Enduraprep Coaching

Badwater 135 – 2019

At the 2019 edition of the Badwater 135 ultra marathon Rhys Jenkins became the first Welshman to complete the race. Having known and coached Rhys for a number of years now I’ve become very familiar with his passion/obsession with Death Valley so when he finally had an application accepted to take part in the race I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to crew for him and WOW what an experience it has been!

What is Badwater 135? 

Labelled ‘the world’s toughest footrace,’ It’s a 135 mile ultra marathon that starts at the Badwater Basin, below sea level and finishes on Mount Whitney. The course covers three mountain passes with around 3000 metres of elevation gain. Temperatures on the hottest parts of the course have been known to go over 50 degrees celsius! There isn’t a whole lot of relief at night either, heat radiates off the road and surrounding rocks long after the sun goes down. In a nutshell, it’s long, it’s HOT and it’s hilly!  

How did Rhys prepare? 

Firstly, you need to become eligible for a place at Badwater. You need to complete three 100 mile plus runs in 18 months, one of these needs to be from a list of events that Badwater HQ provide. There’s also an application process where you get a chance to highlight your reasons for entering and any other events/challenges or contributions to running worth noting. This is where I should mention, Rhys has actually run the Badwater course multiple times before, not being sure he would ever get accepted into the race, Rhys and brother Scott took things into their own hands.

In terms of training we didn’t look to reinvent the wheel with Rhys’ plan. Lot’s of steady state ‘Zone 2’ running with one VO2 max interval run and one session of hills reps per week. In the final 8 week block of training we made the ‘hill’ reps more like ‘mountain’ reps and added 4 sauna sessions/week. Sauna sessions grew to 60 minutes and would need to be completed straight after a run while core temperature was still elevated. While in the sauna he would do some stretching, hydrate and practice eating in the heat.    

Badwater 135 Enduraprep Endurance Coaching

The Support Crew

Every runner at Badwater needs an official crew of up to four people and their own support vehicle. 

John would be our driver, he lives in Texas and has helped Rhys on multiple endurance challenges, including those in Death Valley. His knowledge of the route and Rhys’ strengths/weaknesses at certain points along it where invaluable. He’s also a straight talking guy, excellent at laying down the facts whilst being void of emotion, a really useful trait when sleep deprivation takes hold and the brain gets foggy. 

Stuart, sports therapist, he’s looked after Rhys in the UK with taping, massage and cupping. He came armed with a theragun and he wasn’t afraid to use it! He also did a great job as quartermaster of the support car by making sure everything was stored neatly and easy to locate during the race. 

Scott, Rhys’ older brother. An extremely accomplished ultra runner himself with plenty of Death Valley experience.

Rhys would be allowed a pacer after the first 42 miles. Myself and Scott would share these duties, the plan being to switch regularly enough to stay fresh and keep the quality of our support high. 

The race, how did it go? 

There were three starting waves, 2000, 2130 and 2300 on Monday evening. Each wave had to hit 50 miles by 1000 the next day so the fastest runners started later. Rhys started at 2000, sunset. We had a plan to run guided by heart rate. Through VO2 Max tests at Enduraprep HQ and practice in training we had established that sub 150BPM was a safe intensity for Rhys to run at. If it rose above this at any point he would start power walking. There was always the risk that by mid morning the next day his heart rate would start doing funny things thanks to one night without sleep and the soaring heat. Every few miles, I’d have Rhys shout out his heart rate as he passed, we would record it so we could be dynamic with the plan. Anyhow, he seemed comfortable between 130-140BPM whenever we checked, the heat didn’t seem to be elevating his heart rate, testament to his heat acclimation work at home and his fluid intake, which was on target. In fact he was visibly gaining weight during the first 35 miles. We had possibly overdone the sodium intake causing him to hold water, maybe a little over cautious as Rhys feared a point in the course where he had suffered severe cramps twice before. Either by genius or coincidence the plan worked and he suffered no cramps this time, we had him carry one bottle instead of two and he kept up a suitable fluid intake through the night. 

Sunrise on Tuesday, epic! As the moon ducked over the mountains to the west, the sun peeped over from the east, I don’t have the creative writing prowess to do it justice, it was just bloody cool! Checkpoint one at 50 miles was midway up Townes Pass, the first mountain. Stovepipe Wells sits at the bottom at 42 miles, Rhys planned not to stop here. This was wise, it was chaos, the first proper chance for crews to get fuel and ice from a store. Having Rhys crack on while we negotiated the panicking crews and busy shop worked well. Sounds like we’ve got this nailed right? Well……between 45 miles and 72 miles the cracks started to appear! It has always been the plan to hike the climbs but this didn’t sit well with Rhys on Townes pass, he seemed defeated and getting to checkpoint one seemed to take forever. Ideally we would use the walking sections to have Rhys eat real food whilst it was easier to digest at a slower pace but we’d hit a wall with this too, we couldn’t tempt him with anything else but watermelon. ‘You can’t run 135 miles on just watermelon and electrolytes!’ Was eventually how blunt we had to be, this helped, marginally but there was still no hope of even finishing this event if he couldn’t eat something more substantial. Townes pass has a 9 mile descent into Panamint Valley. Our goal had been to run all of the descent before dropping into the hottest part of the course. Rhys ran some of it but took plenty of walking breaks and stops at the van. The crew were all getting concerned, if this easier section was going badly, how would he cope in the valley? Cue the mission cooling cape! We can’t make him eat, we can’t make him go faster but we can keep him cool. The cape had been soaking in an ice bucket, we wrapped it around him and without discussing it the crew all backed down a little and just let Rhys get on with it. Panamint Springs was just a couple of hours away with the option of hot food and shower if any of us needed it, we’d just get there and then re-asses. The crossing of Panamint Valley was pretty grim, temperatures of around 45 celsius and a hot wind that whipped our hats off a few times. Another major factor that plays tricks on you, out in the desert you really have no clue whether that feature in the distance is a mile away or ten miles away, Panamint Springs just wasn’t getting any closer. In an attempt to turn a negative into a positive I kept reminding Rhys that, ‘this is it, the iconic stretch, the one in all the Badwater photos, it’s meant to suck here, but you’re doing it, embrace it!’

We took our longest stop of the whole race in Panamint Springs, 45 minutes, we sat Rhys inside and fed him a cheeseburger, Stuart massaged his legs and we changed his socks. By the time we left that checkpoint we were four and a half hours inside that cut off and about to start the second mountain pass, Father Crowley. Most view it as the toughest climb on the course but Rhys, now revived, set off with Scott at a great pace, even running some of the nine mile climb, something I’m sure only the fastest few athletes would have tried. Things were looking up and further boosted by a great chat from John, the straight talking Texan, ‘Rhys tell us what you want to do, 36 hours is still on the cards, if that’s what you want, we can make it happen, if you want 40 hours, we can do that, if you want to take it easy you can walk backwards and finish in 48.’ Simple but highly effective, Rhys continued to run more than walk well into the night and we hit the 90 mile check point a full eight hours before the cut off. 

The second night was something I was, in a strange way, looking forward to. I knew things would get weird with confusion and possible hallucinations so this is where we would all need to dig deep, get Rhys through the night and he’ll be able to see the finish at sunrise. By about 0300 everyone was struggling to stay awake, Rhys even thought he was falling asleep while running, he suggested a twenty minute nap. I set my alarm, dropped off, then doof! As my head hits my chest the car door opens, it’s Rhys, ‘c’mon let’s go!’ He’d slept for just ten minutes! I necked half a can of Pepsi and literally had to chase him, he was off down the road. We could have easily lost a few hours to sleep right there and still finished within 48 hours but this is where Rhys’ mental strength really shone through, it was mightily impressive!

What we didn’t expect at this stage was for racers to still be so close together. Support car hazard lights lined the road for the twenty miles to Lone Pine. It was mesmerizing in the dark and you couldn’t look for too long without feeling woozy. Throughout that night we managed to run quite a lot, taking short breaks every 35-45 minutes. During one of these breaks we received some lovely encouraging video posts from CF Warriors and the young cystic fibrosis sufferers they support, we can’t thank you enough for these messages, they give morale and motivation a huge boost. We cracked on towards Lone Pine in time for breakfast, the last chance for hot food before the thirteen mile ascent to Whitney Portal. In my mind I viewed the final climb as something of a presession, then it dawned on me, if I was setting out for a thirteen mile hike today, that would still be a pretty long day, it’s not over yet! At the foot of the climb Pete Kostalnek, a previous winner passed us, turns out he was having a poor race by his standards and took some time out to sleep. Just goes to show, if it’s not your day, this course can be hell for even the very best! Teams already finished that were heading back down the mountain were cheering and offering up any left over supplies and the atmosphere in the final few hours became pretty emotional. We walked the final mile as a team with a Welsh flag draped around Rhys, job done in 40:45, incredible!    


If you have any questions regarding the event, our experience, or need advice preparing for such an event in extreme heat then feel free to drop me a message lawrence@enduraprep.co.uk

Enduraprep_VO2_Max_Cardiff

Are you in the zone?

Our testing facility has been open in Cardiff for a couple of months and we have already provided individuals with a plethora of useful data to apply to their training. Our VO2 Max test not only provides an athlete with a VO2 Max score but also during the test our equipment picks up an individual’s aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. It uses these (with your peak heart rate rate) to create four unique training zones. Below I have laid out results of VO2 Max tests for 6 different athletes we have tested recently. Individuals have been paired based on their similar VO2 max scores and through some information gathering I can suggest they are at a similar point along their endurance career too. We could suggest A&B = novice, C&D = experienced age group athlete, E&F = elite age group athlete.     

In the second column, peak heart rate (HR), this is the highest beats per minute reached during the VO2 Max ramp test. You have likely heard of the theory 220 – Your Age = Maximum Heart Rate. We can see that only athletes B and C fall in line with this theory. The other 4 athletes are between 12 and 18 bpm out from the theory.

Third column, anaerobic threshold (AT), our equipment highlights this point during the ramp test. It is the point at which anaerobic processes become more dominant and lactic acid begins to accumulate above resting levels in the body.   

Fourth column, VO2 Max, measured in milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute. The maximum amount of oxygen an individual can use during intense exercise, sometimes referred to as ‘the size of your engine.’

Fifth column, essentially how much of your engine can you use for a sustained effort. An average person (not average athlete) would score around 70%. Elite athletes can score 88-94%.

Sixth column, based on the test data our software creates unique training intensity zones. I have just picked one zone to show you here, the results actually provide four (Low, Moderate, High & Peak). The ‘moderate’ or aerobic endurance zone is the area where endurance athletes will spend most of their training, so it could be said is the most important one to get right.

Seventh column, for comparison I have taken a well used theory which works out an individual’s aerobic zone based on a % of their anaerobic threshold heart rate. We can see that for every athlete our test suggests their aerobic training zone starts between 20 and 32 BPM higher than  and stretches 7-10 beats beyond that of the theory. In short by following the theory these athletes could have been riding at intensities much to low to really get ‘bang for their buck’ from their long endurance rides or runs. Granted there is merit to going out and riding at a lower intensity, it’s better than lying on the couch. However, to force the body to adapt and grow their endurance capabilities effectively they may need to be working much harder than they thought.    

For reference I have provided screen shots of the individuals ventilation graphs below. The green line shows ventilation (Ve/VO2 – the relationship between ventilation and oxygen uptake), the blue line shows heart rate (BPM). The vertical blue line indicates the aerobic threshold and the vertical green line is the anaerobic threshold. You’ll notice different shapes to the curve of the ventilation line, perhaps I’ll go into detail in another write up, but in short, the shape of the line gives us an insight into the condition of an athlete and can help identify strengths and weaknesses to further support their training.  

For more information on testing visit www.enduraprep.co.uk/testing Or if you have any queries please contact Lawrence@enduraprep.co.uk

Athlete A

Athlete B

Athlete C 

Athlete D

Athlete E 

Athlete F 

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Open Water Dread

 Open Water Dread!

 

It’s the time in the UK when triathletes are starting to consider their first open water dip. If you are racing soon then of course, you need to. I wouldn’t advise rocking up to your first race having not had a few dips outside no matter how experienced you might be. But what if this is your first season of triathlon, SwimRun or first open water event? Then this is a BIG deal and probably the cause of most of your anxieties about the training ahead. Here’s my tips on how to conquer your fear of open water swimming.

Manage your expectations, your first swim won’t go well if you expect to swim like you can in the pool. You will panic, you won’t swim in a straight line and you will forget all the technique you worked on for the last six months. So don’t go to your swim spot expecting to swim a PB just because everyone has told you how much faster you are in a wet suit! Change your goals, baby steps, below is a more manageable approach:

  • Aim to stay in the water for 5-10 minutes.

 

  • Plan to just move around to keep warm by whatever means feels the least scary e.g. breaststroke, on your back or head up freestyle.

 

  • Let the cold water shock subside until you can keep your breathing under control. Then get out, job done, you survived your first open water dip!

 

  • Next, repeat these short dips but add extra little challenges such as aiming to move between features for example from the shore to a buoy and back.

 

  • If you are not confident putting your head into the water then introduce it gradually. Swim head up freestyle and then every five strokes put your face in and blow bubbles, then every 3, then 2 etc.

 

  • When you can continuously swim head down just breathe when you need to. You may be really comfortable breathing every 3 or 4 strokes in the pool but initially you may need to breathe more often and sporadically in open water, this is fine, whatever feels the most natural and relaxed.

Once you are swimming comfortably with your head down you will need to use the most important open water skill, sighting (looking up to see where you are going). Make sure you practice this in the pool first! Just because you never swim into the lane rope in the pool does not mean you will swim straight in open water. I love to try this test when coaching in the pool, give it a try; line yourself up in the middle of the lane, push and glide down the centre, then close your eyes and start swimming, stop when you hit the lane rope. Most hit the lane rope between 10 and 15 metres into the length, meaning if you don’t look up at least once every 10 metres outside, you will swim further than you need to. If in doubt look up and don’t be afraid to look up multiple times within a few metres to really lock on to your target. If you go off course in a race you will likely panic, swim hard to get back on course and dig yourself into a hole as you expend unnecessary energy and zig-zag your way to the exit. The fastest way from A to B is a straight line, even if you have to stop and get your bearings it will still be easier than swimming off course.

If you have the time try to add open water swimming as an extra swim session. That way you don’t have the pressure of covering the same distance you might in the sacrificed pool session, particularly while you are still building your confidence. Look to add some structure to that open water session such as distances at different effort levels, trying different breathing patterns or trying to swim near others. All useful skills in a race and it will take your mind off any open water anxieties.

Remember, you are not alone! Most triathletes have been through all of of the same fears. The more times you get in open water the easier it will get, be brave, persevere and STAY SAFE!      

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Pick up a new habit before the year is done!

Pick up a new habit before the year is done!

So it’s almost the festive season and unless you are racing abroad soon you are probably not 100% ready to race a triathlon. This is fine, healthy and encouraged at this time of year. Without exhausting yourself there is still plenty you can be doing to keep you active and give you a solid platform to kick on next year. Why not use the rest of the year to experiment with a few new habits or routines and start working out what might stick and benefit you. Knowing the athletes I work with you likely already swim, bike & run as much as you can given your free time. I’d like to address the things nearly all of us are guilty of not finding enough time for; strength & conditioning, flexibility & mobility. Now is a great time to play around with a few workouts or routines. The variety will be great for your general fitness and once you feel the benefits you will be more likely to find time to continue them through next year.

Strength & Conditioning

If adding a gym session is new to your routine then it’s likely you won’t have masses of time to dedicate to it. Two 20-30 minute sessions per week can be enough to see improvements. Keep it simple, don’t try and isolate every muscle with tiny movements. Instead cover all the major movers with big compound moves. To save time try and do your whole workout in a small area of the gym with minimal equipment, this will be really key in January when the gym is packed with newcomers. Also try pairing exercises and performing them back to back in a ‘super set’ e.g. with a core exercise or upper body then lower body to save more time.

Here’s a suggestion of 12 exercises for a quick routine. Try 3 rounds of each pair of exercises with short rest and aim to build up to the reps/time I have suggested. Focus on control of each movement, try to maintain good balance and posture whilst keeping your breathing under control. If you are new to gym work ask a gym instructor to show you the moves and how to adapt any of them to make use of the equipment available.

Warm Up – Rowing Machine 3-5 minutes.        

Squats (Body Weight or Kettle Bell Goblet Style) x 15

Glute Bridge (45-60”)

Press Ups x 15

Legs Raises x 15

Alternating Lunges (Body Weight or holding weight) x 15 each leg

Plank (45-60”)

Shoulder Press (Dumbbells, Bar Bell or Kettle Bells) x 15

Calf Raises x 15 each leg

Pull Ups or Lat Pull Down x 15

Back Extensions x 15

Tricep Dips x 15

Russian Twists x 15 each side (Body weight or holding weight)

Remember if you haven’t done this recently you will feel sore afterwards. Start with light resistance and lower repetitions. Once you start to feel fine the next day begin increasing the resistance or reps.

Flexibility and Mobility

Now this is the area 99% of us really don’t pay enough attention to. Again, keep it simple! To get the benefits frequency is the key here. Just 5 minutes a day or 10-15 minutes 4 times / week could really help you keep injury at bay, improve your hydrodynamics for the swim, make you more aerodynamic on the bike and increase your running stride length and efficiency. Focus on these eight areas:

Posterior:

Calfs

Hamstrings

Glutes

Back

Anterior:

Shoulders

Chest

Hip Flexors

Quads     

The difficulty of the stretch or movement really depends on your range of motion through each area. Start with holding stretches for 2-3 rounds of 20-30 seconds. You can back up this routine with a foam roller. Foam rolling will improve blood flow to an area and help recovery but it won’t improve flexibility as well as stretching can so try to include a mix of both.

Experiment with some new habits before the year is done. Perhaps head straight into the gym after your swim session or make your bike and run cool down include a proper stretching protocol instead of heading straight for the shower. You could even include stretches throughout the day e.g. by spending two minutes away from your desk stretching every hour or while waiting for the kettle to boil. The more seamlessly you can integrate them into your routine the more chance they have of becoming a habit. By turning your body into a more robust frame it will be better able to cope with the stresses of swim, bike and run. Improved recovery will lead to more consistency in your training which is the key to improving. Less injuries will also allow you to continue with sport and exercise further in later life so think of it as a bit of insurance for the future to.

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ÖtillÖ Isles of Scilly 2017

ÖtillÖ Isles of Scilly 2017

‘You will be cold, but you will be warm.’

As soon as I found out a couple of years ago that ÖtillÖ (Swedish for island to island) was launching more swimrun events as qualifiers for their Sweden ‘World Championship’ race I knew soon, I would be entering one. The Scilly Isles was a no brainer, I had been there a few times as a kid and told wife Laura we should go, this was the perfect excuse. I made sure we signed up early, nearly seven months early! SwimRun is a team event (pairs) and if we were to complete it and still be married at the end, we needed to practice and seven months might just be long enough for me to calm Laura’s nerves (and chose the right moment to tell her we had entered the full event and not the sprint distance). In the meantime I was lucky enough to hear a talk from Michael Lemmer the founder of ÖtillÖ at the London Triathlon Show. He laid out the history of swimrun and the ethos of the ÖtillÖ series. This left me lots of great phrases that I knew Mrs Cronk would feel at ease with; ‘if you are not there to win you are there to have fun,’ ‘take the time to take in your surroundings’ and ‘help others.’

Seven months later and it’s June, we are on the ferry from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. You can tell this event has considerably lowered the average age of visitors to the island. Plenty of leathery skinned, down jacket wearing athletic looking types on board. The types that make Laura nervous until I remind her ‘we look exactly the same as them.’ But I’ll be honest I didn’t have much of a come back when she said ‘those guys just told me they swam 7KM on Tuesday, neither of us have ever swam that far!’

After a quiet night in our holiday home it was Friday, the day before the race. We got kitted up and went for a short run around the headland and down to the beach for a short familiarisation swim. The water looks clear blue and really inviting, the weather is perfect at around 20 degrees so we thought nothing of legging it straight down the beach and into the water……..ooohhhh jeez, brass monkey and a few other expletives! It is cold, even in a wetsuit, no wonder the beaches were busy but with no one in the water!

By Friday evening the town of St Mary’s was buzzing with athletes. We headed down to the marquee by the harbour to do the formalities (register, briefing & expo). The briefing was great. Michael & Mats the race directors put everyone at ease and reiterate the values of ÖtillÖ. What I found impressive was that these values were followed through in all aspects of the experience. There was ethical & environmental reasons behind what was in the goody bag, what was sold at the expo & what would be on offer at the feed stations. The goal being to have people from all over the world come together in a unique location, share a challenging but memorable experience, inject some income into the local economy and then leave with no negative impact. They certainly made you aware that if events were to continue in such idyllic locations we all had to do our bit to protect them. Their message went way beyond the usual, ‘don’t drop gel wrappers’ that we are all very familiar with.

Besides the environmental message there was one phrase from Michael Lemmer which has stuck with me and resonates every time I put my swimrun kit on; ‘you will be cold, but you will be warm.’ An obvious oxymoron but he has absolutely nailed how you will feel during a swimrun event, trust me!

Saturday morning and we are lined up on the start line. The weather is scorching, mid 20’s by 10AM. Sweating already just from standing around in my wetsuit, that cold water already not seeming so bad. The start line was like no other start line I had ever stood at. I’ve never really seen the amount of kit vary so much. There was full length wetsuits, cut off wetsuits, proper swimrun suits, compression socks, buoyancy compression socks, pool buoys, paddles, webbed mits, foam strapped to shins or trainers, bungees, trail shoes, minimalist shoes, socks, no socks and LOTS of lubricant! It made it feel very pioneering and adventurous knowing that no one really had a clue what kit to use yet. Team Cronk had gone for old swim wetsuits with cut off legs at the knee and arms at the elbow. A bungee would keep us together for the swim. This meant Laura wouldn’t have to worry about sighting as she could just swim behind me following the cord and I wouldn’t get cold if I had to slow down or stop and check she was close and OK. We wore normal trail shoes with socks and had pool buoys strapped to our legs. After a few practice sessions in the sea with paddles and webbed mits it became clear 8KM with them would make our arms fall off, also one less thing to carry.

The race got under way and we immediately stuck to our tactics. Laura would set the pace for the runs, I would lead the swim. Now, how I pictured the day going in my mind is not how it played out! I was sure we would be running along chatting, and at times I may have to call upon some words of encouragement to maintain marital bliss. Instead we landed on the beach after the first swim, Laura turned and shouted ‘this is awesome,’ took off up the beach and left me for dust! This pace continued and I had to politely remind her we still had about four and a half hours to go. This didn’t deter Laura as she tiptoed through the coast path and left me behind coughing now and then to let her know our gap had extended.

It wasn’t long before we got to experience parts of the islands with no one else in sight. Around every headland was a picture postcard scene, time flew by. Running was hot, really hot! During the briefing we had been advised to strip our suits to the waist for the longer runs. This would obviously cost time and Laura was in the zone, no time for stripping suits down, I even got mocked for pausing to tip sand out of my shoe! Despite not stripping the suits down we were handling the heat, in good spirits and moving along steadily, until the final three legs. Left to go was an 8KM run, 2.5KM swim and a final 8KM run. During the penultimate run we dropped down from the coast path to run along a sandy track lined with high hedges and the temperature soared. We were both reduced to a shuffle. By the time we reached the next feed station I was overheating and dizzy. Due to dehydration setting in every time we entered the water it felt refreshing at first but soon much colder than the previous swim. I knew the final swim would take us up to fifty minutes, after already swimming further than I ever had in one day my suit felt like the only thing holding my arms on. Before entering the water for the last time there was some serious ‘pulling myself towards myself’ happening in my brain. Of course on the outside my teammate was not to know I was suffering.

That swim was the loneliest most mentally challenging part of a race I have ever experienced. Land was not getting any nearer. I would tell myself 1KM to go, then again what felt like ten minutes later still 1KM to go. Just as I thought land was getting closer and I was entering the bay a trawler passed between us and the land, as I focused on it the land shrunk behind it, it felt like I had gone backwards. Next to play on my mind was the tether, I began to feel every little tug on the bungee and blame my teammate for my arms feeling like noodles. Unclipping the carabiner crossed my mind many times but ditching your wife in the middle of ocean was something that would either leave me single or unable to have any input on holiday activities ever again. It was my idea seven months ago that got us here so I would have to suck it up. Fifty minutes later we land on St Mary’s for the last time. The beach is rocky, I stand up dizzy, stare at the rocks and try to pick a line up the beach. Before I can even see straight Laura runs past and shouts ‘that wasn’t that bad.’ I immediately regret not unclipping the carabiner!

We got stuck into the final run. We had to walk a few of the steep hills but the end was close, adrenaline took over and we got it done. The final 200 meter run next to the harbor is awesome, most of the people who have been supporting you around the course have caught ferries back to St Mary’s, Mats is armed with a microphone and greets you at the finish with a hug! To our surprise out of the 90ish teams entered we came 23rd and 5th mixed pair in a time of 6:10 we had managed 30 KM of running and nearly 8 KM of swimming. The atmosphere at the finish again rang true with the ÖtillÖ theme. Everyone chatted to competitors and spectators sharing the high’s and low’s of the day, comparing sunburn and chaffing whilst cheering others across the line.

We know we have only one ÖtillÖ experience to comment on but in our opinion they have nailed it! Everything about the event was slick and efficient yet laid back at the same time. The course was brilliantly marked with paper streamers attached to posts, hedges etc, at every swim entry the marshals directed you around sea weed, rocks and currents. Buoys, kayaks and safety boats in the sea guided you from island to island. The feed stations were stocked with healthy homemade treats, sweets and electrolytes (even warm tea after the longest swim). And to round off my report I’ll leave with a story that sums up ÖtillÖ:

On the course there are cut off times at checkpoints. This is to ensure safety staff are not spread thinly and in my opinion perfectly fair to have in place. Michael Lemmer insists that only he can inform a team that they must withdraw when not reaching a cut off. Upon hearing two teams were behind schedule during a swim early in the race he took a boat to their next beach landing. As the team walked up the beach looking dejected he ran down to them and asked them how they were. They were expecting to be pulled from event, instead he threw them a lifeline and said ‘get to the next checkpoint within five minutes of the next cutoff and you can continue.’ The team relished the opportunity to continue and finished the event beating all of the remaining cut offs.

If you are considering a swimrun event you will not be disappointed with ÖtillÖ. Footage from their other events looks equally as impressive. Through some sort of roll down Team Cronk were offered a spot at the ÖtillÖ World Championships, a monster race of 10KM swimming & 50KM of running. We can’t make it this year however, we are already eyeing up Hvar next year for another shot at qualification.

Still not convinced by swimrun? Check out this recap clip from the Scilly Isles.

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Endurance Training and Racing – 6 Ways to Fuel Better.

Many athletes train with a goal of losing weight. Don’t sabotage your training and weight loss goals by improper fueling! Fuel to perform and the rest will take care of itself.

Recently I was chatting to a man I met while cycling. He told me he had raced Cat. 2 in his day and was cycling at a decent pace despite being in his fifties. It was about two o’clock and he was ten miles from finishing a seventy mile loop. Shortly after we started chatting he said ‘I’m doing a bonk ride, I haven’t eaten today, I need to lose this belly.’

My first thought was, “This is a terrible idea!”

Then my second thought was, “I’m going to have to wait to pull out my MASSIVE cherry Bakewell flapjack as that would be really rubbing it in!”

Instead of lecturing the poor hungry guy on how he could lose weight by eating regularly and improve his cycling at the same time, I bit my tongue.

Let’s use some rough figures to work out what is happening to this cyclist’s body.

If he ate his last meal at eight o’clock the previous evening, his next meal would be nearly eighteen hours later. He’s used around 400 kcal in his sleep and then more than 2000 kcal cycling. Yes, a good portion of these calories are going to come from fat stores but it’s the body’s reaction to this ‘shock’ that negates the benefits of fasting in this way.

First, was this guy likely to get home, sip a recovery shake and later eat some lean meat, quality carbohydrates and vegetables? Not likely. More likely he was going to have a massive fry up (I know this because he told me). This sort of fasting causes the body to go into what is known as ‘famine mode.’ If your body doesn’t know when the next meal is coming, your metabolism slows down and your body burns less calories. This is not ideal for weight loss. Second, fasting can affect your ability to make sensible food choices. When glycogen stores are low you will be more attracted to quick fix, sugary solutions: blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, the sugar high passes and the next energy slump follows. The cycle continues when you are drawn to another quick fix food.

Using rough numbers I estimate that this cyclist’s BMR (essentially basic calories required during a day of lying in bed) to be 2,000Kcal. Adding in the 2,000kcal burned while cycling equates to a 4,000+Kcal deficit if he fasts for a full day. This is an extreme example. So, what is a better alternative?

  1. Make breakfast a priority – Albeit as inactive as it gets, you are in fact fasting while you sleep. Kick start the metabolism with some slow release carbs such as porridge on training days and aid recovery with high protein options such as scrambled eggs on rest days.
  2. Have a sensible deficit – If you are looking to lose weight then aim for no more than a 500kcal/day deficit. Any more is unsustainable whilst trying to maintain sporting performance.
  3. Time your intake – Try to limit high glycemic index foods (those with simple carbohydrates) to the hour before and during training when your body can readily use as a fuel source.
  4. Use the recovery window – Start the recovery process straight after a training session. Consuming a recovery meal or drink within 30 minutes of finishing a session not only aids muscle repair but it will hold off those sugary cravings until your next meal.
  5. Sleep – Get enough of it! Studies have shown that lack of sleep affects our cravings. Sleep is the ultimate form of recovery. Plan ahead and prepare food in advance, then when you do have those tired days you should have premade well balanced food at hand to keep you on track.
  6. If in doubt write it down – Keep a food diary for seven days. The commitment to recording your diet and awareness of what you’re actually eating can be enough to sway your choices. It’s also a great way to highlight any bad habits.

In a nutshell, make improving your performance the priority. If you balance consistent training with good quality nutrition and optimal recovery, you’ll enjoy your sport more and achieve your desired body composition.

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IRONMAN WALES. Tri Bike or Road Bike?

So in 2016 I had my second crack at IRONMAN Wales.

Thanks to the best conditions that race has seen I had a good day, so did most, which showed in my position. Despite being an hour faster than I was in 2013 I only placed one position higher in my category! The winner of my category actually posted the fastest big split of the whole race, a crazy 4:48, an hour faster than I could manage. Anyhow, I was still pleased with my bike split and my performance overall. So what? Well, something you might not have expected is the fact that I chose to ride a road bike. No deep section wheels, no clip on aero bars, no bento box or extra bottle cages, no modifications. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. During 2016 I rode on the IRONMAN Wales course seven times on three different bikes. To put it simply, on my TT bike I felt like I was ‘surviving.’ I didn’t feel I could utilise the aero position enough to get the true benefit from that bike. I also felt tentative descending through some of the narrower lanes and then felt I was losing momentum too easily on the ascents, generally I was glad to get off it in Tenby! In contrast, on my road bike I felt confident and more aggressive, I was flowing through the descents at a better pace and using a range of hand and body positions to stay aero and ascend smoothly without too much heart rate fluctuation. I came up with a theme for my race which was ‘be light.’ I knew I had to make up in weight savings what I was losing out on in aerodynamics so I shed weight wherever I could. I carried one drinks bottle and calculated my intake around the feed station locations. My food was in my jersey pocket so I had no extra baggage on my bike frame. I wanted my bike to look and handle like it would on any other ride. I even paid special attention to my diet around the taper to arrive at the start line the lightest I had ever been. Practice on the course allowed me to set heart rate boundaries for the flatter sections with a ceiling figure I was not to break even on the steepest climbs. I had seen that my average speed after the first ‘flat’ loop would drop by 1 KM/h after the first ‘hilly’ loop and by a further 1 KM/h after the second ‘hilly’ loop, if I kept up the same effort throughout, this allowed me to predict my bike time during the race and keep me focussed.
I’m not for one second saying that a road bike is the answer. If it was then more of the pro’s at IRONMAN Wales would be riding road bikes. What I am trying to highlight is that I had a plan, a plan which I took time to calculate, practice and then execute. With that in mind I have come up with some points for you to consider when making your own IRONMAN Wales bike plan.

TT or Road Bike – If you have a TT/Tri bike you are going to want to race on it, after all that is what you bought it for. Have a professional bike fit. Make sure the fit is tailored to suit a hilly IRONMAN course and not a 10 mile time trial! You will need to sacrifice some aerodynamics for comfort but it will be worth it. If you are looking to buy a bike for IRONMAN Wales and this bike will be your only bike for training and racing then consider an aero road bike. Adding clip on aero bars can get you into a similar position to that of a TT bike but you also have more hand hold options for climbing and descending. You will also be more likely to train on it as it is a more versatile tool for group rides, poor weather, sportives & other events.

Gearing – Have a look at your gearing and give yourself options. An 11-28T cassette would be a good place to start (although medium cage derailleurs are now providing even more cassette options) and then decide on a chainset depending on how strong you are. For anyone likely spending over 7 hours on the bike leg at IRONMAN Wales a compact (50/34T) chainset would be a good option. Stronger cyclists might try a semi-compact (52/36T) with just the elites really benefiting from a compact set up.

Wheels – On such a varied course there is no need to go too aero here. I would suggest that 50MM rim depth is plenty or 80mm rear and 50MM up front. Something that requires more thought is the type of rim and the quality of your brakes and brake pads. There are some fast and technical descents. Carbon rims do not brake as well as aluminium ones especially in the wet. Know your limits and adapt to the conditions. Make sure you know how your wheels and brakes react in the wind and wet before race day, the descent to Wiseman’s Bridge is not a good place to discover your brakes don’t work!

If you are competing at IRONMAN Wales this year you have plenty of time to trial different bikes and/or set ups. One thing that became apparent to our athletes in 2016 was how invaluable recce rides proved to be. The time our athletes spent on that course made them able to mentally break down the route and make race day feel like an 80 mile ride as opposed to 112. No matter how strong a cyclist you are you will always find the second lap of the ‘hilly’ loop challenging AND remember you can have a dream day on the bike but you still have to run a marathon. When trialling bike options always run off the bike and be aware of any different feelings in the hips, quads, glutes, calves and lower back. My biggest piece of advice would be do not let race day be your first outing on that course. It is known as the hardest IRONMAN bike course for a reason. Make a plan, practice it & perfect it!