Coaching News – April

As the numbers of coached and tested athletes at Applied Triathlon has increased, the range of experience of athlete has broadened.   Therefore, we increasingly find ourselves trying to ascertain the most effective way of both establishing the most appropriate training for this widening range of individuals as well as redefining our justifications and explanations for delivering that training.  Where running form is concerned, however, we keep going full circle.  No matter how much we explore the current academic literature and coach education guidance, we become more concerned by the inconsistencies we find.  Of course, we continue to make revisions to our coaching model as we discover more about this complex subject, and continuous learning certainly takes place.  However, the more we read and observe, the more confident we become that our approach to Natural Running Form is heading in the right direction.


Running is often considered to be simple activity – what Olympian Ron Clarke once described as putting one foot in front of the other and repeat.  It is generally understood that those with the best running genes who train the hardest are most likely to win.  However, running can almost certainly be described as a skill and this means that there must be a right or most effective way to do it.  Running is however a skill that is rarely effectively taught.


All runners have stylistic differences – coach education confirms this – but it is the similarities which are important.   On closer inspection the best runners pretty much all do the same thing – foot contact, stance, toe off –  with less able runners completing the same process but less efficiency and less effectively.  Good runners are graceful; their running looks effortless and they (nearly) always look like good runners.  Ancient Greek paintings of runners display a similarity of running form whether depicting fast or slow running which is very similar to how Mo Farah runs.  There is an accepted link between consistency of training and performance but is there a link between consistency of form and consistency of training?


Conversely, less efficient runners look like poor runners and their running form often differs according to their running pace.  Despite the development of modern running shoes, improvements in coach education (both in content and methodology) and increased scientific understanding, injury rates remain consistent across the endurance running community.  Some of these injuries can be associated with differing form and therefore, is there a link with inconsistent form and increased risk of injury?


There are contradictory view points on what constitutes good running form, with opinion varying from “running style [being] ordained at birth” through to “stature and development” and thus currently there is no accepted (academic or coach) model of running that depicts good form.  This lack of a model has resulted in the force production concept of running remaining in vogue in coach education for the development of endurance athletes.  In simple terms, force is applied beneath and behind the runner to create propulsion.  This application of force comes at the price of greater ground reaction forces however, and therefore modern running shoes are provided with appropriate cushioning to reduce the effect this has on the runner.  This good intention of the added protection in the cushioned running shoe has however produced unintended consequences.  It has restricted sensory feedback, increased muscular atrophy of the key running muscles and enabled maladapted people to allow running with a heel striking action.  The increased impact transient as a result of heel striking is known to be a contributory factor in running injuries.  Combined with the modern lifestyle, the modern running shoe has allowed us to exceed our biomechanical capabilities in the search of running increased distances and intensities.


The recent barefoot running trend (better described as the re emergence of the minimalist running shoe) was borne out of identifying the need to reduce the risk of injury for endurance runners.  However, the trend is now pretty much gone, without establishing a legacy worthy of the initial noise it briefly made within the running community.  Efforts by authors of such work as Running Form (Danny Abshire), Chi Running (Danny Dreyer) and The Pose Method (Dr. Nicholas Romanov), with additional research by evolutionary biologist Professor Daniel Lieberman, established a plausible case but this was perhaps undermined by academic researchers not finding sufficient supporting evidence for the barefoot concept within the laboratory.


It could be more strongly argued however that the failing of this movement was more in the inability of coaches and athletes to translate the drills and movements successfully into their everyday running without compromising their current level of performance.  Or indeed risking injury, which was counter-productive to the initial objective of runners changing running form, especially by those who forced the pace of transition.  Such impact as remains has probably been to encourage athletes and coaches to focus a little more on running form in training as opposed to outright performance, but it has been unclear which of the drills are appropriate for whom and how these drills are to be integrated into the actual process of running.


Lieberman states that it is becoming increasingly more certain that western society is suffering from two modern afflictions:  a surfeit of highly calorific, readily available foodstuff and [leading] an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.  For long-term well being, this is proving to be a deadly combination.  Running remains the most easily accessible and potentially effective antidote to both.  However, the misunderstanding of appropriate drills leading to the misguided coaching of running is not only unlikely to effectively support those who currently run, but is also unlikely to encourage those who really need to participate in this most natural of activities.


Therefore, we shall continue to try to understand which drills work and why and to offer an easy to follow, safe and appropriate model of running for our athletes and non athletes to follow.  In time, with further understanding, there is no reason why running cannot be considered comparable to other skills.  Runners could be taught to effectively tune into the process and learn to consciously control running until the new form becomes a part of the subconscious.


Here endeth the sermon for today!  In other news, Applied Triathlon is now a Triathlon England registered triathlon club and all coached athletes can consider themselves to be club members.  To take full advantage of this, please join Triathlon England as an individual member and annotate Applied Triathlon as your club.


We have events a plenty on the horizon, lots more athlete testing and analysis to complete and our Monday swim slot at Woodgreen Leisure open air 50m pool to look forward to!  Please keep up the good training guys!







Coaching News – March

Well, what a month this has been.  Sadly, in most cases, we have not been able to put all the hard work in training into practice this month due to the weather which has resulted in multiple race postponements.  In duathlon in particular, we are used to the weather interfering with races, but I do not recall an occasion when so many events have been cancelled or postponed.  Not only does this cause problems for scheduling the re arranged events, we lose out on the opportunity of proving the effectiveness of the winter training.  All is not lost however, as you have all worked very hard to ensure that you have maintained your training wherever possible.  Training indoors may not always be as effective as getting outside but I am confident that many of your fellow competitors have simply been striking through their training with another missed session and so I am very pleased that you have all continued to stick with it despite the conditions.


That said, we have seen some strong racing performances this month both before the weather deteriorated and yesterday at the National Duathlon Championships.  Progress has been made across the board and, the training data has supported the potential for improved performance where athletes haven’t been able to race. Therefore, we must push on and realign the training for the next set of objectives and rely on the training data assuming that this would have translated into improved performances in every case.


What then still awaits us this year?  Next up are the early season marathons with athletes running at both London and Manchester – good luck guys!  Then the focus switches to the European Middle Distance Duathlon championships followed a few weeks later by the World Standard and Sprint Distance races, both events being held in Denmark.  During this period, I will continue to run bike lactate testing from the clinic at Weedon and will be leading bike recces over the UK Ironman course at Bolton for those who are targeting this as their main event this year.  For those aiming to race in the triathlons at Tartu and Glasgow in July and August (or Bolton) or trying to qualify for next year’s triathlons, I have now confirmed the booking at the 50m heated, open air pool in Banbury on Monday evenings.  This session is available to all levels of swimmers with an emphasis on stroke improvement initially, followed by conditioning later in the season.  There may be the opportunity for video analysis, but this is still being negotiated at present.  For those awaiting a swim video analysis session at Tiddenfoot, this has been penciled in for Saturday 14th April.  Any takers for either sessions should contact me soonest, please.


For the Long Distance Duathlon team, the first round of qualification has now been completed – congratulations to all.  Please note that the next cut off for discounted race entry is in a few days’ time.  Please don’t miss out!  I will soon be trying to get confirmation of the second run course from the race organiser for this year so that we can prepare the appropriate training.  The last-minute changes last year certainly affected performances across the board!  More news on this will therefore follow.


A much less controversial newsletter this month and I will have to postpone the answer to the question received a couple of weeks ago as to why we test for lactate threshold and turn points rather than VO2.  There is a short answer to this question, however, I would rather explain it in more length in my response.  What spare time we currently have has been taken up with both coaching and reviewing my work on Natural Running Form.  We continue to operate a programme of continuous improvement on all the work we undertake and I have recently returned to the topic of running form to both improve the quality of our analysis as well as improve the clarity of the reporting.  The ultimate objective is to not only report on what we discover on each individual athlete within our analysis, but also to produce a visual model of what we perceive good running form to be.  This is no small task and is certainly proving to be one of the most challenging and yet exciting tasks we have undertaken.  It will certainly save me from having to do some of my own training for a while and so I will have to continue to train vicariously through all your efforts!


Please keep up the hard work.








Coaching News February

I had intended to write about other matters this month, however, I received a lot of feedback including some questions on last month’s musings (, and therefore I have decided to respond to this first.

I am reliably informed that the rats chosen for the experiments were young and male and the main question raised last month was whether the outcome would be the same had the rats been female.  Sadly, I simply do not know.  As yet, I haven’t had the wherewithal to track down any specific research (of which there is an awful lot with whole journals assigned to the subject) and in truth, I am not a fan of laboratory-based research on mammals.  Rodents they may well be, but rodents form over half of the world’s mammal types, and over 100 million mammals are used in laboratory testing every year.  This fact always leaves me feeling just slightly queasy.

My guess is that the result would be different with female rats.  Exactly what form this difference would take, I do not know, but I do know that this answer exposes me to the risk of being accused of applying stereotypical beliefs to these complex biological and social interactions.  In today’s politically correct climate, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discuss differences between the sexes.  Even from a scientific standpoint with appropriate research data to support the intrinsic differences, this is currently treacherous territory and, in Canadian and American universities at least, such discussion is potentially career ending.

The stated aim of this particular piece of post-modernism is to achieve equality of opportunity for women and thus this appears a laudable objective.  At face value, you would think therefore that understanding and, better still, celebrating the differences between men and women may actually increase the likelihood of successfully facilitating this outcome.  If you can recognise the differences, you can establish which of these are significant and make the necessary allowances and or adjustments to overcome them.  However, on closer inspection, by denying that evidence exists, it is becoming apparent that it is in fact equity (equality of outcome) which is the post-modernist goal.  To understand the difference between equality and equity or, more importantly, the dangers of equity from a coaching perspective, we need to bring the conversation back onto common ground and an example which I regularly introduce into both my coach education and Natural Running Form workshops.

Under the current climate of social culture, certain ultra-running races are under pressure to provide equal numbers of male and female participants on start lines at their events.  So, why is it that currently more men sign up for these events than women?  If you compare men and women in a very general sense, then you will discover much overlap of attributes including many aspects of physiology and other biological characteristics.  This is a very useful thing to understand when preparing training for athletes.  However, it is when you turn your attention to interests that the real differences appear and, it is at the extremes of characteristics and interests, that the significant differences begin to manifest themselves.

Those women who are interested in ultra-running, also happen to be very good at it.  I would guess that if you even suggested that anyone had levelled the playing field for the likes of Ann Trason, Nikki Kimbell or Jenn Shelton to achieve success in their chosen field then this would both genuinely cause offence and devalue their achievements.  These women may be at an extreme end of the ultra-running scale, however I have chosen the extreme for a reason.  In a reflection of life, athletic competition also selects for extremes.  Therefore, although when at the height of their competitiveness, these three could arguably (and often did) win any race they entered, they tended to be lone women amongst a large and equally competitive field of male runners.  Unfortunately, this will remain the case until such time as more women have an interest in running rather than through social manipulation of start numbers.

As with your own athletic successes, had you known you needed to do less to achieve, not only would this devalue the achievement but it would also risk diminishing the goal setting and preparation in the first place.  This reduced challenge, I would argue, would result in none of you taking up the challenge in the first place.  Thankfully, among my athletes, I am blessed with a 60:40 ratio in favour of women, all of whom already display the necessary characteristics and interest in athletic achievement.  To underline this point, congratulations to Helen Sahgal, who is certainly getting back to the top of her game, running an early season 38:55 at Oulton Park last week to win the women’s race; also to Kathryn Hanson whose gutsy performance along with husband Ian, earned her yet another iron distance finisher’s medal at Challenge Wanaka in New Zealand!

Closer to home, spring is hopefully just around the corner, but please take care during this period of extreme weather.  This is no time to take risks and we can always pick up the pace as the weather improves.  Many of you have races coming up ranging from qualification duathlons to both Manchester and London marathons.  I am therefore now fine tuning your tapers but will be doing so over the next few days from the pool side in Lanzarote.  We have such a busy period ahead that we must make some room for a couple of days off now.  I will of course have the tools of my trade with me, but there may be a slight delay in responses to questions and feedback.

Enjoy the snow!



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.