What is Zone 2 Training?

For most people they are under the impression that they should go hard in every session. They get fixed on certain paces all the time because they think they will not improve and therefore neglect the easy days and even go too hard on easy days as a result. The most common thought is “if I train hard and fast I will get faster” but that is not the case and you need to be clever in your training and like many of the pros they train in zone 2 to get faster. We all know that well known saying “go slow to get fast”. If you keep training hard you with keep having bad training days and likely spend a long time each year on the sidelines.

What is zone 2 training? Zone 2 is steady training just coming above the easy zone, It’s not moderate or anything above. The main benefit form zone 2 heart rate or zone 2 power is that it builds aerobic base and endurance. By Improving aerobic capacity this improves your ability to maintain a faster pace for a longer period of time. Of course you still need to do the higher intensity efforts but zone 2 is the basis and foundation from which to begin to build your faster pace. If you have a strong aerobic capacity it will also allow you to recover quicker between those higher intensity efforts.  For example, with a better aerobic fitness, you will be able to perform intervals with a shorter rest in between and hit pace stronger.

Why is Zone 2 training important?

One of my coaches Mark Shepherd is very critical on me for my training and the majority of his training he gives me is all in zone 2. He stresses the importance of zone training every week. I also believe in this training; before Mark I went on studies on how to improve and the main finding was I was training too hard although I thought it was easy. I had my zones adjusted to my heart rate max and since that study in 2015, I have improved a lot from training in zone 2. So when Mark gave me my training I was no stranger to this. Of course lots of people think they are doing it right but I see it all the time on Strava and can tell it’s wrong. Zone 2 training should be a big bulk of your weekly training and for the benefits mentioned above it also leaves you feeling like you can go on for ever, fresh, recover and therefore really target your hard runs and not get fatigued, which of course will keep the injuries away. If the injuries stay away then to me that’s a major importance in any training, not only will you get consistent training which is the key, but if you get consistent training you are very likely to improve. If you keep over training and get injured you will just end up chasing your fitness and making excuses.  With zone 2 training you should be able to maintain a conversation very easily; I always like to focus on form as it’s easy to do whilst at this heart rate. What is there not to like about it? It’s a well-known method and your body needs to repair – you just cannot keep breaking your body down with hard training. I always point out to people even the best marathon runners in the world run slow miles.

How to work it out?

Firstly you need a watch and a heart rate monitor. You need to know your heart rate max and once you have that you can put your heart rate in many calculators online HERE or watch my YouTube videos HERE and you will get your zones from there. You do need to make sure the HR max is right, you can do tests like: 5k Time Trial, FTP test, coopers test, VO2 Max lab test and so on etc or even use a recent race result. Do not use your watch automatic/present zones as 9/10 times they are wrong zones. Once you know your heart rate max you can get your zones.  Don’t go by pace or mileage, I just go by time and follow the zone strictly. By sticking to lower heart rates, over time you will find that you are likely to increase your pace at the same heart rate output. This is due to increased aerobic efficiency – yes I had to walk up hills to start off with but that was a way my body was telling me I am pushing too hard. You may have to walk but in time it improves. When you become more efficient in time you will then be able to do more training hours at a lower heart rate. Check out old blog HERE about if Heart Rate training is worth it.

Why do people ignore this method?

People are simply not patient and they expect instant results and that won’t happen overnight. At least 2/4 of my runs a week are in zone 2. When I first did this training it was a few weeks before I saw my pace improve, but found I could train more and on the hard sessions go harder. Over the years the pace is sometimes at a pace which I was doing back in 2015 too hard. I have improved a lot from this but it takes times, it could be weeks or months to see improvement but you have to keep at it and your see the benefits. Stick with it and you will make improvements and of course with anything you will struggle to get quick results so why break your body and get injured when you can train smart?

My conclusion is it is a big topic and this is a quick simple blog about this; I have written many in depth blogs in the past and YouTube Videos so check them out. I train like this, my athletes do and I have many friends doing this training who have all gone to do well whether it’s a PB or a medal. I believe in this and when I look back over the years I have improved so much and continue to improve. The medals I have won are due to training smart and not over training. Thanks for reading and what do you think about zone 2 training?

Check out my YOUTUTBE video on this subject HERE

Making a training plan around your life

Scheduling training around your daily life commitments can be hard for a number of reasons, such as family commitments, working hours and so on. For me, it is very difficult because not only do I have a full time job and therefore work 5 days a week, I have to do all my training after work and around spending time with my wife, family and friends which is very tough. So I decided to write a blog aiming to help you structure your training plan, combining my knowledge as a running coach and my experience from being coached.

I am very lucky to be coached by great coaches; Mark Sheperd not only coaches me in my running and cycling he also manages the structure of my other training as to when I should do each session and discipline. John Wood and Carolyn Bond work on my swimming and Craig Coggle sorts out my strength training.

After being given my training sessions from my coaches, I sit down and look at a three to six week plan with the addition of an easier  4th/7th week that incorporates more rest. My plan is also my diary, so before I schedule any training I first write down all my commitments for that 7 week period so I can work around those.

With any plan you don’t want to go straight into hard training, so all my training starts off at my baseline and increases weekly for three weeks. The following three weeks I just maintain my training. Then, for the 7th week it’s an easier week with less reps and duration of training etc. In peak season I may change my plan to a three to four week plan, working around my races and getting plenty of recovery. Could this work for you? My advice here is that it’s important you get the right balance for you.

This schedule can be adapted depending on your goals. For instance, I’m training for triathlons and need to train in 3 disciplines: running, cycling and swimming. I also put 2 strength sessions into a week to prevent injuries and make me stronger. For me I need to fit in the following each week:

3-4 Runs

3-4 Swims

4 Bike sessions

2 Strength sessions

If I am struggling to fit in a session as my day hasn’t gone to plan, then I will try and reschedule it. If one day you’re struggling to follow your plan, try going out with the time you have, a short session is still better than nothing – but remember rest and recovery is key. Numerous research papers show that having a week off from training doesn’t do too much to your fitness but after that your fitness declines quickly. So as you can see I spend a lot of time training. I am looking at decreasing my running and swimming over the course of the year to focus more on the bike and improve in this area.

So I take my key sessions from each area and plot them on my plan. My key running sessions include one speed session and one long run. This is very similar to swimming, focussing on an aerobic speed session and one drill session. Once I have worked out my key sessions, I make sure that my hard sessions are followed up by easy sessions. I never have hard sessions together. Once I have prioritised these, I’ll schedule in other sessions. I always make sure that I get one day full rest a week and two for my recovery week. So hard days are hard and easy days are very easy and rest days mean rest and no exercise.

Sounds easy right? Well, then you need to figure out what you actually want to achieve in each session. For example, no point me putting in four easy runs if I want to get faster. Once you have the basics of the plan you can then ask yourself what your end goal is. Just because it’s in the plan it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do it because life happens. If you are planning for a marathon you will want to do longer speed reps than if you were running a 5k. For example at least two of my runs I run at 60% my heart rate max. The reason I run these is that it has been proven that running at a slower pace on your long runs increases your endurance and improves your efficiency which in time will make you faster. When running at this pace you’re also teaching your body to burn fat more than carbohydrates, which is a much better energy source to use. By doing these runs at this pace you also make your body recover quicker, so you can be ready to go again the next day for those hard sessions. For me, I used to find that I would go hard on my long runs and be very sore the next day, now with a slower pace my legs feel fresh the next day. Remember that the plan may always need to change, so be prepared to change things up regularly and just because it’s in the plan it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to do it because life does get in the way.

With any plan make sure it’s aimed for your ultimate goal, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle with small goals making the parts and once you put it altogether it should reach your ultimate goal. I like to set high targets and sometimes may not be able to achieve them. But having high targets makes you work towards them and train hard to get to them. So for example, some of my mini goals for this year included improve swimming, improve running times, PB in certain races etc. My main targets for 2019 was defending my National Aquathlon Championships, getting on the podium at the European Aquathlon Championships and focusing more on Triathlons. So it’s very important to think ahead for the year and not just short term. When putting together your plan make sure you have small targets, followed by one big goal. So if you are planning a marathon, for example, your training will build up to it including races leading up to it. That leads me on to the next part.

Whatever your goal is you need to build the plan for this. Most importantly, if it’s leading to one race I’d recommend that you find races that come in the lead up to it and use these as training runs. There can be a number of reasons why you chose races in your plan and these can be things like building up the race distance, experiencing the race atmosphere or maintaining your race pace within a competitive field.

Every session has a purpose, especially when your lifestyle leaves you with limited time. Make sure you know what you want to get out of every session. It might be as simple as running a mile and then next week increasing to two miles.

Finally, it is important to schedule a taper before your race so that you are fresh for your race. Tapering plays lots of mind games – phantom pains, questions such as “am I losing fitness?” etc. For a race such as the World Aquathlon Championships, personally, I will start bringing the following down over a course of weeks as it’s a big race for me. So for strength training the amount of sets I do gets reduced over a few weeks and on race week I don’t do a strength session. Running distance comes down but the intensity stays high. For example, if I normally do 6x1k reps I might do 4 with different paces. Long runs come down too, I do the similar thing for the bike and swimming. I don’t taper for every race but for my important races this is what I normally do. Again you have to find what works best for you.

Once you have done your plan you need to access it regularly and monitor if its working for you – whilst you’re testing things out, your plan will change a lot, so don’t feel like you have to stick to exactly what you’ve planned. You also need to assess yourself with tests during your plan – my plan will include a long run at the same heart rate and pace towards the end of my programme, so I can assess the data. I will do other assessments throughout too, this helps to gage if the plan is effective in improving areas where I want to improve.

Most of all if I can’t fit training in I just take my day off; rest is key and don’t worry about missed sessions, but having a plan helps you more than not having one. I have at least one day rest day in my weekly plan, this allows you to recover and get stronger and must not be neglected.

If you are interested in run coaching and planning, please check-out my coaching website HERE

Hope this blog is useful and please check my YOUTUBE channel HERE for more help and tips on training.

Are you over training now during lockdown?

With countries around the world going into lockdown and some allowing you to go out for one form of exercise a day, this has also resulted in an increase of people over training because of having more time on their hands – could you be falling into this trap?

It is unlikely there will be any races until the end of the summer. Many people are not adjusting their training such as carrying on running high mileage for October marathons, too many runs etc. People are now thinking they can fit more training in and therefore will fall into this trap and will neglect training as a result.

My advice is don’t be tempted, it might seem like a good idea to do more during lockdown but you are going to risk an injury, and potentially get ill when this is the time when you need your immune system to not be suppressed because of what’s going on at the moment.  So I have come up with some tips that will help not to over train and how to stay strong and fit during this period. So here are some tips I am using in my training.

Firstly, scale back your training – for example, if you were running long periods of time, scale it back. A 60 minute easy run will help you a lot instead of a 2 hour run. Focus on something else so instead of doing a lot of hard session’s cut that down and replace it with easy zone 2 heart rate sessions. This way you can work on your efficiency and form. Zone 2 training has so many benefits and makes you faster. You won’t lose fitness, maybe a little speed but that will come back quickly when you train again for races when this is over. Do not use the excuse I was told I can do one exercise a day so I am going to run or cycle for a long period of time. For example, in my training I can’t swim as the pools as they are all shut now. So I have replaced my swim sessions with just one bike session & a strength session. For my running, I run four times a week with two easy and two hard sessions. I am now doing minimal speed work and running in zone 2 and therefore in total doing less training.

Rest is so important and I can’t stress how important this is and is neglected so much by people. Rest means rest, yes nothing at all. Recovery runs, rides, easy strength work etc is not rest. Rest is crucial in every plan and is when your body recovers, rebuilds and gets stronger. At least one rest day will help so much because it improves you and you make a lot of gains and keeps injuries away.

Eat healthy and try to stay out of the cupboards and fridge. If you’re like me and eat a lot it’s hard not to over eat when stuck in doors. So you need to discipline yourself so you don’t over eat. Stick to your normal eating routine and maybe add some extra fruit to boost your immune system. Eating the right nutrients and food is so important as your body absorbs these more than rubbish foods.

Focus on your weaknesses, so now is the time to work on your weaknesses and things you have neglected in the past. So for running it could be working on drills and form so it improves your running technique. In swimming, working on those swimming muscles doing land bases work that you never usually do. Cycling – if you’re like me and it’s my weakest, working more on that to improve. So there is a lot you can do.

Hope you find this helpful, it’s important we stay positive, stay safe and keep moving as we can beat this together. Don’t fall into the trap of over training, it’s fine to scale back to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Of course it’s important for our health and well being to get out, my training has been adapted and hopefully I will get to races later in the year. Now is the time to scale back and work on your weaknesses; you won’t go backwards you will get stronger.

Check out my YouTube Channel I have videos on there which will help you with you training HERE

Your race was cancelled? Stay Calm, stay positive -tips to keep your training going.

There is something at the moment on the news and around the world that we can’t escape – that of course is the Coronavirus. This virus has caused chaos around the world, with countries struggling to control this and some countries even going into a lockdown. Many events so far have been cancelled, clubs postponing training until further notice and so on. It is tough times and a situation none of us expected or have gone through in our lives. So I have written a blog on how to safely keep fit and motivated and what you can do if you’re in lockdown and can’t leave the house to maintain some sort of fitness.

As an athlete and Interim Head Coach for Canterbury Harriers I share your frustration with all your training and plans up in the air; please note that no training is a waste. Being part of clubs has changed my life and helped my health and wellbeing and mentally, I have made lots of friends too, so it will be hard for a lot of us through this difficult time.

Firstly we must listen to guidelines set by the government so that this can pass quickly. It’s important to stay calm, stay positive and keep moving forward – we can beat this together. If you are struggling for motivation just do something even if it’s just for 10 minutes – such as a short run. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes stop, but it’s likely you will stay out much longer whatever you do.

Like many of you my targets, goals and season plans are now all up in the air, training was going well getting ready for my first important race in May and then the virus struck. It’s ok to feel disappointment about races being cancelled and goals not achieved, but we are all in this together.

Safety is so important so I will do what I have to do to stay well and safe. So with races being cancelled, parkrun cancelled, clubs runs cancelled etc  I therefore had to change my training up as it would be too early to peak for the European Sprint Triathlon Championships in August and not knowing if that will go ahead. Don’t think your training has gone to waste because your race was cancelled. No training is a waste, firstly by training you’re looking after your health and wellbeing (both physical and mental) boosting your immune system and keeping fit. So it’s important to keep training if it’s safe outside alone or indoors.

The pools and leisure centres have now closed in the UK. So how can you maintain your swim fitness? Well the problem is unless you have your own pool, it will be a tough one, so you could work more on another area such as running and cycling and focusing more on that. I started swimming in 2012 and have really swam consistently since with only a few weeks off from it each year from my end of season break, so like many of you it looks like long periods of not swimming is on the cards. However a lot of swim training is also done in the gym where you can also do this at home. Swimmers call this land base training; you can do a lot at home, even if you don’t have any equipment. If you already go to the gym you will likely being doing some of these exercises below to make you stronger and keep injuries to the minimal.

So things like Press Ups, Sit Ups, V Sit Ups, Planks, Side Planks, Jumping Lunges, Dead Bug, Tread the Needle,  Alkeanas, Glute Bridge, Shoulder Wall Slides will help you for your core and swimming. If you have a resistance band you can do Dead Bugs with a band and that will help your core and give your arms some resistance. You could add Squats; now don’t overdo it but you can produce a circuit such as Press Ups, Sit Ups and Planks x10 reps of each and then do 3 sets and maybe add Squats, Sit Ups, Dead Bug in the same format. There is plenty of strength videos online that will keep you strong and with some small cardio workout. Just make sure when searching the internet you look at the right form and copy it as you don’t want to get injured and the workout must be what you think will help you. So not going to the gym isn’t bad at all, for runners and cyclists you could even add a few more things in like Squats, Clams and Scissors. You can Google these and find them on YouTube.

The above can be done without weights and if you have got weights you can use weights for some. So you can see there is a lot you can do without equipment. This will help with your strength and some fitness.

What about running? Well this very much depends if you are allowed out your home-  the UK government has put in restrictions that you can exercise once a day outside your home such as a run alone or with a family member from your household.  If you have a treadmill then you can pretty much do all your runs on the treadmill no problem. If you are allowed out the house then you can go running and you do your own session but maintaining a safe distance from the public.

If you only run with your club then you might need some sessions. Good sessions I like are mile reps 3×1 mile rep with 3 minutes recovery between the reps and a warm up and warm down either side, easy runs and long runs will get you through too, but I am sure you know what sessions you can do. If you don’t have a treadmill and not allowed out the house but can get into the garden perhaps you can run up and down your garden? If it’s to small what about doing drills and working on your running form? Good drills I like are high knees, A steps, heel flicks, strides; these will help your form a lot but of course your running fitness won’t be the same.

It’s important your training does not go stale so just because you’re not training with others or racing you can change your training up. If you want to do easy runs, time on feet is a good way to train. You could increase you runs by 6-9 minutes each week for three weeks and then hold for three weeks so for example if you start from 60 minutes then go 1 hour 6 minutes, 1 hour 12 minutes, 1 hour 18 minutes and hold that 1:18 for two weeks. Then have a recovery week cutting back to 60 minute runs or less. Easy runs should be easy and don’t worry about pace – the slower the better makes you more efficient and faster in the long run.

A rough guide on heart rate zones is around 60% of your heart rate max no higher – any higher you’re over training into different zones such as going in to threshold zone. Easy runs in theory should give you fresh legs not sore at all the following day and you can then run hard. If you don’t know your heart rate max, zone 2 is the right zone, it might feel slow but your body adapts and pace will come down my coach Mark Sheperd always stresses the importance of zone2 training. When you do have a recovery week keep the intensity the same but reps low. For example if you normally do 6x1k reps then cut that down to 3 to 4 reps. If you want to stay connected with people which is so important, you could have mini competitions with friends via Strava for example, that can help with motivation.

Lastly cycling – this can be done easily indoors with your bike/exercise bike. Your bike will need a turbo trainer or rollers – you can pick them up cheap now and you can do training just like you would outdoors, there are plenty of programs you can follow and even virtual rides will keep motivation and even hook up with friends and training buddies online for some friendly competition.

That’s how you can still train but you need to keep motivated.  There are a few things you can do.   A simple option is to have a recovery week, use this time to think about what you want to achieve and focus on in the coming months. There is nothing worse than pounding your body all year round and then only resting once you’re broken.

Remember that somebody believes in you. This somebody could be a coach, manager, trainer, fellow athlete or loved one. They will have the belief in your ability that you currently may not have. There is no harm in asking them for reassurances.

Think in positive ways at all times. Positivity can be developed by assessing training each day and competition sessions. Assess your own positivity through forms of achievement through technique, practice and movement. Thinking positively leads to better mind and body balance. Positive thinking enables the neural pathways within the mind to operate with clarity and purpose.

Understand that it can be done. Embark on each task as a champion by having a clear and defined plan. Achieve your task step by step. Do not take on a big task and expect to complete it quickly. Have patience and believe in yourself.

Stay in control of the controllable. Maintaining the controllable builds self-confidence because it provides you with a sense of focus and directive. Remember that you can never control what others are thinking/doing but you can control what you are achieving. There are a range of variables within running that can lead to performers losing sight of the controllable. External factors/influences will only hinder performance and must be beaten.

Recall previous success. A mantra that I use is related to distance travelled. Think about previous successes that you have had. What did that feel like? How were your emotions during this time? Further, how confident did that make you feel? Recall is a positive mechanism to enable one to re-build confidence as it associates with belief.

Set short-term goals. Most athletes suffer from low self-confidence because they allow the issue(s) to prolong and as a consequence fail to deal with problems head on. To overcome these issues, set short-term goals that will enable the flow of confidence (no matter how small) to start. Through constantly achieving your short-term goals you will build your levels of self-confidence like a snowball growing bigger. Short-term goals should be related to processes that can be achieved.

The world Situation is bad however, exercise wise it’s not all bad, you have lots of options with what you can do now that facilities are closed.  I believe it’s important to keep smiling, keep positive in order to move forward as we can beat this but most importantly stay safe. Motivation might be tough but I hope the tips help, setting small goals each week and taking each day as it comes in this climate is a good way to go. I will be posting videos to help with training on my YouTube Channel link HERE please check it out and subscribe.

A study on different exercise bouts result in different physiological and performance responses

So I was approached while doing my speed reps on the track in Canterbury back in the summer by a guy called Antonis Kesisoglou who asked if I could be on his research project for his publication. I have been on a few tests before mentioned in previous blogs that have helped me to improve. So when he asked me if I wanted to help, I couldn’t say no. I was preparing for the European Aquathlon Championships so I had to wait until my season had ended to go on this test while I was still in great shape for it; we didn’t want to disturb training beforehand. Antonis said he wanted to test me as I had a world class engine, I am not sure I agree with that but I know I had good fitness levels and met the criteria of being able to run 1,500m sub 5 minutes. Antonis is from the University of Kent and is a Dr in Sports and Science, he comes from a strength and conditioning background and has coached Olympians.

So more about the study….

Antonis was conducting a study to examine how different exercise bouts result in different physiological and performance responses. Current models provide disproportional estimates of training stress especially when comparisons are made between very short and intensified bouts, to long and moderate effort activities. In this study, he wants to examine whether a running performance exercise bout (1,500 meters time-trial) is a valid model for assessing training stress imposed by different durations and intensities of exercise. It is his aim to improve existing methods for calculating training load, where the duration of the exercise bout is not overemphasized.

Visit 1 included a two-phases ramp incremental (Phase 1- Lactate thresholds determination, Phase 2- Determination of VO2max) test  for assessment of the maximal aerobic power output on a treadmill ergometer. For phase 1, I was asked to perform 4 or 5 submaximal bouts lasting for 5 minutes, with 1 minute of rest in between. Measurements of blood lactate were collected during the 1 minute rest bouts, and Phase 1 was to terminate when my blood lactate concentration levels elevate above 4 mmol.L-1 (i.e my second lactate threshold- MLSS). With 15 minutes of rest in between, I was asked to re-start running at a speed -3 km.h-1 of my final speed in phase one. For example if my final speed at phase 1 was 16 km.h-1,  I would be asked to start stage 2 at 13 km.h-1. Treadmill speed then increases by 1 km/h-1,  till the point that I cannot run further (i.e cannot keep up with the speed increments). Once phase 2 is completed, I was asked to provide my last lactate sample. With 40 minutes of rest in between, I was then asked to perform a 1,500 meters time-trial for familiarization purposes. (e.g the speed was regulated by me, whilst I attempted to cover the given distance as fast as possible).

Visit 2 included a standardized warm-up (see details for warm-up protocol below), followed by a 1,500 meters time-trial. I was instructed to cover the given distance on an all-weather synthetic track surfacing in the shortest time possible. This exercise bout was used as my performance trial (e.g my best running performance). 

At visit 3, I was asked to perform a 12-minutes time-trial running, followed by a 1,500 meters time-trial (with 5 minutes recovery in between).

In visit 4, I was asked to perform a 12 minutes maximum effort, self-paced, intermittent running bout. The work-to-rest ratio lasted for 60 seconds. Work ratio was fixed in terms of distance. In other words, I was asked to run a maximal effort of 150 meters and recover for the remaining part of the minute. After 5 minutes of recovery, I was asked to perform a 1,500 meters time-trial.

In visit 5, I was asked to perform a self-paced moderate, continuous running which lasted for 25 minutes, followed by a 1,500 meters time-trial (with 5 minutes recovery in between). The intensity that I ran was regulated via the 0-10 RPE scale. As such, my 25 minutes run had to reflect to a 7 out of 10 intensity (hard/heavy intensity).

Lastly, visit 6 consisted of a 25 minutes, moderate self-paced running, intermittent running bout. The work-to-rest lasted for 60 seconds, with the work distance fixed,  similarly to visit 3. Again, a 5 minutes of recovery was provided, prior to a 1,500 meters time-trial. Similarly to visit 4, I had to regulate the intensity via the 0-10 RPE scale, so it reflects to a 7 out of 10 intensity (hard/heavy intensity).

For all visits, no verbal encouragement was provided or feedback regarding how I performed each trial (i.e how much time I had run or how much I had left).  I was also asked to wear a chest strap transmitter interfaced via short range telemetry with a wrist unit (Polar V800, Polar Electro, Kempele, Finland), which displayed my heart rate responses in beats per minutes and helped to measure my running speed. Alongside real-time cardiac assessment, I was asked to answer some questionnaires prior, during and after the completion of the exercise. For example, in visits 2-5, I was asked to subjectively rate the workload I had perceived between the 1st and the 2nd bout of exercise (I.e immediately after the cessation of the 1st bout). I was asked to rate how I experienced the first exercise bout and provide a number from 0 to 20 for the six following categories:  Mental Demand, Physical Demand, Temporal Demand, Performance, Effort and Frustration.

Alongside with NASA-TLX, I was asked to answer another scale for assessing training load (I.e how hard was my session). In particular, I was asked to subjectively rate the intensity of my 1st exercise bout via the usage of the RPE 0-10 scale (Borg et al., 1987). My potential motivation was assessed prior to all 1,500m time-trials, via the usage of a 0-9 analogue scale (0 =Not motivated at all, 9 = Very motivated to do well). Lastly, my perception of effort (I.e how hard do I feel the task?) was assessed via the 6–20 Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale (Borg, 1998) during exercise. I was asked to verbally answer how hard I perceived the task every minute for all 1,500m time-trials, while all the rest exercise bouts I was asked every 2 minutes.

In all visits, I was asked to wear a mask for analysing my ventilation, in other words how much oxygen (O2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) and total volume of air (VE) I breath in and out every second. This happened in the lab (visit 1) and at the field via the usage of a portable analyser (Visits 2-6). Antonis said that usually people feel the mask a bit tight in the beginning but this piece of equipment is designed for maximal tests in the laboratory and the field, so it would not limit your breathing rate or create feelings of anxiety. At the beginning of each visit, a standardized warm-up was provided for all visits. In particular, I was asked to perform the following self-paced routine, where intensity was regulated via the 6-20 RPE scale (Borg, 1982) in the following order: 800 meters of jog (RPE 9-11), 800 meters of run (RPE 13-15) and 400 meters of intermittent running (100 meters of  RPE 18-20: 100 meters RPE 9-11). My total time commitment for this study was no longer than 7 hours.

Is there anything I needed to do before each visit?

Before each visit I was told I should:

•             Avoid heavy sessions the day prior to the test. Easy/light sessions are okay.

•             Not exercise on the morning of the test or warm-up prior to the test (warm-up will be included in testing sessions).

•             Please make sure you bring appropriate sport clothing with you.

•             Eat and drink the same food in the 24 hours before the test.

•             Eat at least in the 3 hours immediately before the test.

•             Abstain completely from caffeine and alcohol in the 24 hours before all visits.

•             Tell Antonis if you currently have or you recently had an injury or illness of any kind.

Have you taken all this on board? It does seem a bit complex but it’s not too bad once you are doing the study. So what did we find for me…

We found my V02 max was higher than previous tests and therefore I saw an improvement here. My Lactate threshold took longer this time before I dropped the speed. Due to my aerobic training throughout the year I had developed an engine that made me more efficient and therefore able to sustain a faster pace longer. When sitting down and discussing how to improve this area there was a few suggestions to help. One I found interesting was that I could drop one easy long run in favour for a bike session to improve there, or if I want to improve my running speed I would need to hit my intervals at a harder pace than normal and to have shorter recoveries. So in the hindsight I need to improve my anaerobic system and running harder would help improve this. So this is something I will put in to place in my training.

What else did we find?

•             Immediately after warm-up, use some exercises to activate gluteus min and max, as well as oblique’s activation. That will help you with posture and stability when bounding (I.e light form of a Plyometric activity).

With Antonis being a strength coach he found a weakness with my hip so I will be focusing on improving this.

•             Guide you training by feeling (RPE scale). It is currently one of the best way to guide your training.

So to be purely guided by feel and not to be a slave on what my watch says, this is something I have been practising a lot and I know that feel is much better than going by what your watch says.

•             A short, high intensity interval training session an it’s effects on how your body feeling the day after, cannot be accurately estimated via wearables.

•             Use a training log, apart from wearables. Use the NASA-TLX scale for monitoring your sessions (as well as the SRPE). It’s a promising tool for exercise monitoring

•             Keep an eye on your speed sessions, alongside your HR responses

•             Remember that in 2 sessions resulting the same total work, the one which is performed in a intermittent way is always harder than in a constant way.

•             When a session is performed in a maximum effort (I.e 10/10), the effects of exercise duration plays a minimum role. A 10 minutes all-out and a 20-minutes all-out session will result similar decrements in a subsequent performance.

As you can see we found a lot of things to work on and help to improve my running. I found the study tough in certain visits such as the 10 minute TT followed by the 1,500m TT but different and very enjoyable. However what we did find was that I was very good at pacing and going by feel. In conclusion every study I have been on I have learnt something new in order to make me improve. I think any study is beneficial and even if you only implement one suggestion into your training you can improve from it. I am looking forward to seeing how it plans out.

GEL NOOSA 12 REVIEW

ASICS kindly sent me a pair of the new GEL-NOOSA Tri 12 to try and test out so here is my personal review.

So what is the GEL-NOOSA Tri 12? 

ASICS claim that this shoe boasts both lightweight and breathable qualities, making it the perfect shoe for the everyday tri-runner. Designed for triathletes and triathletes Like Gwen Jorgensen who inspired me wore the older models so I was very interested to see if these where any good?

Some of the key features include:

  • GEL-NOOSA Tri 12 maintains its unique design which you see in previous models whilst incorporating humancentric science and advanced technology to provide runners with energised cushioning for the fastest ride.
  • The shoe is designed for a neutral runner and features the ASICS Flytefoam cushioning technology to provide a fast and energetic ride.
  • Fitted with Caterpy laces on the tongue and heel to provide an easy-on for the shoe and a no-tie option, which gives runners a superior fit for their run and a quick transition.
  • Quick to get on which includes stretchy knit and reinforcement in the underlay to provide an extremely comfortable fit.
  • Breathable & Lightweight

ASICS state these features have been upgraded from previous models:

UPPER:

● New russel mesh material allows the upper to maintain durability and provides ventilation and a softer feel.

MIDSOLE:

● FLYTEFOAM™ technology midsole material is lighter and more durable than traditional mid-sole foams. This is ASICS’ lightweight mid-sole material giving you a soft, supportive feel.

OUTSOLE:

● Super AHAR™ heel plug in areas of heavy wear to extend the life of the shoe by using higher-abrasion rubber.

So how does it compare to my much loved Gel-451s?

The Gel-451s have bought me success over the past year and even the old Hyper Tri’s that I love…. So I put the GEL-NOOSA TRI 12 through its paces. When unpacking them I liked the colour they stood out, I love the colours of the 451s they stood out too so this ticked a box here as ASICS seem to get this right on most of their shoes. They felt light but they didn’t feel as light as the 451s. What I noticed straight away is that it came with tri laces, well that’s what I like to call them, but unlike the 451 that had a Boa system these don’t. However these have the hole in the tongue to grab and put on easier. This was one of the things I loved with the Hyper Tris with the tongue hole. Although I have got used to the Boa system on the 451s I prefer this tongue set up, so this is a win for me as I believe its quicker to put on and less fiddly when wanting a quick transition.

So I did some transition tests with putting my shoes on. If I set up the laces up right my feet can slip on easy without having to tighten them. So I did three tests on the GEL-NOOSA and the same with the 451s. The Gel- Noosa was a second quicker twice so every second counts so this ticks the box again.

The mesh material is impressive, not only does it allow your feet to breath it is light weight, a good feature to drying your feet after coming out the swim, so it lets plenty of air in. A feature I found very useful is that the material at the end of the front of the shoe, is like a light swade material. Now if you’re like me and in previous tri shoes my feet get hammed with hard material there and therefore toes getting very sore. So when testing this out without socks as that’s what I would do in a triathlon, my feet and toes didn’t feel it at the front of the shoe, so it was much more comfortable.

I have been put off by the Noosa’s in the past as I was under the impression they were a stability shoe and bulky, however I am very much wrong as ASICS have designed this shoe for the neutral runner with cushioning. They are certainly more cushioned then the 451s.

When I put them on they felt very comfortable, I did a few runs in them, mainly speed training as I wanted to test while on my speed sessions as if I am going to race in them I need to know if they stand the test. I have to admit I thought they would be slow but they felt super light and fast.

Conclusion I am very impressed with these, I was first put off by these in the past as I thought they were a bit bulky and not for neutral runners. The question is do I prefer my discontinued 451s or these. Well the answer is this is the perfect shoe for me and for triathlons. Its comfy, feels like a fast show and quick for transition. So for me this will be my new race shoe in triathlons and your be seeing me with these at races. I am very impressed by this new model.

You can check them out on the ASICS website here

How to keep focused & motivated during the Christmas period

Keeping motivated and focused in your training is key if you want to achieve your goals. If you are not motivated then you will struggle with your training and therefore struggle to reach your targets. There is no doubt that athletes thrive on high levels of confidence. Self-confidence can be the difference between success and failure given the fine margins that exist.

Let’s face it; Christmas is a busy time of the year for people, even if you have time off work. Things like spending more time with the family, kids being off from school, visiting people and so on, do take its toll. It is hard in the cold dark winter months to get motivated and train especially if you come home from work and its dark. This blog identifies some tips in keeping focused during the busy Christmas period.

Have a break and a recovery week during the period, use this time to think about what you want to achieve and focus on over the next year. There is nothing worse than pounding your body all year round and then only resting once you’re broken. Enjoy the food, I like to be bad and eat a lot and relax a little, after all my important races aren’t until the summer. Spending time with your loved ones give you some rest and down time.

Remember that somebody believes in you. This somebody could be a coach, manager, trainer, fellow athlete or loved one. They will have the belief in your ability that you currently may not have. There is no harm in asking them for reassurances.

Think in positive ways at all times. Positivity can be developed by assessing each day (training) and competition sessions. Assess your own positivity through forms of achievement through technique, practice and movement. Thinking positively leads to better mind and body balance. Positive thinking enables the neural pathways within the mind to operate with clarity and purpose.

Understand that it can be done. Embark on each task as a champion by having a clear and defined plan. Achieve your task step by step. Do not take on a big task and expect to complete it quickly. Have patience and believe in yourself.

Stay in control of the controllable. Maintaining the controllable builds self-confidence because it provides you with a sense of focus and directive. Remember that you can never control what others are thinking/doing but you can control what you are achieving. There are a range of variables within running that can lead to performers losing sight of the controllable. External factors/influences will only hinder performance and must be beaten.

Recall previous success. A mantra that I use is related to distance travelled. Think about previous successes that you have had. What did that feel like? How were your emotions during this time? Further, how confident did that make you feel? Recall is a positive mechanism to enable one to re-build confidence as it associates with belief.

Set short-term goals. Most athletes suffer from low self-confidence because they allow the issue(s) to prolong and as a consequence fail to deal with problems head on. To overcome these issues, set short-term goals that will enable the flow of confidence (no matter how small) to start. Through constantly achieving your short-term goals you will build your levels of self-confidence like a snowball growing bigger. Short-term goals should be related to processes that can be achieved.

Even if it’s just for 10 minutes get out there and go for a run for example. If you’re not feeling it after 10 minutes just go home but it’s likely your stay out much longer. It doesn’t have to be masses of training in the Christmas period.

These are some tips to keep you motivated through the festive period, hope they help?….

End of Year Thanks To My Sponsor: Baotic Baobab smoothies now on Ocado

It’s been an amazing year for me winning…. European and National Aquathlon Champion in my Age Group, competing in my first Duathlon and coming 2nd, winning my first triathlon and so on. I am delighted to say Baotic, having supported my journey, have had their own recent success now launching their delicious ‘Baobab & Strawberry’ and ‘Baobab and Banana’ smoothie drinks on Ocado.

I couldn’t of achieved my success without the kind support of sponsors and their commitment and belief in me at every stage. One which I haven’t talked much about, because they have asked very little of me, preferring to allow me to get on, train, perform and enjoy, is Drink Baotic.

I’m careful about the type of sponsors that I work with and make sure they align with my values, but Baotic are an incredible social enterprise that I admire greatly. Baotics founders have a 10 year background supporting poverty reduction in rural Gambia, and their mission is to inspire and empower healthy communities around the world.

I have enjoyed running in their UK running challenge @MegaMeterRun which helps people run consistently for the year through an inspiring and motivating online community (join their 50x5k, 100x5k, 200x5k, or 50x10k and 100x10k challenges for 2020!). All entry proceeds help launch community owned co-operative gardens in The Gambia to help improve income, health and nutrition. Which is very good and the same time made some friends out of this challenge.

Although they don’t shout about it, they also help young people in The Gambia with access to sport and sponsor students to improve their education. I’ve enjoy drinking their Baobab drinks. They are low sugar and not too sweet, instead have a nice citrus flavour, blended with 100% natural fruits with a nice kick to them. The fact they are naturally high in electrolyte vitamins: potassium, magnesium, calcium and vitamin C is a bonus!

They have not expected me to push sales in any way, but if you do try them on Ocado please consider leaving a review. I have enjoyed the community in running, and found it so supportive. It’s great to also help inspiring businesses with a genuine social purpose to flourish. Check there website here

National Aquathlon Championships

My last big race was approaching on September the 8th the National Aquathlon Championships. However leading up to this the weekend before I picked up a foot infection after competing at the triathlon sprint relays on the Sunday prior. My foot was hurting and inflamed straight after the race. I have had a problem near my toe with a lump for a while, unfortunately after being told to go to the MIU from the medical team at the race there was no doctor on duty at the MIU to give me antibiotics. The good news is I had a doctor’s appointment booked in for the Monday anyway a week before. I turned up in pain and hobbling at the doctors, the doctor confirmed it was an infection. I explained my health comes first and if he pulls me out of the Nationals that is fine. Well he said there was no reason for not to continue to train etc and gave me antibiotics and stated only train if it doesn’t hurt and keep an eye on it.

So I did, however on the Thursday I started feeling unwell and drained so I took Friday and Saturday off prior to the race. It worked a treat as Saturday morning I felt really good, all though still had pain in my foot; it was healing and didn’t affect my running or swimming. I didn’t know what my fitness was and Saturday night I had another problem with the fire alarm at the hotel went off just after midnight which woke me up and then I struggled with sleep after that and had roughly a few hours max sleep. So race day came and I was shattered and felt awful.

Feeling sorry for myself Sunday morning and not great at all I had to just give it my all and see what I can do. The race was in beautiful Arundel and I highly recommend visiting. The race started and we went off in waves, I tried to pushed hard in the swim however felt sluggish I didn’t give up but at the turn around point I started to feel awful and struggling to get keep pace or go faster. I came out the river and didn’t feel great, I proceeded to transition and realised I must have had a good swim as I was close to the top guys.

I was struggling to get my wetsuit off due to the air temperature and lake being a bit on the cold side. I came out of transition and onto the run and decided to run hard and see how long I could keep this pace up. I managed to catch the lead pack with around 2k to go and took the lead in my AG. 2nd placed stayed on the back of me and I knew he could get past me and at that point I had nothing left. However when on the final stretch of the race, I asked my body to go faster, gritted my teeth and tried to turn my legs over quicker still feeling awful but kept saying to myself in my head come on nearly there and my body reacted an moved.

I came storming to the finish line and started celebrating. It could well be my best race, I didn’t expect to get on the podium at the start of the week but I gave everything and didn’t give up. So very happy to defend and win the National Championships for a second time. I learnt something here today and that is never give up until it’s over. I kept wanting to stop and ease off but mentally I was in the right place. Lots of negative thoughts came into my head but I managed to keep positive and block the negative thoughts out and this is what made the difference. I had to dig very deep to defend this, of course if I was fully fit I know I could of been faster but I did just enough to retain my title.

This season has been amazing and becoming European and National Aquathlon Champion has made me achieve more than anything I could ever imagine. As mentioned before in blogs I won’t be taking up my GB spots for the Aquathlon team next year as I want to focus on triathlons. However I am yet to decide if I will come back to the nationals or not next year for Aquathlons. Since I started this journey in 2015 I have raced in 37 Aquathlons, podium 29 times and had 7 wins. I have won 2 National titles, Runner up and 3rd, European Champion and Bronze medal, represented GB 8 time and captained the team at Age Group. It’s been an amazing journey and I move on to new challenges now.

World Championships and Spetsathlon Sprint Triathlon Update

So arrived at the World Championships in good shape, despite getting a cold and a grumpy tendon, which luckily did not affect my training leading up to this although it was painful. Although I was very worried about my leg as it was getting worse, but once I was tapering and doing easy training it started to ease off. These thing tend to happen a lot to me leading up to a big race.

So I was very confident on a good race on race day, we were staying in Vigo so we were around 20 minutes away from Pontevedra where the race was. So on race day I woke up and felt much better as I was also not feeling as tired. I was very tired that week from illness and walking around London watching my wife run the London Marathon. I have to say watching the London marathon is truly special and highly recommend going up to watch it.

I knew I was in great shape and if I could get through the race with my tendon problem I was confident it would be a good performance for my last World Aquathlon Championships. Race day arrived and I headed to the race, nervous but excited as normal. The event looked like it was going to be another one to remember, people so friendly, athletes chatting to you from across the world, made it have a real buzz about it.

So I got to the start line in the 19-39 year old wave, the temperature of the river was around 13 to 14 degrees so not warm but it seemed a lot colder than that. The first half of the race was up stream and against the current so this was going to be tough. I got into the river and was freezing, I headed to the start line and waited for the horn. The horn went off and my plan was sprint for around 100m metres, the swim was tough with loads of people around me. The first 500m was tough and it felt like it was taking a while. Once I hit the turnaround point it was much quicker being pushed with the current, however I could feel the water was cold and my hands and feet were not warm. I came out into transition which was a long one, about 250m long as I walked the length the day before.

My swim was not my fastest in fact it was my slowest by a few minutes, but this was to be expected in the conditions. I came to my box and took my wetsuit off, I was freezing although it was very warm outside of the river. I then left transition for the run and I was feeling faint and wobbly because of the cold water. After a minute I was warmed up and I attacked the run, hunting athletes down and passing them, I felt good on the run. I came home in 7th in my Age Group and first Brit back. I was over the moon and it was my best performance by far. I couldn’t do much more, my swim could have been better but I can’t complain due to the lack of open water swimming in the UK. My run was the 4th fastest in my race.

I have achieved more than I could ever of dreamed of since qualifying in 2016, 1x European Bronze, 3x top ten World Champs finishes and a National Championship title, Team Captain etc in Aquathlons and to represent GB in my AG at 4 world Championships. As many of you may know as I have achieved everything I wanted to in Aquathlons and this was my final World Aquathlon Championships, I am not shutting the door on Aquathlons but I may come back in future years but next year I won’t be competing for the GB aquathlon team, even though I have an automatic place from this year from today’s result. As I will be concentrating on other sporting and life goals I still have the Europeans and the Nationals to go and now targeting these and who knows I might be back in a different sport but this year was all about me focusing on newer goals.

So I got back from the World Championships and went back to work for a few days before I headed off the Greece to a tiny island called Spetses to do the Spetsathlon Sprint Triathlon. I was kindly invited by the organisers to compete and I thought why not as I am moving more to triathlons this year.

My wife and I left home at 2am in the morning and finally arrived in Spetse at 5.30pm. It was a long day with flying to Athens and getting a boat across to the island. When we arrived the island looked small with no cars around and horse and carts being used a taxi’s. The whole island seemed to have a buzz because of the event.

We arrived at the Klimis Hotel which was a lovely hotel and we had a sea view. The organisers had left a goody bag and some tops with my name on, which were awesome. At 9pm we were invited to have dinner with the organisers and the athletes. That was an amazing experience talking to Elites, Pros and Olympians. Some athletes had gone to the Olympics and come back with medals.

The following day they had swimming races and I was due to race in the 1k swim. However I was just shattered from travelling and decided not to race, but went down to watch. I should of done it now thinking back to it. Later that evening they had a cycle race and the 5k charity race. I went down to watch and my wife was running in the 5k so I watched her and cheered her on. I then picked up my hire bike which I was using for the race.

The whole island was buzzing from the event and the following morning was at the Triathlon event, 750m sea swim, 25k bike ride and 5k run. Everyone headed to the start, the organisers then started announcing the Olympians etc who was competing. I was then announced and I started getting nervous as I was nowhere near their level. The race started and I managed to get on the back of an Olympic medallist and was able to stay with her for all the swim. I hung on and came out with a huge PB, I raced out of the sea onto my hire bike. Unfortunately it wasn’t my own bike so was a struggle. I lost a lot of time on the bike and the course was brutal, it was so hilly my legs were screaming at me. Having lots of people overtaking me wasn’t doing my confidence any good. So I kept thinking to myself, keep the legs spinning eventually you will start to come downhill. I then got back into transition and headed for the run, surprising the legs felt good and I cracked on targeting people one by one. I was getting quicker and quicker the longer I was running and then I finished 13th overall and 3rd in my age group. I was very happy with that considering the level of athletes here. I also had the 2nd quickest run so I was happy with that.

The spestashon was a great event and I highly recommend this event to anyone. I would love to come back and thank you to the organisers for inviting me.