Are you a self aware athlete?

I recently wrote an article on Recovery and how it can be the key to your success. I received lots of comments and feedback that it was very well timed, and a good reminder for all endurance athletes (well really any athlete!) to ensure they take a step back and allow the body to actually recover and adapt so it can grow and become stronger.

This lead me thinking to conversations I have had with a few athletes over the past couple of weeks and there seemed to be a common theme that was starting to pop up. A comment or conversation that had the same underlying thought pattern. “I feel like I didn’t quite nail the session“, “I didn’t hit the numbers on that session” some even included the word failed!

And so it got me thinking, what was leading these athletes to think this way? Because they didn’t hit a particular number in a session, that they had failed at that session… That even though the intent was there, and the effort was there, but because they didn’t hit a particular number that they had ‘failed’.

So when I delved deeper into these conversations, almost all of them came back to how flexible, adaptable and self aware an athlete was (or in these cases weren’t).

So what does does that all mean, and how can you become more flexible, adaptable and self aware to ultimately become a better athlete?

Well if you look up these words in the dictionary you will find something along these lines…

Adaptable: “able to adjust to new conditions
So being an adaptable person / athlete means “being capable of being adapted. able to adjust oneself readily to different conditions
Flexible: “able to be easily modified to respond to altered circumstances. ready and able to change so as to adapt to different circumstances.”
Self Aware:knowing and understanding yourself, surroundings, sensations and thoughts“.

How does that relate to you as an athlete? And how do these traits lead to either your success or your potential demise as an athlete?

Firstly I will put it into context to see if you are LACKING in these traits.

Scenario #1 You review your program at the start of the week, plan your week accordingly, down to the day and time you will complete your session. But something comes up, you are running overtime at work, an unforeseen issue comes up and you can’t get out the door when you had planned. You get a little angry, maybe start to take it out on others, or resent the person or situation that caused your plans to be changed.

Scenario #2 You head out for a key run interval session. You know what paces you can hold for this session as you have done it before. So you head out in good spirits. But right from the first step you feel heavy and lethargic. ‘I’ll get through the warm up and see’ but you still don’t feel it. And then you start to feel a little twinge in the hammy. You know your form is off, you know you are feeling tired, and the hammy isn’t happy, but ‘I have to do this session as planned’. So you push through it, unhappy with how you performed, and finished with a sore hammy as a result. You now feel frustrated and annoyed.

Scenario #3 You plug your bike session into zwift, a key session you really want to nail. Your computer tells you the power number you ‘need’ to hit, but you have had a stressful week at work, sleep has been below par and you are feeling tired. ‘But I’m going to nail this session no matter what’ you tell yourself. But you don’t. Your body wasn’t having any of it, but you keep trying. A zone 3 effort feeling like a Zone 4. You are working way harder for the effort you should be doing but you soldier on regardless… But you finish the session feeling worse than when you started AND you feel like you failed the session because you didn’t hit the numbers you planned.

Scenario #4 You just got the kids down for a nap, everything is set up and you are ready to hit a session on the bike. You are excited! But 20min into the session your youngest wakes up – gah noooo. You get angry at him. Why do you have to wake up now you curse to yourself. You try to ignore the cries, but know you have to get off. So you tend to him, get him back to sleep and jump back on the trainer. Only to have 10min later another interruption. Really?! Not again! arghhhh. You have a 1.5hour session planned and only 30min in and already you have been interrupted twice. You are annoyed and frustrated at your child. You get off and let the session go, but you remain angry for the rest of the day.

Scenario #5 You can’t swim due to pool restrictions (sounds familiar?) 😉 So you first get annoyed, but then you soon forget about swimming and just think you will worry about it when you can swim again. So you don’t plan anything else into your program that can supplement your swimming, you simply stop.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar to you? You could replace any session or any scenario, or any disruption in the above and I’m sure you will bound to find one that you can relate to. The key message in these was that the athlete in each scenario didn’t allow flexibility or adaptability into their planning and/or sessions and let this carry through into the remainder of their day (maybe even more than one day!) either in life, in their session or in their program as a whole.

It can be hard I get it. Particularly for athletes that love structure, routine, following a program, not missing a session, ‘doing as the coach told me‘. These type of athletes are fantastic, they will always get the work done. They don’t search for excuses, or the easy way out, they grit their teeth and get the work done. BUT at the same time, this COULD be their undoing.

If things don’t go your way, you need enough self awareness to acknowledge this, but not let it get to you. If you are tired, become adaptable enough to change, if your time availability changes, have enough flexibility to work around it and not let it get to you.
THESE are key qualities that can really help an athlete achieve their full potential. Not just an athlete that can hit every session prescribed or every number planned.

So how can you draw from and develop tools for self awareness and self management from unexpected fatigue or unexpected situations?

Understand what successful training is: Being consistent is first and foremost. So to be consistent is not going too hard on easy sessions / days. It’s not taking on too much in terms of your training load in the context of your life as a whole. Sometimes training needs to take a little backseat and that is OK. We can plan around that. That isn’t failure. That is life! Sessions are designed to challenge you, but they aren’t designed to break you – physically OR mentally. Fatigue is ok. Yes. Some sessions should be really hard. Yes. But you should still feel accomplished overall.

Give a little: Don’t always go chasing a set power, pace or speed in your sessions without having the ability to shift these on a particular given day. If you don’t have that flexibility you WILL see it as a failure, even when it’s not. So don’t lose the ability to be intuitive, to know what it ‘feels’ like. What does zone 3 ‘feel’ like. What does Ironman pace ‘feel’ like. Data, watches and programs tend to take away the feel if you rely too heavily on them – listen and learn from your body. THAT is your greatest measurement.

Use your program as a guide: Your program is a guide. I program with intention, with purpose and with your goals in mind, but it is up to you as the athlete to listen to your body, train with intent, ask questions, adapt and be flexible within the realms of the program.
Not every day will be a great training day. Some days you head out for a hard interval session and your body just does not want to respond. 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. 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.

Don’t feel like you have to hit EVERY session: I include a mixture of key sessions and supporting sessions into athletes programs so they know which sessions to focus on, and which session support those key sessions. If an athlete can complete them all AWESOME. But if in a given week they can’t, that is ok. Remember, we train and compete in our sport because we enjoy it. Our training shouldn’t control our lives. Our training should mould around and integrate into it, not the other way around. We are aiming for consistency over the long term, not short term.

Have scalability: I used to coach with really detailed metrics in training peaks, but I have now moved the other direction. Providing scalability within sessions based on how an athlete may be feeling. So without guessing, if an athlete had a key session planned, but they ended up running short on time, or they are feeling super fatigued due to late work nights, or a harder than planned session the day before, then they have prescribed scalability within their sessions. So if they can’t obtain X, then then can do Y, or even Z. So regardless if they completed the session as X or Z, they still completed the session with it’s purpose in tact and with adaptability around their life. Hows that hey!
So don’t feel like you have to hang on to a particular number or metric EVERY single session. Give a little when it’s needed.

Have the courage to recover: If you are feeling the accumulation of fatigue. GREAT that is from your hard work. Job well done! So in saying that, without any guilt or hesitation, step back and allow the recovery. Growth comes from when the body is allowed to recover and adapt. So don’t be afraid (or feel guilty) if you are feeling fatigued, to take it easier for a day, or two, or three! Really give your body a chance to absorb the training, trust me, you will come back fresher AND stronger.

Change your mindset: Learning to be adaptable really comes down to your mindset. The simpliest way to build adaptability is to practice in life as well as training. Become self-aware of your thoughts, and shifting them. For example. You miss an exit driving down the freeway and you feel angry at the situation. Instead, how can you look at this an opportunity? Maybe you can learn a new route to where you were getting to….
If you look at your program and you have a 1.5hour long run plan, but work / family only allows for 1 hour today, instead of being annoyed at your work / family situation think of it as you will be fresher for your session tomorrow! Literally anything you do on a daily is an opportunity to practice your adaptability. Give it a go! 🙂


So there’s a challenge for you. How can you become more adaptable, flexible and more self aware? When things don’t go your way, what can you do with the new situation? Does it create new possibilities? Can it potentially be an opportunity? Can it actually lead you to be a more sustainable, robust, successful and ultimately happier athlete…. I’ll let you decide. 🙂

Building your winter base

How to make the most of your triathlon winter season training

Building a solid base for endurance is the key to having a strong racing season, no matter the distance you are training for. Short Course athletes require a solid base so their bodies can adapt and grow and handle the intensities that will come later in their training program. Long Course athletes require a strong aerobic base to build the engine that will carry them through their training volume and more importantly, race day. A solid base also helps you become a robust athlete, which in return helps prevent injuries, illness, inconsistency and athlete burn out.

Most athletes know that building and having a strong base is a fundamental foundation to develop on as they progress through the triathlon season. But as much as most athletes know this, they may not necessary understand why it is so important and how it can help them through their racing season.

Picture this: You trained your butt off during the off season, worked hard in every training session; you had a slight injury, but nothing that you couldn’t overcome in a few weeks. You had a few sniffles over winter (but who doesn’t right?), but ultimately you feel you are in the best shape yet as you head into the racing season. You jump straight into racing, all cylinders firing, you have a great first half of the year but then slowly you start to fade. The injury niggle pops up again, energy levels start to fade, each week it becomes harder to find motivation and each race feels harder to maintain the intensity. Slowly but gradually you start to fade until it comes to the last couple of races of the season and there’s not much left in the tank. You don’t even know how you got to that point, but you cannot wait until the end of the season so you can rest and recover. And then it hits you. You literally stop. Your body stops. Everything stops. So you have a month (or two) off until you get to a point when you feel ‘heavy’ and ‘unfit’ and decide you better get back into training. So you jump head first into your training again, playing catch up to those who maintained some consistency during their break, and so the cycle begins again….

This scenario is one that we see often. Athletes going too hard at the start of their base build, believing more training and more intensity will get ‘better’ results. They try and keep up with others, while they lose sight of what their own goals are and they neglect that important base building phase.

Here are some of my key points on ensuring you develop a strong base to not only propel you into this coming triathlon season, but ensure you finish the season off just as strongly.

Start off fresh
A strong and robust base starts with solid rest. Every athlete needs a break from the racing season and structured training so they can repair and recharge. Ensure you have taken the time to have a few weeks off from structured training after your season/last event to rest. Use this time to do some cross training, go for a ride with friends you wouldn’t normally train with, throw a basketball around, kick the footy, and simply catch up on ‘life’. When you feel like you have had a good mental and physical rest from structured training (this timeframe can differ for each athlete), then start building structure back in a few days a week until you are ready for a fully structured program. The key is backing off enough to recover, but not so much that you completely lose fitness. So keep the body moving while it still rests.

Build back into training gradually
Sounds simple right? Yet it is often hard for athletes to grasp this concept. Building gradually into your training allows for your body to adapt to the stressors training (of any level/duration/intensity) places on the body. Base building provides a platform for building up training at a slow and safe rate, which helps decrease the likelihood of injury and burnout. Building up gradually following a carefully structured plan will ensure your body adapts, while also focusing on key fundamental including general strength, technique and form which are essential during the base training phase.

Low intensity / Aerobic Training
The building block of base training is low intensity aerobic training. Despite all the studies and despite the information now available to athletes, far too many athletes still train in the ‘grey’ zone. They spend too much time with their heart rate too high to develop their aerobic system (crucial for endurance) but then on the flip side, not hard enough to illicit improvement in their Vo2Max or speed. So they effectively waste a lot of their time training somewhere in between. Low intensity / Aerobic training doesn’t mean simply swim, ride and run slowly with no purpose or no effort. This type of training develops your aerobic capacity through building more capillaries to deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. Your mitochondria (the parts of your cells that produce energy) also multiply and enlarge. And you churn out more enzymes that help turn stored fuel (ie fat) into energy. The result: over time, you will be able to train faster for longer. A great way to test this improvement is not through a time trial, but through a MAF HR test. (You can look this one up on how to conduct this test). If you are developing a sound aerobic base results might be something like:
20min run at 5km pace, ave HR 160. 6 weeks later, the same 20min run at 5km pace with an ave HR of 152. This is 8beats per minute (bpm) lower than 6 weeks ago. The athlete hasn’t needed to run any faster (although they could if they wanted), but they have become more efficient at the same pace. These types of results are what we are after in a base building phase – you want to develop a more efficient engine that is strong and ready to fire when the next phase of the program kicks in.

If you have a coach, you would have most definitely have heard this one before. Consistency is key. The ability to string together multiple weeks and months of consistent training brings about far better (and more consistent) results at races during a season. If we compare an athlete who goes extremely hard for one or two weeks/months, but then has to have days or weeks of easier training as they recover from the hard training, then they are not building a consistently strong base. Athletes who go too hard too early are also more susceptible to illness and injury over winter, which again in turn results in inconsistent training.

In the winter season. The easier the better. The hard training will come. So keep reminding yourself that. Those athletes who have taken the time to build their base consistently over winter will be the athletes that will get the most consistent results for the season.

Remember to rest
Just because base training doesn’t include large amounts of intensity, keep in mind that rest is still an important aspect of training during this phase. It is during the rest and recovery portion of your training that the body repairs itself, adapts and becomes stronger. So ensure your base aerobic training still factors in easier days or rest days to allow your body to adapt and come back from each session/week stronger than before. This is where a well-structured training program comes into play to gain the best results from your hard work during training.
Fuel smartly (and healthily!)
So many athletes say they train so they can eat what they like. Well I’m afraid you can’t if you want to be healthy on the inside and out, recover quicker and perform at your optimum. The base building phase is one of the less intensive phases of a training program, so it’s the perfect time to develop sound, nutritional habits and you will find you might actually lose a few kg’s (not put them on which is what most athletes tend to do over winter!). During longer, lower-intensity training, the body is able to pull energy from fat stores rather than from glycogen, where higher intensity training sessions gets their fuel from. Therefore, base training can be the perfect time to become leaner and a more efficient fat burner. So ditch the packaged foods and gels over winter and fuel with real wholesome food.

Give it time
There is no magic number for how long a base-building phase should last. This is very individual for each athlete and can depend on training history, lead in time to the season/key race and more. But generally you will see this phase last from 6-12 weeks. If you have a heart-rate monitor and/or power meter you can measure more closely on when you have built up a strong base and ready to move into the next training phase.

On the bike you can measure your efficiency factor by dividing your average power of a ride by the average heart rate. The actual figure doesn’t matter, what matters is that you are seeing an upward trend of this number. Once it starts to stabilise / plateau you are ready for your next training phase. This can also be monitored on the run through MAF HR tests, or intuition. Essentially your speed/pace should continue to improve for the same (or even less) effort and your runs/rides should feel easier. When you feel like you aren’t making continued progress (give this time) then you are most likely ready for a change up in your training. Again this is where working with a Coach who can develop a program specifically for you will see better results in the long run than following a template program or group training sessions – unless you are really good at analysing numbers/data, reading your body and listening to your intuition.

Be patient
Don’t force or try and hurry your base training. Plan your season accordingly so you can have a strong base before you move into the next phase of your program. In saying this, there is nothing wrong with throwing in some short high intensity sessions. These won’t undermine your base training, but can improve some markers like Vo2Max while continuing to develop your base. But be patient. Build these in gradually so you don’t peak too early. You want to be at your peak for each of your key race/s, not just for the start of the season. And this all goes back to our initial discussion with your aim to finish off your season strong, not fizzling out before the season finishes.

So no matter what distance you plan to race this season, make sure you are starting off with a strong base before you build into the next phase of your training. This approach will safeguard you against injury, keep you healthy, help your race times come down and be a happier athlete in the process.

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

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

How to move from middle of the pack to front of the pack!

You have been racing for a few years now. You are generally pretty consistent with your training. You attend group training sessions with your local Club, you enjoy training and love racing. You are self-motivated, dedicated and competitive. You feel like you are doing everything right to achieve the results you are chasing, but for some reason you still find yourself just falling short. You keep finding yourself ‘middle of the pack’ when you want to be ‘front of the pack’. You train hard between each race to move yourself up the ranks, but you still seem to get stuck in the middle. Not last, but not first either. For some reason things just aren’t getting you to where you want to be. You may want to be in the top 10. You may want to podium. Heck you may even want to win! So how to you get from ‘’middle of the pack’ to front of the pack?

I’ll let you in on some secrets – well they aren’t really secrets! Any good Coach should have these all under control, BUT it’s up to the athlete to know these and ensure they are being implemented. So I’ve chosen some of the key areas I believe can help elevate a middle of the pack athlete to a performance athlete.

– Train smarter, not harder.
This means training with purpose. Don’t just train for the sake of training. Ensure each training session has a purpose and you understand why that session is where it is, what you are trying to gain from it and how it fits into your overall training plan. If you don’t know. Ask. If your coach doesn’t know, I’d question whether they are the right Coach for you. A quote I love and use all the time – ‘you should be training the least amount possible to achieve the goals you are after’. So the first step is to ensure every session you perform has a purpose and you follow it. Where many athletes go wrong is when they don’t understand the purpose of a session and find themselves training in the ‘black hole’ or ‘grey zone’ far too often.

Black hole / grey zone training is a session that is either just below or just over your threshold pace/effort/heart rate. It is too slow to develop speed, yet too fast to build your aerobic efficiency. It’s that middle ground where your improvements will start to slow down (or stall completely) and your fatigue starts to build up. You may feel like you are training hard, but you are definitely not training smart. So this is where if you know and understand the purpose of a session, then you will be able to train more efficiently and effectively.

For example, an athlete is told to complete the following speed session:

15min easy aerobic warm up
4 x 20sec strides, 40sec easy
4 x 20sec drills, easy jog back
1-2 min rest/stretch
10 x 60sec all out, 60sec very easy jog, 60sec walk recovery
15min easy aerobic cool down

If this athlete doesn’t take the recovery prescribed – or tries to keep up in recovery with their training buddies and doesn’t recovery properly between sets, their next all out speed set will be compromised and they will start training threshold, or in the ‘black hole’. The PURPOSE of this session was speed, not threshold and definitely not in the black hole. Get the picture? Remember – you are trying to maximise your gains, to result in maximum returns.  Train smarter – not harder.

– Follow a program designed specifically for you.
You may have a coach and join in regular group sessions, but are you making the most of your time? Are the sessions designed specifically for you? Group sessions are great if you have a purpose and you are disciplined enough to stick to it, but if you are just attending sessions because you enjoy it, or it gets you to training, then maybe you need to review whether this is helping you achieve your lofty goals. Remember – you are aiming for performance, not just participation.

Following an individually designed program allows you to maximise your training time, which in return maximises your recovery time, PLUS you know the program is designed specifically for you and your needs – not for the needs of a group. Don’t get me wrong, there is a time and a place for group sessions, just not every session. A great way to find the balance between group sessions and ‘getting the job done’ yourself is to look at your strengths and weaknesses. If your weakness is swimming technique and you have access to a great swim coach who will help you with technique, then utilise them. But if you are attending swim sessions and simply trying to ‘keep up’ with the lane, and not able to focus on your technique, then you may be better off swimming on your own some sessions and include some one-on-one technique work with a coach.

– Know your training zones
Again this one comes back to the purpose of a session. If you know your training zones you will be able to train to them. Sessions will generally be prescribed in zones, or perceived efforts that would relate to your training zones. Each zone you train in has a purpose and drives back to your training plan and overall goals. Coaches prescribe sessions at different times of the year to help you develop your maximum aerobic capacity (ie your engine!), and then layer on top strength, endurance, speed and race specific sessions. If you are training outside of the prescribed zones too often, then you are defeating the purpose of the session and the overall plan is totally changed. As a result, you will often see these type of athletes peak too early, not reach their full potential or eventually burn out.

There are a number of ways tests to help determine your training zones:

Threshold tests – bike and run
Times Trials – swim, bike and run
Critical Swim Speed Test
Functional Power Test – bike

Racing – Short races can also be used for updating / determining your training zones, 5/10km run races and sprint/olympic distance racing are great distances to do this.

Ie: an athlete with a run threshold of 175bpm may have training zones that look like the following:

Zone 1: Recovery <138bpm
Zone 2: Aerobic 139-150
Zone 3: Tempo 151-169
Zone 4: Threshold 170-175
Zone 5: Anaerobic 180+

I utilise Training Peaks to calculate threshold zones using the Joe Freil method, however if you don’t have Training peaks, you can use the following formula (this is run specific):

Zone 1: Recovery – Less than 85% of LTHR
Zone 2: Aerobic –  85% to 89% of LTHR
Zone 3: Tempo – 90% to 94% of LTHR
Zone 4: Threshold – 100% to 102% of LTHR
Zone 5: Anaerobic – More than 106% of LTHR
LTHR = lactate threshold

Once you know your training zones, you will be able to implement this into your training and train specifically to a sessions purpose. They will keep you more accountable and the results will follow.

Example threshold run set programmed to zones.
15min easy / zone 2
(4 x)
3min Zone 4 / threshold,
2min Zone3 / tempo,
2min Zone 4 / threshold,
1min Zone2 / aerobic
10-15min easy / zone 2

– Prioritise your recovery for adaption
Recovery is the corner stone to your improvements, yet so many still don’t prioritise this part of their training. Your fitness improves as a result of adaption, adaption occurs when you recover or de-load your intensity and/or volume.

Implementing recovery protocols should be a standard in every training program and can include:

  • Legs up the wall post training for 5-10min to help reduce cortisol
  • Periodised programs that factor in recovery periods (ie 3week build, 1 week recovery)
  • ‘Recovery’ days/weeks can be a reduction in intensity, volume or a combination of the two.
  • Structured cool down after every session
  • Inclusion of easy/recovery sessions such as yoga, walking, pilates
  • Cold water immersion / icing.

Review your nutrition
What you put in your mouth can play a big part in how you feel, how you recover and how you perform. As a Coach, I hear far too often athletes saying ‘I train so I can eat what I like’. It is these athletes that generally also have the mentality of more training is better. As much as this is ok if performance or your health isn’t your main priority, but if you want to become a better athlete and perform to your optimum, then it’s time to start fuelling your body accordingly.  Your body will only function as well as the food/nutrition you fuel it with. Nutrition can be a big minefield, so if you are unsure of where to start in fuelling for performance 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 building your performance and longevity in the sport.

– Include Strength & conditioning
Want some Big Bang for your buck? Strength & Conditioning may be your answer. Strength and conditioning helps develop strength and power which equates to speed. Just 30min 2-3 times a week can help improve your weakness and develop your strengths. Plus you will be less prone to injury. So if you don’t include any S&C in your training, it’s time to chat to your coach, or a qualified Strength & conditioning coach who can design a program specifically for you.

-Include Mobility, stability and activation
Most athletes wake up in the morning, throw on their training gear and run out the door just in time to make their session. If you think about this process, you have just been asleep for 6+hours and all of a sudden you are asking your body to perform when it is still half asleep! The same goes if you have been sitting at a desk all day for 8+hours. You need to prepare your body for each training session before you actually start the session. 5-10min of simple but effective mobility / stability exercises can help switch on the muscles you want firing and help you feel a lot better from the very first stroke, pedal or step of your training session. Don’t believe me? Watch any professional athlete ‘warm up’ for the start of their session. They will spend a good 30min doing mobility, stability and activation work!

– Work on your weaknesses
You’ve probably heard it many times before, but are you just listening? Or are you doing? It’s easy to get caught in the trap of training more of the things you love (and are good at!), Yes you want to maximise your strengths, but if you want to improve up the ranks, it’s time you start focusing on your weaknesses. A well formulated plan can help build your weaknesses while maintaining your strengths. Focusing on weaknesses could mean spending more time on technique, it could be developing strength/power, it could be working on your mental aptitude. Whatever your weakness, understand it, find out how to address it and work on it.

And remember:
There are no short cuts to performance. Nothing will beat patience and hard work. As long as your hard work is smart work. So train with purpose, have long and short term goals in place, have a team around you who is willing and able to support you and you will be well on your way to moving to the front of the pack!

Coach Sarah

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

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Sarah is the Director & Head Coach at Complete Per4mance Coaching. Born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes, Sarah shares her 10 years of coaching and racing experience, knowledge and education with athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Contact Sarah to discuss training options for you.

How to run strong off the bike

Triathlon is an interesting and challenging sport to coach. As coaches, we are challenged with coaching a sport that consists of three very different individual sub-sports (disciplines). Being able to master a triathlon is about being able to put each of these disciples together to have a consistent all round race. Every athlete we coach will also have different needs regarding how to train for each of these disciplines, with varying ‘strengths’ in a particular discipline depending on their background and physical capacity. But in effect, each discipline can be developed and improved with the right training.

Discussions I often have with other coaches and athletes centre around how much time and focus should be spent training each discipline to maximise gains, while being able to execute a strong run on race day. Should more emphasis be placed on the run? How much time should an athlete spend on the bike? What makes someone a strong runner off the bike? This discussion can be argued until the cows come home as there are many theories and philosophies, and it also depends on many factors including an athlete’s training history, their body’s ability to tolerate specific training and training loads, their injury/health history, strengths and areas for improvement and physical make up.

Lets look at it from the perspective of how a triathlon is broken down into disciplines and the proportion of time spent on each discipline in a race. Depending on the race distance, around 50-55% of your time is spent on the bike compared to 30% on the run, and only 15-20% in the swim. Many Coaches (and athletes) will debate whether the bike or the run leg of a race is most important, while the swim leg is often regarded as ‘the necessary evil’. Both have good points to argue – with those on the running side viewing the run as the ‘final event’ and where races can be run or won. Others view the bike leg as the most crucial as you spend the longest duration on the bike and has the greatest impact on your run.

However, we can’t simply look at each discipline through such a narrow perspective as duration alone. Yes, the greatest portion of time is spent on the bike, but this doesn’t necessarily equate to the greatest portion of the effort. So, both sides have valid points, and depending on the type of athlete you are, or who you talk to, I don’t think there is a right or a wrong answer. Differing training programs can even have similar results. However, I believe for most beginner and intermediate age group triathletes, they tend to underestimate the importance of the bike leg and ‘worry’ more about the run leg of the race somewhat out of fear of losing the race on the run. So they spend a good portion of their training logging kilometres on the run – good in theory, but the more run training you do, the less time/energy/focus you have to spend on the other disciplines (plus the increased risk of injury). And it can still be debated on how much focus should be spent on the run compared to the other disciplines. With this in mind, where I see athletes going wrong is not spending enough time on the bike building a strong strength endurance base that in return will assist them in the run leg, running stronger (read faster!) off the bike, without additional run training.

Triathlon is just like any other endurance sport and comes down to strength (not speed) and is centred on being able to resist fatigue for as long as possible. Each leg in a triathlon race builds fatigue on the last, so if we look at it from this perspective, the accumulative effects from the swim and the bike have a huge impact on the run. So, our aim in a triathlon is being able to get off the bike and being able to manage our run form (and pace) under fatigue.

To assist with running strong OFF the bike under fatigue, you want to be strong ON the bike, otherwise the dreaded fatigue will kick in far sooner than you had planned (or hoped). Therefore, becoming a strong cyclist, I believe, is the first step to becoming a strong runner off the bike and thus running to your potential in a triathlon.

With my athletes, I focus on three main areas to prepare for a strong run off the bike:

1.Get stronger on the bike.

Whether you are a great runner that doesn’t seem to run great on race days, or running is your weakness, if you get stronger and more aerobically fit on the bike (assuming you pace correctly for the distance/your level) you WILL run faster off the bike. So, work on developing your strength and endurance on the bike. Don’t skimp on your aerobic base and strength phases of your training program. So many athletes want to rush through this and get on their time trial bike and start smashing out hard/fast threshold efforts. Take a step back and make the most of developing your aerobic and strength base – particularly if you know this is something you can really use working on. Include plenty of long aerobic rides and hills or big gear efforts for strength and try extending your aerobic/strength base phase from your previous year’s training. This will allow you to develop a bigger ‘engine’ to work with later on AND stronger legs to push the power when you ask your body too!

2. Run off the bike – often.

Most athletes will only run off the bike in the final build into their race/season as it’s seen as ‘race specific’ training. But running EASY off the bike on sessions throughout the majority of the year will allow your body to adapt to running off the bike and the associated fatigue. The key here though is running EASY and running with FORM. Keeping durations short to ensure you maintain that form is crucial otherwise you are setting bad habits and risk injury. As you get closer to your race/season, just like any well-rounded training plan, you can then start to incorporate harder/longer runs off the bike specific to your racing and goals.

3. Strength training – year round.

It can really go without saying – strength training makes you stronger PLUS it is a great way to help minimise the chance of injury while assisting your body to hold form under fatigue. So incorporating strength and conditioning, mobility, stability and activation into your training year round will help you perform better in training and reach your goals sooner. You want to ensure the strength training you incorporate is functional and specific to the swim, bike and run, so find a strength and conditioning, or functional movement, coach who can develop a well-balanced and specific program for you. Stick to it, and you will be rewarded with results – both in training, racing and injury prevention.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can neglect the run leg, as specific muscular endurance and neuromuscular adaptions for the run can only be developed by running. So ensure you have planned in your specific blocks of run training and regain your focus on the following – rather than simply trying to run faster in training:

  • Focus and improve your running form and efficiency during every session. Don’t just simply ‘tick the box’
  • Build your aerobic engine – this means running easy! The bigger the engine you build, the better it will run later.
  • Run hills – strength on the run is just as important as strength on the bike. Incorporate hills (strength) training into your runs also during specific phases of your program.
  • Run consistently – consistency with anything is the key to success, and nothing else can replicate this.

Remember – triathlon is a single sport that is made up of three individual sub-sports of which have to be factored in together when training. So the trick is to look at each discipline as part of the overall sport, not three different sports. Include test sessions or events to check whether your training is working and you are improving in the areas you are focusing on. And most important, find a balance that works for you and keeps you motivated and excited about your training. The more motivation you have, the more likely you are to remain consistent and as stated above – consistency is key in any training program. 

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

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If you would like me to help you improve your training and racing performance contact me for a chat no matter your level or goals. 

Athletes achieve results in sweltering conditions

If you ever want to see some hard fought racing in some tough conditions, then you need not look any further than some of the awesome racing happening in country Victoria.

The weekend saw the 20th running of the Morley Auto Group Echuca Moama Triathlon and the race threw up extreme conditions for competitors. As athletes checked in for the event, the temperature was tipping 45+ degrees, and everyone knew it wasn’t going to be a race for the faint hearted. As expected, wetsuits were banned, additional aid stations were added on the run and they even allowed you to have a friend/family member pass you a fresh cold bottle on the 3 lap bike course if you chose.

Athletes Brett Sands (individual) and Mal McLeod (team) along with myself all had a hit out at the local event. I grew up in the area and loved being able to support the local event. Brett and Mal are fantastic contributors to not only the triathlon but local community as a whole, living and running their own business in the local area.

I was super excited to be racing – even though I knew it was going to be a tough one, as it was my first triathlon back – 5months post bubs. Other mum and dads I know always speak about what an amazing feeling it is to have their little one on the sidelines, so I always knew it was going to be special, and I can honestly say, nothing compares!

The swim is downstream in the Murray River and as you wind your way down river you find yourself swimming past paddle steamers and houseboats – a spectacular way to start a race!

Onto the bike and it’s 3laps of the historic town, I was amazed at the number of spectators out supporting in the conditions, so I yelled thanks at any opportunity I could. There was a little respite thanks to some passing cloud cover, but that didn’t help quench the thirst that the hot northerly winds did to dry out your mouth within seconds, and sear your eyes. But it wasn’t long and onto the run and you knew it was only going to get tougher! Out of transition you head straight into the bush – no wind, and minimal spectators along this area. I looked down at my watch and felt like I’d been running for 2km already and my watch said 628m. “This is going to be a long 5km!” I remember saying to myself.

At one point in the race I said to a passing competitor “at least we are all as mad as each other” and we had a chuckle together. As the race went on, I found myself finally finding my groove and I cheered athletes as I past them and spurred on others as they passed me. A highlight – coming past transition and my little man to stop for a big sweaty kiss before finishing the final 3km of the race.

But despite the conditions, I was so super impressed with everyone out on course, including competitors, spectators and all the staff and volunteers. It takes a lot to put an event on, and to do so in such extreme conditions is a credit to the community in the area. Was also great to see athletes Ollie McNulty and Michelle Kervin on the sidelines cheering for their fellow athletes, friends and families!


Brett Sands 6th, M45-49
Brett ticked off another year on the calendar (if I told you he was 48 you wouldn’t believe me!) but age is no barrier for this guy. Due to a slight hammy tear during his ski training in his bid to earn himself a spot on the Australian Barefoot Skiing Open Men’s Elite Class team, Brett went into the race with 2 weeks off running and a mindset of playing it smart. He did just that and had a great race all round. So with just a minor set back, we know he’ll be back in full swing for his next barefoot comp in Sydney in a couple of weeks time.

Sarah Grove 2nd F35-39
First race back post bubs, and first race in my new age category! Super happy to be back out racing, the result is simply a bonus. 🙂

Mal Mcleod 7th TEAMS
Mal is a champion bloke and a slight calf strain at cricket training wasn’t going to let him miss this race, cue his wife Veronica who was roped into the run leg of the race. Mal had a great race and was awesome to see the both of them out together. We still think Veronica got the short end of the stick though! 😉

Full race results



If you have ever done an aquathon, you can vouch for it that they are tough. Diving back into the water after a hard run is tough work! The race down the Bass Coast provided for a fantastic race of 400m surf swim, 4.4km run, and rounded off with another 400m surf swim.

Kara Landells 4th Female

“Happy with my efforts today, big improvement from last year!” Kara said after her race. She just keeps getting faster and faster this chick and love watching her continue to grow as a young athlete with plenty to give to the sport!


So next time you are looking for a race, why don’t you check out some of the awesome racing that is being held outside of the main cities and into the country towns and regions. You may be pleasantly surprised on how great these races are and how much you will enjoy the weekend away in the fresh country air! 🙂

Coach Sarah

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Complete Per4mance Coaching is triathlon, cycling and running coaching for athletes seeking a performance edge. My coaching is born out of the desire and passion to not just coach but to educate athletes of all levels to help them achieve their optimal performance while maintaining a balanced, happy and healthy life.

Every athlete is individual, therefore I provide programs written and designed specifically based on each athletes goals, time commitment, training level and ‘life’ in general. Delivered through training peaks, each athlete receives a truly personal coaching service dedicated to improving YOUR results, while providing a pricing structure that helps allow every athlete receive the coaching that they deserve.

Contact me to discuss your training and coaching options. 

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