Sport psychology task – How many words?

I was asked a question the other day by one of my Sport and Exercise Science students… “How many words describe triathlon?”

This one a great question, and a somewhat mind journey of an answer too. It is in fact an exercise i did with a sport psychologist many years ago. So, here is my take on it with triathlons. Yet having thought about all the words in my list below, the final one stuck in my head.

Triathlon… Swimming, cycling, running, competing, training, eating, fasting, avoiding sugar, avoiding fat, weighing scales, bike, carbon frame, deep section wheels, disc wheel, aero, helmets, tri suit, chamois, technique, body roll, kick board, 50 m sprints, hills, intervals, drills, goggles, wetsuit, open water swimming, Long runs, protein, beetroot juice, creatine, vitamin D, triathlon cycling shoes, running shoes, elastic laces, mid foot strike, strength and conditioning, Core stability, sweating, breathing, bilateral breathing, the catch, pull bouy, shaved legs, cycling tan, brick sessions, early mornings, hydration, 30 minute window, saddle sores, electrolytes, watt bike, sacrifice, pain, crying, winter, blisters, muck off, sunglasses, race belt, sprint, suncream, chamois cream, baby oil, paddle, flippers, grit, toughness, injury, motivation, Cold baths, flexibility sessions, top 10, winning, 5th place.

5th place. It was only when I really thought about it that I recalled having achieved a lot of 5th places. In fact my last four races have been 5th places and that is something I need to crack. However I don’t think I would’ve focused on this as much if I hadn’t done the little exercise above. Now i will be aiming for 4th.

So I encourage you to make your own list and see which things come up for you. 

One last thought I will give you to go away with touches on one of the words above, and that is motivation. The one thing that always comes into my head when thinking about motivation to go out on my bike or complete the last two intervals in the pool is this; 

“You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for”


The end of getting faster?

Year on year we hear about athletes breaking new records beyond what was once thought as being humanly impossible. But will there be a day where we can no longer improve our physical abilities?

A recent presentation by David Epstein (TED) brought together a number of intriguing historical statistics up against our more recent achievements. He explains that over the last 108 years the winner of the Olympic marathon has become an hour and 20 minutes faster. This is similar with the likes of Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint.  The record time of Owens was 10.2 seconds compared to Bolt’s 9.58 seconds. That shows a clear increase in speed, strength and power, yet it is not all down to the thought that we are naturally getting better at what we do. Epstein explains that in both of these running events, previous athletes ran on the cinders of burnt wood which would have made a huge difference to the grip an athlete has under the foot. Compared to the synthetics of todays running tracks. Also the use of lighter and stiffer running shoes help the athlete to generate a more efficient running technique.

There are other things that come into play that may help us understand why we are getting faster in certain sports. For example, many youngsters in primary schools have the chance to compete in many different sports. By the time these youngsters reach high school they could well be training in a professional fashion, that is, eating correctly, training correctly, and using the best equipment. So to some it is no wonder that these increases in ability have come about.

The second point that Epstein makes highlights the selection process, or suitability, of athletes in particular sports. Activities such as basketball, sprint cycling, swimming, and horse riding are just a few sports that require specific physiological body shapes. In his own words “the large got larger, and the small got smaller”. All in all to suit a particular sport.

In a sports such as cycling and the Tour de France there are many different shapes and sizes. Some explanation for this is dependent on the type of rider that the cyclist is. For example, they could either be an exceptional climber, time trailer, or sprinter, or maybe even good at all 3 (more commonly known as a domestic rider or domestique). And this will depend predominantly on the type of leg muscles they have.

All shapes and sizes

This may also be the case in triathlons as there are three different disciplines to master (swimming, cycling, and running). Not only this, there are a variety of different distances that a triathlete may focus on. From my own experience, anything from Sprint up to Olympic distance triathletes share a similar body shape. That being very slim and lean, with a low body fat percentage. Nevertheless, the height of such triathletes tends to differ greatly and may not have that much of an impact on performance. Yet the geometry of triathletes at these distances show similarities, for example, arm and leg length in proportion to the rest of the body.

However, many of the Ironman athletes show a slightly different physique despite having the same three disciplines. As with most endurance events one of the key things to consider is power vs weight. The lighter the athlete, the better they can perform at a certain power output. So having done a little bit of research and looked at the top 10 finishers in different ironman races my conclusion was this: Top Ironman triathletes generally hold a lean body shape and tend to be 6 foot and under. They also show signs of increased upper body muscle mass in the shoulders and biceps to possibly suit the length of the Ironman swim (usually 3.9km). In general they tend to hold a slightly stockier build to that of a Sprint or Olympic distance triathlete. Although, further scientific research may uncover something more surprising.

Pete Jacobs 179cm (5’9″)

So with Epstein’s  two points of improvements in technology and the improvements in selection and suitability, my question still stands. What would happen when technology is unable to improve sport any further? Is it the simple possibility that technology is the sole influence in the improvement of our athletes? And when technological improvements stop, will our athletes continue to strive to become faster, higher and stronger?

The impact of having athletes that are faster, fitter and stronger is what captivates the public. The possibility of a new humanly impossible record. What if that were no longer???

Winter Blues Will Make You Lose

What an incredibly demoralising January its been. Dark mornings and dark nights, raining nearly all day and everyday. Not a nice month for training at all! 

There is a huge ‘mind over matter’ battle that continues to break down our will power, and all of a sudden wanting to train 5 days a week turns in to ‘well, I did a bit of a run last Wednesday’. This is when we can turn to indoor training, and as far as cycling goes, this part of the year is all about speed, strength and power. 

It is best to think about cycling training as decorating. Stay with me… You need to sand down the wall, apply the under coat, then maybe another under coat, then you put on the nice colour you wanted. With cycling it is a case of starting the winter training around October/November and simply riding really easy. Then you can start to build a good mileage base, long boring hours on the road in the dark. Once you have this, you can apply the good stuff you wanted like speed, strength and power.

Ideally we would prefer to be out on the roads, but if the weather is against you and you can’t bring yourself to putting all that kit on…. then here are a few good indoor sessions under 45 mins that will help you get to where you want to be.

Strength: This is all about keep a hard resistance but a low cadence around 60-70rpm (using a metronome on your smartphone will help with your cadence). The speed of your legs should be slow but should be able to sustain a high level of tension in the muscle throughout the revolutions. After a warm up of 10 minutes that includes two 30 second bursts of high resistance and low cadence, incorporate the following:

– 2 sets of (5 x 1 min @ 60rpm – high resistance – 1 min easy spin) 3 mins recovery between sets

– 3 x 2 mins @ 70 rpm – high resistance – 1 min easy spin. 3 minutes recovery. 3 x 2 mins 60 rpm – high resistance – 1 min easy spin

– 4 x 4 mins (1st 60rpm, 2nd at 65, 3rd at 70, 4th at 75) Alter the resistance to suit that cadence. (2 mins recovery between intervals)

Speed: A big area to work on is leg speed. We are looking for the opposite of strength here, so a very low resistance and a very big cadence ranging from 110-150rpm. You need to focus on making the legs spin as fast a possible without any body or hip shifting on the saddle. Stay in control. Again, after a 10 minute warm up that includes two 30 second bursts, but this time make them at a low resistance and a cadence of 120rpm. (Get that metronome out again)

– 6 x 1:30 mins at 110rpm (1 mins easy spins between intervals)

– 2 sets (1st, 3 x 1 min at 120rpm with 1 min easy – 2nd, 4 x 30 sec at 130 with 1 min easy spin)

– 3 sets (1st, 4 x 1 min at 110rpm with 1 min easy – 2nd, 4 x 6 sec at 150rpm with 1 min easy – 3rd, 3 x 1 at 120rpm then go at 150rpm for the last 6 secs with 1 min easy between intervals)

Power: Here we combine strength and speed and create power. The ability to hold solid tension in the muscle but with a good leg speed for a longer duration. Some timetriallers have been known to race with a cadence of 90 or below, others prefer to race at 95+, it really is each to their own. After a 10 min warm up that holds two 1 minute bursts with a good resistance at 95rpm. For these intervals it is best to go with your most natural cadence. Your effort should be just enough to last each interval, too hard or fast and you won’t complete the set, so pace your effort accordingly.

– 5 x 3 minutes working at 8/10 effort – 2 mins recovery

– 4 x 5 minutes working at 8/10 effort – 2 mins recovery

– 3 x 8 minutes working at 8/10 effort – 3 mins recovery

– 2 x 10 minutes working at 7/10 effort – 3 mins recovery


All the above sessions are sessions that I have used in my time as a race cyclist, and, as your training program progresses, you can simply adapt and add an interval, or make the intervals longer, or make the rest periods shorter. Only up the progression to suit your fitness gains, and only progress a little at a time.

It is a long way until summer so make sure you don’t peak to soon.

Is porridge wheat free?

Winter training is due to kick off soon, so who’s thinking about going all ‘Bradley Wiggins’ by being wheat free?

According to his book ‘My Time’ he went wheat free for a few weeks. Having done this myself, without a £50k a year nutritionist, proved to be difficult considering the majority of our food contains wheat of some sort. Do you know why ketchup is nice and thick and gloopy?…wheat! Same goes for the soy sauce that you had on all those Chinese dishes. Even your cereal has wheat. It is hard to find wheat free alternatives, but they are out there, and possibly already in your cupboards.

Thankfully, there are websites to help. Such as who give some good ideas about alternatives to use in your cooking to avoid eating wheat.

But…..and it is a big but…….why bother going wheat free?
To put it simply, it keeps you insulin levels low which in turn helps you to burn fat better. High insulin occurs when foods such as carbs are turn to sugar in the body, this sugar is really good at slowing our fat metabolism down. Wheat, is in Essenes a carbohydrate and ends up increasing insulin levels. Avoiding wheat products help you to get of the puppy fat and water that you retain around the love handles and other areas.

So what’s for breakfast?

Helen from says……..Porridge!

Yes, seriously. While porridge oats have never traditionally had a sexy image, they are now the hottest thing on the breakfast block.

And what is the absolutely great thing about oats? they’re wheat free! Wheat free and low on the glycaemic index (GI), they release energy slowly with the complex carbs in them helping to balance blood sugar levels, avoiding the blood sugar highs and lows experienced when eating sugary cereals or many wheat free/gluten free breads for breakfast. On top of this they are low in calories and fat, so with oats ticking all the nutrition boxes it’s no wonder they’ve become fashionable, and seen in all the best eating places. Eat your oats and you’ll feel full for longer, snack less, and help your heart.

Studies have shown that oats can lower cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure, and are high in fibre, something often missing on a wheat free diet.

Evidently oats are now Britain’s second favourite breakfast cereal with Sainsbury’s reporting a 60% increase in oat sales in the last six months. But with wheat free eaters they are certainly number 1, providing a filling, nutritious meal at any time of the day.

And it doesn’t just stop at porridge, oats have had a makeover and now appear in many different forms, for example the stem ginger, mixed berry and fruit spice biscuits brought out by Nairns (see review).

So the next time you are looking for a wheat free, hot, filling, nutritious, low calorie and low fat breakfast look no further than porridge, it’s got everything you need to keep you going.


Spinal Surgery and Happy Juice

I arrived on time at the hospital, both physically and mentally prepared to have my lower back operated on. It is a pretty daunting feeling to know you’re having spinal surgery, and to be honest, I have been playing it down as not a big deal. In fact it was my dear friend, and physiotherapist, who helped this plight truly settle in. I thought of it as a back operation, but it was only when she said ‘Grant! your having spinal surgery, its a big deal’. Despite this, those going to have spinal surgery still need to walk the full length of the bloody hospital to be admitted. The architect for that place has obviously never been injured.

photo 2

Sitting down in my designated bed area, I’m the only one in there. Yet all the nurses get on with their daily activities and duties. Like re-stocking the bucket with crutches, I might need them later. A few more people arrive and sit down, all with similar internal emotional content as myself. Its probably not that obvious to see in someone unless you know that you are also in the same frame of mind. Now, I noticed that I had the biggest bed in the ward so I was pretty smug with myself, but deep down I know its because of the operation I am due to have. That smugness quickly starts to turn to that ‘oh shit’ feeling.

Now that most of the patients have arrived, all the nurses begin to fill the room. First I get my blood pressure, temperature, and heart rate taken, and then another nurse asks me, at 31 years old, if I am wearing dentures. I found that a little bit offensive but I didn’t really want to make an awkward moment of it so I managed to let that one pass. Still, it was a bit embarrassing when she noticed I had put my hospital gown on the wrong way. I quickly sorted that out, but the next thing that someone having spinal surgery should be aware of is that you will be asked to wear stockings. I was the only in for spinal surgery. Everyone else around me were having injections or epidurals. The guy next to me was having his coccyx manipulated, he might find it hard going to the toilet for at least a few weeks.

One thing I did realize in this particular hospital is that people talk loud. Two nurses can be stood next to each other, and have no need to shout, but seem to continue telling everyone on the ward that they are having chips and egg for tea. I also had to listen to a nurse give a story for every item that was in her fridge. Don’t get me wrong these nurses’ are amazing people for what they do, but it’s safe to say that they are a little bit nutty. Except the anesthetist. She was a very straight talking indian woman, who, if she enjoyed her job, she certainly didn’t show it. And I’m not sure if this is irony or not, but she also a had a cold. But then everything stops for a moment, because the surgeons arrive. They are like rock start to the nurses. Three or four nurses around each one. Following and listening and writing. They maybe rock stars to the nurses, but all I can think about is ‘this guy  best not screw my back up’.

photo 3

I had said to people who I work with that I’m not too worried about the general anesthetic, but this surgeon guy is going to be playing with my spinal cord, and it’s that which had me worried deep down. What did strike me was the fact that surgeons wear white wellies. Well I think they should be white, because one guy clearly hadn’t cleaned the blood stains off of his. Hmmm comforting… They all eventually leave the ward to go and sign autographs for the nurses or something, which leaves all the people just waiting to be called to have their operations and injections. It was only men in that particular ward, and when men wear hospital gowns, especially the elderly men, they seem to be comfortable with letting  it all hang out. I immediately had a sudden urge to go and get my operation done. Luckily I only had to wait an hour, which I spent with Bradley Wiggins’ book. I get marched to what can only be described as a ‘holding room’ where they put you under general anesthetic, and I’m pretty sure the anesthetist shouldn’t be calling it ‘happy juice’.

It wasn’t bloody happy juice. When I woke after surgery I felt horrible. The physio had me up on my feet after an hour and within 20 seconds I was ready to be sick. So, I lead back down into the position I felt most comfortable. The nurse then tells me I could go home, which was great news considering I was expecting to be held in for a night. The second I got home, I was sick. My body does not agree with Morphine. That lady with the cold can keep her happy juice, I’l be fine without it, but I’m keeping my stockings.

Anyway, all done now, here’s to 12 weeks rest!

photo 4

Bolton IronMan 2013


Today marked the 5th year that the IronMan has come to Bolton in Lancashire. This year came with some spectacular athletes as everyone could fight for age group qualifying slots to represent their own country at the world championships in Kona Hawaii.

The race started at Pennington Flash near Leigh where athletes completed a 2.4 mile swim circuit. Next, the 112 mile bike course took in some of Lancashire’s greatest scenery over Rivington and Belmont. Riding over Belmont provides a challenging climb which needs to completed 3 times before the riders dismount to take on a full marathon. The 26.2 mile run course goes from Horwich into Bolton town centre, where athletes are cheered on and congratulated by hundreds of spectators. Around the closed roads of the 140.4 mile race circuit, an organiser at a feed station estimated that a good few thousand people were out and about to see these crazy psycho’s athletes race, many of which will be spectating for around 17 hours.


I went over to the Euxton railway bridge to catch a glimpse of a few members of my triathlon team who had entered. I had never expected so many people and so much positivity and encouragement. Spectators were shouting, ringing bells, blowing horns and clapping every rider that passed. Just off the road was a number of food stales and music vans to keep the spectators motivated and full of energy. By the time I arrived the racers were already on their second lap of the bike route. Some riders looked better than others, many riders were keeping inside their own zones, and others appeared as though they were about to collapse.


Having seen the athletes come around the sweeping right turn I got to thinking ‘I could do this’. I think anyone could do it with the right training and some entry level equipment. There is probably only 20% of athletes who would place themselves in the competitor/elite category  whereas the other 80% are simply aiming to finish. Even though I have had a little success in the shorter distances of triathlons, the IronMan distance is something I would be happy just to finish. However, having thought about it in more detail, racing for 10, 11, 12 hours is not something that attracts me too much. The one thing that these IronMan athletes will always have over me is that phrase in a conversation…’I have done an IronMan’. That phrase is probably the only reason I would like to complete one.

All in all, it was such a buzz to see so many different types of people taking part in this race, and for that, I am inspired. And, as I type this blog, I am thinking of those people who are now on the running course, because it has just starting raining.

Maybe i’ll do this in a year or two, when i’m more of a crazy psycho.

Faster NHS for sporting general population

Right now I’m sat outside a hospital with a feeling of slight elation. I have always had a problem with hospitals and doctors. Although the staff are always first class, highly qualified and usually will bend over backwards to help. The one thing that restricts them immensely is the system that they have to abide to.

I’m here, sat outside the hospital due to a number of frustrating events that are due to a frustrating NHS system. Maybe we aren’t paying enough national insurance, or maybe the guys at the very top are working just for their pay cheque, I’m not sure. But I bet the decision makers of the NHS on £100k+ wouldn’t be as caring and considerate as the ground troops on £20k.

I have had nerve pain in my lower back after doing some cross training by playing a bit if football. I don’t recall hurting my back during the session, but the next morning I was in agony. Having pleaded to be squeezed in to see my doctor, I was referred to see a specialist. Instead someone thought I should see a physio first. A bit of a time wasting and money saving tactic I’m sure. So I call the doctor, who says to call the hospital, who says to call a guy in appointments, who says to call the physiotherapy department. Only to find out there’s nothing on my file about it. So, I call the doctors, who then realise the problem and referred me a second time to see a specialist. The doctors explained how the system is a pain because what one doctor asks for is usually not what the next doctor thinks is the problem. Anyway, I get a call from the specialist who says the next appointment is in September. WHAT! I’ve had 3 weeks if this pain already, so yeah, I’m happy to hold out for another 2 months. NOT A CHANCE! NIT GIOD ENOUGH! Then I get a call from a different hospital saying ‘we want you next Friday and we will scan you on the day if the doctor thinks its needed’. That’s what I want to hear. The biggest frustration of all is that my own personal physio told me what the problem was 3 weeks ago.

Thankfully the sun is out while I write this outside the hospital reception. Being a sports person who competes and trains and works hard, the last thing I want is to spend time out of training and competing. I can swim and ride, but running is tough to do until j get my back fixed. Q

My questions are simple:

1. If we are sports people, why are we put into the same system as older people who have back ache for the last 15 years because of old age. That’s no disrespect to the older generation, but I would like to compete in my sports for another 20 years yet. Can we not devise a system to help athletes and the sporting population get faster care. If pay a bit extra for that.
2. Secondly, if I go to A&E with back pain that is really hurting, why does the drunk guy with a cut on his arm get seen before me. I hurt my back trying to improve my health and fitness. Whereas he cut his arm because he is wasted and started fighting which tends to lower the perception of our community. Please, see the difference is who is being a better human being.
3. Also, why are private health care packages so expensive. A company wanted £80 a month from me because of my sport and the level I competed at at the time. And, if I paid my private health care, would I be able to pay less national insurance because I’m not using the NHS as much.
4. And lastly, what if national insurance went up to meet the level of private health care insurance, do we think the NHS would be faster at seeing people.

I haven’t scan in 10 minutes, I’m just happy I can finally get this sorted.