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Us "A-Type" triathlete personalities tend to regularly get caught in the weeds of what we are doing. We find it hard to take a step back and look at things from a global perspective. We get so entrenched in the process and engulfed in the finer details, that we forget about the big picture of what triathlon, and in particular, long course triathlon or endurance activities longer than 4-5 hours, is all about. What are the majority of us missing you ask? A ‘bullet proof aerobic base’ - thanks for asking.
Time and time again, one of the biggest oversights I see, is athletes being way too keen to go hard or more often than not, a bit harder than easy. More is better and faster is icing right!? Well, yes and no, and… it depends. It depends on how good your aerobic capacity is to begin with.
What’s with this aerobic base/capacity business and why is it so important?
Let’s take a few steps back here and get a solid grounding to build on.
To begin with, in general, let’s say it takes roughly six weeks to strengthen a muscle (give or take). Add to this is takes roughly 210 days (6-7 months) to build connective tissue (properly) and you have yourself some grounding principles to work with at the basic physiological level. Of course, everyone is coming from different starting points, but as rule of thumb, this is pretty good stuff for a coach and athlete to remember. Layer on aerobic fitness and general adaptations to your cardiovascular system (heart and lungs etc) and you have the building blocks (amongst other things) for endurance. Marry all this with the golden rule of building fitness “CONSISTENCY” and then with the good old trusty 10% rule whereby you stick to adding about 10% of volume or intensity per week, and you have yourself a solid recipe base. As you develop in experience and knowledge, so too will the intricacies that lie within the customised (we hope) coaching and program you are following. 1%ers are for later on in the journey once the base is set.
First and foremost, the most important thing you can do as an athlete is make sure your aerobic base is functioning at max capacity. How do I do this? Through consistency, frequency and strategically getting your volume to a point where it is sustainably maxed out for you, your present level of experience and ability, and of course, to what extent your current lifestyle allows in terms of time available to train. How long will this take? Well how long is a piece of string really!? No two individuals are alike and thus, why would we put a timeline on it. However, generally speaking, if you are being 90%+ consistent with the training laid out for you, you should see gains in fitness every couple of phases 8-12 weeks sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. Also remember, the fitter and more experienced you are, the smaller the gains and harder these are to come by. Throw in the general consensus that it takes 3-5 years of consistent endurance training and racing to really discover what you are capable of on to all, and you have yourself quite the patient process to look forward to.
What does building an aerobic base look like?
In my world and understanding, to build an aerobic base means to do the majority of your training at a very easy effort. In terms of zones (once you’ve got these set correctly) in a five zone model, you want to be spending most of your time in zones 1 and 2; in a three zone model you will be under ventilatory threshold 1 (zone 1); or good old RPE scale would have you at very easy to easy and being able to complete a ‘talk test’ whereby you can maintain a solid conversation with a training buddy (or imaginary friend) - basically be able to talk a full sentence without getting puffed out. There you have the predominant intensity for setting the scene towards building your aerobic base.
Does this mean all I have to do is get around doing all this easy stuff?
Not at all, there is a time and place for bringing in intensity, and during the base phase, this is very much included in a highly polarised approach*(predominantly). During the ‘base phase’ of any build towards a goal race, intensity is generally limited to short bursts of intensity (intensity being anything above zone 3 / tempo). When thinking about what intensity comes into an athlete’s program during a base phase, I like to think about efficiency first and foremost. Efforts are generally kept very short, under 60 seconds, and with plenty of recovery (2-4 minutes) between so as to make sure HR does not stay elevated for prolonged periods. More often than not, this might include a handful of 15-30 second strides to a strong/steady effort whilst running; 15-60” builds to a strong effort on the bike; and 25-50m builds in the pool interspersed with passive and active recovery.
As the athlete progresses their aerobic base, so too does the intensity and duration of intervals used, as does the percentage of intensity distribution across an athlete’s weekly loading.
*Polarised training is where we spend the bulk of time in the lower intensities eg. zones 1 & 2; under VT1 or ‘going easy’ and we spend the rest of the time up in z4 with very sparing amounts in z5. When we do any intensity, it is generally perceived that we avoid spending much if any time at all in zone 3 otherwise known as the grey zone**. In a nutshell, we go easy or we go fast/hard.
*Grey zone training, an athlete’s biggest nemesis, particularly in the base phase of a build. Zone 3, affectionately called the grey zone is a kind of no man’s land. It’s too hard to be easy and too easy to be hard, so the benefits of spending any time there are neglegible, especially during a base phase. One of the major things we tend to find is athletes spending way too much time in zone 3 when they’re meant to be going easy in zones 1 or 2. What this effectively does is increase the amount of fatigue and loading (stress) on an athlete when for the same or better physiological benefits, you could be running a whole lot easier. To rephrase, you can pretty well get the same aerobic/metabolic benefits, if not more, running in zones 1 and 2, but for less tax and overall fatigue. There’s a time and place for some zone 3/grey zone work, but this is usually better spent as we get nearer races and need to spend some time becoming accustomed to race pace efforts. For the most part though, during the base phase, it is commonly agreed upon in the science world, that we are better off keeping things to a more polarised model.
As mentioned earlier, the extent to how detailed things get and need to be, depends entirely on the individual athlete. For a relative beginner, the most important aspects are consistency, frequency, and volume of training. For intermediate and highly experienced athletes, the addition of intensity together with consistency and volume becomes important.
There you have it. The good old analogy of building a house still rings loud and true when it comes to triathlon… you can’t add all the fancy stuff on top of a loose mound of unstable dirt, so why would you go smashing out loads of intensity without laying down a good, honest layer or ten of aerobic strength - at the end of an ironman or ultra run, it’s not the intensity you’ll be wishing you had more of, it’s working on developing an aerobic engine like Crowie Alexander or Courtney Dewaulter ;-) So, rather than getting caught up in the weeds of it all and not seeing the forest for the trees, take it easy, be consistent and ask yourself, is my aerobic base honestly as good as it could be? The usual answer is - it could always be better ;-)
At T:Zero, our coaches are on a journey of growth and discovery. Whilst we, like you, come from various backgrounds and levels of experience, we work hard to provide each and every athlete with the best customised programs possible. We have the foundation, the knowledge, the skill base, the humility and the confidence necessary to learn and flourish- just like you and your endurance journey.
There are definitely no magic bullets in this sport, and for that matter, no ‘magic’ coaches with secret recipes either. It’s important your coach has the experience, knowledge, and skill-set necessary to work with the individual and ‘read’ a person, but we will touch on how we at T:Zero do this another time. My only advice here around coaches is beware of the coach that says they have the magic recipe and all the answers. If you’re looking for a magic pill to short cut your journey, you ain’t going to find it.
Enquire now and join us on the upwards curve to endurance success.
By Head Coach Scotty Farrell
It’s not about whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that matters most.
This is a great ‘quote’ that resonates loud with me in my life and in particular, how I raise my two young boys. Whilst we strive for ‘mastery’ and progress each day, the most important aspect is that we enjoy the journey and play nicely with our friends - whether we win or lose.
In the big scheme of things, how you carry yourself when you ‘win’ and when you ‘lose’ is far more important than the actual result itself. It is what it is, things happen one way or another, and your reactions to these events in time, determine whether you grow your character for the better or to your detriment. Let the ‘wins’ go to your head and you’re on a path to becoming a self-centred egomaniac. Dwell too long on the ‘losses’ and mope around feeling sorry for yourself, and you’ll find it hard to stay consistently motivated for all those gains you’re after.
The trick is to find some solace - a level of cool handedness and balance - that helps you keep it real and see things for what they truly are - lessons in life. Celebrate the wins and learn from your losses but take a step back each time and take stock of the true learnings. Ask not why did this happen to me, but what can I take from this result to enhance my skill and progression forward as an athlete and person. Just a little better each day, week, month, year or event, and all of a sudden, when the time is right, the accumulation of all those micro lessons will be allowed to flourish. Like anything in life, your time to shine will happen when it’s your time. There are no rules with how fast someone should reach their potential - each journey to their own. How many lessons you learn along the way, depends on how much you’re prepared to listen and how bad you really want it.
Stay true to the course. Take the ebbs and flows of the journey for exactly as they are, and you will arrive fulfilled and ready to rock n roll.
Cheers - Scotty
Want to know more about the incredible Head Coach Scotty Farrell? Click HERE
By Head Coach Scotty Farrell
“Without a struggle, there can be no progress” – Frederick Douglass
It’s talked about regularly – in order to achieve that next level result, you have to be prepared to endure a good sold smattering of cold hard suffering on race day. But how many of you are prepared to ‘suffer’ just a little more than the rest, on a daily basis? How much are you really prepared to sacrifice in order to put yourself in a position to even attempt to reach the outer limits of what is possible? Do you take the easy option? Are you doing the mundane, extra little things, that makes the difference between a successful and mediocre performance?
These are big, somewhat deep questions – but honest questions nonetheless and questions that for those of you who want to go next level, need to be asking yourself on an almost daily basis. Stick a post it note on your mirror – “have you suffered a little today?”
The word suffer can mean a few different things depending on what angle you’re coming from, so let me explain what I mean when I say suffer, for the purpose of this article at least. Firstly, keep it in the context of triathlon and your life bubble, and relate it directly to your ultimate goal (ultimate goals – this is a whole other blog, but for now, let’s just go out on a limb and suggest that for most of us, this means putting together a truly honest, grit filled performance that you can step away from and smile with pride. Not so much a number on the clock, but a performance worthy of a deep, intrinsic smile and maybe a few tears of guts and heart). I digress (sorry, I’m a tangent master at the best of times – mum called me a day dreamer). Back to suffer and its definition.
The Oxford dictionary defines the word suffer as “To experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant).” Let’s define suffer for our bubble as ‘putting yourself in situations you’d rather not be in and enduring it for want of facing fears and improving your weaknesses’ – much the same as the dictionary, but with a slight twist, geared at performance.
If you’re still with me and you’re willing to endure a few more tangents (possibly suffer a little), I will attempt to share with you, my thoughts and opinion on what it takes to suffer on a daily basis and take yourself closer to living your potential.
How to suffer 101
It’s a broad and subjective term is ‘suffer’. We can define it in a few different ways. But ultimately, it’s the collective ability to consistently put yourself in positions where you feel discomfort and work towards being a better person/athlete. You don’t have to be a navy seal and put yourself through hell week every day of your life, but if you want to take your performance to the next level, then you have to be willing to suffer, every day, period – even just a little.
Want to know more about Head Coach Scotty Farrell? Click here!
It’s taper time, time to start getting fresh and prepping yourself for the big day ahead in a couple of weeks. It’s a time to reflect upon the work you have done, the sacrifices you and your loved ones have made for you to be where you are and to remember how lucky you are to be in a position to be doing an Ironman in the first place.
In a perfect world, we remain completely zen about it all, cruise into the race with linear, cool as you like emotions intact and crush race day like it’s a walk in the park.
However, this is so far-fetched from what normally goes on. For most of us, we go into self-sabotage mode. We reflect on our training, but rather than focus on how much we have done, it’s about what we missed. We begin to doubt our strength and fitness and enter into a somewhat negative mindset which from where I sit, isn’t going to help things in both the lead up and on race day.
Whilst hindsight is a beautiful thing, let’s instead bring our focus to what lies ahead, what we can control and how we can set ourselves up for a kick arse taper.
Control the controllables: we say it time and time again. There are a few things you have control over. Such as the few listed below:
Embrace the butterflies:
You’re going to feel nervous leading into an Ironman, particularly if this is your first one. But rather than trying to suppress these feelings and be super positive all the time, embrace the nerves and butterflies – it means you care and it really is a part of why we do this amazing sport. If we didn’t get the butterflies, it wouldn’t scare us and then what’s the point right!?
So embrace all of the feelings that come your way and whilst it’s important to keep things positive and focus on what’s to come, remember that they’re all a big part of the journey to that finish line. It’s a rollercoaster is this Ironman thing, with big waves of emotions - the better you can navigate your way through it all and stay mostly positive, the better your experience will be.
Enjoy the experience:
As mentioned earlier, it’s a time to reflect and be grateful for everyone and everything in your life that has lead you to being able to be where you are today. It’s a privilege to do this sport, so get out there and enjoy the experience, soak up the atmosphere, the highs and the lows, embrace it all! You deserve to be there, but you are also very lucky to be who you are – adopt an attitude of gratitude!
Go forth and race well. Find your flow, race with grit and above all, embrace everything that comes your way both in taper and race day. It’s one hell of a journey you’ve been on to get there and such a very cool moment in time it will be when you’re smashing down that red carpet like a young Jane Fonda!
“Things work out best for those people who make the most of how things turn out” Coach John Wooden
Coach Scotty Farrell
Click here to find out more about Head Coach Scotty Farrell
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!