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Jonny Davies Interview

For the forth interview I catch up with Jonny Davies, another university friend of mine. Jonny has had a quite a sporting career which started at school in his native Northern Ireland. After which Jonny attended university in London, and has since turned his hand to endurance events. Starting with triathlons and marathons, progressing to ultra marathons and ultimately an Arctic-ultra marathon. Jonny is a trained paramedic and has also started a company offering medical support for endurance events; some of you may have seen him at events, (not too closely I hope). His newest addition to the business is to offer physiological testing focusing on the cardiovascular system and the effects of exercise. Jonny is also the founder and race director of the White Bear Triathlon, staged in his hometown in Northern Ireland, a great race check it out.

Max Curle: Firstly, give us a brief history of your sporting involvements and how that led you on to your decision to take part in an Arctic Ultra Marathon?

Jonny Davies: I always had an interest in sport primarily athletics and basketball during my teenage years. Sadly I didn’t really push myself hard enough and opted for the nights out clubbing and social life that led me in to managing bars and nightclubs…not all bad.

I decided to run a marathon for charity when my auntie passed away after a battle with Cancer, then decided an ultramarathon would be a good idea. I saw the 6633 Arctic Ultra advertised as one of the toughest races out there and decided to give it a go. In training I completed a few marathons, ultramarathons and Extreme Triathlons as prep.

MC: When signing up for the AM what were your biggest concerns?

JD: My biggest concern was injury that prevented me from carrying on. I read a lot about failed attempts by some very experienced athletes due to injury and poor admin in cold conditions. The thought of failure played heavily on my mind especially with the level of charity sponsorship I was hoping to get.

MC: You are a fit guy, you had run marathons, completed in mountaineering events, triathlons etc, but came to me about a year out from your UM asking for help and advice on the appropriate strength training and the nutritional demands of the event, what were you expecting and how did advice I give help you in your training and during the event itself?

JD: What I expected was what I got. A straightforward approach from Max to ensure I was training the right muscles for the job. I had to pull a sled for 352 miles and wanted to ensure my body was ready for that both physically and mentally. Nutrition has always been my nemesis and still is to a degree. Lets call that a work in progress but Max’s advice around the nutrition plan in the Artic was bang on.

MC: Can you give us a run down of a typical day during event and what were the biggest challenges you faced on a day-to-day base?

JD: The 6633 is a point-to-point ultra, with checkpoints every 50 miles. Good admin was key, however I knew I was going to be learning a huge amount during the event. Obviously it’s hard to train for -25 conditions whilst living in the UK. Every day on the event was very different and went from a physical task to sleep deprivation that fed the huge mental task that lay ahead. I literally walked, stopped for tea, ate and carried on walking with approx 3 hours sleep or less per day. My feet where in a terrible state and my ankle was very swollen…believe me I was happy to finish

MC: You went back the year after to offer medical support for the race, what were the main differences, experiencing the race from the other side?

JD: I decided to return as a medical adviser the year later and every year since. I have learnt a huge amount from the other athletes and how they manage themselves. Some great ideas and some really ill advised ones but I take my hat off to anyone who takes on that challenge. Just getting to the start line is an achievement.

MC: Maybe taking inspiration from this experience, you decided to host your own Triathlon in Northern Ireland, (you have just hosted your 2nd annual race) explain to us how this came to being in the first place?

JD: Well my time managing nightclub events etc wasn’t wasted. I was so lucky to have been brought up in Northern Ireland and I wanted to showcase the local area. I wanted to raise funds to purchase disabled adults sporting equipment at my sister’s school and decided the best way to do that was by setting up the White Bear Triathlon. Since then we have set up a number of races and hopefully they will continue to grow. One thing our events have common is the beautiful locations we have chosen…beautiful and Hilly 😉

MC: What challenges have been presented to you during the process and how have you overcome them?

JD: Financial and local authority challenges whilst trying to deliver a great safe race. It’s a tough market to be involved in and continues to present challenges.

MC: In recent years there have been reports and suggestions of amateur endurance athletes using illegal methods to gain an unfair advantage, be it by using drugs, illegal equipment or even just cheating. In your various roles of participant, medic, race organiser have you seen any athlete using methods that are considered illegal?

JD: Drafting during triathlon events has become a common concern that I hear about time and time again however difficult to prove. Kit and water dumping is something I look out for during ultramarathons especially in differing climates.

Some athletes decide to get rid of safety kit to drop carrying weight and end up suffering the effects of Hypothermia and Hyperthermia. Thankfully the use of banned substances is not something I have knowingly come across.

MC: What single improvement would you make to endurance events, if you could?

JD: I am biased; ensuring excellent highly skilled medical cover is present at the event. I would also promote the use of exercise testing or wellness checks for athletes of all levels. The body is a fantastic engine but it needs to be checked over regularly.

MC: What are your individual goals for the next 12 months?

JD: I plan to swim Lake Annecy in June, then cycle to London and finishing with a Run to Rutland. I also plan to run from Chepstow to Prestatyn along the Offas Dyke trail.

Ed Barry Interview

In the third of my interviews I chat to Ed Barry, Ed’s career has seen him involved in 3 sports at an Elite Level. He played Junior Basketball at the highest level; he then rowed for Leander Club, Henley-upon-Thames and is now working for the Georgian National Rugby team, in their Medical department.

Ed and I have known each other since our first day of our under graduate degree, and have been very close friends since.

In this interview Ed gives us a detailed look at the workings of Elite Sport in a country where facilities and funding isn’t as prevalent as in some of the bigger Rugby nations and the challenges that go with it.

A great read, thank you Ed.

Max Curle: You and I have known each other since the first day of University, briefly explain how you ended up in Tbilisi and the steps you took to get there?

Ed Barry: When I chose to study Sports Science, I knew I wanted to be involved in sport but I didn’t really know in which capacity. The Sports Science roles then were very different to what are available now. After graduation, Sports Science was a great foundation leading me into Strength & Conditioning, which I worked on while I was rowing on a full-time rowing programme in Henley. While rowing I really became interested in the rehab / treatment side of sport science / medicine and came to consider what I would do post rowing.

In 2009 I began a part-time combined BSc/MSc in Osteopathy and during my first year of study I work shadowed the High Performance Manager for Wales rugby while Wales was preparing for their Six Nations test against France. This experience led me to Harlequins RFU where I was an S&C intern for the 2010/11 season. I continued to be involved with Harlequins on a part-time basis, initially with the S&C team and then working more alongside their medical team over the next two and a half seasons.

During the second half of my final year of study I had to stop my involvement with rugby to focus on my research and final exams. There was a lot of uncertainty as to what I would do post exams however while preparing for my finals I was approached by a World Rugby consultant, who was putting together a plan for Georgia’s 2015 Rugby World Cup, about a possible role in Tbilisi.

Following a couple of interviews I accepted a full time position with Georgia to set up their medical department for their rugby academy.

I made the move to Tbilisi in November 2014 and was fortunate enough to go to the World Cup with Georgia as part of their medical team.

MC: What has been the biggest challenge in working in a sporting environment in a foreign country, other than the language barrier?

EB: The biggest challenge has been the lack of good sports medicine provisions in the country. There is a lack of good surgeons here, radiography reporting is very poor and can often be misleading, and post surgical advice is often counterproductive by giving poor advice to our athletes which ends up delaying their return to competition.

MC: You have been in Tbilisi for 4 years now; explain your day – to – day responsibilities and what are your current commitments to the national team.

EB: Depending on how far out we are from an international window will depend on how many days our locally based national team players are in for training. At a minimum we have 2 days a week with them but the month before a window we will have them 4 days a week. On a training day we have a wellness block whereby we monitor the incoming players and assess for availability / modifications for their training day. Anyone who presents with an injury will be assessed for their involvement and for whether they need treatment or the referral to another medical professional.

Following wellness players have breakfast and anyone who needs treatment before the first session of the day (gym) will be seen during this time. During the gym session I will be working with any of the players who need modifications due to ongoing injuries, or carrying out rehab on our injured players.

After the gym session players will go to the field whereby I am on hand as a medic for any injuries that occur or I can continue with any on-field rehab, for example return to running for injured players.

Post session / lunch maintenance treatment or injury assessment will be done on flagging players.

My rugby days outside of the test windows tend to finish around 3pm, after which I may see other rugby players not involved with the national team or see some private clients as part of the clinic that services the entire rugby academy.

On non-rugby days we will bring in any of our players who need continued treatment or rehab as well as be available for our academy players who may get injured while training for their clubs.

During an international window, we are essentially available from 7:30am until 10:00pm, carrying out wellness monitoring, injury assessment & treatment, rehab sessions, covering field training sessions, implementing recovery strategies post training, as well as treating players who may have pulled up during training or who may be a doubt for training the following day. The goal is to keep as many players on the pitch as possible enabling the coaches to select from a full squad of available players. There will be a lot of instances whereby players will have modified sessions throughout the week in order to get them to the Thursday rugby training session. This session will tend to be the last high intensity session before the test match (generally the Saturday) and will involve a lot of contact. If a player cannot take part in this session, they are unlikely to feature on the weekend.

MC: Your journey to Georgia wasn’t a straightforward one; you have been an elite athlete in two sports, a personal trainer, whilst continually studying to improve your knowledge and skills. You have forged your own path, what has been the stand out experience of your career so far?

EB: From a professional standpoint it was being part of the medical team for Georgia at the England 2015 Rugby World Cup. The team upset Tonga in our first game of the tournament and went on to make history by beating Namibia and being the first Georgian side to prequalify for the 2019 RWC in Japan. Playing a small part in that was pretty special.

MC: When working with injured athletes what is the biggest challenge?

EB: I can’t define the biggest challenge, as not all injuries are the same in type or timeline. However, these are the common tough challenges that I face in this situation:

  • Getting the player to buy into the process
  • Motivating the player throughout the journey
  • Challenging the athlete throughout the process
  • Dealing with setbacks, which are inevitable especially with long return to plays.

MC: Following on from that do you find players are responsive and adhere to your methods?

EB: the majority of the time, yes. However I work in an environment/country whereby the treatment and rehabilitation processes in place are archaic at best. This means you have athletes outside of our system (or older athletes in our system) who may, for example, have played 5 months after having their ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) repaired. The hard part is trying to then manage the expectations of the injured athlete by informing them their rehab is likely to take 9 months. So it comes down a lot to continually educating athletes as to what the gold standard is, as athletes will always listen to what they want to hear.

MC: You have been involved with two sports at the Elite level, Rowing and Rugby, both sports are influenced by body weight and body size, have you ever witnessed any less desirable way of athletes trying alter body composition?

EB: There is a lack of awareness and education around general health and supplement use in Georgia with respect to weight loss. I have witnessed some players who have tried old school tactics to “sweat down” by wearing a bin bag during a training session (not at our national team level but a couple of fringe players).

We have also had issues with players at national team level who when asked about supplement use they mention fat burners they bought off the internet. Obviously there is a huge risk with anything bought off the internet that is unregulated and so there is a continual need to remind players and continue to educate them around these areas.

In rowing I raced as a heavyweight and so there was no maximum weight restriction for me however the less body fat you raced with, the better. One summer when preparing for racing my coach wanted me down to 89kg (I was 93kg) and so I tried to calorie restrict myself, which is not the best thing to do when you are training two to three times a day! As a result my performances and immune system suffered but luckily I was able to recover in time to not lose my place in the boat.

There is a lot of pressure placed on athletes to maintain a desirable bodyweight and skin-fold percentage, often times without much thought to the psychological cost of this added stress. With some athletes who struggle with their weight there is more to it than just switching their sources of calories, behaviour change isn’t easy and requires a lot of support.

MC: Rowing is often seen as ‘old school’ in it training techniques, whilst certainly in England Rugby training is seen as more progressive, in your experience is this a true assumption?

EB: I would agree that was true up to 10 years ago in rowing, but now certainly at the international level there is a far greater input into the sport from S&C and Sport Science. This is down to UK Sport and Lottery funding that is available to Rowing, which also fund the English Institute of Sport, which allows for GB funded athletes/sports to have access to EIS performance staff (physios, S&C, sports science, physiologists etc).
What happens at international level slowly trickles down to the club level but there is still a bit of an “old school” mentality to club training.

Rugby turned professional in 1995 which opened the doors to increased finances for the sport and along with it developed a large body of S&C / Sport Science knowledge base. Professional teams now have up to 4 S&C staff, 1 sport scientist along with a up to 4 physios and so that alone drives progressive thinking and the pushing of boundaries of performance. Compare that to club rowing whereby the sport is still amateur, clubs have little finances, and the rowing coach writes the training plan, including the weights programme and the conditioning elements, as well as having to coach the rowing crews.

MC: I believe in modern Rugby there is too much emphasis on size and strength of the players and less on skill, what are your thoughts on this?

EB: In recent years that has definitely been the focus of northern hemisphere rugby which has seen the skill of academy level players being less developed in favour of size and strength. That then has a direct impact on the elite level of the game. That is now changing however northern hemisphere rugby has influenced the Tier 2 rugby nations whereby historically it has been about how much weight you lift irrespective or how well you lift it.

New Zealand are leaders in coaching and player development and they place a huge importance on skill development from a young age, and less on how much weight they shift. This was also seen in their rowing programme where their athletes spent more time developing water skills than they did in the weights room compared to the British athletes.

MC: If you could do one thing to improve the sport of Rugby what would be?

EB: I don’t know really know how to go about it, and this would translate to other sports as well, but I would like to see a shift in how players are managed. Currently players are seen as a product and it is in the best interests of a sports club to squeeze the most out of their product as they can. We see this in efforts in trying to reduce the Six Nations rest window and to lengthen the current playing season. It is the athletes who suffer with ever increasing injuries, as they are required to play more games in an ever-increasing physical arena. We are only beginning to realise the long-term consequences of playing such a physical sport and I don’t think there is enough in place to safeguard our athletes for the future.

MC: What are you individual plans and goals for the next 12-months?

EB: I am currently finishing a masters in Sports Medicine, Exercise and Health through UCL, for which I am undertaking my research project looking into the association between neck strength and concussion rates in rugby union players. We are also less than one year away from the start of Japan 2019 RWC so there is a huge focus on driving the team forward and improving within our own departments to give the best possible environment for our athletes to succeed. Finally, just around the corner in November Georgia will play Italy in Florence, which will be a huge game that everyone is looking forward to!

To see what Ed is up to please follow him on instagram @daydreamingleopard

John Collins Interview

In the second interview in the series I talk to President and Head Coach of Northants Basketball Club, John Collins. John has had an illustrious coaching career spanning 5 decades, starting out coaching in schools in his hometown Birmingham to later establishing Northampton as a hot bed for junior basketball. John has also Coached at international level, taking charge of the England Women’s team, John went on to found the Moulton Basketball Academy. Although he now splits his time between the UK and Spain John is considered one of this country’s great basketball minds and an outstanding teacher.

In this interview John gives his opinion on lots of basketball related issues, from the greatest performance he has seen to the future of the game in the UK.

Max Curle: How did you get into Sports and what lead you to basketball?

John Collins: My teacher at school played for Great Britain in the 1948 Olympic Games so he introduced basketball when I was in the 6th Form. After finishing school I trained to be a PE teacher.

As I had played at college I was put in charge of basketball at Sheldon Heath Comprehensive School (Birmingham) when I started working there.

MC: At what stage did you realise that you would focus on teaching and coaching full-time?

JC: Most of my work in basketball up until 1980 was as a volunteer and in addition to my PE teaching.

In 1980 I was appointed professional Development Officer for Northamptonshire, then when that job disappeared I set up the Moulton College Basketball Academy (2000).

MC: I personally know a number of players and coaches who wouldn’t of pursued basketball if it wasn’t for the influence Northants Basketball had on them at a young age, who was your biggest influence and mentor in your career?

JC: For the most part I’ve done it alone. As a young coach I was horrified about how many coaches kept everything to themselves so I ventured out into Europe and met coaches there, went to their practices and generally stole and plagiarised all the good stuff I saw.

MC: During your career what has been your proudest coaching moment?

JC: Difficult one, it was probably when the England Women’s team qualified for the European Championships by beating Germany in overtime. Only 12 months after they’d beaten us by 30 plus points.

MC: Leading on from that, what has been the single best game/performance you have witnessed or been involved with?

JC: The one that springs to mind was Valencia BC beating Real Madrid 3-1 in the 2017 ACB Play offs…. Amazing team performance.

MC: You’ve have coached teams to Championships and you have coached individuals who have gone on to represent national teams/have professional careers, which do you hold in higher esteem?

JC: Probably the individuals but not necessarily those who went on to play at a high level. It’s often those who enjoyed playing and have gone into coaching and achieved success there.

MC: Young people today are often portrayed as lazy and as having bad attitudes; I think this isn’t the case, especially for those involved in sports. Have you seen a change in attitude of the young players you coach, if yes why do you think this is?

JC: I have certainly seen a change in attitude, mainly because of changes in society. The kids’ attitude isn’t necessarily bad, but many just want success without doing the hard work.

MC: Professional sport has changed for the better (in my opinion) over the last 25 years with the introduction and continued improvement of sports science, sport nutrition, recovery techniques etc, have these good practices filtered down to the younger age groups or is there still work to be done? …. And are some players not reaching their full potential by not having the same focus off the court as they do one the court?

JC: I think this varies from club to club and school to school. Many schools and clubs do buy into good practice, however many do not. For me the main problem is over-playing. Too many schools and clubs play boys and girls in a number of age groups and many schools just ignore the fact that some players are playing at the weekend as well as in the week with them.

MC: The Northants Basketball Club has been running in it’s current guise since 2007 and Northants Schools Basketball started long before I began playing (1998!!), under your and Karen’s guidance it continues to grow, what drives you to continue? Despite now splitting your time between Northampton and Spain?

JC: Our philosophy has changed a lot. It used to be all about winning but now it’s more about helping boys and girls and young men to achieve their potential.

For Karen it is slightly different as it’s her job – she gets paid to be the Club Administrator, although all her coaching commitments are as a volunteer.

For me it is a lot simpler… I guess it keeps me out of trouble when I’m in England!

MC: British Basketball has had its highs and lows over the last decade, from the Olympic program leading up to 2012 to the recent debacle surrounding the funding of the national teams, if you could make ONE change to improve the state of the game in the UK what would it be?

JC: Get more people who have a love for and knowledge of the game to run the sport.

MC: How do you see the future of Basketball in the UK?

JC: Unless funding and governance issues are sorted out not very good. There are too many people involved in the sport who are just empire building.

MC: What are your individual plans and goals for the next 12 months?

JC: I have a number…
1. Get as many boys and girls playing the sport as possible, in a safe environment.
2. Give those boys and girls the opportunity to play at the highest level, national league where possible.
3. Support the more talented players who have made it into regional and national teams.
4. Advise players on exit routes when they leave school
5. Achieve some on court success.
6. Help the senior men get promotion to Division 3.
7. Encourage more parents and ex players to take up coaching.
8. Support and educate coaches within the Club

For further information on Northants Basketball Club please visit

Picture 1. John at the Basketball World Championships in Bilbao.
Picture 2. John (far right) Karen Goodrich (far left) with the Moulton Academy team that reached the National Colleges Final

Sam Mileham Interview

In the first of a series of interviews I talk to professional triathlete, Sam Mileham. Sam is a former GB Age Grouper, who won the European U20 title in 2017. He has since switched to racing for Australia (His Mum is from Oz, so he is forgiven); he took the giant step to move to Perth last year to train full-time and race on the professional circuit, which includes the Continental Cup. In this interview Sam talks about a range of subjects from including our time working together and the challenges he faces as a young professional racing abroad.

Max Curle: How did you first get into Triathlon?

Sam MIleham: I have to give credit to my parents for getting me into it. When I was 9 I did my first race and as any 9 year old I did it for fun along side other sports I played such as football, hockey, swimming. I was never winning anything, in fact most of the time I was nearer the back but I enjoyed it and that was the main thing. When I was 14 or 15 I started to train properly and raced for the first time as an ‘Elite Youth’. From then on I was more determined to try and make it closer to the front and race more competitively. Soon after I was introduced to Ray Gibbs ( as my swimming technique needed fixing which lead me to you (Max) as you worked with Ray in Canary Wharf. I was pretty lean and the need to build up more strength was becoming obvious to be able to compete at a high level.

MC: Could you explain how your triathlon career has changed in the last 12-18months?

SM: It’s been huge. I made a big decision about a year ago to take a gap year and pursue triathlon full time…in Australia. I also decided to stop racing for Great Britain and race for Australia (controversial I know). But I haven’t looked back. Australia gave me the opportunity to race professionally on the international scene so I grabbed it with both hands and have raced Continental Cups in Australia, Thailand, The Netherlands, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The progress has also been huge. My first cup race in Australia I was towards the back in the swim and in the 4th bike pack. 6 months later I raced in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and both times I was in the chase pack, narrowly missing both front packs. I couldn’t have asked for a bigger improvement.

MC: What has been the single biggest difference racing in Australia compared to the UK, apart from the weather?

SM: There are a lot of differences if I’m totally honest but I would say one of the biggest differences is the quality of athletes, even at local events. I live in Perth, which is pretty small, but at almost every race in Perth there will be a small group of professional athletes racing whether that’s for some prize money or using it as training. But at a National Series race you can get multiple Olympians lining up alongside you. Other things include cost of races; they are much cheaper, quality of races….

MC: …In what way?

SM: They are better organized, for example they are always on closed roads, and there is usually a decent amount of prize money up for grabs.

MC: As a triathlete, what do you believe to be your strengths and your weaknesses? Which discipline has taken the most work to improve?

SM: This is a tough question. I’ll start with my weakness because that has always been the swim and I took 2 maybe 3 years to fix my technique and bring my swim time down. My first 750m swim I ever did I completed in 11:30 and now I’ve got it down to the low 9’s. 9:12 was my most recent and with this work I would still say it’s the weakest because it can drop off quickly if I stop swimming but I’m no longer playing catch up on the bike and run.

I’ve always been a strong runner and that’s my strong point for sure, I always look forward to the run. As for cycling, it’s always been in the middle but I can certainly say cycling in Perth makes you strong; there are some amazing training rides that will improve your cycling a lot.

MC: How do you feel the addition of a Strength & Conditioning program aided your performance?

SM: S&C I feel takes me time to come into effect. I think it takes a little longer to see the benefits and that may be why people don’t like it as much, plus its harder to measure, there’s no KPH or Mins/KM…. I needed to build some more muscle mass to be more competitive over the short sprint races. The last two years I’ve definitely seen myself become more competitive and especially I swimming, I have more power in my stroke for sure.

MC: Do you think your body has changed over the years since you took S&C more seriously?

SM: 100%. Just look at a serious of photos over the years you can see I’ve built up muscle mass especially in my upper body. But in general I think ask anyone who’s known me for a while and I’m sure they will tell you how much I’ve changed. I’ve gained the right muscle mass in the right way and dong the right things thanks to you. Continuing on you thought me, now I am in Australia is key to being successful.

MC: Triathlon is a sport in which body shape and body weight can play an important role in performance, have you ever witnessed any less desirable ways of athletes trying to loose weight or change their bodies?

Personally no, I haven’t come across anyone that has attempted to deliberately loose weight, especially in an unhealthy way. I think it is very important to maintain a healthy bodyweight and diet to maintain a good level of performance.

MC: Or gain an unfair advantage? For example drafting, on course coaching, or even banned substances?

SM: Yes, for this I have witnessed a few. A few years back I had a Spanish athlete draft on me in the 2016 European AG Championships for a good few kilometers, thankfully he was penalized by race officials though. Now most of my races are draft legal so the only unfair advantage gained is sitting and not rolling through but that’s racing.

I felt like I was targeted in a swim once, I was bashed constantly for a good 300m which was so frustrating but again you cant really do much about it… Probably the worst case was at the Ironman Maastricht 5K Night Run where I was leading and the bloke in 2nd cut the course to get in front and take the win. I was fuming as he was taking it like he really won it and lets just say I made it clear I wasn’t happy with his unsportsmanlike actions.

MC: If you could do one thing to improve the sport of Triathlon what would that be?

SM: Money is always an issue, especially when training full time. I think it would be great for National Federations to support more up and coming athletes as well as those already at the top but I know they don’t have bottomless pockets. Also prize money, if prize money could trickle down further I think that would make a massive difference to those up and coming athletes.

MC: What are you plans and goals for the next 12 months?

SM: I haven’t finalized any races or plans yet but at the moment I’m looking at targeting Continental Cup races in China and Japan and hopefully will try to start in a World Cup. Alongside this I will attempt to qualify for the World Multisport Championships in Spain in Aquathlon or Duathlon. Unlike this year I will most likely not come to England and stay more in Asia to save money. Lastly my big goal is to get a part time job, doing triathlon full time is not easy and needs to be funded.

To follow Sam and his results keep an eye on as well as all his social media channels.

Q&A With Max Curle – The Marathon Taper!

The countdown is on to London, and you are less than 2 week away. If you haven’t already, you should be thinking about how you’re going to manage your tired limbs through the next couple of weeks to make sure you are fresh and ready to run well on race day!

The The Altitude Centre caught up with me, their resident Endurance Coach, to ask me a few questions about tapering for marathons, and get a few top tips to help you get it right!

The Altitude Centre: Tapering is a key part in any marathon runners training programme. How important is
it to taper for a marathon to optimise performance on race day?

Max Curle: The taper is a vital part of any training plan. Over the final few weeks training volume and intensity would be at it’s highest. The taper allows the body to recover both physically and mentally; meaning the body and mind will be fresh and rearing to go on race morning.

TAC: So we’ve established tapering is definitely something to do. As a general guide, how long prior to race day should you start to taper?

MC: With athletes I coach I tend to encourage a 2-week taper, we bring the intensity and volume of training down, whilst keeping active. Depending on the experience of the athlete we will agree that the last long run is 3 weeks prior to race day.

TAC: So we’re tapering from 2 weeks out, with our last long run 3 weeks before race day. Is there a set amount we should reduce our running miles by during the taper?

MC: I always encourage a gradual taper, perhaps only running twice a week for no more than an hour at a time. Some athletes are harder to convince on this than others, I like to remind them that the hard work (should) be done already, and very little is to be gained in this time, but a lot could be lost!

TAC: Would these runs mainly be steady state, or interval based?

MC: I would suggest a very steady run, (Heart Rate Zone 2). I would avoid intervals as stress on the muscles and joints should be avoided. It could be opportunities to try some cross training, a cycle or a swim for example. But do avoid activates where contact and high impact is involved as an injury this close to race day could result in a DNS.

TAC: When would be the last day you’d recommend running, prior to the race?

MC: 4 days out would be the ideal for a first time marathon runner. In those remaining three days I would encourage the athlete to keep active, by walking and stretching. Perhaps have a massage.

TAC: What other top tips do you have for tapering?

MC: The taper can be a tricky time for some athletes as you may feel you are losing fitness by doing less training than you have been used to, I would encourage athletes to do some light sessions, keep loose by stretching.

The use of the POD at the Altitude Centre is an excellent way to keep the Cardio-vascular fitness levels high, but without putting any stress on the muscles and joints.

TAC: Carb-loading is often something discussed around marathon time. What would be your recommendations regarding dietary requirements in the final days?

MC: The chances are over the last few weeks as training volume has been high you would of naturally been eating more calories in order to fuel and recover from those long runs.

However, during the final week before the marathon, I would advice you to cut back on the amount of CHOs from Sunday – Wednesday, try to get as much of your calories from protein and healthy fats.

Thursday – Sunday morning (race day), reintroduce CHO at the level you were eating them at during the heavier weeks of training.

By cutting the CHOs out for a few day, when they are reintroduced the body will absorb them and hold on to them, meaning they are available as your primary source of energy during the marathon.

Your fluid intake should be a little higher than normal also; it is a little crude but try and keep an eye on the colour of your urine, the clearer the better.

The night before, eat your favourite CHO meal, for me it is always Tomato Pasta with Chicken. This is tried and tested for me, so hold no surprises. Avoid fatty foods, very high amounts of protein, high fibre foods, as well as anything too spicy, this could cause discomfort during the marathon.

A small CHO breakfast before the race is important, but ensure you have enough time to properly digest it before your start time.

TAC: If you could give our runners one last piece of advice before race day, what would it

MC: Respect the marathon, it is a long way! Especially for those first timers! However if you have put the hard work in over the last few months and have given the taper and your nutrition some thought. You will have one of the most amazing experiences there is. Enjoy it.

To find out a little more about The Altitude Centre, just follow the link here!

From completing a long distance Triathlon to competing in one

You have done well, you have completed you first Long Distance Triathlon, and you have set out and completed your goal of completing the most grueling single day sporting challenge on the planet.

It may seem an obvious question; but what next?

  • Never again, I’ve ticked that one off.
  • It was good but I can definitely beat my time next year.
  • I ‘m quite good at this; I reckon if I really train properly I can qualify for the (insert home nation) AG team.

These are commonly the answers I hear from clients and first time IM finishers.

So how can you as a triathlete go from ‘simply’ finishing an IM to competing in one, knocking time off your PB and making an impact in your AG?

First things first, decide on how much time you can commit to your training, you are going to have to be even more focused than previously. Discuss this with your family, your boss and if you have one your coach (if do not have one, get one).

Second thing to do is to have a search for a race that will suit your strengths. Sea v Lake v River swim, all have their pros and cons. A flat or hilly bike course, be realistic with yourself, you know by now whether the hills will work to your advantage or not. Will a hot race suit you on the run or do you suffer in extreme heat?

Last time out you may just made sure you survived the swim, but now is the time to put work in and make sure you can knock some time off. A quicker swim is the result of hours of technical work in the pool over the winter months. I work with Ray Gibbs of, he is also my swim coach, and in my first year under his wing I took my 1900m time from 44 to 33 minutes. His mantra is ‘you can be a fit as you like but if you cant catch the water you aren’t going anywhere fast’. The top swimmers in your AG will be swimming 8-12km per week during the off-season, some will be speed-endurance sessions but for the most it will be drills and technical work.

For your first IM you would have made sure you did enough cycling to cover the 180km, you will have likely built up to this distance and even cycled the entire distance a few times before race day. Some of the more prepared ones of you will have even added some brick sessions. All exactly as I would prescribe if I were coaching you….

But now you want to improve on that. Unless you have an endless budget you are going to use the same bike. Get yourself to the local bike fitter and explain you want to be set up to be as quick as possible, they may advise some clip-on aero-bars, change of saddle, or a new headset. Those of you with the budget, you may look for something more specific (a new bike) to ensure a quicker bike split. Chris Brooks at suggests that a correct ‘aero’ bike fit can save 6-8 minutes on an IM bike course, even if there is no improvement in the fitness of the rider.

However, equipment and budget aside, the most important factor on the bike is you the rider, to become faster you need to increase your power/weight ratio. This is only achievable by putting in quality sessions on the bike during the off-season. SO it may be time to invest in some new toys to aid your training, a power meter for the bike makes training very black and white. Power gives you an absolute number to work from; it is by definition the amount of force you are producing. Whilst HR (which is often used during cycle training) can be influenced by a number of outside factors including, tiredness, fatigue, temperature, emotion, altitude and caffeine intake.

Once you have the equipment you can set the benchmark by completing an FTP-test (Functional Threshold Power – Test). When this number has been established you can base most of your Turbo sessions on it. Watts per kilogram is also an important figure to be aware of. The larger this ratio is the faster you will be.

Male pro IM athletes will have a body fat percentage in single digits, whilst the pro Females will be at approx 12%, a pro male will average 300-340 watts over 180km (course dependant) and female average watts will be 260-300. The guys and girls at the top end of the AGs will not be far from those figures. It might also be time to concentrate on Nutrition and make any changes necessary.

You may find a couple of KGs drop off as training volume and intensity increase, but to get to your optimal body fat percentage and therefore weight, it is best to have your body composition measured and then have some personal nutrition guidelines to adhere to.

In essence you want to periodise your nutrition in the way you would your training schedule. Fuelling your longer more intense workouts (<2hours) with increased Carbohydrate intake in the proceeding day or so, and shorter sessions (>2 hours) by eating a healthy balanced diet. It is a tricky balance between supplying enough energy to fuel your training and being able to loose any excess body fat, I would advise some professional guidance, it could be the most impactful change you make to your training.

When it comes to the run it will also be time to increase your speed. The dreaded interval sessions are the key, pushing yourself to the limit and repeat, repeat, repeat. The specifics of these sessions depend on time of the season and the race you are doing but in my experience this can be the hardest discipline to make gains. Running as quick as you can with as low HR as possible is fundamentally what you are trying to achieve. Discovering your lactate threshold is a vital measure, if you can work at just below this HR for an increasing amount of time then in theory you should become a quicker runner.

The skills to perform fast transitions need to be practiced over and over again, so you literally don’t have to think about it on race day. As does your race day nutrition, use your training sessions to nail your nutrition strategy.

Lastly, I am a massive advocate of tritahletes doing Strength & Conditioning, especially during the off-season. This should include some flexibility and stability work. All of which can aid performance and hold off injury when the high mileage is piled on. Like with Nutrition it is important to be assessed by a professional and have a personal program designed for you, as we all have different strengths and weaknesses.

Good luck, go get that AG vest!!

Simon Neville – La Marmotte completed, no dark moments

Name: Simon Neville
Event: La Marmotte
Date: 2nd July 2017

“I’ve been a “jobbing” cyclist for around 7 years, enjoying social rides and taking part in sportives, from local rides up to L’Etape du Tour a couple of years ago. Training was off the cuff and whilst I completed every event entered, I always felt I could do better – especially with the Etape, where there were a number of tough periods throughout the ride.

La Marmotte was always an ambition, so I registered for the 2017 event. Knowing there was not much margin to play with, I started working with Max at the start of the new year, after a typically lethargic Christmas/ New Year period. The initial FTP/ body composition numbers weren’t great! Still, they could only go one way and did they, with the help of Max.

Putting simply he adds structure and accountability. There’s no place to hide and I looked forward to each weekly schedule with a mixture of anticipation and slight dread! The training I completed had zero resemblance to what I chose to do previously, but the results came through in no time and continued right up to the event.

Max also assisted with nutrition. There were no radical changes away from the obvious reduction in alcohol and processed sugar, but those little tweaks helped a lot. Soreen as an on ride snack was a revalation!

The results?

18kg weight loss; FTP up 40%; La Marmotte completed with no dark moments – I genuinly enjoyed the whole ride – in a time of 9 hours 12 minutes. That’s just over 30 minutes off gold standard. Not bad for a middle aged “jobbing” cyclist who will never be a mountain goat on the bike (91kgs for the ride).

Suffice to say I’d recommend Max without question. We’re already planning next year’s quests!”

Want to give Triathlon a try but you don’t know where to start

Triathlon is a fun sport; it allows people of all abilities and fitness levels to push themselves to the limits. In some events Triathlon even gives you the chance to ‘race’ on the same course at the same time as the professionals. However if you have never tried the sport before it can be a little daunting to begin with, just keep in mind everyone had a first race once. Below is an example of some of the questions I have been asked by clients over the years – and my attempts at answering them.

What distance should I do?
If you have never done a triathlon before and have no history of endurance sports entering a long distance race might not be for you, you should perhaps look at a sprint or Olympic distance event to test the water. If you do have a history of long distance cycling, marathon running or competitive swimming then perhaps a full distance event could be for you. The British Triathlon Federation has a search function where you can search all race by distance and location. You can find an event suitable to your ability and goals.

What kit do I need?
The minimal equipment needed for your first triathlon is a road worthy bike and helmet. Both will be checked by an official to ensure they are in working order prior to bike check in. You will also need running shoes and suitable kit for the swim, bike and run aspects. Rules of triathlon state you must have your chest covered at all times once on the bike and run, you are also required to have your race number displayed at all times whilst cycling and running. You can simply pin these to your shirt, a race belt is preferred by most.

Many competitors will use a triathlon specific kit, which will cater for all three disciplines but is by no means required. There are then additional pieces of kit, which you may want to use, goggles, sunglasses, and cycle shoes, elastic laces, bike computers, GPS watches etc. The more triathlons you do the more kit you will suddenly deem very necessary.

When should I turn up?
This usually differs from race to race. Once entered race organizers will email you details of the race day/weekend well in advance so you can plan ahead. Sprint triathlon will allow for registration and bike check-in on race day, whilst longer races will usually ask for this to be done the day before. You can always email the organizers before entering if this affects your travel and accommodation plans.

Do I need to carb load before the Triathlon?
Simply put NO – not for a sprint race. As long as you have eaten a healthy balanced diet in the proceeding days and have eaten 2-3 hours before your start time you will be fine, although on extremely hot days dehydration can be a issue so keep drinking. If you have a very early start time then eating 2-3 hours before can be tricky and not very appetizing. I would suggest a slightly bigger meal the evening before, for example an extra bread roll or an extra spoonful of pasta. Nothing ridiculous!! Then in the morning a snack-sized breakfast would be sufficient, e.g. banana or 1 slice of Jam on toast, fluids can offer calories also. Fruit Juices are a good way of consuming calories without feeling too full.

However, if you are doing longer distances then Nutrition plays much more of a factor and I would recommend some expert advice.

Is open water swimming scary?
It certainly can be. If, the first time you swim in open water is in a race it can be very unsettling and nothing like swimming in the relative safety of a pool. There are no lines to follow, its often very dark, and can taste awful – If it is in the sea you my also have currents and waves to contend with. Be sure to scout out a lake, river or beach that allows you to swim under the watch of a lifeguard in the weeks leading up to your event. Even if you are comfortable in open water you have the other triathletes to contend with, mass swim starts can means hundreds of swimmers all aiming for the same turn point. If it is your first event or the swim is not your strongest discipline there is no shame in hanging back a little and finding some clear water.

Will the course be marked for me?
The race organizers will send you a map of the course prior to your event. Some races will be done on closed roads whilst others will not. However in any event you must adhere to the highway code of the country you are racing in. Some races will mark the bike course out in the days leading up to the event so you can drive/ride the course in the days beforehand if you wish. There will certainly be signs and marshals to help you throughout.

Marginal gains…Can it be applied to the weekend warrior?

“The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together” Dave Brailsford (2012)

With the dramatic success of British cycling over the last decade we have seen the notion of Sir Dave Brailsford ‘marginal gains’ become a mainstay in sports coaching and training, with coaches, managers and athletes in a whole range of sports latch on to Sir Daves concept.

Ignoring the recent TUE scandal, (if I can call it that) something is certainly working for British cycling and its professional road spin off – Team sky, and now Team Wiggins. British Cycling have been dominant on the track since Sir Dave took over the role of Performance Director in 2003 all the way through to the Rio Olympics, despite the retirement of some of the more established stars the British team is good hands as a new generation of elite cyclists are coming through the ranks and proved their class at the recent Under 23 European Track championships, a gold in the Men’s Team Sprint and Women’s Team Pursuit, as well as a number of other notable performances. The success of Team Sky on the road and in particular their dominance at the Tour de France over the last 5 years, the numerous World Class riders we Brits have in all disciplines of cycling, just go to show the dynasty SDB has created.

As illustrated by the quote above the whole notion comes from taking every single aspect that effects performance and making small improvements, and then overall performance will be increased. I have witnessed first hand the acute detail SDB and his team goes to. I have sat through lectures by Nigel Mitchell (former nutritionist – Team Sky), Dr. James Moreton (current nutritionist – Team Sky) and shared an informal dinner with Sir Chris Hoy and Shane Sutton (former Head coach to GB track cycling). The former two gave fascinating lectures that gave extent detail the process Team Sky went to ensure their riders were in top condition during races. For example, riders were forbidden to touch door handles in hotels to minimize the chance of germ contamination, the Team would take their own Chef to race hotels, support staff would enter hotel rooms prior to the riders and remake the beds with familiar bed sheets and pillows establish familiar surroundings to promote a better nights sleep. Then there is the bike; the kit worn on race day, the training conditions, the gym work, the coaches, travel, every aspect is looked at in view to making it world class.

However, the application of these principals to the ‘weekend warrior’ is something that interests me as a coach, as a generation of amateur sportsmen and women have we taken our eye off the ball and forgotten about the basics? After all if you have targeted the E’tape there is no hiding from the fact you have to train your body (and mind) to cycle for 180km over two mountains. If you want to complete an Ironman triathlon as a minimum you have to be able to swim for 3.8km, cycle 180km and run a marathon.

Us amateur athletes don’t have the luxury of having a team around them to ensure the smallest detail is taken care of (which is probably why we aren’t professionals in the first place). So we should prioritize our time, effort and money on the basics of our sport. For us triathletes and cyclists this means making sure we cram in that 4-hour cycle on a Sunday morning before the kids wake up, ensuring we can get to the pool twice a week before work and lacing up the running shoes and getting our miles ticked off during lunch break or while the kids are at dance/football/ballet class.

Of course there are always areas any athlete can improve and I always advise my athletes to think out of the box when trying to maximize performance.

Here are my top tips for applying SDB’s principals to your training.

1 – Planning.
There is no hiding in individual endurance events; if you haven’t done the sufficient mileage it will be a very tough race day. Plan your training from the start to finish. Be honest with your self, how much time can you dedicate to training per week? When is the best time to train and how does that fit in with family and work commitments.

2 – Body weight.
Generally the lighter you are the easier it is to cycle/run, especially up hills. With increased training volume and intensity eating healthier can become second nature to a lot of people, others may struggle to match calorie intake with expenditure, and knowing what to eat and when. This is an area where individual needs must be met and expert advice is very much worth it.

3 – Equipment.
Let me start by saying do NOT break the bank by lining up the £10’000 time trial bike that you’ve always wanted. Make a start by getting the most of the equipment you already have, start by adding a pair of clip on Tri-bars to your road bike, see a professional bike fitter who will ensure you are as aero dynamic as possible on your bike. Exchanging traditional shoes laces for elastic laces. You will also need to be comfortable on race day, so it is best not to use band new equipment for the first time in a race, nobody wants blisters from new shoes half way around the run course.

4 – Strength sessions.
Having been a strength coach for a long time before I began to focus on endurance sports I am a massive advocate of strength and power sessions for endurance athletes. Cyclists/Triathletes need to be flexible in the hips, shoulders and spine especially, all the muscles and joints of the lower limbs need to be strong, this will not only help prevent injury but it will also increase performance. You do not need to be lift heavyweight weight like a body builder, instead sets need to be higher in reps and lighter in weight, as a general rule. The muscles of the core need to be strengthened, this will hold the body in a better position and alleviate excess energy expenditure.

5 – Sleep.
I have deliberately put this one last as it often the hardest to control and do anything about. The average adult needs 6-8 hours sleep a night, this can increase with exercise. Our bodies go through the majority of recovery processes between 10pm-2am so being asleep between those hours is ideal.

I will be writing a separate post titled ‘Maximize your sleep for better recovery’

Riccardo Composto – Season Review

Riccardo Composto

I started training with Max in January 2016. My main objective was qualifying for the 2017 European championship for Olympic distance (ETU 2017).

My background and fitness was pretty good in swimming and running, but the bike has always been my weakness.

I have always been a self trained athlete and had very little knowledge of what to do to improve specific areas. My main struggles were managing work/life/triathlon balance as well as training for a specific race while also racing other minor competitions.

With Max, I have managed to improve dramatically my bike split and my overall fitness. To give an idea I knocked off 18 minutes (mainly from bike and run) from my 70.3 race (despite atrocious wether conditions this year) and more than 5 minutes from my Olympic distance. I managed not only to qualify for ETU 2017 but I also came 5th in my age group (30-34), which was extremely competitive age group!

During the year I set a few PBs, and managed to improve my half marathon time (now down to 1:20). I also came among the first three spots in most of the London League triathlon events for my age group, winning one of the Thames turbo sprint triathlon races.

What a year! Next challenge for me (and Max!) is doing well at ETU and qualifying for 2018! needs to resume! Looking forward!!


If you have any questions or comments, or for further information, please don't hesitate to get in touch.