Strava and your relationship with speed

For those of you with a Strava account, what have you noticed about your behaviour in relation to the app? Have you noticed anything? Have you ever stopped to consider it?

What if I told you that if you don’t consider your relationship with Strava it could kill you. Have I got your attention now? I’m not going to apologise, I nearly witnessed a friend go over a car bonnet because of his relationship with Strava.

What happened? He wanted to look good to others. He thought that other people looking at his ride would see a high average speed for a ride, which would somehow indicate that he was a good rider.

He wanted to maintain a high average speed for the ride he uploaded to Strava. For him to do so meant not stopping at a junction. I stopped for a car. He didn’t. He looked, saw the car and ignored it. In that moment, his Strava average speed was more important. He was nearly killed. Fortunately, he was quick enough through the junction and the car driver braked sufficiently to avoid smearing him across the tarmac. Lucky! That time.

If this is you then please spare some time and thought to your ego, your relationship with such apps and comparing yourself to others. Raising your self awareness can really help change your behaviours for the better.

I’m glad to report the guy is still alive. I really like him but was afraid to have the conversation with him at the coffee stop. At this moment in time, I’ve still not said anything to him. Maybe he got the message from the near miss? Maybe not.

Maybe someone can chip in with some helpful suggestions to overcome my fear of having the difficult conversations.


Is riding ‘easy’ hard for you?

In order to examine this issue and for you to answer the question for yourself, let’s define what I mean by easy.

An easy ride in this sense is the amount of effort you apply to the pedals while riding your bike.

Think in terms of every second of the ride. That’s every second. Not just when you’re going downhill or on the flats. I mean every second. Yes, that includes the inclines.

But, that’s impossible, you reply. You can’t go uphill at an easy effort.

This might be true but here lies the challenge…can you? The challenge is to go easy or maintain your easy effort up your particular incline.

It is this that makes the ride hard for some people.

Can you maintain an easy effort whilst riding uphill?

Coached Events…

I have had the pleasure of coaching athletes that have taken part in the following events:

140.6/Ironman/Challenge/long course triathlon
World Championships (Kona)
Port Macquarie
Coeur D’Alene
St George
Western Australia
Lake Tahoe

ETU/ITU long course triathlon
Long Distance Triathlon World Championships (GB age group team)
Long Distance Triathlon European Championships (GB age group team)

70.3 triathlon
Big Kahuna
Zell am See
St Polten
Day in the Lakes
New Forest Middle
Lake Stevens
Hever Castle

Standard Distance triathlon
World Championships (GB age group team)
European Championships (GB age group team)
Escape from Alcatraz
Little Beaver
Silicon Valley
Donner Lake
Eton Dorney

Sprint triathlon
Schongau (Germany)
Morgan Hill
UC Davis
Hever Castle
Thames Turbo series

Ultra Running
Western States 100
Winter 100
Lakeland 50 & 100
10 Peaks (Wales)
Lakes in a Day
Rock ‘n’ River 50
London 50K

San Francisco
Milton Keynes
Marathon (Greece)

Half Marathon
San Francisco
Barns Green
Walnut Creek
San Ramon

10 miler
Cabbage Patch

Chevin Chase
Abbey Dash

Cycling Sportives
Paris Roubaix
Tour of Flanders
Etape (TdF)
Nove Colli
New Forest 100
Surrey Rumble
Ride 100 London
Around the Bay (Australia)
Three Peaks (Australia)
Mt Taranaki (New Zealand)
Lake Taupo Challenge (New Zealand)
America’s Most Beautiful
Hell of Ashdown
Fred Whitton
Etape du Dales
Dartmoor Classic
New Forest Rattler
Etape Pennines
Exmoor Beast
Etape Caledonian
Dragon Ride
Soth Downs Way (MTB, two days)
Etape Cymru

Mt Diablo Summit

Open Water Swims
Hampton Court

Gardner achieves Iron vision

Last month, James Gardner from Danville, San Francisco (California) conquered the 140.6 mile Coeur d’Alene course in 12 hours to become a first-time Ironman.

Like many age-group triathletes James had never followed a structured training plan before but knew he needed to if he was to juggle family time, career, business air-travel and a house move, if he was to make the successful leap from short course and half-iron distance racing to a full Ironman.

James with family in San Francisco

James with family in San Francisco

“As a family-man time is precious and I just needed someone to take care of the planning and make the necessary adjustments to my training should something come up”, said the 39 years-old marketing vice president. “Toby kept my training consistent, which meant some creative sessions given the limited facilities in some hotels. Communication was key, I told him in advance when issues arose and he tweaked my plan to keep me training.”

Training consistently is key to a achieving success no matter what the distance. If you don’t train consistently then a coach can’t plan appropriate progressions and you won’t continue to make the necessary adaptations to increasing training stimulus.

If you’re trying to juggle family, a busy working life and your training, cheap off-the-shelf training plans don’t work. A coach is there to revise your plan when your circumstances change.

James with his marketing team

James with his marketing team

“Long distance training can be quite a challenge. It’s good to know someone’s got your back, has managed training and a stressful job himself and is there every step of the way with you. I’d often just pick up the phone and chat just to make sure I was on the right track. You can’t expect your family and friends to understand what you go through if they’ve never followed a proper training plan before.”

Achieving that Iron dream is a team effort and like all successful teams, two-way communication plays a key role: 1-2-1 training and meetings are not always possible, but email, Skype, videos of training/racing, data uploads and qualitative feedback all go towards tailoring a plan that works for each athlete.

Build your base

Training and working with athletes this year I’ve come across a couple of interesting issues around base training and testing.

Like a lot of European/US endurance athletes my Annual Training Plan (ATP) is made up of periods or phases (see Sports Periodisation and Tudor Bompa), typically Preparation, Base, Build, Peak and Taper.

My Preparation phase for the 2012 season began in November and transitioned into the Base training phase (see Base Training through the winter months. I tend to have a month off at the end of every season, so the preparation/base phases help me to slowly get back in to training, preparing me (mentally and physically) for harder work to come.

Whatever you use to measure your training effort (Borg’s Rate of Perceived Exertion – RPE, heart rate, power, etc.) the Base training phase is basically the time to keep things nice and easy (lower RPE, HR Zones 1 and 2, etc.), focusing on perfecting technique and improving biomechanical efficiencies (single leg drills, skip drills, finger drag, etc.).

Surprisingly, over the years, I’ve found that Base training seems to conflict with the human psyche. When I’ve been discussing it with others, whether on group rides, whilst coaching or in the pub. It often amuses me how many people aren’t convinced.

In an increasingly impatient, ego-driven global culture, convincing someone to take their time to slowly build their fitness over 20-30 weeks can be very difficult. Unless that is…they have ever followed a plan before.

Working with athletes that have never followed a periodised training plan is a challenge for athlete and coach. Typically, the first thing to do is convince them that their Zone 4 lunch time blasts around the local park, not getting passed by another runner; and weekend club rides, beating Dave to the top of a climb and ascending theStrava rankings, are at an effort level that is not required to build their aerobic endurance base. In fact, early high intensity efforts carry a high risk of injury before the season has even started.

Walk before you run…literally!

Base training is the most important period of an endurance plan and should not be reduced, rushed or corner-cut. Even if this means being overtaken by one or two joggers with purple-rinses from time-to-time or giving up the group ride in favour of non-stop constant efforts rather than drafting in the bunch and waiting for Dave et al at rest stops or at the top of a climb. Think how much more satisfying it’s going to be to be passing people on race day – there are no prizes for beating a mountain-biker up a hill on an average Tuesday afternoon.

Get used to long solo efforts to build your base

Get used to long solo efforts to build your base

If you want to be successful in endurance sport you better get used to your own company. Riding solo is the best way to maintain steady constant efforts. Unless you have a training partner that is doing the same race and following the same plan, but even then there’s still the issue of drafting. If you’re disciplined enough you could practice riding the draft legal distance when training with others.

From experience, your ‘bank’ of base training will come back in spades on race day when it matters most and you realise you have the aerobic endurance to run that marathon, or complete that Ironman. It will be especially noticeable towards the end of your race when you are passing other competitors that have not invested the time to lay their fitness foundations earlier in the season.

Be careful what you wish for…

Another amusing observation I’ve found is when athletes approach a testing week. This is the time to test whether you are improving and all the previous hard work is paying off.

With experience, I look forward to these weeks less than I used to. Basically, I recognise a testing week for the catch-22 that it is.

“Great, it’s a reduced volume week (more rest/recovery! I can catch up on things, etc.), but I have to go all out to get some data to measure. Ahhhhh, but the test is only for a short period of time, that’s okay”.

So, you test in each sport and the good news is…your times improve; the plan is working; etc. Now, for the bad news…your next month’s training zones increase and the next three weeks sessions are all going to be harder!

And then…joy! Finally, it’s time to go in to the Build phase. You can finally show the purple rinses what you’re made of and Dave’s going to get spanked on the climb of his choice!

“But hang on…you realise the sessions are harder, faster, testing is brutal and you don’t always get a better result!”

Training properly (in Build) can be…on your own, in the rain, grinding in to a headwind, gritted teeth, snot all over your face, burning pains in your legs, back, arms, neck…desperately trying to maintain the effort of your fourth two-minute rep in a set of ten during a muscular endurance brick ride of five hours as you pass a car full of pointing and laughing teens.

It is at these times that you are further tortured with memories of your base training, and reluctance to follow your planned easy long slow ride in Zone 2 and the promises you make to never go harder than you need to, ever again!

Yet, we still, foolishly, wish away our base training days in favour of faster, harder sessions…and why…because (un)fortunately…pain has no memory!

Perhaps an answer to this might be to write two sessions into week one of next year’s plan right now…a 45-minute Z1 easy trail run versus a five hour-hour muscular endurance ride, with 10×2 minutes hard efforts.

Open Water Swim Training with Wakefield Triathlon

To keep up with open water training whilst visiting family and friends up North, I contacted a coach/friend at Wakefield Triathlon Club.

The Club runs an open water swim session every Saturday at Pugney’s Country Parkjust off the M1 (Wakefield).

Wade, jump or dive in...

Wade, jump or dive in…

I was very impressed to see about 50 athletes (50:50 members and non-members) of all abilities turn out on a cold, wet, Saturday morning. I was also impressed by the organisation, warm welcome, briefing and safety considerations, including a rib in the water, two binocular armed spotters and walkie talkies.

Open Water Swimming at Pugney's Country Park, Wakefiled

Open Water Swimming at Pugney’s Country Park, Wakefiled

Open Water Swim Training

Now that the weather and more importantly the water, is getting warmer a few of us are going to Hampstead Ponds for some open water swim training after work.

Open Water Swim Training - Sighting

Open Water Swim Training – Sighting

Last week the temperature was 17C, we lasted about 25 minutes but if you wear two swim caps, neoprene socks/boots and go regularly you can build this up.

It’s a great venue…

Hampstead Pond - Mixed

Hampstead Pond – Mixed

Don’t expect to find towels, razors and deodorant in the changing rooms…

Changing Area - It's not your local gym..!

Changing Area – It’s not your local gym..!

Deca Training – Turbo Sessions

Living in the middle of London means it can be difficult to get out for a quick bike ride.

During periods of my training, I like to do some power sessions. These can be anything from 30 minutes to an hour, including warm-up and cool down and easily fit in to your day.

The problem is I don’t have a park nearby and you have to risk life and limb negotiating the impatiently driven city streets to get to some where appropriate for these sessions.

So, you suck it up and jump on the turbo..!

My trainer is a CyclOps Fluid 2 and tend to use training videos, like Spinvervals orCarmichael Training Systems

For my longer rides, I go out with my local cycling club Dulwich paragon.

Winter training is the hardest and when I couldn’t go out I’d have to do three hour base training rides on the turbo trainer. This is mind numbingly dull and you have to be committed to your training program to get through these sessions. I’ve spoken to triathletes from other countries who really respect British athletes for training through our Winter. When you do ultra events motivation is a huge factor and the weather can provide another excuse not to put in the miles.

Deca Swim Course

This is the lake that will host the Deca Swim Course. It will be a square circuit of just over 300m which means 12 laps or 120 laps over the course of the 10 day event.

It’s a beautiful course but does have its dangers:

A family of Canadian geese nesting in the swim exit..!

A family of Canadian geese nesting in the swim exit..!

I’m not sure this family of Canadian geese is going to appreciate triathletes thrashing around it’s lake.

Canadian geese set off to patrol the swim course

Canadian geese set off to patrol the swim course