Lessons to be learned from supporting an elite level athlete

In the build up to Leigh Timmis’ Guinness World Record attempt for the fastest cycle across mainland Europe, Dr Philip Clarke, Lecturer in Psychology at University of Derby Online Learning, and Dr Mark Faghy, Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Physiology at the University of Derby, will be providing insight into the strategies incorporated into an elite athlete’s training programme, and how they can be applied to any athlete across the performance spectrum.

Leigh’s attempt will involve covering a distance of around 4,000 miles, travelling through nine different countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Belarus and Russia). The current world record stands at 29 days, 18 hours and 25 minutes and the team at the Human Performance Unit based at the University of Derby are hoping to reduce this to around 20 days.

To kick off their series of blogs, here, Dr Clarke gives an insight into a mock event in the Midlands that the team are running with Leigh, across three days, from Friday 20 April.

The process

We are just under eight weeks from the start line and Leigh has got a strong physiological foundation, which he has been developing since early January. Thus, providing both Leigh and the support team a good opportunity to have a run through of the proposed race strategy for how we plan to beat this world record.

This proposed strategy is looking at how we approach flat days, how we approach hillier days and how Leigh will cope with cycling long distances on subsequent days. Doing this a number of weeks before the attempt allows us to get a good grasp of where we are at the moment, both physically and psychologically, but also provides us with enough time to make any amendments to the process, and get a feel for how we as the support team can best support Leigh.

At the moment, Leigh’s training has been done in two locations – either out on the road, or using the facilities at the University of Derby’s Human Performance Unit. All test sessions have been done in Leigh’s own time, usually in isolation, with Mark and I in attendance. However, this mock outdoor session will provide a great opportunity for the whole support team to be on the road with Leigh as he goes through the proposed race strategy. By doing this we will be able to refine our processes so we are close to optimal for when we start the event.

With this is mind, we are fully prepared and ready for mistakes to be made during the three day period, as it’s all part of the experience of getting a refined process. The only way to develop is to learn from your experience and to try new things. This is especially pertinent as we are trying a very different approach to the previous attempts athletes have made to break this record. Furthermore, this experience allows myself and the rest of the support team to tailor our support to meet Leigh’s needs. This step is extremely important when working with any athlete.

Aims for the mock event

There are a number of things we are especially interested in looking to assess the effectiveness of a number of processes.

  • The proposed race strategy
  • Amount of sleep
  • The support team’s process for preparing Leigh in the morning, break periods and the end of day
  • The diet plan which our dietician, Alex Neilan has proposed. This will come in the form of two situations – what food Leigh can intake when on the bike and cycling without feeling nauseous, and also when he is off the bike and in a recovery phase
  • Derbyshire and the Midlands provides a perfect environment to test the different terrains we will encounter on the roads abroad – There is the Peak District to test the hillier phases of the event and there is also flat terrains
  • We have been very lucky with the weather, with the weekend set to have highs of 26 degrees Celsius, so again closer to the higher temperatures we will experience while going through the hotter countries, such as Portugal and Spain in June.
  • The mock event will give Leigh the confidence that he can complete the race strategy and the mental strategies in place can help him overcome the barriers of potential boredom and pain that he may experience

Lessons to be learned

There is a number of lessons that can be taken from this for anyone planning to do an endurance event such as a 10k, half marathon, marathon or an ultra-marathon, especially as the London Marathon takes place this weekend too.

Firstly, having a practised race strategy is integral to completing an event of this nature. If this is an event that you have been training for for a long period, as the starting line gets closer, so do the nerves and the excitement. This can sometimes lead to individuals starting faster at the beginning than they usually would, due to the buzz of starting the event and the release of adrenaline. Therefore, make sure before any event you know how you are going to approach it, try and test it, so when you start you are confident and assured in your process and race strategy.

Visit the blog regularly to read more about how Dr Philip Clarke and Dr Mark Faghy will be preparing Leigh for his World Record attempt in June. Search HPUxLeigh to follow.

For further press information please contact the Corporate Communications Team on 01332 591891, pressoffice@derby.ac.uk or @derbyunipress

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