Episode 112 - Data Driven Triathlon Training or Train By Feel? With Gerard Donnelly

Data Driven Triathlon Training or Train By Feel? With Gerard Donnelly

Using data to track your triathlon training is incredibly easy with the technology available today. But tracking is one thing, understanding the data and using it to make better decisions is a different story. 

Joining me on the podcast is triathlon coach Gerard Donnelly from Trivelo Coaching. He’s been coaching athletes for 35 years and has seen technology evolve over that time. He shares his expertise on: 

  • Why you should use data for training
  • How do you test your fitness and how often should you do it?
  • What metrics should we focus on?
  • What technology is worth investing in?
  • Most importantly, what do you do with the data once you have it?
  • Should you learn how to train by feel and how do you do that?
  • Is there a sweet spot between data-driven training and training by feel?
  • Any advice for the female triathlete who may wake up and feel absolutely on fire one day, then completely rubbish the next?
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Website: trivelocoaching.com.au

Instagram: @trivelocoaching

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Episode Transcription

Episode 112: Data Driven Triathlon Training or Train By Feel? With Gerard Donnelly

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Joining me on the podcast today is Gerard Donnelly from Trivelo Coaching. Gerard has been coaching triathletes since 1988. He was a pro himself for about five years and was the Australian Ironman champion and Australian Duathlon champion in 1988. In 1989, he was the Australian Ironman runner up and he also represented Australia in the Commonwealth Games team in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990. He was also the Australian Masters champion in 2014, 2015, and 2017. So he has a lot of experience firsthand as a triathlete himself and many, many years under his belt coaching triathletes from all the walks of life as well. Trivelo have a great philosophy all about train smarter to race faster, which I absolutely love. I had the honour of being a guest on the Trivelo podcast a little while back talking about pre training nutrition and recovery nutrition, so definitely go and give that a listen if you haven't heard that yet.

Taryn Richardson  01:03

And today, I got to pick Gerard's brain all about data and how do we do data driven triathlon training? What do we need to improve our performance? But then also, how do we work and how do we train without data? I've seen a huge shift in the use of data over my career as a sports dietitian. We seem to have access to everything as age groupers now. So why would we use data and what should we focus on to get the best bang for our buck out of our training?

Taryn Richardson  1:37

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  02:14

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast Gerard Donnelly/Gerry/GD from Trivelo Coaching

Gerard Donnelly  02:23

Thank you so much Taryn/Taz. And it's great to be on board. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a while now. It's great.

Taryn Richardson  02:31

Yeah, me too. It was really good to go on your podcast a while back now and drop some nutrition knowledge bombs. So hopefully today, you can drop some training bombs for us. We're going to talk all about data and how that's evolved over time and what we kind of do with that, which I'm really excited about. It's actually something that I don't know a lot about. It's not something I can talk to. So I'm gonna ask you some really basic questions, I think. Because back when I was racing, we didn't have any data. I know that makes me sound really old but I had a heart rate monitor and that was it. I never rode to power that I didn't know what like FTP was, I didn't know any of those sorts of things. So we've come like full circle in that time and gone crazy into the data. And I can definitely see a shift moving back away from so much data now as well so I'm looking forward to this conversation. You can highlight some things for me and help our athletes really understand what they should be doing with their data.

Gerard Donnelly  03:27

Like you Taryn, I grew up in an era where we didn't even have a watch. So the only data we had was what time was it in the middle of the day or in the morning or at night, so you are well advanced with a heart rate monitor. And so I've grown up with not knowing anything about data and what a game changer it is for me and for you. You understand exactly what I'm talking about to have all of this information. And so what's good about that? Well, you can make better decisions about everything you're doing if you are in tune with the data. And hopefully we get to talk today a little bit about the data being so important yet, you still need the old school way of what does that data mean in relation to how I'm feeling currently? And have those two things together and you'll have a winning formula.

Taryn Richardson  04:17

Yeah, I love that. I like the two edges to the sword as well. So kick us off then, why would we use data for training? We've obviously trained and raced for many years or in our history with no data, so why would we be using data now?

Gerard Donnelly  04:33

My ethos as I've mentioned to many people as probably sitting right behind my shoulder is train smarter and race faster, so really, that's the main reason. We, as athletes, triathletes, runners, swimmers, bike riders, I suppose we want to get the best out of ourselves and if that means winning, fantastic. But if that means just improving ourselves from week to week, from event to event, from performance to performance, in terms of our own understanding of what really makes us tick, then why wouldn't we use all the available information that is available to us to help progress ourselves to be better at the sport that we've chosen to do? And if there's anybody out there who's competing in events, who can look me in the eye and say, they don't care about improving, then I don't believe them.

Taryn Richardson  05:28

And either you're not a triathlete if you don't want to do better and be better constantly.

Gerard Donnelly  05:31

Yeah, so if we can use the information that's been so readily fed back to us, we can make great decisions about what to do next. And so data, it takes so many forms. There is unlimited amount of information that you can use on any given day - a race, training, your everyday activities at work. You're getting all this information fed back to you. And that's how you use it is what we really want to get across today to all those athletes out there who are going great, I've got all the equipment, how do I use it? What should I be looking for? What specific things are going to help me make better decisions to get a better result?

Gerard Donnelly  06:11

So that's kind of what we coach our athletes around is, you know, I want you to get all this equipment. Geez, Gerard, you're a hard taskmaster because you're asking me to go and buy stuff that I just don't think I'll ever use again. But if you get to understand what the purpose of each piece of information is, then it's no different to you explaining in nutrition why certain foods are going to do certain things for you. Certain pieces of equipment are going to give you better information around the power you're riding at, the heart rate you've got, the speed you're riding at, the average speed, what you did in the last 10 minutes, how that will impact the next 10 minutes. And so all that information, that really needs to be clear in your mind each day you go to do some training and each day you go to your key race or practice race. Getting that data in a planning and preparation mode first and then in the execution mode, which is the performing.

Gerard Donnelly  07:06

And as over my shoulder again, we push plan, we push preparing, and we push that performing as not just one thing in our sport, but all three. And as I say of everybody relating it back to getting all that right, if you still don't have the right nutrition plan, you actually won't get to any of that. So there's a whole lot of things that you know, that need to be understood. And data comes under all those forms - the data from nutrition, the data from your Garmin watch, the data from analysing how your training session or your performance went. They're all key things I'd love to delve into and really get the listeners to understand how best they can use that to get themselves to perform better next time.

Taryn Richardson  07:51

Yeah, sounds good. Let's get nerdy. 

Gerard Donnelly  07:53

So, look, to start with, I suppose testing yourself is the beginning, really and why would you test? There's a whole lot of reasons why we should test ourselves because it's going to give us an exact starting point of where your current fitness level is. We have examples of people who join our triathlon coaching group and I would ask them, you know, what type of athlete are you Taryn? Are you currently fit at the moment or are you coming off a, you know, just had a baby and you've had no training?

Taryn Richardson  08:27

Very much retired, currently.

Gerard Donnelly  08:29

So we would say to you, what's your best 20 minute FTP or your best 5K run or your best 1K swim? You could either be a person who tells me, I've got no idea. It's been that long since I've done it.

Taryn Richardson  08:41

I haven't done any of those sort of testing things for a very long time. I could rattle some numbers off my head but there's no way I could go and do it today.

Gerard Donnelly  08:48

And that's our point. Unless you've done relatively recently, that information that you could do when you were five years younger or faster or fitter is quite irrelevant. And we want the data to be relevant. So what is your current fitness level? And the only way to find that out is to test. And so that's a red flag straightaway to most people, "Test? What? You want me to test?" Performance anxiety instantly that buttons here. And so my goal with this started out, you know, instantly, I don't want to get people to join our program and all of a sudden I'm scaring them off with a test. And I'm not after to see how good you are. That's absolutely not what we're trying to achieve in testing.

Taryn Richardson  09:32

Just get a baseline, understand where you're at.

Gerard Donnelly  09:35

Exactly, trying to find out where you're at. And once we understand that this is your level currently, we can then train you to that level because we'll use that data for the next four weeks, three weeks, two weeks, next session. And we'll use that data for a short period of time. And hopefully over that next training block, you will start to see improvements. And there's very few examples of people who don't, unless you are inconsistent in a horrible way and miss sessions, get sick, or get injured in that next block, you should see an improvement. So therefore, we need to test you again so that, the key reason is because we want to train accurately, we want to train exactly. And for some people, that's way too much stress and seriousness.

Gerard Donnelly  10:23

But I keep asking the person, you come to me to improve, I'm going to help you improve and this is one of the ways. And if you want to avoid testing, then we're not training smart, we're going to be guessing about how to train today. And as soon as my watch stops working because I forgot to charge the battery, or my Garmin turns off, or some of the data turns off, I'm totally lost because I can then switch to right training to feel. But I don't have a backup of giving me feedback as to, I think I'm doing 30K's an hour or 400 Watts. But then I turn the Garmin on, it says I'm doing 40K's an hour and 500 Watts, or I'm going way too hard. So the testing really sets us up for that training, exactly in training where we want to be at that particular training session. 

Gerard Donnelly  11:13

And the other thing that, you know, the testing does do is it actually gives you a chance to practice execution. So you have to do that on race day, don't you? You have to actually learn how to execute so you don't blow up, you don't fade, you don't be one of those athletes who's creeping across the line instead of high fiving everybody down the finish chute. And so, learning to do that in a testing situation where it doesn't really count for anything except for finding out where your fitness level is. And that's a great practice session. It's also a good training session because your training your threshold. So anytime you get to train a threshold, that's an absolute bonus for us. And then you get practice a session at race intensity. So there's four reasons why testing should be a no brainer, yet, people just go, I don't want to test anymore.

Taryn Richardson  12:05

Yeah, tick, tick and tick. So if we talking about testing and getting some baseline data for us, what specific tests do people need to be doing?

Gerard Donnelly  12:14

That's a great question and it's really determined by the equipment you've gotten. If you don't have a power meter, then there's pretty much no point in testing your 20 minute power because we're not going to get anywhere. We want to really find out what your capacity is with your heart rate and if that's the next metric that you're going to use. And if you don't have a heart rate or a power meter, we have trouble helping our athletes be accountable to a program because we really base it around data. And in order to help them, I need to see how they're progressing in their sessions. And so we would advise people to get a power meter. And a lot of people have pushed back with that because I think the fact is, they are fearful of understanding how to use it properly. And so that's something that's on us to teach people how effective power meters can be.

Gerard Donnelly  13:04

And I get people after four weeks of using a power meter going, how do I possibly ride a bike without this? How do I know what I was doing? I just can't understand what I was actually doing. Even commuting to work, people are saying, oh, now I've got incentive to race my last timing.

Taryn Richardson  13:24

Get some cups on Strava.

Gerard Donnelly  13:25

Exactly. So it brings a bit of fun in training because let's face it, training's hard work and you need to be some special kind of motivated athlete to keep doing it repeatedly, day after day. So it's a real motivator for good and bad if you're performing 200 Watts as an example, last four weeks. And then the next time you come to do the test again, you already have a baseline, you already know what you could do. And you've already had three weeks of training or two weeks of training depending on what schedule you're on. And in those two or three weeks training, you've been doing some sessions at threshold or VO2, or tempo, and you're getting a clearer understanding of where your ranges are. And therefore when you come to the next test, you already understand how to execute a little bit better, what the number you should start at, and what number you're trying to improve to.

Gerard Donnelly  14:14

And therefore your training has meaning. It's got little mini stepping stones. If your race is 12 months away, like anan Ironman or six months away of a half Ironman or four months away with an Olympic distance, it's a long time to have, you know, your head down and bum up and just nose to the grind and train. So lots of stepping stones along the way help give you a perspective of where you're at, how you're improving, are you stagnating, is there something wrong with the training we're giving you, is it not suiting you? 

Gerard Donnelly  14:44

So, from a coaching and from an athlete point of view, there's lots of valuable things we can achieve by just keeping an eye on the data from that initial test. And then it flows on how to use thatthat information. So really having a power meter as a long winded answer is going to be one of the key things that I think is a no brainer.

Taryn Richardson  15:08

So power meter for the bike. For the run, do you recommend anything in particular, like those foot pods and things like that to give you cadence and speed?

Gerard Donnelly  15:17

Yep, definitely, they're an added advantage but they're not the number one requirement. Look, if you've just got the watch, it can give you your average pace per kilometer and your total time. And if you had heart rate on it would be brilliant. But a lot of the watches with the heart rate on the wrist, it does, in my experience, show all sorts of numbers that may or may not be relevant. The chest strap is kind of the best way to go. But heart rate on the watch is probably second really important metric to look at. But the pace that you're running at, is what we're really honing in on. And the cadence that you're running at is important as a third metric, if you have a power pod on your shoe, that could be really useful as well. But the jury's still out, that's still in its infancy. I think it's got more room for improvement. So yeah, the simple pace per kilometer is probably the key metric. 

Taryn Richardson  16:11

Okay, cool. And do you have specific sessions that you use for your testing for the swim, and for the bike, and for the run?

Gerard Donnelly  16:19

So for the swim, we would use the pace per 100, so the pace per one kilometer in running and the power meter for swim, for bike riding. So they are the three key things we're looking for. We then use those for those training sessions from that point on. So the 1K swim time trial, or 1500 meter swim time trial, or if you're a non swimmer, 500 meter swim, where you can just try and swim for 500 meters, touching the end, and just seeing roughly what your pace per 100 is. And then, we put that number into our TrainingPeaks platform that we use as many other platforms you could use. Put that number in and that'll spit out for you what the zones you're going to train in.

Gerard Donnelly  16:59

As a runner, we would use a 5k park run or a 10k run. So if you're a non runner, and you're starting a training program, I wouldn't test you with a run race 5K,. I would just not even think about getting you to run with any intensity in the initial phase of your program. If you're a novice or beginner triathlete, their risk of injury is way too high so we would only be giving you running sessions where you would probably be walk, running. So finding out what your running pace is quite irrelevant early. If you're an experienced athlete, we would definitely be putting you into a 5K or 10K test scenario, whether it's a race that's run by an event organiser, or whether you do your own 5K time trial. So we've got both extremes there.

Gerard Donnelly  17:48

As a bike rider, it's a 20 minute FTP test that we try to do indoor on trainer, or outdoor on a velodrome, or outdoor on a course that has no traffic lights where you can continuously ride for 20 minutes, that is hard to find in the city. That's why a velodrome is useful but that's also hard to find. So getting a stretch of row where you know, you have to turn once for out and back, that's what we're trying to find. So that is a difficult one. So the indoor trainer really is really helpful to find your power number if you're using your bike power meter, rather than the kicker power meter, because there has a power meter as well. Because we're not going to race with the kicker power meter, we're going to race with our bike power meter, so they could be two different numbers. So that's the method of finding out where you sit with your data.

Taryn Richardson  18:33

And then how often would you repeat testing to adapt somebody's program or check in with their fitness levels?

Gerard Donnelly  18:39

Yeah. So every 4 to 6 weeks is what we recommend that you should be continually testing your athletes because we don't want to get to a point where after six weeks of training, your improvement has been so incredibly good. If we keep  your data metrics in TrainingPeaks the same as what they were for the first six weeks, you're not going to be training hard enough. And for some reason, you've actually not done much training in that six weeks. And we keep that metrics in TrainingPeaks the same as what you did six weeks ago, the training sessions are going to be way too hard for you. So once again, the key thing we're trying to get across is train where you're fitness is currently. The data will be useless to you if you don't keep updating it. It's like having the old version of anything that we use on our computer and it's not updating it.

Taryn Richardson  19:27

Any software, yep.

Gerard Donnelly  19:28

Any software, yeah. You know how much I know about software because I can't even name any. 

Taryn Richardson  19:32

The operating system on your phone for instance. 

Gerard Donnelly  19:34

That's right. If you don't keep, you know, you're gonna miss out on so many updates that are going to be contributing to making the experience a lot better.

Taryn Richardson  19:43

Classic. I'm a Gen Y so I'm all over the technology. Well, I think I do but not compared to the younger generation. I'm old in that space now.

Gerard Donnelly  19:52

I'm just the old generation which has no clue. so.

Taryn Richardson  19:56

You do it, you're killing it. You podcasting with me, killing it. So we've done our testing, we've got some baseline measures, and we kind of can plug that into something like TrainingPeaks or whatever platform you're using. Those dashboards are amazing now, and I was involved in developing the Athlete Management System for Triathlon Australia, so I saw a lot of that evolve. But there's so many things that you can monitor. So what are some of the key metrics that we actually do want to pay attention to on a daily, on a weekly basis?

Gerard Donnelly  20:26

Yep. So in training, that would be the number one thing I would be trying to get across to the people listening today. You can track your sleep, your food, all of that.

Taryn Richardson  20:36

You can track every everything.

Gerard Donnelly  20:37

Everything. But for what I want to get across to people today is really how to use that to improve your performance, how to use that in training, and how do you use that in a race scenario. So in training, you know, once we plug it into TrainingPeaks, it's going to spit out to us exactly what Zone 1 one is up to Zone 6. And so it's going to give us a power number that says, Zone 1 is zero wattage to depending on what your numbers are, could be up to 80 Watts. Zone 2 could be 80 to 150. Zone 3 could be etc, etc. That's if your wattage FTP is 100. If your FTP is 300, those numbers are much bigger and the gaps between them are much bigger. So it gives us a range to training. So, we've got a training program which is key to your improvement, but the data is the thing that will actually get you to improve properly at the rate that you want to that's sustainable and the coach wants you to.

Gerard Donnelly  21:29

So making sure that when the session says it's a Zone 2 session today, you're actually doing that in Zone 2. So the range might be 80 Watts to 120, that's a quite a big range. So if you're not feeling so good, this is where the feelings count into it, you can go to 80. If you're feeling on top of the world and you're so motivated to do the best you can in Zone 2, go to 120 Watts and be happy with that, that you've hit the top of the range. So being in the right ranges for the right session is key to that improvement that you wanted to get for your next race. And the minute you do a Zone 2 session and you ride it in Zone 4, then the next session is going to be compromised because you've actually gone off track and possibly caused a problem 2,3,4,5 days down the track. It may be okay the next day, you may get away with it but all of a sudden you are risking illness because your immune system is being pushed too much. And possibly if you're doing back to back hard runs, you could risk injury.

Gerard Donnelly  22:32

And so there's a whole lot of things that the data will help us prevent down the track. It will help us improve but also prevent us from being inconsistent. And one of the key things I say to most athletes is, what's the one thing you want to keep doing to enable you to be a better athlete - be consistent, just keep turning up each time. The same in nutrition, if you just give it a chance, you know, don't try it for a week, try it for the rest of your life and see how much it improves you.

Gerard Donnelly  23:01

So this is the same with the data, if you're constantly in the right training zones because you've tested correctly, you will progress at a rate that is so much better than someone who says, yeah, I've got all the testing numbers and I've got all my zones. But today's ride was meant to be a Zone 2 with my mates but we just went harder. And one guy went up the road so you know, we're all sheep, we all follow, and chased, and had a great day, and really enjoyed it, and wasn't boring Zone 2 ride. And then the next day, oh look, I couldn't do the session but that didn't matter. And these are examples of that scenarios that are happening every day. Honestly, Taryn, the amount of calls I get was asking, "What happened to the Zone 2 day today? I met up with my mate and he wanted to do something else."

Taryn Richardson  23:48


Gerard Donnelly  23:48

"Is he paying for a program? No, he's not paying for a program. You are and you want to do his non program?"

Taryn Richardson  23:55

Hard one, isn't it? I hear that all the time too just from my perspective. And I like looking at data from an injury or illness perspective because you can really look back at peaks and troughs and training stress and things like that and go what happened here, that's where that injury illness happened. It's not weeks down the line. It's this two double long runs in a week that you jammed in because you missed one. That's the problem.

Gerard Donnelly  24:18

Yeah. And it's every day person has that same issue. It's not a small percentage of people who are in this category. And I think the biggest saving grace with data is if you got an electric shock, if you went outside Zone 2 and below Zone 2, above and below it, if you 

Gerard Donnelly  24:37

teach someone to stay in that zone, then the outcome will be so much better and get consequences because of it. And the consequences are there but they're not there so much in the front of your mind. You can't even relate five days later that, why am I so tired? And you know, the coach has to say, well, look what you did five days ago, it's still having repercussions now.

Taryn Richardson  25:01

I'm not sure we could get that through ethics, sapping people if they go out of zone, but it's a good idea. 

Gerard Donnelly  25:05

I'm all for freedom of training and having fun in training. That's, you know, why I want that balance. I want people to wake up every day excited because they know that they understand what the program is today, they know what their expectations are, they know the numbers that they're supposed to be training at. And they're happy that they can execute exactly what's asked of them. And that's a great feeling at the end of the session knowing that you achieved what you were meant to. And you're moving on to the next days, whatever you got to do that day. But you know that that's one of the stepping stones in the fact that when you get on the start line on race day, you did all those things, and you are a better athlete now than you were six months ago because you use the data properly, you used all the information to help you stay on track.

Gerard Donnelly  25:50

And there's always going to be exceptions where it's okay to not do that. And I'm on board with that as well because I do want people to have fun with their training. Otherwise, if they don't enjoy what they're doing Taryn, they actually not going to keep doing it. So we have to have some leeway here and that's why we have some days where the endurance ride that we give most people with. As an endurance athlete, we have to do something that's specific to the event and that is go and do some endurance that's relatable to the time. If you're half Ironman, well, you know we know that the run is half a marathon, and we know the ride is 90K, we know the swim is nearly 2K, so we've got to do something that relates to those distances. And you can use those days to spend with your mates and train together. They're great days to do that.

Gerard Donnelly  26:37

The other day is where we're trying to improve your level of fitness by doing specific stuff. They're the days where you probably want to be by yourself and hone in. So get a mixture of the social side and the serious side and get them in balance. And that's one of the big things we push is, if you don't have that balance right, if you're too extreme, it's unsustainable. If you're too lazy, you kind of not get the outcome you want, which is you want to improve. So we want to be in the middle there somewhere. We want a bit of extremeness and a bit of laziness and they're okay in small doses.

Gerard Donnelly  27:11

But we want to stay as even keeled as we can because that is the quickest way to improve yourself. Consistency is king. That is the key thing that I try to get across to everybody. Do that and you will get the outcomes you want. I have people all the time asking me what can I do extra Gerard to get myself better, quicker?

Taryn Richardson  27:30


Gerard Donnelly  27:30

I'd say, well actually, you're not doing the full program yet. So don't worry about adding extra, do the actual program the way it's written. And then we'll think about extra once you have achieved, you know, every session in the zones for 28 days. Then, we can start thinking about adding extra stuff.

Taryn Richardson  27:50

Yeah, make TrainingPeaks go green, make it all go beautiful and green. We are high achievers so we always want to do more so that we can be better always. And I've seen that data like escalate a lot. You have a look at Team Sky or the old Team Sky, team Menious in the tour, they ride uphill and don't look up. They look down at their power meter the entire time snd they know exactly how far they can ride at that power before it's someone else's turn to take over. And I'm seeing things kind of come a bit full circle too, some athletes, some triathletes in particular not wearing watches when they race, not using any data. So how do we learn to race and train on feels that we've got the balance of both. 

Gerard Donnelly  28:36

Yeah, it's a really good question. And you and I have come from the background of nicely going by feel. We're quite in tune with our body and that is the key thing. You've got to start to get in tune with your body and you can use the data to teach yourself that. So, a simple example would be, if you're indoor on a trainer, and you're on your bike, and you are doing 5 by 5 minute efforts at threshold, which might be 95 to 105% of your FTP, if you do the first five minutes looking at the data and start thinking about how does it feel, what is my heart rate doing, what are the power numbers, what are the ranges I'm in? And then the second five minutes, cover it and try and replicate that and then uncovered for the third one.

Gerard Donnelly  29:22

These are ways of you getting to feel what it feels like to try and replicate the same range of training and do the same as a runner, you know. Run 1K, that 4 minute K pace, 5 minute K pace, 6 minute K pace. Don't look at your watch for the next K and then see what it was and try to run that to that feel. And so the more times you can practice what does 4 minute K pace feel like, what does 6 minute K pace feel like, what does 300 Watts feel like, what does 100 Watts feel like? That's the lesson you need to keep practicing. And then on race day, if all of your equipment doesn't work, and this has happened to many triathletes on their A race, their power meter didn't work, their watch went flat, something catastrophic for their race day happened and they had to go by feel, or they only have one metric which was average speed. And that's actually quite useful if you know what you're doing.

Gerard Donnelly  30:23

And so you really have to understand what the feeling is according to what the effort is . And the better you can practice that in your training and on some of your race ready days where we're really trying to train at the intensities of the expectations of the race, they're the days to really feel what it feels like to be at that particular intensity that you're trying to do on race day. And I might add, the nutrition, highs and lows that you experience in those endurance sessions will give you different feelings. And the temperature as well. So the nutrition and the temperature of the day for a given kilometer pace or a given power output, will give you different feedback and feelings. So how do you think about that as a coach for people with their nutrition on race day?

Taryn Richardson  31:13

Yeah, I guess for me, same as you, it's getting people to practice all of their race nutrition strategies in training. So it's all well practiced ,it's all well rehearsed, it's not something new. And understanding how they're going to feel on a day. I love to teach my athletes how to troubleshoot, which I think is a really valuable skill that not a lot of athletes have. So if something does go pear shaped like they dropped something or it's way harder than they envisioned, they know how to then make up their nutrition plan or do something different to meet the demands on the day. Because there are days where you wake up and you just feel rubbish, particularly as a female athlete. I don't know if you have any insight on that for us around females because there's days where you honestly feel on fire, and you're like, unstoppable. And then there's other days that you're like, I cannot hit that power today. My heart rate is skyrocketing and I'm not doing anything, I'm like practically walking. So do you have any advice for the female athletes?

Gerard Donnelly  32:08

Yeah, definitely. And going by feel is the one thing that you should be doing. And look, for a female it is more front and center. But males should be doing the same thing but it's not as impacting.

Taryn Richardson  32:22

It's much more stable. You guys are pretty stable.

Gerard Donnelly  32:24

That's right. But it can derail your session. If the session is asking you to be at intensity today of 100%, which at threshold or wants you to be at VO2 which is 120% plus, or at tempo 75%, if your feelings aren't relatable to that requirement intensity on the day, you need to change. You need to not suck it up and go for it, you need to actually adjust, adjust down. And if you're feeling fantastic, you need to be careful not to adjust up. You need to stay in the range.

Gerard Donnelly  32:59

So the options are, stay in the range if your feelings are where they should be, normal. And if they're not, feeling good in a bad way, you need to adjust down. And adjust down means dropping the intensity of the effort, whether it's swimming, riding or running, the pace you're swimming, the pace you're running or the power you're riding. But if you're not able to achieve that, don't do the session. You need to actually miss the session. And we're big believers in that, you know. Yes, it's great to see you're green on TrainingPeaks. And the traffic light system they use is red is a missed session, orange is a session done, but vastly different towards the requirements were, in time. And green is you nailed it, in time.

Taryn Richardson  33:43

It's such a great methodology for the triathlete brain, like they really nailed it with the market there.

Gerard Donnelly  33:49

So I just say, forget what it looks like. That is irrelevant. You can have oranges and red which are really helpful. Having a red day means you've listened to your body. And I think that actually should be ticked green because you've done the right thing. And you're going to give your body the chance to recover as it should. And that's where listening to your feelings not only in the training session but before the training session as to how am I going to cope with the expectation of the goal of the session. And look, I know there's a lot of people and I'm including myself and you would be the same when you're thinking I've got a really hard day session today, I don't know if I'm up for it. Let's just see how I go. I'll start with a warm up and I know in the warm up whether it's going to be good or bad. And halfway through the warm up when we start to do our ramp and then we do some little efforts before we start our main set.

Gerard Donnelly  34:39

By the time I get to the main set, I'm not doing the main set if the next set sections weren't up to speed. And I'm just going to do a recovery ride or get off the bike because I'm not feeling it today. And that's okay and that's where the feelings you have are absolutely paramount and should be hand in hand with all this Wiztech data that's supposed to be the be all and end all. And I just don't like the extreme of you. I only use data no matter how you're feeling. And I'm never using data, I only train or race to feel. Well, they're both really limiting and unsustainable avenues for improvement. Use them both and put them together.

Gerard Donnelly  35:25

And there's many professional triathletes who swear that they don't need it, or I swear that they used it, they might be better than they are. And their theory is, I'm already pretty good. But my answer would be, "But are you the best of all time?" That's what you should be asking. So doing the wrong thing by your own self worth to not use everything that's available to you. And I think that the key to it is to understand that the data can be great for training and for the race day experience and understanding how you feel can be really helpful and complimentary into whether I should be training at that level or not, or whether I should be training at all.

Gerard Donnelly  36:02

But on race day and training days, you should be asking yourself those questions in the session, you know. In those five minute efforts that we talked about as the example, I'm starting to feel like, I'm fading here, so what should I do? Should I drop the power backs quickly already or just keep persevering? And there are questions that you need to be asking yourself every single time you start to do a training session, "Am I in tune with how I'm feeling?" And the motivated athlete is not going to be trying to talk themselves out of training because they want to get to that start line. You know, knowing with confidence, they've done everything they can to get the best performance they can on when it counts.

Taryn Richardson  36:41

Yeah, I think that's really important. I love the little sweet spot that you've got there of using both tools and it's somewhere in the middle. And it's probably individual for every athlete, but you need to take what you need and take what you want and practice. I think that's really important. Understanding what things feel like is part of understanding the feelings if something does go pear shaped, or, you know, being able to say, I'm going to not do this session because I feel like rubbish today. And then most importantly, not feeling guilty for that as well, which I think is really key.

Gerard Donnelly  37:12

Yeah. And that guilt things are big thing. And the motivated athlete is probably the hardest person to convince that it's okay. And for those of you been following our podcast, I've been talking about my journey from a back operation I had now 16 weeks ago and I've had to take my own medicine about it's okay to not train for a 6 to 8 week period, literally do nothing as you watch your fitness disappear. And I've had people who are asking me how's it going, that I coach? And I'll say, you know, I'm frustrated because I'm, yep. And they'll go, don't worry, you've got a really good fitness bank that you've had for years that you'll come back very quick. They're just regurgitating strength back to me what I would be telling them.

Gerard Donnelly  37:15

And it's true. And it's fantastic that they've understood that because don't get guilt about missing certain training sessions. If you consistently miss training sessions, then your progress is going to be slower. That's the bottom line, it's just slower. And when you get to race day, you might be at 90% of where you should be instead of 100%. If you've done less training, and that is okay. But just be aware that's where you are. And I'm a big believer of keeping on understanding where you are on in terms of fitness, and your form, and your ability on any given day, then you can execute according to that.

Gerard Donnelly  38:33

And if you get to race day at 60% of the fitness you wanted to, don't race at the race plan that you had for 100%, race at that 60%. And you'll have a great day. It just means that you might take you another six months before you get to the point where you want it to be when you first started to try and improve. And that guilt thing could be the end of some people because they get frustrated about their lack of consistency. So it's a fine line, isn't it? 

Taryn Richardson  38:59

It is a fine line. And for me, I used to get guilty if it rained and I missed a session and things like that as well. So I really resonate with listeners who do feel like that. And you know, just having to go slow when you don't want to go slow, because you're having a good day and you're feeling good, but your heart rate's telling you to slow down and you don't want to and all those sorts of things. So I think it's a really nice topic of conversation to have to talk about that and, you know, go hard when you're feeling good and follow your program because it's written for a reason. But then also being able to listen and tune in to your body, which we've kind of lost the art and skill of I think over time as we've gone so much deeper down the data hall.

Gerard Donnelly  39:38

Yeah, I totally agree and that is the one thing I'd like to see even though I'm a big believer. And our whole coaching ethos is based around keeping people on track with the data. You know, I felt like early in my coaching career, I wasn't getting the message across that the feelings are equally as important as the actual data that's been fed back to you. And the example would be when you have your race plan, ready for race day, the day you've been waiting for for six months or a year, and for some reason you wake up just not feeling it. Then the race plan that you've based your whole day on has to be adjusted. And same thing could happen if the temperature is 15 degrees higher than expected, or just what happened in Ireland, the conditions were horrendous. You need to keep adjusting your race plan.

Gerard Donnelly  40:29

And the race plan is based on the data that you've done in training. And that data is accurate, it's spot on, but it's only accurate, and it's like, it doesn't care about your feelings, it's just the raw data.

Taryn Richardson  40:43

Yeah, no emotional attachment to what's going on.

Gerard Donnelly  40:45

But if you're inconsistency's in training, of course, you'd get to race day and your race plan has to be changed from what you thought you could do. If you thought you could ride 38K's an hour and you could swim at 130 pace, and you could run a 4 minute K pace and all of a sudden you got to race day, that was what your goal was originally and you hadn't done the training to achieve those goals, you can still have a great day swimming and riding and running slower. Getting the outcome that you've reevaluated the new plan to be. And that's a success in my opinion.

Gerard Donnelly  40:45

That's right. It's gonna give you the facts and the facts sometime have emotion attached to it. And we have to include that emotion in whether we're going to execute that plan or not. And if you can get those two key things right. You're having a great day, you're not going to probably get the number or the time that you wanted originally when you started your program but on that day, it will be relative to the others. If it's a temperature thing, it will be relative to everybody else in the race, so you will probably perform the same.

Taryn Richardson  41:48

There's a really good quote about that. It's like being really firm in your goals but flexible in your method, which I love.

Gerard Donnelly  41:54

Yeah, and that epitomises that, doesn't it? And if you're stubborn and don't change, you're gonna have a shocking day.

Taryn Richardson  42:00

And hate it.

Gerard Donnelly  42:02

And you're gonna go too hard too early and fade horribly and get that experience of, I never want to do this again for the last 5 kilometers, I never want to do this again. That's just going through your head - why am I doing this, this is rubbish, this sucks. And the other person who's flying past you waving and cheering and just having the experience of their life is because they've used the data and their feelings to formulate a plan that's going to allow them to execute that way.

Gerard Donnelly  42:29

There's no better feeling than the last half an hour going, I just love this, this is great. I'm passing so many people who are doing the other thing, which is the walk of death, almost. So you want to be in two camps here and I know the camp I want to be in and that's the one that I'm listening to how I'm feeling and I'm executing according to that and I'm adjusting my data that's accurate to how I can actually do that. Then that can apply to in training as well but it's more important on race day that you get that right.

Gerard Donnelly  42:58

But if you practice that, as you said already many times we've been talking, practice it in training and it will become second nature to you on race day. And the person who's more in tune with their body will probably race better anyway than the person who is just data driven alone.

Taryn Richardson  43:14

Yep, or sucking back gels every 20 minutes because that's what the packet told them to do.

Gerard Donnelly  43:18

Even though it's coming back out.

Taryn Richardson  43:19

Yeah, definitely put a vote in for the right nutrition plan to make sure you cross the finish line with a smile on your face, too. That's a big piece of the puzzle for particularly longer course athletes.

Gerard Donnelly  43:28

And talking about your feelings about how it's sitting in your stomach and how it's going through the day, you know how the nutrition plan you've got, you also have to be really in tune with, you've got data telling you that you need 60 grams of carbs per hour or 90 or 120 and you need to be consuming at this rate. If all of a sudden your body starts rejecting that, you have to come up with a different plan because you based it on your feelings. I mean, you got no choice because you know, your body is shutting down.

Gerard Donnelly  43:28

It goes with that saying, if you turn out with the best training program, the best plan, the best execution, and if you completely ignore the nutrition, or you do the nutrition half, you won't achieve any of the goals. The nutrition is the petrol in the car and you've got a brand new car, it's got no petrol in it, it's useless. You've got a body that's fit, healthy, ready to race, no nutrition, nothing is going to happen. It's absolutely the part that you cannot forget.

Gerard Donnelly  44:28

So feelings have such an integral part in everything we do in terms of our race strategies and our training. And if you get those two things right, you're on your way to having a really successful career as a triathlete or as a marathon runner, or as a cyclist and that's really simplifying it I know but that is the key to it.

Taryn Richardson  44:49

Amen. I love it. So if somebody wants to reach out to Gerry and find you, what's the best way to do that?

Gerard Donnelly  44:55

Well the Get Fast podcast is one of the things that we really try to, as you and I talked about getting information out there that's really helpful to people. So we'd love people to join that and get on board and, and follow us. You can contact us at trivelocoaching.com.au. Yeah, we'd love to see anybody who wants to get themselves a decent race plan to get the best outcome they can on race day, I'm glad to have a chat. 

Taryn Richardson  45:20

Well, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing all of your knowledge around data. I'm definitely a data newbie, got no idea, but I love that you have the philosophy of using how your body feels as well so that we've got a balance of both which is going to make us all around a better athlete. So thank you so much.

Gerard Donnelly  45:35

My pleasure and yeah, great to chat. And look forward to having you back on the Trivelo Get Fast podcast again because most of our listeners really wanting to know more about nutrition. It's one of the areas you know, we just put to the side and don't rate as equally as we do our training program. So yeah, it was a real success, the podcast we have with you so I can't wait to have you back on board because you're awesome. Thanks, Taryn.

Taryn Richardson  45:55

Anytime. It is the fourth leg, remember?

Gerard Donnelly  45:57


Taryn Richardson  46:00

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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