Tag Archive for tim berkel triathlete

The Importance of Aero


What do fish, F1 cars and fast triathletes all have in common? It’s all about the aero. (Technically, with fish it’s actually about the hydrodynamics, but bear with me) Athletes go to a lot of trouble to reduce drag and increase their aerodynamic efficiency. You may think that some go overboard in the quest to be aero, but as you’ll see, the little things add up. Not everyone can afford to spend a fortune on the latest gear, but there are definitely plenty of things you can do to get more aero and watch your times come down.

When it comes to talking aero for triathletes, there’s a lot of stuff out there, both written and on video. The science can get extremely complicated, with talk about rolling resistance, drag coefficients and air density. But I believe there’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple. Instead of getting bogged down in the details, I’m going to strip it back and give you five principles that anyone can apply to lift their performance. They can help you to make more efficient use of your power output and stop you from being such a drag, so to speak!

Principle 1 – Begin with the basics

Having a clear understanding of aero is a crucial first step. Aerodynamics is the study of the properties of moving air and the interaction between the air and solid bodies moving through it. The characteristics of a solid object (or person) regarding the way air flows around it are known as its aerodynamics.

When it comes to triathlon, races are won by the fastest competitor. Speed is a function of power (watts) over time. Push out the greatest amount of power for the longest time and you should be the winner, every time. And in a perfect (airless) world that would be true. But, you need to factor in air resistance, also known as drag. And drag is definitely a drag. Drag reduces your speed, reduces your effective power output and saps your strength.

To give you some idea of the effect of drag, consider the current world cycling records:

  • The record for distance covered in one hour on a standard road bike is 49.7km.
  • On a time trial bike in the extreme ‘Superman’ position it’s 56.4km
  • On a fully-faired recumbent bike it’s 90.6km.

By cutting down the drag they were able to achieve twice the speed of a standard road bike, with the same power output. And reducing drag is all about going aero.

The amount of air resistance you generate depends on a couple of major factors and a couple of minor ones. The major factors are the frontal area you present to the air and the speed at which you ride. The minor factors are the slipperiness of your clothing and the degree of turbulence you generate as you ride through the air. More turbulence equals more air resistance.

Principle 2 – Little things add up

Want to double your speed? In a perfect world, you’d just double your power output. But drag isn’t like that. It works on a factor of 2. Double your speed and you quadruple your air resistance. That means to double your speed takes 8 times the wattage! To increase your speed by 25% means you need to almost double your power output. If you’re interested in doing the maths for yourself, check out this cool interactive website.

You can see how little changes – both increases and decreases – in aerodynamic efficiency can add up fast. Obviously it’s important to maximise your power output, but at the same time the key is getting the most speed out of that power – the most bang for your buck. Small increases in drag are going to suck your power, whilst small decreases will help you go faster on less watts.

There’s no ‘magic bullet’ when it comes to going aero. It’s all about chasing the small gains in aerodynamic efficiency that quickly add up to serious improvements in performance. When it comes to testing what works and what doesn’t, you could pay the big bucks and use a wind tunnel, but using a power meter or even just rolling down a hill from the same point and clocking your speed will give you a pretty good idea. And obviously if your bike legs are faster than before, then you’re doing something right.

There are three basic areas you can tweak to become more aero – clothing, equipment (not just your bike) and your riding position.

Principle 3 – Slippery is good

When it comes to clothing, the key is to reduce turbulence. Quite simply, flappy, loose clothing is going to create more air resistance. I’m interested in this, because one of my sponsors, Scody, have done a lot of research on this and developed the Optimise A.I.R. Triathlon race suit. It’s a move away from the traditional two-piece option and it’s wind-tunnel tested and uses hi-tech fabrics and zoned construction.

The bottom-line on the Optimise A.I.R. Is a 6 watt saving at 50kmh over the old two-piece suit. Over a 90km cycle leg that can shave off about 4:30 if you’re averaging 230 watts, which is a massive time saving. Think about what you’re wearing and what it’s made of – slippery is good!

Principle 4 – Streamline your gear

About 75% of the air resistance is generated by you, but that still leaves another 25% that is caused by your bike and other gear. Analyse that 25% and it comes down to three aspects- surface character (slipperiness again), frontal surface area (the front profile that is pushing through the air) and shape (determines how smooth the flow of air is over your gear). The aim is to choose gear with a slippery surface character, minimal frontal surface area and an aerodynamic shape that creates the least disturbance to the air flow. When it comes to gear, we’re talking bikes, helmets and hydration and nutrition. Here are a few pointers about each one of these:

Bikes – I’m in the lucky position of being sponsored by Giant, so I’ve got access to the latest, state-of-the-art gear. I’ve watched the Giant bikes evolve and become more aero as new research is done and new materials are developed.

Not everyone can access the latest and greatest, so let me say a couple of things about choosing your bike. Firstly, keep things in perspective. You can spend a lot of money on a bike and many manufacturers make big claims about their products. Seek out a cost-effective option from a reputable brand that suits your budget. Do your homework, ask around and beware of just following the latest fad. At the end of the day, remember we’re only talking about 25% of the aero equation. It’s not all about the bike.

Secondly, don’t sacrifice comfort and rideability for the latest hi-tech machine – always pick a bike that suits your build and riding style. All the aerodynamics in the world won’t help you if it doesn’t feel good to ride.

Helmets – same goes for your helmet. Don’t sacrifice comfort for a small improvement in aero. The last thing I want to do is to cook my brain at Kona in the pursuit of a couple of extra minutes! But helmets are a cost-effective way of significantly reducing your drag. Obviously they don’t reduce your frontal area, but they improve the airflow over your head and body, reducing your drag coefficient and your time by up to 4 minutes over IM distance.

There has been a shift in the style of helmets recently from the classic pointed-tail designs to what’s known as the ‘bobtail’ or short tail aero design. I’ve found these comfortable, easy to put on and take off and most importantly the improved through-flow means they don’t overheat.

Hydration and nutrition – nobody is carrying their bottle on the downtube these days – it disturbs the airflow way too much. The other options are horizontally between your aerobars or horizontally behind your seat. Both increase the aero factor compared with the downtube option. There’s been a lot of wind tunnel testing on both these placements. In the final analysis, the best option will actually depend on your body shape and riding position. For some riders, between the aerobars can improve overall aerodynamic efficiency, helping to create better flow over the rider. For others, behind the seat is more streamlined.

The one thing I would say is that the position also has to be practical. There’s no point having your bottle stashed behind you if you can’t easily access it, or worse still if you forget to drink from it. Dehydration is a much more serious problem than a little drag!

When it comes to nutrition, there are new options all the time. Again, easy access is still important. If you’re carrying it on your back, just ensure your shape stays streamlined and the pouch is close-fitting. Increasingly, bike manufacturers are starting to build drink and food holders into the frames themselves to increase the aero.

Principle 5 – Balance your riding position

The basic idea here is to ride in a position that reduces frontal area and which creates a smooth shape that maximises laminar airflow and reduces turbulence. This is where the balance comes in – there’s no point being more aero if your hips are impinged so you can’t maintain the watts or your chest is constricted and you can’t get enough oxygen. It’s also important to consider this in the larger context of the race – you’ve got to be able to run when you get off the bike. It’s a matter of tweaking the variables to find the sweet spot which maximises aero and which is sustainable.

Start with aerobars – they’re designed to decrease your frontal area. To give you some idea – just adding aerobars can reduce the amount of power you need to generate by almost 17%. That’s a huge saving. Adjust them to find a comfortable and sustainable riding position. Call this your baseline position and then begin to experiment, doing some simple comparisons as you drop the bars. To some extent, the width between the bars will depend on your body shape and flexibility.

While you’re tweaking your position, don’t forget to work on your core strength and flexibility. Ease into your new riding position and when you get comfortable and can maintain the watts, experiment again. A couple of things that seem to work well for some athletes – flattening the back and ‘turtling’ the head downward can save you a few minutes. However, holding this position can be more demanding. Again, it’s about experimenting and finding the balance between aero, power and sustainability.

For me, I’ve had to compromise on reducing my frontal area, because if I go too low it compresses my hip angle down and reduces power. To balance that we’ve reduced the length of my cranks to keep my hips a little more open. That’s the right balance for me.

A final word – about fish

Think about fish. In Nature, creatures are designed to conserve energy and fish are a great example of this. Their streamlined shapes and economic use of power are something we can learn from. And it’s a reminder that going aero is not just about the bike. Given that water is more than 800 times denser than air, going ‘hydro’ is also pretty critical. A more hydrodynamic swimming style is going to save you time and energy so you come out of the water faster and fresher. But that’s a topic for another day.

Good luck in your quest for going aero. Don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works best for you. Drop the drag, cut your times and get the most out of your energy buck. Oh, and don’t forget to shave your legs before the big race. It will save you 23.3 seconds and your partner will appreciate it… seriously!


Under The Microscope


One of the weird things about being a professional triathlete is having other people talking and writing about you in the media. Obviously, that can be both good and bad… depending on what they write about you! Phil Wrochna at firstoffthebike.com has just written a profile piece on me. It’s a bit of a retrospective on the last few years of my career – where I’ve come from and where I’m heading.

As strange as it is to read about myself, I reckon Phil captures some great insights – there’s definitely some value in being able to reflect back on these events, get a little perspective and be reminded of the lessons learned all over again.

For what it’s worth, here’s my response to the article, with a few extra reflections and insights of my own thrown in there.

Running hot in Cairns
Phil goes back to 2013 and Ironman Cairns. I reckon he’s right – IM Cairns was a pretty significant race for me. There’s nothing worse than sitting, stewing in the penalty box watching your rivals get further and further ahead. A lot of things go through your mind while you’re waiting for that time to tick away. Fortunately, I was able to control the frustration, keep it together and channel those feelings into a fast run leg.

I think it raises an interesting question for all triathletes – when you get into one of those tough situations, what makes the difference between just ‘losing your shit’ and letting the race go or keeping it together, rolling up your sleeves and getting on with the job?

Mind games
To a large extent I reckon it comes down to the mental game. In fact, my last two races have highlighted that for me. Both were tough. In Melbourne, I felt bad but kept going. It was a really rough day at the office (link to Melbourne article) but in the midst of difficult conditions and some back issues I was able to keep my focus and persist. The result was a second place and a deeper knowledge of myself. I came away from Melbourne knowing that when I need to dig deep I can do it, even when I’m not feeling so great.

Busselton 70.3 was a different situation. After a good start, my back started to tighten up, aggravated by the icy conditions. The question was- what do you do when your body isn’t coming to the party? When do you push through and when is the best option to pull the plug, walk away and save your body for another day? No one likes to post a DNF, especially when you’re going into the race as the defending champ. It’s a kick to the ego, if nothing else. But on that occasion I decided the best option was to look at the bigger picture, pull out, learn some hard lessons and use them to refocus my Kona preparation.

I know athletes wrestle with these questions in every sport, but it’s particularly relevant for endurance athletes. Let’s face it, IM racing is never easy. It’s always a fight against pain and exhaustion. One of the reasons why I waited so long to go to Kona was that a race like that needs a certain maturity and enough wisdom to be able to judge exactly where you’re up to. You’ve got to know when and how to push through, when it counts.

Staying in the moment is always my aim – being able to keep your head in the game, not over-thinking it, but at the same time, not just acting on your feelings. You’ve got to know when to keep running your own race and when you need to change up and go with the leaders, so you’re not left behind. I try to learn a little more, sharpen my skills and my judgement a little more, every time I race.

On the road to Kona 2015
Phil made a comment in the article that really rings true. He said,

One good day in Kona has some currency but that erodes over time.

Kona is definitely the big goal on my list this year – all roads lead there. 7th last year was a great result. It showed me what was possible and I guess it put me on the radar of other competitors.

This year, I’m heading back to Kona- older, more experienced and hopefully, wiser. But I’m not taking anything for granted. Kona is the real deal. When you’re heading through the Energy Lab it’s about as real as you can get. There’s no room for BS, hype or lame excuses… it’s not about your reputation, your brand or the crowds. All that external stuff is stripped away. It’s the ultimate test of who you really are – as an athlete and as a person.

Thanks to Phil Wrochna and firstoffthebike.com for putting me under the microscope and digging deep. Keep up the good work and keep the insights coming.

Chilled to the bone in Busselton


For those of you who were concerned after reading my tweet following Busselton 70.3 on Saturday – it’s all good… tits are still attached. Ego is bruised, back is still sore when I bend down and I’m feeling very disappointed about my result. I’ll keep this race report short and sweet.

A Frosty Start
We lined up for the start of the swim at Geographe Bay and the temperature registered 3 degrees. Apparent temp was actually closer to zero. That’s bloody cold! Having said that, I had a great swim. Back felt okay, I stayed in the front group, sticking right on Sticksy’s heels, and came out of the water in 24:53.

I hit T1 and as soon as I took my wetsuit off, I got really cold. Jumped on the bike and as I headed out onto the course I felt like I was riding like an old man. Wasn’t actually doing too badly, but by the 67km mark I was off the pace by 7 mins. Mentally and physically though it was a real battle. All the time I was telling myself, “It will get warmer… it’s got to get warmer…” And as the bike ride went on my back was getting tighter and tighter.


Chilled to the bone
By the time I got to T2, the temperature was registering 14 degrees, but apparent temp was still only about 10 degrees. I got off the bike and started running. My back was really tight, my feet were literally numb and I was struggling to put it together.

I ran 5km and in the end I felt it was better for the long-term plan to pull the pin- something I never like having to do. Maybe I could have pushed through to the finish, but I was going so slow – just didn’t have my usual spring.

Pulling out the positives
Every outing is a learning experience – it’s always good to reflect, whether it’s been a good race or an ordinary one – on what you did well and where you need to improve.

On the plus side – I had a great swim and stuck with the front group, which is always my plan. I’m determined to get this back issue sorted- going to hit the gym a little harder and work on building more strength in my core, back, glutes and hamstrings. And as always, nothing like getting a swift kick in the backside to motivate you to work harder and get sorted. Cairns 70.3 is coming up next on June 14th.

If I’m honest, Busselton 70.3 was a bit of a dark day. It definitely hurt having to pull the pin. Let’s face it, no one likes to post a DNF. But Busselton has been a good hunting ground in the past and you can’t win them all. And thank goodness – I’ve still got the course record!

Congratulations to the fellas – Sam Appleton, Terenzo Bozzone and James Cunnama – you guys ran a great race. And as I said in my post-race tweet – onwards and upwards!

Rivet TT – The New Helmet On The Block


Scone. Nut. Noodle. Block. You’ve got to love Aussie slang. Where else would you find so many colourful terms to describe your head?

I’m racing the Busselton 70.3 today and if you look carefully you’ll notice that I’m rocking a different brain-bucket. A brand new, hi-tech helmet from Giant is going to be protecting my melon on the course today. It’s called the Rivet TT and it’s a pretty impressive piece of gear.

All jokes aside, Giant have spent a great deal of time and money to develop their most aerodynamic and comfortable helmet yet. They’ve tuned it using a process called Computational Fluid Dynamics and tested it extensively in the wind tunnel and in real-life, on the skulls of the Team-Giant-Alpecin pros.

From the strategically placed dimples on the top of the helmet, to improve laminar flow, to the ‘drag-neutral’ ports and internal-channels, which make up the cooling system, it’s designed for speed and comfort. And not just to benefit the pros. The design was created to work well for a whole bunch of different rider positions and conditions. It’s versatile.


If you want to check out all the detailed specs, take a peek at the Giant website. They go in-depth and explain all the tech stuff that’s packed into this light-weight sconce-protector.
And stay tuned for my article on Going Aero coming up in 220 Tri (with an extended version and some video here on the website). I’ll be talking about how an aero helmet, like the Rivet TT, can be a crucial part of your overall plan to be more aero.

Thanks again to Giant – you guys are always on the cutting-edge, you help me stay competitive and I appreciate your support. Keep up the good work!

To all the triathletes out there – go hard and think about giving the Rivet TT a go. I wouldn’t want to have anything else on my noggin!


Wild Racing in the Wild West


Originally, I thought I’d be writing this pre-race blog on the way back from racing in New Caledonia. My plan was to compete in the Noumea Triathlon last weekend, but in the end I pulled the plug because of a niggling back issue and yes, I listened to the professionals who advised in not racing. So that has given me time to focus on Busselton 70.3 and make sure I’m 100% race fit and ready to go. ‘C’est la vie!’ as they say in New Caledonia.

Back to Busselton
Rewind 12 months and I didn’t think I was even going to get to the start of Busselton 2014. Last year, in the lead up to the race I was sick and had the whole week off training. As it turned out, on the day I actually felt pretty rested, had a great race and ended up on the top of the podium. So I’m heading into this year’s Busselton 70.3 as the reigning champ.

As always though, there’s no room for over-confidence – the field for the event is really strong. In fact, the organisers are saying it’s the strongest field they’ve ever had for Busselton 70.3. There’s no doubt there some big hitters in the line up- my old mate Sticksy, Appo (Sam Appleton who came 3rd in 2014), Alex Reithmeier (2nd in 2014) and James Cunnama (all the way from South Africa) will all be there. Add into the mix veteran Kiwi triathlete, Terenzo Bozzone, and you know it’s going to be a hard-fought, hard-won race. I may be going into the race with Number 1 on my front, but there’ll definitely be a target on my back. It will certainly make for some good racing.

Hustle and bustle
It’s always good to head over to the ‘Wild West’ and the event at Busselton has just got bigger and bigger as time has gone on. The crowd is always huge and vocal, which is awesome for the competitors. Media coverage is good and there’s plenty of pre-race action.

The course is quick and it’s a great place to compete. Last year the swim conditions on Geographe Bay were glassy- I’m hoping it will be the same this time around. The cycle leg will be fast and furious and then the race finishes with 3 laps out and back on Geographe Bay Rd. There’s plenty of opportunity to keep an eye on the competition, which will be especially handy given how competitive this field is.

I’m looking forward to defending my title and hopefully hanging on to the course record for another year. And if you’re there, come and join me for the Q&A session on Friday arvo at Chat with the Pros in the Main Marquee. Should be fun.

Good luck to everyone who is competing. Go hard and I’ll see you at the finish!

The low-down on Ironman Melbourne

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 12.34.49 pm

It was great to be a part of another race for Tim Van Berkel. I thought you might enjoy a little post race analysis of how I saw the day unfold for Berks.

Tim’s prep was very solid. He’s often not a big fan of the full Ironman prep in the sense that he likes to race. This prep however, I thought that we had to look at the entire year and the ultimate target of the year of course, is Kona. He had booked and paid flights to Dubai to race halfway through this prep and I managed to talk him out of this because of the benefit I thought a good full prep would have on his year in terms of rebuilding solid strength, racing well in Melb IM and then having the strength that he built through this prep to carry him onto Busselton 70.3 and then onto Cairns 70.3 before he flies to the US to do his Kona ground work through July and August.

The race in Melbourne saw him really have some pressure on him as one of the favourites and his media commitments were probably a little stiffer than they have been in the past. We kept him grounded by running some visualisation sessions in the days leading up to help him control nerves and look at what he had to do.

On race morning itself he was well placed in the swim early on until the group really started to pile the pressure on and Berks started to feel very ordinary and got dropped from a group that went on to post the swim record. It was worrying to see him 2.5 minutes back so early in the race after I had witnessed him swimming so well in the month leading into the race. It was perhaps the best swim form I had seen him in to date.

This left Berks with some chasing to do to make the chase group and he managed to shut that gap down relatively fast, but nevertheless he wasn’t feeling too great and he knew it, and so did I. He was able to hold the group while not feeling good and then, towards the end, found the energy to get up the road from the chase group by 40 seconds. He managed to average 39.8 km’s for an average power of 257watts. Berks said later although he felt bad it didn’t seem like the bike leg was particularly fast. In the power curve graph its plain to see Berks chasing hard at the start of the power curve and then levelling off.  At this point I had suspected that all wasn’t totally great with an 8 min gap to the front 2 riders but I still felt that gap was ok if he had the runs legs for it.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 7.28.33 pm

Once the marathon started Berks seemed to be moving ok but not as fast I have seen him move before nor as freely but he still looked solid when I got to see him. At the 15km mark he was still in 3rd but only just to a whole raft of runners behind him and an ominously good looking Jeff Symonds a little ways back.  Berk’s words were he was feeling bad, so I encouraged him to stay present and maximise what he had to work with. From that point I started to leap frog him with the car and at about 20km the gap to the leader, Nils, had reduced to around 7mins and 2nd placed Luke Bell has dropped back. I got into Berks ear about the reducing gap but he still looked uncomfortable even though he was now holding down 2nd.

At about the 25km mark that gap had fallen to about 5.5 mins. At this point I started to get a bit vocal about his chances of winning this race and not far back Jeff Symonds looked to me like he was killing himself to get on terms, so in my mind I thought he would cook, “woops”.  A few km’s further down the road and the gap to Nils started to tumble. All of a sudden it was down to 3mins and Jeff Symonds was breathing down Berks neck still looking like he was killing himself and I kept informing Berks that Jeff looked like he was working very hard. Another few km’s down the road and Jeff and Berks came together and were running shoulder to shoulder with Nils now right in front of them crumbling.

When all 3 came together there was a scrum of media, people on bikes following the race and it was a moment of madness.  I was screaming at Berks to stay patient and fully realise he could win this race. Another leap frog down the road and Berks and Jeff were now running shoulder to shoulder with Nils gone. The next athlete a few mins back turned out to be Berks training buddy, Brad Kahlefeldt, who was moving well at what seemed like the same speed Berks and Jeff were running. I could still see that although Berks was jointly leading with Jeff that he wasn’t firing on all cylinders, so I continued to scream at him some queue words that we had worked on to keep himself grounded and in the moment.  A few further kms and Jeff made his move and dropped Berks who although running well clearly wasn’t having his best day. Brad was still hovering a few mins back and so we have the end result.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 7.33.10 pm

For me as a coach, although this race didn’t go to plan for Berks, the way we had envisioned it, there was a tremendous sense of Berks again stepping up in terms of maturity. Dishing up an 8:07 and finishing 2nd on a less than great day at the office is a great sign for Berks’ goal of becoming a major player on the Kona black top.

Hope you enjoyed the read and feel free to post any comments below and I’ll have a go at answering them.

Quick Q&A with Grant


I thought it would be interesting to get a coach’s perspective on the athlete/coach relationship, so I’ve grabbed the microphone, put on the interviewer hat and asked my coach, Grant ‘Gilesy’ Giles, some hard-hitting questions about coaching in general and coaching me in particular.

TB: So Grant, coach of Tim Van Berkel and Director of the Aeromax Team, welcome to this interview. Are you ready to go deep?

GG: Fire away!


TB: The athlete/coach relationship develops over time. Can you tell us how your relationship with Tim has changed through the nine years you’ve been together?

GG: It’s evolved from working on everything to working a lot more selectively on what needs to improve in the moment to move the whole thing forward. For a younger athlete it’s about building the platform to create a stable and consistent athlete. Once that’s achieved, like it is with Tim, at 30, then I look a lot more at what we need to get him to do not just to be consistent, but to place in world-class fields.

Having put down a good platform and foundation previously, we have a lot more flexibility to look at each individual key race and make training calls based on that.


TB: What’s the ‘state of the nation’ at this point in time – how would you describe your relationship with Tim in a few words?

GG: Collaboration with regard to calendar, mentorship with regard to mental prep, more-focused planning on both sides.


TB: How do you see the coaching relationship evolving over the next stage of Tim’s career?

GG: I’m the sort of person who likes to think outside the square of the norm and I really like to observe and make calls from that space. I think the best thing in this case, is simply to observe and see what we feel is lacking. From that point, we can make adjustments to suit the level where he is.

I think the biggest shift will be developing further power on the bike. Not only so he can keep the race under control and manage the gaps, but also to give him the opportunity to make better use of his run segment. Better bike strength always manifests itself as a faster run split, because the legs simply have less neuromuscular damage.


TB: Given that an experienced, mature athlete may have as much technical knowledge about their sport as their coach (maybe even more) what do you think a coach brings to the table for an elite athlete? What kind of an edge can a good coach give an athlete?

GG: I think the biggest thing a coach brings to the table is simply the Truth. The athlete needs to know they have someone in their corner that they can trust 100%, without BS or ego, who will act always in the best interests of their athlete. I think that’s a rare kind of relationship for most, but to me that is coaching.

As far as the edge goes, I feel that anyone who has spent a lot of time with the same person will learn a lot about that person simply by being present and observant. Anyone who makes it this far realises the Technical is just one side of a multi-faceted gem and certainly the Psychological aspects take more of a role as the performance level increases. Let’s face it, at world level, it’s as much about the mind as anything else. Possibly more so, because everyone at the highest performance level is approaching a fairly even physical fitness match.


TB: If there were one piece of advice you could give to athletes when they’re thinking about a coaching relationship, what would it be?

GG: Very simple answer – 100% trust or nothing at all. It takes time to build a relationship of this sort though, so you have to give the coach time to develop a game plan from what they see and hear from you, and only you. You have to put the opinions and thoughts of others on the backburner and let that coach do the job by simply having the belief that they will do their best.


TB: Nice work, Grant Giles. Once again, you’ve brought the truth and shared some valuable insights with us. Thanks Gilesy!

Anatomy of an athlete/coach relationship


Get it right and it can be an athlete’s greatest asset, get it wrong and it can have the destructive power of a marriage made in hell, with the details splashed all over the media. I’m talking about the relationship that an athlete has with their coach.

This is a follow-on piece from my recent article in 220 Triathlon where I talk about the importance of the athlete-coach relationship. If you are like me you’ll probably want to subscribe and read the whole magazine on your iPad.


For me personally, my relationship with Gilesy (Grant Giles) has been a long-term partnership, now 9 years, and definitely worth moving across the country for. I started working with Gilesy as a fresh-faced 21 year old. Over those years our relationship has changed and developed, but it continues to give me a competitive edge.

The Key to Success

A Canadian study, conducted after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, interviewed 27 elite athletes and 30 coaches about the factors that they believed contributed to successful performance. They identified five key factors. The first four were:

  1. Athlete self-awareness
  2. Optimal training environment
  3. Strong support system
  4. Ability to cope within the Olympic environment

No surprises there. However, the fifth factor was the one that all 27 athletes considered to be the most important in winning an Olympic medal or producing a PB. What was it?

A strong athlete-coach relationship.

So, what makes a strong relationship? Well, here’s my analysis of the ‘anatomy’ of a great coaching relationship. Starting from the top down let’s look at the different parts:


At the elite level, psychological aspects can be as important as your physical performance. Aussie Olympic swimmer, Tommy D’Orsogna, summed it up really well when he said:

Having the right mindset and the right support structure in place is imperative in attaining peak performance. You can’t achieve peak performance if your focus is on ‘not failing’ as opposed to succeeding, you can’t achieve peak performance if you are more concerned with others’ performance over your own, and you can’t achieve peak performance if you don’t focus correctly.

A good coach is going to help you improve your mental game by:

  • Developing a solid race strategy.
  • Providing valuable insights and assisting you to see problems or challenges with fresh eyes.
  • Helping you to get into the right headspace when it’s race time.
  • Giving you some balance so you can avoid the trap of ‘over-thinking’ it.

Grant has provided me with some great insights and some powerful tools to lift my mental game. One of those tools has been using visualisations. Mentally rehearsing the race and ‘seeing’ myself doing it was a key in my preparation for Kona made a huge difference in the race itself. Using visualisation continues to have a powerful effect on my performance.

Heart Matters

Super Bowl–winning NFL coach, John Madden said, “Knowing his coach likes him is more important to a player than anything else.” At the heart of any successful relationship are things like trust, respect, honesty and encouragement. It’s no different when it comes to a successful athlete/coach partnership. Let’s face it – no one is going to give their best when they’re coached by someone who doesn’t seem to care or worse still, doesn’t seem to like them. There’s got to be some kind of positive emotional connection. That’s going to be different depending on the individuals, their ages, their personalities and their coaching styles.

My relationship with Grant has certainly changed over time. It started off as just being an athlete and his coach. Now it feels more like two mates looking to be successful together at our chosen events. I’d describe him as my trusted partner for success.


Shooting From the Hip

Two things build trust – time and honesty. A good coach will give you both. In this sport, and many others, it takes years to become good. So don’t just throw your coach out the door if you don’t see immediate results. Give them time to get to know you and understand you. You’ve got to take a long-term view and work at building mutual trust in your relationship.

Honesty is a crucial ingredient in building trust. It can be hard to hear it at times, but we all need someone telling us the truth. I appreciate Grant’s ability to tell it like it is. We’ve been working together for a long time now and he knows me really well. He shoots from the hip and there’s no BS or ego involved, so I know what he’s telling me is for my own good.


Building legs

Obviously for both the athlete and their coach physical preparation is where the rubber hits the road… literally! But for a coach it’s about much more than planning sessions, crunching numbers and yelling from the back of a motorbike. A good coach will be constantly evaluating, using all the ‘tools in their toolbox’ to tweak the program and get the best out of their athlete:

  • Wisdom gained from past experience
  • Expertise and technical knowledge
  • Awareness of the latest advances and research
  • Knowledge of the individual athlete
  • An understanding of how each session fits into the short, medium and long-term plan
  • The ability to judge when to push, when to hold back and when to say it’s time to stop

One of the great advantages of having a long-term relationship with Grant is the way we’ve matured together. As I’ve grown as an athlete, he’s been able to change and adapt my training. He talks about the way my training goals have changed over time in our Q&A session. Together we can focus on both my short-term goals as well as the big-picture career aims.


Feet on the ground

Finally, no matter how much you mature as an athlete, it definitely helps to have someone in your corner who believes in you and in your ability to bring it on the day. Sometimes just having them there when you compete can make all the difference.

Ironman Cairns 2013 was a tough race for me. A slow swim and a four-minute drafting penalty left me 21:58 behind Luke McKenzie coming out of T2. I was a man on a mission! One of my vivid memories of that race was being on the run leg and coming past Gilesy. He was going crazy at me from the sidelines, shouting at the top of his voice. It was hilarious, but it gave me some serious encouragement just when I needed it most. He did the same thing at Kona last year, when I was in a world of pain at the end.

As well as being a mentor and supporter, a great coach will believe in you and push you to succeed even in those times when you don’t think you can. They can be the familiar face and the encouraging word, in the midst of the crowd, which lift you beyond what you think is possible. Let me finish with a special thank-you to my mate and mentor, Grant. You’re a bloody champion!

If you haven’t already done so, sign up now for some great little insights delivered free into your inbox.

Stay Cool and Staying Aero


I’ll be talking more about the importance of aero and the things I try and do to ensure I have the edge over my opponents in the coming weeks. Being aerodynamically optimal needs to take into consideration your position and equipment, but also factors like comfort and hydration. Another one of these factors for racing is thermoregulation, something which was vitally important in my recent trip to Ironman Melbourne.

Anyone that was at Ironman Melbourne can attest to the extremes in temperatures seen throughout the day. It was single digits when we started in Frankston, and low 30’s (approx 90f) when I crossed the finish line. It was ridiculously hot at some stages. One of the great things about my Scody Optimise AIR tri suit is that as much as it is aero, it is probably the most cooling suit I have ever worn. The sleeves provide added sun protection, and the fabric retains a very small amount of moisture to help cool me down. With this in mind, I do have some tips for everyone racing in the heat, ensuring you stay cool whilst in no way compromising your speed and performance.

  1. Trick your mind. Much of our perception of the heat is a central nervous system response, proactively protecting the body. We can actually deal with a lot more fluctuations in heat than you would realise, we just have to trick the mind. A couple of ways I did this at Ironman Melbourne was wearing my Oakleys to create a sense of shade, and putting ice in sensitive areas such as hands, tops of my head, and well, ahh, the genitals.
  2. It’s not about flappy clothes. It’s a little bit of a myth that flappy or baggy clothes are cooler in hot weather. All they will do is slow you down as they are extremely susceptible to drag. What you need is ventilation in key areas that will take on as much wind flow as possible, whilst offering no aerodynamic disadvantage. On my tri suit I have a fabric known as Dynamic Mesh through the side panels, and a front zip that when down give me complete cooling on the run.
  3. Thin is good. I have been fortunate to learn quite a lot from the guys from Scody. One of these is the importance they place on thin fabric. Basically, the thinner the fabric, the less restriction to heat transfer. If you feel clammy and restricted across the chest in your current suit, it probably uses fabrics that are too thick for your needs.

Staying down, all the time
Keeping on the aerodynamics theme, it’s important to touch on the need to be able to prepare the body to get in these contorted positions, and stay there. It’s a huge ask on the body and definitely doesn’t come naturally. There is no point wearing the best tri suit Scody has, and having to come out of my “optimal” position all the time because my back cannot handle it. Apart from practising holding this position in training, during the countless long rides and interval sets Gilsey gets me to do, I also spend a lot of time in the gym strengthening and stabilising. Look, you may already be doing this, and if you do then awesome. If you don’t, have a look at the exercises that I do as they will probably help you stay as aero as possible in your next race.
What it works: Transverse abdominus (TA), Lower Back, Shoulders
Why it works: Helps with maintaining position during long rides and time trials.
How to do it: Come up onto your toes and forearms, keeping back flat.

Side Bridges
What it works: Transverse abdominus and obliques
Why it works: Improves pelvic stability, reducing lazy hips when fatigued
How to do it: On your side. Raise your bottom off the floor, keeping your side straight.

What it works: Transverse abdomius, Rectus Abdominus, Hip flexors
Why it works: Improves pedal efficiency with activation of core muscles during hip flexion and extension.
How to do it: On back. Touch elbow to opposite knee, the alternate, fast.

Ground Climbing
What it works: Transverse abdomnus, rectus abdominus, hip flexors
Why it works: Like the bicycle, only this time more dynamic!
How to do it: On all fours, alternate one leg forward, one leg back. Fast!

Thoracic Extensions
What it works: Thoracic spine and erector spinae
Why it works: Prevents stiffness caused by prolonged positioning, reducing reliance on hips
How to do it: On your back with a tightly rolled towel between shoulder blades and waist.

Now that you are ready to be more aero, I have a great offer for you. For a limited time, my great friends at Scody have provided me a discount that I can share with you. All you need to do is use TIM2015 on the  checkout for a 10% discount on any made to order kits. Of course you should be buying mine, right? :)

Photo: R. Dobson

IM Melbourne – Great Result…But A Tough Day At The Office

KVKF-TVBbikeorange copy

Yesterday was an epic day in Melbourne. It’s funny in this triathlon game. Some days you go out to race and as hard and painful as it is, you feel good. Mentally, you’re in the zone and the race just flows. Sometimes though, it’s just a tough day at the office. And that’s certainly how things went down for me at IM Melbourne.

Here’s how the race for the Asia-Pacific Championship unfolded…


It was a nippy start down at the Frankston pier- about 12 degrees, but felt a little colder with the wind. Thank goodness the water temp in Port Phillip Bay is still up a bit.

I had a good start, stuck with the front group and didn’t let off, but started to sting pretty early on in the swim. Something wasn’t quite right with my back and that kept going all day. The back end of the swim was tough. As always, my aim was to stick with the front group in the swim, but we ended up in single file and pretty stretched out. I came in at 48:06.

Congrats to Marko Albert, who broke the course swim record by 4 seconds with a split of 45:18.


My back was very tight getting on the bike- I found it hard to stay on the saddle and I was 2:35 off the pace. I knew I had some serious work to do.

Nils (Nils Frommhold) and Luke Bell were out in front and the second group included Sticksy (Brad Kahlefeldt) and Marko. I was in the third chase group with Robbo and Cal (Peter Robertson and Callum Millward). The guys out front set a blistering pace. Conditions were great out on the Eastlink Motorway – Melbourne certainly delivered on the promise of a fast bike leg. When we hit the turnaround point and headed into Lap 2, Nils and Luke still had about 4 minutes on us.

I felt like we were losing time and by the 135km mark Nils and Luke Bell had a 9-minute lead – they were certainly cranking it out. When it got to 40km to go, my back was feeling alright, so I thought I’d just give it some stick and see how I felt. I was surprised when no one went with me.

I went hard and got off the bike at 05:15:23. Nils had come in at 05:04:36 with Luke not far behind. Now they had more than a 10-minute lead which I needed to reel in.


I was really hurting and it’s times like this that you realise 80% of triathlon is about the mental game. You don’t know how the guys in front are travelling, you just know that you need to keep going and persevere. And that can be tougher on a point-to-point course, like the one in Melbourne, because there are no turnarounds so often you can’t see who you’re chasing.

After 15km Nils still had 9:30 but at the17km mark I ran into 2nd place. After really pushing it, Luke Bell had imploded and was walking. I went past him with Sticksy on my tail and he had Jeffrey Symonds on his.

By 21km Nils was 6:30 ahead and I was starting to reel him in. Jeff and Sticksy were hanging in there behind me. At 25km, I just put the pedal down and by the 30km things started to get really interesting. The race was really on!

If you read my last post, you’ll know that I had a Plan B- if things got ugly at this stage of the race. I was going to drop in to Luke Bell’s place for a cold one (his street is right at the 30km marker). Let me tell you – that was a pretty attractive option, but it didn’t happen!

I was in 2nd place but I wasn’t exactly sure how far ahead Nils was. Then someone said he was just around the corner and sure enough, all of a sudden, there he was. I could see he was slowing and couldn’t hold the pace. By this stage, Sticksy had dropped off and now it was down to Jeff Symonds and I.

Over the line

I took the lead with 13km to go and then Jeff and I had a real ding-dong battle. All credit to him – he was running my legs off and I was in a world of pain. I ended up running my quickest marathon, but it wasn’t enough. Towards the end Jeff turned the screws and it was all over for me.

Obviously, I’m more than happy with a 2nd against a tough field and it’s a great step on the road to Kona. Congratulations to Jeff Symonds on a top effort and a great result.


Like I said, for me – it was a tough day at the office. But that’s triathlon – I’m glad I stuck it out. Ultimately, persistence builds mental strength – strength that you need to achieve any worthwhile goal. And the good thing is, I’m validated for Kona and I earned some extra points along the way.


As tough as it can be, slogging it out on the course, results like this don’t happen without support. So-

  • Thanks to the guys at Giant in Hampton for tuning up the beast – it’s a sweet ride!
  • As always, thanks to all my sponsors – I appreciate the fact that you’ve got my back and give me the freedom to do what I do.
  • To the IM Melbourne team – you ran a great event. I heard lots of good things about the coverage. Keep up the good work!
  • And as always, thanks to my coach Gilesy for the ‘gentle’ encouragement you provided along the way. Thanks mate!

And finally, special congratulations to everyone who made it through their first Ironman – you’re bloody champions, well done!

Photo: Korupt Vision