Maximising performance in the off season

In professional sport the ‘off season’ offers an athlete the opportunity to rest, recover and mentally prepare for the following season. In the off season an athlete will do strength training and fitness training so that they are in peak condition when the new season starts. In tennis the fitness and strengthening will carry them through the season, and allows them to focus more on match play and technique.

In the amateur we can see that the off season either never occurs, or that the athlete decides to increase the intensity of their training – and injuries occur. The off season needs to be structured to maximise the benefits for the following season.

The off season also offers an opportunity for injuries to be treated sensibly and for the body to be rested to allow natural healing processes to occur. The powers of rest cannot be underestimated. This will include having plenty of sleep; it will also include having ‘active recovery’ whereby the body continues to exercise, but in a much lower intensity so that injuries can respond to treatment and heal.

Structure your year to peak for your events and also to have an off season. Your physiotherapist and trainer can work closely together to design an off season which will help heal your injuries and also maximise your potential for the following season OR for achieving an extra goal.

Last 1.5 weeks of training before the Etape de tour 2011

The last week of training was a killer. My coach had me train 4 days in the week and a combination of long rides, time trials and medium distance rides in big gears to make my legs work harder. I then travelled to Switzerland to watch the Ironman and have come back to another 2 hour bike session.

I certainly hit my biggest weeks of training on the last two weeks and with cycling there really isn’t such a thing as an easy week. My coach had me ride 2 hours this week to keep my legs going and the day before the race there will be another 1 hour ride. I was tired at the end of last week and still feeling the affects of travelling to Zurich and getting up at 3am for the race preparation and race day.

It was good to get back on the bike with my riding partner yesterday and push hard. My body seemed to forget what pushing hard on the bike felt like.

I still need rest before the race and I have been crabo loading. My appetite has increased significantly with the amount of training I have been doing. I am eating pasta and rice with simple toppings to keep it easy on my digestive system. There will be a pasta pasty the day before the race and I am looking forward to eating well from here on in.

My racing bike is now in transit to France. My riding partner is taking it on the back of his 4×4 vehicle as he has a house in France. I am packing tonight and then off early to get to the airport on time. I have made a list of everything I need to take. It is vitally important to remember my medical certificate otherwise I would not get my race number to ride. I also arranged travel insurance with Snow Card. There are few companies providing full medical cover for bike races.

In the last three weeks I have been having problems with a loud noise coming from my bike when I ride up hill. I had my bike mechanic come to my house twice to sort it out and to change my gearing to a 34 on the front and 28 on the back. He changed the chain and also gave the bike a new pedal bracket. I tested the bike yesterday morning and it was still making a noise so I took it to Sigma sports where my bike mechanic works to have another look.

The noise was not coming from the pedal bracket it was somewhere around the steering column. He chose to lube the entire headset and we thought it was sorted but then I tested it and again the noise was present. This was getting frustrating and I was worried as I was giving my bike over for transportation to France that day.

I was testing the bike and then another Sigma bike mechanic heard the noise. He said it had to be the front wheel axle. He lubed the entire area around the axle including the connection with the front forks. Magic, the noise was gone. It showed me how difficult it can be to judge where noise is coming from on a bike and to lube the bike if it has been in the rain or not been serviced for a long time.

I am relaxed mentally and I am looking forward to the entire experience. I will be with 5000-6000 other riders and having a riding partner makes all the difference as it will be along day. I am expecting to do it in 9-10 hours. The professionals rode stage 9 on the weekend and there were some serious accidents. The wet road can be dangerous on the hairpin turns so braking carefully and slowing down is important.

This is it I am about to do the Etape de tour 2011. It has been tough training as the rides have been so long and I have worked at the same time. I am glad training is over and now I am ready to race. On my website I am posting the entire Act II guidance booklet from my tour company. It contains everything a rider needs to know. On the following blog I am also putting the analysis of the Etape stage by an ex-pro cyclist. I asked him to break the race down as if he was doing it and his insights have been extremely valuable.

I will read over advice from cycle fit, look at the course and then watch the Tour de France to prepare. It is surreal knowing I am about to take on a stage of the current Tour de France.


Hill climbing lessons, time trialling and post training fatigue

My coach wanted me to train three times this week. A few weeks ago I was getting too tired with work and life and decided I would make an effort to look after myself better. I therefore decided to train twice instead this week. My coach wanted to come out with me on the weekend and also take my good friend an ironman athlete. He wanted to push me up the hills and make it a hard training session.

Earlier in the week I had a decision to make between time trialling or hill climbing mid-week. I decided to do time trialling as I knew there would be hill climbing on the weekend. I rested with no weight training during the week.

The time trial was done in Richmond Park and in the past I knew I could do a round in just over 20 minutes. It is not a consistent time trial because the wind can blow at different speeds and the traffic can vary depending on what time of day you go. My main ambition was to set my stop watch and see that I done a round of Richmond Park in under 20 minutes.

I had two laps to do with a warm up lap at the start and half a lap cool down in between. I decided to go clockwise around the park for my first lap. I dropped the gears and started the push. In my mind I knew I had to pace myself to keep a consistent speed around the park but also knew I had to push harder and harder. I did not look at my watch at all during the lap. The traffic was building up and when I stopped at roundabouts I counted the seconds so as to subtract it from my final time. The wind was against me along the flats and it hit me on the final stretch of 400 meters. The flat was where I could really pick up my time but the wind had other ideas. I pushed right to the end of the lap and looked at my watch 20 minutes and 15 seconds. If I subtracted 10 -15 seconds off for traffic I think I would be in on 20 minutes but I really wanted to see the watch say 20minutes or less.

On the second lap I decided to ride anticlockwise to see if I could change the effect of the wind and hope the traffic lessened. I took aff again and as I was riding my fastest up the hill from Roehampton Gate to Richmond Gate another cyclist blew past me. He was sitting in his seat and probably travelling three times faster. I was absolutely amazed at his leg strength and as he pulled away into the distance I felt such a weak climber. I stuck my head down and pushed harder. The wind was assisting me along the flat but caught me on another section of the lap and the traffic held me up more. Coming in the final 400 metres I pushed and pushed and my right calf suddenly cramped. When I tried pushing hard with the right leg it cramped. I didn’t want an injury so eased off the pedal pressure. I crossed the line in 20 minutes and 30 seconds. If I did not have the cramp I think under 20 minute was a sure possibility. I  would wait until next time.

I have been focussed on getting my hill climbing stronger and all I want to do is climb hills. I get out of the seat of the bike more and maintain a better speed up the hills. On the weekend my coach and the ironman athlete took an alternative route out to Box Hill. This route had hills with 11 an 15% gradients with a variation of long and short distances. My coach told me to push hard on the first hill. I accelerated away and half way up totally blew up. My lungs were about to blow up and my heart could not pump any faster. I slowed right down and my coach blew past me. I told him I went to fast at the start and the lesson I got was to pace myself better for the entire hill. If I do not know how long the hill is I can underestimate its length , therefore, it is better to keep a steady pace and when I see the top push hard. I asked him why he could blow past me so easily and he explained my training had not included many hills and I was heavier that he was so it was easier for him to pedal up the hills. I wondered if my leg strength needed work and he thought they were ok. So it is lots of hill climbing and practice to get my technique correct.

Our training ride on the weekend started in wet conditions and I have never seen so many riders on the side of the road with flat tires. My coach said it is because of the rain and the water lifts sharp objects to the surface of the road. I had just made this distinction when my front tire blew a flat. I pulled out my inner tube and it did not have a valve or a locking screw on it. I pulled them off the flat tire to use. Remember not all inner tubes come with valve and locking screw so check this out when you buy it. I pumped it up with one CO2 canister but it was not fully inflated. When I climbed the hills again I could feel the front tire compress and I was losing valuable energy and momentum and speed. I pulled out a second canister and inflated the tire more. It was much better and next time I  will leave the canister on the valve until I feel the tire is fully inflated.

In the same ride the traffic was awful as we were still riding t 1pm. My front wheel hit the curb when slowing up and because my foot was still clipped into the pedal I fell over. My right hip and hand took the brunt of the fall. Fortunately I had fallen badly once before and knew this was a minor one. I continued riding but I could certainly feel the stiffness come on that night.

I have woken up this morning and feel exhausted. I was going to get to work for 10am but I am still at home. I am going in at 12pm instead as my body is tired. These long fast rides need good recovery and I am feeding my body good food and resting. Still feel like I need more sleep but that will come with an early night tonight. I am not going to train today or tomorrow and when my body feels strong again I will hit the gym. I am learning how to get the best out of my body. I might be able to train tomorrow in the gym.

This coming week my coach wants me to do hill repeats in Richmond Park, gym session based on endurance and then a 6 hour bike ride. I plan to ride on saturday to allow my body to recover on Sunday before the week begins. I want to ride my  6hour ride by myself to go at the speed I want and to ride several hills. I think my strength is improving on the hills and I am certainly going to make the effort to get all the hill climbing I need completed.

Recovery from Ironman and L’etape Du France

It is now three weeks since completing the ironman. On the day I finished the Ironman I needed a “human Crutch” to help me walk around and get back to my hotel. My quadriceps were painful with every step and walking up and down stairs was painful. I caught a train back to our hotel, ordered dinner in the room and went to bed.

In bed my legs were burning and hot and my upper body was cold/ shivering. It led to an unsettled sleep as I was pulling the covers over the top half of my body and trying to keep my legs cool. I had an anti -inflammatory and because there was no ice for an ice bath my coach said have a hot bath. The hot bath was a pleasure to sit in and enjoying the moment was amazing.

The next morning, only 9-10 hours later, I was walking much easier without help but stairs were still a struggle. I ate so much food and that morning and continued to eat all day in large quantities. Walking around Zurich I could see other ironman athletes limping and one guy was on crutches.

It took another 2 days gradually lessening pain before I was comfortable to walk up and down stairs.  I continued to eat any food I could get hold off and I found my metabolism was remained very high, even now 3 weeks later.

Within 1.5 weeks of finishing the ironman my body felt like it wanted to train again. My mind was not fussed about training but my body wanted to keep training. It wanted to ride, swim and run and yet I knew it needed to rest. i spoke to my coach and he said your body will need 4 weeks of rest to recover and not to push myself. I have not training now for 3 weeks.

I got my bike wheels back this week and I will be putting them on the bike tomorrow. I am looking forward to getting on the bike and working my legs. After doing the ironman I think training in the gym alone would no interest me. I feel I want another challenge to give me focus for my training.

I all looking at cycling as a sport I would like to improve. I do not want to do another ironman and my swimming and running are not as enjoyable as cycling. My coach said I could make a good cyclist so I am now looking at the Le’tape du France as a challenge for next year.

I will focus on treating ironman athletes as a physio and become a specialist in this sport. I will do shorter triathons as I think this is a sport where injuries occur frequently and the athletes need immediate care and results to achieve their goals.

I will do the Le’tape du France 2011 and learn about the cycling mechanics and how to help people improve in this sport. I can learn the injuries that can happen and the biomechanics of the sport.

Today will be my first training session. I plan to run and swim a short distance and relax the rest of the day.

Week 9 total rest

My Coach Fran has given me the week off to recover from the middle distance triathlon. It has been great in allowing my muscles to recover and my legs are almost back to normal.

I had a massage two days after the event and the next day  my hamstring and quads felt better and I could walk easier. I have been physically tired from working during the week and some late nights. I feel mentally fresh which I think is important going into the next phase of training.

I have noticed I can get short tempered occasionally and there is still an element of physical fatigue from the event. I am trying to keep my diary clear as much as possible to rest.

I took my bike into the mechanics yesterday and the clicking that was coming from the pedals has something to do with the bottom bracket. I am taking it into the shop for a service on June 7 but I can still use the bike in the mean time. I have also set up the Garmin 705 onto the aero bars to plan long rides. This is a fantastic piece of kit and will be invaluable in the next 8 weeks of training.

The rubber band on my profile bottle snapped this weekend. I was able to find one on the Wiggle website for £2. Wiggle is fantastic to use.

I am now waiting for my coaches instructions for the next weeks training plan. I am concerned I will be away for three weekends during this time. Fran will be good at adjusting the training plan but I will be doing some long sessions during the week.

Week 24: shin pain from cramping and gym training

Last weeks sessions were  for me to get back into full training. I did an hour swim training and during the training my big toes were cramping when I pushes off the wall. I then did a dead lift weight session in the gym and that night I developed shin pain. I have never experienced this type of pain and I was worried  it was a shin splint type injury.

My logic as a physio told me it could not be bone related pain as I only did a deadlift and got some cramping. The next day it was worse and I had to cancel my 50 min run and my cycle the next day. It was a tough decision not to train but I knew I wanted to get in the 2 hour 45 min ride on sunday. I rested for 4 days and went to Richmond park to ride.

I had a friend come and ride three laps of Richmond park with me. Initially I could feel a tightness in the front of the shin and after going up hills I could feel it a little more. I was concerned I was making it worse and told myself I would stop if the pain became sharp. After 3 laps my legs were ok and I was confident I could finish the ride. The feeling of relief and being able to complete the ride was one of achievement.

When I got home I massaged and stretched the legs and put on compression socks. The legs did get tighter in the cold but I have woken up this morning and they feel good. I told my coach I would run on Thursday this week. The legs will need lots of massage and I will not do squats or deadlifts in the gym. Lets see if I can run on Thursday.

My swim coach has recommended I buy a tempo trainer. I got it from amazon and it fits under my cap and keeps me in time. At the moment I get out of breath still with swimming and I noticed breathing all the air out under the water helps.

It is important I get all the training in from now on as the race is not that far away. I am feeling a little pressure today.

Week 27:Snow boarding and Ironman training

It was a dicey decision to go snow boarding last weekend. If I injured myself I knew my Ironman training was in jeopardy. I had lessons last year and took it slowly to prevent an injury. My training plan for last week was

 Mon 18 Jan: 45mins easy run (will be good to see how your legs will feel after today’s bike ride!)
Tues 19 Jan: Session with Emile only
Wed 20 Jan: 2h 30mins outdoor bike ride (if you can’t do it, do tues 12 Jan turbo trainer session)
I had a busy week at work and I had planned to get up at 4.30am on Thursday to do the ride as I was leaving that day to go snow boarding and I thought I could fit it in before hand. I ended up going to bed at 2am on Wednesday and with 2.5 hours sleep I realised how tired my body felt. I knew I had a long trip to get to ski field and I questioned the benefit of training. My mind was battling with the thought of losing out on a training session and being sensible and resting. I chose to rest and in hindsight I am glad I did. I felt good snow boarding and my body was not exhausted.

I got through the snow boarding trip with no injuries. The lessons the year before helped my technique and the falls were not so bad. This highlighted how important technique is  in my Ironman training. Since the trip I have noticed my legs are tighter, especially the quads, ITB and hamstrings. On my first run back I got ITB pain ont he left knee. I did an outdoor run for 45 minutes and I had to walk the last 10 minutes. It did not feel great and I have refocused on stretching.

I was fortunate  to snow board this early in my training. My coach probably did not want me to go but he was adaptable in my program. The only reason this can happen is because I have started training with a year to go.

Week 28: feeling exhausted in the mornings

I have done 5 days of training and I have my 2.5 hour bike tomorrow. I have altered my diary and fitting in the training this week went well. It is different when I have planned my week and I do not take on any more social events during the week.

Week 28 has seen a significant increase in training with swim sessions being tagged on the back of a weight training session and interval bike training session. My calf muscles and left knee did not like the increase squats and lunges this week. The massages I have on a monday are keeping me supple in the legs but I must avoid squatting too low to save my knee-joint.

The bike intervals were horrible. I managed to keep my heart rate at 75% of my max and ride for 2 x 20 minute intervals. My legs were hurting after 5 minutes of each interval and it was a mind game to keep myself going for 20 minutes. I have another bike session tomorrow and looking forward to no intervals.

Been waking up in the morning with my body shattered. I know my body is working harder and it is responding to the training. I know I must monitor my motivation levels, how tired my body feels in the morning, how it responds to training and if my appetite is normal. If these change I know I am overtraining and will tell Fran (coach).

I want to buy winter gloves this week, get my bike box booked on my flights back to NZ and to Zürich and book the Ascot Hotel in Zürich.

The bike box is costing £54 to book for Switzerland. If it exceeds 23 kg I must pay a further £30 each way.

Braces tightened yesterday so teeth painful again. Looks like back to soft foods this week. I have noticed my body is wanting lots of Carbs but I think I am overeating the carbs as my body is storing too much fat and I do not feel great at night. I will switch to more protein and vegetables at night. Get the steamer out and make it easy on myself to cook.

First week of base training: Feeling the pinch and too much socialising

Its been just over a week since I started base training. It is exciting and I am now starting the more concentrated training. I have planned my diary to have time in the middle of the day to train and work later. It definitely makes a difference as the gym is quieter and I get the pool all to myself sometimes.

My body has been feeling good and I have got back into the squats at 70% RPM. My back is good as I had felt a twinge doing the same exercise a couple of weeks ago. I still find getting enough food in is a an issue. When I am treating clients I do not have time to go to the kitchen and cook food let alone stop and have a snack. Most of the time I am on a tight schedule and often running late so finding a way to eat has become important.

I plan to have snacks in my room like fruit, nuts, and anything else that I can eat in one mouthful. An issue are still my braces as I have to clean my teeth each time I eat or eat something that does not get stuck in my teeth. That reminds me I can not eat nuts. I have certainly made it tough on myself.

I have bought a book by Brendan Braziar, a professional Ironman, who competes on a vegan diet and is the creator of Vega products. He is an international speaker on nutrition and sustaining the planet and speaks at world summits. He has power packed recipes I want to make for myself. I find it more fun with other people so plan to contact my friend who is a nutritionist in the training and we will hopefully source the ingredients and make the recipes. I think the ingredients are not common in supermarkets but then again not much of the food in supermarkets has much goodness left  in it.

Last weekend I looked at what I had to do for training and also what I had planned for the weekend. I could see I had a late night organised Friday and Saturday and I had a game of football on Sunday morning and as it happened also Ice skated on sunday night. I am feeling the effects today because I could not train as hard in the gym. Despite really enjoying the football and ice skating I was muscularly sore and therefore could not push as much in the gym. I feel like I need more sleep and tomorrow the training will be effected again. This is a big lesson to learn and I must not play any other sports because it reduces the positive effect from my ironman training. I did not tell Fran I did this on the weekend. He would spit the dummy..he is getting tougher now.

I look at my weeks ahead and realise I must be more organised with my planning to allow rest and recovery from training. I will be the one to suffer in the long run and I am not enjoying being tired. I think there are times when work and life and training can become a challenge and in these times you have to push on and just do what needs to be done.

I have got my swim training from Emile and it is tiring. I showed Fran and he said to keep it comfortable for me as he does not want me to burn out. I will be talking to Emile about the program and as he leaves at the end of November I will get instructions to take me through to the beginning of next year.

Here is my swim training:

Warm-up           6x100m (4L) on 2min/100m f/c then choice, check stroke count on even lengths in f/c and maintain it

Sprint Set          8x25m     ½ length no breathing focus on technique and ½ length full 10 sec rest

Main Set           2x200m (8L)  Pull with pullbuoy & OR paddles on 4min OR 30sec rest

                        1x400m (16L) Swim on 7min30 OR 30 sec rest

                        2x200m (8L) Pull with pullbuoy & OR paddles on 4min OR 30 sec rest

                        1x800m (32L) Continuous, focusing on 1 technique point each 100m (ie leg kick, , rotation, bi-lateral breathing, catch, arm recovery)

Sprint Set          8x25m ½ length no breathing focus on technique and ½ length full 10 sec rest

Cool Down Set   1x100m (4L) Easy f/c swim mixed with some kicking on back