Lessons from a pro - Laura Siddall
“I do a Bugs Bunny face during a race.” Perhaps not quite the answer you’d expect to a question about how to say focused during a nine hour triathlon.
But then you might not expect a professional triathlete who spends most of her year training, living and racing abroad to drive across the Pennines to spend an evening with a bunch of Lycra-clad enthusiasts in Cheshire, when she has to catch an 0830 flight out of Stansted the next day.
That probably sums up Laura Siddall rather well. Despite living life at 111mph, she is ridiculously generous with her time. She’s also a real people person and loves sharing her passion for triathlon with others. Her tale of Bugs Bunny faces was just one little nugget from a treasure trove of tips, anecdotes and advice that she shared during a recent visit to Knutsford triathlon club.
The groans and giggles around me during her Pilates for Sport session highlighted the attention to detail that marks professional and age group athletes apart. A few people in the room probably hadn’t located their core for a while…!
When time is such an issue, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that swim-bike and run are the only things that matter when it comes to triathlon training.
But that will only get you so far and it was clear from Laura’s Q and A session that the additional work like Pilates, strength and conditioning, training the brain, working on a nutrition strategy and nailing your pre-race routine can also go a long way to improving performance.
With that in mind, here are some lessons from a Pro:
You probably won’t sleep, so relax
“It’s actually the night after a race that I find more of a struggle. The night before a race, you might get some sleep but it won’t be great sleep! On the whole I don’t really sleep, but I know that now, and I know there isn’t much I can do about it the night before a race. So now, in the 1-2 weeks before a race I will try to get more sleep. If you are struggling to sleep, don’t start looking at your phone, try relaxing music.”
Train the brain
“You train your muscles physically and the brain needs to be trained too. I’ve been trying to work at mindfulness recently and I try to use it daily. I use an app called Headspace.
“In a race, mindfulness is related to being in the zone, being present in the moment with what you are doing in that time. When I think about being in the present, I’m asking myself “What’s my cadence? How will I ride this next bit? Am I standing tall? Are my shoulders relaxed?” These are the sort of thoughts that bring me back and stop me thinking “Where’s the next aid station? “Oh sh*t! That hill is a mountain…” etc...
“I consciously tried to smile during my last race because it brings you back to being in the present. It’s a way of taking you out of the seriousness and disrupt yourself. I also pulled Bugs Bunny faces and I’ve also tried making weird grunting noises!”
Everything in moderation*
*except chocolate, obvs.
“I’ve started to work with a nutritionist this year, but everything in moderation is my rule. I don’t take any supplements and I don’t do high fat low carb which I think is very individual to each person.
“My nutritionist has brought in a few changes, to make sure I have enough calories for training sessions, especially later in the day. Breakfast used to be toast and almond butter I now do overnight oats.
For lunch, I was doing poached eggs and tuna, salad on rice crackers but I’d now do eggs, tuna and salad but in a wrap. Previously I’d have a coffee to get me through an afternoon swim session, but now I might have a smoothie or chia pudding (chia seeds and milk and fruit/vanilla essence)
“I have chocolate before a race. I try to have chocolate from the country I am in, but I am a real sucker for Dairy Milk giant chocolate buttons. In fact, half of my carry-on bag back to New Zealand will be chocolate buttons!”
Don’t throw coke over your head!
“I take gels every 20 minutes during my races, but it’s important to do what works for you. I start caffeine gels 2/3 of the way through the bike and on the run I mostly use caffeine gels but I also grab coke. Coke is really good for an instant sugar and caffeine hit, but just make sure it’s water, not coke that you are throwing on your head to cool you down!
“I used to limit caffeine in the run up to race week. But I don’t really bother anymore because I find I get benefits regardless.”
Race day routine is key
“On race morning I’ll take an A4 piece of paper folded into halves. On one bit, I’ll have timings for the morning e.g. 4am get up, 4.15 have breakfast etc... On the other side is a checklist for transition.
“On the inside of the sheet of paper, the night before the race I write positive affirmations. Maybe phrases, positive words, people I want to think about. In full distance races, I also write phrases and names I want to think about all over one of my water bottles to bring me into the present.
“I always wear the same visor and the same morning race clothes. In fact my hair is always the same and I’m going to come over as a real weirdo now, but I always put my hair into plaits in yellow and blue hair bands! I guess it’s about routine and removing the stress and panic.”
Use your hamstrings!
Often when we are pedalling we have a dead spot because most a lot of people only cycle with their quads and forget about using their hamstrings and glutes. You really want to get full engagement across the whole pedal stroke, so if you are just cycling using the down stroke, think about pulling up from the back. To practice this, you can do low cadence specific work in a hard gear. Just be careful about your muscles hurting at the beginning!
Don’t be sucked in by the numbers
“In training I use power, heart hate and cadence, but there are still days when I might not hit a particular number and other days when I go over the number, but if I’m feeling good I’ll go with it.
“When it comes to numbers, a power meter in a race can actually cause issues, so it’s good to be able to race on feel too. I will have rough guidance of numbers and I might keep half an eye on the power meter and heart rate but it’s not how many numbers you can push it’s how you use those numbers over the race course to get you to the finish.
“A good way of learning more about feel is to tape up your power meter during a race or for the first few times you use it, because the data is still useful afterwards.”
Use your race schedule wisely
“Although I race a lot, I still use some races to test certain things out. Even though it’s really hard to turn up to a race knowing you might not be there to win, you have to be confident knowing why you are doing it. So maybe it’s about finding some local races to test out a new strategy or new piece of equipment, rather than your A race.”