Before I crack on into the details of how I’m going to try win races on a drastically reduced training schedule there is still enough pro athlete in me to wallow in a self indulgent rehash of last year. You’ve been warned. Skip ahead to Part 2 which details how I’m going to attempt perform at a very high pro level of 12 hours a week if you want to skip the painful sob story.
The year was building nicely with podiums at my first 3 races HOTW, Husky Aussie Champs and IM 70.3 Geelong. I was particularly happy with Aussie champs as that was my main early season target. I felt very strong, only to be fairly outfoxed by one fresher, faster and younger athlete on the day.
After 2020 I was so excited to head back to the U.S. to get back to my more typical structure of building through the Aussie summer and then having my peak performances from May through to September at IM Aus, into a U.S and Asia Pacific racing block.
I headed over to the U.S off the back two rather nasty viruses that were going on at the same time. One of which I must have contracted from my beloved chickens as that’s the only logical explanation of how it entered my system and well and truly gave me a solid roasting.
Still, I arrived at Boulder pumped to be back and ripped in with my usual vigor. I was going full ‘pro monk mode’. and I couldn’t afford to faff about given that for Aussies to fly to the U.S and home with guaranteed flights was $15000 plus due to international incoming flights being limited to 30-40 passengers. The need to get in, race well, make bank and bounce was real.
Yet, altitude is a formidable friend or foe. Friend when you’re flying that puts an extra 5% into your performance sails and a foe when you’re struggling that will dig you a very deep pit, hold your hand all the way to edge whispering sweet promises of great things to come before shoving you into that hole, burying you alive and walking away laughing hysterically.
The most common sign my body is struggling is asthma. I know there are some pros very anti-asthma medications which, I quite empathise with. Despite studies showing that non-asthmatics don’t get benefits from the WADA allowed, non-TUE (therapeutic use exemptions) medications. I’m sceptical. Especially in the short term. For example, whenever I take Flixotide which has a marked anti-inflammatory effect in the lungs, I also rather quickly lean up like a featherweight boxer and I only ever take the child’s dose because I find I still get a lung calming effect while minimising the side effects. I also pointed out specifically they’re non TUE medications as my stance on TUE’s has long been they should be permitted to get an athlete back to health but never be allowed to get an athlete to a start line in the same period of time.
Despite the lean up effect I genuinely hate taking it because I’ve never ever had a good block of racing or a race win while on asthma medication. Is it the cause or is it because I’m only ever taking it when my body is in a chronic state of inflammation, I don’t really know. However, I strongly suspect this preventer inhaler contributes to the periods of my career when I’ve had prolonged states of fatigue due to having to take it for more than a couple of weeks.
There are also other long term serious side effects so unless my asthma is at a point where I can’t sleep through the night due to coughing, I try and get off it as soon as I can.
The other asthma medication that I rarely take but had to while in the U.S to try and be able to breathe ok is the standard Ventolin/reliever inhaler that every asthmatic and their dog take. It’s likely also taken by a decent percentage of non-asthma sufferers in what I think is a misguided belief it will help their performance. Sure it has mild stimulant properties but nothing on the advantage widely accepted substance caffeine gives most athletes.
For many asthmatics I’m sure this is medication is problem free, but I now strongly suspect that it’s linked to increasing sub ventricular tachycardia (SVT) in those prone to this condition. I’ve had small and very infrequent bouts of SVT my whole career especially when working full time but trying to do enough training to justify turning pro. However once I properly turned pro, wasn’t working other jobs and was getting double the recovery it was truly very rare and I never worried about it.
Feeling as though I was breathing through a straw at the IM 70.3 World Champs in St George, I took the standard 2 puffs of Ventolin pre swim to try and avoid an asthma attack. As soon as the swim started I went into a very long sustained period of SVT. I exited the swim in St George knowing my heart was out of rhythm. Dizzy, disorientated and just hoping it would click back into rhythm, it did click back in only to go back out again about 5kms into the bike where I withdrew, utterly despondent.
I didn’t put SVT and the reliever puffer together until I thought back to when I had previously had the same issue. IM 70.3 Taupo in 2018 where I went from leading the race alongside Mike Phillips with 3kms to go only to lose over 3 minutes in those final kms with the world spinning and finish 3rd very confused as to what had happened. Again, I had taken Ventolin getting off the bike as was struggling with the cool air and the allergens that seem to set me off over there.
I put out the question on Insta whether any other athletes who had experienced SVT could reach out to me and via direct messages I confirmed that the connection between their SVT and asthma relievers and the number of reliever user asthmatics who suffered SVT and got in touch was incredibly common.
Not wanting to use asthma meds but desperate to get it under control I left the dry air in Boulder and headed for the Southern state of Georgia to a good friends place to attempt the old fashioned trick of calming asthma down with humid air and rest.
Before people think I’m making excuses for 70.3 worlds…do I think not having SVT would have meant I could have had a top race at 70.3 World Champs? Absolutely not. I was depleted, not training well and struggling to do anything except easy aerobic miles in training.
The humid air and rest worked great in Atlanta I started to feel like I could take full breaths. I went into IM 70.3 Augusta and suddenly was loving triathlon again. I had zero SVT, swam well and rode away from the group to quite a decent lead going into the run. Then I was surprised that I simply couldn’t fire on the run with guys running away from me like I was standing still. There was no lack of effort but I simply couldn’t seem to make the body move fast. Still it was a 3rd place and my though process was thank goodness, it’s only up from here.
IM 70.3 Memphis the following week, in humid conditions, I could breathe great with zero medication, no heart issues and felt decent in the swim and bike getting off with the lead guys, only to jump off the bike and not be able to run with guys for even a km at a pace that would normally be totally fine for me.
My main target for the trip, Ironman California was cancelled. In retrospect, unlike most pros who are convinced whenever a race is cancelled that they were set to have the absolute best race of their career, I don’t think I would have fired despite a deep desire to give everything I had in that event. My Ironman prep had been super inconsistent with trying to rest to get my asthma under control, I wasn’t running well and I was on a brand new bike. While the New Trek Speed Concept is 100% quicker than the old Speed Concept and I’m quite confident faster or at least as fast as the current triathlon offerings, I’m a very delicate flower that takes a month minimum to dial in a new bike. I’ve never switched TT bikes and felt good straight away in races and there was no way of replicating the highly customised front end position I had done hundreds of time trial hours on with my old Speed Concept. Now that I’ve been riding the new Speed Concept a lot, I’m adapted and feel very fond of the front end and my position. The worst part is there is no way in the world Trek would have forced me to, or even requested I use the new bike at California but there is also no way in the world my brain could have slept with the thought I was going to give up the free speed not riding the new bike would provide despite common sense telling me switching bikes a week or two out from Ironman is up there as the number 1 ‘don’t do’ rule.
My flight was then delayed a week to accommodate Australia adopting a little common sense and scrapping the 14 day hotel quarantine for incoming Aussies who are vaccinated and testing negative immediately before departure. This meant I could line up at IM 70.3 Oceanside, my favourite 70.3 event in the U.S.
I struggled. Just getting to an Ironman the week prior and doing my usual anxious Reed tactics of not sleeping for two days prior to the event only for it to have to be cancelled, I was emotionally burnt out and slept like a baby before Oceanside and felt zero nerves. The biggest sign you shouldn’t race an event is that you’re not nervous at all. All I felt was a longing to get home and back to Mon and the kids.
I got back home, disappointed and confused. I had asked so much of my family and it had not paid off at all for the first time since 2011. I was unjustifiably angry that well sponsored Aussie pros, had dodged racing overseas, some without kids using COVID restrictions as an excuse and would now come into the sponsorship negotiating period with far higher stocks then what I had coming out of the U.S with a bunch of average races. The highs and lows of racing, the time away from family, the loneliness of hotel rooms and rarely switching off from trying to make yourself fitter and faster can sure wear a bloke and their family down. The money you make when you are well sponsored and winning races is really fantastic. The money you make on your way up just with podium finishes and or on the way down with podiums and much worse is not good and stressful.
After some time dedicated to family, too much beer consumption and shallow thinking I knew I didn’t want to keep being a professional athlete in the same capacity as the past 10 years. Confusingly, I also knew I didn’t/don’t (or perhaps can’t)stop training or racing.
The solution.. I didn’t want to train full time anymore or depend on it financially. I wanted it to be a part of my life I enjoy and fit it around work and family instead of the other way around. Most of all, I wanted to be a more present Dad and a huge part of that is the strong desire to stay healthy and not exhausted.
Like many pros I observe, I don’t believe I’ve been healthy in a long time due to how much training we have to do to compete at the highest level. Particularly present in the pros I’ve coached or advised who were juniors who came through from the past (I can’t speak fo the current) Australian high performance program. They were trained far too excessively for their age with only a short-term view rather than a 5-10 year plan leaving them super fragile athletes that become over trained, sick or injured with very little load. I had joined them in what I call ‘HPPS’ (high performance program syndrome).
So going forward in 2022 the goalposts have done a seismic shift. I want to do races that really excite me as there are a lot that do. I also want to include endurance events that aren’t triathlons. Lots more gravel and mountain bike racing some running races.
I didn’t inherit the intelligence of my father but I did get his workaholic tendencies and crave a job that unlike triathlon, the more I put in the more I am guaranteed to get out. While many would ask, ‘isn’t that pro racing’? Absolutely not. Most of my worst patch of races are from training or working too hard at it. Ironically, along with some of the hardest workers I know, some of the laziest people I know are brilliant professional athletes. They train hard don’t get me wrong but then they also love nothing more than spending the entirety of the rest of the day lying on the couch watching Netflix. Recovery is king and I have never become very comfortable with it. Founding and working for RPG with great mate Clint Rowlings has given me that guaranteed ratio of the more I work at it, the more I get out of it. The equation of work to reward is far more guaranteed.
How I’m going to (try to) win professional races on age group training hours.
12 hour average training weeks. I’m committing to this in every race build except Ironman Australia if I think I have the time to do it in which I’ll average 15 hours a week. Pretty much half of what I would do as a full-time pro. The most common theme I hear from many former pro’s when discussing what they would change if they had their time again is either ‘I would have done way less’ or ‘I would have taken way more time off’. So I’m going to experiment with both in quite an extreme fashion and attempt to keep racing at a pro level on half the training.
I’m very committed to this. In fact, even if I wanted to do more I simply can’t as I’ll be coaching full time hours and I would never break that commitment to the athletes I’ve taken on.
Also, with my wife Monica working 4 days a week and our 3 ‘full on boys’ as our friends politely describe them, there will be a lot of 4am starts even to get 12 hours in. So doing more is simply not an option even if I changed my mind. .
Of course for a young or up and coming pro, even if they’re far more talented, without my very large training history, the level of performance they would get to off this little training (by warped triathlon standards) is likely limited due to the lack of their aerobic foundation/base. Given I’ve now been pro for over 10 years, the level I think I can get to off far less training should still be very high. Every training block you ever do counts long term!
Get healthy and stay healthy- Micronutrients and Pillar Performance
When I got back to Australia and did a full blood panel the body was in all sorts. My haemoglobin was as low as I’ve seen it since 2011 (the last time I buried myself at altitude), the total opposite of what should happen when an altitude block works well. I had extremely low iron, zinc and magnesium levels.
I have always supplemented micro nutrients, but was more focused on making sure it was ‘NSF’ certified for non-contamination of banned substances than overthinking the form these supplements were coming in. Realising that I was seemingly not absorbing anything in my last big race stint I made the shift to Pillar Performance supplements after speaking to Damien Fitzpatrick and Charlie Lawson and hearing the raging passion they had for sourcing the highest quality, most bioavailable ingredients available while also ensuring everything was 3rd party tested for banned substances.
In addition to much higher quality supplements, rest and time at sea level I started to get back to good health. Importantly, I also started on a very high dose of Pillar Performance fish oil to combat chronic inflammation. My numbers came back to normal within about six weeks. Now the they are at the high end of healthy. I hope it’s not the placebo effect of knowing my blood test results but I feel fantastic and despite only being back at training a couple of weeks with far less training, I’m putting out excellent numbers.
I’ll race when I’m healthy and not force it when I’m not. The last thing I want to do after last year is have to take asthma meds again. So when the lungs start to close up in every session or at night when I’m trying to rest, I will simply stop training and take rest to clear it up even if it means losing weeks of training here and there.
Cut the booze in the key training blocks for races.
I love a beer or two to finish a hard day a lot and always believed that in moderation it wouldn’t affect my recovery. However, the more I get into using objective measurements of recovery like HRV the more I realise that in fact even mild to moderate daily negative impacts on recovery add up to a whole lot less absorption and recovery from training when accumulated day after day.
Strength and mobility. I’m turning 37 in March. Old! I have far more aerobic efficiency then most younger pros. What I don’t have is the levels of hormones pumping out while I sleep that a kids in their 20s have, so it’s harder to maintain or build strength. After years of chasing time trial positions that were far too aggressive, the spine regularly moans with complaints if I start skipping strength and core stability work. It’s beyond doubt that both the decline in an athletes aerobic and strength capacity after 35 can be drastically mitigated with the right training. It’s an overused term but so bang on that ‘if you don’t use, you lose it’.
On top of this my mobility has been poor from the moment I exited the womb. So last year I made a commitment to improving my range of motion through fairly gentle yoga, stretching and neural flossing to great effect until of course I stopped being consistent with it when I was really burnt out by September.
How I will implement the 80/20 rule. The 80/20 rule or even 90/10 ratio refers to the widely accepted optimal ratio of aerobic training to race specific training and higher. Where the nuance lies is in where in that zone 2 aerobic training zone do you sit for 80-90% of your training time. It’s a huge range! For example, my zone 2 is 108-128 bpm. A run at 108 bpm is a vastly different pace to 128 bpm. Given my limited training time, that I’ll be doing lots of strength work and have an adequate training history that I know my body can handle it, I’ll be doing far more of my aerobic training at mid zone 2 and above to maximise the muscular stress of these sessions to hopefully be able to beat guys doing twice the volume at much easier intensity. For athletes I coach who are in their first 5 years or more if injury prone we take a vastly different approach at RPG.
Daily training options in the training plan based off HRV is an approach I started using more and more about 12 months ago with athletes. Essentially it’s giving a couple of options in the daily plan based on an objective recovery score. A much harder option for when the body is recovered and ready to go, an easier aerobic option when it’s not. I think this has maximised our athletes improvement a lot and will adopt the same approach for myself.
Achieving metabolic flexibility without long training sessions will be tricky as nothing stimulates fat burning like being out there for a bloody long time. The Norwegians, Cam Brown and many other big milage trainers would never be categorised as ever doing low carb sessions, at least from what I hear and read. However, if you’re doing 40 + hours of training a week you’re doing a lot of long sessions, can never replace what you’re burning in carbs and will almost inevitably become a good fat burner regardless of diet.
So how do I improve my now fairly poor fat burning on 12 hours a week training? The answer is an approach I’m not a fan of for athletes doing 25 hours a week plus but tends to work really well on low volume. It includes a lot more carbohydrate deplete/fasted sessions (I can still take in calories from fats and to a lesser degree protein). The goal of training with less muscle glycogen available is it stimulates a greater production of ‘lipase’, the enzyme that mobliises fats for fuel more quickly during shorter duration sessions. The other way I’ll do it is nearly always front loading my training day. Not only does this tend to help with better recovery at night but by pairing more sessions back to back the total duration of that training session will force my body to become more dependent on fats for the fuel the longer it goes on.
A Shift in Sponsorship. Always performance over cash.
Getting to the major goal of not relying on racing anymore financially has come a few months earlier than I expected and I’m delighted with the growth Clint and I have achieved with RPG in a short period of time. It obviously helps that we both genuinely love coaching.
Of course, the obvious thought from others is, I was forced to do this due to a lack of sponsorship. That might well have been the case, but my manager Evan Gallagher has always done incredible work and shocked me with what deals he procures even after bad patches of racing. I’m confident I could still have made a reasonable living from racing even if there was a big hit from pre COVID levels.
However, before I even left the States I had already emailed most of my salary paying sponsors, telling them quite honestly my plans for 2022 and made it very obvious to Evan I didn’t want to chase sponsorship as I was not sure I was going to fully commit to being a full time pro in 2022.
Gratefully, Santini and Allen Sports appreciated the honestly as they’re both very family focused companies who knew I would create value for their brands through racing a wider range of triathlon and non-triathlon events and through the value I can create through the rapidly expanding RPG community.
Trek have been an absolute dream sponsor. They came on board in 2015 after I went into 70.3 world champs as one of the favourites only to have a terrible race. Aside from being on the best equipment, their belief and commitment to sponsor me for years to come took away the anxiety that was holding me back at the top level. Heading into 2016 knowing they were going to back me for 2017 regardless of the result was a huge part in leading to a world title. I don’t know yet whether I’ll be continuing with Trek in some form of a contractual capacity but regardless of where we end up, I feel nothing but gratitude for the level of support I received for so many years.
Other sponsors I want to thank and if I’m honest, some I’m still yet to even discuss 2022 because I was so much more focused on building RPG..
I was one of the first athletes to join Roka and to watch them continually come out with game changing products has only impressed and made me very proud.
Budgy Smuggler were my first and my ongoing most loyal sponsor. The smugglers will stay on whenever I can offend. I rang Linny the chief smuggler the other day to thank him for being there from the beginning and explain my shift in focus. Without hesitation he said, that he wanted to keep the relationship going despite no request from my end to do so. The social conscience of Budgy Smuggler as a brand along with their unwavering support of me personally, not to mention allowing me to build a bit of brand in the sport donning their outlandish designs will never be forgotten.
It’s been amazing to be with PREPD from the very beginning. Whether I’m supported by PREPD or not, I suspect not, I’ll always continue using their powders and drinks. The performance gains are real and like Roka and Budgy Smuggler it’s been incredible to be involved so closely with the brand from their beginning.
The next phase is more dictated by my mental state when racing than the physical. In training, at least prior to my US trip, I could do more things more easily then I could in the peak of my career but the anger is not the same. You have to burn with desire to succeed. You have to be willing to allow everyone around you to make sacrifices. You have to be willing to let the other areas of your life be in disarray as you chase perfection in one thing. I’m no longer willing to do any of that. I want to race well and with the overwhelming gratitude I feel while racing without sacrificing everything else.
I guess in short, I know this is the beginning of a slow end of my pro career. Certainly, a change in occupation from full time racing to full time coaching with racing as a passionate hobby on the side. It will be a slow and gradual wind down and I’m very confident I can still get on quite a few podiums on the way out whether that be a year or several years of pulling back.
I don’t believe humans are designed to be happy or content for more than brief fleeting moments and realised in 2016 when I achieved more than I ever dreamed and then hit 2017 with even bigger goals that the discontentment never ends but I’m finally comfortable with that. I’m genuinely so excited to try these age group training hour experiments with the goal but not the expectation of winning.
I can’t thank the people closest to me enough for all their incredible support for all the years as I was a full-time pro. In particular, Monica, Mum and Dad, Liz and Evan. Thank you to all the tri fans out there who’s followed, liked, commented and supported. Without you I have no value to sponsors and would never have made a career out of this game.
Onto the next phase. I’m excited!