In part two of our three-part series Spanish triathlete Javier Gómez Noya and writer Antonio del Pino search for the answer to the age-old question: how to train like a champion.
How to keep improving
You look at your watch and the date says June 2017. How much longer do we have of Javier Gómez Noya as an Olympic distance triathlete?
I don’t know. Right now I’m training for the Olympics and middle distance because my aim for this year is the 70.3 world championship. I don’t know how things will go in the next few years, and I’ll obviously keep going to the Olympic distance world circuit tests, which are actually helping me prepare for the 70.3 World Championship. I’ve still got it in my head that I can go to the Olympic Games.
To be competitive I have to be focused on my most immediate goals and think about what I have to do right now. Four years is a long time and setting a date to change to long distance for good is complicated.
The times and results on your V800 don’t lie: you’re still getting better and improving your performance. Out of the three triathlon disciplines, which one are you advancing in the most? Which one poses the most difficulties or which one is the most challenging to improve in?
It’s very satisfying to see how, so many years later, you put in the effort, you plan, train hard and improve a little bit every day.
I’m more focused on chrono bike so as to be more competitive this season. To be honest I’m really enjoying it because of the change in register and I’m really improving. At the end of the day, it’s a bike, but there is a different method and details for this preparation which I’m enjoying a lot and I’m seeing great results. It’s very satisfying to see how, so many years later, you put in the effort, you plan, train hard and improve a little bit every day.
I’m maintaining the same level in swimming, but for the strategy to be right, I can’t put as much effort into swimming and running. It’s also an opportunity to see how my body responds to these changes, and running shows me that everything is going great. I haven’t added intensity and although I’m still being quite conservative right now, taking one day at a time, we’re making good progress. To be honest, I’m happy with how everything’s going.
Analyzing your past data, what changes can you see in your body and how does it react to the strain? Are you more of a diesel engine, do you need to train more, less, harder with longer breaks?
Now I need more rest between seasons, which are longer, and I take full advantage of my days off.
Yeah, that’s an interesting question because enough time has gone by now and we have data to make clear comparisons. Now I need more rest between seasons, which are longer, and I take full advantage of my days off.
Before I’d be in shape in three weeks, I’d start to train and I was ready to compete at my maximum level against anyone. Now it takes me a bit longer to reach my maximum point, but I get to a very good level partly because I know more about myself and I’m more patient. I know that if I do things right, I’ll get into the shape I need to be in to take on the best tests at the pace I need to be able to win, taking into account that the level of competition keeps getting higher in every race.
Olympic vs. long distance
And now the time’s coming to take long distance seriously. Can you really train any more when you already spend the whole day training for Olympic distance? Is the preparation for long distance very different or are there just a few adjustments to what you’re doing now?
Even though I can’t train more, by distributing the load differently I can reach almost the same level in different ways.
That’s just it, they’re adjustments, because when you spend every day from sun up to sun down training, there’s not much more you can do. Before, the preparation was focused around the race, and now around cycling. I took the priority off the water and running and my body is grateful because even though I can’t train more, by distributing the load differently I can reach almost the same level in different ways. That’s really interesting to see.
It’s clear that to reach the maximum level in Olympic distance you have to run very hard and include a lot of swimming. In half and long distance, if you can get ahead in the water and mark the difference in cycling, it’s obviously not possible to run a half marathon at an Olympic rhythm so you don’t have to be that fast. So, time and effort are the same, but the race strategy is different. If you get a good time in the water then the cycling is the part that most influences the race result, as well as getting off the bike and running well. I’m putting a lot of work into that right now.
In Olympic distance and sprint, when competing at a very high heart rate, it’s rare to take more than two or three gels. What’s it like for you having to eat and drink so much for a test as long as an Ironman? Do you have to train for that as well?
You bet, and it’s something that we’re working hard on. It’s a challenge and something new for me since I’m not used to competing and watching what I eat for that long. If I want to be ready for the competition in Hawaii, I must be aware of this and nothing can be left open to improvisation. When the body accumulates high levels of fatigue after running so many miles, it begins to react differently.
I know that I’m best in Olympic and sprint when I’m at my maximum pace, but now I have to see how my body reacts to food and to which food. We’re making plans for my training, but we’ll have to see what happens when I’m competing.
Training with technology and data
Now that athletes have power meters, GPS and time tracking, do you think heart rate monitoring is still important?
Absolutely! Particularly when running heart rate is key, at least as far as I’m concerned. Cycling power is measured in watts, but I think that it has to be combined with heart rate monitoring because it really enriches the quality of the information.
In the end, times and watts are immediate net performance data, but if you know what the effect is when you combine everything with your heart rate, you know what is happening inside you at that time and you can improve on what you are expecting next. You’ll be able to give a bit more because you can see how your heart rate responds and you’ll know when to ease up before you seize up. Comparing watts per kilometer with the result of what the heart is able to do and, logically, knowing how to properly control it is one of the keys to reaching excellence.
Do you take part in planning your training? Do you analyze the data with your coach or do you prefer that he takes care of that?
Yes, I like to be a part of it – maybe a little too much – but not because I don’t trust him, but rather because I like to know what I’m doing, learn and contribute anything I think is relevant to be able to continue improving based on my experience.
This isn’t something exclusive to an elite triathlete. I think that learning to give your coach key information is something that develops from your own participation. You should allow yourself to be guided and learn to know yourself. This helps to adjust your training to perfection – from the large blocks to the most important individual training days.
Training by yourself and training with your gut feeling – what’s your opinion?
You can do everything you are told down to the letter, but during a competition you’re on your own and you have to make quick decisions.
It’s always a good idea to have a trainer, even if you are an expert, but you need to be very aware of your senses. It’s very easy to say, but it can often be the difference between winning and losing. You can do everything you are told down to the letter, but during a competition you’re on your own and you have to make quick decisions, and if you haven’t learned to know yourself well, it’s difficult to be the best.
You have to follow a plan, that’s for sure, but good training must include parts where the athlete has to manage their effort on their own so that later, looking at the results, their body can tell them whether the result they got corresponds with their initial intention, and learn from it, both if they got it right and especially if they didn’t.
Come back next week for the last part of our JGN trilogy. Do you want to get notified of new stories in the Polar Blog? Sign up below and never miss a story.