Calling 2018 Edinburgh IM 70.3 Athletes

IM 70.3 Edinburgh

Dr Mark Ross at Napier University, Edinburgh, is conducting a study looking at immune function and he is looking for IM 70.3 athletes who are competing in the Edinburgh event this year to participate in the study.

If you’re interested, contact details for Mark are provided below. I’ve also embedded an informed consent form into my blog which gives you more details of what’s involved.

Ethics Appendix 1

Study Details & Informed Consent

If you’re interested in immune function, there’s a nice and reasonably accessible article in The Conversation online magazine on marathon running here.   Also, I wrote a Blog for my friends at TrainingPeaks on how to prepare for a 70.3 event.  I’m not involved in the study apart from being a potential participant, however, if you ask Dr Ross, I’ll add a 30 minute one-to-one coaching consultation if you’ve not got your own coach.






Reflections on IM 70.3 Edinburgh

IM 70.3 Edinburgh


The nature of my beast is that I love to learn and over the last 6-months I’ve certainly done that. That’s because IM 70.3 came to town and it gave me a great opportunity to engage with some wonderful people and learn more about a sport that I’m pretty expert in already.

In this blog, I’ll share my observations and reflections as an active observer of a truly world-class event. You may even gain a few top-tips to help you for next time.

Changing Perceptions: The Ironman Brand

We’ve all got our perceptions of different brands and I am no different with the IM one. But perceptions shift. I’ve gotta say that in terms of Pro athletes, the brand could do way better in gender equality and athlete welfare. The Pro’s help sell product and the epic battles they’ve had in Kona have certainly added to the IM global brand. However, to qualify for Hawaii with a Pro’ licence, most have to over-race and have little opportunity to earn a decent living unless they are top of the tree. It wouldn’t take much for the brand to make their careers more sustainable and their lives a little easier by ring-fencing a small proportion of their mammoth profits to support those who inspire us. It’s no joke that most Pro’s use equipment that is not up to the same standard of many age-groupers and that’s because some are struggling to make ends meet.

However, what I failed to recognise is how the brand motivates and engages with so many people in a way that local races cannot. IM quality assurance processes are second to none because they have a ‘machine’ which ensures a wonderful experience for A-G athletes. To justify the cost , quality must be amazing and customer satisfaction high. They manage to achieve this and its convinced me not to be overly critical, but to look for ways to work with the brand to enhance race experiences for everyone.

The sense of community amongst athletes has been like ParkRun on steroids (lets not mention A-G athletes on HRT).


Are you up to the challenge?: Athlete naivety

Edinburgh and East Lothian has experienced quite challenging sea conditions and high-winds in the run up to the event and on the race day itself.  Whilst they were atypical conditions, they were not entirely unusual or unpredictable.

I was out swimming in the Forth in the run up to the event and conditions were as tough as I’ve ever swam in here. Rather than be put off, I’ve emerged from the water with a huge smile because swimming in waves is so much fun. I’m not a great swimmer (repeating 100m’s on 1:40 to 2:00 mins depending on fitness). I’m not doing any swim training at all just now but would have happily completed the full race distance without too much difficulty.

However, I was genuinely shocked and astounded to chat to numerous athletes who had done minimal or no open-water practice in the run up to the event. This resulted in high levels of trepidation and a lack in confidence from some. I believe this was a factor in many athletes being plucked out the sea or failing to make the cut-off time. Confidence is everything when swimming in open-water. Admittedly, I feel safer in the sea because I am less suceptible to being attacked by a man (always a man) with lane rage and I’d rather be stung by a jelly fish than drink baby pish. However, without confidence in rough sea conditions, the environment can be risky for the underprepared. Whilst IM wishes to encourage first-timers (which is great), individual athletes must take responsibility and prepare for all types of sea conditions. Doing otherwise is not treating IM racing with the respect it deserves and it is tempting failure. Part of the attraction of endurance sport is that it allows us to escape from ‘real life’. Reducing risk must therefore be balanced with not over-sanitising the sport. I think that balance was right and it was entirely appropriate for the race distance to be shortened because of the weather. Saying that, it also lost those who had prepared for the conditions their competitive advantage, which was a little unfair.

I also heard many reports of the race being the hardest many athletes had experienced, including over the 180-km race distance. These people need to understand Rule Number 5 in cycling. One cannot argue with individual perceptions. However, I’ve ridden the bike course around 5-times and despite me being overweight and far from race-fitness, I can confirm it isn’t too hard. I lived in the Peak District for many years and have done tougher rides to buy a vanilla slice in the patisserie in Marple! Yes, the wind blew, but it nearly always does in East Lothian. Those who thought the course was overly tough had obviously failed to prepare for the demands of the event and/or got their pacing wrong.

During the run up to the event, I found the unofficial IM 70.3 Edinburgh Facebook page engaging, supportive and highly entertaining. The entertainment came from the number of utterly daft questions that many people were asking and it gave those of us in the know the opportunity to demonstrate how clever we were to each other.

The page told me that many 1st time competitors were completely naive, lacking an adequate understanding of the sport  and knowledge of how they should be preparing for the race.   Whilst colleague Alister McCormick has qualified the psychological demands of endurance sports in this paper I’m not sure he captured the magnitude of stress and anxiety many athletes suffered as a result of their inexperience…which transferred into the race experience for some. Being adequately prepared and knowledgable brings with it confidence. However, that cannot be gained by training alone, getting advice on an internet forum or on the pages of 220 Magazine. It comes with building a greater triathlon community with training groups, clubs and high-quality coaching.

As a coach and deliver of education for athletes, this gave me a wonderful insight into ‘the market’, and potential gaps that could be filled through coaching interventions. Watch this space… Which brings me on to Silent Wolf Coaching.

My Experiences with Silent Wolf Coaching

John, Grace and Paul were responsible for the IM 70.3 Facebook page and setting a positive and inclusive vide within it. They did a wonderful job. What many of you will not have seen is how they helped so many athletes in their journey to the start line.

IM 70.3 Edinburgh 2

I was privileged to be invited by John to deliver the swim coaching at two preparation weekends for the event and it was an amazing experience. I don’t think I’m overstating it by saying the weekends were a highlight in my coaching career. The main reason is that over the course of a few coached sessions, we saw the confidence and technique of the athletes grow rapidly. Many had never attended a triathlon club session, let alone experienced triathlon coaching… even within a few sessions we saw a marked improvement in athlete performance.  Seeing the smiles and ‘glow’ in athletes who have rapidly grown in confidence is why I do my job.

What does this tell us? Well…that coaching is worth far more than buying a fancy aero-bike. Paul and I were standing at the bike mounting area at T1… I jest not when I say that some athletes lost more time in getting their leg over their bike and clipped in than could have been gained through using a £2000 set of wheels over a 40km TT. Indeed, some of the people who had obviously never practiced mounting a bike in a race situation were riding Pro level bikes. Not cool.

IM 70.3 Edinburgh 1

The fact is that paying for a coach for 6 months would cost a 10th of what some athletes spent on their bikes! I’ve helped an already rapid athlete go 15-mins quicker over the 70.3 distance through expert guidance. I believe the benefits of good coaching to an average A-G athlete could far exceed this time gain.

The team at Silent Wolf did an outstanding job of supporting so many athletes and I think I’ve made some pretty good friends in them too.

To Conclude

Triathlon isn’t an easy sport. Despite what the marketing may say, there are no shortcuts to achieving your potential. A expensive bike or the latest nutritional products at very best will result in marginal gains. The fundamentals of the sport include consistently in training, technically appropriate practice, being highly disciplined and patient. Expert guidance from a good coach will speed up the learning process but there’s no substitute for experience either. If you wanna do a one-off 70.3 then that is fine, but for longevity and to truly enjoy the sport means that the fundamentals must be embraced.

Finally, the organisers, Paul and Richard, did an awesome job. They’ll be first to admit that everything did not go perfectly, but this is normal for a new event of this magnitude. More toilets and hot pies will probably be in place for next year.

There have been other criticisms of the event, but they’ve typically been the result of inexperience, idiocy or general cockwomblery. The course was tough but fair. The finishing rate wasn’t high relative to other events, but that’s no reflection on the organisers. Those who didn’t achieve their goals need to learn from their experiences and come back fighting next year. For the resilient, the sport offers an amazing challenge  because it has a habit of catching even the very best athletes out.

For those of you who achieved your goals, very well done and an even bigger pat-on-the-back for those who helped make IM 70.3 Edinburgh such a wonderful experience. If my bloody foot recovers, maybe I’ll be joining you on the 1st of July 2018 to experience the joys and pains of a world-class event in my home city.


Group Riding on the Open Highway

Riding in a Group It’s Tour de France time again and the weekend warriors will be out in force. But the increase in numbers comes an increase in inexperienced riders. A rather well know NGB is rather worried about its insurance premiums, partly as a trend trend towards more dangerous group rides, crashes and casualties. When […]

Riding in a Group

A Group Riding Session

It’s Tour de France time again and the weekend warriors will be out in force. But the increase in numbers comes an increase in inexperienced riders. A rather well know NGB is rather worried about its insurance premiums, partly as a trend trend towards more dangerous group rides, crashes and casualties.

When I started cycling over 20 years ago, it was in a club environment. Lets not pretend these were wonderful days in which newcomers were welcomed with open arms. Rather, the rides were ‘hang on if you can affairs’ in which I typically did not hang on. I would arrive back later than most at the  secret society club rooms. Old boys would talk about how they rode 80 miles on a 100 inch fixed gear to a road race, they would win it and then cycle home again with only a jam piece for fuel. It was a macho environment in which you were welcome to ‘f**k off” if you weren’t hard enough and changing clubs was as safe as shouting “EDF” in Moss Side. Lizzie and Laura wouldn’t even be able to buy any female specific clothes let alone consider wage equality. Some of the shit things I saw back in these days still motivates me to do a better job in encouraging youngsters who want to ride a bike.

However, there was a positive. Cycling etiquette was literally booted into me. I was taught how to sit on a wheel, how to ride through-and-off and to communicate holes in the road or approaching cars. It wasn’t until 10 years later that I got really good riding advice from cycling legend Brian Rourke. His type is fading fast….an old boy who’s been a great pro, still able to mix it with the fast boys but wanting to help the youngsters and inexperienced riders learn how to ride a bike safely. Brian would nip back, push you up to the bunch, or guide you through corners following his line to catch up. Amazing stuff. Nowadays, offer similar advice on a chain-gang and you’re likely to be told where to go.

The brilliant news is that lots of youngsters who now receive excellent coaching and learn their craft well before they even reach junior level. This is thanks to dedicated volunteer coaches and professionals who deliver skill based coaching sessions. The majority of older riders haven’t experienced skills coaching and prefer to focus on training zones.

Of course, It’s easy to be critical of others and I’m certainly far from a bike handling wizard. However, a problem we are facing is having riders coming to the sport later in life who haven’t been through the club environment, who have not been coached and who feel the need for speed!  The typical demographic is now ABC1 males who are reaching a mid-life crisis, who have plenty disposable income and are not the best at listening to advice.

This isn’t good for the sport as big crashes are far more likely. Egos take priority over safety, despite it being ‘cycling law’ that we should consider the safety of other riders just as much as our own. Part of the attraction of cycling is that it’s sometimes dangerous…..however, it is cockwomblery when ego and lack of skill are mixed.

There’s no easy solution but I’ve come up with a few top tips that you may wish to pass around:

Top Tips

  1. Recognise that it takes skill to ride a bike at speed. That means riding at the level of your skill rather than of your fitness, when in a group.
  2. Being a weekend warrior can be fun but ‘smashing it’ in a large group with a range of abilities is not safe. Rather, enter a race!
  3. If you don’t know cycling etiquette, don’t ride in a group until you do. You’ll find lots of different versions if you do a simple Google search. For British Cycling members, there’s a great article on etiquette in the Insight Zone.
  4. If you’re an experienced rider, lead by example…don’t be a sheep. That means speaking up when you spot unsafe riding and splitting the group up if it is too large.
  5. Don’t ride in groups of more than around 8-10 riders. You’ll get a much better workout that way and it will be safer.
  6. Try to avoid all-male groups. Maybe a gross generalisation but females tend to know their limitations and have smaller ego’s.
  7. Leave your ego at home.
  8. Don’t wear pants under your shorts!

Size of Groups

I’ve come up with a list of advantages and disadvantages between large and small groups. Unless you road race, I can’t think of a good reason why you would choose to ride in a group larger than around 8 riders, unless it is on a closed-road circuit.

Large Groups (8+)



  • Sometimes replicates the demands of road racing (if you road race).
  • Pace is highly variable so get a good physical workout
  • Forces you to concentrate more.
  • More dangerous because of range of rider abilities
  • More dangerous because of the snaking effect i.e. touch of the brakes at front of the group may result on a rider at the back having to slam their brakes on; riders at back have to accelerate much harder out of corners than those at the front.
  • Large groups make it difficult for cars to pass and motorists get frustrated
  • Difficult for experienced riders to control the group and give less experienced riders tips.
  • The effects of one or two in-experienced riders can disrupt the whole group
  • Work: rest ratio is less than for smaller groups
  • Difficult to do a work-out that is specific to your own training.

Smaller Groups (Less than 8)



  • Much safer than larger groups
  • Can practice race tactics more safely i.e. mini-breakaways, sprinting for 30’ signs and so on
  • Can accommodate a greater range of abilities
  • Ideal to learn group riding skills such as ‘through-and-off’.
  • More inclusive/less intimidating for riders new to the sport
  • Easier for experienced riders to provide riding tips
  • Easier for cars to pass
  • Work: rest ratio is greater than for larger groups i.e. you work harder
  •  Does not replicate the stop-start nature of road racing (only a disadvantage if you race)
  • I can’t think of any more.


Just a wee note to say that this article represents my personal views, rather than those of anyone I represent.

How to restore glory days of Scottish football? Learn from Iceland

Image 20170324 12152 1qhhb6x
Lining up at Argentina 1978.

Andrew Kirkland, University of Stirling

As the Scottish national football team gears up for its World Cup qualifier against Slovenia on Sunday March 26, it’s in a familiar funk. Scotland stands fifth of six after four games, six points behind table-topping England, aka the Auld Enemy. Come up short against second-placed Slovenia and another pre-tournament elimination becomes ever more likely. The Conversation

Next year it will be 20 years since Scotland last reached the finals of any international football tournament. That World Cup 1998 in France was a typically Scottish outing that lurched from heroics (against Brazil) to disaster (Morocco). But in hindsight it was the end of a golden era stretching back to the late 1960s.

Ally’s Army and a’ that.
Footysphere, CC BY-SA

For a time, Scotland was to world-class footballers what Detroit was to soul singers. Big names, including Denis Law, Archie Gemmill, Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen seemed to come off an endless production line of navy blue talent. The Scots barely missed a World Cup in that era and just about looked like contenders in 1974 and 1978 – albeit snatching romantic defeat in the opening rounds from the jaws of victory each time.

Having watched other small countries such as Iceland and Wales perform spectacularly well at Euro 2016, the question for a sports coach like me concerns how to get back to those glory days. I ask myself “what would I do?” in the shoes of Malky Mackay, the Scottish Football Association (SFA)‘s new performance director.

Under the microscope

The Scottish system certainly looks broken. It is questionable whether there are any world-class players any more and the domestic leagues are not providing a quality product for their fans.

The reasons are complex. Clubs protect their financial interests while only paying lip service to the national game. Meanwhile, professional players hold too much power, their managers are typically employed for who they are rather than their skills and the working-class communities that supplied the talent no longer exist in a coherent form.

I see an SFA board that’s expertise is mainly in big business. I see successful ex-players, such as Mackay, who have lived inside the football bubble since boyhood. They have plenty to offer, but they must be willing to bring in outsiders with expertise in long-term athlete development systems and high-level performance.

Where there are good initiatives, they tend to be undermined. For example, the SFA has invested in a great programme that works with young children in seven schools around the country. But many of them also play for the big club academies, which judge them on metrics that come down to winning and money, threatening them with the exit if they don’t produce.

There’s not going to be much joy when even nine-year-olds are under this kind of pressure. Those who have fun and develop a love of the game will invariably improve as they mature, so it’s a false economy.

I worry about the influence of the 10,000-hour rule for producing elite performers. Youth development policies are designed to clock up the hours, despite good evidence that early specialisation is negative and that talent in prepubescent children is near on impossible to spot.

Focusing youth development on the big clubs’ elite academies also disadvantages players from many previous working-class hotbeds of football. Their families may not have the access to a car to take them to training and may not have the wherewithal to support a performance lifestyle. This at least has been recognised, with targets to cut the number of club academies from 29 to a more appropriate number for a small country. If the savings are reinvested in traditional community clubs, that will be a good thing.

Small wonder

Yet to understand a system that could be successful in a small nation such as Scotland, I spoke with Dagur Dagbjartsson, the head of coaching education at the Icelandic FA. There I discovered an almost perfect model of player and coach development.

Iceland’s system is small, unadulterated by money and grounded in a community spirit. Young people are enabled to succeed through the government, FA, coaches and players all working together with a shared philosophy. Football clubs are community-focused. They allow anyone to join, regardless of ability. Young players are encouraged to train and form tight bonds with friends. There’s a big emphasis on differentiating between players based on ability rather than age, meaning players face challenges appropriate to their level. Demoralising scores of 20-0 are not the norm – unlike in Scottish youth football.

Coaches who work with children under the age of ten are given priority in education, since they are seen as responsible for the next generation. Government sports policy also requires children to do three sports sessions at school per week, one of which is swimming, avoiding too much early specialisation.

All football clubs have a close relationship with and are funded by the FA, and generate further income from annual joining fees. Coaches get paid and so treat coaching as a second job, which might explain the FA’s success in getting large numbers qualified and also the strong work ethic that I detected.

Contrast this with the well-meaning volunteers who do most coaching in smaller clubs in Scotland and England. Many give up after a few years. Even for professional coaches in the UK, salaries are so low that many of the best head to North America.

Icelandic coaches are also given the autonomy to coach in the way they think best. The system values them as professionals, with education front and centre. There is no anti-intellectual culture or resistance to learning from outsiders.

We have a dream …

The challenge for a nation such as Scotland is to stop trying to emulate richer footballing countries and learn from the likes of Iceland. This will involve the Scottish government, SFA and clubs at all levels pulling together in a similar way.

It means a transparent vision from the SFA with young people, communities, coaching and coach education at heart. It means clubs truly recognising that business models which focus on short-term gain won’t develop young players in the long term.

It means programmes for young people that help build confidence, social skills, relationships, trust and an ability to overcome adversity. Iceland has developed a system which works in its environment. If Scotland can do likewise, it may yet be able to show the Auld Enemy, with all of its own problems of football underachievement, how to produce the next generation of Dalglishes and Laws.

Andrew Kirkland, Lecturer in Sports Coaching, University of Stirling

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Beginning of a New Research Journey: What is Knowledge?



A few weeks ago I was chatting with the finer-half’s ‘Dada’ on, of all thing, Plato. It was quite a deep discussion; the type of thing we sometimes talk about when Rosemary about. I was saying that although I’ve got plenty knowledge on endurance training, I was speculating that my coaching approach wouldn’t be much different to what Plato may have advocated. That is, to consider how the mind, body and soul work together and that athletes should be coached with this in mind. I also admitted that I found Plato incredibly difficult to read and interpret.

“Hmmmm…” Dada said.

“There was a day when I was able to read Plato in its original form, written in ancient Greek!”

That’s what comes with having a quasi-father-in-law who was classically educated at Pembroke College. We continued to discuss knowledge and how the philosophical side of it was so important. I felt that the Classics were a major omission in education. Rote learning and indoctrination seems to be the order of the day, rather than learning to think critically, creatively and problem solve. Human imagination is all that prevents us from living the life as an ant, so why do we educate it out of people? Noam Chomsky has a few good ideas on the subject in this YouTube video which are important to consider, but maybe not quite now.

“Until recently, I’d never considered or been asked to consider what knowledge is, assuming that the word requires no definition” I said to Dada.

“I’m just discovering that such a question almost drove Descartes insane and probably kept Plato awake at night too”.

The reason that I hadn’t considered such a question as ‘what is knowledge’ before as it had never dawned on me to do so. It hadn’t seemed at all important. However, things change. The question is one that I suspect may dominate the whole of my academic career. Serendipitously, I had fallen into the world of philosophy, not knowing much about it apart from through my own musings.

Exploring Knowledge

Like Rene Descartes I’m discovering that much of what I’ve learnt and even taught to others does not pass the knowledge test:
• do I believe it?
• is it true?
• what evidence do I have to support my beliefs?
• does it work in the real world?

My hard earned knowledge appears to be an illusion. I originally believed in metabolic thresholds, having seen ‘good’ evidence in academic literature to confirm that they exist. This evidence was re-enforced through my applied practice and that of my peers.

It was the same with carbohydrate supplementation through sports gels, powders and potions…. I believed there was excellent evidence to support their use, I used them myself, recommended them to others and taught other coaches about their ‘effective’ use.

Periodization, a systematic model of organising training, was something else I believed I had good knowledge of. I’d been taught it at undergraduate level, examined them during my PhD, been expected to apply them as an applied sports scientist and had taught the principles of Periodization as a coach educator. Learning styles were exactly the same…. I believed and taught that there were visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners.

Yet, one-by-one I started to dismiss these concepts or models as being untrue, supported by limited or problematic evidence. Therefore, they did not pass the belief, truth, evidence and ‘does it work in the real world’ tests to enable them to be confirmed as knowledge.

I started to believe, through experiential learning, that thresholds probably don’t exist, angry that I had spent many months trying to identify them using gas and blood data. I’d discovered that sports nutrition in many circumstances causes more problems than it solves and the evidence on its ergogenic benefits are woolly to say the least. I learnt that Periodization is a deterministic framework which fails to account for the important scientific principle of ‘shit happens’. Most coaches know that shit happens on most days!

I’d also learnt that there is little evidence to back up the existence of visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners. This TED talk explains why in the size of a bite.

Yet, even a few weeks ago on a course, I was being taught that I should adapt my coaching, differentiating between athletes based on their learning styles rather than how to engage, make sessions more meaningful and fun for the athletes.

Kiely (2012) explains well why ‘stuff’ such as Periodization becomes an accepted truth:

“The reduction of the planning problem to a set of formulaic rules and automatized solutions satisfied the deep-seated human attraction to simplicity and explanatory closure, tempering our innate aversion to uncertainty and ambiguity”.

Physiological thresholds, nutritional guidance, Periodization and more importantly Styles of Learning have become deeply embedded in educational culture, affecting the beliefs of coaches and teachers. Such beliefs can limit the potential of those under their charge, waste resources and at the very worst, do harm. Challenging and changing such beliefs requires systemic change. However, innate human desire to deposit new information on the world simply adds variability to already complex dynamic problems. Most people do not like change, especially when it affects their status-quo.

Philosophy rather than the sciences has always had the solution. It requires that epistemology, the philosophical study of knowledge, underpins the approach to how we educate people and how we solve scientific problems.

I am naïve, recognising that I am at the beginning of my journey of exploring this subject that has engaged thinkers since the beginning of history. However, I think De Cock (1998), on discussing postmodern epistemology, was spot on when he wrote:

“The consequence of a postmodern stance is that we are advised to stop attempting to systematically define or define a logic on events and instead recognise the limitations of all our projects”.

This statement says to me that there are few absolute truths and that by seeking arbitrary epochs, deterministic rules and laws based on limited evidence. we impose more complexity, cause confusion and limit people’s potential.

Rather, if we accept that some things are impossible to define, that ambiguity and uncertainty is inevitable, then it becomes easier to make sense of the world and the creatures that inhabit it. By following a postmodern approach to education and epistemology, without dogmatism, by considering the philosophical underpinnings of beliefs, truths and evidence, then we are more likely to come up with paradigms that actually work in the real world. What we have now is whole educational systems that tend to deposit information on learners, building barriers to them becoming wise, knowledgeable and making a more worthwhile contribution to society.

The next stage for me is to start reading and writing more around epistemology. In my new world, I’ll have to learn a whole new language and research discipline before getting into the real nitty gritty. What do coaches know, why do they know it, how do they use it, does it work and if not….what is the solution?


De Cock, C. (1998). It seems to fill my head with ideas: A few thoughts on postmodernism, TQM and BPR. Journal of Management Inquiry, 7(2), 144–153.

Kiely, J. (2012). Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: evidence-led or tradition-driven? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 7(3), 242–250.