Training Camp Day 4: Trail running, brick sets and Skyping with a legend.

The last day of the training camp is always the best. I save the toughest workouts for the last day, would love to say something truly scientific about it, but I am just a sucker for a last bit of torture. We made some adjustments in the week and changed the last run of the morning to an easy trail run on Nduna. We gave them the route (out and back) and told them that they just needed to be back for breakfast in 90 min.

There was a slight whiff of Tequila hanging around a few in the group (fines meeting…) but they all pitched up at 05:30 for the run. Ndunda is home to several species of deer and it is not every day that we get to run in their backyard, or so to speak. The change of pace and route gave time to reflect and forget about achy bodies and bad alcohol choices of the previous night. and it warmed up the legs for the brick sets that was coming.

Any triathlete will tell you that coming off the bike is a relief. That immense satisfaction getting out of a sitting position tends to make the race plan fly out the window. You dart out on the run at full speed… And then the proverbial crap hits the fan and you end up walking the run because your legs are done. BRICK SETS. Hated by many and valued by the minority. As an athlete I hated them too. Especially after a 4 or 5 hour bike set. I admit that I skipped a few when I was still young and ignorant, until I switched coaches (more on that later). Now as a coach, I value what brick sets taught me about my body and my mind and I want my athletes to learn that as well. Hence, brick sets at training camp.

The set was as follow: 35min of zone 4/threshold cycling (either HR or Power), then a 15 min run (7min 30 sec out and back). The run included a nice dragging hill and if you were a fast runner, you would crest the hill, go down a few 100 meters and then have to head back up again. Once you reached your bike again, 5 min for recovery and then get back on the bike to start all over again. The goal of this was to push hard on the bike and keep the run at a steady pace, not going out too fast and making sure that the same pace for each of the sets on the run were maintained.

A solid run after the bike is what most athletes want at the end of the day. The point of a triathlon is to swim, bike and RUN. Not to swim, bike and walk. The more brick sets get practiced, the easier they get and the stronger you will be on race day off the bike. If the program says brick set, just suck it up and do it (just don’t die doing it…#tequilman)

Late afternoon was spent skyping with my coach, Kurt Madden. I am privileged to have met him online on a coaching platform in 2016 and moved over to his roster within that same year. My racing and knowledge on triathlons was taken to a new level and that has filtered down to my athletes. Each year, he graciously agree to Skype in from the United States for about 90 min to talk to my athletes. He spends time answering each of their questions, giving them not only answer based on opinion, but on years of experience. What type of coach would I be if I didn’t add that opportunity to enhance their own knowledge of triathlons.

This training camp is the highlight of my year. I get to spend time with my tribe. Not via whatsapp, the odd training weekend or race. Actual face-to-face time with these people that trust me to get them to the finish line. I hope they got something from this week, even if it is just the courage to keep moving forward when the going gets tough.

As a coach, what do I get at the end of the day? I get a glimpse of the self-determination that a mother of three has to chase her triathlon dreams whilst juggling work and raising her kids. I get to see the world of triathlon opening up to a young trail runner with limitless potential to thrive in this sport. I got to see the true grit of an athlete chasing his sub-12 hour ironman goal, even when pushing him to the limit. I even made an unexpected friend in a woman who always smiles, no matter how her body aches (and she even has time for pranks). I also got to see how the fear of a race course get killed off with an incredible bike set…

This is what it is all about for me at the end of the day. Helping, pushing or even shoving athletes to not give up on themselves or their goal.

I love my job…

Training Camp Day 2 and 3: From ocean swimming and a big gear workout to pranking a few people….

I prefer the ocean above any lake, river, dam or in fact, above any water that has a slight colour of murk. I have claustrophobia and small enclosed spaces freak me out completely. So being in a wetsuit that presses around my chest AND putting me in water where I cannot see anything is a disaster waiting to happen.

I have had horrendous swims due to this and as a coach, I feel that it is very important for my athletes to get some ocean swimming experience before they do their first coastal race. The Infinitude “Vaalies” should not face the ocean the first time on race morning (or the day before for that matter). So during this camp, we always try to ease them into the swim by starting of in the lagoon in Kenton on Sea on Day 2 before heading to Port Elizabeth to do a proper open water swim on Day 3.

Both days started out with good swimming conditions, sunny, clear skies and barely any wind. But, the ocean should never be underestimated. The water temperature on both days were quite cold and a shock to bodies that have been training in 37 degree heat for two days. To add fuel to the fire (or ice to the gin) the lagoon and the ocean in Port Elizabeth had a very strong current they had to fight against on the return leg of the swim. Since we trained on the IRONMAN Africa Championship course, it was an important wake up call to those who thought they knew the course and to those who did their first ocean swim.

What do you do when the wind is blowing at 50km/h? You put them on the trainers of course…

A nasty wind ruined the trail run we had planned for the afternoon. Conditions were dusty with gusts making it risky and actually just plain unpleasant. So we gave them a little down time with the instructions to have their bikes set up on the trainers… Instead of the spinning class they expected, they got a massive threshold workout all to be done in the biggest gear possible. And just when they thought it was interval based, they had to get off the bike and do a few rounds of squats and squat holds before jumping back on the bike and get back at Threshold pace and hold it there for 5 min. Apparently the aircon was on in the room we used…it made no difference at all.

Big gear sets like this is aimed at building cycling specific leg strength. The athletes had to focus on holding good form, keep hips stable and control their knee alignment through the entire pedal stroke. ESPECIALLY when fatigued, because that is when the wheels come off. Just like we need to train our bodies and build muscle, we also need to train our minds to keep focus when our bodies are tired.

This set translated nicely into a solid bike session in Port Elizabeth when the group went out on the IRONMAN route and The Windy City, did not hold back on us. A solid head wind of about 32km/h was in our faces going out. It took no prisoners and blew us all over the road. It took a lot of control and concentration to keep the pace smooth and steady and not push too hard, too soon. Being on course this time and not in a follow vehicle, gave me a chance to take out my new TT bike and test it properly on windy flats and gradual inclines (check out the review that will be posted soon) and boy, it did not disappoint.

Pranking…

Can’t let out all the secrets, you have to attend a Training Camp…But let’s just say that you might have to look twice when entering your room, check your bed for things that go bump in the night and take a good look at your food before eating it….

Training Camp 2018 – Day 1. Not the holiday they imagined…

It’s 4:00am, Nduna is blanketed by a layer of mist. Whenever I come here, I am stunned by the raw beauty of this place. It takes my breath away every time I look out over the valley before me. I make myself a cup of coffee and take time to enjoy watching the zebra’s and impala’s coming down from higher ground. These early morning moments, before the rest of the world wakes up, is my favourite. The calm before the storm…

Quote of the Day.

Day 1 started with an easy out and back run from the lodge to Alexandria. The route included some medium hills, a few cows grazing next to the road and a couple of local farmers looking at us as if we were aliens, dressed in very colourful spandex. The goal here is to loosen up the muscles after a 12 hour drive. High spirits all around as the group get’s the opportunity to catch up with each other. They have no idea what is still coming.

Hills, hills and some more hills.

Estelle Gilbert on a little hill

Hill training is hard, whether you are running or biking. The saying “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger” is VERY applicable to the hills outside Alexandria. At an 11% gradient it is a true character builder. This session was to cycle from Nduna to Kikuya Game Farm (13km of rolling hills to warm up the legs) and then attack the 11% gradient hill. Minimum 4 sets. Recover on top for 3-5 min, before heading down again. The goal here is to keep a consistent pace up the hill for every effort. Get a high cadence, spin it out and only get out of the saddle if you really have to.

Run like you stole it…

Coach Jarryd at work

After some unexpected down time due to the 37 degree heat, the group headed out on the road for some interval training late afternoon, planned and executed by Coach Jarryd Irvine. The focus here was to practice cadence and leg turnover during 600m intervals (Yes, that was received very well by the group).

Cadence training is quite underestimated most of the time. As athletes we are always focussed on either the time or the distance, but never on how comfortable and efficient we can reach either of the two. A quick and efficient cadence when running is not only going to save you energy, it is going to give you a strong run after a solid bike. It is going to make hill running easier, no matter the gradient.

It’s all about pacing in the end.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how you pace yourself during a race. Too fast and you end up hitting the wall, sitting next to the road, cramping up or you might even have to crawl to the finish line. Messing up your pacing strategy during a race not only breaks you physically, but mentally as well. But if you get your pacing spot on and you will have the race of your life. That said, the only way to get that pacing dialed in, is to practice it over and over and in as many conditions as possible. Get to know your body, how it reacts to hill gradients, temperatures and learn how to adapt to your race environment.

Your coach is not with you on the race course (We would love to be!!). We can prepare you to the best of our abilities and knowledge, but at the of the day, YOU are the one racing, YOU are the one that needs to think on your feet (or bike seat) when conditions change. We love shouting instructions from the sidelines, but in the end, we can only give you the blueprint to complete the race, the execution however is in your hands.

The tribe just before heading out for the bike set.

Infinitude Training Camp 2018

The Infinitude Coaching Tribe at Nduna Lodge.
Front: Gerard Hung, Estelle Gilbert, Pieter Badenhorst
Back: Louise Strydom (Coach), Jacky van Heerden, San-Mari Badenhorst, Carin Badenhorst, Andrew Crocker, Jarryd Irvine (Coach)
Photographer: Andre van Heerden

Our triathlon season is from September to June, so most of my athletes have to train over December holidays anyway, so why not get a solid week of training in before the year ends in the form of a training camp? I do believe that this gives my group that mental edge to carry them over into the new year. Think about how important it is for a sportsteam to score before half time? Same concept. So we had a Training Camp…

Since most of our athletes are based in the Gauteng area, I always feel it is good idea to get the “Vaalies” down to the coast for some lower altitude training and to get them to test their wetsuits in the ocean and not the gym pool. Our base camp is situated just outside the small town of Alexandria at Nduna Game Lodge, just a 100km from Port Elizabeth which plays host to #IMSouthAfrica each April. This is the second year they accommodated us and as always, it was superb (check out our review on this incredible place that was our playground for a few days).

The goal of this training camp is to fine tune the work that has been done throughout the year in preparation for IRONMAN 70.3 Buffalo City taking place in January and IRONMAN Africa Championships in April. Yes, there are smaller events in between these, but these are the main coastal events that most of the Gauteng group is prepping for.

This week gave me as a coach the opportunity to see my athletes train in person. Training data can only give me so much insight into an athlete’s training and physically being with them gives me the opportunity to see beyond the power or heart rate zones. I push them as hard as I can during this week (within in reason of course – injuring an athlete is not the goal). I get insight into their mental processes when the bodies and minds are exhausted. There is no place to hide from me, because I am either swimming and biking along, waiting on top of a hill or standing next to them while they do a sweat session on the trainer. And I was not disappointed. Not once. They rose to every challenge I gave them. No matter the level of their fitness or the distance they were training for. Heads were put down, horns were grabbed and they went all out. Every day.

Blogs on the training days will follow…so keep an eye out for those within the next few days.

#infinitudecoaching #havenolimits #infinitudetrainingcamp2018 #triathlontraining #swim #bike #run #ndunalodge #tribetime #singletrackfuel #redx #novastar #mascot 

 

When the race does not go as planned.

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IRONMAN South Africa was a humbling one for me, not only as an athlete but also as a coach. I made rookie mistakes that will make you cringe and suffered at the back of the pack. BUT, I am writing this one up as an experience that will make me a better coach. Why you might ask? Well, how can I tell my athletes what to expect and what they might experience if I have not experienced it myself

  1. Never underestimate the race:

My first 140.6 in South Africa was amazing. The weather was perfect, the plan went well and I finished strong and well in time. In my mind I was hoping for the same. I have done this before and I know the course, so just keep going.

This year? Well, things went belly up really quickly. With my injury I was never aiming to beat my 5:30 marathon time (I fell three weeks before race day and injured some ligaments in my ankle). But I did think about it a lot. I had no pain and treated my foot better than my husband the last three weeks and it really felt good. My mantra was smash the swim and smash the bike and then handle the run. That did not go really well in the end…

  1. The swim:

The ocean was insane. It felt like swimming in a washing machine. I got sick, twice. They wanted to pull me out and I said no and forced myself to finish. When I looked at the clock on the beach the time was 1:53. A personal worst. The swell suddenly turned and I struggled the last 800m. Not only did the swell throw me around, the fumes from the jet ski’s and motorboats were overpowering and really did not help the nausea.

  1. Transition 1:

So the plan was to get my foot strapped in T1 so it had support on the bike. I could not swim with my brace and was saving it for the run. Being disoriented from the washing machine swim I had my bike bag in my hand, dumped the contents on the ground and just stared at the contents, trying to figure out what to do next. Finally got it together and got my stuff going. Went to the physio tent, got strapped and ran into a very empty bike park.

  1. Bike:

Checked my watch and boom…my HR monitor was not picking up my HR. I need to see my HR to know my zones and if I am pushing too hard or not hard enough. So 3km into the bike, I stopped my watch and had to start it again. Still no HR, so I decided to just go and see what happens. It did pick it up when I stopped at the first aid station for water.

This was the fun part. I just flew down the course. Couldn’t eat for about 30 min because I was still feeling nauseous, but I managed to stuff the gels and food that was in my transition bag into my trisuit, so at least I had more than enough food. At km 60 I started to feel very uncomfortable in the shoulders. Really a sharp pain in the right side. Couldn’t figure it out until I got up out of the saddle to pass an athlete and realized my knee bumped into my tri bar pad. It had loosened somehow on the bumpy road and dropped. I could not get it back in position and knew I had to stop. I kept going until I found the bike maintenance station where they took about 5-6 min to fix it. I wanted to go on without stopping but it would have been a very long and uncomfortable 120km and I knew the run was still coming. So 5 min is a small price to pay for much less pain on the ride. From there the bike went great and I managed to knock 30 min of my time.

  1. Transition 2

FINALLY!! I ran into a very full bike park… got my bag. Brace on and off I went. Mentally I knew this was going to be the tough one.

  1. The Run:

Boy, was it hard. 4 loops of 10.55km. First two went really well. Foot held up and I could keep up a relatively good pace. Plan was to run from aid station to aid station (about 2km apart) and then walk through the aid station and then running again. Last half of loop 3 my feet and body was so tired. After my injuries the past three months (yes, the fall was nr 3), I could not do much running, I basically ran my last long run in February this year before the proverbial poo hit the fan. So my body and feet were not used to running this long. The mind was willing but my body was not. So I walked. The strapping they gave me in transition was white plaster for which I am very allergic. Being stupid from the washing machine swim, it did not register with me and on the run my skin was on fire. (Horrible eczema to follow shortly). So while I walked I had company from a random drunkish dude running barefoot next to me for 4 km (yes, I was walking that fast). Athletes were less and less and we were about 20-30 people still out on the course.

Friend and family kept telling me to keep going. And I kept going. I trained too hard and long for this. I spent hours away from my husband, sacrificed dinners, parties, sleeping in on Saturday mornings and Sunday mornings. Okay, basically every morning.

Every athlete and spectator I passed told me to keep moving forward, I am doing good and I will make it. Then TV crew stopped me (that was pretty freaking cool, right? And then it was 200m for the finish and I broke into a run. The red carpet was ALL MINE!!!

This is all good and well, I am an IRONMAN again, but it means nothing to me if I did not learn from this. I need to share with you some thoughts I had on my swim, bike and run/walk, because you will probably have them too.

Swim thoughts:

  1. I want to stop
  2. I am going to die in the ocean
  3. Here comes breakfast
  4. Keep going. Don’t stop.
  5. I am never going to do this again
  6. One stroke, breathe. One stroke, breathe
  7. Screw the time. Just reach the beach.
  8. Well that sucked.

Bike thoughts

  1. Photographer, suck in stomach and smile
  2. Is my helmet skew
  3. What is my HR
  4. Screw my HR
  5. Calf, don’t you think about cramping you little bitch.
  6. I need to use the loo, will I have time?
  7. Last 15km, GO GO GO!

 Run thoughts:

  1. Just get to that light, just get to that pole.
  2. I am never doing this again.
  3. This was a bad idea.
  4. Keep going.
  5. My feet hurts.
  6. Live TV. Yikes? I hope I don’t have GU stains round my mouth, since my hair looks horrible anyway.
  7. 200m to go.
  8. RED CARPET!!!!
  9. YES, I made it.
  10. Daniela Ryf is so pretty in real life (Got my medal from her)
  11. When are entries opening next year?

The biggest lesson I learned was to never underestimate a race again. It does not matter how well you know the course. Weather and Lady Luck will make you humble again. Respect the course and it will give you the ride of your life. Underestimate it and it will bring you to your knees.

 

When the swim gets cancelled

I love to race on familiar courses. Triathlon events in my country is limited, so if you plan your races well, you should be able to do 90% of the races offered in less than three years. I would love to say that I have done most of these, but after debit order day (which includes paying off my “Race Fund Credit Card”) there is not much left for traveling and racing. So, I tend to stick to the familiar.

This year, however, I took the leap and entered a 70.3 distance race I have never done before (it coincided with an overdue visit with my bestie and some work things with my husband, so it was a win win). Race is part of a well known brand, taking place early spring. The route looks exciting and the run is through fruit orchards surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. The swim is in a lake with clear water and a triangle route, easy to navigate, so no chance of getting confused or lost. Excitement was pumping through my veins!! First race of the season is happening and I have a goal time I want to SMASH!

And then the weather happened. Snow came and covered the mountain peaks, it was raining in the area few days before the race. The temperature kept on dropping day by day. Thermal wear was washed and packed out. I can deal with cold on the bike. Toe covers for shoes, long gloves and arm warmers are ready to go. But the temperature just kept dropping. Race prediction 5 days before the race was 6 degrees with cloud cover and some wind. I still have to fly down to where the race will be held, so the temperatures are not really creating anxiety…yet.

Anxiety hit like a fist in the stomach when I got off the plane? The wind was like ice. It cut through like a knife and chilled every part of skin exposed. WHAT THE HELL??

Fast forward to our arrival at the race venue for registration. Rumors are flying about a cancelled swim, but we will only know the morning of the race. Talking about the morning… It is race morning I wake from under the ton of blankets a little cloud of moisture escapes as I breathe out. In the room. This was a great idea. Cars are covered in a layer of ice, but we head to transition for bike check in. It is 4 Degrees outside, so race briefing and start is already delayed by almost an hour. Athletes and supporters are huddled in groups around fires and a few brave souls are even already in wetsuits (optimistic much?), waiting to hear the fate of the swim. The race director finally puts everyone out of their misery by announcing that the swim is cancelled due to the 11 degree water and the air temperature that was now only about 7. I would love to say “a collective sigh of relief ” was heard, but it was more a cries of absolute jubilation.

Now the scramble to get to run bags, change gear and line up for the the race, which now will be a duathlon (run 5km, bike 90km and run 15km). Even though I could have warmed up more, that 5km felt like heaven compared to the thought of a 1.9km swim in 11 degree water with a chilly wind on the bike after.

Out on the bike, reality set in. It was nasty out there. Clear beautiful day with magnificent views of the lake and mountains, with a wind that chilled from eyelids to toes. No matter what I tried, my legs could not seem to get warmed up. I tried high cadence pedaling, power pedaling and praying. I did get a pretty nice tan on my legs, but my muscles never felt loosened up enough to really get the beast going.

Finally off the bike I head into transition on semi- frozen legs, switch shoes and head out on the run course. My legs are literally cramping up from the cold. I can see the knots forming on my quads. I stop and quickly try to stretch them out, but as soon as I start again, they just cramp up. Only option is to suck it up and continue moving. Once I kept on moving the cramps released and I could manage a decent pace. Three loops of 5km  lies ahead and the cramps kept coming, but I managed to run through it and finish  way under my predicted time. But what a race.

I took several lessons from this race:

  1. Thermal saves lives: Swallow your pride and just put on the gloves/toe covers/arm warmers. Nothing ruins a race like being uncomfortable for 3+ hours. Dexterity in your toes and fingers makes transition smooth and the first 1km of the run so much more bearable. You will have other chances to show of your shoulders, your GPS watch tan lines and tri shoes.
  2. Don’t ruin your race within the first 5km: Not sure if it was the relief not having to swim, but everyone took off at a massive pace on that first 5km. It took some effort to get myself to slow down. My race goal was not to do a 5km PB. A lot of athletes ran away from me and yes, you feel stupid because technically you are last coming into transition, but I passed most of them on the bike route. Patience is key. Race your own race, not anyone else’s.
  3. Nutrition: On the first lap of 30km, I noticed I have not been following my nutrition plan as I would have on a normal and warmer race. I might not have been sweating as much, but I was definitely burning more than enough calories. Adjust, but don’t forget or neglect. Not fueling on the bike is going to cost you on the run.
  4. Sunscreen: Rookie error. Even with the cold, the sun was still hot and my legs are showing it. I train and race outside most of the time and sunscreen is part of the routine, but the cold threw me off and I thought I won’t need it. Skin cancer is not worth a tan.
  5. Big Match Temperament (BMT): I got the worst race nerves ever and the worry about the swim and temperature threw me out of my race zone the two days before the race. This meant I was bombarding my coach (who is based in the US) with messages about how I am planning to stay warm at all hours of the day or night (the 9 hour time difference does not really help in cases like this, but it makes me feel in control). Stop. Think. Don’t Overthink. Work with what you have. The cold is going to bother everyone. Don’t go and make radical changes to your choice of gear. Thinking back, I actually spoiled the two days leading up to the race for myself. I could have been excited about the new challenge and instead I spent time worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. Just breathe.
  6. New races are good: Yup, familiar is great, you know what to expect and there is definitely less anxiety. But who really wants to do the same race over and over? New races equals a new opportunity to test your fitness and skills. You meet new people and might even win something in a lucky draw (Yes I did!).

Whenever I talk to athletes about why I tri or my experience at my first race, I realize that I make myself excited all over again. I love racing, I love how it makes me feel and crossing that finish line is magical! So I have decided to enter new races and put myself into that “first time” feeling. I cannot promise to not overthink or get anxiety, but making the conscious decision to get excited as if this was my first race, should get me to the start line in much better spirits!! Never fear the unknown. Respect it, but don’t let your fear stop you from living in the moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the going gets tough.

Training SUCKED today.
My swim was horrendous. There is no other word for it. My stroke was all over the place, my pace off with more seconds than I want to admit. What the HELL is going on? Nutrition is as it always is, so there is energy in the tank.
I felt out of place in the water and because it is one of the disciplines I love it was, to say the least…CRAP. Struggled through the set anyway. I am here now, I can just as well continue splashing like a whale (one that obviously cannot swim).
Out of the pool, drive home and shovel lunch  (liquid I might add) down my throat. Time for my run.
Locking my howling dogs in the house, I set off, feeling like a very bad mom for leaving them behind.
2 Min warm up walk and then off we go. There is the beginning of a sandstorm outside. How the HELL did I miss this? Dust in my eyes, between my teeth and definitely in my ears.
15 Min in to this torture session my right foot starts cramping because the brace is too tight. Or at least I think so. Stop to loosen it. Start again and the cramping continues….best to ignore and shuffle on. Finally reached my turn around point. Yay??
No. My pants are chaffing me in a place that I cannot mention. Really? Now I am slowing the pace and focussing on my form (like a good athlete #takenote) while swearing to throw away my pants and HR strap (also chaffing BTW).
Last 1km to go and I am forced to walk again…SLOWLY….
2 Bull Mastiff’s are looking at me like I might be their mid-afternoon snack, latest kill or new chew toy. Now I am swearing at my pants and HR monitor, my foot is cramping from who knows what and I am frantically scanning the street for something to climb on in case the dogs start chasing me. Luckily, the owner pulls out of the drive and the gate closes without incident.
My training really sucked today, but I stuck it out and completed at least 80% of what I set out to do.
Not everyday is going to be smooth sailing when we train. 70% of the time, sessions bend us (not break) and push us to the limits. And of that 70% at least a quarter of those will have something in them like chaffing pants, dogs or sandstorms.  But those perfect training sessions are out there, waiting for you to reach a new threshold, to fly on the bike and to make your run seem effortless!
The sometimes crappy sessions are the ones where we learn about grit, perseverance. It’s those sessions that enable you to dig deep when you need to. So when the going gets tough, remember you are tougher!