Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Helping your body survive Christmas: MacGyver Style

In any athletes training program it is important to include some fun in amongst the specific sessions that often hurt, can be tiring physically and mentally wear you down. Remember fun? Riding your BMX for hours on end around the neighbourhood until it's dark and your mum calls you in for dinner? Running around the neighbourhood until you lungs hurt just because your a cowboy and you need to catch the Indians? Seeing who can swim underwater the furthest in the pool?

Christmas is a great time to reconnect with your inner child and free your mind of too much structure. Backyard cricket and body-surfing play a big role in the Waters household Christmas day. We eat until our belly's bulge and then sleep in the afternoon shade.

Knowing that this has every chance of putting a few 'dings' into your vehicle of life (i.e. that well-defined machine called your body) it is useful to engage in some preventative 'panel-beating' yourself. I recently watched an interesting short-video by Ben Greenfield that focused on the week prior to racing an Ironman triathlon - an important period of time to keep your body nimble and ready for action. As I watched it though I thought "Ironman race week? This is great for any time of the year!".

All you need is a couple of tennis balls, some duct tape and a rolling pin. MacGyver would be so proud.

Enjoy - and Merry Christmas! Stay safe, smile a lot, give your family a hug and take plenty of moments to soak up life.

Scott


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Noosa Triathlon 2013

My last triathlon was Ironman Cairns back in June. Granted I did bash my way around a Duathlon in August, but that had the noticeable absence of water and a swim. So leading into Noosa there were plenty of nerves and a distinct lack of racing-mojo. Who needs racing mojo in a place like Noosa though - a pair of board-shorts and a taste for coffee and ice-cream work just fine.


EIGHT WEEKS LEADING INTO RACE

  • 20 hours of swimming (62.5km)
  • 59 hours on the bike (1558km)
  • 32 hours and 25 minutes of running (264.4km)
  • Total hours training - 111 hours (13.9 hours per week)
  • 1 cold
  • 1 calf injury
  • 1 shift to a new practice location for work
  • 2 massages
  • Not enough stretching

ONE WEEK LEADING INTO RACE
  • Number of coffees consumed: 17
  • Number of beers consumed: 3

The Noosa Triathlon Festival is a spectacular event to be a part of. For a race that attracts so many punters into one small spot, the organizers seem to have to process fairly well dialed in. We also had the luxury this year of registering on Friday so checking our bikes in on Saturday was smooth sailing and barely cut into the cafe-hopping time. 


RACE DAY
 
There is a real buzz in the air on race day morning. Nothing like the sound of tire tubes bursting in the background to get a cheer from the crowd. Seems to happen every year at Noosa. It made no difference which way I looked, my gaze was always met with beaming smiles. 

It was expected to get hot later in the day (32 degrees) but felt quite pleasant all morning (even though I didn't have to jump in the water until 7:46am). No rain this year which made the roundabouts on the way out of town that much safer. In fact I thought Noosa delivered a near-perfect day - clear blues skies, a light breeze and plenty of kids to high-five along the run course.
  • Pre Race Song: Daft Punk feat. Kanye - Harder, Faster, Better, Stronger
  • Support Crew: my gorgeous wife Ally who also raced and was racked next to me in transition
Morning nutrition
  • 1 banana Up & Go
  • 1 bottle of Orange Gatorade
  • 1 fig
Swim (26:54 72/376)
  • 1 Banoffee Torq gel 15 minutes prior to start
  • Googles - TYR Special Ops
  • Orca RS1 race suit
  • Garmin 910XT watch
  • gorgeous pink swim cap courtesy of USM Events

I was in the fourth wave of my Age Group (the joy of having a surname beginning with 'W') and was left to contend with a swim course packed with people. I was able to push through some anxiety that crept in early on without breaking my rhythm too much. For some reason the "just keep swimming" voice of Dori from 'Finding Nemo' was on repeat through my head. It kept me calm so whatever works!

I thought I had swum to my ability and I try to swim smarter each time I race (picking the shortest line, finding some fast feet). There was a nice current heading out to the turnaround which made it feel like we were flying. The excited anticipation of what felt like a fast swim was soon deflated when a glance at my watch showed 26:54. 

(NB checking my Garmin afterwards it looks like I swam 1660m @ 1:37 pace and word on the street is many others noted about 150m extra. Happy to have swum extra if everyone else did - more excited about keeping a 1:37 pace).

Bike (1:02:43 5/376)
  • 1 bottle of Infinit
  • Argon 18 E-114 with Zipp tubulars (rear disc and 808 front)
  • Garmin Edge 500
  • Mavic Helium shoes
  • Rudy Project Wingspan helmet
  • 1 Pitstop taped to the top tube
Unless I unleash my ninja skills before the race to find out where everyone has racked their bike (so I can see if they are still there when I arrive post-leisurely swim in the canal - even then it makes no real difference given the first wave in my category started 12 minutes before me), I usually get out of the water having no idea where I am in my Age Group. Given my lack of swimming prowess I just assume "well behind". 

My one 'A-Goal' for the day was to ride a sub-hour bike split. I had given myself permission to let the chips fall where they may in the swim and run, but the bike - BOOM was the plan. 

After only a few hundred meters my feet were happily in my shoes, snugly fit and ready to anchor my leg-pistons to my bike. I didn't glance at my bike computer until the bottom of the climb and was content to ride by feel. I love triathlons for the sheer freedom of time-trialling down the road without worry of cars and traffic and today was no exception. 

Once on the climb I stayed down in my aero position and used my power-meter as a guide to prevent an explosion of my quads. Up Subaru's 'King of the Hill' in 6 minutes flat - 0.4 seconds outside of the top 10.   

Coming back into transition and going under 60 minutes was going to be close - rack-to-rack on my Garmin was 1:00:20. Next year for sure :)

Run (37:26 5/376)
  • Mizuno Ronin 5 shoes
  • 1 Banoffee gel (one sip only - the rest was content slowly ozzing over my hand as I ran, making for sticky 'high fives' of spectators along the way)
  • Infinit visor
Having spent a few cookies on the bike I had no idea what to expect on the run. It was like an early Christmas present though - as soon as my feet hit the grass in transition I knew I was in good form. I felt light and took off on a euphoric cloud. This is where being a later wave start does become some kind of an advantage - there is a constant stream of people to focus on catching. Rotating between reflecting on my running form, the ground moving quickly behind me, closing the distance to the next person in front of me, and imagining the glorious feeling I was going to have sitting next to the pool with a beer in my hand, my mind had little time to consider how much it was hurting. 

The Noosa run course is an amazing hum of noise, cheering, kids calling out your name and high-fiving you as you run past. There are people in the back streets with their hoses giving you a quick cool down. It is a truly magical experience. Or perhaps we are just delirious from exhaustion and over-heating.

Overall: 2:07:04 10/376

With what has felt like a long break between races, this was just what I needed to rekindle my triathlon spark. In the week leading up to the race I had moments of thinking that perhaps I have lost the desire to 'make myself hurt' in a race. You don't need to make yourself hurt to do a triathlon, but I think you do need to be willing to dig deep if you are after the top tier of your event. Today I was happily surprised at the enjoyment I got from pushing the boundary and suffering a little. That little bit of crazy is still there.

POST RACE RECOVERY
  • 20 minutes standing in the canal
  • 20 minutes standing in the canal with a cautious eye out for the snake seen swimming earlier on 
  • 3 slices of water melon
  • Beers consumed: 5
Thank you to all of the important people for their continued support. My family, wife and friends. 

Thank you also to the wonderful companies and people that continue to stick with me: Mizuno, Chaingang Performance Bikes, Aeromax Team Coaching, Reddog Triathlon Training, Infinit and Three Girls Skipping. 



SPECIAL MENTION

  • Aaron Royle - first male 1:46:11 (19:07 / 55:20 / 31:43)
  • Emma Moffatt - first female 1:58:41 (20:50 / 1:02:37 / 35:13)









Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Day-dreaming and focused-attention: making your run feel good while enhancing performance

Trail running before sunrise, the Velobeats 'Chillout II' podcast playing in my ears and the cool spring air touching my skin. One of the nicer ways to start my day and sure to finish with a smile on my face. I feel good, that's for sure. But is this the best way to improve my performance while running?

There is no doubt that psychological strategies can influence our performance during sport and exercise. I have experienced first hand the benefit of learning how to 'embrace the suck' rather than being scared of the pain often associated with racing and competing. I know that scanning my body for tightness and tension allows me to relax those muscles and move more efficiently. 

Being a sponge for all things psychological and sporting I was quite intrigued by a recent study on the effect of different attentional-strategies on physiological and psychological states during running (from the School of Applied Psychology at Griffith University - David Neumann and Amy Piercy). 

Getting briefly technical, the article identified the difference between association and dissociation as two broad attentional strategies that can be adopted during exercise. Association refers to focusing on aspects relevant to the exercise, such as bodily sensations and movement, while dissociation involves focusing on things in a way that help block out the exercise (such as listening to Velobeats). Perhaps not surprisingly the dissociation focus tended to produce a higher level of positive emotions, while the association focus often resulted in faster running. 

With association focus, you can also categorise the various approaches according the the direction of attention (i.e. internal or external). For example, an internal focus would be attending to your body and the action of the skill (such as breathing or hip position), while an external focus is about attending to the effects of your body on the environment (such as the movement of the ground under your feet). 

The article suggests that association strategies have the greatest impact on improving performance, and that ones which are externally focused are the most effective.

At this point you may be wondering, "ok, so what does this actually mean?". Well, a few things.

For example, the study found that when participants focused on the distance being travelled (external association) they reduced their breathing frequency. Further, they found that a focus on body movements (internal and external association) reduced oxygen consumption when running. Imagine the impact this could have on an endurance event - running more economically simply by actively focusing on the movement of your body!

I think it is worth acknowledging that individual differences and past exercise history may play an important role in the effects of any particular type of attentional focus. Also, I would be extremely impressed with anyone who can maintain their focus of attention on a single cue for a long period of time!

With the Noosa triathlon on this Sunday, and a 10k run awaiting me, I plan on trying out this information with a basic plan that allows the freedom to shift my attention from time to time:
  • focus on visual markers, such as trees and aid stations, that remind me of movement and the distance I am travelling
  • focus on the ground beneath me moving behind me as a run
  • focus on body movements and cues of good technique - high hips, fast cadence, relaxed shoulders
Knowing that the strategies have the potential to reduce my mood, if I notice myself feeling down I will add in a few moments to visualise the finish line, the after-party and the post-race massage!

Try practicing these strategies in training. For your less intense sessions, perhaps distraction strategies will be more effective - while you might not set any records, you'll be happier and can distract yourself along the way (which will make it more likely you'll stick around for the entire long run!). But for those times when performance and speed are the priority, strategies that focus in on the moment, your bodies movements and the way you are moving through your environment, will be more important and effective. 

For those racing this weekend at Noosa - good luck!

Scotty



Sunday, September 15, 2013

The focused-relaxed athlete (and other oxymorons for athletes)

After enjoying the process of putting myself out to pasture for a month after Ironman Cairns, my focused shifted onto the next highlight of 2013's racing calender: Mooloolaba 70.3. When this event was first announced last year I had that rush of Christmas-morning excitement that flows through your body as a 7 year old (who am I kidding - still as a 33 year old). The race definitely ticked a lot of boxes: 
  • Fast course
  • Local (easy for my family to come and watch, as well as just being a short drive up the road from home) 
  • New and novel (which is great for motivation) 
  • Half the distance of Cairns!
My preparation was two fold. 1) Get a killer training program. TICK. 2) Reset the mind. TICK. 

After such an intense build up to my last race I decided that this time around it would be more relaxed. No pressure. Fun comes first. If I felt like riding with friends rather than hit some tempo efforts, I would. If I wanted to cruise through some running trails instead of knocking out 400m track efforts, then "so long suckers" I'm off to the forest. If the coffee at the cafe seemed more appealing then the drive there was my new training session.

This worked well for a while. With a shift in priorities and a relaxed attitude to training I was happy to miss sessions or shorten some longer rides. The small projects were getting done around the house and my dog was getting walked more. 

Plus, the quality of my training had improved. I was again loving the enjoyable-agony of hard sessions and would often have a crazed-grin on my face afterwards. I was starting to think that there was a method-to-this-madness as my pace in sessions was above what I had achieved in ages. 

BOOM. 

That was the sound of my calf during one insignificantly-meaningful run. Out for 3 weeks which put me out of Mooloolaba 70.3.

Disappointing to say the least and a sometimes forgettable-lesson that we have as athletes. In my afternoon of brooding and kicking at rocks on the ground, I took the time to reflect on why. What went wrong? I thought that I had embraced the focused-relaxed mindset like Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze embraced the clay in 'Ghost' - with vigor and enthusiasm!

Then it dawned on me. I had forgotten about the incidental-necessities.  

Four Ironman race-preparations. Zero injuries. 

Two half-Ironman race-preparations this year. Two injuries. 

The difference?

The incidental-necessities. Regular massage. Stretching after sessions. Good warm-up. Post-exercise nutrition. 

I am fanatical about these aspects during an Iroman training period because of the workload and the importance of keeping this rig of mine healthy. But with a carefree outlook this time around (and less volume of training each week) these things got put on the back-burner more often. They still happened, but not as often as they should. For some reason I thought they were less important because I was training less and being ├╝ber-relaxed.

So for the focused-relaxed athlete, remember that there are still some cornerstone pieces of the puzzle that are important. I will try to let go of my moment of conscientious-stupidity. 

Through all of this, there is a saying that has stuck in my mind which has given me a smile and the energy for my next racing adventure:


"Chase your dreams passionately while holding them lightly"


Mooloolaba 70.3 was just a race. Some fun with friends. No sheep-stations on the line. With Noosa less than 8 weeks away, there is always something else in your life to pursue with enthusiastic vigor! 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Focus Izalco Team SL bike - my two cents

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to ride a Focus Izalco Team SL road bike in the first race of the Triathlon QLD series. Chris from Chaingang Performance Bikes was kind enough to lend me his to take on the hilly and adventurous 5 lap - 40k course as I decided the TT bike might be like dragging the Titanic around a speed boat racing circuit. Very happy with that decision as the Focus rode like a rocket the whole way! With Campagnolo electronic shifting and a whizzing pair of Enve 6.7 tubular wheels it was a thoroughbred of a machine to ride. 


The impact of this bike was quite exceptional from the start - visually it has clean lines with smart green-accents that draw your eye from front to back along the frame. This alone makes the bike appear fast even when it is sitting still. With the Enve wheels as well I couldn't help but wonder if the engine (i.e. me) would be enough to do it justice. 

The small details continued to remind me that this is no ordinary bike. From the near flawless shifting of gears (I had to visually look at the rear cassette a few times to check that it had actually moved), the feather-light frame and the incredible stiffness that sent power from foot-to-pedal-to-road to "far out I am flying up this hill!" in an instant. With that in mind it is still a comfortable ride despite being a stiffer frame - the day before the race it took me on a 100k spin with no complaints. 


While you may think that a 40k ride slotted in between a 10k and 5k run (with over 5 laps of riding and 491m of climbing) does not sound like fun, you'd be wrong. I was like a kid in a candy store drilling this bike up the climbs, zipping down the descents and around corners trying to embrace my inner Jens Voigt (as safely as I could with a course full of other riders), and pushing it along the flats. Make no mistake - this bike is fast. 


Pros

* fast and smooth shifting, very lightweight, great handling

Cons

* ruined my current road bike - it's just not the same

The guys at Chaingang Performance Bikes have been a great support for me over the years. While they have been stocking the Focus bikes range for a few months now, I will admit that I had not really given them much thought. However, this experience has changed my mind. After trying Chris' bike I started to do some research on Focus and have been impressed with what I have read. So much so that I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of their new Izalco Chrono Max Time Trial bike which recently won the Eurobike Award in the Time Trial bike category!


Disclaimer: I understand that some may wish to take this review with a grain of salt given that Chaingang Performance Bikes have been a loyal supporter of mine for the past few years. I completely support that view (and really believe any review of products should be read with a healthy degree of skepticism) and can only suggest that there is no harm in trying out a Focus bike (especially the ones mentioned above) to see for yourself.



Sunday, June 30, 2013

Your secret weapon: a focused mind

As a triathlete I am well-versed in the tendency to research and seek out the latest, cutting edge (and often over-the-top!) technology in sports equipment: a $1200 wetsuit with 'Yamamoto Nano SCS coating neoprene panels', $4000 sunnies made from "pure carbon fibre that takes machinery a continuous 24 hours to carve out", $500 cycling shoes that are "lightweight, high-performing, and gold lining with a rainbow pattern", and a fancy aero helmet with "unique dual internal and external ventilation system" worth $499.95. You get the idea. Constantly searching for free speed while crippling your wallet (which is why quite a few of these items are not hanging up in my closet).

"Yes your honour [insert partner's name here], I plead guilty to these charges".

Here's the kicker: what if I said one of your greatest pieces of sports equipment will cost you nothing? It's true. The greatest tool that any athlete has is sitting right between your ears: your mind.

Sure, talent and physical ability play an enormous role. Running shoes and a bike are also fairly critical for triathletes. But at the end of the day it is your mind that can make or break you. By understanding the power of this hidden piece of sports equipment you'll be able to use it to improve your performance and get the advantage over your competition. 


The first 'Mental Weapon' to add to your sports kit: The Art of Focus

Mastering the mental game 101 - the ability to focus is one of the most important skills you can develop as an athlete. Consider Happy Gilmore. He lost the plot initially when taunted by a crazed fan and got into a brawl with Bob Barker (and lost). But through some help from a one-handed man named Chubbs, Happy was able to win the tournament (and the girl) by learning how to refocus despite the TV tower collapsing and blocking his putt.

While this may seem like an odd place to reference a 90's Adam Sandler comedy, it highlights a key point: focus is a skill like any other that can be learned and improved through practice. Even Happy could do it.

Focus is the ability to direct your full attention to the task at hand while tuning out the distractions. The task at hand might be body posture and 'running tall', while distractions can be internal (the voice in you head on a constant loop telling you that you'll never catch the guy in front) or external (a sign for McDonald's latest Rocklea Road thickshake). 

It's important to remember that your focus is also linked to your arousal level and physical state. For example, if you're focused on thoughts about not gaining on the person in front of you, you might get anxious and frustrated. These thoughts can lead to muscle tension which will prevent you from running smoothly and efficiently (thus running slower). 

Step 1: focusing on the present moment

Research (and personal experience) has shown that great sporting performance comes from focusing on the here and now, not thinking about what happened last time you raced or worrying about what might happen. Why waste energy thinking about stuff that doesn't matter? Here are some tips for zeroing in on now:
  • Find an object - your mobile phone, shoes, a leaf, anything really - and give it your full attention. Notice the colours, shapes, outline, texture, smell. Observe it like a curious scientist that has never seem this object before. See if you can stay focused for one full minute. If you notice your mind wandering, acknowledge the thought that caught your attention and then let it go by bringing your attention back to the object. 
  • Practice staying in the moment each day during training. Focus on the immediate execution of a skill - the catch in your swim stroke, relaxed shoulders while running. 
  • Centre yourself - pay attention to your breathing and muscle tension. Yoga is a great way to practice this as you are encouraged to be more in the moment.

Step 2: focus on what matters 

Why focus on parts of your day that you have no control over? For example, you can't change the weather or how many people are watching you, nor can you do anything about how much someone else has trained or how fit they look (you could try sneaking some weight gain formula into their bircher museli I guess).

Instead, focus on factors that are relevant and have a direct impact on how well you perform. Focus on your practice goals, rest, diet and mental preparation. Cultivate a healthy attitude and improve your understanding of the game or sport. Focus on planning your training periodisation effectively and getting the right treatments between sessions to aid recovery. All of these are factors within your control that can improve your skills and ability to perform well. 
 
Also, focus on the process rather than the outcome. When Pete Jacobs won the Hawaii Ironman triathlon in 2012 he reflected afterwards that being in the lead on the bike allowed him to focus on his own space, form and technique. Compared to previous years where he has been in the 'pace line' and had to divide his attention between maintaining the 12 metre draft distance between him and the rider in front, wondering if he can catch the guys in front and somewhere in there putting some focus on the process keeping efficient cycling form. 


Step 3 - know the focus points of your sport

Every sport has its own unique focal points - the stroke in swimming, pedal stroke and body position in cycling, high hips and relaxed shoulders when running. The more aware you are of your sports unique focal points, the easier it will be for you to zero your attention in on that key spot while letting go of distractions. 


Step 4 - relax

A guaranteed road block to engaging your focused mind is stress and worry. If your mind is caught up with worries about life, it will be difficult to switch them off when you are focusing on the million dollar putt. The more stressed you are the more tense your muscles will be. Not the ideal recipe for success on the sporting field. 

Find things that help you relax and keep a list. You can then use the list as a quick reference guide if you notice the tension in your body, racing thoughts or overwhelming emotions. This could include listening to music, reading, talking with friends and having a laugh, getting a massage or watching a movie. It can also include more specific strategies such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises. 

_______________________________________

Try to incorporate these ideas into your weekly training regime and see what happens to your sports performance. If nothing else you will be able to really savour that piece of chocolate by focusing on the smell, flavour and texture. Plus you may spend less money on useless equipment (my Finis Hydro Hip is doing a great job of collecting dust).

More 'Mental Weapons' to add to your sporting equipment collection coming soon. 

Safe training and above all else - remember to have fun!



Scott

Friday, June 14, 2013

Ironman Cairns 2013 - Race Report

Ok, so this is not as cool (or short and sweet) as Canadian pro Trevor Wurtele's race reports. I think it took longer to make than the race itself took... Ha!