Fresh off the back of her first pro podium at Ironman Maastricht a couple of weeks a go, I caught up with Kate Comber to find out just how she's managing such epic results so early on in her pro career...
Kate, you finished 5th at Ironman Wales last year and then 6th at Ironman Lanzarote in May. Now you've got your first Pro podium coming 3rd at Ironman Maastricht. What do you attribute your success to?
I think I owe my improvement mostly to the hard work I have put into training over the past few months. After Lanzarote I wanted to make sure that I got a good block of training under my belt before Maastricht which is why I passed on racing Ironman UK despite it being in my initial race schedule.
Over the past few months I've also been working on targeting my training a bit better, using power on the bike and pacing on the run to help better gauge my efforts.
Another change for me is that this season has also been the first time that I have approached events with a pre-conceived race plan. This has allowed me to test which tactics and nutrition strategies work best for me. Working with my coach I can analyse my performance after each race and make changes to the plan to help set me up better for future races.
Talk us through your race at Maastricht. You were first out of the swim, no surprises there given your swimming background, but how does that feel? On the flip side, how do you mentally deal with Brooke and Saleta going past you on the bike?
Going into the race I had a plan to stick to a lower power output on the bike so when Saleta and Brooke passed me on the course I was neither surprised or phased.
High5 might have those banners covered, but it was Team PH who were 1st (and 3rd) out of the water in Maastricht ;-)
Holding back more on this part of the Ironman was deliberately intended to set me up better for the run. In previous races I have faded at the end of the bike and began to struggle midway through the run. The tactic here was to hold back a bit more at the start of the bike leg to avoid this drop in power and save more energy for later in the race.
It was difficult not to respond when they overtook me, but having a power target to meet helped me stick to my race plan. I was pleased when my self control paid off and I finished the bike feeling strong! Unfortunately I still suffered a little on the run course but I now have a good strategy to work on in the future and I also have plans to improve my bike and run speeds over the winter.
Kate working on her swim start technique...
Nice. So, let's talk about your kit for a bit, what wetsuit do you swim in?
I'm now in a Zone 3 Vanquish, it's a very good suit.
And what are you riding and how is it set up?
Frame: Cannondale Slice TT
Group set: Shimano Ultegra Di2
Gears: 52-36 Rotor Q-Ring on the front and 11-28 cassette on the rear.
Brakes: TriRig Omega X
Power meter: Rotor INpower
Wheels: Envy 4.5 clincher wheels
Tyres: Continental GP4000S 2 25c with latex inner tubes (for the cobbles!)
Another thing people are really interested in is what you eat/drink the day before and morning of a race?
Before Ironman UK in 2015 I ate a big plateful of spaghetti bolognese the night before because the hotel I was staying in that night had put on a pasta buffet. Because I did so well at that race I now repeat the same pre-race meal! It's not very elaborate but I figure as long as I eat well in the days leading up to the race then my muscles and liver will be well stocked with glycogen.
In the morning I eat a porridge pot as these are easy to make up when you are staying in a hotel, using the room kettle to boil the water. I also take a banana with me to eat closer to the race start as I like to get ready a couple of hours before kick off to make sure I have enough time to prep my bike in transition before finding a quiet spot to relax.
I also make sure that I take on a packet of PH 1500 both in the evening before the race and again on race morning after breakfast to ensure that I'm well stocked up on electrolytes and that my blood volume is at its highest, setting my body up for the upcoming challenge...
Glad to hear you're preloading before your races! What's your hydration strategy during a race? How has that evolved since you met PH?
Before I met you guys I used to plan my fluid consumption during racing based on how much energy drink I needed to consume to get the carbohydrates I needed. I would tend to take on 3 litres of energy drink during an Ironman, irrelevant of how long I was racing for and how warm the conditions were!
Discussing hydration strategies with PH highlighted the fact that I was not taking on enough fluids during a race and that this became more disruptive when racing in warmer climates. By uncoupling my nutrition and hydration I can now adjust the amount of fluid I take in over the course of the race, enabling me to tailor my hydration to fit the race conditions.
Now I consume my carbs through bars and gels and use the PH packets and SweatSalts to make sure that I keep on top of replacing the electrolytes I'm losing in my sweat over the course of the race.
As a biologist, the rationale behind customising an athletes approach to hydration made sense to me and I'm now more aware of keeping hydrated around training and racing. Thanks guys!
You're very welcome! Ok, so what's your fuelling strategy?
Over the years I have relied on fuelling by following the traditional formula of "60g of carbohydrate per hour". More recently I have began to up this number to about 80g per hour as I read that you can absorb more total carbohydrate via the intestine if you take on a combination of carbohydrates that are absorbed by different transporters.
During Ironman races I eat TORQ bars, chews and gels as they contain 2:1 Glucose-Derivatives:Fructose so that I can push beyond the 60g per hour limit of absorption.
Also, they're pretty tasty and contain natural flavouring so they are easy to take on during training and racing.
Interesting and that definitely tallies with our stance on keeping your fluids for hydration and getting your carbs from solid/semi-solid foods.
Right, I'm sure everyone want's to know your training secrets, so what does a typical training week look like for you in the middle of the season? What one session is most important to you and why?
Well, how about I just send you my entire schedule...
1hr 30 min SWIM before work: 4600m strength and aerobic session
W/up: 5 x 200m as Swim, Pull, kick, 25m drill 25m Swim, Swim (1000)
200 Swim with paddles
100 as 25 Drill/25 Swim/25 Kick/25 Swim
150 as 50 Kick/100 Swim
50 build to max
10 sec rest between each rep and 60secs extra rest between sets
100 FC Swim
100 Bk Swim
PM: 1 hour RUN after work: 15 mins warm up then fartlek running intervals (12 x 1 minute fast/1 minute easy jogging).
45 mins of strength and conditioning.
Wednesday (DAY OFF WORK)
AM: 1 hr 30 min SWIM 4100m Threshold session
300 as 150 FC / 50 BK
300 as 150 FC / 50 BK
4x50 Build 1-4 to max, off 60 secs
400 Strong Aerobic
(20 secs rest between each rep)
200 as 25 kick 25 Bk recovery
4x50 as 25 Drill K, 25 Swim off 10 secs rest
PM: 3 hr 30 min BIKE consisting of race pace efforts
SET: 30min warm up then 4 x (10 minutes 20w below race pace, 10 minutes at race pace, 10 minutes 20w above race pace and then 10 minutes easy spinning) Remaining time steady.
PM: 1hr easy RUN
45 mins strength and conditioning
Friday (DAY OFF WORK)
6 hr endurance BIKE around The Mendips
AM: 1hr30min SWIM endurance 4500m
4x50 Scull/Swim, off 70 secs
2x150 as 6 strokes hard per 50
10secs rest between reps
PM: 1 hr 30min RUN steady endurance
AM: 3 hr BIKE moderate endurance zone 1-2
1 hr RUN off bike with 30 mins at IM race pace, 30 mins steady
TOTAL training time: 23hrs
That's one heck of a training plan! Other than giving you more time to train, how has going semi-pro helped you improve?
I think almost more important than the extra training time is that it gives me more time to recover. On the days that I work it can be a bit of a rush to fit in the training, so it's really nice on my days off to have some down time between training sessions to recover properly, even with an occasional nap thrown in!
Couldn't agree more Kate. Last question then, what's next for you? What are your wider goals in the sport over the next few years?
It's always difficult racing such a long distance because you need so much recovery time between races. Add in wanting to fit in some good blocks of training and it doesn't leave much time to fit in tons of races.
However, I'm still feeling good and I want to get another Ironman in before the end of the season and I have set my sights on Ironman Barcelona. Along the way I will also compete in Ironman 70.3 Weymouth next month where I would be willing to gamble a bit more and test where my limits lie.
Racing the Ironman World Champs in Kona as a pro is a future target for me. Currently I'm happy just enjoying racing and training alongside my career as a Research Scientist.
Great stuff, well we reckon Maastricht won't be the last time we see you on an Ironman podium Kate. Thanks and enjoy Weymouth and Barcelona! Oh, and let's look at you in that PH Trucker on the podium one last time...
You can follow Kate's journey amongst the elite women in triathlon on Twitter.