You may have read from my previous posts about how much I enjoy the coaching side of triathlon. Whether that is coaching myself or other people. My teaching and leadership background probably helps with this as I feel I do (or I should) have a good understanding of what makes a good coach.
This year, I decided to take a further step and dedicate a little more time to helping others in their Tri exploits. It’s always difficult with this as I have my other roles – my work, family life, training and racing myself. There’s a lot to fit in! In a previous blog I introduced the athlete I was working with this year – Miia Amara. She is completely new to triathlon and one that approached me to help her.
I always think with newbies that the easiest thing to do is to basically to get them to train a little more consistently ensuring they swim, bike and run regularly, building up to a distance in which they will complete their event in. This isn’t difficult and there are guaranteed improvements until a plateau is usually reached. The real gains however, come from being a little more scientific and structured in the approach. Now what newbie is going to know this? Not many that’s for sure.
I agreed that I would help Miia on a more formative, in depth level. The only thing I asked from her was that she followed the structure and worked to the programme. I have been asked by others to do this before, although I have always been wary of it. Not because I didn’t want to do it, but because it takes a lot of time planning, adjusting and spending time with athletes in testing and analysing data to track improvement. I suppose that is why seeking a coach is fairly expensive, and it takes a committed athlete to want to take that step. I needed an athlete that was willing to give commitment back in order for me to do it and not waste my time. At no point was any money exchanged! I don’t claim to be some amazing coach or possess badges. What I do have though is experience in doing it myself and a lot of knowledge on it. I read a lot on this subject and have applied many of the concepts on myself. It’s great to be able to transfer some of that knowledge to someone else.
How come Miia you may ask? Well I could see she was eager to really get involved and I had her base training for 8 weeks prior to really starting a proper tailored plan. I could see she was dedicated and agreed to help her. Let’s meet our athlete:
Age: 44 (and she did allow me to display this 🙂
Work: Airline Attendant
Athletic Experience: New to triathlon although is a keen runner and is part of East End Road Runners.
The Baseline…How we Started…
As with all training plans, a clear bench mark of current fitness and form were needed as a starting point. I spent some time in the pool with Miia looking at her swim stroke and what we needed to do to improve it. We also completed a run test and a bike test a little later on. Miia also committed to purchasing a Turbo for home training and any necessary equipment for the pool. You see, I told you she was keen!
We started in November 2018 together and looked at spending around two months working on swim technique and building up some base miles to build her endurance engine for the bike and run. We also rode together most Sundays on our long rides.
I would be supporting her until her first Olympic Distance Triathlon in June and she would be taking on two events which I would also be participating in. These were the All Nations Sprint and Bananaman Olympic. Miia would be also going for the London Triathlon at the end of July. In terms of what were her ‘A’ or ‘B’ races were, we weren’t overly too stressed about identifying these. I knew if she followed the plan until June, she would be in fantastic shape to take on her first Olympic distance. I’ll say that again – her first Olympic distance race! She will learn a lot about herself in that race and use it to prep for the second Olympic distance in July. I would hope also that by then, Miia would know the workouts to continue in her lead up to that final event. We also had the bonus of the sprint race beforehand in May to get her used to some race conditions.
She is also aware that to keep peak fitness for that amount of time is very difficult. Rest and Recovery are key aspects of training and these have been built into the plan designed for her, but also after her second event in June before she builds up again for her final race.
What was interesting was Miia had expressed and showed me a few of her runs she had completed recently. Here is one:
Miia was surprised to hear that although she thought she was aerobically fit, and had the endurance in her legs, I thought differently. Yes, she can run long, although, if we look at the pace of the run for each mile segment, it slows down considerably as we go on and the heart rate is all over the place. There were no hills on this route. Generally the more miles she ran, the slower you got. Yes this will happen to all athletes eventually, but what I was trying to explain to her was that we want to try and reduce the amount by which each mile slows down and ensure we hold onto the pace a little longer. The aim was to make her run a lot more balanced both in pace and effort.
I introduced Miia to MAF run training. I like and use this for building base miles and training our cardiovascular system to become more efficient, thus putting out a greater output, and in this case we mean pace. In essence, training at this particular HR (for her 145bpm) allows her to become more efficient and so she ends up faster without too much stress. It takes time and Miia has found this one challenging, particularly keeping to the desired beats per minute. It’s also difficult to run with others on this so makes this training a little lonely. If you can stick with it though, it does pay dividends.
We also took some base PBs for different distances and set some goals around these. Here you can see her performance indicator chart with current PBs and Maffetone results:
We agreed to make these PB times something as a goal in bringing them down over the course of the year. In-fact she has already done this for both 5K and half marathon and I will update further on these in a future post.
By her own admission, Miia had expressed that she needed lots of work around swimming. Initial pool tests and swim analysis did show me that she was correct in her own assessment. Like most triathletes, swim is an area of weakness and we had work to do here. The results of her first 400m time trial are shown here:
After spending time in the pool with her, highlighting some flaws in the stroke and showing the drills to correct these, I developed a swim plan for her to follow for 8 weeks or so with the drills built in to develop the areas of weakness. You can’t break too much apart in your swim. Little and often is best for improvement as it is one of those technical sports that has lots to think about. Trying to work on two or three things to improve on is usually too much for our brains to cope with! This swim plan mainly focused on the leg end and getting that kick going from the hip and not her knee. She took to the drills really well and got practising them and we took another test before her official triathlon training started at the beginning of February. This was her plan:
On the 12th January we retested again and here are the results:
So what do we already notice? Yes a massive improvement already just through improving technique! There is very little in this plan that develops swim fitness and so it is pleasing to see with a little bit of work on technique, we have already seen a big improvement. I expect her to continue on the technique side of things and also work on building some specific swim fitness now. We will retest again at the end of the base period in the plan.
Miia also undertook the FTP test for the bike to mainly give me the base line of what her current output is, and what she produces both in power and heart rate. I wanted to give her the personal heart rate zones and ensure she was aware of training correctly within these zones and necessary workouts to follow. I must say I was impressed with her on the bike. I worried at first in terms of pace on our endurance rides and whether she would keep up, although she is very comfortable on a bike and took to this like a duck to water! She is STRONG! It was clear that her bike leg is the strongest and strength out of the three disciplines. This is good considering the majority of the race is spent on the bike! I wouldn’t hesitate going on any long ride with Miia.
First FTP Test
Miia’s working pattern had to be accommodated here and this usually results in her working either two or three days each week. The working days are pure rest days. There is absolute no way any workouts can be fitted in due to the nature of her job. The plan has been designed to make the most of her time and it averages at around 6 or so hours a week for the base period. Potential athletes are always looking for plans to follow for something in the lead up to an event. I myself have done this in the past. The problem is that they are so generic and do not take into account prior fitness, baseline and are usually not fit for purpose for that particular athlete. No plan should be the same for everyone! Here is a snapshot of Miia’s first week:
The key to all this though is enjoyment! Hopefully I have taken away all the thinking, scientific aspects and her worrying whether she is doing the right thing. I want her to enjoy her journey into triathlon and continue it long after this. Enjoyment is the number one goal! Performance will come along for the ride also.
I’ve split this blog into three posts, although it may end up being four by the end depending on the reporting and my time management. This of course being the introductory piece and setting the story or scene – whatever you want to call it. I will then write a second to give the updates and tracking of performance (probably after our initial 8 week base period), and either a final piece on the outcomes, although this may be in two parts in which I hope Miia will add a few comments herself about her experience.
It’s a slightly different take on my usual blogs and I do look for content that is both interesting and different. I hope you enjoy this mini-series as much as Miia enjoys her journey into triathlon! I will of course update on my performance and blog the race reports as usual.
Until next time…tail winds to you all!
I leave you with our route for the last easy endurance ride we did. it was blooming freezing although Miia took a 3rd and 4th on two Strava segments! Do give us a follow on Strava!