‘Ask the Coach’ Q and A from Australian Triathlete magazine.
Nick is currently doing a series of ‘Ask the Coach’ Q and A for Australian Triathlete magazine. These questions cover a range of topics and you can also see here the subject matter as Nick draws on his 30 years of experience to provide his take on these.
I’m thinking about stepping up to the longer distances but have never eaten anything during training or a race before. Where’s a good place to start?
There are plenty of guidelines and advice available today regarding sports nutrition for on the go training and racing over longer distances. Essentially training sessions up to 2hrs in one outing will not require you having to ingest extra calories. This is assuming you have had something light to eat upon waking or have taken in some sort of food in the 2hrs prior to this session.
Going up to the 70.3 or Ironman distance will require you to be much more vigilant on taking in calories in training and pre and post training to aid recovery as well as race day fuel. For most men this would be somewhere between 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrate per hour in training if your training session if getting up to 3-4+hrs duration. Taken in the form or combination of a (but not limited to) carbohydrate fortified drink, energy gels and or energy bars for example. You will find that on the packaging of all these products there will be the serving size in grams of carbohydrate it contains, so you need to make sure by adding up these up that what you are taking in falls in the required grams you need for each hour of training. For race day you will need a little more then what you would take in training and the general rule is 1 gram of carb per kg of your own body weight per hour for on the bike and that can be cut back by 25% per hour or a bit less than this for the run.
Like anything though with you being quiet new to it all – it takes a bit of practice and seeing what works for you with the brands you use for taste and how it sits with you – being able to handle more or less carbs. It is very much a personal preference and your own gut tolerance.
I’m an absolute beginner and ride an old nine speed bike that my Dad gave me. The one thing that makes me really nervous is moving my hands from the hoods and down to the drops. Any tips to become more confident in riding in that more aggressive position? Like everyone else, I want to go faster!
Thanks for your question. It’s not unusual being new to the bike to feel a bit anxious moving your hands into the different positions drop bars allow. Practice of course like any skill is what you need to be doing and initially a closed circuit like an accessible criterium track or relatively traffic free circuit to practice moving your hands around the various positions on your drop bars offer. It is actually better to be frequently changing hand positions. One of the great advantages of the drop-style handlebar that’s found on road bikes is that it provides many different grips. It’s possible to grab on the drops, on the tops, on the brake lever hoods and elsewhere. Every ten minutes in fact, you should take another hand position. This will alleviate pressure on the nerves in the palms that can cause numbness and tingling, while helping to keep your upper body relaxed. So in time your confidence will get better and you’ll feel it is much easier to go from the brake hoods to the drops. Make sure you ease one hand first off the brake hood and on to the drop then once you have the drop in your hand do the same with the other hand so you have control at all times. It is really important to also be able to practice your hand signals to indicate turns around round a bouts etc on the road so cars know your intentions. This can also be practiced on mostly traffic free environments or cycle tracks at first before getting out in the traffic.
Does spitting in your goggles actually work? Or is it just a joke people play on the beginner?
I always have spat in mine since I can remember and still do! So no one is having a ‘lend’ of you when they tell you to spit in your goggles as an anti fog. Spit (saliva) in your goggle prevents fogging because it creates a thin layer on your goggles that prevents fog molecules from sticking together. Best to do before you get the goggles wet so once you take out of your swim bag just a bit of spit inside each lense the rub it around with your finger then a little rinse. Make sure to clean your goggles regularly if you’re going to be spitting in them. As you don’t want any bacteria build up inside your goggles! I have not used the commercial Anti fog personally but essentially does the same thing in breaking up the fog molecules but is costly compared to the good old spit!
I have been told that you should only breathe to one side (so every two strokes) in the open water. Why?
Thanks for your question. This is very much a personal thing. Certainly, we don’t hold our breath while running or cycling. So we definitely don’t want to be doing it while swimming. If you breathe to one side only, then breathe every two strokes. You will be a lot happier with plenty of oxygen. This is why you have probably been told to breath every two strokes. I was recently talking to an Olympic level swim coach who was discussing with me that the latest distance swimming data for open water swimmers at the elite level as you need as much oxygen as you can get so the breathing every two strokes is going to be the way to go to get enough O2 in the body to oxygenate the muscles. I personally train bi laterally but breath every two strokes for racing open water – to get more oxygen in and was doing this naturally when I was still a pro some 20 years ago – it works! Still, others I know prefer to breath every three strokes. Having this skill (bi lateral breathing) is great to use in training so you can breath on both sides comfortably and use on race day if the swim course is set a certain way or a wind chop is blowing on your natural preferred breathing side do you can be fairly comfortable breathing the opposite side without too much drama if you need to. Most important, exhale underwater and begin exhaling again as soon as your face is back in the water after your breath. Ventilate your lungs just as you would while running. Breathe in – breathe out – no breath holding. Keep your head down and rotate your body to breathe. Your head will create a bow wave which creates an air pocket where you can breathe.
What do you recommend? Hat or visor? I’ve been told that hats are good because they’ll protect your head more and you can put ice underneath them, but then I’ve also been told that a visor is better as it will allow the heat to escape.
This is a very good question as it gets debated quite regularly. The points you raise are certainly true. A visor might be good for wicking sweat and providing some shade on your face, but for hotter temps, some use a good hat that can help to regulate heat better than just having the sun beat down on the top of your head – that is assuming you get a good purpose made one that is meant for running that is swell ventilated and has cooling mesh and ideally white in colour. The putting ice under hat is a point but it is good to get the ice down the front of your tri sit or singlet or even your shorts also and you’ll find this gives more relief then just on the head.
If you are thinning on top then a visor is probably not going to be the choice as you will burn the top of the head for long runs / events during the heat of the day. Some athletes prefer a visor because a running hat does not fit right on their head. Most of the running hats and visors today have The ‘Headsweat’ style of internal wicking material that gets the sweat away so it does not drip on your face from under the hat / visor. The jury is out on this one as it seems you see equal amount of visors, running hats or the ‘trucker’ style caps on course on race like Hawaii Ironman – worn by pros and age groupers alike. Best to use what is right for you taking into consideration from the points above.
I have “raced” Olympic distance and sprint events for the past two years, and I am really keen to get stuck into an iron-distance, but I’m hesitant because of the lack of time I can commit to training. At best I think I can manage up to 12hrs of training per week, with the chance of a few 14hrs. I am not in it to win it, but I’d love that sensation of crossing the finish line. Do you think it’s achievable on 12hrs per week?
It is most definitely possible to finish an ironman having 12hrs or so each week to train on average. As a matter of fact you are likely to find that there are many out there training for Ironman in exactly the same circumstances.
The key for Ironman is to get as fit on the bike as you can with your time available – so around 50% of that training time should to be allocated to the bike, about 15% the swim and the remainder for the run. Giving yourself ample time to prepare is important and choose an event that will allow you to do some 70.3 distance events along the way to get some longer racing experience and to test your training, nutrition and indeed where you may need to tweak your training program. Your long rides and runs are key and generally would be done on a weekend if you are working a normal 5 day working week Monday to Friday. Allocating 6 hrs a week at least to the bike (up to 8-9 on a 14hr training week). That would break down to a 4hr longer ride generally and up to 6hr long rides on at least 2 occasions. The midweek rides could be 2x1hr or 1x2hrs and possibly done on a wind trainer to maximise training time and eliminate distractions for constant pedalling. Swim at least twice per week (getting in at least 2 to 2.5hrs total) and if you can do it with a swim squad all the better. For the run – 3 times a week aiming for 3 to 3.5hrs total with up to 2 of those runs off the bike and the longer run building to 21km then adding a handful if 25km runs, a 28km and one 30-32km about 4-5 weeks out from the target Ironman. Using the services of a coach of course can help greatly if you need some guidance in planning to be able to help navigate the pathway with limited time to train and someone to report back to each week helps greatly. Pacing and nutrition on the race day are key elements that will make or break your experience and doing some of your weekly training sessions at higher intensity can make up for some ‘lost miles’ also.
It always seems to take me 20-30mins to warm up before I feel like I have a rhythm when I’m running. That’s ok if I’m doing a long run, but when I’m doing shorter runs, it’s all over before I’m ready to go. Any tips?
Thanks for your question. It does take some time to gradually warm into a run and if you have got a shorter more intense run in mind and you don’t have a lot of time then adding some dynamic stretches would help. A routine takes about 5min generally and gets the running muscles fired up so starting your run after doing some dynamic stretching ensures there is blood flowing to the working muscles and you’ll find you only need another 5-10min of gradually increasing the intensity to be ready to do more intense efforts.
Below is a basic Dynamic pre run routine that will take around 5min to flow through and is a great way to ready your body before a run
Tilt walk – 10 each leg
From a standing position, take one step forward with the left foot and balance on the forward foot. Keeping a very slight bend in your left knee, tilt you torso forward at the waist until your trunk is parallel to the ground. At the same time extend your right leg behind you for balance. Return to the upright position and then step forward with the right foot and tilt once more.
Zombies – 10 each leg
Begin in a standing position with both arms extended straight in front of you – like a zombie. Begin by walking slowly forward by kicking each leg forward as high as possible, aiming to touch your right toe to your right palm and your left toe to the left palm. Keep your legs as straight as possible and don’t let your trunk flex forward.
Lunge walk – 10 steps
Take giant steps forward with each foot, lunging as far forward as you can each time.
Raise your arms straight out to the sides. Twist your torso as far as you can to the right. Without pausing, reverse direction and twist over to the left. Repeat 10 times.
Forward leg swing – 10 swings each leg
Stand on your right foot and swing your left leg backward and forward in an exaggerated kicking motion.
Lateral leg swing – 10 swings each leg
Stand facing a wall or tree (something to support you). Lean toward it slightly from the waist and brace both palms against it. Swing your fully extended left leg right to left in wide arcs between your body and the wall.
Assume a modified push up position, with your legs as close to your hands as you can get them without bending your knees, and your backside in the air. Lift you left foot off the ground, bend your left leg slightly, and rest the top of your left foot against the back of your lower right leg. Lift your right heel as high off the ground as you can. Without pausing, lower your heel back to the ground and ‘bounce’ it off the floor, back into another heel raise. Bounce your right heel 20 times then repeat with the left leg.
When you can’t get a swim warm up in at a race, what do you recommend as a back up to get the blood flowing?
Thanks for the question and glad to hear you talking about a warm up pre swim. Many chose to go without and if you are an anxious swimmer, doing no swim warm up will only magnify the stress that the body goes through once you are 2 to 3minutes into the swim.
Certainly there are alternatives if you cannot get into the water. There are a variety of reasons no pre swim warm ups occur. Doing an upper body routine on the dry land, using a combination of body weight exercises and swim stretch cords / bands work really well and will see you start the swim with your upper body pumped full of blood and an elevated Heart rate – which is the purpose of a warm up. Swim stretch cords and available for around $100 and can be attached to a fence, tree or a post and simulate your under water catch, pull and exit of the swim stroke. The resistance is increased or decreased by standing further away or closer to the anchor point of the cords. Doing a few sets of 30 to 40 reps (about 30 seconds to 1min worth) with some body weight push ups and dips (on the back of a bench or chair) will get the swimming muscles activated, blood flowing and heat into muscles. I have used dry land warm ups like this many times for water that is too cold to get into warm up (ie below 15 degrees) or at some major championship events that simply don’t allow enough time to get in and do a good 10min plus warm up.
Do you recommend run training at night or in the morning? I often run in the morning because of time commitments, but I actually always feel better in the evening when I run – so would prefer that.
The best time of day to run is a long-standing debate among runners and exercise experts. It is actually not a coincidence that you do feel better running of an evening as the research indicates that the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature is at its highest, which, for most people is the late afternoon, between 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Other studies confirm that exercisers perform better on physical performance tests between 4 and 7 p.m.
You, like many athletes, fitting training time in around a busy work and family life find it most practical to run in the morning. That is your window and if you miss that window then perhaps that is the training gone for the day. You may be more motivated to get that run in at the start of the day and adapting to the morning time slot can also happen over time plus if you are training for morning races (most are early starts) your body is used to running at that time. You’ll also get accustomed to the routine of wake up, drink, eat something light then run and come race day it will feel like normal so your runs in a morning are really practice for the race day routine.
Exercising in the evening may be better for the on the day training performance and higher oxygen uptake but can lead to not as good a sleep at night with a higher evening Heart rate then if you ran that morning. It comes down to your preference and needs as far as time commitments. Mixing up your runs may be the key. Harder paced runs may be better for the afternoon for more blood flow and oxygenated muscles and longer runs for the mornings. The main thing is to get your run in whether it be am or pm at the end of the day.
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