I thought it would be interesting to get a coach’s…
Get it right and it can be an athlete’s greatest…
I’ll be talking more about the importance of aero and…
Yesterday was an epic day in Melbourne. It’s funny in…
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!
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:
- Athlete self-awareness
- Optimal training environment
- Strong support system
- 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.
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.
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!
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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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!
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
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
Two more sleeps until Ironman Melbourne…
I was sitting in the press conference earlier today with literally some of the greatest athletes in Triathlon. It’s both humbling and exciting to be up there with these guys and girls. The women’s field for IM Melbourne is very, very strong, so watch out for an exciting and hard-fought race with some fast times going down.
When it comes to the men, I think it’s also going to be a big race. I’m going in there as the #2 seed, behind German Nils Frommhold. The last time I saw Nils on the course, I was in a world of pain! It was at Kona and I was working hard at holding it together in the last few kms of the run after having the stuffing kicked out of me going through the Energy Lab. Cramping badly, I watched Nils pass me to take 6th place in the 2014 IM World Championship.
Sitting next to me, in front of the Press was another legend of Triathlon, Luke Bell. This guy has had an epic career. After 14 years he’s still going like a steam train- it’s inspiring to see how he keeps on keeping on.
Overall, I feel that life is good! I’m happy to be here in Melbourne competing with these guys, plus some good up-and-comers. It’s going to be a great race- whatever the conditions turn out to be on the day… and that could be literally anything!
I’ve been working hard for this race. After Kona last year, IM Melbourne has been my main focus and I’ve certainly put in the hard yards over the last 6 weeks in particular. Mentally and physically I’m feeling well-prepared. I haven’t had any issues with sickness or injury, so I’m raring to go this weekend.
It’s been a while since I’ve had an IM win and I’m hungry to get on that podium. And I’d love to do it here in Melbourne. The hard work’s done, I’m fully prepared and on Sunday morning the plan is not to over-think, but just to stay loose, let things flow, give it my best shot and have fun. And I guess, worst case scenario… Luke Bell’s place is at the 30km mark of the run. If things get too tough, I can always stop in there for a cold, refreshing brew on the way through!
Good luck to everyone competing in Melbourne. See you at the finish line!
I packed my mountain bike as part of my trip to Crackenback and Specialized Team Camp, as the local cross country trails are superb and great condition to learn from. It was a spontaneous decision to register. With our Camp schedule including available time for training & resort activities on Saturday, racing is one of the best training sessions you can get so I was in! :-)
- Stage 1: Time Trial – 5.5km time trial lap, Crackenback Resort (Saturday)
- Stage 2: Thredbo Summit Smash – a 21.5km ascent from Lake Crackenback to Thredbo Resort including the Thredbo Peak Party at the top! (Saturday)
- Stage 3: The Descender – a 24km descent from Thredbo Resort to Lake Crackenback (Saturday)
- Stage 4: The Marathon – a 75km XC MTB Marathon including 5 x 15km loops of Crackenback Resort (Sunday)
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"Specialized Australia took their locally sponsored riders to Lake Crackenback Resort, NSW for the 2015 team camp. The cross-country, downhill and enduro mountain bike athletes joined the triathlon team for three days of riding, photo shoots and talking about product with Specialized..."
It was a great privilege to work with Sean Anderson - Photographer/Cinematographer (www.seanandersonfilms.com) and Tim Bardsley-Smith (www.tbsphotography.com.au), who did an exceptional job of capturing all the action throughout the camp. The Snowy Mountains of NSW offers some of the best trail and road cycling within Australia!
Sharing the weekend with an elite group of Specialized sponsored athletes I found invaluable in terms of learning more about the logistics, training and race dynamics of their respective sports. An awesome team of inspiring athletes, wishing everyone a fantastic 2015 seasons ahead. A huge thanks to Emily Smith and Patty Young from Specialized Australia for such an awesome camp. Definitely one of the highlights of my cycling and triathlon career :-)
Bec's S-Works Shiv
Bec's S-Works Amira
A couple of weeks ago, I was back on home turf, running and riding around Port Macquarie with my old mate Robbo. And I had one thing on my mind – Ironman Melbourne.
IM Melbourne is definitely on my list of challenges to conquer and it’s really my first serious race since Kona last year. I’ve been working hard over the last couple of months, both physically and mentally, to get prepared for it. And it’s a great course- a single lap for the swim, two laps for the bike on a freeway and then the run leg takes us all the way up Beach Rd from Frankston to St Kilda.
Pushing it in Port
Training has been going well. Down in Port, Robbo and I put in some solid days on the bike- in fact, that was really our focus for the week, getting some kms into our legs in preparation for the Melbourne course on March 22nd. Had a couple of great days (180km one day, 212km another) going over some of my old training rides and hitting some of the hills out the back of Port Macquarie. Great for building power and aerobic capacity and all good practice for Melbourne.
The IM Melbourne bike leg runs along the Eastlink freeway, which they close off for the day. It’s probably one of the best surfaces we get to ride on in IM competition and it’s certainly flat and fast. A good bike split is going to be critical for success in Melbourne.
Prepared for anything
Last time I was in Melbourne, earlier this year, the weather was brutal! Very choppy swim conditions, then sidewinds and rain for the rest of the race. We even had athletes pulling out with hypothermia! But that’s Melbourne for you – you never know quite what you’re going to get and often it’s four seasons in one day. You’ve got to be prepared for anything and everything.
And I think that’s the key – preparation. My aim when I race is to be able to stay present in the moment – being in the zone or in a state of ‘flow’, whatever you want to call it. The more prepared I am, the easier it is to get into that state and the less distracted I am by other stuff.
It’s about physical preparation- knowing that I’ve done the hard work, but it’s also about the practical stuff – nutrition, hydration, confidence in my gear, etc. Get the nuts and bolts stuff sorted and then it’s easier to focus on the mental game, which is where races are won. Before a race, I work on staying relaxed and loose, so that I can take that into the water with me.
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Good luck to everyone competing in Melbourne. I’ll see you at the finish!
I’ve been racing for a few years now (that makes me wise… not old!) and the more you race, in all kinds of conditions, the more you understand what really works for you. That applies to training programs, race tactics and especially to gear.
For example, the ideal triathlon race suit is high-tech, incorporates state-of-the-art fabrics and is designed by the best brains in the business using the latest research. It looks cool and keeps you cool, protects you from the sun, cuts drag and helps you to perform at your best. Ideally, it’s like a second skin – it’s so comfortable, you don’t even notice it’s there.
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Scody triathlon race suits. My relationship with Scody goes back a long way. Like their race suits, Scody exists on the cutting edge – of technology, of expertise and of innovation. And that’s allowed me to keep pushing the envelope of performance – competing comfortably and confidently in my custom Optimise A.I.R. Triathlon race suit. It looks good, feels good and gives me the freedom I need to do what I do.
The only difference between Scody and their race suits? Sometimes I forget the race suit is there… but Scody – I’m always aware that they’re in my corner. I’ve appreciated their support in the past and so I’m really excited today to be announcing their continuing sponsorship into the future. Thanks guys!
You may remember, last November, that I was very excited to announce that I’d re-signed with Giant for at least another two years. I had a chuckle when Kelly Minahan (on Facebook) thought that I’d ‘resigned’ not ‘re-signed’. Two very different things! Relax, Kelly, it’s all good!
I’m proud to be associated with Giant, so I was even more excited recently when they sent through a draft of their Press Release. I’ll let you read it for yourself…
Awesome stuff! In response, I just want to say a public thank you to the team at Giant. Thanks for your continuing support, not to mention the promotion – moving up to global athlete status sounds impressive!
Seriously though, I’m loving the Giant Trinity Advanced SL and I’ve got no hesitation in recommending Giant gear to anyone who is serious about riding the best – you guys are at the cutting-edge. And I know you’re always working hard to stay ahead of the game- doing your best for all your riders, sponsored or not.
I look forward to working with the Giant engineers and designers to see what we can come up with in the future. I know there are already some cool things in the pipeline. Exciting times!
So, go hard… and ride Giant.