by Marcus Leach
Within the world of professional sport there was a time when running a marathon was considered a great test of endurance. And, whilst for many that still remains a benchmark, there are those who take endurance to the next level as they look to push the human body as far as it can go.
Meet Lisa Picton, the 39-year-old long distance triathlete for who a marathon is only a part of what she must go through when competing. It's not uncommon, in the full length races, for Lisa to have already swum over two miles and cycled in excess of a hundred before she even starts her marathon. Now if that isn;t a test of endurance we don't know what is.
Keen to understand more about the physical, not to mention mental, preparation that goes into preparing for such events The Essential Cyclist caught up with Lisa.
How did you first get into long distance triathlon?
I had been competing in shorter distance triathlons for a couple of years whilst I learned the disciplines of swim, bike and run. Once I felt more adept I wanted a new challenge, something bigger that would test me further. I had heard of the Ironman events that take place around the world, so when it was announced that the inaugural Ironman UK was to be held in Sherborne in 2005, I decided I wanted to be part of it and embrace the Ironman slogan that 'anything is possible'.
What distances do you cover in your races?
In the full long course triathlons, which are ironman distance, it's is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and then a full marathon (26.2 miles). I also do middle distance, or half ironman, where all the distances are exactly half of those for the full version.
Do you have a preferred discipline? Why is this?
In training my preferred discipline is cycling. I love my bikes and the training variations that they offer me: whether a hard tempo ride on my tri-bike on the road or turbo trainer, a longer leisurely ride covering good distances on my road bike or even mixing it up with some fun, technical trail riding on my mountain bike. In a longer race however, I probably prefer the run discipline due to the anxieties associated with the technical issues of cycling, whereas once I get onto the run section, I can relax and just worry about my legs!
With three disciplines to contend with, how do you structure your training?
It depends on the time of year, but generally I will swim three times per week, cycle four times and run three or four times. I think it is important to consider the target race and the percentage of time spent on each discipline i.e. in long distance, the majority of the race time-wise is spent on the bike and therefore your training should reflect this. In the off season it is also worth spending more time focussing on any weaker areas that you would like to improve on.
Do you include any gym work in your training, or is it all sport specific?
Yes, I do include gym work, particularly during the winter months. I then continue to concentrate on functional movements and core work.
How much of it comes down to the mental application? How do you prepare mentally?
I think you have to be a bit mental in the first place so no preparation needed there! Joking aside, it's important to prepare for the race in training and try to simulate the aspects of race day that will be a test mentally, this is very individual. I believe that being physically prepared will help you to be mentally prepared.
Given the long distances how do you stay focused throughout? Do you ever get bored either in training or events? How do you guard against this?
I can’t say that I ever get bored in training, but sometimes the British weather can certainly test my resolve. I have only ever got bored during a race when I have not been inspired by the course. I think that as I live and train in Cornwall, which is such a beautiful part of the country, my surroundings are really important to me and I am energised by my environment. I find it difficult to race on courses in more built up, industrial areas - I need greenery, water and cows! It may sound strange but I realised last year that this can actually affect my performance, so it's important for me now to select races that are in areas that 'energise' and inspire me.
How does your training differ in the lead up to events?
Leading up to an event my training will become more race specific to prepare for the demands of race day: sessions at race pace, simulating the course terrain, brick sessions (back to back sessions). In the taper before a big event my training will reduce in volume but not in intensity as it is important to stay sharp for race day.
What about nutrition, can you eat whatever you want or is your diet fairly structured?
I don’t track my nutrition like many athletes do, but I like to eat for health and well-being generally. So as long as I am getting the foundations of my diet right, also catering for the additional demands that training and racing can place on the body, I am happy to then have treats as and when I fancy. I will avoid foods which I have learned I do not perform well on and be mindful of the fact that what you put in is what you will get out – eat poor food and you cannot expect an optimum performance.
What would you say your biggest weakness is? How do you try to improve on it?
My weakness is my confidence. I have to remind myself that the only pressure is that which I put on myself and, to have more self-belief. I like the quote by Albert Einstein: 'you never fail until you stop trying'.
You are sponsored by USN, how do they help you with training/competing?
USN supports my fuelling needs for training and racing. I use most products from their performance range at different stages. For example Cytopower energy drink, Vooma gels and R3Xcell. However, I also value products from their other ranges very highly such as Protein GF-1 and BCAA Power Punch to help repair and recovery. I further supplement with EFAs, Joint Plex and ZMA to support my body at a cellular level for the demands that training and racing can put on it. In addition to product support, the USN Team have a wealth of knowledge and experience of many sporting codes and are always available to share this and offer advice where needed.
What is the most important quality for a long distance triathlete?
I would say passion. You have to love what you do as you devote such a large part of your life to it. Also it is important to be committed to the training, and ultimately if you are going to get the best out of yourself you need to be consistent with everything you do. Plus, as mentioned earlier, a little sprinkling of insanity may help!
Finally, how do you relax away from training and competing?
I like spending time eating, talking and laughing with the people that are important in my life. I love nature, so any quiet time in the outdoors is perfect relaxation for me. Swimming, cycling and running also form part of my relaxation, but the difference is setting off without any perception of time or pace, it is just for the enjoyment of doing what I love.
Lisa is a USN-sponsored athlete. To find out more about what supplements they offer click here.