Staying motivated and looking after your mental health through Covid-19

2020 was sure a year not to remember but there are still some positives you can take out of this time period. I have struggled like many others with these uncertain times but I have decided to share some of my top tips on staying motivated and looking after your mental health. I personally believe we have the last bit of the mountain to climb and things will start to return to the new normal slowly.

Firstly, control what you can control and anything else don’t worry about it, it is out of your hands. The stress and worry about something you cannot control is not worth it as it will affect you, so the best way is to relax. What I have learnt over the year is that if I feel anxious or start to panic take a step back for a few minutes, control your breathing by breathing in 4 seconds and then out 7 seconds and it helps calm down the nervous system.

I found having a worry book is very helpful. I spend 10 minutes every day writing in this book my concerns for the day and also how I could deal with them. Once the book is shut, then I stop worrying about things for the rest of the day; I find it very helpful.

Next tip is to get outside daily, just getting outdoors for 5 minutes will go a long way to helping your wellbeing and mental health even if it’s just for a walk. It can give you relaxing time and take in the countryside for example and just getting out in day light will help a lot with your mood. I always find the sun sets me up for a happy day. There will be days you don’t feel like getting out but honestly they are the days which are the best. If I don’t feel like running I force myself to go out and say if I am not enjoying it after 10 minutes I will come back home, but most of the time I stay out longer and end up enjoying it or having one of my best runs. Keep moving don’t just sit about all day if you are working from home – I walk round the house if I can’t go outside for some reason. It’s important to keep moving it will help your health and wellbeing. I always found when I am exercising I relaxed and it’s helping me clear my head and therefore destresses me.

Motivation can be tough without knowing if your race will go ahead or not. Again this is out of your hands and what you can control is your training. Having a goal is very important in staying motivated. It can be something like I want to run a 28minute 5k to I want to podium at the European Sprint Triathlon Championships in my age group. Which is my big goal, and is my motivation to get there. If you believe you can do it then you are half way there and if you keep working at your goal and work hard at it with smart training then you will achieve your goal. Believe me I couldn’t swim in 2012 and in 2019 I won my Age Group at the European Aquathlon Championships. So the impossible can became the possible. Having small little goals too so you can work towards a big goal is a good way for you to work towards and stay motivated.

Breaking your training up with cross training and having a plan to work with I find is also very important in staying motivated. Of course you can work round the plan if days don’t go according to plan as it’s important to be very flexible. Having a plan and breaking up your day is a good way to go and keep your mind busy, that’s how I find it helps me. A good plan should have the right balance of training and structured recovery weeks as well as full rest days etc.

Don’t over train because you will just burn out or give up. Make sure you have the right balance of mixed training with easy training and hard training, the 80/20 percent rule is a golden rule to follow. 80 percent of training easy and 20 percent hard training, this has worked well for me over the years and allowed me to get in consistent training which as allowed me to improve and achieve my goals as well as keeping injuries to a minimal. Mix up training often, don’t do the same things every day and every week, changing this up not only keeps it fun and interesting it’s the way you get better and improve.

I hope these tips are helpful as these are some of the things I have used over the past year to help my training, daily life and enjoy it as well as looking after my mental health. When it comes to exercising we all know how important it is to your health and mental wellbeing so keep moving even if you don’t feel like it. Of course having rest days are important but not too many to a point you stop training altogether. Stay positive and stay safe the good times will come back.

Check my YouTube Channel HERE

GEL-NIMBUS 23 Review

As an ASICS FrontRunner ASICS have gifted me a pair of the GEL-NIMBUS 23 to test out and review so here is my review.

So what is the ASICS GEL-NIMBUS?

The GEL-NIMBUS 23 shoe is a neutral shoe for both ladies and men and provides plenty of cushioning and comfort. This model is for a wide range of runners with neutral striking run technique and provides a bit of stability, comfort and is a solid sturdy shoe perfect for all abilities and for those long runs. However these aren’t light and if you like lighter shoes this model may not be for you. For me it’s a good shoe but not my preferred shoe of choice. The NIMBUS has been going for some time now and is classed as a reliable running shoe and is one of ASICS popular models for all abilities but remains a very popular shoe amongst beginners.

ASICS state: The GEL-NIMBUS™ 23 running shoe continues to offer excellent comfort and long-run impact absorption. Its improved stability provides a more balanced stride that’s followed by smoother transitions. Constructed with comfort and breathability in mind, the upper features a softer engineered mesh design for long runs. Engineered eyelet shaping helps the upper move more naturally with the foot, while a stretchy midfoot panel appropriately hugs the foot to generate better flexibility. Providing the runner with excellent shock absorption and softness, the GEL-NIMBUS™ 23 delivers more compression in the heel thanks to its softer GEL™ technology cushioning unit and contoured design lines. Also, a gender-specific TRUSSTIC™ device provides an articulated amount of support in the right direction for men and women to help generate a smooth transition. Under the toe, the inclusion of gender-specific pillars help cushion the body and help runners experience a softer feel. Simultaneously, the ORTHOLITE™ X-55 sockliner equips runners with a forgiving, yet responsive stride. The components of the GEL-NIMBUS™ 23 shoe help increase the softness without forgoing the integrity of the shoe’s ride. The 23rd version of the GEL-NIMBUS™ continues to make advancements within the lineage by offering improved support and comfort for distance runners.

Some key features of the GEL-NIMBUS include:

•             ENGINEERED MESH UPPER IMPROVES BREATHABILITY

•             GEL™ TECHNOLOGY CUSHIONING

•             TRUSSTIC™ TECHNOLOGY IMPROVES STABILITY

•             FLYTEFOAM™ PROPEL TECHNOLOGY CUSHIONING INCREASES IMPACT ABSORPTION AND RESPONSIVENESS

•             FLYTEFOAM™ TECHNOLOGY CUSHIONING

•             ASICS LITE RUBBER OUTSOLE IMPROVES DURABILITY

•             ORTHOLITE™ X-55 SOCKLINER IMPROVES STEP-IN COMFORT

•             REFLECTIVE ACCENTS IMPROVE VISIBILITY IN LOW-LIGHT CONDITIONS

•             3D SPACE CONSTRUCTION IMPROVES COMPRESSION AT FOOTSTRIKE

What is new compared to the previous models?

A few minor upgrades have been produced; the Gel cushioning allows the heel to have more expansion which allows for a softer and more absorbing foot strike feeling as well as the laces being adapted slightly to allow a more foot flexibility as well as making it a more comfortable shoe.

So how does it compare?

The shoe weighs 309 grams so it’s not one of ASICS light shoes. The material allows your feet to breath and it appears light weight and very similar to other ASICS models. The laces are normal running laces with the tongue being quite excessive. The tongue is bulky but provides that comfort you’re after. It’s the same for the heel quite thick but provides that little stability you are after inside. The grip appears to be slightly different to the previous model and feels very robust and a solid shoe that again will provide some stability when running. You will definitely be able to get plenty of mileage from this shoe because I believe it is built to last a long time. When putting the shoe on there was plenty of room for my foot and felt like a perfect fit. What I found was it was very comfortable and the heel and tongue made it feel like it was giving me some stability as well as giving me that comfort. What I did notice as mentioned before is that they are slightly heavier than my other trainers but of course I use light shoes more.

I took the Gel-NIMBUS out for a long run of around 60 minutes and had no problems at all, no sore toes from hitting the front of the shoe; I always go up around half a size anyway. I found the shoe very responsive to my easier runs while maintaining that comfortable feeling and feeling like the shoe is giving me more support than my normal models I use. However when I took it for a speed test it certainly maintained that comfortable feeling with my foot and supporting my foot. But I found it was not a very responsive shoe for speed training but that’s ok as that’s not the GEL-NIMBUS purpose. I do see that they do a light version and would love to try those and compare those.

Conclusion: It is a very popular shoe model in the ASICS range that caters for all abilities. This shoe is built to last in regards to running lots of mileage in them; the way the shoe is designed is to be sturdy & robust to give you that stability as well as comfort. I believe the Gel-Nimbus is a perfect shoe if you’re looking at doing plenty of miles in them and long runs, with stability while keeping your feet comfortable. Lets face it, keeping your feet comfortable is important and if that is your main aim then this is the shoe for you. However it is a heavier shoe and for me it’s not a training or race shoe for speed work, but that’s not the purpose of this shoe -you need to look at another shoe model if you want speed.  If you have been happy with previous versions, then I am pretty sure you will like the 23. I think it’s better than the last version and a sturdy running shoe for long runs.

Check out my YouTube Video review HERE

Why You Need Different Shoes for Different Workouts

This blog will go through the reasons why you need different shoes for different workouts and how to plan this into your training and races. I have many shoes – I know it could be costly but then investing in the right shoes for the right activity is very important. Having the right shoe will not only help you get the most out of the session but of course it will help keep injuries away. My shoe rack is filled with trainers from gym shoes to running shoes. Your feet need a combination of cushioning and stability when you run to help you avoid injury.

Deciding what shoe to have and what shoes to use in workout is very important. Making sure the shoe is right for your work out is crucial for many types of reasons. The wrong shoe type for the wrong workout can cause problems and injuries, so when deciding what to use or buy it is also important you invest some time choosing what you need and not just jumping into a getting something because the shoe looks flashy.

It’s important you get your gait checked out from a reliable establishment -not just somewhere that wants to sell you anything. Running in the wrong shoes can injure you and keep you out for a long time. Just a few miles in the wrong shoes can be a disaster and the same goes for wearing shoes that are too worn; this has the same effect. A big mistake people make is they wait until they get holes in the upper shoe before changing them – well what about the sole? The sole could be worn which means it needs replacing. Just because your last pair lasted for years or thousands of miles, it doesn’t mean the others will and it’s likely they were worn well before that. I always check my shoes after every run to see how worn they are. This allows me to monitor the wear and then replace them when needed. I find having a spare pair in hand ready to go is the way forward too, otherwise you will be put off changing shoes.

A big mistake people make when they use new shoes is that they jump straight into them and run long miles without wearing them in. This is a big no – with any new shoe you need to break them in because if you don’t you will get injured. Your feet need to mould to the shoe; my tip on this is just to wear them in walking around the house for a few days and do some very short runs before you take them on more mileage.  Anyway on to the different shoes for different sessions.

There are three different types of shoes to help you decide and take in:

·         Maximum support running shoes

·         Structured cushioning / stability shoes

·         Neutral shoes

Maximum support: The most supportive type of shoe to help with a runner who pronates. ASICS state this trainer “includes features like medial posts (ASICS DUOMAX™), which are higher density materials on the inner side of the midsole to stop it from collapsing as the heel everts onto it. Maximum support running shoes also tend to have a carbon rubber outer sole for durability and are built on a straight last (mould), which offers maximum ground contact and stability.”

Structured cushioning / stability shoes: They are not as heavy as maximum support trainers but still offer good support and is the most popular choice of shoe for runners.

Neutral shoes: These shoes are normally lighter and more control over your foot movement and therefore able to run faster with little support.

Strength training – well that’s no brainer you would need to have shoes with a little stability so when lifting weights you have that grip and helps protect your feet from straining. But for me the most important area is my running shoes as I spend a lot of time running I need to get these shoes right. Firstly I mentioned above that you should get your gait analysed which can be done in a shop, but its important it’s from someone that knows what they are doing such as a running coach. From doing this you will be able to find if you need stability or not. This is important as it’s not easy to find out what type of runner you are without someone checking for you. For example, you might over pronate so you would have to get the right shoe for your running style. Once you know what kind of runner you are such as a neutral then you have to decide what shoes you want. The mistake people make is having one shoe for everything as mentioned before so you need to look at ideally two pairs.

I am a neutral runner and this type of shoe is where you get the most choices, well that’s what I find. I have lots of running shoes so I will have light weight shoes for speed sessions and races. The reason I run with this type is purely because my feet need to be used to this type of shoe as I race in them and of course never try something on race day that you haven’t before as that has disaster written all over it. So my go to shoes for speed sessions and running races have been the ASICS Roadhawks as they are light, provide comfort and have a little bit of cushioning. I would use them up to 10k, however for Triathlon races I use the ASICS Noosa Tri’s purely because they are a racing shoe and are easy to get on during a race because of the laces and the tongue. If I was to run a marathon I would go with more comfort. However with the carbon shoe war with companies trying to get the fastest shoe out I would race with the ASICS Metaracer. Purely because it is super light and a racing shoe. Not to mention it is designed to make you run faster because of the carbon plate but also the energy saving it gives you. So for me it’s all about having a lightweight running shoe that is designed to be fast when doing races and speed work. Now if I was to run with racing shoes for longer distances I would get injured and my legs would be in bits.

That brings me on to the second pair of shoes you should own and that is a long run shoe. A long run shoe normally weighs more than racing shoes and is more comfortable than racing shoes. For longer runs, which is where I spend more time doing my runs than speed work, it’s important that you look after your feet. As a result some stability, cushioning and comfort is what I am after for a long run shoe. It makes sense to look after your feet after pounding them, so having a more comfy shoe with stability is a must purely because you will be doing high mileage. I always look for a more robust shoe that is going to last high mileage and allow my feet to be comfortable on the run. I run with the ASICS DynaFltyes as they are perfect for me in long runs. I wouldn’t run regularly in long runs with racing shoes as I personally want to maintain comfort and look after my feet.

The two types of shoes I mentioned above are for road runners but what if you want to train off road or even race? Well you need to cover yourself again in this area. It all depends on the terrain – whether it is trail or all grass?  Trail shoes provide great grip and are an all-round shoe to use on trail runs and races. They are heavy, tend to have a lot of cushioning to help feet, grip for the mud and a very strong solid robust shoe. Basically in a nutshell trail trainers are designed exactly for what is in the name and the purpose of the shoe. If you run trails without the right footwear such as a normal pair of running shoes, you will slip all over the place and won’t have grip and you are likely to get injured plus the shoe will be ruined, don’t make that mistake I did. You can use these on races but if you are racing cross country mainly in mud then you might want to look a cross country spikes which are different to track running spikes. Don’t make the mistake in using those in cross country as they are not designed for that and you will get injured. Cross country spike shoes offer better grip than trail shoes and are super lightweight and therefore I always find I can run cross country races faster in spikes then trails, but be aware you spend a lot of time on your toes which can give you stiff calf’s if you’re not used to running like this.

It is important you find the right shoe that works for you and your style. I would always recommend researching into shoes before you buy a new pair. Running shoes are a personal thing and just because your friend does well in a particular model, it doesn’t mean that it will work for you. Make sure you don’t wait for the shoes to go dead, you want to prevent injuries. This is is a small guide on the right shoes for the right type of running and hopefully you find this helpful to assist you in your decision when choosing what shoes to have in your collection.

Check out my YOUTUBE Video on this subject HERE

Controlling what you can control…

When things don’t go to plan do you panic? Get stressed out? Sleepless nights? Loss or appetite?. This is not just for training but in normal life with many issues that can contribute to this. But a lot of these issues that may cause stress are actually out of our control so why do we worry about them?

In training/races it’s important you control what you can control but not just for your training, for life as well. This is a valuable life skill that you should try to master so that it can help you in life and of course in your training and races. If your able to learn this skill you will go a long way in your training and races.

My mindset coach Gobinder told me how to deal with things I can’t control and we have been working together since 2016 which has made me mentally a better athlete and this has helped me in day-to-day life as well.

What do I mean control what you can control?  Well in simple terms you control what you can control and what you can’t control don’t worry about it as you can’t do anything about it. Just like COVID-19 – stressing about races getting cancelled – you can’t control this. Stressing what others are doing in their training – you are your own person so don’t copy others just because they are doing a certain training session doesn’t mean you have to do it.

What I have learnt over the years is to control the controllable which has allow me to be the best I can be. Gobinder taught me this valuable skill. In 2016 It was the day before the World Aquathlon Championships in Cozumel in Mexico. I was staying on the mainland and was told we could get a boat across to the island early morning in time for the race. Well this was not the case and I found this out the day before the race. I panicked big time and stressed so much, I ended up packing my bags with my wife and jumping on a boat to the island to look for an available room; this seemed like an impossible job with over 3000 athletes on a tiny island.  We went looking for a room walking into hotels and asking around and I was getting tired being on my feet for long hours, not eating and drinking enough. I was stressing more and more as the time went on. We found a hotel in the end. But the damage was done as the following day at the race I struggled and was just shattered. I could have controlled diet and hydration. The only thing I needed to worry about was finding a hotel which we found but again I could of relaxed a bit, so learnt the hard way.

Staying calm and relaxed is key and yes you will have bad days in training but learn from your mistakes. Learning from your mistakes is very important because if you learn from them you will improve and these bad days won’t happen again. I find that if you take positives out of anything such as a bad runs, you can turn it into a positive next time.

More on this subject on my video on my YouTube channel HERE Please subscribe.

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.

Difference between swimming in a pool and open water!

There are many obvious differences between swimming in the pool and open water but I am going to discuss some differences between the two to help you with your swimming. You may be a strong pool swimmer but that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be strong at open water swimming.

Pool swimming is safer than open water purely because you are in a confined area and normally people and lifeguards are near you.  So the fear of being unsafe is mainly taken away and with many pools now you can touch the bottom at both ends. There are many benefits from training in the pool to stop you from being bored doing laps and to help you improve.

The first thing you can do is accurate reps which you can time/pace and see your improvement each week. Depending on the length of the pool you can have a set plan that will help you in your training. You can take equipment; most pools allow this. If you want to improve its important not to just get in the pool and swim endless lengths at the same speed as improvement won’t come. Doing reps using pull buoys and paddles can help you get stronger, faster and become more buoyant. Swimming equipment is harder to use in the sea .Drills can easily be done in the pool due to no waves or current. In open water it will be more difficult. These are three areas that are important in the pool. When it comes down to the race day such as a Triathlon/Aquathlon in the pool it’s pretty easy as there is no open water fear and it feels safer. The only problem with pool races is that you’re not really racing others as it is mainly a timed event and you go off one by one.

With open water swimming there is a lot to consider but also so many benefits. Safety wise – depending where you do the open water swimming you need to consider if it’s safe. For example I swim in the sea but if the tide is really rough there is no way I am going to swim. Even in the summer I will use my wetsuit swimming in the sea as I feel much safer and buoyant with it on. Now with open water you can’t really do drills because of the unpredictability of waves. Reps times might be different due to cross tides and weather etc. So one week you might be flying along and the next struggling to move. Also, using equipment such as pull buoy and kick board will be a lot harder. People are put off with open water with the fear of something happening to them. Most seafronts have designated areas to swim which have lifeguards and the same with lakes and rivers.

The benefits of open water swimming is that it can improve you a lot, help with breathing purely because of the random waves etc. You get stronger because you are swimming against current rather than a pool where there is not current. Sea swimming is good for the skin and is proven to also help with recovery due to the salt in the water. If you are swimming in the sea it’s always good to mix up the pace and have a plan, instead of just getting in and swimming at one pace. The temperature of the water, depending on the time of the year you swim, may not be higher than 19 degrees towards the end of summer. September is normally the warmest time to swim in the year, whereas pool temperatures are kept high to around 28 degrees all year round. Air temperature can play a factor such as it can be a cold day in September but the temperature of the sea water can be warmer than air temperature which can affect your breathing. The body works harder in open water due to it being colder than the pool. You cannot stand up in the middle of a lake or sea, whereas you can in the pool. The chances are if you swim in UK in open water you are likely not to see anything from a few cms away.

In open water, you will need to keep an eye out of where you are, whereas in a pool you won’t need to because once you get to the end of the pool you turn back. In race day in open water you normally all go off at the same time so my advice would be if it’s your first time racing in open water stay away from the middle and keep to the edge. Open water races scare people because they fear it for many reasons, but my advice would be to practice there before your race to get used to it.

These are some tips and differences which I hope helps.

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.