Joe Skipper is the fastest British long-distance triathlete, having finished Challenge Roth in under 8 hours. I thought it might be useful to hear about his training schedule. This video that was released in February 2016.
I’d normally get up around eight o’clock, sometimes a bit earlier. To be honest, since I’ve had my injury I’ve actually been getting up a little bit later. It’s made a big difference because I find I’ve recovered a lot better, so even when I get back training I’ll probably get up around eight o’clock, half eight.
Normally the first session of the day is around half nine, nine o’clock maybe as late as 10. The earliest would generally be nine o’clock and the latest would be 10. It’s pretty consistent every day.
Session One [Four-mile run]
The first session is an easy four-mile run. I did a big session last night where it was a bike-run brick session where we were pushing the pace hard. I take Maisie out with me on my easy runs, if she’s up for it. Sometimes she doesn’t want to come. She sees me putting my trainers on and getting the dog belt and she’ll just walk the other way, but today she was up for it, so she came out and joined me for my four-mile run.
I live on the outskirts of Norwich. It’s a fantastic area for training. A mile away I’ve got the University. It has a 50-metre swimming pool and a 400-metre running track (which you can use any time you want). Also on my doorstep, I’ve got the trails which go around the university and the lake. There’s eight miles if you run around the perimeter, so you’ve got eight miles of off-road running.
A typical track set we would start off at the early winter where we do more volume. So we would do 10-11ks on the track and that might be – just picking a session here now – might be 4x1k with a minute rest and then 4×800 with a minute rest as well. Then going into 8x400s. So it was quite shortish rests with trying to run pretty hard, whereas now we’ve kind of changed it for the next six weeks. So this Monday on the track we did 4x1k and then we had three minutes rest. Then we did 4x600m and we had two minutes rest. So there’s more recovery. We’re training running pretty hard.
My long run progresses as the winter goes on. So at the start of the winter, when I’m not as fit, I might run 13/14 miles. But it will just be a steady pace. Then each week, I’ll try and build on it. So it might be 14 miles, 15, 16 and then the intensity will go up as well. So last year, when I was at my fittest, before the ITU Worlds, I did seven miles steady and then 13 miles at a decent intensity where I was running hard. Then a mile warm down and that was a 21-mile run. There’s a saying isn’t there, “You can turn the miler into a marathoner, but you can’t turn the marathoner into a miler!”
Session Two [Bike Drills] [3:50]
The next session of the day, after the run, is about an hour on the bike. This is quite an easy pace, but I try and do some drills in this one, so I’ll do single leg drills: five-minute sets on my right leg; five minutes on my left leg and then I’ll do five minutes high cadence work, followed by five minutes of low cadence work. And then to finish it off I’ll do another five-minutes of drills on my right leg and then five minutes on the left leg. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard session and that finishes the second one of the day off.
The key hard sets at the moment on the bike are I’ll do a VO2 max session. So, for instance, yesterday we did one where we did 8×1 minute efforts with one-minute rest, which was really hard. Then we did a set afterwards with a 2-minute effort, 2×1 minute efforts and 2×30 second efforts. We repeated that twice, that second bit. So that was one of the sessions.
Another one might be a tempo sweet spot session, where you’re doing 30-40 minutes at 90-95% of FTP – that would be another one. I’ll either go tempo generally, where I’m going 85-95% of threshold or I’ll go well above like 110 or 120% of FTP or higher. I won’t generally spend hardly any time at threshold.
I’ve been doing a lot of drills. I’ve been doing single leg drills where I’ll do maybe 30 seconds my right leg, 30 seconds with both legs and I’ll be five minutes like that. Then I’ll swap to the other leg and do 30 seconds. I’ve built it up, so one session a week I’ll do a minute of each. So a minute right leg, minute off, minute right leg, five times on each leg.
Another type of drill that I’m doing is high cadence stuff, so where I’m trying to spin at 120/130 rpm or above for 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Sometimes I’ll do about 110/120 cadence, but for a five-minute block and also big gear work where it’s 55-60 rpm. Previous to doing all this, I’ve never believed in doing any of the one-legged drills or even high cadence efforts. I would just go out on the bike and just ride and just look at the power numbers and just stick to certain percentages of threshold, but since I’ve actually been doing that over the last three weeks, I’ve seen a huge increase in what my powers are, what I’m holding for certain intervals and I feel better on the bike, so I’m definitely going to keep it up. Even after just three weeks, I’ve noticed some big improvements.
I’m trying to do the drills on the TT-bars, because what I found is you can do the one-legged drills on the road bike holding the bars and it’s very easy, whereas trying to do them on the TT bike you really do get a lot of dead spots, so I kind of feel like you race on the time trial bars why not practice the drills and get your pedaling efficiency better in the position that you race in, so I’ve been doing a lot more on the TT bike for that reason.
Nutrition and recovery [7:21]
Rest and recovery between the sessions is absolutely massive for optimal performance. I know personally I’ve done a hard session in the morning if I literally don’t put my feet up, don’t have a kip or something during the day, then I just can’t get through the evening session. I’ll just blow up. I won’t even make it. It makes such a huge difference and getting good nutrition in as well, that makes a big difference, but they’re so important. They’re equally if not more important than doing the sessions.
I don’t have a strict plan where I’ll have a set amount of calories to eat during the day or weigh my food up for every meal. But I’ll just try and eat a well-balanced diet: lots of greens and good sources of carbohydrates and decent sources of protein after sessions. Certain sessions, depending on what I’m doing, I’ve been speaking to a nutritionist from Essex University, I’ll do them in a carb depleted state. I’m not going into massive scientific detail where everything is obsessed with, but it’s just eating a well-balanced diet generally. Eating healthy good food when you finish your sessions and fuelling your sessions as well.
Session Three [Swimming/Gym] [8:54]
At the end of December, I had a big crash on my bike and haven’t been able to swim really until this week which we’re on now, so four weeks I’ve been out of the pool. I ruptured my ACJ (acromioclavicular joint) and I’ve been doing a lot of rehab stuff. Today: stretch cords. I’ll do two sets with them. So one set that strengthens up my rotator cuff for when I do get back in the pool and start doing the sessions. The other one is with the bands to try and do something similar. Some similar actions to do what I do in the pool. I can try and keep that high elbow, that good technique and also work on the same muscle groups I would be if I was swimming.
On a Monday, I’d normally swim about 4-5km. That would generally be an easier session because the weekend might have been quite intense. Tuesday would be a harder swim session That’d be VO2 reps. 100m… anything from 100m to 400m, but with decent recovery, so we normally try and take 25% recovery of what we do for how long the interval takes. Wednesday would be an endurance one. So that would probably be around 5k. Longer reps, but just at a steady pace. Then on a Friday, I’ll try and do a strength one. It might be about 4km, but with paddles that kind of thing. Then on a Saturday again it’d be another harder session where we might do a bit of tempo efforts and some high-intensity ones to finish it off. Like some hundreds which are pretty hard. And that would normally be around 4-5km.
Session Four [Bike/Run Brick] [10:37]
The last session of the day is a brick session and so I’ll do a 40-minute tempo effort on the bike, probably working at around 90-95% of FTP. I might do five-minute blocks. I’ll do 5 minutes, just under that and five minutes at the upper end of that. And I’ll change it over the course of the 40 minutes. Then I’ll do a run afterwards which will probably 10k, but just at a steady pace, see how you feel. If I feel good, it’ll be a bit faster; if I feel bad it’s not, but it’s a bit of a social pace that one.
Aerodynamics is becoming a huge part in long-distance triathlon. All it comes down to is how much power you put out and how much drag you produce. So if you can get a 10% increase in aerodynamics, it’s basically the same as increasing 10% of your power output, which is so hard to do.
I want to get into the wind tunnel this year with Boardman and see if I can get some good improvements on the bike. Looking at what my power is and how much it’s improved each year if I can, say, get another 15 watts on the bike this year, if I can get on my position and they save me 15 watts as well, that’s as an extra 30 watts. Even if I did a fast course like Roth, I looked at the data of what Best Bike Split said that Andrew Starykowicz
would have needed to break four hours and they reckon he’d need 330 watts. I mean I think I can hold 315/320 if I keep my cycling going as it is. I don’t know if I’d be more aero than him, but if I was then four hours is on the cards, isn’t it?
I’d assess my performance in Kona as average. I don’t think it was good; I don’t think it was bad. My swim was where I would have thought I would have been: on the back of the chase, the third pack in the water. My bike, I was actually surprised that I was so close to the fastest bike split because I did the whole thing completely solo. I was never in a pack for any of it. So I was quite surprised by that, considering the power numbers weren’t very good. And then the run performance, it was a bit of a letdown. I think that was because the heat was so bad on race day. Prior to race day, even when I was training out there, I was hitting some good times. I was running quite fast on some of my runs, so I was fully expecting to do a really good run. I thought I might actually struggle a bit on the bike, so it wasn’t that great. But that’s just because I know I can do so much more. So that’s why I would say it was average. I didn’t blow up, so it wasn’t disastrous, but I know there’s so much more to come.
While my ambition has got to be to win it, who would say they want to finish second? You go there, you give it your all. You aim for the stars and if you fail you lands in the clouds.
Stepping up from the amateur ranks to professional ranks is quite a big jump up. At the start, it’s pretty tough because you haven’t got much. You’re not really getting in the prize money and you’re not up there at the top end of the races. You’re not getting the big sponsorship deals and all that kind of thing. But you have to really commit and take a chance and put the work in day in, day out.
I’m motivated by going as fast as I can. Seeing what I can do. How fast you can go on the bike. How fast you can run. Trying to break your PBs and just setting records. Seeing what you can do.
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