So what in the world can we learn from Flora Duffy’s training regime? As it happens, loads, because Duffy has passion and dedication in spades – two key elements for any age-grouper looking to achieve success in tri. Joining Duffy in Bermuda at the end of January as she ramped up her training ahead of a hectic 2018 season, we discovered what it takes to race like a champion….
BE A PART OF YOUR TRAINING OUTPUT
Flora Duffy’s 2018 training season has been planned with two peaks: one peak in April for the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast (which was rather successful!) and the World Triathlon Series’ debut event in Bermuda, and the second one in September, when she targets the WTS Grand Final.
But even if she has three coaches planning her training, Duffy isn’t merely executing the programme –she’s deeply involved in the adaptation of the plan. “I really enjoy having a lot of input into my training. Because I’ve been doing it for so long now that I know what works for me, and the things that I need to work on. But it’s also great to have other eyes looking at it and filling the holes.”
Listening to your body and coaches is also imperative. “I always tend to push for more, but my coaches are actually saying no – and obviously they’re that one step removed. They’re seeing the bigger picture and telling me that what I’m doing is fine and I don’t need to push too much too soon. I’ve had some bad injuries and learnt from my mistakes, and I know when I need to miss one session instead of the entire week.”
EMBRACE THE BIGGER PICTURE
Sometimes we need to pinpoint a motivation for why we train hard every day. For professional athletes it’s the same, although for Duffy the whole ethos of what she does is pretty simple. “I enjoy racing and that gets me out of the door. Part of my motivation is definitely loving the sport, enjoying the lifestyle of it and everything that comes with it,” she adds. But motivation can be hard to keep up and the hardest part is building a wider picture. “Motivation changes as your career develops.When I have a tough day I think about the overall goal and what it means to me to race and perform well there. And that makes all those hard training days worth it.”
SIGHT ‘BIG’ IN THE RACE DAY SWIM
As triathletes, we spend countless hours swimming up and down the black line in a pool. “Come race day,” says Duffy, “there’s no black line, only a couple of buoys in the distance. Once in the water, it can be difficult to see the buoys. So sight big and use a landmark behind the buoy – a building, a dock, mountain peak – that lines up with a buoy on the course. Sighting big will allow you to sight less, and stay on course much easier. But remember to lift your head only as high as needed.”
DON’T NEGLECT THE CORE SESSIONS
Strength and conditioning has been a huge part of Duffy’s training:
“I’ve three sessions a week. Two are strength agility-based, where I do hurdle jumping, which has helped me with foot plant and given me more explosive power. The third session is core and stability-focused, with one-leg exercises and other balance workouts. I try not to skip them when I’m tired because they’re hugely beneficial for keeping me strong, moving well and injury free. They’ve kept me pretty robust and helped me handle a high level of training, travelling and racing.”
DEVELOP FLAT BIKE POWER
For riding on normal roads, we might be tempted to adopt the formula: ‘I need more power, so I’ll hit the hills to develop it’. Which is true, but there are exceptions. If you already have power in your legs deriving from hills, then you might want to transform that power into flat power. “In 2017 I worked mostly on my flat power,” says Duffy. “At one point I was doing most of my sessions on a hill gradient, and it’s obviously much easier to hit your numbers on a hill versus on the flat,” she says. “So, because most of the WTS events are pretty flat, for me the big thing has been working on my flat power and working on my very higher-end, top-end power.”
FIND TRAINING PARTNERS TO EASE THE PAIN
It’s easy to imagine pro triathletes churning out the hours in their garage or local run routes, but Duffy is adament on the need to keep things social. “Finding a partner is great for motivation and encouragment. I often do my hard sessions with one or two others. Not every session is going to feel amazing, so to have someone else out there suffering with you can help. Plus, it keeps you accountable!
BOOST YOUR STAMINA WITH A MOUNTAIN BIKE
Duffy has found training with a MTB really benefits her road fitness.
“MTB racing is very spiky up and down, and similar to short-course racing, so the road and off-road riding works well together. Doing the two keeps the bike element exciting.
“Also, riding on hard bumpy trails for two hours involves a lot of strength and is exhausting compared to two hours on the road, so there’s a core-boosting element as well. The position is much different, so you’re getting familiar with different types of bikes and it does help your sense of bike awareness and ability. But on the MTB you can also have some bad crashes that can hamper your skill confidence. I definitely do skills on the MTB and then I do a different set of skills on the road bike.
“I do one mountain bike ride a week on a Sunday afternoon, which is my ‘forget about numbers and heart rate’ and just ride for the pure joy of escaping into the mountains. Having sessions like this really helps keep you mentally fresh. And, of course, staying on top of the important and seemingly endless details such as recovery, nutrition, massage, etc. My success is due to me mentally buying into the process, enjoying building fitness and taking on challenges.
“This off-road bike set will help develop your bike-specific strength, and also your fitness as riding off road will always be a challenge.”
Warm-up: 60mins with the last 10mins building up the heart rate
Main set: 6 x 4mins big gear at 50/60rpm with 3mins recovery (or recover on descent); 10mins easy; 4 x 30secs high cadence into 30secs rest
Cool-down: Ride easy for the remaining duration home
HIT THE TRAILS TO ADD VARIATION
The Bermudan topography lends itself to trail running, but hitting the off-road trails has been hugely beneficial for Duffy’s road skills. “Trail running is great because it mixes things up,” Duffy explains.
“It also makes you feel uncomfortable with your foot plant, and that helps with stability. Otherwise you’re just running on a flat and smooth road in one direction. On the trails you need to be more agile, and mentally it keeps you stimulated. I encourage other athletes to try a whole different
side of triathlon.
DON’T JUST TRAIN OFF-ROAD… RACE IT AS WELL!
As well as its benefits to road tri, Duffy finds racing off-road triathlon is a blast in itself, a refreshing break from all-things concrete. “Off-road racing is awesome. I love it because it’s so different from traditional road tri,” says the 30-year-old.
“The environment is more relaxed, yet still competitive and unique, and I think every triathlete should dip their toe into the off-road scene. A major appeal for me is the places you see. I’ve ridden around an active volcano in the Philippines, with kangaroos in Australia, and among the Aspen trees in the Rocky Mountains.
“So treat every race like an adventure as it’s so different from traditional ‘road tri’. And my key race tip? When racing, tyre selection is key! Make sure you have tyres that suit the conditions of the course.”
UTILISE TARGETED SESSIONS AHEAD OF RACE DAY
Duffy doesn’t normally follow a specific trail-running session during the year, but she’ll be more targeted ahead of the Xterra off-road race events, mainly by upping the running volume, riding more on hills and at a reduced speed as the events are longer.
Although this wasn’t really a proper hill session for Duffy, it can still be executed on a trail and add a level of toughness to an already pretty demanding set. It’s a session that’ll train your anaerobic threshold as you’ll stay in the ‘red zone’ for significant periods of time.
Warm-up: 25mins easy pace
Main set: 4mins hard into 2mins easy, then 6 x 2:40mins hard into 1:20mins easy
SPEED SESSIONS ARE IMPERATIVE FOR RUN FORM
Speed sessions play a crucial role in short-course racing, where athletes spend most of their time at, or above, their threshold.
“Speed sessions are key. I’m a strong runner, but developing my top-end speed and turnover to run comfortably at speed has also been key for me,” says Duffy. “Running on the track has really helped me. I’m not a natural track runner and in those sessions we do 20 x 200m. We never target crazy top-end speeds, because I don’t need that in tri, but we dial in race speed or faster and become used to running at that speed.”
Warm-up: 25mins with some longer strides at the end
Main set: 14 x [400m in 75secs with 60secs rest in between]
Cool-down: 10mins easy
Top 3 Flora Duffy wins
1. On her way to winning her first Xterra Worlds in 2014, Duffy had a nasty crash that sent her flying into the bushes. “I crashed so hard, I literally don’t know how I got back on my bike,” she says. “I hit a root and flew into the trees head first with the bike on top of me. Then I had a mechanical. It was a hard day!”
2. A month after Olympic disappointment at Rio 2016, Duffy came back strong in Cozumel to out-bike and run Gwen Jorgensen to win her debut ITU WTS title.
3. Another Grand Final, this time in Rotterdam, 2017.After a blistering 33min run split, the victory secured Flora her second ITU WTS crown.