Coaching News January

Coaching News – January 2018

My Facebook feed has been momentarily lit up by a podcast of an interview with a retired coach of elite athletes in the still small community of triathlon.  The principal topic, according to the title, is developing running speed but, as yet, I haven’t found the time to listen to what this coach has to say.  It’s not that I don’t think that I can learn from his experience – although I note that despite his success, athletes in his charge have succumbed to more than their fair share of injuries – but I am disappointed that he waited until retirement before allowing others to share in his coaching methodology.

In the relatively new and very competitive world that is triathlon coaching you may feel that this is a reasonable stance to take; keeping your cards close to your chest and playing your coaching hand only when you need to.  However, I don’t think that there is a coach in this country who hasn’t at some stage in their coach education been told the story of John Wooden.

For those who are not aware, John Wooden was simply the most successful basketball coach in the USA in the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s, winning 10 out of his final 12 national championships.  At the height of his fame and success, he accepted a written request from an undergraduate coaching student to observe his coaching – a form of early work-based learning programme for coaches.  If not scientifically evidenced, it is certainly a scientifically inspired fact that coaches learn from observing other coaches.  However, the sporting world was aghast that John Wooden was happy to share his secrets with an unqualified and unknown coach, thereby arming the newcomer with the necessary skills and information to imitate Wooden and thus attain or even surpass his level of success.  Wooden’s response however, was that no one could imitate what he did.  The student operated at a different level of competence, would extract what he needed from the experience and, over time, create his own coaching methodology.

This exemplar of coaching philanthropy forms the introductory lesson to just about every coach education course I have attended and certainly nearly every one I have ever delivered!  However, it is very apparent that, the closer you get to the top of triathlon coaching, the reality proves to be the complete opposite.  A prime example being the retired elite coach on my Facebook feed, who only shared his theory once the potential risk of conflict of interests was removed.  It was the same during my time at Loughborough, where the coaches were extremely unwilling to share their expertise.  Not once did I have the opportunity to learn through observation let alone be allowed to lead a session – a thoroughly unsatisfactory experience.  The coaches had withdrawn into isolation at their fixed position in the coaching dominance hierarchy and, demotivated, I eventually stopped asking to join in.  However, as critical of others as I have been, it is whilst reflecting on this conundrum, that I have recognised aspects of my own hypocrisy on this matter.

This week, a fellow triathlon coach, perhaps like me with aspirations of rising toward the top of triathlon coaching, has posted a couple of running form development videos on a public forum.  There are, to my mind, several omissions and errors in these videos that, if rectified, would enhance the merits of the drills prescribed.  This is a great opportunity for me to help both the athletes observing the videos as well as the coach by enabling him to learn from the feedback provided.  However, the reason for my reticence to enter into this forum debate should be obvious.  By providing feedback, I could lose out twice – first in the loss of potential athletes to develop and second in equipping a fellow coach with the necessary skills to potentially resolve the puzzle that is running form.

Again, this may seem quite a reasonable stance for a coach in my position to take.  However, perhaps the question I should be asking myself is why I am not assisting this coach in his development and could I too in some way benefit from doing so?   To answer that, I think we have to look at coaching in a broader context and how we have evolved to work in hierarchies of competence.

If you take the time to look carefully at the neuroscience, and I am indebted to Jordan Peterson who has done just that, you will discover that there is a continuity in our nature that is tremendously deep and is common amongst other animals.  Drawing from the work of Jaak Panskepp (who, incidentally, hailed from Tartu*) and Jean Piaget, Peterson noted not only that we share with mammals a neurological circuit which does nothing but implement play, but that our cognition, emotion, motivation and ultimately our morality forms out of those games that we play.

Panskepp discovered that if you put two juvenile rats together they will spontaneously wrestle, resulting as you would expect, in one pinning the other down, and the play ends with a dominance hierarchy established.  In real life, games occur repeatedly and Panskepp therefore paired the same rats again and again.  Once the hierarchy was established, for the interaction to continue, the lesser rat had to keep asking the dominant rat to play.  If the dominant rat continued to win, the lesser rat would lose motivation and ultimately stop asking.  However, if the dominant rat allowed the lesser rat to win 30% of the encounters, the lesser rat would remain motivated and continue to want to play.

In this, Panskepp had identified morality as an emergent property in rats through a sequence of games, just as Piaget had observed morality emerging in the games children play.  When we stress to children that it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose – what matters is how you play the game – what we are really saying is that life is a game and that it is how you play that really counts.  Peterson’s view is that this is a rule of life that isn’t arbitrary or based on opinion, is not sociological or learned, it is an emergent property that is so deep it even governs the behaviour of rats.

Peterson stresses therefore that the outcome of a single encounter does not affect the dominance hierarchy, but it is the continual outcome of a sequence of interactions that is important.  What this means is that life isn’t a single game, but a series of games and to be the winner of the series of games, you must, like the dominant rat, play fair.  As coaches, is this not what we strive for in the cognitive, emotional and motivational development of our athletes?  Therefore, shouldn’t we also be seeking this in the development of our own coaching by playing by those rules and supporting, like John Wooden, the motivation and participation of others?

Perhaps in our quest for triathlon coaching dominance we have lost sight of how to play the game fairly.  Whilst at present I am probably unable to influence those above me in the coaching hierarchy, I can at least offer all other coaches a chance to play where, in the discipline of running at least, I am a dominant player.  So, first thing tomorrow, I will enter into debate with my fellow coach and allow him a share in the game – for 30% of the time anyway.  Perhaps, in time, other dominant coaches will also come around and remember how to play the coaching game fairly.

So, January has been and gone, and February looks like it will also be a busy month.  Hopefully, therefore, before we know it, spring will appear and we can all come out of hibernation once more.  There is much on the horizon, of course; *Tartu entry acceptance ends on Monday and we can then turn our attention to the logistics of racing in Estonia.  The European Championships in Glasgow follows and somewhere between, there will be UK Ironman at Bolton, qualifiers for next year, training camps, TTs, marathons, adventure racing, athlete testing, video analysis, nutrition analysis, coach education and development and, of course, the World Long Distance Duathlon Championships in Zofingen.

It’s going to be a busy year and we are looking forward to working with you all in playing the game fairly.




Coaching News December

Sitting here pondering what to write, I am having one of those déjà vu moments, as, exactly a year on, Team Sky has handed me more ammunition for my one man, anti-doping campaign!  However, it wasn’t my intention to discuss jiffy bags and asthma inhalers this month; it has become as tiring for me to write as it must be for this audience to read.  Instead, I would rather reflect on what a successful year we have all had together in 2017 and to highlight some of the exciting things that are in store for 2018.

Sadly, since we started this coaching company, we have not kept a tally of all the National Champions that we have had the great pleasure to work with.  Going back through the athlete records to establish this number is a task for a rainy afternoon (after all the other tasks have been completed, that is).  Suffice to say that we have been extremely fortunate to have coached several over the years, and 2017 saw us add another title to that, as yet, unwritten list.  The same athlete, Vikki Voysey, also added a Bronze medal in her category at the World Sprint Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam, taking our international tally to 28 medals.  Chapeau Vikki!

This is certainly a figure to be extremely proud of, however, we take just as much pride in the fact that this year we helped several people compete in their first marathons and triathlons, we guided others to achieve PBs and others still to international qualification and international racing and helped coach the new LB Tri Junior Academy!  Additionally, some of us (in fact, hopefully all of us) just simply had a little fun irrespective of the distance or the performance.  This, we are proud to say, has been a reasonably consistent theme for a number of years and, we hope, will be the case for many more years to come!   

What is perhaps more remarkable than you all providing us with these satisfactory outcomes, is that much of the scheming to support your success over the years has taken place from a small home office in whichever home we had been fortunate enough to be living in at the time.   The establishment of our new clinic in Weedon Bec is therefore a significant step forward for supporting our athletes in 2018.   Whilst we don’t necessarily expect to be able to achieve greater success than we have in the past (more of the same would suffice!), we at least now have a long-term platform from which to support all our athletes.  We also now have the opportunity to test more athletes, more regularly, without having to pack up afterwards, thus making the testing quicker to set up and easier to administer.

Therefore, next year should see more opportunities for bike lactate testing and analysis, more running form analysis, more swim video analysis, and even greater opportunities for holding group training sessions both at home and abroad.  Our developing relationship with Britta Sorensen has created more opportunity for training camps in 2018 at the Coaches House in the Midi-pyrenees and the terrain around Weedon Bec is perfect for hosting hilly brick sessions which are ideal preparation for Bolton IM and short and long distance duathlon.  Please keep an eye on the web site and Facebook page for further details.  Please also watch out for our planned trips to Bolton to recce the bike course and more open water swimming opportunities and (hopefully) regular coached swims at local pools.

This will also be a busy year for team management for the BTF, covering for the Standard Distance Triathlon team in Estonia as well as leading my own teams; the ETU Sprint Triathlon team in Glasgow and the ITU Long Distance Duathlon team in Zofingen.   I am delighted that some of you have already qualified for these events but I hope to see more of you there if possible!  The big news for Glasgow is that this will be the first AG triathlon event at which there will be an anti doping team conducting random testing on athletes.  

All team GB athletes competing at this event will be required to attend a webinar on anti doping prior to taking up their team GB slot.  This is a fantastic step for age-group triathlon above other sports and I am delighted that our sport has chosen to take this direction.   I hope that the AG athletes both understand the seriousness of the situation and realise that, for the future of clean sport, they can take the lead on making sport a fairer place to be.  

I realise that anti-doping may feature in too many of my ramblings, however, perhaps cycling could learn a thing or two from AG triathlon.  As too could athletics judging by other news featuring in the sports headlines this week.  At least it was a good week for my favourite running model, Sir Mo Farah, in winning the Sports Personality of the Year.  It has also been good for us all in that he has finally left his former coach, Alberto Salazar.  I wonder if he left his inhaler behind?

Back to Applied Tri, with so much success in 2017 and so much planned for 2018, we have taken a short break to recharge the batteries and are now back and raring to go!

Wishing you all very best wishes for 2018.



Coaching News November

As the autumn gives way to winter, and the temperature continues to fall, the temptation is to batten down the hatches and curl up in front of the fire whilst awaiting the return of the longer days.  However, for those of us with aspirations of making athletic gains next season, this is actually the perfect time to be taking the first steps towards achieving those gains.  Clocking up metres in the pool now, or miles on the road and trail in those final few weeks before Christmas can pay real dividends as the new season rolls around.  However, better still, a few moments spent focusing on skill development will not only enhance these early miles, but will enable even greater performance gains early in the season.

The winter time is traditionally a period of general preparation defined as the building of an aerobic base or functional strength base in preparation for next season.  Additionally, in this standard training model of a single or double periodised year, the specific training of skill development tends to be incorporated in the latter stages of athlete preparation.  Technique specific developmental work is usually combined with the greater intensity, lower volume periods of the specific training period and the pre race training period. However, because the British weather does not encourage long stints out on the bike or running that would fit in with this historic pattern of periodisation of training, why not take advantage of this period by introducing shorter, more specific sessions that not only suit the conditions encountered at this time of year, but may also provide the shortcut to next year’s success.  This is therefore an opportunity to focus on two aspects of development that assist athletes in getting ahead of the game.

To get the best bang for your buck out of the time spent training, it is essential to know that the conditioning sessions are targeting the appropriate levels of intensity for their objective.  To train in your discipline specific “sweet-spot”, you first have to find where it is.  Establishing discipline specific training zones is therefore paramount, and this is why we encourage all athletes to at least carry out regular threshold tests as part of their training.  This can be self-managed, of course, but, particularly with running, can be quite hard to self-administer.  Swimming is fairly easy to accomplish using the CSS (critical swim speed) process, provided that you have an uninterrupted lane to swim in.  Creating a functional threshold level for cycling is equally easy to achieve, particularly on a turbo trainer, however there are significant disadvantages to using the traditional 20-minute protocol.  Not least of these is that those with either a high level of ability to buffer lactate and/or a high level of psychological robustness can skew the numbers significantly thereby reducing the effectiveness of the resultant data.

This is, of course, why we continue invest heavily in the latest equipment to conduct our own bike lactate testing sessions and one of the main reasons we have set up our new clinic here at Weedon Bec.  The accuracy provided by the Tacx Neo is well within +/- 1% ensuring reliability and validity of the power data and academic papers have confirmed the Lactate Pro blood analyser as comparable to laboratory equipment (r=0.99).  We have been delighted therefore to have hosted 10 athletes specifically for bike lactate testing this month and are now busy analysing the data to create the necessary personalised training zones with explanations for immediate use in their training.

In each case, the topic of cycling cadence has formed both part of the discussion as well as the feedback to the athletes.  A cycling cadence of 90 rpm is considered to be the most mechanically efficient cadence for cycling which also suits our purpose as multisport athletes particularly well with our desire for a running cadence of 180 steps per minute.  However, in searching for the most suitable cadence for triathletes to race at, it is becoming evident that cycling with a cadence of 90 during the bike section is resulting in a slower running performance off the bike.  A lack of available substrate has been identified as the cause.  This is currently leading the researchers to determine that the optimum cadence for mechanical efficiency is not necessarily the optimum cadence for racing.  For us at Applied Tri, however, this is the wrong approach to take.

A lack of available substrate suggests that the athletes are racing above their optimum pace and probably physiologically optimum cadence also.  We hear a lot of discussion about athletes cycling at their natural cadence, however cycling cadence is a learnt behavior and, with possibly some deviation for personal biomechanics, is thus not natural.  In light of our above comments about considering a reversed periodisation plan, this is also therefore the perfect time for athletes to focus on form.  We talk constantly about the need to develop running form – and have been working with several athletes this month alone to try to further enhance this skill through the winter – but all too often we have to encourage athletes to incorporate cycling specific drills in their training.  Additionally, the term speed is nearly always associated with athlete velocity in terms of distance over time and not speed of limb movement.  Utilising appropriate drills, including gradually increasing cycling (& swim and run) cadence, is the perfect way to introduce speed of movement into these otherwise dull, dark winter days and thereby contribute to improved form and optimised cadence ready for next season.

Therefore, this really is a good time to take a long, hard look at your training programme and see if you can make your training more effective this winter.  Although we don’t advocate ignoring your aerobic needs, developing form and threshold now will enable you to hit the ground running in the spring and then utilise the brighter, longer days for enhancing your aerobic base further.

It has been fantastic to host some of you at the Royal Ordnance Depot clinic already and we look forward to seeing more of you soon.


New Zealand Coast to Coast 2016


Anyone who knows my wife Sarah, will appreciate just what a willing partner she has been to all my successes as an athlete.  More than that, she has a talent for planning and readily takes on all the logistical work, from preparing for local races to tackling endurance world records.  The total commitment that I receive, and the skill with which she completes this administration, not only allows me to concentrate on the activity itself, but also means that, working in partnership, we have enjoyed competing in a host of countries around the world in lieu of enjoying more traditional holidays.  However, even I was slightly taken aback with Sarah’s positive response when I casually announced my desire to compete in the New Zealand Coast to Coast race.  The impact it would have on our over-stretched bank balance warranted the idea be met with the derision it deserved, and yet, there I was, debit card in hand, about to press enter on my entry for the February 2016 multisport world championships.


With Sarah working on the logistics of a sabbatical, flights, accommodation and transport for what quickly became a three month tour, I fired off my entry form and began to dig a little deeper into the requirements of this challenge.  The race format of run, bike, mountain run, kayak and bike over a total of 243km from Kumara Beach on the West Coast of South Island to Brighton Beach, Christchurch on the East Coast sent competitors on foot over the Southern Alps and by kayak down the mighty Waimakariri river in either a one-day or two-day format.    Ever the glutton for punishment, I entered the one-day event.  Then I set about purchasing the compulsory clothing and equipment as per the race instructions and obtaining the Level 2 whitewater kayaking certificate I required to support my entry.


Only two accredited trainers were listed in the UK and, as one didn’t respond to my email, I found myself attending three days of one-to-one training at the Black Mountain Activities Centre near Brecon.  After a day acclimatising on the River Wye, the remaining two were spent at Symonds Yat on a short section of Level 2 white water.  With a distant history of reservoir and coastal water kayaking, this was a new challenge for me and the crash course was tiring to say the least.  By the end of day two, my ability to read the water and control the kayak was improving.  By day three however, I was exhausted and my previous gains were lost as capsize followed capsize.  Sensing my frustration, my instructor called a halt to the training and, rather generously in my opinion, he signed me off based on my progress on day two.


With my certificate submitted, my entry was accepted and Sarah and I flew in to New Zealand early in December to start my preparations.  As we toured North Island, it was easy to find a balance between training and sightseeing, with plentiful, quiet roads to cycle on and stunning views to appreciate.  With Sarah driving ahead, it was a pleasurable, albeit slightly selfish, way to see this fabulous country.  At every campsite, there was also an abundance of coastal paths to run on and the deserted sandy beaches were perfect for practicing running form drills and post-training stretching and mobility exercises.


After Christmas, we crossed to South Island and the focus turned to specific training for the Coast to Coast.  Whilst I was able to cycle the bike course several times and declined the opportunity for a guided run over the mountain pass, I needed more time on the water to complete my preparations.  With the help of three days from Topsport Kayaking’s best and most patient instructors, I made two full runs down the 70 km section of Waimakariri river in my hired Barracuda Beachcomber kayak after the now familiar familiarisation day.  Like my experience in Wales, I finished day two with a degree of confidence in the progress I was making.  Two weeks later, after my final run down the river, my confidence of making the race cut-off times had ebbed away and I made the late call to transfer my entry to the two-day race.


And so, on a chilly late summer morning, I racked my bike in transition and warmed up on the run down to the Tasman Sea at Kumara Beach, leaving Sarah to drive inland and set up my running kit at the next transition area.  As I toed the start line, my intention was to pace myself throughout the two days and I carefully eased myself over the sand and onto the gravel path whilst watching the other competitors race away at an alarming pace.  My Inov8 FLites were perfectly suited to this initial mixed running surface and, once we were on the road, I overtook a few tiring runners over this opening 3 km and a few more in transition, running in socks from the bike rack to the mount line.


Out on the bike, I worked with a small group of riders over the first 20 km and we gradually caught the lead group.  My policy of caution had paid off.  As this now larger group headed inland for the mountains, I found it safer to stay at the back and out of harm’s way, taking full advantage of drafting those ahead of me.  However, on a couple of occasions the group fragmented and I had to work to regain my place, towing a number of other tail enders as I did so.  As we reached the foothills, the stronger riders accelerated away and, rather than dropping back to a group that was forming behind, I stuck it out alone, consuming some of the energy I had carefully preserved earlier in the day.  The advantage of being alone however was that on completion of the 55 km bike, I had a clear run through the second transition.


Sarah was waiting with running shoes, cap and my 20 litre Salomon pack containing the prescribed safety equipment for the 33km mountain run.  I also had a 1.5 litre bladder of protein drink and, on a length of para cord, my secret weapon.  My speed in transition once again paid dividends, closing the gap on the group ahead as we started the run along a boulder strewn grassy surface.  Despite the occasional stumble, the first 3 km was the best surface we got to run on that day.  At the Morrison footbridge, we crossed the Otira river at its junction with Deception Valley.  Not by the footbridge, of course, but through the icy cold, thigh deep water before beginning the long, slow climb of the Southern Alps.  I was wearing a pair of Merrell Trail Glove 3s, purchased in haste the week before to replace my Inov8 Trail Rocs which had been stolen when left out to dry!  This was to be the first proper test of their traction as I climbed down the river bank and into the fast flowing water.   It was not a positive start.  The combination of my unsteadiness, the force of the water and the slippery surface of the boulders meant that I fell twice at this first obstacle.  No sooner had I joined the trail that initially ran alongside the Deception river, than I stubbed my toe badly and was forced to slow down.  The unmarked trail meandered up the valley through dense trees, and, as the group ahead pulled away, I followed their wet footprints in the dust until the path came to an end.


And so I then made the first of twenty-something crossings of the Deception river and its tributaries that were to consume the next three hours of my life.  At times, the force of the water would push me over and, at other times, my fatigue or lack of stability would have the same effect.  At each crossing however, I caught up with competitors who had stopped to fill water bottles or scoop up water in their hands to drink.  It was warming up, and the only aid station was at the top of Goat’s Pass, several hours up the valley.  I therefore deployed my ace, pulling out my collapsible measuring spoon on its length of para cord to scoop up water on the go, then packing it away in the side pouch of my pack without stopping.  I therefore made every crossing ahead of this group and so began a cycle of being overtaken as I scrambled over the myriad of boulders that barred the route ahead and catching up runners as they paused to cool off and hydrate.


The higher we climbed up Deception Valley, the bigger the boulders became.  Skilled mountain runners leapt from boulder to boulder, safe in the knowledge that they would always land without harm.  During a pre-race coffee, former world multisport champion Jess Simson assured me that this was the best tactic to effectively navigate this course.  Eventual winner of this year’s race, Sam Clark, was rumoured to train with a dog collar around his neck so that he couldn’t look down and just entrusted his feet to find a sure footing every time.  In contrast, with no spring in my step and lacking their confidence, it was all I could do to scramble bodily over each and every boulder, grazing skin and bashing bones along the way and I continued to slip and slide at every crossing.  So much for my Merrells.  So much for my running form!


I reached the Doreen Creek check point in 2¼ hours after which the climbing became steeper and harder.  I regretted not having completed a run recce when I made some navigational mistakes which resulted in some energy and morale sapping retracing of steps.  By now I was running with a slower group of runners and eventually we made the steep turn to reach the check point at Goat’s Pass.  With the sun now directly overhead, I went through the compulsory kit check and refilled my drinks bladder.  It had taken me 3½ hours to run 17.5 km!


Eager to get on, I began the descent down the Mingha Valley, however my sore toe painfully restricted my movement.  For all my wishing that the climb would be over, I was now praying that the descent would quickly finish.  Hobbling slowly downhill, the route once again took us through more forest and now we had the added complication of tree roots to negotiate.  This mini assault course was hampering all the stragglers but at least I wasn’t alone.  Fellow runners shared encouragement and jelly babies and we laughed at the absurdity of our self-inflicted predicament.  We shared water also, because since the top of the pass, the river water had been unsafe to drink.  Eventually, I came out of the trees and back into the sun at the Dudley Knob checkpoint.  Five downhill kilometres in a little over an hour!  The final obstacle was 10.5 km run over small boulders as the path criss-crossed the Mingha river.  Leaning heavily upon the last of my will power and remembering those hard won lessons learnt in the army, I found some running form and pushed on for the finish line.  At times it was like running on the beach at Dungeoness, and the lighter I could make my footfall, the easier it was to move.  Gaining satisfaction from overtaking a few runners, I finally crossed the finish line at Klondyke Corner to complete day one.  Those runners wearing GPS were reporting between 35 – 37km of distance run and I could well believe it.  Soaking afterwards in an ice bath in the shade, with a beer in my hand, I knew that, with the exception of some army training, this was the hardest 5 hours and 43 minutes of running I had ever endured.


And, of course, the race didn’t stop there.  After Sarah had prepared a huge meal of pasta, we made our preparations for day two and another pre-dawn start.  Sarah had to be on the road before 5am to join the queue for kayak inspection at Mount White.  With the help of a fellow competitor’s wife, she had the challenge of getting the kayak off the roof of the camper van, successfully through scrutineering and then carried across part of the Waimakariri river to the start line.  No mean feat, and four wet crossings of the Waimakariri later, the pair of kayaks were lined up ready to go.  Meanwhile, I was curled up in a marquee trying to stay warm as I awaited my start time nearly three hours away.  After what seemed an age, 07:40 rolled around and I set off with a small group of competitors in five minute intervals for the 15 km cycle to Mount White.  This little warm up for day two was followed by a steep gravel descent of over a kilometre, made harder by having to run with the bike to the transition.  A few hundred metres further on, I found Sarah and she guided me across the river to my kayak and helped me into my kit.


The first 10 or so kilometres of the kayak is on reasonably good water and once again I found myself being passed by those more skilled than me.  You have to race a kayak equivalent to the type in which you qualified and I was being passed by the less stable but faster racing kayaks.  During my two recces, I had made it safely as far as the gorge, some 20 km downriver, before finding myself in difficulties.  However, on these occasions, the river level had been high following heavy rainfall.  On race day, the water level was lower exposing more boulders in the rapids where my limitations became immediately evident.  I did not have the skill to make it through the first challenge and capsized.  Thankfully, I went with the flow and resurfaced on the other side of this rock garden.  However, it was a good three minutes by the time I had kicked out of the flow and dragged my kayak and paddle to the bank, and another 15 by the time I had emptied out the water and put on a layer of warm kit over my now shivering body.


Back underway, I managed to get through the remaining five rock gardens as a result of some diligent paddle work, and arrived at the gorge.  This narrow section compresses the water into a faster flow for some 30 km and the challenge now becomes avoiding the bluffs.

More competitors came by and I increased my pace to follow them for as long as I could so that I could follow their line.  After a few hours however, I was on my own and, to my surprise, actually enjoying myself.  No sooner had I made this revelation, than I misjudged a turn and, in trying to correct myself, I toppled over for a second time.  Feeling tired, it took longer to sort myself out this time and so I took the opportunity to eat as much food as I could.  Once again my measuring cup was working well and so at least I was well hydrated.  Probably due to the effects of fatigue, I went under once more and had to recover my kayak for the third time.  Very cold and tired, I was pleased when I finally came out of the gorge and went through the final checkpoint, knowing that there were only 12 km to go.  However, trying to navigate this final section alone was quite a challenge.  With multiple braids, the best route changes constantly, with dead ends and long shallows that require man-hauling, both time-consuming and tiring.  Finally, in the distance I could see the Gorge Bridge crossing the river and, six hours and forty minutes after paddling away from Mount White, I exited the water.


Even though I made better time from the final check point, had I remained in the one-day event, I would have missed the cut off by 15 minutes.  I was exhausted, and Sarah had to support me as I tried to run up the river bank to the final transition.  She had been worried about the kayak section and had been waiting patiently at Gorge Bridge for my race number to come up, indicating that I had successfully negotiated the gorge.  With my three swims, she’d had a long wait.  She helped me out of my wet kayak clothing and into my cycling kit and, as I ran out to the road with my bike for the final 70 km ride down to Brighton Beach, Sarah now had the ordeal of recovering the kayak and equipment alone and driving the long way back to Christchurch.  Meanwhile, I had hooked up with a small group on the bike and was making good headway to the finish.  I held onto the group until the outskirts of Christchurch when finally my energy evaporated and I was left behind.  This made for a lonely and uncomfortable ride home, especially over the earthquake damaged road surface which was tiresome at such a late stage.


Eventually I reached the east coast and turned for the finish.  Ever the racer, I took my feet out of my cycle shoes and entered the finishing straight in socks for the final 400 metres run over sand and up the steps to the finish.  An ice cold beer and a hot slab of beef burger were a welcome reward for seventeen hours and nineteen minutes of competition, and I discussed the merits of branching out from ultra running by taking on the multisport challenge with former world champion and Race Director, Richard Ussher.  Then Sarah arrived and together we walked across Brighton beach to the South Pacific Ocean surf whilst I highlighted the areas where I felt I could improve my performance next time.  To my surprise, this suggestion didn’t receive the derision it deserved.


Coaching News – September

What a terrific month we have just enjoyed!  This year has certainly had its share of ups and downs, however, whilst recognising that it is not quite over yet for some, September saw the culmination of this year’s hard work for many of you.

Despite the disappointment of two athletes not making the start line at the ITU Powerman Zofingen World Long Distance Duathlon Championships – always a hard one to take after months of arduous preparation – race day arrived with perfect conditions and an extremely challenging alteration to the run course.  Despite the lack of mercy shown on this revised second run, the racing was outstanding and the performances equally so.  In my capacity as Team Manager, I did a lot of pacing up and down throughout the day watching and cheering the competition, a form of vicarious racing, and, although I was slightly frustrated by being on the sidelines, it was a pleasure to watch duathletes, both old and new, finishing this iconic race.

No sooner had I arrived home than I was seeing another group of athletes off to the ITU Sprint Distance Triathlon Championships in Rotterdam.  Sadly, I was unable to attend this race, however, in my capacity as Team Manager for Glasgow, the following weekend I attended the sprint distance qualifier at Thorpe Park for next year’s ETU Championships.  Yet more fantastic racing resulted in a successful day for a number of our athletes.  Up against stiff competition, both coached and supported athletes were among those who have successfully qualified for next year’s European Championships and our thoughts are already turning to designing the appropriate training and testing to make the most of this opportunity.

So, I had the fortune to watch live racing at two fantastic events and was able to share the moment of success with the athletes concerned on both occasions.  For the race in Rotterdam however, I had to settle for our creaky broadband connection and the even less reliable live timing updates.  I don’t usually go into too much detail about specific athletes, however Vikki Voysey and I have shared a very productive last quarter after a mixed period of training throughout the winter.  Vikki had worked extremely hard at the spring training camp and, in particular, on refining her swimming form and further developing her bike performance.

Sadly, for several months, her running progress had been more troublesome and, after isolating the injury, Vikki is to be congratulated for remaining patient whilst her running form and fitness slowly returned.  This self-discipline was never more present that at the European Championships in Kitzbuhel where, after coming off the bike in 4th, she had to let half her category run by her instead of challenging for the medals.  The patience began to pay off in mid summer when Vikki retained her National title and finally, in Rotterdam, she got her reward.

A finely executed draft legal race saw Vikki come off the bike with the leading pack of four athletes and, with all to play for, she set about the run.  Despite not knowing exactly where she was in the mix, she gradually got up to speed and Sarah and I were delighted to cheer her over the slightly pixelated finish line in third position!

This has been quite a journey for Vikki and, thankfully, her hard work and patience has been rewarded.  Our reward, other than a moment or two of personal and professional satisfaction, was to add this to our tally of international athlete medals which now stands at 28. Not a bad haul for 15 years of coaching services!

Thus primed, Sarah and I headed off in very high spirits for a two day conference which was our long overdue review of the coaching services we currently offer.  It has been 3 years since we last looked closely at the structure, and over 5 since we reviewed the pricing.  The key driver for the review however, was to find a solution to the increasing and sometimes conflicting demands on my time, and the need to budget for a new business facility from which to offer our athlete testing services.

After much debate, we have decided to keep the costs of the main charging structure – the Bronze, Silver and Gold packages – the same.  We feel that we are currently offering a service that represents good value for money whilst successfully developing our athletes and wish for this to continue.  The additional costs of the facility will therefore be borne by athlete testing.  However, with the increased fixed costs of the facility and other associated charges we do have to improve our cash flow.  We have been blessed in that many of our athletes are or become our friends.  This makes for very good athlete-coach relationships, however, as our business interests broaden we need to control our interests a little more tightly.

To accomplish this, from the 1st January 2018, we will be moving the coaching services to payment in advance by Standing Order.  We have also revised our operating Terms and Conditions which now more accurately reflect our operating procedures and are available to view on our website

Also new for 2018 will be the withdrawal of the General Coaching package for multipsort.  This rate will still be available to our runners, however, the time required to create individualized triathlon and duathlon training plans has made this unsustainable.  Should anyone have concerns with these changes then please do not hesitate to contact me.

Other, additional services have also become available including a premium option for those who require some closer support during specific periods of the year, coach and athlete mentoring services and, a soon to be launched, set of generic training plans for the wider audience.

So, as the racing season almost comes to a close, we are already setting our sights on next year.  Well done to all in the recent weeks and good luck to those who still have key races and qualifiers to come.  More details about the facility will become available next month when the contracts are agreed, and we look forward to welcoming you there for testing sometime soon.




JC and Sarah


Coaching News – August

Let me start this month’s newsletter with a thank you for your patience and understanding whilst we dealt with our recent family bereavement.  This came at a critical time in the season for many of our athletes and, in a matter of just a few weeks: Deb has run a course PB over 10k; Steve represented Team GB at the world Duathlon Championships once again; Ian completed half of his incredible 20 Olympic distance triathlons in 20 days; Grahame finished the Midnight Man; Jon completed the Outlaw IM; Vikki picked up yet another triathlon race victory; Fiona finished IM Copenhagen; Toni completed ride London and Craig finished the Ely Middle.  We at least had the distraction of following all your performances and thus shared the satisfaction of a job well done for many of you. It also concentrated the mind to focus on the priorities and, as a result, there are a number potential opportunities and changes that we will consider further at the next business meeting, scheduled for September, not least to allow more consistency in producing your monthly invoices!

Now, after a little bit of catch up, it will be back to business as usual as we see out the final few races of this season.  Usual for this time of year of course means that some of you will have seen your training pans extended by an extra week to take us beyond this weekend and our annual trip to Powerman Zofingen and the World Long Distance Duathlon Champs.  This race is, of course, pretty much where we came in, but we have come far since those early days supporting athlete development for this still rather unique event.  In recent years, whilst retaining a similar number year on year, long distance duathletes have become a smaller percentage of our business and thus some changes to the business structure are required.  More news on how we aim to restructure the business to better support your athletic needs will therefore follow soon.

Another useful distraction this summer was to attend the World Athletics Championships as a guest of Sarah’s sister-in-law and we had the pleasure of finally watching some athletics in the Olympic Stadium after missing out in 2012.  It was a fantastic experience to appreciate the talents and energy of a whole range of athletes and it reignited my enthusiasm for the sport.  Watching the camaraderie of the male pole vaulters – cheering each other on even as he medals were being decided and staying in the arena even after elimination – was a pleasure to experience.  The men’s steeplechase was epic and overall it was a brave if less fruitful evening of performances for Team GB athletes with lots of 4th places the result.  Fourth is the worst place to finish and many athletes can sympathise here, not least Jo Pavey, whose best track performance was a 4th place finish in the 10,000m at the World Championships in 2007.  Ten years later however, after the disqualification of drugs cheat Elvan Abeyleglasse, Jo has finally been upgraded to a bronze medal.  For the only time in her track career, she stood on the podium at the London Olympic Stadium with the silver medallist Kara Goucher and enjoyed a brief and belated moment in the limelight.

Although we weren’t in the stadium for the finale to the track careers of Mo Farah and Usain Bolt, we cheered both on from home and experienced their final races on the world stage.  As expected, both the national and sporting press were full of the anti climax and the lack of a fairy-tale finish.  However, the occasion could have been used to welcome in the new guard rather than just say a lengthy and sad farewell to the old and, if nothing else, is a welcome reminder as to just how hard it is to get to, let alone stay at the top in athletics.  Whilst the new 10,000m world champion Muktar Edris can be excused his rather apologetic MoBot on the finish line and will hopefully be a worthy champion, will athletics fans ever accept two time doper Justin Gatlin his drug fuelled past?

Probably not would be my guess and yet here we have a risk of holding double standards.  Although certainly there is no suggestion of wrong doing on the part of Mo Farah, his decision to retain the coaching services of Alberto Salazar is certain to damage his legacy.  Salazar remains under investigation not least for allegedly encouraging the likes of Kara Goucher to take a thyroid hormone which she neither needed nor had an appropriate therapeutic use exemption.  It is in part Goucher’s evidence that Salazar faces now and therefore, as much as I approve of her belated honesty, should her performance level not also be subject to question?  This should mean that Jo Pavey would receive the silver medal thus providing Kimberley Smith, currently in that cursed 4th position with a much deserved bronze medal.

Obviously for those who regularly read this far, my thoughts often turn to drugs in sport but it is becoming increasingly prevalent even in amateur racing.  Please read up on the most recent – Kayle Leogrande.  Not the brightest cookie, but up until yesterday, despite already receiving a two-year doping ban in 2008, he was still racing against you and I whilst taking a concoction of seven banned substances.  At the other end of the scale, and in my category, Michael Ellerton received a two year ban for taking over the counter medications despite it being accepted by the investigators that he had not acted intentionally.  To this mix, there is now an increase in banned substances turning up in every day athletic supplements which are regularly used by both professional and age-group athletes.

Thankfully, UK Anti-Doping have increased the testing of age group racing both in and out of competition and yet, for the athlete, it is becoming harder to steer your way through the medication and supplement maze.  Therefore, as part of this summer’s CPD, I have qualified as an accredited adviser on behalf of UK Anti Doping through their 100% Me campaign.  Whilst I would encourage you all to take full responsibility for all the food, medication and supplements you take making full use of both Global Dro and Informed Sport, if you do have any questions or concerns then please do contact me straight away.

Thank you all for working so hard and producing some outstanding racing this season – please keep it up.

Invoices are on their way.

Best wishes

JC and Sarah

As ever, please email me to be removed from this distribution.


Coaching News May

What an exciting month we have had in May with just about every athlete in some form of competition, all within a narrow band of two weekends and much of the action happening on the same day.  Keeping track of everyone proved to be a complex business – not least because, on the busiest day, I was in Southport working in my triathlon team manager role – and the review of data and performance is a time-consuming process so I am just taking a quick breather from this task now as I type.  However, mostly expectations have been exceeded, and in every case positives can be taken which always makes it a far more pleasant experience for athlete and coach alike!

I had a few topics outstanding last month to consider as the key message in in this newsletter.  These included the Loughborough University study of the relationship between running performance and running efficiency – sigh; the correlation between age and marathon performance – oh for heaven’s sake; or the challenge to fledgling medical companies and researchers who are unable to fund medical Gold Standard research – just don’t even ask!  However, as last week’s action unfurled, I felt the urge to focus on the outstanding performances of our athletes instead.  Long-term readers of these newsletters, and those who follow me on FB, will know that only very occasionally do I report on athlete success.  This is not because our athletes are not often successful, nor is it that I do not like to read of athlete success myself.  In fact, I always love to read about athlete performance and there is no better distraction from doing my work for this experienced and highly capable procrastinator.

However, whilst travelling home from Southport and reflecting on the racing I had watched and tracked, I was following the football on the radio as the Premiership football season came to a close.  Some twenty-six minutes into the champion team Chelsea’s match, the game came to a temporary and somewhat comedic halt.  The reason was to celebrate the end of a long career of one of the participants, and his departure from the pitch was greeted with deference not only by his own side, but in almost sickeningly flattering terms by the opposition and the commentators on the radio.  It seemed to me, that the most professional of sports was demonstrating just how unprofessional it can be.  This peculiar interlude brought to mind the previous day’s news report that the long-running (and possibly last?) US circus, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, had closed.  Listening to the reporting on that Premiership match, I realised that modern football has probably replaced the circus as today’s entertainment with the commentators performing the joint roles of ringmaster and announcer.  This self-ingratiating reporting is way too sentimental for me and similarly, when I read about athlete success from coaches, it comes across as ever so slightly narcissistic, seemingly more concerned with promoting coaching prowess rather than athlete achievement.

I prefer to read about athlete performance, good or bad, from the athlete.  Although I’m sure you all like to be reminded occasionally of how well you are doing, as you all know, I provide this to the individual not to the wide world.  Therefore, despite the temptation to sing your praises, I have decided not to buck the trend this month.  Suffice to say that it was a very positive weekend in sport for us all and we all appear to be continuing in the right direction with good progress towards our objectives.

In the background, as I am sure you are all aware, we have been awaiting completion of the purchase of our new home.  As sad as it will be to wave goodbye to Blue Pines, we completed on Damson Cottage in Helmdon last Friday and are in the process of moving as I type (or at least Sarah is currently busy packing)!  We will try to make the transition as seamless as possible with the office move scheduled for Tuesday 6th June.  The testing equipment will move on the same day and I will arrange athlete testing and training programme production around the move dates.

In addition to the move, June is scheduled to be a busy month.  Once again, I will be leading a Natural Running Form workshop at the Ultra Festival over the weekend of 3rd/4th June and I will also be away with the Team GB Standard Distance Triathlon team in Kitzbuhel from 14th – 19th June.  Where possible I will be preparing training plans before I go, but I will also be working on improving communication facilities for use whilst away.  This should allow me to both communicate and deliver plans more successfully than in recent months where hotel and/or train and airport wifi has been too slow to facilitate access or blocked access altogether.  This busy period will also require some tight scheduling between calls or testing.  Therefore, please ensure that you contact me as soon as you can to ensure that I can support your training.

That’s all for this month.  Please keep up your hard work and great performances!

Invoices are on their way.  As ever, we appreciate your prompt payment.




Coaching News April

One of the reasons why I love watching sport is the unpredictability of the outcome of competition.  I also enjoy being involved because of the uncertainty of the direction that sport will take next.  These changes help to keep us all on our toes, but at times can be frustrating, with seemingly unnecessary changes of policy or administration being imposed through some unseen and unknown rationale requiring changes in coaching methodology or practice.  At other times, and becoming more common however, are changes instigated by the press and, of course, the pressure of social media.

In a month where many sport related stories have caught my eye, one of the more significant, and one that has already resulted in changes in coaching methodology, is the continued fall-out from the claims of bullying and sexism at British Cycling.  On the specific interactions between Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton, of course, I cannot comment.  However, this month, and one can assume that this is a direct knee jerk reaction to those claims, British Cycling has announced a change in coaching strategy directly related to the coaching of women.  Coaches are reminded, in case they didn’t know already, that not all female athletes will want to receive technical coaching and that many are looking for no more than a combination of fitness and fun.  However, what any skilled coach will tell you, is that refining an athlete’s technical competency is probably the quickest way to achieving fitness and fun.  In fact, I can’t think of a single sport where this is not the case.

If taken at face value, the directive is well-meaning, however it may well have unexpected consequences.  Firstly, it suggests to women that there is no need and possibly no value in developing technical ability, and secondly, to perhaps less skilled or less conscientious coaches, there is the potential for a cop-out from acting in the more challenging role of technical coach.  Thankfully, some of sport’s heavyweights quickly responded, Chrissie Wellington, amongst others, declaring the directive patronising.  There is of course a chasm between encouraging women to take part in sport at grass roots level and coaching the likes of Chrissie and the sadly much maligned Jess, who are winning competition at the sharp end.  However, the coaching process should remain the same.

An article by former British Swimming National Performance Director Bill Sweetenham reappeared, seemingly in support of Shane Sutton’s alleged methods.  The somewhat dated article highlighted that many top athletes were not aware of how hard they could push themselves and thus how far they could go.  Therefore, he surmised, it was the coach’s responsibility to use, for want of a better expression, additional encouragement to push the athlete on.  Where Sweetenham, Sutton and British Cycling appear to have missed the point, is that coaching is, and should always be, a two-way relationship.  Whilst exploring the validity of the concept of athlete-centred coaching for my MSc thesis, it became apparent that there has been a shift of both athlete expectations and coach practice that is having a sizable impact on the day-to-day interactions between the two.  If the coach believes that the athlete is either under performing or could achieve higher levels of performance, then this should form part of a coach-athlete discussion which at least explores appropriate methods of bridging that gap.  If extreme levels of encouragement are required, then this should already be by agreement between the coach and athlete.  Nothing between coach and athlete should therefore come as a surprise.

No doubt this topic will rumble on and, sadly, I only have time to briefly introduce my thoughts in these monthly missives.  I therefore remain available to discuss the implications of this and other relevant topics, further with you all by other means.  I will also have to delay reporting on the many other news stories of interest such as the report in last week’s Sunday Times comparing age related marathon performances (this was first reported by Drs Bramble and Lieberman in 2004 and has featured in my running workshops pretty much ever since) and Loughborough University researchers finally accepting that running form is related to running efficiency (ditto).  Take a deep breath, Cowell.  Hopefully, more about both next month.

For now however the focus moves on to the early season training and racing and our athletes are already working hard, recording PBs in a range of disciplines and, in a few cases, qualifying for European and World Championships.  Well done to you all.  We are still busy analysing a range of swim and run video and lactate testing data from the training camp in France (more news to follow) and reviewing food diaries and preparing training plans for the racing season ahead.  In addition, both Sarah and I will be in Glasgow for the 2018 European Sprint Triathlon Qualifier in May (27th), I am penciled in to deliver a workshop at the Ultra Festival in June (3rd/4th) and I will be accompanying Team GB at the Standard Distance Champs in Kitzbuhel (15th – 19th) as the Assistant Manager.  I have been appointed Team Manager for the World Long Distance Duathlon team for September and the sprint Tri team for Glasgow 2018.  A busy summer awaits!

Best wishes to all with your continued racing and training.  Please book any calls, reviews or changes to plans early, especially because of the rapidly filling diary.




Late posting as ever – but March Coaching News is here :)

Coaching News March

This March has become a month for reminders; a reminder that the harder athletes push themselves (or, if you prefer, the harder that coaches push their athletes) then the more at risk they are of injury and illness; a reminder however that if you don’t push yourself as an athlete then you are at risk of not improving; and a reminder that sometimes it can be useful to just escape the linear periodised approach to training and just get out there and crack on with having some fun instead.


In the first instance, and to our disappointment, this has been a tough month for illness and injury.  In one case, the illness may be considered to be the reaction to a demanding training schedule compounded by the additional stressors of work and thus both understandable and, hopefully, controllable through ongoing recovery and realignment of training.  In another instance the injury could be considered a case of over zealous enthusiasm perhaps getting the better of sensible personal administration.  This also can be overcome with a few lessons learnt or at least not repeated again in the future and hopefully full training will resume again shortly.  The third injury has been coming and going for much of the winter and these are the hardest to pin down and thus resolve.  We have an eager athlete, otherwise firing on all cylinders, struggling to overcome an injury.  Or, to be more precise, chasing an injury.  Despite making the necessary adaptations and adjustments to overcome the issue, the injury appears to be on the move resulting in a stop-start approach to training.


Three different issues that are both frustrating and stressful and all requiring a different response.  A coach who doesn’t sufficiently reduce the training load for an athlete in these situations could be considered negligent at the very least.  However, it can also be all too easy to over react in these situations and dial the training back too far resulting in reduced progression.  Historically, in these situations I have tended to be over cautious, relying on the athlete to determine when they feel it is appropriate to return to training.  As much as it is the coaches roll to guide and advise, ultimately the athlete must learn to feel and understand how their body is working and be prepared to make the necessary action or, indeed, inaction as required.  It can take a long time to understand the many nuances of a body, particularly a body under strain and yet as athletes we all need to achieve this level of self awareness.  This is quite a responsibility for any athlete and patience is required.


So, what is the answer when the usual responses appear to be ineffective?  Well, the third reminder this month has been that sometimes you should just get out there and train.  This isn’t a claim for continual unstructured training, but is a call for just occasionally heading into the hills and having some fun.  As multisport athletes, we are advantaged by having three disciplines to play with and, when one doesn’t want to play, we can at least focus on the other two.  To that end, we were delighted to have enjoyed some pretty serious but fun training over the last week in France, particularly in cycling and swimming.


The roads of the Midi-pyrenees are perfect for training on, the best being regularly resurfaced for the Tour de France and the worst still better than much of the UK.  The hills are challenging without being impossible to ride and range from rolling to steady 30 minute climbs.  The descents are sufficiently challenging to allow the development of bike handling skills.  The rides between the vineyards and villages with the occasional coffee stop made for both enjoyable and successful training.  Add in the 50m heated outdoor swimming pool and the running trails and we have the perfect location for some less structured fun to which we will return again soon.


Now it is back to business with the race season upon us and our attention must turn to refining the progress made this winter.  Those few injuries aside, the opening races have been going extremely well and we appear set for a great season ahead.  Please keep up the good work and remain conscious of how your body is working and recovering at all times.