High levels of visceral fat, that is the fat we carry around our organs, is a well-known marker of health decay. Our athlete Jan Van Berkel experienced substantial reductions in visceral fat (339 g to 166 g) after making a few key changes in behaviour. These adjustments coincided with large improvements in both health and performance, and just last week he recorded a personal best time in the South African Ironman (5th professional). Carry on reading to learn how he achieved this, and what it means to become a “F.A.H-lete”, or fat-adapted, healthy athlete.
The first major Ironman of the season for Plews and Prof athletes turned out to be a good one at Ironman South Africa (IMSA). With 4th and 5th places, and two personal best times from Kyle Buckingham and Jan Van Berkel (JVB). Both athletes delivered stellar performances on the day and were thrilled with their results.
I (Plews) have been working with JVB since November last year. We started out working more on a consultancy basis, but since the new year have moved towards a coach-athlete relationship. JVB has been a pleasure to work with, and his result in IMSA was well deserved after a lot of hard work in training.
He managed to achieve this result even after training through a very cold winter in Switzerland, with limited biking and ability to train outdoors. As many of us know, including Prof up in Canada, that isn’t easy!
When JVB and I first started working together, as with all athletes we work with, we begin with a battery of tests to establish some baseline parameters and monitor progress. One of the tests we used for JVB was a DEXA scan.
What is a DEXA scan?
DEXA stands for Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and is considered to be the gold standard tool for measuring body composition and bone mineral density. DEXA achieves this by using two X-ray beams of different energy levels, which are scanned up and down the body. When these different energy level photons pass through tissues, they slow at rates related to their elemental composition, and the unique elemental profiles of bone, fat, and non-bone lean tissue allow for visualization and determination of each tissue type.
In JVB’s case, we were interested in establishing baseline measures of his body composition, and specifically having a look at his level of fat mass relative to lean mass.
What is visceral fat and why is it more important than subcutaneous fat?
Visceral fat is excess intra-abdominal adipose tissue accumulation. In other words, it’s the fat that we can’t see, stored deep underneath the skin, rather than the subcutaneous fat that is more apparent to us on the outside of our body. The visceral (internal) fat is more of a gel-like fat that wraps around major organs, such as the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Having high levels of visceral fat has even led to a new term, called skinny-fat, referring to those who are thin on the outside, but fat on the inside. As you will discover, although some might not like it, it’s healthier to be thin on the inside and fat on the outside, although neither are that great.
Visceral fat is especially dangerous because these fat cells contribute to the way your body operates. Visceral fat is considered toxic and provokes inflammatory pathways. Such inflammation drives more fat deposition and interferes with the body’s normal hormonal functions. These changes can influence changes in appetite, fat gain, mood and brain function.
The DEXA scan data from JVB’s Test 1 and Test 2 (4 months apart) are shown above. To keep things simple, I have just included visceral fat and total body fat percentage. Visceral fat was cut nearly in half, going from 339 g to 166 g. As well, total body fat percentage was lowered from 12.6% to 8.3%.
Getting into science: how is this possible?
The changes in JVB’s visceral fat are quite remarkable, especially in an already lean elite athlete. From the outset, we should acknowledge that we don’t know exactly what mechanisms are responsible for the changes at this stage. However, using some guiding principles of physiology, we can make some reasonable assumptions. We would also like to give a massive thanks to our colleague Alessandro Ferretti for offering insights on the data as well.
After a lifetime of consuming the typical high carbohydrate diet prescribed to most endurance athletes, JVB likely had developed a mild to moderate level of insulin resistance (IR). Talking with Alessandro, who works with several high-level athletes, he’s noticed a relationship between competition level and IR; the higher the level, the more pronounced the IR problem. We have observed similar. The problem is, when we measure Hemoglobin A1c (HBA1c; aggregate blood glucose over 3 months, a marker of pre-diabetic state), we often get a false-negative result (i.e., no sign of any problem here). High training loads of course lower the blood glucose level, and we get lower HBA1c values over the long-term. While HBA1c values give us the false-negative result, morning fasted BG levels are likely to be raised.
We know that high blood glucose levels drive inflammation, and inflammation drives fat deposition. Typically, the inflammation will be magnified in a localized manner around both the gut and liver. In an athlete like Jan, who has very low levels of muscle fat and overall adiposity, a high(er) fat deposition around the organs can still be present as shown, as they remain inflamed due likely to IR and/or additional factors.
In endurance athletes undergoing high training loads (such as professional Ironman athletes), inflammation can be high, regardless of any IR, simply due to a chronically high training load. That, alongside a higher carbohydrate diet, means that inflammation never gets its chance to subside, even during periods of rest. We can assume that would be the case due to the link between training load, chronic glucocorticoid activation, inflammation and visceral fat deposition. Inflammation also appears to favor visceral over subcutaneous fat, meaning subcutaneous fat is the last place for inflammation to subside. Thus, fat remains hidden on the inside, as it was in JVB.
Another factor involved in excessive inflammation, is that typically when we gain fat, we increase the number of fat cells (adipocytes). However, in such localized areas, rather than increasing the number of adipocytes, there seems to be an over-stretching of adipocyte fat deposition. This results in fat cells stretching over normal size, initiating a further inflammatory response that compounds the problem. Importantly, more inflammation under a high carbohydrate diet with IR, means more fat deposition around the organs.
When we consider all the above, high levels of visceral fat in some elite athletes may be apparent irrespective of any insulin resistance. This is due jointly to
- the exercise-induced inflammation alongside diets that are high in refined carbohydrates
- to the preference of inflammation to remain around the organs and
- to the overstretch/inflammation reaction that occurs when fat deposition around the organs is increased
Jan Van Berkel and Low Carb High Fat approach: how did it work?
So by now, the question I guess everyone is asking is: “how and why did JVB see such changes?” Very simply, a complete switch over to a low carbohydrate (CHO)/high fat (LCHF). JVB was very diligent in his diet, and didn’t take any shortcuts. Low carb for him was generally Ketonix device, and was able to ride for >4 hr. from fasted without any carbohydrate supplementation or the feeling of hunger. This is something he was previously unable to do.
JVB’s lower carb diet would likely have caused a cascade of events to occur. First, the diet allowed him to achieve a low and stable (non-fluctuating) blood glucose level. Second, he became more metabolically flexible. Improvements in metabolic flexibility resulted in an increase in the energy production derived from fat and ketones, which reduced the energy derived from external carbohydrate sources. Additionally, the reduction in blood glucose would have directly influenced his levels of inflammation, particularly around the organs. With visceral fat deposition reduced, the liver no longer has to work as hard to convert excess blood glucose into fat. As well, the shift in energy metabolism towards fat and ketones, means the cost of producing energy becomes lower, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production is reduced. Less damage and inflammation during Jan’s training also occurs at the same energy equivalent. This again reduces the total inflammatory load and visceral fat deposition.
Due to the above mentioned factors, Jan Van Berkel achieved a massive 49% reduction in visceral fat.
Take home points
What is important here is that JVB had substantial improvements in his health by going away from the conventional high carb diet prescribed to most professional athletes. This occurred in concert with substantial improvements in his performance, which is difficult to argue against. Improvement in performance and health. As we’ve spoken on previously, fitness and health are NOT the same thing, and athletes with the wrong guidance can be even less healthy than your everyday working man or woman.
In the above case with Jan, a change in his diet may have played the pivotal role. However, in situations where athletes undergo chronic high-intensity training, the pivotal player may be the high-intensity exercise. Nevertheless, both are likely have an important part to play as previously discussed. The fat adapted healthy athlete is one who ticks both boxes, taking a holistic approach towards performance, health and longevity.
Training While Pregnant From an Age Grouper & Professional
When there’s no big race in sight, it can be hard to stay motivated during training, especially when your body is rapidly changing during pregnancy. Trizone caught up with Liz Blatchford and Dayna Wilkie, an age grouper who maintained her momentum during pregnancy and even completed a race thanks to a new motivation.
Breaking both arms delays half Ironman dreams
“I’ve done two seasons of short course racing, almost three, but I broke both my arms in the third season,” laughed Dayna. “I was training for my first half Ironman, Challenge Shepparton, and was out for a bike ride. The guy in front of me’s chain fell off, and since I was on his wheel, I slammed the brakes and went straight over the handlebars and broke both my arms.”
After her accident in October, Dayna spent a few months recuperating, with the doctor telling her she shouldn’t be riding on the road until the following February. “We were going on our honeymoon in January and we planned on trying for a baby straight away.
Before my accident though I’d been training for a whole year, and I wanted to race before getting pregnant!”
Ironman 70.3 Busselton goes perfectly
Dayna’s physio and coach at Holistic Endurance decided she’d be ready for her first Ironman 70.3 in May in Busselton. “I did my first half in WA, there were no Melbourne races left!” laughed Dayna. “I finished in just over five hours.”
“It was one of those races where everything goes to plan and you feel really good the whole way. I was so happy with the race I decided we could try for a baby now.”
Racing while pregnant
Unsure how long it would take for her to get pregnant, Dayna Wilkie signed up to a half marathon. “I got pregnant straight away and found out at four weeks!” said Dayna, “as soon as I found out I told my coach. She has a right to know when she’s writing my program so she knows for my training.”
Dayna had signed up to the half marathon, and she wasn’t going to give away her spot, so she downgraded to a 10km. “I was ten weeks pregnantcy, and I tried to go at moderate intensity and not smash myself,” said Dayna.
Like any triathlete, going easy doesn’t come easily to Dayna.
“In hindsight, I don’t think I’ll race next time I’m pregnant. I found it really hard not to be competitive, yet still enjoy racing”
Training alterations for pregnancy
“In the pool I was allowed to do everything I used to do, except tumble turns,” Dayna told Trizone, “they were pretty awkward!” Dayna Wilkie swam throughout her entire pregnancy with no issues. It was her running and cycling she had to change, plus the addition of a much slower more conscious workout style.
Running doesn’t work for everyone
Running was no problem for Wilkie until her 21st week, when she started to experience the common issue of pelvic pressure. “My doctor told me it was probably time to stop running, so I did power walks, hill repeats and stair repeats,” Dayna told Trizone.
Liz Blatchford had the same experience, “I got a really unstable pelvis really early on, around halfway. That was slightly frustrating as I’d had so long off running after injury,” Blatchford told Trizone.
“I’d just got back to some running before my pregnancy, but at 21 weeks, it was really painful. Emma [Snowsill] one of my best friends, she ran until the week before she gave birth, but my body wasn’t letting me.”
Dayna found there was a lot more she could do than run though. “I also did all my cycling efforts on the indoor trainer. My coach has some experience working with women who are pregnant, and she’s now pregnant herself, so she gave me a really good program.” Similarly, Blatchford kept up her swimming and cycling too. “I rode for as long as I could comfortably,” said Liz, “the last few months was mostly swimming, Pilates and walking.”
During pregnancy, Sports Medicine Australia says those who exercised before pregnancy can maintain a moderate to vigorous intensity workout plan. This essentially means that you must be able to talk but not sing. “I definitely trained hard, but it was not as hard as I had before I got pregnant,” said Dayna.
Pregnancy Pilates adds concentration to training
“My doctor recommended I start Pilates during my pregnancy and i really enjoyed it. You really have to focus on what you’re doing. It’s an hour-long class and there is lots to get through,” said Dayna. “Because my pelvic floor wasn’t very strong after looking at it on ultra sound, it was really important I work on that too, even though I never had any continence issues,” Dayna told Trizone.
“In hindsight, I would have worked on my pelvic floor before I got pregnant, but you never really know how strong your is until you get pregnant and assess it”
Liz Blatchford did Pilates throughout her career, and continued it long into her pregnancy too. “There’ so much you’re told you can’t do when you’re pregnant, so it was nice to have these physios who taught me pilates telling me all the things I could do!”
Motivation to train while pregnant – It’s not about racing
During pregnancy, there’s no imminent race to motivate athletes, so motivation can be tough.
“Sometimes I’d set myself up on the trainer and thing ‘what’s the point?’” Dayna told Trizone. “I have no race coming up, why would I bother?
“Initially it can be hard to put all these hours into training when there’s no end game,” said Dayna. “Triathlon training is a lot so if you don’t have that motivation it’s hard. You know your fitness will go down, so you basically have to find a new source of motivation.” For triathletes who train during pregnancy, considering the benefits to both their baby and themselves can be the driving factor.
“Training during pregnancy isn’t just good for your baby, but it’s also really good for your mental health. I’ve had no post-partum issues, and I really think that’s why”
Liz Blatchford found out she was pregnant in Kona, and her motivation changed from then onwards. “I had to be a bit careful because Kona is so hot, and overheating is something to think about,” said Liz. “Whenever I was going out training, I’d just assess my priorities, and of course every time the baby was my number one.”
“That means I didn’t go riding when the roads were busy, and if it was really hot I wouldn’t run. I remembered it didn’t matter if I couldn’t ride that day, I’d run or swim. My priority dictated what changed,” Liz told Trizone.
While Dayna’s body told her training was the right thing during her pregnancy, here are a few proven benefits to exercising while pregnant.
Sports Medicine Australia’s proven benefits of exercise while pregnant:
- Improved muscular strength and endurance.
- Improved cardiovascular function and physical fitness.
- Decreased risk of pregnancy related complications such as pregnancy-induced
- Hypertension and pre-eclampsia.
- Reduced back and pelvic pain.
- Reduced fatigue, stress, anxiety and depression.
- Decrease in excessive gestational weight gain and post-partum weight retention.
- Fewer delivery complications in women who are active during pregnancy.
- Prevention and management of urinary incontinence.
Nutrition during pregnancy
“It’s definitely not eating for two like some people say,” said Dayna, “you only need an extra 200 calories, or around that; it’s not much. I found I was eating the same amount but because my training was decreasing, I was getting a bit extra.”
Listening to your body is key
It’s so important to keep moving during pregnancy, and with Sports Medicine Australia’s recent revised recommendations, exercise is one of the most important aspects of pregnancy. While there are plenty of guidelines and women’s health physiotherapists to help you keep moving, Dayna says it helps to listen to your body.
“Cravings really told me what I needed,” said Dayna. “Your body really tells you what to do. I just listened to what my body wanted. My doctor said to workout and do what felt good, and I did. I stopped running when I was getting pain, but everything else felt really good so I kept it up. I kept pushing myself, not to the extreme, but working moderately hard.”
Blatchford continued swimming throughout her pregnancy, doing 3.5km swims in just one hour, working hard. “Swimming was the one thing that kept me sane,” said Liz. “Listening to my older sister, and all my friends who have had kids has been really helpful.”
Triathletes are the exception to the rule that pregnant women don’t stay active enough, but the benefits to activity during exercise is incredibly compelling, and evident in Dayna’s experiences. Since we spoke, Dayna has had her little baby Isla and is now back to training. Check back in soon to discover how to get back to training after pregnancy.
Triathlon: Changing your life one hour at a time
Triathlon requires proficiency in three separate disciplines. However, finding the time to train is a challenge for anyone, never mind someone who works full time while juggling family commitments. But that extra hour in your day can be found more easily than you think. I’m going to show you how to overcome some popular excuses that stop people from changing their life one hour at a time.
No Time for Triathlon
I used to laugh at people who’d get up at 4:30am to go training. “You’re insane”, is a phrase that regularly popped out of my mouth. Yet I was also trotting out this little chestnut: “With work and kids, I just don’t have the time to do anything”.
So, how do all these other people do it? Are they all without kids, a demanding job, a house that needs cleaning and a family that’s high maintenance? Are they blessed with an extra 2 hours every day that I don’t know about? Do they also know where to find platform 9 3/4 to Hogwarts?
Every day as we go to work, walk the dog (which is exercise by the way), pass people in the street or sit next to people on the train we are inevitably seeing individuals who do in fact experience all these issues and many more on a daily basis. Yet some of them look really fit. How is this possible?
The answer is surprisingly simple
They set themselves a goal, and make the time.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “yeah sure, how do you just make the time? It’s easier for them because ……. but but but ……..” Well, hold that thought and let me answer the question with another question:
“Could you find an extra 1 hour each day if your life depended on it?”
Ironically, in some cases this is exactly the scenario. You just need to tune into the Biggest Loser to see people who are inevitably saving their lives by doing just that. Of course this is an extreme example, but don’t underestimate the power that one hour each day can make to your life and wellbeing.
I recently met a single mum with 4 kids that trained for and completed an Ironman. An Ironman !!!! That’s a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42km run. And let me be very clear that the event in itself was actually the easiest part of this whole equation. Training for something like that takes hours and hours out of every week just to get to the start line. Take a few seconds to think about the logistics she faces every day. I know I did.
So how do YOU do it?
In a lot of cases, it all happens in the wee hours of the morning before the rest of the world awakens. I personally exercise in the morning as I find it an amazing way to start the day. Despite getting out of bed at “insane o’clock”, it jump-starts my day by giving me a sense of achievement before most people have even opened their eyes.
Of course, that doesn’t always suit everyone’s circumstances. But luckily, there is more than one way to skin a cat.
Excuse Busting – Breaking down the Fortress
Success is often guarded by a fortress of excuses.
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. – Benjamin Franklin
How we overcome these excuses defines how we live our life. Getting started isn’t easy, and it takes commitment and perseverance to develop habits. So to help you get started I offer you the following ways to overcome the top 4 excuses that hold people back from changing their life one hour at a time.
#1: Work is too busy
Excuse busting tips:
- Block out specific times during the day for exercise
- Prioritise your work and ask yourself “will any small children die if I went for a run instead of doing this other task right now?” How important is it really?
- Renegotiate delivery times
- Even on the busiest days you can still aid recovery by stretching regularly, wearing compression socks under your trousers and using a spikey rolling ball on your feet under the desk
- Schedule walking meetings instead of sitting meetings
- If you’re the boss:
- learn to delegate and empower your team
- ask your PA to keep these times free
- set a healthy example for your team
#2: There are just not enough hours in the day
Excuse busting tips:
- Incorporate exercise into your commute to and from work. Drive part of the way and ride or run the other part. Park near a train or bus station so you can get back to your car in the afternoon
- Go for a run or a swim during your lunch break
- Go to bed one hour earlier and wake up one hour earlier
- Do something immediately after work before you settle in to watching the next episode of Game of Thrones
- Schedule time on your weekends – do something with the kids or put aside one or two hours just for yourself. My introduction to running was Parkrun every Saturday morning.
#3: It’s so hard to get out of bed in the morning
Excuse busting tips:
- Take a long hard look at your habits and identify trade-offs.
- I was a TV addict. I used to watch every series, every night and regularly stay up late. I decided that my health was more important than knowing whether the Mentalist eventually caught Red John. I started reducing the amount of TV I watched and began waking up one hour earlier. Initially this was just for 2 days a week, but over time this became a daily habit.
#4: It’s difficult to keep motivated
Excuse busting tips:
- I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. I encourage you to join a group, a club, a team or exercise with a friend, your wife or the kids. We all need help to keep motivated and nothing does that better than introducing “obligation”
- Pay your coaching fees up front. I don’t know about you but the thought of wasting my money is a huge motivator
- Schedule a future event. Nothing keeps you honest like an impending deadline
- Keep your shoes next to your bed so they’re the first things you see in the morning
- My first running group was a free group of people that met twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30am for an hour. If I didn’t turn up I felt like I was letting other members of the group down
Above all, start slow and work towards developing habits. Try Parkrun once a week for the first few months while you get used to running and building your fitness. Begin by walking most of it, then slowly build up the distance you’re able to run each week. Once you’re running the whole way you might even consider riding instead of driving to the start line.
Triathlon is about changing your life one hour at a time and overcoming excuses. It’s about commitment and developing lifelong habits that will not only make you healthier, but also happier.
So take that first step and offer no excuses. A one hour workout is only 4% of your day. Set your alarm for one hour earlier tomorrow morning and go for a walk. Once you give it a go you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve. Maybe one day we might even be on the start line of an ironman together.
5 Tips for Selecting the Right Triathlon Bike
Sailors have their boats, archers their bows, but we triathletes have our bikes. If you think about it, the start and end of triathlons feature the human body functioning in its purest form – swimming and running – no equipment required. But those two parts are linked together by the bike leg. So a triathlete’s bicycle is the most important piece of equipment that he or she will ever consider.
The relationship a triathlete has with their bike is critically important. The bike is much more than simply a method for getting from the start of the cycle leg to the end. And it is definitely much more than just a ‘piece of equipment’. In fact, I believe that the relationship a triathlete has with their bike resembles closely that which a craftsman has with his tools, an equestrian has with the horse or even that a samurai has with his sword. The bicycle is the channel through which the athlete converts strength, power, energy and determination into forward motion. Ultimately, your bike should feel like an extension of your body.
What each individual looks for in a bike varies, so I can only speak from my own experience of more than ten years training and competing as a professional triathlete. So that’s what I’m going to do. Talk about what I look for in a bike and along the way I will share some practical tips on how to pick a bike that will suit you and allow you to perform at your best.
I need to say right up front that I have had the privilege of working with Giant to develop their Trinity Advance Pro. A bike engineered to be the world’s fastest and most aerodynamic triathlon bike in real-world conditions. I love my bike, so I’m a little bit biased when it comes to talking about this stuff. As I said though, I can only speak from my own experience. You need to do your own research and make your own decisions about what will be best for you.
Two key questions
I have to begin by confessing I’m not a ‘gear head’. Some athletes get right down to the ‘nitty gritty’ and love to talk about the tiniest details of their equipment. Honestly, that’s not me! For me, it’s all about finding the answers to two key questions:
- How does it feel?
- How does it perform under race conditions?
The technical specifications of equipment are meaningless if they don’t translate into real-world results.
So what are the characteristics you should look for in a bike? What makes a bicycle good? Let’s begin with how it feels. For me, a bike needs to feel solid. It needs to make me feel safe. For example, the Trinity has got a stiffer frame which definitely gives me more confidence to go for it in the fast, downhill stretches and also gives me better power transfer when I’m putting the pedal down and making a fast break.
And a good bike is responsive – it reacts quickly to your changes in power and position. It sounds obvious, but a bike has got to be comfortable – you’re going to be on it for a long time, both in training and when you’re racing. If it feels like it’s part of you, then that sets you free to give your best. If it feels good to be riding it, then you’re not thinking about your gear, you’re able to stay in the moment and concentrate on giving your best.
Tip #1 Always get your bike fitted
I am continually amazed when athletes spend a huge amount of money on buying a new bike, but then don’t want to spend the money to get it properly fitted. Invest the money to get it professionally fitted for your body and your riding style. Apart from the comfort issue, a poorly fitted bike means less comfort and less power generation and thus decreased performance. That leads me to my next point…
Tip #2 Choose a bike that is highly adjustable
The aim of the exercise when it comes to your riding position is to find the optimal compromise between aggressive riding position. This includes higher seat, lower bars, flatter back to give the most aerodynamic shape – and comfort and power. There’s no point in going super-aero if you can’t maintain that riding position. Plus, if you’re impinging your hips that will also suck your power and be counter-productive.
Having a bike that is highly adjustable means that you can test different positions. But you can also gradually adjust into a more aggressive riding position as your body becomes stronger and accustomed to the new posture.
Tip #3 Choose a bike that is aero in the real world
Manufacturers talk a lot about aero-testing in wind tunnels. For example, Giant wind-tested more than 250 different frameset configurations when they were developing the Trinity Advance Pro. But, they also tested them out on the road in race conditions. I was excited to be part of that process.
Nutrition and hydration are facts of life for triathletes. In the past, you usually strapped your hydration to your bike and strapped your nutrition to yourself or maybe used a Bento box. The trend in bike development now is to have integrated hydration and nutrition systems. I was fascinated to discover that the Trinity Advance Pro is actually more aerodynamic with the AeroVault storage system on the bike than it is without it!
Two final tips from me:
Tip #4 Always use the best gear you can afford
The reality is that it is rarely your bike frame that lets you down in a race. It’s much more likely to be something else in your setup. Don’t skimp when it comes to setting up your bike. I’ve always found Shimano to be reliable – I use Dura-Ace gear and it gives me confidence when I’m racing. My point is, you don’t have to be a full-on ‘gear head’ but you do need to know what quality equipment looks like. Read, research, ask the pros, check out the reviews and then remember that, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Tip #5 Keep tweaking
We all love to get on a brand new bike. It looks good, it feels good and usually it inspires us to go harder. But developing that relationship with your bike takes time. So keep tweaking your ride. Get your bike fitted, work on your riding position. Those things will make significant improvements to your performance. But then continue to seek out those smaller gains. Even 0.5% improvements make a difference over the course of a bike leg and they reflect in your times and your results at the end of the day.
I hope these tips help you get the most out of your bike. Enjoy!
Deciding Last Minute to Do a Triathlon?
Tyler Pearce, widely known as The Vegan Cyclist, decided to do his first triathlon on the 3rd of June in Bass Lake, California and filmed it for YouTube. Trizone caught up with Tyler to chat everything from swimming back stroke to the ultimate competitive mindset.
Race Day Looms
“The race start line was a mile from my front door. I kinda thought I had to do it really,” Tyler told Trizone. “I hadn’t trained at all. Not once. But I wanted to just give it a try, and I think the participation numbers were low because they let me sign up on the morning of the race,” said Tyler.
Deciding between Olympic distance and sprint distance
“I couldn’t decide initially. I figured, if I’m going to do it, I might as well go all out and do Olympic.” In the next moment though, he saw the fastest record for the Olympic distance was three hours. “That’s a lot of time to be racing! I had a team’s bike race the next day and I wanted to do well in that, so I decided on the spring distance.”
Getting to know the course…or not
While some age groupers may study the intricacies of a course map for weeks before a race, Tyler hadn’t even seen the route. “I didn’t look at the map, I just assumed I’d figure it out.” Tyler actually did figure it out, while other people in the race didn’t. More on that later…
Wearing the right gear
“I didn’t know anything about wetsuits, so I wore my cycle kit. My mate let me borrow some goggles, but you just can’t look cool in goggles and a swim cap.”
Sussing out the field
“There were a bunch of buff, ripped, six-pack dudes all over the place. I was like sh*t! It’s super intimidating,” Tyler told Trizone. “There was also a guy who played collegiate water polo who was so strong-looking, I thought for sure he’d be the winner.”
Getting through the swim with whatever stroke works
Sure, triathlon is usually freestyle, but sometimes you just want to make it through. “After a few hundred metres I was sucking water, I couldn’t breathe,” said Tyler. “I was starting to get hypoxic because I couldn’t regulate my breathing at all!”
As the swim pack surged on towards the first buoy, where Tyler expected they’d turn left to start making their way back along the shore, they turned right. “They had us swim the Olympic distance. When I got to that first buoy and saw the next one was so far away I almost said ‘fu** it’ and swam to the nearest dock, but I didn’t. I made a plan.”
As the sea of swim caps of the leaders powered away from him, Tyler found himself in 15th place. “I was trying breaststroke but that wasn’t helping, so I got onto my back and found I was actually making good speed! Those faster guys in the chase pack were catching up and I could look at them backwards and try and stay in front,”said Tyler.
Ultimately, he made it out of the swim in around 15th place, but he experienced whole-body fatigue like he hadn’t before.
“I got out of the water and my body was having a weird reaction I’d never felt before. I mean, I’d never swam that far in my life so I guess that was it. My legs were jelly and my arms felt really heavy,” said Tyler.
As he jogged the few hundred metres from the shore to the transition, he was frazzled. “There was just so much! I was trying to put on my shoes by my hands were like claws, it was really weird.”
Tyler’s approach wasn’t about enjoying the event though, he was out there to win.
Optimising time at transition
“Some people were walking through the transition, just drying themselves off, patting themselves nice and dry. I wasn’t into that! I was trying to win! That definitely changed the whole feeling of my race, some people were there to have fun,” said Tyler, “not me.”
Powering through the bike
Tyler is a great cyclist, there’s not doubt about that, and he used his strength on the bike to pass those in his group despite it taking longer than he wanted. “I was quite far back so I had that chasing incentive. I’d look at someone I’d pass thinking ‘yes! I’m one more place up,’ but then I’d see the age number on his leg and see it said 54! I’d thank ‘damn!’ then keep peddling away, until I’d get to the next person and think ‘yes! I’m passing someone!’ then I’d see it was a girl. ‘damn again!’”
Despite Tyler’s modesty, he powered through the bike leg managing around 350-400 watts when pedalling and feeling great. By the turn around, he was in 6th place, and the three leaders were two minutes ahead.
Meanwhile, Tyler was inspired by those just just trying to finish. “The waterpolo player who was so intimidating to me at the start was riding a $70 bike. I mean, he was just going for it, wearing sandals! That was just so cool. I mean there I was thinking my $10,000 bike wasn’t good enough, and he’s on that. He was just doing it!”
Sticking to the course on the run
Feeling strong after the bike, and in around 4th place, Tyler was ready for the run. “I pulled my shoes on. I’d cut off the laces and tied them in a knot which made them easier to get on, but they flopped around on my foot. I’d never run in them before so I didn’t know what to do really,” Tyler told Trizone.
With his sloppy shoes on, he ran out of transition the same route as the bike leg and was told he was going the wrong way. So he ran out the way the swim ended, but was again told he was going the wrong way. “I went the wrong way three times! It was so frustrating, I mean, I was trying to win!” said Tyler joking, remembering he’d told us he hadn’t read the course map.
Powering through the run, an aspect of fitness Tyler doesn’t really practice, he was feeling OK until the two mile mark when the course deviated towards a really steep hill. “You got a playing card from a woman to make sure you did that section, then the course loops back on itself.”
Throughout the run, Tyler had been wary of a strong athlete in his age group who’d been a few people behind him. “He’d told me he ran track in college so I was pretty aware of him,” said Tyler.
Magically, when Tyler reached the finish, he saw the guy at the finish line in front of him! “I was like ‘umm, did you teleport?” There’s no way he could have gone the same way because we looped back and I didn’t see him. I didn’t want to be a douche, but I asked him if he went up the hill and he said no, they didn’t tell him where to go.”
Hiding his frustrating, Tyler wanted to wait until the podium was announced before saying anything, if at all. “I didn’t want to make a big deal, but c’mon! The guy ran 1/2 a mile less than me!”
Being humbled by your less-sporty friends
Tyler’s high school friend, Matt Lundy, had also entered the race and was thrilled for his friend who ended up beating him overall, and winning the men’s division. “It was very humbling to be beaten by a guy I’d been helping in the training crit. He was just better overall even though my cycling ability is better. It’s such a contrast to how I’m used to racing. You can’t think you’re going to be really good at just one sport and do well!”
It’s all about giving it a go
Tyler ended up winning his age group, which may have started his love of triathlon, but not of training. “I will definitely do another one, but I’ll probably just sign up and give it a go. I might get too wrapped up in it if I train like crazy, it might not be as fun,” said Tyler.
“When you first start something, the improvements you make at the start are huge! You make huge gains, that’s part of the fun!”
As a cyclist, Pearce knows all about taking the spontaneity out of racing. “I’m cycling at such a high level all the time, it’s lost that sense of newness. The gains are few and far between in my cycling. Sometimes I celebrate improving my FTP by 1 watt!”
Tyler’s take aways
Without training and with little-to-no swimming experience, Tyler Pearce gave his first triathlon a go at a moment’s notice. It’s this spontaneity he aims to portray through his videos, inspiring thousands to live a healthier lifestyle.
“I had heard about so many people who were on the fence about doing a triathlon, and after I posted my video, so many people commented or contacted me saying I’d inspired them to try racing,” Tyler told Trizone.
“Whether that creates a whole new active lifestyle for someone, or even a one-off, I’m really please I can inspire people to just forget the excuses and pull the trigger and do it! It could just change their entire lives for the better,” said Tyler.
Trizone wishes Tyler, aka The Vegan Cyclist, a huge congratulations for finishing his first triathlon.
We’d love to hear your stories of your first triathlon too! Share them in the comments section below.
What to do when you’re struggling with mental demons in a race
Many of us ask ourselves the ‘dark questions’ in an endurance event. Those questions are not necessarily “why is Tim Reed wearing speedos” or “how do pro athletes manage to tweet during an event?” Those questions are “am I good enough? Was my training hard enough? and can I finish?” It’s about our personal limits that we set.
While you’re racing an Ironman event, most people are so focused on PBs and finish times, it can have a negative affect on your ceiling of performance at whatever level you’re competing at.
Whether you are a sub-eight hour Ironman finisher, or a thirteen hour Ironman finisher, it’s human nature to aim to punch through the ceiling of performance. Most of this is mental; like when Bannister and Landy battled with the sub 4 minute mile. Once the barrier was broken though, it continued to be surpassed as that mental hurdle had been conquered.
Athletes can use this same premise when reaching their own goals and I have seen athletes struggle with a time barrier in an Ironman for years. Once they’ve beaten that time, it continues to fade away.
The Dark Questions
The dark questions generally get asked at a few points in any race, whether it be an Ironman or a sprint distance event. It’s the point of the competition when things start hurting, fuel becomes low and competitors are drawing away. It may be at a point when none of these things occur, but anything and everything else negative that happens in a race, no matter how small, can be amplified in a race environment.
The heightened amplification of a race makes us question the training, the commitment and the sacrifices we’ve made to be in that race. In the lead up to a big race, these factors should never be questioned, yet no matter how prepared you are, no matter who you are, the question will be posed and the body and mind will require an answer.
How do we push through the negative energy we experience in a race?
This is the tough one, as everyone is wired differently and has different motivations for competing in sport; whether you are a pro athlete racing for the win, or an age grouper going for a PB or Hawaii spot.
Through my own experience in the sport and training, I’ve devised some of my own solutions to help me deal with these moment of darkness. I am lucky (or unlucky) enough to train by myself most of the time, which has its advantages, especially in an Ironman; as I generally ask myself the dark questions about five times a day! Sometimes it gets asked a couple of times before I even get out of the door.
A long solo eight hour brick-training day can do more for your mental strength and resolve than it does for your fitness base, as these sessions are primarily used for this purpose by a lot of coaches who adequately call them ‘brain’ sessions. Essentially the main point here is that the more times you ask yourself the dark questions in training, the easier they will be to manage on race day.
If you’re lucky enough to have a fun, social, supportive group to train with; you might find it beneficial in the lead up to a big race to get out and “lone wolf’ it for a day or two in the lead up to an Ironman, especially if it’s your first attempt at the distance.
When you ask yourself: Have I done enough training?
Trust me when I say that even the Pro athletes question themselves leading into a big race. I remember tackling my first European season when I was racing in my early 20s. I turned up at a race and everyone in transition looked like they had been carved out of stone! I actually thought about just turning around and going home just from looking at everyone flexing around. I questioned my training and preparation and general fitness at this point, but I stuck it out and finished third overall.
After this experience, I taught myself never to question my preparation again, and to have faith leading into a race. It’s not just before the race, but during the race that you’ll question your training. I have found that putting yourself in the “box” in training has a huge mental benefit when hitting this point. Embrace the point in training where you feel depleted, push through and come out the other side. This has a great effect on your confidence and your ability to push on through a bad race without questioning yourself.
Schedule dark training days to prepare for race day
Power output, time and heart rate are all metrics that help you in a race, and you can plan until your heart’s content, but when it comes to a PB or a race win, a lot goes out the window, and you have to push through to reach new heights. I like to use a philosophy called “Embrace the Pain.”
It sounds a bit corny, but the more you experience the pain and familiarise yourself with it, the better accustomed you become to dealing with it. In saying this I don’t mean crush yourself every session until you vomit blood, more like program in an ‘evil dark’ Ironman day where you expect to encounter these issues once a week. If it’s a cold winter’s day and you’re battling against horizontal rain and wind, use this as a positive to make you better prepared for your next Ironman race up in tropical Cairns or sunny Busselton!
Overall, everyone asks themselves the dark questions, but the more you practice training and racing while questioning yourself, the better you’ll be on race day.
- Have confidence and self belief in your training and bring a good support group who keep telling you how good you are every second of the day leading in!
- If you have a coach, take them with you to the race or if not, a short phone call on the day before is good to reaffirm your beliefs.
- When the ‘dark question’ comes up in a race, dig in to your highlight reel of misery in training and say to your self it could be a lot worse.
- Have a solid nutrition plan that you believe in and have practiced before, to believe that you will come out of a bad patch is most of the way there.
- Find a small little ‘form finder’ race a few weeks out from you’re A race to boost your confidence.
- Find a consistent local TT course and stick to it, knock it out when you are fit and unfit as it gives a great indicator of where you are before, and in the lead up to the race.
- As hard as it sounds, remain positive throughout a race, as negative energy takes energy, positive vibes create energy!
Quick Tip: Why sticking to a program is the key to adaptation in triathlon training
I once read an article about Kenyan athletes. It explained why they run so well in their early teens and 20s, as opposed to most runners who take years of progression to attain the same results in their early 30s.
The answer was simple: By the time the Kenyan athletes were 18-19 they had accumulated tens of thousands of kilometres in training due to running/walking to school and just having running as part of their culture. Essentially, Kenyan athletes have a massive starting base and essentially a head-start on their Western counterparts by the time they reach their late teens and embark on their running career.
Success comes from building a solid base
The Kenyan athletes’ training program isn’t unlike a Triathlon training program when you break it down. Essentially, all these athletes are building a solid consistent base, which has huge benefits to your summer racing regime.
Use winter to work hard for summer
Money in the bank and kms in the saddle are irreplaceable in this sport, and there is nowhere to hide if you don’t do the hard yards in winter leading into summer.
The human body is an amazing machine as repetition to any given movement or action will eventually be adapted to, and become part of your lifestyle. This happens whether it takes a few weeks, months or years. Your body will eventually adapt, and once adapted it will start to benefit as the progression takes hold.
Changing training before adaptation: A common mistake athletes make
Many athletes don’t let the body progress enough to benefit from the given program. I made a lot of mistakes while I was a junior triathlete who was self coached. Often I listened to too many people and read too many magazines in order to achieve better results. I would have a good set of races and start to feel good, then I would say to myself that in order to get even better; I needed to change my training and train harder, whereas if I stuck to what I was doing I would continue my line of progression instead of injuring myself or overtraining.
Don’t waste your time ‘Spinning your wheels’
This is a common expression that can be used a lot by athletes who are “overtrained” and it generally means that the effort they are producing is not meeting the expectations they desire for the training. This leads to the term “spinning the wheels,” which means working with a high degree of effort with no forward propulsion.
It’s an extremely frustrating experience, especially when you have spent so much time and effort in training for the sport. That is why improvement does not happen overnight especially in Long Distance Triathlon as it takes years to develop a base big enough to race at a higher intensity over an ironman or 70.3 competition.
Key Tip: Progress at a rate your body can handle
Once you have established your racing schedule for the summer, you need to plan your training structure by breaking down the training into different phases in order to peak. This process is called periodization and can be used to develop any weaknesses an athlete might have.
If you are self coached, this process is vitally important and something that needs to be structured into a yearly plan. Planning this way enables you to progress at a rate that your body can adjust to overtime, setting up a good base to draw from when needed.
Targets and heart rate monitoring
Having targets is a great way of monitoring your improvement and progression rates. Use HR as a consistent factor throughout your training; it will tell you how your body is faring under stress, and how it performs from year to year.
Monitor your heart rate at certain outputs by testing yourself throughout the year. Whether this be a running test or stationary bike test, it will give you a reading of your outputs from year to year.
Monitoring your resting heart rate is also a tool that can be used to monitor improvements. You will begin to see certain patterns evolve over time. When you are really fit, you will see your HR drop, and if you are sick you will see it fluctuate accordingly. Gaining that insight into your performance is really handy for your progression.
- Be patient and be positive: The results will come eventually, every race is a step toward your PB
- Aim small, then you wont be disappointed when you cant achieve your goal
- Use a training diary to monitor each year’s improvement, and help you see how your training patterns influence your performance
- Try and stick with a coach for a decent amount of time. The body takes time to adapt to a given program and will adapt given the time – so be patient
- Plan your racing season well and train using the required phases of base building, speed/intensity and tapering
- Seek advice from a pro triathlete who has had consistent results over a long period
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