2016 Looking Back and Springing Forwards
Swam: 160.48hrs (458.5km)
Ran: 115.9hrs (1231km)
5 races (1 x Olympic, 3 x 70.3, 1 x Ironman)
5 podiums (1 overall win, 3 AG wins)
Jellyfish stings: 1
Bike crashes: 1 (minor)
Weeks with no training: 5 (2 recovery, 3 due to illness)
Average weekly training hours: 15:35hrs
Biggest weekly hours: 25:57:42 hrs
Average weekly TSS: 791
Biggest weekly TSS: 1387.6
I love the end of the year. I’ll admit I am a bit of a geek, but I enjoy looking back at what I’ve achieved, at which of my goals I hit, and adding up how far I’ve swum, biked and run over the last 12 months. I can then use these numbers to look forwards into the coming season and set more goals, which hopefully lead to quicker race times and more success. I was putting it off throughout December, because I wanted to include numbers as close to complete as possible and then, the day after Boxing Day, I came down with a really evil ‘flu virus, which initiated 2 weeks of little more than sitting on the sofa watching repeats of very old quiz shows. At that point I could barely muster the mental strength to work a calculator, let alone interrogate Training Peaks for data. So, now that my excuses for tardiness are out of the way, here is what training in 2016 looked like for me.
The biggest difference in 2016 was that, for the first time ever, I was coached. This means there are two pairs of eyes looking back over the year’s training, with Philip and I focusing on very different aspects of the same accumulation of exercise. We thought it would be interesting to make a few comparisons of this year versus my years of being self-coached.
Firstly, let's begin by looking at the PMC for Elaine's 2016 season [for a quick over view of the Performance Management Chart look at this blog here]. Elaine has highlighted some key areas which summarises her season nicely below:
A: Caught a cold – spent a week coughing
B: Raced Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball, (1st AG, 7th Female Age Grouper) followed by moving house.
C: Raced Ironman 70.3 Dublin (2nd AG, 5th Female Age Grouper)
D: A Race- Ironman Weymouth (1st AG, 2nd Female Age Grouper)
E: Caught the winter flu… there goes all that end of year fitness!
As we delve into the season in more detail later in this article, we can see how these key points make an impact really nicely. It is interesting to see how her season compares when we highlight some of the individual results below. It is great to see a steady and consistent CTL rise throughout the season; you can see some significantly higher ramp rates as we near the race season after Wimbleball (B–C); it is also a shame that Elaine caught the flu at the end of the year – and what a flu that was! – Thankfully, although there were some slight reductions in aerobic capacity, a lot of the focus was strength work and that meant that we have managed to easily reattain the performance markers within a couple of weeks of strength training.
Overall Training Time
The simple accumulation of training hours is affected by a lot of external factors which changed the way the year panned out. I was lucky enough to spend several blocks of 7 – 14 days in Portugal, where the early season warmth and sunshine made racking up the bike miles much more pleasant. Moving house and away from work meant more flexible working, a focus on my own business and taking on a significant charity role, but also contributed to the ability to log really big training days on a more regular basis.
Though there is a clear increase in training volume for the last year. It would be very easy to conclude that more training results in better performances. This just simply isn't the case. Actually, there was a lot of junk training going on in previous seasons. We changed the mindset to isolate and improve factors that contribute to long distance racing. This meant that our key workouts were IRONMAN focused – yes longer in duration than many would consider. However, strength and mechanics sessions were in high frequency yet low individual volume meaning we could get quality work done in small doses regularly throughout the week. This resulted in an overall higher volume of quality training while in the UK. Add in the luxury of multiple weekends and training days in Portugal with warm weather and higher training priority we can see an increase in overall training volume!
Perhaps one of the biggest changes has been the introduction of a Strength and Conditioning program – not a category which ranked at all in previous year’s totals. Under the patient guidance of Paul Ledger at The Bosworth Clinic, I have evolved from someone who never set foot in a gym and thought benching was an exclusively negative term, to someone who looks forward to my gym sessions and is dangerously close to becoming nerdy about how much she can squat. The degree to which I enjoy lifting amazes me and is in stark contrast to how little interest I thought I had in it previously.
The below graph is a summary of distance, duration and Training Stress Score, TSS (a combination of intensity and volume) for each discipline for the past three years.
We can take great pleasure in seeing the TSS for each increasing and there is a greater relative TSS increase than duration or distance increases. This means that we are seeing indications that the training regime is taking a more intensive nature.
I’ve spent more time in the pool than ever before, mostly as a result of consistently putting in 3 or 4 swims a week, rather than adding in monster sessions. The average length of a session has probably risen too though.
It was probably also a result of starting to swim butterfly more often...! ;-)
It is undeniably true that adding butterfly to my swim sets makes them take significantly longer.
Also due to more time in Portugal, Elaine was able to spend more time in a squad environment with one of the Tri Training Harder coaches looking over her swimming and multiple options for video analysis. Though training volume has increased, just having an extra session a week and more time in water has improved her general feel for swimming. Improved frequency in training sessions, rather than a greater individual session volume generally improved her swimming. The takeaway point for anyone else is: if you only have 2 hours available to swim train in the week if you make that 3x40 minute sessions, rather than 2x60 minute sessions, you will see more improvements as you hold your form for longer in shorter sessions before being fatigued.
My 400m time had seemed to stall at just above the 6 minute mark, but recently some technique changes have helped me find another gear. Having finally achieved a sub 6 minute 400m (a goal for the last several years) I can now lower this, and aim for something quicker in 2017!
Definitely, breaking the 6-minute milestone is a great achievement for any age-grouper. As a competitive and determined athlete – how much longer until we start hitting the 5 minute barrier?
Here again, we can see that though there is an increased TSS, duration and distance for the year is coming more from an increased frequency rather than "just adding more training volume!" As Elaine has absorbed this training load, we continue to improve training quality and therefore performance!
Unfortunately for me, the Ironman swim is considerably longer than 400m. Sometimes, it’s longer than 3.8km, depending on how good you are at sighting, how many other people you have to swim around, or how well placed the turn buoys are! So the relationship between swim training and the resultant IM race times are slightly harder to tease apart. I know for a fact that the 2013 IMUK swim was short, and that I sighted incredibly badly at Austria, squandering several minutes, whilst sea swims (2014 IM France and 2016 IM Weymouth) are oftentimes of dubious accuracy and currents and tides have a greater influence. I think in general, it’s true to say that more swim training leads to faster racing, however!
Though the times can vary, one way of looking into how performance has changed over open water events is comparing Elaine's times against her competitors. If we do this, we see the following trends over the past four seasons:
We know the field was smaller in Weymouth event, however, with some significant changes to Elaine's swimming training and her AG positions out of the water in Wimbleball 70.3 (7th AG) and Dublin 70.3 (6th AG), indicating a strong correlation to improved swimming performance. This can be obtained through many factors not just through swimming faster but (for example) also being very comfortable in her open water environment.
In many ways, this is the trickiest for me to compare. This year is the first I’ve had a power meter, and with that comes a whole new wealth of information, but no previous benchmarks. In the past, I logged total distance, and hours spent on the turbo – and I used to spend quite a lot of time on the turbo. Nearly 100 hours all told in 2015, in fact, which I thought was quite a lot until 2016 rolled around. Training Peaks doesn’t differentiate riding your bike outside to riding your bike on the turbo, but I'm pretty sure I spent considerably longer expending a lot of effort going nowhere throughout last year – I would estimate around twice as long.
Half way through the year, we moved half way up the country, which meant new routes and less direct comparison with how quickly I covered specific routes, too.
Here it is harder to compare distance and duration as there was a lot more bike sessions done on the turbo, equally it is harder to compare TSS values when we know that the 2016 values are using power as their driving influence whereas previously, Elaine wasn't using a power meter. However, we can see that there is, by all accounts, a significant jump increase in all areas for 2016. This has made a big difference to racing. For a start, Elaine's biking performance has improved. Furthermore, though she can ride a more controlled bike without having to over-stretch herself on the bike before unleashing her run.
The significant change from Elaine's point of view was training and using a power meter. As a coach I find this such an important part of training that I truly believe that I am not doing my job as thoroughly as is possible unless we can reflect on performances using power. (Some coaches like "Old School Methods." Great, we are in the 21st Century, we have these effective tools, I will use my knowledge to it's full capacity thank you and let my clients benefit from that!) As Elaine highlights above, there are many normal methods an athlete can see if their training is making a difference relative to roads, loops or routes she has ridden on previous occasions.
The power meter though suddenly means there is no hiding – intervals are done a lot more specifically, the introduction of 'ilevels' and other new metrics in WKO4 mean that we can really individualise training for the athlete. We can also plan for races and race stresses more easily making training suited to the course the athlete will be racing on. Initially, as with most power users, the task was as simple as learning how to hold the same power for an interval and reduce her variability. By her A-Race at Weymouth in September, she was able to hold her variability to 2% and thus be within 3 minutes of her predicted bike time giving her a lot of confidence that she could then run her way towards the podium. This in itself was a huge mindset shift for her racing strategy.
The other fun side of training with a power meter is that we can start comparing how the critical metrics are improving. With Elaine's main race being a 180km time trial, with some "fun" 90km races in in the mix as well, looking at standard measurements, like Functional Threshold Power, 95% of 20 minute efforts, though interesting aren't critical to her performance. It just means she is getting better at riding hard for 20 minutes. Above we have compared her PMC with the same labelled points from before (A to E) and identified what more useful performance indicators are showing us. Here we have also assessed her peak 2, 3 and 4 hour power results from every training session and shown the Top 10 'performances' of each duration for 2016. A few points to note:
B–C is IRONMAN 70.3 racing so most of her efforts were focused over 2-3 hours. We can see five of her Top 10 3-hour power results in that region and four of her Top 10 2-hour results
Most of her Top 10 4-hour performances were in the weeks leading up to IRONMAN Weymouth (C–D) as IRONMAN training takes full hold and we see the specificity of her training in that period and indications of how she is coming into form
Even though Elaine took a good amount of time (six weeks plus) of normal training there are still some of her best 3-hour training results in the very beginning of her new season (E). Athletes tend to worry that if they take time off, they lose their fitness – yes they do, but that is a very natural part of the training rhythm. Trees lose their leaves in Autumn (Fall for the American cousins), it doesn't meant they won't be green again. Again, focus on good training principles, strength and conditioning, mechanics/technical work and you will have the benefit of a psychological rest as well as physiological gains! Patience has never hurt anyone before and her illness certainly will not be holding her back! [Check out this blog on how Psychological work can make such a big difference to your performance]
I love the simplicity of running. When you’re time-crunched, it’s so easy to lace up your trainers, head out the door and come back an hour later feeling like you’ve made yourself fitter. I also love the actual running, so I have generally done it quite a lot. The early part of 2016, however, contained almost no running, in stark contrast to what I had originally planned. I’ve written about why [in this blog here] and about the surprising end result of a quicker marathon time in Weymouth than in Austria, despite having run almost twice the distance in 2015 as I did in 2016.
Initially, this seems to completely turn things on their head – Elaine almost halved her training distance (about 30% reduction in training duration) and improved her running time. We have to remember though that there is a significant increase in strength and conditioning volume. This is such an important part of running yet people forget about it. [If you want to find out what makes a great performance Strength and Conditioning Programme, check out this blog with Paul Ledger who helped write Elaine's training routine.] Running has to be complimented by S&C. And Elaine certainly learned that!
The other interesting consideration is run 'exercising' and run 'training'. This is highlighted really nicely by the above graph. Yes, there is a reduction of volume by between 25-30%. However, the TSS values are almost the same. In other words, the running that Elaine has been doing has been at a higher intensity or better quality than previous seasons. (There is a great example of this to come!)
Does better quality, or intensity mean lots of racing and fast reps? The answer there is yes and no. Above we see Elaine's Peak run pace against the time that she was able to hold it. The 2015 season is in purple and 2016 is in blue. We can see two clear differences: in 2015, Elaine was doing 3km or 5km and 10km events as training races as is shown by the faster paces held between 10 minutes to 40 minutes. However, in 2016, we focused on mechanical improvements and on sessions lasting up to two hours. [Not usually more than two hours – read this blog to find out why!]
This served her well and meant that she was able to hold IRONMAN race pace for longer which resulted in a better IRONMAN performance. This training difference can be shown really nicely below.
In the graph above, we can see the fastest pace (speed) held for any 30 minute period for any run over 1.5 hours and less than three hours. (We have allowed for elevation gains as well.) We have deliberately looked at these durations as they help to highlight training runs and not marathons or races as Elaine hasn't done a sub 3 hour marathon...yet! The trend lines give the most revealing insight to Elaine's previous running routine. We see several long runs throughout the season, however the pace remains almost the same throughout the whole year. However, when we compare the 2016 season, we notice that most long runs take place in the latter half of the season [read Elaine's blog as to why there were almost no long runs at the beginning of the season!] but these long runs happen at a faster pace and indeed that pace increases through the season indicating that we are improving her race specific duration pace. Furthermore, knowing that several of these longer runs took place off the back of long bike rides, we are seeing a very significant improvement on a key running and triathlon metric.
Philip and Elaine working together in Portugal in January 2016
Not all comparisons are numerical or objective. This year I have felt stronger, fuelled and recovered better (thanks to guidance from Helen Money at The Bosworth Clinic [– read about some common triathlon faux pas here.]) and trained harder – in part because sometimes I have trained easier. 2016 brought some brilliant experiences, including my first (I hope not only!) champagne podium at Weymouth and my 3rd Kona qualification. Working with a wide support network including the Bosworth Clinic and our team sponsors has broadened the scope of my sporting ambition – where I used to think I was scraping the limits of my abilities, opportunities have arisen to swim, bike and run much faster than I thought possible than when I trained myself. On the back of this excitement, Philip and I have big goals for 2017 and I can’t wait to see what we accomplish.
I think it is fair to say it has been far from a smooth road to where we have got to [Don't believe us, read this blog!] but it certainly has been really enjoyable. One of Elaine's really positive traits is that she seeks to understand what she is doing, she questions and challenges what she does and what she is being told. She is also very proactive in what she does. We work together in a very open and pragmatic relationship which allows a lot of scope to develop both sides of the partnership. It certainly is not a one way conversation and we would urge all athletes to be proactive with their coach to both achieve the best possible outcomes for both the athlete and the coach. It shouldn't be the coach chasing the athlete, but the athlete wanting and willing to engage with the coach. It certainly leads to a more enjoyable coaching experience and regularly leads to better, more focused results. Bring on the 2017 season!