Blog post

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.

By Dr Philip Clarke - 20 April 2018

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.

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.

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About the author

Dr Philip Clarke
Senior Lecturer in Psychology

Dr Clarke's area of expertise is in performance under pressure and the psychological predictors and mechanisms that are associated, specifically for 'choking' and 'the yips' within sport.

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