Some professional athletes want to portray their lives as a grueling series of tough days in the office. They create an air of intensity and mystique around their 'grind' to highlight their resilience and determination. For KOTWF athlete India Lee, that isn't the right attitude. While it may do wonders for their personal brands, these athletes often create a needless rhetoric of exclusivity in their sport. In the grand scheme of things, her role as a professional triathlete is to encourage and inspire, to show people that getting out and training is not only fun but accessible to all. There is no fugazi here. Dive into India's training and find out what a professional triathlete gets up to day-to-day. This is one for the nerds.
First of all, a bit of background. India (or Indie, as her friends call her) made her start in sport as a high-level junior runner but realised there was a lot more to her than fast feet. In 2016, she won the ITU World Cup in Cagliari, Sardinia and topped off her season with a win at the ETU European Championship both individually and as part of Team GB's mixed relay squad. It wasn't long before she took to long course triathlon and won her debut 70.3 IRONMAN in Weymouth in 2018. A year later, she took another win in Lahti and finished 11th at the 2019 70.3 IRONMAN World Championships. Most recently, she lined up at Challenge Daytona in December 2020 as part of a ridiculously stacked field and claimed 18th place ahead of some big names in the sport. Nice.
It takes a fantastic athlete, a great support team and a whole lot of training to get to that point. So let's get straight down to brass tacks, right into the meat and potatoes. What does a typical training week look like for Indie?
Of course, this sort of graphic is meaningless without a bit of a run through, so let's outline the method behind the madness, shall we? There are many reasons why Rhys Davey, Indie's coach and "the brains behind the science", designed this structure for her. Here, we will look at volume, specificity and consistency, and environment and mindset to demonstrate that great training is tailored, sensible and thought through.
It has taken Indie a years to build her training up to the point where she can sustain this kind of volume consistently and effectively. By logging this amount of time in the aerobic zone week in, week out, Indie has built a robust engine that can keep her going for hours on end. "Over the past couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time building strength and focusing on longer, slower efforts to get ready to race for over 3 hours," she explains. "During lockdown, especially, I spent a lot of time covering a lot of miles. This was great for me because I now know I have the mental capacity to endure long tough stints of exercise. I can carry on pushing through dark moments and come out the other side."
There are actually more scientific reasons for this emphasis on volume. Put simply, by doing long sessions at low intensity, athletes get their body to produce more mitochondria, a cell organelle that produce the chemical energy needed to power the body. Most of the research in this field has been done on cyclists. It shows that the longer an athlete rides at low intensity, the more they add to their mitochondria. This effect increases exponentially the longer they are in the aerobic zones, so it is important to maintain the right intensity.
Athletes who do low volume high intensity will be making the mitochondria they have more efficient, but if they aren’t getting the long slow volume in then they can’t create more of the glorious little things. "My training hits it from both angles - the long easy rides to add to my stocks, and then hard sessions to get them efficient," she recaps.
Of course, Indie has to bear this rule in mind for all three disciplines. The split between swim, bike and run happens naturally based on her ability to handle volume in each. It would be nearly impossible to go as long in a run as she does on the bike, for example, and because swimming is such a technical sport, you can only go so slow before it becomes counterproductive to your stroke.
The volume remains pretty consistent throughout the year. Consistency is key, and being able to maintain the volume is where the strength of it comes from. In the build up to a race Indie has a 2 week taper without necessarily dropping too low. This is the danger of racing too frequently; it makes it difficult to log the consistent high volume weeks. That being said, if she's gearing up for a world championship, she'll really back off and make sure she's ready to rock n' roll.
Tune in for part 2, coming 28th April!