a journal - cycling, sociology, social media

Sunday 29 November 2020

Tri Trilogy - Episode 3: - 'Big Ticket' items that make the difference.

This is the final part of a three episode Tri series, you don't have to read the others: Episode 1 How Hard Can It Be ? Episode 2 The Training, but this post will probably make a bit more sense if you do (no pressure) and as promised we are going to look at some of the things that really made a difference in the rapid transition that @jackrees1989 made from high level racing cyclist to competitive triathlete. I say final episode but we've decided to devote another post sometime in the new year to bike set up and aerodynamics which we were going to include here but it was going to get a bit too long. All three topics today are relevant for anyone who is serious about improving their performance in endurance events, from Park Runs to Ironman triathlons. So todays three key pillars of successful  race performance are: specificity, heart rate variability/health and wellbeing and running shoe technology. 

While we were working on this post I decided to dig out some of my old training diaries just to see how Jack does things now compared to how I (we) used to do things just a few years ago. I have always thought that I had recorded my training data quite well as I religiously kept 'page a day' training diaries for over 20 years however, a quick look through some of them doesn't reveal much other than distance, time and overall volume, there is very little in the way of detail at all, especially in relation to what I was trying to focus on and even more crucially on how I was feeling and if I was recovering. This has confirmed what I have come to realise with the benefit of hindsight, that basically I didn't know what I was doing ... to myself.

To say I didn't know what I was doing may be being a little harsh because from one the diaries, not sure which one, dropped this piece of paper. My only 'plan' in those days was pretty basic and amounted to just doing as much training as I possibly could, not very scientific, but it would appear from this that I was for at least some of the time following some solid training principles, that are actually just as relevant today as they were then. Having said that, in my case the R for recovery should probably have been in much bigger letters and in BOLD - highlighted and underlined ! A bit of a coincidence though  ... or is it ? that at the top of the list is specificity, over to Jack to bring things right up to date.

Specificity and Periodisation

It's a given that training needs to be tailored to the demands of the event (any event) and in triathlon that should include sessions that replicate race intensity and above across all three disciplines. The swim is a little more complex with technical guidance and practice being arguably, as, if not more important than volume and intensity. With workouts becoming more specific as the event gets closer, what do we mean by specificity ? In part it means having a plan and sticking to it, without deviation and one of the most important aspects of this is maintaining intensity discipline. With performance at middle to long distance triathlon, the 'north star metric' across the bike and run disciplines is performance at Aerobic Threshold/LT1. For this reason if you’re able to devote 15hrs+ to training, following the 80-20 polarised model is the most effective method, 80% of training volume at moderate intensity 20% at high intensity. For more on this follow this link  Polarized Training, a conversation with Stephen Seil  JR

Intensity discipline particularly on the bike is key but it must be complimented with a focus on the specific demands of an effective race day performance such as pedalling technique and pace focus and crucially maintaining the aero position whilst at the same time keeping the training stress constant. But this emphasis on the specifics will only result in peak race day performance with a taper of training volume in the lead up to the event. JR

Because competition frequency in cycling is so much higher I hadn’t really used a tapering model before, normally just reducing load and “freshening up” in the lead up to and event. However there is now a significant evidence base around the effectiveness of tapering. In triathlon, at middle to long distance, my approach will be to adopt a linear tapering model, reducing training load in advance of the competition, with a reduction in overall training volume of 40-60%, whilst maintaining intensity. Taper length will be dependant on event priority, from seven, increasing to ten days. JR

HRV /  Health and Wellbeing 

I have used a Whoop strap for about 18months well before I embarked on the multisport journey. I paid some attention to it but didn't really follow it closely but I liked that it synced my sleep duration with Training Peaks. Once I began incorporating running into my training I wanted to try to gauge the additional stress and impact it was having on me. There hasn't been much academic research done yet relating to the reliability of devices like Whoop and Oura rings and the evidence on their reliability is a bit mixed, but for me the metrics it provides particularly the “recovery score” is very reflective of how I feel day to day. JR

Because of the increased demands of multisport training, particularly combined with a busy life, it is very easy to over do it. Using Whoop and HRV (heart rate variability) as a guide has enabled me to create a better platform for performance. For those not familiar with Whoop it tracks HR 24/7 and provides a recovery score upon waking. The score can be split into colours, red – under recovered, yellow – adequately recovered, green primed and fully recovered. Using this as a guide I adopt a flexible training schedule, doing my hardest and most demanding days when I wake to a green score, and scaling right back if I wake to a red score. JR

A one week example of of Whoop daily recovery data. I tailor my training based on the recovery score for the day. During the week above I moved the training that I had planned for the Wednesday back to Friday and made Wednesday a complete rest day and during the day I focussed more than usual on hydration and made sure that I went to bed 30 minutes earlier than normal. JR

A sleep data page from the Whoop App, one of the key findings for me from using Whoop was that I had assumed, wrongly, that time in bed equated well to time asleep and rest, it doesn't. The focus on the metrics Whoop provides has also encouraged me to implement strategies in my day to day life to improve recovery, these include, reduced alcohol consumption and pre-sleep stretching. Whoop asks for tracking of different factors as part of its journal, for me my sleep and recovery score shows a pattern of being better following a period of pre-sleep stretching, improved night time routine, waking and sleeping at consistent times, darker sleeping environment and lower bedroom air temperature along with better hydration during the day. JR

Using the Whoop has definitely helped and I have found that there is a clear alignment between doing the above and a higher recovery score. This not only translates into better performance in a training, but also in a work capacity, with noticeably improved productivity, clarity of thought and focus each day. JR

Whoop as a company have seen tremendous growth, and they recently announced a sponsorship of EF Education First Pro Cycling and reported some interesting patterns and trends from their riders competing at the Tour de France Whoop: How strenuous is the Tour de France JR

What is HRV?

HRV is a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response.

Our brains are constantly processing information in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Through the ANS, the hypothalamus sends messages around the body, either to stimulate or to relax different functions to maintain balance. It responds not only to quality of sleep but every stimulus that we encounter and too much stimulus causes an imbalance and the fight-or-flight response is activated.

HRV is a convenient way of identifying ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears and be more resilliant and flexible. 

If you want to learn more about the benefits of HRV monitoring hit this link here Whoop Locker

Shoe Technology 

In the past two years running shoe technology has increased exponentially. Without going into too much detail (Developments in carbon plate running shoes) the advent of carbon plated running shoes, which provide stability on top and increase the shoe's stiffness, creating a smooth transition and adding a sensation of propulsion, run performances have seen a marked improvement. These shoes take some adapting to, for me it took 5 months of consistent running to adapt to the demands but on all my road runs I now train in carbon plated shoes. From an injury prevention and adaptation stand point I think this is important as there is a marked difference between carbon plated and none carbon plated shoes. Although Nike are the market leaders every major brand now has a carbon plated offering and the majority offer a race version and a training version with heavier weight and more cushioning. JR

There is a reason why many of the worlds elite runners race in these shoes and it's energy return that makes these shoes so ground breaking, sandwiched between the foam is a lightweight carbon plate and the two elements work in tandem to deliver propulsion, equating to extra distance with every stride, simply put, more speed ! JR 

Research has shown that these shoes can improve running economy by 4%. One of the first studies completed in 2017 by the Journal of Sports Medicine at the University of Colorado Boulder 'Locomotion Lab' every one of the 18 runners tested had better running economy (the energy needed to run at a given pace) in the Nike Vaporflys. Some of the runners improved by 1.59% while others by 6.26% which is where the shoe name came from, yes, the average improvement was 4%. 

The bottom line is that if two runners of equal ability were to race each other the runner in the Vaporflys would have a 4% advantage. JR

That's all for this week and thanks for reading.

You can find Jack here:  

Enso Human Performance @ensohp 

Hoao Multisport @hoaomultisport



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