Top athlete & blog writer Tom Williams with Part 2 of ‘Keeping it in the family’ The kids are 2 years older now and by the sounds of it maybe a bit more of a handful! If you missed Part 1 then catch up here first: https://totaltritraining.com/2017/06/04/keeping-it-in-the-family-by-tom-williams/
Two years ago I wrote a blog about being a family age-grouper and fitting training in around the kids. I covered important topics such as avoiding your bike getting pooped on, and aerodynamics according to a five-year-old. Of all the blogs I’ve written this was without a doubt the one that garnered the most interest. And seeing as none of that interest was from social services (at least not yet) I thought I’d write another one.
As the boys, Ben (10) & Ewan (7), have got bigger things have changed and so mine and Helen’s training has had to adapt around them. Rule number one for the family triathlete; take any opportunity you get. So here are a few suggestions of how to merge the conflicting worlds of children and triathlon.
Swim Session One. Fast 50s.
The main reason for spending time and money teaching your children to swim is so they can be allowed to play in water by themselves, with you safe in the knowledge that they won’t drown. Unfortunately this misses a key premise; that they might well try and drown each other.
Our two have developed a game which is a sort of cross between water polo and rugby, with the combined violence of both. This is played in the 3 foot deep children’s pool which is situated at one end and slightly to the side of the main pool. The key point here is you can only see them from one end of the main pool. The session is therefore a simple one:
Warm up: 5mins of rugby water polo, try not to get too badly injured.
Main set: Move to main pool, swim 50 m quickly.
5 second rest while checking the boys aren’t attacking each other.
Swim 50m quickly.
Repeat as many times as possible, quickly checking on the kids each time you reach that end of the pool.
If you happen to have particularly delightful children you might even be able to do 100m before checking on them. Anyone who thinks they can safely do 200 m is kidding themselves. The session ends when either a fight breaks out, or the on-duty life-guard can’t take it any more.
Bike Session One: Over-geared Intervals
So one of my favourite days out with the kids is the family mountain bike ride. Admittedly, 20 miles off-road in the Lake District might seem a bit harsh for a seven year old. But coffee stops are factored in, and you would be amazed how far Ewan will ride for cake. We also have a technique for the bigger or steeper hills; I ride my bike with one hand on his saddle pushing him. This is quite hard work. Trust me; you haven’t tried over-geared until you are riding a mountain bike up a steep hill while pushing a robust 7year old. You can actually hear my knees exploding.
Part of the reason this is so hard, is that as soon as Ewan’s motor (aka Daddy) kicks in, he will instantly stop pedalling. This is in order to fully focus on what cake he’s going to choose at the coffee shop. I will breathlessly point out it might be me that needs the cake.
“No Daddy, you have the coffee, I have the cake.”
That’s me told. Turns out this session is good for weight loss too.
Bike Session Two: Movie Night
Now after all the sport the kids are occasionally allowed to chill out with a movie. As long as they don’t mind me being alongside on the turbo. Whilst time efficient, there are downsides:
Coach Stando: “Tom, your power really dropped off during that last interval, were you tiring?”
Me: “Er, no. I nearly fell off my bike laughing at the Barbershop scene from Paddington 2.”
I can sense his disapproval from 20miles away. Apparently pros don’t watch Paddington 2 on the turbo.
On one occasion Ewan saw me riding on Zwift and asked:
“Daddy, Are there any coffee shops on Zwift?”
If you are doing a long ride on Zwift why not stop for a quick espresso? You could even have a Stando Avatar climbing off his bike complaining that you shouldn’t be stopping yet as you haven’t finished all the intervals. It’d be just like the real thing. I’ll drop Zwift an email and suggest it.
Bike Session Three: The Opportunist
It’s 2.15pm. The kids need picking up from school at 3.15pm. It’s a ten minute drive. So you have 50 minutes. Not quite enough time for that 1:15 turbo that’s in your training plan…or is it? Don’t forget rule number 1; take any opportunity you get. So how to do it? Well, long warm-ups are for wimps. And cool downs? No-one ever did those until Team Sky came along and made them trendy. So that’s 20 minutes saved straight away. Now simply knock a minute off each recovery period between intervals and you’re about there. Jump on the turbo, and hit the main set hard. 50 minutes? No problem.
An important warning: Don’t forget to allow at least 2minutes for a shower. Turning up to a school playground, sweating, in a pair of Lycra bib-shorts is likely to end badly. Probably on some kind of register.
Not only that, but if your turbo kit is anything like mine, then going anywhere in public in it could be classed as a biological terror attack. No-one wants to see men in hazardous-material suits dragging you out of the playground. That would take the “Dad you’re so embarrassing” line to a whole new level.
Crime and Punishment
Now all triathletes know that the turbo trainer is essentially a torture instrument. This has its uses. Most parents believe that the ultimate threat when the kids are mis-behaving is cancelling tv/iPad/phone. But then most parents aren’t coached by Stando.
“Stop wrestling or I’ll make you do Russian Sprints.”
Admittedly it’s not in the parenting manual, but anyone who has ever done Russian sprints will appreciate why this is effective.
Run Session – Helping Out
Ben has recently started running with Wirral AC endurance group. One evening I went along to one of their hill sessions to see if I could help out and was told I could run with the under-11s. Fine thinks I, should be a good recovery run…
10km of muddy hill reps later I’m congratulating myself on a good session well done. It then dawns on me; these kids are 10yrs old. Uh-oh. In an instant the whole focus of my training changes. I am no longer training to try and win triathlons. I am now training to keep up with my children.
I also now know what will be written on my gravestone:
“I told you I could keep up.”
So finally a few essential quotes for the family triathlete:
1 “Honestly Darling, running or biking to work is an environmentally friendly, time efficient way of training. It is definitely not an excuse to avoid the daily carnage of Ready Brek explosions and lost ties that is getting the kids out of the door in the morning.”
2 “I’m really sorry for leaving the stinking turbo kit on the bathroom floor. Again. I was in a bit of a rush.”
3 “Define ‘supervised’.”
All the best for 2019 everybody.
Huge thanks as always to Chris for the excellent coaching and putting up with me shortening the odd session! An even bigger thank you to Helen, Ben and Ewan for keeping it real.
What doesn’t kill you, makes you faster!
As is always the case, when a new year begins, we’ve been bombarded with the usual motivational posts from fellow athletes, friends and families who are trying their best to convince the world how motivated they are for 2019, and starting their “journeys” to achieve their goals.
Now perhaps I may be a cynic or getting slightly older and grumpier but I reckon, for most of us, if we are honest, we read them…smile and nod for maybe few seconds and then mutter something like “oh do one…you’ll be back on the cake and wine, and whinging before January is out”.
So with that in mind, I thought rather than write another post about how to train smarter, how to get more aero or how to spend so much money on this sport your always borderline bankrupt, I’d write a light hearted look at what’s its like to be close mates and training partner (I used both terms in the loosest sense) to one of the UK’s best and now Professional triathletes, Chris Standidge (Stando) – a summary of how I therefore spend my entire existence in the triathlon world being pretty tired, miserable and thinking of creative ways I can kill him whilst making it look like a freak training accident!
My first encounter with Stando having absolutely no regard for my welfare started in France in 2014. Despite having known each other for a few years, this was the first time we would race together on foreign soil. The venue was France 70.3 in Pays D’Aix, and Chris managed a solid 4th in AG finishing in 4hrs 20 and qualification to the World Champs. My race was very different, with me struggling around the run in the midday heat and stumbling across the finish line in or around 5hrs 30.
As I staggered through the finishing area and grabbed a cup of Coke, I sat down against a barrier to take some well earned time off my feet and reflect on the days events. But in less than 30s, the sun was eclipsed by this 6ft fella with pipe cleaners for arms and legs and a voice from above shouting…”Hammo….we are going….I want to go…come on…get up as you need to get your bike and kit from Transition”.
And there it was….no “well done mate”, “how are you feeling” or even “you ok, you look a little peaky”!! Just a spoken demand with no opportunity for response. In less than 10mins after finishing a half ironman, I was riding from side to side down a road in southern France towards our apartment, with sweat still stinging my eyes, legs so stiff it looked like I had wooden legs and all whilst badly trying to balancing my transition bikes on my handlebars. All so Stando sit on his bed in his pants and socks, eat his MacDonald’s and get some sleep before the awards ceremony. I think it was this day when he decided to spend his time, getting enjoyment out of making my life a living hell.
In the 5yrs since, nothing has improved if I’m honest….in fact some would say its probably got worse. The torture is now spread out evenly across my year, with each day getting a little dose of the Stando treatment. So here it is, the ramblings of someone doing his best to not drown, crash, or die whilst watching someone else just get faster and further away.
I’ve stood poolside many times, rubbing sleep from my eyes and wondering as its so early if actually I would have been better to have moved my bed to the poolside. As I procrastinate getting my goggles and hat on, I am normally fully awoken by the sound of the long legs of his lordship beginning his tumble turn from half a length away, then hitting the wall and splashing me (and anyone within about 10m) with freezing cold chlorinated water. What a start to a day!!
As normal, he’s swum about 500m in the time it took me to get into the water. If I’m lucky, I may get a quick 50m warm up in before he stands at the end of the lane, shouts numbers and distances at me like Rain Man, gives me times that basically will give me no rest between intervals and then says I have to do all with my legs tied together with a piece of rubber. Brilliant! Not to mention the fact, that he makes me swim anti-clockwise in a lane that clearly states clockwise swimming, and I have to move out of his way every time he catches me up which in essence means I spend most of time turning my head around, swallowing water and being swam over. And I kid you not, if you don’t move….you are getting swam over, punched or kicked! All good practice for mass race starts thought hey?
Well, where do I start…..so many to mention, lets just look at the highlights…
I’ve had days on the bike with him where I’ve genuinely had a little cry behind my Oakleys!
I’ve been dropped and left to ride alone in pretty much every country in Europe.
(Even worse now, he can drop me “Virtually” when we ride online with Zwift….so there is no protection even on the turbo….my poor legs ☹)
I’ve done intervals with him that were so hard, I’ve puked down myself, over my handlebars and on many a grass verge…the highlight being when drivers stop to see if I’m ok!
I’ve been so tired after a ride; I once fell off going up a small car park ramp at the end of the ride cause my legs literally couldn’t pedal any further.
I’ve swallowed several tonnes of mud, grass, cow muck, sand, diesel and most other substances not fit for human ingestion as he refuses to ride with mudguards in the rain, as he doesn’t need them of course.
I’ve drank more cold cups of coffee and dry food which were bought for me at the same time he arrived at the coffee shop 20mins before me, than I care to remember and before I’ve had a chance to even finish them he’s made me leave.
And finally, and my favourite…I’ve sat on his wheel and stared at the three little bumps at the top of his arse so much that I’ve given them names (Frodo, Lionel and Freddie) and convinced they are now constantly laughing at me as I try desperately to cling to his wheel!
Luckily, this is one area where I do get some respite from the onslaught of his abuse…. as due to our differing run speeds, its not often we run together! However when we do, oh boy does he make them count!
I now never ever believe him when he says “Easy Run Hammo?” . It’s a lie and just an excuse to make me drive the 8miles to his house, to set off onto a route I don’t know and stare at my Garmin as the min miles start to drop to start with numbers I didn’t even know existed, before yet again, being left to fend for myself in the Cheshire Wilderness as he canters off into the distance.
He will never wait for you if you go for a wee or use the woodland toilets…he will simple carry on assuming you will catch up despite not a)knowing the route, and b) needing to run so fast that by the time you catch up you are totally goosed and he then spits you out anyway!
Also, never believe the distance stated. Many a time I’ve been on a “easy few miles” that have turned into 10+ mile slogs into the wind and rain that made me want to chew my own toes off they were so cold and wet!
Or we save the best for last…..
His pre race routine demands we get up so early, that breakfast could still be classed as an evening snack. We have to get to transition so early before a race even the race organisers think they are late, and I then have to work out how to make pumping my tyres up and putting 2 bottles on my bike take 2hrs.
During the race, depending on the course, if I’m really lucky we get to pass each other on the bike and/or run. This means he either gets to completely ignore me (this normally means I’m not trying hard enough) or he laps me, and I get to know just how bloody far I’ve got left in the race as he then turns for the finish and I have to continue to follow the “2nd /3rd /4th lap” arrows.
Then despite finishing hours ahead he’s never once cheered me over the line or said Well Done. I’ll just get a nod as he does his post race mingling with the fast boys and then possibly a suggestion as to how I could have done better if I’d have not missed that one session 3months ago!
Finally, my favourite bit…..getting to go to the all the awards ceremonies to watch him get all his awards and world champ slots! I now know what it feels like when you see the face of the actors and actresses at the Oscars who didn’t get anything…. Combination of anger, frustration and pure hatred for the winner…makes me sick!
To end is an apology….if you’ve ever wondered how all the pictures of those ceremonies are slightly blurry or out of focus…well its me…. because I’m trying to take them one handed, whilst I balance all his the other trophies in one arm, whilst trying to Tweet, WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook the shit out of it to keep everyone else happy at home! God give me strength….
So that’s its pretty much…the lowlights of the being in the company of greatness and struggling to know whether to laugh or cry on a daily basis.
However despite wanting to finish with another witty one liner about how I’ve genuinely thought about poisoning his pasta, or how seeing him fall down a rabbit hole recently on a run and nearly loosing his leg was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, I can’t!
Because whilst I like it or not, by demanding the very best of himself and those around him, it makes us better than we were yesterday and hungry to be faster again tomorrow!
I’ve often used the saying “Faster by Force” and this is no truer than for our training group. Because him dragging my arse out to train, when I really would rather sit at home and put pins in my scrotum, its those sessions that have made me go from back of pack AG, to a podium contender. Its inspired me to want to be better, and a belief that nothing in this sport comes for free. Talent can only get you so far, but hard work and determination are the keys to success!
So here is my Coach Hammer advice to leave you with….find your own Stando…someone who will push you everyday, never let up and always give you something to chase! You may hate them, but you will one day thank them!
Have a great 2019, and see you soon….. unless I’m in court for Murder…and if so, can you give me an alibi ☺
Coach Claire Sutcliffe
This is an account from my athlete Matthew McDonnell. Matthew is 17 and I have been coaching him for a couple of years. When Matthew came to me we had no idea of what lay ahead for him. He was a fit and healthy chap with no medical issue and a huge desire to be the best that he could be. His passion for the sport was massive and he put so much effort and determination into his training whilst also managing to achieve high grades at school. I have so much respect for this young man and am so proud of him in the way he has coped this year. The phone call I received from him back in April I am not afraid to say reduced me to tears. Here is his story:
Matthew McDonnell – My Triathlon Story
In March this year I raced in the British Elite Duathlon Champs, this felt like a breakthrough and gave me hope going forward. I am only 17 and after a couple of years of TTT coaching with Claire I was heading towards where I wanted to be.
Then in April, a charity called Vital Signs Foundation were running a heart screening day at my school so I decided to go and get checked out. I had an ECG and then echocardiogram, which both came back abnormal. I was shocked, nothing felt or seemed wrong, I was putting in some of my biggest training weeks ever and seeing good results. However, the Doctor told me I must not compete and I was limited to Zone 2 training whilst I was followed up. Although a blow mid-season, I felt sure I would be back to normal soon enough.
After a lot of hospital visits all over the country and a lot of tests, I have been diagnosed with left ventricular non-compaction cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition. It is most likely I was born with it and it is still largely an unknown condition but it means that the muscle in my heart did not form properly and pre-disposes me to arrhythmia’s and cardiac arrest. I was told I will never be able to compete or train properly and in the next few months I will be fitted with an internal defibrillator to give an electric shock should anything happen. I had the operation at the beginning of October which all went smoothly until I developed an inflammatory response called Pericarditis so I’m recovering from that currently. At the moment, 30 minutes at 50 watts is a good day but this should improve by Christmas. Long term, the amount of exercise I can do should improve back up to a moderate intensity but I have been repeatedly made aware that it will never be anywhere near what it was. I recently attended a medical conference run by the charity CRY where I was presented as a case study. It was an interesting day and I learnt a lot but even these experts had no new insights to offer. I enjoyed reminding some of the Doctors there how important it was to give complete care, especially for athletes where conditions like this affect their lives in such major ways. Sometimes this seems forgotten in my experience, but caring for the person all round should be considered as important as caring for their heart (or condition).
The specific condition I have makes it difficult to accept the situation as there isn’t much known about what is going on. The Doctors have to make estimates and assumptions that are very cautious. I now realise how much my life relied on exercise, it was almost like an addiction and having it taken away is difficult. If I could go back, I would definitely develop a variety of things that filled my spare time and that I used to relax.
Obviously this has been a massive lifestyle shock. Triathlon consumed a large part of my life and formed part of my future plans but it was also something I loved. The adaptation has been difficult. However, deep down I know this is a good thing. The alternative could have been tragic, we regularly hear of sudden death in athletes, whether it’s footballers, cyclists etc. I would never have known that I had a problem with my heart until it had killed me.
I plan to keep moving forward, it just has to be different now. I am going to uni to study psychology and I have just entered the Ring O’ Fire (a 135 mile ultra marathon around Anglesey). Whether I will be able to do it is in the balance at the moment but being able to hike round just inside the cut-off is what I am aiming for. The care and support I have had has been amazing and has made the last 6 months much easier to get to a point where I can start to look forward a little bit.
I would encourage everybody to get screened and be sure, more than 99% of the time it will be routine and almost feel pointless, but it is important. There are almost always no warning signs. Charities like CRY and VSF do a really good job of providing free screenings around the UK.