Mark’s Musings – How to be a long term triathlete?

How to be a long term triathlete?

In a World where everything is at our fingertips and we are told we can do things in less time for better results, I wonder if we have lost the ability to focus on the long term game.  There are so many companies promoting products that make things easier, get results quicker and save that one commodity we all struggle with, time.

The advent of technology is great.  We live in a fast-paced world and there is so much we can do more efficiently to save time.  Save time, save time, save time, it’s common message thrown at us and for the most part I think that is okay. Time spent with loved ones or doing the things you enjoy in my humble opinion is what we remember on our deathbed.

However for long terms success and enjoyment as a triathlete it is time that we must put in. Daily, weekly, monthly and yearly consistent training will yield the results we seek.  The nature of the sport is such that overnight or quick success doesn’t really happen. Look at some of the results athletes into the 40’s are achieving.  It’s amazing when it was once considered that anything over 30 was a veteran and you were past your best.

So if we are to be a long term triathlete what does that involved? How do we can maintain a healthy and consistent training routine, keep enjoying the sport and stay engaged in the process of continual improvement.  For me the top 5 ways to be a long term triathlete are:

1. Firstly it has to be about enjoyment.  That can have different meanings for different people but those who love the process and challenge around swim, bike and run will from what I have seen have a long and successful ‘career’ as a triathlete.  Find good training partners, nice training locations and do races that challenge you and make you look forward to it.
2. I think it is crucial to take regular breaks. Giving yourself a break physically and mentally is so important to achieving long term success.  Our body needs and craves it especially after a hard block of training.  It’s okay to not swim, bike and run for a while so that enjoyment level never goes away.
3. Take a long term view when you start the sport. Don’t go too hard too early.  It can be so easy when you start triathlon do go a million miles an hour.  I’ve seen many take this approach only to be completely burnt out after a couple of years.  Pace yourself and think long term.  You’ll get the best results doing in that way
4. Being a triathlete doesn’t define you as a person. We are human’s first and family, friends and experiences are what we should be focusing on.  I personally find it very refreshing when you can social with triathletes and triathlon is not the main topic of conversation.
5. Set new challenges and goals along the way.  One of the great things about this sport is the variety of different events and races that one can choose from. Sprint distance to ultra events and everything in between.  The daily process of working towards a goal is for me the real joy in triathlon. That and getting uber fit!!

Mark’s Musings – Confidence and its impact on our performance

 

CONFIDENCE

When I first started full-time triathlon coaching some 10 years ago I thought that to be a good coach you had to be a good athlete. Even a World Class athlete to be a really good coach.

And it’s fair to say whilst I have had some reasonable results at age group level and achieved some reasonable results also at running none of my results were really enough to write home about.  I was certainly not an elite or professional standard and never would be.

At that time when I started my coaching business, there was only a handful of coaches and squads in the Brisbane area. And the two biggest squads had coaches that were both ex-elite and very accomplished world-class triathletes and were running successful age group squads.  I was constantly questioning myself and lacking confidence in my coaching ability because I was naively comparing myself to them in a negative way.

My thought process was that these guys were former World class elite athletes and I was just an average age grouper. How could I possibly coach as well as them?  This was further emphasised early on when I had an athlete say to me, “why would I get you to coach me when I go to those guys.”  And who was I to argue?

However deep inside I knew I had the ability to be a very good coach. I had come from a background of coaching in swimming and running plus had spent time teaching at the Police Academy. Although all through those times I still lacked confidence and I definitely think it held me back.

But over time and just by doing my confidence improved. I started to believe in myself more and started to think I could be a good coach.  Coaching on a daily basis, learning from my numerous mistakes and having athletes under my influence achieve results all lead me to have more confidence in my ability.  Familiarity breeds confidence!

I see triathletes of all levels suffer from this lack of confidence. You can see that deep inside they know they can do it but whether it be comparing to others and not just exposing themselves more to uncomfortable situations their confidence never really improves like it should.

On the start line of a race if you’re feeling confident you can guarantee that your race will more often than not go to plan. However, if there is a lack of confidence the negative thoughts can take over the process.  And then it becomes a true battle between the good and the bad.

Start doing, don’t compare and constantly challenge yourself. It’s amazing that such simple actions can have a profound impact on our confidence and then our ability.

Mark’s Musings – Progress Not Perfection

As human beings we’re all flawed, we all have battles and challenges we need to overcome. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of triathlon can be a quest for perfection both during training and racing. Perfection is impossible to achieve; it should never be a goal.  

Leading into a major race, such as Cairns this weekend, thoughts of attaining perfection are only going to have an adverse effect on your race day performance. What we should be aiming for is progress, not perfection. As long as we have positive forward progress in training, we should feel comfortable that we are ready. 

For age group triathletes, there is far too much outside of training which requires our attention and focus. Whether it be family, work or other life commitments, sometimes our training will be compromised. This is OK and completely normal. I certainly find I race best when I have a balance in life and when I’m not singularly focused on an event. Once the race is over I am still a husband, father, son, brother, friend, and coach. In fact, I am all of those before I am triathlete. That doesn’t mean I don’t give it my absolute best in training and racing, but I have long realized a quest for perfection is a quest that is doomed.  

Many triathletes, being the successful people they are, often struggle with this concept. I can guarantee that they will never race to their potential as a result. So, as you look back and reflect on the training leading into a major race, don’t look for perfection but rather progress.

Mark’s Musings – Be Grateful

JC Baltz and son Ben

Mark’s Musings – Excuses

Mark Testing VO2

Mark’s Musings – Answers

Answers

I have previously alluded to vomiting problems experienced during long course racing.

The issue has been detrimental to my last two IM campaigns at Cairns (2015, 2016), as well as a few 70.3 races. 

It has twice cost me a Kona slot so I knew I had to be more proactive ahead of this year’s Cairns campaign and try harder to understand the cause. 

Supported by Sally Garrard, from Apple to Zucchini nutrition, I have been working with a range of other health experts.

Sally suggested I meet with Rebecca Elkington, from Sprouts Dietetics on the Gold Coast, as Rebecca has worked with Melbourne’s Monash University studying this specific problem. 

We also approached Mark Barrett and the team from Physiologic at Robina to undergo detailed testing.

Mark Testing VO2Once we had collected my results from basal metabolic and VO2 max tests, I was required to perform a three-hour treadmill run at 60 per cent of my VO2 max. 

I had breath analysis readings recorded, blood glucose levels measured, and ingested a mixture of fluid-based carbs for the first two hours followed by water only for the final 60 minutes. 

Heart rate, weight loss and hydration were constantly monitored and the results are very interesting. 

  1. At a heart rate of 140, my stomach shuts down and won’t take in any more calories. This explains the cause of my vomiting towards the end of the bike leg and during the run when my heart rate starts to climb. My maximum heart rate is around 200 and I aim to ride the bike in IM at 135-145hr (I averaged 137hr during Cairns, 2016).
  2. My sweat loss and dehydration levels are off the charts. In the three-hour treadmill run, my dehydration levels were 3 per cent. “Normal” is considered 1 per cent. Despite drinking a lot during the treadmill test, I still lost almost 3kg.
  3. When my stomach shuts down, the pressure on my heart is enormous and so all available blood will go to the brain and heart as a protection mechanism. When this happens during an IM, I am risking small intestine failure and subsequent emergency surgery.
  4. We’re not sure if it is dehydration or intensity causing my stomach to shut down at a 140 heart rate. I suspect and hope it is dehydration as this can be improved through training.
  5. I need 1.5 litres of fluid per hour during the Ironman bike and run while all calories must be in the form of fluids because of stomach sensitivity and a need to restrict concentration levels.
  6. My fat oxidization is in the elite range and my Vo2 max is 62 which is reasonable for an age group athlete. So the engine is there and the mind is willing but a seriously high sweat rate and a dodgy stomach may yet determine the outcome no matter how fit or determined I am.

What’s next?

Rebecca told me that to get through Ironman Cairns without vomiting I am going to need to keep my heart rate at 140 or under. 

Mark Kona TrainingWill this allow me to go fast enough to secure a Kona spot? Within this heart rate limit, I know I can swim between 55-60 minutes depending on conditions while last year I cycled 5.11 with an average heart rate of 137. 

So my swim and bike will get me within striking distance but is a 140bpm heart rate going to allow me to push in the marathon? 

Ideally, I would like to run at 145-155hr which I would think is normal under the strain of fatigue, heat, sweat loss and other racing stresses. 

However, we now know that any higher than 140hr and my stomach won’t accept the calories so the vomiting begins. 

In 2016, I vomited my way through 42km of running and recorded a time of 3.57 with a heart rate of around 145-160.   In 2015 my marathon was 3.36 but the vomiting was not quite as bad however I rode 5.30 that day at exactly the same average HR of 137. 

Both Cairns Ironman campaigns have seen me finish around 10 minutes’ shy of a Kona spot and were it not for the vomiting, I know I would have already reached my goal.   

It’s not in my nature to give up or die wondering so my challenge is to see how fast I can be at 140bpm heart rate, on the bike and run especially.

How do I do that? 

I need to get lean. In 2015, I raced at 76kg and last year I was 74kg.

Mark Turner AFL UmpireThis year I need to be under 70kg and be as lean as I was over a decade ago when I was an AFL umpire. I was 76kg this morning. 

For the first time, I’ll get a meal plan from Sally to shred the excess body fat and be as lean as possible. 

This will also help with sweat rate due to a smaller body mass to cool.

I then need to be as efficient as possible in the swim, bike and run.

Basically, I am going to have to do all the one percenters across the board. 

Stretching, trigger point, core, specific zone training, strength work and more importantly regular mindfulness exercises to be ready for race day. 

During the event, I’ll use Produrance from Pro4mance sports nutrition to absorb all calories via 1.5 litres of fluid per hour. I’ll use a camel back system while running to ensure I also get the adequate fluids and calories.

I am accepting this as a great challenge. How fast and efficient can I become at the maximum level my body allows me to function? 

If it is fast enough to gain a Kona spot then great but if not, the improved knowledge and experience will significantly assist my work as a coach.

Mark’s Musings – Tiredness

Bribie Island TriathlonWhen I started writing these articles, blog posts or reflections, I had ambitions of penning and sharing my thoughts on a more regular basis. However, I also want my writing to have some relevance and meaning, not just fill space. It’s about making sure I have something to say that people may be interested to learn. Recently, I tried a video log but felt like an idiot speaking into a camera in the middle of nowhere on a bike. I have also found my message is clearer when I write it down and it is then edited for me to review. After last year’s series of ‘Mark’s Musings’, I received some really positive feedback.

It’s probably no coincidence that I find myself becoming more reflective in another build up to Ironman Cairns. This is the third consecutive year I am doing Ironman Cairns and every time I learn something new. Whether it is as a coach or an athlete, I walk away having learnt a lot. 

I have previously alluded to being a reflective person by nature. I feel things very deeply, can be quite emotional and often question myself. Am I being a good father, husband, son, brother, coach, friend? Am I making a difference to the world around me? Shouldn’t we look back on our time on this planet and be able to say we made life better within our circle of influence? We all leave this place the same way but our legacy, how we are remembered and how we positively impacted others is up to us. 

I have learnt that when I start to naturally question myself and my purpose, the answer I get is very different depending on how tired I am. In previous articles, I touched on how I have been affected by fatigue and how much of it was emotionally-based from not admitting to myself that I was suffering from depression. For years I worked and trained hard, ignoring a need to accept it was ok to feel. I needed to accept that asking for help was not being mentally weak. Once I did this, my energy levels improved and I was a completely different person. My relationships improved, my coaching improved, and my purpose and clarity for life improved.  

work life balanceFor years I was just plain tired and couldn’t think straight. I made poor decisions personally and professionally, and were it not for my amazing wife and family I wouldn’t be in the position I am today. I have learnt that when I am tired, I need to be mindful of what I think and the things I say and do. This is especially important for triathletes when training for an Ironman, or even just training for triathlon in general, as it can deplete our system if we push too hard. Hormonally, emotionally and physically we are compromised when in hard training. Being able to recognise this is the key to maintaining a healthy balance between family, work and training. Learn to know when to rest, when to take it easy in a session and when to say sorry to loved ones because you are cranky and tired from training. 

I still get tired however that’s life. It could be professional demands or an unsettled child at night, but we all get tired. Remember this tiredness is going to be enhanced when we’re training for an Ironman. I have learnt from my past mistakes not to make any important decisions when I’m tired. More importantly, I know when to rest. If I am thinking like a drunk sailor then I need to take it easy for a couple of days, get some sound sleep and not make too many decisions.