The SKINS SCA crew have had a very eventful few months since we last checked in with them! From World Championship Qualifications and Personal Bests to injuries and setbacks, this has been a testing block for the athletes.
'The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster; after winning two consecutive Hyrox races and qualifying for the world championships, it's now time to go back to the drawing board and prepare for a busy 2024. Running-wise, I've had to take the gas off, settle some old injuries that have surfaced, and focus on the small things to make sure I'm injury-free for next year.' - Gabby
The last time we checked in with Gabby, we were in the final stages of preparations for her two Hyrox events in November. The aim had been to do a couple of running races before to see where the fitness was at and inform a pacing plan for the Hyrox events. Unfortunately, an ankle tendon flare-up in late October meant we had to put the running on hold to be ready to go at Hyrox Barcelona and London. Through some fantastic cross-training and great help from physio Matt Bergin, we got to race day at 100%.
A few years ago, Gabby, so close to competition, would have continued to push on regardless of her pain. The thought process was that she had to complete all of the training set to be able to compete. This is not always the case! In fact, many athletes impair their competition performances by having this mindset. By taking that step back, we were able to ensure the problem could be controlled and managed for Gabby to compete. Having the awareness as an athlete of how to manage your body is a vital skill, and having the confidence to take a step back when needed is a fantastic skill.
Hyrox Barcelona was the first event we had planned. Gabby entered into the Hyrox Doubles competition along with fellow PGC1 athlete Amy Aldridge. There was no real expectation going into the competition. As naturally competitive athletes, this was a bit of a free hit to execute the race and see what happens. The pair has done a couple of practice simulations with Coach Adam Hale at Podium1Coaching and had done well. The aim was just to pace the running sections well and execute the exercises. Execute is just what they did! Taking the win in their age category and placing third overall, the girls qualified for the Hyrox World Championships in Nice. It was a fantastic result and one that was very much deserved!
Having watched the footage of Gabby in Barcelona, I had a strong feeling that London would go well. In the running sections in particular, Gabby held her form and looked in control, a telltale sign of her being in excellent condition. With just a week between the two events, the next week was largely spent recovering and sharpening the body, so it was ready for London. After a fast start, Gabby was in contention from the early stages. The run stages, in particular, the advantage over her fellow competitors grew on each lap. Gabby finished the event in 1:03:13 hrs, taking the win and finishing over 90 seconds faster than 2nd place! In the process of taking the victory, Gabby even beat Winter Olympic Medalist Eve Muirhead!
This resulted in a second qualification for the World Championships in June 2024, too! Having only trained for the event for around ten weeks before, it was a truly exceptional achievement and a reward for Gabby's hard work and dedication to training over the last four years! This left us with a hard decision to make with the individual event taking place before the doubles in the Nice programme. Having decided to focus on just competing in the double event, Gabby's training aims turned to building strength for the increase in weights at the World Champs and giving her ankle tendon time to rest and recover before the next block!
With the London Marathon block looming, Mel had her Good For Age place confirmed a few weeks ago, and prep started to really ramp up for a first attempt at the iconic event. When athletes are running spring marathons, I like to try to build in a target half-marathon before their block starts. There are a few reasons behind this. First of all, the key determinant of physiological success in the Half-Marathon is the lactate threshold. Similarly, this is a very key training variable for the Marathon. Therefore, we can develop the athlete's performance characteristics for both races without adding the heavy aerobic work of the marathon block!
Secondly, improving the Half-Marathon time is a tremendous physiological and psychological boost for the Marathon. Knowing you are heading into the block in really good shape and not having to chase fitness is a great place to be in. Additionally, reducing the percentage of Half-Marathon PB an athlete hits halfway through in the Marathon has a great performance benefit. Within the data we have analysed of our athletes at PGC1-Coaching, we tend to see athletes that run between 90% and 95% of their Half-Marathon PB at halfway achieve their goals. Currently, Mel's PB is around 94% of our target!
The training focused mainly on developing Mel's aerobic strength. Having neglected this over the summer, we did an intense block to develop Mel's aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. Principally through some steady-state sections in her long runs, along with two more focused interval sessions, which included a blend of threshold and speed work. For example, on Saturday in early November, Mel completed a hard Parkrun effort followed by some speed work. Then, on the Sunday we added some longer efforts at her aerobic threshold (LT1).
Overall, the block went well; Mel put some brilliant workouts together and saw some really good physiological gains, even dropping in a Hyrox pairs event in London to the block! Mel had a very strong run at the Milton Keynes Winter Half, finishing just a minute outside her PB set earlier this year. Her time at Milton Keynes was her 2nd fastest ever and 4 minutes quicker than Northampton Half back in September. Therefore, training is trending nicely in the right direction as we close in on the London block!
'In the last few weeks, Josh has introduced threshold intervals within my long run to help develop running at a race pace on fatigued legs. I've purchased SKINS sleeves specifically for these sessions to help keep my arms warm whilst promoting blood flow and muscle performance. This Sunday just gone, I ran a Half Marathon race on Sunday, finishing 16th female, in 1:32.. Showing that the hard work is starting to pay off! Not a PB, but just getting back into shape again ready to push for a PB in Wokingham's Half Marathon next year.
Overall, a really solid few weeks of training as I continue to build up my mileage in preparation for the marathon block, which starts in two weeks!' - Mel
Being in a similar position to Mel, training for the longer-term goal of the London Marathon, Joseph wasn't initially targeting the MK Winter Half. Having already taken down his Half Marathon PB earlier this autumn, we saw this was a really good pressure-free hit for Joseph. Taking the opportunity of not needing an outcome in a race and releasing the shackles can be a liberating experience for athletes. The release of the psychological pressure they put on themselves is a potent tool! The main aim of the training, however, was to do enough to keep advancing forward without doing too much and causing any issues going into the main Marathon block.
Overall, the block went pretty well! Despite going through a very busy patch at work, seeing regular long trips up and down the British road network, and a busy life at home, Jo's volume stayed consistent, which prompted our effort at the half. Unfortunately, though, things don't always work out! Fairly soon into the race, Joseph found himself working very hard, and his body was not responding the way it usually would. Not one to ever give up, Joseph still came home in a very respectable time of 1hr 21 minutes. It's not so bad when your bad day is an 81-minute half!
When a race like this doesn't quite go to plan, the key is to see how it fits in the bigger picture of our aim. Racing is the hardest part of endurance sport, and the further up the levels you go, the harder it becomes. Racing becomes less and less about what training you put out and more about how far you can and are willing to push yourself in a race. To do this, you need to have a lot of mental freshness and capacity to go to that place. In hindsight, Joseph probably wasn't in that place for the race, but we still got a superb training adaptation from another quick Half-Marathon. With that London block just around the corner, a couple of weeks of active recovery is on the menu, ready for some big long-run sessions in the new year!
'After the last blog closing out my racing season, the last four weeks, I have been concentrating on training. Our track sessions have started to include some longer-based threshold reps, which is where I start to come into my own. I am in a key phase up to the new year before heading into the marathon block. Working closely with my coach, Josh, we are putting together some strong weeks, already regularly hitting 14+ miles on my Sunday runs & comfortably in that 50-mile-a-week area. This will put me in a great position once we increase the intensity in 2024 with an eye on Wokingham half in February before the longer-term goal in London. Yesterday, I raced at the MK Winter half, a run in tough conditions that didn't go too well. However, I am happy to have bagged a quicker-paced long run. The last couple of weeks have been challenging; being a father of 2 & holding down a demanding job, training can sometimes be difficult to get in; however, Josh allows me that flexibility during the week to move things around, which works well for me. Delighted with how my year has gone, PB's in every distance I have raced & excited to get stuck into this marathon block after a few rounds of turkey.
With the cold weather well & truly set in, all my easy runs are now using the SKINS series-3 long tights.' - Joseph
It's been quite an up-and-down couple of weeks for Tommy since our last blog. Having run really well at the National Cross Country Relays, Tommy unfortunately didn't finish the next race in the calendar, which was the opening fixture in the 2023-24 British Athletics Cross Challenge Series. While this seemed to be a bad thing on the surface, it actually presented as an opportunity for learning and development with Tommy. When training for a big goal, many athletes become obsessed with the outcome; they focus solely on the end result and not on how to get to that result!
Focusing on the process of how you are going to achieve an outcome is a massive part of the coaching process. As a coach, you have that external perspective on situations and are able to see the process as if you are not living that goal and dream in the same way as the athlete. Tommy, in this particular race, was so focused on where he wanted to finish that he forgot how to run the race to get the most out of himself. This, compounded with a niggling hip, saw us realign the goals of the winter season and focus on the longer-term approach. Rather than chase the short term, we took a step back in order to take a more significant step forward in the longer term.
Through some excellent help from the Birmingham University Athletics Physio, we got Tommy back up and running quite quickly. This was another valuable lesson; when you feel an issue presenting itself, it's better to address it than ignore it! With a couple of weeks of easy running and hard cross-training on the bike, Tommy maintained the strong base fitness he had built up over the previous months. Having returned to sessions within the last two weeks, Tommy is now looking towards the indoor season with an eye on a good 3000m performance in January. We will then do a mixture of cross-country, road and indoor races for the first two months of 2024 to be ready for the track season, which will start in Mid-April.
'After a slight setback in my racing schedule and training due to a minor injury, the build-back from the injury has been going very well. SKINS half tights and sleep recovery tights have ensured I stay fresh for each session enabling me to maximise the benefits and reduce the chance of further niggles. I am now targeting some races in January with the aim of going indoors for the first time.' - Tommy
We will check in with the team in early 2024. Have a great Christmas and a Happy New Year!
If you can't wait for the next blog in the series, remember you can follow our athletes' journeys via Strava or Instagram, too!
Photos by Ryan Jamie Johnson