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29.12.12

Iron Lady Pamela

Heart stopping moments for friends and family (and a coach) as pharmaceutical sales rep Pamela Finney from California crosses the line with five minutes to spare at Ironman Arizona last month (18 November 2012).

The Oakland based, 44 year-old was attempting to overcome a disappointing DNF in her first attempt at Ironman in Nice, France the year before.

Aware of just how much this meant to Pamela, her friends and family gathered around their laptops to cheer her on via the Ironman Live feed.

Rough conditions meant the swim was slow but she made it with over 15 minutes to spare.

Then the fun began... as usual there were a few technical issues with the live feed. For a considerable amount of time during the bike leg there were no split times. For those watching it seemed like another DNF, but just as laptop lids were closing a split time appeared on the screen and hope was re-born.

The drama continued as Pamela pressed on narrowly beating two bike checkpoints at 76 miles (by 20mins) and 93 miles (by 4mins) to finally hit T2 with a minute to spare!

If this wasn't enough, bringing us all even further to the edge of our seats promising early run splits began to slow to a walking pace and the final midnight cut-off was hanging in the balance.

The live feed again added to the drama by giving a final split time of 16h 11mins. This meant that with 3.2 miles to go and everything she had already been through, Pamela had to dig deep...and run!

For those watching it meant turning our attention away from the splits, and to the final nail biting moments live through the finishing time gantry as 'The Voice of Ironman' Mike Reilly welcomed home the final finishers to huge cheers from the local crowd. And then, with five minutes to spare Pamela thankfully turned the corner and was roared over the line in 16:55:54 to achieve her dream of becoming an Ironman.

All smiles down the finishing chute for Pamela at Ironman Arizona.
All smiles down the finishing chute for Pamela at Ironman Arizona.

Coach Toby says: "Completing an Ironman is hard enough, doing it in 17 hours takes a different kind of athlete. Such mental toughness not to step off the course and to keep going is what endurance sport is all about. Doing the training is one thing but if you're not mentally tough enough then you won't make it.

"When you're at the back of the pack chasing cut-offs is extremely hard both physically and mentally. You have to come in under the checkpoint time but you can't exert too much that it jeopardises your entire race. Maintaining her nerve when faced with such difficult circumstances was truly admirable. She's an inspiration!"

Pamela Finney - You are an Ironman..!!!
Pamela Finney - You are an Ironman..!!!

For most people completing a single Ironman is enough. But, Pamela is not 'most people'.

Buckle up everybody...

"My plan for 2013 is to train hard and complete Ironman Nice on June 23rd which is also my birthday! I attempted this race before and didn't complete it and am going back for some retribution so I plan on taking my experience from 2012 and using it to the fullest to complete Nice! I'm very much looking forward to the whole adventure of it too!

10.12.12

Chris podiums..!

On his way to his first Ironman next year, ONEraceTEAM's Chris Wilson scored his first podium, with a 3rd overall place (1st, 30-34 age-group) at the Australian MurrayMan last month.

Like many of the age-group athletes in ONEraceTEAM managing training and a busy working life can be a tough challenge.

"Working full time and studying for my professional accountancy qualification means I'm pretty time poor. I simply wouldn't have the time or knowledge to invest in putting together a robust plan like Toby prepares for me.

"I have a tendency to over think problems with training, especially if I have missed a session. Toby is a calming influence on me and seems to always know the right thing to say to bring me back down to earth! This whole experience would have been much more stressful without him!"

Chris fits his training around management accountancy
Chris fits his training around management accountancy

Proving that coaching is truly a global business, Chris lives and works in Melbourne as a Management Accountant.

"Being in Australia, we're obviously on the other side of the world from each other, so communicating face to face can be difficult. Skype sessions really help with this and make the coaching relationship much more practical.

"Using Training Peaks is a brilliant aid as well. Toby can set up a period of my training and I can keep up to date online or through their mobile app.

"These bits of technology have really helped maintain the communication between Toby and myself and give me everything I need to be able to train consistently week in week out."

As he continues his preparation for Ironman Melbourne next year, Chris's next test is Canberra 70.3.

02.11.12

Nathan takes on the world..!

Nathan Pask enjoyed his first taste of international triathlon representing Great Britain at the World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.

The 36-year-old Londoner toughed it out in windy conditions to finish 39th (4th British finisher) in the hard fought 35-39 age category, Olympic distance event.

"Based on my results throughout the year I had a very conservative swim by my standards. The conditions were tricky. I made up for it with a solid bike leg and then finished it off with one of my best ever runs to date."

Like many age-group athletes Nathan, a chartered surveyor and company director, fits training around his busy work and social life.

GB triathlete Nathan balances training and working life.
GB triathlete Nathan balances training and working life.

"Having a coach has really helped me go from a weekend warrior to competing on behalf of Great Britain, which in Olympic year makes me really proud."

As an established runner, the main aims of Nathan's training were to develop his swim technique and his power on the bike.

"It's been a very successful first season. Nathan has achieved all his objectives and is really beginning to develop as a smart athlete. I'm really looking forward to working with Nathan in 2013 as he continues to develop his ability to compete on the world stage." said his coach, Toby.

10.10.12

Time to Plan

Coming to the end of a calendar year can be an ideal time to take stock, look back on what you have achieved, celebrate your successes and plan for next year.

The media is full of stories about more and more people taking up sport and leading a healthier lifestyle. This is particularly evident in the UK at the moment, where the success of the British Olympic team, especially in cycling and triathlon, has meant an increased interest in these sports with events selling out faster than ever before.

Don't miss out

Last year, Ironman Melbourne sold out in record time, many of the legendary trail runs have decade long waiting lists, sportives have huge waiting lists.

From personal experience, I just missed out on registering for next year's Vitruvian triathlon, by two days, which now means the earliest I can do this event is 2014..!

Create a wish list of events

Since 2008, I've had a list of events/races/courses that I would like to do and have fortunately been able to tick a number of these off every year. The list continues to grow and event priorities change due to my circumstances.

The main point being, start a list and capture every event you've ever wanted to do. Research the sports that you like and pick out events that appeal to you, your budget, family, travel, etc.

Chart your events

The next step is to write all the events down by month, day on a page of A4 or next year's calendar if you have one. Depending on your sport and race season(s) you'll soon notice popular months.

Categorize

When I've put everything down I then assign an A, B or C category to events based on my desire to do the race, travel, family commitments and a whole host of other personal circumstances. If you have a coach talk to them at this stage and together agree the objectives for these A races and what the training implications are.

Working backwards from my A events (I usually pick two or three per year), I can start eliminating events that will interfere with the necessary training plan. For example, if you want to be competitive at Ironman Wales then you won't be doing Challenge Henley, which is on the same day, but The Dragon Ride could be an option if worked in to your training plan.

Talk to your partner

Before I start paying for events, travel and accommodation, I always ask those around me that might be impacted by my decision to do a race. This should be your partner but may also include your wider family and friends if you're planning to stay with them because they are close to the start line.

Get help from your coach

When creating your plan get input from your coach who will be able to give you ideas about training implications and what other events might fit around your A races.

Register as soon as possible

Once I have all my races down on paper, decided which ones I really want to do and got agreements from my support crew then I set about registering.

This may not always work out, as you may find you're too late, in which case go back and re-assess your priority races, Challenge Henley might now be possible.

Once you've registered your A races the next thing to do is book accommodation (or make sure there is availability at the same time as this may decide whether you do a race or not). Being close to the start line will ensure you get as much sleep as possible. Being close to the finish line will mean less faff and a quick getaway if this is important to you.

Find out when registration opens

It's a good idea to research your desired events years in advance and find out when they open for registration. My calendar is populated with events I've registered for or the date registration opens with calendar alerts to make sure I don't miss opening times, which can be midnight, 4am, 9am, etc. the day after the event finished that year.

In the UK, for cycling, triathlon and ultras my current thinking is to start trying to register for next years' events on 1st October the year before.

I was a little late this year and paid the price but having now drawn up my plan for 2013 I'm looking forward to the exciting challenges ahead. I just hope it keeps me motivated through the British winter.

29.09.12

Watts Happened

Price being the main hurdle, it has taken me years to commit to buying a power meter and like so many riders before me, I wish I'd done it earlier. Since the beginning of this year I've been training and racing with a power meter.

If you are ever looking to buy a pair of race wheels, buy a power meter instead. Instead of a new bike, buy a power meter. In fact, I would go so far as to say, if you are considering a Time Trial bike/frame buy a power meter for your road bike and convert it with clip on aero bars.

That is if you want to be a better cyclist.

A power meter will improve your riding more than a new bike could. You will go faster on your current bike with a power meter than you ever will on the latest Pinarello. A power meter won't necessarily make you look good but it will make you look smart.

A power meter isn't magic, you still have to do the training. But, training with power is like being on the inside, being more grown up, there is a certain 'Ahhhhhhhhh...I get it now' and that is a great feeling to have.

There's some essential reading to get to grips with to ensure you understand what you are doing and to help you improve.

Cutting-Edge Cycling
Training and Racing with a Power Meter
The Power Meter Handbook

Reading the books and completing some of the simple tests will give you an understanding of the rider you are (strengths and weaknesses), how to become the rider you want to be, whether that's a climber, sprinter, time trialist, etc. and they provide plenty of training sessions to improve specific areas of your fitness.

In less than a season I am already a better cyclist and triathlete. Over the coming months I'll write more about training and racing with watts to convince you it's the best investment you can make.

To whet your appetite though, how about...

- Why training with power is better than training with heart rate.
- Why power beats RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) as a scale.
- How a power meter helped me know that I HAD returned to fitness.
- Beating the weather using power.
- Using power in a triathlon.
- Testing with power.
- Better pacing, climbing.
- Better coaching.

04.09.12

Gardner achieves Iron vision

Last month, James Gardner from Danville, San Francisco (California) conquered the 140.6 mile Coeur d'Alene course in 12 hours to become a first-time Ironman.

Like many age-group triathletes James had never followed a structured training plan before but knew he needed to if he was to juggle family time, career, business air-travel and a house move, if he was to make the successful leap from short course and half-iron distance racing to a full Ironman.

James with family in San Francisco
James with family in San Francisco

"As a family-man time is precious and I just needed someone to take care of the planning and make the necessary adjustments to my training should something come up", said the 39 years-old marketing vice president. "Toby kept my training consistent, which meant some creative sessions given the limited facilities in some hotels. Communication was key, I told him in advance when issues arose and he tweaked my plan to keep me training."

Training consistently is key to a achieving success no matter what the distance. If you don't train consistently then a coach can't plan appropriate progressions and you won't continue to make the necessary adaptations to increasing training stimulus.

If you're trying to juggle family, a busy working life and your training, cheap off-the-shelf training plans don't work. A coach is there to revise your plan when your circumstances change.

James with his marketing team
James with his marketing team

"Long distance training can be quite a challenge. It's good to know someone's got your back, has managed training and a stressful job himself and is there every step of the way with you. I'd often just pick up the phone and chat just to make sure I was on the right track. You can't expect your family and friends to understand what you go through if they've never followed a proper training plan before."

Achieving that Iron dream is a team effort and like all successful teams, two-way communication plays a key role: 1-2-1 training and meetings are not always possible, but email, Skype, videos of training/racing, data uploads and qualitative feedback all go towards tailoring a plan that works for each athlete.

06.07.12

Review: Orbea Ordu

My review of the Orbea Ordu SSJ-SE for 3GO Magazine, July/August issue.

Introduction...

When I started in triathlon nearly ten years ago I remember making a trip to my local bike shop to check out the new stock. It was then that I ogled the black stealth-like appearance of my first Orbea frame suspended in all its angular glory from the shop ceiling.

The shop owner - Dave, (because you learn that it is in your best interests to be on first name terms with your local bike shop owner – you never know when their future generosity may stretch to a 4mm bolt 'on the house'), took the frame from its shrine and allowed me to cradle it. The moment was brief, before Dave snatched it back, but not before I had been wooed by its stand-out aerodynamic sleekishness and vowed that we would meet again one day.

Several years have past and I have never held an Orbea since, let alone ride one.

So, when the offer to test one came along…I jumped at the chance.

The Bike:

The Orbea Ordu SSJ-SE comprises the Ordu Silver frame, made of high modulus carbon fibre and comes with an increasingly predictable entry-level selection of Shimano Dura-Ace (bar-end shifters and rear derailleur), Ultegra (front derailleur), and 105 (cassette) 10-speed drive-train components.

Perched on a Selle Italia SL T1 time trial-specific saddle, you will steer from an alloy Profile Ozero base bar/ZBS extension handlebar assembly, whilst spinning an FSA Gossamer alloy crank to drive Shimano R500 wheels with Vittoria Rubino Pro tires.

The Fit…

After years racing triathlon and now coaching, I have my position pretty much dialled in for different distances, terrains, etc. tweaking the setup in favour of aerodynamics for short course and tweaking towards comfort for long course.

I'm 5' 9" and 145lbs so, when it comes to bike fit, for once, I am happy to say that I'm Mr Average and with just a few tweaks in the 76 degree effective seat angle (there is an alternative 74 degree seat angle as well) I wasn't surprised that it took a short time before I was comfortable and ready to ride.

Again predictably, the frame design features an interrupted seat angle. This means that if you're a vertically challenged rider you will need to trim the seat post. If you take the bike for a professional fit – as you should do – your fitter may be able to do this for you. In a "plug and play" world, be prepared not to ride it away from the store when you first buy it.

But, once I started riding

The ride…

As I rolled out, this is where all the above predictability ended…

The first thing to surprise me about the Orbea was that it was unbelievably comfortable. Any initial disappointment about low-end specification on such a great looking frameset began to disappear with every mile I rode.

As it was a nice windy day for testing, I took it out on a favourite local training route, which is a mostly flat to rolling course with variable wind direction. On the flat sections it felt smooth and very stable. Out in the open the flattened down tube was unaffected by crosswinds and passing trucks, which is always re-assuring.

On this particular route there are a couple of fast downhill sections with some patchy uneven road surface where, when cornering, you need to hold your nerve if you're going to stay in the aero bars. I was really surprised how well the bike handled and never deviated from the line I chose. This made the bike a big hit for me, to descend at speed is about trusting your machine and the SSJ-SE filled me with growing confidence the more I pushed it.

Another confidence booster is that the brake levers feel re-assuringly solid and offer great stopping power working well with the Shimano R500 wheels. The wheelset itself is best suited for your training miles, which it will handle comfortably. For racing, investing in a pair of race wheels will definitely take you to the next level and help you to climb a few places in the results table.

The Selle Italia seat was more comfortable than I thought it would be, but again you may want to swap this out if you don't get on with it – matching butts and bike seats is a pretty personal matter.

Continuing with the test ride, another pleasant surprise for me was how easy it was to hold speed over small to medium-sized rollers without having to break the aero-position by sitting-up or standing. The comfortable position made it much easier to maintain power.

But, it was on larger climbs, when I was forced to stand, that this bike truly excelled. Granted, it's not the lightest in the Ordu range, but it handled with ease and I didn't have to wrestle to keep the front-end under control – as I've experienced before with other triathlon/TT bikes.

If you train in the hills or like your racecourses lumpy I would recommend that you check out the Ordu range as a triathlon/TT bike with an ability to handle well, whilst climbing.

For all bike manufacturers' hype, I think Orbea's claim that they have designed an aerodynamic bike without compromising stiffness is spot on.

Cabling…

Unfortunately, sometimes it's the little things that disappoint you the most and in the Orbea's case it was the cabling.

The internal routing through the top tube, down tube and chain stay is as you come to expect of modern day aerodynamic offerings. Aside from the odd rattle here and there, it was the cable exit points that were the issue for me.

These days, I want the cables around my bars hidden away neatly not twisting all over the place like the back of your Grandmother's television cabinet.

The rear derailleur cable exiting out of the chain stay was more a hindrance than unsightly. My right heal kept catching the cable with every rotation- no matter how many times I bent it inwards. As Mr Average, I have size 10.5 feet, no toeing out and with my cleats set all the way back it was quite a surprise to be reminded of a rear derailleur cable an average of 95 times per minute during the ride.

Cockpit comfort…

For entry-level bikes, I'm a big fan of Profile Design and the alloy aero bars are solid and do the job. The downside with this configuration is that the armrests are fixed. This for me is an issue, as I like to be able to move my pads (forward and back). This will effect the front end of your bike fit and ultimately may effect your riding comfort for 70.3, Ironman and long time trials.

Also if you're considering this bike for going long, S-bend bar extensions, whilst they look good, may cause wrist discomfort especially for first-timers. So, for long course you might be better off with a more comfortable set of bar extensions.

In summary…

The Orbea Ordu SSJ-SE is great looking frameset that rides much better than the specification suggests.

As an entry-level bike it was extremely impressive to ride. The bike feels very sturdy, which would impress much larger athletes than myself. Not the lightest in its class, but once you get it up to speed it holds momentum over hilly terrain extremely well.

As it should be for a TT bike, the ride was solid and smooth in the aero-bars - a good first-timers' race bike or for those who are perhaps a little bit nervous riding and descending in the aero bars.

Maintaining position and speed over rollers coupled with exceptional handling when standing means that this bike will shine when it is time to climb!

If you buy this bike as an entry-level triathlon or TT race bike, when you develop and progress as an athlete you can add upgrades so it will accompany you to the next level, matching your physical performance as you advance in the sport.

Should I part with my hard earned cash…

The price point is about $200 higher than most of its competition which come in at between $2500-2800. But, if you're price sensitive over a few hundred dollars then triathlon is probably going to be the wrong sport for you!

Budget considerations to one side, the most important thing in cycling is bike fit and for this reason alone you should test ride one of the Orbea Ordu range.

However, as Cervelo add a fifth P to their marketing mix, it means you can now pick up a full Ultegra version of triathlon's most popular P2 for $2400 whilst the Ultegra version of the Orbea Ordu is $3400!

25.03.12

Build your base

Training and working with athletes this year I've come across a couple of interesting issues around base training and testing.

Like a lot of European/US endurance athletes my Annual Training Plan (ATP) is made up of periods or phases (see Sports Periodisation and Tudor Bompa), typically Preparation, Base, Build, Peak and Taper.

My Preparation phase for the 2012 season began in November and transitioned into the Base training phase (see Base Training through the winter months. I tend to have a month off at the end of every season, so the preparation/base phases help me to slowly get back in to training, preparing me (mentally and physically) for harder work to come.

Whatever you use to measure your training effort (Borg's Rate of Perceived Exertion – RPE, heart rate, power, etc.) the Base training phase is basically the time to keep things nice and easy (lower RPE, HR Zones 1 and 2, etc.), focusing on perfecting technique and improving biomechanical efficiencies (single leg drills, skip drills, finger drag, etc.).

Surprisingly, over the years, I've found that Base training seems to conflict with the human psyche. When I've been discussing it with others, whether on group rides, whilst coaching or in the pub. It often amuses me how many people aren't convinced.

In an increasingly impatient, ego-driven global culture, convincing someone to take their time to slowly build their fitness over 20-30 weeks can be very difficult. Unless that is…they have ever followed a plan before.

Working with athletes that have never followed a periodised training plan is a challenge for athlete and coach. Typically, the first thing to do is convince them that their Zone 4 lunch time blasts around the local park, not getting passed by another runner; and weekend club rides, beating Dave to the top of a climb and ascending the Strava rankings, are at an effort level that is not required to build their aerobic endurance base. In fact, early high intensity efforts carry a high risk of injury before the season has even started.

Walk before you run...literally!

Base training is the most important period of an endurance plan and should not be reduced, rushed or corner-cut. Even if this means being overtaken by one or two joggers with purple-rinses from time-to-time or giving up the group ride in favour of non-stop constant efforts rather than drafting in the bunch and waiting for Dave et al at rest stops or at the top of a climb. Think how much more satisfying it's going to be to be passing people on race day – there are no prizes for beating a mountain-biker up a hill on an average Tuesday afternoon.

Get used to long solo efforts to build your base
Get used to long solo efforts to build your base

If you want to be successful in endurance sport you better get used to your own company. Riding solo is the best way to maintain steady constant efforts. Unless you have a training partner that is doing the same race and following the same plan, but even then there's still the issue of drafting. If you're disciplined enough you could practice riding the draft legal distance when training with others.

From experience, your 'bank' of base training will come back in spades on race day when it matters most and you realise you have the aerobic endurance to run that marathon, or complete that Ironman. It will be especially noticeable towards the end of your race when you are passing other competitors that have not invested the time to lay their fitness foundations earlier in the season.

Be careful what you wish for…

Another amusing observation I've found is when athletes approach a testing week. This is the time to test whether you are improving and all the previous hard work is paying off.

With experience, I look forward to these weeks less than I used to. Basically, I recognise a testing week for the catch-22 that it is.

"Great, it's a reduced volume week (more rest/recovery! I can catch up on things, etc.), but I have to go all out to get some data to measure. Ahhhhh, but the test is only for a short period of time, that's okay".

So, you test in each sport and the good news is…your times improve; the plan is working; etc. Now, for the bad news…your next month's training zones increase and the next three weeks sessions are all going to be harder!

And then…joy! Finally, it's time to go in to the Build phase. You can finally show the purple rinses what you're made of and Dave's going to get spanked on the climb of his choice!

"But hang on…you realise the sessions are harder, faster, testing is brutal and you don't always get a better result!"

Training properly (in Build) can be…on your own, in the rain, grinding in to a headwind, gritted teeth, snot all over your face, burning pains in your legs, back, arms, neck…desperately trying to maintain the effort of your fourth two-minute rep in a set of ten during a muscular endurance brick ride of five hours as you pass a car full of pointing and laughing teens.

It is at these times that you are further tortured with memories of your base training, and reluctance to follow your planned easy long slow ride in Zone 2 and the promises you make to never go harder than you need to, ever again!

Yet, we still, foolishly, wish away our base training days in favour of faster, harder sessions…and why…because (un)fortunately…pain has no memory!

Perhaps an answer to this might be to write two sessions into week one of next year's plan right now…a 45-minute Z1 easy trail run versus a five hour-hour muscular endurance ride, with 10x2 minutes hard efforts.

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