I am often asked how I have managed to improve so much in duathlon since I first started out as a very average athlete at the age of 25 in 2006. The great thing is that I have not done anything particularly special – the key is hard work! In this post I briefly outline the stages in my journey since I started out.
Throughout my life I had always played team sports – mainly rugby and cricket – so whilst keeping fit I was never an endurance athlete. In fact, whilst many of the serious athletes were getting the miles in at university, I was busy developing a reputation as a seriously good drinker….. I could see away a jug of vodka Redbull in a matter of moments (and do that several times a night and still remember it)! It goes without saying that the 3 or 4 binge drinking sessions a week were not a great grounding for an endurance career! However, a few years after university, in 2006, I called a halt to the team stuff (as a result of injury and work commitments) and started taking my first tentative steps into the world of endurance sport. My calorie consumption (both from alcohol and food) decreased significantly and that year I did my first triathlon (Blenheim) and duathlon (London), before a long awaited ACL reconstruction in early 2007. I was fully recovered a year later and took part in a classically wet and windy duathlon at Castle Combe in May 2008 (at the age of 26) at Castle Combe. Being a competitive guy I knew it was something that I wanted to improve on. From that day on it has been a great journey of discovery: learning about equipment, training, diet, injury, recovery, highs, lows and so on.
These are the stages in my journey (from 2006):
Stage 1 (2006-2008) – significantly affected by 12 months recovery from ACL reconstruction in mid 2006
Bought a road bike (my first was a Trek 1500)
Took part in running and bike races (TTs and sportives) plus triathlons and duathlons
Started running up to 25 miles a week
Learnt a lot about training and racing!
Stage 2 (2009 and 2010)
Decided to focus on duathlon to see how good I could get
Bought a turbo
Started doing 1 hard interval session a week for both running and cycling
Got into road racing (mainly closed circuit but a bit of road)
Gradual improvements in running and cycling and therefore duathlon
Stage 3 (2011-2012)
Joined a running club (Cheltenham Harriers) and started pushing harder!
Upped volume of training to about 8 hours a week (running and cycling) under the guidance of the coach
I made significant improvements at this stage through the harder sessions with the club and raised training volume.
Bought a TT bike once I was hitting fast enough speeds in TTs on road bike to justify it!
Stage 4 (2013)
Upped the mileage to 40 miles running and 5 hours biking
Started integrating double days into training programme (once body had gradually developed the resistance to high training load)
Stage 5 (2014 to present)
Training up to 14 hours a week (usually about 10/11)
Double days with good quality sessions (double days nailed me last year but my body slowly developed its resistance/ability to recover so I can now do two worthwhile sessions, a couple of times a week)
Started being more disciplined with my diet i.e. staying very light (for big events anyway!)
Disc wheel and deep section front wheel
Started using periodised blocks to target specific races (3 weeks of gradually volume increase followed by 1 week reduced) for 8 weeks before the target event
Further marginal gains such as aero bottle, over shoes, skin suit.
The thing I have found is that there is no substitute for mileage in the legs. Top end interval sessions are essential for raising lactate threshold but these need to be done in conjunction with long base miles. The other major factor is body weight. When you look at the guys at the running club, you can pick out the quickest because they are the lightest. To run and bike fast (in the hills) you need to be light!