What it took to become 70.3 AG World Champion – by the numbers

10 weeks on from the race in Port Elizabeth, I thought I’d give a bit of an insight into the numbers behind what it took to win that day. But before I do I probably need to set this up.

BACKGROUND

I have been involved in sport pretty much all of my life. Triathlon for the best part of 23 years give or take a few years going off the rails at 18! This is important, because I have a long history in all 3 sports. Remember the 10,000 hours? I am there and beyond.

Life was pretty hectic. Busy sales job (although I generally worked from home so saved myself a lot of commuting) and growing coaching company. A grown up daughter Meg and my wife Heather who works long hours meant I had responsibilities but not like having a young family.

I took nutrition pretty seriously, slept generally 8+ hours a night and had a fantastic support team around me whether that be physio, massage, chiropractor etc.

An injury in the lead up to IM Florida in Nov 2017, helped to dictate the approach to training and racing in 2018. Running was done safely as to not risk injury, lots of swimming, and lots of strength building on the bike which was predominantly done indoors. I don’t think I rode outside once from Dec – Mar barring a Gran Canaria training camp in February. I started with my coach Rafal Medak of TriSutto following on from that race in Florida at the start of December 2017.

Whilst I will share my numbers using Training Peaks which I have always tried to keep as accurate as I can for a number of years, never did Rafal refer to any of this or use it to dictate training load or any of the sessions. 

Average training hours weren’t excessive approx 15 hours per week, but everything had meaning. There was definitely a lot of quality, but a good percentage done as strength based ie big gear on the bike or paddle work in the pool that was tough on the muscular system but not necessarily on the cardio system. This is a great way of not accumulating what I would say is real fatigue. Yes I might have tired legs or arms, but not necessarily the exhausted fatigue.

All of the above hopefully helps to frame my background, years of training, but also I was leading a busy life that meant that despite the myths it may not be necessary to train 20+ hours a week to get the results you are after. Remember though that this is 70.3 racing and going 90% for 4 hours as opposed to 9 hours at 75%. I will touch on this later.

The Performance Chart never dictates the training but I find it quite useful to see trends over time and I think it tells a pretty accurate picture over the course of this 12 months. What it doesn’t do is consider what else is going on in somebody’s life and what stress that is worth.

You also have to be consistent with the way you track it too. For me bike & run took care of themselves through power & pace respectively. For swim I am old school and use the pace clock. I don’t really agree with stop, starting your watch on every interval so I estimate the TSS. On most of my sets I get through 4k with rest period and give myself between 60-70 TSS per hour depending on intensity. Most triathletes without a swim background don’t have a huge change in pace so normally they rack up a much higher TSS per hour.

Also, during my time at altitude I didn’t amend my threshold numbers. In reality I was probably working a little harder than the numbers suggested but without doing the proper tests and then re-testing as I acclimatised it was always going to be difficult to keep on top of this without effecting my training.

For transparency and to give readers an idea of what those threshold numbers were:

Swim – approx 18:00 for 1500m. 

Bike – 352w at 75kg. Done over 52 mins in a 25m TT

Run – 5:40/mile. 

In terms of the chart and key points from the year I have highlighted with the arrows:

Flu over xmas – I think I caught the Australian Flu that was doing the rounds and honestly have never felt so ill. Best part of 2 weeks out and with a new coach I was keen to get the show on the road. It wasn’t happening. The key point here is that in the grand scheme this had no effect, so if you get ill, it may feel like the world is ending and you can’t train, but long term consistency far outweighs getting back into training a day or 2 early.

2 x Warm Weather Camps – A change of scenery and something to look forward to whilst you are battling the British winter. It was also a great opportunity to meet Rafal and see me swim, bike, and run in the flesh. These weeks with a coach are more than just racking up a load of miles if done in the right way.

Early Season Racing – I raced regularly in this period in Lanzarote 112, Challenge Roma, IM Pay d’Aix 70.3 and Challenge Championship. Good consistent racing, not overly fatigued and just enjoying being out there, trying to save a bit in reserve for later in the year.

Mid Year Break – It’s a long time to keep going from January to September racing & training. After the Challenge Championship I took about 10 days off or did some very light training and off the programme. A lot of my athletes don’t like taking breaks but it’s important to refresh and reset at times.

Altitude Training – This was my 1st time training at altitude. 5 weeks in St Moritz, Switzerland. This wasn’t a full on training camp, I was still working and having to travel back to the UK regularly. Training load was up slightly on the norm as I didn’t have the day to day stuff I may have at home. It was the most epic place to train and being surrounded by some of the Tri Sutto Squad inspired me massively. There are plenty of pitfalls to altitude training so it was good to have Rafal around who has a lot more experience. It took probably 2 weeks to acclimatise before I could hit some proper intensity. Towards the end I was getting pretty close to my numbers at sea level and by the time I got home, I just knew I had, had a boost from this. 

70.3 World Champs – I arrived back from Switzerland 2 weeks out from the race in South Africa. I felt epic for 2-3 days, shockingly bad for 5 days as my body started adapting back to sea level, then felt very good in the lead up to the race. I went into the race fresher than any other race through the year. 

The numbers from the race:

Swim 24:15. 

Bike 2:12:35. 321w NP. About 91% of FTP.

Run 1:19:12. 

One Final Race of the Year – After a bit of a holiday in South Africa after the race and a little dabble at my first pro race in Lanzarote, I feel I still have another race in me. So I’ve got back into training ready for a final blow out in a few weeks time, but I’ll write about that next time!

SUMMARY

As the sport of triathlon continues to develop, competition increases and the standard rises. The sport has become more than just swim, bike, run. Kit choice, bike set up, aerodynamics, nutrition all play their part in being able to go fast on the race course. At the same time there is no shying away from the hard, consistent training that is required to play at this level. For those of you familiar with TSS & CTL from Training Peaks you can see my highest CTL was about 130 and I spent most of my race season at about 125.

Interestingly, I have just listened to a podcast with Dan Plews (overall fastest AG’er at Kona this year) Same AG as me, similar background growing up in the sport in the UK as a youngster. That performance of 8:24 which was incredible came off a 166 CTL. That increased training load is in my opinion what is necessary for IM to race at that top end of things in AG in Kona. This equates to approx. 20+ hours a week training and just shows the dedication required now to compete at this kind of level. For most, this may well be an impossible dream when you factor in work, commute, family & socialising. My best advice whatever your level & wherever you are starting from is to find a coach or mentor who can help you to take that next step towards your goals.

I hope this was interesting, and gives a little bit of insight into what’s involved in chasing an AG World Title.

If you would like to find out more about our coaching at Total Tri Training please visit our website at www.totaltritraining.com.