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What is fitness?

‘I’ve gone to all this effort and I’m not even fit enough to achieve xxx’

This upset statement from one of my athletes on a downer really made me think and question ‘what is fitness?’

How do we measure it? What do we really mean when we think someone has a high level of fitness? Was it rational for the athlete to expect to achieve xxx? 

‘I want to go faster.’ Perhaps this seems a simple enough statement and is probably one of the ones we hear the most often.  But does that mean measuring and working to improve our FTP ( Functional Threshold Power) and successfully time trialling, or practicing VO2 max intervals to improve our ability to go with a break, or doing lots of endurance work to go faster over an ironman bike course. All valid aspirations, all variations on going faster and all need training for in very different ways.  Success at one will mean failure at the others….. so we need to be very clear where we are heading.

When we set out to ‘get fitter’ it is important to have targets so that we can measure our progress and celebrate our achievements. Do we mean squatting 75% of our body weight, or managing to achieve one press up. Do we mean being able to achieve a two hour aerobically coupled base ride or smashing a 10 mile time trial. These are all very different fitness goals. Because someone can now get up from the floor without using their hands can they ride their bike faster? Not necessarily, but are they fitter? – yes, in a very functional manner. This tends not to be the first measure that comes into mind when we ask ‘are we fitter’ and yet it is an important, distinct part of functional fitness.

Which brings us on to how do we frame our goal? The end of a season, when many people take a break from focused training, is a good time to start defining  your main goal for next season and planning how to reach it.

Make sure your goal is SMART – Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound. Just on the border of realistic and attainable is a good shout!  For most of us winning a Tour de France stage is not realistic. ‘Improve my 25 mile time trial time by 2 minutes next season’ is specific, measurable, possibly realistic, possibly attainable and is time-bound.

Then you need to take that goal and start planning how to achieve it. A great way to do this is to complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of everything which can impact your chances of achieving your goal. This will include many aspects of fitness and probably some aspects of organisation and finance eg decisions about  how far to travel and what new kit to buy! .

Table of some of the factors to consider if the aim is to improve your 25mile time trial time by 2 minutes in 2021 –

Aspects of fitness To considerOther areas
Aerobic fitnessBike, wheels, tyres
Muscular enduranceClothing choices
Muscular forceRace planning – A, B and C races, travel, timescales etc.
Anaerobic enduranceHow much time can you devote
Speed skills – pedalling techniqueThe impact of training on your relationships
Strength and conditioningFinance
SleepBike fit
General diet 
Supplements 
Alcohol consumption 
Stress levels 
Find a coach? Do you need one for your goal 
Training plan 
Rest and recovery 
Flexibility – can you hold the position on your tt 
Patience 

From the table one can quickly see that ‘fitness’ is a general term for a raft of aspects. That’s why fitness is a very holistic and complex topic.  And I stated ‘next season’. This is not a quick fix job.

Gaining any type of increase in performance, unless starting from a very low base, takes time, consistency and patience. So within this one aim there could be a myriad of mini-fitness aims which are all part of getting to the main goal.

Whether or not you manage your goal of improving your 25 mile tt time by two minutes it is then unreasonable to complain because you struggled to finish an ironman –  that would be an unrealistic outcome given your stated goal.

Set your SMART goal and good luck on your journey, above all enjoy.

Fitness – it’s a complicated life Hector. (Hector’s house, TV 1970s)

Race Story – Cotswolds 113 Middle Distance Race

Humm, why was I racing a middle distance race on the flatlands of the Cotswolds when my friends were doing a perfectly good standard race in Windermere? Precisely because it is flat and the Lake District isn’t. I entered when the date was in June and it was a preparation race for a flat Ironman in July. The best laid plans, ah well, me and the rest of the world. I realise I am very lucky to get any racing at all; it’s definitely a luxury in today’s world.   

I’m not sure I thought about luxury as I racked. In fact that early in the morning I’m pretty sure I didn’t think anything at all. Paddy’s marshal briefing was at 4.45am so I was the first person into transition which, luckily, had great lights. Something missing off my kit list was a head torch.

It was odd swimming in a small, shallow, WARM pond surrounded by trees. I hadn’t realised how much I look at, and appreciate, the amazing views of space and mountains when I swim at home. Weird watching weed the whole way round, I do like the patterns it makes. The staggered start (Covid safe) and the shallow warm water worked well and I came in in 36:05 which is my fastest time ever in a middle distance apart from river swims with currents. I thought that was really interesting as I haven’t done any focused swim training, or intervals, or fast work. I have purely swum around in the Lakes stopping to look at the view. How does that work then?

It was odd having neutralized transitions. 10 minutes in T1 and 5 minutes in T2. Although having decided to use the loo in T2 I still managed to be late leaving it and ended up with an eleven second penalty. I’ll revert to my normal, less pleasant, practice next time.

It was also odd, and not in such a good way, riding Paddy’s tt bike. For various reasons I have probably only ridden it a handful of times and never for long. My mistake. The bike leg went ok, covering 56 miles in 2:57, averaging approx 18.6 mph and putting out approx 150 watts. Handling could have been better, lack of practice, and the bits into a strong headwind were hard work. I’d love to say the views were good but I had my head down…. The marshals however were fantastic. Hoards of six on every junction, some stopping traffic, illegal or not, others just shouting support.

Then I tried to run….even odder …. my body is not used to being held in a cramped, tucked position for three hours and it complained by refusing to stand up properly and then refusing to pick my feet up properly. So the run was a fairly painful affair – serve me right – but the route was lovely. Three laps and my head was up enough to appreciate a very pretty run route, mostly off road, along ponds, (I guess they are little Lakes really) and through woodland. Lots of tree roots to fall over. The trend in amazing marshals continued and having our names printed on our numbers meant a lot of the support was personalised. A great help. A slow 2:07.

Followed by a slow two days as my hamstrings gradually loosened off.  This is a great, flat, middle distance race. Very well organised with the best marshalling ever. There are two dates for next year coming on line. The early one would be an ideal race for Lakesman entrants and the local Premier Inn has comfy beds and a pub next door. … Club trip?  

Ps apologies for the very poor photos, we were both too busy.

HELLvelyn Triathlon

A bucket list event held on my doorstep – so why ever not? Maybe because the swim is cold, the cycle ride goes up The Struggle which is a climb listed in ’10 of the UK’s toughest climbs’. It lasts for 4.8km and climbs over 1200ft with sections of 24%. There is a flat bit in the middle. The ‘run’ then almost summits Helvellyn – it turns right with about 50 metres of climb to go. It climbs about 3,000ft and goes up Swirral Edge scramble. No reason at all then.

Even more fun when some friends decide to do it as well, and Paddy comes as support – coffee and hugs on tap. I was ridiculously nervous. Maybe because it was the first race of the season and I’m always nervous for that one. Maybe because I haven’t fell run regularly for over ten years so it did feel like a very big challenge.

A field in rural Cumbria contrasted with the presence of a pro-field and Alsitair Brownlee turned up, having raced in Hamburg the day before. Luckily no 14 day isolation required! He went on to break the old course record, which he set when he was 19. Social distance spacing in transition looked suspiciously like a normal cramped transition and I wasn’t about to get the tape measure out. Have to say though the COVID silver lining was the presence of more toilets than normal and quantities of both gel and loo roll.

A beautiful, cold Ullswater (13 degrees) welcomed us and we were supposed to start at 5 second intervals. This rapidly turned into ‘get everyone in: any order and any spacing will do’. So apologies to those who were hoping to spectate, all our timings went straight out the window and my warm up was just a little rushed. We jumped in leaving Paddy surrounded by a big pile of gear. Flat lake, tight course, hop out, run round a buoy, hop back in again. Felt good in the water, if a trifle chilly.

On to the bike, 10% chance of rain and the sun was starting to come out. That lasted for the first ten minutes. By the time we got the the A66 it was henious. So horrible it was quite exhilerating. Poor visibility, greyness, spray, caravans. Coat on. Dunmail was easy, the Struggle wasn’t. No suprise there then. Quick hug with Paddy at the top, it was that kind of race, and an update on how the others were doing. Wet descent. I thought how nice of them to place an ambulance with flashing lights half way down to remind me to slow down. Must have been tired, it was there because someone had gone through the wall. Sluggish with some cramp issues on the bike.

Easy in transition to keep the cramp at bay; also because Alistair was being interviewed so I paused for a listen. First mile easy, settle into things gently, only eight left to go. Then the course went straight up. Postive head – ‘ thank goodness its uphill, thank goodness it’s uphill’, repeat. My legs couldn’t cope with going down at that point. The clouds were now blowing off and the fells were absolutely stunning. Thankfully I hadn’t taken my phone or I’d still be there taking photos. Luckily Stephen took some instead. The main climb finished off up Swirral Edge which was fun – wet rock and lots of people not used to scrambling. Then down, down, down.

Finally through the finish in just under six hours. I was the last of us to finish so I got the biggest welcome reception. With a touch of black humour the organisers had left us one last little Covid challenge – collect your own medal and the medal box was on the floor.

Successes of all kinds – Stephen raised over £1000 for Vision of Adventure ( a local charity supporting visually impaired athletes), he also not only survived but successfully smashed his second ever triathlon. Jack learnt loads to take forward to his ironman next year. I managed a respectable fell run having not done that for a very long time. And fun was had by all, both beforehand and on the day. In fact the crack was so good we may even contemplate doing it again.

Fuelling on the bike

People often ask me how much they should eat on the bike when on a long ride. When I tell them they usually then say – ‘HOW MUCH!!?? I can’t possibly eat or drink that.’

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So here is a guide to fuelling on the bike – all I can provide is some basic guidelines and then you have to work it out for yourself through trial and error. Nutrition is complex and very individual; what works for one person will make someone else feel ill.

RADSPORT - Oesterreich Radrundfahrt 2012

Practice is crucial. Your body needs to practice being able to absorb nutrition and it needs to work out what it likes and doesn’t like.  It is not fun discovering what it doesn’t like on the day of an event.  So long training rides are about practicing nutrition as well as developing your aerobic base. If you constantly get it wrong in training you reduce your body’s ability to recover, compromise your immune system, potentially lose too much weight, lose power production, feel cold, lose your mojo, get sick. In an event you may vomit or just bonk – that means run out of energy and feel like the guy in the photo – not the feeling you have trained for months to attain.

Back to the question of HOW MUCH?  Ingest between 40g and 90g of carbohydrate an Continue reading “Fuelling on the bike”

OK? Not OK? The margins are small

Anxiety and uncertainty – there is a lot of both around at the moment. All the way through COVID 19 everyone has been juggling uncertainty in their own ways and most people would admit to having days when things are less than OK. Our household felt a bit like standing on a plateau of molten lava, atop a volcano. lavaWe both lost our three streams of income at once, with no guarantee that they were going to return.  We went from a household of two to a household of six. Two adult children arrived home jobless, one bringing a jobless partner, and the third came back to sit online university exams with no guarantee of his third year going ahead.  Uncertainly was rife.  My husband then returned to hospital with an attack of Atrial fibrillation, a heart condition. Nothing to do with stress!? Things have since calmed down a bit, and we are one of the lucky families so far.  No bereavements and financially we are secure compared to so many.  I felt so guilty at not being able to ‘pull weight’ as I saw it. Being asthmatic I was nervous of volunteering to help, which is one of my drivers in life.

But help is given and received in many ways and mental wellbeing is not a static state, it is a shifting picture. Which is why I love the picture below.  Continue reading “OK? Not OK? The margins are small”

Cycling Technique hints

Pedalling 

Aim for a cadence of between 80 and 100. Therefore if you are cycling inside I suggest aiming for 90. Just in case you have forgotten, cadence is the number of times you turn your pedals over in a minute. Cadence will fall when riding outside due to variations in the terrain, so practice higher cadence inside to accommodate this.  Practice cadence and variations in cadence. Pedal at a high cadence (100 – 120) in an easy gear to refine technique and train your neuro-muscular system to be more adaptable.  This makes holding a cadence of near 90 for general riding easier.

Think about more efficient pedalling. This is how you propel the bike and you do an awful lot of it, so the better it is the better your cycling. A two hour ride involves turning your pedals over 10,800 times if your cadence is 90. Think about pushing across the top of the stroke to improve the force in the drive downwards. These two are the most important parts of the pedal rotation. In order to put the power on early you need to have flexible joints so don’t forget that yoga and mobility work. Also don’t forget a decent bike fit.

forces

Position

Elements of style – toes pointing more or less ahead, knees pointing forwards, sit bones on your seat, bending forwards from hips, not middle of your back. Engage your core to hold a good position, this also takings strain off your back. Shoulder blades are down and shoulders relaxed, elbows slightly bent to act as shock absorbers and hands covering the brakes but relaxed. Look forwards to where you are going. Continue reading “Cycling Technique hints”

Covid Reframing

‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’

Mike Tyson

We have all just been metaphorically punched in the mouth big time and our athletic plans and life plans have been torn up overnight.

Time for a re-write. No one is saying this is easy.

For some it helps to make sense of things by using models. This article looks at what has happened in some different ways.

The Kubler-Ross grief curve was originally formulated by Elizabeth Kubler in 1969 and described the five stages of grief people typically pass through when mourning a death. These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. This has since been applied to our reactions to change and is commonly adopted as a ‘change model’.

kubler_ross_change_curve-optimised

Continue reading “Covid Reframing”

Strengthening the immune system against the Corona virus.

‘Ring a ring a roses,

A pocket full of poseys,

Atishoo, atishoo

We all fall down’

This rhyme originated at the time of the Black Death in the 1300s. The Black Death was a global epidemic of bubonic pneumonia with symptoms of sneezing. Flowers are now out as protection. Hand sanitizer and loo roll are in apparently, along with the odd dose of black humour, to protect against the coronavirus.

 

But what else can we do?

We can continue the normal measures for our everyday persona such as hand washing and social isolation. We have all read more than enough about that I’m sure.  So this article considers what we can do within our athletic personas to maintain good health.

All advice indicates it would be wise to proceed with caution. Training sessions can suppress our immune system which makes us more vulnerable to illness. This is most likely to happen when ‘sessions are prolonged, of moderate to high intensity and performed without food intake.’ (Gleeson M) Interestingly ‘long’ is being talked of as anything over two hours so take particular care around your longer bike rides as the weather gets better. If we get ill in the current situation most of us should recover relatively quickly but we could easily pass the coronavirus on to someone else, who may become seriously ill.

It is a game of minimizing risk.

Things that can minimize our risks- Continue reading “Strengthening the immune system against the Corona virus.”

Coaching using Micro-energy Management

Written by Kath Finn and Jane Senior, who speak from bitter experience. They have both spent many months ill and have finally and successfully taken the slow road to recovery. They would like to support others to make this journey a little faster than they did. They are Triathlon coaches and coaches with the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and Association of Coaching.

 Coaching for recovery from illness … and getting back to training

Simple, we just get better and return to normal training, right?  Not quite, it pays to build up slowly.  Training before you are fully well can lead to long term problems of various kinds. It has been linked to a higher possibility of developing chronic fatigue syndrome and increased ongoing respiratory difficulties.  Training with a virus can also cause tachycardia – a speeded up resting heart rate.  So patience is a virtue. One many of us haven’t got.

On occasion we don’t respond as we expect during a gradual recovery, then a new a new softly, softly approach is required. People who don’t recover as expected often experience a huge amount of frustration and are likely to try the yo-yo approach of too much training followed by periods of illness for a while.  They unable to believe that the paltry amount of exercise they are doing is too much. Eventually some re-framing has to come into play.

Recovery through micro energy management

When we are struggling to recover from something we are already in a personal energy crisis and we need to take charge to move ourselves out of this crisis. We have to re-frame the way we think about our energy use.

Our energy comes in different forms – physical, mental, spiritual and emotional. All strands of energy need to run at a reasonably high level over time for us to function and train effectively. People’s energy is finite and sometimes, like a car, we dip near the bottom of our reserve energy tank. Like a car, we tend not to function perfectly until this energy tank is topped up again.  When our energy reserve tank is very low it is likely that all types of energy are low, possibly due to illness or life stresses, and all types need to be rebuilt. Lets consider the different types and some ideas for measuring them.

Physical 

Physical energy forms the platform that our other energies are based on and this is the one that we are often most familiar with.  The ‘more is better’, ‘no pain, no gain’ approach to training is currently unfortunately popular. However this is not sustainable, we are designed to need a recovery phase to ensure that we have the energy required to push again, both in training and in life.   Recovery is not a luxury, it is essential to improve and sustain our performance. This is true when both training and recovering from illness.  People find their own way of scoring things but a 9/10 here is ready to go out and race or ride your favourite long route, feeling on top of the world, fit and strong.  A score of one might be able to walk slowly up the stairs but not much more. 0 and you are in bed….all day.

Continue reading “Coaching using Micro-energy Management”

Scotland?…or maybe not

I could almost be in Scotland. The views are big, the roads are empty, the gradients constantly unrelenting.  I can hear the odd song bird, see the odd animal. The early morning air is sharp and I struggle to understand people. But I am most definitely NOT in Scotland.

WP_20171025_013The early morning nip gives way to a hot 26 degrees at the end of October, the animals are lizards scuttling for cover and crickets landing on my mitts. Beautiful autumn colours in the leaves are reflected back in the colours of the house walls and every village has a church or a castle dominating its skyline with a plethora of little streets and hidden bars beneath.

My wheel bounces off fallen almond nuts and I catch glimpses of red and orange as ripe pomegranates and oranges peep from under laden boughs. The olive trees are speckled green and brown and black as this year’s crop bends the branches and splashes of yellow announce the presence of some lemons.

We climb out of this richness and wend our way across barren scrub land plateau before climbing once again. Our reward is a wide angle view of the sea and the coastal plain and we then plummet towards some larger settlements where we find good coffee and sandwiches in a shaded town centre square. Continue reading “Scotland?…or maybe not”