10 Tips for becoming a better athlete without training more

As Coaches we strive to help athletes get the most out of themselves. We program plans to develop their strengths and improve their weaknesses.But when most athletes think about making improvements and becoming a better athlete, they immediately think about how they can fit more training into their week, or how much harder they can push in a session. But other than simply training more, there are lots of ways athletes can improve without having to train more. Here I share with you my 10 simple (but highly effective) ways to help you become a better athlete without more training.

1.Do 3 things in your day that will benefit you as an athlete.

I once read this tip from Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs. He had a list of 3 things that he would tick off each day to improve his performance, and I’ve been using this myself and with a number of my athletes since, with fantastic benefits. This doesn’t mean you have to train 3 times a day, it means finding a balance and combination of training, stretching, rolling, mindfulness, meditation, eating healthy, massage, sleeping –all of which should play a part in a sound training program. The thing I love most about this is,on days that are ‘ recovery’ days or easier training days, you can still do three things that will benefit your training. So for those athletes who ‘ dread’ recovery days, you can now look forward to them –knowing that they are improving your performance. The key to this is finding the right combination at the right time –and this often means listening intuitively to your body and understanding what it needs.So choose your 3 things each day wisely, and commit to them, consistently.

2.Set value driven goals. 

We hear it all the time. Have goals, set goals, work towards your goals…Most athletes have ‘ goals per-se, but what a lot of athletes are missing are the key values behind those goals. Knowing and understanding why you set them, what drives you, what motivates you and what steps you will put in place to reach them. Setting value driven goals will provide you with structure and motivation which will help ensure consistency –even during winter, which will equate to continual improvement.If you are unsure on how to set value driven goals, chat to a Coach or a mentor.

3.Follow a training program.

Athletes will benefit and improve by following a training program that has structure, periodisation and specificity. Even better than simply following a structured training program, is following a personalised program written specifically for you. A program that takes into account your work load, family time, downtime, strengths, weaknesses, drivers and goals. Without a structured program, we often see athletes over-train (as they are trying to keep up with others) or under recover (as they think more training is better) which over time can lead to injury or burn out. A structured program will ensure continual improvements as well as longevity in the sport.

4.Ask questions.

Don’ t just do as your Coach says. Ask why so you begin to understand how (and why) your program is written and the purpose of each session. Ask things like ‘ what purpose does this session have?’ , ‘ what benefit will this session provide?’ , ‘ how will this improve my weakness?’ Knowing and understanding your program will allow you to become a more knowledgeable athlete, you will understand the purpose of each session/week, which in turn will allow focus on the purpose (rather than just training for trainings sake) and you will have a better vision of how this works in with your goals, training and racing.

5.Fuel your body correctly.

Nutrition is a HUGE part of becoming a stronger, healthier and ultimately better athlete. As a Coach, I hear far too often athletes saying ‘ I do triathlon so I can eat what I like’. It is these athletes that generally have the mentality of more training is better. As much as this is okay if performance or your health isn’t a priority, but if you want to become a better athlete then it’ s time to start fuelling your body correctly.Your body will only function as well as the food you fuel it with. High processed foods such as cereals, breads, cakes, biscuits, and many sports drinks are calorie dense with very little nutrients, not aiding in your performance or your recovery. The problem with our sport though is the message that is being ‘ sold’ to athletes –eat lots of pasta, drink sports drinks, “carb load”.You should be fuelling your body with real whole foods, (not processed carbohydrates and sugar), which include a balance of good carbohydrates, good fats, and protein. You will feel better and your body will respond and recover quicker. To help understand your nutrition better and your individual nutritional requirements, I recommend seeing a Sports Nutritionist or Naturopath who can formulate a plan specific for you. One of the best investments you will make in your training and health.


Never underestimate the importance of sleep. This is the time when your body repairs damaged muscles, restores optimal hormone balance, aids mental recovery and overall health and well-being. If you find you can’ t get enough sleep during the week, use your weekends to catch up, or if you are lucky enough, take a nap during the day! But if you are compromising sleep for your favourite TV show, or up late on Facebook, then ask yourself –is this helping you to become a better athlete? Is it helping you towards your goals? If not, then reassess how you spend your time. Why not record your TV show and catch upon the weekend? Sleep is such an important part of recovery and therefore performance, it should be high on the priority list (well above Facebook stalking!)

7.Go slow to go fast.

Far too many athletes are training at too high intensity on easy sessions, and not high enough intensity on hard sessions. If you really want to improve, then ensure you listen to your coach and follow your program and go easy when it says to. Not only does this allow your
body to adapt and grow, it helps build the foundation so you can go hard when you ask your body to. The method that we use successfully is the MAF Heart Rate Method. There is loads of information on this method online if you want to learn more.

8.Listen to your body.

Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just doesn’t want to respond. You’ re unable to hit the times you know you can, your legs feel heavy and your body is generally fatigued. This is the time you need to listen to your body and understand whether it is best to continue with the session, or change it to a recovery session instead. If the purpose of the session was to build top end speed, and you aren’t hitting the times, then maybe that’ s the perfect time to switch to a recovery session. You still get training adaption, but you are allowing your body to recover so it doesn’t’ t transfer into the next session and the one after that. Remember our bodies aren’t machines. Athletes who tap into their intuition and understand their bodies will ultimately become better athletes as they manage a more consistent training base. Successful athlete’s don’ t just train for the sake of training, every session has a purpose –even when that purpose may change for the greater good of the overall training plan.

9.Stay focused & leave your ego at the door.

When you are in a session and training, ensure you are focused on the task at hand. Think about what you are doing and have a goal for the session. It’ s easy to let the mind wonder onto how much work you have to do for the day, or what you are going to have for dinner. I also see athletes lose focus in a way that they start focusing on what others are doing.A good example of this is when an athlete heads out for an easy run or ride, but is then passed by another runner/cyclist, ego gets in the way, they loose focus of the purpose of their session (easy recovery) and they start ‘ racing’ someone else. Most of us are guilty of this. So know the purpose of the session and stay focused on it, and leave your ego at the door.

10.Control the controllable’s.

Don’ t get caught up in things that you can’ t control –such as your competitors, the weather, course change, training partners etc. These will only cause you to loose sight of what you set out to achieve. Don’ t loose sleep or stress over what you can’ t control. That’ s one of the biggest mistakes athletes can make. If you can’ t control it–then you are wasting energy thinking about it. So stay focused on what you can control (such as your own goals), accept the uncontrollable’ s and simply move around them.

Part of my coaching philosophy is to ensure athletes have complete balance in their training. Getting the most out of athletes to improve their performance doesn’t necessarily mean training more. It means working on the little things that can provide big gains over time-mostly because the athlete will be healthier, be less susceptible to injuries and maintain a more consistent training plan and program. Add these steps into your daily/weekly routine and you will find yourself well on the way to becoming a better athlete without any additional training.

Written by Coach Sarah,  as previously published in the  Australian Triathlete Magazine 

How to execute the perfect race plan

We all want to execute the perfect race. Heck we all plan to! But there are times when our race plans just don’t go to plan. When this happens, the athlete looks directly at the Coach ‘what went wrong?‘ Most of the time we can delve into the race, or review the lead in, and understand where it didn’t quite go right. Interrupted preparation, over raced, pacing off, nutrition not quite right – whatever the reasoning, it is important for athletes (and coaches) to understand, learn and implement changes into their next race/event. If you aren’t learning, you are not improving.

But still, the expectation is always there – we all want to execute the perfect race, we don’t want ‘trial and error’ or to ‘try again next race’. We all want to nail it from the outset. So the question is, how do we do it?

I share with you my tips that allowed my athlete Brett Sands to execute a perfect Half Marathon and secure a 4th place in his age group in his first stand alone Half Marathon.

Coach Sarah:

The key to perfecting a half marathon (or any long course race for that matter) is pacing. You have probably heard this before and it may not be anything new. But HOW to determine your race pace so you can pace correctly is what I’ll delve into as many don’t actually know how to work this out.  We ask all our athletes leading into their race what their race time/pace expectations are. It can sometimes be interesting on how athletes actually come up with their race pace goal: “I’d like to break 1:45 for my half marathon” an athlete may say, yet when you look at their training and their data, the numbers may not add up. They have simply guessed what they would like to achieve. It might ‘sound’ good and they might ‘want’ to break 1:45, but if the numbers aren’t there, then it can be a receipe for disaster. Race pace expectations need to match reality – or at least in the realm of reality. Of course we all aim to achieve PB’s, but the key to executing a race is knowing your race pace and sticking to it.  And this is where numbers (ie science) comes into play. Not just guess work.

Before Brett’s race we reviewed his recent training history and data, looking at his threshold paces and efforts along with his MAF Heart Rate and pace, and we were able to formulate a plan based on numbers and data – not just by plucking a figure out of the air that sounded good.

Leading into the event, Brett raced the 10km event at Run Melbourne, with the following data:
Time: 38:32
Ave Pace: 3:50min/km
Ave HR: 168
Max HR: 175

This race was 12 weeks out from the Half Marathon, and even though he wasn’t targeting the Half as a key race, we still use his training data to calculate his threshold paces and heart rates for training over the coming weeks/months and use them to build through his training.

Between that race and the Half Marathon, Brett completed specific sessions to simulate his race pace and continue to develop his threshold. An example of a specific endurance run including tempo pacing he completed 4 weeks out from his race:

Focus: Pacing / tempo. Form to be held throughout
20min MAF/easy aerobic
15min at half mara pace/effort (4:00min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
10min at 10km pace (3:50min/km)
5min float ~10sec slower than half mara pace
5min 5km pace (3:40min/km)
15-20min easy aerobic / cool down

For the main set (40min) of this session, Brett nailed it to a tee, and his averages for the 40min were:
Ave pace: 4:01min/km
Ave HR: 152bpm
Max HR: 168bpm

Compare this to his 10km race, the numbers are pretty much spot on what I was expecting, and again provides me with further data to calculate his Half Marathon Race Pace Goal.

Sessions like this are not only physiological, but also psychological – being able to develop the ability to pace and know what each pace/effort feels like without having to look at a watch. Learning to run to feel is crucial for athletes and something that everyone should work on. If an athlete can learn how it is ‘supposed’ to feel at a given pace, then it is a lot easier to know if you are running too fast or too slow during a race, and you can make adjustments. Brett is extremely good at knowing and understanding the purpose of the session and understanding his pacing and zones and this benefits him immensely in a race.

From an energy-use perspective, athletes should generally be running slightly below their lactate threshold pace for a half marathon. Running faster than your threshold (generally your 5km or 10km race pace) can create a situation where your aerobic system is unable to remove the waste products that are generated by anaerobic energy production – which in return causes muscle fatigue, and your body (ie pace) to slow down. So athletes should know their threshold pace (and heart rate) and run slightly below so as not to ‘blow up’ in the back half of their race.

So with the data collected and calculated above (and a number of other sessions to go off), we calculated his Half Marathon Race Pace at 4:00min/km (remembering his threshold for 10km was 3:50min/km).


Want to know exactly how Brett’s race ended up? Find out below: 

Q: What race plan did you have leading into the race? 
Brett: Coach Sarah and I discussed my race plan and we agreed that my plan would be to go out at a pace of 4min/km from the outset and be comfortable and relaxed from the start. We discussed the weather conditions which we checked a couple of days in advance so we could factor that in too. Knowing it was going to be a windy day, the plan was to find a group of runners with a similar pace and hang with them and work together in the winds. That was a key part of our strategy, as our worst case scenario would be battling the wind by myself in no-mans-land.  A good warm-up was also a key factor in my race preparation and timing that to the start of the race.

Q: How did the race pan out to the plan that you went in with? 
Brett: It went perfectly to plan with only a couple of small adjustments as I went. I planned on settling into a group and work together in the head winds and that’s exactly what I did and that’s what made my race. I ran a little quicker at the start due to the massive tail wind for the first 5km, but I knew this was potentially going to happen and planned for it. I checked my heart rate and it was at my predicted race pace HR, and I felt comfortable so I knew I was tracking well. Going out that little bit faster (but maintaining my effort level/HR) I knew I would then have the time up my sleeve when we turned into the headwind and the pace would drop slightly. The key here though was that I was continually monitoring and assessing, running to what I knew of my body based on my training and that helps immensely to not over race.

Q: How satisfied are you with your race? 
Brett: I’m ecstatic and super stoked. Not just with the result, but that we had a race plan and tactics and I stuck to it. I hit my dream time and I can’t wipe the smile off my face!

Time: 1:24:43
Ave pace: 4:01min/km.
Placing: 4th ! M45-49
No peaks, no troughs. A solid all round performance and a well executed race plan.
So – instead of just ‘plucking’ a race pace out of thin air in the lead up to your next race, review your numbers and data (doing this with your coach will help you understand better) around 12 weeks out, 8 weeks out and 2-4 weeks out so you can see where your pacing sits, your zone lie and a true indication of what you should calculate as your half marathon race pace. This can be scaled for any distance and calculations can be done for the swim and bike also as you lead into the triathlon season. So good luck – and here’s to executing your next perfect race plan!
Don’t know what your threshold zones are? Don’t know how to review your training data and numbers to maximise your performance?  Contact me find out how having personalised approach can help you achieve your optimal performance. 

This article was originally created and seen on www.holisticendurance.com.au 

When training becomes an addiction

When training becomes an addiction

Follow Coach Sarah as she shares her training and racing journey. She will share not only what her training looks like, but her day to day nutrition, recovery, the mental side of training, the 1%rs, the ups and the downs, her favourite sessions, break throughs, realisations and now,her journey with a bub on the way! She will show you that training to your optimal performance doesn’t have to mean spending every spare hour training or every waking moment tired….

21 weeks – over halfway, when did that happen?! It seems like only a couple of weeks ago I shared with the world that my next big event on the calendar was going to be having a little mini-me! And since then, there has been a plethora of pro-triathletes who have also announced their pregnancies, Mirinda Carfrae being my number one favourite! 🙂 It has been exciting following these amazing women on social media sharing their journeys to motherhood while still remaining fit, healthy and kicking goals while I too try and find my balance and the changes happening in my body.

For me, I can say in general I’ve still been feeling great. It honestly took me a good 4 months to really even feel like a little human was growing inside of me. (of which I still feel a little weirded out about!) ;-p But in the last month I’ve definitely noticed the shift and the changes slowly sneaking up on me. But it wasn’t the slow and gradual changes in my body, it wasn’t coming to terms with needing to slow down, it wasn’t the shifts in energy and nutrients my body craved that I wasn’t ready for. This was something I hadn’t expected and wasn’t prepared for. It silently starting creeping up on me, subtly and so subconsciously that I was totally oblivious until it hit me.

An ‘addiction’ – or an obsession, which ever way you want to term it had made it’s way back into my life, with pregnancy being the catalyst. It formed in the same way as it had previously – slowly and subtly, without me even realising it, until I was right in the midst of it. This addiction had made a profound impact on my health before, and I could see and feel it happening again. I thought that it was in the past, and it wasn’t until just recently, nearly half way through my pregnancy that I realised it had reared its head again. I thought I had ‘cured’ myself from this addiction/obsession, but then I realised, that just like any addiction, we aren’t ever ‘cured’, there are triggers that can set it off and mine was set in motion. I’m just glad I got hold of it before it took over again.

I wasn’t addicted to the usual things people are addicted to, like food, or alcohol, I was addicted to training. To the idea that the more I trained the fitter I would become, the stronger I would be, the more I would achieve. I was obsessed with looking at what I had done last week, or last year and wanting to do more than that. So I trained more. (a rookie error by many athletes) And at first, it served me well. I improved dramatically (as anyone would with an increased training load) but as with any addiction, over time, it becomes all consuming. It was the first thing I thought about when waking, and the last thing I worried about before going to sleep. I’d sneak in an extra 10min ontop of a programmed run, do an extra sneaky ride, if I missed a training session, I would go into panic mode that I’d loose my fitness, or put on weight and I felt like I ‘had’ to train twice as much the next day to make up for it. I wasn’t in control of myself anymore, I became a prisoner in my own thoughts and the stories I was telling myself until my body couldn’t cope with it anymore.

So after 12months away from the sport, self reflection and rebuilding my health, I was proud of myself of being able to find a happy healthy balance again, and another 12 months later I worked my way back to Long Course racing and returned to the sport at Ironman Western Australia.

But fast forward 4 months from then, and I found myself with similar thought patterns to those I had 3+ years ago. Although now being 20 weeks pregnant, and still feeling strong and capable, I found myself each week looking at what I did last week and wanting to do more.

I was training up to 15hrs a week, twice a day most days. I was starting to get more tired, but I ignored the signs, as I ‘had’ to go out and train. But it wasn’t until my body forced me to slow down that I realised what I was doing. I wasn’t training for my health, or for improvements, I found myself training because I felt I needed too, I felt compelled to. I compared myself to my previous, and couldn’t let go of that need. I needed to do more, wanted to do more, felt like I had to do more.

I was again afraid of loosing my fitness and of gaining weight, and I thought with that, I would loose my identity. This then transgressed to instead of making me feel better – as exercise should, I was feeling worse. I was feeling more tired, stuck, controlled and addicted. I was becoming a slave to the training and to exercise. The worst thing about it happening this time was, it wasn’t just going to be my own health that I was impacting, I needed to consider the little being depending on me… and that’s when it really hit home.

So, just as I did those few years ago, it was time to put into play what I had learnt before. To be kind to myself and to my body, particularly now that my body isn’t just for me, it is for the little human growing inside of me.

To appreciate my body in what it can do, but to not take advantage of it. To always have my mental and physical health at the forefront of my mind, but not to let it rule me.

To nourish my body, to support not only my exercise and my health, but also my growing bump. And most importantly to love myself and the changes my body is going through – which when you sit down and think about it, is massive!

I wanted to share these thoughts, as I know many athletes would relate to this. Athletes that may also have similar destructive thought patterns and beliefs in their training and their health.  Don’t think that being ruled by your training is sustainable. It can be for a period of time, but our bodies are far smarter than a lot of us give them credit for. Our bodies can take the toll for a period of time – some longer than others, but if you don’t regain a balance throughout the year, if you don’t listen to the signs, then guaranteed at some point it will come back to bite you. It could be through injury, illness, fatigue, burnout – none of which are fun at all.  No one wants to have forced time off training, be grateful for everything your body allows you to do, while taking care of it. The better you get at listening to your body and being in tune with it, the better it will work for you.

So if you feel like you are controlled by your training/exercise, if you are suffering from fatigue, injury or illness but continue to train anyway, then ask for help – from a Coach, from a friend, from a professional that you can discuss your feelings with understanding and support. You will be glad you did.