December is the best time to assess the work that has been done during the year. The training log is almost full and comparison with the previous years could finally start! It is also the time to review what did work and most importantly, what didn't. Here are my lessons learned in 2016:
1 - Get a coach
I have been self-coached since I started training regularly in 2013. For three years, I have been using free training plans from the internet, plans from running and triathlon books and other resources like triathlon forums and blogs. I have tried many things and I had some success, especially in running. As I progressed in my short triathlon career, my goals shifted from finishing the distance to improving my performance. I was spending more time in reading triathlon books and trying to find the best training plan for me. I had a good work ethic and trained very seriously but I have reached a point where I was improving very slowly in triathlons. I decided to get a coach by the end of 2015. After a full a year of training, it is definitely the best investment I made. The quality of my training considerably improved, as well as my performances.
2 - Get a proper bike fit
I received my triathlon bike few days before Ironman 70.3 Luxembourg. I didn't have enough time to get a professional bike fit. But, when I had to choose between my old road bike and a brand new P3, it took me few seconds to decide which bike I will ride for the race. I made some quick adjustments and tried the bike on my trainer for around 30 minutes, it felt comfortable. On race day, this feeling didn't last very long. From the first kilometers I realized that the saddle was not properly adjusted and that I will be struggling the rest of the way. I assessed that the discomfort will unlikely lead to injury so I decided to continue. The week after the race, I had my bike adjusted by a professional. It may sound easy for some triathletes to make their own bike adjustments, after all, it is about setting the right saddle height and position. But, a professional bike fit goes well beyond that. In fact, finding the right position on the bike with a good balance between aerodynamics, power output and comfort on the saddle is not a simple task. The cleats position is also an important setup that should be made by a professional. The result is worth the investment.
3 - Triathlon is not a solo sport
Preparing for endurance events is time consuming and requires long hours of solo training. Add to that family and work commitments and there is not much room left for social life. After starting working with my coach and joining the Coaching Zone team, I realized that triathlon offers a social aspect and the opportunity to be around people sharing the same passion. It is actually the only group of people where discussions about racing a 17 hour events doesn't sound weird, how cool is that? :-) But, the real fun begins when a large group of teammates race the same event. Supporting each other on the course, waiting until everyone crosses the finish and having a post race celebration are priceless moments that only sport can offer. I am looking forward to more races with the team in 2017!
4 - Run by feel
Few months ago, I was at the start line of a race when I realized that I forgot my heart rate sensor at home. It was a bit disappointing since I use heart rate for pacing. For the first time I had to race by feel. I ended up having a great performance with the feeling that I was at the right intensity all the time. That was a trigger for me to think about the added value of the heart rate monitor. I have already read many articles recommending not relying on heart rate values to gauge the effort during training and racing. It is not very accurate and could be affected by so many variables like temperature, humidity, stress, rest, dehydration... I have myself experienced inaccuracies like having heart rate values abnormally high or low and not matching the effort. Such issues definitely cause poor pacing. So I decided to get rid of the heart rate monitor during running races. I rely on my feelings to gauge the intensity of the effort and time splits to monitor the pace. It has been very successful so far! I still use the heart rate monitor during training since I want to collect all available data, but I don’t use it for pacing anymore.
5 - Speed sessions with flat shoes is not a good idea
For many years, I have been running in a 2mm drop running shoes, almost injury free. This year, I had the temptation to try zero drop shoes to see how it feels. As an unconditional fan of Newton running shoes, I got a pair of MV3. It is an extremely light and fast shoe, ideal for short to mid-distance racing and speed workouts. While it was highly recommended to make a gradual transition to zero drop shoes, I started running in them straight away. I thought I was already running in a low drop shoes and that it wouldn't be a problem to run in racing flats. After the first session on the track, my tendons felt sore. I thought it was a normal fatigue but few days later it became painful. The diagnosis revealed an Achilles tendinitis. Luckily it was not severe and I could still bike and swim. It took five weeks to completely recover from it. I still consider the Newton Running MV3 as a great shoe but it is definitely not for me, I will stick with the Newton Distance models at 2mm drop.
6 - Skipping swim sessions is definitely a bad habit
I am not a good swimmer and I do nothing to get better. Before a race, I just make sure I have the endurance to swim the distance. But, in terms of technique and speed, I haven’t put the time and work needed to improve. In the last three years, I managed to exit the water in around 38 minutes for 70.3 races. This year, my swim split in Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden was 42:40. Which means that I am regressing from bad swimmer to very bad swimmer. The reason is obvious, I skipped too many swim sessions and shortened a lot of them. While I am far from a podium spot and the extra few minutes in swimming time will not make any difference, I like to see progression from year to year. I am already thinking about what should be done next year to get better, but the starting point is to never skip a swim session!
7 - Always help other athletes!
At Ironman 70.3 Wiesbaden, the swim takes place on a lake far away from the event area in the center of the city. So there were two transitions areas, T1 at the swim start and T2 next to the finish line. White bags have to be dropped on a truck at T1 and could be retrieved at the athletes finish area after the race. On race morning, after putting on my wetsuit, I gave my white bag to a race volunteer who dropped it on the truck then I walked to the swim start. On the way, I realized that I forgot my swim goggles in the bag so I ran to the truck hoping to get my white bag back. I asked the volunteer to retrieve it but it was too late. The truck was full of white bags and it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I started to panic, I asked the triathletes who were still there if they had spare goggles to give but nobody had one. I decided to swim anyway. It will be tough but still better than a DNS. The gun already went off when I reached the swim start area, athletes were entering the water in a rolling start. Just few meters before the timing mat, the guy in front of me turned and asked me why I did not have my goggles. I told him that I forgot them in the white bag. He told me not to worry and took me to a race volunteer who was standing next to the start with spare swim goggles for athletes who might need them. I almost cried with joy! I just had the time to pick up the goggles, thank the guy who saved my day and enter the water. The technical lesson from this is to empty the transition bags on the ground to make sure I do not forget anything. The life lesson is to help others whenever the opportunity comes.