If you want to know about training and racing, ask an expert. Four-time World Ironman Champion Chrissie Wellington spoke at the launch of 33Shake’s brand-new (and Chrissie Wellington approved) Chia Energy Gels to share her wealth of knowledge with TriGear…
So much is absolute junk. People think that (if you do) a four to six-hour ride you’ll be fit enough to do that in a race. Psychologically it’s beneficial, because you know you can bag a six-hour ride, but physically it won’t advance you or it can actually undermine what you’re trying to achieve. The volume of training that I was doing was probably a lot less than people would have imagined; not the volume as athletes like Belinda Granger or Hilary Bisque, they were high-volume athletes and they could withstand that. My body physically isn’t as capable of withstanding that volume and I don’t necessarily need to do it, so the emphasis for me was on high quality: high quality interval and strength work and less on high volume.
Strength and Conditioning
Dave [coach Dave Scott] introduced strength and conditioning which was something that Brett (Sutton) disagreed with quite fundamentally. For longevity I believe that everyone should include strength and conditioning in their program, but it needs to be targeted.
There’s no point in going into a gym and just lifting a few weights – you need to be assessed and to ascertain what your strengths and weaknesses are. My weakness was particularly on my right side where my knee fell in because my glutes and hamstrings were so weak. So I’d always get slower on the back end of a marathon – which you might think is natural but it’s not. I didn’t feel energy depleted, my form had gone and it had gone because my hamstrings and glutes where incapable of carrying me. Dave recognised that and we got to work on that with very targeted strength and conditioning and it worked and I was able to negatively split.
You need to see rest as part of the training and not as an add-on or as a luxury. It is absolutely fundamental because training breaks your body that’s what it does and that’s why you train. You train to stress your body and unless you rest, your body can never rebuild and your body can never recover. So you continue to stress it and eventually, bang! Oh dear I’ve got a stress fracture! I speak from experience not martyrdom and it amazes me how many athletes do not rest sufficiently because they’re scared to.
When I (first) went to Brett it was an anathema to rest; to me rest was absolutely tantamount to weakness. So to have a rest day was like saying I had failed. If someone said to me, ‘did you run today?’ and I said, ‘no’, I felt like a complete failure. Coupled to that I couldn’t rest my mind, so I over-analysed everything. I over analysed if I had a bad race, if I had a bad session – I thought about everything… He said to me, ‘You have to be able to rest your mind and your body.’ For me that was so incredibly challenging, but unless I had got a handle on my brain, I would never have achieved what I did.
I tapered less than people might think. Compared to the majority of age-group triathletes I was doing around 30 hours a week; so you dramatically reduce the volume going into race week proportionate to what you usually do. Reduce the junk almost completely and just keep the intensity.
So for example the brick session: if the race was on a Saturday I might do a brick session on a Tuesday or Wednesday, which would be a two hour ride going into a 25minute run but I’d do five minutes hard in that run. The penultimate day is a complete rest day – the day before the race I do a 2km sprint with about 300m of effort, and hour and a quarter on the bike again with three or four-minute efforts in and then a 25minute run with some strides and 1minute efforts.
I always do the bike earlier in the day because if you have a mechanical you have the rest of the day to deal with it, but if you leave the bike until just before you’re racking it and there’s a flat then panic sets in. I used to have dinner about 6.30-ish and go to bed around 9.30 – you never sleep well before a race so don’t expect to and don’t stress if you don’t. The key is to bank as much sleep in the weeks before rather than to get eight hours the night before the race.
Having songs in my head helps me and I also tend to count repetitively over and over again. Before a raced I used to have a Kona playlist, which is really embarrassing and has the Lion King on it; but I used to train on the route and listen to the playlist and then I could identify a landmark with a song so that when I raced that’s what I heard and they meant something to me. Those are psychological tools that we can all use, but you have to develop them in training, because it’s too late to find out you don’t have them on race day.
I think people go into races expecting perfection and that’s not going to happen. It’s unrealistic to go into a race and expect everything to go according to plan. Things will go wrong – your goggles will get knocked off, you’ll get cramp, you’ll get a flat tyre, a stitch on the marathon – that’s racing. What makes you perfect is overcoming those imperfections perfectly. Racing itself is a learning experience, you are always learning and your strategy evolves.
I’m not a particularly pleasant person to be around for maybe two days before the race, not because I’m snappy but I tend to withdraw into myself and tend not to be very communicative. I’m just pretty dull.
I tend to do a lot of visualisation, a lot of relaxation, self-massage, videos, reading; just keep myself to myself in the days and hours before a race. Even before the race starts I take myself off and sit there and listen to some music and be away from the noise and the hassle – a lot of amateur athletes like to get their wetsuits on about three hours before the start, which isn’t good if you need the toilet. It’s important to be prepared, but take yourself off and have that bit of time, don’t be in the heat of the race too early on.
If you missed our feature on Chrissie Wellington in which she discusses nutrition, mental-preparedness and dealing with pressure you can read it here.
More on Chrissie Wellington at chrissiewellington.org and follow her on Twitter at@chrissiesmiles