On Friday, I was lucky enough to have lunch with one James Cunnama. Our banter varied from everything to nothing and so much in between. Having been fast friends for years, there is a natural comfort in our banter.
One of the highlights of our chat was the idea of a yard stick for every athlete. James mentioned that in his training, a yard stick is a crucial reference point for him to know how he is going in his preparations for world domination.
By yard stick, I am really terming the word “training partner” into something that we use as a measure, a reference and a guide. This training partner is someone who is reliable to you in terms of their training volume and how they absorb the mileage. For James, the key is to be doing the sessions together and when his yard stick is in foetal position in bed with cold sweats from the training regime, he needs to be going well for him to know he is ready for ass kicking season to open.
While it seems such a simple thing, obviously its far more complicated to find someone you can trust in that capacity.
This is the biggest flaw in how athletes approach training with a power meter. The power meter could be a reliable, incredible yard stick, but because its not a training partner in the physical sense, it doesn’t work for athletes who need that human touch. I would imagine that for a number-obsessed human, the power meter works 100% because they can essentially compete against the power meter on the bike. They don’t need their training partner to look them in the eye, to hear their breathing or to test their training partner with the odd “move” here and there.
It was a lightbulb moment for me.
I love training with people at selected times in the week. My training groups are essentially, my yard stick. There is a specific athlete in every group who I like to compare myself against from time to time. Not every session, but every so often, just to see how I am going.
I have become an athlete who trains much more on “feel” than numbers and its served me well over the years. There are athletes who could never train on feel, as they have no comprehension of what any specific intensity “feels” like in their body. They run/ride to a number, and hold that number.
Each to their own and neither way is the correct approach to the letter – instead every persons’ yard stick is their measure on how they are going in their training.
Who is your yard stick?
How often do you measure up?
How do you change your approach if you are not measuring up?
Do you attempt for more improvement if you are consistently ahead of the yard stick or do you settle with confidence that you’ll maintain this ‘advantage’ by simply keeping on with your current schedule?
All vital questions.
Some food for thought on a Monday.
What a week I tell you. Catch a cool summary of the images HERE. I went out for a ride this morning and the legs are still sore from the running with the pack. I totalled about 100km of running in the week, so looking back it was a mini running camp which was unplanned, but well worth it.
More interestingly, I was trying to find the elixir out there in the chaos. There are big secrets on display out on the route and in the tents afterwards. Because I am not big on secrets, I wanted to share them with you as they apply not only to mountain biking stage racing, but Ironman, and, well, life in general.
I bang on about this, but from what I could see, economy was the prevalent factor for success out there. This means specificity in the economy on the trails as I saw many a roadie who struggled to keep up in the trails out there. They can absolutely hammer the flat sections, but the ability to move economically at a certain power up a long, loose climb is an absolute success factor. I ran behind Christoph Sauser up a very steep climb and his rear wheel never slipped, his body was perfectly focused at going forwards, smoothly. There is no waste in the pedal stroke.
Extend it then to the approach to the environment. Do you ride through every rocky section or do you guide the bike through with as little chance for damage as possible. Those with the least technical problems were fastes to the finish.
Extend this to economy off the bike. Athletes who lie down when they could be sitting win come day 5-8. Athletes who are good at delegating to get stuff done for them win even more. Economy of movement wins, wins, wins.
Secondly, I saw that the mental attitude towards the moment was crucial. Yes, the suck factor is high at times, but immerse yourself and embrace the suck. There is gold to be had there. The guys and girls who could absorb the suck had more success towards the end of stages when the natural fade starts to occur. Also, you may suck today and be great tomorrow, but don’t wait for tomorrow to be great. Be as good as you can be in the moment.
Lastly, I have to stress the ability to have fun. On day 1, when there was a lot of unplanned sand, teams who made it their mission to get through it with a positive attitude won on the day and expended the least energy to get to the finish. This is huge for me. If you trained for 6 months for an event and expect to go there without any hassles and get all huffy about it when they happen, it’s never going to be fun. Unless you have a serious body ailment going on or a horrible injury, have some fun out there. Getting to the finish line in tatters and having hated the whole experience seems like a whole waste of time, energy and money to me.
As I approach Ironman in just three short weeks I want to make sure I focus on these elements in my final preparations and think about these three things out there during the day as well:
- Move economically
- Embrace the suck
- Have some fun
This video came to me via a mate this morning on our Tuesday Classic ride. It reflected so well for me on South African cycling and the environment we, as cyclists, tackle on a day-to-day basis. Our congestion is not nearly as bad here in CT, but for Jozi & Durban, Pretoria and many other major cities, this reflects what cyclists are facing.
Cycling is a joyous experience. Bike transport is becoming more and more important. Messenger services like these are hugely important as cities become more clogged.
The gurlfrang was explaining something she picked up in Jozi on her last trip. She mentioned that nobody mentioned how far anything was. Only time taken. It’s purely because of traffic. Something is 30-40min away, whether it’s 8 or 30km away. Here, in Cape Town, we still go by distance because traffic is at a minimum. Sure, I choose to live in town and drive against traffic in the mornings and afternoons whereas many people sit in traffic for 30-60minutes a day, but I know of people in Pretoria who spend upwards of 3 hours a day driving to work and back. It works out to a month per year, they spend travelling to work and back.
It blows my mind.
As South Africans, we need to collectively stand together to relay the importance of the commuting culture in our near future. Our roads are some of the most disorderly I have ever experienced in the whole world. We are all to blame – talking on cellphones, texting while driving, reading email while at the traffic lights. This is our creation and it’s up to us to stop this behaviour.
I love the #commutingfriday movement and I don’t commute enough, so this is as much my game as it is yours. In CT, we have enough space and bike lanes to commute. Folks in Jozi don’t have that luxury. It’s time we stood up and used the bike lanes to their full effect.
It’s the end of September and people are already going full steam into 2013. There is a lot of serious training and big plans being laid down for 2013. I thought the video could remind us to calm down a little – so much can happen between now and then. Sure, I am in planning for 2013 as well, but for me, I am trying to put together a plan with no goals. Errr… what the?
That’s right. There are no goals for next year. I have too many races on the calendar and a few experiences I am after too, that have no results. That doesn’t mean I won’t be out there, pushing the limits to failure in pursuit of the guys in front of me and in avoiding the guys chasing me. I will still try shred the legs off everyone out there, I assure you. But it’s secondary to putting together another stellar year.
My recent discovery of 45min trail runs over lunchtime got me thinking about this. I have absolutely loved them. They fit into the work schedule and I have a 10min out section, and from there I can take one of many options and get a little sort of accidentally on purpose lost out there for 25min or so, and take the last 10min home easy. Add the discovery of enjoying failure at gym and indeed, there seems to be a lot more experience based training going on. I want to keep pushing these limits until I have to enter a focused 16 week block before Challenge Roth in 2013.
After Roth, I am going to ride my road bike until the saddle is chafed through as I tackle the 100 col challenge in the Dolomites in September. What am I doing between July and September? Who knows at this point – certainly not me. I know there will be a lot of time chasing mountain tops in the Cape, but that’s about it. In 3 weeks, I am running The Otter, something totally out of my experience and comfort zone. I have no idea on results or what to expect. Yes, there are some dudes I want to run with – but that’s mainly because they are cool dudes. They like a few beers after the race.
What I am trying to get to is for those who are prepping for IM 2013 to think about taking it a little easier now. Your IM training tweets are worrying. You`re tweeting too hard. This is the time to be having the extra beer, taking the ride at a moderate pace and making sure the wife is happy.
The time to fly will come, but right now, we need to be considering our awesome factor and making sure we still have friends, family and non-IM branded clothes left by April 2013. Keep the compression socks off in training for now, especially when you are riding the bike. If you`re the guy running on the Promenade in Cape Town in a tri suit – please – let me buy you a coffee and explain the damage you are doing to our beloved sport. Arm warmers and sleeveless cycling shirts are also a no-go area.
Aero helmets in group rides are another item frowned upon, by the entire world. Including your wife. Especially when you wear it backwards to bed and think it’s sexy.
You will survive until January without the brick workouts, unless you`re prepping for Kona right now. Save your energy and eat that bacon.
Take it easy out there. Its 25 September, not 25 March.
This video was the best I saw this week. It reminded me of my best days on the bike, which were about riding a bike. It seems so simple. Yet most of us miss that point completely. We ride our bikes to get away, to push, to achieve. Yet riding for riding’s simple pleasure should be the thing that drives us most. The joy of movement, of getting somewhere on your own power on the noblest machine should be enough for you.
But for most of us, we never get to that point.
Pedal your bike because you can, because you want to. Leave the powermeter at home, the heart rate monitor in your back pocket and keep the music at home for a few rides.
Feel the power that you are putting into your pedals.
Feel how your skin moves and feels, how the hair touches the wind and how the little nuances can make the biggest differences.
Ride without a plan, without a route in mind.
Without a time frame.
You’ll get back home when you get there.
I have been flat out since November 2009. I 2010, I raced myself into the ground from 1 April to 11 November and then racing kicked off again in January all the way through December in 2011. In 2012, I slowed a little, but the effects of what you have just read were taking their toll and by IMSA 2012, I was hanging on with niggles and a latent fatigue that bordered on burn-out.
So for the last 2 months, I have, barring Sani2c, been very chilled out. It has been a time to relax and to train when I felt like it. I have had some serious projects to get out the door at work and needed to show some love to friends and family again. Next week, I start the real work again, but its totally different. I am starting to repair all the cracks in the system, and keeping intensity down where possible as I build towards running Otter in October.
This means getting back to basics:
- Eating correctly. Its been a good 8 weeks and I can feel the system needs to eat clean, and drop some of what’s gathered around my middle.
- Training regularly. At the moment, its 5 days a week, once a day. Sure – active for most people, but for what I want to achieve?
- Build strength and work on my imbalances. Back to the chiro, the physio and back to the gym to build proper strength for a race that will see me climbing thousands of stairs, jumping over rocks and needing an entirely different kind of power to what was required in April.
Winter is a time to get out the putty and repair the cracks that were laid down in Summer. Here are some of the easiest ways to get back into your sporting ways and build fitness.
Run 30min for 30 days in a row, without a gap. The easiest way to get fit for running with limiting risk of injury. Keep your heart rate to below 155 on all runs. Run flat and focus on form.
Cycle 60min for 30 days in a row. Sounds simple, but its every single day. Keep HR to 155 and under.
Swim 20 x 100m in the pool for 30 days in a row. Same deal.
These look so easy on paper but are harder in reality. If you want to combine things for triathlon, give me a shout for a program and I will help you out on the more complicated stuff.
Best tips for getting through winter:
- Invest in the right gear. There is no such thing as bad weather. Only bad gear (and soft athletes).
- Do your training in the morning. Afternoons are not as much fun when the sun has set.
- Have a schedule and stick to it.
- Invest in quality partners for training. Reliable partners are key for success through winter.
- When lifting weights, work with body weight for high reps, and for weight work, keep it to 6 reps of your best effort – 3 sets.
Have a superb weekend.
I am a big fan of camp. No secrets. I believe that if they are done correctly, and infrequently enough, they offer massive benefit for age groupers. I missed my camp before IMSA this year and without a doubt, felt it on race day. There is a spring that comes in your step if you taper correctly off training camp. At the moment, life is returning to my legs, my heart and my mind. I am considering the next races, places, things and adventures. There are a few in the front of my mind. 3 of them are organised training camps where you are given the absolute luxury to push beyond the physical limits.
The video sets the tone.
Personal, extreme, adventure, beauty.
The simple luxury of being able to focus entirely on athletic performance for a week is a gift to a guy like me. Turn off the distractions, the noise, the email, the commitments, the pressures and the responsibilities for a week. Get on your bike or put on your shoes and see how far you can push it, physically, not for one day, but for a week. It’s the getting through day 3 that kills, when you are so tired you don’t want to eat breakfast but get on your bike and smash out 5-8 hours of riding to finish strong, finish a believer in your own ability.
If you want to believe in yourself, put yourself under pressure.
Nobody has utter belief in the guy who plays it safe and never risks blowing up.
I love camp because it gives us all the opportunity to be heroes.
This is a race report I cannot just dive into. It’s one that has to go back 6 months to fully understand what went down this weekend. No, that’s not correct either. You need to go back 8 years, to a time when I met an extremely gifted, hard-working, never-say-die athlete called Tristan Kelly. My first run in the fairest Cape was with his crew of guys and I got OWNED. Over the next few years, I got owned many times by him.
Eventually, with hard work, I was able to match him at some races. He never gives up. Ever. I remember a SA Triathlon Champs where we ran 10-15 seconds apart the entire run and he caught me with 500m to go, out of nowhere seemingly. That strength astounded me.
So when I heard he was entering IMSA in 2012, I got an awesome little drop of the stomach and I knew I would have to be 100% or pull out every trick in the book to get to the line ahead of him come 22 April. I knew that no weather would stop him. I knew he would put in every minute of training required to be the best he could be, a scary sight when he is 100%. When anyone asked who I thought would be my toughest competition, his name was first, every time.
And so, we stood on the beach on 22 April, together, to face the weather, the course and each other. 9 hours and 32 minutes later he crossed the line 68 seconds behind me. In the middle, there is a magnificent story and I hope to get at least two thirds of it into this post. First, I had to salute him for 8 years of racing together, for a friendship despite our competitiveness and for making me go to new places in the Pain Cave on Sunday.
Secondly, I wanted to salute every athlete who made it to the beach that morning. 250 people pulled the pin before that. Another 200 odd didn’t make it to the tape. They are still heroes in my books. If you didn’t make the timing cuts, you are still an inspiration to anyone for attempting that course on that day. I have never seen weather like that on a race day. I hope I never see weather like that ever again on a day where just getting to the line is an achievement.
Thirdly, I need to say a special thanks to the IMSA crew. Organisers, race directors, volunteers, etc. They made the day bearable. Always smiling, always making a plan and very importantly for me, cleaning up as they went, ensuring a safe, clean course for us. Very Pure Planet Racing and worth every cent we pay for an entry fee. I salute you all!
Now, onto my day…
This year, I have had to manage time and niggles more than ever before. An iffy Achilles Heel since November 2011, a proper sinus infection 10 days before the race, 60 hour work weeks as the norm in Feb and March. Looking back at schedules, I averaged 16 hours per week of training. That is all I could manage and I was hoping for a very controlled day. It was not to be.
After changing into my wetsuit in the rain (a treat all on its own) I handed my bag to my support crew and hit off for the beach for my warm-up for the swim, to find that slow peace that comes before the race. As I put on my swim cap, it tore, straight down the middle, in two. Not ideal considering the water temperature.
I spent 20minutes looking for the lady with the swim caps. She was not in any of the four places I was told she would be and in the end, I stood on the beach, front row, sans warmth protection, ready to swim through the PRO pack. I was very calm, but knew it would be a case of hurt, relax, and hurt again.
The gun went off; I got a fantastic start into the water and was in the pack I wanted to be in before the first buoy. I settled into the pack as we rounded it and at that moment we hit the chop in the water. Your top and bottom half of the body were never moving in the same direction. You swallowed plenty of the Indian Ocean. The swim was survival, most highlighted by the fact that the swim took 60minutes, rather than the 48-49 I was expecting. I sat in the back of the pack for both laps and just got through it. The occasional smell of boat fuel and pulling on a random jelly fish here and there were the only things that distracted from the task of swimming between two people and laughing a little when the swell pushed us into a knot.
I opted for a gilet and arm warmers in T1. I knew the goal of riding in a legal pack of PRO guys was gone when I looked at the weather. The goals for the day, time and experience wise, were gone. I had to deal with that quickly. I knew you could never make up what you lost on a day like this, in other words:
The tailwind section never makes up for the headwind slog.
The body that drove me at 70.3 was never present on Ironman day. There was no smoothness, no effortless power, and no open mind. I knew I would have to push it where it had never gone before. I knew it would not be pretty. I knew I would spend the day holding back, but charging, just a little too hard, to get what I needed by the red carpet. I knew I would need every trick in the book to get to the line first in my age group.
I rode conservatively, especially on the hills. You don’t want to see you`re going much slower than you anticipated. But you have to accept that. I think that was the toughest part of the entire day – accepting the weather and making the most of it. For many people I spoke to after the race that didn’t happen and they pushed, chasing a number perhaps. It ended in many tears.
At the top of lap 2 on the bike, while refilling the aero bottle between the aerobars, a gust of wind pushed a rider I was lapping 90 degrees out onto the road and I had to throw my own nutrition away to avoid him, desperately avoiding a crash. When I looked back for my bottle, which had all my calories in, it was gone. The wind had blown it back down the hill and it was nowhere to be seen.
It was time to make the most of it and accept that the tummy would be a mess later. I couldn’t let it affect my day.
It was a battle out there against the wind but the real battle was in the mind. Holding back at the right times, pushing a little to make sure you got the most out of every piece of the road, where the wind may be turning, etc. In a world of instant fixed, instant satisfaction and every piece of information we want at our fingertips, Ironman South Africa 2012 represented everything opposite. Patience, hope, unknowing circumstances around every turn, lack of information about what to expect in the next hour…
At 120km into the ride I was passed by a pack of 4 riders riding a maximum of 4m apart. I moaned at their drafting but got nothing back from them as they moved up the road. I asked a Marshall to check out their tactics and got told to keep quiet and let them do their job. Not ideal.
At 150km my arms and legs were cramping. Not ideal. Balancing the bike for 4 hours in 80km/h gusts of wind was taking its toll. I had 30km to ride and 42km to run and a charging Tristan Kelly to deal with. The rest of our age group was fading fast and at this point I had to have some serious words with myself to motivate myself for the run. I knew it would be close and I knew I would have to squeeze everything I could out of my body to keep that Kelly at bay.
T2 was quick, leaving the visor behind as the wind was now plain old disgusting. The FAAS800’s were out onto the road and I wanted to keep the distance steady and ran the first 10km very steadily. I had to keep him at bay for as long as possible. If he smelt I was weakening or thought he could catch me for sure, I knew he would find the strength.
The body that produced some incredible runs in training left me on the day. As I started the run, I just knew that I would have to fight for a 3:15 run, which is what I thought it would take. My legs never bounced. I never felt smooth. I was happy to deal with those two facts. I was, however, unwilling to deal with a 2nd place. I was ready to fight for the title.
The run had its own challenges. I forgot to mix my Rehidrat Sport in the morning and started with plain powder. When I added water, running 4:10 per kilometre, it leaked everywhere over my legs, causing the back of my knees to become so sticky that the skin pulled off eventually from when the knee bends and straightens.
The gel flask lid I had turned out to be faulty and I couldn’t get the gel I have trained on for months in either. This left me taking gel and coke off the course, which caused my stomach to bloat on lap 2 just to add to the discomfort a little because, you know, the day was definitely not hard enough already.
A mini disaster in the varsity on lap 2 when a spectator stepped across the road into me and pushed me onto the grass, where I cramped and the legs seemed to come off a little, losing what little rhythm I had left.
At the end of lap 2, I had 3min. I started with 5min. I knew I had to keep him at 3min till I was out the varsity. I knew this would require a monumental effort, as I also knew he would speed up till then to see if he could catch me. I had to remain out of sight. So I ran, from 30-38km, anaerobically. I kid you not. Panting hard like an Olympic distance race, I pushed as hard as I could, which only gave me about 15sec per kilometre, but I had to give it everything. I didn’t look back, not once.
At the aid station at the back of the varsity, I looked back. I knew if I couldn’t see him, I had it in the bag and could chill.
Time to run a little more relaxed and enjoy the last 4km. I tried to cheer on others, high five some of the people who had been out there shouting for me all day and I really slowed down in the last kilometre, soaking up what I believe is my finest performance to date.
I walked the red carpet. Arms rose. Fists pumped. Relief. Joy. Noise. Quiet. Calm.
I was going nowhere until I had embraced Tristan. He came around the corner 68 seconds later. The embrace was powerful, respectful and humble. It was over.
As I sit here, 3 days later in the mountain of email, admin and deliverables, I wonder how long this feeling will last. How long will it take before I can contemplate hurting like that again? Why didn’t the body feel like it did in Jan? Was it the reduced hours training? The niggles leading into the race?
I pulled every trick in the book on the day. To give you an idea of how far the rabbit hole goes, here is a quick list, and let’s see how many of them you did on the day?
1. Ducked under the start banner at 1sec to go.
2. Rode every racing line on the route where possible.
3. Skipped special needs on the bike.
4. Urinated whilst riding along the coast road, at 55km/h.
5. Urinated while running in the varsity, running on the grass, when nobody was around, at 4min30 per kilometre.
6. Had all my nutrition on the bike and nothing in the bike bag to pick up and carry out of T1.
7. Same for the run – all in the Fuelbelt.
Do these things make up the win? I don’t think so.
Nobody knows exactly what made up those 68 seconds. They don’t really matter to me. I loved the battle, the effort and the experience required to get them. That was my experience on the day. Nothing else could have come close and even though it was not what I was after, initially, it was more than I hoped for, by the end of the day.
Quick thanks to those who make it possible. BoE Private Clients, Rehidrat Sport, Velocity Sports Lab, Puma & Orca for kit on the day, support on the road and financial support to make it to the start line. My season is complete with qualifications for three World Championships and from what I am told, possibly the first double age group win at 70.3 and IMSA in the same year.
It’s time to reflect, celebrate and plan, because truth be told….there are many more adventures to be had.
Photos courtesy of Carol Brink.
For the time is here.
For months, you have held your breath in anticipation of this week. Persisted through niggles, through the moaning of friends, family and loved ones. Worked yourself to the bone, cutting out wants and focusing on needs, compromising on things you used to know and now, it’s all here. Don’t expect a ray of light from the heavens above and for it all to make sense. No, this week is the most confusing of all.
Taper week is filled with doubts, frights and possibly, some amazing moments of effortless movement before race day. Train less than you think you should, eat less than you have become accustomed to and stop worrying about the race, the weather and the other people.
Breathe out warriors. It’s all about to become very real. Remember to enjoy the week because I know the finish line will never be enough for you. The week is everything it promises to be if you know to look out for the signs. As I lay in the doctors office this afternoon, I couldn’t fall asleep, despite being left on my own for 45min. For the past 12 weeks, if I stopped typing email for just long enough, I would possibly nod off.
That’s a sure-fire sign that the energy is coming back.
Be sure to cut back on caffeine this week as you are probably a mainline-espresso-junkie by now. Watch the sugar cravings and ready yourself for a hell of a ride, because currently, the weather is saying we are in for a doozy but thankfully, we are all in it together.
Breathe out warriors, this is a helluva week. Get your admin done early. Remove the hassles early. Clear the mind and really appreciate what is going on with you this week. It’s the final straight. Breathe out…
Yesterday, one of the hardest working athletes I know, James Cunnama, pulled the pin on Ironman South Africa. Along with Raynard Tissink, they represent the only real international Ironman athletes we have. They are both world leading guys and often I am asked what it takes to get there, to where they are.
It’s a huge effort. The 8% between them and where I am asks for more then double the volume and 100% commitment to the cause. I found some videos that accurately represent what it takes. One of the hardest workers in the sport, Crowie, had a training day documented which would represent a big day out for them.
Let me translate what you are about to watch:
180km bike ride with IM pace intervals in the last 1/3rd of the race, at 2500m altitude. Back end intervals are 40km/h plus with intervals totaling 40km. Includes a 25km climb.
Then 10 x 1.65km run intervals on a loose surface.
First interval at 3:27 per kilometer.
Last interval at 3:16 per kilometer.
If you think that’s followed by an off day, think again. The day after:
30km run in the morning.
Followed by a swim.
Followed by track in the afternoon.
You think you have what it takes?