Archive for November, 2018

How To Do a Productive End-of-Season Review

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“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
-Albert Einstein

Triathlon season 2018 is now over. The evenings are getting darker and as we move into the holiday season, thoughts turn to new goals and plans for 2019. But before you get on to the fun bit of goal setting, it is worth taking some time to reflect on the past race season to see what it can tell us about how you improve in 2019. This is something a lot of athletes neglect, and as a result, tend to end up repeating the same mistakes or not pushing onto the next level they could achieve.

Maybe you reached dizzying new heights in 2018, or maybe nothing worked out the way you planned, but examining how your season played out can be a real game changer, helping you avoid old pitfalls and build on your strengths for better performances next year.

The areas to critically evaluate include:
Goal setting and race selection
Training session execution
Rest and recovery
Time management
Race preparation/execution

By simply being honest and systematic in your review, you should gain a much clearer picture of where you should focus your limited energy and resources. Then you need to drill down to why some things worked, and others did not, to understand how best to plan for next year. This approach (if done correctly) should help you identify and map changes you need to implement to minimize the risk of repeating the same limiter in the next season. For example, a good end of season review might look like this:

What I did well:

Goal setting and race selection: I stuck to the agreed race schedule and goals (achieved 100% of A goals and 50% of B goals)
Base training execution: I successfully hit 90% of sessions in the plan

What I did poorly and possible reasons why:

Nutrition: I missed a lot of my weight goals. I didn’t track my intake and I ate too many takeaways and ready meals mid-week due to time pressures and lack of planning after late training sessions.
Mindset: I found myself mentally quitting during hard sessions as persuaded myself it was okay, I found this repeated in some races
Rest and recovery: I constantly felt tired in Build and ended up injured in May. I didn’t track my sleep and felt I was over-committed both with work and socially.

What I need to change in 2019:

Nutrition: I need to focus on nutrition particularly in training. I need to track calories better, and use better planning (e.g. batch cook more healthy meals) to ensure I am fuelling my body appropriately.
Mindset: I need to research better ways to remain focused during hard sessions/races e.g. visualization? View hard sessions as learning ground for hard races in the calendar?
Rest and recovery: Need to track sleep and rest periods and plan for some extra naps and rest where possible. I need to ensure I adhere to recovery cycles and rest days, book sports massage on rest days

We are all looking for that elusive PB, improved placing, etc., and we can be too quick to dive into the next season hoping that everything will fall into place. Surely a better approach is to take stock of what we know happened and base our plans for 2019 on what we know we should improve. Remember when reviewing last year’s performance, it’s important to be both really honest with yourself and also to look at your performances without judgement. You can’t change what has happened, but you can learn from your past behavior to improve the way you do things.

Ready to get real insight into your performances? Drop me a note to subscribe to my newsletter, and receive access to my free new season review tool!

The post How To Do a Productive End-of-Season Review appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

Combatting the Female Athlete Triad

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Perhaps one of the most important conditions that differentiate male and female athletes is susceptibility to the Female Athlete Triad, or “the triad.” The triad consists of three main symptoms including low energy availability, menstrual dysfunction and decreased bone mineral density.

For females, loss of a menstrual cycle (amenorrhea) is the major red flag for this syndrome, though subclinical menstrual disorders were found to be extremely common in long distance runners, to the tune of 80% of all athletes in one study. (Subclinical disorders are only detected by measuring hormone concentrations). The problem with amenorrhea is that it causes a lowering of estrogen, which (among other symptoms) increases the rate of bone resorption. This reduces bone mass and increases the risk of fracture. Worst of all, bone loss over time can become irreversible, so those stress fractures can manifest as osteoporosis later in life.

However, studies show that exercise has no suppressive effect on reproductive function, apart from the impact of its energy cost on energy availability. That means that energy availability (EA) is the cornerstone of the triad. EA equals the amount of dietary energy (fuel) remaining after exercise for normal physiological processes (like breathing, digestion, movement etc.) A reduced availability of energy, coupled with high volume or intensity of exercise will kick off a cascade of negative hormonal responses associated with the female athlete triad.

It is important to note that low EA can be inadvertent (reduced appetite or food availability/time) or may be associated with disordered eating patterns. Disordered eating includes clinical eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia) but also subclinical manifestations that involve intentional caloric restrictions. Unfortunately athletes of all genders are at risk for low EA as they aim for ‘race weight.’ Being lighter certainly has benefits for many endurance athletes including cyclists, runners and triathletes—and the prevalence of this thinking is backed up by a review of studies, which mark disordered eating in 28-62% of the female athlete population.

In study after study, simply increasing dietary intake has been enough to move the athlete back to healthy status. However due to the requirements of many sports, as well as disordered eating patterns, it is not uncommon for female athletes to fear gaining weight, which can cause difficulty in increasing energy intake or even reducing exercise energy expenditure. It’s very important to understand the risk of these behaviors on short and long-term health as well as to recognize that being thin is far from the most important factor in becoming faster. Getting to the “perfect” weight is never worthy of reducing caloric intake enough to trigger negative hormonal responses, which can threaten both short and long-term health.

Keep in mind, “before female athletes are athletes, they are female” (Burke and Decon, Clinical Sports Nutrition). Worldwide about twice as many young women as young men (at every segment of the Body Mass Index) perceive themselves to be overweight, and the numbers of men and women actively trying to lose weight are even more disproportionate. (Wardle et al. 2006).

Symptoms to watch in yourself or your athlete include:

Unusual high fatigue level
Weight loss
Stress fractures
Chronic injury
Absence of normal menstruation
Chronic fasting or limited food intake
Sensitivity to cold
Mood swings or changes
Obsessive thoughts about food
Dissatisfaction with body image

A condensation of research has led to the recommendation that physically active women have an EA of at least 188kJ (45k/cal)/kg/FFM/d to ensure adequate energy for all physiological functions (DeSouza et al. 2014). When weight loss is desired, it should not be approached with an excess of calorie or nutrient restriction, but rather with a planned, periodized nutritional strategy.

Thankfully, “strong is the new skinny” is trending and we can thank powerhouse female role models who are standing up and pointing out that everyone has a different healthy body type. Many great female athletes are seeing that their strength, however it manifests in their body shape, is what matters. Hopefully, the growing awareness of the female athlete triad and its symptoms will help move everyone towards good health, strong bodies and positive long-term athletic performance.

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How to Use the TrainingPeaks Subjective Feedback to Measure Internal Training Load

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As you may have seen, TrainingPeaks recently launched a subjective feedback feature that allows you to provide information about ‘how you felt’ and ‘how hard you worked’ (known as rating of perceived exertion) during your training session.

From my perspective, as a coach, distance runner and PhD student, this feature has made a positive difference to my experience as a TrainingPeaks user. It provides a simple way to record how your training is going, while allowing your coach to assess how you are coping with their prescribed workouts.

However, for those athletes like me who cannot resist digging a little deeper into their performance, I would like to show you how it is possible to add an extra layer of detail to your workouts by using Session Rate of Perceived Exertion as a measure of Internal Training Load.

What is Internal Training Load?

Training load is categorized as either internal or external. Put simply, Internal Training Load (ITL) measures the relative physiological and psychological stress an athlete endures throughout their training session, while External Training Load (ETL) refers to the total amount of work that an athlete completes during their training session. A practical example of ETL is the Training Stress Score (TSS) system used by TrainingPeaks. The problem is that ETL is relatively simple to measure (e.g. total distance covered), while ITL can be more difficult to quantify—and both are equally important when it comes to improving fitness and preventing negative training outcomes.

Traditionally, ITL has been measured using heart rate, and while this is generally viewed as the gold standard, it is often impractical given the cost of accurate telemetric heart rate monitors and the need for technical expertise. As a result, Session Rate of Perceived Exertion (sRPE) has been established as an effective measure of ITL across many different sports. In fact, as part of the Children’s Health and Exercise Research Centre (CHERC), University of Exeter, I have recently published a paper that examined the validity of sRPE for measuring ITL in adolescent distance runners.

How to Calculate Session Rating of Perceived Exertion (sRPE):


Perceived Exertion x Session Duration = sRPE


sRPE is calculated by multiplying the duration of a workout by the athlete’s subjective rating of perceived exertion (‘how hard they worked’), as reported via the modified 10-point scale on TrainingPeaks:

The TrainingPeaks exertion scale handily translates an athlete’s perception of effort (from ‘very easy’ to ‘all out’) into a numerical score. Note that this should be recorded around thirty minutes after completing the training session. However, if you include a cool-down as part of your training session, recording your perceived exertion before the thirty minutes has passed is acceptable—just try not to take any longer!

As an example, imagine that you have just completed a 30/60/90 Run Workout, including 5 x 30s/60s/90s reps (equal recovery). In total, this session lasts for sixty minutes. Following this training session, you decide to record a perceived exertion of 7 (‘very hard’). Therefore, all you need to do is multiply 60 by 7, giving you a sRPE of 420.

This number is recorded as an arbitrary unit (AU). The higher the AU, the more relative physiological and psychological stress an athlete has endured during their training session. When recorded on a daily basis, a weekly sRPE score can be calculated by adding all of the individual sRPE scores together.

Why Use Session Rating of Perceived Exertion to Measure Internal Training Load?

Similar to a Training Stress Score, the primary use of sRPE is to provide an athlete with an overview of how their training load changes over time, especially if they don’t have access to the heart rate and power tools they might need to calculate their exact TSS. If an athlete is tracking both ITL and ETL, then they should more or less mirror each other—when they diverge it can be an early sign of trouble. For example, if an athlete feels like they’re working hard (has a high sRPE) but their TSS is low, it could mean that they’re getting sick or overtrained. When using this measure of ITL regularly with ETL, the athlete and coach can evaluate progress, plan tapers, and even help prevent injury.

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How to Make A Comeback—Even If It’s Been a While

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Most competitive athletes, no matter their age, can recall a defining personal athletic moment: sprinting across the finish line ahead of the field; dodging epic tackles to score the winning touchdown; swishing an unbelievable three-pointer at the buzzer. You got up early, practiced hard, and stayed late. You slept well and ate right because you knew it would improve your performance.

These are the proud stories we tell around the dinner table—but they might have taken place 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years ago! Today, your fitness focus might be a good deal different, or nonexistent. But in your chest, there still beats the heart of an athlete. You just need to find your way back.

The good news is that, for most of us, there’s still plenty of time to get strong, play hard, and have fun! However, it will involve setting new goals and renewing a healthy relationship with your current body. Whether you’re thinking about getting back into your sport or trying a new one, it’s important to take a long-term approach to your training and health.

Below are four principles of training you should tackle before coming back to competitive sport:

Define your why.

The secret to staying motivated is getting your priorities in order. Why do you want to start training again? Why do you want to train for this particular race? These questions are essential for any athlete. When you inevitably get sucked into pace times, sweaty workouts, fancy gadgets, and the latest equipment, you’ll need to keep track of your personal why.

Walk before you run.

This simply means to take your time learning how to run/swim/bike etc. before trying to go fast. Learning new movements and techniques don’t just require your physical presence, but also your mental awareness. It’s important to understand your body’s movements, how they feel, and how to improve. Those initial months of training are for accumulating physical knowledge and creating good habits—developing discipline for both your body and your mind.

Assess, don’t test.

First things first, find a good coach! Effective coaches balance rationale and logic with empathy and emotional awareness. Ultimately, a long-term program should be individualized, and should start with finding your baseline with a coach. What’s your athletic background? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are your goals? A good coach will also assess rather than test when determining your program.

The words “test” and “assessment” are used interchangeably, but they do mean something different. A test measures a particular set of objectives, while an assessment is used during and after the instruction has taken place. Learning a sport takes individual effort, interaction, inspiration, and thought—and especially as you are coming back into a sport, “testing” can sometimes undermine the best learning environment. “Assessing” your abilities instead is an encouraging method to help outline your training and monitor your improvement going forward.


You might be participating in an individual sport, but it takes an army to get it done at the end of the day. Having a supportive base at the home front and a cheer squad on race day can mean the difference between a PR and a DNF. Groups and clubs create a positive training environment, and can also help you get involved with a community. There will be some people who can push you and others you can challenge along the way—and very possibly some new lifelong friends.

Thank you to Lauren Babineau for her contribution to this article.

The post How to Make A Comeback—Even If It’s Been a While appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

Saving A Season When Injury Strikes: A Case Study

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As a coach, we spend hours planning training and carefully crafting phases many months ahead in order to reach optimal fitness at the right hour on the right day. Though we are always quick to use social media or other means to celebrate success of athletes (PBs, podiums, victories or champions), it is often the uncelebrated stories which should earn the most recognition. Every coach knows that plans rarely turn out as intended; however, they can act as a blueprint to fall back on when there is a sudden “change in direction” and it becomes time to find another route to the objective.

A conversation about injury and perseverance

Below, I outline the story of an athlete who had just started working with me and had lofty, yet attainable goals, which required a limited margin for error. Training was progressing really nicely; we had done some great winter preparation work and my athlete headed out to do some routine XC skiing (skinning) as part of his training. He had done this before and it was a great boost to fitness.

Then, along came the fateful text that all coaches dread: “Coach – I’ve hurt myself!” (or words to that effect!).

Below is an adapted conversation of part of our post-season review:

Coach Philip Hatzis: What went through your mind in the short time after your skiing accident?

Athlete Chris: It was immediately obvious to me that I had completely severed my pectoral from my arm. I knew it was serious and I was devastated. I think because it was so serious my mind was just filled with getting down the mountain and into a hospital as quickly as possible. There was not much room for anything else at that time.

Once I was waiting in the hospital, the panic really hit. Depending on the nature of the tear, I was potentially looking at losing the full use of my arm. This sent me into a spiral of panic. It was March, all the hopes I had for racing for the year were 100 percent over in my mind, and I continued to spiral down this negative path. I started to think I might never be able to swim properly ever again. A friend of mine used to call me “Chicken Little” because I was prone to thinking “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

But, guess what. It never did.

Philip: Were there any key or pivotal points in your rehabilitation?

Chris: There were a number of pivotal points in my rehabilitation. The first occurred in the hospital hours after the crash. I had just been told that I needed surgery within 10-14 days to stand a chance of getting anything close to full strength back in my arm and that was if I was lucky in the nature of the tear. I had been texting you (Coach Philip) during my time at the hospital and you suggested I get in contact with Gordon Bosworth (a top Oxfordshire physiotherapist who had worked with the GB Track and field team in 2012) via email to ask if he could suggest any good local surgeons. I am not really sure why I sent the email when I did. It was 4 p.m. on a Saturday and I was not expecting him to even read the email until Monday at the earliest.

Yet, it must have been less than 10 minutes after I had sent the email, Gordon replied saying that he had spoken to a top surgeon and arranged for an appointment for me to see him on Monday morning and potentially schedule surgery later that week. I can’t really describe how much that meant to me. It is hard to put into words, but the effect on my mental state was monumental. Within hours of the accident occurring I had a plan of action and with this plan came the “hope.”

It turned out I had the best type of pectoral tear possible (if there can be such a thing!) and five days after the accident I had surgery. I was amazingly lucky.

Immediately after the surgery was a tough time for me mentally. I could do very little and the magnitude of the surgery and the rehabilitation ahead really hit home. I remember sending you a message at the time and your response was that I should write a list of “Who is Chris outside of sport” or something to that effect, so I did. This really helped me recenter after the surgery and was another pivotal moment in my rehab because it enabled me to remain in a more positive mindset as I realised that sport was just one part of my life. I had so many other equally fulfilling areas I could focus on and that. for me, was the key to the success throughout rehab.

The final pivotal moment in my rehab was the day I got back on my bike. At the time I was only able to cycle bolt upright without the use of my arms. From that moment on, I decided I was going to focus all my energy in getting my legs as strong as I possibly could. This focus gave me a sense of purpose to my training and prevented me from trying to push my arm too hard, too soon, which I think could have been an easy mistake to have made.

Philip: How much do you think this injury held you back?

Chris: Rehab for this surgery was always going to be at least six months under the watchful eyes of Sharon (who also worked with Gordon) and, yes, in the short term this injury has stopped me from being able to race in triathlon. However, during this time I focused all my efforts on the bike so much so that I was able to progress my bike to a level I never would have believed possible.

Since I started running again, it has taken a very short time to get myself back to pre-operation levels. In the swim, by being patient, sticking to the program, and not pushing too hard I honestly believe that I am very close to pre-operation levels, but I am now probably stronger in my “bad arm!” So, in short, I actually feel like I have come out of this injury stronger by being forced to train in such a way that I would have never done had I not had the injury.

Philip: What did you learn from the whole experience?

Chris: When injury strikes:

Take a step back and focus on maintaining a positive mindset.
Make a plan for rehab as soon as possible. This helps keep your mind positive as you feel like you have a process to follow back to full fitness.
Remind yourself who you are outside of sport, especially during the early phases of rehab.
If possible, build a plan that allows you to focus on other aspects of training in a way you would never have normally done. The end results can be quite surprising.
Stay in the moment and focus every bit of energy on trying to be the very best that you can in that moment to progress in your rehab.
Stick to the plan. Have faith in it and in the people around you.
Don’t push too hard, too soon. Be patient.
Remind yourself that nine times out of ten things normally get better. As long as you stick to the plan and don’t do stupid things to jeopardize your rehab, all will be good.

I am not saying that this is the approach for every situation and person, but these points are certainly ones I will refer back to in the future when injury strikes again.

Staying positive and finding the right help

Chris is being somewhat modest in this interview. After some dominating time trial efforts and time working on track cycling (another new skill), he joined a friend for the Brecca swim-run event which they won. Given that both swimming and running were the last two sports to come back after his injury, it goes to show that if athletes are willing to trust the process and stay positive, it will come good!

These sorts of situations can be frustrating. Ironically, with Chris finally returning to the triathlon season in September he attempted the Challenge Almere where, after a bike mechanical, he had pull out. He ran around Mont Blanc the week after with some friends for a birthday party (!?) and in his final race of the season, a local Spanish IRONMAN Distance event, a bike collision meant he couldn’t continue. He still hasn’t finished a triathlon since his injury!

Nevertheless, it is pleasing to see his motivation and commitment is stronger than ever. From my point of view, it was important to keep Chris focused on something where he could see progress. If that meant recording range of movement, strength improvements, or otherwise, so be it. He just needed to see he was progressing to the next phase of rehab.

It was important to keep his motivation and mentality positive and it was critical to continually reassess what was possible in the second half of the season. In these times of injury, an athlete is likely to be working off of emotions; it is about working out how you, as a coach, can keep things more objective while also being sympathetic.

You must also work with your team of specialists. The outcome for Chris would have been vastly different had he not heard back from Gordon straight away. It is times like this when it is great to be working with a world-class team. It seems though that attitude was probably the single most important factor to his rehab. By ensuring his attitude was positive, he could take on whatever seemed to be thrown his way.

It is these stories, though they won’t make headline news on any form of media, that will be the nuggets that you take forwards and develop you as a coach. For now though, a tip of the hat to Chris for his attitude to rehabilitation and time to raise a glass to 2019 where hopefully the triathlon gods will let him race again!

The post Saving A Season When Injury Strikes: A Case Study appeared first on TrainingPeaks.

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