want to give it one final shot and see how it goes.
  • Of course, I need to qualify for Kona, which leads me to Ironman Victoria in July. So, this season is mainly focused on the T100 series, Ironman Victoria, and Kona.

T100 races

09:46 -

  • Physiologically, the differences between a T100 event and an Ironman 70.3 are minimal, mainly the addition of a longer bike segment and an extra three kilometres of running in the 70.3. However, the biggest difference lies in the drafting rules.
  • The T100 series enforces a 20-meter drafting zone, whereas Ironman maintains a 12-meter gap. This difference significantly impacts race strategy and training.
  • In an Ironman event, a 12-meter gap means that if you're in a large pack of athletes and positioned third or further back, you're likely exerting 30 or 40 watts less than the leader. Conversely, in a T100 event with a 20-meter gap, while there might still be a slight advantage, it's considerably less.
  • This makes the race fairer, allowing athletes with strong biking abilities to excel. For instance, Sam Long's podium finishes this year in the T100 series are a testament to this. If the drafting zone were only 12 meters, his results might have been different.
  • Therefore, the key difference between a competitive 70.3 World Championship and a T100 event is not the event's physical demands but the rules governing drafting.
  • Regarding the use of RaceRanger, I believe it's a great system, providing athletes with visual cues about their positioning. However, it hasn't yet reached its full potential.
  • I hope we can enhance its functionality to better enforce drafting penalties. Currently, RaceRanger can analyze post-race data to determine how long each athlete stayed in the drafting zone.
  • Ideally, we should use this data in real time during the race. For example, in a T100 race, if 18 out of 20 athletes spend between 20 seconds and one minute in the drafting zone, but two athletes exceed 10 minutes, the referee should trust this data and enforce a drafting penalty as soon as these athletes reach T2.

Adapting training to the T100 rules

13:17 -

  • I think the 20-meter draft rule has put more focus on the bike segment because the standard of cycling has increased over the years. With 20 meters, you have to be a good cyclist to compete.
  • In my early years in the sport, cycling wasn’t my strongest suit, but I could still get good results by targeting races with easier bike courses and sitting 12 meters behind another athlete.
  • You don’t have to be the strongest athlete in the world to keep up at 12 meters.
  • So, this change has meant more focus on cycling for me. Being more focused on the 70.3 distance rather than Ironman so far this year has meant that I’ve done more sessions around the LT2 (lactate threshold 2) race pace.
  • I wouldn’t say there’s been a dramatic shift in my training overall. I’ve done well by being consistent week in and week out.
  • However, there have been some minor changes, mainly in cycling. Instead of doing a lot of Ironman-paced (LT1) work, I’ve shifted more towards LT2 efforts.
  • With San Francisco coming up and its challenging hills, I’ve been doing a lot of hill reps to prepare myself as best as possible.

David's training setup

15:23 -

  • For the last two years, I've been coaching myself. Before that, I worked with David Tilbury Davis.
  • I'm currently based in Girona, and since 2020, I've been fortunate to train alongside a key group of athletes from Joel Filioll's training group, with Drew Box as their coach.
  • Although I'm not coached by Joel or Drew, I've known Joel for over a decade, having been coached by him about ten years ago.
  • Thanks to our long-standing relationship, I have the opportunity to join their training sessions whenever I want.
  • Typically, I swim with them five times a week, go out on the bike once or twice a week, and run with them once or twice a week.

Sessions David does with the group

16:51 -

  • I swim five times a week with them. For biking, I mainly stick to their aerobic, easier rides. My running routine includes a mix of aerobic sessions and some group runs, especially on Saturday mornings.
  • These sessions with the group are typically around 60 minutes, starting at a 3:40 pace and descending to a 3:20 pace, which is ideal for a T100 athlete aiming to run at 3:20 during a race.
  • Joel is a coach who doesn't believe in extreme intensity or training far above race pace. His philosophy focuses on training at or slightly below race pace and building strength. This approach aligns perfectly with my goals.
  • Occasionally, I join the group for faster sessions, even though I often end up getting dropped. It's fun and adds some fast work to my training.
  • While some might see this as an amateur approach, doing something because it excites and motivates me is a significant factor in why I participate in these faster sessions.

Cycling training

19:01 -

  • I believe the turbo trainer is an excellent training tool, especially for preparing for courses like Hawaii. Hawaii's course demands constant pedalling for 180 kilometres, even on descents. This continuous effort is hard to replicate outdoors due to descents, stop signs, and other interruptions.
  • For specific races, the trainer is invaluable. Even during bad weather, it ensures consistent training. I find it very time-efficient too.
  • While I love being outdoors, especially during the racing season, I do all my key sessions on the time trial bike. For group rides, I'll always be on the road bike. Occasionally, I'll grab my gravel bike for something different and fun.

Training week sample

20:24 -

  • The first thing to note is that my schedule is different from most triathletes; my recovery day is Sunday instead of the typical Monday or Friday. I train consistently throughout the year with a routine of swimming, biking, and running five times each week.

Monday:

  • Morning: 5 km easy, long swim.
  • Afterwards: 3-hour bike ride, starting San Francisco-specific prep with 10 x 4-minute intervals. I focus on effort and how it feels, then check power and heart rate. Averaged 370-400 watts.
  • Evening: 40-minute easy run.

Tuesday:

  • Morning: 5 km swim, build session in the pool. Notable because Vincent was swimming very fast.
  • Afternoon: Very easy bike ride.
  • Evening: 6 x 2 km run with 1-minute recovery, starting at a 3:20 pace and finishing at 3:15 pace, aiming for San Francisco race pace.
  • Pool session specifics:
    • 300m negative split
    • 4 x 150m build every 50m
    • 4 x 100m descending
    • 100m recovery
    • Repeated twice.

Wednesday:

  • Morning: 5 km aerobic swim with paddle work.
  • Afternoon: 4-hour aerobic bike ride.

Thursday:

  • Recovery Day: 1-hour 10-minute run in the hills at a slow 5:15/km pace.
  • Later: Gym session.

Friday:

  • Morning: 5 km swim with some speed work, including fast 50m sprints.
  • Afternoon: Easy bike ride.
  • Evening: 21 km run, with 15 km alternating between 1 km at 70.3 effort and 2 km at Ironman pace, done solo.

Saturday:

  • Morning: 4-hour bike ride with 4 x 20-minute intervals averaging 310-325 watts, focusing on T100 effort.
  • Evening: 24 km run at 4:15 pace, not too easy or hard, a solid effort.

Sunday:

  • Easy Day: 4 km easy swim followed by family time and lunch.
  • Usually, I do one session on Saturday morning instead of Friday night, but this week was different because the group was between the Yokohama and Cagliari races, so we did the session on Saturday morning.

In terms of hours, I usually train around 27 hours a week, plus I hit the gym twice a week. However, I don't think it's useful to define training solely by hours, as twenty-seven hours of aerobic training is very different from twenty-seven hours with a lot of intensity. I find that consistency is key for me. I’ve figured out what works best for me and I stick with it.

Kona specific sessions

27:26 -

  • For Kona, my peak sessions usually fall between two and a half weeks before the race. I generally fly out to Hawaii two weeks ahead, but I always try to have two or three days of easier sessions before the flight to avoid fatigue and travel stress.
  • One of my key swim sessions involves doing 12x300s in the pool on a four-minute cycle, aiming for a pace around 1:12-1:13, which is roughly Ironman race pace.
  • Another important swim session is a one-hour continuous swim in the open sea, which helps me adapt to swimming without breaks, crucial for endurance races.
  • On the bike, I focus on maintaining race intensity. One session I do is a 5-hour bike ride with two 90-minute intervals at Ironman race pace, which usually translates to 270-280 watts for me.
  • It's about getting my body accustomed to sustained effort over race distance. My running strategy has evolved over the years. Instead of extremely long runs, I now do around 30 kilometres with 20 kilometres at race intensity.
  • I also combine this with hill runs the day before to maximize training benefits.
  • Leading up to these sessions, I typically have three similar runs, gradually increasing the duration spent at the race pace.
  • This progression helps me adapt not only to the physical demands but also to race nutrition, which is crucial for sustained performance during the marathon portion of the race.
  • The focus isn't just on hitting race pace but also on acclimating to consuming 60-70 grams of carbohydrates per hour while running, a key aspect that can make or break a race performance.

Heat and altitude training

32:52 -

  • I've experienced both altitude training and heat training throughout my athletic career. Altitude training was more prevalent earlier on, but in recent years, especially during Ironman training, I haven't utilized it as much. However, I still spend time in the mountains for the sheer enjoyment of training in that environment.
  • Cycling up and down mountains consistently builds strength, which is invaluable.
  • Regarding heat training, I incorporate it extensively during the summer months in Spain, where temperatures can reach 36-37 degrees Celsius during the day.
  • While some athletes prefer training in cooler conditions, I embrace the heat. I find that training in high temperatures significantly improves my overall fitness.
  • Even if I have to adjust the intensity at times, I believe the stress it puts on the body is beneficial. This applies not only to preparing for Kona but also enhances my performance in races throughout the year.
  • When training in hot weather, I always monitor my heart rate closely using a heart rate monitor.
  • If I notice it surpassing safe levels, I adjust the intensity accordingly. This approach has helped me maintain optimal performance levels, not only in Kona but also in subsequent races.
  • As for heat preparation specifically for Hawaii, I focus on longer sessions, sometimes up to 90 minutes at race intensity, on the trainer.
  • Even if the weather is cooler outside, I ensure I don't lose my ability to perform in the heat by training indoors. Utilizing a smart trainer and foregoing air conditioning, I simulate the conditions I'll encounter in Hawaii, ensuring I'm adequately prepared regardless of the external temperature fluctuations leading up to the race.

Aerodynamics

36:44 -

  • In the past, I had the opportunity to work closely with Dan from 2017 until recently when he moved on to work with bigger athletes. He's incredibly clever, especially in aerodynamics, and working with him was invaluable.
  • We did a lot of testing in the Vailadro and even spent time in the wind tunnel with the Swiss Side. I've also used theNotio device to gather data, which Dan would analyze to optimize performance.
  • Access to such resources was rare back in 2016, but Dan's dedication pushed boundaries and led to significant gains in performance, especially with the development of our Huub tri suits.
  • His expertise has truly been instrumental in my journey.

Working on strengths & weaknesses

39:37 -

  • I've come to realize that I function more like a diesel engine, especially as I've aged. Trying to train like a Ferrari just doesn't seem to work well for me.
  • Occasionally, I'll join the ITU guys for a session, but apart from that, I stick to my strengths as a strength athlete, particularly excelling over tougher courses.
  • Whenever I've attempted to change my approach too drastically, it often leaves me feeling exhausted and broken. So, I've learned to embrace my diesel engine nature and be more cautious with pushing intensity too far.
  • When it comes to deciding what to focus on in swim, biking, and running, I always look ahead to my race goals a few events down the line. I assess where I need improvement and what the payoff will be for addressing those weaknesses.
  • For instance, if I'm gearing up for a T100 or 70.3 World Championship, where the bike leg is more forgiving, I might prioritize improving my swim performance.
  • This strategic approach helps offset any potential weaknesses and positions me better for success, particularly in races where being at the front early on is crucial.
  • In contrast to professional athletes, who often need to focus on race dynamics due to large start groups and tight gaps between competitors, I have more flexibility as an age-group athlete.
  • I can strategically sacrifice some biking and running sessions to shore up my swimming, knowing that a strong start can set me up for a smoother race overall.

Fatigue management

42:59 -

  • For me, staying motivated is crucial in triathlon training. When I start losing motivation for hard sessions, it's a sign that something isn't right, and it's time to ease back a bit.
  • I've learned from experience that forcing myself through tough workouts when I'm not feeling it only leads to overtraining and exhaustion.
  • Instead of scrapping sessions entirely, I've adopted Joel's advice to adapt them so I still feel positive and accomplished afterwards.
  • In the past, I struggled with overtraining, especially when I didn't have a coach to guide me. I used to see any deviation from the planned training as a failure, leading me to push harder and ultimately burn out.
  • It wasn't until Joel started coaching me in 2013 that I had someone writing a structured plan for me.
  • Before that, I relied on swim and run coaches for specific workouts, but the day-to-day planning was left up to me, which often resulted in overtraining.
  • Reflecting on my experiences, I've realized the importance of listening to my body and adjusting training accordingly.
  • It's not about sticking rigidly to a plan, but rather finding a balance that keeps me motivated and healthy in the long run.

Performance-related mistakes in David's career

46:49 -

  • I believe the biggest issue for me has been consistent overtraining, spanning about five or six years. Looking back, it's clear that my best results often followed periods of forced rest due to extreme fatigue. However, after a good race, I would become even more motivated to train harder, leading to subsequent race disasters.
  • This pattern of overtraining was exacerbated by the lack of a coach to advise me to ease off.
  • Reflecting on those years, I realize my body would likely be in better condition now if I hadn't pushed myself so hard back then. Transitioning to training with Joel in 2013 and 2014 brought about a significant shift.
  • He challenged me on my training approach, questioning why I felt the need to train at the same level as elite athletes like Mario Mola and Richard Murray, even though it wasn't working for me.
  • It took time for me to accept that mimicking their training volume wasn't suitable for me and that I needed to find a balance that worked for my body.
  • I didn't want to fall into the trap of being an exercise addict, always feeling the need to train excessively. The high training volume I attempted while training with Alistair and Jonathan in 2011-2012 was unsustainable for me, as I struggled with recovery.
  • Looking back now, I can see how my body struggled during those times, and I realize the importance of finding a training approach that suits my individual needs and allows for proper recovery.

Things that work for David in training

52:12 -

  • As I prepare for Ironman races, I focus a lot on building strength across all disciplines. For swimming, I incorporate a significant amount of paddle work to enhance my strength in the water.
  • Cycling has seen the most improvement through strength training, particularly with over-gear work on the TT bike and climbing hills both on the road and in the mountains. I believe that strength forms the backbone of our sport, akin to the importance of hill running in my training regimen.
  • During the last stretch of the Ironman run, especially the final 10-15 kilometres, maintaining pace becomes less crucial, and it's more about sheer endurance and strength, which I cultivate through hill running.
  • While I include some key pace-focused running sessions, the majority of my training involves running in the hills of Girona to build that essential strength.
  • Strength training has become increasingly important for me over the past few years. Spending more time in the gym has yielded noticeable benefits, perhaps as I've grown older.
  • One session I particularly enjoy on the bike involves tackling a famous climb multiple times, maintaining a cadence of 50 to 60 RPM and pushing watts above my Ironman race pace.
  • I also like the challenge of riding my gravel bike up steep gradients of 15-16%, focusing on maintaining a low cadence and building strength through sheer effort.
  • These sessions, both structured and unstructured, motivate and challenge me, contributing significantly to my overall strength and endurance as I prepare for Ironman races.

Best pieces of advice David has ever received

55:58 -

  • Joel challenged me on my tendency to always push for more. Looking back, we laugh about it now, but it was a significant turning point about 10 years ago. Joel was patient, but he always questioned my choices.
  • I was stubborn, but not in an aggressive way. It was like I was a difficult child in need of guidance.
  • Honestly, Joel's coaching style was crucial for keeping me in the sport. If I had continued down my path of resistance, I probably would have left the sport behind years ago for a regular job. Another significant influence was Davis.
  • He emphasized the importance of enjoying what you do in training. It didn't always have to be scientific. If I wanted to deviate from the plan because it brought me joy, Davis supported it wholeheartedly.
  • This lesson was fundamental: you have to find joy in what you're doing, especially in such a demanding sport.
  • If extending a training session to reach the top of a climb motivated me, then that's what I should do. It's about finding what inspires you and embracing it, even if it doesn't fit the textbook definition of training.

Rapid Fire Question

58:15 -

Training Hours in 2023:

  • Total: 1,240 hours, averaging 24 hours per week.
  • Includes strength training and three weeks of rest after Ironman.

Sleep Duration:

  • Nine hours per day, an increase over recent years.

Carbohydrate and Fluid Intake in Races:

  • Bike: Aim for 100 to 110 grams of carbohydrates and variable fluid intake (e.g., 1.5 to 2 litres in Hawaii).
  • Run: Target 60 to 70 grams of carbohydrates per hour, fluid intake varies based on aid stations.

First Triathlon Experience:

  • New Year's Eve in Edinburgh, 2006.
  • Swim: 400m, Bike: Approx. 20km, Run: Approx. 5km.
  • Placed first in the junior category.

Favorite Destination Race:

  • Hawaii was previously a favourite, but now considering other options.
  • Interested in races in Australia or experiencing a new destination

Olympic Triathlon Podium Predictions (Men):

  1. Alex Yee
  2. Léo Bergere
  3. Kristian Blummenfelt

Olympic Triathlon Podium Predictions (Women):

  1. Flora Duffy
  2. Beth Potter
  3. Georgia Taylor-Brown

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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