Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Arousal and Performance

So the title of the blog caught your attention, huh? Someone from the club a couple of weeks ago was explaining to me that they get so worked up before a race that they make mistakes, such as adopting a poor pacing strategy or poor technique, which has a negative effect on performance. Someone else from the club over the weekend told me something similar although this time the athlete explained he got so anxious that he just could not race the way he wanted to. It was impossible for him to breathe effectively while swimming adding to the anxiety and resulting in disappointment with the race overall.

Arousal can be described as the level of energy that an athlete develops and applies to any sporting situation e.g. in anticipating competition. This energy results from both psychological and physiological activity within the body. Many things can affect an athlete’s level of arousal, such as performance expectations, negative thinking, self-doubt, motivation, injury, preparation and readiness, general life stress, as well as external factors such as weather conditions, facilities, and spectators.

Over the years, sports psychologists have applied a number of theories to explain the relationship between arousal and performance. One of the most commonly used models is called the 'Inverted-U Hypothesis' (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). The Inverted-U Hypothesis suggests that when an athlete’s arousal level is low, performance is also low. The mind and body aren’t energised and prepared to face the demands of competition. As arousal level increases, performance increases up to an optimal point. You may have heard people describe this as being ‘in the zone’. You might even be able to tell when someone is in this state by the way they look. A facial expression, a look in the eyes, a certain posture or way of moving can all indicate when someone is in the zone.

When arousal increases past this optimal point to a very high level, an athlete may begin to feel anxious and performance is likely to decline. Excessive arousal can interfere with the body’s ability to perform both physically - muscles become too tense, coordination and skills break down and early fatigue sets in, or psychologically - difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, making decisions and thinking positively or losing confidence.

Athletes face the constant challenge of trying to keep their arousal at the ‘optimal’ level in order to achieve peak performance. Each individual’s optimal arousal level is different. For example, Usain Bolt appears very relaxed before a race and plays to the crowd. Tyson Gay looks very serious before a race and points to the sky as if asking for some form of divine intervention. Furthermore, each sport and activity has a different optimal arousal zone. Even each discipline within a triathlon probably has a different optimal arousal zone. A rapid breathing rate at the swim start is likely to cause anxiety but is easier to deal with on the bike and run.

My main motivation to participate in triathlon is not to win or set a new PB every time I race. I do it because it's great fun and helps me lead a healthy lifestyle which is of great importance to me. So if you are feeling too worked up or anxious at the start of a race just have a think about why you are there in the first place. Relax and enjoy the feeling of seeing what your body and mind is capable of. There are other ways to both increase and decrease arousal and get in the zone. But I’ll save these for next week.

It's a tough run session this week with some sprints to get your running pace up and give you the confidence to cross the finish line flying. The swim session on Saturday will be more technique based so you can save your energy for the run to follow. Sunday will be threshold swim session to help build your race pace in the water. You will need fins and pull buoys for both.

I'm not sure I used the word 'arousal' so many times in a single sitting! See you at the track tomorrow or at the Lido Saturday. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Reference: http://fithealthinsurance.com.au/know.fit/stress-management-and-relaxation/optimal-arousal-for-peak-performance

Friday, 17 June 2011

Keeping it real...and fun!

Around this time of year, with all the big races upon us, it is very easy to start taking yourself a bit too seriously. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and working hard to reach the goals you set when you were putting together your annual plan during the off season. But if your mindset is taking the fun out of your training and racing perhaps you need to take a step back and remind yourself that the sport of triathlon can still be good fun.

I had to do this myself last week. After two very average training weeks in a row, with little energy and about as much motivation, I dropped my training plan for a couple of days over the weekend and did exactly what I wanted to do instead. It may sound odd to most but I love hill climbing on my bike. I also wanted to ride out the front gate and back again and not deal with public transport at the beginning and end of my ride. So I jumped on my bike and rode over to Highgate West Hill and Swains Lane for some hill repeats. It's a great little hill for some hard efforts but I recommend you get there early to avoid too much traffic. Swains Lane is the more quiet option but it's nasty. Dark, damp, a little slippery and considerably steeper.

As much as I hate cycling in the rain I love running and swimming in it. So with the rain falling pretty constantly all day last Sunday I made the most of it. I ran in the rain, not concerned about my pace or how far I had to run, but enjoying the peace and quiet of Victoria Park that you only get when it's raining. After a tasty lunch to refuel and a post-lunch kip I headed for the Lido hoping the rain would scare most people off...and it did. I pulled on my wetsuit for something different and just switched off my mind and swam. With the rain falling and a lane almost to myself it was a great swim and I could feel the motivation returning just like that.

Seeing and hearing about your performances is also very motivating. I am still blown away by some of the results from both the Blenheim Triathlon and the Fritton Lake Triathlon.

The boys did a great job in Wimbleball over the weekend at the UK 70.3 event.
Gabriel Sayer had a fantastic race and finished 12th in his category. Coach Scott finished 22nd in his category with one of the fastest swims of the day in the age group field. Andrew Finn put together a great race finishing just outside of 6hrs in his first attempt at the distance. Dan King (aka Richard on the day) completed the swim in a very respectable 31mins 53s. Joe Dale (aka Dan on the day) also had a great race with the exception of breaking his chain on the bike leg. He flew on the run posting the 22nd fastest time of the day and clocking 1hr 27min for the half-marathon! Coach Karl told me he had an average race. Looked like he had a power nap in T1! By his own admission he felt good on the bike but had a nightmare run due to issues with nutrition. Yes even coaches make mistakes!

The performances of British athletes at the elite level is also inspirational. Alistair Brownlee finished first and Helen Jenkins second in Kitzbuhel over the weekend in great races. If you are interested in seeing the race highlights click here. I suspect the European Championships this weekend will be dominated by the British triathletes.

This weekend we are back at Hackney Marshes for the Park Run 5km. Remember to register before Friday. Saturday is our threshold session at the Lido and Sunday will be an aerobic fitness session. You will need fins and pull buoys for both sessions. I can't stress how important effective sighting is to having a great swim in an open water event
. Have a look at this link from Swim Smooth for some great technique tips about sighting. We'll see if you can put them into practise at the weekend and in your next race (bring on Hillingdon!).

See you at the track or Lido. Tim (LFTC Coach).

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Check out those results!

I continue to be amazed at the level of performance that a number of you are reaching this year. We had club members competing in no less than three different triathlons over the weekend!
I have spoken to some of those who competed at Fritton Lake on Sunday and got the lowdown on how people fared. In short, pretty damn good! Amanda 'Minky' Wilmer (club captain) won her age group. Ellen Greaves won her age group. Dave Price took a massive chunk off his PB and all the other lads competing finished under 2hr 30mins with five of them doing 2hr 20mins or better. Paul smoked the swim, Stuart and Felipe smoked the bike and 'G.I' Joe smoked the run with Seb, Tim S and Tim P hot on their heels. You can check out the results online here.

With a number of those competing at Fritton Lake stepping up to Olympic distance for the first time a common complaint was how difficult the first lap of the two lap run felt. It is a technical run course, off-road with plenty of twists and turns in it, this does makes it difficult to find a rhythm initially. Running 10km after biking 40km is also a very different sensation to running 5km after biking 20km. So what can you do to make the transition easier?

It is true that I spend my spare time trawling electronic databases for research articles that link exercise to either injury or performance. Some call it geeky. I prefer to think of it as having a keen interest in the subject. "Cycling has a negative effect on some highly-trained triathletes ability to execute optimal neuromotor strategies specific to running" (Chapman et al 2008 and 2009). What the? To summarise, cycling prior to running means that you do not activate your muscles in the same way that you do when running on fresh legs. Surprised? Neither am I.

Practising the transition from bike to run is one way of improving your ability to cope with running off the bike in a race. The bike to run brick is a key training session in any triathlete's training program. Different coaches and athletes will place more or less of an emphasis on such sessions. One thing I would say is that your key run session should be run on fresh legs and your key bike session should finish on the bike. Why? Running on fatigued legs may increase your injury risk and/or reduce the quality of your key run session. You are also likely to finish your key bike session more fatigued that you would be following the bike leg of a triathlon. So I suggest running off a moderate intensity ride. You do not need to run 10km off the bike either when training for an Olympic distance race. You only need to run for as long as it takes for your body to adapt from bike to run. All things being equal you should notice this time coming down with training.

Some recent research by Bonacci et al (2011) suggests plyometric training may help the transition from bike to run too. Plyometric training is a specific form of strength training that utilises the stretching-shortening cycle of muscles with activities such as jumping, bounding and hopping (See why I make you do those silly drills on Tuesday!). The muscles shorten rapidly after they have been lengthened rapidly just like many muscles do when running. In this study, with plyometric training, the triathletes' muscle activation patterns when running off the bike were more like the activation patterns seen when they ran fresh. The small sample size in the study means we should be cautious when interpreting the results but at least there is some preliminary research to support the theory that plyometric training may help the bike to run transition.

There are of course numerous other factors that contribute to how well you run off the bike. Your strength on the bike, your pacing strategy, your energy status pre-race, your nutrition and hydration strategies, your position on the bike just to name a few. So it is not as simple as adding some bike run bricks and plyometrics into your training. With more training and racing experience I am quite sure running off the bike will get easier.

This weekemd is our long aerobic swim session. Given where we are in the season though we will be practising some race skills too and yes you will need your fins! This weekend's run session is a combination of 200s and 800s. So you get to swim slow(ish) but you have to run fast!

Just for a bit of a laugh check out this video it's pretty funny. The joys of big city cycling huh?

All the best to those guys off to Wimbleball this weekend; Coach Karl, Andrew Finn, 'G.I.' Joe Dale; Gabriel Sayer and Coach Scott; do us proud lads!

See you later in the week. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Monday, 6 June 2011

Weekend round up.

Wow, what a great weekend of racing! The Blenheim Triathlon was run over both Saturday and Sunday. I headed out there on Saturday to watch our girls race. Sarah Deeney and Karla Shield competed in their first triathlons and both had great races. Claire Tomlinson competed in her first sprint distance triathlon and also did really well. Kate Murray-Browne is competing in her second season of triathlon and perhaps only her second race. She finished very strongly. Ailanore Harper finished 11th in her age group, Amanda 'Minky' Wilmer finished 3rd in her age group and Sarah Allen finished 1st in her age group. Now I don't want to start a battle of the sexes and obviously we all compete for the love of the sport and not for competition but the last three girls I mentioned beat all but one of their male club mates! Well done to the guys too. It's great to see that everyone who started got across the finish line and hopefully you were all happy with the way you raced.

If you didn't see the ITU WCS event from Madrid you should watch the highlights here and here. The Brownlee brothers were unstoppable once they hit the lead on the run. Both had fantastic races from start to finish coming out of the swim near the front, doing a lot of the work on the bike and then unleashing their incredible running abilities that left everyone else in their wake. Helen Jenkins placed second in the women's race keeping up with one of the fastest runners in the sport all the way to the end of the run before finally dropping off the pace a little. Not bad having just come back from injury after crashing in the opening race in Sydney.

Our Tuesday run will have to move as of tomorrow night because the summer festivals have taken over Victoria Park and our ash track is now behind a big green wall. Kind of like the big blue wall that will surround the Olympic Triathlon! If there is no cricket or football getting in the way we will use the grass track just a little further east of the ash track. It's not easy to see until you are right on top of it but it is not far from the new cafe and toilet block at the eastern end of the park so if you head there I'll look out for you.

Best of luck to those competing at Fritton Lake this weekend. It's a great race. For those not competing we will be focusing on technique in this week's swim session with some open water skills and drills to polish up your stroke. Bring your paddles if you have them as well as pull buoys and fins. Karl's run session looks like fun too. Building the pace throughout the session with a mix of 200m and 400m intervals. Looking forward to it.

See you tomorrow at the grass track or Saturday at the Lido. Tim (LFTC Coach)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

An action packed weekend!

We have an exciting couple of weekends ahead with two of the countries biggest triathlons taking place in the two of the most spectacular settings. The Blenheim Triathlon is this weekend followed by the Windsor Triathlon next weekend. I have yet to race Windsor but I can at least give a few tips about racing Blenheim.

As with any race be sure to make yourself familiar with the race course. Check out transition entry and exit points and remember where you have set up your own transition area. Of course remember how may laps you must complete in each discipline if it is a multi-lap course. Blenheim has a multi-lap format for both the bike and run.

The swim has a deep water start. Remember your deep water start practice over recent weeks? Get yourself horizontal in the water to create space and this will also allow you to make a fast start without excessive drag. If you find yourself feeling a little panicked, try breaststroke for a short period. It is far less taxing swimming breaststroke with your head up than it is swimming front crawl with your head up. Get your breathing under control again and give it another go. You know you can swim the distance and more because we have done it in training! The course is fairly straight forward but remember you exit at the side of the lake and not where you started from so remember to sight appropriately and look for the swim finish chute.

After exiting the swim you have a zigzag climb up the hill to the transition area. I suggest removing the top half of your wetsuit before starting the climb. I think having your upper body unrestricted while you run up the hill is helpful. Then remove your wetsuit completely when you get to transition (stating the obvious I know!).

It is up to you whether or not you put your bike shoes on in transition or have them clipped into your pedals ready to go. If you choose the later make sure you have practiced it! Same goes for the dismount. If you plan to leave your shoes on the pedals at the end of the bike make sure you are confident doing so. The bike course is great fun. There are some tight corners, a bridge to negotiate, some descents and some climbs. Nothing too difficult but be sure to get in the right gear for the climbs and make use of the descents if you are a confident rider.

The run is not flat but there is nothing to be worried about. There is great support around the run course and the scenery is truly spectacular. Let those legs go on the downhill sections and drive with the arms on the climbs!

Tim Don will be racing at Blenheim. If you want to see what he gets up to in 48hrs check out this short video documentary.

If you're not racing this weekend you can always sit back and watch the first of the European ITU World Championship Series events from Madrid. Alistair Brownlee won last year and Helen Jenkins placed third. The course suits the stronger cyclists so look out for the Brownlee brothers and Stuart Hayes to make a break and Helen Jenkins is also very strong on the bike too.

Can't wait to play support crew at Blenheim for a change. See you there on Saturday or at the Lido Sunday! Tim (LFTC Coach)