Body Weight v Speed

If you want to go faster you need to go lighter! This is a generalisation but in the vast majority of cases it is true.  Triathlon is a race of three parts, on both the bike and run lowering your weight will make significant improvements to your race times.

If you cast your mind back to your science lessons, the greater the mass (weight) the greater the force required to accelerate (move) it.  Sorry if you have just eaten that big bar of chocolate but it’s as simple as that.  This is why you spent a fortune on that lightweight bike frame, or covet those latest carbon bits and pieces.

Before you consider reducing your body weight you must ask yourself ‘Can I afford to lose any weight?’  You may already be at your correct weight however for the average athlete its unlikely.  Getting lighter is not a simple task as you must ensure you maintain your health and power to gain the benefits of any weight lost.  The scales may give you a clue to the weight you can lose but beware, a big muscular frame is heavy and powerful but for the same height may weigh the same as a slender body carrying unnecessary fat.  A more reliable indicator is your percentage body fat.  There are various tests available to measure fat percentage, you can use calipers or electronic resistance which will give a fairly reliable indication until you get to the lowest end of the scale.  Most of us can work it out with a long look in the mirror and an honest assessment from a partner, friend or coach.

I cannot stress enough in a weight loss programme you must maintain your power and health.  This means the loss must be gradual and not at the expense of proper hydration, nutrition, vitamins and minerals.

You will be aware that as you exercise or live your daily life you burn ‘fuel’.  This can come direct from your digestion or be supplied from stores within your body.  You are a clever beast so if you take in more ‘fuel’ than you need you store it in your body for use later when ‘fuel’ is more scarce.  Once your blood, liver and muscles are full of fuel you will store it wherever you can, generally around your internal organs or under your skin around the skeleton, this is what we know as fat.  The fat has its own weight but requires water for storage adding more to your body weight.

Generally we want to keep our muscle and our skeleton is pretty useful so it’s the excess fat we can afford to lose.  Reduce the excess fat along with the water it is stored in and your weight will reduce without loss of power or damage to your health.  Less weight, same power so you move faster.

So how do we shed this excess fat while maintaining a healthy body?  Quite simply we need to show our body food is a little scarce at the moment to make it draw nourishment from the fat it so carefully stored.  Your body will be quite happy doing this until you reach the lowest fat percentages when your body will take drastic and performance damaging steps to protect itself.  Weight management at these lowest fat percentages is risky and difficult, far beyond the scope of this piece.

If you can afford to lose some fat from around your body you have two choices, the first is to increase the energy requirement by exercising more or the alternative maintaining your activity level and reducing the ‘fuel’ you take in.  As triathletes are generally quite active and time constrained the more activity option is difficult without risk of injury, unemployment or divorce.  This leaves the option of reducing the ‘fuel’ intake in such a way you can maintain your health and activity while increasing the fat you burn.

Please ignore all the ‘get thin quick’ fad diets and pills, they may work in the short term but much of the weight loss is from dehydration, you feel awful and will be unable to maintain your active lifestyle.  As a result you will soon give it up and as you re-hydrate the weight comes back.  Genuine weight loss is as slow a process as it was to put the weight on originally.  Bear in mind there is enough energy in 200g of fat for an average person to run a marathon.

First assess your diet, keep a log of what you eat over seven days.  This alone will make you think about what you eat and just writing it down will reduce your intake.  You won’t want to write down ‘six biscuits in a boring meeting’ or ‘half a pack of Dorritos watching tv’.  You must include all your drinks other than plain water.  Consumption of sweet and alcoholic drinks is often the cause of excess ‘fuel’ being taken in.  It’s easily absorbed by the body and readily converts to fat if not required for energy.  So where do you think that evening pint or half bottle of wine ends up?

Once you have your diet log, sit down with your partner, friend or coach and take an honest look at what you really need.  How much of your food is poor quality sweets, fatty food or sweet/alcoholic drinks?  How much has proper food value, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals?  Generally the answer is obvious and it’s easy to see what you can cut down on or stop taking in completely.  Often you can cut down so much junk food and drink that you need to add more quality food to supply the energy you need to live a healthy life.  Remember you are looking for a very gradual reduction.

So if a little is good why can’t you just cut down dramatically or stop eating all together?  Unfortunately your body is too clever for that, cut down too much and your body will think food is very scarce indeed and assume you may have to survive some time without it.  Your body will reduce your energy levels to prevent you burning what you have too quickly, of course you will have to reduce your training as a result.  As your body works less it will not need to be as strong, it will sacrifice muscle before it uses the fat stores.  This is a good strategy to keep you alive for a long time without food but is very unpleasant and works against what you are trying to achieve.  This way you will lose little fat, feel awful and lose strength.  Any weight loss will be balanced by a loss of power so no increase in performance.

The secret is to reduce the intake gradually so you do not trigger your body’s survival mechanism, but by enough to cause it to dip into its fat reserves to fuel your activity.  After a few months you will find your weight is significantly lower, your power will not have been affected and you have the performance advantage we all strive for.  It’s not a quick fix but the effort is worthwhile.

Mark Harman

Donating Blood and Training

I regularly give blood and have on occasion met other athletes at the donor sessions.  Without doubt blood donation is a good thing to do, as we are cycling and running out on the roads we are at greater risk of accident and may one day need to draw on the blood donated by others.  We are also healthy individuals ideally suited to supply blood without a significant impact on our own lives, but how will it affect our training and athletic performance?

If you have gone through the blood donation process, their risk averse health and safety warnings make you believe you should not even think of moving quickly after donation, but what is the truth?

A 1-pint donation of blood reduces blood volume levels by about 10 percent.  The loss of fluid has an affect but if you race or exercise in warm weather you will lose more fluid than this and still function relatively normally.  Just rehydrate as you would on a warm day.  What’s different is you will also lose blood cells.  Blood cells will natuarally regenerate, returning blood levels back to normal after about 48 hours. However, the level of blood hemoglobin, your body’s oxygen transport mechanism, typically does not recover fully for up to three to four weeks after donating, so competitive athletes may observe a slight decrease in physical performance during that time period.

A 1995 study published in the “American Heart Journal” evaluated 10 male cyclists before and after blood donations to test the effect of blood donation on performance. Each cyclist was measured for oxygen consumption during maximal exercise testing at baseline, two hours before donating, two hours after donating and seven days after donating. Results showed that the maximal performance of the cyclists decreased for at least one week. Submaximal performance, however, was not affected by blood donations. The study concluded that while competitive cyclists should not compete for seven to 10 days after donating, cyclists exercising or training at submaximal intensity may not have negative experiences aside from a higher than normal heart rate the day after exercise.

So in summary we will be affected by giving blood, our race performance will suffer for about a week so don’t do it just before an important race.  It also tells us we can continue our sub – maximal training, the level most endurance athletes work at 80% of the time, almost immediately after donation.  Accepting you may experience an elevated heart rate and some reduction in performance for the following 48 hours.

If you give blood already I hope this helps you decide when to resume training and racing after donation and if you don’t it may encourage you to know you can safely include training, racing and giving blood in your athletic lifestyle.



Spinning Classes

A Spin Class is a cardiovascular, butt-kicking workout that takes us on a stationary but sweaty ride of your life.    In a spin class, remember it is your workout.  You control everything from your speed and resistance to your intensity level, so it can be as easy as you like or as challenging as you want it to be.  Its an ideal class for cyclists especially during the winter months when the daylight is short and the conditions are harsh outside.

What is Spinning?

Spinning is a specific format of indoor cycling, taught by only qualified instructors.  It is a cardio (aerobic) workout set to music lasting from 40 minutes to 60 minutes depending on whether it is a beginners class or more advanced class..

Whom it’s for:

Spinning is great for people who want a motivating workout that they can control at their own pace. Even if you’re not into choreography-based fitness classes, you can still enjoy Spinning because it involves neither rhythm nor complex moves. It’s low-impact, so it’s very suitable for people who want to balance out higher-impact exercises (like running) or for people who have some joint problems.  Because it is low impact, there is no loading of the joints so a fantastic workout if you are returning from injury or on a weight loss programme.
What to expect:

Try to think of your instructor as a guide—he or she should give you general guidelines about how much resistance to add, how fast to pedal, how hard you should be working, and when to do certain movements (like standing, sitting, sprinting, etc.). Using these cues as guidelines, it’s up to you to work out at your own level and pay attention to how you feel. You can recover, go slower, use less resistance, or vice versa depending on how hard you want to work. In a class format, everyone feels a bit of pressure to keep up. However, Spinning is non-competitive. Especially if you’re a beginner, remember that it will take a few weeks to build up your fitness level to be able to work hard for the whole class. It’s important to listen to your body and work at a lower intensity as you get the hang of it.

You can also expect to feel fatigue throughout your leg muscles when you’re newer to Spinning—even if you’re used to working out in general. But no matter what, don’t stop pedalling. At the very least, keep those legs moving slowly. Suddenly stopping any exercise has risks (like passing out and lightheadedness), so if you get tired, simply reduce your resistance and slow down to catch your breath.

You will also feel some saddle soreness from the seat, and that’s very normal. After coming to class regularly, that soreness will go away for most people. If it helps, stand up out of the seat a little bit when you need a break. You can also adjust your position in the saddle and take “posture breaks,” where you stop reaching forward to the handlebars to sit upright in your seat.

Alternatively, investing in a pair of cycle shorts or a padded gel seat will help keep you more comfortable during your ride.  Making sure your bike is set up correctly is also vital for remaining comfortable and injury free and a good certified instructor will be able to guide you through this.  If you are not sure, arrive a good 10 minutes before the class commences and the instructor will help you set up your bike to suit you.

What to wear: Workout clothes (but no long/baggy pants, because those can get caught in the pedals/wheels) and flat-soled workout shoes are a must. If you have them  cycling shoes with cleats (that clip into the bike pedals) can make your workout more effective. But cycling shorts and shoes are not necessary, especially not for beginners.

What to bring: At least one water bottle (trust me, you’ll need it!) and a towel for all that sweat.. If you have one, a heart rate monitoris an awesome fitness tool that instructors and students alike typically use to measure exercise intensity during spinning classes.  A heart rate monitor is not a must as often modern bikes will be equipped with this sort of information already built in but if you are the type of person who likes to record these stats, then a heart rate monitor is useful.  It can also tell you whether you are over working or under working at any given time.

Joining a spin class has many benefits as it allows you to continue training regardless of the weather or time of year.  Training with others is also great fun and can often push you further than if you always trained by yourself.  The music and the instructor are great motivators so the time goes quickly and is far less boring than sitting on a turbo trainer in a room by yourself.   A spin class helps you to burn plenty of calories and together with a healthy lifestyle will help you lose weight.


If you are a beginner to a spin class arrive early to get help with setting up on your bike to make your ride as comfortable and as safe as possible.

Let the instructor know beforehand of any illness or injury you may have so they can offer an easier ride.

Drink plenty of water before, during and after a class as you will sweat and dehydrate, so in order to get the best performance continue to drink throughout.

If you feel unwell, slow down, drop your resistance but do not come to a complete stop too soon.  Allow your heart rate to return to normal by just going slower.

If you unsure, speak to other class members they are always more than willing to share their experiences and expertise to make you feel welcome.


Classes are available with the North Norfolk Wheelers Cycling Club at Splash on a Tuesday evening between 7.30pm – 8.30pm.  Price is £3 per session for members.

Train Hard – Race Easy

Train Hard – Race Easy is an old saying but remains true today, get the work done in training and the race day will tend to look after itself.  For most of us the race season is still a few months away, an ideal time to think about your training and the race performances it produces.


‘Train Hard’, what does that really mean?  Many feel you have not trained hard unless you are in a pool of sweat, vision blurred, legs wobbly and hardly able to support you.  This is hard training and the subsequent adaptions will help you in a specific area of your performance.  For others you are not training hard until you have been on the road for hours, run out of food and water and are dragging slowly home in a world of pain ready to eat the whole contents of the kitchen.  This is hard training and your body will learn from this also, adapting to cope better with this type of activity.  Do you spend an hour at the pool improving your troublesome swim stroke, or an extra hour out on your bike which you love?  That fast bike ride may seem good ‘Hard Training’ but would the improved swimming technique from your mentally hard but physically easy swim have improved your whole triathlon race.  For others hard training is fitting twenty hours a week around a job and family commitments.  Cramming as much mileage in as possible, getting out in all weathers, working through those annoying injuries, getting out there even when your body is crying out for rest.  This is certainly hard training like all the other examples, but will any of those training methods mean you can ‘Race Easy’ when that big event comes round.


Most of you reading this will be in the world of endurance sport.  Sorry to disappoint you but your 5km runs, 10 mile cycle time trial and your supersprint triathlons are all endurance sports.  Will your ‘Hard Training’ deliver the result you are seeking?  So your ‘hard’ forty five minute cycle turbo session, where you stumble away from the bike, steaming like a race horse is excellent for developing your body to produce power at or above your aerobic threshold.  You will develop pure speed and for races under an hour in duration you will probably produce some good performance improvements.  However you are training in a zone where your body burns its available fuel very quickly.  This is fine if you have enough in the tank to complete your event but once the tank is empty your performance dramatically drops so training this way will not allow you to race your two hour plus event ‘Easy’.


So you have just dragged home from another long run, or a day out on the bike.  You have covered some hard miles, just made it home as your pace slowed and you slump on to the sofa with a well earned packet of biscuits.  That was some ‘hard training’.  It will help you cope with the distances involved in your endurance event but will it give you the speed you need to compete?  No it will not prepare you to ‘Race’ easy’.


How about the lifestyle athlete, every inch of those training miles is logged and scrutinised.  That ride which was 96 miles to home just had to have another four mile loop added so it looked better when shared on line.  When waking feeling tired and ill they still get the training done.  Ok the pace was slow and the heart rate very high but the miles were logged.  Wake with a sore leg, it’s been sore for a while now but a long run is planned so they run anyway.  There’s a bit of a limp but the run is logged and the miles in the bank.  Will this pattern of ‘Hard Training’ give the desired result on that long distance event? No they will probably start a broken and over trained athlete who struggles home well below their potential, not racing ‘Easy’.


So this ‘Training Hard Racing Easy’ is not quite as simple as those four words make out.  For endurance racing you actually need a combination of training fast – hard, training slow – hard, training long – hard, training technique – hard, training digestion and hydration – hard and resting – hard.  This is not helped by the proportions changing depending on what you are racing, a 10mile cycle TT is not the same as an Ironman Triathlon, the training is made up of similar components but vastly different proportions.


We know ‘Train Hard – Race Easy’ is the right way to go but how to ‘Train Hard’ is not so simple.  The athlete jogging gently along the road as if she has all the time in the world may be training harder than you tearing past on your bike at 30mph.  The athlete swimming drills slowly in the next lane may be training harder than you as you tear past doing 10 x 100m efforts.  The athlete sitting at home with his feet up may be training harder than you as you cycle along coughing and spluttering through a winter cold.


If you are unsure of how to balance your training to ensure all your hard training goes towards that easy race day you should consult an experienced coach.  Most will happily chat for free at a training session to set you on the right path.  You can even employ them to set a detailed training plan for you, to ensure you are doing the right proportions of training for your key events and to be able to quickly spot the signs things are going wrong.  If you do not have the knowledge or experience to know how to train for your planned events ensure you are guided by someone who does.


Now is the time to develop your training plans for the coming year.  Think about what you are doing ‘Train Smart – Race Easy’.


Keep warm



Winter Training Focus

Winter Training Focus

As the season draws to an end, you may be celebrating a summer of success or wondering why all that training has not provided the race performances you expected. This is the time to sit down with a coach and discuss what you need to do to improve that race day performance in 2016.

You cannot escape the truth that winter training builds the foundations for your summer performance. If you do your race specific preparation and spring time speed work on a weak foundation your performances will suffer through injury and insufficient endurance. Look back at your past season, could you race strongly through the whole race or did you fail to match your potential when it mattered. Triathletes, were your run splits way off your run only personal best or were you beaten by athletes who are much slower than you at a shorter time trial? If the answer is yes you need to develop your engine and now is the time to do it.

Now the good news, your heart and lungs ‘the engine’ have no idea if you are swimming, cycling or running. They just respond to the bodies demand for oxygen and nutrients, like any other part of the body they will develop to match the demand placed upon them. Sitting on the sofa because it’s a bit chilly outside is really easy on the heart and lungs, they can cope with that just fine so there is no need to get stronger. Doing the odd fast and furious training session, football match, gym workout or cross country race is also quite manageable as other energy systems supplement ‘the engine’. Go through the winter like this and if you are lucky you will have maintained your current level of efficiency so when your spring training starts you are on that same wobbly foundation and your race results will be the same.

We previously dealt with planning your race season, you need to be just as careful planning your winter training. If you want to do the odd football match (take care for injury), cross country race or cyclocross/MTB race they will not do any harm and can be a fun way to develop athletic skills. Consider them an addition to your core winter training work which should be based on extended periods of aerobic activity, with some threshold work to boost that adaption process.

At the seasons end review the state of your body, be honest with yourself and seek the opinion of others you trust. Are you injured? That annoying niggle you have been carrying through the summer needs to be dealt with before it becomes a real problem. Are you too heavy, can you lose some body weight without compromising your health and wellbeing? Do you lack the strength you require in your arms, legs or core? Are you just a little burned out and suffering with poor motivation? Now is the time to take a little break, just ease back and let your body recover. Give that injury a chance to heal, concentrate on your swimming technique, relax and regain your desire to train.

Most athletes will only survive a couple of weeks ‘off training’ but triathlon training allows you to satisfy the cravings without putting undue stress on any injury you are letting heal. If it’s a sore shoulder, ease back on the swimming and concentrate on those long steady bike and run sessions. If your leg is injured get in the pool for long steady swims, concentrating on those technique and efficiency drills. If you are a single sport athlete consider trying another endurance activity which will give that injured area a break while still keeping active. Winter is the perfect time to introduce new techniques when your body and mind can adapt away from the pressure of competition.

Developing that aerobic base is not achieved overnight, it comes from sustained periods of aerobic activity, good nutrition and plenty of rest. That 3 hour group ride which is a bit slow for you normally may be just what you need to get some miles in without exceeding your aerobic threshold. Its sociable and the motivation of the group may get you out in weathers when a 45 minute intense turbo session seems much more suitable. The group ride will add to your base fitness, the turbo session is really too short to do much good. Get out and run long steady distance efforts, keep the intensity down to a chatting level, running with a partner or group will add interest and reduce the temptation to speed up to ‘get it done’. Choose an interesting route across the fields and tracks, run with the dog, run somewhere you need to go, but whatever you do maintain that steady aerobic level.

If you intend to build this solid foundation of endurance you cannot miss out the long steady sessions, however you can boost the adaption affect by stressing your body right up to its aerobic threshold. This is achieved by adding an effort session into your training. These sessions are not sprints or lung bursting hills, they will start with just short periods of effort where you add speed or resistance to get your heart rate up to its aerobic threshold. There are techniques to calculate this using heart rate graphs or more accurate blood testing, but for the average athlete a simple test is ‘can you speak’. Being able to hold a long conversation is too slow, only managing one or two words is too fast, aim for a level where you can say short sentences, a speed where you could continue at that pace for longer if you needed to, but the recovery period is still welcome. To stay near the threshold through the session you should have 3, 4 or 5 minute efforts, then a short active recovery of 1 or 2 minutes before the next effort. As you develop the skill of judging your threshold and your base fitness improves you can lengthen the efforts and reduce the recovery to just that needed to complete the next effort properly. Eventually you will be able to swim/bike or run continuously at your threshold pace for extended periods. These are taxing sessions which will take a couple of days to properly recover from, don’t do too much of it keep the majority of your sessions long and steady.

Follow this guidance through the winter and you will get to spring with a solid aerobic base on which to introduce your speed work. This will ensure you have the best chance to perform as you should next season.


Why should you do Pilates?

Pilates was created by a man called Joseph Pilates back in the 20th century.   He claimed that in 10 sessions you would feel the difference, in 20 sessions you would see the difference and in 30 you would have a whole new body.  Now that’s quite a claim!  I came to Pilates in 2000 having attended my first class and was completely won over in the first hour because of the way it made me feel at the end of it.  I subsequently qualified and have been teaching it ever since.

I am currently offering Pilates classes in East Runton, and Cromer to which you can find details at  with exact times and days.

Many top athletes and dancers use Pilates to assist with their training.  For example, Darcey Bussell a well known and loved ballerina and now Pilates instructor uses this method to maintain her health and mobility.  In an interview in the Evening Standard nearly three years ago she said:I truly believe Pilates is such a good thing, especially if you have had children”.

Pilates isn’t like other classes such as circuit training, weight machines or the gym as these types of exercise aim to increase bulk of the strongest muscles (the superficial muscles on the outside) , shortening and tightening them in the process.  Pilates achieves the opposite, concentrating on the deepest core muscles, (the abdominals) lengthening and elongating them giving the appearance of longer and slimmer muscles.  Consider the core muscles like the base of a pyramid, the wider the base or foundations the stronger at the peak the pyramid can be. This is the same with the body, the stronger the core muscles are the more support they provide for movement, stability and flexibility.

We all feel we have to go hard and fast to achieve the best results, to the point of exhaustion, experiencing muscle soreness and aches.  This soreness is caused by a build-up of lactic acid, little stretching and even tearing of the muscle fibres.   With Pilates the aim is not in the quantity of exercises but in the quality and therefore exercises are performed with very few repetitions, with precision and effectively.  In Pilates you should never feel pain. As I said before, excessive high intensity exercise causes muscles to tighten and shorten pulling bones and joints out of alignment and this is usually when you start to experience pain and a changed lack of movement.  Pilates will help you be aware of any weaknesses and postural problems and help you correct them.  Once you have learnt to stretch and lengthen the muscles posture will be improved bringing better alignment and balance to your body.

Pilates can help with spinal problems, neck and shoulder tension, promote core stability.  Having strong abdominal muscles will support your lumbar spine and will help you to maintain good posture and will hold the internal organs in the correct position.  Consider your core muscles.

Many of us will suffer from a back problem from time to time and is one of the biggest causes of lost working hours in the Western World.  Our current lifestyles, sitting at desks, driving long hours, are overweight etc. make you very vulnerable to chronic back pain.  Understanding the causes of back pain, when postural  alignment is consistently wrong puts more and more strain on the spinal joints resulting with  weakened muscles and poor posture.  Core stability is key to the body working correctly so it is crucial that we work the abdominals, pelvis, glutes and hamstrings to help us protect ourselves from this back pain.

Pilates is an all over body workout, it does not concentrate on one particular area but all your joints and muscles as a whole.  After all, in every day activity you use different muscles for different movements.  If the core muscles are strong and supportive, the superficial muscles will have a greater range of movement.  A good Pilates Instructor will work from top to bottom and from side to side including all the major joints of the body with gentle exercises and low repetitions.  The exercises will flow, be precise and aim to strengthen and lengthen the muscles.  All and everyone can benefit from doing Pilates even those with serious disabilities or mobility problems.

As athletes we often get carried away with always working very hard to achieve great results but will neglect that the body needs to be stretched and needs ample time to recover and repair itself.  Spending a minimum of 15 minutes stretching after exercising you will reap the benefits.  Doing at least an hour of Pilates a week the results will be tenfold.

Consider doing Pilates for life, getting into the habit of doing Pilates and always thinking of correcting your posture without putting undue stress on your joints.  Doing Pilates regularly will improve your everyday life it’s just a matter of dedicating an hour or more a week to it.  You will see and feel the benefits within weeks as Joseph Pilates said, “In 30 weeks you will have a whole new body”.

Teresa Harman

Planning Your Sporting Year

A Way Out of the Slump – Planning Your Sporting Year

Cycling, Running and Triathlon are essentially seasonal sports, they need to be as endurance training and racing is hard on your body, but it is generally due to the short days and poor weather limiting available events. As the season closes you will need a rest to allow your muscles and joints to repair, but it is easy to lose motivation as your mind and body take the opportunity to recover. This is not helped by the dark cold days and adverse weather which also reduces enthusiasm to train. For some a few weeks pass then normal service is resumed, unfortunately for many it is not quite so easy.

If you find yourself in this slump, you may feel tired but it is actually a mental state and it is your mind not your body which needs to recover. The best way to turn this around is to take your mind forward to those long sunny days of the event season and plan your next races or challenges. Once your mind starts to focus on the events ahead, you will have a reason to train, your mind will connect with the good feelings your sport brings and your desire to train will return.

With this in mind, now as the season comes to a close, is the ideal time to start thinking about next year.

What to Consider?

There are so many races and challenges out there, every event is different, some short, some long (some very long), some hot, some cold, some flat, some hilly, pool based, open water, home or abroad. Generally these events are open to you just by submitting an entry form, but some require qualification or very early entry to get your place so this must be considered in your plan.

You must first review your sporting background, along with the results of this years training and events. Consider your strengths and weaknesses, for example if as a triathlete swimming is a challenge you may prefer to stay away from long sea swims until your skills and confidence improves. If you are not particularly fast but have good endurance, consider races with long tough courses so you can gain time on the other racers in the tough sections. What do you enjoy? If you like short fast events seek them out, if you fancy the challenge of longer distance and even ultra events you can consider those.

How much training have you done this year? This will give you an indication of the time you will have next year, consider family and work commitments, a new baby or more stressful work will not fit well with a decision to train for a long distance event. What do you want from the sport, are you able to compete for wins and places or just to complete the event to the best of your ability? What are your longer term ambitions? It may be to keep fit, complete a 24hr time trial, race in Ironman, race for GB or just tour the world riding, running and racing in exotic places. If you have high ambitions you may need a two or three year plan to get yourself to the level you need to be at. Racing can be expensive, the cost of events is steadily increasing, ensure you add the travel and accommodation to get the true cost. Finance may well be a limiting factor, do you decide to compete in one major event or a number of local events for the same cost? Staying injury free is key to improvement, you may have the time and finance to race every weekend, but will your body take the strain, will you be nursing injuries through each event never achieving your potential. You may have a holiday planned or friends and family in other parts of the UK, or even other countries. Consider combining your sport with a trip, it gets you to events in other interesting places and even the most jaded sporting widow/widower will be enthused by a week on the beach in return for a few hours standing at the roadside watching you race.

What races are out there?

There are many ways to find out what events are available to you. These days without internet access you are unlikely to find many races, but as you are reading this you should be ok. Speak to other athletes within and outside your club, see where they raced and what they liked and disliked about the events. Read the specialist magazines which contain race reports and race calendars, as do many specialist websites. Your sports governing body will generally publish an event calendar and/or publish a members handbook setting out the available events. It may not have next years races listed so early but look at the equivalent period this year to see what races are likely to run next. It should also have links to the clubs and major events stand alone websites where more information can be found.

Keep it real

As you look through the mass of event opportunities it is easy to get carried away with the thought of finishing a really cool event. Many events are promoted for first time or novice racers, even major televised events are accessible to first timers. Some are not really suitable. This does not mean you couldn’t finish a very long distance race having never done anything similar before, but you won’t race to your potential or enjoy the experience as you should. Don’t get carried away by the success of your friends and club mates, most will admit they were a bit naive on their first races and suffered as a result. If that race is local and an hour or two long no harm done, its part of the process, if it’s hundreds of pounds and many hours of pain and suffering it’s less clever. Even if you have the fitness and experience to race over the very long distances, only consider including ‘one’ of these races in your plan for each year. A pro or semi pro may be able to do more, but if you need to read this advice you can’t. Be realistic about your goals but challenge yourself.

What’s an ‘A’ race

When you have decided on the events you really want to do these are your ‘A’ races. They may be your qualification event, your Ironman, your National event, your club championships or a target for a personal best. They are the races which are really important to you, where you want to go fast and enjoy the experience. Where possible they should be spread evenly through your season, four weeks or more between each so you can properly recover and phase your training to maximise your performance. You may only have one ‘A’ race in a season so all your training and other races will be intended to maximise your performance that day. Once you have set these dates there may be other events you want to do with friends, as part of the club, or as specific preparation for your ‘A’ events. Fit these around your ‘A’ events but be aware you may not be able to perform to your maximum if you are recovering or training hard for your most important event. These events should really be considered as part of your training, if you do well it’s just a bonus.

Now you have decided

Once your season is planned out you need to make sure you submit your entries in good time. Check web sites regularly for information about when entries will be accepted, if funds are limited focus on your ‘A’ races and take a risk with delaying the others. Tell your husband/wife or partner about your plans so holidays, late parties, family celebrations and other domestic arrangements can avoid your key events. You may also need to book leave from work if you work weekends or your event involves travel. Book any accommodation you need in good time, the longer you leave it the more expensive and further from the start it will be. With all these things in place and all the money spent you will also have a great incentive to train through the cold winter months.

With your season planned so carefully and well in advance you can concentrate on staying fit, healthy and injury free. To help this you build your training plan around your race calendar but that’s a whole new subject……………

Mark Harman – NNW Coach


Don’t let rain stop training

Don’t let rain stop training

Let’s face it we live in England, it rains regularly in the summer so you can be sure it will rain more in the coming months.  Riding in the wet can be a miserable and uncomfortable experience, purely social riders can choose whether to ride but many riders book their events days, weeks or months in advance and there is no way to anticipate if it will be wet or dry.  You can decide not to start the event but you may have invested significant time and money getting to that start line, a DNS may not be an option.
So if you are going to complete wet events you need to train and prepare for those conditions.  The rain doesn’t have to spoil a beautiful day if you have trained and prepared to ride fast and stay safe despite the water.  So how do we adapt to cope well in the bad weather?

Stay comfortable, remember it is actually heat, not water, which is an endurance athlete’s greatest enemy, and rain can help keep you cool.  Because it’s cooler than your skin, rain soaks up some of the excess body heat that your working muscles produce, the evaporation of the water draws away more heat.  As a result you can ride harder while maintaining a safe body temperature.  Of course this can go too far, the same rain that keeps you from overheating can also cause your body temperature to drop excessively, the combination of cool water, evaporation and wind chill means hypothermia is not out of the question even in the summer.
So how do we prepare for that wet ride?  If it’s already raining or rain is threatening leave with a rain jacket.  If the rain is warm and you don’t use it, no harm done, you have carried a few extra grams in your pocket.  But if the temperature drops significantly and you can’t stay warm through exertion alone, then get that jacket on quickly.  The jacket keeps the cold water away from the skin but also insulates you from the wind chill.  You will still be damp underneath but you will stay warm.  It is important to keep your hands and feet as dry as possible as they will chill very fast when wet and in the airflow.  Overshoes are easily obtained and provide a waterproof layer over your cycle shoes, suitable gloves are also available at a reasonable cost, these will keep your hands and feet much warmer.

Training in the rain can be made more pleasant for you and you companions by riding a bike fitted with mudguards.  The guards will reduce the spray from the wheels keeping it off your legs, back and other riders near you.  You can fit ‘clip on’ guards to most types of bike, even if there is insufficient room for more substantial guards.  Don’t forget the rear mudflap if you ride in a group.

Wear glasses in the rain, your nice tinted glasses may not be suitable so have a set of clear glasses or lenses.  This will keep water and debris out of your eyes, if they become contaminated a wipe with your glove should clear them.
Staying warm is part of staying safe when you’re riding in the rain.  If you are warm and comfortable you will concentrate better and be ready to respond to the challenges of riding in the wet.  Here’s what you need to remember about staying upright on wet road surfaces:

Avoid road paint, grates and manhole covers.  Wet steel and paint are among the slipperiest materials you’ll encounter on the roads.  The white lines may be the smoothest part of the road surface but they are the most slippery on which to brake or turn.  Be sure to ride round metal grates and covers in corners and at junctions, if you cannot avoid them straighten up until you have passed over them and then turn.

Brake early and in a straight line. Some brake/wheel combinations work better in rain than others, but none works as well as when they’re dry.  The brakes will work less efficiently and the tyres will be more prone to locking on the wet surface.  Brake earlier and always in a straight line, reduce speed before the turn, never brake in the corner

Extra hazards are out there, take care where leaves or mud collects, they are also much more slippery when wet.  Where possible avoid puddles, they may be deeper than you think or be hiding pot holes or debris to damage your tyres or cause a crash.  Take care on roundabouts, cars and trucks spill diesel fuel on the corners which then waits for the next unsuspecting arrivals.  Roads immediately outside fuel stations are particularly prone to contamination.  Look out for the distinctive smell and rainbow colours in the water.

Keep the bike more upright through corners.  However careful you are avoiding the extra hazards a wet road offers less grip for your tyres, you can’t lean your bike into corners the way you can when the weather is dry.  Instead, keep the bike more upright and spread your weight evenly between front and rear wheels.  Try to focus your eyes on where you want to exit the turn, you go where you are looking, put your outside pedal down, push your weight through it and a little weight on the inside handle bar.  Be patient and corner smoothly with no jerky movements. A lot of crashes occur when riders get overzealous about accelerating out of a corner.  They shift their weight and jump on the pedals just after the apex of the turn, and it’s enough to break what little traction they had.  Get through the corner and then start accelerating.

Tyres on most road cycles are very narrow and the weight of the rider presses the tyre firmly on the road surface.  It is not necessary to have a tread pattern like on a car tyre as at normal speeds the water will not be trapped between the tyre and the road.  You may prefer the feel of the bike if the tyres are not inflated to full dry road pressure, the softer tyre will provide a little more contact area and more progressive handling.

Lights will assist other road users to see you.  Cars and trucks will put their lights on in the rain to help other road users see them through the gloom.  A flashing rear light will attract the attention of drivers catching up with you on the road, encouraging them to give you more room.

Give plenty of space.  Other road users will also be suffering from the reduced visibility and the more difficult driving conditions.  You must give them more time and space, this separation allows more time to correct the inevitable errors, don’t take unnecessary risks.

Test your equipment and skills in training to give you an advantage in your event.  Too many riders never think to take their race gear out for a rainy-day test ride to prepare themselves for the possibility of rainy events.  Get out there with the carbon wheels and your full race setup and make sure you know how your bike’s going to handle and how your kit works and feels in the wet.

With some thought and preparation you can ride both safely and comfortably in the rain, you may even enjoy the challenge.

Mark Harman – NNW Coach