Haute Route: a pro experience at the pointy end of the peloton

So, what is the Haute Route? Well, it’s pretty much the closest an enthusiastic idiot / weekend warrior can get to living the life of a pro cyclist.

The Haute Route is a series of seven day stage races taking place over the Pyrenees, Alps, Dolomites, and Rockies. The seven days of racing sounds tough, but don’t stress, the organisers do give you a ‘rest’ day. However, on that day they also make you do an ITT up a mountain. So, only 60-90 minutes or so of pain rather than 5-6 hours. Mmmm restful. 

Whilst the riding is brutal, with an average stage being around 120km in length and at least 3500m in gain, the organisers do a lot to make life easier for you. They really do make you think you’re riding the Tour De France (other Grand Tours are available), with iconic Mavic cars and bikes patrolling the road to offer assistance, hundreds of assistants martialling the roads  to control junctions and keep you moving in the right direction, and the broom wagon looming large at the back.

With the broom wagon comes the competitive element – the stages are fully timed (bar some dangerous descents, which are neutralised), and you’re awarded a GC position for the week. Competition is super-high, with ex-pros and Olympians rubbing shoulders with amateur road champions and cat 1 racers, as well as the odd broom-wagon dodging overly-moneyed MAMIL on a Pinarello of course.

The Haute Route Pyrenees 2016 was lucky enough to be graced by three Black Line Londoners; Deenzy, Mel, and that new guy who didn’t come to the Box Hill rideout. We all opted to go through the Sports Tours International tour operator,  who do huge amounts to make a stressful week easier; organising airport transfers, briefing you on the stages to come, and most importantly, providing mountain top picnics resplendent with sandwiches and coffee in the neutralised feed zones.

We’d all met and become friends at the 2015 Alps edition, had all placed in strong but not outstanding positions, and so knew what we were letting ourselves in for in 2016. Mel was targeting stage glory in the TT, Deenzy would take whatever an old man can salvage from his decrepit legs and booze riddled innards, and me? Following a summer of training in the mountains and riding in lots of races / grandfondos etc, I thought I’d try to ‘compete’ in the Haute Route rather than just survive it. I knew I wasn’t going to be up there in the top 10% of the peloton, but reckoned I could get a bite of the next slice of the cake.

Having worked my way up to 68th of around 400 riders on GC in the first three stages, day four was my first stage starting in the prestigious top 75 ‘racers’ pen, and ironically enough, my first rideout in my virgin BLL jersey. As I stood in the pen of purgatory, chowing down on a peanut butter, banana, and jam sarnie eyeing my adversaries, nerves were high. I knew the pace would be breakneck from the moment we escaped the neutral zone. My adversaries in the pen looked lean and lithe, and I felt a little like an imposter. The fact that the parcours almost immediately took us over the 19km ascent of the Tourmalet didn’t exactly calm me down.

Team BLL

As expected, the first 10km of the stage leading to the base of the Tourmalet was taken at punishment pace. The pack of 75 looked and felt like a road race, surging up the draggy valley to the start of the col at well over 40km/h. Personal space was at a premium, with touches of knuckles with your neighbour a common occurrence. Just clinging onto the wheel in front over some of the pitches in the road lead me to push well over my power threshold and my heart rate monitor was close to breaking point.

Eventually the inevitable happened – CRACK – the sound of carbon on tarmac. A touch of wheels about 5 riders up the road led to two riders hitting the deck and a shrapnel of bidons, bars and other bits and bobs spilled across the road. I managed to dodge this, but several others were caught up.

Thankfuly the spill calmed the temperament of the bunch and of course, split us up. I found myself in the third group on the road, consisting of riders 30-50th ish on the road. We took the rest of the climb at a hard but achievable pace, and it was certainly something I won’t forget. Like coverage you see of Nairo, Chris, Alberto, Vicenzo and co, we attacked the 10% ramps and swept around the hairpins as one compact unit. There was no benefit to be had from drafting, but the psychological benefit of company, and the desire to keep your enemies close, kept us together.

We were climbing the west side of the col and were enshrouded in shade for the early kilometres of the climb, as the sun rose behind the far side of the mountain. The experience of riding in the lengthening morning shadows as the sun peeked over the summit, climbing through the barren rocks and empty fields of the Tourmalet’s landscape, accompanied only by the noise of burring chains, clicking gear changes and the odd communication between riders, was certainly something I won’t forget. I’m no pro, but it sort of felt like it. Riding further down the field can feel a little like any cyclosportive, with small groups of riders strung along the road. However, being up in the pointy end, riding in well matched and aggressive packs that are truly racing each other, really adds to the pro experience provided by the Mavic cars, marshals and massages etc.

I’m perhaps making the climb sound like some sort of Rapha-esque romanticised vision of a bike ride. This was certainly not the case. As we reached the ever steepening final kms, the attacks went and a few small groups accelerated off the front. Knowing that I was in a field of more accomplished riders than myself, with my legs searing with the lactate of around 80 minutes of hard climbing, I kept my powder dry and stayed with the remnants of my peloton over the crest of the col.

Having grabbed my pre-filled third and fourth bidons off my awesome ‘soigneur’, Roy, from Sports Tours International at the feedstation, zipped up my jersey (no gilets required on a day that reached 40 degrees C) and stuffed a piece of Duo bar down my gob, the breakneck descent followed. Topping out at 80kmph and averaging almost 50kph, this was almost as incredible as the climb.

As to the rest of the day, well, two more climbs followed on a day that reached, in Haute Route terms, a relatively benign 100km and 3,400m in total, and I finished 50th on the day, moving me to 55th on GC.

I faded towards the end of the week as my legs failed to keep up with the abuse dished out to them early in the week, but I finished a pretty pleasing 60th overall. I’d have loved to have breached the top 50, but hanging on to 60th feels pretty good to me. That elusive top 50 will be my project for Haute Route Dolomites 2017…

Jim Cotton

A 100km Run and I’m Not Sure I’ll Make It

UTCT-10

October 2004. London. I’m about to step out the door for a 5km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.

October 2014. Cape Town. I’m about to step out the door for a 100km run and I’m not sure I’ll make it.

The driving factor to get my arse out the door in these two situations was remarkably different, but ultimately, it boils down to one common thread.

The Comfort Zone.

Following that run in 2004, I’ve been extremely privileged to be able to complete many races. Half marathons, marathons, triathlons and a handful of Ironman events. I say privileged because not only is competing in these races expensive; the act of movement is not something everybody gets to enjoy. I’ll stop there before I go too deep.

So why 100km? Over mountains. With a 15 hour time limit? Because that’s exactly what the Ultra Trail Cape Town involves.

That common thread is why. To move outside of my comfort zone. My focus over the last few years has been on Ironman triathlon. The goal of simply finishing my first one quickly moved to finishing the next, and the next, and the next, as fast as possible. Chasing a time. Or a Kona slot (more on this in a future post). Admittedly, there were other, superficial, influencing factors. A first for Cape Town – my ‘hometown’. On ‘The Mountain’. Trail running. A route I’ve invested much time exploring, in awe.

(For the record, Cape Town is trail running heaven. If you don’t believe me, check out my Instagram feed.

Hovering the cursor over the enter button, my mind was clear. It said, “You’re biting off more than you can chew here dude. 100km is a LONG way. I don’t think you can do it.”

Click.

I’m a socially motivated athlete. I obviously compete for ‘myself’ and any pressure to perform comes from within, but I find sharing goals with friends and family massively motivating. That’s why I tend to make a campaign out of it. I guess it’s a poor excuse to rally up support. Or, a way in which I help apply pressure on myself to do something. Ask anyone who’s done a race where they’re able to be tracked and they’ll tell you – it helps to know people are following you online. It keeps you going. Each time you cross a timing matt – they’ll know I’m still going.

Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That’s where #keepgoing came into it. My campaign mantra. My driving force. It’s what I trained my brain to say every time the thought of “This is too hard, just stop” entered my head.

If you asked me to write a report on what I did during my fourteen and a half hours of racing, I couldn’t. Some parts are vivid, others a blur. Even days after, I’m getting flashbacks to experiences of the race. Some that make me smile, others wince. So here’s a short summary…

Making my way to the start line, I bumped into Raynard Tissink doing his final race pack checks. It was good to see Ray as we’d done a route recce together a few weeks before and had agreed to not shave until after the 100km. We wanted to look like ‘proper’ trail runners. The mood at the start was jovial. Still pitch dark, with the nervous flashes of headtorches darting about. Soon we were ambling through the streets of Cape Town, with Ray complaining about the slow pace. Slowly, slowy catch the monkey Ray-man.

Lion’s Head (not the top), Platteklip Gorge (the almost 1 hour climb that gets you to the top on Table Mountain), MacClears Beacon. Not that I could see the beacon. The top of Table Mountain was covered in thick cloud. Thankfully I’d enjoyed the view on other occasions so no view meant I could focus on moving forward.

A few kilometres from the Constantia Nek check point, a friend, Kevin Flanagan, caught up to me, meaning I had some welcome company from the check point, pretty much all the way to Hout Bay (halfway). Running across Llandudno and Sandy Bay beaches was beautiful. The Atlantic Ocean looked massively inviting.

“The first real bit of suffering was soon to follow”

The section off the beach, over Karbonkelberg and down to Hout Bay was painful. Kev started dropping back on the climb. Eventually he’d find a rock, sit down and have a few words with himself. I wanted to do the same. It’s when the doubt set in. Running downhill became excruciatingly painful. And Hout Bay was only halfway. Feeling that sore, with 50km still to go, had me stressed. Keep going. Keep going. KEEP going. I made the 50km check point and with fresh reserves (in my Camelbak), I shuffled out of Hout Bay.

UTCT-11

Constantia Nek, the Constantia winelands, the Contour, the University of CT (UCT). By this point, it was a simple matter of moving from check point to check point. On average, about 8km apart. Coke and water being my saviour. It really is the best sports drink in the world.

Leaving the final check point at UCT was a huge confidence boost. It’s when the belief came back. I wasn’t going to come this far and not finish! The final mountain to climb is the aptly (on this occasion) named Devil’s Peak. I felt like I was in the Devil’s cave. That familiar, dark place. I’d been here before, only this time it was pitch dark. Keep going.

As I ran around the Devil’s Peak contour, the city once again revealed itself. I actually let out a massive WOOOOOOOOHOOOOOO, and proceeded to run off course. Shit. I’d run (downhill) 600m in the wrong direction. It was at this exact point that I learned that the body (and mind) always have more. From struggling to move my legs, the adrenaline kicked in and I started running back, uphill! It felt effortless. I was floating. If I didn’t run, I wouldn’t make the 15 hour cut-off.

As I found my way onto the correct path, I saw a familiar face. KEV! Without a word, we knew the task at hand. 10km to go, less than an hour and a half to make cut-off. I ran that final 10km in absolute fear. Fear of failure. Fear I’d celebrated too early. What a fool.

Only when I turned the final corner onto the finishing field did the fear fade away. 14 hours and 38 minutes. I crossed the line, thanked Kev for the company and doubled over. I stayed like this for a minute or two. Time became irrelevant. I’d done it. Then came the tears. I’ve never been ashamed to admit I’m an emotional being. I wear my heart on my sleeve. Someone in the crowd thought I was retching, when in fact I was sobbing.

I sat down, pulled my phone out for the first time since I’d put it away on the start line, called my parents, and allowed tears of joy to stream down my face as I let them know their son was safely home.

I made it.

UTCT-9

These incredible photo’s were taken by Andrew King.

Kona, Meet Michael. He’s Coming To Visit.

Kona!

I feel it appropriate to start this race report with the word that led me to racing IMUK 2014. In 2012 I raced two iron distance races, the first being Austria which turned out to be a challenging day with some mechanical issues and the goal of going sub 10 hours not being achieved.

Plan B, challenge Barcelona 2012, 9:51 goal achieved, tick!

This was my ironman racing done and dusted; the Kona dream was never really a dream for me and not something I wanted to chase with all due respect.  I love racing, I love the vibe, the competitive nature, the camaraderie and travelling to race destinations with friends & family.  I was not prepared to put more into training with running my own business, ‘wife time’ & other interests!  After 2012 I decided 70.3 distances would be my thing.

Last year a group of us were having a pre-race braai (BBQ) at our villa before Mallorca 70.3 and we were talking Kona. Andy Brodziak, said the following words to me having raced Kona himself, “If you have the ability to qualify for Kona it would be a waste not to use it!” These words stuck with me for some time and the more I thought about it the more the desire started to grow. Having lunch with Raoul de Jongh in Sep 2013 after a run up table mountain, the Kona word came up again. Coming from a man who has done some epic and challenging events, to say that Kona is certainly a must and something that lives up to the hype, my decision was made. I need to get myself to the big island.

IMUK 2014; that’s my race! A hilly bike course, bad roads (equivalent to what we ride in Surrey) and a tough run. The race was entered end of 2013 and I started my planning. I was going to do this properly.  I had a plan! This was now all about Kona.

To add some background, I don’t ride with power, I barely analyse data and I only started downloading my Garmin data three weeks ago. I train on heart rate and feel. When I run I observe my pace but mostly know what pace I am running at due to my effort output. My dad ran 12 comrades marathons (two at sub 6:45 hours) with no heart rate monitor and purely on coke and water. I don’t think he even knows what a gel looks like so maybe this is where I get it from, rightly or wrongly so! My goal over the winter months was to get stronger in the gym to improve my riding. I have always run, since as far back as I can remember. My parents were both runners so that is what we did, we ran. I had never managed a good marathon off the bike and I knew this was due to my bike being my achilles heel. Wayne Smith (who coached me this year) suggested single leg squats and big gear riding. Project “strong legs” became my priority! January and half of February this year was spent in South Africa and I had the privilege of doing some great base training in and around Stellenbosch with Troy Squires. We rode some hard and hot rides on the MTB bikes in the hills of Jonkershoek and some good off road running up and down the Cape Mountains. A solid base was being laid!

When I returned to the UK mid-February, the plan continued…..out on the bike on the weekends and keeping strength work in the gym the priority. At the beginning of March, Wayne Smith sent me my first training program which was simple, consistent training for the next four months. Mallorca 70.3 was part of the training plan and was never a “race” as such. I had a great twelve day block of training with some solid riding (1000kms in 12 days). The race was always going to be a big brick session and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Back in the UK, my block of ironman specific training commenced and I kept to my key ingredient-consistency! The weeks flew past and the training was complete. Before I knew it, I was driving my car up to Bolton and pulling into the car park of the Whites Hotel three days before IMUK.

The time had come.  I was nervous and excited all rolled into one. 3am the alarm went off on race morning, Sunday the 20th of July and I felt calm! I was excited and keen to get going.  After pre-race Breakfast and coffee we were in the car to Pennington Flash, the swim start of what would hopefully be a solid day out. I had specific times for the swim and bike in mind that I wanted to achieve in order to put me in a good position to execute my run……this was all about the run!

6am Craig Alexander sounds the hooter and off we go, the usual chaos of an ironman swim start. Arms, legs, swim over someone, washing machine and finally…into clear water.  I was feeling calm and got into a good rhythm.  1900m done and it was out of the water for the Australian exit, Garmin reads 27.30! I was happy with that, back into the pond with another lap to complete. Exit 59 minutes, I lost some time somewhere on that second lap but sub 1 hour was always the swim goal.

Wetsuit off….helmet on…shoes on and exit T1! Time to be sensible, my motto was to ride like a tourist for the first 120kms.One rider after another past me.  I knew I had to keep calm or perhaps I was riding too slowly? I kept telling myself I will see them on the run… The first lap of the bike went 100% to plan, I saw my support crew (Mary, Tania, Parys and Paula who were incredible!) and gave the “all good signal”.  The second lap and up Sheep house lane I was still feeling good. It was at the 120km mark my legs vanished! The next 60km were categorically the worst 60kms I have ever ridden in any iron distance race. My legs were aching, my heart rate dropped and the power and confidence disappeared. I kept pushing along with my average pace reducing and finally accepted that this was “not to be my day. Thoughts of did I over train, was that long run to close to race day, maybe I am ill? The demons in my head were talking and talking loud. How am I going to finish a marathon feeling like this let alone run the marathon? Into T2 and very pleased to get rid of my nemesis the bike (my slowest bike split in an iron distance race by some margin).

My Garmin file below shows my reduction in pace and a drop off in heart rate: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546910257

Onto the run…..run time is fun time…or is it!? I had a plan; 4.35 min kms and if I was around 10th in my age group at the start of the run I felt I could run myself into a Kona spot. My thoughts at the time were that there was no chance after that bike I could be anywhere near 10th place! My strategy was adjusted and I thought I would catch my friend Phillipe. I knew he biked five minutes quicker than me and so we could then jog the marathon together and accept that I was not good enough on the day for this Kona dream. Soon enough I was running with Phillipe along the tow path. A brief chat and the question of where we might possibly be sitting position wise in our age group. I was managing to hold my target pace and feeling pretty good.  It was perfect timing when my support team appeared. Mary shouted out that I was 12th  in my age group and the information started to materialise. I soon realised that most of the guys had slow bike splits and the ones that went too hard were already starting to fall apart. Like a hound to a blood trail, I knew it was game on and time to dig deep! I never studied our start list and my philosophy has always been to focus on my own race and not on the other guys around me but there was one chap I knew who was on good form after a great race in Mallorca. I predicted him to be a podium finish at IMUK, Roger Barr.  Running down into Bolton for the first time I saw Roger coming up the hill and not looking healthy at all! I knew if I could keep my pace and run sensibly I would certainly be passing him. One foot in front of the other…..step by step.

At this stage I had linked up with a chap called Joe Duckworth, a local lad from Bolton and we were running a similar pace. Joe had already qualified for Kona at IM Wales & was racing Bolton “for fun” (as you do!). We started chatting and working together. Joe gave me the following words of advice that I needed to hear, “MC keeping running like this and you will go to Kona, the guys will fall apart on this course, it happens every year”. It was these words that sealed the deal in my head and my heart. Another lap down and the word was I was 9th….the stress levels in my support crew and those following me online were immense. I knew that I was doing all I could and that I was digging as deep as I possibly could. I was drawing energy and strength from various thoughts, memories and words (as I am sure we all do when deep in the pace cave).  In particular, a running picture my mom sent me of me running on an athletics track when I was eight years old kept coming to mind. Positive thoughts like I have been running all my life and Wayne telling me that the ironman marathon is not about who runs the fastest but who slows down the least is what kept me going.

The final turn in Bolton town, over the cobble stones and back up the long hill for the last time. Everything was hurting; small quick steps, one last climb and back downhill to the red carpet were my thoughts. Slowing slightly up the hill but still maintaining a good pace. At the 37km mark I past Roger and I knew if I was ahead of him, I must certainly be in the mix! I turned at the top and back down to town for the final 3kms, the legs felt strong and the pace was sub 4.30 minute kms . Down into Bolton, back over the cobble stones and floating with each stride as I turned the final bend and down the red carpet to the familiar ironman voice of Paul Kaye.

Marathon time 3hours, 22min. Finally the marathon off the bike I had been hoping for and on a tough run course in the heat (not to mention off a horrific bike).  Job done! The finish line was epic; I had my medal around my neck and got to share Tamsin’s euphoria of winning IMUK on debut.

Most importantly, there they all were, my stellar support team who gave me the news that I had finished 5th in my age group and that MOST likely we will be booking flights to the big Island.  A sense of relief, happiness and also the reality that in 10 weeks’ time I will have to do this all over again for my last ironman dance, Kona;  what a way to complete my ironman journey. What was never my dream was now a dream finish! Those that race Ironman know it’s about overcoming adversity and digging deep.  On a day when I thought my chances of a Kona slot were totally gone, I managed to run myself from 12th in my age group to 5th.

I still maintain that overriding on the bike is our biggest mistake. Ironman racing really is ALL about the run….the first 30kms you run with your head and the last 12 kms you run with your heart and soul.

Below is my Garmin file for the run:

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546951216

IMUK is not one of the exotic IM destinations, but it’s a tough and honest ironman course and that’s why I chose it as “my road to Kona”. The people of Bolton were mega in their support and friendliness. Bolton, oddly now, has a special place inside me. A massive thanks to everyone who played a part in my journey but the biggest thanks must go to Mary who made the same amount of sacrifices as I did to allow me to get myself race ready. KONA BABY!

Follow Michael on Twitter.

New Spotify Playlist

Whether it’s to keep you going on those long runs, get you through the turbo sessions or just to fulfill your musical urges, we can help.

Our newly launched Spotify playlist will bring you cool and fresh tunes, new discoveries, some familiar sounds and a few curve balls. Guitars, choruses and a smattering of bleeps is the vibe and it will be updated regualrly.

So, hit subscribe, sit back and let the good tunes roll.

 

TRX Exercises for Triathletes

Craig EastonCraig Easton is a professional footballer, fitness freak and friend of Black Line London. His playing palmares reads: Scotland U-21’s, Dundee United. Livingston, Leyton Orient, Swindon Town, Southend United, Dunfermline and Torquay United. And in case you weren’t paying attention, HE PLAYED FOR DUNDEE UNITED which makes him a proper legend. In this guest blog, Craig talks about his experience with the TRX training system and suggests some TRX exercises for triathletes.

Craig also has a BA in sports writing, and you should mos def read his excellent blog and follow him on Twitter.

Six years ago I was hanging off my ex Leyton Orient teammate Adam Tann’s creaking living room door trying to execute a low row on the end of a piece of equipment that was a cross between a mountaineering harness and something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Soho basement.  That was my introduction to TRX Suspension Training and I’ve never looked back.  However, I must admit that before I actually tried it, I thought it was just another gimmick.  You know, the ones in the same bracket as those contraptions you see advertised on a loop on channel 4000 in America where someone like Chuck Norris is getting ripped up in their living room and trying to convince you that for a one-off payment of $199.99 you too could have the same sculpted physique as Walker, Texas Ranger.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of Norris’ work, especially in the Delta Force movies, but the fact that the TRX was created by Randy Hetrick, a real-life ex-special forces Navy SEAL, to help keep him and his colleagues combat ready in between missions, did make me curious.  That short introduction in Adam’s front room, where the exercises I tried were so much harder to perform than they looked, was what really made me get involved.  Seven years later and with a massive, dedicated following which includes pro athletes from multiple sports and also a comprehensive in-depth training and education programme, the TRX is certainly here to stay.

I was hooked on it’s simplicity and the fact that you can enjoy a challenging workout anywhere as long as there’s somewhere to hang it, be it a tree in your garden or a hotel door (as long as your wife doesn’t open it in the middle of a chest press or you’ll be eating carpet!).  Over the years, many of my teammates at the various clubs I’ve played for have been curious and after getting them involved in a session, many have ended up buying one for themselves.

 To say football has changed since I was a fresh-faced 16 year old at Dundee United is a bit of an understatement.  The game is faster, players are more mobile and athletic and at a lot of clubs (especially in this country) there is more emphasis placed on the physical side of the game.  Strength and Conditioning in football is no longer just about lifting weights.  With a more scientific approach to modern conditioning methods comes a more functional training perspective and the TRX is certainly all about functionality, making it a perfect tool for footballers.  It’s an important part of my own strength and conditioning regime.  In a typical week with a game on a Saturday, I’ll usually do two to three sessions on the TRX along with one or two traditional weights workouts, depending on how heavy the football sessions have been.

 Every TRX exercise you perform requires core recruitment.  The muscles located around the abdominal region, back, pelvic floor and hips including glutes, are essential for functional movement and injury prevention. During the summer of 2006, when I was playing for Leyton Orient, I had a hernia operation after struggling with groin and abdominal pain for a few months towards the end of that season.  About twelve games into the next campaign, I broke down and the pain was even worse.  I was diagnosed with Osteitis Pubis (inflammation of the pubic symphysis) and ended up being out of action for 8 weeks.

I was lucky enough that our physio, Lewis Manning, was really forward thinking and he got me in to see a guy called Ian Carroll who was doing a lot of work with Spurs and West Ham players at the time.  Basically, Ian opened my eyes to what core stability really was.  It was a light-bulb moment!  Before, I only thought about my main abdominal muscles as being my core and was actually overusing these along with my lower back muscles and in turn, putting strain on other parts of my body including groins and hamstrings.   My core strength was pretty weak.  Basic pelvic floor exercises, low level pilates and swiss ball exercises initially helped me to develop these deep lying core muscles and the TRX has taken this sort of training to another level.

Having a strong core is essential for a footballer; it enables us to balance, twist and turn, hold opponents off, generate power, and stay injury free.  Living next to the sea, I’ve started to swim regularly and with one eye on triathlon when my football career comes to an end, I asked my friend and TRX Master Trainer, Matt Gleed, to help explain the benefits of TRX for a triathlete.  “You get a combination of core stability and core strength allowing you to be more stable when rotating and reaching for a stroke when swimming”, says Matt, “and a stronger core will allow you to hold your aero position on the bike for longer and have a more stable and economical action.  When running, good core stability helps every time you land on a single leg and your core strength allows you to maintain a better posture.”

Using the TRX involves shifting your own bodyweight in a number of different functional ways and according to Matt, this is perfect training for both footballers and triathletes.  “A key factor of using bodyweight is that you can work with a full range of movement that your body gets used to, thus allowing you to move more athletically and efficiently.”  He continues, “You will get stronger, but it’s all relevant to your bodyweight, so when we’re talking about TRX strength, we’re talking about the weight to power ratio and using that power to complete movements relevant to the sport you’re training for.  With TRX, you’re working against gravity, the pendulum principle, and the range of movement.  Different forms of resistance, not just weighted resistance.”

With the TRX there’s no messing about in between exercises, which means no stalling, having a chat and squeezing out that little bit of extra rest time while walking to the next  piece of equipment, and according to Matt this is a bonus especially when training for endurance sports.  It’s not so nice when you’re chalk white and trying to keep your last meal down during one of Matt’s monster sessions.

Because of the minimal change-around time between exercises on the TRX, your body is under tension for the majority of the time plus you’re also getting a good CV workout as well.  Matt explains, “With TRX you can do a jump squat, turn around quickly, put one foot in and do a single leg burpee then lie on the floor and turn over, put your heels in and go straight into a hamstring curl.  The exercises flow into one another more quickly so you build up more repetitions and more time under tension than you would do with traditional strength exercises.”

Many TRX exercises mirror movements that are performed for real in almost every sport.    Some will obviously be more relevant than others, but with a little bit of imagination, you can tweak some of the more basic movements to be even more sports specific.  The almost limitless adaptability of the equipment is what makes it an excellent tool for any athlete regardless of their sport.

Here are Matt’s top three triathlon specific exercises….

 

 

Extremes

Mallorcan Snow

It’s safe to say that most triathletes are extreme. Why else would we choose to do 3 different sports?

I’m a fan of extremes. It follows my nature. It can be a massive plus but also a huge hindrance. But now’s not the time to discuss my issues.

What got me thinking about extremes was yesterday’s run here in Mallorca. With some storm clouds brewing, we decided to can the planned ride and take to a trail that follows a beautiful little river that normally trickles towards the ocean.

5 minutes into the run, the hail came down. At this point, three quarters of the group turned. Sod this. With a few runners off the front, it fell on me to catch up to them to ask if they wanted to continue. With the hail plummeting my head and face, I reached the group. I was greeted with grimaces but their eyes were alive. I didn’t even have to ask.

By the time we walked back into the villa, the river was a torrent. Crossing a small footbridge, I stopped to soak (no pun intended) it all in. Not many people would be seeing what I could see.

This morning we set off for a ride, which scales an 8km climb. Not long after setting off, we turned a corner, which presented the backdrop of a snow-covered mountain. Our rendezvous point. I spent 90% of the time getting to the foot of the climb staring up at the peak. I was mesmerised.

Cars had been stopped but we were allowed to continue. Slowly but surely the snow lining the road got deeper and deeper. I felt giddy. To see and feel the climb in these new extreme conditions filled me with an unbelievable energy.

The buzz amongst the group at the summit was palpable.

It felt special. We were being treated to something out of the ordinary. Certainly for Joe Average that doesn’t leave the couch. We’d achieved.

Life can’t always be extreme. We wouldn’t survive. But when I happen upon these situations, it’s like having the reset button pushed.

We all need our reset buttons pushed once and a while.

 

 

Last Last Last Minute Gift Ideas for Triathletes.

 

Christmas Gift Ideas for Triathletes
Christmas Gift Ideas for Triathletes

Shit!  You have a gaggle of triathletes coming for Christmas and you haven’t got them any gifts.

Panic not, here are 4 very last minute gift ideas for triathletes that don’t require Santa delivery, just a laptop and a credit card.

Tri Harder with Chrissie Wellington by Audiofuel

An excellent package of beats heavy electronic music designed as the perfect warm up, run, ride and relax training sessions with a programmed designed and narrated by Chrissie Wellington.

From £8.99 for an individual session to £39.99 for the full monty podium pack.

A Quality Sports Massage

You can’t beat a great massage from someone who understands what a triathlete puts their body through, but for many it’s one of the things that can seem like a luxry from both a time and cost point of view.

Aurelie Almieda and her team at The Tri Touch in SW London work with some of the best coaches and athletes out there, and know their onions.

Use the ‘book now’ button to go ahead and make someone’s day.

Macca x12 Subscription

You will probably need to really like the person you get this for but for a one off $97US you can kit them up with a fantastic digital tool box of training sessions, tips and insight.

You might find some similar sessions on you Tube, but there are all shot brilliantly, consistently high quality and sessions that will make you hurt.

A Training Peaks Account

One of the best tools any triathlete or cyclist could have, and for you (the gifter) a range of options. If your giftee is not on Training peaks you can set them up on the basic account for free. In fact, you should do that anyway. Then you could choose to upgrade them to the premium edition for a month ($19.95), 3 months ($49), 6 months ($79) or a full year ($119).

And because we are super nice, if you would like to try the premium edition for free for 2 weeks, let us know and we’ll hook you up.

 

Get Plan. Do Plan. Fly.

With the end of the triathlon season now a few weeks behind us, and the fading of the pain, your thoughts might just be turning towards 2013.

Mine certainly has, and ‘The Plan’ is beginning to form.

I’m telling you this for two reasons. Firstly, I’ve found that if you tell lots of people you are going to do something and then don’t do it, you look like a tool. So avoiding that scenario is pretty good motivation. Secondly, I’ll be writing, posting and Tweeting the shit out of all of this, so consider it a heads up.

Run More:

My 2012 season was defined by poor running, so improving that is key. I don’t really enjoy running, and certainly didn’t run enough in 2012. So I’ll be addressing that by getting more miles in my legs. And to really kick start that I’ll be doing #50Runs#50Days, starting soon – look out for lots of Tweets about that.

 Get Strong:

Like most people I probably know enough about strength and conditioning to be dangerous but not enough to really nail it. I want to be sure I’m getting the most possible gain from the time I spend on it and have benchmarks along the way to measure by. and So I’ve booked a session at  St Mary’s University for a full physio assessment and strength and conditioning clinic.

Bike Race:

Why the hell not?! It looks like great fun and can only make me a better biker. I’ve got my Cat 4 racing license and hope to try and do some winter crit racing.

In addition, I’ve entered some mountain bike races. Again, mostly for fun and I figure a great way to keep it interesting and develop some bike skills over winter.

Become a Training Peaks super user:

I love Training Peaks. It’s a fantastic training tool and not only is there a great free version, it just works. I’m drawn to data, it appeals to me and I think provides measurable benchmarks in training and performance. So, I pledge to really get under the skin of this brilliant tool and share tips, experiences, data files and insight from all of the above along the way.

So these are the things I will be building my season around, starting now. I’d love your comments, questions and maybe even your participation…..

What’s your plan?